Dear Maria,

We have wonderful neighbors next door. They are a young couple with darling children. We visit off and on when we are all outside. It’s not what I’d call friendship, but we certainly enjoy each other. My dilemma is that I am very neat and they are not! I try to overlook the condition of the outside of their home, but it is what we see when we sit out on our patio.

I have been somewhat able to let go since I really have no control over any of it. I don’t want to bring the issue up and jeopardize our relationship–especially with the youngest who sits with me some times and I read to him. I know from things they’ve mentioned that they are not open to changing any of their ways. They have sweetly apologized for the messes.

I have noticed that when we have company they seem to ask about the neighbors’ patio, etc. One of our family members asked if they were having a garage sale! Nope, that’s just the way their patio looks 90% of the time.

Am I on the right track by taking in their goodnesses (which are many) and asking God to help me accept the way they choose to live?

Thank you so much for your wonderful column and your expert advice.


What a Mess

Dear What a Mess,

Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanac, said it best: “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.”

Yes, you are on the right track. You sound like a wonderful neighbor to visit with, especially when you read to the youngest. I suspect he feels a little lost in the shuffle, and clutter, of their yard, so the extra attention is welcome. You are annoyed by their sloppy outsides, but are focusing on the positives in your neighborly relationship. What a big heart you have! Would that you had a big hedge to go with it.

Kitchen windowHere’s the view from our kitchen window. Our neighbor replaced his AC unit, and chose warehouse-worthy equipment to finish the job. We spent years shaking our heads at the view, then it dawned on us that some creative landscaping would improve things. Sure, we’d rather the return ducts weren’t there, but there is a lesson here in where to focus one’s attention. (That lesson, “Sunset Swingset”, is another post.) You’re attending to the good you find in your neighbors. Bless you!

I’m not sure what can be done in this situation, short of trading a bit of that goodwill for an honest request to keep their yard more presentable. I’m sure you could do this in a gentle and loving way. Or, is there a homeowners association you can appeal to, or a neighborhood preservation program in your county or district? It sounds like you’d rather not pursue the issue. So, I suggest Rose of Sharon bushes. They grow quickly and bloom before you know it. Leave some space between for the little guy!


Dear Maria,

I was raised that the only difference between white people and black people was the color of their skin. That black people were just like me, only darker. I never thought any different and always treated them with the same respect as I do everyone else. I was also raised to love everyone just like God has loved me. Lately I am finding this harder and harder to do. All of the killing lately is really striking a nerve. Black people are so mad at white policemen for killing black people. I have not heard much in the fact that the black person is committing a crime and the police are protecting themselves and others by the shooting. The slogan “Black lives Matter” also strikes a nerve with me. I feel that black people are now more racist that white people ever have been. I feel any racism that our county has overcome is now rearing its ugly head in people, people like me who treated them the same as everyone. These feelings are building up in me and I don’t like it.


No Longer Colorblind

Dear No Longer Colorblind,

Thank you for your brave questions. Racism is a heated issue, and many people are reluctant to talk about it. I appreciate your confusion over recent events. In addition to your confusion, I suspect there’s also sadness, fear, and anger. Feelings like these are boiling over for many people. Your letter shows that you’d like to sort them out. Here are a few of my thoughts.

I was raised in a similar manner. What I have come to see over the last two years is that skin color carries with it perceptions, history, privilege, assumptions, experiences…it is not simply an issue of different pigment. Broadly speaking, the experience of being white in America and being black in America are profoundly different. All of us are trying to make our way in systems—economic, legal, political, cultural, educational, and religious—that do not treat all participants equally. (Here’s an excellent opinion piece from the St. Louis Post Dispatch that helped me understand the economic side of this issue.) There’s the ideal of America, which reflects the equality you speak of, and the reality of America, which, sadly, does not.

I cannot understand what it is like to be a person of color in this country. But I can acknowledge that I have benefited, albeit unwittingly, in systems that favor people who share my skin color. As a woman, I can relate to what it’s like to be judged on my appearance, have my opinions dismissed by (male) colleagues, and get talked-over and ignored at public events, from civic meetings to my children’s sporting events. None of these, however, threatened my ability to feed my family, pay the rent, obtain healthcare, feel safe, or vote. The stress of poverty is real, and those of us who never dealt with it simply don’t understand.

The media is saturated with images of racist and violent behavior, initiated by people of all colors. (My Facebook feed is also full of posts that witness to our better selves.) Social media has exposed our country’s injustices in ways that previous news channels did not. The racism was there all along—we’re just seeing it plainly now. This upheaval calls us to revisit our assumptions about our systems, and each other. As I prepared to answer your question, I heard this terrific interview on the radio about a program called Showing Up for Racial Justice. (Coincidence? I think not!)  I invite you to listen to it. All parties need opportunities to talk about their feelings, perceptions, and concerns. Talking, and really listening, are the answer—not violence. In addition to the SURJ program, the Diversity Awareness Partnership is facilitating these conversations. Real healing begins with folks like you who are willing to share their confusion and pain. Thanks again.


Dear Maria,

I live in a pet-friendly condominium neighborhood. Our neighbor above us works from home. Our dog is a bit territorial and sometimes barks at people walking by the building (walking their dog, jogging, etc.). We both work outside the home. Our neighbor has told my husband that if the barking doesn’t stop, he’s going to go to the association.

We have only lived here less than a month, and our neighbor has complained twice. Our dog only barks a few times a day….and for a short period of time. We knew we would have to deal with neighbors about noises from our condo that may be a bit disturbing, but I am not thinking that it is a big deal. We worry we will be forced to get rid of our dog because he hasn’t had a neighbor with a dog before. That thought terrifies me. I don’t want our adopted dog to have to be re-homed.

The same neighbor has his own noise producing issues that have disturbed our peace as well. He has a motorcycle that he likes to ride and he has 3 times now revved it up in the evening, once was at 9 p.m. after my husband and dog went to bed. I find it quite annoying to have someone threaten me about noise when he himself creates noises at night that most likely disturb more than just us (the Harley is very loud, much louder than our dog for sure!)

Any suggestions on how to deal with the neighbor? Both regarding our dog’s occasional barking, and his motorcycle noise?


Concerned about Our Dog

Dear Concerned about Our Dog,

“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall. Today, he might add, “and soundproof buildings.”

Among humans living in close proximity, we tend to find other peoples’ noise disturbing, while our own is perfectly acceptable. It seems silly to me that a person living in a pet-friendly building would be surprised and disturbed by a dog barking. On the other hand, since you’re gone during the day, perhaps your territorial canine barks more often than you think.

17d28a0f1d9560b5c762c80d17168ddaDogs are all about their pack. It could be that your dog is having trouble adjusting to being alone all day in his new environment. He’s extra jittery until the whole gang is back home. Google “dog separation anxiety” and you’ll find many resources to help calm your pet.

Your neighbor has told you he has a problem with the noise. Have you told him you’re not happy with the late evening Harley demonstrations? Reach out to him again and explain the situation. Perhaps there’s a way to work out a compromise: you look for ways to resolve the barking issue, and he saves the revving for daylight hours. Since this is a pet-friendly condominium, I wonder if the association could force you to get rid of your dog? Check your bylaws to see where you stand. Either way, you’d rather not live in a state of tension with your neighbor. Letting this situation escalate to the condo association guarantees tension, even hostility. Try to work it out between your two households first.


Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.