Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Spotlight on Spotlight Stationery

Spotlight Stationery is a stationery subscription service. You can order a one-off box to see if you'd like their stuff (you will), a bi-monthly subscription, or a monthly subscription. The boxes cost £25 plus p+p (£2 for the UK).
Each month, the team at Spotlight Stationery put together a collection of stationery, using only premium brands and including things you may not find on your high street. They also include postcards by new illustrators, helping to support young artists once they've left university. The box of stationery is a surprise - you don't know what you'll get before it arrives - but they offer a no-quibble, money-back guarantee. If you really don't like what you get, you can get in touch with them.

Intrigued by all this, I ordered a box. I have to confess, it arrived a few days ago but this is the first chance I've had to do a post on it! Apologies for the poor lighting in the photos... it's Scotland and winter and never stops raining and I really struggled with or without flash to get decent pictures!

The box is approximately 235 x 165 x 23mm, or just bigger and thicker than an A5 notebook. When you open the box, inside you find your goodies wrapped in tissue paper, tied with string and with a card saying Thank You on one side and information about the support for National Star, a charity for young people with disabilities.

Box, showing the message on the lid!
Thank you card, attached with pretty string
Reverse of the card, showing the message about supporting
National Star
Once I peeled the sticker and string off (as carefully as I could!), inside was revealed a notebook and an envelope with my name on:

I opened the envelope first, and discovered a set of postcards, some information about the illustrators and 6 spiral paperclips:

The four postcards, an information card and 6 spiral paperclips
These are all lovely designs (especially the cat one) and the information card was extremely helpful.

The red and black A6 notebook is by Paper-Oh. Inside was a leaflet explaining that the notebook was a product of their passion for book binding and their obsession to make things better than what already exists. I haven't road-tested the notebook (detailed reviews of the stationery in the box will follow!) but it lies very flat and seems like a fantastic little notebook. I will of course extract a page and do the usual pen-test on it, but if the paper is good, then this will be a super little notebook.

Delving deeper into the box, I found another A6 sized notebook, with the same design on the cover as one of the postcards:

A6 size notebook with dog and crow (front)
back of the notebook
The notebook has 18 pages (36 sides) of plain paper. Again, I haven't had a chance to pen-test it and a more detailed review is to come!

Beneath the two A6 notebooks was another Paper-Oh notebook in A5 size. This one is lined rather than plain:

A5 Paper-Oh notebook (front)
A5 PAper-Oh notebook (back)
I must be utterly honest and say that I haven't had time this week to even take the wrapper off, but I'm fully expecting another great notebook, given the quality of the A6 version.

As well as the three notebooks, the postcards and the paperclips, there were two Palomino Blackwing Pearl pencils and a Stabilo worker rollerball:

Palomino pencils
Stabilo worker pen

I've been using one of the Palomino pencils all week. Full review to follow but if I'm honest, this was my least favourite thing in the box. I'd heard so much about Palomino Blackwing pencils and I was excited to try them but I am far keener on propelling pencils than ones that need sharpening and probably because I almost always use a propelling pencil, I found the Palomino not great at keeping a sharp point. I've already sharpened about 3 cm off the pencil in just a week. If you sketched rather than used it for writing, it may be much better. It was certainly good to try it out though (and at least I know I don't need to buy myself a box!).

The rollerball is very nice. It has a soft-grip feel and the line is quite wet when laid down. It certainly kept up with my speed of writing and was incredibly smooth to write with.

Group photo!

All in All:
This was a fabulous collection of stationery, beautifully presented and worth at least £25 to my mind. The Paper-Oh notebooks are certainly not easily available to me and the inclusion of new illustrators is a great touch. I love the fact that some of the money is going to charity (though I would have liked to know a little more about what kind of amount - a penny? a pound? more?) and the surprise aspect was fun. You don't have to sign up for a subscription - you can try a box out and you get contacted in advance to check that you want the next box, even if you have opted for the subscription service.

If you love stationery, like a surprise and to discover new products and artists, go and sign up for February's box!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Update on the ABP2

My planning has settled back into pretty much where I was several years ago: a set of goals to projects to next actions for my different life areas. The next actions then get transferred to a week plus notes diary, with day-to-day planning being done on a day per page diary.

Aeons ago (see here for the initial review and here for an update about its flattability), I bought a Quo Vadis ABP2 day per page diary, to use for my day planning (as a more up-market version of the reporter's notebook I had been using for the task through the latter part of 2015).
In case you haven't clicked back to see the earlier posts, this is the layout inside:

Even at the start I had some reservations about the line spacing (3.5mm!) and those reservations haven't disappeared. When I started January, I thought I would give the ABP2 at least a month and see how I got on, using it for planning the day.

It's actually worked out better than I thought it would, but is far from good. I've been using the RHS to write out my daily list of stuff to do, plus as a scratch pad to jot things down if needed. I'm using every other line and so far, haven't run out of space.The LHS was supposed to be used for time-boxing and I have used it for that, but it only works if I only have one thing to do in any hour and preferably have several hours in which to do only one thing! If I had a series of half-hour long things to do or half-hour appointments, it would drive me insane with the spacing.

Most days have got stuff I can't show you without redacting lots, but here's a day I can share:

It works, but only because the tasks I have for the day can be squeezed into the spaces. There's a lot of wasted space across the top of the page, with the multiple languages. There's also more wasted space at the top of the LHS because I don't start on tasks much before 8.30 in the morning and there's wasted space at the bottom of the LHS as I've usually finished my tasks by 6pm. I've noted TV to watch in the later timed spaces, but even then, that's not great as the spaces finish at 9.30pm and there may be more than one thing on at any time (and I need to record one of them). I'm not using the bottom section other than to remind myself what I'm making for dinner (but that could as easily go in the space on the RHS and give me more space for time-boxing on the left, were it not all so pre-printed and inflexible).
The amount I'm generally using on a daily basis is about 6.5cm, out of the height of the LHS of 11cm, or the height including the space at the bottom of ~13cm. Just half of the space there. In the reporter's notebooks, I used 18cm for the day, so I'm down to about a third of what I was using.

At the moment, most of my days have big, chunky things to do and I can block off several hours for each task, which is making it bearable. If I had a lot of smaller appointments or tasks, I would have to use another piece of paper to plan out my day.

I wouldn't buy this again. There's a larger version of it (ABP1) which might have been better, but that's not easily available in the UK and to be honest, the reporter's notebook worked so much better than this! I had much more space to time-box in, the RHS had space to note all my tasks and use as a scratch pad, the paper quality was marginally better and they were much cheaper! I also felt fine about tearing out the pages I'd used and tossing them at the end of the week when I did my weekly reviews, whereas the ABP2 is bound. (I'll toss it at the end of the year).

I may be back to a reporter's notebook if my days stop having a few big tasks per day and start having lots of small tasks to plan.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Page per Day Challenge #3

I wrote here about winning one of the day per page diaries for the Quo Vadis Challenge and the wrote here about my first foray into using the diary. Now we're a bit further in, how's it going? Am I still using it? Or have I already failed the challenge?

Well, I'd put it down as a hit and a miss!

Yes, I am still using it every day (though in all honesty, sometimes I'm writing it up the following day). I'm still doing what I set out to do - a quote, the weather, a summary of the day, what I'm currently reading, and some tracking. I had to move away from fountain pens as everything bled through like crazy, so now it's all being written in biro or Staedtler triplus fine-liners (that I got free from Cult Pens).

This is about the dullest day to show you (so I don't have to redact anything!):

I'm outlining what I've done over the day in the top boxes (around the date). The space below that is used to record the weather. I have a quote in every day and then a quick summary of the day. This day got a sticker but they often don't!
There's some tracking at the bottom, and a note of what I'm reading. I'm keeping a list of books read at the back of the diary (using the pages intended for addresses).

I've added a bookmark with a Celtic dragon charm on it, taped to the spine:

So, that's the hit part... what's the miss?

I miss being able to journal to process things. I get that this is a diary to record highlights and I'm generally doing that (though some days are better than others), but I've often used a diary/journal to empty my head and process things, or just to write in more detail about something. So, as well as the little Exacompta Forum shown here, I'm using a Nanami Seven Seas Writer (given to me by a dear friend). As I am in the Exacompta Forum, I'm writing in it in two columns. Unlike the Forum, I'm not writing every day - just when I have something I want to write about. Unlike previous journalling, I'm also sticking a few things in (the Russian stamps from my TN for example), though not much, it must be said. I'm going to try and do more of that and make it more visual in general.

What I'm writing in the Seven Seas journal is too personal or private to be able to show you very much. Here's about the only page I'm prepared to share (mostly because it's covered in stamps!):

So, a hit because I'm managing the Page per Day Challenge, but a miss because I'm overflowing into another journal and doing several pages some days.

How's everyone else doing the Challenge getting on?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Impatiently waiting....

... for my first box from Spotlight Stationery to arrive!!

Full review when it does!

My new Traveller's Notebook is here!

Traveller's Notebook from Sunleaves on Etsy

It's arrived! It came all the way from Russia (and had some fabulous stamps on the package!).

Stamps - removed and stuck in my journal

Hang on (some of you might be saying...) - don't you already have a splendid Traveller's Journal from The Stamford Notebook Co.? Well, yes I do... but this one was because I'd decided to put my goals to projects to next actions in notebooks and wanted to keep those all together (but didn't need to keep them in the carry about TJ). If you seriously can't remember me wittering about it, check out this post and then this post and then come back.

I know. I probably could have just left the plans in the booklets and done without a new TN, but... no... does not compute! So, I bought this one.

It arrived splendidly wrapped, in a box with shredded paper (inside a postage bag with the fab stamps!).

Inside that, the TN was inside a cardboard package, tied with string and the string attached to the cardboard with a seal:

Once I got into that bit (and you know, I amazed myself by stopping to grab photos...), there it was:

The TN from Sunleaves

My photos, taken in winter in Scotland, aren't getting the colour quite right. It has a slightly greener cast than this - pretty much the colour of Diamine Steel Blue ink if any of you have that. It's absolutely fabulous!! Neither of my pictures are showing it especially well, but my initials are also embossed on the bottom right corner - very subtly actually. Unless you knew they were there, you wouldn't see them immediately.

The cover is fairly stiff. Not quite as stiff as my Stamford Notebook Co. one, but fairly firm. Inside, the reverse of the cover is natural and not fluffy suede (thankfully as I don't like fluffy suede). The leather smell is gorgeous (if you like that kind of thing).


As you can see from the picture, there are two elastics and also a leather cord for a bookmark, tied to one of the elastics. I have to confess, I have already removed the notebook elastics as they were too thick, and replaced them with some 1mm elastic from my stash.  The elastic it came with was the same as the closure elastic (3mm) and just far too thick for the notebooks:

Original elastic (3mm)

It wasn't just that the elastic was too thick and made the middle of the booklet bulky, the knot was impossible to work around. Anyway, elastics changed, all is well.

Apart from the fact that the notebook elastics were too thick, they were well made, with plastic on the ends to prevent any fraying. As you might be able to see in the picture of the interior, the closure elastic has ends like a treasury tag which lie flat along the spine - no lumpy knot in the middle of the back! I took another picture (after I'd changed the elastics) to show it better:

Closure elastic
(like a treasury tag)

The cover came with two notebooks - a lined one and a squared one. Each has 48 pages. I haven't done my customary pen test yet as I'm not using them - I'm using the Midori 013 notebooks in it at the moment. The notebook cover is cream card with a linen-effect texture. The spacing of the lines is TINY in the notebooks. I quite like narrow ruled but these are 4mm. Yep - 4mm spacing - both the line spacing and the squares:

4mm line spacing
4mm spacing for the squares too!

I may well be okay with the 4mm spacing in the squared notebook, but I'll struggle with the lined, unless I only use every other line. (Though my friend Helen (waves! hello!) has very petite writing so I may send it on to her if she has need of it...?)

Well, that's the overviews. Likes and dislikes?

1. the colour! It is absolutely gorgeous! Deep and rich and beautiful. It's closer to colour J on the chart than K (I ordered K) but I'd been torn between the colours anyway, so I'm perfectly happy!

Image is from the Sunleaves site on Etsy and reproduced
only to indicate the colour range offered
No copyright infringement intended

2. the closure elastic: It's a) thick and b) I like the way it's attached to the cover.

3. the cover: it's thick and sturdy and doesn't have fluffy suede on the inside.

I'm less of a fan of the vertical arrangement of the notebook elastics. I'd rather they were lined up horizontally, so that the length of the elastics inside was the same, with a bit of horizontal space between them to allow for the thickness of the booklets. I tried to thread the replacement elastic so that the lengths inside were still the same length but offset, but that led to warping of the cover and the booklets sitting strangley, so I re-threaded it so that one booklet has its elastic coming from the two inner holes and the other booklet has the elastic coming from the two outer holes. How do others cope with this?

Elastics for the notebooks arranged vertically
In the Stamford Notebook Co. TJ the elastics are attached horizontally

With hindsight, I also wish I had asked for it to be a little wider than standard. Two Midori 013 notebooks fit in absolutely fine. A third in as well would cause the edges of the notebooks to be flush with the cover and probably get bent. Maybe the inserts with fewer pages than the 013 insert would be less bulky and so three would fit okay?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Notebooks for Left-Handers

On Twitter this morning, I saw a post about a notebook designed for left-handers. I was intrigued. I clicked on the link and went to:

The notebook for lefties has slanted lines so that the writer doesn't smudge their writing.

Now, this whole concept feels pointless to me. And before you all lefties weigh in and tell me how horrendous it is to be left-handed in a right-handed world, I should point out that I'm ambidextrous. I started writing with my left hand, was coerced into writing with my right at my first primary school, generally write with my right hand but for >2 years of my PhD wrote only with my left because I had crippling RSI in my right wrist. I can still write left-handed and frequently did when I taught, because it meant I could stand on either side of the white-board and not block anyone's view while writing. I have never smudged a single line of writing, whether writing with my left or with my right hand. At least not through the actual act of writing! I may well have forgotten that some inks take longer to dry than I expected and ended up smudging things, but never just through the act of writing. Never.

I hold the pen in exactly the same way, whether I hold it in my left or my right - it looks like a mirror image. The nib of the pen or pencil is about 3-4 lines away from the rest of my hand, I'm resting on the smallest finger  and part of the ring finger, and all of my fingers are closer to me than the nib of the pen/point of the pencil.  In fact, I hold a pen in my left hand pretty much the same way as the leftie in their video does only with a slightly more closed hand:

image from:

I don't see how anyone holding the pen like that will have a smudging problem...
As a quick test: right-handers out there - draw some scribbles with a pen (like loopy writing) but write from right to left across the page. Did you smudge it with the rest of your hand? I'm betting you probably didn't, any more than I do when writing left to right with my left hand.

So why do so many lefties complain about smudging their writing? Do lefties hold their pens in weird ways? If so, why? Because they needed to see the letters they'd written when they were learning to write? But, I can see all the letters as I write with my left.

I know many lefties do find it an issue, but I'm genuinely perplexed by this. Could the left-handed readers please let me know why their writing smudges?

[Incidentally, I totally get why the rings in a Filofax make writing on the right-hand page uncomfortable, because that is the same for right-handers writing on the left page!]

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Page per Day Challenge #2

Best laid plans and all that...

After spending a long time thinking about what I wanted to record each day as a snapshot of my day, I had decided that I would note
  • the date
  • the day of the week
  • the weather
  • a quote for the day
  • a summary of the day
  • some tracking (meditation, physio, exercise)
  • what I'm currently reading

I used a stencil to mark the date and month and colouring pencils to record the weather and temperature. The quotes throughout the year I had intended to be in Diamine Night Sky - a black ink with a silver shimmer. The rest of the entries would be in fountain pen with no colour especially in mind, just whatever was in my two finest nibbed pens.

My word, the paper doesn't cope with pens! The stencilling was done in a Pilot hi-tecpoint 0.5 rollerball. That bled through to the other side. The quote bled through horrendously. The summary of the day (a bit blanked out for privacy in the picture) bled through and even the very fine Platinum 0.2mm Preppy bled through.

Day 1. Some bits blanked out for privacy
The reverse! Aaaghh!!!
LOOK at that bleed through!!

This needs a whole rethink about what inks to use. Bleeding through to the page of dialling codes is one thing... bleeding through onto pages I want to be able to read is another thing entirely. It looks horribly like I'm going to have to use BIRO in this.


Saturday, 2 January 2016

New Traveller's Notebook

In my post on Planning 2016, I said that I'd ordered another Traveller's Notebook, to hold the booklets in which I'll be doing my writing and publishing planning in 2016. But, what did I choose??

I considered whether to get a Field Notes sized cover as I have a heap of Field Notes booklets and I could have easily used them to do my goals to next action planning. Except they are not fountain-pen friendly! It would have annoyed me far too much to have the plans I want to keep, written in biro on rubbish paper (sorry to all you Field Notes fans out there). So, it needed to be good paper for the notebooks and a cover I would want to use all the time.

Midori TN or A5 size then? I had some 013 booklets that would be okay with fountain pens and quite a few A5 booklets (or they could be cut down to Midori size from A5 if necessary).

Well, the aspect ratio of A5 always pleases me more than Midori's tall and skinny size, but, A5 was going to be a touch too big to be honest, and since I had a couple of the 013 Midori inserts I could use for planning, Midori TN size it was. But which cover? There's the original Midori ones in black or brown or a whole range on non-Midori brands on Etsy to choose from.

I much prefer a stiff cover to a floppy one and I can never tell from people's pictures or videos whether the Midori TN is a stiff cover or a floppy cover (maybe someone can tell me in the comments?). I also need a colour pop. I've too many discarded Filofaxes which testify to that! So, I ordered a non-Midori TN cover (also called 'Fauxdori', but I'm not a great lover of the term). I ordered it from Sun Leaves on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SunLeaves) and chose the blue colour (K on the drop down menu) with black elastics and my initials embossed in the bottom right hand corner (the way I have them on my red Traveller's Journal from Stamford Notebook Company).

I really liked the look of the ones in Sun Leaves, because the edges of the leather had been finished nicely (too often, it's just the raw edge of the leather but these are hand-finished - bevelled and burnished) and they didn't have the brass bit sticking out of the spine (which I feared would scratch my desk!). There's a great selection of colours to choose from, getting the initials embossed was included and you could choose the colour of the elastics too. I had a long look at un-dyed leather ones too, especially on Eternal Leather Goods (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/EternalLeatherGoods) but I didn't like the brass sticking out of the spine. The un-dyed leather would turn a beautiful caramel shade in time, but it may take longer if it's a TN that stays on my desk, rather than travels with me.

So, winging its way to me is a blue TN cover from Sun Leaves. We won't get any post until the 5th January, but hopefully it will arrive soon after that! Pictures and another post when it gets here!