Couples in Triplicate

couples-blogJack and I joined two other couples for a weekend in Asheville, to celebrate the end of 2016 (which has been a real mixed bag for all of us) and the wine-and-laughter-soaked start of 2017 with its blank calendar squares of hope.

It is fun to watch three couples interact with others while being their two-unit selves. You have the individual; you have the couple; and you have the team. Sometimes the difference between any of these borders is blurry; at other times they can be uncomfortably non-opaque.

One person forgot essential meds; another dropped a bag that held a bottle of hard-to-get wine, shattering it and soaking some rather delicate Christmas gifts in alcohol – sadly, not an improvement in this case. Spouses tend to be harder on internal errors than anyone else, yet protective of those who make them. It is okay for one of two to say “you idiot,” but not anyone else. Not that anyone else would, you know, because what makes us exhausted inside couples is no big deal outside. It’s all new; it’s all good.

There’s a quote about marriage that says partners are like the blades in scissors, always moving separately and even in different directions, yet always working together and quite capable of punishing anything that comes between them. I think of that quote often watching sets of two:one interact with larger numbers.

Perhaps it’s like reversing those long algebra equations where you’re meant to prioritize the relationships inside the brackets first; fail that, and your mathematical answer will be wrong. But in human interaction, outside the brackets we add up grace, empathy, and laughing first, so that the sum of the parts becomes simple and fun and gestalt. Inside the brackets where the math can be tighter and more complex, maybe you’re tired of talking it over, had it with being the spouse who looks after things. But as you walk down the street in your big group of giggling friends, your spouse reaches for your hand, or tuck yours into the crook of his arm, and the rest dissolves. It’s all right.

Because marriages, like friendship weekends at New Year’s, celebrate not just the hopes to come, but the good and bad past memories that shaped the brackets you live in and made you the happy two:one you are.

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

Such Stuff as – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just – almost – makes it in time – –

Who else has weird dreams?

Mine are really off the wall.

One recurring one has me failing to find every car I’ve ever owned. I still have them all and I’ve parked them randomly all over my hometown back in Scotland. I can’t find any of them and I waken up in a sweat every time!

Another whole series has me on impossibly tall structures – ridges, escarpments, skyscrapers – whatever. I’m teetering up there and looking down (never look down!!).

Not so long after my Dad died I had dreams of falling off impossibly high cliffs and he’d catch me in a strange very dark atmosphere (in real life he had really, physically, held me in a scarily high place more than once).

Just last night I had one where Wendy goes on one of these girl scout camp outings. She stumbles on a very rare Elvis Presley recording (a very limited promotional recording) and then another different one from the same session (both phenomenally valuable). There was lots of detective work and some scary stuff as well  – – – –

Then there are disconnected bits and pieces of memories that end up as just that – disconnected bits and pieces that somehow whirl along and make some kind of odd journey.

But the strangest of all –

I hear whole third party narratives (like radio shows) that go on all night (I think) and tell me stories. Usually quite lengthy ones with strangely quirky side turnings – almost like noir dramas!

So – long remembered cars, falling, Elvis, noir dramas and long narratives – – –

 

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The Monday Book: THE DOG MERCHANTS by Kim Kavin

dog-merchantsKavin wrote Little Boy Blue, the story of acquiring her puppy and tracing his trail from her house back to how he became a rescue dog. I could not bring myself to read this book for a long time, and I’m still inching my way through it. It is not for the faint of heart.

But Kavin’s journalistic style is well-suited to the one-step-removed-personally nature of THE DOG MERCHANTS, which investigates the big business of dogs in breeding, buying, and rescue. Yes, rescues can be big businesses. In fact, big businesses pit some rescuers against breeders in order to ensure dogs are big business. That’s just one of the many stories Kavin uncovers in her research.

Kavin’s style of writing, like that of any good journalist, disappears inside her subject. A book one reads for the information it contains rather than its fine writing, Kavin nevertheless is a fine writer. So good that she gets out of the way and lets her story tell itself.

One reviewer said DOG MERCHANTS would become The Omnivore’s Dilemma for pet lovers. This is pretty apt; if you read this book, you’re going to look at your puppy, and your friends’ puppies, the same way you started looking at diamond wedding rings – yours or anyone else’s – once Blood Diamonds had enough publicity.

But this book is not all doom and gloom and “you don’t want to know” voyeurism. Kavin lays out some compelling arguments for how to make things better, and some hopeful stories of how they are becoming so. More for information than entertainment, THE DOG MERCHANTS will leave you changed. Educated. Perhaps even motivated for more change.

I don’t often warn people off reading books, but I will tell you, you might not want to read this one unless you’re ready. The mysteries of dog business are deep and ugly. Be prepared to become the person others edge away from at parties. The next time you ask a friend where they got their dog, you might mean something different.

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

The (w)Rites of Laundry

laundryIn a fit of pique, or perhaps inspiration, I have reduced my clothing to one five-drawer dresser, one half of a hanging wardrobe, and a milk crate (underwear; no need to fold, just reach in there and grab what ya need).

Sick of trying to “stay organized” I reckoned up just how much of my writing time was ebbing away via clothes management, including but not limited to: laundry, what passes for folding at our place, stuffing things into drawers, and finding items when I needed that certain turtleneck or some such.

A lot of time got devoted to this. No. No no no. I’m working hard on my next book, and laundry doesn’t factor in.

The problem with that is, Jack and I tend to wear clothes until you can hold them up to the light and read through them. Things with holes go over contrasting colors for that special layered look. The trousers that feel comfy get worn ad infinitim (cotton ones with drawstring waists, to the chagrin of my fashion conscious friends who have to go out in public with me dressed like that). The smart, tailored ones get stuck at the bottom of the drawer. Now that I’ve reduced to one dresser, I’m gonna have to start wearing the slick ones with buttons. Sigh.

It’s a fair trade. I’m busy, and managing clothing over-consumption doesn’t factor in this year. Of course, there are moments.  Jack and I did a book club in Abingdon last week, arrived early at the rendezvous, and went to the thrift store at the end of the parking lot. I came out with a sweater.

It was a really nice sweater, hand knit, 100% cotton from Peru……

Anyway, my New Year’s Resolution: the little stuff is not gonna fritter time away from the big stuff, and a woman who wears elastic waist trousers under her hand knit thrift store sweaters can freely admit that clothes are little stuff. Avaunt, away, ye loads of brights, darks, and whites. Color my world with metaphor, allegory, and using just the right gerund.

Merry Christmas to all and to all Tidy Whites!

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

Certainty amid Uncertainty

Jack’s Wednesday guest post almost made it – – –

Work continues apace on the Hazel House – the Little Cat-House – – –

hazel-in-shelter

Hazel when we found her.

But there are, of course, frustrations. We want to get moving as fast as possible, but with no heat and no water that reduces the options (and that means no working toilets!). Three space heaters and two fan heaters raised the temperature from 28 degrees to 35, which doesn’t exactly encourage much meaningful work either.

However we did manage to sweep all the loose dirt up and away, establish that all the water pipes had been bust and arrange for them to be replaced (thanks Thom), get a very prompt response from Mid-Mountain Heating and their excellent Logan who is on the case, and got the two trees that were invading the front porch cut down. We replaced light-bulbs and made sure all the electrical switches and outlets worked.

We have established that two windows are broken, there’s missing guttering and rain water pipes, and the surrounding yard is an overgrown mess!

But we appear to have inherited a working fridge/freezer and a dishwasher (which we haven’t yet tried – because no water), a large stepladder and a two part aluminum ladder.

Wendy’s friend Beth’s husband in Blacksburg is overseeing the construction of the fenced in front porch, so we’ll have an ‘airlock’ as we transport our lodgers into the facility.

So things are looking good for a final launch sometime in February and we’re celebrating the fact that there are no cats in the local kill shelter in the approach to Christmas!

The various rooms and the house itself have been named for the feline friends we have rescued, looked after, fallen for and escorted over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ over the last few years, not least our beloved Valkittie. The house is named for the wonderful Hazel, who captured hundreds of hearts as she moved from abandonment to the final happiest year of her life.

valkyttie-cover

Valkittie in charge.

We have a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers and I applaud them one and all – it’s great that folk, both local (who can do practical things) and further afield, who maybe just cheer us on or make a financial contribution feel so involved.

In an increasingly uncertain world this is a reminder that we all have a shared humanity – – –

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Oor (cat)Hoos is a very very very Fine Hoos

house-aff-004Well, we’ve done it. Appalachian Feline Friends bought a house. Hoos, as my husband calls it. And now we’re fixing it up so we can start using it. We hope to be in by Valentine’s Day. It seems appropriate.

The house has some needs. Like many of the cats we serve, it’s been ignored, neglected, and left to fend for itself over a few cold days.

  • The pipes are busted; we have an AFF member who is a plumber. Life is good.
  • The heat pump needs its ducts replaced and we’re not sure what else. We may need some help with this, so if you are a heating guy and want to help the homeless kitties, please get in touch. Our guy is replacing the stuff we can see is bad, but if that doesn’t work, we’re stumped.
  • We have a cleaning crew. We have a plan. We have been loaned a bushwhacking weed eater of epic power dimensions for taking care of the garden. Life is very good indeed.
  • We will need plywood, a screen door, a front door, and some other stuff. But for now, we are just celebrating the fact that we have the best Little Cathouse of Big Stone Gap.

If you’d like to help, please get in touch. Or donate stuff: paper towels, paint, a bed, a chest of drawers, kitchen stuff, sheets, you know. Stuff. Or money, which will help us do all the repairs.

Meanwhile, we’d like to thank Sabrina, the realtor who worked so hard to help us find the place, the closing lawyer who donated their fee when we did, and the AFF volunteers who are fixing the pipes and wiring. And the donor who bought the house for us.

We have a house, y’all. Hazel House is a reality.

hazel in shelterIts name is Hazel House in honor of a senior cat who was dumped at the shelter, age 21. She was adopted by a volunteer and lived another happy year in a loving home. Inside Hazel House is the Pogo Playroom for kittens. And the Blackstone Suite, where our staff member will live. And The Laurells, a rest room for senior kitties. All named after cats who came to us needy, and got what they needed.

We have a house. Hazel House is real. And getting fixed up. And we are so very, very happy that this much-needed thing has finally come to our town.

If you feel like helping, hop over to the Appalachian Feline Friends page and donate.

We have a house, y’all. WE HAVE A HOUSE!!!!!

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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

Friends and Fellow Travelers

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –

Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.

As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.

However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.

They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!

We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.

Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?

But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!

To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.

Oh – and we ended with some songs!

 

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