DEAR ABBY: I dwell in a small, Southern and, I thought, safe hometown. I'm currently unemployed and therefore unable to afford a place of my own. I live with my parents. I have job-searched for months now for something within walking distance. I pay for food with food stamps. But I can't yet pay for transportation, insurance, necessities, etc.
My problem is, I love to walk four to six times a week for 30 minutes to an hour. It helps me with depression and boosts my self-esteem, health and wellness. It shouldn't be a problem, right? Well, I've been warned several times that I could get hit by a vehicle, kidnapped and even murdered if I continue to do it. (My parents are TV crime show fans.)
Abby, I have spoken with the police in my area. They assure me it's safe to be out for a walk. Yet, if I'm gone more than 15 or 20 minutes, I receive incessant, ominous, foreboding warning calls on my cellphone. What can I do about their overactive spookiness? I can't afford a treadmill. -- STEPPING OUT IN ARKANSAS
DEAR STEPPING: When you leave for your walk, tell your parents approximately what time they can expect you back, leaving yourself a few minutes' leeway. Then silence your cellphone and enjoy your walk.
DEAR ABBY: Is it wrong to question some belief or fact that someone else has brought up? I'm not in the habit of picking fights or bringing up controversial topics in social situations. But if someone else brings it up first or makes a verifiable claim, I think I'm within my rights to ask for a source or to argue the point if I disagree.
I am being told that doing this is rude. I always thought that if someone makes a claim or statement, then it's acceptable for the people you are talking with to ask where the information came from or to disagree. And if someone doesn't want to risk their opinion being challenged, or isn't absolutely sure the claim can withstand scrutiny, they should keep their mouth shut. IS it rude to ask, "Oh, what's your source for that?" or say, "The studies I've read say that ..."? -- FRIENDLY DISCUSSION
DEAR FRIENDLY: I think it depends upon the subject being discussed and the tone in which the question is asked. Sometimes it ain't what you say as much as the way it comes across that makes others defensive.
DEAR ABBY: At the checkout counter I noticed the clerk had a tattoo in the cleavage of her breasts. I could see it because of her low-cut blouse. What's the correct protocol? Should I ignore the obvious, or should I look closer to be sure I am seeing it correctly? Should I compliment her on her nice tattoo? What exactly am I to do while she's ringing up my purchase? -- BAFFLED IN THE MIDWEST
DEAR BAFFLED: I'm so glad you asked! What you should do is keep your eyes focused on the tally the computer monitor shows to be sure the checker is ringing up your purchase correctly. It's the way to make the "breast" of a touchy situation.
DEAR ABBY: I'm recently married, and in my opinion, my wife has too many pets -- seven inside dogs. She also feeds the neighborhood cats, so at any given time of day, there are 10 to 18 cats in our front yard.
The dogs inside have no boundaries. They have taken over the main living space. The family room sofas are filthy and destroyed, so we can't use that space either, and it's a total eyesore. The carpet is gone, and there is dirt and dog hair everywhere.
I'm at my wits' end. I feel I have no say in this matter, and I'm constantly stressed over these living conditions. I hate going home. I have dogs with me when I eat, sleep and make love. I don't know how to approach her on this when she sees nothing wrong with it. All she sees is their cuteness. -- LIVING LIKE AN ANIMAL IN PHOENIX
DEAR LIVING: Didn't you know about your wife's love of animals while you were engaged? Explain to her that when you married her, you didn't realize you would be just another occupant in her doghouse. The living conditions you describe are not only stressful, but could also be considered a health hazard.
Contact the city or county and find out whether there are restrictions on the number of animals that homeowners are allowed to keep on their property. (I hope they have all been spayed or neutered!)
As a partner in this marriage, your wishes should be taken into consideration and a compromise worked out. I, too, am concerned about her feeding the ever-increasing number of neighborhood cats, some of which may carry diseases. One problem with leaving food out for strays is it can attract other "critters," which could endanger the cats she is trying to help.
DEAR ABBY: I'm a gay man. My sister and I are best friends. I love her dearly. Long story short, she has now taken her religious beliefs much more seriously (Christianity).
She's married, with three wonderful children (6, 4 and 2 years old) who my partner and I adore. They attend church every weekend, rehearse Bible verses with their children every night and are very active in their community.
My partner and I visit as often as we can to spend time with her and the kids. They live 200 miles away, and the drive is a long one, so we stay overnight. On our last visit, she pulled me aside and expressed how uncomfortable she and her husband have been feeling with the sleeping arrangement. They don't agree with us sleeping in the same room because we are "not married."
I know it's more than that -- it is because we are not a straight couple. They said they prefer we sleep in different rooms when we visit them. My partner and I feel devastated, sad and obviously blindsided. We don't know what to do. Can you help? -- SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN
DEAR SECOND CLASS: From your description, it's unlikely that your sister and her husband will become more accepting than they are. As I see it, you have no choice but to "turn the other cheek" and spend your nights in a nearby hotel or motel. That may be the sacrifice you have to make to maintain your close relationship with the kids. If you and your partner eventually decide to marry, do not be surprised if it does not change the situation.
DEAR SERIOUSLY STRESSED: Your mother-in-law is acting like YOUR house is HER house. Set her straight. And if your husband tells you, "You just don't like my mother," tell him that it isn't that you don't like her; it's that you don't like the way she's acting and you will no longer tolerate it.
DEAR ABBY: When is it appropriate to correct someone's spelling and/or punctuation errors? Our pastor writes a message in our church's monthly newsletter and invariably makes several grammar or spelling mistakes. The church secretary also makes mistakes in our weekly bulletin and never catches the pastor's errors. In addition, the day care personnel at our church make mistakes in the written lessons for the children.
I have offered to proofread for our pastor and secretary, but they never take me up on my offer. I grew up in a time when accuracy mattered, but nowadays many folks think that if one can make oneself understood, that is good enough. I'm interested in what you would advise. -- FUSSY WRITER IN MARYLAND
DEAR WRITER: You were kind to volunteer to edit the bulletins and newsletters, but you can't force the pastor and church secretary to accept your generous offer. However, because young children model the behavior of the adults around them, my advice to the parents would be to remove theirs from any program in which the day care personnel are so poorly educated they can't use proper English.
DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my husband for 22 years. We've been together for 26. We've had our ups and downs, and separated for three months back in 2008, but we went to marriage counseling and got back together.
I have recently realized that my husband is an accomplished liar and has been from day one. To top it off, he lies about stupid things, which makes me wonder what important things he's lying about. When I express my feelings about this, he swears he will never lie again, blah blah blah -- and damn if I don't catch him again! Is this marriage doomed because he can't stop lying? And how do I trust anything he ever says to me? -- UNTRUSTING IN MARYLAND
DEAR UNTRUSTING: Successful marriages are based on trust and communication. Yours is in serious trouble.
Most people who lie do so because they are trying to make themselves look better or are not proud of whatever it is they are attempting to cover up. However, those who lie about "stupid" things may be compulsive liars who can't control the impulse. If your spouse falls into this category, a licensed mental health professional may be able to help him overcome his problem, but there are no guarantees.
DEAR ABBY: My elderly mother, my daughter, her boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Las Vegas. Because of the costs involved, we are considering sharing a room with two queen beds. The plan would be for me and my mother to share one bed, and my daughter and her boyfriend to share the other.
My wife thinks this is weird -- that my mother and I should share a bed. I explained that it will be a queen bed, and I don't understand why she thinks it is strange. This will save us around $1,000 that a second room would cost. What do you think? -- RALPH IN OHIO
DEAR RALPH: Is saving the money more important to you than privacy, comfort and propriety? Your wife may have been thinking along those lines when she suggested the "boys" sleep with the boys and the "girls" sleep together. Before rendering an opinion, I'd have to know what your daughter, her boyfriend and your mother think about this arrangement, because unless you all agree, it might make more sense to request a cot or bring an air mattress with you.
P.S. If one of you gets lucky in Vegas, maybe you can afford a second room.
DEAR ABBY: After years of nagging about thank-you notes, this is how I'm encouraging my younger family members to acknowledge gifts: We have the child create a big thank-you note or draw a picture, hold it with a big smile along with the gift and take a photo, which we send electronically.
We made a rule that they can't play with the gift until the thank-you is done, and even little folks understand it. It's fun and immediate. They usually get a quick note of appreciation back, and the giver gets a keepsake of the occasion. -- NEW AGE GRANDMA
DEAR GRANDMA: That's a wonderful idea, not only because it utilizes technology, but also because it requires SOME effort on the part of the little ones. Good for you.
DEAR ABBY: My 25-year-old niece still lives at home. She works full time and attends college online. She's a hard worker who doesn't do drugs or engage in risky behavior.
I pay her a bonus for every A she earns, and I also pay for her health insurance. While I gladly pay the college bonuses, I have misgivings about continuing to pay for her health insurance, even though I can afford it. She doesn't make much money at her job, but she goes out to restaurants and bars often, attends concerts and takes trips out of state three or four times a year.
When I was her age, I also went to college, worked a low-paying job and lived with my mother. Although I went out with friends often, I never wasted money on those other things -- especially vacations. Should I continue paying her health insurance for her? I don't know if I'm being judgmental or enabling irresponsible behavior. -- PROTECTIVE IN HOUSTON
DEAR PROTECTIVE: You are obviously a generous person, but yes, you are being judgmental. Your niece is working, studying and living a clean and healthy life. You had a social life when you were your niece's age; you should not begrudge her having hers.
Going to restaurants, bars and concerts is normal for a young woman her age. However, if you prefer not to subsidize the vacations because you feel they are excessive, discuss your feelings with her before deciding what to do.
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have lived like nomads for the last few years. We have bought, sold and moved many times for all sorts of silly reasons. Our 5-year-old daughter finally started school, yet we don't feel at home here. We now realize buying and selling may not be for us, so we are renting, but we still aren't happy.
We moved here to be close to my oldest and dearest friend, whose kids are now grown, and to my sister, who hardly talks to us or sees us. My husband's sister and her husband's family love us and treat us well. They have suggested we should move by them. They have kids our daughter's age. The only issue is possibly not finding a good home or school. Private school could be an option.
Would another move be bad? Should we make a final move before our daughter gets vested in school and friends? It would put us within walking distance to several families we spend a lot of time with and who love us very much. We are afraid of judgment from everyone. Please help us sort it out. -- HOPEFUL NOMADS IN ILLINOIS
DEAR NOMADS: Forget about the judgments. You will survive them. The older your daughter becomes, the more difficult moving away from the people she knows will be for her. If you are going to move to an environment more compatible for you, your husband and your daughter, the time to do it is now, so her education and social relationships will not be as disrupted as they would be when she is older.
DEAR ABBY: I recently utilized a national ancestry company to determine my heritage. I also provided kits to my adult children thinking it would be a fun exercise we all could share. Unfortunately, my good deed came with unexpected consequences.
According to the results, my youngest son isn't related to me. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, my ex-wife had an affair 25 years ago.
What do I do now? Should I confront my ex to verify the affair and learn the identity of my son's father? How do we tell my son? Should we? How do we handle our families? Keep it a secret? I would appreciate your guidance. -- UNKNOWN FAMILY TREE
DEAR UNKNOWN: Before making accusations or announcements, it is important that you determine the accuracy of the test to make absolutely sure the results are conclusive. If a second test verifies the first, your son should be informed because he has a right to know his familial medical history -- and HE should talk to his mother about who his biological father is.
DEAR ABBY: I'm an 18-year-old guy who's having troubles regarding my family. My parents are divorced, and I moved out of my mom's house after I graduated.
After the divorce, I flipped back and forth between living with either Mom or Dad. I moved into my mother's after an argument with my stepmom, who insists that I call her "Mother." I don't consider her my mother. My father is an alcoholic and was completely impaired when he married her. I've never forgiven him. When I visit, I can't help but feel no longer welcome.
My mother (a hypocritical tiger mom) made my high school career so stressful it pushed me into severe depression, so I spoke to a doctor who prescribed medication for me and gave me therapist referrals. Since I moved out, I've never been happier.
My siblings and I have never been close, other than at times when we needed someone to talk to about our parental situation.
I have been thinking about disappearing and starting a new life on my own with no thought of my family past. I'm not sure if it's worth fixing the mess my family has become. Advice? -- BREAKING AWAY
DEAR BREAKING: For your stepmother to demand that you call her "Mother" was wrong. She is not and never will be your mother. (Besides, you already have one of those.) For your mother to have pushed you to succeed academically is normal when a parent thinks her child has potential that isn't being realized. That she was so heavy-handed that it had the opposite effect is very sad.
If you would like to move away and start a new life, no one can stop you. At 18, you are considered an adult. But I do NOT think it would be healthy for you to do it in anger and without mending fences, if that's possible. Running away will not have the effect you're looking for because your family will still be living in your head.
DEAR ABBY: Should I marry someone who doesn't love me more than anyone in this world? -- JIM IN VIRGINIA
DEAR JIM: I think that depends on who else the person loves.
DEAR ABBY: A few months ago, I informed my bosses I was pregnant. Within a week, they were trying to fire me and blame it on other things at work that made no sense and hadn't been issues before. They made me sign a letter of reprimand in our first meeting about the "issues."
I spoke with a co-worker who told me she had a similar experience when she announced her pregnancy. I work for a company with a "boys club" mentality, so I didn't try to speak to HR because I was afraid for my already threatened job.
A couple weeks later, I miscarried and everything at work went back to normal. I actually got a raise a month later. Last week, I learned I'm pregnant again. My husband and I are excited about it, but I'm scared to tell my bosses for fear I'll have a repeat of last time.
When should I tell them about my upcoming arrival? And is there anything I can do to protect my job? I have been looking for employment elsewhere, but haven't found anything yet. I need this job or else I would have already left it. -- SCARED IN UTAH
DEAR SCARED: Pregnancy is a natural condition and you should not be punished for it. The first thing you should do is document everything that happened during your first pregnancy. Be sure to include what your co-worker told you happened to her, and how -- after your miscarriage -- all your problems at the office disappeared. Then schedule an appointment with an attorney to ask how you can protect yourself in the months to come.
DEAR ABBY: I have cheated, lied and more. I have made a lot of changes in my life for the better since then, but we all know I'm still a sinner. I have gained a lot of weight over the years, and I hear about it often from my husband and two boys, mostly my sons. My boys are rude and disrespectful to me, and my husband says nothing. They make me feel ugly and worthless.
I know I haven't been the best wife or mother. I thought I was doing better, but I guess not. I'm tired of the name-calling and disrespect. I know I have made mistakes, but must I be put down all the time? One day I feel OK, the next I'm down again. Please help me. -- FEELS UGLY IN TEXAS
DEAR FEELS UGLY: It appears that although your marriage is ongoing, your husband is still punishing you for your "sins" and has enlisted the help of your sons in doing it. I urge you to look into family counseling for all of you. The environment in which your boys are growing up is unhealthy because they are being encouraged to disrespect women. If it's allowed to continue, they will have relationships and marriages just like your own -- ugly and contentious. If you won't seek counseling for yourself, please do it for them.
DEAR ABBY: My younger sister is planning a destination wedding this summer. Recently she had a courthouse wedding for health insurance purposes because she's going back to school full-time.
I am the matron of honor and she also has a maid of honor (which I am confused about; can you have both?). She is still planning her destination wedding because she won't consider herself "really married" until the formal ceremony. Save-the-date notices were already sent.
I told her I didn't feel comfortable throwing a bachelorette party since she's already married. She was fine with it, and mentioned the maid of honor may have a bonfire with their friends.
I thought a lingerie bridal shower would be nice since they have been living together for some time and don't need household items. Is a bridal shower appropriate after a wedding? I feel it should be lightheartedly disclosed on the bridal shower invitation that they are already married. Is this OK? -- JESSICA, MATRON OF HONOR
DEAR JESSICA: If you wish to throw a lingerie shower, I think it would be sweet, although showers are technically not supposed to be hosted by family members. Her friends would probably enjoy it. But to disclose on the invitation that your sister is already married -- lightheartedly or not -- would be in poor taste.
DEAR ABBY: I have never had a good relationship with my father. He was extremely abusive and controlling when I was growing up. Regardless, I have tried to maintain a relationship with him -- albeit a superficial one -- now that I'm an adult.
For the past few years, Dad has been seeing a woman my age. I have tried my best to maintain a relationship with her as well. The problem is, they are extremely touchy-feely when they're together, and it makes me very uncomfortable. For example, they're always rubbing each other, hanging on each other, or she sits on his lap when we're out for drinks.
I tried to talk to my father about it. He became extremely angry when I asked if they could keep it to a minimum around me. Moreover, they recently let it slip that they started dating before she was 18. I don't feel comfortable with their relationship at all. Am I wrong to feel this way? -- UNCOMFORTABLE IN THE WEST
DEAR UNCOMFORTABLE: I don't think so. Your feelings are your feelings, and you are entitled to them. Because being around your father and this young lady makes you uncomfortable, consider seeing him one-on-one, apart from her, if he can manage to separate from her for a half-hour or an hour.
DEAR ABBY: I'm a 64-year-old woman, divorced for 27 years. A nice guy I'll call "Ronnie" has taken me out to lunch and dinner several times. He really likes me and I really like him, but I'm skeptical about getting into a serious relationship because I don't feel like doing a lot of the "wife duties" anymore, such as cooking.
I know this may sound terrible, but I don't cook. My kitchen stays clean, and all I have to do is sweep the floor. Ronnie hasn't said anything about my not wanting to cook, but I don't want it to come up later as a problem. What should I do? -- OUT OF THE KITCHEN
DEAR OUT: Healthy relationships are based on honest communication. Talk to Ronnie about your concerns. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that HE likes to cook and would be willing to do it. Some men enjoy it so much it's hard to pull them away, especially from a barbecue grill. Cross your fingers, speak up and hope Ronnie is one of them.
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been happily married for seven years. He recently graduated from his final residency, and after 11 years of post-high school education, he is finally out practicing.
During all those years, I supported us financially. Once he graduated, I asked that eventually I get a nice piece of jewelry to commemorate our accomplishment (and his nice new salary).
He bought me a lovely pearl ring, but it isn't real. It doesn't have natural diamonds, and it isn't white gold. To me, it doesn't commemorate the accomplishment as much as a real one. We could have afforded a nice costume ring years ago. I wanted to be spoiled a bit. Am I allowed to say something, or should I "appreciate the thought"? -- SPOIL ME, PLEASE, IN OHIO
DEAR SPOIL: Your husband, the doctor, may be a jewel, but after supporting him for 11 years, you deserve better than what you were given. Explain to him that when you asked for "a nice piece of jewelry," you meant the real thing and not a costume piece. Then suggest the two of you go shopping for it together.
DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my husband for 16 years. His brother died suddenly, and he was devastated. We dropped everything and drove 1,000 miles to attend the funeral. When we arrived and went to be seated, he asked me to sit four rows back because the front row was "immediate family only." I felt I was immediate family, but didn't want to cause a scene, so I did as he asked. When I sat down, I received odd looks and sad looks. I'm not angry, but my feelings are hurt. Am I wrong? -- LEFT OUT IN THE EAST
DEAR LEFT OUT: If the spouses of your husband's other siblings -- and children, if there are any -- were also asked to sit elsewhere, then you should not feel hurt. However, if you were the only one told to sit in "Siberia," your feelings are justified.
DEAR ABBY: Our daughter, "Joan," and her husband, "Frank," have been married 19 years. Their only child will be 4 next month. A year and a half ago, Frank came out as a transgender female. Joan is handling this exceptionally well. Our son, "Alex," is not.
Our family will never have the traditional holidays again because Alex doesn't want his daughters, ages 13 and 10, around Frank. We are heartbroken, worried for our children and confused about how to handle this new family dynamic. Joan plans on remaining in her marriage. Frank is legally changing his name to "Anissa," taking hormones and excited to live her "real life."
In the meantime, we feel like outsiders looking in. These individuals, all in their 40s, are able to do what they want with their lives -- yet they're our children. We have enjoyed so many years of what we thought was a normal life. The thought of never having our family all together in our home again is upsetting. I suppose this scenario happens often, but how do you suggest we cope? -- OUT OF SORTS IN WASHINGTON
DEAR OUT OF SORTS: Cope by taking it day by day and making adjustments as necessary. You are not on the outside looking in. You are full-fledged participants in this scenario.
Your new daughter-in-law is the same person she has always been. She's not a danger to anyone's daughters. If your son can't accept that, there is nothing you can do about it. Let him know he is always welcome -- as is Anissa -- at family celebrations. If he can't bring himself to attend, see him and the girls separately.
If I have learned one thing in my lifetime, it is to take each day as it comes and make the most of it. Do not look back, pining for days gone by, and do not obsess about things you can't control. Think positive and you will get through this.
DEAR ABBY: Our neighbor has been hospitalized for six months because of a serious accident that left him paralyzed. His wife has been staying in the city near the hospital so she can be with him. My husband and I have been keeping an eye on their house and, at their request, moving their truck in the driveway so it appears someone is home.
The husband returned home a few weeks ago. We received a thank-you card from his wife. Inside was $50 in gift cards. We appreciate the thought behind the gift, but would like to return the gift cards. We helped them out with no expectation of anything in return. How do we go about returning them without offending our neighbors? -- GOOD DEED NEIGHBORS
DEAR NEIGHBORS: I don't think you should return them. To not accept them in the spirit in which they were given would be doing the couple a disservice. Sometimes the burden of gratitude weighs heavy. This is your neighbors' way of showing you how much your efforts meant to them, so accept the gesture graciously.
DEAR ABBY: My wife gave birth to our twin girls almost a year ago, and for the most part, things have been great. They are happy and healthy, but I'm not sure how happy my wife is. I'm afraid she may be suffering from postpartum depression, but she won't see anyone about it.
She's always putting the girls first and is stressed out because there's never enough time in the day to do everything. From day one, I have made sure that I'm doing my part. I help cook and clean and change poopy diapers. I feel I'm very hands-on, and she agrees. I know twins can be stressful, but I'm pretty relaxed about the process and go with the flow.
I have begged her to talk to someone, but she thinks if she does she will have to take antidepressants and won't be able to breastfeed. It's starting to affect our marriage because she takes out her frustration on me. I get yelled at for stuff that doesn't make sense or hasn't really happened.
Would it be wrong to tell her we are going to lunch and take her to see someone instead -- like a mental health intervention? Or should I let her figure this out on her own? -- BABY BLUES IN MICHIGAN
DEAR BABY BLUES: To shanghai your wife into a mental health intervention would be a mistake. Be honest with your wife. Tell her you are deeply concerned, and that her stress level is affecting your marriage. Then tell her you will be making an appointment for her with her OB-GYN and accompanying her. The doctor can tell her what the alternatives are for treatment, if she needs it. Her fears may be groundless, and medication may not be necessary, but it is important that her doctor evaluate her.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069