Tag Archives: stress

Checklist for going to Scotland…

stressJack and I are two days out from going to Scotland for his annual tour. This is the first year I’ve been able to go with him. So I’ve been getting my to-do-before-leaving list together, and thought you might like to see it:

  1. Crochet breast (a friend who had breast cancer discovered that a crocheted knocker could go swimming, and asked me to make her one. It’s taken a long time to get her measured for size, but I am determined this will be with her before I depart.)
  2. Sign house papers (we are selling our cabin in the Tennessee woods, and of course the papers arrived and had to be notarized)
  3. Scrub away that suspicious yellow stain behind the toilet (casting no aspersions on male bookstore guests, but if the plane goes down I don’t want people making snide comments about my housekeeping)
  4. Clean out the Prius (we were going to trade it in when we got back, and then a friend was looking for a car for his daughter, so what better time to sell your car than 48 hours before an international flight?) – Oh, and arrange transport to the airport.
  5. Make unicorn hair (my niece asked for a unicorn scarf for Christmas, and mailing it while in Scotland will be a lot cheaper, but I haven’t get the mane finished)
  6. Find a place to hold a conference for 96 doctors that includes enough hotel rooms, wifi, child-friendly activities, and gourmet level food (Oh curse you state park that lost our reservation made LAST SEPTEMBER- although it’s not all bad; they gave us a significant discount for next year. A VERY significant discount.)
  7. Tie up tomato plants (only six heirlooms remain of the 14 I planted, due to blackberry winter, dogwood spring, indian summer, tomato-killing fall–whatever you call that weather we had)
  8. Stop solving cat rescue problems (the other members of Appalachian Feline Friends have stepped forward to afford me this time away; I need to stop saying “if it were me, I’d” and thank them for the gift of awayness)
  9. Weed the front garden (oh who am I kidding? I don’t sodding care if we have crabgrass)
  10. Ignore pile of clean laundry (it will be here when I get back, and given the other stuff, it isn’t a priority. I have unicorn hair and a crocheted breast to finish.

We leave Sunday afternoon. A friend asked me “what are you looking forward to the most in Scotland” and I had to lie, because my first response was, “Not having any cell phone service.” Truth. Go by, mad world. Without me, please.

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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, VA, Wendy Welch

Don’t Look Down….

garg_grimstonchurchtower28_1aJack tackles the topic of stress in this week’s guest blog.

When things get a bit fraught around the bookstore, such as when yet another unexpected litter of kittens appears, or we discover a leak under the water heater (Chef Kelley joke there) I only have to think back a few years to put it all into perspective.

Years ago I was an apprentice painter and decorator in my Dad’s business. Being the boss’s son, I was usually the one to be called on to do the particularly mucky or scary jobs–such as painting the drain pipe running from top to bottom of the bell tower on an old church in Kinross–full height of the pipe about 50 feet, starting more than 200 feet off the ground. On its way down the pipe passed about a foot away from the louvers where the sound of the bells issued.

The trickiest job was of course put off until it was the last thing left, so finally it just had to be done. We assembled our longest three-part wooden ladder with ropes and pulleys that weighed a ton, only to discover it didn’t even reach the bottom of the aforementioned louvers. Nothing daunted, we lashed an extra length of ladder onto the three-parter and that did just get to those pesky sound emitters.

Feeling a little nervous I looked to my two older workmates and realized they were making no moves towards the ladder(s). Sizing up the situation my Dad put his foot on the first rung getting set to put everyone to shame. “Hang on,” I said (after all he was approaching retirement). “I’ll do it.”

So, up I went until the ladder bent in so far, hardly and room remained for my toes against the wall. Still couldn’t reach the whole pipe. Down I came and tied the brush to a length of scrap wood and ascended once more. That got the pipe painted from the ground to about 1/3 of the way up, past the bottom of the louvers.

Pondering on how we’d get the rest done I followed my Dad as he entered the tower and climbed up the stairway until we emerged on the roof, carrying the paint pot and the brush still attached to the scrap wood.  We managed the middle next to those blasted louvers; I put my arm out of the nearest opening to the pipe (which I couldn’t see from inside) while my colleagues shouted instructions from the ground – “left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit.”

That still left the top of the pipe, just below the battlements. I looked over at my dad. He was looking at me in a speculative way, rubbing his chin. A horrible thought struck me….

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself shortly afterwards dangling upside down outside the tower between two battlements with my Dad holding my ankles while I stretched as far as I could with the extended brush.

Once you’ve been suspended upside down 50 feet off the ground by your ankles, there’s not much that happens in a bookstore that can faze you. I remind myself of this as I play with our new foster kittens.

Epilogue: Years later Wendy and I were visiting my elderly Mum and sharing stories about my by-then- deceased Dad. I was certain she would never have known about the Church tower, but I had hardy started when she began chuckling. “I knew about that before you got home, Son. Don’t think I didn’t speak to your father about it, either!” Her chuckle erupted into laughter. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t think your Momma don’t know!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing

Serenity and Chaos

I’ve been looking forward to speaking at the Southern Festival of the Book for some time, not least because I’m being introduced by a fellow bookstore owner named Chuck Beard. I’m scheduled for an hour this Saturday at noon in the library (with the pipe wrench).

Of course, looking forward to something involves having done some planning, and I thought the ducks were aligned for this trip. Yesterday, after teaching speech class and racing back to throw professional clothes in a bag for an overnight conference, I went to my “author drawer”–the place in the bookstore where I keep any and all correspondence pertaining to my current or prospective book–and reached for the Southern Festival envelope.

It wasn’t there.

Check to see if it’s fallen behind. Nope. Check the drawer below. Nope. Check the bill drawer in case it got mixed up. Nope. Make accusatory comments to Jack about moving envelope. Nope. Apologize to Jack. Panic.

Now normally, I can solve simple problems, but this was the week we opened the cafe, my speech students gave their midterms, and the medical organization I work with holds its flagship conference. So instead of choosing door number one–adult behavior involving calling the festival to determine hotel arrangements and reprinting a map to Nashville from the conference hotel–I opted for door two: curl into the bookstore armchair in a fetal position and place a whiny desperate phone call to Serenity, the appropriately-named festival director.

Hearing oneself on the phone saying in a shaky voice to someone you have never met “…and I swear to you I’m a competent adult not a prima donna I just lost the envelope” is kind of a wake up call for how much stress you’re actually juggling. As soon as we get back from this festival I’m enrolling in a yoga class.

Serenity talked me down from the ledge, and Chuck offered us a place to stay when it turned out we didn’t have one. (We have always relied on the kindness of strangers.) Life went on. The sun did not deviate from its normal course. It’s amazing how persepective-a-fying it is to realize, in the middle of a full-blown adult meltdown, that you’re the only one worried. Kinda restores a little sanity, y’know?

Jack and I made it the medical event last night, and are about to hop onto the road to Nashville, the address of our couch-surf B&B in the GPS, coffee-to-go in the cup holder.

Decaf. Best not to take chances, y’know?


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

Angelic Bookstore Owners

Bookstore owners are the sweetest, smartest people in the world. Trust me on this. ;]

Jack and I had a really busy month in July, with a sick foster cat (TEAM HAZEL FOR THE WIN) and a final push on finishing our basement so we could get moved in and turn upstairs into the SECOND STORY EATERY.  Jack was just back from leading his annual Scottish tour (next year now booking) and he was the wee bit under the weather. Yuppie stress in the grand scheme of the world, but it induced an aversion to doing anything besides sitting quietly on a Friday evening, staring at the wallpaper.

But Angelic Towe, owner of MariaJoseph Books in Wallach House, downtown Eureka, Missouri, had asked us ages ago to come do a book event in her bookstore. The store she started after reading my book. (Does this make me legally culpable?)

And poor Angelic, the week before we were to sojourn at her lakeside house for the event plus an extra day of swimming and sunning, was descended upon by family members under some surprise stress. En masse. Her bedrooms filled, her fridge emptied, and her Mom heart expanded.

We said, “Let’s just reschedule.” She took it bravely, but it slipped out that she’d “done some publicity.” So we said “OK, let’s get ‘er done.”

And when we arrived last night to the hotel she’d booked for us–gorgeous and with a SWIMMING POOL–in the midst of her own stress, she’d left us a chocolate bar and a gift card to a local restaurant. When we went to the first gig she’d arranged, we saw the “publicity”: elegant postcards in lovely color tones with antique script, touting the event at Angelic’s store.

Plus, her kids helped make cookies for today.

On the way home from Angelic’s, we will make a swift detour through Granite City, IL to BSR Used Books. Owner Bruce Campbell coined the phrase TEAM HAZEL FOR THE WIN while keeping up with the saga of our elderly, sick foster cat. He’s been one of her staunchest supporters in her new life in North Carolina (complete with her own Facebook page, as befits a celebricat). We look forward to meeting him.

And we will be stopping off in Indiana as well, but that’s a surprise we’ll keep for a later blog. Suffice it to say we’re meeting some (more) very cool people for a very fun reason.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it behooves us all to make friends with independent bookstore owners: sweet, cool, smart people. They care about cats, and they make cookies.

In fact, I’m pretty sure it is independent bookstore owners and school teachers who form the safety net enclosing the world, keeping it from flying apart.


Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Dear Lady in the Gray Sweater (or Why Voting in a Small Town is Fun)

I am sorry. Please let me explain my behavior.

My husband Jack and I had three tasks this morning: vote; drop off Owen Meany, bookshop staff kitten, for removal of procreation equipment; and be at our 8:30 chiropractic appointments.

We arrived at the polls at 7:40, when the lines were only 3 deep. Jack searched my shoulder bag. “The voting cards aren’t here.”

Oops. It had been my job to grab them from the table. Jack drove back and returned with the cards, thoughtfully refraining from rolling his eyes at me as we got in our respective lines.

As you will remember, ma’am, the lines at the gym were odd: A-F, then G-M, then N-Z? Why was half the population–in a town full of Taylors and Smiths–in one line? My husband Mr. Beck sailed through as I languished in N-Z, now some 8 deep.

That’s when I saw the sign: YOU MUST HAVE ID TO VOTE.

My driver’s license was at home. All I had was the voting card. Sighing, I left the line.

Jack voted–his first US election ever–and approached, proudly bearing his sticker. “What?” he asked, seeing my face.

“I didn’t have the right ID. We’ll have to come back after chiro.”

He rolled his eyes this time. I know, Miss Gray Sweater, that neither you nor I fault him. He’d been through a lot.

We dropped Owen, who had switched from yowling threats to piteous “Why don’t you love me anymore” mews, at the vet, where they cuddled him and carried him away. Jack mentioned our voting fiasco and the staff looked puzzled. “Huh,” one said. “All I had to show was my voter registration card.” Others nodded.

Jack gave me a dark look.

We had 26 minutes before the chiropractor’s, so raced home for my driver’s license, then back to the polls. The lines were 3 deep at the other tables, about 12 at N-Z. I sighed as we inched forward. When my turn came, they glanced at my card and didn’t ask to see my license. I got my little red ticket and felt good about participating in the Democratic Process–although annoyed at how it had played out.

That was when one of the voting machines broke. The one in front of our line. It took us all awhile to realize it wasn’t moving, this line which you headed, Madam Gray Sweater.  People in A-F breezed forward even though they’d come in AFTER the last person in our line of N-Zers, now 22 strong and without a machine.

Once the election officials realized what was happening, when a machine at the top end came clear they halted the A-Fers and beckoned to you. I understood what went through your mind then; really, I sympathize. You were raised a Southern Female. You do not take cuts. You do not even take even-handedness. You were taught to hold back, let others go first, put them before your own needs.

But, ma’am, there were 21 people behind you, some of whom really needed to get to their chiropractic appointments on time, and then home to open their bookshop. Plus I know that the lady behind me runs the jewelry store, and she opens at 9 a.m. So please don’t blame me for what happened. I really don’t know where that gravely voice of Satan came from, but when I screamed, “GO, GO!” it was for all of us.

Who knew it would echo like that in the gym? So many people, staring….

Permit me to add that I was impressed by the height of your jump.

People in Miami, people in New Jersey, even friends in SW VA (Sorry, Chelsie and Donald!) went through a lot to vote: 2-hour waits, demands for documents, even being denied. So I should have been more patient. I have seen you in our bookstore occasionally, ma’am, so next visit you get a free book. It’s the least I can do after betraying–and forcing you to betray–the Southern Female Upbringing code.

Still, the fact that the people behind me clapped indicates a certain crowd concensus. So thank you for going forward, and for voting. And, and… and God Bless Us, Every One.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized