Friday, September 13, 2019

every ad tells a story

Recently this ad appeared in a local paper. I have cropped it and blacked out the name of the shop and the brand of candles it is advertising. The shop in question is a general gift shop, and the candle company, according to its website, uses soy wax “infused” with beeswax.

This ad gets one thing and one thing only right: Every gift has a story.

Soy wax is a manufactured wax. It was created in the 1990s in laboratories in Iowa and Indiana. Today it is manufactured by companies using proprietary formulas, the basic formula being that of turning soy bean oil, a liquid, into a solid through a process called hydrogenation: soy bean oil and hydrogen are combined with the aid of a catalyst such as copper. Almost any oil can be hydrogenated—this is how we get margarine—and over the years a few different waxes created through hydrogenation have come and gone from the marketplace, waxes such as Coto Flakes, made with cottonseed oil, and Opalwax, made with castor bean oil. Once soybean oil is hydrogenated, we call it “soy wax.” Various substances are then added to soy wax in order to make it suitable for one sort of candlemaking or another. Again, the exact formulations are proprietary.

The candles being advertised are scented (the website lists more than 50 fragrances, from “Laundry Day” to “Gratitude”) and sold in jars. A number of studies have shown that candles that are unnaturally scented and candles that are contained in jars are neither cleaner nor healthier than other candles. In fact, just the opposite. Apparently scented candles and candles in jars burn less efficiently than both traditional tapers and unscented candles in general, no matter the type of wax. Both scented and jarred candles are more likely to produce soot and to release questionable elements into the air.

So there is the story. I have written about soy wax and candle emission studies previously here in this blog and over at the site I used for composing the draft pages of the print version of my history of wax book. Links to those chapters and their references appear below. While working on the final print draft of the emission studies chapter, I came across more and more studies, two of which I have added to the original list.

To be sure, I am not concerned that people sell soy candles, scented candles, jarred candles, or any kind of concocted candle, nor am I concerned that people buy and enjoy whatever kind of candle they prefer. What I am concerned about is getting the story straight. Surely there must be something about these advertised candles that is not only appealing, but true, because that they are natural, cleaner, and healthier than other candles is simply not true.

Read “The Emission Studies”
The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes
Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2001
Emission of air pollutants from burning candles with different composition in indoor environments” Derudi, M., Gelosa, S., Sliepcevich, A. et al. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2014) 21: 4320.
Emissions of air pollutants from scented candles burning in a test chamber” Science Direct, 2012.
Determining and Evaluating the Emissions of PCDD/PCDF, PAH and Short-Chain Aldehydes in Combustion Gases of Candles” Schwind, K., Hosseinpour, J., Fiedler, H., Lau, C., Hutzinger, O., 1994.
Soybean Candles for Healthy Life and Well Being” USDA, 2006-2010.
Candlelight: A Dash Of Toxin With Your Romance? Hensley, S. National Public Radio, August 20, 2009.
US Trade Association Calls on South Carolina State University to Stop Promoting Bad Science, National Candle Association Press Release, 2017
Characterization of Scented Candle Emissions and Associated Public Health Risks” Krause, D. 1999.
Black Soot Deposition: How It Impacts IAQ” Krause, D., The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society Journal, 2001.

Additional references from the print version:
Fine, Philip M., and Cass, Glen R., Characterization of Fine Particle Emissions from Burning Church Candles, Environmental Science & Technology, 1999 33 (14) [June]. (Pp 2352-2362)
Fan, Cheng-Wei, and Zhang, Junfeng (Jim), Characterization of emissions from portable household combustion devices: particle size distributions, emission rates and factors, and potential exposures, Atmospheric Environment, Vol. 35, Issue 7, 2001. (Pp 1281-1290)

Read: “Oi Soy”
The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes
Old Efforts at New Uses: A Brief History of Chemurgy and the American Search for Biobased Materials, Finlay, M., Journal of Industrial Ecology, Volume 7, Issue 3-4, July 2003.
History of Industrial Uses of Soybeans. Page 1738, as well as preceding and subsequent pages. Soyinfo Center, 2017.
Soy wax development getting new attention, DeWitte, D., Cedar Rapids, Iowa, August 10, 2012.
William J. Hale obituary, New York Times, August 9, 1955.
Soybean World Production Trends, Potter, B., July 24, 2017.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

red pine and Iron

After that post on the view from the boardwalk, I was reminded of a document I had skimmed through but not read: Founder’s Landing Pier Redevelopment Summary Report, by GEI Consultants. Going back to it and reading it, I began to think of it as poetry, which is not an original idea as I once heard about someone having turned the official rules of baseball into poetry, maybe just by re-configuring the lines –

you know,
the way
poets do –

or maybe it was
the way
the words of the rules were spoken,
verbatim but with a certain infusion of poetic
crescendo and

– release –

from fussy officiousness.

So I was trying to read the report as poetry.
Page 6:
The wood core samples tested
were all identified as red pine
(Pinus resinosa).
The surface of six cores contained evidence
of soft rot decay
and pile number 59 contained
a trace amount
of brown rot hyphal remnants.
I cut some words.
Wood core samples tested
Pinus resinosa
Soft rot decay,
pile 59,
brown rot,
hyphal remnants.
What these consultant folks did, among other things—and it’s an interesting report covering a bit of the history, a bit of the present, ideas for the future, all enhanced with maps and images—was to go underwater to take a look at these old pier pilings (definition of pile, plural pilings … a long, heavy timber or beam driven into the ground, sometimes under water, to support a bridge, dock, etc. … *), and all the pilings they looked at were made of red pine, kind of like an old-growth underwater forest. (As I understand it, these pilings were put in in 1855.) Rather than needles or leaves, though, remnants of “hyphal,” which, to me, was a new word. It refers to the stuff that makes up fungus.

Page 7:
The cribbing located in the Spear Dock was also inspected by the divers.
The timber was tested for soundness by pick or awl.
The large crib structure on the west end of the dock is near the water surface.
Due to the top of the structure lying in the ice interface zone,
and potentially being exposed to air,
it has degraded near the surface.
The crib structure from approximately two-feet below the surface was sound.
The timber cribbing structures at the east end of the dock
to Ripley Rock
were sound and in generally good condition.
Iron spikes connecting the timbers were observed to be in good condition.
Definition of crib or cribbing … a structure anchored under water, serving as a pier … *

The Crib is the name of a coffeehouse in town. I was there the other night for some sound: music (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sitar) and poetry (words, spoken, exposed to air; inspected, tested, picked for all). I did not know these poets and musicians, yet there was a connection, somewhere, I suppose, in the interface zone. Red pine and iron, submerged, surfacing, slightly degraded, a short break for yoga: Now, stand, breathe, one breath, ten seconds.

The report suggests new piers could be built atop the old.

* Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition.

Friday, August 30, 2019

view from a boardwalk

One of my favorite views in Marquette is from the boardwalk along the lake just east of the new luxury apartment building and the fairly new Hampton Inn. The boardwalk gets you out into the lake just a wee little bit, just enough so that you are alongside the lower harbor ore dock up to about Chute No. 13, even if you are yet separated from the dock by a football field of water.

The ore dock is the view from the south end of the walk. One can pause for a while, taking in the dock’s rusted grandeur, but the view when you turn to face east and gaze out on the water and what appears to be an old pier and pilings and whatnot—that is the view I love. The pier shows its age in the worried lines of its water-worn, wooden decrepitude: it tilts and leans in a still-frame of drunkenness disappearing into the water without a splash only to emerge in a bit just as quietly, coming and going as it seems to please on a meander out to sea. It is a serpent, the Lock Ness Monster, Puff the Magic Dragon—any kind of thing you maybe once believed in. At the same time you can imagine its past, a time when it was straight, sturdy, useful and strong, bearing up under all kinds of weather.

Walking north along the boardwalk you begin to realize there may have been more than one pier as here and there a stray post rises above the water at one jaunty angle or another. If you are lucky, atop one post there may be a picturesque gull surveying her domain, and perhaps there is a piece of thick, old rope clinging to that post, a hairpiece gone askew. Gulls are ever present, circling, watching, calling, and there are islands with scraggly vegetation, small islands, none too big as the water, shimmering grey on a cloudy morning and startling blue on a sunny one, expands in your gaze until far out a jutting of land, so far out it seems mystical yet close enough that you stop to consider your knowledge of this place and the roads you’ve traveled and now what piece of land is that?

I’ve known this view for less than a year, and I will miss it. It is slated for demolition—all the old wood and rope and whatnot to be removed, replaced with one or two new boardwalks attached at right angles to the one I am on. They will go farther into the lake, provide more opportunity for walking and enjoying the lakefront, or something like that. Artist renderings have been in the paper; I was not impressed. Oh, I’m sure it will be nice, but I know I will miss this spot as it is, and how it might slowly one day become.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

scenes from a farmers market


Composite Woman with Flowers.

Composite Dad.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

this lip balm thing

Monday morning I made the decision to start making and selling lip balm again. I thought I was done with lip balm because I don’t much like making it and never felt I was very good at it. It sold well, had somewhat of a following, I enjoyed using it, it had an excellent profit margin. Still, I stopped making it.

The classic Pea Pickle Farm lip balm photo.

The process of making lip balm begins, for me, with purchasing those tubes one must pour the lip balm into. There are hundreds of choices online looking all pretty much the same, and you would think they all would be pretty much the same, and it could be they are, except for prices, and then one gets into reading reviews. We read about leaky tubes, dirty tubes, tubes with missing caps and caps that fall off. Tubes that are made here (wave a flag) and tubes that are made there (wave … a cautionary flag?). We feel like heading for the hills reading a dire admonition not to buy these particular tubes (exclamation point!), but, strangely, also like a cock-eyed optimist believing proclamations that these same tubes work great (exclamation point!). We wade through sagas of lip-balm making for profit and for pleasure and learn how the tubes, these particular tubes, made it a boon or a bust. Finally, with eyes spinning, we make a random, semi-educated decision and buy some tubes. We contemplate shipping charges. A year or so later, we repeat.

At the end of the lip-balm-making process we meet the lip balm tube labels, also painstakingly bought online or designed at home and printed at one of those now-defunct or merged office supply stores. These labels look good at first, but give them a day or two. The edges curl up, peel back, slowly, always a day or two or ten after being affixed, always when I am not looking.

Although the tins could be just as troublesome to shop for, they were easier
to fill and the labels never curled up, peeled off. That their lids would either
refuse to come off or fell off all by themselves, whenever they wanted, well.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that for some reason the last batch of lip balm I made before I quit making it just threw me—it was as if I had never made it before. First, I could not find the recipe. Second, I could not remember the recipe. Third, I screwed up the recipe. And the recipe is all of four ingredients and I had followed it so many times to make hundreds of tubes and tins of lip balm—how could I not remember the recipe? How could I lose the recipe? Eventually, of course, I found the recipe, turned out I had several copies stashed here and there in logical places (I’m sure), but the decision to quit had been made. I made copies of the recipe to give to customers—You like it so much? Make it yourself!—because I was giving up and sometimes indeed I do get peckish.

So never mind that many people really liked this lip balm and routinely stopped at my booth at the farmers market to buy it. And never mind that people would contact me via email to get this lip balm, had me shipping it all over the world, the last eight or so tubes going to a customer traveling in China. Believe me, after I sent those tubes, I breathed a sigh of relief. That was that and that was last year, in June.

But I suppose there is this thing, this so-called tipping point, and maybe that is what occurred then, and now, as that last customer traveling through China is back from China, and Saturday she stopped by my farmers market booth. I had not been thinking about lip balm at all, at least not consciously, but then there she was identifying herself as the last lip balm customer, and I repeated the thing I’d been saying about the demise of the lip balm, about how I am so bad with recipes and blah blah blah, and suddenly I heard how lame it was.

So Monday morning I spent about an hour wading through an array of lip balm tubes offered online, considered prices, read reviews (hairs in the tubes! leaking out the bottom! works great!), and eventually I made a random, semi-educated decision. Once the tubes arrive—and I can only hope with well-fitting, snappy caps—I will gather all the ingredients (two of which, the honey and the beeswax, are always on hand) and set aside time to make lip balm. I'm sure the recipe is somewhere. I’ll worry about labels later.

Monday, July 8, 2019

I have abandoned this blog—or have I? It certainly has lost its regularity, and as its 7th anniversary approaches, marked on the 26th day of my July calendar, thoughts occur.

1. Renew weekly posts but focus directly, however indirectly, on wax. But could I keep this up? Maybe if it incorporated some of those brief interactions I have at the farmers market, such as when someone told me that Doritos burn forever. This is why you take Doritos on a camping trip, into the wilderness, because they burn so well. I found this fascinating and immediately thought: blog post. But, as it turns out, many have written about burning Doritos and there are scads of videos online of Doritos aflame. This did not feed my fire; indeed, put it out. Then there was this person who asked if there were health benefits to burning beeswax candles and I said no and that any claim to such was ludicrous. He proceeded to buy a candle. Then a woman came along looking for tapers to put in a chandelier hanging in her garden, outdoors. She had tried “dripless” candles but they, of course, dripped. I told her that in such a situation—outdoors, drafts, breezes, etc.—beeswax tapers would drip, too, and would likely attract bees. She bought some tapers, and now the more I think about it, the more lovely it sounds, having beeswax candles in a chandelier flickering and dripping over a nighttime garden.

2. I have thought maybe I should transfer all the chapters of the wax book over here, publish A Chapter A Week.

2a. Reminiscent of that radio program A Chapter A Day, which I heard a bit of recently, or maybe it was a similar program with a different name. The reader was reading the tail end (tale end?) of “Around the World in 80 Days,” by Jules Verne. It sounded good. Browsing in the library the other day, I happened across the book so checked it out, the Reader’s Digest edition published in 1988. The book was originally published in 1873, in French, so any English version is a translation, and this is important, especially when we come to Chapter 26 and are just being introduced to the U.S., which Phileas Fogg, our traveler, intends to traverse, west to east, by train. Just as we are starting out from San Francisco, we are told that “Between Omaha and the Pacific the railway crosses a territory which is still infested by Indians … ” Now, one could go on and on about that, this use of the word “infested,” or, one could leave it.

2b. If you look up the definition of “infest,” it is obvious that if any group of human beings in the 1800s were displaying the act of “infesting” between Omaha, established in 1854, and the Pacific Ocean it was those crawling into the area from the east, setting up house, laying down tracks, forming communities, changing the land, bothering and killing and driving out those who were already there.

3. Briefly, I had an idea for a Joe Beans Mystery to be called Joe Beans and the Mystery of Fireworks, in which Joe Beans, an intrepid mutt of terrier ancestry, who is not, like so many of his brethren, fearful of extremely loud, sudden, random bangs, pops, cracks and BOOMS emanating from who knows where, who knows why, but who is, after all, curious about such things, would take on the task of figuring out from where and who and why this noise, and how to end this torment. At the end of the tale, which would in part take the form of a conversation between Joe Beans and myself, I would simply shrug and say: You know, Joe Beans, you can’t teach old people new tricks.

4. But, honestly, I don’t know where this blog goes from here.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

weax: now in print

Weax: A Relatively Short, Non-linear History of Wax, Volume One, which involves bees, whales, mummies, mutton birds, very old books, Pilgrims, nuns, a search for truth, outlaws, chemists, soy nuts, Ishmael, the Chihuahuan Desert, soot, smoke, grammar, and arsenic, is in production, being printed and bound at home. Copies will be available for purchase at the farmers market beginning Saturday, May 25, but perhaps not on those particularly rainy or windy days we tend to have, unless I keep it under the table. It is also listed on Etsy (click here).

Particulars include:
Pages: 70
Reference pages: 7
Images: Several
Size: 8 x 11 inches
Printed: HP Laserjet, b&w
Fonts: IM FELL English PRO, Constantia
Cover: Wax-coated paper, hand-colored
Binding: Stitched by hand, waxed thread
Price: $28

This project represents, I suppose, a classic labor of love.

Friday, May 10, 2019

happy birthday, dad

Nothing could have surprised me more—and yes, it should have surprised me less—than to learn that a Japanese man who witnessed and survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima subsequently appeared on the American television program “This is Your Life.” His appearance came just ten years after the U.S. decimated the city of Hiroshima with its new-fangled atomic bomb.

Ladies and gentlemen, the a-bomb is about to drop, about to kill, maim, injure thousands of people, to end a war, but first, a word from our sponsor!

I paraphrase, but just a bit. The program begins pretty much just like that. It goes from announcing that night’s subject—an apparently stunned the Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto—to a picture of a billowing mushroom cloud to a woman furiously scouring her painted nails to show you, the viewer, just how tough Hazel Bishop nail polish is—it cannot be scoured off!

The thing about living is that you never know what to expect. Earlier this week, an article in The New Yorker sent me to the library for “Hiroshima,” a book by John Hersey, and last night I finished reading it. Originally published in 1946, I checked out the 1985 edition as it includes an additional chapter called “The Aftermath.” The book overall provides the story of six survivors—or “explosion-affected persons” as they were called, at the time, in Japan—of the Hiroshima bombing, and it’s in the final chapter, not far from the last few pages, that we learn that one of our explosion-affected persons, this Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, in 1955 appeared unwittingly on “This is Your Life,” a program which endeavored always to surprise its subject. Upon closing the book, it occurred to me that since seemingly every episode of “What’s My Line?”, an old game show from the 1950s and ’60s that I watch nearly every day while eating lunch, is on YouTube, maybe “This is Your Life” would be on YouTube, too, and so it was, so it is.

It seems the Rev. Tanimoto knew he was to be interviewed by this man Ralph Edwards, the host of “This is Your Life,” but he did not know he and his life were to be presented on this American television show. He did not know that on such a stage would he be immediately and dramatically whisked back to exactly 8:15 a.m., August 6, 1945. It is compelling to watch his face during the first seconds of the program, and it is astounding then to pause for the sponsor and to watch as a woman furiously scours her polished nails and, wait a minute, why is she not bleeding? Why is there no blood?

They say when the bomb dropped, there was no sound.

On “This is Your Life” people from the subject’s life are introduced by our host as they walk on stage through an arched doorway, and, in the Rev. Tanimoto’s life, the first person to come through the arched doorway is a little old lady from Ohio. She looks straight out of Mayberry; she could very well have some hard cider in her “valoose.” Later, one of the pilots of the Enola Gay, the plane from which the a-bomb dropped, makes an appearance. He comes from behind a screen where he has been taunting—or teasing—us with his presence. He tells of his brief part in Tanimoto’s life and he is either a little tipsy, as, according to information in Hersey’s book, he was, or he is a little emotional, as one might expect, but then he and Tanimoto shake hands and he moves off-screen to sit next to the little old lady from Ohio, and we move on, and Tanimoto’s life moves on, and this seems to be the lesson, that life moves on, and on and on and on, bombs away, wars start, wars end, and oh, by the way, ladies, in case you’ve forgotten, Hazel Bishop makes a great nail polish.

I peruse The New Yorker because my dad had a subscription to it, seemingly forever, and when I was a kid it arrived in the mail regularly, as did a lot of things; my dad subscribed to a lot of things, he was a magazine editor so it was, in a way, part of his job, part of who he was. But, over the years, except for The New Yorker, subscriptions fell by the wayside. When he died, in 2005, I imagine there were a few we had to cancel but my mother continued The New Yorker, probably in his name, and she read it religiously. Now I have a subscription. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have always read the magazine, but I do read it now, somewhat religiously, and have always, as long as I can remember, looked and laughed at the cartoons. In the recent article about John Hersey I learned that The New Yorker was the original publisher of “Hiroshima.” In 1946 the magazine published it in full, in one issue, it was the sole story.

In 1945, when the atomic bomb dropped, my dad was, as best I can tell, in New Guinea. He was a major in the Quartermaster Corp. He never much talked about it; it seemed, in a way, not to interest him. But he kept a pile of papers relating to his service tucked away in a file cabinet and I now have those papers so I know that for nearly four years during his mid-20s he actively served in the U.S. Army and spent two years overseas. He began, in 1942, as a 2nd Lieutenant advancing on through to Major in 1945. His Officer’s and Warrant Officer’s Qualification Card tells me that at the time he entered service he had finished one year of law school. In a section labeled “Participating Sports” he checked “Soft Ball,” “Base Ball,” “Skiing Snowshoeing,” “Mountain Climbing,” and “Other,” where he wrote in “Bowling, Badminton.” Among other things, during the course of his service he completed a course in malaria control. He arrived in New Guinea December 7, 1943. He left Manila November 24, 1945.

I’m not sure what any of this means, if it means anything at all, but it just so happens that today is my father’s birthday. He would be 100 years old. In 2005, when he died, after a brief illness, it was unimaginable that he should die, that he should no longer be a living person, a crucial part of our lives. Now it is difficult to imagine him alive, in this moment, and to imagine what these past 15 years with him rather than without him might have been like. But my sisters and I often play this game: What would Dad think? Referring usually to some current political situation or baseball team. But today I wonder not what would Dad think, today, but what did he think nearly 75 years ago upon first hearing of the atomic bomb, its drop on Hiroshima? What did he think when reading John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”? And what did he think when watching the Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto on “This is Your Life,” if he watched it at all, which he likely did not, probably rather being out doing something like bowling or base ball or badminton or mountain climbing. And I’d like to ask my father about this skiing and snowshoeing business—where did he do that in the middle of Illinois? And I’d like to find out when he ever went mountain climbing.

Of course, if my dad were here, most likely we’d just be sitting, not talking, watching the Cubs and Brewers playing an afternoon game at Wrigley. There would be a few snorts of laughter, maybe of disgust, but not with these Cubs, more likely squeals of glee, and there might be peanuts and a beer and you know, whatever the outcome, life would go on. It would simply go on. What else might we expect?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

from weax to wax to mad honey

Having just completed mind-numbing work on the reference section of the print version of the wax book, I went downstairs to make a cup of tea. A day or so earlier I had started thinking the title of this never-ending tome should be just “Weax,” plain and simple, as it is the original word for wax, from way back when (it’s somewhere in the book), and of course then there would be a lengthy sub-title following, but, anyway, while waiting for the water to boil I wondered if “weax” were in that old 1924 dictionary I picked up quite by chance when buying that old bookcase a few months back. Alas, no. No “weax.” But wait a minute, the water’s not hot yet, let’s look up “wax.”
wax (waks), n. beeswax; any tenacious substance like beeswax; cerumen of the ear; rage: v.t. to smear, rub, or join, with wax: v.i. to increase in size; become.
From the New Dictionary of the English Language 1924 Edition.

And as long as I am here, have you heard about “mad honey”? There is what I believe to be an azalea in my front yard, so I googled it, of course, and on wikipedia found this:
In addition to being renowned for its beauty, the azalea is also highly toxic—it contains andromedotoxins in both its leaves and nectar, including honey from the nectar.[6] Bees are deliberately fed on Azalea/Rhododendron nectar in some parts of Turkey, producing a mind-altering, potentially medicinal, and occasionally lethal honey known as "mad honey".[7] According to the ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder in his Natural History,[8] an army invading Pontus in Turkey was poisoned with such honey, resulting in their defeat.[9]
Now, if I were writing a book on honey, I would not leave that out. And I can think of a few other things one might do with “mad honey” . . .

Sunday, March 24, 2019

flock of sparrows

Hey! That’d be a good name for a band!


But these sparrows don’t sing, these sparrows are your Silent Uncommon Cinnamon Waxwing Sparrows, a rare species found only in the upper reaches of Michigan near the shores of Lake Superior where seagulls fly overhead. In late May these sparrows will search out the nearest farmers market, find a table of like-smelling, sweet-smelling critters and objects, and throughout the summer beg to be bought.

Also: a herd of Rare Beeswax Rabbits. Another rarity (yes) as most are short-lived. Their ears are extremely fragile, finely tuned, easily broken, and a broken ear means death. (Oh no, I’m melting!) Also, due to excessive in-breeding, many Rare Beeswax Rabbits are born with only one ear and so are quickly and mercilessly snuffed. Harsh, yes. Cruel, yes. True, yes. But there are survivors.

Then along came The Angels of Candelilla Wax. Another good name for a band?

Okay. So the farmers market is two months away and there’s still a foot or two or three of snow on the ground, and some days it feels like winter, some days it feels like spring, and the “somedays” pile up.

Happy bloomin’ day.

A weird thing happened. I went out, to a free concert, over at the university. A piano, a singer, a mezzo-soprano named Kelley O’Connor. She was wonderful, it was wonderful. Not at all what I usually do, where I usually go. In this clip, she is the woman in black.

A bit of a musical theme develops. Perhaps those sparrows sing after all. At the used book sale at the library I picked up a record album, fifty cents. Ellington at Newport. It is incredible. Recorded live. I bought it because I like the Duke and the cover reminded me of an Ella record I’d been listening to.

Little did I know that in the last song there is an historic sax solo. “Within an hour, reporters and critics were buzzing about it … Gonslaves played for 27 straight choruses … ” The liner notes are agog with it. “ … Gonslaves dug in harder and harder, and when he finally gave way to Duke, the release was electric … ” When the needle on my turntable finally struck that groove, that groove of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue (for I had to listen to the album through from Track One, why miss a thing?), I was, well, primed, and “ … there were frequent bursts of wild dancing … ” and not only at the Newport Jazz Festival 1956. Josie can be hard to contain. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a video of this event. But this performance is well worth hearing and the back of the record jacket, written by George Avakian, is well worth reading.

Oh, that print’s awfully small, isn’t it.

Thank you
A Flock of Seagulls
Kelley O’Connor
Duke Ellington

Sunday, March 10, 2019

having just read “Little”

I am tucked in the world, into the smaller parts of it. I do not impose myself in any grandiose way.
Anne Marie Grosholtz, who comes to be known as “Little” in Edward Carey’s novel of the same name, is our narrator in this tale of her life, and she says this bit about being “tucked in the world” well into her story, a story in which she is, for the most part, a person indeed tucked away by the world, out of sight, shucked into the kitchen, the scullery, put into a closet with a dirty bit of straw for a bed, a dark cupboard at Versailles, often told to make herself scarce, to bow and to curtsy, to do her work and to do nothing else, told she has no life but that which pleases others, so please me, Little, that is your life, that is your job, and then go away, back to your cupboard, your nook, your cranny, and it is, after all, a life, no matter where slept, where dusted, where drawn, perceived, judged by others, by the world. Little becomes, in the end, as in real life, rather large, as she is Madame Tussaud, of wax museum fame, and Carey’s fictional account of Madame Tussaud, focused on this imagining of her mostly early years, is told in a style that is at once grandiose and humble, like Marie, worthy of Marie, I would say, as it wraps itself around history, people, wax, drawings—sketches and bits and portraits pulled from Little’s own sketchbook—with Marie at near every opportunity asking those whom she serves if she will be paid for all this work she is doing, when will she be paid, for all this work she has done, and of course—I will be paid now?

I had put off reading “Little,” which was published last year. I knew it was a fiction, a retelling, a re-imagining of sorts, of Madame Tussaud’s life. Having my own fresh image of her, I was not ready to let in someone else’s take. I did not want someone else’s jive intruding on mine. Then I reached the point in this wax book I am writing where it is about Madame Tussaud, and I felt, to be current, I must read “Little.”

I was not familiar with Carey’s work and nothing I had read about “Little” led me to believe that as soon as I opened the book I would be enamored. I tend to be a library book reader, or a secondhand book reader—seldom do I buy a book within a few months of its publication—but as I put my name on the wait list for a copy from the library, I headed over to Snowbound Books to take a peek. A secondary title page lured me in

and the next page’s announcement of illustrations—“In graphite, charcoal, and black chalk.”—sold me. As did these illustrations as I flipped through the book.

I bought the book. I read the book. I underlined passages.
Of wax and its subtle talents, they were entirely ignorant. They never properly comprehended the dignity and sadness of a stick of candle.
The book is a fine raveling of a story. I see Madame Tussaud as someone who is easily conceived as make-believe, even though her story, her reality, has never been hidden. Still, what we know of her, the facts of her, leave some room for the imagination, and the facts of her themselves, what Marie Grosholtz lived through, the French Revolution, and what she created, the wax figures, are a kind of fodder for the imagination. “Wax is skin,” according to Carey’s fictional Philip Curtius, and, later, Marie tells us
Wax, also, is privacy. Wax seals letters. Wax keeps all the world’s words where they should be, until the right hands come to let them out.
I must admit, another reason I kind of dragged myself to “Little” was its cover, which is awash in a hue, some shade of red, which I can’t quite name but which I surely don’t like. I also did not like the title (to me, Madame Tussaud loomed large and here was a book proclaiming her “little,” which in height she was, but still.) And, then, too, the typeface on the cover I did not like. I’m glad I got beyond that, cracked the book open, peeked inside the cupboard, found where the wonder lies.
Wax was ever the most honest of substances.
Now I can get back to the Madame Tussaud chapter of “A (relatively) Short History of Wax,” the recently rechristened working title of my book, the book which will always be in draft even if at some point I do print it, which I’m sure I will. Its attendant subtitle:

In which a search for truth leads to
nuns and gunslingers,
bees and whales,
candles and chemists,
mummies and smugglers,
shysters and soy nuts,
Dickens and Ahab,
the French Revolution,
Hollywood horror flicks,
a flicker of truth,
and then,
Einstein’s head.

is another reason I was happy to see that second title page in “Little,” as it bolstered my inclination to use words, as many as I like, wherever I like, which is surely a mistake at times, but. Like wax, words can often be thrown back in the pot, melted down, used anew, reformed.

So thank you, Edward Carey, for “Little.”

Wax sparrow.
As it continues to snow despite enough snow in the banks to last us,
conservatively, I would guess, through August.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

voice & free association

Give everyone a voice, so everyone has a voice.
Give everyone a voice, so maybe it gets noisy.

Josie’s voice. Photo credit: J. Allen.

Hearing lyrics in the morning: seven a.m.
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning
The radio is on: Good Time Oldies.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sing a Joni Mitchell tune.
Stephen Stills rejected—he was not right for The Monkees, Peter Tork took his place, so I heard and such is fate.

From a second story window.

Earlier, about six a.m., “zen” and “shoveling” in one sentence, or at least one thought, something like that, but the more I think about it, the fuzzier it gets.
But in case of emergency keep in your car a flashlight, a blanket, food, water, flares, a first aid kit.
And nowadays shenanigans –
so pack the cookies, a good book, moonlight, something to laugh about.

Don’t forget the shovel.

Eight a.m., snowfall begins.
This one predicted to be a doozy – so what were the others?
Isn’t it a bit early?
I have lost, or misplaced, a snow shovel.
The oldest of the three; certainly not stolen.
Perhaps it is buried.

And now through a glass door Josie sees a squirrel advancing on the bird feeder.
I open the door, Josie races across the icy deck (it was shoveled just yesterday).
Through backyard branches of spruce and maple, the squirrel escapes.
Watching this, there is nothing quite so funny, yet, oddly enough, I do not LOL.
Full of mirth, all is quiet.

Have I mentioned arsenic candles? A real thing.
Happened a long time ago.
Maybe next time.

But now Saturday, nine a.m., really snowing, more snow, a dog barks –
Yesterday, Josie walked where a week ago sled dogs ran, trotted, left town, came back.
We met a three-legged dog wearing a blue coat.

Who really knows what time it is?

Monday, February 11, 2019

when winter is beautiful: scenes from a backyard

a sky of ice

a flash of blue

a weave of sticks and snow

the cedars weep

the snow is deep

and that is all i know

Sunday, February 3, 2019

a crack in the ice

february 1, 2019, walking with jo along the lake

marquette michigan

marquette michigan

jo found a spot to investigate

i headed for one of my new favorite spots -

marquette michigan

- the north end of the boardwalk

marquette michigan

& then it was time to turn homeward

marquette michigan

with just one look back

marquette michigan

Sunday, January 27, 2019

writer’s block

a work in progress

Why do I not want to read what I have written?
(in order to get back into the wax book,
in which I fear my interest has waned,
for I have not been attending to it.)

– but, also –

Why do I not want to write, period (right now)
just, rather
about writing
this writing I intend to do
while sitting in this room
and meanwhile – what color shall I paint this room?
(mind goes a’ wanderin’, down its own path) – maybe a light amber?
(a path unknown to all others) – or the color of beeswax?
(unknown to me) – here we have Liquid Honey
(finding its own way, a’ drift) – and Glaze Gold
(shall I come along?) – Roasted Chestnut, Tuscan Yellow
(to follow or walk alongside)
in step, out of step
misstep, stumble
flow, glide
catch me, twirl me
leave me
come back

Why would I rather sweep the floor? Scrape old treads from the bath tub?
Or clean caked dust from the intake vent (for the heating system)
that I discovered – the dust, not the vent –
while putting up a bamboo Roman shade
(the shade of which was “Driftwood”)
from Menards. I dropped a washer (not the screw)
and it fell through the grid
(covering the vent)
into the vent
(which is under the living room windows) –
and it occurred to me that the house my family lived in
(before I was six)
had vents in the floor
because I remember these little painted turtles
bought at the pet shop
and that’s where they went,
down into the vents,
and maybe we should keep these little turtles in their bowls
under their plastic palm trees or how about just keeping our eyes open
when they are out for a walk –
so I went after the washer
(the metal grid lifts off)
and was able to retrieve it
(we rescued turtles, too, I am sure of it)
and for some reason my hand went deeper into the vent
(which runs parallel to the floor underneath the floor
and I had cleaned it – but only the part I could see –
two months ago)
and of course back there now
my hand was encountering
a half-inch layer
(or so)
of matted dust
laced with the silver tinsel of a Christmas (past).
I hauled out this concoction
along with some marbles –
two yellow and one orange cat’s eyes.
(Two months ago I extracted
two pennies, one acorn, a dusky blue button, some plastic beads.)
With a wooden ruler I extended my reach
and with a wooden yardstick
went farther then further,
gathering more dust,
gathering more tinsel.

I did not like the Roman shade after all.

I returned it.

I went to Lowe’s and got a cordless cellular shade that:
– cost less than the bamboo Roman shade;
– was easier to install, had no washers to drop;
– came without a designated color (though I think: “Driftwood”).

And –
I liked it.

Also at Lowe’s I got some screening with which to cover the vents
(there are three)
actually making a sandwich of
the grill, the screen,
the depths of the vent.

Yes, I would rather do all this –
Anything but write

even though I think and think
about writing (or maybe I’m thinking about not writing)
even while reading about reading.
It makes me think of how I write – or not.
Because this book, Reader, Come Home,
touches on how reading
affects writing and writing
affects reading and although
writing seems a dual process
of writing & reading
reading, I muse, is singular.
Just reading. Is it not?
But of course this book explains,
cites research,
reading + thought.
Reading is not innate.
Reading is learned.
Reading is a creation of our minds.
A capability
of our brains.
It can be shallow;
it can be deep.

And then there’s the digital world of reading and writing
and tell me:
Are you reading this in,

Are you reading at all? Are you getting it? Getting what you need?
(Surely it’s no coincidence
blowing through
at this very moment
Moby Dick – !)



Anything but writing!

Instead, I sit.
I dream.
Put up blinds.
Work a jigsaw.
Sweep the floor.
Chase down dust.
Take a walk.
Concoct a blog post.
Ponder colors.
Make a list.
Scrape at treads
stuck to a bathtub.

But wait! it’s true –
As all must wax,
all must wane,
And so must all wax again.

The color turned out to be Tuscan Yellow and a new chapter begins:

Ozokerite . In which we unearth Wax of the Wild West and “Gunplay” Maxwell.

Back in the saddle,
dust trails behind me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

5,705 pounds of beeswax

In January 2010 I saw 500 pounds of beeswax for sale on eBay. The seller was a Michigan beekeeper with a fairly large honey operation near Traverse City. I purchased the wax at $3 a pound. I avoided delivery charges by picking up the wax. It was a one-day, 600-mile round-trip. My two dogs went with me. The wax fit neatly in the back of the pick-up truck. This was my first large purchase of wax.

Over the next few years I made seven more purchases from that Michigan beekeeper, each purchase being from 200 to 500 pounds. I’ve also bought wax from a beekeeper in Iowa, each purchase again being 200 to 500 pounds, and there was one pick-up of 249 pounds of wax from a beekeeper in Wisconsin. Overall, over the past nine years, I have bought 5,705 pounds of beeswax, sometimes picking it up, other times having it delivered.

From my first beeswax purchase to my most recent purchase last week, the price has increased 76 percent. The largest single increase occurred between February and October of 2012, when the price rose by 50 percent, and that is what brought about that one trip to Wisconsin. The price I paid for the Wisconsin wax was a dollar per pound less than what my Michigan supplier was charging. But the quality of the wax was different. I was used to the Michigan wax and figured my customers were, too, so I went back to it. About this time I began having the wax delivered, as I had moved and the journey to Traverse City was 800 or so miles round-trip, entailing an overnight stay, which I did once, stayed overnight, in a motel with my then very old dog Buster, and that was a nightmare, so all in all delivery seemed more efficient.

In the spring of 2015, a second large price increase occurred, again about a 50 percent jump in a half-year’s time, and so again I looked for another supplier and found wax for sale in Iowa at a price that was just a 10 percent increase from what I had been paying. I purchased 199 pounds and arranged to pick it up on my way home to Michigan from California, where I had spent the winter. The pick-up was to be in April, a busy time for the beekeeper and I was traveling with an excitable dog and an unhappy cat in a fully loaded van, but all went well, and I was glad I was able to pick up the wax at the farm.

Since then, all the wax I have used has come from this beekeeper in Iowa, with subsequent purchases arriving by delivery truck. This January he offered wax at two prices based on the quality of the wax. Quality is somewhat subjective, but the higher priced wax was, for one, deemed “cleaner.” I went for it as over the years I have learned that the cleaning process the wax goes through before I receive it makes a difference, as the cleaner the wax I buy, the less cleaning of wax I have to do. (Starting with completely clean wax is, for me, cost prohibitive. And beeswax, before being used for most any purpose, must be cleaned of hive debris and honey, which can be accomplished in various ways, all ways using some combination of heat, water, and gravity, which I also use, melting chunks of wax in a crock pot with an inch or so of water in the bottom, then straining the melted wax through cloth to remove any remaining minute particles of debris and, as well, the occasional recalcitrant bee, stray wing.) The cleaner, higher quality wax being offered was just seven percent higher in cost from 2015, and 10 cents more per pound compared to last year’s purchase.

The wax I purchased last year, and now this year, was cleaned, I am told, in a “coffin melter,” and this is what makes the difference. I admit to liking the name, which relates, as I understand it, strictly to the melter’s shape.

Each lot of wax I buy dwindles down slowly over several month’s time. When the time comes to buy more, worrying questions arise. Will wax be available? At what cost? How much should I order? What will the delivery charge be? Will delivery go smoothly? Answers arrive swiftly at first, then more slowly—it all tends to play out over a week or two. Delivery charges can be a wild card, and I always mull the possibility of taking that road trip to pick up the wax, but, instead, I get the price of delivery, process it, and recall the time I picked up 500 pounds of beeswax in the van, and how I had to drive several hundred miles with the windows open, despite the weather, as there can be, indeed, too much of a good thing.

Yesterday, 500 pounds of beeswax arrived. The truck driver gave me a call about an hour out just to make sure he could get the semi down my street and get the wax unloaded without a lift gate, which I had said we wouldn’t need because in the past it never had been needed and a lift gate adds to cost. The truck driver moved the boxes of wax which were strapped to a pallet from the front end of the long long trailer to the back, slit open the boxes, and together we unloaded the wax blocks, about 15 pounds each, into some plastic bins I had ready at the end of the drive. About halfway through the second box I suggested we just let the box drop to the snowy ground, and that worked. The wax was unloaded. There was a fine drizzle, or mist, in the air. The truck driver told me about his beekeeping, just a hive or two (and its hard to keep those bees alive over winter), and how he and his wife also keep goats, a milk cow, not too far south of here.

The wax sat at the end of the drive for a bit, then a lucky friend who had just happened to stop by helped me move it to the shed. Turns out two old ladies can do this pretty easily, can move 500 pounds of beeswax down a snowy drive, especially if they have a “yooper scooper,” an item more commonly used to shovel, or push around, snow.

❄ ❄ 

Friday, January 4, 2019