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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Write a Thank You Note

These Thank You  and blank cards are available from the USPS

It's that time of year...the season for graduations and engagements and weddings and new babies and new jobs and new homes and all sorts of events for which people give gifts. And, that means, a lot of people are needing to write thank you notes any day now.

Let's get the biggest questions out of the way first. Yes, you need to write "real" thank you notes or letters. No, an email isn't good enough. And, neither is a phone call or simply yelling across the room after you've opened the gifts. No, a generic "Thanks" on Facebook, Twitter or even Blogger isn't enough. You need to sit down with a pen and paper and write a thank you. It can be a long letter or a short note. It can be on a special Thank You card or it can be on some nice stationery. If all you have is notebook paper, that's better than not sending a note at all.

Now, on to the actual note. Your thank you note needs to be personal. The thank you needs to be heartfelt and the note needs to reflect that feeling. So, you need to use a formal or semi-formal greeting, such as "Dear Aunt Milly" or "Hello, Sarah!" Something like that.

Then, you need to get right into the thank you part. That's the reason for this letter, so don't put it off. You can use those exact words, "Thank you..." or you can say something that conveys the same feeling, such as "I appreciate..." or "I am so grateful to you for..." If you choose to use other words than "Thank you," try to use that phrase at least once somewhere in the note, even if it's just in the closing.

Mention the gift by name. That adds to the personalization of the note. And, if you can, add a sentence or two about how you plan to use the gift. Some examples:
Thank you for the fountain pen that you sent for my graduation. As you can see, I'm already putting it to good use. I can't wait to write more letters with it!

You cannot imagine how much I appreciate the case of diapers you gave me at the baby shower Sunday. Soon, it will seem like we never have enough! Thank you!

I greatly appreciate the house-warming gift you brought to the party Saturday night. The candleholders look perfect on the dining room table.
Thank you for the gift card! I can't wait to go shopping!
If, by some stroke of bad luck, the gift is not really something you appreciate or that you can use, still try to be gracious to the giver. Try something like, "Thank you for the candy dish and the giant bag of jelly beans. They sure are colorful!"

If you are tempted to write about something else in your letter, unrelated to the "thank you," keep it brief. If possible, just save the unrelated comments for another letter. But, if you think it's appropriate, go ahead and write another paragraph.

Now, end the letter with a sincere closing. Maybe just simply, "Sincerely, Carla" Or, maybe something a little more wordy, "Again, thank you! ~ Carla"

Many people dread writing thank you notes. But, it's not that difficult once you get started. And, a thank you letter is most impressive to the receiver!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Can letters save a TV show?

I noticed this week that CBS has announce that it's canceling the TV show Battle Creek, a show that just started in March. It comes on Sunday nights, after Madam Secretary and The Good Wife.

I'll admit, Battle Creek got off to a slow start, from my perspective. I wasn't sure I liked it. The show is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and features an FBI agent who is sent there to work with the local police department. Mostly, he works with one specific police detective. They are the stereotypical odd couple, often at odds with each other over how to handle particular cases. The show stars Josh Duhamel, Dean Winters, Aubrey Dollar, Kal Penn and Janet McTeer, among others, and includes several sidelines, such as a budding office romance.

However, in my opinion, the show has gotten better as it's continued. The characters have been developed, as have the story lines. They're not perfect cops who always have witty things to say or who always do things right. The show is, at the same time, gritty and funny. Sort of like real life.

When I saw the news that CBS had canceled Battle Creek, I started looking around for information about it. I came across a Facebook page for the show. Many fans there were lamenting the demise of a show they like.

Of course, my first reaction was that they should start a letter-writing campaign to save Battle Creek!

According to what I'm reading online, such campaigns have worked for several shows in the past. Fans often send items pertinent to the show along with their letters of support. To get Friday Night Lights renewed, fans sent light bulbs. Arrested Development fans sent crates of bananas to the executives. Those who loved the show Roswell sent bottles of Tabasco sauce to those in charge of deciding which shows live and which ones die.

I don't know what Battle Creek fans would send the CBS executives...doughnuts? It's a cop show, and doughnuts are featured prominently in the opening credits.

I have no idea what the chances of saving a show like that are, but if there are enough fans who create enough media attention, they might succeed. A quick check online shows the CBS Corporation address to be:

CBS Headquarters
51 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019-6188

Couldn't hurt to write a letter, if your favorite show has been canceled.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gifts of Friendship

Sheet of U.S. "Gifts of Friendship" stamps.
One hundred years ago this year, then-former U.S. President William Howard Taft arranged for the United States to send 50 flowering dogwood trees to Japan. The trees were sent in response to 3,000 cherry trees that had been sent to Washington by Tokyo as a gift in 1912, when Taft was president.

Through the years, the two countries have continued to exchange trees as a sign of our ongoing friendships.

This year, the exchange of flowering trees between the two nations is being honored with a joint postage stamp release by the U.S. Postal Service and Japan Post.

Sheet of Japanese "Gifts of Friendship" stamps.
Four stamps were designed, two by the U.S. and two by Japan, and all four designs have been released in both countries. The U.S.-designed stamps depict the Lincoln Memorial with vibrant cherry trees in the foreground and the U.S. Capitol building surrounded by white and pink dogwood trees. The Japanese-designed stamps feature two prominent buildings in Tokyo: the National Diet Building framed by cherry blossoms, and the clock tower outside the Diet Building rising behind a foreground of white dogwood flowers, according to the USPS.

Each of the postal services has released a special sheet featuring the designs.

In the U.S., the "Gifts of Friendship" stamp comes with a variety of philatelic products, including press sheets with or without die cuts, first day covers, digital postmark sets, notecards, framed art and more. For more information about the stamps or to order any of the Gifts of Friendship products, visit the USPS website at www.usps.com.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Letter Carriers' Food Drive scheduled for this Saturday

This Saturday, May 9, letter carriers across the United States will pick up donations for the NALC Stamp Out Hunger National Food Drive — the largest one-day food drive in the nation.

Led by letter carriers represented by the National Association of Letter Carriers (AFL-CIO), with help from rural letter carriers, other postal employees and other volunteers, the drive has delivered more than one billion pounds of food over the past 22 years.

Carriers will collect non-perishable food donations left by mailboxes and in post offices and deliver them to local community food banks, pantries and shelters.

The United States Postal Service, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, AFL-CIO, Feeding America, United Way, Valassis and Valpak Direct Marketing Systems are all supporting this year’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive. If you're not sure if your letter carrier is participating, call your local post office.

To donate, just place a box or can of non-perishable food next to your mailbox before your letter carrier delivers mail on the second Saturday in May. The carrier will do the rest. The food is sorted, and delivered to an area food bank or pantry, where it is available for needy families.

With 49 million people facing hunger every day in America, including nearly 16 million children, this drive is one way you can help those in your own city or town who need help.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finding Penpals on Postcrossing

Postcards Exchange

365 Letters has had blog posts about finding penpals and posts about the postcard exchange site Postcrossing. Today's post is going to combine both of those topics.

If you're a member of Postcrossing or maybe even if you've ever looked into joining, you might know that in your Postcrossing profile you can indicate if you're open to "direct swaps." Direct swaps are postcard exchanges that are in addition to the regular Postcrossing exchanges.

But, there's another aspect to Postcrossing...the forums. There, Postcrossing members post messages about a variety of topics. One of the forum sections is labeled "Pen-Friendships/Penpals." There, members post a little bit of information about themselves and state their interest in finding penpals. Most of them ask potential penpals to send them a Postcrossing message to exchange addresses privately.

So, if you are a letter writer interested in finding people around the world to exchange letters, postcards or small gifts with, try Postcrossing's forums. You'll likely find some kindred spirits there.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Letter Can be a Beautiful Gift

This coming Sunday, May 10, will be Mother's Day in the United States. If you're in the market for a
Mother's Day gift, consider a letter to your mom!

Whether a letter is the only thing you can afford to give the mother in your life or if it's just one thing among many that you give this weekend, it's almost certain to be cherished.

If you aren't sure what you should say in such a letter, consider some of these ideas:

* Recall a specific memory, a favorite outing the two of you had when you were a kid, even a luncheon the two of you had recently...tell your mom what it meant to you. Share your feelings with her.

* Spill the beans ... was there something that you did when you were a kid, maybe something that caused some stress back then but is funny to look back on now? Come clean! Tell your mom the truth, finally! And, say it with a smile or at least a smiley face drawn at the end of your letter.

* Make it an invitation. Invite your mom over to your house for dinner. Or, plan to visit her and take her out to the movies or theater or even just a drive in the country.

* Include something ... a picture of her grandkids (or grandpets); a CD (or cassette tape or a USB drive) with a recording from you on it — maybe it's you singing her favorite song or just a recording of your voice talking to her; a clipping from the newspaper or a magazine that made you think of her, a recipe, a coupon.

Don't wait too late, especially if you'll be mailing the letter. You'll want it to get there no later than Saturday.

Get to work and write that letter to your mom now!

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