Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Questions What to Do With Presents

DEAR HARRIETTE: My brother called at the last minute to me to tell me he was not coming to celebrate Christmas at my home. This was very short notice, and I had already wrapped gifts for him and my nieces. They have been coming every year without exception since the girls were born. (They are now teenagers.)

Although I am upset, I am now trying to figure out what to do with these gifts. They have birthdays and next Christmas to celebrate with me, so I was wondering if I could gift these presents to them at a different time, or if I should ship the gifts to them? -- Christmas Present to Birthday Present, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

DEAR CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO BIRTHDAY PRESENT: I'm sorry that your brother made a last-minute change in his plans to be with you for Christmas. Assume that your brother had a good reason for being a no-show, and don't make his daughters suffer. Not visiting with you is likely a disappointment all the way around.

I suggest that you send your nieces their gifts along with a note saying how much you missed spending the holiday with them. Tell them also how much you look forward to being with them at the next family occasion. You should also be prepared for fewer visits. As children grow older, sometimes the family that has to travel makes different decisions during the holidays. Find out why your brother chose not to come to visit you. Do your best to talk about it, so that you get on the same page way before the next family get-together.

Read more in: Holidays & Celebrations | Etiquette & Ethics

DEAR HARRIETTE: I agreed to take care of my friend's cat under the condition that I come once a day. This was completely manageable to me, but she apparently wanted me to stay for hours each day to play with the cat. I barely tolerate cats, let alone like them enough to spend hours luring them out of hiding to play with me. So I haven't been spending hours with the cat, but I have been telling my friend I have. Is this a breach of trust? I know dogs need socialization, but normally cats don't want anything to do with the stranger coming to feed them. -- Feeling Guilty, Ellicott City, Maryland

DEAR FEELING GUILTY: Of course, lying about how you are caring for your friend's cat is a breach of trust. The mistake your friend made was in not being crystal clear about what was expected in caring for the cat. Another mistake was not assessing who was the best person to be the cat's guardian in the owner's absence. It is irresponsible to give the responsibility of caring for an animal to someone who doesn't understand the animal or how to care for it.

You were wrong to lie about what you are doing for the cat. Immediately tell the truth. Be honest and let your friend know that you are not a cat lover, and that you agreed to care for the cat because you were trying to be a friend. Admit that you are unwilling to hang out with the cat on a daily basis. Suggest that you be replaced as soon as possible.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Friends & Neighbors | Miscellaneous