Category Archives: VA

The Monday Book: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

dear-committee-membersWarning: Do not drink liquids while reading this book. Laughter makes this dangerous.

Schumacher’s novel is written in the form of letters from a beleaguered professor of English to a cast of thousands. Normally I don’t care for epistle fiction–too cut into bitty pieces–but this one has a narrative arc! And (spoiler alert) a poignant ending. I laughed until I cried.

The attention to detail in these funny, zippy, ripped-from-reality letters is so perfect. I loved the subtleties of how the prof (Jason Fitger) signs each letter, the understated sarcasm interspersed with blow-ups so honest no one in real life has ever done them–but we’ve all fantasized. Oh, how we’ve fantasized.

Among other places, Jason writes letters to assorted entry level places his students will go to work–funny in itself if you were an English major. Food service. Retail. Computer places.

My favorite was his letter for a girl who’d received an F for plagiarism. I’m not quoting it here, because you have to read it in context. But I taught that girl he describes so perfectly – five or six times, under different names in different years. Schumacher’s depiction is flawless.

Here instead is a letter in its entirety:

“October 16, 2009 Avengers Paintball, Inc. 1778 Industrial Blvd. Lakeville, MN 55044 Esteemed Avengers, This letter recommends Mr. Allen Trent for a position at your paintball emporium. Mr. Trent received a C– in my expository writing class last spring, which—given my newly streamlined and increasingly generous grading criteria—is quite the accomplishment. His final project consisted of a ten-page autobiographical essay on the topic of his own rageful impulses and his (often futile) attempts to control them. He cited his dentist and his roommate as primary sources. Consider this missive a testament to Mr. Trent’s preparedness for the work your place of business undoubtedly has in store. Hoping to maintain a distance of at least one hundred yards, Jason T. Fitger Professor of Creative Writing and English Payne University (“Teach ’til It Hurts”)”

Now go read the book. If you’re not in Academia, it’s still funny. If you are, it’s funnier than life. And good therapy.

 

 

http://www.julieschumacher.com/writing/novels/dear-committee-members/

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Iman Bowie Says Hi

DSCN1640Well hello there – my name is Iman Bowie, and although that may sound superstar lucky, my beginnings were anything but, let me tell you.

I won’t go into the early months, but let’s just say I’ve been looking after myself for some time now. I gave birth to two lovely boys a month or so back, and although times were tough, I did my best. We were living in the parking lot behind a department store, near a heating vent. Not a lot to eat, but I could keep them warm. Two ladies came by with food from time to time, and that helped a great deal.

So you can imagine how I felt when Tom and David disappeared: beside myself. Temperatures were plummeting and I was out there searching everywhere, calling them, and suddenly SWOOP! Some sort of net cage fell over me and, well, I figured that was it. I’d never see my boys again.

But my captors were the ladies who brought me food! They took me to some sort of facility, and wouldn’t you know Tom and David were there–just leaving, but so long as I knew they were safe and happy. Both have been adopted into loving families, as it should be. I’m so pleased to have done right by them.

Just in time, too, because after a few hours at the hospital, I began to feel woozy. And then–ehm, we needn’t go into details here; let’s just say there were many things inside me that needed to come out. And they did.

As I lay there in my hospital bed, groggy and nauseous, a face appeared. Wearing one of those Queen Cone collars. A white cat, squinting at me, asked, “Feeling better, ducky?”

imanThat’s how I met Sweet Pea (Queen Bee, as I call her, because of the collar, you know). She showed me around the hospital when I was back on my feet again, introduced me to the staff –such nice girls– and gave me pointers on where to get extra blankets and what to do if I wanted more food.

You know how it is, one minute someone is showing you the ropes, all business and efficiency, and the next you’re sharing cups of tea and talking nine to the dozens and you can’t remember a time you weren’t friends.

SPQB (sorry, my little joke) is such a sweetheart. You know, she can barely see. Her own life was even harder than mine; some of her kittens died of preventable illness before they reached the hospital, and she’s not sure what happened to the rest. SO hard for a mother to bear. Plus, her eyes. She caught a virus–and yes, it would have been treatable, but when one has no resources…. ah me. The long and short of it is, she’s left with a permanent squint and some vision loss.

She isn’t blind, of course; you should see Ms. Pea Bee bat a jingle ball! (We are Lady Cats, but perhaps when the staff aren’t looking we’ve been known to kick a few field goals.)

So really, my life improved in ways I couldn’t imagine since coming to hospital. My fur is long and silky again – with the children and the cold I just didn’t have time to care for it properly; the boys are set for life; and I have a new best friend.

I couldn’t imagine not being there for Sweet Pea. To separate now would break our hearts, and besides she needs me to help her find her collar in the mornings, and sometimes she thinks furniture is people, silly old girl, so we are counting on a home together. Surely someone out there wants two confirmed bachelor girl cats (still beautiful so celibate by choice, I hasten to add; we’ve had it with Alley Cat promises and stale catnip bouquets). We’re not much trouble, fastidious about our toilets and perfectly content in each others’ company. We love a head rub and a cuddle now and again; it’s lovely to sit together in the same lap.

So if you’re interested in us, please drop by Powell Valley Animal Hospital and ask for Mandy or Kendra; they’ve been our primary care team here, such sweet souls. We look forward to meeting you, Queen Bee and I. Now I think she’s got the cards and the teapot out, so we’re going to play some Speed Poker. (I don’t know who taught her, but she’s wicked good at it.) I must go, but I’ve enjoyed this little chat and look forward to meeting you.DSCN1664

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

Snowed Into a Bookstore

snow roadWhen the all-powerful “They” announced it would start snowing Thursday night and not stop until Saturday evening, I went into supply overdrive. Since I was in Richmond doing the annual advocacy for rural meetings, while I careened down I-81, Our Good Chef Kelley was drafted into buying:

  1. two boxes of wine (don’t knock it until you’ve tried the Malbec)
  2. Three bags grain free cat food, two 32-packs can boxes, and some tins of Ol’ Roy (yes, the dogs are hard done by)
  3. chocolate – dark for Jack, milk for me. Easier on the marriage that way

The rest we could take care of for ourselves. Jack stepped across the street to the liquor store and laid in two bottles of the cheap and one of the finest. You know, just in case company came by. (And no, we didn’t buy this house because it was across the street from the liquor store, but it’s worked out well.)

Then we started trolling the bookstore shelves. For me, eight of the new arrivals I’d not handled coming in, ranging from historic fiction to a couple of memoirs to a cheap romance and one history volume. Plus a couple of recorded books, so I could get some crocheting done.

Jack pulled Scottish politics, a couple of conspiracy theory books on assorted points in history (pick one) and – wonder of wonders – a sci fi. When I pointed that out to him, he frowned, “1663 by Dave Weber is fiction? Never mind, then.” He put it back.

Oh well.

And when we woke up Friday morning, snowpocalypse in full fall, we checked our emails, posted our Facebook cats, put on another pot of coffee, and settled in to enjoy the treasure trove.

Yes, being snowed into a bookstore is exactly what it’s cracked up to be.

Go by, mad world.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table

WHEN IRIS EYES ARE SMILING

December folder 047We all know that cats taken to the shelter have a 1 in 8 chance of getting out again, but let’s not forget there are people who want to adopt them. (And get them spayed so their kittens don’t go back to the shelter later.)

In the spring, when so many cats flood in with little time to assess their medical needs, eye infections run rampant. Mostly these are a nuisance that will run its course, but in a shelter, every day counts. Eye discharge can cause a cat to miss his chance. Who wants to adopt ol’ Crusty Eyes (who looks sicker than he really is) when there’s a cute fluffball in the next cage? Except Fluffball has about 36 hours before she too has green gunk streaming from her baby blues.

Enter a chance to make a difference. There’s this medication called Terramycin, comes in a tube like toothpaste (only much smaller and considerably more expensive). It’s a wonder drug for eye infection. It would make everybody a lot more comfortable while they wait. And prettier, cuter and more adoptable.

The Administrator said if I could keep them supplied with Terramycin, then their staffer Beverly (a sweet girl who cares about the animals) and a couple of trained part-timers and rescuers legally allowed to be in the shelter (up on shots and all that sort of thing) would be happy to put Terramycin on the eyes of any kitties with crusties.

eye kittenPut simply, for about $300 per year, we can up adoptions. Not to mention make the babies and senior citizens more comfortable; they are the most likely to get lasting eye infections from other cats who just shake it off in a day or two.

If you can afford it, give Powell Valley Animal Hospital some money for the SHELTER TERRAMYCIN FUND. We guarantee all Terramycin bought with this fund will be used on shelter kitties only. PVAH is giving us a discount. Just put what you can in there. This is a one-time request for 2016, we hope. We will let you know how it went and ask again in 2017. Also, please note the following:

  • Don’t donate if it causes hardship to your family. We’re not wanting to take food off your table. If you’ve got a bit left over, great.
  • Don’t take away from other activities on behalf of animal rescue to donate. If you’re already working in rescue, formally or informally, please don’t take from that or harm yourself to try and stretch to this. We’re looking for people who can slip us a $20 without breaking stride. Thank you for all you already do, and God Bless.
  • All donations will be anonymous to PVAH, no thank yous sent, so please know HOW MUCH we appreciate this help.

Here’s how: If you don’t live in the area, you can call them to use your card at 276-524-1214, or mail a check to Powell Valley Animal Hospital, 4501 Aerial Way, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219. Donations are accepted all year long, but unless we get really stuck this summer, we won’t ask again. We APPRECIATE your help in reducing the number of cats who don’t get adopted from the shelter. And in making all of them that wee bit more comfortable as they wait.

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

The Tossing of Couches

love seatEver have one of those marriage moments? Jack and I were divesting the upstairs landing of an old loveseat we picked up cheap someplace. The overstuffed seat, useful at first outside the Second Story Cafe for customers waiting on pick-up orders, was now in prime time bookshelf real estate. Time to say goodbye.

But nobody wanted the ancient paisley green thing, not at a yard sale, not donated. We’d have to carry it out to the trash. It was a solidly-built piece in its day–as Jack and I discovered once we’d eliminated the cushions, taken up the spare change, and unscrewed the solid wooden legs. Thing STILL weighed a ton.

Threading it down our 100-year-old staircase, past the rabbit tunnels of bookshelves between us and the front door, seemed unwise. Too many delicate pottery items and squishable foster cats. So we opted for the back staircase and the long, cold hike across the yard in the dark; we started the whole operation about 7:30 pm.

That probably has a lot to do with what happened next. I’d had a stressful day at the college trying to get some paperwork finalized, and Jack had been alone all day in the rather swamped bookstore – not that custom is a problem, you understand, but we were both feeling a bit hard done by and underappreciated.

So by the time we got The Great Green Monstrosity of Paisley Demonhood (as I may have called it once or twice, because remember by 7:30 pm I’d had a glass of wine on an empty stomach) onto the upstairs landing, I was pretty fed up. Jack standing with his back to the open stairs, the couch aimed at his midriff, yelling “Push, dammit!” was just too much temptation. I set my end down and peered over the railing into the front yard.

The front yard, about twenty feet down as the crow falls, would have to be reached by us carrying TGGMOPD all the way around the side of the house. Unless…..

I looked up. Jack was looking at me. “I will if you will,” he said.

Together we ensured all cats were accounted for behind closed doors downstairs, and that the outdoor flap available to our dogs was closed with them on the correct side. We then maneuvered TGGMOPD into a seesaw position on the railing. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought as we shouted “CHALKS AWAY!” and let go.

Sucker went straight down, taking one branch from our apple tree but no further collateral damage with it. We peeked over the side; the sofa lay on its back like a turtle on the half-shell, implanted in the ground. Jack and I gave each other a high-five.

As Quakers, we practice non-violent solutions and problem management. But perhaps once every ten years or so, tossing a really heavy piece of furniture off a second-story balcony is most satisfying.

 

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

New Tech Tricks for an Old Radio Dog?

In which Jack is pleased with himself for getting his home studio going

I’ve been presenting Celtic music radio shows for more than twenty years now, in Scotland as well as here in the US, but I’ve always had the luxury of someone else handling the technicalities. Back at Heartland FM in Pitlochry in Scotland (of blessed memory) it was the ever-patient Alan Brown who sat across from me, running cassettes and dropping the needle onto LPs.

Yes, it was a long time ago.

Later Alan and I tried to get to grips with those new-fangled CD thingamajigs. That show went out live and was often built around a guest who brought favorite pieces of music. I interviewed them about why they had chosen them while poor Alan cued up tracks and cut over to two mics, all the time knowing that we were going out live!

These shows went out monthly for ten plus years, and wound up being re-aired as part of a weekly series of Celtic music shows on WETS in Johnson City, Tennessee – first with Keltik Korner and then in Music from the Stone Circle. So the shows were recorded (again on to cassette) as they were broadcast and mailed to the States.

Alert readers will have worked out that these were now (at least) second generation cassettes; those were the days, my friends…..

Wendy and I moved to Big Stone Gap following the untimely death of Denise Cozad, who had presented Music from the Stone Circle, so WETS no longer had a ‘home-grown’ Celtic music show. So once the bookstore was up and running (or tilting or walking or crawling, those first years) I emailed Wayne, the station manager, and within a week I was back on air. That was eight years ago and throughout that time I have always had someone else handling the technical stuff – all I ever had to do was talk.

Remember last winter? The one that had us snowed in for two solid weeks, no one driving anywhere?

I began to explore recording my shows completely here at the bookstore instead the three hour round trip and the hassle of pre-recording CD tracks to another CD in preparation. I downloaded Audacity, but being a bit of a technophobe just couldn’t make head or tail of it, going back every few months to work through the instructions but always giving up. Renewed impetus came with the discovery of DropBox and motivation from my pal Fiona, who constructs Thistle and Shamrock on a kitchen table in Scotland. She told me she used Dropbox to upload a complete program to a filing cabinet in the sky!

I now salute the wonders of Google, carefully constructed search terms and Youtube, for their assistance in unlocking the mysteries of Dropbox. Last night I was able to make the break through and do everything that I need to do to finally (I hope) schedule my radio time completely to my choosing! Wendy says I came downstairs on Old Christmas night with my face beaming as if I’d seen the Epiphany!

Maybe not quite that, but I was happy, yes.

PS – Although delighted at my new self-sufficiency, I must give most grateful thanks to the glittering array of true professionals who have sat on the other side of the desk over the years keeping me teched up – Alan Brown, Wayne Bean, Denise Cozad, Nick Roosa, Bob Hoffman and Wayne Winkler.

If you want to hear Celtic Clanjamphry, visit their facebook page for times and playlists.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: OUT OF THE WOODS by Chris Offutt

I like Offutt’s writing. He was “discovered” by doing the Charlaine Harris teleplays for her vampire series going onto TV, but he wrote several “educated backwoods guy/fish out of water” memoirs before that, and some fiction.

Out of the Woods is some of his early work, and while you can see how his use of language has improved since, these stories are still tight, terse, compact and hard. Sorta like that series on TV, “Hell on Wheels” – no mercy, just character driving plot.

Except in Offutt’s stories here, the mountain backwoods communities of Appalachia may be the driving character in many cases. In the title story of the collection, a man travels out to Nebraska to pick up his brother-in-law, and the whole narrative is pretty much read between the lines of what people are saying and doing. I love writing like that, where the story is told as much as by what’s not said as by what is.

My favorite is “Barred Owl,” which smacks of autobiography, and is a character sketch. As we all know I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters. With amazing economy of words, Offutt depicts a guy who’s half in, half out of the world he lives in, so finely-drawn he could be one of the owl feathers that decorates his cabin. Every little point and feathery piece is there.

Offut might not be for everyone. Frankly, not much happens in these stories. They’re slow, lazy, calm, and all the action is underneath the words. Kind of like a mountain brook – you have no idea how fast or deep the water is until you step into it, and by then it might be too late. Offut’s writing sneaks up on you.

 

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