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FRIENDS OLD AND NEW

Jack’s weekly guest blog comes from Scotland this time, as Jack finishes leading his annual tour of Scotland and Ireland.

doune-castleIt’s always interesting to be in Scotland with my annual tour group. The group almost always includes new folk, folk I already know, and ‘returnees’ from previous tours. This year is no exception – David and Susan are both old friends and returnees, while our newish friend Joe came with his fiancee Amy (who I hadn’t met and is delightful). The newbies in every sense are Phil and Wanda, who heard about the tour from my radio show.

The tour started strong, as what might have been a disaster was averted by our new booking agent. We found that there was going to be a ferry strike on the day we were booked to sail to Mull, where were booked to spend the night in Tobermory. At very late notice the redoubtable Irene, travel agent genius, got us booked into a hotel in Oban and our ferry booking moved to the next morning; all was well!

The weather proved kind and we had hardly any rain, even quite a few bright sunny days. We were able to see Castle Stalker and Doune Castle – both settings for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (Doune is also the setting for ‘Outlander’) and then retire to fabulous hotel food at night.

I was able to find most of the requested items to bring back with me for friends back home, ranging from whisky to flat caps. My old friends Liz Weir and Pete Clark did us proud representing the music and story culture of Ireland and Scotland. As I write this another old friend, Doli McLennan, is preparing to welcome us to her home in Edinburgh on our last night, and waxing lyrically on Facebook about the prospect.

For logistical reasons, I had more opportunity to catch up with friends and relations before the tour started this year, about a week longer than usual. That was great, but I ended up feeling a bit homesick for Big Stone for the first time. Very strange!

But it’s great to see my homeland through other people’s eyes each year and be reminded what a beautiful and remarkable country I came from.

For information on Jack’s annual tours, contact him via jbeck69087@aol.com. Pictures from this year will be available later at a site yet to be named.

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

The Monday Book: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB by James Bowen

bobOf course I was going to love this book, because 1) it’s about a cat and 2) it’s an insider’s ethnographic account of a lifestyle most people don’t experience but think we know a lot about. I like almost any book that tells a story about a lifestyle I won’t experience naturally, so long as it’s done without anger or proselytizing. This book did not disappoint on its promise to deliver my two favorite types of non-fiction in one read…..

As an added bonus, Bowen has a nice turn of phrase; he well-read and puns every once in awhile in a fun way (like the title). He also has a great story to tell: how he found Bob on the streets of London, nursed him back to health, and realized he needed to be a responsible adult because he loved something that needed him.

Pretty straightforward things follow. Bowen gets off drugs, takes a job, ups his musicianship game, and sorts out a few loose ends in his life to do with relationships. One kind of expects these, and his simple explanatory prose in their telling made them accessible for those who don’t engage life in the same way. As in this quote:

“I don’t know why, but people seem to be fascinated to learn how some members of society fall through the cracks. I think it’s partly that feeling that… it could happen to anyone. But I think it also makes people feel better about their own lives. It makes them think, ‘Well, I may think my life is bad, but it could be worse, I could be that poor sod.’ ”

But the story doesn’t end with “happily ever after” once Bowen is clean; the things that happen AFTER his re-entry to adulthood (more or less) are as compelling as his cat-induced act clean-up; I was particularly taken with Bowen’s stories of getting moved around because of Bob jealousy from other Big Issue sellers, and also the do-gooder who pretty much insists she is going to take his cat away from him, for his own good- which is a great ending story in a book about how this cat saved his human’s life.

Throughout the story, Bob runs a silent yet larger than life orange character whose personality drives the narrative. A couple of times I swear I felt Bob’s fur brush against me as I read.

A happy book without being sentimental – read it on the beach, read it for a sociology class; it fits in both.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Green Green Grass of Home – – –

In Jack’s weekly guest post he continues to complain – whit’s he like?

One of the things I’ve never really got used to living here, is the rate that everything suddenly starts growing once the temperature rises and the summer thunderstorms hit. I mean grass, weeds and things that might or might not be weeds. One of our regular customers paused to admire some mint that’s taking over part of the front yard and asked if she could volunteer her daughters to ‘tidy up’. Please, please I said!

Between running the bookstore, an annual tour of Scotland, an annual Celtic festival, a weekly radio show and trying to keep on top of the upkeep of a 1903 building, there’s little time left for gardening.

The irony, of course, is that even if we had the time and inclination, we are actually completely useless gardeners. We grow tomato plants from seed and then plant them out where they quickly die – same with most other things – potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, peppers – – -. We rarely even keep house-plants going for any time.

Meanwhile that pesky grass needs mowing, and the weeds need whacking – assuming I don’t expire trying to get the mower and weed-whacker started!

But wait! “What light through yonder window breaks – – – -”

So yes – Sunshine is good and so is the lack of snow, not to mention longer days and tee-shirt temperatures. I’ll fly into Edinburgh this Monday morning and will be reminded of that quite forcibly I suspect! So I can’t complain can I?

“Sumer is icumen in – – – -“

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Zora’s Advice to Human Puppies as they Graduate

image004We run Zora’s guest post each May as a tribute to all those graduating, and their families. Zora’s words are wise.

At this time every year, humans come in looking for graduation gifts. Apparently their puppies, or their sister’s puppies, or the puppies of a friend–humans have such odd kinship systems–are doing something called graduating. It is a time of great consternation for the whole human pack.

It all seems a bit artificial to me. Take that kinship system of who has to buy presents for whom: we canines have instincts for a reason, and we’re not much bothered beyond that. You either smell good or you don’t; you wag your tail and are friendly, or you’re a growler. Blood doesn’t matter, unless it’s about to get spilled.

But then, I’m a dog, so maybe I haven’t had enough of that “schooling” stuff.

Still, the “graduation” ritual strikes me as odd. I understand that the human puppies have done something that took a lot of time and was quite expensive, but we canines know that it takes a whole lifetime to absorb the learning that goes with being alive. In my experience, those that don’t keep learning get run over on the highway. Or left behind in a move. You have to stay ahead of those noises you hear in the distance: Ears up, nose into the wind.

The ritual seems to mark a day when it is acceptable for the pack to tell the human puppies how much they love them. We bitches love our babies all the time; they get licks and snuggles and we sing them lullabies. I know humans love their puppies too, so why wait for special occasions to say so? Every day alive is a special occasion for us. We call it “every dog has his day.”

Perhaps this is related to that weird thing humans do where they run around each other–or run away from each other–looking for love. In my experience, love comes when you’re sitting down minding your own business. Someone scratches you behind the ears, you look into each others’ eyes, and you got a home. Just don’t go messing it up by barking when a little kiss will do the trick.

One last thing. There are no books that will stuff into a pup’s head in one sitting all the things they haven’t got by now. In our world, we say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The time to tell ’em what they need to hear is all those years you’ve got ’em around the food bowl – kitchen table, I think y’all call it. Those toss-off evenings that tick by one by one, racing past ’cause you’ve got places to go: THOSE are the nights that count. Once they get old enough to go out on their own, they aren’t gonna listen any more. So get their ears full while they’re still wet behind ’em.

That’s what I’d say if humans could hear me. But y’know, they usually can’t, so never mind. And to all you puppies out there leaving the school, here’s my advice: keep your ears up, scratch when it itches, stick with the love you find, and don’t get run over.

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

The Monday Book falls on a Wednesday this Week

 

We apologize for the irregular blogs of late and are trying to get back on track! Here’s Jack’s review of 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall-Smith

 

I’m a huge fan of McCall-Smith, ever since I began devouring his No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. But he has a number of others that deserve attention, including Corduroy Gardens and the Scotland Street one.

 

I should explain right away that I lived most of my life within 30 minutes’ drive of the center of Edinburgh, where this series is set, so I’m very familiar with Scotland Street and the surrounding Georgian part of the city. McCall-Smith captures not only the geography beautifully, but its character through the residents, from the rugby following upper middle class to the quirky academics, the hard working cafe owner and the inimitable and much put-upon child of a demanding liberal-minded mother.

 

This series started as a serial in one of Scotland’s national newspapers and quickly built a devoted following. So much so that McCall-Smith was persuaded (by them) to turn it into a real book and then to publish two more follow-ups.

 

The one I’ve just finished re-reading is the second book (although I have read them all), and I was once again captivated by his ability to get right inside the mind of his characters – not just their surface characteristics, what they say and do, but what lies behind them; the professional or cultural world they inhabit. This might seem like a recipe for boredom, but he is such a wonderful observer of human nature and has such a way with words that it never is. Of course he lives in the Edinburgh Georgian ‘new town’ of which he writes and in many ways is just setting down what he lives and experiences every day.

 

Finally – just like in the Corduroy Gardens series this one has a dog as one of its main characters and I absolutely love how (in both cases) McCall Smith relates to his readers the world from the dog’s point of view. Anyone who has ever been owned by a dog will get it!

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The Monday Book: Death with all the Trimmings by Lucy Burdette

burdetteLucy mailed this book to me so I could blog it. I like cozy mysteries, and this one is food-based. It is set in Key West with her recurring detective Haley Snow, a food writer. Hayley has been assigned to interview Edel Waugh, chef/owner of Key West’s hottest new restaurant. But off the record, Edel reveals someone’s sabotaging her kitchen and asks Hayley to investigate.

It all goes downhill from there, with some funny bits about ex-husbands and love interests. This is a great beach read, seeing as it takes place over Christmas and at a beach. The dialogue is quick, the action straightforward and the humor cute. If you happen to be a foodie (I’m not) you will have extra special fun with some of the humor and descriptions. Since I was reading it on a plane while starving over their $8 cheese plate (two slices of cheddar and half an apple) some of the funnier bits may have been lost on me.

Context is everything.

Death with All the Trimmings is part of a series, and since there is some character development based on prior relationships, you may want to start at the beginning. Check out Lucy’s web page for the books in order: http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Lucy-Burdette.html

And have fun!

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Filed under between books, 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

A Tale of Two Kitties

An extra guest post from Jack this week, while Wendy is aloft on her way home from Oregon –

Laurel is our middle-aged foster cat. A beautiful Siamese with a touch of nervous eczema, she is no longer nervous, it seems. In fact she has gone from hiding in corners to dominating the entire bookstore.

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As part of her new-found persona, she has taken to ambushing all the bookstore staff kitties – particularly young Hadley (she is now the one who has taken to hiding in corners).

Laurel has also become very ‘shouty’, demanding to be fed first and then sitting at my feet meowing to be picked up and put on my lap, where she will then lie happily surveying her domain.

All of this, I am sure, will come as a great surprise to my fellow members of the ‘Team Laurel’ gang on FaceBook. We have been exchanging tips for weeks now on how to encourage her to come out of her self-imposed purdah and re-engage with the world.

So – where from here?

Well, it’s clear to me that Laurel should ideally not be sharing space with other cats (she seems fine with dogs), although she came originally with a companion and they seemed to get along OK. Maybe she needs to be dominated by a nice muscular tom-cat?

Of course the Quaker side of me hopes that when she ‘centers down’ for an hour of meditation (something she appears to find no difficulty with), she might find that ‘light within’ that we all seek and emerge changed for the better. However I fear that may be a forlorn hope!

It is great to see her engaging with the world, but I can’t help feeling sorry for Owen, Nike and little Hadley as they peer over their shoulders wondering where and when she will pounce like Kato in the Pink Panther movies.

Onward and upward, I suppose – – –

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