Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2019 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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hair Today?

Nest tomorrow!

My porch birds have recycled some of Cupcake's excess tail hair into this year's nest.

Looks like they had plenty left over.


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Monday, April 28, 2008

SCBWI Road Trip

Saturday, one of my writer buddies and fellow member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) took a road trip to Richmond to attend a program sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI. The program was part meet-and-greet and part presentation by an editor and a couple of authors.

Amy and I left my house about 7:30 a.m. and fully intended to evaluate a stack of entries in the Lake Writers Student Fiction contest before we arrived in Richmond—and we did read a few. Well, Amy read them aloud while I drove. But then we got to talking about all sorts of writing stuff: Hollins (where she’s a student), writing contests, places to submit, what we want to do with our writing, etc., and we stopped evaluating. Sometimes something along the road would catch our attention and we’d remark, “There’s a story in that.” In no time, we were in Richmond.

Before the meeting, I wanted to stop at the Apple Store in the Short Pump mall to look at the new iMacs. (I’m thinking about getting one.) However, we (OK, I) missed the turn that would take us directly to Short Pump and had to reroute. But the good thing was we turned around beside a gas station that had the best prices we saw in Richmond (where most of the prices were in the $3.55 to $3.65 range for regular) Then we missed another turn, but got it right the third time. While this turned out to be an easy way to get to Short Pump, we noticed a couple of strange things: on the on-ramp sat an empty wicker basket. Why would a basket be there? Especially a basket in pretty good shape? What story was in that?

Shortly after we passed the basket, we saw some good-sized roadkill ahead. We wondered what it could be. In a few seconds, we saw it was a dead Canada goose. The corpse was in pretty good shape—not squashed or bloody or anything? Why was it in the road? What story was in that?

Anyhow, we made it to the mall, where we passed Darth Vader and some superhero on our way in (some major kids’ event was going on!), found the restrooms, the food court, and the Apple Store. I saw the iMac, played with it a bit (the new keyboard is weird, but I liked it!), and talked to one of the guys who answer questions. My questions: How much does it weigh and could a cat knock it off a desk? How do you clean cat hair out of the keyboard? His answers: Nineteen pounds, it’s unlikely, and with the dusting attachment of a vacuum cleaner.

Then we went down Broad Street and eventually over to Monument Avenue (where, at the Confederate monument, we saw a bird sitting on Jefferson Davis’s head) to Franklin Street to the Richmond Library where the SCBWI meeting was.

It was nice to reconnect with some folks I’d met at other conferences and to meet some new people. Right after Amy and I had taken our seats, I heard someone behind me mention something about a horse. I turned around and asked, “Are you a horse person?” She was. She’d come with her critique group from Charlottesville. After Amy and I talked to them about how their critique group worked, we decided that we’d like to organize one, too. We’ll work out some details when Amy’s classes are over.

The guest speaker was Kate Fletcher, an editor at Candlewick Press. We each received the Candlewick catalogue and a complimentary ARC. Kate told us about the press itself, about its history, about some of the books and the awards they’ve won, and about what she does in a typical day. Many of us in the audience knew that submitting to Candlewick was well-nigh impossible because the prestigious Candlewick doesn’t take unsolicited/unagented manuscripts. Then Kate made us the offer that not many of us will refuse: attendees at the meeting may submit manuscripts to her within the next three months!

Another part of the program was a staged reading of two of Candlewick’s books: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village and A Visitor for Bear. The three high school students who did the reading were excellent.

The final part of the program was a conversation between two Candlewick authors, Gigi Amateau and Meg Medina, and the editor Kate. The two authors asked Kate some really good questions, and again we learned a lot. Especially interesting was how Gigi’s book, Claiming Georgia Tate, happened to be published. She’d written it over a decade ago, it had sat in a drawer, a friend read it and liked it, showed it to a guy in Florida with some literary connections and he liked it, he sent it to Judy Bloom, who liked it and wanted to show it to her editor, who liked it, and —well, you can figure out what happened.

Gigi’s next book—a horse story!—will be out in July. I liked her first book, so I can’t wait to read Chancey of the Maury River. There’s also a possibility that Gigi might make it to this end of the state to do some appearances to promote Chancey.

On the way home, we passed some streets with funny names (Miss Sallie’s Alley, Be-bop Road) and figured there was a story in those. Partway home, Amy got a call. Her sister was in labor. Later her husband called to see how the weather was—they’d gotten a gully-washer in Boones Mill. Luckily, we hadn’t hit any rain at all, but we could see clouds looming in the west.

The rest of the way home, we watched the clouds but only encountered an occasional sprinkle. Around 7:30 p.m., we rolled into my driveway. Then the sky opened up, rain poured, and lightning flashed.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t blog Saturday night or yesterday about this wonderful literary road trip, I was busy revising Ferradiddledumday (again) and writing a cover letter.

I took the manuscript to the post office this afternoon. Kate Fletcher should get it in a few days.

Y’all keep your fingers crossed for me, OK?


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Friday, April 25, 2008

To Dust or Not to Dust

Yesterday, my Lake Writer buddy Marion e-mailed me this bit of inspiration:

Dust If You Must
by Rose Milligan of Lancaster, England

“A house becomes a home
when you can write,’'I love you’ on the furniture.”

I can't tell you how many countless hours that I have spent CLEANING! I used to spend at least 8 hours every weekend making sure things were just perfect—“in case someone came over.” Then I realized one day that no one came over; they were all out living life and having fun!

Now, when people visit, I find no need to explain the “condition” of my home. They are more interested in hearing about the things I've been doing while I was away living life and having fun. If you haven't figured this out yet, please heed this advice.

Life is short. Enjoy it!

Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better to paint a picture or write a letter, bake a cake or plant a seed, ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there's not much time, with rivers to swim and mountains to climb, music to hear and books to read, friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair, a flutter of snow, a shower of rain. This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind, old age will come and it’s not kind. And when you go —and go you must—you, yourself will make more dust!

It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.

Consequently, I did no housework whatsoever yesterday except to unload and load the dishwasher, sort a few socks, clean the cat-box, and pull the quilt up so the bed looked made.

I did finish a story and send it off the THEMA, finish another story that I’ll submit to Cup of Comfort, finish my column, cruise the Internet and answer e-mail, feed all the critters, walk around the yard with the cats, play fetch with Maggie and pet the other dogs, spend some time with the horses, go to three of the farms and “drink Spring,” take a book to Debi down the road, go to the post office, go to the dumpster, plant a few flowers, read two newspapers, read more of On Agate Hill, etc.

Last night I walked around in the dark and listened to the night sounds—mainly the spring peepers in the pond across the road. I saw the rising of a red-orange moon. I enjoyed myself.

My mother lived her life on “What will the neighbors think?” and she was usually miserable. During her last years in Roanoke, she didn’t even know who most of her neighbors were. She didn’t dress comfortably because she might “look bad.” A couple of rooms in her house were rarely used so they’d stay neat. Certain chores, at least while she was able to do them, had to be done—especially sweeping the porch every morning.

I think I swept my front porch a couple of weeks ago, but the last storm blew some debris onto it. Or maybe it was the bird that always has a nest on top of one of the columns. I think I saw a bird dismantling the old nest a few days ago. I swept part of the deck last week. At least I think I did. I know I mopped the kitchen floor day before yesterday.

But yesterday I petted my critters and heard the peepers and watched the woods green up and the flowers bloom. I was “drinking Spring” off and on all day.

In a hundred years, what will a little dust matter?

Life is short. Enjoy it.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Drinking Spring

Yesterday, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Everything was wonderfully green.

I’m currently reading On Agate Hill, by Lee Smith, one of my favorite authors.

Yesterday, I read this passage on p. 255 of the Algonquin Paperback edition (the speaker is the protagonist, Molly Petree, who is riding a horse through the mountains):

The whole earth seemed to be stretching and yawning, waking up. A robin, back early, sat perched in the crook of a tree ahead, then flew away at our approach. I gulped in the cool moist air like I was drinking the Spring.

Yesterday, I drank in the Spring. And I rode my horse.

For the first time in nearly two years, I rode my old mare Cupcake. Our bodies remembered each other, and—for fifteen minutes in the front pasture—we moved as one being. We didn’t move fast—and I had some trouble feeling the stirrup on the left—but we went around the pasture and chased Ruby, the neighbor dog, until Ruby got tired of the game.

If you add my age and Cupcake’s age together, the total is 89. We’re not spring chickens anymore. Was this our last ride?

Back in the late 70s—when I was younger, thinner, and healthier—I often rode with members of Walnut Grove Trail Club on the Blue Ridge Parkway trails. I had a little black quarter horse gelding then, a wonderful trail horse. I was young enough to think I’d ride forever.

One of the guys who sometimes rode with the group was an older cowboy, Bruce Friend, who also danced competitively. On one of the rides—a ride in spring when everything was green, I heard him say that he always danced every dance and rode every ride as if it were his last. That way he always enjoyed the experience.

If yesterday’s ride turns out to be my last, it was a good one. I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed drinking in the Spring, too.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Six-Word Memoir

Anita over at Blue Country Magic recently tagged me to write a six-word memoir. Here goes (with apologies to Julius Caesar who reportedly said, Veni, vedi, vici):

I came, I saw, I wrote.

It sounds classier in Latin:

Veni, vedi, scribi.

Luckily, my husband—who took four years of Latin at Dunellen High School and still has his Latin book— helped me with the translation.

Now, I tag Marion, Debi, and Amy H —but only if they want to be tagged.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Rain and Flower Beds

The rain has fallen on and off for the last three days! Today’s forecast calls for rain all week. We need it.

The dog kennel is a sea of mud. (Maggie loves rain and mud, but the other dogs don’t.) Everything else is lush and green. It’s wonderful.

Before the rain started on Saturday, I made flower beds. That’s right: flower beds, not flowerbeds. See:

Someone gave us this old bed frame, and it’s perfect to mark the far corner of our yard. Plus the deer won’t like having to reach between the metal parts to eat my gladiola bulbs. This flower bed is still a work in progress. I’ve transplanted lilies, iris, Job’s tears, prickly pear, and purple coneflowers from elsewhere in my yard, but I’ll add a few more plants eventually.

The aluminum headboard in the picture below was only a dollar at Goodwill. It makes a nice addition to the already established flowerbed by the driveway. However, I’ve added some lilies and other flowers that were planted elsewhere in the yard, and I’ll plant a few annuals when it stops raining.

The view looking from the road.

The original part of the bed. Notice the beautiful puddle to the right!

Flower beds give the yard a whimsical touch. After all, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

But I'm seriously glad it's raining.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Bloom

Spring is in full bloom now. The redbud in the front yard is starting to fade, but it's still pretty.

The lilac at the farm down the road is hung with blooms and butterflies.

So is the azalea. This one almost died last year, but is bouncing back.

At the house, I lost several azaleas to last year's drought. The remaining azaleas have more blooms than I've seen for several years:

"And since to look at things in bloom. . . ."



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sign on Route 40

The other day, I saw a sign that reinforced my philosophy that we are responsible for our own happiness:

Yeah, I know it's missing an s and it needs punctuation. . . .



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nineteen Minutes and a Year

Not long ago, I finished Jodi Picoult’s book, Nineteen Minutes. I loved it, although some critics didn’t.

Peter Houghton, a loner, has been bullied since kindergarten. Only Josie Cormier refrains from making his life miserable. By the time he and his tormentors reach high school, the bullying by certain jocks—members of the hockey team—has increased substantially, and Josie has joined the popular crowd that delights in bullying him. Armed with guns he’s stolen from a neighbor, Peter shoots 31 students—10 of them fatally—in nineteen minutes. Then he is arrested and eventually goes to trial. The ending is a surprise.

But Picoult says, “As with all my books, I knew the ending before I wrote the first word.”

From Picoult’s website:
Rich with psychological and social insight, Nineteen Minutes is a riveting, poignant, and thought-provoking novel that has at its center a haunting question. Do we ever really know someone?

One year ago today at Virginia Tech—two counties away from where I live—Cho Seung-Hui, a loner, killed over 32 people before killing himself. Did anyone ever really know him? Did he know the ending? We are still haunted by what happened—and why.

Today is a Day of Remembrance at Virginia Tech.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another Savage Read

I just finished reading Savage Beloved, another Cassie Edwards’ romance filled with throbbing, thrusting, adverbs, and plagiarism. It was dreadful. I knew it would be. It was barely worth the 95¢ I paid for it—used.

In this variation on the Savage theme, Candy Creighton, a petite and sweet blue-eyed blonde, lives at a fort in the middle of Kansas with her despotic father, Colonel Creighton, who keeps the severed head of a Wichita chief under wraps in his study and has recently returned a tortured and dying Short Robe (sorry, no explanation about how he got his name) to his tribe since he wasn’t the one they wanted. They’re going to be leaving the fort soon, but Candy is worried something might happen.

And it does! Before they can leave, the Wichita, led by the hunkie young chief Two Eagles (his uncle’s head is in the jar), ride (they have saddles, just like the Indians in Savage Secrets) to attack the fort, but the Sioux just beat them to it. Only one survivor remains: Candy, who conveniently escapes through a secret tunnel, so Two Eagles grabs her up onto his steed (a word that is frequently repeated just as it was in Savage Secrets) takes her captive, and forces her to wear the bloody and dirty leg irons her now-deceased daddy had put on Short Robe. On the ride to the teepee, they naturally become attracted to each other—while at the same time hating each other (just like the pair in Savage Secrets). Candy, of course, thinks the Wichita killed everybody and burned the fort—which they were going to do if the Sioux hadn’t beaten them to it.

Candy’s blonde mother, like the blonde mother in Savage Secrets, has been gone for some time. Tired of fort life and her despotic husband, she took off a few years earlier to return to civilization and her former career as a dancer. (In Savage Secrets, the mother became an outlaw. There weren’t a lot of career options for women in the 1800s.)

Oh, I nearly forgot! Candy’s devoted pet wolf Shadow (in Savage Secrets, the heroine merely had a puppy) goes missing during the siege. Candy fears the worst. (But you just know—admit it, you do—that this critter Candy raised from a cub will show up.)

In the Wichita village is another blonde, Hawk Woman (formerly Sara—yes, without the h), who is jealous of the attention Candy gets and who wants to marry Two Eagles. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Anyhow, Hawk Woman was rescued from an abusive Mormon husband, Albert Cohen (funny—that name doesn’t sound Mormonish) who is still in the neighborhood with his numerous other wives and children instead of being with other Mormons in Utah or someplace more Morman-y. Anyhow, Cohen’s on the prowl both for Hawk Woman and for any other woman he can marry and force to begat his children. How he supports his big family is anybody’s guess.

Short Robe—before dying—tells Two Eagles about the kindness she bestowed upon him while he was being tortured, so TE removes her irons, invites her into his teepee, and her wolf shows up—slightly singed, but the shaman has an ointment that helps. Things are looking up for Candy, but Shadow, hearing the call of the wild—or at least of the local wolves, takes off from time to time. Plus Hawk Woman is a real pain (especially when she puts the ants in Candy’s bed, but that comes much later).

While TE is attending to funeral details, Candy goes off in search of Shadow, gets lost, and is rescued by Spotted Bear—a former Wichita warrior, who years earlier had the misfortune to be scalped in a battle with the Sioux and who was left for dead. Anyhow, he survived, and knowing that scalped people are considered ghosts, constructed a teepee (which no one has noticed all these years) and did pretty well, thanks to the wolves who looked after him—the same wolfpack that Shadow wants to join. Anyhow, Candy finds Shadow, realizes she is lost, is found by Spotted Bear, meets the rest of the wolves (including Shadow’s husband-to-be, White Wolf), spends the night in Spotted Bear’s dwelling (he sleeps outside) and is pointed the way back to the village the next morning. While she’s walking home, TW finds her. We knew he would.

Anyhow, there are passages of wild passionate love followed by discussions of Wichita customs (Candy and TE’s plagiarized discussion about three buffalo killing two bears during the “Moon of Strawberries” beats the heck out of the plagiarized ferret discussion in Shadow Bear, but not by much). Here’s an excerpt (two pages after a hot time in the ol’ teepee) that’s gotta be plagiarized:

He gestured toward the entranceway. “And the door of all homes of my people is placed on the east side so that the sun may look into the lodge as it rises, while the small circular opening overhead is placed there not only for smoke to escape through, but also so that the sun may look into the lodge at noon, and at night, the star gods are thought to pour down their strength into our homes.”

Then TE talks (in his excellent, albeit stilted, English—all the Wichita speak excellent, albeit stilted, English) about the fire pit, ending with “We Wichita people view our home as a miniature of the universe itself.”

This blog quotes other examples of the Savage Beloved plagiarism–and gives original sources.

Eventually, Spotted Bear rejoins the tribe (turns out he’s TE’s cousin!) after Shadow gets Candy to come help him because he has a fever, so she (Candy, not Shadow) makes a travois and drags him back to the village.

So, it looks like they’ll be happy, except for a few setbacks, like the plague of locusts (but fortunately they’d already harvested the corn a few days earlier). The horses, by the way, eat the locusts (!?) that fall into the corral, but the tribe burns the other locusts. Albert Cohen and his kids come begging right after that and he catches a glimpse of Candy and thinks she’s Sara (er, HW). Candy goes out to gather greens not long after the locust incident, and Hawk Woman—intending to give her a good thrust in the back with a knife—follows her but hides in the woods when Cohen appears and captures Candy. He takes Candy back to his camp where one of his wives turns out to be Candy’s mother (!!??) whom he’d captured years earlier.

Anyhow, Shadow (in the tradition of Rin-tin-tin and Lassie, who weren’t wolves but close enough) confronts HW, which allows TE to get the truth from her about what happened to Candy and to save her (Candy, not HW), which he does by breaking Cohen’s neck, but it’s really Cohen’s fault for squirming while TE had him by the neck.

HW steals a steed from the corral and gallops away in the dark while TE is off saving Candy. Candy’s mother, still fixated on the idea of becoming a dancer again—although she has some age on her now and might be pregnant, doesn’t come home with her daughter but continues on her quest for a civilized place with a dance hall.

Candy—er, she goes by Painted Wings now—and TE wed, have a couple of kids, Shadow has a couple of litters with the white wolf, etc. We never learn what the heck happened to Hawk Woman or Candy’s mom. By this time, we don’t really care.

If you are the sort of reader who enjoys stereotypical characters, contrived and unbelievable plots, improbable coincidences, stilted dialogue, a plethora of adjectives and adverbs, an inconsistent voice, and an incredibly happy ending, you’ll probably love this book.

In fact, you’ll probably love the whole Savage series, but this is the last Savage Anything romance I’ll ever read. I figure if you read one, you’ve read ’em all.

Plus I like to read fiction that rings true.

I’m still puzzling over the horses (er, steeds) eating the locusts. Ewww!


Monday, April 14, 2008

The Times Needs Some Changin’

On page 5 of the Extra section of this morning’s Roanoke Times, an announcement appeared in “the monday short list*” section about the Valley Writers poetry reading, “Poetry of the Blue Ridge” at Edible Vibe this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. (April 17). Here’s what the announcement said:

"Poetry of the Blue"
Did you know it's National Poetry Month? Celebrate with a coffeehouse poetry reading that features Becky Mushko, Dick Raymond and Rodney Franklin. Free. 6:30 p.m. Edible Vibe Restaurant, 315 Franklin St., Rocky Mount. 483-3098,

It should have read:

"Poetry of the Blue Ridge"
Did you know it's National Poetry Month? Celebrate with a coffeehouse poetry reading that features eight members of the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Free. 6:30 p.m. Edible Vibe Restaurant, 315 Franklin St., Rocky Mount. 483-3098,

If you want to see who is reading what poems, visit the events page of the Valley Writers Chapter website and scroll down to "2008 Valley Writers Chapter Events." The whole program is posted.

Now, on Tuesday (April 15), there will be a program at the Franklin County Library. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" will feature an Appalachian craftsperson, an Appalachian writer, and Appalachian music. It gets underway at 5:00 p.m. at the Franklin County Library's community room.

Peggy Ann Shifflett, a member of Valley Writers, is the Appalachian writer. Her part of the program is at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday. I will introduce her.

However, I won't be reading any poems on Tuesday. For that you have to wait until Thursday.

*You'd think folks at a newspaper would know capitalization.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who’ll Start the Rain?

Long as I remember the rain been comin’ down.
Clouds of myst’ry pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, tryin’ to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.

I thought it would rain today. My body told me it would. My legs swelled. My joints ached. Even joints I didn’t know I had ached. I ached so much I didn’t go to Roanoke this morning, even though I’d planned to. By afternoon, I ached even more. Where’s the rain? Who stopped it from coming?

The sky promised rain all day. Granted, we got a brief thunderstorm this morning, but it was mostly noise. The shower wasn’t even enough to wet the ground.

The wind howled this afternoon. The sky stayed cloudy. No rain.

The ants built up their hills, a sure sign of heavy rain. No rain.

But we’ve had rain lately. The fields and the flowerbeds are proof.

The horses grazed in their green pasture under a grey sky.

Besides the recent rain, this is another reason why the pasture is green:

Cupcake ate dandelions, a source of vitamin C.

I sat in the gazebo and looked at things in bloom.

I watched a tiger swallowtail dart among the lunaria.

I didn’t accomplish much today—a few loads of laundry, some editing of a friend’s manuscript, bundling newspapers for recycling, a little work on my next column, some work on a story I plan to submit to an anthology, a little net-surfing and reading friends’ blogs, a few photos that I snapped and downloaded (some of which you see here).

Mostly, I waited for the rain.

I went down Virginia, seekin’ shelter from the storm.
—Creedence Clearwater Revival

I’m in rural Virginia, and there’s no storm here. Yet.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

More Fun Than Sorrow

For years, Jack Rupert entertained members of Lake Writers with his stories about being a kid in the 1930s, about being in the service, and about his adventures as a retiree at Smith Mountain Lake.

Jack reads one of his stories at a Lake Writers meeting.

We laughed about his experiences and told him he publish these for others. He did, in his blog, Jack the SMLaker.

Not only did Jack tell funny stories, he did funny stuff. Last summer, when I had foot problems, Jack lent me a cane. Not just any cane—a really unique one. I blogged about it here.

Jack never recovered from complications from his heart surgery last summer. He died Monday afternoon, surrounded by his family. This morning, a huge crowd attended Jack’s memorial service. Most of us picked up copies one of his last essays, “A Voice From the Urn.” It begins:

Thank you all for coming for Shirl, My Honey of 56-plus years, and my family. What a love and gift from God My Honey was to me. Our 22 member family is my delight. They are wonderful children and grandchildren. They turned out better than I could have hoped. This is all My Honey’s doing.

My desire is for the children to realize that they are each other’s best friends and nothold any old hostile childhood memories, but instead, turn them into humor from childhood.

And he goes on to tell a story about himself. And more.

Among the pictures of Jack at his memorial service were several quotations of things he said. Like this one:
Humor is more fun than sorrow.
—Jack Rupert (April 1, 2008)
Jack Burns Rupert (February 25, 1929—April 7, 2008)

We’ll miss your stories, Jack. We'll miss you.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

April Morning: Fresh and Clear

I spent most of today outdoors—weeding, transplanting, spreading mulch, walking the farm with Maggie, grooming the mares, cleaning the outdoor furniture, pruning dead limbs from the redbud tree, and looking at things in bloom. I took a few pictures early this morning. Then I got too busy to take pictures.

In the fresh and clear morning sun, the driveway looked as if it had been strewn with gold coins—dandelions!

I don't understand why some people don't like dandelions. They're beautiful. And they're also tasty in a salad.

Further up the driveway, Dylan was so happy to be outdoors in the morning sun that he rolled and rolled.

The slips from Granny Sallie's lilacs that I transplanted last week are still alive. Maybe by next year they'll bloom. The original bush has the real smell of lilac—not like the hybrid lilac-wannbes.

My flowerbeds are starting to look like real flowerbeds.

Today was a perfect day to be outdoors—clear, sunny, warm (temperature in the 70s!). Almost two hundred years ago, the poet William Wordsworth noticed an April morning like today.

It Was an April Morning: Fresh and Clear
by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

It was an April morning: fresh and clear
The Rivulet, delighting in its strength,
Ran with a young man's speed; and yet the voice
Of waters which the winter had supplied
Was softened down into a vernal tone.
The spirit of enjoyment and desire,
And hopes and wishes, from all living things
Went circling, like a multitude of sounds.
The budding groves seemed eager to urge on
The steps of June; as if their various hues
Were only hindrances that stood between
Them and their object: but, meanwhile, prevailed
Such an entire contentment in the air
That every naked ash, and tardy tree
Yet leafless, showed as if the countenance
With which it looked on this delightful day
Were native to the summer.--Up the brook
I roamed in the confusion of my heart,
Alive to all things and forgetting all.
At length I to a sudden turning came
In this continuous glen, where down a rock
The Stream, so ardent in its course before,
Sent forth such sallies of glad sound, that all
Which I till then had heard, appeared the voice
Of common pleasure: beast and bird, the lamb,
The shepherd's dog, the linnet and the thrush
Vied with this waterfall, and made a song,
Which, while I listened, seemed like the wild growth
Or like some natural produce of the air,
That could not cease to be. Green leaves were here;
But 'twas the foliage of the rocks--the birch,
The yew, the holly, and the bright green thorn,
With hanging islands of resplendent furze:
And, on a summit, distant a short space,
By any who should look beyond the dell,
A single mountain-cottage might be seen.
I gazed and gazed, and to myself I said,
"Our thoughts at least are ours; and this wild nook,
My EMMA, I will dedicate to thee."
—Soon did the spot become my other home,
My dwelling, and my out-of-doors abode.
And, of the Shepherds who have seen me there,
To whom I sometimes in our idle talk
Have told this fancy, two or three, perhaps,
Years after we are gone and in our graves,
When they have cause to speak of this wild place,
May call it by the name of EMMA'S DELL.

Today I walked by the creek with my "shepherd's dog"—Maggie the border collie. And today "I gazed and gazed."

I could not look at everything enough.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April's Gold?

What was going to be short post featuring a picture of the golden buds on my maple tree and Frost’s poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," has somehow turned into an English lesson. (I must be experiencing a flashback to my college-teaching days.) Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Warning: Educational content follows.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

A really good interpretation of this poem is Dana Gioia’s essay. A really bad interpretation is this piece of crap from a site that some students are tempted to use when they’re too (circle all that apply) stupid/stoned/drunk/dense/lazy/stressed out to write their own essays. And here’s another essay that even mentions the poem’s appearance in S.E. Hinton’s novel, The Outsiders (but it’s still crap). This mediocre one is slightly better, but it costs money.

When I saw the dreadful essay that Fratfiles offers, I couldn’t resist copying* the beginning and adding a few “Evil English Instructor”** comments (in red):

*Since this excerpt is copied for educational purposes, as a derivative work (my added comments take care of that), and not for profit—plus the link to the original the URL is available above, I'm not violating any copyright here. )

Robert Frost has a fine talent for putting words into poetry. [Well, duh!] Words which are normally simplistic spur to life [Huh? “Spur” to life? That’s even worse than “normally simplistic.”] when he combines them into a whimsical [Oh, come on! “Whimsical”???] poetic masterpiece. His “Nothing Gold Can Stay” poem is no exception. [Exception to what?] Although short, it drives home [No doubt in a BMW or perhaps a Porsche] a deep point [as opposed to a shallow point] and meaning [So the meaning isn’t the point?]. Life is such a fragile thing [Wordy. Why not say, “Life is fragile”?] and most of it is taken for granted [Can you prove that?]. The finest, most precious time in life [Which would be what, exactly?] generally passes in what could be the blink of an eye [It “could be,” but is it? And “blink of an eye” is a cliché.] “Nothing Gold Can Stay” shows just this. [Exactly what does it show? Does the demonstrative pronoun this have an antecedent? Do you know what an antecedent is?] Even in such a small poem he describes what would seem an eternity or an entire lifetime [Pick one. “Eternity” and “lifetime” aren’t interchangeable.] in eight simple lines. Change is eminent and will happen to all living things. [And the previous sentence contains a redundancy.] This is the main point of the poem and is shown consistently throughout the eight lines. [Someone’s English instructor failed to teach unity, coherence and emphasis—or else the writer of this flatulent dreck cut class on the day those concepts were taught.]

The sad thing is that the above selection is only part of the 750-word analysis. One can only speculate how bad the rest is. Did the writer continue to say nothing? If so, he could have said it in fewer words?

One of the classic essays taught in many freshman grammar & comp classes is “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words,” by Paul McHenry Roberts. Too many students (and, alas, too many writer wanna-bes ), working under the delusion that “more is better,” say nothing in as many words as possible.

If you haven’t read Roberts’ essay—or you haven’t read it lately—take a look here or here.
And if you loved “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words,” you’ll love this blog post about it:

OK. My English-teaching flashback has passed. You can go back to your ordinary lives now. Don't worry—there won't be a quiz.

The new leaves on the pin oak are also gold.

** I am a fan of Evil Editor.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

A Poetical Month

April is National Poetry Month. So far this year, April has been a rainy month. Here in rural America, things are green and/or blooming. And muddy. Really, really muddy.

Anyhow, I figured a few poems about April might kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll pardon the cliché (though with Spring Gobbler season starting soon, it might be more accurate and less cliché-ish to say, kill two birds—and mar a few roadside signs—with several blasts from a shotgun).

I found three poetical selections (or portions thereof) that fit:

The opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (written in 1922) are spot on:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Now, even though I have a master’s in English, I confess to not really understanding a lot of Eliot’s poetry. Especially The Waste Land. For one thing, I don’t know why he slipped that extra l in cruelest. Is that a Brit spelling, or what? Plus I never can remember to put his title in quotations marks or to italicize it because it's a long poem. And what he means by the poem is anybody's guess (or doctoral thesis).

But he is right about some stuff in that poem. Lilacs do green up in early April. The other day, I transplanted some of Granny Sallie’s lilac bush from Smith Farm to my flowerbed at the house, and the new leaves are still green. By the end of April, the original bush will be blooming.

These are last year's blooms, but this is the bush I took slips from.

As for “memory and desire,” I remember other Aprils and desire the weather to warm up soon. We’ve been in a cold rainy spell for about a week. Before that we were in a windy spell. I’ve still got half a truckload of soggy mulch that I’d like to spread, and I don’t know when it’ll ever dry out.

The “spring rain” has stirred up the “dull roots,” too, because I have a lot of tulips blooming and a bunch of lilies that look hopeful.

Winter was warmer than usual, but we still had to have the heat on. And where’s the “forgetful snow”? It forgot to snow much around here. We only got a couple dustings.

Moving along, we have Ogden Nash’s poem, “Always Marry an April Girl.”

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you.

That about covers everything to do with April, doesn’t it? Of course, I can’t forget Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400) and his "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales," which begins like this:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,

(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

Thanks to a great Chaucer course I had in grad school, I can make better sense of Chaucer than I can of Eliot. But just in case you need to look up a few words, here’s what those strange terms mean:

  • soote— its sweet showers
  • droghte—drought
  • swich—such
  • holt—wood
  • croppes—young shoots
  • halfe cours y-ronne—The sun left the sign of the Ram about the middle of April.
  • corages—hearts
  • straunge strondes—foreign strands
  • ferne halwes—distant saints.
  • couthe—known.
  • seke—sick
If the word list didn’t help, here’s what the poem’s about: April’s showers take care of March’s drought and flowers bloom and a bunch of folks decide to take off on a pilgrimage to some strange country where they might find some relics of a saint and get cured of what ails them.

While this doesn’t sound like a heckuva lot of fun nowadays, keep in mind this poem was written almost six hundred years ago when recreational travel opportunities were limited. Now they’d go to Disney World or something. If they were younger, they might take off to the beach during Spring Break and end up on a Girls Gone Wild video or something.

Now, if Geoff C. were around today, he most likely wouldn’t mess with a long poem. He’d blog about it. In fact, he does. Well, sort of: Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

To celebrate National Poetry Month (and National Library Week), the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club will present “Poetry of the Blue Ridge” on Thursday, April 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the Edible Vibe in exciting downtown Rocky Mount. (Whoooeee! Using that string of prepositions tired me out!) The Franklin County Library is sponsoring this presentation.

Y’all come on down, have a cup of coffee, and listen to some poetry.

The performance is free, but y’all have to pay for the coffee and food.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cottage Curio April Event

The "Local Authors" section of the Cottage Curio.

Today, I joined writer Nancy Bondurant Jones and photographer Nadine Cobb at the Cottage Curio, owned by a fellow Valley Writer and Roanoke Valley Pen Women member, Peggy Shifflett.

Yours truly and Nancy Bondurant Jones (and our books)

Naturally, Peggy’s sister-in-law, Hilda Shifflett was in the kitchen to provide some of the authentic Appalachian cooking that Peggy wrote about in Mom’s Family Pie. Today Hilda made chicken soup to die for, hot rolls exactly like my Grandma Ruble used to make (and which I’ve been craving for decades!), and her wonderful apple dumplings.

Since retiring as head of the sociology department at Radford University, Peggy has opened a shop dedicated to Appalachian arts, crafts, literature, and cooking. Plus she has some nice antiques, too. Visiting her shop at 622 Colorado Street in Salem is like going home to Grandma’s.

Some of the neat stuff at Cottage Curio. I love that cow doll!

Nancy, who writes for Harrisonburg’s Eightyone magazine, had three of her books at Cottage Curio—Rooted on Bluestone Hill (a history of the first ninety years of James Madison University), An African American Community of Hope: Zenda 1868-1930 (underwritten by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities), and Jeremy the Wonderer (a delightful children’s picture book written in both English and Spanish—and brightly illustrated by Margot Bergman).

Nadine grew up in the Shooting Creek area of western Franklin County. Many of her photos are of old-timey stuff—the kind of stuff that I like.

Nadine Cobb and one of her photos—a window covered in Virginia creeper.

We were joined by Miranda Atkins, a Roanoke Times community journalist who covers the Salem news in both a Friday supplement and on a blog, So Salem. Coverage will be on the blog and next Friday’s print edition.

I had a great time visiting with the folks who came into the shop. At one point, some of us were laughing so hard, that Hilda came out of the kitchen to remark that whenever she heard so much cackling, she expected eggs. We cackled about her remark, too.

A wall of interesting clay masks.

Peggy will be doing a presentation at the Franklin County Library on April 15 at 6:00 p.m. as part of the library’s celebration of National Library Week. Look for my review of her two books, Mom's Family Pie and The Red Flannel Rag, in the Sunday, April 13th edition of the Roanoke Times. And one of these Thursdays at 7:30, you can hear Gene Marrano’s interview of her on Studio Virginia on WVTF-fm (89.1).

For somebody who's retired, she certainly stays busy.

The next Cottage Curio event is May 10, See y'all there?



Thursday, April 03, 2008

Signs of Spring

Because of all the rain we've had lately (rain is falling as I post this entry), the fields are green.

Green fields are one sign of spring; another is horsehair. The mares are shedding copiously. Especially Cupcake. I'm not talking just handfuls—think bucketfuls. Every day.

Picture the equine equivalent of a woolly mammoth. That's Cupcake. The first day I used the shedding blade on her, she produced this hair pile:

For the last few days, I've been removing even more excess hair. I've combed, clipped, and—or course—scraped with the shedding blade. The hair comes off in piles. And there's still plenty left.

I don't pick up the hair. I leave it on the ground for the wind to scatter. And for the birds to recycle. A few years ago, I found this nest made almost entirely of horsehair:

Here's another look. The pen will give you an idea of the idea of the nest's size:

It's kind of neat that what a horse no longer needs, a bird can use.

I searched for a poem about horses and shedding hair and spring, but I came up empty. I did, however, find this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that mentions spring and horses.

The Goose-Girl
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Spring rides no horses down the hill,
But comes on foot, a goose-girl still.
And all the loveliest things there be
Come simply, so, it seems to me.
If ever I said, in grief or pride,
I tired of honest things, I lied:
And should be cursed forevermore
With Love in laces, like a whore,
And neighbours cold, and friends unsteady,
And Spring on horseback, like a lady.

If Spring rode a horse, odds are good she'd be covered in horsehair. And probably muddy.


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mudlicious Things in Bloom

We’ve had rain for three days. It’s been wonderful! The fields are green; the trees are budding. I haven’t seen so much green in a long time.

Or so much mud.

I’m reminded of phrases from “In Just-” by e.e. cummings: “In Just-spring when the world is mudlicious” and “when the world is puddle wonderful.” We have lots of puddles.

In the kennel, the dogs don’t mind the mud at all. Or the puddles.

Maggie in the mud.

Harley in the mud.

Emma rolling in the mud while Hubert stands by.

I’ve never seen so many blossoms on the cherry tree beside the kennel.

The profusion of cherry blossoms reminds me of A.E. Houseman’s poem:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

—A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896.

Houseman made it to threescore and thirteen. I hope he saw lots more cherry blossoms.

I’ve already passed threescore and two. While life expectancies are greater now than when Houseman lived, I know I have limited time—another score, maybe—“to look at things in bloom.”

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy looking at these tulips in one of my flowerbeds:

And I’ll enjoy the mud, too.

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