Tag Archives: letter writing

Rivki’s Old Fashioned Letter

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Y’all, I’ve forwarded another stunning letter to my son in summer camp in the Write My Kid an Old-Fashioned Letter” Contest!

This one comes from Rivki Silver of Life in the Married Lane.

Rivki blogs about being a mother, a wife, a woman, a musician, a friend, a writer. An observant Jew, Rivki combines the big stuff (religion, ethics, personal development) and the little stuff (laundry, dishes, meal planning). Because that’s the challenge, right? Making meaning amidst the mundanity.

In addition to being a wife and mother, Rivki is also a musician. She plays the piano and the clarinet — maybe other instruments, too.

I’m telling you, that Rivki is so clever!

She integrated her love for music into her letter.

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One side of her letter features the Yiddish folk song “Tumbalaika”; the other side, her handwritten letter to my boychik! Here’s an excerpt:

The song I included here is one of my favorite Yiddish songs. The gist of it is that there’s a boy who asks a girl a number of riddles:

  1. What can grow without rain?
  2. What can burn & never end?
  3. What can yearn, cry without tears?

The girl responds:

“Silly boy! Why do you have to ask?”

  1. A stone can grow without rain
  2. Love can burn and never end
  3. A heart can yearn, cry without tears.

Now I don’t know about the whole “growing stone” thing. If you have insight into that, I’d welcome your input. Also, I don’t know why the girl was so sassy in her response; they seem like reasonable riddles to me. My suspicion is that the girl has a crush on the boy & that’s why she was being a little rude. I don’t know if you’ve discovered that yet. Girls don’t always make the most sense (even to ourselves, sometimes) buit we’re great anyways! Keeps life interesting, right?

In her letter, Rivki not only teaches my son about the balalaika (a traditional Russian instrument with 13 strings), she also gives him some cool lyrics to think about and she aplies them to his life as a teenager!

And just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. Rivki included artwork from her children! Oh yes, this letter is a treat for anyone who loves the arts! Check out piece #1.

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I call this “Ladybug, Stars, Scribble Scrabble People”

Somehow Rivki remembered Tech will be celebrating his birthday in August, while he is away at camp, and she got her little guy to make my son a birthday card in advance! Look how hard her little guy worked to make all those 14’s! That’s a labor of love.

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I call this one “Fantastic 14 & Falling Bananas.”

So you’re probably thinking, that has to be everything, right?

But it’s not.

Rivki included another letter.

This one was written to me.

I won’t share her words here, but I will say that I pressed the pretty lavender card against my cheek before I ever read it. And I sighed aloud — several times — alone, to myself, in the room as I read her words, and I promise I felt a bit of Rivki’s spirit being transmitted right through the ink.

Because that’s the way it’s been.

Reading everyone’s handwritten words has been a profoundly personal experience for me. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this eventually.

For now, I’ll just express my gratitude to Rivki by adding these few sentences. If you’re trying to get organized, trying to figure out what to feed your children, if you’re a lover of music, or if if you’ve someone interested in reading one woman’s views about Orthodox Judaism, consider subscribing to Rivki’s blog. Her posts are so beautifully crafted.

Just like her letter to my son.

• • •

To see other posts in this series read letters from:

BrickHouseChick

Stuart Sheldon

Misty’s Law’s

tweet me @rasjacobson

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BrickHouseChick’s Old-Fashioned Letter

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As my regular readers know, my son decided to go to overnight camp for 7 weeks this summer. Before the school year ended, I asked folks to consider sending him a letter. You know, to supplement mine.

To sweeten the pot, I promised that the author of the best letter would win a $25 gift card to somewhere, to be negotiated later with the winner.

I’ve already received a few letters, and today marks the first of the entries in the “Write My Kid an Old-Fashioned Letter” Contest.

Before we get to that, let me tell you about the postcard I received from my son the other day. A simple form letter, the no-nonsense blue postcard features a bunch of check boxes to let parents know our kids have arrived, been assigned to cabins, and unpacked a bit. Yadda yadda yadda.

Normally, my kid just checks things off and signs his name at the bottom.

This year, he had demands.

I can’t find my clipboard. Did I leave it at home? Also, I need a white collared shirt and long socks. Thanks.

{Note: Next year? The boy is  packing himself so we avoid moments like this.}

I hunted down a white shirt, found several pairs of tall socks, and tossed everything into a tiny pile on my son’s bedroom floor.

And then I went to find the clipboard.

My old clipboard.

I was sure I knew exactly where it was.

Except I didn’t.

I must have spent an hour ripping apart the house. I searched the main closet, the basement, my car — where I discovered the remains of a green salad I’d brought to a friend’s house a few nights before. The bowl was slimy and covered in mold.

But no clipboard.

I looked in my son’s bedroom, in his closet, in his dresser.

I was all: Did he take it to school? Did he leave it somewhere?

Then I got pouty.

My father’s gave me that clipboard when I became a counselor three decades ago. Over the next six years, I covered every square inch of it with stickers.

Most people throw away stuff like that, but I’ve held onto it.

Since 1983. 

Annoyed, I walked into my closet. It was the only place I hadn’t looked.

And, there it was.

I have no idea why my old clipboard was in my closet, but it was.

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My clipboard, circa 1983-1989.

Yesterday, I learned my niece would be home for her first day off. She agreed to deliver the goods to the boy, so I bundled everything up and brought the bag of odds and ends to her.

He’s probably got the package in his hot little hands right now.

In fact, he’s probably reading the note I stuck inside the bag right about now.

Dear Tech:

Here’s the stuff you asked for.  Are you impressed I found a way to get everything to you just 3 days after receiving your requests? You should be.

About the clipboard. PLEASE don’t lose it. I know it’s just a clipboard, but I kind of love it.

Plus, it’s just a wicked good clipboard.

Also, you’ll notice I threw in a raincoat for you. Dude. The rain? Holy torrential downpour. Do you think it’s going to rain every day this summer? I’m guessing you don’t think you need a raincoat. Just take it. I’ll feel better knowing you have it and that you could be dry. If you wanted to.

xo Mom

See how lame my letters are?

Thank goodness BrickHouseChick wrote him an awesome letter, which I forwarded to him a few days ago!

Look at it? All orange and filled with cut-outs and swirly handwriting! Now that’s what I call a fabulous old-fashioned letter.

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Entry 1: From BrickHouseChick! Click on the image to super-size it!

I’m grateful to BrickHouseChick for sending a fun letter to my kid. After six years of sending him faboosh letters, I so appreciate the assistance. If you haven’t met Maria yet, you should. She’s a wonderful blogging buddy, and I’m hoping she’ll submit a #SoWrong moment here sometime in the future! *hint hint*

If you’re interested in writing TechSupport a letter, it’s not too late. And you could win a $25 gift card if he thinks the letter you’ve sent is the best! Details about this contest are found HERE.

What are the odds that I’ll ever see my old clipboard again? Do you think he’ll wear that raincoat? What’s your favorite part of Maria’s letter?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

The Day Monsieur Said Non

In 11th grade, I needed three stellar recommendations that I could send off with my college applications. I felt confident that I would receive solid letters from two of my former English teachers, but then I was kinda stuck. There was no way I could ask any of my math teachers. I mean, I had enjoyed Geometry, but I wasn’t necessarily good at it; my Algebra teacher had retired two years prior; and I wasn’t on good terms with my homeroom teacher.

Monsieur gives me the finger.

Finally, I decided to ask my French teacher.

I’d been in his class for two years. I was reasonably interested in the material (kinda); I liked him a lot (that should count for something, right?); I did my homework (sometimes); and I tried not to laugh too much. Yes, I decided, Monsieur Stephenson would be the perfect person to write me the outstanding recommendation that I was seeking.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he flat out said no.

“Think about your performance in my class,” he said. “Do you give 100% ? Do you take everything seriously? Do you show me that you want to be here? Do you do anything extra?” He pushed his hair back with the palm of his hand and sat up straight in his chair. “Think about the answers to those questions and then you’ll understand why I can’t write you a letter.”

He did not say he was sorry.

Fast forward 25 years, and here it is, recommendation letter writing season.  Like frantic homing pigeons who have been lost for an awful long time my former students are returning to me, asking me to write all kinds of letters: to get into four-year colleges, to enter the military, to give to potential employers — so I find myself thinking of Monsieur Stephenson a lot.

Mr. Stephenson in the 1980s

When Monsieur refused me that day, he gave me a big dose of reality. It is not enough to simply show up: a person must do more than make a good impression.

Many of my former students think that because they liked me – that because I was kind to them and they passed my class – that they are entitled to strong letters of recommendation.

However, the best letters of recommendation are not just about “passing the course,” but about work ethic and character, growth and potential.

I am strangely grateful to Monsieur Stephenson for refusing to write me that letter, and I see his wisdom in holding up a mirror before me and having me take that proverbial good hard look at myself and the choices I had made that brought me to that day.

I even understand that his mediocre letter could have prevented me from getting into the college of my choice.

Students need to think carefully and be direct in asking any potential letter writer if that person can produce a strong letter of recommendation on their behalf.

If a student cannot find a professor or teacher, they may have to get creative and look to coaches, neighbors, religious leaders, perhaps someone who has witnessed their involvement in community service.

I learned more than just French from Monsieur Stephenson: as teacher now, myself, I have learned how to be selective about whom I consider writing letters of recommendation; after all, they are time-consuming endeavors, unpaid labors of love.

Having said that, I am happy to write one for you – if you deserve it.

Anybody refuse to write you a letter of recommendation? How’d you take it?

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

© Renée Schuls-Jacobson 2011. All rights reserved.

End of Semester Gratitude

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Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

The Fall-Winter 2010 semester is over for me. My grades have been reported. The contents of my unattractive yet functional wheelie bag have been dumped and placed with the rest of the luggage — in the nether regions of the basement. Today, I am getting my hair highlighted. It’s been fifteen weeks since my last highlight or cut. (The straightening thing doesn’t count.) Don’t even ask about the state of my fingernails at the moment. I have a way of letting certain things go during the semester. But now it is time to catch up.

This morning, I popped onto my faculty email account to make sure everything was in order, and I found two pieces of email waiting for me. The first indicated that my grades may have been inaccurately reported (are you $%#@! kidding me?) so I had to check another link to a list upon which — thankfully — my name did not appear. And then there was a second piece of mail. Here it is:

Dear Mrs. RASJ,

I would just like to say thank you for everything, Mrs. Renee Jacobson. I learned so much in your class and I am so glad I received an A! I know you’re probably going to write back, “You worked hard for that A and you deserve it,” but there is no way in hell I would have done it without you.

You just did so much to help, and you ARE a good teacher. You have amazing patience with students; you’re fair, and you’re always willing to help. You are very thoughtful and you really put your time in to teaching your students, and you do it all without babying us. That’s the way a teacher should be, and it is really hard to come by these days.

Thank you for putting up with my short temper at times, for sitting down with me to talk almost everyday, and for the donuts and wisdom pendant. You are very thoughtful.

It was nice to be educated by you. I wish you the bast (sic) of luck and times.

With love and sincerity.

Your favorite student ever,
Student X 🙂

This student knows me. Because I would absolutely have said that he earned his “A,” that it had little to do with me. An “A” in my class means he did his work and he did it well. It means he showed up and participated. It means he took advantage of extra credit opportunities. It means he was a good peer editor and gave solid feedback. It means he was respectful. It meant he asserted himself. If he didn’t understand how to do something, he made an appointment to meet with me to figure it out. It means he came prepared with all his materials: all his books, handouts, and writing utensils. Every day. He was on-time. When he contributed to the conversation, his comments were meaningful — and when he received criticism, he was not defensive. His writing often showed great depth, and he taught me something on more than one occasion. He was honest (in his writing) and open (as a human being).

I don’t give A’s. To me, an “A” means something akin to “amazing,” and very few people are. So I will share this letter with all the teachers out there who understand how much letters like these really mean. People so rarely write letters these days, typed or otherwise, it is always a bit of a thrill for me when I receive one. For an educator, a letter from a former student is a shot of fuel that helps fill up a near empty tank. Those little gestures keep us keepin’ on.

So thank you, Student X. You put a little bounce in my step today.

What put a bounce in your step today?