Thursday, December 27, 2012

Given, Received, Resolved - Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Sunlight on water

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas Day! Did you receive any pen/pencil/typewriter related gifts? Interesting books? Music? Fun toys?

In my case, I did a bit to spread the pencil revolution: gave my little nieces some Ticonderoga Noir pencils (they liked the sparkle) and some little notebooks for scribbling in, and I gave their mother a Classroom Friendly pencil sharpener. They homeschool and the girls are now at an age where they are starting to use pencils quite a bit, but all she had to sharpen them with was a poor quality hand-held sharpener or a knife: a sad state of affairs.

I didn't receive any reading or writing related gifts, but I did buy myself the Kindle editions of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy books just before Christmas (they're on sale for $1.99 now!), ordered a bunch more ink samples recently, and also used an Amazon gift card I got for Christmas toward a new fountain pen. Which brings me tidily to my New Year's resolutions. If I put them out there in public, maybe I'll be more likely to stick with them! We'll start off with:

1. As I have done several times before, I resolve not to make any pen/paper/ink purchases, at least not until I've used up a lot more of my current stash. I think thus far April is the longest I've managed to hold out, and that year I quite literally had dreams where I was buying Clairefontaine we'll see how this goes.

2. Practice mandolin/guitar at least fifteen minutes a day. This sounds like a pathetically small goal, but the reality is if I pick up one of the instruments at all, I usually end up playing and practicing a lot longer than fifteen minutes. If I set the bar low, I'm more likely to do the picking up part.

3. Reserve sweets for special occasions (holidays, some Sundays, sometimes when with friends). Because, even though I wouldn't necessarily say I have a serious sweet tooth, I have a tendency to go on x-treme ice cream benders and such, given free rein.

4. Exercise regularly--I've been spending an hour on the elliptical three nights a week, plus a long walk on the trail on the weekends. I'd like to keep that up, or the equivalent once it's no longer quite so dark out. My overall goal is to lose about a pound a month via diet and exercise, which would bring me close to my high school graduation weight by the end of the year...I'd be happy with half that, though.

5. (Because I am a natural slob in the extreme.) Leave the house a little tidier/more organized when I go to bed than it was when I got up. If I somehow actually reach a point where this is no longer possible (doubtful), then just always try to leave the house as tidy as it was when I got up.

6. Do a good deed per day--it can be something as small as a note of thanks to a friend, or saying a quick prayer for someone I see in passing. Really more about adjusting my mindset than a cut-and-dried numerical goal.

Summing everything up: this year I want to work on self-discipline and charity.

How about you?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Perils of Journaling

(And if I may state right up front: I have very mixed feelings about using "journal" as a verb...)

As mentioned in some previous posts, I've kept a journal or diary off and on since before I could write. Journals have been different things for me at different times. When I was little, they mostly tended to be one or two lines about what I saw as the most interesting or important event of the day, and maybe a countdown to the next big holiday.

As I grew up, my entries expanded somewhat. I wrote more detailed reports of my days, some days almost minute by minute as I carried my notebook with me into the woods or watched younger siblings play. Once in awhile I recorded my dreams of the future or indulged in a bit of complaining about dealing with one particular brother or another, but for the most part, these entries remained primarily factual and in-the-moment.

I think it was after I joined the military and moved overseas that my journals became introspective and personal. I was alone a lot, especially when I first arrived. It took me awhile to find my crowd: I've never been much for the club or the bar scene, and back then I was a bookish, rather sheltered and naive kid, completely overwhelmed by new information and new places and new people. My closest friends were my family, who were now in a time zone six hours away, and this was before any of us had so much as e-mail. Mom and I wrote letters back and forth, and a few friends wrote now and then...but it wasn't exactly the same as being able to talk at any time.

So, partly at Mom's suggestion, I started keeping a journal again, but this time, I told it everything. At first (and this may be a little hokey), I addressed my pages as letters to an imaginary person--it made it easier to bare my soul to a notebook. Eventually I did away with that, but continued to write down anything and everything: not just daily happenings, but all the feelings and fears I would have told Mom or a friend had they been there.

It's a habit I've kept up, off and on, ever since. The proportion of facts to contemplation and complaining has fluctuated somewhat, but it's almost always a part of what I write. Some of the time, I believe it's helpful: when my head is spinning out of control, writing down my thoughts can help me pinpoint exactly what it is that's bothering me, so I can work on it. But sometimes...?

I came across this brief article recently and found it interesting. It's more to do with journaling about broken relationships, but I would think applies to other subjects as well.

I think there's likely some truth in it. I mean...I don't know about you, but I tend to remember things when I write them down. It's one reason I take copious notes in meetings and classes: even if I never look at my notes again, I'm far more likely to remember the material covered if I wrote something down. Writing things down makes them stick in my head. In some senses, it may be that writing down very negative thoughts gives them a credence and weight they wouldn't otherwise have.

I don't think I could completely give up the occasional vent, but perhaps I could make a New Year's resolution to avoid using my journal as a means of turing my psyche into a punching bag. I get very frustrated with my failings at times, but it would be better to come up with positive actions to work toward moving past them (and write about these postive actions so I remember!) rather than dwelling on them ad nauseum. A spiritual director I once had used to stress always stating goals in a positive way: "Practice random acts of kindness," rather than "Avoid being such a cranky sourpuss." Heh..or something like that. In any case, I think there's a lot of wisdom to that approach to life.

What about you? What is keeping a journal to you? Is it a bare statement of facts? A record of special happenings, the activities and accomplishments of your children? Or (if you're willing to admit this out loud) do you ever find yourself wallowing in the darkest bits of your life? If so, do you think it helps or hinders?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Verdict: Blueline A9 - NOT Fountain Pen Friendly

Mini-review: I just finished off a Clairfontaine notebook I'd been using as a journal (in pencil, for those keeping score at home), and started in on a Blueline A9 I've had around awhile. In case anyone was wondering, the Blueline A9 notebook is very far from fountain pen friendly. Much feathering and bleeding.

For the record, that's the *back* of a page...mucho bleed-through! Yikes...

Considering the 30% recycled paper, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it's still disappointing: there's so much to like about this notebook otherwise. It's basically composition book sized (my favorite) with a nice hard cover and details I like a lot: stickers for labeling for archival purposes, and spaces on the pages for the date and page number. But...bleh.

I'll stick it out, but can only use one side of the page unless I use pencil or ballpoint.

Thus far the best bet for an inexpensive, fountain pen friendly journal still seems to be my el cheapo Made in Brazil Wal-Mart composition books...those work with almost anything. And they're about a quarter apiece at back to school time. I wish I'd bought a lot more back in the good old days when they didn't have floppy covers, but I guess you can't have everything.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I'm not doing NaNo this year, for a variety of reasons.  But this is the first time in a very, very long time I've not taken part, and I miss it.  I feel...itchy, somehow. It's like...some beautifully apt simile I would come up with if I wasn't completely lacking in words of any kind.  I want to write *something*.  I'd write at least a short story if I could.  But my words are all gone.

I miss most the physical act: scribbling away with a pen or pencil or banging on the typewriter and seeing and feeling the pages fill up.  But I got nothing.  I can't even seem to manage poems lately.  I have one single line rattling around in the hollow void of my noggin, but it doesn't tie to anything at all, AND it's about a sunset, which is terribly hackneyed as poetic subjects go.

I've tried free-writing, just writing anything and everything that pops into my head or writing about writing, and even that petered out.

And now I'm writing about writing about writing.  I make me cry.

At least there's turkey in my near future!  And I don't seem to be having the same issues with music.  So there's that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not Dead Yet: UJTU Late September 2012

I have sadly neglected the blogosphere as of late. I may well have missed any number of earth-shattering, life-changing, world-altering posts from some of you. One of these days maybe I'll find some time to catch up!

1. First off, this is rather marvelous. It's like a verbal banquet. I like words, too. Don't you?

2. I haven't been doing much writing. I have, however, been playing and listening to a great deal of music. Made it to quite a few local bluegrass festivals, some of which were mostly listening, some of which were mostly hanging out with friends and playing music. I saw this thingamabob at an old time festival in Centralia, WA in August, and tried stumblingly to describe it to friends...until it showed up at another festival in Rainier, WA a few weeks later and was able to capture photographic proof. It's half Ford Pinto (painted hearse-style) and half motorcycle. Fascinating.

It'd make for an interesting vehicle for a NaNoWriMo character, no?

The bluegrass season is over, but I'm still playing tenor banjo at the local Irish session, practicing mandolin whenever I can (working on various waltzes lately, mostly--waltzes go well with fall weather), and trying to get better at playing accompaniment/backup chords, which is something I struggle with. Not nearly as intuitive as picking up melodies.

3. Other things I've been up to: last weekend I made my first solo venture into canning, and made a batch of apple butter (partly using apples I got from a friend's trees, in return for which I'll barter them back some apple butter, which makes me feel all pioneerly and such). The making of the apple butter wasn't hard, but I was pretty terrified of the canning portion, based on all the dire warnings it is possible to find on-line and my own heightened ability to ponder Every Thing That Could Possibly Go Wrong. The jars must be filled full, or they won't seal, but not TOO full, or they'll explode when processing, and if you don't heat them long enough in the processing stage, the apple butter will become angry and toxic, stalk you while you are sleeping, and inject nerve gas into your bloodstream, whereupon you will die a horrible, painful death. Or something like that. But I did the best I could, and (wonder of wonders), they all appear to have sealed properly and they look kinda purty.

Only catch? After all that work, it seems a real shame to actually break the seal on one and eat the stuff...

4. As a final note, after a certain amount of soul-searching (and wallet pummeling), I believe I will be putting many of my typewriters up for sale. Much though I mourn a few of the ones that got away (mostly the Hermes 3000), I'm just not cut out to be a collector. The Lettera 31 will stick around, and I'll figure out a few others, but if you see any ads with my photos attached on isn't a photo thief. It's just me, having lost my mind.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Imagining a Perfect Space

Writing Space
A quick blueprint style sketch of my imaginary writing room, sketched on the back of an envelope, 'cause that's how I roll.

Strikethru recently started a discussion regarding what one might want in an ideal writing space. I'm a little late to the party, but I had to respond. I love this subject. I've spent many, many hours when I could be writing or otherwise gainfully employed browsing through flickr photos of writing desks and articles on how and where "real" writers like to write.

As for me, I think I'd like something a bit bigger than a shack or trailer. This may stem from either the fact that I've pretty much never had anything *but* cramped and cluttered quarters, or my general tendency toward claustrophobia. In any case, I'll take a slightly different stance. Here's what I'd like in my (fairly airy and spacious) writing room:

- Big windows or French doors, set away enough from the rest of the room that I can avoid glare and weird shadows, and with good blinds for those times when I want to close out the outside world. There would be a view--not necessarily a vista (though vistas are nice), but at least an ever-changing panorama of some sort. Not close to a street: people-watching is all well and good, but if I feel like they're watching me back, I can't concentrate. I'd rather have rolling fields or cow pastures or distant woods, or maybe a nice water view. Having something like bird feeders on a patio just outside would be good,too: something to watch more or less mindlessly. I do love a bird feeder. (I need to set up my hummingbird feeder again one of these days, come to think of it.)

- A ginormous heavy old table--like a farm table or board room table, preferably with plenty of character--for spreading out papers and such as I write by hand or typewriter or on the laptop with nothing else attached. In real life, I know such a table would almost instantly become and remain cluttered, but in my writing room dream, it is a beautifully open and inviting surface, always at the ready and picked up tidily after use. I'd probably also want some equally well-lived chairs to go with it.

- A place for an electric kettle and coffee and tea supplies, and a water supply for making such. Enough said. Also a mini fridge. Good call, Speegle.

- A decent speaker setup. Though to be honest, while I like the *idea* of writing to music, I don't really listen to it all that often when I'm really trying to get things done--I'm too easily distracted, even by wordless classical music. But sometimes, you *need* a little U2 or Holst or Merle Haggard or what-have-you to set the mood. It all depends. Gotta be ready. Having a place to keep a guitar or mandolin on a stand for noodling on while I'm thinking could be good, too.

- A big leather recliner with a blanket draped over the back: a good place to read, and comfortable enough for snoozing whilst contemplating, but not quite bed-like enough to encourage escape-by-napping. I'd also keep a lap desk by the side of it for times I felt like writing or computing there, and a cup o' pencils on the side table.

Actually, on second thought make that *two* pencil cups, one for sharps and one for dulls, with some sort of system for making it obvious which is which (green and red, maybe?), and add additional dual pencil cups around the room.

- An old medicine cabinet type thing with lots of interesting nooks and crannies for storing ink and pens and pencils and other assorted supplies. Actually, what'd be really cool (while I'm in complete fantasy mode here) would be a custom designed cabinet with bookshelves at the very top for reference books and binders and used notebooks, little bitty drawers for things like pen nibs and pencil leads, slightly bigger ones for index cards and pens and pencils, and a space at the bottom for storing unused notebooks and paper. Yeah. That wouldn't cost much to do, would it?

- A fairly barebones computer desk, with space for a nice big monitor and logical places for my scanner and printer and all. I'd also want enough room to set out notebooks or papers I was transcribing, or reference materials, but I'd guess I'd do most of my initial writing at the big ol' table.

- A cat. Cats make for good writing companions: sleeping cats have a nice dreamy aura about 'em to aid in creativity. I'm biased enough to believe this is particularly true of Siamese. And fortunately I have one on hand, with a spare half-Siamese as backup. Some dogs make good muses as current dog is, however, faulty in this regard, being as how he is sitting-still-for-more-than-moments-impaired.

So there you have it. No big surprises to those who've been following along for awhile, I don't think.

It's that big ol' table that most grips my imagination, for some reason. There's just something about a big ol' table. Maybe it's just the idea of having a writing surface that can be approached from all four sides? Or else it's the former homeschooler in me....

Sunday, August 05, 2012

A Matter of (Sentimental) Value

Pentel Twist-Erase

I had to go out of town for work a few weeks back--an extremely rare occurrence for me, which made it all the more stressful (read: I am a total wimp when it comes to leaving familiar ground). We went to Eastern Washington, which (generally unlike Western Washington) is quite hot during the summer. Knowing that there was a good possibility my belongings would be exposed to being left in a hot car, pencil made better sense than fountain pen to bring along for writing. I also knew I'd likely be wayyy too busy and on-the-go to mess around with sharpening, so mechanical pencil it was. Finally, I knew I'd be going to multiple sites, under major time constraints, so the chances of my leaving a pencil behind were pretty much guaranteed.

With all this factored in, I took along a purple Pentel Twist-Erase: rugged, dependable, well-equipped in the eraser department, and not too pricey or difficult to replace should the all-but-inevitable occur and it get permanently borrowed or left behind. I stuffed it full of leads, and off we went.

It had a pretty tough week: heavy and rough usage, and not just by me. Since I seemed to always be the one who always had a writing instrument at the ready, it got passed around a lot. People broke leads, it was dropped, tossed in linty purse pockets, and left (as predicted) in a car hot enough to do this to the gummy vitamins I foolishly toted along:

A few times I thought I'd lost it, or that someone had wandered off with it. But somehow, it came through it all without a hitch. We're still together. It got me through what was, to me, a very tense week, one little thing I could always depend on.

And I was just realizing I'm kind of nervous about taking it away from my desk, for fear I'll lose it. Because now it's special. We've adventured together, this little Twist-Erase and I. It's like the hero's horse in a quest: seems like now it deserves to be put out to pasture to live a life of luxury, lest something dreadful happen to such a well-loved and loyal servant.

OK, so that's all rather hokey. And I suspect I'll get over it sooner or later. Otherwise I could go broke buying inexpensive-ish mechanical pencils I'm afraid to take anywhere...

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Nice Notebook Dilemma

Unleashed potential
Some of the notebooks awaiting use

As has been well established within the pages of this blog, I am something of a notebook addict. I have scads of notebooks squirreled away: mostly cheap composition books, but also a second Rhodia Webnotebook (I used my first awhile back), an empty Moleskine, a hard bound Rite in the Rain notebook, a cloth-bound Clairefontaine, a Leuchtturm1917, and a hardcover Blueline, among others. Pretty much every time I finish a notebook, I take these nicer journals and notebooks off the shelf and finger them...and then ultimately put them back and grab one of the ubiquitous composition books.

It's not so much that I'm intimidated by them, I don't think. I've never been one to worry about ruining that first page with less-than-profound thoughts and messy handwriting. I think it's more that right now, they're mine as objects to be treasured (and gloated over). Once used, the notebooks themselves no longer matter--only the words inside matter. The notebooks fade into the background and become just another repository for my scribbles.

Journals and diaries>
Some past notebooks, which I wrote about here.

I have a strange mental block against letting them go. Which, I suppose, is something of a hoarder mentality, and probably not very healthy.

I think I shall resolve to live more openly (recklessly?) and to embrace what my hoarded goods may become, even if it means letting go of what they are now. What have I got to lose?

Except for those lovely empty notebooks...

Oh dear.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Type Tweet: Pet Peeved

Pet Peeved

Not to mention "its" from "it's" and "to" from "too" and (particularly onerous) "loose" from "lose." I'd also like to require remedial education for those who insist on putting random apostrophes in plural words: "kid's" instead of "kids," for example.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Index Card Lovers: See and Envy

I went to Goodwill today for the first time in forever. No typewriters (except the ubiquitous late '80s electric), but I did find this:

Index Card Cabinet

Now *that* is an index card cabinet. I don't exactly have enough cards to fill it yet, but really, for eight dollars, could I resist? Of course not.

Steelmaster's logo is pretty retro-cool! I'm not sure this is actually vintage, since Steelmaster still appears to be making filing cabinets, but the styling is classic.


And I particularly like these little spring-loaded slidey thingies. They allow for easy expansion.

Sliding index card divider

It stacks nicely, and will hold some of my smallish notebooks as well as index cards.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Favorite Eraser: Pentel Hi-Polymer


(Yes, seriously, a post about erasers).

NEWS FLASH: Pentel Hi-Polymer Erasers are TEH AWESOME.

1. When I first encountered the Mars Plastic Eraser a few years ago, it was a revelation. An eraser that actually...well, erased? And did so without leaving smeary crumbs like ye olde gritty pink erasers of yore? Whoa. There's a reason these are one of the benchmarks of eraserdom.

Since my eyes were opened to the possibilities, I've picked up a few other eraser varieties.

2. The Papermate Black Pearl (out sick the day the class photo was taken) is a great shape--if you use a sharp edge, you can get into pretty small spaces, but used lengthwise you can go to *town* with the thing. And being black, it doesn't acquire the of the white erasers. It does, however, produce more and messier residue than the Mars.

3. The Pentel Clic erasers get into small spaces and erase almost entirely--I think they're the same material as my new favorite eraser, actually. For things like math problems where you might need to erase one tiny character at a time, I imagine these'd be the way to go. Because they retract, they also can be kept pretty neat and clean--I keep one in my purse partly for this reason. But I like the solid, stolid simplicity of plain old block erasers, and (how shall I put this?) the way these sort of squish when you press down on them unnerves me.

4. Awhile back I picked up a Uni-ball "Boxy" eraser on a whim when placing a Jet Pens order, and this may be *the* primo eraser. Black, so it doesn't show graphite, and as you erase, the little shreds roll into a sticky little ball all by themselves, so they're very tidy. They also have that somewhat enigmatic little slogan: "The basic concept of Boxy always aims at a simple life style." Mmkay. Good to ponder. And, most importantly, wow they work well, even on dark and smeary pencil. They are, however, small, difficult to find, and rather expensive as erasers go. Also they are soft enough to damage by hard use if you aren't careful.

5. But the Pentel Hi-Polymer ZEH10 may be the Baby Bear's Chair of graphite erasers. Not only do they have a nifty '80s sort of style goin' on with the print on their little sleeve thingie, they're also large, long lasting, and work pretty much like the Boxy but are less easy to damage. As a bonus, they're available lots of places. I bought three of these bad boys for less than two bucks at Wal-Mart. I'm sold.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Type Tweet: A Brief Lesson in Driving Grammar

Driving Grammar

Without them, we can't quite be sure if you're starting or stopping or slowing down, or quite where you're going.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Our alphabet code, entered in a notebook when I was 12.

When I was a kid, back in the dark days before Encarta and Wikipedia and all that, we had a couple of sets of encyclopedias. They were great sources of knowledge, as well as interesting snapshots of a given period in time--one set dated from the 60s, another was slightly more recent, though still out of date, so the science items in particular were occasionally unintentionally comical. (You can imagine the example photos they had in the article about "Computer," for example...)

My brother John and I spent many a rainy day or winter evening with those books, either tracing themes from one volume to another, or just reading straight through. Sometimes I'd take a volume to bed with me and fall asleep reading about aardvarks and Albania and the Appalachian Trail. I also liked studying the very first page of those volumes, where they discussed the history of whatever-letter-it-was. most kids, we were also captivated by secret codes. Who wasn't? We came up with various forms of encryption, like the old standard of using a key word to come up with a 26 number alphabet code. Remember that? Basically, you'd pick a random word with no repeated letters, write that out, followed by the remaining letters of the alphabet, and write the numbers 1 through 26 by them. Unless the recipient knew the keyword, it was hard to figure out which numbers meant what.

Keyword Code

But like I said, I also found those historical predecessors to the current alphabet very interesting, and somewhere along the line, we hit upon the idea of using those to make a simple to use and intuitive "code" to use amongst ourselves. It was pretty easy to break, but easy to memorize and fun. Some letters had common predecessors or no very interesting variations, so we had to make up a few letter shapes, but most came straight from older forms. I kept journal entries in code some of the time back then, and even as an older teenager away from home used to write letters to my brother using these letters. Kinda fun.

Encoded - Journal Entry
I used to write portions of my journal entry in code, even if it wasn't really anything secretive...

What sort of codes have you played around with? What did you use them for, and with whom?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Type Tweet: Watch That Last Step

Type Tweet - Stairs

Only now I discover that true Tweets are actually limited to 140 characters *including* spaces...something I didn't know since I've never really done the true type of Twitter. I'll attempt further brevity in future.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 Pencil

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil

I have a number of well-liked pencil varieties...more than I should probably confess to. Many or most have been heavily reviewed elsewhere. So today...I want to stick in a plug for a pencil that's a bit of an underdog: the Musgrave Test Scoring 100, made right here in the US in Shelbyville, TN.

I'm only aware of a few reviews--here and here, for example. And I'll say up front, I'm not an experienced, competent reviewer like these folks. You should almost certainly trust their reviews (rather lukewarm or negative as they are) over mine. I take no responsibility for consequences stemming from my words here.

That said, I would like to go out on a limb and state another thing up front: I flippin' love these pencils.

I even love their appearance: that thin, somewhat chintzy silver-colored paint, for one. It warms the heart of anyone who has ever used silver spray paint to make cardboard robots or other such backyard crafts. It's so wonderfully tacky. And the unapologetically plain pink eraser and unpainted ferrule also tug at my heartstrings. The whole thing reminds me of some sort of homemade toy, which makes me smile. They're so ugly, they're adorable.

But it's a pencil: a writing instrument, first and foremost. How does it write?

Musgrave Test Scoring logo

As the little icony graphic surrounding the pencil's name illustrates, these pencils were designed to be used for filling in the little bubbles on multiple-choice tests: they are meant to make a good, solid, dark mark, easily read by those Scantron machines. And making dark marks is what they do. They are a little on the soft side, and slightly waxy. Some dark pencils can be a little powdery in feel, easily worn down and somewhat prone to crumbling. These are less so, and less prone to smearing as well, but if you look very closely at the dark writing, you can see a bit of texture to it. At a microscopic level, it may not cover the paper quite as thoroughly as the more powdery pencils.

Test Scoring writing sample
Hard to see from this scan, but it's actually somewhat darker than the Ticonderoga, but perhaps less sharp

Test Scoring Close-up, showing texture
Somewhat blurry close-up attempt to show the texture I'm referring to.

They do wear down a little faster than at least some HB pencils--they're more akin to 2B grade, I'd say--but aren't unreasonably fast-wearing. And I've had zero issues with lead breakage. Most importantly, I just plain love the way they feel on the page. They require very little pressure, and they are very smooth, yet...chewy. Chocolatey. I don't know quite how to put it. It's not the almost chalky smoothness of, say, a California Republic Palomino HB, but something slightly more substantial. It almost reminds me of the silky-yet-springy feel some mechanical pencil leads have, to my mind. Others have stated they found the lead scratchy, which makes me question my sanity...but what else is new? Another point in their favor: the leads have been perfectly centered in all I've sharpened so far--poorly centered leads being a serious pet peeve of mine. And the pencils sharpen easily and cleanly. I believe the wood is either cedar or basswood. They don't have a strong aroma.

Aside from the slight texture to the writing they produce, their other potential downside is the pointiness of the corners. Unlike vintage pencils, most pencils these days are actually semi-hexagonal rather than straight hexagonal: the corners are softly rounded off. Musgrave doesn't do this. These corners are straight cut. They aren't sharp, but they're definitely more cornered than your average modern pencil shape. This looks classy and makes them reassuringly grippy at first, but during long writing stints, you start to notice the edges, and not necessarily in a comfortable way. On the bright side, they will build up your writing callouses and help you feel like a serious old-school writer, if this is your dream.

Test Scoring Ferrule

The eraser is...your average rubbery eraser. It is no worse than most attached erasers: i.e. it will do in a pinch, but I vastly prefer my Papermate Black Pearls and Mars Plastic erasers. The ferrule is plain, unmarked metal.

From what I can determine, for standard consumers, these are most easily available via Pencil Things--either directly from their website at, or (in packs of three dozen) via their store on

Test Scoring Smear Test
Smear test--it does smear a tiny bit more easily than a standard Ticonderoga HB

And now, one of these days I need to get my hands on some Musgrave's HB pencils!

Sunday morning scribbling

Got up, went to church, had breakfast, now sipping good strong coffee (love my cheapie Melitta cone!) catching up on my journal, and working on a long-abandoned sci-fi story that got just a wee bit tangled up (read: the original plot got up and fled in protest).

Today's workhorses
Pencils. Plus coffee. Life is good.

Should work on the garden later, but waiting for warmth.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Blithering Re-entry

I planted some pretty flowers and they're not dead yet! See? Blithering, as promised!

For the last few months, I've felt like I've had nothing worth saying. Thus, I've primarily resorted to the site dedicated almost entirely to people with nothing much to say, and said a lot of nothing on Facebook. But lately, I've had so much nothing to say, I feel like saying nothing on a grander scale. So I'm back. Maybe. Kinda. Lucky you.

Aside from saying a lot of nothing, I continue to be obsessed with music. Along with playing with friends whenever possible, I'm still going to the Wednesday night Irish session at Tugboat Annie's in Olympia, WA most weeks, which is a blast. I'm still getting the tunes under my fingers, but have most of the most common tunes pretty well down, so long as we don't go to warp speed.

A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a tenor banjo.

My Alvarez Minstrel banjo, complete with groovy '70s orange fuzz lined case...

Tenor banjos differ from your average bluegrass or old time banjo in that they have just four strings (no short fifth string off to the side) and a shorter neck, and are played with a plectrum (or pick, if you prefer). For Irish music, tenor banjos are typically tuned GDAE: same as a mandolin or fiddle, but an octave lower, which means all the tunes translate over pretty much instantly, though the banjo has a much longer neck...quite an adjustment there!

It's also much louder than mandolin. This I like. I like a lot.

USA Gold plus dream scribble from journal

I'm also back in a pencil phase, after several months of pretty much not writing at all. Summer is a good time for carefree writing utensils! Currently-in-heavy-rotation pencils include the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 (I have a review for these I may post soon if I can get some satisfactory pictures taken) and a few varieties of USA Gold pencils. It's also almost that wonderful time of year: back-to-school sale season. Aren't you excited? Personally, I'm hoping for more 25 cent Norcom composition books, and maybe a chance to stock up on Papermate Black Pearl erasers.

As a final update, I remain utterly enamored of my Kindle Touch. I take back all the bad things I ever said about e-readers. I like the light weight, the flat "pages," the instant bookmarking--lots of little things I'm coming to take for granted. I'm also fortunate to live in an area with a good library system and access to about a zillion Kindle library books. Let me tell you, it's pretty awesome to be able to finish a library book at nine o'clock on a Saturday evening and be able to have a new library book in your hands in moments instead of waiting a long and miserable two days until you can get to the library after work on Monday.

OK, that makes me sound like a junky. But maybe I am, a bit.

Lately, I admit I've mostly been reading rather light fantasy/sci-fi novels (Tad Williams' Otherland series at the moment, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld books). Hey, it's summer, or as well as, though you'd be hard pressed to tell based on the current cold and blustery weather here in the Pacific Northwest. I do have some non-fiction and classics stacked up for later reading, though, plus a bunch of Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries, plus I want to go back and read the flawed-but-interesting biography Kent Gustavson wrote about Doc Watson, a musical hero of mine to say the least, who passed away on May 29th. What a musician and man he was!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Places to See #2

This week's passel o' links I found entertaining or of interest:

The oldest recorded melody? I find this one particularly fascinating, even a bit spine tingling. If this is anything *close* to accurate, we're hearing music that fell on the ears of the ancients, eons ago.

Interesting glimpses of New York diaries from all different time periods and very different always, I'm intrigued by variances in handwriting and style.

10 words that need to die immediately. (They do, they do!)

The Lamy Safari color of the year, 2012.

Cats as fonts--cute. (Thanks to notagain at Manual Entry for this one...)

Guitars in space!

► Speaking of guitar, wanna buy a guitar boat?

How to make a duct tape rose. Well, *I* thought it was cool!

► And this round's "just because" entry, cat caught barking...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mandolin Cafe Type-In (Tacoma)

A few of us met up at lunch time today for an International Typewriter Appreciation Month type-in. Thank you, Peter, for organizing this!

Slightly messy type-cast, but such is the nature of the beast, for me, at least. Mando Cafe Type-In
Mando Cafe Type-In_0001

I spent quite awhile writing with fountain pen, too, enjoying the sunlight streaming through the window. I don't think we were supposed to get sunshine today. To me, it was an unexpected treat.

And then I got to spend time with my brother and sister-in-law and little nieces and nephew. Interestingly enough, one of the topics that came up (and I wasn't even the one to raise it) was the joy of getting a personal letter in this day and age. Which makes me feel guilty yet again about having pretty much ceased and desisted in the practice. I resolve to do better. Again.

Here is the photo I mentioned.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Renaissance Art Leather Composition Book Cover #2

Renaissance Art Leather Composition Book Cover
I've already been carting this around a few weeks, so it has a bit of "character" already!

This is now a two Renaissance Art composition book cover household.

Renaissance Art recently began carrying composition book covers as a standard item, and offered an introductory discount. Since I typically have at least two comp books going at once, one as a journal and one for other writing, and since I'd already been thinking about getting a simpler second one without the wrap and tie, I jumped on the offer.

Two different leather notebook covers
The two covers compared

I considered going with one of their "Rustic Elegance" leathers this time around: these are thinner, and come in all sorts of beautiful colors (from the on-screen swatches, I'm particular fond of the Twilight Blue and the Merlot). They make for a sleeker, slimmer, more civilized looking cover. But in the end, I chickened out and went with what I know: the same thick, rustic brown leather as my other Renaissance Art cover. It's slightly less expensive, and it is bombproof. This leather can also be "distressed", which I find amusing and entertaining. The new notebook cover doesn't seem to change as much with this process as the old one does...not sure if this is age difference, or just variation between two pieces of leather. Still, it's rather fascinating.

What "distressing" does to the leather.
Close-up of the old cover--the top portion of the flap has been mangled a la the video I linked to above, while I smoothed out the bottom portion and left it as is.

My new cover came in a matter of just a few days, which was pretty nifty. And there isn't a great deal for me to add to my original review of the first cover. The leather feels and smells great, the cover fits well, and while it doesn't have the classy, luxurious appearance of something like a Levenger Circa Bomber Jacket folio, I like the rugged, homespun look of it. And like my other cover, this will likely outlive me.

Inside of cover
Inside, showing how the notebook fits inside...sorry for the funky coloring on this photo...

I like it. Renaissance Art makes good stuff. (Or, for the British, Renaissance Art make good stuff.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Places to See

I've been too busy to write a real post, so instead, here are a bunch of links to some interesting Internet places I've run across in recent travels:

1. Check out this fascinating gallery of pencil sharpeners!

2. The first portion of this video is hilarious for EDC adherants and fountain pen fanatics alike...the second part interesting to at least the fountain pen geeks.  I love this guy!  Thanks to Ravens March for bringing him to my attention.  He's a member of Fountain Pen Network, but I'd missed seeing his videos before.

3. Can you imagine just happening to find a letter by *Tolkien* in a random book?

4. Utterly gorgeous bookstores--just wow.

5. Couple links regarding a robot writing the Bible with fountain pen: I'm a little unsure how to feel about this demonstration of technology mixed with older writing techniques.  I it truly calligraphy if it's done with robots?  And yet...this is so cool to watch!



Note that it's a Lamy Safari.  Lamy Safaris for the win!

6. And just because...only on YouTube: a Saruman/Trololo guy mash-up (warning: brutal wizard fatality).


Friday, January 27, 2012

What are you writing with/on/about?


I've barely touched my fountain pens since October.  For writing at work and at home, with few exceptions, it has been graphite all the way: either my assortment of woodcase pencils, or my new favorite mechanical pencil, the Graphgear 1000, which I love for its pocket friendly retractable mechanism and its solid feel.  It goes everywhere with me.

At some point in the future, I'll almost certainly snap out of this phase, get annoyed with the way graphite smears or the lack of contrast compared to a strongly colored ink, but at the moment, pencils are where it's at.  No messy liquid ink, no delicate nibs to worry about, no gizmos to wear out or break, no surprises.  Scrape the point on a page, it makes a mark.  If the point gets dull, put it through a few turns of the sharpener.  Doesn't get much simpler than that.  Current favorites: the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 (may have more complete thoughts to post regarding that one in the next week or so), General's Semi-Hex, California Republic Golden Bears, Palomino HBs, and (perhaps surprisingly) Ticonderogas--though I still feel a major difference between the Mexican made ones and the Chinese made.  The Chinese ones are way better.  As for paper, I'm still stuck on a combination of composition books and loose-leaf.

I admit, what with my current music obsession, I've mostly slacked off on all writing save my journal.  But this week, the itch is back.  I've started scribbling notes and ideas again.  This weekend, I plan to read back through my NaNoWriMo story--such as it is, what there is of it--and think about continuing.  And I'm about done editing a short story.

I also should really write some letters.  I am the typosphere's worst correspondent, bar none.  The competition isn't even *close*.

I haven't been using the typewriters much, for whatever reason.  I'm sure that pendulum will swing back eventually.

So...what are *you* working on?  And what are you writing with: a particular pen/pencil/typewriter/program?  What are you writing on: scrap paper/favorite notebook/fancy journal/large stones?  And what have you been writing about?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Well...that was interesting. Ice storm!

Lazy photo post today, because I'm still in recovery.  We had a beautiful snow storm on Wednesday, and I was stuck at home, but it was kinda pleasant: I had electricity and heat and all, and I baked bread and read and played music and watched the snow fall.

Snowy backyard
Pretty snow...

Wednesday night, it was supposedly going to warm up rather rapidly overnight as the snow turned to freezing rain and then plain rain.  The roads were predicted to be bad early in the day, but then everything would thaw out and be just messy and wet.  Yeah.  Right.  Instead, we got ice, and lots and lots of it.  By the time I woke up on Thursday morning, the power had been out for several hours, and the temperature in the house was beginning to drop.

Icy trees and cables
Icy trees and cables

By the middle of the day, you could stand outside and hear a constant cracking, popping, thumping sound from the woods all the way around, as one tree after another lost its battle with the thickening ice.  It was eerie, really.  One of the trees in my backyard fell, one trunk at a time, about making jump out of my skin each time.  That was loud!  Fortunately the dog was in the house when it fell, and it didn't take anything out with it.  Some houses and yards weren't so lucky.

Fallen tree in my backyard
What a mess!

Between all the fallen trees and the heavy ice hanging on cables themselves, it's no wonder there were so many outages...
Icicled cables!

I played mandolin quite a bit on Thursday, before the house cooled down to the point where it was too cold to play much.  Wrote this tune, which remains untitled, more or less...or maybe I'll leave the temporary title in place in memory of this week:

Power remained out until last night, and it got down into the low forties in the house and stayed there.  Cold enough to see your breath.  I hung out with neighbors on Friday, though slept here--with a sleeping bag and a bunch of blankets, it was OK, except I kept dreaming of power trucks coming and fixing the lines.  And yesterday, I was *finally* able to get my car out of the snow and ice and out of the drive.  The wreckage out there is humbling: trees down everywhere, and you can imagine just how many were over the roads before work started.  I spent much of yesterday hanging out at coffee houses and grocery stores, reading and just savoring warmth.  My Kindle really helped keep me sane in all this, I gotta say.

But it was soooooo awesome to get home last night and finally find the power on.  Hot showers, real coffee, the ability to do *laundry*!  I missed them so much!

The wind is really picking up out there as another smaller storm comes through.  Crossing my fingers that it won't be enough to break things all over again...

Couple more ice pictures, just because...

Icy bush

Bush by the porch