Category Archives: home improvements

Quart into a Pint Pot

We apologize for the sparse amount of blog posts but we are in the process of moving to Wytheville and haven’t sorted our internet service there yet.

Moving house is a fraught business which I have always hated and since we are down-sizing it’s doubly challenging. We have been running up and down the road with our car and truck loaded up with boxes and crates. The odd thing is that we still visited numerous thrift stores to pick up various items of furniture despite going to a smaller house, because the bookstore needed so little furniture.

550 tazewell

Why are we moving?

Two reasons really – the bookstore is becoming just to big for us to look after, and Wendy’s job at GMEC is expanding geographically and will require much driving up and down I-81.

What of the bookstore?

We have very good reason to believe that it will continue under new ownership. We spent the last thirteen years taking it from nothing to being a ‘go to’ place for visitors from around the country and even from abroad. It has contributed to the economy and community spirit of Big Stone Gap and we have high hopes it will continue to be the cheerful, welcoming gathering place it became.

What of us?

Our new house in Wytheville is actually older than the bookstore and has the original 1866 log cabin county jail in the backyard. Wendy has claimed this for her writing studio. She says it’s ironic since thought is freeing. Yes,dear….

It’s very close to the interstate for Wendy’s work and I will be able to continue with my radio show. It has a music room that can handle house concerts and a couple of guest rooms for visitors. We’ll be just two hours from our friends in Wise County, so not too far away. In other words, we’ll be just fine and look forward to the next chapter in our life together. Come join us for a ceilidh night!

Normal blogging will resume from January 7th 2019.

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

The Banks are made of Marble

Jack’s weekly blog hits close to home.

I learned something new this past week.

The banks are only interested in you now when they’re making money from loaning you money!

Growing up in a Presbyterian household in Scotland, my Mother’s rule was “you don’t buy anything until you have the money to buy it”. So nothing was bought on credit! In those days a bank was where you saved your money. Wendy comes from a similar background, so we were very happy when we found ourselves ‘free and clear’ a few years ago and not owing anyone for anything.

Scottish banks, like Quaker saving societies have a reputation for simple, basic service and not speculating with your money overnight!

Fast forward to last week and we found that not buying anything on credit means our credit rating has gone from 800+ to zero. We have banked with Regions for so long it goes back to when they were called AmSouth, but that makes no difference apparently – regulations, don’t you know!

Their ‘work around’ was for us to get at least four letters from within a list of eligible types of companies attesting to our good standing. None of them were local and I have no idea how we’d have done that within our timescale.

Eighteen years ago that same bank were happy to finance our purchase of the bookstore. We paid that off early, which probably didn’t suit them either.

So Wendy went to BB&T, which is the bank her organization works with. Her contact there said “my goodness, that’s crazy – we can do this”. A wasted week later I get phone call from their guy in Winston-Salem – “I need some details so I can check your credit ratings – – – – “

When we bought our first house together in Scotland, twenty years, ago I was invited into the manager’s office for tea and biscuits simply on the basis of our salaries, and he was very happy to approve the loan.

Now we’re in the very fortunate position of having investments we can convert into money but even that is proving time consuming and complicated, because I’m absolutely certain that every gate-keeper along the road is getting their pound of flesh!

Luckily we have investments we can call on, which we will to pay for our new house, but what’s the world come to? Perhaps this: https://youtu.be/x-o3CJytIPE (It’s Pete Seeger – go ahead and click the link.)

550 tazewell

 

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

Letters, Boxes, Words–Tomatoes

hidden roomThis time next month Jack and I should be finding places to put things in our new house. It’s 550 Tazewell St, Wytheville if you want to look up the rooms and stuff. People have already observed (correctly) that it is a half-size version of our current bookstore home.

No, we won’t be running a bookstore. Yes, the blog will continue. Yes, I’m still writing, working on my fourth book and oh glory the joy when I can stop packing boxes and start using the time for writing instead. No, I won’t be working with Appalachian Feline Friends in any significant capacity, just driving transports and running an online craft store for fundraising. I’m retiring and turning it over to younger people with more fresh ideas: no strategizing. I need the brain space.

The joys of the new house include: a hidden bedroom. Halfway up the staircase is a small hobbit-shaped door, with no stairs into it. You have to hop. This reveals a slope-sided attic space in which any self-respecting hobbit or child would delight. I revel in the prospect of filling it with my yarn, lining the sides in visible boxes, waiting for me to pluck it out and make it into things that will assist the cats or surprise and terrify friends at Christmas (2019, I hasten to add).

A small greenhouse. My heirloom tomato nerd side is already planning. If you have heirloom tomato seeds you’d like to send me, please do. Oh, the happiness of growing baby tomatoes from seeds. I’m going to pipe in classical music to help them along.

The old jail. Seriously, we inherited the 1866 Wytheville jail as part of the property. It has heat and light and it’s the perfect size for a 9-months-of-the-year writing studio. A small table, my laptop, and NOTHING ELSE! I haven’t had a designated writing room since I finished the writing residency in Fayetteville last March. Jack is the one who called it, too. As soon as he saw the room, he said, “Well, you got your studio back.” Yep.

The tiny balcony. Despite his best efforts and mine, Jack still smokes. Not in the house. It’s a deal-breaker. But on the lee side sheltered by the roof and some trees sits a small patio on the second floor, just big enough for two chairs and an ashtray. My beloved can do his bad thing out there and I won’t have to smell it and he won’t be cold in winter. Little portable heater’s chord fits under the glass door.

The big ceilidh room. The house is 1890, so it has an original and an added bit. The original has big wooden timbers framing it, exposed for aesthetic pleasure. It’s a big room, and even with two sets of double doors leading to the front and back gardens, it gets less light than the rest of the house. And it has the fireplace. This will be our music room and where we hold ceilidhs and house concerts. No furniture, just folding chairs, instruments, and the bookshelves at the far end holding our collection of rounds and songs to sing together. Already we are looking forward to meeting the Wytheville musical crowd. Debra Preese, the lady we bought the house from, knows several, and our realtor Tyler Hughes knows more. They’re rumored to be happy to have a Celtic music couple arriving.

There’s still a twinge at letting go of the bookstore, but it’s thriving and we have high hopes the next owner will continue its community service. Jack and me, we are ready for our next adventure, in a smaller house with a big heart.

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

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

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

The Unsung Bookstore Heroes!

Jack makes it over the bar with the Wednesday guest post – –

This place is BIG! The odd thing is that it’s gotten bigger over the last fourteen years, as we’ve made less livable spaces more so –

It takes a bit of looking after and keeping clean, and we’ve tried various strategies to deal with that over the years. To begin with we tried to keep on top of things ourselves but later we realized that wasn’t too practicable. So we had a couple of good friends who stepped up to help. The first was Heather, who can be seen in this video jokingly using our cat Owen Meanie as a duster. Heather was an awesome cleaner, thorough, efficient, and with a wicked sense of humor.

But she moved to Colorado so then we had Anne, who not only cleaned but brought posters and knick knacks and little colored baskets to make the shop more cheerful. Eventually health issues meant she had to retire (she’s also in the video as ‘Becky’ in the needlework group). Both of them were painstaking and highly skilled and we missed them—even more as we tried others with mixed results and also went back to trying to handle things ourselves. It was clear that we needed to find someone to take the place on –

Enter Judy!

She already cleaned for our vet friend, the sainted Beth and we had heard some stories that seemed pretty far-fetched. For instance, we were told she only would agree to clean for folk she approved of, and also she did all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘cleaning’. Seemed a bit odd, but we sent out a feeler to see if she was interested.

We’re not sure how she assessed our suitability but apparently we passed the test!

Judy is absolutely amazing – she has taken us on as her extended family. She really DOES do far more than we’d expected. Just recently I asked her to mop the front porch deck – she turned up with a power washer and did the deck, the railings and the furniture! Then there was the time she dug up an overgrown bush in the back yard and then brought here truck into the yard and hauled the roots out with a chain. She loves the cats as Heather and Anne did before her, and she once used her mop to physically repel a man trying to dump kittens in the bookstore.

Do not mess with Judy. She is the stuff of which mountain families are made. Also, don’t leave your coffee cup on untreated wood without a coaster. She’ll take you out.

 

 

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

The Monday Book: RISE- how a house built a family by Cara Brookins

houseI heard about this house on Facebook long before the book came floating through our shop. Tiny houses and self-built places fascinate me, so I pulled it to read. It’s a quick read, not heavy on building details.

Cara was married to a succession of abusive men after being born into poverty and pretty much having a miserable time in school. She got herself into college and a good job, and began writing teen books, and things were looking up – except for the guys. It didn’t go well and she wound up married to someone who was certifiably insane in a kind of “could kill somebody” way.

So part of the book is about the safety needs of her four children, three of them old enough to participate in building a house, one of them a toddler. Part of the book is about her becoming a competent and confident enough woman to stride into a bank and come out with a builder’s loan–and then do the building. Part of it is about watching her children rise to the challenge.

I’m not sure this book would please everyone. I got bored with the parts about guided meditation and the places where she glossed over things — her childhood being so poor, she ate one meal a day, why her mom and dad are divorced, whether the abuse she accepted in marriage started at home, for instance. There are stories here she’s not telling.

For all that, I loved reading about how she kept the kids entertained and safe and fed while they were toting and lifting and literally bleeding their life’s blood into making a house. Two nails up for RISE

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY: Nellie Flies Away

Today is the one-year anniversary of my friend Elissa losing a very special rescue pet. In solidarity to a fellow rescue I am re-running the post written for Nellie when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

When you start rescuing animals, you know the day is going to come when they break your heart by leaving you. It is a clock that ticks through the background of the 10 or so years you get, measuring sweetness.nellie-1

Our friends Joe and Elissa are in mourning this week for the loss of Nellie, a dachshund of such meanness, elegance, and grace that to try and confine her with words is as difficult as holding her still in real life proved to be.

nellie-2Nellie had a spinal problem common to many dachshunds, resulting in paralysis of her back legs, but Joe and Elissa are not common dachshund parents. With years of fostering experience behind them, they never considered putting Nellie down. In fact, they adopted her a cart sister, a little girl named Hope.

Not that Nellie wanted company, or challenges for her preferential treatment. Queen of the realm, Nellie never let anybody forget she was not Crippled, but In Charge. Nor did she let them believe that inconvenience was reason enough to release a dog to the Rainbow Bridge. Passionate about her status as Poster Wiener for the disabled dog community, Nellie rode her little pink cart through the streets of many a town delivering her message: Live life to the fullest and if it’s on wheels instead of legs, go faster!nellie-4

My husband Jack painted her cart pink when the high tech metal version first delivered to Joe and Elissa didn’t suit The Nelligator’s sense of feminine command. He would have added flames if there had been enough space; Nellie was Hell on Wheels canine-ified.

Nellie crossed the Bridge due in part to a bad drug response, and it is fitting that her final days on Earth were yet more instruction to the rest of us on how to take care of ourselves. She was given Flagyl, a common antibiotic for “gut issues,” and had an adverse reaction. Turns out, many people and dogs have such complications, but it’s not widely recognized. Nellie’s story, posted by her faithful Mama online, helped other people on Flagyl recognize the symptoms and switch.nellie-3

Now it might be sweet to think of the Nelligator trundling her pink hotwheels across the Rainbow Bridge, but no, this never would be Queen Nellie’s style. Rather, she will unstrap her cart, adjust the butterfly wings she wore for her photo shoot on disabled dogs, and lift off. She will fly straight and true to the other side, notice the cats crossing, and turn back to dive bomb them. (Our sweet Nellie could be a real arsehole when she wanted to, and she wanted to pretty often.)

Then she will point her nose toward the sun, a doggy Icarus sans fall, gaining power with each flap. At full height, she will execute a corkscrew dive straight toward the nearest Great Dane. Size only matters to a dachshund when you’re measuring chutzpah.

nellie-5Once the Dane is cowering in terror, Nellie will be satisfied that her power has been recognized, her rule established, and she will flap off to the Dachshund Shoals in search of the Blue Bell Ice Cream Van. They will have added extra cups of her favorite flavor, vanilla bean, in anticipation of her arrival.

Joe and Elissa will miss their girl, but they will continue to show the same love and conscientious care to their herd of eleven other special needs babies. When they think of Nellie, they will accept the new normal of her departure, and smile at the image of her somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, surveying her new kingdom from a benevolent six feet above. The animals there will also accept the new normal, and wave up to their Queen. They’ll have to. She won’t have it any other way.

nellie-6

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