(Nearly) free gifts: I didn't read the last chat until afterwards but thought I'd share what our family is doing this year for gifts. We have drawn names and are doing a "Make, Bake, Sew, or Grow" exchange among the adults. That could be a batch of favorite cookies, a knitted scarf, or a seedling grown from a plant in your yard—low to no cost, but involves some planning and thought about what the other person would like. I'm actually really looking forward to it, and I think it's a nice way to show thoughtfulness and still have something for everyone to open without unduly burdening anyone's budget.
Emily Yoffe: If this works for your family, great. However, if I got "sew," I'm not sure a loved one would really want me to darn their socks. And they would have a cold neck all winter if they were waiting for me to deliver a hand-knit scarf. If your family has decided that everyone should exchange gifts, surely for some people it's just going to be added pressure to have to make it rather than purchase it.
Boulder, Colo.: As a 2009 graduate, I am grateful for finding a job! However, my company had expanded too fast for its office, and while we look for a larger one, I am working in the break room. I take many calls throughout the day, and they are constantly interrupted by people microwaving food and making other noise as I try to work. Many also feel the need to have small talk with me as they prepare food. How do I keep distractions at bay without being rude?
Emily Yoffe: You are confronting two primal human drives: the need to sate hunger and the need to be social. Both of these are keeping you from your need to do your work. Try to make your temporary office look as much like a work station as possible. Go ahead and position your computer so you have your back to people as they come in. Get a set of sound-blocking headphones, so the microwave whirring doesn't bother you. And when people try to make chit-chat, be briefly polite the first time, then cut them off by saying, "I don't mean to be rude, but this is my office for the time being, so I'm going to have to turn my back and get back to work. I'm sorry!"
Madison, Wis.: My husband will be returning from a tour in Iraq soon. It's been a long year, and I'm excited to have him coming home soon. He recently mentioned that he would like to get his nephew, I'll call him "Joe," braces when he gets home. I will admit that Joe could use them, and it's an incredibly generous offer of him to make; however, I don't think it is our responsibility to give this incredibly expensive gift to Joe. His mom has multiple degrees and chooses to work a low-paying office job. My husband and I are young and are planning on purchasing a house on his return. Is it selfish of me to say no? And if I do, how do I let him down easily without offending anyone? I'd rather save the money and use it on our own children that, god willing, we will one day have. What are your thoughts?
Emily Yoffe: Since braces can cost many thousands of dollars, I agree this is the kind of gift that you two should decide on jointly, especially if it would have an impact on your ability to purchase or save for the things that mean the most to you. However, I can't help but be moved by your husband's generosity. It sounds as if his nephew doesn't have a father around, and the mother can't afford to straighten the boy's teeth—and even you acknowledge he needs it—so your husband feels a fatherly concern. There will be enough going on in your marriage with your husband returning from war without waging war over this issue when he returns. Put aside the discussion for a little while, and then be willing to be open to really hearing why this is so important to your husband. He may even convince you this is the right thing to do.
Maryland: In the case of the vegan hosting holiday festivities for nonvegan family.
My family has a similar problem because there are several relatives who have dietary restrictions (celiac disease and vegetarian to name two). Here is what we do: The festivities are "pot-luck." The host can make the dishes that her convictions/dietary needs allow her to make, while coordinating with relatives to have them bring dishes to satisfy the rest of the company. This option allows everyone to eat what they like, while avoiding offending personal morals and/or allergic reactions.
Emily Yoffe: I agree this is a great solution, but it sounds as if "Vegan" does not want animal products served in her home. This complicates things, but if someone keeps kosher, for example, a guest can't bring a pork roast and expect her to serve it. So unless she is willing to serve a turkey someone else has prepared, she should not be expected to host if her restrictions incense the rest of the family.
Severna Park, Md.: I'm in a weird situation. I work in a large office. One of the co-workers and I became very close, but there was nothing going on physically. It was one of those "it's there, but it ain't there" things. He is unhappily married and tells me things about his wife that are almost unbelievable. I know there are two sides to every marriage, but she appears to be quite unstable. That said, while he is extremely unhappy, he makes comments about their retiring to a large estate later on. Meanwhile, he was hanging around all the time; we have a great time together.
However, it became very painful for me because of my feelings for him, so I broke things off with us being together at work on some phony pretense. This has gone on for a few years now. He is hurt and confused, but then, we never discussed our feelings, we didn't need to, and we couldn't.