Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The lost art of letter writing

... is found again.

Ever since I opened my new Letter of the Month subscription service, I've taken a greater interest in the "reverse" technology of letter writing.


But first, a quick background. I am of the last generation of letter writers. The Internet began at the tail end of my university days. Up until then, I still wrote letters home and religiously checked the mailbox in my dorm. My letters did a reverse commute at the end of the term as I whittled away summer days at home writing to friends from university.

And then email showed up.

My first email was provided by the university and was really convenient to rattle off:

janicemacleod93161837@humanities.universityofwaterloo.on.ca.

I traded it in for a hotmail account. Once, I wanted to show my fellow students this new thing called Hotmail but I made the mistake of typing hotmale.com. This was an embarrassing moment... or should I say em-bare-assing moment.

Go ahead. Do it. I'll wait.

...

See? I told you so. The site is still "up" after all these years. Blush.

Over a dozen email addresses and years later, I've settled on gmail. And even gmail has taken a backseat to connecting by leaving a comment or clicking Like on Facebook. Don't get me wrong. All this technology is wonderful and amazing. I'm a fan. I can poke like the best of them ("insert" "hotmale" joke here). But there is something I continue to crave about sending and receiving paper mail.

Turns out, I'm not the only one:
  • Post a Letter Social Activity Club is a group that meets frequently in a café to dedicate time to taking care of correspondence of the paper variety. It started in Toronto and has spread to dozen more cities.
  • Apple Cards app lets you upload a photo and write a message. Apple turns it into a card and sends it for you. Their advertising states simply, "You make it. We'll send it. They'll love it."
  • Letters in the Mail is a subscription service where you receive letters from famous authors. Photocopying is involved, but who cares? I reprint my painted letters that I send out, too. Otherwise, they'd cost more than your average cappuccino. Both services are mere $5 a month for an envelope of awesome. Cheap. 
When I explained my new enterprising letter writing business to Christophe, he paused and said, "So it's for joy."

Exactly.

For the fun of it because getting something in the mail that isn't junk or a bill is just plain joyful. And for me? Creating it and sending it is all about joy, too.

Joy + Joy = Joy

Putting the final touches on my February Letter of the Month.
Joy Joy Joy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I am not Julia Child

...not even close.

I can hold my own in the kitchen, but only if you have really low expectations.

Generally, I don't cook. I assemble.

Back when I worked in corporate America, I was the queen of food assembly. I'd stop off at Whole Foods on my way home from work, pack up ready-made foods in cardboard containers, and assemble them on a plate at home.

But that was only if I was having company. If I was alone, meals went straight from cardboard box to belly.

The food was bland, very expected and super expensive. But it was done and doable so I went with it.

But those days are long gone, baby! I'm now sitting pretty in a pad in Paris with nary a harrowing work schedule in sight. So I bought myself one of these:
Oh Julia. You make it seem so easy.

I purchased the English Bible of French Cuisine: The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and her two culinary cronies Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

What one doesn't realize going into a tome like this is that you can't actually begin the cooking process for about a week after you purchase the book. There is a lot of background on the kinds of wines and butters and cookware you'll need before you even begin. Then there is a lot of shopping.

All this means you'll spend a long time licking your chops in anticipation. Much longer than you anticipated, in fact.

I started with her poached eggs, which taste the same as the usual poached eggs. But it took so long to read the instructions before and during the process that my I started to believe these would be The Poached Eggs to End All Poached Eggs.

Nope. Pretty standard stuff.

But then I moved onto Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons.

Translation: Chicken breasts with Mushrooms and Cream.

Translation for anyone who grew up in the 80s: Chicken breasts swimming in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.

For this, I bought a cast-iron-dutch-oven-pot-thing like all the fancy chefs use on TV.

As I walked this heavy-as-heck pot home, I realized my One Suitcase nomadic days are over.

There is that moment in a girl's life when she makes the dutch oven purchase. 

Another era hath begun.

The Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons took all I had. There was the trip to the grocery store. Easy enough. But then I had to go to the wine store and ask for Medeira, which according to Julia was to be of a medium-dry type. Now all that's fine and good until you have to ask for it in French. But off I went to the wine store. I smiled, spouted my rehearsed line and the guy handed me a dry white saying in perfect English, "You don't want the Medeira. This is better."

Why do I even get stressed about these things?

When I got home, I turned on Julie & Julia on with the French voice-overs so I could practice French and get in the mood, but I soon shut it off when I realized there was browning and simmering, there was putting things in the pot and taking things out of the pot to put them in again later. There were too many instructions for what was once:
  1. Cook chicken 
  2. Add Cream of Mushroom soup
  3. Heat
I'm glad I had that dry white wine because I didn't realize how stressful French cooking could be. The end result, I admit, was better than my Campbell's soup concoctions of yore. And I even found that at the end of the meal, I was scooping up every last trace of sauce with my fingers. And that practice was once reserved only for chocolate pudding.

Mmmm... I wonder if Julia has a recipe for that.



Bon appetit!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Letter of the Month

I shipped off my first batch of letters today for my new business, Letter of the Month.

And ooooh wee! Does it feel nice.

Letter of the Month is a subscription service I created on Etsy. Each month I send subscribers a letter from Paris, which includes a painted letter like this:
The package also includes a postcard, photograph or other lovely ephemera I find in my explorations through Paris and the rest of Europe.

Best. Job. Ever.

Each morning I wake to Christophe who brings me a coffee. Sweet. We sit in bed and sip. Half way through the cup, he starts to get ready for his work day, which can't happen soon enough because I'm already reaching for my iPhone to check to see if I have any orders.

Which I do!!!! Blessings ahoy!

When he leaves for work, he says, "Go back to sleep. It's early." I nod.

But when the front door closes, I leap out of bed, slip into my most businessy looking outfit and begin fulfilling orders. Envelopes! Postcards! Paint! Print outs! Stamps! Heaven!
At the end of this frenzy of fun, I behold the finished product:
Ta daaaa!
I walk up the street with these little beauties and stop at the butcher shop for a smooch with Christophe. He sees my handful of envelopes and smiles. I skip/run to the post office and send these little envelopes of bliss on their merry way.

Isn't this a lot like Direct Mail, the career you left all dramatic-like in December 2010? 

I admit, I am actually creating mail that goes directly to you, which may seem a lot like direct mail. Back in my advertising agency days, I created a lot of direct mail. Some people (most) would call it junk mail and others (agency presidents) would call it strategic marketing. People think advertising is all car commercials and print ads for GQ. In reality, there is a lot of slugging through the grind of getting the other 99% of advertising out the door.

But with this Letter of the Month service? I'm burning through my direct mail karma.

You, dear reader, have most likely received some direct marketing from a satellite company, phone company, roadside assistance company or healthcare provider in the last few years. If so, there is a good chance I had a hand in creating it.

Sorry about that.

I imagine you came home from a long day at work, grabbed the mail, saw what I had written and exclaimed, "Not this shit again."

I could be wrong. You could have said, "Oh wow, now is a really great time to switch my service. I'm going to call today!" but I doubt it.

Don't get me wrong. My advertising days paid for my current awesome life here in Paris and I'm super grateful for every single day that I had the opportunity to work hard and save up so I could live the life I have now.

But there is still the nagging feeling that the mail I created was... annoying.

So, I opened my Letter of the Month business, where you, dear reader, can be met with a little envelope of awesomeness every month.

How did I come up with the idea?
  1. My nurture project. Recently, I wrote about how I was going to replace my New Year's resolution with a Nurture Project. The idea behind a Nurture Project is to pick a friend that could use a little extra nurturing and to secretly nurture her all year long. Pretty simple stuff. Part of my plan was to send her a letter each month.
  2. My friend Áine. Áine has traveled far and wide for the last decade. We've sent a gazillion letters back and forth, but recently the letter sending has gone dry. So for her birthday, instead of getting her a wrapped gift, I gave her a promise to send her a letter every month of the year. 
  3. The painted letters of Percy Kelly. I came across this artist in my travels through Yorkshire Dales last Easter. He sent painted letters to his friend Jane for years. Jane kept them all. I happened to be staying at Jane's daughters house in Kirby Longsdale, where many of the original letters happily hang. Super inspiring.
If you have a friend you want to nurture, or if you want to receive fun mail, subscribe to Letter of the Month. When that letter arrives in the mail, it will put a smile on your face. Guaranteed!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Numerology explained

Ever wonder why people go ape shit over numerology? Me, too. So I went and found out so you wouldn't have to. You're welcome.

I found this video series on eHow that explains numerology. First you need to calculate your numbers. And for that, use the videos. She shows you how with a big pen and paper because it's mathy and simple, but too complicated to explain.
You'll need the name chart for calculating your name number, which is here:
Again, you're welcome.
So now that you've figured out your number, here's a handy dandy guide to telling you what it means.

What the numbers mean in numerology.

1. Leadership
You crave being in a position of prominence and are kind of a loner. You also dominate situations but not necessarily in a bad way. You're good at starting projects but not necessarily good at finishing them, which is why you'll never make it to the last book of the series. Ruled by the sun.





2. Partnership
You're the wind beneath someone else's wings. You're into being a partner, a follower, a good little supporter. You don't even see that you can be a push over. You also don't get resentful about the fact that they made a bunch films starring your boss and even resorted to making prequels, never once imagining making a film about you. Ruled by the moon... and your boss who you make look so good.


3. Creative
You're good times. You're into having fun. You're full of energy and tend to be an easy spender. In fact, you can be overly generous, so feel free to use my Donate button. You're also super artistic and can sometimes be too loud. Ruled by Jupiter.

4. Stability
This is Saint Peter, who built the church. You're into building strong foundations and are driven by success and security. Your constant need to be right annoys others. Ruled by Uranus, which I can't even say without giggling.

5. Change
You crave variety, love excitement, are adventurous, a good communicator and a good gambler. You're the kind of person worth who can travel on a warm summer's evening on a train bound for nowhere and not get freaked out. Ruled by Mercury.



6. Healer
You're the friend people confide in, shoulder they cry on, and are into keeping everything happy and harmonious. Conflict ain't you're bag, baby. You're a lover, not a fighter. You look sexy in an apron and we all know you have a crush on the dude who lives upstairs. Ruled by Venus.

7. Mystic
You're kinda psychic, which makes people think that you have a horseshoe up your arse because you tend to be quite lucky with solving crimes week after week. You're just intuitive and put things together in your head easily. You also happen to be the hottest thing ever.

8. Power
You are so money. You're attract financial abundance. You and money go together like peas and carrots, peanut better and jelly, the double header of Friends and Will and Grace or Thursday nights and Lost. Sometimes you can be downright evil. Ruled by Saturn.

9. Humanitarian
You're a do-gooder. You're the humanitarian. You make others feel like schmucks for not being as worldly or as kind as you. You're all about the greater good, which makes you great in the world but annoying at cocktail parties. Ruled by Mars.
What's your number?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

20 minute beauty regime

So what does a girl get up to in the first two weeks in Paris?

Not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Not the Louvre. Not the ballet.

She lays a floor in her bedroom.
That's right, folks. I laid a floor. All. By. My. Self.

Why?


Because Christophe thought the floor was just fine as it was. And one thing I learned on the road of nomadic bloggery, Do First, Ask Permission Later.

I've always been rather willful. 

I've never actually installed a floor before, but my dad is a flooring guy and when I was a kid I picked up a lot watching him while I was involved with my only instruction of staying out of his hair.

I was a little scared to start. Not just because I moved in with a guy and started our cohabitation by changing things. But the first time doing anything new tends to bring up plenty of fears of not being talented enough, smart enough or even just physically strong enough. To combat said fears, I did two things:
  1. I told my Super Support Posse. I have a bi-monthly call with two lovely ladies. It's an hour of supporting each other as we wrangle up ideas and move through the steps of our dreams. They did their job wonderfully by giving me the permission I wanted to give myself to lay that floor.
  2. I set my alarm for 20 minutes. I told myself I only had to do it for 20 minutes and then I could rest and move onto something else. Everything worthwhile in this world can get done by starting with 20 minutes. 
"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
With the support of my Super Support Posse behind me and 20 minutes ahead of me, I began. After the first 20 minutes I had a few planks down. They were looking pretty good so I put another 20 minutes on the clock and another few planks down. Four hours later (including another trip to the hardware store because I didn't measure correctly) I was done and it looked fabulous. I had a pile of dull blades from my cutting knife, bruises up and down my arms and a smile of satisfaction on my face.

Three cheers for me!

I also had half a pack of the planks left over so I recovered the gawdawful shelf in the bathroom for another three hours and now my original smile of satisfaction has turned into beams of pride whenever I sleep or pee.

True. Not making this up.

Christophe came home and said it looks better but retains his opinion that it looked fine before. Though he admitted later that my added joviality around the house makes me sexier.

Being in Paris reminds me how important it is to surround oneself with things that bring joy, whether it be people we love, flowers or even a new bedroom floor. Constantly surrounding ourselves with what brings joy raises our soul energy and, I think, makes us healthier human beings.

In Paris, insistence on beauty has seeped into the culture so much that Parisians become offended by having to look at something that isn't lovely. It's probably why everyone gets dolled up to run across the street for two minutes to grab a brioche. Why yoga pants are only for yoga. Why the green garbage trucks patrol the city like an occupying army. Or why, when you're just out grabbing a few groceries to feed your family, you're treated to beautiful scene to feed your soul...

The government at Hotel de Ville and a Carousel. Work and play mingle lovingly in Paris.

Oh Notre Dame, you're gilding the lily with that tree out front.
A Vélib cyclist zipping around town.
Right outside my apartment. I live a charmed life.
What will you do with your 20 minutes? 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best. Resolution. Ever.

The photo above is the New Year's resolution of my friend and designer extraordinaire Eva Rees, who is also the super sexy model in this photo:

She is also the co-author of Forks & Jets, a picturesque blog about her year of traveling around the world and munching local fare along the way.

I just LOVE her New Year's resolution. It's well thought-out, infused with kind self-improvement and tinted with adventure. It's also pretty and frame-worthy, which could help one actually remember the resolutions one writes. She's one inspiring soul. 

In the past, my New Year's resolutions have reeked of self-loathing and punishable acts of starvation in order to reach some ridiculous and unkind number on the scale. But not this year. 

First, living in Paris, I haven't figured out how to effectively judge myself in kilos.

Second, in this city I can walk off every piece of brie I consume. So that's gonna happen, gleefully.

Third, I opted for taking on a Nurture Project instead of a New Year's resolution. In one ridiculously popular post I wrote a few weeks ago, I describe a Nurture Project:
The Nurture Project is when you pick a person that needs a little nurturing and you nurture them. Pretty simple stuff. There is only one rule: You can't tell them. It's a big fat secret.

If they knew they were officially being nurtured, they may feel like a charity case. Nobody wants that.
The feedback I've already received from the Nurture Project has been incredible. People have even stopped me in the street and told me that they were super psyched to replace their New Year's resolution with a Nurture Project. Most people already know who they are going to choose. My friend Karen, who was pulling out of my driveway in Canada, stopped and rolled down the window to tell me that the Nurture Project has an expansive feeling while a New Year's resolution has a contracting feeling. Well said.

My Nurture Project is already under way. Along with sending a few letters and emails, I've incorporated a little daily prayer to send good vibes her way. Whenever I say grace at dinner, I send out silent prayer for her, too. Whenever I brush my teeth, I do the same. Not that brushing teeth is a highly spiritual practice, but it is something I do every day and it reminds me to send good vibes her way. I've basically incorporated the power of prayer into my nurture project. I don't know if it will change anything, but it certainly can't hurt.

What is your New Year's resolution and/or Nurture Project?

P.S. Yesterday, Christophe's friend stopped by the apartment. There was a hot water heater issue and generally house repair require many French men to stand around and discuss. In Paris, these guys don't have cars to stand around so they have to stand around hot water heaters. I said to his friend, "Bonne Année." Happy New Year. And he replied with a laugh, "Et Bonne Santé." I didn't understand why he laughed, so off I went to Google to find out. I found this cute expression from About.com:
The simplest way to wish someone a happy new year in French is with Bonne année !, but Bonne année et bonne santé is a classic expression. In English, we say "happy new year," but the "new" is unnecessary in French - bonne année does the whole job. The addition of bonne santé (good health) is not only a nice thought, but it also rhymes, making a little sing-songy sort of phrase.
Good to know. I like me some sing-songy French phrases. So, dear reader,  Bonne année et bonne santé.
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