Category Archives: General

10 Years of Blogging

Today is my 10-year blogging anniversary. That should be a pretty significant milestone, but it doesn’t feel like it. The last 5 years have seen a sharp decline in how much effort I’ve put into this space. I haven’t maintained it well for half of the 10 years The Eagle & Child has existed. In the last two years I posted as much as I did in one month in 2005 (no wonder my wife had issues with my blogging back then).

I don’t want to give up on blogging just yet. But I’m not sure what direction to take it in. I looked back at random months in my archive and I had some fun with it back in the day. These days I start writing something thoughtful and serious and it doesn’t take long for me to lose interest or feel like it’s not worth posting here. I have 128 draft posts of various lengths, 26 of which are from the last year.

I need to find the fun again.

I write a reflection for our church bulletin almost every week. Maybe I should post those here. But that’s not the kind of fun I was thinking of.

At any rate, over the years this blog has made me some new friends and in some respects helped get me where I am today in the church in The Field. It has been an interesting ride, old friend.

Anyway… here’s to 10 years of blogging! And here’s to increased fun and creativity here!

Holiday! Celebrate!

It’s amazing how set plans can positively influence your feelings. I’m on holidays at the moment. We’ve been trying to decide for months what we would do with the time I have off work and either things didn’t work out or we couldn’t decide. We sometimes get into funks that look like this:

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

Etc.

I’ve been wanting to do something a little smaller scale for years now, because it seems we always come back from holidays in need of another holiday. We often leave the first day off and return on the last. So there’s been some talk of having a staycation (though not quite like this) and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple of days, though somewhat listlessly.

There’s a strange internal pressure to DO something with the precious holiday time I have, as if staying at home and resting isn’t a legitimate way to spend one’s down time. But I’m realizing that there is something to be said for planning some away time. A change is a rest, as they say.

Some of these days at home — for me, at any rate — sort of plod along without direction. And if they have no direction, they feel like a waste. Reading a good book would be direction enough, but I’m not always in that place (being instead in an in-between-books stage). On these days I’ll hit some kind of emotional wall around midday and I’ll have a heightened sense, for example, of the things that need doing around the house (which I don’t feel like doing). I won’t feel like doing much. I’ll oscillate between wanting to go away on a trip and not wanting to go anywhere.

Maybe that’s just low blood sugar. Maybe it’s low-grade depression. Maybe it’s not being able to handle un-busy-ness and the sort of “quiet” that comes on the slow days of summer. Maybe it’s something else. Often a cup of tea will improve things (low blood sugar it is, I guess…), or maybe some lunch.

But the other day we finally settled things in a way Dixie and I are both happy with. We’ll stay home for the rest of the week, maybe make some day trips somewhere. My brother and two of his kids arrive sometime Saturday for the better part of a week and then after that we’ll head to the mountains for a couple of days.

That’ll be good: some staycation and some vacation. Something new to try without it being too different.

Another geek post: fountain pens

Not too long ago, I made mention of my love for the traditional woodcase pencil. There was a brief period of time in which I contemplated (somewhat seriously) giving up on ink altogether, except in the most necessary places (such as legal documents). Well, that never happened. Instead, I’m starting to use ink in a new/old way. I’m starting to love fountain pens more and more.

(Dixie rolled her eyes when she saw that I was writing about pens. But she can’t say anything, because she once learned all of Gloria Gaither’s “schpiels” and dressed up as her for halloween.)

It all begins with this pen (but see below…):

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This is a Parker 51 “Special”. My dad got this pen in the late 50s or early 60s and used it when he was in Bible college. This pen has great sentimental value to me for that reason alone. I inherited my obsession with writing instruments from my dad. I inherited a love for the Parker Jotter from him and, as a result, my love for the Parker brand in general.

It turns out that the Parker 51, and to a lesser degree to cheaper 51 “Special”, is a pen highly sought after by collectors. 51s in good condition will sell for hundreds of dollars. It has been dubbed “the best pen ever made”, for a combination of reasons: design, durability, smoothness of writing. I’m not looking to sell this pen, but it adds to its mystique.

It works very well after all these years. One of the inner parts (breather tube) needs to be replaced (though it doesn’t prevent it from functioning). It’s a bit scratchy, due to misaligned tines in the nib, which I’ve been trying to fix, but it’s generally a fine writing instrument.

My dad gave me this fountain pen maybe 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until the last year or so that I began to appreciate writing with it. Somewhere in the last couple of years something clicked and I began looking into fountain pens more. I checked ebay for another 51 — something without sentimental value that I could comfortably take with me out and about in the world. There are lots of 51s out there, but unfortunately they don’t seem to sell for any less than $50 on ebay (and generally sell for much more), and I’m not prepared to pay that much.

The Parker Frontier, which is now unfortunately no longer in production, is in some respects quite similar to the Parker 51. Its cap and barrel have a similar look. The grip and nib are different. But still, a fine writing pen, and for $12-$15 not too expensive (though they’re no longer in production). I bought this one as my take anywhere pen:

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I then got it in my head that I would like something less breakable than this relatively cheap plastic pen. I found a matte-black metal Parker Frontier on ebay. It was from a seller in India (top-rated seller). For several reasons, I suspect strongly that it’s a fake, but I can’t be sure. Either way, it is a disappointingly hit-and-miss writer:

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I started to do some reading on fountain pen forums (yes! fountain pen forums!) about inexpensive fountain pens that write well. What I discovered there was the Lamy Safari:

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It’s a German-made pen. My understanding is that it’s made for young people learning to write: it has a formed barrel and a stiff nib for the novice to learn proper writing technique and fountain pen handling. However, it’s a very popular fountain pen among enthusiasts. German engineering!

I was pleased enough with the matte-black fine-point Safari I purchased that I bought a red one as a backup and a blue one for Dixie! It writes smoothly and comfortably and is my main writing pen.

The Lamy isn’t exactly a cheap pen, of course. $15-20 a pop is not what I would call a throwaway pen. But it’s well built and will last a lifetime if I treat it well.

Then I purchased a cheap Japanese Pilot 78g:

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It writes very well for an $8 pen, although I made the mistake of purchasing it with a fine nib. Western nibs are often too broad, so that I will buy one nib finer than I think I want (e.g. fine instead of medium), but Japanese fine nibs are too fine.

Apparently there is quite an industry of “homage” pens in China. They’re not exactly fakes, because they keep their own brand name on their pens, even though they are imitations of other brands. $10 bought me this Jinhao 159, a knockoff of a Montblanc pen that sells for hundreds of dollars:

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It is perhaps my smoothest writer, but it’s MUCH too broad for a medium nib. Apparently Chinese fountain pen nibs, contrary to those of their Japanese neighbours, are broader than normal.

I recently discovered that there is an homage to the Parker 51 made by Hero. The Hero 616 is an almost exact replica of the 51 and can be purchased for as little as $5 apiece. And apparently if you get an authentic Hero 616, they are quite pleasant to write with. I say “authentic” because apparently even a fake $5 pen is being faked in China. A fake of an homage to a pen!

I said above that it all started with the Parker 51, but the first fountain pen I saw as a child (that I can remember) was an old orange fountain pen in my dad’s office. I seem to recall him saying that it was his dad’s or his grandfather’s and that he wasn’t sure if it still worked or not. I didn’t know what it was until the last couple of years when I started reading up on fountain pens. Turns out that it was a Parker Duofold, another legendary pen in the Parker line. I didn’t think it was around anymore, but my mom found it among dad’s effects:

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She sent it to me. It’s a Parker Duofold, Jr., which is a stubby version of the Duofold. I think it dates from the 1920s or 1930s. It belonged to my great-grandfather on my father’s side, who was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland. It has “A. v. d. SLUIJS Dz.” engraved on the side. That’s pretty cool!

The ink sac was completely dried out and brittle (new one almost on order), but everything else *looks* to be in working order. Unfortunately, I may have done some permanent damage to the orange finish. I had put all of the parts in very hot tap water in order to clean out the old ink. Apparently you’re not supposed to do that with old fountain pens in particular. The black ends, made of a kind of rubber, turned brown, and the the orange barrel and cap now have a bit of a white haze, which I hope can be polished off.

And just the other day I bought this Noodler’s Ink Standard Flex Nib pen:

Noodler's Ink Standard Flex Nib

It’s interesting because it has a piston ink converter. It sucks ink directly into the front of the barrel by twisting the back of the barrel. I’m having some issues with the ink “feathering” (too much ink flow?), but these pens are apparently made to tinker with, so hopefully I can fix that.

I’m almost ready to give up on ballpoint pens altogether, except for the fact that they are very convenient when on the go and for the fact of my ongoing love affair with the Parker Jotter. My dad always had one in his pocket. As a child at church, when it was time for the sermon, I would turn to dad and whisper, “Do you have a pen?” He always did. He’d pull a Parker Jotter from his shirt or suit pocket, click the pen “on” and hand it to me. I’ve purchased and been given a number of these over the course of my life:

Parker Jotters

The one on the far right with the green barrel is commemorates Parker’s 125th anniversary. Just purchased that one a month or so ago. Next to it is a newer “luxury” Jotter. (Both are stainless steel.) It seems like Parker is moving more towards the luxury pen market. I don’t like that very much myself, but perhaps it makes business sense in a market flooded with cheap but well-functioning pens. Next to that (black barrel) is a standard Parker Jotter, followed by two newer models (light blue barrels) with a rounded “clicker” (one was a gift from my aunt and uncle in England, the second time in my life they’ve given me a Jotter!), and then a couple more older models.

And since I’ve plunged right in, why not throw in two additionally “special” pens:

Bic Clic pen from the Monterey Inn Resort

This doesn’t look all that special. A Bic Clic pen from a hotel. Except that it’s from the “resort” (I use the term VERY loosely) we stayed at for part of our honeymoon. Each evening I would pocket the pen on the nightstand, which would then be replaced by another the following morning. There are several of these floating around our house, but I’ve kept this one set aside.

An Assman pen

This is “The Assman Pen”. You remember Dick Assman? He was a Regina gas station owner made famous (for his name) by David Letterman in the mid-90s. I purchased this pen at his gas station in Regina at that time (the Wikipedia article says it was the Victoria Square Mall, but I’m pretty sure it was the Golden Mile Centre). I’m not sure why I’ve been carrying this one around — largely unused — all these years. I guess it’s just one of those things.

And there are other pens, too. But I won’t bore you with those (I assume if you read this far you weren’t entirely bored by this post).

So we stared at each other for a while.

I had an odd experience at a place of business today. I was sent to buy something at a certain establishment. I was redirected to another area of that establishment, where two women were speaking to each other: a superior giving instructions to an underling. They carried on for a while as I stood at the counter; they did not acknowledge me. After a few moments, the underling left and the superior turned and looked at me. She said nothing.

At this point in my memory the events slow down. I had a mental debate about whether or not I should initiate speech in this situation. Dixie told me recently that I’m not gregarious. I also know what kind of negative first impression my dad would often make on people and I sometimes wonder if I haven’t inherited something of his “ability”. Those two thoughts pushed me towards initiating the conversation.

However, I was at the same time intrigued that this woman would simply turn to me and stare at me without saying a word (perhaps an attempt to communicate telepathically?). Since I was in a place of business, another part of my thinking — the part that eventually won the mental debate — was that courtesy and customer service would have her initiate dialogue, perhaps with a gentle “How can I help you?”

Instead, neither one of us spoke for some time. It was probably less than five seconds, but when you’re staring at a complete stranger, expecting them to speak and wondering what they’re thinking, it seems much longer.

So we stared at each other for a while.

The silence was broken by a curt “Yes?” from the lady and time returned to its normal speed. The transaction was carried out without further incident, other than a perhaps edgy subtext (not much more was said between us during the transaction).

Reading (and not heeding my own advice)

I’m not heeding my own advice. I’m still reading several books at once. That’s what happens when I’ve suddenly landed on several enjoyable books.

Currently active active reads:

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphry Carpenter (and Christopher Tolkien).Who would have thought someone’s letters could be so fascinating? Granted, most of the personal details that wouldn’t interest anyone but immediate family and friends have been edited out, but still. There’s something about the image of Tolkien sitting in his Oxford study writing drafts of letters (a draft hand-written letter! such a thing had never occurred to me!) and then writing final copies in ink. And he’s probably wearing a three-piece tweed suit, smoking a pipe, and drinking tea all the while. Wonderful!

It’s not just the setting in my imagination that makes them interesting, however. The letters include discussion of the development of the sequel to The Hobbit as well as the characters of his already developed mythology.

And he writes with such skill! These letters are not just dashed off, but are clearly written with much care and attention to form and content. The book puts me in the mood to write a hand-written (with a fountain pen!) letter to someone. (Who wants one?)

Long Wandering Prayer: An Invitation to Walk with God, David Hansen. This is perhaps the most refreshing and honest discussion of prayer I have read (not that my reading in this area has been extensive). It caught my attention because the title implied the sort of prayer that seems to fit me best, but there is much more to the book than simply walking and praying. There’s nothing sentimental here, just raw thoughts and advice and opinions on prayer.

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, Richard Foster. Not bad so far, though perhaps not quite what I had hoped for expected. That might change. I continue to find Foster’s prose rather dry, making it difficult to read the book with much enthusiasm (I never did finish his most famous book, Celebration of Discipline for this reason). This is unfortunate, because Foster seems have been quite influential in terms of the “spirituality” of the evangelical church.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. This is my second time through this book. Fascinating, informative, well written, and hilarious as usual. A lay-person’s book about science and origins.

And then there are the inactive active reads and actively inactive reads which I won’t list here…

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

~ Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997

Reading as mining for gold and precious jewels.

I was laying on my bed this afternoon trying to read Shusaku Endo’s The Samurai. I’m pretty tired after a 6am wakeup (amazing how much difference one less hour of sleep can make), so I had a hard time focussing. I started thinking about the reading I do. I love reading… when it’s a good book. I’m starting to realize that reading is a bit like mining for gold or precious jewels: a lot of work is done in hopes of finding a gem among the rubble. The gems are worth the wait, but when I’m slogging through the rubble it gets tough sometimes. Sometimes rocks will change into gems later; sometimes what looks to be gold at the beginning turns out to be pyrite. Generally, however, gold is gold. It just takes time to come across it.

I got up out of the bed and pulled out all the books I have “on the go”, by which I mean I still have a bookmark in them with the intention of picking them up again at some point to keep reading. Some of them I am actively reading (meaning they’ve been read from in the last couple of weeks), others haven’t been read from literally in years (but I still intend to read them!). There are eight of these books laying on my bed at the moment. I know there are at least a couple of others which were reluctantly returned to the bookshelf on the assumption that they will at the right time in the future be gold.

I’m mostly to blame for this situation: over the years I’ve purchased and been given books at a rate faster than I can read them. Sometimes by the time I get to them I’m no longer interested. Other times I get hooked by more than one book at a time. Sometimes I read a book because it feels like I should. Sometimes I read a book because I want to, but then get distracted by another book (I’m always browsing). Sometimes a book catches my eye and I read it straight through without reading anything else until it was done. That’s generally a sign of gold.

But, I need to be a bit more intentional and less haphazard about my reading. That, or I just need to chill out and walk away from a book when I’m no longer interested. Here are some rules I may want to adopt:

1. I shouldn’t read books simply because I “ought” to. Yes, there are classics. Yes, they are valuable to read. Yes, there can be rewards for pushing through the tough bits. But–dare I say it?–in the end it’s just a book. No use losing sleep over it.

2. If it doesn’t catch me (or prove useful, if it’s a work-related book) in the first 50-100 pages, abandon it.

3. It’s okay to not finish a book.

4. It’s okay to return to a book later. It’s okay to start a book over some day. It’s probably not helpful to pretend that I’m still reading a book when I haven’t read it in months or years.

5. Don’t start another book until this one is finished. Or, at the very least, don’t start another book in the same genre. Reading a work of fiction, along with a work of theology, along with a work of history, for instance, may actually be a good thing and might keep me reading. Reading two novels or two theological works at the same time will usually mean one or the other gets abandoned.

6. I don’t have to read every book out there.

7. I don’t have to rush through books. Savour them. This one is difficult to practice when I’ve got shelves of waiting-to-be-read books. If I’m ever to catch up, I feel like I need to rush.

8. …but it wouldn’t hurt to skim from time to time.

9. I don’t have to catch up on reading all the books on my shelf.

10. A friend told me that he reads what he wants to think about. This is probably a generally good policy. What do I want to think about? Read a book about that and then combine it with thinking, journaling, conversations, etc.

11. Know my genres. I tend to eat up what one might call “pop sociology” books (or perhaps “pop non-fiction”): The World Without Us or The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon or Fast Food Nation or A Walk in the Woods or A Short History of Nearly Everything? I eat those books up. Mentally stimulating, absorbing, fascinating, etc. For pure enjoyment reading, that’s the way to go for me.

12. I need to learn to read and retain. Too often I read a book and forget what I read. I like to think I internalize some of the valuable information or that it’s at least formative. But who really knows. Is there a point in reading if nothing is retained? Doesn’t that just make it escapism?

13. But then maybe it’s okay to read even theology simply for pleasure. I do that already, but I’m always concerned about remembering. But maybe escapism is okay, too.

14. Sometimes a book can be judged by its cover.

15. …but an old, worn-out cover with illegible lettering and little bits of string coming off of it is not de facto unreadable.

16. I’ve found that there is a time and place and place for every book. A book that was formative or mind-blowing ten years ago might be meaningless now. A book I tried hard to read might be just what I need a few years down the road. I guess this is a kind of mystical view of the reading process. It seems to work for me. Which means that if a book doesn’t catch me fairly quickly, I should just move on and leave it for another day.

17. Perhaps I should’ve given up reading for Lent… Maybe next year.

Blogging from the sky.

Well, I figured I’d better give it a go just to say I did it. I’m on my way to San Diego for a conference/class, and I’m currently in the air. They have in-flight wifi, which was only legendary in my world until today. $5 for in-flight access and I thought to myself, “Hey, if I can pay nearly $5 for a drink at Starbucks or to rent a movie, why can’t I pay $5 for some in-flight web-browsing, Facebooking, chatting with my on-the-ground wife, and a little online class work?”

So here I am at 30,000 feet, somewhere over America’s midwest, writing a post on my neglected blog. Just for posterity.

And I’m in a hurry, because this is going to cut out when we dip below 10,000 feet. I’m not sure when that will be, because, while this airline does provide onboard wifi, it does not provide onboard television. So no little screen to tell me our altitude.

The conference I’m heading to is an annual pastor’s conference for our denomination.  This is the first time it’s in San Diego (usually Chicago, occasionally Denver). I’m in a Covenant theology (the theological distinctives of the Evangelical Covenant Church) class all week (as part of my ordination process), so I imagine I won’t see as much sun and sand as one would like, if one found him or herself in San Diego. In fact, I may see no sand at all. Class *may* finish early on Friday, which may afford a chance to zip out to the harbor or a beach or maybe the zoo. But I’m not counting on it.

I’m feeling healthy (got a bit paranoid about possible strep throat for a while, after “hot boxing” it in a small classroom with a class of jr. high boys, one of whom, it turned out, had strep throat) and I’m hoping that my room will be bed-bug free (apparently there have been a couple of cases at the place we’re staying). It should be a good week of connections, interactions, discussions, learning, singing, listening, maybe some shopping, sleeping, resting, und so weiter.

There… now I’ve blogged from the sky.

New Year Randomicity

1. Hey! We’re almost a quarter of the way through January already! Interpret the exclamation marks as excitement or alarm as you see fit!

2. Sitting here reading with John Barry’s score for Dances with Wolves playing in the background. It’s a beautiful score. I’m not sure if it’s the same without knowing the film, but it’s gorgeous. It occurred to me that after all these years Dances with Wolves is still one of my favourite films. Other films come and go in Marc’s Film Canon, but that one has stayed at or near the top. It gets everything right, as far as I’m concerned: setting, score, plot, themes. And even Kevin Costner has a decent turn as an earnest, idealistic soldier. The Last Samurai and Avatar are poor imitations. I’m sure Dances with Wolves is itself an imitation, but it’s GOOD.

3. Last weekend I solemnized my first marriage. No big deal.

4. I don’t really have any New Year’s resolutions, other than an unofficial desire to spend at least 20 minutes a day walking. Since it’s January 8 and I haven’t spent 20 minutes walking in any of those eight days, I guess that’s not going to happen. So, I won’t walk 20 minutes every day…YET. I will walk 20 minutes some days. Hopefully more days as the weather improves and as I remember that we have a treadmill. Facing our TV. With Netflix.

5. I did write down some things that I want to spend more time thinking about this year. Some highlights from the journal:

“What do I need? Don’t buy anything I don’t need.” I’m not yet sure whether the remastered blu-ray special edition of the original 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove (starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover and Ricky Schroder and others) is a want or a need..

“What makes or should make Christians different? Is it belief? Is it action? Is it both? Neither?” I know the standard/stock answers. It nevertheless bears further thought. Things aren’t always what they seem or how I understand them to be.

“The nature of the incarnation.” That’s a biggie. It means I need to read more T.F. Torrance, for one. And scripture. Oddly enough, I came across this in the book I was reading tonight: “We cannot live as if the incarnation had not occurred.” That’s quite a profound statement. Exclamation point and star in the margin. I don’t think Christians consider the incarnation enough. God become human. We tend to think mostly about sin and forgiveness and we do this mostly without thinking about the incarnation. The author follows that up with this line: “God has taken upon himself our earthly existence and claimed it for his Kingdom.” Another good one!

6. Between now and February 4 I have to read 4 books and 33 articles for a theology class I’m taking, as well as write a short book review. I was intending to write an anxious “Eep!” after my to-do list, but now that I’ve written it down it doesn’t seem like nearly such a big deal. Mind you, that’s less than a month away and in the meantime I have meetings and other work and family.

By the way, this is for a theology class I’m taking… IN SAN DIEGO! Too bad I’ll be hunkered down in a (the cynic in me says) dark basement room in the hotel.

Pencil Geek

Dixie knows me well. On a whim she bought me How to Sharpen Pencils: A practical and theoretical treatise on the artisanal craft of pencil sharpening for writers, artists, contractors, flange turners, anglesmiths, and civil servants, with illustrations showing current practiceShe didn’t really know what it was when she bought it. It was more of a joke purchase than anything. As it turns out, it’s a wonderful, well-written and hilarious satire, hearkening back to technical manuals of yesteryear (as the long subtitle implies). Each chapter is devoted to different elements and techniques of pencil sharpening, from use of a pocketknife to wall-mounted hand-crank sharpeners.

What makes it particularly brilliant as a satire is that the author, David Rees, takes the subject very seriously. I do have a particular fondness for the simple and humble woodcase pencil (#2/HB), so I loved almost every minute of it. Others who do not share my fondness (including mechanical pencil users) may not enjoy the book nearly as much. The last couple of chapters were a bit of a disappointment, because here Rees moved away from the “serious satire” into ridiculousness (e.g., how to sharpen pencils while doing celebrity impressions). As soon as he did this–essentially declaring “Hey everyone! This book is just work of humour, but in case you don’t get it, I’m going to include some obvious material!”–the satirical edge, and it’s brilliance, was lost.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to declare this my favourite book of 2012. It was a wonderful read.

Incidentally, my fondness for pencils led me to once buy a gross of Forest Choice pencils, by far my favourite writing pencil. Smooth as butter. The lead wears down quite quickly and the ferrules (the aluminum bit that holds the pencil and eraser together) tend to be loose, but that’s a small price to pay for an otherwise beautiful writing experience. Even after 3 years at seminary taking notes almost exclusively with these pencils, I’ve hardly put a dent in the box.

Pencils

I’ve got an electric pencil sharpener in my office, but it’s a loud, pencil-eating monster. I think I’ll go back to a hand-crank version.