snail mail

Loneliness, letters, and a new challenge

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"Are you lonely Mummy?" Scout slips her little hand into mine and looks up at me with concern.

I have been encouraging my children to interact with other children here in France. We go to the playground most afternoons, around about the time that the French children come out of school. Ralph and Scout are signing up for karate and ballet respectively and, with some help from the maire (the mayor), they have both been given special dispensation to attend Ecole Maternelle, despite the short time we are here and the fact that Scout is the wrong age. 

At first, they pushed back. They are such good friends, my little ones, and almost entirely self-sufficient. They didn't feel the need to fight their shyness or traverse the language barrier to make new friends. But I persisted, and like the brave little champions they are, they have acquiesced.

But all my talk about making friends and not being lonely took root, and now they are worried about me. "What will you do?" they want to know. "How will you make friends?"

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Apparently, we (and by "we" I mean "the Western world") are in the midst of what is being called a loneliness epidemic. 

Digital technology has made communication easier and faster than ever before, but it turns out that when it comes to psychology and mental health, communication is not the same as connection

In a recent survey of more than 20,000 American adults, close to half reported feeling alone, left out, and isolated. One in four Americans said they rarely felt understood. 

Scientists and psychologists are now saying that social isolation and loneliness will reach "epidemic proportions" by 2030, and that this will create a public health crisis. The latest research, based on more than 70 studies covering close to 4 million people from across North America, Europe, and Australia, has found that loneliness and social isolation significantly increase the risk of premature death.

It all drills down to this: feeling connected to others is a fundamental human need. 

On the other hand, while connection and communication are not the same thing, neither are connection and proximity the same. Many of those people in the previous studies who said they were lonely were living with a partner. This backs up something that I firmly believe: the key to combating loneliness is not about how many relationships you have (or how many Facebook friends, YouTube followers or Instagram followers you have), but about how meaningful your relationships are.

That's why I feel OK, and how I attempt to ease the fears of my children on my behalf. I have moved states and countries enough times that my friends are scattered all over the world. I have learned how to remain connected despite being geographically separated. That's not to say I don't genuinely love a coffee catch-up with my dear friends, or to share a meal with my husband at the end of a long day, but I do know how to feel connected when we are apart.

The sting of loneliness can be felt by just about anyone, at any age and in any circumstance. However, social isolation and disorienting experiences can definitely create or exacerbate feelings of loneliness. So people in nursing homes, hospitals and prisons, for example, as well as migrants, people who are unwell at home, and the live-in carers of people who are unwell at home, are more likely to become quite lonely. 

This is a beautifully and sensitively-written article that talks more about modern loneliness. 

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So I was thinking. What if we were to all reach out to people who were either lonely, or at risk of feeling the kind of social isolation that leads to loneliness? Could you help? 

A week-long challenge

International Letter Writing Week is coming up next month (it's the week that coincides with the official UN World Post Day, on 9 October). What if we were all to commit to writing a letter or a postcard a day to someone who is lonely, throughout that week, to help them feel more connected?

A letter is a lovely way to share your emotions, and invite others into parcels of your days, that is second only to catching up face-to-face. Even the tangible nature of your letters - your handwriting, the stationery you chose, any gifts or embellishments you made - make them personal. For someone who is experiencing loneliness or isolation, your letter is like a hug, and the time you give to properly reading a letter from them is a listening ear, or possibly even the shoulder they need to cry on.

You don't need to write "I thought you might be feeling lonely" (no-one wants a pity-letter!). Just write "I was thinking of you and thought I'd write to say hello." You could write to the same person seven days in a row, or write to a different person each day. Here are some ideas: 

Of course, the act of writing to someone, when you write from the heart, does you bucket-loads of good as well. Sometimes I feel quite selfish when I'm writing my letters, because writing and making them makes me feel so good. Probably, it helps me stave off the loneliness I might otherwise be feeling, too. 

In the article I linked to above, loneliness is described as "a let-out-of-breath topic." So many people feel this kind of social malaise, and it's so nice that we can all be allowed to talk about it at last, and not feel any stigma. Maybe if we all get writing, we can turn the tide of isolation, and start to forge real connections again. 

What do you think? Are you in? 


ps. If you're in the mood for even more letter-writing inspiration, I want to remind you about my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, "The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written," from which this challenge-theme and the list in it was taken.  

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Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. There's also a host of downloadable resources, and access to my own private mail-art pen-pal group. Registrations are open right now, and you can find out more here

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Creativity, kindness, and the Internet

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So, this is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever had the pleasure of sharing. A few weeks ago, I shared a photograph of this mail-art on my Instagram account: a painted journey (kind of a map for the postie) of the route my letter will take, from my home in Melbourne, out through the suburbs, past vineyards and the iconic Hanging Rock (remember?), all the way to Pippa's house in a country town at the edge of the Macedon Ranges.

A day later, I received a message from a beautiful German lady called Fine. She had used my mail-art as inspiration to write a short story about a different sort of journey, the slow unfolding of an old man from retirement and grief to openness and adventure. She wrote the story "just because," and sent it to me as a gift. With her permission, I have reproduced it for you here (I gave the story its title, but the rest of the words are Fine's own).

Fine's gift of this story left me slightly breathless. I am always telling people that writing a letter (as opposed to, say, an email or Facebook message) is extra special because you are giving someone the gift of your time. I feel the same way about this story, because she took the time to think about my painting, and through it brought an old man to life with her words.

The next time social media algorithms or online bullying or targeted advertisements on the Internet weigh you down, think about Fine, and this story, and how people all over the world are making the Internet work for them (not the other way around), using it to spread creativity and kindness as far as they can go.


GUS AND THE YELLOW BICYCLE 

by Fine Winkel

The elderly white haired man with his old and rusty yellow bicycle (that squeaked with every step on the pedal) had long ago stopped dreaming. Had stopped caring, and had stopped doing anything wholeheartedly.

When he woke in the morning, he allowed himself to wince for just a second, glimpsing at the empty pillow next to his, where he used to see Erna’s red curls and her beautiful, warm smile first thing every morning. As the red had faded into white Erna had begun to fade away herself, somehow getting smaller and in the end with her, all the laughter, the friendly chatter, the music and the delicious smell of apple cake had disappeared. After she was gone, the house felt empty and cold, and the lines on his face were no longer from smiling but from cruel scribbles of grief.

His light-blue mailman uniform was still pressed and the remaining strains of his white hair were neatly tucked under his dark blue cap, but he avoided looking into the mirror over the bathroom sink other than to shave, because he could hear Erna’s frail voice making him give three promises on the last morning they had woken up next to each other… and he could practically see her disappointment reflected in his own eyes.

The promise to call their son every week, the promise to harvest the crunchy and juicy apples from the tree they had planted together when their son George was born (so he could make apple cake with Molly, their granddaughter, who had inherited her grannie’s red curls and twinkling green eyes), and the promise to go to the pound and adopt a deserted old dog who would trot alongside his bike on his daily delivery routes.

He had tried the first year, he really did. But he wasn’t good at putting his feelings into words, so he had stopped calling George after a few stilted conversations with increasing periods of silence. He couldn’t find Erna’s recipe book so the cake had been a disaster, and Molly seemed to be afraid of the haggard-faced old man who had instead served dry-as-dust cookies from the rear end of the kitchen cupboard, having forgotten to buy milk and ice-cream, so he had stopped inviting her. He had made his way down to the pound several times, but just couldn‘t bring himself to walk into the sterile, rectangular building that crouched at the bottom of the hill just outside the village, for fear that even the poor creatures inside would sense his grief and plainly refuse to come home with him. 

So when old mailman Gus stepped into the red-brick Post Office for the last time, the day before his dreaded retirement, he didn’t expect in the least that his life would be going to be turned upside down in a heartbeat. He didn’t mind that there wasn’t any bon-voyage bunting over the door, or a cake in the break room, or even a card on his small desk to bid farewell to one of their own after 49 years of doing his duty and unfailingly delivering each and every letter to his destination. He had become solitary, and his sendoff would be a silent one.

Still, he would miss slipping into his uniform and feeling his life still had a small purpose in this world. 

Gus began to re-sort the few letters addressed by hand that couldn’t be read by the machine that by now did all the sorting. To make out the flowing handwriting, Gus had to put on his glasses, which he knew would have made Erna giggle with delight at her husband’s vanity and tell him, “Honey, maybe it’s a good thing you’re as blind as a bat without your glasses and you refuse to wear them. Your eyes have a built-in Gaussian blur to hide all my imperfections.” He briskly shoved aside this sentimental thought and concentrated on the task ahead, just now noticing an envelope at the bottom of the pile. 

During almost twelve hundred days of delivering mail, Gus had never seen a letter more beautiful, and was instantly reminded of the most exquisite illustrations in an old children’s book Erna had loved to read to little George and later to Molly. The kids had spent hours discovering small details and oohing and ahhing over tiny maps depicting the magical village surrounded by woods steeped in legend. It made him sad to see all this elaborate drawing on the letter, knowing it would never arrive at its destination behind the densely wooded mountains. His replacement Kevin, though much younger and stronger than Gus, wouldn’t care for the extra work and would just mark it return-to-sender or, even worse, put it into a folder and forget it ever existed.

Once again Gus could hear Erna’s voice, but this time it wasn’t frail or sad or disappointed: it was strong and energetic, and it reminded him of all the adventures that he, George and their dog Albert had planned while studying the cherished illustrated map. More than once they had packed their backpacks and taken their bikes to start on an adventure, coming home sweaty and with messy hair, but with enormous smiles on their faces, to breathlessly tell Erna everything they had seen, while eating cake fresh from the oven.

No, he wouldn’t let this envelope that had, as if by magic, replaced his wife’s sad mutter with joyous incentive, just sit in a folder gathering dust. He would – and he couldn’t quite grasp his own boldness – deliver the letter himself, and start on an adventure once more. Quickly he glanced around, making sure no one saw him slipping the envelope into his pocket. 

He hadn’t felt this alive in years, as the warm fall afternoon turned into night, and he made his way home from the pound on his squeaky old bike with a new faithful companion by his side.

For now he would call George and ask him to come over for apple pie next week (the handwritten recipe book had been found lying in a box with Albert’s old bowl and collar, clever Erna). But first thing tomorrow, Gus and the chocolate Labrador, Hamilton, would embark on an adventure. And he couldn’t wait... 

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Why we all love brownies

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What is your go-to comfort food recipe? That one thing you can bake, stir, chop or pick that cheers you when you're down, makes any celebration sweeter, or reminds you of someone - or somewhere - that holds a special place in your heart.

Turns out that for many people all over the world, it's brownies. Rich, sweet, gooey, chewy (and easily made gluten-free) chocolate brownies. 

When I launched the "meals in the mail" project a few months back, I asked people to do two simple things:

1. Send me their favourite recipe in the mail, and
2. Tell me what makes it special to them

Now as I sort through all the heartfelt letters, delicious recipes and creative mail that came my way, themes are starting to emerge. And one of those themes is this: everyone loves brownies. 

I tender in evidence, these seven recipes. 

Sonya in Australia, for example, shared her recipe for dark chocolate brownies with salted caramel (below). She said: 

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"Home-made brownies can say a lot of things - I'm sorry you lost your job, let's celebrate the winter solstice - and this recipe has even survived a trip in the post. When my friend Jemma's second baby arrived, I baked these brownies, sandwiched them between two thick slabs of cardboard, and dropped them in a post box. They survived the journey from Canberra to Sydney in one piece."

Then Nanette in The Netherlands shared her recipe: 

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"I got this recipe from an English girlfriend when I was 25. Even 30 years later and some little changes, it is our favourite family brownie recipe. The whole family makes these brownies for birthdays, or just when someone is in need of chocolate or comfort food." 

From Canada, Sherry shared buttermilk brownies and a tribute to her mother Elaine: 

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"This is my mom's brownie recipe and I can't even begin to tell you how many of these I have enjoyed over the years. My mom is an amazing woman... in addition to raising three kids with a husband who was away much of the time, she worked full time and still managed to be there for all of our girl guide meetings and art shows. The brownies were and are still a go-to recipe that even the pickiest eaters enjoy." 

Jessica in Australia shared the recipe for Caramello brownies that won her boyfriend's heart: 

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"I first made these to impress my boyfriend and it must have worked because we're still together seven years later! They're always a crowd-pleaser and make your house smell great when they're baking." 

And then from Denmark, Linea shared her hygge-inducing Lazy Brownie recipe: 

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"This cake tastes like a little piece of chocolate heaven if you use good ingredients and a tiny bit of love! I love that moment of silence when everyone takes a bite and just enjoys the chocolaty-ness! My favourite thing to bake in winter-time and eat with a cup of tea." 

Laura in New Zealand shared the brownie recipe that helped her make it through some tough times: 

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"This recipe belongs to Kate, my boss at the New Brighton Library in Christchurch. Even though both of us no longer work in that library, her brownies helped the team get through some rough patches. They never let me down." 

And in Austria, Miya shared a recipe for olive-oil and sea-salt brownies that came to her via a friend in America, who adapted it from a recipe in the NY Times: 

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"I love this recipe for several reasons. Firstly, it's genuinely easy but decadent and delicious! Secondly, my husband produces olive oil in Greece so it's one of my favourite things to make for him if he needs something to showcase his products - an act of love, if you like. Last but not least, it was given to me by my hot-mess New Yorker friend Meaghan. We met in our first week of moving to Vienna 10 years ago, and have lived in and out of each other's homes ever since, sharing a love of music, baking and the charming contradictions that make Vienna what it is. So I'm passing this recipe on to you and your community in the spirit of our friendship and the city it was born in. Wholesome yet a little decadent, simple yet a little extravagant, familiar and cosy but also a bit of a hot mess. And if you ever come to Vienna, you're invited to coffee and cake!"  

So if you're wondering which of these seven recipes for brownies I'll share in the finished book, the answer is...

All of them. Naturally! Firstly, because this cook-book is not only about the recipes, it's also about the stories, the memories, the connections, and of course the mail. And secondly, because maybe you might want to try a little experiment when you read the book: a brownie bake-off for you and your friends, shall we say? I wonder what your favourite secret ingredient will be. Sea-salt? Caramellos? Buttermilk? Olive oil? A mother's love? 

Meals in the Mail is a cook-book project celebrating meaningful, nostalgic and comforting recipes from close to 250 people from all over the word, written by hand, and sent by post (often with stunning illustrations on the recipes, or the envelopes, or both). 

People who sent in recipes for meals in the mail will all receive a copy of the e-book for free, and get first dibs at buying the physical cook-book, which will be on a limited print-run.

If you'd like to be among the first to hear when both versions of the cook-book are available for sale, and to get updates on the projects and sneak peeks at the recipes, the best way is to sign up to my newsletter (right now I'm also giving away a copy of my mini e-book "Making Mail: 10 steps to writing letters that become keepsakes," to all subscribers). 

And now, back to the question I asked at the start of this blog post. I'm dying to know: what's your go-to comfort food recipe? (Is it brownies??) 

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21 thank-you letters to write today

Happy World Post Day, dear friends!

Today, 9 October, is World Post Day, an official UN-sanctioned "day of observance." Every year, more than 150 countries celebrate World Post Day in a variety of ways, some countries even observing the day as a public holiday. (The rest of us can live in hope). 

Adding oomph to World Post Day, the world has also been celebrating International Letter Writing Week - the week that includes 9 October - for the past 60 years. Established by the Universal Postal Union in 1957, International Letter Writing Week aims to "encourage world peace by encouraging cultural exchanges among the people of the world, through letter writing." World peace, friends. 

That goal is every bit as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, so I wondered if you'd like to join me in a mini-challenge, starting today, to write one letter a day, all week. But there's a twist: all seven letters need to express gratitude. Can you do that? Spend seven days feeling all the gratitude and expressing all the thanks, in writing? Seven thank-you letters in seven days. It's totally achievable, yes? (And don't forget folks, this is for world peace). 

Do you want to make your challenge public, so we can all cheer you on? Use the hashtags #worldpostday and #7gratitudeletters to show the world what you're doing. 

I'm here to help. By way of inspiration, I've shared 21 gratitude prompts below, to get you thinking about the people you might like to write to this week. They are borrowed from a much bigger list of 40 gratitude prompts and 100 letter-writing prompts, which I share with students in my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written. 

Use these prompts any way you like. Maybe they'll provide you with literal inspiration, or maybe they'll help you think creatively, about the other people in your life who would appreciate a little note of thanks from you.

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21 gratitude prompts

  1. Thank your postie for delivering the mail through rain, hail, snow, wind, heatwaves and unfriendly dogs (leave an anonymous letter in a public post box)
  2. Thank that bookstore employee who made some really great recommendations
  3. Thank your mum or dad for, you know, your existence
  4. Thank the barista who makes your coffee just the way you like it
  5. Thank your grandmother for the excellent scones
  6. Thank that Etsy seller for putting a personal touch on their sale
  7. Thank your partner for enriching your life
  8. Thank your school teacher for inspiring you to learn
  9. Thank your child’s school teacher for going above and beyond
  10. Thank your green-grocer for sourcing those great organic apples
  11. Thank a politician who actually did something good (nobody thanks politicians!) 
  12. Thank a musician for filling your life with song
  13. Thank your friend for having you to dinner
  14. Thank your aunt for the birthday card
  15. Thank your children for making you laugh
  16. Thank your favourite blogger for working so hard to put out quality, free content
  17. Thank your favourite podcaster for the same reason 
  18. Thank a charity you support for the good work they do
  19. Thank an author for the inspiring read
  20. Thank the housekeeping staff of somewhere you holidayed
  21. Thank your future self for learning the art of gratitude (hide the letter in a book

Download the list here if you'd like to print it off to take it with youand of course don't forget you can always pin it for later. x


ps. If you're in the mood for even more letter-writing inspiration, I want to remind you about my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, "The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written." 

Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. There's also a host of downloadable resources, and access to my own private mail-art pen-pal group. Registrations are open right now, and you can find out more here

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Thousand postcard project - lately

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Lately in the #thousandpostcardproject, I've been having fun sharing random and sometimes bizarre facts with the people I write to. For example, did you know that Dolly Parton once entered and lost a Dolly Parton look-alike contest? Or that elephants only get two hours of sleep a day? The people I'm sending my postcards to do, now. 

Meanwhile, the nondescript "West's Deluxe Motel" postcard in this collection had me wondering. Why did someone feel the need to mark the date on which they stayed there? (night of 8-9 June, 1968). What happened there? 

Giant trees. Everyone loves giant trees, throughout the ages. Ditto baby bears. 

And that big cow, staring down the barrel of the camera? There is a little printed message on the back of the postcard that says "YOUR TOWN HERE." As though any town in America would be proud to have a picture of a big cow representing their tourist industry. Or maybe it's a bull. Would that make a difference? 

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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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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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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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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. 

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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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