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.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cat Boxes

We have been getting a lot of boxes from Amazon lately. While we humans have looked forward to the merchandise inside, the cats have coveted the boxes.

Camilla: "I saw it first. George. Too bad!"

"Hmm. It's certainly roomy. Maybe too big. I don't need all this space."

"I'll try this one." 

"No, that box is too small. Maybe this one."

"Ahhh. This one is just right."

George: "OK, I'll take this box."

"Camilla's right. This box is too big."

Chloe: "Let me have it then."

"Yeah, it's too big. Tanner, you can have it."

Tanner: "Yeah, too big."

George: "I thought Camilla would never leave! This box is just right."

"Snug. I like that in a box."

"But sometimes it's good to sleep outside the box."

"Especially if friends sleep with you."

"But sometimes it's nice to sleep alone. Outside the box."



Friday, December 05, 2014

Another Iggy Loomis Book

Back in October 2013, with a little help from my cats, I reviewed Jennifer Allison's very funny chapter book Iggy Loomis, Super Kid in Training on this blog. The cats and I just finished another Iggy Loomis book—Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirleyand it was just as funny as the first one. If you haven't read the first one yet—no problem. You'll understand this one just fine.

Publisher's Weekly pretty much nails what the Iggy Loomis books are about: "Allison creates a comically put-upon older brother in Daniel in a lighthearted story that captures the chaos of everyday family life, superpowers or not." 

Tanner: "It's got fish in it? This might be interesting."

Once again, the story is narrated by Daniel, whose younger brother Iggy has some strange powers of the insect variety. Once again, Daniel's best friend Alastair, the alien next door, provides interesting and sometimes hilarious plot complications. The complication in A Hagfish called Shirley is that Alistair brought a hagfish back from the beach and wants to make a pet of it. He's even named the slimy creature Shirley. Unfortunately Iggy flushes Shirley down the toilet and, well, complications ensue.

Jim-Bob: "Move Chloe. I get to read it first."
Chloe: "Jim-Bob, you need to learn to share."

Obviously, the boys want to get the fish back, but Alistair's dad has taken away Alistair's watch that can do cool techno-things, so the boys decide to use Iggy's powers, which luckily Iggy's twin sister Dottie can help with.

Chloe: "I'm glad the girl character gets to do important stuff."

Jim-Bob: "Yeah, yeah. But she's not the main character.
The boys do the most important stuff."

The cats were impressed that a pet plays such an important role in the book. They really liked the letter Alistair writes to his beloved Shirley.

But they were frightened by the slime monster that imprisoned a lot of pets—including cats! 

Chloe: "Oh, no. A whole bunch of pets go missing!"
Jim-Bob: "What!? Let me see that!"

Jim-Bob: "Ewwww! Imagine getting slime all over your fur."

George: "This is getting too scary! All those missing pets!
Chloe and Jim-Bob, y'all tell me what happens, OK?"

Tanner: "I'll skip to the end and find out what happens.
It looks like all of the pets are OK."

But what about the main characters? Are they OK? What happens in the sewer? And on the spaceship? What becomes of Shirley, and how does she help Alistair's dad?  Looks like the cats missed a lot. You'll just have to read about all those adventures for yourself. Cats are so not interested in sewers or spaceships.

Jim-Bob: "Aww, there's not more?!
I want another Iggy Lomis story!"
Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirley is a humorous science fiction story much more suited to elementary-age boys than to cats. It has plenty of gross stuff to appeal to that demographic—poop, slime, sewers, etc. Plus there's the school stuff—the science project, homework, Chauncey the bully—and other things that kids can relate to—parents not understanding, pesky younger siblings, etc. 

And there's some stuff the average kid can't relate to but probably wishes he could— a kid brother with super powers, a visit aboard the alien spacecraft, and parents who peel off their human disguises and hang them over a chair at night. 

Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirley is a fun and fast-paced read with great illustrations by Mike Moran. The author also sneaks in a little science, at least where hagfishes are concerned. If you're looking for a great Christmas present for young boys, Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirley might be it.

Tanner: "Is this book review over?
I want to go back to sleep."

Sleep tight, Tanner. And don't let the hagfish bite.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Went Unread

This morning's paper was very heavy. It felt heavier than George, who's a pretty hefty cat. I didn't intend to read all of it, though. So what did I read?

These three sections:

What went unread? All of this: 

The sports section is never read in this household. Sometimes my husband reads the classifieds but not very often. Since I'm not looking to buy any crap stuff I don't need and I'm not going into any stores for the next few days, why bother to read all those ads?

Those ads are headed unread to the recycling box. What a waste!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Memories I Can't Remember

. . . because I was a baby at the time.

Recently, while cleaning a closet, I found a box that hadn't been opened since I moved here in 1999. When I opened the box, I found some of my baby clothes—as well as the pillow case above—that my mother had saved. She even left a note identifying them.

 I can't remember ever seeing these garments before, but obviously I must have worn them.  They all seemed to be made from thin cotton, and most were embroidered. 

They certainly don't look like today's baby clothes. Most looked homemade. I imagine that Mama made them, but some might have been made by relatives.

In the gown below, the neckline was hand-embroidered and a few pink flowers were embroidered on the front. She must have made this one after I was born, since it's obviously for a girl. 

I'm not sure about the one below with blue embroidery. Could this have a baby gift when her first child was born from someone who didn't know that baby boy soon died?

Along with the clothes was a very soft—and hand-embroidered—baby blanket. The moths have done a job on it, but the embroidery and interwoven ribbons still show.


She also included two sun-suits that I must have worn when I was two or three. I know I wore sun-suits until I was five. I know where she got the fabric for these—from the sacks that Grandma's chicken feed came in. I can remember those sacks, and I can remember Mama using her treadle Singer sewing machine (which I still have but have never used) to sewing them into outfits for me.

Each sun-suit had a pocket, but I don't know what I would have put in it.

She not only made sun-suits for me, she also made them for my older cousin Marty. Here we are on the back porch of our Floraland Drive house that was built in 1947. The house looks new here, so I'm guessing this picture was taken in 1948.

In the box was a blouse that I must have worn when I was three or four. It's made of the same type thin cotton as the baby clothes.

The box also contained two baby books and a book on baby care. (They're a subject for another blog-post.)

The baby book on the right was provided by Lewis-Gale Hospital where I was born. Inside the back cover is a picture of the hospital, which was located near where Channel 10 is today.

The baby care book had a section on clothes. The ones in the illustration look remarkably similar to what I wore.

 In the box, I found something else—a slip that my mother wore when she was four.

The attached note, in my mother's handwriting, reads: "Alene Ruble wore this slip when she was four years old. Mama made it in 1917." 

I'll blog more about the closet box in a future post.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chatham Bookfest 2014

A week ago yesterday, I was one of the ten authors in the Old Chatham depot for the second annual  Pittsylvania County Public Library's Book and Author Festival. I'd really enjoyed last year's festival, so I was delighted to be invited back. This time, besides selling books and chatting with readers and other authors, I did a presentation on "Confessions of an Under-published Author." Here I am at my display.

The festival is held inside the old Chatham depot that's now restored and is used as the Pittsylvania County History Research Center and Library. This is a wonderful place for a festival—it's easy to find, not far away (only 27 miles for me), and has convenient parking. Plus authors can unload right at the entry door. Plus it has an interesting history.

For years the depot stood in ruins before being restored and reused as a research center. This picture gives you an idea of its transformation.

A miniature display shows how the depot looked in its heyday.

Just inside the door is a statue that used to be at the Chatham Library. The horses caught my eye right away.

The festival is about local authors and their books, and the ten authors at this year's festival offered an interesting variety of books. Returning for the second year was Larry G. Aaron who's written a lot of local history books.

A closer look at some of his books, including The Wreck of the Old 97 and Pittsylvania County, Virginia: A Brief History.

His latest book, Pittsylvania County and the War of 1812 (The History Press, November 2014, 160 pgs.), attracted a lot of attention

A young author, JB North wrote Spark (Legend of the Shifters) as part of the Chatham Library's group for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year. She self-published it via CreateSpace in May.

Courtney Hood, a children's minister at Chatham's Cornerstone Church of Christ, had Rescued, a new Christian book for children illustrated by her brother. 

Since I am a fan of both memoir and regional history, I looked forward to meeting Sarah Coles, who was there with her late mother's book,  All Grown Up: From the Plantation to Washington, D.C. Mary I. Coles self-published her memoir when she was 90. 

I started reading All Grown Up on last Saturday night and finished it on Sunday. It's only 61 pages, but it covers a lot of territory. 

The book begins with a 1901 obituary from the Danville Register—an obituary of Philip "Uncle Philip" Hearne who lived to be a hundred and who was once a slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. Walter Coles I., who was a member of Congress and owner of a plantation near Chatham, bought 26-year-old Philip from Jefferson's estate in 1826. 

Philip "became part of the Coles family, and his descendants, as well, took on the Coles' last name." Mary, a fourth generation Coles, "was born on the Coles' plantation when it belonged to Walter Coles III." From what she's written, it's obvious that Mary's family was hard-working, industrious, responsible, and had a strong sense of family. Even when she was little, she had chores to do, such as milking the cow and tending her little brother. As a young adult, she helped support her widowed mother.

Mary apparently had a sense of adventure as well as responsibility. In 1942, her brother who'd moved to D.C. told her that she could make more money there than in Chatham. Mary boarded a train and soon had a job working for two sisters. During the years she worked for many others whom she fondly remembered. Eventually she was able to buy her mother a house.

I really liked this account of Mary Coles' life. I was impressed by how much she remembered and her enthusiasm for life. I only wished the book had been longer.

I'm already looking forward to next year's bookfest.

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