Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Latest English Essay: The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Here's my latest essay (suggestions for revision are welcomed!):

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

     Most who have grown up in the “digital age” have missed out on an important and gratifying pleasure that had been used for generations to send greetings, news, or even declarations of undying love. I’m speaking of the venerable written letter. Since the advent of the internet, email, texting and tweeting, the use of the postal service has drastically declined. Most would say that “snail mail” is a thing of the past, a relic doomed for extinction, like the tyrannosaurus rex. I think that the current generation is missing out on the wonder and anticipation of receiving a real handwritten letter in the mail, and that the tradition should be restored.

     “Older” folks will remember the excitement of going to the mailbox in anticipation of receiving a letter. That feeling when you open the box and see an envelope with your name handwritten on it was akin to winning the lottery. Maybe it wasn’t quite as exciting as winning the jackpot, but at least as great as winning $20 on a scratch-off ticket. The delayed gratification of sending a letter to someone and waiting days or weeks for a response not only developed patience but also created an incredible sense of pleasurable anxiety and anticipation. Would today be the day that the reply showed up? Imagine having that to look forward to every day the mail service delivered!

     Receiving a letter was only half of the equation. Once you received such a special and solid proof of someone’s time and attention, it was only right that you sat down as soon as was convenient and wrote a reply. It was similar to today’s exchanging of emails, but much more personal and pleasurable. You could include more than just standard emoticons – nothing was off limits: drawings of hearts, smileys, doodles in the margins, bits of poems, and even a hint of perfume lightly scenting the pages. At Christmas it was customary to include a goofy picture of the family dressed in holiday sweaters or some other equally hideous matching outfits, and at other times of the year snapshots of vacations, celebrations, and yearly school photos could be included.

     To write a “real” letter, you’ll need some supplies. First, gather paper, pen, and an envelope. These can be as simple as a Bic pen, some computer paper and a plain #10 envelope, or as sophisticated as artistic stationery with matching paper and envelope and the latest and most innovative gel pen. In gathering supplies don’t forget the most important piece for getting it to the recipient: the humble postage stamp. These, too, can range from the commonplace USA flag stamp to the whimsical: Disney, flowers, or holiday designs.

     Once you have the supplies together, take a few moments to just sit and think. Ponder what you want to say. This will in a large part be affected by whom you are writing to. Will it be a letter to let Grandma know you loved the sweater she sent you for your birthday? Or a romantic missive to surprise your special someone? A letter can be used to update family or friends on what’s happening in your life, a way to express deep thoughts and emotions that are hard to say verbally, or even a way to let your elected representatives know exactly what you think of how they’re running the country. (Not all letters have to be nice or pleasant.)

     Although proper form is appreciated by those who recognize it, most letter recipients aren’t going to care as much about how you write as they will about the fact that you did write. A letter can say that you really care – enough to take the time to sit down, endure writer’s cramp, and go to the extra effort of sealing an envelope, carefully placing a stamp on it and physically placing it in a mailbox. It’s like an email that’s gone the extra mile. What could demonstrate how much you care more than that?!

     The next question may be: cursive or script? This will likely depend on how well you do either of these. If your cursive looks like a child’s drawing of curly hair on a stick figure (and is just as unclear), then it’s probably best to stick with script lettering. Under no circumstances should you use a printer. Okay, maybe sometimes. Especially for those with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Then it can be fun to experiment with different fonts to find one that matches your personality and the tone of your letter. But for the greatest impact on the recipient, handwritten is best.

     Depending on how formal or informal your letter is, you may want to start it with “Dear So-and-So” and add the date (all historic events have their dates recorded – a letter should be no different!) You can start the letter with a simple “Hello, how have you been?” or jump right into the reason for the unusual communication, like “I have great news!” or “I couldn’t let another second pass without expressing my undying devotion to you.” (The latter is likely to produce gags from all but the most romantic, so know your audience and adjust it accordingly. It would not be recommended in a letter to your grandma, no matter how much you love her.)

     After you’ve gotten the letter started, write as much or as little as you like. Even a short “I’ve been thinking of you, hope you’re doing well” will produce a smile. Maybe not as big a smile as a 3 page letter describing the last month of your life, but a smile nonetheless. Unless you are writing in an official capacity, don’t worry about being formal. Be chatty, just like you would if you were having a conversation in person. Your friends and family will “hear” your voice if you write what you’re thinking instead of writing as if it’s a school assignment.

     Once you’ve come to the end of either your words or space on the page, you can end with a simple and impersonal “sincerely,” or opt for something a bit more grandiose like “From your greatest admirer,” or “With deepest appreciation.” It’s usual to then sign your name underneath the closing, although it’s best if you use your “better” signature – you know, the one that people can actually read.

     The last part of writing a letter is addressing the envelope. The postal service has fairly strict guidelines for this, and since they’re the ones you’re trusting to deliver it, it’s a good idea to follow them. Write your return address in the upper left hand corner of the envelope. You can include your name or just the address, or use an address label with cutesy designs. You will then print the recipient’s name near or at the center of the envelope. Make sure to print legibly. The name goes on the first line, then the house number and street name. Skip down one more line to write the city and the capitalized state abbreviation, separated by a comma, and then the zip code. Now’s the time to add the stamp – just place it in the upper right hand corner.

     Seal the envelope, place it in a mailbox, and then eagerly check the mailbox for the next week or two for your own letter. Enjoy the suspense and anticipation of the wait, and don’t forget to keep the process going by quickly sending out another letter in response. 

Just a General Update

My hubby pointed out that it's been awhile since I've blogged, and I agree, so here's an update:

Life has been pleasantly busy lately. David and I are taking three classes together at the local community college and I am enjoying it immensely. We're taking psychology, english comp, and a required "succeeding in college and life" course. It's amazing how much the three of these relate to and complement each other.

I've enjoyed writing some essays for english comp and also put together a powerpoint presentation about Drug Abuse/Addiction for our psych class. The best part of psych class so far has been an assignment to do a personality indicator test. No surprise that I'm an introvert, but it was fun to learn about the other facets of my personality, and scary how accurate the test is! (Wanna try it for yourself? Go to It's free.) I'm an INTJ, which means I'm "independent, innovative, analytical and purposeful." Only 1.4% of the population have my personality type, which might explain why I've always felt like I didn't fit in!!

I've also started working on putting together the primary program for next month. It's later in the year than usual (I think we did in October for the past 2 years) and I'm stressing about getting it together in time, but I'm sure it'll be good. It's hard for it not to be with kids talking about their testimonies and what they've learned about the gospel.

David and I also joined the gym and started a new diet program in July. So far David has lost 30 pounds and I'm down 18. (Universal law that a guy is going to lose more faster!! Ugh!) I was one of those people who swore I'd never join a gym (go work out with all those other smelly people? Yuck!) but David convinced me (with the help of the demise of my second elliptical machine) and I've found that I really enjoy it. It helps that the gym is literally 5 minutes from the house.

We haven't gotten out to do much else lately. Evenings are hectic with school, gym, and dinner. Some days it feels like we just barely have time to sit down before it's time for bed already. I'm just thankful that we have the opportunity to go back to school and spend so much time together. Good thing David and I like being around each other!

That's the gist of what's been going on in my life lately. Nothing earth-shattering or even exciting by most people's standards, but it's been interesting and enjoyable to me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Visit to Meadowcroft Rockshelter (Bet You've Never Even Heard of It!)

One of the best investments we've made since moving to Steubenville is our membership to the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. Not only do we get unlimited visits to a very cool museum but we also get free admission to the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella, Pennsylvania. I had seen a brochure about the Rockshelter and had been wanting to go, so when an invite came in the mail for a "members only" day with a free picnic lunch, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Meadowcroft is about 40 minutes from our house, down a beautiful winding road in PA. The weather was humid but not overly warm so it was a pleasant enough day to spend outside. We got to Meadowcroft around 11:00 and were able to visit the 1890's village, where we saw an original log home, schoolhouse, church and blacksmith shed. It was especially interesting to watch and listen to the explanation of how they would make nails. Such an ordinary little thing, but when you actually see how much work it used to take to make one, it makes you more grateful for the ease with which we obtain them nowadays. 

After checking out everything in the village we hopped on the bus and were taken down the road to the actual rock shelter. Turns out this is a pretty special piece of history hidden away in Pennsylvania. It's the oldest site of human habitation in North America. No joke. Apparently this rock overhang/cave was the perfect "hotel" for travelling natives for the past 16,000 years! 

Soon it was time to head back to the main building and stand in line for some yummy food. I didn't know what to expect from a "free picnic lunch" but there were hot dogs, hamburgers, coleslaw, chili, pasta and cookies. Another nice perk! After eating we toured the museum (mostly dedicated to barns and harness racing) and then checked out the Indian cabin and a 16th century Indian Village. Lots of neat stuff to see. We even got to try our hand at using an atlatl (spear throwing device.) 

We haven't had many adventures this summer but I'm so glad we took the time to do this one. And for once I not only remembered my camera, but also got a few shots of the two of us!

 My studly hubby! 
(Ignore the ugly wallpaper. Really, it's not my taste or style. But have you ever tried removing that stuff??! It'll be there for awhile yet.)

 Covered bridge at Meadowcroft Rockshelter

 The Miller Farm House

 The church at Meadowcroft

 Me, enjoying some time outdoors

 Pretty cool view of a rock overhang

 Another good pic of my handsome guy!

The Indian Cabin at Meadowcroft

The archaeological site at Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Aside from a couple with a grandchild and one teenager, we were the youngest folks in our tour group! Sad thing is...I felt right at home with all the older folks enjoying a history lesson. :P

Monday, August 25, 2014

Life Isn't a Highway

Ecclesiastes 7:13 "Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?"

Sometimes the road we're given to travel in this life is winding, steep, and filled with obstacles and hairpin curves. It's like having to hike a mountain trail versus being able to travel on an highway at 70 miles per hour.We like to think to ourselves "It would be so much easier and pleasant if only it was straight and flat!" Given the choice, most of us would opt to be in the fast lane and get to our destination quickly, rather than take a circuitous route where we encounter obstacles and challenges around every turn.

I think that most of us have been given the trail of life, not the highway, and it's God's wisdom that does this. If we had a fast track through life we would miss most of the beauty of our surroundings and we'd likely not be grateful for half of what we have because it would be passing through our hands so quickly. It's also a lot more likely that we'd miss opportunities to help and serve others. Let's face it- how many people have you been able to help while on a highway? If you're lucky, it's maybe one or two who had car trouble. Most likely though, you've never had a chance to help anyone while going 70 mph. It's when we're slowed down that we start to see the people around us- to really notice the person and their needs, and not see just another blurred face passing by.

Unfortunately, how many of us are busy complaining about this hard, crooked path and crying from the pain of the obstacles while ignoring the opportunities being presented to us? Wouldn't we all choose to make that path straight and easy if we had the chance? But in God's eternal view of things He knows that the highway isn't the place where we're going to do the most good or have the most growth. Our strength, faith and skills will be built through the challenging sections of our life trail. So when we're tempted to try to get around the hard parts of our trail, when we're tempted to force a straight path where there isn't one...let's remember that God has created the crooked path, He has marked the trail, and He is the one who will guide us through every obstacle. Only through God will we find the strength, courage and stamina to stay on the trail and enjoy the incredible feeling of having accomplished something grand when we see Him greeting us with open arms at the end.