It’s The Little Things

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. There was never more truth as that phrase.
Recently I experienced losing some basic ‘necessities’ of life – well, not really necessary to live, like air and food. I’m very blessed to have been born in a country like Canada where basic necessities of life are taken for granted and provided. Even though half the year is cold and even covered in snow, I’m warm …….. most of the time. And that’s what brings me to this topic – heat.

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Last month, the heat went in my car. I don’t drive a fancy, late model SUV because my 26 year old Honda Civic is still chugging along and doing just fine. But sometimes it needs new parts. Like a thermostat. I knew it had to be the thermostat because I had some heat briefly but then as I drove along the highway, I froze. I couldn’t get it fixed right away because I had to go to my daughter’s house to take care of her and the children the week before Christmas. I just wore double pants, double wool socks, double sweaters, hat, mitts, scarf, winter boots, and a coat when I drove in the -25 C weather. You don’t know how much you appreciate heat in your car until it’s gone! My daughter Nellie and I drove into the city to a family get-together at Perry and Debbie’s when my sister-in-law Penny & brother-in-law Mike came up from Brantford, Ontario for a visit. We were frozen! Perry, bless his heart, put a piece of cardboard in front of the car’s radiator to help block the cold air on the drive home in the -30C degree night. Finally, after all the holidays, I took it to my mechanic to replace the thermostat: a $20 part and another $100 to put it in. It was worth every penny to be warm again when I drive in -30C degrees!! Such a little thing for such a huge impact!

http://www.autogaleria.hu -

My car…….new

 

Hot water. In our developed society, we take hot water for granted. We simply turn on the tap and voila, hot water spews out! I have several other ways to make hot water in my home like a solar hot water system (which is currently covered with snow and taking a break) and a hot water reservoir on the side of my wood cookstove. But I depend on my electric hot water heater the most I think. Last week, we noticed that the hot water coming out of the tap only lasted for a few minutes before it started to turn cold. When my grandchildren and daughter Kristi were here for a week and a half, there was barely enough hot water for a very, very small bath with a couple inches of water. And only one of us could have a bath or shower at a time until more water heated up in 5 or 6 hours. Nellie even offered to heat up kettles and pots of water on the stove.

 

Stockings Hung

My wood cookstove

 

We knew that one the two heating elements in the 40 gallon electric hot water tank was likely broken – there is one element at the top and one at the bottom of the tank. Every few years, these elements break down because of our hard, sulfur well water and we know about it when we have a shower and run out of hot water half way through! You don’t know how much you miss instant hot water until you don’t have any. I went into the Canadian Tire store and picked up the right elements – there are various sizes and models (who knew a hot water heater was so complex!). We needed a 240 volt 3,000 watt element model with a screw in base. I found the old one on top of the hot water heater so I brought it with me to make sure I picked up the right one.

One big thing that I’m grateful for is that my son Darin always comes down any time I need him to help. Yesterday, the whole family came down and waited (and waited) while Darin did a not-so-quick change out of 3 of Nellie’s electrical plugs in her newly painted & furnished bedroom and tried to fix the hot water heater. Somehow, we didn’t have the appropriate tool to remove the old elements – we didn’t remember how we ever did this the last few times. So Darin and the family went into town and bought the special wrench and came back to replace the elements. Thanks Dar! I was elated when I turned on the tap an hour later and hot water streamed out!!

I’m forever grateful when one of my kids does something for me that’s no big deal for them but means a lot to me. For instance, bringing in a 40 lb. bag (or two) of wood pellets. Or carrying a box of firewood in from the woodshed. Or shoveling the freshly fallen snow away from the front mudroom door and garage. Or cleaning the bathroom.

It’s the little things that make life a bit more enjoyable rather than struggling.

Woodstove Surprise

Yesterday, I did my mid-winter cleaning out of my wood cookstove. I had planned it for then because the outside temperatures were predicted to be about +5C (41F). The stove and ashes need to be cold when I clean it out – the last log went in around 4 p.m. the night before. This mid-winter cleaning means that I scrape off the soot and ash that has accumulates under the burner plates and around the oven box inside the stove. Let me explain how a wood cookstove works: when the stove damper is open, the smoke goes out of the firebox straight up the chimney. When I close the damper, the smoke circulates around the oven box, which sits below the cast iron burners ,and exits the stove at the bottom/back and up the chimney thereby warming the oven and in fact the entire stove.
All this burning season, I’ve had trouble with smoke escaping through the loading door when the damper was closed. I’ve had to resolve this problem by only half closing the damper. I had planned on replacing the door gasket to hopefully tighten the seal. Everything began normally: I was dressed in my ‘work’ clothes ready for this usual black sooty chore. This time I decided to wear vinyl gloves to help keep my hands from getting black.

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Soot under the burner plate

 

I scraped the backsides of each burner as I removed them and placed them on newspaper on the table. Then I began the ritual of scraping off the oven accessible via the burner holes. When I got to the side, I thought something was amiss. I scraped dutifully and began to remove the soot through the clean-out ‘nameplate’ access but not as much was coming out as I thought there should be. I grabbed my flashlight and took a look – it looked like soot as far as my poor vision could see and I couldn’t understand why. It was time for an investigation! I placed my portable barbaque light to see down the 2 inch side of the oven. This BBQ light is awesome! I keep it on top of the warming oven of my cookstove – it has a magnetic bottom so it sticks to the steel and cast iron surfaces of my stove. The light is connected to a flexible neck that I can position however I like. I often use it to quickly check how something is cooking on the stove. Anyway, when I had it positioned to shine down the side of the oven box, I took a look through the bottom clean-out expecting to see light shining through – but only darkness. Hmmm, it’s plugged. I wasn’t sure why but I was determined to find out. It certainly explained all the smoke leaking out of the loading door when the damper was closed. For the next hour, I scraped and stabbed at the soot at the bottom side of the oven box. I even went out to the garage to get reinforcements: a giant screwdriver that was about 30 inches long! Thanks Chris.

burnersWM

I discovered that rock-hard ash and soot had compressed to form solid chunks all along the bottom of this side of the oven box. It was an impossible (almost) space to work in but I kept at it until finally a chunk broke loose! I used the scraper to carefully pull it up to where I could reach it, dropping in many times before I could grab it and force it out through the burner hole. I had to use the giant screwdriver to break them into smaller pieces that would fit up the side to be removed. It was extremely hard. I used the shopvac to suck up some of the stoney soot too. After 2 hours, I was done!

SootchunksWM

Soot chunks

I put the burners back in and wiped them down with olive oil on a cloth. To give it one final sparkle, I washed the rest of the cookstove and dried it. Voila! It looked like new. Unlike myself, who was black from head to toe! It’s a good thing I have two tanks of solar-heated hot water. I vacuumed up the floor and washed the four feel around it until tomorrow when I can wash the pine floors in the whole room.
Heating with wood is not for the faint of heart. Oh sure, visions of a nice, warm, cozy fire dance through your head. But you need to know that any wood stove requires regular, messy maintenance to burn efficiently and safely. Wood heat might be for tree-hugging (carbon neutral) lovers of the environment …….. ah, like me I guess.

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Clean and ready to burn

Frostquake!

It’s been pretty cold lately. Abnormally cold. But then again, what is ‘normal’ anyway these days when it comes to weather with all the climate change going on – extreme weather in the summer with record-breaking heat and in the winter, polar vortexes every other week.

Freezing

At our house, when the temperature outdoors gets down to -30C or so, we get sudden BANGs which can shake the house. It’s a Frostquake or Cryoseism. I used to just  say it was frozen ground water expanding in the extreme cold, but now there’s a word for it. Living along the river, we have a fairly high water table. If there’s lots of rain in the fall, the ground becomes saturated, then freezes in the winter. We often heard them when skating on the frozen river.
Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson said the noise occurs when water filters into porous soil, freezes suddenly and becomes subject to shifting. “It’s like a low-grade earthquake,” he said. Yup, it shakes the house like an earthquake sometimes too.

Frost on the mudroom door

Frost on the mudroom door

I don’t like the cold anymore – it’s too………well, cold. I don’t drive to town on these really cold days – I wait for it to warm up a bit to just below freezing, every week or so. My faithful, 24 year old car with over 375,000 kms on it, doesn’t like going out in this kind of weather either. Instead I stay at home keeping the fire going in my cookstove or watching the birds or baking or making homemade dinners.  I don’t even have to go outside to get my firewood! I just walk through my unheated garage to the attached woodshed and bring it in. Oh, it’s just as cold as outside but it’s not technically outside – I still have to wear my winter coat especially if I’m splitting wood with my new electric 4 ton wood splitter that my two youngest kids got me for Christmas.

One thing good about the bitter cold outside is that I can get inside jobs accomplished. Like clearing out my cupboards of paperwork, deceased relatives dishes, clothes I never wear anymore, books/magazines I’ve read ….. you know simplifying my OWN life.

For now, I’ll keep feeding the birds beef suet and black oiled sunflower seeds and watch them eat while I wait for spring.

 

 

Bluejays on my apple tree *

Bluejays on my apple tree by Marty *

Giving Thanks

 

I’m thankful for many things in my life:

Family. I feel so grateful to have a family. There are actually some people in this world who are alone without another soul in their family. I can’t imagine how lonely that must be. My family is huge! Seven grown children, 5 children-in-law/girlfriend, 5 grandchildren, two amazing Sisters and their families, nieces and nephews, Aunts, and cousins galore!

2005 plus new additions to the family

2005 plus new additions to the family

 

Home. I’m grateful to have a roof over my head that I’ve called home since 1981. The walls could tell all those stories over the course of those years! The births, weddings, funeral…..

Food. I love food. I’m grateful that I live in a country like Canada that has so much fresh food. There are local farmers who work extremely hard to grow food for my table and I appreciate their efforts immensely . I am thankful that there is a local store that’s been in business for over 50 years, the B & H Community Grocer, which strives to bring locally produced items in to their store for customers like me. Even those people living in a challenging place right now in their lives have access to food through local food banks and ‘soup kitchens’ across our country.

Canada. I’m a proud Canadian. I have the privilege of living in a country where I’m free to be a person, a woman, a citizen.

My grown children and granddaughters who will be filling my woodshed today. I’ve moved aside the dry firewood left over from last winter in my woodshed so I can burn it first. My sons Darin, Taylor, and Melvin as well as my two granddaughters almost 11 year old Kalia and 9 year old Livi are coming today to fill my woodshed and stack the other 8 cords beside the garage, for the next few years.

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I’m thankful that my winter chores list is getting shorter. The hardest thing was catching that last goldfish in the pond to put in their winter home in my coldroom. I must have walked ten miles around that pond trying to catch the little escape artist! I have to dig my canna lily bulbs tomorrow but a few other things will have to wait, like getting my winter snow tires on.

Today, after the wood is stacked, we will celebrate this season of giving thanks with a roast turkey dinner and all the trimmings like mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, carrots, turnip, dressing like my Mom used to make, Nellie’s cabbage salad, and my pasta/tuna salad (without onions for my granddaughters). And Sarah’s pumpkin pie for dessert.

 

Enough Winter!!

 

This is what I woke up to this morning……….. again…. -32C (-26F)! This has been going on for weeks …… and weeks and ……… and weeks and, quite frankly, I’m sick of it!

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I realize that winter isn’t officially over for another 2 weeks but it unofficially began halfway through autumn! We’ve had snow storm after winter snow storm since the end of October. Temperatures well below normal have persisted for weeks and weeks. Our normal high should be just above 0 degrees celsius (32F) and overnight lows around -8C (17.6F)  so you can understand my frustration. Yesterday it warmed up to -15C (5F). Big whoopee 😦
We did have a few short days of ‘warmer’ weather (a.k.a. zero degrees C/32F) and the snow slid off the solar panels back in January, but we usually have a ‘January thaw’ for a bit longer. I’ve been waiting for a warmer day to clean out my wood cookstove. It has to be just above zero degrees for me to let the stove go out completely to enable me to empty the ash bucket and clean the soot off inside around the oven. Well, that hasn’t happened yet.

cookstove
I’m beginning to believe that I need a winter vacation – not a trip somewhere south where it is warmer (well, okay maybe that would be nice) but just a break from this brutal cold and bringing in firewood every day and a cold car that doesn’t warm up until I’m already in town. I’m grateful that the sun is much stronger now and actually feels warm on your face ……. and that my solar hot water panels are producing plenty of hot water …… and that I still have lots of firewood …… and that my hip/thigh is healing (thanks to my Chiropractor) so I’m not in as much pain when I carry my firewood into the house.
The only one who seems to be enjoying these extremely cold, snowy days is my 14 year old puppy dog Yukon. He can’t wait to get outside every morning to roll in the snow and often lay there in the sun – the colder the better for him.

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There is still 2 feet of snow in my yard with drifts of 4 feet. Unless it melts somewhat, I won’t be able to read the hydro meter on the other side of the house this month because the snow is almost impossible to walk in as it’s up the full length of my legs. Hard crusty, snow.
A couple of years ago at this time, I wrote about how I was tired of winter even though it had been mild with less snow. Is it just ‘cabin fever’? Or is it just the weather (another blog post)?
Yup, I’m ready for spring.

 

 

 

First Fire

Today I made my first fire this fall season in my wood cookstove.  It was -10C (14 F) outside when I woke up so I figured it was about time……  The pellet stove downstairs has already been burning for almost two weeks.

First Fire

First Fire

Last week I spent an afternoon finally cleaning out the soot from the chimmney sweeping (thanks Darin!) – a bad wind storm was forecast and you never know when the power is going to go out.  I took out all the burners to clean the soot off the inside, scraped the soot off  around the oven, washed all the nickle plating and enamel, emptied the ash bucket, then wiped a coat of olive oil on the cast iron cooktop.  I dusted the Ecofans, kettles and put fresh water in the hot water reservoir.  My arms were black and I needed a shower badly when I was done!  But my ‘Sweetheart’ looked brand new.  I didn’t need to replace any gaskets this year but I did need to repair with stove cement a couple of cracks in the large firebricks inside the firebox.  They cured for the weekend and today I tested it out by burning the papers (old bills and receipts) that I had been accumulating in the upper warming oven all summer long.  Even that small amount of burning paper created a welcome heat.

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After walking the dog, I went straight to the woodshed to grab a box of wood to make a fire.   Of course, then I had to make soup.  I boiled up some chicken bones I had been storing in the freezer to make the broth then added some leftovers.  I went outside and dug up some Thyme and planted it in a pot to bring inside for the winter.  My recipe for Chicken Soup is here.

making soup

making soup

The soup is simmering on the back of the cookstove and the kettle is on for a tea.   Ahhhh, my day is done……….. okay, well not yet.  But I’m enjoying the warm-fuzzy feeling that a wood fire wraps around my entire home.

 

 

Ready for Winter

Winter Sunrise

Well, I think I’m finally all ready for winter now! I made a list earlier in the season to help me get all my tasks done:

1.  Woodstove cleaning:  Last week I cleaned out my chimneys’ soot – Darin had swept the rooftop chimney for my cookstove a few weeks ago and today I swept the pellet stove chimney that sticks out the basement wall about a meter (3 feet) above ground.   I just had to spend a morning taking off the cookstove burners on top and the nameplate on the front  then scraping the soot that accumulates around the oven into a bag or shop-vaccing the corners.   I washed the nickel-plated trim and porcelain coated doors with a little hot water and dish soap then coated the cast iron stovetop with a little Olive Oil on a rag.  Downstairs, I gave the pellet stove a good cleaning out of ‘fly ash’  – I keep saying to myself that I’m going to clean my stoves in the late spring after heating season, but then I don’t, justifying it to myself that the fall would be better in case a bat or bird spent the summer inside.  I spread two ashbins full of ashes in my garden, which always helps sweeten the earth.

Clean and ready to burn

Cleaning Cookstove top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Driveway:  On Friday, I was outdoors in the beautiful sun sticking reflective markers along side of the driveway for winter snowplowing.  For the first time in my life, I’ve decided to hire somebody to plow the snow from my laneway this winter.  I’m really afraid that we are going to get walloped by tons of snow this winter since we got off SO easy last winter.  Melvin and I were able to cut a path through the heavy snow in the driveway last winter but this year he’s finished high school and may be busy working.   I had Chris’ plow truck (3/4 ton diesel Chevy 4X4) until last year – I sold it since I only used it for plowing in the wintertime and it was just alot of truck to keep on the road for only that purpose.   I even dug out our old snowblower and worked on it for days (soaked the carburetor in ‘carb cleaner’) but I just couldn’t get it started.  I sent it to the Co-op to get fixed but a simple Carb Kit didn’t do the job and I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a new carburetor that might not even fix the problem….. oh well, I tried, but I don’t know what else to do.

Driveway in Winter

3.  Firewood:  The woodshed is full plus next year’s firewood is piled up outside.  I’ve phoned my firewood guy Gerald already to order 10 cords for next spring – he cuts it during the winter and ‘bucks it up’ to dry abit.  He’ll bring it out in April or May when things ‘dry up’.   My pellet order was unexpectedly here today………but I was not (@ Darin’s doing the snow tires).   So this week I should have my one and a half ton of pellets delivered and stacked inside my garage.

4.  Pond:  At the beginning of November, I disconnected the pond pump and brought it indoors for the winter – I keep it in water in the big winter tank that my fish go in.  I’ve already placed the leaf net on the pond weeks ago after I removed the fish.

5.  Garden Hoses: All the garden hoses have been rolled up and put away for the winter.  The outside taps have been turned off and drained.

6.  Coldroom storage:  My potatoes, onions, squash, canna lilies, etc. are all stored for winter use.

7.  Windows:  I gave some of the windows a cleaning, inside and out,  so the warm winter sun can shine through.  I love looking outside through clean windows!

Mourning Doves on Clothesline

8.  Outdoor Furniture: I put away the chairs and took down the screened Gazebo about a month ago.  It was challenging waiting for a dry weather.  But having my sister Faye coming up for a visit in October really gave me incentive to get stuff done before she arrived!  The dock out on the river still needs to be tied against the shore and the canoe needs to be brought up beside the Playhouse but it’s better to wait until it snows because the canoe slides effortlessly on the snow-covered grass.

9. Winter Snow Tires :  On Sunday, my son Darin put on my snow tires – it was actually a beautiful, sunny, warmish day.    This was the final winter preparation task that needed to be accomplished.

Rideau Canal Fun –
Skating and Beavertales!

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