Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Warm, Passionate Hearts

Last Thursday A. and I had this wood-burning stove installed. It looks soooo lovely. Cozy! Cute! Brand-spankin'-new! It sits at the joining of our kitchen and living room, just teasing us. I find that I am almost -- ALMOST -- looking forward to winter. (Oh, who am I kidding? I am looking forward to a long, mild fall and short, short, short winter.)

It seems like it has been an absurdly long process to get this stove. Neither A. nor I can agree on who's idea it was to get the stove in the first place. He insists I brought it up, but two weeks ago I found a wood stove catalog (stamped with the same company's info that we did buy our stove from) that was more than a few years old in the bookcase in the office. As in, this little publication has been in A.'s life longer than I have. So, perhaps this was one of those decisions that manifested itself in simultaneous little whispers to both mine and A.'s subconscious brains. Who knows?

I suppose I am most to blame for how many days this decision took from our lives. I really wanted to know I was doing the best possible thing for our family's finances, you know? I developed spreadsheets that estimated the total cost of the purchase, taking care to think of all those other costs that come with it such as installation, accompanying materials for the stove (chainsaw, trailer for the truck, trailer permit, fireplace accessories, fuel for trips to the mountains, firewood permits, etc. A. thought of the cost of a spare tire for the trailer. Go, A.!). Then, I created three other rows to compare costs. One row if propane prices stayed exactly the same as they did last fall and winter (which I am certain they won't); one row estimating costs increasing by 30% from last year's prices; and a final row estimating if costs go up by 70% from last year. (The state energy adviser estimates winter energy costs to go up 30-70% in our state. Holy hell, OUCH.) At worst, the entire cost of the stove will be pay for itself in just over two years, at best, by next fall. 

Well, these scenarios are best and worst for us. It will definitely be worse for our neighbors, our friends, and low-income members of our community if prices increase so dramatically that our not-so-little purchase pays for itself quickly. While I'd love the satisfaction of knowing I made a wise financial decision my stomach would be sick for all the people truly struggling through the winter.  I hope it takes years for the stove to start earning us savings.

The stove, no doubt, will increase the quality of our days and nights throughout the long, long winter ahead. With A. in grad school and what he calls my insistence to work in the oh-so-high paying fields working for society's unfortunate, money is tight in our household. (He likes to joke (or say with pride?) that even if I do ever decide to go to law school, I'll probably still choose a practice that represents poor people, and hence still won't make any money. His observations is not unfounded.)

During the winter, we keep our thermostat at 60°F. Sometimes, to take the chill off a particularly harrowing walk from the car to the house in 40-mile-an-hour winds with razor sharp snow freezing any area of exposed skin, we might turn it up to 65°F for 15 minutes or so. I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to being much, much warmer this winter. I would be lying if I said I can't wait to see what this season's colors will be in the long underwear line. I'd be lying if I said I love pulling my "inside scarf" -- a Burberry knock-off that looks EXACTLY like this one -- around my neck and pairing it with my neon lime-green fleece vest, that nothing makes me feel cozier than bundling up to deal with the temperature inside my house.

A. immediately started to daydream about romantic nights when the electricity goes out, cuddling in front of the fire, candles burning and an open bottle of wine breathing on the table.

I am a pragmatist, he is a romantic. Apparently.

I would be lying if I said I don't get anxious every time I hear the heater kick on in February, wondering if there is any way I can make the propane last through March. Propane costs are less in late summer than  in the middle of winter, when demand -- and desperation -- are at their highest. We always fill up our tank in August, and then try to carefully ration our usage throughout the winter. It is a truly apprehensive thought, knowing you are utterly and completely at the mercy of a company out to make a profit. This idea is what dwells in my mind throughout February and March, darkening everything else with its sad, sad implications.

So, this wood stove makes me feel like I can fight back a bit. That I am not quite as powerless as I was last winter. That A. and I stand a fighting chance.  That I can finally say, "Fuck you, Amerigas!" and be able to back it up.

I like knowing that A. and I are responsible -- or have reclaimed some of the power, if you will -- in how we feel this winter. It makes going to the mountains to get firewood feel like a revolutionary act, in a way. With each blow of the splitting maul, we get to deliver a blow to unregulated industry. It feels that way, when the cost of a barrel of oil is directly related to the cost of heating your home. Plus, it is pretty nice to have an excuse to run around the mountains.

Our firewood adventures aren't all rainbows and unicorns and bunnies, of course. There is often much swearing going on, and a constant battle with the f'ing chainsaw. (Our latest theory is that it has a hard time with the low oxygen at high-altitude. We will stay below 9,000 ft from now on and see if that eliminates some of the battles.) Plus, moving and loading and chopping all that wood is HARD FUCKING WORK.

But, the work feels . . . honest.

This may all sound very melodramatic and such, and hey -- it's me writing so it may well be just a tad over the top. You might rightfully accuse me of over-romanticizing the experience in the mountains, the work at the house splitting wood. But I am acknowledging that it is still work, and that it requires different kinds of resources to make it happen. We are fortunate enough to be able to afford to make this happen. We could buy the stove outright with some of our savings. We could buy the trailer, doubling the efficiency of our trips to the mountains. We can afford -- painfully -- the gas required to take the truck. It would be an entirely different situation if we didn't have these resources, or have friends and family that could afford to share these kinds of resources. The line between our circumstances and the worse circumstances is thin. We could very well find ourselves navigating beauracratic labyrinths, trying to secure other resources. It would be lonely and frightening, and it would be so very hard to claw a way out.

We are fortunate. We will be warm.


If anyone reading this anticipates trouble with heating costs this winter or if you know someone who might, please, please don't hesitate to inquire about the energy assistance programsin your state. Most programs offer assistance from October through March, (but you can sign up now, I believe) and will even retroactively help pay for months that you weren't registered. In my state, officials expect there to be plenty of aid, so don't let the fear that their won't be enough aid to go around stop you from applying. Please don't be too proud to ask for help. Programs like these are tools to help you get through difficult times that are out of your control. It is a resource. Just as are federally-backed mortgages, financial aid for college...  Please consider assistance if you need it.)


  1. I grew up with a wood stove and I loved it! (Although I HATED going to get wood with my dad; it was HARD WORK and I always dropped a piece of wood on my foot. And got a splinter.)

    Good for you guys for fighting back! Enjoy your wood stove (and your cozy, romantic evenings)! :)

  2. I think the wood stove is a brilliant idea, and I like how thoughtful and measured the decision was, and while I fall on the side of pragmatism and am more glad that you won't have to be cold in your house this winter, I'm also glad that there are romantic side benefits as well. And I'm especially glad that our utilities are included in our rent and that we don't live in a particularly cold place.

  3. I love the idea of a wood stove. We have a wood-burning fireplace, but Homer is afraid of fire (he was in a house fire as a kid), so we hardly ever use it. I love how you wrote about your decision. I put a lot of thought and calculation into major purchases, but it never seems so poetic!

  4. GO GO GO you revolutionary wood gatherer!! (that sounds funny)

    If you ever **do** find a place that has nice loooooong falls and short winters, please do let me know. I think I might like to live there.

  5. oooh. i love sticking it to the man, especially when energy is SO EFFING EXPENSIVE right now. my electric bill went up nearly 30% last month. that is A LOT. boo. yay for wood stoves and carefully thought out decisions ;-)

  6. My God...I'm cringing just remembering how the winters are here! I've been trying to avoid the thought, hoping winter won't actually happen. Trying to avoid the propane fill-up and the wood-cutting adventures.


    Guess I need to get with the program.


Sorry for the word verification. Spambots have found this little blog!