Best. Gift. Ever.

Two years ago, my mom, Sandy, and my daughter, Erin, each said that the present I put together for their birthday was the best gift they had ever received.

If you’re searching for that perfect gift for a loved one, I hope you give this a shot. It’s the ideal present for birthdays, holidays or just because.


My mom reads her Appreciation Album

What is it? An Appreciation Album filled with letters from friends and loved ones telling the recipient how much he or she means to them.

Start by making a list of everyone who the recipient is or has been close to. Reach far back into the past and cast a wide net in the present. For both my mom and my daughter, I was able to collect around 50 letters.

E-mail a letter (use snail mail if you must) to each friend or relative asking them to write a letter. (You’ll find a template of a letter that you can send out at the end of this post.) Start at least two months in advance because there will always be a certain percentage of people who procrastinate. After the first month has gone by, check in with the stragglers once a week or so to urge them to get their letter done now rather than later.

Ask people to handwrite the letter or at least sign a typewritten letter by hand to ensure a personal touch. DO NOT allow someone to e-mail their letter to you—way too impersonal. Nothing says, I’m only doing this because I have to like a cold, sterile e-mail printout.

As the letters start coming in, place each letter on its own album page. If you’re artistically inclined, decorate the album pages as you see fit with graphics and photos of special significance. I have great organizational skills but no taste whatsoever artistically, so I turned over all of Erin’s letters to her mom, Kate. Kate hunted down special stickers relating to Erin’s hobbies and interests as well as colored, textured papers to give the album a more professional look. Kate also took the photo of my mom shown here.

Present the album to the recipient with lots of family and friends around. Both my mom and Erin wiped away tears of laughter as they relived favorite stories and brushed away tears of heartfelt sentiment as they came across letters from long-lost dear friends.

My mom and my daughter have mentioned more than once how much their Appreciation Album means to them and how they have returned to it every so often to savor the love and affection from the people they cherish the most.

You’ll enjoy putting this album together almost as much as the recipient will enjoy receiving it. Good luck!




I’m putting together a surprise for my mom for her 75th birthday on September 30 and would very much like for you to be a part of it.

First of all, let me emphasize that THIS IS A SURPRISE for her so please DO NOT breathe a word of it to her.

I’m asking people who are important to my mom to write a letter to her expressing how they feel about having her in their life. I will then assemble all the letters in an album and present it to her on her birthday.

Why am I doing this? Telling someone that you appreciate them and are grateful to have them in your life is perhaps the best gift you can give to someone. My mom will be deeply touched and will treasure this album for the rest of her life.

Here are the details:

CONTENT: Just write what you feel. Here are some idea starters. You can use all of them, some of them or come up with your own ideas entirely.

• Tell her why you’re glad she’s in your life
• Tell her what impresses you about her
• Comment on a particular element of her character
• Comment on a particular talent she has
• Perhaps share a story or two that speaks to your relationship

If you’re not big on writing, then just a few paragraphs will do. Please write something, because your absence from this album would be a glaring omission.

If you have any photos of my mom and you, that would be a bonus. Also, a photo of just you would be welcome, too, so we can decorate your page with it.

Please date the letter September 30, her birthday.

LENGTH: Anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages. IMPORTANT: DO NOT write on both sides of a piece of paper. Use a fresh piece of paper for every new page you write because your letter will be placed in an album with only one side showing.

DEADLINE: Right away. Her birthday will be upon us before we know it and I need time to collect all the letters and assemble the album.

WHEN YOU’RE DONE: Please mail your letter to me at the address below. Do not e-mail it. A personal signature is so much better than a typed one.

Thank you so much for doing this. I know your letter will mean a great deal to my mom.

Your Name
Your Address
Your Phone Number
Your E-mail Address

P.S. Three important things to remember:
        • This is top-secret
        • Only write on one side of a piece of paper
        • Do NOT e-mail me your letter

Click here to view all my posts on writing letters and notes to loved ones.


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14 Responses to “Best. Gift. Ever.”

  1. Darcy Says:

    Great idea Phil! And thanks for the template!

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You are most welcome, Darcy!

  3. Jane Says:

    Great idea, Lobster Boy! We did something similar for Randy’s mom on her 75th. We interviewed as many people as we could in person and for the rest we copied their reply from messages left on our voicemail. We compiled all these warm birthday wishes on a tape that she could play over and over. She loved and cherished it.

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Absolutely awesome, Jane. A few people have told me they’ve done similar things for their parents and loved ones. that’s why I want to get the word out. It’s a great idea and people really cherish their albums.

    For readers who may be scratching their heads about the Lobster Boy reference, Jane and I worked together years ago. I came in with a bad sunburn and Jane dubbed me Lobster Boy. The funny thing is, she did so in an e-mail that she accidentally sent to the whole department. Hilarious!

  5. Karen Says:

    My 8 brothers and sisters and I gave an Appreciation Scrapbook to our mother for her 70th birthday two days ago. She was very touched and enjoyed showing it to her guests. Everybody was curious about it and it was a huge topic of discussion. We used Phil’s template pretty much word for word. We got a later start than we wanted, giving the people only about 10 days to write and send their letters, but I think that worked out well. Their deadline was Valentine’s Day–that couldn’t have hurt! We got about 35 letters, before all we kids and the grandchildren made our pages. It’s pretty hefty!

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m so glad to hear it was a big success and that your mother loved it, Karen! Thanks!

  7. Victoria Volpe Says:

    Dear Phil, I’m a great believer of sending notes and cards of thanks and sharing your love with others as often as I can. Your idea is a wonderful new way for me to show my love all the more! Thank you so much! And may I tell you while I’m writing you now that your gentle heart and deep love of people comes through more and more as I read your words, Bless You Dear Sir!

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you very much for the kind words, Victoria. I hope you are able to do an Appreciation Album for the special people in your life!

  9. Sharon Johnson Says:

    I told my husband (a while back) about what you’d done and how I thought it was really nice. Then (this month) for my 50th birthday he presented me with the gift of 110 letters from friends, relatives & neighbors. It truly is a treasure of memories and kind words I will cherish and enjoy forever! I feel appreciated and cared about by so many people. :-) Thank you, Phil, for coming up with this idea. I have a wonderful husband who remembered I liked the idea and then did it for me. ♥

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That’s awesome, Sharon! Wow, 110 letters! What a treasure!

  11. Alyssa Says:

    I did this for my dad’s 60th birthday, and it actually made him cry! Happy tears, of course. :)

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That’s terrific, Alyssa! I’m so happy that you and others have done this for loved ones!

  13. Kate Says:

    Another twist on this concept: When Erin was about to turn 13, a milestone in her growth toward womanhood, I contacted the women she’d known best in her life and asked them to write her a letter about what it meant to be a woman. Some offered advice, some talked about their own experience as a woman. It was a way for Erin to feel the connection to the important women in her life and, I hoped, a further bonding with the women who were her role models. I put the letters in a scrapbook and presented it to her for her birthday.

    As for the appreciation book, I am going to do this for my mom’s upcoming 80th birthday! I can’t imagine anyone not feeling uplifted by such a wonderful gift!

  14. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, that was a terrific present for Erin, Kate. It’s a great idea and one that I hope other women will do for their daughters.

    Awesome that you’re going to put together an Appreciation Album for your mom! She’ll love it!

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