Dear Annie: I live in Georgia, next to some lovely beaches. My mother lived nearby until she died last summer. For years, my sister-in-law, "Arlene," invited herself to stay at my mother's for long weekends. My mother put up with it so my brother wouldn't get payback from his wife. Now that Mom is gone, Arlene has invited herself to our house, giving us a choice of four weekends.

The problem is that once Arlene stays here, there won't be any way to prevent this from turning into the same situation that my mother put up with for so long. Arlene and I get along on the surface, but we've had some strong disagreements, and I hate the way she treats my brother. I don't visit them because of her, and I definitely don't want her visiting us without my brother. My husband is in full agreement.

Arlene always wants to go everywhere and do everything when she's in town. My husband and I work full time and have a large house to maintain. In addition, we are dealing with some physical problems that make our downtime very precious and jealously guarded. I want to send Arlene an e-mail saying that I'm really sorry, but we're unable to have guests for the foreseeable future and that I hope she will have luck finding accommodations elsewhere. My son says this is a strong "get lost" message. Do I need to be more subtle?

Please advise as quickly as possible, because Arlene is pressing for a date so she can buy plane tickets. — Scarlett in Georgia

Dear Scarlett: It's perfectly OK to send Arlene an e-mail saying, "We're so sorry, but we're terribly busy and just can't manage visitors now. If you need help finding a hotel, let me know. We do hope you'll join us for dinner while you're in town." You do not need to elaborate further. Arlene is the one imposing on you, and you shouldn't feel guilty turning her down. If she asks again later, tell her the same thing. The trick is to sound truly sorry without letting her take advantage of you.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Trying To Be a Good Neighbor on the East Coast" and had to write about my own problems with shaking hands. I have painful osteoarthritis in my hands. I've had to stop painting and gardening. Some days my hands ache so much I can't do anything but wrap them in a heating pad and take ibuprofen.

In my business, people (especially men) feel that a firm handshake conveys confidence. To me, a firm handshake makes me want to drop to my knees and beg for mercy. It is not a sign of manhood to give the recipient a death grip.

I dread walking into church when the ushers proffer their hand, and again when the pastor instructs us to shake the hands of those around us. I'm 46 years old, so I can only imagine what our senior citizens and others with advanced cases of arthritis are dealing with. — Let's Just Wave, OK?

Dear Wave: You were not the only one who mentioned arthritis as another reason for avoiding handshaking. Here's more:

Dear Annie: I, too, wish the Catholic Church would exchange the sign of peace verbally. I also wish they would offer the communion wine in individual cups. I know so many Catholics who miss partaking in communion because of this germ-spreading practice. — Trying to Be a Another Good Neighbor

Dear Annie: The writer's concern is understandable, although more pathogens can be picked up by going grocery shopping. I recommend keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in her purse or pocket, to use after shaking hands. I personally tested a popular brand in my microbiology lab at school. The results were beyond what I expected! — Nurse-To-Be

Dear Annie: I have a friend, "Justin," who went off to college last year. Upon leaving, he changed his e-mail address to one at the university and also changed his cell phone number to reflect his new area code. However, Justin only mentioned this to a couple of friends, and as a result, numerous people have called me, complaining about his disconnected number and their returned e-mails.

I don't mind giving out the new numbers, but I'm wondering if perhaps it's a little rude to change such contact information without letting close friends know and just expect others to get the word out. Should I confront Justin? — Vexed in Virginia

Dear Vexed: We think Justin is preoccupied and a little lazy. He figures people will find him if they make the effort, and he's right. Suggest to Justin that he send a group e-mail noting the return address and his new phone number. Meanwhile, since you don't mind passing along his info, and Justin doesn't object to your giving it out, please retain your "good friend" status and continue.

Dear Readers: Happy Passover to all our Jewish readers. Enjoy your seder.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. © Creators Syndicate Inc