It’s in the Mail: a Postcrossing update

It’s in the Mail: a Postcrossing update

antique-postcard-collageIf you read an earlier post about my ‘discovery’ of Postcrossing, you’ll know that I started participating in this fun hobby back in February.

As a recap, Postcrossing is a website that allows you to send postcards to and receive them from other randomly-chosen postcrossers around the world. The only cost involved is the price of postcards and stamps. Oh – and it’s also quite addictive!

It does take a while, after you’ve sent your first few cards, to start receiving some. But once you do, and keep sending, things really get going!

I like to keep the to-and-fro flow of cards through my mailbox moderate, so I might send out one or two postcards a week at most. Of the twenty I’ve mailed so far, seventeen have made it to their destinations, one (my very first!) appears to have been lost in transit, and two are still travelling. The destination countries I’ve drawn are Germany, U.S.A., Russia (several times each; these countries have the most active participants), Slovenia, Finland, Norway, China, Japan, Taiwan and Canada.

It always makes my day to find such happy mail waiting when I get home. These city/state cards are amongst the sixteen I’ve received to date:


L to R from top row: Cards from U.S.A., Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Japan, Singapore, U.S.A., Latvia.

Some cultural art and nature cards:

nature-culture-postcardsI especially like this one, sent by a young lady in Strasbourg, France. The illustration by David Wyatt is called “Spinning Moonight”:

spinning-moonlight-postcardAnd this cute vintagey card from Germany is by far my very favourite. The message says “Greetings from the coast.” I’ve always been drawn to the sea, and the bathing beauties, sailing ships and sea creatures – highlighted by iridescent sparkles – are so sweet.

greetings-from-the-coast-postcardI can’t reveal the backs of the cards, as that is verboten in the Postcrossing world. Perhaps one day I will show you how I dress up the ones I send. And postage stamps are also important to a lot of postcrossers, many of whom are collectors; I recently upped my stamp game and splurged on a variety of colourful new Canada Post designs. All in good time!


Window into May

sunny-afternoon-windowThe old house at The Riverwood Conservancy has many quaint and picturesque windows. But this one, seen in late afternoon when the sun was slanting low, struck me as being rather melancholy. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because, whenever I visit, the place housing the Conservancy’s offices is always closed and still. Or perhaps it echoes with the lives once lived here, now long gone. Or maybe, on that early spring day, the woods surrounding it were still slumbering soundly. In any case, the scene inspired this haiku:

in a bygone glass
long-departed lives reflect;
a wistful window

“Chappell House Window” © 2019 Valerie Barrett. All rights reserved.

Joining in Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up with a year-long theme of Windows.

Brick Dust Magick

Brick Dust Magick

The dust of red bricks is thought to have protective qualities, particularly as a barrier to keep unwanted things out. The association of the colour red and earthy elements with luck and protection may go back to prehistoric rituals.

Ancient Pigments

red-brick-dust-bottle“Modern” brick-making is thought to have originated about 7,000 years ago in Turkey and Jericho, spreading westward gradually over the centuries. Long before that, however, red ochre was the substance used by many civilizations for practical and ritualistic purposes.

Ochre, a natural earth pigment, is a mixture of iron oxide, sand and clay. It ranges in colour from deep brown to orange to light yellow; if a large amount of hematite (dehydrated iron oxide) is present, a reddish tint known as red ochre, or “ruddle”, is the result. Purple and brown ochre, sienna and umber are other ochre variants.

Iron oxide is one of Earth’s most common minerals, and ochre deposits are found abundantly worldwide. Prehistoric civilizations used yellow and red ochre to paint scenes on cave walls and floors and to mark burial sites. Africans have used red ochre as body and hair makeup for over 200,000 years. In ancient Egypt, tombs were decorated with brilliant yellow ochre, and Egyptian women made rouge and lip paint from powdered red ochre. The pigmented clay was also used medicinally. And the Aboriginal Australians and Maori of New Zealand have used ochre for thousands of years as sun and insect protection, body decoration, artwork, a wood preserver and in burial practices.

Ochre was the pigment of choice for the murals of Greece and Rome and continued to be used in frescoes and panels during the Renaissance. The ancient Picts and Celts were said to have painted themselves “iron red” (possibly with bog iron), giving rise to the “red men” (Fer Dearg) of Irish myth. In Britain, ochre mixed with oil was used to coat and protect ships’ sails from the ravages of salt water.


fenced-inIron, being strong and elemental, is thought to provide a powerful barrier. Wrought iron fencing, for example, is traditionally used around cemeteries to keep wandering spirits inside and vandals, grave robbers and body snatchers out. Ritually, the iron oxide in red ochre and its modern incarnation, red brick dust, are used for protection, warding or drawing. Hoodoo – originally practiced by enslaved Africans – employs red brick dust, a substitute for the ochres found in their homelands, in rituals to protect against evil, curses and bad juju. One practice is to scrub or paint the front steps of a home with brick dust, or “reddening”, to keep away people you don’t want to see. Another is to add it to mojo bags to draw money.

From Bricks to Dust

brick-dust-magickHow to get brick dust? If you have access to old, abandoned bricks (please don’t steal them, and make sure they’re not part of an historic or heritage property), use those; they’ll crumble more easily than modern bricks, and they might just contain echoes of the buildings they once were! It’s best to work outside on a hard, protected surface and to wear safety glasses. If working indoors, make sure you have plenty of ventilation and/or wear a dust mask.

Place the brick in a paper or plastic bag and chip away at it with a hammer. Edges and corners crumble more easily than the flat surfaces. The bag will start to disintegrate quickly, so have some extras on hand – and make sure you don’t lose any of the precious dust through the holes! Grind the small pieces into a powder in a mortar and pestle (a granite one, if possible).

If you can’t find any bricks, some new age/spiritual stores sell red brick dust.

Harnessing Brick Dust Power

• Sprinkle powdered red brick in a line across your front steps or window sills to keep out an unwanted presence (physical or otherwise).
• Add a pinch of brick dust to a small pouch and hang above front and back doorways to make your home “brick house strong”.
• Sprinkle brick dust on your threshold to ward off thieves.
• Add finely-powdered brick to a vinegar wash to cleanse outside steps.
• Add to protection bottles (alone or with ground cinnamon and brown sugar) and bury at the four corners of your property.
• Carry brick dust inside a tiny vial for personal protection.
• Draw a protective sigil or circle on the floor with red brick dust.

• • • • • • •  )O(  • • • • • • •

An Egg-cellent Easter

An Egg-cellent Easter

For Easter, I needle felted this robin’s nest with eggs.

needle-felted-nest-and-eggsI used a styrofoam ball to form the shape of the nest. In order to save my “good” colours, I made a core of less-expensive off-white wool roving and covered it with thin layers of brown (three different shades) plus patches of variegated grey.

needle-felted-robins-nestI worked in bits of moss, birch bark and lichen to the outside. To secure them, I laid a cobweb-thin piece of roving on top of each botanical and needled it in, poking the fibres amongst and around the piece.

needle-felted-nestThree felted eggs in the perfect shade of robin’s egg blue are the finishing touch.

needle-felted-nest-with-eggsThe eggs are about 1 inch high; the nest is just over 2 inches high and 3.5 inches in diameter. To display it, I found a fallen branch covered with aged lichen and trimmed it to stand on its own.

I hope your weekend is filled with good crafts, good food and good company!

Oh, to be in Riverwood now that April’s there!

Oh, to be in Riverwood now that April’s there!

I’ve written before about The Riverwood Conservancy, a park in Mississauga, Ontario that is dear to my heart. Sadly, I haven’t visited for quite some time, as I no longer work in that area. (It was always a treat to finish my shift with a stroll around the gardens or down a nature trail.)

The other day, in the early evening, I dropped by after running an errand in the neighbourhood. How glad I was to be back! My favourite spot is the garden and woods around Chappell House.


Chappell House, built in 1919, looks like it’s still slumbering after a long winter.

The only hint of green in the gardens right now are the snowdrops — aren’t they lovely?

snowdrops-in-aprilWhen there isn’t yet any sign of crocus, hyacinths or tulips, these dainty bulbs are so very welcome!

april-snowdropsIn another area of the park, near a century barn where schoolchildren enjoy nature studies, is a Sensory Garden. This peaceful space offers natural delights for those living with physical and mental challenges. Later this spring, they’ll grow fragrant herbs and plants with interesting textures for those who are visually impaired. Another part of this garden, new since I last visited, has painted wooden animal plaques along a fenced path; they are mounted within reach so their shapes can be felt and the bright colours enjoyed.

sensory-garden-riverwood-conservancyA new species of “painted turtle”, methinks!

turtle-sensory-garden-riverwood-conservancyIn the woods, this old birch log with elf-sized fungus caught my eye.

birch-and-fungusAnd as the sun sank low, signaling my departure, my camera captured this mysterious glowing faerie orb. Riverwood truly is a magickal place!

forest-faerie-orbTo read more on Riverwood through the seasons, please see these posts:
The Secret Garden
Falling for Riverwood
Riverwood in Midwinter

Window into April

sunny-stained-glass-windowWhen the afternoon sun slants in, this window glows with cabochons of emerald, tourmaline, citrine and garnet. It’s a favourite in the building where I work, and seeing the panes of luminous, rich colour always makes me smile.

I’m reminded of these lines from “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:

… the windows are illuminated
by the evening sunshine through them
fiery gems for you,
only for you

Joining in with Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up with a year-long theme of Windows.

Postcards and Steamer Trunks

Postcards and Steamer Trunks

postcard-from-torontoDo you know about the phenomenon called Postcrossing? Okay, maybe ‘phenomenon’ is too strong a word – it’s really a hobby that some people enjoy, in a similar vein as something like, say, geocaching or love rocks. (In fact, Postcrossing is based loosely on BookCrossing, the practice of leaving books for strangers to find.) But seriously, how have I never heard of this before???

I ‘discovered’ this activity purely by accident as I was shopping online for some vintagey postcards. Reviewers kept talking about this thing called postcrossing, so I just had to check it out.

For those of you who’ve been in the dark like I have, Postcrossing, launched in 2005, is an online network that allows members to send and receive postcards via “snail mail” all over the world. You sign up for free and create a profile, giving as little or as much personal detail as you wish; the two things you must provide are your street and e-mail addresses. With a click, you make a request to send a postcard — real, pen-to-paper, lick-the-stamp mail, nothing digital. The website randomly selects another member, e-mails you the particulars, and off you skip to the P.O. to mail your first card! A unique ID/tracking number which you write on the postcard allows the recipient to register it on the website once it arrives. Only when the card is registered is the sender eligible to receive a postcard from someone else entirely. (You never exchange with the same person, so it’s not like having a pen pal.) At the beginning, you can have up to five different postcards traveling at one time; this increases gradually.

nostalgic-postcardsAs an armchair traveler who isn’t going on a trip anytime soon, I live vicariously through my friends, constantly begging them to send me postcards from their vacations. When I look at the pictures and read their blithe “wish you were here” notes, I dream of a bygone age of glamorous travel: ladies in white voile dresses and gents in their straw boaters, intrepidly exploring the pyramids or making the Grand Tour. Ocean liners and railway cars. Redcaps lugging steamer trunks plastered with labels. Leather-bound passports with stamps from faraway lands. Letters tucked into blue-and-white striped envelopes, winging home with breathless descriptions of trade winds, sand and jasmine-scented skies.

I signed up with Postcrossing in late February and so far have sent cards to Germany, Russia, the U.S., Hong Kong, Finland, Slovenia and Norway. I have fun dressing up the backs with retro-looking washi tape, stickers and rubber stamps with Victorian designs, and I like to include comments on the cards’ pictures, a quotation, or a little bit about life in my city. I feel like a little kid at Christmas every time I put them in the mail, aware as they begin their journeys that it could be weeks before they reach their destinations, and longer still before I receive anything.


It’s nice to fit a card with the interests listed in the recipient’s profile, but I also enjoy sending something that says “this is Canada”. This Group of Seven art card (A.J. Casson, Jack Pine and Poplar, 1948) is a perfect example; it went to the U.S.

The website offers lots of statistics about each card, including a world map showing “to” and “from” locations, the distance travelled and the number of days it took. My cards to Russia and Hong Kong were the first to reach their destinations, after nine and fourteen days, respectively. I was amazed they got there so quickly! Recipients can send a thank-you message, and it seems that my cards have hit the mark so far.

And today – with much excitement – I received my very first Postcrossing card!


My first card. Yippee!!!

Now I feel like a kid in a candy store! The card came from Latvia with a friendly message on the back. (It’s taboo to publish the back of the card.) It’s going to be really interesting to see the kind of messages and snippets from their lives that other postcrossers choose to share!

keep-calm-send-postcardsYou never quite know when you’ll receive another postcard, or where it’ll come from, so the element of surprise is one of this activity’s main draws. If you like writing and getting real mail, connecting with and learning about people around the world – you might want to give Postcrossing a try.