Thursday, 22 September 2016


It's another sunny but breezy day here and I'm thinking about my letters. I've been doing an on line course in genealogy over the past six weeks and it's taken up a lot of my free time. I just finished my last test and earned my certificate, now my mind is on letter writing.

During the course we learned a lot of things about researching and maintaining your family history. There were some very interesting things discussed that I thought, as a letter writer were important for conserving the letters we receive. I think all letters are valuable whether they are for preserving you family's history or for the sake of saving a cherished correspondence, so I was particularly interested in this part of the course.

Backing your data up in several different ways was the first order of business along with some of the more obvious suggestions for keeping your research safe, but a lot of family historians have sheaves of paper documents and source material that needs to be safeguarded too. No one likes to think of things like fire and floods but believe it or not, both of these things have robbed me of letters I was saving so I think passing on some of the hints we discussed in the course is not a bad thing.

A few things to remember when you want to keep your precious paperwork safe is making sure they are not stored in a damp place. Think about keeping things in air-tight containers, and storing them up off the floor. Check them from time to time to make sure the way in which you are storing them is working. It all sounds so simple, but like I said earlier, I lost most of my letters, once when the neighbour upstairs decided to install a washing machine in her flat and flooded my apartment, and again when lightning stuck my house and burnt it out. You never know what to expect so it's better to be prepared for anything!

That being said, letters, either as history or from friendships through the post, along with being stored safely, should be written in a way that will keep those paper conversations alive for the future. One of the crucial components of letter writing is the instrument that records your thoughts. Many of my pen pals are pen aficionados and prefer writing with pen and ink or fountain pens. Like most of you, I love the look of a fountain pen. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something that will most likely shock you...I prefer writing with a ballpoint pen. Fountain pens, roller balls, gel pens are not really user friendly for me and my handwriting morphs into a scrawl that I'm not happy with.. I can almost hear the collective gasp amongst you and I sense you have all taken a step back from me in horror. I know, the fountain pen is the Holy Grail of letter writing, but I like my medium point Bic Crystal. For the way I write, it gives me flow and balance and I can write easily with it, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I learned that ball point pen fades in time. I didn't believe it but then I looked at one of my old journals and it was sadly disappearing, not only that but the writing on the backs of all my photos was slowly fading away too. This was bad news for me. I now have the monumental task of re-writing all the information on my photos before it's completely obliterated and I must find a new pen of choice.

I'm sure, if R, a guy I worked with ages ago at the book store could read this, he'd be saying something like "I tried to help you..." R and I had a constant dialogue on calligraphy and ink pens which always seemed to end in stalemate. He, a graphic designer, wanted to perfect my writing, me the amateur, countered by telling him my handwriting was uniquely individual and that anyone could do calligraphy. He'd switch tactics and try to tell me the best pen to write with was a fountain pen and on and on the debate went. In the end, he laughingly gave me a book from his own library which highlighted a steadfast ballpoint pen fan who whose handwriting was lovely. Uncannily, it was very similar to my own handwriting. R and I agreed to disagree in the end, and I still quietly used my ballpoint pen.

Now, here I am, admitting defeat and looking for another writing instrument.

 At least my search starts with an old friend. I found this Bic fountain pen that I thought I would try. I also indulged in a Parker pen. So far, the Parker is easier for me to write with as the Bic fountain pen is a pudgy and shorter than its cousin the crystal. I'm sure I will try others too, this is just a start. My son has a Lamy fountain pen that I quite like as well. I think this is just the beginning of my search. There are so many pens to choose from, but it will be a fun search, if nothing else.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Heat is on!
Well, right out of the blue, just like that, summer arrived. And just when I never never thought I would see the sun again. That's how it is in England a lot of the time. The garden centres and DIY stores have adverts that go something like this: "Get your house and garden ready for when summer finally arrives!" Up until now, which is typical of our area, we've been having an extended spring with cooler temps and rain almost daily. You get to a point where you just don't expect it anymore. I overheare a conversation at the market one day when a man remarked, "Mary, is that the sun?" To which she replied "Don't be silly, the sun is just an urban legend."
The past few days have been hot like Ella Fitzgerald's Summertime, slow and meandering. I have the day to myself so I thought I would sit in the shade and enjoy the day writing to my friends. Life is good on these kinds of days enjoy the day writing to my friends. Life is good on these kinds of when “the livin' is easy” and I can take my time.
I took my little table down to by the ha-ha and set up under the old rowan tree that's covered in an endless vine of honeysuckley, in a shady spot so I could enjoy the view beyond the paddock that abuts our garden. The sky was blue and the clouds, puffy white fluffs, drifted leisurely by; it was heaven. Several house went by before I even thought about making dinner, but on a day like today, who cares? It was pure bliss, every single minute I sat there.
The cat soaked up the atmosphere as well, keeping me company while I gazed out over the vista before me and sipped my cool water with lemon and composed my missives. It's funny really how the thoughts and ideas you have can take on a whole new shape when you change the location you write in. Normally I sit at my desk in my bedroom which faces the front of the house and I have much the same view, but sitting out here, I almost felt as if I were a part of the scenery and not just looking at it. My writing came easily to me as I sat there and I answered several of my letters and even wrote a few postcards as well.
A day just couldn't get any better than that, or could it? One by one the cows who'd been grazing in the paddock in front of me, came by, curious to see what I was doing. I found this a bit amusing because usually they don't even notice when I stroll up to the ha-ha to look out over the field, so it was a surprise to look up and realize I was being watched by each one of them at some time or another.
How do you spend your lazy summer days?
PS, I apologize for all the spaces, Blogger isn't playing nice today and at first everything came out double spaced and when I got rid of that it put all the space between the paragraphs.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

  Tea for 2  6


Last month the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday so all around the UK people were hosting tea parties in her honour. I'd wanted to attend one of the many tea parties, but living rurally in the middle of acres of sheep, cows and apple orchards, I didn't have that pleasure. Not for want of trying; I'd even gone out and bought a hat. You probably know that to the British woman, a hat, is still quite a statement of fashion and as I adore hats I was determined.

As time went on, I couldn't manage to find a venue that was hosting a tea party in my area and conceded defeat. Then one day in town, I walked into a charity shop, saw these little beauties and an idea was born.

I decided to host another postal tea party. I'd done this before in honour of her majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. That tea party, although a success, had many wrinkles to iron out. This time there would be no icing melting off the cupcakes and onto the plate in a puddle, nor would my rapt attention in getting everything just right result in my tea towel smouldering on the stove top. Items would not be left out only to be posted separately, causing confusion and finally, all tea party parcels would be mailed at the same time. Sounds simple, but first time around was a bit of a fiasco so this time the incontrovertible list was employed to keep me on track.

I set out to find sweet and savoury treats as well as nice teas to offer my guests; things that would be travel friendly in the post. For example things that would not melt if they were to go to warmer climes. I also endeavoured to have variety of tastes. I decided on two different cakes and shortbread biscuits, as well as savoury crackers in three flavours. Ideally, little finger sandwiches would have been more apropos but sending anything like that through the post would not have worked on any level, so the crackers added a nice touch of savoury to compliment the sweets. Choosing the tea was probably not as easy. I wanted it to be a traditional tea, but also something the guests may not have tried before to give a little mystery. In the end, I decided to include two teas, the first an English tea, appropriately called London Tea and the second a tea, more of a desert tea called Cherry Bakewell, which is reminiscent of a beloved English pudding (read dessert.) Finally, for the tea there were demerara sugar cubes for a bit of panache.

Once the food items were found, I shopped for vintage napkins and made buntings just for a hint of old-fashioned style. Invitations were made from British themed note cards. At first I was going to craft the invites but came across the note cards while searching for something else and decided they were just the thing. Tea towels with scenes of Buckingham Palace added a nice touch too and just for fun I sent Union Jack cupcake papers and cake picks depicting iconic British things. I packaged things with ribbons and lovely stickers and I was very satisfied with the overall presentation.  

My next feat was to set the scene and dress the table. I love linens and probably buy more than I should but when I see these vintage lovelies in the charity shops, things that were cherished by someone, I can't help but buy them and give them new life. I chose a spot in the garden near the wisteria that grows up the side of our house and the scent added another nuance to my tea party. I found a beautiful table cloth, added a small vase of flowers from my garden, and set out the tea things. My chair was cushioned with pretty little vintage pillows that were either crocheted or embroidered, and I brought out my parasol just in case the sun became too hot. It was an absolutely glorious day, the sun shining bright and a gentle breeze blowing. Pictures were taken, by the hundred, to get just the right view to include in my parcels then, finally, I sat down to tea and enjoyed the mid afternoon in such a pleasant way. Like Mrs. Duffy, one of my esteemed guests, I wrote as I savoured my tea and couldn't imagine a nicer way to pass the afternoon.

I hope my guests were as pleased as I was and from their comments, I think they were. Some of my guests, like my dearest friend Limner, have mentioned the tea party on their blog, and I couldn't be happier that she enjoyed it so much. Lady Pamela, another of my honoured guests, sounded delighted when she talked of received her parcel. I aspired to create something that was pretty, and at the same time offer a charming afternoon tea with all the trimmings and I think I may just have got it right this time. Everything went smouldering tea towels or melting cupcakes.

PS.  Since I made this post, another of my lovely guests, Jen, posted about her tea party experience which you can view here.  Lady Pamela has written further on her  tea party too, and it sounds like she had a ball.

Each tea party has a magic of its own and I'm so enjoying reading about them all.  It's amazing how one little idea can blossom into something so wonderful.  It pays to think outside the envelope every now and then, don't you agree?

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Good Mail Yay!

Recently Mrs. Duffy was talking about the magical power of mail to elevate your mood. I've always been a firm believer in this and then I received this “pull” flip book in the post and my beliefs were reaffirmed. I've never seen a flip book like this before so the wonder of exploring it equaled the thrill in receiving it. This was a book I received from a swap I participated in on Swap-Bot. I hope my partner was as excited to receive the book I made her as I was to receive my swap from Sisi in The Netherlands.

I didn't quite know what to expect when I untied the string holding it closed, but when I unfolded the flaps, I was enchanted by what lay inside. There was a little tab at the end that said “pull” and when I did, the pages cleverly opened one by one showing the goodness inside.

 To say I was pleased with this swap is a gross understatement! I think Sisi outdid herself on this swap and I am so happy I was the recipient.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

June 1st is National Pen Pal Day

Today is National Pen Pal Day in the United States but that doesn't mean the rest of us pen pals scattered around the world can't observe such a great day too.

This holiday was started by Rosie Tholl, an avid pen pal and a very nice lady. She has a great love for the written word and has been writing to people around the world for over 40 years. Rosie has been involved with many pen pal gatherings over the years including pen pal picnics and also larger gatherings like Pen Pals United which was held every other year from 1992 to 2008.

I've been doing some writing today and also concentrating on my second postal tea party. Yes, you read that right, I'm having a long distance tea party. I've happily been putting together my little parcels to go out in the post to my guests. My last tea party celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and this tea party I'm working on will be in honour of the Queen's 90th birthday. There will be tea parties hosted throughout the country this month to mark the Queen's special day so I thought I would host one too. I'll write more about the actually tea party in another post.

Whatever you're doing today, take a moment out and write a little something to someone.  

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Good Mail Day

Hello my lovelies. Today I wanted to show you one of the fabulous things I received in the post. As you know I participate in swaps over at Swap-Bot and this particular swap was for a book related flip book. I was absolutely thrilled to pieces to get it in the mail as it encompasses some of my very favourite things; namely books, tea and Jane Austen. Have a look.

Just opening the package and seeing how beautifully it was wrapped was a delight, but when I opened the book up, it just kept getting better and better. My partner really went all out for this, and the fact that she personalized it to include things I like made it very special.

There were several pages and each had pockets to look in, or flaps to lift and explore. The pages of the flip book had excerpts from Pride and Prejudice artfully used as background for the sweet little tea time embellisments that filled the pages.

Lisa, also a fellow Janeite, chose some lovely goodies to put in with this swap and it was so artfully and thoughtfully done that it's my favourite flip book. Thank you Lisa!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Perfect Ending

The Write on Challenge is finished now and I'm still writing my letter a day. This is a beneficial thing on two levels; one being that my letters get replied to promptly and secondly, it does not overtax my hands. I have a problem with carpal tunnel syndrome that is aggravated by arthritis and when I do too much I have a great deal of difficultly, so writing and working in moderation suits me just fine.

The last day of the Letter Writing Month Challenge culminated in a perfect ending for me. I received two letters. The first was from Mrs. Duffy whose beautiful handwriting and signature ink colours make her letters stand out. She has such a distinctive style and it's a pleasure to receive a letter from her. The second letter was from a new friend who undertook the Write on Challenge too. Jen sent her letter in an incredible envelope which she crafted herself. She also included a wonderful poem by Anne Sexton. April was also Poetry Month so Jen cleverly incorporated the two by sending poems with all her letters and I was delighted to be the recipient of one of her carefully chosen poems.

This month ended on a high note for me. I've conquered my pile of mail to be replied to with only one or two remaining and have bonded with others who took the challenge. It's been a worthwhile experience to me as I now have that anticipation for writing my daily letter which serves to make it a better conversation and I enjoy the process so much more now.