One hundred years of silence

For most of her life, Mr B's grandmother lived in a mud-brick cottage that a previous family-member had built 160 years before. It was set behind the more recent family home in which Mr B grew up and, for the children, Nan's house was a second home, a happy place that seemed stuck in the previous century, where a never-ending supply of old-fashioned cakes and Sunday roasts issued from the wood-burning stove in her tiny kitchen. 

After Nan passed away, they found among her things a broken old Edison phonograph that had once belonged to Mr B's Grandad, and a big collection of cylinder records in beautiful old cardboard canisters. Mr B never knew his Grandad, who had died several decades earlier, and we don't think Nan or Grandad had ever played the phonograph. It was missing several important pieces. Instead, we think the phonograph had most likely belonged to his father in turn, and was just one of those things that never got thrown out. 

For a hundred years those old cylinders, whose only purpose was to make music, lay silent and forgotten in a cardboard box in the family home. Unplayed records are a lonely thought, don't you think? Like old postcards never sent. I picture the records resting all through the decades, guarding their music and waiting, still waiting, for another chance to sing. So we sent Grandad's old phonograph off to be repaired. 

And on Sunday afternoon, for the first time in a century, they made music.

Each cylinder contained only one track and, as far as we could tell, most of them were hymns. The very first one we managed to play was an old hymn called "Shall We Meet Beyond the River," which had been released as the Edison Gold Record we were playing in 1906.

I'll be honest, it's not Mozart, but to us it didn't matter. Mr B eased the record into place, wound the crank on the side of the phonograph, and slowly but with growing strength a crackly, slightly-distorted old tune broke one hundred years of silence and proudly entered the day.

To us, the music felt as though it hovered in the air like a time-traveller. A visitor from yesteryear: not ghostly, but as real and present as you or me. Layering one age upon another as if to prove, in a simple hymn, Einstein's theory of time relativity. 

And then the crank ran out of puff, the long-dead singer and his orchestra slowed and deepened and distorted further, and eventually the old record slid back into silence once more.


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An announcement

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Hello! Are you there? 

I have a couple of announcements to make today, the first of which is that I have a brand new website! The web address is the same - www.naomiloves.com - but what you'll find inside it is quite changed. I really hope you like it. I feel like it better represents who I am and what I love. 

The only problem is that I may well have lost all of my readers along the way. 

You see, this new website wasn't supposed to go live for another two weeks, during which time I was supposed to be able to figure out how to update things so that anyone who subscribed to this blog, or followed it via an RSS feed-reader, would still be able to read it without making any changes. Or, if I failed to sort that out, I'd at least be able to advise people of the new system before the changes were made.

But these things don't always go to plan and I didn't get to make the updates I had hoped for, or let anyone know what was going on. The site went live yesterday, ready or not, so here we all are. And I am writing to you today, dear friends, while wondering if you are out there at all. 

In case you ARE still reading (thank you!), let me tell you a few little things I love about this new website: 

* To go with my lovely new website I have a lovely new logo, which you can see at the top of this email. I drew the pictures but I have to thank Brenner Lowe from Boots Paper for coming up with the concept and doing all the fancy design work. I love it so much! I think she summed me up pretty well with the combination of plants, tea and letters

* If you click on the "Mail hub" link in the website menu, you'll find a collection of all the different snail-mail projects and resources I have going on right now, which makes it a really-fun area to be if you like that sort of thing! 

* Finally, I'm super excited and nervous to announce a new e-course on letter-writing and mail-art that I have created, full of tips, tutorials and a great big stack of new resources. I get asked a lot of questions about making mail, so I designed the course to answer all of the most common questions. I'll share more about that soon - it launches in August

I really hope you like my new website and, if you ARE still reading, I'd love to hear from you! It's no fun writing into the abyss...

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6 snail-mail games to play with children (and why)

mail-art-darcy This picture is of the first 'mail-art' I ever made. It was for a little boy who was super into civil war stuff.

(Actually it wasn't mail-art in the strictest sense, because it didn't end up travelling through the postal service. The boy's mother was staying with us, so I wrapped up a parcel for her son, painted his address on and glued some vintage stamps to the right-hand corner so it would look realistic, but then gave the parcel to the mother, who snuck it into the family letterbox when she flew home.) 

But the point of that little piece of subterfuge was this: children love getting letters. It's so rare these days,  that sometimes people contact me to tell me that they are in their 20s and my letter was the first they had ever received. Often, parents write to tell me that the letter I had sent them made their children so excited, and curious, and inspired them to send letters of their own. After all, you and I already know the joy of going to the letter-box and discovering something personal, and friendly, with your name on the front. For children, the novelty factor triples that joy and excitement. 

If for this pleasure alone, teaching your children about the postal system and having someone write to them is a wonderful thing to share with them. But there are numerous other benefits. Teaching children about the post office reinforces all kinds of other important skills: 

* Counting (weighing parcels and buying stamps)  * Reading (the fabulous letters that come)  * Writing (storytelling in their own letters)  * Handwriting (developing their visual, cognitive and fine-motor skills) * Art (enclosing drawings or making mail-art) * Geography (looking at maps to see where their letters will travel) * Learning about other cultures (from international pen-pals)

A few years ago, Mr B and I gave a bunch of envelopes to Emily and her cousin, asking them to address them for us. The girls were about 11 years old at the time, and we had 50 envelopes to address, so we offered them some pocket money for the task. They gleefully did the job and then ran off to the shops to spend the pocket money, only for Mr B and me to discover that the envelopes were no use to us, we had to throw them out and redo them all.

The girls had written the addresses in tiny handwriting in one long line at the top of each envelope, and then stuck the stamp right in the middle. It wasn't their fault; we realised they had never been taught the proper way to address a letter or affix a stamp. Instead, they'd simply done the logical thing when it came to writing anything: they'd started at the top.

I don't know if many schools are teaching children about mail any more, so maybe it's up to us to take that on. This is not just a fun craft activity from a lost era: even in 2017, mail is still very relevant. Just ask Amazon or Ebay! 

And finally, I would say that sometimes, ‘slow-living’ is about teaching your children a different kind of play. Getting back to basics, helping to create an imaginary world without the need for apps, buttons, sound-effects, motors, or the digital experience.

As blogger Jennifer Cooper says on the PBS Parents website

"But for me, there’s an even more important skill kids learn [from snail-mail], patience. Raising kids in the digital age means they don’t have to wait for much anymore. Almost everything is just a click away. And that’s great for some things, but for others it’s a problem. 

Writing letters with pencil and paper slows kids down. It makes what they read and write even more special. It also helps them write more thoughtfully about things that are important to them."

Here are some post-related games you can play with your children:

1. Cut out pieces of cardboard roughly the shape of postcards and invite your children to write (or scribble) messages on them: to other family members, to friends, to pets, even to toys. Once they have ‘posted’ the postcards, take them out and deliver them to family, friends... and toys.

2. Make stamps by using simple, white, sticker-labels sold at news agencies or office supply stores. Cut the ‘stamps’ to size if you need to, and invite your children to draw pictures on them or colour them in. Perhaps you could find some envelopes – or cut out postcards as above – to put the stamps to use.

3. Introduce them to the fun of stamp collecting. Keep any interesting stamps you receive in the mail, and keep an eye out for new series at your post office. Have them take a close look at the pictures, and talk about the people, events or scenes they depict. They might even enjoy their own album to house their collection.

4. Sorting the mail. Collect any junk mail you’ve received, and invite your children to sort the ‘mail.’ Perhaps by colour, by theme, or size? I think my children would especially enjoy this game if I made them postie hats to wear!

5. Set up stations all over your home or garden, to represent houses. You could use shoe-boxes, or even lunch boxes. Your child is the postie, so give them letters to deliver to each house. Perhaps you could number the houses, so your child has to find the matching envelopes in order to deliver the right letter. If they don’t know numbers yet, maybe match simple drawings instead, like flowers or cars.

6. At the real post office, get the children involved. Invite them to guess how much the parcel weighs and choose which stamp to buy. Let them stick on stamps and airmail labels themselves. Ask for your letter back when you’re done at the counter, so the children can post it themselves outside.

I'm sure there are plenty of other fun activities that teach kids about the postal system. I'd love to know them if you have any ideas, suggestions or advice! 

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Living slow - just one thing (beeswax wraps)

roman-kraft-64603 I have been on a mission to slow my life down during recent years. It's going... well... I am trying. 

For me, ‘slow living’ is about taking the time to really think about what I am doing. To mean it, to put my heart into it. Cooking a meal from scratch. Turning off the TV at meal times. Writing a letter instead of banging out a text.

One thing I quickly discovered when I started on my mission of slow-living was that it was intertwined with mindfulness. They can't be separated. The very act of deliberately slowing down and putting thought and love into something is in itself mindfulness.

And with mindfulness comes, often unbidden (and sometimes unwelcome), my conscience. 

For example, I can't slow down and cook something properly for my family, taking the time to do it right and appreciate every element - the food, the cook, the company, setting the table, eating together - without thinking about where it all comes from, and the impact it has.

Here's how my brain works:

If I'm taking the time to stir and simmer a beautiful pasta sauce, I'm going to try to find a great recipe that uses the best ingredients. Thinking about what "the best" means turns my mind to organic, and then I try to reduce food miles by buying local, which starts me thinking about the livelihoods of farming families. And then my mind goes to the impact of producing this fresh, beautiful food: is it packed in plastic? Am I then using more plastic shopping bags to carry it home? And what will I do with the waste when I'm done? 

So a simple pasta sauce that once I might have bought in a jar from the supermarket turns into a trip to the farmers' market; brings the nutrients of local, organic food to my family; ensures the absence of excessive salt, sugar or harmful chemicals; is a reminder to carry my own shopping bags; forces me to explore avenues for food storage that don't involve cling-wrap and plastic; and kick-starts adventures in inner-city composting. 

But it's just a pasta sauce. This is exhausting! 

This is not an easy journey, and I certainly wouldn't say that "slow living" necessarily leads to "simple living" (although I'd like it to). But I will say that "slow living" leads, at least for me, to "sustainable living," and that is something I am proud to model for my children. 

There is so much that I want to do and want to change, but it's not always accessible or affordable or something that the rest of my family wants to do. Slow is not something that I want to drag my family into unwillingly; it has to work for all of us.

So I have decided to be kind to myself (and my family), and do just one thing at a time. I try it, I play around until I get it right, I make sure it suits the family, and eventually it just becomes part of our daily lives. Then I move on to another one thing.

Alongside broader "lessening footprint" type goals, one of my first objectives is to reduce the amount of waste we produce as a family. We generate a LOT of waste. A criminal, embarrassing amount of waste. So one milestone that I've set for myself is to reduce our weekly garbage output to just one bin-full. I can hear you laughing, because it seems crazy that this is even a challenge at all, but we send extra bags of rubbish out every week. It's shameful. 

Anyway... I thought maybe I'd share one thing I do with you each month, so we can be in this journey together as we go along. Maybe you're already doing what I'm trying, and can share some tips to make it work. Maybe you've never heard of this one thing, and it inspires you. Maybe you do just one other thing that you'd like to recommend that I try. 

So for this month, the "just one thing" I want to share is beeswax food wraps, which I now use as an alternative to cling-wrap and plastic sandwich bags. I bought these "honey bee wraps" a couple of months ago and I confess to being skeptical at first, but nowadays I am utterly sold. I have about six on the go. 

They're made out of cotton and coated in beeswax, jojoba oil, coconut oil and tree resin. You use them just the way you would use cling-wrap - to cover bowls, wrap around cut vegetables and over cheeses, to wrap sandwiches in lunch-boxes - and the jojoba and beeswax have antibacterial properties that keep food fresh for longer. The only thing you don't use them for is meat, because they only wash in cold water. The beeswax wraps are reusable again and again, so they quickly become affordable, but I also found this tutorial for making them at home, which I might try one day. It looks kind of fun. 

So now there is no more nasty plastic* in my 'fridge, and there's that much less plastic waste in our bin every Thursday night. 

What do you think of this one thing I'm doing? Have you used beeswax wraps? How did you find them? Or do you have another alternative? 

Image credit: Roman Kraft (licensed for unlimited use in Creative Commons)

 

* I realise cling-wrap doesn't take up a whole lot of space in the garbage bin, but we are taking one step at a time, yes? Also, according to this article in Choice, cling-wrap contains plasticisers such as DEHA or phthalates that can leach into food, and research is casting doubt on the safety of these chemicals:

"BPA and some phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic the body's natural hormones and thereby cause a raft of health problems. Infants and the very young are most vulnerable to exposure because of their lower body weight and because their growth and development are strongly influenced by hormones; the effects on health can be lifelong." Even at low levels, growing scientific evidence suggests that "phthalates and BPA may be causing problems such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

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Dreams come true

boots cards This is one of the most exciting announcements I've been able to make in a very long time. 

Earlier this year, I received an email from the owner of my favourite paper company, Boots Paper (I wrote about them here), inviting me to design my own stationery! I sat there at my computer, reading that little message from one of the most beautiful, high-quality, ethically-produced stationery companies going around, inviting me to put my own stamp on their products, and had to pinch myself. 

I decided to play it cool and act like this was the kind of invitation I received every day, as opposed to what it actually was: a dream come true. Moments later I utterly lost my cool and immediately hit reply with a resounding YES. I think I might even have written "This is a dream come true." 

The original brief was to create two different notebook designs, the type that I would love to use myself if I was to sit and write a lively, personal letter (or write a lively, personal shopping list, for that matter). I got straight to work, and sent in those paintings, and then we started on some more. Swing tags, stickers, greeting cards, postcards, envelopes and more; featuring animals, botanicals, people, retro hobbies, food and hygge. And so much more. 

And today I am proud (SO PROUD) to announce that the very first of my designs are now available for sale on the Boots Paper online shop, as well as in Boots stockists all over the country.

They are the greeting cards you see in this blog post: hand-drawn and then painted by me in watercolour, gouache and ink; printed on 100 percent recycled paper; with matching envelopes that have been printed on the inside; all hand-assembled in Gippsland, Victoria.

Eeep! 

There's more to come, so please excuse me while I go and paint some more. xo

 

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ps. If you like these or any of the other Boots Paper designs, they ship anywhere in the world, and everything is hand-packaged beautifully. Just take a look at this package sent to me on a recent order! Leave a little note for the lovely owner, Brenner, to tell her I said hi. 

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Meals in the Mail (a new idea)

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I've had an idea. Shall we write a book together? A recipe book? 

Often I tell people that one of the nicest, easiest (and completely free-of-charge) gifts to enclose with a letter is a recipe. All you need to do is write or type it out neatly, fold it up, and there is something personal, thoughtful, and useful for your pen-friend.

Over the years, I have received some wonderful recipes in the mail, from family, friends, and strangers alike. First, I was thinking I might like to turn them all into a little "meals by mail" recipe book to share with you. But then I had a better idea: what if we were to share all of our recipes with each other? 

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So here is what I propose: 

1. If you want to take part, simply send me a letter. You need to send it by post, not email or in the comments. My address is: 

Naomi Bulger  "Meals in the Mail"  PO Box 469  Carlton North Vic 3054 Australia

So that this project doesn't drag on forever, let's say your letter needs to be postmarked by 1 July, 2017, to be included. 

2. In the letter, you will need to enclose two things: a) a recipe that you love (write it, type it, illustrate it if you like! anything as long as you like the recipe and it's legible); and b) some words telling me what makes your recipe special. They could be a sentence or an essay, or anything in between. Maybe the recipe was given to you by someone you love, maybe it is part of a family tradition, maybe you cooked it for a memorable occasion, maybe it's simply something that is always popular with your friends or family... just share with us the special meaning behind the recipe. 

3. It's not at all required that you decorate your envelope or include anything else, but of course you are welcome to do so and, if appropriate, I'll try and feature some of the more decorative envelopes etc in the book for inspiration. 

4. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is a good idea (Oh! Lonely me!) BUT if I receive enough recipes, I promise to turn them into a recipe-book or zine (how many recipes do you think I'll need for a book? 20? 30? More?), celebrating the recipes, the letters, and the wonderful way that food links us to people we love and memories we treasure.

Plus, I promise to send a free copy of the book or zine to every contributor. 

Are you in? Let's do this, to celebrate food, nostalgia, hand-written communications and community all in one go. Then we can stir, sizzle, mix and bake each other's recipes, and weave them into our own stories. And I would really appreciate it if you could tell your friends, because maybe they want to share their recipes, too! 

ps. These recipes, from top, are from my great-grandmother (via my mother), Ashwatta (via Ashwatta's Art on Etsy), and Meaghan (via @polaroids_and_snailmail). 

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Winter's coming

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I have trimmed all the wild and rampant late-summer flowers of my garden back into neat, stumpy little mounds. Bending close, I can just see the buds of spring's growth waiting there, sleeping now until the southern hemisphere circles back closer to the sun. The pomegranate, crepe myrtle and Japanese maple trees are all putting on colour, and dropping leaves like golden confetti at our feet.

Twice a week when I go out early to exercise in the still-dark, the cold air hits like a slap when I open the front door, and my fingers and toes are numb from wind and wet grass* before we even get started. But when we all lie down on our yoga mats to prepare for crunches, I look up, up, beyond the black outlines of the trees, to a sky that is so full of stars they look like rain-drops, frozen in time, and it is perfect. And is that Venus I can see, glowing so big and bright? Why is the sky so much cleaner and more... precise... when it's cold? Dawn breaks somewhere in between plank-holds and left-hook punches, and mist makes clouds of our puffing breaths, before real mist rolls up and over the park, and swirls like a familiar cat around our ankles. 

We have pulled our winter hats and scarves and coats out of storage, and I have turned my thoughts once again to soups and casseroles and mulled wine and home-baked bread. I am even ready to befriend the slow-cooker

Knitted gloves and wooly socks, wading and dancing through rivers of fallen leaves, watching the Christmas pine-cones pop and crackle in the open fire, toasting marshmallows, baking good things with apples, and lighting candles at meal-times. Winter's coming, my friends! 

 

*Wet shoes and socks are the WORST

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Thousand Postcard Project - still charming

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What can I say? These old postcards continue to charm me.

I've written more than 300 postcards so far this year, with another 700 to go before Christmas, and I am loving this project so much. Every new postcard is like a lucky-dip. Stunning vistas! Turnpikes! Cringe-worthy cultural stereotypes! A boring motel! An even more boring bridge! The marketing geniuses of the 20th century were nothing if not optimistic about what would inspire the passing tourist. (Although the one-log house in this set actually looks pretty cool. I wonder if it is still there. Does anybody know?)

And the joy of reaching out to friends and strangers alike with my words. Thoughtful words, poetic words, foolish words, lighthearted words. Just words, connecting us all over the world. 

I've had to close off the form to request a postcard, because I already have a thousand people waiting for me to write to them. If you missed out, never fear! There will be plenty more mail projects still to come. Watch this space (this blog)... 

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Help! I need your slow-cooker recipes!

sylwia-bartyzel-87907 Every year, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, I promise myself that this is the year I will learn how to properly use my slow-cooker. I'll prepare everything after breakfast, I tell myself, and the house will smell good all day. By dinner-time, delicious food will be waiting for us all with NO EXTRA EFFORT from me. It's like the promise of paradise! 

But instead, on the days that I do pull out the trusty old crock pot, all that waiting and sniffing and anticipation ends in really tasteless, insipid mush. All the good flavours seem to stay in the juice, and none of them seep into the vegetables or meat. What am I doing wrong?

Admittedly, my crock pot recipes were probably written in the 1970s (brown! so much brown!), but I've not had much better luck with random Internet searches either. There's just so much out there that promises plenty and delivers so, so little. 

So, can you help me? What are your best slow-cooker recipes? Hit me with them my friends! 

Photograph is by Sylvia Bartyzel, licensed for unlimited use via Unsplash. I really want that mug!

 

ps. Just a quick reminder that the next issue of my print-and-paint snail-mail newsletter goes out TOMORROW. Subscribe here if you want to get your mitts on some free mail-art templates

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Ralph says, Scout says

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Conversations with my children, aged three and four... 

Scout [touching my acceptance ring]: Are you wearing that so I can marry a girl?  Me: Sort of, yes. I'm wearing it until Australia changes the law, because I think you and Ralph and anybody else should be able to marry whoever you love, no matter whether they are a boy or a girl. Do you think that's right?  Scout: Yes! [shrugs her shoulders] Maybe I will love a girl, maybe I will love a boy. You never know.  Me again [inside my head]: I am winning at parenting Ralph: Then I will marry Scout! 

Ralph begs me to tie a ribbon around his head like a flapper headband.  Me [tying it on]: Why do you want to wear this?  Ralph: It makes me more super-y. Now I can save the day! 

Scout [to Ralph]: I don't want you on my bed, you poo poo bum bum. You're spoilt Ralph: Well you're spoilter!

Scout: What is bigger, Jupiter or the sun?  Me: The sun [finding a picture to show her]. See how Earth looks teeny and Jupiter looks enormous? The sun is even bigger than that Scout: Woah!  Ralph: But Jupiter isn't jealous, because it has lots of moons Me: Yes! Where did you learn that?  Ralph: From Jet Revolting (I don't even know what this is supposed to be, other than a TV show. But it is clear that not only am I allowing my children to watch TV unsupervised, but also that I am allowing TV to educate said children. #parentoftheyear)

Ralph: I am an expert at doing things just a little bit naughty

Me: Would you like some meat Scout?  Scout: No, I'm like totally cool without

Scout: Ralph, let's play a game. You are my baby  Ralph: No!  Scout: Alright, not a baby. You can be a toddler Ralph: I am not a toddler. I am a CAR Scout: Well, "toddler" is actually the French word for "car" Ralph: OK then 

Scout: Mummy says we have to get dressed, Ralph. It's the LAW

Me: Ralph, that was a bit naughty when you threw that cup at me. Do you think you have calmed down now?  Ralph [looking up with a grin]: Well, I'm still a liiiii-tle bit curious of how cross you can be

I'll let Scout have the last word, in this poster I saw hanging up at her daycare last week. Could my heart swell any further? 

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