Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2020 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, December 31, 2020

Covid 2020, Fever 1793

2020 has been a year like no other. One of the dreadful things—among many in 2020—was the outbreak of Covid-19. Originally dismissed as a hoax by the president, the Corona virus sickened 18.7 million and killed 329,000 Americans by Christmas. And Dr. Fauci, an infectious disease expert, tells us that the worst is yet to come.

In the past, America has endured other epidemics and pandemics—the 1918 flu pandemic was one. Another was the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia 227 years ago. An article, "Philadelphia Under Siege: The Yellow Fever of 1793," gives plenty of background about that epidemic.

Wanting to know about how people coped with epidemics in early America, I recently read Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson

I'd read books by Anderson before and enjoyed them. I mentioned her YA novel Speak in this blogpost from 2011. I thought I might also enjoy Fever 1793. I did.

Classified as "historical fiction for readers 10 to 14," Fever 1793 is a good—and informative—read  for adults, too. Given the events of the last ten months, we can relate to the fourteen-year-old main character's feelings and struggles. The back cover blurb provides a concise summary:

Like the main character Mattie, many of us today "must also learn quickly how to survive" in a society "turned upside down" and ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like Mattie, we've had to change our way of life and our expectations.

Fever 1793 begins on August 16th when Mattie wakes up:

—From p. 1 of the 2002 paperback edition

Notice how much information Anderson packs into this short passage: it's early in the morning, a mosquito bothers Mattie, her room is small, her mother wants her to get to work in the coffee house, and it's sweltering hot. The mosquito is a good clue for the reader. 

[In 1793, no one knew that mosquitos carried the virus that spread yellow fever. While folks knew from past experiences that the fever vanished after a frost or two, the disease was blamed on miasma—polluted air—during the hot weather. Some people tried to escape the fever by avoiding those who weren't family members; others escaped to the country. Philadelphia was the nation's capital then, but the government shut down and President Washington, Secretary of State Jefferson, and other legislators went home until conditions improved.]

Polly never makes it to work, and many other people in the neighborhood succumb to the fever. When Mattie's mother becomes ill, Dr. Benjamin Rush treats her by bleeding and other standard remedies of the day. Mrs. Cook, lingering on the brink of death, insists that Mattie and her elderly grandfather leave the city to visit friends on their farm. She says that Eliza, their African employee, can look after her while keeping the coffeehouse going. Mattie and her grandfather arrange for a farmer to drive them in his wagon, but they do not reach their destination. Problems ensue (but I won't give away any plot twists). But they finally make it back to Philadelphia where the city is now a ghost town, Mattie's mother is nowhere to be found, the coffeehouse has been vandalized, and there's no food to be had. More problems ensue, but a devastated Mattie is resilient and takes on an adult's responsibilites. Eventually, she finds Eliza, who has been working with the Free African Society, a group which assists newly freed Africans.

Mattie and Eliza work together to look after some who are affected by fever. In October, frost comes and in the next month people start returning to their homes, farmers return to market, Mattie and Eliza reopen the coffeehouse, and President Washington returns. Life is not as it was, but the worst is over and there is hope.

Fever 1793 is a powerful book and one that I highly recommend. Anderson has done impeccable research to make the story believable and compelling. 

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Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Winning Virtually

Recently I've seen news stories about how virtual learning isn't going well because so many students are failing: "Virtual learning is a real struggle; failing grades up across America, research suggest" has appeared in several news sources; "Schools confront 'off the rails numbers of failing grades" is one AP story that appeared in my local paper. Even though some would like to get back to in-person schooling, that likely won't happen soon: "Schools want to end online classes, but COVID19 class might send everybody home" appeared in USA today;

But what if some students who didn't attend school succeeded? After all, a lot of home-schooled kids do fine or even excel. And many are turning to home-schooling instead of virtual schooling.

In October, I won the “What If I Graduated from Homeschool” short story contest that my Lake Writers group had online. Word limit for the story was 500 words. 

My entry: 

Easiest way for me to get educated—if I didn’t want to walk two miles down the mountain and then ride a bus for an hourwas being homeschooled.

“Time it takes to git to school, you could have both them cows milked, all the eggs gathered, plus the stock fed,” was Daddy’s answer when I wondered what real school was like. “You can learn at home.”

I guess he was right.

At first I used workbooks and lesson plans some company sent us. Three years ago, when a tower was built one ridge over, we got internet. I went through as many lessons as I could. Finally Mama said, It’s time you graduated.

Our county expects homeschoolers to take a test for a diploma, so one morning Daddy drove me to the school board. We were too early, so he left me there waiting while he went to Tractor Supply and Walmart.

Before long, an old car limped into the lot. I walked over and asked the driver if he needed help with the flat.

“I’m about to call somebody.” He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket.

“No need to do that,” I said. “I can change your tire. Where’s your jack?”

He didn’t look like he believed me, but he got his jack, lug wrench, and spare tire from the trunk. I got to work.

“Isn’t that too heavy for you?”

“No sir. I’ve done this plenty of times.”

In ten minutes I was finished. He offered to pay me, but I refused. “Wasn’t any trouble,” I said.

He thanked me, drove to a parking space, and went to the building’s front door. I wiped my dirty hands on the grass that was still wet with dew. Soon a lady pulled into the parking lot. When she went in, I figured the building must be open, so I went in too.

Halfway down the hall was an open door, so I figured that was where to go. I told the lady why I was there, and she told me to take a seat at a table that had an open laptop on it. She explained how I had ninety minutes to take the test online.

I finished in an hour.

“It’ll take fifteen minutes to get your score,” she said. Then the superintendent will interview you. You can wait in the hall.”

I went to the water fountain and the restroom and then sat on a bench and waited. Before long, I was called in.

Turns out the superintendent was the man whose tire I’d changed. He thanked me again, told me I’d passed the test, and asked about the subjects I’d studied online. I told him and mentioned that Daddy had taught me carpentry and auto repair.

He smiled and said, “You’re officially a homeschool graduate. We’ll mail your diploma in a few days. Congratulations, Emma Lou Smith!” 


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Sunday, December 06, 2020

Space for Senior Living?

 I've entered the geriatric stage of my existence, so it's only natural I notice ads that target my age group. Not long ago, a full-page ad for a "senior living facility" appeared in the local paper. 

Here's a section of the ad that shows what the typical apartment looks like. Even though the resolution on my scan isn't good, you get the idea: it's a bright and efficient apartment.

As an elderly cripple, I knew right away that this wasn't the kind of place where I'd want to live. I don't know if the rather bland furniture shown in the living room is included or not, but it—and the apartment in general—certainly aren't practical for me. Here's why:
  • I need a rollator to walk any distance. My rollator wouldn't fit between the flimsy coffee table and the sofa or between the stools and the easy chair. (Why would there be stools? Do the designers of this place think old crippled folks can actually climb up on stools?)
  • The tables in front of the sofa look flimsy. I can't tell if they have glass tops or not, but they're the sort of tables that would give way if I stumbled and fell into them. 
  • Because the rug doesn't cover the whole floor, I'm likely to catch my toe on the edge of it and trip. The un-rugged floor space looks slick. If—and sometimes when—I fall, I want to land on carpet, and I need sturdy furniture to grab onto so I don't fall all the way down. 
  • It would be next to impossible for me to get up from that sofa and the ottomans if I were able to sit down on them in the first place. (Do old folks really sit on ottomans? How?) I need furniture that will allow me to grab onto it if necessary and that will stay in place if I have to use it to pull myself off the floor. (That's why I currently have This End Up furniture. It's rugged and stays put.)
  • I tend to spill coffee and stuff, so that light upholstery would be covered in coffee stains in no time
  • I prefer a bit more privacy than those big floor-to-ceiling windows give. Without curtains or blinds (I couldn't tell from the picture if they had any), those windows would let in a lot of glare, not to mention the stares of passersby. And what about birds not realizing the windows are there and crashing into them?  Those big windows would be a pain to clean. I can't reach that high and I dare not climb on anything. I also like windowsills to hang onto when I look out the window. 
  • The view from the windows seems to be another building. Two decades of living in a rural area has spoiled me—I want my view to be woods and fields and nature.
  • The cramped kitchen—too small for me to navigate my rollator—is open to a dining area, so diners would have to see all the mess from meal preparation. And all those counter angles and edges are just waiting to cause an accident. 
This whole "living space" doesn't fit my idea of living. It's too sparse and depressing. I like to be surrounded by comfortable clutter. And books. Where is the space for bookcases? I have bookcases in five different rooms of my current "living space."

Where's the computer set-up and the printer in that apartment? Sometimes I use the iMac, the laptop, and maybe one of the iPads simultaneously. They all fit on my big—and sturdy—desk. Where would I put my desk and all my techno-stuff in that "living space"?

How could I manage my gang of cats in an apartment like that? Sure, they'd like their big cat tower in front of the big windows where they could watch passing—or crashing—birds, but where would I put their litter boxes? And how would I close the cats out of the dining area? And where's the floor space to put down a few dishes of food?

I'm lucky to have a house functions well for old folks—a kitchen roomy enough to maneuver in, a laundry area in the kitchen, a minimum of steps to enter the house, a dining room and living room closed off by doors that keep the cats out), a lower level with space for a care-giver (and an outside entrance onto a patio), a study for computers and printers, etc.

Whether you're thinking about growing older where you are (as I am) or moving to a more accessible place, here's an article about 8 simple tips to designing living spaces for seniors that you might find useful. 

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

SOTK Report Summer 2020

A State of the Kitties Report: Summer 2020
by Tanner 

Well, it's been a while since I posted, but I've been busy. I work outside during the day with  Jim-Bob. We patrol around the house and part of what used to be the pasture.  Eleven-tear-old Jim-Bob is the boss. Here he is in his field. 
At seven, I am the second-oldest male cat. Sometimes at night, I work in the garage on rodent watch. Jim-Bob and Arlo often help. Other times, I sleep in with the others. That's me at the right.
Orville, who is in the front center of the picture, had to have ear surgery in July and again in early October. He had a polyp in his ear that was kind of icky. The first time it was removed, he stayed mad at mommy for a while, but after the polyp grew back and he had to have it removed again, he forgave her pretty quickly.

Two very sad things have happened this summer. The first sad thing is that our border collie Maggie crossed the rainbow bridge in May. She used to stay in the garage, and Alfreda liked to sleep cuddled with her. Maggie was fourteen and a half and was having trouble walking. Then she had trouble standing up without help. One morning she gave mommy the look that said she was ready to go. The vet came to our house, and helped Maggie cross the bridge very peacefully. She is buried in the pasture beside Melody.
The vet who helped Maggie was the same one who fixed Chloe's femur after Chloe got hurt real bad in some kind of accident last year. Even though Chloe is all healed up and doesn't even limp, Mommy won't let her go out anymore.

The other sad thing was that Alfreda vanished without a trace one morning in early August. Mommy called and called, but Alfreda didn't come, and Alfreda always used to come when she was called. Mommy  looked and looked for days but never found a trace of her. We have coyotes and a hawk in the neighborhood, so we think the worst might have happened. Alfreda and I used to hunt together, and I miss her. I am still sad.

Chloe and I are pretty good friends now. I like to wash her, and sometimes she washes me.
Even though she is eleven years old, Chloe still plays like a little kitty. She likes to whip up on Grover when she gets a chance, and he is learning how to defend himself. Grover is at the left of this picture. Otis and Charlotte are behind him; Jim-Bob is beside him.
Those four kitties that Daddy brought home last year are grown up now. Rufus really grew. He is way bigger than his sister and brothers. Mommy was worried that he was too fat, but the vet said he was just portly. Rufus likes to sleep belly up. 
One thing the kitties like to do is watch for the raccoons who visit the front porch every night to see if the cats left anything. (Mommy puts out a buffet on a table there so the working cats can have snacks when they get hungry. I usually visit the buffet a few times during the day. But I leave a little something for the critters that come at night.)
 In the afternoon, I come in the house where I have my supper. Then I have to watch the kitties and make sure they don't get into any trouble.

In this picture, I am sitting on Mommy's desk while Charlotte, Otis, Claudine, Arlo, and Grover watch for the raccoon family. When they see the raccoons, some of them want a closer look.
It's hard to get a real good picture of the raccoons, but you get the idea. . . .
Last month, one of the cats (Not me!) jumped onto the mantle and knocked off Mommy's plant. I think Charlotte caused the trouble.
Speaking of trouble, a little shy kitty started hanging around here a few monthis ago. At first he would come to where Mommy feeds the outside cats (Twiggy, Spotz, and Skippy) and wait for them to finish eating so he could have the left-overs. Then he tamed down so Mommy could pet him. His name is Cedrick, and I don't much like him, but Skippy does. Skippy is a big cat who will attack big dogs and chase raccoons. Skippy used to live down the road, but a few years ago he decided he wanted to live here when he wasn't visiting lady cats. Mommy told him that if he wanted to sign on here, he needed to get a rabies shot and get neutered. One day he came back neutered. Since the end of his ear had been cut off, somebody must have thought he was a feral cat and took him to the place that neuters ferals and "tips" their ears, and gives them rabies shots.  He has now met the requirements to sign on here, so I guess we are stuck with him. This is Skippy.

 Skippy's fur is exactly like Otis and Charlotte's fur, so it is possible that he might be their daddy.

This is Cedrick. Have I mentioned that I don't much like him?
He tries to act cute so Mommy will like him. I am not fooled by his behavior, but  Mommy is.

So, Skippy is raising Cedrick as his kitty. If I chase Cedrick, Skippy comes after me and I don't much like that.

I guess that is about all for this report.



Sunday, May 24, 2020

Old Man of Turkeycock Mountain

 Turkeycock Mountain is twelve miles long and straddles the Franklin-Pittsylvania line. I can see it from where I live. We own 167 acres on the Franklin County side, just below the mountain's "notch" (to the right of the tree in the above picture). When we bought the land in the 1970s, I didn't know much about it—only that our land was  part of the old Reynolds plantation, a horse track was once on it, and Confederate deserters used to hide farther up the mountain. But I didn't know anything about folks who had once lived on the mountain.

Recently, I acquired a booklet  about a resident of the Pittsylvania County side of the Mountain, Owen Adkins, who was supposedly born there in 1786 and died there in May 1885 when he was 99 years and 6 months old. He'd wanted to live to be a hundred, but didn't quite make it.

The booklet is a transcription of a story written by a reporter for the New York Herald and originally printed in March 1878.

Owen Adkins was apparently quite a character. As a young man, he excelled at foot-racing, and his father used to make money wagering on him when he raced men or—on some occasions—horses.  Apparently he never lost. When he as fourteen, he fought a bear on the mountain and finally managed to kill it with his knife. From a young age, he enjoyed fox-hunting, card-playing, foot-racing, and horse racing. He apparently owned a racetrack as noted in an article, "Miss Effie is Fondly Remembered," (from The Quill Pen—Pittsylvania Historical Society, by Robert c. Vaden, Jr, February 1986):

"The tobacco factory for making plug tobacco, owned and operated by Christopher Lawson Carter (1834-1901) was the principal industry of the community. Mr. [Algie] Davis recalled that there had been a racetrack "beyond Piney Mountain" owned by Owen Adkins before the Civil War. He said that plug tobacco was hauled to Pennsylvania from this area, and the wagons returned loaded with salt. The Davis family has been located here since 1790, and Col. Christopher Davis, great-uncle of Mr. Davis, was in the Civil War."

Owen was officially married twice; his first wife died in 1830 after having borne 19 children, all of whom were still living in 1878. Four months after her death, he remarried, but this wife only bore 5 children before she died in 1839. While married to his first wife, he also had 4 concubines. Near his own dwelling, he built a separate house for each one, and each produced several children. During his second marriage, he took an additional concubine. All told, he had 70 children, 66 of whom were still living when the reporter interviewed him. It was likely, given the large families his offspring produced, that he had nearly 550 descendants at the time of the interview. Because of the number of Adkins familie, that area of Pittsylvania County was know as Adkintown.

Owen Adkins witnessed much of history, albeit from a distance. He didn't believe in going to war so he paid a substitute $160 to take his place in the War of 1812. The substitute became ill a few months after enlisting and died. When enrolling officers then tried to get Owen to join the Home Guards, Owen hid out on Turkeycock Mountain. During the Civil War, he was a Union sympathizer and tried to talk his sons out of joining the Confederate army, but two of them did and were killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.

I tried to find out more about Owen Adkins online, but couldn't find much. didn't have a lot. Apparently, there was another Owen Atkins, a Baptist minister who died in Tennessee in 1853, and the Turkeycock Owen was confused with him on numerous family trees. Another source of confusion: sometimes the name Adkins was Adkinson, Atkinson, or Atkins,

However, a Rootsweb site yielded a bit of info about his family: Owen's father was William Adkins III, born 21 September 1760 and died 22 Oct 1848. A picture of William and Mary was on the website. Note how much William looks like his son Owen:

Owen's parents, William and Mary Hartman Adkins

The Rootsweb site also lists the names and probable marriages of William's children:
From Knorr, Catherine. Marriage Bonds and Ministers  returns of Pittsylvania County, Virginia; 1767-1805. 1956
1. 7 October 1799. Henry Adkerson (Adkins) and Elizabeth Rossett dau. Of Sam Rossett who consents.  Sur. William Reynolds. p. 2 (26 of marr. register)

2. 18 July 1803. Nathan Carter and Elizabeth Atkins. Sur. Henry Atkins. Married by Richard Elliott. p. 15  (p. 34 in original register)

3. 9 December 1805. William Adkins and Betsy Thacker. Sur  Joseph Thacker. Married by Rev. Willis Hopwood. p. 2 (p. 38 of marr. register)

From Williams, Kathleen.  Marriages of Pittsylvania County, Virginia; 1806-1830. 1980
4. 18 August 1806.  George Smith and Lucky Adkins. ( Sucky? Or Suk?) Sur.  William Adkins. p.  145  (p. 42 in marr.  register)

5. 15 July 1809  Owen Adkins and Isabel Harris, dau. of John Harris who consents. Sur. James Hines. p. 3 (p.  46 of marr. reg.) Second marriage: 19 September 1825. Owen Atkinson (Adkins) and Fanny Campbell. Sur.  Jacob Zink. p.6 (p.  82 of original register) 

6.  21 May 1810. Charles Gibson and Sarah Atkinson, dau of William Atkinson. Sur Nathaniel Carter. Thomas Geo. Gibson consents. Married by the Rev. Joseph Hatchett. p.  62  ( p.  48 of marr. register)

The settlement of William Adkins estate again confirms the names of his children:

Estate Settlement of William Adkins decd (1848)
 Accounts Current vol. 18 pp. 160-162
 Date of confirmation October 20, 1851

Accounts of Executor and Legatees

1. To Susan Smith one of the legatees of William Adkins decd
November 27, 1849 paid in terms of will  $100.00
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund $230.00
1851 to balance due Susan Smith 2.63 ½
TOTAL: 332.63 ½

2. To Nathan Carter in right of his wife Elizabeth Carter
Nov. 27, 1849 paid in terms of will  100.00
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 250.00
TOTAL paid by confirmation:  350.00

3. Sarah Gibson
Nov. 27, 1849 paid in terms of will 30.00
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 219.22
1851 balance due Sarah Gibson 13.41 ½
TOTAL:  262.63 ½

4. Henry Adkins
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 232.19
1851 balance due  2.63 ½
TOTAL:  232.63 ½

5. William Adkins
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 232.19
1851 balance due    .44 ½
TOTAL: 232.63 ½

6. Owen Adkins 
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 230.00
1851 balance due 2.63 ½
 TOTAL:  232.63 ½

Two "What's on Your Mind" columns in The Roanoke Times provide information about Owen Adkins:

Register of Deaths 1855 1896 p. 136, line 5

Owen Adkins 
white male 
Died May 15, 1885 in Pittsylvania Co., VA 
Cause: old age age: 99 yrs  6 mo (this would place birth approximately Nov. 1786) 
Parents: William and Mary Adkins 
born:  Pittsylvania Co. 
Occupation:  farmer 
Consort;  unmarried  (actually widowed) 
Informant:  Owen Adkins, Jr.  
Relationship: son


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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Jamestown Brides

I first visited Jamestown, Virginia, in November 1957. I was among the seventh graders from Lee Junior High School who boarded three Greyhound buses and spent three days touring Richmond, Williamsburg, and Jamestown. At that time, all seventh graders studied Virginia history, so the trip was meant to enhance what we'd been studying. But this history had happened long ago and didn't have anything to do with me. Or so I thought.

Then, I didn't know that I had any connections to Jamestown—that my 10th great-grandfathers on my Nace side, Jonathan Giles (who arrived in 1619) and John Haynie (who arrrived in 1621) both survived the March 22, 1622 massacre, and on my Smith side that another ancestor, William Hancock (who arrived in 1619), didn't survive it.  I don't remember hearing much about about the massacre on the school trip. But I remember standing in the church at Jamestown and being told that Queen Elizabeth had stood in that church a few weeks earlier.

Now, having learned a lot about my genealogy, I decided to learn more about what my 17th century Virginia ancestors endured. (I recently blogged about what I'd learned from books I'd read about colonial life.) From my 7th grade Virginia history class, I knew that the original settlers were all men, but later a few brought their wives from England and also some single English women were sent to become wives.  In 1621, the Virginia Company, responsible for Jamestown's settlement,  having advertised in London for potential brides, sent more young women from England to become wives of planters who could pay their passage in tobacco. Some of my ancestors no doubt witnessed these maidens' arrival aboard the ships Marmaduke and Warwick. Recently I read about these women in The Jamestown Brides by Jennifer Potter.

The Jamestown Brides is a hefty book. The paperback edition, including endnotes and index, is 372 pages in a fairly small font. It is apparent the author did considerable research prior to writing this book, and for that I'm grateful. (Note: I'm also grateful the author used endnotes instead of footnotes. There are so many citations that the text would have been unnecessarily choppy if footnotes had appeared on each page.) While the writing is a bit academic, it is also quite readable.

Potter gives considerable background about what both England and Jamestown—like in 1621, why wives were needed for Jamestown, how the potential brides were selected, what their lives were like aboard ship during the voyage, how Jamestown appeared to them when they arrived, and how different life in Jamestown was from London. And then, of course, there was the Massacre of 1622.

The Marmaduke and the Warwick left London in September 1621 and arrived in Jamestown in November. The maidens had to be housed in homes where there was a wife in residence, but there weren't enough suitable accommodations at Jamestown itself. Consequently, many potential brides were dispersed to different settlements until they found husbands.

The book has many illustrations and maps. An especially useful one shows where the different settlements were.  Berkeley Hundred is where my Hancock ancestor, who was reportedly staying at George Thorpe's house, was among those murdered there on March 22, 1622, although he isn't on the list of nine killed. At least 347 men, women (including some potential brides), and children are known to have died  during the massacre, but the number is likely higher. Some—including a few of the potential brides—were taken as captives.

Page197,  paperback edition of The Jamestown Brides

I'm glad I read this book for the background it gave me in an important part of Virginia history. I especially recommend it to all those whose ancestors lived in early 17th century Virginia.  

If you're interested in Virginia's early years, another resource is Mary Newton Standard's out-of-print 1928 edition The Story of Virgnia's First Century


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Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 2020

This April has beeen like no other I can remember. We have spent the month "sheltering in place" because of the coronavirus outbreak. Most businesses are closed, so there's no where to go if we wanted to. This April has also been incredibly beautiful.

In between rainstorms, the air has been clear (fewer vehicles on the road=less pollution emitted) and the sky has been bright. Flowers in my yard have bloomed profusely. Here are some pictures of things in my yard this April:

There's a gazebo behind these redbuds, but you can't see it. The willow oak behind it is one of my favorite trees:

I purchased these bluebells at a plant sale in Rocky Mount about a decade ago:

I brought the seeds of money plant from our house in Roanoke in 1999. It blooms in various locations around the property here:

The redbud by the bottom driveway grew from seeds the birds had planted. Same for the mulberry at right and the poplar tree behind the redbud:

The azalea near the patio was here when we bought the place in 1999. It has grown huge since then:

I bought a small sweet shrub a few years ago. I didn't think it would live, but it did:

I planted these tulips a half-dozen years ago:

The white dogwood in the font yard was here before we were:

So has the pink dogwood in the side yard:

Ditto for the spirea:

Another redbud:

The peach tree I planted near the mailbox about 15 yars ago already has little peaches:

 Jim-Bob, one of the working cats, guards the property line:

This azalea was here before we were. The green garden bench beside belonged to my grandmother. Maggie the border collie has been here nearly 15 years:

I doubt that Maggie will be here net April. Given the current state of the country, I wonder if any of us will be.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Happy Valley Review

If you're looking of something uplifting to read while you're sheltering in place, I'd like to recommend Lin Stepp's latest novel, Happy Valley. Claudine couldn't wait to get her paws on it.

You'd expect a book with the title Happy Valley to have a happy ending, and it does. This isn't a spoiler alert—fans of Lin Stepp's novels know they usually end happily—at least for some of the characters, but there are trials and tribulations along the way. In  Happy Valley, there are also mysteries and misunderstandings.

Walker Logan, who has spent two years travelling across America, happens upon the town of Happy Valley in the Smokies,  is intrigued by an old rock house on a mountainside, and decides to buy it. Meanwhile, fiber artist and quilt-maker Juliette Hollander has temporarily left her job in North Carolina to return to Happy Valley and visit her grandparents on the family farm. One day, Juliette goes to a nearby abandoned place to pick some apples for her grandmother. When Juliette venutures a bit too far out on a limb, she falls—and lands on Walker, who is inspecting his new property. Although they feel an attraction to each other, Juliette returns to her life in North Carolina and Walker sets about making his property livable.

During the followig year, Walker not only restores the rock house but also buys an abandoned store and sets about renovating it. Some townfolks are curious about where this stranger came from and where he got so much money; some think trying to open a general store will be a disaster. But Walker doesn't reveal much about himself or his past—only that he's been traveling the country.

He opens his store about the time that Juliette returns to visit her grandparents again. Before long, she is working for Walker and selling some of her quilts at the store. This doesn't set well with a local boy, Dade Claiborne, who grew up near Julieete and always figured she would marry him. Juliette has no interesst in Dade despite his persistence, but she does find herself becoming increasingly attracted to the mysterious Walker. But she's only staying in Happy Valley temporarily, and she knows next to nothing about him. . . .

Several things happen during the next few months, but I'd be revealing too much if I recounted them. Suffice to say there are some complications, some conflicts both within Juliet's family and without, some misunderstandings, and some mysterious happenings that prevent Happy Valley from being as happy as it should be.

Because I live by choice in a rural area with mountains in the distance, I enjoy stories set in rural areas and in the mountains, and I enjoy settings that ship and develop character. Happy Valley does that. The inclusion of a map brings the setting home to the reader.

Stepp does a commendable job of capturing small town life. Her characters are believable, interesting and well-developed. If you're looking for a  novel with a strong sense of family and community, Happy Valley will lift your spirits in these troubled times.

TANNER: "I couldn't wait to get my paws on this either!"
NOTE: I received an advance reader copy of Happy Valley, which will be released in early April, but is available for pre-order from Amazon now.

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