Sharing in Letters

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As I sat on my porch this morning getting ready to write my letter of the day, I gazed out the window and it sure looked like rain was on the way.   It wasn’t but a few minutes later that the rain did come – and a welcome visitor it was.  Hudson has been very dry lately and all the trees and plants have been mighty thirsty.

Any hour, any day, any situation,  is a good time to write a letter, but sitting peacefully while watching and listening  to the music of raindrops is an especially delightful  accompaniment to letter writing.

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I pulled out my stationary and pen, sipped my morning coffee, and enjoyed the raindrops bouncing against the flagstone as I pondered just what to say in my letter to favorite pen friend Joy.  I was answering a sweet little package she recently sent me… yes,  I mean package.  Joy is always surprising me with the creative-looking letters she sends my way.

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This time Joy put pages of blue-lined letter paper into a little white bag, the bag was decorated with delightful pictures.  This bag then went into her envelope.  It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways Joy will package her letters to me.  Such visual fun she offers all her lucky correspondents.  So what could I now send  Joy that might delight her half as much?

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Because we both enjoy cooking and baking I decided a pretty recipe card with an interesting recipe might be something Joy would like.  Yesterday I was reading a favorite blog, Poppy’s Patisserie, and I came upon a three-ingredient brownie recipe.  Many people commented on her blog saying they loved this recipe so I took it down. Besides the fact that these brownies are supposed to be delicious, they also seem very simple to make. (And we all know simplicity is truly appreciated by most people these days.)  The recipe calls for only 3 ingredients and one bowl to dirty, Yes! I thought Joy might really like this recipe. I can’t wait to try it myself  and you might like to try it too. If you do try it and like it don’t thank me, thank Poppy.  Here it is:

Nutella Brownies

Ingredients  – 1/2 cup Nutella spread, 1 large egg, 5 T. plain flour, 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Process  –  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or line 6 muffin tins with paper cups.  Wisk egg and Nutella together.  Add flour and wisk some more.  Put mixture in tins and sprinkle with nuts.  Bake 13-14 minutes.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Pretty simple, huh?

I hope the recipe will please all of us, especially Joy, but I also wanted to send her another thing, a Friendship Book.  Have you ever heard of Friendship books?  Most people in the States haven’t, but my pen friends over seas seem to know all about them.  They send me Friendship books in most of their letters.

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Some Friendship Books

Friendship books come in all shapes and sizes with various looks.  They’re usually quite small, 4 x 6 inches or smaller, so they can easily be tucked into a letter envelope.  Inside the little Friendship book people put their names , addresses, a list of their favorite things, and they either say “Hello, just passing through”, or they say, “Please write me”.

The book is signed and then is sent off  in a letter to another  friend who signs the book and passes it on again.  The last page of the book will say “When full please return to”…. and the name and address of the creator will appear.  It’s really fun to see how these little books get around, and all along their travels  they give letter writers the opportunity to connect.  I have found many delightful correspondents  with the help of these little jewels.

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Some people design darling little Friendship books.  Here’s one created by my pen friend Tamra.  She lives in Portland, Orgeon.

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Take a look inside.  People fill the little books in as they please.  There are no rules.  You can create your own Friendship books any way you like.  If you  get in the habit of inserting one in each of your letters you can feel proud that you’re helping  to spread love and friendship around the world.  It’s fun, especially when, like a boomerang, your Friendship books start returning to you filled with new perspective letter friends.

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I like to create my Friendship Books using ribbon and polka dots.  If you’re one of my correspondents it’s just a matter of time before a Friendship book will arrive in a letter from me to you.

There are so many things to enjoy in life and many of them can be shared in letters.  Tasty recipes and Friendship Books are two things I especially enjoy sharing in my letters. I wonder what you like to share in your letters.  Maybe you’ll write and tell me.  I’m always open to new ideas.

So write a comment on this post.  Write a letter to me. Write a letter to someone else.

Just Write!

The Personal Letter

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I love the artistic and personal aspect of letters, don’t you?  The one-to-one… Some messages can be posted on Facebook or written up in a blog and that’s fine, but other messages are meant to be shared with only particular people.  There’s something magical about writing and receiving personal letters – where you know the words are meant just for you or for one special friend.  As I like to say in the talk I give on The Art of Letter Writing –

“The pleasure of a letter written just to me… why there’s practically a radiance to it!”

I can’t help but relate the subject of personal touch to the very different kinds of in-person conversations we might have. Talking to a group of people at a big party, as opposed to an intimate dinner or tea, suggests very different talk. There are many subjects we just wouldn’t want to bring up in a large crowd.  Not only do we have to generalize our topics when lots of people are participating, but some information we would want to share with only certain people.  And so it is with our writing.  If a letter isn’t personal, if it’s just a lot of general chatter, it’s not nearly as special to write or receive.  And it’s this Personal Touch that’s suffering in our modern age of electronic communication.

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 Today I spent part of the morning at a farmer’s market in my town of Hudson.  I had a wonderful time strolling around, looking at all the goodies I might purchase.  In the next few letters I write I’ll go into some details of my shopping experience if the particular correspondents enjoy this sort of thing, but other letter friends not interested in farmer’s market shopping won’t be bothered with these stories. That’s the thing, each letter we write (hand write I hope) and all our topics of conversation should be tailor-made to interest each of our correspondents. To make each letter we write unique, one-of-a-kind, (not like those carbon-copied holiday letters ) aimed at the interests of our correspondents, that’s one of the secrets to making a good  and personal letter.

IMG_4650[1]You might enjoy walking past farm stands set up with produce, olive oils, candles, fresh bakery, etcaetera etcaeterorum

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feasting your eyes on vegetables and flowers which you might buy and place in your own garden

IMG_4652[1]or maybe you are the kind of person who simply likes hearing about beauty and reading descriptions of garden -like settings, with a few pictures inserted in the  letters you receive, pictures to give you ideas for your own garden .

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Maybe you’re an animal lover and you would like to hear about the people I met at the farmer’s market who run an Alpaca farm in Hudson called Whistler’s Glen Alpacas (www.whistlersglen-alpacas.com or http://www.alpacastore.com).  Those Alpacas are so cute!

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 Maybe you’re a fashionista and you’d like to hear about the sweater-coat I bought today at the farmer’s market.  It’s made from Alpaca yarn.  (Shopping is funny.  I went out today planning to buy only wax beans, but I came home with a whole lot more.)

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or maybe you’re a knitter like me and you’d like to hear about the Alpaca yarn and pattern I purchased

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in order to make this Twisted Shrug which converts into a hood or cowl scarf.   It’s worked up on size 15 needles using only one skein of Alpaca yarn (approx. 150 yards).

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But maybe you’re not like my wonderful pen friend Amelia who I wrote today.  Amelia would enjoy all the above topics.  You might not enjoy any of the above topics.  That’s ok.  If these topics bore you I’d try to find different topics you would enjoy.   After all, I don’t write friends with the intention of  boring  them to death, and I hope you don’t either.

My “dead friend’ Robert Louis Stevenson said,

“The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as kings”.

And because there are so many things to talk about and share in our personal letters we should have no trouble picking and choosing those topics which delight both our friends and ourselves. Don’t you agree?

So till we meet again, enjoy writing and receiving  lovely personal letters.  Enjoy some reflection and then some sharing.  Hand write.  Add some original art.  The world has plenty of electronic chatter already, but what the world needs now, besides love sweet love, is more  communication with the personal touch.

Let’s Get Personal!

A letter of Joy

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One of Joy’s letters

I’m a lucky girl.  I have some wonderful pen friends, and wonderful pen friends are essential  to the full enjoyment of  the Art of Letter Writing.  This could be part of the reason why some people never fall in love with letters.   They lack quality correspondents, quality correspondents like my friend Joy.  Joy is a treasure.  She shares my love and appreciation for beauty so each of her letters is a feast for the eyes and a feast for the spirit.   Even before I read what Joy has to say I’m delighted by the sheer look of her letters.

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Joy’s letters always contain some visual surprises.  Take the envelope above.  When was the last time you received a letter addressed  to you with the individual letters of your name cut out from a magazine? Now there’s a fun idea I may have to copy in one of my next letters.  Creative pen friends give each other all sorts of fun, artistic ideas.

 I’m always saying “sharing doubles the joy’, but as you can see, sharing also doubles,  or at least stimulates, our creativity.

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Joy had been living in Switzerland until recently so she  subscribes to a Swiss magazine and she shares it with me in bits and pieces.  The above picture posted at the start of her letter, with the inviting table setting, ( which inspired me to create my own pretty table) bears the inscription – Life is beautiful,  See what I mean?  Joy is always sharing beauty in her letters – literally!

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Joy and I both enjoy cooking and baking so we’ll often exchange recipes in our letters, recipes we’ve tried and liked.  The salad above was one of Joy’s favorites.  Don’t you love cookbooks with pictures?  I sure do, so I appreciated the picture of this salad  every bit as much as its recipe –  and now I share both with you.  Why?  You know.  Sharing doubles the joy!

GRILLED VEGGIES WITH  MOZZARELLA

You’ll need: 3 red onions, 4 small tomatoes, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-2 zucchini, olive oil, 2 mozzarella balls, lemon juice (fresh), freshly ground pepper, salt, fresh basil

To Prepare: Peel onion.  Wash veggies.  Wash basil and dry.  Slice tomatoes and onion into halves.  Slice the peppers into quarters.  Slice the zucchini.  Brush the veggies with olive oil and grill.  Leave the tomatoes off for last.  Cut up the mozzarella into small chucks.  Mix veggies, cheese and basil together on a plate.  Sprinkle olive oil and lemon juice over top and salt and pepper to your liking.  ENJOY!

Naturally a great pen friend like Joy deserves good letters in return, so I try my best to reciprocate with pizzazz.  I’ll sometimes look through my collection of art books to inspire my stationery designs for Joy’s letters.  Children’s books are especially delightful sources for inspiration.  Take this one:

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“The Little Hands Art Book” by  Judy Press.  This book may have been designed for 2 to 6 year olds, but it has lots of wonderful art ideas for those of us who happen to be a wee bit older.  Consider paper dolls.  Have you ever made paper dolls?  I hadn’t.  Somehow this skill escaped me till I recently came upon this great little book.

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Once you learn the technique of making paper dolls you can make paper anything to decorate your personal stationery – paper snowflakes, paper music notes, paper houses, or how about my paper flowers?

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These flowers were so fun and easy to make – I drew them, cut them out, painted them and then affixed them to my paper using a glue stick, allowing their petals to flutter freely in the breeze.  A little  grass drawn beneath the flowers and voilá!

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 one- of -a- kind art work for my special penfriend’s letter

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And before I seal the envelope on the letter I’m sending off to Joy I just may tuck in one of my new tested recipes.  After all, one good recipe shared deserves another, and I discovered  a great recipe for baked yeast doughnuts recently.  Here you see the donuts raising on parchment paper.  Maybe you’d like the recipe too. I’ll add it to this post.  It comes from  a wonderful blog called Maggiesonebuttkitchen or was it Poppy’s Patisserie?  Both blogs have great recipes.  If you visit either one tell them Carol Ann says hello.

IMG_4645[1]No Fry Doughnuts

Ingredients:  2 pkg. active yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, 1 and a half cups whole milk, 2 eggs at room temperature, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/3 cup shortening, 4 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 cup melted butter

process:  Dissolve yeast in warm water and mix, add milk, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, shortening and 2 cups of flour.  Mix at low speed i minute scraping bowl.  Beat 2 minutes at medium speed scraping bowl.  Stir in remaining flour and mix till smooth.  Cover.  Let rise till double.

Turn dough onto floured board.  Roll dough around to coat with flour.  The dough is soft.  Roll to 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut with floured doughnut cutter. (2 1/2 inch with 1/2 inch hole in center.)

Place two inches apart on parchment paper, cover and double in size.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes till golden.  Brush with butter and then glaze as you wish.

Glazes

Cinnamon sugar:  1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (toss in bag)

Chocolate glaze:  4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips, 1/3 cup butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, hot water (Melt butter and chocolate, add sugar and vanilla and stir.  Add enough hot water to make glaze.

Vanilla Glaze:  1/3 cup butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, hot water

Note:  The chocolate glaze is nice with sprinkles and the vanilla glaze is nice with coconut

Happy Baking!

And so I come to the end of another visit with you.  It’s been a pleasure sharing my joy – my friend Joy, the joy I receive from her letters, and the joy I find every day in The beautiful Art of Letter Writing.

Till we meet again

TAKE JOY!

More on the subject of The Art of Letter Writing

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This morning I had the pleasure of writing  a new old  friend.  Let me explain.  My letter will be going off to Barbara in Rhode Island.  I was quite excited to be writing her because Barbara and I had lost touch for many years and only recently did we reconnect.  If you’re like me you love making new friends, but your old friends are very precious.  Only with old friends do our old memories come back to life and sharing  old memories, sharing anything,  doubles the joy.

I first met Barbara years ago in Boston where we both were  teachers and newlyweds.  That was an exciting time for both of us so it will be fun to not only catch up on our current lives, but also to revisit those great old times we shared together.

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My first letter to friends is always written on stationery I create by assembling decorative papers in the form of floral bouquets.  Do you have a ritual for choosing  your letter papers?  There are so many possibilities: store-bought papers, greeting cards made into letter books, photo note cards, watercolor drawings … the choices are endless.  So that I don’t get waylaid by the decision-making process of what stationery to use I’ve created a list of my options.  Now, at letter writing time, that list helps me decide who gets what papers.  Creating rituals –  who to write,  when, where, how, and with what,  helps make letter writing almost automatic and definitely more fun!

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And it’s not only the letter paper, but also the envelope that can be decorated many different ways.  This week my letter friends are getting a cup of coffee or tea, whatever they prefer.  Most of my pen friends have great fun designing their letter envelopes.

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Here’s one from my pen friend Janet.  In this  letter envelope she’s playing with rubber stamps

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and here’s another of Janet’s envelopes where she’s in the mood for some Summer fun.

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Janet loves to take pictures.  Do you?   She shares these pictures in her letters.  You know what they say – one picture is worth a thousand words.  Pictures really make letters come to life.

In this summery letter Janet created a collage of many of the images she saw and photographed in recent days. She put the images  together, even drawing a “Happy Summer” sign for the airplane to pull through the sky.  You may also notice she was writing on stationery that looked like a real sky, a nice touch for her airplane.  The hot air balloon says “FUN” and that’s what Janet’s letters are – real fun to see!

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In many of Janet’s letters there are little fold-out pages (little booklets) attached to the letter’s page.  These fold-outs contain even more pictures.  When I get a letter from Janet I feel like I’m carried away to wherever she wants to take me.  Good letters will do that you know.

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In her most recent letter she shared  a series of performances she attended relating to the American Revolution.  Janet lives in Virginia and this program entitled “The Road to Revolution Heritage Trail”  linked historic sites and institutions in Virginia interpreting the life of Patrick Henry, orator of the Revolution and Virginia’s first governor.  Reading about this program was good, but seeing her photographs of the men playing the parts of George Washington, Patrick Henry and the French marquis, Lafayette was even better.

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Janet has so many pictures to share in her letters. They’re everywhere – in the letter, on the front of the envelope and even on the envelope’s back. Her letters are a visual treat besides being full of interesting commentary and thanks to her interesting envelopes the postal workers who handle her letters get a little treat too.  I bet you wish Janet was one of your letter friends.

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Chicago

Well, I love to include photographs in my letters just as Janet does. Last week I was in Chicago enjoying an architecture river cruise through the city and you know how I feel about sharing my joy – so I took a million pictures all along the ride in order to have the fun of sharing that experience via pictures with my pen friends in future letters.

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Two of my many photographs of the Chicago river cruise.

If you have a camera I hope you’re using it not only to capture images for your own pleasure, but also for the  pleasure of your letter friends.

But of course the best things about letters are all the thoughtful ideas they convey.  More than in-person conversations letters seem to draw ideas out of us and they are a marvelous vehicle for sharing, sharing our own ideas and sharing the ideas we come upon while reading.  When writing a letter  we have time to find that book we’re enjoying and copy the lines we love.  Yes, it’s slow-going, but this helps us not only focus on those ideas but also remember them.

 In Janet’s last letter she talked about creativity.  She wrote:

 “In the beginning God created … that was God’s first action and I think God created us to be creative creatures.  One quote I recently came upon was a statement by Frank Lloyd Wright.  He said ‘The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.  If you… ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it.  Your life will be impoverished.  But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.’  So if we keep trying  to convey creativity and beauty in our letters I think we’ll be using our time wisely, don’t you?”

I agree.

And what do you think?

What beauty and creativity have you shared with someone today?  It’s not too late.  You can write a letter any hour of the day or night.  Go ahead.  Make someone’s day!

Write a letter!

So Glad You Could Join Me For Tea and a Chat

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Sugar, Mint or lemon?

Did you notice I’m wearing the apron my former English teacher gave me at one of my last afternoon teas?  Thanks Miss Kaftan.

Now do come in,  sit down on the sofa out here on the porch

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or maybe you’d prefer to sit in a rocker.

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Just make yourself comfortable.

Modern life can keep us so on the go and it’s good to be on the go, it really is,  but not every minute!  We  are so wise to recognize our need for regular pauses in our day.  Some people never take time for themselves, poor things.  We’re enriched when we pause to take time for intellectual reflection.  Our days feel  brighter when we include others – sharing, exercising courtesy and cultivating friendships.  We grow in  peace and hope when we take time to reflect on our spiritual roots, and we’re  refreshed  when we pause from our busy work  to do a little daydreaming or to focus on the beauty that’s all around us.

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Beauty like a  birdie at the window feeder…

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Beauty like a lovely flower…

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Beauty like the nature outside our window.

It’s so nice you could join me today.  We’re both taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life.  What have you been doing today?  Maybe you’ll leave a comment at the end of this post and tell me about your day.  I’d like that.  Can I offer you a chicken croissant?

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Don’t worry about the calories.  You have to eat, don’t you?

I was in the mood to do a little baking today.  I’m  always searching for good scone recipes and today I found two.  Both recipes came from a book by Tricia Foley called Having Tea  and here it is.

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I made Buttermilk scones and Cream scones. Both turned out quite nicely.  I cut back on the salt a bit, but other than that Tricia’s recipes were the best I’ve found so far.  Here are the ingredients for both recipes:

Buttermilk Scones

1 and 3/4 cups of all purpose flour, 1 tsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, approximately 3/4 cup buttermilk

Cream Scones

2 cups all purpose flour, 2 tsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 cup heavy cream

The buttermilk scones bake at 450 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes

The cream scones bake at 425 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes

For both recipes you mix the dry ingredients, cut in the butter or liquid till a soft dough forms, then roll out on a floured board to the thickness of 3/4 to 1 inch.  Cut dough with a sharp 2 inch round cookie cutter,  bake.

AND YOU HAVE SCONES!

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Please, have one.  Have two!  I made plenty.  Add a little Raspberry jam

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and Devon cream.

When you serve scones at tea, adding  jam and Devon cream or whipping cream, it’s rightly called a CREAM TEA.  If you bake a batch of scones, leftovers can be frozen, and at a moment’s notice you can enjoy a cream tea yourself or delight any friend who pops in unexpectedly.    Of course, when was the last time you experienced drop-in company?  Sadly, the days of visiting seem to be a thing of the past. People today are too busy for such civilized pleasures.  Not me!  I am the champion of old world pleasures lost to modern times – Hosting afternoon teas, Creating handwritten letters, Calling ahead to pay a visit to a friend or relative.  Such things as these add a gracious element to life, an element that  doesn’t cost much money (if any at all), but rewards us with  a certain joy which no amount of money can buy.

Think how you would delight a friend if you popped over to their home bearing a pot of flowers or a basket of strawberries.  That’s exactly what my friend Joni brought me on her last visit.

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 This is Joni.  She is one of my intelligent friends who not only takes time for herself,  focusing on her many blessings, but she also makes time for others, doing nice things for them.  That’s a winning combination. I’m so lucky to have Joni as a friend.  I hope you have friends like Joni too,  and  I hope you are a good friend to others, making time for them.

Maybe tomorrow you’ll mix up a few pitchers of ice tea,

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call a friend or two, and invite them over

or

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buy a pot of flowers

or

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a cake

and go visiting.  Call ahead and visit a friend or relative showering them with your time and appreciation.  Sharing doubles the joy, and taking this time out in your day is well worth the effort.  But in between visits with others remember to take time for yourself – time to dream, time to putter, time to exercise your creativity, time to relax.  It’s so good for your health and it’s so good for your spirit.

And speaking of spirit, you can always enjoy tea time with God.  There’s even a book to help you with that. and here it is.

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This book is a Quiet Moments with God  devotional, published by Honor books.  If you need a little company and no one is available why not share your teatime break  with God.  This book will help.

I remember seeing an old film called The Ghost and Mrs. Muir way back when.  I loved this film and wished  I too had a friendly ghost who shared my old 1853 house, a ghost I could talk to and gain inspiration from  –  and then it hit me!  I do have my very own friendly ghost and so do you.  It’s a ghost , who though invisible, is with us all the time.  It is a very special ghost too.  It is the HOLY GHOST!

Yes, I’m a spiritual person, aren’t you?   So why shouldn’t we  invite the Holy Ghost to tea now and then just as we would invite other friends?  There’s an idea!  (BIG SMILE)  And these great ideas  do not come to us unless we  take time from our busy routines to pause and relax and ponder.

So, I’m very glad you stopped by for tea and this chat.  I was having fun with my birdies and  baking , but sharing with you made my fun even better because… you know…

Sharing doubles the joy!

So drop by again, and until then, be sure to take time out of your days to dream, to share, and to BE!

Like my Boston University tee shirt  says

B U

(That’s short for Be You!)