Category Archives: humor

The Monday Book: THE RED ADDRESS BOOK by Sophia Lundberg

This week’s Monday Book is reviewed by Kate Belt

 

red addressMany recent novels have dealt in a comic way with the theme of older folks rebelling against the loss of independence and beating the system that infantalizes or abuses them. This is not that novel, though it is not without humor After Wendy recently reviewed one of those and didn’t love it, I suggested this book as a more satisfying read. That’s how I find myself writing this review.

 

After some medical incidents, 96 year-old Doris cannot return to her Stockholm apartment and mostly independent lifestyle, but resists being taken into care. Her beloved niece, her only living relative, comes from California to  support Doris in whatever comes next. She finds an address book in her aunt’s home with decades of entries. It is up to date. Many names are crossed out and noted as “dead.” She also finds a box of vignettes written about each person in the book. These shed light on Doris’ life history, spanning many decades from pre-WWII to the present.

 

After her dear father died, Doris’ mother sent her into service at age 11. Doris’ employer eventually moves to Paris taking her along. An agent from a top modeling house notices  the tall, beautiful, 13 year-old Doris. With her mistress’ blessing, she becomes a runway model, leading to adventures, travel, and opportunities far beyond the station to which she was born.

 

This novel has the common themes of ageism, life review, perserverance, courage, and family betrayal, . Lundt addresses them in a fresh and original narrative. It is almost equally atmospheric, character driven, and event driven. Lundberg’s story telling and writing are excellent. Character development goes deep. It held my attention from beginning to end. The one weakness in the novel is the niece’s relationship with her children and husband in California waiting for her return. That part of the narrative and its resolution  didn’t ring true for me, but they are a minor part of the story that could have been mostly omitted.  I still loved the book and recommend it because it kept my attention from beginning to end. If you love novels with historical context and strong women navigating life’s challenges, this is for you.

 

I believe this book would have strong appeal for anyone who loved Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife or Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. It might also be for fans of  Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes.a Walk, but with less comedy.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Tae see Oorsels as Ithers see Us, Y’all!

Will wonders never cease? Jack posts on time – – –

My good friend Dirk is the expert technical guru who records my radio shows at his excellent home recording studio. But his real expertise is in making videos and although officially retired, he continues to do that for his previous employer as an external contractor.

In the process of working on the radio programs he became fascinated by the background information on the music that I provide and that got him sucked into an idea.

So a few months ago he announced that he wanted to make a video documentary about my life with a core focus on me as an immigrant who chose to become an American. Running alongside that will be my professional career(s) and my musical life.

Scotland_American_flag

He started the project by videoing a series of interviews with me and that was quite intimidating! Almost from the start I decided to treat this like one of these personality tests where you answer questions without thinking too hard. The questions were mostly short and open, and my answers were usually lengthy. However, because I didn’t have any pre-warning of what the questions would be, I did occasionally have to ponder a bit.

The next stage is for Dirk to video interviews with Wendy and some of my friends, both here in the US and in Scotland.

Luckily he was recently in Scotland visiting his son Trevor who is studying at St Andrews University in my home county of Fife, so he could interview folk there. Equally luckily our musical buddy Alan Reid was passing through this way recently and Dirk was able to ambush him too.

The next stage is continuing to interview folk including a central figure to the story – Wayne Bean who first got me to the US back in the 1980s and then to WETSfm where the story continues.

I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during all this and have a clearer understanding of what brought me here. Despite all the practical and principled explanations I usually give (all perfectly true) I think underneath it all I was just ready for a completely new life!

But is that really possible?

I have been organizing small group tours of Scotland annually for the last twelve years. The first couple of times I had a definite sense of ‘going home’. However around year three I suddenly realized that boarding the plane to come back at the end I really was ‘going home’.

I think I have finally arrived at the point where I feel equally Scottish and American – not an American Scot or a Scottish American, but a US Citizen who will always be Scottish.

I’m waiting to see the finished documentary with both anticipation and trepidation – – –

 

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

The Monday Book: SIGNS AND WONDERS by Philip Gulley

Signs-Wonders-150x226-98x148I picked up this book because it had a cheerful cover and I’d spent the day finishing a big crochet project, watching Netflix documentaries on: cyberbullying, Dunblane and Sandy Hook, and sex trafficking in the US.

I wanted cheering up.

It worked; this is a charming wee collection of short stories, a la Lake Wobegon, about the sweet and sour lives of people in a small town. Mostly Quakers. A bit longer on description than dialogue, it is not a book I would normally have gravitated to, but if you want a little sweetness with a sprinkling of salt, this is your read.

Stories range from why the local spinster won’t settle to why the local pastor figured out he should go on vacation with his wife. My personal favorite was the son of an alcoholic father who spends two hours stuck with him on the top of a Ferris wheel, and rides that ride for life figuring out what kind of father he wants to be.

Sweetness and light this book carries in spades, although some of the stories (the spinster for instance) have sharp edges. Overall, if you need a break, pick up a Harmony novel. (This is the third in the Gulley series, but they don’t need to be read in sequence. I found this charming without knowing the deeper background on characters found in the first one.)

Two helium balloons up for SIGNS AND WONDERS. It offers a much-needed lift.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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

Elwyn (by James Ryan)

As reported earlier, the short story competition was a close run thing. James Ryan’s was the first entry to arrive –

“Ahhhhhhhhhh….free at last.” How many seasons have I been lying under that bush? I hope it’s been long enough so that damned cat is dead. I don’t mean to sound like an animal hater but, it’s hard not to hate someone who buries you under a bush after peeing in your face. Don’t laugh. It was not funny at all. I’m not sure how many seasons went by before the smell left. I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t do the other thing on me. If he had, I would probably still be stinking. Yuck!

I know you’re wondering what and who I am. My name is Elwyn and I am a Sylvan. Sylvans are associated with trees and bushes. We can be found in any woodland of any size. Our job is to keep the forest in good working order. It was my misfortune to be caught by the cat that day. Normally, I stayed high enough in the trees not to be in any danger. That day I was on the ground straightening an oak seedling that had been stepped on by a large bear the night before. It was a tiring job and when I finished, I leaned against a rock to rest from my labors. The sun was warm and the leaves were so comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

The next thing I knew I was in the cat’s mouth and being carried towards the house in the distance. Talk about being scared. I was sure I was going to be eaten alive. He carried me to the bush in the yard where he played with me as if I were a ball. He batted me around and every time I tried to get away, he would let me get far enough to get my hopes up, then he would pounce on me again. He finally grew tired and went to sleep. Unfortunately for me, he went to sleep with his paw on my chest. I was just glad he had stopped throwing me around. After a while I started thinking about getting free.

The problem was that his foot was rather large and heavy. And every time I tried to move, his claws would extend and keep me where I was. I’m not quite sure how long he lay there sleeping, but it must have been several hours. I didn’t really mind because it gave me time to rest and begin to feel better about the whole thing. So far, I wasn’t dead or crippled up beyond recovery. So, I spent the time thinking of ways to escape. However, as hard as I tried, nothing came to mind.

The cat suddenly sat up, yawned, picked me up and carried me further under the bush where he dug a hole threw me in it and pissed in my face. Then he covered me up and there I stayed until the lady found me.  NOW PUT ME BACK INTO THE WOODS!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, writing

ELF STORY GRAND PRIZE WINNER

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Remember this guy? He surfaced in our new house’s yard, face-down under a bush, after a strong wind a couple of weeks ago. In an effort to banish the creepy factor and turn this into a fun discovery, we launched a short story contest. Congratulations to Grand Prize Winner Kathy Osborne Still. Kathy is Director of News and Media Relations at UVa Wise.
Second Prize, Honorable Mention, and Flash Fiction Short Short prizes posted next week.
It was the longest ten days in Sparkle the Elf on the Shelf’s artificial life. Becky, Wytheville’s biggest QVC fan, sent Sparkle on a bumpy UPS truck from Newark to Wytheville.
Becky unboxed Sparkle and the little spy started observing her straightaway. She bought purses hawked by tired sitcom stars, slow cookers endorsed by celebrity chefs, and décor that would never make sense in southwestern Virginia.
On day five, Sparkle witnessed the woman unbox perfume, a Saturday Night Fever commemorative plate, Pioneer Woman salt and pepper shakers, and skin care products by Victoria Beckham. Sparkle and Becky’s cat, Jade, made a game of predicting how long it would take the hosts to sway Becky to send another useless product to Wytheville. Jade always won. The tabby had skills.
Becky’s latest purchase was an expensive cosmetics case filled with sticks, tubes, pencils, tubs and brushes. Sparkle and Jade spent hours watching Becky watch make-up tutorials on her tablet. They smirked—Sparkle wore his permanent smirk—as Becky never quite recreated the photos on the screen. Jade found it hilarious. Sparkle watched and judged.
Day seven arrived and Sparkle cursed the worker in China that painted lidless eyes on his plastic elf face. Watching QVC hosts digitally peddle mops, faux diamonds, rugs, and yoga products was torture. Jade would gently knock the elf off the table when he could, and Sparkle was always grateful. On day eight, Sparkle begged the cat to bury him deep in the litter box. The QVC show on Christmas wrapping finally unhinged Sparkle.
Day nine came and Becky’s niece visited. The four-year-old child would have driven any elf on the shelf insane. She put Sparkle in the chair of her Barbie Beauty Parlor playset, clutched a fine tipped permanent marker from QVC’s Home and Office Collection and mimicked each stroke Aunt Becky did with the QVC cosmetics. Once Becky noticed her niece’s work, she knew Sparkle was headed for the landfill. She tossed Sparkle in the kitchen trash. All thoughts of the elf vanished from Becky’s brain when she turned up the volume to hear the chimes playing from the Santa’s Workshop mantle clock that was selling for an unbelievable $29.99 for the first customers who place orders in the next hour.
Jade quietly padded to the kitchen, jumped on the Nigella Lawson microwave cart, and saved the elf from the landfill. Sparkle was tired of his artificial life.
Jade hid the elf behind the Debbie Reynolds’ Singin’ in the Rain umbrella stand. The UPS truck would arrive tomorrow with a QVC plate of Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast. Jade knew a signature would be needed for an expensive item. The artist chose the perfect hue of orange, Jade remembered. Fake hues would not do for Trump, Jade surmised.
On day ten, the doorbell chimed. Becky opened the door and did not notice Jade escape.
“Please carry me under those bushes,” Sparkle said. “And put me face down so the world can kiss my ass.”

 

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