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

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Matter of Choice

A few weeks ago, my animal communicator buddy and fellow Lake Writer, Karen Wrigley sent me an e-mail titled “A Matter of Choice.” She wanted me to pass it on, but I rarely forward e-mails—especially anonymous e-mails.

Nonetheless, I was curious who wrote it. A bit of Googling produced its real title, “Attitude is Everything,” and the name of the author: Francie Baltazar-Schwartz. This essay is posted on numerous websites. I found it here and here and here.

Maybe you’ve seen it before. If so, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to see it again:

by Francie Baltazar-Schwartz

Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!"

He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.

Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Jerry and asked him, "I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?" Jerry replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, 'Jerry, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood.' I choose to be in a good mood. Each time some- thing bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life."

"Yeah, right, it's not that easy," I protested. "Yes it is," Jerry said. "Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It's your choice how you live life."

I reflected on what Jerry said. Soon thereafter, I left the restaurant industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.

Several years later, I heard that Jerry did something you are never supposed to do in a restaurant business: He left the back door open one morning and was held up at gunpoint by three armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combi- nation. The robbers panicked and shot him. Luckily, Jerry was found relatively quickly and rushed to the local trauma center.

After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Jerry was released from the hospital with fragments of the bullets still in his body. I saw Jerry about six months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied, "If I were any better, I'd be twins. Wanna see my scars?"

I declined to see his wounds, but did ask him what had gone through his mind as the robbery took place. "The first thing that went through my mind was that I should have locked the back door," Jerry replied. "Then, as I lay on the floor, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live, or I could choose to die. I chose to live."

"Weren't you scared? Did you lose consciousness?" I asked. Jerry continued, "The paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the emergency room and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read, 'He's a dead man.' I knew I needed to take action."

"What did you do?" I asked.

"Well, there was a big, burly nurse shouting questions at me," said Jerry. "She asked if I was allergic to anything. 'Yes,' I replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, 'Bullets!' Over their laughter, I told them, 'I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead."

Jerry lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.

I come from a long line of pessimists. I remember, when I was a kid, my grandmother and mother always started their conversations (both phone and in person) with “Wadn’t it awful about—” and then they recounted a tale of woe and misery. I don’t remember them being happy. If something bad wasn’t happening at the moment, give it time. It would. I even have letters that my great-grandmother sent my grandmother. All contain complaints or tales of woe. Or both.

When I was a kid, I figured everybody dwelt on life’s miseries while waiting for momentous event that would make them happy. Later, I found that this wasn’t so. I actually met a lot of happy people. Some had no particular reason to be happy. They just were.

A couple of decades ago, I realized that you could choose your behavior or your attitude. You could choose how you react to situations. (I think I learned this in some psychology class I was taking for teacher recertification, but I could be wrong.) Freedom to choose—what a concept!

So, I chose to be happy.

My mother was, of course, horrified that I could be happy when so many bad things were happening all around us—to everyone! The idea that she could choose her attitude was alien to her. She stayed more or less miserable all the days of her life, though she often pasted on a smile and pretended to be happy when she was around people she didn’t know very well. But she didn’t keep the pretense up forever.

One of her health care workers once asked her what she liked to do. “Sit in the dark with my eyes closed,” Mama said.

The health care lady asked me how long Mama had been depressed. “As long as I’ve known her,” I said.

Anyhow, Karen’s email and a comment that “Country Dew” (one of my Pen Women pals) posted on my “So Much to Blog, So Little Time” entry, “You always seem to be enjoying life. I think that is great,” made me think about happiness.

Now, I always thought the “Don’t worry, be happy” slogan from the 1980s was kind of lame—too much like pasting a fake emotion over the real one. And I never cared for pasting those yellow smiley-face stickers all over stuff, either.

I can’t choose the things that happen to me—and bad things can happen to everyone—but I can choose how I react to them. I can choose my attitude.

“Choose” does not mean “paste on.”

Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
~Abraham Lincoln

“Man is the artificer of his own happiness.”
~Henry David Thoreau



Sunday, March 30, 2008

Booking It to C'ville

Yesterday, my Lake Writer buddy Marion and I hit to road to Charlottesville for Publisher’s Day at Virginia Festival of the Book. We both think it's important to hang out around writing professionals and see what we can learn from them. A lot of the pros were in Charlottesville to talk about the world of writing and publishing.

Usually, when Marion and I travel together, we have such a good time talking that we miss a turn. This time, we were determined to not get lost. I had two maps—one was last year’s FoB map that showed exactly where the Omni was.

We turned into Charlottesville and almost got lost, but a nice cop directing traffic for some kind of race involving a gazillion people pointed us in the right direction (right turn, left turn, straight). We made the right turn and the left turn and were headed straight. Straight into a crowd of another gazillion people and a detour sign, that is. Seems we were on the race route. So we turned. Another nice cop gave us directions, but they weren’t as good as the first cop’s directions.

Finally we found the Omni (tall building with the word “Omni” on it) and even found a parking place. We even had time to look at a few exhibits and find the lounge where Infinity Publishing was set up.

We partook of Infinity’s coffee and refreshments, admired our books on display, and asked John H.—the Infinity representative—about the bombshell that had dropped the day before: that henceforth all print-on-demand books on Amazon’s website had to be printed by Amazon’s own POD printer, Booksurge instead of Lightning Source. John assured us not to worry—Amazon had called Infinity (as it had a bunch of other POD publishers), but Infinity prints in-house and sells the actual book to Amazon at the accepted discount. Our POD books will thus remain available from Amazon.

Marion and I then went to the “Where Publishing Is Headed” panel, with Catharine Lynch (Penguin), Ed Barber (W.W. Norton), and Virginia Barber (Grove Atlantic)—all pros, indeed.

Some highlights of where various aspects of publishing are headed:
  • Editing: digital files in MS-word to use the ”track changes” feature, although a few editors still like to work on a paper manuscript so they can spread it out.
  • Marketing: more online—every publisher has a website and does targeted marketing. Reviews don’t drive book sales the way they once did; bloggers help spread the word about books.
  • Submissions: agents are the gate-keepers.
  • Printing: no one sets type by hand anymore; everything is digital.
  • Sales: thirty percent of books throughout the industry are returned by bookstores.

Now, the good news. Even though there are fewer major publishing companies (which are owned by conglomerates), there are more imprints within these few.

I asked the panelists how Amazon’s recent decision (like the day before!) would affect publishing, and they looked at each other like maybe they hadn’t heard about it. Finally they agreed: not much.

After the panel, we waited in a looooong line at the restrooms, and then went back to Infinity’s room to rally for lunch at Millers on the downtown mall.

Millers—where we were supposed to eat.

Turns out the upstairs room we were supposed to have was "under construction," so we had to eat outside. Luckily the wind had died down and the sun was out, although the air was nippy. The wait staff, still apologetic even though it wasn’t their fault, quickly wiped the bird poop off the tables and chairs and brought us menus. The food was fantastic—and even better, Infinity paid for it.

Marion, awaiting lunch

We looked around at exhibits (a mecca for many self-published authors trying to sell books), visited with some members of the Virginia Writers Club (which didn’t have a display, although the Blue Ridge Chapter did), and attended another session before collecting our books (which Infinity gave us!) and heading for home.

We got out of C’ville OK (no runners) and headed west and south. In Lynchburg, we somehow missed the turn onto 29 south and came home by way of Forest and Moneta—only a couple miles out of our way, so—technically—we weren’t lost.

We did have a good time. We always do.

See y’all there next year?


Friday, March 28, 2008

Mulch Ado About Something

"Make hay when the suns shines" is an old rule for rural living. I've discovered another one: "Don't mulch when the wind is blowing."

John got me a load of mulch the other day. Every time I tried to unload some, the wind blew and handfuls of mulch vanished.

So, I've concentrated instead on cleaning some of the flowerbeds where the mulch will go when the wind finally stops blowing. This partially cleaned bed is beside the driveway:

It's still a work in progress. since I took this picture, I've cleaned most of it and put down a little mulch. but it has a long way to go.

I like working in the earth. It's good therapy. From Quote Garden:
You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.
~Author Unknown

This one, from Garden Quotes maybe says it best:

All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.
~Helen Hayes
I've been digging my fingers into the earth. And now I can't get them clean. But my spirits soar. Watch my garden grow. I'll post its progress in a few days.

If the wind ever dies down.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Emma's Makeover

One of the rites of spring is that Emma, the senior dog, gets her, uh, makeover.

Emma, a mixed sheltie (probably mixed with a sheep and a Brillo pad), has bad hair. Really bad hair. Hair so bad it mats up into impenetrable thickets. Hair so thick that in winter poop-sickles hang from her nether regions, necessitating some delicate trimming.

Emma really does have a head. She usually turns it away when being photographed.

As Emma's hair gets longer, debris clings to it. She's so insulated, she stays out in the cold some nights and frost often dusts her hair on wintry mornings.

There really is a dog under this hair.

Long hair grows between her toes.

This morning, she went to the vets for her vaccinations and a hair cut. Loading and unloading 76 pounds of Emma wasn't easy, but I did it. Fortunately, she loves to ride in the truck.

I dropped her off at 7:30 this morning, then went to Wal-Mart and Kroger's (Senior Citizens' Day!). When you live 15 miles from town, you try to maximize your trip. Also, because the Pet Clinic gives a multiple pet discount if you bring in at least three critters in one day, I scheduled a late afternoon appointment for Dylan and Eddie-puss, who were due for their vaccines. After all, I had to go back for Emma.

I brought the cat crates in early so Dylan and Eddie-puss would have time to get used to the idea. I also closed Dylan in the bathroom before he had time to suspect anything.

At 3:20, I started loading cats. Correction: I attempted to load cats.

When I closed all doors to the bedroom and study (the dining room and living room doors stay closed—those are designated "Cat free" areas), Eddie-puss got wise. For a cat with a heart murmur, he put up a good fight. (Note: Trying to catch a cat under a plastic laundry basket doesn't work. Neither does dropping a quilt on him.) I grabbed him a couple times, but he got loose. (The claw marks on my arm aren't as bad as I originally thought.) Finally, I grabbed him and managed to stuff him in the big crate.

That meant I'd have to get Dylan in the small crate. I went into the bathroom with leash, collar, and crate. Dylan was cringing in the sink. (Note: A black cat doesn't hide well in a white sink.) When I put on his collar and leash, he relaxed. No doubt he thought we'd go out for a walk around the house, one of his favorite activities.

Too late he realized that the leash just gave me a better way to hang onto him.

He was harder to stuff into the crate than Eddie-puss was. Plus it was a smaller crate. Even though Dylan is a little cat, he's strong and wirey.

At 3:50, I had the cats loaded in the truck. Dylan yelled the whole 15 miles.

In the vet's waiting room, they hid behind me until the vet saw them. Dylan was yelled out, so he just growled while waiting. After they'd been examined and innoculated, they both got into the big crate, I collected Emma, and we rode home in silence the whole 15 miles.

Emma's new look:

Emma smelled so pretty after her makeover that the other dogs didn't quite trust her.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Snow Surprise

Looked out this morning and what did I see? Snow!

Snow on the fields.

Snow on the house and shrubbery.

Snow on my boxwoods and lawn.

The view from my study window.

Snow in the pasture across the road.

Snow on my flowering peach tree that's in full bloom.

Snow on the daffodils.

Isn't it supposed to be spring?


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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Grandma Nace's Quilt

Sulmena (also spelled Sulmana and Sulmenia) Frances Spence Nace

This picture of my Great-Grandma Nace hangs in my living room.

In my living room, I also keep a quilt that she made when she was younger. I don't know how old it is, but it's well over a hundred. Grandma Nace died in 1945, several months before was born.

All the stitches were done by hand, and all the fabric is cotton. It's lined with a light layer of cotton, so it must have been made as a summer quilt. A quilter once told me the pattern is "Drunkard's Path."

Anyhow, when I touch this quilt, I touch my past.


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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Maggie in the Creek on Friday

On Friday, we took Maggie for a run at Smith Farm. Maggie, of course, soon headed for the creek.

There's so much for a border collie to investigate in a creek.

Framed by the arch of a bent tree, the spring comes from the hillside. Once there was a spring house here, and a huge oak towered over the spring. Both are gone.

Skunk cabbage grows along one section of the creek:

A few sycamore trees grow along the creek. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the sycamore's peeling bark. Now, I just think it's pretty and offers a nice contrast to the other trees in the bottom.

The tops of the sycamores are white. See how these two contrasts with the other trees? In a few weeks, all these trees in this creek bottom will have leaves.

Maggie doesn't care about trees. But she loves a creek.


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Friday, March 21, 2008

My Favorite Ghost Writer

L.B. Taylor is known for his “Ghosts of Virginia” series. I have several volumes and wish I owned more. He's not only a good writer, he's also a self-publishing phenomenon and a good storyteller. I'd heard him speak a few years ago at the Franklin County Historical Society; when I heard he was returning on Sunday, March 16, I made plans to be there.

In fact, I went early to chat with him before the meeting. We'd both been at the 2007 Hanover bookfest, but I hadn't gotten a chance to talk to him then. I was surprised and delighted that he remembered I lived near Hainted Holler.

Although he's famous for writing about Virginia ghosts, Taylor says he’s never seen one. Speaking to Franklin County Historical Society members and several guests on Sunday, March 16, he related numerous ghost stories and showed slides of apparition photos that many folks had sent him. Apparently, a lot of folks send him photos. Here's one, taken in Manassas' Battlefield, near where a hospital once was:

Taylor, who has “spent twenty-five years chasing ghosts over the state of Virginia,” started writing ghost books when a New York publisher commissioned him to write a book about haunted houses.

“After I’d done the book, I had plenty of material left over,” he said. Those leftovers led him to self-publish twelve volumes in his “Ghosts of Virginia” series, as well as several books about ghosts in particular regions.

His first book, “The Ghosts of Williamsburg,” is now in its 22nd printing. His New York publisher had told him that regional books didn’t sell well, so Taylor decided to self-publish if a Williamsburg gift shop would agree to carry his book. It did, and the rest is history.

While his stories cover all regions of the Commonwealth, some have connections to the Franklin County/Bedford County area. Volume III of “Ghosts of Virginia” contains stories of ghosts from Rocky Mount—the Blue Lady at the Grove, owned by Keister and Ibby Greer, and “Uncle Peter” Saunders at The Farm, owned by Dr. Amos. Both are featured stops on the Historical Society’s annual ghost tours. Volume IX mentions the Baptist Church at Union Creek. Taylor also did some research at Ferrum’s Blue Ridge Institute.

One of his favorite area stories is the “Hound of the Blue Ridge” story that originated in the late 1600’s. It seems a big black ghost dog walked back and forth all night at a mountain pass in Bedford County. People came from all over to see it. The dog always vanished at morning Finally a woman arrived from England in search of her husband, who was supposed to send for her when he’d established a home—but she’d not heard from him. That night, the dog appeared, ran to the woman who recognized him, and got her to follow him. At a particular place, the dog vanished. Men dug there and unearthed the remains of a large dog and a man. The man wore a signet ring, which the woman recognized as her husband’s. The ghost dog never appeared again.

Taylor noted that “people have argued for four or five thousand years if ghosts exist or not.” It’s even difficult to define what a ghost is. Some think ghosts are people who died tragically or traumatically.”

Taylor added that some think ghosts had “left something undone on earth.” He mentioned that another person had defined a ghost as “someone who died and missed the bus.”

He gave examples of things people associated with ghosts: sounds such as footsteps or furniture being moved, smells such as perfume or tobacco, and sights such as the apparition photos that people send him. (I've never seen a ghost, but I smelled Margaret Hale's heavy floral perfume when I was at the Grove a couple of years ago.)

“Most of what people perceive as ghosts can be explained by rational or scientific means. Still, there’s that one percent or less that to me are inexplicable.”

One of the inexplicable cases was a collection of pictures sent to him by an Alexandria woman whose son had died from leukemia. Several pictures she had taken with five different cameras—two Polaroid and three 35mm—contained strange arrowhead shapes. Were they a message from her son?

“I’m not sure anyone really knows what they are,” said Taylor. No one from the audience offered an explanation.

He noted that many people with digital cameras are getting lots of shots of orbs. (I'm one. I got a couple of orb photos on last October's ghost tour.) While some believe the orbs are spirits, Taylor is skeptical. He also doesn’t like the way movies and TV portray ghosts as evil entities. “Ghosts are 99.9% benign and harmless.”

Even though he has never seen a ghost, Taylor has been scared. In his early years of ghost-hunting, he once visited a house in Bowling Green where numerous manifestations of hauntings had occurred. Arriving in the dark, he got out of his car to feel something thump against his chest. At first he thought it was a ghost; then he learned it was only the homeowner’s large but friendly black Labrador.

Besides telling several of the more popular—and inexplicable—stories from his books, Taylor also told a number of humorous “ghost” stories, including one that happened many years ago at a humble log cabin in Henry County. “Grandma” died one night and her son was too poor to have the body attended by an undertaker. The body was placed on a table near the fireplace and covered by a sheet. Soon friends came in to pay their respects. As they sat around chatting, the sheet fluttered and the old woman woke up. No doubt puzzled why she was on the table and why so many people were there, she nevertheless spoke to the person nearest her. “Sure is cold out tonight, ain’t it?” she said.

Although Taylor has written forty-five ghost books and still collects stories, now he wants the stories to be unusual or of historic interest—not just the run-of-the-mill footsteps on the stairs.

“At first, people were reluctant to tell their stories,” he said. “They’re much more open today—they come more willingly.”

L.B. Taylor, his illustrator Brenda Goens, and animal communicator Karen Wrigley.

Volume XII in “The Ghosts of Virginia” was published last November and includes some tales from the Historical Society’s Ghost Tour. Naturally, I bought a copy.

After the meeting, my Lake Writer buddy Karen Wrigley, a friend of hers, and I paid a visit to the town cemetery, where some graves date back to the 1700s.

No, we didn't "see" anything. At least not anything out of the ordinary, darn it!


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Is This?

No, it's not a fungus.

No, it isn't Bigfoot's footprints.

No, it isn't an invasion of blobs from outer space.

Give up?

It's the foam left by the fertilizer truck. Today John had the hayfields fertilized. There was a bit left over, so he had the truck driver spread it on the yard. The foam blobs mark where the truck has been, and they soon vanish. I got home from Krogers (Senior Citizen's Day!) in time to see that the truck had been here.

Today was the perfect day to have fertilizer spread. The land was dry enough so the truck didn't bog down; tomorrow, heavy rain is predicted so the fertilizer will soak in and do its thing.

A fact of rural life: The price of fertilizer this year is almost twice what it was last year. My first brand-new car only cost $500 more than what John paid today for fertilizer. Cupcake's purchase price was one-tenth of what the fertilizer cost.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

So Much to Blog, So Little Time

I'm baaack!

I just returned from a wonderful two days spent visiting friends in Newport News and attending the Christopher Newport Writers Conference.

Wednesday, Sally and I were guest writers at Staunton River High School. We met some interesting students and thoroughly enjoyed our visit (and our lunch!).

Thursday, I finished reading Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes (what a powerful book!)

And I just acquired a used copy of another Cassie Edward's Savage Something-or-Another romance. Should be good for laughs. Should have same plot formula as the other one I read. It'll be fun picking out the plagiarized parts.

Plus my Lake Writer buddy "Duke" just emailed me another four chapters of his murder mystery to critique. I'm delighted how his manuscript has developed.

And yesterday my cousin Marty snail-mailed me from the Outer Banks about what our grandma told her about our Great-aunt Pearl's death.

Now, I've got to get started on a review of Peggy Shifflett's two books for one of the newspapers. Peggy will be one of the folks appearing at the Franklin County Library on May 15.

I'll blog all this eventually. Just give me a few days to get caught up.



Thursday, March 13, 2008

31 Years Ago

Thirty-one years ago today—on March 13, 1977—I fell from a runaway school horse at Hunting Hills Stable and broke my back. (Technically, I compressed the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae.) After the fall, I didn’t get back on the horse, but I did drive myself home. the next day, John drove me to Lewis-Gale Hospital, which was close to where we lived.

I was out of work for three weeks and wore a brace for two months. The Lewis-Gale orthopedist told me to stay off horses for at least four months, if not six months. In July 1977, I bought my first horse—a little black quarter horse gelding. I figured I already owned a rather pricey brace, so if another accident happened, I was prepared. I never needed the brace again.

I’d taken weekly lessons for about eight months when the accident happened. I was in a group lesson. The horse in front of me kicked General, the grey gelding I was riding. I heard and felt the kick connect a few inches from my right leg. Wow, I thought, I’m lucky I didn’t get kicked!

Then General, who was mostly Thoroughbred and thus born to run, took off at warp speed around the ring. I’d cantered before but never galloped. I stayed on for a while, but I couldn’t slow him. Finally he lost me in a curve. I was considerably thinner then, so I didn’t have all the natural padding that I do now. I hit the ground pretty hard. I watched my hard hat roll for quite a distance. Oddly, I got up. Someone else finally caught General, who'd jumped the ring fence after he and I parted company.

Anyhow, because of that accident, I stopped riding school horses, bought my own horse, and took private lessons until I was a good enough rider for my horse. I eventually boarded Blackie near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and rode the Parkway trails almost everyday for a couple of years. I joined a trail club and met some wonderful horsepeople.

On the trails, I saw racking horses and fell in love with easy-gaited horses. I owned Blackie for ten years until I gave him away to a little girl who loved him. By then my racking mare Cupcake was ready to ride. John and I showed her for a few years, but I really wanted to have her in my backyard.

Some weekends we’d camp on one of our farms, and I’d ride with my cousins on trails. In 1995, I bought Melody, a big Tennessee Walker. By the time I retired in 1997, I really wanted to move to the country.

In 1999, we finally moved to Franklin County, where my roots run deep and where two old mares now live in my backyard.

If I hadn’t had that accident, I’d probably have ridden school horses for years and maybe never had the joy of owning a horse. Sometimes, what seems like a bad thing turns out to be a good thing.

And Blackie? He lived to be 33. The little girl who loved him grew up and had her own little girl who also loved him.


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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Counting my Blessings

Last Wednesday was a strange and wonderful day.

I woke up with an odd feeling: no part of me hurt. No foot pain. The back pain from the yard work-related pulled muscle that had sidelined me for over two weeks was gone. I’d almost forgotten how good it feels to feel good.

As soon as I got out of bed, I could stand up straight. I could walk without limping.

Things got even better. When I checked my email, I found a message from a student I’d taught thirty years ago.

“I'm not sure you would remember me,” he began, and later added, “I'm not vain enough to think that you would remember me, but I did take your drama class in the 8th grade.” He went on to describe the play he remembered appearing in when I taught drama at what was then Madison Junior High.

But I did remember him—he was a nice kid who had beautiful curls. He was one of several memorable students in a very good class.

“I was inspired to look you up on the internet and amazingly after nearly 30 years—I discover that you are real. It's funny how such a length of time can pass and you wonder if your childhood really existed,” he wrote. Then he told me about his life—the degrees he’d earned, the business he owned, and his wife and sons.

Because he’d recently watched the movie Chalk, he started thinking of teachers who’d influenced him. The next part of his email made my day:

I made myself think of the one teacher in my life who made an impact on me—it was you—whether you remember me or not—I remember you.

His parents now own a place on Smith Mountain Lake; he and his family visit a few times during the summers. “If you are up for it, I could visit you the next time we are down. I'll bring a bottle of wine and cat toys and you can pretend that you remember me.”

I don’t have to pretend. I do remember him. And I look forward to seeing a former student who has done so well.

Wednesday stayed good: The Pen Women luncheon was delightful. A talented and creative quilter was our guest speaker, and Gene Marrano interviewed a few of us for an up-coming Studio Virginia broadcast on the local public radio station, WVTF. Our Pen Women branch is sponsoring a scholarship for women over thirty who have returned to college, and we want to get the word out. Since Gene also edits the Cave Spring Connection and the Vinton Messenger, he’ll give us print coverage, too.

Oh, and I cashed my check from Leisure Publishing for a photo I didn’t know they were going to use in the 2008 Smith Mountain Lake Newcomer’s Guide. They’d paid me months ago for the article I wrote; an additional payment for the photo was a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, I still felt great! I submitted a story to a literary magazine that has bought a couple of stories from me in the past. Maybe they’ll buy this one, too. In the afternoon, I went to Roanoke and hung out with ’Nita at MMC&T. Then I went to Valley Writers where the discussions and critiques were pretty good.

Friday, we got much needed rain. The hayfields are turning green. I felt so good I cleaned several rooms. I received a call from a cousin who wants to come out and explore family cemeteries and family land. I sent a CD of family photos to another distant cousin, whom I’d met for the first time a few weeks ago when she was in the area. That cousin lives in California. And I’ve been exchanging pictures and emails with another cousin whom I’ve never met; she lives in Chesterfield. Lately, I’ve discovered relatives I never knew I had.

Saturday was delightful! My Lake Writer buddy Marion and I went to Hollins University for the annual Hollins Literary Festival. Three of the writers-in-residence read from their works. All were great (this wasn’t the case last year when only one was great). I think it’s important for writer wanna-bes like myself to hear professionals read from their work and to network with professionals. We ran into Jeff Reid, an excellent writer who used report for the Smith Mountain Eagle but who is now a student (on full scholarship!) at Randolph College in Lynchburg. At lunch, Marion and I shared a table and good conversation with a Botetourt librarian and the arts & culture writer for The Roanoke Times.

The price of gas had dropped by several cents ($2.91 at the Crossroads Kroger), so I tanked up.

Today— Sunday—I felt good enough to walk two dogs (Maggie and Emma), clean the dog pen, run the shedding blade over the mares, and work in the yard a bit.

And even though spring is still ten days away, the signs of it are here.


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Friday, March 07, 2008

More Savage Secrets

I finished the book. It was dreadful! I expected it to be so.

According to my buddy ’Nita, “There is a formula to bodice rippers. Any hack can write them.”

Here’s the formula she sent me:

Literally there is nothing to writing them. The outline is exactly the same, you need only change a few details. . . .

  • Single, bosom-heaving heroine goes to new location, encounters manly man.
  • New man enters Heroine’s sanctum sanctorium where manly men are unknown.
  • Heroine is distressed by manly man's Manly-ness, runs from it.
  • Manly man, is over come by Heroine's 'Womenliness' and pursues, minor romantic interlude before center of book.
  • Heroine/manly man cannot be with Manly man/heroine for some stupid reason. (Insert stupid plot point here.)
  • Insert stupid manly man's (usually) misunderstanding.
  • Now clunk around for 80 pages of alleged plot development describing clothes, aching loins, whining loss of each other, and failure to see the obvious way around the reason they cannot be together.
  • Fifty pages before the end they are 'Thrust' together, realize they cannot be apart, so they overcome the obstacle and ravish each other. . . .
  • The last chunk of pages is the happily ever after wrap-up.

By Jove, I think she’s got it! This is exactly the plot of Savage Secrets:

Following her father’s death, Rebecca Veach goes to Wyoming to search for her long-lost brother Edward who supposedly died in the Civil War but Becky learns is a wanted outlaw, but he’s really searching for their mother, who abandoned them after Becky’s birth and ran off with an outlaw, although Becky doesn’t know this (although Edward does because he has Mom’s diary). When the train enters Wyoming, Chief Blazing Eagle and his homeboys—er, warriors—stop the train and have a little fun but don’t hurt anyone, although Mr. Eagle is immediately attracted to Miss Veach, who is attracted to him although she sort of hates him for kidnapping her, and he takes her with him back to his village. After hours of sharing the same saddle (an impossibility unless they’re both anorexic), she becomes attracted to him too, but she still kind of hates him for kidnapping her.

Anyhow, despite the mutual physical attraction, Brave Eagle gives Becky Veach a horse and sends her to Fort Laramie (hours away at a hard gallop) where she tells the major she wants to speculate in real estate and he takes her to a soddy that’s for sale. BV has assumed because BE has a son that he’s married (not any more; he’s divorced because his wife left him when their son was young to return to her village to take care of her elderly parents) so she tries to control her lust for him and concentrate on finding her brother. BV makes curtains for the soddy from one of her petticoats and adopts a puppy who just happens to be roaming around out in the middle of nowhere. She names the pup Pebbles.

Anyhow, she and BE cross paths a bunch of times and, while in town, she glimpses the back of the golden-haired outlaw who must be her brother but can’t catch him and BE appears to save her from all the shooting, galloping, etc. To make an interminably long story short, they eventually make love, get married, etc., but BE has issues. If they make wild passionate love and a thunderstorm comes up immediately afterwards, BE has flashbacks to a traumatic time in his life, and BV reminds him of another woman with golden hair who saved him when he was a child and his village was destroyed by outlaws who killed everyone else. (A chief of a neighboring clan adopted him as his own son). He then kicks her out, never wants to see her again, etc. When she’s back in the soddy, Edward visits her and explains that their mother is still alive and is the real golden-haired outlaw and he has her diary to prove it, so they go to the fort where he is arrested and the soldiers are going to attack BE’s village because a bunch of settlers were killed but it was actually the outlaw band which has disbanded following the death of BV & EV’s mother’s outlaw husband (but we don’t know this yet) so BV & EV take a short-cut to gallop to BE’s village to warn them, etc. Eventually, things work out OK—BE realizes that it was BV’s outlaw mother who was there when her husband’s outlaw gang wiped out his village, the mother turns herself in to save EV, who returns to St. Louis and becomes a successful businessman, and BE & BV prepare to move the village to Canada, even though she is three-months pregnant, when his ex-wife appears with the daughter that he didn’t know he had, but the ex is dying and wants him to have the kid, so they happily take her in and everyone lives happily ever after.

Sheesh! Every so often, the author interrupts the flow of the story (such as it is) to insert some factual info about the Cheyenne (which she plagiarized from George Bird Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life, U. of Nebraska Press 1972. (Thanks to Wombat, who pointed this out in a comment about my original post.)

I thought I would never get through Savage Secrets. It is the worst book I’ve read in the last six months. Now I’ve got to read some good stuff to clear my brain. (Yesterday, I bought Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes. That ought to do it.)

The good thing about reading a dreadful book is that it makes you appreciate good writing even more.

Note: If you’d like to download a pdf that contains numerous documented instances of Cassie Edwards’ plagiarism, you can get it here.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Nace Girls of Lithia, Virginia

To save (and share) a bit of family history and genealogy, I include here the ancestors of my grandmother and her sisters:

Peter Nafzger (Nofsker/Noffsinger), born between 1700 and 1710 in the Palatinate and died 1783, married Sophronia Wise, born ? and died 1808. Peter came to America aboard the Phoenix and settled in Berwick Township, PA.

Peter and Sophronia’s son Samuel Noffsinger (1770-1839) married Mary Hyner (Hiner) (1770-1850). They lived in Botetourt County, Virginia

Samuel and Mary’s son Abraham Noffsinger (1797-1859) married Elizabeth Ferrill (1802-1877).

Abraham and Elizabeth’s daughter Mary Anne Noffsinger (1828-1898) married John Christian Nace (1828-1928). He was the son of William Nace, overseer of Mount Joy Plantation in Buchanan (Botetourt County), and his first wife Hester Fringer.

John and Mary Anne’s son William Robert Nace (one source says 1860; another 1854-1935) married Sulmana (also spelled Sulmenia and Sulmena in various documents) (1864-1944). Here is how she looked in 1927:

Their daughters (who survived past infancy):

  • Mary Lucy Nace (1885-19?? ) who married Charles Franklin Mays
  • Mattie Blanche Nace (1886-1983) who married Howard Rufus Ruble
  • Cora Virginia Nace (1888-1945) who married Thomas Owen Hunt (1877-1965)
  • Annie Pearl Nace (1890-1911)
  • Ossie Bell Nace (1894-1987) who married George Lewis Goode (1888-1985)
  • Zora William Nace (1903-1988) who married James C. Gross, Jr. (1898-1978)

Here are pictures of the three eldest Nace girls:




Four of the sisters scattered across Virginia: Lucy to Richmond, Blanche to Roanoke, Cora to Bonnes Mill, Zora to Newport News. Ossie stayed in Lithia; Pearl is buried in Lithia.

Eventually, I'll move these family posts to a separate blog. For the time being, they'll reside here.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On the Desktop

Writing is not a solitary occupation. Every time I sit down at the computer, I have company:

And you wouldn't believe how much cat hair I clean out of the computer every day.


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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Almost—But Not Quite

It's almost spring in this part of Virginia. Almost—but not quite.

Today the temps were in the 50s, the grass is greening up, and some flowers are on the brink of blooming.

This lily popped up the other day. In a month this barren ground will be full of lilies .

The daffodils are really trying hard to bloom. A few have almost made it. But not quite.

But the bridal wreath will soon be in full flower. It's been blooming for about two weeks.

The horses are shedding, the grackles have returned to the pines, and the first tick of the season crawled up my arm this morning.

Eighteen more days until spring.


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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Savage Secrets?

Warning: This post contains examples of bad writing.

After reading a couple of good books, I decided to read some trash—er, some less than excellent writing. At Goodwill, I found Savage Secrets, by Cassie Edwards, now known as the historical romance plagiarist. I figured, since her recent notoriety, that a book by her might have some collectible value in the future. Besides, 75¢ wasn’t too bad a price for the used copy. And it’s good for a laugh. Or several laughs.

This particular book (in a series of innumerable Savage books) is about Rebecca Veach, who is alone in the world (or at least in St. Louis) since her father died and her brother never returned from the Civil War. She returns home (via horse and buggy) from her father’s funeral to find her mansion gutted of all furniture except for her chiffarobe that contained all her clothes. (The funeral must have lasted a long time for the robbers to get all that furniture and not be seen by anyone!) Oh, but the robbers didn’t find the money hidden under the floorboards of the heavy desk they took from her father’s study. Apparently, though wealthy, the Veaches didn’t have any servants. Why she left the horse and buggy out front is anybody’s guess. With no servants, she should have driven to the barn and unhitched. (p. 24: “Becky stepped from the buggy and wound the reins around a hitching rail.” Uh, aren’t the reins kinda long and don’t they run through some rings on the harness?)

Anyhow, determined to report the crime, she decides to ride to town (Why not take the buggy?), she changes from her black silk mourning dress into a riding skirt. In fact, she hurries (p. 29):

Becky hurried into a riding skirt and white cotton blouse. After tying her long golden hair back with a ribbon, she hurried down the stairs.

Whew! Kinda leaves you breathless. And I’ll bet you’d already guessed that she had “long golden hair.” After all, the best of romance heroines do—plus the cover illustration shows it. Anyhow, the next paragraph puzzles me:

She ran past the horse and buggy to the stable and grabbed a horse from a stall. She led it outside, then quickly saddled it.

“Let’s go, boy,” Becky said as she swung herself into the saddle. She nudged the steed’s flanks with her heels and urged the horse into a gallop up the long, narrow drive.

So why didn’t she use the buggy that was ready and waiting? Why didn’t she at least unhitch the poor buggy horse? How did she run in that long riding skirt? How did she “grab” the horse? She saddled it but never bridled it, so how could she control it? How could she swing herself into the saddle with the long skirt—especially if she happened to be riding sidesaddle? I assume she was riding sidesaddle, as most young ladies did in 1869. And doncha love it when they call a horse a “steed”? (Blazing’s Eagle’s horse was called a steed in Chapter 1) I’ve only read as far as page 68, but I’ve found at least three more instances of “swung into the saddle.”

Anyhow, she gallops to town. Once in town she goes to the sheriff, who once again proposes to her, and she notices on the jail wall a wanted poster of her brother. Seems he’s a big outlaw in Wyoming. Turning down the sheriff’s proposal, she grabs the poster and decides to go to Wyoming.

She travels by train, wears “a pale blue silk dress,” her golden hair cascades, a traveler flirts with her but she doesn’t flirt back, she watches the scenery, etc.

Meanwhile, Chief Blazing Eagle and a couple of his buddies decide to have a little fun by tearing up a portion of the railroad tracks. When they see the train coming, they decide to have even more fun, so they chase it. Of course the train stops, the passengers disembark, Blazing Eagle notices Becky and grabs her by the hair . . .yada, yada, yada . . . they have a brief conversation (yes, he does speak English), after which (on p. 63), “he swung himself into the saddle,” and “his loins ached with a passion. . . . “ (Anyone who rides in a saddle while wearing only a breech clout and moccasins is probably gonna get a bad rash, too, in addition to the achy loins.) Also from p. 63:

Lifting his reins, Blazing Eagle wheeled his horse around to ride away, then swung his steed back in Becky’s direction. He rode toward her, stretched out an arm, and swept her onto his lap, then positioned her in the saddle in front of him.

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m having a difficult time wrapping my mind around the above image. The poor horse—all that wheeling and swinging, and it probably hasn’t recovered from the galloping a few pages back. Also, when you’re mounted on a horse, there’s no lap. Laps only happen to people in sitting positions. Plus, wouldn’t the horse (identified elsewhere as a sorrel or a steed) get spooked by having a girl in a big skirt suddenly dragged onto his back. I once tried to pick up a raincoat (which wasn’t even screaming or flapping around) while mounted on my mare Melody, and she took off bucking and running. As for the positioning her in front of him on the saddle, the saddle would only have space for one. I figure it must have been a cavalry saddle, which has a large solid pommel. It would really hurt to sit there, especially if galloping is involved (which it will be). If it were a saddle with a horn—well, I won’t go there.

Anyhow, the train guys fix the track and the train leaves without her, while Blazing Eagle takes her to his village—a long ride which involves galloping—where his lodge is the biggest. From p. 67:

She was impressed. She had learned enough in her studies of Indian to know that the size of a lodge was determined by the number of horses possessed by the lodge owner, by the owner’s wealth and position in the community. If a man had but a few horses, his lodge was small. Becky recalled having read also that one hundred elk teeth were worth one good horse.*

She noticed, as her studies had taught her, that all lodges were set up to face the rising sun each morning, the west wind always at their backs. At the top, two flaps served as windbreaks. From the fires in the center of the teepee. . . .

Sheesh. I can’t finish this digression! Anybody wanna bet she plagiarized the above passage? My gosh, if you’ve just been kidnapped and taken to a strange place and have no idea what might happen to you next, you don’t admire the village and notice how it’s just like what you studied.

Eventually, I’ll read more of Blazing Secrets. But not for a while. I can only take so much bad writing at one time.

*She probably read about the elk teeth/horse thing online: here.

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