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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rorshach Sky

What do you see in the clouds? I took these pictures last Saturday after I'd finished the evening feeding. I stood in the pasture and snapped away.

That little white dot in the last picture is the moon.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


. . . a guest post by Melody Sundance, an almost-twenty-year-old TWH mare, wherein she demonstrates her breaking and entering ability:

I've finished my dinner and I'm still hungry. It isn't fair that Cupcake gets more to eat.

Look at all that food in her pan! I'll just break into her stall, run her out, and eat what's left.

Hmm. Looks like the gate isn't latched. Lucky me!

This is where my prehensile lip comes in handy.

Almost got it! Just have to pull it around with my head.

OK, I can slip in her stall now.

Drat! She ate it all up!

I'll have to work faster tomorrow.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Cutting 2009

We're a month late getting our hay cut this year. Thank goodness we finally had a stretch of hot, dry weather. The hay on both Polecat Creek Farm and Smith Farm has now been cut, raked, and baled. The hay on the Brown Place will be raked and baled tomorrow.

This is how the Polecat Creek Farm hay looked last Saturday:

The next day, it looked like this:

Nothing smells as good as fresh-cut hay.

Sunday evening—on the longest day of the year—we had a beautiful sunset.

On Tuesday, the hay on Polecat Creek Farm was baled:

The hay on our point field did especially well: 20 bales—a new record for that field.

Here's the side field at Smith Farm this afternoon:

The Smith Farm front field:

Our totals for the two farms: 95 bales on Polecat Creek; 82 bales on Smith. This is the best hay harvest we've had for years.

And we still have one farm to go.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

For What It’s Worth

(Writing, that is)

Note: I write this blog for free. I'd like to pay myself for doing it, but I can't afford to pay me what I think I'm worth.

When word came out that the local public radio station was in search of people to read their personal essays on the air, some of the Roanoke Valley Pen Women pondered the merits of writing (and reading) for free. On his Fromtheeditr blog, Dan Smith, a professional writer and editor, had mentioned, "You may be wondering how much writers get paid for these local essays. The answer is: Not a nickel. It's all about the audience—intelligent NPR listeners."

One of the Pen Women, a freelance writer, noted, “. . . my time is worth money.”

I think all of us who are serious about writing feel that way. However, is there a time when writing without monetary compensation is justified?

I’ve written for free on occasion—in the early 1990s when I was delighted just to see my name in print, a few times when I was helping get someone’s new publication going, for charitable reasons, etc. But the older I get, the less inclined I am to give away something I’ve have spent hours working on. (The reason I no longer write my “Peevish Advice” column is that the publisher—as a cost-cutting measure—decided to no longer pay columnists.) Still, sometimes, I write for free.

Fellow Pen Woman and author, Judy Ayyildiz, explained why much better than I can. The following is posted with her permission:

I've been in the arts now for most of my life. I believe in making money with my skills and do so whenever I can. I also know this: as artists, a certain amount of our work will always be out there for free. Visual arts hang in galleries and restaurants and festivals to be viewed for free in the hopes that it will generate sales. Writers get paid for selling a book to the library, but then many get to read it for free. Songs on the radio come to us for free. Artists of all categories promote work by exhibition and marketing in hopes for sales, and in hopes that we may have a wider communication of our inventive ideas to the world.

Now, to the NPR. First of all, NPR is a lifesaver for me personally. I admire and respect it. Second of all, if your essay is accepted, you still own it and can sell it elsewhere, perhaps with a better chance for having it aired on such a prestigious network, or perhaps another piece of writing may sale because you can say that you are heard on NPR. When we have a new book out, we certainly are most happy for any kind of public interview we can get in the hopes of marketing it wider. No one is ever paid for promo, and for most, being an artist is steady promo. I doubt if even Toni Morrison gets paid for such interviews.

I don't have an essay ready at the moment, but I may in the future. As a poet and short story writer, I have had many publications in literary journals and magazines for which I did not get paid except in one of two copies of the printed collection. This is pretty standard. What a writer wants to do is to build up a resume and readership. Writers generally have to start at the bottom of the heap of publications and work toward more saluted publications. Some of them do pay a bit, but hardly ever a generous amount. But, we are very proud and place it in our vita if it is a worthwhile publication that will herald us as good writers. NPR is just like most literary publications in that they are always trying to raise funds to keep going. We are not NASCAR folks, we are artists—and the average Joe doesn't care or understand fine art, and that's just the simple truth. I can track the progress in America by how much better opera not Oprah! is received all across the land, but opera's acceptance was long and hard.

By the way, half of the poems in my last book of poetry were already published in literary magazines and most for free. That helps get a book of poetry published by a legitimate publisher. Poetry sadly makes little money as we know. I have gladly and with much joy served on many arts committees for free, even when someone at the top was getting paid. Being an artist is my job 24/7 and I do it like I breathe. I try to get paid for it as much as I can, but why would I mind sharing an essay on a vital network for free that will enhance my name as an artist and which essay I may later publish in a book?

Lastly, I have no argument that artists are the servants of society without which society can't exist. If we all go on strike for pay or better pay then what will happen is that NASCAR will continue to exist as always, fundamental religions of the world will be joyous because then they can decide what is art, politicians will have fewer moral questions to wrestle with . . . and, you get it. I am so bad at this that I actually pay to be in organizations that promote the arts like Pen Women because that is where my belief system lies. I was an editor for Artemis, Artists and Writers for the Blue Ridge for 13 years, and it cost me money and I never did get paid—except it fed my soul and promoted all of the arts in my community. None of the contributors to Artemis ever got paid unless they won a contest because Artemis lived on such a tight budget that we could hardly make ends meet. Raising the arts in the Roanoke Valley was kind of like raising my kids in the Roanoke Valley in that it sure cost me a lot of time, frustration and money but I would have done it even if I had gotten paid money for it because I received so much in return.

OK, now I gotta get started on an essay. . . .


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bad Book Promotion Idea

The other night I received an e-mail touting a 2007 book published by the same vanity publisher I’ve used for my collection of redneck humor columns and my collections of down-home stories.

Here’s part of it, with particular details redacted:


I had a [major medical problem involving a transplant] on [date was two decades ago]. I had none of the risk factors for [this major medical problem]. My family doctor said, “It should not have happened.” I was 44 years old.

The next two years were a whirlwind of life-threatening events that accelerated in an exponential matter. My family and I endured these near cataclysmic series of happenings: [here follows a list of nine bad things].

My book, [title redacted],tells the amazing story of my recovery from [this major medical problem].

Please share my [insert name of organ] story with your co-workers, family, and friends.

There follows a list of testimonials from doctors, nurses, and a preacher. Plus a link to the Amazon page where the book is for sale.

Now, nowhere on this email was my name actually used—not even in the “sent to” line. Could I be the recipient of e-mail spam? Ya think?

I figured I’d give the sender the benefit of a doubt. Maybe I’d met this author before, but I surely couldn’t figure out where. My interest was piqued. I replied:

I'm puzzled why I received this e-mail. Have we met? If so, I can't seem to place you.

If you wanted me to review this book on my blog, I'm sorry, but I only review fiction—preferably regional or Appalachian fiction.

Actually, that last part’s not quite true. I will review selected non-fiction that has a strong link to my geographical area, like this one.

The following day, the sender of the e-mail replied back:

I read somewhere that you are an author. I thought you might be interested in my [medical procedure] story.

I’m having a little problem following the reasoning. Because I am an author (more like a wanna-be author), I’ll be interested in any book? Uh, no. I’m a hearty eater, too, but ain’t no way I’m gonna eat sushi (it’s bait as far as I’m concerned).

Obviously the author of the book in question wasn’t at all familiar with me—a former redneck humor columnist, freelancer, short story writer, self-published novelist, blogger, and aspiring children’s author—or my work. Did he perhaps send out an e-mail blast to thousands in hopes that he might get a few readers?

If so, it didn’t work for me. I only buy self-pubbed or vanity POD books from people I've actually met and whose work I'm familiar with—maybe people who've done readings I've attended or whose blogs I've read and liked. I've never bought a book because it was advertised in an e-mail.

Note to authors who e-mail blast me: Using a phrase like “a whirlwind of life-threatening events that accelerated in an exponential matter” isn’t going to get me interested in your book. Don't use “near cataclysmic” either.

Note to authors who’d like me to review their books on this blog: Query me first (include a URL to your blog or website) before you send me a complimentary hard copy of your book (I don’t do pdfs or docs). If your book is connected to the Appalachian region—or even the South, I might be interested.

But not if it involves whirlwinds or cataclysms. I have to draw the line somewhere.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Riding, Writing, Etc.

Monday night I watched the trail racking class at the Roanoke Valley Horse Show. That’s the class that I used to show in with Cupcake (under her registered name, “G’s Liberated Lady”).

All Monday’s racking classes were small, but trail racking was the largest with maybe eight or nine entries. Back in the day, the classes were huge—Cupcake and I sometimes showed in classes of 18 or 20. Just finding a spot on the rail was a challenge.

Trail racking horses are shown at the walk and trail rack. Smoothness is everything. Monday night, a couple horses racked nicely, but some paced. (Note to my non-horsey readers: the rack is a four-beat lateral gait that is very smooth for the rider; the pace is a two-beat lateral gait that is uncomfortable for the rider who gets slung from side to side.) The pace is not smooth.

At the end of the class, a good trail racking horse is supposed to stand quietly and back readily when asked, but few did on Monday. One slung up its head and cracked its rider on the nose. I had flashbacks to when Cupcake tried to back over the judge twenty years ago while we were lined up. She blew the “stand quietly” part, so we didn’t even place in that Roanoke Valley Horse Show.

Showing a horse successfully, I’ve decided, is not unlike good writing. You want to get the judge’s attention when you first rack into the ring; you want to hook a reader with your first sentence. You want your passes around the ring to appear effortless, as if you and the horse move as one being. You want your prose to flow smoothly. You want your transitions from one gait to another to be smooth, too. Ditto for writing.

Style is important, but you don't want it to call attention to itself. You want your riding to look invisible: your cues should be subtle, your hands should be light, your legs should be still, you should wear the correct riding habit. If you have to use your spur, no one watching should notice you did it. When you write, you don’t want to call attention to your style, either. If you’re heavy on the adjectives, adverbs, and passive verbs, the reader will notice.

You want your ending on a good note. Stand quietly. Don’t back over the judge. Don't make the reader say, "Huhhhh?"

I’ve seen—or participated in—a lot of classes at horse shows in which the riding didn’t work. At one show many years ago, I even saw a harness pony killed by another who dumped his driver and ran amok. I’ve read a lot of books that just didn’t work either, but at least they weren’t fatal.

Here’s a You-Tube video of a pleasure driving class (I don’t know when or where this was) that went horribly wrong, but thankfully no people or horses were seriously hurt. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it shows what can happen when someone loses control.

I haven’t shown for years and, after watching that video, I have no desire to show. But I still write—and my writing isn't as bad as what happened in that video.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

OK. No tigers—unless you count the little tiger cat who seems to pretty much be my kitty now. But bears are all around here. And it looks like the lions are back—at least one mountain lion (aka cougar) is. Oh, my!

Because of the frequent rain and the subsequent growth of vegetation (Our hay still hasn’t been cut!) and the increasing tick population, I haven’t walked the woods or fields on any of our farms for about two months. I don’t think I’ll be walking again for a while. Here's why:

This evening, after John and I had checked Polecat Creek Farm and were driving home, we encountered Lydia, who owns the farm just south of ours. She told us about seeing a mountain lion a few weeks earlier—on Bar Ridge Road between Blacksmith Road and Novelty Road—not too far from our farm. Less than a mile. Too close for comfort.

At first she wasn’t sure what it was, but when she described what she'd seen to her daughter, her daughter said it sounded like a mountain lion and looked up pictures on the Internet. Lydia realized that was exactly what she’d seen. Oh, my!

Also, she’d seen a mauled fawn’s body the day she saw the mountain lion. Odds are good the two sightings are connected.

A few years ago, a man a mile or two further south of us had seen a mountain lion on his property, too, so the critter isn’t unknown in these parts of rural Virginia.

My Lake Writer buddy Sally Roseveare, who lives on Smith Mountain Lake, has blogged about her experiences with cougars one county over from me. Other folks in the Smith Mountain Lake area have spotted the elusive critter, too.

J. N., posting on Wolves.wordpress, said on February 20, 2008:
I used to vacation on Smith Mountain Lake Virginia, Good View, and I can definatly confirm cougar in this area. It lived across the cove from us, and it would scream out at night sometimes, so loud that chills ran down our spines. We would sit on our back porch and listen awe struck. She was never spotted, but that sound is something that you never can forget or confuse for anything else. We had a secluded cabin off of cedar key road, private property (no hunting/trespassing) that ran for acres and acres, as well as a private and protected cove, as bass spawn there, no wake, no loud noises, no people. We have spotted a mother black bear and cub over by the damn while hiking, scary sight but very awsome. We had tons of deer, albino too! It’s been about ten years since then. . . .

On another site,, “James” comments on November 11, 2000:
I have personally seen mountain lions in Virginia, one near Smith Mountain Lake and another just 4 days ago near my mailbox where I live in the country. The mature and very large lion at Smith Mountain crossed right in front of my car. The one I saw at the mailbox looked young and not as large. I am concerned about my safety and I have reported this to the game wardens but no help. . . .

This comment, in February 2009 by “Anonymous” on the Rule-303 Blog, puts a cougar about 20-25 miles from where I live:
. . . a few months ago I was standing on my back porch, and about 40 yards away was a big cat. It was grayish/brown in color and was just sitting on the gravel driveway staring into a field where deer graze. It noticed me, walked back up in the woods and came back 2 minutes later. I hung a piece of raw beef in a tree the next night and waited with a flashlight. It fell down the hillside, and scrambled back up the bank. That was the last I saw it. I called several game departments and contacts and everyone of them denied that it was a mountain lion and said it was a bobcat. I live in Boones Mill, and 50 yards away from heavily driven Rt. 220. It's incredible that we have these animals around here. . . .

This comment, posted by another “Anonymous” in May 2009 on the same blog, might have been written by Lydia’s daughter (or maybe by someone else in the neighborhood):
Definately a cougar in Franklin Co. VA—reading the earlier post I see that a cougar/lion was spotted in Boones Mill. I live in Penhook, just across the county, and today my mother asked me to pull up a photo of one because she had never seen them. The photo matched her sighting. Also when my husband and I were dating, we went four-wheeling in Endicott—an area between Ferrum and Floyd, and saw one. He told me that there was a mountain lion that lived in the old well house (he lived in an old farm house), and I never believed him. I changed my mind when we were a few yards away from one! I know a bobcat, and I know a dog—this is neither!

Now I’m wondering what Maggie the border collie and Hubert the beagle encountered last Groundhog Day when John and I walked our woods at Polecat Creek. Here’s part of what I posted on my February 4 entry:
We had to climb some steep hills with ravines between. Maggie and Hubert ran ahead—as they usually do—and disappeared into a deep ravine. Suddenly both dogs yipped/shrieked/made dog equivalent of a scream and came running toward us at top speed. For a moment, Maggie glared back at the ravine. What could have scared Maggie? She's pretty fearless. (We didn't go down for a closer look.)

Game officials deny that cougars are in our area, but too many folks—me included—believe these critters are around us.

I still haven’t seen a bear, but they’re all around, too. Not long ago, I blogged about a sighting less than two miles from me. I’ve heard that the new lake neighborhood, “The Retreat” in Union Hall, has some resident bears, too. That neighborhood is near Smith Farm.

Looks like I’m surrounded by critters that I’d best avoid—even if I haven’t seen them.

Oh, my!


Friday, June 12, 2009

Pink Sky and Rainbow

This is my 650th post on this blog.

I awoke before six this morning and went out to get the paper. Much of the sky was pink, and the sunrise over Smith Mountain was glorious.

But I noticed something else in the sky—a rainbow.

The other end soon appeared.

I don't think the two bulls near the fence across the road noticed, though. (Several bulls are actually in this field. I can't believe they get along together, but they do. The "panda-faced" bull to the right is my favorite. Every morning he calls to his cows and leads them to a grazing spot. He was humming when I took this picture. After he hums for a while, he starts bellowing.)

Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning.
Red sky at night,
Sailors' delight.

So, what does a pink sky with a rainbow mean?

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Colors of Sunsets and Flowers

Last evening I watched the sunset—it bloomed orange, yellow, white, mauve, and a tiny bit of pale pink.

This afternoon, I saw the colors of the sunset in my garden. Orange fritillaries on mauve milkweed blossoms:

Orange daylilies:

Yellow daylilies too:

Yellow prickly pear:

Yellow squash blossoms:

White oak-leaf hydrangea:

And white yucca:

Pink roses:

And pink lilies:

But the sunset didn't have the color of Job's tears:

Or my butterfly bush (except for the butterfly):

Or even this yarrow:

Still, it was pretty colorful.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Avenel Revisited

On Saturday—D-Day—many Americans went to France to join the thousands visiting the historic site of the invasion. Four thousand other people visited the D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

On Sunday, an American now living in France, and his French wife visited a historic Bedford site because of another war. This time, the site was Avenel—the old Burwell plantation; the war was the Civil War.

Avenel wasn’t crowded. Volunteer Annette Allen, historian June Goode, a young intern from the Bedford Bulletin (accompanied by her mother who took pictures), and I were the only ones present besides the visiting couple.

June, me, Annette, & Farrar

Avenel wasn’t open to the public on Sunday. But it was open to us, and Annette—a wealth of information about the history of the place—gave us a tour. Here's why:

In 2006 Farrar Richardson, an American living in Bordeaux, France, was researching information about his great grandfather, Henry Brown Richardson, a Confederate officer and the son of a Maine abolitionist minister. Richardson knew that his ancestor had been wounded in the battle of Sharpsburg and had been hospitalized in Bedford, Virginia, and had visited Avenel while in Bedford.

When Farrar googled Avenel, my blog popped up because I’d blogged about doing a reading at Avenel with fellow Lake Writers. He e-mailed me to ask if Avenel might have been a hospital; I contacted Bedford historian June Goode, whose book Our War, was Lettie Burwell’s diary that covered a portion of the Civil War. Avenel hadn’t been a hospital. I also told him about another book that picked up where Lettie’s diary left off—Lucy Breckenridge of Grove Hill, by Mary Robertson. While LT. Richardson was referred to in both books, neither Lettie nor Lucy identified him by first name. Mary Robertson assumed the Lt. Richardson from Louisiana was Lt. Frederick Richardson, who was killed at Gettysburg. But she was wrong—it had to have been Henry. Both Lettie and Lucy left enough clues for us to make that assumption. Plus Henry Brown Richardson, who joined the Tensas Rifles while he was working as a engineer in Louisiana, eventually became a Virginia soldier under General Averill. Henry Brown Richardson was wounded at Gettysburg and eventually imprisoned at Johnson’s Island Prison, where he received a message from a mysterious "R" at Avenel.

Anyhow, Farrar and his wife recently came to America and visited some places that Henry had been—Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, and Avenel. At Avenel, June and I were finally able to meet the person we only knew through e-mails.

Before they arrived at Avenel, the Richardsons
(flanked by June and me) had stopped at the D-Day Memorial.

Annette gave us a tour and showed us the rooms where Henry would likely have been. She also showed us rooms where he wouldn’t have been (and a few places where most visitors don't go) and told us how the house had changed during remodeling.

Henry would have entered the front of the house where the drive circles.

He wouldn't have come in this side, which faces what is now called Avenel Street, and what most people think of as the front:

Perhaps he passed these boxwoods near the circle. They look very old, so maybe they were here then:

He would have entered by this door:

Then he would have walked into the hallway.

Perhaps Lettie and her sisters might have watched from upstairs.

Perhaps he would have sat and visited in this room, which was later used as a bedroom. Both Mrs. Burwell (Frances Steptoe Burwell) and her daughter Lettie died in this room:

Most likely he visited in the adjacent parlor to the right. He probably didn't go upstairs, so he didn't see what is now called the Lee Room (Robert E. Lee once stayed there):

And he certainly didn't go into what is now called the Pink Room:

Can you see the little orb at the baseboard? This room is one that's haunted.

Another view of the pink room.

Perhaps he noticed this portrait of Mrs. Burwell:

Or this one of Mrs. Burwell's mother, Mrs. Steptoe:

He wouldn't have seen this painting. It didn't exist then. And the wraparound porch was added later.

Did he ever go onto the upstairs balcony? If so, he wouldn't have seen the red barn in the background; it was was built later.

Had he gone onto the balcony, he might have noticed the steep stairs going toward the attic. What secrets hide in that attic, do you suppose?

It's hard to say what the young soldier, recovering from his wounds, might have seen. But we're sure Henry Brown Richardson was there.

During our visit, we no doubt walked in a few of his footsteps. And we had a most enjoyable time doing so.

Edited to add the write-up in the June 17, 2009, Bedford Bulletin (click to enlarge):


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