We Had some Rantin’ Rovin’ Fun

DSCN1013Big Stone Celtic is now a host of sore leg muscles and happy memories. For its organizers, we’re already busy making lists of stuff for next year. For its attendees, we hope the music lingers in your head as long as the smile stays in your heart.

Enjoy these photos, and hop on over to Big Stone Celtic Day. You’ll find videos of the sheepdogs in action, the dancers in step, and the pipers mid-tune.

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We Be SWAMPED – Big Stone Celtic Starts Tonight!

sheepWe’re kinda in a mad dash to the finish line here at the bookstore, headquarters for Big Stone Celtic. Our headliner is in residence, our signs are up, our theatre seats are out and ready… and we can’t get much of a blog post up today. But come visit the site Sunday, and we’ll have all sorts of photos and fun for you about the weekend. Meanwhile, if you can join us, the schedule is at www.bigstoneceltic.com, and on Facebook you can visit Big Stone Celtic Day. Sheepdogs, singing, and food, oh my!

Come awa’ ben! (the Scots equivalent of “Y’all come!”)

 

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Insiders Watching Outlander

outlanderJack and I joined roughly half of the known world in watching a series called Outlander. We don’t have a television, but a friend recorded it for us and mailed the discs. For those of you who read this blog regularly, that was Susan, aka the late Hazel’s mom.

In addition to Susan’s having gone to some trouble, the music was done by the son of a fellow writer, Laura Kalpakian. (Bear McCrary is his name.) Although time travel romances are not our thing, Jack and I dutifully cleared a night in our pre-Celtic festival schedule and watched episode one.

We had such fun! Couldn’t tell you buggery about the plot, which seems to involve a porcelain doll lady of anorexic proportions and a craggy-faced boy-Scot, but we’ve been playing Spot the City for three episodes now.

The first we found was Falkland. As China Doll gazed wistfully into an antiques shop, Jack nudged me. “Isn’t that the violin repairman’s place, next to the tearoom across from the–“

The camera cut back, showing the “Mercat Cross!” (we shouted together).

Almost every medieval village in Scotland has a Market (“mercat”) Cross, a pole with a symbol atop it, recognized as the central point of the village square.

We identified Kynd Kittock’s Kitchen–oh the cups of tea and millionaire shortbread slices my friend Bun Brough and I have enjoyed there–and the backpacking hostel (bulletin board removed) in short order. We also got a quick view of the Palace before scenes changed to Dunkeld, then to Doune Castle. Only a couple of rooms remain in the ruins, so they kept using the same spaces from a different angle.

In episode three, things really got fun. By this time whasername was thrown back in time to just before the Jacobite Rebellion, and they were filming in various locations. We spotted the side of the cemetery in St. Andrews, the auld Kirk in Dunkeld, and then–

“Hey!” we both yelped, as the heroine bolted from a kitchen door hotly pursued by a broad-chested hairy Scotsman, “That’s Lindsey’s door!”

In Culross lives a dear friend of Jack’s, one Lindsey Portious by name. He’s quite the character – Scotland’s jaw harp champion, if that helps you get a handle on his personality.

Lindsey lived for years with his Mum, sadly now gone from us, in the Tron House, built 1619. He filled this historic home with assorted collections from his interests–popguns, antique musical instruments, heather-crafted jewelry. Lindsey makes bodhrans, those classic Scottish drums, and carves whistles. His home is one big garbage heap of creativity.

But his biggest claim to fame in that wild and crazy house was the kitchen door. Because the village was so old, over time Tron House had sunk as the street levels rose with repair after repair. In consequence, one takes a steep step downwards through the stone lintels of the doorway into the kitchen. Those who forget tend to get a sharp smack in–depending on height–the forehead (me, being short) the nose (for an average person) or the windpipe (basketball players).

It isn’t fun. I still remember the first time I “hit the wall”: stars and singing birdies and exploding dazzles of fireworks lit my brain. By the time I could gather voice to shriek, Lindsey had three Goody’s Headache Powders in a glass for me. My husband led me blindly to the table and put the glass in my hand.

So when we saw the delicate heroine spring like a greyhound from the door, we hooted with laughter. “Wonder how many times they had to practice THAT” we chortled, as the great bruiser of a Scots highlander exited behind her. He was a big man. “Did that guy get hazard pay?”

Quite honestly, we couldn’t tell you a single thing the series is about, but we are very much looking forward to episode four. Who knows where (or who) we might see?! We figure it’s just a matter of time until we spot one of our friends, plaidie wrapped about him, swelling a crowd scene.

 

 

 

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The Monday Book: OUR FAMILY OUTING by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor

a guest review by Beth O’Connor

Imagine for a moment that you have two small children, and your husband is one of four pastors at the large church where you are the minister of music. Now imagine what would happen when your husband determines that he can no longer deny the fact that he is gay.

Pain. Denial. Pain. Self-doubt. Pain. Anger. Pain. Shame. Pain. And more pain. An ocean of pain that threatened to drown everything. Yet, as deep as the ocean is, their faith in God was deeper. It was the lifeline they used to haul themselves up out of the darkness.

This is Our Family Outing, the autobiographical story Joe Cobb and Leigh Ann Taylor published in 2011 via TotalPublishingAndMedia. Told in alternating voices, Our Family Outing details Cobb and Taylor’s journey from being one very traditional family to two families who are anything but. All of the emotions in the process are poured out, from Taylor’s worst fear (What if my husband infects me with AIDS and leaves our children orphaned) to Cobb’s greatest joy (the birth of his and his partner’s second adoptive child).

Full disclosure: I discovered this book because Taylor is currently the music minister at the church I attend and my church book club went to her signing event. The book starts at the end, with Cobb and Taylor determining that they need to share their story with the world. The memoir takes you from the days they first started dating in seminary, to deciding how to tell their friends, family and co-workers, to creating separate lives in which everyone is loved and accepted for who they are.

The book can be awkward to read as Cobb and Taylor refused to avoid any of the uncomfortable situations in which they found themselves. As a reader, you will feel as though you accidently stumbled into someone’s private conversation and cannot find a way to escape from the room without being discovered. The description of their lives is deeply personal – such as Cobb’s fear that a lover from his high school years will give away his secret, to Taylor relating that early in the process her husband, “my favorite companion” did not smile at her for a year and a half.

Cobb and Taylor are not professional writers, and it shows – the writing is often clunky and disjointed. However, instead of distracting from the narrative, the raw style serves to underline how very real the story is. The book comes full circle, with the oldest of Cobb’s adoptive children playing The Game of Life and noting that everyone is along for the ride.

 

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When a Bird Marries a Fish

When people from different countries (or religions) marry one another, interesting things can happen over the course of their union. This post may be misunderstood as a comparison by some, but any fish who has married a bird will understand.

I was in Scotland when 9/11 happened – specifically, driving home from teaching a very successful workshop on using storytelling with abused children. It had been glorious and I was high on life–until I turned on the car radio and the world flipped upside down. Scotland is five hours ahead of the US, noon here is 5 pm in most of the UK. The fourth plane had just gone down.

A pit opened in my stomach.

In the days that followed, the usual anti-American sentiment one finds in the UK intensified, oddly enough. It was a bad time to be American in places other than the US.

But for two different reasons. The first was that people who heard your accent would turn to you in the grocery and say things like, “Well, since you’re here, I guess Cupar will be bombed next, ya bloody Yank.” (Cupar is a market town of about 8,000 people.) The second was that a sad, terrible, terrifying thing had just reinvented the future of your homeland, and you weren’t there to be a part of it.

For reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I didn’t watch the news coverage for four days, and by then they were playing the last cell phone calls of people who had realized they couldn’t get out of the Towers. One was a sweet 20-something who called her husband and told him she was sorry she wouldn’t be seeing him any more, but she wanted him to know how happy she’d been, being married to him. “Bye now,” she said at the end.

And I sat up in bed in the middle of the night, about a week after 9/11, and started crying my eyes out, thinking about that poor girl all alone, reaching out to someone she wanted to know she loved, and then dying, for nothing she’d done. Poor Jack woke up and put his arms around me until I fell asleep, still sobbing.

It is hard to be away from your country when something intense is happening. It doesn’t matter what it is: a chance to change, a good thing, a bad thing, an uncertain thing. What matters is that you are not there. You have made a home somewhere else, with someone else, and you have traded in one set of influences for another.

Jack had to watch the Scottish vote from afar. And if he wakes up crying in the night, I’ll be there. It will not be the same as being in his homeland, but it will be home. Because we made our homes with each other.

It is not always easy. When Jack ran for town council here, a handful of ignoramuses made rude comments about his accent and equated ‘foreign’ with ‘godless.’ Sure, I’d like to see Coalfields Appalachia come into its own by shaking off such stereotyped behavior, but what seared my soul with blue-white heat lightning was their disparaging of a good man. My husband. Jack.

I still hate them. That’s part of the package. We protect each other. We defend each other. Our homes are each other. The voice from the tower says, never mind the madness; it’s just you and me.

To watch your own country struggle is hard. To be somewhere else while watching it is harder. But Jack and I pledged to each other, and this is a union that will not dissolve.

 

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The Scottish Independence Vote is TOMORROW!

Scotland photroJack’s weekly guest blog could have no other subject at this moment.

Thursday September 18th 2014 has been a long time coming, but now it’s almost here. That’s when Scots go to the polls and check the box for “Yes” or “No.” “Yes” means Scotland becomes an independent country in 2016 (two years to get everything sorted). “No” means Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.

It’s a big day when everyone resident in Scotland gets to vote on whether to become an Independent country again after 307 years. Not through terrorism or threats or bombs or any other kind of armed struggle, but a generally polite and well informed discussion. In fact a number of our American friends have commented on how civilized the debate has been compared to political discourse here in the US.

Britain Scotland If you’re watching the coverage via BBC or other British channels, you’re probably not getting a full picture. Of course, the same would be said of taking news from Twitter and Facebook (as if anyone uses that as a sole source!) Most of the anti-independence rhetoric has come from newspapers and TV stations that take their cue from the UK government, while the pro-independence movement has overwhelming control of the internet and social media and by far the most ‘feet on the ground’.

Some of my favorite online moments have come from pro-independence musicians hitting the streets to support flash mobs. This one of Dougie MacLean is particularly moving. And for pure fun, not much beats this man welcoming the MPs come up from Westminster to march in support of “Better Together.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bGuCGdLxW0

If you want an accurate picture, you have to look at both citizen and establishment journalism. Two years ago the polls were showing a 20+% lead for ‘No’ whereas now with just a day to go it’s narrowed to 50/50 and no-one’s certain which way it will go now.

Because I’m not resident and I won’t have a vote, I like to think I can view the campaign neutrally. But there’s a coaster sitting on the table beside me that reads “You can take the boy out of Dunfermline, but you can’t take Dunfermline out of the boy” and that’s true. Despite being an American Citizen now I can’t forget where I come from and have to admit that I’m not the least bit neutral. I want an independent Scotland, in charge of its own resources, doing what’s best for its citizens, not having to live by rules made in a city of 12 million to govern a country  of 6 million living in a predominantly rural area.

This isn’t about kilts or plaid or bagpipes or even ‘Braveheart’ and the other media images of “Scottish identity.” It’s simply about bringing democracy home again.

 

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A Scotland soccer fan waves a Scottish saltire flag with Big Ben seen behind in Trafalgar Square in central London

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The Monday Book: PATRON SAINT OF UGLY by Maria Manilla

ugly coverThe author of this book is a facebook friend of mine, and I got it directly from her by request, because I like books set in Appalachia and wanted to review it. It’s a  magical realism romp, set in Sweetwater, West Virginia. Normally I’m not much for magical realism, but the cast of character in Ugly just won’t quit, from the indomitable Nonna to her fierce-yet-naive granddaughter Garnet Ferrari.

Garnet has a mop of flaming red hair, and the port-wine stains all over her body replicate a map of the world. Pilgrims flock to her home, convinced that she is pretty much the reincarnation of Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and other miracles. (Along with truth and lies, theology gets a little tangled with practicalities in this funny, fast book.) Garnet, used to being an outcast and the victim of bullies, doesn’t have much use for people, but all those poor unfortunates give her pause. She’d really like to just convince them this is all hooey, and they should go home, but at the same time she doesn’t want to hurt them.

It doesn’t help that the family has origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, where another saint named Garnet once presided, so the Vatican sends an emissary to investigate. Garnet’s written responses on the questionnaire to the investigating priest are some of the funniest bits in the book. Slowly she untangles a sad history of family rights and wrongs, learning that reality and myth blend in every family, and that love doesn’t always conquer all, even if it helps.

I like snarky writing, so enjoyed Garnet and Nonna’s interactions particularly well. Nonna, so patient, so reasonable, so astute behind that little-old-lady innocence, is the perfect foil for Garnet’s “please go away” attitude.

If you like magical realism, if you think Michael Malone’s Handling Sin is funny, if you love to read snappy dialogue from quirky characters, if you like bittersweet humor, you’ll enjoy this book.

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