Knocking It Out Of the Park: Retro 51’s Homerun Tornado Rollerball

FIRST OF ALL (yes, I’m shouting), thank you for all of the love, support, prayers, good wishes, emails, and letters I received following last week’s post. They have buoyed me up and I’m in a much better place mentally. You’ve fired up my fighter attitude and I’m feeling much more like myself— maybe even a new and improved version, in spite of this medical challenge. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, but it’s great to feel “up” after a long(ish) spell of “downs.” I have an appointment with a specialist on June 9th (navigating the medical world has been a lesson unto itself), and my symptoms seem to be diminishing a bit (shhhhh…don’t jinx it). I’m very, very grateful for all of the above.

Retro 51 Homerun Rollerball

This week I really WILL take a look at the Homerun Tornado by Retro 51 that I pictured at the beginning of last week’s post. As with all Retro 51 designs, it’s a cool pen, with fun details, and a reliably good rollerball writing experience. It’s almost summer. Let’s have fun, no matter what life throws at us.

Retro 51 Homerun Tornado Rollerball

Maybe my favorite feature is the baseball design at the end of the pen’s twist-mechanism. I’m no baseball fanatic, but I love this level of detail and whimsy. As always, the knurled mechanism twists smoothly to extend the rollerball refill’s writing tip. This is a solid beefy pen with a sense of fun.

Simulated stitching

The simulated stitching on the pen is raised ever so slightly, so that the pen barrel feels just a little bit like an actual baseball. Great choice to not just have the baseball-like graphic, but also the feel.

The Homerun Rollerball is limited to a run of 750 numbered pens. I happened to receive pen #009, by some stroke of luck. Cool number for a baseball pen!

Baseball folio

As I said, I’m really not a huge baseball fan but because we live less than an hour from Cooperstown, NY— which also happens to be my father’s hometown— we visit there often and are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. On a recent visit to their gift shop, my eyes fell on a baseball-themed folio that pairs perfectly with my Homerun pen. With our member’s discount, it came to about $9.00. Quite the deal.

Baseball-themed paper

The paper inside is well-intentioned in its baseballness, but, frankly, bothers me. The lines are perfectly spaced, but are too dark. The stitching graphic looks neat, but gets in my way. No worries, though. My all-time favorite Levenger Vivacious freeleaf Cross dots note pad fits like a glove (baseball glove?!) so a swap will definitely be made.

Vivacious Cross dot pad

Ahhhh…all better.

The included refill writes on the broad side, but I’m okay with that—especially on the Vivacious paper—so I may resist the urge to make my usual swap to the finer Schmidt P8126 refill. Sometimes I like a super smooth thick black line.

Pen #009

Retro 51 knocked this design out of the park, and you have done the same for me.

Let me simply say, “Thank you.”

Curveball

Retro 51 Homerun

It’s been a weird week/month/year. Since the beginning of April, I’ve been experiencing strange and spreading numbness in my right leg and odd sensations (like walking on electrified sandpaper) in both feet. At first the sensations were faint and I blamed them on the fact that I’d lifted a number of 5-gallon cans of solvent at work. Heck, so did the doctor for awhile. But then the odd feelings intensified and really took root, and I pretty much knew something bigger was up.

I won’t go into all of the details, but let’s just say that the last five weeks have been filled with battles for appointments that weren’t two months away, fear and tears, more MRIs than seems safe, good news that turned out to be wrong (“It’s a pinched nerve in your back.”), and ultimately, a fairly sure diagnosis. Last Thursday I learned that it’s quite certain that I have MS.

I have to say that I sort of saw it coming as the days passed and symptoms stayed. But still, it’s a lot to take in.

I’m in the process of getting a referral to an out-of-town MS Clinic and I really can’t wait to get there so that I can finally feel like I’m taking action while, hopefully, beating back my symptoms a bit.

As I process this “new normal” (a hackneyed expression, but one that totally fits), I find myself thinking thoughts that are totally cliché and belong on bad bumper stickers. Stuff like:

  • The only moment we really have is RIGHT NOW. Don’t fret about the future. (God, I suck at this.)
  • Family and friends (and pets) are what’s most important. This becomes crystal clear very quickly.
  • All of that stuff you’re worrying about probably isn’t worth it. (I’m sure I’ll continue to do it, anyway.)
  • You have to take care of you.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff…or even the big stuff. Enjoy the sun, a walk, a movie, a letter, a book, lunch with a friend.

Like I said, trite stuff that I knew but didn’t really KNOW until now.

My biggest fear is that I’ll lose the ability to write. My pens and pen friends and letters and journaling (sporadic as it is) have become such a big part of my life—a place that I draw calmness and strength from—that I worry (see? I can’t stop) that MS will affect that.

BUT, my sister (who’s always been a positive-thinker), sent the following words to me, “Sometimes in life we are thrown a curve ball. Not realizing how strong we are, that “ball” can, and will, be knocked out of the f–ing park!”

Maybe it’s fitting that my Retro 51 “Homerun” Tornado arrived during all of this. Maybe it’s a sign.

Quirky: Levenger’s Chroma Twister Stylus Ballpoint Pen

Levenger's Chroma Twister Stylus BP

This is, to be sure, a quirky pen. I suspect that it’s one of those pens that divides folks into love it/hate it camps. When it popped up as a recent offering on Massdrop, I had to give it a go, despite the fact that it’s a little homely, a little odd. I was intrigued by this pen with the long name—the Levenger Chroma Twister Stylus. The name, like the pen, lacks elegance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should dismiss it.

Levenger’s description specifies that the barrel is made from a copper alloy. I can attest to the fact that the weight (1 ounce/28 g) is just right, and the well-balanced heft immediately conveys a feeling of quality.

Levenger's Chroma Twister Stylus

The pen features a simple twist pattern on the barrel for a bit of visual interest, which mirrors the simple twist action needed to extend the writing tip. I’ve found this action to be reliable, smooth, and efficient. The front of the pen is bluntly rounded and doesn’t have the usual “nosecone,” so the look is unconventional—kind of strange—especially when the writing tip is extended. It’s a look that takes a little getting used to.

Tip extended

While the look is not what we’re used to, this odd design choice doesn’t affect the pen’s performance in the least. There are sure to be haters, but I really don’t mind it. I don’t exactly love it, but I don’t hate it, either. The pen takes a Parker-Style refill and ships with a Levenger-branded EasyFlow ballpoint refill. I happen to enjoy this ballpoint refill, but if you don’t, there are a slew of Parker-style alternatives available.

Clip placement

Much like the Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pen, the clip on the Chroma Twister Stylus is positioned at the writing end of the pen so you need to experiment a bit to figure out a grip that works for you. Unlike the Pilot VP, you can rotate the pen so that the clip is positioned on the underside of the pen and out of the way of your fingers, though I usually use it with the clip positioned between my thumb and forefinger without issue.

Fabric stylus

At the opposite end of the pen is a fabric stylus— and this is where the pen really shines. It’s so good that I use the pen more for the stylus than for writing. I use it constantly on my iPhone—when playing word games, flicking through my Twitter stream, and also when composing emails. It’s wonderfully responsive with a very low “failure” rate, and feels much more accurate than my fingers. This is, without a doubt, my favorite stylus.

Size comparison

This isn’t a pen that will blow you away with its stunning good looks, and some of the design decisions might leave you scratching your head, but the Levenger Chroma Twister Stylus is a pen that’s worth a look. It’s not a pen that I use for long writing sessions but with both a quality writing experience and a truly excellent stylus, it’s a pen that’s wormed its way into my pen-loving heart. It might be a little homely—a little goofy looking—but don’t you often find that that quirkiest looking things (and people!) are the most interesting?

Let’s face it—normal is boring.

I’ve Been Remiss: TactileTurn’s Mover & Shaker

Mover & Shaker

I’ve been remiss. I should’ve reviewed these pens ages ago but they’ve become such staples in my daily pen arsenal that I let them slip below my pen review radar. The Mover and Shaker by Will Hodges, of Tactile Turn, deserve mention.

Disassembled Shaker

I’ve always had a little trouble remembering which pen is the Mover and which is the Shaker. (Perhaps I should spend more time on Sudoku puzzles to keep my mind nimble.) Eventually I came up with a little trick—the Shaker is shorter, running 5.1″ (129 mm). SHaker = SHorter. Problem solved. The Shaker takes Parker style refills. Right now I’m using a Moleskine 0.5 mm gel refill, though I’ve been known to swap in a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 for an excellent ballpoint experience.

Mover disassembled

The Mover measures 5.5″ (141 mm), making it the longer of the two. Despite the added length, the pen remains very well balanced and is just as comfortable to hold as the squattier Shaker. I have 0.38 mm Pilot G2 refill in mine, which lays down a super crisp and consistent line.

Machined clips

Both pens live in one of my “goes to work with me” Nock Co. pen cases and are used often. I remain enamored with Mike Bond’s Ti2 Techliner so that gets heavy use as well, but I do plenty of writing in and out of work, so it’s easy to give multiple pens a workout in the course of a day. I use both the Mover and Shaker in my Five Year journal as the fine tips allow me to squeeze sufficient detail into the day’s limited space.

Almost seamless

Will’s pens are solid and rattle-free. The “break” in the pen—where you twist the two halves apart to change the refill—is just about invisible. (See the photo above of as evidence.) The look is so seamless that I always have to remind myself where exactly the pens twist apart. The look is clean and tight.

Knocks

The knock is the silent variety, just like the one on the Karas Kustoms Retrakt. Since I’m a compulsive clicker, this features keeps co-workers from wanting to strangle me. The action is always smooth and trouble-free. Every click goes off without a hitch.

Grooved grips

The finely grooved grip areas— a stand-out feature on Will’s pens—look cool, feel great, and make for a wonderfully subtle slip-free writing experience. This grip area is the part of the pen that sets the Mover and Shaker apart from many other machined pens.

Grooved grips

Will Hodges ran a smooth Kickstarter project and delivered a pair of solid, understated machined pens. They’re 100% reliable, very comfortable, totally solid and problem-free.

Mover and Shaker

The Mover and Shaker are so good that I found myself taking them for granted, and I TOTALLY mean that as a compliment.

Sorry, Will!

The Little Things

Last week was a truly brutal one—one that perfectly illustrated the saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” On Monday, the college was forced into a “shelter-in-place” situation from mid-morning until evening because of a phoned-in bomb/active shooter threat. Ultimately the threats proved to be a hoax, but the day was surreal and stressful, and the aftermath promises to hang on for a long time.

Scoutie and Zoe

Along with that awful work situation, we lost two of our beloved pets in the same week. Scout, our 16 year old Silky Terrier, had to be rushed to the vet on that same Monday, and was found to have a large mouth cancer that we never knew was there. Left with no other choice, we said good-bye to our Scoutie, my first dog.

Our 15 year old cat, Zoe, has been failing for the past month, and we finally made the hard decision to let her go on Saturday morning. Zoe was never a brainy cat, but she was a sweetie, a purring machine right until the end. God, this stuff hurts.

I was so wishing that I was at the Atlanta Pen Show, but as things played out, it’s clear that I was where I was supposed to be.

Cult Pens Mini Pen

In the midst of all of this stress and heartache, there was a bright pen-related spot. About three weeks ago, I purchased a gently used Cult Pens Mini Pen and five nibs (by Kaweco) from SBREBrown. The tracking info got messed up by a careless postal worker so I couldn’t track its progress from the Netherlands to the US. But having ordered from Fontoplumo recently, I knew that pens take about three weeks to arrive, which is exactly how it went.

Cult Pens Mini Pen

The pen and array of nibs arrived last week and have served as a nice distraction from the week’s events. Whether I’m doodling or writing a letter with the petite thing, it’s taken my mind off of our absent pets.

Cult Pens Mini Pen

We all know that Stephen has large hands, so it’s no surprise that this pen doesn’t really work for him. It is TINY—just 4.2″/105 mm capped, 4.9″/123 mm when posted. Unposted, it’s a mere 3.7″/93 mm, which means it really HAS TO be be posted to be usable. I’d watched Stephen’s video review so I knew exactly what I was buying. It’s a fun little pocketable pen that works fine for me. It’s truly darling.

BB nib

The pen arrived with the BB nib installed, so that’s what I’ve been using and it’s pure joy—juicy and smooth, and a nice diversion for someone who used to be all about EF and F nibs. It really is fun to branch out of a fine or medium rut. What really sold me on the pen was that Stephen included all of the available nibs—EF, F, M, B, and BB—with the pen. So this is a pen for all of my moods, which can swing to extremes—nibwise and otherwise.

Goodies from SBRE Brown

Along with the pen and the nibs, Stephen tucked a handwritten note and a couple of Fountain Pen Day bookmarks into the package. He also enclosed a packet of his favorite tea for “the full SBREBrown experience.” THAT made me smile in a week where smiles were sorely lacking.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter, the little things that make all the difference.

The Apex, A Fine Wooden Pen, by Amy Grigg (via Kickstarter)

Amy Grigg logo

Amy Grigg has a Kickstarter pen project with less than a week to go. She’s fully funded, with 129 backers and almost $13,000 at the time of this review, so the project is a sure thing. Amy turned to Dan Bishop for some Kickstarter advice (smart!), and Dan pointed Amy in my direction for some pen/project feedback. After reviewing the page and looking at the pens, I chose to back her project because:

  • Well, these are pens…made with lovely woods, some with magnets (love magnets);
  • Amy has been nothing but friendly, courteous, professional, and not at all pushy in our email exchanges;
  • Amy’s from Rochester, NY, which is relatively nearby, so I feel geographically loyal;
  • Amy’s a fellow dog-lover.

Some of the above has nothing whatsoever to do with pens (locale, dogs), but as Kickstarter gets bigger and bigger, it’s important to get to know who you’re dealing with. I’ve learned this the hard way, having backed a few projects that are dragging into eternity and a few that were outright scams. All pen makers are not equal. The more I can get to know someone, the better. Amy seems like the real deal.

The Apex

After I backed Amy’s project, she offered to expedite my reward (The Apex rollerball, $60 level) so that I could offer up a pen-in-hand review—good or bad. The pen arrived on the weekend and I’ve been making it part of my daily rotation since then, so that I can offer up some pictures and impressions.

Apex packaging

I don’t usually pay too much attention to packaging, but in this case, it’s worth a mention. The black cardboard slip-case, adorned only with Amy’s logo, hits all the right notes for me. It’s minimalistic, but not a throw-away. Simple and understated, neither too much nor too little. I also like that you can get a glimpse of your pen through the small window.

Bocote wood

A self-employed woodworker by trade, Amy’s pens are crafted from exotic and domestic hardwoods. I chose Bocote wood for my Apex rollerball and love both the look and the feel. The gorgeously grained wood has been expertly turned and sealed for a silky smooth finish that’s pleasing to both the eye and the hand. It is, I repeat, SUPER smooth.

The Apex

This pen’s hardware sports a shiny gun-metal finish, and features a magnetic cap for exceptionally easy capping, uncapping, and posting. If there’s a magnetic feature in a pen, that’s usually the one I go for, so it’s really no surprise that I picked the Apex out of the handful of reward options. The hardware is purchased by Amy, who selects, turns, and finishes the wooden portion of the pen, and assembles the finished product. Everything in my pen is snug, solid, and good-looking.

Apex

I particularly like that the wooden section of the Apex is thicker in the middle than at the two ends, which is a small detail that makes the Apex feel good in hand. I tend to use the pen unposted as the weight of the cap (14.4 g) throws off the balance of the pen (31.4 g) a bit. Unposted, the balance is very good and the length is more than adequate (4.95″/126 mm). The pen measures 6.25″/159 mm when posted, which is usable, but feels a little long.

Disassembled Apex

The Apex ships with the Schneider Topball 850 0.5mm refill, which is a refill that I use in a few of my other rollerball pens and quite enjoy. I believe the ink is liquid rather than gel, so the line is a touch wider than that of a comparably sized gel refill. The ceramic tip is not susceptible to drying out and is very smooth and consistent. I love it on the Levenger Vivacious Circa paper I used for my rough draft of this review.

Apex writing tip

If you prefer a gel ink, I’ve found that Staples house-brand Avant refills (0.5 mm gel) also work in this pen, so that’s an option. They’re normally on special for $1.00 for a pack of two refills (in store) so I keep plenty of those stocked in my refill “treasure chest” (which overfloweth).

Amy’s project offers ballpoint, bolt-action ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pen models with reward levels ranging from $40 to $280. With twelve woods to choose from, you can create a personal pen that matches your style, in your favorite writing mode.

Mirror finish

Amy’s project campaign ends on April 20th, so move quickly if her pens and craftsmanship appeal to you.

Kickstarter project aside, I’m quite enamored with Amy’s other wooden creations—bowls, carved spoons, cutting boards, boxes, and other turned pens, which can be found on her website, Amy Grigg Designs. I think a bowl is in my future. (Have I mentioned I have a thing for bowls as well as pens? Indeed I do.)

It’s been a joy to get to know both Amy and her pens, and I wish her well with this Kickstarter project and with her other creative endeavors.

NOTE: As previously stated, the Apex pen reviewed here was purchased by me. I was not compensated for my review in any way. This review reflects my experiences with, and impressions of, the pen.

You Had Me At Orange

My new orange pens

Turns out my pledge to hold off on buying pens doesn’t stand a chance when the pen world offers up a handful of reasonably priced orange pens. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

I wrote the rough draft of this review with my new CopperOrange Lamy AL-Star (medium nib), filled with the matching CopperOrange ink (cartridge). Lamy has, in my opinion, nailed it with this pen and ink combo. They match perfectly and this ink has quickly become one of my favorite oranges. It’s dark enough to be legible, but still pops with a nicely balanced brightness.

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

The pen almost looks like it’s lit from within—warm and bright but still easy on the eyes. The AL-Star is a pen you either love or hate, mostly because of the iconic contoured grip. I have no issues with the grip so picking up this pen in this color was a total no-brainer.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

I also “cracked” and ordered the orange TWSBI 580AL when I read that the color was being discontinued. (They manipulate me like a pen-buying puppet!) I chewed on my pledge, but again, this is an affordable pen and I’ve yet to have a bad TWSBI experience.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

The pen arrived in Saturday’s mail, but the weekend was such a blur that I haven’t gotten around to inking it yet. I stepped outside of my nib comfort zone by ordering a broad, and can’t wait to see how it writes. My current dilemma—what ink should I fill it with? One of my oranges? Or a nice bright blue? Why I belabor this, I’ll never know. It’s not like it’s a permanent decision.

P1060760

I hear there’s a big basketball game on tonight, but I’ll be watching “The Voice,” then reading. So…not really a basketball fan, but the Limited Edition SWISH Big Shot Tornado Popper by Retro 51 reeled me in with top-notch details and orangey goodness.

Retro 51 SWISH

The pen is marked and textured like an actual basketball, features that classic Retro 51 knurling, and is finished with a very cool basketball graphic end cap. Though I don’t give a hoot if Wisconsin or Duke wins tonight, I do love using my SWISH pen with my usual “swapped in” Schmidt P8126 refill.

My new orange pens

So that pledge to pare down pen purchases has taken a little bit of a beating.

Lamy, TWSBI, and Retro 51—you had me at orange.

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I purchased the Lamy AL-Star from Fontoplumo, the TWSBI 580AL directly from TWSBI, and the SWISH Retro 51 from Anderson Pens. I experienced excellent customer service from all three vendors. There are no affiliate links in this post. I just enjoy sharing good pens and good buying experiences with you.