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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Garden

Despite a couple of cold days, this November has been especially warm. Until a few days ago, flowers still  bloomed, including this rose—a slip of which I brought from Mama's yard in 1999.


Along the same wall as the rose, the Rose of Sharon bushes have lost their leaves, but marigolds kept blooming.


A closer view:


A profusion of mums by the gazebo held on:



But the vegetable gardens are gone. Recently I ate the last of the peppers from the little vegetable garden. Everything else, except for a few gone-to-seed onions, is history.

Two weeks ago, the lower garden looked like this—a tangle of tomato vines and peppers and weeds.



My husband bush-hogged over it . . .


. . . and it soon looked like this:


Then he tilled it . . .


. . . until it looked like this:


So has does my garden grow? It doesn't. Check back in the spring.
~

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Waste Paper

Reading the Roanoke Times never takes me long. This morning, I only read portions of these two sections:


I didn't read  the "weekend planner" part in the Extra section. I don't plan to go anywhere—especially on a weekend where there'll be lots more traffic than usual. I didn't read much of the main part of the paper because I'd already read a lot of the news online. But I did read some.

The best part of today's paper was Dan Casey's column, "Giving Thanks," on page one. The op-ed page's reprint of Leonard Pitts' Miami Herald column, "After Profound Grief," was pretty good, too. Both stories capture the spirit of Thanksgiving.

I didn't read the rest of the paper. I never read the sports section since I'm not into sports. I won't read the plethora of ads because I don't need anything they're touting, and I have no desire to join the  crowds battling each other for a great deal.


All of those unread ads, which no doubt capture what the season is becoming, will go straight to the recycling box at the dumpster. What a waste.

Meanwhile, I'm thankful that I already have everything I need.
~

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Foggy Morn

Early morning was silver. Heavy frost coated the ground; fog hung in the chilly air. By mid-morning the sun had burned away the fog, and the day was as warm as spring.












~

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Dog For All Seasons

A book recommendation.



If you've ever owned—or been owned by—a border collie, you'll love this book. I'd ordered  A Dog for All Seasons months ago but only recently got around to reading it. I'd been on a memoir reading jag lately, so this memoir by Patti Sherlock fit in nicely. It's one of the best books I've read this year—and I've read some doggone good ones.

Basically, the book is a memoir of Sherlock's sixteen years with her border collie, Duncan. Here's an  excerpt


I'm on my second border collie now. My first was Abby, who'd been dumped on our farm in 1991 when she was about six months old. Abby, who died in late 2004, was my introduction to border collies. Abby was the smartest, most loyal dog I've ever owned.


I've blogged numerous times about Maggie, my second border collie. I wrote the following in a blog post about Maggie when she was a year old:



When I got her, I was still mourning my old border collie, Abby, who died a year earlier. Maggie had some big paw-prints to fill. When I went to the Parkers' farm in Bedford to look at puppies, a border collie who looked like Abby bounded to my car and greeted me warmly. I knew then that I had to have a pup from this dog. And I got one. 
Maggie was the easiest pup we've ever brought into the house. She was quiet the first night (and for all nights thereafter) and was easy to housebreak. She never chewed up anything that wasn't hers—except the tub-scrubber. From the first, she knew she was my dog. 
I should have known, since she was the biggest in the litter and had huge feet, that she'd grow up to be a big dog. And she has. 
Maggie is a smart—maybe too smart, independent, and take-charge kind of dog. She loves water, be it in bathtubs, creeks, or puddles. We had to add a tub to the kennel so she can soak whenever she wants to.
But I'm digressing. A Dog for All Seasons isn't just about a remarkable dog; it's also about a big chunk of Sherlock's life and the challenges she faced with her family and with sheep-farming.

I highly recommend this book—even if you aren't a border collie person.
~

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Publisher Picking

I'm a little ticked off because I recently received an email that a certain "publisher" is following me on Twitter. Please note that I rarely tweet, so there's not much to be gained by following me.  This "publisher," which heads the Writer Beware warning list, is not one whose tweets I'd ever follow. And I'd never pick this "publisher" to publish any of my work.

If a publisher is legit, the publisher picks you. Not the other way around. You query a publisher (or your agent contacts the publisher), and the publisher decides if your book fits their needs. Mainly, can they make a profit by selling your book to readers?



In one of the online groups I belong to, not long ago an aspiring author asked the other members if we knew a "good publisher" for her novel. "I've finished mine and want to find a good one that isn't a self-publishing place," she said.

Hmmm. I'm not sure what she means by "finished." Completed the first draft? Workshopped it through a writers group and revised it? Gotten input from Beta readers and revised again? I don't know. But I do know that many aspiring authors think  a manuscript is finished as soon as they type the words "the end." It usually isn't.



Nevertheless, her question got me thinking about how to tell legit (commercial) publishers from the other kinds (vanity, subsidy, self, etc.).

One way to tell: Check the publisher's website. What is the business of commercial publishers? To sell books, of course. To whom do they sell these books? Readers, of course. Therefore, the website should show that the publisher is in the business of selling books—not touting what it does for authors, not bragging that it has revolutionized publishing, not openly soliciting authors, not comparing itself favorably to other types of publishers, not professing to support a particular religion or a particular cause. Granted, the publisher should have a link to its submission guidelines somewhere on the site, but the homepage should be about the books this publisher has published.


Check out the websites of the big-name publishers. The homepage for Random House (a division of Bertlesman) features some of their latest books as well as a list of their best-sellers, news about their featured authors and their recently-published books, and other information for readers. Clicking a book cover leads to ordering information from either Random house or a host of retailers—and to more info about the book. The website makes it easy for readers to learn about books. Way down at the bottom is a link to click for submission guidelines. Clicking it lets you know that they don't take unsolicited submissions.


The homepage for MacMillan also features books and showcases the new ones as well as the best sellers. It's easy to tell MacMillan is geared to readers. Ditto for Simon and Schuster and any imprints of the Hachette Publishing Group.

However, the homepage of the "publisher" who is following my non-existent tweets contains info about the company (but no link to its bookstore), info about how to submit a manuscript, an author guide that is basically a solicitation for you to send them your manuscript, etc. A link for comments about them takes you back to another solicitation of your manuscript. They also have a link to some "must read articles," all of which promote them as being a wonderful choice of publisher. But where are their books for sale? This company is obviously geared to new writers who don't know how commercial publishing works.

Google is your friend. Do a search for any publisher you're considering. Here's a warning from one unfortunate author about this "publisher." And this page of Preditors and Editors also gives a pretty strong warning.

Beware of any publisher who wants you to put up money. If the publisher wants you to pay them some money (which they'll "refund" after you sell a whole bunch of books), run the other way. If they don't ask for any money upfront but insist you need to buy a whole bunch of books, run the other way. Commercial publishers pay you, not the other way around. And they provide you with a box of free books for promotional purposes. And they let you buy more author copies at a discount if you want them. And they pay royalties.

Check the nearest bookstore. Are books from that publisher on the shelf? If not, why not? Maybe the publisher doesn't have a distributor. See this post on the Behler Blog: "Beware the Subtleties."

Check the watchdog sitesPreditors and EditorsWriter Beware; and the Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks are all good places to start.

Contact an author or two who have used the publisher you are considering and ask about their experience (It's a good idea to actually have read their books first.). Usually there will be contact info on the authors' websites. If they don't have websites—uh, oh! Make sure the authors you contact have had their books out for at least a year.

Meanwhile, read this Glass Cases blog post that contains good advice about both agents and publishers: "Shady Business." Maybe read it twice.

~

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Diabetes Day

Warning: Blatant heath info. 

Yesterday—November 14—was World Diabetes Day, which pretty much passed unnoticed in my region. Folks around here didn't sport blue ribbons (blue is the diabetic color), nobody held a race or even a walk, there wasn't even a benefit concert.

My glucometer reading an hour after lunch today.
Yeah, it's too high. I ate too many carbs.

 For me, every day is Diabetes Day and has been since I was officially diagnosed in January 1999. That was when my gynecologist told me I was diabetic; my family practitioner had told me a few years earlier that my extreme fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, and aches and pains meant I had fibromyalgia.  After all, I didn't have the symptoms that most folks think signal diabetes: I didn't lose weight (I gained!), I didn't make frequent trips to the bathroom (I was a teacher; I'd trained myself to hold it.), I wasn't especially thirsty (Again, as a teacher in the age before bottled water, I couldn't drink water whenever I wanted.)—so I couldn't have been diabetic.

Finally, my family practitioner gave me a finger-stick blood test (92—not diabetic!) but also had me take the A1C test that showed, yeah, I was diabetic. Really diabetic. I searched the Internet for diabetic info. I realized that other symptoms I had were also diabetic symptoms: the dirty skin syndrome on my neck and other areas, skin tags, decreased vision (I needed progressively stronger lenses every year), frequent infections (I attributed all those strep infections to being around students with strep throat, plus there was the 22-month bout of chronic Epstein-Barre), numbness and tingling of hands and feet (diabetic neuropathy), itchiness, and slow healing cuts (even minor scratches). My Internet search led to discovering Dr. Bernstein's Diabetic Solutions. Using practices in the book, I took my blood sugar back into the normal range and lost weight. Through the years, I started eating like regular people again (although not as much carby stuff as the food pyramid recommends). And my diabetes became much worse and I gained weight again.

This year, I have made a bigger effort to get control. I've cut the carbs way back. Giving up wheat has helped tremendously, although sometimes I backslide.

What's it like to have diabetes?

I can tell when my blood sugar is rising too fast or too much (or when it's  over 140)—my ears ring. Not jingly-jangly, but the insect-sound of a hayfield in summer. It's not unpleasant, but I have trouble deciphering sounds if I'm not looking at whoever's talking. If there's another sound in the background—music or general background noise, I really have trouble understanding whoever is talking to me. I try not to use the phone during these episodes because I can misinterpret info. Sometimes I'll tell the caller to speak louder and slower. When my blood sugar is high, I'm sluggish, klutzy, and brain-foggy. One doctor described it to me as "walking through thick syrup." That description nails it. Besides the hearing problem, high blood sugar makes it harder for me to concentrate and harder for me to make my hands to do what I want them to do (like handwriting or opening a jar); I really want to sleep. Plus, I'll hurt.

If my blood sugar rises too high too fast, it'll crash in about two hours. I'll get jittery, feel faint, and sometimes break out in a cold sweat. I'll also become very irritable. The ear-ringing will stop, but other noises will bother me—especially certain frequencies. I'll be easily distracted.

After a higher-than-usual-carb day or a day in which I ate something containing wheat, I pay the price. I'm tired, my muscles and joints ache, and I usually have difficulty walking. My hands tingle and sometimes won't work the way I want them to. If I'm going to be at an event where I'll be tempted to eat too many carbs, I try to not schedule other activities for two days afterwards so I can bounce back. I won't drive long distances or at night. I won't do things that require intense concentration or fine motor skills.

I've tried many diabetic meds that didn't work. For the past year year, I've been on prandin, which I take 15 to 30 minutes before a meal. As long as I keep my carb count to under 20 grams per meal and avoid wheat, potatoes, rice, soy, processed foods with their plethora of additives, artificial sweeteners (which act just like sugar as far as my blood sugar is concerned), I generally do OK. I eat full-fat rather than low-fat, because fat acts an an appetite suppressant and helps brain activity. I eat protein as well as fat with every meal. Fat and protein don't spike my blood sugar the way carbs will.

I try to avoid temptation, which means I sometimes turn down invitations to places where I suspect I won't be able to stay wheatless and low-carb. I appreciate buffets instead of pre-selected menus because I can almost always find what I need to eat from buffet choices. I appreciate groups that save the carb-laden treats to be served at the end of a meeting, so I can leave instead of watching other folks scarf up what I really  really want  but know I shouldn't eat. I appreciate get-togethers where there are other choices besides carbs—cheese cubes, raw vegetables, etc.

I don't appreciate having no choices. I dropped out of AAUW a few years ago because the luncheon meetings had such delicious carb-laden food (no choice—everyone ate the same entreee) and desserts to die for (literally!) I still go to Pen Women luncheons because I can brown-bag it or order for myself. I sometimes avoid other occasions if I know there'll be carby treats (and no other choices) and if I don't have someone to drive me home afterwards. I don't buy Girl Scout cookies or doughnuts or popcorn that groups are selling as fund-raisers. I don't go to pancake breakfasts or spaghetti suppers no matter what good cause they're supporting.

I have become my own cause.
~




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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Ad

. . . inside the morning paper.

In today's Roanoke Times I found this ad, addressed to "Dear Virginia Friend," which I guess is me:


For only $37.95 plus $8 shipping, I could own a hard bound "coffee table" book (8.5 by 11 inches) with 320 pages and 314 photographs! Wow! What a deal, huh?


I thought it odd that the publisher didn't have a website listed on the ad, especially if they "expect to sell out all inventory this year" so I should order my copy today! (Note that the words I bolded were bolded in the ad.) I Googled and found that they did indeed have a website. And the book had been around since 2007. Google books says it was written by Nelson Harris (who has indeed written some history books, but his Amazon page doesn't list this one) and gives the editors as Bob Lasley and Sallie Holt. On another site, Bob Lasley is listed as the author. In fact, Amazon lists him as the author of a whole slew of memory-type books, as well as a vanity published book. This is getting curiouser and curiouser.

I checked WorldCat to see what libraries shelve this book. Since it has been out since 2007 and since "it is the most unusual and enjoyable history book ever written about [my] region,"I figured it should be in libraries all across the nation. It's in a total of eleven libraries, two of which aren't in Virginia. WorldCat classifies it as biography. Huh?

I also looked for reviews of this book. Surely in the five years since it was published, it should have gotten at least one. (Apparently, not even Harriet Klausner, the queen of numerous Amazon reviews, reviewed it.)

The ad says that I'll "certainly find people, places, things and events that will bring back the good times of the 1930s, '40s, '50s. '60s, and early 70s." I might be a "Virginia old-timer," but my "good old days" are not the 1930s or even the first half of the '40s. I'd also love to know who the "141 Virginias from all walks of life" are and if I do indeed "probably know many of them."


What I'd really like to see is a search-inside-the-book-feature so I can see how well-written (or not) this high-priced book is.

But I don't think I'll be buying this book unless a copy turns up at a used book sale for $1. Then it might occupy a spot on my coffee table
~

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Support Books?

Today I received an email from a publisher that once rejected a query of mine many years ago. Here's part of the email:


They want me to give them money so they can "seek out new voices" and "publish groundbreaking work"—"transformative literature," whatever that is. According to their website, they're a non-profit publisher. (A bit of Googling told me that there are several other non-profit publishers. I was surprised. I thought publishers wanted to make money.)

I dislike getting spam requests for money in my email. I can see contributing to public radio or public TV because they don't have advertisers to fund them—and I can listen or watch them whenever I want without paying another fee. (Plus NPR and PBS don't send me email spam.) But it's not likely this publisher, which has been around for thirty years, will give me X number of books if I contribute.

 I can maybe see contributing to a start-up publisher (through Kickstarter, for instance) if I knew the people involved and believed in their project. I could even understand buying stock in a publishing company that's determined to make a profit. But I can't understand why this company—which does have books to sell—hasn't figured out a way to sell its goods to make a profit. 

I generally support publishers—and authors—by buying books. I took a look at a few of this company's recent paperbacks, which were priced in the $15 to $18 range, but I didn't see anything that I loved. 

I loved the book that I once queried them with and they rejected, though. Thus, I'm rejecting this email spam.
~




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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bad Ideas

. . . from Good Motives

Yesterday's Associated Press article that appeared in numerous newspapers across the country  underscored the problem with well-intentioned folks making donations to victims of Hurricane Sandy. These donations are causing "a disaster after the disaster"—what to do with all the donations. According to Geoff Mulvihill's article:
It's a common quandary after natural disasters displace lots of people and destroy homes and possessions. Relief groups need very specific things, along with cash and organization. Instead, they get vases and vacuum cleaners, or interference from well-intentioned volunteers who think they're helping but are just hindering efforts.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/11/09/4401287/disaster-after-the-disaster-unwanted.html#storylink=cpy
I recently came across a site wherein "indie" authors decided to donate their books to libraries that had been destroyed—or at least damaged—by Hurricane Sandy. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. Only it isn't.

What is an "indie" author, you may ask? Opinions vary. Publisher Lynn Price, on her Behler Blog, defines "indie" as a "small independent commercial press." Thus, indie authors would be published by small independent presses. However, a lot of folks define "indie" authors as those who pay all the costs of publishing, own their own ISBNs, make all the decisions, and reap all the profits. A few of the many sites that have offered a definition of "indie" author are this one, this one, and this one. And there are lots more.

Since I am self-published (once), vanity-published (four times), and small press-published (twice), I fit most definitions of "indie" author and I know some of the pitfalls. Indies generally aren't well known beyond their immediate region. Bookstores, aside from some local independent ones, rarely carry their books. Libraries rarely shelve books by independent authors who don't live in the region the library serves.


Because I serve on my county library's Board of Trustees, I know a bit about how libraries work. I know that shelf space is limited. (Nonetheless, our main library and its branch have a local authors' section where they do shelve books by folks they actually know and whose books patrons actually request.) I know the library procures books (usually by ordering from a distributor) that patrons are likely to check out. I know that when new books are ordered, older books—or books that haven't been checked out for a long time—might be culled to free up shelf space. The library staff has to spend time ordering, cataloguing, and covering books before they can be put on the shelf.

Some donated books are, of course, welcomed. They're books that patrons want to read. But other donations present a problem. Will patrons even check them out? If not, why spend time in cataloguing and covering them? Why waste shelf space that could be used for more popular books? While the library accepts donated books, most end up in the monthly used book sale held by the Friends of the Library.

A few years ago, an acquaintance I met at a writers conference wanted me to buy her vanity-published book about a subject that I wasn't interested in and that a cost a bit more than a commercially published book. When I said that the subject matter wasn't what I usually read, she insisted I could buy it and donate it to my local library. I had to explain that doing so wasn't cost effective—that her $$ book was highly unlikely to be shelved and would be sold for a dollar at the monthly sale.

Now picture if you will a library that has sustained major structural damage and has lost most of its books in a flood. The over-stressed staff can't process new books because they have no place to store them until the building has been repaired. For a while, they won't even have space to work in. When they finally are able order replacement copies of their damaged inventory, they'll spend hundreds of hours processing and shelving those replacement copies. If hundreds of indies were to flood (no pun intended) them with books they've never heard of and that none of their patrons has requested, what would they do? Where would they put them? Even taking the unwanted books to a dumpster requires precious man-hours.

So that's why I think those indie authors' motive might seem like a good idea but really isn't. The best thing to do would be to donate money instead of books.

*If you haven't read any indie-pubbed ebooks, take a look at the free ones on Smashwords. Click on a title and scroll down to the format you'd like to read.

~



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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Diabetes Awareness

November, according to the American Diabetes Association, is American Diabetes Month®. (That's right, the name is registered. If you're not American or not diabetic, I guess you can't celebrate.) I am not a fan of the ADA because they disseminate too much misinformation—such as encouraging diabetics to eat according to the food pyramid instead of low-carbing. Diabetics can't process carbs, so it makes no sense to encourage them to eat lots of carbs.

The ADA doesn't even explain how a diabetic should properly draw blood. On the ADA website, a picture shows the pad of the finger used for a finger stick. This is painful. You should use the side of the pad, not the center. Why doesn't the ADA know that?

Here's some more misinformation from their web site:

"A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as a healthy diet for anyone – low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit."

 . . . and:

"Starchy foods are part of a healthy meal plan. What is important is the portion size. Whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, peas and corn can be included in your meals and snacks. The key is portions. For most people with diabetes, having 3-4 servings of carbohydrate-containing foods per meal is about right. Whole grain starchy foods are also a good source of fiber, which helps keep your gut healthy."

I know from personal experience, as well as doing a lot of reading, that starchy foods and whole grains—carbs!—will cause my blood sugar levels to soar, will make me ache and bloat, and will cause other problems. Anyone who has read Wheat Belly by Wm. Davis, MD, knows that whole grains will not "keep your gut healthy" and will cause numerous health problems.

I used to eat low-fat, plenty of fruit, and lots of whole grains (and potatoes, corn, etc.). I also wasn't eating beef or pork. I got fat and felt lousy. But I was eating according to what was healthy—and what the ADA still recommends. Here's how I looked then in my 1997 retirement picture: 


I'm pretty sure I was diabetic when the above picture was taken, but I hadn't been diagnosed (and wouldn't be until nearly two years later). I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a catch-all term for "yeah, there's something wrong with you, but we don't know what") after my two-year bout with chronic mono. I had extreme fatigue, autoimmune problems, numerous infections, etc. Notice I needed a cane to walk back then.

Here I am a few months ago, about 55 pounds lighter than I was in my retirement picture:


Keep in mind that the ADA receives substantial contributions from Big Food, and Big Pharma. Naturally the drug companies don't want you to get better on your own. If you didn't need their drugs, they'd lose money. Big money.

If you're diabetic, or think you might be, there are three books you need to read. The information contained in them is far superior than any info you'll find on the ADA website:
 I've mentioned these books in earlier blog posts. I've also mentioned in an earlier post about why I dropped out of a diabetes class (based on ADA info and the infamous food pyramid).  But, I recently received this in the mail:


Since the same nutritionist who conducted the diabetes class is conducting this, I won't be attending. I don't need any more misinformation.

If you're diabetic—or think you might be—it's up to you to find out what does and doesn't work for you. Those three books are a good place to start.
~

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

November 1

Today is both All Saints' Day (a Catholic holiday) and Samhain (a Celtic holiday). Samhain marked the first day of winter and the harvest. At Samhain, young folks would disguise themselves and prowl about as they pretended to be spirits of the dead. When Christianity took over, Samhain became Hallowmas, and later All Saints' Day.

Whatever November 1 is, it began with a pink sunrise . . .





. .  . which got pinker.



Before long, the sky looked as if it were on fire.





Then, in a matter of minutes,  it faded to gray.





Most of the day was gray with occasional breaks in the clouds. By late afternoon, sun broke through. At evening, the pink clouds returned. Here's how the day ended.



Now, the western sky looked on fire.



Then the sun slipped below the mountains, and darkness returned.
~



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