Tag Archives: traditions

The Joys of a Pen Pal

I was eight years old when I was introduced to Mrs. Jenkins. She was a teacher from Manchester, England who had come to my elementary school in Milwaukee to participate in a cultural exchange. Mrs. Jenkins was warm and engaging, and she had many interesting stories about life in the UK.

As a third grader with a vivid imagination, I was pretty sure she was the sister of Mary Poppins and had a purse full of magic.

Before she left our school, Mrs. Jenkins asked if any of the students in our class would be interested in having a pen pal in England. My hand shot up immediately. The thought of writing to a child who lived on another continent was thrilling. So on a piece of construction paper, I scrolled my name, age, interests and home address in magic marker. Mrs. Jenkins put it in her magic purse and promised to find me the perfect match.

Some months later, an envelope arrived from overseas from a girl named Sarah. She sent me a short letter and a few photographs. She had blonde hair and a brother, just like me. In third grade our letters were rather simple, filled with questions like, What is your favorite food? Do you also find your brother annoying? Do you have a favorite song? And every letter ended the same way: Please write back.

I remember going to the mall with my allowance in hand so I could stock up on stationary and stickers to make my letters special.

In elementary school we wrote about friends, books and Michael Jackson. In middle school our letters were about the boys we had crushes on. In high school we shared our thoughts about the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was no Skype, Facebook or email back then.

Having a pen pal made us better writers, and it made us more curious about the world. I loved reading Sarah’s thoughts and opinions, and I dreamed of meeting her in person.

Then high school ended.

When college began, life got hectic and I moved to another city. My childhood was boxed away in my parents attic, and finally, one of us forgot to write back. That was two decades ago ago.

I still think about Sarah often, and wonder how she is doing. Is she still in England? Is she a mom? Has she been to the United States? I have tried to find her on social media, but no luck so far…

I am grateful that Mrs. Jenkins found my perfect match all those years ago. And I am thankful to Sarah for being such a faithful friend for so long. Our letter exchanges were a very special part of my childhood.

This summer my daughter turned eight. One day, as I was telling her about my pen pal, she asked if she could have one, too. I was delighted! I got right to work investigating websites that pair writers based on age and interests.

Then I remembered that I had a more direct route to a pen pal!

One of my friends is a teacher in London. I messaged her on Facebook and asked if she could help me find a match for my daughter. Well, within a matter of days, we had a name and an address. Today, 35 years after being introduced to my pen pal, my third grader is writing to a friend overseas. In fact, she just sent a letter in the mail last week. This wonderful tradition continues…

“MOM, she loves cats, just like me!”

I don’t know how long they will write, but I am glad that my daughter has this experience. And this summer our family is stopping in London on our way to the Baltic, so perhaps these girls will have the opportunity to meet!

This will be my first time in England, though I’ve been dreaming of it since Sarah’s first letter arrived in 1983. For me the experience will be bittersweet.

So many of us have friends in other parts of the world. If you are interested in pairing your child with a pen pal, those connections are a great place to start. If you have questions about the pen pal experience, don’t hesitate to ask!

 

Collecting Art, An Entertaining Family Tradition

When my husband and I married in 2004, we established an early tradition for our family…collecting art.

We are both creative people, and we love to fill our home with unique items that help to tell the story of our life together.

On occasions like birthdays, holidays, Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary, my husband and I do not give each other gifts. No flowers. No diamonds. No chocolates. No cards. No ties. No gizmos. This has always been our way. Instead, we purchase a piece of art annually. It is a gift with no shelf life, and something that we can both enjoy.

Throughout the year, my husband and I attend art shows and peruse galleries and coffee shops looking for that one special piece that speaks to us. Sometimes it is a sculpture, sometimes it is a painting on canvas, and sometimes it is a five-inch by five-inch photograph.

In February we will celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. It is so wonderful to be in our home and look at the art that lives in our space. Each piece has a special story. Each piece is a special memory. These works are deeply personal and meaningful to us.

So what do we do to mark all of the special occasions in a year? We give hugs, and write love notes, we cook special meals together…and we always spend quality time as a family.

 

A Hike In The Snow

In the Midwest, we’ve just celebrated the first snow fall of the season!

There is something dreamy and ethereal about the first dusting of snow. It makes the world look and sound different…colorless and hushed.

For kids, the first snow represents an opportunity for magical play and exploration. Snow: a cold substance that can be packed into balls, sculpted into figures, or moved into angels. Oh, what fun!

One of our longstanding family traditions has been to take a winter hike after the first snowfall.

Well, when my daughter found out that flurries were moving into our area overnight, she made me promise to fulfill this tradition. That evening, as she was getting ready for bed, she asked me to write the promise on her hand so we wouldn’t forget.

A promise is a promise

She woke up before the sun, squealing with joy that the world had been painted white. “Mom, mom, let’s go on our hike!” she cried. “Honey, it’s not even 6:00 a.m.,” I replied, folding my head deeper into my pillow. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. As a compromise, I helped her get dressed in all of her winter gear and let her run around outside while I sipped coffee in the comfort of our warm home.

Eventually, the sun was up, I was caffeinated, and we were all ready to go. My husband, daughter, and I set out on a winter wonderland adventure!

Girls hiking

Over the river and through the woods

First sled ride of the season

Love birds

Urban waves

Sledding

Hiking with a sled

Boots in the snow

Burrrr

The river in white

Hiking in the snow

Wintery staircase

 

 

 

 

Family “Field Trips”

I’ve noticed that sometimes busy families get stuck in ruts….parents working all hours, kids plopped in front of screens, fast food served on dinner plates…everyone is together but not really together at all.

To keep our family playing, talking, and bonding, each weekend we take family “field trips.” Just like the exciting, fun-filled trips we took in grade school, these outings are designed to get us exploring and playing together…really together. They get us out of our daily routines, help us facilitate rich interactions, and allow us to build lasting memories.

We usually head outdoors and visit our community’s natural resources, living museums, and free play areas. During these “field trips” there are only five rules: 1.) no electronic devices, 2.) have fun, 3.) get messy, 4.) try to learn something new, and 5.) run wild! And yes, princess dresses are perfectly acceptable attire.

Our daughter loves the uninterrupted time with mom and dad…and we love sharing our passion for nature with our little one. We’re creating healthy traditions that, we hope, our daughter will continue when she has her own family.

Here are some photos from a trip we took this past weekend…a forest hike followed by playtime along the shores of Lake Michigan. Free, fun, and fabulous.

Entertaining Family wants to know, what does your family do to stay connected?

Waves along the shore

Chair in the woods

Butterfly

Father daughter bonding

Paths in the sand

Rocks on the shore

Standing on the tip of the world