Postcrossing Blog

Stories about the Postcrossing community and the postal world

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The writing prompts invite postcrossers to write about a different topic on their postcards’ messages every month. These are just suggestions though — if you already know what you want to write about, or the recipient gives you some pointers, that’s great too!

It’s currently the season for international rugby in this hemisphere, and my preferred team (if you’ve been reading my writing prompts each month, you can probably guess which team) have so far lost every match of the Six Nations tournament. Unsurprisingly, then, my thoughts are drifting to other sports… preferably ones with lower stakes. Yep! This month’s writing prompt is about sport—about the kind of sport that might be unfamiliar to people from outside your own country, to be specific!

In March, write about unusual or unconventional sports in your country.
A photo of men carrying sacks of goal, wearing running jerseys

I grew up in Yorkshire, specifically in Wakefield, and quite near to the specific area called Gawthorpe. So quite regularly—every day once I was catching the school bus—I’d go past a local sign about the… World Coal Carrying Championships?! I just took this for granted as a kid: I knew the area had a history of coal mines, with the National Coal Mining Museum close by, so that all seemed pretty unsurprising, somehow.

Going past the sign again recently, though, I had to stop to wonder. Just how big could such a championship really be?! Looking at the previous winners now, most are from the local area, though I do spot a winner from Scotland in 2015. Looks like calling it a “World” championship might be a bit of an exaggeration, but hey, if you’re interested in a coal-carrying race, then I think sign-ups for 2024's event are still open—maybe you could make it one?!

For my part, I think I’ll pass… Carrying ten or so postcards to the postbox at once is enough exercise for me.

Do you know of any weird and wonderful sports in your own area? If you’re stuck for something to write about on your postcards this month, you can tell your recipients all about it—or you can comment here if you’d like to share!

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Bob Eckstein is an award-winning writer, New Yorker cartoonist, and author/illustrator of The New York Times best-selling book (and postcard box set!), Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores.

A picture of the Bob's postcard set, alongside an illustration from the set featuring a bookshop façade

Last summer, in a webcast interview from his New York-based studio, Bob shared with Clarisse (aka CStar9) his love for endangered bookstores, admitted he used to send toast through the mail, and urged creative people not to work alone.

Three frames from Clarisse's conversation with Bob, featuring Bob gesticulating
For your World’s Greatest Bokstores project, why bookstores? And how did you narrow down your bookstore choices?
A colorful illustration from a bookshop façade. The big awning reads BOOKS

There were many different reasons why a store would be chosen: its historical significance, its importance to the community, maybe its beauty. Main-Street bookstores play so many important roles in a community, and I wanted to capture these in the book.

I have a great interest in story: people want to read something with meat on the bone. Luckily, bookstores are magical places. I profiled about 150 to 200 bookstores, and then had to choose half. I was hoping there would be a sequel!

You’ve written books about the bookstores of the world, but you’ve also written about snowmen, cats, Arctic explorers, and more. What does research look like for you?
A selection of books written/illustrated by Bob

Each of these books would have taken much longer without the internet. I make every attempt to visit and learn from a subject in person, but that is not logistically realistic, so sometimes research comes from surfing the web.

Once I find out everything I can, I try to simplify and curate the interesting stuff. That’s the glamorous part of writing a book. But eventually there comes a point where you have to stop doing that and just start writing.

You write for TV, you write prose, you paint, you are a cartoonist… Is there a medium that feels most like home for you?
Bob's cover for the New Yorker

It’s so much fun to create a cartoon that makes people laugh. And writing is something that I am certainly at home with.

I juggle many different things in my career. I’m a public speaker, I teach, I do cartoons for different magazines, I do illustration. It’s hard to make a living from this stuff. You have to produce a tremendous amount of work. At the moment, I’m working on four different books.

I write almost every single day. For the last few years, I’ve been waking up by 5:30 a.m. to start writing. By 9:00 a.m., I usually finish a piece. Then I can get started with the rest of my workday. That discipline is how I get so much done. I also don’t watch much TV!

You’ve said in an interview, “My deadlines are relentless [and I don’t doodle for fun]. If I’m drawing, it’s with a purpose.” Do you ever get creator’s block and if so, what do you do about it?

I have lists of ideas I don’t have time to get through.

An illustration of two men doing yoga. One of them is in a very elaborate pose. The caption reads: I have had a lot of free time this year

I don’t get writer’s block, where I’m just sitting around for an idea or joke to fall into my lap. The way I teach others how to get out of ruts is this: usually it’s a matter of tuning in to the voices and ideas in your head. These days the world is a very loud place. We are all inundated with distractions and sensory overload. Taking a walk or just even taking a bath to be alone with your thoughts…it’s surprising how easy it can be to come up with ideas during those times.

You also can’t work alone. I believe the best gift a creative person can have is the ability to surround themselves with talented people.

Anything I’ve had success with can be traced back to someone who helped me: someone who gave me encouragement, who inspired me to explore something new, or who gave me a professional opportunity.

How do you narrow down your ideas?

There is so much rejection in this field. So, basically, I fold up as many paper airplanes as possible, and then I chuck them out of the window and see which ones stick.

A group of balls resembling a Newtons cradle sculpture swings from the side of a building

I never actually intended to do postcards. But the opportunity came, and I went with it. I didn’t appreciate initially that the Bookstore postcards would go over so well. I always just cross my fingers that people will have a chance to see the things I work on. I know I usually sound like a have an ego the size of God’s cigar, but I was genuinely surprised to hear that for example, students were wallpapering their dorm rooms with the Bookstore postcards.

What’s your relationship to postal mail?

I love postcards. I have sent thousands of them – really! I used to send out mailings in groups of a thousand to potential art clients. I also sent jokes like poly-ethylening slices of toast and writing “Keep in toast” in yellow plastic that looked like squeeze-on butter. I eventually mailed them in plastic bags after sending hundreds with just putting a stamp on the piece of toast. Today I probably would be arrested.

I dearly miss the age of regularly corresponding with hand-written postcards. This year I sent maybe only a hundred. Email has ruined it, postage increases has ruined it, younger generations who don’t even write in script anymore has ruined it. I know I sound like an old man yelling from his porch, but it seems everything I love is going extinct -—from old-fashioned postcard correspondence to vinyl LPs, MAD magazine, and gag cartoons. I try to be a help. I raise awareness about the plight of disappearing bookstores. I’m writing a book now on our most important museums, and I’m working with a friend on a film that’s partly about climate change.

You do live drawing for events. How did that come about?

When I was a kid, I loved Sports Illustrated, and they would do drawings of sporting events. I eventually worked for them and was also a sports reporter of sorts for The Village Voice and The New York Times. So, it was natural for me to incorporate my humor and artwork to coverage.

A Super Bowl themed cartoon, in which the players, MCs and mascots all dance in the rugby field

I used to take-over the Times website front page for the Super Bowl, Olympics, or World Series. Then I did it for The New Yorker: the Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. I still live-draw occasionally to promote cultural events. It’s perfect for today when people want to see stuff as much as they want to read about it.

It’s also an example of how I like to always push the envelope, which artists and writers should always do. I’m always asking “what if?”.

It’s like the squirrel operetta I tried to make. What if?

What are you most proud of, outside of your writing and art?

It used to be my hair.

I’m very proud of my wife. She is a well-known book artist and a total bad-ass—she will hate this answer and I will pay for it later. But that’s what being a bad-ass is all about.

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Growing up, there was no one who said, you’re funny, or, you should be a cartoonist. That didn’t happen until I was surrounded by friends very late in life.

A person is on a stage, while others comment negatively on their performance with snide, witty remarks. The caption reads: Hecklers on poetry night
Bob’s first New Yorker cartoon

My friend and mentor Sam Gross – who happened to be a cartoonist for the New Yorker – organized my birthday party one year. That party also happened to be the regular New Yorker staff lunch. The food was very good. I asked if I could come the following week and he said sure, but you also should make a cartoon and submit it to the magazine.

So I took up his dare, and the New Yorker ended up buying and publishing the first cartoon I drew. I realized later it wasn’t as easy as that. But it opened the door.

I always say to my students, you’re never going to have these things happen if you don’t show up. 80% of success is just showing up – being willing to listen to and learn from people. You never know when something life-changing is right there in front of you.

What’s next for you? And importantly: what postcards can we expect next?
A cartoon of a psychologist's office, with a snowman on the patient's sofa. The caption reads: so where do you see yourself in five years?

This summer, I spoke at the Humor Writing Conference. A few times a month, I produce my Substack newsletter, The Bob, which has turned into a huge, pleasant surprise. I have a handful of magazine assignments to complete. As I said, I’m working on four books.

And I am looking to make a box set of postcards in 2025, of museums in the U.S.

We can’t just leave on that cliff-hanger! Tell us about the museums postcard project!

I covered 155 museums for this project. Like with the bookstores project, I visited as many of the museums as I could in person. But for those I couldn’t visit, I sent friends and other ambassadors to report back to me with their impressions and photographs.

When I went to a museum myself, first I would just go and experience the place holistically. But in the back of my mind, I was always thinking, what’s the best angle or the most unique view of this place that would create an incentive to people, to say, Oh, I’ve gotta add this place to my bucket list.

An example is the American Museum of Natural History, which has an iconic blue whale that hangs in the main room of the oceanic division. I felt like it would be delinquent on my part not to give people what they expect and want to see in a view of that place. And then I would make supplemental illustrations to pique additional interest. I hope people will feel a real sense of wonder when they’re exploring this project, whether they’re looking at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or the SPAM Museum in Minnesota. It’s just mind-blowing that all these places exist.

I want to add that I’m still sad that the bookstore book ended. It was the same with the museums project. I did three illustrations a day. I put my heart and soul into this project and slept very little. But I didn’t mind the long hours because it was such a fun thing to do.

Editor’s note: Footnotes from the Most Fascinating Museums is about to be published — it’ll be out on May 14. Hopefully the corresponding set of postcards will soon follow! 😊

To learn more about Bob, check out his website and newsletter! Bob has given interviews about the long and winding road to becoming an author and cartoonist, about humor, about his book The Complete Book of Cat Names and also been interviewed for the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest podcast. For the aspiring writers out there, he has some tips on publishing and writing on Writer’s Digest.


And now, for the sneaky giveaway: Clarisse is going to send 4 postcards from Bob’s World’s Greatest Bookstores set to 4 randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below to share your favorite bookshop. Come back this time next week to check out the winners!

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Chris (aka chrisbonham11)'s profile caught our attention because of his quest to find a set of postcards featuring the Qing court version of “Up the River During Qingming”, a beautiful painting which can be seen at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Normally, when you buy a postcard at a museum, the postcard will feature a whole painting… but this 11 meter scroll has so much going on that numerous postcards were created to feature its different scenes! Chris took the time to tell us about his quest and his other passions, on this spotlight interview!

How did you get started sending postcards? What is your earliest memory of them?

When I was a child, my family and I would send postcards to relatives from our holidays. We also received postcards from our relatives from their holidays. I especially remember postcards from my Nan, which she sent from her trips to other parts of the UK.

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?

How exactly I came across Postcrossing back in 2014 is now lost in the mists of time, alas! I believe that I found out about it thanks to an online news article though. As somebody who studied abroad on exchange for a year during their degree, and at the time was just starting out on a career in international education, any opportunity to connect with folks abroad really appealed. I was also looking for opportunities to practice my German and Dutch, and quickly found out that there are a lot of speakers of both languages who are postcrossers. I had a little stash of postcards from museums and galleries already to hand and ready to share, so I was good to go.

A freshly painted, bright red pillar postbox
Show us your mailbox, your mail carrier, your postoffice or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

I use any one of a number of local postboxes for my outgoing postcards, depending on where I’m heading when I head out and about. I think I saw somewhere that the UK has among the densest distribution of postboxes of any country in the world, which if true is why I have so much choice! The postbox I use most frequently though is this one, located on the university campus where I work. This photo was taken in August 2023, when it had just had a fresh coat of paint.

What is it your favorite part of the Postcrossing process?

For me, it is picking out the best postcard I can for the recipient. I read every profile in full, and then have a look at their received and favourite postcard galleries. I’ve developed a greater interest in (and stash of) postage stamps over the past couple of years, hence where I can I also try to use one or more which match the recipient’s interests to pay the postcard’s way.

Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

If I have to pick favourite postcards, they’re those I’ve been sent from the artwork Up The River During Qingming!

A reproduction of a 18th century painting, featuring lots of small figures crossing a stone bridge, on a busy festive day

I’ve received parts #3 from gene1128 (TW-3307201), #6 from ipyngtsai (TW-2990803), #9 from Pe-June (TW-2524342), #23 from EmilieLin (TW-3336740) and #24 from chuanH (TW-3077188).

I bought a set of postcards of this artwork from the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, when I visited nine years ago. After I shared the set with other postcrossers, I wondered if I could rebuild the set from postcards sent to me by others. Folks may have had to go to extra trouble to obtain and send me one of these postcards (and the postcrosser who sent me four cards from the set and let me know that the Museum shop was no longer selling it certainly did go to extra trouble), hence the extra appreciation. Thank you again!

Have you been surprised by any place that you have received a postcard from or sent a postcard to?

For received postcards, it has to be Bahrain, Belize, Brunei, and Guam, four of the less common places postcrossers are from / visit in travel mode. I don’t think that any other sent postcard can match the one which took 284 days to reach its recipient in Vietnam! Never give up hope on those travelling postcards, folks, even post-60 day expiry!

Have you met any other members in real life?

For over six of the nearly ten years I’ve been a postcrosser, I beavered away at it alone. I wasn’t a user of the old forum, being a bit intimidated by the formatting. I joined the new, friendlier formatted (to me) forum in early 2021, and since then have got to know a grand bunch of people in the British Isles section. It’s a lovely corner of the Internet. I attended my first meet-up in December 2022, meeting a few of these folks and others, and haven’t looked back. I managed to attend five meet-ups in 2023, including one I hosted around Halloween in Reading. JennyAssis helped with designing the meet-up postcard for that one (thank you again, Jenny!).

Halloween Meet up Postcard, back and front
What’s one way that postcards have changed your life for the better?

The whole process of Postcrossing, from drawing an address, picking out postcard and stamps, and writing a message, is an escape for me. If I’ve had a particularly large postal delivery in one day, I can spend an hour or more reading and registering postcards and writing thank you messages to their senders. During the days of Covid lockdowns, Postcrossing kept me occupied and connected to others. While others completed Netflix, I sent and received a lot of postcards!

Is there anything else that you are passionate about?

Real ale! I’ll be wandering around Reading and east Berkshire come the Spring taking in pubs on the local CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) ale trail. Postcrossing friends can attest to this: I left a meet-up last summer early so that I could return to Reading to collect the t-shirt which was the reward for visiting all the pubs on last year’s trail!

International education is also a passion; I’m still working in the field, and haven’t tired of helping students realise an exchange like I did.

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In the spirit of mail sometimes taking the scenic route to their destinations, this blog post is a little late… but as they say, better late than never! It’s been a while since the Little Mail Carriers made a visit to Patricia (Angelthecat) in Germany, which they did in time for World Postcard Day in 2021. We’ve been keeping this delightful blog post from you since then, so let’s waste no more time and let them tell you all about their adventures and the many postcrossers they met along the way…

Hello all, this time we travelled to Franconia. Patricia (aka Angelthecat) hosted us for some time and showed us some really wonderful places together with Manuela (Manu86), Antje (KiwiAngie), Verena (vvsmurfy) and Tanja (Gaiasduhter).

We started at Herzogenaurach.

Three photos, showing a tower on the left, the Mail Carriers standing on a stylised metal drawing of the town, and a statue/fountain on the right

The town with approximately 24,000 inhabitants is situated about 25 kilometers north-west of Nuremberg and is especially known in the world of sports. Herzogenaurach is for example the home of Adidas, one of the leading sportsware producers worldwide. The history of manufacturing sports’ shoes started in the 1920s. In 1924, the first firm was registered and named “Dassler Schuhfabrik”. When the brothers Dassler split up after WWII, Adolf Dassler established his firm today known as “Adidas AG” in 1949. The firm’s name is an acronym made of the Adolf Dassler’s nickname “Adi” and the first three letters of his last name. The Adidas soccer shoes became worldwide attention with the “wonder of Bern”, when the German national soccer team wore shoes with three stripes and innovative soccer cleats when winning the World Cup in 1954.

A football dominates the horizon... and in front of it the Little Mail Carriers are sitting and admiring the view

After a long city stroll, we were really hungry in the evening, and therefore got invited to try a typical dish of the region: The Aischkarpfen (carp from the river Aisch). Very yummy!

The Little Mail Carriers figure out how to tackle a large battered fish!

Of course, we also took some time to write some postcards and prepare for World Postcard Day!

The Little Mail Carriers help to write postcards for World Postcard Day, showing the 2021 postcard design, an illustration of someone writing 'hello' on a postcard The Little Mail Carriers show off a first day cover with a man on a horse carriage on the stamp design

The next day it continued: On October 2nd, 2021, there was a Postcrossing meet-up in Ansbach. It was wonderful again.

The name “Ansbach” has its origin probably in an inflow of the river Rezat, called “Onoldsbach”. In the year 748, a monastery was founded in its estuary, the roots of the later town Ansbach. It was mentioned on a document in 1221 for the very first time. This means we got here on time for its 800th jubilee – great!

When walking through the town, we noticed that there are also other funny statues, like this man with a suitcase:

Statue of a man with a suitcase, it's spiky and stylised rather than realistic and looks like it's made of steel

And we took a look at the Saint Gumbertus church in Ansbach:

Saint Gumbertus Church, seen from below looking up toward the spires

We also highly recommend visiting the castle garden in Ansbach. It’s beautiful!

The castle gardens in Ansbach, with lots of flowers and paths around them Another angle showing the building as well as some of the flowers and lawns

And of course, we helped with writing postcards again afterwards…

After a long day, we needed a good rest, but the next week we went to explore Nuremberg, the home of Angelthecat and Gaiasduhter! First of all, we climbed the castle hill, and were able to enjoy the beautiful view over the city.

The Little Mail Carriers look down on Nuremberg, with church spires and the roofs of houses and shops far below

It’s not very clear when Nuremberg was founded. It was mentioned the first time in a document called the “Sigena Urkunde” issued by emperor Henry III in 1050. Probably there were some smaller settlements as well as a castle. This castle became an imperial seat and was soon important for the whole empire of that time. In 1219, Nuremberg was acknowledged as a free imperial city by Frederick II. Today, Nuremberg is known for toys, gingerbread and the world famous “Christkindlesmarkt” (Christchild’s Fair). Nuremberg was also the stronghold of manufacturing pencils!

Some of the sights of Nuremberg: two towers, and the distinctive style of some of the houses with shutters on the windows

We also discovered something very cool, and exactly the right size for us: a model of the Nuremberg castle and the city area of that time!

A miniature model of the town that looks like it's made of brassy metal, with the Little Mail Carriers standing in front of it The Little Mail Carriers stand in the miniature city, on the roofs

Of course, we also visited the famous Nuremberg painter, graphic artist, mathematician and art theorist Albrecht Dürer. Maybe you even already received a postcard with one of his works? World famous are the “Young Hare” or the “Praying Hands”.

The statue of Albrecht Dürer

We even ran into him in person (sort of)…

A Playmobil figure of Albrecht Dürer alongside his self-portrait, holding a paint palette

After that, we visited the main market square (Hauptmarkt). The “Frauenkirche” (Church of our Lady) on the main market square was built by emperor Charles in the time of 1352 to 1362. It is known internationally for its so called “Männleinlaufen” (a mechanical clock that commemorates the Golden Bull of 1356). Every day at noon, 7 electors come from the right door, go towards the emperor, and turn to him. The figure of the emperor welcomes them with his scepter—it’s a bit complicated to explain, but wonderful to see: there’s a video here on Youtube that lets you catch a glimpse!).

The Frauenkirche with its rather spiky roof, and a glimpse of the mechanical clock

We also visited the Beautiful Fountain. It was built in 1396 and is situated at the main market next to the town’s hall. Its height is about 19 meters. It is known for its story of the brass ring:

“Master Kuhn, who built the lattice fence around the fountain, had a daughter named Margret, who was adored by the apprentice. As the Master did not want to give his child to a poor man, he prohibited the relationship and threw him out. It is said that Kuhn told the apprentice that he would not get his daughter the same way the young man wouldn’t be able to make rings turning around at the fountain’s lattice fence. When the Master travelled, the apprentice secretly made the rings, to prove his skills. Then he cut the rings and put them to the lattice and hammered and filed until the seams could not be seen anymore. Then he left the town and never came back. When Kuhn was back home, he recognized that he was too strict. But it was too late, and Margret was in tears. One of the rings is seen as a lucky charm. The legend tells that those who touch and turn the ring, will be blessed with children. Most of the tourists think that the ring made of brass is the lucky charm, but lot of people from Nuremberg think that the “real ring” is the one made of iron, and therefore is the lucky charm.”

The Beautiful Fountain in Nuremberg, surrounded by a decorative fence which has lots of swirls and spirals

Before we go on with our trip, we have to relax a bit at the “Museumsbrücke” (museum’s bridge) with view to the Heilig-Geist-Spital (Holy Spirit Hospital):

The Little Mail Carriers sat on the parapet of a bridge, looking over the river and buildings in the distance

The “Heilig-Geist-Spital”, often simply called “HeiGei” by Nuremberg locals, was used to care for the sick and old of the imperial city. The hospital was donated by the richest citizen of that time, Konrad Gross. Still today it is used as a retirement home. The Heilig-Geist-Spital is also the place where the imperial insignia were kept in Nuremberg from 1424 to 1796.

Before we went back to our host’s home, we enjoyed the view over the city again, this time towards the castle:

The Little Mail Carriers look down on Nuremberg

We really enjoyed the time in Nuremberg very much and in case we will get the chance to come here again, we definitely want to eat gingerbread. They are simply a must to eat at Christmas time. Maybe together with our new friends? But for now, we’re on our way once more…

Thank you for hosting the Little Mail Carriers, Patricia, and thanks also to all the postcrossers who spent time with them for welcoming them so warmly!

Since their time in Franconia, they’ve had several other adventures—but that’s a story for another day…

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The writing prompts invite postcrossers to write about a different topic on their postcards’ messages every month. These are just suggestions though — if you already know what you want to write about, or the recipient gives you some pointers, that’s great too!

Since I joined Postcrossing, I’ve started thinking a lot more about stamps. I always used to have some around from writing to my parents while I was at university, but I didn’t think a lot about them until I started being more aware of the sheer variety available. Other people’s interest in stamps made me take an interest too: seeing requests to receive specific stamps made me look for them wherever possible, and then keep up with what other stamps might be available so I could make sure to use some interesting stamps. So this week’s topic was prompted by John (aka mezzanine2) in the forum!

In February, write about the stamps you’re using. Is there a story behind them, or why you’re choosing them?
A photo of a book of plain British first class stamps, with King Charles III's head

For quite a while, even before I used Postcrossing, I personally liked using the “country definitive” stamp for Wales, with the dragon on it for first class, a leek design for second class, and a daffodil for international stamps. I had to order them online, since I live in England, but for me it was a little way of showing where I come from. The dragon is of course one of Wales’ best-known symbols, and is on our flag. The leek on a second-class stamp is actually a design carved in Welsh sycamore wood, and is another symbol of Wales: one of the stories behind that is supposedly that a 7th century Welshman who was king of Gwynedd, King Cadwaladr, told soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets to help them identify each other during a battle. And finally the daffodil is the national flower of Wales, and often worn by Welsh people on St David’s Day. They probably snuck in because leek is “cennin” in Welsh, while daffodils are “cennin pedr”… and daffodils look prettier pinned to your jacket!

In the UK, it’s also an interesting time as the stamps are in the process of switching from having Queen Elizabeth II’s head to having King Charles III’s profile. Sometimes at the moment I’m using one of each monarch to make it up to the right value!

How about you? Do you choose interesting stamps, or just get whatever the post office have? You can share your thoughts in the comments here, or use this as a prompt for what to write on your postcards this month!