Dear Abby: My son and I are very close. He joined the Marine Corps (a decision I fully support) and shipped out recently.
I had read on a Marine family site that frequent letters from home are encouraged, so I had letters written even before I got his mailing address. I sent off three letters the day I got his address and another one three days later.
They always start off with a supportive declaration ("I'm proud of you. You can do this.") before moving on to what I hope are amusing anecdotes about what's going on at home. I avoid topics that would make him homesick. I sign the letter with the initials of my son's nickname for me.
Last night, another family member told me I'm writing too often (that person has written one letter so far, and plans to wait at least a week before sending another). That family member said that the drill instructors and other recruits will notice and label my son a "mama's boy."
This has caused me significant distress. Please tell me which is right: the website that recommends frequent letters, or my family member who advocates cutting back drastically? — MOM OF A MARINE
Dear Mom: Unless the family member is speaking from firsthand experience, trust the military family website. However, because you are concerned, ask your son how he feels about the fact that you write so often, and ask him to be honest.
Dear Abby: In view of all the recent tragic events that have happened, you would do a great service to remind everyone to be careful when donating. A lot of the money that was donated for 9/11 and other tragedies never got to the victims.
Unfortunately, when tragedies occur, scammers view them as an opportunity to line their pockets. I'm not sure how to make sure the money gets to the right people, so I haven't donated at all. Can you help with some information on this? — DIANA IN TEXAS
Dear Diana: Some appeals are, indeed, scams. That's why it's important for kindhearted people to be able to tell the difference. A way to verify that a charity is legit would be to visit charitynavigator.org. It will tell you what percentage of the money you donate will go toward overhead, and how much actually reaches those who need it.
Charity Navigator also publishes "donor advisories" — typically within a week of the event — to ensure that those searching the site for an organization can see if it isn't a legitimate nonprofit entity.