Dragons are descending!

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These stunning stamps, which feature digitally-produced artwork, are available at post offices and USPS.com. A sheet of sixteen stamps — four each of four different designs — will set you back $8.00. Ordering from USPS.com adds a modest $1.25 shipping charge.

These remarkable dragons were created by Don Clark who, along with his brother Ryan, established Invisible Creature studio in Maple Valley, Washington in 2006. Here is an image of the siblings at the entrance to their two-story barn/workspace. The photo was obtained from the duo’s extraordinary website. Ryan is on the left; Don is on the right.

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The Clarks, who are talented designers and accomplished musicians, benefit from a strong family influence of creativity. Their grandfather was an illustrator who worked at NASA for 28 years. Their father tinkered passionately in his home, where he produced furniture and toys made of wood. The upper level of the Clarks’ barn studio houses a workspace that their formative forebears would be proud of:

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The online store at the Invisible Creature website features a range of products created by the über-talented brothers. Books, t-shirts, toys, prints, posters, and super-cool wool felt pennants are all available. If you are searching for a special present for December’s celebrations, check out the 2018 Holiday Gift Guide. There you will find, among other dazzlingly-designed goods, a Little Golden Book version of the Disney PIXAR film The Incredibles. Its illustrations were created by Don Clark. Here is an example of its retro-styled artwork:

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Do you have holiday cards to mail? Stop at your local post office or visit USPS.com for a sheet of Dragon stamps, which feature the Forever USA guarantee. You will always be able to use them to send first-class letters.

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Note — Except for the photograph at the top of this post, all of the images of Don and Ryan Clark and their products and artwork were obtained from the Invisible Creature website.

Of Pencils and Passion

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If you savor the glossy yellow finish and subtle woody scent of a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, then your heart might soar with joy when you peruse the amazing selection of writing utensils and supplies available from CW Pencil Enterprise. With the tag line “Purveyors of Superior Graphite,” this New York City-based specialty retailer is the expression of Caroline Weaver. In late 2014, the life-long pencil devotee launched CW Pencil Enterprise online; a brick and mortar storefront followed in March of 2015.

I first learned about CWPE courtesy of my dear friend Sandy, who adds unique pencils to her writing kit whenever they catch her eye. Several years ago Sandy came across an article about Caroline and her creative collections in The New York Times. Complete with full-color photos, the expose features a background of the twenty-something entrepreneur and a mouth-watering glimpse into what is available at her NYC boutique. From then on, I have visited CW’s beautifully-designed website semi-regularly when I feel a longing for an analog fix. It features a broad range of specialty pencils, books, carrying cases, erasers, and so much more. Many of her products are relatively rare and/or international in origin, so she is The Source for hard-to find writing supplies.

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Please consider paying CW Pencil Enterprise a visit the next time you are searching the web for a unique gift, a quality replacement for the stub you just threw out, or a guilty pleasure like the $9.00 Seed Super Gold High Class Rubber Eraser:

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Before you finish your shopping — or maybe before you begin! — check out Caroline’s helpful selection of pencil-related links on the site’s FAQ page. One of my favorites is How to Find Your Perfect #2.

For those who are curious to learn more, a short video about Caroline and CWPE is available here.

Note — The top two images in this post were obtained from the 2015 New York Times article about CW Pencil Enterprise. The image of the Seed Super Gold Rubber Eraser is from the CWPE website.

Trader Joe’s knows cards

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Your favorite small grocer may be just the place to find something that you didn’t know you needed: greeting cards. And even if you don’t think you need a personable and expressive note to send to friends or family, you might change your mind if you steer your red cart past the frozen veggies and domestic wines to the wall of mailable mementos.

After discovering the greeting card display at my local Trader Joe’s about five years ago, I became hooked. Every time I pick up their 50% Less Salt Dry Roasted & Salted Almonds (delicious!) or GT’s Gingerade Kombucha (lowest price anywhere!), I survey their continously-evolving selection of cards. I have never been disappointed.

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Trader Joe’s has broken with tradition and, for the first time, introduced a small number of seasonally-themed cards. The store on Walton Boulevard across from Oakland University currently stocks two aimed specifically at Halloween, and one that could be used for All Hallows’ Eve or a Dia de los Muertos (Oct. 31 – Nov. 2) celebration. I bought all three.

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Although greeting cards can be found at Target, Meijer, Walmart, and corner drug stores in addition to Hallmark, what sets Trader Joe’s apart from the competition is the price. All of their cards are only $0.99. That’s right — they’re a buck. And if you suspect that this low price translates to the likelihood that you will be disappointed by the cards’ mediocre artwork, structural flimsiness, or poor fabrication, you’d be wrong.

Trader Joe’s produces high-quality greeting cards. The artwork draws from a broad range of styles and artists, the folds are crisp and precise, and the edges are smoothly cut. Even the envelopes are sturdy, well-constructed, and adequately prepared with adhesive.  Plus, every card comes pre-packaged in a form-fitting plastic sleeve, which is a real benefit if you are sandwiching the cards in your shopping bag between pouches of organic chopped frozen fruit and boxes of TJ’s Pumpkin Pie Mocha Ice Cream. (Note — It has not escaped my attention that these sleeves are an environmental hazard.)

The categories of TJ’s greeting cards range from birthdays to weddings, new job to new baby, and get well to get lost (okay — the latter is an exaggeration). But there are a whole bunch of different themes, from serious to silly. And one of the best things about the selection is that Trader Joe’s routinely carries at least four or five cards that feature pleasing outer photography or artwork paired with blank interiors. These are perfect for people (like me) who enjoy penning their own message.

The next time you are composing your grocery list, add “greeting cards” to round out the selection of staples that you will store in your pantry or freezer. Trader Joe’s offers well-constructed cards in a broad range of styles at a price — only $0.99 — that can’t be beat. But please don’t take my word for it. According to the Trader Joe’s website, in 2017 shoppers purchased almost 17 million of their greeting cards!

Mini composition books!

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Big possibilities from small supplies! Modeled after their old-school forbears, these miniature composition books are ready for action. They feature 80 narrow-ruled pages, a thread spine, and surprisingly sturdy front and back covers. The primary difference between these guys and their ancestors is size.

Take a look at the highlighter. Those notebooks are tiny. Whereas traditional composition books measure 9.75 inches by 7.5 inches, these feature dimensions less than half that. They are 4.5 inches tall and 3.25 inches wide. Which makes them adorable.

Cost? Only $0.79 at Meijer. And they come in four colors: black, green, blue, and red.

If you are wondering what to do with a miniature composition book, consider…

  • Filling it with quotations
  • Recording Must-Remember Reminders
  • Maintaining your grocery lists
  • Stashing it in your glove box just in case
  • Keeping track of the books or movies you’d like to read or see
  • Composing haiku on its size-appropriate pages
  • “Texting” on it in order to baffle strangers
  • Giving them away as party favors along with a high-quality pen
  • Writing little notes to your partner and leaving the comp book on his/her pillow
  • Mailing it back and forth to a pen pal instead of using traditional letters

Endless possibilities exist!

For birthdays, cards truly deliver

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The moment I spotted this card last week, I knew I had to buy it. Why? Because I believe that birthdays are occasions that warrant a physical message of recognition and good cheer, one that is chosen by hand, written by hand, and delivered by hand. Showing a close friend or family member that you really care is best done using this method.

At a time when instantaneous digital communication dominates the social landscape, greeting cards can seem quaint — even outdated. But they offer everything that we hunger for in the age pixels and Pinterest: surprise, personalization, intimacy, and lasting value. Those brief birthday wishes that clump up on your Facebook feed once per year? They might offer a degree of surprise and a moment’s worth of personalization, but intimacy and lasting value are two traits that they, at least in my mind, clearly lack.

Which would you rather receive from your closest friends? A phone full of text messages punctuated with emoji, or several colorful envelopes in your mailbox featuring stamps — yes, the Post Office does still sell these miniature pieces of artwork! — and your name printed on the front. Your name written by someone else’s hand! As in, they actually took the time to record every letter of that special group of words that identifies you as a unique being. How revolutionary! How counter-cultural! How refreshingly daring!

Even if seeing your name and your mailing address penned by someone else does not pique your interest, the heft of the envelope itself should send a shiver of possibility up your arm. A greeting card weighs something, actual ounces that can be measured on a scale. Cards are sturdy — even robust — in comparison to the rest of the “gifts” that arrive in your mailbox on an almost daily basis (grocery ads; the Bed, Bath, and Beyond 20% coupon; the latest Kohl’s mega-sale flyer; etc.). But that birthday card? It stands out!

By the time you walk through the garage on the way to the kitchen, you are actually giddy with anticipation about what the envelope might contain. So after you drop your keys on the counter, give the dog an obligatory pat on the head, and deposit the rest of the mailbox’s contents next to the toaster, you stand there holding a thick envelope that still has yet to yield its gift. But you are already feeling good, even warm with the glow of recognition. Someone cared enough to send this gift days in advance (shocking!) so that it would arrive before your special day. And that matters. You can feel it in your chest.

And if your friends truly value you — and they should, right? — they will have chosen cards that mean something special. They transmit a greeting that is decidedly not anonymous in nature; rather, their humor (or seriousness) reflects directly on you and/or your relationship with that person. Case in point: the card pictured above was chosen for a specific friend, because I know that this person will value the dark colors, the matte finish, the wry humor, and the bats. Yes, the bats. Their presence called to me. I knew my friend had to receive this card — in 2019. Yes, I will safely store it for over six months. Trust me.

Although the card’s interior features a greeting (a short “Happy Birthday,” in this case), it is what I will write that will likely make the biggest impact. Not because my inscription will be profound or hysterical or moving, but because those words will be placed there by my hand, with care, in ink, for my friend’s consideration. And those words will honor our relationship, this person’s uniqueness, and the fact that I feel fortunate to have someone in my life whose significance warrants a physical message of recognition and good cheer.

Unlike a text or a Facebook comment, that physical message can then be stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet, set out on a dresser with other keepsakes, or displayed on the mantel above the fireplace along with other friends’ cards. Together, they say that the recipient is being celebrated, not just his/her birthday. They recognize a person, not just a transitory occasion that occurs every twelve months. And they serve as a palpable physical reminder of intrinsic worth for days, if not weeks.

The next time a friend’s birthday appears on your calendar, remember that people matter. And cards truly deliver.

Note — The word hallmark originated in the early 1700s. It refers to a stamp (or a mark) that was used by the Goldsmiths’ Company of London to identify the level of purity of gold or silver. The hallmark was a physical symbol that recognized a standard of value.