Meals in the Mail - a list and a mystery

During the past few weeks, I have slowly but surely started sorting through all the AMAZING letters I received via my Meals in the Mail project.

If you haven't heard about this, it's a simple art and community project, involving recipes being sent through the mail. It celebrates the stories behind our favourite recipes: the memories they evoke, the emotions they trigger, the traditions they observe, and the connections they represent. And it harks back to hundreds of years of people sharing their favourite recipes with people they care about, through the post. After all, a handwritten favourite recipe slipped in alongside a newsy letter is one of the simplest and most personal gifts to send in the mail.  

When I first launched this project (here), I promised to send a copy of the recipe-collection to everyone who participated. I expected to receive about 10 or 12 recipes, thought 20 would be a very respectable number, and secretly dreamed of having as many as 50. 

As of yesterday, an enormous pile of 209 recipes in almost 200 letters from all over the world had taken over all the available space on my workbench. They arrived in my PO Box with stories of first-love, comfort, nostalgia, family traditions, adventures, and many fond memories forged and shared across the kitchen table. 

In many cases, I was truly flabbergasted by the creativity and generosity of spirit that people put into making the mail they sent me. Thoughtfully decorated envelopes, illustrated recipes, and vulnerable, heartfelt words. 

Themes are starting to emerge, and I'm learning a lot. That brownies are one of the most popular foods for comfort and community... all over the world. That food and young love are frequently intertwined. That recipes are passed through generations and cherished like heirlooms. And that there's a special food and fond memory to go with almost every calendar event or milestone you can think of: Christmas, New Year, birthdays, new babies, graduations... you name it, there's a precious family recipe to commemorate it. 

Now the time has come for me to figure out how to turn all that beautiful mail and delicious food into a wonderful book that all of us will love to browse... and use. The first step is to sort through all the mail and stocktake what I have, to somehow categorise all the recipes, stories and art for the book. 

And that's where you come in. If you sent me a recipe and story, first of all, THANK YOU. Below is a list of all the recipes I have received so far, so if you have been wondering if your letter made it to me, take a look through this list (it is in alphabetical order by first names) to see if you are there. (Also, you can take a sneaky look at some of the recipes in this collection!)

Because this project is so much bigger than I had originally intended, I also need to be a lot more scrupulous in terms of ensuring I have written permission to use your recipes and all the beautiful artwork on your letters.

For this reason, although I hadn't originally asked for it, I'm now seeking some electronic way of contacting you. (This will also help if I need to clarify something in your recipe or story later on). Therefore if you see an asterix (*) next to your name on the list, will you please send me either your email address or Instagram handle? You can email them to me at hello@naomiloves.com

But first, the mystery. 

Did you send the letter in this picture, or do you know the person who did? It is so beautifully and thoughtfully made, but the writer didn't include a name or address. Only that they are from Dublin, Ireland. I would really love to include the recipe but first need to find out who sent it! Any help you could give me would be wonderfully appreciated. 

Onwards to the list (it's a big one!)...  


If you see an asterix (*) next to your name in the list below, please send your email address or Instagram handle to me at hello@naomiloves.com. If you don't see your name, it means your letter hasn't arrived yet. Don't worry! Until I actually start laying out pages, I can still fit it in.

 

*Abigail-USA-Split pea soup

*Alessandra-Austria-Strawberry curd cheese dumplings

*Allison-USA-Bubble Biscuits

Ally-Australia-Chocolate snowball biscuits

*Amanda-USA-Stone-fruit cakes

*Amber-New Zealand -Marmalade & ginger slice

*Amélie-France-Chili sin carne (vegan)

Amy -New Zealand -Honey chocolate pudding

*Ana-Maria-USA-Blueberry buckle

Anastasiya-Russia-Quinoa fresh salad

Andrea-Canada-Spaghetti sauce

*Anette -Germany -Ham ball

*Angela-USA-Chocolate orange truffles

Anne -The Netherlands-Penne with vodka sauce

*Anne Marie-USA-Dutch baby puffy pancakes

Annemarie-The Netherlands-Appelflap

*Annette-USA-Hazelnut torte

*Annette-USA-Buttermilk pancakes

Asher -Australia-Caprese salad

*Barbara-USA-Pineapple casserole

*Bek-Australia-Banana bread

Bekah-Canada -Chicken rice casserole & Chocolate chip cookies

*Bianca -Australia-Vegan crimson velveteen cupcakes

*Brandi -Canada-Chicken

*Brianna-Australia-Soy Sauce Beef

*Camille-USA-Pimiento cheese

Candice-Australia-Pumpkin & pip muffins

Caroline-Australia-Quinoa porridge

*Cassie-New Zealand -Bread

Catherine-Canada-Ginger ale

Cathy-USA-Gazpacho (tomato soup)

*Charlene-USA-Golden-crusted brussel sprouts & Strawberries and cream biscuits

*Charlotte-Australia-Scones

*Charlotte-The Netherlands-Cookies (koekjes)

*Charlyne -UK-Elderflower cordial

*Chelsea-USA-Pork Hash & Guinness bread

*Cheryl-USA-Pound cake

*Cindy-USA-Gluten free scones

*Claire-France-Ratatouille

*Claudia-Germany -Bread rolls

*Constance-USA-Divinity lollies

Deanna-USA-Chili

*Desirée-USA-Sopapilla

*Diane -USA-Cheese Enchiladas

Donna-USA-Tomato pie

Dora-Italy-Chocolate cake

*Elise-Australia-Mock Chicken & Golden Syrup Dumplings

*Elizabeth-USA-Back country pizza

Emilia-Finland-Country cookies

*Emma-USA-Peanut butter cookies

*Estelle-UK-Petit Pot (crème aux oeufs)

*Faith -USA-Guacamole

*Flavia-Brazil-Brigadeiro (chocolate truffle); Beifink; Lemon mousse; Caipirosca

*Gabriela-Brazil-Brazilian Cheesebreads

*Georgina-Australia-French mushrooms  

*Georgina-Australia-Passionfruit and white chocolate cheesecake

*Grace-Singapore-Braised ginger chicken

*Grazia-Italy-Orecchiete con le aime di rapa; & Seppie e pieslli

Harshitha-Australia-Mint/Pndhing Rice

Helen-UK-Lemon Cake

Helene-France-Sunny salad

Imogen-Australia-Fruit cake

*Inez-France-De oliebol

*Ingrid-France-Ice cream pops with granola

*Ioana-Romania-Polenta; Waffle cake; Mosaic roll

*Isabelle-USA-Granola

*Jackie-Canada-Tomato salad

Jaimee-New Zealand -Apple dumplings

*Janae-USA-Chocolate zucchini cake

*Jane-Germany -Cherry Streusel Cake (Kirschstreuselkuchen)

*Jannie-USA-Biscuits (cookies)

*Jean -USA-Indian tacos

*Jenny -Australia-Trifle

*Jessica -Australia -Brownies (caramello)

*JJ -USA-Vegan ice-cream

*Jo-Australia-Fish pie

*Jo -Australia-Pastie

Joanne-Australia-Pineapple upside down cake

*Joanne-USA-Alma's hot dog hors d'oeuvres

*Jodie-USA-Gallette cookies

Jodie -Australia-Chocolate cake

Joelle-Singapore-Jelly hearts; Cantonese egg whites; Smiling sesame balls

*Joy-UK-Victoria scones

*Judith-Australia-Chocolate cake

*Julia-Australia -Fruit cake

Julie-UK-Meat Loaf

*Julie-USA-Crazy Chocolate Cake

*Justine-Australia-Oatmeal slice

Karen-Australia-Muesli

*Karen-USA-Spicy Apple Pancakes

*Kari -USA-Rice casserole

*Kate-Australia -Chicken & corn soup

*Kate-Russia-Mushroom & potato casserole

Katherine-Australia-Greeny goodness soup

*Katherine-USA-Salad dressing

*Kevin-USA-Jezebel Sauce

*Kim -USA-Cranberry apple cake & Danish pastry

*Kimberlee-USA-Raspberry almond shortbread cookies

Kristina-USA-Pasta salad

*Kristy-Australia -Chicken bake

*Laicy-USA-Caramel top rolls

*Lana -USA-Cheese straws

*Laura-Canada-Satay marinade

*Laura-New Zealand -Brownies

*Laura-USA-Chocolate chip cookies

Lee -Australia-Remembrance biscuits

*Lena-Greece-Summer jello

*Levenia (Vena)-USA-Tea cake

*Lindy-Australia-Cheesecake

Linea-Denmark-Brownies

*Liza-Australia-Nutritious Notella Biscuits

*Lorilee-Canada -Portzelky

*Lorraine-UK-Parkin cake

*Luisa-Australia-Gnocci

Mandy-USA-Issan (Thai)-style chicken on a stick

Mandy-USA-Thai cashew chicken

*Marcia-Australia-Sumatran egg curry

*Maria-Australia-Arroz Caldo (Filipino chicken porridge)

Maria-Canada-Greek Koulourakia (sesame cookies)

Mariana-Germany-Königsberger Klopse

Marianne-New Zealand -Kanel bullar (cinnamon buns)

Marianne-New Zealand -Kartoffeln & Quark

Maryann-South Africa-Aleem soup

Maureen-New Zealand -Cheese puffs

Maxi-Germany-Waffles

*Maya-USA-Grilled peaches

Mel-Australia-Chocolate avocado muffins

*Melayna-Canada-Cod with tomatoes & leeks

*Melissa-Australia-Christmas trifle

*Melissa-New Zealand -Sago & Coconut Pudding

*Melissa-USA-Special K Bars

*Melissa-USA-Baked spaghetti; caramel apple dip; and carrot cake

Merilee-USA-Butter cookies

Michaela -USA-Gooseberry apple pie

Mikulcza-Hungary-Scottish butter cookies

Miya-Austria-Brownies (olive oil & sea salt)

*Mrs VG-UK-Impossible pie

*Nance-Myanmar-Cocktail

*Nancy-USA-Funnel cakes

*Nancy-USA-Choc marvel cake

*Nanette-The Netherlands-Brownies

Natasha-Australia-Carrot cake

Nicolé-Germany-Wild salmon & potato casserole

Niki-UK-Sausage casserole

Nivea-USA-Pesto

*Noni-Australia-Flake dessert

Nuala-Australia -Vietnamese spring rolls

Paisley-Canada-Lavender loaf with lemon glaze

*Pam -USA-King Ranch Casserole

Pamela-USA-Zuccini flower casserole

*Pamela -USA-Black bottom cupcakes

*Pen-UK-Sweet potato & chilli soup

Philippa-Australia-Chocolate slice "mudflat"

Pia-Germany -Zitronenkudren (lemoncake) von Oma Helene

Pia-Germany -Honey & walnut cake

*Pippa-Australia-Gingernuts

*Raelyn-New Zealand -Spaghetti with pesto & smoked chicken

*Reagan-Canada-Caesar salad dressing

*Rebekah-USA-Banana bread

*Renee-USA-Shortbread cookies

*Richelle-Canada-Buttermilk biscuits

Romulus-USA-Caramel popovers

*Rossetta-USA-Blueberry banana cheesecake

*Roxane-Cyprus-Apple cake

*Sally -UK-Butterpie

*Sandra-Australia-Weetbix slice

*Sanna-Finland-Shaked cucumbers

*Sara-Austria-Abelones Havrekugler

*Sarah-Australia-Mince porcupines & Lime coconut cheesecake

Sarah-Singapore-Stir fried udon noodles

*Sarah-UK-Rhubarb gin

Sarah-USA-Date Nut Pudding

*Sarah -Australia-Lemon drizzle cake

*Selise-Australia-Dhal

*Sheila-USA-Bosc Martini

Sheila-USA-Pear shrub cocktail

Sherry-Canada-Brownies

*Shirley-USA-Balsamic strawberries

*Shreya -USA-Chingri Macher Malaikari

Sol Anna-Uruguay-Chocolate roll

*Sonya-Australia-Dark Chocolate Brownies with salted caramel

*Susan-USA-Chocolate crinkles & Butterscotch Lace cookies

Suzanne-UK-Courgette & lime cake

Tashana-New Zealand -Lemon drizzle loaf

*Tori-Australia-Cookies

Tori-USA-Vegan strawberry donuts

Tracey-Australia-Tarte tartin

Xin -Singapore-Chicken & mushroom baked rice

*Yam-Spain-Pa amb tomata (bread with tomato)

*Zara-Australia-Hedgehog

Zhao-China-Stir fried tomatoes and eggs

 

Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has taken part in this project. It has become something extraordinary and very precious to me. 

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Natural cold remedies from the pantry

Last month was pretty much the busiest month I've experienced in my life. I was so busy, I was getting up at five and going to bed at one, or two, or three, every night.

Day after day, night after night, I worked, and rubbed my stinging eyes, and coughed up dust from the renovations that were also going on around me. Mr B start a new job so he also was ridiculously busy. We barely saw each other except to sigh and to say "This life is crazy!" as we passed each other, bleary-eyed, in hallways at dark hours when ordinary people should be sleeping. The house became filthy. I can't even begin to tell you how filthy. 

And, not even remotely surprisingly, I caught a cold that I couldn't shake. 

When the symptoms just wouldn't let up, and I was denied the best remedy of all (sleep!) I put out the word on Instagram to see what other people recommended when it came to natural remedies for sore throats, stuffy noses, sinus headaches and general funkiness.

The advice was so helpful (I'm all better now!), and entirely achievable with a handful of ingredients from the pantry, that I thought I'd share some of the remedies with you, and painted some little illustrations to show them some love. There is nothing toxic in here, and no brand names, just nature's own cold-busters and immunity-boosters. 

@michellecrawford suggested a Turmeric Tonic by Meghan Telpner: juice together ¼ cup of fresh ginger root, ¼ cup fresh turmeric root, one peeled orange, and one peeled lemon. Mix 30ml (1oz) of this mixture together with a cup of hot water. (Keep the rest for later). Stir in raw honey, ghee or coconut oil, and sip. Repeat every two hours.

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@ohmabeldreams suggested a mixture of honey, lemon, and apple-cider vinegar

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@plantivorousrex said sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup) was the way to go for a cold-fighting meal. I found this recipe on SBS. 

@plantivorousrex also recommended making an onion poultice to relieve congestion. I found this recipe from Sarah on The Healthy Home Economist: Chop and lightly saute two onions and in a splash of water. The onions should be lightly cooked, but not browned or caramelised. If you want to, add in ¼ cup of grated ginger. Carefully drain the onions (and optional ginger), and spread them out in the middle of a tea-towel. Fold the long sides of the tea-towel over the onions, then fold the ends over that (wrapping it "burrito style," Sarah calls this).

Making sure it is not too hot, place the onion poultice either on your chest, or on the souls of your feet, and leave it there for 20 minutes. Productive coughing should follow. The poultice can be gently reheated in the microwave and reused throughout the day, with a fresh one made every 24 hours or so

@rhibe said to eat raw garlic mixed with honey. "It is rough but always works for me."  Similarly, @justordinaryfolk recommended chopping up a raw garlic clove, then swallowing it down with a drink

@lydiaswildlifeart made hot orange drinks to fight colds: squeeze two oranges in a cup with two teaspoons of honey, then add hot water

@finevandewinkels suggested a mixture of freshly-grated horseradish and honey

Another recipe from @finevandewinkels was a drink made by mixing ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and honey with warm milk 

@beekeep.visitingwildflowers suggested mixing ginger, lemon and honey with a pinch of cayenne pepper. I'm not sure from there how it should be taken, either down in one gulp, or stirred into a hot water drink. Your thoughts? 

@dottyteakettle said "I swear by the curative properties of a powerful veggie thai green curry - hot as you can stand - made with lots of garlic, ginger and chilli." Here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver

@ofsimplicity suggested grating fresh ginger into a cup of tea, or just hot water, and adding a squeeze of lemon

@a.little.adventure shared a mixture that she said was disgusting, but helped: Mix cider vinegar, grated ginger, chopped chilli, garlic, and lemon juice together, then drink as shots

@onething_atatime shared her family's traditional recipe for a cold tonic. "My mum is Sri Lankan... this tonic was from her grandfather and best when drunk at that first tickle in the throat," she advised. Into a dry pan put 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, three cloves, and a one-inch piece of fresh ginger. Roast them over medium heat until the oils begin to release and the spices become fragrant, but do not burn. Now add another one-inch piece of ginger, this time finely sliced, and about 300 millilitres (just over one cup) of water, and boil vigorously for a minute or two. Strain the tonic into a cup, and add honey to taste. 

If you make a double batch you can top up the spices with boiling water and let them steep for the next time you need them, refreshing each batch about four times with water. The steam vapours are also good for clearing out the nose. 

@nadaelfaham recommended this practise for a sore throat: squeeze a lemon onto a tablespoon of honey without water. Do not swallow it right away, but try to keep it still for two seconds on your throat to make a fine coating. @nadaelfahm also suggested a ginger-lemon infusion - let it cool before adding honey. 

How about you? What is your go-to natural remedy for colds? 

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The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case

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While I was researching content for my letter-writing and mail-art course, I discovered that Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was also a bit of a mail fan.

In 1889 he invented "The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case," a little case with 12 separate pockets in which people could keep stamps of different denominations.

A really simple time-saver I recommend people do is to buy stamps ahead of time, and just keep them at home. First of all, this means you can go to the post office when it is quiet, and avoid all those lines. Also, it means you can be spontaneous, to write and send a letter when you think of it, before the moment passes. Yesterday we had some guests to our place at lunch. So last night after dinner, I quickly wrote thank-you cards to all of them and, because I had my stamps with me at home, the letters are ready to go into the post box this morning with no extra effort from me. 

It seems Mr Carroll had the same idea. He said he invented the stamp case because he was "constantly wanting Stamps of other/ values, for foreign Letters, Parcel Post, &c.,/ and finding it very bothersome to get at the/ kind I wanted in a hurry."

The beautiful little outer-envelope comes with an engraving of Alice holding the Queen's crying baby (not found in the books) but, when you slide the case out, she is now holding the pig. The back of the envelope has an engraving of the Cheshire Cat but when you slide out the case, it begins to disappear. 

"If that doesn’t surprise you, why, I suppose you wouldn’t be surprised if your own Mother-in-law suddenly turned into a Gyroscope!" Carroll says. 

The stamp case was sold with a little booklet called "Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing." Carroll gets very worked up about the date, insisting that people include the full date at the top of their letters, rather than just the day and month, and (heaven forbid!) never simply write "Wednesday." Apparently only ladies do this (!!), and, "That way madness lies."

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wonderland-stamp-case
wonderland-letter-book
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I wasn't ready

Scout turned five last month, and I didn't see the milestone until I almost tripped over it. Rubbing my emotional stubbed toe, I tried to take it all in. She is not a toddler any more. Five is, well, five is a kid. She laughs, she dances, she tells jokes, she writes her name on pieces of paper and leaves them all over the house. She turns on lights and opens doors without asking for help. She listens to reason (most days.) 

I didn't notice the growing-up coming until two weeks before her birthday, when she announced one morning that she was ready to have her ears pierced. "Okay," I said, "let's do it. We'll go tomorrow." She spent the next 24 hours literally vibrating with excitement. "I can't believe this is really happening!" she whispered to me at bed-time. "It is actually happening!"

The next morning - after an agonisingly long time spent deciding on which surgical-steel earrings would be used for the piercing (she eventually chose gold studs with pink stones) - we sat together in a tiny clinical room, ready to go. I was more nervous than Scout was, my nerves somewhat exacerbated by the eccentric pharmacist who was doing the piercing. He insisted on following a checklist of warnings and health-risks, reiterating worst-case scenarios in graphic detail, and even interviewed my still-four year old daughter about pre-existing piercings and tattoos, then double-checked: "Have you been drinking alcohol today?" (I only just resisted the urge to ask him, "Have you?!") 

Afterwards, over celebratory hot drinks at the local deli, I felt a kind of grief. Scout just looked so grown-up with those earrings shining from her still-red lobes. But it wasn't only about her appearance, it was also about what the earrings now symbolised. My little girl had voluntarily agreed to have holes put in her ears. And let's not sugar-coat it, they hurt, going in. I had warned her that they would hurt but she choose to go ahead anyway. After the first ear was pierced there were some tears, but she still chose to continue. She straightened her back and squeezed my hand just a little tighter, ready to go. 

It was her decision to endure the bad thing to get to the good thing that had me swallowing sobs along with my coffee. There was only one way to describe what was going on with that kind of thinking: maturity. 

Twice a week I pack a lunch-box and Scout goes off to kinder. The packing of that lunch box is one of the highlights of her week, and many an ernest discussion is had over its contents (including one time when I ruined an entire 500-gram block of tasty cheese by carving out three long tubes with an apple-corer, so that she could have "cheese fingers" like the pre-pacakged ones her friends had). 

She speaks with a little lisp, slightly more pronounced right now because yesterday, just after breakfast, she lost her first tooth. There it was: a tiny, tangible, undeniable symbol of the relentless forward-rush of time. She held it in her hand and stared at it with a mixture of surprise, wonder, fear and pride washing over her face like a silent movie. 

Next year, Scout will go to school, and I will be packing her lunch-box five days a week. The following year I'll be packing a lunch-box for Ralph five days a week too.

And what then? I am not ready.

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Meals in the Mail - an update

* UPDATE 16 JULY 2017: please note that the official date to send recipes for this project has ended. However, you are still welcome to take part. There are no guarantees that your recipe will make it into the book but the sooner you send it, the more likely it will happen. I will be too busy delivering my Your Beautiful Letter course to start the book at least until the end of August, so any letters that arrive before then will still be part of the project. * 


One month ago, I came up with a little idea to collect some recipes via the mail, and make them into a zine or mini-book. I thought maybe I'd get 10 or 20 recipes, and it would be something cute to post as gifts in future letters I'd send. 

What I received was so much more. So far, the stacks of mail you see in these pictures contain 50 recipes, and more arrive every day. Many of them are illustrated recipes, or lovingly decorated in some way, and most of the envelopes likewise have been beautifully and carefully made. There are recipes from all over the world: some new, some traditional, but all of them are connected to stories. Stories of new love, family celebrations, cooking lessons, and adventures in travel. 

I've decided that these recipes deserve so much more than simply to be photocopied and stapled together. I want to showcase the creativity and vibrant beauty of the mail, the recipes, and the stories that go with them. So I will turn them into a 'real' book, in colour, that will celebrate not only the food, but the letters as well. 

I'm sticking to the original plan of sending the book to everyone who participates, so I thought I'd let you know there's still time to join in if you want to be part of this lovely project. The original date to have your mail postmarked was 1 July, but I've decided to extend it for another two weeks, until 15 July, to see if we can collect a few more recipes in the mail. Imagine what a wonderful book it would be if we could get up to 100 recipes and letters!

If you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy this project, please feel free to invite them to take part. The more recipes and letters from as many corners of the world that we receive will help to make it such a beautiful legacy of food, friendship and tradition, don't you think? 

To join in, simply send a favourite recipe of yours to me in the mail, as well as a few lines about what makes it special to you, at: 

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

Don't forget to include your return address so I can send you a copy of the book! 

Yours sincerely, 
Naomi x

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Teaching children a second language

Do you / did you teach your children a second language? Did you learn another language when you were little? How did you do it? I'd love your tips and advice! 

When my father was growing up, French was the only language spoken inside the home. Then he'd go to school in Australia and speak only English all day with his friends and teachers. The result was that he grew up fully bilingual (albeit with apparently the most appalling Australian accent to his French you could ever imagine). 

Sadly, my father didn't do the same thing at home when I was growing up. By the time I was 11 and about to travel by myself to New Caledonia to visit relatives, the sum total of my French was to be able to say "Oui," "Non," count to ten, and to say the word for toilet (taught to me as "cabinet," which I learned when I got over there was hopelessly out-of-date. When I asked for the "cabinet," everybody just shrugged). 

Now, I'm trying to do for my children what I wish my parents had done from me, and introduce a second language into their lives before it starts to feel like "learning." It's important to me that they learn their family's language. Even though we live in Australia, most of my dad's side of the family are still in French-speaking countries, and that's a big part of my children's heritage. 

The trouble is, of course, my aforementioned dearth of French-language skills. I've improved since my "cabinet" days, and can count past 10, but it's not ideal. French people understand me when I speak, but they also laugh. Attempting the whole "speak French to them at home all the time" thing with my kids would probably be doing them a great disservice. 

We are planning an extended trip to France next year (I'll share more about that soon), so I've decided to get more strategic about this whole 'language acquisition' agenda I have for my family. A lovely French girl called Cecce visits us once a week to help teach the children. Throughout the week, we also listen to French songs, choose French language on our favourite DVDs if it's available, watch French kids' shows on YouTube (my guys are addicted to a cartoon called PJ Mask), and we have a big French vocabulary book (that is unfortunately spurned by my kids). 

Where possible, I incorporate French words into our day-to-day lives. I encourage them to say hello, goodbye and thank-you in French instead of English (we sound like such tossers when out and about doing this, but I persist, blushing like crazy, because I am determined that we'll be ready for France next year). We count stairs / birthdays / dried apricots in French, and we identify the names of things and colours of things in French as we walk down the street. 

I've tried to find some more narrative-style books in French, without much luck. A while back somebody recommended a little French magazine called Pomme d'Api for small children, but getting hold of it in Australia was fabulously expensive. Like, remortgage-your-house-level expensive. 

And then last month, out of the blue, the publishers of Pomme d'Api, Bayard Milan, contacted me to let me know that a number of their children's book and magazine titles are now available in Australia, in the English language. They offered to send my children some of the magazines to try, to which I breathlessly replied, "Will the French-language titles be available in Australia too?" The answer is yes, so AT LAST we have some stories, games and activities to help my children learn French (and we get to keep our house). 

For example, the little French stories in Histories pour les petits are great to read to the children, because the language is simple enough for me to understand and therefore explain if I need to, but mostly they can follow along by looking at the pictures, and listening for words they already know. My children love activities in magazines, like mazes, spot-the-difference, and find-hidden-objects, so they enjoyed the magazine Toupie, pitched at children three-to-six years old. In English, we particularly loved one of the magazines called Story Box, which was filled with fictional stories as well as fun science explanations such as "why we breathe" and animal information. 

We will keep on reading but in the meantime, I'd love to know your tips. What are some fun ways to teach language to children (if you're not super-fluent in that language yourself)? 

This post was not sponsored, however, these magazines were sent as a gift to my children. If you like the look of them, they are now available in Australia in English, Spanish, German and French. To order, visit www.bayard-presse.com.au, and use the code E20 for a discount. 

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Thousand Postcard Project - by the lake

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"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains."
- Diane Ackerman (poet)

While we were on holidays in Tasmania last month, I sent off another big batch of vintage postcards for my year-long Thousand Postcard Project

I deliberately avoid choosing the postcards as I work through this project, and never try to match them to the recipient. That's because part of the fun of this project is the surprise for both of us: what will the next postcard depict? So after a long and slightly dreary (although funny) stint of roundabouts, freeways, dams, mines and nondescript mid-century motels, it was quite refreshing to come across this little collection of lakeside scenes. 

And maybe it was because I was on holidays but, as I wrote the postcards, I started thinking back to other lakeside holidays we'd had when I was a child. We used to drive to a country town on the NSW central coast, where we would rent a holiday house right near the mouth of the river.

Once, while we were enjoying a picnic in the park, our dog Moss went missing. He was only a puppy, and we were as distraught as you could possibly imagine two small children being when their puppy disappears. We searched everywhere and eventually found him, still in the park. He had followed his nose to a family with a barbecue on the go, and simply presented himself to them. He sat, he shook hands with the air, he begged, he rolled over. They were so impressed they gave him a sausage, so he did it again. By the time we ran up to Moss and threw our little arms around his neck almost sobbing with relief, he'd consumed two sausages and two steaks. 

Even today, if I walk past someone wearing coconut-scented sunscreen, the scent carries me instantly back to our lazy summers at the holiday house. To long morning walks over hot sand, past the river and down to the golden shore where waves crashed relentlessly and strands of my long hair stung my eyes like tiny whips in the wind, and I didn't care, and stayed all day. 

vintage-postcard-canoe
vintage-postcard-jetty
vintage-postcard-mountains
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vintage-postcard-canoes
vintage-postcard-fishing
vintage-postcard-jetty-fishing

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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

logo-naomi-loves

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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