I have a little routine for loading up my car before heading to work—travel mugs of iced coffee and HINT water go into the front and center cupholders (trip #1), then my USPS backpack goes behind the driver’s seat (trip #2). Once at work, since the parking lot I use is a bit of a hike from my office, I drop off my backpack and drinks at the back door to my building, then head off to park. Day after day after day.

My backpack is something of a clown car, packed to the gills with necessities (work keys, wallet, OTC meds, spare earrings, a mini-umbrella, and maybe a lunch) as well as a mini (mid-sized?) stationery store.

Required notebooks:
1) Levenger Junior Circa for master action, waiting, and someday/maybe lists for both work and home
2) Hobonichi Techo—my calendar “bible”
3) Pocket notebooks—one each for work and personal to-do lists

Weighing in at just over two pounds, this doesn’t seem too outrageous.

The pens, though, are kind of out of hand. No—not “kind of.” VERY out of hand.

What happens is that I spy a pen I haven’t used in awhile then toss the whole case into the depths of my backpack. Repeat that a few times and eventually I find myself lugging around a very hefty load. (Why ever could my shoulders be aching?!)

In my defense, I have a writing implement to suit every mood. A ballpoint mood! A gel pen mood! A vintage mechanical pencil mood! I’m ready for any pen whim, and honestly, find comfort in having so many of my favorite things with me, even if they do weigh as much as a small farm animal. Ah, pens—my personal security blanket.

So imagine my horror when I threw open my car’s back door yesterday morning and realized that I HAD NOT loaded my backpack into the car!! ACK!! Talk about feeling unmoored (and a little bit woozy and disoriented). No notebooks! No pens! No security blanket! However would I face the day?!

I briefly considered driving home (about 20 minutes each way), but then took a deep breath and decided to embrace the challenge. Could I get through the day without all of my stuff? Could I go all “stationery minimalist” for an entire work day? Do I really need to lug around 85 pounds of paper and pens to do my work?

Turns out, I do not.

Coincidentally enough, I’d tucked an unused Levenger Circa Jotlet into my jacket pocket before leaving for work. (Premonition, maybe?) Why not give the Jotlet a whirl, along with the Ti2 Techliner that’s always in my pants pocket.

One pen. One notebook. A mere four ounces.

Oh, plus a dual-ended red/graphite Caran d’Ache pencil. Maybe 5 grams?

This super-minimal stationery kit got me through the work day without a hiccup. A stationery triumph and lesson learned. Travel lightly. Or at least lighter.

I’m not losing the notebooks, but I can surely carry FAR fewer pens. I realize that now.

In the course of the morning, I went from unmoored to unburdened.

Did you hear that? That sound in the distance? That’s my shoulders sighing in relief.

An Earthy Pen & Ink Pairing

The Week # 10 ink bundle included eight Franklin-Christoph colors: Midnight Emerald, Terra Firma, Red 187, Tenebris Purpuratum, Black Cherry, Brown 732, Dark Chocolate, Noir et Bleu—a few browns, a purple, two reds, and a couple of blues. The real fun of this ink adventure, after the bi-weekly reveal, is coming up with new pen and ink pairings. I’m (just barely) resisting the urge to load up multiple pens with ALL OF THE INKS, though that’s certainly a legitimate strategy, and one I have not completely ruled out. But for now, I’m showing some restraint and taking my time.

In anticipation of mud season—when you suddenly realize how much you’ve missed the smell of dirt and the promise of spring—I inked up one of my Karas Kustoms Vertex pens (the now sold-out Washington DC Fountain Pen Supershow version) with Franklin-Christoph’s Terra Firma ink.

This particular Vertex features fine gold mica dust in a subtly swirled yellow/gold/brown/black acrylic that pairs wonderfully with the earthy ink. There is some matchiness between the pen and ink but they are not dead-ringers for one another. Nicely complementary, I think. The Vertex’s medium steel nib lays down a smooth, wet line that makes this caramel-colored ink pop.

Pen and ink pairings often take a bit of trial and error to hit just the right combination, but this brown(ish) pen + brown ink immediately hit a sweet spot for me. There is a complexity of color in both the pen and the ink that makes for a terrific pairing, more interesting than you might think at first glance.

Here’s to the coming thaw, to (slightly) warmer and sunnier days, to fresh air and long walks on muddy trails. To Terra Firma. Solid ground. Solid ink.

Note: I wrote this post and then found that Terra Firma no longer appears to be available from Franklin-Christoph. Well, shoot. So now it’s a candidate for some ink sample giveaways in the future. Stay tuned.

Small But Mighty Pick-Me-Ups

“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” —Lord Byron

The last few weeks have been dotted with garden variety frustrations, anxieties, and headaches. But even when my day goes completely haywire, receiving a handwritten note or letter never fails to turn my mood around. POOF goes that swirl of grumbly thoughts and grievances only to be replaced by a warm effervescence. The hard edges of the day soften, and I immediately regain my sense of humor about the ridiculousness of letting stupid stuff get to me.

With friends who share their own joys and challenges tucked inside an envelope, how can I not be grateful?

Notes/notecards from two friends—a gorgeous laser-cut design from one, and original artwork from another.

Greetings from Portugal via a lovely travelogue letter

complete with sea shells from the beach in Albufeira.

I love writing letters as much as I do reading them. I dive in headfirst— sharing stories that I hope are (somewhat?) entertaining. How the neighbors’ bunnies escaped and the hot pursuit that followed, about the drives my mom and I take every Sunday afternoon, movies seen, books read, walks taken. I just keep writing until I feel written out. Doing so feels so therapeutic and meditative. More meditative than meditation for me, actually.

Good wishes, shared experiences, crazy/funny stories sent back and forth. This is where my heart feels at home. This is my sanctuary—a refuge from a world that often feels very out of whack.

Here’s to friends and laughs and inky hands. Let’s keep each other afloat.

Letter writing is an excellent way of slowing down this lunatic helter skelter universe long enough to gather one’s thoughts.” —Nick Bantock

The Day the Stationery Store Came to Me

Last Saturday afternoon, after spending a couple of hours writing a letter at our local bookstore, I came home to find a large and heavy box on our front porch. The thought bubble over my head read “?????” I’m successfully sticking to my “No Buy” pledge so I knew it wasn’t anything I’d ordered. Upon closer inspection, I noted that the return address belonged to one of my pen friends, but this piece of information just added to the mystery. What the heck could it be???

I didn’t even take off my coat before slashing open the carton. Sweet anticipation. Flipping open the carton’s cardboard flaps revealed a sight to behold. A treasure trove. The mother lode. Inkapalooza 2023!!

The carton revealed 25 carefully wrapped and labeled bundles, the meaning of which was revealed in the enclosed note:

“I read about your self-imposed stationery purchasing ban. I thought I could ease your pain a little with the contents of this box. There is no week 52 since I expect you will be placing an Anderson Pens order that week. All the best, Paul.

Now the thought bubble over my head was filled with “!!!!!!!” as puzzlement shifted to joy. Pure ink joy.

Paul, once an avid ink reviewer, has trimmed his personal collection down to twelve favorite inks, and is now pursuing other interests that benefit both himself and his young family, like cooking and furniture-making. Thus his divestment of this abundance of inky riches.

After a flash of desire to unwrap everything right then and there, my first-born rule-follower tendencies kicked in and I knew I’d get the most fun from following the directions of Paul’s letter to a tee. Since the shipment arrived on February 25th, I HAD TO unwrap the first few bundles to play catch up. <twist my arm> Here’s what Santa Paul sent my way for weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8:

Week #2Lamy Tipo (Coffee) and a Noodler’s Dixie #10 in Methuselah Ebonite

Week #4—Pelikan Brilliant Brown, Parker Quink (blue), and Waterman Serenity Blue

Week #6—Cult Pen’s Diamine “Deep Dark” Brown, Orange, Red, Blue, Green, and Purple

Week #8—J. Herbin’s Lie De Thé, Ambre De Birmanie, and Poussiére De Lune

Amazingly, these are all “new to me” pens and inks—there’s not a repeat of anything in my own collection so far. I’ve been using the Lamy Tipo all week, and am journaling with Waterman Serenity Blue, Pelikan Brilliant Brown, and Diamine Deep Dark Blue and Brown. So many more to try.

Today’s morning pages were written with Diamine Deep Dark Brown

Obviously there’s A LOT of ink here, so as the time progresses I’ll come up with some ways to share this windfall, to spread the joy around. Being on the receiving end of such generosity has also inspired me to look at my own stationery stashes with a critical eye and to brainstorm ways to share some accumulated treasures. What a fun little project to contemplate.

But for now, I’m having a blast unwrapping, savoring, using, and anticipating using, this unexpected gold mine of ink. (Ink mine?!) Even though the March weather plods on in in its grey and gloomy mood, my pens and journals are alive with color and cheerfulness.

Thank you, Paul, for this stationery store in a box. I promise to pay your kindness forward.

With gratitude,

Writing Through a Mood

“The seed is in the ground.
Now we rest in hope
While darkeness does its work.”

-Wendell Berry

I’ve recently diagnosed myself with a raging case of Februaryitis. My mood lately has been as blah as the weather. The urge to hibernate is strong. Winter brought us ice and snow this week, COVID got us after three years, and some friends and family are going through particularly challenging times, as is our country. In other seasons, sun and warmth and time outdoors burn off this dread and dreariness, but February in upstate New York drapes us in a gray weariness that’s hard to shake.

So what is one to do?

I’ve chosen to do what I know best—to write through the mood. Fueled with coffee, of course.

Get out of that cozy bed, pour a glass of homemade cold-brew, and simply write. About strange dreams where you’re riding a bicycle without brakes down a winding path. About the ominous noises the house made in the middle of the night when the ice on the roof cracked and shifted.

About all of the rushing around you’re doing lately.

About the unsettled weather.

Most importantly use pens and inks that lighten the mood, that lift your spirits, that make you smile. Ink your pens with colors that are the opposite of the season. For me that’s been a cheerful purple (Waterman Tender Purple), a bright red (Levenger Cardinal Red), and a high-sheening green (Birmingham Pens Emerald Fusion), as well as a fresh blue (my last cartridge of Private Reserve Lake Placid Blue). Create a colorful world on the page to make up for the dull scene outside your window.

This is my prescription for this mood. To show up every day. With coffee. And pens. And ink.

To simply write though this season and this mood, knowing that both will pass, and that there are small joys to be found in each day. Like the bright red cardinal at the feeder and a letter from a friend. And pens. And ink.

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.”

-Ranier Marie Rilke

A Lucky Find: Schon Design’s Pocket Six “Shop Shuffle”

I’ve been meaning to write about this wacky little delight for some time now, as it’s been almost continuously inked since I purchased it in July 2022. This was a case of being in the right place at exactly the right time. While mindlessly scrolling through a social media platform one summer evening, I came upon a post by Ian Schon of Schon Design offering a small batch of “Shop Shuffle” Pocket Six pens—pocket pens assembled with mismatched parts at a significantly discounted price. As I quickly scrolled though the offerings, this particular pen called my name and I was lucky enough to beat everyone else to the punch.

Measuring just 3-1/2″ when capped, the pen extends to a very comfortable 5″ length when the cap is threaded onto the body. I already owned one “normal” Pocket Six so I knew that it fit my hand well. The draw with this one is the “Shop Shuffle”aspect—the combination of swirled colors and patterns that clash just enough to be interesting but not jarring. The cap’s splashes of turquoise against the orange background represent two of my favorite colors in both ink and pens.

The body features swirls of rusty orange—reminiscent of Diamine’s Blood Orange, a favorite ink of mine.

The fiery orange grip section is my favorite part of the pen. The machined ridges add visual interest as well as superb “traction” for long journaling and letter writing sessions. I ordered my pen with a broad (#6) nib and it’s a gem—smooth, pleasantly juicy, and with no hard starts or hesitation (unlike my brain).

As a pocket pen, the Pocket Six only accepts short international cartridges which is fine with me as I own piles of them. I’ve been using up some OLD Private Reserve Lake Placid Blue cartridges of late, and noticed a peculiar thing—that the ink inside the unused cartridges seems to have evaporated over time. I checked another pack of the same vintage (Private Reserve Copper Burst) and found the same thing. Strange!

At least I’m blowing through cartridges faster than normal because the ink level is so low. (I thought I’d see how many cartridges I can go through in a year, but counting these seems like cheating.)

It’s taken me too long to write about how much I enjoy this quirky little pen made of mismatched, but complementary, parts. Now I have. Better late than never.

No-Buy Follow-Up

No, I’m not backing out of the challenge I set for myself, but a couple of questions came up after I published last week’s post so here’s a bit of follow-up to address those.

Question #1: Does this mean you won’t be going to any pen shows?

It does not. That’s the ONE out I’ve given myself which I didn’t note in my original post. I may consider going to a pen show this year, and if I do, I’ll allow myself a pen (or two). But it needs to be unique in some way—not just another iteration of something that I already own. And you know what? It’s also possible that I’ll go to a pen show and NOT buy a pen. So much about a pen show is the people. Old friends. New friends. Steeping in that stew of passionate pen people. There’s really nothing like it. Purchases aren’t required to have a great time, though, of course the temptation is hard to resist when you’re surrounded by so many pretty things. The key is discernment. What do I really want? Maybe something. Maybe nothing.

Highlights from the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show:

Myself and my pen pal, Beth. A little reunion for both of us!

Question #2: What about stationery gifts?

I did think that maybe I gave the wrong impression—that gifts of stationery aren’t welcome because I have so much. So when my cousin asked this question, I knew I wanted to address it here.

Rest assured, I’m thrilled with stationery gifts and never squirrel these away for later use. They’re always enjoyed and put into action as quickly as I can unwrap them because doing so reminds me of the people who gave them to me. Again, it’s about having someone “get you,” which is such a special feeling. So it’s not just a gift of pencils. It’s a gift of pencils + years of friendship. It’s not just a gift of ink. It’s a gift of ink from someone who knows you well enough to pick out just the right color. These gifts mean so much more to me than the pencils and ink that I buy for myself. They are used, and used with love.

Some recent Christmas and birthday gifts! All currently in use:

In summary, people are > pens.

That said, I’m resisting (but just barely) the newly-released TWSBI ECO-T in Saffron. GREAT color! Very reasonably priced! But a vow is a vow.

<Takes deep breaths>

A No-Buy Year. Really.

Actual lyrics:It’s not having what you want—It’s wanting what you’ve got.

In December 2022, a penpal’s letter talked a lot about mentally gearing up for her self-imposed 2023 “no new pens” challenge. D’s sentiments were familiar. She has enough. She should simply enjoy what she already owns. But there was an edge of anxiety as well, a feeling I could also relate to. Can I really do this? Can I go cold turkey? As I read her letter, despite the fact that I’ve tried this before and failed miserably, I felt a spark of excitement ignite—the desire to take on this challenge with her—partly so that I’d have an accountability partner, but also because such a challenge is sorely needed.

I have plenty of stationery—notebooks, pens, pencils, ink, postcards, notecards, and even postage stamps. That’s a fact. There is truly no shortage of fun things to use. But, man, the temptation for more is hard to resist. Irrational thoughts abound. “Maybe THIS pen will take away my anxiety/boredom/frustration.” (Or maybe that’s just me.) The thrill of the hunt and anticipation of that new shiny thing is addictive. And admittedly fun. But the cycle never ends—unless you break it.

As long-time readers may recall, I’ve made this “no new pens” pledge before, but have never succeeded in sustaining it for more than a few weeks. Maybe it’s because I’m tiptoeing up to retirement—where I’ll have to be more careful about spending— that this challenge feels more acutely needed. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently started attending Death Café meetings (much more fun than they sound—and there’s cake!) that I’m thinking about what’s truly important in life—what I want to share versus what I want to acquire. Maybe it’s because I’ve simply realized, yet again, that one can only own so much “stuff.” For whatever reason, I’m feeling really energized and enthusiastic as I enter Month #2 of the “No New Stationery” challenge.

Have there been moments of weakness? Oh, hell yes. In the last month there have been almost daily tugs at my stationery-loving heartstrings. The Ti2 Designs laser-etched Techliners. <swoon>. The USPS + Fieldnotes collaborations. (I love trains and train stations so that soon-to-be released edition is killing me.) The tea-themed Retro 51 via Goldspot Pens is great looking. Ian Schon’s Monoc nib. They’re all excruciatingly tempting. But I’m holding strong. Close the webpage. Delete the email. Move on.

There are a couple of tactics that are helping when the urge to buy wells up. I happened upon one in a 5-Year Q&A journal that a friend gave me for Christmas. A recent question asked, “What would you take if you had to leave tonight?” Talk about making you think about what’s truly important! After the pets, I’d grab some pens—especially this one—as well as my journals and letters from friends (so many memories!)—but as I looked around from my desk, not much else felt critical. So now I frame potential purchases that way—is it something that I’d love enough to rescue in the event of an emergency?

A second tactic arrived in my inbox this week, from another friend looking to curb a shopping habit. She sent along a link to Simplify Magazine‘s recent article called “No More Impulse Buying—The Magic of Careful Curation.” In the article, the author wrote: “Instead of writing a list of the things you need, write a list of “Things I do not need.” When I did this, my list included baking equipment, snazzy notebooks, gym gadgets, and electronics. Write your own detailed list for every room in your house.” She goes on to say that you can refer to the list in a moment of weakness as a concrete reminder of what you already own, what’s already there to enjoy. “…use it as a magic shield against the temptations of impulse spending.” And so I have composed my list:

Pens, pens, pens, ink, ink, ink, pocket notebooks, journals, pencils, colored pencils, writing paper, notecards, and postcards. I love what I have, but I don’t need to buy more. I’m all set. Unless I live to be 150.

I like opening a letter and thinking myself loved.” – Virginia Woolf

The thrills, instead, will come from using what I have. Filling up journals. Sharpening and using pencils. Writing and sending cards and letters. Receiving cards and letters and notes from friends in return. (I savor reading letters. Like, I settle in and make sure I can give the letter my undivided attention. No dogs barking, no husbands talking, no time constraints. Sometimes I make a cup of tea first. It’s kind of a thing.)

Just the other day I finished a bottle of ink—MY FIRST ONE EVER—which felt like an event worthy of fireworks. And confetti. And celebratory cake. Okay—it was only a 30 mL bottle, but still. Pre-2023 Mary would’ve immediately ordered up another bottle of Electron, but honestly, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. There is, it turns out, joy in using things up—a surprising buzz of satisfaction. Maybe I’ve got this?!

Only eleven more months to go. I’ll keep you posted.

Hefty, Hefty, Hefty: The Rite In the Rain Mechanical Clicker Pencil

I ordered a few of these Rite In the Rain Mechanical Clicker pencils during a pre-Christmas sale as gifts for others—mostly as companions to the Rite In The Rain Golf Notebook for the golfers in the family. When the package arrived, I tore it open, and said, “Oh, wow!” (Like, out loud.) The pencils were much more substantial than I’d expected. So much so that I quickly decided to keep one for myself. (I did immediately order a replacement pencil, along with extra erasers and leads, something I’d failed to do with my first order.)

I have plenty of mechanical pencils but what makes this one different is its sturdiness. The knurled grip and clip are metal and the barrel is made of thick ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene—I googled it), all of which give this pencil a heft that’s uncommon in mechanical pencils. As a low gripper, I hold the pencil right on the edge of the the knurling so I’m not taking full advantage of that feature, but it looks cool and adds good weight to the front of the pencil.

And the lead? Also beefy (1.3 mm). And dark (2B). And smooth. This is my first 1.3 mm lead pencil and I have to say that it’s made a convert out of me. I’m forever snapping those fragile 0.5 and 0.7 mm leads because I tend to bear down like I’m using a pen even when I’m using a pencil. This thick lead handles my heavy-handedness without an issue. I’ve had absolutely no breakage in all the time I’ve been using the pencil. As the name implies, the lead is advanced by clicking the eraser end of the pencil.

Because the thick 2B lead is so broad and dark and smooth, writing with it almost feels like writing with a broad-nibbed fountain pen or a 0.7 mm gel pen. High praise, indeed. I don’t typically use pencil to write notes to friends or to write out my daily to-do lists, but I sometimes do now. It’s a very pen-like pencil, if that makes sense.

The dark-grey eraser really is “low-residue”(as described by Rite In the Rain, which means no eraser “crumbs” on your page) and erases quite cleanly, considering the darkness of the lead. You can see a “ghost” of the word I erased in the photo above where I wrote “Grip” on the wrong line. The eraser feels smooth and <grasping for words here> pliable(??). There’s not the stiffness of your typical eraser. Rubbery, I guess, is the best way to describe it.

I ordered an orange pencil to replace the yellow one I kept and now I want that one, too. But I am resisting!

I’m rarely (never?) writing in the rain or marking up lumber so I really don’t NEED a “rugged” pencil that can withstand tough work conditions or extreme weather. I just want one.

ONE, Mary. One is enough.

What I Love About Stationery: An Incomplete List

I really enjoyed this week’s “Pen Addict” podcast episode where Brad and Myke discussed what they love about stationery. Which made me brainstorm my own list. Which made me write out that list in my journal to share here, copycat that I am.

Morning pages

Mood journaling (new for 2023)

Sheening inks

Birmingham Pen Co. Quantum Teal
Birmingham Pen Co. Emerald Fusion

Broad nibs

TWSBI Draco <B>

Letters and postcards


A collection I’ve created
A collection I’ve purchased

Pocket notebooks

Filled and filed

Double-ended pens

Analog calendars/planners

Disc-bound notebooks

Circa by Levenger (stickered by Mary)

Products that make me laugh

Titanium nibs

Cards and notes

Killing the winter doldrums with color and good wishes! (Never underestimate the power of a card/note/letter/postcard.)

Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg, an admittedly incomplete list. I haven’t mentioned pencils (wooden and mechanical), machined pens, Ultem pens, colored pencils, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And pen pals, pen friends, and pen shows.

You all are THE BEST—even better than the sheeniest ink.

In a nutshell…