The first time I got this book was from my editor, Nichole Argyres, as a present. While visiting in 2012, she saw me grazing her NYC office shelves and asked what looked good. I pointed to Global Girlfriends, and her face lit up.
“It’s a great story, so inspiring, and really worth telling,” she said, thrusting the book at me. I planned to read Global Girlfriends after leaving NYC, but we went straight to an event in Northern Virginia, where the lovely and accomplished Carolyn Frahm had invited me to speak to her book club about my newly-published memoir. While there, she saw Global Girlfriends in my bag and asked if I was enjoying it. Carolyn’s book club was comprised of women who looked for ways to use their financial well-being to help others–the hosting house’s daughter was recently back from Pakistan, where she and her husband ran a clinic for pregnant women–so I gave Carolyn the book. I’d only read the opening chapter, but some books are just meant to be in the hands of certain people at the right time.
This year, visiting Nichole’s office again, I told her how I’d “lost” Global Girlfriends and asked her if she had another copy. Her face lit up again. “It’s such an important story,” she said, scanning her shelves. “Ah. Here. This is a book I’m really proud of.”
With good reason. Edgar tells the story of how she took a $2,000 tax return and leveraged it into a for-profit company dealing in fair trade goods crafted by women in disadvantaged countries. The story of creating her enterprise is bounded ’round by short stories of the women she works with internationally.
Think of a mirror in a hand-crafted frame, each shiny stone set as part of a pattern into gilt. That’s pretty much what this book is like; each story is self-contained but collectively they reflect back what GG does. And the central story reflects “us”: that is, women of comfortable lifestyles in a wealthy nation. The side stories reflect the lives of women we could have been, had we been born in another country. One of the nicest elements of this book is that it neatly sidesteps that “poor unfortunate souls” crap so many “welfare” programs unwittingly propagate. Stacey talks about looking at begging girls in India, and seeing her two daughters; holding meetings with administrators in run-down offices, and seeing in them her friends, the sisterhood of women who cope with what life throws at them.
There’s an interesting life theory that social workers–Edgar is trained as one–often come up against (as do public health workers, ministers, and just about everyone else; we just don’t name it). The JUST WORLD THEORY says basically that if something’s gone really badly for someone, it must be because they deserve it; blame the victim, for letting themselves become a victim.
We don’t need to talk about the arguments against that theory; Edgar pretty much smashes them without a backward glance as she describes each country more through the lives of the women than the stats that she tosses casually into the narrative.
People interested in social justice, or in the mysterious ways in which women form bonds where men tend to create wars, will love this book. I’m not sure others will be able to sink their teeth into it. It doesn’t start with “why,” but “how.”
I’m very glad, now, for losing my first copy and gaining this second one. Thanks Nichole for getting this story out there, and thanks Stacey Edgar for writing it.
And if you want to go buy something from Global Girlfriends – the women they work with make incredibly beautiful and sturdy items, avoiding what Edgar tactfully calls “the carved giraffe dilemma”- here’s their online store:
Kelley, the chef here at Second Story Cafe, has been soliciting opinions: should cornbread have sugar in it?
Yes, it’s that ugly, age-old conflict of North vs. South, encapsulated in food. Northerners tend to say yes, Southerners no. And we all know what happened the last time these geographies disagreed on an important issue….
Before we dive into this rather heated debate, permit me to point out that cornbread has brokered culture blend way longer than it has provoked division. When Europeans “discovered” America, they found corn a staple of food for the people already here, and adapted it into their own recipes. Cornmeal went from something served more like polenta to the pone that became a part of every Appalachian’s diet.
[Side note: A great story Dan Brown missed in his use of Rosslyn Chapel for The DaVinci Code is the decorative carvings of maize on its walls - put there at least two centuries before corn came to the Isles from the New World. This fascinates Jack and the people who visit Rossyln as part of the annual Scottish tour he leads. How did corn show up in art when no one had seen it yet?]
My grandmother made the best cornbread, in a pre-heated, pre-buttered cast iron skillet so the crust was hard and the inside crumbly. Hers wasn’t sweet, but dripped butter enough to make Julia Child pause. Growing up, cornbread at Sunday dinner, alongside ham and green beans, preceded cornbread in a glass of milk for bedtime snack. And if there happened to be any left (an unusual occurrence) it was Monday morning breakfast before catching the school bus, as well.
After Gran’s death, during my lean graduate years, I resorted to those pre-packaged mixes, about 30 cents each. Of the two brands that fought for supremacy in my local grocery, one was sweet and bright yellow, one savory and pale. I bought the bleached brand out of loyalty to grandmother; for under a dollar, even counting the butter, I could make an evening meal out of cornbread and a side vegetable. Breakfast the next morning – leftover cornbread heated up, then dumped into cold milk–was about 40 cents.
In New York City, they of course take a sophisticated (read: compromising) approach to this subject: you can buy artisinal cornbread from the local bakery with jam in the middle, or with a tangy herbed butter mix. That sound you hear? Gran rolling in her grave. She might not have cared about the jam, but the $4-a-tiny-loaf price tag? *Eye roll*
So I don’t mind if cornbread is sweet or savory, choosing rather to celebrate its cheap (in Appalachia, at least) wholesome goodness and its cultural blending. But if you want to see some REALLY fun debates, hop over to Second Story Cafe’s FB page and read the comments. “Sugar in cornbread”???!!! Feuding words.
The Health Department came for their 30-days-after-opening inspection yesterday. The gentleman who conducts these visits is a true gentleman, supportive, honest, forthcoming with answers to questions and with information newbies might not even know they need to ask for.
During the course of the visit, he told our chef Kelley there had been “a complaint” that our facility did not have the capacity to undertake all it was doing.
Huh – you’d think we’d have noticed if we were incompetent. Yet even as my dander began to rise, a customer eating in the cafe smiled and said, “Being translated, someone’s pissed off that this place has been such a success from the word go.” Everyone laughed.
And that was that. The health department gentleman investigated and found groundless the “you’re not smart enough to do what you’re doing” complaint, and business went on as usual.
But it really got to Kelley: “Why would someone want to mess with someone else’s livelihood without rhyme or reason? Why would they complain about ‘capacity,’ or are they just being mean? Don’t they understand the consequences for others?”
That’s a good question, and I’m not asking it specifically about us, but about that human proclivity overall to interfere with each other in a negative way–often involving lawyers and state agencies, but also gossip, fists, and sometimes churches. Do people take such negative approaches because they see a need to “protect” others? Because they feel a sense of power they want to exert, or because they feel powerless and want to get to feel powerful? Or just pure flying sparks of human meanness and not enough impulse control?
No one will ever know. I’m reminded of the episode of the old TV sitcom Murphy Brown, some 20 years ago, when she was invited as a guest onto a children’s television program “Mulberry Lane” (yes, it was a send-up of Sesame Street). Her visit went horribly wrong, resulting in the puppets singing a song about mean people, and how you should just get on with your lives and leave them to their sadness.
I sang it for Kelley: Sometimes people can be mean, ’cause they’re jealous or mad or excited. And then we went back to work, living our lives, running the cafe and bookstore, being happy people with successful businesses upstairs and down.
♪ Sometimes people can be mean ♪ Just close your ears and walk away ♪
Jack’s weekly blog post, in which he ponders the power of memories to support friendship.
We had a visit today from a friend who has also been a fairly regular customer. Mike was recently ‘let go’ from his newspaper job and therefore has more time to come into our store. When he arrived our schizophrenic regular was also here and we all ended sitting down together while Mike waited for the cafe to start lunches.
The last time I mentioned our schizoid friend (let’s call him Chas) involved a similar situation, but with a visiting musician buddy (let’s call him Greg, since that’s his real name).
But back to Mike -
Mike and I enjoy a shared passion for model airplanes (or aeroplanes, as I much prefer) – in his case plastic display models and in my case the flying variety. In my misspent youth I built and flew both free-flight and u-control types and couldn’t afford those fancy radio controlled ones (in those days the radio equipment was expensive and so heavy you had to build models that were almost as big as the real thing!). U-control is where you stand in the middle of a circle holding a ‘U’ shaped handle attached by two wires to the model (controlling the elevator, making the model go up or down) while the plane flies round you at anything from 60 to 100 MPH. I suppose I should admit here that Mike’s models tend to survive a great deal longer than mine!
We found that special ‘sweet spot’ of conversation when two followers of strange pastimes dive together into that pool of shared enthusiasm. Mike extolled the virtues of different brands of plastic kits while I recounted how I’d re-discovered flying models just 10 years ago. I described my wonderment at miniaturized multi-channel radio equipment and the move from oily, smelly engines to electric motors. We waxed eloquently about Spitfires, Lancasters, Seamews and Hurricanes, as well as Mike’s predilection for the ancestors of the Hurricane – Hawker’s classic biplanes of the 1930s, the Hart, Hind etc.
As we went at it, I suddenly noticed that Chas was sitting like a spectator at a tennis match – head moving back and forward and a look of complete contentment on his face!
Two friends could lose themselves for an hour in a warm fuzzy place and Chas once again felt included.
How cool is that?
It’s a new era for this blog—well, not that new, but still. In celebration of passing 100K hits, I’m instigating THE MONDAY BOOK.
The first one was given me by Pamela, my agent. She met our train on our trip to NYC earlier this month with a book in her arms. Since our train was late, I asked her if she’d been enjoying it, and she grinned.
“Actually, this is for you.” She handed over Mud Season, by Ellen Stimson, published by Countryman Press. “I begged it off an agent friend, because it’s the antimatter version of Little Bookstore. This family moved to Vermont to get a quieter life, and it all went horribly wrong. Enjoy.”
You know the quote, I think in Catcher in the Rye, where Holden Caulfield says he sometimes wishes he could have lunch with the author of a book? That’s how I felt about Mud Season. Stimson is a successful entrepreneur, someone who has run various businesses well, selling them off for profits. But when she moved to Vermont, she kinda got stuck behind her business acumen, didn’t take local knowledge and expectation into account, and wound up pretty close to literally losing the farm (house).
For all that the premise sounds scary and not that fun, the stories are hysterical in and of themselves, and Stimson’s writing style is funny, funny, funny. She uses footnotes to deliver comedic timing–a better use for them than Academia ever found.
Her family moved to “the country” to get out of the rat race, and found once there that they might more or less be considered the rats. As they try increasingly clumsy attempts to save themselves, their Horribly Quaint Country Store (HQCS) fails slowly, steadily, and for reasons that have a lot to do with them not being from there—although that gas pump thing on page 142 really was not their fault. This comedy of errors has some life lessons floating below the surface, but they are less extracted and analyzed then left for the reader to find between the lines.
Which made me really enjoy the book. I’d love to have lunch with Ellen Stimson and trade stories on running a business, writing a book about running said business, and why “idyllic” will never cross either of our lips again when describing a rural lifestyle. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy re-reading my favorite parts: the parade permit that wasted 300 pounds of lobster; the day she forgot the historical society was taking a house tour and started cleaning the chicken coup; and yes, the Gas Pump Incident. (Read it and weep with laughter.)
That parade permit chapter, for anyone who has ever lived in a small town, is about the funniest thing on record describing what this “simple” local government activity is like. See Big Stone Celtic’s page on Facebook. We go through this every year.
Next time I’m in Vermont (which will be the first time) I’ll look up Stimson, take her to lunch in a secluded place where no one can hear us, and compare notes. I suspect we will laugh ourselves into comas.
OK, team, my friend Destiny and I need your help. That’s her on the left, crossing the finish line on the Veteran’s Day 5K charity run, about a month after she donated a kidney to a guy who was dying. Yeah, you read that right. Some of the A-listers from the Big Stone Gap movie filming here ran as well, but I don’t think anyone could have been as brave as Destiny.
Destiny is making me some Christmas ornaments, and later a couple of throw pillows. They are all book-shaped. We got her the pattern off Craftsy (if you wanna go look for it) so she could cover us in these adorable things, and also sell them for herself in the store. The fabric she’s got for the Christmas ones is on the left, and those are the pillows on the right.
So now we need some cool, made-up titles for her to use on the ornaments. Think “GREAT CHRISTMAS TITLES THAT SHOULD BE.”
So far we have two titles we like: Rudolph the Well-Read Reindeer, and Hat Trick: the unauthorized biography of Frosty the Snowman. But we need more. So comment here with some great titles for Destiny’s little puffy books? Thanks! We know we can count on the collective wisdom of the bibliophilic community and we look forward to reading them.
This is Destiny with her mom, who passed away a year ago. She was one of our most fun customers. Destiny donating the kidney was part of her doing 50 random acts of kindness (big and small) in honor of her mom’s life. I think I’m going to talk Destiny into writing a book.