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Dear Abby: I live in a 55-and-older mobile home park. Because my coach isn't huge, I have a nice little backyard where I have a small vegetable garden and a lovely lemon tree.

One day while I was tending my garden, the woman who lives behind me came over to say hello and admire my vegetables. When she saw I have Swiss chard growing, she exclaimed, "Oh, I will have to pick some because my daughter loves it!"

I was dumbfounded. She has room to plant her own little garden, but never does. She has helped herself to lemons, too. When I saw her doing it, I was again too shocked to say anything. She doesn't ask; she just helps herself.

What do I say at times like these? We live so close and there are no fences … yet.

Fuming in Vista, Calif.

Dear Fuming: Unless you are willing to draw the line, your neighbor will continue to assume that silence is consent. So pay the woman a visit, and tell her you would prefer that she ASK permission before helping herself to anything in your garden. And if that doesn't stop her, make installing that fence a priority.

Dear Abby: Nowadays, I'm learning about the deaths of family members and friends by email, and I'm uncertain how to respond. I always send thoughtful, personal handwritten notes of condolence. But how best to acknowledge or respond?

It seems wrong to ignore it in favor of sending a letter via the Postal Service, because my message will take a while to reach the bereaved. But it also seems wrong to say, "Oh, so sad to hear the news" in an email, as if that was the sum total of my thoughts. What to do?

Caring Out West

Dear Caring: Here's what I do. I pick up the phone and CALL the person who sent the email, or a member of the family that suffered the loss. I express my sympathy and find out the details — such as where and when the funeral or memorial will be held, and if I can send flowers or make a donation. THEN I write the condolence note.

Dear Abby: When I come home from work, errands or whatever, my wife is often on the phone. I find it rude that she won't put the phone down for a moment to say hello and, if the call needs to be returned, tell me briefly what it's about. Is that unreasonable?

Craving Attention

Dear Craving: I agree that it would be more loving if she acknowledged your presence with a smile and a "Hi, Honey — I'll be off the phone in a few minutes." However, for you to expect her to report who she's talking to and what they have been discussing seems not only nosy on your part, but could be considered controlling.

Contact Dear Abby at DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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