Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Stepdad's Attempt at Bonding Falls Flat

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have picked up the hobby of stand-up paddle boarding. I love waking up to watch the sunrise and get out on the water. My stepfather, in an attempt to bond with me, surprised me by saying he has purchased a paddleboard for himself. This is a big investment, and the worst part is that I use paddle boarding as my alone time -- not a time to talk about how useful accounting is in life.

How can I politely tell my stepfather that I can give him a lesson, but from then on, he’s on his own? -- Paddling Away, Ocean City, Maryland

DEAR PADDLING AWAY: You need to be honest and gentle with your stepfather. You must have been talking about your new hobby to the point that he considered it could be a way to connect with you. Now you have to manage that sharing of information.

It would be very kind of you to teach your stepfather how to paddle board. During your lessons, you can slip in comments about the serenity of the experience, what you like to do most when you are balancing on the water and how important it is to you to experience silence during this time of peace and quiet. Then watch to see how well your stepfather can fall into your pacing. If it works comfortably, you might tell him that you would like to share the experience with him on occasion, but mainly this is your meditation time.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My friend, who is an artist, gifted me a very large painting. This painting is of an ugly fish, and it's 6 feet across. I like to keep my walls bare, so she knows I have the space to hang it. Honestly, I think this could traumatize guests and does not suit me at all.

Do I have to hang this painting? Do I have the obligation to tell her why I won’t display it? -- From the HeART, San Diego

DEAR FROM THE HEART: Ah, you are entering tough territory. If your friend visits your home, which it sounds like she does, you should come clean. Thank her for her generosity, and then admit that you do not hang art on your walls. You like a clean palate; therefore, you really cannot accept her gift. Point out that you would feel terrible storing it away when, clearly, it is something that she spent time and creativity making. If she suggests leaning it against the wall or otherwise presses for you to try it out -- “Hey, you might like art on your walls after all!” -- you will have to confess that while you see her creativity, you are a little frightened by the fish and do not feel comfortable living with it in your space. Your friend is an artist. While her feelings may be hurt, she will have to understand that not everybody is going to fall in love with her work.

(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.)