Posts in Guest Post
Stationery, Not Stationary: Michelle's First Year!
My first inking and letterpress experience!!! I had Molly and Sara put their signatures on it as it was a full team effort with design, setting, and inking.

My first inking and letterpress experience!!! I had Molly and Sara put their signatures on it as it was a full team effort with design, setting, and inking.

Trying out some product staging for social media… anyone remember this? It was such a mess upstairs, but I was having so much fun!

Trying out some product staging for social media… anyone remember this? It was such a mess upstairs, but I was having so much fun!

February window display plan (revised a few times, of course). My sketchbook was a bunch of scribbled pages that I hoped would come to life.

February window display plan (revised a few times, of course). My sketchbook was a bunch of scribbled pages that I hoped would come to life.

A colorful shipment of Lamy fountain pens! One of those lovely, left hand pinks became my new BFF in the letter writing game. Now I travel with it!

A colorful shipment of Lamy fountain pens! One of those lovely, left hand pinks became my new BFF in the letter writing game. Now I travel with it!

When your work comes home… clearly Sara is rubbing off on me and my intrigue with mailboxes has become a thing. I had to make my own!

When your work comes home… clearly Sara is rubbing off on me and my intrigue with mailboxes has become a thing. I had to make my own!

Remembering the worthiness of my feelings as a new shipment of meaningful products came in. I couldn’t have planned it better with my nail color. :D

Remembering the worthiness of my feelings as a new shipment of meaningful products came in. I couldn’t have planned it better with my nail color. :D

Making friends through snail mail and music! Yes, I was stoked. Yes I have amazing friends through working at C&Co. Community comes easy here.

Making friends through snail mail and music! Yes, I was stoked. Yes I have amazing friends through working at C&Co. Community comes easy here.

Sara’s window display skills are amazing, as well as her ability to make any moment fun!!! She brought in cookies and cocoa so we could decorate. <3

Sara’s window display skills are amazing, as well as her ability to make any moment fun!!! She brought in cookies and cocoa so we could decorate. <3

It’s Been A Year?!

August 2019 marks one year since I’ve been with the Constellation & Co. crew. I suppose it takes a moment of reflection to realize how much time has passed and how much I’ve grown into my role. I’ve told Molly several times recently that it feels as if we both started last month. I’m amazed how a year has just flown for the both of us. I mean, we started the same day, a very special detail to me as we’ve become friends!

When I got hired by Sara last year, it was divine providence. I was praying for my “what next” and apparently, so was she. It’s a much bigger story than that, but the process of finding my way into C&Co was way too perfect for me to take credit.

I’ve learned and experienced a lot in my first year and the best way I could think to summarize it was in images and some overarching themes (That’s a creative writer for you!). Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along my C&Co journey.

Building Stories

I’m a writer and an illustrator, so I’m not unfamiliar with being creative and telling stories, but working at C&Co has really given me the opportunity to help Sara tell the story of Constellation & Co. and expand upon my definition of what comprises storytelling. I’ve had a hand in planning and designing window displays, copy editing catalogs, co-creating content for YouTube, illustrating for cards, staging and sharing social imagery, and figuring out how to best display products. I’ve learned that the “voice” you use throughout your writing, vlogging, podcasting, displays, and even your storefront all need to communicate the same message. It’s your brand and your story and most importantly, it needs to be authentic!

Trying New Things

You’d think that with my role being so versatile and ever-evolving that I’d be more open to change, but I struggle with it! And sometimes, it’s in the smallest of ways. I’ve written another blog about how I got into stationery and what it was like for me growing up and writing letters. My perfectionism often got in the way and kept me from sending snail mail.

After watching Sara send letter after letter, I’ve finally developed my own habit of regular writing. But, it took some self-bribing! See, these beautiful, pastel Lamy fountain pens arrived one day and I kept looking at them. I told myself I didn’t need one, that I wouldn’t use it enough, etc…. Then, one day I just decided to stop making up reasons not to buy one, took the plunge, and picked one in pastel pink (I had banned pink for a long time; it’s come back as a new favorite.)! Since then, I’ve learned to really love writing letters and am grateful I made a change. :)

Also, I can’t forget to mention that I took the plunge and added a furry, snail mail helper to my family this year! He’s more interested in playing with the stationery than sending it (and chewing on my Lamy pen), but it’s a good reminder to take better care of where I store things. :D

Mental Health Awareness

Sara’s focus on mental health and being transparent about what she’s going through has really helped me become aware of the worthiness of my own feelings. There’s only so much time before someone working in a feelings-focused, brutally honest, card carrying shop has to come face to face with the reality of life and the feelings that come with it.

I can definitely say that I’m more self-aware and better at noticing and caring for my needs, being honestly vulnerable, and accepting of the fact that life is life and that we can use words to express and share what we’re going through with those around us. It’s how we build community. <3

Connecting with Community

This year, I’ve discovered what it means to be part of a community. Sara has built friendships through Card Club, the Puget Sound Correspondence Society, the Snail Mail Superstar community, etc.… and I’ve been privileged to jump in and become part of communities she’s already formed!

I’ve received supportive snail mail from folks near and far and had the opportunity to make my own friends in shop, both coworkers and shop patrons alike! I am so pleased to see how joining C&Co has given me opportunities to grow over this past year and experience the joy of friendship and community in new ways.

P.S. Thanks for the snail mail, friends!!!

Never Stationary

Looking back over this year, I can see I’ve made progress and overcome my fear of remaining stationary by diving into creative learnings, developing a stronger willingness to try new things, and by taking time to invest in myself as well as in my community. New things can be hard, especially for me, but joining the C&Co crew has opened me up to what I’m capable of and what good can come from being willing to trust that God has a good plan for me through change!

Thanks to Sara, Molly, and everyone who has supported me over the last year through smiles, snail mail, and sweet conversation. :D You’re a special part of my stationery journey and I’m excited to see what the next year holds.

Yours truly,

Michelle

P.P.S. Please make sure to let Sara and Molly know that you’re now aware of their secret talents when you’re next in shop.

That time Sara put Molly and I on a postcard… I texted a few people to let them know how excited I was being so “official” as a C&amp;Co team member.

That time Sara put Molly and I on a postcard… I texted a few people to let them know how excited I was being so “official” as a C&Co team member.

If anyone came in shop this day, you’d have seen a pile of my childhood stationery all over a table. Sara asked me to create a thumbnail for our YouTube video on Lisa Frank stationery… have you seen the video?

If anyone came in shop this day, you’d have seen a pile of my childhood stationery all over a table. Sara asked me to create a thumbnail for our YouTube video on Lisa Frank stationery… have you seen the video?

The February (a.k.a. Valentine’s Day) window display for C &amp; Co that I planned and thankfully, came out so nicely. Sara’s added vision made it pop.

The February (a.k.a. Valentine’s Day) window display for C & Co that I planned and thankfully, came out so nicely. Sara’s added vision made it pop.

Shameless kitten plug… this was the day that Sara and Molly got to meet the little guy. I had been bringing home empty envelope boxes for him to play in!

Shameless kitten plug… this was the day that Sara and Molly got to meet the little guy. I had been bringing home empty envelope boxes for him to play in!

My furry child helping “stamp” the mail. He’s much, much bigger now as he grows so fast (and apparently, ragdolls can get huge), but he still chews on my Lamy pen and is into everything paper… Gotta watch that one.

My furry child helping “stamp” the mail. He’s much, much bigger now as he grows so fast (and apparently, ragdolls can get huge), but he still chews on my Lamy pen and is into everything paper… Gotta watch that one.

So many others have been part of my C&amp;Co journey, but this “weekday” crew has had a big impact on my first year. Of course, I had to draw us!

So many others have been part of my C&Co journey, but this “weekday” crew has had a big impact on my first year. Of course, I had to draw us!

Molly and I (conveniently, not pictured. :D) having our regular, team french fry meeting. Sara couldn’t make it, but Molly posed so she could enjoy it vicariously via photo. Community thrives!

Molly and I (conveniently, not pictured. :D) having our regular, team french fry meeting. Sara couldn’t make it, but Molly posed so she could enjoy it vicariously via photo. Community thrives!

That time I convinced Molly to do a dance number in shop. It was wonderful. Did you guys know she can sing and by sing, I mean sing well???

That time I convinced Molly to do a dance number in shop. It was wonderful. Did you guys know she can sing and by sing, I mean sing well???

Molly's First Year at C&Co
Trying my hand at working with Heidi. She’s temperamental sometimes, but she’s a great coworker when it comes to getting the job done. Here, I’m printing some of our snarky, honest notepads, likely for the first time ever.        Below, you can see one of the first cards I had a hand in creating around the time when I first started in 2018.

Trying my hand at working with Heidi. She’s temperamental sometimes, but she’s a great coworker when it comes to getting the job done. Here, I’m printing some of our snarky, honest notepads, likely for the first time ever.

Below, you can see one of the first cards I had a hand in creating around the time when I first started in 2018.

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Hello friends,

Your friendly neighborhood printer here. It’s officially been a year since I responded to Sara’s “help wanted” post on Instagram (The wonders of social media, am I right?) and I, like Michelle, have been thinking a lot about everything I’ve learned in the past 12 months. 

I’ve obviously grown a lot as a printer - I tackled and conquered Heidi (our feisty Heidelberg windmill and the “baby” of our three presses), I’ve had the opportunity to design a couple cards for the shop, and have enjoyed perfecting the card making process from start to finish (Literally, from taking the parent sheets of paper out of the box to packaging them to send to all of you.). But, I think being a part of this team has taught me something much more valuable, because what I’ve taken away most out of the last year is the importance of connecting with people. 

Constellation & Co is built on making connections. It has made a business of keeping snail mail and the sentimental, written word alive because Sara values the connection that it drives and the ties that it has the power to make and keep. Snail mail is not the only way we connect, though. I look at snail mail as just a space keeper for whatever you’re interested in that connects you to other people. Insert your hobby here, and that’s where you’re going to find your people. For me and this job, and for me and Sara, the connection was letterpress printing. 

I was one point of connection away from never seeing Sara’s post and never getting this job. Although the letterpress community is small, I hadn’t been a member of it for very long and I hadn’t yet discovered Constellation & Co. I had, however, just been in New York at a Book Arts summer camp of sorts and had made several great friends there, one of whom followed Sara on Instagram. She saw the post, knew I lived near Seattle, and tagged me. The rest is history. I couldn’t type an email to Sara fast enough, with a resume and short note about myself (all while trying to sound cool and totally not desperate). But, I was desperate. Not only for a job - which, I totally was - but desperate for a connection. A connection with someone who spoke the language of letterpress, someone I could learn from, and an environment I could grow in and continue to connect with fellow lovers of 100-year-old printing presses. 

That’s all any of us really want, right? As I print in front of a giant window, I am able to do a lot of people watching. My favorite scenario to watch play out are the people that wander upon the shop by mistake, but do a double take as they catch a glimpse of the presses through the window and immediately make a quick dash for the door. I can tell they’re coming right for me. I can tell they’re a printer, or that they took letterpress printing in high school or college, or that their dad had a print shop in their basement. We have an instant connection, and for a few minutes we are speaking the same language. 

I’m grateful for the friends and opportunities that this job and this past year has given me and I’m more excited then ever to see what the next one will bring. 

Molly

Michelle: Collector, Guardian of & Preserver of Snail Mail
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Today’s blog post was written by C&Co team member, Michelle!

Back in the 90s when stationery was neon, Lisa Frank was in, and Japanese mechanical pencils were popping up in the U.S., I was beginning my journey with snail mail.

It wasn’t my favorite thing. Being from the South, it involved a lot of manners and rules. Addressing a letter felt like agony. My first letter writing memory is of me sitting in the kitchen of our new house, fidgeting and complaining, struggling to understand the massive amount of letters and numbers and how to stack them in the right way, like you would a good block tower, so that our mail carrier knew where to send my messy-looking words. I was very much a perfectionist. The eraser shavings from my frustrated writing attempts made my envelopes look like sad, little construction sites.

This memory comes from a time when had just moved to a different state, the first really big thing to happen for me, especially as I had finally reached an age where friends began exchanging matching BFF jewelry and were special, treasured things. Leaving friends was hard. It was for this reason that I was beginning my writing journey. Telephone calls weren’t really a thing for some reason, so my closest gal pal had begun writing me from a few states away, asking in her misspellings and reversed letters how I was doing with all the new in my life. I even remember one of her letters including little wooden beads she had painted from a 90s craft set and how special it felt to receive them. I remember this so well because I never wrote her back and I regret it to this day! Sorry, Ruth. Letter writing was hard then!

The very next year, I did something else really huge; I went off to camp by myself. I was pretty young, so it was a big deal. I remember thinking how brave and proud I was of myself for going off without my family for two weeks. It was extra special because my mom, as well as my little sister and a friend wrote me letters for while I was away (later letting me know they sent them around the time I left so they’d arrive in time… so funny). My sister’s letters were mostly amoeba-like drawings of what I think was supposed to be our cat and family, but they were made just for me, so they were special. My mom sent the traditional kind of snail mail, a good few pages, handwritten on teacup-bordered paper, wishing me the best time and letting me know about all the people and pets that missed me. It’s funny now to think that two weeks seemed like forever and how important the letters were to me while I was away. Whenever I go home to visit and find that stationery set, I think about those camp letters (I see now we weren’t big letter writers since it’s still around!).

Over the next few years, that stationery set gathered dust as snail mail focused more on  Valentine’s Day cards for my classmates, birthday invitations, and thank you notes in response to those invite-inspired gifts. And birthday cards. Lots of those! Don’t forget the handwritten notes passed between classmates and boyfriends throughout my tweens and teens. Ha!

It wasn’t really until college that traditional snail mail returned and had a bigger impact on my life. I remember being given my own college P.O. Box and going to check it religiously. Regardless of how much (or little) mail I got, there was something about having the opportunity to receive things of my own, on my own, for the first time. My mailbox was one of the first signs of growing into adulthood and taking ownership of myself. I even had a kind friend who wanted to be penpals. Sadly, I didn’t keep up with sending her letters, which I also regret! Ah!

When I was a sophomore in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester, one of my main reasons for going to college. No kidding. I wrote about it in my application essay.

I ended up in Rome, Italy and got to experience snail mail in another special way. My best friend from college knew that I would need a little love from home every so often, so she organized a letter campaign for me. She gathered letters from our friends to go with me, instructing me to open one a week. Although I was LOVING being abroad and settling in, I was still going through culture shock, learning a new language, adapting to being the new kid, and learning that the world was a much bigger place than what I thought would fit in the palm of my hand.

When I was having a hard time and realizing how small I was in a city older and bigger than I’d ever lived in, the letters would give me a sweet boost of encouragement and love from far away in a small, middle-of-nowhere town where friends were thinking of and missing me. I even had the cool experience of having one of my best friends come visit me and us getting to see one of Italy’s (and maybe the world’s) first ever post boxes together!

While I was abroad, I wrote very little snail mail, but I received it and cherished it. I still wish I had written more during that time, but that year, I began to understand a bit more about my relationship with snail mail and how it played a role in my life.

It was at a leather market in Florence that year that things got a bit clearer. A friend and I, although perhaps not great letter writers, were very much into literature and creative writing, so we were on a search for leather journals and sketchbooks. After pushing through crowds and getting to a quieter corner of all the excitement, we came upon a stall full of beautiful, leatherbound journals. And to our pleasant surprise, stationery.

This wasn’t just any stationery, though. It was Florentine, gilded paper with flowers galore with shining silver and gold accents. It was so elaborate and old-fashioned, like stepping back in time to the days when handwritten letters were one of the few ways to communicate. With that sense of awe, alongside a journal, I bought some stationery in the brightest and deepest of blues and silvers. I may have splurged even further and bought a Florentine paper-wrapped pen… shh.

When I got back into the States from my adventures, I laid out all of my treasures. And what I found was that almost every one of my finds was a paper good. Magazines, pamphlets, snail mail, maps… and that beautiful, Florentine stationery and it’s paper-wrapped pen of a cousin.

Life has changed a lot since that special year of self-discovery. I’ve even moved a few times, and each time, all of these paper goods (and many other stationery-related items) have come with me. I’m not willing to part with them. I now even have an overstuffed file folder of all the cards I’ve received since I was a teenager. So. Much. Paper.

I realize now as I’m looking back at my journey with snail mail that I’ve known something about myself for awhile. I don’t like to admit it, but I’m not the best letter writing kind of snail mail superstar, as I often wish I was. I have stationery gathering dust on both coasts of the United States of America (Sorry, Mom.).

And you know, that’s okay! I’ve finally come to a revelation of the unique relationship to the industry that’s all my own… and here it is:

I’m 100% a collector, guardian of, and preserver of snail mail and all it’s related fun!!!

I love paper. I love the beautiful variety of styles, colors, patterns, designs… I love the differences in people’s handwriting on cards and letters that makes each person unique and special. I love the smell of paper goods. I love the creativity and joy that comes from washi tape, colorful pens, stickers, and postcards. And the joy that comes from giving and receiving these things.

And although the act of letter writing isn’t how I tend to think about my journey with snail mail, I remember what it was like to find the special things that made letter writing not so much about perfection, but about fun and joy for me.

I remember visiting a stationery store with my mom in the 90s and buying a sticker book. I remember being rewarded for doing good work in school and getting to choose a prize from my teacher’s plastic treasure chest. I chose themed erasers almost every time (I still have my eraser collection!). I remember trading Lisa Frank stickers at the lunch table, Markie the unicorn being very coveted (I also still have these!). I remember picking out a mechanical pencil when they got popular, and mine being orange themed, even having a little orange slice dangling from the end. Then the gel pens… whew. I’ve recently invested in a series of gel pens to appease my inner child. And all the thank you notes and greeting cards in their variety of colors and themes. I finally got around to organizing them recently. Kind of.

And I love where God has led me on my unique snail mail journey, to Constellation & Co. I would never have imagined all those years ago when struggling to address a letter that I would be the one figuring out addresses for C & Co. shipments of beautiful cards, or when picking out my new favorite writing utensil as a child, that I’d get to be the one who helps maintain a shop full of these lovely, lovely kinds of things. What a privilege to work under Sara and be gatekeeper to joyful moments through the stationery items we sell that inspire relationship-building letter writing.

It’s crazy how seemingly small things can connect and become big life impactors, even in something as simple and wonderful as snail mail and it’s supporting stationery items.

Oh little me, who got her first sticker book at another lovely stationery shop over 20 years ago… who would have thought you’d be here, working in stationery? And maybe, just maybe, as you work with Sara, a little bit of her letter writing will rub off on you. Your life-long sticker collection needs to find some envelopes to decorate, after all! :)

Letters Beyond Life: A guest post
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This beautiful essay about letter writing was written by our C&Co. letterpress printer, Brooke Usrey.

I can still remember coming home from college during a summer break, huffing and puffing as I pulled out my huge tupperware container from under my bed. My mission was to cram another bursting stack of letters in a corner somewhere; evidence of a well corresponded year. Each pile had rubber bands wrapped around it with a hand-written date for reference, a record of new friendships and explored identity. I found my mom soon after, sat her down by the tub, and said, “If I die before you do, I want you to take all of these letters and somehow display them at my funeral. They are my life’s work.” She took it all in, accepted my wishes, and returned to her weeds in the garden.

My mom, of all people, would have understood. She modeled for me the benefit of letter writing, and she learned it from her mother. Once a week during my childhood I could find my mom sitting at her desk, address book open, stamps at the ready, keeping friends and family up to date with our lives and offering support, congratulations, or condolences for recipients on the other end. When I left for college, she wrote me religiously. I could find something from her in my mailbox every week, and this continued on as I moved across the country and back, to Europe, to remote islands, Appalachia, and Seattle. No matter where I went, or how long I stayed, she would always ask, “what’s your address?” as soon as I arrived.

Fast forward twelve years from that summer and some things are the same while others are forever changed. I have suffered the loss of my mother and I have felt the ebbs and flows of grief. I have found true love, survived graduate school, worked a million different jobs, and been through the darkest and lightest of days.  In my grief, I find healing through letters and correspondence. I treasure the letters we wrote one another and correspondence with her friends who help me remember and honor her. When I need a moment to connect, I can go to the letters and touch them.  I can see her handwriting. I can feel her essence again.

I have found relief through writing my mother beyond her death. When I am lonely and missing her, when I am feeling small or proud, when I want to share mundane parts of my day, when I want to complain or speak my fears, I write to her. I sit down at my grandmother’s desk, I get out some paper, and I write to her. On special occasions, I will buy her cards, fill them with words, and put them on display. Usually, emotions ramp up during this process, and usually I feel better when I am done.  

Sometimes she writes me back. I never could have imagined this when she was alive. If I put my pen down and wait a few minutes, I often feel an urge to pick it back up, and the words come. Her responses always have some message that helps me get through these uncharted waters without her. These days, I save the price of two stamps, a walk to the mailbox, and the two week turnaround; now we can communicate instantaneously. While this will never replace the real thing, I have found letters to be a comfort on those dark days, and I’ll take all the comfort I can get.

I no longer consider letters from my early 20s to be my “life’s work.” Collecting friends and having mail from all corners of the globe is exciting, but not nearly as important as personal growth or daily ups and downs with my partner, my dad, and my closest friends. Nothing new or exotic can compare to the depth and richness of daily life. I have come to see letter writing as a personal and spiritual journey that nourishes and connects me to what is most important. Perhaps this, then is my new legacy: connecting to what is real in this moment, and saying what my heart needs to say, even if it’s unclear if anyone is listening (although they probably are).