Monday, December 6, 2010

The Arrival of Winter [continued]

Yesterday's post generated comments re our wood-burning heat and I thought I would elaborate with more detailed photos.
We have been interested in the weather reports and the inconveniences caused by cold and snow in the UK.
J. is hoping someone will respond to a question he has, that being whether there are restrictions in UK as to what timber can be harvested for firewood,  locations of trees felled, species or amounts.
The above photo shows the living room fireplace with one of the doors opened.  Both doors fold back to add wood or to clean out the ashes.

This fireplace was installed by the previous owners, probably when the house was built in 1980 or shortly after. It has a "heat-a-lator" unit. The gridded openings on the bottom serve as a cold air intake, the upper ones blow warm air when the fan is switched on.  The blower is not on a thermostat which means if we let the fire die out during the night, we get up to find the blower still whirring away.

J. obliged me by opening the firebox door on the basement stove for this photo.  I am pleased with the heavy spring-loaded closure on the door. There are grates in the firebox and the handle below pulls out the ash drawer.
You can see the electrical cord for the blower.
We've had experience, as have family members, with some of the more "decorative" wood stoves.
The nicer models have a current price upwards from about $1800.00 for a very basic model to several thousand for the nicer [heavier] ones.
Most of them don't have the ash pan and on many the blower is an add-on.
As well, the fireboxes are small in relation to the overall size of the stoves and take wood cut to fiddly lengths.
The shop where we purchased our stove had a larger model [new] for about $1200.00 as I recall correctly and we have seen the biggest size for around $1800.00
This one seemed the perfect size for our application.  It was priced [used] at under $500.00 though J. returned to the shop and bought a new blower for $169.00.  The old blower was extremely noisy.
We can buy bundles of hardwood slabs at either of two Amish sawmills a few miles away. The bundles are priced $10.00-$15.00--not sure why the price variation.  J. can haul them in on the small trailer behind old Snort'n Nort'n the 1992 Dodge diesel.  Truth to tell, he enjoys cutting and stacking the wood.
The house also has a heating and cooling "pump" [a concept new to us] the unit sits outside and is electrically powered.  We used the A/C feature this summer.  In the interest of economy we don't intend to use it often for heat, but if we were away or ill, the thermostat could be set for automatic heat.

We have always enjoyed "country breakfasts" when there is time to cook and eat such.
Often we do morning chores, putter at things, have our morning coffee, and then later fix a large breakfast which will tide us over until mid or late afternoon.
This morning I made buttermilk biscuits and served them with dried beef gravy
and some of the "bottled" pears for fruit.
I realize that "biscuit" in the British sense means what we in the US call a "cookie" but don't know what the equivalent term would be for our "baking powder biscuit."  They are lighter than a scone and are good with   gravy, or buttered while hot and jam or honey added.
They also serve as "shortcake" with fresh or frozen fruit.
Dried beef gravy was a common item in our New England childhoods.
The dried beef of those days was  salt-cured paper thin slices packed in a glass jar.  Today the beef has been chopped, pressed and cut into perfect circles before being packed in glass.
It needs to be "freshened" in water for a few minutes, then butter is melted in a skillet, the shredded beef added and sizzled a bit, then about 1/4 cup of flour stirred in and gently browned.  Two cups of milk are added gradually while stirring the gravy smooth.  I flavor mine with onion salt or dehydrated onion bits as well as freshly ground pepper and sometimes a crumble of dried parsley.  Scrambled eggs go well with this meal.  The gravy can also be served over mashed potatoes.

Biscuit and gravy.

The same cold blustery weather has continued today, although the sun did struggle out between scowling clouds for almost an hour before it slid over the hill behind the woods.

There have been flurries of snow driven almost horizontal by the gusty wind, but none of the snow stays on the ground.

J. is constructing a giant closet just outside the nearly finished family room in the basement.
I dug out a miscellaney of books and dumped them on the walnut table which is soon to become my sewing desk.
The table has become a magnet for cats as it is currently sitting near the woodstove.
I've come to no mental arrangement of our oddments of furniture destined for the space.
I can imagine that when J. declares the room finished he will simply begin hauling items into place.
The entire house still feels like a work in progress.

Our neighbors Dan and Gracie retired to this rural neighborhood several years before we arrived.
They took on a more challenging remodel than we have, a tiny Amish house which had no electricty.
Staying here during vacations for a number of years they had the wiring and plumbing done, a modern kitchen installed and built a large garage workshop for Dan and a tidy guest cottage to house visiting family.
Gracie saved this quilt rack which had been used in their former home and decided that it needed to live with me.  [I have been wheedling J. for several years to make me at least one of these!]
Today he announced it needed to go up----somewhere---so I had him hang it at my side of the bed.
The quilt is one that I undertook during the winter of 2008, from a Kim Diehl design.
The pattern suggested a type of machine applique which I felt I couldn't do to a standard of excellence.
Pat W. one of the "girls" at the quilt shop gave me a tutorial in hand applique and I spent many evening hours that winter in finishing the work.
J. was impressed that I was spending time in the living room with him instead of shut in my "lair" of books and sewing.  The cats felt certain that I was snipping  lengths of thread and holding a wad of fabric simply to encourage their presence on my lap.
Having the quilt now on display warms my heart. These small touches, slowly accomplished, are making the little house a more personal home.

The fat tea mug was a gift from a dear friend in Wyoming several years ago.
The plump green teapot is from my "collection."
I can't think why I don't make tea in a pot more often.
There is something pleasant and soothing about doing so, as if one deserved a special "break" rather than standing at the counter merely slurping.

And finally on a cold day, what is more encouraging than choclate?
J. dropped off a power tool which Marla Shelley needed to borrow, and her kitchen was fragrant with brownies just taken from the oven.
I was inspired to come home and make some, dotted with  pecans gifted us by Mr. Rogers.

Today the first of the seed and plant catalogs arrived in the mailbox.
They are wonderful aides for constructing dream gardens that I could never possibly maintain.
We are settling in for the dark chilly days and long evenings of this first retirement winter.
Warm house, cats, hot food and drink, projects and books a-plenty.


  1. Love your quilt. My mother owned and operated a custom needlework/embroidery shop here for close to 40 years, she added quilting about 10 years before we closed the shop down. We were broken into 2 times and the shop destroyed, and I mean everything was destroyed. At that time, I was doing very expensive rodeo queen clothing with the hand beading and all of my leather and beads, machines everything were trashed and pee-ed on, so we retired from the shop. I prefer the gardening and urban homesteading I'm doing now.
    Thank you for sending me what you spoke about the urban and more substainable living article you and your hubby talked about, I found it very interesting. And it is true as things are a-chang'in quickly and not for the best.
    A wood burner is my next goal, as we get grid losses from weather, and I fear a possible restriction of utilities. I keep looking for a used one, I will just keep looking as it would be a major purchase for me on my leaky budget.
    Stay warm, keep the kitties warm and take care

  2. Nice to see your fireplace and furnace. I guess the furnace will continue to work if the electricity is out, but will have to spread its heat just on the "hot air rises" principle? Is there enough room on your furnace top to put a kettle of water? I had a woodstove in the basement of a former home and the kettle of water helped keep the air in the house from being too dry...and then we had an ice storm and lost power for 5 days and i did all my cooking on the stove top, a camp stove, and gas grill (outdoors). Hope you stay nice and toasty warm this winter!

  3. Hi denim - I cannot believe the mentality of the thugs who trashed your shop . . . I hope they get their comeuppance . . . I hope that you manage to get your wood burner soon too.

    MM - thank you for explaining about the wood stoves. Now I can see that the glass one opens up - I imagined you fed it and raked it from behind - a sort of hole-in-the-wall access! The other one is practical. Ours runs with the front doors open and has a mesh front on it. Against all the principles of the highbrow woodburning stove folk on the green forum . . . Yours looks far more practical. We cut our own wood, and were lucky to source some from Next Door this year, and did him a favour when we cleared his field. We are now eyeing up the fallen ash tree at the bottom of it, which was felled 3 years ago and should be just right to cut and use now . . .

  4. Think you asked about how easy it was to get wood in the UK, fairly easy, there are plenty of trees around. Our central heating has just broken down, and we have an open fire, coal and logs in the sitting room which is a great help. You can get wood either in the big stores, garden centres, or people who have a few acres.
    Remembered this morning by the way with all the talk of quilts, that in Bath there is the American Museum at Claverton Manor, which has a fantastic collection of quilts on display. Its a very pretty place to visit in summer, with authentic ;)18th century American rooms, plus a garden of fruit trees and flowers.....

  5. If there is anything in the world better than biscuits and gravy I don't know what it is.
    I love a wood burning fireplace, ours are gas and I miss the smell of wood smoke.
    I did my first semi-quilted piece this fall, it's a wall hanging for my daughter. Loved your quilt.

  6. These small touches, slowly accomplished, are making the little house a more personal home.

    I couldnt agree more and I am so looking forward to being able to put them in place here.
    I am intrigued by the quilt rack. Is it for displaying quilts, or does it have a more practical purpose? Either way, I have taken the liberty of saving a copy of your photo, so I can show my Brother what I want him to make me!

  7. Wood in the UK? Well there are those who will sell you a 'load of logs' that are as green as grass and will not burn (or eventually will but with no heat output). I could write reams on the way we in the UK do not harvest wood, nor grow it as a 'crop' as in France. We seem to have survived 40 years here with the offcuts of hardwood bought at auction with which Raymond makes furniture; and now he's doing the same for our daughter and son-in-law who are building their own house, and Raymond is turning staircase spindles and making doors, the oak shavings, dry and seasoned, burn a treat. As we continue to convert this old place, their are old rafters to burn; but it's always been hand-to-mouth.

    Of course, the UK does not value its natural commodities, is too urbanised ... do you really want an historical essay! I'll go back now to the rest of your post and that cake with pecan nuts, which I nibble as I write this. And oh, its hard when you move to settle comfortably into a new routine. I sympathise.

  8. Denim: What can one say? I am instantly angry at such wanton destruction and vandalism of anyone's property and hard work, and so seldom are the perpetrators caught and punished--not that a fine or jail term can restore what is lost or in any way compensate for such a sickening mess. Re the woodstove, perhaps you will find a used one as we did at a good price.
    QC: Yes, there is room on the furnace top for a small teakettle, although lack of humidty hasn't yet been a problem. I'm trying to think where I last saw our rather battered blue enamel camp coffee pot which I think would suit the purpose.
    BB: We would have enjoyed a stove with a glass front, but that was the more expendable of the options we felt we needed to be efficient. The upstairs fireplace can be opened and mesh screens drawn across if one really wants to gaze into the flames and dream.
    Thelma: Thank you for that about the wood. I've been conveying these tidbits of info to J. Perhaps it doesn't take much to interest us, but all this discussion of weather and methods of heating quite perks us up--sort of "armchair traveling." I shall look up the link to the American Museum--perhaps something like our various colonial lifestyle museums.
    Janet: We are both fond of rather plain traditional food, especially in cold weather. Fortunately we are working hard enough at wood gathering and painting to hope
    the hearty fare won't add poundage.
    I would love to see a photo of your quilting project.
    Kath: The wall-hung quilt racks are very popular here for displaying favorite smaller pieces. They are available in many shops which sell "primitive" or folk art decor as well as on-line shops. They are surely simply constructed. [Here I have a husband who designs and builds houses and has never made a quilt rack!] I could measure and send you dimensions if that would help. Your lovely handwork deserves to be on display.
    Ann: your input on the wood availability is interesing and has me on a tangent of thinking that much of the woodlots in France must have been planted and planned since WWII? I seem to recall reading that much forest land there was destroyed.
    You and Raymond have so many skills between the two of you--doesn't it make life more satisfying to turn our hands to a variety of practical solutions!

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  11. Blogger has such interesting little tricks--it now posts my response to comments in triplicate and I have to remove the extras!

  12. I can't take pix of the quilting yet, my daughter reads my Blog, will post after Christmas.

  13. I'd love a log burning stove or an open fire but DH won't even consider it. We are all electric here so a power cut in this weather would be pretty grim. Your stove looks so cozy and inviting. My parents always had an open fire and I remember clearly how nice it was to sit by it on a cold winter night. Those brownies with pecans (oh yum!) look really good.

  14. Janet: I'll watch your posts for a photo of your completed quilting project.
    Rowan: Having lived for so many years in New England and then for a dozen years in Wyoming, both places of cold winters and power outages, we've always had either a wood stove or a propane stove for back up heating and cooking.