Posts Tagged ‘woodstove’

Autumn Preparations

This past Sunday we had planned on doing a big hike but life intervened, and my husband had to work. September is arguably the best time of the entire year for hiking.  The temperatures are cool but sunny, with brilliant blue skies; the leaves are starting to change; there are also no fallen leaves as yet to cover tree roots, potholes and other tripping hazards; the lack of leaves also makes the hiking trails still visible; and best of all, NO BUGS!

Rather than hike alone, which I can do any other day of the week, I decided to use the day doing all the chores that would put our house into “autumn mode.”  We will be leaving Maine this weekend for the duration of the Jewish holidays, and returning next month when the cold has already set in, so spending the day preparing the house in this way was quite sensible.

First I went through our closets and drawers, making two piles:  “Put Away” and “Give Away.”  The put-away pile is all our short-sleeved and lighter weight shirts, pants and my skirts, and socks.  Then I brought down our huge storage bin of warm clothes, and filled the closet back up, this time with turtlenecks, sweaters, and down vests and jackets, tights, wool socks, and long underwear. Next to the front door/mudroom I replaced the bug net hats and bug spray with wool hats, gloves, and blaze orange vests (for hunting season, so we won’t be mistaken for a deer by hunters who might be a little trigger happy).  I also brought out the winter blankets.

This mess is part of the closet changeover process from summer clothes to winter clothes.

This mess is part of the closet changeover process from summer clothes to winter clothes.

Then, with some regret, I started uprooting my garden.  The temperatures are such that at this point, nothing is going to ripen further, and weather reports are now calling for frost at night.  So I decided to pick whatever was left (a few red peppers that never got red, a couple of tomatoes and lots of green tomatoes, the rest of my kale and Swiss chard) and put the spent plants into my compost bin.  I turned and smoothed out the soil and added a few scoops of compost.  I will plant lots and lots of garlic in October, so now the space is ready.  I am pretty much done with fishing for the year (although I am hoping to try ice fishing for the first time this coming winter) so I dumped the tub of live worms that were stored in my fridge into the garden soil.

I cleared out the veggies.  Now making this raised bed ready for planting garlic bulbs.

I cleared out the veggies. Now making this raised bed ready for planting garlic bulbs.

I also replaced my tired purple petunias by my front door with some cheerful purple asters.  Right now every store in rural Maine is fairly bursting with mums and asters (and pumpkins, which came in early this year, and corn, which came in late).

Asters at my entry

Asters at my entry

Then it was on to the screen porch.  We took out the screens; I hosed them down and once they were dry, put them into storage until next Spring.  Acrylic panels went up in their place.  The nice thing about the panels is that when the sun is out, even in freezing temperatures, the porch gets to about 65 degrees thanks to passive solar.

Our screen porch.  The screens are removed and awaiting clear acrylic panels.

Our screen porch. The screens are removed and awaiting clear acrylic panels.

I scrubbed the screens and stowed them in the basement until next Spring.

I scrubbed the screens, put them in the sun to dry, and then stowed them in the basement until next Spring.

Next came the wood shed.  Currently we have an over-abundance of cut and split wood due to some trees we took down last year.  They have been drying outside on the wood pile all year and now it was time to stack the pieces neatly inside the wood shed.  Our house is so energy efficient that despite last year’s long and brutal winter, we only used 1.5 cords of wood!  (Typically people might use 6 – 9 cords to heat a house sized like ours, so this is really fantastic.)  We still have plenty of wood stacked in the shed from last year, so I could only bring in about 1 cord’s worth as there wasn’t room in the shed for more due to the wood that was already there.  So I got out some large tarps and covered the wood pile, where it will continue its “seasoning” process (drying) for another year.  I also gathered kindling and put that in a pile, and brought several logs into the house since we will be using our woodstove for the first time this year any day now (according to weather reports, evening temperatures will be below freezing by the end of the week).

Stacking wood in our shed

Stacking wood in our shed

Bringing some logs indoors for our woodstove.

Bringing some logs indoors for our woodstove.

Once my husband finished work, he did the final year’s weed-whacking (the bees, who get grouchy in colder temperatures, were not too happy with him getting close to their hives, and a dozen started swarming him.  He was lucky to get only one sting.) I removed the summer tools from the shed, cleaned them and put them in the basement along with tomato cages and flower boxes, and took out the autumn and winter tools (rakes, shovels, and the long-handled scraper that takes excess snow off the roof) and put them where they’d be handy when needed.

Putting away garden stuff till next Spring.

Putting away garden stuff till next Spring.

The weedwhacker has been emptied of gas, and will be stored till Spring, along with some now-emptied window boxes.

The weed-whacker has been emptied of gas, and will be stored till Spring, along with some now-emptied window boxes that held flowers.

By now I was getting hungry and a bit tired.  That’s when I remembered the huge kosher rib steak that’s been sitting in my freezer for a special occasion.  I originally planned on grilling it for our 37th wedding anniversary last week, but we ended up going to a friend’s wedding on that day and we had dinner there.  I thought a grilled steak would be a great way to officially end the summer.  So we put some logs on our fire pit, made a campfire, and when the fire died down I started grilling the steaks for my husband (I don’t eat red meat) and a turkey burger for myself.

Once the campfire settles down a bit, we'll be ready to start grilling.

Once the campfire settles down a bit, we’ll be ready to start grilling.

Dinner

Dinner

We ate dinner outside around the fire, just relaxing, breathing the nippy air, and reliving and relishing summer adventures and looking forward to Fall.  Life is good.

Steak:  It's a guy thing

Steak: It’s a guy thing

 

 

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Am I The Only One Who Loves Winter?

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View of the wood shed and generator during a short lull in the storm

(Disclaimer:  Unlike most people, I am not in any way inconvenienced by snow.  I don’t have to worry about a power loss.  I don’t have to commute to work or drive kids in a carpool to school in the snow or ice; deal with traffic; idiotic drivers who go too fast or too slow; or be at risk for a driving accident due to inclement weather.  I don’t have a  job outdoors like a utility worker who must risk his or her life during a terrible ice storm in -40F to help restore heat or power; or a logger who must hoist tens of tons of felled trees into a logging truck and then drive the logs on icy, narrow, snow-laden back roads to the mill.  I don’t, thank G-d, have to worry about how I can visit a loved one in the hospital in inclement weather, and I am most assuredly not 9 months pregnant in the middle of the blizzard of the century.)

Our ground-mounted solar panels during the storm.  This is why it's ridiculous to install solar panels on your roof:  Are you really going to wait for the snow and ice to melt after the storm so they can start collecting light?

Our ground-mounted solar panels during the storm, easily cleaned off with a broom after the storm stops. This is why it’s ridiculous to install solar panels on your roof: Are you really going to wait for the snow and ice to melt after the storm so they can start collecting light?  Or even worse, are you going to climb a ladder to reach them all the way up on the roof so you can clean them off?

Yesterday I was grocery shopping in No. Conway NH and I overheard a conversation by some workers taking a break.

“I am ready for summer!” said one.

“I am sooo tired of winter,” the other agreed.

Meanwhile my Zumba teacher said that class is cancelled for next week – she is “going to Florida for a break from winter.”

(I could not get over the fact that they were having this discussion on a brilliantly sunny, clear day witih temps in the mid-20s, when visibility from Mt. Washington was 100 miles and it was gorgeous everywhere you looked!  Besides… would they be truly be happier in Spring, aka Mud Season and Blackfly Season?)

It might be wishful thinking, but all the stores in town have started putting out their Spring merchandise, and winter garments are on clearance.  This, despite the fact that realistically we have another one to two months of winter weather ahead of us.  Still, there is something different in the air – – a feeling that winter (despite today’s mammoth snow storm!) is winding down.  Am I nuts?  I miss winter already!  I simply love winter  in Maine.  There are so many wonderful things about it:

  • I love the heat from our wood stove.  It’s a heat that penetrates to your bones, and makes you feel cozy all over.
  • I love the fact the wood we use is from our own land.  We had to clear quite a bit of woods to make way for the driveway and our house.  None of that wood is going to waste!  We also had to clear a large area beneath the house so the solar panels would be unobstructed from the sun.  I have since planted semi-dwarf apple trees in that area so we don’t feel the loss of trees from our woods.  I worked really, really hard over the summer stacking logs in the wood shed.  It’s nice to see all that work being put to good use!
  • I love my MICROspikes, my hiking boots, and my Muck Boots in winter.  They keep my feet warm and dry and allow me to go anywhere outside, even when it’s icy.
  • I love walking outside.  It’s astoundingly beautiful and you rarely see another human being on a trail.  It’s not just black and white – there are thousands of shades of grey in between. With the absence of foliage the views are even more expansive.  And it’s so good to keep moving in cold weather!  You just feel wonderful, and your cheeks get an apple red color that make them positively pinch-able!  When I go for walks in winter, I feel like I’m glowing from both inside and outside.
  • I love the quiet.  Everything is muffled in the snow, the world is at rest, yet when there is sound, it is heightened and your senses feel sharpened.
  • I love the secret world of animals, revealed.  Evidence of life is everywhere in the tracks in the snow.  Raccoons, birds, chipmunks, squirrels, coyotes, mice, skunks, deer – – it’s amazing to know what traverses our property when we’re not looking, and this is something we may otherwise miss any other time of year.
  • I love shoveling snow.  Yes, I know, people die of heart attacks from shoveling snow all the time.  But ever since we bought our snow pusher, it’s not a chore; it’s a joyous exercise in efficiency and fun.
  • I love the exuberance.  Even though I don’t go snowmobiling, I love watching snowmobilers having their fun.  I love watching kids building snow forts.  I love watching ice fisherman drive with their pickup trucks right onto a frozen lake and settle in to their ice shacks.
  • I love the clothes.  Down vests, down jackets, Peruvian wool hats, leggings, fleece – – they’re all incredibly cozy and comfortable.  If you know how to dress for the weather, you simply Will. Not. Be. Cold.  Even outside in -5F.  Really!!!
  • I love the food.  Freshly made thick soup on a cold day — what could be more divine?
  • I love bird-watching in winter.  Is there anything funnier than a blue jay that looks like he’s wearing an inflatable sumo wrestler suit, all puffed up to protect himself from the cold?  Our bird feeder attracts nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, woodpeckers and turkeys, plus squirrels and chipmunks and the occasional annoying raccoon.  We don’t keep a bird feeder out any other time of year except winter, due to marauding bears.
  • I love not being afraid of winter, and feeling prepared to take on challenges.  We have a well-insulated house with a good heat source; we have plenty of food and emergency supplies stocked and rotated for freshness; our AWD cars are always filled with gas and we have studded snow tires. We have backup power for our solar system and a backup to our backup (generator).  Our propane tank is filled before winter starts. Our cellphones are kept charged.  We have a huge library.  My husband is a licensed ham radio operator.  Even in an emergency,  if we couldn’t get out, we are good for several weeks by ourselves.
  • I love the sunny days.  Winter in Maine has a surprising number of sunny days.  It would be unusual to go for more than 3 or 4 days without clear, brilliant blue skies.  And when it’s sunny it feels much warmer than the actual temperature thanks to the rays reflecting on the snow.  I have been outside on a windless day for a sun bath in my shirtsleeves in 20F and I was not cold.
  • I love passive solar in winter.  When it’s sunny on a winter day, our south- and west-facing windows heat up the house so well that I don’t even need to use our wood stove to keep the indoor temperature at 65F.  Yesterday our porch, which has acrylic panels instead of screens in winter, heated up to 80F just from the sun, when it was 30F outside.
  • I love the sight and sound of snow and ice crashing off the roof.  It’s very dramatic, thrilling, and scary.
  • I love the fact that one is never too old to make a snow angel!
The birdfeeder

The birdfeeder

Of Mice and Men

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one.  I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one. I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

After driving through the night, we arrived in Maine on Sunday at 7:30 a.m.  Once inside, we were greeted by three totally empty trays of D-CON (mouse poison) and one very dead mouse (my husband had the unpleasant task of removing it).   A propitious start, I thought.

I’m always a little on edge when I walk into my house after a prolonged absence . . . especially between seasons, when there are extreme temperature changes.  Once the wildlife know we’re gone, they are only too happy to “house-sit” in our nice, cozy abode while we’re away.  Intruders of the non-human variety can mean anything from beetles, flies and wasps, to rodents,  porcupines, raccoons, fishers, or even bears.

When our house was being built, shortly after we installed our garage door, a very determined mouse gnawed at the hard plastic and rubber weather seal at the bottom, breaking it and creating a glaring point of entry.  This kind of damage was not covered under our garage door warranty, and repair would be expensive, since they’d have to take apart the entire door in order to replace the weather-stripping.  We decided to live with it, and try to fill the hole with spray-foam insulation and steel wool.

Meanwhile I took no chances, even though I didn’t really have a mouse problem – – yet.  I put trays of D-CON throughout my house:  under the kitchen cabinets, behind the microwave,  in our basement under our food storage shelves, and at the bottom corners of the garage door.  We do a visual check for possible mouse infestation each time we return to Maine from our home town, especially since that time when my husband went to use the bathroom upon arrival – – and found a dead mouse in the toilet. (We now make sure we keep the toilet lid closed before we go away.)  Once we noticed that the tray of D-CON behind the microwave oven had been delicately noshed, but no further signs of mice or their droppings were discovered.  (I should mention at this point that when our grandchildren come for the summer, we remove all the trays of D-CON for safety’s sake.)

This time, though, I had a feeling that mouse presence would be worse, because the house had been vacant for 3 weeks and outside it was terribly cold.

Sure enough, all the trays of D-CON inside the house had been ravaged.  One small dead mouse was on the floor next to our food storage shelves.  Fortunately, the food was completely untouched (I store large, emergency-sized non-perishables such as grains, flour, nuts, seeds, condiments, etc. in glass jars and industrial-strength sealed plastic containers that are inaccessible to non-humans).  Unlike rats (thank heavens we don’t have those!) mice desiccate and are odorless after death, but even then it is unusual to find a deceased one out in the open.  I only found a couple of random mouse droppings.  But the hole in the bottom corner of the garage door is a little bigger so it looks like we will have to have that weather-stripping under the garage door replaced professionally, after all.

The problem with finding evidence of a mouse is that, left unabated, they multiply rapidly. (You can click here to see what happened to our pop-up camper when it was taken over by mice two summers ago.)  I couldn’t be sure it was “only” one mouse, even though at present there was no evidence of more.  This meant an unplanned trip into town to buy more D-CON, a drive I was not enthusiastic about doing after being on the road for the past 10 1/2 hours.  After all, I had loaded the car with groceries from our home town so I wouldn’t have to do shopping for a week.   But with predictions of a snowstorm headed our way the following day, it was now or never, so we did make the 45-minute trek into North Conway.

But before setting out, there was even more important business to take care of:  getting our house warm.  We cannot simply turn off the heat when we leave, as the pipes will freeze, but we do set the thermostat very low so we won’t go through too much (expensive!) propane while we’re away.  When you’ve been driving through the night, the last thing you feel like doing when you come into the house exhausted and cold is building a fire and puttering around to keep it going.  I’ve learned from experience that before we leave Maine, I layer kindling and firewood in the woodstove and close its door, so all I have to do when I return to Maine  is open the woodstove door,  light the pre-prepared wood with a match, and an effortless fire awaits.  Even with the hottest of fires, though, it takes hours to bring the indoor room temperature from 45 degrees F (!) to 67 degrees F.  But by now I have the routine down pat and make sure that longjohns/leggings, sweaters, gloves, hats and coats are close by.

Suddenly we realized that we had forgotten to replace the screen panels on our porch with plexiglass ones.  We use our  porch, which is located just off the kitchen, even on sunny winter days, thanks to its ideal southerly location.  In the summer, the porch is shaded by trees and the cool breezes flow pleasantly through the screen panels.  In late autumn or early winter, once the leaves have fallen and the outside temperature cools, we replace the screens with plexiglass.  The southern exposure of the porch means that the sun shines on the plexiglass panels on a sunny day, and through this “passive solar” heat our porch can often reach temperatures of  60 – 65 degrees F on a 20 degree F day!

But because we had neglected to do the switch-over before returning to our home town, we were now faced with unscrewing the screen panels and screwing in the plexiglass panels in 22 degree temperature!  Needless to say that although we worked quickly, we were forced to seek shelter indoors in between each panel installation to warm our hands (gloves were too bulky to handle the tiny screws).

Taking down the summer screens...

Taking down the summer screens…

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

We had planned our departure from our home town carefully.  Since a snow storm would hit the East Coast on Sunday but not reach Maine until Monday, we decided to leave right after Shabbat, on Saturday night, and drive through the night.  We figured that if we could fit in a nap after davening (religious prayers at the synagogue) and lunch on Saturday (not an easy feat considering the short hours of daylight), we’d be rested enough to travel the distance to Maine, especially if we could  alternate the driving between us.  An added bonus would be the lack of traffic at night, but unfortunately we hadn’t counted on New York’s perpetually jammed George Washington Bridge (with the rip-off toll price of $13 for the “privilege” of traversing it) being busy even at midnight.   But once we managed to get out of New York the rest of the way was quick and uneventful.  Indeed, the very next morning our home town experienced a huge snowstorm even bigger than predicted, and the entire New Jersey turnpike was hazardous  with snow, ice, and accidents, so our timing had been perfect.

That same snowstorm finally hit us today.  I did manage to trek 3 miles in the woods with my very enthusiastic dog in the morning, while the snow was still sparse.  I walked with trekking poles in case it got icy in spots, but this turned out to be unnecessary.  The temperature was 22 degrees, but I was wearing layers and a down jacket and in reality I was a bit too warm.  At least now my cheeks have a rosy glow.

Instead of attending to work responsibilities (I have several clients waiting on photos), I spent the morning cooking enough food to last for the next 2 days.  I made a hearty vegetable soup, some butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and a large tub of yogurt – – all “stick to your ribs” kinds of food for the coming cold spell. (Forecast for Wednesday night is 3 degrees F and 0 degrees  F Friday night.)

After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of yogurt to the milk and stirred well.  Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation.  Usually I let the yoghurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my wood stove.  After about 8 hours the yoghurt will solidify to the proper consistency.  I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more.  The next day I will spoon it into a large glass jar and enjoy.  This is about a 1-week supply.

Homemade winter yogurt:  After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage on my regular propane range and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of  plain, store-bought yogurt to the milk and stirred well. Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation. Usually I let the yogurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a warm summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my fired-up wood stove, since our indoor room temperature of 67 is not warm enough for the yogurt to culture properly.  After about 8 hours the yogurt will solidify to the proper consistency. I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more. The next day I will spoon it into a large glass storage jar.   I like to use the yogurt to make smoothies, or to eat 1 cup plain with 1/4 cup of raw oatmeal and frozen blueberries mixed in.  This makes about a 1-week supply.

Wood

If Mainers were pagans, the preferred god of worship would certainly be the tree.  Here in the White Mountains, people live and breathe wood, be it pine, maple, oak, beech, birch, ash, hickory or larch.

This view was taken 10 minutes' drive from our home

It seems like everyone is in some way connected to wood:  foresters, woodsmen (loggers and sawyers), builders, carpenters, cabinet makers, fuel sellers (cordwood and pellets), landscapers (mulch), chimney sweepers, paper mill workers and artisans.    Property taxes are reduced significantly if one owns 10 acres or more under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law, if one designates part of one’s land as forestland, used for growth of trees to be eventually harvested for commercial use and then replanted.

On a sunny day our solar panels generate 1200-1400 watts of electricity, usually adequate for our needs

I admit to feeling sad when we had to chop down so many trees (75 – 100) to prepare our building site.  And when we decided to use solar to power our home, it meant another 50 – 75 trees had to go:  their shadows were preventing the solar collector panels from doing their job.  But Mainers have no room for sentimentality, only sustainability.  Indeed, our downed trees provide a crucial resource that is the key to winter survival:  heat.

Make no mistake, a broken heating system in one’s house is treated like a 911 call by one’s heating contractor, because without heat, pipes freeze and burst, causing horrific flooding, damage and mold, not to mention the actual possibility of freezing to death in one’s own abode.  Heating contractors work under deplorable winter conditions, sometimes 25 degrees below zero, to restore heat to afflicted homes.  Summer homes, or “camps” as they are called locally, are big business for heating contractors who make part of their living shutting down seasonal homes for the winter (turning off water, draining pipes with air compressors and flushing them with antifreeze) and opening them up again in late spring.

Nearly everyone has at least two ways to heat their home, and most homeowners have backups to their backup systems, whether it’s wood, oil, propane, kerosene, or electricity.  But for economic and practical reasons, wood as a heat source is king.

We furnished our house cheaply (thank you craigslist) but we spared no expense on our soapstone woodstove.  The soapstone stays warm and radiates heat long after the last embers have cooled.  It is an airtight, high-efficiency stove that qualified for a 30% tax credit, and so far it seems well worth the cost.  It weighs 525 lbs and took three strong, struggling men to bring it into the house.

The woodsplitter in front of the woodpile next to the shed

Once all that wood was cut into logs and split, it had to be stored.

Splitting the wood

the massive and powerful gasoline-powered splitter, up close

I spent about 4 days stacking it into the woodshed.  It’s heavy, tedious work, but I kind of enjoyed it.  I have always admired a neatly-stacked woodpile, and there are many ways to stack and store the wood to maximize ventilation (good airflow so the wood can dry out) and weather protection (from snow, rain, animals and insects).  Besides the esoteric beauty of the pile’s pattern and design, and developing a healthy pair of biceps, stacking wood gave me a chance to think about all sorts of things (or not!) without distraction.  By the fourth day of this focused toil, I was convinced that we could lessen the affects of juvenile ADD by having schoolchildren stack wood for a couple of hours every day!

the now-split wood in front of our 12' x 16' woodshed (note the mezuzah!) Now it must be stacked, a log at a time, inside the shed.

At this point our woodshed is only 1/3 full; the wood is piled 6' high. Our Standard Poodle is wearing a blaze-orange bandana in case he is mistaken for a bear during hunting season - a genuine concern!