Winter heating costs in historical perspective

In earlier times, so I’ve heard, a normal house on Cape Cod used forty cords of hard pine firewood a year. That was back before chain saws or splitting machines, so felling the trees and cutting them to fit a fireplace or stove was largely handwork, even before getting around to stacking. My muscles and back ache just thinking about it.

Mind you, a typical Cape was not a large dwelling – two over two, as they say – or two rooms downstairs and two under the rafters above.

Like many New Englanders, we heat part of our house with wood. It also functions as backup for energy outages, just in case. Since we live in a small city not far from forests, obtaining firewood is rarely a problem. I have no idea what it’s like in a city like Boston or Providence, but the going rate here, delivered, is $300 a cord.

Imagine needing forty cords to get through a year – that would cost $12,000 a year … for a small house! And we think $2,500 a year for natural gas is excessive? I’ll have to ask around to see what folks using fuel oil or propane are shelling out, but it’s still bound to be cheaper than the Colonial alternative.

Two cords of new firewood sit stacked inside a seasoned shell in early September/ Stacking it was a lot of work, but not nearly as much as earlier generations put in on their yearly supply.
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KEEPING THE COMPANY IN CHECK

Across New England, the spire on city hall typically had prominent clock. Its purpose, I’m told, wasn’t just civic pride.

No, it was to keep the mill owners in check, just in case they were tinkering with their own clocks to squeeze unpaid time out of their workers.

It’s comforting to know the town fathers could stand up to corporate powers. Most of the owners, by the way, lived far from these sources of their wealth. Many of them were Boston Brahmins clustered around Harvard.

In honor of the workers and those who stand up for them, Happy Labor Day.

ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS

At one point in earlier versions of my new novel, What’s Left, I envisioned her family using their financial resources to drive an alternative local economy. The concept survives in the final version of the book, although this passage was boiled way down and many of the details changed:

Dimitri admits our enterprises will operate at the fringes of the economy.

He anticipates other extensions. We’ll encourage other friends to open a bakery. A guitar maker will join in a folk music shop. Rural skills like chair-caning and quilting will find a market here. Not everything we encourage will be quaint, as we’ll discover. Technology might include not just Baba’s darkroom and cameras but recording studios, computer designers, and solar entrepreneurs as well.

~*~

Or, as I noted in another now-deleted passage:

With patience, we’ll assure our dilapidated neighborhood just off campus undergoes rebirth.

~*~

Money issues – especially of an emotional, theological, and personal nature – are a topic I believe worthy of deep discussion. Just look to my Talking Money series archived at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog for inspiration. Admittedly, they’re too big for this novel, though now I’m beginning to wonder about another, maybe as a series of telephone conversations? Please, somebody talk some sense into me!

(Oh, my, now I’m recalling that “financially secure” line in the old personals ads and still wondering exactly what the women meant by that – a guy who has a regular job with benefits or a seven-figure portfolio instead?)

Thinking of operating at the fringes of the larger economy, though, good things can happen. Where do you imagine an infusion of “greenback energy” might empower you or your friends to better the world as we know it?

~*~

The town of Fira on Santorini photographed from the roof of the Archipelagos Restaurant. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

POOLING THEIR FAMILY RESOURCES

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family’s nest egg was built by living on one income – in a single household – while everyone worked at the restaurant. The surplus went into savings and investments. Once the kids come along, their earnings also go in the pooled income, to be drawn out for college or marriage. Over time, as the family grows, the house has parents, grandparents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins. What a circus!

As for pocket money? Take it from the till? Some places, yes. And some places, no.

They’re about to start over, in a way, when Cassia’s father-to-be shows up.

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JUST IMAGINE WHAT YOU’D DO

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

Imagine that your father or mother had started a successful business and you’re in line to inherit it.

What would you want it to be? What would you enjoy doing?

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family business is built around a restaurant and related rental properties nearby.

But there are all kinds of other options. What do you suggest?

FAMILY VALUES

Mrs. Richardson had been yelling at the kid the fifth-grade girl who came around to our door begging money to pay the babysitter Mrs. Richardson yelled at the grandchild for three days, and spanked her then they were crying, in different parts of the building all the while, their phonograph repeated “the angels sing, glory […]