Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Wahl Eversharp Doric

Sometimes I look for particular fountain pens to add to my collection. Sometimes pens find me. This is one of those pens - I am honored to be its current guardian.

This beautiful and iconic Art Deco lever-filling fountain pen is the Wahl Eversharp Doric. Its celluloid cap and barrel each has 12 sides, and it sports the very unique adjustable 14k gold No. 5 nib. The slider on top of the nib can be moved to any of 9 slots, which determines how rigid or how flexible the nib's tines will be. The closer the slider is to the writing tip, the more rigid it is; the closer it is to the barrel the more likely the nib is to flex and produce writing with shading and flourishes (if you know how to write Spencerian or Copperplate script. Here's an example on Youtube).

Wahl Eversharp was one of the top 4 fountain pen manufacturers of its time. This particular Doric was manufactured circa 1935 (later Dorics are plunger-filling pens). It is a standard-size, "Popular Price" Doric, which was sold in those days for USD5. The bigger "senior" or "oversize" Dorics had a Gold Seal above the clip, which indicated a lifetime guarantee (which my pen doesn't have; but it is no less beautiful to me). My pen also sports the plain clip, not the earlier roller-clip of the first-generation Dorics.

This green marble celluloid is named "Kashmir", one of a number of lovely colors. Unfortunately, Kashmir is one of those unstable colored celluloids that has shown a tendency to discolor, craze or crystallize (a condition where the pattern becomes somewhat transparent and colors tend to flouresce and create tiny cracks under certain temperature/storage conditions). Luckily, this pen does not exhibit any crazing or crystallization, although the barrel's green marble now has a faintly olive tinge. This may be due to the fact that it may have been stored through the years until its original latex rubber ink sac had deteriorated and released gasses that changed the color of the celluloid. I removed the section from the barrel to check the condition of the existing sac and was pleased to find that it has been fitted with a silicon sac, which should last for a good length of time.

Here's a writing sample, using J. Herbin Lie de The ink on a Clairefontaine notebook. I have little experience with flexy writing, so this is what I could manage. I have a gold-filled Wahl ringtop with a No. 2 nib that is perhaps quite a bit softer and easier to flex than this Doric's adjustable No. 5 nib. (I try to be cautious and not write with such a heavy hand that I may inadvertently spring the tines.) The nib has a slight kink in it, as if someone tried to flex the nib in the past without moving the slider. This does not detract from its writing performance; I am able to write rapidly with it. The Doric feels good in the hand.

The cap band is somewhat brassed (the gold plating has worn off in some areas), but this does not bother me much as I acquire pens to actually write with rather than to display. There are faint use scratches. But yes, the Doric is one of those pens worth restoring to its full glory, as it is not that easy to find.

(For more information on the Wahl Eversharp Doric, please visit The Fountain Pen Network's Wahl Eversharp Forum, moderated by Syd Saperstein aka "Wahlnut". Other information for this blog came from, Richard Binder, and Rick Conner.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Little Girls, Team Sports

When I was a little girl I was bookish and not the least bit sporty. I did, however, love swimming, climbing trees, running with the dogs and playing games the neighborhood children played. I even endured hula dancing class. It wasn't until high school PE that I became one of the goalies of the girls' soccer team. I sometimes walked home all covered in mud. The only time I was goalie and we played against another school, it was a long, hard match that ended in a draw. No big deal - we had sandwiches and we had our stories, and we enjoyed ourselves.

I had a place in the team, a role and a goal, and I tried as much as possible to achieve it. The sense of belonging and pride in the team was exhilarating. For once I was the doer, not the watcher. Many people prefer to just watch, and never give themselves a chance to do.

Many years later, I watched my goddaughter Jassie play girls' Little League Softball. Their team won the right to represent the Philippines at the International Little League World Series that year. I cheered myself hoarse that day, and was so proud of my friends' little girl. I remembered thinking that when I was a little girl I could never hit anything on cue even if I tried. I was hopeless at shooting a basketball or returning a volleyball serve. The only thing I knew how to do was kick a ball in certain directions and block it with my body. I thought it was great that kids nowadays had all these organized activities that gave them opportunities to discover physical and social skills, activities that weren't available or fashionable when I was small. All we had then was a choice of learning dance, or a musical instrument, or art, or kiddie cooking class. Very few little girls then participated in team sports, unless you counted school patintero and Chinese garter games at recess.

Last Saturday I watched my niece Lilo play Little League T-ball. It was a very hot and humid day, but families gathered around the El Circulo Verde field, cheering on their kids. There's something so appealing about watching 6-year-olds running around a diamond trying to catch a ball. Each of them had a job to do. Lilo batted twice; later she had to exit the game due to heat exhaustion. They only played for an hour in the sweltering heat, but they all got their exercise, which is one thing kids always need enough of.

When Lilo started out with the International Little League Association of Manila's Major Holdings team, she was the smallest girl (and one of the youngest) in the group. They practiced once a week on a weekday and played virtually every Saturday in the school year. In the beginning she didn't understand the game rules. She cried whenever she was tagged out. Eventually she learned to hit a ball on a tee strongly, even hit a coach's pitch, and to catch a ball. And she learned to run as fast as she could. There were days she didn't feel like playing, but she played anyway. There were days she was more interested in daydreaming while in the outfield. But she played anyway. Her teammates didn't all go to the same school, but they all became friends.

A year later, some teammates moved into the next age group. Some stopped playing in favor of other pursuits. This year Lilo plays in a mixed boys and girls group. (More new friends!)

This sort of experience is so important. It's not about dressing up to look sporty, or so you have something to brag about (although some people do that). It's about learning to work with others, and to do your job the best way you can so you can contribute to the team's success. For most little girls, it's trying out what you initially think you're not inclined to do, with the hope of finding out that you really like what you're doing. And becoming the better person for it.

The last time I participated in a team sport, it was in Philippine airsoft, from 2001-2003. I was a member of the PPG, an all-girl assault squad of Team Wyvern. We participated in the first Kalis competition, where we had to successfully complete an assault module, a defense module and a hostage rescue module. We held a respectable middle place in the competition, not bad for first-timers. Here's a couple of photos from those days when I was 20lbs lighter and had sharper cheekbones:

That's Ria Miranda-Regis and me clearing out the first room of the FTI warehouse in Taguig.

The PPG disbanded at a time when some of us became wives and mothers. Those are important roles, too - except your team is your family this time. As for me, I passed my airsoft gear on to my godson Raffi, who uses it mostly for cosplay.

Those with young children should take advantage of opportunities for team sport. If you're thinking about things like the expense and the time it takes up, believe me, it's worth it. Let your children join something, have fun and learn to play well with others. There are many, many lessons one can learn from experiences like this, but playing well with others is one of those skills that you may not realize means a lot when it comes to living well in this world.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lilo's Halloween Costume

My 6yo niece has a very vivid imagination. She's wanted to be Medusa for the longest time. Last October 22 she had her fantasy realized - thanks to Mommy Joy's crochet skills. Joy found the free crocheted yarn snakes pattern by Lucy Ravenscar at

The 14 snakes are made up of combinations of yarn colors, crocheted over four days. The eyes and tongue are sewn on. They are attached to a plastic headband, along with black yarn "hair". The "black" lipstick is eyebrow pencil rubbed over lip gloss. The rest of the costume was a black sleeveless dress.

Lilo was even more thrilled when she won a special award for her costume! Even now she's thinking of a new costume for next year...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fountain Pen Network - Philippines

Our group of pen lovers, Fountain Pen Network - Philippines, is three years old and keeps growing. It started with a handful of enthusiasts in a thread on analog writing instruments at (oddly enough) a local tech forum. It now has about 20-30 active members, many of whom are also members of the Fountain Pen Network forums. Our yahoogroup moderator, Prof. Jose Dalisay ("Butch" to his friends, aka "penmanila" on FPN), has written about fountain pen collecting, and the group, several times in the Philippine Star. Anyone who enjoys writing with fountain pens, wants to try them out, or collects them, may join. We meet about once a month, for lunch or coffee and pen talk.

What do we do? Eat. Talk. Make new friends. Doodle (that's Caloy Abad Santos doodling on the Amici restaurant placemat above). Show and tell. Try out each other's pens. Hold raffles of pen, ink and paper products. Buy. Sell. Trade. Exchange information - where to buy pens and inks, care and maintenance of pens, pen repair, info on collectible models, where to find quality stationery, etc. In short, we are a bunch of enablers!

A friend of mine in the US said, "I love looking at your pen meet pictures on Facebook. It's all so geeky." Yes, geeky and we love it.

Some members' collections focus on a certain brand and model. On the table in the photo are Parker Vacumatics.

In this photo, teddy bears Ivan and Trekker guard pen cases containing Pelikan M800 limited editions, Toledo models and "Originals of Their Time".

Here are some beautiful celluloid and silver overlay pens.

A number of members have special frankenpens created by honorary US member Tom Overfield. These are pens that are cobbled together with usable parts of other pens of the same model, even if the colors don't match. They each have special names - there's Frankensnork, Bride of Frankensnork, the Bridesmaid Pencil, Tuckenstein, Frankenthein, Thinenstein, Rafflestein, Pencigor, etc. Mine is the grey, blue and maroon Parker 51 Demi known as "Demistein". It's second from right - I love it because its parts have been rescued from somebody's cabinets and it writes a nice, broad, wet line. If ever there's a token of deep friendship and love of pens, it is that.

Colorful pen wraps! These were made for me by May Zayco (fuschia and aqua) and Hazel Gazmen (olive green).

We like to hold raffles at Christmas, and during anniversaries. Keeps the attendance up!

Here's Leigh Reyes, doodling.

And more doodling, this time by Jenny Ortuoste. Featured is my Swan fountain pen with the semiflex Eversharp nib. Isn't it inspiring to be able to write in all those gorgeous ink colors? If you wanted read a good ink and paper review, then visit Clem Dionglay's blog, Rants of the Archer.

I even got a lesson on how to resac a Waterman 0852 1/2 BCHR ringtop from the 1920s, from Butch Palma, at the first anniversary pen meet.

Here we are at the second anniversary pen meet. And that's not even the entire group...

Photos by Chito Limson, Leigh Reyes, Jenny Ortuoste, and Mona Caccam.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Theo & Philo Artisan Chocolates

I've bought Theo & Philo artisan chocolates three times in the last month alone. My family and I end up enjoying it before I even think of taking photographs. The Green Mango & Salt bar above is the remaining bar in my stash. It's my favorite flavor: unique and very Filipino in taste. The pretty packaging proclaims: "By the Philippines, For the Philippines, Of the Philippines." What's not to like?

I found out about Theo & Philo from my friend and neighbor Karlo, via Google+. He recommended I get it from Echo Store in Podium, which sells sustainable, eco-friendly and proudly-Filipino products. Now I am a sucker for quality local products - I comb trade fairs for products like this. The website says the cacao is from Davao and the sugar, from Bacolod. I just HAD to try it.

On my first purchase, I chose Dark Chocolate and Labuyo (chili) flavors. The Dark Chocolate was of very high quality. It had depth, and a delicious, bittersweet flavor. The following day we tried the Labuyo. It was Dark Chocolate with an appealing, spicy end note which everyone (with the exception of my 6yo niece) enjoyed. Apparently it's one of the bestsellers in the Theo & Philo lineup of flavors. On my second purchase a week later, I got Milk Chocolate and Green Mango & Salt. I'm not a very big fan of generic milk chocolates per se, but was glad that this version had a high cacao content and wasn't very sweet. The Green Mango & Salt was a happy surprise. There were dried bits of green mango interspersed with occasional rock salt crystals in a Dark Chocolate matrix. I loved the contrast in flavors and textures! On my third purchase a couple of weeks later, I bought TWO Green Mango & Salt bars, and one flavored with Barako coffee. Embedded in the Dark Chocolate were crushed bits of roasted Barako (Liberica) coffee beans. Crunchy-gritty, with the full flavor of coffee. Another winner!

They make wonderful gifts, don't they? Christmas is coming and I'm already thinking of who to give them to. I've posted about them on Facebook and by now a number of my friends have tried them too. I've already given some balikbayan friends a selection of flavors. In fact, I'm looking for Calamansi and Ginger for my next purchase. Echo Store doesn't always carry all the flavors (it depends on the delivery, and of course some flavors are more popular than others), but you will be able to find them in these stores. Each bar is PhP 95, and so worth it.

I'm so happy with such a quality product - it's definitely worth our support.


I'm not affiliated with Echo Store, but am a regular customer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Attempt At Coptic Binding

It's been a couple of years since I did any bookbinding projects. My last one was full-on hardcover bookbinding (with glue). Last weekend I decided to try Coptic binding, which is a sewn binding that does not require any adhesives.

I once attended a seminar on bookbinding, but it didn't include coptic binding. I knew how to do kettle stitch, but not how to attach the cover boards correctly. So I browsed tutorials on Youtube. I found DaphLife's tutorial friendly and easily followed.

I did two practice books, a "pocket-size" book (a page is half a legal-size sheet folded into two) and a "standard" (letter-size sheet folded into two) one. They're quite minimalist; I didn't cover the illustration board covers with fancy paper anymore since I was impatient. Besides, I was only going to use them for ordinary note-taking and not for journalling. I'm frustrated that I can't find in the bookstores quality bulk paper whose surface can take fountain pen ink properly enough that I can write on both sides of the page. At least my book block paper is acid-free. Next time I'll do the fancy cover wrapping and all.

Coptic binding usually requires a thicker thread, usually of a color that contrasts with the paper and the cover board. This makes sure the decorative aspect of the sewing comes through to the viewer/user. I just used what I had at home, a 100% cotton crochet thread. I used the single-needle version (yes, there is a two-needle version, but I only had one needle big enough for the crochet thread).

What I like about this method is that the book opens flat, is stackable (compared to my comb ringbound notebooks) and is 100% biodegradable.

Yes, yes, I know, next time I'll make prettier wrapped cover boards.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poems by Tomas Transtromer

Last October 6th, I woke up to the announcement that the Nobel Committee had awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. He bested other luminaries in the running such as Syrian poet Adonis and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (even long shot Bob Dylan). Considered Sweden's greatest living poet, Transtromer's work has been translated into 50 languages. Ironically, despite being a best-seller in Sweden, Transtromer is not as well-known in other parts of the world. He recently turned 80, and continues to write poetry.

I am posting three of his poems that I like here, and am as of now actively looking for any of his poetry collections. The New York Observer says a number of Transtromer's poem collections in English will certainly be reprinted following his win. Wikipedia also lists his published books in English translation. As a layman I find it easier to approach Nobel Prizewinning works in poetry since short but complete samples are available online for immediate appreciation. I hope you enjoy the three I've selected:

(translated by Robin Fulton)

There's a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand. It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.

When the rain stops, so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear nights
waiting as we do for the moment
when the snowflakes blossom in space.

(translated by Robin Fulton)

Spring lies desolate.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side
without reflections.

The only thing that shines
is yellow flowers.

I am carried in my shadow
like a violin
in its black case.

The only thing I want to say
glitters out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnbroker’s.

(translated by Robert Bly)

They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
Like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.
The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thought meet as when
two colors meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy's painting.
It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer
tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.

All poems copyright Tomas Transtromer. Many thanks to John Baker, Bloodaxe Blogs, and for texts of these poems.

Friday, October 7, 2011

EPP Balcony Herbal Garden

Click on the photos to enlarge.

This is my mother's EPP herbal balcony garden: organic sweet basil, bok choy, Himalayan spinach, tarragon, rosemary and chives. Yes, the planters are converted plastic Coca-cola liter bottles.

EPP stands for Enriched Potting Preparation, which uses a "nutrient-rich compost soil extract, in a watering and aeration-efficient container". It's award-winning urban garden technology developed by Dr. Eduardo P. Paningbatan, a professor of soil science at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos.

My mom attended one of his seminars and decided to start her own garden. She even organized a seminar at our Metro Manila condo complex so that other unit owners could grow their own organic and pesticide-free herbs and vegetables, even ornamental plants.

EPP is distributed by:

Makiling Plant and Products Exchange (MPPI)
10001 Mt. Halcon St., Umali Subd., Los Banos, Laguna
Tel No. +6349-536-0054
Fax No. +6349-536-5536
Mobile +63919-804-7169

Midori Traveler's Notebook

The Midori Traveler's Notebook is one of those things you end up coveting when you're into fountain pens, typewriters and other analog means of organizing your thoughts. I first saw the standard size version reviewed on Black Cover. Pictured above is the passport-sized one, in brown. It's small and handy enough to fit into any handbag. I found the larger version to be rather long and narrow for my taste.

It came in its own cheesecloth bag, with some information in Japanese and in English. There was also an extra elastic strap included, in case you wanted to add some refills to the existing one.

The leather cover is made in Thailand. It's the kind of finish that looks better and better the more used and distressed it gets. The roughly 9cm x 12.5cm refill notebook paper is thin, but fountain pen friendly (if your pen is not an overly wet writer). The orange refill in the photo is a DIY one I made out of 220gsm cardstock and 100gsm copy paper.

I tested my pens and inks on a back page. While you can see the writing on the other side, there is absolutely no feathering or bleedthrough of ink.

You can fit two refills on the existing elastic. To fit more refills/accessories in the Midori Traveler's Notebook, check out the tips on the Scription blog.

I bought the Midori Traveler's Notebook from Scribe Writing Essentials (3/F Eastwood Mall, Quezon City). I believe they are the exclusive distributors of Midori products (including refills and accessories) in the Philippines. It's a little pricey, but I think it's worth it, being real leather and handsome-looking.


I am not affiliated with Scribe Writing Essentials except as a customer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reviewing Blue-Black Inks

For the longest time the only colors of inks to be had in Manila were Black, Blue and Blue-Black. It bothered me that most Black was often grey, while Blue was usually watery and faded. That left me with Blue-Black, a dark blue that stayed, well, dark. Parker Quink Blue-Black with Solv-x, which was widely available in the 80s, was one of my favorite inks. Now that other ink brands have come to our shores I have a happy range of colors to choose from, but blue-black remains a favored color.

I decided to write this after buying Lamy Blue-Black, my only iron gall ink. I also have Waterman, Parker Quink, Pelikan and Pilot Blue-Blacks. Waterman. Parker and Pelikan are dye-based. My Pilot Blue-Black is vintage NOS (new old stock, possibly from the 1980s) and is pretty waterproof, so I'm wondering whether it's iron gall or not.

Click on the photo to enlarge.


It is immediately obvious that both recent incarnations of Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks result in a totally different color - teal. There is speculation that they are made by the same manufacturing facility in France, after Sanford (a division of Newell-Rubbermaid) acquired both brands. Whether they are the exact same formula of ink hasn't been proven, but they are quite similar. Pilot and Pelikan Blue-Blacks are a blue-grey without any hints of green, while Lamy, being iron gall, starts out dark blue and dries to a darker shade. Very retro, "vintage" colors.


Waterman Blue-Black has been called a lubricating ink - which in general means you can use it in any sort of pen and it will flow well. Parker Blue-Black has a similar flow. Pilot, Pelikan and Lamy are all dry inks and are best matched with wet-writing pens. Dryness is an ink's quality that controls its flow in pens where the feed is designed to direct a generous flow to the nib. German fountain pens like Pelikan tend to be wet writers, for instance (at the other end of the spectrum are Japanese fountain pens, which write dry). Dry inks tend not to feather or bleed through on different qualities of paper, although using them on equally dry pens might result in "scratchy" or "balky" writing.

Water Resistance

The above photo shows a drip test, similar to what happens when you spill your drink on the writing table. It's not a very extreme example. Water can totally lift Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks off the page as it runs. Water will wash off a layer of Pelikan Blue-Black from the page, but will leave a legible "ghost" of the writing. Pilot and Lamy Blue-Blacks are waterproof and permanent. Which makes me wonder whether Pilot is an iron-gall ink. There's no official word on this.


Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks in EF nibs will fade, depending on the quality of the paper used. Pilot, Pelikan and Lamy Blue-Blacks stay dark. This is assuming regular exposure to fluorescent lighting and not direct exposure to sunlight.


I would continue to buy Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks for their flow qualities and teal color and not their blue-blackness. They are affordable and make good testing inks for new pens.

I am unlikely to be able to get more supplies of Pilot Blue-Black since the two bottles I have were from an old bookstore that has since closed down. There are no importers/distributors of Pilot fountain pen ink in the Philippines, which is a shame, because this is an attractive and permanent ink.

Pelikan Blue-Black is a personal favorite, one I would not hesitate to order online. Alas, it is no longer available in the US due to import restrictions on certain of its ingredients.

Lamy Blue-Black I would definitely buy again. I think its permanence and waterproof qualities are a plus. It also behaves well on cheaper, lower-quality papers (does not feather or bleed through). The 50ml ink bottle features a roll of blotting paper at its base, which is a very cool and useful thing. However I would only use it on wet writing pens, modern pens that are easy to clean (piston-fillers or converter/cartridge fillers). I would not let it dry out in any pen, because the particulates that form are likely to clog it. It requires regular flushing. Due to its being iron gall it probably just a little higher maintenance than other inks but in the right pens it makes for a lovely ink.


Waterman, Parker and Lamy inks are available at all branches of National Bookstore. Pilot inks are available online at Pelikan 4001 inks are available at Scribe Writing Essentials in Eastwood City Mall. I am not affiliated with any of these establishments.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pen Stories: Parker Vacumatics

The first time I ever saw a Parker Vacumatic was three years ago, at Prof. Butch Dalisay's house, during Fountain Pen Network-Philippines' first anniversary. Butch and another member, George, displayed their collections of Vacumatic models in different colors and vintages. Now I'm not much of a Parker girl (more of a Sheaffer one), but I thought it would be nice to have at least one of these iconic fountain pens. I ended up with three vacumatic-filler pens.

Parker Vacumatics were manufactured from the 1930s-40s as a fashionable alternative to its Duofold line. Parker created a modern new filler system to complement the pen's beautifully translucent body of clear and pearlescent celluloid. (The pearly stripes on the Vacumatic remind me of a city skyline at night.) The Vacumatic came in several different sizes and colors. One removed the blind cap at the end of the pen, placed the nib end into an ink bottle, and depressed a plunger several times to suck up ink into a rubber diaphragm inside the barrel.

My first was a Golden Pearl Vacumatic Debutante from the second quarter of 1940 - a small ladies' pen. It came with a matching pencil, which fits a 0.9mm lead. The lady in this case was someone named "Esther M. C. Ward". In my romantic imaginings Esther must have been either a teacher or a nurse. The pen was missing a bottom tassie (metal fitting). The nib probably started out as a fine, but had been worn down to a medium. It had lots of feedback, as if someone experimented on grinding the nib with low-grit sandpaper and inadvertently wore an an angled foot in the remaining tipping. I ended up taking my 12k grit micromesh to it and polished the rough edges carefully. Now it writes a consistent line without making scritchy noises, which used to annoy me so much I at first regretted getting it. Now I feel better about using it more often. I never thought I'd have much use for the propelling pencil, but I ended up using it regularly - sometimes more often than the pen!

My second is a standard-sized Azure Blue Pearl from the second quarter of 1945, with a semiflex medium nib (most probably Canadian-made, but I'm not sure). I got it from my friend Carl, who sold it because he realized his tastes ran to more modern pens. Another girl had had her eye on it, but decided not to get it at the last minute. At the time I acquired it, I realized it was a wet writer. It remained unused for several months because the paper of my journal at the time couldn't handle wet, wide-nibbed pens - ink would feather or bleed through. Recently I started using a new journal with more fp-friendly paper (the local Yeah! brand notebooks, available in National Bookstore). I decided to fill up the Azure Blue Pearl with some J. Herbin Vert Olive ink, and realized they're a good match. The color, considered a novelty for its lightness, came out a darker olive because of the nib's wet springiness. Writing with it is a pleasure.

My last pen for this blog entry is a Parker 51 Demi with a Vacumatic-filling system. It's a frankenpen, a gift from Bleubug, whose considerable repair talents include creating usable writers out of ersatz pen parts rolling around in his cabinet. This lady's name is "Josephine E. O' Hara", aka "Demistein", and she's grey, blue and maroon. She's part of an array of well-loved frankenpens Bleubug has created for his friends in FPN-Philippines. Demistein is a broad-nibbed pen. On my first use I stupidly filled it with Waterman Purple, only to discover that purple inks (and red ones) took forever to clean out of vacumatic-fillers. One day I just stopped flushing it with water and let it dry, and vowed I'd use friendly colors next time. I've since used grey (Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same) and orange (J. Herbin Orange Indien) inks to delightful effect. It sort of writes like a Sharpie, but using nice shading colors I can journal with it. No more dark colors in this one!

My pens are daily users, not display cabinet queens. They have faint use scratches and sometimes a ding or two. I try polishing them now and then, but I'm not fussed about it. What matters is that they write.

Vacumatics can be had on eBay from USD 50 and up, depending on whether or not the pen has been restored to full working order. Do your research first, there are different fountain pen forums and online sites sharing lots of information. As with most vintage pens, if you want to avoid the hassle of sending a pen out for restoration and repair, it's probably safer to buy it from a local collector, who can let you try it out before you buy, or from overseas collectors at the FPN Marketplace or the Pentrace Green Board.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Trial: Three Facial Oils

I've always had a pretty good complexion. However, at my present age, I've noticed some dryness and peeling on the sides of my nose, around my lips and between my brows. I asked my dermatologist friend about it, and she said it was pretty common for one's skin quality to change as it matures. At one point the peeling became so bad I was prescribed applications of an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid cream on the problem areas. There were days my skin would remain moist and not peel, and there were days when the facial peeling looked downright embarrassing.

Like most women I've tried the mainstream moisturizers on the market: Brand O, Brand N, Brand P, Brand L. While they all worked reasonably well for me, I thought this time I'd try something more natural, and if possible, organic. For the past three weeks I've been trying a different natural facial oil for a week each: Argan Oil, Ilog Maria Royal Jelly Facial Oil, and cold-pressed, culinary grade Virgin Coconut Oil. It sounds counter-intuitive to put oil on one's face, but for me (and this is a subjective review) it works.

The most exotic of the three, Argan Oil, I found at a stall at Mercato Centrale. It cost PhP 1,500 for a 30ml dispenser bottle. A fair trade product that supports the women of the Berber tribes, this edible oil is imported from Morocco and repacked by local distributor The Souq International. While some people would balk at the price, consider that one application is only about 1-3 drops. On the site it is advertised as a hair-skin-nails moisturizer - "treatment for acne, pimples, scars/keloids, dark spots, large pores, psoriasis, eczema, wrinkles, split ends, weak nails, aging skin, lack-luster skin, etc." Since I had facial dryness and contact dermatitis on one finger and had the extra cash, I thought, why not? Some beauty/anti-aging products that I've tried (that actually worked) cost as much, if not a lot more.

I used the Argan Oil as a night moisturizer after washing my face, applied with the fingers and not with a cotton ball (at that price, would you lose the oil to the cotton ball?). It spreads easily, and has an initial natural scent of "sour forest floor", which disappears once the oil is absorbed on the skin. If you're not used to putting oil directly on your face, go with 1-2 dispenser drops (or the size of a 25-centavo coin). When I woke up the next day I was pleased to find no oil or scent on my pillows, my pores looked smaller and my problem areas looked moist but not oily/shiny. It helped my dermatitis-affected finger, too. Verdict: I loved it. On the last day of my week's trial I was lazy and forgot to moisturize. I woke up with the usual dry reddish areas on my face and peeling around the sides of my mouth.

The second week I used Ilog Maria's Royal Jelly Facial Oil. I had bought this on my last visit to Ilog Maria, Joel Magsaysay's bee farm, in Silang, Cavite. I couldn't remember how much I bought it for, but on the website it's currently PhP 121 for a 50ml bottle. I read on someone's blog that it retails for PhP 150 a bottle at a stall in Marikina Riverbanks. On the bottle it reads: "Handmade in our bee farm using rejuvenating royal jelly and a melange of tropical flower, fruit, nut and seed oils. Can be used as a night cream. Restores aging, dry and sensitive skin. Ingredients tend to separate; No emulsifiers, preservatives or thickeners used. Shake well before using."

The tropical flower must be ylang-ylang. I remember the scent was stronger when it was newly bought. A friend of mine declined using it because the added scent was too strong for her. Since I hadn't had a chance to use it since buying it I smelled it again and the ylang-ylang scent had mellowed. The oil must be a combination of edible oils I can only guess at (sweet almond and grapeseed? I really don't know). The oil didn't separate in the over-six-months it hadn't been used, so I figured it was ok. I used a similar amount as the Argan Oil. I find the texture of this oil to be a tad heavier or thicker, but it wasn't hard to spread it evenly on my skin. It smelled good. When I woke up in the morning the reddish areas on my face from the previous day's laziness disappeared. My skin was supple and the pores were small all week. Verdict: I loved it too.

On the third week I tried Cocowonder's cold-pressed, culinary grade Virgin Coconut Oil. It cost PhP 375/liter. Given the different kinds of VCO available, my sister and I decided on cold-pressed because extraction using heat would destroy the health benefits claimed. We chose culinary grade because it is also cosmetic grade. Our goal was to find a viable and cost-effective alternative to the Argan Oil. I transferred some C-VCO to a small cosmetic dispenser bottle I had repurposed.

I used the same amount of C-VCO as I used with the previous two facial oils. I also used about a tablespoon to massage into my hair an hour before shampooing, to see if it would help a dry scalp. C-VCO smells like nutty baked goods. I mention this because not many people like the heavy smell of bukayo, a cooked coconut candy. Many assume that VCO would smell like that, but it doesn't. The scent disappears once the oil has been absorbed by the skin. Like the argan oil, it left no residual smell on my pillows. In the mornings my skin had a lovely texture, and my hair was soft and my scalp had no flakes. I've done the hair conditioning several times since then. Verdict: I loved it as well.

My skin has never looked so good. I can't afford to be lazy, though, and forget to moisturize nightly. Not once have I broken out with a pimple. Not once.

Now while I love all three, Argan Oil is simply too expensive, in comparison to the other two oils. It is also the best for my finger that suffers from dermatitis (stays on, keeps moist longer). If I have a chance to go to Ilog Maria in Cavite, or even to Marikina Riverbanks, I'd buy the Royal Jelly Facial Oil again. But for everyday hair, skin, nails and internal needs, I think I can stick with VCO. While I've done my part helping the Berber women of Morocco, I think it's good (not to mention patriotic) to put the rest of my money in a Philippine product. (And oh, the lovely savings!)

This blog is not affiliated with any of the enterprises mentioned. All products were purchased at full retail price.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sheaffer vs. Mercury Retrograde, Sheaffer Wins!

A year and a half ago I bought one of my favorite pens, a Sheaffer PFM III, from a collector friend at the first anniversary party of Fountain Pen Network - Philippines. It's black plastic, with a fat barrel, and was missing the white dot on its clip. It was my first Snorkel filler , and it sported a beautiful, extra-fine inlaid nib, the kind only Sheaffer made. Here it is, in my photo album Sheaffer Love. I called the PFM the Pen For Mona. The Pen For Me.

Fast-forward to 2011. The Pen For Mona was in constant rotation, as it was one of my smoothest writers. One day I was going to fill the PFM with some Diamine Claret, a pink-magenta ink that I often use for editing and highlighting text. After only two pages of writing in my journal, it suddenly ran out. Something twisted in my gut. I ran to the bathroom sink and tried filling the pen with water. Yes, I heard the "whoosh" sound the internal latex sac makes when it sucks in ink. Problem was, it wasn't spitting out any when I depressed the Touchdown tube. Snorkels are those fountain pens naughty people used to use in the 1950s and '60s to shoot ink at annoying classmates. They should shoot out streams of ink. Or inky water, when you're cleaning it. Anyhow, something was very wrong. Maybe there were minute holes in the sac. I was afraid ink would get the metal innards wet and cause rust. I couldn't sleep.

I couldn't sleep, because I had to figure out how to send the pen to the US for repair. I'd decided on sending it to Danny Fudge, who has repaired pens for several of my FPN-P friends, among them Prof. Jose "Butch" Dalisay. The very next day I bought one of those Jiffy #00 padded envelopes, and a cheap, hard plastic toothbrush container. The pen, wrapped in Kleenex, went into the protective toothbrush container and into the padded envelope.

Problem was, someone at the main post office of our neighborhood didn't want to accept the package for mailing. They opened my envelope and read my letter requesting for repair. And then they insisted on not accepting it since "it may contain ink, and you know how strict the US Post Office is these days." Facepalm moment. Um. Hello. The letter specifically said it wouldn't load ink correctly, how could I send it filled with ink??? Fortunately I'd had some good coffee before this, and immediately tried sending it at another nearby PO, where it was accepted without any questions asked. I paid PhP 170. That seems like a lot, but when you think of a fountain pen as being something you'd like to pass on to your family later on, it's worth it.

And THEN I read another friend's post about the upcoming Mercury Retrograde. At one retrograde period four years ago, the monitor on my Powerbook G4 went kaput and I had to have it replaced. I had only one year's worth of Apple Care on it and had to find another Powerbook secondhand which I cannibalized for parts. Ever since then, I became apprehensive whenever someone mentioned the words "Mercury Retrograde." To me it meant Murphy's Law, even though planetary alignments seem like the strangest things to affect human day-to-day lives. The more people joked about it, the more I worried. I needed to think positively, but was failing.

Since Mercury Retrograde took up most of April, I worried that the PFM would get lost in the mail, on its way to Danny Fudge. Or that it would get lost in the mail on its way back to me. When the retrograde period ended, I immediately sent an email inquiring after my pen. "I already sent it, with an invoice," Danny wrote back. An invoice! Good! Then in case Customs people decide to charge any arbitrary fees I can always reason out that I only sent an old pen to be repaired! (That was another thing I worried about.)

It was an old pen. It had lots of scratches. It was missing its white dot. But it wrote wonderfully. That's the thing with acquiring vintage pens. It's 50 years old. It's been pre-loved. It may need a bit more maintenance, more TLC. There's some part of me that reminds me not to get too attached to physical objects, but I LOVE this pen.

During the two-week wait I muttered the affirmation, "I am receiving my pen back quickly, safely and easily," a million times. Well, what do you know. I only paid the PhP 40 handling fee. The pen came back to me in its original hard plastic toothbrush case. Polished! No white dot replacement, unfortunately (Danny didn't have any to fit), but that's only cosmetic. I rushed to the bathroom sink and tried filling it with water. Oh joy! It made that "whoosh" sound. It shot jetstreams of water again! I immediately filled it with Pilot Blue-Black ink and tested it. Danny Fudge has this policy about only paying for the pen when you're satisfied with his work. Boy, was I satisfied. I immediately went online and paid the guy, and spent the rest of the day feeling like I was floating on clouds.

(No, that's not Pilot Blue-Black. Old photo of writing sample with Waterman South Sea Blue.)

I feel sheepish about all the worrying I did during the Mercury Retrograde period. It was needless and irrational, but I'm human. The distrust of the postal system's efficiency is something I have to work on. What matters is, the Pen For Mona is back. It's a small thing, but I'm happy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rapture at Mercato, Cocowonder

While the world was supposed to be ending, Joy, Tristan and I were out hunting for organic and fair trade products at Cocowonder and the Mercato Centrale weekend market.

Cocowonder is an exporter of virgin coconut oil based in Makati. Joy was researching on VCO in an attempt to find cost-effective organic local or fair trade products for cosmetic and internal use (hair, face and body). She bought culinary grade and raw VCO (both cold-pressed), VCO hair conditioner and body wash, amino seasoning, nectar and cocoa tablea. Local sellers at various trade fairs don't label their products very carefully, and oftentimes can't answer detailed questions, so she found the Cocowonder site very useful.

I've tried VCO massage oils in the past, but this time I finally tried the culinary grade VCO as a facial night moisturizer (a tiny amount goes a long way) . It's only been a couple of days, but I notice it's absorbed quickly by my skin and it seems to be successful on my dry problem areas (more on this in a future blog entry). It doesn't have that off-putting bukayo smell, just an initial faint scent of nutty baked goods, which eventually fades. As a family we're trying to use more natural products, so this is right up our alley.

We arrived at Mercato just before noon, and decided to have lunch at the al fresco dining area. It's fun to walk around before deciding what to eat - there were so many yummy choices! We shared a quarter-pound burger from Monster Burger, delicious grilled sausages, some very tasty prawn-bacon and kani-bacon skewers, cheesy baby potatoes and stuffed tomatoes, washed down with icy cold cantaloupe juice. I don't have any pictures since we were so hungry we ate it all. Only then were we fortified enough to browse in the market.

Since our last visit was only 2 Saturdays ago, we didn't really buy a lot this time. I bought more different brands/varieties of whole coffee beans from the National Coffee Board stall. One was from the Mt. Apo area (Altura Blend, a Dizon Farms coffee). Continental Coffee is a CAFEX brand, which is a local coffee they serve at McCafe's nationwide. I was curious about Culinary Exchange's Embarcadero Blend, which has beans from Northern Luzon and the Visayas. There's coffee from Mt. Kanlaon which I mean to buy next time (I didn't get it because it was already ground) - I tried the coffee sample they served me and it was very good. Joy bought Ifugao Heirloom brown rice, and wasabi vinaigrette from Comida Rica. One day we'll go on a Sunday morning instead of a Saturday, bring our parents and have lunch.

"Fate could not harm us, for we have dined today." - Sidney Smith (1855)