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What’s so great about fountain pens?

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Quick, what magazine just wrote a feature about the old-fashioned fountain pen? Victoria magazine? The Paris Review? Writer’s Digest? You might be surprised to hear it was Wired Magazine!

Fountain pens are making a comeback. Why? I believe it is because it is satisfying to see the strong, smooth line of a fountain pen on paper, easier to write with after some practice, and elegant. There is something lasting and romantic about fountain pens. We have so many “virtual” experiences today, that I believe that we are craving the real, honest experiences of life- hence the current obsession with hygge (see my previous post HERE). Also, fountain pens make less waste- you may only ever throw away empty cartridges, and possibly not even that if you use a converter). However, many people are intimidated by them. The most common things I hear from people when they see me writing with a fountain pen, after, “you have such nice handwriting for someone who is left handed” is:

  • Aren’t fountain pens messy?
  • Aren’t fountain pens hard to use?
  • Where do you even find fountain pens any more?
  • Aren’t fountain pens expensive?

I’ll answer these questions, and try to point beginners towards a few good pens and companies to choose from. Fountain pens are available a lot of places, including Amazon, but my favorite place is www.gouletpens.com. This is an independent, family owned website, staffed by people who really know pens. Each order is custom wrapped with a little note and a piece of candy. The owners are extremely knowledgeable and their videos are really helpful.

  • Fountain pens CAN be a little messier than a regular ball point pen. Filling them takes a little practice (though not a lot), but you can minimize this using cartridges, or getting good at filling converters (like an empty, refillable cartridge) from a bottle. You also have to rinse a pen if you’re refilling it with a different color, since different inks can have chemical reactions and gum up your pen. I find that a bulb, like you use for babies’ ears, is good for this. However, the trade off is an amazing variety of colors not available in your regular gel-pen or roller ball. You can find any color under the sun of ink, as well as scented inks (I sometimes use violet scented ink, which is supremely soothing as the scent subtly rises off the paper as I write), inks with gorgeous gold and silver flecks, etc.
  • Fountain pens are not particularly hard to use. You need to keep the pen at an angle to the paper, but this takes a minimum of practice. Your handwriting will look nicer with a fountain pen because you take your time. You do need to not press too hard or you can get the dreaded “railroading” (two thin parallel lines, since the nib spreads when you press too hard). However, I think this is a benefit, because you can write for a longer time without getting fatigued since fountain pens require a minimum of pressure.
  • Fountain pens can be as little as a few dollars, and as much as thousands of dollars.

Here are some starter pens that I really like.

  • Pilot Metropolitan ($15, find it HERE): This pen comes in a ton of colors and patterns; in fine, medium point (called “nibs”) and is a reliable, smooth writing pen. I often carry this one with me. It does require pilot brand cartridges, or you can buy converter and use whatever fountain pen ink (never india ink) that you want.
  • Lamy Safari ($29, find it here): This one is a classic of design, comes in a ton of colors, and has limited edition colors every year. It also requires their own brand of cartridges (some companies make pens that use a standard size, which is nice, but not Lamy), but again, you can skip this by getting a converter. It has a uniquely shaped grip that some people love and some people don’t. These are very reliable as well. I have left one in my bag for a month, and it didn’t dry out.
  • Jinhao 159 ($12, find it here): This pen is truly a starter pen. It’s extremely inexpensive, comes in a few colors, and has a satisfying heft to the pen. The nib (the part you write with that touches the paper) is not my favorite. However, you can make a GREAT pen, by replacing the nib, which is really easy. I didn’t need a video- I just unscrewed the nib, and slipped the new nib in, and screwed it back together, but here’s a video if you’re interested. I bought a new nib for $15 from Goulet pens here, and it’s one of my favorite pens to write with now. I have pens that are ten times the cost that don’t write as nicely. I think it’s reasonable to try out a Jinhao, and if you like it, but would like it EVEN more if it wrote more smoothly, consider changing the nib.

Does anyone else use a fountain pen? What is your favorite?

  • I didn’t receive any compensation for this post- Goulet pens just happens to be my favorite online pen resource.

Airmail: helping me get to inbox zero!

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I don’t know about you, but one of my most neglected daily tasks is email processing. I am really terrible at letting email pile up. However, I have found an app that really helps me stay on top of the email monster. I’m currently using Airmail 3 (www.airmailapp.com) on my MacBook air and on my iPhone and iPad, and love the program. I’ve been using it for about 4 months now, and I don’t think I’ll change, which is REALLY saying something since searching for new apps is some kind of compulsion for me. The apps are $9.99 for the mac, and $4.99 for iOS. I think that the cost is worth it.

The app is very fast- faster than the native client. There is also an apple watch app, that is useful, allowing you to delete mail from your watch. Where the app changes things for me is in the integration with other apps. For instance, I use Todoist for my tasks. With this app, you can send an email as a task to Todoist with a click. The same goes for Evernote if you’d like to save an email. Several other services, including Trello, Fantastical, Deliveries (track all those packages you get with a click!), Dropbox, Dayone are all included, and there are many, many more. I deal with the email right away by sending it to whatever app or folder it needs to go to, then archive the original email.

You can also mark an email as spam with a click, create a PDF from the email, add contacts, mute, block, add senders to VIP, make a memo with the email, “snooze” the email until later…You can also unsubscribe to an email mailing list with a click, but this has variable levels of success, I’ve noticed.

The actions are available as a drop down menu, or with a swipe from the inbox list of emails- it makes dealing with email almost as fast from the iPhone than it is with a Mac. It can manage multiple email accounts, and was very easy to set up. The interface is clean, easy to read, and pleasing. This has become one of my favorite, and most used apps, and a definite step up from the Apple Mail that is built into your phone and Mac.

How do you keep up with your email? Have you found an app that you like?

“Get Some Headspace” – a nice accompaniment or first book for meditation

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I’ve written about meditation apps before and why meditation is a good idea from the scientific standpoint. I had been using the Meditation Studio app, but after receiving a coupon that discounted Headspace (not in conjunction with this blog- I received it as part of their regular New Year’s Promotion via email) for three months, I decided to take the jump and bought a year’s worth of the service. I’ll probably write more about the app itself in a few weeks. I’m in the third series of classes, and would like to try more of the single classes and other series before I comment. If anyone else is using Headspace, I’d love to be Headspace friends- leave me a comment below!

I have enjoyed the experience of meditation a lot more this time than I did 20 years ago, when I could not settle down. Still, I wanted to read more about the Headspace method of guided meditation, so I picked up Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, by Andy Puddicombe. He is also the person who narrates the guided meditations.

The book has several parts: an introduction and discussion of mindfulness, how to practice (the Take Ten method, which is the basis the parts of the app I have used so far), a section on integration, and the nuts and bolts of a day to day meditation practice. The end of the book is concerned with having a more mindful mindset (gratitude, etc), and a few case studies, as well as a journal, which is less useful on the Kindle version.

I think this book works well as either an accompaniment to practice on Headspace, or as a first time book on meditation and mindfulness. Since I am more than halfway through the introductory classes on meditation, it has given me some background on what I am doing in the classes. I have more insight for why I am doing a body scan in the beginning of the guided meditation, or why I am counting breaths at the end. In the meditations, he suggests that the mind is like a clear blue sky, and our thoughts are the clouds obscuring it- every once in awhile, we get a view of the sky, our mind, as it really is. In the book, he describes our mind as a pool of water, and we can see the bottom only when we remain still enough to stop the turbulence at the surface of water. I find both metaphors to be useful at different times in meditation.

He also gives enough practical advice to be useful day to day. What kind of chair (or not) should you sit in? What behaviors support meditation?  How long should you meditate for? What time of day should you meditate for?

I also liked the chapter of integration of mindfulness into every day life- this is something that Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese Zen monk, stresses. What good is meditation if you do not bring it into the world and positively affect others? To this end, Mr. Puddicombe talks about walking, and running meditations- teaching one to be mindful during those activities. If this is your focus, mindfulness at every moment, I actually suggest a supplemental book: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is filled with useful gathas (short mindfulness verses) that remind us to live and experience every moment, good or bad (using washing the dishes, or the phone ringing, as a mindfulness experience).

A last thought- in the reviews on Amazon, I saw a lot of good reviews, but also some complaining that the book was too simplistic. I did not find this to be true. I know that in my own case, sometimes I will read more and more books about a topic, in increasing levels of complication, rather than actually put down the book and try something. I suggest that this is often the case in meditation. The concept is quite simple, the practice is not. I have come back to reading some books which are quite simple on the surface, over and over, and gain something new every time. I would challenge someone who complains that the language or message of a book on meditation is too simple- sit down and meditate. Then go back, and see what you learn from the books again.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this, or any related topic! Please don’t hesitate to comment below. Also, I still need some Headspace friends!

Be an involved citizen with personal technology!

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One of the great responsibilities and privileges of a democracy is that each citizen must participate in the government and election of those officials who we allow to run our government. Even if you do not vote, you are making a choice for the status quo, one way or another. We are all lucky to have the choice to decide whether we want to vote or not, and who we want to vote for. Whatever your political viewpoint, citizens are more galvanized to make a difference now than ever. Although technology is NOT a substitute for calling your elected official to voice your opinion, going to a town hall meeting, starting a petition, or participating in a march, technology CAN help you do these things more easily. The first step is to know who your representatives are, and you can find them at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

To keep up with the issues, you can read most of your favorite newspapers and magazines on your iPad or iPhone. I try to read a few different sources to get different viewpoints, all from my iPad: the New York Times, The Economist, the Atlantic,  and I read through the PBS app as well. I also skim the Washington Post. Your favorite resources may differ depending on what your political opinions are, but I urge you to learn as much as you can from reputable resources, no matter what your political leanings.

There are a number of apps designed to help you keep track of legislation. I’m currently using Countable (https://www.countable.us, free), which is available on both iPad and iPhone. I’ve been pleased with it- the app gives you news related to executive orders and political issues, as well as legislation currently passing. You have the ability to “vote” and comment on the issue, and the website reports that they deliver your vote, comments and address to your representative so they can get back to you. I have no idea if they do or not- it seems unlikely that they would be able to respond to that volume. To me, the main benefit is being aware in real time what the bills are which are being voted on, and what the results were. The site seeks to be non-partisan, and can also tell you who your representatives are. Clicking on your representatives’ photo in the app leads to a page that shows you how they have voted on issues. Clicking on the icons below their name can take you to their home page with contact information, Facebook page, twitter account and you tube accounts. I do feel like the one liner that Countable gives you for why you should or should not support a bill, while meant to be brief for clarity, is not enough information in many cases to decide- which is why I suggest reading broadly.

Another app similar to Countable is iCitizen (https://icitizen.com, free). The ratings on the iTunes are lower, partly because of the perception that the app skews right. I am not sure if this is true or not, because I found it difficult to find anything of real substance in terms of legislation- it seemed like polls such as “Do you have a favorable opinion of Obama and Trump?” I do not think that these sorts of polls really help us be more engaged with our government, or for that matter, engage in any genuine way with each other. Perhaps there is more information on the site about bills, but about 10 minutes of reviewing the site did not reveal this, so I feel the layout could probably be improved!

The app Trackbill (https://trackbill.com, free, upgrades super pricey) is another app designed to follow legislation. I think this would be excellent for someone like a journalist covering legislation or a staffer even. I do not need to have the level of detail that this app has- but I can imagine someone might. For instance, on an upcoming bill, it gives the date, location and committee for the hearing, a list of the actions taken on the bill, etc. It could also be helpful if you are really interested in one particular bill, so you can see EVERYTHING that has happened with that bill. Also, there are upgrades to track unlimited bills, committees, legislators, keywords, etc, and that comes with an extreme cost: nearly $1000 per year!

A lesser considered opportunity to get involved with your democracy- volunteer work! I like the site volunteermatch.org, where you can sign up for volunteer work based on your interests and your location. For example, if animal rights are your interest, there are 94 opportunities to get involved in the San Francisco area as of this writing! If education and literacy are important to you, consider one of the nearly 500 volunteer positions open!

I hope you were inspired to get involved with your community and your country. Do you have other ways to stay involved? Please let me know in the comments below!

“The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge”: a book review…

relaxing-1979674_1920Hygge (hew-gah) is a popular topic these days, despite having an unattractive name- just do a search on Amazon, and there are at least 10 new books on the topic! The idea is simple cozy living at home for life satisfaction- similar to mindfulness, I guess. I first read about this concept in the book “The Year of Living Danishly” by Helen Russell.  She moved to Denmark with her significant other to learn why Denmark is consistently rated as the world’s happiest country. I thought that book was quite informative, and I was intrigued by the concept of Hygge, so I picked up “The Cozy Life” by Pia Edberg to learn more. Though I finished the book, I can’t say that I learned anymore from this book about Hygge than I did from Helen Russell’s book,  a recent New Yorker article that you can find for free here and a recent New York Times article that you can find here. If you have NEVER read anything about Hygge, the graphic above essentially gives you an idea of what it is. I guess the book would be essentially best for someone who wants a light introduction to the subject, and some inspiration to the topic. I didn’t think the advice such as to light spice or vanilla scented candles for a cozy atmosphere was worth the price of the book.