It’s A Dirty Job And I Feel Like Soot!

December 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm (house cleaning, music) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

It's a Dirty Job and I feel like soot!

Even though our wood stove is very efficient and relatively trouble free it does require some regular maintenance. (Uhhh…As I write this I’m simultaneously watching “The Elf” which I’ve somehow missed in my Christmas movie junkie-ism, so forgive me if my attention wanders. I’m an absolute Christmas movie junkie. I don’t care how bad it is, how lame, how sappy, if it has a few glitzy lights, some holiday music and a bunch of sentimental overdo, I’m gonna watch it. I’m also simultaneously knitting a scarf for my Scottish friend George, in the colors of his favorite football team (soccer) and simultaneously making some microwave popcorn during the commercials. And drinking a beer. Multi-task. How I live my life).

Back to my wood stove story before I derail again (oh, that makes me think of “The Polar Express,” another very well done cinema graphic masterpiece that I’ll watch a few times in the coming weeks.) Well, sometimes, especially if the wood stove is frequently damped down or allowed to go out so that the chimney cools, or green or wet wood is used, an amount of creosote builds up in the stove pipe. Usually we have very little build up and and I merely shovel the fine gray ash from the stove body when it gets too full. This ash I place in a large metal trash can and then use it on the driveway when there is ice or snow. The ash provides a rough surface to the ice and absorbs more sunlight than the snow so things melt quicker. Creosote, on the other hand, is a resinous, black, flaky material that builds up on the inside of the stove pipe that has to be scraped off or burned off with a hot fire.

Our stove had started smoking into the house. Now this will often happen if a new fire is started and the chimney is cold. The stove draft will be reversed until the chimney heats and blow smoke backwards into the house. The trick to that is to start a very hot “paper” or kindling fire and keep it flaming hot until the chimney warms up. No problem. But, this year a lot of our stored firewood was “green.” We had gotten it when a neighbor cut his fence rows along his fields. And, with our work schedules, the fire has been constantly fired up and dampened down. So, when it seemed to be smoking and not drafting well despite my best efforts I thunked the pipe and heard a dull, thick sound. I also saw where sticky trails of black had dripped down the side of the pipe. I knew what I had to do.

First I cleaned out the stove of accumulated ash. This was interesting because there were still several very hot coals in the stove. I put on stout work gloves, grabbed the bent piece of rebar that serves as our poker, and got my brass container (it used to be a decorative flower pot holder.) My “shovel” is a clay flower pot saucer. I scooped out the ash, transferring it to the large metal trash can outside when the brass pot was full. In the process I dropped hot coals on the rag rug beside the stove, adding another hole to it. “@$#%,” I said. Then I dropped a hot coal inside my slipper (I was, as ever, in my pajamas for this endeavor.) “*&^%#$@&*$%,” I said as I danced around the basement on one foot trying to shake the coal out instead of just taking the slipper off. (Brother John here: Family site Sis… family site… 🙂 )

Once the stove was empty of ash I took the pipe off. Actually I loosened the bottom section of pipe, neglecting to wear gloves, which resulted in stove black getting all over my hands. The pipe decided to fall apart into its sections instead of coming off smoothly in one large L-shaped piece. I tried to catch one section. It bounced on the floor causing black creosote to scatter everywhere. As I tried to catch it my arms became covered with black soot. My pajamas (a lovely red and black plaid) became covered with soot. Another section of pipe separated and bounced off the coal burned foot, filling my slipper with crunchy creosote flakes and gouging a small painful crescent into the top of my foot. “@%*#^*$&#^$$*^!!!,” I said, imitating the ancient Indian War Dance of the Shaking Foot.

I hobbled outside with my load of stove pipe, taking the rebar with me. In the driveway I proceeded to scrape out the creosote from the inside of the pipe. As I suspected, there was a lot. I finished and gathered up my sections of pipe. As I turned to carry them back inside the house I slipped in a pile of ash I had dropped when cleaning out the stove. Pipes, and me, went down. I rolled around for a moment like a ghost buster character who had just been slimed, then got to my knees and stood up. One pajama leg had hiked up to reveal a varicosed white leg now thoroughly blackened by soot. One slipper had fallen off, the other slipper was, again, full of crunchy creosote.

I have a sailor’s vocabulary of expletives. I also have a few of my own that were coined when Rog was little. So, outside, in the relatively warm sunshine, covered with soot, partially disrobed, hopping on one foot over to my slipper, I was dementedly shouting, “booger snot, holy tomatoes, fudgyfudgesickle!!!” (Brother John here: Add my famous raw egg dropping… ‘Eee GADS!’). Then, the UPS truck came up the driveway with a delivery of a Christmas item I’d ordered. I scooted inside, then realized that since Sammy was sleeping and Rog was at school I’d have to answer the door. The UPS guy didn’t say a word. He just handed me the package, which immediately became covered in black soot as I touched it, walked past Felon, who was engaged in peeing on his tire, hopped in the truck, and sped off. When I finally got upstairs the visage that met me in the bathroom mirror looked like a painted blackface in a minstrel show. I sang a few bars of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and got in the shower. I spent the rest of the morning cleaning the basement of ash and creosote, wiping off every surface I’d touched in the house, doctoring my twice abused foot, and restarting the fire.

Finally, clean and dressed in fresh pajamas (a nice teal plaid) I stepped outside to feed the dogs and the shed cats (as in cats who live in the shed). As I came out the door a flock of birds took off from the feeders in a flurry of wings and chirps. I heard a hawk’s scree as I carried a bucket of fresh water to the shed. Life was again, good.

I finished the rest of the house chores (laundry, cooking mostaciolIi, paying bills, and vacuuming upstairs) while I listened to “Holiday Pops” on the TV. Madrigals and Gregorian chants. During a particularly profound multi-harmonic choral rendition of “Angels We Have Heard On High, ‘ I accidentally vacuumed up “brown mousie,” Ophelia’s favorite toy. I had to take the vacuum cleaner apart (a mild #*%^#&) and rescued all of mousie but his tail. Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon wrapping Christmas presents and watching “The Santa Clause” on TV. Tomorrow we must take advantage of a trip into the “city” (car repair) to do a little Christmas shopping. I do love most things that have to do with Christmas, but I do not love shopping. Internet orders good. Crowded stores with impatient shoppers and lackluster clerks, overly tired and cranky children, and hours on my feet on hard tiled floors, bad.

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The Weekend (Part #1)

October 23, 2008 at 7:38 pm (Brother John, Family, Friends, GOD, Hiking, Hobbies, Religious, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Nice view of the Juniata River below.

It’s been awhile since I sat down to ramble (why does that feel like I should be saying, “Forgive me Blog Master, it’s been a over a week since my last blog session…”

Absolution

Your Blog Master and Father of
“The Adventures of Eydie and Sammy Wight”,
through sweat, labor, and eye for detail,
has reconciled all things blog worthy unto Himself,
and sends you forgiveness for posts delayed.
He forgives your acts of procrastination,
and through HTML and supreme coding, applies his technicality.
In the name of future posts joyfully awaited,
You are now absolved from guilt and shame.
In the name of Blog Masters who seek timely content.
Amen.

So many things, as always, have been going on. This time of year is when we “put the property to bed” for the dormant season, prepare to crank up the wood stove, and, in my case, take the time for the luxury of fall leaf rides.

Gary's Bridge Over The Creek.

Our last weekend off had been, until Sunday, very busy. Pleasantly so. Friday afternoon I had finally found time to take a long proposed hike with my friend Gary. I arrived at his house about 2:00 and we set off. Gary lives on the edge (literally) of a creek that comes down from the mountain. His bridge over the creek washed away in a flash flood that came a couple years back. His new bridge is actually the frame of a mobile home that was dropped over the creek. He has the creek edge lined with water shaped stones and the bordering trees make music with bamboo wind chimes he makes. It’s a lovely spot.

Nice view of the Juniata River below.
Royal Paulownia Tree. Scenic View!

We set off for our hike, across the creek, and started up an old logging road. We went up, and up, and then a fairly flat switchback, and then more up, another switchback, up again, switchback, up. I had to stop several times, making no pretense of stopping to look at the beautiful fall scenery (although I DID look at the beautiful fall scenery as I was panting and sweating) and then finally the road started to level out at the top. I was content with the conversation we were having about religion, spiritualism, and nature, and the different plants Gary was pointing out. Imagine my delight when the top of the mountain opened up to a large, grassy, cleared space that offered a vista of the Juniata River way down below. It was incredible. We sat on a couple of benches the owner had strategically placed and took in the view. Two hawks circled below us. A train, looking for all the world like a child’s toy, made its way down the tracks. We were above the world of the Friday rush hour traffic we could see on Rte. 322. We sat there, took some pictures of the view and of a flowering plant neither of us could identify, and started to make our way back down to civilization. I noticed a tree that I thought at first was a hickory, but when I examined one of the nuts I found an easily opened shell containing a multitude of whispery seeds. We took a picture and Gary later identified it as a “nuisance” import, a Royal Paulownia. Interesting.

Saturday we finally finished getting the wood stove ready for it’s first fire. We haven’t had that first fire yet, but we’re ready. I took the stove pipe off, scraped the creosote from the inside, and blacked the pipe with a rub on, buff off stove polish. Last year our insurance company had sent out a survey with the very casual question, among fifty others, of did we have a wood stove, fireplace, or pellet stove. I answered yes. It was TWO DAYS later that I got a call saying a representative had to come to our house to assess the safety of our stove. I managed to put that little visit off for about a month and then was informed that my homeowners insurance might be canceled without the visit.

Hardball. The little gal arrived an hour earlier than she had arranged and I was (you guessed it) running around in my pajamas cleaning so that she would know I was conscientious and diligent. She had a little clipboard and she informed me that my stove was not allowed to set atop a potentially unstable platform of bricks, that it must have a firewall drywall behind it for a certain number of feet, and was I aware that I had no smoke alarm in place. Now, the smoke alarm point I agreed with and I was pleased to show her my TWO battery-less smoke alarms that were sitting on the work table. The stove had sat where it was for fifteen years and had never jumped from the bricks. Sigh. Establishment doing it’s job for the betterment and safety of us all. Last year, after her visit, we had bought the firewall. We just hadn’t installed it. So, Sammy did that, and went to the local hardware store and bought several wide flat concrete blocks to set the stove on. I started blacking the stove, but then son Roger came home and I sent him up on the roof with the chimney sweep (the device, not a soot blackened small boy we keep on hand) to clean out the chimney. I’m not so good with heights, so I stood on the lower rungs of the ladder so that the strength of my prayers that he wouldn’t slip and fall off the roof would wash over him in waves of maternal concern. At one point the chimney cap began to slide down the roof and even though my eyes were seeing a chimney cap, my heart was seeing a blond young man in shorts, tennis shoes, and a Zeiderelli’s pizza shirt skittering past me to certain death.

Let me just interject here that if Roger had eaten a salad before going up on the roof, I would have had no worries. We used to call our mother “the salad pusher”. She used to worry. A lot. She still does but modern medicine is a wonderful thing and she is more laid back in her worrying these days. She used to worry herself through a series of events that would always end in a death scenario. For example: “If you aren’t careful reading that book you’ll get a paper cut and then you’ll go out to play in the dirt and it will get infected and then you’ll become septic and you’ll die.” But, salad was the ultimate health food. Brother John and I can both remember not even wanting a salad, saying no when it was offered, and then somehow finding ourselves with a huge half eaten salad in front of us, fork in hand, and NO RECOLLECTION OF THE EVENT. To this day I respect the supernatural healing powers of my mother’s salad.

I also had Rog help me empty the large ash can from last year. We should have emptied it after the last fire last year when I should have also cleaned out the stove. (Conscientious and diligent, remember?) During the winter we empty the ash can onto the shady part of the driveway to help melt the ice that always accumulates there. Now we were ready for fire. Warm, toasty fire. Unfortunately the temperature was a balmy seventy degrees that weekend.

A road leading to an adventure.

I’m fairly sure I was a dog in a past life. (I’m also fairly sure I was a Native American medicine woman, the housekeeper of a large Scottish manor, the girlfriend of a traveling troubadour in the Middle Ages, and a fiddle playing Irish immigrant stonemason.) Stories for another time. (Brother John here… Most of my past lives ended in tragedy, but I know I was a majestic flying Eagle on at least one of them). But, as I said, I was a dog. Or maybe several dogs. I love to ride in the car. (And roll on the ground and have my head petted and probably some other stuff that dogs do that we don’t need to go into here.) One of my favorite things to do is to have a day when Sammy and I can take the cameras, a couple beers for me and a Coke or ginger ale for Sammy, some homemade Chex mix or pistachios, some tootsie roll pops, and my topographical map of Pennsylvania, and go for a ride. Often we go for a short ride in the evening and chase the sunset, or wind our way around back roads on the way to or from town for errands, but every once in a while we take an entire day and travel someplace we’ve never been before. I’m convinced that we could travel Pennsylvania roads for the rest of our lives and never see them all. We don’t have a destination other than “someplace we’ve never been before” or, in the case of our last Sunday off, “north and up”. The map is for when when it begins to get dark and we have no idea where we are but would like to head home. As of last Sunday, our local leaves had still not turned their glorious fall colors. Actually we may not have a glorious fall here. The weather has been unseasonably warm and dry and a great many leaves seem to be skipping color and going straight to brown.

Red Barn With Hay Storage.

Our goal was to head north where the weather has been a bit colder, and head up into some of the higher ridges. One nifty feature of our car is that it has a compass. We started out on back roads, trying to keep to a generally northern direction. Most of the roads we had been on, but we enjoyed seeing big red barns full of hay, soybean fields sun dried and ready for harvesting, Amish traveling in buggies on their way to church. We took an inviting side road that bordered Penns Creek and it was as if we had traveled back in time. Old stone houses with hand pumps still in the front yard, tobacco barns weathered to pink, a young horse rolling in the pasture to scratch his back, and a young Amish boy with a fishing pole leaning over a bridge. Then, as the afternoon started to wane, we reached the foothills of the Bald Eagle State forest. The leaves were so bright Sammy said it looked as if they were glowing. Reds, oranges, yellows. The yellows had outdone the others this year in my opinion. We traveled some one lane roads and some dirt roads and each ridge line was more spectacular. At one point we stopped at the intersection of a dirt road and a road that ran along the base of a huge ridge. I said, “GOD’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” We started home, now heading south and west to follow the sun. I love “ridge skipping” as we drive. Pennsylvania has long ridges in many places instead of individual mountains. The only way to cross most of these is at “passes” which are natural breaks or dips in the ridge line. Early settlers and Native Americans would have crossed the ridges in the same way, knowing a “pass” would save time and energy. I’ll look along the ridge as we drive and say, “Head west toward that break, probably a road goes through there.” And it usually does.

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Preparing for the Dormant Season

September 13, 2008 at 3:46 pm (Authors, bee hive, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Carboy, honey, Mead Making, Plants, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Super Eydie

I woke up this afternoon to the sound of a steady, gentle, windless rain. I woke up this afternoon to the knowledge that we are off work for a week of vacation! Woohoo! (I hate that exclamation but sometimes if the woohoo fits you gotta go with it.) This is somewhat of a working vacation, a time to get the property ready for the change of seasons from the growing season, to the harvest season, to the dormant season. So, some seasonal things that are in the works this week if the weather cooperates: Wood. A priority. Last year we cut wood from our property and from the adjoining property of our new Amish neighbors. Last year they hadn’t built their home and weren’t yet living on the property so they hadn’t a need to cut firewood from there. Last year had some time consuming components occurred that resulted in the plain and simple fact that we didn’t cut enough wood to see us through. We were reduced to slogging out in mid-winter when the weather cleared enough to allow and cutting a truckload of wood here and there. On one memorable (but not pleasurably so) occasion I was clearing the snow off dead fall with my boot, then pounding the ice off with a stout branch so Sammy could take the chainsaw to it. The days worth of firewood had to be placed around the wood stove the day before it was used to thaw. Sammy developed the habit during those last winter weeks of slowing the car down whenever we saw a particularly abundant woodpile by someones home and drooling, “wood.” The same drooling word applied to tempting dead fall tantalizingly close to the roadsides. We did “liberate” a bit of this. One night as we were coming home from the movies (the nearest movie theaters are an hour away) Sammy put on the brakes, skidded to a stop, jumped out of the car and next thing I knew he was struggling with a frozen hulk of storm downed dead oak. I was not dressed for the weather (although we do carry emergency boots, tow rope, shovel, overalls, sleeping bag, water, granola bars, and in my case a steamy romantic novel stashed under the seat) and I found myself putting the back seats down and spreading an old blanket over cargo space as wet slushy snow filled my “good” shoes and my fingers froze to the chunk of wood as we levered it in.

Our Real Wood Burning Stove!

Another chore for the week is to prepare the wood stove for the season. I always try to hold off having the first fire until Halloween night. This week on the appointed day I will dismantle and carry outside the three pieces of stove pipe that connect the wood stove to the chimney and Sammy and I will carry the wood stove outside. I have two kinds of stove black, both leftovers my dad gave me from his stove. One is a paint on stove black and one is a rub on buff off product. I’ll use the paint on stuff this year because I didn’t black the stove last year and it’s a bit scaly. The stove first has to be gone over with a wire brush to remove scaly rust and accumulations of burned creosote from the last winter’s fires. Creosote forms from the sap contained in wood and from burning “green” wood or wood that still has a high moisture content. Pines and “soft” woods like soft maple contain a higher degree of creosote and as such are less desirable for wood stoves. These “soft” woods also burn faster, requiring more work and attention to keep a fire going. Once the stove is scraped clear I’ll paint the thing with the stove black and allow that to dry. After a stove is blacked and is “fired up” for the first time it will stink to high heaven and give off nasty fumes that will fill the house. That’s a project for a day when the windows can be opened. Also, the first fire should be run “hot” (the dampers opened to allow more oxygen in to cause a hotter fire) to season the new black.

Which brings me to the next chore. The chimney must be checked and cleaned. This is Sammy’s department because I am moderately not okay with heights. I CAN do heights if I have to, when I was widowed the first time (I’m a widow X 2, Sammy is a brave man of strong faith) my dad had me get up on the roof of my house at the time and help in the re-roofing. And I do fly these days without needing to drink heavily as I did my first couple of flights. Now I drink heavily merely for the pleasure (ha ha). The chimney for our house runs outside the east wall of the house. At the base of the chimney, outside the house, is a small metal door for the “clean out”. This is opened at the start of the wood burning season and several times throughout to scoop out the accumulated ash and creosote that falls to the bottom of the chimney. After this is cleaned out, (if I didn’t do it at the end of last year and I’m guessing I didn’t), I’ll take a hand held mirror and angle it up the chimney, if I see light reflected I know the chimney is at least patent. Sometimes during the summer birds will nest in the chimney. Come the start of a fire, any blockage, if not cleared, will not allow oxygen to reach the fire or the chimney to “draft”. In a clear, well functioning chimney, the air flowing over the top will entrain the rising warm air to cause it to be literally pulled out of the chimney. This decreases smoke, which will otherwise fill the house, and also allows the fire to burn more efficiently. A “cold” chimney (one in which a fire is just being started) will also smoke and refuse to draft. This is why a “cold” fire should be started with some quick, hot burning materials such as newspaper twists or pine needles. I find that the dried out stalks of my summer day Lilly’s work great. Once the chimney is checked with a mirror Sammy climbs the ladder to the roof and pushes down the chimney brush. (Go watch the movie “Mary Poppins” if you need to see what one looks like.) A rope is tied to the handle so he can pull it back up to brush out the chimney. After several passes I scoop out the “clean out” and we’re ready for fire!

A few other chores that are on the list for this week are: Bring in the house plants that have enjoyed the summer outside underneath the deck, bring down the fall (and winter) clothes from the attic and pack up the summer clothes, harvest the pears from the one tree in the “orchard” and make some pear butter, harvest flower seed from the sunflowers, Cleome, morning glory, etc. I discovered a few years ago that sunflowers, especially the giant sunflowers we like, make an excellent support for a variety of climbing flowers. I have a large flower bed Sammy named “the solstice bed” because not only does it have all day sunlight, but we grow beautiful sunflowers in it. I plant a few morning glory seeds with each sunflower seed in the spring and have a gorgeous “wall” of morning Glory’s that climb the sunflower stalks in the summer. I have read that the native Americans used the same technique with corn and beans that I will try next year. Another chore (well, I’m REALLY looking forward to this one so maybe chore isn’t the best word) is to get the base prepared for our future bee hive(s) next year.

But, all that’s in the future for now, tonight is an evening to anticipate, plan. and relax. We had some leftovers for supper: ham, green beans from the garden, and potatoes from dad’s garden for supper, a cinnamon raisin bagel topped with Minsi mountain honey for desert, and a look at our wines for entertainment will about fill the rain filled evening hours. The blackberry wine is about ready to bottle and has become a clear ruby red. The elderberry, in puberty to its pathway to the sublime, is still cloudy and will need to be racked soon, and the mead, still fermenting slowly, has just begun to clear somewhat. I did watch a introduction to beekeeping video tonight. The result of the video was that my “Santa” list now includes a bee veil, smoker, and hive tool.

Sammy and I would like to proudly show off our “Girls”. Please click on any of the images to get a larger, clearer view. Aren’t they just beautiful?

Mead Image #1 Mead Image #2 Mead Image #3 Mead Image #4
Wine Image #1 Wine Image #2 Wine Image #3 Wine Image #4

And now, a self indulgent gluttony of the second Sara Donati book, Dawn on a Distant Shore. I wish I had some of our wine, alas, it’s not ready yet. I’ll have to settle for a beer. Sammy, being a southern boy, drinks “red eye beer”, which is beer with tomato juice. My dad has a conniption fit about using good canned tomato juice to “pervert” good beer. But Brother John and Sammy like it. Who am I to say? I eat stuff I pick out of the yard each spring.

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