An Update

Spinal tap

About two weeks ago, I finally had the spinal tap that I’ve been working like crazy to get scheduled. (Yes, not only do you have to have a dreaded medical thing, but you must beg to get it scheduled!) Surprisingly, the procedure was not bad at all, thanks to a super nice and skilled doctor. She did such a superb and painless job that I sent her a note thanking her for being a bright spot in an emotional and lengthy process.

The results came in last week and finally confirmed what I pretty much already knew…it’s MS.

I’ll see my doctor at the end of September to discuss the laundry list of questions I’m compiling (on DotDash 3×5 cards!) about my results and his recommended treatment. I’m also planning to attack this nutritionally, with the help of information passed along by friends who are dealing with their own auto-immune issues. So begins Phase II of this thing.

Vespa scooters

It’s been a long, weird summer, and yet so much is still the same. Despite legs that feel a little odd, I’m working hard, walking as much as possible, starting Tai Chi again this week, and beginning another round of the Whole Life Challenge in a few weeks. Friends and family buoy me up, make me laugh, and keep me distracted. Fred and I have been riding our scooters and are planning to spend Saturday at the state fair. Totally normal stuff.

So this is my thing to deal with and figure out. You may have your own thing. And if (or when) you do, I encourage you to focus on the words that Leigh Reyes happened to send to me as part of an auction package I won during her “Pens for Aid” fundraising project almost two years ago. Who knows why Leigh chose these particular words to send my way in 2013, but she did. And they help. Every day.

You are Stronger...

“You are stronger than you can imagine.”

Turns out, maybe I am. And you are, too.

Stationery Souvenirs

The Queen Mary

In late July/early August, I traveled to Long Beach, California for a conference of science stockroom managers. We stayed aboard the Queen Mary, a very cool venue. Whenever I travel, the urge to pick up souvenirs hits me hard. But really, do I need another t-shirt? The dresser drawers that I just sorted and purged would say “no.”

Souvenir pencils

You could also argue that I am not wanting for pencils either, but lately they’re my souvenir of choice. Easy to store, cheap, and usable—what’s not to love about a pencil? And so far, I don’t have drawers full of them, though I suppose that remains a possibility.

The ship’s gift shop carried some “Queen Mary” nautically themed pencils (the bottom four in the above photo) for $0.69 a pop, so those are the first ones I picked up on this trip. A good start.

The Getty Villa

Later in the week, we visited the Getty Villa in Malibu. A friend and I toured the gardens and galleries, then made a beeline for the gift shop. My pencil quest continued!

Getty Villa Souvenirs

Oooooo…quite the score there! I walked away with three matte black “motto” pencils, a very cool woodless pencil, as well as a Getty branded eraser, all for under $10.

Motto pencils

The black ferrules and erasers make these particularly appealing. Haven’t written with them yet, but let’s face it, I bought these for looks. And the sayings.

Woodless pencil

The woodless pencil cost a mere $2.50, lays down a smooth HB(ish) line, and has excellent point retention. It’s hefty and smooth feeling in hand, really unusual as far as pencils go. I was kicking myself for not picking up a few more, but a little research led me to believe that they’re branded Koh-I-Nor woodless pencils, available on Amazon for a price that’s considerably less than airfare to Malibu.

Woodless pencil

That looks cool, right?

Mood pencil

I also picked up an orange pencil at the Getty because…well…ORANGE. Once home, I discovered that the pencil does a trick. When you hold it in your hand, it does this…

Mood pencil


Meanwhile, back at the hotel gift shop there were more stationery treasures to be coveted. And purchased.

Pencil Set

Cavallini pencils.

Pencil set

And stickers.

Vintage stickers

Vintage stickers

And postcards.

Cavallini postcards


Stationery souvenirs are inexpensive, functional, easy to pack, AND if you use them (as you should!), eventually they go away. For the price of yet another t-shirt, you can bring home a nice bag of loot for your home and office.

Motto pencils

Seize the day. And the stationery.

A Full Heart: The 2015 DC Pen Show

Filling my Edison Collier

The night before heading from upstate NY to Tysons Corner, VA for the DC Pen Show, I filled a number of favorite pens, including this Edison Collier in Persimmon Swirl. If a mood could be described by a pen and ink combination, this is the surely the one that I’d choose to illustrate my emotions. Oh, I felt bright and happy and my head was swirling with plans and pens for the days to come. I was in a very fuyu-gaki state of mind!


My pen pal, Paul Joynes of Gorgeous.INK, picked me up on Wednesday 8/12, on his way through from Ontario. Without Paul’s generous offer of a ride, I wouldn’t have made it to this year’s show, so I’m ever so grateful for his kindness and driving endurance. How he managed 13+ hours of driving in one day is beyond me. I handled the navigation, which went quite well, with only a hiccup or two. We talked about pens and plans and good ol’ life stuff the entire way. That travel day was a long but good one. We were on a quest! Fatigue be damned!

Trader pass and iced coffee

By Thursday morning, I was rested (enough) and ready to get to the good stuff. Armed with my Weekend Trader pass ($45 and well worth it), and some cobbled together iced coffee (Starbucks Via Instant Iced Coffee purchased from the WalMart next door), I browsed through the mostly vintage offerings of the vendors assembled in the hotel’s lobby. Thursday is a quiet day pen-wise—a tiny preview of the days to come. It’s a popular day to get to the show, as evidenced by the number of attendees and friends streaming in throughout the day. Though I spent some time checking out what the vendors had to offer, and ogling Sarj Minhas’s amazing selection of gorgeous vintage pens, I held onto my money that day. Just looking was fun, and there was still plenty of time for serious shopping.

Ink testing table

I spent of chunk of time on this leisurely Thursday at the famous (infamous?) ink testing table, also in the hotel’s lobby. I’ve never been to the show this early before, so I’ve never experienced this table before the inks have become jumbled and somewhat “muddy.” On Thursday, a couple of woman were doing their best to organize the inks, while also removing and systematically storing the caps. Why remove the caps? To prevent theft. Apparently full ink bottles have been known to disappear. Sheesh.

Iroshizuku Mini Bottles

These adorable mini Iroshizuku bottles were fun to sample as the colors were still uncontaminated at this point in the show. The striking glass bottles hold 15 mL of ink and are as cute as kittens.


I also spent Thursday taking plenty of walks. After Wednesday’s long day of travel, my legs were begging for exercise. Though the hotel is situated in what’s essentially a business park, there’s a townhouse development behind the hotel that gave me a good place to stretch my legs and get my daily step count up to an almost acceptable level. Tucked back in amongst the Ashgrove townhouses are a few historic buildings, including this smokehouse. Hotels are fun places, but it’s also a relief to get out of the air conditioning every once and awhile.

Jonathan Brook's Charleston pen in Combustion acrylic

Thursday evening, while hanging out in the bar area with old and new friends (SO FUN!), I was introduced to Jonathon Brooks of The Carolina Pen Company, and his case of handmade pens. (Thank, you, Michelle, the enabler!) As I learned, not only does Jonathon make pens, but he also makes the material that he uses to make the pens. Though not attending the show as an official vendor, Jonathon set up a makeshift “shop” in the bar and settled in installing nibs and tuning pens amongst the conversation, laughter, and cocktails. I latched onto one of his Charleston pens, made from his Combustion acrylic, and it was love at first sight. Yes, my pen purchase was made in a bar. And THAT’S the fun of pen shows…serendipitous connections lead to some of the best times. You can’t plan this stuff, which is a great lesson for the obsessive list-making person that I am. Life can be really cool when you just let it happen.

Thursday night was a blast. Even without a single drink, I made friends with friends of friends, met a number of folks who I knew through Twitter and Instagram, and talked and laughed until exhaustion struck once again. God, that felt good, especially for this social weirdo. Without exception, the pen people I met were (are!) kind, friendly, funny, and helpful. I’d found my tribe.

Franklin-Christoph Pocket 66 Prototype

As Friday morning dawned, a small and well-caffeinated clutch of us descended on the Franklin-Christoph tables to scope out the trays of prototype pens we’d gotten wind of the night before. Though the scene could’ve gotten ugly, like a bad Black Friday scenario, it actually played out like a well choreographed ballet, with patience and politeness as we all reached for our favorites. I came away with the Franklin-Christoph Pocket 66 in what I consider to be a stunning material (name unknown). I chose the Mike Masuyama medium stub nib, and had it ever so finely tuned by Scott Franklin. What a great experience with a company that clearly wants its customers to walk away completely happy.

Friday is the perfect day for shopping. Vendors are fresh and ready, customers are plentiful but not out in overwhelming numbers. There’s plenty of time and space to chat with other shoppers and vendors. There’s great energy, and SO MANY PENS. As shoppers, we encouraged and enabled each other, compared purchases, conversed, took breaks, and browsed throughout the day. It was a great day spent with so many like-minded friends. Friday truly is the best day of the show.

Franklin-Christoph Model 20 in Red Tiger

I knew I wanted to pick up a third pen, and circled both ballrooms and the lobby on my quest. Eventually, I noticed that I kept winding up back at the Franklin-Christoph display, my eyes always honing in on their Model 20 Marietta in the Red Tiger material. After repeating this loop a number of times, it became obvious that this was the pen my eyes and heart (and wallet) wanted. It has a very smooth medium nib, and Scott Franklin filled the converter with their Black Cherry ink so I was quickly good to go.

Friday was an earlier night. After dinner out with my friend Tracy, and my new friends, Karen and Sam, we spent a little time in the bar where pens and ink and paper are sprawled out for all to enjoy. I started getting punchy and silly and decided it’d be best to get some rest. Once back in my room, I unwound by trying out the day’s purchases and fell asleep very content with my choices.

The main balloon, on Saturday

On Saturday, the crowds arrive. And I do mean CROWDS. Lines snaked throughout the hotel lobby and looked depressingly long. Despite appearances, the line moved quicker than you’d think. (As the holder of the $45 Weekend Trader Pass, you can bypass all the lines, get in on Friday, and get in early on Saturday and Sunday. It really is worth the money, if you’re in town for the whole show.) Because I wasn’t really planning on picking up much else, I milled around for the fun of it until the crush of people became too much.

Bungbox ladies

The women from Bungbox were doing a brisk business in ink, pens, and cute paper products. I was pleased to snag the very last bottle of a particular Bungbox color that a pen pal had requested. I also picked up a couple of Franklin-Christoph inks and two Waterman converters before I decided to call it quits shopping-wise.

Tim Wasem getting the Masuyama treatment

Johnny Gamber and Tim Wasem from The Erasable Podcast made it to the show by lunchtime, and Tim was able to immediately get some nib work done by Mike Masuyama, thanks to a bit of teamwork by his friend, Joe Lebo. (If you want some nib work done, but can’t get to show early, have a friend who’s already there get you onto the list of a nibmeister, like Joe did for Tim.) After that, Joe, Tim, Johnny, Cody Williams, and I grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant where we could sit outside and yak. That’s another cool thing…plans are very fluid. There’s always someone to hang out with and someone to eat with. And remember, I’m a social midget, but had no problem finding folks who were willing to let me hang out with them.

Saturday night was another “bar night” and I have to wonder what the hotel staff think about this invasion of pen people. It really is an amazing sight to see so much passion and enthusiasm and love shared among so many people—people from all over the country and the world, people who hadn’t met in real life until a few days ago but are now fast friends. There’s beer and cocktails, pens and paper and ink, laughter and heartfelt conversations. This is a very unique community.

I did a lousy job of capturing the nighttime gatherings in pictures. I guess I didn’t want to break what felt, to me, like a magical spell. I did my best to stay in the moment, and what great moments there were. I was finally able to thank Brad in person for the amazing gift of my Nakaya. I shared stories and hugs, all while trying the pens being passed around. I’m not normally a crier (unless a dog dies in a movie), but as I said goodbye at the end of the night, I surprised myself by getting choked up. Once you find your people, it’s hard to let them go.

Sunday meant getting ready for the long trip home. My suitcase was packed a little tighter than when I arrived, but what was really overflowing was my heart. The pens are great, but pen people? It’s not hyperbole to say that they’re the best.

The absolute best.


Thanks to everyone who said hi, let me share a meal with them, passed along unexpected little gifts, enabled pen purchases, and made me laugh. I had a blast, and sure do hope to get back next year.

If you’re on Instagram, check out #dcpenshow for LOADS of photos, including the nightly meet ups.

Here are a few excellent posts about the show from other attendees:
Paul Joynes of Gorgeous.INK
DC Pen Show 2015-Thursday
DC Pen Show-Friday & Saturday

Joe Crace of The Gentleman Stationer
D.C. Pen Show: Thursday and Friday Recap
D.C. Pen Show Insanity: The Saturday and Sunday Recap!

Todd of That One Pen
Washington DC Pen Show 2015

A few CRITICAL tips for the DC Pen Show. Trust me.

I’m heading to the DC Pen Show tomorrow and am so jazzed up I can’t concentrate on work or life and am having nightly pen show dreams. Weird ones, but still.

As I prep for the show (Oh, I have to pack clothes?? Just pens won’t do??), I wanted to pass along a lesson and a tip. You may recall my Akkerman ink debacle from last year’s show. If not, take a few minutes and refresh yourself HERE. This year I’ve made a few changes to my “procedures” and thought it might be worthwhile to pass them along. Nothing earth-shattering, but maybe they’ll save you some sorrow.

Akkerman #18 and #24

I have a packing list in Evernote, complete with checkboxes, that I use for trips. I move the “master” packing list into the Evernote folder for that particular trip, then customize it by adding and subtracting items as applicable to the location and event. (e.g., There will be NO pantyhose or dress shoes taken on this trip.)

This list works great to make sure I don’t leave home without everything vital to my well-being and happiness. That part usually goes off without a hitch. (Jinx!)

To make sure that the same is true for my RETURN trip (this is where things can derail for me), I’ve instituted a “dual checkbox” policy on my packing list. One checkbox for home to venue, and the SECOND ONE for venue to home. Now I can take a quick inventory BEFORE I LEAVE THE HOTEL (yes, I’m yelling) to make sure nothing is missing.

And because of last year’s Akkerman thing (shudder), I’m also making myself log pen show PURCHASES on my list so that I can VERIFY that they’ve been packed and haven’t been left in a safe, or in the back of the closet, or in a dresser drawer. Or right next to a very obvious chair, which is where I think I left my ink.

To recap:
1) Use a packing list to make sure you don’t leave home without your essential and favorite stuff;
2) Add a second set of checkboxes to your list so that you can take inventory when you pack up to return home;
3) Add pen show purchases to the list and account for those when you’re packing to head for home;
4) Sweep the room/drawers/closet/safe at least twice…maybe more…before you drive away.

Oooooo…one more thing…put contact info (a business card or a label) inside your valuable belongings (pen cases, camera cases, etc.). That way if an honest person finds your precious cargo, they can contact you to arrange for its return.

Thus endeth my pen show service announcement.

Oh, yeah…one final thing. If you’re at the show, please say “hi”! I look like this…

Sandy & Mary
I’m the blonde one. I may very well be making this expression as I agonize over pen purchase decisions.

Not helpful? Okay, this one should work better…

Mary and the Queen Mary
The Queen Mary and Mary

Taming the Chaos

I had a few cool little things to write about this week, but then got wrapped up in a project that’s been on my mind for a long time. I had a week off earlier this summer, and thought I’d tackle it then, but it seemed hard, other things popped up, and the days faded away without any progress. Maybe it’s because I’m headed to the DC Pen Show in a few days…who knows…but suddenly I’ve been overcome by the need to get my pens in order. Like, really in order.

Not that things were truly horrible. I did have them in display cases, Mike Dudek & Karas Kustoms holders, and zippered cases (mostly), but it was all pretty random, and when I wanted to use something, it took a little mental sweating to track it down. Time to up my game.

So I took the fountain pen list I’d generated in Evernote, tracked them all down and laid them out on my dining room floor—a room our dogs can’t enter because it’s gated.

Grouped by brand

My old list needed revision so I used it to create a table—a BIG table—in Evernote with columns for pen description (organized by brand and model), storage location, ink details (when applicable), as well as a field to check a box when the pen’s been reviewed. More fields may be added as I decide what other details I may want to add (like “in use” location), but it’s already a much better accounting of what I have and where it lives.

Then I took those pages and worked through them, placing the pens where it made sense—which sounds easier than it was. I like things to be symmetrical and in a certain order and blah, blah, blah. It’s not pretty when my OCD tendencies kick in. As I placed the pens, I marked the storage location on my worksheet. Let’s just say there was a lot of erasing and rearranging as I worked through the process. And I’m still not quite done. But almost.

Almost done

After placing and logging the fountain pens, I rearranged my ballpoints and rollerballs. I have a few more 48-pen cases on order (via ebay, they’re cheap and perfectly fine), as I plan to get my collection of Retro 51s arranged after I finish the the current project. And then MAYBE I’ll address my pencil situation.

Soooo…the cool things I’d planned to write about will have to wait. I had to tackle this while I was in the mood.

My brain is soooo relieved.

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.

My Waterman Harmonie: A Closer Look

I had a little fun with last week’s post that featured three of my newest (all used or new old stock) Waterman pens. This isn’t a brand that was on my radar until I picked up my first used Waterman, a Phileas, from The Gentleman Stationer. I’ve since acquired five more (two more Phileases, two Hemispheres, and one Harmonie) and they’re some of my favorite pens. Their looks don’t knock me out, but their nibs do. I haven’t met a bad one yet.

Waterman Harmonie

This particular one, the Harmonie, might be my favorite of the bunch. It’s a little unfair to review this pen because it’s been discontinued (a shame), as has the ink I’ve filled it with— Sailor Jentle Grenade (a shame x 1000), but I still feel the need to tell the tale of this pen. It’s one I write with every day, even if it’s just to jot down a few notes.

This Waterman Harmonie popped up on SBREBrown’s “For Sale” page awhile back, and though he noted that the nib wasn’t perfect— a bit of the plating had peeled away— I was interested. Great price. Discontinued pen. Cool looking lacquered finish. Those Waterman nibs. We had a brief and cordial email exchange, and the deal was sealed.

Waterman Harmonie

This was Stephen’s first university pen, and that also upped my interest in acquiring it. I’m a big fan of Stephen (AND Azizah) so owning a Doc Brown souvenir was the proverbial icing on the cake…or the tipping on the nib, I should say. Stephen and Azizah put a tremendous amount of work, heart, and passion into their pen review videos, blog posts, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter posts. I’ve learned so much from both of them, and consider them friends, though we’ve never met. Plainly put, I admire them which makes me admire this pen just a little bit more.

Waterman Harmonie

As I said, the nib is not cosmetically perfect but that doesn’t affect its performance in the least. There’s just something about this pen— the way it fits my hand, the quality of this wonderful medium nib— that improves my handwriting. Very little pressure is needed to lay down a solid, wet line. It’s just perfect in terms of flow and smoothness. Who cares if the plating isn’t perfect? Not me.

Waterman Harmonie branding

I do like the subtle checkered pattern on this lacquered pen. Branding is quiet and tasteful. The open clip, a Waterman trademark, and looks great on this pen. Even though I keep saying that I’m not wowed by the looks of my Waterman pens, I think this one is unique and quite attractive.

The section is narrow, which, I’m guessing is one of the reasons why Stephen was looking to sell off this pen, even though it held some fond memories for him. For my considerably smaller hand, it feels just fine.

Waterman Harmonie

Maybe Waterman isn’t one of the first pen brands to pop into your head when you think of affordable, great writing pens. (Of course there are expensive Watermans, but I haven’t found the need to explore that tier as yet.) Though many models have been discontinued, they’re worth a look if you stumble onto one for sale online from a trusted seller or vendor, or in person at a pen show.

Consider yourself warned—while at the DC Pen Show, I call dibs!


Here’s a link to Stephen’s video review of this very same pen—> Waterman Harmonie video