DEAR HARRIETTE: My neighbors' backyard and mine touch. They had a pool, but it collapsed. Instead of fixing it, they've left it that way for over a year. The water is green and murky, and it is attracting insects and animals. We are friendly enough with our neighbors, but I feel like their issues are spilling over onto us. How should we approach them? We are unaware of their financial situation. -- Health Hazard

DEAR HEALTH HAZARD: Start by talking to your neighbors. Point out that the standing water in their pool is attracting unwelcome animals and bugs, and you are concerned about your family's health -- as well as theirs. Request that they drain the pool at the very least. Ideally, they should dismantle and dispose of the pool remnants. You can make that request as well. If they refuse or drag their heels, you can call 311 and report the health hazard to your local authorities. Naturally, it would be better if you didn't have to involve the law, but you should try to have this resolved as soon as possible. The hotter it gets, the more creatures and germs that murky water is likely to attract.

You mention not knowing their financial situation. That really shouldn't matter. They can drain the pool themselves. Dismantling it may be more tedious, but it is their responsibility. If you are up to the challenge, you could offer to help them. If not, make it clear to them that either they handle this problem, or you will be forced to call the authorities.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I've recently made some lifestyle changes for my health, and I had to switch gears regarding what types of food I make. I am not all the way vegan, but I have adapted a majority plant-based diet. I am known in my family as an amazing cook. But after experimenting with these new plant-based recipes, certain techniques and ingredients can't be used the same way. It is a bit discouraging when my food doesn't come out as good or as impressive as it used to be. I want to eat healthy, but I don't want to compromise my reputation. -- Learning to Cook Again

DEAR LEARNING TO COOK AGAIN: Give yourself a break. You are learning how to cook food that you weren't eating on a regular basis, if at all. It takes time to figure out how to use new spices as well as different cooking techniques, and longer still to perfect them. It is natural that it will take time for you to discover how to master the right flavors for these new foods. Also, if you are limiting or eliminating salt, that means you need to learn how to substitute other spices to replace that flavor. Give yourself time to learn. Consider taking a class so that you can learn from experts about how to prepare vegetarian or vegan dishes. Make it fun, and in time you will be able to make delicious meals that rival those you used to make.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister constantly complains to me about her boyfriend. Whenever they get into an argument, she runs back to me and accuses him of awful actions, which makes me feel negatively about him. Then a few days later, she'll get back with him as if nothing ever happened.

My sister gets confused about why my attitude toward her boyfriend is negative, and I tell her it's because of the things she tells me. She recently explained that her venting is all about getting someone on her side for the moment while releasing her frustrations. I want to be supportive, but I also want her to stop venting and taking me on her own toxic emotional roller coaster. -- In the Middle

DEAR IN THE MIDDLE: You have to stand up for yourself. Stop your sister the next time she starts complaining about her boyfriend. Tell her that you cannot listen anymore because it is too difficult for you to experience the roller coaster of emotions that she dumps on you. Tell your sister that you love her and want her to be happy, but you are not able to be the dumping ground for her emotional challenges with her boyfriend.

To enforce this new position, you may literally have to end a conversation by saying goodbye and hanging up the phone or walking out of the room. If you stop listening entirely, she will eventually get the message that she cannot use you in this way.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My parents have always been supportive of my dreams and aspirations. I am a recent college graduate, and I'm trying to get my career started. It is going slower than I thought, but I'm working at it. Recently, my dad has been sharing the idea of purchasing a small resort or beach house that we could turn into a family business. He just bought some beachfront property that he believes could be lucrative. I think it sounds like a great idea, but it's not something I'm interested in pursuing. My dad says this place will need full-time maintenance.

I have my own dreams I want to focus on, and working on a beach house isn't at the top of my list. How do I make it clear to my dad that the beach house isn't one of my dreams? -- On My Own, Eastern Shore, Maryland

DEAR ON MY OWN: It sounds like your dad is trying to figure out a way to support you with a ready-made idea for making money. It also sounds like you have other ideas for your life. This is a tough situation to be in, because what your dad probably thinks is helping you is creating unwelcome friction.

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Rather than completely dismissing your dad's idea, talk to him. Tell him that you do think he has a great idea, but that you can't think about it seriously as a choice for you right now. Describe what you are looking to do in your life and the steps you believe it will take to be successful. Ask him if he can support your choice to pursue your path. Also ask if he will be able to build this beach house, and if you may be able to support him with it later. Sometimes family businesses are passed down to the children, but you need to be willing to take over at some point if you make that promise now.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a large family, and we don't see each other often. My mother passed recently, and my brother, who lives overseas, came home for the funeral. My brother and I haven't spoken in 20 years, and at the funeral we barely spoke. He was in the United States for only a day; there was no time to catch up and repair our relationship. We had a close relationship in the past, but now that we live in different countries, we've grown apart. I haven't reached out and he hasn't either, but since my mother died, I want to become closer to my family. How can I repair the relationship with my brother? -- After Mom, Sausalito, California

DEAR AFTER MOM: Write your brother a letter expressing your desire to rekindle your relationship with him. Remind him of how close you were years ago. Apologize for not reaching out in the past. Now that your mom is gone, tell him you want to be closer to him and that you hope he will want the same. Suggest that you start by writing to each other and possibly using FaceTime or Skype to get to know each other as adults.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My friends and I went to a concert last Saturday night. While we were walking into the subway station, two of my friends stood next to the entrance and said they didn't have metro cards. One of them said he didn't have any money on him, and the other one refused to pay the $2.75 to get on the train. The rest of us swiped our metro cards and then watched our friends who refused to get metro cards hop the turnstile. Suddenly, two police officers rounded the corner and stopped all five of us. I stayed quiet the entire time and let my outgoing friends do all the talking. The next thing I know, all five of us were being handcuffed. I was so terrified that it prompted me to speak up and say that the situation was unfair. Why should all of us be held accountable for the actions of two people? Once I explained what happened the police, the three of us who paid for metro cards were let go.

Now I'm being looked at as a traitor and a tattletale for bailing out only two of my friends. How can I make the other two guys, who ended up getting in trouble with the police, see that I had the right intentions? -- Good Guy, Bronx, New York

DEAR GOOD GUY: Stop trying to convince them of anything. Your friends knowingly chose to break the law. You were right to speak up for yourself. Let this incident show you that this may not be the best group of friends for you. If you do stay connected to them, make it clear that you like them but that you are not willing to lie for them or break the law with them.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106

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