Saturday, December 31, 2011

My letter to 2011

For today’s blog, I write a letter to 2011 – since it has no physical address, I’ll share my letter with you here :)

“No mud, no lotus.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear 2011,

You were the best of times, you were the worst of times. You were a rollercoaster year more than any other in recent memory. Personally and globally, you were tumultuous, full of challenges as well as much celebration and joy, and much to be grateful for.

I can’t say I’m sorry to see you go. The last few months you really dealt me some blows, and all I can really say is that I got through them. I am getting through them. And certainly, the blows could always be bigger. They could always be harder. But I didn’t receive anything I couldn’t handle.

The highlights of 2011 were really the most simple things, and perhaps you reminded me that this is what life is really about – being reunited with my husband after long months of separation, being able to celebrate our marriage with loved ones, receiving many visitors to our new home in San Diego. After living abroad for many years, 2011 was full or reconnection with friends and family – both in physical time and space, and also through this project (My Year of Letters). I cherish these moments and hope that 2012 brings many more.

In the challenges, you reminded me that everything changes – that nothing is stable, nothing is to be taken for granted, and that anything can be taken away in a moment. I lost my job, and we were frighteningly close to losing my dad. You reminded me of the everchanging fragility of life, of impermanence. Through these challenges, you reminded me to surrender, to accept what is. I will try to remember this as I move into 2012.

I read a quote recently, something like “Life doesn’t get easier, we just get stronger.” Looking back, if some of the things that happened this year had happened 5 years ago, I don’t know how well I would have handled them. But I feel like I have the tools to deal with what is happening now – and to not just deal with it, but to make something great come out of it. Remembering that everything ultimately happens for our upliftment.

One of the other highlights of 2011 was having the opportunity to study with the great spiritual teacher and peacemaker Thich Naht Hanh. Thay says, “no mud, no lotus,” meaning that without the darker, challenging aspects of life, we would not be able to have the beauty and the joy. This year was definitely a muddy year, but I see a lotus blooming for 2012. If 2011 was year of mud, let 2012 be the year of the lotus. 2011 has definitely provided much fodder for 2012 to bloom.

Thank you, 2011, for all of the challenges and joy that you brought, for the opportunities for growth, and for the opportunities to really challenge myself to be a better person. I dedicate 2012 to being the best person I can be, and for all of my actions to contribute to a more peaceful world.

With love,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Practicing Mindfulness with Holiday Cards

'Tis the season to send holiday greeting cards - and this is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness! Writing holiday cards can be a marathon, and can be a source of joy or annoyance, depending on how we approach it. In today's blog I'd like to talk about how we can practice mindfulness as we write holiday cards.

First, check the intention and sentiment behind the cards. Do you find yourself dreading them, or excited about sending them? If you're dreading it, then maybe it's best not to send them. There's no point in sending happy holiday greetings if it's going to make you miserable! Remember your intention, which may have to do with reconnecting with loved ones and wishing them well. Come back to this intention if you find yourself becoming bored, distracted or rushed.

Once you get started, are you feeling like a robot, or are you present in the moment as you write your cards? As I was writing mine, I noticed this was a tremendously powerful way to practice mindfulness. When I write one letter, it's pretty easy to stay mindful. When you're sitting down to write 10 or 20 cards with similar things written inside, it's easy to become a robot. Rather than becoming a Christmas card machine, though, you can use this opportunity to practice mindfulness with each card. There's no need to rush through it. Take a deep breath as you begin each card. Feel the pen connect to the paper. Notice your handwriting. Take your time. If you find yourself becoming a robot, take a deep breath and remember your intention.

Most likely you are writing things about peace, joy, health, prosperity - all positive qualities that we try to nurture through a mindfulness practice. As you write these words, try to feel the words - feel love, feel peace, feel joy. Try to imagine the people who you are sending the card to, and imagine sending these feelings to them. This is much like the meditation practice of metta, or lovingkindness, which is one of my favorite practices (You can read about metta meditation here:; I also recommend checking out the work of Sharon Salzberg, who wrote a book called Lovingkindness, and she has a new book coming out in the new year called Real Happiness;

If you write your cards in this manner, something that otherwise could be a chore becomes very enjoyable. And such is the practice of mindfulness - when we do everything this way, everything becomes interesting, and we are better able to experience our lives with joy, peace and equanimity. We can use this practice throughout the holiday season: while wrapping presents, while cooking food, while sitting in holiday traffic, while doing last-minute gift shopping.

On that note, I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with good food, much laughter, and precious time with loved ones. May you find peace, joy, love, happiness and health in the new year - and in this moment, right here, right now :-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mailing My Hair

Today I sent an unusual letter - a padded envelope filled with my hair! I sent it to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths campaign, which collects donated hair to make wigs for women with cancer.

I donated my hair for the first time in June 2010, (12 inches!) and that time I sent it to Locks of Love. They said that they would send a written confirmation that they received my hair, but they didn't, so this time I decided to go with the Pantene campaign.

(You can see the photos of today's cut on my facebook profile here).

I had been wanting to donate again, and decided that the end of the year was the perfect time to do it. It resonates with the spirit of giving that permeates the holiday season, and also connects with my desire to reinvent myself in the new year and let go of anything that's dragging me down or not serving me. Not that my hair was doing that, necessarily - but I do feel a LOT lighter after the cut!

To make the cut, you need the ponytail to be at least 8 inches - mine was about 9. The stylist Andrea did a great job of turning my cut into a nice short bob. She did a great job - and it was the first time she cut my hair!

I went straight from the salon (Charmed on Cedros, Solana Beach) to the post office. I stood in a long line, lots of people sending packages for the holidays - I bet I was the only one mailing an envelope full of hair! :-) It makes for an interesting "My Year of Letters" post - mailing a letter to Pantene with my hair (there was actually a letter too - I had to include my mailing address in order to receive a written confirmation that they received it. I also wrote "Here's my hair - I hope it makes a nice wig!").

I realize that the donation is a very small contribution - it takes about 6 ponytails to make one wig - but it's at least something I can do for a worthy cause. And something that is personally satisfying - I got a nice new cut out of it, which I wouldn't have done if I hadn't had the inspiration from the campaign.

If you have long hair, I recommend giving it a try - it's liberating!

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Prison Pen Pal

One of my regular pen pals is in prison.

Prior to my year of letters, I had started a pen pal friendship with a prisoner. The friendship is facilitated through a meditation program that I participate in called the Winter Feast for the Soul. The program matches meditation practitioners with inmates in the hopes of fostering spiritual mentorship and connection.

Herman* lives in Texas. I don't know why he's in prison. What I do know is that he doesn't have any family, as his parents are dead, and he feels very much alone in this world. He writes about the conditions in the prison, which sound abysmal. He spends a lot of time in solitary confinement, does not have many opportunities for exercise, and has to purchase basic necessities like toothpaste, although he doesn't have any money to make these purchases. He always sends warm wishes to me and my husband.

Our exchange is usually short, but I think we are both getting a lot out of it. We've both made a new friend. I'm learning about the conditions in prison, which seem worse than I'd imagined. Herman knows that someone out there is thinking of him, and I think that might be helpful to him. I hope it makes him feel less alone. I also share some things from yoga and meditation - I told him I am a yoga teacher, and he expressed interest in learning. I'm very much a proponent of using yoga anywhere, and especially in a place like prison where people are in a constant state of stress. Even if he's in his cell, he can do some yoga poses or even just sit and focus on his breath.

If you're interested in participating in a prisoner pen pal program, you can try the Winter Feast for the Soul program.

*his name has been changed to protect his privacy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gracias + Hope

It's been a while since I've blogged so I just wanted to give a little update on My Year of Letters!

November was a crazy month on many levels. My dad was recovering from his neck injury, I lost my full-time job, and we had a celebration to celebrate our marriage and were graced with the presence of 75 friends and family. We also celebrated Thanksgiving with 14 loved ones. Thus it was a challenging but beautiful month, and I'm excited for the month of December and all the possibilities that it brings (including healing for my dad, whose neck brace could come off in less than 2 weeks if all goes well!; possibilities to do peace education in ways I hadn't yet considered; more time with loved ones).

The letter project has been coming along - as November was a bit crazy, I didn't write everyday, necessarily, but have still been averaging at least 7 letters a week. I now also have a shoe box full of responses, of beautiful notes from around the world (some of which are decorating our apartment!). I treasure these precious gifts of friends' time and energy, and the friendships that have been rekindled as a result of this project.

My letter writing project for December has me focusing on two things: Thank You cards and Holiday Cards! I'm excited for both. I've been writing thank you notes for the many gifts we received for our celebration, which were so beautiful and thoughtful. I have a great Karma (reusable) "Gracias" card that I've been using (see photo).

I also love sending holiday cards. The one featured in the photo is the "Hope" card. I bought them about a month ago, which seemed a bit early to be thinking of Christmas, but I couldn't resist as they seemed like just the cards I wanted to be sending! I also have a "Live Peace on Earth" card from the Peace Alliance, the proceeds of which go to the organization, and a Trader Joes card, which is just funny because we love shopping at Trader Joe's :-)

The themes of Gracias and Hope seem very appropriate for this month. In November I celebrated a month of gratitude of posting something each day that I'm thankful for. I continue to be thankful that my dad's accident wasn't worse and that he is healing well, and I'm so thankful for all the people who came to visit us last month. I'm thankful for the opportunities that my job afforded me and the work I've been able to do, which I'll hopefully be able to do in a new capacity (again, with the hope!). I'm continually thankful for the wonderful family and friends I have, and especially the most supportive and loving husband I could dream of and our beautiful, funny, loving dog.

And I hold a lot of hope for December and the new year. Hope for new beginnings, hope for possibilities that I cannot yet imagine.

Here's to gracias and hope as we start this new month!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I can't remember if I've mentioned postcrossing in a previous post, but just in case I didn't, I'll mention it today!

Postcrossing is a web site that connects people around the world through post cards. You "send a postcard and receive a postcard back from a random person somewhere in the world." Lieke, my friend from the Netherlands, mentioned this to me so I thought I'd try it out. When you want to send a postcard (you can have 5 postcards "traveling" at any given time) you request an address from the system. Then once your postcard is received, your address is put into the system and will come up the next time someone else requests. So far, I've received postcards from a woman in Japan, a woman in Siberia, and a 10-year old boy from Brazil. I've sent post cards to the Netherlands, Belarus, China, Germany, Brazil and Russia.

In addition to providing the address, postcrossing will send you some information on the recipient (which they provide on their profile), so you can know what kind of postcards they like (it seems that a lot of people are collectors) and also what kind of stuff they'd like you to write about.

Postcrossing has been a fun way to supplement my year of letters!

Saturday, October 22, 2011


"Almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
--Steve Jobs

October has been a crazy month. I've still been keeping up with my letters (over 100!), but have been having a harder time keeping up with the blog.

One of the things I love about writing the letters is that I never quite know what's going to come out - and it often has to do with whatever is happening at that time. This week, though, I stuck to writing letters that weren't necessarily related to what was going on, because I was not ready to write about it.

My dad came very close to dying last weekend. We had slept over the night before, and were out walking Rocky in the morning. As we approached the driveway on our way home, we found him sitting on the curb, which was odd. "Hey Grandpa!" we said as we approached (Rocky is his granddog :), and he said "We had an accident." It turned out that his bicycle brakes had failed at the top of their steep, long driveway, and he'd lost control at the end and literally flown like a missile head-first into a brick wall, probably at a speed of over 30 miles per hour. Miraculously, he could get up, and nothing appeared to be broken. He went back home (in the car), took a shower, and my mom drove him to the hospital.

Turns out, he broke his neck - he had fractured two cervical vertebrae, C1 & C2, which as far as vertebrae go, are pretty dangerous ones to brake. So not only was it a miracle that he was alive, but it was even more of a miracle that he could walk and still had full movement! He must have hit that wall at "the perfect angle".

He spent 4 days in the hospital as they monitored and stabilized him. He's in a neck brace now, one that he'll have to wear for 8-12 weeks. He needs to take it easy, but he's back home and walking around the house. All things considered, he's feeling pretty good, and we're all feeling extremely, tremendously lucky.

This weekend my brother came home and we're all hanging out together as a family, which is very nice.

I have a computer program called Stillness Buddy that is based on Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. It greets you everyday when you turn on the computer and gives you mindfulness pauses throughout the day. Often, when I turn it on, it says, "You are alive! Today is a new day. What a precious gift!" I feel like at times like these, we are reminded of this, but as my dad said, about a week later we forget again. I want to commit myself to trying to remember. It's like that quote that Steve Jobs said he read that really impacted his life - I can't find the exact quote, but it's something along the lines of live everyday like it's your last. Remember that everyday is a precious gift.

Steve Jobs left us with the beautiful words at the top of this page. So maybe today, ask yourself that question today: what is truly important? How can I follow my heart? Figure it out and go and do that. For me, today, that means doing yoga and hanging out with my family.

Life is short. Follow your heart and connect with someone you love today!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Save the Post Office Campaign Part 2: Write to Darrell Issa

I feel strongly about saving the post office. As I mentioned in the last post, it's the latest victim in our over-privatized, cut-happy society. I find it to be interesting that this has become an issue since I started this letter writing project. While there were many intentions behind my project, being political was not one of them. That has changed. It is most definitely political now.

And if Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA, happens to be my district's representative) has his way, the post office will be the latest government service to get cut - with his proposed bill ending free door-to-door delivery.

According to this blog:

"Issa’s bill would, among other steps, empower a new oversight board to recommend post office closures and try to shave costs by moving away from to-the-door delivery."

It would also result in cutting over 200,000 post office jobs. Seems like a funny thing to do when unemployment is so high, doesn't it? Aren't we supposed to be focused on creating jobs, and not cutting them?

If you care about having your mail delivered, I urge you to WRITE A LETTER to Darrell Issa. Ironically, I could not find an address on Issa's web site - I had to search the Congress main page, and the only address I could find was the generic House of Representatives address. Alternatively, write to your own representative to tell them that you oppose this bill.

Darrell Issa (R-CA)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Make it short and sweet. Put it on nice stationery. But write a letter, and tell your Congressional representatives that you oppose these cuts (if you do in fact oppose them!).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Save the Post Office Campaign

I'm a big fan of saving the post office. The recent public funding cuts are way out of hand, and the post office seems like the latest unfortunate victim in a long list of many.

Check out this article from the Atlantic on the new post office campaign:

Save the post office, send a letter!
(or, if you don't want to send a letter, give me your address and I'll send you one!)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We are the Tide, We are our Actions

This week was a funny week for the year of letters. I know that I forgot to write letters on 2 days (within the past 10 days), just because I've been quite busy. Working during the day, meditation and yoga on the weekends, is abundance, but free time has not been in abundance and hence my slack in letter writing.

And forgetting - then realize that I forgot - is an exercise in mindfulness too, I suppose!

I'm finding that mornings and afternoons are the best time for met to write letters. If I leave it to be the last thing I do all day, the letter suffers.

Today I received some exciting mail (though not part of the letter writing project, per se): the new Blind Pilot superfan set! (It wasn't officially called the superfan set, but I think only a superfan would order it). They just released a new album called We are the Tide. It included an autographed lyric book, CD, vinyl, T-shirt, AND a beautiful copy of the album artwork signed by the artist. So beautiful!

Getting stuff in the mail is fun, even if it's stuff you bought! (And if you haven't heard Blind Pilot's new album - go check it out!)

There's been a lot of talk about the post office cuts. Cuts, cuts everywhere. Granted, I don't really think we need Saturday service (who wants to get a bill on a Saturday?), and our mail service is superfast - something I've become particularly aware of since starting this project. However, I greatly appreciate the post office and hate to hear that it is among the government agencies that are struggling right now

This week was International Day of Peace (Sept. 21). I participated in the minute of silence at noon, which was intended to be like a wave of peace and compassion that swept across the planet for 24 hours. In that minute, thousands of people across regions and hemispheres were honoring the day of peace. I hope that it will inspire more than just the day - peace needs more than a day, it needs a lifetime.

I've been thinking about how letters could be related to peace. I suppose the aspects of spreading love and joy and cultivating mindfulness are absolutely peace-related. I was also thinking about writing letters FOR peace - as in, writing letters to world leaders.

When I was a kid, I was a prolific letter writer, and not just to people I knew. I frequently wrote to public officials to tell them what I thought (I once wrote to Sophie Maslof, then mayor of Pittsburgh, to ask for a pro basketball team. How little I knew about politics or sports...). I haven't done it so much in adulthood, but do send the occasional email to my representatives. I wonder if a handwritten letter would be more effective. I think this week I will set is as a goal to try!

And maybe to President Obama. I thought his speech about peace at the UN yesterday was great - if only it was more than words. If our actions - as a nation, as a world - aligned with his speech, we would have peace. Perhaps just having those words (abolishing nuclear weapons, Palestinian statehood, universal human rights) be said by the President of the United States is a big step (certainly a big step from the cowboy diplomacy of the Bush years). I hope that in my lifetime we can align our actions with his words.

Aligning words and actions was something that Thich Nhat Hanh talked a lot about at the mindfulness retreat. He said that the answer to the question, "Who am I?" is: your actions. When our actions reflect the right view and are coherent with our speech and thoughts, then "everything you do will be an expression of love."

When you think about that idea, you are your actions, doesn't it make you want to make the best actions possible? Doesn't it make you want all of your actions to be an expression of love?

If you are your actions, who are you?

If we are the tide, could we create a tide of peace, joy, compassion and love with our actions, a tide to sweep across the planet? I think we can!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nurturing the Beloved Community: 6 days of Mindfulness with Thich Nhat Hanh

This is a happy moment! :-)

I have just returned from a 6-day mindfulness retreat at Deer Park Monastery led by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as he is affectionately known. Since this letter writing project is about mindfulness, love and joy, I thought I would talk a bit more about mindfulness today.

Mindfulness is quite simply bringing your full awareness with the present moment to whatever you are doing, whether it is breathing, walking, sitting, doing chores, working, etc. This is often easier said than done. Our minds have a tendency to wander off into the past, or head out into the future, leaving the present moment as a forgotten place. But the present moment is the only moment – it’s our home, our address – we just have to remember where that is.

Meditation is one technique that can help us to cultivate present moment awareness. Simply by focusing on our breath, we train our minds to become tethered to the present moment, which ultimately will lead to us living more often in the present moment – and simply living more.

Why letter writing and mindfulness? The day I was writing to Mrs. Hofbauer and Aunt Ginny, I noticed my heightened present moment awareness while writing a letter. To pick out the stationery, to pick up a pen, to put the pen to the paper, to let the thoughts flow from my heart – I feel deeply connected with the present moment. And letter writing brings me great joy – not only the act of letter writing, but especially the joy that is expressed by the recipient when they receive their letter. So when I noticed this, I decided this was not a practice I should reserve for special days (which was how I’d always treated letter writing before – savoring the letters that I received, saving my response for the weekend). Rather, like yoga, sitting meditation, walking and eating meditation – it was a practice that I could do every day, yet another way I could connect to the present moment, connect to my heart, connect to love and joy. And thus, My Year of Letters was born.

Thay has infinite wisdom to convey – but he would probably tell us that that same wisdom resides in all of us, we just forget. We forget who we are, we forget our true nature, we forget to live in the present moment. We need lots of reminders. At his monasteries, there are bells that ring often – mindfulness bells – and when the bells ring, you are supposed to stop whatever you are doing, and take a deep breath, coming back to the present moment if you’ve lost it. I brought a small bell home with me to help me practice. These small reminders really make a difference in your daily practice.

The beautiful thing about what he teaches is that we don’t need to be in a monastery to practice – our practice is our life, and every moment is an opportunity, every breath. At home you can ring a bell, or you can use other reminders – a ringing phone, the doorbell – to come back to your breath. You can walk mindfully wherever you go. You have at least 3 opportunities a day to eat mindfully.

He’s a brilliant teacher, conveying messages through lovely stories and metaphors, humor, songs and poems. Every lecture began with a children’s talk, where he would usually share a story or a practice and focus on the kids. Then he would get into teacher mode, using the whiteboard to draw Chinese characters of important terms and diagrams of Buddhist concepts like the 8-fold path. More than anything, he teaches by example – he lives, breathes, and walks peace, and shows that anyone of us can do that to, if we practice, try, remember.

I took a ridiculous amount of notes, wanting to take all of his pearls of wisdom home with me. Some of my favorites:

A flower is only made of non-flower elements – demonstrates the concept of interbeing. A flower is made of water, sunshine, minerals, and many other parts that are non-flower. Put them together in this certain way, and you have a flower! He also says a Buddhist is made of only non-Buddhist elements, you are only made of non-you elements, etc.

No mud, no lotus - the beauty of a lotus flower springs forth from the mud; we have a tendency to discriminate against the mud of life (anger, fear, despair, etc) in favor of the lotuses of life (joy, happiness). Just as the lotus cannot exist without the mud, joy cannot exist without the contrast of fear, anger, etc. We simply need to learn to work skillfully with the mud in order to turn it into the lotuses of life.

This is a happy moment! Requires no further explanation J

I also had this really interesting experience of being there and having flashbacks to happy memories of childhood. In the second dharma talk, he asked us “Do you remember when you were a seed?” I don’t remember back that far, but I do remember laughing with my mom, looking at the moon with my dad on 2606 Locust Lane, and dancing with my Uncle Rad at his wedding – which came flooding back when I was taking a shower in the trailer shower (which, to get the water to flow, you had to hold a lever down up by the shower head) and I was twirling with my arm overhead. Hearing about others’ childhoods, I felt extra lucky – I really have happy memories, times of joy and happiness. When I think of being a kid, that’s what I think of. Dancing, singing, laughing, looking at the moon.

On Friday we took a dawn hike up the mountain for walking and sitting meditation. It finally was cooling off, after the blistering triple-digit temperatures of the previous 3 days. The clouds settled in at the base of the mountain covering Escondido, and we were up above, sitting on rocks, mindfully eating our breakfast of peanut butter and jelly, and meditating. As we walked up, I noticed how we were all different shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, nationalities, ethnicities – I felt we were a microcosm of humanity, and if we could walk up this mountain together in peace, can’t all of humanity? It gave me great hope, that if this group of 900 people – 900 people! – could do this, then we call could do it, if we try.

Another particularly moving part was when Thay talked about his experience of being exiled from Vietnam and his experience with Martin Luther King. The title of the retreat was “Nurturing the Beloved Community,” which was a phrase of Dr. King’s. Thay urged us to continue his work of community building.

He told us that he was in New York when he got the news of Dr. King’s assassination, and it was very sad. He had left Vietnam on a 3-month speaking tour of the West, calling for an end of the violence. But when the 3 month tour ended, he was not allowed to return – an exile that lasted 40 years. As I write that, I imagine the pain that he must have felt. Imagine being banned from your home for 40 years! But he didn’t allow that pain to stop him. He tried to continue his work for peace and community building in North America and Europe, and after Dr. King died, he said he stepped up his efforts. And he said “those who want to save the planet and restore peace need to know that sangha (community) is important.” He said this community building doesn’t need to be Buddhist, but it needs to be grounded in friendship (brotherhood and sisterhood), compassion, and mindfulness.

In researching, I found that Thay was the person who convinced Martin Luther King to publicly denounce the violence in Vietnam, which was a major step for the US peace movement and led King to nominate Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

On the final day, Sunday, September 11, 2011, I, along with many other practitioners, received the 5 mindfulness trainings (also known as the 5 precepts in other traditions) in a ceremony led by Thay. I’ve committed to practicing reverence for live, true happiness, true love, loving speech and deep listening, and nourishment and healing. It seemed like a logical step – I already try to do these things, but I could do better. They will serve as guideposts in my efforts to promote peace in the world, deepening my commitment and my efforts, I hope. And along the lines of hope, I was given the dharma name Radiant Aspiration of the Heart (all receivers of the trainings can be given a dharma name), a name that really does pull at my heartstrings.

It seemed like a perfect thing to do be doing on this day, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks which so profoundly changed the world we live in. The anniversary is a reminder of the deep healing and understanding needed in the world, and as we did a chant for compassion, I could feel the suffering of the world penetrating my heart. It was heavy, and tears flowed down my cheeks. But I took comfort knowing that I was in a community that was making and effort and taking strides to promote peace in themselves, in their relationships, in their communities, in the world. As a small sliver of humanity, a microcosm, I do believe that if we can create at Deer Park, there is hope that we can do it out in the world. The wars go on, and Thay reminded everyone that bombs do not stop terrorists. We need more leaders like him calling for an end to the violence.

In the last dharma talk, we talked about the alignment of our thoughts, speech, and actions. He said that the answer to the question “Who am I?” is quite simple: your actions. We are our actions. We are what we think, say and do, and these are our legacy – they do not stop existing. He quoted Jean-Paul Sartre: “L’homme est la somme de ses actes.” If we are what we think, say and do, it really makes you think about who you want to be – and what you want to think, say and do.

Well, I want to be peace, joy, compassion, and love, and through mindfulness practice, I will set my intention to promote these aspects in my life - "water the seeds," as Thay would say. I left with a renewed sense of responsibility – to work for a global community, to work for peace, in the spirit of Thay and Dr. King, and a renewed sense that mindfulness practice is a way to take care of myself and increase my ability to be peaceful, compassionate, and joyful.

Who do you want to be?

For more information on Thich Nhat Hanh, please visit:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh

"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."
Thich Nhat Hanh

Tomorrow I will embark on a 5-day journey of mindfulness on a retreat with one of my heroes and mentors, one of the greatest living leaders for peace, Thich Nhat Hanh. The retreat is at his monastery, Deer Park, located in Escondido, CA. I will be taking my address book and stationery with me (as a side note, "monastery", like stationery, is a word that I always have trouble spelling!).

In the spirit of the retreat, I'd like to share one of Thay's poems, Please Call Me By My True Names, which so beautifully conveys the oneness of all things:

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh

(Retrieved from

Monday, August 29, 2011

One Month of Letters

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."
--Howard Thurman

Wow, it has already been a month of letters! So far, 46 letters have been sent to people in 12 states and 7 countries. Pennsylvania is the frontrunner for most letters received - Pittsburgh, to be exact. As it should be - it will always be home.

Today I received not one but TWO fantastic letters from distant locations - Colombia and England. The first one was hand-delivered to our door because we had to sign for it - it felt very official. And then it was a bonus, because the other letter was in the mailbox! I must say, it really made my Monday special. Colombia wins the prize for best stamps so far - thanks Maria Victoria!

And I also must mention the beautiful cards that my mother-in-law, Julia Robinson, makes. The card she sent me today had these beautiful layers of paper, one of which was red and gold and sparkly, and a cat with flower print on it and a pearl collar. It makes getting a letter that much more special when the person made the card! (Something to strive for someday :) Those who know me well know I do love to make cards, though the extent of my skills is limited to Mr. Sketch markers).

This does not have to do directly with writing letters, but I feel I must share it anyways: this evening I am brimming with joy, having discovered that NPR is featuring the new yet-to-be-released Blind Pilot Album for free live stream. They are my favorite band of all time (not including the Beatles) and my heart is soaring from just having listened to the album. Thus, I must share this joy with you, dear reader, as this letter project is about spreading joy and love! You can listen to it here:

Blind Pilot makes my heart soar - like the quote above, their music makes me come alive. And I urge you, tonight or whenever you read this, go do something that makes your heart soar! Whatever that is. Find it, and do it, and love it! The world will be better because of it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the P.O. - an article from YES!

Rather than share my own entry today, I'd like to share a story from YES! Magazine on small post offices that are threatened with closure due to the struggling US Postal Service. The article, "Saying Goodbye to the P.O." which talks about the great loss it would be for one small town to close its post office. Having lived in Stanley, Idaho, pop. 99 (as of 2006 - maybe the population has increased since then!), I loved my weekly trips to the post office, where you were sure to at least see another soul, and you might get some news about anything that happened around town (closed roads and wolf sightings, for example). Please click on the above link to read the article.

I'm trying to do my part to keep the USPS in business! One stamp, one letter at a time :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Post Office Friends and Stamps

Writing letters is by no means a new hobby, as I mentioned in my first post. This is something I've been doing pretty much since I could pick up a pencil (or crayon), and something I've done extensively throughout my life. And one nice by-product of sending letters and packages is becoming friends with the people at the post office.

One of my most memorable post office friends is Reiko Funami of the Kita-Ayase post office in Japan. Reiko greeted me every time I came to the post office, which was fairly frequent as I made a habit of sending packages of random hundred-yen goodies to friends back home. She patiently made small-talk with me as I fumbled through my very limited Japanese (though I was at a very basic conversational level, I did develop pretty good post office vocabulary!). She was probably my closest Japanese friend who didn't speak English. While we never hung out outside the post office, I have her address and have written to her since I left Japan - she'll definitely be getting another letter!

The photos above are of the parting gift that Reiko gave me - a set of commemorative stamps for the 50th wedding anniversary of the Emporer and Empress, that have cranes and fans on them. It's really quite beautiful. The day I was leaving I stopped in to say goodbye, and she and another woman who worked at the post office, Ikuyo, gave me the gifts. They were incredibly sweet.

Their gift leads me to another great thing about letter writing - stamps! Stamps are cool. I have these really nice international postage stamps that have pictures of the Grand Tetons on them. I love sending those to friends overseas, as they are one of the most beautiful places in America and its nice sharing that with friends abroad. I really liked the stamp that came on my letter from Lieke in the Netherlands - it's a globe shaped like a heart. The perfect stamp for a letter sent between peace educators!

So far I haven't made any friends at the Solana Beach or Carlsbad post offices, but hopefully that will change over time. I'm pretty new to the area, after all - and I'm definitely making more trips to the post office these days.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Allison Park, PA 15101

Just writing "Allison Park, PA 15101" on an envelope has a calming effect on my heart and brings back a flood of memories, a sense of home. It will always be home, where my roots are, where my childhood was spent, where my dreams were started. My physical connections there have dwindled - my parents are no longer there, many friends have moved away, but writing it on an envelope, I remember.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Simple Abundance

I came home tonight, after teaching a gentle yoga, deep relaxation and meditation class, to a beautiful pile of mail (and only ONE letter from the bank!). It was truly an abundance! (Right photo) While the main objective of My Year of Letters is to give and share, the beautiful thing about giving in general is it really does come back to you ten-fold. Words are a precious gift, a kind gesture, and each letter feels like a treasure, a piece of someone else's heart and soul that they've carefully wrapped in nice paper and sent across far distances.

I also had a moment of "ask and you shall receive." Since embarking on this project, I've been scouring the stores nearby for nice stationary/ery - to no avail. Even though I live near a Staples and several gift stores that sell stationery-like products, none of them seem to sell stationery that is both beautiful and useful (and better yet, eco-friendly). Stationery, like fashion, should be aesthetically pleasing and functional. If you have beautiful stationary that doesn't have room to write on, it's still nice to send - but nicer if you can include your thoughts and words. Not to mention, what I have found seems to be terribly overpriced. I found myself longing for my days in Japan where 100 yen (roughly $1 USD) could get you a cute and hilarious stationery set of nonsensical English phrases ("I am Cool Bone Guy - Girls are Gutlessnesses In Such Me" comes to mind). And I've been longing for some nice stationery to compliment what I already have, as I'm burning through it fast these days.

Ask, and you shall receive. Today, I got a beautiful package from one Mrs. Sarah Cauley, who I have had the joy and pleasure of knowing most of my life. She has been following the blog and wanted to send me some stationery that spoke to my personality. And if I were paper, I would definitely be the paper she sent! One set appears to be made of recycled maps, and for anyone who knows me, not only do I travel extensively but I'm also somewhat obsessed with maps (see top photo). Our living room is also known as the "situation room", as we have essentially wallpapered one of the walls in vintage maps and maps from different places where we've been. The other set seems to be made not only of really nice recycled paper, but the envelopes are made of OLD DICTIONARY PAGES! How cool is that? It also has a very pleasing texture which is a bonus in stationery selection - extra points for having something that is pleasing to write on, that you can actually feel as you write. I must say I'm really excited to send a letter in one of those (which hopefully won't confuse the postperson too much with the definitions on the envelope). Thank you, Mrs. C! :)

Another thing I'd like to share about the art of writing letters, which perhaps I've mentioned before, is that you find out (and share) much different things than you do in email or on facebook or on a blog. People write about different things, and it's really interesting and wonderful. Letters also feel like secrets - just between the two of you, something special and sacred. And if you write me a letter or give me your address, I will write to you, and maybe you can find out for yourself :)

(Yes, I like to punctuate with smily faces, both in email and the written form ;)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Exponential Joy

This letter writing project has become a source of exponential joy! Even more so than I imagined when I conceived of the project. My joy of writing the letter seems to increase at each step of the way:

1. I write the letter, with mindfulness and intention. Sometimes I include an inspirational quote from one of my favorites like Rumi, Rilke or Einstein. I feel happy as I write the letter.

2. I put the letter in the mailbox. I always feel a little excited when I do this. I wonder if I'm the only person who puts letters in my apartment mailbox. I wonder if the mailman likes my Nancy Drew stationery, or if he notices (I bet he does).

3. Several days later, someone receives a letter, and I always get an email or message or some form of communication in which they tell me how happy the letter made them feel.

4. Knowing that they are happy, I immediately feel happier!

5. Possibly, they pick up a pen to write back, and the cycle continues for them....

....and on and on and on!

Actually, there are even stages BEFORE writing the letter. Sometimes I have to request an address - and even just the request for someone's address starts the cycle of joy!

1. I request an address, sometimes getting in touch with someone I haven't been in touch with for a while.

2. They respond enthusiastically, and express excitement about getting a letter.

3. I feel excited about sending the letter, and proceed with steps 1-5 above.

So far, the project is going beyond it's intended effects - meeting them, and exceeding them. I feel like it's only the tip of the iceberg....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mapping My Letters

Since I'm sending letters all over the world, I thought it would be fun to map them! You can find the map here:
I used approximate locations and did not include names; rather, I listed the date the letter was sent. So far, I've sent letters to people in the US (7 states), Canada, Colombia, the Netherlands, England, and Austria.
I'm going to need to start branching out! Letters without borders....:)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

This week's stationery - Karma Cards


This week's stationary - or is it stationery? My husband, who is from England, just alerted me to the fact that the thing you write letters on is spelled with an -ery and not an -ary. I'm not sure if this is one of those American things, where we just spell it differently, or if I'm actually spelling it wrong. If anyone knows, please let me know.

In any case, this week's stationary/ery is from my local yoga studio and is called Karma Cards - the card with an afterlife! It's no joke. The lovely little HELLO! cover has a perforated edge so can be reused as a postcard! Ideally the person will send it to someone else, and the joy of receiving a note in the mail keeps on giving. I have really been enjoying sending these out this week.

And about my photos - I'm sorry they aren't very good, but I'm taking them with my webcam because my camera doesn't work. Bear with me! I'm new to this :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Address books

Today I got a new address book, and will hereby retire the time capsule Monet address book of 2005-2011.

Monet served me well. The Monet address book was a gift from Joan Harrigan, a dear friend of our family, upon my return from the Peace Corps in February 2005. If I recall correctly it also came with matching stationary, but I'd used that up a long time ago. Somewhere along the way (I believe it was in Wanaka, New Zealand) the address book acquired a White Stripes sticker on the cover ("Get Behind Me Satan" came out while I was in Wanaka for the winter in 2007).

As I transferred the names into my new address book, I was flooded with memories - people I hadn't heard from or thought much of in years, but all of whom I was in close enough contact with at one point for them to have become an entry in the book. Many addresses were no longer valid, and many entries didn't have addresses, so I unfortunately couldn't add many to my new one. Between those years, I traveled across the US (back and forth 3 times), lived in Idaho, and traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, and Costa Rica, so there were names and addresses from literally around the world.

In addition to the names and addresses, there was a treasure trove of pictures, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia from my travels between 2005 to the present. This included:
  • a photo of Seyni Soumana and Hadiza, his 3rd wife, when they got married. Seyni passed away a few months ago.
  • a photo of me and Kelly Lynch in downtown Stanley, Idaho, summer 2006, getting ready to leave for a rafting trip
  • 4 ticket stubs from the Steelers 2005-2006 seasons
  • movie stubs from Australia and Japan
  • an international calling card from Japan
  • song lyrics I scrawled while riding on a bus in Australia ("late afternoon travel weary blues/my bones don't know which way to go/I'm sure they'll settle down soon./countyside glidin out before me/i think I've seen it all before/When each place starts to look like the last/makes me realize I'm movin too fast")
  • a note Alistair wrote once when I was taking a trip on my own ("Steph, this is a hug for when you are away and sad. Everything is going to be OK. Lots of love from Alistair." He was always a keeper :)
  • Passport photos (of myself) from both Australia (for my Japan visa) and Japan (for my Costa Rica visa)
  • lots of post-it notes and business cards with friends' addresses scrawled on them
Each scrap, each fragment tells a story, the scraps tracing my long and winding trail across the world during those years.

My new address book is nothing fancy - it's a black address book from CVS that was less than $5. I initially set out to buy a fun, fancy address book from one of the nice stationary and gift shops in Solana Beach. I rode my bike down, and was very disappointed by the selection - which consisted of exactly 2 address books, one of which was too small, the other of which was massive, and neither of which had a very functional design or cute exterior. Both were overpriced. I did come across lots of lovely stationary though, and while I didn't buy any today, I fully intend to treat myself to some in the very near future.

Then it was off to CVS, which had a surprisingly larger selection than the specialty stationary shops (I guess people don't really use address books anymore, with iPads and iPhones doing everything for us....but similarly to loving letters, I also love address books). I chose the simple yet functional black medium-sized address book, which I think will serve me well. I spent the evening filling it in. And it certainly has room on the outside for stickers.

If you'd like your address to be in it (so you can receive a letter, of course), be sure to send me a message! (Photos of address books and scraps to follow - camera battery just died!)

Friday, July 29, 2011


The first step after deciding who you are going to write a letter to must be what you're going to write on. Selecting stationary is one of my favorite parts of the art of letter writing!

Don't get me wrong - I've certainly sent many a letter on a piece of notebook paper with a shaggy edge. And sometimes the immediacy of needing to write a letter surpasses one's ability to procure nice stationary. But it's so much more enjoyable - both to write on and to receive - a letter or card on nice stationary.

Right now, I have 3 kinds of stationary. One is a card made on recycled paper that has nice tones of blue and green and pictures of a leaf and flowers. It was a gift from Danielle, the owner Yoga Oceanside, where I sometimes teach and volunteer. Danielle shares my love of stationary and paper products. It's from a company called New Leaf Paper, and apparently you can buy their stock online.

Another kind I have is a gift from my mother-in-law, Julia. It looks like it was made in India but it doesn't say on the packaging. The envelope itself, which holds the stationary, is ornately decorated with gold, teal and blue flowery-leafy designs. Inside there are two cards - one with the same design, and one with a similar design in brown, red and yellow. It has a really nice texture, rather soft, and is pleasing to write on.

My other kind was a gift to myself - I bought it at a lovely independent bookstore at San Diego harbor. It's Nancy Drew stationary. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan as a little girl, and my love for reading can largely be attributed to Nancy herself. And my grandma, who kept the original set of Nancy Drew hardcovers in a bookcase in her basement, and loaned them to us grandkids - it was like we had our own private Nancy library. And of course, my parents, who encouraged me to read:)

I loved grandma's bookshelf so much. I remember the excitement of getting to her house, finished book in hand, and running to the basement to pick out a new one. She must have had at least 50 books, all hard-cover originals, all with a very distinct 1960s smell to them. I loved the texture of the books, the weight of them in my hand, and the mysteries - that Nancy always solved - inside.

When I found the stationary at the Crow's Nest, I had to have it. I recently wrote to my friend Kora on this stationary, and she wrote back, saying, "How, how, HOW (?!) have we known and loved each other this long and we never shared our love for Nancy Drew?" Indeed, it is a shared love.

Kora's return letter came on a homemade card, certainly the very best kind of stationary there is :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 3 - Pacing Myself and Address Books

It's day 3 of my letter writing project, and I've written more than 3 letters. This week I am trying to pace myself. It is hard not to just write EVERYONE a letter right now! I think pace will be key, though, and crucial in not burning out and giving up the project.

Also, I want the mindfulness to remain a central part of the project. I don't want to just start writing letters because I have to in order to do this project that I've given myself. I want each letter to be filled with intention, love, and presence, and for each act of letter writing to be sacred. These are my intentions for this project. The moment it starts being otherwise, if it ever does, I will need to check in and reevaluate.

I've noticed that I need updated addresses for many people. My old address book - which isn't that old, circa 2005 - is really more like a time capsule. I have receipts and train tickets and movie stubs stuffed in it. Inside it, among other things, is the train ticket to Katoomba on February 5, 2007 that took me to meet my husband! That's a keeper. Many of the names in there I'm no longer in touch with. Unfortunately, for those same names, I either only have a phone number or an outdated address.

So, one thing I'd like to do this week is get a nice, new address book to add my addresses to. My old one is too small to allow for more entries (though it was such a good friend in my travels across the US, to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and back again!). I will of course keep the old one, being the time capsule that it is.

For now, as word of my letter writing project has slowly gotten out (via facebook - this blog isn't public yet), I have been scrawling addresses on post-it notes on my desk. I now have a stack, or, when they're laid out, the length of half my desk, which will keep my first week filled.

If you're reading this, and would like a letter, please send me your address!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Letters Written and Sent

I'm keeping this list mostly as a reference for myself, to keep track of who I've sent letters to and how many and where. If you see your name on this list and you want it removed for privacy (or any other) reasons, please let me know!

Week 1: 12 letters total
July 25 - Letters written: Aunt Ginny (FL), Mrs. Hofbaur (PA), prison pen pal (TX)
July 26 - Hannah Renglich (ON, Canada), Kora Wilson (NY), Julia Robinson (UK)
July 27 - Maria Victoria Dangond (Colombia)
July 28 - Jill Covert (CA)
July 29 - Helen Limbrunner (Austria)
July 30 - Kim Cauley Eckel (Austria)
July 31- Lieke Scheewe (the Netherlands), Sariena Dunn (KY)

Week 2: 9 Letters Total
Aug 1 - Emina Cingel (Canada) & Melissa Kelley Saleem (CA)
Aug 2- Rachel Gardner (UK)
Aug 3 - Jason Poole (NY)
Aug 4 - Nicole Kallmeyer (Canada)
Aug 5 - Mom (CA) and Judy "Postcard Buddy" Forbes (PA)
Aug 6 - Margaret Coffey (WA)
Aug 7 - Mollie Charter (CT)
Letters count: 21

Week 3: 8 letters total
Aug 8 - Grandma (PA), Lindsay Eland (CO)
Aug 9 - Jon Mize (CA)
Aug 10 - Jacob Steele (WI)
Aug 11 - Rochelle Nakhid (TX)
Aug 12 - Aunt Ginny (FL)
Aug 13 - Teresa Thornburg (FL)
Aug 14 - Julia Robinson (UK)
Letter count: 29

Week 3: 7 letters total
Aug 15 - Lieke Scheewe (the Netherlands)
Aug 16 - Sarah Cauley (PA)
Aug 17 - Andres Martniez (DC)
Aug 18 - Rachel Gardner (UK)
Aug 19 - Katy Frey (PA)
Aug 20 - Sachiko Sudo (Japan)
Aug 21 - Will Knox (CO)
Letter count: 36

Week 4 - 8 letters total
Aug 22 - Reiko Funami (Japan)
Aug 23 - Marianne Minderhoud (Netherlands), Linda Mandrusiak (Canada)
Aug 24 - Lisa Mandrusiak (MN)
Aug 25 - Hye Kyoung Lee (UT)
Aug 26 - Jon Mize (CA)
Aug 27 - Jon Oshock (PA)
Aug 28 - Aunt Ginny (FL)
Letter count: 44

Week 5: 12 Letters total
Aug 29 - Abbey Orton (OR), Amy Haverland (WA)
Aug 30 - Katherine LaFrance Bolin (Australia)
Aug 31 - Maria Victoria Dangond (Colombia)
Sept 1 - Will Knox (CO), Katy Frey (PA)
Sept 2 - Melissa Kelley Seelam (CA)
Sept 3 - Ruthie Gilliland (PA), Justin Vetter (PA), Alistair Cubbon (CA)
Sept 4 - Julia Robinson (UK), Lieke Scheewe (the Netherlands)
Letter count: 56

Week 6: Thich Naht Hanh retreat; 10 letters
Sept 5: Hmmmm....I sent one, but unfortunately didn't write it down!
Sept 6: Lori Flynn (CO) Part 1
Sept. 7: Lori Flynn Part 2 (CO), Alistair Cubbon (CA)
Sept 8: Jason Poole (NY), Grandma (PA), Mom and Dad (CA), Al and Rocky (CA)
Sept. 9: Margaret Coffey (WA)
Sept 10: Annie Part 1 (Spain)
Sept. 11: Annie Part 2; Will Knox (CO)
Letter count: 66

Week 7: 6 letters (forgot one day, too much going on!)
Sept. 12: Jenny Lee (ON, Canada)
Sept. 13 Mollie Charter (CT)
Sept 14: Helen Limbrunner (Austria)
Sept 15: Aunt Ginny (FL)
Sept 16: Forgot?
Sept 17: Melissa Kelley (CA)
Sept 18: Sandra Beckwith (ID)
Letter count: 72 Letters

Week 8: 6 Letters,2 Postcards
Sept 19: Prison friend (TX)
Sept 20: Jess Rentsch (NY)
Sept 21: Hannah Renglich (ON, Canada)
Sept 22: Colleen Donaldson (Australia)
Sept 23: Rachel Gardner (England)
Sept 24: Postcrossing postcards to Miguel Mitsuo (Brazil) and Judith (Netherlands)
Sept 25:Amy Haverland (WA)
Letter count: 80

Week 9: I did a really bad job of keeping track this week....too busy, plus travel....I think I missed 2 days and wrote 5 letters
Sept 26: Senator Barbara Boxer (CA/DC)
Sept 27: Mrs. Cauley (PA)
Sept 28:?? sent, but to who?
Sept 29:?? sent, but to who?
Sept 30: Rocky & Alistair (I was traveling)
Oct. 1 - missed, Sarah's wedding, traveling
Oct.2 - missed, traveling home, Blind Pilot!
Letter count: 85

Week 10: 7 letters
Oct. 3: Hannah Renglich (ON, Canada), Yvonne postcrossing (Netherlands)
Oct. 4: Doughertys (PA)
Oct. 5: Connellys (PA)
Oct. 6: Montgomerys (PA)
Oct. 7: Harrigans (PA)
Oct. 8:??
Oct. 9: Margaret Coffey (WA)
Letter count: 92

Week 11: 7 letters
Oct. 10: Aunt Ginny (FL)
Oct. 11: Helen Rivero (Japan - and first letter en espanol!)
Oct. 12: Lieke Scheewe (Netherlands)
Oct. 13: yes
Oct. 14:yes
Oct. 15:yes
Oct. 17:yes
Letter count: 99

Week 12: 7 letters
Oct. 18: Amanda Wildeman (Guatemala)
Oct. 19:Berenice Carazco (Monterrey, Mexico)
Oct. 20: Linda Nichol-Mandrusiak (AB, Canada)
Oct. 21: no letter
Oct. 22: Rachel Gardner
Oct. 23: Aunt Melissa & Uncle Craig (PA)
Oct. 24: Katy Belski (PA), Melissa Kelley Seelam (CA)
Letter count: 106

Week 13: 8 letters
Oct. 25: Pizzica (PA)
Oct. 26: Hye Kyoung Lee (UT), Amy Haverland (WA)
Oct 17:
Oct 28:
Oct. 29: 5xpostcrossing
Oct. 30:
Oct. 31: Shurman (PA)
Letter Count: 114

Week 14:
Nov 1: Katie Sesney Knox (PA)
Nov 2:
Nov 3.: Aunt Ginny
Nov. 4
Nov. 5

My Year of Writing Letters

I love writing letters. I love picking out the stationary, or sometimes making a card. I love putting the pen to paper. As I do, my heart softens and I am present. I love the ritual. And I love the intimacy, the connection that you get through a letter exchange that you just don't get through emails.

I've loved writing letters as long as I could write. As a child, I had many pen pals. My best friend from kindergarten, Teresa, moved away, and we immediately became pen pals, something we kept up for years, finally to reconnect on Facebook years later. My cousin Lindsay, now a published author of middle-age fiction, and I also exchanged letters and stories. My letters were not limited to people I knew, though - I wrote to athletes, politicians, musicians, corporations.

As a young adult, I joined the Peace Corps, and my sole source of communication became letter writing. Sometimes letters would appear on an ox-drawn cart, or I would go to the capital, Niamey, pick up my mail from the Peace Corps office, take it back to my village and slowly and deliciously read each one. Each letter was like a journey, a treasure, a piece of someone's soul. I cherished them and had a special trunk where I kept my letters. At the end of my service, I had enough to fill a suitcase, and brought them to the US with me. After dragging them across the country for several years, I decided I had to part with them, not having enough room in one move, and needing to let go.

Most people did not keep writing me letters after the Peace Corps. We resumed our email communication, or no communication. But my Aunt Ginny continued. And for almost 10 years now, Aunt Ginny and I have had a letter-writing exchange. It is something we both cherish and often profess in our letters. We both use email and Skype, but I think for both of us, we appreciate the intimacy and the different level of communication in the letters.

A few days ago, I received a lovely note from an old friend - the mother of one of my brother's childhood best friends, who I hadn't seen for many years - letting me know she was thinking of me in light of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. It was so sweet, this handwritten card, and to have not heard from someone in so long and to receive such a kind, thoughtful gesture really touched my heart.

While responding to the aunt and my friend, I reflected on the meditative quality of letter writing - that, how, when I write a letter, it is so soothing, that I feel peaceful, present, mindful. When I write a letter, I am fully present. I'm not hopping back and forth between screens, between Facebook and Gmail, with random chats beeping and bopping, and a Skype call coming through. When I write a letter, I write a letter. And that's it. It connects to my heart in a way that email doesn't.

And on reflecting on this, and how I do try to practice mindfulness in my daily life, I thought, wouldn't it be a good practice to try to write a letter a day for a year? If letter writing is a mindfulness practice for me, and I want to integrate more mindfulness into my life, then, why not make this a daily practice? The idea is that this won't be an isolated activity, but that the very act of writing letters daily will help me to bring this presence of mind and heart to other activities, to my work, to chores, to eating, to relationships. To living.

Hence begins my year of writing letters. Starting yesterday (I wrote 3 letters yesterday), July 25, I will write one letter a day for the next 365 days. They will not always be to different people (many will be reserved for Aunt Ginny). The letters will also serve the function of reconnecting with people from the past, much as Mrs. Hofbauer's letter served me. Plus, hopefully they'll brighten people's days. It's nice to get something in the mail that's not a bill, after all.

I'll be using this blog to track the progress - not necessarily everyday, but to keep reflections and insights and stories. I hope, if you're reading this, that you enjoy it!