Monthly Archives: May 2015

The candle project

For several years and at least three moves, I’ve had these scented beeswax candles in glass jars. I got them in two trips to Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, and over the years I’ve burned most of them two-thirds or halfway down, to the point where I can’t light them anymore because the wicks are drowned in the wax. My attempts to light them anyway have only added smoky tints to the jars.

Green Apple and Rosemary Mint Bee Natural candles in jars

The whole candle-in-a-jar thing seems like a design flaw to me. How are they ever supposed to burn all the way down? I had the idea of getting the wax out of the jars and pouring it instead into paper cups. We did this at summer camp, making “ice candles” by pouring hot wax into paper cups filled with ice, with a new wick; once the wax cooled, you could peel the paper cup off the outside, the water (formerly ice) ran out, and you were left with a cool, sculptural candle.

I asked my friends on facebook if they had had any ideas for getting candle wax out of jars. Surprisingly, this question generated more activity than just about anything else I’d ever posted, excepting the engagement announcement. Unfortunately, a lot of the strategies relied on the shape of the jar: specifically, it couldn’t be narrower at the top, as my jars with their screw-top lids were.

One strategy looked like it would work, however: melting the candles entirely. I replicated the summer camp setup (minus the ice) with paper cups and new wicks, then heated the candles one or two at a time in a small saucepan of water over medium-high heat.

Candle in glass jar, wax partially melted, in water in saucepan on stovetop

From WikiHow:

“Put the jar candle in boiling water (or put it in the oven on low temperature) until it melts the wax enough for the whole thing to be dumped.

Use oven mitts when handling the jar with the melted wax, because it will be very hot. Also take great care not to overheat the glass––if the jar candle gets too hot or touches electric hotplates directly, it risks exploding.”

No kidding about the oven mitts and the hot glass. I used tongs to raise the jars out of the simmering water very carefully, then held the jars with oven mitts very carefully to pour the wax into the paper cups, which were labeled according to scent – peach, green apple, rosemary mint, lavender, and citronella. I cut the wicks to the right length and tied them to pencils or pens resting across the tops of the cups, so the wicks would hang relatively straight down. Then I placed them in the fridge to cool overnight.

Candle wax in blue paper cups colling in refrigerator

The next day, the wax had hardened again. I removed the cups from the fridge, and the candles in their new shapes popped out easily. They’re wide enough I could have placed two wicks in each; I had meant to buy smaller cups but the store only had this size. If I ever do this again I’d just drape a double-length wick over the pen or pencil top instead of tying the single wick off around it.

Labeled paper cups, including green apple and peach

Five different scents/colors of candles in their paper cups

Fingers holding the lavender candle by its wick

Over all, though, I’m calling it a success. I won’t have to look at the smoke-stained jars anymore and I’ll be able to use more of the candles. So in answer to my mom’s question: yes, it was worth the time.

A lit citronella candle burning on a glass coaster


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How does your garden grow?

Blue-glazed strawberry jar with three side openings and one top opening, planted with strawberry plants

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

There are no silver bells here (unless you count windchimes), and certainly no cockle shells or pretty maids, but there are several kinds of herbs and flowers. Memorial Day weekend updates:

  • Moved most strawberries from Home Depot buckets to a strawberry jar or individual terra cotta pots. Hoping this will foil the squirrels (does anything foil the squirrels?). Also, the strawberry jar is pretty – a gift from some friends who are moving away, leaving their rooftop garden behind.
  • Transplanted basil and small rose bush from plastic pots to terra cotta ones (extra terra cotta pots were gifts from same friends as above). I learned from my container gardening book that the roots of plants in plastic pots can heat up too much on hot sunny days.
  • Transplanted the grape hyacinth – which is pretty much done for the year, I think – into its own terra cotta pot, and replaced it with a new sage plant in the rectangular planter with the rosemary and chives.
  • Moved the roses and the calibrochoa from the back porch to the front; moved two mint plants from the front to the back; moved basil and kalanchoe from indoor windowsill to back porch.
  • Planted a cutting of mint for a co-worker. (Growing new mint plants from old ones is incredibly easy: take a cutting, place the stem in water for several days, and it starts growing roots; then you can plant it in soil and it should be off and running.)

I’m trying not to overdo it, but it’s easy to keep saying “just one more thing” and before you know it it’s been three hours. If I ever got raised beds I’d probably never come inside, so I’m sticking with containers for now. At least this afternoon was somewhat overcast, and I remembered to take breaks to drink water.

Basil in round pot, nasturtium and basil in rectangular planter, strawberries in new strawberry jar

Basil in round pot, nasturtium and basil in rectangular planter, strawberries in new strawberry jar

Thyme in rectangular planter, strawberry, mint, and thyme in raised pots, basil on right

Thyme in rectangular planter, strawberry, mint, and thyme in raised pots, basil on right

Mint, kalanchoe, basil, thyme

Mint, kalanchoe, basil, thyme

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Spring gardening, outdoor edition

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think we’re past the danger of frost now, so today I transplanted most of the seedlings from the peat tray and moved them outside.

A pot of basil seedlings just beginning to sprout

Basil growing on the windowsill

A row of little pots lined up on the porch railing

From left: jelly bean tomatoes, thyme and chives, mint and bunny tails in the terra cotta pot.

Rectangular planters and small round pots on the porch railing

In the rectangular planter, I pulled out last year’s parsley (it wasn’t healthy), and planted bunny tails in the middle; I’m pretty sure I planted seeds on either side, but now I’m not sure what kind they were. I thought basil, but most of those have come up by now, so it might be nasturtiums, which take longer to emerge. The two small round pots and the smaller rectangular planter all contain thyme, grown from seed.

Two small round pots, a rectangular planter, and two flower pots

From left: two small pots of chives, a rectangular planter with basil and nasturtiums, and two calibrochoa flowers. I had calibrochoa for the first time last year, and loved it: great colors, and it bloomed all summer (at least until it succumbed to aphids), plus it doesn’t require deadheading. Mostly I prefer to grow things I can eat, but a few flowers are just so cheery.

A terra cotta pot with dusty miller, little white flowers, and little orange flowers

Speaking of which, this year I added two 12″ pots at the base of the front stairs to brighten the entry. Each pot has dusty miller, a Diascia hybrid (the orange flowers), and a Nemesia fruticans (the white flowers).

Pink flowers, pale greenery in a pot overlooking the stairs

I also added a dianthus in the front. I thought it was something else – some of our neighbors have plants with a similar shade of pale greenery and super-saturated magenta/fuschia flowers, but I don’t know what those are called and this isn’t it. Still, it’s nice and bright.

A patch of earth bordered by 2x4s and rocks, a rectangular planter to the right side

Back to the backyard: This is the same patch where I tried to grow squash last year. (The squash did very well for half the summer, then abruptly died.) This year, I planted a few rows of carrots, with sweet peas along the back, close to the fence, and nasturtiums in the front. The seeds have yet to sprout, but we only put them in on May 3, and they may take up to 21 days to emerge. In the rectangular planter to the right are radishes and some more nasturtiums.

Birds' eye view of rectangular planter with radish seedlings sprouting

The radishes are very enthusiastic. This is my first year growing radishes (and anything from seed, for that matter), and I’m looking forward to them. (Does anyone know when to pull them up to eat? That’s the trouble with root vegetables…)

A row of 8 orange buckets with tomato seedlings and cages

Last but certainly not least, the stars of the garden (I hope), the tomatoes! Ben turned the soil from last year and added more soil, and helped place the cages, though obviously the seedlings don’t need them yet. (And this year I’ll be more vigilant about trimming the plants so they put more energy into growing tomatoes and less into growing stems and leaves. Last year it looked like Jack and the Beanstalk back there.)

There are four varieties of tomato: Sun Gold, Sweet 100s, Jelly Bean, and Gardener’s Delight. I’m especially looking forward to the Sun Gold and Sweet 100s, which I tasted from my cousin’s garden last summer.

I also added a few more basil seeds to the tomato buckets, as tomatoes and basil are supposed to be good “companions,” though I’m afraid the buckets will become somewhat crowded and I may have to thin them.

A birds' eye view of one of the orange buckets with tomato seedlings

A few more orange buckets contain strawberry plants from two summers ago (they keep surviving, though they didn’t produce any berries last summer, or at least none I got to before the birds and squirrels did), the rosemary that spent the winter indoors, and some sweet pea seeds (Knee-High and High Scent) that have yet to emerge.

The back porch from the back yard; buckets below, pots and planters on railing

The view from the hammock.

The peat tray was a success, I think, and I was able to give the extra seedlings away to friends and co-workers. Now it’s time to sit back, water, and watch things grow!


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Ivy League Dog

Sudo has now been to three fancy northeast schools. First, she visited Brandeis, for a de-stressing even before midterms. Then we went to Tufts, then Harvard.

Sudo lying down, surrounded by people petting her

At the Tufts event, Sudo was the smallest dog in the room, until a field spaniel arrived. (At about 57 pounds, Sudo is rarely the smallest dog in the room, but she still got plenty of attention.) The other dogs included a Leonberger, a Newfoundland, a Great Pyrenees, a Golden Retriever, and a chocolate Lab.

Sudo on the floor, being petted

Naturally, all that attention became tiring, so she took a brief nap under the couch.

Sudo lying on the floor, her nose underneath the couch

Like the Brandeis event, the Tufts event was very well organized; people met us at the door and guided us to the room, which was welcoming and large enough for all of the dogs and people without anyone feeling crowded. The students were grateful for the dogs’ presence.

The Harvard event was in a smaller space and not so well attended, but it was probably due to the weather, which was sunny and passably warm; plus, there was music, free food, and baby farm animals outside. I love my dog, but I’m willing to concede that she can’t compete with baby goats. A few people came through and petted Sudo, but when I realized the room wasn’t going to get overcrowded, I let her come up on the couch so she’d be more comfortable.

Sudo on a leather couch, her paws on my lap

Again, the organizers were very nice and appreciative, and even brought Sudo a little dish of water in case she got thirsty.

Sudo on the couch, staring at her stuffed alligator toy on the floor

“That thesis isn’t going to write itself, you know.”

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Sheepshearing Festival at Gore Place

Goats and sheep running toward the cameraThis is what happens when you find a flyer in the library. Or at least, when Ben does. He was intrigued by this sheepshearing festival, and the weather was nice, so off we went. We saw a herding dog demonstration, some other animals (chickens, a baby lamb, oxen, a llama), trapeze artists, and lots of wool products.

Ben standing next to a sign that reads Sheep Shuttle StopA black-and-white herding dog crouched in the grassTrapeze equipment and netsA 2-year-old white ox tied to a trailerThe two-year-old oxen were not that impressive, size-wise; a sign said they weighed 1,200 pounds each, which is about the same as a Thoroughbred horse. But around the other side of the trailer…

Full-grown white ox tied to a trailer…an ox suitable for Paul Bunyan. Or for pulling the trailer – I don’t know why they bothered with the truck.

A llama lying down in the dirt, head up, facing the camera

Dentists’ nightmares are full of llama teeth.

A sign of "Diet Tips"

Click image to enlarge.

Outside the fudge tent (of course there was a fudge tent, what self-respecting farm festival doesn’t have a fudge tent?) was this sign of “Diet Tips,” which may as well be my family’s motto. It’s a little long for a motto, but it can be summarized as “Mmmm, chocolate.” (Sub-motto: “This is mine, get your own.”)

Blue sky with white cloudsAll in all, it was a lovely day, if five or ten degrees colder than we might have liked. At least the wool merchants were happy.

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Filed under animals, spring