Tag Archives: woodstove

baby, it’s cold outside!

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Just when you think spring must be coming… for it must! It MUST! The nightshades are sprouting, but in the basement, under lights, where what would they know of snow? They’re ready for the world, but it’s not ready for them. The snow’s coming down, roads are a mess, and all the world is in a tither. Will we get to work on time? What will the roads be like on the way home? Are we ready? Is there milk in the fridge? Cocoa-fixins? Beer???

A few things help ease the mind on days like these. A full larder… plenty of feed for the animals (should have ordered the chicken feed and fancy dog kibble on payday, doh! There are a few days of layer mash, and worst case, stored grains that they could nosh in a pinch… and the dog will not die eating just the middle-brow department store chow without the duck and cheese Frohm’s mixed in for extra noms…). We have a shed full of wood, flashlights with batteries, a lantern with oil, candles, and plenty of provisions- even a downed power line would not be the end of the world. We have shovels, and salt, and strong backs. It’s cold enough that we could store the pig in coolers under the back porch until the freezer came back on, or just start putting pork chops in jars and canning them up (not as good as fresh-frozen, or we’d do that already…). We’re acclimated to the cold (55 is a cause for celebration around here… and do-able without the furnace, especially as we’re adding insulation and tightening up the building envelope upstairs), and own plenty of wool sweaters, socks, long-johns… We’re lucky. Not everyone is prepared, or would fare so un-fazed and un-froze.

Here are some tips to stay warm and safe, no matter what the world throws at you!

First, the basics. Wear pants. And underpants. Thank you Mr. MoneyMoustache… I know, seems like common sense. Cold? Try clothes! But some folks haven’t gotten the message yet…
The Oil Well You Keep in Your Pants

And then, the advanced course, from Sharon Astyk!

How Not to Freeze: Living without Heat

Even the most crappily insulated houses in the US (and there are some truly appalling houses out there – the older parts of mine not wholly excluded) are far better in many cases than the shelters people survived with for millenia. I know I keep harping on this, but badly insulated is a relative thing – yes, more insulation would be good – and contacting your congressperson to get more funding (especially including *GRANTS* for low income families to reinsulate) put to insulation is essential – but it is worth remembering that the Lapps routinely dealt with -50+ temperatures in tents made of one layer of reindeer skin and heated only by body heat, and that when people began living in the US, winter temperatures were considerably colder than they are now, and windows were made of oilskin over holes in the house and houses were heated by a central fire pit. Human beings can manifestly live without central heating. I know you don’t think you can, but you can. It is in your genes. “

If you get a chance, take one of her online courses, or at least read her books or blog! Thanks to a scholarship, I got to participate in one of her Adapting in Place classes… what a great learning experience! I hope to pay it forward with future classes of my own… and to spread that all the preparedness-skills and stores in the world will do you less good than engaging with your local community. Which reminds me, we’ve got a ward meeting coming up! I usually look forward to these with as much joy as a teeth cleaning (actually, that’s not true… I’m years overdue and would relish a dental day-spa over sitting through a ward meeting, haha. Oh, health insurance. What’s that like, anyway?), but have promised to accompany the fellow this time around rather than making him go it alone. Because if TSHTF… it’s not what you have, but who you know, what you know, how we help each other, and how you relate to your local and larger community that will ultimately determine how we all fare. Let’s stack that deck, shall we?

Be careful out there, stay warm, and take care of each other! Check in on your neighbors, especially the elderly… be a real saint and shovel their walks too while you’re at it (and maybe next time you’ll wake and find that one of them did the same for you- it’s a race on our block some days…)! And don’t forget to go have some fun if you can- snowpersons and flat-land tobbogening, here we come!

Oh, and update on the suspect list- when the fella let the dog out late last night, there was an ENORMOUS long-haired siamese Catzilla hiding out in the woodshed, final scene of the crime. Chalk up one point for “bad-ass alley cat” theory. I hope it was that and not a raccoon, as it will be easier to keep a cat out than a nimble-pawed raccoon. For now, the girls are cooped up in the more secure coop and run, and not the outer run. They hate the snow, so not too different than what today would be, and safer. Not a long term solution, as it’s a little crowded in there for them and I worry that they’ll start picking on lil’ scrappy, the smallest Red Star. Might be time to cull the Marans, who are over four years old and haven’t laid in a loong time. Was going to give them till the spring, but I think five chickens could pretty happily live in the inner run and coop, with only supervised trips to the great outdoors… at least for awhile. We’ll see how it goes. They have a full feeder, which hopefully will keep them occupied (and warm!) today.

Also, while we’re doing depressing winter farm updates, that beehive is empty. 🙁 We lost the italians, again. I think that hive is cursed. I cracked it open on the last freakishly warm day, after noticing the Carnolians flying and no activity from the yellow hive… and there was a hive full of very hungry and now very dead bees. Le sigh. I fed them all fall, and the early spring, but the one-two-three punch of a tough drought summer and constantly fighting off the hornets and the other bees took its toll. Of course, the docile bees died and left us with the cranky, wonky-comb building bee bitches. But hey, I’ll take a crotchety hive full of hustlin’ survivors over nice dead bees anyday. I think we might be Carnolian-keepers from now on. Keeping my fingers crossed for them…

“Winter’s end savings event!”

“What could be more superstitious than the idea that money brings forth food?”
― Wendell Berry
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“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Our found-object woodshed, which once was a shipping crate for solar panels, and is covered in vinyl signs we also found in a different alley.  The kicker? Our shed proudly proclaims that every day is a "winter's end savings event".  Ah, justice...

Our found-object woodshed, which once was a shipping crate for solar panels till our neighbor stumbled upon it, and is covered in vinyl signs the fella found in a different alley and somehow strapped to his bike to drag home. The kicker? Our shed proudly proclaims that every day is a “winter’s end savings event”. Ah, sweet justice!

I’ve always loved that second quote, and was reminded of it when a few folks on the ChiChickens group changed it to their signature line (I’m tempted, but have had my cornbread-slogans as my tagline for so long that changing them now would feel like “goin’ back on my raisin'”, haha)… the first is a new one to me but it reminds me of the quote that inspired the infamous Greenpeace banner… “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” -Alanis Obomsawin

Today has been that sort of mixed-up high and low-tech day. The coffee and milk, organic and very store-bought. Oats, also. Lunch was mashed potato pancakes with pesto… the eggs came from the backyard, I grew the basil at work, hand-milled the grain which I picked up in 50 lb sacks last fall with a bike trailer from the farmer’s city apartment a few miles north of here (the wheat she and her dad grew a few miles away, of course), and the potatoes were from Wisconsin but by way of Restarant Depot (another 50 lb sack, bought in the fall for about $7. Slightly sprouty, but still good in the cellar). Rabbit cacciatore soup on the side- the rabbit a present from our dog-treat making friend (it’s high-quality, and packaged for human consumption till he grinds it up into dog jerky…), oyster mushrooms also from The Plant that were a little too squishy to sell but still mighty tasty, a jar of tomatoes from our 2011 garden (I love the safety net of being a year ahead in tomato canning when I can pull it off, and found this guy in the back of the pantry, still as perky as they day they were put up), home-canned rabbit stock (see above), some white beans grown on a small Michigan farm that a neighbor left us when she moved to California, and an ancient jar of green beans- 2009! from the first year I gardened at the studio (the fella had installed a small herb and hop garden before that, but that was the year we really started going with our first garden here long before we bought the “cabin”. I love being able to know the whole story behind what we’re eating, which in these days of extreme home-rehab is sometimes tough. I’ll admit it, the temptation to throw some extra cheese and giardinara on a frozen pizza is strong some nights, more than I’d like… but as gross as that is, it beats dropping insane amounts of money to have someone drive one over that’s not much better.

So today has been this weird mix of eating local and far-flung foods, typing away in the virtual world as I figure out this website move, and all the while, stoking the woodstove. I take it as a point of pride if the furnace doesn’t kick on all day, especially after I got the last gas bill… the first one since we lit the furnace for the first time. Yowza! $160, and we kept the thermostat somewhere between 47 F and 55 F. Granted, there were two very cold days in there where we had giant holes in the house while swapping out for more efficient windows (worse before it gets better) and at least one evening that we cranked it up to 60 so that the caulk would cure upstairs between the foam board insulation layers… add in that our eaves were still mostly open for most of that month and you can see how it would add up. Can’t wait to see how much better it gets next time! I’m glad, in a way, to have that first bad bill as a baseline for how much energy we’ll be saving after we finish insulating and air-sealing upstairs, and eventually the first floor as well. Since we are currently burning only scrap wood from our and others’ construction projects (untreated of course) and storm-killed local downed wood, it’s about as green as we can get in this house without moving underground or shutting off the water and sleeping in parkas instead of long-johns three months out of the year. We’ve done that, by the way… and I hope to never do that again! Brr.

news from the homefront

So, we’ve survived the holidaze, and the fella is taking the week off work to get to work on the many millions of projects that stand between us and a warm, safe, and comfortable home. We spent the first half of new year’s eve (once I got home from work) up and down ladders, me tacking up tiny little spacer blocks of wood to the underside of our roof deck with a brad nailer, and he cutting and fitting foil-faced foam board (individually measuring and cutting each one as of course the rafter spacing in our 130 year old house varies from 19″ and 22″ and change on center. The dog was much distressed, as she believes one of her missions in life is to protect me from pneumatically-driven tools (she views these as very dangerous, and I’m often inclined to share her view, especially as they are plastered with “caution! improper operation could result in severe injury or death!” warnings)… when the fella or his dad is working with them, she will ignore them all day until I get home, then get between me and the tools and bark most ferociously… “Lady! There is danger! Dog is on the case!” The fact that I was now wielding the fearsome object was a little much for dog-brain to process, and she did a lot of pacing, at least until we packed it up, ate a cheap frozen pizza (rehab will make you do terrible things), and went to the studio to change clothes and ride two miles north to our friend’s new year’s eve party. We usually lay low on New Year’s, stay off the roads, order massive amounts of chinese food, hang out with other folks at the studio doing the same, and set off some fireworks in the hallways at midnight. This year we decided to mix it up a bit, especially as we’d just ordered chinese for christmas eve and had plans at the studio for new year’s day… and while it was tempting to skip the whole production and just keep plugging away at the project, it was probably a very good idea to go out and pretend like we had a normal life for once.

The insulation project, much delayed, is progressing… after three months of waiting for the appropriate truck to borrow, the fella actually called the insulation warehouse our friend recommended, only to find they’ve been out of the 3″ sheets for almost a year- the factory that used to supply them closed. Soooo… we re-bought the thin foil-faced sheets that we’d returned to Menard’s back in October, found the craigslist guy who we bought our first load of 1.5″ factory-seconds sheets from again, and now have 150 or so sheets of foam in three stacks in our house, two of which are floor to ceiling on the first floor, right next to the woodstove, making it inoperable until we get some more work knocked out and at least one of those stacks upstairs. We came home a few nights ago to an almost frozen kitchen faucet and icebergs in the sink… and the fella went straight downstairs and LIT THE FURNACE.

Those who know the fella know what a big deal this is. The only time he’s ever willingly heated his living quarters with fossil fuel was when he shared a house with a friend and had to, though they kept the thermostat as low as his roommate’s thin-coated dog could stand. Friends of ours, who are hardy, ride-their-bikes-through-the-winter types, tell stories about leaving winter parties at the fella’s first apartment because everyone was sitting around with their coats on and just got too cold. I know, where’d I find this guy? The first winter I spent at our studio I’d go sit in the fermentation closet with the beer, where there was a tiny space heater on a temp. controller to keep it at a happy 65 degrees, and I’d curl up on a shelf with a book and a blanket and a mug of cocoa to thaw my bones. I’ve grown hardier since, wear a lot more wool, and 52 seems positively toasty compared to the 33-49 degree mark our house has been at. It’s warmer by the fire, of course… so that fact that it’s been in the low 50’s in our house this week is something to celebrate (though I still sleep with my hat on). I won’t be celebrating when I open our gas bill (since if you add up all the openings, gaps, and leaks in our second floor envelope you’d probably have a hole big enough to ride a bike through, if not to drive in with the monster truck). I’m trying not to remind the fella too much that we could have been done with this part at least a month or two ago if we’d just proceeded with the original plan (exactly what we’re now doing) and saved ourselves a month or two of misery. But since he’s currently in bed feeling sick because he cut foam for two days while his respirator hung on the wall by the back stairs, I’m trying not to do too much “if only-ing”, because he already knows. Our biggest challenge now will be getting it warm enough up there for the caulk to cure… hopefully once the whole roof has the first layer of insulation it will be warmer, and we’re supposed to get a 50 degree day next week… so if we time it right, and fire up the woodstove with the furnace going, we should be golden?

Speaking of golden, we thought we had found our first floor bathroom tile, at a steep discount (we have the floor tile for the second floor- white ceramic hexagonal mosaic acquired on craigslist, surplus from the installer who did John Cusack’s bathroom remodel. Yes, we have John Cusack’s leftover tile for our master bath. Booya, ladies!) but I don’t think it’s going to work out as the fella has this thing about practicality. I did some extensive googling while looking for ways to win the not-quite-an-argument with him over marble mosaic tile vs. quarry tile for our bathroom. Yes, quarry tile, which until now I had been ok with (grey not red)… so practical! Affordable! And easy to clean! And the fellow, he is a little rough on surfaces and lax with cleaning, especially the kind of cleaning that needs kid gloves and gentle chemicals and probably a toothbrush… he’s more of a, “lets get stainless laboratory cabinets for the kitchen with acid-resistant counters, put a urinal and a floor drain in the bathroom and we can just hose everything down with bleach or caustic when it needs it” practical kinda guy. So he’s probably right, and he would murder the marble… but he saw the marble first, and liked it, and then showed it to me and it was on sale and we put a hold on it… and I pictured our amazing future bathroom and imagined showering in it and how impressive and gorgeous and serene it would be, and suddenly NOTHING ELSE WOULD DO and the quarry tile would look exactly like a McDonalds, which is how I was feeling when he called from the material store, ready to pick up our pallet of golden-hued spa luxury but for his cold feet, and his friend’s impromptu iphone research, and we weren’t getting the tile after all.

Sigh. Back to the drawing board, and hanging insulation, and trying not to step through the hole(s) in the floor on the way to the coffeepot in the morning… and reminding myself that we WILL be done someday and we’ll appreciate it so much more for having been through this. Last night we were sitting and chatting with a friend at the studio, and he commented how rich he felt, something to the effect of, “we own a house down the street, we get to hang out here, drinking beer from a tap, and I have a gorgeous girlfriend… We have a saltwater aquarium we never even look at and a great dog all of this stuff and we’re warm and everything is so great, and next year maybe we’ll have a house we can live in and everything will be different but still good…”. I admire the power of his positive thinking, though sometimes I have a hard time being as optimistic while we’re slogging through the details. But someday, someday, someday soon… we’ll get there, or closer.

Apologies for the lack of photos lately, and for the promised-but-never-posted pictures of the artful brew day. My camera remains broken, and the fella just lost his or it was stolen from his office… with all the pictures on it. Urgh. I know. Hopefully it will turn up, but I fear the worst… a new camera is on the list, right after a new-old laptop. I’ve been limping along with an old desktop for awhile, but it’s technically the fellas so I haven’t put all my files on it, and am ordering a refurbished older-but-newer-than-the-x31-that-died thinkpad this weekend, installing Ubuntu, and pretending this laptoplessness never happened. Can’t wait.