Tag Archives: DIY

I am Haunted by Cisterns …

Jack’s weekly guest blog as the haunted househusband of Big Stone Gap’s Little Bookstore…

Regular readers will have been following the refurbishment of our basement and how it tested my construction skills. When I successfully installed an “up-flushing” toilet in what we now call the “caretaker’s flat” (Wendy’s and my cozy hide-away in the bookstore basement) I thought I could rest on my laurels. After all, these places are called rest rooms in America, are they not?

Perhaps through jealousy for all the attention the upstart up-flusher was getting, two of the other three rest rooms in our bookstore promptly developed leaky toilet tanks (caused, I think, by people leaning back against them and disturbing their ancient hardened seals). In addition, the new upstairs kitchen sinks for our Second Story café started leaking! I began to have nightmares about drains, and said as much to Wendy. She looked at me with wifely sympathy and said, “I am haunted by waters.” (That’s the closing line from Norman Maclean’s story A River Runs Through It. She knows I don’t like the book, so it was a double whammy. Hmmph.)

As I tackled these haunting, daunting waters, matters were not helped by numerous trips to our local hardware, and then to Lowe’s, for obscure parts. I should explain that a toilet tank is called a ‘cistern’ in Britain. This caused much confusion-turning-to-merriment amongst the people I asked to help me.

Still and all, the patron saint of plumbers must have noticed me out of the corner of her eye,  because despite not having a clue what I was doing, I successfully fixed first the ancient leaky tanks and then the brand new sinks in the kitchen. Don’t ask me how, or expect any professional advice – I’ve no idea what I did. Perhaps swearing at inanimate fittings DOES work after all!

That was last week. And of course this week, with the polar vortex creating sub-zero temperatures, I’ve been dreading burst pipes. So you can imagine my dismay when our excellent café chef Kelley called down to me recently that there was a ‘leak in the sink’. I sighed inwardly and headed up yet again to do battle with the dreaded drain–to find Kelley working hard to keep a straight face while indicating the sink basin. In it was nestling a leek – of the garden green variety.

Ha ha, very funny. I am haunted by leeks….


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, humor

Should auld acquaintance – – –

Jack’s weekly guest blog –

I know – this guest post is a bit late!

But, hey – last night was Hogmanay!!

That’s one of the most significant nights of the year for Scots all over the world, and we celebrated in style with a houseful of friends, both young and old – er. We exchanged memories of our best moments of 2013 and our hopes for 2014 and played some interesting games (our dear friends Wes and Rach are serious ‘gamers’!). We all finished just after midnight with the obligatory rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – pronounced with an S and not a Z, of course!

So that’s my excuse.

I finally woke up this morning around 9 o’clock to the realization that, not only was it 1/1/2014, but Wendy was in full flow basement flat re-organizing mode. I should know after 15 years that whenever I do some remodeling it doesn’t matter that it isn’t quite finished – furniture has to be moved, and moved, and moved again. So I had to very quickly finish off the last work to the famous basement toilet and get rid of all the tools, wood off-cuts, left over ceiling tiles and numerous garbage sacks in order to clear space for the aforementioned furniture moving. But, wait – we said the bookstore would be open today, and we actually had customers who took us at our word.

Talk about hitting the ground running!

the useful corner

the useful corner

So this is how our life goes – and it’s great. Here’s a couple of pictures of the finished toilet (or rest room as I must remember to call it. Rest room? REST ROOM?? What on earth does that mean!?) And God Bless Us, Every One, in this new year!

the other end

the other end


Filed under bookstore management, crafting, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

My Dreams have Tanked…

DSCN0330Regular readers will recall the saga of the basement remodeling, that led to the second story remodeling, which in turn led to my current dilemma – plumbing. I hate plumbing! Actually it scares me sh*tless!! I have nightmares about plumbing.

Ever since the time the town upgraded their water lines–producing extra water pressure that ended up in half the buildings in town being flooded as joints blew–I’ve been in serious dread. On that occasion I ended up lying in 6 inches of water in our upstairs bathroom, almost naked, holding a joint in the line to the commode while smiling at a young police officer who came in response to Wendy’s 911 call. Then I remodeled that bathroom and had to reposition the commode, which retaliated by dumping a steady stream of sewage directly downstairs one horrible day; fortunately we caught it before anything serious happened. “These books are crap” never came so close to being literal truth.

The latest adventure is the basement toilet. Wendy and I set up housekeeping down there recently, after my creating her a “writing room and yarn containment area” turned into “Why don’t you remodel the whole thing, honey?”

Yes, dear….

Like most basements, the sewage line is at near ceiling height and that required an ‘up-pump’ toilet, which needed a water line, a connection to the drain and running a vent to the outside of the building. I discovered during the process of hooking it up that there are a million different sized pipes described as “half inch” but none of them are and none of them can be connected together. Then we also needed a sink; what is it with sink drains that are a different size from standard?

Just about the last plumbing job was to remove a brick in the wall to allow exit for the vent pipe. (How many of you are now humming Pink Floyd in your heads?) It took me the best part of a day to get that brick out – it was at the top of a double brick foundation and that row had the bricks laid crosswise, so I had to chisel and drill out an awful lot of mortar before that &^%$* would dislodge!

But the scariest moment came switching on the “up-pump” unit. I put it off as long as possible. I knew that the tank had to fill to a certain level before the float would actuate the pump and I had no idea how long that would take.

Wendy is not a hesitater. “When are we going to start using the toilet?” “Is it ready yet? Oh, then when?”

Finally she figured out I was just plain scared, so she did the sympathetic thing a wife does in these circumstances: invited a group of friends over for the ceremonial first flush. “This way, dear, if it’s wrong, you’ll have a support group.”

DSCN0331My wife is a lovely woman….. I keep reminding myself of that.

So there we stood, the moment of truth at hand and me surrounded by well-wishers–or perhaps, in this case, pump-wishers–and me reaching my hand to the handle… no more procrastination, no more excuses, no more stays of execution…

It flushed. It made that sucking sound and the water went down in an elegant swirl, and everyone applauded. Then they went upstairs to have Apple Pie in the cafe.

Wendy kissed me. “We all had confidence in you, dear.”
I stayed behind to spend a moment alone with my toilet. After all, we’ve been together through thick and thin.


December 18, 2013 · 5:16 pm


Jack created our new downstairs bedroom pretty much from scratch. This is what it looked like before he started.

IMG_3508 With two rooms downstairs, he finished the big one for me as an office and yarn storage space. (There’s a blog called “His Square, White Heart” that describes that room, back a few months ago.) But then he began casting his eye on the second space….

How it was at the beginning.

How it was at the beginning.

Well, okay, so maybe I said something like, “What will we do with that smaller room at the back?” Anyway, the point is, he decided it would make a good bedroom. And it does. You can see how smart Jack was about finding all the crevices and getting the most storage space possible. For a hanging closet, we bought an old cedar wardrobe from our friends at Vintage on Main (a secondhand store a couple blocks up). The nice lady who worked there surprised me by putting in a couple of dresses she thought I’d like as a bonus!

So… behold Jack’s handiwork! (He and Bert decided to model for us.)

We used the high shelf behind the bed for shoes and winter blanket storage.

We used the high shelf behind the bed for shoes and winter blanket storage.

In a fit of what we modestly think of as genius, I realized all my wicker baskets that had stored yarn would be useful downstairs in the various crevices. We didn't have to spend money on new ways to store things!

In a fit of what we modestly think of as genius, I realized all my wicker baskets that had stored yarn would be useful downstairs in the various crevices. We didn’t have to spend money on new ways to store things! (You can see the original brick at the back of that chest storage area.)

bedroom 4

We bought those burlap-esque white containers, but we had all the wicker laundry baskets. Those hold our clothes and the white bits serve as the “I don’t have to justify why it’s here” junk pockets. I think this set of shelves was Jack’s greatest stroke of brilliance. The basement walls sloped heavily, with a kind of cement wattle at the bottom and brick at the top. The white wall shows how far in the wattle sloped, but Jack reclaimed the space at the top by installing this shelf.

So the Bookstore goes on above us, and Jack and I have a little hideaway where we can read and relax. Jack still has his office and studio for recording his radio programs on the second floor, and I have my writing retreat downstairs. Soon the SECOND STORY CAFE will open in our former living room, and our second story storage space will turn into a proper functioning kitchen. Life is good!

The little standing lamp next to the bed is one of the finds from Vintage on Main. It really works with the limited space because it overhands my one-foot-square bedside table and leaves me room to pile on BOOKS. (And the occasional kitten)

The little standing lamp next to the bed is one of the finds from Vintage on Main. It works well with the limited space because it overhangs my one-foot-square bedside table and leaves me room to pile on BOOKS (and the occasional kitten).


Filed under animal rescue, crafting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Honey Do – Right Now!

Jack’s weekly guest post

Husbands of a practical turn who live in old rambling houses will be very familiar with the ongoing list of tasks to be accomplished just to keep everything ship-shape, far less the more extensive jobs needed for renovations.

Some four years ago we applied for a license to serve food in the bookstore and this turned up the need for an additional sink in the kitchen area. Assembling all the needed plumbing requirements, I practiced a few essential curses, then set to with a will. Several bashed knuckles and contortions later, it was finished – – almost – –

A drawer unit had been where the new sink was installed, so now the space where the drawer had opened out had no room for the actual drawer. The obvious answer was to take the front off the drawer and fit it as a dummy over the space. Much easier said than done! Eventually a temporary fix was accomplished that worked so long as no one tried to open it. From then on we got used to the sound of the drawer front falling on the floor fairly regularly and I got used to adjusting the not very effective method of holding it in place.

My long-suffering wife regularly asked me to do something permanent about it and just as regularly I promised I would.

Last night was our weekly Needlework Night (AKA ‘Stitch N’ Bitch’)and as I passed briefly through the all female company I heard the familiar sound of the drawer front hitting the floor. Wendy appeared with an expression of determination on her face, saying “WILL you fix that thing properly?”

“Of course dear,” I said, and continued with what I was doing.

Shortly I heard a sound – rrriiipppp, it went – rrriiipppp again, and again. The needleworkers fell silent, eyes fixed on their work. I looked toward the sink area —

–where Wendy was just finishing putting the drawer front very inelegantly but quite firmly in its place. With brown packaging tape.

Maybe you'll fix the darned thing now?

Maybe you’ll fix the darned thing now?

My mother had a favorite story she told me often in her later years:  apparently she, my dad (a house-painter with his own decorating business) and we very young children would visit his widowed mother on Sunday afternoons. On occasion she got up from the table, dipped her finger in the jam-jar, walked over to a piece of loose wallpaper she had been complaining about for ages and stuck it down with jam. Not a word did she say!

It must run in the family (although the drawer front is now firmly and permanently fixed by me, I hasten to add). Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. . . 


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Tutankhamen’s Tomb/Palace

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog

Many folks have been asking for pictures of the refurbished basement, but I’ve been waiting until it was finished (can it ever be truly finished, he said?). Anyway – last night it was finished enough for the Needlework Gang to get a guided tour, so –

How it was at the beginning.

How it was at the beginning.

The 1903 rotted windows.

The 1903 rotted windows.

The ceiling as it was.

The ceiling as it was.

a new wall takes shape

A new wall takes shape

New windows.

New windows.

New ceiling.

New ceiling.

Hardwood floor starts to go down.

Hardwood floor starts to go down.

The entrance to the tomb gets a makeover.

The entrance to the tomb gets a makeover.

An antique mantlepiece and not so antique fire.

An antique mantlepiece and not so antique fire.

Approval!(I think!!)

(I think!!)


Filed under Uncategorized