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.

Letters help you get away without having to get away

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Look who’s coming up my driveway.  It’s one of my favorite visitors.

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It’s my mail man.

Though this fellow is very nice it’s not his good looks and winning personality that make my heart sing.  It’s the letters he brings to me, letters from all over the world.  These letters offer friendship and not only that, they have the power to take me away to far off places without having to leave the comfort of my home.  Now that’s pretty special.

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Today’s letters carried me off to some pretty interesting places in the United States.  Kim wisked me off to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then Amelia took me along on her trip to South Carolina. From there Nancy showed me a thing or two in Florida and because I was so comfy in my chair I could handle even more touring so  Greg carried me off to Missouri and I ended up in California with Carolyn.  It was the magic and art of letter writing that managed to share so much with me on a lazy Summer afternoon.

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Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden

If you have some time come along and see  some of the neat places that my pen friends shared. Sharing doubled their joy and it doubles mine too.  That’s why I’m sharing all this with you!

We’ll start our sightseeing at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden.  This is a complex of buildings and grounds set in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, U.S.A.  It is a historic landmark listed in the National Register of Historic places.

This complex was founded in 1893 by steel and real-estate magnate Henry Phipps and was given to the city as a gift.  Its purpose is to educate and entertain the people of Pittsburgh.  It contains formal gardens and various species of exotic plants.  The greenhouse, Victorian in style, was designed by Lord and Burnham.  It contains interesting glass and metal work and is one of the greatest buildings in the world because it is the “greenest”… or so I’m told by Kim.

Once my pen friends introduce me to a place I can google it and learn so much more about it if it appeals to me, but without the introduction I would never even know the place existed.  Are you into Botanical Gardens?  If you live near Pittsburgh you ought to check it out.

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The French Huguenot Church of Charleston, South Carolina

Have you ever been to Charleston?  It’s a charming place I’m always ready to return to and Amelia has made that possible for me and you today by sharing this picture with us.  Do you know this church is the third church to be constructed on this site? The first was built in 1687 and this third and last structure was built in 1845.  It was the first Gothic Revival building constructed in Charleston.  Today it is the only independent Huguenot Church in America.

Don’t you love the horse drawn buggy?  I’m a Romantic and anything old world appeals to me. Hearing all about Amelia’s vacation to South Carolina brought back lots of good memories.  If you’ve never been there you owe it to yourself to take a trip and visit this old and charming city.

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Bok Tower Gardens, Florida, U.S.A.

We’re zooming around from one state to another and I’m not even a little tired.   How ’bout you? Now we’re off to Florida and the Bok Tower Gardens.  My friend Nancy lives in the state of Washington, she’s an old high school friend, but she visits her daughter in Florida often and tours neat places while there. Nancy tells me this place boasts being one of the greatest works of famed landscape architect Frederick  Law Olmsted Jr.  It was designed to be a contemplative and informal woodland setting with breathtaking views of the Singing Tower.

What’s a singing tower?  I wondered too.  It’s a 205-foot Neo-gothic and Art Deco  Carillon.  Concerts from this 60 bell carillon fill the gardens with beautiful music at 1 and 3 pm daily.  Music and nature.  What a glorious combination.  I wish I could hear those bells now.

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Hannibal, Misouri

Zip. Zip. Zip.  Now we’re in Hannibal. Missouri. Letters do help one get around without having to do any actual moving around yourself. My pen friend Greg lives in Hannibal and he loves this town. It is the birthplace of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens.)  Twain was born back in 1835 and he spent his boyhood in the house pictured above.  From  experiences in his early years here he created the tales told in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, two of his best loved novels.

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Greg’s last letter to me

Greg writes very interesting letters and he loves the Mark Twain postage stamp. He uses it on most of his letters.  How generous it was of him to include a few of these stamps for me to use in my letters as well.  I may not have a chance to visit Hannibal any time soon, but I just might have to read some stories by Mark Twain.  Having pen friends in various towns and cities helps me care about these places and care about others, not just about me.

What a good mail day it was for me today.  How about for you?  How many letters did you find in your mail box?  If there weren’t enough perhaps you haven’t been writing enough letters yourself. But there’s one more letter I received today and one more place a pen friend is sharing with me and I’ll share with you.

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California

Have you been to Hayfork, California lately, or ever?  I’ve been to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, but I’ve never been to Hayfork.  Maybe that’s because it’s wilderness country and I’m not much of a wilderness kind of girl.  My pen friend Carolynn is.  She’s retired army and she lives here and loves it.  Carolynn says she’s had enough people in her life and now she enjoys nature and animals for company.  She pointed out Chanchelulla Peak in the background of this picture.  Its elevation is 6401 feet.   It is the highest point in the Chanchelulla wilderness and is located 50 miles west of Red Bluff, California (wherever that is).

There are no trails, no lakes, but lots of wild life here. The Chanchelulla Peak ranks 102nd on the list of California prominent Peaks.  California has lots of Peaks.  Carolynn enjoys this rugged area and she enjoys roughing it.  She has no electricity.  Can you imagine?  And we may think we’re roughing it some days.  How different life can be for all of us, but as we share with each other we get to experience a little bit more than the one life we lead.

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My outgoing letter to Kathy

Well, it sure has been fun traveling around the country powered by the sharing of my delightful letter friends.   Now it’s time for me to do a little sharing of my own.  I’ll be writing to my long time letter friend Kathy in York, Pennsylvania.  It was fun to share with you too.  Maybe you’ve been to some of the places I visited today.  You can tell me about your fun there if you leave a comment.  Why?  You know.  Sharing doubles the joy.

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Carol Ann signing off

So till be meet again one way or the other I’ll be signing off, wishing you lots of happy times writing and receiving letters.  Love and best wishes to you!

Sharing doubles the joy and divides the sorrow

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I’ve always been a firm believer in the notion that sharing doubles the joy, but I’m equally convinced that sharing divides the sorrow.  Over the years sharing in person, but especially in letters, has helped me work through a variety of difficult emotional issues –  the empty nest syndrome when our sons left for college, the death of my mother and father and even the death of my dear doggie Alexander. Writing my feelings, getting them out onto paper and sending that paper to dear letter friends, has been and continues to be great comfort when comfort is needed. Any writing can be helpful. Some prefer journal writing,  but when you give good things come back to you.  When you give of yourself through letter writing letters filled with compassion, understanding and encouragement boomerang back to you.  Who needs a therapist when you have letter friends?

Well, my life had been going along just great and I was anticipating a lovely Summer vacation to relax and have fun but then there came a little bump in the road of my happiness. This bump came in the form of ill health and it required some serious sharing to divide the resulting sorrow. I was sharing in all sorts of ways – person to person, sharing by telephone, by email, but mostly sharing in letters.  I wrote even more letters than usual, not just my usual one a day, but now a few a day, because I had lots of feelings to release.  All this fuss started with a routine mammogram but ended with a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Me?  Cancer?  Yikes!!!

I started spending a lot of time at The Cleveland Clinic.  This is a world unto itself.  Huge buildings connected by broad hallways.  Fountains, gardens, restaurants, a hotel… an immense and impressive institution with state of the art medicine… lucky for me.  But what do people do when they get sick if they live in the middle of nowhere without such facilities nearby?  I wonder.

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It was so strange to be given a  diagnosis of cancer when  I felt absolutely fine, fit as a fiddle, but luckily I went for my routine mammogram and that mammogram spotted trouble brewing. Lucky for me the trouble was just in its early stage. Be sure to have your routine mammogram.  It can save your life!  I was in and out of doctor’s examining rooms for the next few weeks.  Various tests were performed and I spent a lot of time waiting anxiously for results.   It was a nerve wracking time for sure.

I was told the Clinic had therapists I could contact if I needed someone to talk to, but that wasn’t necessary for me because I not only had a great family, many local friends, a very supportive church community but also an army of fabulous letter friends.

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I wrote lots and lots of letters getting all my feelings out and my wonderful letter friends showered me with lots of letters in return, letters filled with good cheer, prayers, compassion and positive thoughts.  Every day the letters came. These letters were messages filled with love and that love brought me a joy that overshadowed the cancer.  It really did.  I felt truly blessed.  Some of my darling little choristers made cards for me.  Gals who went through breast cancer themselves offered support and encouragement. So many people were so very nice sending me prayers and best wishes. It was totally heartwarming to see first hand how good and caring people can be and are.  If you are one of those terrific people who reached out to me… THANK YOU!

 

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The doctors and nurses at The Cleveland Clinic took good care of me and made me better.  My surgery went well.  I did my share of praying too.  As a Catholic I’m very fond of the Divine Mercy prayer.  (For the sake of His sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.)  I sang myself to sleep with that prayer every night for weeks.  I guess my praying and the prayers of so many others did the trick, along with the fact that it must’ve been God’s will for me to stick around this earth a little longer. I am thankful for having such a wonderful medical facility nearby, but I’m equally thankful for the good people who supported me through my adventure with cancer.  They not only divided my sorrow but they filled me with the warm glow of their spirit.

This little light of mine, I’m now gonna let it shine even brighter because of the  many good people who were so good to me.    Good begets good you know.
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So once again I say sharing doubles the joy most definitely, but it also divides the sorrow. Writing and receiving  loving letters and notes are wonderful medicines. If you feel blue these things will revive you.  If you already feel happy they’ll double your joy and make you happier yet.  No kidding.  I’ll continue to share all my life, in person and in letters, and I hope you do too,  sharing the good and the not so good, because we are meant to be there for each other.  When people share magic happens.  Love happens.

Love to you from me

Carol Ann

 

Letters written from the heart

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I love letters, personal letters, letters written from the heart.  Some of these letters are pure lighthearted fun, but others feel more spiritual, and  not necessarily because they speak of faith or religion.  Certain letters just simply ooze love and compassion, they are filled with understanding and encouragement.  Other letters inspire, share joy or spill compliments over their recipient.  All sorts of letters have the power to take us to a spiritual place.

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A letter from Susan early on in her struggle with cancer and chemotherapy

The last letters I wrote to my cousin Susan before her untimely death were such spiritual letters.  Susan was in hospice suffering from lung cancer.  She was only 60 years old when she fell ill.  Over the years, Susan and I had many happy times together. We enjoyed shared outings, family events, and even though we lived in the same city, we corresponded regularly because we both enjoyed The Art of Letter Writing.

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We sent love back and forth to each other through our frequent letters.  So when Susan finally became too ill to receive visitors or even talk on the telephone, I decided the best thing I could do to show her how much I cared  was to write her a daily letter and that’s just what I did – for seven weeks till her death!  These letters were a labor of my love and I like to think they offered her a bit of comfort and joy in her last days on earth.

Susan’s daughter Stephanie would visit Susan and read my letters to her mom and sometimes if Susan was sleeping she’d just read my  letters to herself.  I never really knew Stephanie up to that point but through Susan’s illness we connected and I think my letters helped that connection take place.

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Hopefully Susan is looking down on us feeling happy that I, her cousin and friend, am keeping tabs on the one and only daughter she loved so very much for now Stephanie and I are corresponding. Some day I’ll give Stephanie all the artful letters Susan wrote me, but not yet.  Now when I need a dose of Susan’s gentle spirit I just pick up one of her old letters and she’s with me.  I wish she could be with me in person, but in spirit is good too and much better than nothing.

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Another correspondence that feels particularly spiritual to me was one shared with an elderly gentleman by the name of Harry.  Harry was born and raised in Maine, but was living with his children in Virginia at the time of our correspondence.  I had just lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease when up popped Harry.  We met through The Letter Exchange, that wonderful letter writer’s organization that connects people from all over the world through The Art of Letter Writing.

Harry and I formed our own mutual admiration society.  He needed someone to listen to his reminiscences with interest, for his children seemed too busy to show him much attention, and I needed the support, approval, and encouragement that my loving father could no longer supply.

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Over the years Harry and I exchanged countless letters, sharing our lives with each other like father and daughter.  Some of our letters were serious and others were lighthearted, but all were very caring.  I thought about writing a book describing the beauty and value of our letter relationship, thinking it could inspire others, but for now let me just share a few tidbits from our correspondence.

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Harry loved to send me presents and who doesn’t love presents? They say it’s better to give then receive and Harry obviously bought into that idea – but I’ll tell you, receiving presents is lots of fun too! Harry was a Romantic.  Each of his  letters arrived with flowers pressed onto his letter paper.  He grew pansies in his Virginia flower box expressly for his letters to me.

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He also enclosed tea bags in each of his letters.  The tea bags were gift wrapped and tied with gold chords.  He also grew edible flowers that he dried, pressed, sugared, and gift wrapped, sending them to me for use at the regular tea parties I hosted.  How sweet is that?

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I’d have to be careful what I’d tell him in my letters, for once I casually mentioned never having tasted spoon bread, a food Harry loved.  I told him I never even saw it in my Ohio supermarkets. Well, Harry took care of that!  He sent me a case of spoon bread mix the very next week.  I guess he was pretty confident I’d like spoon bread too.

Food gifts from Harry were regular deliveries – mustards from Maine, fruitcakes at Christmas, chocolates, teas, but one time when Harry revisited the camp in Maine where he lived as a child he was very excited to discover goose tongue greens still growing in the old place.  He picked a basket-full and  wrapped them up sending them to me.  They arrived looking limp and very much like the weeds I pull out from my herb garden.  I was very touched by his kindness,  but not touched  enough to eat them.  Sorry Harry.

But there were so many other gifts.  I can’t tell you about all of them now, but here are just a few.

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Miniature Victorian slippers

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A colorful shawl

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Teacups

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Pictures

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Music Boxes

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Antique Books

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                                        With lovely inscriptions

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But my favorite gift from Harry was this lovely painting created with his own hands.  He took the poem of  Arthur Christopher Benson and carefully copied it in an artful manner.  The poem on friendship read:

“Because of a friend, life is a little stronger, fuller, a more gracious thing for the fruit’s existence. Whether (s)he is near or far, if the friend is close at hand, that is best, but if (s)he is far away (s)he still is there to think of, to wonder about, to hear from, to write to, to share life and experience with, to serve, to honor, to admire, to love.”

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He signed his name beneath the author’s name. Perhaps you’re beginning to see just how generous and how wonderful a friend he was to me. You can imagine my delight each day at mail time.  I never knew what surprise would be awaiting me.

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Then there was the time Harry went to Maine, to a lake that he loved.  He made the journey all alone despite protestations from his family.  They were too busy as usual to accompany him on this trip that he was desperate to enjoy one last time.  I didn’t want Harry to feel lonely so I wrote him every day while he was there.  For this gesture I was awarded the title – “Lady of the Lake”.  He wanted to share this lake he loved so much with me so he took countless pictures and taped them all together so as to create a panoramic view. This foot-long picture he sent to me.  Sharing was important to Harry just as it is important to me.  We both believed sharing doubles the joy.

Harry told me if it weren’t for our correspondence he wouldn’t care to live any longer.  Now that sounds a bit extreme, but I believe he meant every word of it.  Harry needed someone to care about him. My letters told him I cared.  Such a simple thing, old fashioned hand written letters from the heart, but  they can pack a powerful punch of love and friendship.

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I was proud of myself and happy that I could be making such a big difference in someone’s life, and Harry certainly made me feel special and valuable in return.  As I said, Harry and I formed our own mutual admiration society and I recommend everyone belong to such a society.

If you are a person of faith you probably feel as I do – that we all have a loving father in heaven who cares and believes in us, but it sure is nice to have loving people down here on earth who make us feel good about ourselves too.  Harry called me his pearl of great price.  There were, and are, plenty of days I don’t feel much like a pearl of great price, but I just dip into Harry’s letters and reread his words and I get a royal pep talk that makes me feel much better.  I bet you wish you had a Harry in your life too.  Well, go find one. There are people all around and everybody needs to feel  loved and appreciated.

Though Harry was truly a religious person and spiritual subjects did come up, we didn’t need to speak about spiritual matters in order for our friendship to feel spiritual.  Simple caring created the spiritual feeling.

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It is my wish for you to encounter  correspondences like the ones I enjoyed with Harry and my cousin Susan.  You will then see firsthand how letter writing is the best kept secret of the modern world. Letter writing is a physical craft and a very artful one, a social activity that delights and entertains, an intellectual exercise that stimulates, and it can become a spiritual ministry.  This art, The Art of Letter Writing, is a complete treat.

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Sharing my love and experience with letters has been a joy for me and I hope for you too.  I also hope I’ve inspired you (if you aren’t already a letter writer) to pick up a pen and begin your own adventure with letters.  I know this art will enrich your life as it has enriched mine, and I know you will bring joy to others as you reach out to them in love.

Some Letters are quite a surprise – quite a Spiritual Surprise

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Because I am a Lady of Letters it’s no great surprise when I find lots of luscious letters in my mailbox each and every day, but I am surprised by the ones that arrive in unexpected places at unexpected times from unexpected  sources.

One example of  receiving  surprising  letters such as this occurred when I was attending a retreat some years ago.  I was not particularly enthusiastic about attending this retreat, but I was talked into it.  There are all kinds of retreats out there and the more time I spent at this one the more I realized it was not the kind for me.

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Though many people love Christian pop music I’m not one of them. In fact, I dislike much of it, so hearing it played all through the retreat was not my cup of tea. Music is a very personal thing and the same kind of music doesn’t suit everyone.  That’s why sometimes silence is the best background for spiritual prayer and meditation. The music that was supposed to inspire me did nothing of the sort. 

Group activities at this retreat weren’t any better.  The skits and games that were meant to draw us out and help us share seemed silly and childish to me,  not at all thoughtful and reverent.  I suppose I was just more serious than many of the other participants.

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Prior to this retreat I had been working hard at learning my spiritual lessons, and as a result of that work I was already in a nice spiritual place.  I didn’t feel I needed a retreat to be inspired any further at that time and in actuality this retreat was not inspiring me one bit, but only making me feel dreary.  This was because most of the participants were very troubled and their discussions were down right depressing.  Though I felt sorry for these people I didn’t know how I could help them and being witness to their pain only brought me down until…

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it was announced that letters had arrived for us.  Letters?  Yes!  I perked right up.  Letters are my friends and it seemed they had come to rescue me from this retreat. The people running things realized it would be nice for us to receive letters in which friends and relatives shared their faith through personal stories.   And in this matter they were right!

I had been blessed with a wonderful family and many great friends who were filled with faith. Being part of this circle was largely responsible for the spiritual joy I had discovered long before this retreat.  Receiving these faith-filled letters of love from friends and family was wonderful.

If it hadn’t been for these beautiful letters turning up when they did, surprising me with joy, well, this retreat would’ve been a total disaster for me.  The letters saved the day.  They were an unexpected, very welcome, spiritual surprise.

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On another occasion I was surprised by a letter from A Special Friend  who usually didn’t write to me.  Maybe He writes to you and if He does I’d love to hear about His letters. Let me explain.

My family and I were vacationing in Bermuda.  It was a Sunday. Nowadays a lot of people don’t bother to go to church anytime, but especially not when they’re on holiday.  I was having a wonderful, carefree vacation myself, so much so that I was forgetting about a lot of my usual routines, routines like daily prayer.  But though I was forgetting  about my  regular prayers I did feel we should all go to Mass on Sunday because good Catholics take Sunday Mass quite seriously.

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We found a cute little church and settled in to pray.  The Mass progressed as usual and after the gospel was read the priest said he had a letter to read to us.  I figured it was one of those letters from the bishop asking for contributions to one cause or another, but no!

This letter came from My Special Friend.  Looking back, it now seems only right that since I’m a Lady of Letters This Friend should contact me in this way, by writing me a letter.  You see,  My friend was disappointed in me, disappointed that in all the fun of my vacation I was forgetting all about Him. Don’t a lot of us forget all about Him when we’re having a great time or when we’re busy?  We often only reach out to Him in times of need, but He wants our love all the time.

Well, His letter really hit the spot that day and made a big impression on me.  Maybe He sent this letter to me knowing I would be one who would share it with you too.  Why would I want to share it?  You know. Sharing doubles the joy!  So here’s what he wrote:

“Dear friend,

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How are you?  I just had to send a note to tell you how much I love you and care about you.  I saw you yesterday as you were talking with your family.  I waited all day hoping you would want to talk to me also.  evening drew near I gave you a sunset to close your day and a cool breeze to rest you and I waited. You never came.

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O, yes, it hurt me, but I still love you because I am your friend.  I watched you fall asleep last night and I longed to touch your brow as I spilled moonlight on your pillow and face.  Again, I waited, wanting to rush down so we could talk.  I have many gifts for you!

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You awakened late and rushed off.  My tears were in the rain.  Oh!  If you would only listen to me.  I love you.

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I try to tell you in the blue sky and quiet green grass.

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I whisper it in the leaves on the trees

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and breathe it in the color of the flowers.

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I shout it to you in the mountain streams

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and give the birds love songs to sing.

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 I clothe you with warm sunshine and perfume the air with nature scents.

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My love for you is deeper than the ocean, and bigger than the biggest want or need in your heart.

Oh!  if you only knew how much I want to help you.  I want you to meet my father.  He wants to help you, too.  My father is that way you know.  Just call me – ask me – talk with me!  Oh, please, don’t forget me.  I have so much to share with you.  Okay, I won’t hassle you any further, you are free to choose me.  It is your decision, but I have chosen you, and because of this, I will wait – because I love you.

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(signed) Your Friend

So there you have it.  Some of my letters are truly surprisingly spiritual. If you are a letter writer and a spiritual person you probably have your own spiritual letter stories to tell.  I hope so, and I hope you share your stories with others because this is the stuff that dreams are made of and not just dreams.  This is the stuff that makes living on earth a heavenly experience.

There’s Correspondence and then there’s Spiritual Correspondence

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Earth is crammed with heaven,  every bush afire with God.  Those who see take off their shoes.  Those who don’t see just pick blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I have learned that if we are attempting to learn our spiritual lessons while also having great passion the gates of  heaven will open and communication to and from the spirit world will be possible.  Yes, I’m talking about spiritual communication!

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I first experienced this spiritual communication years ago when my young son was in the hospital having emergency surgery. I sat in the waiting room all alone because my husband was out of town on business.  There, frightened and praying, I gazed out the window at dark grey clouds restlessly moving back and forth in the sky and a wondrous thing happened. Those dark, angry-looking clouds parted and a beam of sunshine appeared.  This burst of sunshine reminded me of scenes from religious movies I remembered seeing as a small child in Catholic grade school. The beams of sunshine were said to represent God’s love pouring down on us.

Was this parting of the clouds a coincidence just then?  You may think so, but I didn’t.  I think somebody up there was hearing my prayers and wanted to give me a sign that they were listening. Soon after the sun appeared so did a doctor telling me all went well in the operating room.   Relief! 

I’ve received lots of spiritual signs and messages in my life.  These messages have come to me in a variety of ways –  over the radio, through music, by way of books, or sunshine beaming through parting grey clouds or lighting up particular passages of a manuscript.  But once I became a Lady of Letters these spiritual messages found yet another way to reach me.  They began coming to me through the mail.  Spiritual correspondence in the form of postcards and letters.

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There was the time I was deciding whether or not I should accept a position as children’s choir director at my church.  I did have a degree in music education and  experience teaching music in schools as well as working in the Education department of The Cleveland Orchestra, but I had never studied church music. What to do? Should I or shouldn’t I take this assignment?  Help in answering this question came to me the very same day as the job offer. for when I returned home this is what I found in my mailbox.

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A postcard from Austria and not just any postcard,

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but a postcard picturing The Vienna Boys Choir.  Was receiving this postcard a coincidence?  I didn’t think so and now, twenty some years later,  I’m still leading the children at my church in song and having a great time doing it.

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Here are just a few of my singing angels.

On another occasion I was reading a book about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.  My Dad, whom I loved very much, was failing. I knew I would be needing a lot of spiritual strength to get through the months ahead.  Though I had always been tuned into spiritual life, I needed a lot more depth and wisdom to cope with the loss of a love.

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In reading the biography of Francis I learned of his struggle toward spiritual growth  and related it to my own spiritual struggle.  I learned how in Perugia Francis experienced what he called pergation, that is, a purging of his shallow, earthy material values, but in Perugia he was not yet instilled with solid spiritual ideas and habits so he felt lost.  He was struggling then as I was struggling at the time.

I wondered if I studied the life of Francis perhaps he might become a sort of mentor to me, a mentor who could guide me through this material world of ours into a place of peace and understanding. Could he be reaching out to me through this book that I was reading?   I wondered.  Should I be taking notes?  Should I record Perugia in those notes.  Perugia!  I never heard of that place.  Did it matter?

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Well, I took a break from reading because I needed one about then and I decided to get the mail, and did I get mail!  I got a postcard from Perugia!  I kid you not!  What unbelievable timing!  That friend touring Europe made her way from Austria to Italy, but did she send me a card from well known cities like Rome or Florence or Naples?  No!  She chose to send me a card from the little town of Perugia.   And when did that card arrive?  It arrived just as I was reading about Perugia, Saint Francis and pergation for the first time in my life.   Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Saint Francis did become a mentor to me and now Francis is one of my favorite saints and “dead friends”.

In the following months after meeting Francis my faith grew and I continued working at my spiritual lessons.   My Dad also continued to fail, and then…he died.  But I received yet another spiritual message to help me through his loss.

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I was working on an arrangement of “Silent Night” for my children’s choir.  Just as I was singing the words ‘sleep in heavenly peace’ the phone rang.  It was my brother-in-law calling to tell me my dad was now in heaven.  Yes, he was sleeping in heavenly peace.  Wow!

There were other spiritual messages that I’ll save for another time, but all this is leading up to a remarkable letter I received in the mail, spiritual correspondence, this time from my Dad.  The correspondence was once again most remarkable because of its timing. First of all, the letter arrived after my father had died and furthermore,  it was in answer to questions I had asked my Dad minutes earlier.

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To set the scene it was my Dad’s birthday. I wondered how I should celebrate his special day now that I could no longer drop over to his house bringing  cake, balloons and presents. So I sat by a window once again looking up to heaven filled with great love and passion and there  I proceeded to pour my heart out to him.

I asked my Dad all sorts of questions. Where are you now?  What’s death about anyway?  How does death work?  How do I carry on without you?  How do I celebrate your birthday now?

Of course I never expected an answer, but I got one.  It came, yes, when I went to the mailbox and fetched a letter addressed just to me.  The letter came from a member of The Letter Exchange, that wonderful organization which connects letter writers everywhere to each other.  But it wasn’t her letter which was so magical.  It was another  paper within the envelope that amazed and delighted me. This extra message was not mentioned by my pen friend yet it addressed all the questions I had asked my Dad just a few minutes earlier.

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After reading the first sentence on this,  “Death is nothing at all”, I knew this was another of those very special spiritual messages I get from time to time when I’m not only working at my spiritual lessons conscientiously but also when I’m filled with great passion.

I continued to read very slowly, one sentence at a time, holding on to each thought because I was sure this message was coming directly from my father.  Maybe he interceded the letter from heaven as it flew through the sky. Why not?   The spiritual realm works in mysterious ways.

So before I share my father’s letter with you, this very special spiritual correspondence, I’d like to encourage you to not only work learning your spiritual lessons, but also to work living  your life with great passion for then joy will be yours as faith grows.  And I encourage you to share your joy and faith as I share mine.  Why? You know.  Sharing doubles the joy.  And now…

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The letter from my Dad

“Death is nothing at 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 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 a 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.”

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