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.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I like the word revision. Re+vision. Having a vision again. Lately, I've been revising some of my writing, revising other folks' writing, and revising myself a bit.

I've done a bit of revision on the YA novel that I started a while back (and haven't finished yet). I'm only eleven chapters in, but I like to get the beginning right before I write more. So I revisited what I'd written, cut a few things, and rewrote a bit. During the last few months, most of that novel's writing has been in my head. I replay scenes over and over, trying different twists. But I had no desire to put these scenes into the computer. The other day, I realized why.

Most of the novel takes place in the fall. I need the feel of fall before I can write what happens. I need the colors, the sound of walking through the woods, the blowing leaves, the crisp air. All this is new to me. For other writings, I haven't needed to be in the setting; I haven't need this vision.

Lately, I critiqued—and cut—a fellow Lake Writer's essay that was originally eleven pages. He had some good material, but it was hidden in three times as many words as he needed. After I cut, he cut some more. He read his revision at the Lake Writers meeting last Friday; everyone really liked how he's cut to the essence of his essay.

Today, a bit of me was revised—or at least cut. I had surgery for two ingrown toenails, and—even though I can't get shoes on yet—I'm feeling better already.

My experience at Franklin Memorial this morning was not unlike a manuscript's revision: several Beta readers (nurses) looked over what needed to be done, another person with more advanced skills (anesthesiologist) was called in to start the editorial process, and finally the editor (podiatrist) started the cutting. After my revisions were done, I awoke better than I had originally been.

Now I'm envisioning a walk in the woods.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kitty Smackdown

I'm not doing much writing lately: I'm too busy watching kittens. But I'm thinking about writing. The kittens' little characters are developing quite nicely, they're always plotting something, and there's lots of action. But I won't just tell you; I'll show you:

Don't Jim-Bob, Chloe, Lucy, and Jessica look sweet and innocent?

Let's take a closer look.

Jessica: Hey, Lucy—quit pushing. I'm about to go over the edge here.

Lucy: I'm not doing it. I'm wedged between you and Jim-Bob. Chloe is pushing me.

Chloe: Am not!

Jim-Bob: Hey! This is my kitty tower. I was here first. Why don't you gals take it outside?

Jessica: OK, Chloe. I'll see you outside.

Chloe: You're on!

Chloe strikes the first blow.

Jessica smacks back . . .

. . . and pins Chloe with a flying leap.

Chloe tries to escape, but Jessica gets in a final bite.

Winner of the smackdown—Jessica!

: Ah, the sweet taste of victory!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Snoring, Snot, and Feeling Better

Warning: This blog post contains more boring health-related info about me—and my animals. But it just might help you, so it's worth your while to keep reading.

On Saturday, I had Ruth Mitchell, a myofascial release specialist, work her magic on a few of my critters and me. A bunch of us had been feeling poorly. Thanks to her efforts, we're all much better. (To learn more about what she does, visit Ruth's website: here.)

While most folks know Ruth primarily as an equine therapist, she also works on people and pets. I first met her when she needed someone to edit her book.

She's done therapy on me and the two mares before, but this was the first time she'd worked on any of my cats. Usually I visit her at her office (she works on people on Mondays in Moneta), but—since she was going to be at my place for a while—she brought her table here.

She started with Melody, my big TWH mare, who had recently recovered from a hoof abcess. I knew Melody had some alignment issues; I'd watched her trying to correct herself by leaning her neck or her butt against the edge of the shed.

Sure enough, Melody had a shear both front and rear. Ruth worked on her the longest.

Melody enjoyed the attention and the feeling of relief. By the time Ruth worked on her shoulder, Melody was dozing off. While Melody watched Cupcake's adjustment from the other side of the gate, she soon fell so fast asleep that she was snoring.

Cupcake still had some issues as a result of the stroke she had last fall. Although Cupcake eats much better than she did a few months ago (I don't have to soak her pellets into soup anymore) and her floppy ear has self-corrected and regained its ability to hear, her face is still asymmetrical. Ruth figured she could help the old mare feel better. Plus Cupcake always enjoys what Ruth does.

Check the relaxed look in Cupcake's eyes below:

Before long, Cupcake's nose started running. And running. The snot was clear, but it was obvious that she'd been clogged up for a while. As Ruth continued to work, Cupcake hung out her tongue:

When Cupcake was done and I'd returned her to the pasture, she ran up the hill to graze. Apparently, for a 28-year-old horse, she felt pretty good.

Jim-Bob, Olivia's kitten, is only six weeks old, but I was worried that his birth injury might be a problem. It doesn't seem to bother him that he's missing a foot (the afterbirth that was wrapped around his leg cut off the circulation), but I figured it would hurt to have Ruth take a look. She did some body work in case he had phantom pain from the missing foot and also helped his flexibility.

At first Jim-Bob was a little surprised, but he appeared to like what she did. (Note: Jim-bob's handicap doesn't seem to handicap him; that kitten can run and jump and climb!)

His mama was the next to be treated. I knew Olivia had some neck problems because she couldn't raise her head as high as she should and she sometimes made extra jaw motions when she ate.

Olivia was a bit skeptical and put up a struggle at first, so I wrapped her in a blanket to keep her still. After Ruth had worked with her a bit, Olivia relaxed. In the picture below, Ruth isn't really smoshing Olivia's head:

It didn't take Olivia long to figure out that whatever was happening felt really good.

Before long she was purring.

Then it was my turn. I'd been having trouble with my left leg for a couple of weeks, and it had gotten progressively worse. I was limping a lot, my leg hurt from hip to below the knee, and I had no stamina. During a 40-minute car ride to Roanoke on Friday, I couldn't sit comfortably. It was clear that something needed to be done.

Fortunately, Ruth did it. I'm not completely healed, but I'm about 85% better than I was. I'll need another treatment or two to get me back to normal, but we'll wait until after my toe surgery. Anyhow, what was pain a few days ago is now a mild ache. And I have a lot more stamina. And I don't limp.

It was a challenge to climb onto Ruth's table. While she worked on my back, my spinal column felt like a snake writhing back and forth. I could feel the aches moving down my leg and away from me. Myofascial release is sort of hard to describe—maybe a blend of massage and chiro work with a little something else? It works on the body's connective tissue which, of course, hold the bones and muscles in place. It doesn't hurt, but there are a few teeth-gritting moments here and there. And like the horses, I relaxed and wanted to doze off.

When I fed the horses Saturday night, I noticed Cupcake ate a lot faster and Melody stood more squarely. I noticed I was way more mobile than I'd been for a long time. I could even sleep comfortably Saturday night—and I did way more housework today than I'd done for a while.

This morning, when Olivia pitched a fit to come in and eat breakfast with Foxy the senior cat and me, I noticed she could hold her head back and meow a lot louder.

As for Jim-Bob, he climbed to the top of the cat tower this morning and smacked his sisters when they tried to join him.

Thanks to Ruth, we're all feeling a lot better.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wanting a Nail

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This “nursery rhyme” is a way for a child to learn consequences—one thing leads to another. It runs counter to the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”—because small stuff counts.

Some other sayings, thanks to Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac, that show small things count:

Warning: Boring health stuff follows:

Speaking of small things and nails, I’m having trouble again with ingrown toenails again. I probably should have seen the podiatrist weeks ago, but I kept putting things off and developed an infection, which—thankfully—antibiotics took care of.

But the nail was still nagging at me and limiting my choice of shoes. When I visited the podiatrist yesterday, he removed a section of one toenail. The intense few seconds of pain at least yielded relief, albeit temporary. But the doc still needs to remove more. The problem: I’m allergic to novacaine. Iit works in reverse—making me more sensitive to pain. Another numbing agent causes intense itching. Consequently, I’ll have out-patient surgery—with general anesthesia—on both big toes in less than two weeks.

Before I can check into the hospital, though, I have to encounter great mischief, er, visit my family practitioner for various tests, including an EKG. Then I have to fill out a bunch of forms—including an advance medical directive—and have a PST appointment (“Pre-Surgical Teaching”) over the phone with a nurse. All for the want of a little nail care.

Now, if I’d been sensible back in my late teens and twenties—when I stupidly neglected the health of my feet by wearing high heels (pointed toes were stylish back then) and thus jamming my toes into spaces where they clearly weren’t designed to fit, I might not have this problem now.

For the want of common sense. . . .

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mystery Pear

A big pear tree that produces small round hard pears grows on the Brown Place, a farm we've owned since the mid-70s.

I'm guessing that the tree might have been planted by Tom Brown or his wife Cora. It's a big tree, so it's been around for quite a while. In fact, it's the biggest pear tree I've ever seen.

The pears are too hard for humans to eat, but the deer love them. So do horses. Cupcake and Melody consider the little pears gourmet delights.

But what kind of pear tree is this? What are the pears for? And how do you prepare them?

Anybody have any ideas?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another Birthday

How old am I today? This Beatles' song now applies:

. . . as does much of this passage from page 128 of Nora Ephron's book, I Feel Bad About My Neck:

I have been sixty for four years now. . . . But the honest truth is that it's sad to be over sixty. The long shadows are everywhere—friends dying and battling illnesses. A miasma of melancholy hangs there, forcing you to deal with the fact that your life, however happy and successful, has been full of disappointments and mistakes, little ones and big ones. There are dreams that are never quite going to come true, ambitions that will never quite be realized.

One of my dreams when I was a kid was to have a whole houseful of cats. That one has recently come true (see yesterday's post).

Some—but not too much—of this poem (sorry, I don't know the author, but this poem has been around for decades) also pertains:
On Being a Senior Adult

There's nothing on earth the matter with me.
I'm just as healthy as I can be.
I have arthritis in both my knees,
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze.
My pulse is weak and my blood is thin,
But I'm awfully well for the shape I'm in.

My remaining teeth will soon fall out.
And my diet I hate to talk about.
I'm overweight and I can't get thin,
But I'm awfully well for the shape I'm in.

Arch supports I have for my feet,
Or I wouldn't be able to go on the street.
Sleep is denied me night after night,
And every morning I am a sight!
My memory is failing, my head's in a spin.
I'm practically living on aspirin.
But I'm awfully well for the shape I'm in.

Old age is golden, I've heart it said,
But sometimes I wonder as I go to bed,
My ears in the drawer, my teeth in a cup,
My eyes on the table til I get up.
As sleep finally comes, I say to myself,
"Is there anything else I should put on the shelf?"
But I'm happy to say as I close the door,
My friends are the same as in days of yore.

I get up each morning, dust off my wits,
Pick up the paper and read the obits.
If my name isn't there, I know I'm not dead.
So, I eat a good breakfast, then go back to bed!

I may have slowed down considerably in the last couple of years, but I'm not dead yet. There's still more to see and do. Later today, I might order myself an iPod as soon as I decide if I want a Nano or a Touch.

Meanwhile, I'll eat a good breakfast, read the paper, feed my numerous critters, play Frisbee with the border collie, and watch kittens discover the world.

And try to decide which iPod I want.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cat Hoarder by Default

. . . or maybe that's "cat herder." Whatever. Anyhow, I can relate to this video:

A few months ago, I had only five cats—the four regulars (who come in for the night) and one peripheral cat (who's sort of autistic and who prefers to spend nights under a boxwood). Then a black and white cat invaded the garage and ripped up garbage bags. I thought that cat—who wouldn't let me near her—had moved on. Turns out the cat merely moved to the shed.

Meanwhile, Olivia appeared and took up residence on the deck where she lived for a couple of weeks before I could even touch her. Because she was in such bad shape, I took her to the vet. We discussed getting her spayed when her respiratory problems got better. She was a sweet cat, so I figured one more small cat couldn't make much difference.

Meanwhile, the regulars formed a committee and held meetings every afternoon under the maple tree to determine policy for dealing with the newcomers. They unanimously decided to ignore the interlopers. Olivia petitioned the regulars for full cat membership, but they refused to recognize her existence. However, the tall, thin black and white cat who came every once in a while to beg for food at least acknowledged Olivia.

Meanwhile (yeah, I'm being repetitive with all the meanwhiles), the black and white cat—who'd gained a surprising amount of weight—suddenly became thin again. But I didn't see any kittens around. I figured she must have gifted someone else.

Meanwhile, Olivia turned out to pregnant and had kittens in the garage. And then hid them. Several times.

Meanwhile, I started catching fleeting glimpses of black and white kittens darting into the shed between the shop and the tack room. Three beautiful kittens. All as wild as their mama. I started feeding Twiggy (yeah, I named her) at the shop.

Twiggy (This is about as close as I can get to her.)

Meanwhile, the kittens would sometimes peek around at me, but they wouldn't pose for a picture. Now I've got them eating near the Have-A-Heart Trap. If I can get Twiggy to Planned Pethood for a little elective surgery. . . .

Meanwhile, I called Planned Pethood a few days ago and left a message and my phone number. I'm still waiting for them to call me back.

Meanwhile. . .

Every morning I transport the kitten herd via basket from the garage to the patio. Every evening I take the herd back to the garage.

Chloe (who really does look like she's been assembled of spare cat parts) is the most adventurous of the bunch. She's my favorite.

Lucy, another patchwork cat, is almost as adventurous as her sister.

Jim-Bob and Jessica tend to stick together. I'd like to see them find a good home together.

Meanwhile, kittens are running all over the place. It's hard to keep the herd together. Maybe I should saddle up Melody or Cupcake.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

First Day of School

School begins today for Roanoke students. I’m glad I’m not among them.

When I was a week away from turning six, I started first grade (no kindergarten back in the day) at Huff Lane Elementary School. My mother walked me to school (few mothers drove back in the day) and saw me to the door of Mrs. Willhide’s room. Mama told me she’d wait in the hall. Sure enough, Mama was there to walk me home for lunch, and she was there again to walk me home. I figured there must have been a place in the hall—maybe near the big kid classes upstairs—where mothers waited. I should have gotten suspicious because (1) lunch was always ready when we got home at noon and (2) I never saw any other mothers in the hall. But Mama was always waiting in the hallway where she said she’d be.

As we walked home that first day, I asked Mama how old I had to be before I could quit. She told me sixteen. I decided that’s what I would do. Too bad I had to be bored for another ten years.

Later that day, I was playing on the sidewalk in front of my house when Mrs. Wertz from up the street came by.

“How did you like your first day of school?” she said.

“I hate it,” I said. “I’m going to quit when I’m sixteen.” Although I meant what I said at the time, it turns out I lied. I didn’t quit.

Before the week was out, I learned that Mama lied, too. One day she was running a little late and I caught her walking up the sidewalk.

Anyhow, I didn’t quit. When I turned sixteen, I figured I could hang on for two more years. A year later, I started thinking about college, even though I wasn’t sure what I’d be. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher—and female career choices in the 1960s were mostly limited to nursing, secretarial work, and teaching. I hated the sight of blood (a condition I’ve since gotten over), so nursing was out. I hated the thought of being trapped behind a desk where I’d have to pound a typewriter (who knew computers would be invented?), so forget secretarial work. The only career left was teaching. Besides, I’d gotten used to being in a classroom.

I went to college and became a teacher.

After college, I taught in York County, then married, moved to South Carolina, and couldn’t get a teaching job my first year in Charleston—so I started grad school. After I received my masters, I was back in one classroom or another—junior high, high school, middle school, and college—and then back into high school (albeit part-time) for another year as a writer-in-residence. Most of those years were in Roanoke.

Fifty-six years after making my vow, I finally did quit.

So don’t look for me in school today. I won’t be there.

Not even in the hall.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Olivia's Babies

I hadn't seen Olivia's kittens for a week. Since their birth on August 8, she's moved them several times. For a while she had kept them on the floor of the 1971 Ford truck. I'd been looking in the window a lot, so she probably decided the kittens needed privacy. One morning they were just gone.

Because of Olivia's respiratory problem, I thought that they might not make it. I didn't know how badly the yellow kitten was injured from being tangled in the after-birth that wrapped tightly around one of his hind legs. I knew that his leg could move, but I was worried that it might be a mess.

Last night, when I came back from a Valley Writers meeting in Roanoke, Olivia met me at the garage door and followed me to the kitchen door where the kittens were waiting.

"Here they are," Olivia seemed to say.

They let me pet them. The yellow is missing most of his foot, but he barely limps. It healed clean. I've had special needs cats before so if he can cope, so can I.

This morning the kittens were out and about. The two lighter ones are a bit timid, but two dark ones are especially curious. Lucy is the bolder of the two, but Chloe is loud and pushy. Lucy and Chloe are both playful.

Their mottled coats make Chloe and Lucy look like they were made from spare cat parts. Chloe's on the left. Check out her orange tail ring.

Chloe's on the bottom here.

Lucy takes time out for a snack.

When I fed Olivia, the kittens decided they could eat big kitty food, too.

Afterwards, Chloe (who'd waded in the milk) and her sister (so far unnamed) washed up . . .

. . . and posed for a picture.

OK. They're cute, but I mustn't get attached.

Mustn't get attached. . . .

Meanwhile, what do I name this one?


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

So Much Hay

. . . so little time.

But soon there'll be even more hay. This evening, fall hay-cutting starts on Polecat Creek Farm.