The Joy of Letter Writing

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When was the last time you wrote a personal letter for no reason other than to let a friend or relative know you were thinking of them?  I wrote two letters a few hours ago.  This is a daily ritual with me.  It feels great to take my mind off my own life and focus on the life of someone else.  I have my regular pen friends, but I also enjoy sending letters off to relatives and local friends, people I like who I don’t have the opportunity to see often or ever!

I enjoy pausing in my busy day to reflect on life for if I  go, go, go and never stop life becomes one long “to do” list offering me no chance to ponder and appreciate those very things that I’m doing. I double my fun by “doing” things and then “reflecting” on those things.  Lord Byron (one of my “dead friends”) had it right when he said, “A life without reflection is a sad affair.”   I think reflection is important.  It gives us a chance to stop and relax in between activities.

I could reflect and keep the reflections to myself, but I truly believe sharing doubles the joy, so I share my reflections in the letters I write to my pen friends.  My pen friends then share their reflections with me.  It’s a wonderful cycle.

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I know I could use the telephone as my way to reach out to others, but I might call at an inconvenient time for my friend.  Just because I’m in the mood to share doesn’t mean my friend has the time just then.  A letter is polite.  It arrives, but can wait to be read at whatever time is convenient.  It can also be kept and read again and again and again.  A letter is lasting.  Why would someone want to reread a letter you ask?   Well, if we write letters full of kind thoughts, compliments and beautiful ideas our friends might like to reread our letters when they need a lift.

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Besides all this, there’s art involved in letter writing, not only the personal art of our handwriting, but also the opportunity for us to enjoy a little art play as we create our stationery. Creativity is very therapeutic and good for the soul.  There are plenty of machine-made items in the world today but how many handmade articles do you encounter daily?   A hand written letter will always stand out because not only is it personal, and handmade, but it is also quite rare in these modern days.

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I love writing letters but I get equal pleasure from receiving letters like this one from my pen friend Sarah in Viroqua, Wisconsin.  With lots of pen friends the whole world becomes your friendly neighborhood.  As you write to all sorts of people with all sorts of interests and experiences your life is enriched.

My pen friend Sarah is a real health food person.  She shares all sorts of healthful recipes with me and whether or not I make these things I enjoy reading about them – things like her snacks of yogurt with carob powder and sorghum. Sarah eats sorghum morning and night.  She says it digests slowly and is a good fuel source.  Did you ever eat sorghum?

Sarah buys grass fed beef hot dogs, chops up 2 eggs right out of the shell, adds celery seed with a liberal pad of butter, some spinach, parsley or cilantro, and cooks it all up to create a lunch she loves.  Well, it’s not exactly a lunch I would love, but I enjoy the subject of  food and discussing it in letters is interesting to me.  Would you find this subject interesting too?

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Sarah said she doesn’t eat much bread but if she does indulge it has to be Sprouted Organic Ancient Grains – The Queen’s Khorasan.  Ever hear of it?  I hadn’t.  It’s made with sprouted khorasan wheat, an ancient grain that entertained Egyptian royalty more than 5,000 years ago. Who would know?  Pen friends teach me all sorts of things about food and about many other subjects as well.

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I may not be able to hop on a plane and travel to far off places, but because I have pen friends in those far off places it’s easy for me to enjoy virtual outings whenever these friends write to me sharing their world.  One such special friend is Joanna who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Besides her beautiful handwriting and her Scottish news I love to see the stamps on her envelopes.

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Joanna also shares picture postcards from her travels.  These post cards always contain lovely descriptions and lots of background information.  I could just read The New York Times travel section (which I do read) or National Geographic, but there’s something special in getting a friend’s personal reaction to a place.   Do you recognize the picture above?  It’s a  picture of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.  Joanna visited it recently and found it interesting that in any other Renaissance building most people would spend hours admiring the painted ceilings, the immense collection of classical sculptures and the portraits of European monarchs of the 16th and 17th centuries, but she noticed no one was paying any attention to any of those features at the Uffizi Gallery because they were too busy looking at the other paintings. I too love art and my pen friends help me see things I would otherwise not have a chance to see.

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Did I just say I love art?  Yes I did, all kinds of art,  so you can see why I enjoy finding creative letter envelopes in my mailbox.  This one is from my pen friend Kathy who lives in York, Pennsylvania. Kathy loves cats.  She often draws a cat on her letter envelope among other things). I love seeing her art work.  She especially loves her cat Alice, but Kathy loves lots of good things that I also appreciate, especially her love of  classical music and singing in a choir.

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No, this isn’t Kathy’s Alice, but I wonder if Kathy would  dress Alice up in this way.  Kathy tells me there was a “dress up your pet contest” and this cat pictured was a winner.   I wonder if Alice would put up with a hat and earrings.  My dog would never have heard of such a thing. But to each his own.  I  have some catnip in my garden and I’m planning to send it to Alice via Kathy.  I never had a cat, but I do love animals, and any friend of Kathy’s is a friend of mine, a friend deserving of a little present now and then.

Letters are wonderful.  I can’t imagine living without them. Some letters are serious and others are whimsical.  Some letters educate and others just share simple pleasures.  Letters add so much to my life and I know they would add as  much to your life too.

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I hope you are a letter writer.  I hope you have lots of lovely pen friends as I do.  I hope you enjoy art play creating your very own stationery. It’s all so good!  The Art of Letter Writing is not a lost art.  It still exists.  All it needs is You!  Write your friends and relatives.  Join The Letter Exchange if you need a few new interesting pen friends.  Leave a comment on this post.  I’d love to hear from you myself.

Just Write!

I’ve got Mail

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Yes, I’ve got mail.  I’ve got letters.  I’ve got lots and lots of letters –  letters that come in the mail every day, letters to answer, letters reaching out to new people encouraging friendship,  letters all set to go just waiting for the postman to pick them up and carry them off to places far and near.

It’s funny, but whenever I tell people I’m a letter writer the first thing most of them say is, “Oh, letter writing.  Nobody writes letters anymore.”  Of course they’re wrong.  Lots of people are still writing letters.  They’re just not talking about them.  I’m talking about them because letters and letter writing brings me joy and sharing doubles that joy.

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There’s nothing like making a cup of something delicious (for me it’s a cup of dark roast coffee or Earl Grey tea) and getting all cozy with paper and pen.  I’ve been told I must be an introvert for introverts receive energy from solitude, and letter writing is a solitude-type thing, but I must also be an extrovert for I enjoy people very much.. . so  it’s no wonder that I love letter writing.  In letter writing we have solitude and society simultaneously.  We sit quietly relaxing in our house or in a pleasant coffee shop while at the same time we’re sharing with others.

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But it’s not just the writing and sharing I love.  I also love the art play involved in creating my own stationery. Some papers turn out pretty, while others are just playful.   But all art play is fun.  I’m not the only one enjoying art play either.  Have you been to a bookstore lately to see all the many adult coloring books?  Adults must really be enjoying coloring by the looks of all those books for sale and why not?  Kids mustn’t have all the fun, but letter writers have a purpose for their art play.  They can share their art as well as their words – a double sharing proposition.

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Creating  letter papers and writing letters are  wonderful activities, but only half the fun.  The other half of the fun comes when we go out to our mail box and find more than junk mail. Finding personal letters addressed just to us is wonderful fun!  Heartfelt messages just for us.

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The best of these letters share the personal life and the unique spirit of another.  How often do you have chats through the day with people who reach deep into themselves to share the good, the bad, and that which is the essential essence of themselves?  Well, most every day I have these sharing sessions because I’m blessed to have a great number of wonderful pen friends.  You can have wonderful pen friends too.  All you have to do is write letters for good things come back to those who share –  good things in the form of more letters.

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Today I got a letter from my penfriend A.J. who lives in Arizona.  This dear man is hurting because he lost his wife two years ago but he still misses her terribly.  He told me he thinks of her every day because  she was a wonderful woman and a wonderful wife.  A.J. truly was a lucky man to not only have a good companion, but also a wife who cooked delicious meals every day and  took great care of their house. My heart goes out to him.  A lot of people are hurting in this world, but sharing in letters , (and sharing in other ways too) not only doubles the joy, but also divides any sorrow.  I care how A.J. feels. Wouldn’t you care too?  I plan to write him soon and encourage him to tell me more about his wife.  I’m sure he’d like that.   It’s not just A.J.’s spirit that came through in his letter.  I also got a sense of his wife’s spirit as he shared a list she kept on their fridge, and now I’m sharing that list with you.  Here it is.

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Ingredients for a Happy Life

Develop a spiritual outlook on life – Matt. 5: 3

Be content and avoid “the love of money”  1 Tim, 6: 6-10

Keep pleasures in their place 2 Tim,3: 1,4

Be generous and work for the happiness of others Acts 20:  35

Be thankful and count your blessings Col. 3:  15

Have a forgiving spirit Matt. 6:  14

Choose your associates wisely Prov. 13:20

Take care of your body and avoid bad habits 2 Cor.7:  1

Rejoice in the hope set out for you in the Bible Rom. 12:  12

This list is good advice for all of us and it gives me something good to think about today as I’m thinking about A.J. and his wife.

Thinking and caring about people is not a frivolous, unimportant thing and therefore letter writing is more than just a fun hobby. It’s an excellent way to reach out to others in love.  Our letters can make a big difference in someone’s life if we’re thoughtful and careful to address their feelings.  It’s not always easy, but well worth the effort.  Besides, when we take the focus off our own life and focus our attention on other people we often feel all the better for it.

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The next letter that comes to me may be full of joy, or it may come from some far off place and introduce me to  new and  unusual things.  Every letter is different just as every letter writer is different. My life is richer for having lots of pen friends. I hope you have lots of pen friends too.

“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.  For, thus friends absent speak. —John Donne

Letter Writing as Art

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The word that is heard perishes, but the letter that is written remains.

A Proverb

And if that letter is a beautiful letter, well, you know what they say about beauty.  A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  I am a great fan of The Art of Letter Writing and it truly is an art.  The words we use,  their construction and style, our penmanship, the stationery, even the postage stamps that grace an envelope,  many elements combine to create an artful letter.

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There are those who enjoy letter writing but think little of its artful aspects.  I’m still happy to hear from these people, I really am, but to me the artistic quality of a letter increases its pleasure tenfold.

Art can be a type of therapy too.  After a busy day I find it very relaxing to pull out my water color pencils and design stationery for my letters.  Lately more and more of my pen friends are beginning to realize they’re not too old for art even if they never dabbled in it before.  Have you heard about the adult coloring books becoming very popular? Well, coloring in a book is nice, but it’s even more fun to design the creations you color.  These creations (no matter how simple) can have a purpose too – they can become your very personal, one-of-a-kind stationery.

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 I have a few of my own coloring books like this one, A field Guide to Wildflowers.  It’s filled with 146 wildflower designs along with  notes about each flower’s growing habits,

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but instead of coloring the pictures in the book I use these pictures as models which I sketch onto my writing papers.  Once the sketches are complete I then enjoy the coloring. It’s fun!  And in trying to draw a flower or any other thing I’m forced to really notice its detail  thereby appreciating that thing all the more.  

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Whether the flowers I draw and color grace an 8 by 10 piece of paper

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or a card which holds a letter inside,  it’s all pure fun  and very creative. This sort of thing just might be fun for you too.

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Of course there’s all sorts of things that can be drawn to grace letters.  Because I am a fan of afternoon tea almost as much as letters I’ll often draw tea cups on my stationery.  What are your favorite things?  Try drawing them.  Let them dress up your letters.

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Each Season offers so many ideas.  In Winter how about drawing evergreen trees and animal foot prints in the snow?

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But any simple artistic touch can jazz up a letter, even a stenciled “Happy Day”…. add a few polka dots and you have art.

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 But if drawing is just not your thing perhaps photography is.  Why not create greeting cards using your photographs.  My Dad grew up in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of Groundhog Phil, the famous weather forecaster.  I know Phil well  so I like to make and send Groundhog Day cards to celebrate the occasion.  Groundhog Day is just around the corner too. (February 2nd)  Any picture is worth a thousand words after all so let pictures  jazz up your letters, especially if those pictures are meaningful to you or your letter friend.

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If you’re lucky you have lots of letter friends who write their letters using all sorts of artful details,

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letters that not only have a lot of interesting things to say, but that are visual treats for the eyes –  like this letter from my pen friend Joy.

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And sometimes a personal artful letter sent at a time of loss will  be just the thing to soothe a mourning soul.  Years back after my father died I received such a letter containing a verse that was very comforting to me.  It was a verse about after life. You see I had just been asking my father (now in heaven) questions about death never expecting any answer, but an answer did come.  The answer was scribbled on a little piece of paper which was tucked into the envelope of a letter I received later that day.  The words were so comforting to me I now share them with friends who’ve lost a loved one.  I write the words neatly with care  gracing  the paper with flowers and a heart.

And here’s that hopeful message.

“Death is nothing all.  I have only slipped away into the next room.  I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other that we still are.  Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used.  Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.  Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.  Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.  Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.  Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.  Life means all that it ever meant.  It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity.  Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?  I am waiting for you for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.  All is well.”

Henry Scott Holland

(1847-1918)

Canon of Saint Paul’s Cathedral

A personal letter at any time shows that we care, but at times of sorrow that caring is especially important. I was impressed to see this message over the entry to the main post office in Washington D.C.

“Messenger of Sympathy and Love, Servant of Parted Friends”

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So write some letters.  Make them beautiful.  Make them artful.  Express  yourself. Share your joy.  Comfort the depressed and downtrodden.   Delight yourself and others with your creativity.  Letter writing is not only an art.  It can also be a ministry, an artful ministry.  Virginia Wolfe once said, “Life would split asunder without letters”  and Kate Spade said, “It’s uplifting to get a letter – – –  like an ‘ooh!’ in your mailbox”.

I say they’re right.

What do you say?

Let’s talk about Christmas Cards

It’s the middle of December and the Christmas cards are starting to arrive.  Goodie!  I love them. I like to display the cards we receive on  our library shelves  amidst the books.   They’re great, one of my favorite things about Christmas.  Sure, I like the Christmas music and I get plenty of it teaching piano and directing a Children’s Church choir.

And I enjoy all sorts of  other Christmas things…

things like baking Christmas cookies and decorating the dining tables with crystal reindeer and Pomegranetes.  I like pulling out a Teddy Bear in his December sweater, decorating the Christmas tree and setting out another lit tree to brighten up the foyer.  I enjoy all sorts of Seasonal plants, setting paper whites on my secretary desk and  trimming the mantels with fresh greens, but being a letter writer there’s nothing I enjoy more then  sending and receiving Christmas cards.

When I’m ready to write out our cards I put some Christmas music on, make a cup of coffee or tea and spread out the cards I’m planning to send so I can hand pick different cards for different people, but I can get a little frustrated because I know I’ll never have the time to write everyone I care for at Christmas … not in the busy days of December… not writing  cards with personal messages the way I like to write them.

I remember watching my Mom write out her Christmas cards.  Mom was a lovely and very caring person, but the task of sending out lots of cards to a huge family put her in an efficient work mode not a holly jolly Christmas mode.  She approached the job in an assembly line manner. Mom first signed her name to all the cards, she then stamped all the envelopes, then  penned all the addresses.  Her heart was in a good place but not with each person she was writing.

I can’t write Christmas cards or any cards that way.  To me each card is an opportunity to think about the person I’m writing.   This takes time, but it’s delightful time spent!  It’s not a job to me.  It’s pure fun!  I like to write a note inside the card or maybe a long message.

Sometimes I like to draw a little something on the card and if I’m writing to one of my friends I always use sealing wax with my personal “C”stamp for Carol Ann. If the card happens to be from both my husband and me I’ll use a stamp with our “M” initial for McCarthy.  Christmas cards going to my pen friends rate a letter inside the card (and I have a lot of pen friends) so unless I go off to our outbuilding and hide away for a few weeks everyone I care about can not possibly get a Christmas card.  Oh dear.

What to do?

I guess we all have to come up with our own solutions.

Some good people, like my dear pen friend Greg, take the time to write a holiday letter to everyone on their list.  It’s typed and copied. I’m sure composing this sort of  letter takes a lot of time and I’m honored to be on Greg’s Christmas list and the list of other people as well. I really am, but I’m not fond of most Christmas letters.  Greg’s letter was different, better, because he wrote a paragraph in that letter about me and our pen friendship.  That personal touch left me with a smile and a good feeling. Greg’s Christmas letter brought me joy and isn’t that what we want our Christmas cards and letters to do?

Unfortunately many Christmas letters fail to offer any kind and loving words to their recipients. They’re filled with me, me and more me.  I may care about the person who is writing this letter to me (and a million others), but such Christmas letters don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy in any way. In fact, if those letters are filled with only the great accomplishments and good fortunes of the writer’s last year, well, they can be a little depressing. I can begin to wonder how my year measures up to their year.

So how will I handle the subject of Christmas cards?

There’s no way I can send  a personal card or letter to everyone I care about in the  month of December and I’m not about to create Christmas letters all about me and my family.

But this is what I can do.

I can enjoy making a list (and checking it twice) to be sure everyone I care about gets their name on that list.  Next I will declare one day each week as the day to send a special card containing a letter (or at least a special note) to someone on that list.  I’ll keep a log of who gets what when.  In the course of a whole year I should be able to reach 50 to 100 additional people.

Each week a  card may go out to someone with a birthday or anniversary.   I may hear of a friend or relative who is feeling poorly, someone who has had an operation or lost a loved one, someone who needs encouragement or congratulations.  These would be the people to get an extra card or  letter that week.

 A holiday may be approaching – Easter, Halloween, Memorial Day.  Why not send a few greeting cards for each holiday?  Why should Christmas be the only holiday when cards are sent to friends and relatives?  That’s silly.  We can care about people all through the year not only in December, the busiest month of all.

And even if there’s no special day coming up who needs a special day to send a card and letter?  Any time is a good time to think of others and let them know we care about them.

So

Though I wish I could send a zillion Christmas cards out this month, I can’t.  I will however enjoy writing and sending cards and letters all through the year.  I have my regular pen friends, but so many other people are also important to me and deserve to be remembered.  Spreading joy and love is a twelve month proposition.  And when we give (love) good things come back to us. (More love).

We all have our own approach to Christmas cards.  I don’t expect everyone to do as I do, but I hope you enjoy spreading the cheer by sending some cards out to those you love.  It would be a shame if this gracious old world custom went by the wayside.

May I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

(just in case I don’t get a card off to you this month)

But maybe  a card  will arrive when you least suspect it. 

Till that time

Cheers

They say it’s better to give then receive but…

I can tell you from experience receiving can be pretty delightful too, especially when that receiving refers to letters delivered to your mailbox, letters  addressed “just to you”.  Why there’s practically a radiance to them!

Big ones, small ones, in all colors of the rainbow, with artful postage stamps decorating their envelopes.  Ah, commemorative postage stamps.  They are like miniature paintings,  lovely works of art.  Notice the postage stamps in the picture above.  Do you recognize all of them?  Some come from Scotland, The Netherlands and Germany.  I’m happy to have  plenty of pen friends in the United States, but I also enjoy corresponding with people from all around the world.  These people come to visit me  by way of their letters.

I love company, don’t you?  There’s nothing quite like it, but when letter friends come a-calling  you don’t have to clean the house, dress up, or prepare any refreshments unless you’d like to enjoy those refreshments yourself. Of course you probably won’t be getting any of this company, these letters, unless  you’re writing letters.  And why wouldn’t you want to be writing letters?  It’s such lovely fun to sit quietly reflecting,  visiting with a friend via pen and paper. The Art of Letter Writing provides joy in both the giving and the receiving.

Every morning I have a few letters and postcards ready for my postman. He picks them up and off they go – north, south, east and west. Messages can travel by way of the internet, but there’s something very special about a handmade letter.  I write one every morning with my first cup of coffee and then I write another later in the day as a reward for a constructive morning.

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And when my friendly post man comes around I’m rewarded for my efforts for he brings me more letters, replies to those letters I’ve written.   What fun!

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Today was a slow mail day – only three letters and one post card, but every day can’t be a terrific mail day.  Luckily I have a backlog of letters to answer from good mail days in the past.  I’d love to share a few of the highlights from those letters with you on the off chance that you may not have any of your own letters to enjoy, but if you don’t all you have to do is join The Letter-Exchange, a most wonderful letter writer’s organization.  I’ve been a member of this group for years.  If you join you’ll have scores of your own wonderful pen friends in no time.  But till then let me tell you a little about some of my pen friends and about the goodies they share with me in their letters.

There’s Joanna who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Joanna is always sending me lovely artful postcards, many with a Scottish subject.  I share her delightful day trips to places like Dundee.   Joanna says Dundee has to be one of the coldest places in Scotland which she says is really something for I guess Scotland is a colder country then I ever imagined.  Joanna tells me Dundee is set on a hillside on an estuary of the river Tay which flows out to the North Sea. It encounters a particular east coast climactic phenomenon – a sea fog that is blown inland.  It’s fun to imagine I’m there with her.  Joanna tells me Dundee is not a wealthy place and has few restaurants, but surprisingly it does have a Mexican restaurant.  She enjoyed a dinner there for $12 and to give you an idea of how this price seemed low to her she said her friend enjoyed a Mexican dinner in London at about the same time, but that dinner cost $80.

Some day I just may travel to Scotland and meet Joanna in person because my husband is an avid golfer and Scotland is one place he’d really like to play some golf. Thanks to Joanna I now know  we must take along our woolen underwear if we make the trip.  She’s full of information about where to stay and what to do in her country.  She’s my personal Scottish travel agent. I bet she has a great recipe for  tea time shortbread.

Then there’s Cindy…   Cindy lives in Milford, Connecticut.  I love New England having lived in Boston. Massachusetts myself.  Cindy shares pictures of her Connecticut neighborhood and the flowers she grows in her garden.  She’s one of my ” girl friends”.  We talk about motherhood, gardening, cooking  and daily life things.  Cindy is an artist and it’s fun to share ideas for our artful projects.  Girls need lots of girl friends.  And since my town of Hudson is in a part of Ohio known as The Land of the Western Reserve (It was Connecticut’s western land holdings back in the late 17th and early 18th century) well, I feel a kinship with Connecticut people like Cindy.

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But I also enjoy West coast people, people like Almita.  Almita lives in Menifee, California.  She and her husband are avid bird lovers.  They love nothing more than traveling around in their RV and bird watching. Thanks to Almita I’m learning a lot about birds.  Did you recognize the birds  in the pictures from her last letter?  Both birds are Black-crowned Herons, but the lower picture features a mature Heron whereas the upper shot reveals a juvenile Heron. Thanks to Almita if I should run across any Black-crowned Herons in the future I’ll  now be able to name them.   Letter friends are full of knowledge and enthusiasm for all sorts of things and in sharing they not only double their joy, but they also educate and inspire us.

If you have a passion for literature, particularly the literature of Mark Twain then you would love Greg as your pen friend. This is because Greg lives in Hannibal, Missouri, the same town where Samuel Langhorne Clemens (who became Mark Twain the author) lived from the ripe old age of 4.  Greg is a Mark Twain enthusiast.  All of his letters bear the Mark Twain commemorative stamp and he even sent me many of these postage stamps so I could use them on my letters to him.  Though he writes about all sorts of other interesting subjects too (especially astronomy) you can count on him for information about Mark Twain.  All you have to do is ask him.

I did,  and before I could say Tom Sawyer there was a large white envelope in my mailbox.   It was filled with post cards and  brochures about Mark Twain and his town.  He also sent me a very nice booklet entitled, A River, a Town and a Boy. After I finish digesting all this information Mark Twain will surely become another of my “dead friends”, one of the interesting people from the past who entertains and inspires me. And to think Mark Twain and I might never have had the opportunity to connect if it weren’t for Greg.

We may only have one life to lead, but if that life includes a lot of interesting pen friends then that one life becomes so much more. Pen friends turn the whole world into a friendly neighborhood.   I can’t imagine life without them.  Another time I’ll share more  of my pen friends with you and if you join The Letter Exchange you just might develop a friendship  with some of these people yourself.

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But before I leave you and because Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner I must share a recipe that my good friend Mary sent to me.  Mary lives in Forestville, California.  She’s an old college friend and a retired Colonel in The United States Air Force.  Though Mary lived in various parts of the United States as well as Germany and England, places far from me, we kept in touch through letters and these days we’re still writing letters to each other.

Often we share recipes in our letters because Mary and I both enjoy cooking.  Well, today one of my three letters was from Mary and a little yellow post- it-note in that letter said, “My friends made this and it was excellent, very moist.  I plan to make it soon.”  And I, Carol Ann,  plan to make it soon too… it being a Turkey while you sleep.  My turkey is defrosting in the fridge as I write.  Maybe now, thanks to the wonderful Art of Letter Writing, you’ll be making this recipe in the next few days too.  If you do you can thank my pen friend Mary for sharing.

Turkey While You Sleep

Ingredients:  1 uncooked turkey, 1 tsp. salt, 2 stalks of celery with leaves, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, 2 cups boiling water.

Process:  Sprinkle salt inside turkey cavity and insert celery stalks.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place turkey on rack in roasting pan and rub with melted butter.  Pour boiling water around turkey, cover pan tightly, and cook for 2 hours for 14 pounds or less, 2 and 1/2 half hours for more than 14 pounds.  After cooking time, turn off heat, but DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR.  Leave turkey in closed over overnight (8 hours).  Turkey will be ready to slice and refrigerate the next morning, with plenty of drippings for gravy.

So ’til we meet again I leave you saying

 “Happy Letter Writing” and “Happy Thanksgiving” too.

The spirit of an October letter

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Any time of year is the right time to enjoy the beautiful Art of Letter Writing but when temperatures fall and leaves begin to turn those rich colors of Autumn it’s especially nice to cuddle up in a cozy corner with paper and pen and write letters.

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 At this time of year my correspondents often choose stationery that reflects the beauty of the Season adding to my pleasure in receiving their letters.

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I too consider the Season when choosing or creating my stationery.  I’ll often draw  sunflowers or Autumn leaves on my letter papers.  Stationery and art play can be a large part of letter writing fun.

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Did you ever make faux postage stamps for your letter envelopes? It’s easy using your camera and a computer.  In October I like to create these stamps picturing my house with its dogwood tree in Autumn color.   Also, just for fun, I add little pumpkin men to the envelope.

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Some times in October I use a rubber stamp picturing an old spooky house.  I’ll add a tree or two, a ghost, a bit of chalk, and presto – Seasonal stationary.  There are so many possibilities.

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Then there’s color!  With Halloween around the corner it’s not unusual for me to receive letters on bright orange paper along with the talk of ghosts and goblins.  Color is fun! Some people enjoy decorating their houses for the Season, but letter writers often put that effort into the look and subject matter of their letters.

My letter friend Kim’s recent orange letter shared interesting information about the Celtic roots of Halloween –  how some 2000 years ago people thought the division between this world and the other world was at its thinnest nearing the end of October so at this time family ancestors were honored and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off.  People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves from the evil spirits thus avoiding harm. Interesting, huh?

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Kim’s envelope was very “Halloweeny”. and besides containing a good letter it was full of goodies for me.  How nice is that?  What fun to go to the mailbox and find letters, but letters with gifts inside?  Yes!

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See?  The decorated tissues held lip gloss, little packets of body butter and the most delicious-smelling soaps. Don’t you wish you had a generous letter friend like Kim?  Hopefully you do.

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Well I like to share in my letters too.  I share all sorts of things.  In October as Halloween approaches I like to  share a little something to do with old houses.  You see, I love old houses. I enjoy living in this old house. To me old houses are romantic, gracious and mysterious for they witnessed lives and times that have come and gone.

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 I used to live in an 1829 house, but these days I live in a newer house, an 1853 house built by Jeremiah Brown, the half-brother of John Brown, the famous abolitionist.

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In Autumn, especially when Halloween is near, my thoughts wander back in time and I like to think about the people who lived in my old house and what life must have been like for them back then.  I love so many old world ways – letter writing, afternoon tea, chamber music, candlelight, things undoubtedly enjoyed by people of the past… actually I often wish I lived a hundred or two hundred years ago. but by living now I’m able to encourage these and other old world pleasures that modern people seldom consider today.

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There’s a ghost flying outside my house in October and though I’ve never actually seen any other ghosts on the property I have a feeling they’re there.

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One of my “dead friends”. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote a poem about all this and I like to share this poem with all my letter friends each October because it captures my feelings about spirits and old houses. Like Kim’s envelope this poem is very “Halloweeny” too.

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I’ve known Henry for years, first meeting him when I lived in Boston.  I met Henry at a Country Inn and I love Country Inns just as much as I love old houses.  Originally this Inn was named ‘The Wayside Inn”, but it was renamed Longfellow’s Wayside Inn after Henry wrote his “Tales of a Wayside Inn” while being a guest there.  The Inn has a lovely perennial garden and in that garden is a statue of Henry.

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Then later I discovered Henry’s beautiful house in Cambridge, Massachusetts and while there I really sensed his spirit all around me, especially in his study where he did all of his writing. I revisited his house often while living in Boston and even when I moved to Ohio I would return to Boston and pop in at Henry’s place because it was just so nice.  Funny too how one time after visiting there Henry followed me home.  You see, I decided to spend a night at The Red Lion Inn in the Massachusetts Berkshires on the way back to Ohio and whose picture was hanging outside the door to my room?  You guessed it.  It was a picture of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Henry’s house is kept up beautifully by The Department of National Parks and within his house is a little shop which sells materials by and about Henry. It’s because of these materials which I purchased there and studied  carefully that I now feel I know Henry quite well.

These days he is a frequent companion on my Country Inn Days.  His spirit keeps me company at afternoon tea. With the help of his biography, his writings, and other books I feel we’re together, at least in spirit.  “Dead friends” are wonderful.  I hope you have some of your own.

I like so much of Henry’s work but his poem entitled “Haunted Houses” is my favorite and that’s because he puts into words all the feelings and love I have for old houses.  So here I share Henry’s poem with you.  Enjoy!

Haunted Houses

All houses wherin men have lived and died

Are haunted houses.  Through the open doors

The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,

With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them on the doorway, on the stair,

Along the passages they come an go,

Impalpable impressions on the air,

A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts

Invited; the illuminated hall

Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,

As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see

The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;

He but perceives what is; while unto me

All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;

Owners and occupants of earlier dates

From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands.

And hold in mortmain still their old estates,

The spirit-world around this world of sense

Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere

Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense

A vital breath of more etereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise

 By opposite attractions and desires;

The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,

And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar

Of earthly wants and aspirations high,

Come from the influence of an unseen star,

An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud

Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,

 Across whose tremblng planks our fancies crowd

Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends

A bridge of light, connecting it with this,

O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,

Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

I’m sure Henry is happy that I’m writing about him and sharing his poem with my letter friends and with you for no one wants to be forgotten nor have their work  forgotten.

So when you see an old house think of me , think of Henry, and think of all those who have gone before us.  Say a little prayer.  We’re all in this life together, but someday we will all be together with Henry, off in the spirit world wherever that may be.  I’m in no hurry to get there, but it will certainly be interesting meeting Henry and others face to face or shall we say spirit to spirit.  Till then let’s celebrate life, letters, and sharing.

And as Henry used to say, “Look then in your heart and write.  I will answer.”

I’ll answer too if you leave me a comment.

Why write letters?

 

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“The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as kings” so said Robert Louis Stevenson. I do agree, don’t you?  But we have to find those things that interest us if we’re to feel happy as kings. Doing just anything won’t do it for us.  We must find our passions.

The bible says “seek and you shall find” and most of us do find plenty of things we truly like to do.  Some of us find so many in fact that there’s hardly enough time in the day to attend to all of them.  We can get ourselves so busy, too busy, that one might ask the question are we human beings or human doings?

Are you a reader, a gardener, a cook?  Do you like to play games, paint, fish, hike, bike or watch movies?  Maybe you’re a world traveler.  Perhaps you’re an artist or a musician.  You might like to build things, fix things or discover things by studying science, history or geography.  Some people might find sailing, surfing or skiing their cup of tea.

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Me?  My cup of tea is writing letters and enjoying art play so I often create my own unique stationery, stationery like this card above.  My original stationary may not be great art, but it is hand made with a personal touch and in today’s world  where  personal touch is so rare I like to think my pen friends enjoy receiving my creations as much as I enjoy making them.

Once that note card or letter paper is designed I might begin writing the letter to my friend by inviting them to pause, sit down, rest a while, and share a little visit with me, yes, over a cup of tea.

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A dear friend of mine (you may know Him too) is forever telling me to have abundant life.  He wants this not only for me, but for all His children.  We would want abundant life for our children too, wouldn’t we?  So,  since I enjoy writing letters so much as well as creating my own stationery, I think my friend is pleased for me and thinks letter writing  is a good and worthwhile activity because it brings me pleasure.  But I think He is especially pleased because when one writes a letter the pleasure is not only for the writer.  The letter is a gift of friendship to others.  And my friend is all about love and friendship.

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Sometimes I like to wrap my letter up like the gift of love it really is.  I’ll write the letter and then place it in a colored outer folder that I decorate in some way – perhaps with polka dots or cut-out designs.

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 I tie a ribbon around my little package of friendship and put it in an envelope sending it off to my friend.  You’ve perhaps heard the expression ‘gift of a letter’?  Well then, why not wrap that letter up with a bow like you would wrap up any other present?

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Though letters offer an opportunity for art play they also offer wonderful intellectual exercise as we think, write, and share.  But more than this letter writing can become a ministry as we show concern and love for others.  I know this first hand for recently I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I  received wonderful  medical care, but I also received wonderful spiritual care by way of thoughtful friends and relatives sending me cards and dear letters of love and support.

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Sharing doubles the joy, but also divides the sorrow and it really helped me to share the story of my treatments and suffering with others who cared.  I decorated some of those letters filled with medical details by creating thumbprint designs of doctors around the margins of my paper.

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We all meet and know people who go through tough times now and then.  What a simple but beautiful thing to send a card or write a letter to those troubled folks letting them know we care. And what therapy it is for us to have people we can write to when we need to share what we’re going through.  Our world is a beautiful place, but it can also be a dreary place at times. To say we care, we understand and to have others in our life who care about us – this is no small gift we give to each other.

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And even if people aren’t suffering they can still always use a good shot of joy.  We share our joy and we’re possibly inspiring others to work harder at creating their own joys.  We let them know we like them, appreciate them.  This is a gift too and when we give good things come back to us – more letters and more friendship.  It’s all about love.

You can write to people you know, of course, but you can also write to people you don’t know – yet.  Join The Letter Exchange, an organization of letter writers from all around the world. (www.letter-exchange.com)  If you join this great group tell the editors Carol Ann sent you.

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Though I frequently talk to a son who lives far from home I also write him regularly just to send a little extra love his way.  A person can never get too much love.  I’ll enclose a tea bag pinned to a heart in his letter and maybe include a picture or two.  With family scattered all about these days every effort should be made to keep close.  A personal letter is one great way to remind your loved ones they are cherished.  And the letters you write are lasting reminders of your love.  One day you may be gone, but your letters will still be around, a testimony of your love.

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So why write a letter?  Write a letter because it’s a physical delight.  It’s art play.  It’s social fun. It’s intellectual sharing, but mostly write a letter because it’s an opportunity to spread a little love around the world. Write a letter to share your joys.  Write a letter  to comfort others when they need that tender loving care.  Write a letter to give a compliment or to say thank you.  Write a letter to encourage  someone or to tell them you were encouraged by them.

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I got such a letter recently and it made my day.  I met a lovely lady by the name of Carolyn and we had a nice little talk about our work and life in general.  I liked this lady very much, in fact, I invited her to one of my sharing teas.  But a day or two later Carolyn gave me a wonderful gift in the form of a letter and here’s what she wrote in part:

“Dear Carol Ann, Your visit to The Reflections Spa at The Cleveland Clinic came just when I needed it – like an answer to a prayer!  I have been reading your blog and feeling so full of the excitement and enthusiasm that a new friendship discovery brings!  I had actually been feeling a little down lately with thoughts that I have not been doing enough… but life had been pretty busy as it was with too much doing.  I was feeling swept away, then you walked in and reminded me of one of my guiding principles of life.  It is about being rather than doing.  As I drove home that day after meeting you I really felt like you were some kind of angel giving me the direction I needed.  …I am also excited to think about letter writing.  CarolAnn, you were really sent to me as a special gift.  Thank you so much.”

It seems I had a positive effect on this nice lady and boy, did her letter have a positive effect on me.  We can all be such blessings to each other if we try. We all go through life hoping we’re doing the right things.  When we support and uplift each other we know we’re doing the right things.

So share your joy every way you can  and as Lord Byron says, “Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life”.  We can really make a difference in another person’s life and though there are many ways to do this

  Writing a letter is one of those ways.