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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

After the Storm is Over

After the storm is over
And the rains have come and gone
After the storm is over
I was there all along.
From "After the Storm Is Over," by Bill Miller

We've had needed rain for the last several afternoons. On Saturday evening, the sky looked like this after one storm ended and before another began:

Today (Monday), the sky after the storm was beautiful. About 8:35 this evening, a rainbow appeared in the southeast:

The Monday sunset was nice, too:

After the storm was over and the rains had come and gone, I'm glad I was there with my camera.


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Today’s "Great News" Scam

I'm getting an award—NOT!

I just got a call from a woman allegedly connected “TGN News” who had “read [my] article in the Smith Mountain Eagle” and wanted to send me a plaque.

Obviously this woman with the heavy oriental accent hadn’t read my article. Lately, I’ve sent in one press release and my usual column.

Anyhow, she wanted to send a plaque to my office for my approval. Huh? I don’t have an office (unless you count my study where my desk usually has at least one cat on it).

I asked her if she’d actually read what I write for the Eagle. No, just the first part of it. I told her that I usually wrote a redneck humor column, but I don’t think she had a clue what that was. Apparently the “article” she read was a press release I sent to the SME about the Pen Women’s scholarship recipient. And she didn’t even read the whole article.

Plus she thought I lived in Roanoke. (Uh, not for the past nine years.) I told her I lived in rural America. So again she asked where my office was. I had already told her I didn’t have an office.

Apparently the “article” she read was a press release I sent to the SME about the Pen Women’s scholarship recipient.

I questioned the caller. She was sending me a plaque absolutely free, right? No, for a ten-day approval! She never got around to mentioning how much this thing would cost. (Let’s see, someone awards you a plaque but you have to pay for it after you’ve admired it for ten days? I don’t think so!)

About the third or fourth time I asked, “What kind of a scam are you running?” she thanked me, told me to have a nice day, and hung up.

So, be warned: If a woman with a heavy accent calls and wants to award a plaque to you, make sure you ask how much it will cost. I never could get her to tell me. But I did a bit of Googling and found a website. I'm pretty sure she called from that company. If so, the CEO of the company says this:
I’m so sure that you’ll love seeing your article mounted and hanging on your wall that I’m willing to take all the risk and send it out for your inspection with a complete 30 day Money Back Gaurantee. Just click below. When you decide to keep the plaque forever, you’ll pay just $159.00. Remember an additional plaque is half price.

And that's for the plaque of only a one-page news article! But they'll gaurantee your money back if you're not happy.

Are there people so vain that they really fall for this over-priced stuff?


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday Storm

Yesterday's late afternoon thunderstorm dumped a half inch of rain (no hail!) on us. Here's how the northeastern sky looked as the storm approached:

The picture above shows the wind blowing the redbud tree in my front yard. Across the road is a cornfield.

The picture below shows the eastern sky. You can see Smith Mountain above the silver roof and the trees. And you can see the rain falling in the left side of the picture.

Here's the southeastern sky and the pasture across the road. There's even a patch of blue sky in the lower right.

Today the sky looks like it did yesterday afternoon. Thunder is rolling as I post this, and it's oppressively hot—around ninety.

The weather forecast looks ominous:

: Partly cloudy with isolated thunderstorms possible. A few storms may be severe. High 89F. Winds WSW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 30%.
Tonight: Variable clouds with thunderstorms, especially early. A few storms may be severe. Low 68F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.
Tomorrow: Scattered thunderstorms. A few storms may be severe.

We didn't lose power or suffer any tree damage yesterday. Maybe we'll be lucky with today's and tomorrow's storms.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Passion Flowers Revisited

Two weeks ago I was delighted to see the passion flower vines pop up in my yard.

The only problem, they're in my yard, not in the flowerbed. The vines will soon need something to climb. I think I have found a solution:

Now, I wouldn't have thought of this if I hadn't visited a fellow Lake Writer and noticed how well her tomato plants were growing through ornate wrought iron chairs. I wonder how long until the chaise is completely covered? Today's half inch of rain should make those vines grow a couple more inches. Watch this blog for periodic updates.

Behind the old chaise lounge you can see my day lilies blooming. Here's a closer look:

I brought these double lilies from Mama's yard in Roanoke eight years ago.

June is the month when lilies bloom. If you've never read Bill and Vera Cleaver's Where the Lilies Bloom, this is a good time to do it. While the book was written for 9–12 year olds, it's one that any lover of Appalachian literature will enjoy. I still love that book and the 1974 movie. (Do you know who adapted the book into the movie?)

It's the kind of book you might want to read outdoors—maybe in a lawn chair in the shade. Just not in a vine-covered chaise lounge.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This I Believe

While I followed John’s tractor from Brown Farm to Smith Farm last Sunday morning, I listened to National Public Radio’s “This I Believe “ segment where Paul Thorne was reading his essay, “Walking in the Light.” His essay begins, “I don't want to be a God-fearing man. I believe in religion without fear.”

Thorne’s remarks reminded me of when I as a kid and heard a preacher yelling about sinners being cast into the fiery furnace. As I sat in that Williamson Road-area Baptist Church one Sunday in the early 1950s, I kept thinking of the coal furnace in my maternal grandparents’ basement. The furnace, the pile of coal, and the dark damp basement were pretty scary to a kid.

Sunlight shines into the darkness of the woods where I walked.

Anyhow, on that bright sunny Sunday morning a few days ago, I walked in the midst of creation where all I could see was green and growing. Then I sat under the walnut trees. I found comfort in gazing upon sky, trees, and grass in a place that my paternal grandparents bought over 90 years ago. I felt connected to them, the earth, and—I suppose—the universe. I felt awe and respect for the Creator, but not fear.

Along this treeline was once a path where my Granny Sallie walked to the spring each day.

My grandparents lived here for almost fifty years until my grandfather died in 1959.

I also brought a book to read: Refuge, by Dot Jackson. Smith Farm, I believe, is the perfect place to read Refuge. A line from her book describes where I sat: “There had been a light drizzle of rain along in the night, and the woods were washed and tender and new.” (Refuge, p. 106)

I’d met Dot at the 2007 Appalachian Writers Conference. Refuge was the 2007 Appalachian Book of the Year. This “About the Author” factoid on and a few other websites gives a bit of info about Dot:
Dot Jackson spent many years as a prizewinning reporter and columnist at the Charlotte Observer. During that time, she was also hard at work collecting a wealth of Appalachian stories and folklore, and weaving them into this novel written on an ancient typewriter in a haunted basement.

The plot: With her two children in tow, Mary Seneca Steele Lamb escapes her bad marriage and her stifling life in 1920’s Charleston, SC, and heads westward toward the family land she’s never seen and kinfolk she’s never met. Her father, who died when she was a child, had described both to her. Deep in Appalachia, she finds refuge and ultimately redemption. Seneca, of course, endures some misery, but she also finds love, joy, and comfort.

I won’t tell you anymore about the plot. For that, you have to buy your own copy (though mine will be lent to a few close friends). I believe it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ve read some good’uns. It’s even better than Lee Smith’s On Agate Hill, another refuge-and-redemption book I’ve read lately.

I lived in Charleston, SC, for two years, and I believe I can relate to the “South of Broad” attitude that pervades some of Refuge. Having inherited the family farm after my father died in 1969, I’ve come home to rural America, too. In the last few years, I met lots of kinfolk that I didn’t know I had. And I know something about the story behind the book.

At the AWA conference, Dot told of how she wrote the book long ago, had almost despaired of finding a publisher, and finally found one—an elderly woman who still worked for Scribner. The book was partway through edits when the editor died and no one else was interested. Dot stuffed her manuscript under her bed for fifteen years until a friend of hers said it wasn’t safe there (this was in the days before computers, remember) and said he’d keep it in his refrigerator. Refrigerators make good manuscript storage. The pages don’t deteriorate and the mice can’t get at them.

Anyhow, what would become Dot’s book spent years in the refrigerator until another friend of hers, who was connected with Novello Press, asked her about her manuscript. It was still safe in the refrigerator, so she retrieved it, Novello published it, and I read it. I loved it.

At the conference, Dot wouldn’t sell us any books. “You can get’em cheaper on Amazon,” she said. I bought the paperback edition when it came out in April.

Thorne concludes his NPR essay, “The higher power I now pray to gives me love, joy and comfort. And I'm not afraid of him. I had to break away from the God I was supposed to believe in to find the God I could believe in.”

This I believe: If you think about it, you can probably connect Thorne's statement and Dot’s book and my time spent reading it last Sunday morning and refuge and redemption.

“We are all ignorant until we learn better. . . .” (Refuge, p.160)


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rose of Sharon

This morning my Rose of Sharon bushes were full of blooms. And pollen-covered bees. And one hummingbird.

Do you see the bee? Look to the right of the largest bloom. I caught her in mid-flight. The hummingbird was too fast for me, though.

I like my lavender Rose of Sharon best. I brought it as a slip from my former house in Roanoke County to Polecat Creek farm. The above bush grew from seed that the Polecat Creek plants produced. I bought the original bush as a 25¢ slip from K-Mart many years ago.

I think the white
Rose of Sharon originally came from Mama's yard.

The Roses of Sharon are blooming all over my yard as well as down the road. Hard to imagine so many of them began with just a slip and a handful of seed.
Today I up-dated Frugal Living.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Country Matters

Today, I went to Salem to Peggy Shifflett's Cottage Curio. For a Saturday, there wasn't much traffic on either route 40 or route 220. There wasn't much traffic at the Cottage Curio either, except for some of the regulars who dropped in to visit and partake of Hilda's wonderful stewed cherry dumplings. The recipe is in Peggy's book, Mom's Family Pie.

Two of the above containers came home with me—one for me and one for John. I love old-timey home cooking (especially when someone else cooks it)!

Also present were a couple of other creative folks: author Jerry Haynes from Pulaski County and herbalist Lovell Najari from Ferrum (and the Franklin County Library). I already knew these folks and enjoyed visiting with them again.

Jerry has self-published two books, A Cotton Mill Town and A Cotton Mill Town Christmas, both set in Fries, Virginia. Proceeds from the latter book paid for Christmas Decorations for the town of Fries. (By the way, Fries is pronounced Freeze.) Jerry is a wealth of information about the town and the area around it. His books are full of warmth and small town charm.

Lovell ("The Lavender Lady") makes herbal preparations (her salve smells wonderful!) and does workshops about herbs and their uses. Years ago, most farm women knew what herbs to use for various aliments; now few do. I learned quite a bit from chatting with Lovell today.

Peggy read from one of her books about getting kicked by her mother's cow in a, er, delicate place and ending up with a big pail of milk on top of her. It was funny to hear the story now, but not funny at the time.

I enjoyed talking about the old-timey ways with everybody at Cottage Curio today. All of us are Appalachian buffs, and some had the good fortune to grow up in a rural environment. Others— OK, me—had to wait over 50 years to get home to the country.

On my way home from Salem, I stopped at Wally-World. Where were the long lines? Usually the place is packed on a Saturday. (Only one person was ahead of me.) Gas prices—the cheapest I saw today was $3.82—are having an impact.

After putting away my groceries, I took nap—and awakened to the sound of much-needed rain.

After I fed the dogs (John had fed the horses earlier), Melody knickered to me to feed her again. Instead, I walked her around in the yard and let her graze on the lush lawn grass for a while. When I turned her back into the pasture, she stood with the setting sun behind her and shone all golden. Melody was so beautiful, I couldn't look at her enough.

And then—more beauty. As I crossed the deck on the way inside, I heard a mockingbird singing. I looked up to see him perched atop the TV antenna. He sang and sang. Across the road—somewhere in the cow pasture—another mockingbird sang a slightly different song. They dueled in song for several minutes—and I was lucky enough to hear their concert.

So many things today reminded me why I'm blessed to live in rural Virginia.

It took me five decades to come home, but I'm so glad I finally got here.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Relatively Speaking

I spent today with various cousins.

This morning, my cousin Hunter from down the road accompanied me to the Franklin County Library for Craft Day. We'd worked together there last year. This year we manned the visor-making table. Before the general public came in, Hunter got to try his hand at making another craft. (All of the crafts were bug-related.)

Here's our table (below) with the visor-making stuff spread out. Kids could make a visor that looked like a butterfly, a bee, a beetle, or a lady bug. Our job was to help them glue the parts in the right order.

This afternoon, my cousin Mary (the one who is younger and more agile than I am) came over to ride Melody. Her son Collin came to ride Cupcake for the first time.

Melody was full of energy. Cupcake wasn't.

Too bad I didn't take pictures of the horses. Or make visors for them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oh, Me of Little Faith

Every summer since we've lived here, passion flowers have bloomed in the flowerbed near the power pole. They're lovely and have a sweet smell. I took this picture in 2006:

I was pretty sure last year's drought killed off the passion flowers. At least I hadn't seen any sprouts this spring.

Until the other day.

I'd been looking in the flowerbed where I expected to find them. But I didn't find any there.

After last Saturday's rain, they popped up all over the lawn—at least a dozen or more sprouts. John is careful not to mow over them.

I've marked them with assorted yard art and tomato cages so they'll have something to climb.

Sometimes, things you hope to find are found where you don't expect to find them.
Today, I updated my other blogs, here and here. (In case you weren't expecting to find them.)


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Uncloudy Day?

“O, they tell me of an uncloudy day.”
—Willie Nelson

The errors in my works-in-progress are obscured by clouds. I can’t see them clearly, but I know they’re there. Fortunately, I’m in a good crit group whose members can not only brush away the clouds so I can see my errors, but they also suggest ways for me to fix those errors. Last Thursday morning, they cleared away quite a few clouds.

Our crit group doesn’t have an actual name. We’re all working with various stories for young people—kiddie lit. So we’re a kiddie lit crit group, or kiddie litters, or kiddie litter critters. Or something. What we call ourselves doesn’t matter. What we do does matter.

Our group contains four members, but one Amy couldn’t make it, so last Thursday’s group was just Claudia, Amy T, and me. We’d sent our works-in-progress to each other over a week earlier, so we didn’t have to waste time getting familiar with the material. We worked on Claudia’s picture book idea first. We cut out a lot of words—stuff that didn’t need telling because an artist could show, refined the story, and added several layers. Amy T, who has two kids and has read a lot of good-night books, noted that the material—with just a few changes—would be perfect for a good-night book. And it would!

My WIP is a middle-grade novel that I’ve worked on—and off—since December 2006. The first three chapters have actually been critiqued by a New York editor, Meredith Wassinger, who works for Sterling and who gave me good advice at the 2007 CNU conference. Chapters 4 and 5 have been work-shopped some and only have minor problems—problems that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. Chapter 6 sucked. Big black clouds hung over it. Now chapter 6 has been refined, rearranged, expanded—to become chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9. Why didn’t I see that before?

When we left the library at noon, a haze hung over downtown Rocky Mount. We could smell something like burning wood. But we didn’t see any fire or any fire engines racing around. (We did see a tractor parade, but that’s another story.) What’s going on? we wondered.

On the way home, we heard on the radio that smoke from the big fire in coastal North Carolina had reached our area. Those smoke clouds had to travel over 300 miles to reach us!

The sky should have been bright blue when I took this picture. It was grayish.

You can hardly see Smith Mountain in the distance.

On Saturday, we had more than an inch of rain. The next morning, the air was clear and the smell of smoke had vanished.

Less than a week later, no traces remain here of the big fire.

Thanks to nudging from my crit group, I’m now 15 chapters (plus the ending chapter) into my novel. I’m nearly halfway through.

The clouds have lifted, and I can see where I’m going.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stress Relief

by Dylan (resident cat)

1. Hide under a rug.

2. Come out when the coast is clear.



Friday, June 13, 2008

Snail mail?

On May 28, I sent a package to friends in Newport News. On June 9, it came back to me with three "Attempted, Not Known" messages stamped on it. One of those messages even pointed to my own return address.

Note how discreetly I have protected their identity.

Also, my name was smudged out on my return address sticker. What's with that? Anyhow, the package eventually returned to the Penhook post office, the postmaster and mail delivery man know where I live, and I got the package back.

What why wasn't it delivered in the first place? The address was correct (I've been there) and the names were spelled correctly. I checked online obituaries to make sure the intended recipients were alive (they were) and then emailed to confirm they still existed (they did).

Anyhow, now that postal rates have gone up, I expected a little better service.

I re-sent the package on Wednesday. We'll see how long it takes to get there. Or how long it takes to get back again.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slinging Ink

Last night, I ventured out of rural America and into the big city to participate in Roanoke County Library’s Ink Slinger Series for writers. A couple of my fellow Valley Writers were supposed to be there, but they didn’t show. Consequently, I shared the panelist’s table with Rod Belcher, writer for Blue Ridge Business Journal and and grand prize winner in the Strange New Worlds Contest (so his short story “Orphans” was published—by Simon and Schuster, no less!—in a Star Trek anthology.

We talked to—or more accurately with—a dozen enthusiastic aspiring writers who have been attending this series. I was glad I had taken my folder of scam stuff, namely my deceased dog Jack’s dreadful poetry manuscript, Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness and the resulting PublishAmerica contract as well as his Editor’s Choice certificate from the International Library of Poetry . It seems that the Travis Tea/Atlanta Nights scam had been discussed the previous week. It’s refreshing to talk to a group that’s already aware of literary scams and not have someone bemoan, “But—but they gave my book the chance it deserves!” or “You mean my poem really isn’t a winner?!”

The day before, I’d been emailed some possible questions that I might have been asked, but some weren't asked and I didn’t get to use my answers that I'd written in advance, just in case I was at a lose of words (yeah, right). I don’t want to waste my words, so here they are:

—How did you get started writing?
I wrote dreadful poems when I was a kid. College lit mag published some really bad poems I wrote. I got scammed by a couple of contests as an adult (National Library of Poetry; Iliad Press). I started writing fiction after I’d been a prereader for the MMT new play contest. Some of those scripts were so horrible, I knew I could do better. (Plus I was writing little plays for my drama students). I wrote a sort story, “Forced Blossoms,” sent it to the Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest and won second place. Got nationwide publicity for the 1996 Bulwer-Lytton contest.

—What are your writing habits?
Think, mull, then put it in computer. Usually cats and a dog are with me. See my story on p. 199 in Cup of Comfort for Writers—that covers it. I write mainly write on my eMac in MS-Word, Times New Roman 12, double-spaced.

At the presentation there was discussion about a “writing space.” I confessed that I write with at least one cat on the desk and a border collie under the desk.

That black blob is Eddie-Puss.

Maggie is too big to fit all the way under the desk.

—How did you break into publishing?
I haven’t exactly broken in yet. I’m mainly self-pubbed. In August 1993, I picked up a little four-page magazine called Blue Ridge Traditions. I thought maybe the editor (Peggy Sloan Conklin) would take fiction, so I sent in my story, which was set in Franklin County. She used it in the October 1993 issue and asked if I had more. At the time, I didn’t. Then I wrote a horse story and also set it in Franklin County. She published it, too. That story, “Last Wish,” eventually became Chapter 1 of my novel, Patches on the Same Quilt.

—How did you find out about the contest you entered?
I found a info about the Lonesome Pine short Story Contest and the Sherwood Anderson in the newspaper; other writers have told me about other contests.

—Any advice for newbie Roanoke writers?
Being badly published is worse than not being published. Don’t spend a fortune to get published. Get an agent. Do your homework and perfect your craft. Hang out with writers who are more experienced than you. Go to conferences. Read a lot. Study the markets. Blog. Read blogs. If you POD, don’t get all the bells & whistles—just the basic package. Be skeptical. Plus—I’d prepared my advice on a handout, which I’d emailed in the day before. Here’s the info from my handout:

Use the Internet to research possible publishers and agents. Three good resources to help new writers not get scammed:

Read books about writing and style
. My favorites:

  • The First Five Pages, by literary agent Noah Lukeman. Agents often decide about a book based on its first five pages. If you get the first five right, the others are likely to be right also.
  • Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale. A fun way to learn grammar and style!
  • On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. While this book’s focus is writing non-fiction, it’s also helpful for writing ficition.
  • Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Writing philosophy and helpful hints.

Attend conferences and network with professional writers.

  • The James River Writers Festival Conference is the Virginia conference to attend. Oct. 10-11, 2008, at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. Many pros attend, including agents and editors. JRW also has an informative e-mail newsletter, Get Your Word On.
  • The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is very helpful if you aspire to write for magazines and newspapers. January 23-24, 2009, at Hollins University. For details, contact
  • The CNU annual conference (usually in March) in Newport News has much helpful information for new writers.
  • The Hollins Literary Festival is held annually (usually in March) at Hollins University.

Join reputable writing organizations and participate in their events:

Update your blog regularly and read blogs by writing professionals.
Many professional agents, editors, and writers blog. Blogging shows the world your writing ability. Your blog is your column. If you don’t already have a blog, one source for a free blog is That's what I'm using to write this blog.

The Roanoke County Library has a great program going here. Thanks to Laura Carruba and Sarah Haley for offering this wonderful resource to Roanoke area writers..

Last Tuesday, I’d attended the “death recipes” author presentation at the library, during which a tornado touched down about a mile away. While I could see plenty of lightning in the distance on my way home last night, I encountered no bad weather last night.

A good night indeed.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Flowers of June

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.

—James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

The Vision of Sir Launfal. Prelude to Part First.

Despite the warm ear—er, high temperatures, plenty of flowers are at the peak of blooming perfection in my yard now. The daylilies always bloom in June.

Some of my yellow daylilies came from Mama's house on Floraland Drive in Roanoke:

Speaking of yellow, this prickly pear has a lot more blooms than it did the other day:

The Tears of Job started with a plant or two several years ago. Now they're all over.

I can't remember the specific name of this yarrow, but I love the color:

The oak leaf hydrangea in the corner of the patio looks kind of spooky:

There's a gazebo hiding in this jungle:

What is so rare as a day in June?

Days in September, April, and November, of course. Days in February are even rarer.


Hay Today

The front field at Smith Farm yesterday evening.

The spring cutting is done. Total for three farms: 241 round bales. Each round bale is equivalent to 17 square bales.

The hay quality is excellent. The mid-90s sunny weather the last few days made sure the hay on Smith Farm and the Brown Place cured out. While there was a bad storm on the other side of the lake last night—and I heard thunder in the south yesterday afternoon—no rain fell here.

Yesterday evening, the hay was finished at Smith Farm—86 bales from three fields.

The side field at Smith Farm.

Another view of the front field.

John left around 9 this morning to start raking at the Brown Place. He returned a few minutes before 4. He never stopped for lunch. Bobby, a guy who’s worked on shares with us for several years, owns the big tractor, the haybine and the baler. John owns an old tractor. The procedure is that Bobby cuts, John rakes, Bobby bales.

I blogged a few days ago that Polecat Creek Farm yielded 60 bales. (For comparison, last fall’s drought-damaged cutting produced 8.) Add Smith Farm’s 86 bales and the Brown Place’s 95, and we did OK.

Maybe this year, we’ll get back what we spent on lime and fertilizer.

Farming's a gamble. Some years you get lucky.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Where's Maggie?

Remember the Where's Waldo books in which you had to find the guy in the picture? It's easier to find a border collie in the sun-dappled woods:

Here's the view Maggie was looking at: