Category Archives: crafting

The Masked Super Heroes

Jack produces his Wednesday guest blog on Wednesday for a change –

Most of you may know that Wendy is the Director of a medical non-profit organization, and in the current emergency situation, she is working from home. In observing her, I’m amazed at how she has turned her job around into coordinating the supply of PPEs to all the folk she is connected to in hospitals and health centers around SW Virginia.

mask (2)

She has crafters making masks and is contacting suppliers around the world for more. From the minute she wakes up until we go to bed she is constantly on the phone handling all this. Lot’s of times she’s batting off the inevitable bureaucratic barriers (many swear words involved). But still she battles on! Getting the supplies to where they’re most needed.

This is a difficult time for everyone, but never more so than for health workers. They are in the front line of this and are taking enormous risks to keep the rest of us safe and treated professionally. But they, perhaps more than anyone, need to be protected.

Wendy has taken on this task and I couldn’t be prouder of her!

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Filed under between books, crafting, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

There’s Ayewis Some’hin’

Jack is very late this week with his Wednesday post – – –

Following the thorough disassembling, cleaning and rebuilding of our dishwasher yesterday I got to thinking of all the things we’ve done here since moving in just over a year ago.

The first job was to install a cat flap so our felines could access the fully enclosed porch. Then it was redecorating the library and guest room. Soon after was when we discovered Paul, everyone’s handyman and he created our extra parking area off the driveway. Then I constructed our fire pit in the back yard.

fire

Next was building the shed to house our riding mower –

shed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then trimming the trees that were about to bring down our power line and telephone line.

branches

Replacing the washing machine was only thanks to good friends with muscle power!

Talking of friends reminds me that we’ve found many good ones here in Wytheville while managing to retain our existing ones in Big Stone Gap.

Two friends – one from near here and one from Big Stone – helped us replace our lovely Narnia style back yard lamp post recently.

lamp

Just before that we had two big trees taken down and another two trimmed back. They were all ominously close to either our house and garage or our neighbor’s.

I almost forgot the rebuilding of our antique and rotted benches –

bench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly it’s been just us, but sometimes with help and occasionally with professionals.

The next job will be completely re-doing the bathroom – so definitely professionals!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Pies Have It!

Jack scrapes through – – –

People often ask me if I miss anything about Scotland. Well, of course. But when I go back every year the thing I really go straight for is the food.

Full Scottish breakfasts with bacon, eggs, black pudding, haggis and baked beans – great Indian curries – steak bridies (think calzone, but Scottish) – fish and chips – and Scotch pies.

I do my best over here to get close to all these. Recently I learned how to replicate Indian restaurant base curry sauce and make a big batch to freeze regularly. I can manage an occasional full Scottish breakfast. Fish and chips requires the secret batter and lard, but I can do that when the planets align.

A steak bridie would be the ultimate challenge though – imagine a savory turn-over with small chunks of steak in a delicious brown sauce, a bit of savory onion in the mix….mmmmm. The only folk I know who make them are Stephens of Dunfermline and they are rightly famous for their recipe. My next big challenge will be to try and replicate it.

What about the pies, I hear you ask?

Over here pies are usually sweet – in Scotland these would be called tarts. Over there a pie would have meat of some kind, and a ‘Scotch pie’ would have minced beef (ground beef) along with onion and a variety of (secret) herbs and spices.

Just recently my friend Trevor finished a year at St Andrews University and came home with the recipe. He made a batch while I was bunking at his place, and I was instantly back there. Of course I had to give it a try, and with some guidance from him I managed to do no’ bad.

It’s messy and time consuming, and there’s no guarantee of success, but I’ve made two lots now and they’re worth the effort.

The pastry is flour, frozen butter, ice water and egg. Freezing the butter is key. The filling is a secret. We will be having them along with haggis and other delicacies at the Burns Supper on January 25th at Oracle Books here in Wytheville.

pies

 

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Filed under between books, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Not Fade Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday post reverts again to default Thursday – tsk, tsk – – –

Long lost and broken tape.

Back in 1997 just before Wendy and I married we visited my Mum and recorded her memories. She was almost ninety years old by then and although she was beginning to fail a bit her long term memory was still good.

I had tried a few times to record her stories but she always dried up as soon as the microphone appeared. However Wendy was an experienced folklorist with lots of skill in putting people at ease in these kind of situations.

So we ended up with almost an hour of wonderful stories about her early life, my early life, her father and grandfather and much more.

Dad - RAF

Bill – my Dad

Mum

Alice – my Mom

Just a few days ago my niece asked about the tape and coincidentally I had just found it again. So I went to copy it onto my computer and archive it more safely. To my horror I found that at some point in the past the tape had broken. I was mortified and full of guilt!

Out came the tiny screwdriver and apart came the cassette. After hours of painstaking work and endless attempts to re-thread the now repaired tape through the various wheels and gates it finally went together again. But would it work and had I done everything correctly?

I knew that it only had to play once but would it?

I plucked up courage, booted up the computer, opened the program, then hit play on the cassette machine. There was nothing but a hiss! I took out the cassette and it had survived OK. The only thing was to fast forward to the end and turn it over, but would it handle that without breaking again?

It did survive and I turned it and hit play – and out came Mum’s voice as if she was right there in the room!

It seems we only recorded one side and put the label on the other side. The break, instead of being near the beginning was actually at the end, so nothing was lost. But the odd thing is that the start clearly leads from a previous tape, so there’s another one I need to find now.

I’m pleased to say that the recording is not only on the computer but also up in my DropBox in the sky, and as soon as I find that other cassette it will go there as well. I just hope I don’t have to use that wee screwdriver again!

The moral? Get these fragile cassettes digitized and saved safely or you will regret it!

 

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Filed under between books, blue funks, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Per Ardua ad Astra et Pictorum

Jack just makes it again – – –

A few weeks ago, I blogged about house painters and decorators and briefly mentioned my dad.

Dad - RAF

Early in the RAF.

So, here’s a fuller story about him as an artist-craftsman –

William Beck (usually known as Bill or Willy) was born in Govan, in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of a ship’s painter. Govan was the center of Shipbuilding on the Clyde and the Clyde was the center of shipbuilding in the world then. Painting ships was fairly rough industrial painting, but Bill was destined for much higher-class stuff.

He moved to Fife at a fairly young age and entered apprenticeship as a decorative painter. In these days (the early 1900s) an apprenticeship lasted at least seven years. Once he’d finished his time he was employed by Henry Hoggan and Son, the most prestigious and high class painting and decorating company in Dunfermline. He quickly progressed to be their expert in interior design – color coordination, mural drawing, Church decoration, marbling, wood-graining, sign-lettering etc, etc – – –

His training had included time at Edinburgh art college where he’d studied color theory, Greek and Roman design, calligraphy, water color painting and much more. A true renaissance man and a student of the marriage between art and craft!

When WW2 came along he volunteered for the RAF and spent most of the war in Egypt where his skills were employed painting the identification numbers and letters on planes and lettering maps.

After demobilization he set up a decorating business in partnership with another ex-employee of Hoggan’s – Tom Anderson. Tom was the expert in painting and wallpapering, while Bill was the artistic one.

During all this time and even while he was in Egypt he was doing excellent water color paintings – mostly portraits but later on a good many landscapes too.

Around the time that I left school and started my apprenticeship, Tom Anderson retired and Bill continued as the sole partner. In these days before DIY took hold around half the work was in private houses and half was contracts to paint government offices, hospitals and schools. The firm usually employed around five or six time-served craftsmen and two or three apprentices (of which I was one). Because the work ranged from ‘high end’ domestic to fairly basic industrial my apprenticeship gave me a good grounding. Bill built up a successful sideline in lettering shop signs and vehicle lettering and often took me along, so that added another string to my bow.

He continued to work very actively right up until he retired and I remember many occasions when he clambered up a ladder and over roofs while the rest of us looked on in amazement.

One of his proudest moments, though, was after I started teaching painting and decorating in the local college. He had always wanted to do that but had never had the opportunity, so I brought him in as a guest to demonstrate his marbling and wood graining skills. By that time he was quite sick, but he put on a great display to an appreciative audience (and boosted my reputation no end!).

In the last few years of his life he kept himself occupied by continuing to paint water colors and did all his own mounting and framing. We’re delighted to have a number hanging on our walls!

Now my mother – – –  There’s a story for a future post!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Why I didn’t Dye my Shorts

Several of you have been following the Black Walnut saga. We have five trees dropping what might by now be a literal metric ton of walnuts onto our lawn and over our fence onto the garden of the polite but annoyed lady next door. (Jack spoke with her; we have a plan.)

Black walnuts are almost completely usable for good things (hulls: hog feed and herbicide on plants you don’t like; part between hulls and shells, a rich brown-to-purple dye; shells for abrasive cleaning of brass and other high-end products, also make great mulch; nuts for eating or making oil). How could we pass up this opportunity? So Jack and I gathered four great buckets of them, and I sat down last week to start the hulling.

Jack took one look at the maggots and cut a deal; I hull, he shells. He likes working with a hammer and a vise. Creepy white worms don’t bother me; I’ve picked my share out of cat wounds.

My friends Elissa and Kathy sent advice: wait for the hulls to dry and crack open on their own, and life got simpler. Yes, it did. So this weekend I did almost twice as many hulls just by leaving them out to dry. After the simple hulling, I had this huge pot of rich brown liquid….

IMG_8263… so I ran and grabbed some cotton and synthetic yarn, and did a little experimenting. It was fun. My friend Fiona gave me some pointers on how different yarns should be prepped, and that worked well.

IMG_8248The thing you have to know about black walnuts is, they’re mis-named. Everything they touch is going to turn brown: your fingers, your yarns, the storage baskets, the clothes you work in.

In fact, I was highly tempted to throw my white shorts in the pot along with the yarn, but….

…you know how sometimes people see religious figures in burn spots or fridge mold and such?

Well, how do you explain this? IMG_5722

That’s right, PUSHEEN himself!!!!

So I couldn’t throw my shorts in.  But I did grab a Sharpie, so all my doubting friends could share this special moment.

BEHOLD!

IMG_8267 You’re welcome.

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Filed under crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Great Walnut Massacre of 2019

When we moved to Wytheville, we inherited an inordinately large yard, raised garden beds and herbal paths and mature fruit tress and all. Everything looked really cool but we had no idea how to take care of them.

Jack and I like plants that have to be contained rather than cultivated, like mint; it beats up other sprouts and takes their lunch money. You don’t have to do anything except go out every six months after a hard rain and pull it up until you can find the wheelbarrow you left there last time.

My former student Erin agreed to give us her expertise (she is a gardening consultant) which resulted in a good news/bad news scenario.

“You have five black walnut trees in excellent condition. You won’t be able to grow tomatoes or peppers back there, but you will never lack for Christmas flavoring.” Erin also pointed out that black walnuts fetch a hefty price at farmer’s markets and sustainable living swaps – mostly because they’re such hard work.

IMG_8252“I’m not gonna lie to you; they stink while curing and they stain your hands, and the best way to crack them is to line your driveway and back an SUV over them. I’m not sure your Prius is heavy enough.”

Thank you, Erin. You had me at “hefty price.” Free money falling from trees sounded like “cat spays from heaven.” I duly read up (ok, watched several youtube videos) on how to harvest black walnuts.

The green-to-brown outer shell of the walnut is the easy part; you just rip it off, as much as you can, and then you wash the inner hard shell (very similar to what people see when they buy whole English walnuts) and hang them up to cure for a couple of weeks. Then you back the car over them and harvest the nutmeat.

Yesterday, armed with rubber gloves, a steel pot, three buckets of nuts, and six layers of bug spray, I initiated part one of Project Pioneer Woman Goes Nuts. IMG_8251

The websites suggested not getting too ambitious first time out. “This is a lot of work.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Twelve minutes in (equaling about four walnuts with their outer hulls removed) the fingertips of my gloves were gone, my nailbeds were a deep rich brown, and I had discovered the maggots.

Here’s the conundrum: if the outer nut is too green, it’s so hard to get into, you give up. After all, there are about 100 nuts per square foot in the yard; toss the troublesome ones “someplace where you don’t want plants to grow” advise the harvesting videos. Turns out, the stuff between the outer and inner shell is an excellent herbicide.

Pondering how a plant could produce a herbicide kept my mind occupied those first twelve minutes, but never mind. Making a midden pile of shells atop a troublesome Pokeweed patch made me feel bio-savvy. Kill two plants with one shell.

The brown hulls, the ones you can actually rip open with your fingers, are soft because of the maggots. They get between the two shells and go to town. Whole towns of them, all living together making roads and ditches and other maggot infrastructure. On the one hand, hulling their nut towns is easier, but on the other, you are literally brushing maggots off your fingers.

The videos of those nice green sustainable living people never showed maggots…

About an hour in, having made peace with the white crawly things and killed at least one pokeweed plant from the sheer weight of 40 walnut hulls, my left forefinger began to hurt. Badly. As though I had jammed a nail or something.

By then the gloves were a distant memory, so I soldiered on for a wee while before realizing something was seriously wrong. My finger was wafting waves of hot, sharp pain up my arm.

Imagination filled in: one of the smaller creepy white things had gotten up under the nailbed and was even now burrowing toward my heart. Death was imminent–and likely to be not only gross and painful, but the kind that gets written up at conferences in ways that make doctors laugh. “Here’s another Darwin award winner, this one with the old black walnut routine.”

Headed in to see if I could either flush out the creature, rip off my nail, or write a will before it got into the left ventricle, I informed Jack he was about to be a widower.

He looked at my finger. “Are you sure this isn’t a sting? Because, see that little thing there?”

Turns out, there are many critters that love walnuts. I am still alive, and can type. Jack has promised to process the rest of the nuts. He isn’t allergic to bee stings. I am sitting quietly, typing my will. The walnuts will be for sale in mid-October. IMG_8250

 

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Filed under crafting, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch