We were so excited to move into this house for many reasons, one of which was to actually have a wood-burning fireplace. Other than the purely aesthetic/ambiance function, it has in fact been extremely useful in heating the house, though we mainly just lit it at night this winter. It was also a life-saver when our water heater broke down during probably the coldest week we experienced, and the fireplace was our only source of heat.
Our natural gas bill just arrived, however, and we found ourselves wishing we had relied on the fireplace much, much more (once we regained consciousness, that is). With the price set to rise yet another 10% on April 1st, we will definitely be turning down the central thermostat and using the fireplace much more. Unfortunately at the moment we have just about run out of the wood that we had delivered in late October. Apparently it is much cheaper to order in May/June, however, so we were in desperate need of some wood to tide us over, and preferably not the bags of 5 logs from the supermarket that cost 10 euros and burn in 2 minutes.
Fortunately our neighbor came to rescue. In his yard, what is not vegetable patch is taken up by stack upon stack of wood. As it turns out, he has an arrangement with an old friend who has a wooded lot in a bad state that he clears out the fallen trees and gets to keep the wood in return. So yesterday he took us to the lot, about a kilometer away apparently (close to where I picked up the boards - I didn't realize I had carried them that far!), and we were able to load up the back of the car with some of the smaller fallen trees (small enough to be sectioned up with a hand saw), which Henry then cut down to fireplace size with the chainsaw when we got back.
Next winter we will have to experiment with just how small we can get the gas bill down to if we really make good use of the fire, so this summer we will stock up, although this winter we ordered 5 stères* (which was unceremoniously dumped in the driveway - photo below is less than half the original pile!) and it was already a bit more than we had room for under the shelter by the gate and behind the shed, so I'm not sure where else we could put it all!
* Wood is measured in stère here, which is equivalent to one meter cubed of logs (~0.276 cords) that are cut to 1 m in length - if you get it cut down to 50 or 30 cm it is actually less, as well as being more expensive. When we get a delivery in the summer we will order it in 1 meter lengths this time and cut it down ourselves to save some money! Stère is a very old unit, derived from the Greek stereos, meaning solid, though apparently it is no longer an officially recognized unit in France since 1996 (see http://www.utc.fr/~tthomass/Themes/Unites/ for more information).