Summer Unplugged

Ah summer! For most of us, it is too brief. Whether you are enjoying outdoor recreation, gardening or simply basking in effortless mild weather, summer offers us a taste of freedom. Our clothes are lighter, our schedules less congested even our meals are more spontaneous and less complex. Summer is also the time for shedding some of the bulk from our communications habits.

Take the plunge and shed your electronics, leave the chargers at home and deactivate the roaming plan  and keep in touch by  postcards. A few words, a sketch or line from a song written in your own hand offers connections with intimacy and ease.

Just like Twitter, your message  space is limited. Words are chosen carefully to capture the moment and engage the reader. Both methods commonly include an image and both are less than private ways to share thoughts. But postcards still trump Twitter. No one decorates their work space or locker door with tweets. Handwritten words on the back of a scenic card connect you to the reader with authenticity.

While you are exploring this summer, send Refinemark a postcard and you may win a set of our beautiful letterpressed social postcards.  2168 Meadow Vale Drive Victoria BC V9B 6J2

 “The postcard is a great neglected literary form about fifty words in length.” —Garrison Keillor, quoted in The Man from Lake Wobegon by Michael Fedo

Going Postal?

Summer is the perfect time for seeking out new experiences and there’s nothing like travel to expand your horizons and meet new people. If you are looking to explore a bit off the beaten tourist trail, here are a few suggestions.

Often the centre of a community is the post office. Locals catch up on the news, notices of events are posted and visitors are welcomed. Years ago I lived in a small town and that meant picking up our mail at the post office. In my opinion there was only one better place to learn about what was going on in town and that was the doctor’s waiting room.

Admittedly  not every post office is a tourist destination but there are a few notables that are worth highlighting.

Starting in Toronto, a visit to the First Post Office Museum is a great place to discover a unique point of interest. This is the sole surviving example  of a British Colonial Post Office. As well as being a fully functioning post office it is a fun place for all ages to explore a bit of history and engage in the practice of letter writing.

Any of the Smithsonian museums are wonderful places to visit but the National Post office Museum in Washington DC is a treasure trove of quirky facts and fun history. Starting this August and running until September 2016 is an intriguing exhibit called the Power of the Postcard. Any of the permanent exhibits are also worthwhile… and free!

One of my favourite postal landmarks is the Casa de Correos in Madrid.  This post office is located in the historic Puerta del Sol where Madrileño have gathered for centuries to exchange the latest news, socialize and protest. Goya’s “The 3rd of May 1808″ depicts a dramatic incident that took place outside the post office on that date: a firing squad.  The post office continues to be a rallying point for demonstrations to this day.  We were fortunate to witness one such passionate event from our hotel balcony complete with all manner of banners, protesters and police presence.

Have fun “going postal” this summer!

While you are exploring this summer, send Refinemark a postcard and you may win a set of our beautiful letterpressed social postcards.  2168 Meadow Vale Drive Victoria BC V9B 6J2

Don’t Forget to Write!

Summer offers the best combination of excitement and relaxation. If you have plans to get away during the summer you might be in “count down” mode, gathering your gear and getting set to jet. Perhaps your summer is dedicated to pure relaxation close to home. Either way vacation times are great opportunities to connect via letters or postcards. Keeping with the vacation theme, postcards offer convenience and fun.

If you are travelling, picking up a local postcard and searching out a post office can be a great way to mingle with the locals. Writing from a cafe table or at the beach carries your experience  to the receiver in a much fresher way than a text or email. Imagine the delight that your intended receiver will have when they see your handwriting on the back of a postcard. These are connections that are hard to beat.

You might also want to send postcards to yourself! I know when I am on vacation, the days are so busy that unless I record the day’s events in my travel journal, whoosh, they are gone as new sights and sounds replace them. When you arrive home, your mailbox is full of postcards and written vignettes of your vacation, ready to enjoy again.

Refinemark would love to receive a postcard from you as you travel this summer. Send a card to 2168 Meadow Vale Drive, Victoria BC V9B 6J2 and you may win a set of our own postcards.

Just Post It!

Don’t  you love finding a postcard from afar in your mailbox? One of life’s little pleasures is now a rare treat but has lost none of its appeal for senders and receivers. Clearly the precursor to the tweet or txt but loaded with much more charm.

We tend think of post cards bearing images of tourist attractions, basically advertisements meant to encourage travel. Travelers can send a few words of their experience back home and remind the receiver they are remembered. A gift! Who hasn’t pinched a hotel postcard as a souvenir of their stay? A bundle of hotel postcards can make a compact collection of architecture and travel style.

The standard 4″ x 6″ postcard does more than sell scenery.  They are a great way to get around the “No Photos” rule in museums and galleries.  Most gift shops carry postcards of highlight exhibits.  Taken by professionals, they are often better than the image you sneak with your phone.  Mailing them to your own address gives you something to look forward to when you return home. Tacked to the wall of your work station, they are mini mental breaks as you toil through the mundane.

Other cultural institutions produce postcards advertising performance dates and serve as a take away poster.  In 1923 the Bauhaus school in Weimar announced its first exhibit by having the students and masters create postcards to raise interest and invite influential guests.  Recently a collection of 20 original postcards was purchased by New York’s MOMA  and features the work of Klee and Kandinsky.

Refinemark would love to receive a postcard from you this summer.  Send a card to 2168 Meadow Vale Drive, Victoria BC, Canada V9B 6J2 and you may win a set of our own postcards.

“Send me things in the mail. Wherever you go, I don’t care where you go, just send me something in the mail from where you are.” —Wallace Berman

The Maple Leaf … Forever!

Canada has often been compared to  a marriage. Tensions push and pull as the partners give and take. With persistence, tenacity, and love the bonds grow. Well this marriage has seen its share of struggles and triumphs over the past 148 years. Some challenges come within our cultural partnerships and some are part of our natural essence. Just as with families, it is not easy to keep everyone connected when they are flung across the second largest country by land mass in the world.

Historically, the railroad and Trans Canada highway are credited key players in upholding the unity. But the national family could not have survived without postal service to connect us to each other and the rest of the world. The early settlers shared news of their struggles and adventures in letters, written as they lived what became our history.Those letters are part of our rich heritage.

The first paid mail delivered within Canada happened in 1693, a mere 174 years before Confederation. The Royal Mail of Canada was official created in 1867 and later evolved to our Crown corporation, Canada Post. No easy task, the Post Office thrived on the task of establishing a system of postal offices across our vast country. Post Masters and Mistresses were entrusted with ensuring the vital network functioned through all seasons and geographical  challenges. Even 148 years on, it is not any easier.

Mail in Canada has been delivered by creative and ingenious methods: dog sled, railroad, open cockpit bush planes, horse relays, canoe, steamer and bicycle. Canada’s story is still being told and letters are the threads that make our tapestry unique, beautiful, and alive. Happy Canada Day.

Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. Simone Signoret

Jigsaw Letters

Love them or hate ’em jigsaw puzzles are seductive. See the pretty picture … hmmm only 500 pieces … the perfect way to pass an idle afternoon. Except the afternoon slips into an evening and you can’t stop until that last piece clicks into place. Your mind becomes fixed on the subtle nuances of colours and shapes. Fitting a sought after piece becomes a mini triumph toward completing the whole picture.

Do you have a bundle of letters tucked away in a drawer? A collection of letters can be like a box of puzzle pieces. Individually they are a colourful snapshot of someone’s story at a point in time and as a collection they compose a bigger picture, chronicle a relationship or a life.

Having a collection of letters sounds lovely and nostalgic – the stuff novels and TV movies are based on. More than relics of the past though,  letters are opportunities to send your thoughts and insights into the future. Like the puzzle pieces, each letter contributes to something bigger. The letters you write are quietly shaded pieces of expression. Valuable individually and priceless as a collection.

Don’t stress over writing deep profound missives. The simple notes recounting everyday life are part of your unique story generously shared. I treasure  a tattered and stained notebook containing  my mom’s favourite recipes written in a cryptic style. They aren’t all great recipes but they do tell me something about her and the time they were written: her legacy.

So take up your pen and put together your legacy, one piece at a time.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Lewis Carroll

But wait … there’s more!

June is a month of transitions: shifting gears from spring to summer, from engaged to married and from student to graduate.  Moving forward from the familiar and flinging open the windows to embrace fresh opportunity and new life.  But before we do that we pause and mark significant milestones with ceremony, celebration and gifts.

Graduations are at the crossroads of life.  Students breathe a sigh of relief that dedication and effort has brought them to this point in life’s journey. Parents and supporters also have a sense of accomplishment.  However graduations are truly one of life’s great beginnings, never a dead end.  Graduations are  not accomplishments for their own sake. They mark the point where significant tools and insights have been accumulated in readiness for making choices in life.

So what can we give a grad to further equip them and acknowledge the milestone? Something easy to carry as they move forward, something small , precious and priceless that connects the grad to the moment and the giver.  Graduation is the perfect occasion for a hand written letter.

Graduates are bombarded with advice. Writing a letter allows the grad to hold on to those words longer than all the speeches made on the big day.  Your letter can be a reminder that graduation is also a time of gratitude for support and encouragement.  A letter can help settle the unavoidable fears that are faced when life changes  overwhelm.  A letter can reassure a grad that the drive and discipline that got them to graduation will also carry them forward into the unknown.

The best piece of advice I offer is this: life is short.  Write the letter.

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Ultimate Tool for Father’s Day

June turns our focus to milestones: graduations, weddings, anniversaries.  And who is often a reoccurring character at those milestone events? A father.

As with Mothers,  Fathers rarely fit a mold but they do have a significant place in most of our lives.  They don’t waver too far off their defined path.  We count on that which is part of why we are happy to honour them. Sometimes it is hard to think of a father apart from his role in our lives but a father is also a person. Getting to know and appreciate that part of a father is not always easy. Many men play their cards close to their chests and children are often cautious about asking for personal details. But there is a powerful tool at our disposal that may help unlock the man from the role.  A letter.

Whether you are a dad writing to your child or the reverse, a letter is a strong and private way to share emotions and insights that are hard to express. A letter can bridge a gap and cut through the formal veneer of relationships with precision and honesty.

Maybe you have something to tell your dad or your child that unlocks the key to understanding your relationship. Maybe, it is simply a thank you for long forgotten acts of love you want to set in ink.  A handwritten letter can enhance your relationship more than the latest electronic gadget or a set of golf balls.

Father’s Day isn’t for a few weeks but now is the time to put your thoughts on paper and create a gift to treasure.

“My father said there were two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers.  The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.” Marlo Thomas


Wanna know a secret?

As a kid, did you have a special language or secret code for messages to your best friend?  There is something inside us that delights in those special ways to communicate.  As we have seen in the Enigma story, secret codes can be serious.  Cracking them can affect the future of civilisations.  Like good secrets, codes excite and tantalize us.

Humans are inventive creatures and we have developed codes for a wide array of social interactions.  From fan flirting to the language of flowers, we love to communicate in secret.

The placement of stamps on post cards or letters is one such code.  When mail service was first introduced, the postage was paid by the recipient of a letter.  For some, the cost was prohibitive.  Soon inventive letter writers devised a neat code to convey a message that would not result in a cost to the receiver.  An addressed post card may have no written message but the position of the stamp was itself the message.  The post man would present the card and the receiver “read” the real message without paying a postage fee.

The Danes are credited with this concise method of communication known as “Frimærkesprog”, meaning “stamp language”  Meanings vary from country to country but if you received a card whose stamp was upside down in the top left corner, you were loved!  A stamp that was placed upside down in the top right corner signaled  that you should write no more.  Collectors of postcards are crazy for this variant of communication.

Eventually the British government, alarmed at the loss of revenue due to refused mail, reversed the process and the system of prepaid postage came into practice.

With the prevalence of emails and texting, why not try the simple practice of letter writing to share your secrets.  Who would guess?

Secrecy is the cement of friendship. Wellins Calcott


Mother of All Letter Writers

In Canada, we celebrate the third Monday in May as Victoria Day to mark Queen Victoria’s birthday. Eager for a celebration, we turn the birthday into a long weekend filled with gardening and camping.

Mention “Queen Victoria” and a gloomy image of a tiny, long-reigning monarch springs to mind.  She produced nine heirs, 42 grandchildren earning the nick name “The Grandmother of Europe”.  But there is much more to this monarch than you might think: Victoria is also known for her devotion to letter writing.

Behind that royal veil of decorum  beat a passionate heart, writing therapeutically and boldly.  Aside from writing letters, she also kept journals. Despite the fact that her daughter revised  and destroyed  many of Victoria’s private documents, the essence of her personality remains available for us to discover.  The volume of material is so vast and fascinating that recently the BBC aired a two part program called “Queen Victoria’s Letters, a Monarch Unveiled.”

Reading her letters, we learn that Victoria was more “earthy” than you might think.  She gets right down to brass tacks when correcting her children.  Her opinions on marriage, pregnancy and homely babies are nothing less than radically honest, even when weighed against our modern attitudes.  Some may say her pronouncements are harsh but I think her letters give balance to the official image that history projects.

So there you go, the royal gauntlet has been thrown down.  Take up the challenge and leave a your own legacy of letters behind.  We may lack royal blood but our stories do matter.

 ‘Nobody writes anymore, so there’ll be nothing left.’ Queen Elizabeth, great grand daughter of Queen Victoria, lamenting at a Windsor Castle dinner in 1991