Make a kid smile

I’ve written before about sending letters to the kids in your life.  They love getting mail that’s just for them.  If you don’t have any kids in your life to send notes to, perhaps you’ll be inspired to send a note to a child with a serious illness who could use a little cheer in their mail. 

Post Pals connects kids with serious illnesses to snail mail enthusiasts, asking folks to send notes or small gifts to help them face the challenges they do every day. More heartbreaking are the links to send memorial notes to the siblings of children who have passed away.  A random act of kindness and compassion really can make a difference in someone’s life, so please take a moment to send a note.

Post Pals is for children in the United Kingdom.  I don’t know yet if there is an American version, but will check and get back to you.

Thanks to Maria and her blog Life Long Book Passion for the link to Post Pals!

Now get writing!

I am not alone!

This is a young blog, and I have a few friends who are diligently reading it and, I hope, enjoying it. I think even a few folks who don’t know me personally are checking it out. I started the blog to write about all the snail mail and handwritten loves of my life. I had too much inside me and needed a place to get it out.

I now realize I am not alone.

I know it’s weird that I didn’t look before, but only in the last couple days did I poke around the internet to see if there were other blogs like mine…other snail mail enthusiasts who blogged about wanting to keep snail mail alive. And there ARE! There are a lot more than I thought. This is wonderful!

Apparently there are a lot of us avid letter writers who think “I’m the only one who writes letters any more.” So we think that we’re writing and mailing away all on our own. But the beauty of the internet is that you can always find like-minded souls out there fervently in love with the same things you adore. We can build a far-flung community!

So while I write this blog to share my love of snail mail with everyone, hoping to inspire more of you to take pen in hand and spread the fun, it’s nice to know there are others out there doing the same thing! We all have a different take–some are focused on the stationery itself or fancy pens and papers, others on mail-art projects.  Some participate in swaps where people send random strangers fun mail and see if a pen pal friendship forms. It’s a wonderful world out there.

I’ll share a few of my favorites in the near future.  My favorite was, of course, the Letter Writer’s Alliance.  The LWA was started by the two ladies at 16 Sparrows, who design vintage-inspired stationery in Chicago. LWA’s a membership of people who love to write letters.  I sent away for my membership right away!

Snail mail nerds unite!

Writing a quick, meaningful note

My friend Brandy pointed me to this Real Simple article that provides some guidance on sending a birthday, celebratory, or condolence note.  With examples of each and a few do’s and don’ts, it makes writing a quick note easy.

Every attempt you make to reach out to someone else is worth it.  Do it today.

Spring is almost here

Here in the southern U.S., spring comes early.  My first daffodil of the season showed its face on February 20th!  And my dogwoods look like they’re actually going to bloom this year.  I am thrilled!

When spring comes, I feel lighter and happier. But outside activities can reduce the time I spend inside writing letters. So, to make sure I keep in touch with others, I’ll make some spring notes to send. I have all sorts of spring-themed rubber stamps; hopefully I can find time to use them.

I love spring notes. They’re always so cheerful after that last stretch of winter. Below is an Easter card from my grandmother. I received it when I was in first grade.

This card is evidence that I was a letter writer even then. See inside:

I noticed that when I go back through letters from my mom or grandmother, that they often write “Saturday morning” rather than the date.  Which is, of course, annoying if you’re trying to figure out when it arrived and no longer have the envelope.  I had to use my powers of deductive reasoning to date this one (first grade, Easter) to 1984.  For all you letter writers out there, put a date on your missives so when your recipients are enjoying them in years to come, they’re not wondering exactly which “Saturday morning” you’re referring to!

But I digress.

So, who can you send spring notes to? Break out some card stock and art supplies (crayons, colored pencils, and stickers will do!).  No need to get fancy to spread your springtime cheer!

Write me back!

I remember that when I was a kid all of my notes (whether passed in the hall or mailed to pen pals far away) ended with the earnest request, “Write me back.” And the ones I received said the same. Somewhere along the way, we learned that this was part of kid-note etiquette.

I guess we had to make sure the recipient was well aware of the sacred pact that had been forced upon her or him—a letter received came with a requirement to write back.

Now, as a full-fledged grownup, my notes generally do not end with demands for the reader to write back (unless, of course, I’m writing my young nieces who expect that as a crucial component of a letter!). Even letters I write to people who have not responded to my last missives never contain admonitions.

I write people to let them know I’m thinking of them and to share a bit of what’s going on with me. While I love return letters, I do not send snail mail explicitly to get something back. And I certainly do not write letters to make my recipients feel guilt or shame or anger at the new mantle of responsibility I have placed upon their shoulders from which they can’t wrestle free until they respond!

But you would think that was the case.

After my birthday request for folks to write to me, I received an email from a friend who has actually written me numerous letters over the years. He promised he would write, at some point, but that I shouldn’t get too excited, because it would very likely be six months from now. He wanted to set the bar low so I wouldn’t get my hopes up. He may also have set this expectation to assuage his guilt about the time it might take to write—a guilt he took on himself.

He then sent me an email a month later saying, “I’m still going to write, but just not now.” This made me realize that he’s carrying around this burden of having to write me a letter, it’s another addition to his to-do list. I’ve inadvertently shouldered this man with another responsibility, a man who spends his “free time” chasing a toddler around and probably trying to cook dinner, pay attention to his wife and catch a few winks before having to head to work and then do it all over again.

That was not the reason for my birthday request! I swear!

I also received a birthday letter from a friend who is currently living in France. (She sent the only international addition to my birthday request pile!) She mentioned in her note that she used to be an avid letter writer, but she stopped because sending out letters that that rarely elicited responses made her feel lonely.

I can definitely understand the unfulfilled wish for a return letter creating a feeling of loneliness. But perhaps if she knew that her recipients far away were likely saddled with guilt for not having written back, she would take comfort. Both sides were actually thinking of each other!

Of course, in the best of all worlds, letters sent out are received with joy and returned in kind. Yesterday I received two (!) pieces of snail mail and I am looking forward to writing back. I just bought some new stationery I can use!

But I suppose that just reinforces this vicious circle. Or, because it generates snail mail, maybe it’s a virtuous circle.

To inspire you to approach letter writing with an open heart and without a feeling of dread or responsibility, I leave you with this video:

Kids these days…

I know you’ve seen them–in restaurants, on the bus, walking through stores–young folks with their eyes glued to their smart phone screens, texting away.  I sometimes worry that all that screen time will have adverse effects on their attention span, social skills, and ability to enjoy what is actually going on around them, in real life.  Then I wonder if I’m just turning into a curmudgeon.

But I do know that despite the prevalence of texting, facebook, and email, the kids in my life love sending and receiving letters almost as much as I do! My neice Shawna–a sophomore in high school–just sent me a letter the other day.  I had written her a note and she wrote back! In it, she mentioned that she missed writing letters as much as we used to (admittedly, as she has grown up and become a heavy user of instant forms of communication, letters have become more infrequent).  Still, despite all the options for instant communication, she still relishes receiving handwritten letters in the mail.

There’s hope for snail mail yet!

Are there any kids in your life? Try mailing them a note and see what happens.  You just may develop a new pen pal and it’s a great way to connect one-on-one with a child in your life.

Birthday request update

For my birthday this year, I made a request to friends and family to send me a letter or note via snail mail.  I have already posted a picture of a day when personal snail mail rivaled junk mail and I’ve had quite a few other great snail mail days since my request.  I’ve responded to almost everyone who sent a letter (Jason and Allison, your replies are on their way, soon!).  Here’s a shot of a pile of outgoing snailmail I sent recently:

It was so much fun to have letters to reply to! To date, I’ve received thirty cards and letters. 

Responding to them all really put a dent in my crazy stationery collection (you may note the Asian beauty military stationery or the Pankunchi stationery that seems to tell a story about three friends–a slice of bread, a loaf of bread and a panda–going on adventures.  I’m not kidding!)

The snail mail I received ran the gamut from touching and sweet to laugh-out-loud funny.  Some did both.  My uncle, taking my request for a “letter or a note” literally, sent me the following:

He’s always been a comedian. 

I’m hoping my snail mail experiment with friends and family isn’t over or just limited to a birthday request.  Some have promised to send a letter at some point in the future (adhering to a birthday timeline was just too much!). 

But snail mail is always appreciated when it arrives.  It has no expiration date.

Being thankful

I’m writing a thank you note to my neighbors who fed me a beautiful meal on Friday.  I just sent a thank you note to my aunt and uncle for hosting me last weekend in Maryland.  And I’m still working on a thank you to my friend who helped me set up this blog. 

Am I telling you this to make you feel bad about all the thank you notes you haven’t sent?  No. I’m writing about them to discuss one of the few remaining reasons most folks send any sort of snail mail these days.  For the big events–like weddings and baby showers–we know we’re supposed to mail handwritten notes for the gifts we receive.  Email or phone calls just won’t do.  So we write them.  I’ve heard folks talk about sending thank you notes as a chore they need to just get through, maybe with a little help from a bottle of wine.

I’d like to suggest that we all write thank you notes more often and use them as an opportunity to really be thankful.  When I write notes to my neighbors for a wonderful dinner, I’m thankful for their friendship, generosity and gifts in the kitchen.  When I thank my aunt and uncle for their hospitality, I’m thankful for having a family that actually enjoys having me around. 

It’s so easy for me to become grumpy about my pile of to-do’s, a pile that despite my best efforts always gets bigger.  It’s also easy to add writing and sending thank you notes to that list of chores. But, in recent years especially, I have tried to write thank you notes whenever I feel grateful for a gift, a friendship, a kindness.  It’s a bit like meditation.  The act of writing down my gratitude allows me to put aside other things for a moment, focus on a happy memory, and just be thankful.  It’s actually fun.

Not only do I enjoy it, but others enjoy it when their kindness results in a bit of fun in their mail box and concrete proof that their actions were truly appreciated.  Below is a thank you note I received in 1984.

It’s from a teacher who thanked me for giving her decorative soaps for Christmas.  I remember the beautiful soaps and I also remember that it was my mom who deserved the thanks for buying and wrapping them. So I didn’t even deserve the thank you note!

But I’ve kept the note for all these years, because it shows me how much being appreciated can mean to someone.  And I don’t mean me…

My sister found the note at some point and so wanted to be the recipient of that gratitude that she scratched out my name and penciled in her own.  Voila! Instant thank you note to Jessie.  This little note reminds me that everyone likes to feel appreciated.

In my quest to save snail mail, I’m sending a lot of thank you notes. It’s a quick and easy way to take stock of all I have to be thankful for and to let people know how much their thoughtfulness means to me. 

Do you have any thank you notes to write?

Egyptian pen pals

In high school, waaaaay back in the early 90s, I had Egyptian pen pals.  They were two guys named Sameh and Aiman, both college students.  Sameh was majoring in engineering and wanted to be a police officer.  Aiman was an English major and hoped to be an interpreter or guide.  I think we found each other as pen pals because we had a common love for collecting stamps (we were philatelists, if you want the official term).  Our letters largely revolved around exchanging stamps, stories about our families, and information about our countries and cultures. 

We wrote back and forth for a couple years.  Occasionally, Aiman would send me drawings.  I’m not so sure he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, too.  His letters took a somewhat romantic turn:

I somehow skirted those overtures and eventually we fell out of touch after I went to college.  Given the unrest in Egypt lately, I was thinking about my old pen pals and wondering how they might be involved, hoping they are safe.

As I sat and pondered what their lives were like now, it was nice to have the pile of snail mail to sift back through to conjure memories.  What gifts letters can be so many years later. In the next couple of weeks I’m going to share more blasts from the past.