Monthly Archives: February 2011

In which I overdose on stamps

I got a piece of mail today that made me really, really, happy. And I’ll tell you why:


Look at that beautiful mess!


I can’t leave them alone; they go in and out and in and out of their very cool antique-looking wax envelopes. I organize them by theme, by denomination, by possible mailing configurations. How can you come by a wealth of squeal-inducing stamps, you ask? The answer, friend, is in the town of Weed, CA.

I read about Errol Murphy on a couple of other letter writing websites, where everyone unanimously gushed over his stamps and vouched for his trustworthiness. Actually, I really like how Murph does business—no credit cards, paypal, internet nonsense, etc.—just simple person-to-person communication and an implicit expectation of honorable dealings. Very in the spirit of letter writing. Actually, just very in the spirit of civilized communication and interaction.

Email Murph at and mention that you’d like to buy some stamps from him. He sells them at face value, and charges an extra $0.44 to cover the cost of shipping a $20 minimum’s worth of unusual stamps. Once you’ve given him your address and any themes you want him to look out for (I asked for literature, dance, circus, and space), all you have to do is stick a personal check in the mail and anticipate the goodies on their way to your mailbox. He mailed my stamps the very next day, before he even received my check.

One last story about Murph:

Remember how I said I lived on an old street, with old trees, in an old neighborhood? Think pre-American revolution and American folklore. When Murph saw my address he affixed these stamps to the envelope.



I've picnicked next to his grave, but I'd never seen his face. Thanks Murph! 1c

Yeah. I live there.


Anyway, I’m so excited to use these stamps ! I want them to go to good, safe homes. Does anyone out there keep their letters? Or do your letters eventually end their journeys in the dustbin? I know my sisters are good candidates. Anyone else, speak up! I’m adding this slideshow to showcase some of my favorites! (Anyone know how to selectively choose pictures for slideshows?)


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Bit by Bit, A Perfect Day Unfolds

Today was the quintessential rainy day. With my only obligation a networking call around noon, I was free to enjoy peaceful solitude and the staccato pit-patting of the rain outside my window while I worked on my latest project.

I live in an old house. Built in the 1920s or 30s, it has all sorts of endearing and irksome idiosyncrasies: the creaky wooden floors are gossip mongers. The ancient steam radiators clang and and hiss quite eloquently, and often require us to stuff towels under their leaking joints. A wide laundry chute in the floor of the master bedroom travels three stories down to the basement. The toilet down the hall is incredibly fussy, and the boiler room has been known to flood during rain storms. Occasionally door knobs are too contrary to turn, or too lazy to stay in their sockets.

Jealous yet?

Today it was all mine—every cherished creak, groan, clang and hiss. All isolated and amplified by the absence of other bodies moving and breathing in hollow rooms and hallways, where every sound is usually echoed and transmitted by way of those gossipy floorboards.

Beginning early this morning I sat at my wide writing desk, situated squarely in front of a large window that looks out at the broad old street, old houses, and old trees in my old neighborhood. Pointy pencils. Eraser. Pots of ink. Dip Pen. Reference material. Fortified by a steaming cup of tea, a bowl of sliced mango, and a cinnamon scone from the local pasty shop, I began again to sketch designs in pencil onto an envelope I should have sent to Boston last week.

Perhaps this project was too ambitious, but I had been wanting to attempt some Celtic knotwork and spirals, not to mention calligraphy, for a while and I began without really realizing how out of my depth I was. I chose the simplest pattern, not even a knot, and spent a couple of hours just trying to follow one circle as it became another entirely. That was a couple of days ago. Having figured out and replicated Step One, I wanted to fill the space around the rolling circles with vines, which is where today began. I gave up any expectation of neat lines and smooth curves (and authenticity) pretty early, but I think the effect isn’t bad from a distance and there are certain cubic inches I’m pleased with.

Eventually I opened up Pandora and listened to a mix of Regina Spektor, Florence + Machine, Death Cab, La Roux, Metric, Eisley, and other good rainy day music. Breaking every now and then to retrieve some clementines and watch the torrential sheets of rain become rivers on the black pavement, I slowly sketched and inked my way around the border of the 5×7 envelope.

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Steps 3, 4, 5…? Sketching and inking the circles, triangles, the inner border, and the address. Then perhaps I’ll break out the paints to give some color to the vines. I haven’t yet decided if I will use colored inks for other sections. Hopefully I’ll be done by this weekend. Patience Mello!

In which I expand my focus

Clearly, I love letters (got one from Spain guys!) and letter writing. And pens. And colored ink. My postal harem, as it were.

The newest addition is definitely stamps. I know, right? Duh. Where’ve I been?

The truth is that I never really paid attention to stamps because A) the ones in our house are always so boring (lots of evergreens and liberty bells these days) and B) I thought stamp connoisseur was a level of nerddom I didn’t want to touch (still true).

It wasn’t until I started writing frequently to my sisters in college that it even really registered that I could have cool stuff in the upper righthand corner. My tentative forays yielded Marvel superheroes (Electra and Wolverine were my favorites) and the Royal Couple of Hearts. A year or so later and two months into the Year of Correspondence, I’m hooked. I have a massive list of all the stamps I must have currently available at the post office, and made my first big purchase yesterday. Behold my wealth:

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53. Olive O. -New Hadley

54. Niki D. -Madrid

55. Allie M. -Briarcliff AND Henry M. -Briarcliff (postcards)

One of the other things I’ve been toying with is using this blog to talk about another of my great loves—books. I’ve been wanting to write about all the many things I’ve read, but starting up and maintaining a whole other blog seemed like a lot of effort. If I did, I’d probably try out Blogspot. If I don’t, I’d dilute the concentrated theme of this blog with book-related things. That could be good–keep things interesting–or it could just offend my sense of organization. Hmm… All my hundreds of dedicated readers out there, any thoughts?

I thought not.

Object of my Affection

As awesome as the postcard and letters are, the true star of this week has to be the absolutely gorgeous fountain pen I acquired Friday afternoon, while the sun was shining and the weather was a balmy 65 degrees.

Paker Duofold. Divine.

Now, I’ve been fond of fountain pens for quite some time. My fingers were perpetually stained when I began using my mom’s old pens for the first time in 3rd grade, and these days I always write my letters with the very cute green and pink plastic pen I picked up in France in 2003. This year I trolled a half a dozen sites and reviewed dozens of pens before I found Mater’s Christmas gift, which was a beautiful demi-sized, mother-of-pearl fountain pen with black veins from the Parker Duofold collection. (Thankfully, I wasn’t paying for it. It is, however, half price right now at Pens and Leather. Just a mere $250 people! o.O)

I wanted something similar—visually arresting, slender enough to accommodate my small hand, a nib that glides like butter, and just heavy enough to seek out the paper itself—without breaking my grandmother’s budget (she does, after all, have 9 more graduation gifts to get through eventually).

Tiffany pen

I ran the gentlemen at The Fountain Pen Hospital in circles while I appraised the heft, thickness, size and material of the nib, and general attractiveness of just about every pen in the shop. My wonderfully patient companion pondered the similarities between finding a magic wand and the right pen, and the hypothetical properties and uses of the latter were it also magical. (There’s a short story in there somewhere, and I am determined to have it at some point!)

The Tiffany Pine Bough specimen was disappointing despite the stunning exterior—too heavy, the body too rough in the hand, the nib merely stainless steel. And I’ve found the interesting Waterman and Mont Blanc pens have a tendency to odd shapes and a certain amount of tacky ostentation. The Sheaffers’ hooded nibs strike me as a little too streamlined. The Namiki pens are too expensive. Others were too fat, too light, too ugly, too boring, etc.

Namiki = *swoon*

Sheaffer. Nib is too streamlined to conjure "Fountain pen!"

Montblanc *eyeroll*







And then there she was…

*insert wolf whistle here*

She’s a slender piece of work, with just enough curve to feel just right between my fingers. Her polished ruby red body thrills the eye, oh yes! and she flashes just enough gold to let you know she’s no ordinary lady. A cap with a feathered train, a wide belt, a thin necklace around her shiny black neck. And when her top comes off…well, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, it’s enough to knock me breathless. Check out those lines!

Could look at her all day...







When I brought her home, and we spent some time getting to know each other, she whispered in my heart:

Call me Carmen…

Send Something

Right on the heels of those two fantastic cards last Thursday, I got a postcard! Not just any postcard either—it came from a total stranger way out in Colorado! How awesome is that?!

I signed up with Send Something last week, but I really wasn’t expecting anything to come until I ventured to mail a postcard or letter myself. There’s probably a group of core administrators who take the trouble to welcome all new members (suggested by the “Welcome to the group!” kind of line), but the rest of the card was so inquisitive and personal that I don’t really care why she wrote.

The Send Something project is pretty fun. It’s not hugely overblown like many other mail swap sites. It seems to have a good cross-section of people (heavy on the femmes, but it seems most mail-related things are). And the Random Address generator is pretty cool. I just did a search for “zombie” and Ashley in sunny Sacramento is getting a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies postcard.

49. my sister the second -Boston

50. North D. -Udaipur

51. Lauren A. (@ Send Something) -Denver, AND my soldier in Iraq (postcard)

52. Ashley (@ Send Something) -Sacramento (postcard)


46. Maggie O. -Denver

47. Alex C. -Chicago

48. Marissa M. -Boston




…………………..Clearly, I’m speechless. I have so much to babble on about, but I don’t know where to begin!

Today was the most wonderful day, courtesy of two very fabulous letters that had me twitching with excitement, jumping up and down, repeatedly rereading, and so psyched to uncap my fountain pen and craft a reply. Seriously, I was quite literally squealing at certain parts of my sister’s letter and laughing aloud in my empty room at the one from her awesome roommate. After hemming and hawing over today’s letter earlier this afternoon, I put that stubborn letter on hold and broke out my favorite stationery to respond to Marissa because this was a letter demanding to be written. My sister’s letter, also clamoring to be put to paper, will be done tomorrow.  The only question remaining is whether I slow down to decorate the envelopes this weekend, or rush these responses to the post office so that I know they will be read sooner….

This is just what I needed. I’m going through a bit of a dry spell these days. The project, still important to me (indeed, it’s the only thing giving meaning and structure to my days these last couple of months), is beginning to seem a chore. I’m young—I don’t have a lifetime of friends, colleagues, and accumulated family to fall back on when my inspiration fails. And some days it’s just difficult to produce a letter I’m proud of even though my address book in not completely exhausted. I do write a letter, or a very crowded postcard as the case may be, but each time it happens I am reminded that I promised myself I would stop the moment the Year of Correspondence became a lasting burden.

I’m no where near there yet, thankfully, but I rely on responses to rejuvenate me after several days of struggling to do more than write variations on the same, “Hey, remember me? This is a brief overview of my life since graduation…” type of letters that are the easy norm when correspondence mostly goes one way. I need things, specific things, to latch onto and write about to keep me engaged. Sometimes those things come from the news (the Tuscan shooting or the current regime-toppling unrest in the Middle East/Africa) or a particularly interesting event (such as the first, terrifying, time I ever drove cross-county), but since the world only moves so fast and I personally don’t lead an especially interesting life, I really need a bone every now and then from my gentle recipients.

This is a project about several things, the least of which is to talk about the superficial goings-on of my life. Rather, my focus is on (in no particular order):

  • training myself to observe and evaluate the world around me
  • bringing creativity and art back into my life
  • creating history by forging a physical link to the past
  • becoming a more articulate writer and an engaging storyteller,
  • catharsis, achieved by organizing a tempest of emotion into a coherent, recognizable form, and setting it free
  • CONNECTING with people; building relationships based on thoughtful gestures, reflection, and clear, meaningful communication

By far the most important of these for me is the last one—building relationships. Receiving those amazing letters from Boston not only put me in mind to write with passion and speed, but prompted me to revisit the plethora of letter-related blogs that I have been too overwhelmed to properly sift through. There are a few I have read in full by now, including the popular 365Letters, written by Carla in TX, USA, and The Letter Writing Revolution, by Julie in Ontario, Canada.

I am going to make a greater effort to read through more blogs and take advantage of these dedicated writers (who respond!) and online mail swap communities. Perhaps, if I’m feeling ambitious, I might even do a few profile posts…

Hey there, Cupid!

43. Tiff L. -Chicago

44. Nick G. -Ann Arbor

45. the love of my life (no, really.)

A note on Valentine’s Day:

Valentine’s Day is one of those silly holidays that I used to have a much stronger opinion about when I had fewer emotions to puzzle me and a much more definitive view of the world and my place in it. These days, it doesn’t bother me so much—not like, say, Thanksgiving. (There’s a holiday I don’t get along with!) But Valentine’s Day? I think we’ve probably made our peace.

Part of the reconciliation process probably owes to the fact that I think I celebrated V-Day much differently than many people do growing up. It’s a romantic holiday, for sure, but going to a very small grammar school, where everyone one knew each other too well (and were too well supervised) to date, and then to a small girls high school, where boys were elusive and flirting with each other was the biggest source of laughter and bonding, meant that among my peers Valentine’s Day was always first about our friends. We made cards for each other. We put chocolate kisses and those terrible little hearts in each other’s lockers. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and “Happy Single’s Awareness Day!” rang through the red-decked halls as cupids shot arrows of platonic affection into the barely-covered rears of our Catholic schoolgirl skirts…

Too much? Okay, so it probably wasn’t as idyllic as I remember, but it is mostly true—scout’s honor. Valentine’s Day has always been about friends for me and my social set. Boys weren’t a part of our lives—or anyone else’s—for the most part, and my schools promoted the holiday as one for exchanging small gifts and cards between friends. And that’s what I remember instead of any bitterness at being unattached, or resentment of other couples, or disgust at the saccharine sweetness and idiocy of couples who treat it like a precursor, or pre-requisite, for a wedding day. Valentine’s was fun!

If I’m completely honest though, I will admit that when I did consider the “true” meaning of Valentine’s Day as a kid I was very disparaging, in part because, really guys, people act incredibly stupid in service of the fat little angel boy with a boy and arrow. It’s an artificially created day: in the end, it’s not more or less significant to a relationship than the 13th or 15th. People should keep that in mind more.

And in part, I’m a very cynical person about romantic love, and lasting love in particular. Almost always have been (I remember the exact moment of clarity in in pre-k actually), and probably always will be. That said, the nature of my cynicism has undergone a radical change in the last several years as my understanding of the complexity of love has developed past the very black and white–but mostly black–outlook of my rather judgmental youth.

So in honor of growing up and realizing that I am, very occasionally, wrong about the world, my letter for today is a love letter to my likely fictional soul-mate. On the incredibly off-chance I am proven mistaken and he actually shows up, at least I’ll be prepared.