Monday, November 23, 2009

The Most Aggressively Inarticulate Generation

I am a huge fan of the declarative sentence. I advocate for the active voice. This poem pounds the nail through the parchment, fixing the bill firmly to the door. It makes the statement about making the statement you want to make.

So watch it already. Yes. You. Now.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

H/T to Damien over at Adventure in Progress

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mindful Warmth 5 - Burning

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:


To light a fire seems like such a simple thing, and it really is if you have good tinder, sufficient dry kindling, a good supply of fuel logs, and (this is critical) a lighter or a few matches. Simple.

Try doing it without a match.

Even with a lighter, it takes a modicum of skill to get a good fire going quickly and with a minimum of smoke and fuss. This is important because the fire in question is inside my house. Therefore, any smoke won’t harmlessly drift off in the breeze. It will suffuse itself throughout the rooms of my house and settle on everything. Not a big deal perhaps until you consider what an entire winter of smoke will do to your wardrobe, your furniture, your carpets. Everything takes on a kind of sour unpleasant smell – not at all the delightful flavor you get from things which are properly smoked like, oh bacon for instance.

I soon learned that the idea is to get a good hot blaze going very quickly to heat the stove up as fast as possible. The heat creates a strong draft that will pull all the smoke up the chimney and outside where it belongs. The quicker things heat up, the stronger the draft. I learned to facilitate this by leaving the stove door open about a half an inch to allow lots of oxygen to feed the flames. Once things are going cheerily, I can close the door, and the stove will draw air in through the controlled damper system in the back. According to the owner’s manual, this system draws air in underneath the fire so that it burns from the bottom, allowing a more complete and controlled burn. It seems to work, as we always end up with a very find ash indicating that all the wood has burn quite thoroughly, yielding up every last BTU latent in the fibers.

Before lighting, I like to build the fire structure. The tinder goes first. I find that newspaper works well if twisted tightly into mini logs so that it burns longer. Paper egg cartons do well for tinder, as does cardboard especially if rolled up into tight spiral tubes. I recently tried paper milk cartons and found that these work wonderfully. They are waxed cardboard, and the combination of wax and paper burns evenly and long so that the flames have plenty of time to catch the tinder.

For kindling I have been using the small chips that inevitably collect around the stump during the splitting process. I periodically gather them up so that they don’t get underfoot and make my stumble, and place them in a large covered plastic bin. They dry quickly and when dry catch fire very easily. While this works well, I can see that I won’t have nearly enough of this to last the winter. So I’m going to have to make my own kindling. Easy with a small hatchet and a few dry logs. It’s a matter of a few minutes to split them down into sticks, enough kindling for a few days. You do have to mind your fingers.

I have also been the recipient of a gift of two barrels full of wood scraps from some finish carpentry project or other. This is kiln dried pine. It catches on fire very easily and make good kindling.

One the kindling is cracking and roaring a bit, I will place a few good sized logs on. My woodpile has been drying for about 18 months now, and the wood is well seasoned and burns easily and well. I don’t hear much sizzling, which is the sound you get when moisture is coming out of the wood as it is getting ready to burn. Just good clean low roar of flames and oxygen coming together and casting a nice warm glow that spreads through my entire house.

Once the stove is warmed up, the radiant heat warms the floor and walls of the house. The warmed air moves upstairs into the bedrooms to warm those spaces. Once it is warmed up I find tossing on a log about every 45 minutes or so will keep things going nicely. It really doesn't take that much. Once I piled it up pretty high, and I could tell things were getting a little too hot. I closed the damper in back a little to slow down the airflow and things settled down to a slower more even burn. I'm sure that as the winter moves on, I will learn more about how to keep the stove going efficiently.

Being warm in winter makes my bride happy. I look forward to a happy winter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ambushed, Firebombed and Fragged for Jesus

I was first introduced to Matt Chandler (pastor of The Village Church in TX) listening to recordings of one of his talks at the Acts 29 Network conference earlier this year. I found his style engaging, his thoughts penetrating, and his focus challenging.

Internet Monk recently pointed to this talk he gave in front of a seminary class at Southern Baptist Seminary. I can't embed it, but take time to go to the link and listen to it. It's about 40 minutes long, but well worth it.

This is a combat veteran speaking to the troops still in training about what they should REALLY expect when they hit the beach. He pulls no punches here, and calls those fresh faced kids out in a pretty spectacular way. I have known some seminarians that I wish had heard this. I think I may have heard it sometime before I almost went to seminary.

He also calls out the whole pastoral industrial complex of american evangelicalism. It's amazing what Jesus can do in spite of us.

At moments over the last several years, I have thought that I might be hearing noises. Those noises sound an awful lot like what I remember when I thought I was hearing God's call years ago. My perspective on those noises now is quite different than it was 25 years ago. I haven't been fighting on the same front, but the battle scars I am carrying definitely change the way I see things. I am perhaps beginning realize the depths of my ignorance at 20. I had no way of knowing how different things really are when you get older. How different I am, now that I am older.

The shepherd game sure looks different from this angle.

It's a hell of a business, taking on hell and telling it where to go in Jesus' name. I have seen pastors ambushed, firebombed and fragged. I think anyone who sits in a pew can benefit from hearing this just as much as a prospective pastor.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Paglia on Pelosi. Holy Hygeia!!

Taking a brief break from burning logs to mention this column on regarding the pending bill on national health care (among other topics). The column is written by Camille Paglia. Yes, that Camille Paglia, the she wolf herself.

She is well known for her lefty liberal stances on...well...just about everything, but at least she serves them up with real style and thoughtfulness. Surprisingly, in this column entry, she offers a harsh, if not overly detailed, criticism of the bill that many of her liberalistic colleagues are having orgasms over. It sounds like Camille has a headache and would just rather do something else.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mindful Warmth 4 - Moving

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:



I have learned that wood must be moved several times during processing operations, and much of the effort of wood heating simply involves the act of moving it around. It seems that each chunk of wood must be moved a minimum of three times, although 4-5 times seems to be more common as I am still figuring out the best way to manage the whole process.

Actually, I am not so much managing the process just yet. I am inventing it. My mind is often taken up with figuring the most efficient layout for the various piles, scheming to find the materials to build the sheds and platforms, planning the placement and construction of each, and flowcharting it all in my head. None of it happens spontaneously. Unless I pick it up and make it happen, the wood just sits there until is sprouts mushrooms and returns back to the soil, it’s BTU’s unused. The brainpower required really is enormous. It's a good thing I have plenty to spare.

At this point, the process looks kind of like this:

Once dumped out of the truck or trailer, the large chunks must be moved to the splitting area. I usually will do this a few at a time as I need them. Once split, the logs must be moved to a drying area. For this I am using my main woodshed (actually, a platform). Since the main woodshed is still full of this year's fuel, I am preparing a secondary drying area on a group of wood pallets nearby. Once the wood in the woodshed is depleted, the pile of recently split logs on the pallets will replace it and will remain there to dry until next winter.

The main woodshed is a walk of perhaps 100 feet from the back door. Not bad in the summer, but verging on the inconvenient in 10 below January weather, with the snow hip deep. To make that trip daily to haul up the day's heat may get tedious. Therefore I have plans to stage the dried wood to a smaller intermediate woodshed near our back door. Then a load or two at a time, it will be brought inside to warm up – apparently placing cold wood in the stove is a waste of energy. Then it will finally be placed in the stove to burn.

So, my latest project is building that small woodshed on the back porch. The plan is for this woodshed to hold several weeks of split, dried wood, carried up from the main woodshed. It is about 5 steps from the back sliding door, and when finished will be covered with a modest overhanging roof and some kind of tarpaulin door to keep out blowing snow. It will be a new chore for my girls to bring up wood once or twice a week to keep this woodshed well stocked. From here it will be easy to bring it inside.

Once inside, I plan to build a small wood box that will hold one or two days worth of wood. Once placed in the box, any ice or snow can melt off, and the firewood can achieve room temperature before being placed into the firebox. I expect this box will be 3-4 feet long, perhaps 2 and a half feet front to back and about 2 and a half feet deep, with a hinged lid. It will also be the girls’ job to keep this full.

It is something to think of all those trees, growing here and there, all coming down and being cut into pieces. Then they come to my house and are broken into still smaller pieces. Then little by little they flow into my home and into my wood stove to keep my family warm. Every single piece moved by me, with the help of some good friends on occasion.

It is an amazing and gratifying thought.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mindful Warmth 3 - Splitting

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:


The wood arrives in my yard in large chunks that may be several feet in diameter. These won’t fit in the stove and even if they did would require a pretty hot fire to burn. So the wood must be split into smaller chunks, anywhere from 8 inches across down to 2 inches depending on:

  • How much work you want to do: Bigger chunks require less work to split.
  • How will be carrying it: I tend to split small so the girls can easily carry it.
  • How fast you want it to burn: larger chunks will burn more slowly releasing the heat evenly over time.

Some wood splits easily along straight even grain lines. Birch is a pleasure for this reason, as are most oak and maple logs. Sometimes you will get a particular log that had a limb coming out of it, or is the crotch of two trunks. In these cases the grain goes all wavy and weird and splitting it becomes a matter of a good eye, true aim, a bit of luck and a whole lot of grunting and whacking.

There are machines to assist in splitting wood. Gas powered small engines drive a piston with a wedge on the end that can make quick work of

the nastiest piece of curly grain crotch oak you and imagine. These machines are most efficient with two people operating, one controlling the piston, the other loading and unloading the logs. For many people, owning such a machine is not a good use of capital, but renting one or borrowing one is a great way to get your wood split in a hurry.

I split my wood by hand using a crude but effective tool called the monster maul. It is a steel handle about 2.5 feet long, with a large solid steel triangle welded to the end. It weighs close to 16 pounds. With it I find that I can split pretty much anything, even though it may take multiple whacks. It take a great deal more energy and strength than many people have, but I enjoy it and find that it works just fine for my purposes.

Eventually, I will add another lighter ax to my tool chest so that I can use it to split the smaller logs without having to lift the monster maul. When it comes to a log that is 26 inches across though, the M2 dependably gets the job done.

The process involves lifting the log up onto my splitting stump. The stump is a large section of tree trunk selected for its size, weight and relatively level top. Once placed on the stump, I’ll stand a pace or two back, raise the maul over my head and swing it down. If it is the first split on a large trunk, I will swing down purposefully and with all the strength and intent to go straight through down to the stump. If it is a particularly thick log, or has uneven grain, I will often penetrate but not split it on my first swing. Some logs are so tightly grained that the first few strikes will actually bounce off. But with repeated hammering, it will eventually give way, and with a satisfying crack and thud, I will have two pieces of wood on the ground where there was once a hefty log.

Subsequent splits are easy. Rather than splitting each log down the middle, I tend to strike off slabs from the outside and work my way in. It’s less work and as I have practiced my aim has improved where I am getting pretty good at striking the wood on the right spot.

This, however, is another place where one must be always mindful. If the attention wanders at the critical moment, of even if I don’t put enough strength into the blow, the maul can deflect, and small chunks of wood and my maul go flying in unexpected directions. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I imagine that at some point it is possible that my shin or ankle might catch a fast moving 16 pound chunk of steel. I would like to avoid this occurrence and so tend to focus on what I am doing whenever splitting my logs.

I enjoy the rhythm of this work. I enjoy the sounds and smells of the cracking wood. I like feeling the axe moving downward and burying itself in the log with a thunk. I like that feel of the perfrect hit that just separates the log cleanly and evenly, ready to stack. I enjoy the slight membrane of heat coming off my skin that staves off the crisp cold air I’m working in. Again, the novelty has not worn off. It’s work, but it is play too. Perhaps this is the best quality of all real work, and to find the play hiding in the work is an art in itself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mindful Warmth 2 - Harvesting

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the other articles by clicking on the links below:


Wood can be delivered, cut, split and dried, but of course this increases the cost significantly. Even if it is delivered all ready to burn, it still must be stacked in a convenient sheltered location. When needed, it must be carried into the house and placed in the stove chunk by chunk. There is no automatic feed, and no thermostat that turns on the fire when the temperature dips below 68 degrees. My own nervous system (or mostly my wife’s) is the thermostat. We can’t set it and forget it; not at any point in the process. This isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly is different.

In my case, I have laid up approximately 4 cord of wood (a cord being roughly 128 cubic feet). Almost all of it I have cut, hauled, split and stacked myself, with some help from neighbors and friends. My woodpile is almost all “tornado wood, remnants of trees felled in the tornado of 2008 that passed a scant 2 miles from my house on it’s way to cutting a 40 mile swath across the eastern part of the state.

I spent that week at some of my neighbors’ houses with a chain saw cutting up downed maples, oaks, birches, poplars and pines. I sawed the trunks and limbs into sections about 2 feet long, and loaded them into pickups, trailers and the back of my Subaru. I drove them to my home and dumped them into my backyard, into an area that has since been designated as the Cellulosic Heat Processing Zone (CHPZ). It consists of several platforms composed of wood pallets laid on the marshy ground to keep the firewood from rotting, and a large raised platform I constructed out of leftover construction lumber. This will eventually be my main woodshed, but as I ran out of lumber to build the sides and roof, it is still just a platform with a tarp over the woodpile.

Cutting and splitting is just hard work, but it is not mindless work. Anyone who has ever used a chainsaw, and felt it buck, or seize when your attention wandered knows this only too clearly. This is a tool that would just as easily remove a human limb as a tree limb and which one it goes to work on has everything to do with how much attention the operator is paying each second.

All in all, however, I find it pleasurable work. This could be because the experience is still novel to me. Someone who has had to do this their entire life may feel differently perhaps. It is dirty, smelly work, with it’s share of sweating, hard breathing and sore muscles involved. Yet the body adapts and I find that each chunk stored up produces a sense of emotional warmth I don’t get from fuel oil. Just knowing that I am heating my own house by my own work, not dependent upon petroleum imported from foreign nations (except for the gas to run the chain saw and drive the truck that hauls the wood) feels pretty darn good. Odd how physical ease and freedom from labor makes me ultimately FEEL more enslaved, but toil and sweat give me an ineffable sense of freedom. This is just the first part of this whole wood burning thing that seems delightfully paradoxical to me.

I have been working with borrowed chain saws, trucks and trailers. Eventually, I am going to need to buy my own tools for harvesting wood. I’m looking forward to it.

Mindful Warmth 1 - Introduction

Some parts of this country have more heat than they know what to do with. In these northern climes, heat becomes a precious thing between October and April. It doesn’t come naturally. It must be made. And the making of it doesn’t come cheap. During the winter heating is a major part of the family budget, whether that heat comes from oil, gas, electric, wood pellets, or good old fashioned burning logs.
Most of those heat sources don’t require much thought beyond the writing of the check. You pay your money, and the guy comes with the big truck and fills that 250 gallon tank in the basement full of heating oil (basically diesel fuel). Or the gas guy comes and fills that big gas bottle outside with propane. Natural gas isn’t as common in this part f the country, but for those places that do have it, it works pretty much like electricity, piped directly into the house. Both sources come over the wire (or through the pipe) and you just pay the bill. You can arrange to have your wood pellets delivered, and you must then fill the hopper, but once the hopper is full, you’re good for a while.

Burning wood, though, that takes thought. I have been burning wood now for almost a week. I have been preparing to burn wood for about a year and a half. I must say that heating your house by burning wood is a qualitatively different experience from any other type of heating method I have experienced. It is a mindful, and intentional in a way that separates it from other common forms of household heating. This makes it perhaps the most eccentric and philosophical method of home heating. Perhaps you would see that as an undesirable quality – why would you want to have to think about your heat?

My answer to this is “because heat is costly,” and the cost is not measurable in mere dollars and cents. The extraction, processing, transport and distribution of energy makes up an enormous sector of our economy. It employs highly paid professionals like engineers and scientists as well as skilled and hard working technicians who run the machines, often in extreme and dangerous climates. Let’s not forget the risk-taking entrepreneurs who stake enormous wealth to find and develop this energy. If they win the bet, the payoff is big. Really big.

Governments negotiate for the rights to acquire energy. Elections can swing on it. Regimes rise and fall with it. Wars are fought over it.

So I view heating my home with wood as doing energy for amateurs. I am neither engineer nor scientist, nor wildcat roughneck. I’m just some guy who wants to keep his family warm through the snowy frigid winter months. I want to do it myself, instead of paying someone to do it.

Heating with wood may be cheaper in cash, but it is certainly more expensive in terms of attention, much like playing the piano yourself requires much greater attention than listening to a concert on a CD in the car. Wood heat is mindful heat. It is warmth that requires attention.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Operator, Get me Jesus

Our church is doing something new next week. We are a pretty small group, somewhat scattered geographically. We want to have an impact for Jesus, and are realizing that it might be a very good thing if we went to him in prayer more. So we are going to attempt to eliminate excuses about travel time, gas money and so on by holding a prayer meeting by conference call.

Reminds me of this song...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fox Hunts

I first saw a fox do this on a PBS Nature program on Yellowstone. I couldn't get that video pasted in here, but this is a reasonable substitute for if you can't use the link above. No explanation needed as to why I love this piece of video.