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.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Last Day of Summer

On the last day of summer, fairies danced on the lawn. See? Here's the ring they left:

Down the road, the hay on Polecat Creek Farm was cut. Here's how it looked before . . .

. . . and after.

Now the hay will spend today drying in the sun so it can be raked tomorrow. 

Across the freshly cut point field, deer watched.

 Back home, flowers of autumn bloomed:



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Light Fix

The light fixture in the family room died the other day. None of its ugly florescent tubes would come on. The plastic that used to cover the tubes had succumbed to crumbling last year, and we'd never gotten around to replacing it. Electrical engineer hubby put up a temporary fix while I checked prices of replacement fixtures. The temporary fix was functional but not a thing of beauty.

For the new fixture, I wanted a country look—but country looks cost big bucks. Meanwhile, I remembered seeing a picture of a chandelier that someone had spray-painted and made into a candlebra. We had a couple of vintage mid-70s chandeliers lying around somewhere. 

This truly ugly chandelier used to hang in the dining room before we upgraded. I don't think I'll ever use it again. I figured I had nothing to lose if I spray-painted it. First, I wrapped and taped the parts I didn't want to paint:

I had a full can of blue—my favorite shade of blue. Let's see what happens. . . . 

I needed to turn it over to paint the underside, and I happened to have an ugly silver-painted flowerpot that would hold the chandelier while getting itself painted at the same time.

Finally it was dry enough for hubby to hang. But we needed to check to see if it would work before we added all the bulbs and globes. 

Yes, it works!

After adding bulbs and vintage 70s globes, we now have this:

And all it cost me was a can of spray paint that I already had.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yesterday Hay

. . . Today Rain

This morning I woke to a soft rain falling—and it was cool enough for me to wear a sweatshirt when I went out to feed the critters. How different today is from the past week, when it was sunny and hot enough to make hay on the Union Hall farms.

Weatherwise, we were lucky. Although yesterday was cloudier and more humid than usual, all hay was baled by late afternoon. The Brown Place, our largest farm, was the first one finished. (When John Tom Brown owned the place in the early 1900s, it was known as Shady Rest.)

Adjacent to the Brown Place is the Mattox Place, a farm my husband caretakes and which belongs to some of my cousins. My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather owned and farmed this place in the 1800s and early 1900s. The next round of cutting, raking, and baling was there. In the pictures below, my husband rakes hay. Raking is done a day or two after hay is cut, so its dry enough not to mold when baled.

Beside the hayfield are the graves of Mr. and Mrs. Street, who lived on the place in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Mr. Street died in 1837.

Yesterday afternoon, the hay at Smith Farm was finished. Here's how the hay looked a few days ago when it was cut but not yet raked.

Here it's been raked:

Smith Farm is where my grandparents lived for nearly a half century, and where my father grew up.

Part of what's left of the cabin was originally built by William Bernard before the Civil War. My grandfather added another section later.

When William's wife Gillie Ann died in 1887, he cut a small window into the cabin wall beside the fireplace so he could look at her grave while he set by the fire. 

Hard to believe that these three farms have been worked for a couple of centuries now.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cakes and Old

Today, I'm old, at least older than yesterday and way older than when I blogged about being old three years ago. Today marks the twelfth year I've been eligible for Kroger's senior citizen discount, and the second year I've been on Medicare. It's been years since I celebrated a birthday (What's to celebrate?) and that's fine with me. Birthday celebrations are for the young.

To celebrate my birthday when I was a kid, Mama always baked me a birthday cake. Most years she took my picture. Here I am celebrating my first birthday at my grandparents' house on what used to be Watts Avenue. My parents and I lived with my grandparents until I was two.

Guests at this auspicious occasion were my cousins, Marty and Tommy Ruble. we're sitting in a chair that their father—my Uncle Raymond—made. He made a bunch of these chairs. I guess the main entertainment for my birthday was Marty pushing me in the swing.


Here I am at two. Same location—notice that the swing is still hanging from the same tree. Why Do I have a tag on me that says "2"?

I still have that chair that Uncle Raymond made for me.  Now, it's painted burgundy and makes a sturdy step-stool. I'm wearing a pink dress that was crocheted for me by Mrs. Sharp, who also lived in the Rugby area. She was the mother of Irving Sharp, a playmate of my mother and uncles and who later became a local radio and TV personality. Mrs. Sharp also crocheted a matching doll coat. I still have the dress and doll coat, too.

I couldn't find a picture of birthday #3, but here's birthday #4. Location has changed to our new house on Floraland Drive in Roanoke's Williamson Road area. Ours was the last street before farmland began. Way the other side of fields and farms was the airport. 

Notice the chairs behind me. You can guess who made them, can't you? My dress, which Mama would have made, is a bit revealing for 1949, don't you think?

Here's #5. Same chairs. Better hairdo. Less revealing dress. Hated those hard shoes—same style as the previous year. Mary Janes, I think they were called.

Here's #6. I'm back in party mode, with both cousins and neighbors attending the festivities.

Billy Meador, Johnny Campbell, Marty, Tommy, me, Carolyn Ferguson, and Judy. Billy and Johnny lived up the hill; Carolyn lived next door. Behind us you can see the new houses in the new Dorchester Court neighborhood where farmland used to be. Those chairs are holding up pretty good, huh?

Here's a solo picture of me in my first car, which I'd gotten a few Christmases earlier. At six, I'm way too big for the car.

Yet another picture of me and the cake, with Dorchester Court in the background. I still have the table (made by Uncle Raymond). It matched the chairs, but Mama used it on the porch for years to hold her plants; now it holds plants on my patio.

I don't remember the dress, but I know Mama made it. I do remember the sandals which I loved because they were wonderfully comfortable. I remember being delighted that I could wiggle my toes.

. . .and here's another closer picture of the cake, even though you can't see all six candles:

In the background at right, you can see a tiny bit of the lot (the tree) that my husband and I still own. Next to what would eventually become our lot is where the Via house was built the following year.

Here's birthday #7. The socks with multi-colored sandals were an unfortunate fashion choice. Notice Mama was making me more elaborate dresses, too.

I think the photo below is #8, but it's hard to count the candles. Notice I'm wearing a cowgirl outfit and there's a cat at the bottom step of our house on Floraland.

See the little table on the porch? I still have that, but it isn't in very good shape now. I think Grandaddy Ruble made it.

In the picture below, I think it's birthday #9. (I know I was still wearing braids at age nine. A fourth grade picture of me is here.) Notice I get to wear shorts instead of those sissy dresses with sashes.

Below is #10, I think. Again, I can't see all the candles to count them. I'm sitting on the front porch and wearing a genuine store-bought dress. (I wore the same dress for school pictures, too.) I didn't wear braids anymore, but mama often subjected me to curlers. Hated having my hair rolled up!

You see the chair I'm sitting in? Mama had three yellow metal chairs on the front porch. Now they're in my yard.

Birthday #11 (or it might be 12). Note the chair is still looking good. I'm starting to grow up. 

After that year, the cake pictures ceased. Maybe I thought I was too old for birthday pictures. I still had a cake for the next few years, though.

Now, there's no more cake. Too many carbs for this diabetic.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Ago

This morning was like the morning eleven years ago—the sky was bright blue, the air crisp, the trees still green.

Driving to my adjunct English instructor job at Ferrum College on September 11, 2001, I couldn't help but notice what a lovely day it was. I probably had lots on my mind: my birthday was the next day, my mother was undergoing rehab in a nursing home in Rocky Mount and would come to stay with me after the nursing home did an investigation to see if the apartment on my home's lower level was suitable, I'd recently lost a cat to lymphoma and still missed him, the lump recently removed from my breast was—thank goodness!—benign.

Britt Hall at Ferrum College
I was in my Britt Hall office by 8:30. I checked email and phone messages, looked over my lesson plan for my 9:30 Eng101 class, finished my coffee. Routine English teacher stuff.

About 9:20 or thereabouts, I left my office to walk the short distance to Beckham. Going out the door , I met colleague Lana Whitehead coming in. I remember she was carrying her guitar. She asked if I heard anything about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I hadn't. We figured it was probably a  small plane. We went on with our lives.

In class, I asked my students if any of them had heard anything about a plane. They hadn't. We had a normal class. Afterwards, as I returned to my office, my phone rang. One of the students called to tell me to get to a TV set—that the World Trade Center had been attacked. By the time I reached a TV a few minutes later, the news was all over campus.

In those days, students had cellphones, but there was no tower near campus, so service was almost non-existent. But we had land-lines. Students called home, and parents called students. Some had family or friends in New York City or Washington, DC. Many students immediately took off for home. When I met my 11 AM class, more than half the students were missing. I dismissed class and left campus.

On my way home, as I did every Tuesday and Thursday, I stopped at the nursing home on Hatcher Street. Chaos reigned. Mama, who had at best a fragile grasp of reality, was convinced that terrorists were coming for her. I told the staff that I would take Mama home with me the next day and to have everything ready. That was fine—they had no one available to complete the investigation.

Later, at home, I stayed glued to the TV. Over and over, the major channels showed video of the second plane hitting the towers and the towers falling. The enormity was hard to comprehend, but it's impossible to forget. What happened that day is not something to celebrate.

But it's something to remember.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

September Scam

How do I know this is a scam?

Let's see, the poor sentence construction makes me think the writer doesn't have good enough communication skills to work for the internet provider, the sender is anonymous, the "from" and "reply to" are different, and I'm pretty sure Centurylink would use its own e-mail account to notify its customers.

Plus, it looks like the scammer has hi-jacked some e-mail addresses. I'm pretty sure Gale Builders, LLC, located in Cleveland, Georgia, has nothing to do with this scam, although their email address seems to be where this is coming "from." 

The scammer wants my future password? I don't even know what my future one will be. And wouldn't the scammer already know my e-mail address?

If you get one of these e-mails, please don't fall for it.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Best Move

Forty-nine years ago, I made what is probably the best move of my life. I went away to college.

Me—Summer 1963

I moved 180 miles from Roanoke to Richmond where I would attend—and eventually earn a degree from—Richmond Professional Institute (which became Virginia Commonwealth University the year after I graduated). The 1964 issue of The Cobblestone will give you an idea of what the school was like my freshman year. Here I am at the top of the page:

Although a couple of cousins had attended business college, I was the first in my family to go away to college. I first heard about RPI from a fellow cast member when I was in a 1961 Showtimers play. I decided to look into RPI. In 1962, it was the only place I applied, and I was accepted. All four years, I lived in Founders Hall.

In the early 60s, career options for women were limited to secretary, nurse, and teacher. I hated to type (Who knew computers would come along?), and I hated the idea of sitting at a desk all day, so a career as a secretary was out. As for being a nurse, I hated the sight of blood (although I've gotten over that now). At least teachers got the summer off. I liked English and drama, so I majored in drama education.

This turned out to be a wise choice for several reasons. Upon graduation, I'd be certified to teach English, speech, and drama. If I'd majored in English, I'd have been certified to teach just English. I could get a state teacher's scholarship, which paid about a third of my costs each year. Because drama majors had to take stagecraft, costume construction, and stage lighting, I learned basic carpentry, sewing, and enough basic electricity to rewire a lamp. Practical stuff.

Me—October 1963

Going away from home was also a good decision. In 1963, there was no Virginia Western Community College, or else I might have lived at home the first two years. While I might have attended Roanoke College or Hollins—both private colleges, either would have cost way more than the state-supported RPI.  Had I lived at home while attending classes, my education would have been a lot more limited. In Richmond, I learned to live on my own—do my own laundry, budget my time, decide when and what to eat, etc. I learned to live with a lot of other folks from all over the country and who had different backgrounds and interests from mine. Besides attending a wide variety of campus events, I visited many of Richmond's tourist attractions. I particularly like the Virginia Museum and its theatre. And I also liked going horseback riding at Up-And-Away Dude Ranch out Staples Mill Road.

During summer breaks, I held jobs that would help me with my career choice. After my freshman year, I worked in the children's room of the Roanoke Public Library; the next two summers, I was a teacher's aide in Roanoke County's Project Headstart. After graduation, I had no problem getting a teaching job. Poquoson High School, then a part of York County Schools, was looking for someone to start a drama program. I coached drama, and taught one speech & drama class and four English 10 classes.

My four years at RPI cost about $5,000 for room, board, & tuition—a real bargain by today's standards.
Note: I've blogged about RPI before: and and