I Learn a Valuable Lesson About Fountain Pens and Inks, Set to Music.

Apologies for my internet absence. Since we brought the 2019 Chicago Pen Show to a successful and happy conclusion, pens have been scarce for me. And, actually, even before the Pen Show. Almost no pen time. Hence, nothing to write about pens.

Eh, it happens. Life is fine. It’s just been busy. Life is bigger. Much bigger than pens. But it’s made the blog seem like a Colorado ghost town, with the dust blowing between abandoned mining shacks.

Only now, it’s almost fall. Time to clean things out, get cracking. We’re back to school.

So here’s what I was doing with pens during my summer vacation. Like the song at (almost) the very end, this will be long and boring. But there’s music in it.

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New Pen Day: Lamy Al-Star Bronze

Lamy Al-Star Bronze and Copper Orange

I just wanted to share a few shots of the 2019 Lamy Al-Star Bronze in real life. In the photo above, the Bronze is just below the 2015 Copper Orange Al-Star.

I bought my Bronze Al-Star this weekend. Our monthly pen club meetup was Sunday, at a wonderful pen and stationery store in Chicago called Atlas Stationers. Lucky timing, because Atlas’s first shipment of Bronze Al-Stars arrived a few days earlier. So of course I bought one. Also the Bronze ink. When Fate knocks on your door like that, you answer. (As long as Fate is not bearing three pastel Safaris, in which case, I would pretend I was not home.)

When it comes to the Bronze Al-Star, though, I’m a happy customer.

Most of my fellow pen clubbers also seemed to like it, but I do have one friend whose first reaction was dislike, so obviously tastes vary. It’s not an “aged” or “darkened” bronze color, I guess. But for most people I think the Bronze should be pretty noncontroversial and easy to like. The color is more subdued and business-like than we’ve gotten from the last few years of Al-Stars, too. It’s the classic “pen I can take to work” so many people seek. If the Bronze leads to eventual Brass and Copper color Al-Stars, I won’t be entirely surprised, but I also won’t be annoyed.

The Bronze actually reminds me not of an Al-Star but of the metallic colors Lamy picked for the more upscale Lx line. Here’s a photo of the Lx in Rose Gold above the Bronze Al-Star.

Lamy Al-Star Bronze and Lamy Lx Rose Gold

The Bronze fits in beautifully with Lamy’s older and most elegant Al-Stars. Here is the Bronze in the middle of the Coffee Brown and the Pearl, two of my favorite Al-Stars from years past.

Lamy Al-Star Coffee Brown, Bronze and Pearl

Add the Copper Orange, if you must, and you’ve got an autumnal bouquet.

Lamy Al-Star Bronze, Pearl, Coffee Brown and Copper Orange

But it’s almost spring. So here is the Bronze amidst a wider array of Al-Stars. From left are Dark Purple, Raspberry, Vibrant Pink, Ruby Red, Copper Orange, Bronze, Charged Green, Green and Blue Green.

Lamy Al-Star fountain pens collection

Just for fun, here is the rest of my little collection. Pacific, Ocean Blue, Ice Blue, Graphite Gray, Pearl, Coffee Brown, Black, Aluminum and a Green with a black clip.

Lamy Al-Star fountain pens collection

My conclusion? Al-Stars are good. And the Bronze is a worthy addition to the lineup.

I did try Lamy’s accompanying Bronze ink before I bought a bottle, and it looked like a nice color in the tester Lamy that Atlas Stationers had. The ink is a moderately saturated bronze or brown with an orange tint. I look forward to trying it out,.

 

Pen Review: Dryden Designs Modern Classic

Dryden Designs Modern Classic Silver Metallic

I got a fun email last month — Donna Padua, working for Dryden Designs, a pen company that was new to me, said she’d like to send me one of their fountain pens if I’d agree to write a fair and honest review.

I said sure, if they’d be okay with me doing something different: I’d bring it to my next pen club meetup, and pass it around, and see what everyone else thought, too. My fellow pen clubbers tend to be much more “on it” when it comes to all the newer brands and newer pen models.

A few days later, the Modern Classic in metallic silver arrived on my doorstep, sent by Dryden Designs through Amazon.

I like the Amazon idea. I tend to buy new pens mostly from pen retailers, but Amazon does reach a lot more people in the US, and it has good return policies. With the price of the Modern Classic starting at $25.95, it will qualify for Amazon’s free shipping, too. Basically, Dryden Designs is making it as easy as possible to buy this pen.

But what did I (and my pen club) think of the Modern Classic?

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What I Bought in 2018: Inks

Platinum Blue-Black ink bottle

I like to do an annual accounting every year of the inks I bought. In 2018, it was 18 bottles.

Now, that seems like an awful lot. But, if you take the long view, I improved. Because in 2015 I bought 30 bottles of ink; and in 2016 I bought 20 bottles of ink and three boxes of cartridges.

Now, a strict accounting also would uncover that in 2017 I bought only 10 bottles of ink. But then strict accounting seems to be for unhappy people. Let’s forget that and take the long view. I improved!

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A Peek at the Pen Cup: The “I Am So Normal” Edition

pen cup with fountain pens

Oh yeah, look at this pen cup. I only have five fountain pens going, and it’s good.

Nothing intentional: I haven’t been using the pens much lately. That’s because my recent work has been mostly on the computer, and I am not good at writing letters, so lately I’ve been cleaning out pens and putting them away.

I have to say, with five pens, I feel so normal.

The most recently inked is my Pelikan M605 White Transparent, because the temperature is nicely frosty here, and this pen feels wintery. It’s inked with Papier Plume Bayou Nightfall, an absolutely wonderful ink in my opinion. Pen and ink make a perfect pair, and I keep coming back to ths combination. This makes me wish I had something to write.

All my other pens have been inked up for a while. But I managed to put together a suitably Christmassy trio.

pelikan lamy fountain pens

Such a happy sight. Malibu Barbie Christmas.

The green pen is my Pelikan M205 Olivine, filled with Pelikan Edelstein Olivine — another great combination. I do have to clean this one out, because it’s been inked since I got it.

The pink pen is my Lamy Al-Star Vibrant Pink. It’s still loaded with a cartridge of Lamy Blue, mainly to keep cleaning out the feed after my Vibrant Pink ink disaster. But Lamy Blue is actually a very nice ink with this pen’s extra-fine nib, and I always like a blue ink, so this is a good combination, too.

The two pens that have been inked and re-inked the longest are what have turned into my core users. One is my long-serving Lamy Safari Charcoal with fine nib and black ink (currently Taccia Kuro). The other is a pen I bought this year and haven’t taken out of rotation since: a Sailor Professional Gear Earth with extra-fine nib, inked with Papier Plume Da Blue ink. I use these two all the time, the Safari because I can take it anywhere without worry, and the Sailor because its amazing extra-fine nib writes tiny scribbles with perfect smoothness.

I’ve actually been very busy, but it just doesn’t involve much writing with pens and ink. And frankly that’s been kind of … restful. Fountain pens and inks aren’t a job for me, just things that add a dash of delight and interest to the everyday. And that’s enough. So if pens and inks aren’t centered in my life, right now, that works. My pens and inks are easy-going; they will wait their turn.

I guess I’m using them when I can. In fact, I had to move this out of the way to take the pen cup photo.

field notes lamy safari cookbook

I was using the Safari to take notes there, because I’ve finally found the time to get into something that I’ve always wanted to do: serious bread-making. (Because people always ask: not with a bread machine, but just flour, yeast, water and salt, worked by hand and set on the counter to rise over the course of the day before being shaped by hand, and then popped onto an improvised hearth in the oven.)

So I’ve been up to my elbows in different kinds of flour, and experiments with different pre-ferments. (This cuts down on my texting a lot, too.) But I am trying to refine my technique, which means I’ve been making a lot of loaves of a basic hearth bread, tweaking a few things here or there, learning inputs and outputs, and writing them down. It’s very absorbing for me, and it’s really delicious. Also I’ve become more popular with the family. Winter’s a good time to heat up the kitchen and make food for people.

Today I’ve been hovering over my brand new sourdough starter like it’s a new baby, searching for life and activity. I should know better, though. If it’s really like a baby, that sourdough won’t start bubbling and fussing until I try to take a shower, or start a movie, or go out to dinner. And as it grows, it’s going to do the opposite of what I want. As it should! So, grow big, little sourdough, and grow free, and grow as and how you will. In the meantime, I’ll just leave this here: I’m going to go walk the dog now, then I’m going to start a movie….

Happy December!

kindness_calendarsmall

Happy December! I’ve now caught you in the web of my latest project: December, the Month of Intentional Kindness. I found this December Kindness Calendar the other day, and we’ve made it my family’s holiday project this year. Today is December 1, and our calendared task is to “share this calendar.” Done! (I foolishly showed it to the family last month, so I had to find someone else.)

Careful viewers might notice that this calendar is made for 2017. That’s okay. We will have to ignore the “what day of the week is it?” part of the calendar, as well as the “what year is it?” part of the calendar. So, yes, technically that makes it not, you know, actually a calendar. But that’s okay. Even, perhaps, great! Being late is “on-brand” for the Follies. Also, we aren’t comfortable with arbitrary authority, and we like to follow our own muse.

And that’s exactly the kind of freedom we enjoy, employing the 2017 Kindness Calendar in 2018. We can easily skip over the unsuitable (even unkind) “cook an extra meal and surprise someone with it” task, and instead double-up on a better task that’s nearby. I vote for a second whack at the comparatively delightful “try out the art of positive gossiping.” I cannot wait for that one!!!! How thrilling to have to do it twice.

The calendar comes from an internet outfit called “Action for Happiness,” which yeah, I know. My teenage daughter and I both think it sounds dodgy. Is it a front for the Church of Scientology, or an arm of the Russian SVR, or some sort of Google ad-marketing spider web? Probably! But also, so what! I am an American. We are used to emotional manipulation by commercial interests. It’s kind of our thing!

And it doesn’t even matter who’s behind the Kindness Calendar. Suggesting that people be “loving, compassionate and true” is a good thought for the holiday season. I shall take this webpage at its word. I shall view them with compassion, and be positive. That is kind, and it makes me happy. It’s the first Kindness Calendar win, right there, at the beginning.

And okay, I’m a sentimental sop, and I love Christmas and the winter holiday season. But I think we all know that it’s terribly hard for some people, even for those who love it. So it’s a nice thing to remind our family to be kinder to others, and also to each other.

I’m extra susceptible to this because the Kindness Calendar reminds me of advent calendars. Do you know those things? When I was a kid, we always had an advent calendar, a flat cardboard thingy with 31 little numbered cut-out windows or doors, one to open for each day of December. We used ours as a countdown to Christmas, with the kids taking turns opening each day and discovering whatever secret was behind the door.

When I was really young, we had the standard advent calendar: behind each window was a small picture, a religious scene, taken from a work of the Old Masters. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that I grew up to study art history, and my brother grew up to be a minister. Scary the effect of early influences.

But I learned to read in first grade, and I was precocious, and also, I’m told, impossible. I was all of seven when I discovered books, 70s rock, cynicism, and where our mother hid the Christmas presents before wrapping them. I was over advent calendars before I could pull on my own tights. But my younger siblings were sweet, and more sheltered, and okay, maybe kind of dumb bunnies, so our mother kept them interested in advent calendars for many years. Sure the calendar got more kid-centric. Our mother stayed with the “discover the picture behind each window” structure, but she let the youngest kid pick whatever they liked, which kept them interested, and led to years of colorful Santa themes and such.

But at some point even my innocent siblings must have cottoned to the essential truth of advent calendars: it’s just a con job. Who cares what corny illustration sits behind each day’s window?

And once they figured it out, my siblings lost interest, too. Windows wouldn’t be opened for days in a row, until our mother noticed and they had to do a batch at a time. But it didn’t have the same savor. Juvenile intransigence and boredom had gained the upper hand. The kids were ruining our mother’s storybook Christmas.

She, however, had a superior intellect, a strategic bent and a disinclination to ever surrender. Their unexpected indifference led to her last and greatest countermove. The next year she hung up a heretofore unknown type of advent calendar, a “European chocolate behind every door” advent calendar.

It was a checkmate for the ages, a masterstroke. She was the Napoleon of Christmas.

No kid ever forgot to open those chocolate advent calendars, let me tell you. In fact, I think someone came over in early December one year and secretly removed a chocolate meant for the end of the month, carefully camouflaging the incursion so it wouldn’t be discovered until too late. Yes, it was me. I wasn’t a kid and I didn’t even live there. But I was still a worthy combatant, the more so because they’d made the basic strategic error of forgetting I was out there.

With my own kids, we put advent calendars up for a few years, just out of habit, until they also lost interest, and the price jacked up, and I happily let that tradition go. For the Follies family, the advent calendar lives on only in the mental lumber room of Christmases past, along with our Dancing Santa, cartons of eggnog, and the bells on the dog collar thing.

I still love Christmas, though. It’s just that we have our own Christmas traditions. It is absolutely required that someone sing along with “All I Want for Christmas is You” whenever it comes on in the car; and I always try to lure the rest of the family to watch A Christmas Story with me, to no avail; while they all willingly, even eagerly, watch Diehard with my husband, whenever it’s on. As I periodically yell, “Not a Christmas movie!” from the other room.

Luckily our family will be together, and our friends and extended family are all reasonably healthy this year, and the Christmas message is always lovely and appreciated here. The tradition of Swedish Christmas Eve will carry forward, even though some of us are now vegetarian, and the others claim to hate the Swedish food,. It will carry forward because in the eternal war over Christmas waged inside each family, this is the hill I choose to die on. Indeed, I probably will die on that hill, one way or another, killed either by the food or by the rest of the family. Unfortunately, we have to celebrate without my mother now, who died a few years ago, right before Christmas. I mean, on the bright side, for her, she was no doubt happy she got to skip the Swedish food that year.

I know she’d roll her eyes or wrinkle her nose at me making this kindness calendar a sort of advent calendar for our family. For my mother Christmas was trees, and wreaths, nutcrackers, ribbons and bows, cookies, and inventive, beautiful presents. So she wouldn’t understand. She might even think, just a little, that it’s a rejection of her values. But that would be entirely wrong. I think most of us probably don’t see ourselves very clearly. No matter what she thought she liked about Christmas, my mother was the essence of kindness, and she was, every day, every single thing that the calendar suggests.

I didn’t pick up her love for the Christmas decorations and knickknacks and such. But I did learn that the holiday season is for others. I suspect it may be the one time of year when most of us are oriented to give, rather than receive, and the time when that seems most natural, and right. That’s a huge part of what I love about Christmas.

So we’re going to have a kindness advent calendar this year. Cheers, mom. It’s totally your fault.

My 2018 Ohio Pen Show Haul

Ohio Pen Show 2018 Purchases

I know I’m late with this. But I’m always late. It’s the Follies.

And are we going to let being late deter us? No! As Bluto Blutarsky, our Churchill, says, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

So here’s my “Here’s my Haul!” report. And, because it’s almost Thanksgiving we’re going to garland the pen talk with holiday trimmings. We’re stuffing ourselves. I do love a theme.

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Adventures in Fountain Pen Repair and Restoration: Esterbrooks

Esterbrook J pens

Apologies for the lack of blogging, but since the Ohio Pen Show I’ve been extra busy with work — and the type of work that didn’t involve writing with pens.

But I have been working with vintage pens, a bit, because of my involvement with the Chicago Pen Show. Different vintage pens than usual. We all know that many vintage pens are rare, and many are gorgeous, and I love looking at those vintage pens. But that slice of the vintage market gets expensive. The pens I’ve been working with this month are mostly from the other end of the scale — they are vintage pens that are reasonably priced, and easy to find and get working again. Like Esterbrooks.

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