Moth

You may recall me finding this awesome Cecropia caterpillar last autumn. Well, this winter I found a really huge cocoon on the side of my house. Based on the size I assumed it belonged to one of those caterpillars.

I’ve been checking that thing every day since April hoping I’d catch it when it hatched (or whatever it’s called when they come out of the cocoon).

And today, there it was! Huge friggin Cecropia moth!

I wanted to show scale, and mayyybe I should’ve come up with something more, you know, opaque to hang next to it, but all I could find at short notice were these safety glasses.

I showed the cocoon to the kids next door a few months back, but I wasn’t sure if I showed it to all of them. I saw two of them outside and said “Do you guys remember me showing you a cocoon? The moth that was in it hatched and…” and they just started running to where the cocoon was. I managed to stop them before they started smooshing their way through the ivy, which the cocoon was well hidden behind (I had to hold it back with a big stick to get the pictures. That’s also why I didn’t just hold something up for scale).

The sad(ish) thing is that this moth will only live for two weeks, which I mentioned in the caterpillar entry. Giant silk moths, like the Cecropia, don’t have mouths (or digestive systems). They get two weeks to find that special someone and lay a bunch of eggs.

The whole caterpillar/butterfly thing is a bit crazy, if you ask me.

13 (and a bit)

Gigi’s 13th birthday was a couple of weeks ago, but it was cloudy and rainy. And I kept forgetting to bring a camera when it was nice. So yesterday I just took a few cellphone pics.

BONUS: Gigi X-Ray Paw. And yeah it’s all good.

Her other paw, well, apparently she has a shattered toe. And she’s had it since at least November. But she doesn’t seem to care so we’re just going to leave it/make sure it doesn’t get worse.

Nora

I got a new kitten. She’s about 9 months old, and her name is Nora.

Finally someone appreciates all the wheatgrass I’ve been growing.

After that she destroyed every plant that wasn’t wheatgrass.

She’s sadly a bit too old to just accept that Duncan is the boss. She tried asserting herself to a cat that’s twice her size and 6 years older. She kinda stopped after that. They’re not best friends or anything quite yet but the alarm siren sounds have stopped!

She’s insanely vocal (which is cute) and she’s very sweet other than the Duncan thing. Although he’s trying to teach her how to drink from the faucet, so we’ll see.

Movie “Review”: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Continuing my Classic Movie semi-marathon (as in, watching them occasionally) I watched 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin.

It’s a very well-made movie with very good acting, but I realised I can summarise it in about 5 seconds.

So I did. Enjoy!

Palm Wax

I only heard about palm wax a couple of weeks ago. One of the interesting things about it is it’s supposed to make cool patterns when it cools. So once I established that it’s made from eco-friendly palm oil (because that’s just the kind of thrilling person I am), I got some.

I got small sample-sizes of four different kinds, which are supposed to make four different patterns.

Palm wax is… challenging to work with. It is definitely not meant for small candles. It needs to cool really slowly, or the patterns don’t form. And I mean really slowly. Room-temperature doesn’t do it. The instructions recommend insulating your containers or molds with towels or bubble-wrap, none of which would work for me.

As a result, my first batch ended up looking like regular candles.

So I had to get creative.

What I ended up doing was putting my candle molds in bread pans and, after pouring the wax into them, pouring boiling water into the bread pan. That seemed to work, but meant I had to wait ages before putting the wicks in, and the wicks had a really rough time staying straight. Furthermore, palm wax doesn’t just “harden” like other waxes – it crystallises. That means it gets really hard, so it’s almost impossible to move the wicks around… anyway, I could ramble about this for ages, so here are some pictures.

As I mentioned, my first pour didn’t go as well as I’d like. This was the second, and the first with my bread pan method.

This is “Feather Wax”.

The next two are probably meant more for containers than for molds. Actually they’re labelled as container waxes. This means you have no intention of taking the candle out of the container you pour it in, which means the wax sticks like crazy. It was incredibly hard to get these guys out of the molds; I had to freeze them, then beat them up and then pull them out with pliers. You can see the wicks are a bit smooshed on some of them.

This one is called “Sparkle Light.”

This one is “Glass Glow.” It’s a bit hard to see the pattern on it. Might be the wax, or the pour, or the yellow.

The first palm wax I tried is supposed to have a tortoise shell pattern. I thought that cooling too fast made it not appear, but even when I did it “right” the pattern is barely visible. This photo is heavily edited to make it show better. That said, I might get another sample size of this guy and try again because I like the potential.

Now here’s the one where I just poured a teeny bit of leftover wax into a mold with each wax. I clearly poured some when it was way too hot so it ate through and mixed with the waxes below it. Still, I think it looks pretty cool.

These are my bread pans with the molds and boiling water in them.

In conclusion, I kind of like the results I got with some of the palm waxes, but they range from “kind of a hassle” to “oh my god my kitchen looks like I murdered a smurf in it” (long story, I may have crushed a few of the blue ones when they were still molten on the inside). I might try them again, and I may have some palm wax lying around for occasional projects, but I’m not ever using it as a regular wax.

Oh, one thing – the palm candles I burned so far have burned really clean. One of them left absolutely NO wax in the container I burned it in, and the rest left very, very little. That is actually very cool.

I do have a few soy waxes to experiment with, and that clean burn might also be a result or which wicks I used.

Candles – Experimental Edition

I’ve been making more and more candles (and giving a lot of them away), and eventually made some experimental ones. Here are a few:

Those are (obviously) much larger pillar candles than the usual votives I make. I get them that way by having a bunch of crushed ice in the container and then pouring the wax in when it’s fairly cold (not that it doesn’t get really cold really fast anyway).

The lighter blue one was the second one I made. The other two were the third and fourth, and I decided I may as well use my leftover paraffin wax for them since I was experimenting. I forgot how much paraffin changes shape while cooling – more on that later.

These guys are extremely fragile. Which brings me to this guy:

That’s the first one I made. It was so fragile that I had to pour a second “layer” of wax in there.

Here’s what the tops look like:

As I mentioned above, I forgot how much paraffin deforms. That’s why one of the paraffin ones looks like that – I didn’t have enough to do a second pour.

I can’t decide if I prefer them with a solid top or not. The first one I did, I didn’t think to pour in a base first so it was very tippy-over in addition to being fragile.

And now for a very old candle. I made this one aaages ago:

I made the mold myself out of some plumbing supplies. What I did was pour a big of wax into it every time I made some candles.

It was in the cupboard with all the other candles that got attacked by the mice. And it was not spared… this is what the mice did to it:

I didn’t have the heart to throw it out, so I disinfected the living hell out of it. Still wash my hands after touching it.

It was also in the cupboard upside down, but I guess it doesn’t really matter that much.

I’ve made two other giant candles like that, but they don’t look nearly as cool.

Part of me wonders if that thing would actual burn!

I also learned about palm wax a bit ago, and finally remembered to email my wax suppliers (haha) and ask them if their palm wax is eco-friendly. And it is! I ordered sample-sized packages of four different ones. That should be a lot of fun. Palm wax has all kinds of interesting patterns when it dries. Hopefully it all gets here next week and isn’t horribly delayed by the holiday!

Candles

I like making candles. First, I like candles. Second, it indulges my crafty/mad-scientist tendencies.

I hadn’t made any candles in a while, but for some reason I decided to make a few last week. I wanted an excuse to make more so I told a friend of mine I’d give her some.

So I made a whole bunch and brought them to her where she works (which is a local health-food grocery store type place). Anyway she and a lot of other people really liked them, and… well, I’ll get into it in a bit but the bottom line is I made a whole bunch:

Those are just the ones I’m giving them. I’m keeping some of each batch for myself, naturally. Well except the orange ones. I usually use essential oils to scent the candles, but the orange ones are a Victoria’s Secret scent that I got as a free sample one time. It’s waaaay girly so I’m giving all of those away.

Anyway, those are the regular candles. Here are some Special Editions:

The pink ones in the back are why I really ended up making a bunch. When I told my friend I was going to make more and that I usually use essential oils, she said she got a free sample of rose essential oil. And she didn’t know what to do with it. So I said hey. I can put them in candles.

So I made a really, really small batch of rose candles. There are actually five of them (I get to keep one and one more kinda unbalanced the photo). Anyway, see those two on the left? I had a teeny bit of rose left so I tried to make one that looked like a flower. It… didn’t turn out that well, so I tried it again with those other two. I don’t think they look like flowers but it’s still cool. The stripy one is basically me dumping the leftover wax in a container after each batch. And the diagonal one, well, always wanted to try that.

Anyway, my problem is I’m not sure how the hell to transport them without having them break. Too bad I recycled all the boxes I had last week…

Oh, that reminds me. I used to keep one single candle from every batch I made. For years. So I had a box with lots and lots of candles I made over the past decade or so.

I tried to find an interesting one for my friend… only to find that mice had been eating them. Yup. Mice. Ate. My. Candles. And the vast majority of those were from before I switched to soy wax! I had to throw the whole box out…

Hey look what I found.

Yes, another random dog showed up on my doorstep. But unlike the previous one, this guy had a collar with a tag on it. So I know his name is Harrison.

His tag also had a phone number which I called a bunch of times but they didn’t answer. It also had an address which was fairly close to my house but across the main road so I didn’t want him to wander around. I let him hang around in the house while I put on warmer clothes so I could walk him over there and he seemed fine. Which is good since there was nobody at his house so I brought him back.

He seemed really happy and mellow. That is, until he saw Duncan. Poor guy never stood a chance. Duncan harassed him for hours.

I took him to the dog park with us because I didn’t want to leave him here alone. Kept him on a leash, of course. He did really well! On the way back I swung by his house (even though I never got a call back) and there were a couple of cars in the driveway so I stopped off and dropped him off. They said thanks but kinda seemed like they wanted me to get out of there. I think they thought I’d just found him right then. Eh.

Ralph

When I was a kid, there was an old man who lived in our neighbourhood. When I started thinking about writing this up I realised I didn’t remember his name, but luckily my mom did. His name was Ralph Elkin. “Uncle Elkin”, we called him.

He was American (which was somewhat rare). Wore one of those Old Guy caps, had a ubiquitous 1970s yellow Volvo station wagon.

He was a nice guy and all the kids loved him. When you’d run into him around the neighbourhood (usually when he was walking from his car to his place) he’d always ask “Are you a good boy?” and if you said yes (which, of course, you did) he’d give you a lollipop.

So, nothing super-special there. Just an old guy who liked kids and gave them candy. I suppose nowadays that might seem odd, which is a little sad, but back then it was just nice.

One day I was watching TV – and there he was. They were having a report on him.

Turns out he used to go to hospitals, visit and cheer up sick children. Just because. On the TV show they showed him talking to wounded soldiers. Funny thing is he was still going “Are you a good boy?” at them and giving them lollipops.

That’s pretty much the end of the story. It doesn’t have a Surprise Bad Ending (also known as a Cosby).

I originally went on a tangent over here about spirituality (or rather the lack of me having any and not needing any) which pretty much tripled the length of this post, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I just wanted that small story I had about Ralph Elkin to be on the Internet. I don’t think that many people will see it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s out there, and probably will be for a long time.

Neighbourhood.

I have a story to tell about an old man who lived in my neighbourhood.

But first I have to talk about what our neighbourhood looked like. It’s not 100% vital to the story, but it nagged at me a bit that when I say “neighbourhood”, people probably get a completely different mental image than the one I grew up in.

Here in America (at least in Minnesota) when you say “neighbourhood” I think a lot of people would think of a bunch of houses in the suburbs, maybe a cul-de-sac (also known as “those round things where you have to turn around and go back).

The neighbourhood I grew up in would be described by people here as a whole bunch of condominiums. We called them flats. Some people were renting, most people owned the place. There wasn’t a central management company or anything (though there was a Building Committee or something, made up of the residents).

The neighbourhood I grew up in had five or six buildings. They were 6 stories tall and fairly ugly, because they were built out of reinforced concrete in order to be bomb-proof. As a side-effect, if you wanted to hang up a picture you needed special drill-bits because you could not get a nail into those walls. Our buildings surrounded a nice lawn, sidewalks and a playground, which was a fairly large area. Lots of trees, too.

I’ve been looking for some pictures to show you. I don’t have any really good ones, but here are a couple.

This one is my sister and me when we were very, very young.

I’m the one not wearing a dress and looking grumpy. Yes I could restore this thing to look better but I’m not going to. You can see one of the buildings in the background as well as the lawn. We were sitting on the sidewalk right in front of the building we lived in at the time.

Here’s a more recent picture. Still fairly old but at least the colours are closer to reality.

Ugh. I remember when they planted those palm trees. The building dead-ahead is the same one as in the previous picture, but at a very different angle.

So that’s the picture. Bunch of flats/apartment buildings, with a big garden in the middle.

There are more pictures of my old neighbourhood (among other things) in this old gallery.