Playing with fire

I used to be very afraid of fire.

It’s a reasonable thing, I think – being afraid of fire.  I mean, think about how much a sunburn can hurt, and consider that the ball of fire that caused that burn is about a trillion-and-a-half football fields away. It stands to reason, then, that a fire that is substantially closer would cause substantially more harm.

To this day, I refuse to run my hand over top of a candle or fully extinguish a wick by licking my fingers and pinching it.  I am physically incapable of using lighter. And I have never in my life built a camp fire or started a barbecue, for fear that I will somehow cause an explosion. In fact, I have never filled up a gas can for the same reason.

But then we bought a house with a wood furnace.  As in, if we want to be warm, we must willingly build a fire inside our house and make it as big and as hot as possible and then harness its intense, flesh-burning heat.

That sounds terrible.

Well, maybe a little bit awesome.  But mostly terrible.

For the longest time, the task was solely on my husband’s shoulders.  He builds fires and barbecues meat and fills up gas cans without worrying too much about exploding, so it seemed like a natural fit.  If it got cold and we wanted it to be not cold, he went downstairs, built a huge fire, and my only involvement was to tell him, “Good job.” I liked it that way.

Sometimes, he left the house, at which point, if I still wanted to be warm, I went down, opened the door to the furnace, and tossed in a couple logs on the still-burning fire from a distance.  There was no way my hands were going inside that thing.

It happened a few times that the fire went out before I could refuel it.  No problem, that’s what our electric back-up is for! I flicked a switch and then we could still be warm and everything was good.

Except that’s not what our electric back-up is for.

It’s not to be used all willy-nilly.

I had to learn how to build a fire.

With Mr. B’s encouragement, I went down to the basement one day determined to build a fire.  He gave me basic instructions about the size and type of wood to use and the ratio of wood to paper and how to arrange it all.  It took a lot of time and patience and tears, and eventually, I gave up.  The next time I decided to try, I was resolved that I would definitely be successful this time. But I still wasn’t.

I don’t know how long it took, but I finally got a fire to keep burning.

Disclaimer: My husband built this fire.  But I promise mine are just as impressive.

Disclaimer: My husband built this fire. But I promise mine are just as impressive.

And then I failed another few times, and had another success, and so on, until slowly, my success rate began eclipsing my failure rate.  Now, I’m at the point where I don’t even have to think about it, really.  Stack a few tamarack here, grab some birch bark, toss on a few bigger logs, and I’m on my way.  I can’t actually remember the last time I had a fire that didn’t take.

And now, an interjection; when I told my husband I was writing about starting a fire, he asked me if it was a metaphor for something.  And if it was, this is the point where I would write about the life lesson that I learned alongside learning to build a fire – having a fire in my belly or having my doubts go up in flames or something.

But this isn’t a metaphor.  This is just talking about building a fire.

Because I still stand way back from the furnace whenever possible.  I still won’t wave my hand over top of a candle or fully extinguish a wick by licking my fingers and pinching it.  I still cannot use a lighter – yes, I understand how it’s done, I just can’t do it. And if I can avoid it, I will probably never build a camp fire or start a barbecue or fill up a gas can.

It’s still scary, just not quite as scary. But I don’t really want to try – I have no effort left in me.  You might go so far as to say that I am burned out.

Too cold for words

My mother is right about a lot of things – too many things, really.  I think it has gone to her head.  But she does have one wrong quirk that she refuses to give up; she insists that temperature is a flavour.

“Oh, that’s good tea.  It’s so hot!”
“I don’t like their soup.  It’s never hot enough.”
“Yuck, these mushrooms taste cold.”

These are all actual sentences that my mother has said.  If it can’t scald her mouth, she doesn’t want to eat it.

I couldn’t help but think of her and her idiosyncrasy when temperatures here got particularly low recently.  The weather forecast didn’t describe what was going on in the sky like it normally would – mostly sunny, partly cloud, or snow flurries, for example.

Instead, it used one simple, ominous word: frigid.

The good news, Mum, is that when things get cold enough, they can also do damage to your body parts. I’m sure first degree frost bite to the mouth doesn’t feel too different from a first degree burn. You’ll still come visit, right?

Smart phones, dumb service

Because I’m a Responsible Adult (TM), I’ve been working on a household budget.  Because I’m still really just a Clueless Kid (also TM), I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’ve been trying to use online resources as a guide.

A lot of these resources assume that the reader would like to save money (I do!) and offer a variety of solutions to accomplish that goal; get rid of cable (done), make most of your meals at home (done), drink tap water instead of anything else ever (done), and shop at second-hand stores (way ahead of you, list).

Some of the suggestions are hard to accomplish – shop around for deals on groceries? Probably not the most practical, when there’s only one grocery store in town.  Driving 50 km to save $1 on cheese is probably not going really save me anything.

But the suggestion I have the biggest struggle with is “Get rid of your land line!”  And no, it’s not just because we have a corduory-wrapped rotary dial phone that I’m in love with.

The issue, friends, is that although we live directly on the TransCanada highway and are a mere six kilometres outside of town, our cell phone reception isn’t that great.  It can be hours between trying to send a text message and when those words actually leave my device and enter the magical world of going to someone else’s phone.  Sometimes, my phone all of a sudden tells me I have a voice mail, even if I’ve been sitting next to it all day desperately hoping that someone will call me.  So even when they do call, my answering system kicks in, assuming my phone is off, and all they hear is that I’m “not available, so please leave a message.”  But I AM available.  I am SUPER available!

So my husband and I spend money that professional budget people think is a waste because I like the romantic idea that phone calls are still in fashion and that sometimes people might make them to me and want to talk.

Why not get rid of our cell phones instead?

Well, Mr. B needs his for work. And I need mine for updating my blog in the wee hours of the morning while also feeding or otherwise caring for our child. And for taking photos of said child when I can’t find/am too lazy to go get our camera.  And for playing solitaire while pooping.

I just need it, okay?

Please feed the bears

Babies aren’t the only things that take nine months to develop, it turns out.  Earlier this week – almost exactly nine months after my first visit to the polar bear habitat (and my first time putting in a volunteer application) – I finally got in as an actual volunteer.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I did go once last month to help decorate one of the buildings for their Christmas celebrations, but I don’t think putting tinsel on a tree counts as doing anything for the bears.)

Over the past several months, I have actually become friends with one of the keepers on a non-polar bear basis, and he invited me to go into the bear holding building (not open to ‘regular’ visitors) and help prepare enrichments for the bears for the next day.

“What’s an enrichment?” you ask.

Reader, you are so good at prompting me to write in exactly the direction I’d like.

Of course, the polar bears have pretty strict diets based on science and research and all things good.  They get all kinds of nutritious stuff to eat like fish and seal and moose and beaver and watermelons and pumpkins and whatever is best for them based on the time of year.

But, like all captive animals, they get bored and stressed.

So, every morning, before they let the bears out of their overnight holding cells, the keepers go into the enclosures and put out a bunch of enrichments – containers holding special treats – for the bears to find.

My keeper-friend led me into the kitchen area, where there are separate drawers for bear utensils and people utensils, and showed me the cupboard full of snacks for the bears.  And although the fridge looked like a regular person work fridge – it was stocked with things like mustard and barbecue sauce – it turns out almost everything in there, save for a jar of homemade soup, was also for the bears.  My task was to concoct some sort of 1,000 calorie mish-mash of treats and stuff it inside cardboard containers – tubes, boxes, whatever – to be split between the two bears and put out the following day.

And while I pride myself on making delicious meals and treats for human consumption, I cannot say that I would have liked to try what I made for my deal polar bear friends: broken up mouldy bread mixed with Sugar Crisp cereal and ketchup chips, all smothered in good old Aunt Jemima.