In defense of the holiday letter

by Kristen DeLap


One of the reasons I love the holidays is because people send more mail. Everyone loves when real mail arrives in their mailbox - it's an almost universal feeling. To know that a few days (weeks) ago, someone was thinking of you, took the time to document it, and troubled to send it your way. That is effort.

But it is equally as gratifying to send mail. To think of someone, choose some stationary or card you think they'll enjoy, write a sentiment you want to share, seal it up, and drop it in the box with anticipation of when the receiver opens it. That is intention.

Which brings me to my defense of the holiday letter, which has dropped unceremoniously out of fashion. The holiday letter takes a bit of effort, for sure, but one could argue no more effort than arranging family photos and ordering cards from any of the glossy services that have tricked us into thinking that is what holiday correspondence should be. More than effort, a holiday letter takes a bit of reflection. The writer must pause and evaluate their year, sift through the mundane and the extraordinary, and make decisions about what to share. In this world of social media where there is little visual hierarchy between a glamour shot of a happy hour cocktail and a celebratory birth announcement, it is nice to have a bit more curation. The author of the letter gets to emphasize their preference of topic or event, painting things as rosy or as realistic as they prefer.

And further, holiday letters reach those without social media profiles (or those who don't exercise their ability to obsessively check all platforms daily). The USPS famously will deliver a letter anywhere, whether the receiver wants it or not.

So every year I look forward to crafting our holiday correspondence. Some years it is a long paragraph, some years it is a page. This year it is in the style of a newsletter with some bullet points and sidebars. We usually incorporate multiple photos - the candid type, not the professional, I'm afraid. But Todd and I sit down and do it together. We discuss what was meaningful about our year, in our individual lives and as a family. This year even Søren weighed in a bit on what to include. It's a great time to reflect, before the business of the holidays sweeps us away to the beginning of the next year.

The letter for me doesn't end inside the envelope. I try to find some fun vintage postage and customize it based on the recipient. My farmer father gets the stamps with the snow-covered red barns; and my active brother gets the Olympic skiing stamps; the christmas toy ones to a family with young kids, and those young at heart. This attention to postage is certainly above and beyond (though there was a time that stamps printed with a custom photo were somewhat common), but I enjoy it.

And, these letters are a great historical reference. I keep a stack of one letter from every year in the box with our stockings. Looking back at years past shows us how far we've come, and reinforces our traditions.

I know some families feel it is wasteful, so much paper used and the expense of it all. But I, perhaps naively, only think it is wasteful if it isn't meaningful. And for me, I still find meaning, in both sending and receiving this bit of traditional correspondence.

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IMAGE.JPG

Kindness rocks.

by Kristen DeLap


Playing at Maggie Daley Park, my oldest son happened upon a painted rock. As an avid "treasure" hunter, this made his day. He loved it, and when he showed it to us, already had the idea to paint rocks for others.

About a month later I came upon a write up of the Kindness Rocks project in a magazine. So, we decided as a family to participate. To maybe make someone's day by giving them a chance to find a treasure. Using some old acrylic paints left from college studio days, and some Sharpie paint pens, we went to work one Saturday - painting on smooth landscaping stones

The kiddos had a great time getting messy, and creating messages. Todd and I had fun putting some thought into each stone that someone might come across. There is now a box of hand-painted stones in our mudroom. So when we visit a playground or a park as a family, we take a few with us. We drop them or hide them where others can find them (some easily, some not so easily!) It's a small gesture, but one that was rewarding to make and hopefully is joyful to find.

 

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 "I love rocks."

"I love rocks."

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 Stand tall.

Stand tall.

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 Hiding his first rock. "Camofluage!"

Hiding his first rock. "Camofluage!"

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 One of my favorites.

One of my favorites.

 Above all else, be kind.

Above all else, be kind.


The Wrong Way to Save Your Life

by Kristen DeLap


I am lucky to be a part of a group of intelligent and thoughtful women who want to challenge themselves and have hard discussions about important matters. The way we do that is with a monthly book club. This past month we read The Wrong Way to Save Your Life: Essays by Megan Stielstra. I haven't made this many notes from a book in a long time.

The series of essays explores her life through a number of fears - from the seeming inconsequential to the life-halting. She's humorous and engaging, and being a Chicago writer, I appreciate the local connection. Some of her clever lines border on Mark Twain-esque : "I am a midwesterner: we always worry about everything" and "Nothing is as awful as doing something you hate to pay for a waste of your time." She is beyond transparent. You feel her emotions - you are scared with her, you grieve with her, you savor life with her. But what struck me the most is how she cataloged her own growth and development about the way she sees the world. She laid open her own prejudices and inadequacies, that we may find similar ground, and also grow.

A huge topic for her is race and privilege. She lays bare her own ignorance, when she first learned some of the real stories of the LA race riots: "'Why didn't I know about this?' I said, incredulous, not yet understanding that it was my responsibility to look." This resounds with so much of what I'm experiencing lately - finding ways to educate myself on an entire world that was obscured to me. Stielstra says, "At some point our education no longer belongs to our teachers. It belongs to us." I've been attempting to vary the media I'm exposed to, and the stories I surround myself with. I've intentionally sought out diversity in my Instagram feed (Rachel Cargle is a saint and tremendous resource!) and my media (Dear White People streams on Amazon Prime). White people must do this work ourselves.

Stielstra asks, "When do you think about your privilege?" and this is a question that cannot be asked enough. Because once you recognize it, you can begin to use it. She says:

I teach writers. It's on me to show them the weigh of words, how they can perpetuate or elevate. 
Privilege isn't blame or shame or fear.
It's responsibility.

Petitioning us (not only her students, but us as readers) to use our platforms to make change, no matter how small, is a reoccurring theme. As well as listening, and looking.

I cannot recommend this book enough - and not just for anxiety-prone white Midwestern women who like literature. The content here is universal.

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