Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quote of the day

Letters are useful as a means of expressing the ideal self. . . . In letters we can reform without practice, beg without humiliation, snip and shape embarrassing experiences to the measure of our own desires. . . .

-- Elizabeth Hardwick
American writer (1916-2007)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's missing in our lives due to e-mail

Oh, the list is probably much longer and includes such things as letters sealed with a kiss, spritzed with perfume, tied with a ribbon and saved for years, pulled out and re-read while you're curled up in a comfy chair by the fireplace...

But, the thing on my mind today is that what we're missing due to e-mails is the "Dear" in our lives. Very few people start out their e-mails with the salutation of "Dear _____." We're lucky if the e-mail even has our name at the beginning. Most e-mails I get start right off with the message.

From the perspective of the writer, I guess the idea is that if it's addressed to a certain person's e-mail address, then they know it's for them. There's no need for the "Dear."

Except that the "Dear" adds a level of civility to correspondence, electronic or otherwise. According to Meriiam-Webster's online dictionary, one meaning of the word dear is "highly valued - often used in a salutation."

I typically start out an e-mail with "Dear ______," especially if it is a first contact. Depending on the response I get and the replies I need to make, further communications may continue with the more formal "Dear _______" or they may become more casual with only only the recipient's name at the beginning of the e-mail. In the interest of brevity, some quick answers may not have a salutation or name at all, but that is usually after several e-mails have already been exchanged.

Of course, if e-mails don't start out with "Dear _____," they certainly don't end with "Love, _______" or even "Sincerely, __________," but that's another blog post.

Happy Letter Writing!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Postcard Exhibit

These days, I'm working on my letter-writing project, but when I was in high school, I started a postcard collection. I'm sure it's still around somewhere.

So, I have an interest in postcards and in the postcard projects, such as Post to Post, Post Muse, PostCrossing, and more.

My ears perked up Sunday when I heard about a story on CBS's "The Sunday Morning Show" about an exhibit of postcards. The story focused on an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which is featuring some of the 9,000 postcards in Walker Evans' collection.

Evans was an American documentary photographer who shot many photos in the Depression. He collected the postcards as snapshots of everyday life in the early 1900s.

According to the story, at one time, 800 million postcards were mailed a year in the United States. I don't think that many are mailed today.

A slide show featuring some of the postcards can be seen online on "The Sunday Morning Show"'s Web site. Currently, it's under the Photo Essay section. If it's moved, just use the site's search engine to look up "Evans."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wonderful surprise

Saturday's mail brought a nice surprise...a package of mail art from Barb Nelis! (That's all the stuff she sent in the picture above.)

I say it was a surprise because I didn't know when it would arrive, and I didn't know it would be so fun. This was my first swap of any sort.

After reading about Barb's Mail Art Swap on the Passion for Letter Writing blog, I decided to participate. I sent my 10 decorated envelopes to Barb and hoped that they were good enough for the swap. I didn't think to take a photo of my entry before I shipped it off, but if I remember correctly, I sent some handmade envelopes made from magazine pages. Some were decorated with pictures that I drew. One or two were made from graph paper, and some were adhered with some cool yellow tape that looks like a tape measure.

But the package I got in the mail was much more exciting! In her note to the swappers, Barb thanks everyone for the "gifties" and notes. Now, I did send a letter to Barb, but I didn't know about "gifties." The cool package Barb sent includes some zinnia seeds, some recipe cards, some paper for crafting and some mints, as well as a personal letter from Barb. Now, I know! I'll be on the lookout for some cool stuff to include with my next submission.

Oh, yes, Barb already has another swap on the calendar! Her next deadline is Sept. 30. If you're interested in participating, I'd suggest you e-mail Barb at for all the details. And, then, get busy decorating some envelopes!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Here's an idea!

Are you wondering what you would write in a letter if you were to write a letter?

How about writing about a childhood memory that you have about you and the recipient of your letter! Pick a childhood friend and sit down and write a letter to her (or him). Of course, let her know how you've been doing and ask how she is. Then, write about a special memory you have and how it makes you feel to look back on that memory, maybe even how the events in that memory have influenced your life.

Think about it this weekend, maybe even pull out some old photos to reminisce over or include with your letter. Don't forget to take time to write the letter...don't just think about it!

Happy Letter Writing!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Endurance of letters

Earlier in this blog, I wrote of the Vick letters that are transcribed and annotated on RootsWeb.

Jack Landers did quite a bit of research on the letters for the Vick descendants.

From what I understand, the original letters are archived in the Special Collections Department of the University of Virginia's Alderman Memorial Library in the "Papers of Amanda Sarah Boyd" collection.

The particular letter below was written by Mary Caroline Boyd Vick, my great-great-great-grandmother and Amanda Boyd's sister. To read more about the letters, go to the Vick section of RootsWeb.

I think one of the most interesting things is that Mary Caroline realizes that there are some things you just shouldn't put in writing. It seems many people today still haven't learned that lesson.

Here's the letter. Mr. Landers added in some punctuation, which I have included in this copy of the letter to make it a little more readable.

Lexington, Texas
Sept. 18th 1870

Dear Sister,

Your kind letter of the seventh of July was gladly received. We are not all
well here. We have all been sick mostly with colds and fever. Old Mrs.
Vick has been down with congestion of the liver but is better. Thomas's
folks have been sick. Judy has congestion of the stomach and brain - but
she is better. The doctor said there was a great deal of sickness on Santone
Prairie. That is about ten or twelve miles from here. Mrs. Perry has
lost most of her school - there was a teacher come here from Miss. And
they stopped to go to him - he was the President of the male Academy in
Miss. Nelly and Chely Sykes is going to Mrs. Perry. John Valentines
wife has a daughter. I have not been over to see her yet. Joe recieved
a letter from Sister the other day and I was glad to hear from all, but
sorry to hear of so many deaths. Where was old aunt Harriet living at?
Della said tell sister to please answer her letter and you to not answer it
to Vicy. It looks like she gets more letters than anybody and don't
write no more than the rest. I think your dresses is pretty. Mr. and
Mrs. Parker was over to see us Saturday. Her baby is so pretty and
fat. Mr. B. Sykes has bought land joining Johnson Perry's. I have picked
1100 lbs of cotton out of my patch and it is ready to pick again. They
are all over their heads picking cotton. They pick from 100 to 250 lbs.
It opens so fast it looks like they never will get it out. We have
beautiful dry weather to gather it in. The association will commence next
Friday. It is about twelve miles from here. Our garden is sorry. It
burnt up. Our potato patch is sorry but we will have plenty to eat.
The ground is too rich for them. Britton Valentine has been quite sick
, but he is better. I have wrote everything I can think of. If I could
see you I could tell you a heap of things that would not do to write. Tell
sister I wrote to her not long ago and for her not to wait as long as I did.
I must close. Write soon and write about everything and everybody. Is
crops as good as they are every year when they have been worked? We hear
different reports about it. I close. Your devoted sister

M.C. Vick

That letter has been saved and cherished by generations of people for almost 140 years. Can we still write such letters today?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peaceful Pastime

I don't know about you, but nowadays I often feel overwhelmed with everything that's going on in the world. I'm a journalist, so I'm not blaming the media, but often it's just too much to handle...war, mass murder/suicides, economic woes, salmonella poisoning, and the list goes on and on.

But, last Thursday, our electricity was off at home for almost the entire day. It went off in the middle of our morning rush, after I had fixed breakfast but before I had dried my hair. We lit some candles and finished getting ready. After too many phone calls to the electric company, they finally showed up out on the highway to replace the pole that had broken off at the ground. (Best I can tell, the wildfire the week before had weakened the pole, which was never replaced despite being burned, and then high winds snapped the pole at the ground.)

When the lights went out, instead of creating panic or mayhem in our household, the sudden quietness enveloped our lives in a gentle peace.

Except for our voices, there was total quietness. No TV blaring out the tragic news of the day or the upcoming weather. No radio screeching the latest hits or telling me what they decided at the recent city commissioners' meeting. No hum from the computers. No rumbling or buzzing from the dryer. Things we never realize make noise (coffee pot, lights, etc.) were quiet.

The lack of things to compete with brought down our own level of chaos. No need to yell in order to be heard. No need to rush...there was much less to do. I couldn't dry my hair with the hair dryer; a quick brush would have to do — it would dry on the way to work. I couldn't check e-mail or the blog. Those would have to wait till later. There was no choice.

Letter writing can produce a similar sense of peacefulness. Writing a letter doesn't require electricity, Internet service or much of anything else. All you need is a writing utensil, some paper (sometimes, that's not really necessary -- you can mail a coconut with a message written/carved on it or a wooden postcard), an envelope (again, not really needed -- any piece of paper can be folded into an envelope or self-mailer), a postage stamp, and access to postal service.

Stamps can be ordered by mail (ask at your post office for a form). Depending on where you live, you should be able to drop your letter in a nearby mail box for the postal employee to pick up. Obviously, some places don't have door-to-door mail delivery (see this earlier blog entry), but I think most do.

I'm recommending that you take a few minutes, maybe more, today to sit down, relax and write a letter. Turn off the TV. Turn off the radio. Turn off the (yikes!) computer. If it's still daylight and nice weather at your house, take your pen and paper and sit outside to write a letter. Enjoy the peacefulness of reconnecting with an old friend, introducing yourself to a new friend or catching up with family.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Preventing mistakes

I recently heard about applications cell phone users can program to prevent them from calling or texting certain people when they're drunk. Apparently this is a problem for some people, and the "Bad Decision Blocker" or "Don't Dial!" prevents the partier from calling old boyfriends/girlfriends, leaving stupid messages on your boss's phone, accidentally sending inappropriate text messages to your mom.

I guess bad decision phone calls were always a possibility in the past, but maybe the process of finding a quarter and a pay phone was enough of a delay to stop most of those phone calls.

And, for years now people have had issues with e-mails mistakenly sent to the wrong person.

It seems to me, that letter writing prevents many of those mistakes. Samara at the Letter Lover blog recently wrote about "unsent letters," letters she's writing with no intention of sending. The letters serve as a form of therapy for her, allowing Samara to get some things off her mind without getting involved in another argument or discussion with the recipient.

Samara doesn't say what she does with her unsent letters. Maybe she stores them away, maybe she burns them, maybe she shreds them. No matter what, she doesn't send them. No need for a "Bad Decision Blocker" in this situation. She has time to think about what she's doing and come up with a plan.

I suppose there have been cases of drunken letter writing and mailing in history, but I doubt it's ever been as much of a problem as drunk texting is. I've never heard of a proposal to put a breathalyzer on a mail box!

This is Card and Letter Writing Month, so let's all write a letter or two!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Vintage cards

In honor of Card and Letter Writing Month, I dug through my big box of stationery and cards and found my vintage cards.

To tell you the truth, I don't remember where they all came from. Some were in my Granny's things, and some I bought at thrift stores.

I don't know much about vintage greeting cards, so I really don't know how old they are. Only one, the card with the little angel sitting on a mushroom writing a letter, is dated, and it says MCMLV, which is 1955. And, the engagement card is obviously from the 1970s, I'm guessing. I remember when those cards were popular. In fact, images such as that were on all sorts of things, spiral notebooks, necklace pendants, bracelet charms, etc.

Somewhere, I have several vintage Christmas cards, too.

I've never quite figured out what to do with them. I've thought of framing them and arranging the framed cards in a grouping on the wall. But, I've never gotten around to that. I have duplicates of some of the cards, so I could send some with letters or use them in collages.

Does anyone collect old cards? If you have any, how do you display them? Why do you collect them?

Give me some ideas!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Isn't this quote by Lord Byron (British poet, 1788-1824) so true? It seems to me that even if a person is alone when writing a letter, you don't feel lonely. Rather, you tend to feel connected to the person you're writing to, almost as if they are there with you. Now, later, after the letter has been dropped into the mailbox, and you're waiting for a reply that might not come for days or weeks, well, then, you might feel a little lonely. But when you are sitting there with pen in hand and paper before you, distance and time seem to melt away and you are in the presence of a friend.

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.
- Lord Byron

Monday, April 13, 2009

Every occasion for a letter

As she was getting ready for bed Saturday night, my 8-year-old daughter remembered one last task she needed to complete...write a letter to the Easter Bunny!

She found some paper and a pen and dashed off a message, making sure the Easter Bunny found the carrots she left out for him and remembered to hide her Easter eggs around the house for an early morning Easter egg hunt. She requested a reply from the big rabbit, and in her P.S., Anna asked if the Easter Bunny is brown and white like other bunnies.

That ol' bunny did write her back, thanking her for the yummy carrots. And, he answered her question about his seems that he changes colors. When he eats carrots, he turns orange; when he eats strawberries, he turns pink; and when he eats blueberries, he turns blue.

Anna was quite delighted with that answer, and now she has another letter for her collection.

Don't forget...April is Card and Letter Writing Month! Send a card AND a letter to someone you've been thinking about!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

One of my favorite letters

Even before this year and this project, I've written lots of letters.

When I was a kid, we moved several times. So, I wrote to friends in Muskogee, Oklahoma; Monroe, Louisiana; Plainview, Texas; and, Winnsboro, Louisiana. I also wrote to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins...after I left for college, my parents and brother and sister. Even though my husband and I have rarely been apart for long in the 20 years we've been a couple, I've written quite a few love letters to him. And, in my daughter's almost-nine years, I've written several letters to her.

But, I must say one of my favorite letters to write was the one inviting friends and family to our wedding in May 1991.

We didn't have what many people would call a traditional wedding. Our ceremony was in a park in Lubbock, Texas, on a bright spring morning. Lace and pearls really wasn't my style, so I had a simple but beautiful wedding dress made from a cream-colored cotton brocade. Instead of a veil, I had my hair up in a bun and the bun was encircled with cream-colored roses and baby's breath flowers. Those same fresh flowers made up my small bouquet. They also decorated our wedding cake, which I made myself. We didn't intend to have a wedding cake, but my mom insisted, so I said, "Well, if I have to have one, I'll just make it myself." And, I did, from a recipe we found in Country Living magazine. Instead of traditional music, our friend, Lubbock-based musician D.G. Flewellyn, played the guitar and sang. I walked down the "aisle" with my parents as D.G. sang "The Wedding Song (There is Love)." We wrote our own vows, of course. Afterwards, we all gathered at my little duplex for barbecue and wedding cake.

With all of that planned, fancy, engraved wedding announcements would have been out of character. So, I found some nice cream-colored stationery with a pretty deckle edge. And, with my cartridge/calligraphy pen loaded with brown ink, I hand-wrote each invitation in the form of a letter. At the time, it had been a few years since I had done much calligraphy, so I was a little out of practice. Additionally, with our less-than-formal style, we didn't want an overly flowerly lettering, so I combined a few different scripts until I came up with a Celtic-like look we wanted.

Those letters were a joy to write, inviting our closest friends and family members to a very special day for us. Many came to celebrate with us, and this year we'll celebrate 18 years of marriage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Quote of the Week

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
German author (1749-1832)

Celebrate Card and Letter Writing Month by sending a letter today!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Postal Service cutbacks

A story on NPR yesterday details how the U.S. Postal Service is cutting airstrip service — the only type available — to a remote area of Idaho.

Both sides of the story are presented in Howard Berkes' story, and some interesting points are made in the "Comments" section of the story.

I think we all understand budget problems, fewer postal customers, etc., but I think most of us just assume mail service is guaranteed. The story quotes a resident of the area, Doug Tims as saying, "(It's) always been rain, snow, sleet and dark of night,mail (still) goes through."

I hope they can come up with a better solution.

Monday, April 6, 2009

One a day is enough for me

I heard President Obama mention recently that he reads 10 letters a day...he receives 40,000 a day. Wow!

Before I started researching the Presidential letters, I never knew there was "White House Correspondence Office." I guess if I'd ever thought about it, I would have realized that someone had to be in charge of all that mail.

An article on The Washington Post Web site tells how the President makes time each day to personally read 10 letters. He does it, the article says, to keep himself grounded and to remind him about what's going on beyond the White House walls.

According to Jake Tapper's ABC blog, the president sometimes copies and distributes certain letters to his staff, so that they, too, understand what's happening in "the real world." That particular article/blog entry says that President Obama responds to two or three letters a day "in his own hand." It's an effort for me to get my one letter a day written!

With all he has to do, I realize it must be a struggle for President Obama to read those letters and respond to a few, but I hope that he continues to do this throughout his presidency. Not only will it help him achieve his goal of staying in touch with the American people, but it also will help promote letter writing, personal correspondence and good communication between people.

For myself, I think I'll just stick to my goal of one letter a day.

If you would like to send the President a letter, his address is:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Happy NCLWM!

Until I started this project and blog, and started reading other blogs about letter writing, I had no idea there was a National Card and Letter Writing Month. But, there is, and it's this month! (Actually, the "month" extends to May 10, Mother's Day.)

Unfortunately, I'm not finding too much support out there in the world for this national observance. Several years ago, the U.S. Postal Service promoted the month, but I don't see anything on their Web site so far this year.

There is a big promotion going on over at the Letter Lover blog. Samara O'Shea has teamed up with Gifts in 24 to host an essay writing contest. Read all about it here and here.

According to a press release issued a few years ago,
"National Card and Letter Writing Month is an opportunity for all Americans to rediscover the timeless and very personal art of letter writing," said Postmaster General John E. Potter. "Both in times of peace and conflict, cards and letters are the most effective way to share and permanently record our thoughts, prayers, hopes and dreams."

Although the Hallmark company doesn't have anything on their Web site about NCLWM, they do have information about "an enhanced selection of everyday greeting cards, with pricing starting at 99 cents."

"People are returning to basics, reaching out and letting people know they're loved and appreciated or just to say thanks," said Tressa Angell, Hallmark senior product manager. "Our consumers recognize that it's important to say what they want to say. They understand the power an unexpected gesture can have."

There's some great suggestions over at Associated Content, and the Random Acts of Mediocrity has a post about the month.

Girlfriend Celebrations has lots of great information on hosting a Letter-Writing Girls Night. Sounds like a wonderful party!

Let's celebrate National Card and Letter Writing Month by writing letters and sending cards! It'll brighten someone's day!
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