Friday, 30 January 2015

My love affair with the woodburning stove




Today I have a heavy head cold.  I woke this morning to light snow on the hills and in the garden.  I had a hammering headache and streaming nose and eyes.  This was not a day for venturing out.  It was a day for sitting by the stove, snoozing, doing a little comfort reading.  I couldn't even find the concentration to knit.  But the day has passed away in a warm and comforting way because of our woodburning stove.


We have been using this stove for three seasons a year for nine years now and I could light the fire in my sleep. I start with quite a bit of scrumpled paper.  We use a broadsheet newspaper and I use about eight sheets.  I am pretty sure Ian uses fewer than that but that is what works for me!  Then kindling.  The kindling here was bought chopped during the period when Ian was languishing in bed with flu.  Normally he chops all ours.  How much kindling to use depends very much on how dry the logs are that we are burning.  If the logs are seasoned and dry they will burn with not too much kindling, perhaps half a dozen pieces.  If the logs are a bit wet you might need quite a bit more than that.  We don't buy seasoned logs as we are lucky enough to have a generous and kind neighbour who is a tree surgeon and who often lets us have wood.  We store it as huge pieces in a log store for a few months before it is chainsawed and split into logs the rightsize for the stove.   Then it goes into one of the old stone pigsties in a tidy stack against the wall.  Our wood burns fine but it is perhaps not quite as quick to light as the best kiln dried seasoned wood which you would buy from a dealer.  Mind you, you would pay a lot more for the privilege!


Ian made the kindling basket a couple of years ago on a course at our excellent and very local Woodland Skills Centre led by renowned basket maker Mandy Coates.  I love baskets and home made baskets in particular.  There is something so satisfying about the shape and texture.


Logs live in two galvanised buckets which sit in another basket made by Ian.  A couple of small logs go on the stove to start with and the larger ones are saved for when the fire is well established.  You get very used to a fire and you know that in the first half hour or so you need to give it some attention.  Once the fire is going strongly it only needs a bit of feeding but until it gets going properly you can find that getting distracted for forty minutes means that it has gone out while your back is turned.  Keeping an eye on it becomes as second nature as keeping an eye out for the baby when a fire is part of your life.


And there we go.  The fire is burning, the baskets are charged and the heat from the stove radiates out through the room.  Now it is time for a cup of lemon and ginger tea and the high indulgence (restricted to times when I am not well) of the rereading of one of the books from my childhood.  I am torn between "The Children of Green Knowe" by L.M.Boston and Elizabeth Goudge's "The Little White Horse".  How do you comfort yourself on those days when you are under the weather?

54 comments:

  1. I miss my log burner so much. One day, when I replace the boiler, I hope to have another log burner. Hope you feel better soon.

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    1. Thanks su. I would miss mine too, despite the world involved!

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  2. Your stove-love has me all nostalgic. As a latch-key child I would regularly light the open fire, and became very efficient. The nearest I get now is a garden bonfire, but nothing matches (Hah!!) real flames, does it?

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    1. I like a good garden bonfire too. Two very good but very different things!

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  3. I long for a log burner ~ sighs ~ but sometimes I have to face the practical side of not being able to manhandle and chop wood pitched against the ease of heating at the press of a button. Practicality verses Romantic Dreams in my case ~~~Deb

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    1. I have sometimes wondered how I would manage without someone else doing the chopping and log splitting! I suspect I love it so much I would have to buy in the labour, as long as I could afford it.

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  4. Look´s really warm and cozy...here we have a bad weather with much snow, not nice at all!
    Longing for the springtime now...
    Love,
    Titti

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    1. My great longing for apspring hits sometime in February generally. By then I feel I should have broken the back of winter and yet it continues cold.

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  5. Yes Elizabeth, the warmth of a woodburner is the best warmth we can have. I love it. We have one too and the last week I have been sitting in front of it more than usually due to a nasty cold. Just with a book and a cup of tea, it is the best thing to recover.

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    1. It does seem quite a different heat from central heating. We have perfectly efficient heating but it never quite comforts like a fire in the stove.

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  6. We have a fireplace and I think there is nothing cozier than sitting by a warm fire gazing into the flames. We can sit for hours just watching it! I hope your head cold goes away soon! I had one myself last week and about the time it was just about gone - mountain cedar blew in and stirred up my allergies so it was basically another head cold!!!
    I am reading 'Twelve Mighty Orphans.' As a matter of fact, I am heading to the guest room now - book in hand and will read a bit before taking a long afternoon nap. Perhaps we will have a fire to sit beside tonight......even if it's not really COLD here in Texas right now.

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    1. I never imagine needing a fire in Texas! The only downside of a stove as against an open fire is there is less chance to watch the flames.

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  7. Perfect! I love my woodstove as well, and the whole lovely process, including splitting kindling and making quick trips out to the woodpile down the side of the house to fill a big basket with logs (and yours is a gorgeous basket -- v. clever of your husband). My morning fire goes out occaisonally (such a waste of kindling) if I get too caught up in my blog-reading and forget to add more fuel. . . .
    As for comfort when under the weather -- a good book and a good cuppa, my big leather armchair and a lap blanket, all snuggled up by the woodstove. . . .Hope you're feeling better soon!

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    1. I hate that time when the fire goes out because I got engrossed somewhere else. Today I have progressed to knitting so I know I am getting better!

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  8. Oh dear, I do hope you feel better soon! Good to have a fire to warm yourself by and to heavily contribute to the coziness factor. Such nice warmth too.

    For a cold I generally make some "kwast", a Dutch remedy that involves lemons, warm water and honey. I think it helps, even though it makes my hair stand on end. Sending you warm get well wishes from rainy Arizona.

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    1. My remedy is much the same although it includes a slug of Scotch whisky so it really does make my hair stand on end. Don't know whether it really works but it seems to make me feel a bit better!

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  9. Since the discovery of how to make fire so many thousands of years ago, having a fire has meant safety and protection from the wild beasts of the night, light in the dangerous darkness, and life-sustaining warmth. I think fire has been so important to us for so long that it's in our genes. It has come to symbolize safety. The hearth on which one is built is the heart of Home and everything it represents. Even when we don't actually need one to keep us warm or to cook our food, having a fire comforts and reassures us at a deep level that we are safe and protected.

    Hope your cold is on the mend as soon as possible.

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    1. You have it exactly. There is a deep connection between fire and safety, fire and sustenance, fire and home.

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  10. I hope you'll feel better soon, Elizabeth. It sounds like you have all the necessary elements for a cosy recovery, but a head cold is never fun, no matter how cosy the accouterments!
    I miss our wood stove very much. It kept us warm from September to April and I loved the heat it gave off. Our new/old house has an open fireplace which we don't use. It's located in an odd corner of the dining room so does not invite a cosy hour in an armchair. We may have to do something about that! When I am ill I like non-stop herbal tea, a hot toddy at night. a big, deep chair and a lap quilt. I'm more likely to read a magazine or a collection of short stories, as I find myself unable to concentrate on a book when I'm wheezing, weeping and sneezing!

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    1. I do hope you find a way to have a stove. That could be all part of making your new house your own.

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  11. There is not too many things as comforting as being near a cosy fire. It is a healing thing

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  12. When my husband was in the air force(many many many years ago right after University), he was stationed in upstate New York (far north of NYC and very close to Montreal) and lived smack in the middle of the Adirondack mountains in an old house he and a coworker/friend were renovating that was heated by an ancient woodstove. I wasn't there very often(had just finished grad school and was working in DC), but whenever I visited, I always had a steep learning curve trying to get - and keep - it working. I'm sure if I'd been there longer, I would have eventually mastered it. The dogs loved nothing more than to sleep in front of it. I'm sure if there'd been a cat, she would have been there, too! Elizabeth, I love these posts that are like little snapshots of your life -they almost seem like meditations. I often feel that there's a book in them - 'A Year in The Welsh Hills' or something along those lines. Or have you already written one and I just don't know it? x

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    1. Yep, whenever our children and their dogs visit you can guarantee to find a labrador snoozing by the fire. I am touched that you think there is a book in my blog. Perhaps I should have a go at an ebook when I have a little more time. Would be fun for me if no one else!

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  13. We depend on our multifuel stoves for heat (because it's in the centre of the house you could call it central heating - we don't have the usual kind). So from October to May it can be a daily chore, getting fuel in (Charles chain saws, log splits, carts and stacks, then we both bring it in from wood pile to wheelie bin outside front door before the daily fetch into the house) Then - firelighting. We cheat, we have an electric firelighter. Bliss!

    It is a chore. And I wouldn't be without it - a room in winter does seem bleak without that glow, and it does make a comfort read complete. I wonder how we will cope with all that work in our old age but it will have to be done.

    In spring and autumn can get too warm sometimes - you can always tell who has a woodburner when you go down the lane from the windows wide open in the middle of winter. Useful thermostat, a window.

    So where's our snow to complete the picture?? Huh. Get well soon, Elizabeth and meanwhile I hope you enjoy your winter comfort break. It's what winter is for. Xxx

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    1. The feeding of the stove is a chore and like you I am lucky that Ian does the bulk of the work attached to it. I am only aware of the extent of the labour when one of us in unwell. That I suppose is your question about how to manage this as we get older. At the moment I am handling that by putting my fingers in my ears and singing loudly.

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  14. My sister and I have needed comfort reading over the last year as she is gravely ill. She has enjoyed The Borrowers series - just enough trepidation, and all of Elizabeth Goudge and her wonderful descriptions of the wonders of life. Laura Ingalls Wilder is good, for more trepidation in safety. So is The Endless Steppe by Ester Hauzig (?). I have loved The All-True Life and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley and also escaped into the rather glib Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. All a mixture of picturesque activity, childhood innocence and threats that are resolved. That seems to be a comfort read for us - more suggestions welcomed. I don't know The Children of Green Knowe so will give it go. As for the fire, we have a highly insulated new house here and have not needed to light the woodstove once. As Anne says, huh.

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    1. Fabulous, new list of comfort reading! I shall add them to my list.

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  15. I hope you feel better soon. There is nothing cosier than sitting in front of a lovely fire. I would love a wood burner but our open wood fire is nice too.
    I used to love the Green Knowe stories. Have you ever visited the Manor at Hemingford Grey where these stories are set?

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    1. I haven't been to Hemingford Grey although it has been on my wishlist since my daughter, now an adult and a mother herself, was about eleven and was entranced by Green Knowe in her turn. Must make it happen.

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  16. Hemingford Grey is one of the most romantic, evocative names I have ever come across - I must visit the manor one day soon. The snow is falling outside our Suffolk cottage today and we are snug with our wood burner, and I too have a nasty cold, headache, sore throat etc, For comfort reading I head to Victoria Clayton or Catherine Alliott, but today I am engrossed in Marina Lewycka's "Various Pets Alive & Dead" which is keeping me interested in between naps. Hope you are soon well x

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    1. I had not come across Victoria Clayton but having had a look on Amazon I think she will be ideal to add to the comfort reading list. Thank you!

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    2. I know I am way out of time on this one Elizabeth - the illness turned out to be more serious than I had realised and I am still recuperating, and recovering from losing my father in law, too. However, on the plus side, I have now visited The Manor at Hemingford Grey and am feeling a blog post coming on...

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  17. Elizabeth, reading this post has reminded me of when I lived in a garden apartment in an 1840s house in Brooklyn. The landlady's sensititve restoration had included radiators and a basement furnace, but had retained one working fireplace and one decorative fireplace.

    It was such a pleasure to make wintertime fireplace fires. Happy memories there, along with gardening in warmer seasons.

    Your husband's a fine basket and pail maker. And wood splitter, too. From your reply above that you are now feeling like knitting, I would guess that you are indeed on the mend. However, why not continue on with another day or two by the fire...just to continue your recouperation?

    xo

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    1. I have had another day by the fire today Frances and hope to be back to doing things tomorrow. It is always a sign of recovery when you begin to get a little bored and I am pretty sure I will be there tomorrow!

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  18. I hope you are feeling better now. I agree that reading a book by the woodstove is the best balm for a bad cold. One of my favorite comfort authors is PG Wodehouse, he always makes me smile when I'm taking life too seriously. Best of all is when my husband reads it aloud by the fire.

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    1. Haven't read any Wodehouse for ages! What a good idea.

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  19. We've spent the day looking at wood-burning stoves online. We had a cast iron Dovre stove in Porterville. Decisions, decisions. Our winters are 'just' cold enough to enjoy a fire for some weeks. Himself found Swiss instructions for lighting the fire, using a firelighter and a little kindling. And yes, the tricky bit is in the beginning. Will it ... or won't it?? Your large logs are substantially bigger than ours!

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    1. This is quite a big stove so takes the bigger logs. We also have one in the holiday cottage which takes smaller ones and another even smaller one in the shepherd's hut!

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  20. Hope you're still snuggled up, Elizabeth, even if you're feeling better - it's very cold out there…!

    I'm just about to light my stove and see if there are any crumpets in the house. Then for a good book - I'm going for crime. Violent death, a mystery (current favourite Donna Leon), a wood burner and crumpets. Perfect.

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    1. Mmm. not heard of Donna Leon. I shall investigate!

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  21. My grandfather taught us all how to build a fire and keep it burning for days . So I can still make 'kindling' out of ingeniously twisted sheets of newspaper but my coal bucket filling days are long gone , and I don't feel nostalgic about them at all . But I do envy you the warm glow of your wood stove on this very dark day .
    I'll put some apples to bake in the oven with cinnamon soon and light some candles instead , perhaps .
    Keep warm and get better soon !

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    1. Oh yes, we did the kindling with newspaper too!

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  22. There is nothing like a true wood-burning fireplace, although you'd have thought the fake gas-fired thing I removed from my house last summer was a sacred altar, the way my children bemoaned its absence. I dream of living in a house that could be entirely heated by a stove like yours, although it does require some work and planning. My step-daughter has a new Italian thing that burns wood pellets - very efficiently - and costs about 4€ a day, without the manual labour! Something to think about. (Deborah, not anonymous!)

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    1. We have a couple of friends who have installed wood pellet boilers for their heating. Our central heating is still old fashioned oil but we do use the woodburner a great deal.

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  23. I've just had two whole weeks languishing pale and sickly beside a woodburning stove, and it kept me sane! I have The Gardener to fetch, chop, stack, and so on, but I do actually enjoy doing that too - when I was rather too young, about 8, I guess, my mother - surprisingly for her - let me chop the kindling, and I loved it. Am glad you're on the mend - my specs hurt my nose, so I didn't read at all, but I enjoyed watching YouTube videos of the old John le Carre spy series instead; Alec Guinness and so many other good actors, a terribly slow pace, but complicated enough to be gripping. Still enough winter left to enjoy the stove for a while yet!

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    1. I do love Alec Guinness. Maybe next time I am under the weather I will try old films instead.

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  24. How beautifully descriptive. Our daughter has a wood burning fire which heats the their homely house wonderfully. Great also for drying the inevitable loads of clothes from children.
    I have always found fire hypnotic and soothing if one has the time to sit and watch it. Bonfires and sitting outside around it on a cold night is wonderful. First you toast one side and then the other!
    But for now here in Australia we have Summer...or should I say it is MEANT to be hot here today.

    Hope you are feeling much better by now

    Alexa-asimplelife from Sydney, Australia

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    1. Hard to imagine you being hot in the summer over there. I do agree about the hypnotic effect of an open fire. Sometimes I open up the doors of the stove just so I can watch the flames.

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  25. The Children of Green Knowe always works for me ,as well as another Elizabeth Goudge ,The Herb of Grace. She is such a neglected writer. linda chilton

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    1. Herb of Grace! I had forgotten that one. I have only just come back to Elizabeth Goudge after years of neglect although I read her a lot as a teenager and young adult. She is thoroughly out of fashion these days but I agree, she writes this beautiful limpid prose which is such a pleasure to read again.

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  26. Lovely post!

    My list - for a winter ailment, The Children of Green Knowe, top of the list. If it's very near Christmas, then 'Black Hunting Whip', by Monica Edwards. For a late October/November ailment, then 'Storm Ahead', also by Monica Edwards.
    At any time of year: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin; A Country Child, by Alison Uttley, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind or Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff; the Eliots of Damerosehay trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge. Do you know Elizabeth Goudge's 'Towers in the Mist', about Oxford?
    Hope you'll be on the mend soon.

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    1. What a fabulous list! There are things I know and things I don't but all the things I know are things I like! thank you.

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  27. Children of Green Knowe is one of my old favourites too. I have a carefully collected shelf of children's books that we thought would delight our children too, but it ends up being me who reads them again and again. My kids are happy to have them read to them but don't like to read old falling apart paperbacks, however good the stories! Another favourite is A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley. And Barbara Willard's Mantlemass series.

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