Dear Mrs. (Slightly) Sophisticated

My neighbor is obsessed with a blow-up for any occasion. Is it okay to ask them to stop with the blow-ups? At Christmas, it is like a blow-up museum because they have so many. I mean, is it really necessary?

Dear Deflated,

Firstly, I must ask if your neighborhood has any rules against this. Do you have an HOA? Perhaps they would have some advice according to their bylaws, but it seems there is not one from your account. HOAs can be a double-edged sword when dealing with decorations. They can keep some people from going overboard but also kill the Christmas spirit by never allowing any fun.

Do the decorations create a traffic issue in front of your house during any season? Your frustration is understandable if people congregate to see the decorations. Ruts in your yard or cars blocking your driveway would be reasons to ask for some assistance from your neighbor. If the lights keep your family from sleeping at night, that would be another reason to approach her and simply ask for certain hours for the decorations.

Do you just think they are tacky? It is certainly within your right not to enjoy her choice of decoration on her property. It is quite another to ask her to stop. Does she have children or grandchildren that enjoy the decorations? Children love nothing more than tacky decorations.

Instead, maybe you should ask yourself her possible reasons for the decorations. Your neighbor obviously receives great satisfaction from the blow-ups. I, myself, have inflated, deflated, and stored a blow-up decoration in its original box. It is hard work. It is annoying to make that thing fit back in the box. No one would do that to themselves unless they enjoyed it for some reason.

She might feel she is spreading a good amount of joy with the decorations. Do children worry about the tackiness of the decorations? No. They are overjoyed by decorations, no matter the theme or time of year.

We never know why someone goes over the top with yard decorations. In fact, the house next door to you might not care for your lack thereof. A person might create a festive outside atmosphere because they are lonely and do not have much to celebrate inside the home. Maybe they have grandchildren living far away and do not get to share their enthusiasm with them. So instead, they share with people they do not know. You never even know if they lost a child that loved over-the-top yard decorations. That child may have been looking forward to decorations for Christmas, but they never made it to see those blow-ups.

My best advice is to ask why they enjoy the blow-up decorations so much. Instead of killing someone’s fun by complaining about what they obviously enjoy, ask if maybe you can help. Find the basis of the blow-up before you curse it. You might find out great new things about your neighbors. At the same time, you might learn to loosen up and learn to enjoy your entire neighborhood more and more.

We are traveling for the holidays. Any advice on how to make that more enjoyable?

Dear Travel Humbug,

I agree that traveling to your destination can put a damper on the celebration. I do not know your specifics, but I can cover some general rules.

Pack snacks. I do not care if you are alone, with small children, or with your elderly parents. Regardless, you need to pack snacks. An emergency package of cheese crackers can make or break a trip. You also never know when a two-hour trip can turn into a ten-hour trip.

Speaking of a much longer trip than anticipated, bring extra clothes and toiletries in a separate bag. If you think something could possibly go wrong during holiday travel, chances are that it will. A change of undergarments for all and toothbrushes are life savers if the trip turns overnight.

Also, bring something to keep each person entertained. This includes yourself. A special toy for children that is only brought out in emergencies is a wonderful idea. An extra book for yourself, perhaps. Download a movie for the non-reader. Be prepared to talk about anything with your significant other if they do not want to watch another movie or read another book. Plan small details about your retirement if you must. Discuss what type of tree you might want to plant in the yard upon your return. Almost any topic will keep someone awake in the car or at an airport.

Respect general travel rules in order to make the trip easier for the strangers you encounter along the way. Only pass in the left lane while driving. Use your blinker. Let that minivan merge in front of you.

If you are flying, please learn airplane and airport etiquette. Walkways are much like roads. Forward traffic stays on one side of the concourse. Walk single file if possible. Moving along four wide tends to block everyone else. Only stand next to the boarding lanes when your group is called. If you board with group 5, please wait near your seat. If it is a full flight, put as much under the seat as possible. And never walk off of the plane until everyone in front of you has done so as well. I think this makes other travelers more irate than anything else.

If needed, plaster a smile on your face. Laugh at the bad situations, and enjoy the good ones. Remember that these are your holidays. You can decide to be miserable with every hiccup, or you can choose to make them into an adventure.

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