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Annie's Mailbox

February 10, 2004

Dear Annie: I grew up in a very bigoted family, although I always have seen people as just people, not a "color."

At the moment, I am dating a man of another race, and I believe we have a future together.

I know if my family discovers my relationship with "Hugo," they will disown me.

When I look at this man, I see only a wonderful, sweet, caring, funny, considerate and loving person who cares very much for me and would provide a modicum of financial security and stability should we marry.

My family is not going to "come around." They would never listen to me or understand.

My anxiety over such a huge decision is causing me a great deal of unrest.

What do I do? — Southern Belle

Dear Belle: Hugo deserves a woman who has the courage to tell her family she loves him.

It may be difficult, but you don't get to avoid hard choices because they are unpleasant.

You do not have to confront your family right now, but should the relationship progress and marriage become likely, you will need to inform them.

Whatever the fallout, you will have demonstrated honesty and integrity.

Dear Annie: Recently, my daughter was diagnosed as being HIV-positive.

Our family was devastated, but we rallied around her and will go through this together.

My daughter looks perfectly healthy, and people with this virus can lead productive, active and healthy lives for 10, 20, even 30 years.

However, it is still socially stigmatizing to have HIV, so choosing which people to tell can be draining.

For HIV-positive people, keeping this secret can be difficult.

They need their family and friends for support.

Please help us educate readers about how you can and cannot spread this disease.

Tell people you cannot spread it by casual contact, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands or hugging others.

It is spread through unprotected sexual contact and/or sharing needles or infected blood products.

We are fortunate that we have a loving and accepting family.

In the long run, we will be OK.

I just pray that people will think twice about judging others.

Someday it could be you.

— Proud To Be Her Mom

Dear Proud: It is surprising, after all these years, that people are still ignorant about HIV.

It is transmitted through blood or body fluids, not by touching, kissing or sharing the same air.

With proper medical care, people with HIV can lead normal lives for many years.

Thanks for reminding everyone.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Concerned in California," who worried about "Miranda," a drunk, belligerent mother who drove her children to soccer practice.

I once was a mother like that.

The best advice you gave was to call the police if Miranda is seen driving while under the influence.

"Concerned" also should phone Child Protective Services.

She must be specific with dates and times she has seen Miranda driving with the children while intoxicated.

This will generate an investigation, and maybe then Miranda will get the substance abuse treatment she needs, even if it means the children are placed in foster care until things are worked out.

I have been sober for 15 years and am now a certified substance abuse counselor.

I try to help my clients get "clean and sober" one day at a time so they can be better parents.

— Sober in Roanoke, Va.

Dear Sober: Nothing speaks louder than words from someone who has been through it.

Thank you for your sage advice.

February 11, 2004

Dear Annie: I have lived with "Gene" for almost 15 years, although we are not married.

When we first met, we each worked and had a normal life.

We bought a great house in the country and had lots of family around.

Then Gene was fired from his job for stealing.

No charges were pressed, so he decided to retire and travel.

He said I was welcome to join him or stay home.

I decided I loved him and nothing else mattered.

We've been traveling in an RV and have had a good time, but I want stability.

Gene has some good qualities — he does dishes, helps with laundry and can fix anything.

The flip side: he doesn't pay his taxes, refuses to get his vehicle licensed, has no insurance, and often won't pay alimony to his ex-wife.

He drinks every night and has a horrible temper.

If Gene asked me to marry him today, I could not.

I don't want to hurt him, but I want more.

Is that so bad? I believe I could have a much more meaningful life without him, but is that any reason to leave? — Really Lost in Arizona

Dear Arizona: Well, yes.

You've matured, and Gene is stuck, trying to avoid the real world.

If you stay in this situation, things are not likely to get better and you will become even less contented than you are now.

You deserve to have a satisfying life, with a law-abiding citizen who shares your values and desires.

Try couples counseling to see if a compromise can be reached.

If not, it may be time to move on.

Dear Annie: Please help me with an embarrassing situation.

At the age of 60, I've suddenly become a spitter.

I cannot seem to converse without spraying my poor victim.

My dentist says it must be the prescriptions I'm taking, but my doctor says that's not the case.

Any thoughts? — Ocean Spray

Dear Ocean Spray: Did this problem start shortly after you began taking these medications? If so, your dentist could be right and you should ask your doctor if you can make a substitution.

Also ask the doctor if the spitting might be related to a loss of muscle control or a sinus problem that is interfering with your breathing.

At your next dental visit, ask if your bite is off or if there's a gap in your teeth that wasn't there before.

If you wear dentures, they may need to be refitted.

Until then, now that you are aware of the problem, make an extra effort to speak more slowly, swallow more often and keep a handkerchief handy.

Dear Annie: I am a hairdresser at a neighborhood beauty salon.

Yesterday, a woman came into the shop to get highlights and a haircut.

This is a two-hour process.

Unfortunately, she brought along her 6-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 3-week-old baby.

After five minutes, the two older children were bored and the baby was hungry.

This is a very busy salon, and apparently, the woman assumed the other customers would amuse her two older children while she fed the infant.

And she's doing that while I'm working on her hair!

This woman made her appointment two weeks in advance.

Surely she could have found a baby sitter.

Don't you find this rude? — Utterly Speechless in Connecticut

Dear Speechless: It's not only rude, it is dangerous for the children.

Beauty operators work with a number of harsh chemicals, not to mention sharp scissors and hot dryers.

Children should not be running around in salons, and holding an infant on your lap while the hairdresser is coloring your hair is the height of parental irresponsibility.

We know it's not always easy to find a sitter, but when you can make an appointment weeks in advance, there's simply no excuse to bring the kids.