I wrote two pages in my Nanami Paper Seven Seas journal yesterday morning, as I always do. Then I took my 2.5 mile walk, as I always do. These two things are a combination that never fails to clear my head so that I go into the day (mostly) calm and focused. Except for yesterday. I felt edgy and agitated as I wrote and my mind ricocheted all over the place as I walked.
WHERE IS MY PEACE?—I yelled, internally, in a not-very-grounded way.
I flipped though my mental Rolodex looking for an answer. Was it Covid, pre-election jitters, sadness over not seeing my dad in his nursing home for eight months? While all those things are possible reasons for how I was feeling, they’ve all been true for months and I’m typically able to shake them long enough to write and walk and find that core of inner stillness.
That elusive, desired core.
Then it dawned on me. The pen I’d picked to write with was one that wrote finer and drier than I enjoy. I even cleaned it and swapped inks in the middle of my journal entry to see if that would help. It didn’t really, but I kept going. I had to press harder to see the wetness of the ink on the page, to catch a glimpse of that red sheen I so enjoy. I had to bear down harder with both my hand and my mind. The pen writes perfectly fine for jotting down notes or even writing a letter, but lacks that good wet effortless flow that journaling requires. My mind felt as tight and cramped as the pen’s stingy line. It choked and sputtered and started pinging around to all of its perceived grievances and difficulties. My mind. Not the pen.
Today I wrote with a broad wet nib and page after page of things to be grateful for flowed out of me. My walk was a bitterly cold one, but I found the inner warmth that I was longing for yesterday.
I’ve been working on establishing a meditation practice but I think it’s a little too soon to declare this endeavor a success or failure. Further practice is definitely needed. Despite floundering with meditation, I have cobbled together a morning routine that kicks my day off in a way that feels both calming and healthy. No matter what the day brings, this routine assures that I’ve had a a least a few hours that soothe my whirring brain.
Coffee first. The promise of a good hit of caffeine takes the sting out of that 4:30 am alarm.
Cold-brewed, black, and iced. Yum.
After 10 minutes of stretching (especially good for my still-healing shoulder), I fill up a couple of pages in my journal.
Then it’s time for a 2.5 mile walk which takes about 45 minutes. Right now I’m walking in the dark. It’s interesting to notice how much more attuned I am to sounds (a train whistle, the rustle of squirrels in the leaves) and smells (the strong scent of pine from a towering tree felled in a recent wind storm) than I am when I’m walking in daylight.
After a long, hot shower (that’s where I do my best thinking), it’s time for breakfast. I completely fell for the packaging of this hot cereal. A peaceful morning for a mere $6.99? That’s an offer I couldn’t refuse. Topped with a little oat milk and coconut sugar, it’s delicious, even if the peaceful morning it promises doesn’t always pan out.
Lately I’ve been working to break myself of the unhealthy habit of doom-scrolling through the news while I eat my breakfast and have turned to solving cryptoquip puzzles instead. Each puzzle provides you with a letter-substitution clue, then it’s your job to decipher the rest.
These decoding puzzles give my active mind something to chew on rather than worrying about what the day may bring, or mindlessly absorbing a host of negative headlines that wear me out before I’ve even finished my breakfast.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a handful of lessons from these simple puzzles—lessons as applicable to life as they are to solving a word puzzle.
Take a guess! Dive right in!
Look for patterns. Use your past experience.
Don’t be afraid to start over.
Resist the urge to cheat.
Finding the right answer is very satisfying.
When you’re grinding on a problem, walk away. The solution may very well appear after you come back to it with fresh eyes. (This happens soooo often.)
Something as basic as pencil on paper both activates and calms my mind so that I head out the door feeling ready for the day, not prematurely dragged down by it.
I used to stay in bed until the last minute, drink coffee loaded with cream and sugar, devour the news and Lucky Charms for breakfast, but none of that served my mind or body well.
I look forward to this well-honed morning routine as much as I look forward to crawling into a warm bed with a good book every night.
Simple practices. Simple food.
That’s my recipe for a calm morning. What’s yours?
I’d been eyeing pens on The Birmingham Pen Company site for at least a year before I made a purchase. I shouldn’t have waited that long.
It’s not hyperbole to say that I’ve been journaling with this pen every day since it arrived at the end of July.
Though they have some cool looking orange acrylics (my weakness), I decided to go in a different direction and instead picked a pen that matches my love of blue ink—the Sixth Avenue model in an acrylic they call Photon Torpedo. It’s swirly and interesting, with a little red amongst the light and dark blues. Though it doesn’t show up well in the above photo, there’s a bit of chatoyancy in the base acrylic. I always enjoy that deeply shimmery look.
<Taking a quick break. Be right back.>
JUST FOR YOU I went outside to take a few better photos.
Truth be told, I could not resist the name “Photon Torpedo.”
“The pen factory is humming.” -Dad
Birmingham Pen Company is a four-person family-run pen and ink maker based in Cranberry Township, PA, on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. As their website explains, brothers Nick and Josh started the company in their parents’ basement in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2018 that they began offering in-house made pens. Their dad is now the “chief pen machinist,” and their mom pitches in by doing some of the processing work and by contributing catchy product names. Maybe like “Photon Torpedo”?
I spent my first few years of elementary school in the Pittsburgh area (Mt. Lebanon) and have very fond memories of the neighborhood with its yellow brick streets, my first close friends, and fun times at school. I learned to ride a bike at in Mt. Lebanon and still remember the liberating feeling of FINALLY learning to balance on two wheels. I think my warm childhood memories of a Pittsburgh suburb factored into my decision to give this tiny pen company a try.
Their packaging is superb—distinctive and classy without being overdone. I ordered the pen and two bottle of ink, (The ink is shown above and below in the small boxes).
The two packages, featuring old-time maps of Pittsburgh, fit into a single sleeve.
The pen is packaged in the narrow “Writing Instrument” box, while the converter and a debossed Certificate of Authenticity arrive in the wider “Accoutrements” box. Receiving and unboxing a pen from the Birmingham Pen Co. is like opening the perfect gift from a special friend.
You care because it’s obvious that they care.
So far so good—cool pen name, interesting acrylic, well-designed packaging—but is all of that why I’m so addicted to this pen? Not exactly.
As great as all those things are, the reason I’ve picked this pen up every single day for weeks on end is the 0.8 mm #6 Nemosine stainless steel stub nib. It’s hard to explain how smooth and perfectly wet this nib is. For me, it’s the writing experience I look forward to every day when I sit down to write my morning pages at 4:45 am. Cold-brew coffee + this nib = happy Mary.
Not long after ordering and receiving my Sixth Avenue Photon Torpedo pen, a slightly/lightly used Sixth Avenue Ariel popped up on Instagram’s Virtual Pen Show for a very good price. I mulled it over for just a couple of minutes, then quickly DMed the seller. Basically an insta-buy.
This pen arrived with an EF nib that wrote well, but was much finer than my current tastes. To remedy this, I ordered a separate 0.6 mm Nemosine stub nib, also available from Birmingham, and swapped that in with only a little bit of difficulty (i.e., I did not impale myself as I feared I might). Another winner! Sometimes I journal a page or two with one of these pens, then a page or two with the other. They’re both fantastic.
If there’s one drawback with this small company, it’s that sometimes supply doesn’t keep up with demand. The models and acrylics available tend to ebb and flow, so not all pens are available at all times. This makes perfect sense given the fact that this is a mere four-person operation, with only two of the four working full-time. To stay abreast of their current offerings, follow the Birmingham Pen Company on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or sign up to be notified when the sold out pen you’re stalking is available on their website.
Birmingham Pen Company also manufactures and bottles their own house-made ink. I’m plowing through my bottle of Ice Rink while a bottle of Waterfront Dusk is waiting in the wings. I’m very intrigued by their new Twinkle inks and will be ordering a bottle or two of those very soon. But which ones? That’s the head scratcher.
It’s obvious that the family team at the Birmingham Pen Company cares as much about the customer experience as they do about the quality and value of their pens, inks, and accessories. That’s why my Birmingham Pen Company addiction is just getting started.