For Christmas last year, I decided to do something a little out of the ordinary for my two nieces and my two kids. The four cousins are separated by many miles, and they love when they get to spend time together. Saying their goodbyes at the ends of visits are hard.

As someone who used to write for a living, I love the written word. I hatched a plan.

They were ages 7-11 and were all reading and writing on their own, and I wanted to put together a gift that would keep them all close in spirit, even when they were back home in their own states.IMG_2255

So I started the Write Back Soon Club, and “enrolled” all four.IMG_2284

Here’s how it works.IMG_2247IMG_2245

I put together a box for each child. After searching around, I found these stationery kits. Personalized letterhead lined paper and envelopes printed with the child’s return address on them. Almost a year later, I can say they’ve worked out great. (I don’t get paid to say this. I just like them and they were a great value.)

IMG_2243I bought a sheet of fun postage stamps for each child.

IMG_2241I added a new pen

IMG_2244and some decorative rubber stamps and an ink pad. Stickers would work, too.

I found a couple of books about correspondence and gave one to each set of siblings to share. (here’s one, and another.)IMG_2246IMG_2240

I thought through the list of friends and family members who live away from the kids that I thought the kids would be most likely to write to, typed up their names and mailing addresses, printed one for each kid and laminated it.

Last, I typed up a Welcome Letter. This is important!IMG_2249

Here’s what it reads:

“Welcome to the Write Back Soon Club! You are now a member of a very special club. In this box are all the tools you will need to write a great letter, mail it, and (hopefully) get letters in return!

Long before there were phones, tv’s, iPads, or computers (and even before there were cars, planes, and trains,) people sent each other letters to keep in touch when they could not be together. Some people think letter writing is a lost art, but you are about to show them they’re wrong.

Letters are special for many reasons. Anyone can write a letter, even kids. You don’t have to have your parents’ permission, or ask to borrow their phone or use a computer. You can sit down, and write to someone you’re thinking of without very much – if any – help.  Letters are a way to connect with someone. You get to share what you’re thinking and ask about them.

When someone gets a letter in the mail, they will probably be excited! It’s not a bill they have to pay, or junk mail, or the newspaper. A letter was written just for them, and they can read it over and over and feel happy that you sent it.  Years from now, that person might even keep letters you sent them, and it could be interesting to go back and read what you wrote. It’s a little like a time capsule!

Here are the very simple directions for writing letters as part of the Write Back Soon Club:

  1. Think of something you want to TELL. It could be how you’re feeling that day, about what you’re learning in school, something great that happened to you, or even something that’s making you sad or bothering you. Just make sure you TELL the reader something about YOU.
  2. ASK them something about themselves. What have they done lately that’s interesting? Have they taken any trips? Are they learning a new hobby? It could just be as simple as ASKING them how they are doing. ASKING is as important as TELLING. It lets the reader know you want to find out more about them, not just share about you.
  3. End your letter however you like. Your books might help with this. You could write, “Love, Penelope” or “Your friend, Brady” but make sure after you end your letter and sign your name that you add “WRITE BACK SOON!” This will let the person know you are hoping to get a letter in return. Sometimes people forget, or get too busy to return your letter. That’s OK. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep writing. They’ll love reading your letters even if they can’t or don’t write back (but we hope they do!)

Enjoy this gift. If you run out of paper or stamps, you can ask for more and we will get them. Most of all, remember how fortunate you are to have people in your lives to write letters to, and be thankful for them. Just like we are thankful for each of you.

Lots of love, Anne & Matt”

IMG_2256I had the cousins all open their gifts at the same time, and I asked them to take turns reading the letter out loud. We all listened. I may have gotten a little misty eyed. It was a pretty great moment.

My fear, though, was that

1. They’d openly roll their eyes, shove it back under the tree, and move on to something more exciting. (they didn’t.)

2. Even worse, it would sit and collect dust all year. (much to my surprise, it hasn’t. They haven’t written every week or even every month by any means. But it’s October and my daughter just got two letters from her cousins this week. Heart = bursting.)

Their faces when they see they’ve gotten a letter in the mail? So happy!IMG_2338  IMG_2342 IMG_2343

If you have kids in your life who you think would like this, I say go for it. If you can’t set up two or more kids to write to each other, you could get yourself a box and become their pen pal. Send them jokes. Ask about their friends. Tell them stories about when they were little. I bet over time, you’ll convert them to a letter writer. Even if they don’t grow up loving to write letters, they’ll have a box full of memories they can reopen when they’re having a bad day, and you will have sent a message that they are loved, and worth spending time on. IMG_2250

That’s a pretty great gift.

Write Back Soon,


Read more



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.





Read more

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.




Read more