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.