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 Many addresses were no longer valid, and many entries didn't have addresses, so I unfortunately couldn't add many to my new one.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!