Idle Time.

We’ve taken to spending a lot more time reading during this Winter season. I read this cool book titled Twelve By Twelve, about a guy who lives in a 12×12 off-grid cabin in North Carolina for a Summer. Our cabin is only slightly bigger than that, and we live in ours year-round, not just during the comfortable seasons. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty fascinating book by William Powers that I highly recommend. He talks a lot about Idle Time; time with which you do nothing. It’s a very Zen way of spending time. Just like meditation. He talks about people in other cultures around the world who plan their days around having hours of Idle Time, just to sit with Nature and be. It struck a chord with me.


R caught me outside getting some vitamin D and reading.


We live in the woods. And while we have a project list that’s never-ending and there’s always things for us to be doing and working on, I absolutely enjoy my Idle Time here at the ranch. Last Summer on days off from work, my favorite thing in the morning was sitting outside in the sunshine with a cup of coffee or tea and just watching the birds and squirrels wake up for the day. Watching the energies of the wildlife as the morning matures is both fascinating and energizing in itself. I have grown to really love my Idle Time.



I think animals are naturally Zen Idle Time Masters.

My Dad is a Taoist, and I grew up with that Zen way of thinking. You spend quiet moments simply observing Nature to prepare for your day. So during our nicer days towards the end of this current Winter season, I’ve been spending more time simply sitting outside, with Loki at my feet, reading or just being. As the days have been warming up and the snow has started to melt, we have a lot to do outside, and while we do spend a lot of time working on the ranch, we make time for Idleness too. We even had our first couple of outdoor bonfires last week.


First bonfire of the year!

I read an article recently about Forest Bathing, which is essentially being out in the woods, soaking up all the energy from Nature, and how beneficial it is for your health. People who regularly participate in Forest Bathing have less anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Trees are so good for your health; the ions they emit will heal what ails you. Since we live in the woods we reap the benefits of being in the forest every day. A couple of weeks ago we took a short vacation to Northern Arizona (Flagstaff/Sedona/Williams area), and stayed in a motel near downtown Flagstaff. Let me tell you, I could absolutely sense the difference between staying in a city and living in the woods. We stayed up later than we normally do, didn’t sleep as well, and felt a lot more drained.

I literally couldn’t sleep one night because the mini fridge in our room was making too much noise. That humming was too much for me. We unplugged it. While the getaway was nice, we were happy to get home to the woods!



The weather was looking up as far as Winter maybe winding down, then it started snowing yesterday, and it hasn’t stopped. We have almost a foot of fresh snow on the ground! I guess February wanted to go out with a bang. So our weekend projects have been put on hold for the day at least. It’s supposed to be back up warm and sunny tomorrow for the rest of the week. For today, we’ll just be cleaning up, cooking, reading, and I’m going to attempt to bake bread in the woodstove. More on that soon.


Loki is a pro at Idle Time. We call this Loki Pose.

What a miserable place to be snowed in.


This morning!

Staying Warm.

Family and friends text or call us all the time with, “hope you’re staying warm up there!” When we first moved here, staying warm was definitely a main priority, and we made our house a home with our awesome woodstove: Johnny.


Warmth and dinner; spaghetti squash!

Last Winter was a learning curve with fires and woodstove heat, plus we had to purchase our firewood and some of it wasn’t seasoned completely. We often had nights last year that sweated us out of the cabin! Because once he’s all fired up and hot, that stove gives off heat for hours and hours without even adding any more wood to it. Since we had little control over our firewood situation last year, as far as how dry it was, the length and size of the pieces, and what type of wood, we had a harder time keeping our heat consistent, though we still stayed nice and warm.


Snuggler in the sunshine.

This Winter has been much better. We cut, split, and seasoned all of our own firewood, so we had control over the size of the pieces and we know exactly how long and how well each batch has been able to dry. I used to work for the Forest Service, and fought wildfires for a couple of seasons, but I feel like I’ve learned more about fire just from having a woodstove than I did fighting fire. We have a good routine for building and maintaining our fires every night to keep us warm and comfortable: not cold and shivering OR sweating and miserable! Ok, every once in awhile we still sweat ourselves out…

How we keep ourselves warm:

  1. I have learned never to underestimate the importance of various sizes of good, dry, and plentiful kindling. From newspaper to cardboard to small split pieces of firewood. There’s no easier way to start a good fire than to have a succession of kindling of all sizes. You can’t put a big piece of wood on a crumpled piece of newspaper, just like you can’t just light a match under a piece of wood and expect it to go. Kindling is the shit. Especially when you’re just getting home from work and it’s cold in the house.
  2. Type of wood is very important. We have figured out a pattern of types of wood throughout the evening to heat the cabin quickly, then keep it warm through the night. We start our fires in the late afternoon with pine. Pine burns hot and fast. We’ll leave the damper on the stove completely open so that fire gets nice and hot right when we’re starting to warm up the house.
  3. Depending on how cold it is outside, we’ll burn pine or juniper while we’re still awake, adjusting the sizes of pieces to keep us warm but not sweating. We always have three windows cracked; two downstairs and one upstairs. Helps with oxygen flow. We also do all of our Winter cooking over the woodstove, so burning pine gets it hot quickly so we can make dinner and warm the house at the same time.
  4. Right before bed, we’ll add oak to the fire. Oak burns slow, and we are fortunate to have a ton of it around our property.  So we were able to harvest a ton of it last Spring. Buying cords of oak is very expensive ($250/cord), twice the amount that pine costs ($125/cord, and that’s early in the season, during Fall and Winter it’s more like $175/cord), so being able to cut and split our own is awesome. And we will go through approximately 2 cords this Winter.
  5. I have an alarm set on my phone for midnight every night, and if it feels chilly in the house, one of us *might* get up to add more oak to the fire. Those few pieces of oak pretty much keep the cabin cozy all night long. If we don’t have to go to work, we’ll get up around 5 or 6am to start the fire back up and put the kettle on, crawl back into bed for an hour or so, and by the time we get up we have hot water for tea or coffee and the cabin is warm and comfortable. It’s a good system.

And this is why we also cover our firewood with tarps.

So we find it kind of amusing when people almost sarcastically ask us, “so you freezing up there?” or “are you staying warm up there?”, like we live in an ice box or something. Or like we live so primitively that we couldn’t possibly be comfortable in the Winter. I have friends who keep their homes at 55 or 60 degrees because otherwise their heating bill is too expensive. I remember when R and I had $200/month heating bill during the Winter in Utah.  Now, we keep our cabin at a comfortable 70 or 75 (whatever we want, really), for free.


This particular firewood stack we probably won’t even touch this Winter. Also, note Loki chillin’ in the sun with his classy splint.

And let’s be honest, you just can’t beat the atmosphere of sitting in front of a woodstove fire with a glass of wine or whiskey, while dinner cooks over the fire, and zero manmade sounds outside. Just the woods. So yes, we are staying quite warm, thank you 🙂


I sneakily caught R in the background working on snow removal.