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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