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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cover-to-Cover

 This afternoon, I ventured southward to Collinsville where I again appeared on the Cover to Cover show, which appears on cable channel 21. Last spring when I was there, I'd talked about my self-pubbed book and vanity-pubbed books; this time I talked about Ferradiddledumday. The link for my episode is http://blip.tv/file/3073806.



One of the neat things about the Channel 21 studio—which is not in any way fancy!—is its, uh, down-home appeal. Something I noticed during my interview, besides the three camera and three monitors, was this peering over the top of the divider between the set I was on and the one next door:



 I don't think you'll find a deer head at the big time studios, but I could be mistaken. I joked with the studio guy about "You know when you're in a redneck TV studio when—"

Well, let me show you that set next door. For one thing, it had wind chimes:



Don't you love the recycling that went into those handcrafted wind chimes? The set also bore this sign:



Seen enough? Nah, let's take a look at more of the set:



 . . . and a closer look at what decorates the deer in the foreground:



If that doesn't capture the spirit of the season, I don't know what does. And a closer look at another part of the set:



The studio had a definite racing theme (well, it's close to Martinsville). These signs decorated the studio's entryway:



For all y'all what thought writing was all hoity-toity stuff—well, y'all ain't been to a genu-wine down-home cable tee-vee studio.
~
Watch the episode here: http://blip.tv/file/3073806

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twiglet Update

For those of you wondering how Twiggy and her kittens have been doing since their capture and subsequent neutering, I present this update.

They're all still here and suffering no ill effects. Twiggy takes off for a day or two at a time, but usually returns for supper. The kittens, who are now as big or bigger than she is, stay put.


 The Twiglets: Spotsy, Spookie, & Sherman

I've been able to pet Sherman and—as of Christmas Day—Spotsy. They all like to play with a lunge whip. Below, Sherman, Spookie, and Spotsy contemplate the end of the whip:



Spookie is especially fond of playing with things that move:



But her sister Spotsy likes to get into the act, too.



Sherman, the largest of the Twiglets, displays his long coat.



And there you have the tail—er, tale—of the Twiglets.
~

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas

If you were looking for a Christmas that's merry and bright, it wasn't today. Today came close, though. Thanks to this morning's freezing rain that later turned to regular rain, it was dreary and white.

When I went to feed this morning, I was pelted with sleet or freezing rain. I'm not sure which. Today was the first time my glasses ever iced over while I was feeding critters.

 Thanks to the several inches of last week's snow storm,  today was officially a white Christmas.



Normally, you'd see Smith Mountain to the right in the above. Not today.




The above picture is what the view from my study window looked like late this afternoon. Normally, you'd see the Peaks of Otter. Not today, though. Even with all the rain, my front steps and sidewalk were still snowed/iced under.



If it's bright you want, we need to back up a few days. Thanks to a bit of hubby's tractor work, I have a path down the yard and a more or less plowed bottom driveway.



He even made the tractor equivalent of crop circles in the back yard.



Is that cool, or what? Well, it's beyond cool.  It's frozen.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Big One

A near as I can tell, we received about 14 inches of snow from the snowstorm of the decade. This was the first time it ever snowed under the front storm door.



I couldn't even open the door more than a few inches, despite Dylan wailing that he had to go "OOOOOwwwwt." (Dylan changed his mind when he got a good look at the white stuff.)

Here's how the front lawn at dawn; the boxwood is covered:



The kittens desperately wanted to go out and play, so I let them into the garage. Jim-Bob tried to go out, but the snow was up to his ears so he backed up. the kittens decided playing in the house was a better option.



Back inside, Chloe curled up for a nap.



Unfortunately, I couldn't curl up for a nap. I had chores to do. Feeding the outside critters was the hardest it's ever been in the ten years we've lived here. John walked ahead of me to the barn, and I tried to follow in his footsteps. Snow was knee-deep and the going was tough. Besides the horse feed, dog food, and cat food, we also toted a couple of gallons of hot water to melt the ice on the horse tubs and dog buckets. Feeding took twice as long as usual. I had to chip ice off the horses. The only outside critter happy about the snow was Maggie the border collie.

At the barn, John got his big tractor started. Then he worked on the road and driveway.  







Here's the view of our scraped road looking toward the northeast; our yard is to the left:



Instead of cutting across the lawn, I walked the road to do the evening feeding. It was longer, but easier. Here's the view looking toward the southwest. Our yard is to the right.



This is what our back yard looked like. The bottom driveway is still snow-covered and our juniper is almost buried:



The snow-covered boxwoods by the front porch look kind of like ghostly gnomes, don't they?



We never received our paper or our mail today. Very little traffic was on the roads.

As I post this, we're all in for the night. We're warm, fed, and we never lost power. Most of the snow blew off the power lines and trees, so that's a good sign.

Temps have dropped below freezing, though. I hope it doesn't snow anymore.
~

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Snow Falls

Around two o'clock this afternoon, the snow started.



Within an hour it was a whiteout; I couldn't even see across the road. Forecast is for a foot or more—the biggest snowfall of the decade.

We watered earlier this afternoon and made sure the horses had hay. When I went out to feed at four, the snow was a couple inches deep and it was mixed with ice or sleet. After I fed the barn cats, I hollered for the horses, who were in the front pasture. Melody came first at a run.



She was snow-encrusted. In the picture below, she looks like an Appaloosa, not a Tennessee Walker.



Before long, I saw Cupcake on her way in.



As Cupcake got closer to the run-in shed, she picked up speed. She was even more snow-covered than Melody.



After I fed the dogs, I went back to clean the horses. It took me a while to curry snow off them.  But all the outside critters were fed and they all have shelter.

The horse shed is deeply bedded in shaving, although the horses don't mind staying out. The barn cats will nest together in the tractor shed, and the dogs will pile into their "dog stall." All the house cats show no desire to go out. They—and I—want to stay warm.

A few things today warmed my heart. One was a story in today's Franklin News-Post about my up-coming book, Ferradiddledumday.

Another was a mention of my book on Leslie Shelor's blog, At the Top of Squirrel Spur,  and a review on her review page, Greenberry House Reviews: Here's what Leslie said:

Becky Mushko is my favorite local writer. Several years ago I reviewed some of her earlier books for another project, and I've been keeping up with her through her blog. She is witty and clever and has a lively sense of humor. Many of her books are historical in nature and read like fictional biographies of people in our area. Becky captures the sense of place that runs deep in the hearts of mountain people.
Ferradiddledumday is my favorite of her books so far. An Appalachian retelling of the fairy tale favorite Rumplestiltskin, Ferrradiddledumday is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a subsistence farm sometime in the past. Gillie, the young heroine, must come up with a way to help her father save the farm. When she's approached by a magical little stranger, she agrees to his terms when he says he can help her because she just can't imagine ever leaving her beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain home.
Becky makes capturing the flavor and ancient magic of the Blue Ridge seem easy in her flowing prose. Walking in the woods in these old mountains on a silent summer day, it's easy to imagine that a fairy might lurk in the deep shadows of a laurel thicket, or something unknown might be watching from a tumble of rocks. Ferrradiddledumday's descriptions portray those feelings and set the scene for a magic tale that is timeless. Although this is an original book, the style is very much in the tradition of mountain storytelling such as The Jack Tales. There are few things more important to mountain people than a sense of story.
I also loved the illustrations by Bruce Rae. They are beautiful and convey the sense of the story and the mountains. I was particularly charmed by the illustrations that include the spinning wheel that Gillie uses. It is a Great Wheel, sometimes called a wool wheel, with a spindle (if Becky ever does Sleeping Beauty this is the wheel she would use) rather than a flyer. This would have been the wheel used in this area at a certain point in time for spinning wool, and the fact that it is shown outdoors or in an outbuilding while used is also correct. Mountain houses were small back in the day, with little room for a large spinning wheel. In many cases an entire room of the house could be dedicated to the wheel or loom. While some people used a flax wheel for spinning wool, it makes sense that Gillie would have had a Great Wheel.
I love this book and hope to entice the author to allow me to sell it here at my shop. So watch for an update that shows a link if she agrees!
Of course I agree! She'll have to contact the distributor to actually get the books, though. Maybe I can visit her shop this spring or summer for a signing.

Meanwhile, in the midst of this snow, spring seems a long way off.
~

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Mornings Begin

Most of my days start the same. The house cats wake me up so I'll let them out. Most morning they go out before daylight. I always hope that no wandering coyotes or errant hunting dogs notice them while they make their cat rounds. They usually finish their cat work (which involves a lot of peeing on the boxwoods) and return within a half hour.

Meanwhile I put on my barn clothes and fix breakfast for various animals. The house cats are served first, then Olivia in the garage. Then I start the walk to the paper box about 350 feet down the driveway. Lately, Hubert the beagle—confined to the garage because he's recuperating from having a rapidly growing cyst removed from his tail—walks with me. The walk takes longer with Hubert because he has many stops to make. The sun is rising as we approach the paper box. This morning's sunrise looked like this:



On the walk back to the house, I usually hear Melody nickering. She gets impatient for her breakfast.

Back in the garage I measure out the horse pellets—two coffee cans-worth for Cupcake, who is elderly and losing weight; three-fourths of a can for Melody who definitely isn't losing weight—and the dry dog food. I carry the dry dog food into the kitchen and mix in some softer burger-type stuff. Then I mix dry cat food with canned food for the barn cats.

Halfway down the yard, Twiggy and her kittens—now bigger than she is—usually come up to meet me and lead the way down to the tack room where I'll feed them.



Are they worried I'll lose my way if I don't follow them?



I dish out their food and then feed the horses. I close Cupcake in the stall because she eats so slowly. While horses and cats eat, I feed the dogs. Maggie the border collie meets me at the gate with a ball or frisbee; the others eat fast while Maggie plays because Maggie is the boss and eats whatever and wherever she pleases.

By the time I've finished throwing Maggie's toy, Melody has finished eating. I walk up the hill, sometimes with Melody beside me and sometimes with her in front of me, and open the gate to the front pasture. Then I return to Cupcake and open her stall gate.



I collect my dog pan, horse cans, and cat pan, and start the hike back up to the house where my husband will have the coffee made.

After I've eaten, showered, and glanced at the paper (which rarely takes more than a few minutes because it's rather thin), I'll take my second cup of coffee to the computer and read friends' blogs or see what's happening on Facebook.

This is how my day usually starts.
~

Monday, December 14, 2009

Misty Morn

When I walked out this morning, what did I see?

Fog lying low along the road.



Olivia and her kitten Chloe inspecting the icy sidewalk.



Clouds hanging low over the Peaks of Otter, barely visible above the trees.



Olivia's son Jim-Bob sitting in a sunbeam.



Fog shrouding the pasture across the road.



This now-bare pin oak standing in sharp contrast to the fog.



A few leaves clinging to this pin oak.



X marking the spot above Smith Mountain, which rises above the fog.



I saw a misty morning. And it was beautiful.


~

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Carpe Diem

 Seize the Day (Warning: a long post)

That's what I did a week ago Wednesday: I seized the day, an opportunity, and the bunch of semi-wild cats I've been supporting for several months.

Twiggy— the long-legged, big-eyed, thin cat who marauded our garage last spring—hadn't left as I thought she did. She merely moved into the storage/tractor shed between the shop and the horse shed where she kept such a low profile I didn't even know she was there.

I figured Twiggy lived elsewhere in the neighborhood. She'd stop by the house every so often and beg for food. She'd come within two feet of me, but she never let me touch her.

In mid-summer, I noticed her get a little fatter, then thin again. Little did I suspect that in early July she'd had three kittens in the tractor shed. I saw the first one when it was about six weeks old. In fact, I grabbed the kitten briefly and discovered how squeezably soft it was. Thinking it was a little girl, I called it Charmin. I was relieved Twiggy only had the one kitten. In a couple of weeks, I saw another black and white kitten, Spotsy. Well, two wasn't too bad. Maybe. A week later, shy little Spookie appeared. Uh-oh, how many more Twiglets would appear? Visions of a half-dozen or more ran through my mind. Fortunately, Twiggy stopped at three.

As the kittens grew and I started feeding them twice a day—yeah, I'm a sucker for cute little critters—I wondered how I could get them and their mama neutered. Only Charmin was touchable—and then only while when eating. Because I could get close to Charmin, I discovered that she was a he; hence the name change to Sherman. But how could I get this gang of wild kitties neutered and vaccinated?

Luckily, Dianne Novak of Barn Cat Buddies happened to be doing a workshop at the Westlake library last October. I attended her presentation and got some good info on how to trap the critters. While the feral cats she trapped were one at a time, I wanted to get the whole herd of Twiglets at once.

Luckily, I had a large wire cage, formerly used by Harley the Catahoula when he traveled in the truck. John and I put the cage in the tack room and I started feeding the Twiglets in it. It didn't take them long to realize where breakfast and dinner were served. Below, Sherman exits the feeding place. Spookie is still eating; Spotsy is left of the door.



If you look at the top corner of the cage door, you can see an orange piece of baling twine that goes into the cage and then to hinged side the tack room door. I figured if I could get all four cats in the cage, I'd yank the string, thus slamming the cage door. With a little luck, I could get the latch closed before the Twiglets realized what happened.

The problem was that usually they ate in shifts. Either one (usually Twiggy) would keep watch while the others ate, or else two would eat together. If they saw me approach the doorway, they took off like cats outta hell.

I'd thought about taking them—when actually captured—to Planned Pethood, but that meant traveling several miles on Route 220 which I really didn't want to do with a load of cats in the back of my old truck—plus the feral cats who were neutered at PP would have their ears "tipped." I couldn't see cutting off the tips of ears on such attractive cats.

I talked to my regular vet about my particular circumstances, so he was prepared to neuter on fairly short notice if I brought them in on Wednesdays or Thursdays. I made one appointment, then was too sick to keep it (plus I couldn't catch all the cats), so I made another. I planned to bring as many as I could in on a Wednesday and leave them overnight for a Thursday neutering. On Thursday morning, if I could get any more, I'd bring them, too.

Meanwhile, the Twiglets were learning the routine. If I were late feeding, they'd come out to meet me. That's what they did on December 2.






My regular feeding routine is put cat food in tack room, feed horses, and then feed dogs. On December 2, I went out with assorted critter feed in hand (er, hands), was met by the Twiglets who then raced each other to the tack room, dished out the cat food, put Melody's feed in her bucket, dumped Cupcake's feed in her pan and closed her gate, then went back to get the dog food.

 Through the crack in the tack room door, I could see four furry bodies around the pan. I yanked my string, and WHAMMO!—the cage door slammed. Still holding the end of the string so they couldn't push their way out, I went into the tack room and latched the cage door.

(Writing note: "Suddenly all hell broke loose" is a cliche that writers should avoid. But it really does fit here.) Suddenly all hell broke loose in that cage. Cats were clawing and hissing, hanging from the top bars, throwing themselves against the side, etc. Remembering that Diane said a cover over the cage would help cats calm down, I covered it. They seemed to calm down. Or maybe they died of fright. Anyhow, I went to feed the dogs who were no doubt wondering what was going on and why breakfast was late. After I fed the dogs, I checked the cats. They were alive but angry.

Then I returned to the house and told John I'd gotten all of them and I'd need help getting them to the vet. After I'd called the vet's and said we were en route, we carried the cage from the tack room, I secured the old green sheet around the cage, we loaded them into the back of the truck, and we took off. At the vet's, a couple of the techs helped us get the cage out of the truck and into the office. Since the cats hadn't eaten much, the vet decided to go ahead and neuter them on Wednesday.

Everything went well. The next day, I picked up one neutered male (Sherman) and three spayed females. The vet techs helped us load for the trip home:



Back home, the cats weren't too happy. Twiggy growled a lot and hooked me through the bars but didn't do any damage. I'd poured some newspaper-based cat litter in the back of the cage, and they crouched in it. Mostly they glared at me.



 I also pushed some towels through the bars toward the front so they'd have a nesting area. I figured they'd be confined for a while and would enjoy any the amenities they could get. I slid their cat food on stryofoam meat trays through the bottom slit in the cage. I didn't give them water. Diane had said they could get enough moisture from wet cat food (which could also be smushed through the bars if need be).  The following days, I added shredded paper on top of the litter, so they'd stay relatively clean.


Notice Spotsy's ear pattern—white tipped ears surrounded by dark color. 
Same as Jim-Bob's. Same daddy, maybe?

I kept the Twiglets confined until Saturday afternoon. All of them looked in good shape so I figured their stitches would hold. But would they hate me for what I'd done to them. Would they take off and never come back?

Nope. They're still here and doing fine. Only Twiggy still holds a grudge (but doesn't decline the food). Most mornings, the kittens come out to meet me.

Just like old times.
~