Category Archives: crafting

Which Side are You On

Jack scrapes over the wire with the Wednesday post – – –

I’m a week or so late in acknowledging Labor Day I know, but –

On our kitchen wall we have a tea towel with a print of a certificate by the house decorators and painters union dating from the mid 1800s.

towel

It fascinates me for two reasons. It reminds me of a famous book – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – that describes the working conditions of a group of house painters in England in the early 1900s. The other reason is because I served a six year apprenticeship learning all the skills depicted in that certificate.

The scenes illustrated clearly display great pride in the variety of specialisms involved –

The simple yet carefully prescribed way of painting a paneled door.

The use of color to enhance a classical Greek style cornice.

A cherub studying design and another one lettering a signboard.

A collection of regular paintbrushes and tools and another collection of tools for applying goldleaf.

In the center is a scene showing why the union was so important – a sick painter (maybe suffering from lead poisoning) is being attended by a doctor while his wife and son look on.

In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the main character is a young man, newly finished his apprenticeship who has a particular talent for design. He spends a lot of his own time, unpaid, making wonderful designs to be used later as part of his work. This reminds me very much of my father who served his time back in the 1920s when the system still included attendance at art college. Truly a marrying of art and craft and the legacy of people like William Morris.

My apprenticeship was served under my Dad in his painting business and I was ‘indentured’. That means that, like all his apprentices, we both signed a legal document that was then torn irregularly in half. At the end of my six years I received his half, which when matched to my half showed I was legally a time-served craftsman (indentured actually means ‘patterned like teeth’).

Everything has changed now. In Scotland there are still apprenticeships but they last just three years and don’t cover the same breadth of skills. Indenturing no longer takes place and DIY has blossomed with the introduction of easier to use materials and tools.

But I learned a lot – not just about craft skills, but also social skills. Not only that but it was the gateway to my college career, so a very good start to my working life.

Finally – I’m a big believer in unions!

2 Comments

Filed under book reviews, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

The more Empty it Got, the Smaller it Became

As most of you know, we closed our beloved bookstore for good in early July of this year. The last few days were a frantic “All books 50 cents, all proceeds to Appalachian Feline Friends” clean-out, and we had fun.

About 500 people came through, and almost every single one of them said some form of, “We really enjoyed having you here. You really added something nice to our lives.” Which is legacy enough for anybody. We feel full and loved and excited for our next adventure (which, yes, could possibly include a bookstore, but not this year).

empty bookstore 2Something weird started happening, though, as we emptied the shop slowly, removing things room by room and centering them up front. People bought books and shelves and said nice things and took free stuff we had lying around for the taking, and the walls began to appear. The more they appeared, the smaller the (former) bookstore got.

When we lived in the shop, there was room enough for us and two dogs and about 12 cats at one point (but don’t tell Jack because he doesn’t think there were ever more than 10) and 30,000 books. Plus all the detritus that a musician and a yarn-loving writer (yes, both senses of the word) would collect. Let’s not talk about my addiction to thrift store kitsch.

When we stripped the shop back to its bare walls, it began to look, well, tinyempty bookstore 1. Space that had held the ideas that launched a million ships, some for good, some for evil, shrank to the size of a human living room. The more we worked, the lesser the bookstore looked.

Friends who came to help commented, unprompted. I’d see them sit back on their heels over a box, or pause hefting a shelf to the porch, and stare at the walls (which now showed all the places we had drawn artwork around paint chips and cracks) and say, “Hunh. It’s getting, like, less instead of more.”

And it was. To us. To the nice couple with their daughter who bought the place, I am sure it will fill with their own happy home memories and fun, and be just the right amount of space. For Jack and me, we’re off to claim our new territory, when the time is right. God guides, and she has a great sense of humor sometimes. We are enjoying our year of resting undangerously in Wytheville (where friends tell us our house looks like a miniature version of the old bookshop) and then we’ll see what new walls unfold their spaces.

7 Comments

Filed under between books, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

The Monday Podcast

conservative liberal bookstoreSorry, team, that the blog has been so lagging of late. I’m on a heavy crochet schedule, and have two book proposals in. (More on those later, no ink on signature lines yet.)

Meanwhile, because down time is precious, my reading has been confined to after I’m in bed, and more often than not the book hits me in the face to signal nighty-night.

While crocheting, however, there is only so many streamed TV shows and movies one can watch before one feels brain cells dying, so I turned in desperation to “Best Podcasts of 2019.” And found a gem.

EMBEDDED is in-depth reporting on specific issues of timeliness. Police shootings, Trump stories (some of which are hysterical – check out the one about his golf courses), and a five-part, amazingly even-keeled examination of Mitch McConnell’s political career. The dry humor, unwillingness to express opinions, and the timelag (they recorded some information as far back as 2012) make for great deep dives. Those who want to find bias probably can, but since it could cut in any direction, I’m thinking there’s not a lot of it.

Although individual programs can be as insightful as they are diverse (the one on Inuit suicide rates in Greenland, for example) EMBEDDED does its best work in serializing. Someone on that team is doing some great advising, because the sensitivity of the four-part series on Coal in Appalachia was amazingly accurate. I felt seen. That is very unusual for a network known for elitist urban attitudes. Their coverage of “Trump County” was also even-handed, in-depth, and devoid of cheap shots.

EMBEDDED makes me feel informed, and wiser, and it delivers both with a fair sense of humor. While it won’t take sides, it does deliver jokes. No small feat in a program working not to politicize its own programming.

Highly recommended, whether you think NPR is a liberal bastion of condescension or the last remaining news source of integrity in America. I never felt condescended to in their coverage of rural – and they actually covered rural blight with equal dignity to stories of urban school closures.

Two big crocheting thumbs up for EMBEDDED; I finished an entire afghan and am moving on to the Christmas snowflakes. Heh heh. No pun intended.

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, book reviews, crafting, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Shedding – – –

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday blog post arrives on Thursday – –

Our riding mower lived in the garage when we first moved to these nice new digs. But it was very awkward getting it from there into the backyard where it was most needed. So it’s been sitting out with a tarp over it to protect it from the rain. That isn’t ideal so we decided to get a storage shed to house it.

We decided on a DIY smallish shed made from heavy duty plastic, mainly because it came with a floor. When I checked the parts, the floor turned out to be thin and really just for positioning the walls correctly. So it was back to Lowes for lumber to make a base!

I should remind everyone that for a number of years I was Head of the construction department in my old college in Scotland. But if my friend and colleague Davy Spence who led the carpentry and joinery section had seen my workmanship on that base he would have shaken his head (my trade was painting and decorating).

Nothing daunted I set too constructing the shed with help from Wendy.

We’ve been married for twenty-one years and have rarely fallen out over anything, but this might easily have ended in divorce. I needed Wendy to hold pieces and slide them around on command. They were meant to slip easily into place.

Easily is a relative term…..

The trouble mainly stemmed from my fairly flexible (not to say, shoogley) base. That meant that none of the wall sections ended up exactly fitting as they should have. After a couple of false starts, and me accidentally letting a panel fly back and smack my beloved in the face (no swelling remains) we got them all up and connected together.

Next came the roof which was in four sections and also involved a fair amount of pulling, pushing and application of ‘Ferguson’ (a make of hammer favored by car mechanics). It wasn’t until the final roof section went into place with a satisfying click that the whole structure stopped wobbling. Including Wendy’s faith in me, since I had spent the last hour shouting things like “Up! Down! Left! More left!” as she stood outside on a ladder holding roof bits.

shed

Awaiting the doors tomorrow.

The online reviews for this shed include a number from folk who said they put it up alone and others who said that two of them did it in four hours – I don’t believe them!

For anyone who’s interested it’s a Craftsman 7×7 storage shed. You might want to take your spouse to dinner first if you’re going to build it together.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Beat Goes On – –

Once again Jack scrapes in under the wire –
Back when I was on the teaching staff at Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week outside Asheville NC, one of the students who always attended my classes was Stefni. She sang in a choir in Pittsburgh that specialized in Eastern European music and she made their costumes. The last year I taught there Stefni didn’t show up and I wondered why. A few months later I received an email from her husband explaining she had died of a rare lung disease. That was very sad, but then he told us she had left her music and book library to us in her will! We were astonished and drove up there a few months later.
Sorting through her stuff was difficult and we came to an agreement to sell anything we didn’t want and split the proceeds. But that still left us with lots of stuff that never got put anywhere easily accessible.
Following our recent house move I’ve been sorting through the LPs and CDs from her collection that had never been properly stashed and I’ve been discovering amazing things. Mostly very rare English, Scottish and Irish recordings in excellent condition. It’s clear from the stickers on them that she was an avid collector and appreciated what she was finding.
So my upcoming radio shows will feature much from Stefni’s collection and keep her very clearly in my mind.
There’s no room here to list all the stuff, but it ranges from everything Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger ever recorded to very obscure albums by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.
Of course the books included full first editions of Child’s ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, Bronson’s ‘Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads’, and Sharp’s ‘English Folk-songs from the Southern Appalachians’.
I hope dear Stefni Agin is looking down approvingly at the continuing life of her amazing collection as I try to do justice to it.

1 Comment

Filed under crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

cookiesDear Ashley–

We meant well. I just want you to remember that….

You know how your college roommate Beth and I are the best of buds, and sometimes we rope you into schemes from the edge? Being a people doctor we get how busy you are, community dignity needs and such, so we try not to involve you in every hairbrained scheme. 5% seems about right.

I cracked my next percentile down in weight, the three-digit scale number ending in 0 finally ending in 9. SUCCESS! CELEBRATE! Yeah yeah, 11 more pounds to go but after losing the same three for six months, it felt GOOOOOOOOD.

And I knew you’d be happy for me because 1) you’re my doc and 2) anytime a patient in SWVA gets out of the pre-diabetes diagnosis, where the cheapest-available potatoes and biscuits like Grandma used to make are the worst thing we can eat, there will be popping of corks.

Which is what Beth and I did, of course, because she makes wine. She is, in fact, the reason my HDL cholesterol is superhuman high: reds got the goods on that fat stuff.  We have discussed this.

Now Beth and I know you can’t tell us about each other’s health, that hippo in the room, but we talk to each other about our hypochondria and what you said about it all the time. Like most of your patients, we respect your advanced learning, etc. etc. but take advice from each other, because, SWVA. Right? Yes, just nod. We know you know.

Beth had her own reasons to celebrate, you and she negating the stress connection to her physical prowess, so we figured what more American way to mark weight loss and harm reduction than cookies and alcohol? The only reason we didn’t call you is, we know you have small children and buggering off to get drunk with us would have raised questions in the home.

Instead, we figured on giving you some of the cookies. After all, you helped make us what we are today: thinner and pain-free. Plus, we could show off the wonder of chemical sugar replacements posing as plant extracts, and ricotta. The cheese made them the perfect pairing for a pinot.

To add extra burn (in the GOOD sense) we did aerobic dance while baking, aided by shouting at Alexa anytime a song crossed our minds that had a great beat and you could stir to it. There was a sipping game involving the resolution of jazz triad chords, I seem to recall….

Several dozen cookies later, the products of conceptual baking appeared flatter than we expected because we had confused three cups of red wine with four cups of almond flour, but hey when has reducing carbs ever hurt anyone?

And the cookies were really soft and they fell apart as we tried to spatula them off the pans but once we discovered how good they were rolled up and mashed into balls, that didn’t matter. Cookie count went from like five dozen to three, and we like to think they honored Beth’s profession cutting testicles off cats. Still, we resisted the urge to name the cookies after any medical procedure; we were thinking of you on this point, dear Ashley.

Except, next day, after Beth duly labeled a Tupperware container with her return address a la Southern Baptist women everywhere, and we shoveled some of the flat and balled cookies into it, I forgot to deliver it to your office. See, I had a slight headache, and there was this tinnitus ghost music in my ears…..

So Jack will bring the now-frozen cookies to you next week, dropping them by your office Monday, and we just wanted you to know, we had such fun and hope you did too, being the third party at our party. Let’s do it again sometime soon!

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, home improvements, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Things I Learned during Writing Residency

19226005_10154761056583505_1735351353313373426_nThings I have learned (some about myself, others about writing) during this residency:

Crocheting is as important as writing. Find your BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT thing and do it. You don’t need any more reason than that, so long as it’s not killing the household budget. If what you like is expensive or takes time your family can’t give you, see if you can pull a little dangling thread somewhere to get a small marked bit of time and space. You need it in life even more than writing.

The value of silence: it is tempting to tune into online TV during crochet time, the radio while we drive. Do without every so often. Sit and listen to what you’re thinking about, and be surprised at the connections that form because of the silence.

Don’t lose sight of places you like to be. Until I got to Fayetteville, I had forgotten how soothing, how inspiring, being in the woods is. Church, ball game, bathtub: wherever you go to get your writer on, don’t let anyone keep you from it.

Do new stuff because it’s new. This could be writing, finding a new place to hike, visiting a different town, cooking something weird, trying an intense craft pattern. Bust out of your comfort zone.

Know what you believe. I believe in Jesus. After that I’m listening. Right now polarities are oppositional in politics, religion, even how to cook lasagna. Every idea space is full of debates and hurricanes. Listening is good. Keeping one’s mouth shut is good. Usually people don’t want to know what you think; they want to tell you what they think. Let them; it’s grist for the writing mill, and not difficult to shake off what they will enjoy as a power move. It makes GREAT character study. Don’t get excited; get a notebook.

Draft fast; edit slow. My latest manuscript of 65K words drafted in three weeks. It was crap but had great bones. I set it aside for three weeks, then edited, sent to readers, edited again. The polished draft is with NYC’s publishing deities. Time plus chair plus keyboard makes drafts; fallow time plus finessing makes books.

Work with other writers in a bordered capacity. I’m fortunate to teach for Memory2Memoir and mentor writing educators with American NewMedia Foundation. What other people struggle with, how other people choose to tell stories, invigorates your writing. That said, offer too many consults and your time will disappear. When I sat down to do “other writer stuff” besides drafting or editing my manuscript, how much “other writer stuff” there was startled me.

Enter contests carefully. Writers can spend their lives looking for and finding them at $25 entry fee per. Like a plot itself, getting sidetracked to tell a wonderful story about some minor character may be fun, the writing great, but it doesn’t advance the overarching narrative. Entering contests because you don’t know what to write about yet? Awesome, keep going. Entering contests as avoidance to writing your book? Nope.

Have simple foods on hand. Peanut butter and apples were my staples, plus Trader Joe’s frozen polenta for hot meals. When you’re knee-deep in plot yet hungry, you can keep going.

Hope these are useful to you. I’ve loved my time at Lafayette Flats.

16996112_1413870752024892_5559679091652011148_n

 

15 Comments

Filed under between books, crafting, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing