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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My 13-year-old daughter, "Alisa," has earned a scholarship to participate in a month-long summer language program in Turkey. As soon as my sister "June" found out I was allowing Alisa to attend, she called me a moron. She has been giving me the silent treatment for almost a month. June is terrified my daughter will be a victim of terrorists, a plane crash, kidnapping or worse.

Alisa has consistently proven she is trustworthy and responsible. After some research I determined the country and the program are safe. Alisa will be traveling with a small group of students and three adult chaperones who are native to the host country.

Our mother was afraid of everything, and I don't want to pass that kind of irrational fear on to Alisa after she worked so hard to earn a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could shape the course of her life. Am I really a poor parent for allowing my child to travel halfway around the world? I feel I made the right decision. -- STUNNED SISTER IN LITTLE ROCK

DEAR STUNNED SISTER: A poor parent? Not at all. You would be one if you caved in to your sister's emotional blackmail. Taking this trip is a privilege your daughter worked hard for, and seeing firsthand that there is a world filled with interesting, good people will open her mind to opportunities and possibilities that few people her age are able to experience.

DEAR ABBY: My wife uses her hands to push her food around her dinner plate and onto her fork or spoon. I see her do this at almost every meal, and usually say nothing. But every once in a while I feel compelled to ask her to stop using her hands to eat. When I do she says I'm "rude" to even take notice of how she eats and mention it.

Am I rude? I was brought up in a blue-collar home, and whenever I touched my food with my hands, or put my elbows on the table, I got a slap from one of my older brothers or sister. -- MINDED MY MANNERS IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR MINDED YOUR MANNERS: It appears your wife was raised in a household where good table manners weren't as important to her family as they were to yours. According to Emily Post: "If a piece of food keeps eluding your fork, don't push it onto the tines with your finger. Instead, use a piece of bread or your knife as a pusher." (Italics are mine.) Share this with your wife and the situation may improve.

DEAR ABBY: How do your readers feel about the words "soul mate"? I never imagined those words would cross my mind until recently -- and I'm not talking about my spouse. Is it possible to feel someone is your soul mate without knowing the feelings are reciprocated?

There are many roadblocks in the way of a relationship with my soul mate -- but I know I'd have to wait another lifetime for the kind of relationship I feel could exist with this other person. Comments, Abby? -- PONDERING IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

DEAR PONDERING: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, 11th Edition, defines "soul mate" n. (1822) as "a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs." The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines soul mate as "one of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view or sensitivity."

While you are pondering, please ponder this: When you married your spouse, I'm hoping you felt you had much in common and thought you could build a successful future together. If you have lost that connection, try to rebuild it before sacrificing your marriage because the grass looks greener somewhere else. And if the object of your preoccupation is not aware of your feelings, please don't destroy your marriage over what may be a one-way crush.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)