Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Stamps

The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum Web site has a history of the traditional Christmas stamp and the art on which the stamps are based. It is an interesting look back in time.

Visit The Art of Christmas Stamps at the Web site. Using the arrow on the bottom right, scroll over until you see the exhibit listed. Then, just click to see the exhibit.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Voting is Open in Love Letter Contest

The Bright Star Love Letter Contest that I mentioned in an earlier blog post has moved on to the voting stage. The general public can register and vote for their favorite letter and their favorite "tweet." I will warn you...when I tried to register, the system kept rejecting my e-mail address, saying that it was invalid. I just happened to have more than one e-mail address, so I used another one, and that worked. Hopefully the process will work for you.

Even if you don't want to vote, you might register and take a look at the letters; they have photos of the actual letters, and many are quite creative.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas cards and letters

This week in the United States, many people will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Here, many people who celebrate Christmas wait until after Thanksgiving to start decorating for Christmas or sending out Christmas cards and letters. (Although, I have already seen Christmas decorations on several houses in the area, and the stores have had Christmas stuff for sale since Halloween or earlier.)

I'm curious about Christmas greetings in other countries. Here, we have the day after Thanksgiving as the unofficial start of the Christmas season, and I'm wondering when people in other countries start preparing for Christmas. Do you start earlier than us, beginning with Halloween, instead of Thanksgiving. Or, do you start later than us, waiting until Dec. 1 or later to start sending out the Christmas cards and letters?

I'd love to see some comments on this topic!

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Changing the World for the Better, One Letter at a Time"

I've just discovered another great Web site! The Love Letter Squad is made up of Janet Gallin and Tresa Eyres, who describe themselves on the Web site as "two San Francisco women on a mission to change the world for the better, one letter at a time."

They have a regular column at and a radio show on San Francisco's KUSF.  If you're not available to listen to the show live (Tuesdays from 7:30-8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time), you can listen to the archives of the show on their Web site.

They also have a "Dear Squad" question-and-answer column and offer love letter-writing workshops.

The love letters discussed on the Web site aren't just between sweethearts; these love letters seem to be from anyone who wants to express a loving thought to someone else.

It's an interesting Web site that I think you'll enjoy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Letters of Thanks

With the American holiday Thanksgiving coming up next week, I've been thinking about letters of thanks. While doing some research, I came across the "A Million Thanks" organization. I haven't had time to completely check it out, but it appears to still be active.

The organization was started by Shauna Fleming in 2004 when she was a high school student. The purpose of the program is to send thank you letters to people serving in the U.S. military. The Web site has the address to send the letters to, as well as sample letters, photos and more.

Check it out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Inspiring words

"After (my father) died, I realized that no one writes to me anymore. Handwriting is a disappearing art. I'm all for email, and thinking while typing, but why give up old habits for new? Why can't we have letter writing and email exchange in our lives? There are times when I want to trade all those years that I was too busy to sit with my dad and chat with him, and trade all those years for one hug. But too late. But that's when I take out his letters and I read them, and the paper that touched his hand is in mine, and I feel connected to him."
                    — Lakshmi Pratury
                    At the TED conference, a nonprofit conference devoted to Ideas Worth  Spreading.

Lakshmi Pratury gives a wonderful talk about letter writing and leaving a legacy. To see the entire, but short, talk, visit the TED Web site. (Just a note: it took a little while for the video to load on my computer, but it's worth waiting a few seconds.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

For a Little Letter-Writing Inspiration...

This weekend, I was lost in the Internet, jumping from link to link, just looking at interesting things. I came across this article, "The 101 Most Useful Websites" on the Daily Telegraph's online newspaper. (Note: All 101 Web sites aren't listed in the online article.)

One of the Web sites listed was "Letters of Note," a blog featuring copies of interesting correspondence. Today's post is a 1964 letter from British children's book author Enid Blyton to the Australian Prime Minister, who had apparently made some derogatory comments about one of her books. Letters of Note has a copy of the original letter and a transcription, making it easier to read.

Letters of Note often includes links to collections of letters, too.

It's a great letter-writing site! Visit it and enjoy perusing the many letters there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Write a Letter - Freud Style

"I consider it a good rule for letter writing to leave un-mentioned what the recipient already knows, and instead tell him something new."
According to the  Psychoanalytical Electronic Publishing Web site, neurologist and psychologist Sigmund Freud wrote the above sentence to his friend and fellow doctor Wilhelm Fliess on April 14, 1898. It may or may not take an expert to determine why he wrote this immediately following that sentence:

"I shall therefore not comment on what I heard: that you had a bad time at Easter; you know this anyway. I would rather tell you about my Easter vacation, which I spent in a grumpy mood but from which I returned refreshed."
It seems a little mean, to me, to mention Fliess' bad time. In my opinion, he adds insult to injury by going on to describe his own delightful trip at Easter.

Of course, I don't know the whole story. I just came across the quote of Freud's about letter writing and found the rest of the letter while doing a bit of research. The quote about writing something new seems like a good idea, though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No US Mail today - It's Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a day when we honor military veterans.  Some other countries  also celebrate a similar holiday today, Armistice Day or Remembrance Day.

In honor of the holiday, our post offices are closed and regular mail service is discontinued for the day.

If you're not getting mail today, take some time to visit the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum online.  Of special interest today may be the Victory Mail exhibit. It is all about how the U.S. dealt with the great volumes of mail during World War II. If you don't already know about it, the V-Mail story may surprise you.

You might also be interested in the War Letters: Lost and Found exhibit, which I discussed in an earlier blog post. Be sure to click through to the exhibit; it is fascinating with copies of the letters and the stories to go along with them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Return to Sender

Shortly after I started this project, I realized that my project was just that...MY project, not everyone else's project. Although the letter writing process takes considerably more time than phone calls, e-mailing and texting, in the long run, it all happens fairly quickly. I write a letter and mail it off. A friend or family member gets the letter and writes me all takes a week or two. Especially if we haven't seen or talked to one another for awhile, we generally catch up our lives in those two letters. Then what?

Like I said, this is my project. Just because I wanted to write a lot of letters this year, doesn't mean everyone I know wants to write a lot of letters or that they have time to do so. If I send off a speedy second letter, my letter's recipient might feel obligated to write again, even if he or she doesn't have time or much to say.

As I searched for more and more people to write to, I tracked down the addresses of "old" friends and acquaintances, many of whom I've never heard back from. Maybe my letters were lost in the system; maybe they just didn't have anything to say in reply. In all fairness, some of the letters went to people I haven't seen or heard from since high school.

All that is to say that I soon began looking for other people to write letters to. That's how I found the pen pal blogs, Web sites and forums. I've made some lovely new friends this way and have written a lot of letters without overburdening my close friends and family with too many letters.

Yesterday, after all these months of writing letters, I got a "Return to Sender" notice. I sent out a card and an introductory note to a girl whose name and address I found on She's probably been too busy with her life to update her profile, and I know that's always a chance I take when send off a letter to a stranger.

The most amazing thing to me (besides the fact that the old-fashioned "Return to Sender" rubber stamp is still used) is that I've only received one such notice. I've sent out so much mail, I wouldn't have been surprised to have gotten more returned letters.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Of books and letters

Rechelle at My Sister's Farmhouse blog has a great post about epistolary books, that is, books that are written in a letter format. Check out today's post about Helene Hanff, and then go back and read a previous blog post she wrote about epistolary books. The topic is fascinating, and Rechelle is a great writer!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cursive Writing

All bundled up in a drawer at my house are some very old letters. They were written at the beginning of the last century, in the early 1900s, by my ancestors. Some were written by my great-great-grandfather; some were written by my great-great-great-grandmother to my great-great-grandfather.

To tell the truth, it takes a little bit of work to read the letters. The handwriting is very flowery with lots of flourishes. They were obviously written with a fountain pen and are just beautiful, but the 100-year-old writing is quite a bit different from what I learned.

And, I did learn to write cursive. I don't remember when...third grade or so, it seems. I remember it was a big deal. For so many years (and to a 9-year-old, one or two years is a long time!), we kids had been forced to write in the babyish "print." We couldn't wait to learn to write — and read — cursive. Finally! We'd be able to figure out what our parents were writing.

From the looks of it, I learned to write cursive in the D'Nealian style. Although, I never was very good at slanting my letters. And, as I got older, I started adjusting the standard handwriting I was first taught, morphing it into something with my own style. Now, I'm not saying it was artistic or anything like that, but back in high school, we thought our way of writing was much more "cool" than the standard way. Nowadays, I suppose I write in some hybrid of cursive and print, a simplified handwriting that uses a print-style Q and S, for example.

Within the past few years, there have been several articles and studies done about how today's youth isn't learning how to write cursive. One Associated Press article in the past few months details the decline in cursive writing and explains some of the reasons and discusses the potential future of handwriting.

I've read such articles but never really thought the topic had much of an effect on my life. I know how to read and write cursive, and my 9-year-old daughter practices her handwriting at home, no matter whether or not they teach it at her school. But, earlier this week, I received a letter from a young, high school-age pen pal I met online through one of the letter writing blogs. She commented that she had some trouble reading some of my last letter to her — because she doesn't read cursive handwriting very well.

Wow. That kind of jolted me a little bit. I didn't expect my way of communicating to be obsolete so quickly. I do write some letters in print, especially to pen pals whose first language isn't English, in an effort to make sure my words are readable. Maybe I should write them all that way...

I do wonder what the future of handwriting is. I used to be a "Star Trek" fan, especially the "Next Generation" episodes of the sci-fi TV series, and I don't remember much handwriting going on there. It will be an interesting experience to witness first-hand the rapid evolution of written communication.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Creating Mail Art

Someone commented on my last blog post, asking how to make the Mail Art envelopes. Well, I'm certainly no expert, but Mail Art seems to be like most any other art form...the details are up to the artist. The one above came in the swap packet from the recent Mail Art swap my daughter and I participated in.

Here's what we do at our house: We either start with a store-bought envelope or we make our own envelopes. Then, we use a variety of art materials to adorn the envelope. We use markers, rubber stamps and ink, words or phrases we print out or clip from magazines, pictures we clip from books or magazines, glitter, etc. We try to match the words or art to the envelope. For example, if we made an envelope from a page of a fashion magazine, we might paste down the words "Let's Go Shopping!" (Sort of like the notecards and fashion envelopes in my Etsy shop — see the link on the left, if you're interested.) Some envelopes are simple with just one or two elements; others are covered in images, words, glitter, stickers, etc. It's up to the artist.

Now, to make our own envelopes from art paper, magazine pages, newspaper, etc., we start with a template. There are plenty of free templates you can download on the Internet, or you can simply carefully deconstruct one of your favorite envelopes, flatten it out and use it as a template. I often trace the template onto an old file folder and use the heavier weight template for my envelope making.

There also is a template that you can buy, the Kreate-a-Lope, that looks easy to use. I've been interested in getting one, but I don't see them in stores. And to order just the basic template, the shipping is almost double the cost of the item. So, I've been putting that off. Maybe someday.

But, no matter how you make the envelope or the Mail Art, the point, I think, is to have fun and to make the letter-receiving fun, too.
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