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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Three years ago, I lent my daughter and her husband $35,000 so they could purchase a home. I told them that they could pay me back when they were financially able. (No mention was made about "interest.")

After two years, there was nothing said about repaying the loan, so I asked them when they intended to pay me back. They just looked at each other, then changed the subject. By the way, their combined incomes come close to $100,000 annually.

Now they tell me that they considered the money a gift, and they will not be paying it back! Needless to say, we are not speaking. Is there anything I can do to get my money back? Can I take them to court? -- BESIDE MYSELF IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR BESIDE: Can you take them to court? Of course you can, but in the absence of a written note stating that the $35,000 was a loan, you not only bought them a house -- you bought yourself a headache. Your first order of business: Call your lawyer.

DEAR ABBY: I am 14 years old, and my best friend just died. Her name is Beeper. She is a bird -- a finch, to be exact.

Beeper died all of a sudden. She wasn't even sick. Yesterday, she was fine. It really hurts to lose a pet without any kind of warning. Some people might think losing a bird is nothing to feel miserable about, but Abby, Beeper meant the world to me, and I can't even weep for her because I'm afraid people will laugh.

I just had to write to you to express my feelings. I hope you won't think I'm silly. I am really sad. People say, "Get another bird -- it will help you get over losing Beeper." Abby, do you think I should get another bird? -- APRIL SOLOMON

DEAR APRIL: Yes, but don't try to replace Beeper with a finch that looks like Beeper. A pet -- like a human friend -- can never be replaced.

DEAR ABBY: You often hear from people who feel trapped into "competitive grandparenting," feeling they must match the in-laws gift for gift. The same sort of competition can develop between parents and stepparents. The kids encourage it because of all the goodies they get.

I recently heard my mother deal with the issue in a wonderful way. My sister's 5-year-old was visiting my mother and asked, "Are you going to take me to the toy store? Grandma Johnson always does."

I was horrified because my parents are nowhere near as well off as the "Johnsons." But Mother didn't get defensive. She just said, "Different grandmas are good at different things. Grandma Johnson is your shopping grandma; I am your cooking grandma." And they went into the kitchen and made brownies!

Isn't that beautiful? I don't have any grandkids yet, but I have already decided to be their "reading grandma." -- AUNTIE M IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR AUNTIE M: I admire your mother's sense of values. Every child should be so lucky as to have a "cooking grandma."

DEAR READERS: Have a merry Christmas, but to ensure that it will be a merry one for all -- if you're driving, don't drink; and if you're drinking, don't drive!

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