Inkstained Fingers

Scrawling Script of a Fountain Pen

I’ve had a few people ask me lately when I pulled out a fountain pen to write with instead of a “normal” pen why I used fountain pens and besides a general, “Because I just like them better than regular pens,” answer, I couldn’t really explain it more fully on the spot like that. So I figured I’d take a crack at it on my writing blog!

First off I’ll give you a little background on me and my fountain pens. As you probably know, I’m not old enough to have lived before ballpoint pens were invented, so fountain pens aren’t something I grew up with. As a writer always searching for the perfect writing utensil, I knew fountain pens existed and I had wanted to try one out for a long time, but I had no idea where to start looking for one. I also suspected a vintage pen like that would be incredibly expensive somewhere like Ebay (I hadn’t even considered at that point that people might still be making them!). So I finally decided to enlist my grandfather –a yard sale shopper extraordinaire—for some help.

As it turned out, he didn’t even have to look any further than a box of my great uncle’s things to find not one, not two, but three beautiful vintage fountain pens. Thus my collection began in November 2011 (right in the middle of NaNoWriMo) with a black Sheaffer Pen for Men, a green Sheaffer Admiral, and a red Esterbrook Double Jewel. All three are gorgeous pens, each one different in their style, how they write, and how much their appearance varies. And just like that, I was hooked.

InkstainsI began writing with them almost constantly, at first just when I was writing stories or working on a paper for English, but soon I was started using them to do math homework with. I was even carrying one around with me in my purse to write with! By that point however, I ran into a bit of a snag. As much as I loved my pens, it was a bit impractical to have to carry around multiple pens with me places when I knew one would likely run out of ink before I got home. I couldn’t safely carry a bottle of ink around with me everywhere either. Although I did indeed try a few times without incident, I was scared half to death every time that the bottle would shatter in my bag or that it would spill on something like the carpet in the library. As I tried to figure out a way to carry around a bottle of ink safely, I found this blog, Thirty Days and Nights of Inksanity.

It was here that I was introduced to a fascinating concept –fountain pens that weren’t vintage! It was as if a whole other door in the realm of fountain pens had been thrown open because, well, it had. Looking at all of the different pens and inks she used was so amazing that I knew I had found the answer to my problem. With a fountain pen that had a larger barrel I would have a pen that held much more ink per filling, making it capable of going longer periods between refills. A new fountain pen could solve my problem! So after a bit of research I ended up buying my first new fountain pen from the wonderful people at Goulet Pens –a Noodler’s Ahab Flex Pen. Though my first three pens had gotten me hooked, as soon as I got my hands on the Ahad there was no going back.

And the rest is history. I’ve been using fountain pens almost exclusively for over a year now, recently adding an Apple Green Lamy Safari and a stunning peacock quill pen my friend gave me for Christmas to make six pens all told. But none of that really explains why I don’t use the more mainstream ballpoint pens that have replaced fountain pens in recent years. Sorry about that –I tend to ramble on a bit when I get excited.

My answer isn’t really what you’d expect. I don’t feel more connected to those who came before me because I use fountain pens. I’m not rejecting technology or trying to swim against the crowd. My reason for using fountain pens is simply because they inspire me. When I write with fountain pens, the shape of the words becomes a work of art. The lines are more defined, smoother, when writing with one as compared to even a fine pointed ballpoint pen. Fountain pens have history to them that ballpoint pens cannot match. They aren’t built to be thrown away. They aren’t bought to be accidentally left somewhere and forgotten, only to be replaced the next day with an identical pen from Wal-Mart. They are built to last, to become a favorite companion. The nib wears down as you write with it, conforming to your style of writing, becoming uniquely yours. And as your handwriting becomes a work of art, it inspires you to make your words a work of art too.

Silent Night

A Not So Silent Night

My brother Rob and I have always been close. We’re only fourteen months apart and up until this year when he started going to *gasp* public school, we’ve always done everything together. So when we were younger and Rob had bunk beds, we figured we’d help each other get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Only, that’s not what happened. Instead of helping each other get to sleep, we ended up keeping each other up into the wee hours of the morning. But after laughing so hard that night, it became an instant tradition.

Going Home for Christmas

Seeing Family–The Dunn Side

As it would hardly be fair to write about one side of the family and not the other, I realized when I wrote “All I Really Want” that I was going to have to write a second journal entry on the topic.

Visiting with my dad’s side of the family is very different from visiting with my mom’s side. For one, Christmas with the Dunn’s involves seeing extended family we don’t get to see on a regular basis outside of our annual Christmas gathering. Though a few of the families live within a twenty mile radius of each other, a lot of that side is much more spread out. The other big difference is the average age. On my dad’s side we have four cousins instead of five. That may not seem like too big of a difference at first glance, but three of the four are grown –two married with either a newborn or a baby on the way and the third engaged to a long-time girlfriend—and the fourth just a little kid. Most of the time, therefore, is spent conversing, catching up and swapping the latest stories. When you are about to do something big that everyone knows about, like go to college, everyone is going to ask you what your plans are, so you’d better have an answer prepared!

Besides everyone coming to our house –a tradition begun after we moved into our new house here in Florida—the only other big tradition is the food. If you hadn’t guessed by that point after hearing the deep Southern accents, you’d know as soon as you caught sight of the wide array of delicious Southern cooking. Turkey, cornbread, divinity, seven layer chocolate and caramel cake, butter beans, sweet tea…and there are very few things better than visiting with family, your stomach full of good food, sleepily sitting on the couch as you sip a cup of hot apple cider.

Christmas is All in the Heart

A Great, Unfailing Love

Luke 2:11

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

God’s Presence

Possibly the most meaningful tradition any family could practice every year at Christmas is the reading of the Christmas story. I hear it a few times during the Christmas season –my family reads it at least once as a family every year, our pastor reads it at the Christmas Eve service we attend every year, and I’ll read it to myself on the days leading up to Christmas to keep my mind focused on the true meaning of the season. This year, however, when someone I love dearly has told me they don’t believe in God or His Son, reading the Christmas Story has become even more meaningful. I physically ache for my friend who has lost their way, doubting the One who loves them more than any other person on this earth. I pray daily for my friend, desperately desiring for them to know the love that God showed that night over 2,000 years ago when He sent His Son down to earth as a child, born not as a king, but as a carpenter’s son, willing to take on our sings, to experience the agony of seperation with His Father, The Most High God, so that we might spend eternity with Him. He loved us more than we could possibly comprehend. I pray my friend can understand this. I pray they can understand why the Christmas story is more than just a simple story, more than just a silly tradition.

Carol of the Bells

Lights in the Dark

Driving around and looking at lights is one of the things I’m always anxiously awaiting come the first of December as everyone starts to put out their lights. My family always takes a special drive Christmas Eve after the Christmas Eve service to see them. Mom always fixes each of us a cup of hot chocolate to take with us to drink while we’re “ooo”-ing and “ahh”-ing over the spectacular light displays. Dad plugs his iPhone into the car and we listen to one of his favorite Christmas albums while we drive (this year it will probably be Harry Connick Jr.’s “When My Heart Finds Christmas”. That’s the one he’s been playing this year every time we all get into the car together.) No one does much talking, but then we don’t have to. Having that quiet moment together as a family Christmas Eve before the chaos of Christmas morning is enough.

The Night Before Christmas

Christmas Eve Service

This tradition is fairly new when compared to most of the others. The first Christmas Eve service I remember attending, and the first as we made it an annual tradition, was at our church in Stafford, Virginia. I was a part of the youth choir group there, and every year we would sing at the Christmas Eve service. It was always a beautiful service and every year, no matter how stressed or anxious I was before I went, I always left with a feeling of peace.

Though we’ve moved all the way down to Florida now, our church here in Niceville has a Christmas Eve service as well, and I am very thankful to have the ability to continue this tradition. At the end of the service as we hold up our little candle stubs to the darkness around us, singing of the birth of our Savior, rejoicing over the love our God showed to us that night so many years ago.

Pretty Paper

It’s Better to Give…

It is extremely rare for any kid to tell you their favorite thing about Christmas is something other than presents. There is something almost magical about the anticipation and expectation that centers around the boxes under the tree.

My mom has always been terrible about capitalizing on our impatience. Since we were old enough to start trying to guess what the wrapped boxes held, Rob's NoteMom has gone to great lengths to keep us guessing. She’s done everything from wrapping with multiple layers of paper and bubble wrap (even one time using duct tape!) to putting marbles or shirts in the box. Her tactics are starting to rub off on the rest of us as well –last year my brother wrapped a huge box when all that was inside was a piece of paper telling me what his present to me would be.

My dad adds to the anticipation too, though in a very different way. Every year when he catches us shaking presents he tells us that if you know what you’re getting, it’s going to get taken back to the store. This year it’s turned into a sing-song, “If you touchy, it go back-y”. So we have to wait for him to go to work to shake our presents.

Presents!As I have gotten old enough to start picking out and buying presents for others myself however, an interesting change in attitude toward the presents has occurred in me. While the presents with my name on them still manage to keep me excited and anxious, my favorite part of opening presents is when my brothers and sister open up their presents from me on Christmas Eve. Their excitement means more to me than any gift I have ever received.

All I Really Want

At the Beach House with the McGuffee’s

My mom’s side –the McGuffee side—of the family always meets up at a beach house for a few days during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Getting to spend time with them is really special –with two adult cousins and four households, it is very rare for our whole family to get together like that outside of our time together at Christmas.100_0967

It’s definitely not your typical Christmas gathering. The McGuffee side of the family is composed of, well, a bunch of crazy loons.

The picture on the right of my grandfather wearing a pair of underwear over his pants is a pretty classic example of this –he was just trying to show my cousin, standing next to him, how silly he looked wearing clothes the wrong way.

375352_2621928222868_1504458542_nOur annual beach football game can get pretty crazy too. We don’t ever really enforce any rules so it’s common for all nine cousins to be found wrestling on the sand over the football.

A new tradition we added last year was playing a game we call “Campfire Pants”. It’s a take on “Telephone” where you write down a common phrase on an index card and the next person has to draw a picture depicting that phrase, leaving the next person to try to guess the phrase and write it down and so on. The name we gave it, “Campfire Pants”, comes from a set of cards that went around that started as the phrase “smarty pants”. Somehow the pictures ended up depicting a pair of pants over a fire so the next index card read “campfire pants!”. We learned very quickly not to eat or drink anything while we were playing ‘cause when it was time to read them out loud, we were all doubled over laughing.

Being with family –creating those memories together that will last a lifetime–is one of the most meaningful traditions my family has.

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Merry Christmas from the McGuffee’s!

O Holy Night

Twinkling Lights

There is so much symbolism attached to lights that I feel highly unqualified to give my opinion on them. I may not be a professional, and I may not know all there is to know about lights –or about being a light—but I do know there is a reason something as seemingly silly as Christmas lights is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

The story of the first Christmas tree (and the first Christmas lights) is this: After Martin Luther married and had a family, one Christmas Eve he was walking home through the forest and was deeply impressed by the myriad of stars in the winter sky, and also by the beauty of the stately evergreens. When Luther reached home, he tried to explain the glory of the scene to his wife and children, but words failed him. So he went out, cut down a small fir, and placed lighted candles on it to represent the starry night over the stable the night Christ was born.

Though they are no match for the stars they imitate, the simple white Christmas lights that I love the most that twinkle from our roof and Christmas tree fill me with a quiet joy, a feeling of wonder. I have never been much of a fan of colored lights, for the reason that, to me, they crowd out the more traditional white lights whose elegance and beauty make me think of the glory of our great God.

Why?

True Freedom

“So why doesn’t God intervene every time someone is going to misuse his freedom and hurt another person? The answer, I believe, is found in the nature of freedom itself. A freedom which is prevented from being exercised whenever it was going to be misused simply wouldn’t be freedom.” ~from the book “Letters from a Skeptic”

I, RobotI came to understand this idea through the most unlikely of places –through reading Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”. The famous science fiction book deals with the evolution of robots as they become more and more advanced, until the governments of the world are using robots to run the world’s factories –under human supervision of course. In the last chapter of the book, two humans are discussing the seemingly infallible robot’s recent “failures” to run the factories correctly and efficiently. The two argue over why the robots would let production drop when they suddenly begin to realize, piece by piece, that the robots are not “failing” at all, and that the robots are doing much more than they had realized. They understand that, in truth, the robots had begun to run the entire world, calculating the humans around them’s responses and orchestrating “failures” and “successes” that forced the humans to react as the robots wanted them to react. All the while the humans still believed that they were in control. They still believed they were acting of their own free will.

But is this kind of “freedom” that the robots orchestrated truly free?

No, of course not! And if God did the same thing that the robots were doing, orchestrating evil and good so that we would believe in Him, so that we wouldn’t ever have to experience the consequences of our bad decisions because we wouldn’t ever make them, would we be truly free then either?