Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am an active-duty member of the U.S. Navy stationed aboard the USNS Laramie, a Navy refueling oiler that supports the fleet. I have recently spent my first holiday away from home -- in the Mediterranean Sea, to be exact.

My crew members and I applaud all of the individuals who worked so hard to make Operation Dear Abby a success this year. Abby, many of us have tried to respond to each person individually. Unfortunately, with the hundreds of cards, boxes of cookies and candies, and other items that were sent to "Any Service Member, Operation Dear Abby," I'm not sure every person will get a reply. So, on behalf of my fellow shipmates and other military members stationed away from home, I would like to say, "THANK YOU, AMERICA! We may not have been home for the holidays, but we know that our sacrifice has not been in vain. Your kindness is appreciated!"

I know that I speak for all members of the military when I say we wish everyone all the best during the coming year. -- DONNA A. EVANS, YEOMAN FIRST CLASS, U.S. NAVY

DEAR DONNA: It is with pleasure that I'm transmitting your message to the patriotic Americans who participated in Operation Dear Abby. Although our servicemen and women may be far away, they are in our hearts and never far from our thoughts.

DEAR ABBY: I must respond to the daughter-in-law who was upset about her father-in-law's new relationship. Having recently lost my wonderful husband, friend and companion of 29 years, I, too, found solace in the companionship of a widower friend who was in the same situation. This relationship has not replaced the love for my husband, but it has permitted me to experience life and joy again.

My husband and I discussed these matters, and this was his wish as well as mine. Those who have not experienced such grief and loss should be the last to condemn those who have. -- GRIEVING BUT LIVING IN PITTSBURGH

DEAR GRIEVING: Well put. Those who have not experienced a comparable loss should withhold judgment before condemning the wounded.

DEAR ABBY: I am making a speech to a local professional secretaries group next month. My topic is "beauty."

Is there a specific minimum number of jewelry pieces and accessories that a woman can wear? Also, are white shoes limited to weddings and debutante parties? If you can add some pointers on "beauty," it would be greatly appreciated. -- YOUNG SECRETARY, NORTH FORT MYERS, FLA.

DEAR YOUNG SECRETARY: White shoes are not limited to weddings and debutante parties, and there is no specific rule concerning minimum jewelry and accessories a professional woman should wear.

My rule of thumb is: When in doubt -- leave it off.

'Tis said, "Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder." The plainest woman can light up a room when she wears a smile.

P.S. Good hygiene and neatness are cardinal rules for well-dressed women -- and men.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600