Sunday, November 30, 2014

getting back to beeswax

Over the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed orders from three of my regular wholesale customers back in Michigan. First was the Marquette Food Co-op. My relationship with them started in the spring of 2010. I stopped by the store with a few of the beeswax candles I was making and they gave them a try. The second was The Eyrie, a store in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that found me through Etsy early in 2013. And the third was Dr. Ben-Ami, a psychiatrist with a practice in Southfield. I met her at a farmers market in Marquette in 2012. She bought some lip balm, placed an order for more, and each year now she orders four dozen or more tubes to sell at her practice.

Hearing from all these folks in Michigan, I got a bit nostalgic. And it made me think about my strong customer base there some 2,000 miles away. And how it made such a difference getting started in this business with that direct feedback from folks at the co-op, at the farmers market. It helped me to focus and to grow.

This past week I joined an online collective of handmade shops. The process of picking a few photos to represent my product and coming up with some new text to describe what I do also, in the end, brought me to focus. Of course I put photos and text on Etsy all the time, but this was different. Artizan Made is run by Rachel Biel, a woman I know from our days as co-workers back in the 1990s. I had to send my photos and text to Rachel to put on the site, and at one point I had got together most of what she needed but lacked the description of what I do. She told me: Don’t overthink it. Which was exactly what I was doing. Not to mention overwriting. You would not believe the piece I had going, was honing to within an inch of its life. It was all about writing and beeswax and this fantastic similarity between the two. Did you know that me pulling words from my brain is exactly like a honeybee pulling pieces of beeswax from her gut?


Have you not heard about waxing poetic?

Found the right words yet, Mabel?

And they say that living alone in the woods is what makes one nutty.

One day long ago when I washed and dried old hive frames.

OK. What is it that I do? I make beeswax candles. Plus, a few ornaments, a little lip balm ...

While I was busy fussing with words,
Rachel created this banner image for me for the Artizan Made site.

Rachel and I continued to email through the week. It wasn’t all business, but a lot was, and she ended up taking me back to a time when I did a lot more stuff with beeswax, like making collages and hand-molding snowmen with autumn leaves and giving them names like “The Fall Guy.” Not all these experiments sold so well (I still have the Michael Jackson snowman), but they were fun. And the blog I kept back then was fun. And informative. It stayed focused on the beeswax.

Not a bad idea.

The upshot is there are going to be some changes to this Web site.

I’m taking it back to the beeswax.

I’m giving it back to the candles and ornaments and lip balm and collages and funky yellow snowmen.

Michael "Beeswax" Jackson.

It may take a while, this process, so bear with me if you’re stumbling across this space unawares and it seems in disarray or a little kooky. The changes will not be made all at once, but as I get to it, making a tuck here, letting out a little there, and there will be no Big Reveal, rather, a slow transformation.

Back to the beeswax.

If you are here because you enjoy reading my weekly journal posts, thank you. Perhaps I’ll continue writing about all that other stuff in some new space, somewhere else.

You see, both these bees and me,
we're creating a home ...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

disjointed stories of ribs and cats and why not, huh?

The other day walking down a sidewalk, Josie in the lead at the end of his leash, a man walks toward us, an older man, a gentleman, tall, wearing roomy, black pants and a maroon jacket, the jacket open and swinging a bit from broad shoulders. He has a lilting gait punctuated by a black cane. The man looks at Josie, smiles broadly, his face full-featured and loose as if always ready to stretch into a smile, a frown, a scowl, a question mark, any of a thousand things at the slightest provocation. Josie often brings forth a smile and I expect next this man to say “What a cute dog!” or “What a cutie!” or “Aren’t you cute?!” because that is often what people say after they smile, but then, as we are passing, what this man says is, “Why not, huh?” And he says it with such a soft chuckle it is as if the words are flowing across pebbles in a stream.

We awoke to the sound of “miaow.” Then again, louder, “MIAOW.” Elliott, at the foot of the bed, raised his head. Josie, under the covers, stirred.


Elliott is off the bed like a shot, out of the room. Josie stirs and wriggles his way up from the covers, paws at my neck, my hair, licks my face. I roll over, push him away.

“Miaow, MIAOW.”

It is 3:31 a.m.

I get up, go out on the deck, and the stars are bright. The miaows become yowls, the yowling and growling two cats do prior to a fight, like the Jets and the Sharks singing Sondheim. It seems they are over there, the cats, in the neighborhood beyond the wall, maybe near the gate to the barranca, the concrete gully that separates the neighborhoods, so I go back inside, back to bed, and soon the yowling and growling and miaowing stops and so Elliott comes back to bed, wants under the covers, snuggles fore while Josie, already, is snuggled aft.

It takes a while to get back to sleep. In the morning Elliott does not go out, just hunkers down this side of the patio door, looking out.

Four weeks after the surgery to mend her broken hip, I find my mom in the physical therapy room where she is standing between two parallel bars, her head down, her hands with a tight grip on the wooden bars. Her wheelchair is behind her and a physical therapist, a man in dark blue scrubs, is in front of her, coaxing her along, encouraging her, telling her what to do. To say she is standing may be a bit generous, but she is nearly upright and with the combined strength of all four limbs she is, indeed, momentarily supporting herself. I come in from behind and am told to walk around, to get in front of her, to let her see me, and so I do that and she is told to look up so she does and she sees me and Josie (I am holding Josie) and she smiles. It seems as if for a moment she relaxes, stands easily. Then the struggle returns and she finally tells the physical therapist she is done and she sits in the wheelchair. I stand next to her and she pets Josie and the physical therapist pets Josie and I can tell Josie would rather he did not. Later, when I put Josie down, he growls at the guy in blue scrubs. And later, when I tell my mom that it was great that she was standing, she says, “Why? I’ve been standing all my life.”

I had a craving for rib tips, and it reminded me of when I was in Las Vegas earlier this year, and Louis and his daughter and son-in-law and I went to a barbecue restaurant and I was thinking of rib tips, then, too, but they weren’t on the menu, but tri-tip was and I’d never heard of that but somehow I came to think maybe tri-tip is what I am thinking of, not rib tips, so I ordered it and it was not what I was remembering at all, tri-tip was not rib tips, and it seems so obvious now, of course, but there it is.

I used to get rib tips at Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston, Illinois, and I can well remember the Styrofoam container loaded with those rib tips smothered in barbecue sauce, the thick potato fries. and the bread, the wonderful slabs of white bread that soaked up all the luscious, dark, reddish brown sauce. It was a mess. It was wonderful. It sat like a brick in the stomach for days. I didn’t get this meal too often, but I remember I did get it once during a time when I was a vegetarian. I ate the tips and fries and sopped up the sauce with the bread down at the beach, along Lake Michigan.

I searched online and couldn’t find rib tips in Ventura so I stopped at a grocery store ending up with a turkey bacon avocado sandwich on a sourdough roll, a bag of sweet potato chips, and The New York Times. I checked out through the express lane and when the checker passed the Times over the scanner she said something about it being The New York Times, huh, and checking the weather back East. I smiled vaguely, said something like yes, and she asked if I were from there, back East, and I said no, I’m from Michigan, and the guy behind me in line said something like oh, what part of Michigan? So I said the Upper Peninsula of and he said oh, my ex-wife was from the Upper Peninsula. Said he knew it well. The lakes, the rivers, the waterfalls. It’s beautiful there, he said, or something like that. And I agreed, beautiful there, or something like that. I was not paying much attention. I was kind of caught up in a reverie of home.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ocean blue / ocean grey / cats and dogs / another day / beeswax

A cloudy morning, relatively cool so heading out on the morning mosey with flannel shirt no sunglasses. First we meet two pups whom we’ve met before and a ruckus of barking ensues—not Josie, but them, two little dogs with curls. One gets pulled back down a driveway but soon breaks free, comes running toward us, and Josie does not care, seems to know it’s all in good fun, and it is, but soon, anyway, we are on our way.

We head down one lane, make a broad turn, head up another. Up ahead are two or three people and a cat. We’ve seen a few cats here in the neighborhood, a black and white one down near us and a few tabbies like Elliott here and there, though none quite like Elliott, the size of Elliott, this one up ahead just another Elliott-wanna-be but only halfway there. This cat dances toward us on a diagonal arching its back as some cats do, puffing out its fur as some cats do, running on tippy-toes and angling strangely, now, intently, directly at us as some cats do … but not too many.

Poor Josie, all anticipation, pulling me along, tail wagging, heading straight into this cat.

This cat who stops directly in front of Josie all arched, poofed, and tippy-toed. Josie leans in and the cat swiftly raises a paw, slashes downward on Josie’s nose. There’s a squeal and a hiss and a little ado and then the cat scurries sideways down a driveway behind a car and is gone. Josie looks around, bewildered, I guess, and an ordinary man walks by, says something like “goodness gracious,” and I see no blood so we carry on.

Spending a day in beeswax, making ornaments and candles, thinking and musing. Another cloudy day in the 60s. Thinking a bit about that big snowstorm back in the U.P. and the early cold that came with it, feeling a bit of nostalgia and longing for the watching of the storm, for the watching of the snowfall, for the feel of the cold and its freshness and its bite, a bit of wistful romance thinking about a fire catching hold in the woodstove and its warmth pouring out, filling the room, but alas, in reality, a cold floor.

The ocean on a cloudy day is different from the ocean on a sunny day. It is the same ocean, no doubt, the same seawater, the same fish, the same rocks, sand, shells, birds, surfers, and boats, but it looks different on a cloudy day. More ominous, maybe more what it is, slightly treacherous, but just as beautiful, just less welcoming, more like Maine, maybe, and less like California, though California is certainly much more than this one little spot.

I like the ocean on a cloudy day and so does Josie. He runs in wide circles, just plum happy to be running in wide circles, chasing a shore bird now and then, and we both particularly liked the orange and black one with the long bill, maybe it was a short-billed dowitcher? Who knows. It seemed singular, but there are so many different sandpipers, not the least of which is the least sandpiper. I love their long bills and legs and the way they stand so still then scurry upright, as if proud, along the water’s edge, the water’s edge always changing. There are layers: the shorebirds, the surfers, the pelicans, the boats. Surfers bobbing on waves, ducking into waves, riding waves, cutting forward and back and falling head first and falling butt first. Pelicans fly low just above the water in formations of five or three or seven and on a cloudy day they are dark and look like warplanes. Beyond them the fishing boats, going out, coming in, and the boats are designed for work, steel-grey and white and black with wires and ropes and masts and lines and the front end—I am not nautical—is big and bulky and the middle squishes down to nothing and then the back end may be dragging a big tub or something—they are workhorses, you can tell, and they move resolutely through grey water glossed here and there with gold.

Josie runs in wide circles away from me and back, happy as a pup can be. The short-billed dowitcher or whatever it is takes flight, circles round, lands, sticks its long bill into the sand, pulls out food, something from where the ocean has been.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

beeswax, drought, a flood, a sunset, fatty whiskers

The smell lingers in my nostrils. Whether it is dust or mold or asbestos or mildew or what or all of the above, it is there, has physicality, feels like dust or spores or something growing inside my nostrils. I can smell it and I have a slight headache and I was only in the store for about 10, maybe 15 minutes, and that was 15 or 20 minutes ago.

This is the store where I chose to sell my beeswax candles this holiday season landing here as I did in this new port on the Pacific.

Of course I continue to sell online and have a few wholesale outlets but this place, The December Store & More, was to be my first slightly more interactive outlet in my new, temporary locale. And now it’s a mess—there was a guy in a hazmat suit—and the smell of dust and mold and asbestos and mildew and whatever it is lingers up in my nose and psyche.

Here’s what happened: An inch of rain fell a couple of Friday nights ago—the first rain in months in these here parts—and the store’s roof caved in. I stopped in last Sunday and there was the ceiling hanging down over one big corner of the store and all the stuff—all the things people had made and sewed and crafted and stitched and hewn and painted and decorated and … oh, you know these artsy-craftsy types—was pushed together all a-jumble in the middle of the store and the far away side, far away from the crumbling ceiling tiles and dangling strips of metal.

Some folks lost everything.

Other folks, like me, lost nothing. Potential sales, maybe. Since I had not yet signed my contract with the store nor paid my November rent (it’s a rent-your-own-space-type thing), and since at that moment I was suffering emotional weakness due to other matters, I just stood there and gaped. I may have sat down. A small group of robust others bustled about dealing with it. I walked away questioning whether I should really join in this venture. It seemed, in a strictly business sense, right then, like an iffy prospect. I mean, the roof had just caved in. Because of one inch of rain.

A couple of days later the irony took hold, got the better of me. A store in a drought-stricken area suffering from flood damage due to—dare I say it?—one inch of rain? Seriously, would I pass up that story?

So I officially joined The December Store and a few days later the store closed. (Remember that guy in the hazmat suit?) In a couple of weeks the store may reopen. But, who knows.

These gals were there, in the store window. They saw the whole thing.
The rain pouring down. The roof caving in. The flood.
But they don’t know nothin’, either.

So this holiday season I will focus on the Etsy shop, list a few new items, hope for the best. As always, hope for the best.

Beeswax in beads and baskets.

The Other Day
The other day I sat with my mom. She was sleeping. She was asleep when I walked into her room. She was asleep on her bed under a maroon blanket. The sun was beginning to shine through her window. It was warm. The window has two layers of curtains. I drew the sheer curtains across the window and partially closed the opaque curtains. My mom was on her back, her head slightly turned to one side, and I was moving the chair over to that side when she awoke. Her eyes opened. She said, “Leslie.”

“Hi, Mom.”

Josie growled. A young woman was walking down the hall toward the room with a pile of mail. As she approached she smiled and held out one envelope. I took the envelope, thanked her. The envelope was addressed by hand, a “Get Well” card, I assumed, to my mom, so I sat down, opened it, and read out loud the card’s greeting as well as the accompanying note. My mom said, “That’s nice.”

Josie got on my lap, stretched over to sniff my mom. I told my mom that the name she had given Josie the last time we were there had stuck, was a big hit, and I asked if she remembered the name. She said no, so I told her: Fatty Whiskers. Her face broke into a smile and she chuckled.

Soon she was asleep. Josie and I sat in the chair, he growling softly now and then, whenever the person with the squeaky shoes walked by, but then Old Squeaky Shoes disappeared. It became very quiet and peaceful.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

breaking down change, five: Home (sweet) Home

Josie and I started our morning walk like every morning, with him off his leash nosing around the fountain. The fountain is in the middle of a green, clipped lawn in the middle of the cul-de-sac we now live on. Every morning Josie likes to nose around the lawn, its curb, the brick wall of the fountain. Throughout the day this little island at the end of our asphalt lane is much-visited by other little dogs, on leashes, walkers in tow, and any number of seagulls.

This little gull stopped by with his laundry.

The dogs, of course, do business on the island, and Josie’s morning perusal of the area can well be likened to one sticking one’s nose in the Wall Street Journal or Twitter, poking around for news, hoping to get all the poop on what’s a-happenin’. And, akin to Twitter, Josie will leave his own little messages and barbs before looking up, getting on with his day. He stands still while I attach his leash to his harness. We mosey on down the lane.

One morning, Elliott followed.

It was a little over three weeks ago that Elliott left his temporary home here in California to rejoin his family (that’s Josie and me) here in our temporary home here in California. The first week home, Elliott stayed in the house or on the deck. The deck has a railing with just one low crossbar, so early on my brother-in-law attached some lightweight garden fencing to the lower two-thirds of the railing so Josie would not, in some strange spasm, maybe to chase a bird or a lizard, leap off the deck. Now this fencing also held Elliott in. The door to the deck is usually open as here it is mostly warm and never rains. There are many birds to watch. Elliott seemed content with the situation.

great blue heron in palm tree
See that great blue heron up there in the palm tree?

Two weeks ago, Elliott found a spot where he could easily push the garden fencing away from the deck, enough to slip down and out. At first I tried to stop this behavior, but what was I thinking? Elliott had found a way out, wanted out, and the idea of playing any more games with anyone seemed futile and ridiculous so Elliott had his way. Go forth and be free. I was pretty sure he would not go far.

The deck looks out over a small yard, a decent-sized patch of lawn lined on one side with a brick wall and bushes, on another our home, and on another the neighbor’s driveway and small shed. The yard is a trapezium and the very short side, anchored with a palm tree and small garden, lines up along the street, the cul-de-sac. Although it is quiet where we live, there is enough random activity and noise popping up here and there every now and again that Elliott is a bit cowed. He is not used to living where there are trucks and cars and people and dogs going by. He is not familiar with gardeners and leaf blowers. Deer and coyote and wolf and the like, now those he knows.

Behold the cul-de-sac.

I did not expect Elliott to follow Josie and me on our morning mosey. But on this morning, while Josie was busy with the Fountain Island News, I watched Elliott nosing around in the little garden in front our home. As Josie and I headed out, occasionally I looked back at Elliott to make sure he was staying put, and he was, but then he wasn’t. When Josie and I were about four or five homes down the lane, Elliott began walking slowly after us. I quickened our pace, thinking Elliott would fall too far behind and give up. I took a picture of some crows because that is what I had been thinking of writing about, all the birds here in this park, the crows and gulls and the blue heron in the palm tree and how one morning the crows were chasing a small hawk, but now here was Elliott still trailing after us. Something he really should not be doing.

So Josie and I turned back.

We ran into Elliott in front of a home with a nice front porch and there was this guy on the porch and when Elliott and Josie met he said oh, they’re buddies. Elliott scooted away, up the short walk of the home opposite, where the Person Who Does Not Like Dogs lives, and this was a drag because then Josie and I had to chase him without really chasing him, so as not to create any more of a ruckus, and since in this place where we now live one home’s front walk is right up against the next one’s driveway, Elliott is now in someone’s driveway and I’m not sure if he’s going to go farther down the driveway putting all three of us right outside the windows of two homes of people we don’t know and it’s like really early in the morning and of course there’s still this guy in his robe on the porch right across the street, and how I love Elliott, he just pivoted and ran back out into the street, the lane, and headed home and Josie and I followed and then close to home I let go of Josie’s leash so he could more properly chase Elliott and resolve this thing.

Elliott ran into our driveway, tail high. Josie followed. Josie pooped then on the pebbles of my neighbor’s little side yard, and I chased Elliott to the back of the drive where he could circle around the back of the house and into the yard and, with any luck, get up on the deck and stay there. I picked up the poop and Josie and I started out once again on our morning mosey.

Where I live now is this: A 55+ mobile home park in southern California. In the park, there are 309 mobile homes. Not that they are actually mobile. They are, indeed, stationary. But every once in a while one sells and gets yanked out and a new model comes in. So, in a way, mobile.

mobile home
There goes half of one right now.

But quiet. After my mom’s nursing home (and I’ve given up trying to think of what else to call it), I think it is the quietest place within miles and miles.

This guy doesn’t talk much.

So yes. I live now in a 55+ mobile home park. I thought I couldn’t write about it, and there’s a lot of hocus-pocus and tomfoolery involved with that, but if I can’t write about where I live, well, that amount of change I cannot handle. I live in someone else’s house, pay for the privilege, and with most of the agreement being verbal it has been, let me tell you, somewhat messy. Maybe now things are settling down. I have thought that several times in the past month and a half.

mobile home park
A rare morning mosey with clouds.

It has been nearly 25 years since I lived anywhere but in my own home. And for the first time in many years—about ten, actually—I am living near my mother, spending time with her on a regular basis. In her past ten years she has lost much if not all of her independence. In the past month and a half I have lost, perhaps, just a little of mine. Not much. Not much at all. Hardly worth mentioning. And of course I could take my independence back, any time. Any time I choose.

But sometimes I think choices are too hard. Decisions to make—too hard. I second-guess myself all the time, think I make bad choices, and I think it’s too hard, being on my own, doing all this, all this, on my own. But we all should be so lucky. Yes, we all should be so lucky.

A game of dog-and-cat, part one.

The other night it rained.

A game of dog-and-cat, part two.

And it reminded me of home.