We Interrupt This Broadcast
in which we break several of this newsletter's rules
I’m not going to bury the lede here: I need help. I’m safe, and healthy, but I don’t have the resources to heat the house this winter, and it’s getting very cold. So please check out https://www.gofundme.com/f/keep-cricket-warm. If you can’t donate—and I’d hate to think that I’m making anyone else’s life harder by taking funds from their needs—please share with your communities.
Now for the background. I had promised myself that this Substack would not be used as a fundraising tool (the subscription is, and always will be, free). I don’t want it to be a regular plea for assistance, as welcome as help is at times. I have been sticking to one update every quarter, as advertised. I’ve had enough of mailing lists clogging my inbox with multiple demands every week for money or attention, and I am steering as clear of that as I possibly can.
A chain of events has led to what promises to be an isolated crisis, and I’m not too proud to ask for help when I really need it.
I’ve been working hard to get this place as ready for winter as possible: replacing old weatherstripping, sealing window frames, hanging curtains in doorways to conserve heat in certain rooms, laying rugs, and (finally) covering all of the windows with blankets. The cold drafts are almost gone, a vast improvement from the ill-fitting doors and 1/4” gaps of a year ago. The condensation on the insides of the windows has been reduced dramatically, which prevents further damage to the frames. But the floors are not insulated, several of the walls aren’t either, and I’m afraid there are limits to how much a nearly 90-year-old farmhouse can conserve heat.
Jenny had gotten by in recent years by using a combination of large portable electric radiators and the new heat exchange, and leaving 3/4 of the house cold. What she hadn’t told me was the cost: upwards of $500 a month in electricity, which is more than half of my income. And I can’t leave everything but the living room and kitchen without heat: my bedroom and at least the upstairs bath need to be a livable temperature, and I worry about the plumbing. So after about two weeks of that strategy, I (thankfully) checked my electric bill, blanched, and turned off the big electric radiator. (The little one continues to keep my bedroom at a cozy 55 degrees.)
Then I turned to the vintage wood stove in the living room. I had never used one, but a little experimentation revealed that it is an excellent specimen, easy to use and efficient enough to effortlessly heat the house with surprisingly little wood. Which is good, since little wood is what I had. Jenny had only used the stove in emergencies, disdaining it otherwise; I had about a half a cord of old seasoned wood in the woodshed, plus another half a cord of maple from a couple of downed trees early this spring. The latter, I quickly found, had been stacked improperly, and therefore only the top layer was reasonably dry; the rest had some mold and was heavier than it should be. It burns, but it puts out about half as much heat.
I called Rue, and asked if he could cut up the wild cherry trees that fell into the pasture about four years ago. They’re no good for lumber anymore, but might dry faster than green wood; perhaps I could leave that for later while I used the stuff in the woodshed. He obligingly demolished most of the fallen wood, and I paid him to split it, yielding another full cord. There is still a dead snag standing on the edge of the pasture, which should be drier still, and the remains of the cherry logs, plus the very soggy cut pieces I retrieved from piles around the property. But none of it is dry enough to burn this month, at the very least.
He offered to sell me a half-cord of seasoned Doug fir, and delivered it, for a very reasonable price. It wasn’t until I started stacking it that I discovered it’s green as grass. It wasn’t a deliberate deception: he had been telling me that he was in the habit of cleaning his parents’ chimney every month or two in the winter, and I guess now I know why. Green softwood puts out a lot of creosote… I warmed a couple of pieces on the top of the stove, where they leaked drops of pitch and smelled fabulous. But that wood will take at least a year to season, maybe two. I stacked it (properly!) in the Bug Bay with the damp cherry wood and the soggy alder logs. At this rate I have a solid start on next year’s wood, and plenty more fallen trees that still have to be cleared…
I pulled some of the least-damp stuff into the living room, as low 30s and high humidity don’t dry wood very quickly. I’ve been interspersing it with drier wood, figuring there will be some chimney-cleaning in my future. And I’ve been saving the last half-cord of truly seasoned wood for the coldest parts of January and February. But going two and three days at a time with no heat in the 30s is no fun either; the house drops to about 45 degrees, and everything is cold to the touch. Bowls and plates numb the fingers, chairs steal body heat, feet grow icy even through thick socks and thicker rugs. I’ve been coping, but not well.
Cricket has been coping too. It turns out she adores snow—she loves to dig, and here’s a couple of inches of soft loose stuff all over! ANYTHING could be under it! Rummage! Pounce! Bits of snow go flying! …but each time she’s done playing, she comes in and taps me on the leg: it’s cold, do something. She eats an extra helping of dinner, then huddles on the kitchen rug and waits for me to start the warm thing again. She is disappointed on the nights I don’t.
Yesterday I called several firewood companies in the area. They’re starting to close down for new orders—in another month, wood will be scarce. None of them are close, and delivery charges are steep. Still, I got a quote for two cords of mixed hardwood (which burns hot and clean) for $950, delivered. That’s not too much more than the $400/cord I have been led to expect for seasoned hardwood around here, plus delivery charges for an hour long drive each way. I doubt I’d find much better for dry wood. Added to the half cord I have, that would last me more than two months, at the rate the stove takes wood; if I conserve a little, and the winter isn’t too cold, it might even take me to March. By then the damp cherry would be dry enough to manage with, and early spring is kinder than January.
My credit card can take a hit, but my savings were eaten by the move, and I’m working for Jenny less in the winter. My motivation and energy drain away in a cold house, making it more difficult to earn money by sorting her extra stuff and getting it ready to sell. It’s been a hard year, for my wallet along with everything else, and I’m hoping some of you out there can spare something for the GoFundMe to get me over the hump. Charissa was already generous enough to help pay for a Christmas tree, so the house will be properly attired for the holidays. I’m looking forward to setting that up and including those pictures in the next update.
Speaking of which, stay tuned: it’s due at the Winter Solstice, later this month. You’ve come to expect a lot from each quarter’s news, and you won’t be disappointed!