Tag Archives: Cami Ostman

Si Me Ven: Los Penguinos!

So it’s Si Me Ven, not si me ren, but we’re still doing a lot of walking! And what’s really cool is, so were the penguins. My friend and I went on an ecoturismo excursion to the three islands off the northern part of Chile, near La Serena, called the Humboldt Penguin Preserve. They house 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population.

(I don’t know the difference between a Humboldt and the others.)

Here are the photos of our day driving north, going out on the boat, seeing the penguins, and then, because (as the guide said) some of us must have been living right, we also saw a sea otter, nursing sea lion pups, a sea lion fight between father and son (well, I am a Quaker, so that didn’t feel so lucky, but there you go) and two humpback whales.

As the guide said, “This has been an exceptional day.”

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It’s kind of annoying that Cami looks adorable no matter what she wears – including, in this case, a crocheted skull cap and a life vest. But then, we’ve been friends a long time, so I accept this.

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I had no idea that sea gulls nested in sand. Her husband stood nearby, honking at us in an unfriendly way, so I only snatched one shot. I didn’t want to stress him out too much.

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It is called Camel Rock – well, yes.

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That is a sea otter swimming. At first we thought it might be the only wildlife we saw besides cormorants and sea gulls, but the guides knew what they were doing. You can walk on only one of the three islands that make up the preserve. They give you an hour to walk around, then take you to see the penguins and stuff. So everyone on the island was getting all bummed out at not seeing anything much, and then got happy from being taken to the best viewing spots. Good strategy! Isla del Damas 036

Pretty view of the cliffs, pretty view of the cliffs. and then…..?????????? Isla del Damas 046

“Hola! Que pasa?” The guide said he was a teenager. ?????????? ?????????? ??????????Then came the boobies. Yes, that’s what they are called. They were still nesting, didn’t have babies yet.


And then, penguins, penguins, and more penguins!??????????

We rounded the corner, and there was a mama with her two baby sea lions. The one below is nursing. She was lying down, but as we came around the corner she lifted her head and then stroked the baby, as if saying, “This is my daughter; isn’t she lovely? Say hello to the nice tourists, dear.”?????????? ?????????? ??????????

And more penguins. My first time seeing them in the wild. I was enchanted.??????????

They took us in this cave to show us the minerals and coral.??????????

It is very hard to photograph coral in the dark in a moving boat. They’d asked us not to use flash with the wildlife because it startled them, so I forgot to use it in the cave. This coral was about the size of my head.??????????

Cormorants, and that white stuff is cormorant crap. (Guana, they calls it, and they use it to build their nests. It is about 20 degrees warmer in the nest than outside because of the guano. A mother’s love… but still, guano is crap. I dunno….)??????????

We rounded the corner and were snapping shots of another mama and baby when the guide at the back of the boat started laughing and said something in Spanish. The guide at the front said in English, “There is a sea otter below the lions. This is very unusual. And it is being exceptionally cute.” It was on its back pawing the air at first. You have to look pretty hard to see it in these photos.


This is her preparing to slip back into the water. The boat made her a little nervous.Isla del Damas 110

I could not stop being charmed by the penguins. Suddenly they were everywhere. Isla del Damas 121

This is “Big Daddy” of the next harem of sea lions.Isla del Damas 125

And this is “Big Daddy” explaining to his son why he would be moving out soon, according to our guide. Apparently son was getting a little too big for his britches.Isla del Damas 131

And just when we thought it couldn’t get nicer, this happened. This is when the guide said, “Someone on this boat has been living right.” Humpback WhaleIsla del Damas 139

The guide didn’t want to get too close to keep from stressing him out. That’s his tale just as he flipped it at us. He stayed a good five minutes.Isla del Damas 144

And then we went home and had a glass of wine. Does it get any better?!Isla del Damas 146


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

That Ten Books Challenge Thing

authorsOh dear, that book list thing is circulating again, and a handful of people have challenged me.

One chapter of Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap contains a list of eleven books that influenced me. Anyone who’s done this challenge knows that narrowing to ten is hard, so rather than repeat those, here are eight books I swithered over when making that Little Bookstore list, plus a few published since then.

How many Hills to Hillsboro (Fred Bauer) – Published by Guideposts in the 1970s, it sat on a stack of books in my father’s office one day, whence I picked it up randomly and read it….

And read it, and read it, and read it again. Hillsboro started my lifelong affair with wanderlust. I still have that original copy. (I guess my dad never realized he owned it, since I stole it at age seven.) The book is about a family of five who bicycle across most of America. They don’t make it to the California coast before the summer is over, but that becomes part of this charming, gentle story about taking a long road trip together, replete with adventures, enlightenment, and fun.

Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (Wendy Welch)The specifications for this list say books that have stayed with you in some way; this one pretty much changed my life. Since I wrote it, we’ve made friends with and met fascinating people—not superstars, like authors who hang out poolside with the fancy or famous—but very cool, salt-of-the-earth on Facebook types. And gone places and done stuff we wouldn’t have done before.

Jack and I still plan to visit Portugal because of all the lovely people who’ve contacted us from there. People in Poland are sending us letters now. The Korean Minister of Culture sent a congratulatory note after naming Little Bookstore a “Book of the Year” because it “uplifted the human spirit.” And lots of people visit our bookstore and tell us their stories. Which sounds all jet set, but was just a nice thing that happened because we had a story to tell that resonated with people. Yeah, this book stuck with me. :]

Winter in Moscow (Malcolm Muggeridge)Like Grapes of Wrath, this is a book that taught me about injustice, imbalance, politics versus people, and how life just sometimes goes wrong. Yet we can be humane and human in the midst of it.

Women’s Ways of Knowing (Belenkey et al)This is an odd book that came out on the 1980s, detailing research on how women acquire knowledge. It lists six stages, running from just “standing in their shoes and looking out” to becoming experts in a field. It’s psychology not so much made feminist as put into an entirely feminine atmosphere. It’s amazing how much can be measured when the people measuring it are the same as the people they are measuring. Women no longer have to fit men’s square pegs into their round holes—heh, no pun intended. This book defines women’s knowledge the way women feel themselves to possess it. It underpinned a lot of my later work in storytelling, and when Brene Brown’s Ted talk on vulnerability went viral, it felt like an affirmation of how women use emotional means as valid ways of learning what they need to know, among other concepts.

This book got me in trouble in grad school, though. I still remember a professor using the term “unnecessary beauty” to describe some artifacts like water pots, etc. that had been decorated even though the objects were “just functional.” Without thinking and without raising my hand, I just shot out, “That is an entirely male construct. Ask any woman in the world whether beauty is useful, or needful, and she can give you a whole new way of seeing how her life is ruled by it—or lack of it. And what’s more, beauty is defined by men.” It all kinda went downhill from there….

Cricket Magazine, roughly 1972-1977These are probably what set me on the road to ruin as a child, teaching a love of storytelling. This was a literary magazine with high quality illustrations, stories, and articles for kids ages 10 or so. I still have my collection. Trina Schart Hyman, Jane Yolen, Shel Silverstein: all the big guns wrote for this publication. Early exposure… there’s no cure for that. :]

A Candle for St. Jude (Rumor Godden)When I made the list in Little Bookstore, I actually left this one off because it was “higher” than all the others. This is about a down-at-heel yet genteel dance school run by an old woman who was a past master, and the relationship between her, her favorite student, and her most talented ones. It explores the human heart as much as the arts world, but particularly human hearts in the arts. Because fairly often, the music (or dances, or stories, or paintings) presented at a festival is more about the politics of who gets to play, than the beauty of the playing. I love this book.

Prayers from the Ark (trans. Rumor Godden)A collection of very sweet animal poems, translated by Godden from a WWII refugee who wrote them in French in a nunnery while recovering from a breakdown. They’re lovely, and thought-provoking and sweet and sometimes the wee bit scary.

Holy Bible (semi-anonymous)Who was it that said, “If the Bible weren’t the Bible, it would be banned for all that sex and violence and anti-feminine rhetoric?” I’m not clear on everything, I’m not feeling called on to have a position statement on everything, and I don’t care to debate stuff ad infinitum. But I read the Bible at least three times a week (which is as good as “every day” actually looks for some of us). Sometimes I’m moved and motivated, sometimes I’m confused, or challenged. That’s okay. There’s that prayer thing, too. It helps.

Now, here’s the thing: authors meet other authors, and we sometimes get a lot out of each other’s books, but if you mention one book and not someone else’s, it all gets a little sad. So at the risk of offending some new authors who are bound to get left off, here are some nice people from AuthorWorld, and their books that I loved:

Saffron Cross (J. Dana Trent) – A female Southern Baptist minister meets a Hindu Monk on eHarmony, and marries him. And they decide not ‘to each his/her own’, but to participate in each other’s worship, dedicating it as their own. Fasten your theological seat belts; it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

The Murderer’s Daughters (Randy Susan Myers) – a compelling novel about girls growing up in foster care, more or less – but dysfunction was never written with such lyricism.

Heart in the Right Place (Carolyn Jourdan) – Country girl making good in the city returns to the country when her dad needs help keeping his GP MD office open. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue, and some life lessons get learned.

Hooked (Tele Aadsen – she’s not finished yet. Check with Riverhead Press in 2015) Woman fishes for a living off Alaskan shore. Sex, water, salmon, self-discovery.

Second Wind (Cami Ostman) – Outrunning a divorce, she runs a marathon on every continent. And learns some interesting things about herself and other people. And icebergs.

Hiding Ezra (Rita Quillen) – There were lots of deserters in Coalfields Appalachia in the World Wars, mostly because their families really needed them more than their country. This is a compelling story about one such man.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing


The Monday book will return next week. My friend Susie Klein http://www.recoveringchurchlady.com/ asked me to participate in an ongoing blog tour called HOW I WRITE. I answer four questions, as she did for the person who asked her, and then I ask two other authors to answer them.

OK, here we go….

1- What am I working on?

A sequel to Little Bookstore.

2- How does my work differ form others of its genre?

Well, most of what I write is either academic work, memoir, or blog. As blogs go, bookstore bloggers are all very different from each other in our senses of humor and senses of purpose, but we tend to revisit similar themes. Save the bookstores. Cherish your local. Shop bricks and mortar. Don’t self-publish with Amazon believing they’re there to help you. Aren’t books great? Aren’t customers cute? Those kinds of things.

In terms of my memoir writing being different, it’s like asking “how is this poem different from that one?” All sonnets have the same strict form, and yet within them you can write about absolutely any subject you want to. So all memoirs are alike in that they’re carved from your perceptions and experiences, and they couldn’t be the same any more than two snowflakes could, because they’re your perceptions and experiences.

3- Why do I write what I do?

Joan Didion and Flannery O’Connor both said more or less that they write to figure out what they think and know. I write because I’d explode if I didn’t. It is the perfect way to order thought, smooth out roughness, reconcile, regroup, even relegate to the dark corners. Once it’s on paper, it’s out, not in, whether anyone ever sees it or not. That’s why I write, but as to writing what I do, well, agents in general and mine in particular are always urging writers to write the story only they can tell. That makes sense to me; we’re all trying to save the world and write something meaningful, but trying to write a story that needs to be told isn’t the same as telling your story. The only story you can tell is yours – fiction, non-fiction, narrative, poem, even photo or mathematics formula. It has to belong to you in some unique way.

4. How does my writing process work?

Despite my best efforts to have a schedule or regimen, I continue to work on whatever laptop is available, in the bookstore, between customers and after hours. We have three laptops available for customers and for special orders, so I try to remember to save the thing on a thumb drive in case I use a different one tomorrow.

I’m tagging two author friends: Dana Trent http://jdanatrent.com/blog/ who wrote The Saffron Cross, and Cami Ostman http://www.camiostman.net/about/ whose first book was Second Wind, and then co-edited Beyond Belief: the secret lives of women in extreme religions.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, reading, shopsitting, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Wendy, Me, Words and the Road to SIBA

Guest Blog by Cami Ostman, friend and author

I’ve known Wendy since we were 18 years old (so, in other words, for 10 years… ahem). We met in California, where we both lived for a year. In the intervening years (ok, more than ten, I’ll admit it), I haven’t moved far—just up two states to Washington—while Wendy’s moved all over the world: Tennessee, Canada, Scotland, England, and now, Big Stone Gap, Virginia (where I come to visit her at least once a year at her bookstore/house, shop downstairs, home up).

Each year, one thing I look forward to is seeing how the bookstore has changed. Who are the new creaturely additions to the family? Where has the classic literature section moved to? Is there new porch furniture? But most especially, what new friends will wander in and what will they say? What will they be looking for? What books will they choose?

As a reader and a writer—a lover of words—I’ve spent a lot of time in bookstores throughout my life. And just as much as I love savoring the sound of a well crafted sentence, I love the smell of books, the feel of them in my hands, and the way other people’s eyes light up when they caress covers and flip through pages. New or used, (and yes, paper or electronic) books give me a comfort, a sense of home and community.

When I get to Big Stone Gap, I feel the penultimate sense of home. Wendy oozes words. She facilitates words among the groups that gather in her home/shop (Tuesday night we had “needlework night,” and I can tell you there were far more chatty conversations than needles probing in and out of cloth) but most importantly, she VALUES words. And I mean this literally. She and Jack (her lovely assistant and partner in life) make their living by taking books that are brought to them and placing a monetary value on each one, all the while knowing that the value of a particular book to a particular patron has nothing to do with the penciled in amount on the first page.

It’s precisely because Wendy understands the way a certain book calls forward a different mood or memory in each person who reads it that she is such a keen observer of the way books and the individuals who love them find one another. Her observational skills are the reason she could write her savvy, warm, pithy, soon-to-come-out book about how her little shop changed her life and the lives of those who frequent it.

And it is because of Wendy’s savvy, warm, pithy, soon-to-come-out book that she’s on her way to Florida to attend the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show and to sit on a panel there about booksellers who write books.

I’m driving with her through six sticky-warm Southern states to join her at SIBA, and we’re having a blast. With words. We talked for 8 hours yesterday as we drove, chewed the fat with Wendy’s pal Debbie when we arrived at her house to camp out for the night, and we finally drifted off to sleep exhausted, from words—sweet words.

Now we’re on for one more day of driving… and one more day of (you guessed it) WORDS. When I get home to Washington next Monday, I’ll be happily exhausted and ready for a quiet day sitting with my own creatures in my own house with a book and a cup of coffee. And I’ll be planning next year’s trip to Big Stone Gap.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA

Which came first: the Leibster Award or Megalomania?

I’ve been given The Liebster Award!  Thank you, RandomDorkness

The rules:

  • post 11 things about yourself
  • answer the 11 questions from the person who gave you the award
  • ask 11 questions
  • pass the award to 11 persons (go to their site and inform them, of course)
  • no tag backs

Wendy’s Answers to Questions from  randomdorkness

  1. Do you like hot wings? I think cinnamon is a hot spice. My husband, however, loves madras curries. We should never have married—which is a pity, because we like each other.
  2. Do you like vodka? I’m a red wine girl and my favorite is a Spanish Grenache called “Bitch.” Make of that what you will.
  3. What do you think about moonwalks? The kind that happen in space, or the kind that happen on the dance floor? Never mind; I get vertigo.
  4. What do you think about combining a moonwalk with hot wings and vodka? I think Mitt Romney/Barack Obama could do very well with this as a fundraiser.
  5. Who would clean up the mess? You mean, if Romney/Obama wins? Or the vertigo effluvium? No matter what, the mess will be cleaned up by a school teacher and a mom–or perhaps multiple school teachers and moms working in unison (that’s UNISON with an “s”).
  6. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Two cords. I thought everybody knew that by now? And that there’s a rhyme for orange: door hinge. Also the weird math problem involving seven bridges has been solved.
  7. What if the woodchuck wouldn’t chuck wood, but he *would* chuck vodka? Then the mom and school teacher would need paper towels and soda water, plus white vinegar and washing-up liquid.
  8. Or hot wings? Ditto.
  9. Or both vodka and hot wings? Extra paper towels and rabies serum
  10. In a moonwalk? Paper towels, serum, and a lesson plan
  11. Who would clean up *that* mess? Look, we’ve already established that teachers and moms wipe the noses and bums of the whole world. That’s why moms and teachers get so much worldwide respect and appreciation, even more than the politicians who would just use the moonwalk as a photo op for themselves, probably next to a young, leggy teacher cuddling the woodchuck.

11 Things About Myself

  1. I am inordinately, socially unacceptably proud of publishing my first book with a big publishing house full of nice people (St. Martin’s Press). I’m no fun at parties anymore; it takes me ten seconds to finagle the conversation ‘round to bookstores and writers, and from there everyone edges away toward the vodka.
  1. My book is about me, my husband, and our starting a bookstore just as the economy tanked and e-readers appeared on the market. (Note how I put ME first even though that’s poor grammar? Symptom of megalomania. Because I’m really a much better writer than that. Oh, wait….)
  1. *Sob* I didn’t used to be a megalomaniac. Sure, I was the youngest child, so kinda got spoiled, but I let other people have attention sometimes. Really. The thing that happened at my cousin’s wedding, that was a long time ago. And the flower girl dress ITCHED.
  1. Of course, now that I am a full-blown megalomaniac, I fear this will turn people off to the lovely charm of my book, with its natural humor and graceful prose about small town foibles and follies.
  1. Does anyone know of pills, biofeedback, something to suppress megalomania? At least when I’m at public appearances?
  1. Did I mention my article in the Huffington Post last week about the importance of independent bookstores? I’m not posting the link because that would be self-aggrandizing. (But if you were to google Huffington Post, Wendy Welch, and independent bookstore, you could probably find it. Or visit my facebook author page. If you’re interested.)
  1. But I KNOW you’ll want to see the really cute videos about our bookshop! One is a spoof on 50 Shades of Grey, the other Jack-my-husband reading to the Needlework Night babes who come every Tuesday. They still like me, even though I’m a megalomaniac. Just search “Wendy Welch little bookstore” on youtube and they’ll pop right up! The “Shades of Grey” one will have at least a dozen hits by now. I’m very proud.
  1. Pride isn’t the same thing as megalomania, is it?
  1. Ummm…. It should be easy for a megalomaniac to post 11 things about herself …. Ummmm….. We foster kittens in our bookstore and have a great rate of getting them adopted to good homes and if there IS a cure for megalomania, it’s the hourly clean-up of kitten diarrhea since most fosters arrive sick. There’s something very grounding about kitty poo.
  1. Did I mention that I wrote a book?
  1. Or that I’m a terrible dancer?

Questions for you

  1.  So, do you like kittens?
  2. Do you like authors?
  3.  Have you ever wanted to deck an author with a swift stomach-punch?
  4. Have you ever decked an author with a swift stomach-punch or other method?
  5.   Will you be attending any of my readings?
  6. If you were going to make the world a better place, which would you hire as global leader: a teacher or a mom? (no fair combining!)
  7. Did you know that a woodchuck who chucks wood can chuck two cords? (I thought everybody knew that. I like Eleanor of Random Dorkness. I like the way she writes and her sense of humor and the way she talks about her family, so I don’t want to, you know, do her down in public for not knowing the two cords thing….)
  8. Do you think teachers and moms should be given free vodka and hot wings at an annual global appreciation day, or just cash?
  9. Have you ever moonwalked? Or read the Huffington Post?
  10. Are you going to look at the adorably charming youtube videos my husband and I made of our independent bookshop? (Oooooh, so close. Just shoot me.)
  11. Um, so, how do you feel about megalomaniacs?

Passing this award to:

http://www.7marathons7continents.com/ (Cami Ostman); www.readerscorneronline.com (Larry); http://www.ladolcevitagirl.com/ (Teri); http://nerkasalmon.wordpress.com/ (Tele); http://danielabram.wordpress.com (Daniel); http://www.jennsbookshelves.com/ (Jenn Lawrence); http://chicklitcentraltheblog.blogspot.com/ (Amy Bromberg); http://lostartsfound.wordpress.com/ (Jenny); http://thebookstorejunkie.com/; http://courtingmadness.wordpress.com/ (Coco); http://hikingphoto.com/ (Patrick)


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

You-you-you Memoirs

I had a lot of people respond to my earlier list of memoirs, and to the idea that books are most interesting to read when they are about someone else, and you run through them like a pale thread, holding the warp and weave together rather than dominating the pattern.

And it’s always fun to talk about what I’ve been reading – something that bookstore owners rarely get to do, funnily enough – so here are some more memoirs that made for ripping good reads. I call them you-you-you memoirs because… well, okay, sorry, but the fastest way to get that pun is to read my prior blog entitled “Me-me-me Memoirs.”

The $64 Tomato. I liked it not just because the guy writing it is funny, but because it’s one of several books that encapsulates the growing interest of Americans in our food sources, in handiwork, in taking care of ourselves for ourselves. He’s neither preachy nor preening, just fun to read and insightful without hitting you over the head with his thoughts about what it means to live off the land while holding down a “real” job.

Second Wind. Actually, it cracks me up that I left this off my first list, because the author, Cami Ostman, has been my friend since we were 18years old. That’s why I left it off, in reality; it was too familiar, too much a part of the social fabric of my life. Cami introduced me to my agent, who sold my memoir The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap so quickly and so well. As with many things in our lives, she went first. (That’s an inside joke; her birthday is the day before mine.) Cami’s book is very much about her fights with herself, mentally and physically, as she goes through a divorce, takes up running, and reinvents herself. And when I read her book – which got national publicity in Oprah’s magazine, and great media reviews, and literally changed some people’s lives – what I hear is her writing a letter. It’s so Cami, I can’t see it as a book. But I’m glad that thousands of other readers can. And I suspect she’ll have the same reaction to my memoir when it comes out this October. (St. Martin’s Press is the publisher, in case you’re interested! I’m in that euphoric stage where I think the whole world is interested; don’t mind me.)

Truth and Beauty. Ann Patchett’s friendship with her fellow author and Iowa Writers’ workshop attender Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face) has ripples for any writing friends, but it’s also just a lovely read about what it means to need someone, to love someone, when neither of you can be on your best behavior. How does competition enter, end, or endure in friendship? Patchett’s book explores this. Plus, she’s my new hero since she logic-ed Stephen Colbert into silence by explaining why independent bookstores are better than and will last despite Amazon. If you haven’t seen the clip, google their names. Priceless!


Filed under book reviews, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized