Sunday, 7 December 2014


The season is upon us once again for those of us who celebrate Christmas. The focus has changed, for a time, from writing letters to sending holiday greetings to friends. At this time of the year I'm always reminded of a young letter writer who was thinking very hard about Christmas. Her name was Laura Virginia O’Hanlon.

Virginia, as she was known, was the daughter of Dr. O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant in Manhattan, New York. It was in September of 1897 that his daughter asked him that fateful question: Is there a Santa Claus? Virginia was at an age when she’d begun to question things, much of this due to what her classmates at school had been talking about, and so not wanting to let go of the wonder of Santa just yet, she went to her father and talked to him about it.

Dr. O’Hanlon diplomatically told his daughter to write to the editor of The New York Sun, a prominent Newspaper of that era, adding “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Thus, 8-year-old Virginia, put pen to paper and what ensued is one of the most celebrated letters of the 20th century.

Francis Pharcellus Church wasted no time in responding to Virginia’s query: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” Church’s beautiful and passionate response gave Virginia her answer; and it spoke to the hearts of many others simultaneously. It continues to touch people even today, having the distinction of being the most reprinted editorial in history. Since then it has been translated into many languages, books recount the story and even movies stem from Church’s classic reply.

For me this is the ultimate letter. One that lives on and invokes thoughts and emotions even so many years after it was written. Church, a seasoned war correspondent during the American Civil War, undoubtedly drew upon the things he witnessed and perhaps this is where his ardent response was born; a response I believe, that will be revisited for many years to come as it inspires faith, love and hope, three things which abound, though we may not always notice them.

As for Virginia, throughout her life she continued to receive mail about her iconic letter to The Sun and later in life during an interview she remarked that it had consequently given her life direction in quite a positive way.

Here is the beautiful reply to Virginia’s letter as it appeared in The New York Sun, September 21, 1897. 

Is There a Santa Claus?

  We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of THE SUN:

"Dear Editor,
      I am 8 years old. 
Some of my little friends
say there is no Santa
Claus.  Papa says,
'If you see it in THE SUN
it's so.'  Please tell
me the truth; is there
a Santa Claus?
      Virginia O'Hanlon
         115 W. 95th  St."

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

When we first moved into our house, there was so much to explore. My son liked looking through the various rooms but often would end up in the old workshop at the back of the house. There is an old wooden work bench there as well as a work table and cupboard which would capture the imagination of any boy. One day after a rummage through an old tin he found filled with odds and ends, he produced a funny bobble that reminded me of a pagoda.

It was a curious little thing, made of iron, which I thought was some kind of charm for a pull cord but turned out to be a seal and not just an ordinary seal, the kind a gentleman would wear at the end of a pocket watch chain. I was intrigued. Upon closer inspection, it was a bit plain for a “gentleman's” watch fob, but for me it was exciting. I ran to get the wax while my husband went to give it a good clean up so we could see exactly what the seal was. It looked like more than just someone's initials which made it all the more urgent that we find out what the seal's image was.

After some cleaning, the surface revealed a coach and horses and around the edge of the oval seal ran the inscription. It took quite a time to work out the letters, not only because the rusting had damaged the clarity of them, but also because they were, of course, written backwards. Pressing the the seal into hot wax helped us to see the image a little better but time had taken its toll on the little seal and the surface is nearly smooth and the words were still indiscernible. After peering at it under a magnifying glass for some time we discovered the inscription read: “New Diligence at the Blue Boar and George Holborn”


Fascinating! Next came the research into the name on the seal which was almost certainly an inn. One of the great things about the internet is that with a few keystrokes you are in possession of immediate information. It turns out the Blue Boar in Holborn, London, was a famous coaching inn. It was reputed to be the very place where Cromwell and Ireton intercepted papers incriminating King Charles I who was plotting against the Parliament in the 1640s.

Sadly, the Blue Boar no longer exists. My husband tells me the style of writing upon the seal is consistent with a date early in the 19th Century, which is about the time our house was built. This was also a time when it appears the Blue Boar changed hands and added “George” to the title, although according to our research, most records indicate the name was in fact “The George and Blue Boar,” rather than the other way round as engraved on the seal. The words “New Diligence” allude to the change in ownership of the inn; akin to present day signs announcing “Under new management.”

I pressed the seal into clay to show the design better.
Attempts at pressing the seal in wax were unsuccessful, sadly.

Our little seal may have been an early promotional item, provided as a memento or to remind a person to come again, similar to the pens and stationery hotels furnish today which the guests take away with them as a keepsake. Or like me, use! Whatever its original purpose, this little wax seal had quite a story to tell, wouldn't you say?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Postal Party!
In addition to my addiction love of writing letters, I am the family historian. I have been digging into my family's history since I was 14 when I first started interviewing my mother about our distant relatives. Initially, I wrote letters to various county clerks to get information and request birth and death certificates. It was a long drawn out affair, but writing letters didn't bother me, I enjoyed the process which allowed me to add to the family tree. It was exciting writing to places in Germany, Czechoslovakia, The Netherlands and several of the United States, and crossing my fingers I would get a response. Since then, the internet has opened up a new world of research, but I find that writing letters even though it takes a little longer, still yields the best information. I always include a sase to ensure a reply and I'm usually gifted with the information I requested plus a nice letter from the person who was kind enough to send my document. Even when my request can't be fulfilled, I still get a letter so it's never a total loss.

Recently, I was searching newspaper archives and found this:

The Reading Eagle, Friday, November 15, 1906, Page 5

Mrs. Ellen Yeager, 247 Jefferson Street, tendered her daughter, Minnie a birthday Postal party. The parlor and dining room were decorated with plants and chrysanthemums. she received a number of presents, among them a diamond ring and 200 postals. There were selections on the graphophone and a fine menu was served. Parlor games were enjoyed.

A Postal Party! Wow! What a great idea. I am assuming the "postals" were post cards so getting 200 of them must have made the party a huge success. I tried doing some poking around trying to find out about postal parties but sadly I couldn't find anything so I cannot enlighten you about what it entailed. I haven't given up though, I love a good mystery.

I love that my family has historically been connected with the post and I'm following tradition. If anyone out there has heard of or knows about postal parties, please get in touch!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Pretty As A Picture

It's raining here today so I have been looking through the box of clippings I use for mail art. I save anything and everything from magazines, newspapers, calendars and junk mail to recycle into mail art or collages. I didn't know what I wanted to do today, so I thought I'd just look through the box for inspiration.
I started out making some envelopes, then got bored with that and did a bit of collage work on some envelopes. I wanted to do something different, though, but what? I thought if I sifted through my ephemera box, something would come to me, it usually does, and I go happily off on a tangent creating something else. Today, I found myself looking out the window and daydreaming rather than making mail art. Just one of those days, I guess. Then I half-heartedly went back to my box of paper odds and ends and aimlessly picked through it, stopping to look at random things and then I began to look at some of the clippings a little differently.
I normally like to do image collages: butterflies, flowers, fish and that sort of thing so I save a lot of whole pages just so I can get the colours and textures I want. Oftentimes the colour on the pages inspires me to create something. Today, however, I started looking at the whole page and decided to look at things the other way around, a bit like Alice Through the Looking Glass. I took a few pages from the box and instead of cutting out bits to paste on the envelope, I put the whole page on the envelope and just cut openings for addresses. Sort of framing, you could say. I did simple things at first then got creative and used more of the pages so the envelopes would look more vivid.

I got a bit more daring then and just started gluing images that would completely cover the front of the envelope. They were colourful and I made several of those. There seemed to be some space to write the address of the person I would send the letter to and that way I wouldn't have to put a label on and interrupt the scene. I rather like these new envelopes. What do you think?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Lost Letters Found

My husband’s parents died within a year of one another and as he had to sell their house, he was forced to simply pack their lives up so the new owners could move in sooner rather than later. There was no time to sort, so in the end everything was packed and relegated to the attic. Recently we took on the task of going through the cartons. It was not easy sorting through everything, especially for my husband, as he never allowed himself the luxury of grieving for his beloved parents.

Our attic was wall to wall cartons, containing an entire household. Slowly we set about organising and sorting through it all. It was sad at times, but in another sense, we had an opportunity to put things into perspective and to revisit fond memories. There were times when it was too difficult to go on, but through our efforts I have been given a once in a lifetime glimpse into the lives of my late in-laws whom I never had the pleasure of meeting and I feel as though I have truly met them as a result.

One of the first things we tackled was the stamp collection.  K's mother was an avid stamp collector and there were six large cartons to attest to that fact. Growing up, my own father was a keen philatelist and that is where my interest in stamps was born. I was a bit unprepared to take on six big boxes of stamps, mostly loose and unsorted, but I set about it one carton at a time. K wasn’t really interested in stamps but day by day he would check on my progress until finally he just joined in sorting. Hundreds of first day covers and mint plate blocks later he has a new found appreciation for this particular passion of his mother’s.

Several days into the “big sort” I reached for the next carton and under the initial layer of stamp paraphernalia, I found a lifetime of correspondence in the form of cards, letters and postcards and so we put the sorting on hold in order to explore this wonderful discovery.

Having a firm root in letter writing, I was thrilled to be privy to what I considered an intimate look into the lives of my late in-laws. What was even more amazing as we began to go through these things was that there were also drafts of letters by Phil and Johanna (my in-laws) that they had sent which added an incredible amount of depth. In reading the cards and letters and poring over the photographs still neatly tucked inside some of the envelopes, I gained a much deeper perception not only of who my husband’s parents were, but into their extended families as well. They suddenly were real to me.

Mrs. B.’s letters were much more extensive than her husband’s as she kept in contact with her sisters, one of whom lived in New Zealand and the other in Australia. There were also distant relatives in Holland and the occasional letter from Indonesia where she grew up in the Dutch East Indies. Scattered amongst all this were items received from the Red Cross during WWII when she was a prisoner of the Japanese. It was quite poignant to see the little copy books with words from happy songs carefully transcribed and patterns for things to embroider, designs she made herself, in hopes of having the luxury of being her own mistress one day and bringing them to life. As we went through these things, a picture emerged of someone I know I would have loved dearly.

Mr. B.’s letters were not so many and yet I could see he was a man of integrity and honour. There were letters from his own mother and father, addressed to him while he was away fighting in WWII. Timeless sentiments of how proud they were of him, and how their life progressed as he was away. Mundane items shared, like what they were growing in their vegetable patch, giving him some of the warmth of home. Later there were letters to and from his siblings displaying his fondness and his responsibility for them even though he was the youngest. Delving into his correspondence I came to enjoy his sense of humour and to learn that deep down he was an old softie—his secret is safe with me though. Mr. B didn’t have bundles of letters, he was a man of few words, and yet he has left a great impression upon me.

I came away from this task, thinking what a joy it really was, a labour of love. It’s renewed my passion for letters and has changed the way in which I compose my own correspondence in that I have a better sense of what to write now. I write not only to my pen pals but also to the future generations who may read these letters. I try to take the time to describe things rather than just mention them. I’ve been given the rare opportunity of getting to know “Mum and Dad” as my husband knew them and I am so pleased to have made their acquaintance.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Out of the Blue

Getting a letter in the mail is always a good thing, but when you get an unexpected letter in the mail, it's a great thing. Today I brought in a stack of what looked like adverts and circulars and wasn't optimistic that there was anything for me but then I found this.

It was from Singapore and I don't have a pen pal in Singapore so I was intrigued. The stamps on the envelope were fabulous and I had a good look at them before I opened the package. What I found inside, really made my day. I was so excited to see such things. Amongst this treasure trove of goodness I found a note tucked inside from the lovely Jessica.

Not only did Jessica send some stamps but she also included first day covers that were stunningly vivid and some tea that smells divine. I can't thank her enough for such thoughtfulness.

I've always liked sending surprises to people just because. I just like making someone's day and I guess on a selfish note it gives me a high too. When a letter or package turns up out of the blue for me, I'm so thankful. It really is nice to know there are good-hearted people out there, sending joy to strangers. Receiving this packet from Jessica was such a wonderful surprise and now I am thinking about what to send her so she will feel as loved as I did when I opened her letter.

If you don't already know about it, go have a look on and tap into the art of unexpected goodness. It's a wonderful community of like-minded people who send all sorts of things to others around the globe. I've made some nice friends there and I know you will too.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Some Things Never Change

What comes to mind when you think about the Egyptians? Pyramids, Pharaohs, The Sphinx? The Egyptians have left behind quite a remarkable piece of their culture in their temples and tombs as well as their beautiful hieroglyph writing. Normally the focus is on the the burial chambers of the kings and queens, the riches, the splendour of their final resting place and the the elaborate measures that went into preparing them for the long journey to the next phase of life.

I'm always interested when I see a news item on Egypt. When another discovery or perhaps a new theory is put into the public I read it and wonder about Ancient Egypt and what it was really like. What kind of daily life did they have? Were their lives filled with mundane tasks like ours i.e. going to work and taking care of their families, or was it a different kind of existence. A lot of the hieroglyphs tell stories of great lives and battles but you don't ordinarily get to see what the "everyday" people were like. Amid the bronzed men and ornately clad women, there were people who went through life much like you and me.

At the Bodleian Library in Oxford, there is a small unassuming papyrus fragment from the second or third century, badly tattered by time, that tells a little tale of ordinary life. It's a letter, and I love that this letter still exists. Monuments and temples tell of greatness, but letters tell of life. This little piece of history is a letter from a boy to his father. It's a small missive but it speaks volumes in terms of giving you an idea of how similar life back then was to life today and I think it's such a telling letter because it shows emotion as well as familiarity. Compare it to the letter Mrs. Duffy had on her blog Letter Matters recently and they could have been written within days of one another.

Here is a transcription of Theon's letter to his father:

Theon to his father Theon, greetings. A nice thing to do, not taking me with you to the city. If you refuse to take me with you to Alexandria, I shall not write you a letter or speak to you or wish you good health. So: if you go to Alexandria I shall not take your hand or greet you ever again. If you refuse to take me, this is what happens. And my mother said to Archelaos, “He’s upsetting me, take him away!” A nice thing to do, sending me these grand presents, a hill of beans. They put us off the track that day, the 12th, when you sailed. Well then, send for me, I beg you. If you don’t send for me, I shan’t eat, I shan’t drink. There! I pray for your health. [Address] Deliver to Theon from Theonas his son.
[Source: P. Parsons, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, London, 2007, p. 129]

What a brilliant find. Letters are still such a powerful element in our lives after all this time.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

National Stamp Collecting Month

Today marks the start of National Stamp Collecting month for all you philatelists out there. I've been a stamp admirer all my life thanks to my dad who always had the dining room table filled with stamps he was soaking off. I think it was only natural for me to get into the hobby as a result. I still have my first “grown up” stamp album and I still use it too. It's about 6 inches thick and I'll probably never fill it, but there is something very relaxing about sorting and affixing stamps to the pages. Of course, I have a few (quite a few!) other albums and stock books now and my collection grows day by day thanks to the friendly swappers over on Swap-Bot.   I'm not alone in my stamp hobby, the Queen has a stamp collection she inherited from her father, FDR made time every day to look at his stamps and even Hercule Poirot is a philatelist, so I am among distinguished friends.

I know stamp collecting is not everyone's cup of tea, but you can't help but admire this stamp from Belgium. It's a Weather Bureau stamp and is sensitive to warmth, sort of like a mood ring. At first glance, you see a scene with a tree, but once the stamp is exposed to the sun (or your hand if you're impatient like me) little sun and clouds appear. I really like this stamp, and it's not the first stamp Belgium has come out with that is innovative. Just a short time ago they had chocolate stamps. Belgium is known for its fine chocolates and their stamps are testament to that. I didn't manage to get the stamps as they were a limited edition and sold out quickly as you would expect when chocolate is involved, but the lovely Lien whom I did an ephemera swap with recently sent me the selvage from her set of stamps. It really does smell and taste like chocolate. I don't know how they managed that but it is truly a unique set of stamps.

Belgium is making the hobby of stamp collecting fun again with their unusual stamps. Chocolate, temperature sensitive and even glow in the dark stamps. C'mon, you know you want to collect them.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Letter to the Future

As I've mentioned, we are restoring our Georgian house. It's hard work at times and yet other times the work is made light when we manage to connect with the former residents. It's been a fascinating journey exploring the lives of those who've dwelt here before us. They've become old friends in a sense. It got us wondering what the future house owners would find when they renovated and would our presence be felt.

That's when the little light bulb went on and a brilliant idea came about. Why leave our existence at the house a mystery when we could leave our own account of our time here? I decided right then and there we'd write a letter to the future and so the wheels began turning.

There were a lot of things to consider before we undertook this project. First, what should we write with and what should we write on? Finding the right medium to write on was not as simple as I thought it would be. It would have to be paper that wouldn't turn to dust; it had to be something that would endure the test of time. I found a thick, acid-free parchment kind of paper that seemed to fit that bill then I turned my attentions to what pen I would use. Ballpoint pen was out of the question since it fades after about ten years, as you've probably discovered when sorting through old photos. An archival pen would be perfect, the only trouble was no one knew what I was talking about when I asked for one. Finally, after a few weeks of fruitless searching, I made an executive decision and got out my dipping pen and the India ink. I'm not all that proficient with pen and ink writing but I persevered and soon got into the groove.

I wrote a letter introducing myself and talking about how we came to live at the house and what our intentions were. As a seasoned letter writer, I actually had to be careful not to write too much! We had chosen a Champagne bottle for its sturdiness to enclose our missive in and too many of those thick pages wouldn't fit down the neck of the bottle. So, I gave a brief history of us and added some photos to round out the letter.

We also wanted to include some things from “our moment in time” and that is when the fun began. What to include? Hmmm. Well, we started out slow and then found too many things and had to really think about what we were choosing, again, because of the vessel things were going to be sealed into. We chose bottles to house our time capsule because of all the things we have found, the bottles have been best preserved.

We ended up having two bottles one with all the papers and photos, which not only had our letter and photos of the house and of us but also came to include news items of the day, recent big events like the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics as well as our parish newsletter and a few other pertinent things. It doesn't sound like a lot but we had to roll everything very tightly in order to get it down into the bottle. We'd chosen these things very carefully and didn't want to omit any of them so there was a collective sigh of relief when we managed to fit it all into the Champagne bottle.

The second vessel, a Pimms bottle, held other aspects of our life. We were going to put a few coins in and some of the snippets of wallpaper from the house we'd saved, shards of pottery, glass and clay pipe we'd found but decided to include some other things. Quite a conversation ensued about things that may not be around when our letter was read. Some postage stamps were decided upon and from then, things started occurring to us that we couldn't omit. A pencil, traditional recipes, a paper clip, a safety pin and then we thought about it and added a bit of lego, some candy wrappers, though I'm not sure they will stand the test of time, a few playing cards, a couple of receipts, some business cards and because my husband is an electronics engineer, some electrical bits like circuits. Who knows where technology will get to in the future?

Those things fit into the bottle a little easier than the paper items, thankfully. Our next feat would be to close it up to keep things safe. We found corks for both bottles and then dipped them in wax to seal them and hopefully keep the cork from perishing. In addition to the two bottles, we added a few pieces of crystal and china that had been chipped during our house move. We find so many small pieces of china and pottery and keep hoping to find a whole plate or cup so the addition of these things seemed right in keeping with what we were trying to achieve. One of the bottles we found was also included for posterity.

It was quite exciting really, to be writing to the future. When it came time to bury our treasure we were a bit thoughtful and paused for a moment, then carefully arranged everything in the small space we made in the floor. We had left one small part of the floor unfilled and made a stone lined “Box” to put our things in and then we put a stone on top and covered it over as if it had never been there. Next the cement will go on top and we can only wonder how long it will be before someone comes along and finds our stash. I can't help but think about who will find it and hope they can appreciate our efforts. I would have loved to have found something like this, a picture of the lives of the tenants of the house before us, but the next best thing is to create something unique like this for someone else to discover.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hot off the Press!

The Royal Mail released these lovelies today. I really like these stamps and also that they come in a variety of denominations so I can use them on domestic letters as well as international ones without adding a bunch of boring Machins to get up to the overseas postage rates. There's just something about the seaside; sunshine, warm breezes and carefree days. These beach beauties are so vivid and they look even better in person. I can't wait to use them on my letters. Usually there is only one stamp release per month in the United Kingdom but the stamps they offer are always worth waiting for. I ordered some of these Seaside stamps and the British Piers souvenir sheets they issued from the Royal Mail website. My stamps arrived in the morning post so I'm all set. By ordering on line I get as many as I want and don't have to stand in line (or get waited on by the mean lady!) Generally when I go into town, the post office has few or none left of any new stamps and I may not get the complete series, so ordering on line ensures I get the whole set, plus extras. This release came just in time to help summer linger on a little more before the chilly Autumn days come to stay.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


I love the idea of smash books. I have always done my scrapbooks in that style so the concept of having an everyday smash book really appeals to me. There are usually several collages in progress on my work table, whether I'm putting them together or collecting just the right elements for them, so I've got tons of ephemera. Too much probably but I dare not throw away any scrap because I just know I will be in dire need of it for some project or other.

Today, I wanted to share my postal smash book with you. I've always collected postal cartoons but until I began my book I never really had one place to keep them. They were always just stashed in with boxes or packages of stationery or tucked into the backs of tablets. Now my cartoons and all the other little postal tidbits I amass are all in one place. I found this journal in a bargain bin at one of the shops in town. It's perfect for my mail ephemera.

This page has a little blurb about Paloma Faith, one of my favourite singers. She says in the interview she has just gotten into letter writing and shows some of her letter writing sets. I thought that was really cool that she took the time to write letters having such a hectic life and I wrote and told her so. I was very surprised to get an autographed photo in the mail as a thank you for my letter.

I also write quotes about letters and writing in between my scraps. I collect those too. I'm a bit of a paper pack rat. Ah, but it's fun and even if it's addicting it isn't fattening and besides there are worse habits so I'm not worried.

I don't do one page at a time, the scraps go in randomly and I keep adding until a page is full.  There are so many things to include and so I just go with the flow and add the elements as they fit into the available spaces.  It's a very random process.

I'd like to add colour to my book but I don't paint and don't have a clue about where to start. I don't think the pages of this particular book would stand being painted as they are thin and just meant to be written on but later on I'd like dabble a little with paint and just take it up another level.

In any case, I like how the book is coming along and never thought I would have enough bits and pieces to actually fill a whole book, but I'm actually nearly ready to move onto the next book! I've got my eye on a book for volume 2 already...and a bigger book at that because some of the goodies I have are just a bit too large to add to the current book.

What's in your smash book?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


This past month has been slow in the incoming mail department which is pretty sad for someone who loves getting mail. Still, it's always a great mail day when there is something other than bills and ads in the post for me. Yesterday I got this lovely stack of mail.
Swop-bot keeps me busy with little projects from time to time. As I mentioned in my last post I made a stationery kit for my partner. I received the kit my partner made for me this week and I love it! It was very thoughtfully put together and I have already begun using the contents. My favourite thing in the kit was the personalized swap cards she made for me.

Swaps also feed my stamp collection. I've been collecting stamps since I was about 7. My father is a big collector and that is how I got started. I also inherited my late mother-in-law's collection which consisted of about 7 cartons. It took quite a long time to sort. Mostly it was used stamps she had amassed. It seemed like everyone she ever met was saving stamps for her so the process of sorting things by country and then soaking them off the paper and putting them in albums took a very long time. I've still got things to go through, but the bulk of the collection is now organized. Midway through my sorting, my son took an interest in collection and that makes me happy. He'll take on the collection next.

I got this fabulous swap from Stacy in the United States. I think her mail art is great, especially since she incorporated some of my hobbies and favourite colours in her work. I keep the envelope on my desk for inspiration. I'm still a relative newby to mail art. My envelopes are not as developed as Stacy's but I'm working on it.
Collage is my number one mail art form as you can see here from this Alice in Wonderland themed postcard I did a while ago.
Back of postcard

front of postcard

Today while I was writing this I got three more stamp swaps and my partners added so many nice extras I thought I would show you those as well.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Finding Miss Write

What makes a good pen pal? I think every one of us, at some time or another, searches for that perfect pal. One whose letters we anticipate, and with whom we find an easy rapport.

Writing to new people is quite easy really; it’s what comes after that initial letter that can pose a problem. I remember my very first pen pal. My neighbour’s cousin had come to visit over the summer holidays and when she left we’d agreed to write to one another—we were seven years old. I thought it would be so easy to write to Rhonda, but we already knew each other so the benefit of the opening letter wasn’t necessary in this case. When I sat down to write her, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. My mother, who’d had pen pals when she was younger, encouraged me to write about our daily life so I dutifully wrote about my father having to replace one of the wind shield wipers on our car. It was a short-lived correspondence with Rhonda to say the least.

A few years later, when I was a little older and hopefully a little wiser, I sent my name in to a TV program called The Big Blue Marble in order to be matched up with an overseas pen pal. I was eleven and wanted to know first-hand about far away places. I soon got a letter from Claudia in Italy. It was very exciting for me and things did progress past the first letter this time only to stall around the third letter when Claudia informed me she couldn’t understand my handwriting. To say I was mortified was a gross understatement. For me, the subject of my handwriting had always been a sensitive one. When I was nearly eight, we moved from the city to the country and upon entering school, I found that cursive writing was taught in the previous year and so I would need to learn at home in order to be brought up to the same level as my classmates. I was sent home with a note and a packet with templates and under my mother’s tutelage I practised writing cursive. I was not very good at it and having won penmanship awards for my printing at my former school, it was quite a blow really, so when Claudia said she couldn’t understand my writing I was devastated. I wanted to have a pen pal though, so I began practising my writing again and after that our correspondence flourished.

As the years went on, Claudia and I grew apart and as our interests developed and changed I heard from her less and less until she stopped writing altogether. Again, I found myself looking for a pen pal. But how do you find the right one? I sent my name in to a magazine requesting letter friends. I remember the day the letters started to arrive. I was thrilled and began happily answering my new pen pals. The letters continued to arrive, however, and then I started to worry. I wondered if they would ever stop. I got replies from as far away as Hong Kong and Brazil. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would receive more than 200 replies to my ad. It was a very arduous task answering so many pals. Some of my friends expressed an interest in writing so I passed some of the letters on to them though I wrote to the majority of people answering my ad. It proved to be too much in the end and most stopped writing to me because I took so long to write back. I was spending all my pocket money on stamps and stationery and still I didn’t have enough. I found that I was basically writing the same letter to all of my pals anyway and that isn’t really what I thought having pen pals would be like.

I realized then, that in order to have a good pen pal, I had to first be one. I became more conscious of the few remaining pals I had and endeavoured to be a pal whose letters they anticipated, and the rapport followed. It was a nice realization, finding that every pal was unique and that I connected on a different level with each of them. That in turn added depth to the whole experience of writing, and that is what I had always believed writing should be like.

 Today, I still write the few pals that endured. They were patient with me as I found my pen pal voice and slowly metamorphosed into Miss Write.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Getting Back to Business
Hello everyone. Now that the frenzy of getting my son ready for school is finished, hopefully I can get into a better posting schedule. The past few weeks have been bedlam here with getting uniforms, Phys Ed kit and classroom essentials ready for the big day. My son started at a new school this week so everything had to be changed over to the new school's name and logo which amounted to highway robbery. But, everything is purchased, labelled with name and form and ready for action so things here have slowed down. The house is so still and quiet, and I miss my son.

I've been writing letters and trying to get back to enjoying writing rather than stressing about being late in replying now that back to school mania has ended. I mailed a bunch of things when I went into town the other day. I used most of the envelopes I made a while ago so I'll have to get creative again. I sent out some swaps from Swap-Bot too. My son and I collect postage stamps so I've been swapping our extras. That gives us something to do on those rainy afternoons which have become more frequent now that Autumn is slowly creeping in. I can't complain though, as we have had such a nice summer with a lot of sunny carefree days.
Though I'm mostly doing stamp swaps on Swap-bot, I've tried a few other things as well. I made a Harry Potter postcard which I showed a few posts ago (and don't know how to link that up here yet!  :)  I've also just finished making a writing kit. I used one of the stationery folders I got at the charity shop and embellished and added a lot of writing goodies. 
  I made a small accordion address book from some address cards I had using washi tape to connect them and put a cover on it that I decorated with the same design as the writing folder.  It folds flat for easy storage.  The pretty little flowery bag has some scraps and stickers for embellishing letters and looks nice against the black writing paper.  Hopefully my swapping partner will like it as I tried to incorporate her favourite colours and themes.   I like the way it turned out and was inspired to transform an old stationery folder I had. The stationery got used and I had almost thrown the folder away but then I had a brainsotrm to upcycle it.  The second writing kit is very different and I think this one came out nicely too.

It has an entirely different feel to it.  I covered the folder with a wallpaper sample I got from one of the shops in town.  I found some matching cord in my fabric/ribbon stash and that complimented it nicely.  It was a little tricky gluing it on, and I had to do it in stages so that it fit properly.  I ended up not gluing to the spine of the folder so that when it was opened and closed it would give a little and that seems to have worked very well.  I poked holes in the folds and sewed a long bead onto the ribbons I inserted on each side so the folder could be tied shut.
Here is the inside view showing the goodies I included.  I had all these things on hand and only really bought the pen as it matched so well.  You can't see, but there is a gem on top of the pen that matches all the little gem accents I added.   I like that I have a portable kit I can take with me when I go somewhere and can write letters, notes and postcards.  The only thing I have yet to add are a few stamps and them I'm all set to go.  Have you ever made a writing kit?  It's fairly easy and can be used and refilled so you are always ready to write.  Give it a try some time.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

 Bargain Hunting

Time has gotten away from me and I haven't been able to sit down and write. I blame it on the sun. When the sun is shining there are a thousand things to be done in the garden. Yesterday and today it's been a bit rainy so I'm at my desk once again.

I went shopping the other day. I like a good bargain. I can't pass a charity shop without having a mooch around. Some shops are organized and I know just where to look for the things that interest me, others have their stock just randomly relegated to shelves. I like the messy ones best. It's like searching for treasure. I know that sounds a bit off the wall but it's true. Lately I've had a run of luck with my rummaging. I've gotten some great stationery and postal ephemera and at such good prices. I usually buy all my writing paper and note cards from the charity shops, that way I can spend more money on stamps for my letters. I make a lot of my stationery too.

Here are a few of my goodies. A great stash of note cards and writing paper as well as airmail envelopes and even aero-grams which not many people use these days. I find them a bit fiddly to open, but these older ones have a more sturdy paper which will make it easier on the recipients and they are stamped so I can just write and post.

I got two
writing folders as well which are nice to take a long when I'm going somewhere so I can just keep everything together. The brown one is leather and believe it or not the pen still works and none of the paper has even been used. There is a gold pen with the silver folder. I think there must have been a silver pen but that was missing from the set. I've never written a letter on black paper so that will be fun to try out.

I have also gotten an assortment of things from the post office including complimentary change of address cards, postcards a pack of newspaper labels and this great file box that was given by the post office as a gratuity. It has cards for writing birthdays and other special days as well as month cards for a quick glance at all the events for a month and even handy little cards that give you advice on how to post things.
In all I think there is always something interesting to see at the charity shops and I come home with something I can use for just pennies.