Sunday, May 31, 2020

Bonus Post -- Long and off topic

Be sure to scroll down and enjoy Chuck's snowman.

First a link to some lovely artwork - especially for the mathy and geometric people. And then a long article in case you need to kill time.

Below is a long article for people who have plenty of time to kill. The pandemic is not the same experience for everyone. I continue to have my ups and downs - and I am grateful for the side conversations that I have with my penpals. Several people have let me know that they enjoy my daily chatter. I'll be keeping the format the same - but might tuck in some extras here and there for those of us who are hunkered down and noticing some weird side effects.
My ability to figure out what day it was - every single day over the past week - was a bit concerning. And today - on my computer - the part where it has the day and time at the top is entirely missing.
That is just plain weird.
Or ominous.

The article is from a NYTimes newsletter - and I can't find it on their website to post a link - 
so I did a copy-paste.
If they ask me to delete it, I will.

The First Winter
by Max Fisher

When people ask me, How long this will go on? How can we possibly endure it? How will it change us? — questions that we’re all asking one another, and ourselves, as the weeks stretch into months — I tell them about a conversation I had with a man named Velibor Božović.

Talking to him made me feel better in a way that nothing else has. He offered something that no guide to living your best quarantine life, or write-up of scientists’ best predictions for the coming year, or escapist Netflix binge, or even an affection-filled group video chat could.

Mr. Božović was able to tell me, more convincingly and to a more detailed degree than anything else I’ve read or heard, what we are in for emotionally. What this time will feel like and how it will change our thoughts, our behaviors, and our relationships.

Because he has been through it.

He was 25 and living in his mother’s apartment when the siege of Sarajevo, the mountain-ringed capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, began in April 1992.

Hostile forces surrounded the city, cutting off its 425,000 or so residents from the outside world, intermittently terrorizing them with mortars, sniper fire and more.

Sarajevo was frozen in a state of low-level violence for three years and 10 months — the longest siege in modern history. Danger lurked on every street corner. Work grew scarce. Restaurants, theaters and parks sat empty as people sheltered at home. In all, some 5,400 civilians — about 1.3 percent of the population — were killed.

“All of a sudden the world around you has disappeared,” Mr. Božović remembered, drawing a parallel with life today. “Daily life has changed abruptly and drastically.”

Even if violence flared only sporadically, the fear was always there, he said. Much as someone living today in New York, Milan or London might encounter death intermittently and mostly secondhand but still feel stalked by ever-present danger.

“If you walk out on the street, you didn’t know if you were going to come back,” he said.

But when I asked him about that time, it wasn’t fear that came to Mr. Božović’s mind. It was, to my surprise, joy.

“When I remember the siege now, I always remember the good moments,” he said. “We had some fun. Because otherwise we would all go completely mad.”

He got to know the neighbors in his apartment building. People pitched in and helped one another in ways they hadn’t during peacetime. When it was safe, he’d sneak around town to meet friends for a beer. He and his girlfriend, who was living with him in his mother’s apartment, got married there.

One of his most cherished possessions from that time, a faded photo of him and some friends playing pool in a candlelit apartment, still sits on his mantle in Montreal, where he now lives.

“I don’t remember being desperate,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is life. OK. Let’s do something with this as much as we can.’”

Mr. Božović is not as unusual as you might think. Memoirs and testimonies from survivors of the siege often dwell on warm memories to a degree that suggests something deeper than just a desire to find moments of tolerability amid suffering.

A variation of Mr. Božović’s pool-by-candlelight memory is nearly ubiquitous among survivors. If the electricity was working, a few family members or friends would gather to watch a movie on VHS, then debate it over coffee or beer. The pastime grew so widespread that it produced a generation of film aficionados who, once the siege lifted, made Sarajevo the home of a still-renowned film festival.

I asked Mr. Božović how he found the resilience to live in the moment, how he not only survived but thrived, and what the rest of us might learn.

His answer has stuck with me more than anything else from our conversation. For the first months, he said, he didn’t thrive and he wasn’t resilient.

That came only once the part of him that longed for normalcy, that planned for the future, that aspired to control his circumstances had been broken.

“It was the first winter when you realize this is going to last,” he said. “And you realize that this is your life.”

He accepted that he could not control his circumstances, much less the forces of life and death. And he accepted that everything he associated with the word “normal” was gone; better to forget it than to pine for it.

“It’s not that you stop hoping. You just try to make the best of the situation around you,” he continued. “It’s a gradual thing, subconsciously, it takes some time. After some time, you find yourself living. This is the way of life.”

The danger had not receded, he said, “but at some point you stop thinking about it, and the moments you have, you try to enjoy as much as you can.”

I’d heard a version of this from other survivors of wars and deadly epidemics. The political scientist Dipali Mukhopadhyay described Afghans, and herself, learning to cope with war by surrendering the sense of control — the illusion of control, really — that most of us find essential to getting through the day.

“It’s an assumption that you have no idea how things are going to be tomorrow,” said Dr. Mukhopadhyay, “and something terrible probably happened yesterday. And that’s liberating but it’s paralyzing. It can do so many things to you.”

Letting go of the future can be painful. Mr. Božović remembers his parents’ generation, many of whom had spent a lifetime saving for a better life, struggling with that loss.

“My mother was sitting at home and probably crying half the time, completely desperate,” he said. “She was stuck at home for four years. Not really going out or doing anything. Partially because of the location, it was really dangerous, as soon as you get out of the house you are exposed to snipers. She had a few friends in the building that she would have coffees with. We had a dog for half of it but then the dog died. That was a big blow for my mom, when the dog died.”

He feels the pain of isolation more today than he did during the siege, he said. He sometimes sees his son, who lives away from home, but they avoid hugging.

“I even miss my dentist, of all people, probably the person I hate the most,” he joked.

I asked him whether the changes in how he thought and felt stayed with him after the siege. Were we all going to be terrified of crowds and theaters for life? Or would we rush back gratefully to our longed-for normalcy?

It was a question, he said, that he got often from friends in Canada.

“Four years is a long time,” he said. “You don’t really remember what normal is. So you start building it from scratch.”

Still, he said, the end of the siege brought a kind of euphoria. People immediately, and eagerly, embraced long-forbidden joys. A walk in the park. A packed market.

“I really fondly remember that first year or two,” he said.

But the anxieties he had learned in order to survive persisted. Did he find himself hesitating before stepping onto the street in front of his building, one that snipers had once made into a place of mortal peril?

“I don’t think I walked that street for months,” he said. “That lingers, that stays, and I’m sure that’s going to be the same now.”

Other habits stuck around longer.

“Even today, we still don’t waste any food. We had been hungry for a long time. Habits change,” he said. “You change.”

Mr. Božović’s guesses as to how we might change from the pandemic are, he stressed, just guesses. But I was still eager to hear them: He’d seen firsthand, albeit in different circumstances, which sorts of quirks and anxieties dissipate, and which ones stick around.

“Handshakes are gone. And hugs, for a long time. But not forever,” he said.

He said he suspected that discomfort with crowds might dampen attendance at large events, like sports games and theaters, for years to come.

“I can’t imagine how that’s going to go back, and when,” he said. “I think that anxiety will linger for a long time, and it will change how people interact for a long time. Maybe forever.”

Later in our conversation, Mr. Božović said that the resilience and warmth of his memories from the siege, and the euphoria that followed, while real, had masked something deeper.

“In 2006, I fell apart. It was some kind of PTSD,” he said. “I guess after I settled down, it punished me for the past.”

It’s possible, he conceded, that while the good memories had been real, he’d been unconsciously filtering out the bad ones.

“But the bad memories are deep down,” he said. “They send you to the emergency room sometimes.”

And that was an important lesson, too, he said: “We’re all going to live with this somehow. I don’t know how those anxieties will translate, but they’ll be there.”

Confronting those bad memories, though, hasn’t lessened the power of the good ones for him. And that’s what most stuck with me. Mr. Božović is fully conscious of the terrible things he saw and went through. The bombed-out buildings, the endless cycles of death and mourning, the poverty and hunger.

But he is still choosing, now as he did then, to cultivate joyful memories. That photo of the candlelit pool game is still on his mantle, and it’s still where his mind goes when you ask him about living through one of the worst conflicts of the late 20th century.

That didn’t come cheaply for him. He had to give up on normalcy, on the future, even on control over life and death in order to cope. But, even decades later, and preparing himself to go through another prolonged period of isolation and anxiety, he feels good about how he managed to get by. And that made me feel better, too.

“We are incredibly capable to adapt to any kind of situation,” he said. “No matter how bad it is, you adapt. You live your life as best you can.”


If you are in the mood to read more - I have my own connection to people from Bosnia. Iowa has a long tradition of welcoming refugees from Asia, Africa, South America and Europe. When my kids were in 1st grade, 5th grade and 8th grade, there was a wave of new students from Bosnia. We were told at the time that many of them had run from burning houses with only the clothes on their backs. Bosnian families in general did very well at settling in to the community. It's too bad that there is no way to publicize the stories of refugees being welcomed and becoming part of a diverse and reasonable community. I'm not trying to sway any opinions - but, I do feel like it is easier to understand the value of helping people rebuild their lives, if you live in a neighborhood where you see that it actually works and does not diminish the *locals.*

Now go look at Chuck's snowman. 

And prepare for winter.

Snowman from Chuck

Chuck's envelope.

 It is April 1, 2020 - I am lining up a bunch of posts - but not in the mood to write the blurbs. Plus, we are in the thick of the pandemic and every day things change. So, if things settle down, I might be able to replace this with some fun words. Otherwise -- just enjoy the envelope(s) of the day.

Now it is April 24th.
I really like the snow and the stamp.
The mood of the day is borderline dismal.

Now it is May 2.
There was a different sentence here - but I had to switch this post with the one notifying you of Sam's death. So now this one is out of order within a grouping where they probably made more sense if they were in order, but now they are not.

We are taking *embrace the chaos* to a whole new level.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Cookie Monster from KateR

I already warned Kate that I was going to steal this idea. 
It's still April 1, as I write this.
We are in the phase of every day being wildly different and not looking good at all. 
Maybe when we read this - there will be a sigh of relief that we are over the worst of it.


May 28 update
Earlier this month I posted about half the birthday mailings that my pen pals sent to Viola. On May 3rd - Viola had tested positive for covid. She is in a very nice facility that was very quick to take precautions, so it was a bit of a shock to find out that a staff member had tested positive which is what prompted testing of residents.
Obviously, this was distressing - and I hesitated to say anything on the blog.
For anyone who just tuned in, Viola is my brother's mother-in-law and we just observed her 100th birthday in February. There will be more birthday mailing posted in coming weeks.

She been under quarantine - and only seeing staff members who are in head to toe hazmat.
Happily - today she was released from solitary confinement -- and is soooo happy.

Friday, May 29, 2020

From NancyL to Sam in April

I'm sure Sam was happy to find this in her mailbox. It is from Nancy L who exchanged once or twice quite a while ago and then popped up again when we all went on lockdown. I wonder what stamp she used? I recall someone in the April exchange asking how upset I would be to see flag stamps - and I assured that person that I would not freak out about flag stamps. I appreciated that they were even aware that I have probably been snarky about flag stamps. At least the bright blue would be nice with a flag stamp.

I tried to find an earlier posting of an envelope from NancyL, but there are so many Nancys on the blog, I was not able to spot hers.

BIG THANK YOU to Nancy for sending me images to post. (Written Apr 14)

Now it is May 25
While looking for something else, I found the email thread from the very first time Sam signed up to exchange. It was in a folder labeled Pen Pals.

At first we just went over the details of how the exchange worked - you send 5 and receive 5 - only about half are calligraphers, the rest are drawing, collage, rubber stamping, whatever.

And then she responded:

variety IS the spice of life....
this is so exciting 4 me! u have no idea!! (i'll fill u in on my situation @ some point)... especially since I've done about 70 envelops 4 others thru the years & only have received 2 back (& both were from kids...oh, how i love their creativity!....btw, i was just checking out the forever stamps on USPS website so can work on streamlining things, as i tend 2 gravitate toward using more vintage stamps...& be still my heart! an abstract art dream!...did u c these, coming soon?? these excite me 2 no end..... Ellsworth Kelly Stamp |

From the very beginning, I knew how much she was going to love the exchange. We will sure miss her - but her words should remind us how uplifting mail can be. It's wonderful that she found us after sending all those envelopes and not getting anything back.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Vintage stamps in blue from Grace E and Lauren (March)

Grace said her bubbles looked like olives. Yes, they do.
Someday I should do a video on how to make rounder circles. It's easy to lapse into ovals because of our natural penmanship. To make circles, you need to get the tip of your tool up on its tippy toes and then hold your fingers and wrist in a fixed position and rotate your whole arm in a circle. This will obliterate the oval. Dang. No video needed. That is a perfect word picture. I hope someone tries it and then sends me a wildly excited email telling me that I have changed their life.

Lauren included this card.
She's maintaining a positive outlook.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bonus post - USPS Philatelic magazine/catalog

Today's regular post is right below this one.

I didn't want anyone to miss the update on yesterday's post where Leslie left a comment that she has ordered stamps online - but never received one of the catalogs.

I Googled and found where you can request one for free.
So -- hopefully those of you who are interested can receive one.
They are printed on nice paper - which is a plus if you like to make your own envelopes.
The paper is very slick - so you have to be careful about attaching labels - some adhesives do not work very well on slick paper.
And -- as we all know slick paper is not friendly to some of the inks, pens and markers that we like.

Here is a recent envelope from Inta. It is handmade.
It is always fun to see stamps from other countries. My favorite on this envelope is the one second from the right - where the book is like a tent.

Finn's faux Master's Thesis

I try to refrain from bragging about how I turned Finnbadger into an artist. I'm not sure exactly what he was prior to being an artist, but he assured me that he had never been an artist. Someday, I should submit our story to This American Life. I think Ira would find our story fascinating.

I think Janet will agree that this is one fine dinosaur.
He has paired it down to just the essentials and done just enough anthropomorphizing to resolve the truly unfortunate proportions of the T Rex. 

I don't know if people who get a masters in art do a thesis or not. Finn has had his faux bachelor's degree in fine art for a while. I should probably find out if he traced this or not. If he did, he does not get the master's. But if he did it by eye - then he gets his master's. Sadly, that's as far as you get to go in drawing. I think the only PhD you can get in art is in art history. I could be wrong. I certainly don't have time to research. But if anyone else does -- please share with us.

I took time to research and apparently you can get PhDs in fine art - but there is probably a catch.
I might do more research - but it would be nice if someone else just gave us the details.

Also, Finn, if you just did this out of your head without looking at anything - please tell me.
It qualifies for the PhD.
Unless you want to be the kind of artist who shuns degree programs.
They have some pretty compelling arguments for why art does not belong on a traditional campus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

BONUS post - scroll down for today's post - USPS Catalog

Be sure to scroll down to Janet's envelope - it is today's regular post - below this one.

This is a response to MEJAKA - who left a question in a comment.

She is wondering about the catalog I mentioned. I thought I might shoot a video of me flipping through the pages, but I have had some difficulties with technology - so here are some still photos.

I think you can request a catalog online - maybe not - but you could at one time. If you order stamps online, I think they put you on the list and then in the following quarter, you get one in the mail. BigHelpfulBrother always orders his stamps online and always gets a catalog. I recently ordered and I got one. If you do not order any more online, I think they drop your name. It's a really nice catalog.

Now -- here's the thing that will get some of you all hopped up on stamp-addiction symptoms:

I see that they are offering both Have A Ball and Ellsworth Kelly stamps. Does this mean you can still get them? I don't know. I do know that those two are not on the website. So -- I don't know what to say. I guess I could try ordering them using the hard copy form in the catalog and see what happens. 

If you want me to try ordering for you -- please send a request - 
and depending on how many requests there are -- I might try ordering some.

The hard copy order form is on the right.

T Rex from Janet

This one cracked me up. Happy St Pat-t-rex Day. And then the note inside was full of grandkid cuteness. Janet's grandson knew that his grandma would want dinosaur stamps. Janet says she does not draw dinosaurs. I know Janet was just having a senior moment. She has not drawn enough dinosaurs to have them in her head. However -- if she immersed herself in dinosaur images, I am certain she would come up with some adorable dinosaurs. She can draw anything. If you have learned to draw - you can draw anything. But, sometimes, you get stumped because you are not crazy about the overall shape and you just need to do a little surfing. If I needed to draw a dinosaur, I would surf and find something like this and then I would be wildly excited to draw dinosaurs. If I was just looking at the stamps, I would be stumped.

99% of the images online are not ones I would want to use for inspiration. But these are pretty good. The T Rex needs some alterations. There is also a really good font at that has some nice dinosaurs that look like kids drew them.

This T Rex is better -- but the eyes on all of these need some alteration.

Monday, May 25, 2020

From Chuck and Anthea

I thought these two were very pretty together.
Chuck's above has a lovely cancel

Anthea's, below, made me want to go out and pick up leaves and paint them.
I guess I should send the suggestion to my daughter who is in the midst of sequestration with her kids (4 and 6) and I already know they love to paint.

I just looked up that word - sequestration. I only knew it as a term for juries. Sequestering the jury. I did not find any definition that related it to juries. But, I like it and I am going to use it, even if I am not using it correctly because nobody is paying any attention to me. Except for the 300 people who check my blog daily. Or maybe there are only the 30 who exchange with me -- and you each check 10 times a day. I sincerely hope it is the former.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

From Leslie - St. Patrick's x 2

A delightful St Patrick's Day envelope from Leslie. Perfect style of lettering with that stamp. It's a Speedball - I don't remember the specific number - they are big and round - and I have some. The postmark is a special one from St. Patrick, MO. How cool is that? There was a fun card inside and a bonus envelope. I really enjoy the notes that Leslie encloses because she shares her thought  process. I think she can tell that I do the same kind of *thinking* when I make envelopes. I can't decide if I should share what she says - it seems like a personal note to me. If you think I am a little *out there* the way I nit pick at things, reading Leslie's notes would let you know that *out there* is inhabited by at least two of us. Or maybe we are perfectly mainstream -- and others are *out there*

Saturday, May 23, 2020

JeanR and Smash - E Kelly Blue Arrows

My Feb envelopes from JeanR (above) and SueM. Jean included a lovely card with my initial.
Today is the first day that I have done any posts for a reeeeeaaallly long time. I'm not feeling chatty at all. If I do not come back and make this into a better post I'm sure it is because times are difficult and or unpredictable. I'll refrain from saying more about the situation. For now.

Blue and bright green on white is such a refreshing combination.

5:30 am (today - May 23)
I forgot to check this one - it sounds dismal.
Not that everything is resolved - this is just a p.s. to add an ambiguous up-note.
There has been a ton of fabulous mail arriving - so we have that to look forward to.
My exchangers are wonderful people. I put out a request for an extra mailing -- and it's been very well received. Details to follow.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Watermelon from Leslie to RachaelT

This is uch a fun idea from Leslie. It could be applied to any wedge shaped food. Pie, pizza, other fruit.

The flag stamp gives it a 4th of July feel. The new Celebrate stamps would be fun. I am writing this on Feb 13 - and those stamps are not out yet. I should start ordering stamps online. That way, they send them to you the minute they are released.

It's probably time to repeat the info about the very cool publication that you get when you order stamps by mail. It's glossy and free -- and a little bit concerning about the expense it must take to produce it and the resources. But, it might be better to order stamps online rather than driving around town trying to find the ones you want.

I wish I had time to shoot a video of me flipping through the pages. Maybe I can get that done.

May 11 - nope - no videos of me flipping through a catalogue - but I am trying to post some videos for two people who expressed an interest in learning how to write with a ruling writer. I am adding them to the tab that says *videos.* You'll need to scroll down. Blogger only lets me load 30 sec videos. I can post longer ones on Vimeo - but there is a limit to how many I can upload on Vimeo. I suppose I could start my own YouTube channel. I think I did that one time -- but have misplaced the name I used. I guess I could start over with a new name......

If you are looking for the video tab and you are on a phone, you need to go to a web view.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Random orphan envelope to Janet and mask babbling

Today, May 12th, I am confused. THe details of my confusion are seriously boring so I will just add an envelope to this one.

Today, I finally saw what I have been expecting to find - the best origami folded mask pattern.

It took me a while to perfect a cloth mask pattern that involved origami folds rather than pleats. Sewing pleats was dreadful. 

Here is one I made for a dear friend who loves blue and white. I asked her if she needed a custom mask and she said she had a triangular piece of fabric that she had been using *bandit style.* She sent the fabric to me and I fashioned it into a regular mask. 

When she sent the photo, she said -- You can't tell, but I'm smiling.
And then, when I had my son take a mask to his girlfriend, Rainbow, I had a text from Rainbow with this photo and she wrote the exact same thing... You can't tell but I'm smiling.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Champagne etc from Leslie

Leslie was thinking of saving the champagne bottles for New Years, but then decided to observe Mr Wilson's birthday and the blog's anniversary - back in February.

She mentioned that the name George is a fun name to write and I agree. Then she said she wasn't all that happy with how the lettering came out on the envelope because of the slick paper. I know exactly what she means. But, I'm glad she sent it along, even though it wasn't exactly what she had in mind. We appreciate the reminder that it's not the content, it's the process. We are supposed to be puttering at our desks to balance all the chores/tasks/obligations that will eat up all our time and good humor if we let it.

Thank you for the reminder, Leslie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

First Celebrate stamps to Donna + Faye

This was my first idea for the celebrate stamp. It seemed like a good idea to do a variation of the grid/heart/love stamp idea that I loved-loved-loved. Sadly, it is disappointing.

The next idea was to take an image of the stamp and print it on a piece of paper and make an envelope.

I'm expecting some better ideas to pop up. Although, Sam sent one for me to give to my daughter on her 40th birthday and it's wonderful. I have not decided when I will post my daughter's mail.

Oh, on Faye's, I made blank dots to cover up the letters and then one big yellow dot for the address. I'm thinking I should go back and change some of the green dots to other colors.

Monday, May 18, 2020

From Leslie to Viola

I might have posted one of these envelopes a while back - but here are all of the ones from Leslie.
She's using her ruling pens and all kinds of fun colors.
These are good examples of how nice it is to use one word and make it BIG. Then everything else falls into place.

And then there is a photo of Viola on Easter. I had a photo from her birthday - but I'm not sure where it is at the moment. Viola is holding a poster that her daughters made as well as an egg wearing a mask. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

From Janet and Marti to Viola

Janet went with a floral theme for Viola. I can't tell if she used a pointed brush or a marker. She might have gone over the down strokes to make them heavier. 
Janet's coordinating card

Extra vintage goodies tucked in to Janet's card

From Marti

Most of the

Ooops -- I check the blog each morning and this one just ended - Most of the...
Not sure where I was going with that thought.
I did put up some improved instructions on the mask blog.
I'll do a better job of reviewing posts before they pop up.
Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

To Viola from CarolynC and CaroleV

From CarolynC
More mail for Viola - on her 100th birthday. Top from CarolynC and below from CaroleV.

As always, it is optional to send cards. Envelopes are fun.

From CaroleV

Card from Carole

Friday, May 15, 2020

To Viola from Lauren and Sam

Card from Lauren
More envelopes that arrived for Viola in February from my posse.

Sorry about the blurry photos - I had my assistants taking photos.

I am writing this on March 11 - Italy just quarantined herself. I'm wondering if there will be large scale quarantining in the US? What if Chicago quarantines herself while I am on one of my trips and I get stranded in Chicago? It might be difficult to keep up with the exchange and blog posts if that were to happen.

By the time this appears, I guess I will know the answer to the questions.

My trip to Chicago was cancelled. I FaceTime with the grandkids. Alex uses it as an opportunity to teach me how to make things. Clearly she has been parked in front of some online lessons, so she likes to *play teacher* and I am the student. 
Envelope from Lauren. Blurry photo - although the image was soft, so it is not a huge problem.
From Sam.