Sunday, March 18, 2018

candle studies 12: distraction & relativity: soy wax, Madame Tussaud, and more candles that clean the air

Madame Tussaud’s
self-portrait in wax.
Every time I think I’ll finally write about soy wax—and I fully intend to get to it—I get distracted. For the past several days it’s been Madame Tussaud and the centuries-old art of creating wax figures. As a young girl, Tussaud learned this art from Philippe Curtius. (After Tussaud’s father disappeared, Curtius became her mother’s employer, then companion. Tussaud called him “uncle.”) Two hundred and some years later, Madame Tussaud’s wax museums—filled with wax replicas of kings and thieves, monsters and celebrities—are well-established and still opening in major cities across the globe. And to this day at Madame Tussauds of London, Curtius’ Madame du Barry reclines on a chaise lounge, seemingly breathing. She was created in 1763. Madame Tussaud herself is there, a self-portrait in wax, created in 1842 when Tussaud was 81.
· Timeline from Madame Tussauds
· Is it Madame du Barry or … ?
All visible body parts of the figures Curtius and Tussaud created were made from wax, specifically beeswax mixed with vegetable tallow, at least according to the book I am reading, which we’ll get to in a minute, and I cannot fathom how this marvelous example of beeswax’s capabilities, history and resilience escaped my notice, especially as it so easily relates to the candles I make, the different detailed figures, the owl, the frog, the bear, though I do not, of course, employ the artistry of first sketching and studying a figure; sculpting a detailed figure from clay; creating a plaster mold from this sculpture into which to pour the wax; painting and adding fine details to the resulting wax head, hand, neck, ears, including adding hair, teeth, eyeballs, clothing; … How on earth has Madame Tussaud not previously come to mind? How has she not once entered into my farmers market spiel and conversation? Every time someone said
Oh! But I’m afraid it will melt!
and I could have said
My dear woman, s’il vous plaît, but if Madame Tussaud’s death mask of Marie Antoinette survived the French Revolution and Reign of Terror and crossing the English Channel to London … perhaps mon petit bear can find his way home safe with you?
Wax heads (aka death masks) by Madame Tussaud. Marie Antoinette is far right, next to her husband, King Louis XVI. This is a photo of my computer screen tuned to page 51 of Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks by Pamela Pilbeam, which is embedded, via Google Books, at the end of this post.

Wax heads (aka candles) by Pea Pickle Farm.

The process of making wax figures has hardly changed over the centuries, though some of the materials have. But at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, South Dakota, beeswax is still the preferred wax, mixed with a bit of Japan wax. There is a description of the creation process on their website as well as a video.
· National Presidential Wax Museum
· Video: Sculpting a Wax Figure
But, honestly, I began with the intent to write about soy wax and what does any of this have to do with that? How did I get like quicksand from soy wax to wax heads of the French Revolution and a possible road trip to South Dakota?

A while back I read about the history of soy wax online but before writing about it I wanted some background on man-made waxes, so I embarked on Chapter 6, “Synthetic Waxes and Wax Compounds,” in The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes. Warth divides the synthetic waxes of the time (1947) into eleven groups based on a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, and soy wax is mentioned in passing in the section “Hydrogenation of Oils,” where we learn, for one, about hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Known as Coto Flakes. Which sounds like a breakfast cereal. But Coto Flakes was used as a substitute “for palm oil when coating the pickled steel sheets in the manufacture of tin plate.” (According to Warth, it was far less likely to become rancid.) We also learn about Opalwax, which was the brand name for a DuPont product produced by hydrogenating castor bean oil. Opalwax had many applications, including “ … impregnating and coating papers, fiber board, leather, cork and textiles to make them grease, oil, and waterproof, [and] as a lubricant for electrical insulation.” It was also “claimed to be of value in the manufacture of candles, rubber-coated fabrics, polishes and finishes, carbon paper, inks, cutting oils, and for waterproofing and air breaking of air plane wings.” But we learn no such details about soy wax, perhaps because at the time there was no marketable use or need for it, even though soybean oil was, apparently, being hydrogenated then as it is now.
· The Chemistry and Technology and Waxes
· My first post about this book
Anyway, at this point I went online to see if Opalwax and Coto Flakes were still around. It seems they are not, but while noodling around I found a 1905 patent for a formaldehyde candle.

I decided, for the time being, not to pursue that track but, as long as I was online, I searched my local library for a couple of specific titles and authors as I had been needing a fresh book to delve into, nothing to do with wax. Then, as a lark, I searched on subject: wax. One and only one book popped up, Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran, historical fiction, not usually what I read. But later that day I picked it up and cracked it open and boy, did it capture my imagination. I was absolutely loving it. Not only the wax works stuff but the whole French Revolution and Reign of Terror which is ghastly, but. That figures made of beeswax survived the French Revolution. That Tussaud survived the French Revolution. That she survived by making wax figures of severed heads. Which she did to ensure that she was thought of as a patriot, a friend to the revolution and not a royalist. In a way you could say that she kept her head … and thus kept her head. She avoided the guillotine. But. Still. A close shave.
· Subject: wax (library search introducing Madame Tussaud)
In the book, prior to the revolution, as a woman in her twenties living and working with her uncle and mother at their Salon de Cire in Paris, Tussaud visits Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to France, at his Paris residence. She sketches and measures both him and Lafayette in order to create their wax figures—wait! Jefferson and Lafayette!? After the American Revolution? Whoa. Synapse. “Hamilton.”

Tussaud also visits the Marquis de Sade, in prison, for the same purpose, to study and sketch him to make his likeness in wax. (Fortunately, this brings no Great American Musical to mind.) And that’s the thing—in order to draw people into her family’s wax museum, the wax figures and tableaus have to be notable. Have to be worth it. People are starving, yet hungry for “news,” which, in a way, the Salon de Cire is providing. What will the people pay to see? Tussaud and her uncle are in the thick of revolutionary events and create in wax accordingly.

I remind myself this is historical fiction, but Tussaud was real, the French Revolution was real, and that it turns so macabre once the beheadings roll—who can put this story down? From pages 205-206:
I cradle the back of his head so I don’t have to touch the bloody stump of his neck. As I place it between my knees, it stains my apron. … I expect the crowd to be silent, but they chat among themselves as if this were an open-air show. … Without the need to sculpt a clay head first, the entire process is swift. … I remove the plaster and pour beeswax into the hardened mold. … When I am finished, I pass Hulin his wax models. With a theatrical flourish, he impales the heads on the ends of separate bayonets and lifts them above the crowd. … there are wild cheers.
But, and with all due apology, I began with the intent to write the story of soy wax, which was invented in the 1990s when a chain of retail stores perceived a need for a line of candles made of a wax that could rival paraffin in price but that fit the store’s image and philosophy of being environment- and health-conscious. In short, The Body Shop wanted mass-produced “natural” candles. In response, the man who was The Shop’s beeswax candle supplier got into a lab in Iowa, where he lived, and started working on creating a wax from vegetable oils. At the same time, in Indiana, soybean producers were looking to increase the number of products that could be made from their crop, so people in lab coats in Indiana were working on that. Soon, with a little hydrogenation, we got soy candles and various vegetable-based waxes which go by various brand names such as eco-this, eco-that. All these waxes are produced via different formulations and ingredients resulting in physical properties designed to serve the particular needs and demands of the commercial wax market.
· History of Industrial Uses of Soybeans. Page 1738, as well as preceding and subsequent pages. Soyinfo Center, 2017.
· Soy wax development getting new attention. August 10, 2012,, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
So the soy story is interesting, but I see the story of soy wax, in the context of wax in general and as well in context of the growth of “natural” products and maybe in context of soybeans and their proliferation, not to mention the whole genetic modification thing, as a great article yet to be written by someone else, probably for the “The New Yorker,” and I will someday read this story and find it fascinating. And a hundred years from now it will be interesting to see if soy wax is still around, being made, sold and used, and if soybeans are still being turned into everything from milk to wax, soup to nuts. Will soy last? Will it last as long as Madame du Barry in a swoon at Madame Tussauds? Will it last as long as Madame Tussaud herself?

Madame Tussaud forever making death masks. Photo by Herb Neufeld via Wikimedia Commons. Location: Royal London Wax Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Until two weeks ago, my strongest association with the French Revolution was the movie “Start the Revolution Without Me.” Now there is much to explore, including a woman named Olympe de Gouges who wrote in response to the revolution’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the the Female Citizen.” She was beheaded. And of course there are biographies of Madame Tussaud and histories of waxworks to read.

But first—I should return to those formaldehyde candles. These “so-called candles” were used in the early 1900s to disinfectant rooms in hospitals and sanatoriums. It was claimed that when lit they cleaned the air.
· U.S. Patent No. 676.814. Formaldehyde Fumigator.
· U.S. Patent No. 794,771. Formaldehyde Candle.
· Formaldehyde Disinfection in Tuberculosis. Pages 224-229, particularly page 225, Paraform Candle Method. The American Journal of Nursing, December 1911.
· Review of Formaldehyde Fumigation. Wm. Dreyfus, American Journal of Public Health, November 1914. In particular, see so-called last paragraph page 1048.
Just going to show, I suppose, that it’s all relative.

And now, two minutes of business, or, and, pleasure.

And here is the source for the photo of death masks: Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks, by Pamela Pilbeam. I have yet to read this book, but a good used copy is in the mail.

And a slice from Madame Tussaud and Sons’ Exhibition Catalogue, 1876. Hebert is the fourth head from the left in the page 51 photo directly above.

La Fin.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


This begins with an icicle named Frederick. Frederick because he is long, and Frederick is a long name. Especially when you say it slowly, drag it out, like Frrre · derrr · rick. Also, it rhymes with rhetoric, which at times is long, also drawn out.

But Frederick is just an icicle. One day he will snap off and be gone, maybe just drip away. So we move on, to something more impressive. More impressive is this unnamed thing, this vast plane of snow that for the past several weeks has been sliding off the roof of the building that I use for storing wood, parking the car, and stuff.

This side of the building is 30, maybe 40 feet long, and the edge of the roof is a bit more than six feet off the ground. It is a metal roof with a gradual slope, not unlike the roof Frederick hangs from, and the building is open to the elements, not heated or insulated in any way, so similar to Frederick’s porch. But one roof’s slope faces north and the other west and the snow that over the winter has piled atop the north-facing slope has slowly, en masse, been sliding off while the other roof has been dropping its load on any slightly warm, sunny day throughout the winter and, lately, has been developing individual icicles, like Frederick. Some of the snow on the north-facing slope has evaporated, I’m sure, on those sunny, warmer days—you can almost see the steam rising—but much has not. I look at this thick drooping plane and do not know how or when it ends. Or what to name it. Is it Otis? Othello?

I thought I might walk under it, take a peek, but as I said, who knows. Who knows when Otis will crash. Josie appears to be more brave, perhaps more foolish.

So I just look through where I fear to tread. First through one end.

Then the other.

The inside of the curve, the underside of the plane, is icy, and it is interesting what you can see in this ice. For instance, here I see a bird in flight.

So off we go, and there it ends.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

candle studies 11: the case of the snuggly sweater (a scented candle mystery)

“Snuggly Sweater.”

Hot dog candles, who knows what’s in ’em.

“simplicity + hope.”

The pop candles of the early twenty-first century.

“Natural candle with wooden wick.”


Having gone looking for candles at Hallmark, Bath & Body Works, Michaels, Pier 1, Walmart, a local gift shop, and Target, what I find are candles made of paraffin and “soy wax” mostly with a plethora of scents mixed in. “Paraffin” is not listed on any label but, as one store worker put it, the candles were “regular wax.” “Soy wax” is on a few labels. Whatever the scents consist of materially and how they are created remains a mystery. I suppose scenting a candle is an art form, like creating perfume or scents for dryer sheets. Some labels claim the scent is a mixture of essential oils, but mostly the labels offer no specific information as to what the candles contain.

Left alone with my thoughts.
Most candles are jarred, lidded, wrapped up tight.
Thank goodness.

“Snuggly Sweater” makes me think of body odor.

“weathered wood.” A splinter, discomfort, a hat pin, hydrogen peroxide, a bandage.

“dare to be different.” Or, dare to live without platitudes.

Natural? Nonsense. Now there’s a good name for a candle of no-name wax that is artificially scented and wicked with a wick so fancy it’s patented.

“simplicity + hope” draws a big blank [           ], then makes me wonder if we are being encouraged to crave, or to create, or to envision, or to evoke simplicity plus (+) hope, for something more – ? – & I ponder much too much what “mint basil” might have to do with it – ? – or might be, is it a thing? am I out of it – but it sounds neither simple nor (+) hopeful [        ] maybe more like a cup of tea to soothe the intestines + spaghetti sauce and garlic bread – ? – [              ]

I started many times on this post about popular scented candles and have spent many good hours trying to get it right, feeling like a candle flickering slowly to the tune of “Wasted Days & Wasted Nights,” occasionally getting blown out, for I always balk and return to an internal debate: should I or shouldn’t I? Despite their vapidity—though they are hardly innocuous—I am not against pop candles. Live and let live. Be and let be. From many wells do we drink. But these candles are just so easy to mock and too easy on which to take out a certain aggression. At one point I wrote:
Is this a candle or a con job?

Then: Laidlaw’s Law.

And then the murders began.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

falling for gold

Watching the Winter Olympics reminded me that even the best of us fall and what you do when you fall is you get up as quickly as possible and keep going. But sometimes when I fall I like to just lie there. Especially when I fall in snow. There’s a big snowbank in the yard where the guy who plows my drive pushes all the snow and it piles up into a hill. Sometimes I stand in front of the hill, facing away from it, and I hold my arms out to the side and fall back. That’s a fun thing to do. I’m not sure why, but every time it makes me laugh, and I’m not sure if I’m laughing at the split second of free-fall or laughing upon impact.

We are now well into the beginning of the end of winter, which is like sliding downhill with moguls, or something like that, not at all like the luge—it does not go that quick. Rather slow. So maybe like curling—a lot of strategy and sweeping and watching and onlookers wondering, uh, what is going on and when does it end—? But if you know the game, know how it’s played, know its intricacies, it’s fascinating to watch. Every day the snow, the air, the temperature is different. One day it is clear and sunny, near 50 degrees, the snow puckers and shrinks; the next morning it is below zero again and the sky is brittle and the snow is sturdy and hard, a smooth, everlasting, impenetrable sheet; some days the clouds roil and build and bring fresh snow; and, one day, it was more like a rain of some sort with a thin layer of ice forming across the top of the snow. Under the shelter of trees, though, there was no icy crust and the fresh rain-snow was oddly soft and dry. Or so it seemed.

A piece of icy snow-rain crust.

Days in the 20s and 30s with some sun are perfect. The sun is now traveling high enough in the sky to share its warmth and the snow gleams and smiles, feeling secure, I’m sure, in its invincibility, its coverage complete and deep, but from it little creatures emerge, leaving zipper tracks, and snow and ice slides off the roof and eaves drip.

The snow-packed trail to and along the river hardens a bit more each day, and it’s along this trail that I fall. It’s the day of the snow-rain that was so light that I saw nothing in the air. But I could hear it as it pinged off the metal roof, and I could see it as it slid down the roof. I could see it clinging to thin branches, creating an icy sheath, and I could feel it and hear it cracking underfoot. Small, thin planes of ice also slid off the roof, hit the snowbank below, broke into tiny shards that went skittering off in all directions.

A thin plane of ice before the fall.

Walking along the river is when I noticed that the snow under the trees did not have this icy crust but was this fresh soft dry stuff that was not powdery but like wet powder—well, I’ve never walked through this kind of snow before. When it’s cold and snowing, snow is dry, light, powdery; when it is warm and snowing, snow is wet, heavy, slushy. Basically. But this snow was heavy and powdery, or maybe light and slushy, a contradiction, anyway, and I kept falling in it. I don’t really know why.

I had on my snowshoes, and every time I fell getting up was a bit of a trick, as it often is in snowshoes because you’ve got to account for those big paddles on the end of your legs, but this day it felt especially tricky. And the falls occurred when, for the most part, I wasn’t doing anything. At one point I had gotten off the trail, walked a few steps over to the prickly cucumber vine laced across a small bush to get a closer look, and while taking a photo I just fell over. Plop. The soft part of the snow was about a foot deep—likely the snow was deeper but you don’t sink all the way down—and it was like tipping over into a big pillow. It was, in a way, extremely pleasant. But my legs were all bent with the snowshoes pinned under me and I had the camera in one hand, and, after pausing a moment for the pleasure of just lying there, it took a bit to maneuver all the parts, to get up, to get out of there.

Back on the trail, heading home, I heard the roar of the crowd. Apparently my combined score of 221.3 was good enough for gold.

In the Falling While Snapping a Picture of Prickly Cucumber Vine event, an athlete is scored not only on execution but on impression.

The crowd rose to its feet and roared.

This morning there is more fresh snow. We’ve actually had quite a bit of snow this week of one kind or another. Today looks to be a springlike snow, wet and heavy, a little sassy, a bit arrogant. It is not cold out there, but windy, the wind causing the snow to rise up in sweeping curls, twirls and twists, flips and twizzles, jumps and throws. Tomorrow, they say, look for sunshine, light winds, warmer temps.

But this is today.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

last call with coyotes

Josie’s last call for business is usually pretty quick, but last night the coyotes were talking. As soon as we stepped out the door onto the porch we heard them preaching their secrets. Josie became alert. Josie listened. Josie moved off the porch onto the frozen snow. He trotted a little this way, he trotted a little that way. His tail was up and rigid. His ears were up, his was nose up. Off to the southwest the coyotes yipped and howled. The coyotes barked. Josie tried to turn to business but could not. Suddenly he howled, he yipped, he barked. Barking and howling he ran down the luge track, our path, heading away from the light to the darkness. I called him back. He stopped and turned. He trotted atop the snow to the well-lit garden. He barked a bit more, howled once again. He lifted his leg, he peed on the Buddha.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

cold snap brain freeze

It’s just the cold playing with us. That loud crack that woke us
jolted us from sleep and we thought damn maybe a mouse
a mouse again always just that one mouse reappearing again
and again the same mouse not a plague of mice but of course
a plague of mice but that ended weeks ago with the last mouse
trapped finally trapped escorted out thrown across a snowbank
into a field “Bon voyage, Baby!” and since then no mice
no mouse we sleep through the night each night except for
occasional cracks that wake us but with the mice away it’s
just the cold at play.

Still we get up go downstairs and damn it is cold so cold
so cold we flash the flashlight in all the usual places
maybe it was a mouse Josie thinks it was a mouse
but there’s no sign of mouse just cold and outside at three a.m.
I see fifteen below and it’s not even the coldest part of the night

I turn around see Orion Big & Tall and the moon down low
southeast a half moon on its back the golden color of wax
slightly tipped tipped forward on the horizon toward the west
about to let something drip a golden half moon on its back
through thin dark branches of trees slightly tipped and
I’ve never seen the moon like that no
I’ve never seen the moon like that.

Back inside quilt pulled tight adding three logs to fire
we go back to bed layers of covers pressing down feeling warm
but still the cold pressing atop the top cover far away
close enough a return to sleep not coming but for one
one dreams as he does I feel the twitch the punch
of his paws and wonder always what is he chasing
(if chasing it is) is he chasing the rabbit the deer me
old raggedy chippie or does it get more complex
like my dreams like wow how did that person get there
where did that person come from and maybe when Josie
dreams dogs he used to know at the shelter pop up or people
from his first family appear something way beyond rabbits
and mice coming and going as he punches away
at my side in slumber.

The glow of flames dancing on the ceilings on walls.

The sound of woodstove ticking and tocking stretching
ratcheting up fire steel air.

Sleep does not come and sleep does not come and I don’t care
and why should I as suddenly I picture that hammock chair
hanging outside in the summer reading swaying looking out
over the fields the fields green and yellow and orange and
the color of wheat swaying in a breeze that is gentle and warm
or cooling if I want it to be cooling and the feet are bare and
the legs are bare and the arms are bare and the skin breathes
and under the covers Josie breathes sighs stops twitching.

The glow of flames dancing on the ceilings on walls.

In my head words distinct in lines a slow-motion struggle
will these words stay go get their way and no I can’t sleep
if I could choose I would choose sleep drifting away
these words drifting away on a raft of dreams
a raft of their own a life of their own and on their own
no need for me no need for tipping no need

Fireside now present tense Josie beside (slightly twitching) (snoring)
I let words go like kite on string not quite still attached tethered
jerky string the tether I’m thinking feeling weak link weak link
let it go

Thursday, February 1, 2018

candle studies: 28,304 negative ions [beeswax + negative ions, final (ha ha) cut] and a message from the ALA

I feel like a movie director who has bellowed “Cut!” and “That’s a wrap!” and everyone’s relaxing, smiling, chatting, wiping sweat from their brow, snapping off lights, rolling back cameras, then a script girl or continuity person or somesuch meekly but firmly pulls on my sleeve and says, “Uh, excuse me, ma’am, but we forgot a scene … ? The one with the doctor, the nuns, the entomologist and writer? That research study in Japan? It comes just before the scene with the 101,276 negative ions dancing on a pin head, grabbing wayward positive ions from the air, spinning them around, doing flips, while another 72,972 negative ions dance on another pin head … ?”

This graphic respectfully stolen from a science class slideshow.

You see, one of the beeswax candle companies I contacted in reference to negative ions got back to me (see Update at end of previous post), steering me toward an article by Dr. Jonathan Wright that refers to a study done in Japan at the behest of a friend of Dr. Wright. Dr. Wright had mentioned to this friend something that beeswax-candle-making nuns had mentioned to him which was, essentially, that beeswax candles emit negative ions that clean the air and therefore beeswax candles are good for asthma and allergy sufferers. Dr. Wright is the founder and director of the Tahoma Clinic near Seattle. I contacted the clinic and was sent this image of the article.

According to the article, the study done in Japan showed that both paraffin and beeswax candles emit negative ions while burning. Paraffin emits an average of 72,972 negative ion particles per cc of air while beeswax emits 101,276. So beeswax candles emit 28,304 more negative ions per cc of air than do paraffin candles.

Dr. Wright considered this “‘hard evidence’” for promoting beeswax candles as air purifiers, though he did, for some reason, put “hard evidence” in quotes. But if 72,972 negative ion particles have no effect on the surrounding air—for no one is allowing that paraffin candles clean the air to any degree—how can a mere 28,304 negative ion particles have an effect? That is the number that makes the difference between paraffin and beeswax. But how can they make a difference? True, they are 28,304 additional negative ions, but, so what? If the first 72,972 have no effect, what makes the 28,304 additional so effective? It doesn’t make sense to me that 72,972 negative ions are meaningless while 28,304 make all the difference.

Unless, of course, you start qualifying the substances from which the negative ions fly, though I am not sure why that would make a difference, and the Japan study did not measure any other emissions from the candles, but, nonetheless, these emissions, whatever they are, do seem to be part of the negative ion equation. Since paraffin is polluting and beeswax is not, beeswax’s negative ions are deemed superior, more efficient, I suppose, to paraffin’s. (In regards to “air pollution caused by paraffin,” Dr. Wright refers us to an earlier article he wrote. The article also tells the story of when he first met the nuns.) But, what if paraffin were not an air pollutant? What if paraffin were, as one candle emissions study concludes, as innocuous as beeswax?* What if paraffin and beeswax's negative ions were compared on an even playing field? Now what are those 28,304 negative ions worth?

Why do people insist that it is negative ions that give beeswax its distinct advantage over other candle waxes? Especially when it has been shown that other candles also emit negative ions. I mean, what if, as so many claim, beeswax candles are doing something magical, something special, something no other wax can do? And what if it has nothing to do with negative ions? Everyone stops at “negative ions” as if they are the be all and end all to all that is good. Other possibilities? Not even considered. But what if it’s the pollen? What if it’s that one thing no other wax has? Pollen. Now what paraffin candle can hold a candle to beeswax’s golden, sweet, natural pollen?

Meanwhile, I began noticing this statement on several beeswax-promoting, paraffin-bashing websites: “The American Lung Association has warned consumers about the danger of unhealthy air quality from burning paraffin candles.” There are many articles about indoor air quality on the American Lung Association’s website—not one of them warns about paraffin. They do warn about scented candles and other products with added fragrance, as well as many other things. When I contacted the Association to be clear on their views, they responded quickly.
[T]hat reference is at least a decade old and, unfortunately, keeps popping up occasionally. We’re sorry for the confusion. We do not draw distinctions between the wax or composition of the candles people use. The big issue isn’t that—it’s the burning of the wick and the particles that produces. Scented products can be problems for people regardless of whether you burn them or not. Our recommendation is to limit use of any candles due to the particles they produce when burning. Regardless of the composition of the candle’s wax, burning candles can add to the fine particles in the air you breathe, some of which you can see in the smoke trails.
As for the entomologist and writer, on that note I will have to leave us all hanging. He was being quoted on a lot of websites, too, but when it came time for his close-up, he bugged-out.

* “Determining and Evaluating the Emissions of PCDD/PCDF, PAH and Short-Chain Aldehydes in Combustion Gases of Candles.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

candle studies: the sad tale of beeswax the air cleaner

It saddens me to write of beeswax and negative ions once again, but it fits at this juncture of candle studies and I’d like to dispense with it. Claiming that beeswax candles emit negative ions is much like claiming that paraffin candles are toxic: there is no scientific evidence. And if ions are not about science, then what are they about? Although some seem to be backing off the claim, I ran into it so often— coupled as it was with the mantra that paraffin is toxic—that it teed me up once again. Fortunately, I did find one well-researched article.

But at least two beeswax candle companies of some size still use as part of their spiel the old saw that beeswax emits negative ions that clean the air. They use it as advertising. They use it to tell you why you should buy a beeswax candle rather than any other type of candle. I contacted both companies to find out what they had to back up the claim. One of the companies responded after two emails and one voice message. In an email, they told me they had nothing to back up the claim. Specifically: I have found some articles outline the benefits of negative ions, but nothing that shows that they are produced by beeswax. Yet on their website still they say: Beeswax is 100% natural and a renewable resource that actually cleans the air by emitting purifying negative ions.

I contacted the other company via their website contact form. A week later I sent a follow-up email. A week later I called. The person who answered didn’t know how they know that beeswax candles emit negative ions, but told me that a person who did know would call me back or email. It’s been a week. I’ll call again.*

I also tried contacting a “wellness” blogger who has written more than once about the air-purifying qualities of beeswax candles, specifically this negative ions jazz. The only way I could find to contact this person without having to go on Facebook was through leaving comments on posts, so I did that, submitting comments weekly for about three weeks. I asked that they please share the study that shows that beeswax produces negative ions. After a while, amid the deafening silence, I wondered: why am I pursuing this?

At a certain point, it becomes not about whether a beeswax candle shoots out negative ions or not, but about why we believe what we believe. For a while, I believed the negative ion story. I was just starting out making and selling beeswax candles and I used the claim about negative ions because others were using it and it seemed to work as a selling point. But then I questioned it. How did I know that beeswax candles emit negative ions? Because somebody said so? Wouldn’t it be better to know from the actual study that revealed it? And that’s when I discovered there was no such thing. That’s when I discovered there was just this mindless, chanting, repetitive loop. And I was part of it.

By this time I had customers telling me about beeswax and negative ions. Indeed, the claim seemed to be common knowledge, at least among some. Rather than refute it, I decided to do this: Well … there doesn’t really seem to be any evidence to back it up, that I can find … but, still, some do claim … and, by the way, I burn beeswax candles all the time and my house is really clean!

How lame.

At a certain point, I suppose it is about respect.

This time around, when I ran up against the claim after having been reading about the chemistry of candle combustion and the various waxes that exist in the world, several questions came to mind.
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions that clean the air, how many beeswax candles burning for how long does it take to clean the air in a room, say, 100 feet square? Does it matter if/how the room is ventilated? Does it matter if there are pets in the room? How about electronics? A giant screen TV? In general, what factors might diminish or enhance the effects of the beeswax candles and their air-cleaning qualities?
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions, do candles made from other waxes emit negative ions?
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions and candles made from other waxes do not, what is it about the make-up of beeswax, or the way that beeswax combusts, that makes it different from all other waxes? If it’s about the way it combusts, does the type of wick come into play? And wouldn’t air currents be a factor?
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions, does the wax’s level of refinement affect the number of negative ions emitted? For instance, does highly refined or bleached beeswax emit more, fewer, or the same number of negative ions as unfiltered beeswax?
At some point it is about logic.

It was then that I began wondering how those who make the negative ions claim know it to be true, and, if they don’t know it to be true (for how could they?), why do they believe it to be true?

I know it to be true because I believe it to be true.
I believe it to be true because I want it to be true.
I want it to be true because

Meanwhile, I read an article in The New Yorker by Jiayang Fan, “Buried Words, Han Kang and the complexity of translation.” The last sentence is:
A flame is an ephemeral and fragile thing that can serve at once to memorialize the dead and light the way for the living.
I turned to watch the flame of a beeswax candle. What I saw was an ancient light. What others see is an air cleaner.

* Update January 30, 2018 – I have heard from the other beeswax candle company and wanted to make clear that they did respond last week, it’s just that their email did not reach me. They sent the email again, and new leads develop. They pointed me toward an article in the May 2004 newsletter of Dr. Jonathan V. Wright’s Nutrition and Healing newsletter, giving me this link to follow: In the article, they said, Dr. Winter writes about a study commissioned in Japan by Akio Sato through which it is discovered that all candles emit negative ions, but beeswax does so in unusual quantity. Unfortunately, this candle company was unable to uncover the actual study, just this one article about it, but many years of testimonials from their customers, as well as their own experience, have proved to them that the negative ions claim is true.

The link took me to the home page for what is now Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld’s Nutrition & Healing website. (The disclaimer at the bottom of the site reads: Health Disclaimer! The information provided on this site should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this site. Readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The information and opinions provided here are believed to be accurate and sound, based on the best judgment available to the authors, but readers who fail to consult appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries. The publisher is not responsible for errors or omissions.

By searching the site for “beeswax,” I came up with a few articles, including the one from May 2004, “The proof is in: Breathe easier with beeswax.” In order to read it, though, I would have to pay $79 for a subscription to the newsletter—no! Wait! Just $37! I am older than 55! Still … I decided to try other avenues first and googled Akio Sato. I found a pro wrestler, a baseball player, and three politicians. I googled Dr. Jonathan V. Winter and found him at the Tahoma Clinic, near Seattle, Washington, where he is the founder and medical director. I sent him an email via the clinic’s contact form.

So, the search for truth and original source continue. Connections fire in the brain. I have just started looking into soy wax, which was in development in one lab or another throughout the 1990s, entering the candle market in the early 2000s. It was developed for The Body Shop as a healthy and affordable candle alternative to paraffin and beeswax.

Friday, January 26, 2018

candle studies: paraffin, toxic? a long look at emission studies followed by soot

After reading a bit of the literature and research on paraffin candles and their emissions while burning, I am not the least bit worried about burning a paraffin candle, not that I am likely to, being partial as I am to beeswax and now bayberry wax, but if for some reason the beeswax and bayberry dried up and the power went out and I needed light, I would set a match to the paraffin candles left over from my paraffin-candle-burning days. One thing must be clear: These are unscented candles. Scented candles make my eyes itch, my nose tickle, and I always end up sneezing. Many scented products have this affect on me. And research bears out that scented candles are a culprit of sorts—their emissions consistently showed higher levels of this, that, and every other thing you’d rather not have building up in the air you breathe, and scented candles are more likely to produce soot. But nothing I read led me to believe that unscented paraffin candles would harm me in any way as long as I burned them responsibly, meaning out of drafts, keeping the wick trimmed, keeping the flame away from flammable material—all the usual cautions.

That said, I have only read what I could find for free online, and at a certain point I had to stop, so I have not covered the whole gamut of what may be out there. But, with that said, those who I see claiming that paraffin candles are toxic are not linking to any research I have not read (if they are linking to any research at all), and, that said, I am not a chemist. Understanding some of the terminology and numbers and particulars in these studies is beyond me. But, thankfully, some parts are written in plain English.

Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review” is an EPA report from January 2001. Its conclusion, after dealing with the problem of lead wicks, which were banned in the U.S. many years ago, is this:
Lead wicks aside, consumers are also exposed to concentrations of organic chemicals in candle emissions. The European Candle Association (1997) and Schwind and Hosseinpour (1994) conclude that there is no health hazard associated with candle burning even when a worst-case scenario of 30 candles burning for 4 hours in a 50 m3 room is assumed. However, burning several candles exceeded the EPA’s 10-6 increased risk for cancer for acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, and exceeded the RfC for acrolein. Once again, the RfC and EPA’s 10-6 increased cancer risk guidelines are not designed specifically for indoor air quality issues, so these conclusions are subject to interpretation.
The studies mentioned were conducted with paraffin candles.

The EPA paper also introduces us to soot.
Black soot is the product of the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels. … ¶ Scented candles are the major source of candle soot deposition. Most candle wax paraffins are saturated hydrocarbons that are solid at room temperature. Most fragrance oils are unsaturated hydrocarbons and are liquid at room temperature. The lower the carbon-to-hydrogen ratio, the less soot is produced by the flame. Therefore, waxes that have more fragrances in them produce more soot. In other words, candles labeled “super scented” and those that are soft to the touch are more likely to generate soot.
We’ll return to soot later.

I found two abstracts of studies conducted in Italy, funded by the Associazione Cerai d’Italia. The first, “Emission of air pollutants from burning candles with different composition in indoor environments,” looked at the emissions from different paraffin waxes in “container” candles, which I took to mean a candle contained in a jar or cup. There isn’t much to the abstract, but there is this:
It has been found that wax quality strongly influences the air pollutant emissions.
The other abstract, by the same researchers, is “Emissions of air pollutants from scented candles burning in a test chamber.”
Burning of scented candles in indoor environment can release a large number of toxic chemicals. … This paper investigates volatile organic compounds emissions, with particular reference to the priority indoor pollutants identified by the European Commission, from the burning of scented candles in a laboratory-scale test chamber. It has been found that BTEX and PAHs emission factors show large differences among different candles, possibly due to the raw paraffinic material used, while aldehydes emission factors seem more related to the presence of additives. …
The Schwind and Hosseinpour study mentioned in the EPA paper comes from Germany. It has the unwieldy title “Determining and Evaluating the Emissions of PCDD/PCDF, PAH and Short-Chain Aldehydes in Combustion Gases of Candles.” For what it’s worth, PAH is “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” and PCDD/PCDF is “polychlorinated dibenzo para dioxins/polychlorinated dibenzofurans.” But please don’t quote me on that. The study looked at waxes, wicks, emissions, and toxicity.
Even with an assumed “worst-case scenario” and allowing for governmental limits and specifications, the toxicological evaluation arrived at the result that the examined candles do not cause any additional health risk.
Beeswax, paraffin, and stearin candles were tested, nine of each type burned simultaneously with controlled air turbulence. This study seems to have the most information but, unfortunately, it’s not information I fully understand. For instance:
Although the beeswax used for the candles showed higher PCDD/PCDF and chlorophenol contaminations than paraffin and stearin waxes, the PCDD/PCDF emissions in the burn tests, with 4 femtogram/g of wax burned, are the lowest (refer to Table 4). The conditions of combustion in the candle flame were apparently suited to reduce PCDD and PCDF. The corresponding emission values for paraffin and stearin candles range slightly higher.
And here is Table 5, a beautiful mass of indecipherability.

The conclusion, though, is clear.
The measuring program has shown that the burning emissions of the examined candles do not represent a potential health hazard to the candle user. The burn emissions of the examined paraffin, stearin and beeswax candles show no significant differences with respect to the pollutant classes examined. Candles made from paraffin are toxicologically just as innocuous as beeswax or stearin candles. These conclusions apply also to the three wick types used.¶ It should be noted, though, that exclusively noncolored candles without decorative additives were used …
The next study is odd. What I found is something like a series of progress reports on a study called “Soybean Candles for Healthy Life and Well Being.” The study, conducted from 2006 to 2010, was sponsored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (part of the USDA) and was directed by Ruhullah Massoudi, a chemistry professor at South Carolina State University.
This project is going to study and address the health problems associated with the use of petroleum based candles and the possible use of its replacement by soybean candles that is claimed to have no harmful emissions.
Nowhere in the document did I find citations for the idea that petroleum-based candles are associated with health problems or that soybean candles have no harmful emissions.

Under “Goals / Objectives”:
The second objective is to address the economical feasibility of replacing a renewable source like soybean for petroleum source, which is not renewable and depletes and depends on foreign import. Beyond that, using soybean would bring a healthy economy to our farmers by producing more and better products.
Under “Project Methods”:
Apparently, this research is necessitated because of the health problems related to the use of petroleum based products. By replacing paraffin wax with soy wax in candles, an estimated 60 million pounds of soybeans would be required for annual candle production. This requirement will have a direct economic impact on soybean farmers as well as a health and environmental impact in this country. The burning of soy candles in homes and cars address the real issue at hand, which is the health of American and global consumers. The burning of paraffin candle gives off more toxic fumes than soy candles which may be harmful to individuals.
Not a conclusion, mind you, but a project method. And who is burning candles in their car?

Under “Impact”:
Economically, paraffin candles produce carbon which is ruining the furniture, walls, cloths, which is expensive to clean or remove the effect. Therefore, the overall impact of this project is beneficial for the entire population of the world, nations and governments to have healthy and productive generations. Considerable adverse health effects including cancer, asthma, and dermatitis as a result of burning paraffin wax candles in enclosed limited areas have been reported. The composition of emission products are identified by using a GC/MS system equipped with a NIST Library of compounds. The chromatogram of emission products of paraffin based candles were tested for hazardous emissions. In support of published reports the petroleum based candles produced various alkanes, alkenes, toluene, benzene (a carcinogen) and some other chemicals whereas the soybean candle was completely clean. Apparently, petroleum based candled produce chemicals that are health hazards and producing chemicals that should be avoided. Our presentation of results had a great impact in scientific community, general public and candle making industry all over the globe. This resulted reflections of world media causing enormous publicity for the university, and public awareness. The American agricultural economy would greatly benefit by the production and burning of soy wax candles instead of paraffin candles. …
Indeed, this study garnered “enormous publicity.” Any article about how your romantic candlelit dinner is now toxic stemmed from this study, and the number of times sentences or parts of sentences have been lifted from it without qualification and presented as fact by so-called wellness bloggers and beeswax and soy candlemakers, all to promote their own “healthy” product, is legion. Fortunately, not everybody swallowed this study whole. NPR took a slightly more critical look and talked to Massoudi. The European Candle Association refuted the study outright, and the National Candle Association issued a clarifying press release.

So about now I’m thinking this whole “paraffin is toxic” thing was just something cooked up by the soy folks to boost sales. It played extremely well and continues to play well, in part, I suppose, because any product derived from crude oil is an easy target. It is easy to imagine and easy to believe that a product related to gasoline and kerosene and diesel fuel is toxic, harmful, dangerous. And I guess also it is easy to forget that millions of people over several decades have suffered no harm from burning paraffin candles. At the time of this “soybean candle” study, candles made from soy wax had been on the market a dozen years or so.

There is another study that people tend to lift from that takes us right into soot, and soot has captured my imagination. “Characterization of Scented Candle Emissions and Associated Public Health Risks” is a 1999 Master’s thesis by David Krause. The best I could find was an extract of the paper, but it has the key elements, including the bit about diesel soot. After analyzing emissions from 91 paraffin candles, some scented and some not, Krause states:
The possible impacts on public health from consumer use of scented candles may include increased risk of cancer, neurological and behavioral deficits and acute aggravation of existing respiratory diseases such as asthma.
Most of the risk, he says, comes from the soot that scented candles emit to a much higher degree than non-scented candles. He draws a similarity between diesel soot and candle soot as they “share the same physical and many of the same chemical properties which are believed to contribute to both toxicity and carcinogenicity.” There are existing reference points for diesel soot; there are no such reference points for candle soot. So Krause draws a similarity between the two in order to apply the one’s reference points to the other.
Due to the current absence of information on scented candle emission toxicity, and its numerous similarities with diesel exhaust, it would be prudent to tentatively adopt the recognized toxicity values for diesel emissions until specific testing can be accomplished.
He goes on to say:
When the unit cancer risk for diesel exhaust is applied to exposures to candle soot, the estimated increased cancer risk for a lifetime exposure, would range from 9.7 x 10-5 to 3.0 x 10-4 for the lowest emitting candle to 1.5 x 10-2 to 4.7 x 10-2 for the highest emitting candle, using the range of unit cancer risk of 2.9 x 10-5 to 9.0 x 10-5 per m g/m3.
If you can tell me what those numbers mean, please email me at

In his summary, Krause lets us know that:
Use of scented candles may contribute significant quantities of pollutants to the indoor environment, especially soot, benzene and lead. Dozens of other compounds were identified in individual candles, but their contribution to occupant risks were not characterized in this limited scope risk characterization. Due to the variability in candles and their respective emission rates, great uncertainty would exist in a generalized risk assessment.
Krause’s “Black Soot Deposition: How It Impacts IAQ” (Indoor Air Quality) was published in 2001 by The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society Journal. It is readable and clear as it addresses an increase in the number of complaints about soot build-up in homes received by the Florida Department of Health in the 1990s. Krause explains what soot is (“a product of incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels”) and explains that a blue flame indicates complete combustion, a yellow flame incomplete combustion. It turned out that the soot people were complaining about could be traced back to candle usage, and, in particular, the use of certain types of candles and, as well, the manner in which candles were allowed to burn.
In effect, burning one of these candles can be equivalent to burning 100 candles at once. It also was determined that a candle placed in an air draft can increase its soot production by a factor of 50.
Krause does not differentiate by wax type—all his test candles appear to be paraffinic. But here is his list of what to avoid in a candle:
Candles poured into glass jars or ceramic containers.
Soft wax containing unsaturated hydrocarbons.
Aromatic (scented) wax containing volatile aromatic hydrocarbons.
Thick, long wick or one with a wire core.
Soot deposits on the mouth of the jar.
High, erratic flame when burned.
Visible soot emitted from an erratic flame.
Located in an air draft created by a fan or a/c vent.
Pillar candle with signs of uneven burning or thick, erect wicks.
Multiple wick candles with thick, erect wicks.
And here is his list of what to look for in a candle if you wish to avoid excessive soot:
Hard wax containing mostly saturated hydrocarbons.
Thin, braided wick that curls over when burned.
Low aromatic properties.
Tapered and votive candles with thin wicks.
Those that have a low, even flame when burned.
Initially, soot circulates in the air, potentially inhaled. Eventually, though, soot particles deposit themselves here and there about your home and accumulate on certain surfaces. Soot build-up is described as black streaks on walls, curtains, blinds, or carpets. Krause explains that soot is attracted to cooler surfaces due to thermophoresis, and that soot is also “attracted to electrically charged surfaces … ” … and I ask you, how could this not lead me to think of negative ions being attracted to positive ions? Have you ever heard the story about beeswax candles emitting negative ions that clean the air … ? Could this explanation of what soot does—its attraction to electrically charged surfaces—be at all related to this malarkey about beeswax, negative ions and clean air?

Excuse me, alleged malarkey, and, stop me now, because if I get off on that tangent, this will never end.

In conclusion, I did not find any evidence that an unscented, well-made, high quality paraffin candle burned responsibly should for any reason detract from your romantic dinner party nor potentially kill off your lover unless, of course, someone gets too excited and knocks over the candle, setting the tablecloth aflame, and blooey, that’s it. I do think there is enough evidence to be suspicious of candles that are not well-made, that are made of low-quality wax, that are scented. But, if the emissions, whatever they are, of a particular candle you are burning aren’t bothering you, why worry? Open a window once a while. Make sure you get plenty of fresh air. And if you notice soot building up in your home, make some changes.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

candle studies: paraffin, an attempt to distill

It is difficult to draw up a classification of petroleum waxes that could not be subjected to criticism.
And so begins Chapter 5 in The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes (Warth), and, hoo boy, some things do not change. Paraffin (petroleum waxes) and criticism still go together. After reading what Warth had to say about paraffin, I read about paraffin online. For a while my chapter on paraffin was dubbed “Paraffin: The Deadly Dastardly Villain of the Wax World” and/or “Paraffin: The Pariah of All Candles.” (Sarcasm intended.) That so many are so compelled to label paraffin “toxic” reminds me of the story about beeswax and negative ions (that clean the air!) as well as the story about that Christmas bayberry candle putting gold in your pocket. Which is not to say there is no wisp of truth to the matter of paraffin and toxicity.

But talking about paraffin as one distinct product is like talking about soy wax as one distinct product, or, for that matter, cereal or cheese. There are endless permutations. Paraffin can refer to any of the wax that is found in crude oil at any stage it is in as it is refined to one degree or another through one method or another. The various classifications, or grades, of paraffin mainly differ in hardness, oil content, and melting point, all of which lend it to different uses. But, according to my old friend Warth, its characteristics also differ from the get-go.
Pennsylvania and Mid-continent oils contain a high percentage of paraffin wax; California oils are almost wax-free. … Differences in the physical characteristics of the paraffin waxes can often be ascribed to the origin of the crude.
This reminds me of beeswax, as the scent and color of beeswax is directly affected by its origin, specifically by the flora the bees visit. As crude oil is the ancient remains of various organic materials, it makes sense that its specific characteristics would vary by where it is found.

I doubt I fully understand the refinement of crude oil, but it seems basically to involve a lot of distillation, which reminds me of whiskey, and both whiskey and oil are stored in barrels, but perhaps similarities end there. The American Petroleum Institute has on its Website a fairly succinct description (complete with video) of current-day oil refining, but when it comes to refining paraffin, I’ll go back to my old book for a description. (Today’s process, though making more use of solvents, may be similar.)
A wax distillate containing 80 per cent of oil and 20 per cent of wax is distilled over at 315º to 425º (600º to 800º F). This distillate is chilled and pressed to give: slack wax containing somewhat less than 50 per cent of oil and more than 50 per cent of wax; spindle oils with pour point of plus 6º to 7º (20º F). The slack wax is chilled and sweated to form scale wax which contains 1 to 6 per cent of oil, 99 to 94 per cent of wax, and foots oil, made up of lower melting point wax plus oil. The scale wax is then refined to paraffin waxes of different melting points, leaving a slop oil of little or no value.
All this talk of sweating and chilling makes me think of people in saunas during winter—they heat up, sweat, jump in snow, chill out, repeat—but also, again, of beeswax. When beeswax is first scraped off the comb, it contains a percentage of honey. Through successive steam or hot water baths the honey is washed out, leaving behind a lesser percentage of honey. When I am processing beeswax—melting it in a pot with a bit of water and then straining it through cloth before pouring it into a mold—there is always some slum gum left on the cloth as well as on the bottom of the cake of wax that remains in the pot. Like slop oil, slum gum has little or no value. All things of value—the honey, beeswax, pollen, propolis from the beehive; the gasoline, kerosene, diesel (et al.), and paraffin from the crude oil—have been removed.

The refining of paraffin can go on and on by various measures and means resulting in several different products used in several different applications. I saw somewhere that food packaging is the number one use for paraffin. Candles come in second. I enjoyed this article about paraffin’s use with food, and here’s an odd thing: Beekeepers in New Zealand using paraffin.

But the pressing question, of course, is which of these various paraffins is used to make candles? In general, that paraffin, often just called candle wax, fits a standard general definition: it is a solid mass of hydrocarbons that is colorless (or translucent), odorless, tasteless. It can be of varying quality, melting point being one measure of quality as usually the lower grades of paraffin have a lower melting point than the higher grades. (I have seen various ranges of melting points for paraffin so hesitate to give one here, but, generally speaking, the range seems to be around 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.) Also, your cheaper paraffin candles most likely are not high grade paraffin. But, then again, just because someone slaps a high price and fancy label on something, well, you know: meaningless. And nowadays, one must also consider that most paraffin candles have been doused with scent and that can affect how a candle burns and what it leaves behind in the air and on your stuff. (I have read nothing about the affect of the dyes used in candles.)
Coming Soon to a Highly Aromatic Theater Near You:
Black Soot Deposit!
Due to the refining process that oil goes through to get to paraffin and that paraffin goes through to get to all of its possibilities, I understand why some think paraffin is not a natural wax. But, in my book, it is. It exists down there in the oily depths of our planet (as well as in shale and peat), and maybe we shouldn’t be pulling so much of that stuff up and out of the earth, using it willy-nilly, but we are and have been since the mid-1800s and even if we try to slow it down, use less oil, less gas, turn to alternative fuel sources, which I’m all for, as long as oil is being dredged up, why not use every bit of it? Why not use paraffin for candles? They’ve been doing it for years!

Ah. So maybe you’ve heard. “Paraffin is toxic.” Sounds like one of those statements we better question.

Dum de dum dum.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

an ode to the tribune & tom skilling’s weather page

One reason I love the Chicago Tribune, digital edition, is for Tom’s Weather Page*, officially known as “Chicago Weather Center,” a name I would not have known if I had not just checked.

Today’s “Chicago Weather Center,” also known as “Tom’s Weather Page.”

Tom Skilling is a legendary Chicago weather man. My memories of him go so far back I cannot even remember who was doing the weather on Channel 9, WGN-TV, before Tom Skilling. That’s where it started, Tom Skilling on TV, and then one day the Tribune printed this full back page of Tom’s weather and I can’t imagine the paper without it. Even though I went for years without the paper. Thank goodness I have finally dragged myself into the world of digital subscriptions. Brought to you by some of the world’s finest newspapers.

My Trib subscription costs $7.96 every four weeks and I’d say it is one of the best deals going. Every day I get an email with a link to that day’s digital paper. I open it up and it looks just like a paper newspaper. I flip through the pages, sample stories. Oh! Click on a story and it opens up, is easier to read, in full, without page jumps.

After a few months I realized I could make clippings. Tom’s December 30 weather map was so beautiful and so chock full of weather that I wanted to clip it and send it to my sisters. I thought the map would make a great jigsaw puzzle and I wanted to tell them that. So I started playing around with the different buttons at the top of the page and realized I could not only download the whole page—any page!—I could make a clipping of any part of the page. What a wonderful thing. I clipped the weather map and sent it to my sisters. I also chose it as the background screen for my laptop.

A thing of beauty. Tom’s weather map, December 30, 2017.

Soon I was clipping the weather map every day to use as my laptop’s background image. National weather patterns and what I would call weather oddities became a part of my day, every day, lingering throughout the day as I looked at the map again and again. Today, if I were doing the weather, I would say:
It’s a beautiful day. The cold has lifted, moved on, drifted south, and even though it is colder here than in Mississippi, my guess is right now it feels colder in Mississippi.
Then I would show you Tom’s weather map.

Tom’s weather map, January 18, 2018.

Which I think you would appreciate more if you were looking, really looking, at this map every day. For instance, yesterday’s lowest temperature. If you were looking at the map every day, you would know that the daily low temperature has mostly been way up in Minnesota near Ely or over near the top of Maine. But today, or yesterday, I should say, the nation’s lowest temperature was in Cassville, Missouri. The southwest corner of Missouri. Fourteen below zero and colder than anywhere else in the nation. How’s that for odd? And the hottest temperature was a mere 83 degrees in San Bernadino, Caifornia. Lately, the hottest temps mostly are in California. One of the things that struck me about the December 30 map was the location of the nation’s hottest and coldest temps. The distance between the two spots and the disparity in temperature. And yes, I know: Hawaii and Alaska are not on the map.

I met Tom Skilling once. I was at the WGN-TV studios during the noon news, waiting to do my spot for the Evanston Animal Shelter. This was something I did one summer, once a week taking a dog or cat or both from the shelter down to the studio for the Adopt-A-Pet spot. One of my favorite episodes was “With Extra Toes, Who Cares if the Eyesight Goes Bad?”

One day I was waiting in the wings holding a cat and even though I remember there always being a health segment before Adopt-A-Pet, here came Tom Skilling walking off the set toward me. Or, to be sure, toward the cat. He petted the cat and commented on how pretty, how cute she was, saying all the usual cat-lovin’ stuff, and he told me about his two cats, Vortex and another with a weather-related name I can’t remember (blast my holey memory!), and I just stood there in awe but also thinking wow, he’s just like he is on TV, and then it was over.

Of course there’s more to the digital Trib than the weather. There’s news, sports, editorials, opinion, letters, columnists, comics, business, puzzles, cars, travel, technology, the arts, the theater, books, obituaries, this-day-in-history bits, something I guess we call “lifestyle,” “home,” “health,” real estate, jobs, the nation, the world, politics, each in its own section, well-delineated but connected, and I guess to me it seems kind of nostalgic. I sense a long-standing continuity to it all. And the ads don’t move, don’t speak, don’t take over your computer.

I’ve started reading the paper backwards, starting with Tom’s weather page and flipping back through articles, sections, comics, puzzles, one by one, and this is the way my mother read the paper—she started with the back page and moved forward. And being able to make clippings—well! My parents were always clipping interesting items from the paper, saving them, sending them on, mostly sending them on, I think, always something that might interest the receiver. I have a faulty memory of my dad sending me many articles about honeybees, but of course that was my mom, as my dad died three years before I had any interest in honeybees. But on the corner of his desk there were always articles piling up to be sent en masse to one of his daughters. I still have an envelope full of articles from 1987. Most of them are about Andre Dawson.

There are other ways to get your news and weather, to share your news and weather, some reliable, some not so much, and on that note we’ll turn to Josie for a final look at the conditions out there.

* As noted on the page, those who contribute to Tom’s Weather Page are WGN-TV meteorologists Steve Kahn, Richard Koeneman, Paul Merzlock and Paul Dailey, plus Bill Snyder.