The Curmudgeon Gets The Gift of the Magi: Part 1

Before I tell what did not happen (but almost happened) I need to tell you how I got there. In the last few posts I vaguely referred to a multi-week cascading tsunami of overbooked schedules and exhaustion. A miserable slog of shit sandwiches and overwork started going off the rails as the snow started flying. At first, I followed the good practice of starting a fire in the woodstove each evening after work. Unfortunately, events got ahead of me. Several days in a row all I could do was come home and collapse. I was too busy and something had to give. Rather than babysit the woodstove I used what time I had to snatch bits of sleep between days of tilting at windmills.

I’ve always got a backup. In addition to God’s most blessed heat-source (firewood), I maintain a furnace as plan B. (I have other plans too… though they are decreasingly efficient. Somewhere around plan J is when I burn the kitchen table in the bathtub.) Preparedness is not merely fun time adventures like the Russkies dropping the bomb or zombies on the lawn; it’s something to lean on when life is bleeding you dry. I chose to let the furnace do the talking and let tomorrow solve itself. Mind you, the furnace keeps the pipes thawed and such but it’s not really “cozy”; it’s more like “wear a sweater and tough it out cupcake”.

You’d think that, in the midst of a personal emergency, letting off my desired firewood track and leaning on the furnace fuel crutch was a wise decision. However, in the middle of that week there was a brutal windstorm. It blew the cap right off the chimney! I found it lying in the lawn. This isn’t a big deal. A woodstove’s chimney works just fine without a cap.


A woodstove’s chimney does not need a cap provided you continuously use the woodstove or the weather is fairly tame. (By definition, winds that rip parts of your house away are not tame.)

In the midst of all this I had a deadline. Not one of these wishy-washy bullshit snowflake “soft deadlines” that are common these days but a real “must get it done on the exact specified time” deadlines. Just to make things more interesting it was for a test. Just to make things even more interesting I didn’t take a class for this material. Classes take days and weeks (and more!). Who has time for that? Being the overconfident Curmudgeon I am, I would simply “self-study”. What could go wrong? Each day I thought “I’ve gotta’ learn that shit” and it was top priority. Each day had a new and improved miniature personal emergency always took precedence. On the very last day before the “no excuses” moment I determined to save my ass by studying hard. I didn’t have printed materials or books but the Internet would provide. Experimenting with technology I hadn’t yet used, I jammed an HDMI cable into my laptop, shoved it into my TV, brought up a bunch of online lectures, put on a huge pot of coffee (Death Wish!), and the table was set for me overload my sleep deprived brain. I’d retrieve my ass from the thin ice upon which I was skating. The room was chilly. It was far too cold to concentrate and I was going to be there all day. In fact, the night before there’d been rain, followed by sleet, followed by a freeze. I’d just toss some kindling in the woodstove and have a nice cozy study session/marathon.

When a woodstove’s chimney does not have a cap, and when you don’t use it every day, and when it’s windy and snowy, an annoying phenomenon can take place. (It’s not a sure thing, it’s just a possibility.) Snow can get in the chimney. It can collect, get warm and squishy during warm conditions, get more packed as it freezes each night, lather, rinse, repeat. When I lit that kindling, the house immediately flooded with thick smoke. The chimney was iced up big time. I was forced to extinguish the flames, open the windows, and vent. Also swear. I swore a lot. Nature had formed a tiny personal glacier in the crack of my psyche’s ass… and I didn’t like it one bit!

I made sure everyone in the house, including the dog, knew I was cold, miserable, smelly and damn well fucking needed heat and I wasn’t getting it. It was not my most gracious moment. The reason I’m mentioning it is that I know the kids were there too.

It wasn’t too bad outside. Probably 30 degrees. I could have fixed everything. I could have retrieved my ladder, climbed to the very peak of my roof, and reamed that fucking chimney until it shined. Did I mention we’d had an ice storm the night before? Everything, including the roof, was sheathed in ½” of glassy ice. It was beautiful. It was treacherous.

It took an hour to mentally regroup. The house was chilly and smelled like a BBQ but it was slowly warming up due to our weak but essential furnace. I weighed my options, I could scale the roof. If I fell then what? A trip to the emergency room would eat up what was left of my dwindling study time. (Plus, there’s the whole death and injury thing, but I was more worried about missing my deadline.) I couldn’t risk it.

I setup my laptop in my workshop and practically straddled a portable propane heater for the whole day; inhaling propane fumes while taking notes about boring on-line lectures. I soldiered on well into the night with practice tests. That night I turned my side of the electric blanket to “bake” and slept soundly. I was ready.

The next day I set out into bad driving; more sleet. My ridiculously overpowered 4×4 with expensive maintenance costs and overpriced tires is not always superfluous. Unlike the SUVs in the Starbuck’s drive through, sometimes I actually use all that capacity. This was the time. It was a long trip and the road sucked but I got to my destination like a boss. I walk into that testing facility like I was ready to kill lions with my bare intellect. I was not inadequately prepared. Yay me!

I’m glad I’d studied my ass off because the test was hard. Or at least much harder than it ought to be. Regardless, I passed and actually did overly well. (I could have wisely studied less since “barely passed” is as good as “nailed it”. However, I don’t think like that and had gone all out.)

I stepped out of the facility into a driving rain. Rain? This late in the season? There’s a word for rain, it’s called “gonna’ be ice”. All the way home, and it took hours, I was ever so grateful for that magic dial on my dash that says “4×4”. Luckily the rain progressed quickly though the ice and sleet phases and settled into the safer snowing like hell situation; though the periodic white outs were somewhat alarming. Good tires and the patience of a saint got me home in one piece.

Of course, I had a backup plan. I always do. I’d brought my arctic sleeping bag with me… and a tarp. I’m too tall to sleep in the truck but I could sleep through a sleet storm sacked out in the cargo bed of a Dodge. I’ve done it before and if I have to I’ll do it again. Also, I feared I would be too tired to drive home. Surprising even myself, I found yet another “second wind” and simple drove. (Sometimes I lust for a well-insulated slide in camper. I’m too cheap to buy one yet but my time may come. I certainly would’ve preferred a nap in a camper or at least the option should I need it. I’m probably getting a bit long in the tooth for arctic bags under tarps.) Mrs. Curmudgeon was delighted I didn’t die and of course complained that if I had half a brain I’d have stayed at a hotel somewhere. (Which is true.) But that day I just wanted to come home; it’s a guy thing.

This story was about Christmas right? How am I going to get back on track? Stay tuned.

About AdaptiveCurmudgeon

Adaptive Curmudgeon is handsome, brave, and wise.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Curmudgeon Gets The Gift of the Magi: Part 1

    • AdaptiveCurmudgeon says:

      Oh man! Don’t tempt me!

      I’m always daydreaming of DIY campers; truck slide in builds, homemade camper trailer builds, cargo trailer interior improvements, and even teardrops. I want to build them all! I quite like the teardrop kit from Chesapeake Light Craft… but it would look ridiculous behind my truck. (Imagine a battlecruiser towing a marshmallow.) More reasonable for my needs would be a homemade canned ham trailer.

      Alas, a man who doesn’t have 20 minutes to start a fire in his woodstove is doomed from the start. Maybe someday but not right now.

      The other alternative is to blow money in lieu of non-existent time. One of those bad ass ice fishing shacks folks drive onto the ice would be excellent. Any RV-ish trailer that is designed from the ground up to function on a frozen lake is perfect for me. So much better than the usual trailers that are seldom used in winter! But the think of the payments… must resist the temptation!

  1. Zendo Deb says:

    If you go the pre-built trailer route do your homework. Most of the companies sell an “Alaska package” or something where the underside of the trailer – including the tanks – are INSIDE the insulation, and so not so subject to freezing. Some even sell a reinforced/off road underside.

    Alas, most are available only west of the Mississippi for some reason.

    Then there are the purpose-built off-road trailers. I like these guys mostly because I drive by them about once a month… Well, except for the cost (which is why DIY is so appealing)

    If you have a goose-neck hitch, they have a nice option with hard interior and room for an ATV

    • AdaptiveCurmudgeon says:

      Good point. I have a love/hate relationship with travel trailers. They’re all compromises between mutually exclusive objectives and none are cheaper than not owning one. 🙂 On the one side I love them. (I’ve traveled a lot and have used them from time to time.) I can think of a million fun times to be had (and some utilitarian uses too) bug out / mobile hotel room / fishing FOB / excuse to catch a good night’s sleep instead of driving through a blizzard, better than using the restroom in a Texaco on the interstate, etc… Plus they’re an all around cool concept. On the other hand I’ve seen a lot of maintenance hassles and payments and depreciation. Most are built shoddily and they seem to vanish en masse when it gets cold (except ice shacks which are an odd and vaguely counter intuitive idea). In all ways they’re a double edged sword.

      My guess is that many “Alaskan Packages” make a trailer modestly less than totally useless down to like 20 degrees. Or to put it another way, much nicer than a tent and a total disaster compared to a cheap hotel room. Where I live, legends abound about frozen blackwater tanks and frosted interiors. This is probably why I’m fascinated with the strange hybrid beast called an ice shack; they aren’t very luxurious but are the closest thing to a fortress against the cold on wheels. Ironically when it’s really cold I suspect a teardrop is an easier trailer to maintain and sleep in than a 30′ with slide outs that cost 10X as much to buy. But what do I know? I’ve owned a few related things but nothing particularly modern.

      I like the stuff from nuthouse but would need to win the lottery (or become rich from writing about squirrels… which ‘aint a likely outcome). I’m a bit concerned that one I liked was called “Mixed Nuts Jr”. Does this indicate something about my personality?

      I have a goose neck hitch. This is different from a fifth wheel hitch. When I’ve towed cattle trailers with the gooseneck it’s an otherworldly improvement over even the slickest bumper tows. Like night and day. If you ever get to use a gooseneck you’ll be impressed.

      Ah… so many options in life and yet such limited resources. Since it’s -25 right now I think I’ll daydream all day about towing a Mixed Nut Jr. to somewhere warm. Someday I’ll make the leap to owning (or building) something, but today is a time to sit by the fire and do nothing. I love me a warm fireplace.

      Happy new year.

Leave a Reply