snail mail

A new project: the Travelling Card Club

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On Saturday morning I made a visit to the post office box and in it I found a lovely, newsy letter, folded inside the handmade card I’ve photographed at the top of this blog post. The writer, Carole, had been reading my blog and decided to respond in the old-fashioned way, by paper and pen, to share snippets of her life.

At the end of the letter, she added a little post script that gave me an idea. This is what she wrote:

“ps. Re-gift the card. Most of my greetings I sign on a signature tag. If everyone did that, I wonder how far they’d go. It would be fun if after a few years it cycled back to me.”

And then I thought, let’s try it! We’ll send this card around the world, regifting it from one person to the next, and maybe, just maybe, it might even return to Carole! Here’s what I suggest:

  1. If you want in on this, share your postal address with me, using the confidential form below

  2. I will post the card to the first person on the list, that person can send it on to the next person in the list, and so on

  3. When it’s your turn to receive the card, write your first name, city and country inside it. As each of us does this it will fill up, kind of like stamps in a passport. Then contact me for the next address on the list so you can post it on

  4. When either the card is full or we’ve run out of names on the list, the last person can post it back to me and I’ll then send it home to Carole

What do you think? Do you want to join the Travelling Card Club? Pop your address into the form below to be part of this. (If you can’t see the form, click the title of this blog post to view it in your browser).

UPDATE: It has only been a few hours since I published this post but already there are more than 60 people on this list, many more than will fit inside the card. But now I’m thinking, why stop at one Travelling Card? We could have several going at the same time!

If you’re crafty and would like to see a card of yours travel the world via the Travelling Card Club, simply pop a handmade card into the post for me (remember to leave it blank on the inside) and I’ll send it on its way to the people on this list. My address is PO Box 469, Carlton North, Vic 3054, Australia.

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Name
Address *
Address
I’ll never publish your address, and will only share it with the one person whose turn it is to post you the card.

Ten days of illustrations

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I’m just past 10 days into the #100DaysinDinan project, and so far I am loving it! As I had hoped, taking out the time to draw these pictures each day is taking me back to our time in the village, and how it has influenced me and my family in big ways and small.

To jog my memory and find things to paint, I’ve been scrolling through photos in my camera, and that has been an extra-welcome trip down memory lane. The children love to see what I’ve been painting each day, often chiming in with “Remember when…?” as they hold the little cards in their hands.

I’m making the envelopes for each card by tracing one of the original envelopes the cards came in, onto used calendars and magazine pages. A stamp or two, and the address: there’s not much room for anything else, so into the post they go.

Here are the first 10 that I’ve painted and posted, with a bit of the back-story behind them.

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hotel de beaumanoir

The beautiful, 15th-century archway to the former hotel de Beaumanoir: 1 rue Haute-Voie, Dinan. This was just around the corner from our apartment and after dropping off our bags on Day 1, we took a wander through town. This intricate stone archway took my breath away, and I couldn’t believe I was going to live in such a place

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new yellow shorts

We arrived in France from the coldest month of winter in Australia, with very few summer clothes in the suitcase as the children had already grown out of theirs from six months earlier. While riding the carousel in the hot sun the day after our arrival, four-year-old Ralph found his jeans just - too - hot. I popped into the Monoprix and bought him these sweet yellow shorts, which he loved so much that he wore them nearly every day until the end of summer

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maison bazille

There are several chocolatiers in Dinan, and we sampled them all! Our favourite was Maison Bazille on 10 Rue de l'Apport. Partly for the silky homemade chocolate (made on the premises) with all kinds of flavoured ganache, and partly for the macarons, but mostly because Anne, the proprietress, was just so lovely. She would welcome us with beaming smiles, and when we returned after three weeks in the UK, she gave the children cuddles and kisses. We would slow down every time we walked past, in order to catch her eye and wave

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half-timbered houses

Dinan is famous in France for the half-timbered houses that line its streets. They are crooked and wonky, because when they were built (mostly the 14th and 15th Centuries) there was a tax on floor-space at the ground floor, so people built small at the base and increasingly spread out as they built up. (This particular house is now a restaurant, La Mere Pourcel on 3 Place des Merciers. I really wanted to eat there but it looked too fancy for a mum and two kids, so I’ll have to go next time!)

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moules-frites marinieres

Ralph was gung-ho with the moules-frites from the very beginning, but Scout only discovered them during a visit to Mont Saint-Michel. It was a steaming hot day, and we sheltered from the sun in a restaurant for lunch. I’d ordered myself a bowl of moules-frites while the children had pizza, but Scout ended up stealing more than three-quarters of my mussels. We told the proprietress they were the best we’d ever tasted, and she smiled and shrugged, “c’est la saison” (it’s the season)

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rampart towers

There are lovely little towers in the castle walls all the way around Dinan. This one is over one of the steep streets that lead between the hilltop part of the town, and the ancient river port. The children and I would walk along the ramparts on the way home from school, and stop to take in the view from the top of this tower

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the padlock letterbox

The steep, cobblestoned rue du petit fort leads all the way down to the river at Dinan, and the whole way down the little street is lined with ancient and fascinating homes, shops and cafes. This door is almost at the bottom, and boasts the biggest padlock you have ever seen, which now does duty as a private letterbox

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sea-birds

Dinan doesn’t feel like a seaside town. There is a river, to be sure, but it no longer dominates the landscape or trade, ever since the town moved up the hill and behind the castle walls for safety, many hundreds of years ago. But this is the west coast of Brittany, and the sea is still close enough that sea-birds call and circle in the morning, and wander through the streets hoping for scraps from tourists at lunch

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boats on the canal

The river Rance, by the time it gets to Dinan, is little more than a canal. The first week we arrived, we took a ride on a river-boat up the canal to the neighbouring town of Lehon, the children fascinated when we had to stop at a lock and wait for the water to rise. There was a path beside the canal where horses used to walk and pull the boats. Once, a family’s horse sadly died, so the captain’s wife had to ‘harness up’ and pull the boat herself. There are photos. In the summer, weekender boats like this one I’ve painted would chug past and we’d wave at them

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birkenstock kilometres

The day before we left on our adventure, we took the children to the Birkenstock store in Melbourne and picked up a pair of sandals each. It was winter here in Australia, and they had long grown-out of their sandals from the previous summer. When we arrived in France, those sandals became synonymous with the new sense of adventure and resilience my children developed. From complaining about a two-block walk in Australia, they cheerfully walked 10+ kilometres every day in those sandals

Tiny missives: 100 days in Dinan

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It has been way too long since I hosted a postal project, but all that’s about to change.

Do you fancy receiving a tiny painting on a tiny vintage card, in the mail? I’m making 100 a day, starting this week, and would love to send one to you, my friend. Here’s the story…

Last month while we were in Paris, my family and I took a walk beside the river to browse les bouquinistes. You’ll have seen them I’m sure: the little green-box riverside markets that flank both banks of the Seine. They sell secondhand books and paper ephemera, and have been doing something similar, I believe, since as far back as the 16th Century.

We had left our village of Dinan the day before and I was looking for vintage postcards from the region, but then I saw these: tiny packets of photographs that tourists used to buy and carry home with them, from the days when cameras were rare and printing photographs was costly. Most of the packets were, I’m guessing, printed almost a hundred years ago, or at least some time between the first and second World Wars.

And as I turned them over in my hands, sniffed that old cardboard (is there anything better than “old book” smell?), I knew I wanted to give them life.

I’ve spoken in the past about how I believe postcards and other tourism souvenirs were made to travel and to be shared. The journey is the entire point of their creation. And yet so often, a postcard can sit unsent and unseen in a shoebox for years, or even decades. In 2017 my husband bought me a box of 1000 unused vintage postcards (most of them fabulously ugly), and I posted them to strangers and friends alike, all over the world, for the whole year. We called this the Thousand Postcard Project. A little while before that, we found some books of antique postcards and I sent those out too, then made miniature envelopes out of the tissue paper that separated them, and posted haikus into the world.

So as our little family all stood together in Paris, with the winter wind in our faces and the children moaning “Come on this is boring” because we were supposed to be en route to the Christmas markets, those tiny cards were calling to me and I couldn’t resist. I asked the bouquiniste, “How much for nine packets?”

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Later, I wrapped the miniature postcards in a scarf and carefully stored them inside the heavy 18th-Century writing box I’d picked up at the flea markets in Dinan (which was in turn nestled inside my suitcase, wrapped in rain-coats and stuffed all around with socks to protect it from bumps and bashes, and which I carried around for an entire month while we travelled), and promptly forgot all about them. This made for a lovely surprise when we finally returned to Australia, and I began the arduous process of unpacking after five months away.

Since then I have been pondering what to do with them next, and today I have decided! I will use them as tiny touchstones that will link me back to the time I spent in our French village: to the small and precious moments we shared, and the little lessons (and big lessons) we learned.

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The challenge: 100 days in Dinan

I have exactly 100 of these vintage or antique cards, each of them depicting a place or a moment from somewhere in France. So every day for 100 days I will take out a card and draw or paint something simple on it that illustrates our time in Dinan. (If you want to follow along on Instagram, I’ll hashtag #100daysinDinan whenever I share a picture).

It could be as grand as a castle or as simple as the tomatoes we picked up at the markets but, as I paint, I will be remembering the sunny day we visited that castle, or the way those tomatoes tasted, sliced onto baguette and sprinkled with salt.

Cumulatively, I hope the painting of these 100 cards will help take me back to Dinan in my heart, and help to keep alive some of the slow and precious lessons I learned during our time there.

The community: 100 tiny missives in the post

But that still isn’t setting the little cards free, is it. So the second part of this challenge is where you come in. Every day after painting a card, I will slip it into a handmade envelope and post it anywhere in the world.

Would you like one?

If you would, simply fill out the form below to share your address with me. This is all about community and for me these sorts of projects are sweeter for the sharing, so you don’t need to pay anything, join anything, sign anything or respond in any way. Just accept my thanks for being part of this little 100-day project.

The form will stay open until I have 100 addresses but, right now, I’m off to start painting!

UPDATE: I now have all 100 addresses so I’ve removed the form for this project. If you missed out, I’m sorry!

If you’d like to hear about my future projects first, you can subscribe to this blog using the box below, or subscribe to my monthly newsletter using this link. I also share what I’m doing on Instagram, and you can find me at @naomibulger.

Ode to writing letters, and cauliflower soup

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I’m not going to deny it’s cold out there. The children race ahead of me to the playground, seemly oblivious to the biting wind, and the fact that there are scratches of frost amid the remnants of last night’s rain on the monkey-bars and the spinning tourniquet.

Their games start almost immediately and, to the soundtrack of their laughter, I find a section of bench that is seeing sun (or that might possibly see sun one day). I bring a little towel with me so that I can dry a space to sit down, and then pull out a note-pad and a pen, and ease my gloves off, one finger at a time.

And now, while the children swing and slide and leap and spin, I write letters. I write to strangers, I write to friends. I write to family, I write to my children’s teachers, I write to Instagrammers and podcasters I admire. I write about the produce I found at the market, about walks we take in the woods, about books I’m reading, cakes I’m baking, dreams I’m dreaming, and about the way time runs at a different pace in France.

I write until my fingers turn red from the cold, and then blue, and then wrinkle until they look twice my age. The children race past me, shrieking with laughter during some great game or another. I blow on my fingers, I shake them out, and then I write some more.

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Later when we are home, I pull out the pencils and paints. Trace around my trusty wooden envelope-template, and make up designs that I think people will enjoy, inspired by the world around me right now. A café in Paris where we drank hot chocolate and ate croissants. Sunflowers that I’d picked up at the market in London two days earlier. A castle in Bretagne. The picnic we enjoyed in summer at the ruins. Rosehips from the basket-full I picked from the hedgerows, the swan we admired in St James’ Park, my mother’s vegetable garden.

When I’m done, I fold each painting into an envelope that will carry these tiny moments and stories from our lives along highways and past mountains, across bridges and over oceans. From autumn to winter, or spring, or rainy-season, or dry. To vast cities and country villages, rural outposts and marshy islands.

All for the low, low price of two euros.

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Sitting in the cold playground and writing these letters, these long, rambling spillings-out of my days, feels like I’m returning to my roots. It’s not that I ever stopped writing letters, but the luxury of time to write in this way isn’t something I’ve given myself in many years. (Note that I say “given myself” rather than “been given,” because too many times I’ve claimed not to have time when, in reality it was simply that I chose to spend my time in other ways).

I’ve heard it said, and in fact I talk about it in my letter-writing course, that writing something down by hand (rather than typing) aids the memory. It’s something called “reflective functioning.” We feel the event or experience all over again as we write it down, and then reflect on it and make sense of it as we read it back. Perhaps by writing down the seemingly mundane but often precious moments of my days, I am helping to commit them to memory and heart, my letters becoming an act of mindfulness and gratitude, appreciation for the littlest of things that bring joy.

But I sometimes wonder if, in not only writing these things down but also sharing them with someone else, I am doing more than committing them to memory. Maybe I am giving them lives of their own.

What if, upon reading of the intricate romanesco broccoli I picked up at the market on Thursday, my correspondent is inspired to make her famous roasted cauliflower soup, and invites friends over to share it? The conversation and laughter last well into the night, and it is a simple experience of friendship and hygge. That wasn’t my letter, but maybe a letter could spark such a thing?

This is the power of words shared. They don’t stop on the page and, from the moment we drop our letters into that post-box, they no longer belong to us. To me this is a beautiful thing, and the fact that I can never know if or what my letter might spark in someone else does not make the imagining any less joyful.

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Do you have a pen? It’s time for #lettersforloneliness!

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The International Letter Writing Week for 2018 starts on Monday! Are you ready? (Scroll for the details beneath the next picture, if you just want to cut to the chase).

Earlier this year, the Universal Postal Union set a mail-challenge for children of the world, in their 47th annual competition for young people to coincide with the International Letter Writing Week. This was the challenge: “Imagine you are a letter travelling through time. What message do you wish to convey to your readers?”

Tell me I’m not the only one who wishes I was a judge in that competition, just so I could read all the entries! What a glorious question to pose, and oh! just think about what children could do with it, with that whole lack-of-inhibition thing, and their brilliant imaginations.

This all started in 1957, when the 14th Congress of the Universal Postal Union met in Ottawa, Canada, and decided to name the week that coincided with 9 October (the UN-sanctioned World Post Day) “International Letter-Writing Week.” Since then, for the past 60 years, more than 80 countries around the world have used this week as an opportunity to formalise their celebrations of the wonderful way in which letters can connect us and change our world.

I can’t stop thinking about this year’s theme, of letters and time travel. Where would you send your letter, if you could? And what would you tell the recipient? Would you save a million lives by warning our forebears of a catastrophic event? Send antibiotics to the Middle Ages? Would you right wrongs done to your family or loved-ones in the past? Say a final, proper goodbye to someone you didn’t get to say goodbye to? Write a letter to your childhood self, bolstering them during a particularly difficult time?

Or would you send your words into the future? Describe a day-in-the-life so they will truly know, rather than speculate through shards of pottery they dig up from what was once your kitchen. Would you ask them questions? (Do human beings finally stop using plastics? Have they found life on other planets yet? Has anyone finally invented hover-boards, like those in Back to the Future II?) Or would you write a letter and send it to your child, or grandchild, when they are old, telling them you love them and are proud of them?

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A little while ago, I wrote this blog post about writing a letter a day during International Letter Writing Week, in a bid to reconnect with one another, and combat what is sadly being called “the loneliness epidemic.” I was overwhelmed by the response, both here on this blog as well as in private messages I received via email and on Instagram.

Maybe our own letters will travel through time, just as old letters when picked up and re-read can transport us, temporarily, into another time and place.

Do you want to take part? Write a letter a day next week, any way you like, publicly or privately. And if you’d like some support from me, I’ve put down some details below.

Letters for loneliness

  • The challenge: let’s all write one letter a day throughout International Letter Writing Week (8 - 14 October, 2018)

  • The goal: write your letters to help abate or prevent loneliness or isolation that people might be feeling. Hint: is there someone in your life that would deeply appreciate you reaching out? Write to them once, or seven times. If you don’t know who to write to, refer to this blog post for lots of ideas and links

  • The community: I don’t want you to be lonely, either! Use the hashtag #lettersforloneliness if you want to talk about this campaign on social media, so we can all cheer you on. If you want me to see what you are doing, you can tag me when you share on Instagram (I’m @naomibulger)

  • What to write: anything you like! Just write a cheering, loving word and send it to someone who you think could use a smile from you (one they can put in their pocket and carry around with them, forever)

  • Where to get help: if you struggle when it comes to knowing what to write or how to write it, for this week only, I have made public the lesson on storytelling and anecdotes, from my letter-writing e-course, The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written. Normally this is only accessible to my students so, to be fair to them, the lesson and its downloads will only be public for the duration of International Letter Writing Week 2018. I hope you find it useful! Read the lesson and download the resources here: The Art of Storytelling

  • Make your mail lovely: if you like the idea of decorating your envelopes to make them even more cheering this week (or any week), there are all kinds of ways you can do this. Open up an old envelope and trace it over a used calendar picture or wrapping paper to make a colourful envelope template. Decorate a plain envelope with washi tape and stickers. Press flowers and enclose them with your letter. If you’d like to make mail-art like the pictures in these pages, I send out free templates every month in my newsletter, which you can pick up here

Alright that’s about all I can think of. Shall we write a letter every day in the coming week, to share love and combat the social isolation that so many of us are feeling these days… even when surrounded by people and with the Internet at our fingertips? If you’d like any more support or if I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Yours truly,
Naomi xo

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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

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... 

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??) 

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

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?