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 31, 2011

Ill Wind

It's an ill wind that blows nobody good.

About a mile down the road from me, an ill wind must have been blowing recently. This morning, we noticed something about the dairy farm's hay shed didn't look quite right.


Let's take a closer look.


Yep, the overhang on the right is missing. Where could it be?

Oh, it's across the road. Here's one part. . . .


. . . with some smaller pieces in the background. . . 


. . . and here's another piece. 


Must have been some big wind to blow a large roof over the building, all the way across the road, and then bust it up into pieces.

Definitely an ill wind if there ever was one.
~

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Collage Girl Scam

Another day, another scam.

This obvious and poorly constructed scam popped into my In-Box yesterday. Why didn't my spam filter pick it up? I've obliterated parts of the e-mail addies, but the rest of the e-mail is as I received it:



Now, keep in mind that a collage—er, college—student is writing this. But is it Rachelle or Christelle? Odd how the two names have such similar endings. . . . .

Her message begins:


Paragraph 1: No, it isn't surprising. I get a couple of these scam e-mails every week. So, you landed my attention from doing an Interent search for my e-mail address? How interesting. . . . 

Paragraph 2: So you were thrown on the street for reasons of an inheritance, but you still have internet access? How interesting. . . . 

Paragraph 3: So your dream is either to open a store that sells ready made garments, or maybe you want to store ready made garments? And your biggest dream is also to repeat your studies?  I don't know what collage—er, college—you attended, but you didn't do well in English language lessons, did you? Perhaps study of the English language is what you want to repeat?

I am aware—from info at the top of your e-mail—that you are a girl, so you don't need to tell me again. Unless maybe you aren't, but want me to believe you are.

Why would you ask my help without knowing who I am? Why is the "To" in your email the same Rachelle who sent it? Shouldn't it be to my e-mail addy? Unless, of course, you were sending it to a gazillion undisclosed recipients—that's what you did, didn't you? I'll bet you never even went through my profile.

The message continues:


 I'm still pondering the meaning of "it makes life of innocent once very difficult every moment by day" and "do you imagine can come from where my hope except in you." You really do need remediation in English.

Christelle (or whoever), do you have a last name?  There seem to be a lot of young women in your country who have financial problems. There's this one, who sent an e-mail to another blogger in 2007. Her e-mail is better constructed than yours and has pictures. Perhaps you two know each other? Or are each other.

No way am I clicking on that site!
~



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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cat Work

Every morning, siblings Chloe and Jim-Bob go outside to work. Here's what they do:

Chloe free-lances at whatever work needs doing—rodent-control, bird-watching, insect-catching, supervision, etc. This morning, for instance, she's inspecting farm equipment.




Jim-Bob maintains an office where he does primarily security work and rodent control on a particular part of the yard.





Chloe usually takes a long lunch break and quits work about 2 PM. Jim-Bob, however, only takes a short break and usually works overtime.

~

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grocery Shopping Memories

Warning: Nostalgia to follow: 
I do the bulk of my grocery shopping on Tuesday at Kroger's in Rocky Mount—that's Senior Citizens' Day (5% discount!). I live 15 miles from the store, so it takes me at least a gallon of gas to go to Kroger's or Wal-Mart. If I'm in town for some other reason on a day other than Tuesday, I usually stop for a few items at Wal-Mart (pet food is a bit cheaper there) on my way home.

If you take out the back seat in a PT Cruiser, you can fit more stuff in.

Because of distance, gas prices, and time (20-25 minutes travel time each way, plus at least 30 minutes shopping time), I can't run to a supermarket whenever I please. If I really need an item during the week, I'll drive to the Penhook Minute Market about two miles away (and, conveniently, on the way to the dumpster and/or post office). The Minute Market usually has pretty good deals on bacon and eggs, too.

Anyhow, I have a good handle on getting groceries and don't miss the convenience of living in a city. Some folks aren't so lucky. Parts of Roanoke (the city I escaped from in 1999), are known as "food deserts" because there are no nearby supermarkets. Folks who live in these "deserts" must spend time and energy—and money—to go outside their area and shop. The Roanoke Times did an article about this situation last Sunday. However, odds are good, there's a fast food place near them.

When I was  a kid, I guess just about everyone lived in a food desert. Supermarkets were few and far between—and not close to us. There was a Mick or Mack somewhere downtown and an A&P on the city market. Some neighborhoods had small groceries that delivered—I remember my grandmother phoning in her order and getting it delivered later in the afternoon—but we didn't have anything like that on Floraland Drive in the late 40s and early 50s.

We had a big garden when I was small, and Mama canned a lot that the garden produced. Eventually, my father sold the two lots where our garden had been, so we had to depend on other ways to get vegetables. Once or twice a week, the vegetable man came around our neighborhood and sold produce from his truck. My mother bought stuff from him, but we usually shopped at the Roanoke City Market.

We'd get dressed up (because everyone did in those days), wait at the bus stop half a block from our house, ride the bus downtown, go to the meat market, which was the whole downstairs of the market building, and browse among the various butcher's stalls. On the back wall of each stall was a big sign with the butcher's name in large black letters. I remember Mama would usually buy from Mr. Minton or Mr. Hanabass and maybe one other. They always wrapped the meat in white paper. I remember there were big fans at each doorway, and the floor was covered in sawdust.

Usually Mama bought a chicken or two, a beef roast, and maybe hamburger or steak. I can remember her always pounding the steak with a special hammer before dipping it in flour and frying it. The chicken was fried, too, after she'd cut it up and dipped it in flour. The roast was cooked in a big pot (which I still have) on the top of the stove for a long time. The only meat I ever saw her bake was ham or turkey.

After the meat market, if we needed vegetables that the garden didn't give us, we'd go up and down the market streets where farmers brought in their produce to sell from their trucks. After we'd bought vegetables—usually tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, peas, lima beans, potatoes, and corn—we'd have all she could carry in two shopping bags.

Once in a while—if Mama needed flour or sugar or coffee—we'd go to the A&P in the market area before we went to the meat market or the farmers' trucks. But we didn't need those things very often.
A trip to the market took a least three hours for the bus rides and the shopping. Later, when a Mick-or-Mack was built on Williamson Road, we didn't have to travel so far. But we still rode the bus. And we were still limited to what would fit in two shopping bags.

Eventually, the lady next door received a car as a present from her husband, and she'd often take Mama to the store with her. By then, a newer and better Mick-or-Mack was built further up Williamson Road—and it offered frozen food. When Crossroads Mall opened, a Kroger store appeared. With so many stores and so many more choices, folks stopped going to market.

I can't believe how limited my food choices at home were in those days. We ate what my grandparents ate, which was what their parents had eaten, etc., which was what they grew at home. I didn't eat my first tossed salad until I was in high school, about the time I acquired a taste for those new-fangled frozen TV dinners from Swanson. I never ate broccoli, cauliflower, blueberry pie, pizza, lasagne or tuna casserole (or any other casserole unless you count macaroni and cheese) until I was in college.

Now, I have so many choices—even if I do only grocery shop once a week.

~

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat and Corn

We've had so many days of 90+ degree heat that I've lost count. And I don't even want to think about the humidity. Despite the high humidity, we've had little rain for the last two weeks. Nonetheless, the corn across the road is high.


Is it as high as an elephant's eye? I guess that would depend upon the size of the elephant. It's as high as the road sign at the intersection, though.


Look how dry and crusty the grass is getting—and how dry the bottom of the genetically modified corn is. My Natchez White crape myrtles are blooming, though.


So is my other crape myrtle at the end of the driveway.


Here's another view of the crape myrtle, intersection, road sign and corn:


And the opposite view:


The high corn blocks my view and is kind of oppressive. When the ears form, the local bear and deer population will come for snacks. 

Looking up the driveway toward the house, you can see how the lawn is getting dry. A few weeks ago it was emerald green.


Some flowers by the gazebo are still hanging on, though.


Near the house, we've had a bumper crop of Queen Anne's Lace that came up voluntarily.


The crape myrtle by the deck grows higher every year. I'm pretty sure it's higher than two or three elephants' eyes if you stacked the elephants on top of each other.


But it's dry.
~

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Crossroads Mall Memory

Warning—memories of the old days to follow:

Fifty years ago this week, Crossroads Mall became Roanoke Virginia's first shopping mall. It was located in what used to be a dairy farm between the Hershberger Road/Williamson Road intersection and the airport. I can remember seeing Holsteins graze there.

I was no stranger to buying stuff at that intersection, though. Years earlier, my friends and I would ride our bikes to Evan Drug Store where we'd buy a fountain Coke or maybe a comic book. I bought my first lipstick at Evans Drug Store. But Evans was a small store. The mall was big. At least we thought it was big at the time.

I was almost sixteen when Crossroads opened. Prior to its existence, going shopping meant catching the Williamson Road bus and riding downtown, a trip that took about a half-hour. You dressed up to go downtown in those days. In 1961, that meant an actual dress—or at least a skirt and blouse. Some women wore hats, gloves, and heels. Times were different then.

Downtown had the big department stores—Heironimus and Miller & Rhodes; several movie theaters—the American, the Jefferson, the Rialto, the Roanoke; the library; a bunch of dime stores—Kress, McLelland's, Woolworth, etc. Downtown had pretty much everything you'd want. No one had thought of K-Mart or Wal-Mart back then. Going downtown was a full-day event. You could window-shop along Jefferson Street and Campbell Avenue and venture into the stores whose window displays had caught your eye. Then you could grab a bit to eat and take in a movie.

When Crossroads opened, a lot of us ventured out to see what it was like. It was close enough to where I lived that I could walk there in a lot less time than a bus ride took. Inside the mall was an area of fountains and  palm trees and other big plants surrounded by a low wall. There was a cafeteria, a Heironimus (but not like the multi-storied one downtown), a JC Penney, several dress stores, a drug store, and a cafeteria.

Because of all those benches and the cafeteria, a lot of old people hung out there. You'd see gray-haired gangs of them sitting on the wall and watching us. Naturally, no self-respecting young person would be caught inside the mall for very long. A mall was for old codgers! It wasn't long until we hopped back on the bus and headed for downtown Roanoke where the action was.

Alas, the malls killed downtown. A few months after Crossroads opened, Towers Shopping Center opened on the other side of town. Then Roanoke Salem Plaza, then some strip malls. In a few years, few folks—young or old—ventured downtown. Stores closed or moved to a mall. Even movie theaters moved to the mall.

Now I'm the age of those old codgers who used to sit on the Crossroads wall and benches. Do I go to the mall now? Not if I can help it! I hate breathing the stale mall air, and I sometimes have trouble making the long walk from the parking lot.

Besides, nowadays the malls are full of those noisy young whippersnappers.
~

Sunday, July 17, 2011

New River: bonnets, apple butter, and moonshine

New River bonnets, apple butter and moonshine, by Charles Lytton is part memoir, part history of the River Ridge area, part cookbook, and part country lore. Subtitled "The Raising of a Little Fat Boy," the book is a fine addition to Appalachian literature.


For readers unfamiliar with country living, Lytton has included explanations. For example cat-headed biscuits do not contain any feline parts. "Cat-headed" refers to their size. Every morning for 25 years, Lytton's mother would bake 36 of them for breakfast. They were good slathered with yellow cow butter.

What is yellow cow butter? Lytton explains it in the glossary:

In the spring, summer, and early fall when there was lots of green grass to eat, all manner of milk cows gave thick yellowish cream. This translates into yellow butter, the norm for all country foods. But in the winter when cows started to be fed dry hay, corn fodder, and very little grain, the cream they produced did not have much color. "Yellow cow butter" is the good kind. (p.1)

Something else  he explains is how to test to see if the lard is hot enough to properly fry something:

We put three or four popcorn kernels in the lard to indicate the proper cooking temperature. When the lard is hot enough to pop the pocorn, you can put chicken or green tomatoes into the lard and your food won't be too greasy. (p. 2)

If you're curious about what mountain oysters are (and how to fry them), how to cure the croup, what gigging is, or how to make squirrel gravy, this is the book for you. If you want to know what life in the country was like a half century ago told by someone who's been there and done that, this is also the book for you.

I loved the down-home flavor of New River bonnets, apple butter and moonshine. I devoured the book in two days, and what I read left me hungry for more.  Lytton is a consummate story-teller, and his tales of life on River Ridge are worth reading time and again. And some of the recipes sound pretty good, too.

Besides writing stories, he also tells them. At the "Authors on Grayson" event at the 2011 Galax Leaf and String Festival, I had the privilege of hearing him spin some yarns.


If you'd like to meet him, he'll be one of the authors at the Mountain Spirits Festival in downtown Rocky Mount, Virginia, on October 1. He'll be both selling books in the authors' tent and telling tales in the library.

I expect he'll bring plenty of copies with him.


~

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

After Yesterday's Storm

Yesterday afternoon was hot and humid. Clouds formed and thunder rolled.


The thunder continued for hours. Toward late afternoon, I could see lightning flash in the south and west. Several showers poured down rain, but we didn't get the damaging wind that hit Roanoke and other places.

After the storms, everything was clean and bright.


I figured there'd be a pretty sunset. I was right.


Mist hangs below Chestnut Mountain

Jack's Mountain 

Cupcake lay down during the storm, so she's covered in shavings.


Melody went out to graze.


~

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Monday, July 04, 2011

More Email Spams

This weekend's e-mail brought more spam emails into my junk mail folder. 


Two were definite scams. You gotta love this one that came yesterday: 


The sender can cure several major diseases in only 5 days! And he has liberty anchored on strong desire, whatever that means. And he wants to share his profits with me for his HIV/AIDS cure made of a particular root and leafs that are dried and grinned. I wonder how long he had to grin at the leafs. Anybody know? But if I try it with people with the virus, wouldn't I be practicing medicine without a license? Guess I'd better not take Abdul up on his offer. 

Today's e-mail sender must think I'm a lawyer:


 Easy to answer that one: No, I'm not interested in your case. I'm not a lawyer. Plus, I don't remember any settlement with an ex husband.

I am an ex-English teacher, though, so I'm somewhat amused at the poor grammar and punctuation from both e-mailers.

I also received a book spam today. The book, published by a major company last fall, was about a subject that doesn't particularly interest me written by a person that I don't know (and who lives several states away from me). The e-mail (all 303 KB, including a 208 KB attachment) was sent from info@[title redacted].com and sent to info@[title redacted].com. It wasn't even sent to me personally.  I assume I received the e-mail because some PR company purchased a bunch of e-mail addys —a list which happened to include mine. Consequently, I won't be buying this book.

To any of my writer friends who might be thinking of hiring a PR company for book promotion, read this recent Writer Beware blog post by Victoria Strauss.

To my writer friends who want to e-mail me about their new (not several months old!) books, send me a personal (not group!) e-mail and include a message about why you're sending it. I like books by Southern and Appalachian authors, I read kid-lit (especially middle grade and some YA novels), and I like humor. I enjoy regional history and memoirs from people I already know, and I like fiction with a local setting. I enjoy well-written books about writing.

I don't like books about misery (either real or fictional), especially books that involve child or animal abuse. I don't care for  military history,(unless it's about the Civil War or Revolutionay War), and I'm not into technical stuff unless it's about Macs, iPods, or iPads.

If you paid to publish, I'd better already know you and have heard you read. I've read some doggone good self-published and vanity-published books, but I've run across more bad ones than good ones. So I'm wary.

Just like I'm wary of the spam that turns up my inbox.

~
Note: On July 5, 1937, Hormel introduced the meat product SPAM to America.

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Cahas Mountain View

A few days ago, the Franklin County Library employees, Foundation, and Board of Trustees had its annual picnic at Garst Pond north of Boones Mill. This was the first time in years that rain hadn't been a guest at the picnic. In fact, the day was incredibly clear and bright.

To get there, we had to pass Sundara, or the "wedding house." A few years ago, I blogged about attending a wedding there.


Also, we had to pass the backside of Cahas Mountain, which was mentioned a couple of years ago in the Coffee Talk blog. As w drove past, the mountain looked spectacular in the distance.


The big rocks looked pretty spectacular, too. 



The pond and picnic was just past these rocks. I didn't take any good pictures of the picnic because I was too busy eating the great pork barbeque made by Westlake librarian Marilyn Amerson and her husband.

Seeing Cahas Mountain reminded me of this quote:

"I need a mountain to rest my eyes against."
—Ernest Smith (father of Appalachian writer Lee Smith)

For eye-resting purposes, Cahas Mountain works for me.
~

Friday, July 01, 2011

Mares' Manicure

Warning: Graphic hoof image. Note for the squeamish.

For nearly a year, my 30-year-old mare Cupcake has had hoof problems. Late fall, she had a massive abscess so bad that we had to keep bandaging her hoof to protect the hole on the bottom. (Thank goodness for newborn-sized diapers, Vet-wrap, and duct tape!) The abscess eventually broke though the top of her hoof and, for several months, the hole has been growing down. It looks as if she has a cloven hoof.



This morning, she waited patiently for the farrier to come and trim her hoof so it wouldn't look quite so cloven—and so the angle would be a better match for her other hoof. (The farrier trims both mares every six weeks.)


I took the above picture before I brushed the shavings off her. (Cupcake always lies down for a nap after breakfast.) I did have her fly mask on, though.

The farrier arrived with his arm in a sling because he'd recently had surgery. However, he brought another friend to trim for him. 


Cupcake's trimmed and rasped hoof is still cloven, but it's a lot better than it was. By the next trim, it should be considerably better.


Their "manicures" done, both Melody (left) and Cupcake went to graze in the pasture before it got too hot. There wasn't a cloud in the sky this morning.

Facing northwest.
Facing southwest.
The mares will graze for a few hours in the morning and then return to the run-in shed—where there's a fan—to avoid heat of the afternoon. That's what they do in summer.
~

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