Sunday, December 29, 2019

a pretty good year

Despite the over-arching madness of would-be despots, for me 2019 was a pretty good year. The cabin sold much more quickly than expected and I had to say my goodbyes without dwelling on it, without wallowing in it. Rather, in February, I just had to figure out certain practical matters while wallowing in five feet of snow with more falling every day. The cabin was snowed in, unheated, without running water—all that had to be reversed. And then, unreversed. And I was 80-some miles away. And it snowed and snowed. And I got peeved. And it got cold. And people got stuck in the snow. And did I mention the snow? But. It all got done. Sooner than expected. And that—a very good thing.

At the new house, flowers. The first bloomed in late April, the last in late October, early November. Discovery in the gardens happened nearly every day. It provided me with work, it provided inspiration.

In March, city crews cut back snowbanks. I watched from a second floor window. The orange truck is sucking up and throwing snow into the yellow truck. Once full, the yellow truck went to a special snow-dumping spot and unloaded. Then it returned and got in line to receive more snow.

Later, that same night, tidying up.

Six weeks later.

The house got fresh paint.

The color is “Salty Dog.”

The wax book was completed.

The joy of acorn caps was discovered.

Josie took me on walks.

And Josie chased chipmunks into walls and took a flying leap to find out what was on top of this old stove-heater thing in the back yard.

Josie sticking his nose into other people’s business.

Leapin’ Jo Lizards!

Inside the old stove-heater thing was a busted and rusted old pocket watch. I found this out one day when I was in the back yard with a guy who was going to do some tree work. We got to talking about the old heater-stove thing. He opened its little door, which I had never touched, and then I reached in, grabbed on to something. It was a busted and rusted old pocket watch. It no longer had its face, so, literally, timeless.

The farmers market, which started out slow, eventually got better, and the winter market, happening in the months of November and December, was the best I’ve seen. At the last market I was asked if there were a website with pictures of my candles. At the time, there was not. Now, there is.

And then, finally, this: After nearly 24 years, I got the last Calvin and Hobbes comic strip framed. I clipped the strip from the Chicago Tribune the day it was published, on a Sunday, December 31, 1995. At some point I put it in a cheap metal frame that I had lying around, thinking I would eventually get it properly done up, but then I would always just hang it up on a wall, as it was, wherever I was, as I did here, earlier this year, but, about a month ago, I took it off the wall and brought it to a frame shop downtown. They helped me pick a color for the mat and then the frame and it was all very properly done up. Now, it’s back on the wall. Reminding me.

The last panel.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

another nice thing

While preparing dinner, the doorbell rang. Egad. Not another candidate for the city commission. No, couldn’t be, that election is over. Then, who? Disgruntled, I opened the door. A Girl Scout handed me a brown paper bag. Chocolates! I thanked her. As she was turning away, she looked back and said, “Oh. There’s seven dollars in the bag because you overpaid.”

I don’t remember when it was I ordered these chocolates, but I do remember that when this same Girl Scout came to the door back then, ringing the bell, it was news to me that the Girl Scouts sold chocolates. I looked at the brochure she handed me and placed my order, paid for it, overpaying, perhaps, in more ways than one because certainly you can buy chocolates for less. But the beauty of this transaction—

I like chocolate, and out of the blue one day someone is at my door offering me the opportunity to buy chocolate while sitting on the glider of my own front porch. I get direct, knowledgeable advice on which varieties are the most popular. There is no pressure. There are no special deals. I’m not exhorted to “like” anyone or anything on social media. Absolutely no rigmarole. I order chocolate mints, chocolates with caramel, chocolates with peanut butter. The order will not arrive for a month or so, not until sometime in November, but imagine! At some unexpected moment during that most dreary time of year ’twixt Halloween and Thanksgiving, long after this time on the porch has been forgotten, the doorbell will ring (will I be peeved?) and maybe it will be unseasonably cold with a bitter and relentless wind and dark, of course, and snow and ice and who knows, maybe I’ll even be struggling with a never-ending cold, a virus, and oh! what a nice surprise it will be to open the door to find someone handing me a bag of chocolates! Along with a five and two ones, because I overpaid.

Outtake, Daily Walks with Jo, November 13.
South Beach.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

daily walks

When walking Josie, I go about it all wrong. I relinquish the lead. Josie walks in front of me, pulling me along. He strains against his halter. The leash is taut. I hang on as best I can. He moves quickly, deciding which way we go, where we turn, where we stop, and often for how long we stop. At times he must wait on me. As I carefully pick up his feces, he impatiently kicks up tufts of grass and dirt and snow which may or may not fly in my face. But, if I ever happen to drop the leash, he will pause and wait for me to reattach. And if we are ever someplace where I can unclip him from the leash, he darts here and there, then, when I say it’s time, he waits for me to clip his leash back on.

Outtake: Daily Walks with Jo, November 5.
Lakeshore Loop Counter-clockwise with Boardwalk.

Occasionally, I make suggestions about which way to turn, but, since settling in Marquette a little over a year ago, Josie and I have developed a few standard routes and he mostly sticks to those routes. Direction from me is unnecessary. Realizing this, in September, I abdicated my quasi decision-making throne and promoted Josie, officially, to lead dog. One morning I told him that from now on he would be in charge of the morning walks. A few weeks later, I started charting those walks. It was a basic system, I simply made a list.
Josie Walks
Monday – South Beach
Tuesday – Chamberlain Loop
Wednesday – Lakeshore Loop w/ Boardwalk Counter-clockwise …
After keeping this list for two weeks, I thought there might be a better way, and soon my desire for organization, potential analysis, and context found its way into a new blog:

Once again using a Dynamic View template offered by Blogger, the blog is fully functional on a computer (from desktop to tablet), but not on a smartphone. It appears on a smartphone, you can see every photo and read all text, but it does not appear in the proper way, meaning the way that allows for organization and potential analysis. You see, each walk is a post with a photo, text, and at least two labels, one label for the day of the week and one for the route. Posts can be easily sorted by these labels, on the home page, so we can see which routes Josie is choosing on Mondays, for example, and also how often he chooses any one route. So far, the Lakeshore Loop Counter-clockwise with Boardwalk is the favorite. There is a label for walks that deviate from a standard, and one of those variants has already earned its own name: Mountain Extension. To my chagrin, one route that I had thought was standard has not been taken at all since the blog began (October 24). Going back to my handwritten list, I see Josie has not chosen the Lakeshore Loop Clockwise with Boardwalk since October 10.

Outtake: Daily Walks with Jo, October 28.
South Beach.

About a week into the blog, one of my sisters wondered where the maps were. I had yet to include any street names in the introduction or in the daily posts (though “Chamberlain” in “Chamberlain Loop” might have been seen as a clue), let alone maps, but I realized that being non-specific was somewhat contradictory to the purpose. Maps could certainly aid the research.

Outtake: Daily Walks with Jo, November 1.
Lakeshore Loop Counter-clockwise with Boardwalk.

My other sister then suggested that if I did include maps, I would most likely draw them from Josie’s perspective. As it turns out, I had just begun paying closer attention to Josie’s perspective. For instance, at a certain juncture where he turns toward South Beach but then reverses to head into a Lakeshore Loop Counter-clockwise, the reason he heads first to South Beach could simply be to pee on a certain pole, nothing more. Previously I had thought he was heading into the South Beach route then making a last-minute decision to switch. But maybe his standard LLCc includes this little blip. Making maps with Josie’s markers seems appropriate. I had also been noticing that even when Josie is following a standard route, he may mix it up a bit by changing which side of the street we walk on. These slight changes are noted in the daily text, but, again, if there were a map for each walk, it might allow us to see something we are otherwise missing. Does Josie ever take exactly the same route twice? Is there any discernible pattern to his choices? How does he make his decisions? But, I have yet to draw a map. The future awaits.

Outtake: Daily Walks with Jo, November 4.
Mountain Extension.

My initial analysis after two weeks of charting and two weeks of blogging is that although Josie follows established patterns for our walks, he also innovates as the spirit (or something) moves him. He feels free to deviate from pattern and to explore. He also improvises as circumstances dictate. Most importantly, though, Josie thoroughly enjoys our walks, as do I. I am always wondering, where will we go today?

Outtake: Daily Walks with Jo, October 29.
Variant, Lakeshore Loop Clockwise, Third Rock.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

hallelujah! the book is done!

You may have heard this before, but now, seriously, it’s for real. The wax book is done. Finito. Complete. Static (in a sense). Over, done, no more volumes, no more one or two chapters to finish, no more rewrite, no more chapter juggling (though one chapter, I know, is out of place … ), no more references to check, no more playing around with the title, no more quandary of how to present it. For here it is:
Stories of Wax: Being, in essence, a short, non-linear history of wax sparked by a wayward search for truth.
I put it in Blogger’s Dynamic Views Magazine template (or “theme”), tweaking the template a little to get what I wanted, and, if I could tweak it a bit more to get it to operate the same on mobile devices as it does on anchored devices, such as my laptop, I would. But that, for now, is beyond me.

This book has been a two-year, unintentional project. Of course at some point it became intentional, but it did not start out that way. All along,–well, early on in the book, the Scarecrow, from the “Wizard of Oz,” makes an appearance and the question is asked: Which way to go? One decides which way to go, and then one finds oneself asking the question again and again. We are always deciding: Which way to go?

As some may recall, this spring, after completing all but the chapters on waxworks—Madame Tussaud, Katherine Stubergh, Einstein’s Head, and Waxwork—I produced Volume One of the book on paper. I printed a few copies at home, dipped the covers in wax, bound it by hand. I sold one or two copies. Every Saturday, I put two or three copies out on my table at the farmers market. It is still listed online (for the moment) at Etsy. Meanwhile, I worked sporadically on the final chapters. Soon, I knew, I could have a whole, complete book. What then?

My birthday comes late in August, and my birthdays lately have been a reckoning. This year I reckoned that I had spent enough time playing around at writing, should treat it more seriously, should maybe go after an MFA in creative non-fiction at Northern Michigan University. NMU’s campus is just across town, and the school offers free tuition to people my age and older. I went to a few events that gave me a taste of the milieu—author readings and discussions—and I enjoyed them. But it became apparent that committing to doing this type of thing on a regular basis and having to participate on a greater level was just not something I wanted to do.

Meanwhile, I finished the book. I sent the manuscript to an editor here in town who, along with a partner, provides a complete gamut of services from editing and proofreading to preparing a book for print and electronic publishing and handling the follow-through. After looking at some self-publishing websites, I knew I did not want to wrangle with self-publishing on my own. Paying someone else to wrangle with it sounded good. I could end up with a book—a printed book and an e-book. Pretty cool.

I knew Tyler, the editor, from years back. For a short time after I moved to the U.P., I became involved with the Upper Peninsula Publishers & Authors Association, or UPPAA, of which Tyler was a part. For many years, he served as the group’s president. Not only has he published his own books, he has helped other writers in their endeavors. I had looked at Tyler’s website (Superior Book Productions) and could see exactly the services offered as well as a timeline of all that was required to publish a book.

Tyler provided me with a sample edit and quote. I saw the quote first. My serious, perhaps genetic, cheapskate side kicked in. I made note of it, decided to deal with it later. I looked at the sample edit. I could see it was what the book needed—an experienced, knowledgeable, interested, thoughtful, objective hand. No doubt, Tyler’s editing and proofreading could improve my book.

I felt oddly flat.

It came to me slowly throughout that day that whatever the cost, whatever the improvement, it only got me halfway there, or less than halfway, halfway at best, because after turning my manuscript into a book—hello ever-lovin’ insight!—I would have to sell that book, and how the heck was I going to do that? Put it on my table at the farmers market and see who maybe picked it up, put it back down, admired it, seemed befuddled by it, walked away from it, bought it? It didn’t matter. It did not matter what anyone might do because I knew, for sure and undeniably, that I would make no effort to sell the book. Well, maybe some effort, maybe a little effort, now and then, I might try, I might take a step forward, but then there would be, no doubt, two steps back, and it’s not because I don’t have confidence in the book or confidence in my writing. It’s because I don’t have confidence in my salesmanship. It’s because I dislike selling. To be more specific, I dislike suggesting, let alone convincing, anybody to buy anything in particular, even if it’s stuff I believe in. The candles—they sell themselves. I admit that over the years I have gotten a bit better at sometimes helping them sell themselves, but I also think I might be flattering myself with that thought. Sometimes at the market I have conversations with people about beeswax and bayberry wax and candles and all that, and there is no sale, and that is fine with me. If there is a sale, of course that is fine with me too. But sometimes, the candles just sell themselves, I play no part other than having made them and brought them to this place. And sometimes, if someone is spending over a certain amount of money at my booth, when I tell them what it all adds up to, I feel like apologizing, as if I should say, Oh! Sorry it’s so much …

That is not the mindset of a salesperson. That I do enjoy counting up the till after a good day of selling probably has more to do with my relationship with money than anything else.

The day after receiving Tyler’s sample edit and quote, I knew the way to go. Somehow I got into Blogger’s Dynamic View template and the book—how it should be, where it should be, what it should look like—opened up before me. I could see subsequent books going into the same format. I began working with the template, figuring out how to manipulate it, how to plug words and images into it so it became a book, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Every time I started getting impatient because I couldn’t quite figure out some technical aspect or had to keep rewriting some small, irksome passage, I reminded myself: This is how you want it to be. This is what you want to do. And I knew it was true. I knew I did not want to spend money to create something—even if it was a better something—that I would have to sell. I knew I wanted to create something as best I could using the skills I have and then be done with it while still having it there, for anyone, most anywhere, anytime.

So I spent a good part of the last two weeks finishing up the wax book, getting it to its final stage. And it was a heck of a lot of fun. I think, in the end, I am just a self-indulgent writer, and if anybody else gains anything by it, well, that’s the proverbial icing on the cake. The cream in the coffee. The honey in the tea. The wax in the candle. The gleam in the eye. The ink in the pen. The rhyme in the poem.

Monday, October 7, 2019

acorn cap extravaganza, or, a coupla more things to do with cupules (but having nothing to do with couples)

The last thing I expected was for anyone to buy an acorn cap candle.

acorn cap candles

But the first thing that happened was a guy coming along saying, “How much for these?” I had put some cap candles out for display at the farmers market. They were floating in a small bowl of water. They were, undeniably, cute. And this guy wanted them, and he didn’t seem to care how much they cost. But I dithered (“They’re just for display!”). Then calculated (two dollars, five dollars, one dollar … ). Finally, I sold him one or two. I forget for how much. But, by the end of the day, I had made this note: Acorn cap candles! Make more! $1 each!

But I didn’t get around to making more. Next market, I put out the few I had left and when a travelling couple wanted two dozen I had to take an order, get their address for shipping. They paid; I was committed. The next morning, I panicked. What if there were no more acorn caps? What if the squirrels and chipmunks had already gathered and stored them all away? What if the acorn caps were gone? But, not to worry. I found scads along the side of the house and in the front yard and garden. I got down on my hands and knees and collected a bowlful of acorns and caps. Got curious. Why do acorns have caps? Not to mention, how do you get a cap off the acorn if the cap hasn’t already fallen off the acorn? Later, on Wikipedia, I learned that the acorn’s cap is a “cupule,” basically a shell, and so then, in many ways, the “mother hat.”

From Wikipedia: Diagram of the anatomy of an acorn.
A. Cupule; B. Pericarp (fruit wall); C. Seed coat (testa); D. Cotyledons (2);
E. Plumule; F. Radicle; G. Remains of style.
Together D., E., and F. make up the embryo.

Surely one can do many things with mother hats other than make them into candles. For instance, left alone, on their own, unadorned, acorn caps can be turned into whistles. Just search “acorn cap whistle” or click here for a tutorial. I am not even going to try to explain it. I found trying to whistle through an acorn cap difficult, became a little light-headed in the process, did hit one good note, though.

Acorn caps can also be flower holders, kind of an acorn cap boutonniere. Find a cap you can successfully poke a hole through the the bottom of, use a toothpick to plug the hole, fill the cap with wax, remove the toothpick when the wax has set, stick a thin-stemmed flower through the hole. I used an aster. Like the acorn cap candle, the boutonniere can float in a bowl of water as long as the flower is not too big nor the stem too long. These might also look nice placed in a bowl filled with damp sand and pebbles. With the caps thus secure, I’m sure the flower stems could be longer. (Note: The stem sticks out the bottom so the flower can drink.)

acorn cap boutonniere

Or, how about this. Just leave the toothpick in the wax in the cap, attach a sail, and there’s your little acorn cap sailboat. Or not. Let me know if it works.

Of course, you can also use acorn caps as caps. I did that with some little wax birds. Just gave them some mother hats.

birds wearing acorn caps
I imagine these birds are poets, or jazz musicians. Definitely a little nutty.

By all accounts, the cuteness factor of acorn caps in these applications is quite high. People, undeniably, think these things are cute. They say it out loud. And, fact is, believe it or not, I am not always big on cute. But, acorn-cap cute is something else. I embrace it. Wholeheartedly. Lately, walking along, I find myself stopping and stooping for a good acorn cap. And this is not always so easy. Usually I am tethered to Josie, the lead dog, always on a mission, but no mission that ever involves acorn caps, and me, I am simply the wheel dog, trying to hold the cart steady. One morning, hearing a crunch underfoot, I cringed. I looked down. Acorn caps all around! I did my best to slow the pace, walk carefully, was able to stoop and snag a cap or two before being mercilessly yanked along.

acorn cap Buddha

Friday, September 20, 2019

back to school: a lesson plan for candles and wax craft

Wormy Apple.
Hollowed out sidewalk apple.
Square-braid cotton wick.
I drew a blank when she asked if I could recommend any websites or online videos for a candlemaking how-to. She’s a home-schooler with several children, a wide range of ages, and come fall she’s always intending to do a lesson in candlemaking using a naturally occurring wax such as beeswax, so who better to turn to for guidance than a beeswax candlemaker at the farmers market?

I told her some basics of candlemaking and promised that by next market my mind would not be blank but full, but who can trust their own mind? So before I forget, here’s what I came up with.

The Engineer Guy
Links: and First video in the Chemical History of a Candle series

For background on why a candle does what it does (and what is it doing?), I recommend, a website chock-full of “clear, concise videos and books on engineered stuff” put together by Bill Hammack, a professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I discovered his video series on the chemistry of a candle when I was researching my wax book. In the videos, he performs slightly updated versions of the demonstrations Michael Faraday used in his Christmas lecture series “The Chemical History of a Candle” at the renowned Royal Institute in London in the mid-1800s. The videos are fun and you learn stuff. To paraphrase: All of life, right there in a candle!

Just About the Simplest Candle You Can Make
Link: Making a candle in a walnut shell

This isn’t the only article out there about making candles in walnut shells, but it works, and as it uses a different method of melting wax than the subsequent articles I’ll mention, it serves the purpose of emphasizing that there is more than one way to melt a block of beeswax.

Obviously, these are not walnut shells, but two wormy apples, found on the sidewalk, that I hollowed out, poured wax into, then added a primed wick. As you can see, some wax dribbled out the worm holes. As the apples would not sit upright, I supported them in these wood rings that have something to do with curtains—they came in a 50¢ box of stuff I bought at an estate sale.

As this article shows, one can put wax in a glass jar that is then placed in a pot of boiling water—a homemade double-boiler. The wax melts. The jar here doesn’t seem to have a spout, but one could use a Pyrex measuring cup that does, and that might be easier when pouring the wax. Also, in this article they put the wick in the candle after the wax has been poured and is setting up, or hardening. This is easier to do if you first dip the wick in wax, making it stiff rather than all floppy. This is called “priming” the wick. Of course, if you get carried away and continue to dip the wick in wax, eventually you will have made a candle, a taper, without need for any kind of shell. Alternatively, one can buy wick that is already primed.

This article also has us making candles in an acorn cap and a seed pod. As there are plenty of acorn caps in my yard, I tried this, and if you are wondering how long a candle made in an acorn cap might burn, see below.

You definitely need a spout to pour these little guys, and finding an acorn cap that sits flat on its top (now bottom) is like finding a four-leaf clover—not easy. I held a cap between my left thumb and forefinger, poured the wax into the cap, kept holding it, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, then realized I could secure the nub at the top (bottom) of the cap, if long enough, between the wires of this notebook. With a little forethought, I might have first set the acorn caps in a bowl of sand or small pebbles, or used the method described in the article.

After All, It’s Autumn, Leaves are Falling
Links: Dipping paper in beeswax and Dipping autumn leaves in beeswax

These two articles explain how and why one might dip autumn leaves or paper into melted beeswax, and this person uses a crock pot to melt wax, as do I. Crock pots come in a number of sizes and, as this writer points out, can be found in thrift stores. For candlemaking, though, since it’s a little difficult to pour wax from a crock pot into a candle mold and, I imagine, even more difficult to pour it into a walnut shell, one might use a ladle, as I do, to spoon the melted wax out of the pot into a Pyrex measuring cup that has a spout. For dipping, though, all you need is a crock pot, a bit of wax, some leaves or paper and whatnot.

That’s it. There’s your lesson plan on candlemaking and wax craft. No wonder I’m not a teacher.

Note of Caution
Maybe you are thinking, well, couldn’t wax be melted in a microwave? Yes. I have done this. But, as there is no specific setting for “beeswax” on any microwave I’ve ever seen, I do not recommend it. On the other hand, you may not use your microwave as recklessly as I did. First, I bought an old microwave at a thrift store for $15. I used it for many years exclusively as an auxiliary wax melter, just figuring out on the fly what settings to use. After a while, it became completely splattered with wax inside. Occasionally I scraped off the wax. Then the microwave started falling apart. A piece came off the ceiling, but the oven still worked, so I figured it didn’t need that piece. Then the glass plate broke. I figured out how to work around that. I continued to use this microwave. I should have stopped. One day everything inside burst into flames. Now there’s a lesson for you.

The burning of an acorn cap candle. Time elapsed: 15 minutes. I dipped the candle in wax once, quickly, before plopping it in the water, but am not sure that is necessary. It might float perfectly well without a full wax coat. In photo three, the wick has flopped over, is no longer standing upright. In candles like tealights and votives, candlemakers use these little doo-hickeys called wick tabs that hold the wick upright to the very end. This can give a candle another half to full hour of burn time.

Helpful Notes
If you have a block of wax bigger than your jar or crock pot, put the wax in the freezer overnight. In the morning, whack it with a hammer, but first put it in a bag of some sort so the pieces don’t scatter. You can also break up non-frozen wax this way, but the colder beeswax gets, the easier it cracks.

Beeswax begins to soften and melt just shy of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It can go up in flames around 400 degrees. And, just in case you think the wax in a candle burns, it does not. Rather, it vaporizes. That’s something I learned from the Engineer Guy (and I hope I got that right).

As beeswax sets up, is turning from a liquid into a solid, it shrinks in size by 10 percent. The colder the surrounding air, the quicker it shrinks; the warmer the air, the slower.

Wick comes in different sizes, meaning different thicknesses. Basically, the wider the candle, the thicker the wick needs to be. Also, wick can be made of different materials. The best type of wick for a beeswax candle is square-braid cotton. That said, the very first beeswax candle I made had a piece of string from the junk drawer for a wick. It worked well enough. Got me started.

Autumn leaves dipped in beeswax.

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