Friday, October 8, 2021

The Five Grander

 On August 30 I finished the greatest challenge yet in my puzzle collection.  Did I say that wolf's-head was my most difficult puzzle?  Hah!!  THIS has been my toughest -- both the longest to finish and the most difficult to arrange logistically.  Although it looks as though it fits on the board perfectly fine, a puzzle as big as this one needs lots of space for all those pieces.  And I didn't have that space.  Arranging how to work it was just one of the challenges.  But oh!  what glorious fun!  It was worth whatever we paid.

I'm not sure when we bought this.  Certainly after Denmark, and probably from the Barnes & Noble less than a mile away. 

It's been in shrink-wrap for a long time.  The purchase date could have been anywhere from the early 2000s to around 2012. 
It's true we have another 5-grander but somehow that one was missing the shrink-wrap.  I always said I was waiting for a long winter for this one.  Welp -- Covid made me do it, a deep freeze if ever there was one.
"Dolomites Lake in the Sella Pass."  Those familiar with Ravensburger know that the Dolomite mountains form their most common scenes, their home ground as it were:  their roots.  For a Front Range Coloradan to be staring at mountains is not a bad situation.

I opened the shrink-wrap on April 16.  For the next 3 months, until the Fourth of July, no puzzle pictures were taken.  This is most unusual, and I must beg forgiveness.  One of the tools that made this puzzle possible was a sheet.  (Earlier this sheet was used for a model horse show arena.)  I folded it into the size of the board and stapled it closed -- I had a feeling it was going to stay folded like that for a very long time.  

  As I've said elsewhere, the sheet performed many functions.  It protected the pieces from getting lost or being directly stepped on, and, over time, from sun and dust.  It allowed access to the bookshelves and daytime use of the space, which was critical:  This is the assembly spot for all our trips.  And it protected against cheating, i.e. doing the puzzle outside of the designated puzzle time, which was right before bed.  Cheating has always been a problem -- call it managing an addiction.  After the border was done, George stopped work altogether and the whole thing became entirely mine.  Many days only a few pieces went in.

Here is a series of shots, taken July 4, that shows how far I'd come... and had yet to go.  The series shows how the sheet was folded up when time came to work on the puzzle.

See the yellow heavy-duty flashlight in the upper right?  The flashlight was an attempt to get light where I needed it, as the clip lamp (center) was really too weak.  Over time, the biggest problem was lighting:  "During the day, the light is so much better!"

Near the yellow flashlight can be seen a gallon Ziplock bag full of puzzle pieces.  This is how I solved the logistics of a too-small board.  I hand-picked-out every red flower piece and stowed them away, intending to do the flowers last.  This reduced the amount of pieces active at any one time.  Of course, it caused problems when it came time to do the smaller red flowers in the center!  Earlier, I'd also pulled out blue pieces -- there were two bags.  It's a matter of skill telling the lake apart from the sky.
I think the lower, red flower border was not done until now [July 4].  That would explain why I took these pictures at this time;  it was a major milestone in completion.

Here's a view of the whole thing without the sheet.  It's more than halfway done.  April, May, June -- oh, our blessed June!  Beloved, glorious normal June.  In June we went out to eat.  We stayed overnight in another town.  We hiked and passed strangers and didn't mind breathing their air.  June and early July were our real summer -- a few precious weeks.

Then came Delta and we were set back.  But that's another story.

My camera does not always behave when it comes to color balance.  This shot is much nearer the real color of things.  Note that the left side trees and mountains are filled in.  This was taken July 9.

Working on so vast a puzzle is a continuum.  I had hung over this board so much, so long, so intently, pivoting on my hands, that my right elbow had taken fire and became very sore.  It was in June that I had to take it to a doctor and July before I started physical therapy for it.  Diagnosis:  Tendonitis.  Cause:  Overuse.

[Ragtime piano playing; lots of handwriting; model tackmaking; canoeing...]

For me a puzzle is a world you live in.  It is of sufficient complexity to engage your brain yet offers enough simple success to keep you sweet.  Each piece placed is a little jolt of serotonin; it really is addictive.  There are only six shapes to Ravensburger puzzle pieces.  I have my own names for them all:  One-wings, two-wings, four-wings, four-heads, two-heads or standard, and three-heads, which I call boats because they have a downward-pointing belly and symmetrical ends like a boat hull (think canoe).  Two-heads are by far the most common shape.

Here's a close up.  Three pieces are 'missing' or not found yet in this area.  In the event it turned out that only one had strayed (it was found under the Monopoly box, if you please!!) and the other two had somehow hid out in the roses/red flowers bag.

Progress:  I had reached the red flowers.  This next shot, taken July 13,  shows a significant detail: the manila folder.  I use this stiff cardboard to transfer small numbers of pieces about.  I also had arranged many remaining pieces into shape-alike groups, something I do when "the end is near."  At this stage the remaining pieces are the hardest of the whole puzzle to fit, so I group them to make comparisons easier.  This phenomenon is caused by the simple rule that the easier parts get done first.

Note how just the pieces for the bottom quarter of the puzzle take up all the board space.  It really was impossible to lay out all 5,000 at once.

Here's a close up of some shape-alike groupings.  The largest cluster of rows is two-wings (sometimes I call these two-tails) and the darker group is boats.  Pieces are also laid out according to color.

Near the end.  This whole-scene shot was taken August 28.  Much is on view here:  The grey blanket-pillow (I always kneel on something), the Ace bandage piled up on the yellow sheet (for the elbow), the flashlight gone (it disturbed my couch-sitter too much) and a second small lamp seen to the left (unfortunately it also disturbed my couch-lyer).  A small white cardboard piece, originally a candy wrapping, serves as a transfer sheet.  This turned out to be very useful.  It was simply easier to pry up the section of puzzle I was trying to find a piece for and carry it around, comparing it to the shape-alike groups, than to try and find a single piece to match a given hole which was many inches away.  I had never had to develop this kind of technique before;  but I'd never done a five-grander before.

Evening lighting was so poor that I had to use a magnifying glass; it can be seen on the puzzle box.  Light makes all the difference.

The five-grander had taken me four and a half months.  For comparison, a two-grander, in 2020, had taken us 16 days.  A three-grander in the last quarter of 2020 (you'll have to wait for the Fourth Ten to see it) took me from October 27 to December 2:  a month and 6 days.  George helped on that one.

Finish.  August 30.  The whole cycle of cresting hope to enjoyed freedom to crashing disappointment to stubborn resilience was embodied in this project.  Four and a half months of my life are here, darkness and light, hope and horror, disgust and determination.  It will not be easy to tear down.  It's been up for more than a month.  But right around the 40-day mark, it feels right to go ahead and start another puzzle.  

For entertainment dollars, Ravensburger can't be beat.  What's up next?  Can ye believe it:  Another Ravensburger!  But this time, Geo gets to do more than just the border.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Puzzles: The Third Ten

Certainly I didn't mean to take this long to get back to the Puzzles of 2020!  So much has happened since March that perhaps I may be forgiven.  Instead of 10, there are 11 puzzles featured this time.  Since 2020 saw a total of 42 puzzles worked, there has to be some fudging to get everybody in with only four posts.  This time, there will only be one pic per puzzle --- mostly.

I'm going to take these strictly chronologically.  This next one was photo'd in June; shot on June 8, 2020 to be precise.  (The photo date only means that the puzzle was completed on or before that date, usually the night before; occasionally 2 or 3 days before.)  I've mentioned before that some of my earliest beloved Springboks did not feature horses.  This puzzle is the poster child for that statement.  The Veteran Motor Car!  I dimly remember choosing this as a child in Tucson in the 1960s; it must have been the bright colors.  Historically there's a close relationship between horse-drawn vehicles and these cars.  Possibly that influenced me, but the exact reasoning has been lost in time.  I love the old Springboks with all my heart, and here be proof. 

Springbok circular  550  The Veteran Motor Car

This next interesting puzzle entered our lives somewhere in the 2000s, probably from a catalog.  I've always thought puzzles are a great way to become familiar with famous works of art.  This is the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or Cappella Sistina to give it its Italian name.  The border frames make for a rather challenging puzzle.  The figures, drapery and colors are amazing although the box does not tell the stories behind them.  Eh, 21st C, you can look them up online.  Photo'd June 16th.
Educa 1K  Cappella Sistina

This next one is familiar to all us horse lovers.  I obtained this puzzle fairly early in the marriage, which would put it in the early 90s, again most likely from a catalog, although I am not sure.  This puzzle again is pretty challenging, even harder than Cappella.  Concurrently we got a book on Bev Doolittle's art.  We were never able to get another, and I consider this a limited edition and a much-sought-after prize.  Photo'd June 19th.

Ceaco  550  Bev Doolittle's Pintos

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Springbok is my native country in puzzles.  There are two puzzles featuring St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow in our collection.  This is the best of the two.  I truly do not remember how or when this one came to be with us; after marriage but several decades ago, which would put it somewhere between 1990 and 2009.  Photo'd June 27th.
Springbok 1K  St Basil's Cathedral

Certainly this one came out of a catalog.  The Great American Puzzle Company, despite its impressive name, is represented shallowly in my collection.  This puzzle is thinner and more cheaply made than the old Springboks, but something about the watercolor painting must have struck us.  Photo'd June 28.  You can see the pieces from the next puzzle in the line-up.  We were really churning them out by now; the average time of completion was 6 days.
Great American Puzzle Co.  550  Grand Canyon

This lovely cantering horse (I call it an Arabian) represents the twenty-sixth puzzle worked by me during 2020.  We must have seen this one in a bookstore or gift shop somewhere.  The title on the box is "Spring Gallop,"  somewhat uninspired given the other Ravenburger Arabian horse puzzle I own.  (It's called Arabian Thoroughbred, a bad translation of "Arabiches Vollblut," meaning pureblood Arab.  You'll just have to wait for that one!)   By this time I was working all the puzzles myself and George was reading on the couch.  This one was hard, as they all should be, but not too hard.  Photo'd July 7.
Ravensburger 1K  Arab

It is a natural progression for me to transition from horses to wolves.  This lovely White Wolf, with haunting backlighting and aspen woods, is one of a set of three puzzles painted by Ian Martin MacGuire, which we got out of a catalog -- almost certainly Bits and Pieces --  in the early 2000s.  It was surprisingly challenging.  Looking at it now brings me vibrations of fear and wonderment at the unfolding disease drama that was the summer of 2020.  Photo'd July 17th.
Ceaco 1K  Ian MacGuire White Wolf

It was an obvious choice to move next to another wolf puzzle, Nate Silver's PhotoMosaics.  This is one of only 2 PhotoMosaic puzzles I own (the other is a Disney).  What I did not count on was how hard this puzzle would be.  Hands down, it was the toughest of the entire year!  It took what felt like forever!!  Even though by actual count this puzzle took only 16 days, one should include mental feelings and stress.  I'd done it before, so I must have had some clue; but somehow that experience evaded me.  PhotoMosaics are pictures made up of hundreds of tiny photographs, and for some reason that makes them extremely difficult puzzles.  I'm good, but somehow the market can always find ways to stump even the good ones.  Very very hard hard.

Buffalo Games Inc  1K  Nate Silver's PhotoMosaics Wolf

This one deserves two pictures (the above is distorted).  Even worse than the White Wolf, this one held worry and fear as July moved into August.  I finished and photo'd it August 2.

Switching between photographs to drawings and paintings, as I have tried to do, this next puzzle was amazingly pleasant, happy and restorative to work.  The news must have been better!  This is a variation on the old favorite subject of mares and foals.  This puzzle came from the Amish store, Peight's in Kish Valley, and is a Canadian product.  The title on the box is Horse Meadow and the painting is by Kim Penner.  Photo'd August 11.
Cobble Hill 1K  Horse Meadow

The thirtieth puzzle of 2020 was this famous old Ravensburger beach view, done at least once before.  There are nine 2-granders in our collection.  I am not clear whether we ever sent a 2-grander home from Denmark -- most of them would've been 1Ks and 15-ers.  What is clear is that Ravensburgers entered our puzzle lives in 1994-5 when we were on sabbatical in Roskilde.  Oh those Danish bookstores!  I bought and bought and shipped the lovely things home, two at a time and at great cost, because at that time Ravensburger puzzles could not be purchased in the United States.  Happily, this situation has changed. 

I've spent so much time staring at these palm trees that when a similar photograph turns up somewhere else, like on a calendar, I recognize it.  The box title says Fantasy Beach but I'm pretty sure it's the Dominican Republic.  Photo'd August 27.  Note that this, a 2,000 piece puzzle, took me 16 days also; but somehow it was much more relaxed and accomplish-able.

Ravensburger 2K  Palm Beach

Time now to draw back and look at the larger view.  You can see (above) that yet another  puzzle has been started, and in the crunch to divide 42 by 4, I'm including it.  

There's my knee cushion pillow.  To the upper right is a wrinkled-up pale yellow cover sheet, which would become extremely important in 2021.

This is another proof that sometimes two puzzles are going on at once.  This usually happens when the preceding puzzle has been so long and hard that I'm reluctant about taking it down, but so eager to keep going that I start the next one anyway.

The Coyote was photo'd Sept 2, so he took a week.  The title on the box is Coyote in Winter Sage.  The painter is the famous animal artist Robert Bateman.  We also have a coffee table book on him, An Artist in Nature.

Cobble Hill 1K  Coyote by Robert Bateman

I have many subjects to blog on,... but high on the list is another puzzle.  It is very recent, 2021 -- in fact it is still up.  There are three 3-granders and two 5-granders in our jigsaw collection.  I finally did, almost completely solo, a 5-grander...!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Fara Shimbo Horses & Tack


This will be a short exploration of the fabulous skills of Fara Shimbo, model horse artist extraordinaire, active in the 1980s and 90s.  Although she was at home with sculpting, painting, remaking, prop-building and tackmaking, I only have 4 English saddles and 2 remakes of hers.  These horses were repainted, haired and the Clydesdale repositioned.  But I did find a pic, deep in my files, of Western tack by this lady.  Talk about talented.

Fa's business card proclaims her as a Certified Public Nuisance.  No title could be more appropriate.

Back in the late 80s this salmon-chestnut Clydesdale came to stay with me.  He doesn't have a registry card, nor any documentation.  But my memory strongly states he is by Shimbo.  The hair is mohair and the body painted in acrylics and pastels.  My husband seized upon this one and he now belongs to him.

The Clyde has horseshoes made of wire and solder, another Shimbo idea.  Having to be glued on, unfortunately they fell off, but they're still around.

Fa's main presence in my tack collection is English saddles.  I am exceptionally fortunate to have 4 of her amazing works.  Each one speaks of the ongoing improvement process, creating on the spot, expressing a spirit very familiar with real horse equipment yet experimenting with personal flair.  This is model tackmaking from the early years of the hobby, when everything had to be made from scratch.

The dark brown, Classic-scale race saddle on the right below dates from 1986.  It originally had a woven-thread girth which was so frail I replaced it later with an Emma Harrison girth.  The maize-colored felt blanket is a Fa original; it has a white-binding center stripe.  Fa made her own saddle trees from Friendly Plastic (heat-malleable plastic pellets) and other materials.  This is a delicate saddle overall and always needs cleaning (oh those brass pins!) but it shows that her sense of proportion was spot-on.

The purple saddle dates from 1998.  I purchased it through an email auction.  (If you want to know, the winning price was $45.)  It did not have a girth so I made one, matching as closely as I could the 'intent' and style of the maker.  I also added the breastcollar and martingale.  This has been a favorite piece for many years, inspiring my "matchy-matchy" collection, as seen below.  The Russians were not the first to try color on an English saddle!

Fa has a story, too, about this purple saddle.  She made it for herself and used its photo in her catalog.  According to her:  "Someone, I forget who fortunately, wanted to buy one of those saddles and sent in a check.  I was so busy at the time, I saw I wasn't going to get around to making another..., and send her that one.  A few days later I got two interesting things in the mail:  one was a letter from her saying that she was "extremely dissatisfied" that the saddle I sent looked nothing like the one in the photo; the other was a notice from my bank that her check had been written on an account that no longer existed!  I told her about the check and that I expected the saddle back.  She finally paid in cash and sent a letter yelling at me for expecting her to be a "professional accountant."
That incident, and subsequent cataracts, was why I stopped making tack."

She never made another like it.  I can only say I'm glad it appears to've been me who picked it up next.

Dang!  Rooting through the file box, I find I have at least 2 other saddles by Shimbo that didn't get photo'd... one of them a wreck, "no redeeming features" says the card...  ahem...

The white-stripe saddle on the right, below, is a prized possession.  c. 1989.  There's quite a story on its registration card. 

"According to Fa she sent me this saddle two different times, & each was lost in the mail.  I had moved to PA in 1987.  The third time, I was visiting CO and her and she brought out a bunch of saddles, told me to pick one.  I picked an experimental, & I thought beautiful piece -- nothing else like it.  She said it was her least favorite -- "That's how it goes!"   Chris Foote says she'd KILL for this saddle-- !!!!"

Over time I've fixed, cleaned, repaired and updated parts of all of these.  Sometimes notes are kept; other times, not.  On this saddle, for instance, the girth billets kept breaking, and I'd sew on new parts; and the stirrup straps were hot-oiled.

The saddle on the left I call the Pumpkin Saddle.  It was purchased sight-unseen through an email auction in October of 1998.  On this one I wound up doing a lot of work, securing loose piping, replacing the stirrup leathers, and making a new girth out of kangaroo leather my parents had brought from Australia.  This gave me the opportunity to make a girth that felt the way I thought they should when fastening:  having smooth-sliding buckles that were easy to work with, not fiddly sharp tongue buckles that gouged leather.  The essential proportions and colors of the piece remain Fa's.  

Here is another of her unusual English saddles.  I'm afraid I don't know the photographer -- this is from deep in my private files.  It shows her sense of exploration and fearlessness.  Why shouldn't there be carving and stamping on an English saddle!?  At the time I knew very little of English saddles, being of an exclusively Western bent. 

Hopefully these few examples will help identify Fara Shimbo's style as a tackmaker.  One particular part of her English saddles is an almost fail-safe clue:  the stirrups.  Fa made her own stirrups, she told me, out of a "low-melting-point metal sold to weight down model train cars, cast into a silicone mold and then polished."  "I melted it with a soldering iron.  Probably something called Bare Metal."   The stirrups appear dull silver in color, filed flat and blocky, not symmetrical or perfect.  Nearly all my saddles by her have these unique, handmade stirrups.

 Time to trot out my motto, pinned over the workbench:

                                                          OUR MOTTO

The Artisanry of Model Tack lies not only in the researching and duplicating, in miniature, of that which exists in the world ...  but in reaching out to explore and create new forms, new horizons, never seen before...  It is an Artistic Medium, just like paint or clay ...  ... At the same time, Model Tack must remain solidly connected to the form and function of a working toy, which is what I consider the model horse to be.

A piece by Fa could capture her spirit of sassy experimentation and still remain a realistic piece of tack.  Here is the one Western saddle by her I have a picture of.  Fa thinks she took it:

Fa was so into iridescence that she wrote books about it.  I know the term Crystallier because of her.

And finally, my other horse by her.  This beloved old Appaloosa Mare is my best example of what an artist can do with colored pencils.  She rattles, she's coarse and rough, --- and I love her to pieces.  Fa gave her to me for Christmas 1987.  Named Timmaine, she is wearing my Evelyn Munday Brindle-seat saddle (2012), hackamore by TSII.

Thank you, Fa, for sharing your wide-ranging model talents with the world.   I still remember the ferrets and the model dogs, and your horse, Chewie.  You helped inspire and steady my own model tack journey,... and do so even now.

Links That Changed Me


A more accurate title would be "Links to articles that have influenced me enough to change my behaviour."  But short snappy headlines are de rigueur in the early 21st C. 😀  Constantly compressing one's thoughts into their core meaning is hard.  Compression generates heat.  There you have it:  Sue's inadequate effort to explain global warming... : )

The order started out chronological, but strayed into 'what's most important to me at the time.'  Right now the most recent one is second from the bottom.

Saving Your Health, One Mask at a Time.  April 7, 2020.   Dr Tippett, MD, PhD, on defining a safe space and the math of multiplying risk factors to achieve, as near as possible, 100% safety.  This was written at the start of the pandemic.  It is the only article I'm remembering a year later as being of any real use.

 Slate article on Delta   July 21, 2021.  More than year later (and after a too-brief summer of freedom), this is the article that had us taking Delta seriously.  After reading this one we almost didn't go to CO; we did change our route to avoid MO, after cases spiked there.

 Atlantic article on Delta   August 12, 2021.  A brilliant discussion of endemicity [when the virus becomes endemic, or normally present] and immunological naivete.  Although long, this one nails it on what we can do to prevent the sickening waves of 'here we go again.'  "Vaccines remain the best way for individuals to protect themselves, but societies cannot treat vaccines as their only defense." -- author Ed Young.

Note that Atlantic magazine allows readers a certain amount of articles free, but after 2 per month you have to pay.

 The 60-year-old mystery:  Aerosols versus droplets  May 13, 2021.  This is the crown jewel of this post's collection.  Why was 6 feet chosen?  Under what conditions does it actually work?  A team of researchers dug into the past and unearthed surprising answers.  This became personal not just because I married a meteorologist  :^)  but because my own grandfather had suffered Tuberculosis as a medical student in the 1920s.

Apologies for not being able to find a simple plume dispersion video!  Really, I had no idea there were so many videos on the subject of airborne transmission...  I watched some pollution and smoke diffusion videos back in fall 2020 (think smokestack) and that did indeed change me.  Here's one of many:  Japanese article on droplets

Image source:  Google   origin. from

University of AL on vaccine side effects  July 6, 2021.  A friend claims that the side effects of the vaccine are unknown;  This one's for you.  Note that it comes from the Deep South (Alabama), as does the next link (Louisiana).

Dr Catherine O'Neal on Vimeo  August 3, 2021.  This is the one George shows his students.  Darkest days:  She warns that even though hers is a big hospital with many beds, she cannot guarantee there will be a bed if you have an accident.  Compassionate, logical, yet clearly desperate, I found myself trusting her.  He and I are pretty much placing our lives in the hands of his students.

Katelyn Jetelina on Israel  What's going on with Israel?   At Sept 1, 2021, this one is so new that it hasn't yet actually impacted our behaviour.  At least it's trying to get a handle on new information about booster shots.

 How to talk the shots   April 8, 2021.  Here's a good finisher:  Washington Post on how to talk about controversial things.  I read this and thought, We've been practicing these all along.  Any marriage that lasts will recognize these precepts as only logical.  To wit:  Anger doesn't help;   see things from the other's point of view; and above all, Share Everything, and be prepared to look like an idiot --  because the other side is an idiot too.

Truth will out.  I've learned that over 60 years, ... and this:

Your fears are always worse than the reality.