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Chrysler and GM are seeking up to$39 billion in bailout funds, the Nation (that would be us, the Taxpayers) is already committed to bailing out failing banks and insurance companies. The nearly $800 billion stimulus package should keep government printing press operators working overtime for the next few months, and our kids paying off the debt for the next 200 years. My! My! Time Flies!

But does this stimulus package really get “down there” to the little people, people like us, who don’t own a bank or an insurance company or a U.S. car company? My husband and I considered this last night over the dinner table. Big companies who have done a crappy job over the last 20 years are getting massive amounts of bailout money, to help tide them over during the rough times and fund their 2010 Superbowl party, and conferences at Las Vegas resort hotels, and whopping bonus packages to CEO’s. (Glad to know they’ve got their priorities straight!) Meanwhile, small companies like our’s, that have done a pretty darn good job for the last 20 years, are getting nada. It just ain’t fair, ya know?

We want a bailout, too. Not a big one, mind you, just a small one. We think $750,000 is a nice roundish number, and with GM and Chryster getting $39 billion, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’ll never be missed.

Grand Premier Clannad

Grand Premier Clannad

We call it the Family Treecat Cat Show Stimulus Bill. For those of you who don’t know, two of our Maine Coons are show cats, recently retired from the ring with Grand Poobah awards, pretty photographs, ribbons & accolades, and major attitude problems about how important they are.

What we propose is to use part of our modest bailout money to purchase two Maine Coon kittens and take them to the show hall. Anyone who’s ever shown a cat or dog knows this is a major financial undertaking. Yet it is one where money is disseminated to many different people and industries, spurring their productivity and enabling them to spend money and stimulate the economy.

First, there’s the breeder, who spends enormous sums of money on food, litter, veterinary care, not to mention their costs in showing their animals. Buying their kittens enables them to maintain their hobby and avocation, and spend money doing it.

Showing cats supports transportation (gas for the car to haul the little moggies from show to show); the hotel and food industries. By giving us a small bailout, numerous pet-friendly LaQuinta hotels will benefit, along with Cracker Barrel and Waffle House restaurants! How’s that for spreading the wealth! Cat show registration fees keep cat show judges in business. The more cats that are in a show, the more spectators drawn to the show. The more spectators and cat show people at a cat show, the more money spent at the vending tables and booths selling pet products, including cat toys, cat shampoos, cat food, cat furniture, cat jewelry, cat clothing (for people, not for cats, who really wouldn’t want to wear a lot of what gets sold…)

As you can see, we’re not talking peanuts here (and especially not Peanut Corporation of America peanuts). The massive amounts of money spent to run cats for Grand Poobah awards has specific benefits for the “little people” of America, down at the grass roots level, who somehow seem to be missing out on the big bailout bucks the car companies, banks and insurance companies are getting. Yes, if they can get bailout money for being stupid (we’ll politely leave “greed” out of the equation), surely people like you and me can get bailout money for doing things right?

Yes, the Cat Show Economic Stimulus Package is a modest plan. Yet, I feel it is an effective one and, unlike the “big guys” we prommise to document every expenditure of our bailout funds. We’ll provide receipts for show registrations, food, travel costs, pet care needs. At the end of the show season, we promise to provide proof-of-success coupons in the form of Grand Poobah certificates to whatever new (and flabby) government agency is formed to oversee the bailout program.

We’re drawing up our bailout plan now, and we’ll see you at the cat show later!

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I have a goal: complete two chapters of a mystery/thriller I’m writing by the end of March.  Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming could pen entire novels in three months, but they didn’t have my family to contend with, they didn’t have flu for a week, or the increased work load brought on by a declining economy.

It’s inevitable that whenever I ensconce myself in my little home office to write, that something (in the form of a husband usually) wanders in demanding instant attention and answers to critical questions.  Where’s the big flashlight?  (I don’t know, I never use it.) What’s this charge on the credit card statement? (This has to be answered now?).  Things would fine if I could answer the question and that was it, but no.  As sure as night follows day and Roma Ryan penned Orinoco Flow, hovering follows, a sense that we must converse on something else! 

It’s not that I don’t want to answer questions or converse, I just want to do it later!   J.K. Rowling was lucky that she was divorced when she started Harry Potter No. I.  If she had been married, she never would have gotten to No. 7.  One of my favorite authors is mystery writer Sue Grafton.  If you go to Sue’s website, you’ll find photographs of her office.  You look at those photos and just know that Sue is never bothered by family distractions, credit card chatter or requests to find tools that she never uses. 

I have a goal.  I’m sure I’m going to meet it, but being an amateur writer dealing with all the distractions of the family republic doesn’t make it easy.

PhotobucketI got real excited when I heard about Staples new line of environmentally friendly composition books, legal pads and loose-leaf filler paper, made of pulped bamboo waste. My eyes drifted to the kitchen window with its view of an acre of formerly ornamental bamboo growing wild in the ravine behind our house. Could paper products be the answer to our prayers? My mind was filled with the idea of selling the invasive crop to a paper factory to be ground up and turned into cheap, fountain-pen friendly paper! Maybe we could finally build that deck over the ravine without fear that it would be swallowed up by 20-foot tall stalks that look like they came straight out of Day of the Trifids.

Alas, I found out the eco-easy line is not made from bamboo waste, but pulped sugar cane (bagasse) waste. Hell, another opportunity blown. I can’t even get the panda keepers at the zoo interested in our bamboo crop. It’s the wrong kind of bamboo.

However, I degress. The fact is, I went to Staples and picked up one of the $2.49 eco-easy composition notebooks, and I’m impressed with its quality. This inexpensive paper is not what you want to use to write a letter to your grandmother thanking her for gifting you the family heirloom silver. It doesn’t have the archival properties to use for writing that you want to keep for a long time, such as a journal. However, for every day use as a project notebook or to keep on the desk to jot down notes, this cheap, fountain pen friendly, paper may be just about perfect.

The Cover: I’m not a fan of the junior high school composition books with those black and white marbled covers and the wide spaced lines. The cover of the eco-easy composition books is heavy, rough, brown stock. The thick fibers in the card stock give it a nice texture. Overall, it has a plain-brown-paper wrapper sense of efficiency. The covers come in several simple designs, which do not detract from the sturdy, functional look. I picked a notebook with a with a single flowing light green leaf of a sugar cane. The cardstock covers are stiff enough to make the notebook usable hand-held or balanced on your knee. The 100 pages are stitched into the cover. In a pinch, you can fold paper and cover back on itself to write

Paper: The paper is thin, almost airmail weight, with an extremely smooth surface. It’s a soft white paper with light brown lines. Staples eco-easy products are made with environmentally friendly vegetable inks, which is nice, although I never thought ink was an environmental hazard.

PhotobucketPen and Ink Test: I tested the paper with two pens I use frequently and several inks: a Waterman Carene with a medium-fine cursive italic nib and Private Reserve Midnight Blues ink; a Waterman Charleston with a medium nib, loaded with Mont Blanc black; the Carene again with Waterman Havana Brown and South Sea Blue ink. Despite the very smooth surface, ink went onto the paper without feathering and dried quickly, perhaps more quickly than on the paper of the Apica A610 journal that I use.

The Carene with Private Reserves Midnight Blues ink is something of a dry writer on most papers. Its performance on the eco-easy composition book paper was outstanding. It was extremely smooth on the paper, leaving a wetter and wider line than normal. Amazing-a $130 pen with a $50 customized nib flees from Rhodia and Apica paperstock to find happiness with a store-brand $2.50 notebook. Life is strange. It’s like hoping your daughter will marry a brain surgeon, and instead she falls in love with a guy named Spike who rides a Harley.

I would talk to them about this odd mismatch, but they’ve just informed me they’re expecting a case of index cards in nine months…

I also tested the Carene with Waterman Havana Brown and South Sea Blue inks. These two flow more freely in the Carene than the Midnight Blues. The Havana Brown looked good on the soft white paper. The color was a paler brown that I get when I use this ink with my Pelikan M250, the line was slightly wider than with the Midnight Blues. I liked the look of it on the paper. The South Sea Blue was wide but too pale. It looked like a Caribbean carnival had come to town. I wrote a page with it and then dumped it from the pen.

The Charleston has a medium nib that’s very broad and bullyish, kind of like our big Maine Coon boy. When this pen writes a line, you notice it. Despite writing such a wet line, ink did not bleed through to the other side of the paper

In all cases, I did not experience a problem with ink bleeding to the other side of the page. There is always some see-through and, with a wet medium nib the see-through is more prominent, but it wasn’t such a problem that it prevented use of both sides of the paper. For my uses of these notebooks, the see-through isn’t a problem.

Line spacing: This surprised me. As I said, I’m not crazy about high-school ruled notebooks, and this is the first time in years I’ve written in a notebook using wide line spacing. After I got used to it, I liked it. I found myself writing larger to take up the line space and, in return, I found myself forming my letters more carefully and clearly. For me, improved handwriting is a bonus.

Summary: For $2.49 you get 200 pages of smooth paper in a well-made composition book that looks adult enough not to be an embarrassment if you’ve moved beyond junior high school. It won’t have the cache of Rhodia or Moleskeine. You won’t use this and pretend you’re Hemingway writing from a sidewalk bistro in Paris, which seems to be the whoopla of Moleskeine’s marketing program. Staples gives you a book of paper you can use freely without counting the costs each time you turn a page. Give it a try. You’ll probably like it, and if you don’t, hand it to the kids. There’s no way you can lose with this composition book.

Another nail in the coffin of the hand-written letter was announced last week by the U.S. Postal Service. Postage will increase by 2 cents in May, from 42 cents to 44 cents. As my husband succinctly put it, ‘they’re sucking wind like everyone else.’

Except for long notes scribbled in Christmas cards, I rarely get real letters these days. Last week I came home and found an largish envelope in my real mailbox. Dark brown, air-mail weight, postmarked — Belfast, from a friend on the other side of the puddle. Inside was a newspaper clipping he had promised to send, a Sunday Independent interview with Moya Brennan. The article I expected and was looking forward to reading, but the treat was the handwritten letter inside. A few comments about the article, another comment about Moya’s little sister’s latest, And Winter Came…, the weather, best regards. Written in a neat distinctive style, I immediately thought — this guy ought to use a fountain pen!

My friend could have sent me a PM and said the same things, and just clipped a short note saying ‘here it is’ to the clipping. It would have been easier for him to do that than take the time to write a real letter. The fact is, I read the letter with the kind of enjoyment that comes from holding paper and looking at the words written on it.  Writing a physical letter involves care that we often don’t take with email.  We organize our thoughts; there’s no cut and paste with paper and pen to rearrange paragraphs.  We take care with spelling to avoid blotchy crossed-out words.  We try to use our best handwriting so we can be read.  (This is particularly true whenever I write a letter!)

It’s an old-fashioned luxury to take such time to write a real letter. It’s a luxury I wish we had more opportunity and reason to indulge in.

The gift that keeps on giving

Apica CD-15

Apica CD-15

I have a friend who is a poet. A few months ago I gave her an Apica CD-15 notebook and a Pilot 78G broad nibbed fountain pen for Christmas. I didn’t know how she had been writing her poetry–with a ballpoint (yech), a gel pen, rollerball, typewriter or on Word (how lifeless, how mechanical!), but I knew that poems written with such talent deserved a fountain pen. So I packed up a spare CD-15 and a pen and sent them on their merry journey out of the country.

She became Apica-addicted. She likes these neat, smooth and creamy little notebooks so much that she ordered 25 of them from Molly on eBay (Take Note Writing Gear). Now all she has to do is discover that if one fountain pen is good, two is better, and three fountain pens do not make a crowd! From there, she can go on to ink and various types of paper and notebooks.

Last night, I found out that she had used the Apica and fountain pen to write a book of poetry for her husband for Valentine’s Day. That, I have to say, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Now, the only thing I wonder is if Molly will give me a referral fee the next time I place an order with her!

Coffee and a pen

It’s a typical morning in the republic. Coffee, newspaper, trawl the forum (none of the natives are restless), and ponder what pen hasn’t been picked on lately? A post at Fountain Pen Nework (the pen obsessive’s place on the ‘net) points me toward my silver rOtring 600. It’s been hiding in its case for a long time now.

The rOtring 600 is a utilitarian pen–function over form and, perhaps, function over comfort. Carved from a block of brass with hexagonal sides, it features a heavy spring clip, a knurled grip and, on the cap, the famous red rubber (rOtring) ring. The fine point nib is as stiff as a dart and the whole pen resembles nothing so much as a railroad spike. This isn’t a pen to try to carry pass the transportation safety inspectors at the airport. Unsheathed from its cap, the rOtring 600 could be used as a weapon in close encounter urban situations. On ice floes in the Arctic or scaling the slopes of Mount Everest, it could serve as an emergency ice ax. Heavy and uncomfortably long posted, the rOtring 600 is the Superman of pens.

rotring-600-silver1

I have two: the silver in fine point, and a black in medium. The silver fine nib is a little too fine for me and a touch scratchy. A few minutes drawing circles and figure eights on a piece of brown paper bag smoothed the nib a little, but it’s still a very fine line, still not quite smooth enough. The medium point on the black pen is very smooth and a trifle too wet with Private Reserve Black Cherry. But god, it looks good and the deep red-brown ink is a match for it.

The silver pen was out of ink and not being too obsessive about these things, I removed the Waterman ink cartridge, which I think held a touch of Private Reserve Midnight Blues ink, and refilled it with Private Reserve Lake Placid Blue. I think the best use of Waterman ink cartridges is to serve as big ink holders for other kinds of ink, by the way. I always have a few empty ones hanging around and refill them with a syringe.

So, the silver rOtring will go into my pen case for the weekend. It’s not the most comfortable pen to hold; it’s heavy and even with the knurled grip, the pen always seems like it’s going to slide around in my fingers after I write a few lines. However, it’s been ignored for too long, and a pen mom has to look after her inky little charges. I’ll use it over the weekend and, who know, I may try to adjust the flow. Maybe more ink on the nib will help it out.

Meanwhile, I’m off to Staples to get a pad of that bamboo paper people are raving about, and down to Borders to see if they’ve restocked the Piccadilly notebooks. Piccadilly Notebooks–there’s a topic for another day!

I have a beautiful pen that needs a little work–a Libelle Winter Storm. Libelle makes a series of these season-themed fountain pens, the Autumn Leaves, Sea Breeze, and the Winter Storm. They’re the first fountain pen series that I’ve ever said, “I gotta have all of them!” Last fall I picked up the last of them–the Winter Storm. A beautiful pen. It has a deep, lustrous gray marbled finish that reminds me of cold winter clouds or dark cracking ice. The resin barrel warms up in the hand and is comfortable to hold.

The Libelle Winter Storm

The Libelle Winter Storm

The steel Iridium Point Germany nib is a medium, but writes like a fine. I think these Iridium Point Germany nibs are made by Schmidtt or Bock. I’m not sure what Iridum is, and suspect the whole thing is a marketing tool to make you feel better about having a steel nib instead of a gold nib. Whatever, steel nibs are fine with me, and the nibs that Libelle uses are darn good.

But, the Winter Storm’s nib writes a thin, dry fine line, and that’s a problem. I want a wetter line than I’m getting from it. So, I’m spending a lot of time writing with it, and changing inks to see what will work best in it. Thing is, this dark gray marble is screaming for a dark red ink–something like Private Reserve Black Cherry. But Black Cherry comes out very dry, very thin. I’m now trying Mont Blanc Burgundy in it. Paper is also part of the equation. What paper does this pen want? It doesn’t want the Apica A610 notebook I use for a journal. Most dry, most unhappy with that. 😦 And red inks look weird on yellow legal paper. I think it wants plain old spiral bound white notebook paper. Tried that this morning and got a much better line out of the pen. When I run out of the MB Burgundy in the converter, I’ll try Black Cherry again. The MB ink is a little too pinkish looking. This pen wants a dark red dramatic ink!

I’ve found that fussy pens can improve over time if you give them a chance. The tines may not be properly aligned. Writing them the for a few weeks reshapes the tines to accommodate how you write. The nibs might move a tiny bit away from the feed, and that causes a greater flow of ink to the nib. I had the same problem with the Autumn Leaves when I got it–it just didn’t write that great. A few weeks later, with Private Reserve Avacodo ink in it and a few dozen pages under it’s .. er .. nib, it became one of my favorite writing pens. The Sea Breeze, as befitting it’s Caribbean Blue (and sea green) theme, was perfect out of the Libelle box!

The Libelle pens can be found online at Swisher Pens and Pencity, links provided over there————>