Of double weddings and lots o’ kids


One of the coolest parts of my job is the chance to interact with readers. Writing a newspaper column for three-plus years, I’ve gotten my share of interesting “fan mail.” For the most part, I’m lucky; when folks drop me a line, it’s not generally to tell me I suck. (Though that does happen.) The emails, letters and phone calls are heartwarming — especially the one above.

Since Spencer and I announced our engagement, a few questions spring from the lips of nearly everyone I see:

When are you getting married?
Have you chosen a dress?
Do you have a venue?
Are you going on a diet?

(Yep: all real, repeatedly asked questions. Including the weight issue — but that’s a separate post.)

Once we go over the basics, I invariably add that I’m not the only one recently betrothed; my sister’s fiance proposed on the same day. Most express surprise and even chuckle when I add that we’re both planning weddings for the fall of 2013, and then another question bursts forth:

Are you having a double wedding?

Never in my life have I even considered the idea of a double wedding. Though I love my sister dearly, everyone agrees we want our own day. I’m her maid of honor, and she will be my matron of honor; everything else aside, I wouldn’t want to take away from that. Kate and I actually are planning to have a double bridal shower, but that’s totally different from a double wedding. I mean: that’s insanity. Total insanity. Right?

Not for everyone, apparently. I wrote about the double-wedding issue in a recent column, and the letter and photo at top arrived from a reader who told the story of the wedding she shared with her younger sister in 1954. One of five girls, Betty’s father was all too glad to marry two of his lovely daughters off at once.

When I opened the letter, I literally gasped. How gorgeous and classic are those lovely brides? (And don’t worry: the photo is a copy!) I’ve always loved poring through old family albums, and the ladies’ vintage looks are stunning. I think the double cake toppers are adorable, too, and was so touched Betty took the time to send me her story. I showed it to everyone.

Married as 22- and 21-year-olds, Betty and her sister went on to have 17 (!!!) kids between them — and have enjoyed long, happy marriages. She kindly wished that for all of us.

Um, hopefully not the 17 kids part, though.

Five hundred little connections

I just hit a milestone, friends: as of Monday, I’ve sent 500 cards through Postcrossing.

Remember when we talked about how much I love mail? And I shared ways to get involved and the power of the written word? Well, I put my money where my big fat trap is. I love mail and believe in its powers of connection enough that I have now sent 500 postcards to complete strangers. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

If you’re unfamiliar with Postcrossing, it’s an international postcard exchange program which asks users to send a postcard to a participant somewhere in the world. After scribbling a tracking code on your card, the recipient will use that code to register your mail — and you’ll then get a card back from someone else. It’s not a pen-pal program, and the choice to continue corresponding with the person you’ve swapped with is entirely up to you. In my experience, it’s a “one and done” kind of thing.

Over the two-plus years I’ve participated, I’ve received 481 cards from places as diverse as Taiwan, Lithuania, Switzerland, Slovenia, Malaysia and Macau. More than 100 have come from American buddies; dozens of others have arrived from countries I couldn’t place on a map. The cards themselves have featured everything from international recipes to native costume to beaches and mountain peaks — and everything in between. Some have even had poems.

Each card is a surprise — and a tiny sample of the person sending it. I’ve “met” journalists, nurses, architects. Writers and teachers and restaurant workers. Senders are young and old, male and female, gay and straight. They live in cities and farmhouses and apartment complexes. They’re single and married, parents and grandparents. These 480-plus senders fit into every demographic you can think of . . . and no one is exactly like anyone else.

But everyone is a little like someone else.

Here’s what I’ve learned from becoming a frizzy-haired one-woman American ambassador via postcards: people are people. Regardless of your native language, skin color or profession, we are all human. We love our families. Enjoy traveling. Read and write and cook and bake. We work and play, spend time with our pets, look forward to all that’s to come.

When someone sends me a postcard, they share a piece of their life with me — even if only for a moment. The glimpse at life in a far-off land is what makes the Postcrossing experience so appealing. And for someone who loves to travel? Well, “going” to Finland, Italy and Brazil via a piece of paper is a pretty delightful experience.

But I love the sharing aspect, too. Choosing just the right card for someone, telling them about my day or my life or my country, maybe offering a secret or two . . . this is the currency of human connection. When I take pen to paper, I’m offering a bit of myself on these cards — and it’s never rejected.

Postcrossing is completely awesome.

Half the world’s problems might dissolve if we could all send each other some handwritten encouragement.

Putting my cursive where my mouth is

I get downright excited when a More Love Letters request reaches my inbox.

And then I feel guilty for being “excited” — because there’s a reason people are requesting letters for a loved one. Someone is hurting. Or grieving. Or sick. And they need some encouragement.

July’s request came in for Jim, a father fighting cancer. Since little information is shared about letter recipients to help protect anonymity, we don’t know much beyond that — except for what the More Love Letters team and Jim’s daughter have shared:

“This month we hope to deliver a large bundle of letters filled with support, strength, and love to Jim’s mailbox. Jim’s daughter Samantha requested an outpouring of love in her dad’s honor. “He is the kind of person who makes people feel good about themselves . . . He never had great wealth, but he was always rich in friends, loved ones, and experiences.

“Jim was diagnosed with cancer last year, and has experienced drastic changes to the life he once led. ‘He had to stop working, grew tired too easily, and lost the laughter that we came to rely on.’ Samantha wants her father to be reminded by this Love Letter Bundle of how much he is loved and what a great man and father he is and always will be.”

Having just lost a beloved uncle to cancer in January, this request hit close to home — and having also helped a parent through a serious medical condition and recovery, it hit doubly close to home.

I was thinking about Jim and his family as I ran to Target on my lunch break Tuesday. While I finished a feature at work. As I answered emails and imported content for my next project. As I paged through a stack of blank cards in a desk drawer, looking for one he might like.

Though I don’t have a cure for cancer or too many insights to share, I do have a heart full of empathy, a pen and a love for the written word. So I continue to put my cursive where my mouth is and write notes for those who might benefit from a few words of encouragement. As everything is kept anonymous, no contact information is exchanged — so I won’t know if/when Jim will read my letter. But I don’t need to. I think it’s enough to believe he will see it and, if just for a moment, know someone out there is rooting for him.

In keeping up with my own resolutions to do more for others in my 27th year, I’m planning to continue writing for the More Love Letters project in the months to come. If you’re interested in writing to Jim or anyone else in need, check out the website and its mission.

P.S. Happy birthday to my own dad, the great and talented Rick! Hope you’re not too disappointed with your birthday present.

Of which only the heart knows

Sometimes you find a postcard, and sometimes a postcard finds you.

After last week’s post and other musings on my desire to slow down and enjoy the simple moments, the postcard above arrived from Frank in Germany. As I went the Spanish route in high school and know exactly zero German (except, you know, gutentag), I had to rely on alternate help.

Since I couldn’t find an English translation of “Kleines Glück” online, I did some investigative work — and that turned out to be the most fun I had all day. Google Translate never lets me down. For someone madly in love with words, examining the sentiment behind the poem — “Little Pleasures” or “Small Fortune” in English, I think — was fascinating.

I went through the alternate translations for every word, stitching Irmgard Erath’s poem together like a quilt. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but that’s okay. Like all art, it’s open to interpretation. And this time? The interpretation was mine. That feeling was bold and empowering. It felt like deciphering an ancient text — and this text was all too applicable to my own life.

“Little Pleasures” reminds me how truly alike we all are. And how, with our incredible technology, not even language can separate us now.

Little Pleasures
by Irmgard Erath

Each day carries thousands of possibilities
for joy, for hope
and is a small fortune in itself:
Very quietly and unnoticed
in the midst of this noisy world
can the magnificent happen.
There are those small events
that make life bright and beautiful —
those precious moments
of which only the heart knows.

Random things that make me happy, pt. 3

1. Tea.

The quickest way to perk up my afternoon is to make myself a cup of hot tea. I have no less than six different kinds in my desk drawer — and I often find that the most exciting part of my work day is choosing a flavor. (It’s the little things . . .) When my boyfriend’s parents were in town at Christmas, I took his mom to an awesome local tea room. I just wanted to gobble up everything there!

2. Pretty postage.

I send lots of mail. Whether we’re talking postcards, love letters or old-fashioned mail to family, I better have a hefty stack of stamps at my disposal. I have the “Garden of Love” stamps now and use them to death.

3. Spencer’s wrinkle-nosed laugh.

Everyone has a Face. It’s the look you make when someone has really tickled your funny bone, you know what I’m sayin’? I’m not talking an obligatory chuckle here — I’m talking a big, from-the-gut, uncontrollable laugh that cannot be controlled. And when I say something that really makes Spencer double over or do something clumsy and hilarious, he wrinkles his nose and gives me a look of utter disbelief. That makes me laugh. And I love to laugh — especially with him.

4. Beautiful book cover art.

I totally judge books by their covers, and sometimes their covers are awesome. The books themselves? No clue. But at least they’re pretty.

5. Nail polish.

My obsession has reached a critical juncture. I joined the Julep Maven (affiliate link) program and am now treated to surprise nail shades and goodies coming to my mailbox every month, and let me tell you: this is bad. Well, I mean, it’s good; it’s awesome getting surprises in the mail. But it’s bad because I have to pay for it. And I have very little self-discipline when it comes to cosmetics.

It’s also bad because I’m the nut who now needs to change her polish constantly, and since I’m rarely sitting down long enough to do it . . . well, I’m typically up at 11 p.m. trying to keep my eyes long enough to give myself a manicure. Don’t stare too long at the smudges.

6. Post-Christmas clean-up.

I love holiday decorating as much as the next guy (or gal), but I’m very eager to pack up the inflatable snowmen and Christmas bulbs once the season has passed. We cleaned up our house last weekend and Spencer packed up his place this week, too. My desk is now free of miniature pink Christmas trees and my officemates have helped take down all the hanging icicle lights once strung along the ceiling of our office space.

The new year always feels like a clean slate, and I like having a (literal) clean space in which to embrace all that possibility. It feels good to have order restored, you know?

7. Instagram.

Yes, yes — after joining the iPhone world, I’ve become completely obsessed with the Instagram app for photos. You might have noticed my own recent shots look a tad bit different than the photos I normally share, and that’s because I can’t stop snapping shots with my phone.

While I once judged this and judged this harshly (I mean, what kind of quality are you getting with a phone?), I understand now. Instagram is awesome. And if you thought I took too many pictures of my food before, be afraid.

I’m also doing a 2012:366 project (leap year!) wherein I take one iPhone photo daily for 2012. I’ve seen lots of folks doing similar but always thought they were unrealistic for me. Since I’m not going anywhere without my phone, it’s easy to remember to document at least one small part of my day — and it gets my creative juices flowing on otherwise hum-drum occasions. And yes, there’s an app for that.

Lending a (written) hand: Holiday Mail for Heroes

Every Thanksgiving morning, my sister and I get up early to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and honor a new but very fun tradition: addressing our holiday cards. As the bustle of Christmas really ramps up and we found ourselves long on things to do and short on energy and time in which to do them, it’s easy to let simple craft projects — like card-making — fall by the wayside.

I’m a strong believer in the power of mail and connecting through the written word. I’m an active member of Postcrossing, an international postcard sharing site, and trade handwritten notes with friends and fellow bloggers as often as possible. In our increasingly high-tech and high-powered world, the art of letter-writing — any writing, really — appears to be less relevant. Teens talk and write academic papers in LOL- and text-speak. Facebook groups annouce engagements, babies, travel plans. We communicate through Twitter and texting. We don’t even pick up the phone.

And look, I get it — I’m pretty plugged in myself. It’ll be a cold, dark day before you pry my smartphone from my limp fingers or get me to shut down my social media or this blog itself. But I don’t think those channels should replace things like real, honest-to-goodness mail. In 100 years, will anyone be looking through family heirlooms to read old love tweets between their great-grandparents?

Well, I mean — maybe. Who knows. Look how much our technology has changed in just a decade. In two decades. It’s unrecognizable.

But you’re following me on this, right?

Last year while snacking on breakfast foods and waving to Santa on his sleigh ride through New York City, I did something simple: while writing out my usual batch of cards to friends and family, I added a few cards for Holiday Mail for Heroes. I used my regular Christmas cards, most of which I buy in boxed sets for less than $10. I added a personal note thanking a service member for their sacrifice and shared news about my corner of the world, trying to spread holiday wishes and cheer.

It’s cheap. It’s fast. It’s very easy. And it makes a difference.

Operated by the Red Cross, the Holiday Mail for Heroes program asks volunteers to send holiday cards to be collected and distributed to military service members in December. Now through Dec. 9, send your cards — any holiday card you like — to help make someone’s season brighter.

“The process is very simple and takes no time at all,” the Red Cross writes. “All you need is a pen and piece of paper to share your appreciation for the sacrifices members of the U.S. Armed Forces make to protect our freedoms. … Sending a ‘touch of home’ to American men and women who serve our country is the perfect way to express your appreciation and support during the holiday season.”

Holiday cards can be sent to:

Holiday Mail For Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

For more information and card guidelines, visit the Holiday Mail for Heroes website — and check out the video below. See if it doesn’t warm your heart.

Gather the family and make card-sending a new holiday tradition. You won’t be sorry you did.

Never thought anything could be so beautiful

At an antiques show earlier in August, I found myself drawn to the stacks and stacks of postcards littering booths around my old high school’s cafeteria. Though I’ve gone in the past and enjoyed flipping through many of the images, I was a woman on a mission this time.

My postcard collecting has started to grow out of control.

The last time I attended the antiques show with my mom and sister, I had so much fun looking through the boxes of mementos from time gone by. I remembered seeing notes from Niagara Falls, my most favorite of places, and regretted not buying a few. The ones that were stamped and actually written out, complete with addressees, are the best; it’s fun to see the postage, for one, but the notes are what really get me.

After spotting the same antiques dealer from last year, I made a beeline for his boxes of postcards and began flipping through. Once I found those from New York, I was in fat city — and finding a bunch from Niagara Falls wasn’t difficult. Though I came home with three, only one was filled out. That message is what made me bring it home.

What I love about old letters is that the sentiments aren’t exactly antiquated. Every time I get a peek at Niagara and stand near the falls, I echo “Liz-Lyle”‘s thoughts: “Never thought anything could be so beautiful.” It’s simple and pure and honest. And I love that in terms of a letter, well — that’s all there is.

I like to imagine that Liz and Lyle are a young couple on their honeymoon, perhaps venturing away from the family nest for the first time as newlyweds. They’re writing home to Liz’s family in D.C. and sent a series of postcards from Niagara, where they stayed on the Canadian side. It’s 1953 and the world is a new, shiny place; World War II is over and Vietnam and the riotous ’60s haven’t altered America just yet. Maybe it’s a time of relative tranquility. Or maybe it’s still turbulent, but Liz and Lyle have chosen to marry in defiance of the world’s uncertainty. And I applaud them.

Ahem. Well, you can see how easy it is for me to get carried away with things, but that’s just because I love making up stories. And every postcard definitely tells a story.

I imagine the letters I send to people around the world through Postcrossing someday winding up in attics, basements or in the hands of grandchildren or great-grandchildren. No one will know who I am or how to reach me, but they’ll hold in their hands something I once touched. I send photos of places that mean something to me, and postcards I’ve picked up in my travels. I take care when writing each letter, sharing a little bit of myself in that note. Sometimes it’s like therapy.

And maybe sometime, somewhere, someone will buy my postcards at an antiques sale.