Tag Archives: gardening

Everything’s Coming up Roses – –

It’s Jack’s Wednesday guest post – and it’s on a Wednesday for a change!

It’s that time of year again – When we can watch the grass grow and try desperately to stay ahead of all the yard work.

We had an abnormally cool and rainy spring here, so the transition to days of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s has been rather abrupt this year. But we didn’t have the usual late frost, so we will have a very abundant apple and pear crop. Even the sad old peach tree, although on her last legs, will have a crop of some sort it appears. Apparently peach trees have a limited life and just die naturally then have to be replaced. On the other hand, the apple tree I thought I might have pruned to death a couple of years ago has recovered well – swings and roundabouts.

Our good friend David came over from NC recently and prepared our front garden so Wendy has been scattering flower seeds there, while our heirloom tomatoes are ready to be planted along the back yard fence. We couldn’t possibly have grown tomatoes outside in Scotland, far less the peppers we will plant out front here.

But summer here also brings fairly regular thunderstorms that test the efficacy of our gutters. I already know that a couple are sagging in the wrong place, so that’s another urgent job that will have to be fitted in between mowing and weed-whacking. At least we now have a weed-whacker that actually starts and runs happily as well as having the easiest string replacement system I’ve ever come across. We have another two in the shed that never worked properly!

Wendy and I have an old friend in Scotland (who lives in a house that features regularly throughout the ‘Outlander’ TV series) and he sends end-of-the-year newsletters annually that are always full of doom and gloom. Reading back through this post it looks a little like that, so – –

Just for the record, I’m very happy to live where the summers are warm and mostly sunny and the winters are no worse than Scotland!

I just remembered I need to get gas for the mower – – –

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: SLOW LOVE by Dominique Browning

I really like memoirs, so when Browning’s came in with the charming title, “How I lost my job, put in my pajamas, and learned to enjoy life” I packed it on a recent flight. (It is also smaller than the average trade paperback.)

Although following a predictable pattern – NYC insider gets the boot because of hard times – what I liked about the book was Browning’s meta-writing: slow, lyrical sentences to illustrate how her life slowed down, picked up on music and gentle living, and added some herbs.

Granted, Browning is wealthy. Even though she wrote about the fear of the plummeting stock market harming her retirement savings, well, she had savings. And another house to move into that she could afford to renovate. Etc. This is a yuppie memoir.

And beautifully written. Her lazy, gentle sentences don’t meander. They are densely packed with words you might have to look up every now and then. Her observations are pithy but not concise. I found myself following her for the way she told the story, not the story she was telling.  Browning is a writer’s writer.

Following my quest to find how other writers handle making the inaccessible (or at least the non-experienced) interesting to readers who don’t share the passion of the book, I read Browning to the end, and enjoyed it. If you like lyrical writing and peeking at others’ strange lives, this is a good one for those of us who don’t live, and don’t care to think about living, in Manhattan.

A full bouquet of home-grown roses for Dominique Browning’s SLOW LOVE.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, VA, writing

The Green Green Grass of Home – – –

In Jack’s weekly guest post he continues to complain – whit’s he like?

One of the things I’ve never really got used to living here, is the rate that everything suddenly starts growing once the temperature rises and the summer thunderstorms hit. I mean grass, weeds and things that might or might not be weeds. One of our regular customers paused to admire some mint that’s taking over part of the front yard and asked if she could volunteer her daughters to ‘tidy up’. Please, please I said!

Between running the bookstore, an annual tour of Scotland, an annual Celtic festival, a weekly radio show and trying to keep on top of the upkeep of a 1903 building, there’s little time left for gardening.

The irony, of course, is that even if we had the time and inclination, we are actually completely useless gardeners. We grow tomato plants from seed and then plant them out where they quickly die – same with most other things – potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, peppers – – -. We rarely even keep house-plants going for any time.

Meanwhile that pesky grass needs mowing, and the weeds need whacking – assuming I don’t expire trying to get the mower and weed-whacker started!

But wait! “What light through yonder window breaks – – – -”

So yes – Sunshine is good and so is the lack of snow, not to mention longer days and tee-shirt temperatures. I’ll fly into Edinburgh this Monday morning and will be reminded of that quite forcibly I suspect! So I can’t complain can I?

“Sumer is icumen in – – – -“


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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

To Boldly Go – – –

Jack’s weekly guest post –


Wendy and I were in Washington DC recently and, while she was attending to business, I got myself down to the air and space museum on the National Mall. It was the second time I’d been and the earlier visit some five years ago was of necessity brief. On this occasion I had three hours to spare and saw pretty much everything I’d missed last time.

I should explain here that I’m a sucker for anything to do with flying and have frittered away many hours of my life building model planes (the airborne variety).

Just inside the entrance to the museum sit many of the space exhibits, including the early capsules. I had never stood that close to one before, and I was astonished by what I saw. Here was a flimsy cone-shaped object barely bigger than the chair it enclosed, filled with very 1960s technology – toggle switches and dials that wouldn’t look out of place in a car of that era. A man sat in that thing and was shot into space, where he sailed along completely dependent on the calculations of colleagues sitting thousands of miles away. How on earth (ha!) could anyone do that?! Even the later moon landing vehicles aren’t all that much bigger, and still look incredibly fragile.

Carrying on through the museum I viewed the other machines, from the Wright Brothers’ famous Flyer through the early airliners and the first jet planes. The common thread was just how flimsy and ‘basic’ they all seemed. After visiting the museum, how anyone can get into a modern airliner without a pang of fear is beyond me.

So what connects the Wright brothers and their ilk to folk like Neil Armstrong? I can only presume that it’s complete confidence in the design of the craft that carries them and a sense that they’re breaking through a barrier – “to boldly go – – -”

Now, the odder question: what connects these space ramblings to our bookstore – apart from me indulging my love of flying machines?

We had a couple of visitors from Northern Virginia in the shop yesterday, market gardeners who are active in promoting community sustainability from the ground up (literally). While talking to them I suddenly got a picture in my mind of that famous photo of Earth taken by one of the astronauts from space. You all know the one I mean – with the beautiful greens and blues and all the continents in full view. If I remember correctly the astronaut was overcome by the sight and felt compelled to appeal to everyone back on the planet to take good care of it. An appeal to everyone!

So here’s to the brave people who got into those flimsy flying machines and soared, and here’s to the earthbound brave souls who hoe the rows in front of them. And here’s to keeping our beautiful, fragile Earth around for a few hundred more years?


Filed under Uncategorized

The SW Virginia Chainsaw Massacre

Jack’s Wednesday blog

I’ve always regarded gardening as a Calvinist punishment: namely, being rewarded for past or future sins.

Most of my life I lived in West Fife, an area of Scotland where you could dig up a lump of dirt from anywhere, shape it into something, leave it in the pale Scottish sun and whack it with a hammer the next day. It wouldn’t break. Solid clay, in fact. Weeds grew at amazing speeds, but nothing else would.

So, lots of backbreaking digging in the sure knowledge that it would result in nothing except more weeds means that I’ve never had much enthusiasm for gardening.

IMG_3606Fast forward to six plus years ago, when we moved in here at the bookstore and inherited an orchard out back: three apple trees, a peach tree and a pear tree. All heirlooms (which I’m told is ‘good’). We also inherited an enormous harvest of fruit. We still have some in the freezer.

But these trees GROW! And how!! In every direction!!!

Not being a confident gardener I’ve been nervous of pruning these trees. But last year we just couldn’t reach them all in the forest of branches, and the weight of the fruit was bending the side branches almost to the ground. And we couldn’t get in to cut the grass. The dogs loved it; who knows what unspeakable mischief they got up to in their secret playhouse?

IMG_3631So a few weeks ago, having finished the basement remodeling and looking around for something to do (HAH!) I decided to prune the apple trees.

I think it went well, don’t you?

IMG_3630  IMG_3628




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

Season of Horror has Begun

Lock your doors. Turn up the lights. Don’t answer that knock. The season of terror has come.

The garden produce is ready.

As Halloween approaches and the publishing industry flings its fall line of vampires into the reading metropolises of the world, we small towners know the difference between urban fantasy fear and the truly terrifying realities of rural life.

The gardeners–those quiet neighbors with the unnatural interest in what’s in the ground behind their house–are walking the Earth at night. Nobody knows them very well, but they’re easy to spot in straw hats that hide their glowing red eyes. Like zombies of the apocalypse, they stagger along sidewalks, dripping red tomato blood from shopping bags hung on door handles, leaving butternut squash the size of baseball bats in unlocked cars, pushing piles of pickling cucumbers through a broken shed window.

Unlike zombies, the gardeners can run fast. Sea water won’t melt them, silver bullets can’t bring them down. Stake a tomato and it grows faster. This is the Unstoppable Invasion that horror fans have secretly feared for so long.

True terror is this: Soylent Green is zucchini.

So lock your doors. Don’t go out at night. The bad harvest moon is rising, tugging at the blood of every home-grown vegetable to rise and incite the sinking of fangs–or dentures, or whatever–into its flesh. Resistance is futile.

(Caption Contest V closes tomorrow! Visit August 14 to leave entry and view others.)


Filed under folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized