Let me begin by saying, I hope that you, your family and friends are well and in good health. We at FromABirdie are here for you, if you want to reach out to someone with a one-of-a-kind gift, or if you want to cheer up someone you love who may be ill, or simply feeling down, or lonely. Our books of letters are loaded with love and affection. And what a wonderful way to celebrate someone whom you may not even be able to see while we are going through this difficult time full of uncertainty. We will collect the letters that the people you invite to contribute write, put them in a nicely bound book, and ship it directly to your recipient.
“We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
Recently, just before all the news about the spread of the Corona virus broke out, we made a book of letters for a boy who is fighting for his life. Among the many warm and inspiring letters in the book there was one, written by a 16 year old girl, that stayed with me. ““We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” and i feel like right now you really should focus on the stars. Enjoy the little happy moments. And remember, without the sad hard times we wouldn’t really be able to fully understand and experience happy times.”
So let me invite you, our dear Friends, to look at the stars. And to share your love with someone you love and are thinking about, who may or may not be right next to you.
We live to tell stories. It’s through stories that we connect with each other and with those who have walked along us, or have gone before us. Through stories we find a place in the world that is our own. The stories that make up our lives and that we leave behind for our children can be illuminating and inspiring, and they can also fill a lot of gaps.
Recently we worked on a very special – and poignant – book that stirred up our hearts. A few years ago a young boy lost his father in an accident. Some years later his mom decided to create and print a book of memories for their son that would contain the stories she had collected from friends and family, people who had known her husband through the different stages of his life. That is how she found FromABirdie.
Meet Susan, the boy’s mother. She knows grief inside and out, and has, since the accident, moved on to help others in the processing of their own grief.
Compiling such a book can be a powerful tool in moving through mourning. It requires strength, the desire to keep going, and to keep giving. In the process, it may gather an immense positive energy from the community, as the stories are spilled into a simple artifact: a book of memories for a child about his father. Susan wrote to me in one of her emails: “Our son will be thrilled to have these stories about his dad.”
When you miss him most, look in the mirror and see if you can’t spot a little of that magic light glowing around you
In the introduction to the book Susan wrote:
After your dad died, I knew I wanted to find a way for you to get to know your father more over time, as you grew up and grew older.
So, I asked lots of people to write stories about Brent MacNab, the awesome guy that is your dad!
What better way to get to know your dad than through the eyes of his family, friends and work colleagues? We all loved him and spent time getting to know him. We all knew your dad was an incredible man. He was kind and compassionate. He was a surfer, professor, bagpiper, adventurer, researcher, chef, athlete, artist, composer, creator, comedian, family man and man of God.
These “life snapshots” and memories have been compiled so you can get to know your dad even better than you already do. Over the years to come, you will realize that you are very much like your dad, sometimes like your mom, and also very much your own unique person. What a perfect combination!
We all love you, Jacob. This book is for you.”
Here are excerpts from some of the stories from friends and family shared in the book we made for Jacob.
(…) “Do you know who saw you FIRST when you were born? Yep. YOUR DAD.
He was a strong, athletic guy and literally caught you when you came out into the world. The first thing he said to you was “You are beautiful”. You were his miracle. He loved you so much and always will. Dad will always be by your side, cheering you on with a “Go Bonesy!” in whatever you do and wherever you go. (…)
Whatever YOU do and whomever YOU become, know that your dad is with you and so proud of you.” (…)
~From a letter from Mom and Dad
(…) As the years pass, I know you will wish you could have known your father longer and better. Many good people are already in your life and love you as I write this letter, and many, many more will come into your life in the time to come; but nothing can make up for the loss of a parent, I know. When you miss him most, look in the mirror and see if you can’t spot a little of that magic light glowing around you (and even pouring out from within you). I bet you’ll be able to. And when you do, trust that you’re seeing some of your father there. (…)
~From a letter from Rev. Kerry M.
Then he pulled out the receipt from the restaurant. He had saved it for all those years!
(…) “During the days before your Mom and Dad got married in Hawaii, we had many gatherings with family and friends. This is when I found out your Dad was “Mr. Romantic”. At one of these gatherings, he was telling the guests how he met your Mom and about their first date at an Italian restaurant.Then he pulled out the receipt from the restaurant. He had saved it for all those years! Who does that? Later, I think it was at the wedding rehearsal, he announced that he had written a song for your Mom and played it on the bagpipes. Who does that? Most of the guys, including me, were saying “thanks a lot Brent”, because their wives and girlfriends were asking why we never do anything romantic like that.
Another funny story about your Dad is when you skyped Memere and me from Australia by yourself when you were only 3 years old. The look on your Dad’s face was really funny when he walked into the room and discovered what you had done. After he got over the surprise, I think he was really proud of how smart you are, just like him.” (…)
~From a letter from Brian F.
(…) “One time, before you were born, he was looking through one of my cookbooks. It was the first cookbook I ever had that someone gave me called “Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book”. Your mom, dad, Papa, and I were in the kitchen getting ready for dinner. (You must realize I had gotten the book over 40 years before, in the days of the dinosaurs, when I was just learning to cook). Anyway, your dad was cracking us up as he read from the book and made it even funnier the way he described the section, “Hints for the Homemaker”. It said, “Every morning before breakfast, the cook should comb her hair, apply her makeup and a dash of cologne, think pleasant thoughts while working, wear comfortable shoes and easy fitting clothes while working…”. Your dad would exaggerate each suggestion and go into great detail about each one. It was very funny and we all had a good time laughing about it and the way your dad described the suggestions. Maybe when you get your own house, I will give you my cookbook that your dad laughed about so much.” (…)
~From a letter from Denise F.
(…) “One Halloween Brent and Scott decided they would go to a party dressed as cave men. They covered themselves with some furry looking stuff, and smeared charcoal or some such substance on their faces and arms and legs. I was unaware of all of this until I walked around the dimly lit corner of the hallway and ran smack into both of them. I nearly had a heart attack… I had never run into two giant fur covered cave men in my house before. They had a good laugh at my expense… (…)
(…) He did a lot of funny things during the time we all knew him, and one of the most creative things he did was write a series of letters to companies using a fictitious name, “Larry Spranger”. He would write letters complaining about the quality of the products the company sold… all of it a creation of your dad’s imagination. For example, he wrote to a predominant candy company who made and packaged M&Ms. In the letter to this company, he expressed his concern for the future of our country because he had found a defective, misshapen piece of candy in one of the bags he bought. “If you can’t count on round M&Ms, what can we count on… what has become of our country?”. The responses to these letters were hilarious, and they were usually were accompanied by a generous supply of free samples. We were never short of M&Ms. (…)
Larry Spranger also wrote to the Governor of the State of California with a detailed plan to take care of the state’s drought problem. While California was in a terrible drought, the Midwest was experiencing record snow and ice… that would turn to catastrophic flood waters in the spring. The unemployment problem in the Midwest was terrible, and Larry Spranger incorporated a solution for this problem too. Here’s how. Larry suggested that the unemployed people in the Midwest could begin to build “ice missiles” that could be loaded with snow and ice, and then fired at the State of California. When the ice missiles landed in California, the snow and ice would melt, providing much needed water to end the drought. So, Larry’s clever plan would provide work for the unemployed, remove the snow and ice from the Midwest, and provide much needed water for California. The plan was sent complete with highly detailed drawings of the missile launcher, etc…” (…)
~From a letter from Tracy G.
“If you can’t count on round M&Ms, what can we count on… what has become of our country?”
(…) Why Can’t You Be Like Brent… ?My mother adored your Dad!! I think she liked him more than me (kind of half serious here!). Your Dad was very interested in the Asian culture and enjoyed conversation with my mother talking about the homeland (China). My mother always kept saying “… Brent is so smart… how come you can’t be as smart as him… ” “… Brent is always in such good shape… why are you still so fat and not get into shape to look like Brent… ” When your Dad graduated from PSU with honor cords (i.e. 4.0 GPA), my mom said, “… how come you don’t have any honor cords, like Brent… ” Might as well call your Dad, Brent Yee! Old school Chinese culture is pretty harsh and blunt, and my mother tells it like it is… gotta love her. (…)
~From a letter from Ray Y.
A note about Susan: Susan Hannifin-MacNab, MSW, PPSC is a social worker, educator, and author who holds a Masters in Social Work, a Bachelors in Education and credentials as a teacher and school social worker. After Susan’s surfer-professor-bagpiper husband was killed suddenly in 2012, she was left to pick up the pieces of her young family’s life. Early in her healing process, Susan stumbled upon Soaring Spirits International, an organization that provides hope, education and peer-based social support to the widowed community worldwide. She now works as their Programs and Educations Manager.
Susan also founded A2Z Healing Toolbox®, an organization that assists the bereaved in integrating authentic, practical, action-based tools into their lives while healing with intention. She facilitates conference workshops, professional development trainings, and keynote presentations nationally. Her five-time award-winning book, A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention, is used by mental health practitioners and bereaved communities worldwide.
We want to share with you some fragments of a wonderful book we recently made for the much loved retiring Iowa high-school teacher and mentor, Ken Huen.
“…here’s a collection of letters from the generations of students, parents, and teachers you have affected over the years.”
LETTER FROM Katie R. (from Runnells, Iowa):
Dear Mr. Huen,
Congratulations on your retirement! As you prepare to leave the classroom, I am sure many parents, teachers, and administrators will commend you for the years you spent building a successful band program at NHS (just look at all those Division I ratings on the wall!). And I am sure many of your former students will remember you for your funny quotes, the stories you would tell about performing with the Des Moines Symphony, and your motorcycle. But what I appreciate most about your tenure as an educator may be a little different.
“You have meant so much to the Norwalk School District and it won’t be the same without you.”
You remember that before the auditorium was built in Norwalk, you would take your band to Waukee High School every year to give us the opportunity to play in a real performance space. After the concert, the music boosters would host a cookie reception. One particular year, a few of the boys from Norwalk took about a dozen cookies each (let’s face it: they were all tuba players). The next day you lectured us about the appropriate number of cookies to take at a reception and-in a phrase worthy of the Huen Quote Folder-declared, “I don’t want my tombstone to say, ‘Was a band director.’ I want it to say, ‘Taught people manners,’ because that’s more important.” I still laugh about that! But that “Huenism” captures what I most appreciate about you: you didn’t just want your students to be good musicians, you wanted us to be good people.
“I don’t want my tombstone to say, ‘Was a band director.’ I want it to say, ‘Taught people manners,’ because that’s more important.”
There are probably few students in your career you benefited more than I did from your skills as a music educator. You prepped me for All-State auditions every year and hauled me to Ames and back, even when I was the only student in the festival. You coached me through the process of auditioning for college scholarships. In my senior year, you even gave me the opportunity to play a concerto with the band. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of hours you specifically invested in me. You cared about making me the best musician I could be and I am forever grateful.
But even more, I am grateful that you cared about me as a person. I remember that you were one of the only adults I confided in when my parents divorced during my senior year and that you (sometimes awkwardly) gave me relationship advice! I remember that you let me do homework in the band room, because it was really the only place I liked to be in high school. I remember that you attended my college recital and my ordination, years after I stopped being your student. And even now when I bump into you at the grocery store or a wedding reception, you genuinely want to hear about my life. You never had to teach me how many cookies to take at a reception (after all, I’m not a tuba player), but you still taught me a lot about kindness, hard work, and humor. I love that you helped make me a good musician, but you also helped make me a good person. And you are right: that is far more important.
So for all of the ways that you shaped young people like me, thank you. You are everything a teacher should be and we were lucky to have been your students.With love and gratitude, Katie Russell
LETTER FROM LaDonna C. R. (from Des Moines):
Experts say a child needs five adults who are not related to her but who are involved in her life, in order for her to realize her full potential. Katie is so blessed that one of her adults is Mr. Huen.
Katie shared all sorts of “Huen stories” over the years, most of them very funny. Some were quite touching. On more than one occasion she remarked to me that Mr. Huen was more of a dad to her than her father was. I’ll always remember the evening of her final concert, seeing tears streaming down her face, only to hear from her later that she started crying when she saw that Mr. Huen was crying.
Mr. Huen was a teacher who encouraged Katie toward excellence. In fact, he insisted on it. More than that, he was a father figure to her, someone who “got” her and understood her passion for music, for laughter, and for life. He continued his influence and presence far beyond her high school graduation. He attended her ordination for ministry and as I write this we look forward to his presence this spring at her wedding.
I’m certain others will share stories that will bring laughter and tears. Surely someone has a tambourine box and many band folders covered in quotes. For my part, words are not adequate. I’m simply, immensely, grateful. Thank you, Mr. Huen.
Katie’s mom, LaDonna R.
LETTER FROM Andy S. (from Milwaukee, WI):
Of all my education there was maybe only one teacher that understood me. I wasn’t the easiest student. I was late all the time and frankly kind of a terrorist. I was not given a chance to learn differently or even be respected by most. You understood me but more than that made me feel like I could actually be somebody. You knew education did not come easy for me but never judged me. The opposite, in fact, you allowed me to focus on music because you knew it was the only path I could take. A path which has lead me to perform hundreds of shows to thousands of people all over the country.
“I remember you sitting me down to listen to one of the baddest men on earth, Monte Montgomery. Still to this day one of the biggest influences of my guitar life.”
I don’t even know how I got away with it but I remember spending hours and hours during school in the makeshift recording studio you had assembled for students. You would walk past, through the double doors, almost as if you knew I was there but pretended I was not. Some of those recordings I still have today. I remember being in absolute awe one day when I brought my acoustic to school. You whipped it up and perfectly tuned it in about 7 seconds flat. I told myself I would do that one day. I remember sitting in the office listening to Lenny Kravitz Cab Driver. You looked at me and said ‘now this is rock and roll man’. I remember discovering Acoustic Alchemy and being astonished nylon guitar could be done so cool. But the biggest one. I remember you sitting me down to listen to one of the baddest men on earth, Monte Montgomery. Still to this day one of the biggest influences of my guitar life.
You were my guide to the music world for almost a decade. All these things shaped who I am today and I still think about you all the time. I say this last thing in 100% honesty. Whenever I am struggling with something or don’t want to do something your voice will pop in my head “don’t be a bum” and I get right back to it.
Thank you for everything, Ken.
FRAGMENT FROM A LETTER FROM Heather N.:
(…) Things I will never forget – probably the time you and Jeff made me sit last chair in middle school band because I skipped my chair placement lesson, and I had to challenge my way back to first chair during that year. That sucked. I still tell all of my students that story, and I try to teach them early before those mistakes and lack of organization are more costly (in hindsight – thank you for doing that).
I will also always remember when I stopped by a couple years after graduation and you looked at my hand and commented, “wait, little miss I don’t need a man is already engaged?!” Seventeen years later I suppose it was an okay decision but looking back, yeah holy cow was I young.
You, and the music department, were also a sane place for me. With my mom’s illness all the way through and some of the other stresses in life, having a place to focus on excellence, grow relationships, and find time to feel like a kid were priceless. I hope I am doing the same for my students now, who may never know how much of who I am they owe to you. (…)
And here are some photos from the recent celebration ceremony in which the 114 page book containing 38 letters from students, parents and colleagues was presented to Ken. Thank you Kara and everyone for sharing your story with us, and Happy Retirement to Ken!
You are eager to write your letter but are not sure where to start? To kindle your thoughts and help you find the right words, we have curated for you a vivid collection of inspiring quotes, letters and images. A few of these wise lines are from letters that were written for and printed in our books of letters for special occasions. We invite you to browse through these quotes and draw some inspiration for your own letters…
BE SOMEBODY THAT MAKES EVERYBODY FEEL LIKE A SOMEBODY.
~ From a FromABirdie.com book of letters
Getting to this respectable age needs some special thoughts like these:
Wouldn’t it be great if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes and come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller?
Last year I joined a support group for procrastinators. We have not met yet!
I don’t have grey hair; I have “wisdom highlights”
I don’t trip over things, I just do random gravity checks
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees
Of course I talk to myself – sometimes I need expert advice
What happens when a letter is accompanied by a photograph, or by a group of photographs?
Generally, we print one photo per page, following the letter, no matter how many photos there are associated with it. We always try to match photos with letters on a page spread, so you don’t see a letter from someone opposite a photo that someone else has uploaded with their letter. Sometimes things fall nicely into place on their own. But rarely. So we play with font style and size, and with combining some of the photos into groups. But that doesn’t always work. So, to accomplish that magical alignment of stars – I mean of content – we sometimes need to change the sequence of letters. That’s why we always ask our book organizers if we can resort to that step, if necessary.