Dear Hobonichi Techo


When I met you in 2016, I wasn’t sure that you were my type, that I’d be able to commit. But here we are in 2018 and I’m more in love with you than ever. You’re where I share my secrets and the mundane details of my days. Always with me—a true companion—you inspire me to record the small joys found in ordinary days and are the keeper of the quotes that touch my heart.

If anything ever happened to you, I’d be lost. You mean that much to me.


You’re my journal, appointment book, to-do list, mood-lifter, and philosopher. You’re the archive of my simple and quiet life.

I love you—now and always.



Truth. The quote, not the pancakes. Well, maybe the pancakes.




Resolved: Use it up!


This is not one of those perfect Instagram photos where everything is perfectly curated and arranged. Maybe some folks live like that all the time (my goal!), but—true confession—things here are not that neat. Flat surfaces have a way of getting cluttered all on their own, and there are way too many books. I definitely have a case of too-much-stuff-itis.

Here’s a little (well, medium) basket of stationery reality that’s been tucked under my desk for awhile and rarely used. When I write letters, I use Tomoe River paper almost exclusively, so I’m not dipping into my collection of notecards and other papers like I should.

On a somewhat related note, while my early morning ritual of writing morning pages, meditating, and stretching is well-established and working (okay, thrown off a little bit by our new kittens, but still), the search for a similarly satisfying evening ritual has been elusive. I could just repeat what I do in the morning, but that seems lame, and takes more time than I typically have at the end of the day.

Resolved: 2018 will be the year I solve both of those problems.

I will send someone a note or card every single day of 2018. Yup, that’s the plan—to use a few minutes every evening to let someone know I’m thinking of them. If I’m short on time, the note may be a very brief one, but I expect that most days I’ll be able to pen a paragraph or two. I’ll find the time. I’ll make the time.

My friends and family are the glue that hold my life together. They make the tough times easier and the good times better. I should tell them that more often. In writing.



We’ll take periodic looks at this basket as the year progresses, okay?





New Additions: Edison & TWSBI

Christmas came a little early this year. New pens? Nope. Something better.


Formerly Abbott and Costello

Meet our newly adopted 10-week old brothers.

My last cat, Smokey Lonesome, died in late October at the age of fourteen. I’ve had a cat (or cats) almost continuously since 1980, so being catless felt very strange. But I didn’t want to rush into anything and figured that finding some new cats would be a good post-Christmas project. (December is such a hectic month, in case you haven’t noticed.)


Briefly caged for a photo-op. Note the ears of displeasure.

Then fate intervened. I had dinner with some high school friends last Saturday night and when the conversation turned to pets, I mentioned how I was thinking about getting a pair of kittens…eventually. That casual remark triggered the woman on my right to excitedly scroll through a local rescue’s photos until she found the first photo in this post. Little Abbott and Costello, bonded brothers rescued from a barn as tiny kittens, were up for adoption.


I called the rescue on Sunday, put in an application over the phone, and by Monday morning I’d been approved. Monday evening we brought our new little boys home. It all happened so fast that I had to do a lot of kitten name brainstorming very quickly. I thought about naming them after foods (Honey and Waffles), or Christmas movies (Ralphie and Flick, Clarence and George), OR fountain pens. After intense deliberation, Abbott and Costello became Edison and TWSBI. I think their names suit them, don’t you?  (TWSBI should confound the vets. A little pen/pet humor!)


A rare quiet moment.

Edison is the brains of the operation—the one who leads the way. TWSBI is more of a follower, up for adventure as long as Edison does it first. I can’t for the life of me get anything but a blurry photo of TWSBI, but what’s adorable is that he has little gray markings on his toes—like he dipped them in some Montblanc Oyster Gray ink.


Edison approves of the newly assembled cat tree.

They’re sweet little monkeys who clearly love each other, and they love us, too. The feeling is mutual.

Welcome home, Edison and TWSBI.




Follow-up: Jittery Scribblings Ink Tests

Remember this journal? The “very Mary” journal?


Back when I wrote my review, I admitted that I hadn’t written in the journal. Frankly, I love the cover so much that I didn’t really care how the paper performed. But a recent comment by a reader requested a follow-up report on this aspect of the “Jittery Scribblings” notebook. That’s a fair request, so here goes…


I hit the dot-grid, 120 gsm, off-white paper with some of the pens, inks, and pencils that I’ve been using lately. A range of nib sizes are represented, from an extra-fine steel nib in my Fisher of Pens Hydra to the wet 14K medium found at the other end of that same pen. You’ll note that the medium Architect-grind steel nib on my Fisher of Pens Ares, coupled with Montblanc’s Unicef Turquoise ink showed very little feathering, despite the broadness of that nib.


This is no Tomoe River Paper, but the paper handled most of my pen and ink combinations quite well, with very slight feathering seen mostly with wetter pens, like the Lamy Aion. The 14K medium nib on that Hydra fared the worst as you can see below.


But still, performance is not that bad, given the wetness of that nib. The paper works very well with gel and ballpoint inks, as well as pencil. No issues there.

The back of the same page reveals a slight amount of bleed through, again, mostly related to the broader/wetter nib and ink combinations like that 14K Hydra nib.


I’d grade this paper a B or B+ based on my limited tests. As I fully admit, I adore this notebook, as well as their other journal options. I’d buy it regardless, but am pleased with the quality, performance, smoothness of the paper. If you choose your nib and ink with a little thought, you won’t have an issue.

The “Jittery Scribblings” notebook is back in stock as of this writing…AND on a bit of a sale. There’s also, currently, free shipping site-wide on orders over $25. I have my eye on several items, not just the journals, as potential gifts. I love the off-beat humor and quirkiness of all of their offerings, and I think my off-beat and quirky friends will, too.


So that’s the “rest of the story.” Perfect timing, eh?

The Jittery Scribblings notebook was purchased with my own funds and there are no affiliate links in this post. I was not compensated in any way, nor was my arm twisted to write this follow-up post. In fact, The Frantic Meerkat would undoubtedly say, “Mary who?!”


Use Your Stash: A Book That Takes Its Time by Flow Magazine

I hang out at our local Barnes & Noble A LOT—at least one evening a week and two or three times on a weekend. Sometimes twice a day. I claim “my” table in the cafe, adjacent to the magazine shelves (and get irrationally annoyed if someone else is already sitting there), spread out a selection of inked fountain pens, and work on a letter. There’s enough activity to keep me interested, but not so much that I can’t concentrate (now that Thomas, the hyena-like barista, took a job elsewhere. Oh, happy day!)

I feel so at home there. Books, snacks, magazines, coffee (though I usually bring my own from home…shhhhhh). Heaven as I picture it.

Sometimes I take a break from letter writing and cookie eating to browse around the store. I gaze at the blank journals that I DO NOT NEED, check out the tables of sale books and new fiction, flip through cookbooks, and leaf through magazines. Flow magazine is one of my favorites. Flow is a Dutch publication for paper lovers, packed with activities, quotes, papers, stickers, and booklets. It’s a very hands-on magazine. It’s also quite pricey (about $28) so I always talk myself out of buying a copy, though I’m sure I’d love it.

Last week I was circling the store when my eyes fell on this display…


A book by Flow! Who knew there was such a thing?


I grabbed a copy, hurried back to my table and explored its pages and offerings. Like the magazine, the book is stuffed with things to think about and do. So many things to do. I love the subtitle, too—An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness. Right up my alley in so many ways.


The 218-page volume is about an inch and a half thick, bulging with projects and inspiration, things to think about, play with, and share. Here’s a small sample of what’s inside…


A section on slowing down and doing less, with it’s own little notebook.


A section on Mindful Analysis, and another notebook to fill out over the course of thirty days.


Good advice for tough situations.


Postcards to write and share.


A section on hand-lettering.


Perforated/tear-out cards for recording the special moments from your days.


A section for guided lists, with topics like “Things that give me energy” and “Habits I want to break.”


There’s so much content and so many activities in this one volume that I haven’t even scratched the surface, but you get the idea.

The back cover describes the book as “a mindfulness retreat between two covers,” and encourages us to “Move slowly and with intention through the pages, and discover that sweet place where life can be both thoughtful and playful.”

I often feel like I’m running through my days solely on reflexes and adrenaline. I bet you do, too. I also have a stash of pens, pencils, markers, and colored pencils that don’t get enough use. This book seems like the perfect prescription for both problems.

Let’s think and play and create. Let’s slow down.

Yes, let’s.


A Book That Takes Its Time retails for $27.50 US. I purchased my copy online (where it’s listed at $22), with my own funds, from Barnes & Noble, and saved a bit more by using my membership discount and a 20% off holiday coupon. So worth it! I was not compensated in any way for this review and am not affiliated with Barnes & Noble or Flow magazine.

Heading Off Hobonichi Heartache

Usually my cautionary tales (lost ink, spilled ink) are tales of woe, and a lesson for you to learn from my careless mistake. This time, I’m hoping to head off some heartache BEFORE I experience a catastrophe. Progress!


I started using a Hobonichi planner January 1st, 2016, and immediately bonded with the thing. It’s become the place where I record my appointments (always in pencil), jot down the good things from my day, and copy down quotes that capture an important thought or feeling. You’ll note that I also record our dinner, as prompted by the tiny fork and knife icons in the left hand margin. Every page is filled with the details from my day. By the end of 2016, I realized that this diminutive book held the story of my life, so of course I ordered another for 2017, and now a third for 2018. This is a habit that’s stuck.


There have been days where I’ve accidentally left my Hobonichi at work, and even though I know it’s there, I feel edgy until I walk in the next day and see it on my desk. I often flip back to read about a day, to see what some of the highlights were, what I was thinking, what I was inspired by, what I ate. To lose the precious volume that I’ve filled day by day by day would make me incredibly sad.


I carry a Tile on my work and car keys so they can be tracked down if I misplace them, but until recently, it hadn’t dawned on me to safeguard my Hobonichi the same way. The Tile website describes the device this way—”Our little Bluetooth tracker, paired with our intuitive app, makes it easy to find everything that matters.” Once paired with your keys or purse or, in my case, Hobonichi, you can activate the app to ring your lost item, track its last known location, and connect with the larger Tile community to find what you’ve misplaced. While not a perfect solution, having a Tile tied to your critical belongings makes it more likely that you’ll be able to find them when they’re misplaced, especially if it’s just in your own home or office. No more time consuming hunts through rooms and desks and piles of paper. Activate the app for your lost item and Tile plays a sound while also helping you hone in on its exact location. (For more details on how Tile works, check out this link.)


I recently purchased a Tile mixed 4-pack (two Tile Mates and two Tile Slims) and after connecting one of the Mates to to my keys and another to my dad’s cane, I had the two Slims left over. That’s when it occurred to me to slip a Tile Slim inside the pocket of my Hobonichi cover.


I may never need it, but boy do I feel better knowing it’s there. And my other Tile Slim will get tucked into my pen case when I head to Toronto for Scriptus. (At the DC Pen Show one year I recall a frantic search by someone who had misplaced a full case of pens somewhere in the hotel. I do not want that to ever be me.) Having a Tile in your pen case might help in the unthinkable situation where your pens are stolen, as happened to Dan Smith, especially in a metropolitan area where there’s bound to be a larger number of Tile users.

Hey, look at me…taking steps before a disaster happens! It’s like I’m an adult or something!

That feat only took 58 years.

I purchased all of the Tiles mentioned here with my own funds and have no affiliation with I was not compensated in any way for this post. I just wanted to share my idea. Hope this helps, or at least makes you think about protecting your important belongings.

Edited to add: As Ana Reinert noted in the comments, your Tile can also be used to find your cellphone as long as it’s nearby. Double-press the “Tile” button and your phone will play a tune so that you can figure out where you set it down. I don’t use this feature too often, but it’s good to know that it’s an option. Here’s a link to a more detailed explanation of this phone-finding feature.



New and Improved Mary: What Pens and the Pen Community Have Given Me


A few weekends ago, I attended my 40th high school reunion. Forty years?! In one way, that amount of time seems to have zipped by, but in another, high school feels like it happened many lifetimes ago. These are the kind of events that make you pause, take stock, and look at where you’re been versus where you are now.

As I did that kind of thinking—comparing high school Mary to 58-year old Mary—I realized how much my love of pens, and my involvement in the pen community, have formed who I am. How much they’ve been a factor in creating a new and improved Mary.

Pens have given me…

Community: High school wasn’t awful (except for gym class, and my nemesis, the uneven parallel bars), but I spent so much time feeling odd and uncomfortable. I had a few friends—some good friends—but always felt like I was on the fringe of the high school “scene.” Probably because I WAS on the fringe. Except for the brave few, high school didn’t seem like the best place to step out as an individual. I slunk through the halls, hunkered down with books, and kept a low profile. My personality was decidedly beige.

The spark of a love of pens ignited in junior high when I would save up and spend my lunch money on those awful 4-color Bics at the school’s bookstore. But surely this was just MY thing. It was certainly nothing that anyone else cared about, my 7th grade self thought.

Fast forward a handful of decades to the day I found Brad’s “The Pen Addict” blog, and suddenly I felt so much of that lingering weirdness lift off of my shoulders. I loved this thing and other people did, too. Hey, we can all be weird together! (Yeah, I know- I sound like Herbie from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: “Let’s be independent together!”) I felt like I’d found a home.

Ana and Brad

Something to write about: When we were assigned “compositions” in school, others groaned, while my heart did a little leap. I’ve always loved to write. I wrote poetry in college as a diversion from all of that science. But post-college, I wrote in fits and starts. Occasionally I’d take a writing class and come away pleased with what I produced for assignments, but once the pressure of a class was lifted, I’d stop.

I kicked around a few blog ideas, scribbled sparse entries into a journal, then tucked everything away. I couldn’t sustain a blog or a journal. I loved pens but wasn’t using them.

Once I found the pen community, all of that changed. I wrote my first “From the Pen Cup” blog post on January 1st, 2012, and have been writing ever since. My output has slowed a bit of late as family (hi, elderly parents!) and work/life obligations ramp up, but I’ll always be here, writing when I can.

Again, I have to credit Brad for leading the way. Who knew that writing about pens was a thing? Well, Brad did. And now there are so many people who inspire and delight me with their posts about pens, ink, art, paper, pencils, and handwriting. The pen world is rich, diverse, and welcoming. There’s room for everyone’s particular passion. We celebrate and lift each other up by reading and commenting and sharing.

At first I aspired to model my reviews on Brad’s example, but then realized that his voice was not my voice. That I had to tell my own stories. And that’s where my passion lies—in finding the story that a pen or stationary product tells, and telling it well. I love writing so I would do so even if I had zero readers, but I’m thrilled that people continue to show up. The fact that I can put my thoughts out there and have others enjoy what I write is a little miracle that I do not take for granted.


As for the sputtering journaling, that’s a thing of the past, too. Since June 2016, I’ve been journaling first thing almost every morning. About nothing and about everything. I fill pages and whole journals with ideas and thoughts and emotions. God, that feels good.


The inaugural GNYPIG meet-up

Something to talk about: I’m a card-carrying introvert. Though I’ll talk the ear off of a close friend, I tend to clam up around strangers. Attending pen shows and pen group meet-ups has gone a LONG way in helping me open up around people I’ve never met. Where there are pens, there are friends. We share one common love—the love of stationery—and that’s a force that’s stronger than introversion. In the pen show world, conversation is easy, laughter and genuine love flow. It’s really something to see and experience.

This “talking to strangers” skill has helped me in life outside of pen shows. I’m more likely to strike up a conversation with a total stranger—crack a joke, tell a story, offer some kind words. And you know what? I don’t die.


A not-so-great photo of great friends

A network of friends: Online pen friends often turn into real life friends, and those bonds go much deeper than pens. When we’re not together in person (which is most of the time), we write letters full of day-to-day news, send emails back and forth, and interact on social media. The friends I’ve met because of pens are, despite the geographical distance between us, very close and very important. I love and need you guys.

Brad's note

Support during a tough time: Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a shocking diagnosis knows how disorienting the experience is. It’s easy to spin off into a negative orbit, where your world suddenly seems full of worst case scenarios and dead ends. It’s easy to feel alone, even as life continues to swirl all around you. When I wrote about my MS diagnosis in 2015, I did so to get it out of my system, because, honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. After I wrote that post, I received so many good wishes, letters, cards, and heartfelt gifts—many from complete strangers—that my flagging spirit soared. Then that Nakaya, and Brad’s letter, arrived and I cried. In that moment I realized that I could face whatever I had to face because I was buoyed up by all of you. I’ll never forget your kindnesses, and how comforted they made me feel. Inspired by your generosity, I’ve also vowed to give back when and where I can, even if it’s a simple note to someone going through their own trial. I learned to never underestimate the power of the written word.


Inspiring words by Leigh Reyes

As for the MS, I’m doing well—exercising regularly with weights and even running a little—thanks to a friend/gym partner who pushes me in the best way possible. My latest MRI showed that my lesions are stable (and maybe even improving), and I feel good most of the time. I’m no longer plagued by the fear of what lies down the road, and in many ways, I’m stronger than I was before the diagnosis. Maybe this thing is it’s own gift.

Pens have been a constant throughout my 58 years, from those crappy 4-color Bics in junior high to the super-smooth Sailor 1911 Fresca I bought a few weeks ago. I love how they feel in my hand, how wet ink looks and sheens, how the jumble of thoughts in my head find order on the pages of my journal. I love pens for so many reasons, but mostly because they’ve brought me to you—the pen community.

At that high school reunion, one of my classmates noted that I seemed happier and more confident, and she’s right. I’m new, I’m improved, and much of that growth is because of you. You’ve given me friendship and support and a place to tell my stories.

For all of that, I thank you with my whole heart.