My Security Blanket: Traveling With Too Many Pens

I love the thought of going away. Seeing friends, having new experiences, taking in fresh scenery, enjoying a break from home and work routines. Finally a chance to exhale.

But travel itself, especially when flying, is fun and draining at the same time. The packing. The security rigamorole. Timing airplane bathroom breaks appropriately. Not losing any of your stuff. There’s always some point along the way where I kind of wish I was home. Just an inkling of homesickness creeps in along the way.

I miss my things–my husband (if he’s not with me, as on this current trip), our crazy pups, my own just-so pillows, a well-stocked refrigerator, ice on demand.

I swear, I have an easier time deciding what clothes to pack than picking out which pens to bring. I always miss the ones that aren’t with me. I stock my Nock Co. Brasstown with more pens than a sane person needs, then typically swap things in and out until zero hour. There’s so much mental chatter in my head about my pen selections that it makes me feel like I must be going off the deep end. But what a deep end it is!

Part of me wishes that I could embrace minimalism–pick ONE pen and use ONLY it for the entire trip. Maybe someday. Right now that thought gives me what is technically called the heebie jeebies.

So here I am in California, oh so far from home, with new and old pen favorites. For this trip (a conference), I brought along:

Pilot Metropolitan White Tiger fountain pen. Nice fine point for note taking. Replaceable should the unthinkable occur.

Karas Kustoms Two-Tone Retrakt outfitted with Pilot G2 0.5 mm black refill. Great pen in my favorite color.

Ti2 Techliner Red Alert and Orange Crush. The Red Alert is outfitted with a uni-ball Jetstream  0.7 mm black ballpoint refill while the Orange Crush holds a uni-ball Signo 207 0.7 mm gel refill…both excellent options.

Amy Grigg’s Apex Kickstarter pen with a Schneider Topball 850 rollerball refill. Great on the Levenger Circa Vivacious paper in my notebook. Smooth. Dark. Gorgeous wood.

Bigidesign’s Ti Post Raw Pen + Stylus
, also with the Schneider Topball 850 rollerball refill. Do I need to carry two pens with the same refill? Nope. I never said any of this was reasonable.

Retro 1951 Lift-Off with a Schimdt P8126 refill. It’s my newest Retro so why shouldn’t it travel with me to California?

I also have my Lamy Scribble tucked into the Hightower, should I need to do pencily things. I have not tired of this mechanical pencil. It’s a gem.

There’s no need to carry this many pens across the country. Technically I could survive with a few of the Bic Stic Queen Mary pens the hotel provides. But these pens and pencil (and pen case) make me feel secure. They’re unique, well-made, and reliable–comfortable to hold and top-notch performers. They remind me of the connections I have with the folks who make and sell them. We’ve exchanged everything from brief messages to emails to long letters. Pens aren’t just pens. They’re the people behind the pens.

And that feels like home.


This post was composed and photographed entirely with my iPhone, so excuse the lack of links (too cumbersome) and any formatting and lighting oddities. Fun fact– the photos were taken on the desk President Eisenhower used while aboard the Queen Mary. I’m sharing his suite with a friend. Pretty cool.

Knocking It Out Of the Park: Retro 51’s Homerun Tornado Rollerball

FIRST OF ALL (yes, I’m shouting), thank you for all of the love, support, prayers, good wishes, emails, and letters I received following last week’s post. They have buoyed me up and I’m in a much better place mentally. You’ve fired up my fighter attitude and I’m feeling much more like myself— maybe even a new and improved version, in spite of this medical challenge. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, but it’s great to feel “up” after a long(ish) spell of “down.” I have an appointment with a specialist on June 9th (navigating the medical world has been a lesson unto itself), and my symptoms seem to be diminishing a bit (shhhhh…don’t jinx it). I’m very, very grateful for all of the above.

Retro 51 Homerun Rollerball

This week I really WILL take a look at the Homerun Tornado by Retro 51 that I pictured at the beginning of last week’s post. As with all Retro 51 designs, it’s a cool pen, with fun details, and a reliably good rollerball writing experience. It’s almost summer. Let’s have fun, no matter what life throws at us.

Retro 51 Homerun Tornado Rollerball

Maybe my favorite feature is the baseball design at the end of the pen’s twist-mechanism. I’m no baseball fanatic, but I love this level of detail and whimsy. As always, the knurled mechanism twists smoothly to extend the rollerball refill’s writing tip. This is a solid beefy pen with a sense of fun.

Simulated stitching

The simulated stitching on the pen is raised ever so slightly, so that the pen barrel feels just a little bit like an actual baseball. Great choice to not just have the baseball-like graphic, but also the feel.

The Homerun Rollerball is limited to a run of 750 numbered pens. I happened to receive pen #009, by some stroke of luck. Cool number for a baseball pen!

Baseball folio

As I said, I’m really not a huge baseball fan but because we live less than an hour from Cooperstown, NY— which also happens to be my father’s hometown— we visit there often and are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. On a recent visit to their gift shop, my eyes fell on a baseball-themed folio that pairs perfectly with my Homerun pen. With our member’s discount, it came to about $9.00. Quite the deal.

Baseball-themed paper

The paper inside is well-intentioned in its baseballness, but, frankly, bothers me. The lines are perfectly spaced, but are too dark. The stitching graphic looks neat, but gets in my way. No worries, though. My all-time favorite Levenger Vivacious freeleaf Cross dots note pad fits like a glove (baseball glove?!) so a swap will definitely be made.

Vivacious Cross dot pad

Ahhhh…all better.

The included refill writes on the broad side, but I’m okay with that—especially on the Vivacious paper—so I may resist the urge to make my usual swap to the finer Schmidt P8126 refill. Sometimes I like a super smooth thick black line.

Pen #009

Retro 51 knocked this design out of the park, and you have done the same for me.

Let me simply say, “Thank you.”


Retro 51 Homerun

It’s been a weird week/month/year. Since the beginning of April, I’ve been experiencing strange and spreading numbness in my right leg and odd sensations (like walking on electrified sandpaper) in both feet. At first the sensations were faint and I blamed them on the fact that I’d lifted a number of 5-gallon cans of solvent at work. Heck, so did the doctor for awhile. But then the odd feelings intensified and really took root, and I pretty much knew something bigger was up.

I won’t go into all of the details, but let’s just say that the last five weeks have been filled with battles for appointments that weren’t two months away, fear and tears, more MRIs than seems safe, good news that turned out to be wrong (“It’s a pinched nerve in your back.”), and ultimately, a fairly sure diagnosis. Last Thursday I learned that it’s quite certain that I have MS.

I have to say that I sort of saw it coming as the days passed and symptoms stayed. But still, it’s a lot to take in.

I’m in the process of getting a referral to an out-of-town MS Clinic and I really can’t wait to get there so that I can finally feel like I’m taking action while, hopefully, beating back my symptoms a bit.

As I process this “new normal” (a hackneyed expression, but one that totally fits), I find myself thinking thoughts that are totally cliché and belong on bad bumper stickers. Stuff like:

  • The only moment we really have is RIGHT NOW. Don’t fret about the future. (God, I suck at this.)
  • Family and friends (and pets) are what’s most important. This becomes crystal clear very quickly.
  • All of that stuff you’re worrying about probably isn’t worth it. (I’m sure I’ll continue to do it, anyway.)
  • You have to take care of you.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff…or even the big stuff. Enjoy the sun, a walk, a movie, a letter, a book, lunch with a friend.

Like I said, trite stuff that I knew but didn’t really KNOW until now.

My biggest fear is that I’ll lose the ability to write. My pens and pen friends and letters and journaling (sporadic as it is) have become such a big part of my life—a place that I draw calmness and strength from—that I worry (see? I can’t stop) that MS will affect that.

BUT, my sister (who’s always been a positive-thinker), sent the following words to me, “Sometimes in life we are thrown a curve ball. Not realizing how strong we are, that “ball” can, and will, be knocked out of the f–ing park!”

Maybe it’s fitting that my Retro 51 “Homerun” Tornado arrived during all of this. Maybe it’s a sign.

You Had Me At Orange

My new orange pens

Turns out my pledge to hold off on buying pens doesn’t stand a chance when the pen world offers up a handful of reasonably priced orange pens. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

I wrote the rough draft of this review with my new CopperOrange Lamy AL-Star (medium nib), filled with the matching CopperOrange ink (cartridge). Lamy has, in my opinion, nailed it with this pen and ink combo. They match perfectly and this ink has quickly become one of my favorite oranges. It’s dark enough to be legible, but still pops with a nicely balanced brightness.

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

The pen almost looks like it’s lit from within—warm and bright but still easy on the eyes. The AL-Star is a pen you either love or hate, mostly because of the iconic contoured grip. I have no issues with the grip so picking up this pen in this color was a total no-brainer.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

I also “cracked” and ordered the orange TWSBI 580AL when I read that the color was being discontinued. (They manipulate me like a pen-buying puppet!) I chewed on my pledge, but again, this is an affordable pen and I’ve yet to have a bad TWSBI experience.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

The pen arrived in Saturday’s mail, but the weekend was such a blur that I haven’t gotten around to inking it yet. I stepped outside of my nib comfort zone by ordering a broad, and can’t wait to see how it writes. My current dilemma—what ink should I fill it with? One of my oranges? Or a nice bright blue? Why I belabor this, I’ll never know. It’s not like it’s a permanent decision.


I hear there’s a big basketball game on tonight, but I’ll be watching “The Voice,” then reading. So…not really a basketball fan, but the Limited Edition SWISH Big Shot Tornado Popper by Retro 51 reeled me in with top-notch details and orangey goodness.

Retro 51 SWISH

The pen is marked and textured like an actual basketball, features that classic Retro 51 knurling, and is finished with a very cool basketball graphic end cap. Though I don’t give a hoot if Wisconsin or Duke wins tonight, I do love using my SWISH pen with my usual “swapped in” Schmidt P8126 refill.

My new orange pens

So that pledge to pare down pen purchases has taken a little bit of a beating.

Lamy, TWSBI, and Retro 51—you had me at orange.


I purchased the Lamy AL-Star from Fontoplumo, the TWSBI 580AL directly from TWSBI, and the SWISH Retro 51 from Anderson Pens. I experienced excellent customer service from all three vendors. There are no affiliate links in this post. I just enjoy sharing good pens and good buying experiences with you.

Cool: Retro 1951’s Black Fade to Silver Tornado

On National Handwriting Day (January 23rd), I stumbled upon a Retro 1951 contest where a couple of prizes would be awarded for good handwriting while a few more would be randomly chosen. The prize? One of four one-of-a-kind Retro 51 Tornados, or the Goncalo (wooden) Tornado, AND a Retro 1951 t-shirt.

So of course, I entered. Using the Albert Tornado I had with me that day, I wrote out the required tag line:

“Life is too short to carry an Ugly Pen.”

Retro 51 Contest Entry

Winners were announced on January 26th and I…


My entry was picked for one of the handwriting prizes, and I was thrilled. (I’m still thrilled.)

After looking over the selection of Tornado prizes, I quickly chose the Black Fade to Silver with line cut barrel. The glow-in-the-dark owl/floral pen was a close second, but the Fade pen is more “me.”

Black Fade to Silver Tornado

This one-of-a-kind pen was produced by the factory, but never introduced into the Tornado line. Which seems a shame because it’s super cool. Featuring pitch black knurling and clip, the color of the barrel gradually fades into shiny silver. Toss in the line cut barrel, and you’ve got yourself one stunning, great feeling pen.

Pitch black knurling

It’s stealthy AND shiny— a very unique combination for a very original look.

Black Fade to Silver

The Black Fade to Silver Tornado is a pen that I think would do exceptionally well in the Tornado line-up (and the comments on my Instagram feed seem to back this up). Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

Other Tornado models

Retro 51 is a company that does so many things right. At a time when we’re hearing of more and more pen companies leaving the customer out of their business decisions, Retro 51 regularly engages their fans with contests and requests for ideas and feedback. By regularly introducing new designs (wallet draining designs), the offerings remain fresh—with something for just about anyone. Whether you want something simple, textured, wooden, humorous, or even glow-in-the-dark, there’s a model for you…or there will be in the near future. Much like the Field Notes Colors subscriptions, these are pens I can’t resist even though I have PLENTY. Maybe even PLENTY times 2.

A Tornado line-up

 The shape of the pen may stay the same, but no two pens look alike. In the handful of Tornados shown above, there’s superb variety— a simple lacquered Kiwi green Tornado, a glow-in-the dark Zag, the playful Space Invaders model, my prize pen, the gorgeous Monroe, the textured Franklin, and chalkboard-like Albert.


The Tornado’s knurling is a constant, as is the great writing experience. Whether you’re using the pen with the included rollerball refill, swapping in the slightly finer Schmidt P8126 rollerball refill or a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 ballpoint refill, you’ll find the writing experience to be dark and rich.

The pens are addictive—in build quality, in smoothness, and in looks. Oh, and in affordability, too.

Retro 1951 is a company that does things right—from maintaining high quality standards, to building great looking pens, while also actively and regularly engaging their fan base. Am I biased because I won a pen— a very cool pen? Probably, but I’ve been a fan for a long time, as evidenced by my sizable collection.

Black Fade to Silver Tornado

Life IS too short to carry an ugly pen, OR to deal with an ugly pen company.

With Retro 1951, you don’t have to worry about either. Cool pens. Cool company.

Which is why this t-shirt is so fitting.

Retro 51 t-shirt prize

Thank you, Retro 1951, for my prize, and for being…well…cool.

2014 Wrap-Up: The Feelings

Simple tree
Simple tree

I had planned to get a post up last week, but then I caught a cold (unexpected) and Christmas arrived (expected). One thing was fun, the other not so much. Slowly coming out of my sinus miseries and low-key Christmas celebrations to think about getting things back to normal. Well, normalish.

Baking cookies
Baking molasses cookies. Or as I call them, mole asses cookies.

I’m off from work for most of the week— just have to pop in on Friday for a little while— so every day feels like Saturday lately. Which is what I imagine heaven feels like.

Christmas colored Retro 51s
My festive Retro 51s

A couple of feelings routinely kick in this time of year, as one year ends and the other begins. The first is gratitude. Thanks for all of the good stuff and good people that I’ve encountered in the last year, much of it related to pens (and paper and ink and pencils) and the pen/pencil communities. These are the places where I feel most comfortable, where my introverted tendencies vanish, where I have a blast.

The Retrakt
Karas Kustoms Retrakt

Though not a complete list by any means, these are just some of the people and places who made 2014 a memorable year:

The Pen Addict with Brad and Myke (responsible for oh so many pen purchases and for an always entertaining commute)
The Erasable Podcast with Andy, Johnny, and Tim (Who would’ve thought I’d listen to a show about pencils? I do, and I love it.)
Anderson Pens (Oh, that chat! It’s like meeting with friends every time I tune in.)
SBREBrown & Gourmet Pens & the “I won’t be ignored” kitty (Great information with great humor. You guys rock.)

Pen, pencil, ink, notebook, and storage vendors
Anderson Pens
Dudek Modern Goods
Edison Pen Co.
Field Notes
The Goulet Pen Co.
Karas Kustoms
Nock Co.
Pen Chalet
The Pen Company
Retro 1951
Write Notepads & Co.

Thanks to some for supplying review items, to others for great customer service, and to all for great products and that extra-special personal touch.

My nib guy
Dan Smith @fpgeeks

Thanks for making less than stellar pens remarkable, quickly and affordably. Great work!

Tracy Lee

Thank you for understanding when I TAKE SO LONG TO REPLY. Your letters and cool envelopes are a source of delight in my mailbox. So glad we’re getting to know each other better while using our pens and inks.

Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers
I won’t name names because I’ll leave someone out then feel bad, but you all entertain and educate me, amuse and enlighten. This is the BEST community.

Best hotel
The Sheraton at Tysons Corner for returning my “left behind” Akkerman ink after the DC Pen Show. Amazing customer service. So grateful.

Pencils at the ready
Pencil line-up

The other feeling that kicks in this time of year is “fresh start.” Old year out, new year in. Time to purge, reorganize, and start with a blank(ish) slate. Fred and I regularly purge and straighten out our pantry during our break between Christmas and New Year’s. Annual ritual. Afterwards, we vow to use what we have on hand before adding more stuff to the cupboards.

Conklin Stylograph
Conklin Stylograph (to be reviewed)

In that same vein, I plan to make 2015 a year where I buckle down and USE my pens, pencils, papers, and inks— switching my focus from acquisition to using. When you have a Staples Printer Paper box full of empty notebooks, it might be time to stop buying notebooks and start writing in them. Like every day. Don’t get me wrong, I use my stuff but I need to REALLY use my stuff. There’s plenty here to be written in and written with, plenty to be reviewed, plenty to have fun with. Plenty.

Machined goodness
Machined favorites

So I’m closing out 2014 and starting 2015 feeling grateful and blessed. And you— all of you— are the reason.

Peace and good health to you all.

Write Notepads & Co.
Write Notepads & Co. loot

Jolly Good: The Retro 51 Tornado Touch

Many thanks to my friends at JetPens for sponsoring my purchase of the pen reviewed here. I was not compensated in any other way and this review describes my experiences and observations with the pen.

Standard Retro 51 Tornado vs Tornado Touch
Standard Retro 51 Tornado (the new “Flipper”) vs. the petite Tornado Touch

The Retro 51 Tornado Touch is both dapper and darling. It’s a teeny thing, but still packed full of Retro 51 goodness. At 4-3/8″, this isn’t a pen that you’ll want to use to write a novel, but for jotting down a grocery list, signing paperwork, or capturing on-the-fly notes, it’s ideal. Ideal AND classy.

This is a “honey, I shrunk the pen” version of the standard Retro 51 Tornado, with a couple of bonus features that add to its charm. The first is the “bowler hat” stylus on the end of the pen. As a kid, I used to religiously watch “Family Affair“— a sitcom that featured a British butler named Mr. French. Mr. French typically wore a suit and a bowler to run errands (as you do). Whenever I look at the Retro 51 Tornado Touch, I picture good old Mr. French, his smooth manners, and lovely accent.

Retro 51 Torndao Touch bowler hat and mustache

The stylus is not only stylish but works very well on both my iPad and iPhone. In fact, it’s one of my favorite styluses (stylii?). I rarely have to repeat a motion while typing or swiping through pages or dragging letters around on the Words With Friends board. Very responsive.

The second feature is not functional in the least but adds a splash of whimsical charm to this diminutive pen. A mustache. That’s right— the pen sports a tiny mustache, because why not?! The pen is available in three finishes— Lincoln Copper, Stainless, and Black (the one featured in this review). Though the copper version tugged at me, I ultimately chose the black version because it made the pen look like it was wearing a little suit. (And for some reason it was important to me that my pen be properly attired in formal wear.)

Ballpoint refill

The D1 refill that comes loaded in the pen is made by Schmidt and writes quite well for a ballpoint. What’s great, though, is that because the refill IS the D1 style/size, there are plenty of D1 refill options available should the included one not thrill you. I picked up some Uni-ball Jetstream D1 refills that I’m anxious to try when the the current one needs to be replaced. You can also swap in D1 gel refills, if that’s your favorite type of ink. There are plenty of ways to make the Retro 51 Tornado Touch your own, ink-wise.

Accessing the D1 refill
Accessing the D1 refill

Refill removed (refill extender still in place)

Swapping the refill is not super intuitive (I had to Google it) so here’s how that works. Grab the knurled section, just below the bowler stylus and give it a good yank until it pulls out of the body of the pen. Looking into the pen body, you’ll see the end of the refill assembly. Using a small Philips head screwdriver (or your Swiss Army knife), unscrew the refill housing until it can be pulled out of the pen. Pull the refill extender off of the D1 refill, and place it onto the new refill, then reverse the steps to install the assembly back in the pen. [Updated to add: Click HERE for a video that details the process.]

Refill extender removed from D1 refill

If there’s any downside to this pen, I’d say it’s the price. At $27 from JetPens, it costs a few dollars more than many of the standard size Tornado rollerballs. That said, the small premium buys you an awfully cute pen that successfully combines both novelty and panache. That’s a tricky combination, but Retro 51 pulls it off with ease.

The packaging is a scaled down version of the usual Tornado tube, and it’s as adorable as the pen inside.

Tornado Touch pen and packaging

The Retro 51 Tornado Touch is a cool little pen that oozes charm with its distinctive bowler and well-groomed mustache. It’s dapper, dashing, and debonair; both well-groomed and well-designed. If your everyday carry needs just a little more class, this is your pen. A very good writer with an excellent stylus and lots of D1 refill options, it’s another clever AND solid offering from the folks at Retro 51.

The Tornado Touch is, I can safely say, “jolly good.”