Month of Letters

Around the World

Last year, at the end of the Month of Letters, I did something I'd been thinking of doing for a couple of years . . .

I signed up for Postcrossing.

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In the past year, I've sent 37 postcards (40 - after 3 more go out today!) out to random Postcrossers around the world -- and I've received 39 postcards from other random Postcrossers in return.

It's really fun . . . to open your mailbox and discover exotic stamps and friendly messages and lovely cards from strangers  all around the world.


It makes the world seem a whole lot smaller, y'now?

And it gives me a chance to be an ambassador of the United States -- to show strangers around the world that the people of the U.S. are friendly, conversant, and care about reaching out beyond our own borders.   With every postcard I write, I have a tiny little space to send a message of personal kindness and goodwill.


And . . . the stamps are just awesome!




Get Your Stamps Ready

I love to write letters.  

On stationery.  

With stamps.  

Sent through the regular mail.  

And then . . . I love to open my mailbox and find a reply.

For several years, during February, I have participated in the Month of Letters.


I know.  I know.  Letter writing is so . . . old school.  It's so easy now to send a text -  or an email - or share something on Facebook.  


I love the practice of writing letters.  There is something really special about opening an envelope -- and seeing someone's actual handwriting!  It's lovely, really.

So I spend each February resurrecting the old-fashioned art of letter writing.  I commit to writing and sending one note or letter each day in February (except on Sundays and President's Day . . . because no mail delivery).

Want to join me?


If you don't want to commit to the whole thing, maybe you'd like to receive a letter or note from me in February?  If so, please send me an email (see sidebar for my email link - right there, under the Instagram feed) and I'll be happy to write to you.  But . . . you've got to promise me one thing.  You have to write back!


Friday Mailbag

February is just chugging right along . . . and I've been (quietly) writing (and mailing) a-letter-a-day all through the month.


It seems appropriate that I should dip into the virtual Friday Mailbag at least once during A Month of Letters, so here goes.


B 6 mos 2

Dear Brian,

How can this be?  Really.  How?  It seems this little guy was . . . just here.  And now?  24!  
So.  Tell me.  How?

P.S.  Happy birthday!  XO


Dear my-20-year-old-body,

I must sincerely apologize.  I simply did not appreciate your being there . . . 36 years ago.  I just had no idea how supple and flexible you really were.  How you could leap out of bed in the morning without aches and pains and groans and moans.  How you could bend and stretch and lift and run and not feel it the next day.  How you could eat pizza and drink beer and follow it up with ice cream and maybe even some cake . . . and not gain an ounce.

I wish I could wake up JUST ONCE and be in your body again.  Just for the morning.  To remember what that felt like, y'know?


Dear Winter,

Mark Torgerossa, MLive Weather Correspondent, assures me that it's going to feel like Spring tomorrow.  Close to 60 degrees (F), he says.  My iPhone forecast agrees.  Warm.  Really warm.  So, Bon Voyage to you, Winter.  At least for today.


Dear Locker Room SLOBS,

Yes.  Our gym has towel service.  Yes.  It's a really nice perk.  Now.  Pick up your used towels and place them in the proper receptacles when you're finished with them.

Because your mother doesn't work in the locker room.  

(And I'm not picking your towels up for you either.)


Dear Patty,

Happy Birthday, my friend!  I'll be drinking a toast to you this evening!


Enjoy your weekend!

Right Now - January 2016

Of all the months, I think you are my least favorite.  
Dark.  Cold.  Bleak.  
And really, really long.

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The daylight is getting longer, though.  I'm even starting to notice.

Here's what's happening for me. . . Right Now:

Watching - My Oscar-nominated-movie-watching binge is nearly complete.  Bridge of Spies will be available on DVD next week.  (We missed that one when it was in the theaters last fall.)  That leaves me with Mad Max: Fury Road.  Tom has already seen it, so I'll be watching by myself.  (Keith received this movie as a Christmas gift, and everyone -- except me -- watched it during the holidays.  If I had known it was an Oscar-contender, I would've suffered through it then.  As it is . . . well, I need to watch now.)  For the record, my favorite this year is Spotlight, followed by The Big Short.


Reading - I'm sort of at a reading low-point right now.  I'm reading H is for Hawk . . . and really not liking it very much.  (Very disjointed and kind of whiney . . . and as much as I like birds of prey, I'm not so sure how I feel about falconry.)  Also reading Last Friends, the final novel in the Old Filth trilogy.  (Unfortunately, it's the weakest of the three.)  I'm also avoiding reading my book group selection for the month, as it doesn't appeal to me in any way.  (Maybe I'll just show up and drink the wine this month.)  (It happens.)  On the upside . . . I read The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra.  Wow.  This was the best book I've read in a very long time, and - even though it's only January - might end up as the best of the year for me.

Knitting - I am still c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g along on my Henley with a Twist sweater.  (I only have the front to complete, and I've got a good start.)  (So slow, though.  Tiny yarn.  Small needles.  And bitsy cables -- every 8th row.)    I did knit two pair of Trip Mitts (one for me; one for my niece).  Such a perfect palate-cleanser.  And I am ready to Bang Out a Sweater next week (ha!) in the Mason Dixon Knitting Stopover KAL.  (Don't hold your breath.)  (But I really need a WIN here.)


Listening to - Guided meditations.  While some are just too corny for words not to my taste, others are perfect and really add to my daily meditation practice.

Dreading - This happens every year at this time.  My yoga instructor goes to Mexico for the month of February.  (And this year, she actually added the last week in January.)  I hate this.  Because I am not so fond of the sub.

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Drinking - Peppermint tea.  Every afternoon.

Planning - My Month-of-Letters strategy.  (Remember, if you'd like to receive a letter from me in February, please see the sidebar to email me your address.)

Humming - (I blame Carole.)  (Said with much love.)


Itching to - Bang Out a Sweater!  (Because lemming.) 

Organizing - Myself . . . using a Bullet Journal.  I've been intrigued by this way of journaling/calendar-ing for years -- and decided to try it (in earnest) this year.  So far, so good.  (Maybe I'll blog about it soon.)

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Delighted by - My grocery store amaryllis.  This is my second set of blooms.  (Not bad for $10.)

Needing to - Get a load of stuff to Goodwill.  I'm Very Good at sorting and deciding; not so good about getting it in my car to drop it off.


Enjoying - My watercolor class.  But  So hard!  I need so much practice.  I waste so much watercolor paper.  (Fun.  But very humbling.)

Looking Forward To - My sister and I just booked our next trip!  This summer:  Scotland and Ireland.  It's a long way off -- but so cheering to think about.

Celebrating - The end of January.  So long.  So dark.  And even though February is much the same, it is short.  And has chocolate in the middle.

How about YOU?  What's happening for you . . . right now?


Getting Ready

February is coming right up.  And that means . . . it's time for A Month of Letters!

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Yep.  I got my basket-o-notecards all put together today.  I broke out the colorful pens and the address labels and the stamps, too. 

I am all ready to write a letter (or at least a note) each mail-day during February.  

If you'd like to receive a letter from me, send me your address (use my email link in the sidebar).  I'll write to you -- and then, of course, I'll be looking forward to your reply.


And . . . February 2 is the annual Silent Poetry Reading.  Be sure to join me for a bit of poetry -- and maybe share your favorite, too.

Friday Mailbag

 It's Friday.  Time, once again, for reaching into the Friday mailbag . . . for Friday letters à la Paula!



Dear Intense Spinning Woman,

Although you're not a "regular" to my Saturday morning spin class, I could tell right away . . . that you take your spinning very seriously.  The cycling shirt and matching cycling gloves were my first clue.  But when you placed TWO matching water bottles in the holders on your cycle, I knew you were Hard Core.  (That's a whole lot of hydration for a 45 minute class.  Y'know?)  And then, when class had started, and I glanced in the front mirror and saw those dual water bottles reflected there, I nearly fell off my bike.  Because those matching water bottles . . . with their bright pink lids and their black center nozzles . . . looked just like two comic boobs.  Right there.  On your bike.  For the entire 45 minutes.  (Really?  Just . . . really?)


Dear Groceries,

Each week, I anticipate your arrival by crafting a weekly meal plan.  I carefully put together my "grocery guest list" -- deciding which of you to invite into my home.  And, although time-consuming, I understand the value of good planning, and I don't despise those tasks.  Likewise, I don't mind wandering up and down the aisles of my neighborhood grocery store, seeking you out individually and packing you carefully into my cart.  I don't even mind picking up your tab.  But.  When you are gathered together as a group, neatly packed into my environmentally-friendly, re-usable grocery bags, the thrill is gone.  Because, you see, I HATE unloading you and putting you away in my pantry and my refrigerator.  With a passion.  (Sometimes the truth hurts.)


Dear Jared Flood,

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.
You bring sunshine . . . to a cloudy day.
Took my love, took it down; climbed a mountain and I turned around.
Thank you for your newest Look Book.  As always, it was cause for personal celebration and Just What I Needed on a cold, winter Tuesday.


Dear Water Pens,

How is it that I never met you before?  Where were you hiding . . . Aqua Splash, AquaDoodle, WaterBrush, AquaFlow . . . all of you?  Watercolor will never be the same.



And, speaking of LETTERS . . .

It's time to start thinking about the Month of Letters challenge!  In case you're not familiar with the Month of Letters, you can read all about it here.

I'm ready to begin!  I've printed out my planning calendar, and this year, I even ordered some special Month of Letters stamps.

Join the fun!  Pull out your stationery and get your best pens ready . . . it's time to get writing!



Jottings . . . Re-using . . . and Poetry

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As the Month of Letters draws to a close, I think it might be fun to talk about . . .


And alternative uses of envelopes.

And poetry.


You see, I am a jotter.

I'm always grabbing a scrap of paper to jot a quick note to myself.  Scraps, note pads, backs of receipts, napkins . . . whatever is handy.  Backs of envelopes are particularly useful for jotting!  

I keep little piles of my jottings close at hand.  On my desk.  Stuck in recipe books.  On a side table near my knitting.  You never know when inspiration will strike.

It works for me.

It also worked for Emily Dickinson!  Apparently, Emily Dickinson always carried scraps of paper and a pencil in the pocket of her dress.  That way, she could note and edit and jot whenever the words came to her!

I have always been a fan of Emily Dickinson -- and this winter, during these dull and dreary cold days, I have particularly enjoyed a new collection of her poetry in a beautiful book called The Gorgeous Nothings.


That Emily Dickinson didn't waste a scrap of paper!  She practiced New England economy and reused envelopes by cutting or tearing them into pages for her jottings.

This new book - part poetry and part visual art volume - collects all of Emily Dickinson's "envelope poems":  her 52 surviving "dribs and drabs" -- her jottings -- on re-used envelopes and pieces of scrap paper.  It's a collection of pocket-sized papers, each featuring sentences, stanzas, and roughed out poems -- full size back and front views, with helpful translation (because Emily Dickinson's handwriting is difficult to read, and even more challenging when scrawled on the backs of envelopes).

In this book, I notice the shapes of the various papers . . .


before I notice the poems themselves.  The shapes and sizes of scrap paper are widely varied -- and beautiful in their own form and shape.  And, then, there is the poetry!  Not finished poetry . . . just fragments of poetry in progress!


It's almost like . . . poetry . . . in 3D!


Sometimes the poems seem to follow the shape of the paper (a poem about a bird written on a scrap torn in the shape of a feather, or one about a house in written in the roof-shape of an envelope flap).  But sometimes . . . not.


 I especially like discovering her "word play" on the envelopes -- her scratching out and substituting words, sometimes even listing several words she might choose from in a particular setting.  It is fascinating - and oh-so-"real" - to discover that even one of our most beloved poets had a process to her writing!


It's a wonderful book filled with lovely images and beautiful phrases.


If you're a fan of Emily Dickinson - or even a fan of recycled paper and handwritten notes - you might be delighted by this book, too.


It's a perfect collection . . . of jottings!


Letters ... as a Genre, and Other Things

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Here we are, mid-month in the Month of Letters challenge.  I'm keeping up . . . sending out cards and little notes every day so far.  And although I'm not really writing any letters this month (I'm more apt to do the quick note and card variety of correspondence these days), I am thinking about letters quite a lot.

And I have these random letter-related thoughts to share with you today:


As you know, I read a lot.  And I've discovered, over the years, that I really enjoy epistolary novels -- or narratives told through a series of letters, journal entries, newspaper clippings, etc.


I think it all started with Flowers for Algernon, a book I first read - and loved! - in seventh grade.   I think there's just something fascinating . . . with peeking into other people's diary entries or private letters . . . even if it's just fiction.  For me, that format just brings a sense of connection and "realness" to a novel.    Over the years, there have been many, many epistolary novels I've loved:  Carrie, Dracula, The Screwtape Letters, The Stone Diaries.  And, more recently, Where'd You Go Bernadette? and Frances and Bernard.

How about you?  Do you enjoy epistolary novels?  What are your favorites?


What do you do with all the fun cards and lovely notes you receive in the mail?

I usually display a few favorite cards on my bulletin boards at home or at my office (because I really like to surround myself with lovely images and special notes).  And then, I save the rest by making little "card binders."


I just gather my cards, punch holes in them with a hole punch, and thread them on little binder rings I pick up at the office supply store.


Sometimes I group the cards by theme (if there's a big "event" that has generated a lot of cards, for example), but mostly I just assemble random cards together.  It's easier to save special cards when they're bound together in a manageable way, and I'm much more apt to take a look at them when they're in tidy little groups.


How do you keep track of cards and notes?


I have a "thing" for stationery.  Somehow, I'm always drawn to the paper goods at any store, and my supply of greeting cards and note cards far exceeds my letter-writing habit!


I keep a little basket stocked with notecards, stamps, and return address labels so I'm always prepared when the letter-writing bug bites me.

I even use an old-school address book that I've had for nearly 20 years!


I think this is why the Month of Letters is always so appealing to me!  I like to read letters . . . and keep letters . . . and collect stationery and addresses to write letters.



I'm sure you've heard these words in relation to the U.S. Postal Service:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.


I'm here to tell you . . . Lies!

See.  Here's MY mailbox.


Covered with snow.

Completely covered.*

Actually, it's kind of buried in the snow.


Just like all the rest of the mailboxes on my street.


Turns out . . . if the mail man/woman can't access your mailbox, they don't deliver your mail.

Sometimes for days at a time.

Which puts a bit of a damper on the Month of Letters!**


*  During a Winter Like This One, you really have to stay on top of your mailbox situation.  Tom was out of town last week, and the snow (and snow plow "leavings") really piled up.  It was too icy and heavy (those plow chunks. . .) for me to handle, so we didn't get mail for a couple of days.  Tom dug us out on Saturday.  (Photos above are post-dig-out.)

**  At least we live on a not-frequently-plowed street.  Mailboxes on main streets . . . don't fare so well!  See?  No mailbox.  Certainly no mail delivery!  (Happens all the time on main streets.)



The Art of Letter Writing

February brings the Month of Letters -- a challenge to write (and post . . . by regular mail) one letter or note or card each day in February.*  


This challenge is fun for me . . . because I love Real Mail.  I love going out to my mailbox and finding a letter or a card inside.  (This doesn't happen very often anymore, so it's especially wonderful.)

Thinking about letters . . .makes me think back.  To those days before the "personal computer."  Before email.  And Facebook.  And texting.  And all the myriad, instant ways we can communicate now.  Back to the days of the humble . . . letter.

My childhood and adolescent years were filled with letter writing.  Back then (which wasn't really all that long ago!), writing letters is what we DID when we wanted to stay in touch with people who didn't live nearby.

I remember the first time I went to camp - when I was 11 - my Mom packed stationery and stamps right alongside my carefully-labeled clothing.  We campers had a quiet break every day after lunch so we could write letters for home.  There was a special camp post office - and mail call every day.  I was at camp for 2 weeks -- and I remember writing letters home most every day.  (My Mom made sure I always had something at mail call, too!)  

My letter writing became especially prolific when my family moved across the country to Wyoming when I was 12.  I kept in close contact with my school and neighborhood friends and my cousins for many years. Even during my college years, I took time to write frequent letters home to my parents and friends.  (I've already written here about how Tom and I kept in touch by mail for an entire year while we finished up at our separate colleges.)

I love looking back at the letters I've saved.  Handwriting.  Doodles.  Cards.  Funny enclosures.  There's such a HISTORY there in those letters!  A history and a passion and a sense of connectedness that just doesn't revewal itself in the pithy Facebook status update or in a quick text.

Now, I love using internet-based communication; I'm totally hooked on the instant satisfaction of a text conversation, the efficiency of email, the personal billboard that is Facebook.  It all works for me!  But.  I still appreciate and enjoy handwritten, delivered-through-the mailbox notes and letters.  I would hate to lose the sense of history that comes from the written word.

Here's a quote from a book by Simon Garfield called To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing:

"Letters have the power to grant us a larger life.  They reveal motivation and deepen understanding.  They are evidential.  They change lives, and they rewire history.  The world once used to run upon their transmission -- the lubricant of human interaction and the freefall of ideas, the silent conduit of the worthy and the incidental, the time we were coming for dinner, the account of our marvelous day, the weightiest joys and sorrows of love.  It must have seemed impossible that their worth would ever be taken for granted or swept awide.  A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen."

If you enjoy writing and receiving notes and letters -- the old-fashioned kind written in real ink on real paper and sent through the mail with real stamps -- consider joining along for the Month of Letters.  Let's preserve the art of letter writing!


* The irony that the Month of Letters challenge is communicated and tracked via internet delights me!