Sand Candles

When I was a little boy, I loved the beach.  The idea of the beach, I mean. When I finally got a chance to visit one for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the sounds, sights and smells, especially the smell of a decomposed sea bird, which is particularly strong when you accidentally lay your towel down on top of it.

Needless to say, one of the things I had always wanted to do at the beach was make sand candles.  Other kids were more interested in sand castles but that seemed to me like a project fraught with frustration and hopeless despair.  How many sand castles survive the next tide?  No, sand castles are nothing more than an exercise in futility.  Sand candles, on the other hand, shed light and hope.

Thanks to my grandmother, I already knew how to make regular candles: carry a bushel of winter apples down the road to the Patterson’s, trade the apples for deer or elk fat, bring the fat home, clean it, melt it, strain it, melt it again, soften it with stearic acid, pour it into molds, sink wicks into it, and voila, you have natural light by which to read, eat, or even hold the Bible straight-armed over your head all night to atone for being misunderstood for saying something that sounded like the Lord’s name taken in vain but actually wasn’t!

Also thanks to my grandmother — who used to say that the beach is where fat-cat Jews go to smoke cigars and fornicate with mermaids — I was a bit ignorant about the “sand” part of making sand candles.  An early attempt to mold sand into a candle-like form and sink a wick in it proved largely unsuccessful: dry sand is extremely difficult to mold, and wet sand, while easier to mold, is extremely difficult to set on fire.

This was my grandmother’s great gift: she would give me enough information to make me curious but not so much information that I would succeed too easily.  “Failure is the best teacher,” is the kind of thing she might have said if she were a bit more articulate.

I am delighted to report, however, that after much consultation and experimentation, I now know how to make beautiful, long-lasting sand candles.  And I can’t wait to share my simple “recipe” with you!

First, a quick safety warning: ALWAYS make sand candles with an adult.  And if you are a child, always make these with TWO adults: one to make the candles, and one to call the fire department if something goes very wrong.  Which it is likely to do your first time out — Rome wasn’t built in a day (although it was burned down in a matter of hours – Thanks, Nero!!!)

  1. Bring two pounds of cleaned animal fat to the beach. Sheep or cow fat are fine if that’s all you have, but deer, goat and elk fats make the hardest, most slow-burning candles.  The Pattersons have excellent elk fat, if they are still alive, which—wait, no, I just remembered, they’re not.
  2. Dig a small pit in the sand and build a charcoal fire. Alternatively, if your beach has a “barbeque area,” you can light a fire on one of grills there.  (NOTE: If any of the other people in the “barbeque area” ask if you are a Raiders fan, just say yes.)
  3. When the coals are grey, place a shallow pan over them and add the cleaned fat along with a half-cup of water.
  4. Melt the water and fat. This should take six hours or so, and requires constant attention.
  5. Once the fat is melted, strain it through cheesecloth into a smaller pan; skim off the tallow from the top and place it back into the larger pan.
  6. Repeat step four. (NOTE: Remember to hydrate!  Sometimes when we are having fun we forget to pay attention to our bodies’ needs.)
  7. When you have strained and skimmed the tallow a second time, you are ready to make sand candles! (NOTE: If you have started this process later than seven a.m., it is likely to be night now, and your beach is likely to be closed till the morning. If so, throw away your freshly-made tallow and start over again earlier tomorrow, you lazy bones!)
  8. Plunge a glass jar of your preferred shape and size into the sand.
  9. Remove the glass jar. You will now see a hole in the  sand which is the same shape and size as the jar you used.  Resist the overwhelming urge to urinate in said hole. (But good for you for hydrating!)
  10. Pour your hot tallow into the hole. When it has hardened just a bit, sink a wick into it.
  11. When the tallow is hard to the touch, dig up your freshly made sand candle!

That’s all there is to it.  Happy candling!  (NOTE: “Candling” actually technically refers to the process of holding an egg up to the light to judge its freshness or fertility.)



The Fate of the Hourglass

By Richard Splett

Oh, ye herald of the fleeting seconds!

Ye umpire of the vanishing years!

You mark our moments

As you mock our mortality.

But who shall count your days, cruel glass?

For they, too, are numbered.

And who shall mourn when thy crystal shatters

And thine own sands run out?

Camel Racing

A lot of people ask me how interested I am in camel racing, and my answer is always the same: very, very, very.  I came close to seeing an actual camel race during a business trip to Qatar, and I hope to actually see one very soon.  In my head, I have leapfrogged (leapcameled?) past seeing my first camel race, and even past becoming a true aficionado of the sport of sultans, to the inevitable moment, not far from now I hope, when I have my own stable (or should I say tent?  I’ll have to research that and get back to you) of racing camels.  As any future racing camel owner will tell you, the hardest thing by far is naming your camels.  I have stuck a (camel) toe in the water here, and come up with a few names, which I have organized here by favorites, runners-up, and honorable mention.


Bactrian The Future

Humpty Dumpty

How Sheikh

Ain’t Miskbehavin’




Tent Stake

Odd Hijab

Come to Bedouin

Sahara Bernhardt



Mini Misk

How Ya Dune

Does This Make Me Look Fatwah

Cutey Pie

Gal Qaeda

Haaj Podge

Hussein in the Membrane

Sandy Griffith

Ali Oxinfree


Honorable mention:



Plate VII of the “Penny Black”: An Appreciation

It can be a little hard for us stamp collectors to love the Penny Black despite the fact that it is the world’s first postage stamp.  For one thing, it’s so common that it lacks the allure of even relative scarcity.  For another, although some of my fellow philatelists may disagree, it’s frankly nothing much to look at.  Black, as the name suggests, and with an engraved portrait of Queen Victoria in profile, it looks like, well, a postage stamp for the simple reason that every stamp that came after it was based on the archetype of the Penny Black.

Still, I maintain that there is plenty of fun to be had in collecting the Penny Black if you’re willing to dig a little deeper than merely “checking the box” of owning one in decent condition.  In my case, I chose one of the 11 plates that were used for printing the Penny Black pretty much at random.  I picked Plate #7 (or “Plate VII” if we’re being formal) because seven is my lucky number and have been slowly gathering Penny Blacks from different positions on the plate with the goal of eventually putting together a complete set of 240 (the Penny Black plates printed twelve stamps across and 20 vertically.)

In some ways, this isn’t as hard as it sounds because each of the stamps has two “check letters” on the bottom, one that indicates its horizontal positioning on the plate and the other which indicates its vertical position.

But in one important other way, this isn’t so easy because while you can tell right away where any particular stamp was positioned, you can only tell which plate it came from by observing certain idiosyncratic characteristics in the placement and apparent strike pressure of the check letters which were done by hand.  And while a consensus has been slowly building in the philatelic brotherhood (and sisterhood!) about the distinctive traits of each plate’s check numbers, opinion is by no means unanimous, especially regarding the more controversial plates like #IV, #IX, and #X.  I’m fortunate that Plate #7 is regarded as a “beginners plate” because frankly I’d have to be a lot more interested in stamp collecting and have a lot more time on my hands to tackle one of those.

My Bucket List – Revised

A man’s bucket list is not written in stone.  It is a living, breathing document that changes and evolves over time as hopes and dreams are fulfilled or dashed and replaced by new desires.  Science is always coming up with new and amazing things to do, such as wake boarding, and the tourism industry is always inventing new places to go and things to see.  ’twas ever thus, ’twill ever thus be.

With this in mind, I recently revised my bucket list to reflect some changes in my life and in my way of thinking.

New Bucket List

1.) Ride on one of those Florida airboats with the big propeller in back

The Top Seven Things I’m Somewhat Interested In

Regular Splettsketeers know that I have an unusually large and varied number of passions ranging from operetta to Basque cuisine to non-QWERTY typewriters.  But in addition to the many things I’m extremely interested in, I also have a list of things that I’m slightly but nor particularly interested in.  I’m certainly not passionate about them.  They could turn into serious interests of mine, though I doubt it, or my interest in them could fade entirely, which is much more likely.

Here are the top seven at the moment:

1.) Scrimshaw

2.) the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

3.) Paul Auster

4.) India

5.) E-Cigarettes

6.) Artificial Intelligence

7.) Bats

Sunflower Morn

by Richard Splett

Lift your head to greet the dawn

Cast your gaze o’er moor and lawn

Greet the glow of morning’s light

Speed the birds upon their flight!

Gone be terrors of the night

Gone the whimpers and gone the fright.

Forget those tears of loss and pain

Await the gift of summer’s rain.

God’s blessings may surprise us yet

For He will see our needs are met

Our need for love; our need for breath

Our need to suffer and be released in death.


Richard Splett Responds to Readers’ Comments

Tom from Kenosha, WI writes:

“Hi Richard – I love your blog! I think it’s the best thing about the internet right now. I’m curious – what sort of a youth would you like to mentor? What advice would you offer?”

Hi, Tom!  Thanks!  It’s very gratifying to know that people enjoy my little “piece” of the Internet.  I believe mentoring is very important and that if someone had mentored me, I might have really made something of myself.

Like most people, I am attracted to indications of youth and health so no old, bald, fat or otherwise unattractive people need apply!  I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to around people who look like that.   But don’t worry.  If you are old and/or unattractive you can still participate in mentoring by becoming a mentor to someone younger and more attractive.  Just don’t pick me because, like I said, I’m only interested in mentoring experiences that involve young and attractive people.

As far as advice, hmmm.  I’ll have to think about that. I’d definitely advise them to sign up for a ride-sharing service.  They are very convenient and not expensive unless surge pricing is in effect.

Debby also (weirdly) from Kenosha, WI writes:

“My friend Lee looks a lot like you and I’m planning to dress up like him for Halloween.  Where do you buy your clothes?”

Even though I don’t know Lee, that sounds like a great choice.  I’m on a limited budget and don’t have a lot of money to spend on my wardrobe so I have to shop with an eye toward clothes that are long-lasting and have a certain “timeless” style.  The secret is to shop only in London and to shop carefully so that you only need to go once or twice a year.  You’ll make up what you spend on airfare in the infinitely more valuable currency of compliments.

For many years, I had my suits made at Huntsman on Savile Row but decided to “downsize” a few years ago and now patronize Gieves and Hawkes right down the street, who also make a genuinely bespoke garment but at a lower price.  Shirtwise, for sheer value, you can’t beat Anderson and Sheppard who cut and sew their shirts completely by hand (French cuffs only, s’il vous plait!).

A lot of people think custom made neckties are a luxury but once you’ve worn one, you’ll notice the difference right away.  I get mine from Turnbull and Asser (ask for Raj) but there are half a dozen tie makers in Jermyn Street who can help you.  For socks, the Burlington Arcade is your first stop, especially N. Peal who use a cashmere silk blend for a perfect combination of comfort and durability.  The cobbler New and Lingwood also make fine socks, though I’m not a fan of their shoes.  I’m strictly a John Lobb man (boring, I know.)  For hats, Lock and Co. have a “lock” on my custom.

When it comes to underpants, I shopped around for years before settling on Sunspel’s boxers which are, quite literally, a “cut above.”  Hankies are the only place I “go continental” and off-the-rack with Charvet.  But don’t be fooled, the selection in the Place Vendome flagship is many hundreds of times larger than at American department stores and well worth the cost of a quick jump over to Paris.

I hope this helps, Debby, and please send me a picture of you dressed up as Lee (and me.)  And Happy Halloween!