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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   overlapping woodstove mistakes
Wednesday, January 6 2016
At some point in the night the household smoke detector network started going batshit. In recent years, this has only happened during cooking disasters, attempts at indoor soldering, and spontaneously (perhaps because of dust or spider activity; the sensors are optical, not ionizing). This time, though, there really was an ongoing fire-related emergency. There was the strong scent of wood smoke and a visible haze in the air as I ran down to the living room expecting the worst. In that same instant, Gretchen had already resigned herself to our house burning down. Fortunately, the problem appeared to be entirely one of smoke. At first I thought maybe Gretchen had left the woodstove door open, but no, the problem was a piece of wood on top of the stove. It was on the part that gets hot, and in this case, a raging fire developed from dry wood and a somewhat-open air supply had made that part hot enough to cause the wood to smoulder. I choked the air back and threw the smouldering piece of wood into the firebox and the crisis was over. Seconds later, the smoke detector network quit complaining, though the upper two floors of the house remained so smoky that I would end up sleeping in the basement.
How had this happened? Since I am the house's woodstove expert, I'm the one most familiar with its operation. Gretchen normally only interacts with it when she has trash to burn or when she's cold and I'm otherwise occupied. In this case, she'd awaken in the middle of the night and felt cold, so she'd loaded a bunch of wood into the stove and opened up the air supply an amount she called "only a little" and then gone back to bed. I generally close down the stove's air supply completely when I'm leaving the house or going to sleep, so that was one mistake. But it wouldn't have been a bad one had there not been another mistake: putting a piece of wood on the hot part of the stove top. Gretchen said she couldn't fit it in, so she had given up and put it up there. In all fairness to Gretchen, this is a bad behavior I routinely model for her. When I gather damp wood in the forest, I often place it on top of the stove in hopes of drying it out, and I even put it on the hot part. Sometimes when I do this, the stove gets hot enough to cause the wood to smoulder, and then I remove it. But I never leave wood unattended on top of the stove, and whenever I smell a smoky smell, I immediately investigate it. I'm always careful never to model the placing of wood on the stove when introducing it to house sitters, and this rule is explicitly mentioned in the detailed woodstove operation guide I've written, right there with the rule about always closing down the air supply when leaving the stove unattended. But Gretchen hasn't read that guide and she gets her sense of how to run the stove from watching what I do with it. She didn't grow up with a woodstove and didn't have it drummed into her that it is an inherently dangerous device. It's been hard for her to internalize key safety habits until she's experienced crises. I'm sure this is one such crisis. The only other crisis to compare to this one came when I was down in Virginia and Gretchen ignored my advice that she not remove ashes from the stove. She placed those ashes in a plastic bucket (mistake #1), which she then placed beside the stove next to a pile of paper to be used as kindling (mistake #2). Hot coals burned their way through the side of that bucket, fell out on the floor, and ultimately scorched a floorboard, though luckily they never made it to that paper. That would be another example of how two overlapping woodstove mistakes can easily lead to tragedy.

Clarence the Cat has had something wrong with his face for months now. At first this manifested as a subtle lack of symmetry. Later, I noticed a large bump on the right side of his nose. Just before we left for the Galapagos, his right eye began running in a way that left a large discolored track down the side of his nose. Then, while we were in the Galapagos, Tamsyn noticed that Clarence's eye was getting worse, and she even took a couple pictures of it. By the time we returned, his right eye looked so terrible that we decided to schedule an appointment with the Hurley vet. That appointment was for late this afternoon.
This was the first time Clarence had been in a cat carrier or a car since he arrived from the shelter as a kitten more than twelve years ago. We let him out in the car for the drive there, and he didn't seem to like the experience of being in a moving vehicle. He explored the interior of the car and at one point gave a deep, uncomfortable meow, the kind that cats sometimes give before vommitting up a huge bolus of grass-cum-kibble.
Though he has never been overweight, Clarence has weighed as much as 17 pounds in the past. Today he weighed in at 14 pounds, which, according to the vet, is a lot for a 12 year old cat. The vet de-gunked Clarence's eye and used a mysterious (and, as we would learn when we paid the bill, expensive) chemical to see if he had any corneal damage. But no, the infection seemed to be restricted to the area around the eye. We were prescibed an antibacterial ointment to be rubbed into the edges of the eyelids and a wide-spectrum antibiotic (Clavamox) to fight whatever infection might have been causing the bump on the side of Clarence's nose. Though not all that much happened, somehow this visit cost us nearly $150.

This evening I made a pan of bean glurp so I could fix myself some burritos for dinner. As for Gretchen, she subsisted on leftover noodlebake. Later, Sarah the Vegan came over. She was still having trouble trying to play television programs from that microSD card I'd given her for her birthday, so I found another USB adapter, one without the wildly out-of-spec dimensions of the cheap Chinese one I'd given her (she hadn't been able to physically fit into her MacBook's USB port).

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