Annie's Mailbox: Week of December 28th

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Dear Annie:

When my dad passed away several years ago, he left a certificate of deposit to me. When it matured, I went to the bank with my mom because she had a CD that matured at the same time. The CD that Dad left me was a payable-on-death CD, with me as the only beneficiary, and my dad was the individual owner of the CD.

About a year later, I got a letter from my mom stating, “You need to split up the CD that your dad and I put in your name.” I called my mom and said that the CD was directly from my dad and tried to explain to her that she had nothing to do with it. I told her to talk to the lawyer who handled the estate, because I provided the information to the lawyer about the CD. The estate paperwork shows that my dad left me the CD. My mom then accused me of swindling her and hung up on me.

A short time later, my siblings stopped talking to me, and one called me a thief. I then found out that mom had told my four siblings and others that I had taken her to the bank and swindled her out of a CD. I sent copies of the CD to three of my siblings, and they all know that Mom is wrong, but none of them will confront her and help me out.

A couple of months ago, I stopped by my mom’s house and asked her what the problem with the family is, and she said it is the CD I took. I again told her to talk to the lawyer. I told her she is the one who created this mess and she can start getting the family back together by admitting that I did not swindle her. She said she would not do that.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my one brother called me a thief again. Fortunately, I have a wonderful wife who has been very patient with my dealing with this mess. We just need some guidance on how to deal with this. — Inheritance Headache in Illinois

Dear Inheritance Headache:

First, rule out any medical reasons for your mother’s behavior, as it’s possible she’s genuinely experiencing confusion and memory loss. Try uniting with your siblings to encourage Mom to see a doctor for a complete assessment.

If that doesn’t turn out any explanations, enlist the help of a family mediator. Visit to find one in your area.

Dear Annie:

I have a co-worker who has been on workers’ compensation for over a year. She misses one day a week for physical therapy. The rest of the staff members in the office have to cover her position while she is gone. People in management said they can’t do anything about it, and they have not been able to get temporary help for one day a week, as we live in a small town. The kicker is that we feel that she is milking this injury and the rest of us are carrying the load. There is a lot of animosity in the office. What can we do? — Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

You can privately reiterate to human resources how this situation is impacting morale. Perhaps those in management will consider what steps they might take to ensure all their employees feel valued, as happy workers are productive workers. But ultimately, you need to stop focusing so much on your co-worker and whether or not her injury is legitimate. The resentment is only hurting you.

Dear Annie:

A while ago, my husband and I co-signed a car loan for my son. At the time, he was very financially stable. After about 2 1/2 years into the loan, we started getting late notices, as he was in financial difficulty. He ran into a situation with his job and was brought up on charges with the law. The car was eventually totaled, but I have found out there is still a balance of about $5,500. Now the car company is looking to us for payment. He apparently was never on the loan; only my husband and I are. He has ruined our credit, to say the least, which has caused a rift in the family.

About a year ago, he placed us in charge of our granddaughter’s 529 plan. There is about $27,000 left in the account. I recently got an e-mail stating that my granddaughter is dropping out of college and that he wants to transfer the funds to his younger daughter. He wanted me to sign over the account to his ex-wife. I definitely do not want to do this. She is a spender, so I am afraid the children would never get the money for their education. I would like to stay in charge.

My dilemma is this. I have called the company the plan is with, and because I am the owner, I could withdraw the $5,500 owed to the car company. I would like to get this behind us. My husband and I are retired and just barely making ends meet, so there is no way we could ever pay back this loan on our own and have our credit restored. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. — Sad Parents

Dear Sad Parents:

The problem is that your son keeps leaving messes behind that he expects you and your husband to clean up.

You and your husband are living on a fixed income, and you should not have to pay the $5,500 that your son owes to his car company. I would talk to an attorney to find out the best way to proceed and to make sure any additional funds (after the $5,500 has been paid to your son’s car company) go to your granddaughter’s education and not to your son’s ex-wife. I know it costs money to hire a lawyer, but you will save in the long run. You want to avoid Shakespeare’s warning that “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”

Dear Annie:

Please settle an argument that has been raging in my household — more specifically, my kitchen — for years. My husband, “Steve,” will use the same sponge to clean dishes, wipe counters, scrub floors and even wash the car. Who knows how many times axle grease residue has been left on my plates? Daily, I microwave our sponges or run them through the dishwasher, just in case Steve’s been “cleaning” again.

On the flip side, I use paper towels for most of my kitchen cleaning because of the “ick” factor. However, Steve thinks I’m being wasteful, economically and environmentally. I would like to reduce the number of paper towels we use as a household, but I don’t know the best alternative. So, Annie, what’s the best way to clean the kitchen? Paper towels? Sponges? Something else entirely? — Ick in Indiana

Dear Ick:

You’re both right. Sponges are breeding grounds for germs, and using them across surfaces without properly cleaning them first does more harm than good. And paper towels do a number on the environment — to the tune of 18 million trees cut down annually for U.S. households.

The best solution here, as with any other conflict in marriage, lies in compromise. Cut up old T-shirts to use as rags, which you’ll find you can often use when you would have used paper towels. Use paper towels when necessary, e.g., wiping down the toilet or soaking up grease (which would be damaging if it drained into your pipes). With sponges, designate different colors for different purposes.

Dear Annie:

I felt compelled to respond to the letter from “Bah Humbug.” She hosts the family dinners, which are never reciprocated, and her in-laws leave with all the food at the end.

This is similar to my situation. Your options for her were good ones. May I suggest a few more I’ve learned from experience?

1) Have gatherings at times other than the actual holiday. Keep the actual day for plans with your immediate family.

2) Assign specific types of dishes family members are requested to bring, and announce what you will provide.

3) Cook smaller portions for dinner and/or separate out your own “leftovers” in different pans, or cook ahead of time and keep yours in the fridge or freezer. (I learned to do this a long time ago. Works great.)

4) Structure the time of the event. Say:

“Plan on being at our house at noon. We will eat at 1 and finish by 4.”

5) Plan to go to a movie, see holiday lights or do something that gets everyone out the door. No one else has to go, but make clear that everyone has to leave your home when you do.

6) Keep in mind that this will feel uncomfortable the first time. It will get easier and become expected after a couple of times. You will be teaching your children how to manage these situations throughout their own lives. And you will meet your own needs and have freedom of choice about your own holidays. It will change your expectations of the extended family members and make them responsible for whatever relationship they choose to continue with one another, and you will be happier in the end.

Obviously, I feel strongly about this. I went through about 20 years of these dinners falling in my lap and feeling taken advantage of. As I started taking steps to structure these events, things improved greatly. Happy holidays! — The Main Host

Dear Main Host:

You’re clearly a pro. Though this season’s holidays are nearly done, I’m sure there are some hosts already dreading next year’s. Your plan of attack might offer hope.

Dear Annie:

They say that you’ll never forget your first love and that forbidden love excites the most desire, and lately I’ve been thinking nonstop about my first love. I’m not talking about a man. I’m talking about soccer! At 6 years old, I learned what it feels like to be completely free, present and powerful when I stepped on the field and scored my first goal for the Super Soccer Sisters. Every fall, spring and summer was spent engrossed in the sport until I went to college, at which point I stopped because of emotional instability and an eating disorder. Last year, at 25, I joined an adult league and was seriously lit up the minute I stepped back onto the field. Unfortunately, my legs aren’t what they used to be, and I ended up with a minor concussion from a tackle and a torn ankle ligament.

My mom (half-joking, half-serious) says, “You’re not a teenager anymore. You’re getting old.” She thinks I should retire my cleats. Though I’m no spry teenager, I believe I could get back into it with proper agility training. Annie, the thought of never feeling the joy of soccer again firsthand upsets me so much. Should I keep with it and risk hurting myself more or move on and just look forward to kicking the ball around with my kids down the road? — Craving Kicks

Dear Craving Kicks:

I have a feeling you’ll be kicking yourself later if you don’t give soccer another go. Your brain is precious, and concussions are serious, but there are steps you can take short of quitting the sport. Invest in a soft helmet designed for soccer, and talk to your doctor about other recommended precautions. Then dust off those cleats. Living well isn’t just about living as safely as possible, after all. It’s about following your bliss off the sidelines.

Dear Annie:

I’ve been working within my industry for over 25 years. I’ve been working at my current firm for a year. Recently, we advertised a job opening. As regional manager, I screened the applications and passed my selections on to human resources to finalize. The candidate I preferred was a woman with 24 years of experience, “Barb.” Barb was making $115,000 per year but said she was willing to take a cut. We decided to offer her the job.

When I got a copy of the offer letter from HR, I was astonished that the head of HR, “Sarah,” had offered Barb $120,000. My other seven sales reps’ salaries were averaging between $100,000 and $105,000. Only one of them was making $110,000, and he has 19 years of experience.

I had a talk with Sarah as to the reason for this unfairness. Her reply was that she had crunched the industry salaries on the market and decided to offer this amount. I told her, “But she’s close to my actual salary!” I told Sarah that if my other sales reps were to hear Barb’s salary, they’d start underperforming or quit.

To make the frustration worse, now, after three months, I’ve been informed that Barb was also offered six weeks of vacation time. I, as regional manager, get four weeks. My boss cannot believe what’s going on, either. I’m wondering whether Sarah is just a chauvinist person. My boss and I will have a talk with our vice president about this. What do you propose, Annie? — Puzzled

Dear Puzzled:

The system your firm has in place to decide on compensation doesn’t seem to be working. This is an organizational issue, and you should raise it as such — not as an issue of Sarah’s being a “chauvinist” — when you speak with the vice president. Drop the name-calling and finger-pointing, as they only reflect poorly on you.

Dear Annie:

I am 56 years old. When I was 44, my wife and I divorced after 17 years of marriage. I think we were lovely parents to two amazingly independent and strong daughters. They are now 22 and 26.

I feel that I was married at the perfect age, 28, and my wife was 25. We had a very good run, and we did a good job of co-parenting after we divorced, when the girls were teens. We always tried to take the high road. I always tell people to try to be courteous to their ex-spouses.

Anyway, the funny thing is I have not dated once in those 12 years, because I sense pitfalls and know about age gap problems, and sometimes I do that goofy formula that says the appropriate age to date is half yours plus seven years (or older). Women that age have actually asked me on dates, but I’ve refused. Other women have drama and kids, and I know I don’t want to mess up entire families’ dynamics with my desire for finding a mate.

I am wondering whether we live in an age when I can get my social fill in my time at the Y, swimming and in coffee shops, socializing as the extrovert that I am. Could that be the new norm? — Happy Bachelor

Dear Happy Bachelor:

If all your issues with dating have been related to age, why not date someone in the same stage of life as you?, eHarmony and other dating sites allow you to set age ranges, and is a dating site exclusively for people over 50.

If dating simply doesn’t appeal to you, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life without a romantic partner. What matters is that you’re happy and that you have a healthy social life, and it sounds as if both of those things are true for you.

Dear Annie:

Why can’t people bother to spell my first name correctly? I have a fairly common name, six letters long, that happens to have about seven different usual spellings. What gets me is that even when the proper spelling of my name is right in front of people, they will still misspell it. It will be on the envelope, at the bottom of a card or letter, on the front of my file, in my e-mail address, in the church directory, etc. That does not seem matter, because people proceed to write my name however they want, using one of the other possible spellings. When that happens, I correct the misspelling on the paper. Even people who have known me for a long time, such as cousins and friends, will misspell my name. Furthermore, sometimes folks mispronounce it by saying it as one syllable instead of two. This has been a lifelong problem. How do I get through to people? — Joanne

Dear Joanne:

I had to laugh when I got to your signature. I was expecting something much more complex. I don’t know why people have such trouble with your name. When it comes to strangers, even if you tried every trick under the sun (spelling it out, even wearing a name tag), the fact is they might still get it wrong, so all you can do is try changing your outlook. Friends and cousins, on the other hand, have absolutely no excuse for getting your name wrong, and you should tell them so.

Dear Annie:

My 36-year-old stepson, “Greg,” acts as if he’s married to my husband. It’s like a constant battle to outdo me. When my husband and I go on vacation, Greg whines to Daddy that he never takes him anywhere. On Wednesday, which is Greg’s day off, he will plan something for lunchtime so my husband will be gone while I’m home. I work second shift. Greg has been horribly spoiled by his mother and father and thinks he’s entitled to everything. I have quite a few grandkids, and Greg doesn’t like that his dad spends time with them, so he calls his dog his dad’s grandchild and expects him to buy her birthday and Christmas gifts and gifts at different times throughout the year.

I’m ready to snap. For any holiday, Greg will tell his dad where to take him to eat and say, “And don’t bring her!” My husband will never stick up for me, and if I try to say something about any of this, he tells me he doesn’t want to hear it. I love my husband, but I’m about done with all of this. Help, please! — Frustrated With Ungrateful Kid

Dear Frustrated With Ungrateful Kid:

It sounds as though you’re more frustrated with your husband’s refusal to stick up for you than you are with anything else. You have to talk with him about how your feelings are hurt when Greg says he does not want you there. Tell your husband that you don’t want to have to fight for his time and attention. And to this same end, make sure that you are not being competitive with Greg. For instance, if Greg values his dog almost as a child, you should allow him that and not put down his father’s giving the dog some presents. Instead, focus on the attention and love your husband gives to your grandchildren and tell him how much you appreciate it. Your husband tries hard to please Greg and your grandchildren. All that’s left is for him to treat you the same way.

Dear Annie:

Thanks for saying people who are often late tend to be optimists. I appreciate that characterization, especially because I often cut things very close — although I usually make it just in time.

I want to share the technique used by many I know for dealing with people who are chronically late:

Tell them everything starts earlier than it does. That way, they arrive on time, and you don’t have to sit around waiting.

If you know the person is always late and value the person’s friendship, it’s easy to take that into account and adjust your own attitude and behavior. Appreciate the person’s good qualities, and forgive the annoying ones. All of us have something we do that bothers someone else. — Ellen

Dear Ellen:

Indeed, we do — and I’d be out of a job if we didn’t.

Dear Annie:

I have a friend who talks very loudly. It’s quite annoying and irritating. She’s so loud that it sounds as though she’s angry or upset. Friends and family members have asked me numerous times why she talks so loudly. I have asked her nicely a million times to lower her voice. Soon after telling her, the volume goes back up, even when she is sitting right next to me. What is surprising is that she does not realize how loudly she talks. This person had her hearing tested about a year ago as part of a routine medical checkup, and her hearing was considered normal for her age. She tells me that she has been talking loudly all her life and gets annoyed when asked to lower the volume. Why is it that she cannot lower her voice even when she’s been asked politely? Can such a nasty habit be changed? Would a speech therapist help? Do breathing exercises exist that could help her lower her voice? Could it be that she has some unknown medical problem? It’s come to the point that I cannot stand it anymore and this bad habit is hurting our friendship. — Loudness Sufferer

Dear Loudness Sufferer:

Perhaps she was born with large vocal cords or is suffering a subtler form of hearing loss not detected in basic tests. (You might encourage her to see a specialist to rule that out.) Whatever the reason for her loud talking, her worse habit is refusing to hear her friends. Before it totally ruins the friendship, let her know how it hurts your feelings when she disregards your pleas.

Dear Annie:

I bet you haven’t heard this one before. My husband has narcolepsy. His assessment at the sleep clinic indicated that he goes into REM sleep instantly.

He usually stays up until almost 2 in the morning and often gets up at 6. Unfortunately, I am unable to fall into a deep sleep until he comes to bed, because I know his getting in bed will cause a stir and wake me up. The problem is I am barely functioning — and it causes fights when I try to get him to come to bed at a reasonable time. I adapted when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s been much more difficult. I realize that this is my problem — even though if he slept more, it would probably have a beneficial effect for him, too. (He has a lot of health issues.) I don’t know how to cope anymore. — Sleepless in Spokane

Dear Sleepless in Spokane:

These days, many couples sleep in separate bedrooms, and I’m not talking about unhappy couples. In fact, these are very happy couples — because both partners are able to get a good night’s rest, even if they have different sleeping habits.

If you don’t have a spare bedroom, consider getting two twin beds. I’ve heard from many readers who have solved sleeping differences with spouses this way. One can get into bed without worrying that the rustling of covers and shifting of the mattress will wake the sleeping partner.

Though sleeping in separate beds might not be how you always pictured a happy marriage, what’s really important is that you cherish your waking hours together.