Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Write a Letter, Save the Post Office

As CNN Money reporter Jennifer Liberto reports in her article Postal Service barred from borrowing more*, the United States Postal Service has found itself wedged between a cancelled stamp and a hard place.


I, for one, am not about to sit idly by and let cryptic electronic transmissions replace and eventually obliterate a cherished, albeit nostalgic, mode of communication from our not-too-distant past: hand-written letters.


When our older boys were still in middle school, we taught them the art of writing well thought out thank you cards to their teachers at the end of each school year. In part, this was a way to show off their newly-mastered cursive writing skills, but it served a larger purpose - to let their teachers know that their efforts were appreciated, their lessons didn't fall on deaf ears and that they would be remembered as having made a positive impact on their lives. If they could not be sincere, a note was not sent.

(Photo credit - Austrian Postal Service)
Given the positive responses they got back, my boys quickly learned the benefit of taking the time to pen a deliberately thoughtful note. This mode of communication has the power to touch people in ways that a quickly typed email or text just can't.

When my older sister headed off to college, I wrote to her frequently, sending letters and cards that she has kept to this very day. I can't say the same for emails I may have sent to her back in the late nineties when electronic communication began elbowing its way into our lives, amazing us with its speed and accessibility.

By the time my son headed off to college, I was still getting complements from friends on the touching thank you notes they received from him for his graduation gifts. With pen pals around the world, I knew my boy had been bitten hard by the romantic notion that nothing is finer than opening a mailbox and finding a hand-written letter from a friend or loved one. As such, I made a vow to write him. Often.


Between work, family and, oh, life, I quickly forgot all about my vow. And then there was this new smart phone that my son had picked out for my birthday. He showed me how to use it just days before he left.

My Texting Thumbs
My firsts attempts at texting were not pretty. Especially if I didn't have my reading glasses with me. And my thumbs suddenly felt like they were as big as maracas.

Case in point, at the end of a school day, when one of my high schoolers texts, "Pick me up?", my reply more often than not reads, "ob.jy day" instead of "on my way".

Would a hand-written, post office-delivered missive help in this case? Possibly, as would smoke signals.

By the time it takes me to use my thumbs/maracas to correctly type my response, my son can text me a three-paragraph synopsis of his day.

It wasn't until my college boy ever-so-tactfully asked me to look over a term paper he had written that I remembered my vow to send him frequent hand-written letters. The topic of his paper? Modern correspondence and the lost art of letter writing. He used the beautiful graphic from the Austrian Postal Service's recent campaign (above) to illustrate his point.

Shamed, I put pen to paper - not to write out a grocery list, but to actually write him a letter. Half way through the first sentence, though, I was digging in my junk drawer for a bottle of white-out I had noticed in there a few years back, hoping it wasn't completely dried out. Still, I muddled through and cranked out a page and a half of relevant if not timely news. I also popped in wallet sized photos of his brothers' new class pictures.

As expected, he was thrilled to see the flat little gift in his mailbox and I promised to send more. All for the low, low, low, low price of a postage stamp.

So, what do you say? Ready to help the United States Postal Service return to solvency?

Good! Now, log off and go write a letter!


(*, October 17, 2012)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Plundering the Spoils of a Day Off

That Shepherd's Pie I made last week? Gone. In one sitting.

After I file that recipe under "K" for Keeper, I'm not digging out another. Not today. It's my day off. The last thing I want to do is slave in the kitchen. I have other places to slave - in the yard, in the laundry room and, yes, at my laptop.

And, like Columbus, who I have to thank for my kids being underfoot today, I did have my sights set on discovering a new world - Bloomington, Indiana.  My first mate (a.k.a., son #3) and I were going to explore the well-charted campus of Indiana University.

According to Mapquest, it would take us four and a half hours to get there. The thought of driving for nine hours through the flat Midwestern landscape had me shuffling through my CDs and instructing my son to bring along some homework. Lots of homework. I also planned to pack provisions - water, fruit and protein bars for my son and coffee for me. Lots of coffee.

Yet, as our launch date approached, my first mate had second thoughts. Seems he's already made up his mind that, like his oldest brother, he's leaning towards an urban environment for his collegiate experience. And, like his other older brother, he's decided to only target schools that are known for his area of interest.

Well, OK then! That would've been good to know before I sacrificed a vacation day, but I'll make sure it won't go to waste. Between the fallen leaves, dirty clothes and unwritten content, I'll try to squeeze in some down time. Lots of down time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Shepherding in Fall

On this cold, gray, drizzly day, I can't help but think of my two high school boys who have cross-country practice after school. As I picture them trotting along a nearby forest preserve trail in just t-shirts and shorts, damp with sweat and mist, and possibly a leaf or two stuck in their hair, one thought keeps crossing my mind.

I'm so glad it's them and not me.

Mean?  Perhaps. But trust me, if our roles were reversed, I am quite confident that they would not be planning on warming me from the inside out with a yummy casserole for dinner once I got home.

I have not tried this recipe before. What intrigued me was the way it takes one of my boys' favorite dishes - Sheperd's Pie - and morphs it into a nutrient-packed quasi dessert of a meal.

There's just one problem. Do I serve it with a side of whipped cream or dinner rolls?

No matter. One look out the window tells me a couple of dry towels will do...

Fall Sheperd's Pie (recipe from TheFoodInMyBeard and found on Tablespoon)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8


Photo credit: TheFoodInMyBeard (
2 lbs ground turkey
3 celery ribs, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 tbls butter
2 tbls flour
1 box chicken stock
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag dried cranberries
4 sweet potatoes
1 russet potato
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch allspice
1 cup milk
1/2 stick butter

  1. Scrub potatoes and bake in 350 oven until tender (for me, this took about an hour and a half, because I neglected to poke them with a fork).
  2. Brown the turkey and remove from pan. Cook the celery, onions and carrots.
  3. Add the butter, then once melted, whisk in the flour. Let this cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the meat back into the pan and add the stock. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. When the potatoes are ready, mash them in a bowl with a half a stick of butter and milk. Mix in the cinnamon and allspice.
  6. Add the turkey mixture to the bottom of a casserole dish.
  7. Mix together the corn and cranberries, then add them on top of the turkey.
  8. Add the mashed potatoes to the top and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the top starts to brown. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
I know there are a lot of "abouts" in this recipe, but such is the nature of Sheperd's Pie. And that's why it's our favorite.