DEAR HARRIETTE: My friend "Beatrice" is very well-off and never wants for anything. She so rarely has a lack of something in her life that I have no idea what to take over when she entertains. I think that showing up empty-handed is in poor taste, yet I have no idea what I can take her that she doesn't already have 80 of! -- Got It All, Denver
DEAR GOT IT ALL: I bet your friend Beatrice is truly happy just having the pleasure of your company when she entertains. Make sure that when you attend her events, you are alert and ready to be of support should she need it.
In terms of a tangible gift, think of Beatrice and what interests her. Does she like to read? You can get her a copy of the latest book in her genre of choice. Does she like to cook? You could bring her a featured olive oil from your local farmers market. Think outside the box in terms of gift items that are small enough to not be a nuisance taking up space but that have meaning and a small story that could make the gift interesting. You can add a little note with the item telling her why this particular thing made you think of her.
DEAR HARRIETTE: English is my stepmother's second language. She says she is more comfortable in her native tongue, but she has also known English for over 20 years. I mention this because I hear her speaking Spanish with my stepsisters, and I think they're talking about me. Why would they speak a language they know I can't understand? -- Gossips, San Jose, California
DEAR GOSSIPS: When you believe that your stepmother and stepsisters are talking about you, what has just happened? Can you figure out triggers for the moments when you feel they are speaking Spanish and excluding you? Do you have solid reason to think they are talking about you rather than simply speaking in their own common tongue?
When they launch into Spanish, you should immediately ask them to speak English so that you can understand the conversation, too. Continue to ask, even if they comply only occasionally.
I would recommend going one step further. Take a Spanish class. Learn to speak this language that is now part of your family. You don't need to tell them that you are studying. Just learn and begin to pick up on what they are saying. When you become more fluent, start to speak to them in Spanish. If you find that they have been talking about you, ask them in Spanish to choose to be family with you instead of squabbling over anything. Then work hard to build a relationship with them. Talk to your father about this, too, so that he can help to be the glue. It takes time for families to blend, but it is possible, even when there are language barriers.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)