The Comforts of Home

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Today we are home, curled up on the couch watching football. The cat is curled up on the other couch, because obviously, he needs a whole couch to himself…diva. The Pats are playing the Dolphins. I would rather be watching my home boys, the Chiefs, but they don’t show their games out here. We were in Kansas City a few weeks ago and were almost late for our flight because I just had to see the Chiefs finish their game while I had the chance. They normally lose, you know, so watching them win for once is a lot of fun :]

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We had big bowls of hot soup for lunch today and dipped thick chunks of warm bread in it. The heat is on because it’s cold, cold, cold outside and we are sipping mugs of hot coffee to warm up. I sprinkled cinnamon over the coffee grounds before brewing it; between that and the pumpkin creamer, it’s just about the perfect mug of coffee for a crisp fall day.

The whole house smells like the jasmine and sandalwood incense I’m burning…I love how the tangy, sweet smell of the smoke permeates everything in the house.

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This morning we went to church and I worked in the nursery. There’s a bit of a baby boom going on among my friends right now. Every time one girl has a baby, another announces she’s pregnant. It’s fun…all these kids and babies and watching families grow and change. Sometimes working in the nursery is completely exhausting because all the babies melt down at once and you’re left wiping tears and noses and wondering what on earth you did wrong. But this morning, it was fun. The kids were mostly good and it was nice visiting with the moms and watching them visit with each other. It made me really thankful for my church family and the little group of girls I hang out with here; their friendship means so much to me and I was reminded of that this morning.

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Last night we had dinner with Darren’s brother and sister and their families. We all live within 15 minutes of each other and I love the way we are able to spend time together and move in and out of each other’s lives. My sister in law made a big batch of chili and my brother in law made an apple pie. We all sat around eating and talking while the kids played on the floor. Our new baby nephew was passed around and held while the bigger boys climbed all over us and wrestled with each other on the floor. It was nice.

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I tell you all these bits and pieces because together they remind me of one thing…comfort. Our little home and mugs of hot coffee are comforting on this Sunday afternoon. Spending time with our friends at church was comforting this morning. Dinner with family was comforting last night. Even the cool weather and hot meals are comforting. And with all these bits and pieces that make up our normal, everyday lives–I’m thankful. Thankful for the comfortable, familiar things that settle our hearts and minds and for the weekends that give us a chance to rest and regroup before heading into another busy workweek.

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This is why God gave us a Sabbath–because he knows us and knows we need rest and refreshment. It has been good this weekend to be reminded of the simple gifts of home and family and to enjoy this day of rest in our little home.

Then & Now

Sometimes it feels like everything has changed. Sometimes you look back and realize nothing has changed at all.

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This year {above}

Last year {below}

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This year {above}

Last year {below}

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We chase the sun across the waves.

We taste the salt water kisses on our lips.

Summer won’t get away from us, not today.

I Fell Asleep Under the Stars

We pack our things and run away to wide open spaces. We zip along from Massachusetts to Vermont. The people grow fewer and the trees multiply in number and variety and I always think it looks like God poured a packet of mixed seeds along the landscape and now trees and wild flowers pop up in colorful abundance.

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We set up camp and sleep outdoors and it feels good to be close to the earth.

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We sit under the trees and the sky and breathe in the outside air. The campfire smoke swirls around in our lungs and we are alive in this wild, outdoor space.

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We gather around campfires and relax in the warmth of the mesmerizing flames.

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We swim in the cold mountain water and tip toe along the river bed filling our pockets with river glass.

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We ride bikes and stretch our legs and souls—shaking off the dust of life lived away from the woods.

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I caught these sneaky little ninjas poking around my tent…

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…And I couldn’t seem to shake the little savages….but as it turns out—I really, really love them.

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God kissed the sky and it blushed pink at his touch.

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And the sun set on our outdoor adventure for one more year and we all fell asleep under the starlit sky that seemed poked through with the light from another world.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Thoreau, Walden Pond

Laugh Together, Cry Together

We are asked to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep; easier said than done.

It’s difficult to relate to people who are going through vastly different circumstances than we are. It’s hard to know exactly what to say or do when everything in my life is good and someone I care about is just trying to keep their head above the deep waters. It’s difficult to be happy for other people when our own hearts are breaking.

How can I connect and relate when my life is so different? Does someone struggling even want to talk to someone who’s breezing by? I know from times of struggle just how annoying and patronizing it can be to have someone who’s doing just fine stop by and say, “Don’t worry, everything will be okay. I know what you’re going through.”

Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Either way, looking at your pretty little life doesn’t make me want to tell you about my problems.

And yet that is exactly what we’re asked to do: We’re asked to enter into each other’s lives—bright and beautiful, dark and ugly—all of it without regard to what’s going down in our own lives at the time.

We’re asked to rejoice with those who rejoice—even when our heart are bleak and weary.

We’re asked to weep with those weep—even when we have great joy we want to share.

We’re asked to go beyond ourselves and find our way into the beautiful mess of each other’s lives.  We’re asked to be there for each other when everything is right and when everything is wrong. We’re asked to empathize and understand the joy and sorrow all around us in the lives of those we love.

I’m trying to learn how to do this, how to set my own life and circumstances aside and enter into the array of beauty and sorrow that paints each of our stories.

Life Lately.

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Two of my dearest friends came to visit for the week.

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We talked and laughed and explored the streets together and were reminded why we have loved each other so much from the start

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Who couldn’t love a friend with penguin socks?

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We ransacked the dessert section in my favorite Italian coffee shop

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And explored all the beautiful streets and corners of some of my favorite towns. I could take a picture of every perfect little piece of New England architecture

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And perfect little bird houses too

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The other day after exploring my favorite bookstore I came home with lots of old maps, a book printed on a letterpress with raised words you can feel when you run your fingers over the page, a stunning book of American poetry with a bunch of my favorite authors all wrapped up between the same two covers, and a little bitty book of Shakespeare too :]

The trees are blushing crimson in the warm light of spring

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And the sunshine is warming everything up

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And these two are warming my heart up :]

Understanding and Respecting Our Differences

I was talking with one of my unmarried friends the other day and she mentioned something interesting to me. She was a little frustrated because she finds people assume she has lots and lots of free time just because she’s single. People at work say things like, “Oh, you can take care of this office party because you don’t have anything going on. I would help, but I’m so busy with the wife and kids!” People at church do the same thing—ask her to take on lots of extra activities and responsibilities because they assume as a single girl, she has lots of free time that married people don’t have. But the funny thing is, as a single girl working and providing for herself leaves very little free time at all.

Even though Darren and I both work full-time, being married give us the advantage of being able to split responsibilities. Every morning Darren makes breakfast and packs lunch; I always make dinner. Darren takes care of the bills while I do the laundry and we both go grocery shopping together. Neither one of us has to do everything around the house because we are able to split and share our household responsibilities; my single friend doesn’t have that luxury. She works full-time plus manages all her other responsibilities without help.

Her words resonated with me because I get frustrated by a similar problem when I talk to parents. I’ve had several moms say things to me about how nice it must be having so much free time and not having anything to do. Once when I was talking to a mom friend about how busy and tiring life is, she got irritated and asked me what I even had to do without kids. Um, other than work all day every day and cook and clean and everything else? Nothing, I have nothing to do at all ;] Now I do understand that my busyness is very different from a mom’s busyness. I may work all day and have plenty to take care of when I get home, but I don’t have kids pulling on me or needing all my time and attention.

The thing that bothers me though is that people assume your life is easy just because it’s different from theirs. I wish we would stop judging and comparing our different lives and respect the various roads we are each on. Assuming we are busier or have it harder than someone else isn’t helpful; it’s judgmental and belittling. How would a stay-at-home mom feel if I told her I thought her life was so easy because she gets to stay home and do whatever she wants all day? That isn’t fair. I don’t know what life demands from her and it isn’t fair to assume she is lazing around just because her job is different from my job. Neither is it fair to assume that someone without children is lazy and selfish just because they don’t have kids to care for.

Talking to my friend reminded me to be sensitive to the different roads we are each on. It reminded me to be thankful for the help I have in my marriage and to be considerate of the time and needs of people who don’t share life with a partner. It reminded me too that even though people say stupid stuff to me sometimes, I’m sure I’ve said stupid stuff to other people too—stuff I didn’t even think about because my life is so different from theirs and I didn’t realize what responsibilities were weighing on them. It reminded me to be less sensitive and more gracious when careless words are said but also to be even more careful about my own words and the things I assume.

I hope we can all learn to be more considerate and respectful of each other and stop trying to prove that we are better or doing more just because we are doing something differently.

{Bread and Wine Book Review} Life Around the Table

Have you heard of Shauna Niequist? I’ve been gobbling up her writing lately so when I had the chance to review her latest book, Bread & Wine, I jumped at the opportunity.

Bread & Wine is all about building life and friendship and community around the table. It’s about opening your heart and home to people and letting them in to be fed and loved.

Shauna writes:

“This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter” (p. 256).

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After finishing Bread & Wine, that is exactly what I wanted to do—throw open the door to my home and let people in to be fed and nourished. Shauna’s book is filled with a collection of recipes—some her own, some from friends, others from restaurants and cookbooks—all look delicious. I decided I would take Shauna’s challenge to let people into my home and life by inviting a few friends over for dinner.

I have a group of friends who get together every now and then for what we call “Girls Night.” All that means is the husbands watch the kids and the girls hang out watching a movie or going out to eat. After reading Shauna’s words though, I thought it would be nice to have all the girls over for a real dinner made at home instead of snacks or restaurant food. I chose a couple of recipes from the book and worked out a time when everyone could get together.

I have to admit, I’m not a very good hostess because I get nervous about everything not being perfect. My house is tiny and there are never enough matching glasses or chairs at the table. I’ve let little things like this keep me from having people over. I always tell myself I’ll be more hospitable when I have more room…when we have a real dining room and enough forks for an army…sure, sure.

Shauna encouraged me with this:

What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd” (pp. 106-107).

I reminded myself of those words whenever I worried about not having enough room or messing up the food.

On the day we were all getting together my friend Sarah stopped by early, when I was still in yoga pants with messy hair, to drop off home-made Mexican ice cream. I tasted a spoonful before she left and about died and went to glory—it was that good.

I spent the day grilling chicken and corn and prepping the food. Evening rolled around and the girls trickled in one by one, two by two. Jessie came first with a salad. We stood in the kitchen talking and laughing. Next came Sarah with Emily. We spread out in the kitchen and talked some more. Maya and Alicia came last with my little baby nephew. I took the baby out of his car seat and snuggled him up with kisses…aunties rights, you know.

We were crowded in the kitchen now with dishes coming out and different conversations bubbling over into laughter. We filled our plates we enchiladas, salad, and Mexican grilled corn. I didn’t have enough chairs at the table, of course, so we ate in the living room instead. Even then, three of us ended up sitting on the floor with plates in our laps. That is one of the reasons I don’t normally invite very many people over—who wants to have company sitting on the floor while they eat dinner? Well you know what, it didn’t matter a bit.

We talked and laughed, told stories and went back for seconds; we looked at pictures and caught up on each other’s lives. Soon we were streaming back into the kitchen for bowls of Sarah’s Mexican ice cream and brownies on the side. We filled mugs with coffee and hot chocolate and talked and talked.

Before Darren left that night he asked what time I thought we would be done. We were getting together at six so I told him we would probably be done by eight…I think it was ten. We just kept talking and laughing and every time someone would say something about needing to leave, another story would start and no one ever quite made it out the door. I love that. I loved the whole night. In fact, I think I needed it.

Life is busy and demanding and I forget sometimes when I’m hurrying through one day right into the next that I need to stop and make time for people, for love and friendship and community. I need these girls in my life because they remind to slow down and live for what really matters. They make me laugh and build me back up when I’m tired and torn down. They love me and encourage me even though I’m not perfect and never have enough chairs at the table. I need them and I’m so thankful Shauna’s book reminded me of that. I’m so thankful Shauna’s words gave me the push I needed to throw open the door to my home and my heart. I’m so thankful I invited people in and they came and filled a need I’d forgotten I had. I need friendship and love and community. I need life around the table to feed my heart and soul. We all do.

Look kids, I’m not trying to sell you anything. It’s true, this book was given to me to review but what I’m telling you are my own thoughts and feelings. I love Shauna’s words and I love this book. I hope you will read it because I sincerely believe you will love it too. You will be challenged and encouraged to slow down and live. To taste and feel and to let people in. That’s the truth and that is all :]

shauna1About Shauna:

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold TangerinesBittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.

Shauna blogs at ShaunaNiequist.com

Learning to Need Other People

For the last four years I have lived in Massachusetts—a thousand miles from my family, friends, and the place where I grew up—1,367 miles to be exact. I love it and I hate it here and it seems the divide in my heart spans wider and wider each year.

New England is beautiful and filled with culture and history. There is always something new to see and do. I love being close to the ocean and the mountains and all the beautiful old cities. I love living close to Darren’s brother and his family. I love the friends I have made here. But I miss my family and my home. I miss the Midwest prairies and lazy afternoons spent with family doing nothing but just being together.

Truth be told, and it isn’t easy for me to say, I am very lonely here. I’m lonely without my family and friends and that place called home—nothing fills that void in my heart because nothing and no one else can.

This week I thought a lot about being lonely. Probably because it was Thanksgiving and we were up with all of Darren’s family for the holiday and I was missing being with my family.

I thought about why I am so lonely here even after four years. I thought about why I haven’t built more friendships and community. Why am I so alone in this place even after all this time?

In thinking through all these things, I realized something about myself. I realized I don’t ever want to need other people. I already knew I’m hard to get to know—I’ve been told that many times. But I never realized the reason I’m so hard to get to know is because I don’t want to need other people or let them in. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to look like I’m not all put together. I don’t want to look like I need help with anything or need to learn anything. I want to be in control and be fine all by myself.

Only I’m not.

I’m lonely. And I’m tired. And I’m tired of being alone and trying to look like I don’t need any help.

I need friendship, I need community, I need other people to help me find my way and grow.

I think about when Darren and I start a family and the thought of raising children in this place by myself scares me. I won’t have my mom. I won’t have my grandma or my sister-in-laws (except for the one wonderful sister-in-law I do have here on Darren’s side). I don’t know anything about babies or children. I don’t know when they’re supposed to eat or sleep or how to tell when they’re sick. And I don’t want to figure any of these things out by myself. I want—and need–friendship and community. I need moms and mentors who can help me learn the things I don’t know.

I need other people.

Like it or not, I’m not all put together and I can’t do everything on my own. And if I keep chasing people away by pretending that I’m fine by myself, then I will never be able to build the friendships and community I need.

So I’m learning.

I’m learning to let people in. Learning to admit that I am tired, and lonely, and I need other people.

I have this quiet prayer in my heart right now—that God would give me moms and mentors and that I would have the humility to accept their love and help when they come.

Because I need help, and I need people, and I’m tired of pretending I can do all of this on my own.

Summer Days and Life Lessons

Earlier this week Darren and I went to the beach with our friends, Victor and Olga. V and O are in love with a beach in Rhode Island that Darren and I had never seen. So we all loaded in our cars and took of to see this spot we’ve heard so much about. A few minutes out from the beach we parked and climbed into Victor’s boat for the rest of the trip out to their spot.

I’m so glad they decided to share this place with us because it’s honestly the prettiest beach front I’ve seen in New England. I was completely mesmerized the whole day. As soon as we were on shore, I was busy walking along the water gathering shells and rocks and I even found a crab claw I plan on terrorizing Darren with.

{Such a happy couple}

{Earthy treasures from the sea}

There was bright green sea weed floating around and lots of the rocks had taken on the same lime green color—so of course I filled my pockets with them to haul back home and scatter around my house. Every time we go to the beach I look for little earthy treasures to take home and decorate with. My living room is filled with mason jars full of sand and shells from all over. There’s also a whole birch tree in my living room, because yes, I drag those indoors too :]

{I drug the tree in the house by myself and cut it in half on the kitchen floor with a hack saw…wahaha}

Darren sometimes forbids me from bringing any more nature indoors and I always smile like I’m listening and fill my pockets anyway. I think he doesn’t mind in the end because he’s always showing off our jars of sea treasure when we have company and telling everyone about the adventures that went along with each bit of nature we’ve brought back home.

Once we unloaded all our stuff from the boat and settled in on the beach, the boys decided to take the boat back out on the ocean exploring. Olga and I opted for staying on the beach with the kids and away from the wild ocean waves—we know too well by now how those boys like to drive the boat like it’s a water rocket.

{The boys}

The kids took off for the sand and waves and were quickly busy digging holes and building sand castles by the sea.

{The kids + Victor digging in the sand}

Victor and Olga are Russian. They have three children; the oldest is in school and speaks English perfectly. Their daughter hasn’t started school yet and only speaks Russian. And then there’s the baby who speaks, well, baby. They also have a little boy from the Ukraine staying with them for the summer and he only speaks Ukrainian. So there were three children playing together prattling off in three different languages and yet they understood each other perfectly. Childhood is simply a language all its own.

{All the world is magic when you are five years old}

Olga and I settled into camping chairs in the sand with our legs and arms stretched out hoping for a kiss from the sun.

Just me and Olga.

Olga scares me a little bit because she’s very pretty and put together. She always wears nice clothes and has her hair done. She even smells good…how ridiculous is that? I always walk away from my time with her feeling like a frump and loser who needs to get her life together. It’s not Olga’s fault I feel this way either. She’s very nice and doesn’t do anything to make me feel bad. It’s my own jealousy and insecurity that leaves me feeling this way and not anything she needs to change. I share this because I knew going into our little beach trip that I wouldn’t have any fun if I let my feelings about O intimidate me. I decided this time I wanted things to be different. I wanted to relax and give O a chance instead of putting her in a little box of perfection she may not herself want to be in.

On the boat ride over to the beach I kept glancing over at her. She looked lovely. Her outfit was cute. Her hair wasn’t attacking her in the wind like mine was. I wanted to push her off the boat. No I didn’t…well, I sort of did :] But I decided I was going to do my best to open up and get to know her better that day. Usually I clam up and try to play it cool so she won’t figure out how not together my life is. But I knew I was being fake and frivolous and it was time to get past fear and insecurity. So after the boys left we started chatting…just our usual small talk at first. But then I started asking her questions and she asked me questions too. I thought I would be miserable trying to talk to her and open up but before I knew it the sun was dipping behind the sandy hills and were wrapping up in sweaters to stay warm. Olga told me about her life. She told me about some of the things that are bothering her and things that aren’t going right. She would stop sometimes, struggling to think of a word in English or how to communicate an idea from Russian to English. She told me I’m the only person she ever really speaks to in English and she feels silly when she can’t think of a word. I couldn’t believe Olga ever felt silly in front of me. I told her I forget words in English too and it’s the only language I speak :]

{Beautiful Olga}

I learned a lot about O that day and I learned a lot about myself too. I learned that as perfect as Olga looks and seems, she is a girl just like me. A girl with a heart that can be broken, feelings that get hurt, and fears that follow her just like me. I learned that I don’t need to try to be like Olga to have my life put together. I just need to be who I am, as imperfect as that may be. If I wear things because Olga wears them or say things because Olga says them, I’m not more like her, I’m just less like me. I cheat myself by thinking imitation will bring me any closer to who I should be. The truth is, Olga and I are very different people. We grew up in different countries and even in America, take part in very different cultures. She is six years older than me and the mother of three children. We are in very different places in life. How can I expect to know and be all that she is when we are so different in the very fibers that make us who we are? I realized that day, as we snacked on fresh fruit and treats from the Russian grocer, that my fears and insecurities are just that—fear and insecurity. There is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing unattainable about Olga; we are just different people. I’m glad I gave O a chance because I left the beach that day with a great sense of peace and confidence. Instead of feeling unattractive and inadequate, I left feeling inspired. Inspired to be the person I’m meant to be. Inspired to learn from the things I admire in Olga, not to merely mimic them. Inspired to grow and change…into myself, not into someone else.

{This is who I am, no one else}

The boys came back with the last rays of light and soon we were all marching off to get ice cream together. We sat on a wall with our ice cream watching the boats bobble on the water. There was a cannon like BOOM and people screamed; I laughed. Laughter is a nervous reaction for me. I have a feeling when the ol’ apocalypse gets here I’ll be laying on the ground giggling while everyone else runs for their lives. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism :] Victor said they do that BOOM to let everyone know it’s sunset. Olga joked about how we should probably know it’s sunset without a cannon going off and we all laughed. Of course she’s funny too…maybe I’ll push her off the boat on the way back home :]

It was a lovely day of sand and sunshine…and a life lesson or two as well. I’m thankful.

We left after dark. The black water looked like pools of ink as we glided over it. I wanted to dip my quill in it and write you a story, this story.


Telegrams Rock -(Stop)-

I have this very cool friend, Ashley, that just gets me. She’s the kind of girl who peeks into your soul and takes a piece of your heart with her. Okay, that was a little bit dramatic but you know what I’m sayin’. She gets my stupid sense of humor and my love for random weirdness and there are just very, very few people in the world I have more fun with.

Ashley and I write each other hand-written letters all the time because we are awesome like that. Ashley taps hers out on an old vintage typewriter (named Watson, because it only makes sense to name your typewriter?) and I write mine on my very-special-occasion fancy pants stationery used only for the people I love best of all. Every letter from Ashley is a riot. I have thought about starting a place on this blog just to share her letters because they are just too funny and wonderful to keep all to myself.

ANYWAY

The other day I went to the mailbox and found a big yellow envelope with Telegram written across the top of it. I first squealed then ran to the house to open it up. When I opened it I found an old-fashioned looking note that read:

DEAR KARI  -(STOP)-  EPIC ADVENTURE AHEAD  -(STOP)-  POSSIBLE JAIL TIME  -(STOP)-  MOVING TO LAND OF VERY LARGE COWS  -(STOP)-  TEXAS  -(STOP)-  THEY FRY FOLKS DOWN THERE  -(STOP)-  BOSTON IN AUG  -(STOP)-  HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING ILLEGAL IN AGES  -(STOP)-  CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU  -(STOP)-  AM SECRETLY TERRIFIED OF SAID VERY LARGE COWS  -(STOP)-  LOVE ASHLEY B  -(STOP)-

After reading this, I danced around the kitchen for a solid five minutes squealing about how this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I get excited about real mail–but a freaking telegram on vintage paper in a big yellow envelope? Well kids, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Check the website out at Telegramstop to join in on the awesomeness. Or just be friends with someone really awesome who knows how to make you dance around the kitchen for five minutes.