Cider Press Hill

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Saturday, 10:22 pm

By Kate





I probably should poke my head in here and let you know that I am, indeed, still breathing. And probably will get back to blogging a bit more often and regularly in the very near future.

Summer is over. The lad left for school yesterday and, as usual, he left a gaping hole in my poor heart. I mean, by now we know this is as inevitable as the sun rising and setting. We had such a terrific summer. I suppose it is normal to not want the wonderful to end. Ah well. I miss him and the house feels terribly empty tonight (or as empty as it can feel with a cat and a dog racing around the place chasing wildlife....we’ll get to that story in a minute). Nevertheless, it is always a delight to see how excited he is to return to friends and the independence.

We certainly did give my checking account a workout the last couple of weeks. He’s sharing an apartment with three other guys this year, so needed housekeeping stuff. And cookware. And cooking utensils. He’s cooking for himself this year rather than relying on a campus meal plan. And that includes budgeting money for groceries and managing his finances for the semester. We wonder how much he will enjoy cooking by the end of the semester. We’ll see how the money management goes, too. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there are a couple of care packages filled with Ramen Noodles for those special occasions when the sink is piled high with dirty dishes, the term paper is due in the morning, and there’s not even enough time left to sleep, let alone cook. Possibly for those other rare occasions when the grocery money doesn’t quite stretch to include

So, about that wildlife the dog and cat are chasing around the house....

Last night Abbie (the cat) came up from the basement with her first catch of the season. I did not realize what was going on until she started mrrrowing as if she had a mouth full of marbles. I made the mistake of asking, “Abbie, what in the world do you have in your mouth?” She dropped a mouse on the floor and told me. Naturally, the mouse did not stick around for Abbie to have a second chance.

Sooo… now I have an itty bitty mouse zipping around my living room. Abbie has been a dismal failure at catching it today. Mackenzie is not much better, though she’s tremendously excited about this little creature that moves so quickly. If someone doesn’t catch it tonight, I suppose I will have to put a trap under the sofa. I really do wish Abbie would catch the darned thing. She is, at least, making progress. It wasn’t all that long ago that she was still afraid of mice.

I guess it is the season for mice to move inside. I expect this will be just the first of several hapless mousies. The days have already grown noticeably shorter and cooler. Autumn is in the air.

I have a feeling this intends to be a stormy autumn. We’ve already had the remnants of two hurricanes within a week, the most recent (Danny) departing here only a couple of hours ago. Probably just getting warmed up for the nor’easters. This is going to be the year for them. One after the other. I can just tell.

Over the last week, the lad and I stacked a couple of cords of wood. I’m now ready for the heating season. And the snow and the cold and more snow. This year I got my tarps over the woodpiles before weather happened. My wood is still thoroughly dry even though we’ve been practically drowned in this storm. Dry wood makes Kate a happy girl. What would make Kate an even happier girl, however, would be a lovely warm autumn lasting though Thanksgiving, an extended January thaw, and an early April spring. Is that REALLY too much to ask? I don’t think so.


My very own smoke bomb

Friday, 4:57 pm

By Kate




clear night

During the winter months, the last thing I do before I go to bed is load the stove, let it reach a high burn until the stove is about 800° on the surface, then close the damper and shut her down for the night. That way I get a slow, but healthy (clean) burn through the night with enough live coals in the morning to start a new fire without kindling. It also keeps the house warm enough so that icicles aren’t hanging off everyone’s nose in the morning. Last night was no different, except for one small thing.

Before I tend to the fire, I’ve already turned most of the lights out, so I’m doing this stove operation in semi-dark. I’ve been doing this for 8 or so years, so it’s automatic. Usually.

So, there I was all curled up in my bed, reading, when I started to smell smoke. Now, it wasn’t an alarming thing because the wind was blowing an absolute gale. Every now and again, the wind will catch the chimney just right and go straight down. That makes the stove belch a puff of smoke into the house. As I say, it happens rarely, but it’s annoying when it does happen. So, I didn’t think that much about it. Until, the smell of smoke started growing stronger.

I leaped myself right out of bed and when I hit the hallway, the smell of smoke was intense. Oh boy, this can’t be good, I muttered.

By the time I’d reached the bottom of the stairs and pulled back the quilt, I knew it wasn’t good. The downstairs was choked with thick smoke. And I saw a glowing red thing on the top of the stove. I grabbed my stove gloves and carried that red glowing thing, that was smoking like mad, and drowned it in the kitchen sink. Turned out to be a small wood chip not any larger than half the length and width of a dainty pinky finger. But man did it pour off smoke.

I opened the back door, the front door, the front windows, the kitchen window and turned the over head fan on high speed. And sat in the living room shivering until the smoke had cleared out. It took about 20 minutes although I kept the windows and doors open for a couple of hours. And I was sitting there feeling furious with myself. For one thing I just had the ceilings painted. A house full of smoke is not a good thing, although I did manage to get rid of it fairly quickly.

I realized that the one thing I didn’t do before I went to bed was put my work gloves on and sweep my hands across the top of the stove to make sure there were no wood bits sitting there. Since most of the lights are off, I just do this by feel and by rote. I ALWAYS do it. I have no idea why I didn’t last night, but I guarantee that I won’t forget again.

I was pretty sure that I’d scared the living daylights out of my neighbor, too. I’m sure some of that smoke must have filtered next door. She retires very early and I heard her thumping around as I was clearing smoke out of the house. I am surprised she didn’t come over to bang on the door. This morning when I went outside, she popped her head out of her door and wondered if everything was okay. I told her what happened and she was relieved. She said she’d thought about coming over, but when she went out on her porch, she saw my windows and door open and heard me stomping around. I was stomping, too. I hope she didn’t hear me say anything too scandalous.

I was surprised this morning that the house didn’t smell horrible. I went out and ran a number of errands and when I walked back into the house, it smelled fine. But I’m sure the ceilings took a hit. Not much I can do about it now, though. That’s what bothered me the most, I guess.


Fine February Day

Wednesday, 6:02 pm

By Kate




clear night

Today, the 19th of November, was a fine February day. My outdoor thermometer never rose above 28°. And it is heading toward 23° at a pretty brisk clip, even as I type. By the time I post this, we might have already reached it. I must say, that’s rather cold for the middle of November, during which our normal daytime temperatures are still usually in the upper 40s.

I know that most people around here aren’t too crazy about it. I can practically hear all the neighbors keening as their furnaces labor away at mid-winter frequency. The white billows of steam pouring out of their chimneys is deep winter picture postcard pretty, except for the absence of snow. Not that I’m asking for trouble by saying that or anything.... It’s not that we don’t like to share, but you folks in Canada can hang on to your cold weather for a little longer without offending us in the least.

I’m curious how some of these folks are managing. Especially the woman who was determined not to turn the heat on until December 1st. Someone might want to go check on her to make sure she and her family haven’t turned into solid blocks of ice. I suspect all the good resolve went right out the window last night, if not sooner. It has been an uncharacteristically cold autumn this year.

My earmarked November wood supply is rapidly depleting. I don’t think it’s going to last until the end of November at this rate. I’ve been trying to take it a little easy, but when I get up in the morning to a 54° house, my resolve disintegrates pretty quickly.  Here’s hoping for an extended December and January thaw to make up for this nonsense.


Stinking up the neighborhood

Wednesday, 2:51 pm

By Kate





I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. Last night, around 9:30, as I sat in my comfy chair reading a scary story*, a knock came on my front door. I jumped about a mile. Peering out the front window, I saw a neighbor standing at the door.

When I opened the door, she seemed a little uncomfortable. “Are you burning wood tonight?” she asked.

I opened the door a little wider and gestured toward the stove. “No, see? The stove is cold.” She peeked around the corner at the stove and seemed relieved.

Meanwhile, smoky smelling air poured through the front door. Thick, pungent smoky smelling air. Stinky smoky air.

My neighbor admitted that I’m the only one she knows, for sure, who burns wood and the smoky air was bothering her a lot. It aggravates her asthma, makes her sick. But she was glad it wasn’t me.

I asked her to come in. It seemed like the ideal time to tell her about my stove and how it works and to listen to her concerns. Good neighbor relations required it. It was the first time she’s ever been in my house.

She came in and we shut the smoky air out. She told me that she doesn’t know that much about wood stoves, but was a little surprised that my house didn’t smell like woodsmoke. No, I told her, the newer woodstoves are air tight and are designed to burn the wood gasses and smoke so that it doesn’t go up the chimney or into the house. It’s better for the environment and the air quality and, actually, allows me to burn less wood. I told her that if she looks at other people’s chimneys (who use gas furnaces), she will see much more steam coming out of them than she’ll see coming out of mine. Most of the time she will only see heat waves emerging from the top of my chimney, but on really cold days, she would see some white wisps of steam. But the one thing she won’t see coming out of mine is smoke, which is gray and dingy looking. And I make sure of it because I don’t want my neighbors to hate me and my woodstove.

She reached out and touched the stove. Icy cold. I opened the stove’s door and gave her a tour of what’s inside and how it works. She actually was pretty interested. In fact, she remarked that aside from some ash sitting in the bottom of the stove, it didn’t look as if anything had burned in it. “It’s so clean in there,” she said. “There’s no black soot.” She asked a lot of questions and we also had a discussion about the wood I burn. I explained that my wood is seasoned for two years before I burn it and it’s pretty dry stuff. It catches flame quickly and burns cleanly. If my stove was black inside, that would mean I was burning wood improperly or using unseasoned wet wood. I make every effort to make sure that my stove and chimney are maintained and that I only burn well seasoned and dry wood so that I don’t send a blanket of smoke all over the neighborhood. That’s important to me because I don’t want to antagonize the neighbors and cause anyone to complain.

Of course, the conversation turned to the question, “Who is stinking up the neighborhood?”

Yes, I know who it is and it’s driving me nuts, too. But I’m not sure it’s my place to rat out a neighbor. On the other’s bad business for people who depend on wood heat and burn responsibly. I told her that I was pretty sure it was someone living up on the hill behind us. Could be any one of a number of houses—although I know which one. The guy who lives directly behind me. He chopped down another few hardwood trees in July and had them cut and split and stacked right on-property. It’s good wood—or will be in another year—but it’s unseasoned green wood and the smoke from it stinks terribly. Smoke from well-seasoned wood tends to be sweet smelling. This is is sour and really pungent smoke. It’s hard to burn green wood and it will smoulder more than burn. He’s not doing himself any favors either. His chimney is going to get thoroughly gunked up and increase his risks of a chimney fire. But for the rest of us...did I mention that it really stinks? And I am sure that half the neighborhood thinks that it’s me?

Well, the good thing is that this neighbor is the neighborhood telegraph. By the weekend everyone on the street will know that It’s Not Me. Which doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s nice to be off the hook anyway. When she left, she was confident that I am a good neighbor. She did remark that she thought it odd because she’s never noticed a smoky smell before and I’ve been burning my stove for a few years now. And I told her that if she ever has any questions or concerns, to come over. I’d be glad to show her how my stove burns when it’s actually burning and take a look at what’s coming out of the chimney. I’m sure she’ll be watching it for a while. And that’s fine.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t solve the problem of the guy up on the hill. That kind of smoke and stink is what makes people complain to the town and ends up getting laws enacted that prohibit wood burning within village limits. As more people turn to wood, it’s probably going to be more of a problem. There is a little learning curve to burning wood. But there are excellent resources available that teach people how to do it properly and responsibly. I highly recommend for anyone thinking of buying a woodstove or, for that matter, anyone who has one. I’ve learned a ton from that site. Some really instructive videos, too.

* (riveting scary story) The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen. Not necessarily recommended for reading while alone in the house.


First fire and other seasonal stuff

Saturday, 9:10 pm

By Kate




clear night

Tonight I’m enjoying my first fire of the season. The northeast has been a little brisk the past couple of weeks and my house finally reached the official “cold” mark. After spending the day out and about, I came home, this evening, to 58 degrees and it wasn’t very pleasant. I’ve done pretty well getting used to and comfortable with 62 degrees in the house this fall, but 58° felt very much like a fire in the stove tonight. I thought that I might be able to skate through most of October without burning any wood, but...guess not. I probably won’t need another fire for the next week or so, but I’m still disappointed that I couldn’t hold out longer.

On the other hand, it’s so cozy in here. I think the disappointment is vastly outweighed by the sheer pleasure of being nice and warm for the first time in a couple of weeks.


Over the past few days I’ve been searching high and low for a gallon sized glass jar in which to conduct a science project-- lacto-fermentation—homemade sauerkraut. Nothing fancy. I’ve looked in a variety of different stores from here to Portsmouth. And I even found one glass jar that would work just fine for a whopping $29.99. I did not buy it.

It wasn’t until last night that I had a brainstorm. How about an industrial sized pickle jar? I just betcha BJs or Sam’s Club has huge jars of pickles.

Today J and I went out to BJs and stocked up on some items. Among industrial sized pickle jar with industrial sized pickles. For $3.99. The pickles were a bonus. I gave them to J. I wanted the empty jar. Imagine that. $3.99. Phooey on fancy $29.99 glass jars.

I’ll let you know how the sauerkraut turns out. My mom used to make it in a crock years ago. Best tasting stuff ever. It’s hard to believe that the cans marked ‘sauerkraut’ in the markets are even in the same food group.


Last week I made and canned my first applesauce of the season. I had intended it to be the only applesauce of the season, but I didn’t get enough apples. I spent one entire afternoon peeling and coring and cooking one peck of apples and it only yielded 6 pints. Well, it beats store-bought and it’s 6 more pints than I started with. But I think I’ll go find more apples and make another 6 pints. I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much applesauce in the winter.


And, speaking of...Winter must surely be just around the corner now. A couple of days ago, I glanced out the dining room door and saw several juncos and four tufted titmice lined up on the deck railing facing me. They were patiently waiting for the diner to open. I burst out laughing. It was a comical sight.

Shortly thereafter, the diner opened and my winter birds have been merrily throwing seed husks all over. It’s a happening place out there.

For the little rodents, I tossed out some peanuts, too. It’s chipmunk heaven. 


Never too late to learn

Thursday, 2:12 pm

By Kate





File this one under ‘the things you learn when you least expect it’ and hallelujah for that!

See this picture?

This is a detail of a photo I ran across last night in a Vermont newspaper (while reading my energy blogs). This is a picture of a simple woodpile...with a difference.

For as long as I’ve been stacking wood, it just never occurred to me to add a balanced woodpile ender to my woodpiles, like the one in this picture. I’ve tried hammering stakes in the ground or wrapping my woodpiles with ropes or depending on luck to prevent my precariously balanced ends from tumbling down. My luck runs about 50% on that score. Although I’ve gotten rather good at balancing the ends of my woodpiles, there is still such a thing as gravity and it quite often wins.

This morning I tried that woodpile ender idea on one of my stacks and what do you know. It really works. It seems to make gravity work for me instead of against me.

It has only taken me eight years to discover this elegantly simple idea. Better late than never.


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