Thursday, July 21, 2016

Link Roundup: Penpal Enabler Edition

I often make lists of neat things for the sake of reminding myself of my tastes. Lists take up less room than things, unless those lists are housed in stacks of notebooks (shhh). Living in a small apartment with a tight budget means a lot of window shopping via listmaking. I hear this is why Pinterest was invented, but I'll take a folder full of links or a hastily scribbled notebook page any day. Here's a list of letter writing related things culled from various other lists in my collection.

What's been on your list lately?

Captain Fancypants

I am a huge fan of New York City transit. Makes sense; I've lived there my entire life. It is on my 30-by-30 list to ride every subway line in one day. I don't think I'll get to cross that item off in time (I have a week and there is other work to be done, like finally a visit to Gramercy Typewriter), but when I do, this tape should seal all the letters I write while on my journey.

These book journals, handmade with lots of love in Oregon USA, have been guarding my deepest secrets for years. Perfect for keeping track of various penpal information or life events to share, or sketching people on the subway.
I'll be in my bunk, gawking over the beautifully photographed and well-curated items in this shop. All of them.

You know when you are a teenager and you feel alone because you're into all these things and no one else you know is SUPER INTO hot glue guns or letter writing or typewriters? Then you grow up and someone makes beautiful pins of all these things because they are also super weirdos. Nothing says badass mail nerd like having an enamel pin of an airmail envelope on your faux-leather motorcycle jacket. One day, I'll fly my badass mail nerd flag with these pins. 

In which I fully admit that the most expensive possession in my life is not my laptop, or my car, but a fountain pen. (I'm still floored over the fact that I own a car, and it's been twelve years.) This is Lamy's way of letting me know that I can, come September, feel like a wealthy fancypants. With a writing degree. When I land an office job, these are the only pens I'm writing with.

Monday, July 11, 2016

LEP HQ Vermont Meetup

Stationery Battles. Celia, Anna, Kimmie, and Thanh-Thuy.
On June 24th the first ever pilgrimage to worldwide LEP Headquarters in Winooski, Vermont, USA took place. I was privileged to be among the lucky few who got to set my GPS to Vermont and point the car northward for a weekend unlike any other.

By the time night fell over The Green Mountain State, things were just getting started at LEP HQ. Julie and Denise, our hosts extraordinaire made sure Cecilia Johnson, Kimmie David, Brian Sebastian, Thanh-Thuy Doan and I were warmly welcomed with lots of food and wine. We became fast friends and learned that it takes a village (and instructions) to open a pre-packaged vegetable tray.

The vegetable tray in question, background left.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to those of us at LEP HQ, Brittney Luna Bertrand and Cassie Swisher were desperately scheming up a story to explain to customs officials why two women who had met less than an hour before were crossing an international border together with a punch board and 8,400 envelopes. As of this writing, they still don’t seem to have their story straight.

The following day dawned bright over LEP Land, bringing blue skies, warm temps and our very own Anna Vlasova who pulled up a chair at the kitchen table while we all had the equivalent of a religious experience over Kimmie and Brian’s stamp collection. The day was spent writing to our brethren LEPsters who weren’t able to join us. Some of the recipients of this mail may notice that their letters contain a brown sticky substance. Don’t be alarmed (or grossed out), it’s bacon jam and Denise is entirely responsible for turning us on to this deliciously evil condiment.

Lori Says: All Hail Bacon Jam 
Knowing that if anyone could put the F-U-N in "funeral home" it would be Thanh-Thuy, off we went that evening to her and husband Jim’s establishment of eternal rest. After a tour from Tall Jim we settled in for pizza (yes, there is a pizza named ‘Six Feet Under’ and yes, it is delicious) and a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity (CAH). For those of you who’ve never played, here are a few tips I picked up from the game:

1. Your fellow card players have minds as disturbing as your own. In some cases much more so.
2. Do not trust the French Canadians. They are tricksters and pretend to not understand some words in order to win.
3. Some people are just plain angry. Especially about important and sensitive subjects like candy corn.
4. You can use your phone to look up the dirty words that confuse you but will probably be automatically subscribed to some weirdo porn site as a result.
5. Flatulence will be discussed. You’ll learn more about gas than you should know.

Things may have gotten ugly back at LEP HQ on Saturday night so all I’ll say is this: There was a 50 percent off sale on La Papierre stationery. Some of us have a very competitive shopping habit. Many of you are going to become completely sick of receiving mail on the once lovely blue haired girl stationery. Cecilia had to rent a storage truck to get back to Massachusetts.

Brian and Kimmie posing in front of Where The Magic Happens.
Before I knew it Sunday was upon us and it was time to pack up my tent (Seriously guys, how much wine did we drink Friday night??? This thing looks like a bunch of four year olds assembled it.) and make my way back to reality. Those who stayed behind for a few more hours or another day were kind enough to share their continued adventures with us all through Facebook. I wanted nothing more than to turn my car around and join them again. This group, like all of the LEP is an amazing family. Julie and Denise, a million “Thank yous” for this weekend and all you do. It is magical.

Cassie does an envelope punch board tutorial.
 Written by Lori B. (AKA Mighty Mistress of the Vine) in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dear Fancypants: Be brave and be honest.

Welcome to Dear Fancypants, a monthly advice column on penpals and other philatelic things. Dear Fancypants will run the first week of the month. To submit a question, contact

Dear Fancypants,

I am wondering if you could please provide me with a little bit of advice when dealing with a penpal (non-LEP) who seems a tad pushy and seems to have very strict ‘guidelines’ in terms of reply time, letting her know the MINUTE the letter arrives etc. I have received daily messages from her asking when her reply will be posted, even though I had explained that it would take me a month or so to reply due to ‘life’ at the moment. It’s gotten to the point where I feel a panic attack coming on whenever I look at the envelope sitting on my desk and I get stressed when I receive a prod from her. How can I reply nicely that I don’t feel the ‘click’ that I would like with my pals and that I don’t think I can write with her?

The last thing I want to do is upset anyone, but this is a hobby and it shouldn’t be stressing me out, right?


Hi, Anxious.

The breakup stage of any relationship is often the one met with most terror-- even if it's the outcome you ultimately want.

Early on in my most recent incarnation of penpalling, a correspondent of mine asked for any advice I could give on non-monogamous and open relationships. I asked my my then-life partner what his advice would be. His response was, "Be brave and be honest." The simplicity of it floored me. Really, this advice can be applied to all sincere relationships. Be brave: have the courage to live the life you want (in this case, one free from things that cause you anxiety that you can control). Be honest: tell your pal you will no longer be writing her. They go together, really: you need bravery to be honest, and honesty if you are to be brave.

There is no way to control what someone else feels, nor would you want to do that, but you can strive to be kind. Send along a notecard to this person. Let her know that, while you've enjoyed writing with her and getting to know her, this will be your last missive because you don't think you're a good fit for her style of penpalling. You'd like to free up space in her life for someone who can respond more often and quicker than you can, and at the moment you need a month in between letters. Use "I" statements. Make it about what *you* need, not what her shortcomings are.

There is no guarantee that her feelings won't be hurt, but you're being honest about what you need and want in life, and you owe that to both of you, as well as your other penpals.

Captain Fancypants

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

World Stamp Show 2016 - NYC Recap

On Sunday, May 29th, I attended the World Stamp Show, held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. I kicked off the morning with a little Letter Writers Alliance meetup at a cafe near the Javits. What better way to get myself out of bed at 7am than the promise of coffee and letter writing with other likeminded people? The city was quiet-- Memorial Day weekend plus Sunday morning equals no one but tourists and service industry workers out and about at 9am.

Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" Biplane, the subject of the infamous "Inverted Jenny" 24-cent stamp error. Inverted Jenny stamps have sold for more than $1 million USD each.

I really wanted the Views of Our Planets stamps, but they didn't come out until May 31st.

I was tired that morning, and anxious about meeting new people and going to things alone, but determined to follow through. I am very glad I did. It's a lovely treat to be surrounded by people with similar interests-- and neuroses around said interests. Like how good the hand-cancel on your first day cover is.

Mail out to League members... and myself! I would absolutely work this counter for eight hours, eight days straight. How does one get the job of cover canceler?

I stood at a table writing postcards and letters to League members while others frantically but precisely affixed postage stamps to their covers to get them canceled. That scene is all totally normal, right?

This lovely person took all my fake credit card money after someone else took all my cash. When I find myself in Clive, Iowa, I'll definitely be paying a visit to their store, Coins, Stamps, & Stuff. They were very helpful and nice. These bins (there were about four times more bins than what you see here) all contained full sheets of US stamps at face value.

Even though the USPS had, essentially, package Tetris on a gigantic video screen, Canada Post wins coolest booth because Star Trek! *swoon*

I've been interested in mail and stamps since I was a small child, though I've never been a "serious collector." I'm more interested in using different kinds of stamps to liven up my mail, and always try to buy commemorative issues before definitives (though let's be real-- if they're not American flag stamps, I will likely buy them). I still love seeing what stamps make their way through to me. It was way more exciting as a kid, because the Internet wasn't widespread enough to just look up stamps from other countries with a click. I had to patiently wait for mail to actually arrive at my house so I could see what cool stamps were being used on letters from the Philippines my Lola would mail to my mom. I'd steam them off by putting the envelopes in the rice cooker (Bonus: I used jasmine rice as glue to, um, stick stamps back onto a different envelope when I had envelope-addressing accidents. At least, this is what I did then. I doubt the pressure-adhesive would steam off very well these days.)

I got two sheets of these stamps, which I couldn't find at the previous stamp show I attended.

For me, letter writing has always been the package deal. I love everything to do with it-- stationery, stamps, pens, stickers, you name it. I'm so excited to send these little squares of paper through the mail! What's your favorite part about writing letters?

This is part of my haul. I couldn't get everything into one shot.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Frog's Ode to LEP

We have a super sweet and creative member in France who has written a poem in dedication to our fabulous community!

Thanks for these words Faiz AKA Frogzy!  

Faiz is an author of funny children's books. His website is fun, bright and colorful!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

When Your Reply Pile is Weeded

In the service industry, we call it "getting weeded" or "being in the weeds." It's when you're serving, and your restaurant is dead, and all of a sudden-- out of magical thin air-- five tables with four people each come in all at the same time, and need their dinner NOW, because there's a concert starting in an hour and a half at the theater next door that they're all going to. That awful run-on sentence? That's what getting weeded feels like. You keep going and going, and can't catch up. More people show up. Everyone is needy. Table Six needs more water. You've asked table Twenty what they'd like to order approximately seven times, and they still aren't ready. The steak medium rare for table eleven is steak medium well and they need another done. The chef is on a cigarette break. Your bartender is ignoring your drink ticket and instead chatting to the one person sitting at the end of the bar. Your head is going to explode.

This is the moment, everyone, where if you have been doing this long enough, you walk into the keg room, or the walk-in refrigerator, and you curse the world, and you cry.

Sometimes, this is what I feel like when I look at the pile of letters that I need to reply to. Some days, my reply pile procreates and makes little mini reply piles throughout my apartment. Often, I'll pat myself on the back for mailing out three letters in one afternoon, and then come home to five in my mailbox.

This should make me happy, Dear Reader. Getting Real Life Letters in your mailbox should, for the most part, make one happy. Just like having a restaurant full of customers should make a server happy. If you don't have customers, you don't get tipped. If you don't get tipped, you don't take home much money. Right? But sometimes-- even though they, your customers and your pen pals, are what keep you going-- you just want to yell at everyone to get the hell out. Of your restaurant. Of your reply pile. Just leave me the hell alone already.

And then, not more than a minute later, you emerge. From the icy heart of the keg room, you crack your knuckles, throw out some expletives, and wipe the smeared mascara from under your eyeballs.

Because what must be done must be done. You got this.


Strategies for making your reply pile less daunting:

Remember that this whole pen pal thing is supposed to be fun. If it's not fun, something needs to change.

Only take a few letters out of your house with you at a time so you're not having to pick from several to reply to.

If you need to catch up to lots of people with lots of news, type out said news in a printed form letter / newsletter and send a more personalized, but much shorter, handwritten reply along with it.

I am totally giving you permission to break chronological order and reply to whomever you want to, in whatever order.

In fact, you can even throw all your letters into a bag and pull one out to reply to at random.

'Snowball' your replies. Start with the shortest letter you intend to write first. Then the next shortest. If you get a couple of shorter pieces done, you'll feel less behind, and your reply pile will look smaller.

In the same vein, send a postcard to pen pals that have been waiting a while for a reply. Let them know you are, in fact, not dead, and still very much interested in writing to them.

Bring a letter writing kit with you wherever you go so you can write when your flight is delayed or when waiting on a long line or while at a baseball game. (I've been told I should watch out for foul balls and home runs, but I figure I can just shield myself with my clipboard.)

It's okay to stop writing to some of your pen pals if you feel way in over your head. Write them a letter explaining why you can no longer write to them. Thank them for their friendship. If you would like to keep in touch with them but simply can't write anymore, let them know they can follow you on [insert social media here]. Follow them back.

What tips do you have to reduce reply pile guilt?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Staff Announcement, or: Hello Kimmie!

Hi there. I'm Kimmie.

I've been penpalling since I was a wee child, and fully committed to being a letter writer some time around the year 2000. It was a thing nerdy punks did, and being a nerdy punk, well... letters it was. (Zines too, natch. Mail in general made-- and continues to make-- my heart swoon.)

Sad because though I got to play pinball all day,
the ice cream stands were all closed for the season.
Asbury Park, NJ.
I am thrilled to join the team at League of Extraordinary Penpals HQ this month. As a member of LEP since the beginning, I’ve enjoyed watching it morph, grow, and mutate into a magnificent collection of humans unlike any in the world. I have LEP to thank for best friends, companions in snarky swearing, joyous mail days, inspirational motivation, a dear sweetheart, an extensive fountain pen collection, and the deep knowledge that I am not alone in my weirdness.

Hanging out with my BFF Shark Girl.
Buffalo, NY.
I'm a born and raised New Yorker, and I still live here. When I'm not writing letters, dusting my typewriters, feminist rabblerousing, setting my fantasy football lineup (I commission the LEP Fantasy Football League), or cleaning my fountain pens, I can be found being a bookseller or bartending/serving.

If there's anything I can do to help make your LEP experience a magical one, or if you're thinking of joining the League and have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me: