4-4-4: Four Weeks, Four Topics, Four Notes

Building a snail mail relationship through (random) swapping isn’t always easy.  Quite frequently, I receive from or send to a person knowing we won’t hear from each other again until years later when one of us is randomly selected as the other’s partner again. In some cases, never.

A couple of years ago I hosted a four-week, four notes photography swap to deal with this problem.  The swap, called 4-4-4, invited participants to select four topics from a list of 12 and send one photo representing each of the four chosen topics to their partners every week for four weeks. The photo was just one part of the swap.  Swappers also had to make the photo part of a letter, notecard, or postcard in which they explained or provided details about the photo, technique, inspiration, or the story behind the photo.

This was one of the best swaps for me. I really got to know my partners. I learned about their photography styles, their families, their careers, their personal philosophies, and more.

I decided to host the swap again.  This time my partner was Diane of A Focused Journey, Midteacher on swap-bot.  Diane and I communicate regularly through swaps and “random acts of mail,” but I learned a lot more about her life and her creative work.

Diane’s chosen topics were beauty, color, alone, and fragrant.  Take a look:

Week 1: Beauty

Outside of “Beauty” Card by Diane, Midteacher on swap-bot

“Beauty” by Diane, Midteacher on swap-bot

The “beauty” photo features a weeping pine that sits outside Diane’s kitchen window. She fell in love with its unusual form when she saw it in a friend’s garden.  She, then, took on additional work at a local nursery to purchase the tree.

She especially loves how the raindrops form on the tips of the needles, so the theme “beauty” is appropriate for the photo.

Diane sent oversize postcards for weeks two and three.

Week 2: Color

“Color” by Diane, Midteacher on swap-bot

The scan doesn’t capture the colors in this postcard very well.  The postcard features a photo of “clouds in color” that Diane duplicated in the background she created for the photo. She captured the photo one afternoon when the sun was “sending rays of beautiful colors as the clouds were moving across the sky.”  She wrote that she must have taken 30+ shots trying to capture the light and color.

Though I’m sure this was not Diane’s intention, I like how the quote underscores the selection of this photo–it’s not perfect in the eyes of the shooter, but it is a wonderful image.

Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

Week 3: Alone

“Alone” by Diane, Midteacher on swap-bot

The theme isn’t obvious on this one.  The yellow tulips hold a dear place in Diane’s heart.  She had a pretty difficult autumn one year.  The school that she loved and where she taught was closed due to budget cuts, and she was sent to a school that was challenging or “hellish,” as she describes it.  Then her son, a marine, was deployed to Afghanistan.  While out shopping and downcast, she found yellow tulip bulbs on clearance.  It was past planting time, but she bought all three bags and planted them.  The following spring, the tulips bloomed beautifully bringing her joy.  Eventually, her son returned home safe and sound.

She writes in sum:

I felt alone that fall, but every spring these tulips remind me otherwise!

Week 4: Fragrant

I  was almost sad when I saw the week four envelope.  It meant our weekly exchange had come to an end, but when I opened the envelope, I smiled from ear to ear. Sunflowers! Such a beautiful and appropriate ending to our swap.

These brightly colored flowers–miniature carnations and sunflowers–posed brilliantly on the island in Diane’s kitchen. The fragrance filled the air and greeted her each morning and as she passed throughout the day.

Diane can’t know how much I appreciate her for sending three different versions of the photo–the original and two edits.  They now have homes on my inspiration wall at home and at work!

As I mentioned many times before, I admire the way Diane works her photos into mixed media art.  Although we have very different approaches to photographic art, she and I share a mutual appreciation for each other’s work and we learn a lot from each other.  We often share tips and ideas, and because of my curiosity about how she crafts her photos, she recently recommended a book on photographic journaling techniques.  It’s on my list for the summer.

Look forward to my “trial and error” mixed media posts in the next few weeks.

Until then…

Have a happy mail day!

Happy Mail from Bunny Bear Press!

Happy Mail from Bunny Bear Press

Happy Mail from Bunny Bear Press

I just returned from a wonderful trip to New Orleans (more on that later) to find a gorgeous package in my mailbox from Bunny Bear Press. Adina, the owner, sent the package as a “thank you” for my letting her know about a glitch with her signup link.  Totally unnecessary, but who am I to refuse happy mail?

Take a closer look at the gorgeousness.  [Click an image for a closer look].

Beautiful, right?

Each card was designed and handprinted by Adina.  I don’t usually buy greeting cards for birthdays and such–I make my own–but the high quality and uniqueness of her cards urge me to support Bunny Bear Press.

I ❤ Adina even more because of her drive to get women to write more letters. She recently started the Pen Gals Club (#thePenGals) to encourage women to write letters and send snail mail to their gal pals instead of using texting and social media to communicate–even those jokes, anecdotes, and little tidbits of information we’re prone to share.  As much as I love snail mail and contribute to the volume of mail winging its way through the USPS, I usually simply call or text my closest gal pals.  So I decided to accept the challenge. The day I signed up, I wrote my bestie a letter, included some inspirational goodies, and prettied up the envelope; she was so thrilled, she dubbed me “The Creative, Feel Good, Pretty Snail Mail Wonder Woman!” Pretty impressive title, eh?

If you’re interested in the Pen Gals Club, you can sign up by clicking the link. Adina has all sorts of plans and goodies for those of us who sign up.  After signup, she sends an information packed email and weekly newsletters filled with snail mail inspiration. I’m so excited that, as I plan my schedule for the academic year, I’m building time in to write letters and notes to my closest friends.  They’re worth it.

Until next time…

Write more letters…

Bunny Bear Press Contacts

Bunny Bear Press Contact Info

[Note: I realize this must sound like a paid advertisement, but it isn’t.  I’m simply excited about snail mail: good snail mail and great ideas about snail mail must be shared!]

Nine Little Pockets Full of Happy

Few things make me giddier than unexpected mail from a friend or an immediate written reply to a personal letter.  I went on a letter-writing spree late last month.  I expected to hear from no one any time soon.  But within a week of my sending her a letter, my penfriend Beth wrote back. She didn’t send “just” a letter, but a pocket letter.  Now, in case you haven’t heard, pocket letters are the latest snail mail craze.  I’ve done six since I learned about them late winter/early spring.  Two of my colleague-friends and I tried them out on each other first (see their first pocket letters near the end of the post).

Traditionally, pocket letters are put together using nine-pocket trading card protectors.  I make mine with Project Life pocket pages. I prefer the larger “canvas” and the various shapes and sizes to work with.  Besides, I have boxes of PL pages screaming to be used.

Pocket letters have been “popularized” by Janette Lane.  On her blog, she provides instructions, tips, templates, and even a video for putting them together. You can insert into the nine little pockets anything that will fit, but the “letter” is a must for one of the pockets.  Enough chat.  Here’s the pocket letter:

My Very Pink Pocket Letter

My Very Pink Pocket Letter from Beth

 

Pink, sparkly, and cheerful!  And that’s just the front…

The Back of My Pocket Letter from Beth

The Back of My Pocket Letter from Beth

It is typical to stash items in the back of the pocket letter, so Beth tucked lots of fun goodies inside–tiny stickers and embellishments I plan to use in my planners and for making ATCs.  Besides the letter, there are really no strict “requirements,” but I don’t think I’ve seen a pocket letter yet that didn’t contain a factory sealed tea bag.

Here’s a closer look at the items tucked into the pockets:

Fun stuff!

But the best part of the pocket letter is…you guessed it! The letter!  Beth wrote a nice long letter and used stationery recycled from leftover journal pages–something I also do with my leftover journal pages!  I loved all the quotes and insights printed on the pages.

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Interesting side note about the “do not follow” quote: It is usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, not T.S. Eliot.  Investigation time!

The cool thing about pocket letters is that they fold neatly into a business envelope–or in the case of the ones I make, an A7 envelope–and placed in the mail.  I reinforce the edges with strong washi tape or clear packing tape. They usually cost between $1.50-2.00 to mail (USA domestic).

Here are pics of the first pocket letters I received [click an image for a closer look]:

We’ve all improved tremendously since our first pocket letters!

Pocket letters are a fun way to share more than a letter with a friend or relative. Instead of dropping photos, tips, inspirational material, etc. into an envelope with a letter, you can incorporate all of those things into a unique and personalized pocket page.  They take a little more planning than letter-in-envelope, but they make attractive and unexpected gifts.

Try one out today!

 

Letters!

Yesterday was “blah.”  I struggled through the day.  The sun fought bravely for a moment, so I opened my curtains to let the light in fully.  I normally work with only natural light in my office, so I figure having to turn the lights on contributed to my malaise.  The sun’s dominance was short-lived.

My mood suddenly turned bright when I arrived home to find four wonderful pieces of “real” mail waiting for me in the mailbox.  My heart jumped for joy!

First a postcard for “Superhero PC Swap #1” from “namelessgirl” (that’s her actual swap-bot name).

Action Comics No.419, December 1972 | Artists: Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson, DC Comics

Action Comics No. 419 |December 1972| Artists: Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson, DC Comics

She writes that she loves all things superhero and she just finished reading the book Super Gods by Grant Morrison.

My partner’s favorite superhero is Batman, so I sent her two postcards:

Detective Comics No. 587 |June 1988| Artist: Norm Breyfogle, DC Comics

Superhero Swap-1 Sent 01-23-15

Detective Comics No. 38 |April 1940| Artists: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, DC Comics

I also received lists of fairytales, myths, and folklore from Pynart, who hosted the swap “I Still Believe in 398.2,” the Dewey Decimal number for folk literature.  Swappers were supposed to send three lists–cherished fairytales, myths, and folklore.

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I love the “Puss in Boots” envelope.  I’m still working on making my too-long lists manageable, and I plan to include one of the lesser known tales with the letter to my partner. Shhh…don’t tell.

I received not one, but two letters from Artybeth, one of my pen friends and a “Christian Friend” on swap-bot.

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This first one was for a Christian Friends swap, “Spiritual Goals 2015.”  We were to share our spiritual goals in a letter and place an encouraging scripture on the outside of the envelope. As usual, Artybeth enclosed extra goodies–more washi tape samples for me! I really like getting samples with swaps.  I usually  get samples of washi tape that I don’t have–there are so many great ones!  But what I really like is that they’re flat and fit anywhere, so they’re perfect for journaling and letter writing on the go!

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The second one was just because…Well, really, in response to a letter I’d written to her back in November.  Again, she enclosed cute extras.  I’m loving the vintage typewriter and Snoopy happy with a letter; this is probably what I looked like after leaving the mailbox.

Well, I’m off to respond to letters and start my list of individuals to write during “Month of Letters 2015”–a letter, notecard, postcard, happy mail into the world every day.

Wishing you a happy mail day…

Getting Through the CraZieS: part ii

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A few days ago, I shared my friend Beckra’s strategies for surviving the super-stressful moments in life. A day or two later than promised,  I’m sharing some of the suggestions I offered her:

  • Photo Walk. Take a walk…with your camera.  You saw this one coming. Right? My camera has saved my sanity so many times that I’ve lost count.

When things get a bit crazy, I grab my camera and take a walk. There’s always something new to capture, always something to take my mind off  present matters or help me see them clearly. Of course, going for a walk is a good way to decompress–even without the camera.

  • Inspiration Wall. Create an “inspiration wall” or bulletin board.  In my “old” office at work, I had a “wall of inspiration” of writers who inspire me. I also had another space that was filled with beautiful images and words. Since these are not suitable for my current office, I am “relocating” my walls to my home office. The images not only inspire me but they also remind me that though we struggle, there’s something much larger operating and something grander falling into place.
  • Doodle. Take out your pens or sharpies and doodle (or paint or draw).  I used to think that writing (journaling) was my best stress reliever or survival strategy. However, when my sister died last year, my grief was larger than words, and I found myself choking back the bile, grief, the utter disappointment. Doodling helped tremendously–even if I doodled just one word or around a word or phrase. I found that doodling can be just as effective in relieving stress as writing. Bonus: I think doodling is improving my drawing.  If you’ve been following long enough, you know I am not an artist, but my hubby pointed out that I am improving. Woohoo!
  • Scissors, Tape, Glue.  Cut something.  Tape something. Glue something.  My finding this relaxing surely has something to doUntitled with using my hands. I usually carry a crafting pouch with me. It contains stickers, glue, pretty pens, card stock, washi tape, and pretty paper to make envelopes and/or write letters, a few postcards. Scissors are a must, because something about the repetition of cutting is so relaxing and calming (well, for me).

My little one gave me a wonderful crafting bag for Christmas last year–he filled it with washi tape and stickers. I have it already packed with 12×12 scrapbooking paper and a “We are Memory Keepers” envelope maker–ready for my long and stressful days. The cutting, measuring, scoring, folding and gluing–sure stress relief. Bonus: pretty envelopes to share and for mailing.

  • A “Distant” Shoulder. Lean on someone detached from your situation.  Just about all of my closest friends are academicians and it’s so easy to pick up the phone and call one of them when I face certain challenges. However, when I’m in over-stressed, crisis mode re: work, it’s beneficial to turn to someone who isn’t experiencing the same stressors. Sometimes we need more than someone to commiserate. We need a different perspective to help us see the larger picture.
  • Lists. Make lists.  I’ve always been a lister in one way or another, but just last fall I rediscovered listing in a whole new way. I’ve become a list journaler and I’m discovering so much about myself in the process. I’ve been transforming my lists into beautiful documents that reflect my inner and outer life. I’ve been embellishing them with doodles, washi tape, scrapbooking paper and elements and my own photography. I think my son will have quite a few beautiful journals to treasure.

Lists can be writtUntitled 2en anywhere–in a coffee shop, at work, in a meeting, even at church (shhh…don’t tell)–in a notebook, on scrap paper, or even on a napkin.  You can list anything–what is frustrating you at the moment; what is working; what isn’t working; ways to handle a crisis moment, etc.

  • Change Your View. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand, take a moment to turn around (or look up) and gaze elsewhere.
  • The Four Agreements. Exercise Don Miguel Ruiz’s “the four agreements”–Be impeccable with your word.  Don’t take things personally.  Don’t make assumptions.  Always do your best.

Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is a work of genius. I’ve had the agreements memorized since I read his book at the recommendation of a good friend many years ago; they’ve gotten me through some rough spots. I remind myself of the second agreement, “Don’t take things personally,” almost daily.

  • Laugh. Find something humorous and laugh out loud. It really works!
  • Scripture Recall.  Memorize and meditate over biblical scriptures.   This is one of my standard methods for dealing with the crazies, especially those situations that unsettle me immediately.  I have a number of “go to” Bible verses that I recall in stressful situations.  I typically combine “scripture recall” with some of the other methods listed above.

That’s it for now.  I hope you’ve found something in this post and the previous post to help you get through the super-stressful moments.Untitled 2_3

Note:  All the photos in this post were taken on my iPhone. These are “Alex’s Flowers.” Alex is a wonderful person who I met just a few months ago.  She celebrated her birthday October 9, exactly one week after mine.  🙂 She received dozens of flowers on her birthday, and I managed to get in a few shots before she whisked them away.   They’re so bright and cheerful!

 

 

“A Few of My Favorite Things”

What do you do with the “leftover,” extra photos cluttering your workspace or filling boxes?  Do you toss them?  Repurpose them?  Give them away?  One of the things I enjoy doing with my extra photos is “destashing” them through Sharp Shooters, a group on swap-bot.  I typically host a “destash” swap quarterly, so Sharp Shooters can “unload” their extras on someone who can use them.  The swaps typically call for “destashing” at least 5-7 different photos and swappers can send the photos “as is” or make notecards, postcards or collages with them before sending them to their partners.

Maggie, “an Australian gal,” sent an amazing package of 30 photos!  She went way beyond expectation and thoughtfully selected photos with a few of my favorite things in mind–water, nature, and the color pink.  These just happen to be some of her favorites as well.  She packaged each set separately in self-made envelopes with a bit of explanation on one side and washi tape on the other.

I bet you can guess from the washi tape colors which set of photos each envelope held.

All the water photos were taken around various beaches in and around Melbourne, Victoria, with the exception of the cute duck. The duck was taken at the lake of the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Maggie admits being “addicted to the water,” so it’s one of her favorite things to capture on camera.

Most of the nature photos were taken around her neighborhood during the spring and summer.  Some were “staged” shots in her home.

Maggie “loves pink…it’s as simple as that!”  For her, finding pink flowers to photograph is a pleasure, so she sent many beautiful pink flowers. She also included a seahorse skeleton her sister found at the beach many years ago.  The skeleton isn’t pink, but the background is.

I have so many plans for Maggie’s photos!  Some are headed for the “Wall of Inspiration” in my “work” office, and others will find a home in my 2014 Project Life album.

Maggie is a design student and has an Etsy shop where she sells some of her fine art prints and notecards.  If you love her photos and want to see more, check out her store.

For now…enjoy!