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With the planners I received for reviewing, I was also generously given a few other goodies to try out. There was never a condition to review these items, but I am very happy to promote quality like this.

First off, the Rhodia pad. These little things have been seen worldwide for decades, and I don’t know how I went this long without trying one. It’s a simple little orange notepad, built for tough and practical usage. The front cover is scored in perfect segments for folding over. I’m generally partial to spirals for notepads, but this set up works great without the clumsy lump created by a spiral. I keep mine in my large camera bag, using it for sketching portrait shoot ideas. It’s replaced my former Moleskine Volant, which was black and just wasn’t cutting it for the job. All of my equipement, bags, and many of my clothes are black. I kept losing the little Volant. The Rhodia, with its orange cover, stands out nicely and never gets left behind. It will also, due to the cover design, stay open for hands-free reference. And the paper is fantastic! Makes me rather curious about the Rhodia Webnotebooks…

Next, the Clairefontaine notebook. I love this thing. Out of the stack of goodies I received, this is the item that competed with my planner for heaviest usage. The size is convenient, and the paper is simply divine. As I mentioned before, I have a soft spot for spiral notebooks. Well, I have never used one this fantastic before. It’s all about the paper. When I’m trying to convince someone that fountain pens are worth the bother and not as intimidating as they think.. I reach for this notebook and get them to write in it with a fountain pen. They always stop and look at me with a “wow” in their eyes. So smooth and silky it makes writing a joy.

Lastly, the Exacompta sketchbook. It’s a black “Silver Edge Basics” sketchbook with heavy, 100g paper that is pH neutral and contains 25% cotton. Each page seems to have a smooth side and slightly textured side. Not being a fan of texture in my sketchbooks, I generally opt for the smooth side of things. The texture is faint enough to not be much of a problem for me, however. One of the winning features of this book is the binding, which is sewn and cloth-bound. A sketchbook that won’t lay flat is infuriating, and forcing one to lay flat only to later lose pages is even worse. This great little item will not only lay flat, but it will hold together with use. Now, if only they would make this book in a smaller size. I currently prefer smaller books for sketching, and the 5×8″ just means this one gets left at home. The pages are heavy enough to withstand some ink usage – which enables me to draw with my fountain pen without bleed-though. I haven’t had a problem with feathering, either, which is great! I’ve been on the lookout for some dip pens for months, and finally have some coming in the mail now. My current primary sketchbook will not take fountain pen ink, so I’ve held my Exacompta in reserve to use with my dip pens. Can’t wait to play!

The stack of loot:

The Rhodia at work:

My heavily used Clairefontaine:

Lay-flat happiness:

The end:

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I love English Muffins. LOVE. So, when I ran across someone online that mentioned making them, I couldn’t resist trying.

They are fantastically easy, especially with a stand mixer. Mix, let rise for two hours, form into little muffins, let rest, fry up in a skillet (yes, a skillet!). They are great made a day or two before you need them, so you don’t have to get up at 5am to have them ready for breakfast.

I used the recipe I came across on YouTube, and will eventually try others to see how these can be improved upon or played with. One big thing I learned in this process is that you are supposed to split the muffin with a fork, not a knife. This helps create the lovely jagged edges and nooks and crannies for catching all that butter. You can make these free-form or in a mold. Some people use old, washed tuna tins. I used a pair of really big cookie cutters.

Earlier this year, I was sent a package of goodies from Exaclair, Inc (the US distributor of fine products by Clairefontaine, Exacompta, Rhodia, Quo Vadis, and more). I was a late shot-in-the-dark addition to their planner review offer (aka, they send me a planner, I review it on my blog), and they happened to have a few left that no one had claimed. Not only did I get in on the offer, but I got the exact planner I wanted – and more. The kindly Karen Doherty sent me a Quo Vadis Business planner in an orange Habana cover (4″x6″), as well as the Minister planner in the same cover (approx 6″ x 9″), a Clairefontaine spiral notebook, an orange Rhodia pad, and a sketchbook. Oh, the wealth!

All this arrived partly into the new year, and I was also waiting on some fountain pens and ink to play with. The agreement was: a review in exchange for a planner, but it seemed a bit late to be posting a review of a product that probably sells the most from November to early January. Also, it seemed a lot of other reviews I had seen didn’t really put the planner to work. I decided to hold off and post a review later in the year, when I had spent some true practical timeĀ  using the planner, and when people would be actually looking online for reviews.

Honestly, I was skeptical of the vertical format. I hated it at first, and it’s perhaps a good thing that I gave it time before publishing a review. I thought there wouldn’t be room to write, that the lines for hours were a waste of space for my schedule. I was flipping through Moleskine weekly planners with their more horizontal layouts – I even bid on a few on eBay (unsuccessfully – why pay much when you have free one to use?). But now that I’ve put this baby to good use, I love the format and find it difficult to see how the other type of layout would work for me! One complaint, though, is that the Sunday really would be best as a full column. My Sundays are BUSY days and it’s tough trying to get it all written on the bottom of the page.. sometimes I just skip it and try to just remember my plans for that day.

I love the tear-out corners for fast jumps to the current week, as well as the space on the right side for notes. The breakdown of the notes into catagories doesn’t really work for me, but that’s easily overcome by just writing over the faint titles.

Most importantly: I was able to write with my fountain pens (using my standard ink: Noodler’s Black) without the slightest bleed-through on the pages. The sewn binding lays flat nicely and held up to abuse as I carried the small book in my purse all year – didn’t lose a single page. There are only a few smudges to show age, and the elastic band still has a nice snap to it.

I loved the quality of the paper. The Minister planner, which is almost identical aside from size, had better paper perhaps, but I didn’t find it necessary for something I was only jotting in here and there. It’s not as if it is a full journal. I much prefer the Business for it’s size – tiny and portable!

All-in-all, I give it my vote. Great product!

Fresh from the mail back in January 09:

Stack of goodies (January 09):

Used and abused in December (nice to see how my photography has improved since January):

Scribbles and bits (December 09):