We bought our first house 20 years ago, still live there, and will die there if we have any say in the matter, which I suppose makes it our last house, too. It’s not a perfect house — the kitchen, where we spend all our time, is on the north side of the house and doesn’t get much sunlight — but the house is otherwise suitable and fits us well. The best feature is the kitchen woodstove, which we fire up in fall and keep burning through late winter or until we run out of firewood, whichever comes first. Like most purchases I’ve made, it was impulsive but has given us more pleasure per dollar than anything we’ve owned.
I haven’t yet discerned whether we own the stove or it owns us. A man who heats his home with a woodstove has unwittingly signed up for a full-time job: cutting, hauling, and stacking firewood seven months of the year to stay warm the other five. Except for this man, since I hire a woman named Kelly to bring me firewood each fall. Kelly drives a school bus in our town and cuts firewood the rest of the year. It would be selfish of me to cut my own firewood when Kelly so obviously wants the work.
This still leaves plenty of work for me, carrying the firewood in from the fence row to stack on the back porch, waking early each morning to load the stove, tending it through the day, staring at the fire each evening contemplating matters great and small. Devoting one’s life to reflection can be tiring, and many evenings I fall asleep while staring at the fire, exhausted by my labors.
One of my favorite things to think about while seated by the fire is how much better the world would be if everyone were seated by a fire. While gazing at a fire, I’ve never thought ill of someone else or wished them harm in any way. Indeed, just the opposite has happened. A man I didn’t care for once appeared at our door on a winter’s evening. I invited him in and ushered him to a chair in front of the fire. We sat for a pleasant hour, philosophizing, and by the time he left, we were thick as thieves. The United Nations should have a woodstove instead of a dais.
Our stove was made in Norway by a company named Jøtul, which has been making stoves since 1853. If our woodstove had been made in China, I probably wouldn’t have bought it, but I liked the idea of it being built by Norwegians. I’m sure Chinese workers do just as good a job as Norwegian workers, so I don’t know why I feel the way I do. I don’t like what it says about me that I automatically assume Chinese workers are less devoted to quality. The Forbidden City Imperial Palace in Beijing was built in the early 1400s and is still standing. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t built by Norwegians. If it had been built in America, we’d have torn it down and put up a Walmart. This is the kind of thing I think about while seated by the fire.
I should probably mention that we have a second home, my wife’s ancestral farmhouse in southern Indiana. We put a Jøtul woodstove in it last spring, so now I can think down there, which has thrown my whole life out of whack since I go there for the express purpose of not thinking. Lately, I’ve been thinking that owning two houses with woodstoves is wearing me out, and I should sell one and live in the other. Except now I am a prisoner, bound by cords of memory to the first house where our children were reared, tied by marriage to the second, where my wife was raised. And so, come winter, I own and am owned, captor and captive alike, lighting one fire while dousing another.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and the author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.
This article is featured in the January/February 2018 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but remember the guy who used to host Celebrity Apprentice? We just elected him President of the United States.
Maybe you didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but he will be our President (even if students around the country voted for Hillary Clinton in a landslide). Trump stunned everyone by changing the electoral map, while it looks like Clinton won the popular vote.
Just as fascinating as the actual election results was the coverage of it on television and social media. I was up until 2 a.m., surfing around the various channels. You had CNN’s John King and his wondrous magic wall (at one point I think he wanted to strangle Wolf Blitzer for all of his interruptions), and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow looking rather perplexed. You had CBS’s Bob Schieffer not knowing what to make of the results, and over on Fox News they wanted to be more cautious after getting 2012 so wrong. The election was all that Twitter could talk about for 24 hours straight, and helped prove once again that maybe, just maybe, most of us shouldn’t be on Twitter.
To summarize this election: A lot of the “experts” didn’t know what the heck they were talking about.
One last thing about the 2016 election: Have you heard about the new web craze, The Mannequin Challenge? It’s when you stand still like a mannequin and film yourself. It’s one of those internet memes like the Ice Bucket Challenge and planking and the one where you smush bread into your face for some reason. Everyone on the Clinton campaign plane took part in The Mannequin Challenge the day before the election, and someone added an REM song to it after the results came in. I think it pretty much describes how Clinton supporters feel:
A friend shares this. pic.twitter.com/AMiAKBJVCq
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) November 9, 2016
Here’s how the voting went down, though they might not be the final final numbers.
Oprah’s Favorite Things
Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have her daily talk show anymore, so she can’t freak out her audience by surprising them with so many Christmas gifts that many of them have heart attacks. But she still picks her favorite things every year, only now it’s in her magazine and online with help from Amazon.
There aren’t any raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but you can buy a William Faulkner Book Set, a Rabbit Wine Decanter, and Verloop Trio Gloves, which come in a set of three in case you lose one. If you want to spend a lot of money, you could get a custom dog blanket, or if you don’t want to spend a lot of cash, how about some potato chips?
I don’t know if you have any Saturday Evening Post columnists on your Christmas list this year, but if there are, I wouldn’t hate it if you bought me, I mean them, this Bialatti Pasta Pot.
Breaking Starbucks Coffee Cup News!
Last week we told you about the latest controversy involving the Starbucks Christmas cups. Turns out those weren’t the Christmas cups at all! They were unity cups, for the election (not sure if that worked out that well).
Yesterday, Starbucks made their cups for the holiday season available, and if you thought there wasn’t enough seasonal joy in last year’s plain red, green, and white cups, there’s plenty of that this year to make up for it. This season they have 13 different cups designed by Starbucks customers all over the world. There were 1,200 submissions to the contest on Instagram, which seems like a rather low number for a worldwide Starbucks contest. If for some reason you don’t like fancy designs on your coffee cups, those regular red, green, and white cups will be available too.
By the way, from now until Monday, if you buy a holiday drink at Starbucks between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., you get a holiday drink for free!
RIP Leonard Cohen and Kay Starr
Leonard Cohen was one of the most influential and respected singer/songwriters of the past several decades. His song “Hallelujah” has been featured in many TV shows over the years and has been covered by dozens of artists, including Jeff Buckley:
Cohen passed away last night at the age of 82. No cause of death was given, but he told The New Yorker in a recent interview, “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
Kay Starr had one of the great voices in American pop music. She recorded many well-known songs, including “The Rock and Roll Waltz” and the Christmas classic “(Everybody’s Waiting For) The Man with the Bag,” which Target used in commercials a few Christmases past. But she’s probably best known for the No. 1 song “Wheel of Fortune,” which was used in L.A. Confidential:
Starr died last week at the age of 94 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
This Week in History
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Elected President Again(November 7, 1944)
It can’t happen anymore, but this was the fourth term for FDR.
Edmund Halley Born (November 8, 1656)
The comet named after Halley won’t be seen again until July 28, 2061.
Berlin Wall Opens (November 9, 1989)
At least 130 people were killed trying to escape East Germany from 1961 to 1989.
Monday Is National Pickle Day!
I would lump pickles into the same category as ketchup, mustard, pasta, and beer, and that category is “Things I’m Never Going to Make at Home — I’ll Just Buy Them from the Store, Thanks.” But if you’re ambitious, AllRecipes has a bunch of recipes for both dill and sweet pickles. Whether you make them yourself or just go with Vlasic, you can include them in this Cuban Sandwich from Bobby Flay or this meatloaf, or you could fry them.
You could also make pickle-infused vodka, which I don’t think is one of Oprah’s favorite things.
Next Week’s Holidays and Events
Sadie Hawkins Day (November 13)
I can’t remember having a Sadie Hawkins Dance when I was in school. If we did, I was never asked! I also didn’t know that it all started with Li’l Abner.
Great American Smokeout (November 17)
Stephen Colbert vs. Bill Maher
You ever watch an interview on TV that makes you squirm a little bit? I don’t mean on the cable news networks, where arguments can sprout like mold on an old bagel. I mean on a show where you don’t expect to see something uncomfortable. You’re looking for laughs and skits and music and you get a serious discussion.
That’s what happened on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday. Colbert had Real Time host Bill Maher on his show, and along with the laughs there was a sense of realistic tension too. And this wasn’t one of those fake things, like when David Letterman conducted that weird interview with Joaquin Phoenix that turned out to be a prank. This was a nuanced, realistic kind of tension. Here’s the entire interview, including footage not shown on TV because of time restraints:
It starts amiably enough, but then about two minutes in Maher makes a comment about Nixon being the type of person Colbert would have voted for, and it’s odd from there. Though Colbert remains amiable enough throughout the entire interview, and it’s not the type of wall-to-wall tension where you think they hate each other, you can see Colbert disagrees with Maher on a few things, including religion. It’s almost as if you can look inside Maher’s brain and see he’s thinking, “But Stephen, you’re liberal! How can you believe in God and be serious about religion?!” You can also see that Maher wasn’t particularly thrilled when, at the very end of the interview, Colbert takes over the bit and Maher doesn’t get to finish his joke.
The interview has a lot more bleeps than you’ll usually see on television. But isn’t it interesting that Colbert’s Comedy Central show moved over to CBS largely intact? There’s a lot more political humor and serious discussion of current events than I thought would happen when Colbert took over for Letterman, and when you have that you get nights like this.
By the way, at the start of this episode, Colbert’s band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, performed the French National Anthem as a tribute to France and the people lost in the terror attacks last week (and we send our thoughts out to the victims and their families as well):
A Very Murray Christmas
Netflix has released the trailer for their new Bill Murray holiday special A Very Murray Christmas, which debuts on December 4. It features a cast list that can only be described as “irreverently epic”: George Clooney, Amy Poehler, Jason Schwartzman, Miley Cyrus, Rashida Jones, Michael Cera, Paul Shaffer, Chris Rock, and Maya Rudolph. How is Tina Fey not in this?
Judging from the trailer, A Very Murray Christmas serves as both the title and also a description of what the special will be like:
These Are a Few of Oprah’s Favorite Things
Every year Oprah Winfrey gives us her list of Favorite Things. This year she’s teaming up with Amazon.
I won’t list of all of the things that she likes that most of us wouldn’t want to spend money on (Okay, I’ll mention one — the rose gold iPhone 6s for $839.00), but there are some nice gifts here, including some that, oh, I don’t know, you might want to buy for a Saturday Evening Post columnist. I mean, who wouldn’t want an Elvis cake?
And This Is One of My Favorite Things
TV criticism — and I can say this because I’ve been doing it for 21 years — is often terrible. The writing is terrible, the observations are weak or obvious, and if you read enough of it you realize that just because there’s more of it doesn’t mean it’s better (we’re currently drowning in TV reviews and “hot takes”). But when TV criticism is done right, when it’s done by a good writer who not only loves television but can write about it with a mixture of wit and thoughtfulness, it can not only be important, it can rise to the level of art.
And that’s what you’ll find in the new book Mad Men Carousel by Vulture writer and RogerEbert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz. Matt’s one of the best critics around today, and this book is filled with his perceptive, detailed reviews of every single episode of the show, along with a historical time line of things mentioned throughout the show’s run, poems by Martha Orton at the start of each season, and some great illustrations by Max Dalton.
This book is not only the perfect gift for the Mad Men fan on your Christmas list, I think that Lionsgate and Abrams Books should make some deal to make sure it’s included with every single Mad Men complete series DVD set that is sold.
Wait. Did I mention above that I wanted an Elvis cake? I meant to say the Mad Men complete series DVD set. (And an Elvis cake.)
Christopher Kimball Has Left America’s Test Kitchen
Imagine O, The Oprah Magazine without Oprah. Imagine Turner Classic Movies without Robert Osborne. Or imagine The Daily Show without Jon Stewart (and judging by viewer reaction to new host Trevor Noah a lot of people don’t want to). That’s how I feel about Christopher Kimball leaving the company he founded and the company’s magazines, including Cook’s Illustrated. Kimball couldn’t come to an agreement on a new contract with the new people in charge at Boston Common Press, so he’s out. Kimball will also be giving up his hosting duties on the TV cooking shows America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country (Kimball will still be seen as host of the 2016 seasons of the shows because production has already finished on them).
And to drive home the fact that this move is EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, Kimball’s blog is already gone from the America’s Test Kitchen Feed site.
There are plenty of talented cooks on the TV shows, and they’ll probably find a new host that’s “fine,” but it’s going to be very, very weird not to have Kimball as host. He set the tone and the style for the show. You think of the show, and he’s the person on it you think of. You can’t just throw a bow tie on someone else. It just won’t be the same.
Memento Is Being Remade, For Some Reason
You ever notice that books don’t get rewritten? You never see a publishing company issue a press release that says they’ve hired a writer to rewrite A Tale of Two Cities or The Great Gatsby or The Bonfire of the Vanities. Sure, there might be other books in a series featuring the same characters or sequels or prequels or new writers hired to continue a series after an author dies, but you never hear a publishing company say they’re going to remake a novel.
I know I went off on a little tangent there, but it’s just my way of saying that doing a remake of Memento is a really dumb idea.
If you wanted to eat what was served at the first Thanksgiving, you could have clams, venison, mussels, and plums. But it’s 2015 and we have a lot more options than they had in 1621. Besides, try explaining to your family that, hey, this year, instead of turkey, we’re having boiled eel!
If you want a one-stop for all of your Thanksgiving cooking needs, you probably can’t do better than The New York Times’ Thanksgiving headquarters. You’ll not only find recipes there, but also a complete guide on how to plan the day and how to not freak out during that planning. But I’d also add some recipes from The Saturday Evening Post archives, including Red Rice Stuffing with Dried Fruit, a Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake with Spiced Glaze, and Spritz Cookies.
You could also be like Marilyn Monroe. Cooking-wise, anyway. Here’s her recipe for stuffing that was found among her personal letters. If the instructions are a little confusing the New York Times made it and lists the ingredients and instructions on their site a little more clearly. Note: There’s no eel in it.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
Upcoming Events and Anniversaries
President Kennedy assassinated (November 22, 1963)
Boris Karloff born (November 23, 1887)
Lee Harvey Oswald killed (November 24, 1963)
Millions of people watched Oswald get shot by Jack Ruby on national television.
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species published (November 24, 1859)
You can read the entire text of the groundbreaking book for free at Literature.org.
National Hockey League is formed (November 26, 1917)
The NHL replaced the NHA, the National Hockey Association.