Being WellNested means not filling up your living room with fireplace smoke a week before you have company.

Patience is a virtue, they say. So is paying attention, say I. This week I learned why I need to practice more of both. 

Our old house has a wonderful wood-burning fireplace that we fitted with an energy- efficient insert. In the winter, we enjoy clean fires on a regular basis. In the fall, we’ll delay turning on the gas heat, and light-up the fireplace to take the chill out of the house. Last Saturday was such a day.  

I was in charge of getting the fire started while my husband was putting up some storm windows. When Michael builds a fire, it’s boy-scout perfect, with stacked newspaper knots and a precisely placed teepee of sticks. When I build a fire, I’m impatient. I usually ball up a bunch of newspapers and throw some sticks on top. “Why waste time?,” my thinking goes,  “If I pile in enough stuff, it’ll catch.” On this particular day, I lit the mountain of kindling and closed the door. 

I have a bad habit of not always paying attention to details. With Michael being the resident fireplace guru, I haven’t felt the urgency to remember which way the lever slides to open the flue. Besides, Michael usually checks it before either of us make a fire. So on Saturday, when my flick of a Bic caused smoke to start pouring out from every crack and crevice, I whacked that lever back and forth hoping to get it right, and yelled for Michael. But it wasn’t the flue, and our last inspection was fine, said my guru. It was most likely the nest of some uninvited chimney guests. Those damn critters will get you every time, I thought. 

With the fireplace door closed, the smoldering was mostly finished, but the damage was done. The hazy room reeked and my throat ached.  We ran around collecting fans to blow the smoke out of the windows, leaving that set-up all frigid night long. So much for taking the chill out of the house. 

After a week of open-window weather, barely a trace of odor remains. When my mom and sister arrive tomorrow night from out of town, they’ll be none-the-wiser. Unless of course, they read my blog. And, in case you’re a worrier, be assured that we have a chimney inspector coming to assess the problem.

Next year, before I christen the fireplace for the season, I’ll do a test first with a small piece of paper and a twig. Lesson learned. And I’ve memorized that the lever goes to the right to open the flue. Check. And I’ll keep trying to learn the value of patience. 

But that lesson is taking awfully damn long to get here.