DEAR ABBY: I owe you big time, lady - and after racking my brain for ways to "pay" my debt, I think I found a method that will please you.

Recently you published a list of "do's and don'ts" for a better relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Among them, to mothers-in-law, was: "Don't drop in without calling first." My husband's mom, who is retired and lives across the street, never misses your column and, much to our relief, she took your advice. Her unannounced visits were immediately reduced from two to three a DAY to twice a week!Don't get me wrong; she is a wonderful person whom I love very much, but with our hectic schedules, her drop-in visits were very disruptive. Neither my husband nor I could figure out how to get that message across without hurting her feelings.

Abby, as a token of my heartfelt appreciation for solving this problem for us, I have doubled my United Way Fund contribution for 1991 in your honor!

Should you publish this, just sign me . . . WORTH IT

DEAR WORTH IT: You are indeed unique. Most readers see others in my column, but rarely do they see themselves.

DEAR ABBY: We're having a debate in my family. If a man gives a woman an engagement ring, and four hours later they break up, should the woman return the ring?

My sister says, "No, the ring is the woman's to keep regardless of how long she's had it."

I am in total disagreement and feel that given the scant length of their engagement, the woman is not entitled to keep the ring.

A third sister insists that if the woman breaks the engagement, she should return the ring, but if the man breaks the engagement, it's, "Tough luck, buddy!"

This happens to be a family matter, because the girl who had the four-hour engagement is our cousin.

Please don't mention the name of our town, as it could be embarrassing. - WEST COAST COUSINS

DEAR COUSINS: A four-hour engagement must be some kind of record. The gentleman has every right to expect the lady to return the ring. And if she refuses, she's no lady.

DEAR ABBY: I hope you publish a lot more letters from experienced runners and joggers, because they should have plenty of valuable tips for inexperienced runners.

But in case nobody mentions this, runners should never wear headsets to listen to music, the news or whatever while they are running! A friend of mine was nearly killed because she wore a headset - and didn't hear the little sports car that came whizzing around the corner. - MARY SUNSHINE

CONFIDENTIAL TO O. IN BIRMINGHAM, ALA.: Voltaire said, "The secret of being a bore is to tell everything." (A truism - but hardly a secret.)

- By popular request, Abby shares more of her favorite prize-winning, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby, Cookbooklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054. (Postage is included.)

1990 Universal Press Syndicate