making

Meals in the Mail (a new idea)

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* 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. * 


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

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

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

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So here is what I propose: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pie fail

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This is an appeal to the people of Florida, to rescue their famous dish from the slander that is about to follow...  

While writing my way through a giant stack of vintage postcards for the thousand postcard project, I came across this wonderfully lurid recipe-card from the 1960s or 70s. The children and I decided we had to give it a try before sending it on (it ultimately went to my cousin in the UK - it was 68 of 1000).

After all, I figured, "Orange meringue pie. I like oranges, I like lemon meringue pie, this is going to be delicious!")

Spoiler alert: it wasn't.

Maybe it's my fault. I'm not much of a baker. Or maybe it's the postcard's fault. The instructions were pretty vague and, never having tasted this pie before, I didn't really know what flavours I was supposed to be going for. 

Whoever or whatever is to blame, this pie tasted like orange-flavoured cough-syrup. Only gelatinous. And nuclear reactive in colour. 

So, dear People Of Florida, how is this pie supposed to taste? What did I do wrong? And do you have a better recipe for me to try? 

::               ::               ::               ::

ps. For anyone not from Florida who is brave enough to try this (WHYYYYY???), the ingredients are on the front of the postcard that you see pictured here. The method, printed on the back, was as follows:

Combine orange juice, sections, grated rind, sugar and cornstarch. Cook on low heat until clear. Add a little hot mixture to beaten egg yolks. Return to hot mixture and cook about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Blend in lemon juice, butter or margarine. Pour into baked pie shell. Be sure filling and shell are both hot or both cold. Cover filling with meringue. Bake in 350° oven until lightly browned.

There were no instructions for the pastry or meringue, so you'll just have to wing those bits. Tell me how you go!

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Mini mail-art

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Hello, dear friends. This is just a little something I've been working on, to give to the subscribers I write to via this blog: mini mail-art. I've made a series of 12 water-colour botanical stickers that people can use to decorate their next mail; and another 12 "return address" stickers for them to personalise with their own addresses, and then colour if they want to.

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On self doubt

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Oh hey. I have illustrated a children's book! It's called Grandad and the Baby Dolphin, and was written by the very talented Wendy Milner. The book will come out in November this year, and you can find out more (or pre-order a copy) here.

I am simultaneously proud and embarrassed to share these pictures with you.

Self doubt is a funny thing, isn't it. You do your very best and at some level (an important level!) you are proud of what you have done. And then on the other hand you look at your own work and then you look at what everyone else is doing and suddenly you feel like a complete fraud. Not to mention a failure.

Sound familiar? I feel like maybe crippling self-doubt is the default position of creatives. And by "creatives" I mean anyone who steps out into the public with something they have made: writers, artists, entrepreneurs, researchers... you name it. We all question ourselves, our abilities, our capacity, all the time but especially at the eleventh hour.

I have to fight my self-deprecating instincts as I share these illustrations with you. I hold myself up against the pantheon of talented, experienced illustrators in the children's book-publishing world and frankly I feel absurd.

Last week when Wendy said "We are finished!" and sent me a digital proof of the book, I vibrated with pride all evening. I kept looking through the images and reading them alongside her wonderful story and I felt as though together, we had created something really special.

That lasted for several hours, until I went to bed.

Then I closed my eyes and, immediately in my imagination, the whole world sat in a stadium, me alone and spotlit on a field way below, and everybody bellowed "WHO ARE YOU to think you could illustrate ANYTHING?" I am a writer, not an artist, and my sleepy self knew it. So did everybody else. "DERIVATIVE," the World shouted from the stands, "NAIVE." And "BORING" and "UNIMAGINATIVE" and "AMATEUR."

But do you know what? Get thee behind me, Naomi's Imagination World. I, like so many creative people before me and so many more to come, am going to own what I have made, and own it with pride. Wendy's prose is flawless. Her story is beautiful, and engaging, and entertaining, in all the right parts. I told it to my children for the first time a little while ago, holding up my paintings as I went along, and their simple response at the end was, "Again?"

And I am an illustrator. There, I will say it. I am a children's book illustrator, and I am lucky enough that my first book illustration project was for something as special as this beautifully-written tale of love and family and caring and joy.

I bet you are creative, too. Do you struggle to own it, trust it, believe in it? What should you be proud of today?

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All your thoughtful words

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During the past month or so I have been chipping away at the photography for my new book (which is going by the working title Snail Mail Revolution, by the way, but that might change). I want the book to be really beautiful, something that you will want to hold and touch and browse through slowly. It is really important to me to avoid having something that looks like a glorified stationery catalogue.

When I put a call out to you guys to tell me what you loved about snail-mail, what you felt made it so very special, your responses were absolutely amazing. Thank you!

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you!

So many of you encapsulated PERFECTLY how I felt about this ancient and evergreen way of staying in touch (take a look at this wonderful quote from Selise, for example). People loved snail-mail because it was so intensely personal, a direct conversation between two people, thoughts written by hand, their rethinking exposed in crossed-out words and margin notes. And because it was slow, a return to mindfulness and patience and the art of waiting for something worth waiting for. Many people loved that letters were tangible, something they could touch and smell and see. There was more said, so much more, and it was beautiful. But you will have to wait for the book to read it all!

All your thoughtful words really helped me when it came to planning the photography, and I was really keen to capture the essence of what you were saying. To my mind, the photographs needed to evoke some kind of emotion, to tell a story. The sense of occasion that comes, for example, with opening and reading a letter from someone you love. Or the thoughtfulness that goes along with sitting down to write a letter. Do you know what I'm trying to say? Is this making sense?

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll have seen the images on this post popping up during the past couple of weeks. They are outtakes and behind-the-scenes shots of what I've been trying to create. I hope you like them. I'm really happy with how this book is all coming together!

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9 Valentine's Day projects to try

valentine Is it love? Or is it just like? Does it matter? Why not use the notorious Jour de V as an excuse to make something for someone you love/like/admire, just to make them happy? Here are some last-minute ideas to get you thinking and inspired:

* I'm nuts about you * Biscuits that look like matchsticks? This is so much better than my matchbox art * So cute! Valentine animal envelopes * Homemade bath bombs to luxuriate your lover * Bad puns on printable gift-tags (for food-related gifts) * "You have a pizza my heart" (get it?). Seven printable Valentines * Pencil-flag Valentine notes. These would make great party favours or gift tags too * Paper fortune cookies * The most romantic ice-cream you've ever seen

Photo credit: Jenelle Ball, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

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Match-box conversation hearts

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Oh hello! *waves in enthusiastic and dorky manner* Remember me? I am so busy finishing my book that sometimes I don't get time for writing in this blog, but I have so many posts in the wings that I can't wait to share with you. Hopefully I'll get my time-management act together and can revisit this tiny and lovely community that is You Folks a lot more often. I really love this space. I love how comfortable it feels, how like-minded we all feel, even when actually we are quite different and diverse and opinionated and creative and quirky (because how boring would things be if we weren't), but on the MAIN THINGS (kindness, openness, encouragement, friendship) we are all on the same page, I think.

NEWS ALERT. Oh my goodness HOW EXCITING are the updates on the Serial podcast lately? If you listened to Season 1 but then kind of dropped back off, drop back in!! After almost 16 years, a new hearing on Adnan Syed's case is happening in Baltimore RIGHT NOW and you can follow what is going on each day on Serial. It is crazily compelling.

In the meantime, I have been having some fun lately jumping on the "decorate old matchboxes" bandwagon, creating decorated little boxes for homemade "conversation heart" lollies (from a lolly shop in Maldon, more on that soon to come), to send to folks all over the world. If you'd like to replicate this idea for Valentine's Day, it's super easy. Just wrap some paper around a matchbox to get the size right, trace the outline, then unwind it and draw/paint/paste whatever image you like before pasting it properly back onto your matchbox. I lined my boxes with paper doilies but you could also use tissue paper, cloth, foil or anything else that inspires you.

On another matter, conversation hearts! How great are they? So much vintage fun.

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Creative project: Grandad stories

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I have some exciting news to share. I have been invited to illustrate a children's book! I'm collaborating with the incredibly talented Wendy Milner, a professional writer who has just completed her first piece of children's fiction.

It is a beautiful (and true!) story called "Grandad and the Baby Dolphin." The Grandad of the story, Wendy's father, was a cray-fisherman off the Western Australian coast. While out at sea one day, he came across a baby dolphin in trouble. The dolphin was tangled in ropes and was slowly sinking beneath the salt waves. Grandad and his fellow fishermen were determined to rescue the baby dolphin, but what happened next amazed them all…

These are some sneak peeks and close-ups of my work-in-progress on the illustrations. If you'd like to know more about this lovely story (and others to come), Wendy has built a website for us, which you can find at Grandad Stories. You can also read her personal blog at Blink Blackburn.

Have you been working on anything new? I'd love to hear about it!

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Make this: surprise slide-up cards

1 Boo! Recently I made these little slide-up cards, after watching one of those "how-to" tutorials on YouTube that make simple things so much more confusing than they should be and assume you are the proud owner of an entire cupboard full of obscure craft supplies, when you could actually make do with a piece of cardboard and some sticky-tape.

Mine were Halloween-themed but if you want to make them too, they would suit pretty much any occasion or holiday: little hearts popping up to say "I love you," fireworks popping up to say "Happy New Year," flowers or confetti or - you get the point - to say "happy birthday," and so on.

Following is my pared-back tutorial, with a few moments of "full disclosure" on things I did wrong or could have done better, so you can learn from my mistakes.

The basic mechanics of these kinds of slide-up cards involve plastic wrapped around a rectangular piece of cardboard (or more accurately, an "H" shape, to stop the plastic from sliding off). You stick a second piece of cardboard with your picture or message on one side, and a third piece of cardboard with the "pull here" instructions on the other side. When you pull down on one piece of cardboard, the plastic slides around, pushing the other piece of cardboard up. Make sense?

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ΔΔ What you'll need:

* One or two sheets of thin cardboard, or some thick (eg water-colour) paper * Scissors * Sticky-tape or glue * A pencil, or something to measure your cards (you could use a ruler and/or one of those grid maps, OR you could do what I did, and trace around your mobile 'phone) * Thin plastic (full disclosure: being the non-craft-supplies-cupboard type person that I am, I didn't happen to have any thin plastic available, so I just cut up the plastic covers from some greeting cards - do you know what I mean? - and they would have worked really well except for the folds in the plastic that caused the "slide up" bit to catch)

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ΔΔ While you can make these cards all out of the same cardboard, I used a few different types, just to make my cards interesting. I used the beige cardboard you see pictured because it was handy, to make the H-shaped mechanics of the card. I used water-colour paper for the slide-up monster or ghost, and for the "pull here" tab at the other end, because I thought the colours would show up better on white than beige and I didn't happen to have any white cardboard handy. I used old pages of Frankie magazine to make the "envelope" of the card, because they're pretty. You could of course use plain cardboard for the envelope, which would leave a whole lot of space to create your own design or the first part of the message.

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ΔΔ Step 1 (top left): cut out a piece of cardboard in an "H" shape, then cut out two rectangles, slightly smaller. I traced around my iPhone to get the rough sizes of my two smaller rectangles (which make up the monster and the "pull here" tab), then just went a bit bigger to get the H shape. You can see the pencil-work where I traced around the iPhone then made it a big bigger. This is part of the inside of the card so don't worry about pencil marks.

Step 1b (because clearly this is actually two steps but I forgot to take a photograph of the H before I'd already stuck the plastic on)... Now cut out a strip of plastic long enough to wrap all the way around the short bit of the H, then wrap it around and stick it together. Make sure it's not too tight, because this is what will be used to slide your picture up and down so it needs to move easily. (Full disclosure: as I mentioned, the creases in the re-purposed gift-card wrapping I used meant that in some cards, the plastic would get stuck and wouldn't slide smoothly. Also, I used sticky-tape to secure the plastic because I didn't think glue would be reliable, but the tape also created some problems with the smooth sliding of the pulley. So the one thing I would do very differently next time would be to find some better - crease-free - plastic at the newsagency, and possibly some good glue)

ΔΔ Step 2 (top right): take your two smaller (in my case iPhone-sized) pieces of cardboard, and place them to the plastic on the H to see how they fit. You may need to trim them further. Now would be a good time to draw your slide-up message or illustration (in my case the monster), because it gets tricky to draw or paint after the card is made.

ΔΔ Step 3 (bottom right): place your "pull here" card on top of the H, lining it up with the bottom of the H-card. Then tape it to the plastic at the top. Turn the H over, and line up your picture (monster) card, face down, so that the top of it is flush with the top of the H-card. Tape it to the plastic at the bottom. Turn the H back over and test it at this point. Give the "pull here" tab a tug, and see if your picture slides up. Don't worry if they flop everywhere, the envelope will hold everything in place.

ΔΔ Step 4 (bottom left): cut out another piece of cardboard or paper. Measure it to be slightly bigger than the H, then double it sideways. I used pages from Frankie magazine for this. Fold the cardboard or paper in half, then stick the H to the right-hand side of the card (on the inside, of course). Make sure when you tape it that you secure the H on both sides, but don't stick down any of the moving parts.

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ΔΔ Step 5: Fold the card over to close it, and seal it up with sticky-tape or glue, again making sure you don't go near any moving parts. Cut out a little square or semi-circle to reveal your "pull here" tab.

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ΔΔ You're done! I used the blank space above "pull here" to include a spooky little Halloween quote (see the picture at the top). You could add a secret message here, if you wanted to.

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Kindness, both knowing and unknowing

ceramic-cup Sometimes kindness is a cup of tea, shared between friends. Sometimes kindness is the vessel that holds the tea.

Things have been a little less than peachy around here of late. A few weeks ago I was unwell - for three weeks - during which time I also suffered a rather devastating loss of a loved-one. Mr B was overseas for work so I had to deal with the combination of grief, pain and illness while caring for the children on my own, and keeping up appearances - whatever that means - for the sake of the little ones.

It wasn't easy and I'm not going to lie: more than once I locked myself in the bathroom to cry in private, then rinsed my red eyes and emerged, beaming like a mild maniac, "Who wants to play with play dough?"

I'm not the kind of person who finds it easy to open up or reach out when times are tough and so, as a result, I carried the first week of sickness and sadness entirely alone, before eventually the lump in my throat began to relax and allow me to share.

During that lonely week, completely unaware of anything that was going on, Tommy knocked on my door, bearing the gift of this lovely ceramic cup, made with his own hands.

I first met Tommy in the sandpit of Scout's childcare centre, where he used to teach the children. He transferred to a different childcare centre not long after that, but we used to bump into him all the time: at a school fete, at the local deli, in the park. And then one day Tommy reached out to me via this blog, and I sent him some mail art (it was this envelope).

Recently he switched directions in career, and is now pursuing ceramics full time. When he knocked on my door that day, handmade cup in hand, it was Tommy's way of saying "thank you" for the mail art I had sent him way back then.

He could not have known how horrible a week I was having, or just how much his gift could have cheered me in that moment. It wasn't a small gesture, either. Often I talk about how precious snail-mail is to people because it's hand-written, tangible, and permanent: I put it to you that there is not much more hand-made or tangible than ceramics.

Thank you, Tommy. I think what you created is beautiful but, more than that, every time I drink my tea from this cup I will be reminded of your kindness, both knowing and unknowing, at a time when I really needed it.

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