Category Archives: Wendy Welch

Shedding – – –

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday blog post arrives on Thursday – –

Our riding mower lived in the garage when we first moved to these nice new digs. But it was very awkward getting it from there into the backyard where it was most needed. So it’s been sitting out with a tarp over it to protect it from the rain. That isn’t ideal so we decided to get a storage shed to house it.

We decided on a DIY smallish shed made from heavy duty plastic, mainly because it came with a floor. When I checked the parts, the floor turned out to be thin and really just for positioning the walls correctly. So it was back to Lowes for lumber to make a base!

I should remind everyone that for a number of years I was Head of the construction department in my old college in Scotland. But if my friend and colleague Davy Spence who led the carpentry and joinery section had seen my workmanship on that base he would have shaken his head (my trade was painting and decorating).

Nothing daunted I set too constructing the shed with help from Wendy.

We’ve been married for twenty-one years and have rarely fallen out over anything, but this might easily have ended in divorce. I needed Wendy to hold pieces and slide them around on command. They were meant to slip easily into place.

Easily is a relative term…..

The trouble mainly stemmed from my fairly flexible (not to say, shoogley) base. That meant that none of the wall sections ended up exactly fitting as they should have. After a couple of false starts, and me accidentally letting a panel fly back and smack my beloved in the face (no swelling remains) we got them all up and connected together.

Next came the roof which was in four sections and also involved a fair amount of pulling, pushing and application of ‘Ferguson’ (a make of hammer favored by car mechanics). It wasn’t until the final roof section went into place with a satisfying click that the whole structure stopped wobbling. Including Wendy’s faith in me, since I had spent the last hour shouting things like “Up! Down! Left! More left!” as she stood outside on a ladder holding roof bits.

shed

Awaiting the doors tomorrow.

The online reviews for this shed include a number from folk who said they put it up alone and others who said that two of them did it in four hours – I don’t believe them!

For anyone who’s interested it’s a Craftsman 7×7 storage shed. You might want to take your spouse to dinner first if you’re going to build it together.

 

 

 

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The Monday Book-turned-TV-series: THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood

HT MAI resisted watching this for three seasons, under the same reasoning I avoided watching NARCOS for quite some time: too close to reality. Please, divert me while I crochet, until I’m ready to re-enter Reality.

After Anne with an E built my saccharine to sufficient levels, I was ready. And so began what was not so much a binge-watch as an eyes-averted analysis.

The book has been interfered with, that much is clear. But not necessarily in a bad way. The end of Season 1 ended with Atwood’s famous quote as June Osborn is ushered into a police van,

“And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.”

Most people deem the book to end there, and readers had to choose whether June was getting out or not. It actually ends with a public address by a future scholar analyzing the fall of Gilead, and that speech is amazing in its chilling sarcasm, suggesting not a lot has been learned from the bad times.

The TV series continues from June (Offred) entering the van, going with the assumption that June is indeed rescued, sorta, for awhile. While waiting to escape, she makes some very human choices, creating a shrine for those killed in secret places, saying real prayers instead of the warped quotations of the Commanders and Wives.

The series is interesting because it lets in the thoughts and motivations of other characters; in Atwood’s book there was a moment when one of the aunts broke down and told the girls she was trying to help them, they all had to make the best of what was left available to them. Atwood also made clear in her book that the Marthas and Aunts feared being deemed no longer useful; in the TV series, it’s a little more complicated. The aunts are enjoying their power. Also, Serena Joy in the series is not a former televangelist as she was in the book, but the author of A Woman’s Place, one of the manifestos that later ousts her from being a thinking part of the Glorious Revolution into the meek helpmate Gilead requires women to be. She is more complicated than in the book. I like this.

There are also more clear examples of the regular working folk outside the extremes of Handmaids and Wives, and definite hints at the blurred lines between collusion, collaboration, and just trying to survive. In all honesty, in this series, none of them look that different from each other. Which is kinda terrifying.

What does look different is the venom poured out toward religion overall in both book and TV series being very carefully differentiated from True Religion, the kind Jesus talked about, taking care of widows and orphans and showing compassion. Quakers come out well in the series as they did in the book, I am pleased to note. But there are also points where characters are shown praying with sincerity versus being rote repeaters of things they are supposed to say. Churches are torn down, nuns and priests hunted, because they weren’t doing religion Right.

When June lights a candle at the wall of memory she’s created from an execution site, she prays with humble sincerity. Which is kinda brilliant contrasting against the constant Gilead reminder to her that God loves the Meek, which means she should keep her eyes down. Subtle, and thus so effective, this juxtaposition. When June gets to choose how she acts toward God, she IS meek, and loving. When it’s forced on her, not so much. Hello Christian Right movement, are you listening? Don’t alienate us from REAL relationships to God through your rhetoric. That’s in the Bible, actually; Jesus says it’s a very bad idea.

Back to Handmaid: its beyond-the-book parts are so clearly reflecting the cultural lexicon found in today’s divided America. While the book is usually better than the movie, I’m highly recommending this series for MATURE audiences only; it is violent and sexual, usually to make a point, but sometimes gratuitous.

And that’s my final thought on the series. Do you remember The Stanford Prison Experiment, which had to be stopped early because those chosen to be guards with near-absolute power over the “prisoners” became so brutal, injuries occurred? I wonder how many of the men wearing all-black and acting as low-pay extras playing The Guard cried during or after the filming, how it made them feel or act at home. There is one scene in which a large group of handmaids believe they are going to be executed for an act of defiance. Herded in restraints into an execution site, the scene involves guards roughly handling the women and such.

If you look closely -he is only there for a fleeting second -one of the men who reappears often as a non-speaking Guard throughout the series is an older, balding man. He is in the midst of the terrified group of women, shoving them around, and when you catch his face, he is distraught. Not angry, not trying to get the job done.

Not acting.

He looks something between remorseful and despairing and terrified, and I swear he’s crying.

Holding us all in the Light, that’s my review.

You can read about the Stanford Prison Experiment here.

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The Monday Book: ME MYSELF AND HIM by Chris Tebbetts

Sorry for the missing Monday books, folks. Jack and I have been everywhere but home for May and June. One of the fun places I was brought this next Monday book. I met Betsy Kepes as a fellow workshoper at Kettle Pond Writing Conference in the Adirondacks. She offers this interview with Chris Tebbetts, a writer from Vermont whose book Me Myself and Him is out July 9. Enjoy!

me-myself-and-himI think this is your first YA? How many books have you published before this? And I think this is your first solo book?

This is my second YA. In 2006, I co-authored a book called “M or F?” with Lisa Papademetriou. It’s a contemporary romantic comedy, with a Cyrano-inspired plot line, and two protagonists telling the same story from their own perspectives. We each took one voice and wrote their respective chapters. My protagonist is gay, and his sexuality is not the problem of the novel.

This is my 21st book (not counting the ghostwriting I’ve done), and not my first solo venture. That was a fantasy adventure series called THE VIKING – my first novels, but those were work for hire, after which I fell into co-authoring, and have been only co-authoring since THE VIKING, until now. So technically, this is my YA solo debut, and also the first book I’ve ever published in the usual way (if there is such a thing) – by writing it with no contract, and then selling it through my agent. It’s been an unusual trajectory, compared to other author friends, but one that has suited me well.

The MC is Chris and you’re a Chris–I think some autobiography is here? Ohio too for both the real and imaginary Chris. 

The prologue of the book, where Chris falls and breaks his nose, is essentially autobiographical, written from the memories of when that happened to me at age 19, in Ohio where I grew up.

This character and I have a lot in common, and there are emotional truths throughout that come from my own experience – like being the gay third wheel to my straight friends — but the two story threads that flow from the inciting incident, and most of the plotted events of the story, are fictional inventions.

As you noticed, a lot of the book is about lies, and the nature of truth, and (my personal fascination) the way in which two seemingly conflicting ideas can both stand up against one another. People often assume that writers are their characters, and it was interesting to me to tackle a story where that was closer to being true and untrue at the same time, in a more direct way than usual.

One idea I picked up in my research was the suggestion that the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth. For instance: Life is beautiful—and—life is a suffering. Both completely true. Or: We are physical beings./We are spiritual beings. Both completely true. And etc. That notion, of the yin/yang of all things, fascinates me, including the yin/yang symbol itself, which is made up of two pieces that are simultaneously identical and opposite to one another. A lot of the writing of this story flows from that fascination.

Did you have the idea for the two plot book from the begin or did that evolve as you wrote it? 

It evolved as I wrote it. The original story was going to be solely about Chris going to California to live with his dad for the summer, but as I drafted those early chapters, the pages just kept coming and coming, and Chris kept not leaving Ohio, for reasons I couldn’t even understand. It was as though the story itself was reluctant to change locations, and eventually, I decided to listen to that impulse, and respond to it. The parallel realities in my narrative emerged from there.

I’m also a fan of the movie Sliding Doors, which does the same thing. That was an additional inspiration for me, once I realized I might want to explore more than one outcome from the same incident.

Do you think teens are especially interested in “What if…?”s? Certainly Chris is!

“What if?” is a huge interest of mine. I give a lecture about creativity and fear (among other things) where I talk about my own revelation, that “What if?” is great for storytelling, but it’s also fertile ground for personal anxiety. I’m someone who has suffered from panic attacks, and for me, that kind of anxiety always stems from “what if?” questions. What if the elevator stops between floors? What if the house catches on fire? I have to wonder if my tendency to ask “What if?” in a storytelling context has some relationship to my tendency to ask the question in a more worrisome way. So while it’s tempting to wish away some of that tendency toward anxiety in my life, I know that it’s also part of what makes me a storyteller.

I like how the two stories become more and more intertwined as the book goes on. And how what seemed the “bad outcome”– having to leave Ohio as a punishment– generates the best outcome for Chris. The problems of lying are central here and what lies can lead to. It makes the book complex and interesting. I think of the lies most teens make– myself included– and that teen readers will find this fascinating. Did you ever lie as a teen and have the outcome be radically different from what you thought it would be?

I wasn’t a big liar as a kid or teen – not compared to some of my friends. But what this makes me think about is the way in which I was gay at that age, but without being out, even to myself. There was always an element of both conscious and unconscious suppression, as I tried to fit into the (straight) mold I thought I was supposed to fit into, and as I figured out who I was. So in that sense, my teen years were marked by their own kind of lie.

Also, to answer your question, as I did finally grapple directly with my sexuality, there was a lot of fear that my life would be a certain way, that some kinds of happiness would be unavailable to me, that I would lose friends and family — none of which turned out to be true. So again, that was a kind of lie I told myself, even if I didn’t know it was untrue at the time.

A lot of this book is about the relativity of truth. If I believe someone’s lie, and if I’m never corrected in that assumption, then that lie becomes my truth. Or if two people have two different understandings of a given issue, aren’t both of those understandings true, for them? I don’t have hard answers for this kind of thought experiment, but it’s one I particularly like to engage in.

I’m curious why you included Gina, the Born Again character. She has a parallel in Mitch, though we don’t find out much about his religious background. Gina is an enigma for Chris, and a bit for me too.

The original inspiration for this story came from my interest in the intersection of science and religion. At some level, physics, like religion, is about looking for the one truth that rules supreme over everything else. In physics, we have things like the so-called god particle, or the Theory of Everything. In Christianity, we have God himself.

That’s why I gave the physicist father character a secretary who was born again, to let my protagonist Chris be exposed to both sides of that dichotomy. Chris is neither a physicist nor a religious person—for that matter, neither am I—and yet, I’m interested in both.

Gina, my born again Christian character, was also inspired by a co-worker I had at Friendly’s, back in my teen years. At that time, I was very judgmental about religion and religious people. This co-worker really changed some of my thinking about that – not by making me any more or less religious, but simply by showing herself to be a funny, thoughtful person whose life was about more than just that one thing. We joked around at work, played racquetball, went out for food…. Nothing earth shattering, and I’m pretty sure she had no idea of the impact it had on me, but now here she is, showing up in my story. That may reflect some of the enigmatic quality you saw in her. It was important to me that Gina be neither vilified nor celebrated for her religion.

Did you come up with the idea for the charts and boxes and diagrams from the start? It is also a delightful way to create “choices”. 

Thanks! Yes, those charts and boxes were part of this novel from the very beginning. That just happened in a creatively organic way, as a reflection of how my own mind operates, and how I often organize my thoughts. From there, I suppose they “took” in the writing for exactly the reason you mention – it was a great way to explore the various possibilities of any given choice, or fork in the road.

Chris has a very difficult time dealing with his father. I’d say this is quite typical (I’m thinking of my two sons and their father. It wasn’t/isn’t as bad as the Chris/father scenario but there is lots of wariness related to being “judged”.) I find this a very strong part of your book, especially the scene after Chris stays out all night with Swift and then he and his dad have the “breakfast talk”. Do you think all parents and teens live on different planets?

If I had to pick a yes or no answer to that question, I’d have to say yes. It’s so common to detach from one’s parents as we swing into adolescence, and (as was the case for me, starting around fourteen) to want as little to do with them as possible. I’ve certainly never kept nearly so many secrets from my parents as I did in high school.

That said, a lot of teens have great relationships with their parents, and I’d say that was true for me as well. (Can you see a theme here? I’ve never been one to confidently stick to yes/no thinking. I’m a master of shades of grey. ☺).

It was interesting to write a character who was so much like me, in so many ways, but not in every way. Specifically here, I mean, to write a character who detests his father as much as Chris does in the book. For my own part, I adored my father. He was an amazing man and one of the most well-liked people I’ve ever known. I honestly am not sure where that element of the story came from for me, and I’m curious about what readers will make of it, including readers who knew my dad.

What was it like to write the two parallel stories? Did you write one first and then the other, or write them simultaneously?

I wrote the whole thing in chronological order and in the alternating chapters as they appear in the finished book. Part of the fun (but also the challenge) was in fitting together all the puzzle pieces in a way that allowed the reader to learn things from one half of the story that inform their understanding of what’s going on in the other half, even if the characters themselves are limited to what they know within the confines of their own, singular reality.

I love it that this is a book about a gay teen boy but that is not the central part of this book. Yes, a character falls in love for the first time, that is what matters. Did you have access to any books like this when you were a teen? 

Thanks for saying that. It was definitely part of my thinking. I have one other YA book with a gay protagonist, and one of the driving ideas behind that book was to have a young gay character whose problem in the story is not his own sexuality. In ME, MYSELF, AND HIM, you don’t even learn that Chris is gay until maybe page 75, and that was very much on purpose.

Ultimately, I hope there’s room on the bookshelf for books that tackle the difficulties of queer identity for young people in this world, as well as books about what I call incidentally queer characters – where their sexuality isn’t invisible to the reader, but where their stories are about something else altogether. Right now, I’m reading BLACK WINGS BEATING by Alex London. Next up is DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY by Adib Khorram. Those are two good examples of the kind of book I’m talking about.

As for my own teen experience, I’m old enough that those kind of societal cues were few and far between when I was a teen. My first exposure to gay characters came more through tv shows and movies than through the books I was reading. The landscape has changed significantly over the years, and I’m glad for the more diverse reputation you see in books these days, even if we still have a ways to go there.

 

 

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Should Auld Acquaintance – – –

Jack is in Scotland and Wendy is – – somewhere – – so Jack sent this by carrier pigeon.

Back more than twenty five years ago I helped my folksinger friend Ed Miller with his then new music tour of Scotland. Ed lives in Austin, Texas and started bringing over thirty five fans, touring them around Scotland and having them joined each day by a local musician with particular knowledge of the local history and culture. I performed that function when they were in Fife each year. That finished when Wendy and I moved to the US, but it gave me the idea for my annual small group tours.

On Ed’s tours he always worked with a tour guide called Charlie Hunter, who dressed in his kilt, herded his charges off and on the coach in a timely manner.

Imagine my surprise when my tour was in Melrose on the second day of our tour and I saw a familiar kilted figure standing beside a large coach parked next to our minivan.

ed charlie

As we exchanged greetings Ed appeared as well!

Thinking that this was a ‘one off’ coincidence we bade them farewell and continued on our way. A few days later we pulled into the parking lot behind the ‘Green Welly’ at Tyndrum and who should be there as well – – -! Much joking and then another farewell. We set off for Glencoe and, as usual pulled into the visitors’ center. An hour later so did Ed and Charlie in their now familiar coach! Once again it was farewell and we headed for Oban and the ferry to Mull.

ed

The following day we headed down through beautiful Mull to the Iona ferry and I waited with our minivan while the rest of our group went across on the foot ferry. I eventually wandered up the line of parked coaches and saw a now very familiar one! It turned that they would be staying in the hotel next to ours in Oban that night, so the following morning we once again bade them farewell – only to meet them again at the Green Welly! With them for a couple of days was another old friend – Margaret Bennett!

margaret B

Our next stop was at Killin at the start of Loch Tay on our way to see Europe’s oldest living tree at Fortingall. As I guarded our minivan at Killin a very familiar coach pulled up – – –

iona

The Iona ferry on a beautiful day!

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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.

pot1

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!

pot2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Money, Money, Money – – –

Jack gets over the line with time to spare – –

caveat

I’m a real curmudgeon right now! Because we moved house we have also changed banks and that meant carefully checking that all automatic payments got changed over. That proved very difficult as some were obvious but many weren’t! Being paranoid about such things I ran both accounts on the overlap and kept checking the old one in case I’d missed anything.

Lo and behold –

We had a problem in the new house with our thermostat so I googled to find advice which took me to a website called ‘Just Answer’. For just five dollars they would fix the problem. They didn’t fix the problem but what they did do was lock me into a monthly twenty-eight-dollar subscription whether I had any other questions or not!

The only reason I discovered Just Answer’s cunning ruse was because I was checking the old account.

Because I was in that mode I asked Wendy about a medical bill we had for six hundred dollars, so she phoned her insurers and found it was a ‘mistake’.

But there’s more – –

Wendy has been selling stuff on E-Bay and was surprised by her latest bill from them. She checked her account and found that if your item doesn’t sell, they automatically re-list it and charge you for both. Worse still they continue re-listing and charging unless you cancel.

I’m still not convinced I’ve caught everything on our old bank account –

Then there’s Verizon, who sent us bills that included third party services we neither needed nor asked for!

There’s some sneaky folk out there that have probably gotten a big bonus for their sneaky ideas, folks. Caveat emptor.

Sometimes, even when you don’t caveat, you still have to emptor!

 

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The Monday Book: A FORGOTTEN PLACE by Charles Todd

The last of our Todd reviews – we hope you’ve discovered some new series ideas!

A FORGOTTEN PLACE: Unforgettable!Forgotten place

 

Looking at the cover of this book, if you are an avid follower of Bess Crawford (British WW1 nurse who has been to the front line in France many times), you have to wonder what sort of post-war trouble the heroine will encounter.  You can tell she is in a desolate place, a surprise since the story picks up after the Armistice in 1918 and her return to England.  Bess is looking away from the reader, and you expect her to turn her head and ask you where you’ve been and what took you so long to arrive. It isn’t your fault it takes so long to get your hands on the book that follows A Casualty of War (2017, Harper Collins/Wm Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-267878-2), but you cannot tell her that.  You just go with her into the depths of a forgotten Welsh village named Caudle, located on the Gower Peninsula.  And I promise, you will not sleep a wink until you get to the end of this book because the darkness of it seems far worse than the Great War itself.

Bess Crawford’s work in France is done when Matron sends her back to England with a Welsh unit commanded by Captain Williams.  Every man is an amputee, and as they are miners, they have no future in their coal mine village. Bess is worried about her charges and goes to Wales to check on them—without informing her parents or friends of her intentions. By the time she arrives in the village where Captain Williams said he’d be, almost everyone in the Welsh unit is deceased, and she hurries to Caudle to check on the Captain when she finds out he left to help his widowed sister-in-law with her meager sheep farm.

From the moment of her arrival, you realize that every word you read moves Bess, the Captain, and Rachel (his sister-in-law) closer to danger, closer to death.  But you cannot help yourself because the story is so compelling, and the characters of the village make life dark and dangerous.  There is jealousy, greed, several brutal murders, and neighbors who watch Bess’s every move.  She is stranded in Caudle, a guest in Rachel’s home, and each day she digs for the truth about the village, the residents, and the dark secret they have kept through many generations.

The storms and murders, and the residents’ unwillingness to let Bess leave the village or settle with her lot because her parents and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon do not know her whereabouts, make you stakeholder in her resolve to get to the bottom of a mystery and survive.  You, the passive participant in this adventure, cannot stop puzzling over the characters, the clues, and the desire to find a murderer before Bess, the Captain, and Rachel come to any great harm or end up buried in an unmarked grave near the Rectory or tossed into the angry sea to wash ashore weeks later.

The village has a secret it protects. Newcomers are not welcome. No stranger leaves alive, and you set your jaw and resolve to make sure Bess Crawford gets away before the killer gets away with murder. Hers.  When Simon discovers her whereabouts, you want to relax and see how it all falls into place, but you cannot—because he has to leave temporarily, and it is up to you to stand watch as you read.  Before he returns, Bess has to figure out a way to protect the villagers and their dark secrets without letting the killer get away.

As it is with all Bess Crawford novels, you marvel at A Forgotten Place because the last pages are a reveal that leaves you in awe.  Even if you think you know it all, you discover you do not!  When Bess leaves Caudle and heads home, you wonder if you stand to live the year in your time while she moves within a few weeks of hers. You want her to settle down and stay out of harm’s way, but you cannot resist counting the days until the next Bess Crawford mystery is in your hands.

 

 

 

About the Reviewer:

Liz Phillips is a middle school educator and writer living in Southwest Virginia, another forgotten place. Contact her at lizphillips.author@gmail.com.

 

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