Category Archives: VA

Bucket List vs. Sieve List

If bucket lists exist, then there must also be “sieve lists”–things you never planned to do that suddenly stick in the mesh as life’s waters rush by. Here are a few of mine that stick out:

We’ve been to the Revolutionary War cemetery in Dandridge, TN

It was an accident. One crisp fall weekend Jack and I did an event requiring a hotel too near Dollywood, and when we got up in the morning, access to the freeway was so clogged, we took off down a side road and navigated by map. When we got to Dandridge, we stopped just because we’d never been to Dandridge, found the cemetery, and spent a pleasant hour on the self-guided tour, picking out Scots and Scots-Irish settlers. Jack and I often comment about the difference between “old” in the US and UK: we’ve visited 1200s ruins there, and functioning 1400s hunting lodges. But here was an “old” cemetery with real people who had done significant things, whose names had been lost by wind, time, and weather to everything but the printed tourism brochure. Jack and I have had a lot of moments like this, when Plan A gets tossed at the last second and we come up with a Plan B on the fly. Sure, we wind up with the occasional disaster, but more often we get magic moments like that day.

Sieve list lesson: don’t be afraid to strike out down the side road

I spent several hours in a school shooting lock-down

It turned out the gunman was a hoax called in by a deranged student. But those of us who spent that January night listening for footsteps beneath howling winds comingled with sirens didn’t know that. I’m not recommending expectation of death as a mental exercise, but a surprising amount of clarity lingers when fear dissolves into a second chance.

Sieve list lesson: second chances are unexpected gifts of grace; take your best shot when you get one

I taught students that thinking was grounded in, yet different from, knowing facts

Teaching Cultural Geography et al was first for fun, then for money, and then for love. Finally I stopped because the politics of adjuncting overwhelmed the joy. But I had no idea how much I would love teaching until I saw students–mid-lecture or classroom exercise–connect with whatever concept we were covering. Sure, every teacher is excited by students who really wanted to learn, but sometimes who got hit upside the head with a new perspective was as startling to you, the teacher, as to them. Kids shuffling toward mediocrity would suddenly blink, and you could see that, willing or not, the moment of truth had captured them. I’m sure some of them pushed these epiphanies back down under the latest recreational diversion, but a wave of understanding still swamped their world, creating empathy, forcing awareness. Dear God in Heaven, I loved those moments. I miss them.

Sieve list lesson: good, right, best, and ethical are tricky negotiations; do the best you can

I got a book published

Writing was always on my bucket list; publishing, not. To paraphrase my friend Jane Yolen, publishing isn’t something writers get to be in charge of; we write, and the chips fall. The process of turning writing into publishing proved to be fun hard work that really did change my life–mostly because Little Bookstore was about such an integral part of my life. Publishing enriches you with money sometimes, but more with people. As an introvert, I was at first nervous when readers traveled to the bookstore wanting to chat, but my extrovert husband showed me what a gift a different perspective brings. It still amazes me how differently the people who loved Little Bookstore think from each other in terms of politics, religion, what life should be like, etc. And sure, it’s a quick ego stroke when people like your book, but then it flies past ego and comes around full circle to a kind of grateful bewilderment, even true friendship sometimes. A lot of interesting, cool, fun people hang out in the word world.

Sieve list lesson: what you think is the core (or payoff) may not be; be surprised by joy

What’s on your sieve list?

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Bucket Lists

four leafJack and I lead contented lives. We run a bookstore, rescue cats, live amiably with occasional passionate flairs, and own our house. We don’t have to cook if we don’t want to because we have a cafe in the bookstore; when we want something to read, we amble around looking for it. I have enough money to buy most of the yarn I want and all of the yarn I need, and Jack has a little red sports car.

Yeah, we’re shallow sometimes. :]

The bucket list thing has for the most part passed us by. Jack said once he wished he could pair his black socks correctly before he left this life, and I aspire to get through a whole tube of chapstick. Other than that, go by mad world.

But my friend Cami is a go-getter and a champion back-of-the-pack marathoner, and she is in Chile with her husband. They suggested we come for a visit. Neither Jack nor I have been to the continent of South America, and I admit we used the words “bucket list” to discuss the trip. As in, “It wasn’t on our bucket list, but it seems like a nice opportunity.”

That started one of those in-the-car conversations while driving to Maryland this week. (We went to visit our friend Melissa’s bookstore The Parkville Bookworm, along with her staff cats Stan Lee and Spencer. Eight hours is a long time to listen to NPR talk shows.)

On the drive Jack and I compared bucket list items, big and small. Some of these we probably can’t get, and some we can’t get without help, but hey, it pays to dream. So here it is……

THE JACK AND WENDY BUCKET LIST

Independence for Scotland (Jack and me both)

Find a four leaf clover (I’ve never found one in my whole entire life, except once inside a book, dried and pressed.)

Visit Fiji (Neither of us have been there, and we don’t know anything about it. We just like the name, I guess.)

Tell stories at the Iranian International Storytelling Festival (It’s held every February, this was their 18th year, and they don’t invite a lot of Westerners. But someday….)

Own a Morgan sports car again (I rolled my eyes at this, and Jack informed me that every guy is allowed a secret fantasy.)

Have the bookstore completely organized in a manner that makes sense (Jack says this has to be mine alone as he won’t put something on this list that can’t happen. I pointed out the Morgan thing and he just smiled. Should I be worried?)

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Half a League, Half a League – – -

jackWhen Wendy and I first met she asked me if I liked walking. “Of course!” I lied. I was smitten and would have said anything.

Ever since, when given the option, she will walk rather than take a bus or taxi when we’re out of town on book or health business. Her preferred enticement for me to join her in this activity is to find an Indian restaurant nearby, knowing I love a curry dinner above most things in life.

“It’s only half a mile” is the usual precursor – -

On pretty much every occasion, however, the ‘half a mile’ turns out to be considerably more. I have learned to ask “a Wendy half-mile or a standard half-mile?”

It’s sometimes been necessary to cross busy highways, garnering strange looks from car drivers who are obviously wondering who these idiots are clamboring over guardrails. Sometimes the Indian place is no longer there, or it’s become a Mexican eatery, or it’s not open for another two hours – or it’s not open on Sundays.

That’s not the point, though – it’s all about the walk – – -

Yesterday we went to the Kennedy Center in DC to see ‘Evita,’ which involved a forty minute walk from the hotel to the Metro station. Because we had extra time, Wendy suggested a walk to the botanic gardens, which of course started with a twenty minute walk in the wrong direction. A suggestion from me that we avail ourselves of the shuttle from the wonderfully named Foggy Bottom station to the Center was grudgingly accepted, as was my later suggestion that we do the same in reverse going back.

Wendy always wins out in the end, though; she was saving the final ‘cherry on the cake’.

We still had a forty minute walk back to the hotel from the Metro.

The view was lovely, but my feet hurt.dc sunset

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Hi! I’m Prince Caspian!

DSCN1247Hi! I’m Prince Caspian! I’m a very brave explorer and a good shoulder sailor. I love to find small spaces to hide in and then jump out at people’s feet. And I love, love, love to cuddle.

I’m just here at the bookstore until I get my forever home. The bookstore is fun for now, though. Lotsa tall places to climb up and jump on people’s shoulders from. The other day I did a perfect four-paw landing on the back of one of the ladies who works here, as she was stooped over shelving some books.

DSCN1214Was it my fault she screamed like that? Honestly, it was kinda fun though, flying through the air. It didn’t hurt cause I landed on a soft chair. Just kinda bounced a little. But to hear her tell it, she thought the devil had her.

I’m just a little kitten, lady, no big deal!

Really I’m kinda sweet and innocent. Except I’m gonna be a pirate when I grow up. But don’t tell the people in the bookshop, ’cause they said I’m named for a character in a Christian children’s book.

People say I’m cute, but what they don’t know is what a very brave cat I am.They used to call me Small Fry, but I didn’t like that very much because it reminded me of the scary time I spent in that garbage can. There wasn’t anything to eat in there but cold french fries and it was so hot and hard to breathe. I knew I had to get out so I was very brave and cried and cried for help, and a nice lady heard me and got me out.

I’m trying not to hold a grudge against the guy who put me in there. He said I’d find some stuff to eat and it wouldn’t be his problem. Buddy, you need to rethink how you’re living your life. That’s all I’m saying.

DSCN1226Who needs a grudge when I’ve got all these nice people around me? First I went to the animal hospital and I stayed there a whole two weeks because I was so small and you could see my ribs – well, cold fries just aren’t much to eat, are they? And I had coccidea, which is a kitten disease that’s easy to take care of if you get the right nutrition. (Again, with the cold fries….)

Everybody loved me at the hospital and carried me around on their shoulders and let me ride on their shoes. And then I came to the bookstore, and everybody here loves me too. I’m a really lovable guy. And I get all I want to eat here! This place is great.

Mom says soon somebody will take me to another place and that will be my forever home, and I’ll get all I want to eat and have lots of laps and shoulders and chairs and shelves. I’m looking forward to it.

‘Scuse me, I see somebody coming and I don’t want them to know I’m using the computer. Come see me! Ask for Prince Caspian! Bye!

DSCN1253

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – -

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA

Ah – Valkyttie!

ValkyttieJack guest blogs today on the end of an era, and the Monday book will return next Monday.

She came to us as a tiny kitten, just four weeks old. One of her earliest acts was exploring the backyard in Rosyth, Scotland, where she saw off a big bruiser of a cat six times her size. (He’d had the audacity to use the yard as a shortcut to the field beyond.) “Now would be a good time to be magnanimous,” I shouted as the confused older cat hunkered down to watch Valkyttie–all of six inches long–arch her back and hiss like a little black powder puff. But she held her ground and established her territory.

We should have known then what we were in for. Every day Valkyttie had a fish finger for supper while we ate ours. This kept her from climbing our legs to dive headfirst into our plates.

WENDY&CAT1Later she tried to teach me how to catch mice. When I failed after two or three tries, she went off and returned with a moth, mieowing, “Perhaps you should start with something simpler”?

I knew she’d brought the moth to me because Valkyttie had epicurean tastes and wouldn’t have been caught dead with such a vile supper for herself. Once she jumped onto the table, speared a curried shrimp from my plate, and flicked it over her shoulder. The thing did a perfect splashdown into my glass of white wine. She then fished it out and ate it. I expressed astonishment at her “lucky throw” and she gave me That Look and did exactly the same thing again. Her mieow said, “You should know I prefer my curried shrimp lightly marinated!”pissed off valkyttie

Valkyttie shifted house with us twice. Not content with emigrating from Scotland to England, she persuaded us that we needed to move to America, as she had heard the weather was warmer there. Her final move was to Big Stone Gap, where she oversaw the setting up of our bookstore – first inspecting the building of bookshelves, then supervising the displays of books. Thus established as the bookstore CEO, she quickly assigned ‘greeter’ duties to her arch-nemesis cat Beulah, and then recruited Owen Meany and Nike for more menial tasks.

DSCN0283In her senior years Val took on the role of elderly aunt as hordes of foster kittens paraded through the bookstore, teaching them deportment and table manners and making sure they went on into the world as exemplary citizens. She was not above cuffing them in a corrective manner.

Finally, when her time came she made her own decision, making clear her intent to leave this world Saturday morning. Our beloved vet helped ease her out with no more suffering, and we all cried our eyes out together. Valkyttie left wrapped in the pink fuzzy blanket she loved to lie on and look out the window.

We shall miss her, but we are confident that she crossed the rainbow bridge in a sedan chair with gold leaf, borne by four Corgis. Even now she is greeting other famous bookstore cats, including Anna-Boo, who left this world in April, and Hazel, of this blog fame last year. We like to think the bookshop cats cross into human heaven by day, staff bookshops there (for what would heaven be without bookstores!) and then come home to kitty heaven at night to eat salmon from diamond plates.

Enjoy, Valkyttie. We loved and love you!

WENDY&CAT4

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Coach Oliver Wins Through

We’re sorry about the off-timing of our blogs this week; most of the adults associated with the bookstore and/or the Celtic Festival are lying in darkened rooms with cold cloths on their foreheads. The Monday book will return next Monday, and we’re back on track now, we promise!

Jack and oliverAs the 2014 festival fades into the distance, our headliner Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver Cookson are staying on for a bit of a holiday. We’ve sent them off to Nashville and have plans to hit Cherokee and Bristol before they fade into the British Empire sunset.

Among the simple pleasures they’ve enjoyed is attending our good Chef Kelley’s children’s soccer games. We walked over to one the Monday after the festival, after all the adults had slept 12 hours straight.

James, Kelley’s wee’un, plays on the Funky Monkeys for ages 4-6. Oh, the hilarity! The Monkeys had black shirts, the opposition purple. Purple showed up with fewer players than Black, resulting in rotations for the Black players. The first two put out began turning cartwheels beside the goal–not noticing when the teams came charging down to attempt to put the ball into said goal, or when said ball rolled merrily between them as they turned.

Next, one of Black’s players trotted off the field as his mates were running the other way, and said to his parents, “I’m tired. I don’t wanna play anymore. Can I have some cheese and crackers?”

One of the cartwheelers was quickly pressed into service.

Soon the ball was returned to some point in the field for a reason Jack and I didn’t understand, whereupon the clump of children surrounding it began to kick it toward a goal–regardless of shirt color–and the Purple coaches began to shout, “No, no, the other way!” A Black child looked up, shrugged, and started kicking the ball back the way they’d come. The Purple coaches shouted again, “NO, NOT YOU! NOT YOU!”

The Black player gave the Purple coaches an enigmatic look that suggested all adults were crazy and kicked the ball to score a Purple goal. All the children cheered madly as the Black coach shook her head in despair.

A few minutes later, time to rotate! But where were the extra Black players? After a quick search I heard the Black coach exclaim, “Come down outta that tree! It’s your turn to play!”

We thought our joy was complete, but about then, Jack asked, “Where are Oliver and Barbara?” We looked over at the sidelines between the peewee game we were watching and an older team…..

?????????? Oliver 2….and saw Oliver gesticulating with their goalie, demonstrating kicks while hugging a ball to his chest. The goalie stared up at him, enthralled.

No doubt a few parents were startled by the sight of a dapper man with a curly handlebar mustache beneath a straw boating hat, shouting, “Kick it, lad!” in a posh British accent. As we left the field, I heard some murmurs: “Nope, never seen ‘im before. Anybody know who that was?”

We’re all going back next week to watch another game. Who knew sports were such fun?!

 

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