My Wife and I Were Abandoned for the Holidays. Help!

My mother-in-law has been more and more stressed when my wife and I have visited for Christmas the past few years. We’re not sure why, and she won’t talk about it. So, we called my folks around Dec. 27 last year and asked if we could spend this Christmas with them. They said they were delighted. Then in June, my mom told us she wanted to celebrate early, on Dec. 22, so she could fly to California to spend the actual holiday with my sister and her kids. We said this was not what we had in mind. My dad agreed with us, but she held firm. We still plan to fly there and spend the holiday with my brother’s family and my grandfather, but we’re hurt. We reached out when we were feeling low, and then my mother changed plans on us at the last minute. Your thoughts?


Let’s start by acknowledging your hurt feelings: Your parents and your mother-in-law are coming up short for you at Christmas. But I feel for them, too: Your mother-in-law may be tired of creating big holidays at this stage of her life, and your mother may have felt trapped by your request, two days after Christmas, to lock down the next one. (Now, I wish she had said, “Let’s talk about it” — but you were hurting, and she’s your mother. Can you see that?)

She also gave you six months’ notice about the change of plans. That’s not “last minute.” (And we don’t know anything about your sister’s situation.) So, let’s look at some adult options here: You and your wife can start your own holiday traditions at home, or you can travel. You could invite your mother-in-law to visit and put her feet up, join your parents in California, or simply keep your plans as they are.

Major holidays are often laden with major expectations (and triggers). I don’t blame you for feeling bad about the switch-up. But holidays are fraught for everyone — mothers included. We may be the starring players in our lives, but we are not the only players.

Credit…Miguel Porlan

Charitable Donations Should Be Made Voluntarily

I attended a charity auction and bid on a long weekend at a large house upstate. I won it for $4,500 — which I paid. I planned to use it for a ladies’ golf weekend. The house was to be available through October 2023. But as I finalized our plans, I was told the house had been sold and was no longer available. I contacted the charity but got no response. Should I inform the former owners of the house (through a mutual friend) that they reneged on their offer, contact the charity again or chalk it up to a donation for nothing in return?


Reach out to the charity again — this time, to the development officer or the executive director. Charities may not defraud consumers any more than for-profit businesses can. Now, it’s possible that the people running the charity have no idea that the house was sold out from under you. But that’s their problem to solve, not yours.

I see no reason to entangle mutual friends of the former owner in this mess. And I wouldn’t convert your winning bid to a donation, either. That’s not the deal you struck. You are entitled to a refund.

Treading Carefully in a Basement Apartment

I moved into a basement apartment in a house owned by six siblings on a lovely island. (My college roommate is married to one of the siblings.) The upstairs was to be used by family, but it has become a part-time Airbnb. When I complained about noise overhead, I was told the family needed the rental income to keep the house. Fine, but now I feel compelled to be super considerate to renters on vacation who show no consideration in return. I am afraid to bring up anything for fear of eviction. I’m looking for another situation, but housing is scarce here. (As I write this, renters are running the vacuum at 7:20 a.m.) Help!


Let’s assume that Airbnbs are permitted on this lovely island. (If not, that would apparently hasten the sale of the house — and your eviction.) So, compile a list of issues that the renters create for you, along with sensible solutions: rugs and rug pads on the floors above you, for instance, and no loud appliances before 9 a.m. What sibling-landlord would object to that? You can double-check your rights as a tenant, but sticking up for yourself politely is not a breach of any lease.

Stop and Smell the Roses, but Put Away the Shears

I am an avid gardener of roses. I’ve spent a fortune collecting rare varieties — some from overseas. I enjoy inviting people over to admire my lovely blooms, but I am annoyed when they ask for cuttings on the spot to propagate my roses in their gardens. I am generous with cuttings from other plants, but I hesitate to share my roses. How can I refuse without giving offense?


I get it: You’ve done the hard work, and you want to keep the fragrant fruits of your labor for yourself. How about: “I gladly share cuttings from other plants in my garden, but the roses are just for me. They are special. I hope you understand.” I do.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or to @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.

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