If You Can’t Take the Heat, Don’t Lie Beneath the Wood Stove

There are three introductory phrases I begin sentences with that truly define who I am:

The First—I can’t believe I have to repeat this, but …

The Second—If you truly want my opinion …

And the Third—When I was growing up in Wisconsin …

It’s the third, well-practiced utterance that we shall focus on today, as I feel this introductory remark is cemented in my daily speech and appears as often as the hourly Early Black Friday deals have been emerging in my mailboxes.

That said, when I was growing up in Wisconsin, it was an unremarkable experience to walk into anyone’s house—specifically in Northern Wisconsin where I was raised—and immediately feel the blast of a workhorse of a wood stove’s heat hit your face before the door slapped you in the ass.

This was rather welcoming, as most folks were more than happy to have something begin deicing their beard or eyebrows and eyelashes so they could again experience the pleasure and necessity of facial expressions.

Living for the last several years in a log cabin that is about as snug and as well-chinked as a pasta colander, I have finally decided to fork over several thousand dollars to a local dealer of what I’m certain is a large smelting furnace. I now join my childhood brethren in creating creosote worthy of the number of railroad ties needed to get from one end of the state to the other on an hourly basis.

I jest.

I hope.

As I do not venture into unfamiliar territory lightly, a great deal of research has gone into this decision. Yes, I may have grown up with an iron beast that tamed the North Pole snows that spewed down upon us for nearly nine months of the year, but I was merely a cog in the wheel of warmth creation, and not the true operator of the equipment.

My job, as was my three other siblings, was to chop, maul, haul, and stack. Four cords of wood were not going to magically emerge, wood stove ready, from the forests surrounding us. Hence, the true purpose for having a large family: woodworking.

And dishwashing.

Weeding rounded out the trifecta of those drudgeries, but again, as one can decipher from above, it was a small spot of three-month labor which, in truth, provided variety.

Having grown up in Wisconsin (yes, just another variety of the catchphrase from above), you get used to the cold very quickly. Note, I did not say agreeable to because bitter cold is a most lamentable backdrop to the everyday ordinary experiences of life, but one is quickly absolved of the notion that you are free to voice your complaints because, and to quote my dad, “It is not a personal experience.”

I forget, though, how temperate humans will not only note how frosty my home is in the winter but will not give a second thought to the unspoken but undeniably communicative action of refusing to take off their winter gear once entering the house.

Sitting around a table eating dinner with guests who remain clad in their parkas, hats, and mittens is discomfiting, to say the least. Hearing one of them whisper I think I can see my own breath was a sharp but inaccurate poke I was biting my tongue to address—firstly, because the house was currently at a balmy 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and secondly, because that temperature was a full 19 degrees above the true temperature for when one does actually see one’s breath.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

I would know. As my Wisconsin childhood bedroom was the farthest away from the wood stove and, come morning, I could see my breath when first waking up. One could not blame the wood stove though, as it was attempting to fend off the typical 40 degree below winds whipping about outside.

First things first. After settling in with the pricey plan to purchase a humdinger of a heater, a few minor details needed to be addressed.

Where would it go?

Where would the things go that used to be there go?

Do I really need that out of tune grand piano any longer as I hardly ever play it, it’s in the way, and it IS made of wood?

Much shifting of furniture ensued.

Countless pictures flew through the ether for a woodstove salesman who refused to do a site visit.

Perilous ventures on to the rooftop followed to provide yet more pictures for a woodstove salesman who refused to do a site visit.

This was a familiar routine of mine until said woodstove salesman and I agreed we had at last found a suitable home for my forest eating friend.

Piano could stay … for now.

Next up, must find food—for the woodstove.

I called my local Paul Bunyan and inquired about pricing—after all, a looming factor pressing me to switch from electric to wood was the announcement from my local electric company that this year, because of price increases, we all may have to decide which days of the week we’d like to be warm, and which days we’d prefer to be fed.

Lord Lumberjack said, that because I shared the same namesake as his new bride, I’d get a special deal for his delivered logs—only twice as much as last year, but only because I was ordering twice as much.

Not much of a head scratching statement out here where I live, I assure you. In fact, rather standard.

Two cords of freshly hewn oak showed up on my driveway a few days later, and the days of fawning about with nothing to do and no sawdust in my hair came to an abrupt halt.

Norwegian roundhouses (this year’s being more of an oval house because of two cords) are standard in the Northwoods of my youth. Not so much the engineering aptitude required to make successful roundhouses, as this typically is accrued over one or two years where a great crumbling collapse will make you take pause in the whole worthiness of warmth, or life in general after you spent so much of it building a blunder to be.

But at last, site selected, money exchanged, wood stacked to perfection, it was now time to count the days until the crew arrived with my new climate controller.

But when I was growing up in Wisconsin, we never whistled before we were out of the woods.

Hence, next month: the install.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up

In Memory

Dear Reader,

I pause this month from my normal scribbles to share the sad news of my sweet hound’s passing. Haggis has been the inspirational source of countless essays within this blog, as only a dog that is either full of devilment or saintly radiance could provide. He possessed the latter in spades and will be dearly missed. My heart is crushed, an unabating anguish is my new familiar—an indifferent timekeeper I must walk beside but yearn to part with. As deep as the blistering pain is—the price to have shared a path with him—it is one I will pay, as I was lucky to have known him at all.

The Power of the Dog by Rudyard Kipling 

There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie—

Perfect passion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers or loaded guns,

Then you will find—it’s your own affair—

But… you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-time loan is as bad as a long—

So why in—Heaven (before we are there)

Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

And I think it’s more than the tingles I get from simply saying the word—a word that envelops me with a warmth containing decades of memories, all twinkling and glittered. I think it’s the hearing of all things December related.

December has a sound all its own.

For me, and where I live on this patch of earth, it is the sound of swirling snowflakes, cotton soft and cushioning. It’s a muffling of the natural world, a bright white quilt under a blue-white moon.

It’s the sound of wind chimes chinkling, nudged by invisible fingers of a frost-laden wind.

It’s the whistle of winter’s breath as it races down the chimney shafts and rushes through the empty halls, a purring, fluid melody, so measured and hypnotic. Suddenly, it inhales and pulls all open doorways shut with slaps of sound that startle, breaking soothing silence.

I hear the somber trees, brooding and contemplative. Rhythmic and slow, their drinking of the earth and drawing in the air allow them time for mindful reflection, and their meticulous planning of a spring that slowly creeps closer day by day.

And I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

I warm at the thrum of mellifluous song, the trilling of carols, the honeyed blend of bright, buoyant voices. Whether it be the refrains of jubilant noise thrust toward the heavens of a brilliant starry night, or one single, hallowed melody, hummed quietly and kept in check, music seeps out into the air, whimsical, innocent and heady.

This month is filled with the sounds of gratitude: the contented sighs slipping from souls who witness December’s darkness replaced with tiny, twinkling lights, the bright-eyed, gleeful shrieks from innocent mouths who point at storied characters come to implausible and colorful life, and the cheerful hail of reception that fills front halls, front porches, and the faces of those behind front desks.

It is abundant with the thanks for a warm cup of tea, a filling cup of soup, a coat, some shoes, a toy, a bed.

It is filled with a million wishes on the same bright stars, overflowing with countless dreams whispered deep beneath the covers, scratched in a letter to Santa, chanted in prayer over candlelight.

I hear the sound of sharp blades on ice, waxed sleds on snow, snowballs on parkas.

There is the noise of muffled feet on carpeted risers, the hum of a pitch pipe, a sharp intake of breath, and the strains of melody and harmony and dissonance braided throughout the next many minutes that make the hair across your arms quiver above goose flesh even though you are in an overheated room, squished into an undersized chair.

Throughout the month there is the crunch of dry leaves, the cracking of gunshots and the grunt of effort when dragging home that which will fill the freezer. I hear the soothsaying of snow, the delightful patter of euphoric feet, and the collective groan from a city full of scraping shovels.

The sounds of December are those of rustling coats and the stomping of boots, the rubbing of hands against the numbing, wintery sting. They are the hushed prayers of voices in holy vigil, the retelling of sacred stories to fresh ears and hungry souls.

The sounds I hear are those of glasses, clinking all in toasts. They are the wishes of warmth and the hope of fellowship, the thirst for triumph and the promise of change.

But most of all, I hear the plaintive yearning of my heart, voicing the wish that December won’t end, that January won’t come, and that time will stand still.

December is a month of sounds that sounds so good to me.

~Shelley

Lastly, I leave you with a small gift from me to you. I sing Norah Jones’ song ‘December.’ A tune I feel is my holiday hug to the world.

(And a huge hug of thanks to my wonderfully gifted son for mixing and production.)

Success Has Many Fathers … and Mothers, Teachers, and Mentors.

My daughter sent me a cartoon today, the day after she and many others participated in the successful and somewhat unfathomable feat of landing a rover on Mars.

Countless people have reached out to congratulate me with phrases like—Proud Mom, Rockstar Applause, or #dreamcometruekudos. They are all lovely and wholly touching sentiments that are full of genuine warmth and well wishes. And I have received every single one of them with the same affection they have been delivered.

But I also understand now more than ever, and certainly see crystalized in the cartoon above, how each one of us is such a small part of the larger picture. Our accomplishments are a composition of all the people who have touched our lives in big ways and small.

And although there are no moments when her and her team have a red-carpet opportunity to say thank you to the countless individuals who helped land them where they are today, I have been lucky to hear myriad conversations where endless individuals unrelated to the team have been singled out with gratitude and admiration.

If we live with fortune on our side, we may traverse down a long path where we first begin in need of great assistance—and it is provided—then turn the bend where we become part of a team, helping to shoulder the load, and finally, march at the head of the herd, leading with confidence birthed from experience.

I think most of us would agree there are few people who claim they deserve solo credit and are entirely self-made, as we simply need to reflect for mere moments to discover that at some time, somewhere, someone opened a door for us—even if just a crack.

Perseverance, the Mars 2020 rover, and the red planet’s newest resident is an ideal example of how collective desires came together to create something extraordinary. It was first envisioned, then built by loving hands, meticulously developed for a far-reaching and incredibly ambitious purpose, and finally unleashed, propelled forward with trepidation, but ultimately with immeasurable fingerprints of hope attached to it. We wait with bated breath and watch from afar, occasionally offering support, but mostly crossing our fingers that Perseverance will do what she was always meant to.

It’s true, not every child is built by loving hands, or has the opportunities we know would be most profitable and rewarding for them, but the model is there. And reaching one’s potential is a much more arduous challenge, if not an impossible accomplishment, if one is faced with a solo journey.

As our planet swirls with the ebb and flow of prosperity and unrest, we are continuously reminded about the importance of the investment in our future. And our children are clearly our future. They need us to dream them into reality, to nurture them toward potential, and open the doors to their success.

Each one of us has something worthy of contributing to this planet’s collective children whether we are their earliest preschool mentors, the physics instructor who hinted you might not be capable of work in his classroom knowing it would be used as a motivating phrase to prove him wrong, or the person who gave them a summer job in a field they had no idea they’d soon develop an interest in. We are all teachers in some realm. Big and small, positive and negative, impactfully lasting or eventually forgettable.

And it is with these words that I am encouraged. Our roles in life may differ, as we may never be the individual who wins the contest, who is elected to the post, or who discovers the earthshattering cure, but we are part of the journey where others reach those heights. Every rung on the ladder makes the toilsome climb less cumbersome and more realizable.

Therefore, not only do I send a massive congratulations to all who made this spectacular and otherworldly feat a reality, but I cast a wide net of gratitude to all the people who helped to develop my child’s dreams and earthly purpose.

Thank you for your loving hands, as it is up to all of us to play our part, wherever we are on our individually calibrated path of life, to participate in the projects of building great things, or maybe more importantly, building great people.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

The Impossible Job of Thanking Your Barista

I’m sure you’re up to your earballs in leftover turkey right about now. That is, if you overestimated how much turkey only you and one other person plus your dog could wolf down in two days’ time. Or maybe you were like me and decided that come hell or high water, you were going to make five gallons of bone broth with that carcass, and needed all 14 pounds of the turkey you ordered last year—pre-Covid—when you found that super-duper farm that said they would raise the bird to your specifications.

For Pete’s sake, that farmer read Harry Potter to your poultry from the the end of June onward. And he played it Vivaldi before bedtime. And he regularly fed it a posh protein diet of sautéed shredded lizard sprinkled with dried grasshopper powder, delicately placed atop a bed of tender shaved young bulbs. On special occasions, old Tom got a soup pureed with snails, slugs, and worms, swirled with a small dusting of sand and gravel for grit to aid with his proper digestion.

Yeah, you really can’t go back on someone’s efforts like that.

So, a lot may have changed from last year’s big food festival, and this year’s attendance level might have been reduced to only those you regularly sneeze on and don’t apologize to. But the one thing that has remained a steady and dependable guest at all of our tables is the necessary presence of gratitude.

We are reminded of it everywhere. We may be feeling rather down in the dumps about not scarfing down half of Aunt Marge’s Rum Chiffon Pie this year, but all we need do is read the headlines to remind ourselves about how many Aunt Marge’s are no longer around to make such a treat.

It’s an effortless endeavor to see that we are not alone in our suffering or sadness, and there are countless others who may be experiencing greater loss than we are.

It reminds me a little bit of growing up in Wisconsin. One was not allowed to indulge in the wholly justifiable complaining about how cold one was. Because it was not a personal experience. Everyone was cold. Chin up. Shut up. Get up. And get on with it.

But back to the gratitude.

Typically, I am the type of person who nearly falls on my knees in appreciation for anyone who’s kind enough to even hold open a door for me, let alone ease some significant burden. And I’m annoyingly delighted to see every sunrise or sunset, every flower bloom, or bird in flight. I get an absolute thrill even hearing my dog belch as I’m confidently assured he loved the meal I prepared for him so much that he snarfed it down too quickly and ate a bucket of indigestible air.

Yeah, uber grateful person.

So, it came as a bit of a head-scratcher when I recently heard an interview with A.J. Jacobs, an author I adore, as he spoke about his latest book, Thanks a Thousand.

Knowing how seriously he plunged into his research when writing something new—like The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, where he took it upon himself to obey the divine suggestions to “Love thy neighbor,” “Be fruitful and multiply,” and of course, “Stone adulterers,” I had no doubt his newest book would be as intricately studied.

Mr. Jacobs takes the elemental concept of exploring how gratitude can enrich our lives and produce countless experiences where we are more thoughtful and grounded by using his morning cup of coffee as the chosen object of his determined efforts to thank everyone who was a part of making it materialize before him.

Seems rather effortless really, but in truth … it is impossible.

From the clerk who rang up your bag of beans, one can move to the roaster, the trucker, the airline, the packagers, the bean harvester, the farmer, the mechanic who fixed the tractor the farmer needed to use to plant the beans. The manufacturer of the tractor, the countless companies that created the parts for that manufacturer, the construction workers who built those plants, the people who made lunch for those construction workers. I think you get my point. The list is exhaustive.

Jacobs speaks to and visits miners and biologists, goatherds and smugglers, and that travel required trucks and airplanes, boats and motorcycles. He realizes the myriad materials that went into the making of that sip—the rubber, wood, steel, and bat guano. His assessment is that it required thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries.

To make one cup of coffee.

In an era when we feel so disconnected from one another, A.J. Jacobs illuminates the miracle of human cooperation. Togetherness. Relationships. Synergy. Support.

It is not unlike the super-human efforts that have gone into the research and development of one of many vaccines our planet is desperately and impatiently waiting upon. We have discovered that it takes the whole world to help the whole world.

And as the world and all its many inhabitants do what they can to heal our planet and our people, let’s take a moment to realize just how connected we really, truly are and need to be.

This year we may be apart. But it is so that next year and for countless years following we can be together, closer than we’ve ever been before, because gratitude became the cream in our coffee.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.