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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My older sister "Jane" and I used to be close. She married 10 years ago, and her husband has done very well. Jane is a stay-at-home mom with three children. She and her husband recently purchased a million-dollar home in the wealthy area of our city. I took a different path, and now work full time in an industry I love. I enjoy life with my husband and two children. We have a lovely house in the suburbs.

Lately, whenever Jane and I are together -- whether it's alone or in public -- she has become aggressive about comparing our lifestyles. Although I wish Jane well, she has paid a high price for her affluence. I am not, nor have I ever been, jealous of her status. I have tried to convince her of this, but she tunes me out and continues her monologue about her nanny, housekeeper, new cottage, etc. I'm sure you get the picture. I have almost come to the point where I don't want to see her anymore.

Please guide me through this, Abby. I am annoyed and frustrated. How shall I handle this in the future? -- YOUNGER SIS

DEAR YOUNGER SIS: You can't change other people, but you can change the way you react to them.

Although your sister "married well," she appears to be insecure and insensitive to the feelings of others. That is pitiable, not enviable. When she starts spouting off, bear that in mind and don't take the bait. It may help you to be more tolerant of her.

DEAR ABBY: I must reply to the letter you reprinted recently from the irate mother whose 16-year-old son received a birthday card from his grandparent with a note enclosed, telling him he was getting only the card -- but no money that year -- because he had failed to send a thank-you note for the money he had been given the year before. You told the mother that you thought the grandmother had given the young man a birthday gift far more valuable than money.

I disagree. One of my greatest pleasures is giving gifts. However, whenever I do so, I must be absolutely certain that it is, in fact, a gift. That means I expect nothing in return -- not even a thank-you. A gift should be given for no other reason than the joy of giving. It should be a celebration of the fact that you have someone to give to. -- GORDON READE, PALO ALTO, CALIF.

DEAR GORDON: I have received a blitz of mail about that letter, and the "reviews" are running 50-50 regarding whether my answer was correct. Perhaps I should have elaborated further.

Teaching children the social graces may not be fun for a parent, but it is a duty, because those skills -- or the lack of them -- will affect the way those children are regarded for the rest of their lives. Failure to teach them is a disservice to the children.

Writing thank-you letters is a skill that must be learned and honed. It doesn't come "naturally." When a gift -- or a kind gesture, for that matter -- goes unacknowledged, it indicates that the recipient thought so little of it that it wasn't even a blip on the radar screen. It sends a terrible message about the manners, sensitivity and upbringing of the person who received the gift.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 per booklet ($4.50 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklets I and II, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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