Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A New England Winter on a Small Income

November snow at Mrs. White's Vermont Home - A view from the front porch.

We've had our first heavy snowfall of the season this morning here in rural Vermont.   It is a good day to stay home.  I was thinking about Pa and Ma Ingalls and how the family would stay at the homestead and not venture to town on a day like today.    In the writings of Laura Ingalls she would talk about the men using a horse-drawn cutter which, I imagine, is a sled with a sharp base to travel in the snow without difficulty.  We would certainly appreciate such transportation here in Vermont!

In the older books of Grace Livingston Hill (such as In the Way, copyright 1897) the characters are dressed very warm, and are tucked into sleds with thick robes, or wool blankets, for traveling to church and such.  (This is an excellent book, by the way, and one of my favorites!)

There is often talk, even in the writings of Charles Dickens in Dombey and Son, about how one would sit by the warmth of the fire to read or visit.  Getting close to the fireplace is how the chill from outdoors was soothed.

In modern homes and businesses there is central heating which makes the entire building kept at a set temperature to ensure warmth and comfort.  But in old houses, such as our 1850's colonial, there is no such thing.  Our struggle, and our challenge, each year is to find ways to keep warm indoors on a small income.

There are many rooms in this humble, old house, over three stories.  We also have different sources of heat. Part of our second floor is the least expensive with a wood pellet stove.  In some of these rooms there is electric heat, which is unbearably expensive, but necessary at times.

 In other rooms, mostly on the main 1st floor, we have kerosene (which used to be oil) heat.  This will keep us very cozy and happy but it is very expensive at over $3.00 a gallon.  If our tank is 200 gallons, and the weather outside is 40 below zero (common on some February days), we will go through a great deal of kerosene (perhaps an entire tank full) in about 3 weeks if we want to be at a comfortable temperature.  But this is not something we can afford to do.  So by comparison of the way people lived in our readings of old literature, we learn many things of how to stay reasonably warm, in cold New England, at a reasonable cost.


 Looking out the Window at the snow- covered landscape from Mrs. White's Home


Here are some ideas of what we have learned, living in this chilly, drafty old house for 15 years:


1. Winter clothes are very important. We cannot walk around the house in summer attire.  We need thermals, house coats (robes), and cozy slippers. 

2.  Papa keeps the thermostat (for kerosene) at 60 degrees in the evenings.  During the day he sets it at 63.  I get up early and open all the curtains to get as much natural heat from the sun as possible.

3. We are very hesitant as to when we will first turn on the kerosene heat for the winter.  We are also very cautious about how long we can put off that first delivery.  This year it happened in October because the cold weather had settled in right in the middle of autumn.  The reason we must be so careful about this is because we only have so much money available for heat to get through an entire winter season.

4. If we are very cold, Papa will start a fire in our old wood stove in the downstairs kitchen. We have a small table and chairs set up nearby so we can sit and get warm while sipping on hot chocolate. This is also our only source of heat if the electricity goes out.  It is so cozy and a blessing to sit by the warmth of a fire!

5.  Every doorway, including the one connecting a living room to a kitchen on the first floor, must have an insulated curtain. (I have read that in England, curtains are lined with Flannel to keep houses warm.)  We keep these curtains closed so that each room is kept warm.  Each room must be closed off from the rest in order to keep the rooms reasonably warm.

6. Have you ever read of Children in one-room schoolhouses in winter-time?  They all pulled their desks close by the wood stove and did their lessons near the source of heat.  I don't think anyone would have thought they could keep an entire building warm.  One would have to get near the fireplace, or wood stove, to stay warm.

You also read of families, at home, going upstairs at bedtime to a cold room and snuggling under piles of homemade quilts for warmth.  In the morning, Mother or Dad would start a fire in the kitchen stove to start breakfast for the family. This was also a way to warm up the house before they woke up the children in order for them to get dressed by the fire.

I am grateful for modern heating, but it is not something you find in humble old houses, even today.  In our case, we cannot afford to keep our house at 70 degrees. That would be a luxury beyond our means.  Our winters last for about 6 months.  One would need an entire separate income to keep this old house that cozy. So we learn from history to go near the fireplace or the wood- stove to take off the chill as we rest for a little while.  Then we get back to our home-keeping work which also helps keep us warm.

7.  When you are sitting too long, and you first get up from under blankets or afghans you will be much colder than normal.  Once you start doing some chores, sweeping, putting away laundry, you will warm up.  There is no need to turn up the heat unless you cannot get warm from being active.

8.  Whenever I have to travel (to the store or on errands) with Papa driving our car, I bring a warm blanket for my lap so I am extra tucked in and cozy.   I have also enjoyed the experience of being in a horse- drawn wagon and we were all tucked in with thick wool blankets to keep us nice and warm on a lovely December day here in Vermont.

9. Keep a supply of beautiful blankets and afghans in all the rooms.  We have these on rocking chairs, on the sides of couches, and in chairs by the beds.  This provides extra warmth as we sit for our breaks, visit with guests, or when we go to sleep.

10. When we are expecting company, or grandchildren are visiting, I always tell them to dress very warm. "Wear sweaters," I tell them. I also say to put a cozy blanket- sleeper on the babies. In this way, they will be warm as they play and visit in our drafty, old house.

Gentle Falling snow on our Front Grounds here at Mrs. White's Estate

I also love to just stay home as much as possible in cold New England.  I will do a great deal of reading, sewing, crocheting, and baking.  This is time for the indoor home arts.  Pretty candles also add an idea of warmth and a sense of cozy ambiance.   The warmest room in the house is where you will often find us.  This is our front parlour by the wood pellet stove.

The front parlour at Mrs. White's home

Each year we try to find new ways to keep warm on a small income.  Someday, we hope to add another wood pellet stove to the 1st floor. It will be far less expensive than the kerosene.  Perhaps this will happen soon.

How do you keep warm in winter? We would love to hear your ideas and experience of keeping a warm home with little money.

Blessings
Mrs. White


From the Archives -

Are You a Member? - Mother's Benevolent Society.

Old Time Colonial Advice - To Earn and Not to Spend.

Difficult Days - Forgotten Kindness in Marriage.









Mrs. White's special book for homemakers:"Introduction to Home Economics:  Gentle Instruction to Find Joy in Christian Homemaking." Paperback, 200 pages. 







An Invitation - Subscribe to The Legacy of Home and have it delivered directly to your email. 





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23 comments:

becky said...

HI-
My husband and I live in a log cabin here in eastern Kansas-We have had 2 snows so far and very cold temps. Very unusual in our area this time of year.
We only have for heat a fireplace insert with a blower to spread the warmth thru the cabin. We had a furnace a few years ago but it broke and we cannot afford a new one. This has worked well and my husband gets plenty of exercise chopping wood and using the log splitter. The kids and grandkids know to dress warm when coming over!!

ANA CUNEO said...

ME ENCANTA SU PUBLICACION SEÑORA WHITE, SOMOS MUY PARECIDAS, AMO EL INVIERNO Y NUESTRO HOGAR LO MANTENEMOS CALIENTE DURANTE EL INVIERNO CON NUESTRA ESTUFA A LEÑA QUE ESTA UBICADA EN EL COMEDOR, ELLA NOS MANTIENE CALENTITOS DURANTE EL FRIO DE BUENOS AIRES AQUI EN ARGENTINA, NO ES DEMASIADO FRIO Y NO NIEVA, SI HACE MUCHO MAS FRIO EN EL SUR DE NUESTRO PAIS CON GRANDES NEVADAS.ME GUSTAN LAS MANTAS TEJIDAS QUE YO HAGO AL CROCHET O ESTILO PATCHWORK UNIENDO RETAZOS DE TELAS SOBRANTES, TENGO VARIAS MANTAS QUE TAMBIEN LAS USAMOS CUANDO NOS QUEDAMOS EN EL COMEDOR MI ESPOSO Y YO, DESPUES DE QUE LOS CHICOS SE HAN IDO A DORMIR, NOS TOMAMOS UN TIEMPO PARA ESTAR SOLOS Y CHARLAS DE NUESTRAS COSAS. EL INVIERNO ES MI ESTACION FAVORITO, ME ENCANTA TEJER, COSER Y BORDAR AL LADO DE LA CHIMENEA O LEER ALGUN PASAJE BIBLICO. AHORA NOS ESTAMOS ACERCANDO AL VERANO Y YA NO ME SIENTO COMODA CON ESA ESTACION, TENGO QUE PEDIRLE AL SEÑOR QUE ME DE SABIDURIA PARA PODER SOPORTAR LOS CALUROSOS Y HUMEDOS DIAS DE VERANO. LA INVITO A MIRAR MI BLOG, SE LLAMA: SIRVIENDO AL SEÑOR, ESPERO QUE SE TOME UN POCO DE TIEMPO PARA PASAR POR AHI. BENDICIONES HERMANA.

Regina said...

Greetings Mrs. White!
We have a gas fireplace that my dear husband will light on very cold days. Lately though we have relunctantly turned the furnace on but we try not to run it too long. The snow is very pretty there. I'm anxiously awaiting our first snow.

Sandi said...

40 below?? Do you live in the very far north of Vermont? I grew up in Michigan, on the thumb, and we would sometimes see 10 below. I don't remember anything colder. We had a fireplace too! :) Now I live in the South. Ahh...

Evelyn Edgett said...

We dress in layers, often wearing thermal underwear beneath our clothing. I collect blankets to use when we watch television on the weekends. I turn the heat down fairly low at bed time, and we sleep beneath plenty of blankets, and we use flannel sheets to add to the coziness. We have propane heaters with extra tanks to use in case the power goes off. We simply close off the rest of the house and congregate in the living room. We use candles of lighting, and that helps feeling warm--there is just something about a real flame, even if it just a flickering candle. Our cats also like to snuggle on our beds, along with my smallest dog. I would love to have a wood stove, but the husband is not ready to commit.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Sharon,
Thank you for yet another wonderful letter! I look forward to these, as though a long lost old friend is writing the latest news from long ago...'
So sorry to hear you are living in a chilly home. The quilts sound lovely, though, and the old fashioned ambient scene you describe next to the fires sound so old fashioned, Like the days of the INgalls or Waltons.
I have a small electric heater. It does not have a thermostat. They sell them on Amazon. They have a natrual looking "Fire" of electric logs! Really a safe way to heat a nice sized room efficiently and beautifully! Do you have electricity?

They say to sleep soundly in the cold, keep your feet and head warm. What a lovely way to do so then with a pair of woolen/cashmere socks!! They are very inexpensive on Amazon. Also, there are thermal under pinnings made of silk that are amazingly warm and comfortable under sweaters or under warm bed clothes!!
Bye!
Joni Ann

Kim said...

We use feather blankets. Also, hot water bottles are great wherever you sit. They keep me warm.

http://www.joyfilleddays.com said...

I invested in the LL Bean wool sweaters that button down the front and they are honestly the warmest sweaters we own. I bought three and my daughters all wear them when it is especially cold outside. I make the kids wear layers and fleece vest keeps your torso warm but doesn't inhibit your arms from working. Lovely post.
Sarah Beals
joyfilleddays.com

Anonymous said...

Hello, Mrs. White. Here in Brazil it is different. Most of the Brazilian regions live a very hot summer, even from spring (September to February). Even with the benefit of air conditioning not all families can enjoy it because of the cost of light increase absurdly with the use of the appliance. What we usually do is put the fan near the window so that the outside air circulates inside the room. Sleeping on the floor is also an option, not very comfortable, but effective. Today I read on a website an idea of putting small water vases mirrored by the house to evaporate. Thank you for that text, Mrs. White. I always follow your blog and hope to one day get your books. God bless you and your family. Jessica, from Brazil.

Janine said...

Thanks for all the tips! Before we were able to put on a new roof our home was very cold (to us!), but nothing like what you experience in VT.

I love reading Grace Livingston Hill. I haven't read that particular story. I'll have to see if I have it. I just found another one of her books at a library sale.

I enjoy your posts! Hope your day is snuggly.

happyathome said...

Dear Mrs White- that was a very interesting article and i got a great tip to put a lined curtain in the doorways which i will do here in NZ next Winter as we live in an old over 100 year house and it is full of drafts and has BIG gaps under the internal doors though i do not know for what reason they would have used doors like that!!! We pop a rolled up blanket under those big gaps. The back part of our house where i "live" most of the time has no heating and we cannot afford to run an electric heater on our low income but we found out last year that the type of wood you use in the wood burner( we only have 1 fire in the living room) makes all the difference to the heat moving out through the 1 door into the back part of the house. We also have 12 foot high stud in this house and of course the heat goes up tot he ceiling which is insulated so next Winter we may rig up the small fan near the ceiling to bring the warm air back down and circulate it.

Aspire To Live A Quiet Life said...

We dress in layers, keep warm blankets on the chair and sofa, and use an infrared heater. Our home is tiny so easy to keep warm than a large home.

I make lots of hot soup and bread to warm the tummy.

I grew up in Colorado in a town known often as the coldest spot in the nation.

40 below zero was common.

We attended a one room school with an oil stove, but I do remember always being cold.... always!

I remember putting hot water in our bathroom sink and sitting on the counter soaking my cold feet....yipes!

I guess we just got used to it....don't have bad memories of it, just remember being glad when warm weather returned.

Lovely post and such a cozy nice home in your pictures.

Shirley

Amelia said...

Oh this is such a cozy post! I too enjoy Grace Livingston Hill books, I don't think I've read that one you mentioned. I have a little collection of them! : ) I just finished 'Spice Box'.

I can't even imagine 40 below! Oh my goodness! Right now our central heater is not working so we are relying on our woodburning stove and a few space heaters downstairs. You have some nice tips there, and I just love the way you look at wintertime weather, we do have to hibernate more yes? : )

Enjoyed your sweet blog, it's unseasonably cold here in the south, and yesterday I donned a wool sweater over another top under a puffer coat with a headband and hat to go outside to cover my plants! Haha!

It's always such a sweet visit here, you are a dear.

Love, Amelia

Anonymous said...

I made a sack made out of muslin and filled it with rice and slipped it into a little homemade fabric ‘pillow’ case. I heat up the sack in the microwave for a couple of minutes and it stays warm and toasty on my lap making it easier to tolerate a chilly room. I love using it during the winter months when I just can’t warm up. For sleeping, we have an electric blanket which keeps us warm when we have the heat turned down at night. Doesn’t really affect our electric bill to use it. When I was a teen, we lived in a large old Victoran home which had no heat upstairs so it could get very cold! We all had electric blankets and we were nice and warm all night. The rice sack does a nice job of warming up a cold bed, too!

carol said...

We live where it is winter 6-7 months and we can even get down to -60! We heat with a Blaze King wood stove and I love it! I have learned to cook on the top and even am learning to bake with my large cast-iron dutch oven on the top. We don't have hot water so we keep a large pan of water on that stove top and we have instant cost-free hot water when wanted! I pray that you will be warm and cozy this winter. By the way - I have some of your books and I really have enjoyed them. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I use heated mattress (electric blanket) in my bed (on the sheet, under a blanket/comforter). It is a necessity I can´t go without. I do not care how cold the bedroom is if I have warmed my bed. Sometimes I lay on it a bit before removing it. Or I keep one under my bedsheet all the time. Just unplug it.

Patty B said...

Your article is very timely and thoughtful as we get into the winter season. I,too, live in a very cold area of northern Minnesota, and we can also get to 40 below or more. Reading your article I wondered if you could qualify for some kind of fuel assistance program, or a program to help with costs to increase insulation in your home. Could you check with your local social services office to see if there are any financial programs based on your income to help you with heating costs? Here in Minnesota we have a number of such programs to help with electricity, fuel costs and adding insulation to older homes.
Sounds like you and your family do everything possible to stay warm. Draft blockers under doorways help, too, and shutting off unused rooms. Here in MN we are very lucky to heat our home with radiant floor heat, which is in floor coils in the cement of the basement. We cut our own wood (thankful that my husband can still do this!) as we have a large acreage of woodland on our property. We have an outdoor wood burning furnace to power the radiant floor coils. The system is set up to be powered by electricity, too, on those times when we need to be away from home. But I agree with you that electricity is very expensive, and we usually don't rely on that. Our house is very warm (do I even dare mention that it is usually around 69 or 70 degrees?), but on cold days when it is really below zero, it helps to have oven meals and wear warm clothing and warm slippers! Hot soups and hot beverages help, too! I know exactly what you are up against in Vermont, as our heating season begins sometime in September and lasts until the end of April. Winters are about 7 or 8 months long! The joke up here is that the definition of a Minnesota summer is "two weeks of bad ice fishing"!

Lynn Maust said...

I found the place to make a comment.

I hope you are staying warm....we are being snow-bound too...but we have all the heat we need...I will send some up to you....or I would if I could.

Christine said...

Love the simple ways you gave us to keep warm.
When our children were young and they declared they were cold, I told them to vacuum the living room.
1. the carpet got cleaned
2. stopped them from "complaining"
3. they got warm!

Sharon said...

We have a Woodstock Soapstone wood stove and it keeps our very old American Four Square very warm. We have not used the furnace since it's installation; I think we'd have to get it cleaned before doing so. We live right on the shores of Lake Superior where the average snowfall is well over 250" per year, so having our wood ready to go by Oct 1st is very important. I love and prefer wearing layers of clothing and the room that the stove its in is my favorite for reading, relaxing or sipping tea. Our blankets on the beds are warm with wool and flannel's and my daughter sleeps in a room that was an addition and no poor installation, so she is privy to my grandmother's handmade goose-down blanket, which the poodle loves, too! :) We plan on re-insulating our home when we can afford the siding in about 3 years, but there's always first things, first as many are familiar with.

living from glory to glory said...

Hello, Yes it is hard to stay warm in a large three story older home. We do have a wood stove we use or our home would be freezing with all the freezing wind we get. But we do have an electric blanket on our bed so I stay warm at night. You always make the best of all the situations and seasons.
Enjoyed reading this post!
Happy Thanksgiving...
Hugs, Roxy

Rue said...

This post is wonderful. I love the way you write and the fact that you're the keeper of an old home just makes my heart happy. Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my blog :)

I am lucky to have a gas furnace which was installed by a previous owner in the 1950s, but I try to keep the house at 65. My only issue is my husband grew up in the southern desert part of our state (Arizona), so he's not used to this cold mountain air. I told him that I was going to get him one of those old warming stones they used to put in the fire and wrap with flannel for our bed. He thinks I'm kidding!

Anyway, thank you again,
rue

Grace said...

Hello Sharon
Thank you for your blog.
Your home sounds simply wonderful. I love the cold, hate the summer! When it's cold, I'm pretty happy, as long as it's not too cold, so I don't have that problem. When it's snowing, my family wears the regular thermals, coats. for me, it's just maybe a light sweater, is all. The summer heat can just kill me. When everyone else is outside in the sun, I am in the A.C>part of the building, lol..... we had baseboard heaters, and it looks like you do, too from one of the photographs. Do you ever use the baseboard heating??
Many blessings to you and yours,
Grace

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