Category Archives: humor

Scots in Tents

Wyoming 048When Jack and I were courting he assured me he loved nothing more than to go for long hikes in the wilderness and view the charms o’ nature.

Men say all sorts of things while they’re courting.

He did take me on a nice trip to Skye where we slept in the car and dipped our toothbrushes in the nearby running burn (that’s a creek to you and me). Just above the fossilized sheep shit, that brush dipping. But still, it seemed very rustic and a fun portent of things to come.

After we were married, we slept in motels and hotels and the houses of friends. When I talked him into hiking the West Highland Way, we walked off the trail every night to stay in trailside hotels.

So when Jack said to me, “You plan the accommodations for our trip to Wyoming, and I’ll be happy,” I saw my chance.

camp 1I’d always wanted to do more with Air B&B in America, having had fun with it in Chile and Portugal. So I hopped on and discovered that Wyoming in July is a popular destination and people start planning early. Eventually I stumbled across a site in Powell that offered some unique alternatives. Permanent tents.

Jack has a sad history with tents. His last time was as a cub scout, when he got puked on by his tent mate who had discovered the joys of picking wild berries and eaten too many of them that day. Rather puts one off the experience. He never wanted to go tent camping again, and that was sixty-five years ago.

So I booked a tent with wifely sneakiness, but forgot that the confirmations went to Jack’s email. Half an hour later Jack phoned me. “There’s a picture of a Confederate encampment with teepees on my emails. It says we’re staying there?”

camp 2Well, Rod and Lynn Morrison’s Quiet Rest Campground features some teepees and some tents and a sheep herder wagon. And when we arrived, it featured two sweet Border Collies named Lily and Dragon, and a running creek behind the tent that lulled us to sleep.

Which Jack did pretty well with. We enjoyed a tour with Lynn and settled in with books to listen to the running stream and sip libations, cooked supper on the camp stove, and snuggled into the duvets we’d brought instead of sleeping bags. All quite comfy.

I got up in the middle of the night to view the stars, and they were glorious. The Big and Little Dippers, Draco, and Cassiopia I could spot quickly. I went back to bed thinking I’d get up and look again in an hour, but when I did the moon was so full and bright it cast shadows. I shook Jack awake to view the glories of the night sky with me. This did not go 3

The next morning, as the hosts served the camp community beer-batter pancakes and delicious camp stove coffee, I asked Jack what he thought of the experience, and whether we might look into similar ones for the future.

Jack looked me in the eye. “I’m very glad we did this, and I never want to do it again.”

Translation? My Scot-in-tent has no intent of repeating the intense experience of being a Scot in a tent.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

Hail the Mighty Buffalo Hunters

Jack and I adore watching the prairie dogs, of which there are many along the back highways of South Dakota. We pull over and sit a few minutes, and once they get used to us, the TV show starts right up. “Welcome to KDOG, the number one viewer choice for Black Hills entertainment!”

We got pretty good at spotting the little mounds and holes of earth among grasses that signals one of these encampments, and congratulated ourselves on being good hunters.

And then we passed the buffalo….

Three Wildlife loops and two hikes into our stay in Custer State Park, we’d seen neither hide nor horn of the great bison. Since Jack had never seen a buffalo in his entire life, I was beginning to feel a failure as a tour guide.

One night just about dusk we set out to do the Wildlife Road inside the park, confident that our ability to stay up past 9 pm would be rewarded.

And we saw white tailed deer, and we saw mule deer, and we saw long horned sheep, and we saw antelope, and we saw what we think was a black foot ferret. You know you’re jaded when you pass a herd of antelope, glance over and go, “Eh, just antelope” and accelerate. We were hunting buffalo, after all.

So when I came upon a man driving the other way, stopped in the middle of the road taking a picture to one side, I was mildly annoyed. “Outta my way, son, we’re huntin’ buffalo!”

As we accelerated past him, Jack looked back and said, “Oh, it’s one of those big black things.”

“A bear?!” I shrieked, driving faster. Our windows were down.

“Nah. You know.” He made gestures with his hands, describing something that could have been a VW bug or a breadbasket. “What do you call the things we’re looking for again?”

“Buffalo,” I said, already scanning the horizon. Then it dawned (or dusked) on me. “That was a buffalo?”
“Yeah,” said Jack. “Right next to the road.  Maybe ten feet away.”

So I’m sure there is a life lesson in here somewhere, kids. Don’t look too hard for something or you’ll miss the fact that it’s standing eight feet off your right shoulder as you scan the horizon. On a positive note, Jack said he could count its curls, and now he’d seen a buffalo that close, he never wanted to see another in such proximity again.

Wounded Knee 019


This guy was enjoying the sun a ways off the highway as we traveled route 2.

Wounded Knee 030

And this guy was at the entrance to the park when we came back.

Wounded Knee 034


with his family

Wounded Knee 041


Wounded Knee 047


They aren’t actually penned in. A stretch of road that must be near their rounds has a cattle crossing grid at each end of it, and this hog wire fencing on one side. I think the rangers must have gotten tired of cleaning up buffalo and tourist parts from close encounters.

Wounded Knee 012And in keeping with the spirit of the adventure, when I finished photographing the distant buffalo off highway 2, this prairie dog was about two feet from my feet, scolding me. “What am I, chopped liver?”



Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

It’s a Small World on Dachshund Legs

the hike 008In a move that surprised me after 18 years of marriage, Jack agreed to go on TWO hikes with me yesterday. First we did a gentle loop around Sylvan Lake, where I intend to swim tomorrow if the temperatures reach their predicted 100. The lake is gorgeous and you can swim out and touch these rocks.

But then he said yes to CATHEDRAL SPIRES, a trail marked as “strenuous but worth it” by most reviewers.

Off we set, me carrying the frozen bottle of water, camera, trail map, and Jack’s fortified cokes, Jack wearing his sunglasses and looking very much like a doomed man the night before his execution.

We hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before we found that 1) we were in over our fitness level and 2) shady spots on the trail were prime real estate. People would stop and rest in these, and fairly often you’d find someone who had been abandoned by their walking comrades, who were headed up while the person waited patiently on a rock. Looking winded and somewhat crestfallen.the hike 023

At an early shade stop, we chanced upon a young couple with dachshunds. My friend Elissa is a dachshund rescuer and whenever we travel, I take photos of any we see and send them to her. I asked the couple of they’d mind me photographing their dogs, and they said no, but why?

When I told them about Elissa, the lady said, “These are rescue dachshunds. Bug is the spotted one and Penny is the black and tan. What’s your friend’s rescue’s name?”

I explained that Pam Lucas ran In His Hands Small Animal Rescue and Elissa was CEO of the Dachshund Division. The woman’s face crinkled.

“I’ve liked their rescue on Facebook,” she said. “I keep up with them.”

I laughed, then said I’d tell them so. “What’s your name?”

“Erica Spicer,” she replied with a friendly nod.

Well, Erica was the person who promoted my spay and neuter kitty afghans via her rescue, and the hike 033became my Facebook friend, more than a year ago. We shook hands and made remarks to the effect that it is a small world after all, and off Jack and I went. Little doxie legs need longer to climb a “strenuous but worth it” trail.

With many stops, Jack and I finally summited the Spires – but not before also meeting a woman from Dingwall, Scotland, and holding a brief Brexit argument with some folk at another shading hole. At the top we chatted with two people whose daughter had married a Scotsman from Aberdeen. And I took pictures of Jack enjoying his Coke. It’s amazing the places you can get a Coke these days.

the hike 037As we started back down, we met Team Erica just reaching the home stretch of the trail. I only snapped a picture of her back because by the time I thought to ask to take one, they were moving forward, and that part of the trail was not a psychologically good place to stop. The Catherdral Spires are about a mile and a half more or less straight up, then back down, with a few easier stretches along the way. The point where we met Erica was just after you have to basically hand over hand climb a stretch of rock, and the trail bends sharply. So you can’t see that you are in fact at the home stretch, the Spires are just in front of you up a gentle incline, and you’re there. On the way up, Jack had said to me in the very same spot, “If this isn’t the top, it’s the top for me. I’ll wait for you.”

Yeah yeah, insert life metaphor about not giving up two feet from gold. Anyway, Erica had just puffed her way through those rocks and I wasn’t about to stop her head of steam that close to the glorious view. So here’s her backside, and Penny and Bug’s and her husband’s. Penny was pretty much towing at this point, looking quite pleased with herself.the hike 042

We ambled back down. The road home is always shorter for some reason. On the way Jack said, “I feel like I’ve summited Mt. Everest.” Yep.

At the top you are sitting among the spires. Enjoy the scenery. We sure did! See if you see a Christmas tree and two chess pieces, like I did.

the hike 025 the hike 026 the hike 028 the hike 031 the hike 036 the hike 039



Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Been there, done that – –

Jack’s guest blog post this week – and our apologies. We meant to put this up last night!

weather 1Our first day on the road started out in beautiful wall-to-wall sunshine all the way through Kentucky and over into Indiana and Illinois. But then we ran into one of the worst storms I’ve ever driven through and we were forced to pull over as I couldn’t see a thing even with the wipers on full speed. We continued to run into sporadic storms all the way to our first hotel in downtown Galesburg (the birthplace of Carl Sandburg).

The hotel was gloriously seedy with just about everything either grubby or broken, but it was situated on one side of an impressive town square right opposite a lovely old cathedral style church, and the bed was clean and comfortable. A passing train woke me at 3 am – ‘right on time’ I thought!church in Galesburg

Today we visited Carl Sandburg’s birthplace having checked in advance that it would be open. But when we arrived we found that, sadly, it wasn’t. Instead we strolled through the garden and checked out his double seater privy – I think he would have approved.

We decided to take the mostly scenic route to Sioux Falls, South Dakota by heading south to pick up Route 2 across Iowa on the Historic Hills Trail. It wove through beautiful little towns and endless fields of corn until we got to the Lewis and Clark trail. We assumed that this would be equally scenic, but discovered that, in fact, it was Interstate 29. We decided that L and C had it pretty easy on that part of their journey at least. Lots of amenities.

crapperAll the way along we had noticed groups of people wherever we stopped walking around like zombies staring at their i-phones and realized that they were playing Pokemon-Go – very weird to see!

When we finally crossed into South Dakota the first thing we saw was a sign saying “Eat steak, wear fur and own guns – it’s the American way”; I felt right at home. The next thing I saw was a speed limit sign saying ‘80’ – it feels right scary to drive at 85 mph when you’re used to 75.

Now we’re firmly ensconced in a somewhat more upmarket hotel in downtown Sioux Falls and right next to an old center that is reminiscent of Asheville – I even just saw a pedaling singing bar go past. Tomorrow we will walk the sculpture garden, visit The Falls, and indulge Wendy’s taste for Middle Eastern Food. It’s the American way.




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

The Shelves his Dad Built

birch shelfSince our bookstore is in a 113-year-old house that has been a) a doctor’s office b) a boarding house c) a funeral parlor (yes, really) and d) a private home before it became e) The Little Bookstore of Big Stone, we’re used to people coming in and saying “Oh, my room was here,” or “I remember Dr. Taylor’s son” etc.

But the other day a nice couple came in for browse-and-lunch, and the husband’s eyes fell on a set of shelves we’ve had about five years, donated by someone at some point. He touched the shelves with a strange look on his face before going up to eat.

When they came back down, the guy went straight for the shelves, which hold local writers and Appalachian Fiction. He wasn’t looking at the books but touching the shelves. Nay, stroking them. There is no other word for it, like an animal lover pets a cat, he was patting the shelves.

He asked, not taking his eye from the wood, “Where’d you get these?”

I wasn’t sure, but told him all the shelves that weren’t handmade by my husband had been either donated by the local preschool director when she retired, given us by other friends, or bought in yard sales.

“These are from HeadStart,” he said. “My dad made them.” He then launched into his story: back when HeadStart was the program du jour to “save Appalachia from itself” money poured in. This man’s father, a carpenter by trade, had been given $100K to make furniture for all the local HeadStarts, to specifications required for small children. (Believe me, as a chair caner, I’ve sold a lot of antique chairs to preschool programs because they have lower seats than modern chairs.)

“He made them out of birch,” the gentleman continued, a smile made of memory on his face as he stroked the wood. “You don’t see that nowadays, shelves made out of particle board and crap. This is real craftsmanship. I’m glad to see they’re still being used. Ain’t seen any in a long time.”

There’s something so sweet about a house full of stories sliding around in time.

a close-up of the wood (plus kitten)

a close-up of the wood (plus kitten)


I always knew our books were portals for people to enter other worlds, but it’s great to know our furniture is, too.



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

A Novel Concerto in Frog Minor

Today’s blog is from WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS participant Lizbeth Phillips, one of three participants in this year’s weekend writing retreat. She’s being mentored through December via a grant from American NewMedia.

As I was driving home from South Carolina on June 6, the Facebook Instant Messenger on my phone dinged.  It was hard to drive in heavy traffic while puzzling over who dinged at me, so after I cleared the hurdle of a major Interstate highway junction, I found a gas station to get fuel and check messages.  Incredible message on Instant Messenger.  I had to do a double-take because my friend Wendy Welch wanted to know if I was interested in a writing retreat and support so I could finish my novel.  The message was for me and Cathie, another writer I hadn’t met yet.  Wendy ended the message with the suggestion that I mull it over and get back to her.

I got back in the car and headed for home, dreading the mix of dysfunctional drivers and the consistent malfunction of the Asheville, North Carolina highway system.  The highway still wound around the Blue Ridge Mountains when my phone dinged again. Wendy figured I had plenty of time to think about whether or not I was ready to truly commit to two or three days of serious writing, and she was right.  Two years had gone by since my first writing workshop with Write Comes to the Cumberlands, and I felt vulnerable texting her back.  When I pressed the Send button on my phone, I knew my priorities moved from wanting to write to being an author.

Eighteen days and plenty of messages later, I was on the road again.  The cabin hideout for writers was just over an hour from my Abingdon home.  When I got to our rendezvous location, Wendy and I loaded all the food and writing gear I brought along, and then we followed the road least traveled down a holler between two knobby little mountains.  When the road ran out, we followed the trail that went around a curve and up a steep hill to the Writer’s Hideout, a remarkable, rustic cabin that only a few people and God knew about.  I met and instantly liked Cathie. Twenty minutes after my arrival, the three of us started writing.

We each claimed a writing spot in the cabin and started work.  Because I started and stopped so many times in the past, I had a curmudgeon of words that required serious revisions and edits.  The afternoon was spent cleaning up the most important little messes I hadn’t bothered to tidy.

My nemesis, Stuff-I-Thought-More-Important, got tossed off the front porch and landed in the pond at the bottom of the hill.  It sank to the bottom so that its only view was the underbellies of huge fish and singing frogs.  It couldn’t have happened to a better excuse not to write.  After two years of waiting, my book characters filled me in on what happened while I was away, and I was overwhelmed because I couldn’t type fast enough and listen to all the shouting that came from the abandoned fatty folds of my frontal lobe.  Too many incidents leading to the still unknown climax, some falling action mixed in, and thanks to a chat with Wendy, the subliminal resolution and the threat of a sequel revealed themselves all at once!

At one point I stopped typing and wrote developments and questions in a little notebook using three colors of ink—past, present, future. Different plot elements had to be sorted, and writing them down stilled the cognitive backchannels.  Back and forth with this strategy that slowed the actual writing process, and if Wendy hadn’t asked me if I’d like a ride toward town to check my phone for messages, my brain might have heaved a big sigh and run for the pond to join my excuses.  Relief was not my reaction to her gentle voice bringing me back to the cabin; she knew I was in the book.  It was a gentle shake, like a sneeze or a hiccup that reset my body’s electrical system.  And it was enough to make me waver between connecting with the real world or staying in the fantasy one.  I stayed, kept the dogs company, and kept on writing.  The cabin faded away again, and I found myself traveling in time to a moment in history I must have mused over as a young child.  Time travel, generational misunderstanding, disobedient magic, and a girl trapped in a human world she does not understand.   The impossible happens, and what should have happened in the first place never enters in.  What was this madness, I wondered.


Luckily, I got to take a break and fix spaghetti for the three of us.  Dinner conversation centered on what we were writing and what we hoped to achieve before going home Sunday.  Three writers sharing thoughts and ideas in the Writers Hideout.  It felt like one of those reality show ideas a nerdy producer pitched to a TV network, and I was so glad that the only technology allowed was the use of my laptop (wifi in absentia).   Then it was back to writing, at least for me, because some plot development insisted it was the next thing to write about.  I was a slave to my imagination’s memories, so I piled up in the office armchair with my notebook, pens, laptop, and some M&Ms.  I have no idea how much time passed; I was on a roll and didn’t care.

Nature, however, knew I needed another interruption, so it began with the call of a frog on a log in the pond at the bottom of the hill.  Three frogs answered, and then it was all over.  Half the frogs in Welch Pond started singing, clicking, clucking, hacking, humming, or plopping.  I got up from the chair and made for the door so I could stand on the porch and listen to what started out as the forest backchannel and eventually crescendoed into an amphibian concerto like no other.

Wendy told me to wait for it, and I listened intently.  First, a low hum.  Then the baritone warming up sang in a vibrato so magnificent many of the girl frogs fainted into the water, the splashes adding percussion to the notes sung.  The performance was like no other.  When the lightning bugs added ambience, the mosquitoes finally drove me indoors.  I went back to the chair and finished the chapter.  Then I turned in for the night.  Sound sleep lasted several hours before the frogs woke me, and the baritone would not stop singing, so I named him Big Boss and covered my ears with a pillow.  That worked until 1:36am (according to the clock on my phone that had no signal).  At that point I decided the concert was an all-nighter, so I recorded the music—even though the windows and doors of my room were closed.  It WAS loud enough!

Morning light filtered through the window and shone pale on the wood floor, but I sensed its presence.  I hurried into my day clothes, grabbed my laptop, and hurried to the kitchen table to write some more.  I supposed I should forgive the frogs for singing so loudly because my brain had worked all night on that story.  I could hardly keep up!  I wrote an entire chapter before anyone else was up and moving around, so I was ready to cook pancakes when Wendy came into the kitchen to check on me and let the dogs out to go walkies.

After breakfast we retreated to our writing spots, and before getting too far into the next development, an odd thing happened.  The Hideout moved to the back channel, and the story became real.  A break.  Lunch.  A discussion about how the weekend was going so far.  A walk.  Then more writing until dinner, which was salmon and rice that Cathie fixed.  Refueled, my characters decided I had more work to do before I turned in for the night, so I relented.  I worked my keyboard until it was hot to the touch, typing as fast as I could to appease my protagonist and her father.  It all happened so fast, I never noticed it was nearly dark outside.  Big Boss did his deep CKerrrrrrrr-ummmmmmm mmmmmmmmm, and all the little girl frogs swooned into the water while the lesser male singers made their signature sounds. The concert lasted all night and almost to sunrise, and I recorded parts of the Concerto in Frog Minor because I knew no one would believe how talented Wendy’s frogs were.

Twice in the night I had to open my laptop and write something down so the butler would stop telling me things I wasn’t ready to know.  (You see, the butler know and sees all, and he let me know he was omniscient.)  I remember thinking that maybe I could have a taxi run over him because he didn’t look both ways before crossing the street.  He grumbled about how mean I was and left me alone, so I slept.  At 6:30 am, I rolled out of bed, hurried into my Sunday-Going-Home clothes, and headed for the kitchen table with my laptop.  Another chapter was finished before I shut my authoring laptop off.  I stowed it in my gear that was under the steps, ready for the journey home.

Over a  breakfast of French toast, I wondered and worried. We said goodbye to Cathie.   Then I worried some more.  I tossed and turned what was accomplished at the Writers Hideout and weighed it against expectations of others for the coming week.  In all, I edited my foreword and wrote 10,000 words (3 chapters, 30 pages).    The subtle change in my thinking was not wasted.  Instead of thinking about what I had to do, I was thinking about when and where I would write EVERY day.  I tried to figure out when I could return to the cabin and write for days and evenings with nothing to keep me from it.  For the first time ever, I knew that I would not skip writing, that I was committed to writing as though it was my job.  By the time Wendy and I had locked the front door and headed for the car for the ride back to civilization, I promised myself that I would work on my novel every day, that I would alert her if I struggled, that I would rely on her wisdom to get me through any pressures or doldrums.  We said our goodbyes and headed in two different directions, headed for home.

I did not listen the radio. Never checked the news to see what had happened while I was in another world. I did text three family members to let them know I was headed home.  Then I drove through the back channels of civilization and paid close attention to my novel as it continued to write itself on my brain cells. Another chapter. Another day.  It was a glorious Sunday because twenty days ago, my friend Wendy Welch sent a text message that saved my writer’s life.  My purpose was reset, and destiny moved me to take ownership of my imagination and my work.  Thanks to Wendy Welch and Debra Hallock from American NewMedia Foundation, I will finish this novel by Christmas so that it can be launched into the new year like a resolution to secure my future as an author of young adult literature.  Oh, I almost forgot!  I should also thank Cathie for sharing her work and giving feedback on what I wrote.  And for the sake of personification, I must bow to the Writers Hideout for its sanctuary and applaud Big Boss and his choir for their latest pond production, Concerto in Frog Minor.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Caption Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen, between doing edits on the book I’m writing,  getting Jack launched to Scotland,  and fostering eleven kittens, I haven’t had time to read this week. I don’t have a Monday book.

But I did have time to snap this priceless photo of Uncle Bert with one of his foster kitties. The winning caption will receive hand-crocheted dishcloths. Have fun!

kitten sitting on Bert 004This contest is on the Appalachian Feline Friends page, on Facebook. If you can’t post there, post here and I’ll copy your caption onto FB so audience response can determine the winner.


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