Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Different Kind of Porn – Nope.

doily-coatJack and I did some shelf rearranging this week, to aid me in my final week of book edits avoidance therapy. The adjustments meant losing about half a bookshelf’s worth of space, so I started looking at our diet and exercise, aging, and women’s health books.

And got really, really angry. So many books about how women can keep themselves from looking older – not being older, not keeping themselves well, just not LOOKING older. So many books on what to wear after fifty. So many books on how to be skinny – not healthy, skinny.

When Jack and I opened our bookstore, we got some books in from Playboy. We discussed whether to sell “porn,” and decided we’d go with a simple definition: if we felt like the books would harm our friends Teri and Gary’s three daughters (at the time ages 4-12, more or less) we wouldn’t sell them. (Teri is the one who traded us photocopies for free books when we first opened, for those who have read Little Bookstore.) That made it fairly easy to know what we felt comfortable selling.

So I applied the same rule to these “women’s health” books, and threw away 200 of them. Because if the girls had lived by their rules, they would have been beat down, joyless consumerists. Peh.

Here are the rules, Mollie, Maeve, and Millie: wear what makes you feel comfortable, sexy, happy, or powerful–whatever your moment or mood calls for. Put on make-up or don’t – and if you want to make your own we kept a few books on natural cosmetics and color choices for hair and skin tones. Be healthy, be that plump, skinny, middle of the road, or whatever else you and your doctor agree is working for you. Look after yourself mentally – don’t read books that try to tell you  how many of anything you should own. Don’t fall for the sale of fear.

And, as one of my favorite snark signs says, “Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. That’s expensive. Drag them down to your level. It will make them happier, too.”

Enjoy life, girls. We are enjoying the extra space in our bookstore – gained a whole shelf of space by tossing the porn.

 

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

Some Things Just Suck!

Jack’s guest post is a farewell to a very close friend, co-written with two other very close friends.

Obituary – Michael (Mike/Mick) Ward

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Michael Joseph Ward was born in 1950, in West Lothian, though like his five siblings, he spent much of his life in Dunfermline.  A highly intelligent, well-read, erudite, individual, the educational institutions graced by his presence included Blairs College (near Aberdeen), The Scots College in Rome, and Glasgow University.  After graduating from there, he entered the teaching profession, and for many years was a teacher of modern languages at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline.  As an avid reader, he never stopped learning, and, in adulthood, added the Gaelic language to his already impressive list of skills.

His teaching was of a piece with his approach to any task; professional, conscientious and thorough, which earned him the respect of the many pupils who came to understand with his help that learning can be much more than the mere acquisition of knowledge, important though that is.  His quirky sense of humour often caught them unawares, too, as did his occasional side-excursion into teaching them a French folk song, to remind them that language can be much more than utilitarian.  No-one knew better than him that innovations in education are not what makes the difference; that what counted was dedicated, effective teaching, and that was what his pupils got.

Mike was a long time member of the Fife based folk band Heritage, having joined them in 1978. In need of a solid keyboard player to master the group’s portable harmonium (pump organ), they found the ideal candidate in Mike. The group also discovered that he was not only an excellent keyboard player but also a wonderful penny-whistler and player of Northumbrian and Scottish smallpipes.  He had taken up the Northumbrian pipes in the late 70s, and attended the week-long courses, tutored by Joe Hutton, which were a feature of the Edinburgh Folk Festival at that time.  For a number of years he also attended annual residential weekend courses, also tutored by Joe Hutton, in Rothbury.  He met a number of kindred spirits at these courses, many of whom would become lifelong friends.

While Heritage members up to that point had learned and played mostly by ear, as a classically trained musician (he had been college organist during his time at Blairs), Mike could easily sight read. He had a respect for the folkies as well and used his skills to help the group develop and expand their music.

early-heritage

Mike on the extreme right behind the harmonium, playing the penny whistle

Over the following fifteen years or so he played with Heritage all over Scotland and around Europe, absorbing the music of other traditions and contributing to the repertoire and musical sophistication of the band. Another recruit around the same time was fiddler Pete Clark and he and Mike struck up a particularly creative partnership supporting and adding to the band’s trademark sound.

As a language teacher (before his retirement) and multi-linguist, Mike had a particular affinity for France and Italy, and this was of great help when the group traveled to these locations. Of course he had a much wider musical fraternity, extending to the English borders area of Northumbria as well as Brittany, the Occitan area of France and Friuli, in Italy. Only three years ago he spent almost a month in the Southern Appalachians with his old musical colleague Jack Beck where he made many new friends and expanded yet again his horizons.

He could be somewhat self-deprecating about his considerable musical skills.  If you gave Mike a piano, he could keep you entertained for hours with improvised arrangements of traditional music.  He was particularly masterful when it came to slow airs.  More than once it was suggested to him that he should really consider recording and/or publishing some of these gems, but, sadly, it never happened.

late-heritage

Later, in France – Mike on keyboard at the back

In 2015, along with his friends, Alistair and Brigitte Marshall, he visited the museum at Blairs, his first visit back there since he had left as a pupil.  The curator, upon learning that Mike was an alumnus,  escorted him into the college buildings which, though in a parlous state, awaiting redevelopment, looked in many respects as they must have done when the last pupil laid down his pen for the last time.  It was an experience which Mike admitted to finding somewhat spooky!  On that same visit, he was also reunited with the organ in the beautiful St Mary’s Chapel at Blairs.  He and Alistair had plans to return there, to rehearse some of the very atmospheric Breton music for bombarde and organ.

A great connoisseur of Indian cuisine, his curries were legendary and his advice on which restaurants to visit much sought after.

During the last few years he had faced a number of serious health issues with great dignity and acceptance, born of his deep Christian faith. A devout Roman Catholic, Mike was never narrow minded, was passionately interested in human beings, of whatever faith or hue, and accepted that everyone had their particular path to follow.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Bo0k: 29 GIFTS by Cami Walker

Walker’s memoir tells her story of being diagnosed with MS about 15 years after she could have been, and what changes it brought to her life. She had a medical emergency that became her diagnosis just a month after getting married.

This book first lays the groundwork for the 29 days: her spiritual advisor suggested she take this giving approach and talked her through some of the dos and don’ts – like giving out of abundance mentally and emotionally, not out of desperation. The groundwork is pretty interesting.

Then she goes day by day through the gifts, from a quarter for a parking meter to flowers for strangers on the street to seashells on the seashore. The gifts don’t tend to be large, but her analysis of what they did for her, what’s going on around her that day, etc. fall into something of a pattern.

This makes the book good for bedside reading, or casual dipping in and out. The gifts and the interactions with people around her are charming, and insightful in some cases. Those with MS or dealing with any loved one learning new lifestyle limitations due to illness, will probably see deeper meanings than casual readers.

Those looking for a feel-good gift for someone coping with a new diagnosis, or just a book for your bedside table to satisfy casual evening reading, would find that 29-gifts29 Gifts is a good choice.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA

Peace, Love, Cat Videos

I’m working on my book about cat rescue, and one of the recurring themes is “Why do people rescue cats?” (Or dogs, but the undercurrent is, why do people “bother” to help animals at all?)15134332_1371938282817232_41046199_n-copy

And I guess there’s a cynical answer, and a real answer – I’m just not sure which is which.

On the one hand, Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” For those who reject Eastern wisdom, from the Bible it sounds like “What you do for the least of these my brethren you do for me” except some people will tell you Jesus was only talking about humans. You can also quote Martin Luther King, Jr: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” In other words, do it because the powerless need defending, and because in defending the powerless we become blessed/empowered/alive/real.

That’s one answer. The other is, when everything around you is sliding out of control, if you only have something small in front of you that you can do to alleviate suffering, you should do it. Whatever it is. I can call DC and register my concerns, but I can’t single-handedly stop anything. Most of any “social justice activism” lifestyle comes down to adding our voices to a larger pot, not being a soloist hero.

When a cat is in front of you, and it’s sick or pregnant or cold, you can pick it up and take it to the vet. (Yeah yeah, nobody has any money; there’s more than one way to pay for a cat.) And it won’t suffer needlessly.

The world is going crazy. Kids have cancer. People hate each other. So I’m rescuing cats while Rome burns. Yeah. Okay. I’ll take it. It’s what’s in front of me, and I know how to do it. It makes a difference to the cat and the cat’s new family; if that’s all the good that comes of this action, fair enough.

That said, petting a cat lowers your blood pressure (assuming you are not allergic, of course) so it’s not all about giving. Watching cats play is better than watching TV. Especially these days.

I’m not an ostrich with my head in the sand; nor am I numb. I’m making those phone calls and keeping up with relevant news. But the biggest small changes I can effect these days are fur-bearing. I’m downy with that.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

Leveling with Friends

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

There’s a real satisfaction in taking part in a construction project being led by someone who really knows what they are doing. I had that experience last weekend and this is my report.

Wendy’s friend and colleague Beth, and her husband Jon live up in Blacksburg and last Friday Jon left home at 5:30 am to drive down here with a full load of lumber and a magnificent array of tools, ready to completely re-build the front deck of ‘Hazel’s House’ (our new cat rescue center).

house-aff-004

How she was before

Jon reckoned it could be done over three days, so Friday, Saturday and Sunday were set aside and he was down here and started by 9 o’clock on Friday morning. I had volunteered to help and Wendy and Beth came along later that day as well.

Just to set the scene – the house was built in 1917 (so exactly 100 years old) and is single storey, with a porch running the full width of the front. The porch has an overhanging roof with four pillars supporting it (all of them had shims underneath added at some point in the past).

The first job was to install temporary supports from the ground to the front of the roof beside each of the pillars to take the weight. Then we separated the pillars from the deck and began removing the old deck slats. Once they were removed we could see the state of the underpinning joists and foundations and that revealed some problems. The biggest one was that the front joist had rotted and split and had to be completely replaced. Jon built a 28 foot long, 12 inch wide and 4 inch thick joist by laminating six boards together and Saturday’s big job was four of us maneuvering that into place! To our utter delight it fitted perfectly, although it chose to rain just as we were committed to the task, so we all got soaked.

The center of the deck had gradually sunk by almost two inches over the years (hence the shims under the pillars), so the next job was to get that part raised back to the correct height again. Once that was done it was time to re-install the deck slats and we decided to fit new ones in the center section then use the old ones as much as possible for the outer areas. Poor Beth got the job of removing all the nails from the old boards! Finally it was time check all the levels, re-fix the pillars to the new deck and remove the temporary supports supporting the roof.

hazel-house-after

And how she is now

As I suggested at the start, what made the whole experience so satisfying was the way Jon had thought through the job very thoroughly beforehand, measured everything carefully ahead of time and brought lots of really useful tools and equipment. He had even thought to bring an additional power driver, knowing we’d both be re-fixing deck boards at the same time. We only had to make one run to Lowes over the whole weekend and that was just because we couldn’t reclaim as much of the old decking as we’d hoped.

Next month Jon will be back, when we will add partitioning to make the porch and deck ‘cat-proof’ so no kitties can make a break for it when we’re transferring newcomers into the house. I’m looking forward to once again being his laborer and apprentice!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: MALLED by Caitlin Kelly

malled.pngWhile transferring our memoir section between bookstore shelves, this cover caught my eye so I packed it along on my last business trip. This book is informative but not narrative. Lots and lots of information, not a lot of storytelling.

Kelly is a journalist who has worked for some great papers, but her financial situation in this print downturn forced her to get a second job. So she what writers do when you’re in a situation you’re not sure you want to be in: redeem it by writing about it.

The info is intense, but it pops out in a journalistic style, and the narrative isn’t a story, but a human interest article. While I’m glad I read MALLED it’s not a book driven by character or plot; it’s statistics changed into a word flow so as not to scare us. I’m not a stats person and I would never have gotten this info had it not been for Kelley’s careful compiling and trying to make it work for word people. Kudos to her for this!

MALLED is a nice weekend read, but it will probably make you angry. Retail work is scut work, as all of us who got Christmas jobs or summer mall work know. There’s not much more to say than, avoid it if you can. Which Kelly does pretty well.

malled.png

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

Meanwhile, in DC…..

mental-exhaustionEvery year I go to DC to advocate on behalf of rural Virginia inside rural America. We converge from all 50 states and a couple of charted territories, spending a day catching up on the annual stats in health and economics, then charging The Hill to talk to the reps and senators for our individual states.

I’ve done this about eight years now, and this year sucked. Most don’t, but this time around the mood in DC and the mood at the National Rural Health Association match each other: big smiles in front of shattered glass plates.

We’re in trouble, and we know it. Insurance premiums in rural places are 150-300 percent higher than in urban areas. Insurers are refusing to enter some rural markets as a second company because the competitiveness makes the money they’d earn so low, it’s not worth it to them. And the Affordable Care Act, the thing we were all told we had to champion as though our lives depended on it, is about to go bye-bye.

There were some very honest moments this time around. A Senator told this group of beleaguered altruists that everyone involved knew the ACA rolled out with “terrible flaws” but that this was “anathema” to say in DC. You could feel the room struggling not to cheer, because we’d defended that dog’s breakfast up one side and down the other, lacking a better alternative. Not that we want its repeal to be accomplished before a replacement is in effect. Baby, bathwater. Let’s not walk backwards just because we walked too far too fast the first time out of the gate.

But we’re also struggling with the exhaustion of the staffers on The Hill, those sweet little 20-somethings who are, in the words of one we talked to, “the interns on which the back of this government is balanced.” They are tired. They are exquisitely, mind-numblingly tired.

We were supposed to ask them not to repeal the ACA. We wound up asking what they were hearing about what could replace it. Their eyes just about rolled back in their heads. Some smiled, some growled, a few talked in such bland cliches (robust, rolling out new ideas, a healthy America is good for all of us) I started counting them. He got to 10 before he quit.

But there was also a little spark in each encounter this year. When we walked into the offices of our Congressmen and women, they almost to a human commented on the power of rural to change things. Some sighed, some celebrated, but nobody was discounting us as that voiceless group that doesn’t vote out there in the sticks.

My takeaway point from this year’s NRHA conference is in two parts: 1) We’re screwed. 2) We don’t have the luxury of despair. As one friend says, “no matter how far down you are in rural, you can always find a well and climb in.”

And as we have pointed out to one another, over and over again during this conference, rural power has never been stronger. We elected a president. We proved that the Electoral College is necessary as a protection for rural voices. We reminded people to listen to us. (You should see the parade of Senators eager to address this convention this year; some of them have no idea who we are and one spent ten minutes explaining Medicaid to a room full of rural health experts. Oops.)

So if we’re screwed, we will have to unscrew ourselves. We elected a president on the power of our beliefs and knowledge. Now we have to get our healthcare positioned to really look after us, the voices that didn’t used to get heard.

It’s a little convoluted, but it’s not all bad. People may be tired, but they’re listening.

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Filed under blue funks, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch