In the spirit of literacy and letter writing

May 21, 2015 § 4 Comments

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that a while ago I recommended several books for kids featuring letters and sending mail.  Why?  Because books in the hands of children create readers and inspire new interests.  Besides, who among us doesn’t love a good book about mail?  And these have the added bonus of great illustrations!  So, in the spirit of literacy and letter writing, today I recommend four books; three about letter carriers of different flavors, and one about the era when you could mail order a house.


Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier

You may think that dogs are the stuff of nightmares for mail carriers, but that’s only because you haven’t yet read about Millie. Oh, yes, she waits for the mail — to be more precise, she lies in wait and takes great glee in scaring the mail carrier. Oh, my.

This book has conflict and a smooshed package, but, fear not, it ends happily.


A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier

A story about Leo who delivers the mail, makes a friend when he is kind to a stranger, and–finally!–receives a letter of his own.


Mr Griggs’ Work by Cynthia Rylant

Mr. Griggs "spent millions of minutes of his long life shuffling through letters, watching the pictures on the stamps change, punching his First Class puncher, weighting fat brown boxes, and listening to long tales bout 'The Letter That Never Got There.'"

Mr. Griggs “spent millions of minutes of his long life shuffling through letters, watching the pictures on the stamps change, punching his First Class puncher, weighing fat brown boxes, and listening to long tales about ‘The Letter That Never Got There.'” 

Need I say more or is that enough to sell you on getting to know Mr. Griggs?  (I really love this one.)


And the bonus book: The House in the Mail by Rosemary and Tom Wells

This one is less about mail and more about the process of constructing a mail order house, BUT it’s a great slice of history and shows what a wonder mail order merchandise was in the 1920s–something that may not have happened without the USPS’s introduction of Rural Free Delivery in 1896.


Now, run to your library and ask for these books.  Then find a child and share.  Enjoy!

List of Letters, c. 1860

May 3, 2015 § 2 Comments

The Maryland State Archives’ newspaper digitization project aims to preserve and provide easy access to newspapers published in Maryland from the 1700s through the 1940s.  Personal experience leads me to caution you that taking a casual look at their online collection can result in a great deal of time spent reading vintage advertisements and musing that the gossipy “Personal and Social” and “Local Matters” sections are, perhaps, the analog forerunners to social media (“Dr. and Mrs. H. L. Dodd’s little daughter recently sat on a needle and was very much inconvenienced until the cause of her sickness was discovered.” Yes, this tidbit really appeared in the paper, circa 1920).

While randomly browsing the Saturday, November 24, 1860 edition of the Kent News, a “List of Letters” signed by the postmaster caught my eye.

18601120listofletters

Curious about what this meant, I did some research.  Since Rural Free Delivery did not become a universal service until 1902, in the 1860s people had to stop by the post office and inquire whether they had mail.  Because of this, there was a postal regulation requiring:
“That the postmasters shall, respectively, publish, at the expiration of every three months, or oftener, when the Postmaster General shall so direct, in one of the newspapers published at or nearest the place of his residence, for three successive weeks, a list of all the letters remaining in their respective offices”

If the addressees failed to claim their mail within three months of the list being published, the Postmaster was charged with opening unclaimed items in order to look for “any valuable papers, or matters of consequence” and then attempting to notify or return items to the sender.

Today, individual post offices hold “dead letters” for a much shorter period of time.  “Undeliverable, unendorsed standard letters or flats” land in the recycling bin on a daily basis.  Certain categories of mail and loose-in-mail items are sent to the USPS Mail Recovery Center.  If valid claims for lost mail are filed, items are returned.  If not, they may be auctioned.

Have you ever lost something in the mail?

Sources

Leech, D.D.T. (1857). List of post offices in the United States; with the names of postmasters, on the 13th of July, 1857; Also, the regulations and laws of the Post Office Department. John C. Rives (publisher). Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=6U4ZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Publication 100 – The United States Postal Service – An American History 1775 – 2006 ( 2012, November). Retrieved from: http://about.usps.com/publications/pub100/pub100_001.htm

Stam, J. L. (1860, November 24) “List of Letters” The Kent News, 21(29), 2. Retrieved from: http://mdhistory.net/msa_sc2901/msa_sc2901_scm1621/html/msa_sc2901_scm1621-0006.html

Month of Letters Success and Fun with Postcards

March 5, 2015 § 2 Comments

The challenge of a Month of Letters is to 1) mail at least one item each day the post runs during February (this works out to 23 items for those of us in the U.S. after accounting for four Sundays and one federal holiday); and 2) to write back to everyone who writes to you.

I accomplished neither of these goals.

However, during the month of February, I sent 24 pieces of mail and had only two unanswered letters in my queue on the 1st of March.  For me, this is an accomplishment.  Therefore, I’m declaring Month of Letters 2015 as a success since I found the (often elusive and definitely variable) letter-writing rhythm that worked for me.

I was already feeling good about Month of Letters, but it was nice to learn that I’m not alone in measuring success using unofficial metrics:

As the founder [of Month of Letters], I should totally have been able to send that much mail. I didn’t and I don’t feel badly about it because I still sent more mail than I would have without the Challenge. So I might not have won the challenge, but it was still successful for me.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Well said, don’t you think?  (That is hardly a surprise, though, given that Mary Robinette Kowal is very good at saying things.)

If you participated, I hope you, too, had a successful experience by whatever reckoning method suits for you.

I found postcards very helpful for increasing the amount of mail I sent last month.  As promised, I even put my art supplies to use and watercolored a set.  It was my first attempt at using masking fluid (inspired by Lindsey at The Postman’s Knock) and I was pretty pleased with the result.  I’ll definitely be refining my technique and making more.

201502_postcards

Continuing the postcard fun, I found this gem second-hand, with only one postcard missing.

201502_postcards2The contents lived up to the name and I am now well-stocked for those moments when only a tacky postcard will convey the proper sentiment.  How often does this happen, you ask?  You might be surprised!

Whether you’re trending elegant or tacky today, keep scribbling.

Month of Letters: Time for the Art Supplies!

February 10, 2015 § 4 Comments

It’s day ten of A Month of Letters.  I’m writing my 11th letter of the month tonight, so I’m in good shape to meet the challenge of mailing 23 items by the end of February.  I’ve written every day and posted something every day the mail has run – several birthday cards, a sympathy note, replies to a few letters that have been patiently waiting, a couple postcards with slice-of-life stories, and a “thank-you” for a lovely visit with a lovely friend.

For the next round of letters, the art supplies are coming out.  Lindsey of Postman’s Knock inspired me to buy some art masking fluid and it has arrived.  A new art adventure for me!  Fun will be had by all, which is to say me and, hopefully, whoever finds my creations in their mailboxes.

Listening to Letters & the Penguin Post Office

January 31, 2015 § 2 Comments

I’ve recently discovered two letter-based podcasts and a PBS program featuring one of the world’s most unique post offices.  I found them all interesting and thought you might, too.

Titanic Letters – In 2012, the BBC recorded a podcast series featuring letters written by some of those involved in the Titanic disaster.  Some are written prior to the ship sinking, others in the chaotic aftermath.  Each is read by a different personality.  They’re very poignant.  [Note: You’ll probably want to start at the bottom of the list so that you’re listening chronologically.]

John Adams Letters from the Front – The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of British WWI solider John Adams are collaborating on the creation of this podcast which shares his experiences in the war as told through the letters he wrote home.  This series began in the fall of 2014 and will continue over the next few years with episodes being released 100 years to the month after the letters were written.  Part of what I love about this project is that these hundred-year-old letters that connected a solider to his family are continuing to bring his family together.

Penguin Post Office – This is a recent episode of the PBS show Nature.  Because it is a nature program, the main focus is on the colony of 3,000 gentoo penguins that take up summer residence next at Antarctica’s Port Lockroy, but the Port Lockroy post office is also featured.  If the brutality of nature makes you squeamish, you may want to skip the Nature episode (spoiler alert: not all the penguins survive) and instead watch the Port Lockroy briefing film to learn a little bit about the world’s southern-most post office, which is a major Antarctic tourist attraction.

Scribble-icious Christmas

December 29, 2014 § 2 Comments

I received a love letter for Christmas.

It was not the first time I’ve been so fortunate (it’s totally a thing around here), but it was the first time that one was delivered inside a vintage post box.

20141225POB

That man of mine is adorable.  Love letter + postal theme + repurposed materials = just my kind of present.  (If you’re thinking it’s just your kind of present, too, a very limited supply is available from TnBC designs.)

I’m mulling over where to put the post box and how to use it.  You may recall, I’ve been enamored of the personal P.O. for decades and love the idea of using it to exchange messages.  I don’t anticipate that the one currently sitting on my bookshelf will be utilized that way, but perhaps it will end up housing something particularly special.

Christmas was a pretty scribble-icious celebration:

A dinosaur-themed create-a-card kit (it comes with dino stickers!) and a set of hand-made cards made by my talented photographer sister.

A dinosaur-themed create-a-card kit (with dino stickers!) and a set of cards made by my talented photographer sister.

New pens, Literary Listography: My Reading Life in Lists, and–see that big white triangle under the pens?–a story that my oldest niece wrote just for me.

New pens, Literary Listography: My Reading Life in Lists, and–see that big white triangle under the pens?–a story that my oldest niece wrote just for me.

The sample letters in these vintage stocking stuffers inspired a number of dramatic readings and much hilarity ensued over the dated slang and phrasings.

The sample letters in these vintage stocking stuffers inspired a number of dramatic readings and much hilarity ensued over the dated slang and phrasings.

So much kindness, creativity, and good humor in my family — I’m so very fortunate to know these people.

What creative gifts made your heart sing?

So you can be sure it is a real letter.

November 14, 2014 § 4 Comments

Just then the mailman came by Villa Villekulla.

“Well, sometimes one does have good luck,” exclaimed Pippi, “and meets a mailman just when one needs him!”

She ran out into the street. “Will you please be so kind as to deliver this to Miss Pippi Longstocking at once?” she said. “It’s urgent.”

The mailman looked first at the letter and then at Pippi.  “Aren’t you Pippi Longstocking yourself?” he asked.

“Sure. Who did you think I was, the Empress of Abyssinia?”

“But why don’t you take the letter yourself?”

“Why don’t I take the letter myself?” said Pippi. “Should I be delivering the letter myself?  No, that’s going too far.  Do you mean to say that people have to deliver their letters themselves nowadays?  What do we have mailmen for, then?  We might as well get rid of them.  I’ve never in my life heard anything so foolish.  No, my lad, if that’s the way you do your work, they’ll never make a postmaster out of you, you can be sure of that.”

The mailman decided it was just as well to do what she wished, so he dropped the letter in the mailbox at Villa Villekulla.  It had scarcely landed before Pippi eagerly pulled it out again.

“Oh, how curious I am!” she said to Tommy and Annika.  “This is the first letter I ever got in my life.”

All three children sat down on the porch steps, and Pippi slit open the envelope.  Tommy and Annika looked over her shoulder and read.

DARLING PIPPI,

I SIRTINLEE HOP U R NOT SIK. IT WOOD BE 2 BAD 4 U 2 BE SIK. MYSELF I AM JUST FIN. THER IS 0 RONG WITH THE WHETHER ETHER. YESTERDAY TOMY KILT 1 BIG RAT. YES.

THAT IS WHAT HE DID.

BEST WISHIS FORM

PIPPI

“Oh,” said Pippi, delighted, “it says exactly the same things in my letter that it does in the one you wrote to your grandmother, Tommy.  So you can be sure it is a real letter.  I’ll keep it as long as I live.”

from Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn

While Pippi may disagree and etiquette books will instruct you differently, the construction of letters is a wide open field of possiblities.  Having a variety of correspondents means encountering different approaches to letter writing and repeated opportunities to expand my own ideas on what constitutes a “real” letter.

I used to rate long letters as more real than any other kind.  Over the years, I’ve developed an appreciation for compact letters, postcards, and things that are not letters at all.  In part, I think my new definition of what constitutes a real letter has developed as I changed my thinking on whether letters need to be a 1:1 exchange.

In addition to writing to people I know only through letters, I also like to send letters to people who I know in real life.  Not all of those people are letter-writers.  Sometimes I mail a note to a friend and get a text in reply or a Facebook post saying “thank you!”  I think that’s great, because even though it’s a different medium, it brings the connection started by the letter full circle.  And in my book, regardless of length or construction, the realest letters are the ones that create connections.

How do you define a real letter?