When they started talking about the US Postal Service stopping Saturday delivery a while ago, my first thought was how medieval, the US is supposed to be a developed country and this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. I was kind of embarrassed for America, actually. It’s like you can see the holes in her socks. Poor thing.

And then I felt slightly guilty too because most of my communications are electronic now, like everybody else’s, and maybe that’s why the PO is in a bind. Not that I was ever a huge letter writer, but you know.

I abandoned Christmas cards years ago, though I held out longer than most I think. I did have a real-mail correspondence with my high school French teacher that lasted about 30 years. We sent each other Christmas cards and letters every year, and sometimes we exchanged notes in between. Maggie. An extraordinary woman. She saved my life, I loved her, and I wanted to keep thanking her forever.

In the year or two after I got to Paris I sent my nephew in California things like castles made of card stock that he could put together and knights on horses and a foam Eiffel Tower to build, but then the novelty of Paris wore off and he was getting too old for that kind of thing anyway.

I’ve been trying to send my 92 year-old grandmother more mail. I’ve sent her notes and printouts of my Instagram pictures, a couple clippings from glossy European fashion and decorating magazines that showed a scarf and a rug made of granny squares so my grandmother, the crochet queen, who can no longer crochet because of arthritis, would know they’d made a comeback in sophisticated circles, which of course meant she was very hip.

I will mail her something today. (Thanks for reminding me.) I’ll send my mom something too. I mail her a postcard every time I go to a museum or exhibit because she gets sole credit for teaching me to appreciate culture from a young age. I’ll send my mother-in-law something too. She very recently lost her husband and is having a rough go of it.

Reach out and touch someone, right?

So the post office is dying and we should mail people more things in order to save Saturday delivery and jobs and because sending people notes and things is a nice thing to do. Of course, mail isn’t very environmentally correct. But some things, like letters to Grandma, are important. So cancel a few of your catalogs and magazines and offset your carbon. Question of priorities.

I’m writing this because this week, a literary magazine I follow on Twitter launched this great project, Letters for Kids, in which well-known authors of children’s fiction mail a monthly letter to kids. I thought I might sign my nephew up.

And then I got to thinking, because of Maggie and my grandmother, and my mom and my mother-in-law, that there should be something like this for seniors. I thought for 15 seconds about organizing it myself. Then I thought others would be in a better position to do it. It should be done in any case. I will give it some more thought.

And that brought me to HOOT, the “mini” literary magazine I went bonkers for this year and wrote about in a HuffPo article in which I recount the sad story of my first chain letter experience. I subscribed immediately and also chided the editors for not having a better order form that would let me buy gift subscriptions for multiple people at once.

And that made me think of Postagram, which I mentioned in my HuffPo article, but had never used. I just downloaded the iPhone app and in a matter of minutes sent postcards of some of my Instagram pics to a bunch of people (including myself, to see the product). First five were free. Bonus! Not terribly personal, you might say, but more so than many of the tools we use to reach out today. What’s really cool is that the pictures pop out of the postcards. Anyway, I’m sold.

In early 2010, I got a fat envelope in the mail, the kind of thing that usually comes as a pleasant surprise. But it was from Maggie’s daughter, Gina, whom I didn’t know, and it contained a letter letting me know Maggie had passed away. With it were copies of the eulogy and a poem Gina and her brother and sister had written and read at the memorial, the program, some pictures… And a puka shell necklace that had belonged to Maggie in Hawaii in the 70s, when she was my teacher, when she saved me, when puka shells were all the rage.

In the letter, Gina told me that Maggie had kept all the letters and cards I’d ever sent to her in a folder labeled “Sunshine.”

So go ahead and grab those pretty cards and envelopes next time.

The weather in Paris has been depressing this spring. But it was the perfect backdrop for the depressing French presidential campaign, which was harsh and ugly, with the extreme right gaining ground and the Greens written off completely (less than 3% of the vote). Sigh.

So I have a suggestion for you. To lift your spirits, celebrate Mother’s Day, and give your kids the priceless, lasting gift of eco-consciousness and civic responsibility…

Why not take a trip to the Zoo La Boissière du Doré for a special event to raise awareness about orphaned orangutans? The zoo is right outside of Nantes. (OK, so it’s a four-hour drive from Paris, but I’m from California, so… road trip! It’s only about two hours to Nantes by train.)

Need a moment to think about it?

How about this moment? This is one of the orphans at the Nyaru Menteng reintroduction center. He didn’t want to go back to the center for his nap after “forest school.”

(Image copyright Orangutan Outreach! Click the picture to go to their Pinterest page and see a bigger version.)

Orangutan Outreach helps support the Nyaru Menteng center (managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation), where our little buddy above lives, and the Ketapang Rescue Center (managed by International Animal Rescue). If you’re still not convinced, watch the Orangutan Outreach mom and baby orangutan video that melted our hearts.

Missing Orangutan Mothers (MOM)

This year, on Mother’s Day (May 13th), the Zoo La Boissière du Doré is hosting the annual Orangutan Outreach MOM (Missing Orangutan Mothers) event, which raises awareness about the plight of orphaned orangutans:

Every year on Mothers Day, Orangutan Outreach celebrates orangutan mothers in zoos around the world. We take this special day to bring attention to the hundreds of orphaned orangutans being cared for in rescue centers in Borneo and Sumatra.

The orangutan keeper at the zoo, Dr. Marylise Pompignac Poisson, is a child psychiatrist, psychology educator, and specialist in early psychosocial development of primates — both human and non-human.

The program she has put together for the MOM event includes:

  • a talk about orangutans during which she will also discuss findings of her research on the importance of early interaction in the cognitive and emotional development of infant orangutans,
  • a fact sheet/quiz for visitors,
  • coloring pages for the little ones.

She will be available to chat with visitors and answer questions, her book Les Orangs-outangs de la Boissière nous livrent leurs secrets will be available to buy, and you’ll be able to make donations on the spot. All proceeds will go to the EAZA Southeast Asia campaign (see below).

By now you should be highly motivated to go to the MOM event at the zoo! (But if you can’t, scroll past the details for other ways to help.)

Event details

Date: May 13
Time: 13:00
Location: the orangutan enclosure, of course.
Hotels near the zoo

Map of the zoo (click for a downloadable PDF):

The orangutans desperately need our help

The MOM event is being co-sponsored by the nonprofit org Le Jardin d’Athéna, founded and run by Dr. Pompignac Poisson, and EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria).

This year, EAZA is running a campaign to support endangered animals in Southeast Asia. Large animals in this region are in serious danger of being completely wiped out in the near future (the Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, the Bornean orangutan is endangered). This is largely because their rainforest habitat is being razed to make room for palm oil plantations. It’s all about greed.

For professionals

If you or anyone you know are a pediatric, veterinary, or other professional interested in early primate development, Dr. Pompignac Poisson is offering a training program on the topic: Stage d’observation en primatologie.

Dr. Pompignac Poisson is also a member of the Société Française pour l’Etude du Comportement Animal, and will be presenting her research at their meeting May 9-11.

I grew up in San Diego with the beautiful San Diego Zoo. My favorite parts were the reptile house and the monkeys and apes. And the elephants. At the San Diego Zoo in the 70’s, you could buy bags of peanuts and the elephants would take them from your palm with their tickly trunks. But I don’t want to think about that right now. And they let kids ride on the giant tortoises, and reach into a kid-level incubator to hold newly hatched chicks. That was all over by the 80’s. Bad for the animals. I respect that. But I suspect it changed mostly because of liability issues.

I have a special place in my heart for orangutans. One day I was at the zoo with my son when he was in his early teens, standing on the observation platform above the orangutan exhibit. Looked kind of like the one below (click for bigger), but with a wooden wall instead of a net wall. You could watch them from the platform, or you could go under the platform and look at them at eye level through very thick glass. They are notorious escape artists. Can’t blame them. They’re too smart to be enclosed. But I guess it’s better than being butchered and having your babies sold as pets, or being burned out of your home for palm oil plantations

That day, there was an adult orangutan chilling out on a rock below the platform, just staring up at the few people up there, about like this. I waved at her and said some stuff.

She was bored as hell, no doubt. She looked around her and grabbed a clod of dried dirt with dried grass sticking out of it. Then she looked up at me and gently, lackadaisically, tossed it up onto the platform, where it landed off to my right a little. I picked it up and tossed it back down to the ground beside her. She picked it up and threw it back to me. I was clapping and talking to her and laughing the whole time. We played catch for a few minutes. It was glorious. I don’t remember how or why it ended. She probably got tired of the game before I did, though.

That’s the whole story. Disappointed? You wouldn’t be if it had been you.

The other day I discovered Orangutan Outreach when Vincent saw a tweet about their Apps for Apes program. We watched one of their videos and pretty much decided on the spot we’d sell everything and go live in the jungle and hold baby orangutans for the rest of our lives. I’m crazy enough to do it. My body may not cooperate, though, unfortunately.

In any case, I’ve decided to devote most, if not all of my do-good energies to the plight of the orangutan. I think it will be good for my mental health if I focus.

You see, with social media, and all the information delivery platforms out there, I find myself overwhelmed. My bleeding heart is running out of blood. I’m losing hope and have compassion fatigue. Petition fatigue. War and disaster and hunger and racism and hate and corruption and cruelty and injustice fatigue. I constantly feel pulled in a million directions to do something. I know you know what I mean.

I’ve done only little things for Orangutan Outreach so far. Put a link to their site on my about.me page, retweeted @redapes (their Twitter handle) tweets, read up on orangutans, connected with the OO founder on LinkedIn and gave some suggestions for promoting the organization, voted for their rescue boat. Working on figuring out some expenses we can cut in order to divert that money to OO. I even managed to get orangutans on Francophilia! I’ll do what I can with what I have.

I’m just getting started. But you have to start somewhere. You have to start. {:(|}

So Facebook bought Instagram. I mourned. Really. I posted the “picture” above on Instagram as soon as I heard (made with a fun little iPhone app called The Amazing Type-Writer that makes typewriter sounds). I actually got sympathy e-mails, tweets, and comments from friends and family who know how passionately I hate Farcebook and love Instagram. Vincent even made the Geeks about it last week.

Good Grief, by Vincent Knobil.

So a lot of the people I follow here and there threatened to leave IG (short for Instagram) and some did and some have already come back. I made no such threat, though I thought about it. The other options (and there are quite a few) are just not enticing enough (yet) to justify the change, and Facebook hasn’t fucked up Instagram (yet), so I’m hanging in there for now. IG’s still good. Too good to quit. Better than drugs.

All the tech pundits immediately began speculating on why Facebook bought IG, what they would do with it, blah blah. So I won’t bore you with my theories. It doesn’t matter anyway. What’s important is what tech toys and tools do to make our lives a better place to live.

My main concern was that Farcebook, despite my best efforts (including not having a Farcebook account, using a browser I don’t use every day if I have to go to a Facebook page, and immediately erasing all Farcebook cookies after closing the page and also any time I inadvertently land on a FB page…) would start profiling me and tracking me and poking into my business. And I don’t like those people. They’re unprincipled. I don’t want them anywhere near me.

But then I thought about it.

Instagram (supposedly) doesn’t store the info from smartphone Contacts (though maybe they will start to with their new evil overlords who seem to believe all your info are belong to them). Plenty of apps apparently do keep that contact data. So I never allowed IG (or any other apps except a VOIP phone app) to “find my friends” using my Contacts anyway. Twitter friends, yes, no problem, most of them I don’t know IRL and I don’t have Twitter friends’ home addresses and birthdays and children’s names stored in my phone

I don’t follow any brands on IG. I don’t take pictures of brands (a couple of Vespa pics — this is Paris, after all, some gin I never heard of, McDonald’s – but that was social commentary, the Mexican chocolate I ran out of, some of which you could send me if you’re feeling kind). I’m not like IG’s many Starbuck’s worshippers, for example…Click that pic to see serious IG Starbucks lust, which I don’t get. I don’t get brand love at all, but then I’m a far cry from your perfect little consumer. Not the advertiser’s ideal target.

Facebook will probably figure out I live in Paris, even though I don’t have location on for IG. Don’t know what good that’ll do them except maybe they’ll serve me crap French ads instead of crap American ads when they start force-feeding ads to IG users…

What more could they do to me other than “add new features” (they’ve already said they would) that could ruin the simple beauty of the IG experience?

All I know is, thanks to IG, I wake up every day and see the pictures of 84 mostly strangers in France, Quebec, Hawaii, Guam, London, San Diego, Austria, Moscow, Turkey, Brazil, India, Austin, Portugal, Sweden, New York, China, the Mojave Desert, and more… My own little near-real-time National Geographic, my hand on the beating heart of the world, pure Beauty.

At this point, I don’t see how Farcebook can ruin that. But I’m sure they’ll find a way.

There I was, just tweeting my joy about Snapguide, which Vincent pointed out to me yesterday, wondering “out loud” what I might make a guide about, deciding, finally, it would have to be my son’s favorite holiday dessert, a recipe nobody I’ve ever met has ever heard of: my grandmother’s sour cream raisin pie.

GramKathryn on the left, me, mom. As you can see, I grew up during Mad Men. The white trash, west coast version. That’ll be coming out soon, I’m sure. I seem to be doing a lot of nostalgia posts these days. I must be getting old. Or maybe I’m unconsciously mitigating the future shock.

Anyway. I figured if the tweet got a response, it would be about the app, given the geekish people who follow that account. I was sure the recipe, if it was noticed at all, would elicit “eeeews” as usual. It’s just not something you can understand till you’ve tried it.

But then Jeremy Meyers (a total stranger) asked for the recipe! He was right not to wait for my Snapguide. It could be a year before I get to it, if ever.

I thought I remembered putting it on this blog, so I looked but it wasn’t here. Then I dug through my old Christmas letters (the ones I used to send before I started doing an annual update online), and there it was, in 1997. (Fresh out of grad school. Newly married to my last husband. A kid in junior high. Somebody else’s life entirely. Totally freaky.)

My GramKathryn will be 92 in May. She’s outlived two sons (one my father) and even a grandkid. She’s a kick in the pants. Here’s her recipe, in her handwriting (transcription below). I must have been carrying this around for at least 20 years…

Hope you like it, Jeremy.

1 c raisins
½ c water
1 c sugar
1 T flour
1 t ground nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
¼ t ground cloves
1 t salt
1 egg (well beaten)
1 c sour cream
1 t apple cider vinegar
pastry for 2-crust 9” pie

Combine raisins and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer partially covered (5 or 10 min) until water is absorbed. Remove from heat. In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, spices, and salt. Add to raisins and stir. Add beaten egg, sour cream, and vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Cool. Pour filling into unbaked pie shell. Moisten pastry rim with water.  Roll out top crust, cut out design, and adjust top over filling. Seal and crimp edges. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Notes: The plumper the raisins get, the better the pie. For some time, I’ve been putting them in the water in a microwave and nuking them for a minute or so, then letting them sit, then nuking them… Lastly, the pie crust shouldn’t be sweetened. The pie’s really sweet (and tangy). Very nice served with unsweetened, freshly whipped cream.

Special bonus! The turkey I cut into the top crust at Thanksgiving.

Out of the blue, a producer at a major international media company asked me if I’d be interested in writing an article for their website. He described the assignment in detail: the subject, the tone, specifics about the kind of content, the length… He stated that the deadline would be “about a week.” He said he thought I’d be “perfect” for the project. I was flattered and interested. It sounded fun.

This was not blogging. It was journalism.

Then, at the bottom of his e-mail came the kicker: “Unfortunately we do not have a budget for the project at this time so I doubt we will be able to pay you.” But, he added, they get a billion hits a month and could link to one of my sites if I wanted…

That torqued me off. I went looking for info on that company’s profits for 2011 (turned out to be 7B+ in one quarter alone). And I started writing a response. And then I sent it. OK, so it wasn’t terribly professional. In fact, it was not at all professional. It was also very unladylike. The first paragraph contained rather indelicate references to group sex and prostitution.

I guess I went a little over the top because, despite the fact that I sometimes choose to write for free, I’m a professional writer and writing is skilled work that should be paid for.

In the next paragraph, after my outburst, I (level-headedly) explained why I thought I’d be the right person for the job and said if they could find a budget, we could talk.

On the bright side, this episode gave me a good reason to translate and recreate the table below, which I included in my response. I initially saw it in a French article, Faut-il payer les blogueurs ? Du “Huffington Post” au “Plus” (Should bloggers be paid?), by Aude Baron, Editor-in-Chief of Le Plus, the blogging platform of Le Nouvel Observateur, a highly respected left-leaning French magazine.

I (calmly and rationally) told the producer that the table illustrated the best formula I’d seen yet for when bloggers should and shouldn’t be paid. I pointed out that, from what he described, it looked like this was a four-X situation. I then added that for HuffPo, I have one X.

OK, so the lady didn’t say “you’re being screwed.” She said, “you’ve been had.” Maybe I overtranslated a little. Or I localized it. For my reality. Regional differences, you know… (And that’s not how I translated it in the version I sent to the producer. I had calmed down by then.)

I guess this incident pushed me over the edge. Or else the producer just got in the path of some hormonal fluctuation shrapnel. Poor guy.

But guess what… They ended up paying me.

I do write for free for some sites, big and small, and for others I get paid, despite having only one or two Xs. The “exposure” I’ve had from writing for big sites has, in fact, helped me in different ways. Plus I enjoy the freedom of writing only about things that interest me, only when I can or want to. It is definitely a quality-of-life issue. Would I want to be a journalist? Not really. Too stressful. And I doubt the pay compensates for the pain. Would I want to be assigned to write about a sanitation scandal at a chicken farm? Hell no. I’d rather write about things that inspire me.

Here’s a list of previous frogblog posts on the issue of blogging for free, in the order in which I wrote them:

How can you treat me like this? I was one of your first!

I’m a devoted fan, a certified geekette, a tech blogger… And already a Free client for Internet and TV.

I linked to Meet France’s New and Awesome Super Angels in my post Never Mind the Valley: Here’s Paris on ReadWriteWeb!

From the day I heard you were applying for the fourth license I was rooting for you. I knew the oligarchs would do whatever they could to keep you out of their club. Then you got the license! And I waited and waited for you to launch your mobile service, knowing that when it happened, I would make the switch, even if it meant buying my way out of my old contract…

I watched your live announcement of the Free Mobile services on TV. The whole thing! I had tears in my eyes when you got to the part about the low rates for poor people.

You guys are awesome!

And I know you’re doing your best. But…

I signed up for Free Mobile on January 12th. I got my first receipt that day:

From: freemobile@free-mobile.fr
Date: 12 janvier 2012 07:47:30 HNEC
To: pamela.s.poole@xxxxxx.com
Subject: Accusé réception Forfait Mobile Free

I got my client password on the 15th:

From: freemobile@free-mobile.fr
Date: 15 janvier 2012 00:44:36 HNEC
To: pamela.s.poole@xxxxxx.com
Subject: Confirmation de la création de votre espace abonné

Yeah!!! I was officially a Free Mobile client! So I kept checking my espace abonné, and I was stuck at Etape 1, with a Date de portabilité: Inconnu.

Until the other day, when Inconnu was replaced with Echec de la portabilité.


And not a single indication from you about what I should do next…


Because your customer service options are so lame limited, I tried tweeting you to ask for help. No answer. So I tried again a couple days later. No answer.

But some other guy (Dude_FR), a kindhearted geek who doesn’t work for you (as far as I know), did respond:

So my question for you, Free Mobile, is this:

What am I supposed to do now?

Even fangirls can fall out of love…


So I called customer service on February 7th with an actual telephone, and they told me there had been an error; that I’d made a typo entering this number called a RIO needed to transfer a phone number from one operator to another. I said I was quite sure I hadn’t made a typo, and that someone (Dude_FR above) had told me that the RIOs issued by my operator had a limited validity period and that that was more likely the problem since it had taken them so long. The agent neither confirmed nor denied, she just sort of grunted.

She said I could wait and that “very soon” I’d be able to enter the correct RIO through the website myself, but she said it would be faster if I cancelled my account and resubscribed. Which needed to be done by mail. Paper, stamps, etc. So I wrote the letter and printed it and it sat on my desk for a couple days and never got mailed.

Then, suddenly, magically, three days later, I had a SIM card from Free in the mailbox. I went to my Espace abonné (client space) to see WTF, and the Echec de la portabilité (failed to port number) was gone. Disappeared! It looks like it hadn’t failed after all… So what about this error? Was there no error after all?

So now, February 12th, I am at Etape 2, “Sim card mailed.” The next étape is “SIM card activated.” Waiting to see how long that will take…