Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friendship Afar

Friendship Afar
Have you ever felt a bit lonely? The Lady of the House has. When her children were small, during a string of household relocations as long as your arm - when families will set about visiting new churches and feel like outsiders until they are eventually grafted in somewhere – if ever they are grafted in – her prayers of supplication were uttered with deep longing. 

She longed to be connected with a like-minded homemaker or two. During the day, during the week, the neighborhoods seemed deserted. 

With the spring thaw the Man-of-the-House saw to it that the mailbox was given a new post and rooted back in the ground. In autumn the mailbox was vandalized. It was broken at its base and left for dead. There it lay until the snow covered it. 

The foolhardy vandals of course, didn’t stop to consider what a meaningful symbol the mailbox is to the Lady-of-the-House. It has been, for most of her life, her primary means of parley over the garden fence.

Her courtship with the Man-of-the-House was a long-distance courtship through letters and the telephone. It is possible to fall in love and then be in love through letters. For married couples little notes on the pillow are a way to stay in love.

“Friends are there when your hopes are raveled and your nerves are knotted, talking about nothing in particular, you can feel the tangles untwist.” Pam Brown

Passing a multi-generational farmhouse that sits back from the road, she has spied – more than once - an old Amish woman walking slowly down her long drive to the mailbox. “It must be her only source of connection to the world mid-week,” sympathized the Lady-of-the-House. Although it is the very small world of an Amish community – it is community. 

The old woman’s mailbox was vandalized, too. The Lady-of-the-House saw her son (or grandson) with hammer in hand, setting it to rights. 

To find an envelope in her mailbox with her name handwritten on it is always pure delight to the Lady-of-the-House. Most of her friends are long distance friends – partly because of moving so often – and partly because she has been writing and reaching out with her message of homeschool hope for more than twenty years. 

She no longer has the same bouts of loneliness she once had.

( Painting by Frederick Goodall, 1822-1904,
  "Letter from Papa" )

“A friend’s writing on an envelope lifts the heart on the rainiest morning.” Charlotte Gray

Although paper letters are far fewer in this century than the last, an envelope on the windowsill is often part of the décor – whether it is a letter received or one just written. 

The nice thing about a letter received (although it does require self-control) is that it can be placed invitingly on a windowsill or near an easy chair – until it can be read with leisure - something to look forward to and savor after a string of time sensitive chores are completed. It is a similar pleasure to “loose oneself” in a reply.

A sense of community touches the lives of those who discriminatingly visit blogs now and again. It is remarkable what a few minutes of like-mindedness can do to lift the spirits. The Lady-of-the-House had only visited a few blogs when she started hers. They were needlework blogs. How exciting it was - the first week she posted on “Moments with Mother Culture” - to know that someone had visited and felt welcome.

“Giving encouragement to others is a most welcome gift, for the results of it are lifted spirits, increased self-worth, and a hopeful future.” Florence Littauer

She remembers the twinge of nervousness she felt when she attempted to pluck up courage to leave her first comment on a stranger’s blog. How concise should the note be? Do I address a stranger by her first name? I must be careful not to sound like a know-it-all with my opinion. The fact that she noticed afterward that she irrevocably misspelled a word didn’t help matters. “Never mind,” she told herself, “It’s the thought that counts.” Now she is relaxed enough to enjoy leaving a comment and a bit more emboldened.

Flattery isn’t the essence of the comments she reads, or occasionally sends or receives. Rather, within her circle of on-line friends she perceives a sense of appreciation, and community – a genuine desire to encourage. Similar joys are shared, similar concerns and aspirations, similar tears are shed, similar efforts made, similar interests enjoyed. 

Because she believes that guidelines are important when it comes to screen-time the Lady-of-the-House has days when she makes it a point not to be on-line. Media can unintentionally be a wedge in developing person-to-person relationships (including the family circle) when people connect each to their own worlds for long hours (which mysteriously never seem long while absorbed). Technology is a good thing but caution is needed.

A Story About Friendship
Reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (published in 1853) was formidable the first time round. The Lady-of-the-House remembers tottering her way through it a few years ago – a sort of three pages forward, one page back. One reason for the difficulty may have been that she was introduced to the story through the British film. The book seemed “topsy-turvy” in comparison  (to borrow a phrase of Mr. Holbrook’s). Over the winter she picked it up again. Magically the story unfolded with greater ease of comprehension. Miss Charlotte Mason is right.

 “Having read the best books once we have only breakfasted.”

The book meanders its way through a somewhat backward English town of the mid-19th century. It is a less complicated plot than the film, has no bright red blood, and fewer characters. The kind of things that loom large on the hearts and minds of a soiree of single and widowed ladies, women who occasionally wear silks to an evening party (though independent of fashion) and who keep a servant to make the tea – are what make the story.

Mrs. Gaskell paints a sometimes bizarre but touching story of friendship. The ladies have their eccentricities “pretty strongly developed . . . but somehow good-will reigns among them to a considerable degree, with only an occasional little quarrel.”

This soiree of ladies is observed through the eyes of the young lady, Miss Anne Smith. She narrates the story with her best attention given to her closest friend of Cranford, the older-in-years Miss Matilda Jenkins. Their friendship turns especially tender when hardship enters Miss Matty’s life, circumstances that “necessitate many careful economies and many pieces of self-denial.” But the story has a happy ending, the result of Miss Smith sticking her nose (and pen) caringly into Miss Matty’s business and doing so in a delicate and discrete manner.  

The Lady-of-the-House feels richer for knowing the ladies of Cranford – fictional friends though they are. She even picked up on Miss Smith’s subtle humor this time round. To close the book at the last page was a sentimental wave good-bye.

The Friendliest Action of All
The loneliest experience in all of history was also the friendliest act of all. While our Lord Jesus hung on the cross His Father turned His face away. The Son cried out in unfathomable loneliness. He gave His life unreservedly to ransom our souls out of love and obedience to the Father. Now we, who were once enemies, can be His friends – forever. 

Is it a wonder that the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus” is a favorite of so many Christians?

Happy Easter,
Karen Andreola

Post Script

Explanation of Photographs
Stitching a pin keep for a friendship afar
The Andreola mailbox
Neighborhood Amish farm
Letter on the landing
An Edith Holden illustrated address book 
Thank-you note on the refrigerator from two darling little girls who live in Texas
The cover of Cranford with actress Dame Judi Dench as Miss Matty
(The surgery in "Cranford" the film, makes it rather intense for children.)
The Lady-of-the-House picking daffodils for her pewter mug.
Daffodils on the fireplace mantel with antique chocolate bunny mold.


  1. "The loneliest experience in all of history was also the friendliest act of all. While our Lord Jesus hung on the cross His Father turned His face away. The Son cried out in unfathomable loneliness. He gave His life unreservedly to ransom our souls out of love and obedience to the Father. Now we, who were once enemies, can be His friends – forever."

    I LOVE, love this above quote from your post, Karen!! So beautiful and so true! This was such a sweet thing to read today and I agree. I enjoy two pen pal friends that I met online. I look forward to their letters so much. I have been searching my brain for others to drop a note to also. I've been thinking of my younger sister. Even though she lives close, we are in different seasons of life and I know she would appreciate it. I received a quill pen/ink set for Christmas this past year and actually wrote one letter with it! It takes a bit to get used to using, but it was so much fun! :)

    I copied down your quotes about friendship. So nice! The daffodils match your cheerful sweater! :)

  2. I have been blessed to make some lovely friendships through the blog world...I describe it as modern pen pals, although I really do enjoy receiving letters the "old-fashion" way!
    I really enjoyed the film Cranford, but have not read the book yet, perhaps someday.
    You look lovely in your pretty yellow sweater, holding the beautiful spring daffodils!
    Wishing you a lovely day Karen!


  3. Dear Karen,
    How lovely to see a post pop up from you in my reader:-) I admit to never reading Cranford, but only seeing the Masterpiece production, which I truly loved. I have read Larkrise to Cranford and enjoyed that immensely. Of course, I admit to loving such books as the Miss Read series, so it's no wonder I would enjoy Larkrise. I love your address book. You introduced me to The Country Diary many years ago for which I am grateful to you. Wishing you and yours a glorious Easter!

  4. Just wanted to say thank-you for this post, being very lonely for a good close by friend. Then laughed when I saw Amy's name as the first to comment- one of my very-dear-but-never-met-for-real friends. {Who lives to many states to the left of me, and to whom I owe a letter : ) }
    Anyway,something good to chew on and think over while I clean bathrooms, this business of friendship.

  5. So many mailboxes suffer from malnutrition these days. Bills and sales fliers are not food. My least favorite sales flier announces with great certainty that, "You deserve to not have to clean your house!" It shows up about once a year.

    If anyone is looking for someone to write to, I suggest starting with your church directory. I began this past June by choosing people I was already comfortable conversing with. I then branched out to people I was less familiar with. Surprise letters and notes about daily happenings, hopes, and musings are helping me to build stronger friendships within my very own congregation. Such delight!

    Karen, I've never seen a chocolate bunny mold that looks like a real bunny. Have you ever used it to make a chocolate bunny?


  6. Hello Ladies,
    Nice of you to stop by.
    It is good to hear that my last paragraph is valued. I worked on it ponderously - day by day - until I was happy with it.

    My address book was sent to me as a Christmas gift from a British friend some years back. I looked up its ISBN but couldn't find any for sale anywhere.

    The chocolate bunny mold is my newest antique store "find." Because it is so warped, with seams that look like they couldn't hold any liquid, I'm using it only for display.

    Notes, telephoning, popping by with food, as well as hospitality are the "friendly" arms of religion aren't they?

    Thank you for adding your thoughts,
    Karen A.

  7. Wonderful post, Karen. Thank you for your friendship from a-far. I appreciate the times you have commented on my blog, and I look forward to reading each post of yours, to read about and listen to what has been on your mind this week. You have a knack for offering tid- bits of joy and comfort and encouragement.

  8. Mrs. A,

    What a wonderful post! You are indeed a most kindred spirit. One of my greatest pleasures is writing and receiving handwritten letters. I write to my 90 and 92 year old grandmothers every week. They are not able to write back as they once did because of arthritis and dementia, but to know I've brightened their lonely days make me feel better. I have wondered how to procure a pen pal.

    I have been reading Cranford too! I've only read the first 2 chapters so far but it's lovely. Which Cranford character is most like you? I'm definitely most like Miss Mattie.

    I hope you have a blessed Ressurection holiday.


  9. Miss Anne Smith is a more competent young lady than I was at that age. I'd like to think that I'm not as helpless as Miss Matty - but I'm afraid it is true. She is generous hearted, though, isn't she?
    Karen A.

  10. Love this post Karen.

    I owe you a letter or email, I think. I have been a neglectful friend, and I am sorry for it. I do think of you often and pray for you.

    I haven't read Cranford, but we do love the movie - which is a compilation of several of Mrs. Gaskells' books, so I've heard.


  11. I feel like I know you from your books. You heart and soul come through in them. :)

    My husband and kids moved around a lot to follow his career for awhile. When we moved back to my hometown around 2004, I told him God would have to appear before me in Person to get me to move again.

    On one hand, both of my kids learned a lot from moving, getting used to new places, and meeting new people.

    But for me especially I felt my roots had been dug up. I was no longer connected with friends or family in the same way as if we'd stayed here.

    However, I also know it was God's will for us to live where we did and meet the people He brought into our little world. In the end Romans 8:28 is so true. :)

    Anyway, because of this most of my closest friends live far away.

  12. Blogging is still an enigma to me, a taste of something in the delicious punch my tongue is still attempting to distinguish. But then I read posts like this and I feel as if I have found a new "friend", howbeit, a blogging friend. All of which you have stated here finds me smiling and nodding along.
    You have also convinced me I might need to make another attempt to read Cranford, the first time several years ago was not very successful. I love Larkrise by the way, just as you predicted!

  13. So glad to hear there are still ladies out there who enjoy to write letters on paper! Sometimes I am worried if I cannot find any more stationery or pretty cards in "normal" shops (usually, I look for them now in really fine shops which I can visit only rarely, or in museum shops) - I fear some day letter writing will be a lost art. So let's do something against it!
    There is nothing more uplifting than receiving a personal letter. I like the photo of the letter on the windowsill - I also like to display dear letters to come back to them when I have time. Right now, there is a beautiful one from a far away country placed against my bedside table lamp - I cannot tell you how often I read it and how blessed I feel of having received it!
    As to the bunny mold: we have a bakery here which started last year to use old molds to make chocolate bunnies. I even got one as a present! The lady in the shop told me she found the molds in antique stores and was so happy about them that she gave it a try. I don't know how she did it, though, but they sell them by the dozen, so it must work.
    I know those molds from childhood. We use to bake cake bunnies here which are taken to mass at easter night in a basket with colored eggs. Do you do that also?
    The last paragraph of your article is beautiful.
    Thank you! Martina

  14. Karen,

    What a lovely post! I have made some lovely friendships online and I treasure them!

    Your pinkeep is going to be lovely. What a treasure for a friend!

    I love to receive letters and love to write them too!

    I love your address book. Did you know that there are some cross-stitch leaflets of her artwork? I got a leaflet for my birthday in Feb. I have meant to tell you. I will send you a link.

    I LOVE the quote by Charlotte M. on reading books. So very true!

    I hope you and your family have a very blessed Easter.

    Love, Heather

  15. Dear Karen:
    Thank you again for a lovely, calm, sweet post. I enjoy your posts so very very much. They are almost like reading a short story - a lovely, thought-provoking theme, interesting ideas to ponder, happy pictures (both photographs and "word pictures") and something to take away to brighten or strengthen me.
    I have had Cranford in my reading queue for some time, and now I believe it needs to go to the front. Your pretty, ruffled sweater matches the lovely daffodils just perfectly. Thank you for the feminine touches you give to all your posts. They mean so much. Have a sweet week!

  16. I do so enjoy a visit to your writings. I will order the book from the library and look forward to a good read. to receive a note in the mail is so special for me. I enjoy sending and receiving letters very much.
    To be called His friend is such a great honour. To know that He loved me that much just takes my breath away. To feel His presence is more than I can express with words and to find that others share this love that I have for Him brings such joy to my day. Lovely thoughts follow these times and I am filled anew.
    Blessings Gail

  17. Thank-you Karen for another lovely post.I especially love the last paragraph about our Dear Lord.Just last evening my husband and I were heavy hearted as our oldest chooses not to be terribly involved with the rest of his family.He knows the Lord but has chosen to "do his own thing". This is a pain we are trying to deal with ,and still reflect God's glory.Your last paragraph just reminded me that the greatest lonliness was suffered at the cross,and God surely understands a parents longing for relationship with a dear son.As dear husband and I prayed last eve,our phone rang, and our daughter informed us our oldest had responded to her invitation for Easter with our family,he will be attending.So, once again, I am reminded to commit all to God.Jeremiah 17:7 was where I randomly turned in my morning devotions,Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord,and whose hope the Lord is.Blessings to you and your dear family, Dawn E. Brown

  18. Wonderful post, as a long time HSer and homemaker like you, what I have found I am looking for is knowing I am not alone. I do not need a lot of friends (although I never say no to meeting a new kindred spirit) I just need a few friends who are walking that same path as me, who understands the trials and joys. I find deep comfort in that. I have to say when my girl where little, Parents Review gave me that kind of support and made me feel I could really do this HSing thing.
    Have a blessed Easter Karen. Clarice

  19. This is one of most favorite of your posts. :) While I moved many, many times as a girl, I've live all of my adult life right here in the same county (other than a brief year and a half in the Texas Hill Country). But living in the same place doesn't mean that friends never move, because they do (as do grown up children). Finding a letter in the mailbox is such a treat! Holding what was once in the possession of a much-missed loved one and reading hand-written words gives a satisfaction that an email just can't. Don't get me wrong -- I love e-mail (it's oh so quick and it's free!), but it's somehow not the same.

    Many blessings to you and yours,

    Lisa :)

  20. What a lovely post on a truly beautiful blog. I can feel my blood pressure drop whenever I read your soothing, encouraging words, Karen. And your photographs are so beautiful and aesthetically-pleasing. I am going to send you an e-mail in a minute with photos of 2 antique choc. rabbit molds that I inherited from my Mom! ~Nancy Doran

  21. Hi,

    I have read all the comments and agree with everyone of them! But I noticed no one commented on your cross-stitch project. It is beautiful! Where do you find your projects?

    Thank you for your blog!

    Nicole in MD

  22. What a wonderful, heartfelt post and so very true....and Cranford! Oh how we fell in love it as a family..... my husband and I watched every episode.... and now when days of this world are stressful we lovingly joke about how we need to go to Cranford....where life is civilized.... As much as I love connecting with blogs, I so very much miss "real" mail. I have so much beautiful stationery and paper that I seem to collect so lovingly with no one to receive them.... I send out over 50 Christmas Cards a year and receive very few in return. People just don't write as much anymore.

  23. Hi Karen,
    Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my so very favorite Authors and I feel that comradery when I read her books that you were talking about. I especially connected with this post and I loved how you brought it around to Jesus our filler and comforter!
    Many Blessings and HUGS, Linnie

  24. Thank you for the encouraging post. I have enjoyed the Cranford series from BBC. Your blog post are just as good to me as the letter on the windowsill...and I can go back and
    read it again without misplacing it.r

  25. Your friendly comments make me smile. Thank you Ladies.

    Today I ordered the "Rachel Hyde" sampler from the company wyndhamneedleworks.com
    It is a girlhood sampler published by "Threads in Time." If you click "charts" on the left side bar and look to the bottom right of the list of designers, then click Threads in Time, you will find the kind of antique samplers I like to stitch. I ordered the 32 ct linen and this will be my first attempt using this fine weave. I've only ever done 28 ct, (same size as 14 ct Aida.) Unlike knitting I depend on a magnifying glass hung around my neck well as my granny glasses for all these tiny stitches.

    The cross stitch on this post is from a "free to copy" chart sent to me by a friend afar who was sent the chart by one of her friends afar. I tailored it down to a square size and added my own bird and (what you do not see) a tiny fir tree, flower, strawberry, and initials over the houses. I choose the Colonial blue clapboard saltbox to symbolize my house, because I've always found them charming, and put her initial over the brick house. That was fun. I made it to be a stuffed Christmas ornament but my friend decided to use it as a pin keep. I felt honored.

    Thanks for the chat. Time to go out in the sunshine.

    Karen A.

  26. Thank you Karen for directing me to wyndhamneedleworks.com web site! I have admired your samplers and have been drawn to this style of needle work for years! As soon I finish the project I am working on now (something my mother-in-law started) I will get to choose something I would like to do!!

    A very excited and grateful blog follower,

    Nicole in MD

  27. I just discovered your blog and am enjoying a few of the posts. It is lovely to hear from a "retired" veteran homeschooling Mother and to read about her daily life at home, with children all grown up!

    Mrs. White
    The Legacy of Home

  28. Oh Karen, this was such a wonderful, heart-touching post. I, too, have found my best friendships on-line. There are so few like minded people locally. Fortunately, I do have one friend who homeschools who I feel close to.

    You've been so kind to me with letters and all you've done. Thank you so much for being my friend.
    Laura Lane
    Carthage, Missouri