Crazy ways to say 'wish you were here'

Vacationers write on flip-flops, bottles, coconuts -- and can call it a postcard


September 08, 2002|By Martha Thomas | By Martha Thomas,Special to the Sun

When 13-year-old Lara DeJacma was vacationing in Florida recently, she found a great postcard to send to a friend back in Annapolis. Well, it wasn't exactly a postcard. It was a flip-flop -- a cheap rubber thong sandal with an address label and space for a short message as well as 62 cents worth of postage.

As the vacation season draws to a close and stock is taken of all the far-flung salutations that arrived by mail this summer, it's clear that there are many more ways to deliver a wish-you-were-here message than on a flat postcard.

Decorated coconuts have long carried greetings from tropical locations, along with miniature mesh bags filled with orange gumballs from Florida, meant to look like sacks of citrus fruit.

These days, if you're looking for an unusual way to send a message, you may consider stuffing it into a small plastic bottle along with sand, shells or other symbols derived from your locale.

You could mail your best wishes on a packet of wildflower seeds native to the spot: columbine from Colorado, lupine from Maine.

Or how about a cookie cutter -- shaped as a crustacean, a lighthouse or a rainbow trout -- that comes packaged with seasonings and a recipe for sugar cookies in a plastic box all set for a stamp?

The boundaries of a postcard -- loosely defined as a self-contained greeting that requires no envelope or extra packaging -- are limited only by postal regulations; and those, it seems, are less stringent than you may imagine.

"I've seen Christmas trees, coconuts and landing gear from an airplane come through," says Mark Saunders, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service who has worked at the Bulk Mail Center in Washington where unusual mail is processed. "All you need is a mailing label and proper postage."

You can address almost anything, adds Mary Lyn, owner of Post-A-Gram, a Hamilton, Mont.-based company that annually ships out some 20,000 messages in miniature bottles tailored to locations from San Francisco to Philadelphia.

A bottle containing a paper cut-out of a black bear, a plastic pine tree and some crumbled soil (coffee grounds, actually) deliver greetings from Bath, Maine, for example.

Lyn's specialty is creating promotional messages for businesses. One of her popular items is a mailable pouch that can be stuffed with nearly anything a client chooses -- chili powder, bath salts, potpourri, to name a few options. She will shrink-wrap T-shirts or beach towels into unusual shapes with the mailing label under the plastic. "You could put an address and a stamp on a tennis ball and mail it," she notes.

Helen Skillman, Saunders' colleague at the U.S. Postal Service, is a bit more conservative. She recommends that those considering unusual mailings consult the postal service Web site ( and find their way to the "irregular parcel nonmachinable" section. There you will find guidelines for packages that can't be processed by the post office's standard equipment.

Most card companies research mailing requirements before designing greetings, according to Marianne McDermott, executive vice president of the Greeting Card Association. "Anyone putting anything lumpy in an envelope should mark it 'hand cancel,' " is her advice.

The greeting card association once defined "greeting card" as "something you could put in an envelope and mail," says McDermott. "But now we realize we have to be a little broader."

In an age of rapid-fire e-mail, even with Internet greeting cards enhanced by dancing flowers, scenic vistas and music, there's still something special about a message received through the mail.

"There's nothing like going to your mailbox and finding something personal," said Twilla Duncan, who promotes a company called Tickelopes. These colorful foam cut-outs, attached to small square envelopes containing note cards, come in shapes ranging from dinosaurs to birthday cakes.

The company's founder, Mel Ristau, "was searching for something to counteract e-mail," Duncan says. "The more technology takes over our lives, the more people appreciate a tactile greeting."

Chris Bostwick, 41, who retired to Santa Fe after running a successful temp agency in Seattle, also believes in the power of postcards. "I always send them to people I want to make jealous," he says. "Look at me, I'm in Florida."

Bostwick sought to improve on the standard postcard by combining it with a CD of 30 images of New Mexico. The digital greeting is sold under the company name Digivista at local Borders bookstores, museum stores and gift shops.

Postcards have been around since the late 19th century and were, for a time, a wildly popular way of not just sending greetings, but of collecting images from travels, or of places you dreamed of traveling to.

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