Author Archives for jennasauber

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?

Six Life Lessons from Jane Austen

jane austen card

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 what they mean to us on a personal level, beyond the basic lit class critiques.

I just finished reading “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter” by William Deresiewicz. The author begins the book by explaining how when he began graduate school, he had never even glanced at one of Austen’s novels because he felt above them, and above her style. But when he had to read “Emma” in one professor’s class on 19th century English literature, his view of Austen, and himself, started to change.

Deresiewicz reads and rereads all six of Austen’s novels over the course of a few years of graduate school and even incudes a chapter in his dissertation. But even more important than learning to like Jane Austen and all of her heroines, he learned more about life, love, and literature than he ever imagined.

Although I thought the author could be a bit rambling and repetitive, each of the six core lessons he pulled from Austen’s works resonated with me, and I found they applied in my own life. They are as follows:

“Emma”

Many think the plot of one of Austen’s most popular novels, frequently translated into film, is lacking. But the author latches on to Austen’s ultimate goal to get people to pay attention to the little stories and happenings of the people in our lives, no matter how small and ordinary they may be.

Deresiewicz says, “She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels.” Instead of just focusing on the big milestones and events and drama, Austen encourages us to remember the small stuff and to talk about it, perhaps again and again, if that is what brings us closer to our community.

“To pay attention to ‘minute particulars’ is to notice your life as it passes, before it passes,” says the author, and of Emma, her father, and their best friends. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always valued the little things like snuggling on the couch with coffee and my dogs, frequent chats by phone with my parents, or hearing the “minute particulars” of small town life from my family in Louisiana.

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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?

Honing in on my soul mission

Miraval

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 loves with her for the first time was long-awaited—not to mention, everything I expected and more. The food, the staff, the destination and the activities were all incredible. It really was the perfect mother-daughter bonding trip to start the new year, and the timing was perfectly on point. It was a nice, lengthy pause to reflect on all that I’ve done in the last year and to think about all of the great things to come.

As I’m inching my way toward my next steps in this journey I’ve been on since I moved across the country in May of 2013, Miraval’s emphasis on wellness in mind, body and spirit really resonated with me. I returned home with a few things to think about; things that I think are worth sharing for anyone practicing mindfulness and doing some soul-searching.

1. What you’re good at isn’t always what brings you the most joy.

This may seem obvious, but many of us gloss over the distinction between our talents and what Miraval’s wellness guru Tejpal calls our gifts. There are things we’re really good at, perhaps so much so it’s a job, but that doesn’t mean it makes us happy. And so goes for the things that we may not be that good at, but it brings us joy and inspires us to give back.

Our gifts and our talents may overlap a little, but to really find the answer, Tejpal suggests an exercise ofjournaling for 40 consecutive days, honestly asking ourselves, “What is my gift?” I have some ideas, but I’m going to start it this week and get to the heart of it.

2. Fear and uncertainty are a part of all unknown adventures. Acknowledge and embrace it, then move through it.

I’ve always loved adrenaline-inducing activities like skydiving, zip lining and roller coasters. But my mom’s not a big fan. While I’m having fun, she’s often terrified of the speed and the heights and the sheer uncertainty of it all. At Miraval, we participated in some group challenge activities and talked through our fears and how we hope to learn and grow from them.

For me, I think I often yearn for those big physical risks to counter my fears to take leaps in the rest of my life. I was reminded during those activities that the anxiety, exhilaration and breathlessness that I feel in quick succession is not unlike what it feels like to let go and swing when going forward in discovering our passion.

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