Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, genealogy and family history, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats.

© 2006-2022 All rights reserved

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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), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Light to the Hills

 I've been a fan of Applachian literature for decades. When I saw that one of the Amazon Kindle First Reads for November was an Appalachian novel, I knew I wanted to read it.  The book's blurb on Amazon—"A richly rewarding novel about family bonds, the power of words, and the resilience of mothers and daughters in 1930s Appalachia"—caught my attention and reeled me in. So—that's how I happened to order Bonnie Blaylock's novel, Light to the Hills. I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed the book.

Light to the Hills is Appalachian fiction, as well as women's fiction, historial fiction, and a coming-of-age tale. It's beautifully written and well-crafted; Bonnie Blaylock has an MA in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. This novel won the 2021 Porch Prize in fiction, and you can read an excerpt in the Nashville Review.

Part of a review in the Historical Novel Society says, "This is a gorgeously written and well-layered novel that immediately transports us to the Appalachian Mountains of the 1930s. Bonnie Blaylock does a wonderful job of portraying the beauty of the “shifting blues and greens” of Appalachia and the proud determination of its people."  

Amanda Rye, 22-year-old widowed mother of a young son, supports herself and her child by working as packhorse librarian for the WPA. One rainy afternoon, as Amanda rides through the woods on her mule Junebug, she encounters young Sass—who's been hunting for ginseng—as a rattlesnake is coiled to strike Sass. Amanda pulls her pistol from her boot and kills the snake. Always eager to introduce another family to the books she carries, Amanda follows Sass home.

I loved the description of Sass MacInteer's home as Amanda first sees it : "Shaded by the hardwoods surrounding it, Sass’s house appeared in the distance, the tentative reach of its crooked split-rail fence marking the yard’s perimeter. Woodsmoke wisped from the stacked-stone chimney and hung in a blue fog just under the damp trees, smelling of welcome and warmth. The house was made of mostly hand-hewn logs and a simple plank porch that ringed the square dwelling like starched crinoline." 

Before long, Amanda is helping fix supper and sharing her books with the family. She leaves The Velveteen Rabbit, which she thinks the children will enjoy. When Amanda returns two weeks later, she  learns that none of them can read, although they've been puzzling out the story by looking at the pictures. She reads the story to them, and in her subsquent visits she brings books to help them learn to read. Before long, Amanda and the MacInteers look forward to her visits.

Of course, some complications ensue—a cave-in at the mine where Mr. MacInteer and his son Finn work, an unsavory character in the area, etc. Past and present secrets are revealed, but I'll not give them away. Suffice to say that justice is served in a way you'd never expect.

If you want a wonderful Appalachian reading experience, I highly recommend Light to the Hills.

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Monday, September 12, 2022

Queen Elizabeth Memory

 I heard about Queen Elizabeth II's death last Thursday via the media—first on the Internet and then on television. The major TV channels were filled with the news all afternoon. Through various media, I have been witness to her entire reign.

When I was seven, I first heard about Queen Elizabeth through this media—a Philco radio that was on in our kitchen on an early June day in 1953. 

My second grade year at Huff Lane School was coming to an end. During the 1952-53 school year, Huff Lane was on a split schedule because of over-crowding, so I attended only in the mornings and had my afternoons free. I remember being on the back porch that afternoon where I could hear the radio through the screen door. Something came on about a queen—a real queen, not like the fairy tales queens that I'd heard about in stories. Apparently, they were making Elizabeth a queen while I was listening. I didn't know then that she'd been serving a a queen for a while since her father died, and what I was listening to was her coronation. 

But I remember thinking that what I was hearing was pretty important stuff. I didn't realize that it was an important historical event. Historical events, I knew, happened a long time ago—and this was happening now.

Some people were lucky enough to watch it on TV, but we didn't have a TV then. WSLS TV (Channel 10) had only gone on the air the previous December and was the only local channel so not a lot of folks in the neighborhood had TV sets then.

In a week, I will likely watch her funeral on TV. And this time I know it's an historical event.


Friday, August 26, 2022

Eaglebait Review Again

I first reviewed Susan Coryell's novel, Eaglebait, back in 2011 when the Authors Guild re-issued the original 1998 edition. It's not often I review the same book twice on this blog, but Eaglebait has recently been revised for a new generation of readers, and thus deserves another look.

The cats discussed who would help me with this review.

Grover: "Charlotte, do you want to do this one?"

Charlotte: "I suppose I could."

Tanner: "Charlotte, you're yawning. I'll do it.
 Just let me finish my nap first."

Never mind, cats. I'll do it. My original blogpost or the book's Amazon page covers the plot, so I won't repeat it here. 

The updated coming-of-age novel is now set in 2014 or thereabouts—long before the pandemic trapped kids inside and when kids could still walk to places they wanted to go. But recent enough for kids to have cell-phones and access to technology, but before teens abandoned Facebook in droves. The update makes the story much more relevant to today's young adolecent males.

Some readers might identify with the main character, Wardy Spinks, a pudgy 14-year-old  expelled from a military school where his parents sent him two years earlier when they couldn't cope with his rebellious behavior, low grades, and poor attitude. Despite Wardy's  intelligence, at military school his grades were low, his behaviour was still rebellious, and he suffered a horrific beating by his classmates. 

Back home, Wardy's mother enrolls him in public high school where his high intelligence puts him in gifted classes. But his tormentors from middle school pick up where they left off and cyber-bully him as well as physically attack him. Wardy's grades are low, his still has family problems, etc. But some things are looking up—Wardy likes the girl who is his biology lab partner, and a new teacher takes an interest in him. Plus his Grandma Lou, a successful artist, believes in him and gives him advice. Eventually, despite several complications, Wardy's life gets better. 

Since the Eaglebait's original publication, the public's perception of science geeks has improved. The wildly successful TV series The Big Bang Theory and its spin-off Young Sheldon made viewers appreciate kids who are science obsessed and/or who are exceptional and misunderstood. Also many school systems have added STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculums.

However, bullying and self-esteem problems still exist, and Eaglebait addresses those problems. Eaglebait is appropriate for boys 11 to 14 who don't fit in socially and who don't match their parents' expectations, and it's also helpful for parents—especially mothers— who cannot cope with a son who doesn't meet their expectations. If these sons and their mothers read and discuss Eaglebait together, they might better understand their family situations.

Cat family: "Mommy, have you finished your review? We're hungry."


Friday, August 19, 2022

Working Cats

While I've posted pictures of the housecats numerous times on this blog, I haven't posted much about the outside cats. There are four full-time outside cats: Spotz, Max, Skippy, and Cedrick, plus two of the resident housecoats—Tanner and Jim-Bob—who work a dayshift outside. While Spotz and the feral cat Max work in the area of the shop, the other four work around the house and occasionally in the pasture. These four are the ones pictured in this post.

We found Tanner at the dumpster in March 2013. He was only a few months old and had likely been dumped. Fortunately he came to me when I called him, so he didn't get squashed by a truck that was pulling away from the dumpster.


Jim-Bob and his sister Chloe were born here in 2009. Chloe used to work in the pasture until she vanished for nine days in 2019 and finally returned home badly injured. She now works on rat patrol in the garage at night. Jim-Bob and Tanner are good buddies, but Jim-Bob hates Skipy and Cedrick.


Skippy and Cedrick are full-time outside cats. Skippy used to live down the road, but he started showing up for breakfast several years ago when he was about six months old. His owner used to come retrieve him and take him home, but Skippy would be back the next day. Mornings when I went out to feed, I'd see Skippy running down the road toward me. He really wanted to be live here.


I can't remember how long Skippy has been around, but it's at least seven years. Maybe more. His owner never had him neutered, so Skippy would occasionally go looking for love for several weeks at a time. He always returned, though. After his owner had moved away five or six years ago, Skippy made our place his headquarters. He really wanted to sign on as our cat, but I told him the rule was he'd have to submit to neutering and a rabies shot if he wanted to stay here. 

In 2018, he vanished for more than a month. When he returned, he was missing both his manhood and the tip of one ear, so I figured someone, thinking he was a feral cat, had trapped him and had him neutered. He's officially lived here ever since. I figure that Otis and Charlotte, who were dumped here as tiny kittens in June 2018, were the last ones he sired. They have Skippy's distinctive green eyes, gray color and thick fur.

Cedrick showed up a few years ago and was wild for a while, but he tamed down in a few weeks. He appeared to be four or five months old and, since he never went looking for love, apparently had been neutered.  I don't know how he found his way here. 


Cedrick took up with Skippy and they became pals. However, he hates Tanner and Jim-Bob. Tanner and Jim-Bob hate him, too.

After breakfast, Skippy and Cedrick rally to plan their day's cat-work.  

Sometimes, they'll hunt around the gazebo. A groundhog often lives under the gazebo, but the cats prefer to hunt small rodents.

Sometimes Jim-Bob watches them from a nearby hunting spot.

Sometimes they hunt in opposite directions . . .

. . . but then check to see if the other might have missed something.

They know that sometimes it's best to sit still and wait . . .

. . . and occasionally check to see if anything interesting is overhead . . ..

. . . or behind.

Meanwhile, Tanner has found a good hiding place—or  maybe it's a hunting blind.

But these outside cats know that good things come to those who wait—at least often enough that they keep waiting. 

Successful cat-work apparently involves a lot of waiting.
~ ~ ~ 


Friday, August 05, 2022

Why Genealogy?

 I got into genealogy late in life. I dabbled a bit in the pre-Internet days, but didn't find much at the local library—only a few names and dates. Once I had Internet access, though, I got lucky. But it still took me years to make the connection that genealogy is history.

Long ago, the 7th grade Virginia history and the 11th grade American history I studied didn't mean much to me. All the important events happened to people long before I was born and thus had no connection to me. Or so I thought.

I wish I had known on my 7th grade Virginia history trip to Richmond, Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown  that several ancestors had even been at Jamestown in the early 1600s, that one of my ancestors had laid out the town of Yorktown, that other ancestors had lived in Richmond—including the family scoundrel who had erected a lavish monument in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, and that many of my ancestors had moved westward across Virginia following a similar route that the Greyhound bus used to bring us home. 

It was only when I started working on my family genealogy that I became really interested in history—my history!—and started reading about events that affected my ancestors. I decided that—before I shuffled off the mortal coil—I wanted to know who I was,  who came before me, where these people came from, and what historical events affected them.

On my maternal side, I knew a few names of great-great grandparents and a cousin had given me a list of Nace descendants. I even had a picture of my great-great grandfather, John Christian Nace, who lived from 1828 to 1928 and had served in the Civil War. From some internet research, I learned that when he was a child, he shook hands with President Andrew Jackson.

John Christian Nace

Then, thanks to info gleaned at reunions, I learned a bit about the Noffsinger/Noftsinger line and that I descended from Peter Naftzger

On my paternal side, I had a picture of another great-great-grandfather,  Elder John Reid Martin. I'd seen his grave at Bethel Church when I was a child—but that was as far back as I could go. A few decades ago, however, I learned that his grandfather—my 4th great grandfather—was Brigadier General Joseph Martin

John Reid Martin

During the late 1990s, I'd started doing internet research and found occasional bits of info. By 2010, I'd found enough about my Nace ancestors to start a blog, The Naces of LithiaBut I didn't know much about other family lines. That's when I started searching for other names I'd learned, so I was able to find bits of information about several more ancestors. But not enough.

In 2015, I subscribed to and started tracing my genealogy in earnest. Bit by bit, I found hints that led to discoveries about more of my ancestors. Sometimes I found false information, but I soon learned to be skeptical of where information came from and to check sources. Before long, though, I had a family tree filled out on and four notebooks packed with information about my ancestors.

My Nace notebook and Ruble notebook.

I know now that many of my ancestors fought in wars I'd read about when I was a kid—the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. I know most of my ancestors sailed to America before 1750, and many were involved in a lot of Colonial American history. Among my Jamestown ancestors, at least two—Willliam Hancock on my paternal side and Christopher Woodward on my maternal side—died in the 1622 Indian Massacre. 

I had ancestors on both sides in Bacon's Rebellion (1676), an event that I can't remember hearing about when I was in school. I even learned that my 8th great-grandmother was taken hostage by Nathaniel Bacon and used as a human shield.

I've been to Yorktown many times—the first time on that 7th grade trip—but I never knew until a few years ago that my 10th great-grandfather, Major Lawrence Smith (1629-1700), who was involved in Bacon's Rebellion (on Gov. Berkeley's side), surveyed and laid out the streets of Yorktown. 

—Daily Press, Newport News, VA, 19 Oct 1958

From Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1:

I'd never thought about any American ancestors outside of Virginia, but as I researched I learned I also had New England connections. My 9th great grandfather, Robert Coles, came from England to Massachusetts in 1630 as one of the Puritans in Winthrop's fleet. I was surprised and delighted to discover so much about him online—including that he was once sentenced to wear a letter "D" for drunkard. A few sites I found about him: About Robert Coles, "Scarlet Letters of Punishment," and  "Robert Coles—Skeletons in the Colonial Closet."

Besides Coles, I also had Carpenters and Wrights in New England. During the mid-1700s, they came down the Great Wagon Road to Virginia.

Some of my ancestors came from the Palatinate to Philadelphia in the 1700s—among them were Matthias Nehs and his family aboard the Brittania in 1731,  Heinrich Surber and family aboard the Mercury in 1735, and Peter Nafsker and his two brothers aboard the Phoenix in 1749. I can't remember any mention of the Palatinate when I was in school.

I wish I had known about all these ancestors and the times in which they lived when I was a child. If you have children, I recommend you get them involved in learning about their ancestors while they're young. If you don't know who your ancestors are, you can work along with the kids to solve the mysteries. 

For some tips for getting your children started on your family's genealogy, check out these two sites: and "Finding your Roots for Kids."


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Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Reading with Fur People

 Recently, some of the resident fur people joined me in reading a delightful book about a member of their species.

The Reading Group: Claudine, Grover, Otis, Orville, Tanner, & Charlotte

The Fur Person, by May Sarton, was originally published in 1957, and has been republished several times since then. A friend—and fellow cat-lover—suggested the book to me and I found a copy of the 2016 reprint on Amazon. While it looks like The Fur Person might be a children's book, it is not. This opening paragraph from "Sarton, 'the Fur Person,' Explores Cats and People" by Jonathan Beecher (March 1, 1957) gives you a good idea of the book's premise:

If The Fur Person is not like any children's book you have ever read, that may be because it isn't a children's book. It is an adult's biography of a cat who became her pet and then her friend. May Sarton knows how to tell an adult about a cat. The usual hurdles of condescension and over-indulgence cause her no trouble. And she conspicuously avoids the Walt Disney custom of fastening human personalities onto animals. And that, in fact, is what the book is about.



The Kirkus Review succinctly summarizes the plot:

Here's how the book begins:

The Fur Person is beautifully and elegantly written. Sarton, in her tale of her cat Tom Jones, captures the essence of cat-ness. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think the resident cats did too.

In case you were wondering about "The Ten Commandments of a Gentleman  Cat," here they are:

  1. A Gentleman Cat has a immaculate shirt front and paws at all times.
  2. A Gentleman Catalow no constraint of his person, even loving constraint.
  3. A Gentleman Catdoes not mew except in extremity. He make his wishes known and waits.
  4. When addressed, a Gentleman Cat does not move a muscle. He looks as if he hadn't heard.
  5. When frightened, a Gentleman Cat loks bored.
  6. A Gentleman Cat takes no interest in other people's affairs, unless he is directly concerned.
  7. A Gentleman Cat never hurries toward an objective, never looks as if he wanted just one thing, is not polite.
  8. A Gentleman Cat approaches food slowly, however hungry he may be, and decides at least three feet away whethr it is Good, Fair, Passable, or Unworthy. If Unworthy, he pretends to scratch dirt over it.
  9. A Gentleman Cat gives thanks for a Worthy meal, by licking the plate so clean that a person might think it had been washed.
  10. A Gentleman Cat is never hasty when choosing a housekeeper.

I highly recommend this book. So do the resident cats—er, fur people.


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Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Spring Hay 2022

 "Farming is pretty work." —author Lee Smith

We are currently in the midst of getting our spring hay cut, raked, and baled. Haying is hot, tedious, and dusty work, but it's indeed pretty. Here are some pictures of raking and baling at Smith Farm in Union Hall today.

Yesterday, hay was finished on our Polecat Creek Farm in Penhook:

Altogether, these two farms produced 257 bales. We still have two more farms to go.


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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Eight at the Lake: A Book Review

. . . with a little help from the cats:

GROVER: Wake up, Rufus! You have to help Mommy review a book!

RUFUS: Can't I sleep a little longer, Grover?
GROVER: No! Here's the book. Now get busy reading it!

When my husband saw me reading Lin Stepp's latest novel, he thought the cover picture was Smith Mountain Lake, which is only a couple of miles from us. But it wasn't. Eight at the Lake, Stepp's latest Mountain Home novel, takes place in Dandridge, Tennessee—which is a real place. 

As she does in her other Mountain Home or Smoky Mountain novels, Stepp provides a map—a feature I find useful. Since her novels have a strong sense of place, it's nice to see where important locations are.

In Eight at the Lake, the two main characters—Samantha King and Ford McDaniel—are both in their late 30s, both have challenging careers, and both have known loss. And they're both attracted to each other, though they resist the attraction. The book's back cover introduces them and the complications in their lives:  

Like many of Stepp's novels, Eight at the Lake conveys a strong sense of family. Ford—with help from his parents and his housekeeper Juanita—raises his own four childen as well as Samantha's late sister's four children. Samantha, in town for the summer while she recuperates from serious injuries she received while covering Hurricane Andrew the previous October, wants to get to know her nieces and nephews better before she returns to her job in the fall. 

RUFUS: From what Mommy wrote about it so far, it sounds interesting.

When Ford's housekeeper won't let Samantha see her nieces and nephews, Samantha charges into Ford's office to protest. Eventually she is allowed to see the children if she follows Ford's rules, and all eight really like her. When the housekeeper has to take time off to attend to her mother's health problems, Samantha steps in to take care of the kids. With her experiece as a former camp counselor and her current job as a meteorologist, Samatha knows how to keep kids active and involved. Before long, the kids really like her and don't ant her to leave. Ford himself becomes attracted to her her, but he resists getting involved. Samantha is also attracted to him, but she'll be leaving in the fall and there's no way a long distance relationship could work. . . .

If you're a fan of small town fiction that features a strong sense of family, connections to the land, and two interesting and complex main characters, you'll enjoy Eight at the Lake.

RUFUS: I didn't think I'd like a book with a veterinarian in it,
but this 
veterinarian was really nice. It was a good book!

I've reviewed several of Lin Stepp's Smoky Mountain novels on this blog, and Eight at the Lake has now become my favorite. I really like Samantha—a strong, complex, and take-charge woman who is her own person, who enjoys her job, and who doesn't let setbacks get her down. Eight at the Lake will release April 1, but it can be preordered from Amazon.

OTIS: Dibs on reading this book next! Orville, you'll have to wait.


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