Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paper vs. Digital

Sometimes, I turn old maps into envelopes, like these in the 365 Letters Etsy shop.
A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar presented by two women from out of town. The seminar was being offered to the citizens of the small community in which I work. The population here is less than 9,000.

It was an evening seminar, starting at 6 p.m. The same team had presented a similar seminar at another small town about 30 miles down the road earlier in the day.

When I arrived for the seminar, I saw two women getting out of a car in the parking lot. As I mentioned, these are small Texas towns, so it's fairly easy to spot the out-of-towners, especially those from the "big city." When I got into the meeting room, I saw that I was correct in guessing that the two women in the parking lot were the presenters. I was curious why they were just getting there. Typically, the presenters would arrive early and be all set-up before any of the guests arrived.

Immediately, the two women started explaining to everyone around them that they had been driving for four hours, trying to find the town. It had taken them four hours to drive 30 miles from one town to the other, a route that has only one turn on it.

It seems they were relying on their GPS device to tell them how to get there, and, in their words, "it kept sending them down non-existent roads."

I suspended logic and refrained from asking them how they got lost on "non-existent roads." And, they were running so far behind, there really wasn't time for them to explain how they took four hours to drive 30 miles. But, the entire incident reinforced the benefits of the seemingly obsessive habit I have of checking and re-checking maps — online and printed versions — before I take a trip. I have an old-fashioned road map in my car, and before I embark on a venture, I usually spend quite a bit of time on online map sites, checking out the various routes and then printing out my final plan. The great thing about the online maps is that I can zoom in to street-level and make sure I know every single detail about my trip.

The situation reminded me of 21st century personal communication. Sometimes, digital (email, texting, social media) is fine. Other times, a handwritten letter on paper is better. And, sometimes, a combination of the two...a computer written letter printed out on paper and sent through the mail system...works best. Choose the method that is most appropriate for each situation!

Happy letter writing!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Love Letter Research

I'm always on the lookout for stories about letter writing. It's always such a joy to see confirmation that handwritten correspondence is still important to people.

This week, I ran across a story about Michelle Janning, a college sociology professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She has studied the way people keep letters, why they keep them, and so forth.

In a blog post she wrote last year, Michelle said, "I study where people store love letters, whether they are paper or digital, how often they look at them, and whether they are located “on” or “in” things. ... Interestingly, both men and women in my research prefer to save the paper love letters over digital letters like emails and texts. There’s something more gratifying about holding and folding than swiping and pinching, I guess."

You can read more of that blog post here.

You can read more about Michelle Janning's research on her blog.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Help Find Those Who Are Missing

In the small town of Graham, Texas, where I work, a young mother has been missing since the end of May. Leah Martin, 22, went to the local high school graduation and then disappeared within an hour of leaving the event. There's been no sign of her at all. Her family has assured everyone that she never would have left voluntarily, and they've been searching for her since she vanished.

Although Leah is an adult, her disappearance made me think of the new stamps issued by the US Postal Service just 11 days before that graduation night. The "Missing Children" stamp features the words "Forget-Me-Not" and a picture of a bouquet of the purple flowers. At the bottom of the Forever first-class postage stamp is the reminder: Help Find Missing Children.

According to the USPS website, the Postal Service has played a role in the search for missing children for 30 years. Inspired to action by “Adam,”the moving October 1983 television movie about the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, three organizations — the U.S. Postal Service, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Valassis Communications, Inc. — cooperated on a program to feature photographs of missing children on advertising materials delivered to millions of American homes. The program officially began in May 1985. To date, about 1,900 of the nearly 3,300 children featured on these mailings have been recovered, including at least 158 as a direct result of this program.

The USPS also publishes photos and information about missing children in the “Postal Bulletin,” a biweekly publication distributed among nearly 32,000 Post Offices, adding some 600,000 employees to the search effort.

The stamps just serve as a reminder to everyone that there are missing kids out there who need to find their way home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

War Letters Throughout History

Researcher and historian Andrew Carroll has collected thousands of letters that American military troops have sent back home from war, from the Revolutionary War to modern times. His project has led to The Legacy Project, a book, documentaries, a play and collections on display. You may have read about Carroll and his project here on this blog before. To see some of the posts I've written about War Letters before, just type "War Letters" into the search box in the top left corner of this blog and hit your return or "enter" key.

This past Memorial Day, ABC ran a segment of Carroll and the letters. In that interview, Carroll says this about today's troops and their letter writing:
"One of the great misconceptions about letter-writing today, is that the troops aren't creating these incredible correspondences. The way they did back in the civil war. It's not true. You have troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who have composed the most eloquent and poignant and powerful messages that I have ever read. So, you know, that's why we're encouraging families who have had troops serving in these other countries, save those e-mails."

Check out the ABC segment below and go read more about Andrew Carroll and his War Letters project.

ABC News Videos | ABC Entertainment News

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Medal of Honor Stamps

In the United States, this coming Monday, May 25, will be observed as Memorial Day, a day for remembering those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It's a federal holiday, and there will be no mail delivery.

But, the U.S. Postal Service will still be hard at work. At 1 p.m., Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the Postal Service will dedicate the Limited Edition Medal of Honor: Vietnam War Forever Stamps. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the National Park Service will host the ceremony, which will be free and open to the public and will include nearly a dozen Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients.

The stamps are presented in a four-page portfolio with the first and fourth pages featuring photographs of the 48 living recipients of the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War who agreed to be part of the event. The photographs on each of these pages surround a group of 12 Forever  stamps (24 total), consisting of three different designs, one for each version of the Medal of Honor: that of the Army, the Navy (also presented to members of the Marine Corps) and the Air Force. Page two of the portfolio contains a short text and a key to the individuals pictured. Page three features an alphabetical listing of those individuals who agreed to be included and of the deceased Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam War.

The stamp package is modeled after the World War II and Korean War Medal of Honor stamp sheets issued in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

The Medal of Honor: Vietnam War Forever Stamps are available in a variety of philatelic products, including a framed art piece, press sheets, digital postmark keepsakes, first day covers and more.

Visit the USPS website or your local post office for more information. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Safe Penpalling

One of the great joys of letter writing is the penpal experience.

When I was a teenager, I had penpals from all over the world...China, Germany, Yugoslavia, England, Denmark, West Malaysia, Japan and several other countries. We wrote to each other about all sorts of things, ranging from details about how we lived our lives in our respective corners of the world to typical things teens talk about with each other, dreams for the future, problems in school, boy/girlfriends, etc.

It was a great cultural exchange that took place seemingly everywhere.

As an American, I sometimes received a letter from a new penpal who assumed that all Americans were rich and who thought I could send them money or things. I never did. I spent all my money on air mail stamps...I didn't have any extra to spare!

My penpals and I often exchanged photos of ourselves. They were simple photos that our parents took of us or maybe school photos.

Nowadays, with email scams rampant, TV shows feeding our fears of stalkers and serial killers, and dating sites scattered across the Internet, blindly sending off a kid's name, address and photo -- or even your own -- to someone who says they'll find them a penpal doesn't always seem like the smart thing to do.

Of course, there are legitimate, safe penpal services out there, but here are some tips to make your penpal experience even safer:

1. Enjoy the experience of penpalling but be cautious and smart. Trust your instincts.

2. Get and use a P.O. Box, rather than sending out your home address. A P.O. box at the post office typically costs $20-$30 every six months, maybe more in some communities. Check with your local post office to see what they have available and how much it costs. If that's not an option, try using your office address (or that of your parents).

3. Don't send a photo right off the bat. If you send a photo ever, wait until you've exchanged several letters and feel like you know the penpal better. If you are a teen or younger kid, never ever send any kind of inappropriate photo to anyone, even if they ask you to or send you one of them. If that happens, take the letter to a trusted adult immediatley.

4. Don't give out too much very personal information about yourself immediately. For example, you might say "My birthday is in May" rather than giving out the specific date and year.

5. Never send money. Don't send gift cards, money orders or anything of the sort. And, never send your penpal your bank account information. Not for any reason.

6. Be wary of meeting in person until you've written to your penpal for a long time. And, then, only meet in a public place with lots of people around.

7. Penpals often exchange items, from a package of your favorite gum to bookmarks to little trinkets that represent your country. But, don't be bullied into sending anything you don't want to send, from photos to candy to recipes. Only participate in "swaps" that you're interested in.

I don't write these tips for safe penpalling to scare you off of the hobby. Penpalling is a fun and exciting project. But, it's better to be safe.

Happy letter writing!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Perfect Letter"?

Chris Harrison, the  longtime host of ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, has written his first novel. Now, I don't watch those shows, and I haven't read the novel. In fact, I most of the reviews I've seen on the book have not been positive.

However, the book's title is "The Perfect Letter," and, apparently, letters figure into the romance story. So, I thought it was worth mentioning here.

Published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, the book is available as an ebook, hardcover or paperback. 

Today is the release date for "The Perfect Letter" by Chris Harrison.
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