Stockpiling and Saving the World…one letter at a time

In these uncertain and turbulent times, our reaction to the threat of illness is one of the few things we do have control over. Washing our hands does little to stem the contagion of fear and panic, however. Like many people, I’ve been doing some strategic shopping, preparing for the possibility of being at home for an extended period of time, though my recent trip to Staples may look slightly different than what you might expect. My paper products aren’t of the variety you see disappearing off the shelves.

stockpiling

I have friends who have isolated themselves by choice and know others who live in care facilities that are on lock-down and not allowed visitors. Many of us will be facing the same sort of situation in the weeks ahead. One thing I can do is reach out to others through cards and letters.

One way I’m handling the heightened anxiety is by journaling more, reading a daily devotional, and writing more letters and cards.

stockpiling2

 

Until there are restrictions on mail delivery, a possibility that concerns me even more than a shortage of toilet paper, reaching out to others through the mail is a way to stay connected while following the social distancing mandate. Here are some simple ways to begin your own snail mail campaign:

(Condensed from Called to Be Creative, to be released by Familius in September)

Debbie Macomber quote

“In this era of texts and e-mails, a handwritten letter might seem an outdated practice, but what if a simple piece of paper and a pen could make the world a better place? Research has demonstrated there’s something beneficial to our health and happiness when we put pen to paper. Writing a letter can be a mindful practice, serving as a way to organize and calm the mind. In one study, Kent State professor Steven Toepfer discovered that having students write three letters a week, spending fifteen to twenty minutes on each letter, decreased depressive symptoms and increased happiness and life satisfaction significantly.

When your letter-writing includes gratitude, the beneficial effects were heightened. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that when participants were assigned to write and deliver a letter of gratitude, they immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, an effect that could last up to a week.

Of course, the letter-writer isn’t the only one who benefits from the exchange. Who doesn’t get a little thrill when they see something other than bills and advertisements in their mailbox? And while we’re unlikely to print out an e-mail and save it, handwritten letters can be treasures in years to come. I recently spent several cold winter days organizing my mother’s letters written to her mother in the 1960’s and those she’d written to me thirty years later into archival-safe sheet covers in leather-look binders. Reading through them was like visiting with her ten years after her death.

Whether you’re a new fan of the old art, or a seasoned letter-writer like me, here are some ideas to help you get started on saving the world, one letter or handwritten note at a time.
#1) Write a thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, but certainly deserves it. Pen a thank-you missive to a former teacher, the nurse who did such a good job caring for your spouse during their cancer treatment, or the barista at the coffee shop who never fails to smile. There are unsung everyday heroes among us who are rarely acknowledged for the difference they make in other’s lives. Your accolades might just make their day, maybe even their week.
#2) Send a letter or card to someone in the military. The website “Operation We Are Here” includes a listing of organizations that receive cards and letters to distribute to the military community, including deployed military personnel, wounded warriors, home front families and veterans. http://www.operationwearehere.com/IdeasforSoldiersCardsLetters.html
#3) Support a cancer patient. Sign up to be a volunteer “Chemo Angel,” becoming a buddy to a cancer patient currently undergoing treatment. https://www.chemoangels.com/ You choose what type of angel you want to be: someone who sends notes and gifts throughout treatment, a card angel who commits to sending greeting cards, or a prayer angel. Another group is Girls Love Mail, sending letters and cards to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. https://www.girlslovemail.com/
#4) Send cards to children in the hospital. My grandson was five when he was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next three years, as he underwent treatment, he ended up in the hospital for days, weeks, and even more than a month after he underwent a stem cell transplant. Greeting cards, small toys, DVD’s, and handheld game systems were invaluable to making his hospital bearable, for him and his mother, who slept on a couch in his room. Ask your local children’s hospital how you can help brighten a child’s stay. This group collects cards for hospitalized children: http://www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.com/
#5) Send gift cards to the parents of hospitalized children. When you send greeting cards to children in the hospital, consider their parents, too. While my grandson had meals served to him, my daughter had to eat food she brought, utilize the vending machines in the hospital, or go to a nearby café. The cost of gas to get back and forth to his many appointments and treatment was exorbitant, too. Generous donations of gift cards for local coffee shops, fast-food places, and gas stations were invaluable.
#6) Write to your children or grandchildren. When I left home for college, I’d always check the mailbox at the dorm. My parents and a couple of my sisters did not disappoint; that first year I received at least one letter a week. I still have those letters, some forty years later. Even when I lived a block away from my grandchildren, I’d surprise them with a card in the mailbox occasionally, or splurge and have a cookie bouquet delivered. Now that I live an hour away, it’s even more important to keep in touch. I’m not one for face-timing, but I like to have something in their mailbox from Grandma Mary.
#7) Mail a postcard to Postcrossing. Like postcards? If you want postcards in your mailbox, you can register with Postcrossing http://www.postcrossing.com/ When you send a postcard, you’ll receive a postcard back from another participant somewhere in the world. With nearly 800,000 members in 210 countries, approximately 350,000 postcards are traveling to mailboxes right now in this manner.
#8) Have a secret? Share it with PostSecret. http://www.postsecret.com/ Whether it is a secret regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation, you can reveal anything, anonymously, on a postcard, briefly but creatively. This is a group art project and shared postcard secrets can be viewed at http://www.postsecret.com, where you can also find the current address to send your secrets.
#9) Get creative with envelopes and stamps. You can find envelope templates online, or take apart an envelope and lay it on an old map, decorated scrapbook paper, or even a page from your favorite magazine to cut out your own envelope pattern. Fold, and glue the edges shut. Use blank white address labels or a black marker to write the recipient’s address. As for stamps, ask at the post office what designs are available and purchase those that add a little fun to your mailings. I purchase vintage unused postage stamps on ebay for a discount. My last order was for $50 worth of 32-cents stamps for $34, a significant savings for this avid letter writer. I’ve used Vietnam Wall stamps to send letters to a Vietnam Vet and cartoon stamps for letters to my grandchildren. Since I’m never sure what I’m going to get in these lots of discounted postage, I wonder what the recipient thinks when they see a “Stop Alcoholism” or a 1972 “Family Planning” stamp on their envelope.
#10) Find a snail mail pen pal. “The Letter Exchange,” https://letter-exchange.com/index.html is a forum that includes a print magazine, pen-pal connection listings and fun articles for fans of letter-writing. Another forum for letter writers is
Letter Writer’s Alliance:https://www.letterwriters.org/

 

Living My Letter-Writing Largo

largoLargo. Not being musically inclined, it was an unfamiliar word. It drew my attention in a recent essay headline related to living at a slower pace.

largo articleThis week I began the arduous, yet delightful task of working with an editor on my creativity book. The seeds of this book were planted in my heart a long time ago, shortly after my mother passed away in 2010. The completed manuscript was submitted last May. As much as I am hurried and impatient to see a finished product, I’m also keenly aware that an entire chapter in the book is devoted to the concept of “slowing down.” I’ve often lamented my inability to slow down, just “be,” relax and savor moments, and envied that ability in others.

In her essay, Christina Capecchi  elaborates on the musical term: “Largo as an art form comes after the practice, once you turn off the metronome and play what you love.” 

She goes on to say that she discovered an invitation to slow down, in the form of a handwritten letter that was sent to her. With that, she had my rapt attention.

In our busy modern world, to sit down and write someone a letter is a powerful affirmation of that person’s dignity,” she writes. “The recipient is worth each pen stroke, each thought written for her and her alone.”

Letter-writing; an invitation to slow down? Why was this such an epiphany for me? After all, I’ve been a letter-writer for as long as I can remember. I still have the letters my parents and siblings wrote me in 1978 and 1979 (in response to letters I’d written them) during my freshman year at college. I also have several binders filled with hundreds of articles and essays I’ve had published since 1988.

What if all those years of hand-writing, letters or otherwise, has been my method of slowing down? What if writing is playing at what I love?

Largo has another meaning. It derives from the Latin word largus, meaning abundant. Writing has indeed contributed to my abundant life. When I sit down to write an essay, or work on a manuscript, it requires slowing down. Pausing to think. Taking time to pray. While hours can pass as I write, I enjoy the flow so much, it feels like minutes.

When I write a letter, I’m thinking about the recipient, even to the point I’ll choose stationery and stamps with them in mind. I guess there’s a reason it’s called snail mail. Not just because the delivery is slower than electronic delivery, but because of the time taken in the writing.

I get a thrill of excitement just seeing that unopened package of butterfly paper in that bottom drawer full of stationery. And if you get a letter from me with one of those 10-cent “Letters Mingle Souls” stamps attached to the envelope, count yourself special. Those are the only stamps I paid more  than face value for. All the others were purchased through discount postage lots on eBay.

I love my wall rack filled with notecards and greeting cards. This area of my house is my happy place. When I’m relaxing in my recliner for those treasured “slow” moments, I can glance up from writing or reading and see things that bring me joy, like this rack, or the teddy bear my mother made, sitting on the trunk next to it. Downsizing for a move last year put a dent into my collection of paper and cards, but I’ve somehow managed to replenish the supply. And though I sometimes miss my desk, I manage to keep my letter-writing supplies well organized in a small shelf that sits atop my record player.

I’ll be sharing both my wealth of supplies and love of the snail mail habit at several events I’ve scheduled at my workplace this fall; a Saturday in late November for a day-long retreat lauding the benefits of letter-writing, followed by a Saturday afternoon card-making event and three Saturday mornings devoted to Snail Mail Socials, when coffee and pastries will be served at morning gatherings for those who want to work on their Christmas cards, address cards to soldiers or cancer patients, or just write letters. When better to enjoy some slow down moments than the busy holiday season?

In the meantime, I think I can stop berating myself for not slowing down more.

A letter a day can keep the guilt away~

letter

Note: Christina Capecchi, the author of the “Living in Largo” column mentioned here is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something.” Read more about Christina at christinacapecchi.com/

 

 

 

 

The Life-Changing Magic of Moving

“I tried that Japanese decluttering trend where you hold each thing you own, and throw it out if it doesn’t give you joy. I threw out all my vegetables and the electric bill.”- Mindy Kaling

“Does it spark joy?”

That’s what Marie Kondo asks in her book Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and in the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. The KonMari Method, with a revolutionary category-by-category system, promises a calm and motivated mindset inspired by determining which items in your house “spark joy.” It is not merely a set of rules on how to sort, organize and put things away but a guide to acquire the right mind-set for creating order and becoming a tidy person. By the time the suggested course of action is complete, the person is surrounded only by the things they love, a concept I found helpful last year when I moved from a four-bedroom two-story home to a two-bedroom, 760-square-foot house.

It took me several weeks of sorting, dozens of trips to a donation center, and two garage sales, but eventually I’d sifted through nearly everything in my house to determine which possessions would accompany me in the move.

Kondo suggests beginning with clothing in the tidying-up process. I went through my closet with ruthless abandon, selling or donating half my wardrobe. I was also forced to deal with the last box of my late husband’s clothing I had hidden out-of-sight in an upper shelf of my daughter’s closet. When my sister Joan offered to create something from the material, I gladly surrendered the shirts. The resulting creation of beautiful hand-crafted Christmas stockings will be enjoyed for years.

After clothing, Kondo suggests dealing with books. Because my new job was program coordinator at a spirituality center, it made sense that the majority of my mother’s religious books ended up in my work office, leaving room in her cabinet for my own. Except, I had books all over the house; filling one shelf in my bedroom, two solid oak shelves in my office, and even spilling onto my desk.

Gulp. My daughter Rachel was a great help in this overwhelming endeavor, having weeded out her own book collection some time before. “Hold each book in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you joy,” she instructed in a soothing voice. “Will you read it again? Do you love it? Do you look at it and smile? If not, let it go.”

The first time I weeded my books, I made $150 from a haul to HalfPrice Books. That encouraged me to dig a little deeper, become more discerning. Unfortunately, there was no room in my future home for my two oak shelves or desk, even  though they did, indeed, bring me joy. There was even a heartwarming story behind the desk. It was very difficult to part with a piece of furniture that seeped in memories of someone who loved me and believed in my writing.  I posted this on my Facebook page the day the desk sold:

“It’s just a desk,” I remind myself. Just a desk. Just the oak shelves I’ve loved since I’ve acquired them. Just 1000 books. A recliner. In a few days, this house I have lived in since 2008 needs to be empty, and I’m moving to one less than half its size. I’ve been cleaning, sorting, and downsizing for weeks in anticipation of that move. “It’s just stuff,” I told myself. “There won’t be room for it.” And for the most part, it’s been less painful than I thought it would be. But the desk…there’s a story behind the desk. One that involves marriage, and love, and what it is to discover a renewed relationship through cancer. The desk has remained in the same spot since I purchased it, painfully obvious now that it is gone, since the wall was painted without moving the wooden beast, and now must be repainted. Solid oak, it served as a formidable symbol of a solid marriage.

I couldn’t help the buyers carry it outside, but could at least remove the drawers to make it lighter. The bottom drawer was stuck on something. I heard a crinkling noise as I tried to free it. Feeling behind it, I gripped a piece of paper. I pulled it free, and my breath caught in my throat. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. It was a sheet of personalized stamps I’d purchased before David died in 2012. I suddenly wanted the couple, and the desk, out of my house as quickly as possible. I wanted to be alone, to cry. 

But I don’t need the desk to remind me of what I once had. I hold that memory in my heart.

stamps

Despite having to give up some furniture I would rather have kept, there was never a doubt that my parent’s cabinet was coming with me, even if it had to be in my bedroom, which is exactly where it ended up.

cabinet
The original contents of the cabinet were mostly things of my mother’s, very few of them sparking joy, outside of a few pieces of funky vintage dishes in a pattern I loved just as much as my mother had. I offered other pieces to family members. I eventually weeded my books down to those shelves in my office at work and this cabinet in my home. These books were the keepers out of thousands.

If you’re an author reading this and your book remains among my signed copies in either location, then count yourself blessed. Your work survived the great purge of 2018. What we won’t discuss is the growing pile of books next to my recliner. Old habits die hard and somehow, despite my good intentions, more books seem to be finding their way into my home.

Which brings us to Kondo’s last category, which happens to be my biggest downfall; that of paper. As I prepared for my move, it soon became obvious there was not going to be enough time to sort and organize all my paper “stuff.” I did manage to sift through years of report cards, greeting cards, letters, children’s drawings, and other miscellaneous paper items, shredding and burning many documents. Most of what I moved with me is neatly organized in the bottom shelves of my cabinet or a compactly filled trunk. The cabinet holds my journals, loose photographs, my mother’s Memory book, high-school annuals, five binders filled with clippings of thirty years of writing, candles, and a lovely decorated box with David-related memorabilia, what my children once called my “sad box.”

The trunk holds letters, children’s drawings, my mother’s original book manuscripts, greeting cards, and other paper paraphernalia I can’t bear to part with and I’d like to organize in a manner they can be enjoyed. It would have taken me weeks to give the letters the attention they deserve for de-cluttering and organizing purposes so most of them moved with me, though I did sort through some of the greeting cards, disposing of those that had no personal note inside. I have a box filled with letters my mother had written my grandmother in the 1960’s. Someday, I want to scan them and share them with siblings. Another box holds letters I’ve received from loved ones throughout the years, including my mother, and even a couple from my dad. My goal is to eventually sort them by year and file in binders.

One of my most first purchases for my new home was an addition that definitely sparked joy; a drastically reduced rack I spotted at Hobby Lobby, where I store my still-plentiful supply of stationery and greeting cards.

stationeryI wonder sometimes what this process would have been like if it hadn’t been done by necessity (a move to a smaller house), but by desire (for a more tidy space). I suspect it would have been more enjoyable and less stressful. I also suspect I would have kept more things, and had fewer regrets. Would the day-books have survived, and the decorated lab coat remnant from my high-school Advanced Science class have been burnt instead?

The daybooks were not journals. I’ve kept those. No, the daybooks detailed the minutiae of a busy mom’s day; 98-degrees and humid… went shopping and saved $48 in coupons… sent four letters…went out for breakfast with David… four more days until my due date…

And the reason behind the decided disposal of them; what I did not want to leave as a legacy, too many  hastily-written entries along the lines of “I’ll go stark-raving mad if I don’t get one minute to myself. Is it too much to ask to be alone in the bathtub?”

The daybooks. My mother’s table. The desk. Those beautiful oak shelves and the leather-bound books I’d collected. Whenever I feel a pang of regret, I remind myself they were just things.  Things that did not aways spark joy. The short matching chairs that came with my mother’s table caused leg cramps and my desk collected clutter. I did the majority of my writing in my recliner, which most definitely accompanied me to my smaller house. The shelves were extremely heavy and the leather bound classic books looked pretty, but I’d never even read the majority of them.

As for my vices of paper and books, I’ve discovered a bonus to living in a larger town. There are stores, like TJMaxx, that sell lovely legal pads, and a bounty of thrift stores where I discover things like this small shelf with three basket drawers, baskets that are just the right size for…

…you guessed it…paper.

Marie Kondo would not approve.