1. Make sure you have all the pieces you need before it gets to 20 degrees F. outside on average.
a. Attaching the handle to the coal stove. It helps greatly if last year, your husband didn't break the handle into three separate pieces out of frustration due to a dying fire. New handles can be purchased at Home Depot, only costing you $10 for gas, 1.5 hours of time, and $1.23 for the handle itself.
b. Attaching the handle assembly. It helps greatly if, before you ran all the way to Home Depot, you also ensured that the bracket that the handle attaches to, and the bolt that also goes through the handle, bracket, and into the toothy interior, also wasn't broken during the unfortunate instance that resulted in the demise of the handle last year. Stoves & Stuff has the handle assembly. It only costs you about $12 in gas, 1.75 hours of your time, and $32.50 for the new bracket and bolt. It then only takes you another 3 hours to finally remove the broken half of the screw from inside the tooth. Again, if you had attempted to ascertain all you needed before beginning said project, you could have also replaced both drill bits you broke in the process of removing the broken screw.
c. Inserting the bricks. Stoves & Stuff also sells replacement bricks for lining the inside of your coal stove. As, when placing the bricks back into the coal stove (after reassembling the handle, of course), you break several of them, as it is a very tight fit. You get out some gunky stuff that your father-in-law left behind last year and glue the bricks back together as best you can.
2. Make sure you have coal.
a. Descending into the Basement of Eternal Darkness. One must then determine where the fire supplies are; i.e., coal, cardboard, and newspapers for starting the fire. If you happen to trip over the buckets used for bringing the coal up to the coal stove, that's one less thing you have to look for later.
b. Make sure everything you use to start the fire isn't important to anyone else living in your household. This could include bank statements, old newspapers with a certain ad, or the instructions to a mint-condition 1978 Tai Interceptor that others plan to sell on eBay. If, in the course of human events, you do inadvertently burn something that may have been worth money for spending on gifts for friends and family, kindly remind that injured person that they should keep their collectibles away from the wood pile and the newspaper recyclables. This should prevent any inadvertent burnings or sacrifices.
c. Make sure you have either matches, or a lighter. Lucky for you, convenience stores and gas stations keep these in great supply, and you can pick up a fresh pack of Marlboro Lights at the same time. Make sure you go to the gas station alone, though, or you may end up receiving a lecture on the dangers of smoking, and it won't be appreciated when you re-lecture back on the dangers your coal stove poses to the ozone layer.
3. Start the fire.
a. The proper way to start your fire for optimal burning and coal catching. First, make sure any other persons living in your house are present when gathering the burning material. This could save a lot of headaches later.
b. Designate a fire starter. Sure, this could be a character out of a Stephen King novel, which I would suggest using as kindling as it would be more useful, but make sure any other persons living in your house haven't suddenly become The Expert on all things pertaining to burning. Also be sure that if anyone in your household suddenly does decide that they are much better at starting fires than you, kindly step back, get yourself a cider or beer, and laugh as they do everything wrong, resulting in hours of coldness in your house as the sun sets and 20 degrees F creeps in through your not-so-air-tight house built in the 1940s. If you do, however, decide this expert is a fraud, don't risk frostbite laughing at their silly attempts. Retake command of the situation by claiming they are better at ______ (doing the dishes, renting movies, calling a friend) so that they are safely removed from the immediate vicinity, allowing you to start the fire uninterrupted and unchallenged. Warning: While others are performing these various tasks, set aside anything that may be designated as important later, despite where it may have been found (i.e., garbage, recycling, floor...)
c. Add coal generously. If the so-called Expert reappears long before they should have completed said assignment, kindly block their view of how to you are performing your designated task. You will avoid all kinds of phrases, such as "That's too much!" or "You're putting it out!" You will be vindicated when, an hour later, the inside temperature of your house is pushing 75 and well on its way to 80.
d. Keep the fire burning. This is where you claim, through all of your effort put into getting the coal stove started, you are exhausted, and appeal to the better nature of others in the house, whether former Experts or not. They will be so grateful for the fact that they can sit on the couch in their undies, they will take over ashing the stove and adding coal for at least three days, allowing you to regain your strength and not miss anything on prime time television. Be sure, though, to offer your help, so as others don't feel taken advantage of, ensuring a possible longer period of uninterrupted relaxation.
4. Keeping the stove burning through the winter.
a. Don't let others see you blogging about this experience. They will immediately rescind any offers of keeping the stove going for the next three days. They will also feel slightly hurt that the errand you told them only they could do was only a ruse so that you could heat the house in a more timely fashion. They actually get over it, though, when they realize you did get it started in a shorter amount of time.
b. Add lighting to your basement. This is probably better as a spring project, but if others in your house have watched any infomercials lately, they most likely bought handy-dandy little stick-em-up lights that can be used anywhere and anytime, not require being hard-wired into your house, as they are battery operated. Your basement will be transformed from total darkness to quasi-darkness with the blessing of QVC for only $5.95. These lights may also prevent you from kicking the coal buckets.
c. Designate a schedule. Don't assume that, just because you have off the next morning, others will let you sleep in and maintain the stove before they leave for work. Simply hope for the best when you do wake up with that icicle on your nose, and pray it hasn't gone totally out. Otherwise, you make pick up on Step 2. If, indeed, it has gone out, leave a message on other's cell phones, explaining to them how cold it was, how you were inconvenienced, and assert that you may need to find new others to sleep in your bed, one's more willing to allow a person to sleep in and stay warm. This will ensure that others will have as bad a day as you had when you had to spend yet another day restarting the coal stove. Warning: While you may think this makes you even, others will disagree, and will in turn leave messages on your cell phone telling you about their bad morning. In spite of the fact that their bad morning didn't start until they got to work, and that, prior to their bad day, they were having a good morning in which they could have shaken down the ashes and removed them from said stove, you let it pass, only so you can get back to whatever it is you had planned on doing anyway when you took this day off. Which, to begin with, didn't involve restarting the coal stove.
d. Remind yourselves how lucky you are to be warm. This is sure to put everything in perspective, and re-allow peace to enter your home, despite the fact that you knew you were right all along. Sometimes it's good to just let it go, and remember others may not be as fortunate.
Following these simple steps should allow for a warm, toasty winter with the least amount of inconvenience and overall pissy-ness. Remember that fire is dangerous, but so is a fag scorned.