Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2021 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.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Hard Way to Go: Book Review

Recently I received an advanced reader copy of NC Matheny's new book, Hard Way to Go: The Horse of a LifetimeThe book got a cat scan from Charlotte before I read it.

Charlotte: "Mommy got a book to review. It's about a big animal."

I was delighted to see that the horse on the cover looked very similar to my Tennessee Walker, Melody Sundance, who died in 2017 at age 27. I'd had her since she was nearly six. Here's a painting of her:

After I'd read a few chapters into the book, I learned they had an ancestor in common—Midnight Sun, a two-time World Grand Champion and a major sire of Tennessee Walkers. No wonder they looked so similar. 

From the cover, I thought that the book would be just a basic horse story, but it was actually a memoir about Matheny's life with horses, his "horse of a lifetime," setbacks he'd overcome, his faith, and his missions to Honduras. Here's info from the back cover:

Matheny had been involved with horses since he was a child—his father had grown up with horses and owned several, including a Tennessee Walker mare and some carriage horses. One day in 1998, Matheny and his father stopped at a barn where he saw a 3-week-old orphaned foal called "Trouble." Matheny ended up buying the foal with plans to pick him up soon, but a storm and ensuing flood changed his plans. When he returned two weeks later, the foal was in bad shape. However, with vet care and nursing, Trouble survived.  A friend suggeted changing Trouble's name because "he will adhere to whatever his name is," so Trouble became Casey. Matheny had a hard time coming up with a proper registed name for Casey because most of the names he'd submitted had already been used. Finally "Hard Way to Go," was approved as Casey's registered name. 

There were indeed many hard ways to go throughout Casey's life. Casey suffered from health problems, among them numerous allergies, testicular cancer and several bouts of colic—one requiring serious surgery. Mathey also had some health problems, including a fall from a ladder that resulted in broken wrists and ribs. Despite overwhelming problems, Matheny's faith never wavered.

While it was hard for Matheny to leave Casey, he nevertheless went on three missions trips to Honduras—two to help people with health problems and one to help provide veterinary help to animals. Several chapters detail the work he did there and how he shared his faith.

It was a plus that the book included some pictures. My favorite was of him riding Casey bareback. Because of Casey's health problems and Matheny's previously injured wrists, he rode Casey only six times in the 22 years he owned him. 

While Hard Way to Go: The Horse of a Lifetime included interesting vignettes of NC Matheny's life with Casey, I wish he'd included more details.  For instance, I would have liked a chapter or two about the steps in Natural Horsemanship he used to train Casey. 

Charlotte and Claudine give the book a final cat scan.

If you enjoy memoirs of people who devote themselves to the horse of their dreams, this book will probably appeal to you. 

If you know someone who dreams about owning a horse but knows little about about how hard it can be to care for a horse, you might give them this book. It is cerainly an eye-opener about some of the problems a horse might encounter—and the time, effort, and expense a horse owner will need to deal with those problems.  

Hard Way to Go: the Horse of a Lifetime is available in paperback from Amazon. Alas, no e-book version is available at this time.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Two Jefferson-Randolph Books

 While researching my genealogy, I learned several of my ancestors were in Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Curious about what their lives might have been like, I started reading non-fiction about life at that time. (I blogged about some of what I'd learned in "Colonial Ancestors.") 

Recently, I read two non-fiction books by Virginia author Alan Pell Crawford: Unwise Passions and Twilight at Monticello about two individuals from early Virginia families: the Jeffersons and the Randolphs. Likely some of my 18th century ancestors would have known them—or at least known about them.

Both books are well-written and researched. Not only did I learn about the subjects of the books—Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Anne Cary—"Nancy"—Randolph (1774-1837), who were distant cousins, but I also learned about life and events during the times before and after the Revolutionary War. The Jefferson and Randolph families married back and forth for generations, so family members were kin to each other in several ways. For instance, Thomas Jefferson's mother was Jane Randolph, and his daughter, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson, married Nancy's brother, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. (1768-1828).

The family relationhips are complicated. Fortunately, in Unwise Passions, Crawford provides the Randolph  family tree that shows connections between the two families: 

I bought Unwise Passions because I'd read something on the Interet about an 18th century scandal involving the prominent Randolphs, and it piqued my curiosity. This back-cover blurb summarizes the book: 

In the spring of 1795, the eighteen-year-old Nancy Randolph, the fetching daughter of one of the greatest of the great Virginia tobacco planters, was accused, along with her brother-in-law, of killing her newborn son. Once one of the most sought-after young women in Virginia society, she was denounced as a ruined Jezebel, and the great orator Patrick Henry and future Supreme Court justice John Marshallwere retained to defend her in a sensational trial.This gripping account of murder, infanticide, prostitution charges, moral decline, and heroism that played out in the intimate lives of the nation's Founding Fathers is as riveting and revealing as any scandal—in or out of Washington.

The book was so compelling that I read all 278 pages of the text within three days. When I saw that Crawford had also written a book about Thomas Jefferson's later years, I also wanted to read that one. 

Both books mention that Thomas Jefferson spent his childhood at the Randolph plantation, Tuckahoe, which his father Peter Jefferson (who was married to Jane Randolph) managed after the death of his friend William Randolph I. Thus, Peter's children had a close relationship with William's orphaned children. Nancy is the daughter of one of those children, Thomas Mann Randolph I.

Tuckahoe Plantation

Unwise Passions chronicles Nancy's life from childhood through her death in 1837. Much information is also provided about others in her family and about those who played significant parts in her life, such as Patrick Henry and how he rose from humble tavern-keeper origins to became a lawyer. 

Twilight at Monticello recounts how Jefferson spent the years after retirement from his political life. A back-cover blurb by Peter Onus, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History at the University of Virginia, provides a concise summary:

". . . Juxaposing affecting scenes of Jefferson's domestic life with fresh and illuminating perspectives on his subject's late-life political, philosophical, and spiritual occupations, Crawford's fine book should engage and reward a wide readership. This is a wonderful introduction to one of the most fascinating—and one of the most generally misunderstood—figures in American history."

 Jefferson's life is also marked by scandal—the Sally Hemmings affair—but he never acknowledges it either publically or privately. When his grandchildren once show him a poem that had been published about his relationship with his slave, he merely laughs. FYI: Crawford provides a diagram of Monticello that shows Jefferson's easy access to Sally's room. Twilight at Monticello gives a good balance between Jefferson's strengths and his shortcomings.

I especially liked the way both book were written— no footnotes to interrupt the flow of the narrative but numerous documentation in the end notes. Here's an example:

That Crawford utiized many primary sources added validity. 
Twilight at Monticello also has an index.

Many years ago, when my classmates and I studied Virginia history in the 7th grade, we were led to believe that all plantation owners were very rich and lived in elegant mansions, but both books make it clear that plantation owners were land rich but cash poor. Borrowing heavily against their next year's crop to maintain their lavish lifestyles, the plantation owners were always in debt, usually to British banks. After their deaths, the debts passed on to their heirs.  Jefferson's mounting debts was why Monticello fell into disrepair in his later years, and why it was sold outside the family after Jefferson's death on July 4, 1826.

Both of these books are excellent. I highly recommend them.


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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Signs of Spring 2021

 These are some of the blooms I've seen in my yard during April and May:

This weeping cherry was planted by the birds years ago.

Two more weeping cherries the birds planted.

When I planted this forsythia, it was just a stick.

I bought this cherry tree at a plant sale years ago.
The cherries are small and not good to eat.

Wisteria I planted on the gazebo a decade ago.

This lilac started from a slip I dug up on my farm.

Redbuds and other lilacs.

White dogwood

Pink dogwood


Purple money plants

Lighter purple money plants.

These azaleas were here when we  moved in.

I transplanted these iris from our graveyard.

I planted this sweet shrub a few years ago.

 I planted this clematis at the old gazebo.

Mama gave me these peony bulbs two decades ago.

Iris near road.

Yellow iris near road

Ruffled pink iris

I planted these peonies near gazebo a decade ago.

The birds plznted these wild roses on the pature fence.

Birds planted this wild cherry too.

The poplar tree was a volunteer that just kept growing.


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Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Downsizing: A Mountain Home Novel

 Lin Stepp's latest Smoky Mountain novel, Downsizing, will be officially released on April 1, 2020, but is available now for pre-order from Amazon. I received my advance reader copy this week and spent a day and part of a night reading it—it's a compelling story, and I couldn't put it down until I finished.

Orville: "I'm glad you put it down. I want to rest on it."

Downsizing has several qualities I enjoy in a novel—a strong sense of place, a connection to the land, an appreciation of nature, family connections, interesting characters who are able to overcome their problems, inspirational passages, and a happy ending.

One of the things I like about Lin Stepp's novels is her inclusion of a map. It's helpful to see who lives where in this region of the Smoky Mountains, how they get from one place to another, and what trails they like to hike.

Another thing I particularly liked about Downsizing is that the main character is middle-aged. Mary Pat Latham, a 54-year-old mother of four grown children and wife of a cardiologist, lives in a big colonial home in a fashionable section of Knoxville and has an active social life. She appears to have it all— until her husband Russell unexpectedly comes home at lunchtime one day and announces he's getting a divorce, and he's already arranged for their home to soon be sold but he'll provide for her. They've grown apart, he tells her, plus she's gotten fat. Stunned, she escapes to her parents' former cottage near Gatlinburg which she and her family have used as a vacation getaway through the years.

In the small house where she grew up, Mary Pat finds herself—but it takes a while. Her childhood sweetheart Owen, retired from a military career, lives not far away, and he is the one who finds her crying her first day there. Former friends and neighbors soon welcome her back. After she's moved out of her Knoxville home, she explores the community and reconnects with her two best friends from high school. Though not yet sure what she'll do or where she'll go, Mary Pat decides to stay for a while until she can make some decisions. 

One decision she makes is to lose weight. After she overhears some teenage girls making fun of her fatness after she'd eaten a burger and piece of pie in a diner, she leaves in tears. On the way home, she sees a weight control center and stops in. She decides to take control of her weight. She also starts taking control of her life.

Orville:"Reading that part about food made me hungry."

I won't give away any more of the plot, but adventures abound in Downsizing: a wild bear in the kitchen, several weddings and one funeral, plus a couple of surprises—particularly where love is concerned.

Orville: "I worked so hard reading this book that I'm ready for a cat-nap."

With themes of coping with change, starting over, finding yourself, and opening yourself for new opportunities, Downsizingis be a good choice for a book club. Stepp handily includes a book club guide with discussion questions. On her website, she also includes a pdf. of the weight-loss book that Mary Pat used. 

More info about Downsizing is available on this page of Lin Stepp's website:

Orville: "Zzzzzzzzzzz."

Orville and I really enjoyed this book.

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Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ice Storm Aftermath

 This weekend the county iced over. Freezing rain fell Friday night and, by Saturday morning, all the trees were coated with ice. Light freezing rain continued off and on throughout the day.

We were lucky—we weren't among the 12,000 who lost power. We didn't have to drive on roads blocked by fallen trees. None of or trees fell, but many lost limbs. Sunday afternoon, after the the ice had melted, I took these pictures in our yard.

Many of our pine trees lost limbs. Below is some damage in the lower part of our front yard. . . .

. . . and near the road.

The crape myrtles lost a few limbs . . .

. . . and some of the redbud trees did too.

But the pines in our side yard were hit the worst.

This limb came down with a bird's nest attached to it. Every spring grackles nest high in the pines, o I assume this nest is one of theirs.

This is the route I travel via golf-cart to feed the outside cats at the old horse trailer. I can't travel it until the limbs are removed, so I have to take a long way through the former pasture to get to the other side of the trailer.

The yard is soft because of so much rain—and snow last weekend—that my golf-cart has plowed up some tracks.

Here's a closer look at where one of the limbs broke.

In some places the golf-cart tracks are covered by some good-size limbs.

Here's the view from the pasture side of the pines. I normally drive on the other side of this tree when I start down the trail. But not today.

Cats were waiting for me when I approached from the pasture.

They knew the drill—go to the trailer and wait for curb service. Normally, I'd park in front of the trailer, but there's a big pile of limbs in my parking space. Luckily the limbs didn't hit the trailer.

After being served, Skippy chows down.

Cedrick stays dry by eating under the trailer tongue. Other cats eat in a separate spot under the trailer.

The ice storm has been a big inconvenience, but the cats came through OK, the damage wasn't as bad as it could be, and we didn't lose power.

I'll be glad, though, when winter is over and spring finally arrives.

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