dispatches from terra incognita

Category: Other Hobbies

A Year About the Place

My absolute favorite place upon this Earth is my home. An unanticipated bright side to this year was that I got to spend a lot more time there. My wife and I made an extra effort to document the year along the way.

This post will concern some of my other hobbies — gardening, carpentry, sky-gazing …


January

Nandina bushes and a patio bench on the 1st day of 2020.
Front of the house, 1/1/2020.

February

New “prep” table. All eggs laid by our industrious hens.
Unusual February snow in North Carolina.
The new “solarium” I was in the process of finishing. Began life as a simple deck, then a larger screened porch. Now glassed and heated/cooled.

March

Cherry tree blossoms.
Front corner of the lot. I have been an unlucky beekeeper. The hives are empty.
Tulips.
Signs for the garden, fashioned by my younger son & niece.

April

Dogwood blossoms.
Sunset
Called “the Wonderland,” Hobby Shack in the background.
My wife’s birthday feast.
Peonies.
Working to enclose the garden vs. varmints.

May

Sustenance in order to persevere.
The garden, complete.
Most prolific garden we have had in 20 years.

June

One of the aforementioned varmints, helping herself to my chickens’ feed.
The “solarium,” largely complete.

July

Marital collaboration: birdhouse and post by me, sign painted by my wife.
Summer flowers, and basil in the background. The counter is cherry, made by me.
Luminaries on our street, in honor of a beloved neighbor who died.
Bounty from the garden.

August

Zinnias.
The “cutting garden,” source for the zinnias.

September

I believe these marigolds made a previous appearance on this blog.
The okra plants gave all summer.

October

Bought from an artist, years ago. A favorite.
Lightly haunted.
Swamp sunflowers. A favorite — I am surprised every year when these open.
Sunrise.

November

Red maple in its glory.
Morning in the kitchen.
Front porch on Veterans’ Day.

December

Reminiscent of Owl’s living room in the Arnold Lobel children’s book, Owl at Home.
The room was built to hold this tree.

Thanks for sharing this journey!

I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

Henry thoreau, Walden, 1854

The Project I Didn’t Know I Needed

There I was, minding my own business, browsing blogs (as one does) and in a moment, I was swept into a project I had no idea I needed to do.

About three weeks ago, Mark Min, the Man of Tin, in one of his glorious fits of genius, posted a work-in-progress creation of his called Spla-fiti. Using soft plastic skateboarder minis (about which more anon), one scoots about the city, endeavoring to leave the most “tags” on the buildings. Meanwhile, police can catch one and cleaning crews might remove one’s tags.

Mark asserts: “It is another exploration of my interest in non-lethal ‘war’ games,” which I wholly endorse. As a kindergartner teacher, there are few aspects of my hobbies that I can share with elementary school-aged students. This game would be one they might play in school (whenever we get to go back, that is … ).

First step was to acquire skaters. Ebay easily yielded the first set of AJs Toyboarders. As Mark noted, Series Two is a rarer animal. My initial Google forays yielded nought. The following day, however, I unearthed a possible lead. A shop called Jack’s Surfboards claimed to have them in stock. I ordered.

Did Jack email to say he had received my order (and payment) ? … He did not. Were there any further communications about shipping, etc. ? … There were not. I could have emailed or called them, I suppose, but the cost was low enough that patience seemed reasonable. Well, not overly-long afterwards, I was surprised by there presence of a parcel in my mailbox.

And, who should I find inside?

They were eager for exercise after the long flight from California.

Ready to Roll

I believe I recall police officers — and perhaps fire fighters — in my sons’ toy box upstairs. I’ll need to have a look. Which I have now done, and, alas, they are all over the place, scale-wise …


The next challenge presented by the project was proper terrain. I have a decent collection of modern buildings for 28s, but I have not yet constructed much for 54s, particularly because of the storage issue. My first thought, though, went to another wargaming sub-hobby which I have been neglecting: 3D printing.

I scaled-up some STL files that I have acquired and printed them out. At the 54mm size, the printing lines are much more noticeable. I think I left the printer on a “fast” setting which is fine for 28mm and smaller. As they are intended to be background props, I’m not letting it brother me.

An appealing aspect of working in the larger scale is that it’s easier to model details. That loo roll was a bit of dowel with paper glued on. I impressed perforations for the individual sheets, but I doubt they are perceptible.

I have some small milk crates that I have been meaning for some time to transform into office buildings. I’ll need to fashion a gridded playing surface. And then I may tinker a bit with the rules to add “distractions” personified by video games and snack machines.

Expect further reports as progress is achieved.

Vintage Tin Lizzie

I continue to progress in clearing my decades-long backlog of hobby projects. My latest completion was another wargaming sub-hobby — scale modeling.

I acquired a 1:16 Lindberg Model T around the same time I bought the war-game-sized contemporary rides. I’ve long wanted to own a Ford Model T, and thought that building a model would help familiarize me with it. Well … it remained on the shelf for almost 20 years. The scratches on the box were inflicted by a beloved feline who passed away 12 years ago!

Working on the model brought back a flood of childhood memories … OF JUST WHY I HATED BUILDING SCALE MODELS! My good-golly-gracious, they are an inexcusable botheration. Oh, well … here it is in all its wabi-sabi glory:

The parts are fiddly and often don’t fit together neatly. If you glue plastic to plastic, you can use model glue, which slightly melts the plastic for a solid bond. When one tries to be proactive and paint beforehand, he either has to scrape paint off the fiddly, delicate joining bits, or else use super glue, which musses the paint, it turns out.

The instructions are not always completely clear — I managed to commit only one profound blunder, by glueing the firewall to the cab before I installed the steering column and wheel. I ended up having to sever and rejoin the column. Had I done it correctly, one would have been able to turn the steering wheel and the front wheels would turn. As it is, I can gingerly turn the wheels, cringing with fear that the column will snap.

I used PVA on the windshield, but still managed to smudge it all up. A little part of me wants to track down another kit and try it again to redeem myself, but I doubt that shall happen.

I did check the web for actual Model Ts for sale, and, with the stable financial position that has come to me with maturity, they are not entirely out of reach. However, I did not inherit the “car” gene from my father, so I doubt I’ll be able to successfully convince my wife to support such an expensive hobby. Plus also the all-important consideration of where to store it.

The Ascodali Navy

My first sub-hobby to wargaming was paper modeling. In the earlier days of web commerce, one could purchase, download, and print out paper models of terrain, vehicles, and miniatures. (And, I know, one still can, though I no longer do so … )

Back in the day, I built many buildings from Microtactix, which one might still acquire from DriveThuRpg. I particularly liked the Cheepsville USA Rural America buildings, which, perversely, one had to color himself. They remind me of the little towns around my house. I built all of Eric Hotz’s Whitewash City, though never got enough western minis painted to populate it.

However, the sultry weather of the American south is not a friend to paper structures, and anyway, I grew to prefer sturdier structures. (Which, led me onward to another sub-hobby — casting with Hirst Arts molds … )

The only vender selling paper models who still holds my interest is Jeff Knudsen, the War Artisan. His War Artisan’s Workshop features detailed paper models of age-of-sail ships from several eras, in multiple scales: 1:300, 1:600, and 1:900. (And, of course, one can always fiddle with printer settings to adjust the size.)

I’ve long had the free download of the 1:300 scale Enterprise, “an American sloop that fought on Lake Champlain in 1776.” I began and abandoned building one years ago.

As I’ve been expanding the available forces for my imagi-nation of Ascaria, it occurred to me that a 6mm paper navy would be thoroughly economical. And, I’ve been eager to dip back into model building as a diversion from my lengthy painting jag.

So, I’ve completed the first ship in the Ascodali navy — which may or may not go by Enterprise.

This was my first-ever attempt at rigging, which Mr. Knudsen assures us is not overly difficult. My first foray did not “spark joy,” but no doubt perseverance shall lead to improvement.

I printed out the tiny Ascodali flag rather than attempting to hand-paint it. Even so, it looks sloppy [sigh].

Inaugural Combat

Following an unplanned hiatus, I have every intention of resuming semi-regular posting to this blog.

Part of my time away was spent on some 1:1 terrain building. Inspired by Eric the Shed, specifically expansion of his eponymous structure, I endeavored to nearly double the size of the building which houses my carpentry workshop (known in my family as The Shed for far longer than I’ve known of Eric’s). The additional room has become my Hobby Shack, dedicated to innumerable non-serious pursuits.

I’ll post a bit more concerning construction later. Today, however, I shall focus on inaugural combat conducted in the new hobby space.

Aside from the new space, I have drawn from two ancillary inspirational founts:

  • I purchased and devoured Neil Thomas’s One-Hour Wargames. This little gem, about which I’ll wax to further length poetic at some later date, provided perfectly concise rules for me to conduct a solo battle; and

  • The resumption of posting by Dale Hurtt and Matt Kirkhart to Wooden Warriors. Part of the reason I labored doggedly for two months (I’m a one-man crew) to build my Shack was to have room to battle with my Square Pegs.

The Square Pegs are my 54mm craftee toy soldiers fashioned from clothes pins. (Their inspiration came from Kenneth Van Pelt and is recounted here.)

The initial conflict would be Scenario One, a Pitched Battle, somewhere in the wilds of Isla Victoria. Army sizes were regrettably halved to 3 units each, as my Prussian jæger and both sides’ artillery languish incomplete.

Thus, the British would be represented by two infantry detachments — 74th Regiment of Foot and the Black Watch — and a troop of 17th “Death or Glory” Lancers.

The Prussians brought to bear detachments from their First and Second Infanterie, supported by the infamous Death’s Head Hussars.

The two small forces faced off thusly:

Now, in my enthusiasm I shall beg your indulgence for this one illustrated After Action Report. I find them tedious as a rule and so you won’t find many here. This occasion was auspicious in that it marked my first foray into One-Hour Wargames, the initial engagement between Square Pegs, as well as the 21st anniversary of the day upon which I was wed. Caveat lector.

Turn the First: The Lancers, who for reasons known only to themselves bore the guidon of the 1st Lancers, charge en avant. The boys of the 74th and the Highlanders press onward to glory. Answering with a cry of battle lust, the Prussian Hussars make for the British cavalry. The 1st Infanterie marches straight towards the scrum while the 2nd have the Highlanders in their sight.

Turn the Second: Plucky British lads soldier onward, closing the gap. A model of malevolent malice, the Death’s Head Hussars not only reach the Lancers, but close on their left flank! They inflict 4 hits.

Turn the Third: Undeterred, the Lancers charge the 1st Infanterie and the 74th closes to shooting distance of the Hussars. The Hussars wheel right to engage the Fighting 74th while the 2nd Infanterie treads implacably towards the Black Watch. The 1st Infanterie fires on their tormentors (3 hits) and the sabers of the Hussars slice into the 74th (6 hits).

Turn the Fourth: The cry “Death or Glory” echoes from the looming mountains as the Lancers renew their charge. Both the 74th and the Highlanders engage in disciplined volley fire with their opponents, inflicting 6 hits on the Hussars and 4 on the 2nd Infanterie. Sensing weakness in the Lancers, the Hussars wheel to the attack. Both foot detachments return fire. The Lancers sustain 5 total hits from saber and shot and the Highlanders receive 5.

Turn the Fifth: The battle rages on with more hits sustained by all (Hussars, 7; 2nd Inf., 3). The Death’s Head Hussars close for the coup de grâce on the Lancers. Alas, sustained fire from the 1st Infanterie cuts down British horse pitilessly. Unit eliminated!

Turn the Sixth: Returning the favor, measured firing of the 74th decimates the Hussars.

Turn the Seventh: Placing themselves in the hands of Fate, the 74th and the Highlanders close on Prussian foot. Alas, needle gun made short work of the Black Watch (Unit eliminated).

The thin red line of the 74th prepared for Prussian onslaught. Martini-Henrys blazing, they take out the battered 1st Infanterie. At the end of the day, there were only souls standing to send final dispatches of the battle to Berlin, recounting the glory of the 2nd Infanterie.

The actors regain the stage to take their bows.

 

A Parable…

This is a parable concerning craft paints, real guitars, and pretend pianos. I wrote a bit in my essay on the GULP that I paint both terrain and miniatures with inexpensive craft paints. This wasn’t always the case.

When I was new to the hobby of collecting and painting miniatures, I did a lot lot of research online. Rather than serving as inspiration, all those meticulously painted miniatures served as intimidation and generally hindered the process. I started out buying Testors acrylics (because those were available at my local hobby shop, Hungates) but soon fell under the spell of Æheric fiends asserting that only Games Workshop pigments were worthy. But nothing I painted with those expensive paints looked like those I saw online.

I eventually stopped painting miniatures entirely, focussing instead on terrain, which, of course, I daubed with craft paint from Walmart, Michael’s, and A.C. Moore. When I embarked upon the Square Pegs project, it seemed obvious to use craft paints, as those cylindrical warriors boast a lot of surface area. Plus, for awhile there, GW kept changing around their paint names, pot types, and generally confused me. When the big box o’ Reaper Bones arrived all bendy-plasticy, craft paint kept flowing.

Now, if you’re wondering, or just bored, this is when I get to the parable part with musical instruments.

For way longer than I’ve collected miniatures — about 30 years, in fact — I’ve played guitar. Or rather, I’ve attempted to play guitar;— I am an auto didact, not a particularly perspicacious one, and it took me about 26 years of making noise to realize that it’s difficult to teach yourself how to do something that you don’t know how to do…

So, I carried my son for guitar lessons for a year or so, and worked up the nerve to take some myself. My teacher was a professional musician who had been involved in jangle-pop music in the 80’s North Carolina music scene, contemporaneous with rise of R.E.M. His band wasn’t similarly successful, but he loved to play guitar, so he made a life of working in the studio, teaching guitar, and playing in local bands. His especial gift is a connection between ears, brain, and fingers. In addition to the encyclopedia of songs he knows, he can simply listen to a song, figure out what the guitarist is playing, and transcribe it for the student.

Back in the 80’s, I had a serviceable guitar purchased by my parents. But I too was under the spell of the young R.E.M. and decided that an expensive electric guitar would certainly improve my playing. I got a bank loan (!) to purchase a Rickenbacker 330, which cost the equivalent of $3700 in today’s dollars (!). The short and obvious conclusion to this part of my tale is that this dear beauty didn’t bring me any closer to Buck. I was just a lousy guitarist with an expensive axe. I’ve collected a few more here and there, and as recently as a few years ago bought a Squier Telecaster (at least I didn’t bite for the real deal) because I thought that would make me better… [Since writing this, I traded up the Squier for a made in Mexico tele.]

The main guitar I practice on to this day is that serviceable Yamaha dreadnought bought for me by my parents circa 1984. One afternoon, my teacher Brad was adeptly unravelling some tune for me on his beat up, Willy Nelson-looking classical guitar, and I fumbled along behind pathetically. Bothered by some sort of string buzz emanating from my guitar, he asked if he could play it for a moment. Music erupted like you hear on the radio. There was still some sort of buzz owing to the vagaries of 30 year-old frets, but he could minimize it by how he held his fingers.

Some days later, while painting clothespins to look like 19th century Victorian soldiers, I was visited by epiphany. Brad sounded great on his old practice guitar, he sounded great on my middling Yamaha, and he sounded great on his expensive Les Paul; he is a gifted musician and would sound great on a tissue box with rubber bands stretched across it. He is a living equivalent of Schroeder in Peanuts, who can coax classical music out of a piano with the black keys painted on.

Great miniature painters can go on for as long as they like about the necessity of expensive paints, but I’m fairly certain they could knock out superb work with daubs of mud and a stick. I’m not saying that only a gifted few can do great work;— rather, that the amount of practice one puts in trumps the quality of the tools.

So, I plan to plod on with craft paints and an inclination to improve my technique. I won’t try anything too hard; I’m satisfied with a base coat and shading with future wash. After 20-odd years and a modest accumulation of guitars, I have learned to Travis pick and can sound like a coffee house folk singer should I want to. In all of my hobbying, I attend to people who have practiced more than I (and are likely more talented than I), incorporating what I can.

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