Category Archives: home improvements

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!

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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.

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

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.

 

 

 

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

I didn’t Finish with GISH

gish

Thank you, all my sweet friends who helped me get GISH (Great International Scavenger Hunt) tasks done last week. (If you are unfamiliar with GISH, there is a good Wikipedia article linked at the bottom of this post.)

Many whose names I fear leaving off here did amazing things. Sylvia went to Niagara Falls with her husband on a date just so she could play “Carry On My Wayward Son” on a recorder at sunset. Adrienne organized a barbershop quartet BY COMPUTER to sing protest songs outside the Rayburn Building in DC. Lynn made Beyonce out of stained glass and enshrined her in the Temple of Arts and Sciences, while Lisa and Beth helped me hoist a “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR” banner over an immigrant detention center hidden two hours from my happy home. There were others, too; thank you.

I didn’t finish out the hunt; events overtook and some quirks of conscience sent me back into rethinking why I’d wanted to do it. (Because for the past two years I had.) The team I was on were super-capable and had been together a long time, so communication between them was a kind of incredible shorthand this newbie never learned. Add in my confusion over some of the tasks being meaningful, others treating animals or people in vulnerable situations like props, and it just wasn’t for me.

For instance: dress a team member as a bull and have them brandish a GISH flag with a real matador in a real bullfight ring? No, nyet, never set foot in such a place, for shame GISH; fight BS not bulls. But actions sung to a children’s song, showing how to know when someone is having a stroke? Yes please. Taking day-old produce begged from a local shop to a homeless family out by the viaduct? Yeah, okay, but then let’s not worry about the quality of the photographs documenting the event. In fact, photographs are kinda rude. Saggy banner over the detention center? That’s because we thought we were going to get arrested. Someone was coming toward us and he was NOT happy.

The dynamics of the whole large hunt were weird. It was almost like being a wind-up toy set in motion for the amusement of some rich people who had nothing better to do than think up faux adventures. They would have had to be rich, because one of the tasks was to get en pointe ballerinas in tutus to paintball each other. If you REALLLLLLLLY want to piss off a dancer, ask her to dance en pointe for free. You don’t even have to add, “and by the way your shoes are going to get ruined” for good measure.

Life holds many real adventures. It’s a rich thing to know them for themselves. And yet, the hunt showed me new things. I now know where my local women’s shelter is (had to donate toys there, and we’ve been back since.) I know which of my online never-met-in-person friends are romantics, who the pragmatists are, and which outright quirky souls who will do anything for a laugh. It is very gratifying to have friends who will do anything (safe and legal) for you–or with you. The nice couple running Mason wing-walking school totally did us a huge favor for no other reason than being kind.

So it was a mixed blessing, participating in GISH. I won’t do it again, but it was a check on the bucket list that will never be matched. And I will cherish the feeling of lifting that banner for the rest of my life.

Read about the hunt’s origins here.

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Filed under home improvements, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Uncategorized

Unner ablow the Grund

Jack gets comfortably under the wire for a change –

So, here I am working in the front yard regularly as we get into spring and summer and I keep seeing this odd circular grey cover of some kind in the ground. It looks like it might be over a valve or a meter for water or gas or maybe something electrical.

pot1

I look at it from time to time and puzzle over it. It has four small holes that might be for screws holding it down. But they’d be full of dirt so not much chance of unscrewing it. Maybe I could get a lever under the edge to see if it would come up? But what if it really is containing something important that I might break?

It sits right next to one of our inherited ‘Narnia’ style lampposts and I wondered if there was some kind of connection. But the power cable to the lamppost, which had run along the side of a now departed fence, completely bypassed the mysterious cover.

I continued to step gingerly round it over the weeks, puzzling and debating.

As I dug a trench to bury the lamppost cable I kept pondering but couldn’t confidently come to any conclusion.

Examining the object I was able to decipher a manufacturer’s name – time for Dr Google! All I could find was that they were best known for making garden pots, planters and hanging baskets. Now it was time to post pictures on Facebook to see if anyone else could help. The suggestions ranged from a pot stand to a cover for a water quality analyzer!

Still nervous I decided to see if I could gently raise it enough to see if there was anything underneath. Grabbing my trusty spade I set to! Yes – it did extend quite a few inches down into the ground. I was able to finally get a grip under the edge and lever it up and out. What emerged was a shallow dish that what I think must be a water receptacle in which to sit a planter. Why it had been turned upside down and pressed down into the ground I have no idea. There was nothing except the ground under it!

pot2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My takeaway from this?

Google and Facebook sure make life complicated at times –

But congratulations to our friend Annie Jane for getting it right!

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

Money, Money, Money – – –

Jack gets over the line with time to spare – –

caveat

I’m a real curmudgeon right now! Because we moved house we have also changed banks and that meant carefully checking that all automatic payments got changed over. That proved very difficult as some were obvious but many weren’t! Being paranoid about such things I ran both accounts on the overlap and kept checking the old one in case I’d missed anything.

Lo and behold –

We had a problem in the new house with our thermostat so I googled to find advice which took me to a website called ‘Just Answer’. For just five dollars they would fix the problem. They didn’t fix the problem but what they did do was lock me into a monthly twenty-eight-dollar subscription whether I had any other questions or not!

The only reason I discovered Just Answer’s cunning ruse was because I was checking the old account.

Because I was in that mode I asked Wendy about a medical bill we had for six hundred dollars, so she phoned her insurers and found it was a ‘mistake’.

But there’s more – –

Wendy has been selling stuff on E-Bay and was surprised by her latest bill from them. She checked her account and found that if your item doesn’t sell, they automatically re-list it and charge you for both. Worse still they continue re-listing and charging unless you cancel.

I’m still not convinced I’ve caught everything on our old bank account –

Then there’s Verizon, who sent us bills that included third party services we neither needed nor asked for!

There’s some sneaky folk out there that have probably gotten a big bonus for their sneaky ideas, folks. Caveat emptor.

Sometimes, even when you don’t caveat, you still have to emptor!

 

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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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