Darwin’s birthday

I was out of town the weekend of Darwin’s birthday (February 12), but I wanted to wish him a belated birthday and point my readers to the Darwin Correspondence Project.  It’s a collection of every letter of Darwin’s that they can find!  What a treasure trove!

I found the Darwin website through the Axis of Evo blog’s post on evolution-themed snail mail art.  Check out the cool envelopes featured here!  Oooooh.  Now I want to go create envelope art!  Make your own and share pictures with me!

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?

Postcards from the edge

My friend just moved from Minnesota to Alabama.  She sent this post card as her change of address note to me. 

Those ladies look like they meant business!  Thanks, Carrie, for the snail mail and for the bit of American history, too!

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.

History of love letters and valentines

John Walsh at the Independent in the U.K. asks “Have we lost the art of writing love letters?”  He provides a nice history of love letters and St. Valentine.  He closes with this paragraph:

Do people send each other love letters any more? Or is the exchange of amorous declarations between partners now forever delegated to the insulting greetings card, the fluffy-bunny message in newspaper classifieds, the wholly unpassionate email, the economical salutation of the text message (“yr hairs so lng yr tits so gr8 theres nuthin bout you I don’t r8. fanC a shg?”)? Probably. But as recipients of real love letters will tell you, they don’t have to be the work of Elizabeth Barrett or Lord Byron, or to insist on the beloved’s spiritual qualities, to have an effect. Just a recital of her (or his) most shining virtues can do the trick. 

So go ahead and make the list of all your love’s virtues, share it with him or her, and see if it does the trick.

Valentine-making party

I had a few friends over last Saturday to make Valentines.  I designed five cards, provided the materials and instructions for others to recreate them and also had a “free for all” table for those who wanted to break free from instructions.  Six hours later, we all had handmade cards, bellies full of quiche and cupcakes, and smiles on our faces!

I wanted to share pictures of my valentines here and a couple before and after shots to show that we all got our craft on.

Here are the five designs:

“butterfly love”

“cupcakes!”

“punk rock love”

I made the “SWEET” sentiment using antique wood-block type I have.  A friend found a printer’s drawer filled with wood and metal type in his attic after he bought the house. What a find!

“friends”

My favorite was the “nested hearts” one below.  The heart was attached to the homemade envelope and folded open like a flower:

I lined the inside of the big folded heart with pages from Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  I found the book, falling to pieces, in a box at a yard sale.  I read it and then decided to repurpose it in a new, romantic form.  We all sought out the naughty bits to embellish our cards!

For the party, each card had a station with directions and the materials to make them.  Here’s a pic of the “butterfly love” card station.

I love the Stampin Up! stamps I used on the inside of this card.  Folks had three options of image and sentiment: cheese grater with “grateful for you”, antique sewing machine with “sew glad we’re friends” and typewriter with “just my type.”

Before and after shots of one of the tables:

And did I mention there were cupcakes?

Friends, food, and crafts.  What a glorious day!

More than kisses…

I was reading a history book once–Sovereign Amity–about friendship in early modern England and I came across a quote I captured in my art journal:

John Donne captured perfectly how I feel.  I’ve never seen any other statement so beautifully succinct and true about the gift of letters.  I found the quote so inspiring, I thought about opening a stationery shop called “More than Kisses.” But then I worried it might send the wrong message about what’s for sale inside!

Writing from the heart

With Valentine’s day just around the corner, many are pondering how to put their love into words.  There are lots of opportunities to express yourself in written words during this holiday, whether in a card, a letter, or those little notes on flower bouquets. 

Normally I’d say, “Write from your heart” to someone struggling to put pen to paper.  But as this Superbowl commercial demonstrates, that may not always be the best course of action:

If you’re looking for some guidance, why not peruse great love letters from the past?  I have a few books I’ve enjoyed.  Love Letters, collected by Everyman’s Library is a good place to start for examples.  Or How to Write Love Letters by Michelle Lovric is a beautifully designed book with both examples and also guidance on doing it yourself.  Remember, writing from the heart is good most of the time.  If you think you might be missing the mark, don’t be afraid to call in the professionals!

Snail mail tips and insights from the pros

Helpful hints and interesting insights from our intrepid mail carriers here.

My favorite is number 7: Paychecks, personal cards, letters—anything that looks like good news—I put those on top. Utility and credit card bills? They go under everything else.

With all the letters I’ve gotten lately, I noticed my mail carrier put them on top.  It’s so nice to see them first thing when I open the mailbox! It’s also nice to be shielded, even if momentarily, from the less pleasant pieces of snail mail.  Thanks Mr. Mailman.