What's the busiest, most frantic time of year for the U.S. Postal Service? The Christmas season, of course. So it somehow seems fitting that Astoria's new postmaster should be named Carol Noel.

A native of Yakima, Wash., Noel, 36, has been on the job here for just a month, and her enthusiasm for all things postal is evident as she shows a visitor around her spacious office, pointing out the tall windows and historic photos on the walls.

Divorced, with sons 12 and 14, Noel said she was looking for "quality of life and quality schools" where her children would feel safe, and has found it here in Clatsop County.

Noel is only the second woman to serve as Astoria Postmaster. The first was Euna Pearl Burke, who took over her husband's job when he died in 1937 and served until 1952. Noel knows this because she combed the archives of The Daily Astorian as soon as she arrived, looking for post office history. And for months before moving here, Noel read the newspaper online to learn about her new home.

She said she's impressed with her staff at the post office, and also with the Astoria Post Office building, which opened in 1933 and features high ceilings, marble columns, marble floors, dark woodwork and ornate post office boxes. She loves the history of it so much that she hopes to establish a postal museum in one of the building's many office spaces.

But Noel's interest in the past doesn't curtail her plans for the future. "I want to preserve history, but move into today," Noel said.

To accomplish that, she will focus on customer service. "First class mail is no longer our bread and butter," Noel said, noting that customers have other options nowadays, including e-mail and other online services.

She said her goal is for customers to wait in line no more than five minutes, so she intends to have three windows open during peak times, such as the noon hour. She also wants to add another letter carrier and another clerk and get 100 more post office boxes installed.

Noel will also improve security in the post office lobby, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that customers will feel safe coming in at night to use the stamp machine and mail letters. Her plans include installing surveillance cameras and partnering with the Astoria Police Department to address the problem.

Noel didn't start out with the postal service in mind. She was married and a mom when she decided to go to college for a degree in social work, with the goal of counseling substance-abusers. To earn extra money she took a temporary job as a letter carrier at the Yakima Post Office and liked the work so much that she dropped out of college to pursue it full-time.

She learned every phase of postal work: city delivery, forwarding service, customer services, and mail processing. Promoted to supervisor in 1998, Noel continued to rise through the management ranks in Yakima. "I wanted to learn everything I could. I really wanted to know every aspect," Noel said. "I wanted to grow."

Eager to put that experience to work here in Astoria, Noel said she's here for the long haul.

"I bring a new approach, a kinder, gentler management approach," Noel said. "I'm here to stay. I plan on making this my home."