Stickin’ With It*

* With credit to Ted Walker and Adam Webb, hosts of the Take Note podcast.

I recently started listening to Take Note, thanks to Tim Wasem’s recommendation on a recent episode of the Erasable podcast. I especially enjoy how the hosts chat about what they write rather than focusing so much on what they write with or on. Sometimes they feature a segment called “Stickin’ With It” where they talk about the things in their lives—sometimes stationery, sometimes not—that they find themselves enjoying over and over again. As someone who, for the most part, has the stationery attention span of an eight-week-old puppy, this has been inspiring. Instead of constantly flitting through pencils, pens, and inks, maybe I should try a less frenetic approach. Rather than becoming enamored with the newest and shiniest thing, maybe I’d enjoy some consistency with what I’m using—a single pencil (à la Caroline Weaver), or just one or two fountain pens instead of the herd that I currently have inked. Oh attention span, I hardly knew ye.

Just as I was feeling guilty about all of this stationery polygamy, I hit a milestone worthy of my own “Stickin’ With It” segment. On Thursday morning, I filled up my fifth Nanami Paper Seven Seas Tomoe River Notebook. That’s 2400 pages since June 2016. I wonder how many milliliters of ink I’ve used and how many miles of words I’ve written by practicing “butt in chair” (to quote Anne Lamott) at 4:45 am.

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This is my morning practice—my writing meditation—the one place in my life where I am truly stickin’ with it.

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Without fail.

 

 

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A Pocketful Of Bullet Pencils

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From pens to pencils to bullet pencils, this is yet another example of how one thing leads to another and suddenly you’re sitting on a healthy little collection. It’s like decluttering in reverse. I seem to be exceptionally good at that. The anti-Kondo method. Maybe I’ll write a book.

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I’ll call it Why Have One When Eight Will Do?

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There are plenty of practical reasons to use bullet pencils. They give new life to those too-short-on-their-own pencil nubbins. They make pencils pocketable while preserving a perfect point and protecting your legs from graphite stabbage. I have one of Randy Ragan’s expertly restored bullet pencils tucked into a pocket all day every day, and use them often for jotting down notes, working on a brain-teaser puzzle, or capturing an idea for a poem that pops into my head during my lunchtime walk in the woods.

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But if I’m honest, a lot of the appeal of bullet pencils is not practical at all—it’s all about those vintage graphics. The colors. The fonts. The attractions. All of the bullet pencils I own represent places I’ve been—most of them as a child. Okay, I’ve never been to the Bennett Stock Yards—that would be a weird vacation—but I have been to St. Paul, Minnesota where they’re located and I especially like that pencil’s purpley-blue color. They remind me of the those childhood vacations that didn’t require even a moment of work. No planning. No packing. No mapping out routes. No cursing about traffic. You just showed up with your pillow, settled into the back seat, shoved the seat belt out of the way (we weren’t particularly safety conscious back then) and off you went. I’m not sure I appreciated how great that feeling was but I sure do now.

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Travel today is such a mixture of preparation, stress, and rushing that’s it’s easy to forget the fun parts. Using a bullet pencil as I navigate through unfamiliar airports and crowded security checkpoints always makes me feel better by reminding me of those simpler times—when I wasn’t carrying so much mental weight. It’s the perfect tool to jot down a gate or seat number, but also a little reminder to lighten up and enjoy the journey.

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Bullet pencils—a vintage souvenir and the perfect stress eraser. Pun intended.

All of the bullet pencils pictured here were purchased from Randy Ragan who can be found in the Erasable Podcast Facebook group. Episode 101 of the Erasable Podcast features an interview with Randy. Very much worth a listen.

Stationery In Real Life: Making Do

 

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Pittsburgh from the overlook

I attend a work-related conference every year, so to make things easy (well…easier) I have a packing list at the ready in Evernote. No need to rewrite the thing from scratch every year. I just make a few edits, print it out, then pack and check off each item as it goes into my suitcase. The week before the conference was a doozy, with very little breathing room. Every day I had “Pack for conference” on my to-do list but didn’t find time to get to it until zero hour. Packing under pressure is not my favorite thing.

Despite the list, mistakes were made.

I discovered the first mistake minutes after arriving. As I unpacked, I rummaged through my suitcase desperately searching for the third pair of shorts I was sure I’d packed. Despite the fact that “Shorts” was dutifully checked off on my packing list, I quickly realized that somehow I’d left that third pair at home. (Note to my future self: Do not check off an item until ALL of said item are actually IN THE SUITCASE.) Oh, well…I’ll make do, I told myself. No other choice, really. (It was a HOT week so shorts were not the best thing to forget. But whatever.)

That same evening, as I walked around downtown Pittsburgh, enjoying the energy of the city, time with a friend, and the prospect of a week away from my normal routine and responsibilities, my brain happily relaxed. For a moment. Then it remembered the notebook I wanted to bring for all of my conference-related note-taking. The perfect notebook. The one that is neither too thick nor too thin. The one that handles fountain pen ink like a dream. I used a Nock Co. A 5 DotDash notebook at last year’s conference and it quickly became my go-to conference notebook. One problem, that notebook was home in a desk drawer, and that desk was 396 miles from Pittsburgh.

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The Desk Which Was Not In Pittsburgh

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The Notebook Which Was Not In Pittsburgh

I confessed all of this to my friend (who is well aware of my deeply rooted stationery quirks) then ducked into a nearby CVS to find something suitable for note taking, but their notebook offerings were picked over and just plain sad. With an obscene number of notebooks on hand at home, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a drugstore brand wide-ruled spiral notebook.

I had plenty of paper with me—a Tomoe River pad for letter writing, my Hobonichi, a Seven Seas Nanami Paper journal for my morning pages, a couple of in-progress Field Notes for work and personal to-do lists, a Levenger Circa notebook holding all of my master lists and a few blank pages—but none of that made sense for use during the conference. (“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”)

Then it hit me, I’d tossed a couple of Log+Jotter pocket notebooks into my writing kit, for no real reason—just a last minute whim. They might work!!

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Suddenly the pit of forgotten stationery that had lodged in my stomach eased and I knew everything would be okay. I could make do.

As it turned out, everything worked out perfectly. I had a great week, and almost filled a 40-page Log+Jotter notebook with notes from a week’s worth of meetings and conference sessions. I had a whole pocket notebook to spare!

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A happy ending. I love those.

From Skeptical to Impressed: The Blueberry Esterbrook Estie SE

Prior to spending time with this new Blueberry Esterbrook Estie SE, here’s what popped into my head when I heard the name Esterbrook:

  • Those iconic vintage J-series fountain pens that accept a multitude of Esterbrook nibs;
  • That 2014 “rebirth” of the Esterbrook brand by Robert Rosenberg that did not seem to go particularly well.

I have a couple of vintage Esterbrooks but they haven’t, as yet, found a true place in my heart. I suspect that I need to explore the various vintage nib offerings and find one that really speaks to me. I look forward to that eventual deep dive. I won’t rehash the issue with that first re-launch of the brand, but it left something of a bad taste in my mouth for the “new” Esterbrook.

But that was then, and this is now. In 2018, Joel Blumberg, Kenro’s founder and president, acquired the rights and patents for the brand and relaunched Esterbrook the right way, by honoring the vintage spirit of the brand with fresh designs and quality workmanship. THIS re-birth, I’m happy to say, is cause for celebration.

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I’ve been using this Blueberry Estie SE with silver trim (it’s also available with gold trim) the last couple of weeks for writing my morning pages, and I’m enjoying it very much. It’s the pen I reach for despite having several others inked and at the ready. The look, the feel, the writing performance are all on point. SE stands for “Special Edition,” as this pen is limited to 500 pieces, equally split between the gold and silver trim models, but are not numbered.

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The blue “cracked ice” acrylic is highly polished so the pen is extremely smooth to the touch. Finishing is superb. I have absolutely no complaints with fit or finish. This particular acrylic looks a little more gray in indirect light, while the blue pops in brighter light. There’s shimmer and depth and a lot of visual interest in this material.

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My pen is outfitted with a medium #6 JoWo steel nib that lays down a true medium line. I’ve experienced no hard starts or skips. It was a great performer right out of the box, which is never a given. The nib starts up easier than I do every morning at 4:45 am. It’s reliable and smooth. Very pleasant.

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Some shimmer and sparkles

A “cushion cap closure” inside the pen’s cap prevents the nib from drying out, which is why the pen always hits the page running. I filled the included converter with Montblanc’s Leo Tolstoy, one of my favorite inks and a great match for this acrylic.

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A peek at the Cushion Cap Closure tucked inside the cap

Capped, the pen measures 5.9″. Unposted, it’s a very comfortable 5″, while posted, it’s a very long 6.7″ (feels like a saber). Overall weight is 24 grams. I find it to be very comfortable, neither too light nor too heavy.

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Now here’s where things get really cool. The Estie can be outfitted with an MV Nib Adapter (available separately) which is designed to hold many of those vintage Esterbrook nibs. As I said earlier, that’ll be a fun rabbit hole to explore.

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Branding is minimal, and the highly polished clip does its job, without interrupting the clean look of the pen. (The flag you see on the clip in the above photo is just a reflection of one on my patio. This thing is like a mirror.)

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Though I came to the Esterbrook Estie with some skepticism, I find myself impressed with this offering, and look forward to future releases of different models and materials. As a lover of fall colors, the new Honeycomb Estie is right up my alley. What a beautiful autumnal acrylic.

Esterbrook’s manifesto states: We want to reconnect with consumers, rebuild interest in fine writing and penmanship, revolt against the decline of handwriting in American schools, reestablish brand image as America’s Original, regain trust and market share with retailers, and revive the values and spirit of Richard Esterbrook for the 21st century.

If this Blueberry Estie SE is any indication, Esterbrook is a brand to get excited about once again.

Thanks to Pen Chalet for providing this pen for review purposes. This review represents my own impressions and experiences with the pen. There are no affiliate links in this review.

One Woman’s Trash

…is another woman’s treasure. Actually, it’s both my trash and my treasure. This week’s Whole Life Challenge Well-Being Practice is to clear a space that’s normally cluttered and then keep it that way. For me, the easy pick was our kitchen counter. Stuff just piles up. Mail, receipts, catalogs, flyers, pens, pencils, notebooks, pen boxes, a squishy baseball (???), coupons, appointment reminders—all piled there to be dealt with later. This is just one of many such areas in the house, but it’s the one that bugs me the most because, as things accumulate, I find myself trying to prep dinner in a space the size of an index card.

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Not ideal

As I cleared the counter, I made a decision to toss an old spice rack that’s been sitting empty for months, thanks to a pantry purge and reorganization during the last Whole Life Challenge. (BTW: Alphabetized spices are THE WAY TO GO! But then you already knew that.)

Then it hit me…

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“Could you please pass me the Robert Oster Motor Oil?”

If only I didn’t have to keep food in the pantry. Or do I?

 

 

 

It’s the Little Things

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Did I need another Lamy Safari? I did not. And yet I now have another Lamy Safari.

Despite what this sounds like—that I have no willpower when it comes to stationery purchases—I’ve actually been flexing my muscles of resistance quite regularly. Just lately I’ve taken a pass on Blackwing Volumes No. 10 (still available), Write Notepads extremely limited run of their “Fourth of July” pocket notebooks (sold out in a flash), a handful of small batch offerings from Karas Kustoms (some sold out, some still available), and the Graduate Hotels edition from Field Notes (which was a particularly tough one since I work at a college and love the academic vibe).

Rest assured, I’m no saint. I’ll soon be placing an order for Lemur Ink’s new Blackstone Lemur Lime and J. Herbin’s Kyanite du Népal. I do not need more ink and yet I’ll soon have two more bottles.

But back to that Lamy Safari. The red clip and red finial got me. Those seemingly small details are what, for me, flipped the switch from “I’ll (begrudgingly) pass” to instabuy.

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Like the Lamy Safaris, I certainly don’t need any more pencils but who can resist that Swiss cross on the red dipped Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencils? If you were here with me, you’d notice that I’m not raising my hand. I absolutely LOVE that detail.

So while I’m trying to be much more discerning in what I buy—by sitting on purchase decisions for a few days or longer, by trying to figure out exactly WHY I want the object of my desire, by looking at the stationery stash that already occupies a chunk of my dining room—there will be those items that speak to me. There will be a tiny detail that lights a little fire of happiness and makes me smile, even on a tough day. Who can say no to that?

Man’s best friend?

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There once was a dog named Flapjack, who never really grew into his ears.

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The better to hear you with!

Despite the ears, listening and behaving are not exactly Flapjack’s strong suit. He’s a stealthy little dog with his own agenda. The rules do not apply.

IMG_3037Because of this, Flapjack and his “brother” Charlie, are barricaded from the dining room where a lot of my pen/pencil/notebook collection lives. Things are mostly stored in boxes, but there’s an embarrassing level of disarray. I have great plans. And I try. Then I lose steam and go read a book instead. I really hesitate to share, but what the hell…

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There is clearly work to be done. [Massive understatement]

Last evening we couldn’t find Flapjack, and quickly realized that he was barricaded INSIDE the dining room. The room was dark, but Fred yelled, “HE’S GOT A PEN!” Well, *&$#!! Flapjack initially evaded me by scampering around under the dining room table and staying just out of reach. I headed him off on one of his passes and found that he DIDN’T have a pen in his mouth, but this was not cause for celebration. Nope, not a pen, but he DID HAVE a BOTTLE OF INK!!! Brad Dowdy’s “Fire On Fire” Robert Oster ink—a plastic bottle of BRIGHT ORANGE INK clamped between those surprisingly strong Silky Terrier jaws!!

Cardiac arrest.

He was not in the mood to give up his “chew toy.” Despite those big ears, our yelling had zero effect, except to convince him that this was a real prize—something he should definitely hang onto. He clamped down harder and let out a low growl.

Dog for sale. Cheap.

Plan B: A bribe of plain old dog food convinced him to release his find.

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As you can see, the cap was chewed and damaged but remained intact, as did the plastic bottle.

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And…thank YOU, Robert Oster for chew-proof ink bottles and caps! This could have been a very different–and very orange–story.