The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Field Trip #1: Ottawa Mail Processing Plant

Let me just say that I was under the impression that once you drop the letter into the mailbox, it passes through several hands before arriving at its destination. I imagined my letter arriving at a Post Office in Ottawa, for example, and getting dumped into a large bin with all of the other letters getting mailed that day in this area. People would stand around hand sorting the letters and eventually the letter would get into smaller and smaller bins until it was brought to the post office where it would either be put into a post office box or would be hand delivered by a mail carrier. Yes, I know, very naive.

Canvas mail bags.....some dated as far back as 1921!
So, when I was offered the opportunity to participate in a guided tour of the Ottawa Mail Processing Plant (OMPP) on September 17th, I signed up.  The OMPP opened in October, 1970 and is the first mechanized plant of its kind in Canada. It is one of 21 similar facilities in the country and  is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the exception of Saturday night and holidays. It employs 900 people!
In front of the Ottawa Mail Processing Plant (OMPP)
 Canada Post has strict guidelines when it comes to allowing non-Canada Post employees into this facility. It was by chance that I mentioned TLWR in a prenatal class. It turned out that one of the dads-to-be worked for a company that is partially owned by Canada Post. He thought that Canada Post should know about TLWR blog and he made arrangements for me to tour the plant. Since my mom was with me that day, they graciously allowed her to join the tour. We were met by Mr. Dean Ryan and proceeded to strap on steel-toed shoe covers and enter the ground floor of the OMPP. The ground floor is used for sortation for Priority Courier, Xpresspost and parcels. The main floor has 35 loading bays, Fleet offices, Receipt Verification Unit and a Retail Postal Outlet. During the day, the floor is relatively quiet but at night, it is buzzing with activity....letters galore and parcels being sorted and ready for delivery by morning.

Early morning on the main floor. Any minute the trucks will back up to the
 loading bays and start loading these parcels to take to their destinations
Bins and bins of parcels as far as the eye can see!
The parcels below this sign are coming to our neck of the woods!

I was actuallly quite overwhelmed by the size of this one floor. It was the size of a football field and there were two more floors to be visited. Basically, the letters leave this floor and go to the third floor of the facility which is the letter sorting floor.  The OMPP processes approximately two million pieces of mail every day for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario (up to and including Kingston, Cornwall and Hawkesbury) and the Outaouais; an area of approximately 50,000 sq. km. Amazing!!

So, it turns out that I was way off with my vision of people standing around bins hand sorting the letters. Here is a list of some of the machines you might see while visiting the OMPP:

The EFM (Edger, Facer Machine) was designed by Canada Post’s Engineers. It places S/L envelopes on their edge, then “faces them up” by using cameras to determine the orientation of the letter. The EFM processes 18,000 pieces/hour.

The Multi Line Optical Character Reader (MLOCR) sorts S/L lettermail by taking a digital image of the letter. The OCR software is capable of reading and interpreting several lines of an address and processes 28,000 pieces/hour.

The Video Encoding System (VES) transmits images of letters, which cannot be deciphered by the MLOCR to remote keying stations, where clerks key-in the postal code. - 2,000 pieces/hour.

The Bar Code Sorter (BCS) is used to sort mail to a letter carrier walk or town/village. It sorts the mail by reading the barcode on the front of the envelope that was printed by the MLOCR. - 30,000 pieces/hour.

The Alcatel Flat Sorting Machine (AFSM) sorts oversize letters mechanically. It determines the postal code and prints a barcode on the front of the letter then sorts it directly into containers - 15,000 pieces/hour.

The Cubiscan measures the external dimensions of parcels, weighs and scans the barcode for postage verification. It also scans the parcel as part of the Track and Trace system. This information is cross-referenced against the customer’s Statement of Mailing. Parcels are then hand sorted (I knew there was some hand sorting!!) into cages or loose-loaded onto trucks for dispatch.
All parcels are placed on the Parcel Conveyor System as soon as they enter the plant and are sorted immediately to their destination.
After visiting the first and third floors, we were taken to the second floor which houses five letter carrier depots which make up the Caledon Depot and administrative offices. I was pretty stoked about this floor as one of my friends who is from our hometown works as a Letter Carrier in Ottawa. I was thrilled to see her in action loading up her mail bags for the day. She was shocked to see mom and me in her high security workplace. This is Lisa. Check out her legs :-) of Ottawa's 300 Letter Carriers

After two hours, the tour came to an end. I was completely boggled by the details of mail processing. I suppose I had never given it much thought. If you ever get the chance to visit a mail processing plant, I encourage you to check it out. You may start thinking that stamps are relatively cheap when you see what is involved with mailing one letter. The OMPP opens its doors to the public twice a year. If you are in the Ottawa area, I would highly recommend it.

Bins of sorted letters getting ready to send out for delivery
   Another cool fact: each evening the Canada Post trucks drive around the city emptying the street mailboxes. It turns out that it's not only letters that end up in those boxes. The OMPP receives on average 50 wallets, 30 cell phones and lots of keys daily among other undesirables like dog poop, cold pizza, dirty kleenex, spilled coffee. I suppose people mistake the mailboxes for garbage bins at times. But, good to know that if you find a wallet or keys or a cell phone, you can drop them into a mailbox and there is a person at the OMPP whose job is to get these items back to their rightful owners.

So, this concludes my first field trip. I hope you enjoyed my report. I am going on another field trip this Friday. Stay tuned as field trip #2 includes TLWR's first GIVEAWAY.......................

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Letter to My Farmer

Back in the cold months of February and March, my husband and I decided to join the Community Supported Agriculture program. "CSA reflects an innovative and resourceful strategy to connect local farmers with local consumers; develop a strong regional food supply and economy; encourage land stewardship; and honour the knowledge and experience of small-scale farmers." We paid a flat fee in two payments and by June we were receiving weekly baskets of organic bounty courtesy of  Rainbow Heritage Garden; a farm located a mere 5 minute drive from our home.

After our first few baskets and in the early days of The Letter Writing Revolution blog, I wrote a letter  to let them know how much we (and our bowels!!) were enjoying the consumption of copious amounts of vegetables each week. You see, it became the goal to never throw any away no matter what. Usually by Tuesday (the day before we picked up the fresh basket), my husband and I were enjoying a large stir fry to use up the last bits of veggies. The owners of the farm were thrilled to receive this spontaneous letter and they told us how much it meant to the interns working for them to know that their hard work was appreciated.

Well, as October creeps in closer, the CSA season is coming to an end. Today is a windy, rainy and cool day here in rural Ontario, Canada and a perfect day for making stew. Since I have a fridge full of glorious vegetables, many of them root vegetables, I chose to make a batch of Rainbow Stew (recipe below) from my Grain-Free Gourmet cookbook which I thought was fitting to make from the vegetables grown at Rainbow Heritage Garden.
Ingredients ready to make into Rainbow Stew

While everything was simmering, I washed some beet tops and made a delicious salad for lunch.

After several hours of simmering, adding certain vegetables, taking the lid off and then putting it back on, the Rainbow Stew was finished and the kitchen was smelling mighty fine.

Zucchini and butternut squash from our CSA basket
Tada! Not sure why this photo is sideways but you can see how beautiful this stew is!
Here's the recipe for those of you who are drooling:

Rainbow Stew

2 lb. stewing beef, cubed
5 large carrots, unpeeled and thickly sliced
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
one 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes with juice
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 zucchinis, coarsely chopped

1. Put beef, carrots, onion, tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper and thyme in large pot and add enough water to cover contents.
2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour with the lid ajar.
3. Add the squash and simmer for 1/2 an hour.
4. Add the zucchini and simmer with lid off until the zucchini starts to look translucent and te stew is thick (15 to 20 minutes).
5. Serve in a bowl and enjoy!!

As the season draws to a close,  I realize how much I will miss this weekly ritual of picking up fresh, organic, sun-kissed veggies. With those thoughts in mind, I sat down and wrote a letter to our farmers, Kylah and Zach, and promptly walked over to the post office and mailed it.

Take the time to thank your local farmer for their hard work and dedication to getting the food on our tables.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This and That


I was hoping to have my post up regarding my field trip that I took last Friday but I am still waiting to get some information for it. If not by tomorrow then I will blog about Tuesday.

I was so very excited to open my mailbox this week and discover a reply from a soldier in Afghanistan. I remember writing my letter sometime in July while sitting on a beach at a nearby lake. I had assumed that I would not be hearing back. Lo and behold, I received a letter from CPL William Ashwood dated August 11th.
Check out the stationery!

Then, today I receive the following email from a mom who follows this blog:

Dear Julie,
Some time ago you had posted the information about writing to a soldier in Afghanistan. I told my son, Cullen, about this and he was completely enthralled by the idea. He has always been interested in all thing to do with the military and historical warfare. To be able to send a letter to a person serving his country was just incredible. In July he sent his letter off. It was a short letter thanking the solider for his or her contribution and expressing Cullen’s respect for all that they were doing for the people of Afghanistan and Canada. It also expressed his sadness that the job that the soldiers were doing is not given the respect it deserves.

Last night Cullen received his reply. He was over the moon. He very carefully open the envelope and unfolded the pages and began to read. His soldier sent him a patch from his uniform that he wore in service twice as a gift. He explain that they have to change them quite often as they get very dirty living in a “dust bowl”. He thanked Cullen for the letter and told him that it was with the help and support of people like Cullen that they were able to do their jobs. He explained a little about what he did and where he was. Cullen can’t wait to reply to him and send him a small memento of his life in Canada. Cullen has a project due about his life today and the letter was added last night as one of his highlights. Julie, I can’t thank you enough for opening this opportunity to Cullen. It has made his day.

Here are some great photos!

Letter received!

Wait a that the same stationery? Do we have the same soldier pen pal?

I didn't get a patch :-(
I also had the privilege of speaking with Sgt. Kris Carter who is the soldier in Afghanistan who receives and  distributes the letters to others on TLWR's behalf. Really nice man and very supportive of The Letter Writing Revolution. Remember that he will no longer be accepting mail after Oct. 15th as he will soon be completing his tour of duty. If you are going to write back to your soldier (if you received a reply) make sure to do it now as they are due to be back home by Christmas. It looks like it takes about a month to get a letter there.

Finally, I received this email from my cousin which really made me happy:
"I was in the high Arctic for the month of August and communications were limited. I had just started reading the letterwritingrevolution before I left (loved Uncle Stanley's letter BTW). Because our communications are limited up North I took to writing letters. I actually had a young (19yo) sailor ask me what I was doing. He had never written or received a letter before. He wrote to his mom and to his girlfriend. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for bringing some reflective time back into my life. Hope you all are well."

Slowly but surely the revolution is quietly growing and I can see from my stats that people continue to enjoy it from all over the world. I would like to increase the numbers of followers so that I can approach the media for some exposure! I think this revolution would make a good news story, don't you?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guest Blog #4: A “Write of Passage”

When Julie first told me about her letter writing revolution, it brought back so many memories of my pen pals and the letter writing we did whilst we were at boarding school. We also had to write weekly letters home and I still have some of the letters that were written back to me from my parents who were so far away. I remember how much those letters meant to me.

As my firstborn son, Ryan, prepared for his marriage this summer, I vowed to write a letter to him, to give to him the night before the wedding. I wanted to let him know what a gift he was to so many people, and what he meant to me and his father. I wanted to tell him what I loved about him and what I saw in his character that made me so proud. As I planned this letter, I realised that I also wanted write a letter to his bride, to let her know how much we loved her and how we were so happy that our son felt so loved by her, and how happy she made him. I wanted to welcome her into our family (even though she had been a part of our family for the previous 4 years).

Such plans…….

As Julie updated her blog a few days before the wedding, I realised in a panic that I had not written the letters. I was so grateful that the timing was so perfect and that I would not forget to write the letters. I gathered up my paper and envelopes to put pen to paper. As I wrote the letters in the calm of early afternoon on the day before the wedding, my heart was bursting with emotions. It was quiet and I was able to sit with my thoughts and transcribe them straight from my heart.

It took me through my son’s life from my pregnancy with him, his birth, his growing up years, and truly allowed me to remember so many of his characteristics and times in his life that brought all the blessings into my heart in one space in time. How much I love this wonderful being and how proud I was of how much love he has for people and is very happy to show it. The caring, gentle and ferocious way he shows in loving, and respecting his bride.

I felt blessed to have the opportunity to write and I felt blessed to have a friend like Julie, bringing many gifts into my life including The Letter Writing Revolution.

I had great trouble delivering the letters in the “busyness” of the last minute wedding preparations. I was not able to catch up with Ryan on the eve of the wedding, as I had originally planned. I was now hesitant to give him the letter on the day of the wedding as I knew it might be emotional for him, in his already emotional high. I wondered if I should wait until after the wedding.

The men were using our hotel room to get ready, so I dashed to the room and Ryan was there alone with his father. I gave him the letter and said that he could read it now but that he might want to read it later and that it was okay for him to read it when he felt ready.

He chose to read it there. It was so emotional for both of us and I repeated that he could finish it later if it was too much. Our emotions were running high as he was so close to marrying the love of his life, and I was so close to watching my firstborn son take his wife and make his very own family. He wanted to finish the letter and said that is was good to read the letter and let some of his emotions flow over – it was a stress release for him. When he finished reading the letter we hugged and he said he felt very calm and everything was so very clear for him now. He felt so loved and so confident and he would treasure the letter for always.

I was able to give Ryan’s bride-to-be her letter as the mothers and girls in the bridal party gathered in the bridal suite to depart to the hairdressers on morning of the wedding. She read the letter at the desk in the room and came to find me after in the sitting room of the suite. As we hugged she said how touched she was by a handwritten letter and that I would take the time to write to welcome her into our family and say lovely things about her. As the photographer moved around with the girls as they got ready for the wedding, she noticed the letter open on the desk and took a picture of it. When we reviewed the photos a couple of weeks ago, I saw the picture and it brought back all the memories of that beautiful day and filled me with the love that was all around everyone on that day.

Ryan tucked both letters into their memory box along with many other treasures from their amazing “rite of passage”, the words and meanings etched in their hearts forever.

I will always treasure the memory of writing the letters and be thankful for the opportunity to let my feelings flow from my heart, through my pen onto timeless pages, to be re-read whenever……

I will always remember that it was this blog that was the gift to inspire me to write these two very special letters. Thank you, Julie. It inspired another letter writing episode for myself and for all three of my children just a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I will write about that soon, too…….

Thank you, Susan, for a beautiful guest post. Yes, I encourage you to write again as I think your latest letter writing experience will inspire many.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Letter to My Mother

Today is my mom's 65th birthday. I am one of the lucky ones in that I was born to an amazing woman who I lovingly refer to as "Mom." I have never taken this for granted. I am well aware that in this lifetime I have been blessed with incredible parents. Some people believe that it is chance or luck or choice as to what parents you end up with. I like to think that we are all on a mystical journey in life and our souls have lessons to be learned and therefore choose the path accordingly. If you believe that God (insert your higher power here) has something to do with it then you are probably right.

My mom is one of those mothers that all of your friends love. Whether we were children or teenagers, our friends flocked to our house because they were always welcomed. Even my boyfriend from 1987 who might have scared most parents, was lovingly embraced by my mother. There's isn't a whole lot that scares her and she is very tolerant and accepting of others especially if you need dry clothes, good footwear or a warm meal. My memories of childhood include the sound of the Singer sewing machine as she created works of art in the form of our clothing. Whatever was in fashion, we got it but always handmade. I love the memory of coming off the school bus in the winter when it was already getting dark. The windows in the kitchen would be fogged up and the porch light would be on along with the street lights. Walking in the door, we were greeted by the smells of supper cooking in the oven and a warm hug and kiss. She always asked about our day and listened to what we told her. Mom was very attentive to things like cozy pajamas, clean bed clothes and full tummies. Things that, as a child, I may have taken for granted but as an adult I can appreciate as I know that so many children go without and who even experience neglect.

Me and friends in the kitchen. Circa 1987
 When it came to boys and dating mom had two statements that she repeated often: "Don't be an arse rag" and "You can never go back to holding hands." The first statement was her way of saying that we deserved to be and should expect to be treated well by not only boys/men but by everyone. She wanted us to know that there was nothing we could do that would deserve the degrading status of being someone's "arse rag." The second piece of advice was more of a warning, I think. It was her way of saying, once you go past hand holding then you move into that dangerous place of "heavy petting" (another phrase that made us chuckle!) which can then lead to THAT place of no return. Once there, it's really, really difficult to return to hand holding and innocence. It was her way of telling us to proceed with caution and to make our decisions wisely. For the record, I was never anyone's arse rag and she was right, you can't go back to holding hands, unfortunately. She also wanted to instill in us the importance of really getting to know someone first before rushing into the physical aspects of the relationship. I was a rebellious teenager and didn't listen well. When I met the man who was to become my husband and I knew that it was something really special, I remembered my mom's advice and I actually followed it. She was right again.

My mom met my dad when she was 12 years old but they didn't start dating until a few years later. Mom had plans to travel to Africa or California to nurse. She had dreams and plans for her life when she unexpectedly became pregnant with my sister, Lana. My parents were married in February 1968 in a snowstorm and my sister, Lana, arrived in June of the same year. My dad always joked that Lana was very premature weighing in at 8lbs. So, mom's focus in life changed and she went on to have me in 1971, another daughter in 1974 and her only son in 1978. She never seems regretful for the change in her path and embraced her life as a mother and wife and a Registered Nurse for 43 years with love and passion.

My siblings and I. Circa 2000

In celebration of her birthday, we asked what she would like and she replied that she would like all of us to write her a letter. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Happiest of Birthdays, MOM. I love you and celebrate you and cherish you.
Mom and I with my daughter, Meredith. Circa 2003

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guest Blog #3: Letters from a Fairy

Since Julie started her blog, The Letter Writing Revolution has focused on reigniting the tradition of letter writing to help us reconnect with people on a deeper, personal scale than that provided by e-mails and instant messaging. I have been amazed at all the fabulous ideas and tips on letter writing and touched at the impact the revolution has had on all of us followers of the blog. I think Julie’s blog reveals that we are craving deeper, more meaningful connections with our fellow beings, and that we want to return to a more enjoyable, slow-paced life where “snail” mail becomes a source of joy, as we make our way to the mailbox and discover a hand-written letter from a friend.

Today, I want to talk with you about letters that bring magic and foster the imagination and my practice with this kind of letter writing started a year ago when my daughter was seven and fascinated by the world of Fairies. Jaime discovered the world of Fairies through one of her friends and she fell instantly in love with these magical beings. What really got her hooked though was the fact that grown-ups, my friends and I, also declared our love and belief in fairies. One particular friend even had Fairy doors in her house, courtesy of a relative of hers who happens to be a Fairy door maker. Fairy doors are the gateway between the world of Fairies and our world. When the fairies visit, they often leave fairy dust lying around, but most importantly, they leave letters and messages to those who wish to communicate with them. When Jaime heard of Fairy doors, her eyes got really, really big and she proceeded to write a little message to Barry, the Fairy door maker, to please bring a Fairy door to her house. She left her note in front of my friend’s Fairy door, and lo and behold, a few weeks later, she woke up and discovered that the Fairies had brought her a beautiful Fairy door. Along with the arrival of the Fairy door came the first Fairy mail. Jaime held that letter with glee and amazement, and her smile got bigger as she read along. You see, she now had a friend in Fairy world: her name is Fleur, and ever since that first letter, Jaime and Fleur have exchanged a number of letters, including the odd present left for Fleur, or to Jaime.

The joy Jaime feels when she gets a letter is intense and she keeps her letters in a very special place, although she sometimes brings them to school, to share with her friends. Each letter from Fleur is written in tiny font, folded carefully and sealed with candle wax and a letter “F” monogram pressed onto the wax. Fleur tells Jaime about all her adventures and some special things about Fairy World.

As I have been impersonating Fleur in each letter, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing or not. Am I leading her on a lie and will she be mad at me when she discovers who the author of the letters really is? My intention in writing these letters are not to deceive Jaime, but rather to cultivate her imagination, and also to start instilling in her the notion of belief and faith. When my oldest son declared to his sister that he didn’t believe in fairies and that they weren’t real, we had a long conversation about what it means to believe in something when there is no tangible proof of that thing existing, or having ever existed, and most importantly, we talked about respect and tolerance for others’ beliefs. I explained to the children that it’s ok not to believe in the same things, but that you can never attack, defame, or disrespect anyone for their beliefs. Austin has since been more tolerant, or at least he never teases his sister on her faith in the Fairies’ existence. So not only do the Fairy letters foster imagination and bring magic to Jaime’s life, but they also help us talk about important topics and life lessons which are very human and very real.

What amazes me about the power of these letters is how much love and joy they bring to my daughter. Her pen-pal might not be a person, like you and me, and Jaime knows that she will never be able to see her face-to-face (although Fleur did send her a picture of herself once), but in Jaime’s eyes, Fleur is a true friend: one who cares to write, share her experiences and is a very real part of her life.

How long will Fleur continue to send letters through Fairy mail by way of Fairy doors? I really don’t know. But I can guarantee that the letters will come for as long as Jaime needs magic in her world. And by the way, I heard through the grapevines (literally) that a little fairy boy called Milo, is about to send his first letter to my youngest son Logan, via his own Fairy door, and that he will share with him stories of acorns and leaves, just in time for Logan and I to go on a nature walk. Sometimes the Fairy World and human world really do collide. Happy writing!

Thank you, Emmanuelle!!! This was soooooo interesting!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ramblings and Announcements

Just not sure about this whole blogging thing. I am not sure what I am doing it for........

I mean, I have LOVED the people I have met, the letters I have received and the letter writing that I am doing once again. I am pumping out several per week whereas before TLWR I was receiving maybe three pieces of interesting mail per year and writing the odd Christmas card, sympathy card or card of encouragement. Oh, and loads of thank you cards. As far as writing letters, though, I had stopped writing letters years ago. I wonder if this is the case for some of you. How have YOU been inspired?

I am aware that there are a few people in the world who read this blog regularly and who probably feel a bit of excitement when they discover I have added a new post especially because my blogging is generally irregular and inconsistent. The thing is, I want to hear from all of YOU......Who is reading this blog besides my two sisters, my mother and a few friends??? I know you are out there as I check my stats occasionally and have discovered that this blog has made it to all corners of the planet. I would to see who is reading this blog from Vietnam, South Africa, Russia, to name a few.

I received a message from a friend who was the provider of the contact in Afghanistan for the Letter To A Soldier post. It turns out that "Kris" is in Canada this week for a visit home and he has reported that he has been overwhelmed with letters to fellow soldiers because of TLWR! It is almost expected now and he just announces, "Who's turn for a letter today?" What I would like to know is who has written to a soldier and who has heard back? I haven't heard back from my soldier but I am just assuming I brightened someone's day with my funky stationery and ramblings. If you did write and received a letter in return, let me know. Apparently, the first Letter Writing Revolution letter that arrived in Afghanistan was sent from Guelph, Ontario. Please do not send letters to the address on that post after October 15th as Kris will have finished his service overseas. Go HERE to find an updated mailing address for writing to a Canadian soldier overseas.
This is Chuck. He is serving in Afghanistan and will be home in a few weeks for a visit.
He and his wife took my prenatal classes and this is a photo of him holding his first Father's Day card from his son!
Due to a chance meeting, I will be getting a tour of the main Canada Post plant in Ottawa next week where all of the letters are sorted. The tour is at 7:30am as this is the time of day when the letter sorting floor is at maximum capacity. I think this is kind of cool and I am looking forward to seeing what actually happens to my letters after I drop them into the mailbox at my local post office. Of course, I will be reporting on this outing to all of you and will hopefully get some interesting photos.

Next week, I am hoping to get to my favourite stationery store in Ottawa to interview one of the owners and to offer you, my followers, a TLWR giveaway. Stay tuned for that!

I received the following from a friend/colleague. It's messages like this one that keep me motivated to continue on with the revolution!
"I have never been a letter writer but I have always loved looking for or making the most appropriate/best card for whomever I was sending it out to. I try to mail out birthday cards and Christmas cards to all past clients. But as the number of cards to send out grew and I received very little feed back I began to lose heart. While I loved the picking out, writing a special note , sticker on the envelope and the calm walk to the mailbox, I sarted feeling like no one really cared if they got a letter or not until.......... there in your picture on your blog is my Christmas card from two years ago  lovingly pinned up, out for all to card. So thank you, while I'm not the letter writer, I am again excited about the cards. I am off to look for the perfect one to send to you."
I mailed out several letters this week including a birthday gift to a special, not-so-little girl. Never get tired of seeing the stack of colourful envelopes, stamped and ready to mail. Have YOU been writing letters? Have YOU been getting any back. Did those of you who requested a letter from me, get your letters? Please answer my questions as comments below.

I love to hear from you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Letters That Say "I Mean Business!"

Sometimes letters need to be written to people other than friends and family. Although these types of letters are not really what The Letter Writing Revolution is about, I do think they are worth mentioning. I know that if I need to get a point across to my local politician, I am not sending my message via email. The email can so conveniently be deleted or tossed into a file somewhere. I suppose the same goes for a hardcopy as far as it being tossed in the recycling bin. But there is something about physcially opening the envelope and holding the paper in your hand as well as your ink signature that spells out, "I MEAN BUSINESS."

When our daughter was just a newborn in the NICU at our local Children's Hospital, I was both excited and terrified to bring her home. I just assumed that they would send us home to fend for ourselves. How grateful we were to learn that there were programs in place to help us along this journey.........funding for medical supplies, funding for family relief, and funding for night nursing. I don't think we would have slept much in the last 5 1/2 years had we not received night help.

Our daughter at 5 days of age just moments before we learned she
suffered a severe brain injury at birth. Dec. 2003
I have had to write letters in the past few years with regards to our daughter. When you are a caregiver of a family member who is medically fragile, you do receive some financial assistance from the government as the cost of caring for a child like this at home far exceeds the usual cost of raising a child. As well, if both parents were working outside of the home prior to the birth of their child, one of the parents must stay home to be a primary caregiver resulting in a siginifcant loss of income.

Caring for our daughter.
Photos by Erin Egan
As time has passed, I have noticed some "holes" in these programs. Don't get me wrong, I am still very grateful that we live in a country that supports families like ours. I never take that for granted. The thing is, programs that are created by government committees that base the programs on statistics and very rarely on common sense, often results in programs that are not working at their maxium efficiency. The families who are using these programs can very quickly identify where improvements can and should be made not only to benefit the individuals using the programs/funding pot but also the government at large.

Photos by Erin Egan
I have never been one to complain for the sake of complaining and I am also very solution-oriented so if I identify a problem, I very quickly think of a solution to that problem. Writing a letter expressing your views can actually make a difference. If you are going to write a letter for change (see sample at bottom of post), follow these important steps to make your letter most effective:

1) Set the Stage: In the first 1-2  paragraphs you need to give the reader a brief description of your situation so that they have some background information to go on. It is important to leave emotions out of it. Simply write the facts.

2) Identify the Problem: After the reader gets an idea of what your particular situation is, let them know why you are writing and what the problem is.

3) Offer Solutions: This is really important!! A letter written that is negative and full of complaints will likely not be taken seriously and will result in the recipient becoming defensive. By offering some ways that the problem can be rectified, you are demonstrating that you are willing to work towards finding a solution. It also shows that you have thought about this and that you are not just complaining for the sake of complaining.

4) Stating Your Expectations: After you offer some possible solutions and the benefits to changing the way things are currently being done, you can then close your letter by stating what you expect. This part needs to be firm, not wishy-washy. For example, "I expect to hear from you very soon to arrange a meeting in person to discuss this further." will get more attention than, "I hope you don't mind me writing and I hope to hear from you if you're not too busy."

After the initial letter is sent off, give the recipient three weeks to acknowledge that they have received and read your letter. If after three weeks you do not receive a response, then you can write a follow-up letter. This letter is brief and to the point and should have the original letter attached to it in the event that the first letter got 'lost' somehow.

There is a skill to writing an effective letter of this type. If you have a letter like this to write but worry that you will not be able to get your thoughts on paper, ask a friend or family member to help you. A well written letter of this type can get things moving. Also have someone edit your letter to make sure it doesn't contain spelling/grammatical errors.

Finally, if your letter writing gets you nowhere which is often the case when dealing with government officials, then your next letter may need to be one to the media. Make sure to send a "thank you" note to the recipient of the original letter and let them know that since they were obviously unable to help you that you feel you have no choice but to take your cause to the media. Just watch how fast you get a response.

Here is a sample letter that I wrote a couple of years ago to our local Member of Parliament:

August 25th 2008

Dear Mr. John Yakabuski;

I want to bring your attention to an issue that is not only affecting our family specifically but many families in your riding and across the province. We are the parents of a five-year-old child with severe special needs. As a result of the complex care involved with our daughter we receive much needed and much appreciated help from various pots of funding provided by the government to care for our child at home. One of these support systems is night nursing since our daughter is fed exclusively by gastronomy tube due to risk of aspiration. We have been informed that as of August 26th 2008, we will go from consistent night nursing of six nights/week to two nights/week due to the severe shortage of nurses. Presently, our case manager at the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) is working closely with local agencies to come up with some type of plan to ensure that we receive as much care as possible until this problem can be resolved. Unfortunately, we expect that the problem of nursing shortages is only going to get worse as time goes on.
Our daughter suffered a severe lack of oxygen at birth (Dec. 5th 2003) resulting in a significant brain injury. Consequently, she was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy and also suffers with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). She receives many medications to assist with her digestion, spasticity and anxiety and as mentioned above, she is exclusively g-tube fed. Her care is extremely complex and therefore she cannot be cared for by family members/friends, etc. but requires specially trained caregivers. We have two trained Family Relief Workers who each provide 18 hours of day care per week. Since our daughter was just over one year of age, we have received night nursing support, which started at 2x/week and has increased to 6x/week as her care has increased in complexity. We have had our primary nurse with us for the past 3.5 years but due to recommended bedrest by her OB, she will be on permanent leave as of August 25th 2008. At present, there is no one to replace her. The other two nurses who are trained to care for Meredith each do one night per week and will try to take on an extra shift where they are able.
As the beginning of September approaches, I am very concerned for the well-being of our family in managing the one-on-one care of this child while doing so in a significantly sleep-deprived state. The funds provided by the provincial government for the night nursing care will be sitting unused with CCAC. Meanwhile, our family, as well as many others, are entering into a crisis period with no end in sight. One of our two remaining nurses will be done working for the agency in December, as she, too, is expecting a baby.
Providing the extraordinary, on-going, one-on-one care for a child with severe special needs is draining at the best of times and would be impossible if we did not have the support of relief workers and night nurses. Our daughter is extremely dependent and must have a caregiver with her every minute of the day and night. She does not nap and nights are often unpredictable with episodes of retching, discomfort and wakefulness for up to three hours at a time. On the nights when we are without night nursing support, my husband or I will get about 5 hours total of broken sleep. Her day begins at 5:30am and she does not go to bed again until 7:30pm. Our very real concern right now is that in a very short amount of time, we will become physically and mentally drained without this necessary support that we have been receiving up until this point.
We are asking the government to take this situation very seriously and to give it immediate attention. By considering the solutions that I am proposing (see below), the government will not only be protecting the well being of children and their families but will also save significant amounts of money. Presently, our nursing agency bills the Community Care Access Centre approximately $40/hour. About half of this is used to pay the nurse’s hourly rate and the other half is used for administrative purposes. With self-directed funding, the middleman is removed, so to speak, and dollars are saved. This would also allow families to have more hours in relief support as the dollars would stretch further if the hourly rate was $20/hour as opposed to $40/hour.

I propose:
  • That families be given the option of self-directed funding when a service cannot be provided due to a shortage of staffing within an agency
  • That families be given the option of hiring their own staff whom they will train and monitor therefore not having to depend on an agency that is clearly unable to provide the necessary staffing
  • That funding remains in the hands of an agency to prevent abuse of this system and that the family invoice the hours of their worker (s) to that agency. Monies will then be directly deposited into the family’s bank account and the family will pay their workers accordingly (i.e. Special Services at Home format)
  • That families whose children can be cared for by trained caregivers other than nurses be given the option of hiring and training these caregivers so that the nurses can be used for the families who absolutely have to have nursing care (i.e. where monitoring/ clinical assessments are necessary)
By providing exceptional care to our child in our home, we already save the government a tremendous amount of dollars each year (estimated at $400, 000). We are well aware of the cost of care if she had to be cared for at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, which would be the only suitable facility for a child with such serious special needs. Of course, we could place her in foster care knowing full well that another home would not be able to meet the demands of caring for such a complex child.
We urge you to give this matter your immediate attention and to raise this issue in the Legislative assembly on our behalf. The well being of our daughter's primary caregivers (her parents) is paramount and in order for us to continue to care for her at home, where she belongs, we need to work towards alternate solutions in spite of the nursing shortage. I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. I can be reached at ***-***-****.

Julie Keon

June 2009