This isn’t about a super-fancy, high-end pen like you’re Mr. Burns and a Bic pen a store-brand pencil are beneath you. It’s about finding that pen or pencil in your life that you care about — whatever it is — and enjoying the upgraded version.
Mightier Than The Sword | 11
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This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is a thing.
There’s a few things I’m proud of from our family’s trip around the world a few school years ago. I’m proud of the fact that we visited some amazing places, obviously. I’m proud of how I managed to live a year out of just a backpack. I’m proud of the fact that other than an occasional cold we’d get no matter where we lived for a year, we all stayed healthy and safe. And obviously, I’m proud of the fact that we didn’t kill each other, even though we were around each other nonstop in close quarters for a loooong time. But I’m also weirdly proud of this one thing that I didn’t even notice I was doing until we were about 3/4ths done with our trip: I managed to keep the same pen the entire time we traveled.
I mean, think about that. If you’re like me, you lose small things like pens, chapstick, or sunglasses all the time, way too easily. It’s infuriating. And yet, I miraculously held on to that one pen the entire school year we traveled — on a heckuva lot of planes and trains, in tons of hotels and guesthouses, and walking miles down countless roads. Looking back, I think it has to do with the simplicity of our lives in other ways that year: all things considered, we didn’t have to keep up with much. A few items of clothing, our laptops and kindles and phones and cords, and then a few accessories like sunglasses, water bottles, notebooks, and pens and pencils, and done — those were our earthly possessions for that whole experience (this part was awesome, to be honest). And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the reason why, because the week we unpacked and settled into a regular house back stateside, I lost that friggin pen. No exaggeration. It was like my brain said, “Oh, you no longer have only a few things to pay attention to? Got it. Commence the leaving of stuff wherever you feel like it without notice.”
It wasn’t a special pen at all — just a cheap drugstore ballpoint pen. But there was something sorta Wilson-like when I lost that pen, as though it were my one constant companion on that whole journey and life-changing experience I had (besides, you know, my actual companions consisting of my husband and 3 kids).
But several years later, I think of that pen from time to time, not because it was special (I don’t even remember what it looked like), but because I wonder what I’d do now if we ever went on this trip again. See, there’s something I value now that I didn’t think one second about back then.
And that’s a good pen and pencil. Yep, I’m completely serious.
Now, I’m not talking about a super-fancy, high-end pen like you’re Mr. Burns and a Bic pen a store-brand pencil are beneath you. I’m talking about finding a little tool of the trade that makes you happy, works well, and you enjoy. And for me, that’s a good pen and pencil.
Hear me out, I haven’t gone full Kardashian — I’ll tell you more of my thinking, along with what are my current favorites, right after this short break. I’ll be right back.
Okay, I’m back, and yes, I’m actually dedicating an entire podcast episode to something as quotidian as a pen and pencil. Here’s why I like having a good one of each.
A pen and pencil are things I use daily. I keep one around me at all times and have for years, and I honestly don’t think 2-3 hours go by without me needing to use one. I even keep one on my nightstand while I sleep, I dunno, I guess just in case I wake up with an epiphany and I need to jot it down.
I’m a writer by trade, so pens and pencils symbolize that to me. They represent the livelihood of what I do, even if most of my words written are through a screen. Sounds weird, but I guess I feel like, “Hey, I’m a writer — it makes sense to have at least one good pen and pencil.”
And lastly, I like a good pen and pencil because it makes me feel like a bonafide grownup. I know, I’m 42, I’ve been one for a while. But kinda like when you upgrade your dishes to a full set after years of your college mish-mash collection of plates, or when the day comes when you realize spending more on fewer shoes is truly the adulting thing to do, I guess having a good pen and pencil is a small, simple, daily way I make my everyday responsibilities feel more intentional, more thoughtfully done.
Okay, so what pen and pencil am I talking about? I mean, I’ll tell you what my favorites are, but that’s not really the point of this episode. When I’m talking about finding a good pen and pencil to add to your Good List, I’m really talking about not only finding what works for you but also finding that pen or pencil in your life that you care about. If it’s not a pen or pencil, maybe it’s a particular whisk if you’re especially into baking, or a guitar pick if that’s your preferred hobby, or I don’t know, your tennis ball of choice. Whatever it is that you do regularly, or you find yourself caring about — going ahead and getting that upgraded version of the thing you like.
So, for me that’s a pen and pencil, and here are my current favorites. For a pen, I love my Frixion Ball erasable pen with refill cartridges. You can find it for around $20-30, but then you can buy sets of the ink refills for about $10 for 3 — so, you buy one pen and keep it long-term, then refill it with new cartridges. It writes beautifully and clump-free, and doesn’t leak through the page — and like the name says, it’s erasable. Now, I’m not talking about your erasable pen from 1986 in Mrs. Cassidy’s class, where she had you erase the words on your test and made it a torn-up, shredded mess. I’m talking about a good erasable pen, that actually works, and actually leaves almost no trace. I really do adore this pen. I’ve used it consistently for a while now, and unless I find some better pen at that price that sings and dances, my plan is to just buy those cartridges and keep on using the Frixion.
As for the pencil — my friend, Emily Freeman, introduced me to her favorite pencil a few summers ago when we co-led our first Literary London trip. She brought some Palomino Blackwing pencils to add to each attendee’s welcome bag, and I thought, “Huh, okay – pencil. Great.” But then she told me they were her all-time favorite, which made me raise an eyebrow until I used it. And it was fantastic. The graphite writes perfectly smoothly, it weirdly stays sharpened for a long time, and I also love that there’s a storied history with the Blackwing (supposedly lots of great writers preferred Blackwings, and apparently Chuck Jones created Bugs Bunny with a Palomino Blackwing). It’s got a rectangular eraser that slides in and out, which you can refill if you run out before the pencil does because they really do take a long while to wear down. Not sure what that’s about, but I love writing with ‘em. Right now, they’re about $20-30 for a 12-pack.
I’ll link to both the Frixion Ball pen and the Palomino Blackwing pencil in the show notes of this episode if you’re curious.
Now, is a good pen and pencil a necessity? Absolutely not. Do I still occasionally grab whatever’s closest to me for the sake of being a normal person? Of course I do. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I didn’t prefer to use my stand-apart, favorite pen and pencil. And I’m proud to say that after several years of owning both, except for a few occasions when I thought I lost them, I’ve still held on to the same ones. It’s not because I’m living out of a backpack and keeping up with only a few precious items. So perhaps that’s because I’m willing to invest a few brain cells making sure I keep up with these things because I actually like them. I feel like that says something about the whole idea at-large of having fewer but better items. I’m on board with that.
So to answer my own question — I think yes, if my family and I were going on another round-the-world trip now, I’d take my favorite pen and pencil, because I’m pretty sure I’m proving to myself right now that I’m finally grown-up enough to not lose them. Fingers crossed, of course.
Tsh: Andrea, what’s on your good list right now?
Andrea: Today, something that I want to share on my good list would fall under the thing category, and that is shampoo bars. Have you ever used used those or are familiar with what those are?
Tsh: I’ve seem them at Whole Foods type stores but I’ve never used one. I’ve used lotion bars so I’m curious if they’re similar. Tell me your back story as to why you even started using them.
Andrea: Like you said already, a shampoo bar is just a solid bar of shampoo, similar to bar soap but obviously it’s for your hair. Until about last December, I actually had never heard of shampoo bars myself. Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of research for a book that I’m writing, a children’s book, on environmental stewardship. I’ve been considering a lot more my own habits and my own purchasing and how that effects the overall environment. In December of last year, 2019, I started thinking a lot more about my use of single use plastics. I started looking for ways in my own home, in my own everyday life to really start reducing the amount of plastic that I was buying, introducing back into the environment. I was actually reading an article on NationalGeographic.com one day just about the huge plastic waste problem that we have that has actually been in the headlines for a number of years but for whatever reason it just really caught my attention last December when I was reading about it. After I read that article, I was just curious about my own habits and I went into my own bathroom and started counting up all the plastic bottles that I had and I had fourteen, just within sight, not even counting plastics that would be in my cupboards or in my closet. I should also say that it’s just my husband and I. We don’t even have kids, we don’t have other people living in the house. It’s two people. Fourteen plastic bottles. I was pretty shocked by that once I actually started taking stock of my own home and I thought, okay, I have to start somewhere. It’s a really daunting thing to start changing these habits in our lives but I wanted to start somewhere and the easiest one for me was just I stopped buying body wash that comes in plastic bottles. Bar soaps are pretty common, they’re actually not as common as body wash in my local grocery store but you can still find them fairly easily. I switched to bar soaps that come in cardboard packaging and I thought, okay, now I need to move on to shampoo. I’ve been doing some googling and had seen shampoo bars but back in late December of last year, they weren’t that common where I was living. I could find them on Amazon, which I have a love/hate thing with Amazon.
Tsh: It’s so tricky.
Andrea: It is tricky. Then I did find a really popular brand, I think it’s pronounced Ethique. I can find the link for that in the show notes.
Andrea: That’s actually a brand that’s produced in New Zealand. Then I started thinking about that and the cost of shipping coming for New Zealand and I thought is there a more local option than that? What I ended up finding is there were shampoo bars at my local Whole Foods which fortunately my city does have a Whole Foods but it’s not super convenient for me and I actually don’t regularly shop there but I made a special trip. I got the shampoo bar, started using it. Within an amount of time, so this was the beginning of January, I started switching over to these bars, Target actually started stocking these shampoo bars.
Andrea: At first it was just online but then I would say mid-January, my local store actually started stocking them and then I just checked this week and now my store actually stocks three different brands of shampoo bars. I don’t know what it is about this time, all the sudden that’s available but as of six weeks ago, they were not as available.
Tsh: Interesting. I guess it’s just become more on people’s radar. You’re probably following the trend without even being aware. How am I a part of this?
Andrea: Exactly. We can talk all we want about making these sorts of changes but the reality is if they’re not easily available for people, it’s hard for people to make those changes. I understand that. Not everybody has a Whole Foods, not everybody is going to go spend a large amount of money on products like this but when they start to become available in places like Target or regular grocery stores that people have in their community, it just makes it a lot easier for people. I’m really excited that they are at Target.
Tsh: The expense part, I looked it up while we were talking, I’m looking at this Ethique shampoo bar and it actually says, it’s $16 on Amazon but it says it has three bottles worth of liquid in one bar. Cost wise, that’s actually not that bad.
Andrea: It’s not and I’m really curious myself because I just started using them myself six weeks ago, I don’t know how long mine last me yet and that’s going to depend on the person. I have medium length hair, because of my hair’s texture, I actually wash it every day, whether or not I should. I am one of those people who feel like I have to wash every day or else things get yucky.
Tsh: I get it.
Andrea: I’ll be curious to see, I did write down the date when I started using it, I’ll be curious to see when it runs out to see how long it lasted me and compare that price to my normal bottle of shampoo. It looks like, at Target, the one that I bought, the one that I’m using right now is by Love, Beauty and Planet, the brand that Target regularly carries. I’m using their coconut water shampoo plus conditioner bar, so it’s one bar that’s shampoo and conditioner and that’s $4.99.
Tsh: Oh, that’s not bad.
Andrea: Right now, especially if it lasts me as long as a bottle of shampoo and conditioner. I’m doing the two in one.
Tsh: I feel like people listening to this show are really going to like this thing. First of all, my long running blog, The Art of Simple, which you are the managing editor of, one of our most popular posts is still from over ten years ago now when I wrote about going shampoo free in Turkey back when I was doing that for a while. I can’t do that anymore for a variety of reasons, and it works for some hair types and it doesn’t for others and that’s just how it is. I feel like this is a great alternative, not an alternative, but another option, and the other side of that, we have a lot of travelers or people who love to travel. It feels like this is going to be so much easier to travel with.
Andrea: Right. The TSA will have no problems with a shampoo bar.
Tsh: Yeah, this is so cool.
Andrea: It’s really versatile. I think one word of encouragement I would offer to people who are wanting to try this out is all of our hair’s textures and needs are so different so what works for one person obviously isn’t going to work for you but I think it’s worth doing trial and error and trying different brands and different types to see if you could find one that works for you. I will say, I did start with a different brand of shampoo bar and when I first used it, oh, this is good. It lathers well, it seems to clean my hair but after about two weeks I noticed my hair had this waxy residue to it. I tried a few different things. I heard if you do an apple cider vinegar rinse that could help but actually that just made my hair smell like vinegar. It didn’t seem to deal with the residue. Then I switched to this other brand, and now this other brand is working a lot better. In some cases it might just take trial and error to find the type that works for you.
Tsh: I know, this feels silly because we’re adults talking about how to wash our hair, but when it comes to the actual practicals, do you take the bar of soap and do you rub it between your hands and then does it lather up, does it feel shampoo-ish or does it feel like you are rubbing a bar on your head. Do you know what I mean? What is this like?
Andrea: That’s a question that I had. The particular one that I’m using right now, it does lather really well and I actually just lather it directly one my hair. It seems to create a lot of lather really quickly. It’s easy to rinse out. One thing that I’ll say is that I live in an apartment and we don’t have a water softener and our water is really hard. It’s actually better if you don’t have hard water. If you have a water softener, shampoo bars will probably work a lot better for you than people like me who have hard water. So far it lathers up. You could rub it between your hands to get the lather going and then use that in your hair or you could rub it directly on your hair, both seem to work.
Tsh: I don’t mind not having a huge amount of lather. Ever since I was going shampoo free and then also just using, being really mindful of the ingredients in my shampoo, I’ve learned that that lathering is just marketing. They add that in there with petroleum to make it feel like you’re getting your hair clean but all it’s doing is just stripping your hair of oil. I am great with that. I’m reading reviews and everyone is talking about it makes my hair feel great. It’s seems like for the most part it is pretty clean rinsing. I think maybe I am translating what it must feel like with a bar of soap, to wash your hair. Which I know some people do but I just, no, can’t.
Andrea: It’s not like that. It lathers a lot more than the bar of soap that I use.
Andrea: It feels like shampoo as far as I’m concerned. And the other thing that surprised me is that I’ve always been a person that using shampoo and conditioner and the bar that I’m using right now is combination shampoo and conditioner and it actually does just fine. I haven’t noticed a significant difference in how my hair feels.
Tsh: I think we’re going to have to give this a try once we use up what we already have because we have three kids and it is shocking. We’re pretty mindful about what we buy and what we consume but there is still sometimes, why do we have so much stuff in our bathroom. I was actually, not to get on a rabbit trail, I was reading this Twitter thread about skin care and this one woman had run out of whatever she was using and she had to order it and it was going to be like a week until it came and so all she did was use water, just used a wash cloth and water. And her skin, she had always had chronic acne and oil issues and problems, and her skin problems vanished. She started experimenting and started looking into basically the beauty industry and how they have us believe we need all these things to make, especially women, if you think about the difference in what we feel like we’re supposed to do versus men, it’s just ridiculous. Ever since I read that thread I’ve been side-eying every single product in my bathroom. Do I really need you? Because there are some that I’m glad we have, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, all of that. But then there’s some, okay, once we use you up, I might just skip and see how we do. Very cool. I’m so glad to know about these. I really truly am going to give a shampoo bar a try. I can see it going well for our kids because I get frustrated sometimes at how quickly kids squirt out way too much so this will curb that problem as well.
Andrea: I definitely don’t overuse this as much as I would the liquid shampoo. The other thing that I would say if people aren’t quite wanting to go the bar route for their shampoo, one thing that I found as I was researching alternatives to plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioners, there are some companies out there that are starting to sell these products in almost like milk carton type packages. I’ll give you the link for this because I can’t remember the link off the top of my head, but there is a company out there that basically sells shampoo, hand soap, conditioner, other bath products in cardboard cartons which are better and they break down more than plastic. Another eco-friendly option.
Tsh: Very cool. I’m glad to know that. That’s fantastic. Thank you for that.
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That is THE best and so helpful to hear, Annie, so thank you. I’m super-sensitive to preachy or infomercially voices, too, and it’s something I really work at, so this is encouraging to hear.
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When I connect with readers and listeners, I do so mostly via my newsletter, which you can sign up for free at 5quickthings.email. I’m also on twitter @tsh and sometimes on IG @tshoxenreider.
And I’d love to hear from you! Leave a voicemail at (401) 684-GOOD, which goes directly to voicemail; or, record your voice and email the voice file. Just state your name, where you’re from, and what idea, work of art, habit, or thing is making your life just a bit better, and maybe I’ll feature you here on The Good List. For reminders on how to do this, links to everything I’ve talked about in this episode, and for a full transcript, go to thegoodlistshow.com.
Thanks so much to Andrea for sharing her current thing that’s making her Good List. Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle for her help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider — thanks for listening to The Good List.
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