It might be an understatement to say I’m not like other people. Just the other day, a relative remarked to me during a Facebook chat that I “really do have a lot of interesting idiosyncrasies.”
So it will come as no surprise to anyone when I tell you there are two things that have changed my life this past year, that they are not the kind of things that would be life-changers for most people.
The truth is, as a prepsteader, my life really isn’t like most people’s. In a world of store-bought food and high-tech communication and modern conveniences, my simple combination of homesteading and preparedness looks like life in the slow lane.
But don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that I don’t like my creature comforts. And in fact, that’s where my two life-changers land—smack in the middle of staying cozy.
The first thing is a little gadget called a “kindling cracker.” I saw a video of it online last year and decided I could not get through another winter without one. Not even after I saw the price.
The kindling cracker is basically an upside-down axe, mounted on a round cast metal frame. It reverses the act of chopping kindling: instead of holding an axe in one hand and a chunk of wood in the other and hoping for the best, you set the wood on the stationary blade, let the frame hold it, and use a rubber mallet to safely pound it into the axe.
What used to happen at my house is that kindling had to be chopped with an axe, and I wasn’t very good at it. Taking aim is not my forte, and using an axe to take aim anywhere near my fingers felt like an accident waiting to happen.
I would nag at The Mister to chop me up some kindling in advance, and he would. But the thing is, I don’t build many fires myself. So by the time I would get around to needing the kindling he had chopped for me, it was usually the case that he had used it up himself in the interim. He meant well, but I guess that’s how it goes in the world of husbands and wood stoves.
I don’t leave the house all that often, especially in winter. But coming home to a cold house and having no kindling is a bummer. Sure, there’s the oil furnace. But we’re prepsteaders, remember? And there’s the idea of banking up the stove before I leave, but I’m not any better at that than I am at chopping kindling. And anxiety about losing fingers and burning the house down being a couple of my many interesting idiosyncrasies, the whole scene always made me anxious.
Now, I can chop my own kindling. It is so easy that I usually keep it chopped up well in advance, and neither of us have touched the axe all winter. Chopping kindling is more of a stress reliever than a chore now, and building my own fire is a snap. I go places. I come back. It’s all good.
The second thing that changed my life is also related to burning wood. Sort of. The second thing is a laptop computer.
You might be wondering what a laptop has to do with burning wood, and you might be thinking that my idiosyncrasies are about to get really interesting. It’s really more mundane than it sounds, though.
I’ve spent my past winters seated in front of the desktop computer in my study. It’s a lovely room, all refurbished in orange paint with black-and-white damask accents, but sitting still all day makes a body cold. As in, I want-it-75-degrees-while-I’m-wearing-a-sweater cold. Using a combination of a wood stove in another room, oil-fired central heating, and a tiny electric space heater on extra frigid days worked, but let me tell you what works even better: using a nice little laptop set up on the kitchen table two feet from the woodstove.
But wait—a laptop as a life changer? It has been decades since the very idea of laptop ownership changed anyone’s life. But I’ve spent the past few decades stuck in the twentieth century, engaged in homesteading and prepping activities that were more like something from the nineteenth century.
A kindling cracker and a laptop, it turns out, were just the things I needed to enhance my quality of life. With them, I can build my own fire and sit next to it.
And for prepsteading writers in Maine, what could be better than that?