DEAR MISS MANNERS: Every time my in-laws visit, they attempt to hijack my kitchen. As soon as they arrive, they run to the grocery store and buy groceries. It's not that my kitchen isn't stocked. I already have margarine and butter, for example, but I don't have the "right" brand of margarine or the kind of bread they prefer.
If I go to the grocery store, they accompany me and attempt to direct my shopping. My sister-in-law, for example, instructed me not to buy red meat -- I'd already served it too many nights in a row -- and inspected the lunchmeat I'd purchased because the one I'd bought before was "too greasy." My mother-in-law purchased some sour cream so as to modify a spinach dip I'd served, saying it was "too mayonnaise-y."
My mother-in-law attempts to usurp my menu by begging to prepare the meals, and sometimes, despite my firm objections, takes it upon herself to bake cookies or some other favorite dish in my kitchen.
Once she started a batch of cookies just a few hours before a dinner party, making it very difficult for me to prepare the meal.
I might add that, when we visit, my mother-in-law rebuffs any offers of help in the kitchen, even to assist with the cleanup.
I'm a decent cook, but she's convinced that she's an expert and therefore entitled to take over both at her house and mine. (Even though, I'm forced to point out, the meals she prepares usually consist of overcooked meat and a slightly rancid iceberg lettuce salad.) Also, she's utterly obsessed with her weight and has a morbid fear of consuming any calories not completely to her liking.
As I mentioned, I've been clear about my desire to manage the cooking and the kitchen, but, short of throwing an ugly fit, she's not going to get the message. Any suggestions for dealing with this boorish behavior?
GENTLE READER: In the same spirit your mother-in-law is exhibiting. But no, no, not boorishly. Tempting as it must be to tell them that it's your house, that your husband happens to prefer your cooking, and that they can clear out of the kitchen this instant, it would be not only rude but useless.
It would turn into a big daughter-in-law grievance -- that you can't cook and can't even behave yourself. From their point of view, all they are doing is making themselves at home in their own son's house and trying to help you out.
It is that spirit of bossiness disguised as politeness that Miss Manners wants you to adopt. You must announce that you are going to insist on pampering them -- they work so hard when you visit them that you simply won't hear of their lifting a finger. Then you can tell them to clear out of the kitchen this instant -- in an affectionate tone of concern for their welfare, as you forcibly steer them to comfortable chairs in the living room.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My siblings and I are planning a 30th-anniversary party for my parents. We'd like to include all of their friends and extended family, but none of us has much money.
Both parents have six siblings, so it'd be impossible to keep the guest list short without lots of hurt feelings. My sister suggested sending a letter to guests and asking for donations. I'm uneasy about this. Is there a good way to word such a request?
GENTLE READER: How about a nice family photograph, showing all of you, and saying "Please donate to the needy"?