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Yours Truly, Ashley

Julia Child and Avis DeVoto were more than pen pals, more than best friends, they were soul-mates. Our friends are a reflection of who we are and our soul-mates can be best friends who bring out all our good qualities. Julia and Avis built their friendship with the art of letter writing. Sometimes you just know when you've made a special connection. Their letters discuss all kinds of topics: shallots, beurre blanc, dried herbs, McCarthy paranoia politics of postwar Europe, personal chaos, theater, books, aging, even sex.

Our true thoughts come out on paper. It's easy to get a feel of what someone is really like in a letter. You see personality in the handwriting, phrasing of thoughtful words, and punctuation marks. As Always, Julia is not a novel but a truly wonderful book of letters between best friends; this is the kind of book you want to share- and then write a letter to your best friend instead of emailing her.

We are so deeply entrenched in technology that letter writing can seem sadly outdated compared to using a cell phone to text, tweet, or call. None of those methods of communication equal the delight and satisfaction you get from receiving a real letter. Technology produces an emotional distance; unlike a letter that you can smell, feel, and see the beauty in the choice of stationary (even the stamp). With our busy schedules, sometimes it's easier to keep up with our friends through writing. It's not always possible to have a conversation while coordinating dinner and children's bedtimes but afterward I very much enjoy sitting down to write to a friend. It's a release and a joy!
When I was little I used to love walking to the mailbox and I'd cross my fingers hoping there would be a letter in there for me! Reading As Always, Julia I was very much inspired to write to a friend.

I wonder what Julia would have thought of Facebook and Twitter. It's my guess that she would have liked them because she loved people and loved to write, learn and keep up with her friends. I doubt she would have loved it though because it's so much more impersonal than a letter. Letters are a lost art! In this time of bite sized tweets, texts, and emails we have forgotten how special it once was to receive a thoughtful letter, not thank you note, a real letter. A letter is but a talk on paper. Why are letters so hard for some people? Is it because technology makes everything so choppy? Twitter only allows space for 140 characters. You really can't say much, even in a direct message! My motto for writing is always (like Nike) "just do it," because you're in the moment and it sounds real.

I always had pen pals growing up and I attribute my love of writing to a love of having a written conversation. Writing is so easy when you care about the person you are addressing. Avis said, "I suppose one reason we can write so easily to each other is that, for one, we have established the rhythm, and for another, that our lives are not much involved with each other, actually. Perhaps if we lived next door, we would have developed curtains and veils and various tender heels. Anyway, it is lovely to be perfectly at ease and to be able to discuss anything at all; and may it remain ever so!

If you want a letter, you have to send a letter and begin the circle of communication. I have a former student, Savanna, who writes to me occasionally. Her letters are little treasures full of innocence and even a little German! Fostering a love of letter writing is easy if your children see you doing it too. I very much encourage children to write "free flow" style because like writing in a journal, they develop their voice and will start to enjoy it just as they do when they've just checked out a new library book.

It's great fun to read Avis and Julia's friendship build in the letters. Their correspondence was really just by accident. Julia had admired a column in Harper's about knives that Avis DeVoto's husband, magazine journalist Bernard DeVoto wrote. Julia was living in Paris at the time and wrote Mr. DeVoto a letter to thank him for his article, Avis, who handled most of her husband's mail, wrote back. The two hit it off instantly. Their forty plus year friendship begins with Dear Mrs. and eventually Dearest friend. I love how Avis ends her letters lashings of love. These were women who were highly intelligent, strongly opinionated, extremely witty and who loved each other very much.

Julia Child's best friend Avis.jpg
I absolutely adore Julia Child and think of her as Our Lady of Butter and Vermouth. Julia is my personal hero for teaching me to savor life and find my joie de vivre. She was a totally charming woman and I wish I could have met her. While reading this book, I laughed out loud several times; these are a few of my favorites Julia quotes:

People who love to eat are always the best people.
About her body, Julia writes: Bosom not as copious as she would wish, but has noticed that Botticelli bosoms are not big either.
I had intended to be a great woman novelist, but for some reason The New Yorker didn't ask me to be on its staff.
Before marriage I was wildly interested in sex, but since joining up with my old goat, it has taken its proper position in my life.
I think one should get one's vitamins in salads, and raw fruits, and what is cooked should be absolutely delicious and to hell with the vitamins.
If you have knives you certainly don't need tomato slicers, parsley choppers, onion choppers, etc.

About a hostess Julia says:Be advised never to say anything about what she serves, in the way of "oh, I don't know how to cook, and this may be awful," or "poor little me," or "this didn't turn out" ...etc. etc. It is so dreadful to have to reassure one's hostess that everything is delicious, whether or not it is. I make it a rule, no matter what happens, never to say one word, though it kills me. Maybe the cat has fallen in the stew, or I have put the lettuce out the window and it has frozen, or the meat is not quite done...Grit one's teeth and smile. It ain't French, it ain't good, and the hell with it.

Avis was an excellent first editor. Prior to reading As Always, Julia I knew lots about Julia Child but none about her best friend, Avis. She is fascinating and I really enjoyed getting to know her from her letters. She was extremely smart (reading nine newspapers a day) and busy (conversing with people at Harvard and in the New York publishing field). Avis was a huge help in getting Julia's magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking published.

Their friendship lasted until the end. They wished they'd found each other, and shared their love for food earlier in their lives. Don't wait to start writing; just like Julia and Avis, you might send or receive a letter worth saving.
Julia Child and Avis.jpg

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