Tag Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Remodeling #10

 

Jack’s weekly guest post –

Since we moved in here ten years ago we (and that means mostly I) have carried out some serious building projects. Some were simply needed because of the age of the building (built in 1903), some we chose to do and others were needed to meet certain legal requirements.

The first was redecorating most of the upstairs to make that area pleasant as living quarters, then I walled in the open car port to turn it into a garage complete with a window and an ‘up and over’ main door. Next was building a disabled ramp at the side of the porch and then re-shingling the roof. The upstairs bathroom got a complete make-over and shortly after we got a grant to completely renovate the front porch. We had earlier built a fire escape stair from upstairs which doubled as access to the yard for our dogs Zora and Bert, which turned out to be handy when we opened The Second Story Café.

Before we opened the café I had turned our dismal and cobwebby basement into our new living quarters (that’s chronicled in an earlier blog post) but I also had to install additional sinks and an extraction system in the upstairs kitchen. We had never had a separate heat and air system upstairs, so the advent of the café meant fitting a heat pump in the attic, running ducts to all the rooms and cutting holes in all the ceilings (very messy!).

Most of these jobs were interesting and challenging and I felt a definite sense of pride in my contribution to them although confirmed in my nervousness about plumbing and electrical work.

However, the latest jobs I had been putting to the end of the queue for years. The downstairs kitchen and bathroom both had old worn and curling vinyl flooring and I had been dreading fixing them. The first to be done was the bathroom and I used a floating planks system that proved much easier than I expected, so then it was time for the kitchen. We had divided this room with bookshelves as well as installing more along the walls on one side, so all the books had to be boxed and stored wherever we could find a corner followed by removing all the shelving into the garage. My good friend David Hamrick had arrived on Friday to help me and Wendy began boxing books on Saturday. By Sunday lunchtime we had all the books and shelves out and had started laying the new floor – more floating planks. By Monday afternoon we had the floor finished and the shelves back in place and this morning the last of the books were back.

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The old floor

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– and the new one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m absolutely sure of one thing though – there’s another job just waiting around the corner!

 

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Filed under bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Best Laid Plans – – –

– sometimes go very well indeed

We had our annual Burns Supper on Friday evening, celebrating the life and works of Scotland’s national poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns. Everyone agreed it was one of the best we’d held over the 10 years we’ve been doing it. Well attended, excellent speakers, wonderful food and smoothly flowing throughout.

shuttle pipes

Randy Stanley – our resident piper

memory

Alex Long delivered ‘The Immortal Memory’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lassies

Sandy Huguenin proposed the Toast to the Lassies and Chef Kelley Pearson responded.

songs

Wendy and I sang some Burns songs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

haggis

Chef Kelley excelled with Cock-a-Leekie soup, haggis, tatties n’ neeps and shepherds pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dessert

The ‘piece de resistance’ – Scottish cheesecake on a shortbread base topped with cranachan and a raspberry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s to next year – y’all come – – –

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Jack’s weekly guest post.

In which Jack moans about the weather –

Well – I woke up this morning to a blanket of snow, it hasn’t stopped yet and there’s more on the way. You would think that, coming from Scotland, I’d be used to it!

The trouble is that I come from the lowlands and not only that but most of my life I lived close enough to the Forth estuary to get the ‘salt water effect’, which usually kept the snow away. That changed when Wendy and I got married and moved to higher ground that was a bit further inland. Almost every year after that our village got snowed in good and proper for a couple of weeks every January or February and we weren’t a high enough priority to warrant early attention from the county snow plow; and since we lived up the only side road, when the plow eventually went through it created an even bigger bank of snow across the end of it!

That pattern seems to have followed us to Big Stone Gap and this is shaping up to be the third winter when we will replay our experiences of New Gilston.

Last year we had a series of storms every couple of days that eventually dumped nearly three feet of snow and had the whole area shut down for weeks. The town administration eventually ran out of grit and salt so their best efforts (and they were mighty) were eventually in vain.

It’s not so bad as we live below the shop, we have plenty of supplies in, the liquor store is across the street and the supermarket is within walking distance.

However, Wendy’s job required her to drive to Richmond and remain there until Friday, which is when an even bigger snowstorm is due and forecast to last through Sunday, so she is very likely to be delayed getting home.

Meanwhile I am preparing to make a big batch of Chicken Madras curry which is my comfort food of choice and will keep me happy and warm me as I watch the snow piling up outside.

curry

Y’all take care out there, dress warm and don’t drive if you don’t have to!

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

Cooking the Books

 

Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store

 

Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).

 

So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!

 

But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?

 

Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.

 

1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.

 

2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.

 

I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.

 

I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!

 

I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.

 

The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.

 

(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).

 

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The Monday Book: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Chaim Potok

I discovered Potok in high school, and entered a world very different from my own. (And isn’t that part of why we read, to find the places where things are so very different, yet common threads run through them?) Hasidic Judaism and big cities are neither one familiar to me, and yet the points on which this story turns are accessible because they’re based on human connections. What I read as lovely background, people from other communities and cities would read as familiarity; perhaps Potok’s genius lies in depicting a world so well, people from both sides of the window can see it without distortion.

Potok has a lovely way of just telling his story, and letting you think what you will. He almost writes like a literary television: here is the scene. What, you don’t understand the facial expression on the protagonist? Well, figure it out.

I really, really like writing that gives the reader his/her own sovereignty. Asher Lev is about a brilliant kid who, if you want to put it in simple terms, was kind of born into the wrong family. Except he wasn’t. They love him, but he’s… wrong for their way of life. He’s a very gifted artist in a family that doesn’t even have pictures in the house because of strict beliefs. His genius leads him to create a division in his family that causes all sorts of things, including a betrayal of his religious identity and, ultimately, his parents. He betrays his father by painting his mother, while his whole life is one long, slow betrayal of her, as she stood between the two of them and helped her son achieve greatness. In doing so, she gave him the tools to cut his father to the core. It’s an amazing story.

But the whole story is told from Asher’s point of view, much of it as a child, so it flows past in the background while he concentrates on making art. He’s something between a straight shooter and an unreliable narrator. When his parents won’t buy him paint, he takes him mother’s coffee and cigarette ashes and uses them with pencil to create a color effect, without recognizing what his father sees, watching him do that. Did you see the scene in the film Billy Elliot, where the dad–opposed to his son’s dancing all this time–watches him break into dance in their kitchen, and gives up?

Asher is a sickly kid, but his mom is pursuing a PhD at the behest of the Reb, and his father is deeply involved in politics and even some clandestine missions on behalf of the community. None of which this child cares about. He’s painting. It makes an interesting read, and a conflicting experience as to whether Asher is a heroic protagonist or not.

The story reminds me a little bit of an essay called “The Monster,” about what a horrible person Wagner was and how incredible his music is. Asher Lev is a book sort of like Vanity Fair, one of my other favorites. It has many heroes and none.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, VA

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – –

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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

The Monday Book: PATRON SAINT OF UGLY by Maria Manilla

ugly coverThe author of this book is a facebook friend of mine, and I got it directly from her by request, because I like books set in Appalachia and wanted to review it. It’s a  magical realism romp, set in Sweetwater, West Virginia. Normally I’m not much for magical realism, but the cast of character in Ugly just won’t quit, from the indomitable Nonna to her fierce-yet-naive granddaughter Garnet Ferrari.

Garnet has a mop of flaming red hair, and the port-wine stains all over her body replicate a map of the world. Pilgrims flock to her home, convinced that she is pretty much the reincarnation of Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and other miracles. (Along with truth and lies, theology gets a little tangled with practicalities in this funny, fast book.) Garnet, used to being an outcast and the victim of bullies, doesn’t have much use for people, but all those poor unfortunates give her pause. She’d really like to just convince them this is all hooey, and they should go home, but at the same time she doesn’t want to hurt them.

It doesn’t help that the family has origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, where another saint named Garnet once presided, so the Vatican sends an emissary to investigate. Garnet’s written responses on the questionnaire to the investigating priest are some of the funniest bits in the book. Slowly she untangles a sad history of family rights and wrongs, learning that reality and myth blend in every family, and that love doesn’t always conquer all, even if it helps.

I like snarky writing, so enjoyed Garnet and Nonna’s interactions particularly well. Nonna, so patient, so reasonable, so astute behind that little-old-lady innocence, is the perfect foil for Garnet’s “please go away” attitude.

If you like magical realism, if you think Michael Malone’s Handling Sin is funny, if you love to read snappy dialogue from quirky characters, if you like bittersweet humor, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing