candles at both ends

As the nights get longer up here in the Northern hemisphere, we look forward to having a bit more light. When you’re not in the mood for a lightbulb, you might consider lighting a candle.

Candles are used for a wide range of purposes: religious, decorative, symbolic, and as a light source for when the electricity goes out. Here’s a list of a few candle things and candle traditions to light up your evening on this Themed Thing Thursday.

A list with candles at both ends (and in the middle)


  • Hanukkah
    The 8-day Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, is observed in part by the nightly lighting candles in the Hanukkah Menorah, or Hanukiah. Today was the second day of Hanukkah. (Hanukiyot photo by photo by Beth Brewer.)
  • Christmas
    Candles are also featured in many celebrations of the Christian holiday Christmas, such as with advent candles. Other traditions include using candles to decorate, such as using them on trees. Contemporary Christmas tree lights evolved from this tradition, as electricity became available, though in Denmark, people still decorate Christmas trees with real lighted candles. People will also place candles in windows, a practice said to have been popularized in Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Lucia’s Day
    In Sweden, as part of the traditional celebration of this holiday (December 13th), girls will wear a wreath on the head with lit candles to celebrate Saint Lucia.¹ “>Apparently people have also moved to battery-operated candles:

    In Sweden we do not wear candles anymore because before girls caught their hair on fire very often. Today we use modern candles with batteries in them.

  • Birthday cakes are often decorated with miniature candles. The candles often represent the age of the person having the birthday, whether by using number-shaped candles, candles arranged in the shape of a number, or most often, a candle for each year of age.
  • Sixteen Candles (1984) A John Hughes movie starring Molly Ringwald as a girl whose 16th birthday is overlooked.
  • Candle in the Wind A song by Elton John (lyrics by Bernie Taupin) written in honor of Marilyn Monroe in 1973, rededicated it to AIDS victim Ryan White in 1990, and rewritten and remade in honor of Princess Diana in 1997.
  • The Babylon candle: A magic candle appears in the movie Stardust (2007), allowing the user to travel great distances. I found a suggestion that the source of the name for this candle is the nursery rhyme:

    How many miles to Babylon?
    Three score miles and ten.
    Can I get there by candlelight?
    Yes, and back again.

  • hold a candle to: an expression meaning “measure up to.” Usually used with a negative, as in: X can’t hold a candle to Y, A could never hold a candle to B, the word trousers doesn’t hold a candle to pants.
  • light a candle for: People will light a candle to show remembrance of someone (such as Yahrtzeit in Judaism) or in support of some cause, such as “lighting a candle for peace.” The phrase has also been used more generally as an expression, often interpreted as “say a prayer for,” possibly based on the tradition of lighting a candle in a church to accompany a prayer. The expression is also sometimes interpreted in reference to leaving a lit candle in the window as a beacon for a loved one who is away.
  • not worth the candle: an expression meaning worthless, or not worth the expense
  • burn a candle from both ends: an expression meaning get little sleep due to being busy from early in the morning till late at night, or to generally work too hard and spend energy recklessly:

    Our current understanding of this phrase refers to a life that is lived frenetically and unsustainably – working or enjoying oneself late into the night only to begin again early the next day. It didn’t having that meaning when it was first coined in the 18th century. The both ends then weren’t the ends of the day but were a literal reference to both ends of a candle. Candles were useful and valuable (see not worth the candle) and the notion of waste suggested by lighting both ends at once implied reckless waste. This thought may well have been accentuated by the fact that candles may only be lit at both ends when held horizontally, which would cause them to drip and burn out quickly.

  • You can also see a short movie of someone actually burning a candle at both ends. (YouTube)
  • —————–

    ¹ My friend Gregory, who recently moved to Sweden mentioned recently that he would soon be sharing some information on this tradition:

    They put candles everywhere except the roof of their cars (they do wear them on their heads, as I will explain in a couple of weeks)…

    gobble, gobble, gobble

    turkey_6.pngToday is Thanksgiving, a holiday here in the US traditionally (or at least moderately traditionally) celebrated by a day of feasting with family and by expressing thanks. It’s also a day when most Americans eat turkey, a large bird that is native to North America.¹ This has lead to many people calling Thanksgiving “Turkey Day.” So what better Themed Things list to bring you for this Turkey Day than a list of turkeys. (However, these are turkeys you won’t likely see at the dinner table.²)

    Ten Turkey Things for Turkey Day

    1. Turkey in the Straw: an American folk song, often fiddled. (Listen to it, if you like.)
    2. hand turkey: a picture made by tracing one’s hand to make the approximate shape of a turkey. The thumb represents the head and neck, and the fingers the tail feathers. Usually, the drawing is adorned with a beak, an eye, wings and a wattle.
    3. a turkey: a movie that got bad reviews, or that otherwise was poorly received.
    4. a turkey: a bowling term meaning 3 consecutive strikes.
    5. talk turkey. An expression meaning “to speak frankly.” Has some debatable origins.
    6. jive turkey: one who acts as if they know what they are talking about, but really doesn’t.
    7. Wild Turkey. A brand of bourbon. My grandmother liked bourbon. Not sure if she had a preferred brand.
    8. cold turkey. The act of quitting abrubtly, without tapering off. As in “quit drinking cold turkey.” (Which may also involve quitting drinking Wild Turkey.)
    9. Turkey: a nation. (I wonder how often people not native to the US expect that there will be some sort of Turkish cultural event on Turkey day?)
    10. Twas the Night before Thanksgiving, by Dav Pilkey. A somewhat controversial picturebook about some kids who “liberate” some turkeys from a farm and have them over for dinner (but don’t have them for dinner). (I found the full text online listed as an “anonymously” written animal rights poem, but I think Pilkey was the orginal author.)


    ¹ Some Americans will instead eat a tofurkey, such as a Tofurky, a tofu-based turkey substitute.

    ² Well, except maybe the bourbon, in some households.

    make like a tree

    I’m quite fond of trees. You might even say that I identify with them. To celebrate their arborial grandness, and to follow up on the squirreliness of last week’s list, I bring you a Themed Thing list of Trees.

  • The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book features Truffula trees, and is a parable (?) about the impact of excessive deforestation, industrialization and consumerism. The Lorax is a little creature who voices the warnings. “I speak for the trees.”
  • The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein. A book about a boy, who takes serious advantage of a generous tree. The tree gives, and the boy/man takes and takes. And takes. Till all that’s left of the tree is a stump. And this is supposed to be a moving tale of generosity. An environmentalist friend of mine from college once said of it, “I think it’s misguided.”
  • the_lorax.jpgthe_giving_tree.jpg

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a coming of age novel by Betty Smith.
  • The Tree of Man, a novel by Australian Author (and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature), Patrick White.
  • tree-hugger: A term used to refer to environmentalists, especially those who look to protect forests. Sometimes used pejoratively, but embraced by others.
  • Arbor Day A holiday for planting and caring for trees. And maybe for hugging them. In the US, it’s celebrated in April. (The next one is April 25th, 2008. Only 168 shopping days left.)
  • Christmas Tree A possibly Pagan-derived holiday tradition of decorating a tree with ornaments and lights and such. Usually a pine tree.
  • lost_pants_tree.jpg

  • syntactic trees (tree structures) Diagrams representing hierarchical structure are often described as trees. People studying syntax spend a fair amount of time drawing tree diagrams of sentences.
  • family tree The tree is used as a metaphor to describe relationships within a family, especially when drawing a diagram of relatedness.
  • Trees are prominent in mythologies and foklore from many cultures, including many variations on a mystic Tree of Life.
  • family_tree.jpg yggdrasil.jpg dryad11.jpg
    A German woodcut of a family tree, the Yggdrasil, and The Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan

  • Dryads, tree nymphs (or wood nymphs) from Greek mythology. They are among the magical creatures to be found in the Chronicals of Narnia. See also “The Dryad”, a story be Hans Christian Anderson
  • In Greek Mythology, Daphne is turned into a laurel tree while trying to escape the clutches of an amourous Apollo.
  • The Ents, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. Big tree people.
  • “Shaking the Tree”, an album by Peter Gabriel. Also a song with Youssou N’dour. [YouTube]
  • “barking up the wrong tree” An idiom alluding to a dog chasing a cat up a tree, but mistaking the location of said cat. It means “acting based on some mistaken impression”
  • “can’t see the forest for the trees”An expression to describe when someone is too caught up in the details to understand the larger context.
  • Then there’s the playground chant:

    X & Y sitting in a tree

  • Is the glass half empty, or half full?

    You are probably familiar with the age-old question, usually intended to determine whether you are the type to see things in a positive or negative light. The traditional answers are “half empty” (you are are a pessimist) or “half full” (you are an optimist). However, I find these traditional interpretations a bit too simplistic for the complexity of personality types and moods that individuals exhibit. Or that I exhibit on a given day. So I offer to you…

    Alternative Answers to the Question
    “Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?”

    1. Probably.
    2. Who drank half my drink?
    3. The glass is half full. But what is all that crud floating around in there?
    4. The glass is half full of ice so they can rip you off when you buy a soda.
    5. I think it was half full, but I spilled it. On your couch.
    6. I’ll take mine straight from the bottle.
    7. That’s no glass, that’s a sippy cup.
    8. Are you trying to poison me?
    9. The glass is cracked.
    10. There is no glass.


    turning into a pumpkin

    pumpkinshoes.jpgI mentioned briefly that I’m going to be a bridesmaid in a wedding coming up soon. Well, that “soon” has now become “this Sunday.” Which is, technically, very soon. As is the standing tradition, in U.S. weddings at least, I will be wearing a dress chosen by the bride. As it will be an October wedding in New England, the bride has chosen fall colors. My dress is in burnt orange, a very pretty color, though a somewhat unusual one in my wardrobe. And is also often the case for such occasions, I am to have shoes that match my dress. This means that I have needed to get some dyed. I picked up my shoes yesterday afternoon. And I have to admit that I was quite startled to see them. You see, they are orange. I now have shiny orange shoes. I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared to see orange shoes.

    Anyhow, this weekend I will be donning the orange, and perhaps as such, feeling a bit like a pumpkin. Hopefully an elegant pumpkin, mind you, but a pumpkin nonetheless. But seeing as it’s October, pumpkins are all the orange rage right now. And in honor of their orange pumpkiness, I bring you a pumpkin-based Themed Things Thursday.

  • pumpkin
    A vegetable. Or a fruit. Depending on your choice of taxonomy. Generally eaten cooked. Used in lots of baked goods, like pumpkin pie.
  • Pumpkin (2002)
    A movie starring Christina Ricci.
  • Pumpkin
    A song by Tricky off Maxinquaye (YouTube video)
  • pumpkin_carriage.jpg

  • Cinderella’s carriage
    In many versions of this fairy tale, Cinderella’s fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage to carry Cinderella to the ball. Cinderella must leave the ball before her ride turns back into a pumpkin. Leading to the expression turn into a pumpkin, meaning depart, go to bed or otherwise turn in for the night.
  •             the_headless_horseman_pursuing_ichabod_crane.jpg

  • The Headless Horseman
    A ghostly character from Washington Irving’s story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow“, who carries around a pumpkin head.
  • 200px-jackpumpkinheadpng.png

  • Jack Pumpkinhead
    A character from the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Later had his own book, Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, though it wasn’t by Baum.
  • Pumpkinhead (1989)
    A horror movie involving a demon dug up from a pumpkin patch.
  • The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
    a song by XTC. (YouTube video) Later covered by Crash Test Dummies.
  • Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
    A nursery rhyme. Also a song you can play on the piano using only the black keys.¹

    Peter Peter pumpkin eater
    Had a wife and couldn’t keep her
    He put her in a pumpkin shell
    And there he kept her very well

  • peter_peter_pumpkin_eater_1_-_ww_denslow_-_project_gutenberg_etext_18546.jpg       great_pumpkin.jpg      nightmare_before_christmas_poster.jpg

  • The Great Pumpkin
    A mythical holiday character that never appears in the animated Peanuts special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
  • Jack, the Pumpkin King
    A character from Tim Burton’s animated movie The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
  • pumpkin_porch.jpg

  • jack-o-lanterns
    It’s a Halloween tradition to carve a face into a pumpkin. These are then typically set outside, with a candle inside. It’s also a Halloween tradition for mischievous kids to steal other people’s pumpkins, and smash them.
  • Smashing Pumpkins.
    A band. Performs songs such as “Tonight, tonight” and “Tarantula” (YouTube videos)
  • punkin
    An endearment or nickname based on the word pumpkin, which is sometimes pronounced without the word-medial [p]. Gives us [pʰʌŋkɪn] (Where the nasal has then assimilated to the place of articulation of the following consonant, a velar. Not that you asked.)
  • phoebe_cat_pumpkin.jpg

    ¹ I admit that I’m recycling this particular item from my vegetable ThThTh list. But recycling is good, right? Or should I be composting, since it’s vegetables we’re talking about?

    How do you like them apples?

    Fall has fallen here in the northern hemisphere, and in my neck of the woods, this means it’s apple-picking season.¹ Which seems like as good a reason as any to pick apples for this week’s Themed Things Thursday.

    1. Apple of my eye. An expression meaning one who is most dear to the speaker.
    2. cortland_apple.jpg

    3. The Big Apple. A nickname for New York City. One source identifies its origins from usage by African-American stablehands at a New Orleans racetrack in the 1920s. (Wikipedia says it was first used by touring jazz musicians in the 1930s.)
    4. Snow White. A fairytale in which a girl falls asleep after eating a poisoned apple.
    5. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A saying suggesting that eating apples is good for the health. I found a bit on origins of the saying:

      From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (1996): “An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Eating fruit regularly keeps one healthy. First found as a Welsh folk proverb (1866)” ‘Eat an apple on going to bed,/ And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.’ First attested in the United States in 1913…”

    6. Adam’s apple. A bump on the front of the neck, tending to me more prominent in adult males, from the “forward protrusion of the thyroid cartilage.” Likely nicknamed based on the Biblical story of Eve giving an apple to Adam.
    7. archibald_apple_tree.jpg

    8. Newton’s apple. A falling apple (which may or not have bonked him on the head) may or may not have contributed to Newton’s theory of universal gravitation.
    9. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. An expression meaning that the offspring will often turn out like the parent(s).
    10. Johnny Appleseed. An American folk hero famed for planting lots of apple trees.
    11. Apple Inc.² A company. Makes computers. One line of which is named after a type of apple, the macintosh. Has a logo shaped like an apple_rainbow.jpgapple_clear.jpg
      apple with a bite out of it. Has a variety of iProducts: iMac, iPod, iPhone, iCup
    12. An apple for the teacher. An apple is known in the US as traditional gift to give to a teacher. (The fruit, not the computers. But I bet most teachers would appreciate getting an Apple.) Has (probably) led to apples showing up on greeting cards and coffee mugs as symbols of the teaching profession (along with rulers, blackboards and squid). (No wait, scratch that last one. I was just checking to see if you were still reading this.)


    ¹ We live in an area with many apple orchards, and Phoebe even got to go apple picking with her daycare last week. I hope we’ll get to go together some time this year. Late October last year, we went to a nearby orchard that grows over 50 varieties of apples. Pick-your-own season was past, so our experience was less about apple picking than apple choosing. But it was still fun. And the apples were yummy.

    ² I read that Apple Inc. officially dropped “Computers” from its name earlier this year. I hadn’t even noticed.



    pirateparrot.jpgHere it is, the day after International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I’ve still got pirates on the brain. But rather than bringing you a list of pirates for this week’s Themed Things Thursday, I’ll bring you a list of the frequent pirate’s companion: the parrot.

    A Flock of Parrots

    1. Parrots are frequently to be seen on the shoulders of pirates¹, specifically of fictional pirates. Captain Flint was a pirate’s parrot in Treasure Island, the pirate novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. More recently, we’ve seen the pirate in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
    2. Parrots, especially African Grey Parrots, are well known as birds who can imitate human speech.
    3. This is no doubt the source of the use of the word parrot as a verb (transitive), meaning repeat without really understanding. As in “They parroted my parrot jokes, but none of them laughed.”
    4. You can find a variety of parrot jokes out there. (These even a site with pirate and parrot jokes.) This is probably my favorite parrot joke.
    5. Polly want a cracker? The stereotypical parrot sentence, whether said to a parrot, or by a parrot. Possibly popularized in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
    6. Poll or Polly has been a common parrot name for centuries, with an early documented use from 1611.
    7. Also in the nursery rhyme:

      Little Poll Parrot
      Sat in his garret
      Eating toast and tea;
      A little brown mouse
      Jumped into the house,
      And stole it all away.

    8. Then there’s the song “Polly,” by Nirvana

      Polly wants a cracker
      I think I should get off her first
      I think she wants some water
      To put out the blow torch

    9. Or Paulie (1998), a movie about a parrot.
    10. Parrots have been featured in various folktales from around the world, like 2 Buddhist folktales from India “The Brave Little Parrot.” (who puts out a forest fire²) and “The Steadfast Parrot” (who is faithful to a tree) and an
      Italian folktale (involving a prince who has himself turned into a parrot).
    11. Other moderately famous parrots include Waldo the Parrot, from Twin Peaks (who seems to have been present, and biting, the night of Laura Palmer’s death) and Parrot, the parrot with biting sarcasm from the Terry Pratchett novel Faust Eric
    12. Parrot Heads are the nickname given to fans of the musician Jimmy Buffett
    13. And to round things off, I bring you Python’s parrot. The ex-parrot. He is decidedly not pining for the fjords.


    ¹ Or about the arms and head, especially of those posing as pirates.

    ² Kind of like a friend of mine did recently, except he used a plastic bag to put out the fire.

    bats in the belfry

    We borrowed Phoebe’s air conditioner today, to bring downstairs for a bit, and when John removed it from the window, he was surprised to see that a bat was curled up on the windowsill. It had apparently set up house in the cave formed under the air conditioner. (It can’t have lived there long, though, since the air conditioner was out of the window when the house got painted about 6 weeks ago.) Anyhow, the bat huddled there shivering for several minutes before it got up and flew away. It was terribly cute. But, seeing as they can carry rabies, not terribly cuddly-looking.

    So, inspired by the little bat we had as a pet without knowing it, I bring you a list of bats for this week’s Themed Things Thursday. This list will be short, and light on the links. Because I only have a couple of minutes before people come over for dinner.

    1. Batman. The superhero. Comics, TV show, movies. Dresses up in a bat-like costume. Has a bat cave. And a bat signal.
    2. Batboy. Half boy, half bat. A regular of Weekly World News.
    3. Vampires. In some tales about them, they can turn into bats.
    4. Bat out of hell. An expression meaning very fast, usually when someone is leaving somewhere. As in “I ran out of there like a bat out of hell.” Also an album by Meat Loaf.
    5. batty. An expression meaning crazy. (A bit milder than the related term batshit. As in “they are batshit insane.”) As in going batty. As in “I am going batty.” As in “I am going batty, because we leave for the trip in less than 48 hours. And have lots to do. Planning. Packing. Printing. People coming over for dinner. I’m sleep deprived, and have had to give up on the damn abstract that is the source of my sleep deprivation.”

    That’s all I got. I bet there are more bats. Anyone else have any?

    resistance is futile

    For some reason today, an old slogan for Lay’s potato chips popped into my head: “no one can eat just one.” And for some other reason, I thought it could so easily be paraphrased to have a somewhat different meaning:

    No one is permitted to eat only one.

    I imagine a totalitarian society, where potato chip-eating quotas are strictly enforced. And why just potato chips? Why not have a nation-state that dictates other product use, and daily life in general? Advertising slogans abound that need only the gentlest nudge to conjure up such a society:

    • Do you have your required dairy products?
      “Got milk?”
    • Orange Juice is now mandatory at meals other than breakfast.
      “It’s not just for breakfast anymore.”
    • It is strictly forbidden that anything should surmount these batteries
      “You can’t top the copper top”, Duracell Batteries
    • Enjoyment is compulsory
      “We’re gonna make you smile”, SeaWorld
      “Don’t get mad! Get Glad!” Glad
    • Viewing is obligatory.
      “Must See TV”, NBC
    • All youths over the age of 10 are required to enroll
      “Join the Pepsi generation”
    • Establish your approved identity by drinking an officially sanctioned beverage
      “Be a Pepper. Drink Dr Pepper”, Dr Pepper
    • Only certifiably genuine and approved products may be consumed
      “Can’t beat the real thing”, Coca-Cola
    • We will tell you what you need to have.
      “You Gotta Have It!”, Lisa Frank
    • We will tell you what you need to know.
      “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.” RadioShack
    • Rest assured: all your decisions are being made for you.
      “Your true choice.” AT&T
      “You’re in good hands.”, Allstate Insurance
    • Continued productivity is imperative.
      “Keep Going”, Energizer Batteries
    • There is no need to leave your community.
      “Your World. Delivered.” AT&T
    • Cooperation is rewarded.
      “Membership has its privileges”, American Express
    • Unmutual individuals will be broken.
      “You deserve a break today”, McDonald’s
    • If you are not with us, you are against us.
      “Stick together”, T-Mobile

    And some of the slogans don’t really need any help to be Big Brotherly:

  • “You need us for everything you do”, The Weather Channel (We control everything.)
  • “Don’t leave home without it”, American Express (You must have your card with you at all times.)
  • “Wherever you go, our network follows”, Hutch in India (You can’t run.)
  • “VISA ; It’s everywhere you want to be”, Visa (You can’t hide.)
  • “We’ll leave the light on for you.” Motel 6 (The better to see what you are doing.)
  • “You Watch, We Listen”, British Satellite Broadcasting (Your neighbors are watching you, and we are listening.)penny_farthing.jpg
  • “The Listening Bank”, Midland Bank (I told you, we’re listening.)
  • “It’s the Internet that logs onto you” SBC, ca.Yahoo! DSL (We have access to your thoughts at all times.)
  • “The more you hear, the better we sound”, AT&T long distance (Our propaganda is very effective.)