Carolyn Hax Live: "Can we trade the 'inane' for 'insane'?"

Aug 18, 2017

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody.

 

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have planned a vacation for December which includes spending several days with his parents. I love his parents. In the 10 years we've been together they've been nothing but pleasant. That is until about 2 years ago when they both retired giving both of them way too much time to spend watching the news and on social media. My MIL spends all day on FaceBook. This has caused both of them to become very vocal in their political beliefs which are on the opposite end from where myself and my husband sit. We are going to be spending at least 3, possibly more, days in their home at Christmas time. I would shorten the trip but my husband only gets to see them once a year. A hotel room is not an option as the small town they live in doesn't have one and the closest are too far away to be practical. I combated the political talk on our last trip to see them with a "no politics" rule which mostly worked. But that trip was before the election and they've only gotten worse. My husband can't have a 20 minute phone conversation with his mom without it turning to politics. It's all she has to talk about. I know this trip is months out, but I'm already starting to stress about how I'm going to deal with this. Any suggestions will be helpful.

I'm sorry. I think we all can relate at this point.

But: It's August. By dwelling on this now, you've extended an uncomfortable several days into *months* of stress.  

No matter how bad it is, it is several days and it will be over. Even if your means of coping is to stand in the middle of the room and yell STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT until the gathering descends into total mayhem, it is still several days. 

It will be fine.

You will be fine. Maybe miserable for a while, but fine.

(more)

So you have two choices for handing December in a rational manner: Either put off thinking about it until you actually embark on the visit, figuring you'll just tough it out,  or spend a day or so deciding on a few strategies so you don't have to think about it anymore.

May I suggest:

-Leave the room. Every time. Go for a walk, do the dishes, grab a book and retreat to the guest room.

-"Please, let's not talk about politics." Repeat verbatim as needed.

-Talking about politics. It might unravel quickly, but maybe that's preferable to you and your husband than to pretend to be interested in five days of tension and talking about the weather. Bring your husband into your strategy sessions--I should have said this first. "I'm stressing about this. I want to make up my mind now so I can then be free not to think about it for the next four months. Have you thought about how you want to handle the political thing with your parents?"

Whatever you decide, just, decide. Torturing yourself now over then not only defies logic, but also wears you down. 

And as with anything stressful, one of the best ways to cope is to make it into a positive, even in a small way: learn something from it that you can take with you afterward. Do you have good strategies for dealing with persistent, unwelcome thoughts? Good books, movies, music, dance, exercise, friends, comedy, yoga, meditation, volunteering for a cause--make your list, and rely on it. 

 

Would it be better if his parents were pestering you about having children?

Ooh, I think I know this one:

Yes.

Hi Carolyn: I think online dating is a great idea in theory. But I have anxiety and the thought of spending a couple of hours with someone I don't know is enough to give me the sweats. What if he's weird? What if he thinks I'm weird? What if my anxiety makes me shaky and sweaty? What if I can't talk at all? What if there's no chemistry? What if he's a serial killer? The logical part of my brain knows that none of these things matter (unless he really is a serial killer) and that if it doesn't work out we'll both move just on with our lives. But my anxiety will not be mollified. I've avoided online dating because of this. I've been single for an embarrassing length of time and none of my friends know anyone to set me up with (these set-ups are also high-anxiety for me anyway). I've been chatting with someone online who I'm looking forward to meeting but the anxiety persists. I'm in therapy but the meeting will most likely happen before my next appointment (and I wonder if I should be looking for a new therapist because her answer to everything is to meditate). Do you have any advice or words of comfort?

1. But I have anxiety and the thought of spending a couple of hours with someone I don't know is enough to give me the sweats.

Hours?! No. Hour, or less. Coffee or a drink to start, when you have something planned for afterward that you must attend. Make that clear--that you'll meet at X o'clock, but just a quick date because you have to be at Y by z o'clock.

2. What if he's weird?

Everybody's weird. They're just better or worse at hiding it.

3. What if he thinks I'm weird?

See No. 2.

4. What if my anxiety makes me shaky and sweaty?

Then shake and sweat. What can you do? The alternative is not to date, and you don't want that, so, there it is. Trust, though, that you'll shake and sweat less on the next blind date, and less on the next, and so on. It's just a learning curve like any other.

5. What if I can't talk at all? What if there's no chemistry?

Then you have a bad time. For 30 minutes. (See No. 1) You'll manage.

6. What if he's a serial killer?

Take reasonable precautions (meet in a public place, let a friend know where you'll be when and with whom, have control over your mode of transportation, read or reread "The Gift of Fear"), and trust that the risk of a seriously dangerous person is quite small.

The logical part of my brain knows that none of these things matter (unless he really is a serial killer) and that if it doesn't work out we'll both move just on with our lives. 

This is even more the case with online dating--it's nearly anonymous so the "just move on" opportunity is more readily available in this format than in any other.

BUT. [more]

None of this is intended as persuasion. If you don't like online dating, then don't do it. As an alternative, make a push into new ways to meet people in group-oriented contexts. Proximity helps us make friends more than anything else. So, think of the things you enjoy, are good at, feel passionate about--and then look for groups that meet regularly and frequently based on one or more of those interests. Shared activities are not only calming on the nerves, but also quite revealing about people's mannerisms and character. Your chances of hitting it off with people (even just new friends) are much higher when you're comfortable, so seek comfort, then let that carry you.

I'm the woman who wrote in frantically about my pregnant daughter a few weeks ago. I wanted to thank you for taking my question and for your advice. Together we went to Planned Parenthood and explored all of her options. We have all been in counseling ever since and things are really looking up. My daughter had to face reality: that no, I wouldn't be providing day care (I work out of our home), that she was going to have to switch to a high school with a day care, give up sports and cut back on music lessons so she has changed her mind about keeping the baby. Now we're reviewing open adoption possibilities. There are still some hurt feelings to work through since she refuses to consider letting her father and step-mother adopt the baby (her stepmother is infertile) but we're dealing with that in counseling sessions.

Great stuff, thank you so much for letting us know.

I didn't get an invitation to my friend's wedding shower. (Honestly, I loooove showers and weddings and graduations and birthday parties. LOVE them.) I'm over the initial hurt, and can rationalize that, perhaps, they limited the invites to just the wedding party and family, or my invite got lost in the mail, or my lack of invite was an oversight. (It seems like a lot of people were posting about it on social media -- it didn't seem like a small affair.) If either of the latter two are correct, I don't want my friend to think I ignored the invitation. Is there any way to address this? I don't want to make her feel guilty or bad. I've been helping her with some wedding things, I was one of the first she told she was engaged, I'm invited to the wedding, etc. -- it really seems like I would have been invited to the shower. I want to send her a shower/pre-wedding gift because I love and adore her and she deserves all the happy attention a wedding can bring. Is there something I can put in the card with the gift to address the shower? I just had lunch with her, and she talked about the shower, but she didn't give any hints about the invite list being small, nor did she ask me why I didn't come. FWIW, her sister was in charge of the event, and it was a bit of a disaster due to lack of planning, the sister's martyrdom, and more. It's entirely possible my friend gave her sister my info for the invite, but I was overlooked by mistake. What can I do in case my friend is hurt I wasn't there?!

"I just had lunch with her, and she talked about the shower"--ayyy. That was your best opportunity to mention it, because having the other person bring it up for you is always the best opportunity. The working didn't have to be elegant: "I'm just going to be blunt, because it's weighing on me--I wasn't invited to the shower. Was that on purpose?"

You can still ask this, but it will have to be at your initiation or you'll have to wait till it comes up again. It gets odder and therefore more difficult as time passes, thus my emphasis on the missed opportunity. But there's really no statute of limitations on something that's weighing on you, because the weight eventually affects a friendship and therefore your friend. Just make sure you acknowledge the time you've let pass. "I realize it's insane to bring this up after 30 years but humor me. It has nagged at me and so I want to give you the chance to set me straight that I was too chicken to give you back then."

Or, take the far less dramatic path: Just treat the sister-disaster as all the explanation you need, because it is, and say nothing.

This would be the answer I recommend except for the possibility that you were supposed to be invited and your friend thinks you were a no-show. Not that this is a huge deal, since there are people who legitimately can't attend this event or that, and if there was chaos then your friend might have no idea who RSVPd no, no-showed or got snubbed.

And, well, you just had a friendly lunch, so whatever either of you feels isn't dire.

The deciding factor is really whether you can shake this off and stay on the same terms with this friend as before. If no, then speak, and if yes, then let it go.

 

 

 

Dear Carolyn, My brother and sister-in-law had a stillborn baby boy on Wednesday. A lot of family and friends are asking me for details like the cause, the birth story, what they plan to do next. I am in a strange position of being close enough to them to know all this stuff and people feel more comfortable asking me then them. The issue is my brother and sister-in-law are not clear about what is stuff I should pass on and what is private. I've been defaulting to not telling people stuff or giving information, but excuses have started to wear thin. What can I say to well meaning people about this tragedy?

That's devastating. I am so sorry. 

Please just tell people, "I understand you want to make sense of this, we all do, but I'm not comfortable talking about it. I'm sorry."

Or the abridged version, "I'm not comfortable talking about it. I'm sorry." 

Followed by: "Thank you for your concern," or, "Thank you for keeping them in your thoughts. " And: They're/We're so grateful for the support."

All warmth, no information, no excuses. 

Take care.

I have high levels of anxiety, like to the point where I can't call for pizza delivery without a panic attack, but went on several online dates. I met several fantastic guys, including my husband. I met several I wouldn't want to date, but there were perfectly nice and normal. The two best pieces of advice I got was to meet at public for a short activity-- coffee or happy hour is perfect and make plans for 90 minutes after your date so you have an out. Then to prepare for the awkward get to know you phase by reading the Post, watching Sports Center or listening to 30 for 30, and skimming People Magazine. That way you have relatively save, well known topics of conversation to start with. Good luck!

Carolyn, do you have any good less than an hour alternatives to coffee or drink, when you don't drink coffee or alcohol? I've stumbled over that a lot.

Other things that coffee shops and bars serve that aren't coffee or alcohol. Teas, smoothies, hot chocolate, virgin cocktails, sodas. You suggest the place based on knowledge of the menu, even if you just look ahead online. It's not an obstacle, really, so much as a conversation starter.

I must say, I was pretty surprised just now to see you tell the anxious dater that you can't NOT date. Of course you can opt out. But you have to be prepared for the consequences. A partner is not going to drop into your lap. Odds are, you'll stay single. You'll be shouldering the responsibility for your life without a designated backup readily at hand. You'll make friends (or not) and you will have your family of origin (or not), but you don't have to date. You don't have to have a partner. Life without a partner has its challenges, but you will be able to chart your own course, make decisions based solely on your wants and needs, and live very nicely. Of course, there is the garbage to take out, but everything has its down-side.

I got lost in the negatives. Did I advise OP to date or not date, and which one was wrong?

I thought I touched on all the options anyway--online date, don't date, circulate in a not-date way with the larger purpose of meeting potential dates.

I didn't dwell on the non-dating option because that didn't appear to be what OP wanted. As anyone who spends time here knows, I have no horse in anyone's dating/mating race. You decide what works for you, if you can, and I'll give whatever advice I think will support that goal. If you can't decide, then I'll gear my advice toward ways to sort that out. I'll even tell you what I think about goals in general, because I can't help myself apparently. 

I have a young relative who's headed off to college soon, who is feeling more than the usual allotment of jitters. She's otherwise a confident, outgoing, smart, emotionally-balanced young woman from a loving & secure home. Any suggestions for how to support her from a distance without being intruding or overbearing?

I think we need to define "more than the usual allotment." What you describe is someone who's really well positioned to figure it out. Part of the maturing process is to experience the sensation of having none of your familiar footing anymore, and to establish yourself anew. If anything, college offers the advantage of having a whole class of people off-kilter at the same time you are, so the institution itself is there for her as it wouldn't be if, say, she were about to travel abroad by herself.

Plus, people with strong families have strong safety nets to support them through this period of risk. Doesn't mean they aren't sleepless for weeks before they get there--it just means they have more resources available to them if something goes wrong, and that knowledge can be an extra layer of comfort.

So. What signs are you seeing that she needs more than, say, a weekly howyadoin text and an occasional care package?

Carolyn, my boyfriend is a very athletic, cross-fit, off-road biking, jock kind of guy. He also sometimes likes to wear ladies lingerie (which is completely fine with me). The other day he was wearing a satiny bra under a t-shirt and a friend of ours happened to see the strap. The friend is kind of freaked out and has been pestering me about 'what this means' & if it is some weird fetish I have (it is not. It's the bf's thing. And he does not otherwise wear women's garments). I think it's none of friend's business & I'm under no obligation to answer, but my non-answering has convinced friend I am hiding something unseemly. How to deal with this? It's no big deal, but it's irritating. Friend is not otherwise nosy or judgmental.

You want the friend to leave it alone, so say that. An unambiguous "Drop it" and a "What part of 'Drop it' is a mystery to you?" is all you need, as long as you have the proper GT[H]O attitude toward your business.

 

Hi Carolyn. I'm sorry for the long run-up, but I'm absolutely devastated up over a recent fight with my best friend of more than a decade. She is white, and I am not. The events in Charlottesville upset both of us, but landed much harder with me; I was extremely upset for days. I tried talking to her about it, and she was sympathetic at first, but then the conversation turned into a larger one about race and responsibility. She explained that she thought that all she could do was to be a fair person and raise her children well. I told her that I never expect anyone to go to rallies or protests, but that I do think people need to speak up when we see or hear bigotry in our day-to-day lives, even if it is uncomfortable to do so. She immediately felt like I was attacking her, and got extremely upset. (This is not unusual, and she often reacts angrily to anything she perceives as criticism.) I tried to explain that I didn't think she had done anything wrong, but that I did feel like we all have an obligation to be more vigilant given the way the country is going right now. She was dismissive and upset, and said she'd be happy to listen if I wanted to vent but that she wasn't interested in talking about this in any depth with me. She more or less hung up on me after a few minutes. We've talked since about mundane things, but this is clearly lingering. I don't know what I should do or should have done. I probably should have anticipated that she would get defensive, and maybe I should have just avoided the subject. On the other hand, I hated the idea that I can't talk to my closest friend about something that was troubling me so deeply. I have no idea what to do, and I would be grateful for any advice. Thank you. --David

This week's event were hard enough without a personal loss on top of it, and that's what you're dealing with now. I'm sorry.

It's not a loss in the traditional sense where someone dies or ends the friendship, but it's still a legitimate source of grief when you find out a loved one's shortcomings--even those you've known about and accepted as part of the beloved package that is your best friend--are bigger than her ability to sympathize with or show friendship toward you.

So I suggest you treat is as grief. That means you don't have to "do" anything about it just yet, besides give yourself time to let your thoughts and feelings settle. 

Once they do and you feel ready to face the underlying issue that stirred them up, then you figure out how this new information about her affects the friendship as a whole. Is there a way you've handled this defensiveness in the past that could serve you here? Does she ever walk back her defensiveness later and accept new information? 

Can you forgive her, and should you?

If she stays behind her wall, is your interest in remaining friends strong enough for you to keep making your half of the effort? Is there something you'd like to ask of her when things calm down? 

OP here. She's gotten herself homesick before she even gets there - social media posts about stuff she'll miss from home (even though it's a 90-minute drive away). And I spoke to her mom recently who relayed similar concerns.

Hm. It's not just social-media group-emoting?

Hi Carolyn - I recently encountered a man on a dating app with whom my friend has been a relationship for six months. Ostensibly they are exclusive. Mild criticism of the man's shortcomings <flakiness, doesnt take Friend very seriously, seems to play games with her> has been met with an unequivocal 'butt out' message. Do I tell the friend? Any other guidance? - wish this sticky situation were just a breakfast pastry!

Ew.

An unequivocal "butt out" message is an unequivocal "butt out" message. So I suggest you butt out. 

Hi Carolyn, I am angry, sad, do not approve of what happened in Charlotsville, or of racism, or Nazis. I don't even know how to form that sentence because, this is something that needs to be said? It's inane. But I'm fully aware that apparently this is a sentiment not shared be all. So, here's my question: I've seen a few posts from friends on Facebook, and had one in-person conversation, about how important it is that we all "speak out." Which in these cases, explicitly means saying something on social media. I'm having a hard time with that, not because I don't agree that killing and white supremacy are wrong (words cannot express what an understatement that is) but because it seems so meaningless. Yet that counts as doing something. I'm not judging anyone who comes out against it on Facebook, it's *something* one can do. But am I complicit in this by not saying anything? If I did, I'd get a bunch of likes from people who think like me, so... that counts as taking a stand? Am I missing out on convincing that guy from high school that Nazis are bad? And, in an extension of this question, am I complicit if I see some people post on Facebook conspiracy theory-type posts and don't engage? I guess I don't have faith in Facebook as a way to have meaningful conversations, but am growing concerned that that is a problem I need to address.

Can we trade the "inane" for "insane"?

As far as I can tell, the public declarations against racism serve to identify and reassure the like-minded, which has its place but is of limited practical use.

It is more meaningful to vow not to let racism go unchallenged in your presence, and to act on that vow--not just when it's comfortable for you to do so, but more so when it is not comfortable. If you benefit from institutionalized privilege and also believe such privilege is morally wrong, then the only way to dismantle it is to sacrifice some of your privilege to share it with others. Use your voice, your time, your money, your energy, your intellect, your influence, your vote. It's all important.

If the poster is willing, why not tell potential dates up front, "I have some anxiety about meeting new people. It's nothing personal , but it would be helpful to keep our first meeting short." The poster shouldn't be embarrassed about anxiety - a lot of people (eg, ME) have it. And it can be helpful to let a potential friend or date know at the onset. People can be very sympathetic ... or else they're not worth knowing.

I am many decades past my leaving-for-college days, but I completely sympathize w the college kid. She can have her own jitters and her own complicated feelings (excited but also sad, wanting to experience adult experiences but being scared) about starting college in whatever "amounts" are right for her. Just bc us old people only remember college as wonderful doesn't mean it isn't perfectly within a normal range for an 18 year old to be really upset about starting this next big chapter of their lives. I also remember not wanting to get out of bed for days after I graduated from college, so maybe that is coloring this - change is hard even when it's supposed to be good change

Old person here, I remember college as wonderful--but also white-knuckle terrifying at times. I thought that was more the norm.

But, like I said, getting through the white-knuckle parts is (to use the wording du jour) a feature, not a bug. Thanks.

I swear, I could have written a similar post about my wife and all things related to BLM and protests. She was very "ALL LIVES MATTER" and didn't get what I was saying (I am not a person of color, nor is she). the Pulse happened. It felt personal. To her, to many in our community. Someone in her family basically said "yeah, it sucks, but move on" and she lost it. I explained to her that he had just done the "all lives matter equivalent" to her and how she felt just now was how all our friends had felt when she said it. That was the eye opening she needed. But it took an incident so close to home it was visceral for her to bring the message home. Maybe this friend will have a similar "aha moment", and you may be there to help walk her through this new phase of realization.

Thank you, and I hope you're right.

 

Do you know of any good books or sites on fighting fair in a marriage? After a drag-out fight the other day, my husband said explicitly he cares more about "getting to the truth" than my feelings. This has shown up in our fights as a lot of contempt when I say something incorrect (as small as mixing up dates or names) and it is clearly not going to work for us long term. On the positive side, data and studies about how mutual respect and kindness is essential for healthy fights (even more so than being right?) might win him over. Thanks in advance.

Do some research on "nonviolent communication." It's a revelation. Also, John Gottman has done standard-setting work for years on marital communication, identifying productive vs. non-.

I immediately thought this should be shared with the friend even after a butt out message. The other things on the list feel more subjective. This is totally concrete, right? Am I missing something?

Maybe by someone else, but the messenger who has broached this subject several times and has been given the Heisman needs to stay out of it. Yes, it's a fact this time vs. opinion, but at this point it's also a told-you-so, more likely to trigger defensiveness and doubling down on the relationship than a "Gee, thanks for saving me from myself!"

I'm the OP; thank you so much for answering my question. Usually, the trick with my friend's defensiveness is to find a way to make any criticism a shared responsibility (i.e., admitting that I could have handled a disagreement better, whether it's true or not, so she can do the same and not feel like she's solely at fault). I don't know if I can do that in this case. It just feels wrong to take some of this on when I don't think I did anything wrong, on something that is so very personal. But I can't imagine not having her as a friend after all these years. I think I might have to find a way to just let it go, but not really sure how. [P.S. I apologize if your responding questions were rhetorical; if so, no need to respond to this too!]

Thanks for the out, but I'll respond anyway.

Do give it time to settle. It feels raw and personal right now, but she's just being the same self she has always been. It's just in a context you can't brush off this time. So, *you're* different here, not your friend.

Again, do what you must with the friendship in the wake of this--but you'll think more clearly, and therefore better, when your pain is not fresh.

I'm going to post a reader response too. Give me a sec to find it.

To play devil's advocate, your friend seemed put on the spot. You brought this up multiple times to her, she felt like you were attacking her, and you didn't seem to accept her entirely reasonable answer that she led by example. She even offered let you vent to her. It's been a tough week for everyone, and quite frankly, the world is too much with everyone these days. Not everyone wants and can be a social justice crusader, and perhaps her you should reexamine how you broach these conversations with your white friends. You've been best friends for years, and that history should lend itself a bit more charitably than you present here.

There's a lot of good stuff here, though I balk at " reexamine how you broach these conversations with your white friends." This friend, yes, but "white friends" implies monolithic thinking among groups, which is part of why we're now at a point where "the world is too much."

A close friend of mine had this happen to her and she said the worse thing is when no one wanted to talk about the baby, or pretended nothing happened. If people want to reach out the couple, the best advice I have is mention the baby and don't say things like "you can always have another" or "it will be ok." Also, I sent the mom a box of comfort items like a robe, some sleepers and tea and she said it was one of the best things she got. Maybe she was lying, but I don't know.

Lovely, thank you.

Carolyn, I have several lovely adult daughters, ranging from their late teens to early 20s. I am concerned about the weight gain (30+ lbs each) over the past year or two, but I am not sure how to approach them. I do not want them to feel body-shamed by anyone, nevermind their dad. But I worry about future health concerns. We have healthy meals whenever they visit, and I make an effort to have them join me in outside activities...but, in the end, these are their choices. Should I express my concerns (and once and only once)...I am not sure of the right words. But I would rather they be a bit upset with me than to have to deal with bigger issues when they are in their mid-40s.

No one on our part of earth needs to be helped with awareness of weight gain.

And if there are "bigger issues when they are in their mid-40s," then they will have to deal with them, not you.

Love them and lay off the very idea of health coaching, no matter how tempting it gets.

Two points: There's nothing more discouraging to an ally than hearing that you're not a good enough ally. She's more likely to promote tolerance if you let her do it on her own terms. Push people hard enough, and they turn all anti-SJW out of sheer pique. Also: I'm a minority as well, though not a racial one, and I have, over the years, become very offended when people don't react with the same outrage I do to discrimination. But now that I'm older, I also can admit that I've had several instances where I could have spoken up myself and didn't, because it just felt like too much to take on at that particular place in time, where I just didn't have the emotional resources to engage. If that's never happened to the LW, I'd be fairly amazed. So, I guess what I'm recommending is at least exploring whether empathy is warranted.

Thanks. Calming.

Is there an orientation event at the college? I met several new friends at my orientation. Together, we made all kinds of new, fun memories of the unfamiliar places we explored together

It's probably too late in this case, but I can't recommend these enough, thanks.

Carolyn, generally I agree with nearly all your advice. But the friend who saw a man on a dating app, who's been ostensibly exclusively dating her friend -- she should tell the friend. It's a health and safety issue. Just let her know the fact and let her make her own decision thereafter.

Thanks. Maybe my prediction of her defensiveness is needlessly pessimistic.

Yikes, ran long today. That's it for now, thanks for stopping by and type to you here next week. (Is it wedding hoot time? Don't forgot to submit your stories.)

 

Have a great weekend.

Can we please call out "single for an embarrassingly long time"? There's nothing embarrassing about being single.

YES thank you, I meant to do that in my answer and forgot, inexcusably. 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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