About a year ago, my sister, "Pam," and her husband bought a new telephone with all the features, including speaker, where everyone in the room can hear and contribute to the conversation.

Anytime anyone calls, they automatically punch the speaker button. I learned the hard way one day when I was discussing something very personal with Pam and heard her husband make a comment in the background.

I find speaker phones extremely rude. Pam will do dishes, work in the yard, even walk away to another room while we're talking, and I feel she doesn't give me her undivided attention. I've tried making subtle hints such as, "I'm sorry, but I can't hear you," but that hasn't worked.

Other family members feel the way I do and call her less often because they don't want a group discussion. I miss the private chats I used to share with Pam. Any suggestions?

- Mary in Winston, Ore.

DEAR MARY: I do have a couple. The first is to stop dropping "subtle hints" and tell your sister plainly exactly what you have told me - including how the rest of the family feels about what she's doing.

And if that doesn't work, teach her a lesson by starting your next conversation with, "Pam, remember when . . . " and reminiscing about her most embarrassing moment - something only a sister would know.

DEAR ABBY: I hope you can answer this quickly. I'm about to start doing my Christmas cards. I keep a list of people I send cards to, so that I don't miss anyone. I also make a note if I don't receive a card from someone.

What is your opinion on removing someone from our list if we don't hear from that person for two or three years? Should I assume that the individual is mad at me, doesn't like Christmas cards, or no longer wants to be "bothered"?

I'm sure I'm not alone with this question.

- Practical in California

DEAR PRACTICAL: To ascribe a motive for not hearing from someone is counterproductive. I believe in direct communication, and that's what I'm suggesting for you. Pick up the phone, tell your friend you are concerned because it has been so long since you have heard from him or her - and ask why.

There are several reasons why someone may not have exchanged cards with you. A few that spring immediately to mind are: an illness that prevented it, the family may have moved and not received the cards you have sent, or because of the increasing popularity of online greetings, people are sending fewer Christmas cards in the mail.

DEAR ABBY: From the very beginning of my relationship with my boyfriend, "Rusty," I have known he was my soulmate. During one of our conversations about marriage, the subject arose of who comes first in a marriage - the wife or the children. I was brought up to believe that the wife should come first, but Rusty disagrees. Rusty insists the children should come first.

Abby, am I wrong in my thinking? What happened to a man and a woman becoming one?

Oh, by the way, Rusty has a 10-year-old girl from a previous relationship.

- Wondering in Hot Springs, Ark.

DEAR WONDERING: Forgive me if this seems negative, but while you may "know" that Rusty is your soulmate, I am not convinced. If the discussion you mentioned came about because of Rusty's daughter, then he has made clear to you who comes first. And if you're smart, you won't turn it into a competition. You'll look for an unencumbered man who can give you what you need. *