Guest Spotlight — AB’s Q&A-a-day Journal

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This compact but powerfully-designed journal belongs to Alex Bergquist, who is a person of pleasing contrasts. Although she is a passionate skier and outdoor enthusiast, Alex is also a committed reader and a student of culture and history. Thus it is not surprising that an individual who harbors so many diverse interests would also be attracted to personal writing and the reflection that it fosters.

The Q&A-a-day guided journal, which is a product of the Crown Publishing Group’s Clarkson Potter lifestyle division, encourages the user to pen a brief response to a single daily question. What makes the notebook unique is that its goal is to motivate the writer to re-visit its 365 questions over five successive years. Consequently, a fully-completed volume will contain 1,825 short responses — each limited to four lines of text.

Alex remarks, “[E]ach day probably won’t seem profound, but the purpose of the journal is to see how much can change over five years, even in small areas of life without consciously being aware.” She continues by noting that, “I’m very eager to see the progression in this time of life right after graduating from college!” Alex graciously shared not only images of the inside of her journal, but photographs of several of her initial entries:

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The question for January 3 is What are you reading right now?

What books are currently part of Alex’s life?

Having finished the first two novels in Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series, she is now working through the third installment — Island of Fire (2013). It holds an 85% 5-star rating from 210 reviewers on Amazon.com. Lisa McMann — a Holland, MI native who moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2004 — is the author of several other series including The Vision Trilogy, The Wake Trilogy, and The Unwanteds: Quests. Island of Fire and its predecessors hold a special place in Alex’s heart because they were gifted to her from her grandfather.

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Liza Mundy’s 2018 national bestselling Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II is also part of Alex’s current reading routine. Mundy’s non-fiction account of the 10,000+ women hired by the U.S. military to break German and Japanese codes carries a 72% 5-star rating from 422 reviewers on Amazon.com. More about Liza Mundy and her books — including a young-adult version of Code Girls — can be found at LizaMundy.com.

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The third book in Alex’s rotation is Jodi Picoult’s novel small great things (2016). With 79% of more than 8,000 Amazon reviewers providing it with 5 stars, the #1 New York Times Bestseller’s track record is certainly impressive. The book’s press release notes the following: “With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, injustice, and compassion — and doesn’t offer easy answers.”

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If you are curious about Alex’s Q&A-a-day journal and desire to know more about the kinds of daily questions that it poses, here is a selection from the first two weeks of the year:

  • January 1 — What is your mission?
  • January 2 — Can people change?
  • January 3 — What are you reading right now?
  • January 4 — The best part of today?
  • January 5 — What was the last restaurant you went to?
  • January 6 — Today was tough because _____.
  • January 9 — Was today typical? Why or why not?
  • January 10 — Write down something that inspired you today.
  • January 11 — Today you lost _____.
  • January 12 — What is your favorite accessory?
  • January 13 — Where do you want to travel next?

Although 2019 is already underway, can you pick up the journal now and still find great value in it? Absolutely! Simply begin responding to the guided questions on the date that you acquire it. Then take comfort in knowing that the notebook will carry you into January of 2020. In effect, you can already prepare for one of next year’s New Year’s Resolutions — continue your habit of daily writing!

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Note — The image of Island of Fire was borrowed from Simon & Schuster’s TheUnwantedsSeries.com. The image of Code Girls was obtained from Liza Mundy’s website. The cover of small great things was found at barnesandnoble.com. The author of this blog post took the photograph of the back cover of the Q&A-a-day journal.

Guest Spotlight — JH’s “She Believed” Journal

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As a respected educator who is involved in numerous district and county programs, Jennifer Howe embodies the ethos of the affirmation featured on her journal: She Believed She Could So She Did. In her professional role as a German and English teacher at Lake Orion High School, Jennifer has spent her career helping students believe in their potential while she has continually pushed her own.

At home, Jennifer is just as engaged as she is in her classroom. She and her husband, who live in Auburn Hills, MI, have two daughters who are active, curious, and full of their mother’s eagerness to engage with the world. These qualities will help the girls make the most of their family’s first international trip, which will take them and their parents to Germany this summer.

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Germany’s town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Jennifer has a long history with personal writing, beginning with a diary that she maintained in elementary school. Only a few years later, one of her favorite journals was formed when she was a student in a creative writing class in high school. That notebook is one that she still revisits. When Jennifer moved on to college she journaled on a computer for a while (saving the entries to disc), but then migrated back to paper. During the summer of 2018 she journaled steadily, but her return to teaching in the fall cut down on the frequency of her opening the cover.

With the dawning of the New Year, Jennifer recommited to personal writing. She dedicates at least 5 minutes per day to journaling, most often in the early morning when her home is quiet. She finds journaling beneficial because it allows her to, “remember important events, to clear [her] mind, or work through challenges.” With wide-ruled pages and an 8.5″ x 11″ size, her notebook provides ample space for all three. Amazon.com currently has the She Believed journal, which 67% of reviewers provide with a 5-star rating, priced at only $4.99

Traditionally, Jennifer composes in cursive, using Pilot G2 gel ink pens — a favorite among many writers, including the author of this blog post. However, her 8-year-old daughter has recently convinced her to give another option a try: Paper Mate’s Flair Pens. One can be seen in the top photograph. These felt tip pens, which are available in several dozen colors as well as three different point variations (medium, fine, and extra-fine), hold a special place at her daughter’s school: they can only be used when students are writing (i.e. not for artwork or doodling).

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The cover of Jennifer’s journal features a powerful phrase, “she believed she could so she did,” whose original author is unknown. Based on web research data, we know that it has been circulating on-line since the early 2000s. Curiously, what is also shaded by a degree of uncertainty is arguably the most iconic image — and slogan — used to promote female empowerment in recent decades: the Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s “We Can Do It!” poster.

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In 1942, the Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Corporation, which manufactured numerous electrical devices including turbines and generators, hired graphic artist J. Howard Miller (ca. 1915-1990) to create a series of posters to promote the efforts of the company’s internal War Production Co-Ordinating Committee. Very little is known about Miller, who earned a degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1939 and was living in that city during World War II. Even his birth and death dates are uncertain. But the impact of his illustration is now legendary, and it continues to grow.

However, a significant misconception regarding the poster is prominent today because the name “Rosie the Riveter” identifies several other artifacts from the World War II era — namely a song and a painting featured on a magazine cover. Despite what many people believe, J. Howard Miller’s boldly-colored poster was not designed to rally public support for the war effort, and neither has it served as a symbol of female empowerment since the 1940s. Rather, the poster — which was essentially invisible to the public during the War — was seen by few Americans until the 1980s.

In a remarkable New York Times article from January 22, 2018, Dr. James J. Kimball of Seton Hall University is quoted as saying that, “It turns out that almost everything we think about Rosie the Riveter is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong wrong.”

Although Miller’s poster was revealed in 1943, its reach was very restricted. It did not become a cultural symbol of patriotism and women’s strength during the wartime years. Instead, the poster was only on display inside a few Westinghouse manufacturing plants for several weeks in February of 1943 until it was replaced by the next one in the series. Notice the small “Post Feb. 15 to Feb. 28” instruction found in the lower-left corner of the image. Miller designed 42 posters — most featuring men — and their goals were to boost morale and reduce absenteeism among Westinghouse’s factory workers.

Rather than Miller’s poster, it was a painting by famed American artist Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) that became a national symbol during the 1940s. Rockwell’s painting, which graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943, was entitled “Rosie the Riveter.” The name of the painting references a popular song with the same title that was produced in 1942 and recorded by several musicians. It was Rockwell’s painting — not Miller’s illustration — that became widespread during World War II. In fact, Rockwell’s rugged and defiant Rosie (her feet rest on a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf) was so popular that The Post allowed the U.S. Department of Treasury to use it to market war bonds.

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It was not until the 1980s, when Miller’s 17″ x 22″ poster was rediscovered, that it began to creep into the national consciousness and started serving as an influential vehicle for promoting women’s strength and capabilities. “Rosie the Riveter” definitely was an extremely influential cultural concept in the 1940s, but the “We Can Do It!” illustration was not. A fascinating history of J. Howard Miller’s poster — and the ways its likeness has been utilized by innumerable people and organizations since its public rebirth in the 1980s — can be found here.

Today, some journals like Jennifer Howe’s feature affirming slogans of women accomplishing what they set their sights on. And whether those goals involve riveting, writing, or reforming standards in business or civic affairs, the “we can — and do” message continues to spread. Jennifer’s two daughters will undoubtedly carry on that tradition. In fact, they are likely already doing so.

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Note — The image of J. Howard Miller’s poster was obtained from the website of The National Museum of American History. The photograph of Germany’s Rothenburg ob der Tauber was taken by Roman Kraft, and it was obtained from Unsplash.com. The image of the cover of The Saturday Evening Post was found on the website for the Norman Rockwell Museum. Finally, the image of the “She Believed” journal featured at the bottom of this post was borrowed from Amazon.com.

Guest Spotlight — AC’s Medici Lion Journal

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This gorgeous tooled-leather journal belongs to Adriana Cashwell, a former Michigan resident who now lives in Richmond, VA, where she studied psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received this notebook from a family member when she was a student at Lake Orion High School, but has not begun using it until now. Why? She explains that, “I’ve always found it too beautiful to write in if I wasn’t going to be serious about it.” I can relate, as I have received several journals over the years that seemed too ornamental for regular use.

Fortunately, Adriana has started journaling again, citing the fact that she has “always considered writing as a part of [her] soul.” And she maintains “hopes of getting her thoughts out of [her] head and onto paper, where they feel a little less threatening and make more sense.” Again, I can fully understand; writing helps me to re-consider the perplexing thoughts — and difficult decisions — that I ruminate about.

To make the transfer process as smooth as possible, Adriana relies on Pilot’s G2 Gel Ink pens. Most often she uses the fine-point variety, but recently she has been reaching for an extra-fine pen that has found its way into her arsenal. The G2, which is available in a striking range of colors, is a favorite of mine. I explain why on ink + sky‘s Materials page.

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Adriana’s journal was imported to the U.S. by Fiorentina, a distributor of stationery and gifts from across the Atlantic. One of its primary sources of leather goods is Italy, but it also gathers high-quality writing-related products from artisans in many European countries. If you are looking for its products locally, one of the best bets is Barnes & Noble. And online, check out BarnesAndNoble.com. Please be aware that Fiorentina’s website loads very slowly.

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Although the 9″ x 7″ Medici Lions Italian Leather Journal seems expensive at $39.95, it features refillable pages; therefore, you can use it for years because its recycled leather exterior is rugged and wear-resistant. Simply insert a new pad of paper when you finish the current one!

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Here is an image displaying the perimeter’s woven binding as well as the tooled leather interior of the front cover. Notice how the first page of the inner paper tablet inserts into the inside cover’s vertical leather “pocket,” which holds it securely.

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The lion is a common symbol of nobility in heraldry, a word that refers to the art and science of armorial bearings (or the armory). The most well-known segment of heraldry encompasses the coat of arms. For hundreds of years, lions have been used in countless coats of arms of different families, countries, and nations. The lions featured in coats of arms — as well as on actual armor and weaponry — are presented in different positions or attitudes. The Wikipedia.org page for “Lion (heraldry)” features a fascinating chart that outlines the most common lion attitudes.

The attitude of the lion on Adriana’s journal is known as rampant. Why? The Lion is standing erect, and its forepaws are raised. It is ready for battle.

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As a companion image, consider this photograph of an amazing 800-year-old shield that belonged to Konrad von Thüringen (ca. 1201-1240). Its lion also stands in the rampant attitude (but faces the opposite direction):

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Finally, what does the word Medici mean?

Medici is the name of a family from Italy that was very influential in the financial sector. The Medici Bank was founded in Florence in 1397, but the family did not achieve its greatest social, political, artistic, and economic power until the early 15th century. An incredible resource for learning more about this legendary family — and its many noteworthy members — is The Medici Archive Project.

In 2016, Netflix released an original 8-part series entitled Medici: Masters of Florence. It carries an IMDB rating of 7.9/10. Actor Richard Madden (seen below) plays the role of Cosimo de Medici, the young heir to his murdered father’s banking fortune. A second season of the historical drama ran in the fall of 2018.

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Note — The image of the Fiorentina logo was obtained from Fiorentinaltd.com. The image of the Medici Lion journal found beneath the logo was located on BarnesAndNoble.com. The close-up shots of the notebook were taken by the author of this blog post. The image of the Pilot Pens was borrowed from Walmart.com. The publicity image of Netflix’s Medici series was located on IMDB.com.

Blue light haiku

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Blue lights in morning
pull close above winter’s gray —
words like stars reveal.

What is a haiku? It’s a short, three-line poem of Japanese origin that juxtaposes two images, often following a 5-7-5 pattern of syllables. A reference to the season, or a kigo, is normally included to signal the time of year.

One of the most famous haiku poets is Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), whose likeness is presented here by Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

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You might be familiar with Hokusai’s legendary woodblock prints; they adorn everything from t-shirts to tote bags. Below is Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (c. 1830-31), which is also known as the Great Wave.

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Barnes & Noble sells a 200-page Piccadilly Sketchbook featuring the Great Wave:

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Thinking about trying your hand at a haiku?

Do it! And send it to me. Your piece might be featured on ink + sky.

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Note – The image of Hokusai’s woodblock print was found on Matsuo Basho’s Wikipedia.org page. The image of Under the Wave Off Kanagawa was obtained from the website of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Guest Spotlight — BW’s Eco Cork Journal

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Boasting an exterior made of natural materials, this 5″ X 8″ journal belongs to Brian Willer, the President and Director of Fun at StudySkills.com. Featuring 180 pages, the Lemome Eco Cork Journal is an Amazon top-seller with over 460 reviews. It retails for $22.99, but if you are a Prime member it will be shipped to you in a couple of days for $15.99.

As a National Board Certified teacher and a successful entrepreneur, Brian has much that he can write about. So there’s no better individual to articulate why he chose this particular journal than the Lake Orion resident himself. His explanation follows…

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After a careful search, I chose this one because it had many features that I value:

1. I love the look and feel of the cork exterior. I find it very inviting.

2. The attached bookmark makes it easy to mark/find the next available page for an entry.

3.  The pages are lined and are composed of off-white paper. I find the lines convenient for writing and I really enjoy the off-white color; it is easier on my eyes.

4.  The pages have a slight perforation so that they can be torn out. I like this because occasionally I want to jot a note or use my journal for something other than journaling. Being able to remove the pages allows me to “edit” my notebook by withdrawing sheets that are not truly related to journaling — but were needed in a pinch for another task.

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5. There is a pocket in the rear for small slips of paper. This is nice for placing notes or reminders for future journal entry ideas.

6.  The journal has an elastic band that wraps around the front to hold it securely closed. While this isn’t necessary, there’s something ceremonial about “unlatching” it as you prepare to write, and then “latching” it at the conclusion of journaling.

7. I like the pen/pencil holder that is sewn into the side. It is very convenient and makes the notebook feel like its own complete journaling kit.

8. Just when I thought my journal couldn’t possibly have any more features, I discovered this sheet of stickers; they are used to create tabs for marking different sections.img_4546

Who would have imagined that there could be so many features related to a journal? I never would have thought that such a number existed until I came across this notebook and started paying closer attention to all that it has to offer. And, now that I’m becoming accustomed to these features, I think I’ll be looking for future journals to require the same.

Finally, I have to laugh at myself. Picking out a journal that has so many features is completely in line with how I shop for virtually everything else. Whether it’s a TV, a car, a cell phone, or a refrigerator, I’m all about “what are the best features that I can find in a unit?” So, why would it be any different when selecting a journal?! 😂

Happy writing!!!

-Brian Willer

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Why cork?

A material found in the bark of the cork oak trees, which are most plentiful in Portugal and Spain, cork offers a number of valuable qualities:

  • As opposed to plastics and vinyl, which can emit chemical odors, cork is non-toxic.
  • Cork is flexible, fire-resistant, and naturally impermeable to water.
  • Because harvesting cork from the cork oak trees does not permanently harm them, it is generally considered to be a sustainable material.

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Do you want to participate?

Are you working on a journal that you would like to see featured as part of ink + sky’s series of Guest Spotlight posts? If yes, reach out for details. It’s a free, fun, and functional way to publicly validate your writing habits and showcase your unique notebook. Let the world know that pens, pencils, and paper still matter — especially in the digital age. Please contact me here if you are interested.

To see the first journal in this series, click on Guest Spotlight — KP’s Lemon Journal.

To read about the journal (pictured below) that is taking me into 2019, please see my post entitled New Year’s Adventure Journal. There I document how I created the notebook’s cover, and I provide a photograph of its first hand-written entry — which describes an early Sunday morning at Starbucks.

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Note — The image of the perforated paper was obtained from Amazon.com’s page for the Lemome Eco Cork Journal. The photograph of the cork board and yellow sticky note was taken by AbsolutVision, and the image of the cork coaster and mug was captured by Ben Kolde; they were both found on Unsplash.com. The photograph of the cork oak tree was obtained from the Rainforest Alliance’s website.

ink + sky is now on Facebook

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Today ink sky made its first Facebook post, an invitation to visitors to begin keeping a journal in 2019. Because FB does not permit the use of plus signs, the page is listed as “ink and sky.” The text and image of that post read as follows:

Join me. Go beyond a resolution, and start a journal in 2019. Just five minutes at a time will change your awareness, outlook, and self-concept. Trust me. I’ve been doing it for twenty-eight years. Click here to see my New Year’s journal: https://inkandsky.com/2018/…/30/new-years-adventure-journal/

If you start a journal in 2019, please send me a photo of your notebook and I will feature it on my website as a separate post. Think of it as an affirmation of your resolve.

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To see the first notebook that was featured in ink + skys new Guest Spotlight series of visitors’ journals, please click on Guest Spotlight — KP’s Lemon Journal.

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In the fall of 2018, ink + sky began sharing its photographs on Instagram. To view its first published image — a sunrise over Square Lake in Orion, MI — please see the blog post entitled The antidote to gray.

Note — The image of the lemons pictured above, which was obtained from Unsplash.com, was taken by a photographer who identifies as rawpixel.

Guest Spotlight — KP’s Lemon Journal

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This eye-catching journal belongs to Kristin Penrose — a sophomore at Oakland University in Rochester, MI — who is studying Public Relations and Strategic Communication. Why did she choose this particular notebook? The lemons remind her of a citrus tree that she had while growing up in Tampa, FL.

Kristin has been journaling since she was 10 years old. In her words, she feels most “put together” when she is placing her thoughts on the page. Depending on the kind of material she is composing, Kristin uses different writing tools. A black or blue pen allows her to “get something out” — an act that lends itself to ink, whose permanence mirrors the irreversible process of pulling powerful material from the heart or mind. In contrast, she reaches for a pencil when she is planning, sketching, or organizing.

Thank you, Kristin, for sharing your journal. May it continue to provide you with the space and perspective that you seek as the New Year unfolds.

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If lemons appeal to you, many manufacturers offer notebooks featuring the bright yellow fruit. A quick search on Amazon.com reveals numerous options, including this college-ruled 120-page composition book, which measures 8″ X 10″ and retails for $5.99:

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Fun fact about lemons:

Like oranges, limes, and grapefruit — which all grow on trees — lemons are categorized as hesperidia. A hesperidium is a kind of berry (oh!) with a traditionally inedible exterior. One exception is the kumquat, which features a sweet, delicious skin:

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Do you want to participate?

Are you working on a journal that you would like to see featured as part of ink + sky’s series of Guest Spotlight posts? If yes, reach out for details. It’s a free, fun, and functional way to publicly validate your writing habits and showcase your unique notebook. Let the world know that pens, pencils, and paper still matter — especially in the digital age. Please contact me here if you are interested.

To read about the journal (pictured below) that is taking me into 2019, please see my post entitled New Year’s Adventure Journal. There I document how I created the notebook’s cover, and I provide a photograph of its first hand-written entry — which describes an early Sunday morning at Starbucks.

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Note — The image of a lemon tree in this post was taken by photographer Dan Gold, and it was obtained from Unsplash.com.

New Year’s Adventure Journal

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On December 15, I finished the last page of my Viking Bear Journal. But several days prior to that I had selected a yellow composition book and an image — a greeting card from Trader Joe’s — to serve as my new journal, one that would take me into the New Year. Knowing that I would have to customize the journal by cutting up the card and affixing parts of it to the notebook’s front and back cover, I figured that I would make a post that includes before and after photos.

The above image features the tools that I used: an inexpensive composition book from Meijer, a metal ruler, an X-ACTO knife, 2″-wide STAPLES-brand packing tape, and a Creative Memories cutting board that I found next to a neighbor’s garbage can several years ago. (Why do people throw away functional objects?) The focus of this journal is the artwork featured on a Happy Birthday greeting card designed by Rae Ritchie. I found the card at TJ’s, so it only set me back one dollar. A buck!

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Who is Rae Ritchie? She’s a Minneapolis-based illustrator who has created work for a range of clients, from the Los Angeles Times to American Greetings to the Manhattan Toy Company. Purchase her prints and original artwork at her Etsy shop. Learn more about this talented designer at rae-ritchie.com, which is where I obtained this photograph:

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After spending ten minutes with the X-ACTO knife, ruler, and packing tape, here is the finished product:

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One aspect that I really like about this particular card is that it features artwork and text on the inside in addition to the expected “Happy Birthday” message.  The presence of the bonus language and illustration allowed me to adorn the composition book’s back cover with a small insignia:

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Wondering what that small red object is in the center? It’s a lantern. What better way to symbolize the concept of starting a New Year — and embarking on a new adventure! — than an old-fashioned lantern?

Here’s a photo of my first entry (penned several weeks ago) followed by a transcription:

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12-16-18  7:37AM — Starbucks, M-24

Yesterday I finished the last page of my Viking Bear journal, so today I begin a new one. This composition book lacks at [sic]* a cover, but I have selected the greeting card that will adorn the front (and back!) side. It’s a Trader Joe’s birthday card, and it will work perfectly because of its “new year” greeting and a scene of forest animals who are hiking into a “new adventure.” I’ll be proud to carry this notebook to the end of December, and then onto the first frosty days of the New Year.

Starbucks is quiet at this hour — only one other customer, a gentleman in shorts ( ! ) who is wearing an Oxford Wildcats t-shirt. There’s a few [sic] crew of baristas, probably six, talking cordially behind the counter. Even the drive-thru is slow. No music yet, which is nice. The silence is accompanied by pops, clicks, whooshes, and the low grumble of the garbage disposal: the sounds of preparing coffee and salvation for sleepy-eyed visitors. Before long the volume of the bean-machine will increase, and the silence of a Sunday morning will vanish beneath the clamor of orders and blenders and children’s voices.


My Challenge to You, Dear Reader…

Start your own journal in 2019, and begin a new adventure of writing, reflection, and renewal. If you choose to make this simple yet powerful investment in your health and well-being, please send me a photo of your notebook. I’d love to feature it on ink + sky as a separate blog post created exclusively for you. Think of the post as an affirmation of your bravery, initiative, and resolve.

Contact me here.

If you’d like some tips about the journaling process, please see my Getting Started page.

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* – [sic] is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase sic erat scriptum, which means “thus was it written” or “intentionally so written.” By including [sic] in my typed transcription I am alerting readers to the fact that an error — two, actually — was made in my hand-written journal entry, but that I am recording that error exactly as it was written.

Decomposition Books

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Are you searching for a unique, environmentally-friendly notebook to use as your next journal, to-do list location, or place for planning? Look no further than the Decomposition Book, the stand-out product from a company called Michael Roger, Inc.

Why choose Decomposition Books?

  • Their cover art is creative yet tasteful.
  • They feature dozens of unique designs and color schemes.
  • They come in a range of sizes.
  • They are constructed of 100% recycled post-consumer materials.
  • They are made with soy-based inks.
  • They are moderately priced. The models shown here are $8.00 or less.
  • They are manufactured with solid construction (i.e. they’re rugged).
  • They offer several models with spiral binding (see an example, below).
  • They are made in the USA.
  • They are shipped FREE for orders over $50.

Decomposition Books are available from retailers like Target, which is where I obtained the examples featured in this post, Amazon.com, and Decomposition’s beautifully-designed and easy-to-navigate website, decomposition.com:

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Rather than offer the standard conversion charts and/or “Class Schedule” organizers found inside traditional composition books, the Decomposition Books offer a much more creative and fun approach for their inner covers:

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I love the expressive designs, which rely on only one color of ink:

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For individuals seeking spiral binding, that format is available too:

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If ink + sky ever opens a brick-and-mortar retail location — wouldn’t that be great?! — I would immediately approach Michael Roger, Inc. to be one of my key suppliers. The company’s notebooks, greeting cards, gift wrap, and canvas totes feature the kind of unique aesthetic and quality construction that I could heartily endorse.

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I am totally going to make a blog post about this retail concept! After constructing the image featured above, I realize that my head is swimming with ideas. Stay tuned.

“Let’s Make it Count” Journal

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This is the second installment of a four-part series about The Fantastic Four, a set of custom journals that were created by two of my sophomores several years ago. (The first part can be found here.) The composition book pictured above features a cover with the ransom-note-style title “Let’s Make It Count.” This was the phrase that I spoke aloud to my Honors English students seconds before we embarked on our daily five-minute free-writes at the start of class.

My reason for using this slogan is that I wanted to remind my students that they had a choice during each of our quiet writing sessions: they could exert minimal effort and scribble nonsense on the page, or they could focus their minds and attention and compose meaningful content until the timer beeped. I have no idea if my daily assertion actually worked, but I kept repeating let’s make it count like a mantra just in case.

Here is my first entry (followed by a transcription, below):

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2-13-15     Beginning a new notebook today.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – William Shakespeare*

So I am entertaining the idea of a library science degree, and a possible future career as a library employee. Does it feel right? I’ll have to consider it. I don’t want to jump at it, but I believe that exploring the option is part of building the bridge.* Add [sic.] blocks to that bridge is very important, even though I don’t know exactly where it is going. The end-point is yet-to-be determined. I’ll have to maintain the faith that simply stepping out and moving forward is the right thing to do. I know I can explore and find something more suitable. I’ll keep placing blocks together to lengthen the bridge. Wise #### philosophy.


* – This quotation is from Measure for Measure (Act 1, Scene IV), which was written between 1603 and 1604. These lines are spoken by the character Lucio, a fussy young nobleman, during his conversation with Isabella, who is the sister of the play’s protagonist, Claudio.

* – “Building the bridge” is a concept/motto that I adopted in late-2014 or early-2015. It represents the fact that I was (and am) trying to envision a new professional path — one different than my role as a classroom teacher. To help me focus on the possibility of a career shift, I created the following sign using a piece of copyrighted artwork and a bold, blocky typeface. For three years the sign hung first on a bulletin board in my apartment and then on the corner of my bathroom mirror. It provided a daily reminder of what I was attempting to do. I am the kind of person who benefits from visual reinforcement.

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The composition book’s back cover is pictured below. The bottom-right corner features several images that deserve explanation.

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Owls are one of my favorite animals, which Meagan and Kathryn — my two students and the notebook’s designers — knew. Although my classroom features no images of the nocturnal hunters, students’ questions had somehow led to an awareness that I was fond of the silent, mysterious, head-swiveling predators.

At least four days a week I wore a tie at school, so that explains the partially rolled neckwear. I love ties. (Coincidentally, I also love short sentences.) The frequency and variety of my ties prompted students to sometimes ask how many I owned, a question that I found odd but welcome. They were curious, and I was happy to satisfy their desire by speculating about how many dozen were hanging in my closet. On a few occasions I even brought several shoeboxes of my ties (carefully rolled) into my classroom to let my sophomores see that I was speaking the truth. I owned many.

Sandwiched between the owls is a small photo of a blonde-haired woman adjacent to her cursive signature. This is Nancy Gibbs (b. 1960), an American journalist who became the first female managing editor of TIME magazine in 2013. She occupied that role until 2017. Now she serves as the visiting Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice of Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University. (That is a wonderfully alliterative job title, by the way.) Gibbs remains TIME’s Editor at Large.

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For writers of any background and skill level, Gibbs’ work stands as an incomparable example of how to meld meaningful content, an approachable style, and a deeply-sensitive understanding of the power of narrative. For years I photocopied Gibbs’ one-page editorials that were featured at the conclusion of nearly every issue of TIME.

These short pieces served as models for my students as they studied the craft of rhetoric — and the ways that they too could influence audiences with their developing skills. We emulated Gibbs’ simple yet powerful techniques, because her articles made frequent and precise use of similes and metaphors, semicolons and dashes, alliteration and parallel structure, and sentences both long and short. She is a master of prose, and perhaps her greatest strength is making complex subjects understandable for general readership.

One of Gibbs’ most famous articles accompanied the sobering cover photo of TIME’s infamous Sept. 14, 2001 black-bordered issue. Even years after the horror of that event, her report on this history-changing moment represents one of the most profoundly-moving pieces of journalism that I have ever encountered.

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Note – The images of Ms. Gibbs and TIME’s Sept. 14, 2001 cover were obtained from TIME.com.