Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie.

© 2006-2014 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm a retired teacher turned writer. Ferradiddledumday (my Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story) and Stuck (my middle grade paranormal novel) are available from Cedar Creek Publishing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Long Distance Littering

My hayfield isn't heaven. At least not that I know of. However, my husband, while bush-hogging the edge of the recently cut hayfield at Polecat Creek came upon a balloon that a wife had "sent" to her deceased husband in heaven. Obviously the message of love written on it didn't reach the intended recipient. Instead, it became litter that had to be picked up.

Luckily the balloon hadn't gotten caught in the haybine last week where shreds of it—and the 5-foot long ribbon attached to it—would have been baled into hay and likely caused death or misery to whatever critter scarfed it up. It had, however, fallen near the horse trail, and would likely have spooked any horse that came along. (My mare Cupcake was spooked by a mylar balloon dangling from a branch near the creek crossing more than 20 years ago. Luckily I stayed on while she jumped around.)

On the side of the balloon is printed this warning: Caution: This balloon may conduct electricity. Do not release outdoors. Do not use near overhead power lines. Misuse may cause personal injury.

At least the balloon missed the nearby overhead power line.

A website called Balloons Blow shows the problems of balloon releases. According to the website:

All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as “biodegradable latex,” return to Earth as ugly litter.  They kill countless animals & cause dangerous power outages. Balloons are also a waste of Helium, a finite resource. Balloons can travel thousands of miles & pollute the most remote & pristine places.

Instead of long-distance littering, how about honoring the deceased by planting flowers or trees? Or making a donation to a charity? Or picking up litter and making a little bit of the world a better place? Or doing something nice for someone? More alternatives are here. And here.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Celia and Lewis Hancock

My great-great-great-great-grandparents—Lewis and Celia Hancock—have been just down the road all along, and I never knew it until recently. In fact, for most of my life, I didn’t even know they existed. Thanks to the Internet—and what some very, very distant cousins have posted—now I do.

Photo by James E. Brooks, 2012

Lewis John Hancock, the son of John D. Hancock and Elizabeth Maddox, was born around 1757 in Albemarle County, VA. He married Celia “Celey” Duncan on Dec. 29, 1778, in Fluvanna County. Celia, the daughter of George Duncan and Ann Hall, was born December 28, 1758 (some sources say 1754), in Albemarle County. She was the widow of Shadrack Oglesby, whom she’d married on January 29, 1774. I can only speculate what caused Shadrack’s early death. The Revolutionary War, perhaps? Anyhow, the young widow, who was mother to Nancy (b. 1775) and Elizabeth Oglesby, remarried.

On December 28, 1778, the marriage bond was signed by Lewis Hancock and Benjamin Hancock, sureties. Benjamin was Lewis’s grandfather. Consent to marriage of Lewis and Celia was signed by George Duncan, Celia’s father. Lewis and Celia were married the next day.

Some of their children—Benjamin (1782), Sophia (1784), Lucinda (1790)—were born in Fluvanna, but the several others— John Allen (1779), Field Allen (1785), my great-great-great grandmother Frances “Franky” Hancock (May 12, 1787)—were born in Franklin County. Given the dates and places of birth, did the Lewis Hancock family move back and forth, perhaps to visit  family members? Eventually, though, Lewis and Celia seem to have settled in the Union Hall area of Franklin County.

Celia’s roots go back to Scotland. Her father George Duncan (son of John Duncan—born 1700—and Mary Fleming) was born 1728 in Glasgow, Scotland, and died November 06, 1783, in Fluvanna Co, VA.

My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, sixteen-year-old George Duncan, came to America in the early 1740s with his father John, his older brother Tandy, and his younger brother John D. Since his mother didn’t accompany the family, it’s likely she had died in Scotland. Unfortunately, George’s father died in 1745, and the church wardens of St. Anne’s Parish in Albemarle County “bound out” the now seventeen-year-old “George Duncomb” to Thomas McDaniel, a carpenter. Despite his servitude, George prospered and eventually became a landowner in the Hardware River area. 

George married Ann Hall, the daughter of Richard Hall and Ann Allen, on January 26, 1750, at Dr. William Cabell’s estate, “Warminster,” and his brother John married Ann’s sister Jane. The Hall family, unlike the Duncans, had been in Virginia since the 1600s. (In his will, Richard Hall left both Ann and Jane one shilling each.) George fought in both the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War. When he was 49, he became a captain in the Virginia Militia. George died November 6, 1783; Ann died sometime between 1804 and 1809. A web site with info about George Duncan and Ann Hall is here:

Celia died July 19, 1806 in Union Hall, which explains why she’s buried about a half-mile off Novelty Road.  Lewis, who out-lived her, is buried in the same cemetery; one source says he died on March 14, 1828 and another gives his death date as “20 OCT 1828 at Old Home Place, Union Hall, Franklin Co., Virginia.” Also buried there is their son Benjamin, who died on March 20, 1860, Benjamin’s picture is here

Photo taken prior to 1860.
L to R: Charles R. Hancock, Benjamin Hancock, Elizabeth Booth Hancock

Perhaps that is the “Old Home Place” behind Benjamin. Perhaps not.

Anyhow, I plan to visit the Hancock graveyard before long. It's only about a mile from me as the crow flies.

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Frosty Morn?

The last few mornings have been chilly, and some areas in the western part of the state have experienced frost. It hasn't frosted here yet—or has it? A few days ago, the hemlock beside the front porch had a distinctly frosted look in the early morning fog.

But it wasn't frost at all. Do you see what it is? Here's another look.

The boxwoods in the foreground tell you what the "frosting" really is.

Overnight, the spiders had been busy. Add some moistures, and you have it—a frosty look on all the bushes. 

A closer look revealed a multitude of gossamer tents. Did fairies encamp here the previous night?

The dew hung from regular spider webs and made them glisten.

When the sun burned off the fog, the frosting—or fairy tents—vanished. And it hasn't frosted here yet.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past

Sharyn McCrumb’s novella, Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is a must read if you like Sharyn McCrumb books, stories set in Appalachia, and ghost stories. I’m a fan of all three, so it’s no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the novella.

I’ve been a Sharyn McCrumb fan for two decades, having met her for the first time in Big Stone Gap when the ballad of Frankie Silver had just been released. We sat next to each other at a luncheon at the John Fox house that honored the winners of the Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest (I’d placed second that year and she was the guest speaker). Since then, I've attended readings she's done, heard her speak at the James River Writing Conference, sat next to her in 2010 at Authors on Grayson in Galax and at the 2013 Appalachian Days at the Salem Museum

She contributed a cover blurb for my Appalachian tale, Ferradiddledumday. But I’m digressing. 

One of Sharyn's most dyed-in-the-wool Appalachian characters is Nora Bonesteel, who appears in several of her Ballad novels. Nora Bonesteel has the Sight, handed down through some of the women in her family since they came over from Scotland in the 1700s. Because she has the Sight, she is able to help her neighbors with a little Christmas problem they're having—a problem rooted in the house's past.

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is actually two interwoven stories, both taking place on Christmas eve. In one, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his deputy Joe LeDoone (two characters who also appear in other ballad novels) go across the mountain to arrest J.D. Shull, who’d run into a senator’s car and left the scene of the accident. The senator, of course, demands an immediate arrest, even though it's Christmas eve. 

In the other, elderly Nora Bonesteel, is called upon to help out a neighbor couple—the Havertys, who normally spend Christmas in Florida but decided to stay in the mountains for this year. When their shrimp-colored aluminum Christmas tree is knocked over two nights in a row and its flamingo ornaments destroyed, Shirley Haverty thinks the house might be haunted and hopes Nora can help. Nora, who remembers the house from when she was a girl and it was Judge Honeycutt's home, gives it a try. I won't tell you what happens, but Nora's Sight plays a part.

I won't tell you how the arrest went either, but it has a wonderful O. Henry-esque twist. If you nee a little more convincing that you should read the novella, check out an excerpt from Chapter 1 here

If you ain't from around the Appalachian area, never fear—Sharyn fills you in on Appalachian culture and belief. And she does with such subtlety, you won't even know you're being educated. Two examples:
     Weather: "Clabbered sky, said Spencer, peering up at the clouds. Looks like it's going to snow here before too long." 

     Behavior: When she gave me that check, she didn’t have any notion at all that she might be giving offense, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by correcting her.

The well-crafted story is rich in detail. The characters are believable. And the dialogue rings true. Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past is a winner!

Here's what a couple of critics are saying about Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad series.

“Ms. McCrumb writes with quiet fire and maybe a little mountain magic....She plucks the mysteries from people's lives and works these dark narrative threads into Appalachian legends older than the hills. Like every true storyteller, she has the Sight.” —The New York Times Book Review

“There are few writers today who are able to blend past and present, tradition and law, legends and headlines in a wholly credible fashion—Tony Hillerman springs inevitably to mind. Sharyn McCrumb is another; her widely acclaimed Ballad series is one of the finest being written today.” —Bookpage

And here's what my cats are saying about it:

Dylan: "I liked it very mewch."

Tanner: "A good book to curl up with!"

Jim-Bob: "Absolutely purrfect!"

OK, so maybe the cats didn't actually read the book. But I did, and I really liked it.

According to Sharyn McCrumb's publicist, I can "give away one copy of the book to a lucky reader." So, if you'd like a chance to win, leave a comment in the comments section, wherein you tell me what your favorite Sharyn McCrumb book is and why. On Oct. 5, I'll assign each comment a number and one of the cats will pick the winner. (If your contact info isn't available via your signature, please leave your email addy so I can contact you to get your mailing address.)

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Signs of Fall

Autumn officially began about week ago, and I'm seeing signs of it all around me—the fall colors in the sky, for instance.

The hay has been baled, and October's bright blue weather has started in September.

The corn across the road was cut for silage a few weeks ago, and barley—the winter cover crop—was drilled in today

The purple coneflowers along the sidewalk have bloomed and gone to seed; their seeds remain to feed  the birds when cold weather comes.

The oaks in the side yard are getting a burnished look.

The chrysanthemums are blooming.

And inside, cats are snuggling together to share the warmth.


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Last Morning of Summer

On the last day of summer, George and Jim-Bob breakfasted on the deck.

They have  lot of cat-work to do, so they eat hearty.

 Inside, Dylan and Tanner napped in the sunlight.

Fortunately, no one was rocking in the rocking chair.

Tanner even naps recklessly.

Down the road at the farm, hay that was baled yesterday dried in the morning sun.

But something moved near the bale. See them?

How about now?

Something else moved through the tall grass, How many can you count?

Looks like a lot of critters were out and about this morning.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

September SkyArt

A few days ago, the sky put on an art show. Here are a few pics.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reading Journeys

I've been traveling lately, but I haven't left home. The last three books I've read have all involved a journey. As a reader, I—of course—went along for the ride.

While the three novels all involved travel, they were very different genres. I think a book's first sentence—or maybe first paragraph—is a good roadmap for what the journey will be, so thanks to the scanner app on my iPad, I've copied the first paragraph from each of the books.

Fingerprints of You, a YA novel by Kristen-Paige Madonia, is narrated by seventeen-year-old Lemon who has never known her father, begins:

I met the author in October 2012 when I journeyed to the Binding Time Bookfest in Martinsville and started the book as soon as I got home. I was a few chapters in when I misplaced it. By the time I found it, I was reading something else, and then something else, etc. However, when I heard Kristen read from her book at the Virginia Writers Club symposium last month, I decided I really wanted to finish it. And I did. Here's a synopsis:

Lemon grew up with Stella, a single mom who wasn’t exactly maternal. Stella always had a drink in her hand and a new boyfriend every few months, and when things got out of hand, she would whisk Lemon off to a new town for a fresh beginning. Now, just as they are moving yet again, Lemon discovers that she is pregnant from a reckless encounter—with a guy Stella had been flirting with. 
On the verge of revisiting her mother’s mistakes, Lemon struggles to cope with the idea of herself as a young unmarried mother, as well as the fact that she’s never met her own father. Determined to have at least one big adventure before she has the baby, Lemon sets off on a cross-country road trip, intending not only to meet her father, but to figure out who she wants to be.

Over Christmas break, Lemon travels by bus from West Virginia to San Francisco with her best friend Emmy. She finds her father, and ultimately finds herself. But she suffers a loss, too. And therein lies the story. While Fingerprints of You is YA, it has a lot to offer adult readers, too.

 I've known Ibby Greer for years and, when she recently wrote and self-published a paranormal novel set in a town where she lived for two decades—a town fifteen miles from where I live, I wanted to read it. Here's how Moonshine Corner: Keys to Rocky Mount begins:

The paranormal novel not only is about a physical journey (from Colorado to Virginia) but it also involves time travel and a spiritual journey. See the my post on the Mountain Spirits blog for more about Moonshine Corner.

I met Pam Newberry last spring when I journeyed to the Wytheville Library to participate in a book-signing and author event. There I acquired her memoir, The Letter: A Page of My Life, about her journey to learn more about her father (note the similar theme to Fingerprints of You). Recently, I won a copy of her novel, The Fire Within, a self-published romantic mystery based on a two-week Caribbean cruise that Pam once took. Here's the opening: 

From her website, the synopsis:

On a cruise to the Caribbean, Marine Letsco is on her first vacation in ten years from her job with Transcontinental Solutions where she works as an assassin. She finds herself entangled in a murder-for-hire, a murder conspiracy, and a fall that results in her losing her memory. Aided by Dr. Chester Henegar, a neuropsychiatrist, Marine begins a danger-filled quest to regain her memory. The deeper she searches, the more she becomes convinced she may not want to know who she was as the fire within her soul demands to be released.

Since The Fire Within is the first book of a trilogy, there's not yet an end to the main character's journey.

All three novels provide interesting—albeit different—journeys. I've already planned my next book itinerary: Sharyn McCrumb's new novel in her ballad series: Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past. If you  travel back to this blog on October 1, you'll see how my journey went.