The Wood Stove Chronicles – Part II

Part 1 of The Wood Stove Chronicles can be found HERE.

I fussed. I fretted. And I fumed over the few “inconsequential details” I’d just been given—rather last minute—by my new woodstove manufacturer’s salesman.

Yes, of course, before we do the install, you must have an insurance approved, certified heat resistant hearth board for the stove to sit on.

Wait, you don’t supply that?

*Laughter.

Okay, fine, you don’t supply that. So, where do I find this?

Beats me. I just work here. And I don’t own a stove.

I am certainly not the first person to be on the receiving end of an exchange where people who have convinced you that you’re about to enter the easiest money-for-goods-trade only to discover that they assumed you could see into their brain and would immediately absorb the biblically thick amount of data that would make that trade a viable one.

I cannot channel such superpowers and, more oft than not, feel hampered when even trying to see into my own brain.

I began calling other stove companies, asking about hearth boards. Most offered some version of my own precious salesman’s response, but a fair number of them suggested I simply head to the nearest DIY hardware store and pick up sixteen handsome cinderblocks so that the stove would fit in with any trucks, trailers, or mobile homes I had scattered about the yard—also held up by attractive bricks of concrete.

Photo by Mathias Reding on Unsplash
Photo by Mathias Reding on Unsplash

I finally found one—the hearth board— and, after a dozen phone calls, I was assured that the requisite piece would arrive definitely, most likely, although it depends on supply chain strikes BEFORE the stove install.

Although with each successive update as to its whereabouts, I was hearing phrases more like:

No one knows where it is, but if you see a trucker, maybe flag him down, hehe.

Likely the railroads are shutting down this week, so don’t hold your breath.

And my favorite:

Pretty sure it’s coming from China, and they’re not working today cuz … Covid.

I looked at all the alternatives—delay the install (next available service slot was near close to Easter), find an alternative fire protectant (phone calls to stone fabricators ensued), or head to the Home Depot and select the prettiest chunks of masonry units for sale (nope, nope, nope).

I scheduled a visit to the nearest marble and granite supplier and took a tour through the slab-stoned graveyard with the owner, who immediately gave off the “I’m bored, I’ve been day drinking, and I’ve run out of porn to watch” vibe. When I finally found a piece I thought would suit and asked the price, the old lecher smiled wickedly and said, “What do you say I give it to you for free if you come on into my office so I can show you a real set of rocks?”

I will spare you the descriptive gesture but, obviously, I was now down to two options, and the cinder blocks were becoming more attractive by the moment.

Shortly thereafter, a new message on my phone revealed that the manufacturer had located my purchase but would only agree to releasing it in a timely manner if a) I paid extra for shipping—which was about the same cost as the object itself, and b) would pick it up where it was currently stored.

I know. I hear you. Clearly this company was being run by Mensa candidates.

Day before stove install, my hearth board arrives. Day of stove install, no stove installers arrive.

I call.

I leave a message.

I text.

I shout out threats, plan a seizure, cast a spell. I do everything and anything that will shift the winds in my favor, and at some point, realize that with all the energy I’ve put into acquiring this contraption, I may not actually need another source of heat for winter, as I am fully fueled by the blaze of anger.

Hours later, I receive a phone call:

“Hello?”

“Gate code.”

Ah, I can see the effort I spent making sure the salesman put it on the paperwork for the installers was for naught.

“0032,” I say cheerfully.

*click

Five minutes later, a white van pulls up and brings with it my new wood stove and two surly men who refuse to speak to me, as they catch a glimpse of a man in shadow on the porch. They shout to him instead.

“Where’s it goin?”

I am baffled. As I am outside. Standing in front of them both. Having literally just uttered the words, Good morning, and thanks for coming. Let me show you where it’s going.

I do not exist.

Dave, my partner, whom I asked to be present—in case there was an engineering issue not a gender one—steps outside and hooks a thumb my way. “Wherever she tells you to put it is my guess.”

I’d hug him on the spot, but wield my best matronly Nurse Ratched disposition and authoritatively point to a corner of the log cabin where the salesman and I had finally agreed upon.

“Not gonna fit,” one man says to Dave.

“I sent pictures,” I said.

Silence.

“She sent pictures,” Dave repeats.

The talker shrugs, and the silent one just shakes his head.

“What’s the problem?” Dave and I ask at the same time, but the response is directed at Dave.

“It’s a roof thing,” the talker says glancing up at my ceiling—a ceiling I mapped out from every angle, inside and out, and sent to the salesman. On two separate occasions because he refused to do a site visit.

“I sent pictures,” I said again to two men who surely were wondering why I was being allowed to talk, since they had not seen the big guy next to me nod my way with permission.

Dave held up a finger to the installers. “Give us a sec.” He gestured toward the kitchen, and I followed.

“Do you want your woodsy warm stove, honya? Or do you want to collect further proof that these two guys probably bellyache over the fact that women never have to take DNA tests to prove a baby is or isn’t theirs?

I looked at him. I tried not to laugh, and I also tried not to cry. But he was right. I left the room and went to my tiny office. I fussed. I fretted. And I fumed. But three hours later I beamed because I had a beautiful new wood stove.

I was reminded that sometimes you’re forced to choose your battles, but for now I think the only thing I’ll have to use my battle ax for is for chopping wood.

~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.

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

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Kill No Weevil

Last week, one of my cats did something weird.

That statement, in and of itself, is a little unusual, as this particular cat is always doing something weird—talks to lamp shades, tests the running water temperature from a faucet before agreeing to drink from it, and as she’s left-handed, she insists on ergonomic southpawed Fiskars, so for me to notice … well, I think you get my point.

This new particularly weird thing was her staring at a small crack in the wall. A puncture wound of sorts, straight through the plaster. And then the next day, she put both her paws on either side of that wound, standing meercat style, and began a new phase of the “what’s behind the wall” festival.

I sat there with her for a while one day. Heard nothing, smelled nothing, and I certainly didn’t get any of the creepy, hair-raising, goosebump inducing feelings she’s produced in me before when discovering that she’s likely communicating with someone who died in that general vicinity (I spent a fair amount of time this last year in an old cottage that once served as a hospital for a Civil War arsenal compound, and this cat—along with all the house cats—spent countless hours with wide-eyed expressions, howling at a stairwell.).  

This time was still just a mystery waiting to be solved.

But as of last night, my dog joined her in the wall staring competition. Now two furfaces were trying to convince me that I should take a sledgehammer to that plaster work just to see what has taken up residence there.

Again, I sat with them both as they studied the inner cladding of my laundry room, its blinding whitewash lacquer revealing nothing and instead simply generating the occasional cock of one of their heads. Alas, we must remember, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would have agreed without argument that both could hear something my ears were not privy to—the pattering of mouse feet, the fluttering of insect wings, the terrifying audio NASA has just released from a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster—if it weren’t for the fact that one of them was stone deaf.

But maybe there is scent as well as sound, as the deaf hound can certainly still identify from three rooms away the fact that I ate a piece of bacon twelve hours ago.

I’ve called the pest company I have a quarterly contract with, and they gave me the choice of a visit from someone on their varmint team or a technician within their paranormal investigations department, but either way, they’ll be dressed in a hazmat suit and would be spraying some sort of exorcistical holy water. I’m still deciding.

At one point, during one of the bewhiskered gatherings, I joined in. I sat on the floor, stared at the plaster puncture, and focused. Things grew a little blurry and I began to feel like I was searching and waiting for a Magic Eye image to appear—some 3D illusion requiring patience and perhaps a lost instruction booklet to successfully view.

Image credit: Sally Flicker

Then I closed my eyes and simply focused on sound. The hound is barrel-chested; therefore, his breath is so audible, one can nearly hear all the pleural friction taking place in his ancient lungs. The cat has a habit of licking her lips and swallowing frequently, which to me indicates that whatever’s behind the barrier is either worthy of salivating over or she is fostering a nervous tick revealing how she’s trying not to freak out. It might also point toward dental disease, but that’s a next month’s problem.

While the three of us concentrated on something only two of us were truly aware of, a second cat slinked in. She looked about the room, quietly assessed the vibe, and then crawled into my lap, wedging one bony shoulder into the crook of my knee and keeping one eye open whilst the other took a break. The next few minutes of silence was equal parts unsettling and soothing.

The next afternoon I came upon the weird cat, again, simply paying homage to the drywall. I sat down, assumed the position, and waited for the wooden floor patter of the remaining eight softly padded paws to make their way to our small, shared space—which they shortly did.

And whether everyone was intrigued by the invisible entity, waiting with curious anticipation as to its reveal, or some were simply there to catch half a face full of shuteye, what was clear was that this chunk of fading linoleum was becoming a slightly sacred space.

And apparently, we were settling in for a spell.

And perhaps a spell is what we were under, as the next thirty minutes escaped unnoticed. Maybe this was the point—maybe that peaceful half hour was meant to be experienced in a state of heightened oblivion. Not asleep, not awake, just present, like the thing we could not see.

A ringing telephone brought us out of our stupor with the answering machine announcing, “Hey, this is Marvin from the Ratty Shack. I hear you’ve got a problem. Give me a call and we’ll get rid of it.”

I then stared down at the blinking, watery, and in some cases, cataract clouded eyes of my fur family and said, “I vote we wait on Marvin. Same time same place tomorrow?” We left in tacit agreement.

Life goes on. Pestful but peaceful.

~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.

Problems with One’s Nose: It Just Doesn’t Make Scents

I think we can all agree—that whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not—having Covid is no fun.

I can’t think of any illness that would actually fit into the “fun” category, so perhaps the above statement is a bit of a no-brainer declaration.

Still … there is an aspect of this affliction that is forcing me to do something I do find to be pleasurable—research­­—as I (along with millions of other humans) are desperate to determine when, if ever, our sense of smell will return to our bodies.

The symptoms of SARS-CoV–2 are dizzying, to be sure—one of them including experiencing dizziness. That evidentiary concurrence aside, other symptoms include the typical sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can’t rest for lack of medicine annoyances. Some of these ailments arising to the level of not just vexing irritations but life-threatening pathologies.

The non-life-threatening, but definitely life-depressing disorder of anosmia—or smell blindness—is a fairly reliable indicator for the Average Joe lacking an at home Covid test to determine if they have been infected with this miserable and unrelenting virus. As an individual whose job relies upon her sense of smell, I long ago created a list of all maladies of the disease that I knew might reliably express themselves and highlighted in yellow and then orange and then pink the one that I absolutely, under no circumstances could tolerate. And then promptly began agonizing over its possible appearance until, I’m guessing, my brain finally took to heart all those self-help, yogi meditations I spent years fostering and “manifested” my thoughts into intentions.

Here you go. You think it, you become it.

The loss of smell for most people is dispiriting—especially if you’re a human who likes to eat.

The loss of smell for a person who is surrounded by hundreds of small alcoholic vials filled with aromatic compounds that are no longer aromatic is panic-inducing, terrorizing, and humbling in a collapse into a puddling heap on the floor type of way.

What now? Is the question of the day, although it really wasn’t a daily query as much as it became an hourly one.

So much of my life’s work is dedicated to identifying odorants—the good the bad and the ugly. They’re all incredibly fascinating to me and important to the labors I’ve been employed to pursue. I have never taken my ability to smell for granted—in fact, I’ve protected its presence and fostered my olfactory skills like a zealot chasing after the title of “Olympic medalist” in that category.

I walk into a room and the first things I notice are the odorants—the primary, the secondary, the tertiary. Has someone burnt toast? Has a dog passed gas? Is that woman wearing the same scarf from yesterday when she slipped outside into the alley to have a quick cigarette?

I walk into a patch of someone else’s presence and can oftentimes flesh out a rhinal history. The cologne they wear, the detergent they use, the curry they ate. It’s a Sherlockian mystery that unfolds itself one odorant at a time.

And now it’s gone. Poof.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I noticed a side-effect to a new medication I’m on which revealed that I may experience hyperosmia—an increased sensitivity to odorants. Hot diggity, I thought. A dream come true, right? Until I’d been stuck in a car with a person who, whenever speaking, gave off the exhalating perfume of someone who had perhaps dined on the soup made from the sewer on a hot August day. It wasn’t their fault. Their stomach was appropriately breaking down breakfast with the human chemicals assigned to that job—it’s just that it felt like I was in that organ with them.

Being on the opposite ends of the scent spectrum in such a short period of time provides—along with a bit of whiplash—an opportunity to experience the edges, to assess this bodily sense with the effect of a volume dial. Too much and you whirl with nausea, too little and life becomes monochrome—a dull gray, monotony that snatches away all color, absconds with your anticipation, and tosses you into a steeply descending pit of “why bother?” (Or, at least, for me it did.)

I have a phrase—a formula—I use to describe a concept when teaching on developing the skills of nosing and tasting: scent + taste = flavor.

Scent involves our olfactory epithelium—a small patch of tissue high in the nasal cavity that houses around 400 of our body’s olfactory receptors. When aroma molecules attach themselves to the receptors—either singularly or in combination with others—we can identify somewhere between 100 million to 1 trillion different odorants.

Taste is defining sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami compounds.

Putting the two together is how we experience flavor. Strip one away and the pow and wow factor of food is crippled. Hamstring both and you’re left with … what??

If I allow my freaked out, blubbering inner doomsayer to answer that question, it would be search for a cliff tall enough to leap from. If I am to respond more appropriately, more hopefully, more like an individual who gravitates toward solid science than pointless hysteria, I would say, a not unsubstantial amount.

I am forced to hunt for the other. To seek out what else contributes to the sensory experience of flavor, as there are a few more things than one might expect to include.

  1. Viscosity – a measure of thickness, glossiness, syrupiness, adhesion.
  2. Chemesthesis – this occurs when the receptors on the skin react with a chemical placed upon them—where your mouth and nose are concerned, we have the examples of:
    • Menthol (a cooling sensation—your toothpaste, gum, or minty herbs)
    • Capsaicin (a thermal impression—your hot sauce, spicy peppers, or chili powders)
    • Carbonation (a tingling of the receptors—think soda, sparkling water, fizzy champagne)
    • Alcohol (a prickling phenomenon—might as well go for the gold and make it high proof)
  3. Sounds – the oral and sonic experience that comes from the crunch of your sugar snap peas, the squeak of your cheese curds, the crackle of your potato chips, the smacking stickiness of your peanut butter, the effervescence of those Pop Rocks.
  4. Temperature – No need to explain, you know the scale.
  5. Mindfulness—It has been studied and believed that “expectation” contributes to flavor as well, as scent and taste stimulate the limbic system and ultimately stir up memories.

I cling to the fact that the nuances of what contributes to flavor is fairly rich with examples. And paying particular attention to the extra sensory “we’ve always been here, but you’ve just ignored us” elements highlights their contribution to an experience rich with stimuli.

Is it the same?

Nope. Not even close. For me, anyway.

Will it suffice?

It will have to. At least until biology rights itself, a stem cell transplant program is offered up by my GP, or Mark Zuckerberg finds a way to “meta” my olfactory receptors back into reality. But for now, I will sniff, sip, slurp, and swirl everything I find—to invite back into my brain, to welcome back into my realm, to appreciate with renewed vigor the one thing my mental health hinges upon.

Until all returns, I will remain annoyingly and worrisomely … scent-o-mental.

~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 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.)