Pen Pal Tips and Tricks

I love writing letters. For two or so years now, I’ve been writing to several serious pen pals and many others on a more infrequent basis (like some which were only for a single swap match). I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for making and keeping pen pals.

Finding a Pen Pal

  • People you already know – a friend from high school or an aunt you wish you were closer to. Ask a mutual friend or your mom for addresses. I bug people for addresses via FB messenger or by posting a generic link to my Postables page, asking for addresses if people want a holiday card or a random happy mail.
  • A website for something you’re interesting in. For example, Ravelry has two different groups for finding pen pals. If the site you use doesn’t have groups, you can probably start a forum thread, asking if people are looking for pen pals. When you find a pen pal with a common interest, you automatically have something to talk to them about.
  • Postcrossing – Designed for one-time pen pal interactions using postcards and assigned totally at random, but you can use it for extended pen pal relationships. The site allows you to message the person who sent you a given postcard and you can use that space, should you wish, to request a longer pen pal experience.
  • Swapbot – I’ve not used this site myself, but many of my friends highly recommend it. Most swaps follow a theme which can get you started towards an ongoing pen pal relationship.
  • Geek Girl Pen Pals – Just what it sounds like. Really into Harry Potter or Dr. Who or something similar? The site organizes pen pal matches each month and the forums are always a good place to find someone looking for a pen pal.

Writing Your First Letter

First letters, let’s face it, are awkward. You may know nothing about your new pal, short of their name and where they live. It’s like having to introduce yourself to someone at a cocktail party, but with the added benefits of being able to take as long as you want and not having to do it verbally. Here’s a few things to try, if you’re stuck.

  • Basic introduction – Where you’re from, where you live, if you’re in a relationship and/or have kids, what you do for a paycheck or for fun
  • Currently – List what you’re currently…watching, listening to, reading, feeling, making, planning, loving, and enjoying (a really large list is over here on Digi.Shop.Talk). This will reveal more about your daily life than you’d think and gives you an interesting framework for writing about yourself without, you know, writing about yourself.
  • Take advice from Natalie Goldberg – Start with “right now…” or “At this moment.”

Later Letters

  • Ask questions – Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so asking a question is a great way to get someone to do so. I’ve been asked all sorts of things from pen pals. If you need ideas, here’s 100 Questions No One Ever Asks (from Amiyrah of 4 Hats and Frugal) and 50 Things to Tell Your Penpal (from Mary of Uncustomary)
  • Don’t only talk about yourself. Yes, I am really going there. Your pen pal has written you a lovely letter and you should respond in such a way to show that you read their letter and that you care about what they wrote.

Next Time

In my next post about snail mail, I’ll share creative ideas for making your mail stand out. You can probably expect this post next week, as I have a bit more research to do for it.

Pen Pal Tips and Tricks

Market Morning

My parents are visiting and wanted to spend some time with Lizzie by themselves. We took the chance to enjoy a slower trip to our favorite farmer’s market. We wandered through, bought some meat and veggies and fruit (and I picked up a bag of decaf coffee). It was the perfect, relaxing start to what became a very busy day of shopping and a visit to a local Spring festival.

Does your town/city have a farmer’s market? Is it year-round or seasonal? What sort of things are sold there?

Market Morning

Saga of the Dry Eye

Last June, I woke up one morning with my left eye so swollen I could barely open it. Because I don’t think straight sometimes, I went into work after taking some Advil and applying a cool compress until it didn’t hurt quite so bad. (Don’t worry – my boss sent me straight home after a pretty serious lecture about not coming into work when sick, particularly with pink eye.)

Like a good girl, I went to my primary care doctor as soon as I could get an appointment. He checked out my eyes, deemed it likely to be pink eye, gave me a sample of an antibiotic eye drop, and told me to come back the next week if it was still bugging me.

Well, it still was, so I went back. While I could open both of my eyes all the way by then, there were now both red, itchy, and irritated. His nurse practitioner gave me a different antibiotic and an Rx for a steroid eye drop. I picked it up and it made my eyes feel much better, so I stopped after a week, as I was told to do.

And they got bad again. Much worse, even. You know that feeling when you keep your contacts in then go to sleep or pull an all-nighter? Burny, super dry.

My doctor sent me to an eye doctor, who I literally chose at random based on taking my health insurance and being able to see my ASAP. (My one eye doctor is only a specialist in Strabismus and my former, general eye doctor had retired.)

After doing some odd tests – like putting in drops, putting a test strip covered in yellow dye on my eye, then using a super bright blue light to look reallyyyyy close, I had a diagnosis: Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (or MGD, which is far easier to spit out). Basically, the oil glands in my eye don’t like to clear themselves out, so my eyes just dry up. Yeah, you have oil glands in your eyelids – one on top and one on the bottom.

The treatment was easy: lay off the steroid drops, use preservative-free eye drops as often as I could throughout the day, use preservative-free eye gel before bed, and use a heated mask at least every few days.

Sounds easy, but, ugh, I’m not so great with remembering, even when doing the treatments really helps.

I went back, this time to a different doctor in the same office, six months later and the verdict was that my eyes were still pretty jacked up. They were so dry I was actually about to get leisons on my eye itself. Yeap, not good.

A new treatment was given, and it wasn’t so easy: keep up with the drops/gel and mask, but add in a low-dose of antibiotic, fish oil pills, a steroid eye drop, and an antibiotic eye drop. Eventually, the list got reduced to pull the two special drops by add in the really special – and super pricey – Restasis.

All this and my doctor has no idea what causes my eye issues, just that I can sort of make them OK when I’m really good at keeping up with my treatment. A bunch of blood tests were ordered to see if I had any of the things which can cause dry eye – of which there are MANY – and two tests came back out of range. Two tests I’m now waiting to meet with a specialist about. Two tests which are often out of range for otherwise healthy people, or which could be a sign of something major.

I’ll be over here, with my hoard of eye drops and blood-shot eyes, trying to remain calm.

Saga of the Dry Eye

Finishing Up

Amongst knitters, there’s a question that always comes up: are you a process or a project knitter? Me, I’m a process knitter, for sure. I find a yarn and pattern combination I like then just sort of dive into it, usually without a recipient in mind. I’m usually only really working on one project at a time, though I may switch back to another WIP if I get bored with what I’m currently working on. I find I’m really excited in the first 20% and the last 20% of a given project, it’s the middle 60% that just crawls by, unless I’m distracted by an audiobook, TV show, or interesting conversation. Though I knit with a project being completed as the end goal, I have an issue: I HATE finishing things.

Take the cowl I finished the other day. What did I do when I was done? Snipped off the excess yarn then tossed the project and needle onto my desk and walked off. Now, this is a single-color cowl – nothing with tons of ends to weave in or a difficult blocking process associated with it. I just didn’t feel a need to actually finish it because, in my process-oriented brain, it was done.

Thing is, no one wants to wear something with ends hanging off and, if they know something about how much better things look when it does happen, unblocked. This particular knit even has an intended recipient, one who I’ll see in a week.

I did finally get it blocked the next time I sat down and forced myself to finish up the sewing-in ends on two shawls, one hat, and one cowl. It soaked while I worked on the end-sewing. And, soon as it dries, it’ll be ready to gift…soon as I can get myself to weave in those pesky ends….

Finishing Up

Personal Commandments

I mentioned before that I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, during my commute. She took a year of her life to actively work on being happier, by choosing overall “commandments” to live her life by, as well as a few concrete things to focus on each month. 

While I do not have the attention span for a year-long project, my giving up on One Little Word no later than April each year is proof of this, I do want to work to apply the ideas she has. 

I started with not the questions she listed on her site, but with creating my own set of personal commandments. (She wrote about it here, where you can also browse what many others wrote for themselves.)

  • Think before you speak. 
  • Be authentic. 
  • Go with the flow. 
  • Comparison is the thief of joy. 
  • Take care of yourself. 
  • Write it down. 
  • Less is more. 
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. 

What are your personal commandments? What things do you need to remind yourself of as you go through your day?

Personal Commandments

Cheating on Paper

I’ve always had this thing about paper books. The way they feel in your hands, the way they smell, how they take up space. I swore I would never read books digitally….then got a Kindle less than a year after Matt got his. I swore I would never listen to audiobooks…and now I’ve fall for them, too.

See, I have a commute. Not a particularly long one. Thirty minutes to get there, maybe 40 to get back. But I also drive around to run errands or clear my head. I spent a lot more time in the car than I ever realized before I started to listen to audiobooks.

We’re lucky because our local library has a subscription to the Overdrive service where, just like normal library books, you can rent either Ebooks or audiobooks. As long as I can finish a given book before the 21 day limit, I’m good. They even support putting holds on popular books and have a great app you can download the books to and take them with you via phone/tablet. Go to the Overdrive site to see if your local library has a subscription or, you know, ask your librarian who would be happy to help you with something more specific than the usual “It has a green cover and is about a girl and her pet horse. I think it was written by a teenager.” sort of requests.

Having started listening to audiobooks just two months ago, I’ve already read through 9.5 books which I wouldn’t have read. Mostly memoirs and biographies but with a little humor thrown in. (You can see my list, thus far, in my BuJo post.)

Do you listen to audiobooks? In the car? At home? Somewhere else?

Cheating on Paper

How do you BuJo?

A few years ago, I saw someone mention something about Bullet Journaling. I know it was a few years ago because this mention was done on Flickr, back when we were all using it for photo sharing (gee, thanks, Yahoo!). The person just put a simple note under a picture of what looked like your basic to do list: Setting up my first Bullet Journal!


As I do with anything I hear about for the first time, I Googled it and came up with the official site. Watched the video and, well, judged the whole concept harshly.

I thought it was all pretty “duh” sort of stuff. Make a list of everything you have going on or have to do in a given day. Use some sort of a key to sort between levels of importance and tasks vs calendar items. The idea of writing a new page for every day made sense; you get a daily reminder of that task you keep not getting to.

I tried out the concept – the cool kids call it BuJo for short – for a month or so but found it a waste as I didn’t have that much going on in my life that I wanted/needed to track. A basic running list on a Post-it was fine. I basically forgot about the concept until about a year ago, when I started seeing about how to extend the concept, particularly Collections and Trackers.

(Collections are a list that follows a theme. Books I Read This Year. Places I Want to Travel. Recipes Tried. Trackers are a graphical way to stay on top of goals or count things. Mark off when you drink 8 glasses of water a day. Record that you met 10,000 steps. Keep track of your mood with color-coded boxes.)

How I BuJo

At the start of April, I pulled out a rather bright yellow Leuchttrum I was saving for who knows what special purpose and started to really, truly try out this BuJo thing people keep raving about.

I chose my bright yellow Leuchttrum because, well, it’s bright yellow (easy to see it in my bag!) and Leuchttrum products really impress me with the quality of their binding and paper. The hard cover, also, is great for my rough-and-tumble ways and the dueling bookmarks make it easy to keep track of, well, two different things. The one happens to be their dotted grid. (Yeah, my Traveler’s Notebook is up in the top of my closet. I got sick of it at some point. Not sure why, exactly.)

[Note: On these pages, you’ll see what look like water droplets. Just ignore those, it’s not my not very great way to smear way some personal info.]

At the start of each moth, I have my Monthly Spread. I tried to keep with the theme of pink = personal; blue = work, purple = holidays but that went by the wayside when I went to add new things to the spread and didn’t have the correct pen color handy. Still, it worked for my initial setup.

I have a couple collections in the very front – the April Hobonichi Challenge and the Yarn Love Challenge, both from Instagram. Another collection is in the back – books I’ve read/listened to this year.

Each day, I try to record what I need to get done along with what I ate. Note this is my notebook for just my personal life, so no work things in here (that’s in another notebook).

[Aside: You’ll notice I’m not great about actually getting anything done on my list but that’s more of a me thing than a BuJo thing. I have yet to get into the habit of actually checking my to do list once I get home – makes it hard to do things I can only do from home like finish a knitting project. Also, I don’t put down things like laundry or do the dishes, things I do every few days, if not daily. My BuJo is for keeping track of bigger things I tend to forget to do if I don’t write them down.]

I also take notes here and there without any sort of structure, right in my notebook. Things like my doctor’s phone number or the quote the pharmacist gave me for my new medication. (Now it makes sense why you don’t get a photo of that stuff, right?)

I’ll admit, it’s not a visually appealing BuJo, but it’s that way on purpose. My nature means I’ll just obsess over it’s looks until I decide it’s not pretty enough and chuck it aside entirely. With having it remain purely functional, I actually use it.

How Others BuJo

So say everyone has their own style would be an understatement. Some are breathtakingly beautiful, others plain. Some are extremely detailed, others more minimalistic. If you want some inspiration, I’d recommend the following folks on Instagram: bluelahe, craftyenginerd, showmeyourplanner, tinyrayofsunshine. Facebook also has a ton of BuJo groups.

How do you BuJo?

How do you BuJo?