Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: I have begun dating a woman I find very attractive. I'll call her "Rita." We have many things in common, and she's a lot of fun to be with.

The only thing that troubles me is that after 12 years of being divorced, Rita is still very much involved with her ex. Most of their children are grown. One is a senior in high school, and an older child still lives at home.

Her ex is allowed free access to her home, mostly to see the kids -- and comes and goes at will. They travel together to family functions and to visit children who live in other parts of the state.

Rita recently had her hair styled differently and told me she was annoyed that her ex didn't seem to notice. When he comes to her house to cook for the kids, he leaves the kitchen a mess, which she apparently cleans up.

Do you think Rita has gotten past the divorce? What would you say the odds are of having a successful relationship with her? -- DAZED AND CONFUSED IN ST. LOUIS

DEAR DAZED AND CONFUSED: That depends upon what you would consider a "successful relationship." Apparently, Rita's divorce was a very amiable one, and the ex is still a part of her and the children's lives. This can be considered a plus or a minus, depending upon how you feel about a package deal -- because it appears that is what you'll be getting if you become serious about Rita.

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DEAR ABBY: I have a "pennies from heaven" story you might appreciate. My best friend, "Darrel," was a smoker who collected quarters. His apartment had two distinguishing features -- stacks of quarters and the smell of secondhand smoke. Because we were both busy people, we had seen each other only twice in about a year, but maintained a phone and e-mail friendship.

I had planned a trip out west to spend time with family and had e-mailed him about it. Unbeknownst to me, Darrel had been very ill, and he died the day I sent the e-mail. I learned about it while I was in transit to my destination. There was nothing I could do. I had no way to get to his funeral and no way to say goodbye.

When we reached our hotel -- part of a smoke-free chain -- my husband and I opened the door to our room and were greeted by a familiar odor. It smelled just like Darrel's apartment! And when I walked to the dresser to unpack, two quarters were sitting on top. It was then that my husband and I agreed that Darrel had stopped to say goodbye on his way to heaven. -- QUARTERS FROM HEAVEN

DEAR QUARTERS: Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your friend. I'm glad you received some comfort in your time of need. However, it's entirely possible that the guest who occupied the room before you broke the rules and puffed away in a room that was supposed to be nonsmoking. I hope you notified the front desk so you could be switched to other accommodations, and the room could be thoroughly cleaned and deodorized to prevent someone with a sensitivity to smoke from walking in and experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

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Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $12 (U.S. funds)

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