Category Archives: shopsitting

The Other Side of the Microphone

Jack’s weekly guest blog


DSCN1013Both Wendy and I have some experience of radio broadcasting; in my case that covers BBC Radio Scotland,  ‘Scene Around’ on Heartland fm in Scotland, and ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ on WETS fm out of Johnson City in Tennessee.

But when Wendy’s The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap was published we suddenly found ourselves on the other side of the microphone. Some of these interviews were on local NPR stations ahead of book signing events, others nationally syndicated shows like ‘Weekend Edition’. It was fascinating to see how other presenters worked and the studios were set up, from very relaxed and laid back to pretty frenetic.

Interviews get repeated from time-to-time and we don’t always know that will happen; messages or emails or phone calls from someone say they heard us as they were driving through some remote part of the country. Which is fun.

Even more fun is that for once we do know ahead of time. The widely broadcast NPR program ‘With Good Reason’ interviewed us in 2013, and it was probably the one we remember most fondly. Very relaxed and long enough to cover our road trip to small towns across America, seeking out bookstores and talking about our experiences with Little Bookstore.

‘With Good Reason’ is broadcast in many states at different times. Find your local listening time and station here: Where and When to Listen

Or, if you’d like to listen to it any time during the week. the podcast link is – Little Bookstore Nov. 28 – Dec. 4

We hope you enjoy listening – we had a lot of fun making the program!


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

Beulah and Me, by David Hamrick

beulahShopsitter David tells of his relationship with a special lady….

I first met Beulah a little over two years ago at the Big Stone Celtic Festival. It was a beautiful late September day with the sun shining and a light breeze just moving the leaves on the trees in town. I had just sat down to eat lunch on a park bench after watching a friend perform for the Celtic festival.

Beulah sat down beside me on the park bench and asked if she could have a chip. Knowing that Beulah’s father was from Scotland and that her mother had lived in Scotland after her marriage, I knew that Beulah was asking for a French fry out of my bag.

I told her yes of course never being one to shy away from eating with a lady. Beulah helped herself to a few chips and we chatted about her life, family, and Big Stone Gap.

Beulah had been born in Florida and moved to Big Stone Gap 8 years earlier when her mother accepted a position at the local university. Beulah really enjoyed speaking about her town and all of the people she knew. I’ve discovered a lot from talking to Beulah. She keeps many secrets about the bookstore and the town. I think that’s why she gets anything she wants to eat; she knows too much.david

Beulah likes being a bookstore cat but she is very reserved around other cats and keeps to herself. She prefers the company of one other human, preferably in his or her lap.

Little did I know that this would be the start of a great friendship. Over the past two years, Beulah and I have become close friends and she often refers to me as the “guy who shares chips.”

Beulah, I just want to tell you that you are one of the best friends that person can have. Next time I’m there, we have to get our picture taken together!







Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

Our David, Shopsitter

david hamrickI am home after more than a week away at various events and conferences. Stumbling in the door, I find the place looks immaculate and smells of peppermint and lavender. Our shopsitter David did some wonderful organizational innovations to the shelves–like alphabetizing, and sorting the memoirs by category. The whole place looks brighter, cleaner, cheerfully non-neglected. (Not how it’s looked the month previous, let me assure you.)

This is why we love having shopsitters. David, a Celti-phile friend from Jack’s Scottish trips, who with his wife Susan rescues cats in their North Carolina home, stepped in, looked around, and did stuff that we have either a) meant to get around to for ages now or b) never thought about doing because we are domestically impaired.

The kittens (four from the shelter, two from drop-offs, and one I found during my road trip and brought home) are playing amiably on their new seven-foot cat castle, assembled by Uncle David. The staff cats have had their fur brushed. The one-free-with purchase books have been reshelved by height and color.

Arriving home more brain-fried than a Walking Dead extra and planning to be in bed by 8 pm, I walked in to bookstore vibrant with the loving touches of someone who value books, cats, and people. That is a glorious thing. Thanks David!

(And thanks Susan for lending him to us and for coming over to help on Saturday!)



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

The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter…….

For your pleasure and edification, this weekend’s blog is word for word an online conversation between Our Good Chef Kelley, Saint Beth the Vet, and me. Here’s the background: Our Good Chef Kelley likes to name some of the foster cats, and we told her next time they came around, she could do so. After being foster-free for 12 hours, we agreed to take in kittens from three different rescuers – a momma and three babies from the shelter immediately, and two sets of three feral kittens from two rescuers trying to trap them, as and when they managed to. Plus one male cat from a lady who was getting drop-offs at her house and couldn’t afford to neuter him amongst all her girl cat pets (not spayed). All of them were to go to Dr. Beth before coming here, to get checked out.

You can guess what happened, can’t you? No sooner had the shelter cats arrived than the feral trappers informed me they’d caught the kitties and the lady with the drop off dropped him off. Beth went from 0 to 9 Bookstore cats in the space of an hour. We can pick up the thread from there as Beth tries to talk Kelley through the naming process.

  • Beth (2:38 pm): We have a Female torrid and Black male Grey who thinks he is badass

     That is tortie not torrid
     and an orange long hair male

    Then we have the sickly ones. Grey female Orange make and tortie female

    All need names

    And the little sick runt Erin has, that Wendy took this afternoon.

    Kelley (2:42 pm): Mom = Berenice Dilute tortie = Morella Orange male = Prospero Gray tabby = Montressor

    It is Edgar Allan Poe time smile emoticon

    I don’t wanna name the sick one till I know he is gonna make it

     Beth (2:43 pm): That’s the one I’m not sure of sex either

     baby 2

    Kelley (2:45 pm): Wait hang on. There is a black male too?

    Beth (2:45 pm): Yes

    Kelley (2:45 pm): So mama and five kittens?

    Beth : 6

    Kelley (2:46 pm): One mama, six kittens?

    Beth (2:46 pm): Plus the sick one

    Kelley (2:46 pm): So plus the sick one, 1 mama and seven babies?

    Beth (2:46 pm): Yes

     And orange boy

    baby 1Kelley (2;54): 1. Mom 2. Black male 3. Orange male 4. Dilute tortie 5. Gray male tabby 6. Gray male? tabby with Erin 7. ? 8. ?

  • Beth (2;55 pm): Another tortie kitten and adult male orange and grey male solid

Kelley (2:55 pm): Ok so all of these do not belong to the mama?

  • Beth (2:56 pm) : Nope

    Kelley (3:10 pm) : I’m so confused. Sorry. Are there 9 total?

    Beth (3:11 pm) : Yes if u count Erin’s

    I’m not helping. I’m brain dead

    Kelley (3:12 pm) : Ok gotcha

    Is OK Wendy didn’t tell me about all of the others

    Mom = Berenice Dilute tortie = Morella Orange male = Prospero Gray tabby = Montressor Black male = Pluto Tortie 2 = Annabel

    Who am I missing?

    Other than the sick one. I am missing 2

    Beth (3:15 pm) : Adult orange male and kitten orange male

     So which one is prospero

    Kelley (3:16 pm) : Is there a sickly orange kitten and a well orange kitten?

    Beth (3:17 pm) : Sick orange and healthy adult

    And grey bad assbaby 3

  • Kelley (3:34 pm):

    Confused again. I named an orange kitten Prospero. Is there another orange kitten or just an adult orange?

    Beth (3:35 pm): Adult

    Kelley (3:36 pm) : Healthy adult orange = Luchesi (loo-kasey)

    Ok so that is everyone but badass gray?

    Is the solid gray male the badass?

    Beth (3:37 pm) : He certainly thinks so

    Kelley (3:38 pm): The only one I haven’t named is the solid gray

    Let’s call the badass Montressor and the tabby boy can be Valdemar

    And that should be everyone except sick baby. Right?

    Wendy (3:40 pm): Y’all are so cute

    Kelley (3:40 pm) : Ok cool. ROFL. Wendy I didn’t know there were so many! Hehehe

  • Wendy (3:41 pm): Neither does Jack.

    They’re coming in groups of 3

    The rest are hanging with Auntie Beth awhile

     He’ll never know how many there are if they come in clumps.
    So now you know, gentle readers: neither the life nor the online presence of a rescuer is ever dull.
    baby 4


Filed under animal rescue, bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Retire and Move to America, They Said. It’ll be Fun, They Said.

DSCN1410It’s not that Jack feels sorry for himself; it’s just that he’s got a lot to do…..

As a semi-pro Scottish folk singer I used to do two or three gigs per week, touring around Europe and the US , as well as helping to run folksong clubs and festivals. When I retired and moved to the US permanently, and then we opened a bookstore,  I thought to myself, Ah, this will be the life! The gentleman scholar in comfy sweater, spectacles perched on my nose, a cat or two purring in the background as I putter about the shop, perhaps even time enough to get back into my hobby of model airplane building ….could it get any more relaxing?

And God said “HA!”

Here’s my typical schedule now –

Annual tour of Scotland (; weekly Celtic music program on and (; annual Celtic music festival (; regular house concerts and events in the bookstore; regular book festivals all over the US with Wendy. Total per year: 30 average. Some of them here, some of them there and everywhere….

We’ve just come back from emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, as we have for the last eight years. It’s a real labor-of-love for us, plus we get to hear great music, see old friends and dip our toes into someone else’s last minute panics! It’s also a terrific way of getting us into the mood for BIG STONE CELTIC CROSSROADS which is two weeks later.

Now we are about to head to West Jefferson North Carolina for their annual book festival, then we have Big Stone Celtic. After a brief hiatus we have Wendy’s annual health conference ‘Head for the Hills’ at the glorious Breaks Park, then presentations to Lee High School students, a storytelling event with our old friend Lyn Ford, a bookstore concert here with the fabulous fiddle player Jamie Laval, another bookstore concert with musicians Ron Short and Willie Dodson, an author event with Willie Dalton (don’t confuse author Willie Dalton with musician Willie Dodson; she’s blond and willowy, he’s bearded and brings a banjo) and yet another shop concert with my Scots fiddle playing buddy Pete Clark. That moves us effortlessly (hah!) into Christmas – which we will spend in Dublin, Ireland with friends – who will make no demands on me whatsoever – – -right, David and Susan?????

Maybe I should go back to being an itinerant folk singer – the hours were easier and I got more sleep.

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


Jack and I are headed out to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton, TN this weekend. Busy and running about, I offer in place of a hand-written blog this LOVELY piece of news.

INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES ARE THRIVING!!!! Click the link to read all about it.

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

Coming Up, Rushing ‘Round, and all things ‘Twixt and ‘Tween


in which Jack contemplates all that is to be accomplished between now and Thanksgiving…..

It’s that time of year again –  when Wendy and I take a deep breath before diving into the whirl of Fall and early Winter events in and around the bookstore and the country.

Coming up on September 25th and 26th is the 9th annual Big Stone Celtic festival which always means plenty of last minute arranging, checking and panicking. Before that, though, we MC the Sycamore Shoals Celtic festival this weekend over in Elizabethton and that’s much more relaxing and an opportunity to re-connect with old friends. The weekend between, we will be heading to the On the Same Page literary festival in West Jefferson where I will be singing and Wendy is a guest author.

Just a couple of weeks after Big Stone Celtic is Wendy’s yearly medical conference, Head for the Hills at the gorgeous Breaks Park, where I can relax (but Wendy cannot!).

Then we’ll be into the season of bookstore events: a house concert and traditional foods supper with storyteller Lyn Ford Oct. 30; a Nov. 6 eat with the author event featuring Willie Dalton, who wrote Three Witches in a Small Town;  and as-yet-unscheduled house concerts musicians Jamie Laval, Pete Clark and Ron Short.  We usually try to throw in an autumnal murder mystery,but this year we may have to punt.

A gifted storyteller and author, we remember Lyn most fondly from a house party in Ohio, when she ever so diplomatically persuaded another storyteller NOT to give a demonstration of ‘keening’ after we’d all had a few. We forward to a no less entertaining evening this time around as Lyn will have copies of her Afrilachian Folktales book for sale and signing.

Jamie is an old friend from our time on the staff of Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week. An award winning and very popular exponent of Scottish, Irish and Cape Breton fiddling (not to mention percussive foot tapping!), he will be with us for a full weekend so I can ‘try out’ as one of his guitar accompanists at his house concert.

Pete, from Dunkeld in Scotland, will be touring with accordionist Gregor Lowrie and also staying over a weekend. He is no stranger to Big Stone and will enjoy introducing Gregor to the delights of fishing at Lake Keokee. He has also toured and taught all over the world as the acknowledged expert in the fiddle style of Highland Perthshire.

Ron Short will be joined by Willie Dodson to provide an evening of immersion in the culture and music of this part of Appalachia. Strong connections link the cultures of my homeland of Scotland and this area – stories, songs and fiddle tunes as well as language and attitudes.

Somewhere in between all this we also need to handle the day-to-day requirements of running a retail business, which means relying on friends and neighbors to mind the store – we are eternally grateful to James Ryan, Erin Dalton, and David Hamrick for stepping into the Gap!


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