Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2016 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer SOTK

State of the Kitties Report
by Tanner (head house-cat)

Not much has happened since the last State of the Kitties Report, but I will report anyway. Well, actually something has. Arlo became famous. But more about that later.

As for the other kitties, Olivia has decided to be an outdoor cat now that the weather is good. When it gets cold, she will come back in. A feral cat who usually stays down the road comes for breakfast at our place. I see him on the deck some mornings. The folks down the road told Mommy his name is Tony the Tiger. George and Jim-Bob hate him, so I do too. After he eats on the deck, he goes to where the barn-cats are fed and eats their left-overs. I don't think he does much cat work around here anymore.

Camilla, who is real, real old has not died yet. Mommy thought she wouldn't make it through the summer, but Camilla is still here. She sleeps most of the time. And then she eats. She goes out once a day, so maybe she still does a little cat-work. She doesn't like me or my kitty Arlo.

George and Jim-Bob do most of the outside cat-work near the house. Chloe goes out when they do, but she does her own thing—like climbing onto the roof and cavorting all over it.

I slipped out one day last week to see if I could find some cat-work to do, but Mommy found me.  I tried real hard to hide in the nandinas, but she started playing with Jim-Bob and I came out to see what was so great about the stick he was chasing. I was careful to stay just out of Mommy's reach, but when she started giving Jim-Bob some cat treats, I couldn't resist Temptation—she had the flavor of Temptation Cat Treats that I really like. That's when she grabbed me. I'm not sorry I went out, and I would do it again if I get the chance. But don't tell Mommy.

Jim-Bob has got used to Arlo and sometimes lets him sleep on the desk beside him. Arlo is still wary of George, though.

Arlo has got real big. It is hard for me to manage him, but I do my best. He can out-wrassle me now. and he doesn't want to mind me. I still wash him, though. Here are some pictures of us wherein I eitdher wash him or we take a nap together:

Sometimes we look out the window and see what is happening on the front porch. WE have separate cat beds, but sometimes we want to use the same one:

You can see from those pictures that Arlo grew a little bigger than I expected him to. But he is still my kitty. However, he got famous a few weeks ago, when literary agent Janet Reid took a vacation and put pictures of cats and dogs on her blog. This is what her blog post about Arlo looked like:

It was about Arlo being an artist, but I think he just makes a mess. Lots of people saw it and commented on it, so Arlo thinks he is the cat's meow now. (I interviewed him about his art here: More of his art is here:

Well, I am getting tired of writing this report and think I will quit now. It is almost nap-time.

P.S. Don't forget to buy Mommy's book. (She made me say this even though it doesn't have anything to do with my "State of the Kitties" report, but she does pay me in cat treats.)



Thursday, August 18, 2016

School in 1951

School started last week in our county—way too early, as far as I'm concerned. After spending over fifty years on one side of the desk or the other, I'm kind of glad I'm no longer involved in school.

My educational involvement began when I was a few weeks shy of turning six. That's when I started first grade at Huff Lane Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia. We didn't have public kindergarten or preschool in those days. All our early education happened at home where we mainly watched grown-ups and tried to emulate them.

Both these pictures are labeled 1951—6 years old.
I think the first picture is 2nd or 3rd grade, though.

Huff Lane was almost a brand new school—it had opened the year before on property that used to be part of the Huff farm. (I blogged about a third grade trip to that farm here.) On the first day, Mama walked me the three blocks to school and took me to Mrs. Willhide's room. Mama told me she'd wait in the front hall (which was quite a distance from my classroom) and walk me home to lunch. Sure enough, she was there. And she was there when school was out, too.

I was unimpressed with school—the only noteworthy thing that happened the first day was a girl named Jean wet her pants—and I asked Mama when I could quite school. She said I had to be sixteen; that was the age she quit to go to work during the depression. Quitting at sixteen became my goal.

Before the week was out, I caught Mama in a lie. She wasn't in the front hall. When I went through the front door, I spotted her coming up the sidewalk. Because  I refused to walk with her, it wasn't  long before she found a sixth grade girl who lived on Dorchester to walk me to and from school.

I think I took my lunch for a while, at least until I was pretty secure about how to get home. Then I started walking home to lunch again—but by myself. There were only two ways to go home: right on Huff Lane (a gravel road) for a block, then left onto Floraland for two blocks; or straight on Dorchester, right onto Grandview, and left onto Floraland; or straight on Dorchester and left at our vacant lot. All of the ways meant crossing two streets, but there was almost no traffic. Sometimes I didn't see a car at all.

But back to lunch. The Huff Lane cafeteria was pretty depressing. The linoleum-covered tables and benches folded out of the wall because the cafeteria was really a "multi-purpose room." There was a stage with red curtains at one end where we had assemblies.

The lunch ladies made the hot lunch from scratch, so sometimes the cafeteria smelled pretty good. This was before the low-fat insanity that overtook the nation, so the food was real—not processed—and tasted good. Kids were encouraged to drink whole milk, but I didn't like milk. I never bought a school lunch because it included milk. If I didn't go home for lunch, I carried my lunch in a paper sack (and later in a Roy Rogers lunchbox) but would sometimes pay a nickle for a Dixie Cup (and its included wooden spoon) or a chocolate-covered ice cream bar.

My main accomplishment in first grade was moving from the second reading group to the first. I think I'd been put in the second group because I was so shy that I never volunteered to read. I also rarely raised my hand because it didn't seem to matter—Mrs. Willhide eventually called on everyone, regardless of whose hands were waving wildly or not waving at all. I knew my turn woud come, and it generally did. But every time I was asked to read aloud, I had no trouble "sounding out" the words in the "Dick and Jane" reader and read fast and fluently.

Mrs. Clark, my 4th grade teacher.
A corner of the school is behind her.

I attended Huff Land School through 6th grade, and we always started the day after Labor Day. We always wore our new school clothes and changed to our play clothes as soon as we got home. Then we went out to play. I don't guess many kids do that nowadays.

Times have changed, and Huff Lane School was bull-dozed down a few years ago to make way for a hotel.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mid-August Clouds

As of 1:45 PM today, thunder had been rumbling for a while. We might get rain soon, or it might miss us. At any rate, this is how the sky looked around my house:



Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Glimmering, Leaving, and Cahas

The other day I blogged about using CreateSpace for self-publishing books and noted that I owned several books that were self-published that way. During the past year, I've read three CreateSpace novels—all debut novels.

Last month, I read The Glimmering of Scotch Whiskey, by R. Lee Tipton, whom I've met only via FaceBook and her blog, Song of the Rain Crow.

If you like the magical realism genre, you'll likely enjoy this book. For those unfamiliar with magical realism, Goodreads defines it thus: "Magical realism is a fiction genre in which magical elements blend to create a realistic atmosphere that accesses a deeper understanding of reality. The story explains these magical elements as normal occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the "real" and the "fantastic" in the same stream of thought."  And that's exactly what The Glimmering of Scotch Whiskey does.

The plot: Duncan Logan, a ne'er-do-well Scotsman, aspires to be a model but hasn't been able to achieve his dreams. Left at an orphanage when he was an infant, he's never quite been able to find himself—much less find love, a career that will support him, etc. After a particularly unsuccessful day, he happens upon Kenna Shaw, an American whose business as a PR person has taken her to Scotland. As she sorts through contracts, Duncan plops himself upon her work. Of course, she rejects the arrogant stranger. Later that evening, Duncan consumes a good bit of whiskey and has a brief run-in with a crone who sprinkles him with glimmery dust, and before long he finds himself only six inches tall. Kenna comes along, finds him, and soon smuggles him through customs as she returns to America. Kenna makes dollhouses, and soon Logan is ensconced in one. Eventually, he helps her build them, she uses him as a model for a doll, and they adjust to life with each other. Before long, Logan is falling in love with Kenna who has saved his life in more ways than one. And therein lie more complications. . . .

The other two novels I read were more realistic.

I met Melissa Powell Gay, the author of When Are You Leaving?, at the Franklin County Library in April and we exchanged books. Her novel is women's fiction—a "you can come home again" story, although it could also be considered a mystery. It's set in Mount Pleasant, a small town in fictional Fallam County (near Franklin County). If you enjoy books about about family dynamics and small towns, you'll likely enjoy this one.

The plot: Iris Lee, recently terminated from her high-power job, is summoned home to see to the affairs of her elderly parents. Her father has been letting his business interests slip and her mother is developing dementia. While going through her mother's things, Iris finds an ornate brooch that might have been a medallion given to Gen. Jubal Early while he was in Mexico. If it is, then the family financial problems are solved. But how to prove it, and how to lay claim to it? Therein lies the story. . . .

I've known Linda Kay Simmons for several years. She's a member of my writing group, Lake Writers, and had workshopped parts of her Appalachian novel, Cahas Mountain, through the group before self-publishing it last year. Set in Franklin County, Cahas Mountain—told in rotating first person narration by the main characters Rhodessa Rose, Willard Grimes, and Lily—covers several decades and the trials and tribulations of a mountain family from the 1930s to the1950s. If you like family sagas set in real places, this novel should appeal to you.

The plot (quoted from the back cover): "Cahas Mountain chronicles the love, heartbreak, and redemption of Rhodessa Rose and Lily . . . whose lives connect through Willard Grimes, a man with a mouth full of sweetness and broken promises. A small moonshine operator with big ambitions, Willard courts and weds Rhodessa Rose in the shadows of Cahas Mountain. But his ambitions take him into dangerous company . . . . Left alone, gutsy Rhodessa must battle a tuberculosis epidemic and her desire for the local sheriff against a backdrop of World War II and its aftermath. All this takes Rhodessa far from the mountain she loves so much. A fragile orphan, befriended by spiders, unexpectedly finds the way back. Lily leads those she loves to Cahas Mountain and the spirit of Rhodessa Rose." More about the novel and Linda are in this article.

These three novels—all available on Amazon as well as from the authors—should give you an idea of the variety of material to be found in CreateSpace books. Plus—and I'd be remiss if I didn't put in a blatant plug—there are my novels, Them That Go and Patches on the Same Quilt.


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Saturday, July 30, 2016

CreateSpacing Books

WARNING: This will be incredibly boring if you aren't interested in self-publishing.

If you're considering self-publishing a book, probably the easiest and cheapest way is CreateSpace. Here are some of the CreateSpace books I own.

Two of the above books are my own novels:


Patches on the Same Quilt was a 2013 reissue of my 2001 novel, and Them That Go was a brand new  2016 Appalachian coming-of-age novel. To create the finished books, I downloaded a pre-formatted template and filled it in with my Microsoft Word text. However, I know other self-pubbers who have used Word without a template or who have used Adobe InDesign.

I will use CreateSpace again. A collection of my short stories will go that route in a few months. I also might do another novel one of these days—or one of these years.

If you're young and picture yourself becoming a well-known author, self-publishing (whether via CreateSpace or another self-pubbing source) isn't the way to go. Self-published books are not legit publishing credits, they won't be in chain bookstores, and you will sell most of your books yourself at readings or appearances. You want to go to conferences, perfect your craft, and find an agent who can  submit your work to commercial publishers.

But—if you're older and/or have unsuccessfully pursued commercial publishing but have a book that you really, really want to get "out there," self-pubbing might work for you. It helps if you already have a readership in place (blog, column for local paper, previously published work, etc.) It helps if you have connections to a lot of readers. It helps if you have a marketing plan in mind. The "If you build it, they will come" does not apply to self-pubbed books. CreateSpace will get your book listed on Amazon, but you'll be the one to let folks know it's there.

Sometimes your friends or pets can help you promote.

Before you jump into self-pubbing, do some research. There are many, many online resources to check. Here are a few:

A bit of Googling will turn up lots more. Besides online articles, many YouTube videos exist about using CreateSpace. I recommend you watch a bunch, but these will get you started:

In other words, know what you're getting into and learn what you need to know about formatting and uploading your book. If you're determined to do everything yourself, I really recommend you use a formatted template—doing so will avoid much anguish and gnashing of teeth. After you've created an account with CreateSpace and uploaded your book and cover, don't use the publish button just yet. Order a proof copy (yes, you have to pay for that), so you can see exactly how your book will look. When your proof arrives, read it several times, marking any errors. Then correct your manuscript and upload the corrected version. 

Doing a CreateSpace book isn't terribly difficult, but it is tedious. 

Did I mention I just happen to have two CreateSpace books for sale? You can find them here and here on Amazon.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Worst Food Ever

Want to know where to get the worst food ever? Check into a hospital! At least, that's what I've learned from recent experience. You'd expect hospitals to promote healthy eating, but I discovered they don't. They don't even serve much real food.

Above image from
In late May, I spent a couple of days at my local hospital where I was relieved of a gallbladder and several gallstones. I hadn't been able to eat for a few days before going to the hospital and couldn't eat on my first day there, and—the next day—I didn't want to lunch so soon after surgery. Later that day, though, I was served some kind of broth and some unsweetened iced tea. It was bland, but I didn't particularly care. My appetite was returning.

For breakfast the next day, I was offered coffee (with some low-fat milk and artificial sweeteners—two substances I'd never eat—on the side) and oatmeal and apple juice, but I explained to the food lady that oatmeal would make my blood sugar level soar. The apple juice would have been even worse—that stuff is almost pure sugar. (The hospital knew that I was diabetic and gluten sensitive.) She wondered what I could eat. "Eggs," I said. Consequently, I was served something vaguely egg-like and very dry. I doubt that this substance ever originated within a chicken. Had I not been so hungry, I wouldn't have tried to eat it.

Other food I was served during my hospital stay included overcooked canned peas with a packet of "whipped spread" on the side, a tough leathery inedible piece of something vaguely chicken-like, a cup of what was supposed to be ice cream but didn't look like ice cream, a container of sugar-free chocolate pudding that had numerous ingredients listed in print so tiny I couldn't read them, slice of "pork loin" so tough I had to spit out the bite I'd taken because couldn't chew it, a large serving of canned peaches, and large serving of canned pears. Even though the fruit servings no doubt played havoc with my blood sugar, I ate them. I was that starved.

Apparently—when feeding their patients—hospitals go for what's cheap and convenient rather than what's good for folks. And the food-like crap—rather than real food—fills the bill if not the stomach.

Are you eating food-like crap? For some examples of food-like products that aren't food, see "19 Foods That Aren't Food."

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Kubota Scam

Every so often, a scammer tries to use Craigslist to make a bit of money. I've already posted about a horse trailer scam in May 2015. A lot of folks commented that they'd run into similar scams. Today my husband, who checks out farm equipment on Craigslist noticed an on the Lynchburg Craigslist that was just too good to be true—a Kubota backhoe, worth $20,000 for only $2,500, in Evington, VA.

Now, besides the way-too-low price, I noticed something else. The phone number wasn't a Virginia one. So I Googled a bit and found what looked like the same Kubota (with the same phone number) on the Morgantown (West Virginia?) Craigslist. Only this was a "KuBota."

The "LOader tlB dieSEL bAcKhOe KuBota HyStaT beautiful - $2500" was in New Salem. And the dirt it was digging was exactly like the dirt in Evington! Coincidence, or what?

A bit more Googling revealed the same tractor with the same phone number on the Cedar Rapids Craiglist, and this tractor was in Swisher. Not only did the ad have the same weird capitalization as the other two ads, but the tractor was digging the same black dirt as the other two. And doggone if the dead tree is just like the one in the first picture. Wow! What a coincidence.

Or maybe it isn't a coincidence. Maybe it's a just a scam. And that phone number—it's in Utah.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hay June 2016

It's been a good year for hay, and last week was perfect hay-making weather—dry, hot, and windy. Our hay isn't finished yet. The Brown Farm is still  in progress, but Polecat Creek and Smith Farm are done. Polecat Creek made 75 bales; Smith Farm 72.

Here are pictures of the point and front fields at Polecat Creek Farm and the front field at Smith Farm:



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