Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Sunday Post: January 30, 2011

March 13, 2011.

Get out your calendar and put a nice, big red star on that date. Preferably in Diamine Red Dragon or J. Herbin 1670; this is truly a momentous date.

Why? It's the beginning of daylight savings time in the United States, of course. The unofficial end of winter.

Winter. I think most everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, and for certain in the US, is already sick of it.

I sure am.

Excuse me while I go find my calendar. There's some 1670 in a Taccia I need to make use of.

A Marked Affection for Little Old Men

The Little Old Men
The other week, I acquired a beautiful little True Blue Lucky Curve ringtop pen. It occurred to me when it arrived that it was joining a small coterie of little old pens, now collectively known as the Little Old Men. (Though it's true some were probably meant for ladies.)

Today I'm featuring the Parkers.

I like Parker pens, and always have. I enjoy their designs, especially the Duofolds. My first fountain pen as an adult was a pearl and black Duofold Centennial in the early 1990s. It's big and flashy - and with my magpie instincts, it was a perfect choice. I tend to like big, flashy jewelry too.

Vintage Parkers can get expensive quickly for the more desirable colors and designs. Buying the smaller pens, though, is much more affordable, and has allowed me the pleasure of owning and enjoying these lovely pens without breaking my bank account.

The first to join us was the Jade Green Duo - bought at a yard sale, believe it or not, for $20 and resacked for another $20. Its clip is missing; some day I'll find one.

The second was the orange Duo. Of course the larger version is one of the more desirable colors. This has a very fine nib, almost too fine.

The third was the Lapis ringtop. The color on this one is fabulous, and the nib just a bit flexy.

And the newest addition is the True Blue with a nice flex nib. My writing can't do it justice, but it sure is fun!

And the thing is, all of these are happy, reliable writers. (Little Old Men clearly respond to affection and enjoy attention!) In some ways, these are better writers than my modern pens, in that I can't uniformly say all the moderns are happy and reliable. I find this interesting, because often with antiques the reverse is true - the drawers stuck in the antique dresser we once had; the antique spinning wheel I started out with was a disaster in unreliability and instability.

We have several other Parkers - a 51; a 1946 black Vac; a late run azure blue pearl demi Vac pen and pencil set; and three modern Duos - the black and pearl, a black with gold trim, and an orange.

Each of these has a place in our collection - but I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Little Old Men.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Sunday Post: January 23, 2011

The Quest Continues...

We continue to roam the area, looking for the ultimate coffee shop. Of course, the search is half the fun, so in a way I hope we never find it.

Last week we checked out a doughnut shop in the area that we'd never been to before. Turns out they only serve drip, and don't have much of a seating area. But. The Doughnuts. Oh my!

Artisan doughnuts - a concept that never occurred to me before. We bought way too many, and consumed them way too fast. Highlights included The Pink Lady - a chocolate doughnut with pink strawberry buttercream frosting; not too sweet and surprisingly sophisticated. I was also very happy with a Bourbon Caramel Pecan doughnut. Joe had (among other things) the Smokey Bacon Maple Bar, and gave me a bite; I have to say I wasn't that impressed, though they told us it's one of their top sellers. It's a lovely maple bar, with a generous amount of bacon sprinkled on top of the maple glaze. Um, what?

And I took a number of photos - and then promptly deleted them. By accident. I swear. I didn't mean to make it so we'd have to get more some time...

At any rate, we ended up coming home with a box of doughnuts, making our own coffee, and sitting contentedly by the fireplace as we loaded up on caffeine and sugar. If you live in the area, be sure to check out Frost Doughnuts.

Today I think we'll work our way further into Seattle proper and see what we can find.

Looking forward, I just got a vintage Parker True Blue ringtop and I think I'll do a photo shoot of the various Parkers I have, along with a review. Stay tuned for fun!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Take Pen in Hand...

One of the unexpected pleasures I’ve derived from becoming more involved in fountain pens and the fountain pen community is my interactions with others. For example, through the Fountain Pen Network I have acquired several correspondents.

My current correspondents are a varied lot: men, women, young, older, students, professionals, homemakers, living on three different continents.

So what do we all have in common? Well, the obvious answer is an interest in fountain pens and writing, of course.

But the commonalities go beyond that. The emphasis, pretty consistently, seems to be on how everyone is getting along – how the family is; the job situation; economic difficulties – even the weather. The human condition. And though our backgrounds are in some ways quite dissimilar, we can all relate in one way or another.

I have a job in middle management, with a staff of 55. I deal with well over a hundred emails, texts and phone calls each day. I’m not trying to boast of my importance (because I’m really not that important!); the point is that I communicate with a lot of people every day of my life.

And yet, when I began this written correspondence, I was surprised at how out of practice I was in letter writing. I hadn’t actually written a letter by hand in many years. There’s something contemplative in sitting down with paper and pen to compose a letter; the speed of execution is such that one can thoughtfully construct the letter rather than dashing off the first thing that comes into one’s head. I enjoy the opportunity to slow down and take the time to really put something of myself into the process.

And I’m trying to bring that same approach to this blog. I hope I’m succeeding.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sunday Post: January 16, 2011

Nature Walk in the Back Yard

The weather forecast for the day was for rain and 40+ mph winds. Neither of which are happening at the moment. In fact, I've seen a stray sunbeam or two out there.

I bought myself a present this week: a new dSLR camera, a Nikon D3100. You may have noticed a - ahem, slight improvement in, for example, the photos for the Dani review as opposed to the Barrel of Monkeys review photos, which were done with a point n shoot. The new Nikon arrived on Thursday, and I've taken about 350 shots with it already.

Since there was a lull in the action, weather-wise, I went out into the back yard to see what I could do.

For your Sunday enjoyment, here is Winter into Spring: A Walk Through the Back Yard.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I'm Being Followed By A...

Pen Review: Danitrio Moon Shadow


I bought this pen a few months ago from Kevin Cheng, who uses the monikers Winedoc on FPN and Operadoc on eBay. (From this I infer he likes wine and opera, and is a doctor. She’s so bright!) I must admit that it was an impulse buy, though I don’t often spend this much money on impulse. I’m glad that I did.
Kevin was great to work with. The first pen I received had a flaw in the urushi on the cap, towards the end. It looked like a small bubble, which I can’t imagine was really the case given how well the pens are made; perhaps someone dropped it? At any rate, Kevin  cheerfully exchanged the pen for another he had, and absorbed all the shipping cost as well.   

The writing experience with this pen is – I guess I could call it peaceful. The shape of the pen and the feel of the material are rather different than any other pen I own (and I have a few!); the feel of the urushi is unique. It is extraordinarily smooth without being cold, and quickly warms to the touch. It feels rather as if the pen is a hybrid of Eastern technique and Western engineering. I suppose that’s exactly what it is!


The pen was a bit difficult at first. I initially inked it with Private Reserve Black Cherry (to match the pen of course!), and the pen proved rather recalcitrant; it displayed a fair amount of skipping and, if left to its own devices for a day, would be hard to start again. I changed inks a couple of times; same result. I did a megaflush of the feed system with a mixture of water/dish detergent/Windex; still skipped.

I was just about to email Kevin and ask what the deal was, when it straightened up and started behaving itself. This took about four converters’ worth of ink, a little more than I am accustomed to use to break in a pen. It now writes a smooth, uneventful, unvarying line, about a Western fine. It’s probably a 5 or 6 in terms of wetness, laying down enough ink to be clear without gushing.


And, consistent with how I seem to operate, it’s always had some variant of red ink in it! We Must Match at all times!

The pen does not post. I don’t see this as a disadvantage, because I don’t post any of my pens, other than a Waterman 0552 ½ V which is so short that it’s unusable for me if not posted.

I wish the pen did not have a clip on it. To me, the clip detracts from the beauty of the pen. I have the same feeling that I sometimes did when I wore glasses: if I got all dressed up to go out, did the hair and makeup, and then put the glasses on, it always felt the same as if I was going to a photo shoot and I had a big pimple on my nose. Ecch, everything looks so nice except That One Thing that is so large it’s impossible to miss. This, of course, is a matter of opinion, as others (who may or may not wear glasses) may tell you. The downside of no clip is that one must chase the pen across the desk lest it leap to oblivion off the edge.
I would love to see one of these pens in the making. I’m sure it’s not the case, but the layers of urushi over the gold and silver foil make it look like some of the foil is a good half inch into the pen.


This is a beautiful, and now well-behaved, pen that is a joy to own and to write with. I am very glad I purchased the pen, and look forward to years of enjoyment of it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Sunday Post: January 9, 2011

Over the last couple of months, we've fallen into the habit of going out for coffee on Sunday afternoons. Each week is a mini-adventure of locating a new coffeehouse, driving there, and sampling their wares. Each of us brings our journal and an assortment of pens to use, and trade back and forth. It makes for a pleasant afternoon.

This being Seattle, one might think that there are any number of excellent coffee shops. Truth be told, we've yet to find one that meets requirements completely.

I have been surprised by just how many we've found that offer coffees made by automated machines (not great, but acceptable) and baked goods that look suspiciously like they were bought at Costco the week prior, wrapped in Saran, and stuck in a refrigerator to try to preserve some faint resemblance to freshness (NOT acceptable). One or two shops we tried are stuffed into spaces clearly meant for hobbits, not grown adults. Or they mean to turn the clientele quickly by making the seating area as unusable and cramped as can be.

In desperation, last week we even went to the world's most prevalent Seattle coffee shop. The Big S is not normally my husband's first choice; he believes they tend to over-roast the beans, but he went along. The coffee was fine. The pastries were good. And the shop was so crowded and freezing from the door's constant opening that it was a very uncomfortable experience.

So the quest for a Good Coffee Shop continues. Perhaps we'll meet with success this very afternoon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More Fun Than a Barrel of...

Pen Review: Hasbro Barrel of Monkeys BP

A colleague of mine gifted me with this unique and multi-purpose writing instrument for Christmas. She is aware of how fond I am of pens, and thought this would be an excellent adjunct to my pen collection. She confessed to some difficulty locating fountain pens and associated paraphernalia, but came across this and snatched it up for me. I promised her I would do a review of the pen to memorialize this exciting gift.

Appearance & Design (6 out of 10) – Fun!

For people of (ahem) a Certain Age, the Barrel of Monkeys Game is a classic. I am, of course, one of those people. Because of this, the pen makes me smile simply to look at it. The nostalgia is enhanced by the transparent cap, allowing the observer to note the monkeys inside the barrel, waiting to be linked up and out of the body of the pen. Opaque parts of the pen are bright and colorful.

As a pen, it does actually write. (Although that took a fair bit of coaxing in the form of scribbling across scrap paper for almost a whole minute.)

Construction & Quality (4) – About What One Would Expect

The pen’s construction is somewhat lightweight, no doubt as an economic measure. Given the (lack of) solidity in structure, the lid of the barrel stays on well, even given it is a simple press fit, not a screw-on cap.

Weight & Dimensions (4) – A Bit of an Odd Shape

The shape of the pen is a bit unusual – thicker in the middle than at either end, to accommodate the Barrel. The balance is thus a little odd for writing. This is compensated for by the charming Red Squishy Thing at the operant end for ease of gripping.

Nib & Performance (5) – Well, it does make a mark on the paper…

As noted above, this was a slow starter. Perhaps as a consequence, the pen is a very dry writer; the refill is obviously meant to be standard-issue black BP ink, however it tends to write rather dryly, thus the ink actually appears more like graphite grey.

Playing the game is also difficult, due to the monkeys’ small size. Perhaps they are more related to Cottontop Tamarins than Mandrills. For gaming, this is a major design flaw. Or perhaps it’s that advanced level that some of us can never quite beat. After cravenly dumping the monkeys out onto the table, I did not, however, find any kind of Mario-style Big Boss at the bottom of the barrel, so I surmise the issue is really a design flaw and not a Gaming Trap.

None of this difficulty bears any relation to the fact that I am a Bit Older, with the attendant Middle Age Arthritis setting in, particularly in the thumbs, than I was when I previously played the game. No. Not at all.

Filling System & Maintenance (5) - Classic plastic tube BP refill – but REALLY short

Surprisingly enough, access to the refill is a screw-on piece. Given the press fit of the barrel, I was expecting a similar simple teardown process – but it’s not. If I happen to use up the provided refill, I rather despair of finding a replacement due to its astonishingly short size. This is, of course, to accommodate the all-important Barrel o Monkeys – the raison d’ĂȘtre of this item. I suspect its ability to write is a secondary benefit.
BoM Teardown

Conclusion (Overall score: 4.8): Great Concept. Execution? Meh, not so much. But….

The concept is marvelous, and I immediately glommed on to the pen with nostalgic delight. The pen does write – which may actually be a bonus. The monkeys are tiny and a bit fiddly, which could be construed as either a challenge or an annoyance depending on one’s mood.

It provided a good half hour of fun though, in the teardown and rebuild of the pen, the (attempted) playing of the game, and of course in writing a review!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Sunday Post: January 2, 2011

It's been unusually cold here in the Pacific Northwest where I live. The highs have been in the low 30s (F), with lows in the high teens. This may not constitute "cold" where you live, but it certainly is for the Seattle area. As is so often the case here, when it's cold, it's clear. The days have been beautifully sunny, with spectacular sunrises and sunsets - even if sunset is at 4:30 in the afternoon!

Today I bought some yarn and have begun knitting a pair of wrist gauntlets to wear in the cold - to help keep my hands warm while leaving my fingers free. I happen to own (and use) three spinning wheels, but sometimes the lure of a quick-to-finish project is great, so I end up buying yarn instead of spinning it. I spent a fair amount of time looking at different yarns before settling on a beautiful heathery dark green wool blend.

It wasn't until I was a couple of pattern repeats into the first gauntlet that I started to laugh.

I had chosen  a yarn the exact same color as the Diamine Evergreen ink I'd loaded this morning into the Levenger True Writer that my husband gave me for Christmas.

Apparently I have green on the brain today.

Here's a shot of Mount Rainier a friend took on New Year's Eve morning - speaking of beautiful sunrises.

And here's to a beautiful week!