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, June 29, 2010

A Dry Month

To paraphrase T.S. EliotHere I am, an old woman in a dry month. . . waiting for rain.

The last couple of weeks have been hot (90s!) and dry in my part of Virginia. The weather has been great for cutting hay, but not for growing it. I fear that the fall cutting won't amount to much. Our lawn is brown and crispy; ditto for our fields.  The corn across the road is shriveling up.

Many areas to our west, south, and north have had rain—major showers, even. But the rain escaped us. I was optimistic that yesterday afternoon's forecast would bring us a hard, soaking downpour. It brought a light shower that barely wet the lawn. Nothing to soak in. Before long, the sun was out again.

But it did bring us a rainbow in the east:

In the west, the sky was clearing. . . 

. . . and it soon started to clear in the east.

. . . Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.


Sunday, June 27, 2010


From my study window, I can see the Peaks of Otter over in Bedford County—Sharp Top and Flat Top. Sharp Top is obviously the one with the, well,  sharp top.

No one is quite sure why the Peaks of Otter got the Otter part of their name. Here's the most common explanation:

There are three opinions on how the Peaks of Otter got their name. The name may come from the Cherokee Indian word, "ottari," which means "high places." The Peaks may have been named after the Otter River, which has its headwaters in the area. Finally, Scottish settlers may have named the Peaks after Ben Otter, a mountain in their homeland that resembles Sharp Top. 

On Wednesday, my husband and I decided to take a mini-vacation to the Peaks (and to Tractor Supply in Bedford). Plus I wanted to visit the gift shop at the Peaks of Otter Lodge to see if they'd be interested in carrying Ferradiddledumday. They've carried my collection of short stories, The Girl Who Raced & Other Stories, for a few years. Ferradiddledumday would be perfect for the shop.

The gift shop manager wasn't in, so I left the information. Then we went outside to get a better looks at the Peaks. We walked past this old maple tree.

We could see Sharp Top just beyond the Lake. 

See? The top really is sharp.

It was such a hot day, the shade on this little bridge felt good.

After we left the lodge, we stopped by the official visitor center, which also has a gift shop as well as many displays. Again, I left information about my book. Here's the view of Sharp Top, Route 43, and the Blue Ridge Parkway from the visitor center parking lot.

In the bathroom at the visitor center, I saw an interesting looking moth. I couldn't resist taking its picture. Anybody know what it is?

While we were at the Peaks, we visited the Polly Woods Ordinary, which was located near the picnic grounds. 

The lower part of the front window was missing; a plastic bag covered the opening.

We took a closer peek at this early 1800s building. Here's the front step . . .

. . . and the latch on the front door.

We couldn't go inside because both doors were padlocked. Here's the back door.

The chinking between the logs didn't look authentic. I'd hoped that the old cabin would have been more faithfully restored. I also wondered if the upper story would have originally been made of sawn  lumber. Was there a sawmill in the area in the early 1800s? There was no one around to answer my questions.

 Something about the chimney didn't look quite right to John. It didn't look right to me either:

Mortar was used to fill the spaces between the rocks. Originally there would have been mud chinking. But the arrangement of the rocks didn't look historically accurate. In the old days, the rocks would have been fitted much more tightly, and they would have been stacked so there wouldn't be a vertical line between the courses. Had the old chimney been abandoned when the cabin was moved 150 feet to its present location?

Compare the chimney above to the chimney on my cabin, built by William Bernard in 1852 and restored by Willie Edwards in the 1960s. (This is actually a log cabin that was long ago covered in clapboards.) 

See the difference? The rocks are laid more economically. Notice that the stones overlap so there aren't any vertical lines between the courses. Even though mortar is now between the stones instead of the original chinking, the chimney looks much more authentic. (The little window, by the way, was cut by William Bernard so he could sit by the fire and see his wife's grave on the hillside. He's now buried beside her.)

Below, the cabin on the old Smith Homeplace, originally built by a Mr. Street (who's buried in the yard) in the late 1700s and acquired by my great-great grandfather—Samuel Wood Smith (1813-1877), also has a chimney with stones laid similar to the Bernard/Smith one.

The section to the right is the original house, now covered with clapboards and painted. The section to the left was added later.

I wonder why the Polly Woods cabin's chimney wasn't restored more authentically? My interest is piqued.

Here's the view from the front of the Polly Wood's Ordinary:

We're now on the other side of the Lake from the lodge. We've come full circle here.

Click HERE for info about the Parkway turning 75.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Toy

Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows I recently acquired a new toy. The Fed-Ex guy delivered it on Monday afternoon, and I couldn't wait to open the box. Inside the box was another box with a picture of an iPad on top.

I looked at it for a while.

When I opened it, this is what I found.

I turned it over. Yep, it's an iPad.

First I had to sync it. That took waaaaay over an hour because I put all my pictures on it and a bunch of apps that looked good. Plus, all the apps from my iPod Touch loaded, too.

After my husband and I took turns playing with it (I share my toys), I figured I should dress it up. Maybe give it a country look. I changed the background to a picture of Smith Farm and added a hat.


Does that say "downhome iPad," or what? OK, maybe a more sophisticated look. Something glitzy:

Nah, that doesn't do it at all. Maybe a western look?

No, that isn't the look I'm going for either. I am sooooo going to have to get some official iPad outfits. 

Meanwhile, I'm having fun playing with my new toy. I really like this little gizmo.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Yesterday Hay

Hay is now officially baled on all our farms: Polecat Creek, Smith Farm, the Brown Place. The weather was perfect for haying—hot and dry and sunny.

Her are some pictures I took yesterday of the bales in the front field of Smith Farm, my grandparents' place. Because the ground was so dry—no dew!—John started raking before nine yesterday morning. When I took the first two pictures below, he had only raked a row or two. The hay in the foreground is unraked:

He used his diesel tractor. Its covering provided him a bit of shade.

By late afternoon, the hay was baled.

 Notice the grassy spot to the left of the middle of the field. You can just barely see it. Looks like either a flattened bale or a place he missed, doesn't it?

Let's take a closer look. Sometimes things are not what they seem. Here's the spot—several quartz rocks go deep into the field. They're too big to dig up.  

My grandfather, I've heard tell, once tried to dynamite them. He must have gotten tired of plowing around them. Years ago, John chipped away with a sledgehammer in hopes he could flatten them enough to drive over them with the tractor. 

But the rocks won. That's why you'll always see this grassy place if you look at our field from the road.

Some things endure.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Warning: This post contains overuse of both italics and exclamation points.

Last night, on my way to a Valley Writers meeting, I stopped by Barnes & Noble at Tanglewood Mall. I'd just received a B&N gift card as compensation for a presentation I'd done, and it was burning a hole in my purse.

My plan was to use part of it to buy a B&N members card, so I'd get discounts on the other books I'd buy with the gift card as well as on my purchases for the next year. I went to the front counter, filled out the paper work, and received my discount card.

(Note: In the past I have fussed at one of my Lake Writer buddies for using the expression "turned and. . ." in her writing, but . . .) I turned and beheld a display of fairy tale books. Then I saw it. Smack dab in the middle of the display was MY BOOKFerradiddledumday! At the front of the store!

Well, naturally, I had to get a picture:

And another—a close-up this time:

"That's my book!" I told the clerk. "I wrote that!"

The clerk called Michelle—the manager of the children's book department and who'd arranged the fairy tale display—to let her know a children's author was here. When she arrived up front, we had a nice chat. We talked about the possibility of my doing a  book-signing or maybe a reading. She told me that her first order of Ferradiddledumday  had sold out, and the second order was selling. She even planned to review Ferradiddledumday on a children's book review blog that she does.

Elated, I walked around the store and browsed a bit in the computer section. I bought a book about iLife because I'm learning to use iMovie on my Mac, and I figured the book would help. Then I drifted to the fiction section. On the bottom of one shelf, I recognized another book: The Girl Who Raced Mules and Other Stories, a collection of short stories I wrote years ago and had published through a vanity print-on-demand press.

Naturally, I took a picture:

And another:

Wow! Two of my books in B&N! 

Mind you, I'm not letting this go to my head or anything. . . .

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Concealed Kitty

Jim-Bob is hiding. Do you see him?

Here he is!

Now he's hiding in the tree trimmings. 

But he's not doing a very good job of it.


Monday, June 14, 2010

First Squash

A Haiku

Squash hides in garden

Until harvested this morn

Sautéed for lunch (Yummmm!)