Peevish Pen

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

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Got Wi-Fi?

We do—finally! For a couple of hours on Saturday, getting the thingabob working with the thingamajig was frustrating. My husband and I are still on speaking terms, but—even if we weren’t—we now could e-mail each other from the comfort of home (albeit in separate rooms).

Let me provide a bit of background here: I have a master’s in English, so I know the importance of research. I have a BFA in drama education, so I know the importance of planning and rehearsal. Consequently, I know that just jumping into a situation isn’t the way to go.

My husband’s degree is in electrical engineering. He believes that if you just jump into something and poke around—er, experiment—a bit, you stand a good chance of getting it right. (Once he restored power to a town in Venezuela by determining that their turbine malfunctioned because of a lizard.) Our house and yard are strung with various antennae for his ham radios, and he’s always experimenting with those. He likes to take various electronic things apart to see how they work. He likes to just jump in and see what happens.

You can see that there’s a conflict of philosophies in this household, can’t you?

When I bought the new iMac, I also bought a thingamajiggie called Time Capsule, which is both a hard drive back-up AND a wi-fi base station. The Time Machine software that came installed on the iMac would do automatic back-ups of every computer whatsits I’d ever put on the computer, but all the info had to be directed to a particular place. The white plastic Time Capsule was that place.
On the iMac’s first day in its new home, we transferred everything from the eMac via a firewire, connected the DSL (a cinch because the settings transferred), and then up-dated some software.

On the second day, I installed the new printer and some other new software. (After I studied the instructions, I meticulously checked off each step in the instructions just so I wouldn’t miss anything.) When the Apple site wouldn’t let me register online for the printer’s rebate, I called Apple. The nice person there credited my account and answered a bunch of other questions.

By the third day, I still hadn’t done anything with Time Capsule. I knew installation and set-up would be complicated. Besides, I spent a good part of the day at Lake Writers and lunch at a coffeehouse.

By the fourth day—Saturday—I was just starting to contemplate what would be involved in installing Time Capsule, but I wasn’t ready to commit to it yet. Saturday night, hubby appeared in the study and announced, “Let’s hook up the Time Capsule. I think I can figure it out.”

I quit the programs I was using and turned the iMac over to him. He plugged in its cord, disconnected the DSL from the iMac, and connected it to the Time Capsule. The iMac immediately lost its internet function.

However, planner that I am, I fired up the laptop and—TA-DA!— connected to the internet. Time Capsule worked! Something had to be wrong with the iMac’s settings. Hubby poked around for a while. The iMac kept giving him various error messages. A bit more poking revealed that Airport wasn’t turned on. We turned it on. Still more problems, etc.

Finally, I called Embarq tech support. Even though I expected to spend an hour waiting for help, a techie answered in moments. Now, faithful long-time blog readers, you will remember that I left Earthlink because the technicians in India—that I had to wait a long time for—were essentially clueless. Imagine my surprise when the Embarq techie had an Indian accent. However, he was in Louisiana, not India, and he knew what he was doing. I handed the phone to my husband, he had a nice chat with the guy, and soon the iMac was connecting to the Internet.

Then the Time Capsule, true to its 500-gig hard-drive backup side, started backing up 39 gigabites worth of info from the iMac. By Sunday morning, it was finished. Now it will automatically backup whatever new stuff I save on the iMac.

Our next project was to get an original Airport card for the old eMac. That way, we could both use internet at the same time (He doesn’t like the iBook’s small screen.) The problem: Apple hasn’t made original Airport cards for years, so we spent part of Sunday evening checking out online sellers of refurbished cards. Prices vary. Hubby even called a guy in Union Hall who is a Mac repair specialist (and who came highly recommended by the woman who cuts my hair). He didn’t have a card to sell us. I did a bit of Googling, found several places that looked promising, and wrote down their phone numbers.

Before I went out Monday morning, I left my debit card—the one I use for online purchases and which has very little money in its account—so hubby could order a card. He called a guy in California who had great prices. In fact, the guy gave him a really good deal on two cards. (“We’ll have a spare in case something happens to one!” was his reason.)

The Airport card should be here in a few days. Online instructions for installation look fairly simple. At any rate, it’ll give my husband a chance to poke around the eMac’s insides.
Notice to future houseguests (and you know who you are): Our guestroom now has wi-fi. Bring your laptop.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Breaking Up Isn’t So Hard To Do


Our relationship has lasted for seven years. We’ve gotten used to each other. I admired his solidity, his capacity, his style. He was solid and dependable, but I was looking for something cooler.

And hotter.

And more exciting.

Yeah, he was easy to get along with—easy for me to use for my purposes. He was not as up-to-date as I’d like. Plus he was kind of dumpy-looking. And a bit old-fashioned.

But, yeah, we had some memorable times together.

Quite frankly, he was a bit, er, limited. It was clear, though, that I’d out-grown him and was ready to trade up. These things happen. It's really not his fault.

Of course we’ll still be friends. We’ll still get together once in a while for old time's sake, but—as of yesterday—I’ve moved on.


Goodby Mr. eMac!

Hello, Mr. iMac!

You were aware I was referring to computers, weren't you?

Well, weren't you?



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Try This At Home?

What do you get when you combine a couple of border collies, a herd of sheep, and LED technology?

Well, this:

Some art forms defy description. Technology-based extreme sheep-herding is one.

The guys who put this video together couldn't have done it without assistance from the border collies.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Trees in the Forest

You know that old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees? Or is it the other way around? Whatever.

Before the trees leaf out, you can see them much better.

Take a look at some of the trees in my forest. Here are a few just coming into bud.

The one below looks like a strange creature that's dancing. Or something.

Here is one of my favorite trees along Polecat Creek—three different views starting at close to the top:

The neat thing about this tree is its roots. They look like sculpture.

It wasn't far from this tree that I found Hubert when he was a tiny puppy. In the picture below, Hubert visits his roots (couldn't resist the pun).

Maggie visits the roots, too. All my dogs have been fascinated by them.

The tree hangs way over the bank, so there's sort of a cavern under the roots. One of these days, the bank is bound to give way, so I try to enjoy this tree while it lasts.

On Smith Farm are several elderly walnut trees. Their bare branches are abstract art.

Every so often an old branch drops off. Nothing lasts forever. Nature is always changing.

I love looking at the forest—or the trees. Whatever.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Clearing the Trail

The heavy snow a few weeks ago followed by heavy rain brought down several trees—mostly Virginia pines—on our farms.

Virginia pines grow fast and the roots don’t run deep, so they’re vulnerable to up-rooting. They’re not especially valuable trees—they’re good for pulpwood but have no other commercial value. Mostly they provide some shelter for the hardwoods that will eventually take over.

A few downed pines took some other trees with them when they fell and blocked my horse and hiking trails. Maggie and Hubert could get through, but I couldn’t.

John takes his chainsaw to the mess:

Metaphorically, I’ve taken a chainsaw to the first chapter of my current work in progress, and the manuscript is better for having the deadwood cleared. I’ve been workshopping this particular YA novel through two writing groups—Lake Writers and Valley Writers—and both suggested some changes in the first chapter.

I cut some stuff and split chapter one into two chapters. Then I planted some new ideas and complications.

My manuscript is now way better than it was.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Signs of the Season

"Nature's first green is gold."

A day until spring officially begins, but the signs of Spring are everywhere. Down the road at the farm, the forsythias have been in bloom for over a week. In the language of flowers, forsythias indicate anticipation. I'm anticipating spring.

Forsythias aren't a native plant; they're named for William Forsyth (1737–1804), an English horticulturist who brought them from China.

Old timers call forsythias "golden bells" or "yellow bells." Each flower does look like a little yellow bell. Forsythia blossoms ring in springtime.

Last week, I bought some pansies. They're in full bloom now. Nothing says spring like a pot of pansies.

Thanks to last week's rain, fields are greening up. The redbuds promise to bloom anytime now. Maybe today's spring shower will encourage them.

I love to look at the signs of spring.

Speaking of looking, this morning around 3:40, I woke up and—in the light of the dusk-to-dawn light—saw Camilla sitting on her window shelf and staring intently out the window.

Was she watching for spring? Does spring creep in on little cat feet at night? Anyhow, I got up to look and saw a full moon over the trees that line Bar Ridge Road. Camilla and I watched the golden moon for a few minutes until clouds obscured it. Then I went back to bed.

A few hours later, I realized that I'd never seen the moon rise in the south-southeast before. I checked the calendar. The moon is waning—it's in the last quarter now. Whatever I saw wasn't a full moon.

Here's a daylight view of where I looked. The "moon" was just at tree-top level in the distance—about the middle of this picture—just above the patch of green between the two center cedar trees.

So, what was that gold orb I saw last night?

Edited to add: Friday morning (March 20), at 6:30 I saw the quarter moon overhead toward the southeast, so I guess I could have seen a moon.

But why did I see a full one? Was it because it might have been shining through a thin cloud that made what I saw look full? Anybody have a scientific explanation?


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

This video says it better than I can:

Cats & the Quilt

It seems that I don't own the recently-purchased "vintage" quilt after all. After I, uh, dressed the loveseat with the quilt, Eddiepuss decided it the perfect place for a cat-nap.

I noticed that the quilt puddled (Doncha love those fancy decorator words?) onto the floor behind the loveseat. But what's with the big lump?

This can't be right. Properly draped and puddled thingies shouldn't have lumps. Better check out the front.

Hmmm. Looks OK. Maybe if I peek inside . . . .

AHA! So that's where Dylan went!

At least he didn't leave any puddles inside the quilt.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Rain, Hair, and Undressed Beds

(or Life in Rainy Rural America)

The weekend was drismal. We must have gotten over an inch of rain on Sunday alone—and several inches of mud. When I fed dogs yesterday and this morning, I thought my shoes would get sucked off.

At least I could feed horses under the run-in shed. But yesterday both mares were water-logged. The only thing worse than a soggy horse is a shedding horse. My two mares are shedding handfuls of hair at a time.

Because I have to wait for Cupcake to finish her “soup,” I groom Melody to give her something to do so she doesn’t hand over the gate and intimidate Cupcake. I run the shedding blade over her and watch her hair cascade to the ground. Birds will use the hair for a soft nest-lining. Sometimes I go into the stall (while Melody glares at us) and scrape hair off Cupcake. Cupcake has LOTS of hair. I’ve already clipped her head, her armpits (or whatever they’re called), and a strip down her neck so she won’t get too sweaty. I clipped off enough hair two weeks ago to knit a pony, and she still has plenty more.

For the last couple of days, I’ve returned to the house wet, muddy, and covered with hair. (Note to urban readers: this is the norm in rural America.) I then shower, have another cup of coffee and read The Roanoke Times—such as it is (or, more likely, isn’t). The RT contains very Linklittle in the way of actual news—and much of that is poorly written. (Do journalism classes now encourage students to use as many prepositional phrases as possible? as many passive verbs as they can?)

Anyhow, the Sunday Roanoke Times ran a full-page reprint of a Better Homes & Gardens article, “Sleeping beauties: Don't just make your bed — dress it.”

Notice the empty space at the bottom.
Apparently when the RT runs out of words, they just leave space.

Here's a closer look. (Note all the bleed-through from the other side of the page.)

A copy of the article is here (albeit without the numerous large photos the RT used to fill the page, the empty space, and the bleed-through). Apparently other content-hungry papers reprinted it, too.

I thought the article was a hoot, even though it wasn’t supposed to be. Who has time to “dress” a bed? I do well to get mine made up before I go out to feed hungry critters. Plus my bed is usually occupied by at least one cat—Foxy, Camilla, Dylan, and Eddie-puss have sort of a time-share arrangement regarding the bed.

Foxy insists upon returning to bed after she's made her morning rounds.
I can't make up the bed until she finishes her morning nap.

Some of the article’s suggestions just aren’t practical for a rural lifestyle:

Hideaway bed: A bed skirt isn't just for looks - it's a perfect solution for keeping underbed storage out of sight. Plastic bins will easily slide under the bed.

And cats will push them out again. Under my bed is the perfect storage for boxes of books and piles of magazines. The cats periodically reshuffle them. Also a border collie sometimes sleeps there. Cats also like to hang by their claws from the bed ruffle. I assume that’s some kind of cat exercise because they periodically kick it, too. When the carpet cleaner comes, the bed ruffle provides a hiding place. At least the cats think they’re hiding. Anyhow, my bed ruffle is decorated with paw-prints and cat hair.

The grand finale: Drape a coordinating throw over the bed's foot for a final flourish.

And a cat will promptly roll up in the throw. Another cat will jump onto the rolled-up cat. Or, worse, a cat will hack up a hairball on it.

Time and again: Choose an easy-to-work-with neutral for the parts of the bed that you won't change frequently, such as the headboard and bed skirt.

It’s even better is you select colors that match whatever critters sleep on your bed. Or whatever they hack up. Do real people actually have fabric headboards? In my house, a farbric-covered headboard would make a great scratching post.

Note that I do not have a fabric headboard.
I do have a washable comforter and shams, though.

Camilla rearranges pillows on the made-up bed.

Tucked in: Give your bed a tailored look by tucking in the quilt only along the foot of the bed.

Obviously the author has never had an ingrown toenail or leg cramps. Where do you put your feet if the quilt is tucked in? And how does a cat hiding under the covers get out easily?

Old style: Look to vintage linens as another source of less-expensive fabric (they're also low-maintenance - they've likely been washed many times and can stand up to more).

Uh, most of my linens qualify as “vintage.” Even the pilled-up places on the sheets are old enough to be “vintage.” When my linens become more “vintage” than I can stand, they become shop rags or animal bedding. (Truth be told, most of my possessions are "vintage.")

Coincidentally, I just bought a "vintage" quilt last Friday at my favorite boutique (aka Goodwill). It's not very old, though, and I'll use it to "dress" the sofa, not the bed.

This twin-size quilt cost $6.99. I hope I didn't pay to0 much.

Now, if y’all will excuse me, I need to finish my coffee, put on my "vintage" barn shoes, and slog through the mud to shovel some “vintage” manure out of Cupcake’s and Melody’s bed—er, stall.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: Midwife of the Blue Ridge

America’s colonial period interests me, especially colonial events that happened in my area. Maybe it’s because my ancestors came to the area in the 1700s; at least one (Michael Holland from Middlewich, England) was an indentured servant. Most folks in this part of Virginia know the story of Mary Draper Ingles, kidnapped in 1755 from what is now Blacksburg by Shawnee in 1755 and carried to what is now Cincinnati. Mary's story was the subject of James Alexander Thom’s 1986 novel, Follow the River, a book I enjoyed. Like most Franklin County folks, I've heard the story of early settler (1750s) Robert Hill, who built one of the area's blockhouses and had two sons killed by the Shawnee—one tomahawked and scalped near Bald Knob (a Rocky Mount landmark).

I live surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. From my study window, I can see Peaks of Otter. Consequently, when I heard about Christine Blevin’s historical novel, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, I figured I’d enjoy it. I was right—I did indeed enjoy it.

“What canna be cured must be endured.” Maggie Duncan recalled this advice from her adoptive mother. In Midwife of the Blue Ridge, there is much that Maggie must endure.

Unable to make a living in 1760s Glasgow, Maggie decides to becomes an indentured servant in the colonies and sails to America aboard the Good Intent, where she endures the uncomfortable accommodations of the ship’s tween deck and attracts the lustful attentions of Julian Cavendish. Fortunately, Cavendish is tricked from buying Maggie’s indenture and her services are sold instead to frontiersman Seth Martin, who needs household help and a midwife for his ill and pregnant wife, Naomi.

Maggie adjusts well to frontier life and the Martins—even catching the eye of a long-hunter, Tom Roberts—but trouble with the Shawnees ensues. The Martins join other settlers in the nearest fort until danger passes, and Maggie makes herself useful with her knowledge of plants and cures. She delivers Naomi’s son, but Naomi succumbs to childbed fever. She also cares for survivors of a brutal attack by the Shawnee.

When the remaining Martins return home, Cavendish and his brutes are foreclosing on farms that weren’t properly registered—and the Martins’ home is one. Maggie tells Seth to let Cavendish have her contract, so the Martins can stay long enough to harvest their crop. she plans to run away and rejoin the Martins later.

Cavendish, however, is a brutal master and treats Maggie no better than his slaves. After he rapes her and dislocates her arm, she is tended by a slave who is herself a healer. Meanwhile, Tom decides to return to her, but will he be able to find her?

I won’t tell you the rest, but the story ends on a positive note. Although there’s a love story here, the harshness of Virginia frontier life makes sure that it’s not a sugar-coated romance. Indeed some of the scenes are graphic—including one in which the Shawnee kill and torture a captive. These scenes, however, add to the realism of the story. Life on the frontier was indeed harsh.

Maggie is an admirable character, who makes the most of her lot in life. Strong, strong-willed and skilled in the healing arts, she is not afraid of hard work and is determined to survive. I especially like that she speaks in dialect—I could clearly hear her voice.

I am impressed with Blevins’ well-rounded characters, descriptions of frontier living, and compelling plot. Her adroit skill at story-telling made the events believable—even though she had one anachronism that I noticed. (Some of my writer buddies told me I was probably the only one who would notice that a mule appeared in the story. Mules did not appear in America until just after the Revolutionary War.) The inclusion of a mule, however, didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story—but if this book is ever made into a movie, perhaps the mule can be changed to a horse.

I recommend Midwife of the Blue Ridge to anyone who likes historical fiction, strong female protagonists, and good writing.

I just started an advanced reader copy of Blevins’ The Tory Widow, which will be in bookstores next month. While I’m only a couple of chapters into it, I like what I’ve read so far.

Midwife of the Blue Ridge (432 pages; ISBN: 978-0425221686) was published last August as a Berkley trade paperback. I've mentioned both of Blevins' books in two earlier posts—here and here.


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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Writing Road Trip

Tuesday evening, I was guest speaker for the Piedmont Writers Group in Martinsville. Claudia, my neighbor and fellow writing buddy, rode shotgun and navigated. It's always fun to meet with other writers, so we had a great time.

Some of the Piedmont writers.
Of all the writer meetings I've attended, this group had the most elegant meeting place— the Piedmont Arts Center. The camaraderie and enthusiasm of this group was evident. I wish I lived closer so I could attend their meetings on a regular basis.

How I came to be their speaker is the stuff that fiction—or maybe creative non-fiction—is made of. I met one of the members last month at my deceased cousin-in-law's viewing. Because he was such a well-like man, the funeral home over-flowed, and we numerous guests had to sit and wait for our turn to go up front. I happened to sit near another cousin-in-law, but on the other side of the family. She and I got to chatting—it was a long wait—and discovered we had a common interest: writing. One thing led to another, and Lynn invited me to speak to her writers group.

I'm glad I accepted her invitation.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

After the Snow

Only a few days ago, we had eight inches of snow and temperatures in the teens. Today, temperatures hit the eighties.

Yesterday, most of the snow had melted. It was warm enough for Foxy to make her rounds. Her shaved place looks kind of like a poodle-cut. Her stitches are out and her incision is healing.

Mary stopped by to ride Melody, and they took off down the road.

Roman Preston and Ruby Sherwood followed them back. Roman and Ruby wrestled in what was left of the snow.

Today, the snow was gone and mud was everywhere.

John put in a new bale for the horses.

Melody decided to check it out.

Soon she was chowing down.

Flowers appeared my yard. Like crocus. . .

. . . and daffodils. . .

. . . and windflowers.

Tonight I heard the spring peepers in the pasture across the road. But I didn't go out in the dark to take pictures of them.

Two weeks until spring officially comes, but it seems like it's already here.

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