Category Archives: VA

The Pies Have It!

Jack scrapes through – – –

People often ask me if I miss anything about Scotland. Well, of course. But when I go back every year the thing I really go straight for is the food.

Full Scottish breakfasts with bacon, eggs, black pudding, haggis and baked beans – great Indian curries – steak bridies (think calzone, but Scottish) – fish and chips – and Scotch pies.

I do my best over here to get close to all these. Recently I learned how to replicate Indian restaurant base curry sauce and make a big batch to freeze regularly. I can manage an occasional full Scottish breakfast. Fish and chips requires the secret batter and lard, but I can do that when the planets align.

A steak bridie would be the ultimate challenge though – imagine a savory turn-over with small chunks of steak in a delicious brown sauce, a bit of savory onion in the mix….mmmmm. The only folk I know who make them are Stephens of Dunfermline and they are rightly famous for their recipe. My next big challenge will be to try and replicate it.

What about the pies, I hear you ask?

Over here pies are usually sweet – in Scotland these would be called tarts. Over there a pie would have meat of some kind, and a ‘Scotch pie’ would have minced beef (ground beef) along with onion and a variety of (secret) herbs and spices.

Just recently my friend Trevor finished a year at St Andrews University and came home with the recipe. He made a batch while I was bunking at his place, and I was instantly back there. Of course I had to give it a try, and with some guidance from him I managed to do no’ bad.

It’s messy and time consuming, and there’s no guarantee of success, but I’ve made two lots now and they’re worth the effort.

The pastry is flour, frozen butter, ice water and egg. Freezing the butter is key. The filling is a secret. We will be having them along with haggis and other delicacies at the Burns Supper on January 25th at Oracle Books here in Wytheville.

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Filed under between books, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Thyme brings a’ things tae an End

Jack gets over the line with time (thyme) to spare – – –

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I’m in the throes of organizing my final group tour of Scotland right now and it’s at the point where everything starts getting complicated – which is why it’s the last one. By the time it’s over I’ll be seventy-eight years old and ready to stop!

I use a really good agent in Scotland to book hotels, ferries and tickets for ‘attractions’, but inevitably there are always timings that don’t work or hotels we’ve used before that didn’t appeal. So negotiations – –

This time, because it’s the last, I have more folk going including many past customers, so for the first and last time – two minivans instead of one – so negotiations – –

Like every year there are folk who sign up, pay their deposits and then, for perfectly good reasons, have to cancel. Other folk come along looking to join – so negotiations – –

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and never thought that anything could go wrong or that I could be held accountable for anything. That’s another reason to stop!  I’ve had two customers with emergency dental appointments, an oxygen cylinder chasing us unsuccessfully from hotel to hotel and an overnight hospital visit by a customer in Perth.

Despite all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute, because of the joy of sharing my country of origin and discovering corners I’d never visited.

What I think made my tours unique are down to three things –

1) Persuading great musical friends to entertain along the way

2) Having my old friend Colin both drive the bus and add fascinating insights

3) The sheer luck of having groups including close friends and complete strangers that all got on well

It’s been a whirlwind and I won’t be sorry to stop, but it’s also been a great series of journeys.

The final tour will not only have lots of old friends, but will also be one of the few ones that Wendy will also be on – and she is the shopping expert!

 

 

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

Behind the Microphone – –

Jack’s guest post is another sad one –

I started recording and broadcasting my radio show Celtic Clanjamphry some twelve years ago at the studios of WETS fm in Johnson City, Tennessee. From the beginning it was normal for Jim Blalock to be in the next-door studio preparing his classical music shows.

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When I finished recording my programs Jim would always chat with me and often commented on something he’d heard on ClanJam as he had been driving somewhere. I discovered that he had wide musical interests that extended far beyond his specialization.

At this time WETS was broadcasting solely as an fm station but changes were afoot. Coming over the horizon was HD radio, and our station was preparing to pioneer this format in the area. It wasn’t clear what the implications would be for existing shows and rumors abounded. Some months before the start of three HD channels the fm schedule was changed and all Jim’s classical shows were dropped. Although I was relieved that ClanJam was retained and even moved to a much better time, I felt bad for him.

However Jim was switched to continuity and news links and did local interest interviews. I was very impressed with the dignified way he handled what must have been a difficult time for him. Eventually, when the HD channels began, one of them was largely dedicated to classical music, so Jim was back with even more air-time than before!

Jim was back next-door and we began planning a special program that would examine how classical composers had been influenced by traditional music. He gathered some CDs with examples from the classical music perspective, while I lent him some showing the crossover from the other direction. We continued to discuss this for months but sadly could never find a mutually convenient time to record it.

Then Dirk Wiley came along with an excellent home studio much closer to me and a willingness to support WETS, so my connection to Jim became more fragmented and distant. Finally he moved to Knoxville and I discovered he was fighting cancer. But still he broadcast for a station down there right to the end.

He and I had a similar approach to the making of our programs, with minimal notes and no script – just calling on our knowledge and memories as we went along. He frequently spoke to me about this and how authentic and refreshing it was. In other words he was a mentor, an example, a supporter and a very valued friend!

RIP Jim Blalock

 

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

Another Tale of Tails – – –

Jack makes it over the line – woohoo – – –

I never had a dog or a cat when I was a kid. There was my Grandad’s budgie but that hardly counts!

Fast forward and my marriage to Wendy. Before we even wed, she required a cat and a visit to the Leith cat and dog home resulted in Valkyttie who was with us for seventeen years. Shortly after tiny Valkittie arrived we had another visit to Leith and Rabbie, our border terrier joined the family.

They were with us in Scotland, England and the US and when Rabbie mysteriously disappeared along came Zora the black lab and Bert – mini Rabbie look-alike!

Zora and Bert reached their allotted span and left us a year apart not long before we moved house here to Wytheville. As usual when pets depart there’s a period of mourning and time needed before the time is right to adopt again.

But the time was right a couple of months ago – –

Enter Bruce!

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It was time and Wendy found him at a local rescue. Described as a four-year-old bulldog/pitbull mix we fairly quickly found he was mainly pitbull and definitely older. There’s a good reason for that, though and we completely understand. Pitbulls have a bad rap and dogs over five are harder to find homes for. We were told he was being treated for heart-worm and were happy to take that on-board.

Bruce was afraid of everything when he arrived. When his water in jug gurgled, he ran away. When a cat approached, he ran away. He once ran from his own tail when he caught its movement from the corner of his eye.

We quickly surmised that he had had a chequered and probably unhappy past, being so nervous of people, vehicles and unfamiliar noises. But he equally quickly settled down with us and proved to be very relaxed and happy to spend most of his time hanging close by.

We recently noticed he was limping and an x-ray revealed a torn ligament -which explained some of his past; he was obviously a linebacker in high school – so that will be the next priority. While he was being checked for that and getting the last heart-worm shots our vet (the sainted Beth) estimated his age at closer to seven years, which seems about right.

So we are looking forward to giving him a better life in retirement than he seems to have had up to now. His golden years will be golden.

Why Bruce? Well all our male dogs have been some version of Robert; we had a Rabbie and a Bert, so Robert the Bruce seemed right. Besides his previous name, apparently, was Brutus and Bruce with a Scottish accent sounds much the same. He seems to like it!

And we like him just fine. So that’s all right then.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Another Day – Another – – –

Wendy is tied up preparing for her big annual medical conference, so Jack gets an extra turn –

I thought a description of a typical day in the Beck/Welch house might amuse y’all –

Wendy feeds the cats and the dog, including one cat recovering from surgery and another that intimidates all the rest. We have a discussion about how to handle the intimidatory one and decide she has to live outside and in our log cabin jail out back (the cat – not Wendy). That meant checking on possible heating and cat flap arrangements.

Then it was bringing all our instruments in from the car after our gig at the local bookstore last night.

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On with the first of three loads of washing in between cracking walnuts. (We don’t use a dryer so sunny days are prime time for laundry.) Five mature black walnut trees came with this house and while Wendy does the collecting and hulling, I do the cracking and meat extraction.

Wendy leaves for work – –

Our friend Randy who runs the aforementioned bookstore comes over to look at three of our walnut trees which will shortly be felled and agrees to take some of the wood.

I crack more walnuts, put on the second wash and start the dishwasher.

Time for my customary soft boiled egg for lunch and then a break for a smoke in the front porch (aka ‘the catio’). As I’m relaxing I hear an explosive BANG!  At the crossing just down from our house I see a white pick-up careening over the cross street on its side with smoke pouring out while a black SUV shudders to a halt behind it. The truck rights itself and stops off the street. Silence – then raised voices while the SUV driver starts picking up various pieces of his vehicle. After ten minutes the fire engine, ambulance and various police cars arrive. I wander down and see the ambulance folk walking two women from the truck into the ambulance. Another ten minutes and everything’s cleared and gone. Small town America – – –

I crack more walnuts.

Wendy gets home, empties the dishwasher and worries that the recovering cat may have leaked cat pee on a blanket. (I have no sense of smell). We do one unexpected load of laundry for the cats, because recovering kitty needs her blankie tonight.

I crack more walnuts.

The mailman arrives and we exchange pleasantries – he has brought a forwarded bank statement for the Big Stone Celtic festival. So I know what I’ll be doing this evening after we go out for supper.

More walnuts – – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

To Everything – Turn, Turn, Turn – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just makes it in time – – –
When we first arrived in Big Stone Gap fourteen years ago we had been preceded just a few months earlier by Tony and Anne Palubicki. They were the couple pastoring the Presbyterian church just a block up from our bookstore. Here we are having just moved away and so are Tony and Anne now. It almost seems fated.
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Those of you who know us or have read ‘The Little Bookstore’ will know that we tried out various Churches when we first arrived and finally settled on the Presbyterian. I attended a Presbyterian Church as a child and my dad and granddad were both elders, so I felt very much at home. Of course Wendy and I are Quakers so that may seem strange, but it’s not unusual for ‘Friends’ to visit other denominations between Meetings.
We quickly found that Tony was wonderfully open minded and ecumenical and truly believed in a God who loved people and wanted them to live in peace.
He supported everything we tried to do in and for the town, including running a monthly discussion group in the bookstore that brought together folk who would have never normally found themselves in the same company. We discussed concepts, theology, and the best way to make guacamole.
He also treated the bookstore as a ‘third place’ where he could come and unwind regularly and even once described it as a Church as he watched me ‘ministering’ to an obviously troubled customer.
His concern for personal friends from Scotland who had visited here was genuine, tangible and greatly appreciated.
Anne was the power behind Tony’s non-throne, a woman of not-altogether gentle spirit whose spitfire nature could be the most protective hug ever given. Anne would go to bat for anyone but herself, and she never let anyone get on Tony’s nerves when she could help it.
Now the couple get to go live with their beloved grandson up in Salem, not too far from us. We will continue to have them in our lives and be blessed by that.
We’re raising a glass of ‘coke’ to you Tony and Anne – slainte and thanks!

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

Unner ablow the Grund

Jack gets comfortably under the wire for a change –

So, here I am working in the front yard regularly as we get into spring and summer and I keep seeing this odd circular grey cover of some kind in the ground. It looks like it might be over a valve or a meter for water or gas or maybe something electrical.

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I look at it from time to time and puzzle over it. It has four small holes that might be for screws holding it down. But they’d be full of dirt so not much chance of unscrewing it. Maybe I could get a lever under the edge to see if it would come up? But what if it really is containing something important that I might break?

It sits right next to one of our inherited ‘Narnia’ style lampposts and I wondered if there was some kind of connection. But the power cable to the lamppost, which had run along the side of a now departed fence, completely bypassed the mysterious cover.

I continued to step gingerly round it over the weeks, puzzling and debating.

As I dug a trench to bury the lamppost cable I kept pondering but couldn’t confidently come to any conclusion.

Examining the object I was able to decipher a manufacturer’s name – time for Dr Google! All I could find was that they were best known for making garden pots, planters and hanging baskets. Now it was time to post pictures on Facebook to see if anyone else could help. The suggestions ranged from a pot stand to a cover for a water quality analyzer!

Still nervous I decided to see if I could gently raise it enough to see if there was anything underneath. Grabbing my trusty spade I set to! Yes – it did extend quite a few inches down into the ground. I was able to finally get a grip under the edge and lever it up and out. What emerged was a shallow dish that what I think must be a water receptacle in which to sit a planter. Why it had been turned upside down and pressed down into the ground I have no idea. There was nothing except the ground under it!

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My takeaway from this?

Google and Facebook sure make life complicated at times –

But congratulations to our friend Annie Jane for getting it right!

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