Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Reflections on a Cold Winter Morning

Posted on | November 22, 2009 | No Comments

You know what a morning like this needs?  A nice crackling fire in the wood stove.  A gentle glow and a cocoon of warmth right there on the hearth rug where the kids can get dressed before school.  They may even have time for a relaxing cup of hot chocolate.  Imagine mother and children cuddling together in the early morning, enjoying the soothing heat, perhaps reading another chapter from the The Incredible Journey.  There’s nothing like the mesmerizing flicker of flames behind the smoky glass to ease you calmly into a chilly sunrise.  And I bet we can fit it in if  they hurry up and get dressed already, who used the last of the toothpaste and left this empty tube here, jeez, wasn’t that homework supposed to be put in the backpack already, yuck, why wasn’t this lunch box emptied last night, whoops,…lost my smooth groove there for a minute.  Better get that fire started.

Now, for future reference, it’s better to start the fire the night before.  I even doubt an amateur could pull off getting the wood stove started between 5:00am and 5:30am.  But with my expert guidance, you might have a chance.  When you get frustrated, just think of your precious children warming their adorable faces on the fire’s glow.  Not everybody has a wonderful mom like you.  Some kids are stuck with those nasty moms who scream their kids out of bed, nag them into the car, and hand them a pop tart.  This is your chance to rise above, create memories, and cut down on their therapy expenses.  So, let’s go to it, girl.

First, prepare yourself for the trip outside.  Do not wear your flip-flops.  Yes, the flip flops are right there by the door and are handy for afternoon trips to the mailbox even in January.  But on a freezing morning when you have a job to do, you need sensible shoes.  On that point, you should also get dressed.  Pajamas are not appropriate for this type of work and nightshirts, especially, allow for alarming breezes in personal areas. So, there’s my sneakers (excuse me, “tennis shoes,” y’all) but, oh shoot, I don’t have any socks on.  Hmmm, I need to go upstairs and get dressed.  But if I wake up the dogs then they’ll want to go out and then they’ll bark to get back in and then the little ones will be up and there’s no relaxing by the fire with those crybabies running around, one probably peed his bed and the other is bound to be irritable before his herbals, crap, why didn’t I start this stupid fire last night, whoops,……precious children, adorable faces (see how that works?).  I’ll just settle for flip-flops and an old coat over my nightshirt.

Now, the first element to starting a fire is the proper kindling.   So head out to the recycle bin to gather papers.  In most cases, a stack of newspaper left outside in the elements will be too wet for starting a fire.  However, if you’re lucky enough to have a husband who handles trash sorting duties as well as he handles getting his dirty laundry INTO the hamper (as opposed to on it, next to it, at the bottom of the bed, etc), there should be some nice, dry newspapers buried under the trash bags that wouldn’t fit into the overflowing trash can, the plastic toy packaging from your kid’s birthday last month, and the cardboard CapriSun box from the time you had to bring juice to a soccer game over the summer.  Ah-ha, there it is, nice and dry.  Isn’t it great when everything is kept in it’s proper place?

Next, you need some small to medium sized sticks and twigs.  A lovely activity for the kids after school is to gather these sticks from the yard and stockpile them in the playhouse.  Then all you have to do is grab an armful and you’re set to go.  So, here’s the playhouse and, oh, just a few sticks left.  Hmmm, I wondered where the kids got all those sticks for that paling last week.  What?  You don’t remember the third grade colonial living study?  Let me share what kids learn from that unit: “pal·ing”  (plng)n.1. One of a row of upright pointed sticks forming a fence; a pale.2. Pointed sticks used in making fences; pales.3. A fence made of pales or pickets.  Why would I let them make such a thing destined to poke someone’s eye out?  Well, it seemed better than the punji stake pit they heard about on the bus and wanted to build.  And if you don’t know what that is, you don’t want to know.  Well, here’s some nice sticks, oh, they’ve got little pendants attached, must be flags for the fort.  Uh, these ones have arrowheads tied on with duct tape, must be for spear practice.  And this one is painted and has different colored yarn streamers, a mixed media art piece, I believe.  Good thing the yard still has plenty of branches blown down when this cold front moved in.  I’ll just bend over and gather some, yikes, why the hell am I wearing a nightshirt out here?!

OK, with paper and kindling crammed into the wood stove, you’re ready for a spark.  Lighters aren’t an option b/c who do you know that smokes anymore?  Even if you used to be cool enough for a drink and a smoke at a bar, those days are as gone as size 8 jeans.  Better just to dig for the matches in the silverware drawer.  Calm down, calm down, matches in the silverware drawer may seem like a safety hazard with kids in the house.  But you should know we only buy the cheapest, lowest quality of matches available at WalMart—1,000,000 matches for 75 cents.  The striking strip contains more red dye on it than it does of the actual red phosphorus that you need to light the match.  And the matches themselves are made of cardboard rather than wood to ensure they will merely bend when you you try to strike them rather than light up.  See, the safety is built right into the product.  Ingenious!  I use up about 25 matches before one actually catches fire and everyone knows that before an unattended child would get to the 25th match he would already have been distracted by the unguarded box of fruit roll-ups or the chance to beat his siblings senseless without parental interruption.  Besides, to get to the matches my children would have to reach over the steak knives in the silverware drawer and they know they are never, ever, supposed to get near the steak knives.  Kids with steak knives are a safety hazard, you know.

It only takes about 15 matches to light the paper you put in the wood stove.  If that seems like a lot of time, then you’ve failed to realize that the first 10 matches will touch the paper and sputter out.  No one knows why  paper won’t burn in the wood stove when it catches fire so easily if you try to make a Martha Stewart holiday luminary out of a paper lunch bag. Perhaps, if you used a stencil and a hole punch to make pretty patterns in the newspaper it would burn faster.  In any case, it’s important not to get aggravated with the matches and try something else.  Yes, we all know that lighter fluid is good at lighting things.  It comes in that convenient, portable bottle with the soft, squeezable sides and directional spout.  Theoretically,  you could squirt some of that stuff  on the paper and have your fire started in about 30 seconds.  STOP!  Lighter fluid is not advised for indoor use.  It’s bad enough when it is involved in exploding grills or campfires that engulf 200 square miles of forest.  Use it in your home and you could be a victim of  WTHWST.   You know what I’m talking about.  Those actions in your life that lead your friends and relatives to shake their heads mercilessly and say “What the hell was she thinking?”  Oh, the pain and the cruelty.  There you sit, stunned by what seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time, and instead of assistance and sympathy, you can hear WTHWST rumbling through the crowd.  Trust me, I heard of  lot of this when I announced my fourth pregnancy.  Also, when I thought it would be fun to be kindergarten room mother.  Never mind the time I gave away my maternity swimsuit so that I would be forced to lose weight before the June beach trip or else pay $50 for overnight shipping on a suit that actually fit the night before we left.  Oh, and when I decided to turn 3 pet ducks into a free range duck farm.  Anyhooooo, enough about me.  Take my word for it, if you burn your house down by starting the wood stove with lighter fluid, the neighbors will be too busy with WTHWST to show up with casseroles.

So once your kindling is going, you need some more substantial fuel.  Grab your nice leather heavy duty fireplace gloves.  Put them aside.  You will not be using them.  Those gloves have been sitting untouched beside the wood stove all summer.  What are the odds that they contain a spider, a centipede, or one of those creepy looking mutant crickets?  Pretty darn good, I’d say.  I have read that a good way to make sure your gloves are insect-free before putting them on is to squish each glove finger and then give them a good shake.  In theory this squashes the insect and then they drop out.  But what if it just pisses them off?  And then they’re in there, dripping poison and plotting revenge against the first finger that shows up.  No thank you.  So, put those gloves away, slide on your flip-flops, and grab something that is much more helpful–the flashlight.  It’s pitch dark in the woodshed at 5:20am (the time to pull this off is slipping away fast, my friend!).  When you’re standing in front of that huge hulking stack of split wood, you’ll need the flashlight to help you steer clear of the mice, snakes, and bats.  Oh, and spiders, centipedes, and creepy looking mutant crickets.  Quickly illuminate a section of the stack, use the flashlight to knock a piece of wood loose to the ground, and then wait to see if anything scurries out from under it or jumps off it.  No? Congratulations, you’ve got a piece of wood suitable for carrying into the house. Yes?  Remember the roof in the wood shed is only 5 feet high and if you stand up quickly to avoid some scrambling insect you will be spared the spider bite but granted a concussion.  And watch out for your pinky toe when you’re knocking the wood down (didn’t I mention something earlier about proper footwear?).  Most important, keep the screaming to a minimum.  I can assure you the black blob that just fell off the woodpile and skittered away could not possibly be the deadly, 8-fanged, mouse-eating arachnid you saw on Animal Planet once.  Besides, it is not soothing for children to wake up to what sounds like their mother being murdered in the wood shed.

Well, after you’ve added some real wood, there’s just one more step to precious children and adorable faces.   With the flame burning high, flip on the internal combuster.  This element of a wood stove is designed to burn the smoke created by the fire, causing fewer emissions and heating the stove to a higher temperature without more fuel.  I think.  I actually made up that definition but doesn’t it sound good?  In any case, the combuster can quickly create a warm alcove by the stove, perfect for getting dressed before school and sipping hot cocoa.  It can also cause billows of black smoke to fill the room, setting off the smoke detector and causing your husband to ask what you burned for dinner a full 12 hours later.  Or it can cause the stove pipe to turn a bright red, put off steam like a old fashioned train and make an alarming ticking noise as if it’s about to explode.  Basically, when you flip on the combuster you are taking a great leap of faith in simple scientific mechanisms that you don’t understand and never will. (So what?  I use the telephone, too.)  To avoid the smoke or the explosion, I find it helpful to squeeze my eyes shut, cross my fingers, and chant “Please no smoke or explosion, please no smoke or explosion, please no smoke or explosion….”  You’d be surprised at how often I use that chant around here.  When the unknown science behind the combuster and the chant work well together, you’re rewarded with a soft orange glow and warmth wafting into the room.  Ah, a crackling fire on a chilly morning.  And even though I’m out of time for a cup of coffee before the kids get up, I don’t even need it.  The freezing hunt for kindling, aggravation of the matches, and fear in the woodshed have left me wide awake without any caffeine additives.  Bonus!

There you have it.  The recipe for happy children and a peaceful home.  You’re welcome.  What?  You have no idea what I’m talking about?  You don’t even have a wood stove?  And you let me go on and on and on about it?  Like if I don’t have laundry to fold and a 3 year old who should be studying educational flashcards or something other than…….uh, where is that little guy?  Jeez, what kind of a friend are you anyway 😉 .

****Disclaimer:  I used a lot of creative license in this email.  My children aren’t really little monsters (most days, if they’re getting what they want, and they are unable to touch, poke or look at each other) and my husband does sort the recycling (when you can’t walk around it in the mud room anymore).  And you didn’t really think I was ever kindergarten room mother, did you???!!!  Hahahahahahahaha!

© Stevie Taylor 2010. All Rights Reserved.


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