DEAR MARY ANN: Recently my in-laws decided to plan a trip without my knowledge to visit us. They are from six states away, and so when they visit they stay in our home but not normally for more than three to five days. They checked the dates with my husband, who told them when the children were off from school, but the next thing we knew they had purchased nonrefundable tickets for eight days over a major holiday week. My husband called his parents and asked if they would please shorten their trip to five days and their response was to get angry with us and not come at all. Now there is a cold war that has begun on their side. We feel that the visit was planned for too long and they need to communicate better with us when planning their visits. [How can we improve] communication and melt the icy, cold barrier that has developed?
-- CHILLY IN PA
DEAR CHILLY: Your in-laws may not have heard the old adage that fish and visitors start to smell after three days. Your husband should have deferred making plans with his parents until he checked with you. With better communication the misunderstanding could have been averted. If the in-law visits are usually three to five days and the trip was booked for eight days, they knew they were overstepping a line. Barging ahead and making nonrefundable arrangements can be viewed as a power play or just thoughtlessness.
Grandparents who have the luxury of time in their retirement years often fail to recognize the disruption their visits may cause in a busy family's schedule. Many families welcome longer visits as the norm but it sounds as though this is not the case in your household. You and your husband are correct in setting boundaries for your own family time. Invite your in-laws for another visit and be specific on possible dates. Expect that you may receive an icy response. So be sincere and continue to keep the welcome mat on the porch. Don't fall into the web of rehashing the aborted trip. Hurt feelings will heal over time. Remind your in-laws that you, your husband and your children are looking forward to their visits.
DEAR MARY ANN: I am a professional woman in her 40s and I consider myself to be rather "low maintenance." My entire life, people have raved about the unique color of my hair. I look back fondly to many a Pittsburgh hair stylist telling my mother when I was a child, "You can't get that out of a bottle." It has always been part of my identity. Now, though, I find myself at a crossroads in that I have started to go gray. I am torn as to whether to try to cover the gray or just to let it grow in naturally. To start the color wheel, I fear, will make me a slave to the salon and the maintenance of it. The vain side of me worries that those Pittsburgh ladies were right -- you can't get that out of a bottle. I do not want my hair to look fake. To let the gray come in, though, I believe will make me look prematurely older than I am. It also would take away a core part of what I consider to be who I am. To dye or not to dye? That is the question.
-- BETTER RED THAN DEAD?
DEAR RED: Your unique hair color is part of your self-identity. So you should enhance your hair shade and begin to cover the gray. Keep in mind however, skin tones change over time and what was flattering to you as a little girl may be the wrong hue for you today. Forty may be the new 30 but it will never be the old 12. Work with a knowledgable stylist and your hair will not look like it came out of a bottle. Today's techniques and hair products have improved dramatically since you were a child. An experienced hairdresser can blend color to cover your gray. Have a clear understanding before beginning the process that you don't want to look artificial or be high maintenance. Start slowly and as the gray disappears you will begin to appear more like yourself.
Need some Steel Advice? Email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Mary Ann Wellener, Steel Advice Column, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Follow Mary Ann on Twitter at @PGSteelAdvice.