Peevish Pen

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

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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.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Show & Tell & Tea & Stitches

My kid lit crit group met yesterday around Claudia's kitchen table. For the first time since we organized, we didn't critique each other's work. It was more of a show-and-tell time.



Amy told us some of the things she'd learned at the SCBWI convention in New York—and gave us handouts of the highlights and nifty little journals filled with writing quotes. She's now in the process of rewriting her middle-grade historical novel.

Claudia showed us the contracts she'd gotten from a greeting card company for a couple of her poems.

I showed Claudia and Amy the two books that Christine Blevins had sent me—Mistress of the Blue Ridge (which was published last summer) and an advanced reader copy of The Tory Widow (which will come out in April). I also showed them the neat little goodies that Christine had packed in the box—lavender water, a hankie, tea.


Claudia just happened to have a tea ball and a teapot handy. Soon we were sipping some really good tea.

OK, this isn't the best picture of us, but you get the idea that we were having a good time.

So, Christine, if you're reading this, please know that your tea was enjoyed by all three of us.

I'm only halfway through Midwife of the Blue Ridge, but I like what I've read so far and hope to have the review posted within two weeks.

This has been a busy week. Monday, I finished critiquing Sally's whole manuscript (her second Smith Mountain Lake murder mystery). Tuesday, I finished
critiquing the last chapter of "Duke" Daly's detective story (which takes place at a lake suspiciously like Smith Mountain Lake). I still have to do a couple of manuscripts for the young writers that I mentor, though.

On non-literary matters, I took Foxy to the vet today to get her stitches removed. The vet told me he's done several fibrosarcoma removals in which the cancer didn't return.

Foxy was actually running through the house this morning—she's telling me she really wants to go out. Maybe tomorrow. . . .
~

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Doing a Little Better

Warning: Boring health stuff and a graphic cat incision picture.

The three of us are doing a little better—Cupcake the horse, Foxy the cat, and I.

In November, Cupcake had problems eating and I had to wet down her pellets to make soup. Now, she's been upgraded to gruel and eats much faster. She has a lot of pep for a mare who's pushing 28. She now nickers to me.

I'm doing better with my diabetes. I'm still sticking to less than 100 grams of carbs a day, and my blood sugar has dropped from a monthly average of 204 five weeks ago to 160 today. (My glucometer has this nifty little feature that computes averages.) I've dropped seventeen pounds, although I still have a lot to go.

I haven't been walking lately because of the cold and strong winds. Also, I'm having some lower leg problems. Two months ago, I had problems with swelling and leg cramps. Now, I've got aches, not cramps, and they're below the knee. But my legs now really hurt if I walk too much, and I wake up with them hurting. The swelling isn't as bad as it once was, but it's still a problem, and I don't have as much stamina as I'd like. But a lot of the all-over aching is gone. And I have an appointment with an endocrinologist in late April—the soonest I could get one. I have a feeling I have some thyroid problems that can be fixed.

But I'm better and I have more energy. I've even begun to tackle some long-neglected house-cleaning.

Despite the loss of some leg muscle, 10-year-old Foxy is walking very well. She hardly limps. She can get onto my bed, where she's decided to sleep. I have problems getting her medicine down her—she's a big, strong cat who puts up a fight—but I get most of it down her. The top part of her incision looks really good where the fist-sized fibrosarcoma was removed and the bottom part isn't bad. The vet thinks he got all the cancer. She really wants to go out, though, and can't understand why the other cats can and she can't.

Here are two pictures of Foxy (Warning: the second one shows the incision):



The three of us—horse, cat, and woman—are all senior citizens, so some health problems are to be expected.

But we're doing better.
~

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So Much to Read

. . . So Little Time

I should be working on my YA novel (seven chapters done!), but I’m busy reading.

I’m Beta-reading Sally Roseveare’s latest Smith Mountain Lake murder mystery that she wants to self-publish by summer. I’m into the last few chapters of editing/critiquing “Duke” Daly’s detective story (also set at the lake), and I’m mentoring a couple of young writers via e-mail. In fact, the KC twins sent me another five pages to read this morning.

As of yesterday, though, I’m in the midst of reading a new historical novel: Christine Blevins’ debut book, Midwife of the Blue Ridge. (Most of y’all faithful readers of this blog know I love Appalachian stories—especially when they’re set in the Blue Ridge.)


I first discovered Midwife of the Blue Ridge on the Internet. On her website, Christine had posted an excerpt available for download. After I read that chapter, I was hooked on her fine writing and her premise—Maggie Duncan, a Scots girl gifted in the healing arts, comes to America as an indentured servant in the 1760s. (Among my ancestors are a couple of indentured servants who ended up in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.) I enjoyed the excerpt so much that I e-mailed the author and volunteered to review her recently published novel on this blog. She said she’d send me a copy. That was several weeks ago.

When I came home from Kroger’s yesterday, a bag hung from my mailbox. A good-sized box was in the bag. Not only did Christine send me Midwife of the Blue Ridge (Berkeley, August 2008), she also sent an advanced reader copy of her latest book, The Tory Widow, which will be released in a few months. And more—see:


You know how, when you read a really good book, you wish you could experience the setting first hand? Maybe some sights and smells and tastes? Well, I can do that with Christine’s books. In the box with the books were three little bags. They smelled absolutely wonderful. One bag contained lavender water, another contained lavender soap, and another contained black bohea tea.


Each bag had an attached tag with a passage from the book and some “instructions” about the contents.


Since lavender is one of my favorite herbs, I’ll quote the tags here:

Lavender

A good washing with
a solid bar of soap
sweetened with lavender flowers
will smooth the brow and ease
the griefs and pains
of the head and brain.

The scent of lavender on the
skin works especially well to
forfend the bitings of serpents
and mad dogs.

Opposite the information about lavender is this passage from Midwife of the Blue Ridge:

The day before, Tempie managed to have the Master’s tin tub installed in their cabin. The slave women toted in buckets and buckets of hot water. Aurealia gave the lend of a stiff boar-bristle brush and her last sliver of lavender soap.

Maggie benefited from the long soak in steamy water enriched with a sprinkling of aromatic herbs from Tempie’s satchel, and she scoured away every speck of Cavendish detritus—real or imagined—that might be clinging to her skin. . .

Another tag:

Sweet Lavender Water

An Admirable Tonic
Bathe the temples and forehead with
this distillate to allay Giddiness of
the Brain, and to calm palpitations
of a Nervous sort.
Useful for keeping lice, fleas and
mosquitoes at bay, throw the Water
among your clothes, and Grateful
they will smell.
Keep a handkerchief doused with
Sweet Lavender water on your person
to help mitigate an Unbearable Stink.

A handkerchief was wrapped around the bottle of lavender water, the lid of which was sealed with wax.


Here’s a passage from The Tory Widow:

The bells tolled eight o’clock when the women set out for the hospital at King’s College. The morning sun beat incessantly in a cloudless sky on a breezeless day. Gutters overflowing with human and animal waste percolated up through a filter of rotting garbage. The street stench coalesced with the smell of a low tide, forming the thick blanket of malodor smothering the entire city. With lavender-infused handkerchiefs pressed to their noses, Anne and Sally traversed the narrow streets on their trek across town. . .


I started reading Midwife of the Blue Ridge last night and couldn’t put it down. When I finish the book, I’ll post a review here. One thing I especially like is how the author handles the dialect of her main character—she captures the rhythm of Maggie’s speech and works in a few unfamiliar words whose meanings are made clear in context. The dialect, instead of being awkward or intrusive, adds flavor to the novel.

Stay tuned for an up-date on this book. Meanwhile, check out the excerpt. You might get hooked, too.

Meanwhile, I won’t have to worry about mad dogs, serpents, or giddinesss.
~

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Mid-February Snow

Last night, snow fell. For a while, the world was silvery-white.

The azaleas looked like cotton plants.


A half-moon hung in the sky.


The rising sun turned the silver to gold.


The zebra grass had white plumes.


The crape myrtle glistened.


But a dark cloud hovered over the silver and gold world.


It too will pass.
~

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday the 13th and the Day After

Following Friday's Lake Writers meeting, five of us went to the diner in Moneta. Not only did we get great food and service, but we were also seranaded.

While we were eating, four guys in matching red vests and black bowties came in. They were the Ice Cream Quartet, a barbershop singing quartet from the Harmeneers, and they'd been taking a break from delivering singing valentines. Their picture is on today's Smith Mountain Eagle website. They went to a few tables and sang. Our table was one.

On another Valentine's note, yesterday and today, Daisy the Curly Cat blog has photos of Daisy modeling her Valentine's Day outfits. If you like cute cats and whimsical blogs, check out Daisy's blog.

Photobucket

Now, my own cat news which isn't whimsical—it's more deadly serious: Wednesday night, Foxy— my big cat—crawled into my lap. Foxy is pretty much her own cat, and not a lap-cat at all. I stroked her fur and felt a huge lump on her left hindquarter—a lump as big as my fist.

Since she has long thick hair, I hadn't noticed the lump. In fact, I even had to look hard to see it when she walked. Thursday morning I took her to the vet. Diagnosis: fibrosarcoma, a type of feline cancer. (Some info is here, but don't look if you're squeamish.) Surgery would buy her some time—maybe a couple of years.

Foxy is a least ten. When she signed on as my cat in 1999, she was full grown but skin and bones, had the worst case of earmites I'd ever seen, and also an infection in one eye. I doctored her up and she thrived. She became the boss cat of the household. In her prime, she could stop three dogs in full run. She's still a big cat —sixteen pounds.

Now that she's past her prime, she's slowed down and spends more time sleeping than mousing. She still goes to the barn everyday and makes her rounds just before daylight. Then she comes in and shares my breakfast. Or she did until Thursday.

The vet quoted me a price on the surgery—less than the computer I'd planned to buy; considerably less than some of the work I wanted done around the house. But still pricey.

I looked in Foxy's eyes and saw life looking back at me. Foxy wasn't ready to go yet. The vet could do the surgery Friday morning and, if all went well, I could take her home Saturday.

Friday, while the quartet sang to me, the vet was leaving a message on my answering machine: Foxy had come through the surgery fine, but the growth was a lot bigger than he had expected. He'd had to remove some muscle, too.

This morning, I picked her up. All her long fluffy hair is gone from her left hindquarter and part of her belly. She has one heckuva scar. She can't use her left leg yet and will probably always limp. But she's alive and pretty much her feisty self.

Her eye looks a little weird because of the flash. It's really not that green.

For the next couple of weeks, Foxy will be on pain medication and antibiotics. She'll get her stitches out in two weeks.

Speaking of stitches, you might not want to look at the next picture if you're easily grossed out. But it's not too bad.


The vet thinks he got all of it. And that's really something to sing about.
~

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Twenty-one Questions

I took this this meme from Blue Country Magic, who took it from another blog. I figured I’d give these questions a shot:

1. Do you like bleu cheese? Not particularly, but I like most other kinds of cheese, except for cottage cheese. Cheese cubes are among my favorite snack foods.

2. Have you ever smoked? I smoked a couple of packs of Menthol Benson & Hedges when I was in college, but didn’t really enjoy smoking.

3. Do you own a gun? I live in rural America—of course! I also have a concealed carry permit.

4. What flavor Kool Aid was your favorite? None of them. But the smell of grape Kool Aid reminds me of Vacation Bible School.

5. What do you think of hot dogs? If you mean the food, I always wonder what’s ground up in them. If you mean canines, I think Maggie is cute when she cools off in the creek.

6. Favorite Christmas movie? Tie between It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story.

7. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? I start every morning with a cup of black coffee. My husband makes wonderful coffee.

8. Can you do push ups? Not for years.

9. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? A silver walking horse necklace that I bought at a Plantation Walking Horse Show at the Lexington Horse Center over 20 years ago.

10. Favorite hobby? Reading. (Close second favorite: walking the woods with dogs)

11. Do you wear glasses/contacts? Trifocals!

12. Middle name? It’s a four-letter word. A queen once had this name.

13. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink. Water, coffee, and sometimes hot tea. Even though I’m a southerner, I never developed a taste for iced tea. Given my high blood sugar, juice is out of the question, but I wish I could drink it.

14. Current worry? My high blood sugar—but it’s coming down.

15. Current hate right now? The economy which is hurting people I know. (I copied this from Blue Country Magic. I’d bet that most folks feel this way.)

16. Favorite place to be? Right where I am. (I copied this from Blue Country Magic, too.)

17. Do you own slippers? Yes. (Can I find them when I want? Sometimes.)

18. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? No, too slippery and too much static.

19. Can you whistle? Sort of. Off-key because I’m tone-deaf.

20. What songs do you sing in the shower? I don’t sing. (See above for why)

21. Last thing that made you laugh? Probably cat antics—Dylan and Eddie-Puss trying to be mighty hunters. Eddie-Puss has fashioned himself a hunting tent out of a lawn chair cover and waits for birds, but they notice the plastic flapping. Dylan tries to hide under the deck rail to wait for birds, but they see him. This evening, Eddie-Puss thought he was hiding behind a pile of bush-clippings but the birds saw him. Or maybe it was this blog—Daisy the Curly Cat. It often provides me a good chuckle.

Friday, February 06, 2009

To Be or Not to Be?

According to this web site, there are one or fewer people in the USA with my name.

HowManyOfMe.com
LogoThere are
1

or fewer people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

If there's "one," I'm it. If "fewer than one," where does that leave me?
~

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What a Difference

. . . a day makes.

On Monday—Groundhog Day, John and I explored the back boundaries of one of our farms. The weather was unseasonably warm—60! We hiked to parts of the farm that I'd not seen before.

One place I'd never seen was the old Davis cemetery, just across the barbed wire fence that marks our boundary. Field stones mark the half-dozen or so graves. Sometime later, names were added to cement blocks in front of some stones. A gnarled tree guards the graveyard.

Here's a slideshow that shows the graveyard. (Yes, that's Maggie investigating.)


Something odd happened on the way up to the cemetery. We had to climb some steep hills with ravines between. Maggie and Hubert ran ahead—as they usually do—and disappeared into a deep ravine. Suddenly both dogs yipped/shrieked/made dog equivalent of a scream and came running toward us at top speed. For a moment, Maggie glared back at the ravine. What could have scared Maggie? She's pretty fearless. (We didn't go down for a closer look.)

After we visited the cemetery, we went to our back boundary where we have some big timber.



I was really tired from the climb and had to sit on a log to rest. Maggie sat with me. (Hubert rolled and rolled in something foul.)


On the way back down, Maggie and Hubert sniffed through the woods. Can you find both dogs in the picture below?


Near Polecat Creek, Maggie checked a groundhog hole. If the groundhog had come out to see his shadow, he was gone now. Maggie gave the hole a pretty deep sniff. Nothing. Then she checked the other entrance. Nothing again.


Yesterday morning was cold and snowy—hard to believe that the day before was so warm. I guess the groundhog's prediction is right. Winter is back.


This morning was bitterly cold—and the forecast is for even lower temperatures tonight. Winter is back with a vengeance.
~

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Happy Rodent-based Holiday

Happy Groundhog Day, a holiday that is mostly undiscovered by both the greeting card industry and home decorating industry. There are no groundhog carols, no feasts, no pageantry, no parades, no inflatable lawn ornaments, no Martha Stewart groundhog centerpieces—not much of anything, even though it is America’s only rodent-based holiday.

The groundhog either sees his shadow or not, an event that is over in a matter of minutes. (Note: originally in Europe the badger was the rodent of choice; early German settlers in America found few badgers, but they found an abundance of groundhogs.)

Hence for this under-rated holiday, I offer this poem that I wrote years ago for a Virginia Poetry Society contest. (The poem neither won nor placed.) I hate to waste it, so here goes:

The Groundhog
by Becky Mushko

The groundhog, I’m fairly certain,
Lives behind no silken curtain,
Lounges on no chaise or chair,
Wears no garments but his hair.

The groundhog, I do believe,
Keeps no secrets up his sleeve
Since he doesn’t wear a shirt.
He spends his days in digging dirt.

The lowly groundhog, I have found,
Makes his home beneath the ground,
Shuns townhouse and doublewide,
And makes do with his hole’s inside.

This large rodent, I have learned,
Has—of necessity—luxury spurned.
Both his needs and wants are few.
He only does what he needs to do.

But every winter, he has a day when
He ventures forth from his cozy den
As his fans eagerly watch and wait
To see what he’ll prognosticate.

When the sun is out in force,
The groundhog’s shadow appears, of course;
If he sees it, we can be sure
Six weeks of winter we’ll endure.

If clouds prevail and sun can’t shine,
No shadow means weather will be fine.
The groundhog really doesn’t care;
He just returns to his cozy lair

Underground, so snug and deep,
That sheltered him for his winter sleep.
About his forecast, he doesn’t worry
As humans do each February.

If you prefer, you can celebrate today as Candlemas. According to an old saying:

If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
But if Candlemas day bring clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and won't come again.

Another holiday that happens around this time is the Celtic Imbolc, which comes halfway between the winter solstice and the equinox.

So, Happy Groundhog Day, Merry Candlemas, and a Joyful Imbolc to all! If you think of a good way to celebrate, let me know.

This morning is sunny and the temperature is in the 40s. Looks like winter will stay awhile.

P.S. Yesterday Maggie and Hubert investigated a few groundhog holes. The groundhogs didn’t come out. I don’t think Maggie would have given the groundhog time to see its shadow if one had come out.
~

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Soup-er Bowl

For the last two months, I’ve made horse soup for Cupcake twice a day. I use this big blue bowl to mix her pelleted feed with water—lots of water.



Something happened to Cupcake in November. The vet said she might have a pituitary tumor or she might have had a stroke. At any rate, she can’t chew well, and her face is a little assymetrical. She tries to eat grass and hay, but leaves little quids of partially chewed stuff around. If she has a tumor, the vet said she’d only get worse. If she had a stroke, she should get somewhat better.

She’s getting better.

For a while, she’d lost a lot of weight. After I figured out that she could drink fine, I started souperizing her pellets. A first it took her nearly an hour to suck up her soup. Now she polishes off her meal in less than a half-hour. And she’s gaining back her weight.

It takes a while for the quart of water to dissolve her pellets, so I have to spend more time preparing her breakfast and dinner. Luckily the big blue bowl works fine.


Is it soup yet?


When it's soupy, I pour it into Cupcake's pan and close her in her stall, so Melody can't take her food.


It takes her a while to eat her soup, but eventually she does. It's worth the extra time and effort to fix her something she likes.

I’m spending more time fixing my own meals, too. After learning how high my blood sugar was, I started low-carbing. Not only will low-carbing bring down my blood sugar, but it’ll bring down my weight, too.

Unfortunately, this means I can’t continue to scarf those convenient microwave meals or make a sandwich. I actually have to cook. Cooking takes time.

But—in the two and a half weeks, I’ve low-carbed, I’ve lowered my average blood glucose level from the 170s--220s to the 150s-160s, and I’ve dropped thirteen pounds. I feel much better, too, except for those times when my BG drops into the 130s—which is still too high for regular people, but it’s low for me now. In a few more weeks, I hope my BG will normally be below that.

Meanwhile, I’m doing super.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, but I have no intention of plopping down in front of the TV tonight and watching some hyped-up football game. I was never encouraged to play football when I was a kid, and thus never became interested in the game. I hear the ads are pretty good, but I figure they’ll be on YouTube tomorrow.

Actually, I don’t watch much TV anyhow, except on Monday nights when my favorite show (The Big Bang Theory) is on. The only one in the family who's into football is Maggie. Here's what she has to say about it.

Football
by Maggie Mae Mushko
(3-year-old border collie)

I have played with my little orange football since I was a pup and am therefore qualified to write about football.


What they do in that Super Bowl thing on TV is not how football should be played.

For one thing, a bunch of men with numbers on their back run all over the place. They should have a border collie to organize them. A border collie would round them up, get them in line (in numerical order, of course), and bring the football to each one in turn. Whoever has the ball would throw it until the border collie is tired. (This could take hours.)


When the border collie gets tired, a second team border collie would be brought in to fetch. Border collies are cuter than guys in helmets, so more people would watch.

And that "bowl" they talk about should be filled with dog treats.
~

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