All my stationary for letter-writing

I used to write letters to people on plain notebook paper. Plain notebook paper is fine and all, but suddenly, when you are thinking about your recipient opening it from the envelope — and seeing the dirty-white color that tints to pea-green in certain lights, and the clash of the blue lines with the red vertical stripe — it always turned my stomach somewhat. A letter is like a gift — and you’ve already put so much time into writing it, and it is such a thoughtful gesture, it seems such a shame to spoil it with ugly paper. So I now have quite the stationary collection, and this is how I use them:

Number 1: Wishful thinking

This is my regular workhorse. This is pretty; but also mass-produced and somewhat commonplace. So I can send it both to friends, or just acquaintances, or anyone. Also, it came with 60 pages! So it’s always there to lend a hand when I need it. I’ve had it for 4 years, I believe, and I only have like 8 pages left. It’s just been my go-to. If I ever needed to write a letter to anyone, then this was usually the first sheet to grab. By the way, the green sheet gets separated from the pink Wish List. I got this for maybe $5 from Student Stores in Chapel Hill — back when it was still independently owned 😦 But I have seen this particular set in several stationary and office supply stores since.

Number 2: Botanicals

Now that my previous workhorse is near its end, I got a new one! I’m talking about the lined sheets on the right of this image. Again, very pretty, but still quite sensible and practical and straight-forward. There’s like 100 of those sheets, but I can fit less words on them. So this is now my new go-to. I got this for 75% off — maybe $2 or $3 — from the already low price at Half-Price Books in Rice Village in Houston (on the sad occasion of the closing of the store).

Number 3: Poinsettias

I do have one more go-to, though, but only during a specific season. If I’m going to write someone a long letter during the holidays, say between mid-Nov and New Year’s (as opposed to sending them a holiday card), then I’ll use this. I got this from a little printing store. It was 25 sheets for maybe $10 or so. I still have a lot of these left.

Number 4: Wedding flowers

I never like to send the same stationary paper to the same person twice. So, after I’ve sent someone a letter using the “Wishful thinking” paper, often I would use this. This paper also fits an awful lot of words on it, so it’s good for writing nice, long letters. The only issue is, it’s so sort of romantic, that I can’t send it to just everyone without it seeming odd. But mostly it was fine. I got this for around $1 in Amman, Jordan, a few years ago, and it came with 20 or 25 sheets. It was a little tumble-down shop under a bridge in the heart of the city. The paper is, however, actually printed in China. So even in Jordan, their things are made in China. Alas, I only have like a single sheet left!

Number 5: Blue paisley

The fates truly favored me, because after a few years of stationary-hunting, I became friends with someone who paints and prints stationary herself! She made this set above, which I really think is the most delicate and pretty stationary I ever saw. Honestly, the picture here doesn’t do it justice. All the strokes are so soft and fine, the colors are so dreamy, the design and dots tiptoe like lovely flower-shadows across the page. So, after I’ve written to someone with the Wishful Thinking and Botanicals and Wedding flowers, then I use this. Because if I’m writing them my third or fourth letter, then it’s obviously a very special friend, so I try to save that for this. The exception is, that this paper is so pretty, it can also be used as a “thank you” note — even if it’s more of a formal acquaintance. Also, I know from who I can buy new packets, so I can replenish!

Number 6: Hogwarts parchment

I got this also a few years ago from the Scribbulus shop in Harry Potter World. It was an exciting find — but I also hesitated to buy it, because I wondered how well ink would show up when you’re trying to write on something that’s already so dark. And indeed, my hesitations proved correct — I do often have to really smash the pen against the surface to make it dark enough to see. I always worried, are my friends going to strain their eyes reading this? I stopped, for example, using this to write letters to old people, I just felt it wasn’t fair. Also, although I was a Harry Potter fan, this stationary is just not that pretty! I even fell into a situation where I bemoaned that it contained a whopping 25 sheets of parchment — would I ever be through with them? I remember after having used it a few times, thinking perhaps I was over halfway done, I decided to count what was left, and I counted 17 more sheets. 17 more sheets that had to be written on! When I bought this, I still hadn’t bought “Wishful thinking” or “Blue paisley” or many of the other stationaries that you see here. I think the only one I had was the wedding flowers one, and that one is just too “I love you”-ish to be sending out all the time. So I bought this somewhat out of desperation — it was so hard, in those early days of stationary hunting, to find any stationary at all in the stores. However, today, there has been progress and I only have like 5 sheets of this left. I wrote on it to many of my friends my own age, especially those who I knew also liked Harry Potter. It was $13 when I bought it (I’m sure there’s been inflation since) but I wouldn’t repeat the purchase due to the aforementioned reasons and because JK Rowling seems to have gone off her rocker.

Number 7: Florentine

This is another stationary with a delicate design that is so pretty — and it comes with a matching envelop as you can see. It only came, though, with 10 sheets! So this is certainly not a “workhorse”, rather, this is a fleeting-moment-in-time sort of paper that I use for people who have already received 4 or 5 letters from me. I’ve already used 6 of the sheets. This was $13 from Payn’s Stationary Store in Berkeley.

Number 8: Too pink

This one is too pink, indeed; but it was priced at 49 cents at a dusty second-hand store, and I thought, who else is going to buy it? At least I know I’ll make use of it. And it did indeed come in handy, because like I said, I don’t like sending someone the same stationary twice; and some people I’ve sent like 7 letters to, or more. So in a pinch, if I’m rummaging through my drawer and have used all the other varieties, then I can use this. I only got it last year, and I’ve already used 7 of the 10 sheets it came with. It has matching too-pink envelopes. And even though I got it from a second-hand story, it was actually still wrapped in the original plastic wrapping (at least I think). So really it was new.

Number 9: Minnie Mouse

This I didn’t pay for at all, but found in a box of someone’s old stuff. It’s 30 or 35 years old, haha. And there’s still plenty of paper in this pad. I have used it to write to some kids; and for people who have reached the end of the tether of my stationary paper — and who are close friends — ok, and probably not any men — I will use this, too.

Number 10: Sweetest beginnings

This comes from a little shop called “Sweetest Beginnings” nearby. These are small pages, just a bit smaller than my hand, so you can’t write a whole lot without using several of the pages. This is good for writing short quicker letters. It was $5.50 for 25 sheets, and I have used 40% of them.

Number 11: too hard to write on

Someone gave this to me. It’s very pretty, but unfortunately, the paper is bad quality and it doesn’t really soak up ink or something. It’s hard to write on. So I use it like this: if I’ve written a letter on the stationaries above, and I just need to write one or two more paragraphs and I don’t want to use a whole new sheet, I just finish the thoughts on this.

Number 12: Rose garden

I don’t need to tell you how pretty this is! This is not strictly sheets of stationary, it’s more like cards, both where it concerns the shape and size, and the firmness of the material. I can use it as a thank you card. And, if it’s someone I’ve sent lots of letters to, and just want to send them a quick hello, I can use this. This was $14 for 10 cards and matching envelops from the same place where I bought the Florentine above. I still have a lot of these, mostly because I couldn’t resist and bought two packs!

Number 13: Rose semi-colon

My same friend who made the Blue Paisley made this. She had some spare sheets and gave them to me. The rose semi-colon is very pretty. Since I only have 5 or 6 of these, they are very special, I haven’t used any of them yet, and they’ll go to people who are on their 10th letter or something.

Number 14: The blue goose

I got this when I was seven years old, before I had any interest in writing letters. Also, I thought the blue goose was ugly and rather looked askance at the whole conception. It was only in later years that I thought it so cute and sweet and quaint. I didn’t pick it out myself (obviously, since I didn’t even like it), my parents did, and I think they picked it out because according to the price tag that’s still there, it cost 92 cents. Also, even though it was “for me”, by the time I rediscovered it years after the purchase, there were only like 15 sheets (out of 36) left. I maybe used it once in my childhood, so I don’t know what happened to the rest — especially since I think it physically reside among my possessions the whole time. Well, I came across it again in the early days when I’d started writing letters to people, so I thought its appearance providential and used it — until sentimental promptings took greater sway and I could no longer bear to part with it except for very special circumstances. You would probably have to be dying at this point for me to send you this 😦

Number 15: laser cut prettiness

When I was at UNC, I decided I wanted to learn all the cool stuff in the Makerspace, so I got pretty pieces of firmer paper — not quite cardstock, but still stiff and firm — so that I could practice with the laser cutter on them. But you see here that some of these paper sheets have lovely blank gaps in the middle where you can write; so I have used these as letter paper, too. It’s fun. You can’t write a whole lot; but sometimes the letter is less about what you have to say, than about sending something that is really pretty and dreamy and maybe a bit odd or whimsical. The problem with these is that I have never found envelopes that are big enough to fit them without needing to fold the cards — unless you get giant ugly envelopes. No, I take that back. There’s a stationary store in Rice Village in Houston where I found the right size. But after spending about 10 seconds in the store, it was obvious the family that owns it, and all their workers, are nasty disgusting revolting racists, so I didn’t want to give them my money. And although I have scoured stationary stores without obvious racists since then — and before then — I still cannot find the right envelop size.

Ordering postage stamps online

Since I hadn’t been in a store of any type for over two months, it had come to this: ordering stamps online.

My stash of stamps had sadly gone very low. It was all down to bad luck. I had been to the post office in order to get stamps on multiple occasions before the quarantine started in deadly earnest — in fact, I went just the very week before. But the post office on the Rice University campus leaves much to be desired. They hardly ever have nice stamps. They had an absolutely trash selection, so I just didn’t buy any. I thought, maybe I can go browse another post office. Before I had the chance, the quarantine struck.

So over the past two months, I have been using the Christmas wreaths stamps to send letters. This is not my style at all. The stamps must be in sync with the season, at least in normal times. But I was driven by desperation.

But finally, even the holiday stamps were running out, so I finally decided to order stamps online. I would have done this much earlier, but you have to create an account on the USPS website in order to order things. I don’t like creating accounts and having my name all over the place. It didn’t end up being that painful, though. You just go to usps.com and it doesn’t take long.

I placed the order on May 13. I got two books of stamps — one with the orchids, one with ‘Eid Mubarak’. Well, Eid has come and gone (May 24-25), and I still don’t have the stamps. I thought they’d just send them, nice and simple, from the local post office. But no! They sent them all the way from the Kansas City distribution center. I don’t know how necessary that was.

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I know everything is delayed right now, but just for your reference, the order wasn’t even processed until six days after I placed it, on May 19. Ever since May 22, the tracking status has said that the estimated time of delivery is the next day. But in reality, the shipment only arrived at my local USPS facility on May 23. It arrived in my town on May 25 (today). I guess I will get it tomorrow, but I won’t be surprised if not.

It cost $1.20 extra for the shipping. It was a $1.20 for shipping whether I ordered one booklet or two.

Update: the stamps did arrive on May 26, and they come very unnecessarily wrapped in both plastic protection and a cardstock support. It’s an awful lot of environmentally-wasteful packaging (not to mention the large envelop and the shipping emissions) for two thin books of stamps.

Carl Larsson in the US

I once wrote about finding Carl Larsson cards in Berkeley, California, and in Davis, California.

Well, I have found some more Carl Larsson artifacts in the US.

First, you can go to Solvang, California, and there’s a store there that sells magnets with Carl Larsson paintings on them. I don’t want to mention the name of the store, because I a little confused as to whether I want to bring them more business, because they seem to have a lot of bad reviews for rudeness. Also, I don’t 100% remember, but I might have bought all the Carl Larsson magnets they had, anyways. I bought thre. It was so glorious!! As the store reviews predicted, the women at the register were surly. And then, like an idiot, right after paying for the magnets, I left them there at the counter and walked out the store without them! And they closed about a minute later! And it wasn’t until about 30 minutes later that I was frantically searching my purse and came up empty-handed of my Carl Larsson magnets. We went back to the store, but the lights were out, and it was empty. I was heart-broken all night. The next morning, I called them, though, and they had indeed found the magnets, and they shipped them for free to North Carolina. So that was actually very nice of them. I mostly took the train home from California to North Carolina, with a 3-day stop in Chicago, but actually I beat the magnets home by a day.

The second Carl Larsson place for artifacts is the gift shop of the Swedish-American museum in Chicago. Maybe it’s just a winter thing, but they were selling Carl Larsson winter cards. And for far cheaper than if you ordered them online from Pomegranate. I bought a box so that I’ll have it ready for next year. It was great!

More bokmärken in the US

I wrote once about the first time I ever found bokmärken in the US. It was such a wonderful occasion.

I went back to Payn’s Stationary story when I visited San Francisco again in December 2019 for a conference. He was still selling bokmärken, and there were different varieties than the last time I’d been there a year and a half previously. It was delicious! I bought a whole bunch, and the guy at the register, who I guess maybe was the owner, told me: oh, I’m going to have to order more of these now!

He said that he orders them from some whole-saler who imports them from Europe. He just orders more as he needs them. Yes, you keep doing that.

And then about a week later, I visited Solvang in southern California. This town is built as a “traditional Danish settlement”, though I don’t know exactly how much real Danish history that town has. Whatever the case may be, there’s lots of stores there that sell trinkets, and among them was a store entirely dedicated to Christmas stuff. It was called Jule-something. Amidst all the Christmas ornaments and decorations, I found a shelf drowning in bokmärken! It was so wonderful. And they were selling for cheaper than at Payn’s! Like half-price. I bought all I wanted (maybe 6 sheets), and although I got some Christmasy ones, I also got frogs, and fairytales, and flowers, and all sorts.

However, the sad news is that according to the cashiers, their supplier of bokmärken is no longer selling them or something. So I think that stash on that shelf might be the last of them. Maybe they’re just slowing going to wean themselves off of that particular piece of merchandise. It’s a shame.

I afterwards took the train from California to Chicago. In Chicago, I visited the Swedish-American museum. They don’t sell bokmärken there! Can you believe it?

All about pens

Today I saw an hour-long demonstration by a professor at Rice, all about pens. It was very interesting!

He had a pen straight out of the 1800s, or 1700s. It doesn’t look like a pen; it looks like something you’d have in a toolbox to scrape paint. It’s a wooden stick to grip, and then it has a metal “nib” on the top. There’s no thin tube of ink on the inside, indeed, there’s no space to shove in such a tube in the first place. Instead, you have a little pot of black ink beside you, and you actually sit and dip your pen in the inkpot, and then you write or scribble or draw a few strokes, and then back you are in the inkpot, dipping your pen. This is called a “dipping-pen”. I’m amazed! I never knew that was how it worked. What in the world. So that’s how they wrote in the olden days, apparently. You just dipped your dipping-pen into a pot of ink, and that would be enough ink to maybe write a word, and then you dip and repeat.

Also, did you know that you can apparently (try to) take a syringe, break into your pen, squeeze all the ink out with the syringe, and then replace it with whatever type and whatever color ink you like? Sometimes it works, sometimes you just destroy the pen.

What if you forget to write the zip code on a piece of mail?

I dropped three postcards in a rush into a blue mail pick-up bin in Union Station in Los Angeles on a Monday evening in December. In my hurry, I had forgotten to write the zip code of the delivery address on two of those postcards (I wrote the addresses down from memory, and meant to double-check the zip codes of two of them later). The sole postcard with the complete address arrived in rural North Carolina on Saturday. A postcard missing its zip code arrived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the following Thursday. And the last postcard was also delivered around the same time, zip code-less, to Houston. So forgetting the zip code adds about 5 days or so to the journey of your mail.

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Rushed photo at the central train station in Los Angeles

Pretty stationary

As I wound down my PhD, I started spending more time at the UNC Makerspace. That’s where you can use a laser cutter or a vinyl cutter, do some 3D printing, or duck into the woodshop, and use fancy bottles of glue, and get access to paint and a sewing machine and more and more. I always wish I could have spent more time there.

I made a design of an angel based on an outline from works of a Swedish sculptor. A student working at the Makerspace helped me figure out how to go from the picture of the angel to just the outline that I needed in Adobe Illustrator.

First, I just made stickers of the angel, cut into vinyl:

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I tweaked it a few times, and finally, I stuck two angels together, so that they formed the letter “L”. I also spelled out o -v – e, so the entire thing looked something like:

love

And then, I half-way laser-cut that angel onto this piece of printed paper:

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It’s only half-way laser-cut so that the angel doesn’t fall out. So you can see the outline, but the angel stays attached. Who knew a laser could cut a depth with that much precision?

I already wrote the letter on it, so the streaks are where I smeared the ink out. I thought the angel looked very nice with the fairies, and you know, this is a one of a kind production! No other piece of fairy paper like that has this exact angel on it. So I sent this to a very special person.

And I also made some other laser-cut “angel L’s” that did pop out, like this:

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I think they are very, very pretty. I always wondered, when I saw intricate designs cut out, “did they really do that with scissors?” Now I know it’s with the laser!