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

My Photo
Location: Rural Virginia, United States

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Oh, me of little faith.

I thought all the crape myrtles I'd bought last fall had died. A few weeks ago, they were bunches of brown sticks with no leaves in sight. I snapped off a few twigs to see if I saw green. Nope. Only brown.

This morning, though, as I sat in the gazebo and read the morning paper (which doesn’t take long because the Roanoke Times has very little in it), I glanced up.

Was that a leaf I saw on one of the crape myrtles? I walked over and took a closer look. Yep!

Another one had leaves, too.

Wow! I thought. Two are still alive! Then I looked at the bases of the other sticks. On each one, leaves sprouted.

Even this one, that I'd been sure was dead, has a few little leaves coming up from the bottom.

All made it through the winter.

And I made it through the winter, too.
(Warning: Boring health-related info ahead.)

Three months ago, I had numerous health problems—fatigue, edema, numbness and tingling in my hands, bad leg cramps, and a bunch of other problems. I wasn’t as sharp mentally either; sometimes I had to reread a passage a time or two before I got it.

An A1C test in January revealed that my diabetes was a lot worse. My score: 10.4, which is pretty bad. My doctor wanted me to go on metformin, but I’d had a bad experience with it a few years ago (but not as bad as with Januvia, which put me in the hospital). She also wanted me to see a diabetes educator, which—based on my 1999 experience with diabetic education—I thought would be a major waste of time.

It was. After one meeting, in which the guy pitched the American Diabetes Association propaganda (including the infamous Food Pyramid) that I told him I didn’t believe in. After he "helped" me set a few goals (like I’m really going to weigh what I did when I was 18!), the educator informed me there was nothing else he could do for me and wished me luck.

I already knew what I had to do. I’d done it in 1999, but—when I became Mama’s care-giver in 2001—I’d slipped into eating like regular people (actually, the way the diabetes educator wanted me to eat). I decided that, by April, I could get my A1C down to 8.5, which was still diabetic but a reachable goal, I thought. An A1C under 8 is considered good control (an A1C under 6 is non-diabetic).

Thus, in late January, I started low-carbing. By limiting myself to 100 grams of carbs max (usually 75 or less) per day, I brought my blood glucose levels down substantially. By checking my blood four times a day, I also learned that the artificial sweetener Splenda, which I’d relied on for my sweet fix, causes my blood sugar to go way up. (I’m allergic to aspartame, so that’s not a sweetening option.) I learned that bread wasn’t something I could deal with, so sandwiches are a thing of the past. I already knew that potatoes, rice, and pasta—all things that I’d indulged in once in a while for the past five years—were now no-nos.

Three weeks ago, I took the A1C test again. My results: 7.9. Plus, I’d lost about 18 pounds.

Since then, I’ve lost a bit more weight. I figure if I keep pumping mulch the way I did this morning, I’ll lose more.
The book I used in 1999—the book I returned to three months ago—is Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Besides telling diabetics what they need to do, Bernstein gives a pretty good explanation of how diabetes affects people.

I highly recommend the book. You can take a look at some excerpts here.

Meanwhile, like my crape myrtles, I’m getting better. Spring is a good time for resurrection and renewal.

If you're diabetic, or think you might be, check out this website.


Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coming Out

Horse hair, that is.

Melody and Cupcake have been shedding for over a month. The last few days' hot weather has really brought the hair out. I've gone over both of them with the shedding blade many times, clipped parts of Cupcake, and watched both mares help each other shed.

This morning, they curried each other in earnest.

Thanks to the magic of blogs, you can sneak a peek at them. Below, Cupcake works on Melody's shoulder:

Cupcake: Is this low enough?

Melody: A little lower, please. Ahhhhhh—that's good.

Melody: Sheesh, Cupcake! You ought to use some Nair.

Cupcake: Keep scratching, Mel. I think that clump is getting looser.

Melody: Uh-oh, Cupcake. We're being watched. Hey! Could we have a little privacy?

Of course, there's a downside to this: mustaches. Here's Cupcake's mustache:

And here's Melody's:

Or maybe they're marestaches?

Labels: ,

Monday, April 27, 2009

VWC Inside-the-Back-Cover Writing Contests for 2009

The Virginia Writers Club is sponsoring three Inside-the-Back-Cover writing contests in 2009. The winner of each contest (fiction, poetry, and personal essay) receives $40 and has his or her entry either printed on the inside of the back cover of a future VWC newsletter or included in the email newsletter.

The VWC has already held the flash fiction contest. The next one is poetry. I'm chairman of that one. The deadline has been extended to May 10 (which is a Sunday, so it's really May 9). Here are the general rules:

  • Members of the Virginia Writers Club may enter the contest free, as a privilege of membership. Other writers residing in Virginia may enter for a fee of $8, with a check payable to the Virginia Writers Club submitted with the entry. A writer wishing to join the Virginia Writers Club and applying to become a member of the VWC by submitting an application along with a check for regular annual dues of $30, will not have to pay the $8 fee.
  • Only one entry per writer per contest.
  • Excluding titles, the maximum length for poetry is 30 lines.
  • Entries must be the original work of the writer, not yet published or submitted for other contests or publishing.
  • Entries must be typed or word processed (not handwritten) using 12 pt Times New Roman font. Poetry should be single-spaced on white 8 x 11-inch paper.
  • A detachable cover sheet must include the title of the piece, the author’s name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. A short biographic sketch of no more than 75 words should be included on the cover sheet; the biographic sketch of the winner will be included with the winning entry on the inside back cover of the VWC newsletter.
  • With the exception of the detachable cover sheet, the writer’s name must not appear on any other page of the submission, so that the judge will not know who the writer is.
  • All rights will revert to the writer after the contest.
  • Two hard copies of each entry, with one detachable cover sheet, must be mailed (postmarked) via USPS or other special surface delivery or hand delivered by the respective deadline to the respective coordinator listed below. No submissions will be accepted by e-mail.

Entries for the poetry contest should be snail-mailed (or hand-delivered) to me. If you go to the VWC website "Member News" page and click on the "document" link, you'll find the above rules as well as my mailing address.

Manuscripts will not be returned. Only the winner will be directly notified of the results of the contest, with notification in advance of publication of the winning entry on the inside back cover of the newsletter. The winner of each contest will be asked to send a copy of the winning entry and short bio via e-mail or CD to the newsletter editor so it can be placed in the newsletter without retyping.

If you have questions, e-mail Jim Morrison (, president of the Valley Writers Chapter of the VWC.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Too Darn Hot

It's too hot to do much of anything. Yesterday, the temperature hit 91; today it's 88. Plus I pulled a muscle in my back, so that gives me another excuse not to do anything.

Consequently, the gazebo landscaping project is on hold. However, I've planted some herbs and a few flowers. I've even spread a bit of mulch from the second load I bought. I still have a long way to go before finishing the project. It's just too hot. (And there's that pulled muscle, too.)

Across the road, the dairy farmer has been cutting silage for a couple of days. The other day, from my seat in a comfortable chair, the field looked like this:

I am not the only one who enjoys the view from the gazebo. The cats have decided that it makes a great cathouse. Dylan is especially fond of it.

He's checked it out from several angles.

A great place for a cat to hang out.

Plus, it's just too darn hot to do much of anything else.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cat Burglar

For over a week, we've had an intruder in the garage. The ripped garbage bag tipped us off. We suspected a possum, so John set the Have-a-Heart trap. However, the slice of bread he used for bait didn't tempt the intruder. The intruder prefered licking the dog bowl clean and polishing off any cat food I'd left for our resident cats.

A week ago, we set up one of our game cameras and got some pictures of the intruder. Obviously, despite its ability to rip open garbage bags, the intruder is no possum:

For a week the cat and dog dishes have been licked clean. And the garage litter box had obviously been used. Last night we set the camera again. The same critter was still there:

And it was busy in the wee hours of this morning:

While we close the garage at night (to prevent critters from coming in—a ploy that obviously hasn't worked), the garage is open from early morning to almost dark. Why hasn't this kitty left?

Anyhow, if this little kitty is yours, please come reclaim it.



Saturday, April 18, 2009

Two More Appearances

I've already mentioned in a earlier post, that in the next couple of weeks, some of my writer buddies and I will make two more appearances—both at libraries. I figured I ought to give you a few more details.

On Tuesday, April 21 at 6:30 p.m., to celebrate National Poetry Month, author Jim Minick will read from his work at the Westlake branch of the Franklin County Library. His latest books are Burning Heaven and Her Secret Song. A few Lake Writers—Franz Beisser, Rodney Franklin, Bruce Rae, Jean Brobeck and I—will each read a poem or two to warm up the crowd for Jim.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Jim's collection of essays, Finding a Clear Path, for Blue Ridge Traditions. Here's the review:

Finding a Clear Path, by Jim Minick
Reviewed by Becky Mushko

Finding a Clear Path (West Virginia Press, 2005, 277 pp., ISBN 0-937058-97-1) is a collection of essays by Radford University teacher Jim Minick. Most were written when the author and his wife lived on a farm in Floyd County. Each essay is short—the better to savor it—and all are a delight.

“Walks frame my day,” Minick begins his first essay. Soon the reader walks with Minick as he tells of his boyhood in Pennsylvania, blueberry farming in Floyd County, the joys of changing seasons, and the natural world that surrounds and inspires him.

The Blue Ridge Mountains offer a plethora of flora and fauna; Minick closely observes them. In his essay, “Naming What You Love,” he writes: “I keep a list of birds, an annual spring tally of what lives with us on this farm; what passes over, like the killdeer; or what stays and nests, like the wood ducks. . . . [S]oon I hope to add a list of all the flowers and trees on our farm. Next might be the insects, starting with the butterflies, moths, and dragonflies. The more I learn, the more I want to learn.”

From birds to beaver, from mushrooms to ginseng, from paw-paws to wine-berries, Minick shares what he has learned as both resident and lover of the Blue Ridge Mountains and its bounty. His command of language is admirable and rich with imagery. The opening paragraph to “Monarchs: Flying Poetry” reads like poetry: “Late summer and thistle thick. My wife and I hike through woods up a steep hill, the heat penetrating like the locusts’ song. At the top, the oaks and maples break into a bald, a hole to the sky, deep pink of thistle bloom, and the orange fire of monarchs—hundreds of monarchs. They’ve come to this abandoned pasture to dine on thistle nectar.”

The last essays in Finding a Clear Path are about ways to preserve the Appalachians, so future generations will be able to enjoy what the author has seen. In his book’s appendix, Minick offers an extensive list of publications and resources for readers who want to learn more and do more.

If you love nature and the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll love this book. If you’ve wandered far from the natural world, Finding a Clear Path can get you back on track.

The second appearance, on May 11 at the Roanoke Public Library, involves four of us who are members of the Virginia Writers Club: Jim Morrison, Rodney Franklin, Sally Roseveare, and I. Here's the poster:

Both events are free and open to the public.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Waiting for Gazebo

Yesterday, I bought a gazebo. A building supply in Danville was running a special on them. This morning we waited for it to be delivered.

Instead of coming up Route 29, the tow truck carrying it came up Museville Road which has a lot less traffic. Because the driver had phoned ahead, we knew when to expect it.

Here it comes!

John directs the truck driver where to put it.

Ah, that's the spot.

Yep. Perfect place for a gazebo.

The two guys unstrap it and prepare to unload.

Here it comes.

Almost off—and then it's in place.

Looks a little bare, doesn't it? I need to plant stuff around it. I have a couple of dwarf spirea, three small forsythia, and a bunch of day lilies and iris that need separating. I can get some ferns from the farm. Plus Claudia said I could have a slip of her wisteria.

Now, where should I plant what? (The opening faces south, if that's any help.)

Should I have John till up all around it, or should I just mulch out the grass? How big should I make the flower bed? And should I let the gazebo weather, or should I stain it? (I think we have some deck stain somewhere.)

So much to decide! Any ideas?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lake Writers Visit Phoebe Needles

Yesterday, three fellow Lake Writers and I spent a pleasant morning at Phoebe Needles, a conference center in the mountains of Western Franklin County. Sally Roseveare (Secrets at Spawning Run), Marion Higgins (When Men Move to the Basement), Jim Morrison (Bedford Goes to War), and I spoke to the Center for Lifelong Learning group about our self-published books. The Center for Lifelong Learning is a series of monthly seminars for Senior Adults. Consequently, we were among our peers.

We rallied in the Wal-Mart parking lot, where Jim—fearless leader of Lake Writers and our designated driver—packed our books into the van. Getting to Phoebe Needles entailed a drive through the twisty rural roads. Sally had brought along “Ethel,” her GPS, in case we lost our way. Luckily, we didn’t need Ethel’s services. I forgot to bring my camera, which I could have used because the conference center provided lots of photo ops.

One of the poems I read was “Cat-Napping,” published in the Cats, Critters, and Canines anthology a decade or so ago. Several poeple (cat lovers!) asked me what book it was in. As that book is no longer available, I said I’d post the poem on my blog. Here goes:

When I lay me down to sleep,
My cats pile on me in a heap
And snuggle in my face and purr
While I nearly smother in their fur.

Despite this problem, they’re just right
To warm me on a winter’s night,
But when the weather’s warm, I swear
I cannot stand their stifling hair.

I sweat profusely with the heat
And try to flip them from the sheet,
But this attempt’s in vain because
They cling on tightly with their claws.

No matter how tough I am a fighter,
They only hang on that much tighter.
Every tussle ends in a tie,
And I resolve to let sleeping cats lie.

I’ve learned a lesson from sleeping with cats
Through all four seasons, and that’s
To take the bitter with the sweet
And keep my cool while I take the heat.

After we spoke, read from our books, and answered questions from the audience, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch—chicken cordon bleu, corn and cheese casserole, Sally Lunn bread, a marinated salad to die for, and some luscious desserts.

Most of us sold some books; the group gave each of us a Phoebe Needles tote bag and mug.

After we returned to Rocky Mount, I headed for Krogers for Senior Citizens’ Day. Without John, I figured I’d save a pile of money and be out of the store faster than usual. Indeed, I was three-fourths through shopping when I heard over the intercom, “Buzz-buzz-buzz Becky buzz-buzz your husband is waiting at Customer Service.”

Wow, I thought, some other shopper is named Becky. What a coincidence! Then Teresa (she works at the FC Library, but her husband works at Krogers) came up to me and said it was my husband who was waiting for me at Customer Service. I wheeled my cart in that direction, and —sure enough—John was there. Consequently, I didn’t save any money after all.

John had spent the morning in court (court-watching is his favorite hobby, plus the weather was too bad for him to do any farm work) where he’d just seen a case involving a tractor-trailer operator whose rig had gone over the side of Shooting Creek Road in the western section of Franklin County. It seems that the driver, who wasn’t familiar with Franklin County, had been directed by his GPS to take Shooting Creek Road. It is hard enough for a car to navigate the narrow twisty mountain road, and many Franklin County residents—including me—wouldn’t think of going down the mountain that way because the way down involves driving on the side where there is a sheer drop-off of a couple hundred feet in places as well as blind curves. (At least the way up allows the driver to hug the mountain, but it’s still scarey.) Anyhow, at least there wasn’t any traffic at 4:00 a.m. when the truck driver went over the side, and at least he went over near the bottom so he didn’t fall several hundred feet. However, the tow truck he called couldn’t pull him out, nor the back-up tow truck, etc. Finally a special heavy-duty truck was dispatched from out of the area. The final tow bill came to $42,000 and the trucker’s insurance would only pay part of the bill. Hence, the court case.

Anyhow, I’m glad that Sally didn’t use “Ethel” on our trip into the mountains of Western Franklin County. Goodness knows where we might have ended up.

Note: I slept well last night—surrounded by Camilla, Eddie-puss and Dylan.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter 2009

When I boiled eggs last night, one of them cracked in the boiling process. I thought it looked kind of, um, interesting:

FYI: Easter gets its name from Eostre (also spelled Ostara), a pagan goddess of spring and fertility.

Happy Easter, y'all!


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mulch Ado Again

Thursday, I bought some mulch from Gardner's saw mill, which is just down Route 40 a piece—practically in the neighborhood. I sent John in my green 1972 Chevy Longhorn (now an official "farm use" truck) to get a couple of scoops.

I liked the looks of this pile. At $14 a scoop, the price wasn't too bad. I bought three scoops.

This is how much is in a scoop.

Steaming hot mulch! It smelled wonderful.

Here's my load of mulch coming home. The guy packed it down with the scoop pan so it didn't blow off.

I mulched the driveway flowerbed Thursday afternoon. Nothing like pumping mulch for exercise!

This morning three big helicopters went over the house—and over the truck with what's left of the mulch (the truck is this side of the horse trailer).

This is how much I had left this morning. I have a lot less now. I mulched the gazebo flowerbeds this evening after the wind died down a bit.

I guess I'll have to buy a couple more scoops soon. I can't believe I used to buy bags of mulch when I lived in Roanoke.

Buying bagged mulch is for wimps.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Out and About

Though I’m but a lowly self-published/vanity-published author (with a couple of exceptions), I still get out and about in the writing world. In March, for instance, I spoke to the Piedmont Writers in Martinsville and had a great time.

One reason why I make writing-related appearances is that I’m a member of a couple of writers groups.

On April 21, several other Lake Writers and I—to celebrate April as National Poetry Month—will read a few poems at the Westlake branch of the Franklin County Library to warm up the crowd for poet (and essayist) Jim Minick’s reading.

On May 11, as part of the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, I’ll be part of the “Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing” panel at the Roanoke Public Library headquarters on Jefferson Street.

On August 1, at the Hanover Book Festival, I’ll speak to some members of the Young Virginia Writers Club (as a member of the VWC Board of Governors, I’m on the planning committee for the YVWC) on the topic “What Your English Teacher Never Told You But Should Have.”

Now, here’s a mystery: It appears I’m a member of a writing group that doesn’t even exist. According to a post on the Roanoke Times website:

There is no Franklin Writers Guild (unless it's a secret no one told us about). Those of us doing the program at Phoebe Needles—Marion, Jim, Sally, and I—are actually members of Lake Writers. All four of us are self-pubbed, so we certainly can’t address “All About Writing.” Each of us plans to talk about our own writing. Maybe our presentation should be called “A Little Bit About Writing.”

A little is a long way from all. Anyhow, I know we'll have a good time.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

These were the first tulips to bloom in my yard this spring.