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.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Melody Orders Hay

Cupcake: Hmmm. Not much to eat. Melody, what should we do?


Melody: I'll call in an order. Now where did I put my cellphone?

Melody's human servants receive her message and drive a couple of miles to the farm to get her hay. Then they have to get the tractor and head for where the bales are stored .


Then spear a bale and haul it to the trailer behind the truck. This is a lot of work, but Melody can be very insistent when she's hungry.


After the hay is on the trailer, it's hauled back home and into the pasture. It doesn't hurt to have a farm truck with 4-wheel drive.


Melody: What took you so long? We've been waiting!


Melody: Could you back it up just a bit?


Melody: Well, put it right there.


Melody: I'd better take a closer look.


Melody: Smells OK.


Melody: Spring 2008, you say? That's a decent vintage. Let me taste it.


Melody: Oh, yeah. This'll do fine.


Melody: You didn't want any did you, Cupcake?
~

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Best Shot

(With a little help from my friends)

Today, we had a photo shoot for the picture on the back cover of Ferradiddledumday. Here's the front cover (the corrected cover—without the things sticking up from the mountain):


The publisher wanted a shot of me doing something of an educational nature with kids. Maybe something country-looking. Naturally I turned to my crit group—and fellow bloggers—for help.

Amy (The Virginia Scribe) has a really good Nikon, so she was the designated photographer). Plus she has two photogenic kids who exude personality and are the age that Ferradiddledumday is geared to. Samantha, a neighbor of Claudia (All Furry Critters), looks like a country girl—maybe because she is. And my cousin Hunter—another country kid who conveniently lives down the road—was on the cover of a previous book of mine, so he's an old hand at posing for a cover shot.

After Amy had taken dozens of shots, we downloaded them onto my iMac. This is our favorite—the definite best shot.


Does that say "reading a country story" to you? Or do you like this one better?


The one in the old gazebo probably doesn't quite work. Too crowded. Looks kind of spooky, though.


This one doesn't have anything to do with reading, but it was fun to see how many of us would fit on one of John's tractors.


After the official photo shoot, we visited the horses. Whenever Cupcake sees a group of kids, she has flashbacks to when she used to give pony rides to my former students, so she didn't join the group. Melody is an attention hog, though.


And what's a visit to a farm without a climb on the pasture fence?


Later, John parked his tractor near the house, and I couldn't resist a photo op. Does this one capture the real me?


Decisions, decisions. . . .
~

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Yesterday's Blessings, with Flowers

Over on Blue Country Magic, “Country Dew” has been counting her blessings for the past few posts. I decided to list the things I’m thankful for but on a smaller scale: one day. Yesterday.

Because this is a very long post, I’ll intersperse pictures of flowers to give you a break. I’m thankful my flowers do so well.


I’m thankful that the little furry body in the road when I went to get the paper isn’t one of my critters. I’m thankful for a husband who promptly removes and disposes of the rabbit corpse.


I’m thankful that the dogfight doesn’t result in blood or the need for stitches for the canine participants or me. Here’s what happened: I always feed the dogs with more food containers than there are dogs. Each of the four dogs has favorite places and methods to eat. I usually play with Maggie so the other dogs can eat in peace while she’s otherwise occupied. Maggie would rather play than eat.


Every morning when I enter the kennel, Maggie has a particular toy selected for me to toss. So, yesterday morning I toss Maggie’s squeak toy and she fetches. Between tosses/fetches, I dish out the dog food. Emma likes to eat from a cat food can that she can carry to her selected (and private) place. Harley also likes food served in cat food cans because he can hide them away in the dog stall. Hubert eats wherever Maggie isn’t.


Yesterday morning, after squirreling away his can, Harley teases Emma. He frolicks around her in ever-narrowing circles (Catahoulas like to run in a spiral pattern) and lunges at her can. When she unleashes a stream of canine profanity at Harley, Maggie drops her toy and jumps on Emma. A bite-fight ensues. Neither backs down. Harley runs big spirals around the fighter and chants the doggie equivalent of “Nyah-nyah-nyah.” Hubert, Maggie’s little beagle sidekick, gets involved by nipping Emma’s backside. I also get involved.


Grabbing the thick hair around Maggie’s neck with both hands, I lift the 80-pound border collie high enough so she’s standing on her hind legs and pull her backwards. Emma won’t give up the fight. I swing Maggie around so Emma is behind me and drag her away from the circling Emma. I repeat this maneuver a few times until Emma gives up. Harley, meanwhile, has grabbed Emma’s can and taken it into the dog stall. I shake Maggie a few times and yell “No fighting!” in my best Alpha-dog voice. “Yeah, whatever,” Maggie mutters and I release her. Emma gets a time-out in the small kennel. Later, I put her on the leash and walk the fence-line so we can both calm down. I am thankful that at my age, I can still break up dog-fights. I am thankful that the bent-over metal post I see as Emma and I check fences is not all the way down and the wire is still attached so the horses won’t escape. I am thankful to have a husband that fixes the bent post.


I am thankful that later, when I reread my Ferradiddledumday page proofs for the third time, I catch a slight error and figure out a way to easily correct it. I am thankful that I e-mail the correction to the publisher before the power outage. I am thankful that I turn off my computer before the power goes out at 2:00 PM.


I am thankful that we have a place to go while we’re without power. We drive to Rocky Mount for the Franklin County Historical Society Meeting, and return home a few minutes before the power returns.


I am thankful that no appliances are damaged and that the muddy water (churned up from the well when the pump restarts) that pours through the faucets soon runs clear. I’m glad the mud in the toilet eventually flushes away and that bleach takes care of the stains.


I’m thankful that my two elderly lady cats now get along well enough (they hated each other for the first couple of years—the notch in Foxy’s ear was put there by Camilla 10 years ago) to accompany me for the evening feeding, which goes smoothly for both horses and dogs. I’m glad the cats finally decide to come in before dark, even though Camilla makes it clear she’d rather frolic around for a while. I’m thankful that Foxy’s cancer hasn’t returned.


I’m thankful that my garden now provides enough—but not too much—squash and tomatoes.


I’m thankful that Olivia, the little pregnant rescue cat, seems to be responding to her latest antibiotics. I’m thankful that she sits in the gazebo with me and purrs as we watch the sunset. I’m thankful that she ‘s learned the drill: come into the garage at night.


I’m thankful that the odor of skunk that permeates the house at 10:00 PM doesn’t mean that a skunk is actually in the house. I check the front porch; the smell is stronger there, but I only see Potter-the-porch-cat who doesn’t seem unduly upset. When I check the back deck, I am thankful that the critter washing its little hands isn’t a skunk. I’m thankful that the very pregnant possum leaves when I rap on the sliding glass door.


I’m thankful that when I return to my computer, the string of 55555555555555s that Eddie-Puss, one of the desktop cats, added to my document is easily fixable. I’m thankful that I remembered to save the document before I went to check on the skunk aroma.


I have a lot to be thankful for.
~

Friday, July 17, 2009

Coming Soon


Well, coming before too long from Cedar Creek Publishing. Today, the publisher sent me this preliminary design for the front cover.


I really like it. I can see the path where my main character, Gillie, takes her sheep down the hill to graze. Gillie and her pa live high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountain in the background is really a mountain in the Blue Ridge.

However, I can see that the photo needs a tiny bit of work before it's final.

Do you see what the problem is? (You might have to click to enlarge.)

Update: The publication date for Ferradiddledumday is now mid-January 2010.
~


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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yard Thing

Does my lower lawn (aka "courtyard," but actually the septic field) look a little empty to you?


Yeah, it has the old gazebo (hidden by tree and vines), the zebra grass, a brick wall, and some flowers, but it needs something—well—distinctive.

Tuesday Kroger at Westlake had reduced the price on a "Toscano two-bench arbor with pergola top." And it was Senior Citizen Day, so I got an additional 5% discount. Good thing I have a truck with an 8-foot bed!

The thing came in a gazillion pieces in a big box.



Good thing I have a mechanically minded husband—who has tools. I don't know what all these are, but they ought to do the job.


By Thursday morning, he had most of the gazillion pieces put together.


Here's a view from the bench:


Now I'm thinking that the new yard thing would look better in the middle of the courtyard instead of so close to the bottom driveway. What do you think?


Here's a view from the other side:


See? A little too close to the driveway, don't you think? Good thing we haven't pinned it down yet.

And I can't decide on which side to plant the wisteria. Decisions, decisions.
~

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Honest Scrap



I have been presented with the Honest Scrap Award by Sweet Virginia Breeze who received it from Lilla at Rhymes with Vanilla.

Here are the instructions that came with the award:

The Honest Scrap award is not one to hold all to yourself, but must be shared.

First, the recipient has to tell 10 true things about themselves in their blog that no one else knows

Second, the recipient has to pass along this prestigious award to 10 more bloggers.

Third, those 10 bloggers all have to be notified that they have been given this award.

Those 10 bloggers that receive this award should link back to the blog that awarded them "The Honest Scrap" award.

So, 10 true things about myself that no one knows—OK, that few people know:

  1. The first blog I read every morning is Daisy the Curly Cat.
  2. I play Spider Solitaire on the AARP site every day. If I win, I figure I don’t have Alzheimers yet.
  3. I hate to shop and rarely go to a mall.
  4. I rarely eat potatoes, rice, or pasta—they cause way too big a rise in my blood sugar—unless I am eating out, and then I don’t eat much.
  5. When I was six years old, I made up my mind to drop out of school when I was sixteen. I never did, though.
  6. I received my Master of Arts in Teaching degree at The Citadel—the Military College of South Carolina—and was in the second graduating class that included women. This was back in the days before women were admitted as undergraduates, and even graduate students were not allowed ot attend classes during the day.
  7. When I was a kid, I wanted a houseful of cats when I grew up. Got’em!
  8. I hate to dress up and usually avoid occasions that require formal attire.
  9. When I had chronic mono for 22 months—from 1992 until 1994—I had no energy to do much, so I wrote. Most of my self-pubbed novel was written during that time.
  10. I hated the idea of computers until I got my first one—a Mac Performa 550 in 1994—and discovered I loved them. I’ve had Macs ever since, and the Performa 550 still works.
I don't have a clue upon whom to inflict "Honest Scrap," so I'll just take pot luck. If you're reading this, give it a try and then link back to this blog.
~

Friday, July 10, 2009

Murder at Smith Mountain Lake?

Who is killing people at Smith Mountain Lake? Before she can stop the murderer, Aurora Harris—with help from her dog—must first uncover the Secrets at Sweetwater Cove.
Sally Roseveare’s new book, Secrets at Sweetwater Cove, is now available from Infinity Publishing. It isn’t on Amazon yet, but it should be in about a month. By next week, it should be at the gift shops around Smith Mountain Lake. And, of course, Sally will soon have some copies.


Folks around the lake have been waiting for years for Secrets at Sweetwater Cove. Sally’s Lake Writer buddies, who’ve heard her read excerpts, have been waiting, too. As one of her Beta readers, I’ve had a chance to read the book in its entirety. And I was impressed.

If you liked her first book, Secrets at Spawning Run, you’ll love Secrets at Sweetwater Cove. The book is indeed full of secrets. From the back cover:

The prestigious Sweetwater Cove community sprawls along Smith Mountain Lake. Expensive homes on two-acre lots line the 18-hole golf course. Condominiums dot the waterfront. But is Sweetwater Cove really sweet? Hessie Davis lives in Sweetwater. Why is she wandering, lost, on Smith Mountain? Tom Southerland is building a home in Sweetwater. Why has Tom disappeared? Realtor Carole Barco shows Sweetwater properties. Why is Carole running for her life? Teenager Kurt Karver lives in Sweetwater. Who wants Kurt dead? What secret lurks at La Grande Maison? With her dog King’s help, Aurora Harris struggles to uncover the SECRETS AT SWEETWATER COVE.

Since I’ve already read the book, I know the answers to the above questions. I also know that Sally, meticulous in her approach to mystery writing, has crafted a compelling plot with lots of twists and surprises. She’s skillfully blended real locations with ones she’s created; if you don’t know the Smith Mountain Lake area, you won’t be able to tell which is which.

The main characters in her first book appear in Secrets at Sweetwater Cove, but it isn’t necessary that you read Secrets at Spawning Run first in order to enjoy this one. Secrets at Sweetwater Cove stands on its own merits.

I’m not going to give away the plot, but here’s the beginning of the book:

Friday, September 22

He turned left and drove past her car. Their eyes met. She shuddered, blinked, and he was gone, lost in the five o’clock traffic. Behind her, horns blared when the light changed to green. The black Lab in the back seat whined. Aurora Harris glanced in the rear view mirror. A driver yelled and shook his fist. Embarrassed, Aurora steered her Jeep through the intersection.

She drove into a parking lot and shut off the engine, her knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel. Never before had she looked into such eyes—cold, calculating, dangerous. The eyes of the devil, she thought. Eyes she’d never forget.

At home that evening, Aurora told her husband about the fleeting encounter.

“So what color was his hair?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Was he short, fat, what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Black? White? Mexican? Chinese? An extra-terrestrial being? Come on, Aurora.”

“Sam, I’m sorry. I just don’t know.”

“So you’re telling me that even though this man’s eyes scared you half to death, you have no clue what he looks like?”

“Right. But if I ever see those eyes again, I’ll know him. He’s evil, Sam. And dangerous.”

Are you hooked yet?
~
Update: On July 14, Sally appeared on the Blue Ridge Library's "Cover to Cover" show on BTW Channel 21. You can watch the podcast (#106) here. Betsy's Ashton's Laker Weekly article about Sally is here.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy 4th of July

A somewhat different approach to "The Star-Spangled Banner," featuring a whole bunch of past Presidents:



~



Friday, July 03, 2009

The Silence of the Cows

Sometimes what you think is, isn’t.


For instance, I’ve often heard the cows across the road humming. One cow would start: “UUMMMMMmmmmmmmm.” Another who join in, then another. Imagine a bovine group meditation. I thought the group hum meant the cows were content and at peace with the world.

Turns out I was wrong. At my vet’s recent 10th-anniversay of his practice dinner, an agricultural Phd. was the guest speaker. While chatting with him, I asked why cows hum. Turns out they hum when they’re under stress. Since cows prefer cool weather (they’re happiest when the temps are slightly above freezing!), the heat could be stressing them.

The cows are pretty good neighbors. Sometimes one or a few come to the fence to visit. The other evening a beige heifer, the panda-faced bull, and one of the black bulls were at the fence.


There are several bulls in the pasture. They all seem to get along, but Panda-face is the leader. He’s the one who calls the herd to him with his distinctive "Muuuuhhhhhhhhhhhmmmmm-bwwwwaaaahhhh-buwwwWAAAHHH!" bellow.

Anyhow, I crossed the road to visit. I noticed the two bulls were licking the heifer.

Here Panda-face takes his turn at a lick.

Where they currying her favor? Trying to get her to choose one over the other? Was this (Gasp!) bovine foreplay?

Then it occurred to me: the day had been really hot. The cows were sweaty. There was no salt block in the pasture that I knew of. The two bulls had merely found a substitute for a salt block.


At least, that’s what I figure. The cows aren’t telling.
~

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Winning and Losing

Last Saturday, my Lake Writer/Valley Writer buddy Betsy Ashton and I journeyed to Wytheville for the annual Wytheville Chautauqua Literary Festival, where I placed second in the short story category; she placed third in the essay category.


There we were joined by fellow Lake Writer Bruce Rae who placed second in the essay category. It never hurts to win a bit of money.

On Monday, the winners in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest were announced, and I—who’d won the Vile Pun division in 2008—didn’t even place. Indeed, there were no winners from Virginia at all.

Here’s the grand prize winner, written by David McKenzie of Federal Way, WA:

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.

The winning entry had a nautical theme, as did this losing one I submitted:

I’d momentarily considered rekindling my romance with Hobart but that ship had not only sailed long ago, it had gone down soon after leaving the harbor and now lay belly up in the breakers, looking like a soon-to-be-beached whale whose rotting remains would drive away tourists, so I decided not to return his calls and just get another restraining order like the last time.

I thought that my pun-packed entry with numerous literary allusions to the poetry of Thomas Gray was bad enough to place, but (Alas!) it was not:

Asked by his wife why he had not completed his poem, Thomas Gray replied, “It’s a long story, but on my way to pay the tax collector what we owed on the spring and surrounding property, I took a shortcut over Mount Odin, but as I began the descent of Odin, I passed a cemetery whereupon I stopped to read the epitaph on Mrs. Clerke and then commenced sneezing, for I suffered an allergy within a country churchyard, so my lack of progress of poesy is owed to adversity.”

I figured this entry of mine wouldn’t be bad enough for a “Vile Pun,” and I was right:

Amelia decided to accept the job teaching creative writing to prisoners after she had carefully considered the cons and prose.

But I had hopes (Dashed!) for this:

Always jealous of her brother and his business accomplishments, Jessica found it difficult to be sweet to him when her Fabulous Fudge business fizzled while his Gourmet Goober business succeeded, and she could hardly suppress her peanuts envy.

Ah, well. Win some, lose some.
~

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

July Dawning

Because I rose at five this morning, I was outside in time to watch the sun rise over Smith Mountain at six. First, just a hint of sun appeared.


The view toward the north looked ominous. Red sky at morning?


Back to the east, however, the sky glowed gold . . .


. . . but still red toward the north.


Finally, the sun appeared behind the mountain . . .


. . . and a rainbow appeared in the northwest. A rainbow!


The other end vanished into a cloud.


The morning sun made everything golden.


But clouds still covered the northern sky.

~