ThanksgivingcollageIt’s that time of year.  The Halloween costumes are put away.  The frost is on the pumpkins (ugh). It’s nearly Turkey Time.  And while all the stuffing is seasoned and the cranberries are cooked, there are probably some younger ones who need something besides screen time to do.

Here are some ideas I think are great:

1. If you’re reading this while there’s still time to get to the store, I recommend grabbing one of these paper table covers from Walmart.
For $1.97 you can give your kiddos permission to write and color all over their table.  Love it!


2. I like to promote an attitude of gratitude, and there’s no better time for that than Thanksgiving! Depending on the age of your children, there are a million ways you can get them thinking thankful thoughts.  A simple construction paper craft could do it, so I mocked up a little handprint turkey napkin ring. Super easy.

IMG_4553.JPGYou can use brown grocery bags if you don’t have construction paper. Trace a hand. Cut out four “feathers” and each feather gets one thing the person is thankful for.

I cut out a little piece for the neck too. Kids can use a glue stick to attach it all together. Then glue a little band of paper on the back of the hand and tape closed around the guest’s napkin.

Each person can read what they are thankful for before everyone opens their napkins to eat!



OR – If you have kids who are old enough to responsibly handle an iPhone or iPad, and prefer a digital option, have them act as a reporter and take the gadget around to use as a video camera, and “interview” guests about what they are grateful for, and why.  (Need some prompts? Try these: “What was your best moment this year?” “Who is your favorite person to share good news with?” “What has made you smile most recently?”  “How has someone made your life better?”  They can review their recordings and write up a story on what they found.  Let them report back to you on their findings before Grace is said at the table.

3. Take time to remember those who protect our freedom.  Veterans Day is also in November, so your kids may have just learned about that in school.  Have them take it a step further, and write a letter to a member of the military serving overseas.  An organization called Operation Gratitude is collecting them this year, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make one and get it sent. Here’s the details and makes sure to read the guidelines: Operation Gratitude.  When you have some ready, send them to:


17330 Victory Boulevard

Van Nuys, CA 91406

UPDATE: Some chapters of the American Red Cross are collecting cards, too!


If you are local to Cincinnati, you can send your cards to the chapter here at

2111 Dana Ave.

Cincinnati, OH 45207

Just please remember the guidelines! Cards do not need envelopes. And glitter is a no-no.  Don’t send personal contact information. Just a cheerful, sincere card addressed “Dear Service member” or similar.

Have younger kids work with older kids, or with another  grown-up. They can share a little about themselves, and most of all share a message that they are being thought of, appreciated, and kept close in thoughts at a time when the service member is probably far from home and loved ones. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for children to work on their spelling, grammar, penmanship, AND gratitude to me!

I hope you and your loved ones have a most wonderful holiday.

Let me know if any of these little tips work around your table.





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How I'm Keeping Our Family's Military History Alive With My Children

How I’m Keeping Our Family’s Military History Alive With My Children

This weekend, we mark Memorial Day, the time set aside by our nation to remember the sacrifice which has made us great.  But in the din of baseball games and barbecues (which, don’t get me wrong, our family loves, too) sometimes the past takes a backseat to the party. says, “Memorial Day started off as a somber day of remembrance; a day when Americans went to cemeteries and placed flags or flowers on the graves of our war dead. It was a day to remember ancestors, family members, and loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But now, too many people “celebrate” the day without more than a casual thought to the purpose and meaning of the day. How do we honor the 1.8 million that gave their life for America since 1775? How do we thank them for their sacrifice?”

My son is about to turn 9. All four of his great grandfathers served their country honorably in World War II.  All four were lucky enough to come home alive, to raise families, and live long lives, during which they largely shied away from telling the stories of their wartime experiences. I understand why, and I respect it.  But now, two generations later, far fewer families are personally feeling the impact of having a loved one serve in the military.  My son knows almost no one who has served, or is serving, in the armed forces.  Too much of the sacrifice is on television, behind glass, in a library book, tucked away in a closet.

joeuniform1Which is exactly from where my in-laws pulled this cleanly pressed, decorated uniform that belonged to my husband’s paternal grandfather.   There are surely thousands much like it in closets across the country.  More probably have been lost or given away.  But they all once belonged to a soldier, a sailor, a marine, and others in the various branches of the military.

Click here for Information on the Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.

Click here for Information on the Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.

Most likely, the wearer is gone.  And unfortunately, as in the case of my grandfather-in-law, even their official military records may also be gone (his were among the millions lost in a fire at a records facility before electronic records were kept.)

I sensed a drift in my generation, and even more in my son’s, slowly away from an understanding of and appreciation for the harsh realities of war, towards lives lived in peacefulness that someone else, far away, had earned.  It was as if war was almost fiction.  A very compelling, but nearly hard to believe story.  Except it isn’t.

To learn more about the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. click here

To learn more about the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. click here

Men and women actually wore those uniforms.  Families actually sent their sons and daughters and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters off, never knowing if or when they would see them alive. (And of course, families still go through this now.)

I want my children to deeply understand and truly appreciate the sacrifice, as much as anyone who grows up nearly entirely in peace can.  If I’m being honest, I feel I need to understand better myself.

So when my in-laws downsized homes, and asked if we wanted Joe Thompson’s Army dress uniform, I said we absolutely did.

Now I want to share one small way we’re turning it into a living lesson for my son (and one day, my daughter), my husband and me.

One by one,  my boy is choosing a ribbon, medal, patch, or pin on Grandpa Joe’s jacket, and researching it.

Research in Progress

Research in Progress

We use the Pentagon’s Institute of Heraldry site as much as possible, but also supplement with other military information sites.  We read about the exact title of each decoration, what year it was issued by the government, and what qualified the wearer to don it.


We’ve learned that this red, rainbow colored ribbon is a World War II Victory Medal.  A brightly colored symbol that would have allowed Joe to instantly recognize a fellow veteran as one of the 16 million (16 MILLION) who served in that war. If you had asked me before we started researching, I would have never correctly guessed there were 16 million.  Somehow my regular classroom history lessons failed to teach me that.  (No, I’m not blaming my teachers.  I’m blaming myself, and plain old human nature.)worldwarIIfountain

Somehow, it hasn’t been until I felt that I needed to impress this family history on my children that I was truly capable of learning it myself.  I guess that is one of the little known gifts of parenting.

We are learning that Joe earned a Bronze Star, although we will likely never know why, and that it was General George C. Marshall who wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, because ten years prior to that the government had begun awarding the Air Medal to those who distinguished themselves in aerial combat, and the General felt his ground troops, who were doing such difficult and deadly work, needed the morale boost of being honored, too.

Somehow, in his almost-fourth-grade handwriting, these stories, this history comes brilliantly alive.  It matters.  They are, in steadily improving penmanship, made our own.

My children and I never got to meet Great Grandpa Joe, or ask him to tell any of his stories.  We never got to meet Great Grandpa Ed Benesh, either, and it’s likely he would have refused to tell his story even if we had asked, but I understand it bears a striking resemblance to the movie, Saving Private Ryan.

We cannot ask them now.  But, I can assure you, Ed’s uniform is next.

And Great Grandpa Les Cummins after that.  And Great Grandpa George Roenker after that.

One by one, pin by pin, medal by medal, we will learn, and write, and remember.


So this Memorial Day, I give thanks that my children and I and their father all live in this, the greatest country that Earth has ever known, and that we live in relative peace, all because of those who wore the uniform, and continue to wear one to this very day.


And I am proud of my son.  Though God willing he will likely never know the feeling of burying a loved one in a flag-draped coffin, he at least will be able to tell the stories – because he will know them by heart – of the people in his own past who were.




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