Category Archives: home improvements

Branching Out – –

Jack hits the ground running and meets the deadline – for once – –

Regular readers may recall that I’m no fan of gardening. This goes back to my earlier life in West Fife, where the earth tends towards solid clay. So solid, in fact that I once fashioned a frog from it, let it dry in the sun (it does shine occasionally in Scotland) and couldn’t break it with a hammer! The soil was near impossible to dig and the only things that grew were weeds –

In profusion – – –

The odd thing is that my childhood hero was my Grandad, who was an enthusiastic and successful gardener. He grew vegetables and fruit for our table and roses in the front yard. But I do recall he had to dig an awful lot of horse manure in to get the ground into condition.

When Wendy and I married and moved to East Fife I was astonished at how easy it was to dig our back yard and plant potatoes. But it didn’t turn me into a gardener – the non-gardener seed had been sown long before. I grew up thinking that trying to grow stuff was some kind of Calvinist punishment for past or future sins.

But there are some outdoor chores you simply can’t get away from and for me that has been trees and grass. When we moved to Big Stone Gap we found we’d inherited three heirloom apple trees, a pear tree and a peach tree. I managed to allow one apple tree and the peach tree to die and then tried to trim one of the other apple trees, nearly killing it as well. The grass became less of a problem when I purchased a used riding mower (that’s also when I really became an American!).

Our new dwelling here in Wytheville has a big backyard with four enormous walnut trees and more equally big but more nondescript ones. The walnuts aren’t near enough to pose a danger but some of the others definitely did. One was looming over our house and the garage and the trusty odd-job man we inherited with the house took care of that. But maybe it’s just because I have a rechargeable cordless chainsaw that I eyed the smaller one that was, nevertheless, encroaching on the power line feeding the house. Or maybe I just can’t see a tree without wanting to trim it!

tree

The last branch’s last stand!

tree2

Et voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, everywhere from New Gilston to Wytheville, Wendy and I have gotten quite good at growing tomatoes from seed, so maybe there’s still hope?

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Well, Cheers, VA

Jack reverts to form and comes in a day late –

Wendy and I have a guilty secret – two actually!

We are suckers for bookstores (well, duh!) but also thrift stores. The thing about thrift stores (charity shops in Scotland) is that you never know what will be in there and there’s always the hope that the next one will be better than the last.

Now that we’ve moved to Wytheville we’re in easy travel of quite a few second-hand shops, some turning out to be real Aladdin’s caves of all kind of delights – and horrors.

Being new to the area we don’t know until we visit them whether they’re any good or not, or even whether they really are selling second hand stuff or just another arty pseudo antique place selling tat at inflated prices.

But then our new friend  (who owns Oracle Books in Wytheville) took me to one here in town a couple of weeks ago. It’s an outlet of Virginia State where they sell off redundant stuff from State departments. My goodness! Everything from storage cabinets and shelf units to office tables and school desks and beyond.

Yesterday I took Wendy because she wanted a table for her writing hideaway (AKA the jail). As we wandered independently around she called to me. “Have a look” she said, and there was a display cabinet full of plastic bags, each one stuffed with corkscrews. Probably twenty or so in each bag and there were at least a hundred bags!

corkscrews

So of course the question we asked each other was – which department did they come from? Did the ABC folk order a gazillion of them and then realize too late they don’t sell wine? Or is there a department that’s so under pressure they go through a bottle a day to just function? If so, which one? Maybe Motor Vehicles? State police? Department of Health? (That’s Wendy’s vote.)

No matter which part of your tax dollars at work resulted in a table chock full of corkscrews at $2 per gallon baggie, we want to say what should of course be said: THANK YOU. We bought two bags.

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Filed under between books, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

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!

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

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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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