Snail mail: love letters to strangers

8797472651_1dd71ef10c_o 4679197598_fcd65ae739_o"You may struggle at times, but here you are, having picked yourself up again and pressing on. Never lose that. You are so much stronger than you think." "Love can't enter through a wall. It comes in when doors are open."

"Well, friend. I guess - I guess we're not so fleeting after all. I'd say we're pretty damn infinite."

These are all excerpts from love letters written to and from total strangers. They are part of a project called The World Needs More Love Letters, a community of more than 20,000 letter-writers from across 49 different countries.

They mail love letters to strangers in need (you can request a love letter of your own here), and they leave love letters in public places like cafes, libraries, holiday destinations and college campuses for strangers to find.

The whole project started with one young woman, Hannah Brencher, who left love letters for strangers all over New York City to help lessen the loneliness and depression that followed her graduation from university.

How about you. Would you write a love letter to a stranger? If you'd like to, you can get involved here.

5502853733_e6e7177a49_o 4733088175_92a52a6a73_o{Image credits, all licensed under Creative Commons: 1. BiblioArchives 2. Trondheim Byarkiv 3. petertandlund 4. State Library of Victoria Collections}


The found notebook

MEDIAIt is mid-morning. You are walking through the city, minding your own business, when you spot something colourful on a stone fence up ahead. You pick it up. It is a journal, lovingly hand-made, and beautiful. You think, "The owner of this will be devastated when they realise they've left it behind." You start flipping through the pages backward. Not to read, not properly (you wouldn't want to intrude on their privacy), but just to see if you can find a clue as to the owner.

That's when you realise the journal is empty: open to possibilities, for stories, dreams, ideas, feelings as-yet untold. "Gosh," you think, "I wish this was mine."

But it is not quite empty, after all.

On the first page, you see writing. There is a message inside, inscribed by a local artist or writer. And the message is for you.

The journal is for you.

Journal29_web1You have found one of 30 handmade journals that will surreptitiously be left in various places around Melbourne from 1 to 10 August this year, as gifts of "guerilla kindness" to whoever finds them. (You!)

It is a participatory project called "Sharing Ink" by public artist Sayraphim Lothian.

"I create these works as tiny moments of loveliness for the finder – that instant when the finder spots the work out of the corner of their eye, that moment when they realise that someone has made something and left it somewhere for them to find. That moment is the whole point of the work," she says.

"As the artist, there is also a thrill to the unknowing... I’ll never know what happens to most of them, but there’s mystery and awesomeness in the unknown. While a thing is unknown, it could be anything. It’s only when you know that you narrow down the possibilities."

Shall we take some slow walks through Melbourne together this week?

j26_web Journal4_web j27_web materials2Photos of the journals (and the inscribers hiding behind them) all from the Sharing Ink blog). Last photo is of the journal materials ready for Sayraphim to make them.

Ode to telegraph poles

You know you're getting something good with a title like that, right?

Do you notice how some things apparently never change? I find it comforting to think that in this world of seemingly-relentless forward motion, some things can be relied upon to stand still (or even go backwards). Take politicians, for example. On the weekend I was in Melbourne and a horse and cart clopped down Bourke Street with a "Vote 1" sign on it for the upcoming election. A HORSE AND CART. You've got my vote, Mr Whoever You Are.

And here is another example. Telegraph poles. They are such a mainstay of our urban landscape that we barely notice them or think twice about them. But while swarms of electricity and wireless data buzz around our ears each day, telegraph poles also provide a comfortingly old-fashioned community service: the notice board.

Where I live, posters on telegraph poles go beyond the mere notification of garage sales and missing cats (which always makes me feel so sad), into the creative, the funny, the affirming and the sometimes bizarre. I kind of like that, don't you? (And yes, one of these was mine, from this project).

Tacos for the time-poor

Last week it was my birthday. It's funny how celebrating my own birth begins to seem a bit redundant now that I have the recent birth of a glorious little one to contemplate. Except in the case of my mother, I imagine. Now that I have actually given birth to a human being, I have a whole new appreciation for how mothers must feel on their own children's birthdays. No wonder some mums go over the top, putting on parties for one-year-old babies that the children won't even remember. I think it's about celebrating the magnitude of that event: "Child, you are REAL. Here you are IN THE WORLD. You are THE SUNSHINE IN MY LIFE. I made you. I grew you. And this day a year ago, IT ALL HAPPENED." I'm totally going OTT for Madeleine when she turns one!

Anyway, I didn't want my birthday to go entirely unmarked, because I've done that in the past and then felt a bit flat later. So I compromised by inviting 10 friends over for a very simple dinner. A very, VERY simple dinner, because I am a new mother with a bub who prefers to be on me like a baby koala, and cries if I so much as lose eye contact with her for too long. I don't have time to make anything fancy.

We planned to have a BBQ in our little courtyard, but the day of the party was one of the coldest and wettest on record for October, so we had to move everything inside, with people perching on the edges of sofas and on cushions on the floor. The animals were locked away in the back of the house, much to their disgust.

The menu

So instead of the BBQ, I cooked up a variety of taco fillings and laid everything out for people to just go to town. There was guacamole and corn chips for our guests to nibble on when they arrived, followed by char-grilled corn on the cob, warm soft tortillas, and assorted fillings like baked fish, spicy mince-meat, oven-roasted capsicum, refried beans, fresh tomato salsa, shredded lettuce, cheese, fresh chilli, fresh lime, and a whole lotta sauces on the side.

Madeleine goes to bed at six every night, and it can easily take me an hour to feed and settle her. Our guests were arriving at half past seven, so I basically had to prepare everything way ahead of time. Once I got myself super-organised, it was pretty easy. I strapped Madeleine into the sling during the day, and off we went. I roasted and chopped the capsicum ahead of time then quickly pan-fried it to reheat it for serving. I cooked the corn in the microwave, then just char-grilled it with some butter and olive oil before serving. I precooked the mince and reheated it in yet another pan to serve. That used up all the space on the stove, so...

I seasoned the fish ahead of time and then just baked it for 10 minutes when everyone was ready to eat. I made the guacamole, the salsa and a crema for the fish, and stored them in the 'fridge. All I had to do after putting Madeleine to bed was stir the various bits and pieces on the stove, wait for the fish to cook, chop the lettuce and grate the cheese. That took 15 minutes tops and I could spend the rest of the night with my friends!

The two definite favourites of the night were the fish tacos and guacamole, so here are my recipes in case you want to give them a try. They are both mega-easy.


(Note: I like my guacamole with a bit of a kick. Go easier on the cayenne and lime if you want a milder taste)

6 avocados 4-6 limes (keep adding to taste) 1 tsp salt 1 tsp ground cumin seeds 1 tsp cayenne pepper 1 bunch chopped coriander 1-2 cloves minced garlic

In a large bowl, coat the scooped avocado pulp in the juice of a couple of the limes and lightly toss. Put the avocado and juice into a blender, add the spices, and blend until smooth. Fold in the coriander and garlic. Taste. Now start adding more lime juice and possibly more spices until you get the flavour balance exactly right.

If you plan on storing the guacamole in the 'fridge, seal it well so the avocado doesn't brown. Pull it out an hour early so you can serve it at room temperature.

Baked fish tacos with coriander crema

For the crema, combine the following ingredients in a bowl and store in the 'fridge:

1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander 6 tbsp mayonnaise 6 tbsp low fat sour cream grated rind of 1 lime juice of 1 lime 1/2 tsp salt 2 minced garlic cloves

For the tacos, lay out fish fillets on a shallow tray with a little olive oil and a dob of organic butter. My fishmonger recommended allowing about 400 grams of fish for each taco. I used snapper but they didn't have enough, so I grabbed another variety of fish that I can't remember, I just asked that they be flavours that worked together, and about the same size so they would bake at the same rate. It all worked out.

Sprinkle the fish with spices. I used the following:

Four parts ground cumin Four parts ground coriander seeds Two parts paprika One part garlic powder A sprinkling of ground sea-salt and black pepper

Now just bake them in a very hot oven (about 220 degrees Celsius) for 10-12 minutes. When they're done, break them up with a fork and serve them on the tortillas with shredded lettuce or cabbage, a hefty dollop of the crema, and a squeeze of fresh lime.

I completely forgot to take photos of the night, because I was too busy having a good time with all my friends and NOT being tied to the kitchen. So, instead, I bring you some photos of the brand new pop up patch rooftop garden. Madeleine and I sneaked out to take a look at how it was all progressing yesterday and, after saying "I don't want anything for my birthday," I am thinking I might possibly want one of these, after all.

When you say "the price of a coffee a day" I think this garden is cheap as can be. Then I add up $3.50 a day over the course of a year, and suddenly it becomes a very expensive birthday present indeed. If only I could find someone to share the garden with me (hint hint).

Post-it bombs

A funny thing happened on the Internet the other day. I typed "recipe for arnotts hundreds and thousands biscuits" into Google to see what would come up (side note: I LOVE those biscuits. Does anyone know how to replicate this flavour at home?)... anyhoo, via a circuitous interwebs route, I came across the blog of Queensland artist Fee Harding, Burntfeather. Fee lived in Japan for a year and while she was there, she embarked on what she called "the 100 post it note project." She drew sweet little pictures on post-it notes and carried them with her everywhere, leaving these tiny pieces of portable art in public places. She called it a less invasive form of street art, which I think is true and rather considerate of her, don't you?

I just love this idea, and Fee has given me permission to replicate some of her lovely, impermanent drawings here on this blog. Others have picked up on the idea, and there's even a PostProject Flickr group if you want to get in on the action (or see what other post-it bombers are doing). Neat, huh?

All images used with Fee's kind permission, from here.

Greening the city

Living in the city is a trade-off. Small home, great food, high rent, arts and entertainment, rotten traffic, shorter commute, smog in summer, walkable everywhere. And so on. For me, that trade-off is worth it. And I absolutely love where I live now, because our little community is very old, very gentle and very quiet, yet I am a short walk from wonderful precincts like Brunswick Street, Lygon Street, Rathdowne Village and Nicholson Village, and only half an hour's walk from the centre of the city.

But I miss having a garden. A few straggly ferns and agapanthus plus one giant rosemary bush, bordering weed-filled paving in a tiny back courtyard, do not a garden make. We are renters, so there's not much I can do to change that (except get ride of the weeds between the paving bricks. I really must get on to that).

Cue the good people at Federation Square and The Little Veggie Patch Co, who have collaborated to create an AWESOME city project: the Pop Up Patch.

What is it? Smack bang in the heart of the city, it is your very own organic vegetable patch. Each 'patch' is made out of wooden fruit crates. It is filled with organic material and soil, ready to plant. You're given seedlings (three sets a year, to work within the seasons), all the tools you need, and all-week help from gardening staff on-site. The garden is kept locked and secure. They water your vege patch for you when you're away. And all this for $3.50 a day, over 12 months.

Brilliant, oui? This will be perfect for people who work in the CBD. They can stop by on their way home from work to dig a little, weed a little, and bite down on a juicy cherry tomato, warm from the summer sun, before heading home.

I am sorely tempted to book myself a Pop Up Patch of my very own, friends. SORELY tempted. For me and Madeleine it would be a commitment, requiring a dedicated trip in several times a week to visit our garden. But it's not far, and we could walk or take the tram. Would I stick with it enough to make it worth it? This decision requires a degree of self-knowledge I'm not sure I possess.

What do you think? Should I do it? Will I see you there?

(All images from The Little Veggie Patch Co website)

ps. These books are going fast. Get a copy while they're still free!

UPDATE 15 October: I sneaked over to Federation Square once the Pop Up Patch was open, and took some photos. You can see them here (scroll to the bottom).


Mission accomplished. Wishes granted. Two weeks after I created this wish post, I walked past and discovered the people of Fitzroy had taken up every single item on offer. It really warmed my heart. I hope it gave them what they needed.

In case you're curious, the wishes were:


I sure hope they find them. What do YOU wish for? What wishes would you grant, if you could?

(ps. When I put this little poster up, I was a bit afraid to be spotted so I picked a tiny, out-of-the way residential street in the middle of nowhere. I was saying to Em that I probably should have been brave and picked a busier street, like Brunswick Street, to ensure the poster was actually seen. But Em said maybe it was better this way. "Because maybe the people who walked down that street were the ones who really needed a wish the most." I rather like that.)

The city's soundtrack

Remember iPods, antique iPhones without the networks: remember those things? I wasn't an early adopter but can I tell you, when I was given my first iPod that baby changed my life. Suddenly, my days had a soundtrack. Even something as mundane as walking to work became a swim in an ocean of my favourite music.

But have you ever wondered what anybody else's soundtrack is? Tyler Cullen hit the streets of New York to open up the city's soundtrack. [youtube]

Secret letters

If you’ve been reading this blog or if you’ve read my novella Airmail, you’ll know that I’m fascinated by the concept of letter-writing. I love the intimacy of writing something by hand, penning your thoughts or feelings or ideas and releasing them for someone else to read. At times, that someone may even be a total stranger. I love the distances that letters cross, traversing cities, nations, distant roads, even oceans in a matter of days.

Email and instant messaging may have changed the nature of the way we write to each other, but we still write.

And to my mind, one of the most beautiful iterations of letter-writing in recent years has been the growth of the Post Secret community.

Post Secret is simple. People anonymously mail a secret on the back (or front) of a handmade postcard. For the writer, they get their secret off their chest. For the rest of the community, they learn that they are not alone. Time and again, Post Secret teaches us that my secret is, after all, yours as well.

Some of the letters and the stories within stories in Airmail are my own secrets, packaged up in fiction. Some of the secrets belong to my friends. Still others are made up. Most likely, you will never know which is which (although now I've got you guessing).

Mr B has been travelling a lot for work lately, and I really miss him when he's away. So here is a video of Valentine’s Day themed Post Secrets, for your reading and viewing pleasure.