DEAR ABBY: My new boss is a nervy man who barks orders at everyone, and has a huge belly. I'll call him Ralph. Every few weeks on a whim, Ralph schedules office potlucks on company time and orders his employees to bring homemade dishes as a "team-building" exercise.
Ralph frequently reminds us that each dish MUST be homemade. As late as the day before a potluck, he'll post a sign-up sheet in the lunchroom that dictates food categories and limits. (For example, only two people may bring salads, etc.)
I e-mailed my boss asking if I could bring a high-quality store-bought item, because between working full time and my long commute, spending time in the kitchen isn't something I care to do. Ralph never bothered to answer. With great resentment, I ended up making a large tuna casserole at midnight for the potluck the next day.
Abby, are employees like me powerless in these circumstances? How can I avoid participating in the potlucks without being labeled insubordinate or getting punished? No one else in our office has spoken up, but each time that sign-up sheet is posted, the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. -- RESENTFUL IN NEW YORK CITY
DEAR RESENTFUL: I don't blame you for resenting being compelled to do something outside your job description, on your own time and at your own expense. I don't know the labor laws in New York; however, many states have labor statutes that could protect you.
Allow me to offer this food for thought: Consider another kind of "team-building" exercise with your co-workers. Confront your boss as a group and tell him how much his demands are resented by all of you. There's safety in numbers. He can't fire all of you, or there would be no "leftovers" to boss around.
DEAR ABBY: My dear husband passed away two months ago. We had been married for 26 happy years.
When people in the neighborhood or in town see me, they say, "You are doing great," or "You look wonderful," and "How are you feeling?" I know people don't know what to say at a time like this, but how should I reply?
Although my clothes are clean and my hair is combed, don't they realize I am heartbroken? Am I supposed to weep and tear my hair in public? I may look strong, but inside it's all applesauce.
If people feel awkward, can't they just say, "I think of you often," or "I'm glad to see you"? Please tell me how to respond to these Pollyannas who think I'm just peachy. -- GRIEVING PRIVATELY IN FLORIDA
DEAR GRIEVING: Smile at those well-intentioned folks and say, "Thank you for the compliment. Losing my darling has been traumatic, but with time I'm slowly adjusting." It's the truth, but it also conveys an accurate message.
DEAR ABBY: I am a fifth-grader. I never thought I'd be writing to you but I am, so let me get right to the point:
I am really short. Kids at school make fun of me because I'm the shortest student in my grade. I was hoping you could give me some advice about what to say when I'm called "Shorty." -- ANONYMOUS GIRL IN NORTH DAKOTA
DEAR ANONYMOUS: People should be measured from their eyebrows up -- not from top to bottom. There are many successful people who are not tall in stature. I am one of them. Tell your classmates that good things -- like diamonds -- come in small packages. Then change the subject.
Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds)
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