I promised myself that I would add one of these stories here every time I told one. I tell them at one point or another throughout the summer. There will be no chronology - not yet anyway - nor will there be much of a schedule. You never know; I might add a story every day and I might not. This is my life. Every day is an adventure.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Candles Candles Candles

Everyone who knows me knows how I love candles. Years and years and years ago, my mother gave me this candle-making kit. I didn’t use it for the longest time because making candles isn’t as easy as it looks. Wax shrinks quite a bit as it cools. Pouring a mass of wax into a mold of any size will almost always give you a hollow center. Dipping candles is probably the best way, but even that way takes a tremendous amount of patience, and you need a LOT of wax to make a candle of any length. It’s called dipping for a reason; you dip your wannabe candle down into a vat a wax, and if you want a candle that is a foot long, that’s how deep your vat has to be. Now this takes a whole lot of patience too. After each dipping, your wannabe candle has to cool COMPLETELY before you can dip it again. Dipping a warm candle doesn’t get you anywhere. Needless to say, I only tried it once just to see how it worked, and at that time, I only had enough wax for about a two-inch candle.

Back to those molds my mom sent me. They were little plastic molds made for the attention span of a kid. Two of the sheets had little one-inch deep molds in shapes like little stars and hearts that would end up being maybe two inches across. The directions said to make two of these molds and then glue them together (with wax) with the wick sandwiched between the halves. Needless to say, I never used those; I wanted a really useful candle, not a decorative toy. The other mold was a flat sheet. It was stippled across the bottom to look something like a honeycomb. The directions for this mold was to pour wax into it, wait for the wax to cool some but not too much, and then roll the sheet of wax up around the wick. Now THIS was a useful candle. I used roughly a cup of wax per candle and quickly used up the wick that came with the kit as well as more wicks sent along with it.

Over the years, I quickly used up all workable string I could lay my hands on, learning what worked best and what didn’t. Cotton worked best, but the fatter the string, the faster my candle burned. String with synthetic fibers did more melting than burning so they went into the trash. At the time, I was feeding chickens and dogs and cats, and those bags are all sewn with string, so packrat me, I hung onto every inch of it. Chicken food bags were made out of waxed paper so they weren’t of much use, but dog food bags were made out of woven plastic that was painted with a plastic film. They were useful, at least for a little while, for things like covering firewood, and I’ve used them to keep the generator shed waterproof, at least until that plastic film comes off. They still work fairly good. Someday I’m going to get a real roof on that little hut. I think I have something now. I’m going to have to check that out tomorrow. You see, the roof we had over the big generator eventually fell down as the posts rotted off at the ground level, and this fall, we (I) finally got around to taking it apart and getting it off the generator. That had a tin roof and not all of it was full sheets. We had to put a short extension on the back to keep water from dripping on the muffler. I don’t know if they were three feet long or four feet long. Guess what; if it fits well enough, it’s going up there. Yay!

Anyway – back to candle making.

Eventually I ran out of string suitable for wick. All that string from all those food bags was too skinny to work well for what I wanted. I sometimes toy with the idea of braiding some together, but somehow simply never get around to it. I still have it all though. Maybe I’ll get desperate again someday. Anyway, I was constantly on the lookout for suitable string and saw some at work. The string the chefs use to tie up steaks or whatever would be perfect, but it never seemed to pan out them ordering more for me. I suppose they forgot, or maybe it just wasn’t on any of their ordering lists, which meant someone would have to go to a specialty shop to get that kind of string. The string I liked best was what came with the powered milk I ordered. The bag inside was always tied together with nice hefty string that was about a foot long. That was like three candles worth, and since I buy powdered milk like every other year, I didn’t have much of that string.

While I was on the hunt for string, I was also on the hunt for wax. I frequently bought candles in town, but I also watched out for candles at work. They’d buy those big candles in jars. They’d light them and burn them for a couple hours, then they’d do it again the next day, and so on. Pretty soon they couldn’t get their hand AND a match into the jar to light it, or the wick drowned, then the wax, jar and all, went into the trash. Fortunately, I went past the trash often enough that I think I rescued most of them. Sometimes the staff would do the same thing back in their rooms, leaving behind the candle when they left. I rescued those too.

Accumulating candle-making supplies wasn’t the only trouble I was having. Since my mold was made to outlast the interest of a child, it eventually gave up the ghost. It was pretty durable for a plastic thing, but you heat it up often enough, it’s eventually going to warp. That was okay at first, the mold was small enough I could pour the wax and then pin down the corners until it cooled enough to continue, but eventually it developed a crack on the side that leaked, and, well, wax is kinda oily so tape wouldn’t stick well, and even if it did, it wouldn’t last through making a candle. It wasn’t long before I was making more of a mess than a candle, so I had to bid the poor thing good bye. That left me without a mold.

Now I do go to town once in a while, and since my son is living within reach, such shopping trips are no longer a mad dash all over the place trying to find everything in as short a time as possible. One such trip, I got stranded in town while my husband was out here with a blown knee. I went to town for a quick shopping trip, but almost as soon as I hit town it started to snow out here and suddenly there was three feet of new snow on the ground. My husband having a blown knee meant he couldn’t manage the snowmachine well enough, and if he was unlucky enough to get stuck, he certainly wasn’t going to be walking home. We had to wait. It works that way sometimes, but it is frustrating, and I ended up spending a week or more in town longer than intended. Anyway, I tortured my son by making him take me on a hunt for candle molds and wicks. Between Eagle River and Wasilla, no such things existed. I could buy all the candles I wanted, but no hobby shop anywhere I looked had a candle-making kit of any kind. Time to try to figure something else out.

I’m getting kinda old and change is frustrating for me (or maybe I’m just normal) anyway I like the candles I could make; they lasted about eight hours unless the wick was off center, but I didn’t mind if they didn't last so long. I used them to read by at night and the melted wax from used up candles always went into the next candle. I didn’t even pay much attention to mixing colors, though I did make some effort to keep the colors somewhat separate. Without a mold, I couldn’t make any candles. Since my son got me a Kindle, having a candle was less important, but I still, like candles – I still watch for wax and string, and I have accumulated quite a bit of wax over the years. I had a cookie sheet, but it was so big, good enough for maybe a dozen cookies or some such, but it had a kink across the bottom. Then came the day when I spotted the perfect thing. Every time I go shopping, I like to go through the cooking isles just to see if there’s anything I might need, and there was this cookie sheet, half the size of the one I had (nicer too). It was still twice the size of my original mold, but at least it was doable. Now all I had to do was find string. Since scavenging wasn’t turning up anything much, my son and I combed the store for string, and guess what; I found some of that too. It’s called butcher’s cord. It came in rolls 250 feet long, 100% cotton – perfect. Unfortunately it was made in China. Ahh, but this was Wal-Mart we’re talking about – what can you expect? I bought two rolls; that will keep me candle making for quite a while. Best of all, I also found some wax scents; now I can make my candles smell good too. And as far as scavenging for string – I got mail the other day, and the postmaster tied it together with string, same stuff too, I think – most certainly close enough. He usually uses rubber bands – yeah, I keep those too.

Needless to say, I’m making candles again. I use about two cups of wax. I know this because I have this perfect little cereal bowl. The wax I scavenge always has old wick, usually burned matchsticks, and more than likely bug carcasses in them so I have always melted them. All the yucky stuff usually falls to the bottom, and if not, it floats to the surface where I can fish it out. I then pour the clean wax into my little bowl. When the wax is cool, like I said, it shrinks and pulls away from the sides, and since the bottom of my bowl is rounded, the cleaned wax falls right out. Over the years, I’ve accumulated over 60 such cakes. So now, I’m pairing up these little wax cakes and making candles. The first one was an experiment, and I’m thrilled with the way it’s working. Maybe they would be better if I had fractionally heaver string, but they certainly work, and I couldn’t be happier. So far, not counting my experiment, I’ve made 8 such candles, and I have enough wax to make 25 more. I think I’ll have enough candles to last me for a while. Which is good since my new boss doesn’t buy candles so my source of wax has diminished. I’m going to have to talk to Lisa, the wife of the new owner at my old workplace. I’m not sure it they buy candles over there, but I’d sure like to take it off their hands if they do. Do you buy candles? What do you do with them when you don’t want to burn them anymore? Send them to me; I’ll love them all over again.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Watching the Seasons Change

I went for my walk today - I do like my walk, and now that it's more than likely the bear(s) have moved on, I can actually walk rather than ride the 4-wheeler. When I'm driving, I miss all the little things, like birds tweeting, tracks along the trail, being able to stop and just listen once in a while.

I learned something today though, something I hadn't really thought of before, but should have suspected. The course of a river is sculpted by more than gravel, waterlogged trees and rocks. Clay can do it too.

Over the years since living out here, I've watched the river change. It's a very slow change and most of it didn't affect me very much. I mean, the water comes up - I go to work. The water goes down - I stay home. The water freezes - I wait for the water to thaw out and come up again.

The big river has gone through some evolutions over the years. Up past Lake Creek, the river has eaten away at a corner, washing away the bank a little or a lot over time, the cut band up there says this, but I never really paid much attention to it - I don't know anyone who lives there anymore. What I see is marked by where the planes park when they land out there. When I first started working at Riversong, they used to park right out front, on the other side of the island out there, and to help ease the traffic, there was another place a few yards upriver called Magic's beach. At some point trees and sand gave away and the current was pushing harder against this bank. Magic's beach went from a sandy beach to a nearly unusable cut back in a single year and got worse after that. The already shallow landing site across from Riversong got shallower so the owner found a new parking place for his traffic at the bottom of that island. They had to retrieve their guests by boat anyway and it was simpler to go directly down inside of the island rather up and around. Eventually that too grew too shallow and muddy. Now, most of the planes land on a narrow muddy, sometimes sandy spit at the bottom of the island where Magic's beach used to be. I don't work out there anymore so I don't know where Riversong's traffic is landing, but I think it's at the same place. Their traffic has been lesser over the last two years though - things have changed.

Closer to home: When we first moved here, there was an island in the slough out in front of our trail. During the bulk of the year, it is under water. It's presence makes it impossible for us to get a fuel barge in here because it would be where his engines would need to be idling in order to maintain parking during offloading. This island was created because the water, for some reason I have yet been able to determine, swirls around it all the time, at least until the water goes down far enough that it no longer makes it around the downriver end.

Also, where our little creek empties out into the slough, there used to be quite a point reaching nearly all the way to the other bank. Since we parked our boats inside this creek, going in and out meant making something of a hairpin turn around that point and to miss the island. Recently, probably because of our traffic back and forth nearly every day, the point began to wear away. When the water gets down low, like it does every year shortly before freeze-up, it would also wear away at this point. A few years ago the top layer of grass washed away and that was the beginning of the end of that point. Last year at this time, it was completely gone. I liked that point; I liked walking out on it because it gave me a little better view upriver - not much, but a little. Unexpectedly, during the course of the summer, a healthy lump of sand was piled back up there. It isn't exactly in the same place though, and when the water went down this year, it didn't flow around the other side of it like it had always done in the past. This year the current leaving our little creek curved past that pile of sand on the close side. It cut away more at what was left of the point, which was next to nothing anymore. During the summer months, the water cutting around the outer island kept bashing into the bank that used to be the foundation of that once-upon-a-time point, shaving away at it.

Today I went down to see how things had progressed. The water flowing from our creek was, and had been, cutting away at this odd pile of sand. I would guess it's about half gone now; it's as if Mother Nature had changed her mind and now wanted the island gone. Of course all this sand has to go somewhere. You guessed it. That island out in the slough gets bigger every year. Not taller, just bigger.

So what was it I learned today? About clay? Where I thought for sure the water would continue to carve it's narrow little slot down to the gravel like it has done every year I've lived here, it has moved over. It's not Mother Nature being fickle apparently there's a thick foundation of clay down there. I knew there was clay, I can see it. I fight with it every time it gets soggy. That stuff is really slimy when it gets wet enough. So this clay may not last against the current like rock or gravel would, but it's protecting my parking lot for a little while longer. Interesting.

Another interesting thing: There is a clay here in Alaska that when fired makes a creamy item laced with red lines. This has always fascinated me because, as I understand it, there is no way of telling where the red lines will end up - they are invisible in the raw clay. A couple years ago I discovered a pottery maker on Facebook. Anyway, I asked them about it, about how I might be able to tell if what I had here was this kind of clay. Or even how to tell for sure if it is clay and not just slimy, silty buildup. They offered to test a sample if I could send them some, so all year I've been trying to figure out the best place to collect a good, clean sample. I think I have. Time will tell. Just like with everything else I need to mail from here, this too will have to wait until such time as I can mail something - probably some time next summer. I'll be sure to keep you posted on the outcome.