How can something you hated become something you love? While I was away, in graduate school, my father regularly sent me clippings torn from our hometown weekly. He was trying to prove that I should come back home, and earn good money, rather than waste time in school. Annoyed as I was to receive his fat envelopes, and their implicit advice, I devoured each ragged article, even turning them over to look for (and often find) familiar names. The connection with home had meanings he didn’t intend.

My own beginnings as a clipper took place in 1996, when a close friend joined the Peace Corps. Pre-email communications with her, in Bulgaria, were limited. I enjoyed selecting a variety of stories, pictures and reminders of life stateside. I found that reading newspapers and magazines changed, as I wondered, “Would Judy like this?” When she returned from Bulgaria, she told me that when she finished reading my items, she passed them along to others, to help Bulgarian friends improve their English.

Today, I am a systematic, enthusiastic clipper. The table beside my reading chair contains scissors (improving upon my father’s ripped pages), business-size envelopes, stamps and sticky notes. Into my quiet world, I thereby regularly summon up friends near and far, as I clip articles, photos and cartoons. Staying in touch has become a habit. Over the years, I have developed several clipping rules, which perhaps can help you shrink the miles, and improve the usually sterile mailboxes of family and friends.

Rule 1: Imagine your reader. My sister occasionally receives bulging envelopes from me, clearly labeled “Train Reading.” Since she spends more than an hour on the train each day, she tosses my envelopes from mailbox into briefcase. My clippings connect us. Two photos of children on round sleds in recent editions of The Buffalo News brought back the “Flying Jets” from our childhood. I look for cartoons that make me smile, because I know they will make her laugh out loud. Many times, I find obituaries of lives well lived. Some veterans have served in the Pacific, as did our father. Other obituaries, or stories, describe lives with unique reach. With each clip, I picture her.

Rule 2: Connect through the past. Most of the envelopes I send off to friends have a very short note, describing how the enclosed article reminds me of something specific in our shared past. An older friend, who recently moved out of her own home, receives magazine photo-pages that illustrate different parts of her life. She writes back and tells me how much she enjoyed seeing shoes (or hats, or cars) of her youth. Another friend, a birdwatcher, benefits from the winners of annual photography contests published in one of my bird-related magazines. A friend who enjoys cooking with her adult daughter receives vegetarian recipes, while another friend gets those that use kale – a favorite.

Rule 3: Be uplifting. I am a regular at the post office, seeking out the newest “forever” stamps. Over the years, my envelopes have been homes to the artists, writers, designs and national events that stamps celebrate. This way, I send a miniature art gallery to my recipients, one chosen especially for them. The article enclosed has special meaning, and won’t take long to read. My choices invite them to feel remembered, and enriched.