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, January 28, 2009

Cats 'n' Dogs

Camilla the little brown cat has discovered a new cat-blog, Daisy the Curly Cat.

Daisy, a curly Devon Rex, models various outfits and tells about her life with her adopted brother Harley. If you're into cute kitties (and shame on you if you aren't!), you'll get a kick out of this blog.

On the dog front, author Lorie Long launched her "A Welcome Dog" blog today. She doesn't have any pictures yet (I'm pretty sure her dogs don't wear cute outfits), but maybe soon she'll post some shots of her dogs in action.

The next time Maggie is in the house, she'll have to check out these blogs. Meanwhile, Camilla enjoys having the computer to herself.

But I don't think she's going to wear any cute outfits either.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Found Him!

Never underestimate the power of a blog.

Nearly a year ago, in my post “Searching for Tim Moffitt,” I posted about some pictures I wanted to return to the guy who’d lived next door to me when we were kids in the 1950s and early 1960s. Trouble is, I couldn’t find him. Last I’d heard, he was in Missouri.

I figured he’d might Google his name one day, find my blog, and get in touch with me. Months passed. I never heard from him.

Until yesterday—when I received an email with the header, “You found me!” The email contained current pictures of Tim, his grown-up twins, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his adorable miniature fox terrier, Jack.

“What a pleasant surprise to discover that you are trying to find me to return some pictures,” he wrote.

And here’s what’s weird—he once stopped by my house, but I wasn’t home. Here’s what he wrote:

Thanks very much for your very interesting article about our family in Roanoke. Our mothers were extremely good friends; they loved each other very much. I am sorry to hear about your mom passing away. She was so good and kind to me. I found her obit in the Roanoke archives and saw the reference to Penhook. So when I passed through Penhook about three or four years ago on the way to visit Danville, I stopped at Blairs store. The man there gave me directions to your house. I found your house with some cats hanging around. . . .

Yep. That would be my house. I was probably at work at the time. Marshall Blair would have told Tim exactly where I lived—only a mile or so from the store.

I emailed back and asked Tim how he found me. His answer:

I conducted a search using only my name, just to see what sites I was on. The second or third result listed contained words about "I lived on Floraland Drive in the Williamson Road area" etc. and that someone was looking for Tim Moffitt. It was unbelievable.

It is kind of unbelievable what you can do with the Internet, isn’t it?

Anyhow, a big envelope of pictures are headed for Missouri next time I go to the post office.

Small world—and the Internet has made it smaller.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Get Well, Marion

Since many of my blog readers also read Marion Higgins' blog, you might be wondering why she hasn't updated since January 5.

Here's why: She's in the local hospital with the same problem she had five years ago and is scheduled for surgery soon. She's in good spirits but won't be up to seeing visitors for a while.

She called me a few minutes ago so I could let her friends know.


Seeing Roman Home

. . . and Other Dog Adventures

Yesterday's spectacular sunrise faded within a moment to a gray day. But I was there at just the right moment to catch the good part.

A few hours later, I was at the right place to see the Prestons' dog, Roman, over a mile from home. While I was turning into our bottom driveway, I saw him about to enter the cow pasture across the road. I figured his owners had gone out and Roman had chased their van all the way from where they live (across from Hainted Holler ). He's bad to do that. I called to him and he responded. I didn't try to catch him; with window open, I just drove down Listening Hill Road and called him from time to time. He ran along behind me.

While I waited for him to catch up, I took a picture of the old graveyard and the plowed fields around it.

The orange-flagged stake in the foreground marks where the big power lines will come through.

Eventually he caught up, and I drove on, slowly because Roman's top speed is 15 mph.

Roman's about 1/4 home here. The trees at the far left are where we started.

When I neared the curve, I saw a silver van behind me—Roman's owners. I sped up and Roman followed the van. In my rear-view mirror, I saw them turn in. Roman made it home. He must have been tired.

Yesterday afternoon, Claudia and I walked our stock dogs—the first time I'd done any serious walking for over six weeks. Maggie and Hubert were glad to get out. They hadn't seen Belle and Penny for about two months.

Penny and Maggie come out of Polecat Creek.

The walk was marred by two bite-fights between Maggie and Belle. Both started after Belle had growled at Penny. Now, Belle and Penny growl a lot in play, and neither was actually threatening the other when Maggie jumped into the fray. Neither Maggie nor Belle was hurt—no blood, but a lot of dog spit—and they pulled apart without biting Claudia or me.

For a while, I couldn't understand Maggie's actions. She likes Belle, so why fight her? Later it occurred to me: Maggie doesn't understand the concept of a play-growl. To her, all growls are serious and require immediate action.

Maggie never growls when playing tug of war. She never growled when she played as a puppy. She was only six weeks old when I bought her, so she wasn't really accustomed to puppy play.

Jack, who was elderly and thus beyond playfulness, was her mentor in her formative months. If he growled, it was serious. When Maggie was a few months old, she heard Jack growl at a coyote and then take out after it. Maggie ran for a while, too. Did she get the message then that a growl was a danger signal?

Or did she learn in the kennel? When the other dogs growl, they mean "Keep away from my food." That's when Maggie mostly growls, too, although she'd briefly growled earlier yesterday when she wanted to play catch and I commanded her to sit for a few minutes.

So, I'm wondering if "what we have here is a failure to communicate." Does Maggie, in her zealous attempt to "help," misunderstand the language of other dogs?

In the woods—lots of good things to sniff! The white spot is Maggie's tail.

For a few minutes, snowflakes fell and the air felt like snow, so we headed back to our trucks. Despite the bite-fights, the walk had a lot of good parts.

Back at home, my dogs and I were tired.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inspiration for Writers

I haven’t posted any writer-type stuff for a while, so I’m due. I’m also too lazy to come up with something, so I’ll depend on other blogs for content for today’s post

Over on Editrix, from time to time, writers are given five questions to answer:

What is your preferred environment for writing?
What punctuation mark are you fondest of?
What punctuation, spelling, grammar, style, or usage error annoys you the most?
If you weren't in your current line of work, what would you be doing instead?
Why do you write?
Here’s the link to the list of them: Some of the answers are pretty good (Note: I haven’t read them all yet—just enough to get hooked.) One of my favorite authors, Adriana Trigiani, answered them. So did my favorite humorists, Dave Barry. Anyhow, I figured you might be inspired by them.

Speaking of, uh, inspiration, if you haven’t seen the “Publishing Story” video that’s been on lots of agents and writers blogs, you can see it on YouTube, or, thanks to the magic of the Internet, right here:

Hard to believe that the "digital marketing team" at Macmillan had the time to dash that off! But I’m glad they did.

FYI. My favorite punctuation mark is the dash—it’s just so dashing.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gaining and Losing

This is kind of boring. You might want to skip this post unless you like to read about health problems.

I lost ten pounds in two days!

That’s not quite true. It was actually twelve pounds. But at the doctor’s office on Wednesday, I had on shoes when I weighed.

I’ve had some health problems lately —weakness, fatigue, leg cramps (especially at night), poor concentration/confusion, and an earache that won’t go away. During the past couple of weeks, I couldn’t manage even short walks with the dogs. Getting through Kroger’s to shop was a challenge. My legs usually swelled like crazy by late afternoon, and at night painful cramps and muscle contractions woke me up.

Two weeks ago, I arrived at my doctor’s appointment with a list of my symptoms, in case the confusion kicked in while I was there. I’d listed the earache first, so that’s what she dealt with, although she did order some blood work since I’d thought to come in fasting. She gave me a prescription for drops which not only didn’t help, they made my ear itch. (Maybe the itching was supposed to distract me from the pain.)

This past Wednesday, I went back to deal with the next item on the list. The nurse who took my blood pressure had the print-out of my lab results. I asked to see them. Before the doctor came in, I knew what my problem was.

Some background here: I was first diagnosed with diabetes in January 1999 by my gynecologist who noticed certain symptoms and thought I should be tested. My GP at the time had missed it, no doubt because I’d had 22 months of chronic mono, then fibromyagia (a diagnosis of which means “We know something is wrong, but danged if we can figure out what”), and some other problems.

At that time, my A1c test was 8.8. (Normal is under 6; 10 is very high.) My GP sent me to diabetic class where I learned to use a glucometer and was told I could eat 60 grams of carbs per meal and that we’d aim for an A1c of 7. I’d have to exercise, etc.—and if that didn’t work, we could try some drugs. The class was basically a waste of time. I got better info from the Internet.

From Internet research, I learned that low-carbing would reduce both an A1c and a too-fat body. I ordered a book, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solutions, and cut my carb intake to less than 30 grams of carbs per meal. I stopped eating pasta, potatoes, rice, and white bread. I lived near the Salem Y at the time, so I signed up for arthritis water aerobics (the regular kind was too strenuous). Within six months, I’d lost 40 pounds. Within a year, I’d lost another 15 pounds and had brought my A1c to 5.6—normal.

In August 1999, we’d moved to the farm, so I walked twice a day with my two dogs—my first border collie and a mixed retriever. I briefly tried the Y in Rocky Mount, but the water was too chilly, the smell of chlorine too strong, and the music too loud. I left each session with a headache and the shakes. Walking was better: I wasn’t inhaling chlorine, it was usually quieter, and I didn’t get a headache. Plus, the dogs were good company.

Gradually, though, I slipped off the low-carb wagon. I started adding more carbs, having more desserts, rediscovering the joy of macaroni and cheese. I upped my carbs to 60 grams a meal and started regaining weight.

Because I wasn’t walking much lately, I figured my blood glucose levels might be rising. I’d stopped testing my blood a while back; our insurance no longer covered the strips—which were pricey—and I’d been getting normal readings for a while. I attributed my increasing aches to advancing age. After all, I could look at my hands and see how arthritis had reshaped some of my fingers.

For years, my A1c stayed under 7. Then—a couple of years ago—it hit 7 again, then 7.9. I tried a couple of drugs—a couple of years ago, metformin gave me horrible muscle cramps (I learned later about lactic acidosis affecting some users); glyburide gave me shaky spells and cold sweats; Januvia (which my doctor touted as very safe but it's made by Merck, the company that produced the infamous Vioxx) put me in the hospital with breathing problems in September 2007. (TV ads for Januvia now mention that people with respiratory problems shouldn’t take it.)

Consequently, because of some drug allergies I have and my experiences with diabetes drugs, I’m wary about taking the metformin the doctor insisted on Wednesday that I should take, even though I tried to convince her that metformin did more harm than good the last time.

When I saw my 10.4 A1c Wednesday, I knew why I’d felt so lousy. Consequently, Wednesday night, I started low-carbing again. Actually, I didn't eat anything Wednesday evening. By Thursday night (chicken breast and green bean casserole for both lunch and supper), I felt better (except for the earache). I had strength to open the sliding glass door, which I hadn’t been able to easily do for a while. I could carry a loaded laundry basket the length of the house. I could do more around the house.

By Friday, I’d lost ten pounds—I figured most of it was fluid because my legs aren’t swelling as badly.

Now, I need to lose several points on the A1c scale. I need to lose weight. I’d like to lose the earache, but it’s gotten better since I’ve been laying my head on the heating pad a couple of times a day.

And I probably need to lose that bottle of metformin that’s sitting unopened on the kitchen counter.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Techno-Hell Revisited

Warning: excessive ranting (and excessive use of italics) to follow.

Wednesday, I broke off a nine-year relationship. It was time. I’d had a new relationship going for three months. Breaking up, however, is hard to do. Here’s what happened (Note: vowel has been removed to disguise provider's identity):

Trying to cancel E*rthlink service is a kind of hell. For a while, I let my E*rthlink dial-up and my new DSL service from another provider overlap. (Note: The devoted readers of this blog—yes, both of you!—might remember my post about the E*rthlink problems I had dealing with half the population of India when I lost Internet access last fall and thus might know my reason for switching providers.)

I decided I really liked the DSL. Therefore, I would cancel E*rthlink. The problem—how? I searched the E*rthlink website for over an hour in an attempt to find an easy way to cancel. While E*rthlink makes it easy to sign up for a plethora of services. it’s nigh impossible to find a way to cancel. I found E*rthlink’s home address, so I guess I could go to Georgia and cancel in person, but that didn’t seem practical. And they'd probably still direct me to India. Finally I found two phone numbers to contact.

I called one and got the message that everyone was busy and it would take a while and why didn’t I go online, etc., (Same message as last fall when I couldn’t go online and called to see why not and the message suggested I go online, which was impossible. . . ) so I figured I’d better hold.

When a recorded voice asked me to state the purpose of the call, I said, “Cancel service,” which their electronic doo-dads must have translated to “Can you tell me about every service you’ve got and supersize it?” Also, the recorded voice told me they’d been sending me an e-mail survey to get my opinion of how things went. (How will they do this? I didn’t give them my new e-mail!)

Eventually, after a brief stint of obnoxious music in my left ear—the one with the chronic ache—that the doctor earlier Wednesday pretty much chose to ignore after the drops she’d prescribed a week earlier had not only not helped but made my ear itch, and she prefers to only deal with only one health problem at a time and the ear had already had its turn—Oh, right! I’m getting off topic here. But no more so than E*rthlink does when you try to call them.

Anyhow, after the really annoying music—but between other mildly annoying music—was a whole series of recorded announcements by some gal with a really perky voice. (E*rthlink apparently has even more services than I thought.) This went on for more than ten minutes, causing me to conclude that E*rthlink ain’t gonna connect you to a live voice until they’ve forced you to listen to the whole spiel.

Finally Miss Perky was replaced by a non-perky guy with an accent so heavy that I could barely understand his “Gud ehv-ning. Thess es (couldn’t understand his name). Ha me ah hep yu?” even when I switched the phone to my good ear.

It took at least another ten minutes for him to pull up my file, get my information, listen to my reasons for discontinuing before he left me for at least five minutes while he joined a loud party of happy-sounding people laughing and babbling to each other in a foreign language before he returned to ask more questions.

Eventually my service was terminated with a click and a “Hef uh gud deh.” (I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the follow-up e-mail. I’ll let them figure out why their e-mail bounced.)

So, if you’re trying to e-mail me with the old infionline addy, it ain’t gonna work. It’s history. And so are most of my in-box files. Everything infionline e-mail I’d saved or sent from 2002 (when I got the eMac) until Wednesday night is gone. All the mementos of the service have been returned to E*rthlink.

So—if you’re trying to contact me, here’s what you do: Go my blogger profile where you will see a clickable link which will take you to my website where, if you scroll enough, another link leads to my e-mail. Yeah, it’s complicated. I learned about complicated from E*rthlink.

And hef uh gud deh.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Specks of Light

Is that light a fire on the other side of the pines?

No, it's just a sunset the other evening. See?

The tiny speck of light in the darkness is from the dairy farm across the fields.

Speaking of darkness, it was still dark when I went to the mailbox this morning. I didn't see anything, but I took a few pictures. When I downloaded I saw some specks of light.

The flash made the mailbox and the bare limbs of the peach tree glow. But across the road are some bits of light—orbs.

This is the corner of the pasture across the road.

A closer look in the pasture reveals—just trees and a fence.

Sometimes it's hard to tell what's there—or not there.

Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
—Edgar Allan Poe


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two scholarships

I’d like to make readers of this blog aware of two scholarships just in case you—or someone you know—might be eligible.

A 2009 high school graduate: The Hanover Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club is offering a $500 scholarship to a Virginia high school senior who shows promise in the craft of writing and who will enroll in a Virginia college this fall.

To enter, the student (home-schooled students are also eligible) must write an 500-1,000-word essay about a book that has influenced his/her life. The deadline is March 21, 2009. More information is here:

An older student: The Roanoke Valley Branch of the League of American Pen Women will grant a scholarship of a minimum $100 to a woman age thirty or older who has either returned to college or entered college for the first time, and who is taking one or more classes for credit in the arts, letters, or music at a college or university within 75 miles of Roanoke. The money is to be used either for supplies (textbooks, art supplies, paper, software, etc.) or for other expenses related to college attendance.

Women interested in receiving the grant for fall 2009 must apply to the Roanoke Valley Pen Women on or before May 1, 2009. More information is here:


Monday, January 12, 2009

Kitchen Table Kiddie Lit Critters

"Where did the time go?"

That's what we said this morning after we— Claudia, Amy T, and Debi, and I had gathered around Claudia's kitchen table, sipped coffee, nibbled coffee cake, and nit-picked for over two hours.

Since last May, I've been involved in this nameless kid lit crit group. We've been lit critters, kiddie litter critters, etc. All of us but Claudia were originally involved with a rather unfocused writers group that sort of fizzled out or imploded or something. I later met Claudia at Lake Writers. So, none of us are strangers to writers groups.

We are a diverse group: two yankees and two southerners. The four of us span four generations. Amy is the youngest; I'm the oldest. Our writing is different—Amy and I write novels, but hers are historical and mine are paranormal. Claudia currently writes poetry. Debi writes literary fiction. But all four of us love horses and we love good writing. And we want to make our writing the best it can be.

For a while, we met at the library, but eventually we met around my kitchen table. Now, while Claudia's elderly mother visits, it's easier to meet at Claudia's after Amy and Debi have gotten their kids off to school.

Anyhow, today we had something to celebrate: Amy finished her middle-grade historical novel. She'll pitch the idea at the SCBWI conference in a couple of weeks. Plus she's using her work on the novel and her trip to the conference for J-term credit at Hollins.

We'd waited for weeks to hear her ending. Today, we heard the last three chapters. This book is super! (You heard it here first.)

We also heard Debi read a YA story. She'd said that she wrote literary fiction; now we believe it. Her story was incredibly rich in detail, and her teen-age narrator had a strong and distinctive voice. This story will be a contest winner.

Most of our nit-picking involved diction. Would this word or phrase work better? Or would that? We didn't have to mess with story lines or character development in either work. Both were strong.

I returned home pumped. If you'll pardon the cliché, my creative juices were flowing.

That usually happens after every crit group meeting.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Top Ten from 2008

Or, more specifically, My Top Ten Literary Highlights for 2008

I’ve been thinking about the best literary things I experienced last year. Here they are, in no particular order:

Not a bad year, actually. . . .


Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Kind of Font Am I?

Over on one of the literary agent's blogs that I follow, I found a link to a site that tells what kind of font a person is.

Naturally, in the interests of (ahem) research, I clicked on the link and took a brief quiz that soon gave this result:

Actually, that's pretty close. And it's a cool-looking font, too.

Friday, January 09, 2009

About Me—But Not All

(wherein I shed a bit of light into my life)

Yesterday's sunset. Chestnut Mountain is on the left.

Today, literary agent Rachelle Gardner, on her Rants and Ramblings blog, posted these questions (“It’s All About You”) for writers to answer. While many bloggers answered a few of her questions as comments, I figured I’d post my answers here.

So here goes. Her questions are in bold; my answers aren’t.

_If you’re a writer, what do you write? what do you do when you’re not writing?
Currently, I’m writing children’s lit. Specifically, I’m trying to find a publisher for my Appalachian folktale, “Ferradiddledumday”; querying agents for my middle-grade novel, Stuck; and working on a YA paranormal. For 10 years, I wrote a redneck advice humor column; I’ve also written a lot of short stories, most of which won money in contests. Then there’s the Bulwer-Lytton stuff.

When I’m not writing, I read and look after two old horses, four dogs, and five cats. When I’m able, I walk my farms with Maggie (border collie) and Hubert (beagle). I’m also in a couple of writers groups as well as a Pen Women branch and I mentor some young writers. I also think about what I’d like to write.

_Are you published? Agented? Hopeful? Stalking me?
I’ve been published in several regional magazines and wrote a column for 10 years. My story appears in A Cup of Comfort for Writers and a few of my dreadful sentences appear in the Bulwer-Lytton anthology, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. I’m in search of an agent, so that makes me hopeful. (Not stalking you, Rachelle; I don't think you represent what I write.)

_What do you love about books? What drives you crazy about books?
What’s not to love? OK, they’re portable, they entertain me, they inspire me, they teach me stuff. . . . Nothing about them really “drives me crazy” except maybe that my name isn’t on the cover of a best-seller.

_Starbucks, Peets, or Folger’s Crystals?
House blend. Or the coffee my husband brews every morning (usually whatever was on special at Kroger)

_The beach, the mountains, or completely lost and without a map?
The woods on my own land. I’m lucky enough to own a couple of farms. And one of them is one the side of a mountain, if that counts.

_Running, walking, working out at the gym, or lying on the couch with a bag of Cheetos?
Walking—definitely with dogs. Although riding a horse is better.

_Are you excited about the new seasons of “Lost” and “American Idol”? If not, what’s wrong with you?
No. I've never watched Lost and only watched a few minutes of American Idol. I’m not much of a TV watcher. I’d rather read.

_If you were a color, what color would you…just kidding.
Blue in all its hues. Seriously.

_Here’s a $25,000 advance. How will you spend it? (This is not a trick question. Don’t try to impress me. I’m off in the mountains right now, not even reading your answers.)
New computer. A late model used pick-up truck.

_Twitter: Fun social media tool or harbinger of the literary apocalypse?
Don’t know. I don’t twitter. Am I missing something?

_Kindle: Useful reading device or harbinger of the literary apocalypse?
Probably useful reading device. If someone gave me one, I’d be delighted to try it.

_If a picture paints a thousand words, how many pictures do 80,000 words paint?
Depends on the quality of the words and the size of the picture, maybe.

_What book do you wish you had written? Why didn’t you?
To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee did it first.

_What part of the world do you live in? And how bothered are you by sentences that end in a preposition?
Rural Virginia. (What do you want to know for? And why is it important where I’m at?)

_Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? Waldo? J. D. Salinger?
Could be anywhere.

_Name your favorite author of all time.
Robert Frost. Because his poems really do “begin in delight and end in wisdom.”

_If your writer-life were a reality show, what would it be called?
Sitting at the eMac with Cats on the Desk and a Camera Stuck in my Face?

If Dylan is using the computer to watch YouTube, I have to wait for my turn.

_Why are you still reading these questions?
They made me think. And I could answer them fast.

OK, Dylan's done—my turn for the eMac. Better get to work.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fleeting Glimpses

Country Dew, of the Blue Country Magic blog, recently bestowed upon this humble blog the One Lovely Blog award:

I shall enjoy my moment of fame and pass the award along to a fellow blogger Sally, whose Smith Mountain lake Mystery Writer blog—thanks to the incredible pictures she takes—is indeed lovely.

The award reminded me that fame is, of course, fleeting. Not unlike this morning’s weather.

I looked up from my computer screen to see snow falling outside my study window. Then my husband announced it was snowing. Snow! my brain exclaimed. Better grab a picture to blog about!

I first took a picture on the deck. The falling white stuff looked more like sleet.

The scene in front of my study window indeed looked like snow falling from a hazy cloud overhead. But those northerly clouds in the distance don't look like snow clouds. Looks like the sun is shining on the Peaks of Otter.

Maybe this is the beginning of a snow storm?

Out toward Smith Mountain, it looked snowier. Anyhow, some kind of precipitation was falling.

When I was about to download the above "snow" pictures, I looked out the window again. Sun? What’s with that. I grabbed the camera again.

Nothing falling to the north. The clouds over the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks look like they headed this way.

No more snow (or whatever) on the mountain.

Weather, like fame, can be fleeting.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Certain Slants of Light

After a night and a day of much-needed rain, the sun came out this evening. The sky was golden beyond Jack's Mountain.

The sunset below the clouds reminded me of Emily Dickinson' s poem, "A Certain Slant of Light."

There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.

The above view is Smith Mountain, northeast of my house. The shaft of light from the setting sun made part of the mountain almost glow.

The eastern sky behind my pin oak looked like a sunrise. Looks can be deceiving.

Internal difference—where the meanings are.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What Walks the Night?

Last evening—Old Christmas eve, when spirits allegedy walk the earth —I snapped a several pictures with my Olympus 425 digital camera at dusk when ominous clouds darkened the sky. Later, when I downloaded them into the computer, I first had nothing but black. When I lightened them, though, a few pictures had something more than just dark.

The ones I took in a north and northwestern direction and directly overhead showed nothing. But the ones I took facing east and slightly southeast showed something around the pin oak. Here are the first, second, and fourth pictures I took:

The first two pictures were taken within a minute of each other.

Taken from my deck. The thing in the lower left is part of the pampas grass.

This picture was taken a couple of minutes after the others.

After 11 PM, when the night was black-dark but before the rain started, I took a two pictures with my Olympus Fe-425. One was dark, but on the other, you can barely make out the trunk of the pin oak with an orb to its left.

According to psychic Sylvia Browne, orbs are angels. (I'd like to think that angels watch over me.) Others say orbs are ghosts trapped on earth or bits of energy. Others say orbs are just dust.

So, did spirits walk the night? Or not?

Update on Cupcake, my old mare who had suffered a stroke or injury: Tonight, she nickered loudly when she saw me coming—the first time I've heard her nicker this loudly for a couple of months. Also tonight she willingly let me touch the left side of her face—the damaged side. She has regained most of her weight and she eats much faster. Thanks to all who sent prayers and healing energy her way.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Old Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow is “Old Christmas”—Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or the “real” Christmas in parts of the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve blogged about Old Christmas before. You can also read about it at this website, this one, and this one.

On Old Christmas eve, they say, ghosts walk the earth, flowers bloom, and critters kneel down and pray.

One of my favorite poems is “Old Christmas Morning,” by Roy Helton (1886-1960). I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth posting again.

"Where you coming from, Lomey Carter,
So airly over the snow?
And what's them pretties you got in your hand,
And where you aiming to go?

"Step in, Honey: Old Christmas morning
I ain't got nothing much;
Maybe a bite of sweetness and corn bread,
A little ham meat and such,

"But come in, Honey! Sally Anne Barton's
Hungering after your face.
Wait till I light my candle up:
Set down! There's your old place.

"Now where you been so airly this morning?”
"Graveyard, Sally Anne.
Up by the trace in the salt lick meadows

Where Taulbe kilt my man."

"Taulbe ain't to home this morning . . .
I can't scratch up a light:
Dampness gets on the heads of the matches;
But I'll blow up the embers bright."

"Needn't trouble. I won't be stopping:
Going a long ways still."

"You didn't see nothing, Lomey Carter,
Up on the graveyard hill?"

"What should I see there, Sally Anne Barton?"
“Well, spirits do walk last night."
"There were an elder bush a-blooming
While the moon still give some light."

"Yes, elder bushes, they bloom, Old Christmas,
And critters kneel down in their straw.
Anything else up in the graveyard?"
"One thing more I saw:

I saw my man with his bead all bleeding
Where Taulbe's shot went through."

" What did he say?” "He stooped and kissed me."
“What did he say to you?”

"Said, Lord Jesus forguv your Taulbe;
But he told me another word;

He said it soft when he stooped and kissed me.

That were the last I heard."

"Taulbe ain't to home this morning."
"I know that, Sally Anne,
For I kilt him, coming down through the meadow

Where Taulbe kilt my man.

"I met him upon the meadow trace

When the moon were fainting fast,

And I had my dead man's rifle gun

And kilt him as he come past."

"But I heard two shots." "'Twas his was second:
He shot me 'fore be died:

You'll find us at daybreak, Sally Anne Barton:

I'm laying there dead at his side."

If you’re out and about late tonight after midnight, remember: “Spirits do walk” tonight.

Let me know if you see any.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

2009 Resolutions, er, Suggestions

I don’t make actual New Year’s resolutions. I make a list of suggestions to myself. Here’s my list for 2009:

•Find a publisher for my Appalachian folktale, “Ferradiddledumday.” I wrote my Blue Ridge version of Rumpelstiltskin a decade ago as an oral presentation on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then children’s lit professor Tina Hanlon posted an early written version on the Ferrum College AppLit website. She will reference it in a book she’s writing about Appalachian folktales. The Surlalune Fairy Tales site mentions it (It’s the only one of many Rumpelstiltskin versions that isn’t a book!) and many teachers use it in their classrooms. Finding a publisher for “Ferradiddledumday” was one of my 2007 goals, too.

“Ferradiddledumday” already has a platform. What it needs is to be published as a book. I've been through about ten rejections in the last couple of years; I gotta keep looking for the right publisher.

Find an agent for Stuck, my 40,300-word middle-grade paranormal novel, in which an eleven-year-old girl—stuck in grief over her mother’s death—helps a ghost who’s searching for her daughter. Stuck will appeal to girls (ages 8-12) who’ve lost a parent or gained a step-parent, who’ve moved away from home and friends, who love horses, who’ve dealt with a bully, who are fascinated with ghosts and mysteries, or who’ve ever been stuck.

The above was my elevator pitch! Last July, when Chuck Sambuchino asked me about my pitch (we were riding in Claudia's Hummer at the time and were en route to a Lake Writers group), I didn't have a pitch. Now I do. I also have a copy of the 2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market that I'm searching.

I’ve queried agents for a couple of months and received only four rejections. Writers more experienced than I tell me at least 30 rejections is normal. I tend to query one agent at a time, too, and I’ve granted two exclusives on fulls, one right after the other. I'm still waiting to hear from the last exclusive. Maybe I should switch to the shotgun approach.

Finish my YA novel about a high school outcast who can communicate with animals. Now that I’m no longer writing “Peevish Advice’ for the Eagle, I should have more time to devote to finishing this book.

Mentor more young writers. I usually do this anyway. Maybe do more school presentations.

Get new kitchen counter tops. The old ones are so 1978. And they’re showing their age.

•Replace the deck. This is a biggie—the darn thing is 89 feet long. It’s gonna cost plenty—but not as much as if someone falls through and decides to sue.

•Replace the electric fence. Melody really leans into the woven wire now that the old electric tape that used to be across the tops is frayed and broken. One of these day’s she’s going to lean it all the way to the ground if the tape isn’t replaced.

•Stop referring to Eddie-Puss and Dylan as “the kittens.” They’re seven and eight years old now—middle-aged, as cats go. (And I refer to ten-year-old Camilla and Foxie as “old lady cats.”)

•Buy myself a replacement tombstone. The one stolen from my family cemetery on November 10, 2007, isn’t likely to come back.

•Attend the spring SCBWI meeting in Richmond. I’ve been to the past two, and they were wonderful. Because Amy T and I went last year, we started a kid-lit crit group which has been sooooo helpful.

•Take care of some health issues. Lately, I’ve been plagued with fatigue, muscle cramps, and aches. Actually, I’ve already started on this—I have a doctor’s appointment for tomorrow.

•Clean the house. At least once during 2009. My housekeeping skills are miniscule; my standards are low. Stuff piles up.

•Enter the Bulwer-Lytton contest again. Having won the “Vile Pun” division last year and the “Worst Western” division in 1996, I have a reputation to uphold. I’m currently working on a pun-filled entry with so many vague poetry references that only a select few Ph.D’s in English lit will have the ghost of a chance of understanding it.

I've wondered—when querying about my kid lit stuff, will mentioning that I'm an internationally ranked bad writer help or hurt?

•Attend the 2009 Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. It’s always wonderful!

•Read faster. I have about ten feet of books that I haven’t read. I’m a sucker for buying books, and I keep adding to the shelf space.

•Bring Maggie into the house more often. She tends to micro-manage the other dogs in the kennel. They need a break.

•Plant more stuff—forsythias, trees, herbs.

•And whatever else I think of.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Crit Stuff 2

Warning: More educational stuff of a writing advice nature.
(You know if you need this, uh, weighty advice.)

New Year's Resolution: Cut the flab from your writing.

One trap that some beginning writers fall into is overwriting. During my stint as an adjunct instructor of freshman grammar and comp, I frequently encountered students who, figuring that more is better, overwrote whenever possible. I'm sure all their extraneous adjectives modified by unnecessary adverbs (which were, in turn, modified by other even more unnecessary adverbs) added several pounds to the load of student papers I lugged home.

One of the blogs I follow had some good advice posted yesterday about overwriting. In fact, it's better advice than I could give. Therefore, hie thee hence to Moonrat's Editorial Ass blog and peruse her January 2nd post, "Overwriters Anonymous."

This excerpt addresses one of my pet peeves:

Most of your problems come down to dialogue tags. It's ok to use the word "said," even if you use it more than once. Really. You can just say "Jackie said" instead of "Jackie sneered jeeringly" or "Jackie continued her bombastic harangue, her outraged grimace flickering as a sympathetic smirk fought its way to the surface." Repeat after me: WORDS SPEAK LOUDER THAN DIALOGUE TAGS.
And there's more good stuff where that came from. Check it out.