Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow in San Diego: The Iron Mountain Hike.

Normally it doesn't snow in San Diego. But here is proof that it does. Yesterday we got quite a rainstorm that left snow at the higher elevations in the county. Today, Beth and I climbed to the top of Iron Mountain, a few miles east of our home.  Although there wasn't much on the ground around us, it did snow at elevations from 1000 feet and above.  Warning: There are lots of panoramic-type shots of boring mountain things.

Looking up Iron Mountain from the trail.

Indian Head is the small mountain to the left. San Vincente Mountain is on the right. Snow-covered Cuyamaca Peak is in the background.

Looking west from Iron Mountain. The hiking trail runs perpendicular to Highway 67. There is Black Mountain in the background. That's San Diego and the Pacific Ocean on the horizon.

Looking east. That's Cuyamaca Peak in the background.

Proof there is snow in San Diego. Okay it's up about 1000 feet.

Looking toward Barona Indian Reservation with Cuyamaca Mountains in background.

Cuyamaca Peak

Head Head and Cuyamaca Peak. Note Iron Mt. crucifix in foreground.

Town of Ramona.

Woodson Mountain. Looking north from Iron Mountain.

Of course, I had to get into the picture.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vintage Red Ink Series: Crescent Freflo Red.

I love vintage red ink. I don't understand why. But I like writing with it. Here the first of many experiences.

 On occasion I come across half-used bottles of vintage ink that have been sitting in someone’s junk drawer for the past fifty years; cast out onto eBay after being unsold at an estate sale. These are swatches from days gone by.  The colors are not spectacular, sometimes losing their brightness and luster: blacks are sometimes gray; spearmints are olive; and blues are washed out. The reds seem to be always true. Even in their best condition, they lack the saturation of modern inks. Yet, there is something wonderful and naturally right about dipping a vintage pen into an ornate bottle of vintage ink. The writing fluid seems designed for the old pens. It flows well. It doesn’t stain. It doesn’t feather on the paper. I found this half-used bottle of Crescent Product’s Freflo™ ink in red color. Freflo™ ink was produced by a chemical company in Terre Haute, Indiana, and sold primarily in the 1940s. It came in both oval and square-shaped bottles. As with most of these ink purchases, sometimes you find trash. But most of the time, you find treasure

Freflo ink was manufactured by  for Crescent Products Co., of Terre Haute, Indiana. This ink is water based. I spilled this ink on a white shirt, and was able to completely remove the stain by immediately washing it with liquid hand-soap and water, followed by an application of isopropyl alcohol. It’s obviously not a permanent ink. But with vintage pens, it’s the characteristic I prefer.  Crescent Products was located at 315 N. 14th St., Terre Haute, Ind., and produced ink and adhesives until the early 1960s (according to Terre Haute city and industry directories). 

The color is a deep scarlet red, also known as carmine. I've compared the color to venous blood, or the red pepper and garlic sauce you find at Chinese restaurants.  The ink writes in a dull pink, but darkens slightly as it dries. It is resistant to bleeding through the paper, but dries relatively quickly. I doubt that it contains iron gall material.  As opposed to modern inks, I suspect this red is based on a natural cochineal dye.  Cochineal is a sessile parasite of a desert cactus. Its body contains carminic acid, which is boiled out, and mixed with aluminum or calcium salts to produce a deep red dye that is commonly used in the food and fabric industry.  The color has an attractive professional appearance that I have used for daily writing. It is an instantly recognizable color, especially if you were born before 1970.

Initially, I was not a fan of red ink, but Crescent’s Freflo ink has won me over. It has a deep rich carmine red that flows well and doesn’t clog in the pen. For old-timers, its color is easily recognizable, but rarely seen from modern inks and dyes. Freflo’s shading provides a nice contrast that is pleasing to look at. There is little feathering, and virtually no bleeding through the paper.  I have used this as a daily ink. It stands out instantly on the paper, but doesn’t attract too much attention to itself. When purchasing vintage inks, do not use any writing fluid that contains mold or un-dissolved sediment.



A few comments on the color sample figure.All of these samples were made from my red inks in my collection. I used a cotton swab and performed a swatch of color, followed by a second application to the first half, allowing it to shade. The paper was photographed in the afternoon sun. What I first noticed was that Pelikan Brilliant Red (this sample was from the 1930s) was almost identical to Reform's red (a new old stock). I suspect that they were made to the same formula by the same company. Noodler's Dragon's Napalm is a good copy of the Pelikan ink. I'll probably never use Levenger's Pinkly: it's just too pink. Yard-O-Led inks are made by Diamine. Crescent's Freflo Red is at the bottom. This color appears to be very similar to Diamine's Monaco Red. However, I do not have this ink available at present for comparison.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Last Valentine

     I gingerly placed my stethoscope upon his chest, listening to his heart and lungs. He wasn't supposed to be contagious, but I couldn't be sure. He looked as handsome as a comatose 87-year-old man with a tube down his trachea could manage. The hospital staff had fallen in love with him.  They didn't need family members to sell his status. They were desperately trying to rewrite the ending of his story. 

      Harold and his wife of 60-years were inseparable. They owned a little home on the beach, and remained active in their retirement. Harold and Emily were almost always together. Last week Emily began feeling ill. It was probably stomach flu. The next day her condition worsened. By that afternoon, Harold brought Emily to the hospital, where she died suddenly in the ER.  Harold's blood culture produced that same virulent strain of bacteria. It is just days before her funeral.

     I cannot begin to understand cosmic irony. Perhaps I have connected too many dots of their relationship over the past 60 years.  I know there is an aspiration of love that transcends all of the flowers, diamond rings and romance novels. It is a love that cannot be encapsulated in a television drama. This is a love for which it may take a lifetime to know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Emma's Recipe For Soup

Here is my 13-year-old daughter's recipe for a vegetarian soup she made this evening. My daughter has this....ahhhhh....talent for literally rooting around the pantry, cupboards and refrigerator and mixing together these impossible ingredients to produce something very tasty. This morning she made herself a breakfast sandwich using a vegetarian sausage patty, a "secret" sauce and pickles. Tonight, she decided to make everyone soup. Sometimes its better not to know the names of the ingredients. She couldn't come up with a name for it, so I'll leave that one up to you. It tastes a lot like chicken tortilla soup, but without chicken. After I tasted it, I was so impressed with the results, as schizophrenic as they were, that I had to write down the recipe. Here's what she told me:

2 cans of vegetarian chili;
1 can of refried beans;
Chili powder (Me: How much? Her: I don't know.);
"Fake" beef broth;
3 "fake" sausage patties;
Dried instant onions;
Cheddar cheese, grated (approximately 1/2 cup);
"Lots" of corn;
A "lot" of milk (no water);
I cut up an avocado and threw it in.

I'd show you a picture of the soup in a pretty Mexican bowl with a sprig of cilantro, but I already ate the soup before I thought of the idea.  Some people may think it's easier to buy pre-prepared packaged foods. It's much better to have a daughter.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Desert flowers

As Spring approaches, the desert flowers are once again in bloom. Flora from the Anza-Borrego Desert, San Diego County, California.

Sand Verbena

Apricot Mallow
Desert Dandilion   

Desert oasis
Small mountain creek and waterfall

Monday, February 7, 2011

Writing With Vintage Ink: Parker "51" Ink, India Black


The oft-repeated legend of the Parker 51 pen is that it was the pen designed to accommodate a quick-drying ink, and not the other way around. Parker chemists were busy at work in the 1930s creating fast-drying ink that would dry within seconds upon contact with the paper. Unfortunately, such ink had the propensity to dry on the nib, with a formula that could dissolve celluloid pen material.  Parker designed a hooded nib and a generous feed to accommodate the writing fluid. Meanwhile, DuPont’s new molding powder of poly-methyl-methacrylate (Lucite) was used to create a new material for the body of the pen.

The original Parker “51” Ink formula was highly alkaline, not suitable for other pens at the time, including Parker’s Vacumatic. The new ink was introduced in 1941, along with their “51” pen. Parker reformulated the “51” Ink, and released it in similar jars as Superchrome in 1948.  Throughout this time, the company continued to produce Vacumatics, in addition to their regular line of Quink ink.

The corrosive pen-destroying power of Superchrome and Parker “51” ink is legendary. One only needs to talk with a pen restoration specialist, who can tell you a tale of many pens clogged with its dried residue. Furthermore, the Parker “51” Ink box is coated with warning labels proclaiming the harmful properties of this writing fluid.

Naturally, I set about trying to destroy a Parker 21 just to see what was inside.

The Results

I was initially attracted to the Parker “51” Ink primarily for its artwork on the box, with it’s bold colors and sharp lines. This is my first bottle of Parker “51” Ink, a very clean bottle, probably never opened. I have a bottle of Superchrome. Both bottles are rich with the characteristic sediment, and light isopropyl alcohol smell. The “21” pen was a later creation by Parker, but used similar materials to the “51” pen.  Thus I ignored the heated warnings, added a little water to the jar, broke up the sediment as best I could, and filled my pen with carefree abandon.  Only a fool would use 70-year-old infamous ink with sediment on the bottom. I am such a fool.

Much to my surprise, the ink handled extremely well. It dries almost instantly, within 3 seconds on finer papers, faster on cheaper bonds.  There is no concern for smearing the ink with my hand. The ink dries as it bleeds into the paper, instead of drying by evaporation on the paper surface.  Thus bleeding and feathering is a bit characteristic for the ink.  With a finer point pen, like the ”51,” there is hardly any notice of this. At first, I found the feathering a bit irritating, especially on the cheaper grades of paper (in some cases, it looked like I was writing with a Sharpie marker).  But the instant drying time was such a major draw, that I dismissed any problems that I encountered.  Some may be quick to call this behavior cellulose-binding: I’m too dumb to understand what that means.  Call it what you will, it certainly stuck to the paper, and it remained there permanently.  Water could not remove it. I’ll save the laser-cutter and blow-torch for another reviewer.
I was so excited by my discovery, I decided to load up a “51” with the same ink. Again, it handled very well. With a fine point and good feed, there was little issue with feathering.  The ink writes dry, but it doesn’t feel chalky or rough. The ink doesn’t glorp (this is my own marketing-type catch-phrase) out of the pen, or skip or hesitate. Although towards the end of the fill, it started to skip, but there was no final ink-belch from the pen. The color was a bit gray-green, mostly gray, as I suspect that perhaps some of the blackness had faded.

For a minute, I stepped back and just admired the whole engineering process of what I had taken for granted for most of my life—that process called handwriting.  While I have become a bit of a snob with flexible nibs and flourishy handwriting in my daily quotidian, I also understand that there is some degree of frustration and sacrifice that comes with having a flexible nib. It’s nice to pick up a pen and just jot something quickly through 6 leaves of carbon-paper without trying to receive validation from my handwriting or fancy-colored inks. It’s nice to not worry about ink glorping onto the paper, or drying in the feed.

When I step back and imagine life prior to the advent of the Parker “51,” I realize what a triumph it was to finally have a pen and ink system work so harmoniously that it redefined how people performed their daily routines.  I realize why carrying a Parker “51” became a status symbol at the time.  Of course, much of the hyperbole is lost on modern society conditioned on László Bíró’s invention.  

Of course, there is a reason that the “51” pen outlasted the ink, and Parker reformulated it. This is not an ink for which you fill a pen, only to leave it sitting in a drawer unused for six months. That fast-dry feature can gum up a pen pretty quickly, and its known to etch away the matierials of the pen. If you choose to hunt down a bottle of Parker “51” Ink, realize that most bottles have dried out, and their contents have crystallized. Once you choose to fill a pen with this old ink, flush it thoroughly with water after the ink runs out. On second thought, just avoid the ink


Parker “51” Ink is for a Parker “51” pen. It’s permanent, which means its waterproof. It’s also resistant to electronic forgery, but not impervious to cosmic rays or plasma cutting torch. Its an amazing fast-drying ink that dries right into the paper, instead of remaining on the surface and drying with evaporation. It writes dry, but not chalky. It tends to feather on certain papers (I hate feathering). But I became accustom to its quirkiness, as the fast-dry feature was amazing. This ink was later reformulated by Parker to the Superchrome brand. From a personal perspective, I had a blast writing with it, just experiencing the nostalgia. But given its reputation as a corrosive solution, and the relative difficulty in replacing these pens, I probably won’t use it beyond the novelty phase.

Instructions from inside the box of ink.