Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Sunday Post: February 27, 2011

Bloggin the Oscars

For some people, it's all about the Super Bowl. Not in my family.

Tonight, we're gathered at my aunt's house, over hors d'oeuvres and then dinner, to watch the Oscars. We're all rooting for our favorites - though, this year, it appears we're all rooting for Colin Firth in the King's Speech.

And of course, all of the women are discussing the dresses, the jewels, the hair, the makeup...on the TV. Not ours.

I'll be putting together my list of must-see movies after tonight. I used to go see each Best Picture nominee before the Oscars every year, but since they've gone to ten I've quit doing that.

Hope everyone had a great weekend! Working on another pen review that I should have up this week!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pen Review: Reform 1745

This pen is a Reform 1745. These were German-made student pens. I bought mine as new old stock from a seller on the Fountain Pen Network for $7.50.

The 1745 is a piston filler. The nib, the clip and the cap ring are metal; all other parts appear to be plastic. The design is a bit of a Pelikan knockoff. The pen is very lightweight, and just a bit more slender than I find really comfortable - though it's probably a "standard" size pen, at 5 1/8 inches capped, 4 3/4 inches uncapped.

I didn't flush or otherwise prep the pen in any way; I just threw some Waterman Florida Blue ink in it - which is what I almost always use as my initial test ink in a new pen (or in a pen new to me).

And it just - worked.

Much less fussily than pens ten or even a hundred times its price sometimes are.

I'm sure the nib is steel - but, interestingly enough, it's got just a touch of flex to it. It's nice to write with - a good amount of feedback, smooth but not too smooth, and just a little bit springy.

And I'm very impressed at how nicely it started right out of the gate.

Overall, I'd say I got my $7.50 worth - and then some.

(clickable) Draft of this review, written with the Reform 1745

This is one in a continuing series of reviews of inexpensive fountain pens.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sunday Post, February 20, 2011

Tick Tock

In the front hall of our home stands a grandfather clock. This clock was my grandmother's, and has been mine for close to 20 years. It's a kit clock, built and purchased when I was very small, and probably not worth a lot to anyone but me. It chimes every 15 minutes, in the classic Big Ben sequence.

Anyone who has lived with a chiming clock will agree that, after a while, one simply doesn't hear the clock chime unless one wants to. Visitors don't have that same reaction; my two-year-old granddaughter is fascinated with the clock, and every 15 minutes it requires some comment by her - usually an enthusiastic "Tick Tock!"

The clock brings back many memories of my grandmother for me; for one of these I have a peculiar fondness. Every time I spent the night at my grandmother's as a child, I slept in a hide-a-bed in the living room. Right next to the clock. That chimed every 15 minutes. And believe me, I heard it.

You can imagine how well I slept. Not.

Fast forward some 30 years, and I'm telling the story to someone of trying to sleep next to the clock, and never succeeding. My grandmother, also in the room, finally asks me why I never said anything to her. "Sheila, I could have stopped the clock! It never ran right anyway!"

But then I'd have no story today, and probably not half the fondness I have for the clock now.

Which, by the way, runs perfectly. It just needs to be leveled. Grandma wasn't the most mechanical in the family.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy little bluebirds

I don’t have an unlimited budget for fountain pens. Most other people don’t either. And there are a lot of inexpensive fountain pens out there that are perfectly good. There are also a number of them that aren’t. I will be spending some time looking at some less expensive pens to explore a wider range of what's available out there. Here's my first attempt at that.

The other day, I bought a pen purely as a novelty, not really expecting the thing would be much good. I didn’t spend very much money for it. It’s made of glass, and allegedly reverse painted. I think it really is reverse painted; Joe and I spent some time looking for signs that it was a decal or paper insert of some sort and can’t find any indication that it isn’t reverse painted, though I expected to find it wasn’t. It has a nib labeled “GENIUS IRIDIUM GERMANY.”

Genius is (or was) a Chinese or Taiwanese brand; they apparently had legal issues with a Major Brand (the capitals are your hint) because some of their pen designs featured a white plum blossom on top of the dark-colored cap, somewhat resembling that Major Brand’s offerings – in that one respect at least. I don’t believe Genius is still in business. Much of what I read tells me that I should assume the word “GERMANY” is decorative, not an indicator of the nib’s origin.

I bought the pen because I’d not seen anything like it. When it first arrived, I was pleased to see it came with a halfway decent piston-style converter. I inked it up and….


I twisted the piston.


I twisted the piston some more. A blob of ink came out between the section and the nib. Still no ink to the nib.

I took the barrel off, pulled the converter off of the section and flushed and flushed and flushed it, using an ear syringe and cool water with a drop of dish detergent and a splash of Windex, then flushed some more with plain water.

Stuck the converter back on it.

Look! It writes! And actually not too badly!

The section is shiny metal, and rather tapered; this makes it difficult for me to hold. I am happier grasping it near where the section screws into the barrel. Which means that I’m not too happy writing with it, since that’s an awfully long way back to hold a pen.

Still, as one of my first forays into inexpensive and novelty pen territory, it’s better than I thought it would be. The nib is pretty much a nail, but it’s also pretty reliable. And I also happen to think it’s kind of pretty.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sunday Post: February 13, 2011

The Critter Highway

Our house appears to be in the middle of the Critter Highway. There is so much traffic that there's practically a path worn through the yard.

Midway along our back fence there is a divot, a depression dug out in the earth. This is the portal to and from the pasture behind us. I've seen that "gateway" used by possums, raccoons, squirrels, cats...all sorts of creatures. And, unless they're stopping to nosh at the bird feeder or the squirrel feeder, or get water out of the fountain (or a convenient puddle - this is Seattle after all!) they invariably come through the divot and around the west side of the house. It might as well be a marked highway. Honestly.

I was told that, for years before the house was built, there was a den of coyotes about where my family room now is. You'd think that would discourage other foot traffic through the area, but there it is. (The coyotes moved north; I can still hear them.)

More than once over the years we've filled the divot in with dirt. It's no use; it just gets dug out again. In precisely the same place. Just to the left of the Japanese maple tree as you face south. We've finally given up and let them have their way.

The Critter Highway Underpass

I'm not quite sure why we've been favored with this, but it makes for some fun and interesting viewing. The other day I looked out the window, and saw a juvenile red-tailed hawk sitting on the fence post not twenty feet away looking back at me. He flew off before I had a chance to grab a camera. (He'd positioned himself halfway between the bird feeder and the squirrel feeder, and just above the divot - equal opportunity hunting, apparently.)

Enjoy your Sunday; I'll be enjoying mine watching the traffic go through the yard...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sweet! Okay, well, maybe not.

The other day, I obtained a Staples Sustainable Earth notebook, filled with bagasse paper. If you've not heard of it before, this is paper made with byproducts from sugarcane processing. We all know that emphasis on conservation and use of renewable resources has increased over the last several years. While I don't think I'm in the forefront of the environmentally aware, I am certainly happy to consider products that are alternatives to those more traditional and more environmentally impacting.

My first reaction in feeling the paper was, "Wow, this is weird!" It has a texture and feel quite unlike any other paper I've ever used. Although its performance is not similar, the feel and sound of it (the word "crinkly" comes to mind) reminds me of the old onionskin papers that were much in use when I was young.

The paper has an almost brittle feel to it that is rather unique.

I am not terribly impressed with its performance with fountain pens. Keep in mind, it's simply one notebook with bagasse paper; I wouldn't generalize from one specific instance and conclude that bagasse paper is never FP friendly.

That being said, though...

For as hard a finish as it feels like it has, the paper is actually pretty absorbent. This leads to a fair bit of feathering with a fountain pen, especially some of my wetter writers and broader nibs. The paper is also quite thin, not dissimilar to tissue paper in thickness (though not in feel), so there is a lot of show through as well. This is not a paper that one could write on both sides of easily and legibly with a fountain pen.
So, while I can't say it's not ready for prime time, I can say the notebook seems optimized for more mainstream use - in other words, the ballpoint pen users of the world would probably be perfectly content.

Using this notebook reminds me a bit of an experiment a friend and I conducted a few months ago. We are both fiber artists, and we gathered up samples of every "weird" fiber we could find, and spent an afternoon spinning the different fibers into yarn. This included a variety of unusual things - bamboo, crab, recycled plastic bottle fiber, corn, and milk byproducts, all of which are now being marketed as "renewable resource" - type fibers for fabrics.

And almost all of them were - well, just plain nasty to work with. The recycled plastic bottle fiber actually squeaked as I worked with it, and felt almost oily. It made for a fairly short afternoon, although we had a lot of product to work with, since neither one of us really cared for most of the raw fiber nor for the completed yarn. And I don't think it was the oddness that was the issue; the "hand" was actually unpleasant. The only one I thought tolerable was corn-based - mind you, this isn't corn silk, it's some byproduct from producing corn syrup that's liquefied and then treated to become fiber. Most of them, in fact, were byproducts of other processes which then went through a fair amount of processing again; I always have to wonder whether the idea is better than the reality in things such as these, where so much processing is involved to get a usable product. Ready-made yarns of some of these fibers are massively expensive by comparison with more conventional yarns (wool, cotton, etc). Our afternoon with the fibers and our spinning wheels made me wonder how viable a replacement some of these things actually are.

I'm not willing to give up on bagasse paper based on this one experience, though, so I think I'll do a little hunting around and see if I can come up with a more premium level bagasse paper to do a comparison. Stay tuned...and let me know if you have suggestions! Thanks!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Sunday Post: February 5, 2011

Frost Doughnut Redux

You knew I'd do it. Since I so cleverly deleted the photos of the amazing doughnuts a couple of weeks ago, we had to go back.

Another lovely afternoon by the fireplace, with coffee, doughnuts and journals.

Maple bar, Salted Caramel doughnut, Banana Split Fritter, Aztec Chocolate doughnut

The maple bar is a classic. The Salted Caramel was just that - very reminiscent of an upper-end candy. The banana split fritter was a nice change from the apple variety - and the Aztec chocolate was amazing, darker chocolate, not too sweet, with cayenne pepper. Yum! What fun we had, trading bites and pens.

A bit short of time today as we have company coming over...hope everyone has a sweet Sunday!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ink Drop: February 2011

The nice folks at Goulet Pens have an ink sample club called the Ink Drop. February's colors have just arrived here; the theme is My Inky Valentine.

This month's theme is rather clever; each ink's name contains the word "rose" - and thus we've each received a lovely bouquet of inks. Given the similarity in names, I am surprised at the variety of colors; though they're all in the same family, they are quite distinct from one another.

The colors, as listed on the sample page I created and photographed, are:

  • Noodler's Ottoman Rose: a rosy red; reminds me a bit of Caran d'Ache Sunset, though a quick check of my ink diary shows Ottoman Rose to be a shade darker.
  • Noodler's Shah's Rose: a lovely dusky pink, similar in appearance to Wancher Ebine - the Ebine is a touch greyer.
  • Private Reserve Arabian Rose: a dusky puple, in the same color family as Cd'A Storm or J. Herbin Poussiere de Lune, though much clearer and brighter than either.
  • Private Reserve Rose Rage: Wow. Bubblegum pink. Kind of pretty, but I'm not quite sure of its usefulness. Almost looks like highlighter material.
  • J. Herbin Rose Cyclamen: The brightest of the lot, in my opinion; the swab is rather vibrant but with a narrower nib this wouldn't be hard to read, and it's a lovely color. I don't personally have anything that compares with it.
Sample page is on a Rhodia Dot Pad, written with a glass pen. Swabs are a single pass with a Q-tip.

Please note: These photos were color-corrected using a ColorChecker Passport and Adobe Lightroom 3 on a color-corrected monitor. To my eye, and on my monitor, they are dead-on representations of the colors in real life. I cannot control what other monitors look like, however; if you have your heart set on a particular color and shade, I highly recommend you try a sample before buying a bottle. I'd hate to contribute to disappointment.

I may end up buying a bottle or two of these; I particularly like the Arabian Rose. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So what is a girl's pen, anyway?

Good friends of ours, Budd and Judy, joined us for dinner last night. We hadn't seen them since well before Christmas (he was in Egypt - a tale for a different time!), so we had a belated Christmas celebration last night as well. Part of our gift to Budd was a bottle of J. Herbin 1670, since he is also a fountain pen user.

I pulled out my pen case to grab a pen that happened to have 1670 in it, so he could see what the ink looked like. He asked to look at the pens, and of course I handed the case over - I have no worries about accidental damage or mishandling by Budd, since he knows his way around a fountain pen.

He looked them over for a few minutes, and then suddenly looked at me and said, "These are awfully big pens for a girl! These look like men's pens!"

This echoes a debate I've seen once or twice before on FPN, and it always puzzles me.

All kidding (and my husband's reassurances) aside, I haven't met anyone's definition of a "girl" since Duran Duran was the hot ticket. This means, among other things, that I have just a bit of arthritis in my hands - though, oddly enough, it's worse in my nondominant right hand. This is partially why I prefer bigger pens; they're easier for me to use.

But I also remember having a Sheaffer NoNonsense-like fountain pen in high school in the '70s and using it frequently. They called it something different then, I believe, but it was essentially the same thing. Those aren't exactly small, delicate, frilly things either.

So here's a shot of my pen case. (As usual, I have eight pens crammed into a six-pen case. Not recommended, of course, but I can't seem to help myself.)

A quick roll call:

Top, from left to right: TWSBI Diamond 530/Caran d'Ache Storm; Danitrio Tosca/Wancher Matcha.

Bottom, left to right: Parker Lapis Ringtop/Waterman Blue; Parker True Blue Ringtop/Waterman Purple; Taccia/J. Herbin 1670; Levenger True Writer Ivory/Diamine Evergreen; Levenger True Writer Seaglass/Caran d'Ache Caribbean Sea; Waterman 0552 1/2V pansy panel/Waterman Blue.

What's your take? Girly? Not?