Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

Passing the Penguins

va-assemblyOne of Jack’s favorite movies is Gregory’s Girl, set in a high school in Britain. A recurring joke in the film is the many unexplained vignettes of school life – the headmaster playing honky tonk on a piano during his break; a teacher flinging chalk and ranting about something unheard behind a classroom door; two people in penguin costumes wandering up and down the halls, clearly lost, and everyone who passes them says, in an annoyed tone, “Room 8, hurry up, you’re late, where have you been?” Etc.

Every year I go to Richmond to advocate for rural economic, educational, and health development, done by for and with rural people. I’ve done this trip perhaps eight years now, and while some things change, some things remain the same.

The sheer number of people up on the hill during the 46 days government is in session stays constant, but their costumes change. You round a corner and nearly careen into somebody wearing a VFW hat. People with white canes tap their way past the crowd of kids labeled (mysteriously) “VPT” and the VPTers shrink against the walls to allow them room.

A host of fifty-somethings wearing identical green suit jackets walk by, laughing. And in a line on front of a senator’s door wait women wearing pink and blue fuzzy scarves below their angry faces.

It’s American democracy in real action. People talking to their representatives, telling them what they think, why they think it, what they like done about it. It’s easy, especially now, to be cynical and withdrawn about those men (almost to a man, white men) in suits, but it’s also easy to talk to them. Even when they haven’t wanted to hear what I have to say, they’ve wanted to hear me say it. And most of them have listened with gentleness. I once had a legislator say to me, “I’ve heard that argument before, and I’m still not in agreement with it, but the sheer number of people who express it is beginning to have an effect.”

I asked him what kind of effect, and he grinned. “Sometimes you do what’s right because you know it’s right. And sometimes you do what you don’t think is right because that many people who actually work in the industry might know what’s right better than you.”

Fair enough. All those red hats and green jackets are having an effect. There are still conversations to be had with the guys in the suits, who are listening more than most of us think they are. Yesterday I told one of them why a piece of legislation had failed to help the people it was designed to, because of a small omission of detail it had overlooked in how the industry worked. He looked at me like I’d handed him a fresh cup of coffee.

“We didn’t know that. That makes perfect sense. Why didn’t anyone tell us that?”

I hear that a lot when I’m talking to legislators. They’re waiting for The People to show up and tell them things. Politicians really want to hear from us, despite the convenient apathy despair so often encourages.

“Why didn’t anyone tell us that” covers nuances that change intent in execution; it covers evil masquerading as good; it covers good that missed an important detail. And sometimes it covers BS. Not all conversations with politicians are honest or meaningful, but I’ll take eight out of ten odds any day. That’s how many usually are.

Plus there’s a new feeling on the hill this year: bewilderment. Almost, perhaps, fear. If the rules of the game have changed as much as it looks like they have, then The People have written a new handbook. Like it or lump it, The People elected this president. The People are to be respected, fuzzy scarves, penguin suits and all. Our voices matter and if we don’t like what the voices did this time, best make sure ours are louder next time. Persuasion is an art form not entirely based on TV exposure or the loudest voice in a room.

Perhaps the future belongs to The People who show up for it.

Go to, People. Wear a scarf.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Baby Worries a Little Bit

Hi, I’m Baby. No, go ahebabyad; I’ll wait while you sing the lyrics of the pop tune going through your head. Really, it’s fine; I’m used to it.

Now then, thank you for the serenade but I really don’t feel like singing right now. My whole world appears to be tilting and I’m just so concerned. My housekeeping staff are getting older, and lately she’s been very unwell. He spends a lot of time tending to her, and the other day didn’t he come out of her room, scoop me up in his arms, and cry all over me? He said something like. “Baby, we love you and we’re going to make sure you’re okay.”

Well if that doesn’t frighten a body…..

They are very nice housekeepers and I’ve grown quite fond of them over the years. I’ve never had any other staff; they brought me here when I was literally a baby, and we’ve been together ever since. They understand my little needs and habitues, such as what time second breakfast should be, and how to draw the blinds to angle that afternoon sunbeam precisely onto the sofa cushion.

We like to watch cooking shows together, and until recently she and I never missed One Life to Live. Now, though, she spends her time in the bedroom, and my personal bed has been moved next to the sofa. It’s all clear to me; I shall soon have to move. That’s what he meant.

One does what one must, but I can’t tell you the conflicting emotions running through my mind at this moment. Will they be all right without me? Who will wake them up in the morning, ensure she doesn’t miss an important episode, see that he makes their evening meal on time? (He always made theirs right after mine.)

Also, although one doesn’t wish to appear selfish, who will look after me, since I must leave here? Where am I going? Will it be quiet, will it be warm? Will they be kind to me? I realize some of my little perks may have to fall by the wayside, but if one has to contemplate hardship, there’s a difference between no sunbeams and no supper.

Really, I don’t show it to the staff, but I’m very concerned. I hope the best for them, but whatever is to become of me? Being a white cat makes me “desirable,” she said the other day. Well, yes, thank you, of course. But will that be sufficient? I just don’t know….

Baby is available for adoption through Appalachian Feline Friends. Message them or Willie Dalton for information. She is six years old, spayed, and utd on all shots. She prefers a quiet life with multiple meals and no expectations of entertaining children or controlling mice.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, what's on your bedside table

Couples in Triplicate

couples-blogJack and I joined two other couples for a weekend in Asheville, to celebrate the end of 2016 (which has been a real mixed bag for all of us) and the wine-and-laughter-soaked start of 2017 with its blank calendar squares of hope.

It is fun to watch three couples interact with others while being their two-unit selves. You have the individual; you have the couple; and you have the team. Sometimes the difference between any of these borders is blurry; at other times they can be uncomfortably non-opaque.

One person forgot essential meds; another dropped a bag that held a bottle of hard-to-get wine, shattering it and soaking some rather delicate Christmas gifts in alcohol – sadly, not an improvement in this case. Spouses tend to be harder on internal errors than anyone else, yet protective of those who make them. It is okay for one of two to say “you idiot,” but not anyone else. Not that anyone else would, you know, because what makes us exhausted inside couples is no big deal outside. It’s all new; it’s all good.

There’s a quote about marriage that says partners are like the blades in scissors, always moving separately and even in different directions, yet always working together and quite capable of punishing anything that comes between them. I think of that quote often watching sets of two:one interact with larger numbers.

Perhaps it’s like reversing those long algebra equations where you’re meant to prioritize the relationships inside the brackets first; fail that, and your mathematical answer will be wrong. But in human interaction, outside the brackets we add up grace, empathy, and laughing first, so that the sum of the parts becomes simple and fun and gestalt. Inside the brackets where the math can be tighter and more complex, maybe you’re tired of talking it over, had it with being the spouse who looks after things. But as you walk down the street in your big group of giggling friends, your spouse reaches for your hand, or tuck yours into the crook of his arm, and the rest dissolves. It’s all right.

Because marriages, like friendship weekends at New Year’s, celebrate not just the hopes to come, but the good and bad past memories that shaped the brackets you live in and made you the happy two:one you are.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE DOG MERCHANTS by Kim Kavin

dog-merchantsKavin wrote Little Boy Blue, the story of acquiring her puppy and tracing his trail from her house back to how he became a rescue dog. I could not bring myself to read this book for a long time, and I’m still inching my way through it. It is not for the faint of heart.

But Kavin’s journalistic style is well-suited to the one-step-removed-personally nature of THE DOG MERCHANTS, which investigates the big business of dogs in breeding, buying, and rescue. Yes, rescues can be big businesses. In fact, big businesses pit some rescuers against breeders in order to ensure dogs are big business. That’s just one of the many stories Kavin uncovers in her research.

Kavin’s style of writing, like that of any good journalist, disappears inside her subject. A book one reads for the information it contains rather than its fine writing, Kavin nevertheless is a fine writer. So good that she gets out of the way and lets her story tell itself.

One reviewer said DOG MERCHANTS would become The Omnivore’s Dilemma for pet lovers. This is pretty apt; if you read this book, you’re going to look at your puppy, and your friends’ puppies, the same way you started looking at diamond wedding rings – yours or anyone else’s – once Blood Diamonds had enough publicity.

But this book is not all doom and gloom and “you don’t want to know” voyeurism. Kavin lays out some compelling arguments for how to make things better, and some hopeful stories of how they are becoming so. More for information than entertainment, THE DOG MERCHANTS will leave you changed. Educated. Perhaps even motivated for more change.

I don’t often warn people off reading books, but I will tell you, you might not want to read this one unless you’re ready. The mysteries of dog business are deep and ugly. Be prepared to become the person others edge away from at parties. The next time you ask a friend where they got their dog, you might mean something different.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The (w)Rites of Laundry

laundryIn a fit of pique, or perhaps inspiration, I have reduced my clothing to one five-drawer dresser, one half of a hanging wardrobe, and a milk crate (underwear; no need to fold, just reach in there and grab what ya need).

Sick of trying to “stay organized” I reckoned up just how much of my writing time was ebbing away via clothes management, including but not limited to: laundry, what passes for folding at our place, stuffing things into drawers, and finding items when I needed that certain turtleneck or some such.

A lot of time got devoted to this. No. No no no. I’m working hard on my next book, and laundry doesn’t factor in.

The problem with that is, Jack and I tend to wear clothes until you can hold them up to the light and read through them. Things with holes go over contrasting colors for that special layered look. The trousers that feel comfy get worn ad infinitim (cotton ones with drawstring waists, to the chagrin of my fashion conscious friends who have to go out in public with me dressed like that). The smart, tailored ones get stuck at the bottom of the drawer. Now that I’ve reduced to one dresser, I’m gonna have to start wearing the slick ones with buttons. Sigh.

It’s a fair trade. I’m busy, and managing clothing over-consumption doesn’t factor in this year. Of course, there are moments.  Jack and I did a book club in Abingdon last week, arrived early at the rendezvous, and went to the thrift store at the end of the parking lot. I came out with a sweater.

It was a really nice sweater, hand knit, 100% cotton from Peru……

Anyway, my New Year’s Resolution: the little stuff is not gonna fritter time away from the big stuff, and a woman who wears elastic waist trousers under her hand knit thrift store sweaters can freely admit that clothes are little stuff. Avaunt, away, ye loads of brights, darks, and whites. Color my world with metaphor, allegory, and using just the right gerund.

Merry Christmas to all and to all Tidy Whites!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Certainty amid Uncertainty

Jack’s Wednesday guest post almost made it – – –

Work continues apace on the Hazel House – the Little Cat-House – – –

hazel-in-shelter

Hazel when we found her.

But there are, of course, frustrations. We want to get moving as fast as possible, but with no heat and no water that reduces the options (and that means no working toilets!). Three space heaters and two fan heaters raised the temperature from 28 degrees to 35, which doesn’t exactly encourage much meaningful work either.

However we did manage to sweep all the loose dirt up and away, establish that all the water pipes had been bust and arrange for them to be replaced (thanks Thom), get a very prompt response from Mid-Mountain Heating and their excellent Logan who is on the case, and got the two trees that were invading the front porch cut down. We replaced light-bulbs and made sure all the electrical switches and outlets worked.

We have established that two windows are broken, there’s missing guttering and rain water pipes, and the surrounding yard is an overgrown mess!

But we appear to have inherited a working fridge/freezer and a dishwasher (which we haven’t yet tried – because no water), a large stepladder and a two part aluminum ladder.

Wendy’s friend Beth’s husband in Blacksburg is overseeing the construction of the fenced in front porch, so we’ll have an ‘airlock’ as we transport our lodgers into the facility.

So things are looking good for a final launch sometime in February and we’re celebrating the fact that there are no cats in the local kill shelter in the approach to Christmas!

The various rooms and the house itself have been named for the feline friends we have rescued, looked after, fallen for and escorted over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ over the last few years, not least our beloved Valkittie. The house is named for the wonderful Hazel, who captured hundreds of hearts as she moved from abandonment to the final happiest year of her life.

valkyttie-cover

Valkittie in charge.

We have a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers and I applaud them one and all – it’s great that folk, both local (who can do practical things) and further afield, who maybe just cheer us on or make a financial contribution feel so involved.

In an increasingly uncertain world this is a reminder that we all have a shared humanity – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

Oor (cat)Hoos is a very very very Fine Hoos

house-aff-004Well, we’ve done it. Appalachian Feline Friends bought a house. Hoos, as my husband calls it. And now we’re fixing it up so we can start using it. We hope to be in by Valentine’s Day. It seems appropriate.

The house has some needs. Like many of the cats we serve, it’s been ignored, neglected, and left to fend for itself over a few cold days.

  • The pipes are busted; we have an AFF member who is a plumber. Life is good.
  • The heat pump needs its ducts replaced and we’re not sure what else. We may need some help with this, so if you are a heating guy and want to help the homeless kitties, please get in touch. Our guy is replacing the stuff we can see is bad, but if that doesn’t work, we’re stumped.
  • We have a cleaning crew. We have a plan. We have been loaned a bushwhacking weed eater of epic power dimensions for taking care of the garden. Life is very good indeed.
  • We will need plywood, a screen door, a front door, and some other stuff. But for now, we are just celebrating the fact that we have the best Little Cathouse of Big Stone Gap.

If you’d like to help, please get in touch. Or donate stuff: paper towels, paint, a bed, a chest of drawers, kitchen stuff, sheets, you know. Stuff. Or money, which will help us do all the repairs.

Meanwhile, we’d like to thank Sabrina, the realtor who worked so hard to help us find the place, the closing lawyer who donated their fee when we did, and the AFF volunteers who are fixing the pipes and wiring. And the donor who bought the house for us.

We have a house, y’all. Hazel House is a reality.

hazel in shelterIts name is Hazel House in honor of a senior cat who was dumped at the shelter, age 21. She was adopted by a volunteer and lived another happy year in a loving home. Inside Hazel House is the Pogo Playroom for kittens. And the Blackstone Suite, where our staff member will live. And The Laurells, a rest room for senior kitties. All named after cats who came to us needy, and got what they needed.

We have a house. Hazel House is real. And getting fixed up. And we are so very, very happy that this much-needed thing has finally come to our town.

If you feel like helping, hop over to the Appalachian Feline Friends page and donate.

We have a house, y’all. WE HAVE A HOUSE!!!!!

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