Tag Archives: Wendy Welch

– – – Work for Idle Hands

Jack’s weekly guest blog post –

February (and just imagine a Scotsman’s pronunciation of that word) is always a quiet time in the bookstore as far as customer numbers is concerned. But don’t let that fool you!

This is the time when bookstore owners take care of all the jobs that there’s little space for during the busier months. That’s why we chose now to lay the new floor covering in the bookstore kitchen area.

It’s when we give the place a good clean from top to bottom, look at whether the shelving is appropriate or any repairs are needed, fix that dribbling toilet tank.

Then there are the books we have listed on-line to be re-checked to see if the prices are still competitive and whether any need to be culled and re-shelved in the shop. While we’re doing that we need to check whether customers have also re-shelved any books inappropriately and move them back to their rightful places. This is also a good time to check the alphabetizing by author in the various sections – we don’t have a computerized database of our stock, so that makes it much easier to find things when customers have a specific request.

One of the reasons why this month is quiet is because it’s just so damned cold out, so this is also when we check all the windows and doors for draughts and proof them where necessary.

But just because there are fewer customers doesn’t mean there are none at all, so we still have to make sure that the shop is accessible. The room where all our Westerns are located lies beyond the area that we re-floored and, of course, two customers specifically came looking for Westerns as we were in the middle of that!

Finally, just because there are fewer bookstore customers doesn’t mean there are fewer café clients looking for lunch, so the menu gets tweaked to suit the weather with hearty soups and warming chillies and we create more evening events with themed dinners.

How many other bookstore owners out there are following a similar regime this time of year?

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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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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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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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The Monday Book – –

Jack’s guest Monday book post –

We Almost Lost Detroit – John G. Fuller

We get lots of older paperbacks into the store pretty regularly and I often find myself dipping into one or two when I’m looking for something to read.

This caught my eye as soon as it came in because I’ve always had pretty mixed feelings about nuclear power and, of course, it’s not so long since the Fukushima ‘incident’!

The book was written specifically about the building of the Enrico Fermi plant back in the 1950s but really goes much wider and examines the dilemma surrounding the whole subject. I should admit right away that my inclination is in favor of renewable energy – solar, wind, wave and tidal, and I’m proud that my homeland of Scotland pioneered hydro-electric power and is very close to being completely self sufficient in renewable energy. I should also say that I was born and grew up in a coal mining area and live now in another one – another piece of the dilemma!

For anyone who has followed the stories of Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima this book will prove somewhat depressing. That’s because everything that happened in these places is clearly foretold in Fuller’s book. What the book sets out very clearly is that no nuclear power plant is completely safe. They are subject to human error at every stage from design through operation and cannot be completely guarded against natural disasters or malicious attacks.

What I’m actually really surprised about is how even handed Fuller is. He is clear that he believes even the private industry leaders who were pushing forward with plans to build the plants were motivated by the best of intentions. He suggests that they also wanted to balance the fear engendered by the atom bomb with a more hopeful peaceful use for the same source of energy. But he goes on to paint a picture of government and corporations caught up in a self generating spiral involving insurance, construction and power companies as well as the usual very shady politics!

The book details many very scary episodes where mere seconds made the difference between a few deaths and thousands and involving tales of distorted metal rods and poor welds.

Finally – part of this story is about arguments over how much the public could or should be told. Some things never change – – –

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A Window on the World

Jack makes a plea in his weekly guest post –

I’m prompted to write on this particular subject because of a book I’ve just read, a memoir by a prison librarian. But this isn’t the Monday Book post, so that will have to wait for now.

I’m a member of Prison Visitation and Support (PVS), set up to provide a visitation service for all Federal prisoners, including those in both civilian and military prisons.

I joined up four years ago as part of a three person team based around the Quaker group that meets monthly in the bookstore and we all visit prisoners at the local Federal prison. Each of us visits two prisoners on each visit and they are mostly men who are either in for a very long time or forever. They have asked for visits because, for a variety of reasons, they have no-one else.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there are nowhere near enough of us around the country to visit all the prisoners asking.

I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would you? Why would anyone want to spend sometimes considerable time and expense traveling to an isolated spot maybe hours from home to spend an hour with someone who has committed a terrible crime (often murder, drug dealing or armed robbery?) The answer is frequently hard to take but true, nevertheless. They are human beings and we are the only people with whom they can have contact who are not part of their prison network; the only people who can provide a momentary glimpse of the outside world through a neutral window.

PVS is supported by all the major religious groups as well as many non-religious ones; the board includes representatives of these, plus ex prisoners and ex Wardens. It has an excellent relationship with The Department of Justice and this means we have a great working relationship with our local prison.

That said, we don’t specifically talk about religion and that’s not the organization’s purpose. Actually we are more listeners than talkers.

All this may sound wonderful and uplifting, but there are caveats. If you have any tendency to claustrophobia this isn’t for you. Once the various doors have locked behind you, you are as much a prisoner as the folk you are visiting. It’s also very draining–as Wendy will tell you, because when I come home from visiting she hands me a Scotch and leaves me for a few hours to re-surface. It isn’t physically difficult because you sit across the table from your visitee with absolutely no distractions (no TV or magazines or books or anything) and have an hour to talk. Then all over again with the second one. Yet that can be very hard work! In addition there may be unexpected counts or your prisoners be delayed by internal activities. While you wait for maybe an hour or more you also have nothing to distract you – just an empty table and walls.

If this seems rather intimidating or uninviting, there’s an upside.

Once you have started visiting a particular prisoner, that continues until one of a number of things happen: they are released, they are transferred to another prison, or they ask for no more visits. As a result you might be visiting monthly with the same two guys (and ours is an all male prison) for years. That has been the case for me. My experience has often (though not always) meant meaningful conversations with really interesting characters. One of them had escaped many times from State prisons before ending in the Federal system. He could write a best-seller about digging tunnels.

There are some prisons in remote parts of the country that have no PVS visitors at all and all the others have waiting lists of prisoners who want visits. We have our own waiting list and urgently need some more to join our little group. If you are interested you can contact me through this blog or check out the PVS website – http://prisonervisitation.org/

“I was in prison and you visited me” Now, who was it said that……

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Food for Thought

Jack’s weekly guest post homes in on gastronomic reminders –

It’s sometimes surprising the connections that can be made in our local supermarket, and I don’t mean the people you bump into.

Our Good Chef Kelley, owner of The Second Story Cafe here above the bookstore, often shops for us when she’s getting in her cafe provisions, and sometimes surprises us with something she thought we’d specially like. Imagine our astonishment when she triumphantly ploncked down two packs of Mull of Kintyre mature cheese in front of us a few weeks ago. – Mull of Kintyre, for goodness sake!

The Mull of Kintyre is a hard-to-get-to promontory in the Southwest of Scotland, within sight of the North of Ireland. It’s most famous for two things: it was part of the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada, which composed the SW of Scotland and Antrim in Ireland as well as the sea between; and Paul McCartney (remember him?) who owns a house there and wrote what is probably his worst ever song about the place!

Paul’s song is affectionately known as ‘Mulligan’s Tire’ in Scotland, so the label on the cheese is rather clever and subtle (do you get it?)

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And then there’s the San Daniele Prosciutto Wendy came home with from a business trip to Abingdon (a wealthy town about an hour away) last week, which immediately took me back to Friuli in NE Italy where my old group Heritage had such great times playing at FolkEst back in the eighties. We were based in San Daniele and looked after royally by the lovely guy who’s family owned the most respected prosciutto place in town. I love the stuff and was gob smacked when Wendy handed me the packet.

There’s our long-running search for Romanian Pinot Noir, which we fell in love with when we were both working there temporarily, way back in 2002. We were delighted to find when we got back to Scotland that the local Tesco supermarket not only stocked it but it was the very same brand – Prahova Valley. Since moving to Virginia we’ve spent years trying to persuade the local supermarket – – –

I didn’t mention Patak’s hot curry paste, or elderflower presse, or McVittie’s plain chocolate digestives, or, or, – – –

Something about food just transports us back to special places and times, doesn’t it? The good news is, with the exception of the Romanian Pinot, our sweet little local Food City (owned by KVAT) has mostly managed to get in these items. They also try to buy produce from local farmers, regionally specific to each of their stores.

Here’s to supporting the local guys! We really need to send them a bottle of the Prahova Valley next time we find it online…..

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