Category Archives: shopsitting

The Rare “Bookstore Owner Abroad” Opportunity

That's the full moon, top right. We've been having such busy days, I keep forgetting to take photos!

That’s the full moon, top right. We’ve been having such busy days, I keep forgetting to take photos!

Jack and I don’t get out much. Owning a bookstore is very like having a 4,000-lb. two-year-old in your life. It requires constant care, feeding, and anticipation of its future needs in order to maintain a happy home.

But we are in DC this week because, wearing my other hat for the college and Southwest Virginia, I’m educating our elected officials on the need for graduate medical education (doctors who TRAIN in Coalfields Appalachia, and then practice here). It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in, and being a woman who owns a business in a small community adds a certain heft to my voice. Politicians like women who own businesses in rural areas. We’re photogenic.

Good thing I’m not cynical, eh?

But I digress. Jack’s birthday is TODAY (thank you, on behalf of Jack) and we are going to visit Williamsburg this weekend in celebration. (Yes, the next blog will be about our impressions of the place, since we’ve never been before.)

The point is, it really doesn’t matter where we go or what we do; the fact that we’re doing it outside the bookstore for a week is its own holiday. Don’t get the wrong impression. We LOVE LOVE LOVE being bookslingers. We love our work, our community, and our lifestyle.

But a change is as good as a rest, and we’re loving the days in DC. It’s a great place to visit (although, yes, the cliche is true – living here, not so much.)

There is an odd element to being out of the shop, though. Without getting TOO personal – this is a family-friendly blog – usually when I feel something moving in the bed, I assume it’s a cat, be it foster or staff. That’s never true in a hotel room.

That’s the full moon, top right. We’ve been having such busy days, I keep forgetting to take photos!

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

A Weird yet Peaceable Coincidence….

cabinJack and I fled to our cabin in the woods for Christmas, thanks to the glorious Jennifer Gough, who shopsat the whole month of December. I got some writing done, and we chilled.

Actually, we chilled in a warm atmosphere, because the cabin is heated by a wood-burning stove in the old stone fireplace. Jack went out every couple of days and wrestled logs into submission, turning work into heat by means of wood. From time to time I printed drafts so I could read via paper instead of screen (it really makes a difference in the editing process). Pages without notes got turned into starter paper for the morning fire; waste not, want not.

Yet therein lies an odd coincidence. Years ago, while taking a writing class at East Tennessee State University, I had to write an autobiographical piece as fiction, introducing myself to the class. At the time, without a cabin in the woods, a book, a bookstore, or Jack in my life, I wrote that in her later years, Welch and her husband secluded themselves in a cabin in the woods, fueled by the surrounding trees and her writings.

Who knew, twenty years ago, that such a silly, small detail would come true? Still, it’s a small thing in a big world, and it’s peaceable, so I’ll take it. Happy day after Christmas, everybody.

 

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A Shopsitter’s Christmas

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Henry

As I’m spending Christmas in a bookstore this year, I thought I might share a few of my favorite Christmas tales with all of you. What’s more festive that curling up in front of a roaring Fireplace for your Home, popping open a box of wine, and diving in to a jolly holiday classic? Nothing as far as I know. While there are dozens, I’ve selected a few that have special meaning for me. Here goes.

The Cat Who Came for Christmas, by Cleveland Amory. My grandmother introduced me to this wonderful memoir many years ago. A self-described curmudgeon finds an abandoned cat on Christmas eve. Heartwarming human/feline bonding ensues. Especially poignant for me this year, because I’ve found my very own Christmas kitty. See photo.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The quintessential Christmas classic. A story of faith, forgiveness, and redemption. All the biggies. Ebenezer Scrooge mends his evil ways with the help of three Christmas spirits. Little ghoul that I am, I probably liked this story most because of the ghosties.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie. For those that might enjoy a little murder with their mistletoe. The eccentric Belgium detective finds himself spending Christmas at a country estate, where one of the guest proves to be a cold blooded killer. It’s festive. Honest. 

The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot. Another kitty arriving just in time for the holidays. I have a vague, but persistent notion that this one made me cry. You’ve been warned.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket. While my own Jewish heritage provided me little more than the ability to kvetch in Yiddish, I do love a good latke. This story is about a potato latke that, well, can’t stop screaming, but it’s also about being true to yourself and your beliefs. A good message for whatever holiday you celebrate.

Not a comprehensive list, but a fun exercise nonetheless. I must now go finish putting coal in the kitten’s stockings. They’ve been naughty, as all proper kittens are wont to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts!

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Boo!

That’s a lie. I totally am.

I’m not saying I actually believe in ghosts, but I’ve been blessed, or cursed, depending on your perspective, with a vivid imagination. I also made the mistake of watching The Changeling with George C. Scott, when I was in the fourth grade. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it…IF YOU WANT TO BE SCARED OF THE DARK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! 

But I digress.

Not only is my imagination more active than most, I am also inexplicably drawn to the macabre. I enjoyed graveyard tours when I was in grade school. Still do, in fact. I’m one of those wide-eyed nuts that asks, always with the benefit of broad daylight, “Is it haunted?!”  I’m eager to hear all the stories. I want ALL THE DETAILS.  And then I need to sleep with the lights on.

When I arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, I was delighted. It was exactly what I had expected. A wonderful old house, certainly with an interesting history, stuffed full of kittens and books. My two favorite things!

I met wonderful people. I played with the cats. I learned to crochet.

And then I did it. I asked the question that was sure to leave me sleepless for the rest of my stay.

“Is it haunted?!?!”

“Only a little”, I was told.

“Just the kitchen”, Kelley said.

“It’s a friendly ghost”, Erin assured me.

“Nothing to worry about”, they both agreed.

And I wasn’t worried. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, after all.

Now it’s night. Everyone has gone home, and I am getting ready for bed. I’m not scared. I don’t believe in ghosts. I walk quietly about my room. NOT nervously, I can tell you. NOT listening for every little house settling sound. No way. Not me. But then I hear it. A sound that does not sound like an ordinary house sound. A small cry. A small mournful cry. A small mournful GHOST cry! It’s the Kitchen Ghost! It’s coming for me! It’s…it’s…it’s a loose floorboard. I step back and forth a few times listening to the small squeal that now sounds perfectly innocent. I get into bed. As I drift off, my last thoughts are how happy I am to be here. How much I love the bookstore, and the town…and didn’t I close that closet door?

 

 

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The Monday Book: TIME WAS SOFT THERE by Jeremy Mercer

“In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafés. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights. That night at Polly’s, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple. That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too. Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

mercerJack and I got the idea for using shopsitters at our place – people who receive free room and board in return for living there – from Shakespeare and Co. This is a famous bookstore across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

On a listserv of bookshop owners, talk turned to books about bookstores. (I received ego strokes, and then we went on.) Mercer stayed at the shop for some time, watching the ebb and flow of people who ranged from down and outs to up and comings. He also spent significant time with George, the shop owner (although not its founder – Sylvia Beach did that) and some of the regulars.

Mercer’s book is in many ways journalistic, showing his roots as a true crime writer. Yet he portrays the under humanity so simply with his “this is what happened” prose. One of the blurbs on the back calls the book a romanticized version of the bum’s life, but I don’t agree. The book is far less romantic than wistful.

Among the things Mercer does is get George’s daughter to visit, and ultimately secure the shop’s future. It has a fascinating history: closed during the Nazi Era, considered a hothouse of sedition in the 1960s student riots, monitored by the CIA in the 1990s if George is to be believed.

There are a couple of startling moments: an ethnic hate crime results in murder and Mercer is less concerned about the murder than the police sniffing around a bookstore full of people with improper visas to be in France. He seems more concerned when the 84-year-old George gets engaged to 20-year-old shop worker Eva. That kind of thing. It all just sails past, along with the adorable moments of scorn for “30 minute tourists” who just want to stick their head in the door because the place is famous, having no understanding of or interest in its true ethos.

And there’s a very funny cynicism to the scheme three residents come up with, to sit and write in front of the tourists and sell the pages, story by short story. The description of this was, quite frankly, laugh out loud funny.

This isn’t a story about books, but about the bookstore itself, its inhabitants, and its purpose. Mercer’s final paragraph is a good summation: “In the end, yes, it is a famous bookstore and, yes, it is of no small literary importance. But more than anything, Shakespeare and Company is a refuge, like the church across the river. A place where the owner allows everyone to take what they need and give what they can.”  

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

K.U.T.E (Kittens United Terrorizing Everyone)

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Scarlett, Ready to Address her Subjects

Shopsitter Jenny here. I may not have much time, so listen closely. I’ve been taken hostage by a group known only to me as K.U.T.E. I don’t know exactly what they want, but I seem to be completely in their thrall. I’ve been given the tasks of meal preparation, litter box clean up, and cuddling. The strange part is, I don’t mind at all. I’m HAPPY to do it. The hold they have over me is almost…supernatural. All one of them has to do is wave a tiny paw, or sneeze a mini achoo, and I’m ready to do their bidding. I would have written for help sooner, but the one they call Scarlett was sitting on the computer all morning looking at me with big dewy eyes. I was powerless to move her. Fortunately, they seem to nap en masse, so I am now able to send out my plea. Come. Get. A. Kitten. Save me from the overwhelming power of K.U.T.E. I fear that one (or more!) of them will convince me to bring them home to New York, and then, not only will K.U.T.E have the opportunity to spread its devastating culture of kitten kisses, but my mother will kill me!

A quick run down of the players…

Scarlett. Sister to Rhett. Cuteness exceeds tolerable levels with this one. Seems to be a bit of a ringleader.

Rhett. Scarlett’s brother. Rhett’s metaphorical tee-shirt reads, I’d Rather be Lounging.

Henry Dashwood. Dash for short. Exceptionally handsome chap. A little shy, but snuggly and playful when he warms up. Adorable kitten antics, or up to something? You decide.

Hadley. Little, but mighty, with a deceptively sweet face…Oh geez! Here she comes! She’s climbing up my pant leg! SHE’S GOING FOR MY NECK!

She’s…kissing my cheek.

What’s that you say Hadley? You want your prawns peeled and served with caviar? Why certainly. Let me take care of that for you.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, Uncategorized

Shopsitter Jennifer says Hi

jenniferDear Tales of the Lonesome Pine,

I hope you’re doing well. I’ve heard so much about you. I read Wendy’s book, and I look at all the kitty pictures that you post to Facebook. I love cats, and you seem to be full of them, so we should get along fine.

I just wanted say hello, because I’m going to be staying with you for a while. I know you might be feeling a bit of apprehension about Jack and Wendy leaving for a whole month. I understand. I would be feeling a little apprehensive too if I was a bookstore and I was going to be left in the who-knows-if-they’re-capable-or-not hands of a complete stranger. You might be thinking, does this individual know anything at all about running a bookstore? Can she tell the difference between a trade paperback and a mass market? Can she alphabetize? What’s her favorite book? Does she have a favorite book!? DOES SHE EVEN READ!?!? Well, I’m writing to assure you that I know what I’m doing. Really.

I’ve worked in two bookstores over the years, and not a single book has been harmed or mangled under my watch. Because of my excellent customer service skills, I’ve never had to tackle a single shoplifter, and every book signing I’ve ever planned has been well attended. Well, there have technically been attendees present at every book signing I’ve ever planned. Two count, right?

As for animal care, no problems there. I’ve had the same cat since I was thirteen. His official name is Picasso, but we just call him Kitty. Whenever I sit on the sofa, he sits next to me, and stares intently at my neck. I get the feeling he’s thinking about the last bath I gave him, but I’m hoping it’s just because he likes me a whole lot. We do have a special bond. He let’s me brush him each day for a whole minute and a half before he bites me with his only remaining tooth. I’m pretty sure it’s a love bite.

See? Everything’s going to be just fine.

Your Humble Shopsitter,
Jennifer

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