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Holidays this year inspire thinking outside the gift box

Brownwood Bulletin
Jeanne Phillips

DEAR ABBY: With the holidays fast approaching, I'm starting to think about shopping. Honestly, I'm tired of shopping for adults who don't need anything. Finding gifts for them becomes more daunting each year. I think gift cards and direct money are tacky Christmas presents.

Do you think it would be odd to ask my adult children and other family members to select a charity they would like me to donate to instead of buying them gifts that just take up more room? This year has been hard on many people financially, but most of my family members are lucky enough to still be working through everything that has happened. I think charities could use a boost. -- NEW IDEA IN FLORIDA

DEAR NEW IDEA: I am sure they could. Your idea is terrific, and it reminded me of a letter I printed many years ago, which I have edited because of space limitations. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Like many families, we have wrestled with the "What do we get for people who have everything?" dilemma. Last year, our family finally hit upon a solution. We discussed it with our grandparents. They agreed it would be more charitable for us to give something to people who lack everyday necessities, so we adopted a battered children's shelter. Those little ones are truly refugees. They need everything from toothbrushes and hairbrushes to baby formula and diapers -- not to mention toys and games.

To our delight, our neighbors got involved in our project, too. For weeks, on Thursdays, neighbors would leave donations in a sack by their mailbox, and we would pick them up. Our goal was for every child in that shelter to wake up on Christmas morning to find packages of necessities and a few playthings.

The project created so much excitement among our neighbors that we collected enough for two shelters. There were pillows, socks, underwear, bath products, cold medicines, books, towels, baby clothes, etc. Each child also got a large gift basket, including a nonbreakable tree ornament to help him or her remember this holiday.

The cost was small when spread over so many families, but the rewards couldn't have been greater. We felt our project embodied the true spirit of Christmas. It sensitized our children to the needs of others all year long.

Because it was one of the best holidays we have ever had, we're repeating the drive again this year. When people join together, everyone CAN make a difference. -- SANTA'S HELPERS IN PHOENIX

DEAR SANTA'S HELPERS: Your signature describes you fittingly. With that in mind, I hope readers will be sensitive to the needs of charities in their local communities this year. Because monies that would ordinarily have been donated to local charities may have been diverted in other directions, many charities are having difficulty raising enough to meet their budgets. Remember, folks, charity begins at home -- and by that I mean the communities in which you dwell.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend of five years calls me his "partner." I care about his family, and they are happy we are together.

His daughter had a small wedding with just a few family members and the wedding party. I sat alone in our room for hours while they took pre-wedding photos. Not a problem. But when no voices were heard, I looked out, and everyone was gone! I texted my partner asking where everyone was. I had heard him walk by our room several times earlier, but he didn't respond. Should I have chased after him, asking to be included?

Before and after the ceremony, the photographer took individual and group photos, as well as the tables, the caterer and venue staff in addition to the family and wedding party. Although I was standing with everyone, no one invited me to join a group photo or take one with my partner. My brother said I should have asked to be included, but I didn't think it was my place. The bride and groom had already decided who they wanted photos of.

One of the groomsmen could tell my feelings were hurt. He came over and sat with me and asked if I was having fun. I did some grunt work for this ceremony, so it would have been nice to have had my presence acknowledged with an official photo, not a selfie. What do you think? -- LEFT-OUT LADY IN VIRGINIA

DEAR LADY: The bride and her husband may have been distracted, but your "partner" should have made sure you were included in at least one of the photos. The treatment you received was not only rude and thoughtless, it was also callous. Have there been other occasions in which he has been similarly thoughtless? If you plan to continue this romance, accept that you will have to become more assertive, rather than wait at the mercy of others.

DEAR ABBY: About three years ago, I got into an argument with my sister-in-law because of the verbal abuse she aimed at her children, who were 3 and 10. She swore at them and still puts them down constantly. I finally had enough and told her I didn't want to be around her if she was going to talk to them that way. She told me they were her kids so she could talk to them how she wanted. I haven't spoken to her since.

Now, three years later, I have two boys of my own. She wants to be in their lives, and my in-laws are upset that my husband and I don't want her around them. She has since apologized for her behavior, but neither of us trusts her, and we don't want her influence on our children. Should we accept her apology and spend time with her to appease my husband's family or do what we think is right for our kids? -- AVOIDING HER IN NEW YORK

DEAR AVOIDING HER: Your sister-in-law has apologized. Give her one more chance, and if you catch her berating her children or using foul language in front of your boys, take a giant step backward and do not expose them to her again -- or at least until they are old enough to understand that behavior like hers isn't tolerated in your branch of the family and why.

DEAR ABBY: Last weekend, my companion and I went to one of our favorite restaurants for an intimate dinner. Per social distancing regulations, a mid-70s couple was seated approximately 15 to 18 feet away. Halfway through our meal, they began FaceTiming with their great-grandchildren and family.

Their conversation continued for more than 10 minutes, with exchanges about what presents "Jack" had received for his birthday and what the mother was fixing for dinner. To say that our dinner was rudely interrupted by their overly loud and personal FaceTime discussions would be an understatement.

I kept thinking that, surely, when they told their family members that they were having dinner at a restaurant, the conversation would have been politely discontinued by one of them. I didn't even feel like staying for the usual coffee and dessert and, on my way out of the restaurant, I stopped by their table to gently but firmly say I thought they had been extremely rude. The man stood up and accused me of being the one who was being rude. He went so far as to run after our car yelling as we pulled out of the parking lot.

I don't even carry a cellphone with me when in a restaurant, beauty salon or other public place as I feel everyone deserves privacy on either side of the conversation. Is it wrong to politely make people aware of their inconsiderate actions when it affects others? -- ANNOYED IN FLORIDA

DEAR ANNOYED: It would have been perfectly acceptable to make your thoughts known to the manager of the restaurant, while pointing out that the carryings on at the nearby table was the reason you didn't stay for dessert and coffee. Frankly, you were lucky the man who ran after your car didn't go further than he did.

DEAR ABBY: Am I wrong? Our special-needs son and his dad (my husband, "Nick") often get into nasty arguments. Usually, it's over nothing worth yelling about, but if it's not going Nick's way, Nick starts yelling and swearing, using ugly words.

As a mother, I step in and tell him to stop the yelling and swearing. Then he yells at me and tells me to "butt out" because I'm making it worse and to mind my own business. As a mother, isn't this what I am supposed to do? Our son is 46, but he has the mental capacity of an 8- to 10-year-old, plus other health problems. -- CONCERNED MOM

DEAR CONCERNED: I don't think you are wrong for trying to intercede. However, it might be more effective to point out to your husband, while you are both calm, that an adult sinking to the level of an 8- to 10-year-old is ridiculous and ineffective. I wish you had mentioned what kind of things your husband and son argue about, but since you didn't, allow me to point out that there are better ways to deal with conflict than screaming matches.