Just a Note…

August 25, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

I am not ashamed to admit that I still get childishly excited about receiving mail. I’m not talking bills and advertisements, but honest-to-goodness personal cards with canceled stamps, handwritten addresses, the whole nine yards. (Conversely: There is a special spot in hell reserved for direct marketers who send me junk mail masquerading as a letter from a friend.)

I’m not a luddite, mind: E-mail, Facebook, blogs, text messaging… they all let me keep in touch with more of my friends more often (and more easily) than would have ever been possible in the hand-written days. But when baby announcements come via status update, or engagements are made known through mass texts, you have to wonder if we haven’t lost something in the tradeoff.

For me, it all boils down to the time that someone has invested in the communication. Writing a note requires you to slow down and actually think about what you’re going to say — much different from the stream-of-consciousness, cut-and-paste writing habits we develop online. I love seeing my friends’ handwriting — all so particular to their own personalities — their writing style, the beautiful or witty cards that represent their tastes (or something calculated to get a laugh). I’ll carefully tuck away my favorites and pull them out occasionally, enjoying the snapshot in time of particular friends and memories.

Trust me, no one is ever going to say that about your e-mails.

I’m betting I’m not alone here, either — so why don’t we send notes and letters more often? Again, I think it boils down to time: E-mail is always readily available; hunting for stamps and addresses is a pain; finding the right card can be a chore, and expensive. (I say this as someone who has spent countless hours in the card aisle of the drugstore, cursing the Hallmark gods for the endless waves of hang-in-there kitten schlock.)

But with the right tools and a little planning, you can be sending out gorgeous, heartfelt notes in no time. A few tricks that help me:

Have a stationery spot.

Actually getting around to writing those notes means striking while the iron is hot, which means having all your tools in one handy place. I have a small drawer in my desk filing cabinet that is strictly for letter-writing supplies — note cards, envelopes, stamps, and good pens — thereby assuring that I always have tools at the ready when I need, say, a last-minute tag for a gift or a birthday card to send to my mom. If you don’t have a drawer, get a shoebox — anything accessible, yet separate, where you can keep all your letter-writing implements together.

Speaking of which:

Have nice tools.

I’m much more likely to want to write a note if I have a good pen and nice paper to do it with. Fool around at the craft store until you find pens you like; I’m a big fan of these. I keep a wide assortment of cards, too — pretty sets I get as gifts, leftover Christmas cards, postcards, etc. And because I have a dedicated stationery spot, I can always buy something that strikes my fancy and save it for later, knowing that I’ll be able to find it again.

For all the beautiful cards out there, though, sometimes the simplest ones are my favorite: They’re a blank canvas for any occasion and always appropriate. I’ll pick up a pack of blank, cream-colored cards in a heavy stock, as well as some colored envelopes (I love this site for all shapes, sizes, and colors), and dress them up as necessary, for a fraction of the cost of prepackaged stationery.

Add a personal touch.

You’re already impressing your friends by sending them a card; why not push them right over the edge by sending them a personalized card? This doesn’t require lots of time or artistic talent, but a little effort goes a long way.

You can go the traditional route and get an embosser with your monogram on it, and you’ll have matching, personalized stationery for the rest of your life. I’ve ordered several embossers from this site as wedding gifts for friends. They make for such elegant cards:

For something a little more whimsical, a simple stamp will do:

I love feeding cards through a manual typewriter to add just the right message on the front in some killer font; see that minimalist thank-you card above.

Best of all, if you have children, you have a never-ending supply of original artwork for your cards. Trust me: Family members always love getting scribbles from their grandkids, nieces, and nephews. So make those preschoolers start earning their keep by designing cards for you.

Most of all:

Just write.

Sometimes knowing what to say is tricky, but don’t let it stop you from saying anything at all — just sending a card is half the battle. There’s nothing wrong with employing a little help here, either, particularly since the art of letter-writing doesn’t come naturally these days. So long as you’re writing something from the heart, you can’t go far wrong.

What about you? Are you a letter-writer or card-sender? What tricks do you have for making it easy?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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1 Jen August 25, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Amen to the joys of getting personal notes! Even type-written notes from friends are still a joy.

P recently celebrated a big milestone birthday, but coming right at the tail-end of our wedding and honeymoon extravaganza, I was really stumped by how to celebrate it. It was a big deal, but how do you top a week in Costa Rica? Not to mention we were both tired and wary of spending any more money for a while. In the end, I gave him a nice dinner and a handwritten love-letter, begun while we were on the honeymoon. I had nothing on hand nicer than lined steno-pad paper, but it served its purpose!

I’ll definitely be investing in some good stationery soon.


Margaret Cabaniss 2 M.C. Cabaniss August 26, 2011 at 8:23 am

Bravo, Jen! I’m betting you good money that he hangs on to that letter longer than any other gift you could have gotten him for his birthday. And really, when you’re on the receiving end of a letter like that, you don’t care what kind of paper it’s written on. I find nice tools may help inspire me to write, but your experience is a good reminder that they certainly aren’t necessary.


3 Judy Cabaniss August 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I’m impressed that you actually have a birthday card for your Mom.
Especially since my birthday is next week!!!!!

I have to say though, with grandchildren sprouting up everywhere, I will buy special birthday cards for them, and then can’t find them when their special day arrives. (And I have a special place for cards in my file cabinet.)
Yikes! I just remembered that Thomas has a birthday Sept. 4!


4 Agnes August 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I think that hand writing is such a beautiful way to receive a message. It harkens back to days where time was spent contemplating what should be said before it was said.


5 Judy August 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Having been married for so long (43 years) I well-remember writing love letters to my husband before we were married. Ah the days before cell phones, when long-distance was 25 cents a minute – that meant lots of letters back and forth, and I still remember how I looked forward to the mail every day. After all these years I still have every one.


6 Kathleen August 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm

So inspirational! About four times a year, I’ll actually remember to send someone a really nice (non-thank you) note, but I wish I remembered more often. I’m going to try out your tips!


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