Sunday, December 30, 2012

a pea-picklin’ end to 2012

Saturday, December 29
Starting Sunday’s post right now because I want to capture the sky. On the horizon is a low bank of clouds that has been there all day and, at this moment, is a soft, suede-like grey-blue. The clear sky above is pale yellow, reaching up then through a full range of robin’s egg blue, interrupted only by a jagged wedge of cloud that is, again, that suede grey but with a slight lower lip of pink. And this is just to the south. Impossible to hold on to as even now, it has changed.

Early now. Head ajumble with pressure, the year’s end. Not the overt pressure to drink, be merry, toot a horn and sing hallelujah with a chorus, but the more subtle pressure to look back, be reflective, and to look ahead, be resolute; the pressure that causes us to codify our lives and make lists of The Best, The Worse, and What I Will Do Next Year To Make My Life Better. Since I am reflective too much of the time and too many times have been fooled by thinking plans make for happy endings, well, it seems folly to set aside time for such activity. Still, I make lists …

2012 Word of the Year: Squally

Tweet of the Year

Things I Had Thought About for Years, Accepted I Would Never Do, Then Suddenly Did
  • Created an Etsy shop
  • Made hand-dipped beeswax tapers

Things I Didn’t Plan At All, Happened Anyway
  • Changed the name of the beeswax business, created a new website/blog and began writing for it on a weekly basis
  • Got on the Twitter train
  • Made two candle molds (botched three)
  • Got a cat
  • Got my mother’s piano
  • Got an abscessed tooth and a root canal
  • Threw cinnamon in the beeswax 

Things I Thought I Would Do But Didn’t
  • Win a million bucks in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes

Things I Had Hoped To Do and Actually Did
  • Put a railing on the upper deck
  • Made a closet for the bedroom loft out of two old doors, a wooden rod, and some old, free-standing shelving
  • Constructed shelving in the bathroom for light bulbs, tools, mouse traps, nails and screws, twine and tape, batteries and extension cords, vacuum cleaner bags, assorted junk, and down below, a litter box
  • Sold beeswax candles at the Marquette Farmers Market most every Saturday, end of May through a week or so ago

Things That Worked Out Though I Couldn’t See How They Would Until They Did
  • Buster going with me to the farmers market every Saturday (but one)
  • Finding space for all my stuff in a home with no closets
  • Living comfortably in a drafty old cabin that still gives splinters …

There is more, all the nuance, all the oblique, but today I am anxious to complete a slight restructuring of the beeswax closet that began yesterday, with the addition of a shelf, which led me to see that if I took out the boards that make a shelf behind the microwave (necessitating sorting through all the junk on that shelf), and then cut down one of those boards to add to the shelf just made, increasing its depth, and then added another shelf above it … well, as you can see, there is much to do. The beeswax closet is an odd space tucked below the stairs, open to the kitchen but its narrowing depths accessible only through a hobbit-like door that opens into the living room. It is the center of this 20-by-25-foot cabin, and it grabbed my imagination the moment I walked in.

The door.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

in a snow globe with buster: it was just the winter solstice

I may have mentioned that Buster tends to sleep in these days, not getting up when the rest of us do, the rest of us being Elliott (the cat), and me. As the morning routine begins without him, I adjust ever so slightly, now and then pausing to listen for the sound of snoring or the sound of snuffling or the sound of stumbling about. If I hear the stumbling or snuffling or nothing at all, I go upstairs to check on him, Buster, my old dog.

This morning the snoring stopped. I went upstairs, leaving the oatmeal cooking on the stove. Buster seemed to be asleep, then lifted his head, put it down, stirred just a bit. I flipped the switch to turn on the outside light and saw that snow was falling. By trying to stand, Buster helped me to lift him from his nest in the bed, and I carried him downstairs, through the living room, the kitchen, out the back door, down the three steps to the yard where I set him down. He took a minute. Sneezed. Righted himself. Shook out his fur and took cautious steps.

I went in to turn off the flame under the oatmeal. On the radio, a chorale singing carols had gone from decking the halls to Gloria. Even though I don’t usually listen to Christmas carols on the radio, it was too early for the news, and the carols sounded good, so I left it. In excelsis Deo followed me as I went back out to check on Buster.

A half hour before dawn, the sky a deep, dark blue. I could see out through the fields, the little trees dotting the landscape, inky shapes taking on a fresh shadow of white. Snowflakes danced in the slightest of winds, weaving in and out of the spotlight’s beam, falling downward, drifting upward, skewing this way, toddling off that way. Buster peed, and then as he hobbled to and fro, trying to discern his way, I went over to him. He felt my shadow, stopped, waited for me to pick him up. I carried him the few feet back to the house, walking through a snow globe, gently shaken.

Buster peeing in the snow, circa April 2011.
He no longer lifts a leg to pee.
Buster photos by D. Sobolewski.

The other morning out of the corner of my ear I heard a report about the Mayan end-of-the-world that did not happen, that was not, after all, really predicted to happen, but was just a calendar ending, and someone was explaining this, a man with what struck me as a soft, practical, slightly amused voice, and somehow relating it to the winter solstice, that shortest, darkest day of the year that people of old celebrated, in a sense, as it marked getting through a darkening time and on to the days when days brightened, having to start somewhere, of course, so the brightest days starting with a day just the tiniest bit brighter than the darkest day before. I am mangling this report, but whatever the man said reverberated and shook things up in my head, just a little, and when the thoughts drifted down, I celebrated.

View from a winter solstice.

{Every Sunday since July 29.}

Sunday, December 16, 2012

building bridges

A few weeks back I dug holes in the earth and planted flower bulbs. Hidden inside the bulbs are yellow and orange daffodils and purple and white crocus. As each bulb disappeared, smoothed over with dirt, a hopefulness arose.

The “yard” around my cabin when I moved in was simply acres of overgrown farm fields abutting against this structure set down in its midst. With a scythe and reel mower I chopped away at the knee-high grass and wildflowers. The mowing took so much time in May and June and July that I wondered when I would ever get to other chores. This year, the second year, I pushed the lawn out a bit, still with the scythe and reel mower, which was so much easier to use after I replaced the two small “C” rings that keep the mower's handle from falling off. (I had lost the rings the first summer, making do, as it were, with spare wire.)


All summer, I mowed around five piles of moldy old scrap wood and in November burned four of those piles. As I pushed the yard outward, I discovered and discarded mounds of deteriorating blue tarp, clear plastic water bottles, a few rusty beer cans, and what might best be called the flotsam and jetsam of human life. And I went out into the overgrown fields, bringing back nine trees to transplant around the house—one birch, five spruce, three serviceberries. The birch, moved in April, seems to have taken, but the serviceberries are questionable. The spruce, just moved in November, have so far held their own against some pretty powerful northwest winds.

This morning, a light rain dampens the few splotches of snow dotting the yard. In the fields, the grasses lie low lorded over by skeletons of goldenrod. It is easier to traipse about the fields when there is snow on the ground, as long as you’re in snowshoes, and I did this a week or so ago, finding a stand of young birch just beyond a patch of old, broken-down apple trees. Nearby, at the end of a deer trail, there is a plot of white pine. The mother pine is as big as a house and saplings of all sizes surround. In the spring, I will transplant one of those saplings, maybe two, to the south edge of the yard and bring in another birch or two. I will move wild roses to a bed along the porch’s west side. Towards the head of the drive there is a viburnum tucked back in the brush, on the edge of the gully, and it is sending up shoots which I hope to transplant along the south side of the new carport. In the fields, red-twig dogwood abounds, and the other day I uncovered one that is just beyond the yard on the cabin’s north side. With hedge clippers I cleared around it and in the spring will be mowing that much farther out. I can see the dogwood from the window above the kitchen sink and admire its dashes of red amid the brown and grey, muted green, tired wheat.

Red-twig dogwood.

Every day I stumble forward, stumble back, make infinite mistakes and maybe, just maybe, get a few things right. With any luck, bright colors, once buried, come forth.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

burn, candle, burn: but how? ... that's my beeswax

A variety of beeswax candles.
As much as I enjoy rambling on about other things, it’s time for a little information on beeswax and candle burning. It seems simple. Strike a match, touch flame to wick, there you go. But why does the wick take the flame? How does it keep it? Keeping the flame alive is such a hard thing to do.

Candle combustion is well explained in Beeswax: Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products by William L. Coggshall and Roger A. Morse. This book is somewhat of a little beeswax bible, and in it are many gems and nuggets, such as:
The beginner making beeswax candles is likely to experience some difficulty in determining the correct wicking to use. (Amen to that, brother.)

… a draft is the candle’s worst enemy. (Amen.)

Beeswax is a natural product and this in itself means there is variation in it. (Thank you, Mother Nature.)

… pollen and propolis stain the wax and are the primary sources of beeswax’s distinctive color and odor. (Thanks again, Ma.)

If greasy, first wash with warm beer. (Nothing to do with candles, of course, but in a recipe for a wood cleaner. Fresh beer is not necessary.)
The explanation of candle combustion is a couple of pages long, but the essence is this:
A candle burning properly is the result of interactions among candle diameter, wax, wick, air movements, drafts, and other factors.
So, if you stare dreamily at a burning candle, it may actually be the scientist in you studying the intricate interactions necessary to bring forth this single flame.

The original Soo Line beeswax candle.

Okay, so all you want is a “proper” burn. First, get yourself a proper candle. Determining the size, wax* (including fragrance and dye additives), and wick is the chandler’s responsibility. Everything else is yours, and this is it:
Avoid drafts.
Drafts can be dangerous, drafts can put a candle out. A draft can cause a flame to veer slightly one way or another, causing one side of the candle to melt a little sooner than the other, leading to drips of wax, maybe a messed up tablecloth, a drained wax pool, a leaping flame, a candle burning more quickly than it might otherwise. Stuff like that. In addition, each time you burn your candle, burn it as long as it takes for the wax pool (the melted wax around the flame) to reach the edge of the candle. If you burn the candle for less time, you will probably get a tunneling effect. If at any time the flame becomes larger than you like, douse it and trim the wick to about one-quarter inch before relighting. That’s about it. Though some day I should write about drips. I’m sure I’ve known a few. And oh yes, don’t let your kids play with candles, especially at the dinner table.

Meanwhile, out come the Christmas decorations.
P.S. When  putting out your candle, if you would prefer that the wick not smolder, use a metal rod of some sort, like a a shish kebob skewer, to dunk the flame in the wax pool. Once the flame is out, lift the wick out of the pool.

*Candles can be made of many different substances known as “wax.” From the website of The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers:
Throughout most of recorded history in Europe, wax has meant beeswax. During the past 150 years a number of other substances have become known as waxes—a loosely defined term referring to substances with similar properties to beeswax, namely:
  • plastic (malleable) at normal ambient temperatures
  • a melting point above approximately 45 °C (113 °F) (which differentiates waxes from fats and oils)
  • a relatively low viscosity when melted (unlike many plastics)
  • insoluble in water
  • hydrophobic
Today waxes may be natural secretions of plants or animals, artificially produced by purification from natural petroleum or completely synthetic. Thus waxes can be further categorized as natural, synthetic, mineral hydrocarbon and petroleum.

{ Now go burn your candles! Properly! }

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Saturday night dinners, with candlelight

On Saturday nights we ate in the dining room. My dad grilled a steak and my mom baked potatoes. There would be some kind of vegetable and an iceberg lettuce salad. The table was laid with a cloth, usually green, and two tapered candles in unassuming brass holders. The candles also were green, sometimes white or ivory, always paraffin. We used everyday dishes, and I like to think that one of us girls willingly helped Mom to set the table, but that would be stretching it. I do know I enjoyed lighting the candles and did so when told it was time. My dad would bring in the steak, someone would pick out music, and then, as the first scratches came through the hi-fi speakers, we paused. Would it be South Pacific? Camelot? High Spirits? As the overture began to play, someone would “Name That Musical” and dinner would begin.

My dad served from his spot at the head of the table, a slice of steak, a baked potato, whatever vegetable lay in wait. Plates would be passed, the first going to me, on my dad’s right, my eldest sister being the intermediary. The second plate went to my dad’s left, to the middle sister. Then back to his right, to the eldest. And I wonder now: What is all this squabbling about? For I can hear the whining and moaning and teasing as I write this. Whatever the vegetable was, I would refuse it, and in turn my mother would urge me to try it, assuring me that it was as sweet as candy. Peas, especially, were as sweet as candy. It all starts to echo and grow and be riffed upon, and now I see my eldest sister has curlers in her hair and really would like to be back in her room, away from it all. There seems to be all this noise. My father carries boldly on, trying to serve us each as we please, always asking if we want this or that rather than just doling it out, and when it’s my mother’s turn and he asks if she would like some peas she says with great animation, “Why yes, thank you! I would love some peas. They are so sweet—just like candy!” And the echoing begins anew.

After we each have a plate, we say grace, then eat. We are to mind our manners, have polite conversation. But we prefer to make each other laugh, and especially want to make Dad laugh, and my middle sister has a knack for this. A simple story of one day in the seventh or eighth grade has him in stitches, falling off his chair. This relieves the pressure on me to eat vegetables and allows my eldest sister to slip away, if she so chooses. Politics and issues of the day are rare topics, though as we get older, things such as Vietnam and Nixon, marijuana and racism all make it to the table, sometimes with the help of company, but sometimes not. Usually, I suppose, it was just chatter about our daily lives.

After dinner, the table was cleared by one of us girls, and this chore was never bemoaned, as it was the lead-in to dessert, most likely a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. About this time the candles became enticing. How slowly could you put your finger through the flame? What might happen if you held a spoon this close? How about this close? And how about we push at that little lip of wax around the melted pool … No, we were not to play with candles, and yet at the dinner table we always did. But only with the tapers. There were often other candles, like the little 15-cent-each pilgrim boys and girls, but they were never lit and could not, under any circumstance, be lit. I have a very dark memory of once threatening to burn a pilgrim, taunting my mother with it, but I do not remember if I am holding the little pilgrim’s wick close to the burning taper’s flame or if my sister is. One is threatening while the other watches, daring it to happen. Was there a quick flame and curl of smoke? Did we realize in a flash that we had crossed a line we had better not?

On Sundays, my sisters and I ate hamburgers and chips in the back room while watching “The Wonderful World of Disney.” My parents ate their burgers in the kitchen, alone, in peace, without candlelight.

{Who knew paraffin was toxic? Luckily, we survived. Thanks for visiting!}

Sunday, November 25, 2012

hello, winter. i've been expecting you

And now it is winter. It arrived Thanksgiving night. I was sleeping, waking occasionally to the sound of a wind that slapped the house, rushed around it, even perhaps tried to get in. The National Weather Service had warned of wind and rain turning to snow, so I was not surprised when Friday arrived with the peace of snow-covered fields overlaid with swirling skirmishes, underlaid with covert ice. The contrast to Thanksgiving Day was stark. The sun had peeped through hazy clouds while I sat on the porch, swatting at flies, chatting with friends.

All day the wind blew from the northwest. It brought snow off and on, a total of seven or eight inches I guess, for it never really stops, just takes a break now and then, the wind eventually dieing down, the flakes floating lazily by, taking their time, more like those enjoying a journey than those intent upon a destination. Elliott darted out and back in twice before retiring to the laundry basket. Buster seemed slightly confused by it all, though God knows he’s seen plenty of winters. I scrambled to do that which is useless in the midst of blowing snow—sweeping it away from doors, shoveling through it—and eventually I died down, turned indoors, spent the day making candles. I drew the winter storm close around me, nestling into it as if it were a comfortable, sheltering old cloak.

I continue to read Recovering: A Journal by May Sarton. She often copies into the journal passages from books she is reading, and I am tempted to do the same.
To see a person for himself or herself, not for one’s feelings about them, requires wisdom, and I must assume that it is part of the ascension of true love beyond the initial passion and need. On the way there are frightful resentments and irritations caused by intrinsic differences of temperament and many a marriage or love affair bogs down as a result. How does one achieve perfect detachment? Partly perhaps by accepting the essence of a being for what it is, not wishing to change it, accepting.

Over the course of the week I made more than 100 candles, a half dozen spice bears, 14 spice cones, and one spice owl. There is so much wisdom I lack. If I were 17 again, I would know it all except that it can all be lost.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

a low form of creation

Lately I have been reading May Sarton’s journals. In Recovering she writes:
But I find the journal suspect because it is almost too easy. It is a low form of creation.
Sarton was a poet and novelist, but it is her journals that pull me in. When I moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from Chicago a little over eight years ago, making the move unexpectedly alone, I read Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude and Plant Dreaming Deep. There was resonance.

My journal began at age 15, when I wrote by hand in flimsy wire-bound notebooks, much as I do now. Over the years there have been dry spells, but also there are many notebooks, sketchbooks, “blank page” books, yellow legal pads, reams of typewritten pages and pages printed from a computer filled with words and bodily fluids, liquor, caffeine, ashes, and fly guts. The only commonality is, these pages are for me and no one else, unless I decide to share, like I sometimes do, here with you, online. Sarton, on the other hand, wrote journals intended for publication. What I do is easier. I keep a journal for me, and it has served me well.

This past week I had occasion to dig out the stiff-backed Bienfang 8½-by-11-inch sketchbook journal that contains 100 sheets, wire bound. It is dated 10/12/2005 – 5/21/2006. A recent event had reminded me of a past event, and the more these events turned over in my mind, the more I wondered about the past event and if my memory was serving me well. I went to the journal to find out. It gave me what I needed and a little bit more. As I was turning over what to write today, these pages I found in the 2005-2006 journal sat quietly in my mind. They are three pages printed from a computer, dated November 18, 2002 through May 1, 2003, but taped to a page in the middle of January 2006. If I were looking for these pages, how would I ever find them, but by chance?
November 18, 2002
What to do? There is nothing for me to do here at work except be here, put in my time, so here I am. What else can I do but start to write?
And what I wrote about was my desire to be elsewhere, to be here in the U.P. rather than at my desk in my office at work in the city.
I just want to be there. With John. With Buster, Queenie, and Goldie. And some chickens.
I remember typing those words. It is, at once, a moment that is now and a moment that is past.

Today, a morning that is perfectly still. Clouds stretch like gauze over a broad, pale blue sky, some pulled tight and seamless, others bunched and rumpled. As the sun rises it illuminates a hovering haze. The world is full of dull colors, soft and mild. Buster and I have taken our morning walk to the river. Elliott, who spent the night outdoors, sleeps in what used to be my chair. I am making lip balm, heating oil and beeswax on the woodstove. I agree with Sarton: journal writing is a low form of creation. It is like a base, a foundation, from which other writing or creativity can grow. I often wonder where I would be without it.

{ May Sarton was born in 1912 and died in 1995. Plenty of info out there on the web and in books. Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by. }

Sunday, November 11, 2012

this week’s smorgasbord of beeswax and joy rides, elections and outbuildings, baths and candlelight

Spicy Bear
beeswax + cinnamon figurine

It’s been quite a week with the carport getting built, a trip to Green Bay, and the successful test of just another one of my great ideas—beeswax + cinnamon figurines. Oh yes. And the van got her bum, new-used radiator replaced, and I voted. The little red, white, and blue sticker is still on my jacket. In the end, the noise of the campaigns helped to hone my intention in voting, and the refrain in my head is this: equality of privilege. I need to write it out. If it still makes sense, I’ll send it to those who represent me in Lansing and Washington.

The carport is a balm against the never-ending summer sun. Certainly it will be nice to keep snow off the van, but come summer, to have the van covered, out of the sun, that will be the real treat. (Although I have a garage, the van does not fit through its door.) For now, the carport is just a simple extension of the garage roof, but eventually I will put up walls using some leftover barn wood, creating in the spirit of the upper deck railing. Choose your descriptive: “rustic,” “naive,” folk arty,” “is that safe?” What do you think?

Part of the upper deck railing. Photo credit: Elliott.
I went to Green Bay for beeswax, to use as backup, in case I run out of Michigan wax and cannot get more. It was a fun trip below the tension line, otherwise known as the 45th parallel, and here’s a funny thing—just south of the tension line the two-lane, 55-mile-per-hour highway became a four-lane, 65-mile-per-hour highway. Yes, everything must move more quickly south of the tension line. We were on US 141, going through towns like Iron Mountain, Niagra, Pembine, and Crivitz, and I hope to make the trip again some day, though not all the way to Green Bay, but just moseying along a ways, stopping to browse in antique shops and eating ice cream, maybe turning back before hitting that tension line. Just for the record, the trip took a bit more than eight hours. The menu consisted of carrots, cheese, fig bars, and tea, and Buster had yam.

Buster loves a road trip.
My intention today was to write about a question I am often asked at the farmers market and that always stumps me: How do they burn? Meaning, I suppose, how do the beeswax candles burn, and I’ve written about this before, of course, but lately this question and its lack of a clear answer has been bobbing around on my mind. It stumps me because there are so many ways to answer. Certainly you’re not asking for an academic explanation of combustion? But maybe you do want to know how a candle made of beeswax differs from one made of paraffin or soy? I could tell you specifically about this taper, if it will drip, how long it might burn ... but maybe you’re more interested in the Buddha? Last night I soaked in a hot tub watching a beeswax candle burn, and I wondered how I would answer, How did it burn? It burned in such a way, my mind wandered.

There were other nice things about the week—a jar of fresh local honey from a friend, a new rug for the living room, interesting chats with my mother about how dark the evenings are now, two deer standing calmly in the yard in the pelting rain and rumbling thunder, transplanting a tree—and I hope there were nice things in your week, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

celebrating water

Today is the first anniversary of water at the cabin, and to celebrate I’ve just gone to this website to donate $20 to help others get water—clean water.

Home Sweet Watery Home
The difference between my situation and their situation is so vast it’s immeasurable, for although I lived without water throughout the summer and fall of 2011, water was always nearby, never beyond reach. I found it in the river, in the rain, and even behind the post office, where clean, fresh water flows from an artesian well. I enjoyed hot water at a friend’s house and even, on a sunny day, I’d get a few warm gallons at the cabin, from my solar heater, also known as a black plastic bag. And, until I sold my other house, which would provide me with the cash to dig a well on this property and to get plumbing and a sink and a tub and a toilet, I could return there and use its standard hot and cold running water. When that house was gone, I took showers in the women’s locker room at the rec center at Michigan Tech University.

So when I say I lived without water, I say it knowing it’s not exactly true.

What is true is that finding water, when it’s not in your home, can be time-consuming, a little nerve-wracking, and expensive. The round-trip drive to Tech takes about an hour, and then there was the packing of fresh clothes, towels, soap, shampoo, comb, and lotion; stopping at the ticket window to buy the six-dollar daily pass to the facility; undressing and unpacking; luxuriating in a hot hot shower; dressing and repacking wet towels, dirty clothes, the shampoo, lotion, comb, et cetera. Then maybe it was time for a trip to the laundromat ...

Because of the time involved, I tried not to shower more than once every four days or so, and what I found is this: Never mind the aroma, there’s a certain crankiness, anxiety, even, dare I say it, angst, that can creep in with the grime. I suppose part of it, for me, was knowing that water was coming to my home soon, but not knowing exactly when, and being impatient with the process: three days of well digging (gargantuan equipment that clanged and chugged and spit mud in the air as it bore into the earth); another three weeks before the plumbing was complete and cold water flowed from the kitchen tap; then two more weeks before hot water appeared.

So, on November 4, 2011, when cold, muddy water first flowed from a spigot on the side of the house, I celebrated, but I also wondered: Is it possible I could be taking my first hot bath in this little cabin by Thanksgiving? When Thanksgiving came and went I wondered: Maybe Christmas? A hot bath in my own little cabin became an obsessive goal and when the day arrived, two weeks before Christmas, I popped the champagne, filled the tub with steaming water and bubbles, and almost passed out from the heat and the alcohol, which I am no longer used to.

I think of the past week’s hurricane and the people who have water all around them, putting them out of their homes, but no water, at the moment, for life’s practical purposes. And I think of people in places like Rwanda that have, basically, no water at all, no clean water, and wonder, how do they get by? And I wonder, of course, why I should have all the water I need (and then some) while others have none.

{ Just in case youre wondering, for certain practical purposes throughout this time of “no water” I used a sawdust toilet. Marvelously simple and sanitary, but please, I never want to go back to it. One of the most interesting and funny books Ive ever read is The Humanure Handbook. Highly recommended. And by the way, this weeks special at the Etsy shop is one free beeswax turtle with each order! }

Sunday, October 28, 2012

last farmers market (amid scraps of moonlight)

Saturday, October 27
5:20 a.m.
Today is the last farmers market, the official end to a summer that began mid-May. It’s hardly been summer-like these past few weeks—indeed, it is barely 30 degrees out there right now and the expected high is 41—but still, “farmers market” connotes “summer” and, for the most part, the weather conforms. Of course it’s always dicey, just a bit more so in October.

The house is warm. I loaded the woodstove shortly before 4 a.m.; I’ve been awake since 2:30 or so. Buster was restless, and as he sleeps next to me, if Buster is awake, most often I am awake. I got up and took him out three times, but his restlessness continued, so I decided to move us downstairs. He’s been known to fall off the bed and there was that time he tumbled down the stairs, so being downstairs in the pitch of night seemed safer. While Buster paced (was it last night’s popcorn?), I loaded the stove. Once the fire was going, I sat in my chair and held B for a bit, then fed him, let him out again, and now, he sleeps. For a while, I too slept.

The sun will not rise until 8:30. With the cold and the dark it is tempting to stay put, to not move, to not drive an hour and a half to set up a table and a display and candles in the cold ... but it’s the last market of the season. So I must get going. And B will come with, and hang his head out the window, and today, I suppose, freeze his butt off. Or, more likely, his nose.

6:25 a.m.
Oh. It’s snowing.

Sunday, October 28
6:35 a.m.
I awoke with the nearly full moon shining in the windows making two skewed rectangles of light on the sloping wall above my head. I reached over to scratch Buster and he shifted a bit, rearranging himself. I got up, leaving him be. Downstairs, I opened the door for Elliott and he raced out.

The house is chilly. Yesterday’s farmers market was, for the most part, cold. Maybe 40 degrees, cloudy, a bit of a north breeze. I set up outside thinking it would be sunny, as forecasted, but, fooled again ... The crowd was light, not keen on browsing. Sales were about a quarter of what they were last week. Spotted a couple of people in shorts and sandals.

Pumpkins await carving at the farmers market.
Buster is snoring. Elliott raced in, ate, went back out to hunt in the last shreds of moonlight. The fire is blazing, spreading its warmth. Last night’s embers were covered in ash, but after a raking, ready to spark a fire. While making a pyramid of three logs, I felt in my bones and muscles the memory of this routine that will repeat itself most mornings now through May.

Relief that the farmers market is done for the year and that the weather can do what it likes on Saturdays and B and I and the beeswax will stay snug and warm. But also I will miss the market—the people of it, the event of it, the music, the tarts and cinnamon rolls and lemon bread (a loaf of which is in the frig), the direct sales. There is nothing quite like handing something you have made to a person who appreciates it and who, to boot, hands you cash in return.

Tomorrow I will set up at Zero Degrees Gallery (back to Marquette!), and I have two work shifts there this month. After Thanksgiving, I hope to spend a Saturday or two at the Winter Market, which this year will be at the food co-op’s new, but yet to be remodeled space on Washington Street. This time of year always seems to go so quickly, despite the droning rhetoric of an election. Soon it will be Thanksgiving and snow every day and days so short we won't even be sure they’ve happened.

{Thanks to all of my customers at the this year's market. And to all those who just stopped by to talk or ask questions. I also enjoy selling on Etsy. This week's special, starting Monday, October 29 and running through November 4, is a free lip balm with each order. Tube or tin!}

Sunday, October 21, 2012

the cat has a twitter account (and other flashbacks)

It was a week of not much, like cats getting into Twitterverse, envelopes with chances to win millions of dollars, and anniversaries of big, life-changing, never-going-back, risking-it-all purchases.

The Cat Tweets
Whatever compelled Elliott to start with the tweeting I don't know. But certainly my father is behind it. Yes, my father passed away in 2005, but in December 2004 he sent me a letter informing me of a chat he had just had with Santa about my whereabouts. (That was the year I moved from the Chicago area, where my parents also lived, to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.) Now, I may never have written to Santa, but Santa wrote to me and my sisters quite often over the years, usually on Christmas Eve, when he'd take time from his travels to tap out an oddly spelled note thanking us for the cookies. Tapped out on my dad's typewriter and oddly spelled due to cold fingers, as he usually made it very clear just how br r rbrr! co o o ld1! his  finghers weere. It seems to me that if Santa is talking to my dad about me when my dad is 85 and I am 47, then my father must have something to do with my cat tweeting on Twitter at any age.

My Chance to Win a Million Dollars
I've mailed in my envelope with the potentially winning number to the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. By November 30, I will know if I've won a million dollars or not. Oh, and, $5,000 a week for life. Wouldn't that be nice? Yes, stuff like this still happens through the mail. Searching through the sheets of colorful deals to find the entry confirmation stamp to affix here, and the who-knows-what stamp to place there, took me back to the kitchen table in the house where I grew up, spreading out all the bright pieces of paper, concentrating, making sure I got the right stamp in the right place because surely, if I followed the rules, I might very well be rewarded with a million dollars. Or more. (Or my parents would be. This was a good 45 or so years ago, after all.) You know what? I still think I have a good chance. Because I followed the rules. And the rules said I didn't have to order anything ...

An Anniversary
Pssst! Wanna buy a log cabin on the outskirts of nowhere? No plumbing, no water, no electricity, no worries. Yeah, needs a little work. Needs heat. Drafty. Beautiful little spot, though. Look at that view, look at that river ... brook trout, baby. The cabin? Solid foundation. Mice? Sure. Mosquitoes, flies. But, lookee that floor, girlie, yeah, the one that just stuck a two-inch sliver up your big toe. That floor's from a 120-year-old silo in Oconto Falls, yeah, looks like Douglas fir. See all those pock marks? The real thing. From pitchforks. Yeah. From people pitching around inside the silo 100 years ago. And all the logs are from an old barn in Pulaski, yeah, tore it down and hauled it up here. The porch is oak planks from old shipping crates, and all these doors piled up over here are from a cheese factory in Green Bay. Some even have knobs and hinges. This beadboard and kitchen cabinet? From a Catholic School. The stone? From a local quarry. Slate from Detroit. And these posts and rafters were cut by Sam, the guy down the road, yeah, the one with the cows and the sawmill ....

Hook, line, and sinker.
Thursday marked the second anniversary of my buying this log cabin built in the early 2000s of old, salvaged material and its surrounding 18 acres of untended fields. It was either the smartest or dumbest thing I've ever done.

Boards from a 120-year-old silo. The inside, with the scars.

{Thanks for visiting! If I win that million dollars, will I keep on doing this? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, weekly specials have begun at the Etsy shop. Specials are announced each Monday on Twitter. My account, not the cat's.}

Sunday, October 14, 2012

500 lbs. of beeswax: No. 5

I stand by the side of the road in downtown Pelkie singing softly while waiting for the truck that's bringing my fifth load of 500 lbs. of beeswax.
Oh oh the Wells Fargo Wagon is a'
comin' down the street
Oh please let it be for me
pelkie, michigan
Coming into downtown Pelkie.
I blame my parents for the musical upbringing and for having, at times, a show tune in my head and for imagining, at other times, if only, oh, if only we could all break into song and dance, wouldn't that be fun? And enduring the embarrassment of friends shunning me when I pop on Bye Bye Birdie, amazed they've never seen it, it's so good, so much fun, and I've revealed too much of myself once again, or maybe I'm with the wrong crowd.

The road is straight and narrow as a one-track mind and if there's a crowd it's purely apparitional. Downtown Pelkie has a post office, a credit union, a defunct co-op, a smattering of houses, a building for fire and rescue equipment, and Jerry's Auto Repair, which is usually open by late morning, but for some reason, not today.

pelkie, michigan
According to this sign, the co-op once provided food,
hardware, and clothing.
On the north end of town is the Baraga County Fairgrounds and the brick, two-story Pelkie Elementary School. Go another half-mile and there's the old schoolhouse, open for sightseeing on Sundays in the summer.

schoolhouse pelkie michigan
Pelkie's historic one-room schoolhouse.
In the past, I have driven to Beulah, Michigan, just south of Traverse City, to pick up the raw material I work with to make candles - the sweet beeswax from an apiary called Sleeping Bear Farms. But the last trip entailed an overnight stay in a cheap motel with my old dog, Buster. That was stressful, and then there's the expense. I asked about shipping the wax and found it would cost less than a road trip, but only if shipped to a commercial address.

So I'm standing on the side of the road by Jerry's Auto Repair in downtown Pelkie singing show tunes.
It could be curtains, or dishes, or a double boiler
Or it could be, yes it could be ...
Something special ...
Just for me!
Ever since my arrival in Pelkie a year ago, Jerry has been working on my 2004 Dodge Caravan. Last fall he got me into new snow tires, then, in the spring, a new set of summer tires. He's replaced the muffler and radiator and a broken tail light cover that I had kept together with duct tape since December 2010, but which blew apart one day this past summer along M-28 as I headed home from the farmers market. At that point I made a new cover from red duct tape and clear plastic, but soon I was struck dumb by my obsession with thriftiness and called Jerry. There's been a lot of brake work, including cleaning and replacing pads and things, and of course routine oil changes, a new headlight bulb, and now it looks like another radiator replacement. When I asked Jerry about using his shop's address for the beeswax drop, he said no problem.

upper peninsula michigan
Jerry's Auto Repair.
So I'm standing by the side of the road in downtown Pelkie and the truck with the beeswax arrives on schedule. It pulls off the road near my van and lets go a big gassy sigh. The driver hops down from the cab, rolls up the cargo door, dollies the plastic-wrapped boxes of wax over to the door, strips off the plastic, opens the boxes, and hands me blocks of beeswax. One box was light enough for him to carry, and another we moved together, into my van, after relieving it of a few pounds.

raw beeswax in van
Wax in the van.
Later, I think it was Friday, we had a nice sunset.

upper peninsula sunset
View from a porch.

Other Tales of Beeswax Acquisition
500 lbs. of beeswax
2,000 lbs. of beeswax

Sunday, October 7, 2012

just another pea picklin' week: a diary

Monday, October 1
What a great day at Saturday's farmers market! The turkey and happy bee pillar sold out, many little pine cones left the table, another Ball mason jar went to a new home, and one lucky customer walked away with every single charmer, including the psychics. The weather was perfect, and I ate some delicious cinnamon rolls. Now, lots of candles to make and this morning I'm expecting a visit from Alex, the new vendor liaison from MIUpperHand, and later in the week 500 pounds of fresh, raw beeswax should arrive from downstate.

What a turkey!

Tuesday, October 2
A new routine has developed: Mid-afternoon Elliott, Buster, and I walk to the river. We spread out along the trail (Elliott likes to lag, then catch up in a mad dash, and Buster's bound to stray off trail, getting lost in the tall grass), but eventually we come together at the top of the bank, by the balsams, where the trail zags down to the riverside. I pick up Buster and carry him halfway down, where we sit among the trees. Elliott explores, scratches tree trunks. I muse. Buster rests in my arms, his nose working autumn memories. Leaves drift down, float away.

I've settled on price changes and updated Etsy and made new price markers for my market display. Also got a couple dozen sheets made, ready to roll for charmers, and chopped up the remaining 30 or so pounds of raw wax in the shed. Right now, a hunk of that wax is melting in a pot in the kitchen.

Later,  Mr. Owl prepares to ship out.

Wednesday, October 3
The trees are crazy with color, and driving up to Houghton for my weekly shopping spree (anitfreeze! cheese! toilet paper! etc.!) I experienced transcendent moments of joyousness. Sounds flippy, I suppose, but I love autumn. The shortening days, the lowering arc of the sun, chilly nights. And yes, those riotous leaves.

Got a few candles made yesterday. The new thrift store vase candle continues to come out with cracks, so back in the pot it goes. And then suddenly, 16 tons of gravel arrived. Yes, I ordered it, but the idea only percolated a couple of days ago, and now the dang stuff is here, in two big piles, and I have to start shoveling it. One pile is right in Buster's path from "ah! relief!" area to the front door (he never comes in the back door, even though he goes out the back door, because out back is where he finds relief ... ), and he has stumbled into the gravel mound a number of times, coming up looking mighty confused. I need the gravel to raise the ground level along the west side of the house where the porch leaves off and the spring snow melt pools and freezes. The idea is to make this area a kind of gravelly patio. The second pile of gravel I'll use in the spring, to fill in holes in the driveway.

Making candles again today, and may take delivery of 500 pounds of beeswax, down at Jerry's Auto Repair, where it's being delivered, because it's $100 less to ship to a commercial rather than a residential address.  This will be the first time I have not picked up the wax, made that trip across the Mackinac Bridge with a dog or two in tow. It's cheaper, now, to have the wax delivered, and besides, overnight road trips with Buster have become an ordeal.

The gravelly patio project.
Thursday, October 4
No wax yet, but many candles made, close to 40 on the week. It got up to almost 80 degrees yesterday - and sunny. Now, this morning, in the forecast for tomorrow night and Saturday, snow. Doesn't bode well for the farmers market.

The thrift store vase candle is finally coming out sans cracks, and this makes me very happy. It's a  cool-looking candle and burns great. It will debut Saturday ... in the snow?

The beeswax vase burns.

Saturday, October 6
What a snowy drive to Marquette this morning! All day yesterday the wind blew from the west, and in the evening the rain started, a cold, dashing rain. Friday morning, after I got the fire going, I just wanted to stay in my chair, reading, drinking tea, listening to the wind howl, all day, maybe just once in a while opening the door for Elliott so he could sniff the cold air then retreat to his chair. But, I had all the charmers to roll, and I wanted to get my display board set up with more ornaments, and I'd had an email from a gallery downstate about applying to be in their holiday gift gallery, so I had to figure out if that would work, and then that beeswax might be delivered and I thought I might make more lip balm ... So I started designing new business cards on Vistaprint and eventually things got rolling.

I called the delivery company about the wax. Oh. They'll call me. No need to fuss that they might dump 500 pounds of beeswax by the side of the road in downtown Pelkie without telling me ...

As the day rolled on, the wind blew harder and colder and I considered not going to the farmers market - taking Saturday off! - but I had six pounds of wax to get to Colleen for her soapmaking, I wanted to get a couple of sympathy cards from Maggi, and anyway, I hate to miss a market. This morning, when I took off in a slush fall, oh boy, and by the time I hit Baraga, honest-to-goodness snow. The trees, now the pines, spruce, and cedar, catching the snow on their limbs and needles, were beautiful. (I took some videos while driving, posted one to YouTube.)

At the market, I was able to set up inside the Commons building, so all my long underwear just made me uncomfortable, but heck, that's OK. In Marquette it was rain rather than snow, and quite windy, so being inside a cozy building with a large stone fireplace suited me fine, and it ended up being another good day, eating cinnamon rolls, selling beeswax, and getting some nice honey soap for my bath tonight.

Received this picture of Mr. Owl in his new
home. Where, I assume, it's not snowing.

{Thanks for sharing the week with me. I usually do write on Sundays.}

Sunday, September 30, 2012

romancing the wringer washer

The other day I took off my rose-colored glasses and ... I don't want to talk about it.

I was at the wood pile, preparing to stack a couple more loads of logs in the shed, when the glasses came off. It was an inspiration, much like an inspiration I once had about "living your dream." The glasses crushed underfoot and I realized: If life is good and sweet only because of the rosy lens you see it through, then life isn't really good and sweet, is it? And if life isn't really good and sweet, why go around pretending that it is?

I once changed my life, thought it was time to pursue some romantic notions I had about living differently, living the kind of life I read about in books, out in the woods, starry nights, snug cabins, grazing deer, inquisitive racoons, peace and quiet, and hard, simple work that made a body feel good. Swinging an axe and planting seeds. Reaping the harvest.

Things didn't really turn out that way, so I tried again, and it was about this time I thought: What happens if a person invests everything in a dream and it, like, doesn't change anything? Doesn't make you gloriously happy and content, full of bliss? What, then, do you do? What if there is nothing left to dream about?

The thing is, if you are living your dream and it's not working out, you have no dream to escape to. You are trapped in what you thought was it, and it, it turns out, is nothing. Or maybe even worse than nothing.

I don't want to talk about it. But I must.

It is a scary notion that: It doesn't matter. That whether you live your dream or not, it does not matter.

But is it any scarier than realizing that the only way life is good is if you see it that way?

{Now, aren't you glad you stopped by? Through the end of the year I anticipate writing on Sundays only. And some day I may actually tell you about that wringer washer.}