5 x 8: Summer camp letters


It’s summer camp season and this is about the time when the kids have to write postcards home.

Bill Childs, our Austin, Texas, friend (via The Current), provides today’s lesson on the difference between sons and daughters.

Bill Childs

The postcards — letters, if you’re lucky — are the kind of thing you tuck away in a shoebox for later. Fortunately, the Washington Post is collecting them this year.

There is magic in camp letters — the complaints about bug bites, the heat, the food, the stories of dances, of first loves, of trips, of bonfires, of summer, the sweetness of summer in barely legible handwriting. (Remember handwriting? It came before texting.)

A lot of summer camps ban laptops, and smartphones. What’s left? The letter. But Danny Heitman, at the Christian Science Monitor, found the initial pain affects parents too. They’re not much better at actually writing anymore.

Watching my wife write her first letter to Will, I also noticed how the prospect of pen moving across paper sharpened her concentration – her eyes peering into the distance as she tried to summon the sentence that she would create, as if waving a wand, by applying a ballpoint to her note card. The indelibility of the ink suggested that thought should precede action, a principle not always evident when fingers fly across computer keyboards.

None of this is meant to argue for a full-scale renaissance in old-fashioned letters. I love the quickness and convenience of email, which allowed the essay you’re now reading to travel thousands of miles from writer to editor in the blink of an eye. That technological advantage promises to keep handwritten letters on the verge of obsolescence.

As I was writing my own letter to Will, I felt a vague sense of historical reenactment, as if I were firing a musket or cooking over a hearth.

But there has been pleasure, in these torpid days of summer, in looking toward the porch mailbox and expecting something more than a catalog or bill. I’m hoping, with each visit from the mailman, to find a letter from someone I love.

The subject brings back lovely memories. Take this one from reader Christine Levens:

My first year at Camp Bovey my mom sent me a letter or post card every other day. In one of my two responses to her I asked that my dad send me a letter.

A few days later an envelope arrived addressed to me in purple ink (teachers credit union pen) in my dad’s horrible handwriting.

I opened the envelope to find a folded piece of green lined steno notebook paper. I opened it up and read the letter “L” in purple felt tip marker (same source). At the bottom it said

“Hi-I sent you my favorite letter-Dad”.

That was it…


Would this have been a better picture for the cover of Rolling Stone?

Sgt. Sean Murphy/Massachusetts State Police

A Massachusetts State Police photographer released the pictures to Boston Magazine in response to the controversy generated by a warmer, fuzzier version of the man accused of planting the Boston Marathon bombs. Note the number of gun lasers on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“The truth is that glamorizing the face of terror is not just insulting to the family members of those killed in the line of duty, it also could be an incentive to those who may be unstable to do something to get their face on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine,” photographer Sean Murphy of the State Police said.

For his trouble, Murphy was relieved of duty.


There’s nothing better than a good behind-the-scenes video. This Pioneer Press production from Target Field is a good behind-the-scenes video.

Related: Rub some dirt on ’em: MLB baseballs must get dirty before they are ready for action (Cleveland Plain Dealer).


Four sisters are living under the same roof in Duluth, just like the old days.

“We get to see each other and talk,” Florence Strom says. “We still love each other and we all know it.”

They’ve been reunited at a care facility. They’re 91, 93, 101, and 104.


“General Mills always seemed quite embarrassed by the firestorm around its now-famous ‘Just Checking’ ad for Cheerios—the one that was set upon by racist trolls on YouTube for featuring an interracial couple, leading the company to disable comments on the video,” Tim Nudd at AdWeek writes.

The controversy brought free publicity, yes, though for unsavory reasons involving, at its core, a negative reaction to the spot (no matter that the vast majority of consumers swiftly came to the cereal maker’s defense and turned the whole episode into a brand celebration of sorts).

And yet it wasn’t so much the backdrop of racism that seemed to make General Mills uncomfortable. It was any special attention whatsoever. And therein lies one of the peculiar things about the Cheerios brand. It wants to be (and has been for decades) so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. Though it spends millions on advertising, it doesn’t really want to stand out. It wants to blend in—to its customers’ lives, not their Facebook feeds.

The new Cheerios ad is out.

No racist comments on YouTube this time. But you can’t please everybody. “Thanks for reminding me my dad is dead and my mom is probably going to die sooner rather than later… GOOD LORD!!” one commener said. “What happened to the nice interracial couple with the dad taking a cereal nap!? I don’t want to think of parental death and mortality first thing in the morning… you need vodka for that sort of thing!!!”

Bonus I: Friday is StoryCorps day. He was an “uneducated” man, but he knew how to help people get along Grandpa’s Story: A Comb, Penknife And Handkerchief.

Bonus II: Kiss another drive-in movie theater goodbye in the Upper Midwest. The Starlite in Mitchell, S.D. is a goner. (Worthington Daily Globe)

Bonus III:
Sonshine, the outdoor Christian music festival, has opened in Willmar. (West Central Tribune)

Bonus IV: Update: Without financing, couple’s dream of opening a rural Minnesota coffee shop ends (Minnesota Prairie Roots).

Bonus IV: Record Heat in June Extends Globe’s Streak to 340 Months (Climate Central).


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: A panel of doctors will discuss the six things they wish they knew when they began their careers as doctors.

Second hour: The Metropolitan Council faces some key decisions on the future of the Southwest Corridor light rail line. Among those is resolving a fight over whether freight rail lines will have to be moved to make room for the line. We’ll speak with the chair of the Metropolitan Council about how she’s approaching those decisions.

Third hour: Is Dodd-Frank working?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): TBA

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – Did you know that some volcanoes scream before they erupt? And that scientists are recording Puerto Rican wetlands with iPods? Ira Flatow discusses what can we learn from listening to the earth. Plus: a new moon for Neptune.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Food stamps were removed from the farm bill to be considered separately in the U.S. House. This after controversy over the depth of cuts mostly Republicans wanted to make. We take a closer look at the politics around a program that started growing during the George W. Bush administration and only accelerated since then. MPR Julie Siple will have the story.

A ruling in a tax case involving a Minneapolis artist could set a precedent that would put other artists’ careers in jeopardy. At the center of the ruling is the definition of a professional artist. The ruling involves transgender Minneapolis rocker Venus deMars. It defined her as a hobbyist, not a professional artist, which she disputes. As a result the state says she owes thousands of dollars in back taxes. Marianne Combs has the story.

Actress Kristen Wiig spent years as a regular cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” Now shes starring in a comedy on the big screen, “Girl Most Likely.” NPR profiles Wiig, her new film, and on creating off-the-wall characters.