Category Archives: humor

Zip-line-pidedoodah

wendy zipZiplining wasn’t on my bucket list. When life presents you with an unexpected opportunity to do something you hadn’t planned for, I call it the Sieve List–those moments that demand “In or Out, you have five seconds to decide.”

My friend Susan is a master of seizing the moment. When my other friend Beth had talked me into The Zip, we agreed to meet at 2 pm outside our mountain lodge to drive down to the start point. Susan arrived to check in just as we were about to head out, and when I ran over to hug her hello, I joked, “I’m going on the new zip line in the park, so just wanted to hug you goodbye before I go.”

She said, “Wait a sec,” reached in and grabbed her purse, and climbed into Beth’s car. Susan doesn’t let any moments go by.

The first thing you need to know about ziplining is that the stool is scarier than the line. You go out on these tall platforms jutting off mountains, but not before the guides (in our case Tim the humorist and Dalton the straight man) hook you to a wire, to themselves, and at one point to a concrete block. You cannot fall off. It feels safe. But then they ask you to mount the stool (named for what it inspires people to do, joked Tim) and it’s high. Like two whole feet straight up. And you feel like you’re scraping the sky with your head, and there’s nothing to hold onto–unless you do like Beth and grab Dalton, but hey, he was cute. Then you’re standing on this tiny platform in the middle of the air–

–and catch your first full view of where you’re going. On the inaugural run, I was last. Just in case I wet myself, no one would see from behind, y’know? Once I got up on the stool and had a death grip on the tree behind me (Dalton having learned his lesson from Beth and keeping well back) I looked down into the gorge and thought, “Nope. Never mind. Changed mine.”

I looked back at Dalton, who was busy doing something with a big hook that looked all tangled in a rope. “Does anyone ever yell a terrible curse word as they launch?” I asked him.

He shook the hook and frowned at it, then glanced at me. “Haven’t seen that yet.”

“I’m surprised,” I muttered, staring at the canyon, and the thin, thin, wire spanning its deep, deep crevice.

“Well, it’s my first day, ” Dalton responded, and clicked the carabiner into place above my head. “You gonna jump or lean and slide?”

First day? 

He gave me a thumbs up. “You got this. When you’re ready to go….”

Bad word choice, kid. I checked that my conscience was clear with God, prayed for world peace, and jumped. Figured if it was my time, I should go big.

Here are some things you find out the first time you zippidedoodah. If you let go of the handles, you spin. If you stick your legs straight in front of you, you go faster. And if you keep your eyes open, you see the most amazing views. It was such fun, sliding over the water a few hundred feet below, watching it sparkle in the sunlight.

SusanWe got two more chances to practice the cannonball (tuck your knees to your chin) and starfish (let go and spread your arms and legs wide, screaming optional). It got easier with each jump–for the jumpers. Tim told us one of the things guides watch for is when people get cavalier or casual, and they don’t let anyone take anything for granted. It was Check One, Check Two, Zip Ready, Zip Go all the way down the lines.

If you get the chance to go zipping, I recommend it. And keeping your eyes open. You see the world in a whole new way.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Joey Lightens Things Up

Joey and InkyYo, I’m Joey. (That’s me on the right, the white and grey guy.) I got here to the orphanage – the bookstore, I mean – about a month ago, and right away I could see things were not good. All the people were tired, they were talking about politics and festival stuff and needing doctors in the area, and they walked around like zombies.

So I asked some of the other guys who’d been here longer what was going on, and they said as near as they could tell, Jack and Wendy, the people who own the bookstore and run the place, were really tired. They had a lot to do and although a lot of people were trying to help them get stuff done, it took a lot of time to manage stuff. And they didn’t seem really happy. When the others first got here, Heathcliff and Hareton and Orange and Ginger and Simba, and little Harvey the baby, and Tooth, the only girl at our frat house, they said the people were fun and liked to play with them. But they just got grumpier and more tired as August wore on.

Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s cheering people up, so I started right in.

First, I climbed on Wendy’s lap while she was frowning at her computer. She kept telling me “Get off” and “My edits were due yesterday!” and fussing about some “dark” book about foster care in the Coalfields, but I could see what she needed, so I danced around in her keyboard, changed the settings on her laptop to Spanish, turned the screen sideways, activated voice commands and then meowed until tech support came on and asked what I needed.

Sometimes it’s kinda hard to tell if a human is laughing or crying, but at least it got that scowl off her face. And she did get up from the computer. Which she hadn’t done all day. And I got tuna treats.Joey 2

Usually, I can get people calm just by snuggling with them. I have perfected looking innocent and adorable while asleep. But these two, they needed more.

One morning I walked in after breakfast to find Jack on the phone trying to figure out why some business in town had refused to support the festival a group was pulling together just because he was one of the people running it. Somebody even called him a “dirty foreigner,” which made him REALLY mad. And I can attest, for a human, he’s pretty clean.

He never did figure out what their problem was, but hey, the politics of humans are beyond even cat brains, and I could see he was fussing himself into a corner, so I pulled out one of my emergency go-to tricks. I stuck my head in their little ceramic milk jug and pretended to get it stuck, careening around the place bouncing off stuff. Jack had to hang up the phone and help me, and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

Mission accomplished.

It wasn’t long after that, when all of us cats found out the real reason they were so sad. They had an old, old dog, a really sweet lady named Zora. She’d welcomed all of us to the orphanage, but you could tell she was kinda… loopy, y’know? She’d wander off mid-sentence. The guys who’d been here longer said she had doggie Alzheimer’s, and you could see from the way she walked that her legs hurt her really bad. And one day, she went away and didn’t come back, and Jack and Wendy just sat around the house crying and crying.

Well, grief is important, so we left them alone for a little bit, but I got the boys together and showed them what to do. When the time was right, we formed a parade. It’s my best party trick ever. I led them, leaping from the top of one bookshelf to another like lions in a circus, yelling, “And a ONE anna TWO anna …” It worked great, ‘specially when little Harvey fell to the floor on his second round. (He wasn’t hurt, I made him take the lowest shelves. There were enough of us to do two layers.)

Jack and Wendy rushed over and just watched in amazement as we fosters went four rounds. By then they were laughing so hard, I figured it was safe to stop.

Now I’ve done that “lions in the circus” routine a thousand times, but you know how it is working with amateurs. Heathcliff took out half a CD shelf trying to stop himself. I would’ve helped the humans clean up, but opposable thumbs, you know. I figured it best to take my team upstairs for a snack, and maybe practice some other routines.

Well a couple of days ago, the bookstore was full of people all day long, and lotsa noise, and some guy playing some bag and stick thing that sounded like a cat in heat, and yesterday Jack and Wendy just seemed to come back into their own bodies. They looked younger, they walked around faster, they seemed lighter.

Happier. Like they belonged to themselves again and not everybody else. Wendy is still working at her computer a lot, but Jack says she’s writing again, and that always makes her happier. He kinda took me aside for a guy-to-guy talk and said he appreciated my cheer up routines with her but now I really should leave the laptop alone, she was doing happy writing instead of deadline stuff.

I can respect that, so I just jumped in her lap and got her blood pressure down a bit while she stroked my head. Win-win.

Looks like my time here might be coming to an end, as I’m not needed to cheer up the sad humans anymore. Wendy says she’s going to get back into writing her blog and working on her next book, and Jack says he’s got some plans to get the bookstore tidied up, so I’d say I need to find someplace else that wants my special brand of cheering up.

It’s my calling. I don’t let on, but I like it. Who’s next?joey

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Jack of All Trades and – – –

Jack just scrapes in under the wire – –

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, so here goes again, Probably – –

Not too long before I retired from a twenty-year career in the community college in my home town I was ‘persuaded’ by my Principal (Chancellor) at the third time of asking, to embark on a MBA. I had been teaching management programs and so I suppose that made sense. I had free choice about which program and didn’t know that there was a ‘pecking order’ out there in terms of difficulty and/or credibility in the wider world. So, I opted for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I chose it simply because of proximity and the flexibility of the timetable. I didn’t know it was notoriously rigorous, difficult and high in the pecking order!

I quickly found that there two clearly different groups of subjects – half were ‘soft skills’ – team dynamics, leadership, marketing – that sort of thing. I loved that, understood it and found it very self-affirming. Then there were the math focused ones – finance, statistics etc. I hated them because I’m completely useless at math. But I struggled through and finally got there!

What on earth has this to do with a bookstore in a small Southern town?

One of the things I clearly remember from my studies and research was this. The most loyal customers any business can have are the ones that have a problem that you manage to fix.

Yesterday morning a young lady came into our store to see if a book she had ordered had arrived. I didn’t recognize her and asked if I’d done the ordering. “No” she said – I think it was your wife and it was a couple of weeks ago. I searched through all the email confirmations of the orders we’d done and there was no trace of it. As panic set in I phoned Wendy.

It turned out that she had made the order at the exact moment that E-Bay shut down their Half Dot Com subsidiary. She honestly thought she’d ordered the book but it hadn’t gone through. I’m absolutely certain we aren’t the only ones to have gotten caught by this.

The customer was most understanding when I explained what had happened, but she needed it for a class starting on Monday and needed to read it before then. I immediately went to an alternative site and found a seller that could get it to me overnight.

It came in today, I phoned her and she got it with four days to spare. It cost her just the $6 she’d paid when ordered and us another $6 to get it for her, so we made nothing – but – I’m completely certain that she will sing our praises much, much more than if it had just come when it was expected.

The lesson?

You don’t need an MBA to make a customer happy – – –

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

Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

CELTICLOGO2small

Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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

Ho Hum – –

Jack just managed to get in under the wire this week for his Wednesday guest post –

 

Some days are just ‘normal’ – here’s one – –

Start with a run to the grocery store for the makings of shepherd’s pie (supper with our good friends Beth and Brandon tonight – plus a guitar lesson with Brandon).

Medicate the dogs and feed the three garage cats.

Clean out the cat litter trays.

Another good friend Teri arrives and hangs out until the shop opens.

Order six new Celtic flags for our annual festival coming up in a month’s time.

Tidy the bookstore kitchen and mop the floor.

Get the festival banners out of the shed and paint out the ‘4’ in the date ready to be re-painted as ‘3’.

A couple arrive to collect their winnings in the bookstore auction of surplus stuff.

Two elderly and very frail ladies arrive with a bag of Christian romances to exchange for more of the same. But they also spend some money on more books – they are lovely and we chat at length.

A young woman arrives for more (bulky and heavy) auction items. She is carrying an infant and is on her own. The items are upstairs.

A regular and very interesting customer comes in and browses and spends money on lots of books.

Start making the afore-mentioned shepherd’s pie.

Two folk who’ve never been before arrive and I give them a quick tour – they buy some books and come back to get Wendy’s ‘Little Bookstore’ book after they go for money. (We do take cards, btw.)

Continue preparing the shepherd’s pie.

A lady from a not-so-very-close book-club that read ‘Little Bookstore’ phones to arrange a visit next week. Sadly, on a day when Wendy will be out of town, but they will be happy to see me!

Package a book we had sold on-line and Wendy gets it over to the post office.

Get a message asking if I can guest lecture to a class at UVA Wise on Scottish-Appalachian connections in a couple of weeks’ time.

We can’t find two small hand-carved statuettes that were sold in the auction. They were hiding in Science Fiction!

Finish the shepherd’s pie.

Another couple arrive to collect auction items – from upstairs. We carry down the desk, avoiding kittens.

Medicate kittens.

Friends arriving for dinner at 6:30 to eat the shepherd’s pie.

Guitar lesson with one of the friends.

Pick apples from our apple tree so Wendy can freeze them.

Drink heavily.

Sleep.

 

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Erin Go Bragh – – –

When you get an email from an old friend saying they’re in New Orleans it wouldn’t normally be an occasion for puzzlement or surprise. But this was our good friend Erin, who is usually pretty much stuck here in town because of her medical condition. Erin has Marfan Syndrome and is also legally blind.

We first met Erin through her enthusiasm for amateur drama and our bookstore. She went on to be a stalwart of our weekly needlework night and eventually a great support to Chef Kelley’s ‘Second Story Cafe’. Many a time she slaved late into the night making desserts for the next day and then came in to help take orders, serve and clean up afterwards. She also makes hundreds of mini Cornish pasties for our annual Celtic festival!

Just a few years ago Erin, who trained as a classroom assistant, took on the local Presbyterian Church Sunday school and the kids love her. I love the idea that she is an example to them that not everyone is the same and that no matter the obstacles it’s possible to succeed in life.

However her greatest gift is with infant kittens. She has her own pets, of course, but she is also an expert with very young orphans. Because of her condition she doesn’t sleep well, so she can feed them at the required four hourly intervals. She carries the babies around close to her so they feel secure and even bought a special buggy to wheel them in when she’s out and about–frequently found parked outside our bookstore.

It’s not uncommon in a small rural town anywhere for folk who are seen as ‘different’ to be stigmatized, but Erin is the equal of anyone who looks at her the wrong way. She has kept us entertained many a time telling about the confrontations she has had on the highways and byways of Big Stone Gap.

nollins

A Spitfire and DC3 in D Day markings

The email she sent me this morning was from the WW2 museum in New Orleans and she included pictures of a number of historic aircraft of the period. She had remembered that I’m pretty crazy about classic airplanes. I replied asking her how on earth she had got there, and she explained that she had attended a Marfan conference in Atlanta and then got a Greyhound bus to ‘nollins’ because it wasn’t much further. She had an old friend there who was driving her around and would be back when she and the city were tired of each other- – –

Erin Go Bragh!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, 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