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.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Friday night, about a half hour into the McCain-Obama debate, our power went off. We couldn't figure out why. The rain had been falling for a few hours, but we'd had no thunder or lightning.

I looked outside. Because of the rain, it was really dark outside—dark the way it must have been in the old days. Except for a few lights way down the road, everything was pitch dark. John called AEP; they said he was the fourth caller (so others lost power, too) and that power would be back on about 10:30.

The power didn't come back on at 10:30. A few hours after we were left in the dark, the rain really poured down. We saw a big truck—lights flashing—slowly make its way down the road and shine a powerful spotlight at the power lines. We thought they'd find the problem soon.

They didn't. Power was off for 12 hours.

Luckily it happened at night. We didn't open the refrigerator; we didn't flush. (In rural America, we get our water via the well. The pump is electric. Flushing would soon deplete our reserve.) We could get by—for a while.

Saturday morning, the power came back on in time for me to cook breakfast. Our only problem was that a couple of half-empty cartons of sherbet melted onto the freezer shelf. Not much of a problem at all.

Compared to those in Galveston, many of whom are still without electricity and whose homes were destroyed by the hurricane, we're lucky. Compared to those on the coast of North Carolina and Virginia, we didn't have severe weather. The rain we received—over two inches— was badly needed. We didn't have really bad wind. We have our power back.

And we can flush.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Running with More Dogs

by Maggie Mae Mushko
(Border Collie: age 2 years and almost 11 months)

This morning, Mommy loaded up Hubert and me to go for a walk. But this walk was a surprise! Our friend Karen went with us. (I like Karen. She understands me.) We didn't go to our farm. We went to visit Belle and Penny, my Australian Shepherd running buddies, who live just over yonder. Last night, Mommy and Claudia and Karen all went to hear Lori Long talk about her book, A Dog Who's Always Welcome. Mommy was going to blog about it, but Marion beat her to it. Anyhow, they decided to have a group dog-walk this morning. (Please note that the humans walk, but we dogs run!)

Here is Karen with Belle:

For a while, Mommy kept me on a leash because she didn't know what I would do around those little horses that live with Belle. Once we were in the woods, though, she turned me loose.

Since Belle was the hostess, I followed her for a while. But when we came to the pond, Melissa was there with her three dogs. Penny jumped in the pond and swam around, but I didn't swim. There were too many interesting smells to investigate.

The pond is out of sight at the left here. But this trail had lots of good smells.

Plus I had to introduce myself to those other dogs. One of them was Penny's sister, Jazzy. Both puppy sisters are on the rock behind Belle in this picture. (This was a very good creek to soak in!)

Melissa's dog Cricket was the hostess for part of the run. She is a short little cocker spaniel-type, but she can keep up with the stock dogs. Here she is with Belle:

Like I said, this was a wonderful creek for soaking and running. The picture below shows all four of us stock dogs:

We ran so much that even Hubert had to get in the water and cool off:

Mommy didn't take any pictures of us running. We'd all be blurs.

There was another dog named Maggie with us, but Mommy didn't get a good picture of her. She was a sweet little black dog, so I didn't mind that she had the same name as I do.

We ran so hard that I often had to get in the creek. None of the four women went into the creek (they didn't even run!), so I tried to shake my excess water on them so they could cool off, too.

Besides running and soaking, we dogs also did some investigating. When we went up the hill, we had to check out this tree stump:

Before we got back to our truck, Mommy put my leash on again. I don't know why she won't let me herd those little horses. They would be fun to herd!

After we left Belle's farm, we went to mine. We showed Karen the sights along Polecat Creek. Plus, I played frisbee with Karen.

After we got home, Mommy took a two-hour nap. Humans have no stamina. I was ready to go again.

I like running with a pack. Those dogs are always welcome to join me for a run.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Do You See Him?

Sometimes, all you have to do is look down. Do you see the toad in this picture?

No? How about now?

What about now?

Now that you know what the toad looks like, go back to the first two pictures. (Hint: Look under a blade of grass.) The toad was there all along.

Sometimes you just have to know where to look. . . .


Monday, September 22, 2008

First Autumn Walk

This morning, three slow women—Claudia, Melissa (who lives over yonder near Claudia), and I—accompanied four fast dogs (Maggie, Hubert, Belle, and Penny) on the first walk this autumn.

Given the little dispute that Maggie and Belle had on their last walk, we were a bit cautious, but after a few preliminary growls, the dogs were fine.

We walked the bottom that Mitzi had mowed, crossed the creek, and followed the Smith Mountain Hounds' trails—or at least a couple of them.

The dog in the foreground is Penny; Hubert is the dark spot in the sun.

One trail circled an old house that hasn't been lived in for years:

We looked at a lot of the local flora, too. For instance, this shrub (tree?):

We don't know its name, but we see it all along the bottoms and we've admired its red berries. Anybody know what it is?

After we walked the bottoms (and the dogs ran the bottoms), we went up the graveyard hill. In the woods, we saw lots of mushrooms. One of the odder ones looked like it was bleeding:

None of us had ever seen this kind of mushroom before, but several like this grew in one area partway up the backside of the graveyard hill. Again, anybody know what it is?

This one, on top of the hill, looks like a melting snowman:

And then there's this one that's just pretty:

We put a couple of miles on ourselves and the dogs. Even though I'm a slow walker, I'm so much better this fall than I was last fall when I had the heel spur and other problems.

I'm glad I can keep on going—especially on walks on beautiful autumn days with good company—both human and canine.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Into the Woods

by Melody Sundance
(19-year-old TWH mare)

Today my owner's cousin Mary came to ride me. She'd heard about the mowed trails and decided to take me into the woods. We started off down the gravel road (which had just been scraped, so I stayed in the grass rather than on the ouchy gravel). I didn't like going by Mocha's kennel (he barks), but Mary persuaded me that I really didn't want to go home, so I kept going for a mile until we got to the farm.

My owner was waiting for us and took some pictures. The wind was blowing pretty hard, so I wasn't sure I really wanted to go on the trails, but Mary persuaded me to keep going. In the picture below, I'm studying the trail. You can tell I don't look too happy. Mary doesn't look all that thrilled either.

However, I figured if she was game, so was I. So, we went through the front hayfield.

In the picture below, we're in the middle hayfield. This is near where the trail starts. In a few days, all this hay will be cut and baled.

Before long we went into the woods. The wind wasn't so bad in the woods, and I was a lot happier. I think Mary was, too.

We went on some trails I hadn't traveled for years. We went up and down some steep hills, but I did fine. I think Mary was surprised that I walk up and down hills instead of running. We had to go around some downed trees and some heavy brush and maybe we got lost a few times, but Mary finally figured the way out.

When we got home a few miles later, I wasn't even breathing hard. Mary told my owner that when she let me gait, I did my flat walk nicely.

The trails have changed a lot since the last time I was on them, but it was good to go into the woods.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dog Playdate

by Maggie Mae Mushko
(Border Collie: age 2 years and 10 months)

On Monday, Mommy's friend Claudia came over with my friend Belle to walk Polecat Creek Farm with me and Hubert. This time, Belle brought her adopted puppy, Penny.

On the way to the farm, I tried to throw my frisbee through the cab window at Mommy, but it got stuck between the cab and the back of the truck. It's still there.

Once we got to the farm, I—as hostess of the walk—introduced myself to Penny and explained some of the rules:

Then we dogs started our run. For someone not quite six months old, little Penny can run fast. She also loves water. Of course, Hubert and I had to check out some smells with Penny:

We took a different route this time. Mitzi had mowed a trail toward Barton's line, so we crossed the creek and followed that that trail for a while. Then we started uphill toward the old horse trail. We followed deer trails, or trails just a little bigger than deer trails. Partway up the steep hill, we came to a place that had a smell we just had to roll in. Luckily everyone took turns. Hubert rolled and rolled:

A little farther up the hill, we came to this rock that had recently been upturned against a tree. Some critter wanted whatever was under the rock. I'm pretty sure the critter wasn't a deer. You can tell how big the rock is by the size of the dog nose in the lower left of this picture :

Soon we reached the top of the hill. We stopped at a BIG old tree that had fallen across the trail several years ago. Part of the tree had decayed and termites were eating it. Something BIG had clawed the tree in several places. This picture shows of of the clawed places:

After we came down the trail and crossed back over Polecat Creek, we went through one of the bottom fields to where the Smith Mountain Hounds cross the creek. We examined the horse tracks briefly. Then we came back. Penny rooted in the spring branch and got muddy. Belle had to explain to her that pigs root, but proper Australian Shepherds don't:

We had to go to the creek again so Penny could get clean. On the way back to the trucks, Penny was running flat out and ran into me hard. The next time she came close to me, I said "Snarffff!" which means "Excuse me, it is not considered polite for a young whippersnapper like you to run into the hostess."

Penny ran off, but Belle came up to me, got into my face, and said "Snrrr!" which means "If anyone is going to correct that puppy, I'll do it!" Then I said "SNARRLL!" which means "Border Collies rule!" Well, Belle also said "SNARRLL!" but with a slightly different inflection, so it meant "Australian Shepherds rule!" Then a bite-fight started. It was a matter of stock dog honor.

The bite-fight only lasted a couple of seconds. Mommy grabbed me and pulled me back while Belle's Mama grabbed her and pulled back. No blood was drawn, and Belle and I forgave each other. However, Mommy clipped a leash onto my collar, and I had to walk back to the truck like I was a prisoner. How humiliating!

And my frisbee is still stuck in the truck!
Thursday update: Daddy got my frisbee unstuck. Life is good.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

500th Post

This is post #5oo! Wow, how time flies when you're having fun.

I'll keep this one short and report on my crape myrtles. Yep, my six Natchez white crape myrtles were planted last weekend. And today's rain no doubt helped them. As the did the organic fertilizer provided by Melody and Cupcake.

The above picture was taken Monday morning, right before Claudia and her two Australian shepherds, Belle and Penny, came to walk with Maggie and Hubert and me. I'll blog about that in a couple of days. Or maybe Maggie will. Claudia has already blogged it.

Besides the crape myrtles, I also planted a "discount" hydrangea. It's the stick in the bottom center foreground:

Anyhow, the crape myrtles and the hydrangea don't look like much now. But give them time.

Like an idea, they'll grow.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Maggie's New Friend

by Maggie Mae Mushko
(Border Collie: age 2 years & 10 months)

Yesterday, Mommy loaded me and Hubert into her truck. (Correction: Hubert slipped out of the kennel, ran to the truck, and loaded himself.) Mommy made me wait until I was leashed even though I really wanted to run after Hubert. Then Daddy walked me to the truck even though I really, really, really wanted to run.

After I loaded, Mommy didn’t get in and drive away. She made Hubert and me wait. We have never had to do this before. We waited and waited. Soon, a truck pulled into our driveway and an Australian Shepherd and her person got out. Then they got into the front of my truck! Before long, we were all en route to the farm. Mommy had told me that there were now lots of newly bush-hogged trails. I could hardly wait to see them.

Hubert got out first. Then the Aussie and me. Mommy kept me on the leash until she was sure I’d behave. I don’t know what her problem was—my behavior is always suitable for the occasion. Anyhow, the Aussie and I growled slightly at each other—not a real growl, more like a “Hmmm. Who are you?” The Aussie introduced herself as Belle. She said her mommy was a friend of my mommy.

When Mommy noticed that Belle and I weren’t going to fight, she turned me loose. I ran and ran. Belle ran and ran. She could run as fast as I can! I was impressed—and border collies do not impress easily, let me tell you. I immediately decided that Belle was worthy to be my new friend. After all, she’s a fellow stock dog. And she’s the same age I am.

We soon took off running down the main trail to the bottom.

I showed Belle all the good places on the farm—especially my favorite places in the creeks. Belle loves water, too. And she loves to run!

We had a good time running and running and running and sniffing and running some more and flinging ourselves into the creek. We went on a nice long hike, but our mommies are so slow (especially uphill!) that we had to keep going back and checking on them.

So many new trails were open, thanks to Mitzi the foxhunter and her bush-hog, so Belle and Hubert and I had to inspect them. We sniffed lots of good smells. At one point, I flushed a deer, but I didn’t chase it very far. We sniffed around where it had been, though.

When it started to rain, our mommies kept walking. They were glad to see the rain, and it didn’t bother us dogs one bit. We all got soaked. It was great!

We’re on graveyard hill in the following photo. We sort of blend into the woods. Can you find all three of us?

Belle has invited me to come run with her on the trails on her farm. She says they have a great pond that I will like. I am looking forward to that.

Anyhow, I am happy to have a new friend. Especially one of the stock dog persuasion.

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Location, Location—Well, You Know

Warning: This post slightly resembles a book review.

I recently read one of a plethora of pony books, which all seem to have a talented teenage girl rider, a good-looking slightly older guy, and some sort of evil/crime/danger involved. (I bought this particular book at Goodwill for 75¢.)

I would have loved this book when I was thirteen—a teenage girl and her pony ride all over a wild and remote island accompanied by a hunky local guy on his gorgeous horse—and solve a mystery. The girl, an expert rider with a talented pony that can run for hours and jump anything, wanted to stay home with her pony and practice for a cross-country competition. However, she is on the island because her father, an author, wants to research the legend of a mystery horse who survived a shipwreck 150 years earlier while he (the stallion, not the author) and four mares were en route to Kentucky. When you're thirteen, you don't quibble about pesky details—such as location, characters' motivations, punctuation, etc.

Within two days of being exactly a half-century past thirteen, I find this book doesn’t do much for me. Here’s why:

Punctuation: (Warning: this is my suppressed English teacher coming out) Whenever you begin a sentence with an introductory adverb clause, put a comma after said clause. (See? I just did that.) Not doing so makes for a lengthy unreadable sentence. This book is full of introductory adverb clauses sans commas.

The ambiguous location: I couldn’t figure out where the thinly populated small island of Morvona is. It had everything: cliffs, a bay, a beach suitable for swimming, forests, streams, a cross-country jumping course, bogs, moors, a woodland where a species of wild orchids grow, electricity, cellphone access, wi-fi access, harsh winters (luckily the story takes place in summer) and apparently a place to land a plane (because the professor father of the college girl who did all the dastardly deeds could fly there in a matter of hours). Much of the island is unreachable except by horseback. Luckily there are lots of shortcuts the horses can take.

I was puzzled by the electricity that the remote farmhouse (as well as the even more remote cottage) has. In none of the lovely illustrations is there a hint of power lines. Ditto for the cellphone tower. And the characters could get cellphone service all over the island!

I was further puzzled that a ferry connects the thinly populated remote island to the mainland (wherever—and whatever—the mainland is). The ferry is also capable of carrying a car towing a horse trailer. And there’s taxi service from the ferry landing spot to the remote farmhouse. (The early settlers of the island were farmers.) And how—and where did—the plane land? Is there an airstrip? Must be—the professor arrives by plane.

Partway through the novel, I figured out that the setting isn’t America. The girl refers to her riding helmet as a riding hat. The island farms are referred to as crofts in a couple of places; moors are mentioned, too. (Plus, there’s the matter of the horses going by sailing ship to Kentucky.) Eventually I Googled the author and found she lives in the UK. So, maybe the island is somewhere off the coast of England?

The University students: Six of them come to the island to study botany (the rare orchids, you know) Nowhere is the University identified by name or location—just University. The six students—two guys and four girlls—live in the "old stable" at the farmhouse. The old stable has been converted to a guesthouse. (Apparently the island has no hotel.)

Now, gentle readers, use your imagination about what might happen if unchaperoned students—even botany enthusiasts— of both sexes are turned loose on an island and share close sleeping quarters.
~~~~pause here to imagine~~~~

Finished imagining? Well, the things you just imagined didn’t happen, unless you imagined that the spoiled rich girl (with the archeology professor father) so covets a ring (that the girl with severe horse phobia had gotten cheap) that she uses nefarious means to steal the ring from the girl’s finger where it is securely stuck. Oh, and she makes herself out the victim of the others' hostilities.

The two main characters (she a good-looking young teenager, he a slightly older extremely good-looking hunk) are alone for hours in remote areas—including, but not limited to, secluded beaches and dark forests. They strip down to their underwear (she notices—and admires—his muscular build) and swim their horses in the ocean. But they never so much as kiss! The hunk does smile at her a lot and does pull her hair playfully on a couple of occasions. Having taught middle school, high school, and college, I can assure you that these healthy, well-built young people who are attracted to each other don’t exhibit typical teenage behavior.

The cover: The artwork shows the two teenagers swimming with their horses through the raging waves. The boy’s horse sports a figure-8 caveson. But the artist left out a bottom strap on this caveson. Without this strap, the caveson would flap around loose. Also, the front of the caveson doesn’t pass in front of the bit the way it should, so it wouldn’t do its job even if it had a bottom strap. (Note to my two or three non-horsy readers: A figure-8 caveson is designed to keep a horse’s mouth closed. Not all horses require one.)

I did enjoy the book’s many passages about riding. The descriptions of the horses’ movement over jumps and through the trails were well written and compelling. But overall, I just couldn’t willingly suspend my disbelief at the other parts to enjoy the story.

Had the book been published 50 years ago, I would have been enchanted with it. But it wasn’t, and I’m not.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two Wishes: Mowing and Growing

For a while, I've wished that John would mow more of the trails along Polecat Creek. I'd like to have Claudia and her dogs over to walk with me, or Debi and her daughter to ride their horses, or some other buddies over to explore. I've got a a few trails open, but I've wished for more.

But it's been too hot or too wet, or else John was too tired or too achy to get any mowing done. Meanwhile the weeds grew too tall.

This afternoon Mitzi the foxhunter called. "Do you mind if I mow your trails?" she asked.

"Go ahead," I said. And so, this afternoon, my trails were mowed.

Here comes Mitzi's tractor. She's already mowed most of this little bottom.

The access trail that Smith Mt. Hounds use is to the left and beyond the trees.

Now she's approaching the creek.

You can see the mowed trail across the creek and heading for the woods.

Now I can walk to this farm's southern boundary or across Polecat Creek and up the hill to the eastern boundary. And the Smith Mountain Hounds can foxhunt without fighting wither-high goldenrod and ragweed.

Another wish I've had for a while is to have a line of white crape myrtles along the side of our front yard. But crape myrtles cost a bundle. When I priced them two weeks ago, they were over twelve bucks apiece for a small container.

However, from Kathy down the road, I've learned that Lowe's offers some good bargains on its less-than-perfect plants from time to time. Kathy has gotten some great deals in the past, and I've gotten a couple OK deals. The trick is you have to check periodically at their discount shelves around the side of the garden center. Today—after we'd done the Senior Citizen's Day at Kroger's—we stopped by Lowe's on the way home so I could check.

Six white crape myrtles. One dollar each.

I'm pretty sure I can get them to live and grow.

Two wishes fulfilled in one day. Not bad.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Cutting the Trail

Today, John mowed what we call the power line trail. The name is obvious: it follows the power lines down to Dinner Creek.

A lot of little pines and a few oaks were coming up. It was a shame to obliterate potential habitat, but—if John didn't mow it—Appalachian Power would spray it with herbicide. They'd also spray the creek. They've done it before. They wouldn't remove the dead vegetation either.

So, it's healthier and prettier—and less destructive—to bush-hog the vegetation into biodegradable bits.

A lot of quartz is on the farm and on this trail. The tractor exposes what the years have hidden.

Hundreds of years ago, Indians stopped here to make arrowheads from the abundant quartz. The ground was high and a water source was nearby. Two decades ago, when we had a nearby field cleared, we found arrowheads—a nice Savannah broadspear and several Guilford points.

Hundreds of years ago, the Indians silently passed through the woods here and left almost no trace. Today, the tractor roars through and leave a swath through the woods.

That's progress for you.


Sunday, September 07, 2008


Since we moved into our house in 1999, a pothos plant has been on the mantle. At first it was mainly confined to the immediate area around its pot. Then it started to grow. And grow.

Last week it looked like this:

What to do? The "devil's ivy" was taking over. The cats were biting the leaves within their reach. I didn’t want to cut the plant back.

Then—an idea! Using some drapery tie-backs ($1 for a package of five at Goodwill), my husband and I festooned the plant between two, so it sort of became a mantle swag. My original idea was to untangle the plant and drape it over all five hooks.

Have you ever tried to untangle a very long vine while a couple of cats try to help? I gave up. Hence the swag:

The new rearrangement, like my newly begun YA novel, is still a work-in-progress. I'll tweak it a bit, make adjustments, do a bit or rearranging, etc., until I get it right.

Sometimes writing is like untangling a pothos. Sometimes you have to give up what seems like a great idea and go with one that’s more workable.

Been there, done that, too.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Football Season

by Maggie Mae Mushko
(Border Collie: age 2 years & 10 months)

The other day Mommie finally took me for a walk on the farm. Hubert the beagle went with us, mainly because he escapes from the kennel while Mommie is getting me out, runs to the truck, and refuses to get out. However, he is good company (and knows I am the boss), so I don't mind having him along.

Because border collies multi-task, I don't just walk. I also play. I like to keep Mommie entertained while we walk, so I took my little orange football for her to throw. Also, it squeaks. I like that. All the best dog toys should squeak.

The game is pretty simple. I put the ball into her right hand. She throws it. I bring it back. Etc.

If she has friends walking with her, I make sure everyone gets a turn. It's only polite. Sometimes, finding the ball can be a challenge.

Sometimes, I get tired and have to call a timeout.

Then I pick up my football and play some more.

I could play with my football all day. Mommie won't throw it all day, though. She doesn't have my dogged determination.

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