Country Journal/November 20, 2015

A Meditation on a Lump of Beeswax

I woke up early this morning because I was cold. I investigated. Space heater was not working. Is it the space heater, the extension cord, or the wall outlet? I didn’t want to waste time with this so I mentally designated the task to George, who is the house electrician, went to the living room, switched on the lights, drew the doorway curtain (so the lights would not bother the birds), and did a little more work on the tedious task of sorting and organizing the sewing tools.

This means combining what was already in the living room, in the area designated for sewing, with items recently unpacked, and putting like things together. Some items had been stored in cardboard boxes near the little propane furnace and these I planned to transfer to new storage bins. I came across lumps of beeswax which, fortunately, I had sufficient sense to have placed inside freezer storage bags.

Good thing I did that because the heat from the propane furnace had melted the beeswax which was now in very odd shapes.

There are both benefits and disadvantages to our fairly new propane furnace. It is about the size of a small suitcase and penetrates the front (south) wall of the living room. It vents to the outside. It is efficient and there are no propane fumes at all in the house. That is necessary for the birds. This house was never equipped with central heat. The propane furnace does an amazing job, but it doesn’t heat the house evenly. The living room is toasty, but the north side of the house is always cool. I must keep some doors closed for animal control so the bird room and my bedroom are equipped with electric space heaters to supplement the living room unit. The electronic controls on the living room heater mean that if we lose power, which happens fairly regularly, we also lose all heat. Eventually I will have a wood stove for backup. Woodstove is in place and stovepipe is purchased but not yet installed.

I discovered that I must keep an area of about three to four feet in all directions from the furnace clear of anything that can be damaged by heat. I overlooked the beeswax.

I didn’t want to lose the beeswax. How do I go about heating it to reshape it. That question sent me to the internet where I searched “how to work with beeswax.” I was thinking double boiler but the answer was much simpler. Heat it in a bowl of hot water and that makes it sufficiently pliable to shape.

I carried the beeswax into the kitchen and then I remembered how I came to possess it in the first place. When we first moved to Arkansas we lived in a portable metal building on the Cherry Hill property. We had no electricity and no plumbing. We did have water at a frost free spigot in the yard. Eventually we had electricity installed. The place still has no plumbing. I had brought a modest sewing kit with me when we moved, but most of the sewing supplies and the sewing machines were packed. I was trying to mend something or other and I had trouble with kinks and knots in the thread. I said something to George, “I wish I had beeswax for this thread.”

George said, “No problem. I have two pounds of it.”

I looked at him.

He said, “What?”

Now granted that in all discussions with a person of the opposite sex one must keep firmly in mind that one is dealing with an alien intelligence.

“George, why did you think that you would need to bring two pounds of beeswax with you when moving to Arkansas to homestead in temporary housing? And how did you happen to have it in the first place?”

“Waxing thread.” That’s the way you do it when you restore a ragwing.”

I tried to understand why on earth he thought that restoring an antique aircraft would be the first thing we would do in Arkansas. Or the second, the third, or even the thousand-and-first thing. It made perfect sense to George. It made no sense at all to me.

He unearthed two pounds of beeswax from somewhere or other. I think it was from the depths of an old navy duffel bag. He cut off a generous portion and gave it to me–enough to keep me waxing sewing thread until I am a hundred and twenty years old, at least.

I stood at the kitchen sink and cut the beeswax into appropriate sized pieces, some larger, some smaller. I molded it into lumps that were more or less cubical. I refrigerated it briefly to harden it. The big bits I wrapped in aluminum foil for storage. The small bits went into my various sewing baskets. The reason I keep multiple sewing baskets is that I am apt to do hand sewing wherever it is convenient–the living room, my bedroom, or the home office.

After that I got a mug of coffee, went back to the living room and cogitated.

If there is to be a new arrangement, then what pieces will stay as they are, what will go to the warehouse, what will be brought from the warehouse, and in what order shall the work be done?

My mind went back to the beeswax. That stuff keeps almost indefinitely. How many years has George had that hoard? How valuable will it become if the bees continue on a path to extinction? The world’s honeybees are in big trouble. By the time the soaring price of beeswax regularly makes the news I will probably be long gone, but that is okay with me. I don’t think I want to live in a post Sixth Great Extinction world.

I pondered the arrangement of the living room. I’m stuck with the placement of the wall furnace, the corner cabinet, and the wood stove. That doesn’t leave much scope for arranging furniture. I’m also stuck with the fact that the only place to set up a sewing station is the living room. I reviewed the problem of the ironing board. An ironing board in the living room is–peculiar. Even more peculiar is hanging it from the living room wall to free up floor space. But putting it anywhere other than near the sewing area makes no sense at all because sewing and pressing are done together always. Never trust a seamstress who doesn’t press more than she sews. I went back to the internet and reviewed gadgets that allow one to hang a board on the wall together with the iron and other parts of the ironing operation. I read the reviews. Some were enthusiastic; some were not. Every single ironing board hanger I could find for sale received only qualified commendations with the most common criticisms being, in summary, “This is the finest workmanship from China. Wrong size screws, screws not long enough, screws and holes don’t align, this or that is flimsy. We managed to install it but it required a lot of backyard engineering.” What does not?

I caucused with George about the living room and about the bedroom space heater problem. He reported later that he had done the requisite troubleshooting. He had not, but that is another story. He then took off on a round of errand running. I persevered in the living room.

And, in the meantime, The rooms already cleaned and organized are immediately beginning to lapse into disorder, a process accelerated by macaws shredding newspaper and throwing food and water several feet from their habitats. Daughter Kit once described my cleaning operations as “Mom’s snowplow method.” But the snowplow slows down as one moves through the process because one must constantly backtrack to keep the rooms already completed from relentlessly returning to total mess.

By four in the afternoon, after hours of bouncing around among screaming macaws, trying to keep George on track, working on the living room, and also trying to get words down on paper, I had completed a section of the living room roughly four feet by ten feet. Time to open a bottle of wine.

Several more hours this evening were taken up by the continuing saga of the bedroom heater, but at this time, 8:00 p.m., I do once again have heat.


Country Journal/November 18, 2015

George mislaid his one and only pair of reading glasses and I mislaid my car key weeks ago; both are still missing. Our mantra is, “It’s here somewhere and eventually it will surface.” In the meantime I press on regardless with a very ambitious weeding, housecleaning, re-ordering, and organizing of my house. It’s an awful job, beyond boring, but it must be done. It won’t be done unless I do it. Everything else, including writing, is on hold. I can do daily journal entries so I am beginning a series of those. Whether anyone in the world is interested in reading them is another matter altogether.

But I did promise one friend that I would stick with it and get the house in order and the surplus removed. I promised another friend that I would relate the story of the glass-sided china cabinet key.

We’ve now been in Arkansas eight years and I think, maybe, this coming year will finally see everything unpacked and set into place. Never again will I work on painting and fixing up a house while living in it. Nightmare.

All right, then, to my story: The china cabinet is a Victorian piece from my paternal grandmother’s household. I have only three pieces of furniture that were hers. This is one of them. It rests on ball and claw feet. The sides and the front are glass. The door bows outward with a curved glass insert. It opens and closes with a small key. China cabinet is still in the warehouse in town. Before it can be moved here and set into its proper place I must do a lot of cleaning up in the living room. For one thing there must be a clear path for the movers to get this very fragile piece of furniture off the truck, into the house, and into place on the east wall of the room. I’ve quite a bit of make ready to do before this can happen.

In the meantime, in other rooms of the house I am, in addition to cleaning and getting rid of stuff that should have been thrown away years ago, making some minor changes. I decided to replace some curtain tiebacks. That sent me to the internet to see what was available and at what price. Do I want to buy something or make it myself? I investigated and discovered that there were some very handsome vintage tiebacks out there–for a price. And, if they are described as “vintage French passementerie” the price goes through the roof. Even “rustic” and “handmade” pieces were more than I wanted to spend. With twisted cords, tassels, and embellishments floating through my mind I went to bed night before last. So help me, I dreamed about curtain tiebacks. Towards morning I came wide awake and thought, “Where the heck is the key to the china cabinet?” The reason for this odd mental association is that for years, before one of the cats destroyed it, that particular small key had been decorated with a fancy tassel I had picked up somewhere for next to nothing. That fussy little pink and green tassel popped into my head because I had tassels on the brain and that led me naturally to think of that darned key.

That led to another memory–my mother’s distress when she lost the key to the Seth Thomas clock, whose striking chime marked all the hours of my childhood. “It’s a hundred years old.” she said. “Why did I have to be the person who lost the key?” We never did find that key, but eventually an old watchmaker with a huge inventory managed to come up with a replacement key that did work. The old clock needs major repairs to both the case and the works, but the key is in the clock case because I never put it anywhere else. We had the devil’s own time finding a replacement key in St. Louis in the 1950s. It would be a forlorn hope in Arkansas in 2015. Right now the Seth Thomas is gathering dust in one corner of the living room behind something else so the cats can’t knock it over.

George showed up. I related my worry concerning the key. Now I’ve been keeping house a long time and I’ve been through innumerable moves. I have learned a few things about packing and organizing so that small items don’t vanish. Also I have established some regular routines. “If I was using my head when we left Texas, which is open to doubt, I would have done the sensible thing and stacked all the shelves at the bottom of the cabinet and then left the key in the lock.” I said. “But I haven’t given the matter a thought in years and heaven only knows what I did eight years ago.”

George had to go to town because he needed something from the hardware store. He went by the warehouse, uncovered the china cabinet, which is swathed in old army blankets for protection. Sure enough, the key was in the lock. He brought me the key.

“Now,” he said, “where are we going to put it so it absolutely positively does not disappear?” Personally I wish he’d left it exactly where it was, but George is George and he did not. I found a tag and string and wrote “China Cabinet” and attached the tag to the key. Then, with both of us as witnesses, as we both have short term memory loss, I carefully placed it in a cubbyhole in the top left hand drawer of the maple desk in the home office. The desk formerly belonged to George’s mother and is typical mock colonial from the 1950s.

Gee, isn’t growing older and losing one’s mind a lot of fun?

What else? There are always a ton of nuisance value jobs to be done. I finished knitting the drawstring pouch George had requested as storage for his aviation safety wire pliers. I cut out a pair of curtain tiebacks using a remnant of silk, having decided to make my own. George installed a new perch for Paco (macaw) and a transverse perch and a new heater for Baby (macaw) and did the usual animal care. It usually takes Paco about 48 hours to chew up a two inch diameter hardwood perch and what I would do without George to constantly manufacture new ones I do not know. I restrung some beads (damage caused by mice–they ate the string). I picked up stuff and put it away. I answered a mess of e-mail questions from my first cousins who suddenly decided they could not live another day unless I supplied them with a ton of biographical information about our mutual grandmother. I wrote other e-mails. Thermometer in my room was too high to be easily read; I lowered it to a more convenient height. I boxed one Christmas present (for daughter Kit) and sent it on its way. Let her find a place to keep it between now and Christmas morning; her house is bigger than mine. A set of very cheap replacement curtains for the home office were delivered. I hung them, putting the old ones into a plastic bag to go to the cleaners or to the thrift store, whichever I decide. I did laundry. I folded towels. I figured out what to give to two family members for Christmas. George made a run to the liquor store–we live in a dry county–to place an order for the wine that will be wanted at our December family reunion.

In addition to losing my mind I am also losing my hair. If this keeps up I will be bald in a couple of years.

Now I had better go and cover the macaws. George cannot do it because the cages are tall and he has bad shoulders.

7:00 p.m. George is taking his shower. I would like very much to sit down with a glass of wine and a copy of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. That is not going to happen because before I go to bed I have three rooms to clean. Bathroom and kitchen can’t be done until George is finished and out of here. I say “out of here” because right now he is sleeping at the Cherry Hill cabin. Then there is my bedroom. First Baby shredded the newspaper on the floor of her cage into tiny confetti. Next she sat on top of her cage door and fanned her wings. The room is too fall for a big macaw to fly and she’s got to get her exercise somehow. That sent the remaining newspaper and the confetti all over the furniture and the floor. So after she is covered for the night I clean up the room.

Also must remind George that I need two clean cat boxes. One for the hall and one for Sally Bob (the Munchkin cat) in my room.

8:00 p.m. I am starting the second shift. Refrigerator is acting up. That means defrost the drain tubes leading down from the freezer. George can do, but he needs room to put the contents of freezer and room to work. That means put up dishes, wash dishes, put stuff away, get it clean and swept so he can have room to work tomorrow. After that, the bathroom and my room.

10:00 p.m. I have done everything except for the floors. I am beat and I am going to bed. I’ll do floors in the morning. I did find George’s glasses, exactly where he left them, in the kitchen, on the dresser behind Lady Jasper’s cage (Quaker parrot). I wrote this in Word and I will print out and copy onto my website. I keep backup hardcopy of everything. I’m a Luddite. Right now I’m a very tired Luddite.