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.









These Are My People! The Mincing Mockingbird & The Frantic Meerkat

In the post about my trip to Chicago, I mentioned a journal that I did not buy. Remember this?


Even though I DO NOT NEED IT, I began to regret passing it up. It’s just so perfect.

Soon after I published that post, reader “Lipgloss & Wellies” commented with a link to The Mincing Mockingbird , the creator of this exact journal. So I had to explore.

Yup, there it was, and at a better price than in the Art Institute’s gift shop. So I ordered two (“Two is one and one is none.”), another cleverly titled journal, and some ridiculously wonderful pencils.


Truth be told, I could’ve spent my entire paycheck on their site.

Matt Adrian and Kim Bagwell are the married artists behind The Mincing Mockingbird & The Frantic Meerkat. As the “About” page on their site states, they’ve been “full-time purveyors of ridiculous, humorous and beautiful provisions since 2008.” Matt is the mockingbird and Kim is the meerkat.

These are my people. Or maybe I should say, these are my animals.

Anyone who comes up with the likes of the “Jittery Scribblings…” journal finds an instant place in my heart.

I also picked this up, to stash away for a gift…


There are a slew of other oh-so perfect journal options on their site, along with cards, postcards, calendars, coasters, notepads, and mugs. Yeah, I kind of want it all.

Did you catch the imprints on the Troubled Birds pencils?



“I’d sell you to Satan for one corn chip.” “I’m three ounces of whoop-ass.” Snarky. Hilarious. Smart. Had to have these.

Even the back of the box made me laugh out loud.


Those uses? THE BEST. “Writing?” HAH!

There was a slight glitch with my order. One of my Jittery Scribblings journals arrived a little banged up from its travels.


It wasn’t horrible, but I thought it best to let them know. So I dashed off an email with this picture and had a response within twenty minutes with an offer to replace the damaged journal. The replacement arrived a few days later in perfect condition. That’s exemplary customer service.


Both journals I purchased come with dot-grid paper, but there are other styles available as lined or blank journals (e.g., “Mostly Just Whining” and “Creative Ramblings of a Restless Mind”). Each 5″x7″ journal contains 120 pages of 120 gsm paper that reportedly “takes ink beautifully.” So how does the paper perform? Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t used mine yet. I also don’t care.

These are just too clever and funny to pass up. Well, too clever to pass up a second time.

I’m actually glad that I didn’t buy the journal in Chicago because then I wouldn’t have received that helpful comment from “Lipgloss & Wellies” leading me to The Mincing Mockingbird & The Frantic Meerkat website and their full array of products.

I’ve been poking around some more and and now I want this notepad and these postcards.

The world could surely use some humor and cleverness, and this site has giant helpings of both.

How could I not share?

Mary, your jittery introvert

You can see more of Matt’s artwork at and view Kim’s paintings at

Everything mentioned in this post was purchased with my own funds (with the exception of the replacement journal). I was not compensated for this review. Heck, they don’t even know about it. At the time of writing, I’m unable to locate a link for the “Jittery Scribblings…” journal on their site. Hopefully they’re just temporarily out of stock. I should’ve purchased ten. Or more.

Update: Ink testing has been performed and can be found in this follow-up post




The Raspberry Honey Limited Edition Confidant by Baron Fig

What do you get when you combine this…


with this…


and this?


The answer is THIS!


Baron Fig’s latest Limited Edition Confidant, Raspberry Honey, is one sweet package. Packed inside a whimsically illustrated box (they had me right there), you’ll find the raspberry burgundy hued Confidant, along with an inspiring story that’s part fable, part fairy tale, written and illustrated by artist Geoff Gouveia.

I was immediately enchanted by the color, the artwork, and the tale of hope, friendship, and perseverance.

Oh, and the debossed cover.


Yes, those are bees, which you may have guessed, figure heavily into this Confidant’s origin story.

What a cool detail.

Here’s where I make a confession. Well, two confessions, actually.

Confession #1: I own a few limited edition Confidants (Three-Legged Juggler, Work-Play, etc.) but have never written in one. They’re in my journal backlog, awaiting just the right purpose.

Confession #2: I couldn’t bring myself to write in this Raspberry Honey edition without having a plan. It’s too special to start marking up willy-nilly. (I’m aware that I have issues in this regard. Working on it.)

What to do, what to do?!

Then it dawned on me to do some writing samples in my standard edition Confidant (also unused) since the paper is the same as in this limited edition version.

So I tamped down my perfectionism and started trying out pencils…


and liquid inks…


and fountain pens…


and a few gel inks and ballpoints.


I was expecting some feathering or bleed-through with some of the wetter inks, but the performance of the paper thrilled me, and made me realize that I’ve got to start working through my Baron Fig stash. Perfectionism be damned.

The Raspberry Honey Confidant is the perfect place to record my own inspirational stories. A vow. I will do that.


Ink testing in the original Confidant. Because I have issues.

I love the dot-grid pages and the lack of feathering with my widest (1.1 mm stub) nibs. I was even able to see a bit of sheen with the Robert Oster Fire & Ice ink in my Edison Pearlette. There was no show-through at all with the inks and nibs I used for testing.

This Raspberry Honey limited edition comes with the same set of features you’ve come to expect from other Baron Fig Confidants.


Love the paper.

Love the cover.

Love the story.


I’m completely and utterly charmed.

This Raspberry Honey Limited Edition Confidant is available directly from Baron Fig ($20.00 for one; You save a few bucks by buying two or three). The notebook reviewed here was sent to me, by Baron Fig, for review purposes. I was not otherwise compensated and there are no affiliate links in this post. This post reflects my personal experiences with this latest Baron Fig offering.

Chicago Souvenirs


A couple of weeks ago, Fred and I took the Lakeshore Limited Amtrak train to Chicago for a few days of vacation. The train ride is a long one—about 13 hours going and 16 hours (because of delays) coming home. But it’s doable, and much cheaper than flying, so off we went.


Once we got settled in at the Palmer House (excellent hotel!!), we walked to the Willis Tower and purchased City Pass booklets which save you money on a number of attractions and give you access to the “fast lane” for getting into the more crowded venues. In just three days, we stepped out into the dizzying Sky Deck at the Willis Tower…


I’m not afraid of heights, but this was still a very weird sensation.

visited the Shedd Aquarium…


spent hours in the Art Institute of Chicago…


TILTED out over the city at the top of the John Hancock tower…


and went to a White Sox vs. NY Yankees game.

Our hotel was close to Millennium Park so we spent time there taking in the gardens and the public art, like Cloud Gate (“the Bean”) and this “Faces of Chicago” water fountain installation.


Water squirts out of this guy’s mouth every now and then. Mesmerizing.

We jammed a lot of stuff into three days and walked our heads off—about 10 miles per day. I actually lost weight on this vacation from all of the walking.

When I’m on vacation, I’m always on the lookout for souvenirs, but over the years that’s come to mean different things. With two dresser drawers stuffed with t-shirts, I really don’t need anymore, though it’s always tempting to add to that stash.

It will come as no surprise that I keep my eyes open for fun or interesting stationery-related items. Even though I have a whopping supply of pens, pencils, journals, ink, and paper at home, picking up a few new items while I’m in a different place feels okay. Why? Because these are things that you use and use up. So I did a little shopping.


Decent souvenir pencils were surprisingly hard to come by, but I finally found these in the gift shop at the top of the John Hancock Tower. They feature the name of the city, a Chicago-style hotdog, a tour boat ride, skyscrapers and Michigan Avenue in fun graphics and eye-catching colors. I picked up four for $2.00. (Otherwise, they were $0.99 each.)


Dick Blick was just a stone’s throw from our hotel so I had to explore ALL OF THE ART SUPPLIES there, even though I’m nothing more than a wannabe artist. Though I was tempted by so much—Rhodia and Leuchtturm notebooks, gel pens galore, colored pencils, notecards, and novelties, I purchased just a few simple items. These Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Graphite pencils were a “must buy.” I resisted the urge to buy the full-range of lead grades and picked up the two that I’m most likely to use for plain old writing and maybe a little sketching (still trying to get over my art fear). They feel really cool in hand and write beautifully. I also picked up an M+R brass bullet pencil sharpener, perfect for pocket carry. For under ten bucks, I came away with some interesting goodies that I’ll definitely use.


I’ve visited the Mont Blanc Boutique on Michigan Avenue in the past—to gawk at and handle the Limited Edition Jonathan Swift and Alfred Hitchcock fountain pens. This time I was on an ink quest. We walked block after city block to the Michigan Avenue location (with Fred mincing along in pain as his plantar fasciitis decided to flare up). I always feel like a sweaty under-dressed mess when I walk into the store, but despite this, have always been treated graciously by the salespeople. I took a quick glance at a few pens, but left with only the ink that I came for—Montblanc UNICEF 2017 Turquoise ink (50 mL, $39).


Are there are other turquoise inks that cost less? Of course. But it’s a color I enjoy and since I rarely get the chance to visit a Montblanc boutique, I decided to splurge a little.


Is this not perfect? (Art Institute of Chicago gift shop)

And then there’s the souvenir that I did not buy, though it tugged at my heart ever so strongly. God, I was tempted. It’s SO ME. But it was about $20 and I DO NOT NEED another journal (Fred kept reminding me of this) so I walked away. That was tough, and I may still try to track it down online. I probably should’ve just bought it. Ah, regrets.


So this is my little haul of Chicago souvenirs. All usable. All carefully selected. All easy to pack and transport.

And of course I kept the Palmer House disposable pen from our room.

You’d do the same, right?!






Prismatic Limited Edition Archer Pencils by Baron Fig


Deep thinking. Big ideas. Changing the world. Like Baron Fig, I’m for all of that. But some days (most days, honestly) I don’t have the time or energy to think big thoughts. You’ll usually find me stuck in the weeds, hunkered down, getting my work done. Am I making progress? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. If I’m changing the world, it’s inch by inch.


But still, I like good stuff.


And these are good stuff. I’m no pencil connoisseur. I can’t take a deep dive  into the details of the wood and the lead-grade and the clues the experts obtain by sniffing a pencil. Honestly, when I take a whiff of a pencil, I only smell elementary school. BUT, I know when a pencil makes me happy, and these do that.


Baron Fig’s packaging is, as always, eye-catching and functional, compact and colorful. The twelve pencils nest together perfectly, with virtually no wiggle room. It’s like a little pencil puzzle. The cardboard tube holds four pencils in each of the three colors—light blue, red, and yellow—all with a deep purple end dip.


What appeals to me is the simplicity of the Prismatics—the primary colors and printed prism graphics that remind me of the doodles I used to draw in school. Pyramid, cylindrical, and square prisms are featured on one side of each hex-shaped pencil. On the opposite side, you’ll find Baron Fig’s name printed in the same understated white. It’s all pretty subtle. And subtle feels just right.


I only sharpened one of the dozen—in my Classroom Friendly sharpener—and had no issues. The pencil sharpened cleanly, the core was centered, and the point sharp. As I said, I’m 98% pencil user and only 2% expert so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I’d judge the graphite to be a solid HB. On a scale from creamy to scratchy, I’d put this lead right in the middle. Pleasant, but not particularly memorable. It writes as a decent pencil should, with good line darkness, a little feedback, and impressive point retention. This is a well-balanced pencil in look, quality, and feel.


Life feels like it’s getting more and more complicated and hurried, so when a simple tool comes along that makes you slow down and smile, you take notice. The Baron Fig Prismatics may not transform me into a deep thinker, but they make me happy.

Happy is good.


The Limited Edition Prismatic Pencils are available directly from Baron Fig for $15/dozen.

The Prismatic pencils shown here were graciously sent to me by Baron Fig to facilitate this review. I was not otherwise compensated, and there are no affiliate links in this post. As always, this review represents my honest thoughts about, and experiences with, the provided product.