By the light of the silvery (full) moon earlier this month, I wish you and yours a happy holiday and a joyous new year!
The last time you heard from me (January 23, 2013, if anyone’s keeping track), Downton Abbey’s Sybil Branson (née Lady Sybil Crawley) was still alive. So, for that matter, was Matthew Crawley, heir to the popular British program’s eponymous estate. The last time you heard from me, Pope Benedict XVI was still wearing his famous red shoes. Advance word from Hollywood revealed, however, that due to copyright restrictions, another pair of famous red shoes would not be worn in Oz: The Great and Powerful.
The last time you heard from me I was still living in Richmond, Virginia. That is no longer the case.
Yes, the world will turn. And with every revolution, changes large and small are writ large and small in lives large and small…even in lives fictitious.
Following a nine-week social media sabbatical, I am slowly making my way back to something resembling an online life. Blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing all took a back seat to real life, and although I’ve had pangs of guilt about my absence (Would my readers think I’d abandoned them? Would they rush into the arms of another midlife second wife and abandon me?) it was necessary to stay away. I haven’t had a vacation in years, and this hiatus in the real world felt like a vacation, albeit one with considerably more packing involved.
It’s easy to forget just how much work goes into in a cross-country move…how many details, large and small, demand one’s attention. The sheer physicality of moving is exhausting. Just as exhausting are the weeks preceding the move, when your life is in flux and you don’t even know where you’ll land.
In a recent New York Times interview, David Rock, director of the Neuroleadership Institute, talked about the notion of certainty in relation to the brain. Using the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as an example, he said:
The feeling of uncertainty feels like pain, when you can’t predict when the lights will come back on and you’re holding multiple possible futures in your head. That turns out to be cognitively exhausting.
I cannot begin to compare my own comfortable situation to those displaced by natural, political, or financial disasters. I do think, however, that anyone who has ever moved, for whatever reason, can agree that the months preceding a relocation—with unsettling uncertainties about where one will live, where one will create a life and a home—certainly feels like pain. Certainly it’s every bit as cognitively exhausting as it is physically draining.
House-hunting is fun for about the first week; after that, it’s fraught with existential angst. Where will our new pizza joint be? What neighbors will we have, and what will they be like? What sort of days will fill our daily lives? Where will we dream our nightly dreams?
In The Poetics of Space, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes that “an entire past comes to dwell in a new house,” which is to say that “wherever you go, there you are.”
As I write this, my husband and I have been in our new home for 36 days. We have brought our past lives with us along with our books, dishes, and furniture. We are unpacking and storing, organizing and setting up, making room for all of these things in our new space in Northeast Ohio. The rooms that were bare and strange upon our arrival are starting to take on the look of us, the look of the familiar, as if we’ve lived here longer than 36 days.
And all the while the world is turning, and changes large and small are happening all around us.
Thank you for waiting for me. It’s good to be back.
Do I have a point of view? Why yes. Yes I do. Thank you for asking. Today, Viewpoints, a consumer-review leader based in Chicago, has issued a press release announcing that they want my opinion. Here are the details: Yours truly, The Midlife Second Wife, is one of seven bloggers in the U.S. and Canada named to a panel that will test consumer products and then share with our respective audiences whether or not the new products are worth the bother and the buy. It’s a unique partnership, and it’s an honor to share the same patch of blogosphere with the other distinguished women on the panel, which, incidentally, is known as “The Viewpoint.” (Gee, maybe Barbara Walters of The View will ask “The Viewpoint” panel to come on her show!)
Know what else I love about this venture? Not only do I get to share with you my experiences in trying these new products, but I also will be donating the product to a charity of my choice once the testing is complete.
Here’s what Denise Chudy, Viewpoints’ general manager, has to say about the program:
“Viewpoints is thrilled to welcome these experienced and witty writers to help us create a more meaningful conversation about new household products. More and more consumers use online reviews to make their purchase decisions. These respected bloggers are perfect for the assignment, and we have ambitious plans.”
You can learn more about the Viewpoints panel below, and if you click on this link you can read the press release.
Let the testing begin!
The Viewpoint Panel
- Lian Dolan, The Chaos Chronicles by Lian Dolan
Aside from being a successful blogger, Lian Dolan hosts an iTunes top-rated podcast for moms also called “The Chaos Chronicles.” Based in Pasadena, California, Lian is the parenting expert at oprah.com and author of the novel, Helen of Pasadena, an LA Times bestseller. Her motto is: “Embrace Your Chaos.”
- Sheila Hill, Pieces of a Mom (because motherhood is a little bit of everything)
Sheila Hill started her blog in coastal New Jersey to keep faraway friends and family in the loop. She soon realized that she had a lot to say. From daily life to fun activities and day trips for kids to product reviews, “Pieces of a Mom” has evolved into much more than just a daily diary.
- Sarah Mock, How I Pinch a Penny, Helping you save one penny at a time
Saving money is important. Sarah Mock’s family in Pennsylvania has cut back on many items, and she blogs about creative ideas for increasing value and reducing cost. She is also is proudly ‘green’ in that she recycles, composts, and buys local when possible.
- Randi Chapnik Myers and Mara Shapiro, momfaze, the real scoop on raising teens
From Toronto, Randi Chapnik Myers and Mara Shapiro dish about the joys and challenges of parenting teens and tweens, from stalking kids’ Facebook pages to sharing their clothes to teaching them to stay safe – all while walking the tightrope between Mom and Friend. Frank, funny and honest, these two midlife moms aren’t shy about telling it like it is.
- Jill Nystul, One Good Thing by Jillee, Sorting through the beautiful clutter of life to find that “One Good Thing” each day and sharing it with you!
Jill Nystul’s website is based on a simple promise — to deliver ‘one good thing’ to her readers everyday. Her background includes work as a Utah television journalist, and this blog is a return to her roots in that respect. Filled with practical tips and beautiful photos, she calls “One Good Thing by Jillee” her life-saving passion.
- Marci Rich, The Midlife Second Wife, The Real and True Adventures of Remarriage at Life’s Midpoint
Marci Rich started her blog after discovering that there really is life after 40, after divorce and after cancer. Readers find inspiration, comfort and humor at “The Midlife Second Wife,” which she defines as “a literary lifestyle/relationship blog with recipes and a medical memoir.” A graduate of Oberlin College, Marci is also a special correspondent for the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch.
- Kathy Zucker, METRO MOMS Network, Consulting Network + Biannual Expos + Magazine = Parenting & Career Answers
The “Metro Moms Network” is more than a blog. Kathy Zucker is founder of this one-stop shop to help families juggle career and parenting. From childcare solutions to expert advice to products that moms can’t live without, the “Metro Moms Network” is a valuable resource for New Jersey parents.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay was revised February 1, 2014, to include an after-photo of the living room, showcasing the great work of N. Chasen and Son. (Scroll to the end of the post to see the photo.) As regular readers of the blog know, John and I subsequently sold our beautiful townhouse in Richmond and moved back to Ohio. Look for future posts in the blog’s House and Garden section showing renovations to our new home in Northeast Ohio.
The picture pretty much tells the story, doesn’t it? But let’s get your questions out of the way first. Yes, our bedroom is directly above the living room. No, that’s not why our ceiling collapsed. (Wink wink, nudge nudge.) No, we weren’t in the room when it happened. Yes, the pets and we were safely asleep upstairs. No animals or humans were injured as a result of this catastrophe. Yes, it’s a real mess, isn’t it?
So what happened? Wish we knew. All we can do is surmise and engage in conjecture.
Several days before the collapse we noticed that a crack in our plaster ceiling had taken on an ominous appearance; it looked as though the ceiling could fall at any time. We arranged for a contractor to come out and evaluate the situation, and the following week (the day before his crew was scheduled to begin work) we prepared the area by removing all of our breakables and as much furniture as we could. Something told us to protect the remaining furniture, just in case. I’ve always been an “ounce of prevention” kinda gal, and those instincts didn’t fail us.
At 4:15 a.m., the next morning, we were awakened by what I thought was thunder. Imagine the loudest clap of thunder you’ve ever heard, intensify it ten-fold, and insert yourself smack in the middle of the din. We never expected our ceiling to give way, but we’re awfully grateful for the timing of our precautions.
And while we’re on the subject of timing, I should say a word or two about age.
We live in an English Tudor Revival townhouse that was built in 1927. It’s filled with the sort of charm you’d expect from the era, and as an added bonus, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. But it’s 85 years-old. Stuff is going to happen.
According to documents filed with the National Registry, our enclave, known as English Village, was constructed as a multifamily planned community in what was once a tree-lined “streetcar suburb.” The trees still line our avenue, but the streetcars are long gone.
Designed by Richmond architect Bascom Rowlett, each of the 17 attached two-and-a-half story townhomes are formed in the shape of a U around a central courtyard. At the time, Rowlett’s plan was quite innovative for Richmond, indeed, for the entire country. English Village was designed as a cooperative planned community—one of the earliest such ventures in the United States, which is why it qualified for architecturally significant status. It is, in fact, considered a precursor of today’s condominiums, and the concept was quite radical. (Most cooperative housing in America was built for the working class, with collective ownership of the property. English Village differed markedly in that it was built for the upper middle class, with each owner holding a clear title to his own property.)
I wish I had access to the actual sales prospectus. The document on file with the National Registry provides only this delicious snippet:
[Enjoy] the new lifestyle … While enjoying all the amenities, including [the] privacy of single house living with an atmosphere of social respectability.
An atmosphere of social respectability. A statement to do Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess proud, what? Yes. Jolly good.
All of this history is interesting, but it doesn’t help much when you’re standing in the middle of your living room with what once was your ceiling clumped in dusty piles around your feet.
Luckily, we have an ace team on the job—Richmond’s own N. Chasen and Son. Here’s a picture of their head carpenter assessing the damage.
The project should be completed in a few more days. And by the look of things, this new ceiling should last at least 85 years. We won’t be around to appreciate its longevity, but if anyone living in our English Village abode is reading this post in 2097, please do me a favor and post a comment. A picture would be nice, too!
Here’s the finished look of our living room, showing the beautiful work done by N. Chasen and Son. You’d never know the ceiling was once on the floor! They did a great job painting the room, too. We used Benjamin Moore’s “Ice Mist” on the walls—a lovely white with just a kiss of blue in the undertones. This color will be my default for future rooms that beg to be white.
A note to the reader: No compensation or obligation by N. Chasen and Son was expected, and none has been extended, in conjunction with this blog post. I’m just a satisfied customer and glad to give them a shout-out.
John Erikson of Richmond, Virginia, has been burning the candle at both ends lately. As the one-man operation behind Pure Light Candles, that’s understandable; December is his busy season. But if burning the candle at both ends could be construed as exhibiting a flagrant disregard for the environment, then we have to find him another metaphor. Erikson strives to leave behind the smallest carbon footprint imaginable in the production of his soy wax candles—he is as concerned with the environmental impact of his work—and the “butterfly economics” of his cottage industry—as he is with the candles’ visual and olfactory aesthetics. His philosophy, he says, is “naturally elegant.”
My husband John and I met him this fall at the South of the James Farmers’ Market, where candlemaker John’s display—and the fragrance emanating therefrom—immediately caught my attention.
Some months later, I visited Erikson’s kitchen “workshop” to observe his process and examine his products. The former is exemplary; the latter, exquisite.
What makes Erikson’s candles unique is their green aspect, despite the fact that white is the only color they come in. (“There is no such thing as a natural candle dye,” says Erikson, which is why he lets the natural color of the wax shine through.)
As he explained it to me, most commercially purchased candles are made from petroleum-based paraffin. “You’ll never find an environmentally-friendly product with the word petroleum in it.” Erikson told me that the first time he ever made a candle, he used paraffin. A cloud of sooty dust emerged, staining the wall of his kitchen. That experience, along with his daughter’s environmental activism (she’s an actress living in California), was a critical turning point in the development of his philosophy. He established Pure Light Candles in 2005.
Erikson crafts his candles from 100-percent natural soy wax, a product that is biodegradable, non-toxic, and burns at a lower temperature than paraffin, thus providing longer burn times and therefore greater value to the consumer. Soy wax also burns cleanly, leaving minimal wax residue on the sides of the jars, and none of the black sooty residue, known as “ghosting,” that John experienced during his fledgling attempt. Nor do soy wax candles release noxious petroleum wax pollutants. And, since the soy wax he uses comes from homegrown soybeans, the enterprise supports American farmers while minimizing transport offsets; he obtains his soy wax from a distributor in Durham, North Carolina, which ships via UPS and offers carbon credits.
I asked him if nationally-known candle companies use soy wax. Erikson says that soy doesn’t lend itself well to mass-production; it’s “a small-batch wax,” and his production line is minimal; he makes only four to six candles at a time. So if you see a national brand marketing a soy candle, be aware, says Erikson, that a candle can be marketed as soy if it contains 30-percent of the product; the remainder is paraffin, which is a byproduct of refined diesel fuel.
I then asked him why he doesn’t make his candles out of beeswax, another environmentally friendly material.
“There are problems with beeswax,” says Erikson. “We have a huge shortage of candle beeswax here in the U.S., so a lot of it is imported from Asia,” a practice that runs counter to his “think globally, buy locally philosophy.” Everything that goes into a Pure Light candle is made in America.
“Beeswax also does not accept fragrance well,” he adds. “It’s good to be natural, but people buy a candle for the fragrance. When you burn a beeswax candle, you can smell the beeswax. It’s also expensive, and I have to keep my eye on the bottom line.”
About those fragrances: Erikson makes candles in as many as 50 different scents; several are designed with the season in mind. The week before Christmas, when I stopped by, he was preparing a batch of candles for a holiday shipment. I watched him create several “Pomegranate” candles, and the scent was exquisite. The Internet can do many things, but I’ve yet to see a software program that can recreate the sensory experience of fragrances. Too bad. I would love to share that with you here. The closest I can come is to list a few of his fragrances:
Blue Ridge Rain
Chesapeake Bay Breeze
Holidays by the Hearth
James River Storm Watch
White Tea and Ginger (I’m burning this now as I write…ahhhh….)
A candle’s fragrance is its essence. Here too, Erikson adheres to his environmentally friendly philosophy by using only botanical oils, which he obtains from a U.S. distributor in Kentucky.
Erikson tells me that there are two types of botanical oils: essential oils, which derive from a singular substance (lavender, for example, is cold-pressed to yield lavender oil), and fragrance oils, which do have some chemical additives. “No fragrance oil is 100-percent natural,” says Erikson. “But that’s not all bad. I avoid the ones that are—phthalates, for example, are known carcinogenics and banned in California. Manufacturers are not required to disclose that a fragrance oil contains phthalates, but they are if you ask them. You have to know to ask. I’m trying to create as natural a product as possible, so I ask.”
As for the rest of his materials, he uses only 100-percent cotton wicks. Some manufacturers add other substances, such as zinc, to stiffen a wick. Erikson doesn’t do business with them. Moreover, all wicks, he tells me, have to be primed with wax; most are primed with—you guessed it—paraffin. Erikson has his wicks specially made by a soy-wick manufacturer.
His glass apothecary jars are made in the U.S. by the Libbey Glass Company. He chose their glass for several reasons, with safety being at the forefront. “An enclosed candle is the safest you can buy,” he says, “but all glassware is not the same. Most of the imported glassware, if you look at thickness, is half as thick as what I use. I also found that this had a substantial base, which is where glassware usually fails. I’m buying a local product that I feel is safe, and that looks good, too.”
He keeps labeling to a minimum, for aesthetic as well as environmental reasons, and employs an ingenious recycling incentive program: when your candle has given you all it’s got to give, wash it out with soap and water and return the empty container to him. He’ll pay you a dollar, and he’ll re-use it in a future production cycle.
Now that, my friends, is a lovely light.
If you would like to purchase something beautiful for your home and do something beautiful for the environment at the same time, Pure Light Candles are available for order by phone or e-mail, and will ship outside the Commonwealth of Virginia. You may contact John Erikson at 804-934-9171 or email@example.com. Pure Light Candles doesn’t have a website, but can be found on Facebook.