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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: You asked readers to respond to "Lonely in New Mexico," who retired to a new community and regrets how it turned out.

Our accountant advised us to rent first in the area to which we were contemplating moving. He had seen too many cases of people buying new homes, finding they were unhappy and returning to their original communities. We followed his advice and lucked out. We rented a nice ranch-style house, shopped in the market, visited our landlord's church and were accepted. It grew from there. Six months later, we bought a lot and started construction. A year later we had an open house with 62 guests -- mostly church members and neighbors. -- 30-YEAR-PLUS READER

DEAR READER: You received wise counsel from your accountant. My mail has been filled with suggestions for "Lonely in New Mexico." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Lonely in New Mexico" can enjoy a host of new friends by taking square dance lessons. It's amazing how many nice folks they'll meet that way.

The local Chamber of Commerce can help people locate a club that offers lessons, and so can the senior citizen center or even the western clothing store. The lessons are fun, economical, and a guaranteed route to establishing some deep and lasting friendships with some of the finest people they'll ever know. The best new square dance club members come as retired couples looking for a little fun and a healthful, wholesome activity. I dare anyone to take a few square dance lessons and remain lonely. -- JERRY C. MCGREW, M.D., GARLAND, TEXAS

DEAR DR. MCGREW: I know that's good advice. It's an excellent way for people of every age to socialize. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: This is for "Lonely in New Mexico." My husband and I moved to Florida 3 1/2 years ago. We don't miss the snow and ice we left behind one bit. Yes, it's hard to pick up and move to a new area where you know no one. The key is to get out there and meet as many new people as you can. Don't just sit at home or in church and wait for people to invite you over.

Within three months of moving, I volunteered to be on the Welcoming Committee to welcome other newcomers to our area. My husband (a retired police major) volunteered to take over the Neighborhood Watch program. I joined the garden club and have been their treasurer for three years.

I also joined a volunteer group that raises money to send good, used children's clothes, blankets and sweaters for the elderly to Native Americans on reservations. Last year I packed and shipped more than 200 boxes. I'm secretary for our homeowners association, and my husband and I volunteer at our neighborhood police substation to free our police officers for more important work out on the street.

Busy? You bet. We're busier now than we were before we retired. We love it. I've met many interesting and dedicated people, and we have many new friends with whom to socialize, travel, play poker and pinochle, and attend the theater as well. -- VOLUNTEER FROM VERO

DEAR VOLUNTEER: Talk about food for thought -- your letter is a banquet of terrific suggestions about how to get involved. May I add the following: Don't expect to replace lifelong friends in six months or a year. Seek out other new arrivals who will identify with you, and if there isn't a special-interest club in your new community that features your hobby, consider placing an ad in the paper and starting one.

Thank you to all the kindhearted readers who took the time to share their experiences and offer suggestions.

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.)

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