PHILADELPHIA — Most families have a kid who loves to draw.
In the Morris family in rural Pottstown, Pa., that was Pam. When she wasn’t “playing in the dirt and streams,” she was making little thank-you notes, hand-lettered place cards for holiday dinners, party invitations and birthday greetings.
At 36, she’s Pam Olshefski now, Brian’s wife, and the mother of three girls, 8, 6 and 4. You might argue that as part-time curatorial assistant at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill (no relation to that Morris), she’s still “playing in the dirt and streams.” She’s definitely still making original cards, combining her appreciation for nature with a long-standing affinity for crafts.
“It’s not a chore,” she says, of those uncommon little notes.
Seriously, who writes personal notes anymore?
Facebook and email, even Twitter, the world’s most trivial telegraph, are layered with thank-yous and happy-birthdays and sorry-for-your-losses. The thoughts may be heartfelt, but they’re expressed so easily and often, their impact is questionable.
There’s no question where Olshefski stands.
A user of Facebook and email — Twitter? No, no, no — she believes a handwritten note to mark an occasion or express a thought connects us to friends, family and community in a deeper, more sustaining way.
“And aren’t those connections and relationships the point of everything?” she asks.
Here’s how it works:
“When I sit down and write a thoughtful note, it means I took the time to select a note I thought you would really like. It’s about the other person, not about me.
“And the note itself becomes something endearing. People say, ‘Where did you get that?’” Olshefski says. “I just think it’s a big thing.”
It’s huge for Daniel Post Senning, but you might expect that: He’s the great-great-grandson of Emily Post, sometimes referred to as “the first lady of etiquette,” who wrote the first edition of her influential manners book in 1922.
Senning, website manager at the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., is also co-author with three other great- and great-great-grands (Peggy, Anna and Lizzie) of the 18th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” which came out on Oct. 18.
“I personally feel the medium, the choice you make about the medium to deliver your message, says a great deal,” Senning muses. “Really, taking that extra time to hand-write a thank-you note or develop your own stationery is a statement.”
Which is: “I’m willing to spend the time to invest in building this relationship. Ultimately, you’re talking about a communication strategy going beyond the customary standard,” he says.
One of Olshefski’s specialties is nature-themed cards, reflective of a childhood spent roaming the farm country near her family’s home in northern Chester County, Pa. “When you went for a walk around the block, it was 3 miles,” she jokes.
The experience primed her to take all the science courses she could at Owen J. Roberts High School in Pottstown, Pa., and to study environmental science and biology at Albright College in Reading, Pa.
After graduation, she did stream restoration work for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, where she also developed a keen interest in plants, especially natives. She has worked for the arboretum, on and off, for the last decade.
Always a craftsperson, Olshefski has been a potter, a seamstress, a maker of jewelry, soap and candles. For the last five years, her cluttered dining room has doubled as a card-making workshop.
There, Olshefski takes rubber or acrylic stamps of leaves, pumpkins, ornamental grasses, flowers, garlic and trees, dabs them on an ink pad and prints them on recycled or designer paper bought in bulk.
She sprinkles them with embossing powder and applies a hot embossing gun, which looks like a hair dryer and melts the powder onto the wet ink. This raises the texture of the stamp and gives the note a tactile quality that Olshefski the artiste adores.
“It’s not rocket science but it looks really awesome,” she says.
Sometimes she uses phonebook-pressed leaves, flowers and seeds collected from her garden, a 10-by-18-foot patch of exuberance in front of her century-old twin.
“I love when things jumble and mix all over the place. I know I have a lot of plants,” Olshefski says, without a trace of gardener guilt.
The garden is robust now with milkweed for monarch butterflies, dwarf oakleaf hydrangea, papyrus, amsonia, baptisia, smokebush, hellebores and coneflowers, with a few unusual vines wedged in, such as purple hyacinth bean and the still-feisty yellow and orange Mina lobata, or Spanish flag vine, which sprawls with abandon on one side of the porch.
Senning loves the idea of nature-inspired cards. Based on his experience doing etiquette programs in corporate settings, he also thinks formal, handwritten thank-you notes are making a comeback — especially among job-seekers and others in business looking to distinguish themselves.
“It’s a really effective way to build your professional image, especially if the notecard has your initials or name embossed or stamped on it. It’s very classy,” he says.
Aimi Will’s children aren’t old enough to worry about their professional images just yet. But at 9 and 5, they do write their own thank-you notes. “They have to write whole sentences, not like a generic card that says ‘thank you for the … ’ and you fill in the blank space with what the kids got,” says Will, of Ambler, who uses Olshefski’s notecards herself and gives them as gifts to girlfriends, too.
“Women like lotion and other things, too, but … my girlfriends feel special when I give them something personalized,” she says.
Olshefski, who sells her cards at Morris and online (http://www.etsy.com/shop/cardsbypamela), is scheduled to teach a workshop on nature-themed notecards at Morris Arboretum on Nov. 19.
And, by the way, Nov. 19 is her birthday.
You might want to send her a note.