(G)awkward in Portland: Advice from Aunt Ralph

(G)awkward in Portland:                        Advice from Aunt Ralph

We all need a caring aunt to listen to us now and then. Aunt Ralph is sympathetic to our quandaries while remaining sensible and forthright; she is the reliable soul in whom we want to confide.

If you’re confused, over-wrought or annoyed, lost in the misty forests of Portland’s social, domestic, or workaday landscape, Aunt Ralph is your capable guide. Young enough to care and old enough to offer answers—she's walked many paths, from bicycle messenger delivery person to chocolate truffle maker, from photo archivist to creative producer for film and publications. 

She’ll tackle anything and respond with thoughtful solutions to issues you can't sort out on your own.


As a long-time Portlander, I don’t have anything against animals, but I’m in no hurry to “end Petlessness” in my household or in my social circle. When I’m walking on the street, I make it a habit to smile at or say hello to the people I pass. Dog owners I pass will return my smile, but then, glance down at their dog, and make eye contact again, expectantly, as if to say, “Please acknowledge and admire my dog.” I’m similarly mystified by the pet owners who allow their unruly animals to get in my personal space (sniff crotch, lick hands, bark, be rambunctious).  Animals should be seen and not heard or felt, in my opinion. Any advice for a Portlander who doesn’t anthropomorphize the animal kingdom but would like to be polite about this boundary?—Georgia, downtown

Dear Georgia, downtown,

I understand your stance on pets entirely and although I am very fond of dogs  I spent hours and hours and hours to make sure my boys were well trained to not do just exactly what you are speaking about here. It has been said many times that my candor is enchanting, which is always when I know I've gone over the line but in the case of ill-mannered animals and children I do think it's ok to offer some form of subtle (or not so subtle) messaging to let the master or mistress of the four-leggers know that this behavior is not okay with you. A firm but polite—"that's not okay... thanks" to whatever is irking you... sniffing, licking, rambunctiousness—and if a dog is barking over their owner when meeting me I generally say, "we'll take this up at a more quiet time" and I move on.

As a dog person I was almost always able to discern generally through body language what a passerby was willing to tolerate, there would be a subtle shift in body posture or a slight sidle away from the animals and I knew instantly that I needed to make the leash shorter and to have the dogs walk on the far side of this person. And although we are still big proponents of the Portland dog population my husband always asks "is your dog friendly?" before he sets himself up for canine introduction.

My guess is that the owner of the offending four-legger puts up with the behavior that you find repugnant and it probably doesn't register for them so it's not out of line to suggest that you don't appreciate the sniffing, licking, barking or what have you. They might be trying but they have to keep working at it!

Good luck!


Dear Aunt Ralph:

HELP! One of my closest friends has started seriously dating a guy who absolutely no one in our friend group can stand to be around. He's loud and obnoxious whenever we all go out, and always drinks far too much, usually making an ass of himself in the process. A few of us have approached her with our concerns, but she repeatedly brushes us off and makes excuses for him, telling us that he's just trying to be funny and fit in, and that we need to give him more of a chance. We've all been friends for years now, and I hate that this has brought so much tension to the group. What can we do to defuse the situation without risking losing her friendship?

Dear HELP!

I am so sorry that you and your friends are stuck in the proverbial rock and hard place. But I'm especially sorry for the friend that has the boorish boyfriend.

It sounds as if you and your friends have taken the road of how the boyfriend's behavior has impacted you all when out in a group, but has anyone taken a run at asking your friend how her boyfriend's behavior impacts her? She might not be enjoying the behavior either but doesn't quite know how to disentangle herself or sadly it might be time for your friend to have to make a choice... her posse or this fellow.

The group might consider taking her out for coffee or a libation on neutral ground and turn the message around: that you all are concerned for the road she seems to be taking. If she becomes defensive or combative you might have your answer... you all are growing in another direction. This is sad to consider but people do change and sometimes the people we chose to pledge our allegiance to dictates who our friends are and what we do in our free time.

I know this isn't necessarily the outcome that you all want but you have to weigh how often you are willing to put up with someone who is socially challenged when it creates a situation where the majority aren't having fun. Good luck, I know you'll handle this with kindness.


My wife is driving me crazy. The winter has been long, dark, and rainy—and now our endless snow days and frigid cold this year! I’m tired of her moaning around the house, complaining about how depressed she is. I know a lot of people take anti-depressants here due to the lack of sun. Can I slip her something in her single-origin coffee? It would save us both. I have no problem with the weather—I can be outdoors any time of year, but she is a California transplant. Even though we’ve been here 15 years, it only seems to get worse. We don’t want to pull our kids out of school, or leave our jobs. It’s not like we can simply evacuate. She’s a whole different person in summer when the days are long and mostly sunny. How do I deal with the Jekyll and Hyde personality?

Winter is hard no matter where one lives, unless one has the freedom and interest in moving to Bali. That said, I once lived in Southeast Michigan and one day I ran into a neighbor and we both enthusiastically greeted each other with how beautiful it was outside—this was after a particularly long run of cold, gray, wet days. At one point I blurted out that it was such a relief to see the sun after 32 days of gray and my neighbor smiled and said, "Never count the gray days, dear." It was wise advice—so think like a Midwesterner and behave like an Oregonian... get outside and get moving, or at least get moving. Join a gym, or walk in the forest with low hanging trees so you won't get wet. They create a perfect natural awning for you and you can enjoy the outside; buy good rain gear so there's no reason to be inside just to stay dry, it's worth the investment. And on particularly difficult days sit down and plan a weekend away in the eastern portion of the state, where a totally different microclimate can produce the relief one needs from a winter of Vitamin D deficiency. One last tip... there are lights you can buy that help eliminate the gray-day blahs—15 to 30 minutes a day can make the world of difference. And try to remember—it rains often but it doesn't rain all day; generally when there are breaks in the rain clouds, one can find little patches of blue to hang onto. Be happy you are spending the winter in the West where there's relatively little snow and ice (this year not withstanding) and it's generally at least 40 degrees warmer in the winter here than in the winter in the Midwest or East Coast and that's something to celebrate, believe me!


Have a situation you can’t untangle on your own? Ask Aunt Ralph—she’s Portland’s reliable, no-nonsense guide for the perplexed.

Email: AskAuntRalph@WYLRmagazine.com