Friday, October 21, 2016

Field Trip: CW Pencil Enterprise

Brian and I decided to pay a visit to CW Pencil Enterprise in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (New York City, USA) this week.

How can a pair of stationery fetishists *not* patronize a pencil shop a mere 11-minute bike ride away from home?

CW Pencil Enterprise was founded in late 2014 by Caroline Weaver. Their mission is to "dig up the stories and origins of these objects and make them accessible to those who appreciate them for their functionality, beauty and history as much as we do."

Six-year-old Kimmie is super jealous of thirty-year-old Kimmie right now. Signs of a life lived faithfully.

The shop was such a fun experience! I felt totally welcome and not rushed at all. For much of the time, my butt was parked at the testing station, where a drawer holds sample versions of nearly all the pencils and erasers for sale in the shop.

I ended up bringing one of these white pencils home. My test was a little Ghost Dog homage to my recently-deceased best friend, Tuli Wooferberg, the best cocker spaniel that ever spanieled.

This neat pencil I got (the one with the green cap in the middle of the below photo) has seeds at the end, in lieu of an eraser. The idea is that when the pencil gets small enough, you plant the end. That's some motivation to keep writing, isn't it? Much like the allure of an empty ink converter: things were written and accomplished, and now it's time for a new color. Or in this case, some mint to keep my basil at home company.

I helped them take this photo for Instagram. I guess that photography minor in college and the tricks I picked up taking endless photos of diners in a dark restaurant were good for something.

Brian and I didn't realize until the day after that our visit coincided with our halfaversary. (We have "been official" partners for six months, but penpals for longer.) What a perfect way to commemorate our nerdiness. As if we didn't already have a fountain pen problem...

CW Pencil Enterprise is located at 100a Forsyth Street / New York, NY 10002. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-7pm; Sunday, 12pm-7pm; Closed Monday. You can also order online at

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How do I Start Penpalling?

How do I get started with penpalling? Where do I find penpals? Many people are overwhelmed by beautiful mail on Instagram, or have no idea how to find people to write to, or think that their letters aren't good enough to share with the world.

It's okay; you're good enough. I promise.

Remember how you used to pass notes in class? (Some of us used to, anyway.) What did you use to do that? Likely it wasn't anything substantial:  a piece of notebook paper and a ballpoint pen (and some fancy folding that you spent hours practicing). You also needed something to say, someone to say it to, and enough sneakiness that you could have it reach its destination without any problem.

If you have the skills of a 12 year old note-passer, you're in luck: you can be a penpal, a letter writer, a correspondent.

Supplies needed:

  • A pen
  • Envelopes
  • Writing paper (notebook, printer paper, magazine pages... anything will do)
  • Domestic and international postage (if you are in the US, some Forever stamps and some Forever international stamps will do just fine)
  • Time to write
  • People to write to, and their addresses
  • Optional:
    • Postcards
    • Postcard stamps
    • Stickers
    • A cup of tea (or, um, sangria)

Once you've gathered your physical supplies, you just need people to write to. You can try writing to friends you already have, maybe someone you love who has moved to a different city or country or neighborhood. Perhaps someone who lives down the street. Get on your social media to see who would be interested in corresponding with you. The caveat in writing to people who don't normally write letters is that you might never hear back from them. You might be surprised enough to receive a response, but likely they will tell you they are too busy to write letters, or don't have any stamps, or [insert excuse here].

Fear not. There are lots of letter writers out there. It's not a dying art, like some harbingers of doom have posited. You just need to Find Your People. Here are some ways to do it!

Sendsomething is a database of member profiles. It's free to sign up. You can indicate your interests, what kind of penpal or mail enthusiast you are, and what you're looking for in a penpal (a long term correspondent? a postcard pal? a person to share book reviews / troll dolls / poetry with?). I've struck up postcard friendships with older Canadian men who love old postage, a guy who sends me postcards from his world travels (they usually involve cursing or vice of some variety), People Who Live in California, People Who Live on Long Island...

LETTER WRITERS ALLIANCE - $5 USD, one-time membership fee
The Letter Writers Alliance "is a member based organization dedicated to keeping the art of letter writing alive." They have a penpal matching service where you send in a form indicating your interest, and then someone's address is sent to you, and your address is sent to someone. This gets you two new penpals, and you can do this as many times as you desire. There are members-only printables and a really neat blog that covers philately goings-on.

A very active community targeted towards self-identified geeks. Fandoms and nerdiness galore! IGGPPC also has a penpal matching service that runs monthly, forums where members organize swaps, and other fun community-oriented online spaces.

and of course, since you're reading this blog, I would be remiss to not mention...

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY PENPALS - $6 USD/mo or $36/yr; other options available
Joining LEP gets you access to over 600 letter-writing enthusiasts. Looking for someone who is also interested in crocheting Disney amigurumi? A fellow Ravenclaw? Someone who loves typewriters and fountain pens? Chances are you'll find a kindred spirit or ten through LEP. The most active space within LEP is the Facebook group, but you don't have to be on Facebook to be a member. There is a monthly newsletter with swaps, articles, and interviews.

Once you have your people, write! Not sure what to write about? Uncustomary has a great list of 50 things to tell your penpal. Send along bits from your day: ticket stubs, sketches, post-it notes, leaves.

Then, a very important thing: address the envelope, place the proper postage on it, and drop it in a mailbox.

The main thing to remember about letter writing is To Get a Letter, Send a Letter. Don't expect anything if you're not willing to put effort into writing to someone else first. Better yet, free yourself from expectation and just send random acts of kindness to brighten up someone's day. Soon you'll have more letters to reply to than you know what to do with.

Have fun with your newfound friends!

Special thanks to Christine D. for inspiring this post.
Yes, you can follow me on Instagram to tag along on my mail / cocker spaniel / carousel adventures.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dear Fancypants: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Please

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

Dear Fancypants,

Let's face facts: LEPeeps are just more awesome than most people. I'm sure part of it is to do with having "found my tribe", but I don't think that's all. I keep wondering why intimacy seems to spring up so much more easily in my penfriendships than in my other friendships. Is it because 'real' subjects are so much easier to discuss in writing? Is it because I am meeting people within the context of a community, rather than in isolation like elsewhere in life? Do I look for different kinds of 'proof' of meaningful relationships in person? Am I missing stuff in one or the other kinds of relationships, or both?

What I do know is, I wish my day-to-day looked more like LEPland, and I know I'm not the only one. And, of course I wish that people around me were kinder, more truthful, more generous, more dependable, and more thoughtful to me, but I can't change them. However, I can change myself, and I'm just as interested in bringing the spirit of LEP out into the world. So - how can I learn to treat my friends like my penfriends? And how can I find that LEP-style connection in person?

Yours, with postage paid,
Worst Pun Girl x

Dear Worst Pun Girl,

“Friendship,” while a great word and often a great experience, doesn’t quite capture the nuances and emotional attachments and spectrum that non-sexual relationships (or even sexual relationships) take. It’s a word that is used to describe both accord between nations and the bond I have with my long-distance sweetheart whose private bits I sometimes (consensually) touch when we are together. There’s no one true way to be a good friend, but you can be a good person. You’re thinking about the quality of the relationships you surround yourself with, so you’re on the right path.

If you want the people around you to be kinder, more truthful, more generous, more dependable, and more thoughtful to you, be that to them. Set that standard. And then, the important next step: determine your boundaries. If the people you have chosen to be your intimates don’t hold a mutually agreeable standard in return, be okay with letting go and creating space for new friendships to blossom, or letting the nature and expectation of those friendships change. Not everyone is in your world to be An Amazing Dependable Friend Under Any And All Circumstances. Sometimes a friendship will be fleeting, and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ll play the long game, with varying degrees of contact and spurts of BFF-ness, and that’s okay too.

Now to get to the heart of your question, which was “How can I learn to treat my friends like my penfriends? And how can I find that LEP-style connection in person?” You are gaining a higher level of intimacy in your pen friendships because you are more intimate with your pen friends than your non-pen friends. Maybe you are less embarrassed; the delay created by writing / mailing / traveling / delivery gives you space and courage to be vulnerable because there isn’t an immediate reaction to your presentation of self. Thus, your pen friends receive the details of your daily life, of moments not shared of social media, of the inner workings of your brain. You’re in the mood to communicate when you write a letter, as opposed to being beholden to a birthday party or a pub lunch on a day where you really just want to hide in bed. It’s exhausting just to get dressed and get out of the house, and when you’re already tired, you don’t have as much energy and receptiveness to build relationships.

Examine why building relationships via writing letters works for you, and apply those lessons to your non-letter friends. Is it the can-do-anywhere / pick up where you left off aspect of letter writing? Perhaps you can jot down a list of friends that would be up for last-minute no pressure hangouts when the mood strikes you. Surely they’ll be flattered to even be asked, even if they decline. Is letter writing what you prioritize when you have a free spot in your schedule? Set aside some time in your letter reply pile to write a notecard to a friend, even if you saw them last week or haven’t seen them in years. Be the same sort of intimate to your non-letter friends as you are with the pen friends you haven’t met in person yet. Practice being vulnerable to the people you know in person. Open those doors; tear down those walls. What's the worst that could happen? Is it really that bad?

Also consider that your ‘pen friends’ *are* your friends, even if you have yet to meet. It doesn’t make the relationship any less meaningful or valid simply because an in-person meeting hasn’t occurred. Pen friends are probably less of strangers to you than some of the friends you don’t exchange letters with.

And as always, be brave and be honest.

Captain Fancypants

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.