“Baldrick, the only way you’d get a wet kiss is in the water closet!”

19429917_1872839233039103_365946916303730842_nToday’s post is from Mike Still, a volunteer at Hazel House. Please rest assured that what happened to him won’t happen again….. and we wish him well in therapy.

My name is Mike Still, and I am an adjunct lecturer Communications. I’m also a nice guy, and a cat lover, so I volunteer at Hazel House.

I made a vital discovery Thursday while doing cat duty at Hazel House. A seven-pound (estimated) cat can move an eight-pound weight with relative ease.

Having filled up one of the large pitchers to top off the inhabitants’ water bowls, I found myself distracted by the charms of resident older kittens Frankie and Licorice. Telling myself that Dido – the usual occupier of the dresser in HH’s Hemingway room – is long on personality but short on body mass, I set the pitcher on top of her dresser and sat down in the floor to romp with the kittens.20258203_1891515134504846_4609540728349224597_nDIDO, pre-deed

After five minutes of play culminating in Licorice in my lap and Frankie on my knee, it happened. The relative humidity jumped without warning to an audible saturation and precipitation point. Frankie leaped and ran, avoiding much of the drastic physical change. Licorice was a bit slow, catching a substantial portion of the gallon of water that flowed onto my left side.

As the pitcher landed on the floor and the air turned rapidly into indigo around my mouth, Licorice sat there in amazement, shock and water. I caught a glimpse of a tannish-gray flash from the dresser to the far side of the room as Dido made her escape.

20246268_1891515204504839_1308763949938646724_n(Incidentally, there’s nothing like drying off a black kitten still in denial of the presence of liquid appearing in mid-air.) Licorice is a good kid, though, and shouldn’t show any signs of shock for some months.

As for Dido, she understands that mass AND velocity overcome mass any day of the week.

After mopping up the water, I headed out to get dry clothes. Stopping at the Valero gas station in Appalachia for a Diet Dr. Pepper, I was helpfully informed by the clerk that I could get a second one for just a dollar.

“No thanks,” I said. “This should just about meet my fluid needs for the day.”

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DIDO, post-deed

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

That Line between Hoarding and Recycling

The grandchild of two women who survived the Great Depression, I grew up watching my paternal grandma stick straight pins into a potholder on her stairs. No matter how bent, she would hammer them straight if necessary, and into the little blue felt heart (made from scraps of another project) they went. She had a jar of thread balls. Meanwhile, maternal grandma “Nanny” cut plastic milk jugs into scoops or used them to store well water against drought. Both hoarded bread wrappers and the plastic bags inside cereal boxes.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never found the line between hoarding and recycling. Plastic storage containers with no lids? Heck, I can start tomato seeds in them come Spring. Books from 1970 about education policy? Craft time, baby!

Repurposed-Books.jpg

Except, it never is craft time. Neat stacks of “things I’m going to make as soon as I have time” turn into spider condominiums in the garage. Boxes of one project get pushed to the rear behind other projects.

Still, I persist in refusing to throw things away, because gosh darn it, we all need to reduce our footprint on this planet. It feels more gracious to save the string too short to be saved in an old mint tin, then throw the whole thing away when a mouse starts nesting; now it’s a health hazard rather than my wastefulness.

(I would have set it out for birds to use, but FB says that’s bad for their health….)

Old bottles I can figure out; paste funny slogans on the side of them with scrap paper: Tincture of Smarm, Diplomacy syrup, Integrity Supplement. These are on a shelf in my office, and they amuse me. But there’s only so much room on the shelf.

Ziploc bags get rewashed and reused, but when I tried to make ice by freezing water in one the other day, it had pinholes and all the water leaked out into my chest freezer and now there’s something of a defrost crisis out there. And sometimes people edge away at the pool when they see my sun hat is crocheted from plastic grocery bags.

I was unraveling a sweater to save the yarn, and the big hole up its back meant every piece was about six inches long, but I kept tying them into the next string until Jack physically took it out of my hands and said, “Dear. Really?”

Save money, save the planet, but they never tell you how keeping stuff loses time–the other American failing. Saving time is a virtue in our society, perhaps more important than saving ourselves?

Having been a student for 12 years, every late July/early August, the urge hits to reduce my belongings to what can fit into a Toyota hatchback. It’s a grad school thing. It’s not good for marriages. But it does keep me from becoming a permanent hoarder, when my grad student side fights with my grandmothers’ DNA.

Should I throw away the box of envelopes stamped with an old professional address, or keep blacking them out with a marker and writing mine below it? Will I take that bag of mismatched socks to the trash (but they’re great for stuffing crocheted animals!) and give up ironing wrapping paper? Can I deny the penny-pinching miser I am for the sake of a home where I’m not tripping over stuff that will come in handy someday?

It’s a dilemma – to save or not to save, that is the question. Whether ’tis better to pay up at the store or feel like you’re beating the man and saving the Earth every time you stuff another box of weirdness into a closet?

Simplicity was never this complicated in Nanny’s day….

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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Roberta Shares Her Thoughts

19756347_1656566294354428_9082852733039553025_nHello. My name is Roberta and I am senior kitten in residence at the Little Bookstore of Big Stone. I am in charge of four other kittens waiting here with me for Love to find us. They are Wybie and Gaiman, who are brothers that came from the shelter; Mayflower, who was an orphan at three days old; and Tooth.

Nobody knows very much about Tooth. He was here when Foster Mom and Dad got home from their vacation, and none of the humans who work at the bookstore or cafe are admitting anything. Me, I think it best not to tell what I know, so I’m playing dumb.

Not that I am. Dumb, that is. I’ve been reading a lot of the Math books after dark here (they leave a flashlight by the ac unit) and doing the geometry on jingle ball trajectories. I may be smaller than the other kittens here, but I have the advantage of knowing exactly where to push the ball for maximum torque. It makes the rest mad, because they’ve all got like eight ounces on me, but brain over brawn. And I admit, victory is sweet. Silly boys.

I have also worked out how to get the largest share of wet breakfast each morning. Foster Mom divides one can among six of us, so I wait until she’s on about bowl three, and I leap across the counter onto her back. Even though I do this almost every morning, it never fails to startle her, and she drops an extra spoonful into dish three. Then I just eat that, because the boys have already got the first two, and Mayflower and Tooth don’t mind waiting.

See, you just have to apply a little logic, a little book learning, and there’s no problem can’t be solved. I’m looking for a book here about how to get adopted, but so far the closest I’ve found is one called “Finding Forever Love… and Keeping It.” It didn’t really seem to apply. I don’t “dress for success” because I have fur, and I can’t cook because Foster Mom hides the matches because of the staff cat Hadley. Something about her being a pyro. And the second half of the book, it was… well, humans and cats have different ideas about sex, is all. Let’s just leave it there.

But hopefully no one will be leaving me here, because as much as I’m enjoying the bookstore and my long nights of reading, I really want to get started on training my forever humans. I’ve read a lot of the books from Career Building, about how to get people to do what you want, and I feel fully ready. So, c’mon down and let’s get this show started, shall we? I’m waiting.

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

Gone but not Forgotten

It’s Jack’s Wednesday guest post on a Wednesday – wonders will never cease!

Most bookstores have a cat or a dog and we’re no exception. Actually, we have two dogs and three cats plus however many foster kitties are sojourning with us at any one time.

But this post isn’t about one of our owners. A couple of days ago our good friends Mark and Elizabeth lost their lovable wee dog Suzie. Suzie owned them, their house and every piece of their yard, including the dirt road that passes by it. She clearly regarded that section of road as part of her domain and that it had to be defended against anyone and anything that traveled along it. Our friends went to great lengths to stop her running out after cars, bikes and quads. Despite their efforts it was maybe inevitable that this is how she’d meet her end, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

suzie

Our dogs are escape artists of the seventh water and we have to be ever vigilant when they have access to our front door. There have been many times we’ve had to chase them all over our fairly busy downtown and there’s an irony in that. So far (fingers crossed) our two have survived busy intersections and even wandering down the middle of the street ahead of an enormous coal truck, yet poor Suzie got hit by a car on a mostly quiet country road.

Our bookstore greeter cat Owen had a very narrow escape about eighteen months ago. He now looks both ways before crossing the road and uses the cross-walk (he really does!)

At the best of times we only have them for a relatively short time, so if we are pet owned there will be many times that we will have to deal with situations like this. It’s never easy and there are many times I’ve had a spade in my hand with tears streaming down my face.

Our beloved 14 year old Zora, our black Lab, is showing definite signs of dementia and is losing strength in her back legs, so it could be that we will have the worst decision in the world ahead of us in a few months. Of course as long as she isn’t in pain we are happy to make her ever diminishing world as comfortable and easy as we can. She doesn’t know who we are but she thinks the staff at this home are very nice.

Why do we do it? Subject ourselves to this?

Well – that’s easy. It’s because they give us their unconditional love (well, the dogs do – the cats not so much).

Suzie gave and received much love – she will be long remembered – RIP Suzie. And God Bless Us, each and every pet-owned human out there.

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

The Monday Book: JESUS LAND by Julia Scheeres

Scheeres was the bio child of a white family that adopted two black boys, one older than her, one three months younger. So if Mommy Dearest met Hell House, their love child would be her memoir.

She chronicles growing up in an uber-Christian family where hymns were blasted into bedrooms to wake them up, but at night her older foster brother snuck into her room and made her have sex. That kind of thing.

The details in the book are not salacious, rather sparse and that makes them all the more impactful. When Julia and her little brother David (whom she adores) get sent to an Evangelical reform school, her depictions of what’s happening are heartbreakingly hysterical. I found myself laughing out loud, closing my mouth again on a sob. She’s ruthless and without self-pity in describing the place, but she’s also very good at passing up the easy joke to get to the core of the matter.

For instance, when she writes about the kids being given a week off school to lay the foundation for a baseball diamond, the result is pure comedic gold as well as a deep insight into human nature. It’s hot, shirts are sticking, water is pouring over t-shirts, boys are stripping down…. And the staff realize too late they’ve got a lust pit accompanied by Christian rock music.

Even though she’s merciless about what it was like to be in her home and that school, Scheeres isn’t dissing Christianity. She doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about “true Christianity is this,” she just writes out what happened and moves on. Readers can figure it out for themselves pretty easily. Her acknowledgements leave out her mom and dad (whose names are never used in the book, either) but in her book group questions at the end, she refers to her two older sisters as “powerful examples of laudable Christians.” She’s not out to get Christianity, or even her parents, and her story is even stronger because she just tells it without saying “You know this means my parents were hypocrites, right?”

No easy punchlines, and the reading vibrates between easy and intense, but the underlying humor and love between brother and sister come through. So do the racist and Christianity-over-kindness mixed-up overtones.

This book was written before the country divided into Trump as What’s Wrong with American Christianity Today versus God’s Chosen Man for the Hour. But it really makes the points one might be considering along those lines.

What does Christianity look like when it’s about saving souls no matter how bad it hurts, when it’s about preserving a way of life that allows Othering, when it ignores what doesn’t fit into its prescribed boxes as unable to be happening? Scheeres has written her memoir about these questions, by never overtly stating them.

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It’s Writing Retreat Weekend!!!

Once a year, thanks to the American NewMedia Foundation, two writers and I embark on a journey. The program asks the writers to set goals for the next year in terms of what project them want to work on, and what they want the outcome to be.writing-a-research-plan

And then we work. Hard.

We always start with a writing retreat, a kickoff to a year of wordsmithing and prioritizing and crafting. Not all the fellows have been women, but I think it is harder for women to make time for our own writing. It’s a “hobby” that produces less tangible objects than knitting or crocheting, and it’s something we can’t “prove” we have a “right” to be doing by the standards of return on investment.

Sod that for a game of soldiers. We write for fun, for mental health, because we have something to say, because it’s satisfying, or just because we friggin’ want to. Why women have to justify time spent in this way, I don’t know. But never mind. Tonight the words will start flowing, faster than the wine, and we three will dive deep, down into the waters of creativity.

It is like diving. What feels cool and clean one minute as you slice in with surgical precision can become deep and suffocating and murky the next, and that glorious feeling of control disappears into something approaching panic. It’s dark in the creative spaces. That can be good or bad.

What it never is, is boring. This year promises to be as challenging and invigorating as the previous ones have been, me learning from the fellows, the fellows learning from me. It’s kind of a full circle of growth return.

And so we start, late this afternoon, down the path toward the sea of words. Wish us luck!

 

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