The 35-Mile Pencil Myth

When I first started using pencils to journal with I was naturally curious about how long a pencil would last. A bit of research and I discovered that the Eagle Pencil company tested the Mikado pencil (later renamed the Mirado) and as a result claimed that the pencil would write a line 35 miles long.

Being a hard-core journal writer for years, I already knew that my previous Bic pen of choice would not quite fill a single composition notebook. Bic pens are rated to last up to 2 miles; if a wooden pencil lasted 35 miles it would fill 17.5 of my composition notebooks. That’s about a year’s worth of journals for me; could a single pencil last me for a whole year?

I got excited at that thought. I selected a brand-new composition notebook, grabbed two brand new pencils, and started writing.

Since then I have filled two composition notebooks and started on a third. Between my two brand new pencils (14 inches in length total) I have 8 inches left. Here is a photo of the remains:

2016-02-04 17.22.30

Between the two pencils I used 6.5 inches. As a result I can safely say that the 35-mile pencil writing claim is a myth. While a single pencil may be able to to write for 3-5 miles (depending upon how short you allow your pencil to get) there is no way that a pencil can last for 35 miles.

Even with the results of my unscientific study I am content with my discovery. An individual pencil will last twice as long as an ink pen so I am still saving money with the switch.

Have you even known a pencil to write for longer? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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Pencils and Simplicity

Let’s consider the pencil today. It is a tool that does exactly what it says on the tin but, like simplicity, it is also much more.

Pencils can be used for many things. They can write, they can draw, they can mark a piece of wood before you cut it. They can even be used to loosen a stuck zipper or to prop open a window. Simplicity is the same way. You can use simplicity to go back to nature, move to a big city, ease stress, achieve a goal, travel the world or just stay at home.

You always know where you stand with a pencil. Short, long, sharp, dull, or broken – it never tries to hide its status from the world. Simplicity is also honest. Along with the pencil, it doesn’t cower behind fancy clothes or try to impress others. It doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. Simplicity is genuine.

Like our lives, a pencil has a finite lifespan. Because our time is limited, we should focus on what makes us happy, not on what society says we should do or be or look like or whatever. Simplicity gives us the power to do just that.

Some people may look askance at a pencil. Why not use a fountain pen or at least a fancy Blackwing? So it is with simplicity as well. People wonder at the clothes we wear, the cars we drive (or don’t), the stuff we have around the house and how we choose to spend our money but just like pencils, everyone’s version of simplicity is different. Some are shiny and new while others are beaten, battered, and chewed. But they all still work.

In the end the pencil we choose or the simplicity we practice doesn’t matter. If it meets our needs and keeps us happy it really isn’t any of their business.

What else can you learn from a pencil? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The hunt for the cheapest pencils

Once I made the switch to pencils the wheels in my frugal little head started turning: How much do pencils cost exactly, and which one would be the cheapest? Katie and I went to Amazon in search of the answer. Since we were both convinced that mechanical pencils were the cheapest route, we priced a 90-pack of Katie’s favorite lead. That pack cost $4.22, or five cents each.

In fairness we decided to look up a range of wooden pencil prices for comparison.

Brand Package Cost Unit Cost
Dixon, 144 pack (warehouse deal) $8.57 6 cents
Liqui-Mark, 24 pack (local Family Dollar offering) $1.55 6 cents
School Smart, 144 pack $11.29 8 cents
Mirado, 96 pack $10.99 11 cents
Ticonderoga, 96 pack $13.99 15 cents

Out of curiosity I looked up my old standby, the Bic pens I’ve abused for years. A 60-pack on Amazon cost $4.79 – or eight cents a pen.

Satisfied with the numbers I gave my mechanical pencil a click and went on with my life, my frugal soul content that mechanical pencils were truly the cheapest way to go….

…And then I ran out of lead, not just once, but every single day. It was costing me a nickel a day to use a mechanical pencil, which works out to $1.50 a month! Even during my heaviest writing periods it takes me a couple of weeks to kill an ink pen so by switching to pencil I was spending $1.34 a month more – and writing a lot less.

Aggravated, I raided Katie’s room and liberated a few wooden pencils from her secret stash. I’ve been using this particular pencil for several days now and haven’t even used up my first inch (yes, I measured it). While I may not know exactly how long a new pencil will last me I now know this much: a single wooden pencil will seriously outlast a mechanical pencil’s lead supply. As a result I can safely say that wooden pencils are much cheaper to use than mechanical ones.

While I’ll have to buy erasers long before I finish terminating Katie’s pencil stash, at least now I know what to shop for when the time comes.

Have you ever figured up how much it costs you to use an item? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Note from Katie: My mom’s a nerd. #problemswithnerdymoms

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The Car Free Experiment

It is hard to believe that it has been almost two years since I sold my van. I got a lot of surprises from that adventure and learned a lot about myself in the process.

For instance, I have realized that I prefer not to own a vehicle. I like not having to deal with regular bills (like insurance) and maintenance.

Even so, I have realized that I dislike being car-free during the winter here. I find myself accepting rides much more frequently during the winter than during warmer weather. Even so, it isn’t enough to spur me to purchase another car.

Having kids and a job definitely ups the challenge level on the car-free lifestyle. More than once I considered stopping the experiment because of these things, and I am very glad that I didn’t.

While my daughter Katie is less enthusiastic about the car-free lifestyle than I am she has surprised me: she has no desire to get her own driver’s license or to buy her own car in the future. Instead, she wants to live in areas with public transportation and use that – and a bicycle – instead.

All in all I consider the whole experiment a big win because I learned a lot (and eliminated a big ticket item). As a result, to celebrate another year without a vehicle I have put my latest book The Car Free Experiment in print for those who prefer a physical copy of the book.

car free print cover

Thank you very much for your support and encouragement – without you, none of this would have been possible.

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A simple solution

The other day I had to look through my oldest journals in search of something important I had forgotten. That was when I discovered, to my dismay, that the ink I used to write my journal entries had bled through the pages, making them almost unreadable. Since I didn’t want to stop using my beloved composition notebooks (archive-quality journals are too rich for my blood) I sent my daughter on a quest for a solution with an emphasis on cheap – our budget throws a fit with anything else.

She did some research and made an interesting discovery. The National Archives considers pencil to be quite safe – perhaps even safer than many pens. Apparently part of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was written in pencil, and as you can see from the linked image it is still clearly legible all of these years later. My new love Nabokov swore by pencils, and Thoreau not only used them – his family owned a pencil factory!

Unconvinced, we dug through some of my old papers and discovered that I have letters written in pencil by my uncle back in WWII that are still clearly readable, and even some of the stories I had written in pencil as a child were still legible, despite the abuse they have received. The stuff I had written in pen…not so much.

I pondered this evidence and realized that a simple switch to pencil would not only improve my journals, they might also help with another issue I’ve been facing – the frustration of making constant mistakes when I write. Instead of filling the page with scribbles (eventually ripping them into pieces), I could erase my mistakes and move on.

Inspired, I gathered up some pencils and gave it a try. I use a lot more erasers than pencils but that’s okay – I’m making progress and improving my journals too. Even better, I didn’t have to spend a fortune to solve the problem.

This little experience goes to show that sometimes the best solutions can also be the cheapest.

Have you discovered any simple solutions lately? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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Hacking my focus

The other morning I sat down at the computer to work on a post. By the time I came up for air it was almost dark. I had spent the whole day flittering from webpage to webpage like a squirrel on crack.

After that I started avoiding computers. I have stuff to accomplish and turning someone with my attention span (and insatiable hunger for knowledge) loose on the Internet is asking for trouble. I can’t stop flitting around and I have no sense of time to boot.

Index cards to the rescue! Each one is large enough for a small thought but too small to allow for distractions so I keep a small stack on my table now and use them for everything. Random thoughts and questions get jotted down on a card and buried at the bottom of the pile for processing after my daily goals are accomplished.

indexcard draft

These little slips of wonder are the reason I’ve been able to start blogging again. They help me to focus on a tiny piece at a time, pieces that I can mix and match and tinker with until they form a coherent document. I plan to scale this method up so that I can start writing my books again. Right now I’m using them to help me format the print version of my car-free book. They help me to stay on track (and remember things that I need to do next), one card (task) at a time.

They make me feel as if I’m channeling Nabokov but I don’t care. It’s working.

What hacks do you use to stay on track and be productive? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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My Fight Song

To ring in this new year I’ve decided on a fightin’ song. Maybe it will help you fight and overcome your challenges too.

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2016 Goals

This post goes along with my 2015 annual summary. You can read Part One and Part Two here.

Thanks to my physical challenges, next year’s goals are drastically reduced. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to quit. Progress toward a goal, however minuscule, is still progress. Instead of normal-sized baby steps I will just have to take teeny-tiny ones, that’s all.


Get my car-free book formatted and released in print. I want that stupid book project DONE. It should have been finished last year but shit happens. Breathe, Annie.

After I get that book formatted and released in print, review incomplete projects and select ONE to work on next. Get started.


Continue to recover and learn to work around my challenges.


Keep writing. It may take me flippin’ forever to work up a post, but that’s better than not working up any at all. I am going to write, and keep writing if it kills me.

Long-Term Goal

I have added a long-term goal to my list in light of last year. I want to own a house of my own. Something simple, easy to clean, and paid-for. I want something I can settle down in so I can eliminate my rent payment because recurring expenses suck and I want as many of them gone as I can kill.

What are your goals for 2016? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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Lessons Learned in 2015

My annual review post is being posted in parts. You can find Part One here and Part 3 here.

I learned several valuable lessons this past year. Some of them are reminders of lessons previously learned but others are new. Here are a few highlights.

Life is completely unpredictable. Who would have thought that a stupid box could do so much damage? This has reminded me that I must keep my life as simple as possible in order to beat the curveballs. I’m working out ways to to simplify my life and finances even further to do this.

Minimalism and financial security do not always go hand-in-hand. Running out of essential items when you are flat broke is not fun. As a result I am definitely going back to stockpiling essential items when money is plentiful. This isn’t just about minimizing trips to the store. It is cheaper in some instances to buy in bulk and it is a huge worry off of my mind to know that I have enough essentials to cover us during lean periods.

This past year has reaffirmed the fact that I made the right decision years ago to build passive income through my books. Without my royalties I would have crashed and burned this past year. As it is I’ve got to figure out how to overcome my current physical challenges and publish some more.

There is no shame in accepting help when you need it. I’ve needed a lot of help this year and I have to words to express my gratitude to everyone who has helped.

Organization is essential. Not only can it help you complete day-to-day activities, when done properly it shows you where you’ve been (and what you’ve done) so that you can better figure out where you are going and how to get there.

Last but not least:

I can survive almost anything. This current challenge has really put me to the test but you know what? I’m still here and I’m still kicking. I haven’t quit and I’m not going to. This brick wall might be a monster but that’s okay. I’ll just pick at it a bit slower.

What lessons did you learn in 2015? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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2015 In Review

Due to physical challenges, my annual goals post is going to be written in parts.

In some ways, 2015 was a rather sucky year. I can either cry over it or move on. Since I can’t change what happened (I received a head injury this year that has left me with physical difficulties), I choose to accept it and figure out some way to get on with my life.


I published four books this year:

I survived an accident that has left me with some health issues. Despite this, I managed financially, not only because I’m frugal but because I have spent these past few years building up a passive income from my book royalties. If not for this I would have crashed and burned.

I lived through the deaths of two uncles and a score of friends. Still dealing with the emotional fallout from that.

I’ve learned several lessons thanks to this past year. I will discuss those in the next post.

See also 2014 in Review and Lessons Learned.

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