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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Late October Ride

(Waxing Poetic, with the help of Edgar A.)



The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere -
The leaves they were withering and sere;

That passage from Poe's Ulalume pretty well describes today.My cousin Mary stopped by to ride Melody this morning. Mel hadn’t been on the road for a couple of months. But her hoof abcess had long since healed and while she wasn’t (thankfully) rarin’ to go, she went.

 It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:

Don’t know that this is my “most immemorial year,’ but it’s still October, and it’s night as I post this.

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid-region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Well, the lake in my area is Smith Mountain Lake, which isn’t exactly a tarn (a small mountain lake). It’s a doggone big lake.

The morning fog for the last week, however, has indeed made the region pretty misty. As for ghoul-haunted, there’s Hainted Holler down the road a mile, but there was nary a ghoul to be seen today. In fact, the ghost of Jesse Chapman, the former resident haint, hasn’t been seen for more than fifty years.


Hainted Holler: the light-colored object to the left is an old dog, not a ghost.

Even the graveyard just down the road apiece didn’t spout off a fireball as it is reported to do on occasion. The buzzards who gathered were after the remains of yesterday’s roadkill possum.

Since I have nothing spooky to report, I’ll just post the pictures of Melody and Mary trucking along.


Just before Mary and Melody pass Hainted Holler, which is to the left of the road.


Coming down Blacksmith Road.


Turning from Blacksmith Road onto the trail.


Vanishing into the woods and starting a run to the top.


Just before they came out of the woods, they flushed the biggest buck I've seen.
Too bad I didn't have the camera ready.


Getting ready to cross the road to Polecat Creek Farm.


Approaching the trail that leads to the bottom.


Vanishing into the woods again.

After Mary and Melody headed for the bottom, I drove home. I figured if they didn't return within an hour, I'd come looking for them.

A half hour after I returned home, I heard Cupcake hollering. I figured she must have realized Melody was gone. Soon, every time Cupcake hollered, I heard an answering whinny from the other side of the cow pasture. Sure enough, it wasn't long before I saw Melody.


 You can just barely see her.


  

But soon she appears and heads for the turn toward home.


Mel hollers to answer Cupcake. Ruby the dog joins Melody.


Horse, rider, and dog approach home—just the other side of the burning bush.

Melody was ready for a nap when she got home. Mary probably was, too. They were dog-tired, but Ruby the dog still had lots of energy.
~

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Into the Woods

What do I see in the October woods? I see the trail winding through the trees. I see inspiration for what I'm writing.



I'm working on a YA novel that takes place in the fall. I write both what I know (settings) and what I can imagine (characters and plot). Having settings like this readily available to me helps.

My protagonist would walk on a leaf-covered path through woods like thisto get to her aunt's cabin. She'd feel the dry leaves crunching under her feet.



 Maybe the path would be wider in places and trees would tower over her head. As I walk the woods, I try to imagine what she'd notice and how she would react.



Maybe some of the trees would look spooky, like this walnut tree on Smith Farm. This tree was big even when I was a kid.



Would she notice how the limbs at the top come together to form kind of a weird critter?



Perhaps she'd pass old buildings in disrepair, like the remains of this barn that stored my grandfather Smith's hay and feed. The stalls for his horse and mule were on the left side. You can see the remains of the wood-shake roof hanging against the building. I can remember when Gen the mule and Kate the horse lived here. But what would my protagonist remember of this old place.



At the end of the path, she'd see her aunt's cabin. The picture below is actually a tobacco barn, but it's about the size of the cabin I have in mind.



And maybe something would be watching her.



You never know what might be in the woods. Or what might be in a story.


~

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fallen: A Review

This past week was Teen Read Week,  and this year’s theme was “Read Beyond Reality.” Thus it was fitting that I spent part of the past week reading Fallen, a debut novel by Lauren Kate (Delecorte, ISBN 978-0-385-73893-4 ). 

 

It’s a compelling read. I’m a sucker for quirky characters, and this book was full of them. I predict this book, which releases on December 9, will attract a huge following of female teens. 

Fallen is a YA dark fantasy—a story of immortal love and good vs. evil— that raises many questions but only provides partial answers. Sixteen-year-old Luce, recently involved in a fire that killed a boy with whom she was romantically involved, is sent to Sword and Cross, an eerie reform school somewhere in coastal Georgia. The students, watched by cameras (“reds”) must wear black, attend long and boring classes, and—when assigned—serve detention at dawn by cleaning the cemetery within the school grounds. But they also have the freedom to decorate their rooms as they like, and skipping class seems pretty easy. 

On her first day, Luce is immediately attracted to Daniel, a hunk with blonde hair, violet-gray eyes, and the requisite rippling muscles. Cam—with black hair, green eyes, and equally rippling muscles—is attracted to Luce. Throughout the book, Luce is torn between the two—obsessed and often rebuffed by Daniel but tempted by the beguiling Cam.

Turns out the reason for Daniel’s treatment of Luce is that Daniel is a fallen angel, doomed to fall in love with Luce every seventeen years throughout numerous lifetimes, but Luce always dies with their first kiss. If Daniel ignores her, they’ll be safe, right?

Uh, no—and therein lies many of the complications of this book. While both are immortal, Luce is always born as a mortal, hence her death—except maybe this time she won't die. Maybe. . . . Counterpoint to the theme is Miss Sophia, who teaches a religion class. Her lesson on fallen angels foreshadows much of what happens in the novel. To tell you more would be to give away too much of the plot. 

Now for my quibbles:

  • The novel’s point of view was limited third person. The reader is told everything that Luce see, feels, does, etc., until the epilogue. I think the book would have been stronger had it been written in first person POV, which would have moved much of the telling into showing. However, I can see where younger readers (well, younger than this sexagenearian reader) might like limited third person better—so they’re closely observing the action rather than being in its midst.
  • A lot of questions are left unanswered (What the heck did happen to Trevor, the boyfriend who burned up?) and I wanted answers. Perhaps Torment, the sequel to Fallen available in fall 2010, will provide them. Plus, there will be other books in the series.
I’ve never been much of a fantasy fan, but I found Fallen very hard to put down. I like Kate's concept, plot, characters, and style. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.randomhouse.com/teens/fallen/excerpt.html.

Not only will Fallen attract a huge following of female teens, it might just attract some female fans who haven't been teens for several decades.
~

Kate has another novel coming out in December: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove (12/11/09)  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Pits?

Or is it the pit? Firepit, that is—rural American style.

Back in July, I bought the pergola when Krogers had a big end-of-summer-yard-stuff sale. It took a bit of shifting around, but we finally got the thing where we wanted it.

We added a windchime and a bird feeder. I thought the, uh, installation was complete. Meanwhile, my writer buddy Claudia—who lives just over yonder to the west about a mile as the crow flies—built a firepit. Well, my husband got inspired.

He decided that a firepit was what the pergola needed to really set it off. There was, of course, a slight problem. The pergola sits in what we call the "lower courtyard," but what is in reality the "septic field." He didn't want to go digging a hole over the septic tank.

Consequently, he came up with a solution that he thought went with our rural decorating style:



Naturally, when I saw what he'd done, I was aghast. Have you ever seen anything so unaesthetic?

Anyone with the tiniest sense of decorating knows the stove should be parallel to the benches so there's some leg room. I mentioned this to him but figured he didn't pay much attention until last night when he decided it would be easier to rotate the pergola instead of moving the stove, so that's what we did.

Today, I was busy at the computer when I smelled an acrid aroma. I followed my nose to the den door and saw this:



He had fired up the stove, now parallel to the benches—which makes it look soooo much better, doncha think?

Granted, the whole thing will look better after the stove blackens a bit more (which it's now well on its way to doing) and after we figure out where to stack the firewood. But it certainly makes an interesting addition to the courtyard and the birds don't seem to mind the smoke when they visit the bird feeder.



The benches warm up nicely after the fire's been going for a while. Perfect for cold weather yard-sitting.
~

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kitten Philosophy


Today's post is courtesy of the resident kittens, Chloe and Jim-Bob, who will share some of their philosophies of life. OK, mainly Chloe's philosophies. But Jim-Bob helped.


Scream when you want something, purr when you get it.

 


Feed me NOWWWWW!


Before you can shed light on anything, you first have to figure out how to turn on the lamp.


If pulling this tassel doesn't work, maybe I'll try this knob.


Sometimes thinking outside the box means thinking inside somewhere else.

 


Well, it's not like anyone was using this flowerpot.

 Being stuck between a rock and a hard place is difficult. Being stuck between the screen and the glass is no fun either.


Somebody get me outta here!

Share the good times with a buddy.


Let's pretend this rug is a wrestling mat.

 

The best defense is a look of innocence. Or surprise. Or surprised innocence.

 


What messed-up rug?! I don't know what you're talking about.


If you mess with something long enough, you might figure it out.


Let's see. . . if I bite this cord right here. . . .

When you've finished your work, move on.


I'm outta here. I didn't touch a thing!


When you don't know what to do, take a nap.


ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
~


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crit Group & Master Class

Yesterday, my kid lit crit group met for the first time in a couple of months. First Claudia, Amy, and I sat around Amy's kitchen table (with a fantastic view of Cahas Mountain through the window), sipped coffee, and caught up on things.

Then we adjourned to Amy's living room where we watched a DVD that Amy had heard about at the SCBWI convention last winter. The DVD was a Master Class, conducted by Richard Peck: "On Writing the Novel for Young Readers." In it, he is interviewed by SCBWI Executive director Lin Oliver. She asks really good questions about the craft of writing and Peck gives really good answers.

The 74-minute video was something I really needed to watch because I'm about to revise my middle grade novel Stuck again. I have a bit more motivation to revise because I learned today that Stuck was runner-up in the Smith Mountain Arts Council Fiction Contest. It lost to a doggone fine novel that my Lake Writer buddy Besty Ashton wrote—a women's fiction/thriller that will do doubt go on to greater things. The $400 I'll receive for second place will go a long way to paying for printer supplies, paper, and postage when I'm ready to query again.

Peck said a lot of things that I needed to hear. I especially liked what he said about the character having an epiphany, about writing in the first person, and about not having an outline. I bought and read his Fiction is Folks: How to Create Unforgettable Characters book years ago; now I need to go back and reread it.

Here is a 4-minute excerpt that will give you a taste of what the DVD is about:


I've read and enjoyed several of Richard Peck's novels, the latest being The Teacher's Funeral. Now I want to read more.
~

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Who's Your Target Reader?

I'm 260 pages into the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) I received Friday of Lauren Kate's YA fantasy novel, Fallen, and I already have a pretty good picture of the target reader for this story of "fallen angels and forbidden love": She's 15 or upwards, maybe with Goth leanings, intellectual but quiet, likes paranormal stuff. She probably liked the Twilight series, but wants to move on to something non-vampire but still intriguing. She probably reads all night, even after her mother has yelled at her to go to sleep. She might be somewhat of a rebel, maybe somewhat insecure. She's the kid who used to sit in the back of the room during my English classes and never said much but would talk to me after class or in the hall about what she was reading. "Still waters run deep" could describe her.



So why am I, nearly a half-century past the target age, enjoying this book?  Maybe because I'm working on a YA paranormal novel myself. Maybe because the author hooked me with her opening two sentences: Around midnight, her eyes at last took shape. The look in them was feline, half-determined and half tentative—all trouble. How could I not continue reading after that opening?

Eventually I'll post a review of Fallen on this blog, but for now I'm thinking about target readership of my own soon-to-be-published book. ARCs of Ferradiddledumday will be ready in about two weeks or so. I'd like to think my Appalachian retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale will be enjoyed by all readers, but that wouldn't be realistic. It'll be enjoyed by specific readers—the target readership.



Ferradiddledumday is a kid's story—target: third grade—for kids who still read fairy tales and who are old enough to appreciate variations of those tales. It's also for elementary teachers who want to use a story in a multi-discipline unit that includes science, geography, and history of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's for children's librarians who are looking for a little something different to incorporate into story hour. It's for grandparents to read to their grandchildren. But it's not for all readers. No book is.

However, I sometimes encounter authors—almost always self-pubbed or vanity-pubbed—who believe their books are for everyone, for readers of all ages. When I ask about target readership, they look blank. "But it's for everybody," they might say. "Everybody will enjoy it."

Uh, no. Not everybody will. Commercial publishers know that books sell best when they're targeted to a particular group. The group might be based on age, life experiences, etc., but it's a group of readers looking for exactly that kind of book. It has to be a big group, or a big commercial publisher won't be interested.

When I encounter folks who've written a book and who ask me for advice on how to get it published, I always ask, "Who is your intended reader?" Usually I get a blank look from the author (Or, if we're talking on the phone, a moment of silence.) Then the answer is almost always "It's for everybody."

Decades ago, when I was more involved with horses than I am now, I'd sometimes encounter folks who had a horse to sell. I guess they figured since I already had one or two, I'd probably like another one. Or maybe that I knew somebody who wanted a horse. Whatever. When I'd ask who can ride the horse—I'd be thinking beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.—they'd usually say, "Oh, everybody can ride him!"

OK, I'd think, and then ask—thinking Western, saddleseat, hunt, dressage, etc.—"What's he trained for?" The hopeful seller usually answered, "Why, he's trained to ride!" Sometimes they mentioned they'd even trained him themselves (the equine equivalent of self-publishing).

I know that a horse that everybody can ride is the horse that nobody can ride well. Horses have a target ridership; books have a target readership.

I pitched Ferradiddledumday to a couple of agents and editors of mid-size publishing companies. But those agents and editors didn't want to deal with a book that's for a niche market. Consequently, the small publisher who did take on Ferradiddledumday specializes in Virginia books and will gear the marketing toward the target readership.

While I've self-pubbed and vanity-pubbed my narrow niche projects, I didn't want to go that route with Ferradiddledumday because I knew there was a larger market—at least a more scattered readership—than is practical for self-pubbing projects. When the book is be out in three months, when I do my already-scheduled library readings in January and February, I'll meet my readers in person. And I expect most of them to be teachers, grandparents, librarians, and kids.

My middle grade novel, Stuck, has a different target readership. Stuck is currently out of the query-queue because it's locked into a contest for a while, but I already know its target readership: girls (ages 8-12) who've lost a parent or gained a step-parent, who've moved away from home and friends, who love horses, who've dealt with a bully, or who are fascinated with ghosts and mysteries. Of course, I hope it will appeal to readers of all ages—especially people who are stuck in something, but my target is a particular age group. When I resume querying, I'll target the agents that represent middle grade paranormals. I won't waste the time of those who don't represent the kinds of books I write.

As for my YA paranormal, some of the girls who like Fallen might enjoy it. Not all, but some. And maybe some others.

When I've finished—and revised—that book, I'll have a better idea who can ride that horse. But I know it's not everybody.
~

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kitchen Completion

It's done!

The kitchen is finished. The installer—Ed of Moonlite Renovations—arrived around noon and spent a couple of hours adding the trim, attaching the microwave, redoing some of the caulk, checking the sink connections, etc. I'm really pleased with the job he did. Lowe's is lucky to have him do their installations. (Besides kitchens, Ed also does baths, decks, fencing, and senior living improvements.)

The stainless steel sink looks so much better than the 1978 harvest gold one did. The "pampas"color of the counters coordinates nicely with the "bisque" color of the appliances.



The kitchen has a cleaner, more streamlined look. It looks so good I almost hate to fill the counters up with junk again.



If I have one complaint (other than the cutting and measuring errors made by the laminate company I'll call *****), it's this:



No, not the seam, which really should be in the corner (again a decision by *****). See the little crack in the corner? It's about as long as the nail on my little finger. I didn't notice it before I signed off on the work. I noticed it when I was wiping the counter and felt something snag.

Oh, well. Nothing's perfect. But I figure Lowe's owes me a gift card or rebate or something to make up for all the delays—and then this crack. Wonder if I'll get one?

Edited to add: I did. Lowe's is refunding $200 for my inconvenience and getting their laminate people to provide color-matched sealer for the crack.

Meanwhile, I need to clean the cabinets. Anybody know a good wood cleaner I should use?
~

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Heck's Kitchen

An upgrade from how hellish things were yesterday. The installer arrived way early and got busy tearing out the old stuff. First the bar countertop went:



Then the other countertops. The original backsplash is still in place at this point:



I had to move even more stuff out of some cabinets. Floor space in the den is now at a premium:



The kitchen looks kind of naked with the countertops, backsplash, and harvest gold sink gone:



Installer fits backspash around the window, where the seam is supposed to be. The laminate people originally had the seam halfway between window and den wall. The installer is very efficient, skilled, and organized:



Microwave and stove had to be pulled out. Notice the backsplash is leaning at an angle? Despite all the fancy laser measurements, whoever cut the backsplash made this part too big (their second measurement error). The installer had to fix what the laminate people screwed up. Luckily he had the tools and know-how to fix it:



Anyhow, the kitchen is now half-done and should be finished tomorrow. Power is out in the kitchen, but we have an extension cord running to the microwave and refrigerator.

The kitchen saga will continue tomorrow.
~

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hell's Kitchen

. . . No, make that "Kitchen From Hell." More specifically, "Kitchen Renovation from Hell."

Rant Warning: This is long and boring and has nothing to do with my usual posts about reading, writing, rural living, etc. (And, in accordance with FTC rules about goods and services mentioned on blogs, I disclose that have received no remuneration from any company or its products that I will complain about mention in this post, and what you are about to read are my own experiences as I have, uh, experienced them and are unrelated to any other person's experiences—either real or imaginary—with any companies or products herein mentioned, etc., etc.)

For  couple of years—OK, since 2001—I've planned to replace the 1978 harvest gold sink and the white-with-gold-flecks counters in my kitchen. The original harvest gold stove was replaced in 2001, and the original harvest gold dishwasher has been replaced twice, in 1999 and again a few months ago.


The kitchen, with cabinet drawers removed, so installation could proceed.
Note 1978 harvest gold sink.

A few years ago, I'd even bought a stainless steel sink in anticipation of a kitchen redo:


Note sink is NOT harvest gold!

Last summer Lowe's had installed a new roof, and my roof experience had been nothing but positive. I was delighted with the professionalism and promptness of the roof installers. I figured the kitchen renovation experience would be equally positive. So, on July 14, 2009, I entered into a contract with Lowe's to have installed new laminate countertops in a color that I call basic beige and they call "pampas." I wrote Lowes a check for approximately 2/3 of what my first new car cost back in the 1960s.

The installation should be done in a few weeks, the woman at Lowe's said. First the counters had to be measured.

A few days later, the installer arrived to measure, but he wasn't quite sure what to do with the hump in the corner, so (several days later) Lowe's sent out (at extra expense) another guy to laser measure the counters, so we could get it right. He spent about an hour shooting the laser all over my kitchen and making a detailed diagram. That guy figured that the installation would be a lot easier if the corner hump were eliminated, and I agreed.



So far, so good. (This was now the first week in August, if anyone is keeping track of time.) The order was sent for the cutting of the countertops. I cleared my schedule around the week of the anticipated installation—about three weeks away.

A few weeks later, the countertops were delivered (they had to use a bigger truck than the regular countertop delivery truck, so that cost extra, too). After the two delivery guys wrestled around a refrigerator and some other major appliances, they unloaded the countertops I noticed a chip in one and what looked like a crack in the backsplash and mentioned it to the delivery guys, but that wasn't their problem. They said to call Lowe's.


See chip at bottom.

I called the lady at Lowe's and voiced my concerns. Fortunately the installer was coming out in a few days and he'd take a look. Meanwhile, I had to remove all the cabinet drawers and all the stuff on the countertops. I did that the night before. It took over an hour to make all the preparations, including moving Olivia and the kittens out of the garage and into the downstairs bathroom, moving vehicles from the garage, etc.

When the installer arrived I pointed out the chip, but he said it would be covered. No problem there. However, what I thought was a crack in the backsplash turned out to be a seam (that would be midway between the window and the den wall and hence VERY VISIBLE) and the backsplash wasn't even tall enough. Arrgghh! The installer got on the phone and explained the problem to Lowe's Lady. He explained in great detail. Then he told her he would be stopping by Lowes with his notes.

Lowe's agreed to get the backsplash fixed, which meant contacting the laminate people and setting everything in motion. Again. Another couple of weeks delay. Arrgghhh! (Meanwhile, I had toe surgery.)

Finally, I received word that the stuff had been delivered to Lowe's, and the installer could pick it up on his way out as soon as we arranged a workday. He called and we arranged the next available day—October 7—the day that Pen Women were to meet. Even though I was supposed to introduce the guest speaker, I emailed my regrets, cleared the kitchen, ignored my aching toes, removed drawers, moved vehicles and cats, etc. I was ready for the installer when he arrived at 9:00 AM.

Except he didn't. At 9:30, I called Lowe's. Lowe's Lady said she'd call him. Shortly I received a call from the installer. His truck was being repaired. He'd called Lowe's the day before. They were supposed to call me last night. Except they didn't. He'd call me as soon as he knew which day, etc.

I put on socks and sandals (not being able to get shoes on yet) and dashed off to Roanoke for Pen Women. That evening, I put the kitchen stuff back and waited for a call.

The installer called me last Sunday night to let me know he'd be out today. First, he'd stop by Lowe's, pick up the correct laminate, and be at my house by 9. The next day, Lowe's Lady called to verify.

Ah, finally the work will get done, I thought. Last night, I moved stuff out of the kitchen (see photos below) and into the adjoining den for —what was it now?—the third *#^!* time.






I moved a litter box into the downstairs bathroom. I arose early, fed the outside critters, and moved felines. I knew the drill.

At 9:15 the installer called. He'd been at Lowe's for an hour, the backsplash that the company had cut was exactly the same as the first one—despite his instructions!—and he said Lowe's Lady would call me sometime today. If he could get the correct laminate in time, he could maybe do the job tomorrow or Friday. If. . . .

Meanwhile, I went to liberate cats from the bathroom.

It's amazing how destructive two very small kittens can be. When I opened the door, Jim-Bob emerged from a little basket on the floor, a basket that earlier had held the guest washcloths on the counter. Washcloths were tossed all over the floor. Guest soaps, no doubt mistaken for fragrant kitty toys, were scattered about. Chloe had somehow climbed onto the counter and rearranged a pile of towels into a suitable nest where she was napping. Only Olivia was in the cardboard box that I'd provided as a cat bed. To their credit, the felines had at least used the litter box properly. (They were glad to get back outside, though.)

A couple of hours later, Lowe's Lady called and apologized and said that the laminate folks would be in touch to re-measure (Huh?). I told her they didn't need to do that. If they'd just give the installer a roll of laminate that was the correct height, he could take care of it. As soon as she hung up, a guy from the laminate company called to make an appointment to come out and measure. I told him what I'd told Lowes Lady. He said something about getting back in touch with her. . . . AAARRGGHH!

So, here I am—stuck in kitchen renovation limbo. Will the installer call tomorrow? Will the counters be replaced within the next few days? within the next week? within the next couple of months? this year?

Stay tuned to this blog for updates. You know the drill.
~
Edited to add update: This afternoon Lowes Lady called me to apologize again and report that suitable material was available and installer could come tomorrow and begin. However, he couldn't stay all day, so he'd have to finish Friday. I said that he should come tomorrow because I still have everything out of the kitchen. 


Now I'm wondering, what if something comes up on Friday?