FINDING YOUR JOYFUL SPOT: Thoughts on Parlor Pliés and Writing

My daughter, aged 17, is away at a ballet intensive for two weeks. I’m not hearing much from her except a few texts that says things like “I love it here!” and “I’m sore from all the dancing, but it’s really good!” and “The girls are nice and we are warming up to each other.” That’s all I need to hear.

Miss A has been a dancer all her life and she inspires me. And maybe because I am missing the sound of her dancing in her room (right above my little morning spot here in the living room), I decided to search “ballet” on my blog and turned up this nugget. It was just what I needed to read this morning as I jump (or perhaps dance) into a morning of writing.

Here it is… straight from the summer of 2015! Enjoy!

Right now my daughter, aged 10, is dancing around the living room to the rich music of Coppelia, a beautiful 19th century ballet. Using a dish towel as a prop, she’s flitting and twirling and swooping to the music in perfect motion. I would love to snap a photo, but she has asked me to remain in the kitchen (where I am cleaning up from supper) and I want to respect her privacy.  But, oh my, each time I peek in I am amazed. She is 100% into the moment – listening to the mood of the music and improvising as she goes.  And, wow, how her movements flow. The result is beautiful!

As a writer, I am taking note. This young budding artist is not letting the inner voices of self doubt and fear of criticism interfere one bit. Perhaps she hasn’t even recognized their pesky little voices yet.

I was never a dancer, but I have distant recollections of that beautiful innocent time when I just let my creativity flow both through writing and drawing without holding back. That phase ended for me in mid-elementary school when I suddenly became self conscious about my writing, especially at school. Thankfully, I continued to write stories and poems for my own pleasure.  Still, it took years for me to return to that safe place where I felt secure enough to really open up and let that creativity flow again.

To reach our full creative potentials, we must follow my sweet daughter’s example and reconnect with that creative sweet spot from our childhood when we felt free to create without inhibition. Will you join me this week in finding the joyful spot? Happy dancing, er writing, all!

FATHER’S DAY WISDOM: Reflections on Taking the LONG CUT in Writing and Life

Not only has my dad always been a loving, caring father (and more recently a wonderful champion of my writing endeavors), he’s also been a life long creator of wonderful phrases that make life a little bit funnier. Memorable dad phrases include “I’m going to get my hairs cut”, instead of haircut, “Don’t worry, Daddy-do-it”, and, my favorite, “Okay, kids, we’re taking the long cut”, the opposite of short cut, which translated means, “I took a wrong turn, so now we’re going to explore”. 

On road trips as a child (and we took many), I remember my mother would often sigh and roll her eyes (in a loving way) when Dad announced that we were taking yet another “long cut” because he was a real stickler for doing it himself (i.e. “Daddy-do-it”) and refused to stop and ask for directions, unless the long cut got really, really long, or if it became apparent that we were just going in circles and even then he might not ask for directions.

But though she might roll her eyes, I think secretly she, and certainly my sister and I, came to really love and appreciate Dad’s “long cuts”. After all, without them, we might never have discovered that little out of the way village with the wonderful bed and breakfast run by a little Scottish woman who took us under her wing the time we got lost, I mean “took the long, long cut” through some Scottish countryside. 

And without one of my dad’s “long cuts” we would never have had the amazing fascination of having a picnic in a field in Spain, next to a big, big rock, only to discover the skeleton of a cow on the far side of the rock!  (Actually, my dad discovered that and wouldn’t let us look, which I for a long time I resented, but which actually I now realize he was doing to save us from losing our appetites).

And without my dad’s “long cuts” we most likely would never have found the perfect lunch spot in a meadow overlooking the Chateau de Chantilly, or have sat on a lonesome bench on a twisty mountain road with a view like this!

Looking back on my childhood, some of my favorite memories are of discovering unexpected and wonderful spots while were were taking “the long cut” between destinations.  I see now that those “long cuts” instilled in me an important life principle, for they taught me, in a wonderfully meandering fashion, that life is richer when I’m not rushing from one pre-determined destination to the next.  In fact, in my opinion, the best part of living is being willing to take the long cut and enjoy the wonderful things you discover along the way.  Thank you, Dad, for instilling that in me!

Now for the writing tie-in:  Like many new writers,  when I first started out, I expected immediate results – i.e reaching my destination without any twists or turns. And I’m embarrassed to say that in those first couple of years, as I was exploring the craft, I submitted stories and poems to publishers far too prematurely.  Now, when I look back at my earliest pieces, I’m amazed at how stilted, clumsy and rough they are.  Indeed, it wasn’t until I slowed down and really started to savor the writing process through yearsof writing daily, reading, studying the craft, attending conferences, and participating in peer critique  (in other words, taking the writerly version of “the long cut”) that I began to develop into the writer I am today (who is still ever-working on improving and expanding her craft). 

So, here is my bit of writerly wisdom for the day:  Writing is not a race to get published. It’s a beautiful “long cut” journey to be savored and enjoyed. So, take heart and be patient. Join a critique group. Attend a conference. Sign up for a writing class. Read a book about writing.  Spend time at the library reading all the picture books you can get your hands on. And, through it all, keep writing, writing, writing! The results may not fit your pre-conceived conceived timeline, but if you keep at it, I think you will find that the “long cut” journey – though not short, to be sure, – is rewarding.

(Note: This post first appeared in Fall 2019, but I’m feeling sentimental and, hey, it’s almost Father’s Day – a perfect reason to celebrate my dad.)

PICKING RASPBERRIES: Thoughts on Writing and Living

It’s almost raspberry picking time again and that has gotten me thinking about, of all things, life and how we choose to live it. Almost 10 summer ago, when this blog was still brand new, I posted a writing analogy about raspberries. In that post I described how my children and I were enjoying picking raspberries up the street in a wild raspberry patch we had discovered.  I observed that even in this culture where “more” is perceived as “better”, my kids understood that part of what made the berries in this patch special was their scarcity. Each day we ate only a few and we savored each one.

Summertime writing, I observed, was a lot like raspberry picking because, with my kids home from school, time to write would be at a premium. Each day, like raspberries, I would pick a few precious moments to write. These times, I explained, would be short, but intense, and I vowed to savor each and every one.

After that post went live, my mother, who many of you will recall was in the midst if fighting a valiant battle with ALS, sent me this email which I saved and now treasure.  She wrote:

Reading your latest blog, it struck me that what you say about savoring wild raspberries is a lot like living with ALS– I try to enjoy, get the most out of, each little thing that happens — our telephone calls, John’s sweet smile (that’s my dad), a cardinal flying by, sitting at Sunnyside…..It is having appreciation for small things that makes for a happy life.

Her wise words have stuck with me, for in the big picture, we are all like my mother. No, we don’t all have ALS, but we all live in an imperfect world where bad things happen. Our hearts get wrenched. We go through difficult times. We struggle. But, if in the midst of all that, we can find something good in each day, even if it’s just a little thing or a small moment, then like my mother, I think we too, will find the secret to a happy life.

What small moments will come your way today?  Take time today to recognize them and to give thanks.  Blessings, all!

MONDAY REFLECTIONS: Giving Thanks for a Special Trip PLUS Thoughts on QUAIL EGGS!

View overlooking Kendal at Lexington taken on one of my walks.

I spent a wonderful Tuesday-Friday this past week visiting my dad in Virginia. He’s a wonderful supporter of my books and just a great all-around dad. The visit included walks into downtown Lexington and around the premises of his retirement community. He and his wonderful Dianne and I enjoyed eating meals together and watching a favorite series from when I was a kid, the original “All Creatures Great and Small”.

I had also planned ahead for two preschool visits and a book signing at Lexington’s new indie book store, Downtown Books. Dad, with phone camera at the ready, accompanied me to the Lexington events and Dianne drove with me to Charlottesville for the preschool visit there.

I drove home Saturday, heart full of gratitude that I was able to spend such a special few days down there. However, since I’m still catching my breath from it all, instead of a new post today, I thought I’d share a few pictures from the trip, followed by a favorite writerly post from 2012 about… eggs! We still love quail eggs at our house, BTW. Enjoy!

First some pictures:

Shenandoah Preschool Visit with BUNNY FINDS EASTER and LITTLE EWE
Booksigning at Downtown Books in Lexington, VAs -a GEM of an indie book store!
Our visit at First Baptist Preschool, Charlottesville.

And now for the retro post: QUAIL EGGS: Thoughts on Making Ideas EXTRAORDINARY

A Korean-American friend invited me to shop at a Korean supermarket. The store was brimming with the most beautiful produce and authentic Asian foods I have ever seen. I filled my cart with Korean BBQ sauce, dumplings, seaweed, barley tea, bok choy, Japanese eggplant, oyster mushrooms and more. But the best find of all was the carton of tiny speckled quail eggs I discovered by the tofu.

“How do you eat these?” I asked my friend. “Hard-boiled,” she answered. “Then pop them in your mouth.”

The excitement at our house over these miniature eggs was astounding. My kids couldn’t wait to try them and insisted that I boil them immediately. Then, even though it was almost dinner time, we peeled them and, lo and behold, the inside of the shell was aqua colored. When we popped them in our mouths, they tasted exactly like chicken eggs. The magic was in their tiny size and their magical shell.

“Can we share them?” my daughter asked. Then, nestling them in her hands, she shared the magic of the quail eggs with the neighbor kids. They were a big hit!

Ideas are kind of like eggs. Sometimes it seems they’re a dime a dozen. The trick is finding one that stands out from the rest. After all, no one wants to read yet another story about an ordinary egg. YOUR egg needs to be extraordinary. Add speckles and a magical lining. Scramble it. Fry it. Poach it. Do whatever it takes to make it stand out from the rest.

Quail eggs are destined to become a frequent snack in our house. Not only are they rich in protein and pretty, but they’re a tasty reminder that I don’t want to settle for plain old chicken egg ideas. Instead, I want to savor the exhilarating process of transforming ordinary ideas into extraordinary eggs. Happy writing!

PRAYING THROUGH MINISTRIES: An Interview with Founder Jessika Sanders

One morning this fall, in anticipation of Christmas, I prayed that God would use my Christmas picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER to bless others and point them to Him in a special way. I made a list of possibilities: preschool visits, a Christmas Women’s program, a virtual story time. These were all things I had done in the past. But God… Don’t you love that phrase? God had something bigger in mind and He placed that idea in the heart of a woman named Jessika Sanders, founder of Praying through Ministries. The idea was to bless families who found themselves with little ones in the NICU and PICU over Christmas with a copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

Following God’s prompting, Jessika reached out to me. Sensing this might be God’s special plan, I said yes, and that I wanted to write notes of encouragement to accompany each book given because my precious son, now 21, had once been a baby in the NICU as well. Then, wow, with the help of generous souls across the country who donated the books, God grew that blessing to an amazing 771 books given to families in multiple NICUs and PICUs across sixteen states. We were even in the news.

And now I have a special treat you – an interview with Praying Through Ministries’ founder and president, Jessika Sanders. The story of how her ministry came to be is amazing and I know you will be blessed. So, grab a cup of coffee and join us as we chat with my questions in bold.

Thank you for joining me here, today, Jessika.  Like me you are a NICU mama.  Can you tell us a little bit about that story and how it led you to start this ministry?

Absolutely. Unlike the vast majority of NICU moms, my son was not born premature. He was born at exactly 42-weeks.  Like I had with my second child, I went a very natural route with my pregnancy. I had the same midwife and opted out of all ultrasounds. I had my third natural birth, and my second at-home water birth. Nothing seemed all that out of the ordinary other than my belly shrinking in size the last month, but I attributed it to my son dropping and my getting ready to deliver. 

When our son arrived, the rush of hormones had my head in the clouds. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until they weighed Ezra and a few words broke the heavy silence in the room while simultaneously breaking our hearts. “4 lbs 14 oz.” I could almost feel my heart drop. Something was wrong. I looked across the room at my husband and saw the fear and anguish on his face. 

To give you some background, I had experienced a lot of spiritual warfare during my 3rd trimester. I couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling that something was wrong. It wasn’t Godly intuition but rather the voice of the enemy. I know this because it instilled fear, a fear that threatened to consume me.  Down Syndrome. Genetic defects. Death. Still birth. Critically ill. I remember fighting with scripture. Each time a negative thought would come to mind, I would take it captive and speak truth over myself and the baby growing in my womb. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Chosen. His. A purpose and a plan. Just three weeks before my son’s arrival, I had a really powerful encounter with God, one in which I heard His voice so clear it felt almost audible. His directions were simple—read through the book of Psalms, circle the passages He told me to circle, and faithfully pray them until He told me to stop.  When I gave birth to my son I assumed the battle was over, but when we learned of his extremely low birth weight, I knew that was far from the truth. Thirty-six hours after he was born, we called an ambulance when he seized in our arms and so began the beginning of our 37-day NICU stay.

I’ll never forget the complex range of emotions I experienced while in the NICU with Ezra. Fear. Shock. Worry. Guilt. Uncertainty. Helplessness. I remember my sole and utter dependence on the Lord and crying out to Him in wordless groans. I wanted to pray continuously but I felt frozen, paralyzed by my circumstances. I sang worship songs and I prayed God’s Word back to Him—literally reading those verses He had me circle a month previously. 

And one day, as I looked around me in the hospital lounge, at the front desk, and through the corridors and into the rooms of others—I was met with pained, worried faces. My heart ached with these women and men, but as my eyes met theirs, I managed a meek smile that I hoped would warm their hearts and show them I saw them and I understood. As I rested in God’s shelter, my pain seemed to diminish. But as mine lessened, I became heightened to the pain of those around me. I wondered to myself “How does anyone do this without Jesus?” This is when our NICU stay began to change course. Suited up in His Word and forever clinging to His character and His promises, I began to reach out to help those around me. I began talking with mothers at the sign-in desk, in the lounge, and in the Ronald McDonald House. I asked about their babies and how I could pray for them. I wrote down their names and their requests.  I see now that this was the beginning of Praying Through ministries. God was slowly preparing me for what was to come.

Oh, Jessika, what an amazing story of God’s love sustaining you and your family through one of life’s most difficult situations and then, wow, God’s love flowing through you to others.  I’m glad that each step of the way you listened to God’s promptings and what a precious reminder to us all of the comfort and power in that. 

What are some of the ways your ministry reaches out to and blesses families journeying through the NICU, PICU and child loss?

The mission of Praying Through ministries is to equip and embolden men, women, and children with Biblical hope and encouragement as they journey through the difficult seasons of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Pediatric ICU, and Child loss. We provide Biblical support through our Christ-centered online communities (Facebook), through virtual events, and through outreach care packages. 

While the obvious way we bless families is through our outreach care packages filled with personalized notes, artistic keepsakes, and carefully curated books, we are often told just how much our online communities mean to our members. It’s not uncommon for us to hear things like, “When I felt too paralyzed to pray, the Prayer Team and group members lifted me in prayer and provided words that I could pray myself.” I know that this especially blesses my heart because in addition to God doing this very thing for me with His Word, I also had one friend in particular who would periodically send me written prayers, too. Our communities are God-honoring groups where true friendships are cultivated. There is no condemnation, just a supportive group of individuals helping each other to keep their eyes fixed on Christ—even through trials and suffering.

Our ministry is also in the process of creating virtual resources and events to reach the families we serve.  Because our outreach care packages are shipped within the United States, and we have members in Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia, virtual resources and events will allow us to bless families regardless of their country of residence. Our first virtual event was actually our “Christmas in the NICU” Live Author Reading with you, Laura!

Everything your ministry is doing amazing and so honored and humbled to have been chosen to participate in that with you. It made my Christmas… that and all the notes and books we were able to send thanks to the donations of so many. 

And I’ve been delighted to discover that you are also a writer. How does that fit in with your mission?

Yes, I am. I remember prior to Ezra, I felt like God had already given me plenty to write about what with a broken childhood, the divorce that led me to my salvation, and forgiveness. But when I was carrying Ezra, I just had this feeling that God was about to give me even more material. I never would have dreamed it would have been NICU and PICU stays with multiple close calls of almost losing him, yet that’s where He called us. With regard to how I feel my writing will fit in with our ministry’s mission, I believe there are real holes and felt needs within the audience our ministry serves. I am believing God will use me to create much-needed, faith-based resources for NICU families and resources specifically for bereaved fathers.  

And those will be a blessing.  I can’t wait to see where God takes you on that front.  Finally, I know many of my readers will be moved by your ministry. How can they be involved?

Thank you so much for asking, Laura. Our ministry is fully funded by the generous donations of others. We are always in need of financial donations for the daily running of our ministry—fees for our website, communication platforms, and for creating marketing materials found in our care packages. We also always humbly accept any of the items from our Amazon Wish List.  These are the books that make up our care packages. Generous donors can purchase them and have them sent to us directly—doing so helps cut out the turnaround time for packages to get sent out in a timely manner. To get involved in either of these ways, you can visit our the “Support Us” tab of our website.

For anyone who has experienced the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss—no matter how long ago it may have been, there is always room and an invitation for you to serve within the ministry.  We can never have too many Prayer Team members for our online, Christ-centered communities on Facebook. We are also looking to fill a few of our Board Member positions for those who have experience with accounting, social media, and marketing. To learn more about these opportunities you can visit our website under the “About Us” tab.

And lastly, you can be involved by helping us be known! We would love for you to share our ministry with others.  Whether it be sharing one on one with someone who is being impacted by the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss or sharing collaborative opportunities with your church team or local hospital, we would greatly appreciate your efforts to share our ministry within your sphere. 

Laura, I cannot thank you enough for your love offering with our first annual “Christmas in the NICU” Book Drive.  With your compassion and care, you have set the bar extremely high. It was an absolute honor to work alongside you and your precious group of friends to pull off such an incredible event. I look forward to seeing what God does next year!

Amen! Thank you, Lord, for using us to serve others this special way. And thank you, Jessika, for following God’s call. You are an inspiration to all.

What’s Your Writerly BEESWAX?

With three weeks until my next book releases, I’ve been busy lining up blog stops, reaching out to schools, preparing for a virtual launch party (stay tuned for details on that very soon) and more. Still, each day, I’m determined to find time to write creatively. And how do I begin each writing session? I begin it beeswax. Curious what beeswax has to do with writing? Find out in this oldie-but goodie post from 2013. That sixth grader is now in college, but I’m ever grateful for the day he introduced me to beeswax. Enjoy!

As a sixth grader, my son is taking a mini-course in home economics. For the sewing component, he hand-stitched a simple felt pocket with a button loop to hang in his locker. He completed most of the “locker dangler” at school, but needed to finish the final step – sewing on the button- at home. After rummaging through my button box for a “funky” button, he was ready to get started.

I’m no seamstress, but I’ve sewn on buttons before. I’ve also hand-stitched doll quilts and sewn on my fair share of Boy Scout patches. So, in a knowing “I’ve done this before” tone of voice, I suggested that he double up his thread so it wouldn’t slip off the needle, but not make it too long, lest it get all twisty and knotted. This sometimes happens to me, and it’s a nuisance, requiring that I back up or start that section over.

My son, however, was resolute. “I’m supposed to do this by myself,” he explained. “And I know what to do.” Then, with remarkable skill, he threaded the needle, doubled up his strand and tied a tidy knot.  Finally, peering into my sewing kit he asked, “Where’s the beeswax?”

“The what?” I asked.

He looked at me incredulously. “You know, the beeswax.”  I didn’t know, but now I do, and I think my days of knotted thread might finally be over!  For, as every REAL seamstress knows, a coating of beeswax quickly applied to the thread, not only strengthens and bonds the double strand, it also makes it slippery so the stitches glide knot-free through the fabric.

Sometimes, like thread, my writing feels tight and knotty. The words don’t flow at all.  What I could really use is a little beeswax for my pen, or maybe even for my mind, to loosen me up and get those words gliding.

Thankfully, I think I’m a better writer than a seamstress. Here’s my writerly beeswax: I begin each writing session with 5 minutes (or more if I’m having fun) of just playing with words.  Somedays I’ll free write something that’s on my mind. Other days I’ll open with quick hand written list of, say, all the words that rhyme with shoe, or all the different ways a penny could get lost. Often that’s all I need to get me going.

How about you? What’s your BEESWAX?

Guest Post: DANCING IS MY VOICE by Miss A

In the extra special category, today I am delighted to feature my daughter, Miss A, who wrote this lovely piece “just for fun” and asked if I would share on my blog. Of course, I said yes! Not only is it a beautiful expression of the hardworking, creative daughter I know and love, it’s also a powerful way to look at life through the lens of voice. And I think you will agree that it applies to writers as well. Take it away, Miss A!

Dancing is my Voice

By Miss A

    Your voice. Your voice is the sound that comes out of your mouth. Is that really what a voice is? The way I see it, a voice is much more than just an expression or attitude. It’s something that’s our own, something we don’t share with others. We own it. We own our voices. We own our choices. We own our passions and we own our hearts. 

Our passions are what makes us heard and I know for a fact that dancing is mine. Dancing is my passion. Dancing is my voice. How could dancing be used as a voice? Well, when we talk to someone, the first thing we say is “hi”right? As a dancer with 14 years of experience, everytime I look at my pointe or ballet shoes, they’re saying “hi”. I mean they’re covered in sweat, blood and tears, how could you not say hi back? Looking at those shoes reminds me how much I love dancing and that I have to finish what I started. Likewise, our voices are what keeps the conversation going. We can’t just stop talking in the middle of a sentence and walk away. We finish the conversation and say “see you later”. I don’t ever plan on walking away from dance. I will continue the conversation, however, not with a person. Specifically, with my dance journey. 

There’s this gravitational pull towards my pointe shoes that makes me, and probably every other dancer, tell ourselves that this is who we are. This is what we want to do and this is our voice. Often, so many feel that we can’t speak up for ourselves, but with dancing that isn’t true. When we’re onstage, we’re speaking, not physically, but mentally and from our hearts and bodies. 

Growing up, I was shy and hid behind my parents every time I was introduced to new people, so can you imagine what it was like for a young girl trying to figure out how to become a ballerina. To be a ballerina you have to be your own person. You have to have this perfect poise, skill and grace. You have to be independent, but most importantly you have to break out of the shell that you’ve known for so long. 

Breaking out of the shell is like trying to get out of bed on a school morning. It’s a process. Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack your bag, go to school for 6 hours, repeat. Now change that to a dancer’s perspective: stretch, rehearse, tape feet, rehearse, grab a quick bite to eat, go back to rehearsal, go home and tend to the blisters and swollen feet, shower, go to bed, repeat.

We wouldn’t be able to do any of that without our inner voice. Every ballet dancer out there is able to do what they want because of that voice. So now you know. You know that every and anytime you see a dancer perform on a stage, you know that there is a voice inside of them. As a dancer, I, too, carry that voice with me. It’s strong. It’s who I am today. My voice is louder than ever when I dance and it’s why every time my pointe shoes say, “hi”, I answer by putting them on and dancing to my heart’s content.

SPREADING BOOK LOVE: A Gift Book for Wilbur

Before we got a dog, an early morning walk was basically a solitary affair. But when our pooch, Sophie, arrived everything changed. Soon I was meeting all the dog-owners in the neighborhood and learning all the dogs names. There’s Poncho, Archie, Munchkin and Rocco; Maverick, Hazel, Todd, and Trixie; Luna, Delilah, Max, Stella, and … Wilbur.  

Wilbur is a friendly boxer and Sophie and I often stop to say hello to him and his owner on our morning strolls. One morning, while Wilbur and Sophie were greeting each other, I asked his owner, a nice retired fellow, if Wilbur was named after the famous pig from Charlotte’s Web

To my astonishment, he had never heard of the book! I think I may have gasped, but then I gushed about what a terrific read it was and how it was the story of a special friendship between a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur. I explained that had been one of my childhood favorites and how my kids had loved it too.  And I assured him, that just like his own Wilbur, he would most assuredly love Charlotte’s Wilbur and that he should read it if he had the chance. And that was that.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was visiting my dad. We were thinning some bookshelves, and what should I find but an extra copy of Charlotte’s Web! And that gave me and Sophie an idea. We would surprise Wilber (and his owner) with a little gift.

First, Sophie, wrote a note:

Then we wrapped the book and note in tissue paper and placed it in a bright pink gift bag so they’d be sure to see it. Finally, we tiptoed up to their front door and dropped it off:

We haven’t seen them since, but when we walked by later in the afternoon, the bag was gone.  Maybe we’ll see them today and then I will pop back and let you know if they liked it. One thing I do know, for sure — Sophie and I loved the joy of giving it!

Happy Monday, all!

SNAIL MAIL BLESSINGS: Spreading Kindness the Old-Fashioned Way (Thank You Notes Edition)  

It has been almost two months since I invited you to join me in what I’m calling the Snail Mail Blessings Challenge. I created the challenge because, in this age of instant texts and emails, I’ve been missing the special connection of a different kind of correspondence – the old-fashioned hand-written note.  

Jump in anytime. Miss a week? No problem. It’s not about perfection or pressure. It’s about blessing others through the simple act of putting pen to paper, putting that paper in an envelope, addressing it by hand, affixing a stamp and sending it off. 

SPOILER ALERT: I’ve been a letter writer all my life. At first, it was because my mother and grandmother were in cahoots and made me. And how did they do this? Christmas and birthday gifts. I was informed at a very young that Christmas and birthday gifts were special (which they were) but that I wouldn’t receive them unless I remembered to write a thank you note to each person who gave me one. Writing thank you notes, they said, was like sending a gift back to the giver – but in written form!  What a concept! 

So, from a very young age, I wrote thank you notes. At first, I didn’t like writing them. They took so much time and I wanted to play. 

But my mother was smart and for birthdays she made sure we invited just a small number of party-goers, so that writing those notes as manageable. 

And my grandmother made letter writing fun because she would answer my thank you notes with lovely notes of her own and, just like that, we were writing letters back and forth. I still have many of them. Here’s an example of one I wrote when I was 10.  (Don’t you just love my frankness in describing my new neighbors?)

TODAY’S CHALLENGE:  I love my mother’s and grandmother’s idea hand-penned thank you note is like sending a gift back to the giver, but in written form.

This has certainly been true for me. I love getting thank you notes!  Some of my favorites have been from students I have visited in schools (and I love that their teachers are cultivating this art with the next generations).  Here’s are a couple of examples from a virtual visit with my friend Tina Cho’s class in South Korea back in 2016:

I also love this thank-you note I received soon after LITTLE EWE released. My father sent a copy of the book to his Great-Aunt Beanie, who he hadn’t seen in decades. It was his special way of reconnecting with her and the note she sent in return was certainly a gift to us.  Here it is:

Will you join me in writing a thank you letter to someone this week?  And maybe you could make this your goal for the next few weeks as well.  Blessings, all, snail mail and otherwise!

REMEMBERING 9/11: Twenty Years Later

REMEMBERING 9/11. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years. I remember it as if it were yesterday. 

My mom was visiting from Colorado that week. In fact, just the Saturday before she had kindly offered to care for our sweet baby for the evening so my husband and I could attend a work party at a colleague’s apartment in Brooklyn. 

At one point during the party, the hostess invited us all up to the roof for a breathtaking view of the lower part of Manhattan. However, to get up there you had to climb a ladder and I don’t like heights and was a little nervous. My husband, though, insisted. It’s beautiful, he said. You’ll regret it if you miss it. 

So taking a deep breath, I climbed that ladder and the view was indeed breathtaking. Just across the river, practically within touching distance, or so at least it felt, stood the two mighty towers of the World Trade Center. It was a clear night with stars and a patchwork pattern of windows lit up the two great towers. I guessed that maybe the cleaning service was cleaning the floors. I remember holding my husband’s hand and feeling a sense of peace and gladness in that moment. 

Three mornings later, my mom and I were upstairs in the bedroom with the baby when the phone rang. It was my husband calling from the library. It was a little bit after nine. He said he was coming home right away but that I should turn on the TV because two planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Our nation was under attack! 

For the rest of that morning with a feeling of dread in our bellies, all three of us ( plus baby) watched the terrible events of the day unfold including the collapsing of the two towers. 

We were in shock. Across the street lived a couple. The husband worked at the World Trade Center. Was he okay, we wondered?

That afternoon, needing a break from the television, we took the baby for a walk. Other neighbors were out and we were all checking in on each other to see if our loved ones were safe and accounted for. 

They were, but no one knew about the situation with my neighbor across the street. We all started praying and hoping. 

The one moment of pure joy that day was seeing him return home, all covered in soot, as I recall, with his wife beside him. She worked further uptown and had run down to find him. And that’s how they found each other, both running from opposite directions. 

Not everyone in our town came home that night though. Six families lives were forever changed. I remember holding my son and crying. I remember praying for peace. I remember praying that they would find survivors. 

My mother was so shaken that she decided rather than fly home to Colorado she would take the train. And that’s what she did. It took more than 24 hours to get home.

Our world was changed forever that day. My thoughts and prayers go out today to all who lost family members and friends that day.  I pray also for peace and unity for our nation and the world.