30 May 2012

RECEIVED: Just in from Boston

Somebody out there has one crazy typewriter!

29 May 2012

Urban Farming - 2nd Summer - Setting Up

Last summer's community garden experience wound up being a bit of a science experiment.  Fun, interesting, but bit of a bust in terms of a substantive harvest.  So this year I am going to switch things up a bit.  I'd used our front porch for pretty stuff and some herbs.  This summer, I am going to try container gardening.  

The beginning set

Last weekend I cleared away the winter's stash of firewood and swept away all the old leaves.  Then during the week, when I took breaks from my remote database management job, I started to get the pots up from the basement and began testing out how I wanted to arrange them all.

Our upstairs neighbor/landlord is lending me some blown glass watering bulbs.  Last year we had some pretty hot days and I didn't always get out there to water the poor bairns.  Maybe these will help in case I fall behind again.

Always encouraging is this perennial I dug up from our shared backyard several years ago.  I just wanted something leafy that first summer when we moved in.  This beastie - have no idea what it is -- has been showing up every spring for 3 years now.  Yes, it's a perennial and that's what they do - but I have not treated this plant particularly well.  I thought it had died after Year 1 and just left the pot uncovered and unprotected out on the porch all through the winter. 

Last week I took an afternoon to get the first round of plants in.

 Two varieties of tomatoes, with protective chicken wire 
(we have many cats and squirrels who visit our porch on a regular basis).

The kitchen herbs (thyme, sage, 2 kinds of mint, basil & rosemary).
Plus 4 'sweet banana peppers' and 1 green pepper.

All the Pretties!

Porch garden at day's end.

Next week I'll be putting in some seeds: green beans, carrots, and several varieties of leaf lettuce.  As things get all 'bloomy' and stuff, I'll post some updated pics.

25 May 2012

Fictional Correspondences: So You Are an Imaginary Correspondent . . . What's Next?

If you've come this far along into the delightful journey that is a fictional correspondence you are about to write some actual letters. But what to say?  How to begin?

A fictional correspondence is a shared creative experience.  You and your partner(s) are writing a combined story. In a sense you are also sharing the stage as actors in a play you are creating as you go! The mode of writing a letter keeps things personal and, perhaps, less scary.  You are just two people talking, essentially.  

WHO you are is one place to start.  If your persona is a an explorer, you can begin by talking about your latest expedition.  If you are an actor, you could write about the new play you are in; or a play you've been doing for some time and have some amusing backstage stories to tell.  

For some people, creating a backstory is one way of getting a handle on things.  Here's a useful definition: "Backstory refers to everything that occurred in your story's past. A character's backstory may include family background, job history, psychological condition, and any memories you create for that person from childhood on. The backstory of a situation includes events that led up to it and a suggestion of why that situation's occurring now. I got that here, and they include a useful checklist of things that a backstory might include.

Let your character tell you who s/he is and go on from there.

WHAT to write is mostly a matter of timing.  Say your character is the explorer I mentioned. Do you want to begin at the beginning - that is, introducing yourself to your game-correspondent? 

That is one way to do it, though as with real life letter writing, that first letter can be a real challenge.  One way to handle that is to make the introduction a part of the story you want to tell.  As an explorer I might write this:

Or you can begin, as the literary types like to say, in medias res which translates as "in the middle of things."  TermWiki nicely defines it for us: "The literary device of beginning a narrative, such as an epic poem, at a crucial point in the middle of a series of events. The intent is to create an immediate interest from which the author can then move backward in time to narrate the story." 

Odysseus and Calypso, 1883 (Arnold Bocklin)

One of the most famous examples of in medias res is Homer's epic poem  Odyssey.  As it opens we first hear about the hero Odysseus' journey when he is held captive on the siren Calypso's island. Later, in Books IX through XII, we find out that the greater part of Odysseus' journey preceded the Calypso adventure.

You can see how handy it is to begin this way. By jumping right in, you don't have to worry about creating an elaborate back story for your character. That can develop as part of things as you and your correspondent(s) go along.  An example of this approach in a first letter could be like this:

Doing it this way opens up all sorts of avenues for your story and -- very importantly -- for your correspondent.  For a letter game is not a solitary, me only, endeavor.  You are playing with someone else and, ideally, you are all having fun.  You are dancing with stories.

Only it's a dance where no one is the single leader.  For one letter, you may take the story in hand; in the next your partner will.  

In the letter game I share with my friend in Vienna, I never quite know what is going to happen.  I will write a letter with some thoughts in mind and she will come back with a whole new twist on it.  Needless to say, it keeps things lively. I recently heard from her that her character is "currently traveling incognito."  What this means I have no idea, but I am most curious to see what happens next!

Next in the Series: Creating "Really Real" Mail.  This will be posted on June 6th.

You can follow the series via these links.
6. Fictional Correspondences: So You Are an Imaginary Correspondent . . . What's Next? (this one)

Congratulations Dragon & SpaceX!

Live Long and Prosper
Our future looks brighter thanks to you.

21 May 2012

VIDEOS: Two Kinds of Movement

These two videos are fascinating to me and and deeply satisfying on some silly soul level. 

Thanks to the folks at Present & Correct and Folderol, respectively,  for bringing these to my attention.

17 May 2012

Real Post Packages for Imaginary Wizards: Second of Four

I recently reported (here and here) on the be-costumed movie night I enjoyed with some of the cast/world builders of the past summer's wizarding event. One fun aspect of the evening was the delivery of the post.  Last summer only the kids received mail and that was fine as it fit in with the storyline we'd created for the day.  But everyone likes to get mail!  So I had fun creating some for some of our school of magic faculty.

Image source/credit (left)                                           

Our Professor of Muggle and Magical Studies is quite the dashing dresser in real life.  He would look perfectly at ease in one of the bow ties above.  He has a bit of the Lord Peter Whimsey way about him (the Edward Petherbridge version). An especially amusing part of the summer's event was this elegantly dressed professor teaching the young First Years how to dress so as to properly pass in non-magical society.  As he himself was simultaneously wearing a long dress tie and a bow tie, the results were entertainingly discombobulated.

The item for the Professor's post package was a SpellCatcher. In its previous, non-magical life it had been the container for a very large, very smelly bottle of bath perfume!  I recognized its true nature immediately one day at the Salvation Army Family Store, a resale shop west of here.  I removed the stinky bottle and cleaned up the glittering pyramid.  

The SpellCatcher was about 8 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.  I had no box in my vast stash of boxes that would fit it.  So I cast my eyes about me and what I saw was this sitting on a pantry shelf.

Clearly something had to be done to 'demugglefy' it!  Step 1 was to locate a large cardboard box to use as the painting box.  Step 2 was two coats of blue spray enamel (the leftover paint from the House Keys I made for the summer event).

Step 3: a smattering of gold spray paint to give the surface a bit of depth and blingitude.

Step 4: the proper packaging labels (so that the folks at the wizarding warehouse would be able to quickly and correctly identify the item for shipping).  These I made using Microsoft Word.  The graphic was the same one I made for the letterhead stationery I used for the Professor's letter (below).  I tinted it blue to match the box color.

The font I used on the SKU label is called "Keypunch."  You can download it for free here.  The round target shape to the left is actually another font, pumped up to 48 point size.  The font is called "CropBats AOE" and is free here at DaFont, an excellent resource for fonts.  The barcode is a graphic I grabbed from Google Images after searching the term barcode

Now, on to the letter and packaging.

As with all five of the letters our school of magic faculty received, the return address reflected the international nature of the company behind all of their packages.  As a side note, I researched street names and address styles for the five countries the letters and packages were fictionally posted from.  My best examples were usually those of hotels.  I modified the numbers of the buildings and zip codes and, occasionally, altered the spelling of the street names.

The envelope & letter were typed on an Underwood 319 - a 1970s-era portable typewriter (pics of this machine can be seen at this earlier post). The ribbon was the black/red kind, so I utilized the red for the product name. The postage stamps were real, in this case from the Netherlands.  The cancellation and Par Avion marks were from my personal collection of postal-related rubber stamps.  The large Owl Post stamp was the one I designed for the event and had custom made for all our postal work.


Professor E--------- E--------- A--------- T-----------
North American School -- -------------- --- ----------
Middle Western Region
North American Continent
ACME Spellmaster Magical Encasement Co.
Dam 8, 1013 JA Amsterdam
The Netherlands
9 March 2012

Dear Professor T----------:

We at ACME are happy to announce the establishment of a new Division in SpellMastering.  After several years of dedicated Research and Development on spell binders and enchantment snares, we have entered the Beta Test Phase for our premium level model: The Celestial Gold 1.0.  The design algorithm for the CG 1.0 utilizes a proprietary formula to contain the spells that have been inadvertently cast by inexperienced and newer students of magic.

As a Preferred Customer we invite you to be among the first to experience the newest and best in wizarding safety.

In conjunction with this letter you should soon be receiving a newly minted CG 1.0 (Production ITEM: 931004) spell catcher.  The User Guide and Service Manual are available as downloadable apps at our website.

Should you have any questions, our R&D scientists are available Monday - Friday from 7:30AM to 4:37PM at FLOO: ACMESAFESPELL.


Fantasia Louisa Fanderoll
Chief Marketer

The packaging for this item, as for all the others, was heavy brown wrapping paper.  I will use other paper to wrap packages, but for this kind of fictional game, I prefer the the old fashioned "flavor" of brown paper; it makes the package seem a bit timeless! 

The stamps matched those on the Professor's letter - from The Netherlands.

I used cotton crochet cord to tie it up. (I never use tape or glue for these 'old timey' packages, which adds to their really real quality.)  To make the box look a little worse for its travels, I scuffed it with colored chalk. The cancellation marks, Special Delivery, and Received marks were from my postal rubber stamps stash.  The blue By Air Mail sticker I made using Microsoft Word.  (I make 'em by the whole sheet, using address label sticker sheets I get at my local office supply store.)


One thing I noticed, and it was a delight to me, was that my friends/wizardly colleagues opened their packages very carefully so as not to tear the wrappings.  And afterword, they carefully re-wrapped them.  As the gift giver, this pleased me; as the artist I loved seeing that the things were seen and valued on all their creative levels: outsides as well as insides.


See also:  Real Post Packages for Imaginary Wizards: First of Five

15 May 2012

SENT OUT: Time Travelling Brownies

A very fun aspect of fictional postcards -- and mail art in general -- is recycling any old what not for mailing.  The other day I made us some boxed brownies. The box front was perfect for my nefarious activities!  Just added a few dino stickers and voila!

13 May 2012

Fictional Correspondences: Addressing Fictional Postcards for the NonFictional U.S. Mail

A later post in this series will go into detail on the making of a "really real" looking faux envelope.  But since you want want that imaginary letter to reach its very real recipient, you'll need to take care in how you address the item that the USPS actually sees!

Happily, our friends at the Post Office have published a nicely detailed document about it.

You can find the whole caboodle at this link here.
Here are the basics (below).

What MUST be present is a correct street address, city, state, and zipcode.  The P.O. folks state to use the real name of the recipient. Some postal peeps won't deliver an item if the name of the person who actually lives  at the address is not present.  Then again, we keep getting mail here at our flat addressed to the last 4-5 people who lived here before us!

Fine and dandy - but what if what you are sending is a POSTCARD?  In the olden days, postcard addresses were pretty loose.  Somehow they arrived.

If you live in a small town this might still work, but nowadays it's more likely the postcard will never arrive. You can still play around a bit, though -- within limits. 

(1) Write the letter part to/from the fictional characters 
but address it to the real person. 

(2) Keep the surname of the "real person" in your address, 
but be playful.

(3) Use the fictional recipient's name along with c/o (i.e., "in the care of"] the name of the real person.

Then again, you could be bold and daring like my brother The Captain, who changed the name and misspelled the street of this postcard he sent me once.  Somehow it reached our mailbox.

And, of course, be sure you have the correct postage.  Here are the current rates (as of May 2012).
For First Class Letters
  • 1 ounce: 45¢
    2 ounces: 65¢
    3 ounces: 85¢
    3.5 ounces: $1.05
  • postcard: 32¢ (a non-standard sized postcard will require additional postage)
  • square envelope.: add 20¢
 And a little more info, FYI.

 Image source/credit

Next in the Series: So Now You Are an Imaginary Correspondent . . . What's Next? ~ This will be posted on 25 May as I have some other fun stuff to post in the meantime!


Follow the series.
5. Fictional Correspondences: Addressing Fictional Postcards for the NonFictional U.S. Mail (this post)

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