• jane austen card

    Six Life Lessons from Jane Austen

    I’ve loved Jane Austen’s works since I first received “Emma” as a Christmas gift more than 20 years ago. But I only recently began reading essays and books on why we love her stories so much 200 years later, and … Continue reading

  • journal

    Honing in on my soul mission

    A few weeks ago, my mom and I were guests at a spa resort at in the Arizona desert called Miraval, known for its focus on mindful living. My mom had been a few times before, so experiencing this place she … Continue reading

  • stew and bread

    Cooking Lessons as Life Lessons

    Yesterday I had the chance to attend the DC Metropolitan Cooking Show with my friend Julia. She loves being in the kitchen and cooking beloved family Italian recipes as much as I love my Cajun food. As we sat and … Continue reading

Send more #snailmail: National Letter Writing Month

lots of letters

Readers of my blog know all about how much I adore writing and receiving letters. I love it so much that I’ve had two mini campaigns (here and here) to promote snail mail with fellow letter lover Leslie. I love it so much that I have a box overflowing with stationary and notecards, pens and postage, and of course, my letters from others over the years. I think I need a bigger box — collecting letter paraphernalia has become a bit like my book buying habit — I get more before I’ve finished what I have. But I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. One can’t have too much stationary, right?

It’s National Letter Writing Month, so I wanted to share a bit more about why I love the special art of snail mail so much. Just in the past week, I’ve received a handful of thoughtful postcards and notes from dear friends back in DC, and after a few weeks off because of my move, I’ve written a handful myself to be delivered to friends across the country. Just the very fact that I have friends who send me mail ( some quite regularly) all because they know I love it, makes me smile  and makes me cherish our friendship even more. And the postcards I get from friends on their travels means even more to me (do you know how much international postage costs?!), coming from Australia and Hawaii and Italy and Mexico, and elsewhere.

I asked people what they love about letters so much, and here’s what a few had to say:

snail mail tweets

fb letters

Pretty straightforward if you ask me. I think a handwritten letter is one of the most sincere and genuine forms of communication, and of respect. It takes time, it takes thought, and it takes feeling. And the memories of both writing it and receiving it are surely to last a lot longer.

So if you’re ready to send out some snail mail, check out my Pinterest board for some inspiration and options to start your own big box o’ letters. Then share in the comments whom you’re writing letters to this month, and why you love snail mail so much. And of course, let me know if you’d like to exchange letters with me!

Some of what's in my letters box

Some of what’s in my letters box

 

For the love of books

bookshelf

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  - Cicero

I think I’ve read more books in the last 10 months than I have in the last three or four years. I suppose that’s what being on a part-sabbatical while working from home in the country does for you – it’s given me a chance to get a library card again for the first time in years, to hungrily devour books long on my “to read” list and revisit favorites from my youth. It’s made me choose reading over TV and the social media, led me to staying up late just to finish one more chapter (or the end of a book), and it’s reaffirmed that reading is one of the things that brings me the most joy in life.

In honor of National Reading Month, I wanted to acknowledge some of the books, characters, and reading moments that have stuck with me through life, out of the hundreds (thousands?) of books I’ve completed.

  • Little House in the Big WoodsThe Book of Goodnight Stories: a wonderful illustrated book of fairy tales and fables, broken up to last an entire year. It was one of the first books my mom read to me. I still have it, and look forward to reading it to my children someday.
  • The Long Winter: I think this was the first Little House book I ever read. My mom got it for me at a library booksale, a weathered and creased version, with the original Garth Williams illustrations. It got me hooked on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story, and I have since read all of her books in the series many times over (including now!). Laura was probably one of my first literary heroines. The Long Winter and the books rounding out the series are my favorites: Cap Garland! Town revivals! Almanzo’s Morgan horses!
  • Kindertransport and Clara’s Story: the first two books that I built a collection around of Holocaust stories, which I was fascinated by for years, especially after a trip to Germany at age 12.
  • Jane Austen: all of it. Read my post on her birthday here, and my own life lessons from her books here.
  • An Old-Fashioned Girl: my favorite Louisa May Alcott novel (yes, even over Little Women!). A sweet, good heroine, complete with a love story and a family’s plummet from rich to poor. Also, the introduction of the velocipede. I read it multiple times. Read my post on another one of Alcott’s books, a little-known “thriller.”
  • The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn: the book that sent me down the rabbit hole of the Tudor dynasty and the fascinating lives of Henry VIII’s court. Mostly historical fiction, but I’ve been diving into the non-fiction, too. Alison Weir does both well, and Philippa Gregory is always good for a scandal.
  • The Mitford books: I found this sweet series about a small-town pastor and his friends by Jan Karon quite by accident, but was absolutely taken by it. Less about believing in God, and more about believing in the beauty of friends, family, and love, these books are good for the soul.
  • Shakespeare: I read the requisite plays in high school, and some of his sonnets. But after taking a class in college and reading more of his work (Titus Andronicus, anyone?), I became more devoted. Favorites: Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III.
  • The Bregdan Chronicles: also originally known as The Richmond Chronicles (and the version I own), this historical romantic fiction series based before and during the Civil War is mostly out of print now, but the author is coming out with a new book.
  • Maniac Magee: a youth book I read a couple of times in elementary school about a young orphan boy on the run who makes an imprint in a racially divided town. There’s a kid called Mars Bar in it, and a lot of cake making. And running.
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (and its sister books): Rebecca Wells hit straight to my heart with these books about four Louisiana women growing up and raising their families together. Need I say more? The movie doesn’t do justice to the book.
  • Anne of Green Gables: I would be remiss to leave this series off the list. I read through these books so many times they are like a comfortable blanket. My favorites were always Anne of the Island and Rilla of Ingleside. I’m still looking for my own Gilbert Blythe.

I could go on forever. There are so many books and authors that I love, but this is just a little glimpse at what’s impacted me the most. You can also read my post on an ode to the books of our youth, with some contributions from friends.

How have books and reading impacted your life? What are some of your favorite books that have stuck with you over the years?

Love actually is…

petit fours

Valentine’s Day is a “holiday” that I don’t have strong feelings for either way – it’s nice if acknowledged when I have a significant other, and if I’m single, I don’t really spend time thinking about it.

But love…that’s another story. Although I will happily accept (and send) cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts as an expression of affection, I’m much more about those displays, and more, being spread throughout the year.

For me, expressions of love come in many forms, and most often, they are not grand gestures or public declarations waiting to be “liked” and shared, they are not meant to evoke envy or shame, and they are not meant to be one-upped or outdone.

So, where does that leave us? Love is romantic, friendly, passionate, tender, devoted, nurturing, familiar, familial, respectful, and cherished. It’s seen and unseen, subtle and straightforward.

Love actually is…

…a letter from a friend you haven’t seen in years.

…a freshly roasted cup of coffee from Dad, and an extra $20 from Mom.

…an adorable pair of corgis waiting to greet me at my bedroom door each morning.

…a friend sending you a surprise gift that is “so you” just because.

…a long-time mentor encouraging you to reach your full potential.

… anytime anyone has shown me they love me for who I am. My parents always let me march to my own drum beat. That’s love.  – Leslie F

….a handwritten note — whether it’s a Post-It on the mirror, a note in my lunchbox, a thank you card, a love letter. I’ve received them all over the years, and the more thoughtful and heartfelt the sentiment, the more loved I feel.  – Julia R

… my husband, performing his nighttime duty as human blanket as he spoons me to sleep.  – Patti N

…when I found out I was pregnant with #1 on my birthday and #2 on Christmas. – Jessica K

… the first time Madeline said “I love you mommy.” We were on her bedroom floor lying on our belly reading “Olivia.” We finished the book and she said it. I’m in tears remembering the moment.  – Sarah D

…the first Valentine’s Day after a bad breakup, a friend who knew how much I was dreading the day sent me a very early morning text to wish my a happy Valentine’s day and that my friends all loved me.  – Sally-Anne K

What does love mean to you?

In 2014, I won’t…

journal

Right now, a lot of people are blogging about their resolutions or goals for 2014, or recapping 2013 highlights and lessons learned. I feel like I’ve already covered a lot of lessons learned in in the last several months on this blog, since I prepared to leave DC and move to California. (If you’re new to this blog, start here to get caught up on that story). I think most of the highlights have been covered as well. So I thought I would take a little bit of a different route this time and write about things that I won’t be doing in 2014. I wouldn’t say I am “resolving” not to do them, but I’ll at least be more mindful about these things and give it my best. After all, that’s all we can ask of ourselves, right?

In 2014, I won’t…

…limit myself to the things that I did before, because “that’s the way it was.” I won’t stay on the same path just because that’s where I started.

…put off something because it’s hard or because I’m not familiar with it. I won’t say “I don’t know how.”

…forget that going with my gut is often the right answer. I won’t ignore the things that continue to resonate with me in spite of everything else.

…let other people’s behaviors and choices stop me from being the best person I can be. I won’t change my standards or principles to win over others.

…let my past get in the way of my future, or my future get in the way of my present. I won’t let the bad “what ifs” ruin the good ones.

…stop trying to get to what I want, need, and deserve. I won’t let perceived deadlines, expectations, and pressures distort reality, or my dreams.

What won’t you do in 2014?

Happy birthday, Jane Austen

Circa 20 years ago, I received my first Jane Austen book, a copy of Emma, a Christmas gift from an aunt who knew of my passion for reading. At the time, even though I was already reading classics and other advancing literature, I thought perhaps it might be a little above my head. But I only let the book sit for about a year on my shelf before I couldn’t wait any longer, and promptly devoured it. I was hooked.

Next, I read Sense & Sensibility and then Pride & Prejudice. I followed that with Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and finally, Persuasion. I have loved Jane Austen before I had heard of Colin Firth, or before Keira Knightley became a star. I’ll admit something — I’ve never even seen the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, but I’ve read the book at least five times.

People always tout P&P as their favorite Austen novel, and for many, it is king among classic literature. But like many of the essayists in Why We Read Jane Austen, I agree that choosing your favorite Austen novel is akin to picking a favorite child, or for me, a favorite dog. It’s nearly impossible. If I’m forced, it would be P&P, but from there, there is a close tie between Mansfield Park and Emma.

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