Tag Archives: fun

Leveling with Friends

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

There’s a real satisfaction in taking part in a construction project being led by someone who really knows what they are doing. I had that experience last weekend and this is my report.

Wendy’s friend and colleague Beth, and her husband Jon live up in Blacksburg and last Friday Jon left home at 5:30 am to drive down here with a full load of lumber and a magnificent array of tools, ready to completely re-build the front deck of ‘Hazel’s House’ (our new cat rescue center).

house-aff-004

How she was before

Jon reckoned it could be done over three days, so Friday, Saturday and Sunday were set aside and he was down here and started by 9 o’clock on Friday morning. I had volunteered to help and Wendy and Beth came along later that day as well.

Just to set the scene – the house was built in 1917 (so exactly 100 years old) and is single storey, with a porch running the full width of the front. The porch has an overhanging roof with four pillars supporting it (all of them had shims underneath added at some point in the past).

The first job was to install temporary supports from the ground to the front of the roof beside each of the pillars to take the weight. Then we separated the pillars from the deck and began removing the old deck slats. Once they were removed we could see the state of the underpinning joists and foundations and that revealed some problems. The biggest one was that the front joist had rotted and split and had to be completely replaced. Jon built a 28 foot long, 12 inch wide and 4 inch thick joist by laminating six boards together and Saturday’s big job was four of us maneuvering that into place! To our utter delight it fitted perfectly, although it chose to rain just as we were committed to the task, so we all got soaked.

The center of the deck had gradually sunk by almost two inches over the years (hence the shims under the pillars), so the next job was to get that part raised back to the correct height again. Once that was done it was time to re-install the deck slats and we decided to fit new ones in the center section then use the old ones as much as possible for the outer areas. Poor Beth got the job of removing all the nails from the old boards! Finally it was time check all the levels, re-fix the pillars to the new deck and remove the temporary supports supporting the roof.

hazel-house-after

And how she is now

As I suggested at the start, what made the whole experience so satisfying was the way Jon had thought through the job very thoroughly beforehand, measured everything carefully ahead of time and brought lots of really useful tools and equipment. He had even thought to bring an additional power driver, knowing we’d both be re-fixing deck boards at the same time. We only had to make one run to Lowes over the whole weekend and that was just because we couldn’t reclaim as much of the old decking as we’d hoped.

Next month Jon will be back, when we will add partitioning to make the porch and deck ‘cat-proof’ so no kitties can make a break for it when we’re transferring newcomers into the house. I’m looking forward to once again being his laborer and apprentice!

5 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

Music hath Charms to soothe – – –

Jack’s Wednesday Blog Post on Thursday –

I’ve been teaching guitar for many years, off and on, mostly pretty informally although occasionally as part of an organized program.

But we do a fair bit of bartering around here, so that’s what I did when our friend Beth’s husband Brandon wanted lessons. He’s Wendy’s Chiropractor and Beth is our very long suffering Veterinarian. So in return for my guitar lessons Wendy gets adjusted!

It’s very interesting to re-live the traumas of tender fingertips and cramped fingers through the experience of pupils, and very hard to connect back to that time in your own life. It’s also so difficult to hold yourself back and try to keep to the pace of the student and not force them too far too quickly.

What helps in this case is that Brandon happens to have a very nice well set up guitar. There’s nothing more dispiriting than trying to learn on a hard to play instrument. Where Brandon’s existing knowledge departs from mine is that while he reads music he has taught himself to play piano by ear.

So, in this case it’s really just a case of memorizing a series of chord shapes then practicing until the fingers get used to their positions. I generally start people off with the A and E chords then pick a well known tune that only uses those chords, such as ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’. The first exercise is just to slowly hum the tune while changing between the chords at the appropriate places. That’s a good way to get used to how the sound of the chords underpins the melody.

In between times and just add a bit of variety I like to do some work on posture and how the guitar should be held and positioned as well as checking the tuning of each string either with a tuner or using the ‘5th fret method’.

Of course the real work is being done by Brandon in between lessons – that’s how he will get the fingers toughened up, and trained to move easily between the chords. I always love to see the progress from one week to the next and that’s a great delight.

Leave a comment

Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

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!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Stand and Deliver!

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Tricking, treating or guising?

We had three hundred kids plus their supervising adults through the bookstore last Saturday. They were ‘trick or treating’ as these Americans say. They filed in over three hours, snaking through the place to the kids’ room to choose a free book, getting handed a cafe cookie and having a photo taken of them in costume before leaving for the next port of call.

trick-treat-crowd

A small number of the 300 waiting to enter

I wondered about that American tradition so I did some investigating – it turns out that it means “give me a treat or I will play a trick on you”. So, in other words, what would be described in an English or Scottish court as ‘demanding with menaces’!

There’s been a fair bit of discussion on facebook over the last few days about the different Halloween traditions on the opposing sides of the Atlantic, and even about the various names for the vegetable that gets carved into a lantern for the occasion.  I was forced to take part, if only to promote the correct name for the said vegetable.

In Scotland the festival was, for me, always ‘Guising’ (dressing in disguise) and the lantern was carved from a tumshie (a large turnip) and the kids had to perform a poem, song or joke in return for their gift. It was always a family event too, with games – dookin for aipples or trying to snare a treacly scone dangling from a string by mouth with your hands behind your back.

The name of the vegetable? I’ve heard Turnip, Swede, Neep and Tumshie (rutabaga over here) . It was always a tumshie in my youth. But when I grew up and became a responsible adult I was once asked to join an EU funded international environmental education project led by a Danish organization that had a license to grow hemp (don’t ask!). They suggested various Acronyms for the shared undertaking and one of them was NEEPS! I immediately agreed – of such is inter-cultural understanding achieved, although no-one understood why we’d agreed so quickly and enthusiastically.

Long may these weird things continue to confound us, and I can still remember the smell of a candle burning inside a hollowed out tumshie or neep!

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Strangers in the day

 Jack’s Wednesday (just) guest post –

For some reason that I can’t fathom we’re getting a lot of out of town (and out of State) visitors to the bookstore and the cafe just now. It’s not the season for school reunions or vacations, and although some folk have deliberately detoured this way because of reading ‘The Little Bookstore’ many of them haven’t.

It seems to be a completely random thing – just passing through or maybe here for a funeral or family visit.

Quite apart from the welcome business, it adds to the busyness! I love it when strangers come in when we have local loyal friends of the place just hanging out and everyone ends up swapping stories.

Two examples from today –

1) A couple drove for five hours from Elkins in WV yesterday because they had read the book. They visited yesterday afternoon then came back this morning as soon as we opened and stayed on for lunch. As they were leaving they said they’d be back soon. Of course they had dinner in town last night then stayed overnight in a local hotel and had breakfast before heading back here and encountering the hanging out crowd.

2) A gentleman drove up from Johnson City simply because he heard a repeat broadcast on the local NPR station of an interview with Wendy about the store. As soon as he heard my voice he said “you’re the guy on WETSfm that has the Celtic show”. I’ve been presenting Celtic Clanjamphry every week for almost ten years as an unpaid volunteer and, in return they now count that as sponsorship by Tales of the Lonesome Pine, so we get a mention on air as well.

banner

Nobody can spell Clanjamphry!

Just two examples of how new customers arrive at the door. Of course they are, for different reasons, already pretty well primed to be ‘on side’. The challenge for anyone who runs this kind of shop is to try to read the personality of the completely ‘cold callers’ and respond appropriately. As I said at the beginning we had a good few of them as well. One couple were quiet and focused and I simply responded to their occasional request while another guy started like that, then encountered a kitten and became much more engaged. On the one hand you have to like people to do this job, but on the other hand you have to be able to quickly read people too.

It’s still great fun!

Leave a comment

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

Brief Encounters of the Close Kind

Riding the Subway in NYC, we had some up-close anthropological observation points. Here are three of my favorites:

Encounter one:

A 40-something woman with frizzy hair, wearing jogging shoes, got on the train with three smartly-dressed young women in their twenties, knee-length boots, and smart coats. Blond highlighted hair swung seductively at their jaw lines. They wore make-up; she did not, but her eyes were wide and awed and shiny with adoration as she looked at one of the girls. Her daughter, it came out as they talked about where they were taking her and the delights they would show her, had been in NYC about a year and a half, and established herself in some career that involved fashion and seemed to be going pretty well.

“We’ll get off on 14th and change trains,” she told her mother after checking her iPhone with unselfconscious deftness. Her mother beamed. Her tennis shoe accidentally touched my foot in the crowded car and she immediately apologized. The flock of girls looked on with bemused smiles.

Someone said something about the color of their boots, and they began to compare. Mom said, eyes worshipful on her daughter, “Oh honey, when you were small, you had little brown boots just that color, and your gran made you a brown hat with red flowers to go with them, remember?”

I glanced at the girlfriend posse. They were staring at their friend–probably picturing the hat above that cashmere coat–and the smiles on their faces ranged from shark-esque to sweet. Daughter stared at Mom, smile fixed, expression flitting between not wanting to embarrass and not wanting to be embarrassed. She said, perhaps seeking compromise, “Gotta love Gran. Now, we’re two stations away….”

Gotta love Mom.

Encounter two:

I hauled the Korean paperback edition of my book from my backpack and stared at it–probably with an expression similar to the Mama above watching her baby-made-good. Aloud I said, “This is the cutest cover yet. I’m so happy to have gotten this today!” Andrew and Jack said something about when it had been published, and the English version, and the business-suited, bearded man (lawyer, was my guess) traveling across from us looked up. The train wasn’t crowded, so he could see what we were talking about, and put two and two together. His smile resembled one you’ve probably used yourself, when you see a woman at the grocery with a new baby dressed all in pink, big bow over one ear, and people gathered ’round cooing.

By the time he got up at the next stop, I’d put my baby back in the pack, but as he passed me the lawyer-esque man said, softly, “Congratulations.” I looked up in time to see him smile at me before he disembarked.

It felt good.

Encounter three:

On the train home to Virginia, a man and his son sat down in front of us. The man said, rather loudly, “We’re gonna sit here, Alex, because that man behind us was talking too loud and never stopped. Remember that. It’s good to take a break every now and then, and listen to other people.” He then proceeded to keep up a running narrative balanced against his son’s constant stream of questions, comments, and movements, which included staring over the seat back at us (me with my yarn, Jack with his computer) and his father’s command to “Stop terrorizing those people. Not everybody likes kids. Kids can be annoying, did you know that?”

Jack and I exchanged glances. As we got out the good cheeses and tomatoes and crusty loaf we’d bought at the Farmer’s Market that morning with Pamela, Dad started reading Alex–loudly, so the whole car could enjoy it–a story about a hero factory that made robots to fight the evil brain that turned people’s eyes a glowing red. As Jack concentrated on breaking the crusty loaf, I tucked two cherry tomatoes behind my glasses and gave him my best evil grin.

He nearly choked to death when he glanced over.

They were just having fun. So were we. It was a nice ride. And in case you were wondering, the hero robots defeated the evil brain, and we ate the cherry tomatoes.

Leave a comment

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

The Fastest Way to Piss Off a Community Business Owner

When a first-time customer walks in, Jack and I  smile and say hi in confidence that this is the start of a beautiful relationship. We’re proud of our bookstore, and its reputation for dealing honestly with people who bring in “old” books for free evaluations. We keep the store cheerfully clean, cozy and welcoming (as opposed to fully alphabetized and sterile, Jack says) whether you’re buying, browsing, or just in for some kitten cuddling.

And yeah, we have a reputation for being cuckoo for cats. It’s a fair cop.

But every once per 300 or so encounters, instead of returning this welcoming smile, the person looks back through squinted eyes and says something like, “You charge $3 for a Western? That’s too much. I can get them at the Goodwill for $1.”

Uh, no, you can’t because our Goodwill NEVER has Westerns, as you well know as a fan of the genre. Goodwill has romances ten for a penny, but no Westerns. Or desirable science fiction.

Once someone picked up a value paperback ($1 each, 6 for $5) and sniffed. “I see you changed your pricing. These books used to be 4 for $1.” (Hmm, you’d think I’d remember that, but I don’t.) “Everybody’s in it for the money these days.”

Or even, “Tell me exactly the value of each book I traded in, because that doesn’t seem like enough credit” when we’ve just given them $20 for a box that includes 27 battered children’s books and 3 Norton anthologies we’ll be selling for a quarter each.

Ask a small business owner if she’s in it for the money, and she will pee herself laughing. Let me tell you, there are HUNDREDS of dollars to be made in used book sales!

No, mom-n-pops tend to be in business as family tradition, or to be our own bosses, or because we literally love and are happy around what we sell or do. We just want a graceful sufficiency existence off the rat race treadmill. Had we wanted to make money, we’d have gone into health insurance.

Sometimes it’s evident that customers consider statements like those above preludes to haggling, but Jack and I see them as flat disrespect for local businesses.  When haggling is done with mutual respect on both sides, it’s actually fun. It is not fun to deal with people who walk in saying they expect us to join the rest of life in ripping them off. Rather kills the kindness instinct, don’t you know.

Still, sir or madam, you have our deepest sympathies, and let us make you a cuppa–or show you the door, as you prefer. ‘Cause we’re not a corporation–no matter what the federal government says, they’re not people until they have feelings. We are real people, with real feelings, and real pride in our work. We respect out customers.

Which is why we don’t take no shit off them, should the occasion arise. Thank you.

8 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized