From the "Mailstrom"

Tidbits, this 'n' that from around the web about letters and letter-writing, selected by Lex editors, Gary and Lonna.


Writing for a cause

December 6, 2011

Many letters are written to friends and family, for fun, to keep in touch, for emotional support or discussion of serious issues. In the latter vein, an organization that depends on letter-writers to advance its cause is Amnesty International. This month, for International Human Rights Day, they're sponsoring a Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon. The Write for Rights website includes tips on who to write and what to say, how to organize a letter writing event or where to find one near you. They're especially targeting the period of December 3-11, but writing any time is encouraged. The goal is 250,000 letters - they're almost there, but no need to stop at that number. As the website puts it, "Your words can save lives."

Here, there, and almost everywhere

November 20, 2011

There are people who collect postmarks -- envelopes or cards with cancelled stamps. And people who like to travel. Blogger Evan Kalish has combined those two activities, visiting post offices around the country and documenting his journeys on his blog, Going Postal. He shares what he's learned with photos, maps, post office history and stories. Since he started a little over 3 years ago, he's visited 2,745 post offices in 43 states! The photos celebrate the colorful buildings and interesting architecture (and sometimes the relentless plainness of the post offices), the murals on the outside and (when not harassed by postal personnel) the inside, post offices in stores and colleges, and sometimes a few other interesting views along the way.

Sometimes the medium is more than the message

November 9, 2011

Lots of people have, or find, old family letters. Often they have sentimental value; sometimes they shed light on family matters that were never fully explained or the personalities of ancestors, and can be valuable sources of information about the details of daily life in times past. The present-day reader may understand the quirks of relatives and sympathize with the challenges they faced, and once in a while even regret learning something less than complimentary about a favorite aunt or grandparent. Occasionally, though, a letter surfaces with more than usual interest or strangeness. Such was the case with one written by former CIA Director Richard Helms to his 3-year-old son in 1945. An ordinary enough letter, one of many in which new parents tell children too young to understand yet about the war-torn world they were born into and the parent's hope and fears for their offspring's coming life - except that this letter was written on the personal stationery of Adolf Hitler.

Canadian stationery

October 30, 2011

The LEX mailbag recently brought us samples of stationery from a new venture featuring Canadian artists. TEO Stationery [link no longer active] makes letter sets - writing paper and envelopes - in coordinated collections like "THE 67'S" or "FASHION FAVES", with colorful illustrations that leave plenty of room to write. Owner Deidre also offers her own photography on postcards - we particularly like the one of a horse peering around a door! A letter writer can never have too much stationery, right? And we'll have fun with these. Thank you, Deidre!

No, it wasn't your eyes

October 25, 2011

If you thought the issue 26 cover image was looking a little blurry in the last week, no need to get your eyes checked. The final tasks for this issue were a little glitchy - we needed to be out-of-state for a family situation, so we were going to mail a couple of days early, but there was a printing problem with the cover and it had to be redone. That meant we picked it up on the way out of town, taking the labeled envelopes with and mailing late at night October 14 from Rapid City. Unfortunately we didn't have a good way to scan the cover like we usually do, so we tried to generate an image from the layout software, adding color and shrinking to the proper size for the web. That more or less worked, except the file was huge (which means if you tried to view it on a handheld device it probably took forever and a day to load), and compressing to screen size seriously degraded the image. It's back to normal now, though.

"...wanna get the mail out!"

October 13, 2011

A month ago we reported on the various opinions being expounded as to whether the USPS is facing serious cutbacks in service or worse. Since that time there's been a lot more talk and a little action, none of it conclusive one way or the other. For a passionate defense of mail delivery and details on some of the action, check out Carol Christmas' blog at

But we do!

October 6, 2011

Lexer Kathy told us about this article in the York Daily Record, "You never write any more; well, hardly anyone does" [link no longer active], which bemoans the rapid decline in letter writing since the advent of electronic communication, with a particular focus on the loss to historians. We especially like the last line of the article.

Letters in a shed

September 22, 2011

Letters can be found in the most unlikely places. We've heard of people renovating houses and finding old letters that had been stuffed in the walls as insulation, and a postcard from author Lin Carter to J.R.R. Tolkien that was discovered, only slightly burned, behind the mantel of a fireplace. Letters of mid-twentieth-century artist Charles Bannerman had a less adventurous temporary resting-place - they were found in a shed - but still caused a pleasant surprise when they were donated [link no longer active] to the museum housed in the building where Bannerman once lived.

Crisis. Or not.

September 7, 2011

Is the USPS balancing on the edge of the cliff, in imminent danger of becoming a romantic anachronism like stagecoach travel? Not surprisingly, opinions abound. Here are just a couple of the many out there, one that says yes and one that says no [link no longer active]. Of course, we prefer the versions that keep the mail flowing...

Dear Aunt Jenny

August 24, 2011

Do you have kids you try and try to make write thank-you letters to relatives? What if the experience was so enjoyable that they looked forward to the next chance to do it? Here's a description [link no longer active] of one mother's thoughts about using Mariah Bruehl's book Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy & Wonder to turn that activity from a chore into, well, playful learning.

Writing makes you smarter

August 8, 2011

It's all over the web: Writing makes you smarter than keyboarding does. People are commenting about recent studies that show that children who write by hand exercise (develop) parts of the brain related to motor control and cognitive development more than children who use the keyboard for the same project. Here's a comment by a fellow letter-writer at the Never Ending Story Project [link no longer active] and a more detailed article at the Wall Street Journal. So pick up that pen and write a letter!

Call for mail art

July 29, 2011

The Richmond Art Gallery in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada invites submissions to its International Mail Art Exhibition and Swap [link no longer active]. The deadline for submissions is October 1, 2011, and the exhibition is scheduled for November 17, 2011 - January 8, 2012. More than an exhibit of Mail Art, the Richmond Gallery plans a cultural exchange and a swap of artwork among participating artists. Want to see examples of Mail Art? The Gallery includes links to some fun videos on YouTube: even if you don't plan to submit a piece you may be inspired to send some Art to a penfriend!

Can talking envelopes be far behind?

July 19, 2011

Wishing you could do more than look at the stamps on the letters you send or receive? Now you can - if you have a smartphone, and the stamps in question are the elephant or tiger image from the British Royal Mail's Forest Stewardship Certified commemorative stamps [link no longer active]. Just scan with your phone and watch a video about endangered species produced by the World Wildife Fund.

Keeping them open

July 7, 2011

Sometimes it seems the news about the fate of small post offices is grim and grimmer; but for an upbeat take on the subject check out Saving Armpit.

Better (very) late than never? Or not...

June 20, 2011

Occasionally one hears about a letter, or more often a postcard it seems, that got lost somewhere in the depths of a postal building and was eventually delivered years later. But 99 years? That's what might have happened in New York, according to a story in the New York Times, but a deeper look makes it seem the postcard's spent the last century in more places than just behind an old cabinet or stuck to the bottom of a mailbag. Using research ranging from census records to high-tech equipment, the possible history of the postcard and the original sender and recipient were investigated; theories, if no certainties, abound.

An interesting sidelight is the comment by the USPS spokesperson that re-mailing a delivered letter could subject one to prosecution. We hope this doesn't mean that when a letter meant for someone with a similar address is delivered to you by mistake, dropping it in a mailbox in the assumption it will get to the right place on the second try is against the law...

And we're back...almost...

June 13, 2011

If you've looked at this blog or tried to contact us by e-mail recently, you'll know we've been a little slow to respond. That's because another computer went Zzzzt and had to be replaced. We keep the LEX subscriber list on a separate machine that's never connected to the web, so it's out of the reach of hackers. The other one, that we use online - that's the one that went Zzzzt, and after delivery and discovering we don't have the proper cables to connect to the monitor and a few other bumps in the road, we're hoping to get hooked up tonight. Or tomorrow, or maybe Wednesday evening, because Issue 25 is back from the printer and it's time to stuff and seal and label for mailing on Wednesday morning.

The Letter Writing Revolution

May 26, 2011

Here's another blog we've found on letter writing, this one from Canada, where a postal strike has been averted for this week but is still a possibility. The site features high-resolution photos as well as thoughtful discussions of the various roles letters have played and hopefully will continue to play in people's lives. We've added it to the list of blogs we try to follow.

Stamp Out Hunger

May 12, 2011

If you're in the U.S., this Saturday, May 14, is the annual Stamp Out Hunger drive, in which postal workers pick up non-perishable food left at your mailbox. The country's food shelves are particularly low this time of year because Christmas donations have run out, and particularly low in the last year or two because of the recession. 50 million families have inadequate food, including 17 million children - here's an easy way to help.

Postage Stamp Art

April 25, 2011

If you write lots of letters - and people write you back - you may have what you need for a fun project: used stamps! The Summer 2011 issue of RubberStampMadness magazine includes an article on stamp artist Cheryll Wood who uses cut-up stamp pieces to create collage art. Her "Stamp Lady", printed in the magazine, is amazing - stamps for hair, hat, scarf, blouse, and background. If you look closely you can recognize the stamps! If your correspondence isn't prolific enough to provide all the stamps you need, RSM recommends two sources for used postage stamps: (search for "used postage" in the Stamps category) and

How Letters Fly...

April 18, 2011

If April 15 was a deadline for filing your taxes, you may be breathing a sigh of relief that that's finally done. (It is, isn't it?) Now a more fun deadline is coming up - April 30 is the last day to postmark entries in the Graceful Envelope contest [link no longer active], sponsored each year by the Washington Calligraphers Guild and the National Association of Letter Carriers. This year's theme is "Time Flies", and as usual there are categories for children as well as adults. Entry is free, and the contest is open to anyone in the world. Complete contest rules are on the site, which also has links to view past winners.

Got postcards?

April 9, 2011

Or postcard stamps? If you're mailing them from the U.S., you might want to do it this week, or you'll need to lay in a supply of 1¢ stamps. New prices taking effect next week will raise the price of mailing postcards by that much. Letters stay the same for an ounce, but extra ounces will now be 20¢ instead of 17¢, and letters to Canada are going up to 80¢. There are lots of other changes involving Media Mail, commercial mail, packages, etc. Check out the USPS charts [link no longer active] for a complete listing.

Pen-Friends: Extinct Community?

March 30, 2011

Why do pen friendships turn into e-mail friendships? We wonder that everytime we read a blog like this one [link no longer active]: the great fun of pen friendship, but now it's e-mail and texting. Does the ease of e-mail crowd out the fun of real mail? Is it the lure of new technology (progress!)? We disagree, though, that "the younger generation is not aware of it, and surely not interested in it." So, we imagine, would Student Letter Exchange [link no longer active], a program that's matched students with pen-pals for decades and currently claims over a quarter million names of students looking for pen-pals. Of course, some of these correspondences will turn electronic, but it seems likely many will go on to "flourish all across the world", as the blog-writer fondly remembers.

2011 letters

March 20, 2011

A homeschooling family is soliciting 2011 letters from all over the world as a way to learn about other people and how they live. With only 50 letters so far, they have a ways to go. But, wow, what great letters! Pictures of the letters and postcards they've received are on the 2011 Letters blog.

"A postcard is a slow-motion arrow"

March 11, 2011

Columnist Reg Henry, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, captures the postcard experience [link no longer active] wonderfully. You mail a postcard from Hawaii or Toronto or Bemidji to friends back home and it arrives days after you have returned home, like a message from the past. Counting on that delay, maybe you've even sent postcards to yourself.... we have!

Write Around the World

February 26, 2011

That's the title of an audio/video project by Glass Completely Empty Productions in the U.K., and Rae gives complete instructions on how to participate here [link no longer active]. She's looking for people who love to write letters, who've written articles or poems about letter-writing, or who just want to talk about the importance of letters in their lives. To be included, you need to e-mail Rae by Monday, February 28 (sorry for the short notice, we've just heard about this project this weekend). She'll then send you all the details.

Pen Collectors of America

February 22, 2011

Last October the Lex mail brought us three issues of The Pennant, the publication for members of the Pen Collectors of America. For many letter writers, pens and the mail are a natural pair, and the PCA agrees. The Fall 2009 issue had an article on a new partnership with the National Postal Museum, and the Summer 2010 issue described an event at the Museum, "Pens and the Post". You can learn more about the PCA on their web site,

Letters From Bill

February 10, 2011

Author Gloria O'Donnell shares her exchanges with former President Bill Clinton from Arkansas to the Presidency, in Letters From Bill: 20 Years of Correspondence With Bill Clinton [link no longer active]. "Enthralled by the young law professor, Gloria became a devoted political operative, assisting in Clinton's campaigns from the Arkansas governorship through two presidential elections. Along the way, despite hectic schedules and life problems, these two friends from Arkansas maintained regular correspondence."

Letters Aloud

January 22, 2011

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has an online exhibit of letters, Battle Lines: Letters from America's Wars [link no longer active]. Letters from generals, soldiers, sweethearts, and parents are organized by subjects like enlisting, love, and the end of war. Both audio and visual, the letters are read aloud as well as displayed. The letters - some more legible than others - can be viewed with an ingenious draggable box to see a transcription of the letter, line by line. In the related Legacy Project, people can submit letters or e-mails from current conflicts to become part of the Lehrman's collection. This project's attempt to save e-mail as well as letters is an interesting solution to the ephemeral nature of e-mail communication - not many people save it in a shoebox, tied up with ribbon.

The perfect thank you note

January 9, 2011

In an interview on National Public Radio, John Kralik, author of 365 Thank Yous The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life, recounts his grandfather's lesson on writing thank you notes -- when you send a thank you note, you get something good in return. During his year of daily thank yous, Kralik found that to be true. You can listen to the radio story online, read an excerpt from Kralik's book, and learn his 10 tips for writing the perfect thank you note -- the perfect note is handwritten, of course. "With a handwritten note, a piece of you will be in the same room with the person to whom you write."

No Return Address

January 1, 2011

No Return Address [link no longer active] is a short story written as letters in reply to postcards with no return address. In the story we read the letters written by a mother to a missing daughter. "Two months you've been missing, and now I get this. Just this. This postcard, with no return address, no note, just a postmark from Madrid, Spain, and your initials." The mother's letters display a range of emotions - angry, worried, matter-of-fact, humorous, reflective - as time passes and the communication remains one-sided: postcards with no return address and letters that can't be sent.

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