Let’s talk about Hand Writing

IMG_5315[1]

I love hand made things.  A loaf of bread, a knitted sweater, flowers and vegetables grown in one’s own garden, a home-cooked meal… these and other hand made creations warm my heart.   You see, it’s all about personal touch.  Therefore you’re probably not surprised that I prefer handwriting to typing.  I view handwriting as a real art form and it saddens me that so many schools are deciding to eliminate cursive writing from their curriculum.

Creativity is enchanting, all sorts of creativity, even the most simple act of putting pen to paper in creating one’s own unique and very personal script.  Handmade script is art – good art or sometimes bad art. but art nonetheless.  And, just as one artist will enjoy viewing the art of other artists, I enjoy viewing the handwriting of other writers.

IMG_5307[1]

Some handwriting is handsome and inspiring. Other handwriting can be a real puzzlement, very hard to read with its haphazard lines and squiggles. Still, I prefer handmade to machine made script.  Beautiful or beastly, the personal touch is always superior to that of a machine.

IMG_5302[1]

When I receive a handsome handwritten letter I experience a lift.  Beauty does that to me.  I’m surprised everyone doesn’t want to develop a handsome handwriting because one’s handwriting is a reflection of one’s self.

IMG_5306[1]

Practice makes… no, not perfect,  Practice makes improvement.  And here’s a handwriting tip if you’re looking to spruce up your script.  Slow your hand down and write a little larger.  These two simple actions will do wonders for legibility and style.  Slowing down will also probably do wonders for your blood pressure.

IMG_5311[1]

Having a legible and pleasing handwriting is something to be proud of and using that pleasing handwriting skill to send personal messages to family, friends and business associates is a lovely practice.  Why? It’s because handwritten messages show we’re thinking of a person and willing to spend our precious time making something unique and original just for them. Because these personal messages are so rare they stand out in a very good way.

IMG_5319[1]

I always knew this, but I was delighted to see a modern technological company, Gracious Eloise, agreeing with me.  This company advertises and sells  faux personal correspondence. Crazy huh?  They will write notes for their customers in what they call realistic digital handwriting, complete with the random quirks and wobbles of real human beings.  They obviously realize there’s value in personal touch, and as they say in their ad, “they’ll help their customers personally connect in business utilizing the power of digital handwriting to cut through the clutter of their fast-paced lives.”

Unfortunately, this digital handwriting, no matter how authentic it may look , is not really personal.  IT’S FAKE!

IMG_5310[1]

To write a real personal note or letter you need a real person doing the real writing, I’m sorry, but only then will that note or letter evoke a  real warm and fuzzy response.

But besides delighting others with our handwritten messages we can delight ourselves with our handwriting.  I find writing as relaxing and rejuvenating as going off to a spa. Have you ever gone to a spa?  I have and it’s a real treat, quite refreshing, but I have had  lovely spa experiences while staying right at home.

IMG_5318[1]

Every now and then it’s time for a “Spa Day”.  I give myself permission to take the day off and relax at home partaking in luxurious treatments – shampoo, facial, manicure, bubble bath and healthful activities too – exercise and/or walks in nature.  And on my spa days I enjoy long and sensuous writing sessions.  I settle in a comfortable location, pull out my fountain pen and enjoy crafting slow, flowing strokes across smooth, clean paper.  As I focus on positive and beautiful thoughts, creating words to express those thoughts, my spirit soars. This physical process is soothing and sensuous and the sharing doubles my joy.

If I’m tense or rushed my handwriting suffers, but as I slow down and gracefully form my letters with care I can almost feel the tension melt away. The slow, flowing movement of my pen across the paper, along with the quiet time spent in reflection, create the effect of a mental and physical massage.  I step away from my writing time refreshed and rejuvenated.

IMG_5320[1]

This is because handwriting is not only physical but also physiological and psychological. David V. Barrett explains this writing process in his book Graphology. He says, “When you write you use manual skills that are learned throughout your life, but handwriting is also self expression.”

It’s interesting how a class of children taught the same handwriting style will all develop that style in different ways.  By early adulthood the handwriting of each class member will be unique, showing each individuals personality.  And writing can actually help us think.

How neat is all that?  Like a lock of our hair or a DNA sample, our handwriting is a bit of our unique self.  Therefore, when we send a handwritten message to someone we are truly sending a bit of our self to them.  It’s personal, and it’s no wonder that receiving such a message makes a person feel honored and special.

IMG_5305[1]

And your handwriting could teach you things about yourself too, things you did not know.  Try this:  Take a sheet of paper, 8 x 10 inches, and fill the whole page with your handwriting.  Write about anything at all – what you did today, what your hopes are for the future, what you need to do tomorrow …

IMG_5301[1]

then pick up a handwriting analysis book like “Handwriting Analysis Putting it to work for you” by Andrea McNichol.  This book was consulted by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, Scotland Yard, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Fortune 500 companies.

In this book you’ll learn things like: People with small handwriting tend to be modest.   People whose handwriting slopes to the left may be unwilling to go out and fight the world.  People with a right slant often like to show their feelings and take an active part in life.

As you look over your handwriting while reading an analysis book you will discover things about yourself you might be very interested to learn.

IMG_5317[1]

So you see there’s more to handwriting than meets the eye at first glance. It’s art and it’s a fascinating subject, just as you are a fascinating subject.  Your handwriting is you.   Think about it, then do more than think.  Get yourself a pen, some paper and …

Write

Hand Write

Forget the numbers. It’s the one-to-one that matters.

IMG_5276[1]

Are you on Facebook?  It certainly is the rage these days.  Post something and it’s out there for all the world to see.  Though Facebook is definitely pretty amazing, I prefer my correspondence to be more personal, one-to-one. I suppose there are times when we want to reach many people at once.  Perhaps we have general information to share, then Facebook is great, but life seems sweeter to me when I’m turning acquaintances into real friends by reaching out to them one by one.

Real friendship requires a certain amount of intimacy and writing a letter is one great way to create that intimacy with another person.  A hand written letter is also a genuine modern-day luxury because it offers us the chance to slow down, sit still for a while and be reflective.

IMG_5277[1]

I’m not the only one who prefers ‘the personal touch’.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of my “dead friends”, was a great advocate for life with ‘the personal touch’.  Teresa said, “Forget the numbers.  It’s the one-to-one that matters.  Be kind in words.”  I’m always pleased when bona fide saints happen to agree with me, and I like to think I’m actually continuing Mother Teresa’s work here on earth for though I may not always be there for the sick and dying as she was, I sometimes am.

I try to send get well cards with encouraging letters tucked inside to those who are ill and I write letters to people in hospice.  One of my favorite cousins received my daily letter during the seven weeks she was in hospice.  Susan, who happened to be one of my  favorite pen friends, wasn’t up for in-person visits, but hopefully my daily letter visits were able to show her I cared without disturbing her.  This was my way to  brighten her last days just a little bit.  Her daughter Stephanie would sit by Susan’s bedside and read my letters too, and now Stephanie, who never had been into letter writing herself,  is  now keeping in touch with me by letter as her mother did.  I think Susan would like that.

IMG_5266[1]

Sharing little personal things (all sorts of them) along with a little bit of love, can enrich our life and the lives of others.  I love to cook and bake, but I know not everyone loves these activities so I wouldn’t share my favorite recipes with all my letter friends, only with the cookers and bakers.  These foodies will also share their favorite recipes with me and this sharing is great fun for us!  Are you a cooker or baker? If you are you might like the recipe my pen friend Wendy passed on to me.  Wendy lives in Michigan and though her daughter went to The University of Michigan and one of my sons went to Ohio State University, we still manage to be friendly letter friends.  (In case you don’t know, these two schools are fierce rivals.)  Wendy’s recipe for an  Asparagus-Ricotta Tart sounds good to me and I bet it looks great too with the asparagus spears decorating its top.  It seems quite simple and easy and I’m happy to share it with you should you be interested in cooking:

ASPARAGUS-RICOTTA TART

Pour mixture of 15 oz. ricotta cheese, 4 eggs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup milk, salt and pepper into a 10 inch non-stick oven safe skillet.  Top with asparagus spears, trimmed to fit and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  This recipe serves four people,or one very hungry person.

IMG_5263[1]
A letter can change your life
Speaking of foodies and sharing through letters, I would like to share a blog post written on January 14, 2012 by cookbook author Susan Branch.  Susan says a letter changed her life.  She writes:

“A long time ago when I was told that my first book was going to be published, I was beside myself with shock and happiness.  I hadn’t met Joe yet, [her husband] I didn’t have Martha and Lowely [her cats I think] in my life; I knew very few people on the island, [Martha’s Vineyard] so I was alone, jumping up and down in my kitchen when it happened, getting on the phone, screaming for joy into the ears of my parents and friends in California! [because as you know sharing doubles the joy]  But that even pales (slightly) to what happened a few months after the book came out.  It was a day I’ll never forget… a freezing January afternoon.  I’d gone to the post office to pick up my mail, parked my old green Volvo in front of a grey snow bank and left the engine (and the heater) running.  I picked my way over dirty parking-lot ice, through the glass doors of the post office;  it seemed like just a normal winter day;  I was feeling a little isolated and alone on the island, freezing, dark, grey, wintry Martha’s Vineyard.  I was still a relatively new transplant, a stranger in a strange land.  When I got back to the car, I flipped through my mail and saw a pale blue envelope with a return address I didn’t recognize, written in an unfamiliar handwriting.  It made me curious, of course, so I opened it right away.  It was a letter from a woman I didn’t know telling me, in the most beautiful words imaginable, how much my book (“Heart of the Home”) meant to her.  I couldn’t believe it; I sat there in the snow and cried tears of gratitude.  Suddenly, my world had changed ;  I wasn’t isolated!  I wasn’t alone!  My heart overflowed with happiness;  I clutched that letter to me, would have hugged it if it was bigger!  It had never occurred to me ever that someone might take the time to write and tell me they liked my book. IT CHANGED MY LIFE.”

See?  I’m not kidding when I say a personal letter can change your life or the life of someone else.

IMG_5271[1]
Letters are intimate sharing much like the sharing of secrets being whispered to another.
 Our world is getting so impersonal.  People in the same room will prefer to text rather than speak to one another.  In days gone by people might not have had texting and email, but they had more in-person visitation.  How many people have dropped over to your house for a personal visit recently, perhaps with a pretty bouquet of flowers? How many people have recently invited you for an intimate dinner at their house?  How many people have you invited over for afternoon tea?  Face to face communication in the home was common years ago.  Secrets were shared.  Ideas were exchanged.  News was reported in person.  One-to-one communication was at its best!

Visiting, dinner parties, afternoon teas, all lovely social traditions, and I’m all for bringing these traditions back into style.  When people of the past could not get together in person the next best thing was to hand write a personal letter.  Well, the good news is, though we have all sorts of modern communication today it is still possible, and most delightful, to partake in these old world ways.  These things are delightful because they involve the human touch.

IMG_1728[1]

Just as candlelight remains a romantic alternative to electric light, or as a wood-burning fireplace creates superior ambiance to a gas heater, a hand written personal letter, created by one person to one person, remains a great way to foster intimacy in a relationship.  Writing a letter is a great way to show someone we’re thinking of them and we care about them.  I’m sure Mother Teresa would agree, for unlike Facebook, in letter writing we forget the numbers and reach out to one soul at a time.  If we add great love to our letters, well, that’s all the better.

IMG_5272[1]

So go find some paper,  a pen, and write a letter to someone you care about.  Make it personal.  Make it pretty.  “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart”.  That’s William Wordsworth’s advice, mine too, and I bet Mother Teresa would third that advice as well.  Just do it!  You’ll be glad you did and so will the lucky recipient of your letter.

IMG_5258[1]
A letter from Michelle

So, as my pen friend Michelle of Washington D.C. recently wrote, ” That is all for now. Hope we can keep the Post Office busy from now on.  Until the next time, I’ll put a pot of tea on and think of you.”

The Letter Writing Ritual

IMG_5216[1]

What is a ritual?  The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines ritual as an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.  Wikipedia tells us the term ritual is sometimes used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety.

Well, I find letter writing in general  to be a great anxiety neutralizer because as I step off the fast track, sit myself down, reflect on my life situation and share that reflection with a friend in a slow careful manner, I become more calm and at peace.  And in this calm thoughtful state it’s easier to focus on the positive, fighting off the negative.  Rushing destroys grace, but mindful relaxation cultivates grace and when I’m in this ‘state of grace’ life seems more manageable and more beautiful too.

IMG_5223[1]

 But with all there is to do how do we make time for writing letters?  The answer is simple.  We decide to make letter writing a priority and we create a letter writing ritual.  After all, life is a series of choices and we are the creators of our life, the ones who make those choices.  Though modern life can easily fill up our day with a swirl of “to do’s” we have the power to say STOP if we choose to use that power.

But what exactly is a letter writing ritual?

A letter writing ritual is the carefully planned approach we create in regard to the who, what, when, where  and how that’s involved in our letter writing process.

When we pay close attention to all the details of our ritual, making these details orderly and pleasing to our sensibilities, we then elevate our letter writing activity into the realm of a peak aesthetic experience.  So let’s talk about how one would create such a ritual.

IMG_5231[1]

THE WHO

In order to get right down to writing when the time comes it helps to know just who will be getting the next letter.  Having a list of letter recipients in place helps with this matter, and only you know who should be on your list.  As you receive letters you can certainly enter the names of these letter friends  – and favorite friends might be put on a priority response list.   But you might also like to add the names of others – your children, elderly friends and relations – anyone you care about, people who may or may not write back to you.  Your list could include the names of people who need a get well letter or birthday letter. Think through all the people you know.

You can begin a new correspondence by writing a first letter to someone you know and like asking lots of questions so they have reason to write back to you.  Be creative.  There might be people you know who need a little encouragement, deserve a little praise.  Write to children.  Everyone loves to get a personal letter.   Give a little creative thought to the matter and design a system that will help you know just who is to get your next letter automatically.  This systematic list created by you will  truly make it easier to get right down to writing when you finally have the time to write.

I like to keep a special list containing the names of  people who send me a Christmas card each year.  I might not have the time in busy December to send all these people a card with a personal letter inside, but if their names are on my list I will get around to them sooner or later.  Lists are helpful.

IMG_5225[1]

THE WHAT

What kind of stationery do you like to use?  Maybe you always send greeting cards with letters inside those cards.  Maybe you use monogrammed stationery.  You might design your own papers.  Perhaps you create photo note cards.  There are so many wonderful types of stationery for our letters.  If you’re like me you enjoy using all sorts of materials.  In order not to spend a lot of time deciding just what papers to use each time you write it is helpful to have these choices organized in some way.  Maybe the decision is easy for you because you always use exactly the same light blue paper with dark blue ink, but if you’re like me, you’ll need to decide in advance what approach you’ll take in using your materials. It’s fun to take stock of the possibilities and design your own approach for then when it’s time to write a letter you’ll go directly to the paper, postage stamps, sealing wax and inks without time spent deliberating the choices.

THE WHEN

IMG_5229[1]

The Bible says there’s a time for all things under heaven, but unless we set appointments for these things they often get pushed back, pushed in, and sometimes pushed right out of the picture.  In order to guarantee regular letter writing it helps to have a  set time each day, or at least each week.  Just as we brush our teeth each morning or cut the grass each Saturday, having an appointment set with pen and paper makes letter writing happen.

I write one letter first thing every morning as I enjoy that first cup of coffee.  I rise early to be sure I am undisturbed. Then later in the afternoon when I’m ready for a break, I know it’s time once again for a little letter writing.

Some people with full time jobs enjoy writing their letters after dinner when their day is winding down. It doesn’t matter when we write, but it does matter that we have a regular time for writing.  Without a set time established other tasks will try, and usually succeed, in squeezing themselves into the picture as they squeeze  your letter writing  out the picture.

THE WHERE

IMG_5206[1]

I think it’s important to write our letters in a pleasing location.  I can’t imagine enjoying my letter writing time as much as I do if I were sitting before a sink full of dirty dishes or in a room that’s messy. In order to encourage peaceful uplifting thoughts a peaceful uplifting setting usually works best – at least this is true for me.

IMG_5162[1]

My morning letter writing time during warm months is enjoyed on my porch for it’s here I have a view of nature in all it’s glory.  I find trees, birds, green grass and skies fine companions for letter writing. They keep my thoughts fixed to the lovelier things in life.

IMG_5227[1]

But when the weather turns cold  writing  letters in my library with a fire burning in the fireplace feels cozy and comforting.  My good friend  Bruce  always lit a beeswax candle at the start of his letter writing.  He also sat before a window so he could focus on the sky. He would describe its beauty at the start of each of his letters.   Putting yourself in a place that soothes the savage beast in you (and we all have those little beasties unnerving us)  will undoubtedly make your letter writing time more pleasurable.

THE WHY

IMG_5220[1]

Why do we write letters?  Well, as we reach out to others we’re reaching into ourselves.  Flannery O’Connor, the Irish novelist, said she doesn’t know what she thinks till she sees what she writes. Writing is like that.  It helps us think.  Until we sit ourselves down in quietude and reflect a lot gets past us.  Most of my creative ideas occur to me while I’m writing.  As I share my enthusiasm for projects, appreciation for favorite things, as I react to my friend’s enthusiasm and appreciations, I feel energized.  But writing also helps us relax.  Writing helps us share.  Writing exercises our intellect.  It is art.  It can become a ministry as we show that we care about others.

IMG_5232[1]

To write any  letter is a complete treat, a treat for the writer and a treat for the lucky recipient.  But to have a  letter writing ritual in place not only safe guards our letter writing time making it automatic, but it also makes the process richer and more satisfying because  all the details are worked out in advance and designed exactly the way we like them.  Paying close attention to these details involved in letter writing truly elevates our activity to the level of a peak aesthetic experience.

Yes it does!

Make new friends but keep the old

IMG_5185[1]
My letter from Lana
Have you made any new friends lately?  I have.  My newest friend is Lana.  She is from Arizona.  I think it’s pretty nifty that a girl from Ohio (me) can meet and make friends with a girl from Arizona (Lana) without even leaving my house.  That’s The Art of Letter Writing for you.  I met Lana through the organization known as The Letter Exchange.  What a lovely letter she recently sent me in response to one of my search letters to her.  (In case you don’t know or remember what my search letters are let me explain.  A search is a first letter I write a person in answer to their ad  found in The Letter Exchange magazine)

Lana’s  paper, her hand writing, and the words she shared in her first letter to me were all a delight.  The first paragraph of Lana’s letter read like this:  “How wonderful to discover your letter in my mailbox. Thank you for putting a smile on my face.  Such unexpected surprises add zest to one’s day and are surely some of life’s simple pleasures.”

Well, right back at you Lana.  Getting Lana’s letter sure put a smile on my face too, and I agree wholeheartedly that such unexpected pleasures add zest to life.

IMG_5188[1]

I must’ve mentioned a love for afternoon tea in my letter to Lana because this tea bag turned up in her letter to me.  How thoughtful of her!  I could have opened the tea bag and brewed a cup of tea to enjoy while reading her letter.  Well, I’ll surely do that as I write my next letter to her.

IMG_5183[1]

But the tea bag wasn’t the only  present Lana sent me.  She also sent me a friendship book.  It seems Lana was reading my blog and came upon the post I wrote about friendship books.  This is what she had to say on the subject:

IMG_5189[1]

“I was taken with your post about Friendship Books.  I am unfamiliar with them but excited to learn.  Included you will see my first attempt.  This was a small gift enclosure card.  May I ask you to send me a “real” FB?  And would you please pass along mine?”

IMG_5184[1]
Lana’s very first friendship book, but I’m sure not the last one she makes.

I’ll surely tell Lana what a very sweet friendship book she made AND that her friendship book is as REAL as friendship books get.  She signed it, added her address and  noted a few of her favorite things – letters, animals and travel.  Now it’s for me to sign the little book and of course I’ll be sending it on in my next letter.

IMG_5190[1]
The last page of Lana’s friendship book

One day Lana’s friendship book will return to her because on the last page of her little book she added her name, address and this colorful message:  Please return to.  The friendship book will return to her with the names and addresses of people anxious to become her newest  letter friends. This friendship book will really get around as it travels from pen friend to pen friend.  If you are one of my pen friends it just may turn up in your mailbox!   Now wouldn’t that be fun?   But if you don’t get Lana’s  friendship book make a few of your own and get them going, spreading friendship around the globe.   You’ll then have the opportunity to make  wonderful new pen friends as I have with Lana and other lovely people.

But no matter how many new friends we’re  lucky enough to make it’s great to stay true to old friends too.  You’ve heard the saying –

Make new friends, but keep the old.  Some are silver, some are gold.

There’s a lot of wisdom to this saying.

IMG_5191[1]
One of Joy’ s lovely letters to me

I’m guessing Lana is silver and Joy is gold. Joy is one of my favorite pen friends.  I’ve been writing to Joy for quite some time now.  She is a breath of fresh air.  Joy had been living in Switzerland ’till recently. Now she lives in South Carolina. The lady gets around!

IMG_5194[1]
One of Joy’s very pretty letters to me.

Yes, Joy gets around and she stays pretty busy too.  Lately she has started a new enterprise.  Joy has gone into the post card business.  For a long time she’s enjoyed photographing things of beauty, turning pictures into postcards in order to delight her pen friends.  Well, lately she has decided to spread the joy beyond her circle of friends … to people like YOU!

IMG_5196[1]
Joy’s business card

The other day I received two of her new business card in a letter.  I checked out her website which had sample pictures of the cards she has for sale, and I was quite impressed.  I think Joy’s cards would be delightful presents for anyone who enjoys correspondence.  You might like to investigate Joy’s website for yourself:

http://www.instilloimages.com

When you view Joy’s photography you will probably agree with me – that she has a real eye for beauty. Whether her subjects come from her former European surroundings or from nature or from wherever,  Joy’s postcards are lovely to behold and they would be a pleasure to receive.  I keep telling  Joy she was given exactly the right name for she really is joy personified.  That joy could possibly come from all the beauty she focuses on in her life.   I have heard it said that if we look at enough beauty the beauty becomes us.   And beauty and joy go hand in hand.

IMG_5197[1]
My letter to Joy

Today it’s my turn to write Joy.  I don’t know what’s more fun, writing her or finding one of her charming letters in my mailbox.  That’s how The Art of Letter Writing is, isn’t it?  Old friends, new friends, giving, receiving – sharing joy.  WONDERFUL FUN!

I can not imagine how dull life would be without letter friends.  I hope you have a hand full of your own, and I hope you are always open to adding more friendship to your life.  That’s because…

“A friend is a person who knows the music of your heart and reminds you of it when you forget.”

 Albert Einstein

Slow down! You move too fast

IMG_5157[1]

Have you noticed how the tempo of modern life seems to be moving faster and faster?  This is especially true in the area of communication.  I’m all for new inventions, but must we throw out everything old in order to enjoy the new?  Most people will say they don’t write letters because letters are just too slow!  But what’s wrong with slow?  People dashing around fast and furiously would do well to slow down now and then.

IMG_4605[1]

Many people enjoy hiking or taking  leisurely walks through a park.  I sure do, do you?  I suppose you could drive through a park quickly, but that drive certainly wouldn’t be as satisfying and sensual an experience as a walk. When we walk we see nature up close.  In walking we’re more able to appreciate the beauty around us.  We enjoy the fragrance of nature.  We stretch our legs and wake up our muscles.  Our thoughts run freely as we walk and in this peaceful state creativity flourishes.  We don’t need to take these walks, but if we partake in them our life is richer.

Well, just as no one is telling us we must take walks, no one is telling us we must write letters either, but people who have discovered both activities are surely richer for experiencing them.  Both walking and letter writing give us great exercise, the kind of exercise we modern folks need to be at our very best. Walking gives us a healthy physical workout and writing a letter, though also physical,  gives us  social, intellectual and spiritual exercise as well .

IMG_5154[1]

Both walking and letter writing are truly work, but pleasurable work, and this work is good for us.  But you know how work is.  It takes a little effort.  Also,  if a person hasn’t  tried either activity they don’t know what they’re missing AND if a person is out of shape, either physically or intellectually, they will struggle a little at first, but that struggle is worthwhile.

No pain no gain

We all know why sitting around too much makes us fat and lazy.  Well, never thinking, never reflecting, never sharing our deeper thoughts with others, makes us intellectually sluggish and inarticulate.

IMG_5153[1]

To slow down and sit still now and then is good for us, especially if while we’re sitting we’re doing more than watching television.  If we choose to write a letter we’re using physical skills, social skills, intellectual skills and spiritual skills.  I’ve told you before that  letter writing is a complete treat, well, it’s also a complete workout.  It’s healthy!

Writing a letter may be a slow activity, but nothing is good nor bad.  Tis thinking makes things so. Where some people think a letter’s  slowness is a fault, I know it’s a blessing.  I don’t mind the time it takes for my letters to reach their destinations and my letter friends don’t insist I rush to answer their missives. Speed is not the most important thing in all personal communication.  Thoughtful expression trumps speed.  Caring and sharing trumps speed.  The personal touch trumps speed.  Art play trumps speed. Having  a chest full of  lasting, intimate messages tied up with ribbon trumps speed.

IMG_5163[1]

 Hand writing a letter is a slow, pleasurable physical activity. It is certainly not instant messaging.  It is so much more than that.  Handwriting is art.  When we slow down and take our time to write a personal letter the process for the writer is like an intellectual massage, or doing slow physical yoga, or enjoying  a long friendly chat with a friend over coffee. or spending time in prayer for our penfriend.   If we limit our venting in a letter (though a little is sometimes good for the soul) and focus instead on positive, beautiful thoughts, we come away from our letter writing time refreshed and inspired.  I know I do.

So, if you’ve not been writing letters, thinking they were too slow and old fashioned an activity for modern you, well, just think of these words from Robert Frost.  He says,

“There’s absolutely no reason for being rushed along with the crowd.  Everyone should be free to go very slowly.”

IMG_5144[1]

Modern man thinks he loses something – time – when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains – except kill it

Erich Fromm

Lunch with a few of my friends – a few of my “dead friends”

IMG_5067[1]
The gang’s all here! I’ll take my place and lunch time can begin.

I hate to eat lunch alone so I’ll often invite a few friends in to join me – usually these are “dead friends”.  If you know me at all you know all about my “dead friends”.  You know I meet them in all sorts of ways – through the work they’ve done, the books and films which tell their stories and through their letters.  My 1853 house is always alive with the spirit of interesting people, both living people and those who have moved out of sight, but never out of mind.

At lunchtime, I pull out leftovers from the night before and prowl around the house in search of a few “dead friends”  to join me at my table.  Because I have lots and lots of books about lots and lots of interesting people it’s never very difficult to gather spirits together, and once we’re together my “dead friends” never fail to delight and enlighten me with their stories, facts, and personal philosophy.

Today my luncheon guests are Julia, Harry, Ludwig and George.  That’s Julia Child, Harry Truman, Ludwig Van Beethoven and George Bernard Shaw.  They’re all sharing with me as I enjoy my pasta and wine.

IMG_5059[1]
Bucatini All’ Amatriciana with Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s a good thing my guests weren’t hungry because I had just a little pasta leftover from last night’s dinner.  But I bet they would’ve liked some if circumstances were different.  You might like to try this recipe yourself for it  really is delicious and I’m happy to share.

Bucatini with bacon and tomatoes

Ingredients/ serves 4  1/2c. chopped pancetta bacon, 2 T. solid vegetable shortening, 1 small onion, finely chopped, 2 c. peeled, seeded, chopped firm-ripe tomatoes, salt and white pepper, 1 lb. bucatini or other pasta shapes, 1/4 c. grated pecorino cheese.

Process  Put on plenty of salted water to boil for pasta.  Put pancetta in a saucepan with shortening and onion and fry until bacon is browned.  Add tomatoes, season lightly with salt and white pepper and cook briskly for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile,, cook the pasta until al dente, drain, transfer to a bowl, add cheese and sauce, stir and serve hot.

YUM!

IMG_5068[1]

This yummy recipe came from a favorite cookbook called “The flavors of Italy” by Simonetta Lupi Vada.  I love to cook and I have zillions of cookbooks, and a few are even written by my luncheon guest, Julia Child.  But Julia wasn’t in the mood to talk about food today.  She had other things to say.  She was telling me (by way of a letter to her friend Avis) about life with her husband Paul as they packed to move to Marseilles.

IMG_5061[1]

This little tidbit I’ll share with you, along with other Julia stories, are contained in the  book, “As Always, Julia”.  This book is composed of Julia’s  letters to Avis DeVoto, her pen pal and literary mentor.   Edited by Joan Reardon.  it is easy to read the letters and feel Julia is writing them to me.  Here’s one example. Julia writes:

“Yesterday we did photographs, of which there were hundreds and hundreds. Today it is books, of which we have a like amount.  I never want to throw anything away and Paul wants to throw everything away; so between us it works out quite reasonably.  Paul says women want to keep everything because it is their nesting instinct.  Maybe he’s right.”  (Yes, I agree with Julia.  I do think Paul is right about the nesting instinct women have.  What do you think?)

IMG_5063[1]

 Well,  all this domestic talk bored Ludwig to death, so he left and went into the next room to play some of his sonatas.  The sonatas  were a lovely musical accompaniment to food, wine and lunch time chatter with the others.  (That reminds me.  There’s a great movie called “The Others” with Nicole Kidman.  It deals with the subject of “dead friends”.  You might like it.)  I don’t know if Julia, Harry, and George like Beethoven’s sonatas, but I played some in college and I find them very appealing.  It’s better though that Ludwig stayed at the piano.  He  was never much for friendly chit chat.

 Meanwhile, Harry, who was quiet through Julia’s words, now decided to tell a story.  Like Julia, he was able to  communicate with me by way letters, letters captured in books.  I happen to have quite a few of such books being a lady of letters myself.  I will share with you a bit of what Harry shared with Bess and me,

IMG_5062[1]
Harry and Bess

all from a book simply called “Dear Bess”.  It is edited by Robert H. Ferrell.  The book contains letters from Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959.  Here’s the  story Harry told me at lunch.  He says:

“I had an adventure yesterday. … a most awful good-looking girl came driving down the road like mad and said her dog had jumped in an open well up the road and would I come and get him out. … I got in the buggy and went with her, got a ladder, and I went down and got the dog – a fox terrier.  There were about a half-dozen women tearing around the top of the well all the time trying to get the dog to climb ropes and jump in a bucket.  They were a most awfully pleased bunch when Dudley arrived at the top in as good condition as ever except for a good swim.  The ornery cuss shook himself while I helped him and I looked as if I’d been rained on.  They were very profuse in their thanks and I believe the old lady and the girl would have kissed me if I hadn’t made a hurried getaway…”

I enjoyed Harry’s story.  He is a very sweet man and he enjoys sharing simple daily life happenings.  But when it is George’s turn to share he tells very different tales, and he loves to spout philosophy.   If you know George as I know George you know he is not much for village chatter.  He and Harry are very different types, but that makes lunch with them so much fun.  Add  Julia  and Ludwig and lunchtime is even more fun.

IMG_5069[1]
George Bernard Shaw

George did like the ladies, especially the actresses he worked with, and thanks to one of them, Molly Tompkins, I have an entire book of  letters, letters  he wrote to her from 1921 through 1949.

IMG_5070[1]

George is able to share a lot of his  philosophy with me  (and you too) thanks to these letters.  If he and other “dead friends” weren’t letter writers we could not possibly get to know these talented people of the past nearly as well .

IMG_5060[1]
One of George’s letters

In case you’ve not been true to yourself lately, in case you’ve been copying other people, in case other people have been trying to mold you their way,  then you might like to hear what George had to say to me and Molly Tompkins on the subject of self.  George said:

“I think you will have to begin making experiments with your own way of doing things.  You must not take the bit between your teeth all at once all the time … There is only one way of getting your own way; and that is making your own way  convincing in action.  It is quite possible that your notion of doing the thing is the right notion, but that you have not yet got skill enough to put it across; and so for the moment you must do as others do, but in the end you must make yourself something more than a marionette worked mostly by somebody who is not a successful actor, or author or critic or connoisseur or anything else that commands an unquestioning deference.”

There!  Got That?

Be an original

I like it!

All my “dead friends” are originals and that’s why they are such wonderful companions for lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, coffee, cocktails … whatever.   I hope you use your imagination and spend quality time with friends who are originals too –  living or “dead friends”,  and of course I hope you are working at becoming an original yourself.

Don’t be afraid to do your own thing, even if it’s a little unusual – unusual like having lunch with “dead friends”.  Use your imagination and have fun.  You only live once!

Letters add zest to life!

IMG_5038[1]

William James, the 19th century American philosopher, once said, “As long as there are postmen life will have zest.”  Does your life have enough zest?  Zest is good.  Zest is great!  It’s not the good looks of those postmen or their winning personalities (although having friendly, good looking postmen never hurt anything), but no,  it’s the presents they deposit in our mail boxes that add zest to life…

IMG_5049[1]
For me?

presents that arrive in packages like this 8 by 12 inch package pictured above.  My postman deposited this goodie in my mail box the other day.  It came from my pen friend Tracy who lives in Guildford, England.  The package could have contained a large juicy letter, a very large letter by the huge size of the package, and a large juicy letter would’ve  been just fine with me, but no!  This package contained something different.  I bet you’re wondering just what.   I enjoyed wondering myself, and I tell you, this sort of  wondering  truly adds zest to life.  After all, who doesn’t enjoy a present?

IMG_5051[1]
A blue tit

I opened the package to find this birdie looking back at me, a life size blue tit.  Of course it wasn’t a live birdie.  How could that be?  But it was a very special birdie because when I opened the card it began to sing its unique  and cheerful song for me.  Seeing this beautiful birdie and hearing its music was really quite a delightful surprise, especially for one who  love birdies – and I do.  Do you?

IMG_5054[1]
Tracy’s note to me

In Tracy’s note she explained how she couldn’t resist sending me this birdie card because the blue tit is one of her favorite feathered friends.  These birds nested in her bird box and 6 fledglings hatched out.  I know that sharing doubled her joy and her sharing brought joy to me as well.

Writing letters will present things to us we never expected to see and letters will teach us things we never expected to learn.  From Tracy’s card I learned that the blue tits colorful mix of blue. yellow, white and green makes it one of the most attractive resident garden birds around. I learned almost any garden with a peanut feeder will attract blue tits, and as Tracy said, they breed in nest boxes.  In winter they form flocks with other tit species and a garden bird table with four or five sitting together at one time is not unusual, in fact, you may even see 20 tits feeding at one time.  All I know is I  better get myself a peanut feeder so I can soon see these birdies in my own garden .

All the material goodies used in letters make it a physical delight –  birdies singing, even Tracy’s cute note paper with its very English “Secret Garden”  look – sweet and romantic.  And of course letter writing is social.  I get to know more and more about Tracy in every letter.  Letter writing means learning.  It is very intellectual for letters  teach us things we might never bother to learn any other way.  And there’s a spiritual aspect to letters too.

IMG_5053[1]
My thank you letter to Tracy
I had to create a letter for  Tracy right away thanking her for that birdie card.  I created one of my polka dot letter packages for Tracy.  I placed my written letter inside a sheet of folded polka dot card stock and tied it with ribbon in a matching color.  Now I’ll  have to keep my eyes open for some delightful little gift to send to Tracy, a gift that will brighten her day just as her gift brightened mine.

It’s not about the price of the gift.  It’s about our thoughtfulness.   Just a little bit of joy sent with or even without a letter really can make someone’s day.  It sure made my day to receive that birdie card. Thinking of others and  trying to cheer them is always a very nice thing we can do.  Thinking and caring about others as we write letters and send goodies to each other is a spiritual gesture.

IMG_5040[1]

So I hope you notice whether we’re at the giving or receiving end of letters there’s  a juicy zest that spritzes forth from them making life just a little bit better for everyone concerned.  Postmen (and Postladies too) play a big part in all this happiness.  So I hope you see how William James was spot on when he said,.

“As long as there are postmen life will truly have zest!  “

The “Letter Luncheon”

IMG_5042[1]
A letter from Renee

Today I’m writing my daily  letter to a new pen friend, Renee.  Renee lives in the Adirondack region of New York state.  I met her through The Letter Exchange, that wonderful letter writer’s group I’ve mentioned to you before. Renee and I have a lot in common.  We both enjoy spending time with family, reading, cooking, gardening and partaking in afternoon tea.  We also share an interest in art, music, history and world cultures.  It won’t be  hard to think of things to write about in our letters to each other.  I hope you too have pen friends with whom you have so very much in common.

IMG_5031[1]
Today’s stationery

I whipped up some stationery  for my letter to Renee, for that’s always a most enjoyable activity in itself, but then I got on with my writing.   It wasn’t long, maybe an hour later, that four pages were filled with friendly words.  Even without a lot of things in common letter writers manage to find many things to share, that’s because thoughts run freely when writing – from past to present to future to imagination. Letter writing really helps us reach into ourselves as we reach out to others.

IMG_5033[1]
My letter to Renee
But Renee and I have something else in common.  We both have the distinct feeling that we were born too late.  Do you ever feel that way too?  If you love beauty, decorum and excellent manners you just may feel as we do.  Modern culture does not seem to appreciate many gracious values and customs of the past. Personal touch between people has slipped away, entertaining in our homes, visiting each other, and of course, letter writing .  Another thing is the way we dress ourselves, at least here in America – so casual, casual sometimes leaning toward careless.  Just yesterday I was visiting with my friend Olive who hails from Dublin, Ireland.  She recently returned from a visit to Ireland and France. Olive was saying that  people in Europe dressed up so much more than Americans.  She noticed the Europeans she visited even dressed up for picnic barbecues.  (That would be me.  Would it be you too?)

IMG_5041[1]

I’ll have to ask Renee where she stands on fashion, but I know where she stands on letters.  She loves them just as I do.  I’m sure Renee gets good mail most every day because she’s a letter writer as I hope you are too.

IMG_5045[1]

Some people get terrible mail, poor things.  All they find in their mail boxes are bills and advertisements and appeals for money.  If they’re lucky they might also get magazines and a few interesting catalogs, but so many never enjoy the pleasure of letters.  It’s so sad!

In Alexandra Stoddard’s book, “Gift of a Letter”, she tells about a man who replaced his mailbox with a garbage can.  Besides saving steps, he was making a statement for all to see.  He felt his mail was pure garbage!  Obviously this poor man was not a letter writer.  If only my letter writing friends knew his address.  We could send him some lovely letters and treat him to excellent mail.  We could change his life!

IMG_5020[1]
One days mail delivery – an excellent mail day!

Every now and then I have what I call a “Letter Luncheon”.  I had such a luncheon just the other day. You see, I was about  to sit down for a little refreshment around noon when I noticed the mail truck pulling up to my door.  That little white truck is always a most welcome sight.

I dropped everything and high-tailed it to the mail box at my door and “lo and behold“, five pen friends were there coming to call on me.  They were there in the form of packages, letters and post cards. I was so happy to see them!  That day’s lunch would not need a book or magazine to keep me company.  I had Tracy from England, Tamra from Oregon, Amelia from Minnesota, Lana from Montana and Connie who was writing from her trip in Ireland.  Oh Boy!  Company for lunch!   A “Letter Luncheon”!

I spread my great mail around the table, and as I munched my salad I had a wonderful visit reading letters from great friends. “Letter Luncheons” are truly delightful happenings because sometimes you may not be ‘up’ for going out or dressing up or inviting living, breathing people over, but you’re still quite ‘up’ for visiting  friends in a spiritual sort of way – sharing thoughts, sharing  essence.  Thoughts and essence are easily shared, sometimes best shared, in letters without any bodily assistance.  And this is why many of my closest friends happen to be letter friends (“dead friends” too).

In some cases I have no idea what a favorite pen friend even looks like, and I could care less.  I wrote to my dearest friend Bruce Youngblood for over ten years before I knew he was black.  Who cared what color he was anyway.  It’s spirit that counts.  Black, white, red, yellow… tall, short, slim, fat… these things matter not to letter friends.   But unfortunately, looks will sometimes affect in-person relationships – prevent them from happening in the first place.  It shouldn’t, but it does.

If you haven’t enjoyed a “Letter Luncheon” lately, OR EVER, (gee that’s too bad), but all is not lost.  A “Letter Luncheon” could still happen for you if you start writing letters.  And you can take the matter into your own hands by creating your very own “Letter Luncheon”.

 Here’s how:  Simply  sit yourself down at your next noon time meal with paper and pen at your side. Eat a little,  Write a little.  Eat a little.  Write a little, eat, eat, eat, write a lot, write a little more.   You’re writing notes and letters to friends in between bites.  You’ll be having your own “Letter Luncheon”!  Then send those letters off, and before you know it, the friends you’ve written will be at your door returning the favor of a visit.

How do I know?

It’s because

When you give good things come back to you

The Art of Letter Writing – A Complete Treat

IMG_5022[1]

Just as Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey writes in her book, “A woman of independent means”,  I have found that a rich life exists in letter writing, separate and untouched by life’s usual demands.  I love letters.  Maybe you do too.  Letters make me happy — writing them, reading them, designing the stationery for the letters I write, or talking about letters to individuals and groups.

I feel that I have two lives:  There’s my life with family, local friends, music work, and personal interests, interests  like  house, garden, cooking, entertaining etcaetera etcaeterorum.  But then there’s my life in letters.

My letter life exposes me to a completely different  set of people along with their various interests.  I meet Hindu nuns and Harlem cops as well as people living in far off places that I have never and probably will never visit.  These people and places become important to me.  As I’ve mentioned before, I even make a lot of “dead friends” through letters, “dead friends” being  people of the past whose letters I read and relate to.  My “dead friends”  seem quite alive and lively to me, more lively than a lot of living, breathing people I know because many people walking this earth lack spirit.  My “dead friends” are loaded with spirit. In fact, they’re 100% pure spirit.   And great friendship requires the  sharing of spirit however and wherever we find it.

IMG_5025[1]

Most people of the past who could write did write letters, so it’s easy to find books filled with the letters of famous and accomplished people.  As I read many of these letters it’s very easy to imagine that  great artist, statesman or  author is writing to me.  (It really is good to use our imaginations.  Do you use yours regularly?  An imagination is a terrible thing to waste.)

Do you enjoy outings with friends?  If you’re like me, outings for lunch with local friends offers spice to life, but I also enjoy outings with letter friends and “dead friends” too.  These last two groups make no demands and can be delightful company on any outing.  I will tour or shop just as long as I please and when it’s time for a coffee break or lunch I find a place with a quiet table and there take refreshment as I write or read letters.  I’m always thinking of what my elegant “dead friend” Lord Byron said.  I’ve mentioned his words to you before.  Byron said only in letter writing do we have solitude and society simultaneously.  He’s so right.  I love to be with people and I love to be alone, but for me the most fun is to be alone with people and I can best experience this with letters.

I always make time for letters.  You’ve heard the idea of eating dessert first.  Well, my letter writing is the dessert in my day so I write one letter first thing every morning with a cup of coffee.  Another time may be the perfect time for you to write your letters or do other favorite things, but finding and then guarding that time is most important if we expect to be happy.  With care we really can keep our favorite activities separate and untouched by life’s usual demands.

IMG_5027[1]

So you see, letters are a big part of my daily happiness, but it’s funny, when people would ask me why I loved letters so very much I couldn’t come up with  a reply in 50 words or less.  I loved letters, yes, but how to explain the why?   Then one day I found that answer.  I was reading Steven Covey’s book, “First things first”.

Covey explained how we humans have physical, social, intellectual and spiritual needs.  Some activities we choose will speak to one or another of these needs, but if we can find an activity that addresses two needs at once, or three, or even four, well, that is a very worthwhile activity and a synergy is created. And what is this synergy you may ask?

SYNERGY

 is a word which comes from the Greek meaning “working together”.  It is the interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of their individual effects.

That’s when it hit me!  I love letter writing so very much  because in one activity I address the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual elements of life all at the same time.  Every day when  I sit myself down, pick up pen and paper, and write an artful, thoughtful, caring letter to another human being I am exercising all aspects of my humanity in one delightful time-honored art form.

IMG_5028[1]

So now when people ask me why I love letter writing so much I tell them that letter writing is 

A COMPLETE TREAT

because

it is a satisfying physical, social, intellectual and spiritual activity all in one.

Think about it.  IT’S TRUE!

IMG_5030[1]

Apples and Oranges

IMG_5005[2]
Which do you like?
I like both

As I was sitting in my kitchen this morning gazing at the apples and oranges on the table, my mind started to wander.  I got to thinking about the expression  people use when comparing two very different items.   They often say, ” These things are like apples and oranges.”

I started thinking about all the many things in my life that are as different as apples and oranges, and how this rich mix of ingredients helps to make my days so fun and interesting.  One of those ingredients, letters, is old style, but I also enjoy many new style methods of communication as well.  Both together give me the potential for optimum sharing.  Technology and The Art of Letter Writing do not have to be an “either/or”.  They can be a “both/and”.  Like apples and oranges they’re very different from each other, but both styles of communication have much to offer us.

 Most people today think about technology quite a bit.  They think about it, talk about it, dream about it, and spend lots of their money buying it, but I doubt if  most modern people  ever think about the Art of Letter Writing.  They’ve either forgotten letters ever existed or they never discovered the delight of letters in the first place.  Out of sight means out of mind and out of mind means dead and gone.  But I happen to know from experience both forms of communication exist today and both are quite wonderful.  I know this because I use both forms of communication every single day,

Technology vs. The Art of Letter Writing

Apple vs Oranges

One mode of communication travels very fast and the other very slow.  One is composed swiftly and the other is composed in a gracious, leisurely manner.  One form of communication encourages reflection and the other is saying “Get on with it, hurry up!” One is machine-made and the other is handmade. One is lasting and the other is here today and gone in an instant.  One focuses on communicating brief ideas and the other encourages ideas to flow on and on  in a  stream of consciousness manner.

 One is Technology and the other is ART.

IMG_5002[1]
Styles change

I suppose there will always be  people who like only what is shiny and new.  But others of us enjoy and appreciate the good and beautiful from every era.   And there are so many fine things from the past to enjoy – old movies, old fashion designs, old architecture styles, old books… the list goes on and on.   Museums are filled with old treasures and people flock to see these things, but some old things can be embraced and incorporated  right into our modern lives.  Letter Writing is one of those old, but very valuable things.  Letters can be enjoyed today just as they were enjoyed  in days of old.

George Du Maurier, the French-born, British cartoonist and author of the late 1800’s said,

AN APPLE IS AN EXCELLENT THING — UNTIL YOU TRY A PEACH

And I say,

WRITING AND RECEIVING EMAILS AND TEXTS ARE EXCELLENT THINGS — UNTIL YOU WRITE AND RECEIVE ARTFUL, EXPRESSIVE, HANDWRITTEN AND VERY PRECIOUS PERSONAL LETTERS.

 I would hate to have to choose between apples and oranges or apples and peaches.  Wouldn’t you?    I would also hate to have to choose between new and old styles of communication, but luckily I don’t have to choose and neither do you.  Both forms of communication co-exist in my life very nicely offering me the best of new and old worlds.  They’re both there for you too.

IMG_5003[1]
Today’s letter to Tamra

I start my day with reflection, a little art play, and then I’ll compose a handwritten letter to a friend.  I’ll do a few things and  later check my e-mail.  I’ll do a few more things and the mail arrives –  lovely letters from friends who live all around the world.  More things are attended to, and perhaps I’ll write a post for my blog,  and so the  day proceeds –  activity to activity, punctuated with breaks for communication, both old and new-style communication.

Live richly.

Have an apple.  Have an orange,

Use your computer, but also slow down and write a thoughtful letter.

Old and new

A rich mix