Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Government Shutdown Victims Should Band Together

DEAR HARRIETTE: Several people in my neighborhood work for the government, and the stress of the shutdown is wearing on them. My husband and I are on Social Security, so we rely on the government, too. We are in a situation that feels like a sinking ship.

I think it might be smart for us to band together and cook some meals. Sometimes it costs less when you make more. I don’t know. I hate seeing people suffer. Do you think it’s a good idea to suggest a potluck kind of thing? Maybe it could boost people’s spirits if we are all together? We have gotten together before over the years, but usually for happy reasons. -- Shutdown

DEAR SHUTDOWN: First, I want to say that I hope that by the time this is published, the government shutdown is over. It is already the longest in recorded history, which is nothing for us to feel good about. I have seen and read many stories of individuals and families who are struggling. This crisis has revealed that many Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. As we hear stories about the "booming" economy, I have consistently heard people complain that they don’t know who is benefiting from this boom.

Your idea for a neighborhood potluck is excellent. It represents a way that everyone can break bread together more affordably as you offer support and good fellowship. Knowing that you are not alone at a time like this can be helpful. When you invite your neighbors, make it easy for them to participate by being a good organizer. State what you will make and ask what they can bring. Keep your tone upbeat so that they know this gathering is meant to inspire everyone to weather this economic storm.

Read more in: Friends & Neighbors | Money | Work & School

Reader Needs to Make Time to Talk to Elderly Neighbor

DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in an apartment building with a lot of different people of various backgrounds. One elderly woman is kind and talkative. Whenever I see her, she wants to have a leisurely conversation about whatever is on her mind. It’s sweet, and I want to be able to spend time with her, but usually I am dashing off to work or to an appointment. I see how frustrating it can be for her when she is ready to settle in for a chat and I have to run. I don’t mean to hurt her feelings. How can I best address this situation? I know I can’t make myself available every time I see her, but there’s got to be something I can do to be more attentive to her. -- Time for Elders

DEAR TIME FOR ELDERS: Always greet your neighbor with a warm smile and hello. When you know you cannot stop, tell her you have to go, but you look forward to speaking with her at another time. Follow up with her, and ask if you can bring her tea or come to visit from time to time. If you do make a date, make sure you show up on time. Be prepared to stay awhile, but also manage expectations by letting her know how long you can stay and that you will return.

(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 | Etiquette & Ethics