Better than a Wookiee’s kiss

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

For my best friend’s birthday, I wanted to send a greeting card that would honor both a celebration that occurs only once per year — and the fact that STAR WARS serves as a key narrative extending back through the many years of our friendship.

Having grown up during the late 1970s and early 80s, he and I are fans of George Lucas‘ original space trilogy and the numerous ways it shaped our developing minds. As kids we stood in awe of the paradoxical strength and gentleness of the Force, and we reveled in the colorful characters who helped us understand that good and evil are not always so far apart. As adults we acknowledge that these lessons still influence our lives, and we recognize that cosmic conflicts starring Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher can play out in everyday encounters set in Whole Foods or Crate & Barrel.

So when I glimpsed the ominously-shadowed Death Star while browsing through the Wonderfolds 3D offerings at my local Hallmark store, I knew immediately that I had found the perfect birthday greeting. This was the card I was looking for — and I moved along to the register to barter with the clerks.

Hallmark’s Wonderfolds cards, which are available in over 50 different styles to recognize occasions from weddings to graduations, range in price from $6 to $10. Unless Han Solo can smuggle one out of your nearest store in his Millennium Falcon, the STAR WARS card will set you back $7.99. This may seem like an excessive price for “just a card,” but I assure you that it is a reasonable bounty given its unique features.

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There are several qualities of this gift that I really appreciate:

  • First and foremost — its 3D structure allows it to stand up securely on a dresser, table, or desk. Therefore, it exists as not only a card, but a small celebratory artifact — an intergalactic paperboard statue whose folds are more rugged than an origami crane, yet just as visually pleasing.
  • Second — the card has two sides presenting two distinct themes: one for the Rebel Alliance, and one for the Empire. Traditional open-and-close birthday cards rarely feature dual images like this, so I love that this one pays homage to heroes and villains in separate but equally-compelling ways. Each side gathers together a half-dozen key characters who are arranged in a compact, colorful display.
  • Third — the characters look like the actors who filled those roles. You don’t feel the disagreeable sensation of wondering why Luke Skywalker bears little resemblance to Mark Hamill. In fact, the image of Obi-Wan Kenobi looks startlingly like the legendary British actor Sir Alec Guinness (1914-2000).
  • Fourth — the centrally-placed STAR WARS logo, which is formed from silver foil, is suspended by two tiny pieces of fishing line from its paperboard enclosure. As a result, the logo rocks gently back and forth with shifts of wind; this movement is subtle, but it is more than sufficient for the silver logo to reflect light and catch the eyes of passersby. Few open-and-close cards possess a moving part that functions when the card is on display (e.g. stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet, etc.).

This card has a fifth feature that would be worthy of a bullet-point if it were not for one fundamental flaw. The Wonderfolds’ packaging touts that it “INCLUDES REMOVABLE CARD,” which is a reference to the tiny piece shown below:

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Although this separate pull-out card’s exterior carries bold red-and-white lettering, its interior is disappointing. Rather than being formed from white paperboard, the inside is dark gray — a color that significantly interferes with the visibility of any color ink. Therefore, if you wish to pen a greeting for the recipient, your words will be nearly invisible against the dark background. For a dime more per card, Hallmark could have prevented this seemingly obvious limitation. After all, there is no where else on the 8-inch-tall 3D display to write “happy birthday” or “best wishes.” Even a dismantled droid would know better!

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For a thick, oversized card like this one, additional postage is required. In this case, $1.21 was necessary. Curiously, when the envelope arrived at my friend’s house, the three stamps that fueled its flight were not cancelled. (?) The Force must have been with this happy-birthday missive as it made the jump to first-class speed.

What if you are not a STAR WARS fan? Should you still consider the Wonderfolds series? I believe so. Although several of the cards feature only moderately-inspiring graphics, many are very appealing in their unique and eye-catching presentations. Here are two of my favorites, which possess strikingly different — yet equally creative — aesthetics:

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Yes, this circus-themed card offers both light and sound — carnival music!

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For a “just because” occasion, this lotus and dragonfly card serves as a beautiful momento to display on a bookshelf or deep window sill.


If you are a die-hard STAR WARS fan — or would simply like to learn more about the original trilogy and/or the latest film previews, collectibles, and events — please see the official StarWars.com website.

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Note — The images of the Wonderfolds cards were obtained from Hallmark.com. They are available at local stores and online.

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.

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.

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.

Lucie Rice’s sports-themed cards

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Bowl game season is here, and if you have recently cheered on your favorite college football team at a friend’s party then you have several options for a proper thank-you: (1) send a thoughtful text, (2) place a phone call, or (3) mail a card like the one featured above by Nashville-based designer Lucie Rice. (By the way, doing nothing is not an option; hosts deserve gratitude.)

Curious about the cool purple dragon stamp? Learn more about the artist who designed it — as well as see the three other boldly-colored serpents in the series — in my post entitled Dragons are descending!

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Who is Lucie Rice? She is an artist and illustrator who, in her words, creates “whimsical and sometimes ridiculous imagery” for children and adults. Her work adorns book covers, posters, and corporate publications. In more than a few of her creations you can find references to animals, one of her passions. She and her husband live with two dogs, Lola and Hank. Learn more about this talented graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design at LucieRice.com.

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Through her affiliation with the Jen Vaughn Artist Agency, Ms. Rice has produced a series of blank cards (i.e. ones that feature no internal greeting) for grocer Trader Joe’s. That is where I purchased the football and basketball cards pictured in this post. And because they were obtained from TJ’s, the price for each one was a mind-blowing $1.00. That’s more insane than a 60-yard field goal or a buzzer-beating jump shot launched from a yard behind the three-point line. One dollar!

When March Madness rolls around in three months, you can use this card to send a few words of thanks to whichever friend or family member invites you into his/her family room — and grants you access to hoop hysterics on a 77″ OLED 4K television.

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Ms. Rice has also designed a baseball-themed card, whose image I found on the Jennifer Vaughn Artist Agency website. As of now, TJ’s is not carrying it. Maybe in the spring?

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If you are curious about the writing supplies available at Trader Joe’s, please click on this link to reach my post entitled Trader Joe’s knows cards.

If you are interested in learning about how Trader Joe’s has risen to become the top-grossing grocer in America (based on sales per square foot), click on this link to reach my post entitled Succeed by defying conventions.

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Note — The image featured above was obtained from jenvaughnart.com.