Video Book Review: Love & Salt

This is my first video book review, a review of Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Lettersby Amy Andrews & Jessica Mesman Griffith.  (excuse the early audio, not sure what happened)

Check out Jessica’s webpage, or read more about Amy and their book at Loyola Press.

I attempted this video review a couple of days ago, but was interrupted by a bat. Despite my abject horror at the sight of a bat flying around my house, and my inane response (calling out for a 17-year-old to save me), I laugh every time I see this video, so I’m including it for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned for more book review videos in the future, along with a video tour of my home office, my favorite place to read and write.

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Pretty by Post

For those of you who share the Mary’s love of all things paper, but aren’t having a lot of success locating a source of cards and stationery, you’re in luck. You don’t have to spend hours haunting thrift stores or online resources, the paper and cards can come to you.

Pretty by Post® offers a bi-monthly greeting card subscription service, and a quarterly stationery box for paper lovers.

Founder and fellow paper lover Danielle Nelson, believes in the power of intimate connection and keeping the old school way of communicating alive. She is a self-proclaimed paper junkie, obsessed with stationery, journals, lovely notebooks, and greeting cards. Like this Mary, she heads to the office supply aisles in whichever store she visits.

If you sign up for her newsletter, you net a free shipping code and subscriber-only discounts, sneak peeks and first dibs on her offerings.

For $35 for a 3-month subscription, you will get a box of notebooks, journals, stationery, note pads and note cards once a month.

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Each box will include one of a kind offerings. If you aren’t interested for yourself, you might consider this as a Mother’s Day gift for the paper lover in your life.

You can also choose a subscription of greeting cards, a gift subscription, or even a mini-gift subscription for $12 every two months.

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Follow Pretty By Post on Instagram for pretty card images and updates, or on
Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

If you have an idea for blog topics, e-mail Danielle at info@prettybypost.com.

If you’d like to know more about a 30-year friendship linked by letters, you can read my guest post (and maybe win a book!) that was featured on Day 12 of her #sendcardsspreadlove challenge.

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Click HERE to read the post. And don’t forget to make a comment underneath the post for your chance to win a free book!

Going once, going twice, SOLD on stationery!

I’m often asked where I get my stationery. While the majority is discovered at thrift stores and Goodwill, the online auction site of ebay has also been a wonderful source for my paper habit.

Now, if you’ve seen my shelves of stationery, it’s obvious I don’t actually need to purchase any more.

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I have more than enough to last me a lifetime of writing letters.

That said, occasionally I need a little pick-me-up, something to brighten my day. Or, I may have sold some of my stash and feel the need to restock. Because I do often sell stationery that isn’t bringing me joy, or isn’t the texture I like, or I get tired of using. Yes, the wrong texture of the paper, or a bad pen, can ruin my letter-writing fun.

Now, as much as the other Mary claims a penchant for paper, her letters are more often written on notepaper, often of the “free” variety, while I am the one in our duo more likely to purchase pretty paper and stationery sets, as is evidenced by this pile of letters I’d written Mary.

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Note the colorful, decorated envelopes that matched the bright and cheery stationery inside. This was during my early 2000’s Mary Engelbreit stationery era.

Perhaps some would view my investment in paper as an extravagance, but I allow myself this one vice. It isn’t expensive jewelry, purses or shoes, but it’s obvious from my filled baskets that it is, indeed, a vice of mine.

As a public service for fellow paper lovers, I’ve decided to share my tips to discovering good deals on stationery on ebay.

  • If you type “vintage stationery” into the search on ebay, you come up with 2985 results. I love vintage stationery.
  • You can narrow down the results by typing “Hallmark vintage stationery,” or “scented vintage stationery,” or whatever it is you are looking for, like I did when I searched for bird stationery, and came up with this result, two boxes I purchased.bird stationery.jpg
  • Another idea is to spell it incorrectly in your search. Type in “vintage stationary” and you’ll get significantly fewer results (780 vs. 2985), but the majority are different listings. (some sellers know to spell it both ways in their description, because for some reason, this is a word that gets mis-spelled frequently) Someone might attend an estate sale and end up with a bunch of greeting cards and boxes of stationery that they aren’t sure what to do with. Or maybe their mother died and they cleaned out her desk. But for whatever reason, these people just want to get rid of something that seems so foreign to them. Stationery? (or stationary, to those not familiar with it)
  • I sometimes search under “huge lot of stationery.” I’d rather pick up five boxes in one fell swoop (and have) than purchase one box at a time. The same seller who had the bird stationery also had lovely sunflower and flower print vintage stationery listed, and was happy to combine shipping, even though his listing didn’t state that. I e-mailed to ask him before I purchased additional sets.

sunflower stationery

  • Some sellers list stationery under Collectible Paper Ephemera. That’s a clue they take their paper very seriously. That’s where you’ll see vintage stationery priced at $40 a box, or the box all by itself (with no paper inside) for $20. Avoid that category for your stationery search. I’m assuming you aren’t collecting stationery, but using it.
  • If you love a certain brand of paper, like Lang, try searching under “Lang paper” or “Lang printer paper.”  One of my favorite packets of stationery was from the Martha Stewart collection, but with just five notecards, five postcards, and five sheets of paper inside, I’m not about to pay the $13.27 Amazon price.

martha stewart stationeryAnother favorite was Susan Branch boxed set of paper with tea cups on it.  Occasionally, I’ll search ebay for these sets. There’s a Martha Stewart set listed right now, for $24.99, and yes, it is listed as stationary. 

  • My last tip would be to think outside the box (pun intended) when you are searching for stationery. Unfortunately, our Hallmark stores don’t carry as much boxed stationery as they used to. (“No one writes letters anymore,” I was informed when I asked why) Check out your local drugstore, bookstores, specialty shops. Don’t forget your Goodwills or consignment stores. I’ll share some online sources in the coming weeks.

Take the April Challenge; write a letter~

In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service officially designated April as “National Card and Letter Writing Month” to raise awareness of the importance and historical significance of card and letter writing. While Mary JH and I don’t need a month designated to letter writing to write each other (we’ll do that regardless) I do love a challenge, and the idea of sending out at least one letter or card each day in the next 30 days appeals to me, particularly if I up the challenge and make it a card or letter to someone other than Mary!

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I often get asked where I get all my stationery and cards. While the majority of my stash is unearthed in thrift stores and from eBay, I have a penchant for paper, and there are times when I can’t resist a splurge. Like this butterfly paper I discovered in our local Widner drugstore last year. I mean, really…as much as I like butterflies, how could I have resisted?

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As part of the April challenge, I’ll be sharing some stationery resources in this blog.

Today’s feature is the Lang Company, where today only (April 1) you can get 30% off your order with the code JOKES.  They sell gift items, as well as calendars, notepads, and notecards, like these beautiful Christian notecards.

lang note cardsYou might want to check their clearance section out for some good deals on beautiful gift items, calendars, address books and notecards as well.

 

Letters from Mom~

I spent an entire afternoon with my mom today.

That’s quite a feat, considering my mother passed away in 2010, but it’s possible when you save letters.

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An article in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, ‘Letters to Jane’ prompted this visit with Mom. The article was about a Dyersville woman who wrote her daughter Jane hundreds of letters while she attended the Iowa School for the Deaf in the 60’s and 70’s. It got me to thinking about the box of letters I store in my trunk. I kept every letter my mother ever wrote me, but until today, I hadn’t taken the time to look through them.  I’ve read, and re-read, the letters she wrote my grandmother in the 60’s. Since her death, I’ve read her notebooks and the Memory book she filled out for me, but for some reason, I’ve never revisited some 200 letters I had stashed away.

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How appropriate that the first one I pulled out of the (unorganized) box was dated 36 years ago yesterday.

In this letter, Mom informs me that there is a little snow falling, but my Dad doesn’t think it will amount to much. She also tells me that the previous week was the warmest January she could remember and she even hung out laundry and Dad raked leaves. The letter continues for two pages. My brother John had just been laid off work and was waiting for unemployment to kick in. My younger sister Jane had to stay home from school for several days with an earache, and my sister Pat’s children were recovering from the flu. But what I hold most precious from this letter are the words of encouragement regarding my college classes. I began attending the University of Northern Iowa in the fall of 1978, got married in the summer of 1979, and had my first child in March 1980. At the time my mother wrote this letter, David and I were both taking classes and working part-time, but we’d arranged it so that one of us was always with Dan.

“When we think back on it, we realize there must have been a lot of determination on your part to finish school, and you must have had a lot of discouragement too. Putting your stubbornness to good use,” my mother had written, a back-handed compliment (was she calling me stubborn?), but precious words of encouragement, nonetheless. As were these words, before my graduation in December 1985.

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She didn’t make it to the graduation celebration, but there were several more letters that revealed her frustration and disappointment at not being there.

My Dad died the following May, and my mother became a widow at the age of 58, just a year older than I am now. I lived in Cedar Falls at the time so wasn’t privy to much of her grieving, but she shared pieces of it in her subsequent letters. She knew that first Father’s Day would be hard for all of us.

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That first holiday season must have been excruciating for her, and yet she was still thinking of her children. This also wasn’t the only time she expressed a desire to write more letters.

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I hadn’t remembered that Mom had attended a bereavement support group. This was in September, four months after his death.

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Just four months after the death of her husband, and my mother was “helping” others in their grief. Note, too, how she laments the letters she owes others.

Many of the letters left me in tears, made me wish for another chance to talk to Mom, to ask her a question, or comment on something she’d written. There was laughter too, with some of Mom’s descriptions. Occasionally, a note from one of my younger sisters was included in an envelope. Once or twice, my dad wrote something.

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But it was these words that really touched my heart today as I face some decisions in my life.

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Thanks, Mom. I needed that.

 

What a “good mail day” looks like to one of the Marys

A couple of my children might tell you they are scarred for life because their mother actually used to sing this song when she spotted the mailman at the end of the driveway.

I nearly sang it today when I arrived home from work and saw these things in my mail:

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The boxes of vintage stationery were purchased on eBay. The textbook is for a course I am taking toward grief counseling certification. And what mail day would be complete without a letter, from the other Mary of course.

While I didn’t immediately sit down and write a letter, I did begin reading the textbook, getting to page 55 before I looked up and realized it had gotten dark outside. Yes, I love learning, and am fascinated by anything related to grief or psychology, and this textbook includes both.

It doesn’t take a lot to make either Mary happy, but a good mail day truly makes me want to sing!

 

Book Review: Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa

book review by Mary Jedlicka Humston
                                              

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa, written and illustrated by Sue F. Cornelison

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While visiting our two-year-old grandson Levi, I noticed this beautifully illustrated book. Immediately intrigued by the title, I thumbed through it and was rewarded by something both Marys love: letters! Yes, part of this book involves handwritten letters.
But first, as you would expect from the title, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa does indeed follow the familiar holiday tune but substitutes “a goldfinch in an oak tree” for “a partridge in a pear tree.” It can be sung all the way through to “twelve mutton busters” instead of the traditional “twelve lords of leaping.”
You can read this book solely for the fun repetition of Iowa-themed verses to this familiar holiday song. However, an older child will enjoy the handwritten letters that accompany each day of Christmas.
Farm girl Ella writes the first full-page letter inviting her cousin Aiden to visit Iowa for the holidays. After Aiden arrives, the letters are then written by him to his parents detailing unique aspects of Iowa life. Think of hot air balloons in Indianola, a train ride on the Santa Express in Boone, or the Bridges of Madison County. Author Cornelison deftly weaves Iowa history and interesting state details into these letters.
So, on one level, this book is a holiday song. On another level, the song can be sung and the letters read to an older child. And, then to extend the interested age-groups of this book even further, an advanced reader will enjoy reading the letters as well as singing along.
Wouldn’t this be a lovely Christmas present for the Iowa children in your life? If you don’t live in Iowa, Google to see if your state has a Twelve Days of Christmas in….” Without spending too much time, I located several other states represented in this clever style, almost all with different authors.
I hope you and your family enjoy The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa. Then, after reading it, you’ll be privy to what “mutton busters” means.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!

Book Review: They Left Us Everything

When author Plum Johnson’s mother passes away, she is given the dubious honor of going through her parent’s belongings to prepare the family home to be put on the market. She moves in temporarily, prepared to buy garbage bags and purge. What was supposed to take six weeks ended up taking sixteen months, and what Johnson learns about herself, her parents, and the complicated relationship she had with her mother makes for a spellbinding read. Yes, once again, I finished an entire book in one sitting.

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They Left Us Everything  is heartbreakingly sad one minute, raucously funny another. Johnson, who’d cared for both her ailing father and mother, delves into a somewhat eccentric childhood, as she searches for answers to her questions about her mother, in particular. She wishes for diaries.

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Instead, what Johnson is looking for she finds in packets of letters stuffed into plastic bags in one of the 23-rooms of her parent’s house. Hundreds of letters; written by her mother and to her mother. A treasure trove of letters she arranges chronologically, then slips each into archival plastic sheets that fill more than 40 binders.

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What will my children find after I’m gone? This book convinced me they’ll find it all; the letters I’ve saved, my journals, and the daybooks I filled while I was raising young children. I won’t have 23 rooms to clear out, but there will be plenty of paper I’m trusting my daughters to go through with a discerning eye.

“Am I my mother’s biographer? Do all daughters become their mother’s biographers, taking her history and passing it on to future generations? Writing letters was one of Mum’s greatest talents, and here is the record of her life. At the end of our lives, we become only memories. If we’re luck, someone is passing those down.” (page 259)

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

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Readers of Mary & Me will know that Mary Humston was that kind of friend for me after the death of my husband in 2012. She still is.

Henri Nouwen was that kind of friend to those who corresponded with him. An internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor, Nouwen wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. He corresponded regularly in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish with hundreds of friends and reached out to thousands through his books, lectures and retreats. Since his death in 1996, his literary legacy has only increased, with readers, writers, teachers and spiritual seekers being guided by his words.

When he died, he left behind a treasury of personal papers, including 16,000 letters. He not only kept every postcard, piece of paper, and greeting card that arrived in his mail, he responded to each of them.

Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life is a collection of letters that spans more than two decades, from Nouwen’s years as a professor, to his time as a Trappist monk, to missionary work in Latin American, and finally his role as a pastor of a community of people with disabilities. Friends wrote him about their grief, deteriorating marriages, faltering faith, and job struggles, and these letters in reply are extraordinary.

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To a friend considering quitting his job, Nouwen wrote: “…my first inclination is to encourage you in your work which you have started. It seems you are in a spot which is hard, but which has many, many opportunities, and there are indeed people there who need your presence, your encouragement, your insights, and most of all, your deep religious commitment.

I have a feeling that in the future you will be called to other places and to other types of work, but it seems that a few year in this dessert might in fact be a good preparation for the more involved type of ministry.”

He goes on to say;

“Be sure to be very faithful to a regular prayer life, to spend a lot of time in reading and to stay in in good contact with friends whom you trust. I am sure after a while it will become clear where God is calling you, but my first response to your letter is that right now he calls you to be just where you are.”

This is the kind of advice we could all use when we are struggling with something; a reminder to pray, to read, to take some contemplative time, and to be willing to trust God that there is a plan in all of it.

I had to set this book aside for several days after I read it, as I contemplated some of my own struggles.  I have a mentor or two in my own life that I write to, and while their replies are more often by e-mail than snail mail, their advice is similar to Nouwen’s. We get so busy in our hectic lives, we forget to make time to pray, to listen to God.

This is one of the few books of actual letters that I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. It has gotten me interested in reading more of Nouwen’s work.

Pen to Paper, Artist’s Handwritten Letters

No one would mistake one of my letters as a work of art. Consider the missive I began this morning to my friend Mary.

letter to Mary

We stopped caring a long time ago what our letters to each other looked like. If neat handwriting, composition, and proper grammar had been a big concern of ours, we likely would have written much fewer than the thousands of letters that passed between us in the last 30 years.

Neither one of us remembers exactly how or when we decided not to keep each other’s letters, but the sheer volume of them had a lot to do with it. Where would one store such treasures that numbered in the thousands?

I do have a stash of letters I have saved; letters from my mother, siblings, a few from my grandmother, and many from my own children. Would my brother Bill be surprised to discover that I kept the letters he wrote to me when I was 16?

Bill letter

I thought then, and still do today, that my brother’s handwriting reflected an artsy soul. A 2009 letter from my nephew Garrett seemed a precursor to the talent he has since developed as an artist.  I discovered a similarly decorated envelope among my mother’s things after her death. She, too, saved his letter.

Garrett letter

All together, my saved letters number fewer than what Mary and I might have written in our first ten years of letter-writing, but they still take up a good space in the trunk where I store them. Handwritten letters are indeed a treasure trove, as attested by the stash I’ve kept in a trunk and in books like this one.

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Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, edited by Mary Savig, is truly a work of art in its own right.
A collection of letters by artists from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, the book reveals how letter writing can be an artistic act, just as an artist puts pen to paper to craft a line in a drawing. Brief essays explore what can be learned from the handwriting of celebrated artists such as Mary Cassatt and  Maxfield Parrish. Each letter is accompanied by an archival image of the artist or a related artwork, with a full transcription at the back. (I needed those transcriptions as the penmanship was difficult to decipher at times.)

I was surprised to see a Dubuque, Iowa art professor listed in the book. Sister Mary Paulita (Helen) Kerrigan, was a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She devoted her professional life to painting and teaching, serving for 48 years as an art professor and artist-in-residence at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1962, she left Iowa to spend the summer studying at the Art Students League of New York, sketching in the streets of Manhattan and painting in a studio. This letter was her thank-you letter to noted painter and sculptor Charles Alston.

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Her handwriting demonstrates the Palmer Method of penmanship, popular especially in Catholic schools in the United States throughout the 20th century. Many of us remember the repetitive drills that brought us our own fluency in similar cursive handwriting. My mother took some art classes at Clarke College before marrying my father. I wonder now if one of her instructors was Sister Mary Paulita.

You can see the same style of handwriting in my mother’s letters that I have saved.

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More than thirty years later, my mother’s written words can bring tears to my eyes. This letter, written in December 1985, was penned during a difficult period for my parents. My mother wasn’t sure she would make it to my mid-December college graduation. She didn’t explain until later why she and my father did not attend. But despite the difficulties they were facing, my mother attempted to look at the brighter side of things, to “be surprised how God works and feel very blessed.”

It is the words “I love you and am so proud of you always” that brings tears. I admit, at the time this letter was written, all I’d seen when I read it was “I might not be there.”  The “It’s a hard life isn’t it!” speaks volumes to me today, the hint that there was so much more to her absence than she could share in a letter.

This treasured letter makes me smile, too. “My heart is full of poetry, like Angie says.” The sister my mother mentions now writes poetry. “And maybe just how you feel, too, Mary?” Yes, oh yes. What a letter written more than 30 years ago can do for me today is make me feel as though my heart, too, is “full of poetry.”

What letter we might write today will be pulled out of a trunk 30 years from now to bring both tears and joy to the recipient?

This lovely book is just the beginning in a series of letter-writing and friendship related books we plan on reviewing in this blog during September. Many of the books reviewed this month and in the past will be included in a prize package drawing on September 18, which is National Women’s Friendship Day. Stay tuned for your chance to win this book and many others.    –Mary Potter Kenyon