Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2017 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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Essay Inc Comment

Usually when someone comments on this blog, it's a day or two after I post—except in the case of the horse trailer scam where the scammers keep trying and folks keep Googling them and sharing their experiences. So, when I received this comment the other day. . .

. . . for "Two Memoirs About Writing" that  I'd posted a year ago, I was more than a little suspicious. For one thing, I'd written about two non-fiction books, not a "novel with a passionate look to it," and—while both were lovely books—the two books were not "such lovely novels."

And a student helped the scammer commentor "write my essay for me" (and "the quality was phenomenal") "helped me gather fictonal content"—Whoa! Fictional content for an essay?! Plus the rest of the sentence makes no sense. Obviously, English is not the commentor's first language.

The link in the comment leads to Essay Inc, which is supposedly based in the UK but has an Austin TX area code. Against my better judgment (Will malware infect my computer?), I went to the essay mill's site, and took a few screen shots of part of the home page:

Note that the writing on the website is no better than what's on the comment. Who would be desperate stupid enough to buy a "plagiarism free" essay in which "the authenticity of our work is never challenged" from this company?

Just in case a student is having second thoughts, the scam "essay site" attempts to play his fears:

Apparently these scam writing services services are popular ways to separate students from their (or their parents') money. There are even warning sites about which writing services not to use, like EssayScam's list of fake "essay website reviews" sites created by fraudulent term paper companies—because students who are trying to dupe their teachers certainly don't want to get duped themselves. 

There are even sites that recommend the best writing services, like this one. After all, if you're going to cheat, you certainly don't want to deal with a service that'll cheat you. And if you deal with any of  the multitude of sites that aren't even in America, getting a refund for services not rendered will be well nigh impossible.

During my Eng 101 teaching days more than a decade ago, a few freshmen attempted to hand in essays I knew they hadn't written themselves, and it was fairly easy to Google up selected parts of their essays. Now teachers have more sophisticated ways to detect plagiarism, such as this one. But Googling worked for me. In fact, I blogged about this topic last year on "Sarah Hill Shill."

But, back in those days, there were plenty of "free" essay sites to choose from. There still are. One is eCheat, which features an example of a personal essay that begins, "Three times a week after school I go visit my dad. When I enter the hospital room where he has lain in a coma since his accident. . . ."

Is that opening line a grabber, or what? Surely no English instructor would suspect a student who loves his poor, unfortunate dad so much of cheating!

But wait, there's more. "The Importance of a Father" is also on the essay sites Write Work, Essay Edge, and Kibin. And more. Plus the exact essay was published in 2008 and again in 2013 in a self-published book, How to Write Creative Non-fiction on p. 27 (When I Googled the opening two sentences of the essay, Googlebooks coughed up that title as one of the sources.) And the author of that book got it from a website about parenting. 

I used Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature to get this screen-shot.

Given the number of times this paticular essay appears on the Intenet, if a student turns it in as his own work, it won't take a professor long to find out what a low-life cheating scumbag the student is. All it takes is a little Googling.

If a student "borrows" an essay from the 'Net, he's likely to get caught. If he tries to buy one from a "writing services" site, he's likely to lose a pile of money. Either way, he's a loser.

Sometimes honesty is, after all, the best policy.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Daddy's Girl

The other day, I was privileged to receive an advance copy of Lin Stepp's lastest Smoky Mountain romance, Daddy's Girl. I've posted about some of Linn's books before—Saving Laurel Springs and Welcome Back. Both of those books were about women returning to places where they grew up.

Daddy's Girl, however, is about a woman who never left the small North Carolina town where she was born. Olivia Benton's mother died when she was a child, and her grandmother died a few years after, so Olivia becomes the one who looks after her father, cooks his meals, and looks after the family home. She especially enjoys taking care of her grandmother's lavish garden in back of the house. Later, she buys a florist shop a florist shop and loves running it.

Tanner: "I'll read it after I see what'sgoing on outside."

Meanwhile, her friends in the popular clique to which she'd belonged in high school are going to college, getting married, etc. Even her childhood next-door neighbor and best friend, the nerdy out-cast Weird Warner Zachary—the target of much high school bullying, goes to college in New York and gets married. While Olivia dates off and on, she never gets serious. She is, after all, Daddy's Girl—even though Daddy had started dating the widow of one of his colleagues.

Arlo: "I'll put it at the top of my to-read stack."

Ten years after high school, when Olivia and her three ex-cheerleader besties are having lunch in the same Bryon City drugstore where they've been meeting since high school, a black Mercedes pulls up out front and a well-dressed guy comes in. He's handsome W.T. Zachary, a well-known author famous for his Geeky Gilmore series of books for young people—but he used to be Weird Warner. Olivia has always loved him even though she once rejected him, so awkwardness ensues. He's been widowed a year now, so much of the book deals with W.T.'s and Olivia's off-again/on again relationship.

But it deals with more. A sub-plot involves Olivia's employee Patti and her son who suffers at the hands of bullies. Patti is a relative newcomer in town and seems to have some secrets in her past. But she won't talk about the past. Then there's a vandal who spray-paints messages on buildings in town, but no one has been able to catch him.

Alfreda: "What I liked best is that this book had a cat in it."

I won't give away anymore of the plot, except to say it has some twists and turns, and everything works out in the end. It's a clean, up-beat book that will appeal to women of any age. Since it addresses some of the choices a young woman must make, it would be a great book for a mother to read with her teenage daughter.

One of the things I really like about Lin Stepp's books is the richness of detail in her setting, and the map that she provides. Bryson City is a real town, and she mentions some of the real places. She gives the reader a wonderful glimpse of small town life.

She has created believable characters that are not without flaws, and some of those characters will likey remind you of someone you went to high school with or someone you've met.

Another plus is the study guide she included in the book. Daddy's Girl could provide a book club with much to discuss. The book debuts on April 1, 2017, but you can preorder a copy from Amazon.

For more information about the author or her book, visit her Amazon author page or her website,

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Minnie McBride Murder

Thanks to Brenda Overholt, my distant cousin a few different ways, for some additional information about Minnie.

When I posted "A Rose for Minnie" back in 2010, I didn't know many of the details about Minnie McBride's murder. From what my daddy told me as a kid—"Old woman kilt her with an ax"—I knew she was young and had been murdered. 

Minnie's stone in Bethel Church graveyard.

Later I found out that her murderer was Lucy Mitchell, a 40-something woman who lived and  worked in the household where Minnie was killed. But recently, I've found out much more about Minnie and her sad life. A search on revealed that Minnie, born in 1891, was the daughter of William Davis McBride (1871-1929) and Jennie Bell Brooks (1872-1900). She had two younger brothers and a sister—Chapman (1893-1908), William Lester (1895-1985), and Grace Bell (1898-1984).

From Brenda Overholt, I learned that after Minnie's mother's death (around 1900), her father placed his two boys, Chapman and Lester, with his half-brother, John Henry Brown. John Henry and his wife Lauretta Wright had several children, but they took in the boys nonetheless. He placed Minnie and Gracie with his half-sister  Sallie Fannie Brown Crum and her husband, Joseph Robert Wesley Crum. Then William Davis McBride took off for West Virginia, where he had some relatives, and started a new life. He likely never saw Minnie again.

I recently learned I have a connection to Minnie: My grandmother, Sallie Lee Brown Smith (who was married to Joseph Robert Smith), and Minnie's half-aunt, Sallie Fannie Brown Crum, were second cousins. Both were the great-granddaughters of Daniel Brown and Martha Joice Snider. 

The Crums, who had no children of their own, were well off financially. Mr. Crum was a county official and was also a farmer. The Crum's house was somewhere behind the Old Salem School. According to the 1900 Union Hall census, Minnie was 9 and a member of the Crum household. Did Minnie attend Salem School? It would likely have been just a short walk for her.

Old Salem School in 2015.
The woods behind the school were likely where the Crum farm was.
My grandparents' farm was about a mile as the crow flies from Salem School. Both my grandparents and the Crums attended Bethel Church.

Minnie's little brother, Chapman McBride, died in March 1908. He'd been ill, possibly with measles earlier in the year, but was made to work out in the cold. But Minnie was getting her life together. A pretty girl, she was engaged to marry her sweetheart Walter Irving Johnson. No doubt she dreamed of living happily ever after.

A newspaper article after Lucy was convicted gives a few details about Minnie's murder.

A month earlier, Lucy Mitchell had been interviewed by an unnamed reporter while she awaited trial. The clippings are a little hard to read, so you might have to click to enlarge them:

So Lucy Mitchell had a sad life too. The daughter of Iyanation Franklin Mitchell of Union Hall, Lucy had worked hard all her life and had never known love. And she was unattractive. One story says she had a hare-lip and big feet. At any rate, Lucy was likely envious of the attractive Minnie who was going to get married to Walter Irving Johnson the next day.

Here's the story about "one of the most horrible murders" in Franklin county that was attached to the previous interview, with a mention that Lucy had a grudge against Minnie's fiancé:

So—Lucy, who had worked as the Crums' servant for seven years, struck Minnie with a piece of wood  in the kitchen, a separate building from the main house. Minnie made it outside, but Lucy finished her off with the ax. Lucy had waited for two weeks and finally had an opportunity when Mrs. Crum and Grace were at Bethel Church and Mr. Crum was in Rocky Mount.

In a 10-page collection of memories written by Esterlene Smith Brooks Kesler, a close friend of Grace McBride Perdue, Mrs. Kesler wrote that Grace told her that Lucy had been sleeping with an ax for a couple weeks because she'd said she was afraid someone would come in the night. But Grace suspected that Lucy wanted to kill her as well as Minnie.

"Grace told that Minnie was first struck with a pine knot, and a trail of blood led from the kitchen table to the yard" where Lucy finished her off with the ax. "Investigators found the pine knot, but not the ax. In 1998, an ax was found in a sack when the kitchen was torn down. The blade was rusty and the handle was only about 18" long." Also in the sack was Minnie's hairclip with several teeth broken out. While the ax and clip were given to Grace's son, no one knows where they are today.

It didn't take long for the news to spread throughout the area, and a crowd began to form with the purpose of hanging Lucy.  Four or five men (including Brenda Overholt's great grandfather Isaiah "Zar" Perdue) came to walk Lucy to the train in Union Hall to take her to the poorhouse. "The men whipped Lucy's legs to make her trot and move fast." I can't help but wonder if my grandfather was one of the men who came to the Crum house. I guess I'll never know.

Soon, Lucy was taken to the jail in Roanoke for her own safety. Perhaps "the poorhouse" she might have been taken to was the Joseph Rives home in Redwood that served as the poorhouse in the 1800s.

Front of the Poorhouse.
Pictures from Brenda Overholt
Back of Poorhouse
Anyhow, after being kept in the Roanoke jail for a few months, she was brought back to Rocky Mount for trial where he was found guilty, sentenced to eighteen years, and sent to prison in Richmond. There she died of tuberculosis in 1913. During her incarceration, she worked in the prison shoeshop as a "paster." It was probably easier work than what she'd been used to.

There are no happy endings to Minnie's and Lucy's story. 

But maybe there's a happy ending for one of Minnie's nephews. Minnie's brother Lester stayed with the Browns for years but was in Richmond in 1917 where he registered for the WWI draft. He was a clerk in Richmond in 1920 but at some point reconnected with his father and moved to West Virginia, where he married in 1923 and had several children. One of Lester's sons is John Andrew McBride, who had a long successful career as a military pilot and astronaut.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Letting Go

. . . of some magazine subscriptions. I've subscribed to Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens for years, but I'm letting my subscriptions expire. Now that I'm elderly, these magazines no longer have much to offer me. Warning: A rant follows:

Check out these covers. Do you notice a common theme here? Food! Particulary food that I—as a gluten-sensitive diabetic—can't eat.  Lots of cakes and pies, etc. Lots of goodies to send my blood sugar soaring.

The covers that don't feature food, feature other things that don't pertain to me. A recent issue of Southern Living features food, but does slip in a nod to something southern—Savannah.

Classic Desserts? Uh, no. Too diabetic. Ditto for the Red Beans and Rice. Those 20 Weeknight Suppers? All laden with carbs. The Savannah Getaway? Can't do that anymore, but my husband and I visited Savannah when we lived in Charleston, SC, back in 1969. Too far to go for us now. Plus who'd look after the critters?

A lot of the magazines—including these—features make-up ads. I'm not sure what they have to do with having  better home, a nice garden, or a life in the south. But those ads must make the magazines  fortune.

Aside from an occasional bit of lipstick if I'm going out, I don't do make-up any more. In fact, I regret ever wearing make-up. All those years of foreign stuff sseeping into my skin couldn't have been good for me.

Trust me, the "style makers" pictured below (on a fold-out cover, no less!) are about as far from my style as you can get.  Looks like none of those folks on the cover do yard-work or farm-work. And the shoes—what the heck can you do while wearing spike-heel sandals except look useless (and maybe fall down)?

I haven't worn high-heeled shoes since I was young and stupid. Two bouts of plantar fasciitis and a heel spur episode have put me in sensible shoes with orthotic insoles for the rest of my life. I also wouldn't think of wearing clothes like that (although I did wear a miniskirt or two in 1969 when I actually had the figure for it, and I did wear wide-legged pants in the late 60s-early 70s). Around the house, I wear sweat pants and T-shirts or sweatshirts.  I do have a skirt or two in the back of my closet that I might have worn in the last decade. Or at least in the last millennium. 

Better Homes and Gardens seems to be trying to bribe me to stay a subscriber. The last time, they threw in a complimentary subscription to Family Circle. Notice it also has the emphasis on food I can't eat, and it seems to be geared to a younger reader: a stressed-out woman with kids and not enough time, a woman who just isn't "good enough" so the magazine will show her how.

The "Five Ways to Reinvent Your Life," for instance, aren't really about reinventing your life.  They're about discovering your passion via asking yourself five questions. (Only I don't think they have much to do with "passion" either.) Here are the questions (with my answers): 
  • What was I like when I was a child? (I was very shy, I wanted a horse, and I liked cats. I got over the shyness, finally bought a horse when I was 32, and now have a gang of cats. What does this have do do wih passion?)
  • Which topic can I talk about for hours on end? (Nothing, but I'm good for about a half-hour on a lot of things. Why would anyone want to hear me talk for hours on end?)
  • If you asked my best friend what I'm awesome at, she would say. . . ? ("Ask somebody else"? I can't think of any friends that are "awesome" at something, even though they have a lot of talents and interests, so I'm glad no one has asked me that question. Why put a best friend on the spot like that, anyhow?)
  • What hobbies do I squeeze in—even when there's no time? (I don't "squeeze in" anything. I usually read every night. I spend time writing—if an idea hits me. Oh, wait!—I squeeze in emergency calls to the vet if one of my critters is sick, but that's not exactly a hobby. Notice how this article assumes that someone has "no time"?)
  • Is there something you always say you'll do one day? (Not anymore. I've let go of a lot of things I'd like to do because I've gotten too old and infirm. I tell myself that I'll make my final burial arrangements, and I've done part of that—buying my own tombstone, and then buying another because the first one was stolen. And again—what does this have to do with passion? Or even re-inventing?)
From a cursory reading of Family Circle, I've decided it has less to offer me than the other magazines. The "Chocolate Love/Reinvent Your Life" issue's 120 pages also had a lot of full-page (and more) ads for drugs: Tylenol, Opdivo, Imbrance, Pristique, Namzaric, Prilosec, Bydureon, Premarin, Prolaria, and Repatha. Plus a bunch of full page ads for foods and other stuff. Who needs that? And at 72, I don't need the story about IUDs either. So I'm letting go of Family Circle.

Women's magazines from years ago had in-depth articles and even short stories. I guess those days are gone now.

And my magazine subscriptions will soon be gone, too. I doubt I'll miss them.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The End Again

Melody Sundance
(August 15, 1989-January 30, 2017

In 2011, I posted "The End" about the death of my elderly mare Cupcake. Now another end has come—this time for Melody—and I am left horseless for the first time in 40 years. Here's how the two looked in their heyday.

While I'd seen Cupcake take her first steps, I didn't meet Melody until she was five. But I have a picture of how she looked as a baby following her mother Tippy Lou at Breezewood Farm in Staunton, Virginia.

When I first met Melody, this is how she looked. 

After I'd ridden her and dismounted, she put her head against my chest. I knew she was mine.

Melody was a big mare—nearly 16 hands. She was a powerhouse and could move out when asked. But, despite her wild eye, she was gentle, well-mannered, and cooperative. 

I didn't ride her much the last several years—she had a bout with Lyme disease  a few years back, a bout of founder, a hoof abscess. And I had health issues of my own.

My cousin Mary sometimes rode Melody down the road and on the trails on our farm. You can see pictures on this 2008 post, "Melody Rides Again," and this 2009 post, "Late October Ride."

In the last few years, Melody was mostly a pasture pet or a lawn ornament.

In her sunset years—her mid-20s, she started losing teeth and couldn't chew very well. I added water to her pellets to make them chewable. She still tried to graze and eat hay, though, but often spit out "cuds" she couldn't swallow.

The last year, she started losing weight so I upped her watered-down pellets a couple of times. 

Every morning and evening at feeding time, she'd wait by the fence where I fed the barn-cats. As soon as they were fed and I'd gotten into my golf-cart, she'd hurry to her shed where I'd feed her. That's what she did the morning of January 30. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground and she moved out faster than usual to go to the shed. As she came down the hill, I noticed how thin she'd gotten, but I was glad she could still move out.

As usual that morning, she ate all her watered-down pellet breakfast.

But late that afternoon when I went to feed, she wasn't waiting with the cats. She was in the stall part of her shed where a beam of sunlight shone on her. She didn't come to her bucket and demand to be fed, so I went to her. The light was gone from her eyes, and she didn't respond much as I petted her. Something was horribly wrong. I went back to the house and called the vet. He was there within 45 minutes. 

Meanwhile, she'd walked to her bucket but hadn't eaten. The three barn cats—Twiggy, Spotz, and Sherman—came down and sat in a line and watched her, something they'd never done before. While I waited for the vet, I groomed her. 

To make a long story short, the vet couldn't detect gut sounds on her right side. There was no manure in her lower intestine, and no fresh manure anywhere around the shed. When he ran a tube to her stomach, foul stuff poured out from what should have been an empty stomach. There didn't seem to be anything we could do but give her a merciful exit from this world. 

She was already tranquilized, so she went quietly and peacefully. 

She's buried in the pasture beside Cupcake.