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by Abigail Van Buren

Art of Letter Writing Suffers Neglect in Age of the Internet

DEAR ABBY: Please don't think I'm stupid for asking this, but I need some help. The practice of letter-writing appears to be a dying form because of e-mail and texting -- which I'm good at. But when I receive a nice gift, I know the proper way to acknowledge it is to write a thank-you letter.

Can you please tell me how to do one that doesn't come across as awkward? Christmas is coming and this is hard for me. When I try to get my thoughts down on paper, I am ... STUCK!

DEAR STUCK!: There's no such thing as a "stupid" question, and your problem is one that is shared by many. A thank-you letter doesn't have to be long and flowery. In fact, short and to-the-point can be more effective.

I have found that keeping a notepad handy when I open a gift and jotting down the first thought that comes into my head when I open the package is helpful. (Hint: Is it soft? Cuddly? Tasty? Something you had wanted but had not been able to find? Clever? If the answer is yes, then write it down.)

And by the way, Christmas isn't the only gift-giving occasion when a thank-you letter is called for. There are also weddings, anniversaries, graduations. My booklet "How to Write Letters for All Occasions" offers samples that can be adapted and personalized. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus a check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby, Letters Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price.

Also included are tips for writing a love letter -- and those letters that are the hardest of all, letters of condolence. Included are specific suggestions on what to say, and equally important, what NOT to say when someone is grieving the loss of a parent, a child or a spouse whether the death may be sudden or after a lingering illness.

DEAR ABBY: When my husband and I married two years ago, we both wanted children. I am having second thoughts now. We recently discovered that there's a genetic disorder on one side of the family, and it scares me to think we may not have a healthy child.

To be perfectly honest, even if we could have a healthy child, I am also not sure I want to go through the challenge of parenting a teenager. How should I approach my dear husband about my change of heart? -- SECOND-GUESSING IN N.Y.

DEAR SECOND-GUESSING: Be gentle, but be honest. Rather than say you don't want kids, start by saying you are having serious doubts about whether you would be good parent material. Then tell him why.

This will probably be the first of many discussions you'll have with him on the subject, touching on whether your marriage can withstand your change of heart. Not every woman is meant to be a mother -- and better to recognize that fact before becoming one rather than after. That said, you could also change your mind again. Many women have.

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