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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nifty Notebooks

I have always been a sucker for nifty notebooks. Ever since I was a little kid and received my first diary for Christmas in 1954, I was hooked. It was a little green pocket-sized diary and memo where seven days of my life could be chronicled on each double page spread.

The diary was for year 1955, I was ten years old and ready to become a journalist. According to my personal information, I began the year standing 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighing in at a strapping 67 pounds. The cash summary page near the back showed that I began the year with $1.04 cash on hand; I apparently went on a spending binge as my cash resources had been depleted to zero before February.

The longest week in 1954 was that week from Christmas to New Years Day when I was a kid and itching to write something in my new nifty notebook. The week crawled along while I read every information page several times. The little book includes Postal Rates; in 1955 you could send a first class letter coast to coast for three cents. It lists time zones and moon phases. Facts about the world, continents and climate. Weights and Measures. Distances between cities. Average weight for males and females and several pages on how to save a life.

I sharpened up my pencil and waited for the evening of January 1, 1955 to roll around. When it finally came, these are my words to describe that day: "We went out home and cleaned the house. Went to Granddad's and had a oyster supper. Butch stayed all night last night and tonight." Those words filled the allotted space and were printed neatly. "Out home" refers to the home of my boyhood on the Niobrara - the old house we cleaned still stands today and hasn't been lived in since we moved to Ainsworth, Nebraska a few months prior to my entry. "Granddad's" referred to my Emry grandparents. "Butch" was once the nickname of my cousin, the fellow who grew up to become Dr. Melvin Campbell, MD.

My entries continued daily for a couple of months. Then, although, I was still disciplined to fill the squares, I did so with much larger print. By April my enthusiasm was waning. The last entry for 1955 was on Monday the 4th of April when my entry simply stated: "Another school day. Really chilly."

My parents never gave up on me. A couple of years later I received a five-year diary that was much smaller than the one-year diary multiplied by five. Apparently I had decided early in the first year that there was no point chronicling my days in short phrases to fit even tinier spaces. Over fifty years later, the five-year diary is still substantially empty.

That didn't dampen my enthusiasm for nifty notebooks. I enjoyed the concept; I simply didn't like the confined spaces. When I was in high school and began to work for Morris Skinner and the American Museum of Natural History, I coveted his diaries and notebooks. His diaries had one page set aside for each day. His black, leather-bound, record books were filled with lined pages with no preprinted confinements. "What nifty notebooks", I thought. I inquired as to where I might get ones like his.

The one-year diaries were rather easy to find; I may have purchased mine in Ainsworth. The record books, however, were too exotic and wonderful to be found in Ainsworth, where merchants' shelf space was needed for essentials and not luxuries. Morris told me that he bought his in a store in Lincoln, Nebraska - on O Street if my memory serves me. He gave me the address of the Lincoln store; I quickly sent off for two nifty notebooks - a 4" x 7" and a 5 1/2" x 9" Record Book each with 180 lined pages.

I filled those books with important stuff like addresses; my budget and expenditures; the list of all US Savings Bonds that I had begun to buy and other financial records. My Private Pilot flying log was too restrictive to record my adventures in the wild blue yonder. I amplified each flight in these nifty notebooks including my first solo on 29 Oct 1965. "Soloed! Did 3 touch and gos. Rare experience!" is how I described those short fifteen minutes while my instructor, China Henderson, stood by the end of the Fort Collins, Colorado runway holding his breath. A few years later it amplified my USAF flying log and chronicled my combat experience in Vietnam including the names of my fallen comrades.

In my younger days, I had more things to memorialize in nifty notebooks than I do today: computers have taken the place of nearly every requirement for a paper log. Yet, I still enjoy the old ways. I have several notebooks that I've purchased, I suppose, more for their feel and look than anything utilitarian. After buying them, I find I'm hard-pressed to put them into service. The computer is better for nearly all record keeping - including financial records, logs and journals. I'll consider a use for my new purchase and then decide, "This notebook is just too nice for that mundane chore; I'll use a spiral or some index cards instead." With that logic, I have ended up with several notebooks lying fallow as they are just too nifty to use.

This January, while I'm attempting to organize some end-of-year records, I've come across various spirals, index cards, post-it notes, etc., that are now a meaningless puzzle of user names and password hints for various computer accounts. Some are current; some aren't. Some password hints are no-longer familiar. Some tidbits of other crucial information that I'd thought I'd lost forever have turned up in the most unlikely of places. I exclaim "eureka" but then realize that the sought after information is no longer relevant.

This paper chase convinced me that if I had used one of my nifty notebooks instead of relying on bits and scraps of less-worthy writing materials, I would have more quickly found what I was seeking. I picked up one of my nifty notebooks and vowed to use it for "inappropriate" things. My new logic is akin to Erma Bombeck vowing to never eat another black banana. She had learned that eating black bananas so they won't go to waste will reward you with a black banana the following day. Erma concluded, with her"waste not want not" logic she never got to eat a banana when it was at its prime.

Terry returned yesterday from New York City and presented me with another nifty notebook. It's a 2010 Calendar and Engagement Book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's filled with Eliot Porter Landscapes and much too nifty to use. Yet, 2010 is only here for 365 days and about one month of 2010 has already sped into the past. There is no time like the present to put my pen to its pages. In eleven months it will be too late.

I have a complementary calendar from some fund-raising enterprise that until yesterday, was placed on my desk and enlisted to record my medical appointments and other routine stuff. It's not nearly as nifty as the hard-cover calendar that Terry gave me. I've decided that my mundane and unworthy words won't be anymore out-of-place in the fine book from New York City than the miles of graffiti on Big Apple subway cars. Today, the nifty notebook from the Metropolitan Museum of Art takes the place of the utilitarian "gimme" calendar.

If there is a moral to this story it might be this: If any of you good neighbors are thinking that "The Bunkhouse" blog is just too nifty for your unworthy words; forget that notion! If that were true, I would not have entered my first Post. Our Freedom of Expression is so important that our Constitution guarantees our most humble of thoughts. Please feel free to express yourselves. There is a shorter distance between "humble" and "bold" than you might realize.

Nifty notebooks are meant to be used.


  1. Anonymous11:24 AM

    I tried to leave a comment before with no luck. I do read your blogs. It says my URL has illegal characters -- and I've always tried to obey laws that I know about!
    Ruth Strauch

  2. Thanks for the note, Ruth. At least, Anonymous works for you. I have no idea what caused the URL glitch; if I'm careful to leave that block blank it hasn't yet backfired.


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