Category Archives: humor

The Hamsters in my Brain

Jack and I are attending the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in Johnson City, TN this weekend, and it has been a busy couple of days. Saturday morning my colleagues Beth, Jody and I did a panel on combating Appalachian stereotypes in the media. Kind of an interesting row to hoe, and several people had stories to tell. On Sunday, I am heading a panel on adoption in Appalachia, after running a storytelling project with a local group that supports adoptive parents. (If you want to see the blog we just launched, visit ADOPTION IN APPALACHIA. (It’s also a wordpress blog.)

Between these were some fun meetings and some hard meetings, plus Jack and I joined Doug and Darcy Orr, President and First Lady Emeritus of Warren Wilson College, in presenting a panel on Doug and Fiona Ritchie’s book Wayfaring Strangers. The pictorial book chronicles the journey of songs and their singers from Scotland to Appalachia. It’s been really well received and is in its third printing. Jack is one of the source singers on the accompanying CD.

But that’s where things began to take a weird turn. The night before the panel, Doug and Darcy came to our hotel room to practice songs. We sat around the table working out dulcimer chords, guitar accompaniments, and harmonies. All very satisfactory and fun. We sang stuff just for the joy of the moment.

The instant we finished singing, we heard loud voices coming from the room next door, and Beth suggested the doors between the rooms might not be correctly closed; hence the volume. We checked our door: bolted and good to go.

But as Beth pushed against our door, voices from next door yelled “Are you trying to break into our room?” A second later the phone rang. Front desk had received a complaint: had we tried to break into the adjoining room?

When I stopped laughing, I said no and didn’t elaborate. A minute later, the phone rang again. A male voice demanded, “Who am I speaking with?”

Well, I was tired and I was sung out, but one brain cell still functioned, so I figured this was something to do with that mysterious crowd next door, and asked for his name instead. He said I had tried to break into his wife’s hotel room and demanded again to know my name.

I hung up, and the phone shrilled again immediately. I disconnected that call and rang the front desk, explaining the situation. They apologized profusely and said the phone call had not originated in the hotel, and they would ensure no further calls were transferred in.

Which really put a top hat on things, because if the guy who was calling in wasn’t in the room with his wife, whose was that male voice making very explicit suggestions quite loudly through the wall?

We gave up, and went to bed, but I don’t think we’ll be staying at the Carnegie again. Who in their right mind puts a phone call through to a room number if the caller can’t give a name? At least that couple didn’t batter the door down in the night, but I hope that poor husband figures a few things out.

sleeping hamsterMe, I can’t figure anything out. Six meetings, two panels and four hours of sleep have done for me. It was a good day today, and now the hamsters in my brain are asleep in their little exercise wheels.

Go by, mad world.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, VA

We’re Still Having Fun

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Wendy and I often have conversations on Facebook with other owners of small independent bookstores – usually about how to drive more customers through the door. The trouble is that every bookstore is unique in some way, be that the character of the owners, the geographical position of the shop, the demographic of the local population, etc, etc.

Our own strategies have been many and varied and some are detailed in ‘The Little Bookstore’. They have ranged from the early days of me handing out flyers outside the local Super-Wallie to running community events in the store. Flyers are good when you’re getting established. Community events are good for two reasons – publicity and bringing in new folk who might become regular customers.

This is where local circumstances come into play; Wendy and I live in the same building as the bookstore so it’s no biggie for us to run events. It might not be so easy for others.

We are currently running a ‘give-away’ competition for boxes of children’s and young adult books aimed at the local schools. This is partly because we simply have too many, but also to help raise awareness among school staff, parents and students that we are here and our children’s books are cheap even when you have to buy them.

We have also found that opening a cafe created spin-off business between the two. Of course that means finding the space, meeting health inspection rules (GOATS!), and identifying someone with the skills and personality with whom you can comfortably work, etc, etc. We were very lucky to find Our Good Chef Kelley as a partner!

Finally, it certainly helps to write and have published a best-selling memoir all about your bookstore. That has brought lots of people from around the country (and abroad) to visit us who generally don’t leave without buying books and eating lunch. As I write this a couple from Fairfax sit upstairs in the cafe; they drove all the way here because of the book. They have a book club who all read Wendy’s book and are talking about a group visit. That would certainly involve an overnight stay, so additional business for the town as well.

And after finally (well, a post-script then) it pays to have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. :]

 

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

Ye Fairly Get Ma Goat Jack!

Murder 2015 006Jack’s weekly guest blog tackles the Goat-Scape Scandal….. Alert readers will know that we have been finding new homes for orphaned kittens and abandoned cats for a couple of years or more, about 120 at the last count–kittens/cats, not years. Because we have a cafe upstairs we are very careful to make sure there is no contact between them, with elaborate security arrangements including secret passwords, handshakes and iris cameras. But, mainly, a very strongly sprung (and high) gate.

Despite this there have been Chinese whispers at certain lower echelons around our small town suggesting that we were really a ‘cat cafe’ – something viewed with approval in many developed Western Democracies, including parts of the US of A, but not Virginia. (Google the term if you want to read some fascinating strangeness.) Now you hear it straight from the goatkeeper’s mouth: No bodily fluids, far less cats or kittens, are exchanged between the bookstore and the cafe.

Having established that beyond doubt, I return to the fact that the bookstore rescues cats. So it’s not uncommon for me to see someone struggling up our front steps with a pulsating cardboard box and a hopeful expression. I refer to these people as “fur blackmailers” and tend to give them a swift and short answer. But it’s never been our friend Elizabeth before. Last Saturday morning, here she came. I opened the door for her and looked into the box – four baby goats!

“Didn’t Wendy tell you?” she said.

Back story – Wendy and Elizabeth jointly own goats that are accommodated at Elizabeth’s farm outside town and two of them (the goats, not Elizabeth and Wendy) had just had babies but weren’t letting them nurse. Elizabeth would be out of town over the weekend and Wendy had said that we would bottle feed them until she got back.

When Wendy posted a picture of the babies on FaceBook one of the small towners rubbed her/his hands with glee! On Monday morning our long-suffering Health Inspector arrived and said to me, in a world-weary voice, “Goats?” His boss had received the picture along with a diatribe about “why such things are allowed to go on”.

Poor Mr. Health Inspector’s expression mixed defeat with relief when I took him through to the back of the bookstore where the goats had been–nowhere near the cafe, which hadn’t been open when they were hereMurder 2015 003. He offered the observation that “this was a new one” and said someone in Northern Virginia was trying to start a cat cafe, so tensions about animals and eateries were at an all-time high in his world. We shook hands and he left. Laughing.

The publicity from Goat-Scape went six times ’round the Internet that day and the next, which I suspect was not what the Small Towner who sent the picture had in mind. Getting someone’s goat is now a catch phrase around here. And Elizabeth and Wendy’s goats have had four more babies between them – they are now grandmothers of eight.

Life goes on.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. ~Marlene Dietrich

epigraphPicked this book up when Jack and I visited Williamsburg on holiday in January. I love quotes, have kept a notebook of them forever, and sometimes, just for fun, I troll quote sites.

So now you know.

Rosemary Ahern’s editing of this book has them organized by loose subjects, but she also wrote a nice contextualizing essay about epigraphs (the quotes that open a book chapter or book by being a kind of sideways poetic move into what the text will deal with). She refers to them as ‘mental furniture’ and a way of understanding not only what the chapter will be about, but how the author thinks about life–a little peek inside the study, if you will.

I figured this was  a “dipping” book, the kind one picked up at bedtime and browsed amiably until sleep fogged the brain and the words danced away from your eyes. (That’s usually the last thing that happens before the book falls on my face and wakes me up.) But in reality, this is a bad book to read before bed. You kinda have to think about the quotes, because they’re set on the page above the title of the book they open. Which is like a game of Dixit, or Apples to Apples, with words and somebody else’s brain waves. Cool, fun, but not really sleep-inducing. More of a wake-up call for.

Insights are glorious things, but as Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED talk, sometimes you don’t want to be inspired because you’re trying to drive a car or get some sleep.

Ain’t no plot to this book, but if you’ve read the books that are under the epigraphs, you totally spend a few minutes moving the letters around inside the square to see if you can form the mystery key word. Thought Boggle?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it is one of the few, the proud, that I will keep rather than Frisbee-flick into the shop for someone else to find. Getcher own copy, and I highly recommend purchasing rather than the library. You’re going to want to write notes in the margins. :]

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: HAUNTING JASMINE by Anjali Banerjee

♪ IIIIII’m in the moooooooood ♪ for Fluff! ♪

ganeshAlthough I like most novels and memoirs about India or Pakistan, I tend to avoid the Bollywood-in-print end of that continuum. But Jasmine is about a woman who watches her aunt’s bookshop for a month. So I had to read it.

If you read Sarah Addison Allen’s charming romance Garden Spells, in which an apple tree chucks fruit at Mr. Wrong and rains petals down while wafting heady perfume at opportune moments, you have the concept of this book. The shop has a mind of its own, guarded by Ganesh, the Hindu remover of obstacles, who works in collusion with the ghosts that haunt the place.

A LOT of ghosts haunt this place. There are no surprises in this book. If it were food, it would be cotton candy. PINK cotton candy.

And very well made. Not your clumpy spun sugar, but the smooth, fluffy, cloud of sweetness that dissolves even as you start to taste it. This is a fast read, a light read, fun and fluffy.

I can hear regular readers of this blog thinking, “Yes, okay, but how is the WRITING?”

Practically non-existent. Like that spun sugar, it disappears as you’re reading it. You don’t remember turns of phrase, just the story line. And you can kinda see what’s coming, but that’s party of the pleasantness–anticipation of that next mouthful of dulce ethereal.

You don’t have to own a bookstore to enjoy the inside jokes about books, bookshops, or the customers who frequent them. But if you do, you might laugh at more places than the rest of the world. There are plenty of laughs as Jasmine struggles with her mysterious suitor, her scumbag ex-husband, and her inability to believe that Horatio and co. were right- there are more things under heaven than we might already know about.

Two cotton candy cones up for this pink-lit, chick-lit romance.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Independent Bookstores- there’s a Meme for That!

People from many corners of our round world send memes to our bookstore page. We like it; it’s a fun way to communicate ideas quickly, or share humor.

We do have to admit that, once a meme appears, it tends to appear again and again in rapid succession, because, well, great minds think alike. A shared sense of humor is a wonderful thing.

So here are some memes that have popped up more than a dozen times in the past few weeks, plus a few new ones interspersed. Enjoy!

meme library cake The library birthday cake looked to me like the perfect meme. Not something I would ever have the skill to do, but if it appeared on my doorstep, I’d certainly photograph it before diving in. Then another poster pointed out the fatal flaw: there is no cat on this cake. I’m sure that can be corrected, but isn’t it gorgeous?!

Psst – My birthday is in May, if anyone wants to tackle this. :] Just sayin’.

 

 

meme viking cats Tempting, this. A lot of people know I crochet in order to support spays and neuters for feral and foster cats. But each time I think about making one of these, assessing the time it would take the lacerations to heal (lost crochet time) stops me. Our bookstore cats have little truck with cute clothing, sadly.

meme tankOh, but speaking of vehicles! This one has only appeared once, so far. Argentina has a long history of tanks in sad places, so what better statement than making one into a free bookmobile! If you google Argentine Book Tank, you can see photos of the books being passed out – 900 of them! (And thanks, Alma, for posting it!)

 

meme wrong bookstore

 

This is the most-repeated meme for any bookstore owner. Ever. Yep, funny. It was funny. Was……. although please don’t think me a killjoy to admit it made me nervous, too, the joke being based on someone’s name. (Snopes says this doesn’t exist, btw.) Going through American high school with the name Welch, one empathizes. :]

meme mermaid tailAnd yes, our book friends really get us. Because they keep posting crochet patterns! And this one, repeated about a dozen times, led to a great development. I can’t crochet fast enough to make all the things that cat supporters would buy, so a friend of a friend, Kate Smith, is now making mermaid tails on behalf of Foster Kitty City! I’m concentrating on hats and sandals – the other pattern people keep posting. (Keep ‘em coming, and thanks!)

Then there are the book memes – which we love to repost on our bookstore page. These sometimes have great graphics, but this week’s favorite is just text: I’m a hybrid. I run on books and tea.

Yep.

So thank you for the funny, sweet, thoughtful memes (and useful patterns) y’all post to our timelines. Keep ‘em coming, as and when.

(BTW, we delete memes or stories that have to do with hurt animals. We understand, but it doesn’t help.)

But oh, how we laughed at the one fellow bookstore owner Tina Hoerauf (Paperback Book Exchange in Neenah, WI) sent. After three straight weeks of snow-turned-into-flooding, this little gem appeared on our timeline yesterday. Thanks, Tina!

meme eeyore

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

What, Me Worry?

Dont-Worry1Jack’s weekly guest post

Like Eeyore, I’m a born worrier and always have been.

But I’ve been pondering that lately, and trying hard to be much more relaxed about things.

Of course what triggered this latest bout was the atrocious weather we’ve been experiencing, coupled with a bad moment from last year. Around this time last year I was stupid enough to leave the well pump switched on at our cabin (Wendy’s writing getaway out in the TN woods) with no background heat in the place. Result – a $700 bill for repairs after a burst water pipe.

This year I reckoned the power bill for background heat would be worth it to avoid another burst and I switched off the pump. But we haven’t been there since before Christmas and in February we had temperatures down to minus 15 Fahrenheit . So one of my dark clouds began to hover as I constructed horrible scenarios in my head….

Last Saturday we dropped in at the cabin on the way home from the Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville, where Wendy was the keynote address. I didn’t want to do it, so convinced as I that it would be exactly as I’d imagined. But Wendy was a bit… adamant that we face the situation.

The road up to the cabin area was covered in hard packed snow and the last 1/4 mile is up a steep hill. We negotiated that with me becoming increasingly Eeyorish all the way. Wendy’s eyes rolled back in her head as I described faucets that would run without water, gushing pipes in the house’s foundation…

And when we got there, everything was fine. EVERY THING WAS FINE!! I couldn’t believe it!!!

Back when I was Head of Department in a Scottish college I often used to lie awake at night worrying about something that was likely to happen next day, only to find it had completely evaporated by the time I got there. Conversely, I’d sail in without a care in the world and something totally unexpected would wallop me. It’s never what you’d expect that catches you, is it? I’m sure you can all relate to this.

And I must admit, with two weeks of snow shutting down the entire county, followed by floods tonight as the snow begins to melt, and freezing rain predicted to make the roads a mess tomorrow, well, even in the midst of it all, the roof is still over our heads, and we’ve adopted out five of ten foster cats. Which we did NOT expect in this weather.

A fellow business in town did not fare so well. A variety store called Judy’s Hodge Podge has been condemned after a crack appeared in the building. It’s the end of an era, as Judy was the grande dame of local businesses. Her building had an antique Coca-cola mural on it.

And here we sit, warm and cozy, with Kelley’s good soups flowing around us and people still popping in to buy books an adopt cats. Perhaps, rather than counting cares, I should count blessings.

Or, as Alfred E. Neumann famously used to say “What, me worry?”

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