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, June 03, 2023

Spring 2022 Hay

I never got around to finishing this post about last year's hay-cutting, but it's apropos for what's going on now on the Sutherland Place. So far two fields have been cut and baled this week, but several fields are yet to be cut. A chance of storms has postponed cutting for a while—just like this time last year.

The fields look pretty much alike from year to year.

On a Saturday in mid-June 2022, the last of the spring hay was cut on the Sutherland Place. Part of it had already been cut, raked, baled, and hauled away a week earlier, but forecasts for bad weather had postponed cutting the rest. 

Here's what the fields looked like on that Saturday. A year later, they still look the same.

One of the tractors used for raking:

These last hayfelds are near what used to be William Milton Sutherland's home.  He was the grandson of the original owner, Philomen Sutherland. The house—actually a double-pen log cabin covered in clapboarding—still stands, but parts of it are collapsing, so its days are numbered.

While hay was cut close to the house, a little weedy patch in the midst of the field was left alone. It's where the hearth for the long-gone kitchen was. The kitchen was midway between the side door and the henhouse.

Here's a closer look at the door:

The top of the chimney is missing, and the bottom has collapsed. Part of the cabin's front (the left side, not shown) has bowed out. 

The back of the cabin still looks straight, but looks are deceptive.

Below is what's left of the henhouse.

Beside the big hayfield is a large barn that's starting to fall in.

A different view:  

And a closer look:

In its heyday,  lot of hay was pitched into the loft . . .

. . . but the loft is long gone and the methods of making hay have changed.

In the middle of one of the smaller hayfields is what's left of an old tobacco barn. 

Here's a view from the other side.

Looking from the remains of the old tobacco barn, the big barn is at the left and what used to be an equipment shed is farther down the hill. Some of the round bales are beyond the tractor.

Farming has changed a lot since Phil Sutherland arrived in the 1790s with his young bride Fannie; and since Milton Sutherland raised his family in the cabin in the mid-1800s, went off to war, and returned to take up farming—but haying is still done every spring and fall.


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Monday, April 24, 2023

Possum for Breakfast

 No, I didn't eat possum for breakfast. The possum came for breakfast. And he brought a friend. 

As we were finishing breakfast in the den, my husband and I saw a possum looking at the cats' empty bowl on the deck . Then another possum appeared. When I went to the sliding glass door for a better look, the possums scurried away. I went to the study to check my email.

Then, in the study window, the first possum appeared. Earlier, I'd put out the cat buffet, so the possum probably couldn't believe his good luck. Grover jumped onto the bookcase to get a better look. I picked up my camera, which was conveniently on my desk.


Grover was soon joined by Charlotte and Claudine. (Yes, Claudine is sort of upside down.)


The possum didn't care who was watching,

Soon Orville joined the other three cats. Nothing like a little possum-watching to start the day.

I went onto the front porch to get a better look. This surprised possum #1 while possum #2 lurked at the corner of the house

Possum #1 decided I was no threat and went back to chowing down. I think Possum #2 really wanted to leave.

Possum #1 pondered: Is it better to stay or to go?

Finally Possum #1 decided that he didn't like being watched and decided to go with his buddy. Orville watched him depart.


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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Historical Fiction & Anachronisms

Am I the only one bummed by inaccuracies in historical fiction? 

When I read historical fiction, I expect the historical parts to be accurate. If an author really must deviate from historical accuracy, a disclaimer in the introduction is helpful. My novel  Patches on the Same Quilt isn't historical fiction but it is set in the past, so I added this info to the novel's introduction: 

Recently I read this book, which explains a lot of anachronisms/errors/etc, so I decided to point out some anachronisms in a historical novel I'd read a few months earlier.

 Set in early Jamestown, this novel had some anachronisms that leapt out at me.


For instance,  the narrator writes "Neither did God, I am fairly sure (though I am no Puritan), intend for women to sport the corset or bodice. . . ." While corsets may have existed in parts of Europe, the term "corset," according to Etymonline, meaning 'stiff supporting and constricting undergarment for the waist, worn chiefly by women to shape the figure,' is from 1795." Nine decades earlier, when this character was writing, she—as did all women in Jamestown—wore stays. Stays were the precursor of the corset (and the bodice, or pair of bodies, was the late 1500s precursor of stays, though there was some over-lapping). The verb "sport" meaning "to wear" is from 1778. Prior to then, "sport" referred to taking pleasure or amusement. Arrgh! Two anachronisms in one sentence!

But the anachronisms get worse:  The narrator observes a man, standing watch on the east bulwark, who was "dressed to the nines" and had grown a "Vandyke beard, a new style he had carefully cultivated in the last two months." FYI: This scene is in January of 1610. 

 Wikipedia offers this info about the particular style of beard: "A Van Dyke (sometimes spelled Vandyke, or Van Dyck) is a style of facial hair named after the 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)." I doubt eleven-year-old Anthony would have much facial hair in 1609 (when the guy at Jamestown started his beard, and—even if he did—he certainly wasn't influential enough then to popularize the style. As for "dressed to the nines, "the earliest written evidence of this phrase ["to the nine"] appeared in the late 18th century in the poetry of Robert Burns. Its meaning is 'to perfection; just right.'" Plus "Dressed to the nines" dates from the mid-19th century—not the early 17th century. 

Some other anachronisms: "On the final day of February, a single daffodil appeared.Where it came from, I wasn't sure." I'm not sure either.  From this site:  "It is believed that daffodils might've arrived in the 1600s, but they don't appear in the written record until the early 1700s." According to this site:  "After the establishment of the Virginia Company in 1606 and the settlement of Jamestown colony in 1609, daffodil bulbs were transported by sailing ships from Britain to America, often by women colonists who brought them along as a reminder of home." So—bulbs arrived after 1609, and it took until spring for them to bloom after they were planted. 

Another cringeworty anachronism: "I swallowed my share of snow that winter. It was plentiful and convenient. We would awaken to the wedding-white present and . . . " Arrgh! While the first white wedding dress "originated with Anne of Brittany on the occasion of her marriage to Louis XII of France in 1499, it wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, that the white dress was made popular." Also, until the 1900s, most brides wore their best outfit, not a special dress.

Another scene has a Jamestown maidservant treating a severe wound with rum and honey in Nov. 1609. I knew honeybees weren't in the New World then, so I looked up when they arrived: "Honey bees first landed in North America in 1622, when the Virginia Company of London sent some bees to the governor of Jamestown with a note that said 'the preservation and encrease (sic) whereof we recommend to you'. Eighty years later, the honey bee population in Virginia was thriving." But the honeybee population was nonexistant at Jamestown in 1609. Perhaps one of the 300 who survived the hurricane and made to Jamestown in August 1609 brought some honey? If so, how did it last three months in a time of very short supply of food? Likely if anyone did bring honey, it was soon consumed.

I'm sure there we're other anachronisms in that novel, but those were the ones that were obvious to me.

Speaking of anachronisms, some of you long-time readers of this blog might remember an issue I had several years ago with a novel set in the 1750s in the Blue Ridge area of Virginia. My problem: I could not believe that a character rode a mule from the Blue Ridge Mountains to eastern Virginia because I was sure mules didn't exist in the Blue Ridge Mountains then. However, I discovered that was hard to prove. I found wills of men who died in the1700s that mentioned sheep, cattle, horses, oxen, and other livestock, but I couldn't find a will that mentioned mules. 

That novel's author pointed to me out that mules were at Jamestown in the very early years of settlement, but I could find no source to support her claim—and, if any mules were at Jamestown in 1609, they were soon consumed. I did, however, find information that horses had been transported: 

“Six Mares and two Horses” were loaded onto the Blessing in Plymouth, England, in May 1609 for a three-month voyage to Jamestown. Transporting horses was expensive and tricky because they had to be secured into slings for the entire voyage to avoid breaking their legs on the rolling motion of the ship. 

Alas, these horses didn't survive the starving time in the winter of 1609 either. "As the winter dragged on, they ate rats, cats, dogs, snakes 'or what vermin or carrion soever we could light on.' In this starving time winter they even butchered the horses brought from England the summer before." A few years later, horses again arrived in Jamestown. But there was no mention that mules were transported.

In 1609, the first Virginia horses arrived in Jamestown, but unfortunately did not survive the winter.  At this time, as far as is known, none of the Native Americans in the Tidewater Virginia area owned or used horses.  In 1611 Jamestown settlers were pleased when another shipment of seventeen horses arrived.  Offspring of these small Irish and Scottish breeds eventually were crossbred with descendants of the Spanish horses from Florida producing a small sized horse breed good for both riding and farm work.
Again, no mules yet. Not until 1785 did George Washington receive a jack from the king of Spain and began breeding work mules at Mount Vernon. It wasn't long until Virginia had a sizable work mule population, but even then it took a while for mules to reach the Blue Ridge region. For a long time I couldn't pinpoint a time—until I read a copy of This Pleasant Land. From that book I learned that mules came into the Blue Ridge in the 1820s—more than 60 years after the author of that novel assumed they were there.

But back to Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: As I read itI noticed a blunder that  had to do with horses. On p. 136, in a section dealing with travel, is this info: "A specific type of horse, the palfrey, was bred for carrying well-off travelers. Palfreys are trained to use a particular gait, called an 'amble' (sort of like power walking for horses), which is faster than a walk." Palfreys were indeed bred for their smooth gait but I doubt they were bred for only "well-off travelers." The smooth gait was indeed bred into the palfrey, but they weren't trained for it. [In my lifetime, I have owned two easy-gaited horses—a racking hare and a Tennessee Walker— whose gait was bred into them. In fact, my racking mare and I won several ambling classes at local shows.] 

The section on undergarments in MU and OB is confusing. Those of us who have studied historical costumes —FYI: I took a "History of Costume" class in college—know that from about the seventeenth through the 18th century, a woman only wore two undergarments: her shift and her stays. (No she didn't wear underpants—they wouldn't become popular until about 1830.) But on p. 9 of MU and OB :  "If the woman wore a corset it went on over the shift. . . ."  Historically speaking, that woman would have worn stays—the precursor of the corset—over her shift prior to the late 1700s. Or, during the latter half of the 1500s, she would have worn a bodice (a pair of bodies). Sometimes the terms bodice, stays, and corset are used interchangeably now, but historically they belonged to different time periods. The women at colonial Jamestown, as mentioned earlier, would wear stays. 

Nonetheless, I did find Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders an interesting read. It isn't all inclusive, but it's a good place to start if you're interested in historical fiction and it offers an extensive bibliography. If you're a writer, this is a book you might want to read. 

Many readers, I'm sure, aren't bothered by anachronisms—or possibly don't even notice them. 

But, alas, I am—and often I notice.


Blatant plug for my own work: If you're interested in my novel, Patches on the Same Quilt, it's available from Amazon: .

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Thursday, April 13, 2023

April Flowers 2023

From his hidden vantage point, Tanner observes flowers that bloomed here during the first two weeks of April:







Money Plant


Apple blossoms

Not a flower, but the moon at mid-morning

Tanner says, "Good Night, Moon! Or maybe Good Day, Moon. Whatever."



Thursday, March 30, 2023

Cushions Condensed

 I've owned This End Up furniture since the mid-70s. Every decade or so, I replace the cushions. I last replaced them in 1909, when then-kitten Chloe "helped" me unpack huge big boxes on the deck. After 14 years of continuous use, those cushions needed replacing. Consequently, I ordered some replacements from the aptly named Replace My Cushions.

When they arrived, I was surprised there weren't any huge boxes—just two boxes that looked way too small to contain my order. One box was torn open in a couple of places, so I expected the worst. When I opened the boxes, I saw three tightly compressed packages. 

How could these squashed things possibly decompress? But there was some kind of valve on each package. What would that do?

My husband opened the value, decompression began and soon revealed exactly the kind of cushions I wanted.

The covers still needed to be zipped, which took both sets of hands. I'm glad all we had to do was zip. I can't imagine trying to get those tight-fitting covers on the cushions. 

Before long, we had a stack of cushions ready to go on the sofa and two chairs.

Charlotte had to inspect them. Then Grover took a look.

After the cats' inspection was complete, we started putting the cushions where they belonged.

These are probably the last set of cushions I'll order for this furniture. I expect they'll outlast me.