Heart Stories

One of the things I'm most grateful for are the amazing friends I have so I've decided to do simple script paintings for the people in my life who are extraordinary. I'm calling these paintings "Heart Stories" the short stories of people who inspire me. These are my first two:


She is the creator and facilitator of a mail art website that sends loving letters to people who need a smile in their life. We've not met each other in person yet, but you know how sometimes you just know you've found a kindred spirit? She and I share a special bond like none other, what began as a quick little letter has blossomed into a loving and supportive friendship. At any given moment, you can be sure she's doing something for someone else, her heart is a heart of giving.

I met this young lady through her older brother. When we first came to know each other I was amazed at her unique take on life- she was bubbly, sweet, and always caring. She was a little girl and then suddenly she was a woman! Graceful, stunningly beautiful, and stronger than she realizes... She's dealt with her fair share of trials, but through it all, this is her story...



There's a yearning I have, it's deep within, and I admit, it only touches me every now and again. It's a need for connection. I am connected to many people through different ways, but this yearning goes deeper. I suppose I feel it most when I notice the self centered-ness of today's social media fueled world (I know: blogging, hypocrisy!) but it goes further than that... It's the fact that this trend has led to new vocabulary, entirely new words that have been invented to further describe the ways we focus on OURSELVES. That must be it, the thing that touches me the deepest, that cuts to my very soul is the focus on ourselves. 

Yes, it's important to value yourself, I don't deny this. But it's exceedingly important to value others. We need to turn the cameras away from ourselves every now and again. We don't need to post every little thing that sort of resembles us, and we shouldn't beg for attention all the time. There are people in this great big world who are hurting, who don't need to see another picture of you sitting in front of your mango lychee smoothie... People who need substance, contact, and love. 

Step out from in front of the camera for a moment, and talk to someone who's actually there with you. Instead of posting and reposting another mildly interesting internet sensation, sit down and write a note to someone -it could change the course of their day. Don't take 50 pictures of yourself at just the right angle so you can represent yourself a certain way, be you, be unapologetically you. 

I recently saw a photo of someone I know, she took it of herself standing in front of a mirror in a public place, she's obviously posing in an unnatural way to make herself look "just so". She said something like "not even posing, this is how I look" and everyone raved on how amazing she looks without posing... In looking at the picture, the thing I noticed past the obvious was a person sitting on a bench in the background who looked miserable, as if they were in the middle of crying - forever immortalized as a hazy figure on this person's feed. No one noticed the person in the back, no one said "Oh, that poor man!" And I suppose that's my point, if she weren't so busy trying to see herself in the best light at the best angle, she might have seen this man: alone and crying. She could have made a connection. 

I worry that it could be me, that I make people feel less valuable than myself. I strive every day of my life to let others know they are loved and they are important - please God, don't let an opportunity pass me by! Dear Reader, there are people in the world who hurt, who need you... Find them, offer them love, and watch what happens.


Happy Birthday

There was no escaping it. Every year on my birthday, it happened. Early in the morning Grandma would wake me up with a terrible rendition of "Happy Birthday". Part joyous shouting, part tuneless singing, part uncontrollable laughing, it was my favorite part of my birthday. In the grand scheme of things, birthdays rate very low on importance - but Grandma never let that deter her.

Last year was the first birthday I didn't get my "Grandma serenade", she was very sick and in the hospital. It was a sad day in the midst of a sad time. Once I grew up, birthdays just never meant very much to me, the only thing that really mattered was that Grandma always remembered and she always sang. When my birthday came last year, there was so much going on, it was just forgotten. It seems stupid to admit, but I cried - I cried because for the first time, my Grandma wasn't there to remind my family about my birthday. I also cried because I realized that the only reason my extended family actually remembered me on my birthday was because Grandma would call them to remind them to wish me a happy day. Even though my family is huge, I'm the only one born in August... For some reason that made it impossible for most of them to remember, unless Grandma called them.

This year I knew I wasn't going to get my wonderfully awful "happy birthday" song, so I prepared for a good cry when that inevitable emotion hit me. I cried. Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely day, quiet and calm, just the type of day I enjoy... I just missed her and her silly singing, and my heart felt quite alone. Ah, but Dear Reader, fear not, this story has a happy ending!

My mom and aunts are back in Hawaii visiting my Grandma's remaining siblings - so they were not around on my birthday. Partway through my day, I got a phone call from my mom, I figured calling to check in and just say a quick "happy birthday" what I heard next made me laugh and weep: a terrible, off-tune shouting, singing, laughing rendition of happy birthday. Great aunts, great uncles, aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins, nieces...it was awful and beautiful. As I closed my eyes, I could've sworn I heard Grandma's voice.



Some days are excruciatingly, heartbreakingly beautiful. And sometimes days are excruciating and heartbreaking. Today was one of the latter, I'm sorry to say. It's never easy to lose a friend, all of those sad moments you recount and think, "I should've hugged him a little longer the last time I saw him," or "if only I'd known, I would have told her how much I loved her." I hate those words: IF ONLY. They resound such regret, so many unspoken things.

Today a friend passed away, and his family is broken. How could they not be? He was brave, kind, funny, and thoughtful. In writing this, I am trying to process things, and deal with a few losses I've recently suffered but haven't yet come to terms with. I don't want it to sound as though this is meant to make me feel better, rather it's to remind you, Dear Reader, that life is short. Yes, it can punch you in the stomach so hard you lay on the ground gasping, and yes, there are unkind moments and people at every turn. Please, when you read this though, forget the awful things, and focus on the sweet moments and the people who make you (and your life) better. They're there, I promise.

And can you do me one more favor? When you see those people who make you smile, who give you hope, who encourage you, who love you... Tell them you love them, and give them a good long hug.


When the post goes wrong

I love mail. Love it. But when it goes wrong, there's almost nothing more irritating. I'm talking about the recent trend I've experienced of non-delivered mail. Seriously, what is going on USPS?! I pay your exorbitant rates and practically keep you in business with the hundreds of letters I've sent... So why won't you deliver my mail?

Recently this has happened:
1 letter to my wonderful pen pal in Hungary - never delivered
1 letter from my wonderful pen pal in Hungary - never delivered to my PO box
1 letter from Hungary - never delivered to my PO box
1 letter from Canada - never delivered to my PO box
1 letter from California - never delivered to my PO box

It's also possible that 2 letters to my pen pal in Canada were never delivered...

I know of a few other people who have experienced mail loss recently. Honestly, it's not about the loss of money, the contact and friendships are worth more than money to me... But it's the fact that when a person cares enough to send a letter, a piece of their heart is shared - it's a serious thing for this many letters to be missing. If this is happening to you, I encourage you to do what I've done and alert the United States Postal Inspection Service unless we begin keeping them accountable, I think the USPS will continue their careless antics.


Why I Love My Postman

As I dropped off some mail for the current Mail A Smile challenge at the post office, I had an epiphany: I love my postman. There's a bunch of reasons but the main thing is this: he fully accepts and appreciates mail art.

The employee at the post office disapproved so much of my envelope that he told me " Never do this again, okay?" So of course I obliged him and lied by saying "okay." Yeah, one grumpy postal employee isn't going to keep me from cheering others up with pretty mail! The funny thing is, it was the least decorated envelope I've sent out in years. It was white with a little sketched black border around the address (I should add the envelope was bought, I didn't make it) and I used my semi-cursive-semi-printing handwriting which is, by all accounts, still totally readable. What was the clincher though? I wrote the zip code like this: 0-0-0-0-0 well, almost like that... the dashes were actually tiny dots.

He behaved as though the envelope was so over-decorated you couldn't read a thing (though I did follow the USPS addressing policies- it should be noted that my envelope looked nothing like their example of an envelope). I was mildly irritated but didn't much mind. Why, you ask? Because of my postman of course!

This guy is wonderful. Every time I get a personal mail art letter he shouts to me, "Nicole, mail!!!" He likes the variety and the difference from boring business letters and sale papers, and really, who wouldn't?!  (Except for a totally boring and/or serious person to adheres strictly to postal rules.) I mean, here's the deal: I pay exorbitant costs for postage stamps, shipping etc. and I probably keep my local postal branch open so they should be more like my post man! But I digress...

Not only does my postman love the mail-art envelopes and packages I receive from pen pals, he loves my own mail art. Every time he picks up my mail he smiles and says things like, "pretty!" Or, "how nice!" So fellow mail artists, keep fighting the good fight and writing letters to those who need a smile - our cause is just and noble!


Felix Holt, The Radical

First off let me say this, I am not a political person.  I'm not interested in politics *gasp* on the whole, I think politicians are liars (and that's the nicest thing I can say) and anything having to do with the subject quickly elicits my typical response: glazed eyes, nodding off, little drool at the corner of my mouth...  So when I studied up on Felix Holt, The Radical and found out that it was George Eliot's "Most Political Novel" I panicked.  The task seemed insurmountable and the odds of me liking this novel were improbable.

I didn't do Eliot justice.  How could I doubt her genius?!  READ IT.  If you don't like political stuff, it's okay, it's not what you think.  Yes it's set during the backdrop of the first Reform Bill, and Felix is known as a Radical...  But there's so much more going on there than just political stuff, and even that is more interesting than you'd think.  Mr. Lyon is a fantastic character and when his history is revealed in chapter 6, it brings such warmth to the story and illuminates Esther's own personality so much better.  Long story short, I recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it before, it helps if you've read a book or two of Eliot's beforehand, but it's not essential as you'll quickly get used to her writing style.  Here's a couple of good quotes from Felix Holt:

She cried bitterly. If she might have married Felix Holt, she could have been a good woman.  She felt no trust that she could ever be good without him.   p.419

A woman must choose meaner things, because only meaner things are offered to her.  Her lot is made for her by the love she accepts.   p.525


Agnes Grey

Historically, Anne Bronte has been much overlooked and overshadowed by the incredible brilliance of her illustrious sisters.  However, I categorize her on the same level as Charlotte and Emily namely because of her wonderfully vivid style of writing.  A defining characteristic of the Bronte sisters is the way they wrote about things they knew a little of and laced them with ideas and situations they could only imagine.  Agnes Grey is a bit of a mold-breaker in that it's based mostly on Anne's personal experiences as a governess.

Being a governess wasn't an incredibly desirable job, yet many novels sort of gloss over the trials they encountered; not so with Agnes Grey.  Often throughout the novel it seems like Anne penned the real-life frustrations she encountered as a governess and then later changed the names for the sake of her story. 

At the start of the novel, Agnes is a little difficult to sympathize with because of the reserved way she relates her story.  As with so many novels, the heroine doesn't open up and become more three-dimensional until the love interest comes on the scene.  Agnes and her unspoken love of Edward Weston brings bittersweetness into the novel, and that trial gives the story its beauty.  It's an understated short novel, and it's well worth a read.

Here's a poem Anne wrote shortly after Emily's death and aptly named by Charlotte:

Last Lines by Anne Bronte-

I hoped, that with the brave and strong,

My portioned task might lie;

To toil amid the busy throng,

With purpose pure and high.

But God has fixed another part,

And He has fixed it well;

I said so with my bleeding heart,

When first the anguish fell.

A dreadful darkness closes in

On my bewildered mind;

Oh, let me suffer and not sin,

Be tortured, yet resigned.

Shall I with joy thy blessings share

And not endure their loss?

Or hope the martyr's crown to wear

And cast away the cross?

Thou, God, hast taken our delight,

Our treasured hope away;

Thou bidst us now weep through the night

And sorrow through the day.

These weary hours will not be lost,

These days of misery,

These nights of darkness, anguish-tost,

Can I but turn to Thee.

Weak and weary though I lie,

Crushed with sorrow, worn with pain,

I may lift to Heaven mine eye,

And strive to labour not in vain;

That inward strife against the sins

That ever wait on suffering

To strike whatever first begins:

Each ill that would corruption bring;

That secret labour to sustain

With humble patience every blow;

To gather fortitude from pain,

And hope and holiness from woe.

Thus let me serve Thee from my heart,

Whate'er may be my written fate:

Whether thus early to depart,

Or yet a while to wait.

If thou shouldst bring me back to life,

More humbled I should be;

More wise, more strengthened for the strife,

More apt to lean on Thee.

Should death be standing at the gate,

Thus should I keep my vow;

But, Lord! whatever be my fate,

Oh, let me serve Thee now!


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

If Miss Anne Bronte was intent on writing her novel in a very different fashion, she nailed it.  It's an interesting notion to introduce a seriously reserved character who's supposed to be the heroine, and then to show her warmer side once you've read much of the story.  The most pervasive themes within the story were love and unrequited love, Bronte interwove those themes impressively. 

I'm a serious literary lover, I have untold passionate crushes on many leading men in novels (i.e. Captain Wentworth, Mr. Darcy, John Thornton, Mr. Rochester etc.)...  However, Gilbert Markham isn't one of them.  The thing that sets those men apart is their serious love of their women, no matter the circumstances, even when they hate their objects of desire, they still love them.  This is a serious accusation to say that a Bronte sister's leading man is a little less than impressive, but I couldn't help feeling that in the end, not too much separated Markham from Mr. Hargrave. 

Think about it, both men are captivated by Helen, and both men then take the very natural masculine stance of feeling deeper in love when they find she's a damsel in distress.  The only difference between the two men is the encouragement Markham received and the serious discouragement Hargrave received.  Perhaps this less than impressive hero is presented in such an inhibited way because the novel itself was pretty constrained.

This is not to say it's a bad novel, far from it!  I love Anne Bronte's novels as much as her sister's, it's just a much more sedate storyline than the passionate Wuthering Heights or mysterious Jane Eyre.  Interestingly, the film version with Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald and Rupert Graves is pretty amazing.  I have to say,  Toby Stephens kinda makes you just fall in love with whoever he's playing, so in an exceedingly rare instance, I find the film version of Markham much more likeable than the original literary version.

First post of 2012, WOO!

Ah,Time.  Yet again I've left off writing on this blog (I've posted on my other blog more recently), but I haven't left off reading the novels on my epic list.  Much to the disappointment of my 3 or so readers, I won't be posting about all of the novels I've finished...  I'll just write about one or two.

I've recently read:
Silas Marner -George Eliot
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte
Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte
The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
Felix Holt - George Eliot
Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South - Elzabeth Gaskell

On a whole other note, I'm in training for the Long Beach Marathon Bike Tour...  Of course, I'm taking it easy now because of the unnatural humid heat out here! But after the heat wave breaks, get ready to see me out there on the trails on my gorgeous little Schwinn! 


Letter Writers Alliance

Letter Writers Alliance

I’m a member of an interesting group. As a girl with a passion for all things old fashioned and vintage, the Letter Writers Alliance just makes sense to me. Isn’t it sad that writing letters and sending them through the post has become such a rarity? I am an avid letter writer, but I didn’t know it until my brother joined the Marines. It really began when he was in boot camp.

I still remember the day the recruiter took him to MCRD San Diego. It was a little foggy that morning and I didn’t sleep from the night before. It was 4 in the morning and my family and I were wandering the house a little mindlessly. He was just himself even at the dawn of a new pathway in his life, he was confident, if a little pensive. I’d decided weeks before that I would give him a hug, say “Goodbye, I love you” and I wouldn’t cry… at least not in front of him.

So the moment came to test my fortitude, I said it, he hugged me and then all I remember from the moment the car turned out of sight was suddenly being at home. My usual response for intense emotional situations is to sleep, so I have a lot of times in my life where time seems to escape me. Anyways, for the 27 minutes it took to get home, my parents were silent and I strongly suspect I fell asleep. The very moment I strode through the door and into my room though, I became restless. I wanted to go into his room and say “Hey” or do something goofy to make him laugh, but he wasn’t there and he wouldn’t be for 13 weeks straight.

I remember picking up the nearest writing instrument (a fluorescent blue gel pen) and grabbing a notebook. At that time, something in me changed. I realized it was a way to express my life and my thoughts to my brother in a way I’d never do in person. How funny to suddenly want to ramble on and on about my inane thoughts and ideas. When the first few weeks of boot camp were over, he was finally able to receive letters. I’d been chronicling everything for days, so naturally it was time to send those out and get on with more letters. By the time he was in 3rd phase I was writing two or more letters a day and mailing them out. His DIs teased him for getting so much mail, but he said he loved it and he still wanted to hear anything I had to say. Mail call was his favorite time of day.

Letters were my way of still feeling close to my brother even when we were in two different worlds. On Sundays when he got a few free minutes, he’d dash off a letter answering some of my questions, telling me some funny stories and telling me he missed me. The things we couldn’t or wouldn’t say in person seemed to jump out of our pens and onto the papers. Each and every time the mail came, I haunted the post man. Normally he got jumpy at the houses with dogs; he’d sort of sprint up to the box, put the mail in and sprint off. With my eyes constantly searching for his arrival, my habit of leaping out the front door to make sure (a) he picked up my multitude of letters (b) he dropped off any and all personal letters and the velocity at which I sped out towards the box… He began sprinting up to my door and sprinting away. (Have you ever seen Keeping Up Appearances? I became Hyacinth with the scared post man.)

There were other times when I’d pen volumes of letters, but none so obsessively as when he was deployed. When several months lapse and you’re waiting for a Marine to come home, and you have my particular sleepy default condition, you tend to forget much of that time. But some things I do remember: the hours and hours I spent writing, crying and hugging a sandy letter, the two 100 packs of gel pens I went through and feeling that I could get through another day as long as I had the hope of more letters coming someday soon.

That habit has followed me to this day. I may not write scores of letters a day anymore, but I try to send friends and family something every so often just to remind them, and hopefully, give them the feelings I get when I receive mail. If you haven’t written a letter for a while, or you’re thinking of someone, sit down and write; give them that little thrill of opening an envelope. Join the LWA and begin chronicling things in your life, just write something.


Long Beach 5K

It's been a long time since I've posted anything... Between my new baby, work, church, KOTW and the 5K tomorrow, things have been hectic. But hey, here it is, October 8th and I'm ready to rock that run tomorrow.

International City Bank's Long Beach Marathon/Half-Marathon/Bike Race/5K is gonna be sweet, I'm very proud to be an official Semper Fi Fund team runner. So far, I've raised $245 from just 6 contributors! Thank you friends, family, and loved ones for your unfailing support and for caring about this awesome charity! If you want to donate, there's still time, check out the Rockabilly Semper Fi Fund page. (I receive no money, it all goes straight to SFF, I'm just the sponsor for that particular webpage)

This year: 5K... Next year I'm thinking the bike ride sounds fun :)



Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded

First of all, let me say, thank goodness I got this novel for so cheap at Camelot Books. I would’ve been extremely upset if I’d spent much more than I did. Of the three disliked novels I’ve read recently, I suppose this one is better, not good, but better than the other two. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker still strikes fear into my very soul, I despise that novel with a passion… whereas Joseph Andrews just kind of bored me to the brink of death.

Pamela at least gave me some interesting thoughts to keep me awake. Again, as with Humphry Clinker, it’s written in an epistolary fashion, which can be mind-numbing at best. Here’s the basic gist of the story: Pamela Andrews is a very beautiful 15 year old servant whose mistress has just died, leaving her in the hands of her scoundrel of a son, Mr. B. Immediately Mr. B sets to giving Pamela extravagant gifts, not long after, he begins to test her fortitude by trying to seduce her. A kiss here, a kiss there and before you know it, he’s attempting to ravish the poor (extremely young) virtuous girl.

Here’s where the story sort of gives you something to think about: Pamela is a mere servant girl, however she values herself and her purity. She says “no”, and although she stupidly gets into many of these awkward moments by her own naïveté, it was sort of a big deal to write about a servant girl who valued herself enough to disagree with her master. If you’re like me though, you’ll read her self pitying “O, pray for poor Pamela” letters with an annoyed sigh.

And then there’s the “I want to hit myself on the head with this book lots of times so I’ll forget I just spent time reading over 500 pages of fairly obnoxious whiny letters” moment… ::SPOILER ALERT:: She falls in love with this total cad! What’s the reward for being virtuous? Apparently marrying your would-be rapist. Ick. There were a few other things that just made me roll my eyes when I read about the personality and history of Pamela’s beloved Mr. B. But like I said, of the three novels, this one was the most interesting. It makes you think, even if they are thoughts of “What the heck?!” It’s better than nothing.