"Happy Birthday, Dad!"

📷: @sarahrunsla (featuring @movethejohn)

The idea for Letterfolk first came to us when we were trying to think of a creative way to mark the milestones of our first child. We see so many of our customers doing the same with their babies and we loved this fun take on the idea that Sarah posted for her dad’s birthday.

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My Mom's Journey

📷: @nakupendanjeri

International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8th) commemorates the movement for women's right and is a day to celebrate and share stories of the women in our lives that inspire us. Among those stories was one shared by Njeri about her mother. After seeing Njeri’s photo and comments about her mother’s example, we wanted to know so much more about her mother and her journey from Kenya to the USA.

Tell us the story behind this photo.

My mom vividly remembers the day this picture was taken. Imagine this story as told in a Kenyan accent: "I was in Nairobi coming out of design class for the day. It was beautiful outside and I passed by some people taking photos on the street and thought why not pose for a picture? Why not? In those days no one had their own camera and I thought it would be good to remember a good day. I came back a few days later, found my picture and smiled again." I picked this photo because my mom is my age and although looking forward to the future, she took a moment to revel in the present.

How did your mother make it to the U.S.? And what type of business did she start? 

My dad was in the states finishing school so when the time came, my mom packed two suitcases, left behind every single family member and familiar place and braced for the scariest experience: 17 hours of flying with a 4 year old. We made it to Pennsylvania and my mom never looked back. In the early days, her main goal was making sure I made it to school and back and was assimilating well. In her downtime, she explored Penn State and started to build a community around us. A few years in, my parents started selling African art at local markets. Twenty-plus years later and they've grown their business to include travel tours to Africa, opening their first hotel/lodge in Kenya and running a successful African art store at the King of Prussia Mall (largest mall in the US!) 

How has your mother's example shaped you as a woman? 

My mother's example, oh my word — where to even begin. She guides me every single day. She is a brilliant and strong woman of faith, love and hands gifted from the culinary gods. One particular lesson I carry in my heart is her saying: "Njeri, no person is better than you and you are better than no person." I find immense confidence and resilience in that statement especially working in a field that is 98.9999999% male dominated. Too often, for fear of coming off "soft," women put up a tough exterior and my mother has always pushed us to embrace all facets of our personalities. As a result, almost everyone who knows me describes me as "the sweetest person that they wouldn't dare cross." I love unconditionally, take my work very seriously, bake cakes and play rugby because NEWS FLASH: it's 2017 and I can do all the things.

What are you seeing around you now that inspires you and gives you hope for women around the world?

I am inspired by women starting to tackle the awkward conversations amongst themselves that start with 'what is your experience as a ______ woman and why am I so removed from your struggle'. We cant move forward as a strong unit without first listening, truly listening, to what other women around the world have mourned and celebrated.

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board? 

As I write this to you, I am three days away from taking a huge financial licensing exam (send all the prayers, PLEASE) so I've been updating it with funny, encouraging, motivational quotes. This week I'm bribing myself to study so I've got my reward on the board: GUCCI SOHO DISCO BAG. So far, the motivation is working.

If you or someone you know have a story you would like to be featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com

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There's a New Baby in Town

📷: @miminguyenphoto (featuring @auniechoochoo)

We love seeing our letter boards in pregnancy announcements and maternity photoshoots. And we've seen a whole range of amazing creativity in those photos. But when we saw Trang’s maternity photo featuring her dog, Toffer, we thought the cute bump and adorable dog were the perfect combination. Add to that the hilarious message on her Poet Oak board, and we had to know more about both Toffer and the babe on the way.

So tell us the story behind this photo?

This photo was taken from our maternity session with Mimi (www.miminguyen.com). She has been our photographer since 2014 and has been capturing our biggest milestones. We realized that we didn’t have any professional photos with Toffer because our engagement session and wedding weren't local. We truly love and treat Toffer like he’s our son so we wanted to make sure to include him in our maternity photos before we became a family of 4. Since Toffer has been our baby for 10 years and loves to be in front of the camera, we thought it would be cute to make a sign for him.

Does your dog always pose on command so perfectly?

My husband, Kris, and I love taking pictures and capturing videos so much that Toffer has learned how to pose when he sees a camera. On many occasions, Toffer has included himself in group photos taken on a tripod. He would see us getting ready for the photo and make his way towards us as we counted down “3, 2, 1.” By the time we said cheese, you would find him sitting right next to us and looking straight into the camera.

How did Toffer become a part of your family? 

Kris adopted Toffer before we met. He walked into a pet shop and walked out with a dog. At the time he had no intentions of buying a dog, but Toffer reminded Kris of a dog he had growing up. Being young, poor, and in school, he did the smart thing and wiped out his savings to buy Toffer right then and there. It was the dumbest, smartest decision he’s ever made. Toffer turned out to be an amazing dog and I love him to pieces. Kris has always said that my love for Toffer tricked me into marrying him and he might be right. Toffer has increased the happiness in our lives a thousand fold.

Now lets talk about that sweet baby girl. Tell us about her.

We lucked out with Kairi. This munchkin is more than we could have ever hoped for. Our little one just recently turned 9 months old and she loves to play and eats everything we give her. The girl even burps herself! She’s quick to smile but makes us really WORK for giggles. Kairi loves being around people and has no problem falling asleep in the middle of a party. Kris always tell her how thankful he is that she’s an “easy” baby. All she wants is food and affection. Such a little cutie pie!

How did you come up with the name Kairi?

Kris is an animator in the game industry. Like a lot of other guys his age, he grew up playing games. He first heard Kairi’s name in a game he played as a kid. Ever since then he kept it on a short list of names he thought would work well for any potential kiddos.  When we found out we were having a girl he asked if I liked the name Kairi. I instantly fell in love with it. It was the first and only name we ever considered giving her.

And how is Toffer coping with no longer being the only child? 

I think Toffer knew the minute we got back from the hospital that Kairi was part of our family. In those first crazy weeks, Toffer was always there whenever Kairi cried. He too was sleep deprived and would stumble into the room completely exhausted. He would walk up to her and attempt to calm Kairi down by licking her. It was hilarious to see him just as drained as us. He went from being our “baby” to “old man Toff.” He loves Kairi and has been a great older fur-brother from the start.

And finally, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

Our letter board currently says “WEEK 39”. Every week we take a photo of Kairi with our mini polaroid camera. We love looking back and seeing how much she has grown from week 1 to now. 

If you or someone you know have a story you would like to be featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com

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Hapa Shave Ice

📷: @hapa_shaveice

We love to share how folks of Letterfolk are using their letter boards in their homes, but for this installment, we want to spotlight a company using letter boards the old-fashioned way — as a menu. The Hapa Hawaiian Shave Ice food truck located in Provo, Utah, was started by a husband and wife, Tyler and Brittany Loong. We asked these fellow small business owners about their business and what it’s like to run a shave ice food truck. 

To start off, tell us a little about Hapa Shave Ice.

Hapa Shave Ice offers a completely unique experience to the traditional shave ice. Hapa strives to maintain a balance between a timeless style mixed with a product that is unforgettable.

What made you decide to start your own business?

We wanted to start something that was truly ours. My wife and I are both ethnic, so we wanted to integrate that into our business, and after some time, we came up with this idea!

What do you do during the winter when Hapa is closed?

In the winter months we shut down with our trailer and focus primarily on catering. We have thought about doing hot chocolate in the winter time but haven't had the courage to give it a shot quite yet. When we are shut down in the winter months, we cater weddings, business events, parties and continue serving our Hapa product.  

What makes Hapa Shave Ice better than regular snow cones?

Hapa Shave Ice is different than many of your traditional snow cones in the way that the ice is shaved. Most shave ice businesses use a machine that essentially crushes up ice into smaller chunks of ice. This results in a snow cone that is chunky and not very fun to chew on. At Hapa, we take blocks of ice and our machine literally shaves the ice, making it incredibly soft to the tongue and leaving an unforgettable experience. We also take pride in our flavors. We have a large variety of flavors, and we continue to update our menu almost every month. We also typically have some specials that we run.

You have a flavor on your menu called Wedding Cake... does it taste as delicious as it sounds? And can you put it in your freezer for a year?

Our wedding cake flavor gets asked about the most by our customers. They primarily want to know what it tastes like and if people ever order it. Crazy enough, it does taste like wedding cake! It is a light yellow color, and when the Sno Cap is added to it, you might think you are at a wedding. We will get back to you in another couple months — we are still waiting for a full year to try out the frozen wedding cake ;) 

What's your personal favorite shave ice flavor?

My personal favorite flavor changes almost every month. Recently we introduced a new flavor, Honey Dew Melon, and its my current #1. That's followed by a close second, Blu Coconut.

And what's in store for the future of Hapa Shave Ice?

The future for Hapa is unknown. We want continue with our small business and venture more into the catering category. We love having a store front, but we also want to be included in those moments that mean so much to people. If you are interested in having us cater your event, do not hesitate! 

If you or someone you know has a story you would like to have featured for our Folks of Letterfolk series, shoot us an email at hey@letterfolk.com

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Welcome home, Dada

📷: @carolinehelenf

For most parents and spouses, coming home from work to their family becomes so routine and normal that it can go unnoticed as anything special. Those who serve in the military can be gone for months or even years at a time, making their homecomings a momentous, unforgettable moment. A simple letter board message of “Welcome Home Dada” was all that was needed to melt our hearts and want to learn more. We talked to Caroline about her experience as a military family.

So first of all, tell us a little about the scene in the photo. 

This photo was taken the day my husband returned home from his 10th deployment with the United States Air Force. This was his first deployment as a father. Our baby girl was 17 days old when he left and just shy of 4 months old when he returned. I woke my daughter up in the middle of the night to greet him on base (it was approximately 2 a.m. when he finally arrived). He was so excited to see her again and see how much she had grown and changed over the months.  

Describe the days leading up to a homecoming like this and the anticipation you must feel. 

A military homecoming is always such a mixed bag of emotions: anxiousness, nervousness, excitement, and feeling overwhelmed and stressed are just a few that come to mind. The days leading up are both slow and dragging, but they also speed by too quickly, leaving you feeling like you don't have enough time to accomplish everything on your to-do list. The exact date and time of their return is ever-changing based on real-time travel so you feel like their return is floating, leaving you to resist getting overly fixated on any particular date or time, for fear of being disappointed.

For those of us who have never personally experienced a military homecoming like this, what is it like to see a loved one return from service?

Personally, I initially experience a sense of relief to have my husband home; I can relax knowing he is safe and out of harm's way. From a parental perspective, I was relieved to have my support system back and to be able to share my parental responsibilities with my partner. A deployment is a day-by-day chug and it's always a relief to take a break from that lifestyle. Secondly, I am proud of surviving yet another deployment — proud of my husband for his accomplishments and hard work, and proud of myself for my independence. And of course, it's always such a happy time to be reunited. It's fun to look forward to the quality time you'll be spending together. 

Post-deployment is also a transitionary period, and it can be frustrating and stressful for both the soldier and their families. Within the military community, this timeframe is known as "re-integration" and it's something I wish more people understood. Two separate lifestyles are, in essence, having to integrate back together. The soldier, the couple and the family unit are forced to adapt and re-learn how to peacefully coexist with one another.

What family activities do you look forward to doing the most when he returns home?

When my husband is deployed, I miss experiencing the mundane, day-to-day activities with him the most. So when he comes home, I look forward to activities like sipping coffee on our patio, playing with our daughter, walking the dogs, running errands and doing housework! This particular homecoming, we took a mini trip to Nashville. It was fun to just walk around and have a chance to reconnect outside our home. It's the small things, y'all!

Your family has sacrificed so much for this country and all of us. How can we better support military families like yours?

It's funny, most military families I know would rarely consider this lifestyle a "sacrifice." Personally, I'm just supporting my husband in a career that he is passionate about. I think the best way to support other military families is to provide emotional support if and when it is needed. Many of us are just too proud to ask for help (I think that's human nature?), so an offering (maybe a forceful one!) to babysit or even just an invitation to dinner is always welcome.

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

Currently, my letter board reads, "The days are long but the years are short." I feel like it's an accurate summation of my life at this point. My daughter just turned 6 months, and I honestly don't know how the time passed so quickly. Some days feel long and dragging, but I constantly try to remind myself to enjoy the present because it is fleeting. *Cue hysterical crying emoji*

If you or someone you know have a story you would like to be featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com. Check out other stories like these on our blog.

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