Friday, May 25, 2018

At Dawn, We Ride!

When I was a teenager, I was a fairly avid cyclist.  I thought nothing of riding 50 miles in a day (and often did).  I spent a fair bit of time hanging out and chatting with a guy in the neighborhood who was pretty hardcore, he regularly did things like Ride the Rockies and Pedal the Peaks.  I had aspirations of doing such things - American Flyer was one of my favorite movies, in addition to the usual roster of horse films.  I pretty much rode the wheels off of every cheap WalMart bike that I got my hands on.

I still remember the first time I was in a real bike shop and saw a Cannondale with the STI shifters.  Basically it's a system that makes your brakes and shifters the same lever.  Pull back to brake, push in to shift.  It seemed like magic, but with an $800 price tag, such a steed was out of my budget as a kid.

Fast forward to last summer.  As it turned out, the BX (on base department store) had a wide range of Cannondale bikes.  Our friends John and Holly bought two new bikes and we went to check out the selection.  I found they had several Cannondale road bikes..  with STI shifters.  :-O 

My bicycle at the time was a rusty old WalMart mountain bike that wouldn't shift anymore - even after Jeff worked on it and was just pretty much worn out.

Jeff bought me a Cannondale...  with STI shifters.

I rode the heck out of it for three days, planning to launch back into cycling as a way to get back in shape.  It was going to be awesome!

Then, I did a number on myself, a Grade 3 ankle sprain.  No more cycling for me, not for a while. 

My beautiful NEW Cannondale sat parked in the living room, while I sat on the couch, elevating and icing my ankle and feeling sorry for myself.

I got back into riding a bit before winter set in and then the snow sidelined us again.

This spring, I've done a handful of rides.  I'm still far from considering myself a "cyclist" again.

Well...  tomorrow is the "Tour de Ogawara", an annual group ride that circles Lake Ogawara, just north of here.  It's a 53km (roughly 30 mile) loop.  As a teen, during my cycling days, it would have been cake.  Now, I'm not so sure. 

Nevertheless, Jeff and I are both signed up and ready (as we can be) to go.  The bike rack is on the car, our tires are topped off, our steeds are waiting in the hallway...



Jeff had bought a new Cannondale too, but he opted for the full mountain bike version.  I call it the Clydesdale.  He's ridden much less than I have and says he'll definitely be earning the miles on his big-tired beast tomorrow.


My bike is definitely a Thoroughbred or Akhal-Teke... or gazelle.  She flies.  So I've got that going for me. 

Another challenge for us will be the 0800 show time/0900 start time.  Jeff's been on swing shift for a while - generally gets home between 0200-0300 and then we sleep until 0900-1100.  I've been keeping to the same schedule - it makes things easier around here, but makes it very hard to get up in the early mornings!  We are hoping he'll be home a bit early tonight and hoping we can get some sleep before we stagger to the start tomorrow.

A few days ago, he randomly looked at me and asked, "Are we going to die on Saturday?"

To which I replied,

"Probably."

Ha!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Epic Struggle to Import Horses

(model horses, that is)


I'll put the TL;DR (too long; didn't read) right up front for anyone who doesn't feel like wading in:

I've been struggling, since February, to get several Breyer horses sent to me - from Breyer - and as of today they are FINALLY all here, after several e-mails, months of waiting and wondering, and about $80 total in postage, re-shipper fees, and more postage.

-----------------------------------------------------

Full story:

Late last year I ordered several Stablemates direct from Breyer, during an end of the year clearance sale they were having.  Specifically, Valegro and American Pharoah for $2 each - I bought 5 each as bodies, OF show ponies, whatever.  It was also a bit of a shipping test.  I knew that Breyer appears to only use UPS Ground for shipping, so I knew they would take a while to get here (if they would?).  They did, it took about 6 weeks.  No biggie for the "slow boat" way of coming over (or "lashed to a sea turtle" as I like to say).

At the same time, I joined the Collector's Club for the first time and also the Stablemate Club.

February rolled around and I ordered the first horse in the SM Club, Kohana, as soon as he became available - yay!

End of March, I saw they had a 20% off sale on Classic scale models.  I really wanted Mason, the new Saddlebred mold.  So I ordered two: one for OF, one to customize.

Then came the email that Aiden, the second SM Club horse was available, in early April.  I started to wonder, where was Kohana?

I went back through my emails and checked his tracking number.

He'd been returned to sender, about a week after I bought him, over a month ago at that point.

???

I checked the tracking number on the Masons.

They had been returned too and were en route back to Breyer at that time.

I filled out a help request on the Breyer website, laying out what had happened so far and saying I was hesitant to buy Aiden, since I hadn't received the others yet.

They said that UPS had not given a reason for the returns.  Then they confirmed my address and told me they would resend everything.  However, Mason was out of stock and would be back in stock the 16th or 17th of April.  That's when they would resend.

So I went ahead and ordered Aiden, with a regular run SM too.

I received a tracking number for Aiden and friend.

They were returned to sender.

No word, shipment notification or anything, on what was supposed to be resent.

Then it was announced that Starlet was available, a beautiful appaloosa on the Croi Connemara mold.

Again, I e-mailed Breyer.  Again, I laid out that I hadn't received anything since the end of the year box - which apparently was the anomaly, the only one to make it over here.  Again, I said there was something I'd like to purchase, but couldn't, because it appeared the only way I was going to be able to receive my orders was to use a re-shipper - which will triple the cost of postage.  (postage x2, plus a service fee, which is as much or more than the actual postage).

I was told to go ahead and order Starlet and they would refund the shipping cost for her.

Suddenly, in the middle of all of this, a Breyer box arrived at the post office.  Postmarked April 20th, just about 10 days before - record time!  (??)

Inside?  Two Masons.


I set up an account with the re-shipper, and - skeptically - ordered Starlet.  I told the person I'd been speaking with at Breyer that the two Masons had arrived.  Then I asked if everything else (Starlet, 2 SM Club horses, regular SM) could be sent in one box, to save on postage and fees.  They told me that they'd spoken to the warehouse and everything would be sent in one box.

(postage was refunded for Starlet)

Yay!  The end was in sight....?

Yeah, about that...

I received notifications from the re-shipper that they had a box for me.  Then that it was on the way.  It got here and I went to the post office, full of excitement - they're here!

....

I was handed a single horse box - the white ones with blue horses running design.  I'd seen them before, with special models in them.  My thoughts at the post office: "So, this is Starlet, where are the rest?  Maybe they are tucked in there with her?  Must be."

I was still hopeful so when I got home, so much so that I set up to film and did an unboxing video.  Except, it WAS only Starlet in there.

(side note: she is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous!!)


Today, I got an alert that there was a package waiting at the base post office.  I checked the tracking and see that it came from the re-shipper.  I asked Jeff if he was expecting anything?  (we both have accounts there now).  He didn't think so.

At the counter I was handed..  another Breyer box.  The same size one that the two Masons came in.

The whole drive home I kept thinking, what if I just got two more Masons?  Well, I'll pay for them and have more to paint, that's fine I guess, but that means I'll be paying for a THIRD delivery through the reshipper??

Is this ever going to end?

(haha #firstworldproblems, I know...)

Happily, I was wrong in thinking it was MOAR Masons.  It was:

Kohana, Aiden, and their regular run SM friend.


So now, months after the first Club release, I finally have the first two.

(another side note: the tiny boxes for the SM Club horses are AWWW-dorable!!)


Confusion though: I thought I'd only been charged once from the re-shipper.  Nope, they did get me twice - so that's $43 total shipping (and fees) for 1 Trad and 3 SMs, through the re-shipper, because they were in two boxes, sent the same day.

While not happy at what all of this ended up costing me (in money and frustration), I am glad the whole ordeal is finally over.  Sadly, I think I'm done ordering through Breyer, except for the rest of the SM Club, and they will each now cost me $30 in shipping and fees.  At least until we are back Stateside I suppose.

Of course, I did see that Breyer is having a free shipping sale for May - which I couldn't take advantage of with an APO address, but now I can...  That might be the only way I can justify ordering from them.  Sadly, the free shipping sales don't seem to apply to any of the Club horses when there is an overlap.


Thus ends the Epic saga of my attempts (and eventual success) in importing six plastic horses, direct from Breyer, to a U.S. military base with an APO address in Japan.



Friday, April 27, 2018

I Made Something

Behold eeeet!


Followers of my vlog will know that I was given a model of Black Caviar while on our Australia trip (I don't think I've blogged about her yet...) and that I've been wanting to make a set of portrait tack for her for National Model Tack Month (April).

Tonight I finished assembling her bridle.  That just leaves the saddle.  I've got a couple of days left, should be fine!  Right...?

If I were a racehorse, my style would totally be that of a closer - cruising along in the early going, maybe even trailing the field, until that final turn.  It's about time to start the stretch drive!  I suppose I just did.

For now though, my supervisor seems to be making it clear that it is bedtime. 


Tomorrow Jeff and I are planning to take a bit of a road trip over to Hirosaki for their 100th Anniversary Sakura Festival.  I'm really looking forward to it and hoping the sakura are still blooming there.

For the rest of the weekend, I have a huge, complicated laser order to finish up...  and a racing saddle to build.  ;-)

Happy Friday/weekend, everyone!


Monday, April 16, 2018

Super Informal Catchup Vlog

Yeah, I think all of my vlogs are "informal" - haha!  Anyhow, I decided to finally stop prepping stuff and do a nighttime video.  I'm hoping to do another one (in the daytime) in the next few days.

Also, this weekend is the Sakura (cherry blossom) Yabusame (traditional Japanese horseback archery) competition!  I will be taking a ton of video and pictures as usual and am hoping to do an actual vlog from there - if I can remember...  This whole video thing is still really new to me!

Without further ado, here's the latest video!  (the thumbnail is funny to me:  Look at Van Gogh!  Look at him!!)


I hope everyone is having a good start to the week!  :)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Prep ALL The Things!!

Hang on, a quick note here: I'm sure you've seen an "ALL the things!" reference before.  What you might not know is the origin of it, or in particular the "crazed" artwork that often goes with it.  The source would be the hilarious blog, Hyperbole and a Half.  In particular:  "This is Why I'll Never be an Adult".  Many, MANY people have made their own "____ ALL the things!!" memes, with her artwork from that panel or an edited version, but often I don't see credit given, so I had to be sure and do it here. 

Okay, moving on...

-----------------------------------------


Prepping is not something I enjoy.  To use a drastic custom horse for an example: I absolutely love the repositioning part, most of the sculpting, and the finish work.  But not so much the tedious (and oh so very necessary) prepping part in between. 

I think my dislike of it is two fold.  One: I'm often impatient to get to the painting part, and two: I'm a perfectionist (ugh), so it feels like a job that is never really done.  I just have to find that elusive "good enough" stopping point.  (which is why deadlines are helpful - I can't pick away at a horse for years if I've only got a week...  or a day...  to paint it!)  ;-)

For some reason, since the Australia trip, I've been on a massive prepping spree.  I've been scraping, sanding, and primering (priming?  eh, you know what I mean) a big heard of OF SMs, skiving enough leather lace to outfit a whole herd in all sorts of strap goods, and finally sorting and prepping my collection of tack making hardware.  I pulled all of the Rio Rondo stuff off of the parts trees, sorted it into some GREAT new container boxes that I've found, and have been working my way through it all, filing off the burs. 


I'm trying to make the most of the odd desire to prep things, even though I think it might stem from a bit of anxiety that I'm having about my National Tack Month Project.  That is to make a set of racing tack for Black Caviar.  It's something I've never done before, but hey, that's the point of a challenge, right? 

I may also have a PILE of other tack by the time the month is up. 

After all, once I switch out of prep mode, I'll have a bunch of prepped stuff to make things with!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter, Happy April, Happy Spring!

Spring is my favorite time of year.  I love watching the trees and flowers wake up after winter and color the world around me once more.  In Japan, it also means the season of Sakura (cherry blossoms).  Right now there are buds on the trees and I'm so eager to see the Sakura again.  We have been here for almost three years already and, without a doubt, Sakura season is my favorite.

Things have been... complicated since I last posted.  We are still dealing with a big Max-sized hole in, everything.  I had underestimated how hard it would be after he was gone.  I thought that since we knew - for a few months - his time was running out, it would make his absence easier to handle.  I was so very wrong.

In happier news: A week ago, we returned from a two week trip to Australia - a lifelong dream for me.  My feelings since the trip have been all over the place.  We had an absolutely AMAZING time, it ended up being so much more than just a "vacation".  In a lot of ways I felt like I was catapulted out of the rut I've been in for years.  I'm striving to make the most of that and hopefully not slide back down into it.  I have plenty to share about that trip and hopefully I will soon.

I guess the point of this post is just to say "hello", I'm still here, still working, still pushing forward, still hopeful, and very much looking forward to the Sakura!




I hope everyone has had a wonderful Easter Sunday!

Monday, February 26, 2018

"And now, his watch is ended"

Today we said goodbye to Max.


I intended to say more, but I don't have it in me right now.

Maybe later.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Creation of Rexy

As warned in yesterday's post, there are a LOT of pictures here (50 or so)!

Could also be a warning for the amount of pictures that follow!

The goal was "simple": create a custom horse from the Breyer Traditional scale Clydesdale Mare for the MEPSA Makeover Challenge. 


All entered horses are donated to MEPSA for fundraising for prizes for their HUGE International Championship show every summer.  All entries will be put up for voting on the MEPSA blog, with the winner being given a traditional unicorn resin, Kilimanjaro. 

I had looked at a lot of pictures of draft horses, feeling quite sure I wanted to do an action pose and a "drastic" custom.  Aside from that, I had no ideas in the beginning.

One picture stopped me in my tracks, so to speak.  This was the picture:

Original photo credit unknown

I can't explain what I liked so much about it, other than it was a big, heavy horse flying across the ground.  I also liked that it wasn't either of the phases of a trot that are usually portrayed: a knee lifted or all legs mostly straight.  This pose really brought to my mind the impression of speed and power.

So that picture became my main reference picture.  Later I found pictures of the same trot from the other side which helped in the positioning for that side.

On Christmas Day, I donned a respirator, shut myself in the bathroom for a couple of hours, and gave my 20-year-old Dremel a workout.

The debris:


The results of that Dremel marathon:



In the past when I've done drastic customs, I've always tried to preserve as much plastic as possible.  This time, however, I decided to draw some inspiration from this blog post from Bluebird Studio.  While I didn't cut away as much as she did with the model in her post, the large triangular sections that I removed were with her tips in mind. 

On New Year's Day, I got out the heat gun:



Much more heat gun, Dremel, heat gun action would follow in the days and weeks to come.




Somehow I don't have pictures of when I moved the stifles, but that was when her pose really started to work.

Also drawing inspiration from the Bluebird Studio blog post, I decided to try something I'd been curious about for years now.  I used spray foam insulation to fill the hollow horse.

Here she is, looking like some sort of modern art sculpture.  Or a horse that had a run in with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. 




I tore off the excess foam and got my first look at her without the big holes.



Next, the epic sanding efforts began.  This mold has a bit of a rough texture all over and I wanted to smooth that out.  (despite the fact that finding a Belgian Brabant in slicked out condition seemed not possible).  I started The Great Sanding by going over her with Dremel sanding wheels. 



Then The Great Epoxy process began.  Here was the first time (of a few) that I used a rubber band as a bit of traction while epoxy cured.


Another time was when I dug out some of the foam which had pushed the off side shoulder forward.  I used some CA glue and a few rubber hands to push it back where I wanted it.


MOAR epoxy!  Here filling in that shoulder and starting to bulk up the hind legs.  I had loosely thought of her as a Brabant and here decided to make it official when I started beefing up her legs.



I gave her her first bath and..  her head popped off.  At that time, it was only attached at the poll with a thin bit of a plastic and a tiny bit of epoxy.  After the bath and drying, she got her first coat of spot putty.  Here I'd already started sanding her back and barrel when I realized I should get a picture.


Both sides were laboriously hand sanded.  She was a true multi-colored (headless) wonder at this stage. 


It was also now that I had drilled holes for pegs in her near side hooves.  I'd gone back and forth about using rods or a base.  I really liked the idea of a base, where she would have just the one hind foot anchored, the rest airborne - flying along.  Unfortunately the complexity and uncertainty of how to make a (sturdy) base in a limited time frame meant I went with pegs. 

She was upright again!  And I could now work on both sides, instead of laying her on one side or the other and waiting for things to dry.


I wasn't that upset about her head falling off, because I wanted to give it some detailing and attention and wasn't sure how exactly to go about doing that when it was attached to a model that was getting heavier and more awkward.  So I did some fine carving and sanding on her noggin and here it is with a fresh coat of primer.


Then it was time for me to tackle another part that terrified me (there were many).  This one was sculpting the feathers - a first for me.  I think I've only (badly) sculpted hair once before, many years ago.  This was another drop kick out of my comfort zone.  I anxiously sculpted the first two legs...


Followed by the other two.  She also got a tailbone.

I did another coat of spot putty and another round of sanding.

Then it was time to put her head back on. 

That was the part that drove me into a bit of a fit of rage and frustration.  I tried three times and three times it failed.  It got to the point where I was ready to throw everything across the room.



Jeff stepped in with some ideas and she ended up with a head again - and thankfully not thrown across the room.  I also added a bit of flair on her outstretched front hoof, "fluffing" up some feathers there. 


First solid coat of primer.  I was really scared to see what it would reveal.


I was pleasantly surprised to see that my efforts with the sanding, filling, and sanding again appeared to have paid off.  Her overall texture was quite smooth.  There were still several rough areas that needed attention, mostly around the epoxy fill work.


More sanding and carving and then it was time to give her a mane and tail.  (scary!)  This was another decision I spent some time on.  Loose and flowing or braided up for show?  Docked tail or natural length?  In the end, I decided to go braided for show, with a long tailbone.  I found a few good reference pictures and set off to slap more epoxy on.


Here she is with her mane and tail.  I would add ribbons after she was painted. 



I did one last round of (precision) spot putty, applied with a flat toothpick to the problem areas still remaining.




Once those were dry and sanded down, she got one last coat of primer and then...

PAINT!


I chose "Golden Mahogany Bay" from Color Formulas and Techniques" and the color above was the body color mix.  I...  didn't like it.  I had found some good pictures in my reference library and that base just didn't look right at all.

Here was where everything caught up with me.  Progress came to a grinding halt and I didn't paint for a couple of days.  It felt like the whole thing was a string of obstacles I had to figure out along the way (which was expected).  Painting is the hardest thing for me to do and it's so odd, because...  I love it.  When I'm putting paint on a horse, it is such a happy time for me.  But I have this big mental block that I have to push through to get started.

Tuesday at lunch time (t-minus a day and a half before the deadline) I broke down crying and told Jeff that if I didn't finish this, on time, I was going to be so disappointed in myself. 

I think just admitting that, out loud, must have helped break the log jam, because after lunch I suddenly realized - if I don't like the color formula, why not make my own?  It was a silly realization, I'd made plenty of my own color mixes back when I was doing a lot more of this on a regular basis.  I was fearless when it came to paint mixing back then. 

Sending this picture to my friend Holly, who knew I was struggling to keep going, I typed: "It's GO time!"


I took a good look at my reference pictures and my paint and started experimenting.  Here was the body color that I came up with.


My idea for her color in the beginning was a rich, dark, dappled bay.  Along the way, I'd found many pictures of bay Brabants, but none with dappling.  A bit of a last minute search on my old laptop, now stationed in my studio as a movie player and quick digital reference display, found a picture of a dappled bay Brabant.  His winter coat meant I couldn't entirely trust the colors, but between him and the page from one of my reference binders, I compared placement of darker areas as I started shading (with a custom made mix).


Along the way I decided to do a quick coat of black on her legs, mane, and tail, to better show how her overall look was coming along.


This picture, taken at about midnight, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning shows her with a fresh coat of sealer.  I decided to triage what I could get done versus what I wanted to do (certainly not the first time I did just that on this project).  For her color, I got the richness I was after, with some darker shading, but that's where I stopped.  I had to get her detailed and sealed that night, so that I could get her ribbons on and pictures taken the next day, and mail her out the following day.  My reference pictures have shading all the way into black, and the dappling.  I just ran out of time.


The next morning, it was time to figure out how I wanted to put on her ribbons.  I had braided them during a round of odd jobs in the previous days (feather sculpting, tailbone building, and so on).  I decided on these three colors, which seem to be used on many braided up Brabants.  I learned they are the colors of the Belgium flag (I suspected, but didn't know!).  For me, they represent something else..  more on that in a bit.


Here she is in the daylight, that next morning, awaiting her ribbons.  When I sculpted her parted mane, I pressed the ribbon into the sides, leaving an impression of it for attachment later.  I think that worked really well.


I carved some lines in either side of her mane and down the top of her tail, tied off and trimmed all of  the ribbon pieces, and solved my last problem.  All Brabant horses seem to have a raffia-looking material attached to the mane ribbon at the withers, which hangs down.  I saw it on every picture of one with a braided mane, but had no idea how to replicate it, until the last hours of the last day.  The idea that saved the day and ended up working perfectly and looking amazing was... yarn.  I used some thin yarn, of about the right color, and unraveled it. 

Whew!

Not much time to celebrate, we had to go to the beach!  Another of my goals for the project was to take my official pictures of her at the beach.  In winter this can be a challenge.


She and I braved the weather, got right down by the cold northern Pacific and took her glamour shots (complete with a crashing wave in this first one):



The morning she would ship out, I thought I'd take a bunch more pictures of her in the studio, but...  I didn't.  Honestly, I think I was afraid I'd get too attached if I spent too much time with her.  Is that silly?  I did decide to document something I thought would be fun: a weigh in.

OF Clydesdale Mare: 14.55 ounces


CM Brabant: 1 pound 2.45 ounces
I really thought she would weigh more.  I could feel her getting heavier as time went by and would not have been surprised if she added a pound.  Nope, just about 4 ounces!  The foam insulation fill probably kept the weight down I would think.

One more fun comparison:


Remember I said there was another meaning to those three colors in her ribbons?  Well, to me they are the colors from Jurassic Park.  I'm a huge Jurassic Park fan.  It inspired me in so many ways, even in creating more and more things (remind me to tell about the duct tape dinosaurs).  In watching a trailer for the new Jurassic World movie, I saw in the comments that someone said "Rexy" better survive this movie too.  The T-Rex in Jurassic World is the same T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park movie and she's been through a lot!  The scene in JP of her breaking through the fence, stepping out on the road, and roaring is my absolute favorite in the original movie.  I thought it would be funny to name my big, charging Brabant "Rexy" and...  I did.

The more I thought about it, the more it just fit.  Like the T-Rex, this girl is BIG - says me, who's usual preferred scale is micro (or smaller) to Stablemate.  She was very scary, but...  cool.  Something completely new and exciting for me, and also terrifying. 

I decided Rexy was the perfect name for her, even though she wouldn't be staying...

The last obstacle presented was not having a box large enough to ship her in.  So it was a rush to the store, measurements in mind, rush home, pack her (along with a couple of Etsy orders) and head to the post office.

Safe travels, big girl

Since she's left I find myself feeling...  strange.  Sad?  Relieved?  Drained?  For the past six weeks she's been a priority, never far from my thoughts as I mulled over how the heck I was going to accomplish the next step, and then the one after that.  I guess in the end, I struggle to say what she and the whole process really meant to me.  I've decided to decompress for a few days and then launch in more projects (and finish them!)

One last picture.  During the quick trip to the beach (just before more snow blew in) I had to get a picture of her that shows her "in Japan".  This was the best she and I could do - ha!



Thank you for all that you taught me, big girl.  I hope you travel well and find a good home down the line.