Send your questions to or look for an anonymous question submission form on Debra’s online column at

Dear Debra,

My husband and I have just returned from a visit to my sister’s home out of state. I love my sister, and we enjoy spending time with her. The problem is her insistence that we stay with her, which makes for a stressful visit. She plans a full social calendar for our entire stay. By the end of our trip, I needed vacation to recuperate from my vacation.

Please don’t suggest that we stay elsewhere. This would hurt her feelings greatly. Sister is already talking about next year’s visit. I’ve kept it light and vague. What else can I do?

— Worn Out by Welcome

 Dear Worn Out,

While Judaism places high value on the concept of hachnasat orchim, or welcoming guests into one’s home, it’s not always a good fit. I’ll take you at your word that staying nearby isn’t the solution because that’s exactly what I would suggest.

Instead of light and vague, go for loving and firm. You didn’t say how long your visit was but, next time, invoke the fish rule and stay no more than three days (OK, four, if she lives on the West Coast). As soon as sister shares next year’s social calendar, speak up! Say something like, “That sounds great. Let’s build in some rest time, too. I want to be able to enjoy it all.”

If you get there and the dance card is full, go back to loving and firm and respond with, “Oh, that all sounds great. I’m still going to need some down time each day. Which friends could you double up with others so that husband and I have time to recharge?”

If you are too afraid that even this might hurt her feelings, brace yourself and know that you can get through anything for three or four days. Start right now planning that post-vacation vacation.


Dear Debra,

My daughter bought my granddaughter an amber “teething necklace” to help with teething pain. Supposedly, the oil in the beads controls pain. I’m terrified. The baby could choke on the beads. The necklace could strangle her. I’m pretty good about holding my own counsel and letting her raise her daughter as is her right and responsibility. But this just seems like new-age silliness at best and outright dangerous at worst.

— Biting My Tongue

 Dear Biting,

A beaded necklace on a teething-age child? Slap me upside the head with a squeeze tube of organic kale. I’m with you; this is an invitation to disaster.

The claim is that when warmed, the amber beads release a pain-relieving substance that is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and that they also stimulate the thyroid to control drooling. There is currently no scientific research or evidence to back this up.

But there is plenty of evidence that these and other necklaces invite tragedy. “The risk is two-fold — strangulation and choking,” said pediatrician Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP. It occurs when the necklaces are worn around a child’s neck, especially when unsupervised (such as while sleeping) or if the child were to break the necklace and swallow the beads.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that infants wear any jewelry. Suffocation is the leading cause of death for children under a year old and among the top five causes of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4.

Instead, try plastic or rubber chew toys. Offer your granddaughter a frozen damp washcloth to chew, but avoid teething rings that are frozen solid. They are too hard for children’s mouths. A light, gentle rub or gum massage with your knuckle might give relief. If nothing works, your daughter can ask her pediatrician for an appropriate dose of acetaminophen. Numbing gels or creams continuing benzocaine are not recommended for infants.


Dear Debra,

I’ve recently begun cancer treatment. What do I say to the people who ask, “What’s the prognosis?” I feel like they’re asking my chances for surviving. How can I handle this?

— Determined to Prevail

 Dear Determined,
I wish you a refuah shleyma (a complete healing of body and spirit) and the support of caring and compassion staff and loved ones as you continue treatment.

All too frequently, people don’t know what to say, so they say something unhelpful, upsetting or insulting. Sidestep the question and respond with, “What are you actually asking me?”

If they are asking, “Will you be OK?” a simple “Yes” can suffice. If they are asking, “How can I help?” and accepting help from them is palatable, give them an assignment.


Readers? This is a column for you. If you have some suggestions for Determined and others in her place, please send them to me — I will print your answers in my next column.

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