Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2018 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, July 30, 2013

Fly Away

The other morning, when I went out to feed my critters, I saw a swallowtail butterfly hanging upside down from a spider web in the garage. In case you've forgotten what a swallowtail looks like, here's a picture I took recently of a male swallowtail on my butterfly bush:

Anyhow, I figured the butterfly was a goner because the spider had already wrapped the end of its "tails." But, I thought saw a slight flutter. Maybe . . . 

What the heck! I plucked it from the spider web and pulled away some of the web strands. The butterfly moved, but it still wasn't quite free. I let it sit on my shirt while I took off the last bits of web. With the butterfly still riding on my shirt, I stepped out on the deck. 

The butterfly took off, and I lost sight of it as it flew away above the pin-oak.

Perhaps there's a lesson here: Don't give up. No matter how bad things look, there's hope. When evil tries to drag you down, a friend might give you a hand. Something like that. Perhaps the butterfly is a metaphor for hope. Whatever. I was glad to save this one swallowtail and to see it fly away, though.

In my yard, there seems to be a swallowtail population explosion. I've counted over a dozen on my coneflowers in front and more than that on my butterfly bush out back. But for the multitude of swallowtails I've seen lately, I haven't seen any monarch butterflies. Not one. And I even grow some milkweed for them in my back flowerbed.

I know why the monarchs aren't around. See the dead grass across the road in the pictures above and below? That's where VDOT sprayed the right-of-way a few days ago. And the corn—that's GMO corn, the pollen from which is toxic to Monarch butterflies. They can't fly away from this evil.

How can one little modification—Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensisin the corn bring down a whole species? What species will be next to go? Is the monarch perhaps a metaphor for us? 

Who will escape the evil done by GMO crops? We can't just fly away?


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Editing Mode

I have been in editing mode lately, not only for some of my own stuff, but also for an anthology my writers group is doing and for a friend's ebook. Because of that—and my difficulty in walking lately—I hadn't gotten much exercise for weeks.

Today, however, I figured I could do a bit of yard work that didn't involve much walking.  I could stand and pull weeds, or maybe do a bit of weed-eating. Somehow, a long-neglected flower bed reminded me of the need for editing.

Hints for self-editing: No matter how great you think it is, your first draft isn't the final draft. Stand back and take a good look at it.

It probably has a lot of extra words, way too much description, indefinite characters (Yeah, you know them—but will your reader?), some murky parts of the plot, etc. The important stuff might be obscured by all sorts of distractions.

Time to start cutting! Let's get rid of all those excess weeds words—your overuse of adjectives and adverbs, the places where you took a time-out to stop and describe a character's motivations. Or maybe it was the quaint little village where the character stopped on the way to something more important—well, you get the idea. Start cutting!

Once you've gotten rid of some of the excess, take a look at your manuscript. 

See? Some of the important things—maybe a character or a theme—are now more obvious. Not great yet, but at least you can see them.

Edit some more. Be ruthless!

Sometimes you need some big editing tools to get the job done.

As you continue to edit, more of your important stuff should start to emerge—something essential to the plot, maybe, or some minor characters.

As you edit, do not lose sight of your whole idea . . .

. . . but don't forget that details are important.

Sometimes you have to stand back and look at the big picture. Do all the details work?

Are there other characters or details you need to reveal?

Before long, you should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel—or maybe a solar light in a wooden basket.

It will take time to finish editing. It's not a one-day job.

But at least you should be able to see where your work is going.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Desktop Kitty

by Tanner Dempsey Mushkeau
(youngest household cat)

One of my jobs as a house kitty iz to help my mommy when she iz in her study. I iz learning to be a good office assistant. Here iz some of my jobs:

 I checks the wastebasket.

I checks every little crevice.

It looks OK.

 I unpacks boxes.

I clears off the desk top. I don't clean floors though.

I dusts the keyboard. My tail iz a good duster.

I iz learning to use office supplies. It iz not easy to get the top off a pen.

I might be biting the wrong end. 

I haz not quite figured out how the stapler works either. 

When I get it to work, I will test it on Jim-Bob's tail.

That reminds me: Another job I haz is that I tries to keep other cats from messing up the desk, but it iz not easy. Sometimes I haz to remind Chloe that she haz to get down.

Chloe iz not too bad to deal with. Her brother Jim-Bob iz a big problem. No matter how nice I asks him to leave, he won't go. Sometimes he wants to fight me.

I hate when Jim-Bob wins the fight.

One of these days, he will realize that I iz the boss on this desk top.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Drug Habit

No cute kitty pictures or farm pictures today—just an update about my health, which hasn't been good lately:

Lately my drug habit has increased. Now I'm shooting up every night. With this:

The prandin I'd been taking to help with diabetes control wasn't doing its job. My blood sugar levels were too high—rarely below 150 and often over 200. So I started on 10 units of a long-acting insulin at night. Above, encased in a lavender book-like thingie, is the pre-loaded insulin pen I use. The green things in the circle are disposable needles that attach to the pen.

After my insulin pens came (surrounded by ice packs and packed in a large box), I made an appointment with Tonya, the diabetes nurse at my doctor's office. She gave me a lot of diabetes-related stuff, including a supply of needles (which, oddly, don't come with the pens) and the lavender book-like thingie that holds pens and needles. My glucometer was several years old, so she gave me two new ones to see which I liked better.

Using a model of some human flesh, she showed me how to inject. Then I practiced on the disembodied plastic flesh. Two decades ago, I'd had to inject insulin into my diabetic labradoodle—a process that started with filling a needle from a bottle of insulin—and this seemed a lot easier. I was pretty sure I could inject myself with no problem.

I was right. But even after a few days, I still have to follow directions in the manual to make sure I'm doing it right. 

I'm relieved that the injections don't hurt at all and the needles are really tiny. The best thing is that my blood glucose levels have dropped about 40 or 50 points—not as much as I would like, but enough to make me feel more energetic and less fatigued.

A diabetes drug habit is expensive. Test strips are about 50¢ each, and I test three or four times a day. My co-pay for a three-month supply of prandin is over $60, with Medicare and my supplemental insurance picking up the rest. I have no idea how much the pens and needles cost.

But I'm glad to be feeling better. Now, if I can just get the muscle pain problem resolved so that I can walk better. . . . Consequently, I have an appointment with a rheumatologist next week.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Cat is a Lonely Hunter

. . . but not always. Sometimes my cats hunt as individuals, and sometimes they hunt as a pack

Most of my cats are good mousers. I have some resident barn cats whose job is is to eliminate rodents whenever possible, but some of the house cats are also good mousers. Once in a while, a house cat will decide to try out the barn cat life for a while. That's what Olivia, one of the old lady house cats, did last month.

Olivia decided to try her hand—er, paw—at mousing and ratting. She had a meeting with the barn cats and two of them—Sherman and Spotz—accepted her on a provisional basis. Olivia then moved out of the house and into the barn. The problem is that old Olivia has no teeth, a definite handicap when catching mice.

However, Sherman helped her out. Below, Spotz and Olivia watched something in the distance:

It was Sherman, returning with something in his mouth.

He put the little brown critter down for Olivia to see.

Olivia moved in for a closer look.

Then Sherman returned to his catch—a wood-rat. 

He gave Olivia another chance at it.

. . .  and she again moved in for a closer inspection.

They continued to "hunt" the wood-rat. But they were getting a little serious, so I moved on.

Like Spotz who decided to roll in the gravel rather than participate in the action, I didn't want to get involved with what would likely happen next.

Olivia spent a couple of weeks outside as a barn cat—even during some really heavy rain. Then, one night last week, she appeared at the deck door well after dark and wanted in. She's slept inside at night ever since, but she goes out at dawn and heads for the barn.

I think she wants the best of both worlds.


Saturday, July 06, 2013


The frequent rain has produced an abundance of wildflowers. These are some growing along the road by Polecat Creek Farm.

I love the color of chickory. One one side of the road, the flowers are a deeper color than on the other side. 

I've seen more chickory along the road this year than I've seen for the last several years. 

A lot of black-eyed Susans are also along the road.

Near one clump of black-eyed Susans is some narrow-leafed white-topped aster

I haven't seen much of it before and, until recently, I didn't know what it was. How one little clump appeared beside our hayfield is a mystery.

There's plenty of yarrow, though. Some people call it carrot weed. It is reported to have medicinal properties.

Next to this clump of yarrow is some daisy fleabane.

I think this orange flower is butterfly weed, but I could be wrong. Anyhow, it's pretty.

It's hard to believe that some folks consider these lovely wildflowers as weeds.

I don't. I love to see them as I drive the backroads.