Tag Archives: school

Reflection: Feeling Accomplished via Pencil Use

When the new semester began I decided that I was going to pick a pencil and use it until there was just a nub left. The first pencil I used down to nothing was a Creatacolor fine art graphite in B grade. Because it is a drawing pencil, the point retention was junk and I quickly wore it to a nubbin. It fit into my Stad One Touch well and I was able to use it until there was less than a centimeter left. I felt accomplished in using a single pencil until there was an unusable piece left, as if I could measure my learning through the amount of pencil used for notes and writing. Ridiculous right?

Feeling accomplished is a good intrinsic motivator. (For me anyway, I don’t know what intrinsically motivates you.) I like to feel accomplished. For a lot of my life I’ve done things and thought to myself, “Ha, I did that! That’s an accomplishment!” as if knowing that I did something, even a simple thing, was an accomplishment. And when I think more deeply about these thing, even the smallest of chores can be turned into an accomplishment. “I washed the floor! Yay, I accomplished something today!” Looking back at the pencils and learning, learning, other than counting the articles read or papers written, has little in the way of measuring itself daily. Rather, I write a paper and wait for the grade. I read an article and make notes, maybe journal a few ideas that come up. Until the end of the semester there is no way to measure my accomplishment. Enter the pencils. Using up a pencil gives me a measurement of use; notes taken, ideas recorded, and time spent.nubbins

Using a pencil from new down to a nub is not something that can be done in a short period of time. It takes dedicated use, concentration, and a lot of writing. Supposedly, an average (what is average? HB#2?) pencil will write 35 miles of words. That’s a serious amount of writing. Thirty-five miles. How many miles of notes, journaling, ideas, mind dumps, and grocery lists have  I made? Just thinking about writing for 35 miles makes me feel even more accomplished and less ridiculous.

I’m almost finished with a Dixon Ticonderoga Renew Wood. I’ve got an inch and a half left. After that I’m going to finish the last 5 inches of my Staedtler blue Norica from Canada. I’ve had the last 6 inches of a Palomino HB on my desk for a month, that will get the nubbin treatment next. While my enjoyment of using a single pencil down to near nothingness is holding true, I will admit that for ease of use I keep a pencil box full of sharp pencils with me for note taking. I’m going to pare this down to 4 pencils so that I can really focus on how much pencil I’m using. nubbins

School: Office in a Backpack

I decided to write a little bit on here about some of my school/study aides. Typically, I’m a pencil and paper type of woman, but sometimes I need technology. Being in graduate school means that I often have to write lengthy papers in APA 6th edition format. Carting around a heavy laptop is just not something I want to do, so I’ve found a way around doing so.

The first, and perhaps, most important part of my carry for school was to buy a quality backpack that can carry everything I need safely. For this purpose I bought a Tom Bihn Brain bag with a Brain cell insert. The bag is big enough to carry books, notebooks, tablet, and sundry items. It does the job well and is comfortable.

Rather than carry a laptop I have decided to use a tablet for my computing needs. Most of the time the tablet alone is suitable for reading PDF articles, but sometimes being able to edit or write papers on the go is a necessity. The on screen keyboard is crap for typing for anything other than short bursts. Getting a bluetooth keyboard has been a necessity. Originally I bought the AmazonBasics android keyboard and I loved it but I put it into a crappy case and tossed it around in my bag without enough protection and broke it. I bought a replacement  and it works well  enough, but it’s much louder. I plan on replacing it with another AmazonBasics when school starts up again, this time with a nice case.

Using the tablet as a word processor involves setting up Google Drive with blank documents and saving them to the tablet so I can work on them without wifi. The is important since many areas where I might want to work on my papers don’t always have the best or speediest wifi, like the commuter rail. Sometimes I get a seat near the wifi and it’s speedy and works other times I’m on a car that has terrible wifi. Or the coffee shop wifi is too slow to allow updates. Anyway, being able to work offline is a huge thing when I’m on the go. If you want to figure out how to make your google docs available on your tablet when offline go read here.

I make all my reading notes longhand in a cheap composition notebook. I favor the Staples brand because they are 50 cents at back to school sales and I can buy a bunch for low money. The paper is also acceptable for any of my preferred writing tools. Also, they are sturdy enough that I can cart them around for a full semester and not have them too beaten up. With 200 pages I can take copious notes on my readings, classes, and jot down the first outlines for my papers. (How I generate my papers is another post for the future.) Additionally I can cut pages out if I need to do so.

I use 2 different writing tools for notetaking. The first is fountain pens or gel inks, the second is soft dark pencils. I prefer pencils lately but often switch them out for a spot of color. Either allows me to make notes quickly and effortlessly. Fountain pens glide across the page as do soft dark pencils. The pencils I like range from B to 4B in grade. I keep a pencil box ready with a sharpener as well as an assortment of sharp pencils ready to go. This allows me to keep writing without pause if I need to, but generally I can stop, listen, and sharpen if needed.My first year I used fountain pens almost exclusively. This year I’ve been using pencils almost exclusively.*

I also carry a small pocket sized planner. I’ve been using a Bandit Apple Carnet PeeWee size but I’m transitioning over to the Field Notes Ambition planner in February. Being able to transfer over in February is the great boon of using an undated planner. Current I carry both in a leather cover by Davis Leatherworks. An additional way of keeping track of my life is another Field Notes in a leather cover along with a pocket. This acts as an idea/mind dump as well as a to do list and shopping list. Thus far it’s working very well. Though I  have to work better on my journaling.

Anyhow, all the above is what I use to not only keep track of my life, but to process and record all the stuff I’ve got going on for grad school. I’ve really needed to pare down and figure out how to use tools in a specific manner. This is, of course, a process and how I use tools changes over time, but for now this is it.

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Review: Trapper Keeper Stitched

Back in the mid-80s Mead’s Trapper Keeper went insane with school kids. I was no exception. I had one of the “fashion” versions with a geometric pattern that reminded me of a prism. I think I had an earlier version with kittens, but I’m not sure. I know that the velcro soon failed on me and the plastic sliding “trapper” 3-ring binder soon gave up on me and I switched to a heavy duty canvas 3-inch 3-ring binder with a clipboard in the front. At some point in high school I switched over to a zippered 5-star binder to hold all my junk. Why? It was black.

Anyway, here I am twenty some odd years later in graduate school after a 15 year hiatus from school and needing something to keep my printed articles, notebooks, syllabi, and class handouts in one place. Up until today I’ve been using a half inch 3-ring binder to corral the syllabi into one place, a poly envelope to keep the print outs together, and pockets in my notebooks to keep class hand outs in the notebooks. It was less a system and more of a stop gap measure to keep my stuff somewhat together, or not lost. The binder wouldn’t fit into the poly pocket and the button that help the pocket closed soon popped off as I slid it in and out of my back pack. Honestly, at one point I was looking for something a little better than my plastic 3-ring binder and more like my old canvas binder but a little like a Trapper Keeper. Decently sized 3-ring binders are crazy expensive at Staples and generally fall apart after some hard use.

I read this review that Trapper Keeper was back. Mead was introducing the TK after a hiatus. Currently they seem to only have the standard colors with a dotted fade printed on them and the stitched version available in 5 colors.trapper

The stitched version is a plastic covered with fabric, the edges are covered the whole thing is stitched up. The TK is held closed with a sturdy snap. The front features a clear pocket that you can slip paper into and customize the cover with your own art. The pocket will only hold a few sheets of paper, so it really is made to only hold a decorative sheet. It does not arrive with anything in the pocket but a label.trapper

The interior 3-ring binder is shiny chrome plated steel and very sturdy. The regular “fade” version arrives empty, while the stitched version arrives with 5 plastic dividers. Each a different color. These dividers are regular 3-hole punched and do not feature the slotting of the “Trapper Snapper” system.trapper

Inside the binder are 2 stretchy fabric pockets that will accommodate a composition notebook or a stack of paper.  The corners of the pockets are not reinforced, so this is where the TK will fail. It’s likely I won’t keep anything in these pockets but a few odd handouts from my classes that will eventually be punched and put into the binder.trapper

The back cover no longer sports the clip that turned the back of your Trapper into a clip board. I’m seriously missing this as it was something I used ALL THE TIME in my original Trapper until I graduated to a real clip board. IF I can give Mead any feedback  it’s to bring back the clip in the back. I’m not sure this particular TK is stiff enough to use as a clipboard, but it would do in a pinch. Though there is no clip they have kept the pen loop, though in this version it is made of elastic instead of plastic. it’s too loose for a pencil, but would hold a bullet pencil nicely.trapper

I picked out the green Trapper and mine is a nice shade of olive. the contrasting gray is really nice. I assumed it was black from the photos on Amazon but it’s not. The interior of the Trapper is black.  The logo and other accents are all white.

The stitched Customizable Trapper Keeper is not a light weight item, I was surprised once it was loaded up how heavy it is. But the majority of weight comes from all the paper I loaded into it. It’s much more compact than my previous pocket, mini binder, and assorted hodge podge of junk.

The velcro closures are gone. Good riddance, mine always tore off the flap leaving me with a trapper, but not keeper. In the velcro’s place is  a sturdy steel snap.  Unlike the adjustable nature of the velcro the snap has but one position. It can’t be tightened around your goods. This makes the TK kind of loose and sloppy. Understandably adding additional snaps or buttons would add a lot of cost and still not make the cover tighter on all loads, I just wish there was a way to adjust it.trapper trapper

Along with my Trapper Keeper I also ordered a Trapper Folder with customizable cover. Basically it’s a plastic (poly) folder with 2 interior pockets and a clear pocket on the front cover.  These hold a surprising number of printed off articles with ease. Right now I’ve got about 100 pages of articles shoved in there and the thing looks great. Ultimately I’d like to order one of these poly folders for each  of my 3 classes so that the load is spread out. These folders do not feature the Trapper Snapper easy removal tool. To get these babies out you have to open the 3-ring binder.

The plastic dividers are plain with no printed graphics. There are tabs spaced out along the edges. There are 5 colors, coordinating with the available TK colors. Most of the colors are semi translucent.  The plastic is pretty flexible but stiff enough that you can use the dividers to move through the binder easily.


  • Old skool appeal
  • fabric! So sturdy
  • steel 3-ring
  • plastic dividers
  • pen loop
  • Lot’s of room to expand
  • lot’s of accessories that match


  • no clip board clip in the back
  • snap closure is not adjustable
  • customizable cover is cheezy
  • pockets on inside cover aren’t reinforced
  • plain covers only

Overall, I really like the new Trapper Keeper. I wish it had a few of the old amenities (clip, bring it back) but overall it’s a very nice binder that will hold all of my stuff and help to keep me organized.

Suggested Readings

Generally speaking, I really hate it when someone tells me, “I think you should read this book. I read it and loved it.” I don’t know why I hate that. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time as a scifi nerd in high school. When my professor said to me, “I think you should read some of Brene Brown’s work. I think you’d benefit.” I smiled and didn’t read it. After all I had the perfect excuse for NOT reading it, as a busy grad student, when am I supposed to find the time to read anything other than what I am assigned to read?

This summer I had no classes. I caught up on some of the readings I had skipped and not read. Finally around August I was done with the reading I wanted to do for pleasure and the stuff I hadn’t read for school. I remembered my professor’s suggestion, Brene Brown. You know her, the Oprah art journaling woman? Yeah her.  Anyway, I searched for her books on my local library’s website and found they had a bunch of her books as eBooks. I requested them and then… waited. With one I just got it and the other I’m the 11th person who has requested it.

I’m reading Daring Greatly and so far I’m really enjoying  the books and she makes some really fantastic points. I’m also looking at it as a source for art journaling and art therapy. In the few chapters I’ve read she asks some questions of the reader that I think would make excellent prompts for art journaling that would not be too deep for journalers to use on their own. Which is a failing I’ve found in many books dedicated to art journaling. The authors ask the reader/journaler to go too deep without the help of a therapist.

Perhaps what my professor was suggesting wasn’t just that I read about vulnerability but also how one can write a fantastic prompt that is not harmful to the user. Maybe she thought I”d simply enjoy these books. Either way I’m getting a lot out of the first book. Enough that I’m continuing to read it though I don’t really have the time.

For those interested, I’m Reading “Daring Greatly.”