The Game’s Afoot!

victorian-board-game

Imagine a world where mail at Christmas — and any other time of the year — was so ubiquitous, you could devise a game around it. I know nothing about this Victorian board game entitled Christmas Mail except that it was once sold to and played by families more than a century ago.

What might have been the objective — to deliver more letters than anyone else, to receive more cards, or perhaps to maneuver past obstacles like snowed in mountain passes or spooky forests to place children’s Christmas wish lists into the hands of the big guy in red?

Whatever that game’s original goals, my own game of Christmas Mail has but two: send out Christmas cards in time for friends and family to open them by December 25th (a date I don’t always meet), and maybe collect a few from my mailbox in return.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

christmas-mail-1Readers, are you still out there?

My mail ship veered off course for nearly a year. You can imagine all of the reasons — excuses — and none of them provides an adequate explanation. My life and the accompanying calendar just zoomed past at breathtaking speed. But as the holidays approach, my thoughts inevitably turn to Christmas cards and reconnections and this sadly neglected blog.

Maybe I should not promise to be a better correspondent in the future. Like the scrawled note at the bottom of a seasonal card, intentions are good, but distractions are many. So even if these electronic cards and letters are destined to post only sporadically in the future, let me say here and now HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Let’s begin a season of Christmas.

A Letter a Day

snail mailPat, a Post Whistle reader, urged me to let everyone know about InCoWriMo — not an association of rhyming cattle, but rather International Correspondence Writing Month. And it begins today.

imgresParticipants pledge to write a letter a day every day through the month of February. I don’t know if the organizers chose this month because it’s the shortest, so one’s letter total is under 30, or because the month surrounding Valentine’s Day seems the proper time to connect with loved ones near and far. Whatever the reason, this is the month to let those letters fly.

Life is too hectic for me to commit to writing letters daily, but I do write them weekly now that my daughter is attending college on the east coast. But for those with more stick-to-it-ness than I, pick up the gauntlet of InCoWriMo’s snail mail challenge and give your pen a workout.

Let’s Play Mister Mailman

Mr Mailman Board GameDespite many an article lamenting the end of snail mail, GameBrotherZ, a Canadian company founded in 2008, believes in the mail enough to have created the new board game, Mister Mailman. The objective? Four mailmen compete to see who will be the first to deliver 27 letters in Mailville.

The manufacturer states: “Welcome to Mailville, a quiet little town, but unique in so many ways! Once in a while, simply for the fun of it or for showing off their talent, our friendly mailmen stage a unique competition around town… to deliver a letter to each of the town’s households, to be followed by a final delivery to the luxurious O’Gilded Family Manor.”

With four letter carriers to deliver mail to fewer than 30 households, Mailville is indeed unique. It must make for a remarkably short post office workday.

But the point of a game is enjoyment rather than realism, and the game testers for The Noise on Toys website say that Mister Mailman delivers. According to Davey, “It’s fun. You can make someone win or lose. You can land on anything and sometimes you can change the weather.”

Change the weather? I like the sound of that. I bet your local letter carrier would, too.

Lost and Found: Me

Crying babyI’m sorry.

There I was happily blogging away, and then I wasn’t.

For those who had grown accustomed to mail tales dropping into your box every few days, I wish I had a really good excuse to give you about why they stopped.

A really, really, REALLY good excuse.

Cult Like maybe I joined a cult.

A cult that paid homage to marshmallows.

And I couldn’t log in on my computer because our solemn Ceremony of the S’Mores made my fingers too sticky to touch the keyboard.

I like that explanation.

And I like marshmallows.

Or maybe I moved to the ultimate dead zone. The housing market in California is pricey so you need to be flexible about less expensive zip codes.

Poor coverage

Find a fixer upper.

Own a piece of the American dream.

Just don’t expect the same level of connectivity as you find in the city.

But I didn’t move.

And I didn’t develop an odd connection with marshmallows.

I don’t have a single good excuse why I fell off the grid. I just did.

But I’m back, and I hope you will join me again on my journey. Because we all love to curl up with a good letter.

kitty letter

Relics

unnamedIf I had a Star Trek transporter at my disposal, I would beam to England every other day. Barring that, I read the blog Spitalfields Life to immerse myself in London, old and new.

This photo, part of a recent post there called The Inescapable Melancholy Of Phone Boxes, struck me because both the red telephone booth (or “box”) and post box speak of another age. Just as people rarely sit down to write letters any more, they no longer need to anchor themselves in one place to contact their friends and families by phone.

People walk and text, shop and talk, answer emails on the fly, and wander oblivious through the world, eyes firmly fixed on the small screen in one hand.

I grew up in a era where it was common to communicate by both letters and phone. None of us wrote to anyone who lived nearby. We called. But calling long distance was expensive. However, technology evolves; email is faster than letters, and cell phone plans count minutes instead of miles, at least within the same country.

Will mailboxes start disappearing next? I mailed a card just three days ago, but I can’t remember the last time I opened the door of a phone booth — perhaps when I last visited London.

May Day! May Day! May Day!

College May day letterThough many aspects of college life have changed through the centuries, I suspect that writing home for money has always been a standard refrain. Such requests were so common in the Middle Ages that practice exercises in letter-writing techniques included formulaic appeals for funds. Supposedly, one parent said, “A student’s first song is a demand for money…there will never be a letter that doesn’t ask for cash.”

My own appeal began “MAY DAY! MAY DAY! MAY DAY!” All in caps. If I had emailed my plea today, the line would have been bold as well.

collegeI can’t believe I waited until my checking account had shrunk to a mere $1.50 before asking for help, and that I mailed — rather than phoned — the request. Yet, knowing how high long distance rates were back then, a letter was probably cheaper.

Despite the fact that one building on my school campus looked like a chateau, the university was more inexpensive than most. But I still ran over my budget as most college students do at one point or another.

SusanAnd even though none of my classes gave us examples of such appeals as did those of Medieval universities, I still guessed the right formula and asked for an advance rather than additional funds.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this old cry for help is recalling a time when my parents were still here and ready to ride to the rescue when paper goods, groceries and the cost of life got the better of their 19-year-old daughter.

Playing Postman

Playskool greenLong ago, in a time far, far away, the act of posting letters was so ubiquitous, Playskool made sorting toys shaped like mailboxes for toddlers. The first version, from the 40s and 50s, was green. Later incarnations were a patriotic red, white and blue. Both are far more cool than the plastic shape-sorting cube my daughter played with when she was young.

Playskool red

If I could travel back in time to the early 1950s, I could buy my own postal station sorting toy for just $3.00.

postal station ad

Film Friday: Writing Better Social Letters

Social Letter 1Ever stumped about what to say in a letter? Well, wonder no more! Just watch the 10-minute educational film, Writing Better Social Letters. Even though it was made in 1950, the short tried to avoid a common gender stereotype by making the girl the clueless correspondent and her brother the writing whiz.

“Are you through already?”

“Sure Sis, I just finished the letter to Aunt Helen and Uncle Ross.”

“I don’t know how you do it, Wally. You make it seem so easy…How do you write such good social letters?”

“Well, Nora, it’s a talent…”

Social Letter 2Once you get past the surreal world of Wally and Nora, it’s interesting to see how the basic tenets of letter writing used to be systematically outlined and enumerated like those of any other skill. Kids of today, many of whom have never corresponded by mail, might actually find some of the advice useful — once they finish rolling on the floor with laughter.

Film Friday: Watch Writing Better Social Letters online.

Social Letter 3

Absolutely Incredible Kids Day

Letter WriterHave you heard of Absolutely Incredible Kids Day (AIKD)?

Every year on the third Thursday in March (that would be this coming Thursday, March 19), adults are urged to join a national letter-writing campaign organized by Camp Fire USA to send kids letters of support, love and encouragement.

While the organization began their AIKD campaign in 1997, I only discovered its existence today. And what a wonderful idea it is, to not only encourage people to write letters, but to send them to children who seldom receive mail and may never have been sent an actual letter.

Camp Fire posts tips on their website about composing letters geared to children and even offers a few sample sentences that may help get the writing ball rolling.

So write and tell a kid you know just how incredible he/she is. It absolutely will make a difference.