Woodstove memories, houseplants, and cookies

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(Photo by VALLE NOVAK) Dangerous to pets but too pretty to get rid of, my Sanseviaria has been relegated to cat-proof placement, and decorated for Christmas.

As I restarted my stoked fire this morning, adding new kindling and mid-size pieces of wood to bring about the warming, cheery blaze that brightens and warms my home so delightfully, I thought about how lucky I am and how blessed.

I recalled my auspicious move to Sandpoint in 1980. Through with jobs, businesses and marriage(s) I found the perfect place just outside town a mile off Wrenco Loop Road. It was a big, beautifully hand-built log house in the middle of state forest land, surrounded by trees and the sweet gurgle of Smith Creek which ran through the center of its five acres.

There was no electricity at that time (I put that in later), but I did have water coming into the house, and plenty of wood for the big Fisher wood-burner and the cook-stove I brought with me: a magnificent and much-coveted 1886 Engman-Matthews -“The Range Eternal”– all black and silver and embellished with more bells and whistles than you can imagine: Overhead warming ovens, a cooking surface larger than any stove on the market today, double ovens and a 4-gallon water-holder/heater attached on one side — enough to dip into the old granite washtub for a lavish bath. The oven door contained one of the first-ever thermometers, which was actually accurate. Talk about high living!

Winter Houseplant Care

I hadn’t heated with wood for many years, and there were many things I had forgotten: among them, the fact that wood heat is drying to the surroundings. A lifetime plant-lover, I had greenery in every window and nook all over the place, and finally noticed they were not doing too well. I kept a big three-legged iron pot of water on the heater (still do — same pot), but it just wasn’t enough: Which brings us to one of the reasons for today’s column — houseplants!

All the experts tell us to cut down on watering our houseplants in the winter — but it’s not entirely true. Regional weather and inside conditions often demand a change in the norm.

Too, you don’t have to have wood heat to have a “dry” interior. The winter sun shining through window-glass can burn and dry tender plants as can other things — nearness to a heater or radiator, for instance. Blown dry air from fans can be harmful too.

If your plants seem to need the usual amount of water — or even a little extra — check your containers and give them what they need. Consider a gentle “spray-bath” which catches the undersides of the leaves as well (in the case of leafy plants like Philodendron, etc.) but don’t ever spray blossoms directly.

*Plants and Pets

There’s another aspect to houseplants, too. After two very scary — and expensive — events with one of my plants, the pictured Sansevieria (or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue), I must pass on some important information regarding plants and pets.

Each of my two “rescue kittens” — now 3 years old — became violently ill for seemingly no reason. Both times I was awakened at midnight by a cat’s violent vomiting and retching. Both times rush trips to the vet found that the culprit was the sharp-edged pieces of Sansevieria leaves which the cats chewed obviously at different times. I had blamed plants but never considered that the one they picked would be such a thick, sharp, pointy choice. A close look at the plant, however, showed a much-chewed leaf which was dying from its abuse.

I immediately found a new, inaccessible spot for the plant, and recently decorated it for the holidays with fake orchids and a big bow, as pictured.

It turns out there are several houseplants that can be toxic to pets. I’ll not go into a list, but let all computer-savvy readers Google the information on their own plants, or check with their vet. Meanwhile, enjoy your pets and plants with new knowledge to guide you.

A final memory of my decade on “my mountaintop” is apropos here.

Since my five acres adjoined state land, a whole forest was my front yard, which coincidentally boasted a big population of white fir “Christmas trees.”

After selecting one for my first Christmas there, I began a yearly tradition of “the Great American Christmas Tree Hunt” for all my Bee co-workers. On a given day a couple of weeks before the 25th, I’d host a party for all the gang who would bring their snowshoes, cross-country skis or hiking boots — along with an axe — and let them head into the woods to find their tree.

I’d have chili and cider and other goodies* waiting for them after the always-successful hunt, and it was one of the most delightful events of fun and camaraderie ever. That was in the ‘80s, and ended when I moved into my current home in 1990, but a few of those old pals are still around for lunches and reminiscing.

If you, too, prefer a live tree, after Christmas and un-decorating is done, don’t forget to put it outside as shelter for your bird population!

*One if the goodies was my made from scratch (and my own applesauce) cookies which fragranced the whole house. Enjoy!



1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1 egg

1 cup applesauce

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. soda

1/2 tsp. EACH cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg

1/4 tsp. cloves

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 cup butterscotch chips

Cream sugar and shortening; add egg and applesauce and beat well. Sift together flour, salt, soda and spices; stir into creamed mixture. Stir in chopped nuts and butterscotch pieces; drop by heaping teaspoons onto greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375F for 10-12 minutes. Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

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