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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting Piper Home

For those who like happy endings, this post has one.

Sunday morning, I went out to feed as usual. As usual, the barn cats—Spotz, Sherman, and Twiggy—were waiting at the end of the deck to escort me down the hill. We went past the tractors, through the pines where—as usual—I heard Melody whuffling to tell me to hurry up, and along the fence. Then I heard something crying.

Within seconds, a little beagle puppy ran to me, shivering and crying. I picked her up. Oh, no, I thought, not another stray! I have too many already. Indeed, I'd already taken on a lot of strays during the last 11 years: Emma, the mixed sheltie the Mexicans couldn't take home on the bus after feeding her all summer; Hubert, the beagle I found at the creek when he was barely six weeks old; Harley the catahoula who'd marauded the neighborhood for weeks after escaping from his abusive owner; plus cats Foxy, Camilla, Eddie-Puss, Potter (who was plucked off Rt. 40 and given to me), and Olivia and Twiggy who both gifted me with kittens (which is why I have Jim-Bob, Chloe, Spotz, and Sherman). See what I mean?

But this baby beagle didn't look like the typical stray. She was too clean and—despite wolfing down some of the dog food I was taking to the kennel—too well-fed. She looked well bred, too. She couldn't have been more than three months old.


She had to belong to someone. But who? And how had she ended up at my place?

Anyhow, I took her back to the house and let her walk along with me and Emma as we did our morning constitutional.


The puppy stuck close to us and showed no sign of wanting to run off. After the walk, I took her inside and considered my options. First I called a guy down the road who raises beagles to see if one of his had escaped. He didn't have any puppies under a year old. Then I e-mailed Claudia, who lives a mile away as the crow flies, to see if she knew anyone missing a puppy. Then I posted on Facebook for ideas. I figured I'd call some county veterinarians the next morning and maybe the animal shelter to see if anyone had reported the puppy missing. Finally, I started making some "Found Beagle" signs. I posted two down at the intersection in case the pup's owners came along. I asked my closest neighbor if he knew of anyone missing a puppy. He didn't.

While the pup napped, I did some household chores and made up a few more posters. I figured I'd put them on the bulletin boards at some of the local convenience stores. I copied this picture onto my "Found Beagle" poster:


Not a great picture, but it showed the pup's markings. I added my phone number and headed for the Penhook Minute Market, two miles away. On the way, I saw a couple of women walking a dog. I stopped, showed them my poster, and asked them if they knew of anyone who lost a little beagle. They didn't.

I was getting discouraged, but maybe someone would see my poster and recognize the pup. I pulled into a parking space almost directly in front of the bulletin board. That's when I saw this:


I compared pictures. The same puppy! I snatched the poster off the bulletin board. When I got home, I called the number (Note: I've removed part of it from the poster for privacy purposes) and gave directions to my house.
My husband and I collected the pup from the cat crate where she'd been napping and waited in the front yard.


When the puppy saw a white truck approaching, she got excited and wiggled loose from my husband's jacket. Obviously, these were her people. Soon little "Piper," who'd taken off about 6 on Saturday evening, was reunited with her family and homeward bound.


Piper lives about a mile away as the crow flies. From my study window, at least in winter when the leaves are gone, I can make out the top of the house where she lives. In the picture below, it's about a third of the way from the left side:


Deer often go through the low place in the field. I'm guessing that's the way Piper came here—after she'd gone down a steep hill and through the woods. After she crossed the field, she'd have crossed the road, and followed the pines or fence line until she ended up near my horse shed and kennel. 

Luckily, she didn't encounter the coyotes.  So—a happy ending for everyone.
~

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Before sunrise this morning, the sky glowed pink and gold.


The driveway was iced over.


The sidewalk sported a coating of ice, too, and frozen snow covered the fields.


Before long, the sun began to rise.


Here comes the sun—a welcome sight after yesterday's miserable weather.


It shone throughout the day and melted most of yesterday's snow.
~

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Today's Snow

The Beginning

Today's weather began as a drizzly rain, then turned to sleet, then to hard rain, and then to snow. Here's what the beginning snow looked like at 1:00 PM:

The backyard


The front yard

The sidewalk

Foxy, the senior cat, watches the snow.

Foxy decides inside is the place to be.

I'll update this post later today to show how the snow progresses.

Later

A little later, this is how the weather event was progressing—ice, then big snow flakes:


Foxy ventured out—but not for long.
 Then more ice:


For a few minutes, the sun tried to break through.

At 3:00 PM, following snow, rain, ice, sleet, more snow, etc., this is how things looked:





Notice the ice on the pine needles?
 And my attitude to this whole snowy situation:



~

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meet Me On Monday

I generally don't do memes, but I figured—What the heck. I'll try this one—the Meet Me On Monday meme over on the Never Growing Old blog.


Every Sunday, "Java" (the blogger) posts five questions to be answered on Monday. Here are this week's questions (with my answers):

Questions: 

1.  What is your favorite kind of fudge?
In my pre-diabetic days, it was peanut butter fudge. Now, alas, none.

2.  Is there snow outside your window?
There was a dusting of snow this morning. Briefly. Only enough to dust the sidewalk and deck. I saw the first flakes while I was in the kennel feeding the dogs. By the time I got back to the house, the snow was falling harder. Within an hour, the sun came out.

3.  What is your favorite meal of the day?
Breakfast: Bacon, eggs, and black coffee. Everyday.

4.  Do you text on your cell phone?
I don't have an actual cellphone. I have a Tracfone which I rarely use. I've never texted.

5.  Waffles or pancakes?
Neither. Too carby and wheat no longer agrees with me. But in days past, it was pancakes.

This was easy. I might do this meme again sometime.
~

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Morning Has Broken

This morning was a big improvement over yesterday morning when the driveway was a sheet of ice, the ice-crusted lawn crunched under my feet, dark clouds loomed low, and the odor of skunk was in the air.

Yesterday morning was winter at its worst. This morning promised spring. Take a look:

The view to the north.
This is the view I see through my study window.

Looking north and slightly east from my porch.
This is also the view I see through my study window.

Looking a little more east.
Smith Mountain is at the right.

Looking further east.
Now Smith Mountain is in the middle.

Jim-Bob sits on the sidewalk.

Looking east. The sun is behind the pin oak.

And, of course, there's a cat.

Yesterday, this driveway was a sheet of ice.

What a difference a day makes!

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Forty-three

My husband and I were married on this day in 1968 at First Methodist Church in Newport News, Virginia. We'd met the previous August at the swimming pool of Dutch Village Apartments. He lived across the street and down a building or two from me. I, newly graduated from RPI (now VCU), had gotten a teaching job at Poquoson High School in York County. He, newly graduated from Rutgers, had gotten a job with GE and worked on the firing controls of Polaris submarines at the shipyard.

The following summer, he followed the submarines to Charleston, SC, and I started graduate school at the Citadel and taught at St. Andrews Junior High. After two years in Charleston, we lived in Massachusetts for a while. After a few more moves and retirement, we ended up where we are now. We are growing old together.

In 1973 on Smith Farm
I'm amazed how much our world—and the world in General—has changed in 43 years. Over on the Blue Country Magic blog, my writer friend Anita posted 13 ways the world had changed since her high school graduation 30 years ago. I'll see if I can come up with 13 ways things have changed since John and I got married.

1. Housing: We went from a two-room walk-up apartment to an eleven-room Southern Colonial ranch, from city living to country living, from sharing our home with no pets to having way more critters  than I ever imagined.

2. Music: We went from a KLH stereo system with big speakers and an automatic changer for our vinyl records (one of our first major purchases) to an iPod and iPad. Then we added a bulky reel to reel tape recorder/player to the system—and played a lot of Beatles, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, and folk music. Later we acquired some boomboxes, some with CD players. Now CDs seem a little old-fashioned, but that's the main way I get music into the computer. I still listen to the music I enjoyed back then, but now I also listen to country, classical, and Celtic.

3. Clothes: I remember when I had to wear a dress to work and to grad school. The mini skirt was was in, but teachers had to wear longer hemlines. I think I have a dress or two in my closet now, but I haven't worn one for years. During the 70s, we both wore a lot of polyester, but John never owned a leisure suit. During the 80s and 90s, I wore upscale stuff, albeit usually bought on sale. Now we dress for farm work—and often shop at Goodwill.

4. Vehicles: We went from a car each to a car and truck each to several vehicles each (we generally don't get rid of the old ones), plus four tractors and a 4-wheeler. The cars used to be sporty—Firebird, Camaro, etc. Now our PT Cruisers are practical and easier to get in and out.

5. Technology: Then, we never imagined the world computers would open up. Now we have the desktop, the laptop, the iPad, etc. I bought my first computer—a Apple Performa 550 in 1994—because the school where I taught required teachers to keep grades electronically. Then, I hated the idea of computers; now, I can't imagine how I ever managed without a computer.

6. Writing: Then, there used to be a bunch of local and regional publications I could write for and get paid. Now they're gone. This blog is my column to the world. I remember writing on a legal pad and then typing the manuscript. I can remember switching from a manual typewriter (a 1959 Remington Quietwriter that served me through high school, college, grad school, and my first couple years teaching) to an electric typewriter. Then I couldn't imagine an easier way to get words on paper. Now, I never use a typewriter and I rarely handwrite—plus my handwriting, having succumbed to the problems of age, is almost unreadable and word-processing on the computer is so much easier.

7. Reading: Then, we depended on libraries and an occasional bookstore purchase. Now, while I occasionally check out a library book, I'm more likely to buy books at libraries' used sales, bookstores—both big box and independent, Goodwill, and Amazon.com. I've downloaded apps for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks, so I read some books on the iPad and iPod.

8. Hobbies: Then, my husband was into ham radio, but he gave it up for a couple of decades. Now, he's back into it. He also became interested in the law and frequently goes to court to watch cases. He reads a lot more law-related books, too. Then, I dabbled in various things—cross stitch, painting, reading, decorating, horseback riding. In the 1980s and early 90s, we both used to show our mare Cupcake in pleasure shows. Now, I read a lot more than I used to, write, and keep the horses—Cupcake and Melody—as pets.

9. Shopping: Then, we used to run out to the store or mall whenever we needed something. Of course, then we lived close to shopping centers. Now, 15 miles from town, we're likely to consolidate our trips so we buy groceries on Senior Citizen's Day at Kroger (John takes one cart and I take another to finish faster). Before we go, I download coupons onto the Kroger card. At Kroger we usually chat with a lot of our friends who also shop the same day, so grocery shopping is a more social occasion than it was years ago. We also try to run other errands while we're in town. I rarely go to a mall; my last trip to one was in October to Short Pump in Richmond. Now, we buy a lot of things online rather than visit a store.

10. War: Then, the Vietnam War was winding down. Surely, there wouldn't be any more wars. But there are.

11. Jobs: Then, women had three career choices: teacher, nurse, or secretary. Then Women's Lib soon began and things (thankfully!) were never the same again.

12. Land: Then, land was cheap and there was plenty of it—miles and lots of farms between cities. Now, subdivisions and shopping centers sprawl where farms once were. I'm glad we bought our farms when we did. We could never afford 500 acres now. Then, Smith Mountain Lake was still filling and covering what was once farmland. Even in the early 70s, the lake was a mud hole. Who knew it would become what it is now?


13. Us: We're growing old. But we're still together.

I'll report back on January 17, 2018, on our 50th anniversay. Stay tuned.
~

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lake Writers

Parts of this post were originally written as a magazine article, but the magazine ceased publication before my article was published. Prior to writing the original article, I had gotten permission from Patricia Hope to quote from her article in the June 2006 issue of The Writer. I lost her contact info when I changed computes a few years ago, so I hope she doesn't mind I have used some of her words in this post.

Friday I was officially elected as vice-president of Lake Writers, the literary branch of the Smith Mountain Arts Council. Actually, I'd been serving in that capacity more or less since the club was organized in 2000, but I considered myself "assistant leader" or "assistant referee." Jim Morrison had been the founder, and consequently our leader. But until the other day, we'd never had actual elected officers. 

We're kind of a loose group; we don't have any written-down rules and we like informality. Most of us started writing after we retired from real jobs, so most of us are senior citizens. Anyone looking in on a meeting might think we're a branch of AARP. (We welcome younger writers, though, and sometimes someone who isn't gray-haired drops in. A 50-year-old is considered a kid at Lake Writers.)  We're a diverse group, encompassing a wide range of talent, creativity, ability levels, interests, educational backgrounds, eccentricities, writing styles, personality types, life experiences, etc. But we have a common goal: we all want our writing to be the best it can be.

Since Lake Writers began, we’ve looked for ways to improve our writing—whether we write just for family or for the public. Many of us read books, magazines, and articles about writing on our own, but we share what we learn with the group.

When Patricia Hope’s article, “How to Run a Successful Writing Group,” in the June 2006 issue of The Writer (http://www.writermag.com) caught my attention, I told the other Lake Writers, “This could be about us!” They agreed. We are indeed a successful group. 

Here are Hope’s 10 suggestions and how Lake Writers follows them. If you're in a writing group, maybe you can use them:

1. Connect with other writers:
Hope suggests keeping a group small; we average a dozen or so at meetings. Not always the same dozen, but a half-dozen hard core regulars and others who come when they can. Some heard about our group from readings we’ve done; some through word of mouth; some through articles about members of our group. 

2. Meet regularly
We do—from 10 a.m. until noon on second Fridays  at the Moneta/Smith Mountain Lake branch of the Bedford County Library and fourth Fridays at the Westlake branch of the Franklin County Library. Female members sometimes “do lunch” after the meeting and keep the discussion going. A critique begun in the morning can thus run until late afternoon—and even later as we email suggestions we thought of afterwards.

3. Keep meetings informal
“There’s no need for officers,” Hope says. Until last Friday, Lake Writers didn’t have any, although Jim served as our discussion leader and/or referee. He’s well-organized and diplomatic. If he couldn’t attend a meeting, he'd ask someone else to do it—usually me. I’m disorganized and tactless. We balanced each other out. The new president, Chuck Lumpkin, is also well-organized and diplomatic. The balance ought to stay about the same. We don't have a treasurer (no money) or secretary, although Betsy Ashton, who does press releases for SMAC, acts as our publicist.
A month or two ago, when the idea of by-laws came up, members rejected them. We like informality. Often someone says, “Why don’t we—?” and then we discuss the feasibility of doing whatever someone suggested. We’ve held writing contests to honor a deceased member, done public “coffeehouse” readings, accepted invitations to read to clubs, and participated at civic events. 

4. Take personal responsibility
We don’t have any formal committees, and we don’t want any. If something needs to be done, someone comes forward and does it. Others jump in to help. We’ve had a few short-term committees that disbanded as soon as their job was finished. No one has ever been officially appointed to a committee, and we like it that way. Our focus is always on what we can do to improve our writing skills—not who serves on what and why. We don’t like—and don’t need—bureaucracy.
Whoever gets to the library first sets up the chairs and tables. After the meeting, we all put the room back the way it was. We appreciate that the library generously provides us with a private meeting place for free.

5. Critique constructively
Even when we tear each other’s work apart, we do it in a constructive manner. Even if we argue—and sometimes we do, we still respect each other and each other’s work. We want to make each piece of writing the best it can be. We usually critique with this focus in mind: what does a writer want to do with a particular piece? Sometimes the writer doesn’t know, so the rest of us brainstorm for particular markets. Finding the right market is as important as polishing grammar and syntax. Some only want to have their work as pieces of family history. No problem—but we’ll still help the author improve the work.
When one member has a book to self-publish or POD (use a print-on-demand company), we help with editing and proofreading. Each of us “sees” in different ways. Some of us school-marmy types point out grammar problems. Others point out plot problems. Some just give input on whether or not an idea works. When a member gets stuck on a point of plot, the rest of us pitch in to help. 
“Can a body be stuffed into a porta-potty?” asked Sally, the murder mystery writer, once asked. Bruce explained how it could be done: “First, you have to crack his back. . . .”
Occasionally someone drops in who only wants praise and validation. We don't do much ego-stroking. We want to encourage the best possible writing a person is capable of. Occasionally someone drops in who is seeking a fast way to get published. We can't help with that, either. We've learned the road to publication is slow and fraught with obstacles. We do try to warn others about writing scams and bad publishers.

6. Value your role as a reader
We do. Not only do we read our own work aloud for the group, we read each other’s work. And we’re all avid readers who recommend books to each other. When I raved about Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, Sally borrowed it and liked it so much, she bought our own copy. I then lent it to Fran, who consequently bought her own copy. Now Jim and Rod own copies. We’re always finding good stuff to read and recommending it to the others. Rarely a meeting goes by that someone doesn’t say, “You’ve got to read this!”

7. Challenge each other
Hope suggests that members encourage each other “to enter contests, submit writings for publication or begin a local newspaper column.” This is one of our strong points. I’m the group’s official nagger—or at least the most vocal one. Because of my nagging (“When are you going to start your blog?!”), several members now have blogs, and I’m still working on a few others. We nagged Marion into finally publishing  When Men Move to the Basement. We convinced Jean to publish a chapbook of her wonderful poems; the first run of her Musings sold out in a few months. She published her second chapbook a few months before she died. 
We've persuaded others to submit articles to local magazines. A couple of us write—or have written— columns, commentaries, or letters to the editor for local papers. 
When Phyllis read us her article that a dog breed magazine had published, we encouraged her to rewrite and pitch to a local magazine for retired people. At the next meeting, she had most of her rewrite—a greatly expanded article with a focus on retirees with dogs. We were delighted when Prime Living (which, alas, no longer exists) published it. 
When Sally’s Smith Mountain Lake murder mystery, Secrets at Spawning Run, first came out, she was hesitant to approach local gift shop owners. Karen and I each grabbed her by the arms and propelled her into one of the shops. Now Sally pitches her books (she has two now with a third in the works) like a pro, and she’s sold over two thousand copies—not bad for a POD mystery.
Many of our group have entered writing contests and have won or placed. Often, their entries have been workshopped through the group.
A lot of Lake Writer conversations begin, “You know, you really ought to write about—” or “You really ought to query—” or “Have you thought about entering—?”

8. Expand your knowledge and strengthen your group
Some of us go to conferences and report back to the group. Many of us report on things we’ve read or found on the Internet. We warn each other of scams (one of us was once scammed by an unscrupulous agent, another once fell for the International Library of Poetry scam), suggest legitimate contests to enter, and tip each other off about possible submission sources. 

9. Celebrate each other’s achievements
We are each other’s fan club. We go to each other’s readings, signings, and bookfests. We brag about each other’s efforts. We help each other out. 

10. Give something back
Several years ago, to honor the memory of a deceased member, we held a writing contest for young people. We had such a good time doing it, that we did another writing contest again the following year and again the next. We're still doing it. Most of us judge. We like reading what young folks write, and we are inspired by their efforts.
Some of us go into schools or libraries and talk to students about writing. Some of us do readings at retirement homes. Sometimes we donate our books as prizes in local contests. Jim and Franz have donated profits from their books to the D-Day Memorial. Mostly, we give back by encouraging others to find their voices and get their words out.

If you live in the area and think you might have a book or a story or poem in you, and you’re looking for a low-key, laid-back, enthusiastic, mostly-retired writers group where members ages range from mid-50s to mid-80s, join us at the Moneta/SML Library some second or fourth Friday morning. Maybe we’ll challenge you to write, too.
~

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Apostrophobia

Wednesday's e-mail brought an, er, interesting spam offer that I can—and will—refuse. Take a look and you'll see why. I've copied it in three segments so the errors stand out better.


Do I really want a company to print a book if its employees can't punctuate? Youre should, of course, be you're. You're means "you are." See how simple that is? 

"No, were not kidding." Did the writer leave out a subject for the verb were? I'll bet she meant we're instead of were.

"Cost for 50 books is $157.50thats just $3.15 each." A run-on sentence, spacing error, and a missing apostrophe. Plus, it would be clearer to use on-demand instead of on demand. Imagine how this company could screw up your book.

Here's the second part:


Another were should have been we're. Did you spot it? And here's the last part (that should be titled Whom to call):


"Wed love to print your book"? ". . . and well mail you a template"? 

Id—er, I'd—love for you to get over your fear of apostrophes.

Note to anyone thinking to send me spam e-mails: please punctuate properly.
~

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snowy Emma

Since our senior dog Emma now lives in the garage instead of the kennel, I have to take her out and walk her several times a day and before we turn in for the night.

Emma lives in the garage because has arthritis and a bit of dysplasia in one hip. A few months ago, she had trouble standing up without assistance and even walking. (Plus, she and Maggie had some control issues over kennel management.) The vet put her on medication, which meant I had to give it to her. To make life easier for both Emma and me, I moved her into the large crate in the garage.

 Emma has responded well to her meds and has gotten surprising perky. She likes to play in the snow:





~

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tale of Ole Green Eyes

The Tale of Ole Green Eyes, by Cathy Kennedy, chronicles a visit of two young sisters, Brittany and Nicole, to their grandparents' farm in Tennessee.


There, the girls' great grandmother tells them about her childhood encounter with a Ole Green Eyes, a black panther who chased her and her sister through the woods of West Virginia and almost caught them. Although Brittany and Nicole have a pleasant visit with their grandparents—baking cookies, picking apples, going on a picnic—their great grandmother's story haunts them. When they take a walk deep into the woods, they notice claw marks and a big footprint. Could it be—?

This delightful 25-page book captures a simpler time in rural America and provides a positive look at children interacting with their older relatives. It's also based on a true story of a big cat encounter by the author's grandmother in West Virginia. The watercolor illustrations by Leann Vineyard Cooper are lovely.

The Tale of Ole Green Eyes could provide a springboard for parents or grandparents to tell kids about the old days and to share family stories.

I became interested in The Tale of Ole Green Eyes because one of my writer buddies blogged about it in November. I was already interested in black panthers in the Appalachian region because I'd met a black panther enthusiast, Alfred Willis at a meeting of the Hanover Writers Club last spring. That's where I acquired a copy of Willis's self-published book, Black Panthers: Little Known North American Treasure, in which he documents several black panther sightings in West Virginia.


To know that many people have encountered black panthers through the years and to have a true story of a black panther encounter used in a children's book is a double delight.
~

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Saturday Snow & Dog Work

Saturday dawned cold and snowy. Maybe two inches fell. Here's how my world looked yesterday morning:











But in the kennel, Maggie the border collie had work to do.


First, there's fetching a ball.


And finding the ball again after it's been thrown:


And fetching it back again:


Then there's rat-hunting:

Might be one down there.

Yep, I smell a rat.

I'll see if I can dig it out.

Where is that rat? I'll keep trying.

~

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