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.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mulberry Down

When we first moved here in 1999, there was no mulberry tree in the back yard. Apparently, not long after we came here, a bird dropped a seed and nature took its course. The two halves of the resultant mulberry tree provided lots of shade in summer, but it was also blocking the view of the ginormous holly.

Jim-Bob the cat considers that section of the wall his office.
He took off when he heard the chain saw, though.

I didn't like the way one side leaned over the yard. Every year it seemed to lean more. Every year or so, my husband trimmed back some branches on its downward side, but still the tree leaned. I decided the leaning half should go. Best to cut it when we don't have to deal with leaves. Hubby fired up one of his chain saws and had at it.

Soon it was down—sort of.

Before long, a lot of trimmed limbs decorated the lawn.

The remaining half looked pretty good by itself. And the missing half's trunk yielded a lot of firewood.

Hubby took a break on the stump I asked him to leave so the cats could have a place to sit. The firewood is piled and ready to dry.

The trimmings will go down the road to the farm, where they'll provide shelter for little critters.

A sitting stump, firewood, and a potential shelter—we didn't waste anything.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve and Cows


What signs of Christmas did we see on the day before Christmas? Well, there was a bunch of decorations, like the Nativity scene at Penhook Methodist Church.

Gotta love the Holstein! But keep in mind that there are a couple dairy farms nearby.

Cow yard-art also lends itself Christmas decorating. The one next door sports reindeer antlers this year.

Speaking of yard-art, a little further down the road is a couple of strange bedfellows—Santa and a snowman.

That lawn has a wonderfully eclectic display with something for everyone. Here's just a small part of it:

Not all the neighborhood "decorating" was intentional. Someone—no doubt under the influence of too many Christmas spirits—lost control of a vehicle and hit our barbed wire fence at Polecat Creek Farm. 

A pretty good hunk of bark was scraped off the fence post.

Here's a closer look. The red spot above and to the left of the scrape looks like blood.

On the other side of the fence were parts of the vehicle's trim and a piece of yellow plastic that must have covered a light. The vehicle no doubt also has some impressive barbed wire scars along its side. This is not the sort of thing that makes for a Merry Christmas, but—given that around the corner and down the road a ways—other tracks swerved toward the ditch. Perhaps the driver had been partaking of some, er, spirits.

The accident must have happened about an hour before we came along. The tracks in the road were so fresh that no one else had driven over them. We'd been past the farm a couple of times during the day. When we delivered some Christmas presents around one o'clock, the fence was fine. When my husband got a couple of rolls of hay from the farm a little after two, the fence was still fine. However, after we fed the outside critters at four, we decided to check the farm. That's when we saw the damage.

As we headed home, we saw some cows "decorating" the road. These are some of the ones who escape their pasture on a regular basis. When they saw us coming, they headed for home, too.

A few minutes later, I saw a strange shape in the western sky. Was it just a cloud, or was it a pink blurry outline of a sleigh pulled by reindeer?

I'm pretty sure it wasn't cows.

As a Christmas present to those of you with Kindles (or Kindle apps on your tablet, phone, or computer), my novel Patches on the Same Quilt will be a free Kindle download on Dec. 26 and 27:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

History Decoded

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered some books from I was interested in reading all three, but Tanner was mainly interested in the box.

I was intrigued by History Decoded. I knew the book was based on the History Channel's TV series, which I hadn't previously seen, but—since reading this book—I've watched a couple of episodes on the web site.

Publishers Weekly's review of History Decoded provides an overview:

"Newcomers and longtime fans of Meltzer's popular TV show, Decoded (whereon he and a trio of experts investigate the veracity of various myths and legends), will relish this print companion, comprising summaries of 10 of the most intriguing topics pursued on the show, including the fate of John Wilkes Booth, UFOs in Area 51, Leonardo Da Vinci's apocalyptic predictions, the assassination of J.F.K., and more. Mirroring the series, each chapter begins with Meltzer (The Inner Circle) posing a provocative question (e.g., What if I told you that Fort Knox is empty? ) before leading readers through his process of interviewing experts and analyzing ancient texts and other ephemera to determine the answer—if there is one. As viewers know, the majority of his inquiries don't have a definitive conclusion, but half the fun is getting there. Meltzer peppers each section with fascinating asides (an independent panel determined that all the shots that killed Kennedy came from the rear rather than from multiple angles) and trivia (Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier three months after the Roswell incident, something scientists had previously thought impossible) that is sure to keep readers enthralled and conspiracy theorists encouraged to continue to dig for the truth."

I'm one of those who "relished the book" and was "enthralled" by parts of it. I also loved the way it was designed. Each chapter—which had a simulated envelope or packet with facsimile documents pertaining to the conspiracy—provided insight into historical events, some of which might have been conspiracies. Opening those envelopes to see what was inside was interesting. I won't go into detail about each chapter, but here are a few that I especially liked:

The chapter about John Wilkes Booth contained a wanted poster for him. But the book poses a question: did Booth actually get away and live a long life under an assumed name? This chapter makes a pretty good case for it.

The DB Cooper chapter was pretty interesting, too. Again, there was evidence that "DB Cooper" survived his parachute escape into the wilderness. Was this really a conspiracy, though, or was the guy acting alone?

The chapter about the White House's missing cornerstone didn't seem to be a conspiracy, but it made a pretty good mystery. I'd never heard about the missing cornerstone before.

America has a Stonehenge? I didn't know about the Georgia stones either. I'm not sure that a conspiracy was involved here either, but again, the story was interesting.

And there were several interesting documents in the packet.

I was especially interested in the chapter about the Confederate gold because some of it might have buried in Danville, which is about an hour's drive from me. (Also, once a guy appeared at my door and told me about a treasure buried on my farm that had allegedly been there for about 150 years. . . .) 

I was really getting into this chapter when I noticed an error on one page. Do you see it? (You might have to click to enlarge the picture.)

Look closer. There's a subject-verb agreement error ("Trees dies."), but there's also a factual error.

"The carving that was at eye level in 1865 could be dozens or more feet higher a few year later." Uh, no. That's not how trees grow. The truth is that trees grow up (and out) from the ends of branches. (I wish Workman Publishing Company (or maybe the History Channel) had employed a fact-checker to "dig for the truth.")

Here's a piece of evidence: a carving that my husband did in the late 70s not long after we'd bought the Brown farm. Our initials are still at the height he carved them. I remember he had to reach up a bit.

The carving hasn't moved upward in over three decades. It's at the height it's always been—still just slightly higher than my husband's shoulders.

More evidence: a lot of pastures in my area are fenced by barbed wire nailed to cedar trees. Had those trees grown from the bottom, some fences might be 50 feet in the air now. But they're not. A bit of Googling proved what I already knew.  

Despite this glaring error, History Decoded is a pretty good book, and I enjoyed reading it. It would make a good gift for history buffs of all ages. It might even appeal to a young person who isn't especially interested history but who loves a mystery.

History Decoded isn't your typical textbook history lesson. I recommend it as a fun and interesting read. 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Rainy Day and Cows

The first day of winter was unseasonably warm—temps were in the high sixties. At first, the morning sun poked through the clouds.

As the morning progressed, the clouds increased.

And a light rain began falling. The cats didn't care for the rain. 

When I went out to feed Melody and the barn-cats, I noticed the cows that live across their road had escaped from their pasture again

When I hollered at them, they started back toward the low place in the fence.

And went back into their pasture.

Meanwhile, the rain fell all day. This morning, the rain continued and the cows were out again, albeit in a different place.

From the front porch, I hollered at them, and they looked at me. 

Then they decided to head home.

 Meanwhile, Tanner, safe within his window, watched the departing cows and the rain.

This winter's day, on a deep and dark December, is a good day to stay inside.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spam Overflow

Warning: Overuse of quotation marks and italics in this post.

I recently received an email from a spammer person who wanted to sell me (or my writers group—I'm not sure which) a "service." I marked out a few details in the email, but you'll get the gist:

Let's take a closer look at his offer, shall we? As a former English teacher, I have an urge to whip out a red pen and mark the daylights out of that email. But I'll restrain myself. I'll just go through his statements one by one.

Dear Owner / Manager,
I'm neither owner nor manager of the writers group that you are, uh, targeting with your email. I'm the vice president. 

I visited lakewriters and I'm touching base to do business with you.

Hey, we're thrilled that you came all the way from Canada to visit our little writers group at Smith Mountain Lake! When did you visit? I don't recall meeting you. Did you read something to the group? "Touching base" is such a cliché. You really want to try to get rid of clichés in your writing. Also, you really should use a comma after your first main clause. Lake Writers (not lakewriters) can help you with these sorts of errors. 

 There are people searching for what you have to offer using search engines, Overflow Cafe will make sure they do business with you.

Oh, dear! A run-on sentence! A comma splice! Again, Lake Writers could have helped you with that. And that misplaced participial phrase "using search engines"! Arrggghhh! It reallly shouldn't modify "what you have to offer." Also, don't you think using both "searching" and "search" in the same sentence is redundant? We do.

I'm puzzled as to how you can "make sure" folks will "do business" with us. What "business"? We really don't consider what we do at meetings as "business." We just help people and give input. If you indeed visited us, didn't you pay attention to what was going on?

Benefits to you:
- You'll sell much more of your products and services

We're only selling an anthology. It's available from Createspace and at a few of the lake area shops. Plus some members sell copies outside the Westlake Kroger on Senior Citizens' Day. The "services" we offer—publishing advice, critiques, etc.—don't require a cash outlay. Attendance at our meetings is absolutely free.

- Your website will show up first in search engines
Not many people use our website. Instead, they come to our twice monthly meetings. In person. Besides, how can you be sure our site will be first in search engines? What if another client of yours is another writers group? Will you tell them they'll have to settle for second because Lake Writers will be first?

- You'll gain lots of interested customers visiting your website
I doubt that. Plus we don't actually have customers. Did you mean we'll get a lot more aspiring authors?  If a big crowd turns out, where would we put them all? We generally have at least a dozen folks at meetings. We don't want to be too crowded.

- Only a flat monthly fee of $29, no contracts
If there's no contract, how do we know you'll uphold your end of the deal? Or even what your deal is. This sounds kind of shady. . . . 

Here's a review from one of our clients: "Ovxrflxw Cxfx* saved my failing business by driving at least 1,250 new customers to me within the first year."
Not much info here: Who said this? What kind of business? How nice of you to drive the customers, though. Did you use a limo? A bus? Many of our members are older folks. If you want to drive them to meetings, it might be worth $29 a month.

We are experts at website promotion and have helped over 40,000 small business owners like you succeed. 
We're NOT a small business. If you were an "expert," you'd know that. You should at least know the target audience for your promotions—and it isn't a writers group.

Some of them are in the same business and location as you. 
Now I know you didn't do your research! We meet in a library! Do you really think there are businesses located in libraries? Do you really think a writers group is a business? Oh, dear. . . .

It takes less than 2 minutes to get started, please view [website URL redacted]  for complete information. Let me know if you have any questions. 
My main question is why do you have so many comma splices (like the one in your above statement) on your website's info page? It doesn't look very professional, and it certainly doesn't inspire confidence.

We've been proven to be 9x more effective than competing companies, so I hope we can do business together.

If you're going to cite statistics, you need to back them up. How has the 9X been proven? What "competing companies"? Since we're the only writers group in the area, we don't have any "competing companies."

Please let me know,
I think this blog post lets you know pretty well.

*I disemvoweled the company's name. But you can probably figure it out.


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Winter Day with Quiche

For the last few days, the forecasters predicted a winter weather event for today—freezing rain, sleet, etc. Clouds rolled in yesterday.

Today, the "wintry mix" arrived. When I fed the barn critters this morning, an icy rain was falling. The deck was starting to ice up. The house-cats didn't stay out long and even the porch cat came in. The photo below shows a break in the precipitation.

Because we might lose power and our well is dependent upon electricity, I'd filled the downstairs bathtub with "flush water" last night. We already had plenty of bottled water to drink and enough propane to power the downstairs stove and the gas logs. This morning, I decided to cook things that we could eat if the power went out. Today was the perfect day for an Easy Quiche. I found the recipe somewhere on the internet last fall and thought it looked diabetic friendly.

Cheese and Spinach Crustless Quiche
Preheat oven at 350

1 onion
 1 (8 0z. or thereabout) package of unthawed frozen spinach
 6 eggs
 1 tablespoon olive oil
 3 cups of cheddar cheese (I grate my own from whatever is on special at Kroger)
 Salt and pepper to taste
How to Prepare:

Lighty grease a pie container, (regular size). I use a Corning Ware pan that I've had for decades. I grease it with real butter, not any of that chemical crap.

Fry onion in pan with olive oil. Add frozen spinach and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. You might need to add a little more olive oil. I sometimes add a Tbs. of butter.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat eggs and add cheese, salt and pepper. 

Once spinach and onions are cooked (5 to 10 minutes, depending on how hard the spinach was to begin with), add them to egg mixture. Mix until everything's evenly blended.

 Pour ingredients into greased pie pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until the quiche is golden brown and firm.

This is what the finished quiche looks like.

The crustless quiche makes a perfect diabetic-friendly, gluten-free main dish for an icy day lunch. And luckily the power didn't go out while it was baking.


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