Dear Amy: I have a holiday etiquette question. In my family, when a gathering involves food, everyone brings something. I think it's helpful, giving, polite, respectful and "the right thing to do." Even when I travel to go to family gatherings, I always bring something, whether it is something store bought, or a homemade goody. I would be embarrassed to walk in empty-handed! I host many family gatherings. My sister-in-law (my brother's wife) and her family travel back to the hometown by car to attend these gatherings. Each and every time, her family of five will come to my home, bringing nothing but their appetites! They're of the mindset that because they are traveling to see us, they shouldn't have to bring anything, and never offer to do so. I personally find this to be rude and ill-mannered. In the days leading up to the holidays, she does nothing but run all over town shopping. It boggles my mind that she doesn't think to stop to even pick up a bottle of wine. This has nothing to do with means or access, but is just a seemingly self-centered attitude. What do you think? Should the fact that they travel by car for the holidays make them exempt from contributing?
Tired of Hosting
DEAR TIRED: Holiday meals are not like other occasions. They are communal feasts, and I agree that it is polite to ask the host for an assignment of something to bring, even if you are traveling.
Your sister-in-law was not raised by your parents, who taught you that it was necessary to always bring something when you are invited for a meal. Your brother (this woman's husband) WAS raised by your parents, however. He knows the drill — why is he not stepping up to contribute to the meal?
Rather than passively seethe and then riding your disappointment throughout the season, you could easily manage this by giving this family of five a specific assignment — perhaps a nonperishable dessert, drinks, or both. You say, "It's all hands on deck this year. I'm wondering if you would pick up some wine and soft drinks on your way into town? We could use your contribution."
DEAR AMY: I've had my cat, "Kitty," for eight years. She's 10 years old. She has always been an indoor cat. She likes to sit by the window and watch the birds, but she gets excited and chatters when she sees them. Other than that, she seems content. Today I spotted another cat in our backyard. He seemed to be enjoying himself. When I told my husband, he said that it is mean not to let Kitty experience life outside. But I say it is safer inside. I want her to live longer, but I don't want her to have regrets. What should I do? As an added problem, she can't tell me how she feels.
Confused about Kitty
DEAR CONFUSED: If you want to shorten your cat's life, as well as end the lives of many songbirds and animals that visit your yard, then definitely let your indoor cat roam outside.
I don't know if cats can experience regret. They can, however, experience their own instincts: to stalk, hunt, and kill smaller animals and birds.
According to a study conducted by the Smithsonian and published in 2013, "...from 6.9 billion to as many as 20.7 billion mammals — mainly mice, shrews, rabbits and voles — are killed by cats annually in the contiguous 48 states."
The study further concluded that cats that live in the wild (or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors) kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental United States each year. (Each year!)
If you want your cat to experience the outdoors, take it outside on a leash. Do not allow it to roam on its own.
DEAR AMY: I know I'm late weighing in on the topic of strangers demanding that people should "smile!" but I'd like to share a story. Five years ago, a stranger in a gas station said to me, "Smile. It can't be that bad. What? Did your puppy die?" Amy, my son had died two weeks earlier. That encounter was my first attempt at leaving the house. It was months before I was able to try again. Telling a stranger to smile can be far more detrimental than most people seem to realize.
DEAR GRIEVING: None of us can know what pain a stranger is enduring. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.