Category Archives: home improvements

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.

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Bits and Pieces – –

Jack makes his deadline in time for once – –

Just some random stuff about my week –

I finally woke up on Friday morning to no pain in my hip, then Saturday morning as well – so far it’s been six days with no pain. Yesterday I was at my chiropractor Dr Teri and told her the good news, adding “the Ibuprofen seems to have really helped”. “Yes” she said “maybe my adjustments did too”. Sometimes it’s just too easy to offend people unthinkingly – write one hundred times – I must think before – – –

A good few years ago I wanted a ‘parlor guitar’ so, when I flew anywhere I could put it in the overhead bin (having heard of and witnessed terrible things with checked instruments). I found a guy on-line who was in California and specialized in finding them in auctions and house clearances. A few weeks later I was the proud owner of a 1906 Lyon and Healy Lakeside. It was gorgeous, with a real punchy sound and is the only guitar I’ve ever seen with an oak back and sides. Sadly it deteriorated rather quickly until it became just a decoration in the bookstore. But it’s just been completely rebuilt by an expert luthier in Nashville and I’ll have it back next week!

I have a Martin D35 I hardly ever play so that will be sold to pay for the work on the Lakeside – – –

I’ve always had a strange attitude to jobs and tasks and will throw myself into some while pushing others to the back of the line. This week sees two of the pushed back ones finally struggling to the front. I got four grant applications for our Celtic festival written and sent off and tomorrow will see the start of our long overdue bookstore deep-clean. That will involve boxing up lots of books, then removing bookshelves from the walls and stacking them (and the boxes of books) out of the way. Then removing the quarter beads round the edge of the floor. Finally, the actual deep clean right into all the corners before replacing everything again!

Regular readers of this blog will know that Wendy is away from home for three months and at a goodly distance from here. This will be the longest time we’ve been apart in the almost twenty years we’ve been married and it’s a very strange experience for me. Some couples, I’m sure, have this kind of separation regularly and we’ve had shorter spells apart in the past, but this is different. We talk every day on the phone and message back and forwards on emails and messages, but it’s not the same as her actually being here. On the other hand, our terrier Bert and our bookstore cat Owen are in seventh heaven as they spread out over the bed every night – – –

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

The Plates of Breakage

Sometimes ya just want a little retail therapy. Even amidst the voices about “live simply, that others may simply live,” even after you’ve read “AFFLUENZA” and admitted to excesses, even taking Marie Kondo to heart, there are days when you just wanna go shopping.

Especially when your sister you rarely get to see is in town, and the two of you take Mom on a thrift store ramble. Off we went, three girls on a mission to visit all the thrift stores we could before Mom conked out. (Four.)

At the second one, SCORE. I found a brand-new duvet (those huge down comforters one rarely sees outside high end department stores) for $5. Those things are like $120 retail!

Standing in line to pay for this fluffy find, my eye fell on a stack of eight glass plates taped together. I picked them up. Old glass. Heavy glass. GOOD glass. Unusual design.

IMG_2480“I don’t need plates.” Feeling virtuous, I set them back on the counter.

My sister leaned over. “$1.25.”

“Each?” Mom asked, looking interested.

Tracy shook her head. “All together.”

Don’t judge me. They fit nicely packed inside the duvet. And I liked them, and I make my own money, and gosh darn it if I want to spend $1.25 on something silly, I can.

Home we went, where I opened the car door to unload the duvet – and all eight plates crashed to the ground. Sigh…..

Two were shattered, one lightly chipped. I did a quick attitude adjustment: now I only had to store six plates, and they’d just gone from 15 cents each to 20. Big whoop. I adjusted the dinner guest list: four friends over instead of six.

Back home that night I showed Jack my finds.

“We didn’t need plates,” said my Scotsman husband.

“Need didn’t have a thing to do with it,” I huffed, setting them on the table.

A few hours later, we heard a loud crash. Upstairs, where they were not meant to be, a kitten had gotten past security and hooked her claws into the tablecloth. Down one new plate, but the rest had simply tipped off the table onto the duvet I was going to put away later. One slight chip not mentioned, five usable plates remained. 25 cents each wasn’t really the point. Should I have bought something I didn’t need?IMG_2419

I called our friends Beth and Brandon. “Y’all need to come and eat before I break all the new plates I got for us to eat off of.”

Beth being the family vet and Brandon my chiropractor, as well as family friends, they’re used to idiosyncratic sudden phone calls.

“OK” was all Beth said.

Four plates to eat from, one to serve on… you know what’s coming, right? With an artistic cheese platter arranged elegantly amidst olives and strawberries (I repeat, don’t judge me; they made a nice color combo) on plate five, I tripped. Over thin air. Or maybe the kittens set up a yarn trap; they thought the resultant cheese spill was the Best. Thing. Ever.

We ate leftover pizza from the four plates of breakage. The plan now is to use them until Christmas is over, then throw however many are left into a fireplace. It’s not like 31 cents per plate prohibits this for fun. At this point, perhaps they owe me money.

Nor will they be wasted, these extravagant items purchased for no other reason than glass lust. I have a friend, Susan Powers, who Makes Things. She recycles broken materials, and inherited plate six the day after it fell. When we shatter the remaining Plates of Breakage, she will assist the phoenix that rises from their crystal splinter ashes.

Reduce, reuse, recycle–retail? I dunno, but those plates have bought us more fun than $1.25 ever should.

 

 

 

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

Organizing the Westerns

westernAbout a week ago I realized that our Mancave needed cleaning. We call this the Guys with Big Guns sections, housing Westerns and War novels. It was dusty and hadn’t been culled or realphabzetized in some time.

Dealing with Guys with Big Guns is not something we as Quakers want to spend our time doing.  Although we don’t read these genres, we certainly sell a lot of them, so last Saturday, there was nothing for it but to bite the bullet and move in.

It’s enough to make a bookslinger cynical, I tell ya. First of all, the  expressions on the faces of the cover art guys are the same (grimacing with determination). Also their posture: they lean into the action but slightly away from the gun. Yes, they’re all holding guns, but here’s where it differs. Western guys hold six-shooters (I think) while the War people vary: post-apocalytpic weapon of choice is a Bazooka. Go figger. The spy guy  ranges from little pistol-ma-bobs to those huge rifle-esque guns you see flashed from the backs of Toyotas in countries where things are not going well.

Guns I don’t know much about; the alphabet I can handle. That’s what I was trying to do, organizing them by author. Some, like Terry or William Johnston(e) or good ol’ Louis L’Amour, move fast. Others go at about the speed of cattle crossing the Great Plains. So it’s important to keep them sorted, but at a certain point, whether First-time Author Hoping to Break Into the Genre or whoever is covering L’Amour these days wrote Shootout at Wherever gets old. Did you know that about half of all Western titles start with Shootout, Gunfight, or Crossing? Go ahead, check it out.

It seems to me that Westerns are Romance for Men. In fact, I once put a bunch of Native American romances back there in the mancave, mixed in with the other Shooters, and sure enough, they got scooped up. A word to whoever is designing the covers: a girl with big heaving bosoms and a guy with gritty determination in his eyes will do; you really don’t have to worry about anything else. Near as I can tell, in the Westerns she heaves in the background as the guy covers her with his big gun, while in the Romances she heaves in the foreground as the guy, again…. Anyway, you get the (cover) picture.

It took several hours, but our Westerns and War sections are now relatively dust-free. Jack did suggest I leave a bit, for atmosphere. “Guys want a little True Grit,” said my husband.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

That Line between Hoarding and Recycling

The grandchild of two women who survived the Great Depression, I grew up watching my paternal grandma stick straight pins into a potholder on her stairs. No matter how bent, she would hammer them straight if necessary, and into the little blue felt heart (made from scraps of another project) they went. She had a jar of thread balls. Meanwhile, maternal grandma “Nanny” cut plastic milk jugs into scoops or used them to store well water against drought. Both hoarded bread wrappers and the plastic bags inside cereal boxes.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never found the line between hoarding and recycling. Plastic storage containers with no lids? Heck, I can start tomato seeds in them come Spring. Books from 1970 about education policy? Craft time, baby!

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Except, it never is craft time. Neat stacks of “things I’m going to make as soon as I have time” turn into spider condominiums in the garage. Boxes of one project get pushed to the rear behind other projects.

Still, I persist in refusing to throw things away, because gosh darn it, we all need to reduce our footprint on this planet. It feels more gracious to save the string too short to be saved in an old mint tin, then throw the whole thing away when a mouse starts nesting; now it’s a health hazard rather than my wastefulness.

(I would have set it out for birds to use, but FB says that’s bad for their health….)

Old bottles I can figure out; paste funny slogans on the side of them with scrap paper: Tincture of Smarm, Diplomacy syrup, Integrity Supplement. These are on a shelf in my office, and they amuse me. But there’s only so much room on the shelf.

Ziploc bags get rewashed and reused, but when I tried to make ice by freezing water in one the other day, it had pinholes and all the water leaked out into my chest freezer and now there’s something of a defrost crisis out there. And sometimes people edge away at the pool when they see my sun hat is crocheted from plastic grocery bags.

I was unraveling a sweater to save the yarn, and the big hole up its back meant every piece was about six inches long, but I kept tying them into the next string until Jack physically took it out of my hands and said, “Dear. Really?”

Save money, save the planet, but they never tell you how keeping stuff loses time–the other American failing. Saving time is a virtue in our society, perhaps more important than saving ourselves?

Having been a student for 12 years, every late July/early August, the urge hits to reduce my belongings to what can fit into a Toyota hatchback. It’s a grad school thing. It’s not good for marriages. But it does keep me from becoming a permanent hoarder, when my grad student side fights with my grandmothers’ DNA.

Should I throw away the box of envelopes stamped with an old professional address, or keep blacking them out with a marker and writing mine below it? Will I take that bag of mismatched socks to the trash (but they’re great for stuffing crocheted animals!) and give up ironing wrapping paper? Can I deny the penny-pinching miser I am for the sake of a home where I’m not tripping over stuff that will come in handy someday?

It’s a dilemma – to save or not to save, that is the question. Whether ’tis better to pay up at the store or feel like you’re beating the man and saving the Earth every time you stuff another box of weirdness into a closet?

Simplicity was never this complicated in Nanny’s day….

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

A Walled Garden

19206160_1634797773197947_1339798747_nIn the city, space is a commodity. I’ve always thought of cities as incongruous lonely spaces – so many people, so little humanity interacting.

But we are staying with friends in downtown Edinburgh, not a mile off Princes Street (downtown) and they have a walled garden…..

I love walled gardens. Your own little bit of marked off territory for just sitting, thinking, being quiet and contemplative with a book and a cup of tea, or loud and boisterous with instruments and a bottle of wine and a handful of mates.

In the middle of the city, you can find the greenery and the fountains and the people who actually live in the cities, whose lives are rooted like the gardens they plant in their little secret places.

Perhaps my fondness for gardens stems back to the day after Jack’s mum died, and I was away from home in Ayrshire, in Wigtown, Scotland’s book city, and had nowhere to go to be by myself and have a good cry. And I spilled my guts to say as much to one of the bookshop owners, at Ceridwin’s Cauldron, and she took me back to her garden and brought me tea and told me to stay as long as I wanted. I spent an hour back there composing myself and being nothing but alone. Ever since then, walled gardens have been a special space.

The garden here at Barbara and Oliver’s has been a jolly place, shared for music and reminiscences and politics and the mystery of the noise coming from somewhere nearby. (Jack cracked that; it was a two-note sound not unlike the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS alien five-note theme, and he found the sewer pipe in the apartment next door was letting off gas, one note opening, the other closing. A farting building, in essence.)

Walled gardens are lovely, and every city has such little tucked-away spaces. Explore them when you can, with friends when you can. They are the heartbeat of humanity.

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