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, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Snow

We originally weren't supposed to get snow from the latest polar vortex or whatever it's called—just bitterly cold temperatures (again!). But last night, there was a chance of snow predicted. It wouldn't amount to much—a dusting, maybe. This morning, when I fed the barn critters, it wasn't snowing. However. . . .

A few flakes fluttered down as we drove the 14 miles to Kroger. The closer we got to Rocky Mount, the more it snowed.

While we were shopping, a school bus driver friend of ours got word that school was closing two hours early. When we headed home, a fine light snow was blowing. Before long, the dusting was here. Visibility was limited.

The house cats wanted out, then in, then out again—and back in. Jim-Bob really tried to go to the pasture to do his cat work, but had to settle for watching it snow from the front porch. 

Eventually, he came in to stay. Before long the driveway was white and snow covered the PTs.

I refilled the empty bird-feeders, and birds flocked to them.

Inside, in his favorite snoozing spot in the newspaper basket, a certain outside cat has come in from the cold.

Meanwhile, it's snowing harder outside. And the current 17-degree temperature is supposed to drop lower for tonight. 


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blog Spam?

Not long ago, I received an email that looked a bit, er, suspicious.

Not from George. He'd rather sleep.

Someone I didn't know wanted to blog on my Frugal Living blog, one I rarely even update. Why?

Hey there Becky,
My name is Jennifer and I am writing to you on behalf of Phone Power, one of the top players in the internet phone service industry.
Currently, I am looking for bloggers who are influential in frugality and saving money. I have been reading Becky's Frugal Living for a while now and really enjoyed your content and depth of commentary. After reading many of your posts, I would love to partner with you to provide some new, unique content that would be relevant and interesting for your readers 
If it’s something you’d be interested in, I would like to write an article, guest poxtpost, or even supply one of our infographics to your site. A few topics I have in mind are:
  • 14 Ways to Save Around the House in 2014
  • Using VoIP on the Go: The Advantages of Free Mobile Apps
  • 3 Secrets to Cutting Household Expenses
I'm also open to writing about any topic suggestions you might have. In the meantime, I welcome you to also look at some past guest posting submissions we’ve done for other blogs:
Also, feel free to learn a little more about our company and what we’re all about here:
I look forward to hearing back from you Becky!


Hmmm. Jennifer-with-no-last-name thinks thinks I'm "influential in frugality"? My Frugal Living blog has "depth of commentary"? Uh, no on both counts. I could tell that this email was a cut-and-paste job sent to probably any blogger who used the words "frugal" or "frugality" in blog posts. Anyhow, I answered her email:
Hi Jennifer, 

I have never used a guest blogger on my "Frugal Living" blog, and I rarely update it. However, I'll address some of your questions.

. . . I am writing to you on behalf of Phone Power, one of the top players in the internet phone service industry.
I'm not really interested in the "Internet phone service industry," but I do sometimes use Facetime on my iPad. I have an app for Skype but have never used it. I often go for a week or more without even using my landline, and a month or more without using my Tracfone. Sometimes I think the main purpose of my landline is to call CenturyLink every time our Internet goes out—which it usually does after heavy rains.

Currently, I am looking for bloggers who are influential in frugality and saving money. I have been reading Becky's Frugal Living for a while now and really enjoyed your content and depth of commentary.

It's possible you have been reading someone else's blog and confused it with mine. I don't have a "depth of commentary," just pictures of things I've acquired cheap—or for free—and a few remarks about the picture. I rarely even update that blog

After reading many of your posts, I would love to partner with you to provide some new, unique content that would be relevant and interesting to your readers.

Anytime someone uses the word "unique," I'm suspicious. 

. . . I would like to write an article, guest post, or even supply one of our infographics to your site. A few topics I have in mind are: 

  • 14 Ways to Save Around the House in 2014 
  • Using VoIP on the Go: The Advantages of Free Mobile Apps 
  • 3 Secrets to Cutting Household Expenses

I looked at this site that had a "14 Ways to Save Around the House in 2014"  and found it a major bore. Nothing that would interest my readers, who want to know where to buy stuff cheap, how to repurpose old stuff, etc. Not even any photos on that blog! And stuff like "Start evaluating your food needs more closely. . ." I mean, really—who talks like that?! I don't think my readers go around "evaluating their needs."

I'm also open to writing about any topic suggestions you might have.
Do you have pictures of stuff you've you've rescued and repurposed from the dumpster or Goodwill? If not, how about "14 Hints for Successful Dumpster Diving"? Or "Don't Declutter; Repurpose!" Or "Cheap But Cozy Cold-Weather Barn Clothes" Or "How to Cut Your Horse-Keeping Expenses: Vet Work You Can Do Yourself" Or "When in Doubt, Don't Throw it Out! At Least Recycle!" Or "Goodwill Vs. Your Local Thrift Shop—Which is Better?"

My readers are mostly rural as well as thrifty. They're do-it-yourselfers.

In the meantime, I welcome you to also look at some past guest posting submissions we've done for other blogs:

When I clicked the above URL, I got this message: "Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist." (And what's this "we've done"? You're not working alone?)

Also, feel free to learn a little more about our company. . . .
I took a quick look. It didn't interest me. As for the "Keep in touch with family and friends around the world" bit, between email and Facebook, I'm covered.

There were some things—besides her solicitation to use my blog as a commercial for "a top player in the internet phone service agency"—that aroused my suspicions. Her signature (no last name!) in a smaller size than the rest of the text of her email told me it was a cut-and-paste job and was likely the same email sent to goodness-knows-how-many bloggers she'd Googled up. I knew she hadn't even read my blog—probably didn't even look at it!—or she would have known that her suggestions wouldn't fit. Plus, if she was going to include a link to a site she wanted me to look at, she should at least have checked the link to make sure it actually worked. 

Her email (a gmail account) tipped me off that if "Jennifer" really worked for the company she was pushing, wouldn't she have a email—with maybe her name in it? I suspect she (or maybe he?) really works for a marketing company. At any rate, I'm not impressed with her/his comma errors.

It's been several days since I replied to her email, and she hasn't gotten back to me. Gee, I wonder why not? Meanwhile, I think I'd rather have George guest blog than some stranger who wants to plug a business. 

OK, George—go for it:

Hey, George the cat here! I just want to let you know of my household service, George's Rodent Relocation and Property Patrol. For a small fee, I'll walk around your property and "relocate" any rodents I happen to find. Is that a great deal or what?! It's a win-win situation for both of us, though not for the rodents. Just call—oh, wait. I don't have a phone number. I don't know how to answer the phone either. Never mind.

Meanwhile, the day I replied to "Jennifer's" email, I updated Frugal Living, but I didn't provide much in the way of "depth of commentary." I did post pictures, though.
Update: On January 31, I received this email from Jennifer R.

Hi Becky,
I appreciate your breakdown of my email. If you don't want to work with us, a simple no would have sufficed. But, I appreciate your constructive feedback.
Have a great day,

But sometimes a simple "no" isn't so simple at all.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Older Than Dirt

A friend sent me this Older Than Dirt Quiz in an email. I’ve already blogged about some of these (see Geezer Test entry on Nov. 16), but here goes! Count all the ones that you remember, not the ones you were told about. Ratings at the bottom.

1. Candy cigarettes
I remember these well. They didn’t taste very good—kind of like Necco Wafers (which I didn’t much like either), but it was fun to play “grown-up” and pretend to puff them. They were 5¢ a box. You can still get them online, but they’re more expensive now.

2. Coffee shops with tableside juke boxes
I remember some restaurants—the precursors to fast food joints—that had them. Gill’s on Williamson Road in Roanoke was one. I don’t remember any “coffee shops” when I was a kid, though. Coffee shops appeared when I was already an adult, unless you count “coffee houses” that appeared during my teens—but those usually featured live folk music.

3. Home milk delivery in glass bottles
When I was a kid, the milkman always left us a bottle or two of milk, but I can’t remember if ours came from Clover Creamery or Garst Brothers Dairy. I remember the cardboard tops that had to be removed and how real cream was at the top of the milk. To distribute the cream, you had to shake the bottle—before you messed with the cardboard top.

4. Party lines on the telephone
We had one, back in the day when we had five-digit phone numbers. All the phones had rotary dials, so we really did dial a number—after we’d waited for the other person to get off the line.

5. Newsreels before the movie
. . . and at least one cartoon with the movie and maybe a serial, too. I remember seeing President Truman in a newsreel at one of the theaters in downtown Roanoke.

6. TV test patterns that came on at night after the last show and were there until TV shows started again in the morning. (There were only 3 channels—if you were fortunate)
I mentioned this on the “Geezer Test” about entry. I can remember when we only had one channel—Channel 10, WSLS.

7. Peashooters
Yep. Every kid had a peashooter at one time or another. A wide paper straw could be used for one in a pinch. And spitballs were more readily available than peas. But kids also had slingshots. Most were homemade. Slingshots had a longer range than peashooters and could do more damage.

8. Howdy Doody
This is the first show I remember watching. Before we had a TV, I went two houses up the hill to watch what must have been the only TV on our section of Floraland Drive at the time. Soon we got our own set. I can remember discussing the show with friends in my class at Huff Lane School.

9. 45 RPM records
Heck, I remember 78 RPM records. 45s came along about the time I was in the 6th or 7th grade. I remember having to get those little plastic thingies to put in the 45s so they’d fit the record player’s spindle.

10. Hi-fi's
High fidelity. That’s what you wanted in your high-end record playing system. I can remember during the 70s that a hi-fi was a major piece of living room furniture.

11. Metal ice trays with lever
I still have some. Haven’t used them for years, though.

12. Blue flashbulbs
Yep. Used some of those—in the second camera I had when I was a kid. Finally could take pictures indoors! What a technological milestone! The blue was an improvement over the plain ones.

13. Cork popguns
I remember them, but didn’t have one. I had some fancy cap pistols though.

14. Studebakers
Not only can I remember Studebakers, I've actually ridden in one. They looked so sporty—at least compared to a lot of other cars in the early 50s.

15. Wash tub wringers
This was how Mama did our laundry ever since I can remember—all through my childhood and college years she used the same wringer washing machine. In the 70s, though, she switched to an automatic washer.

If you remembered 0-3=You're still young.
If you remembered 3-6=You are getting older.
If you remembered 7-10=Don't tell your age.
If you remembered 11-15=You're older than dirt!

Looks like I’m older than dirt.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gimme Shelter

This past week has been rough for little critters. We had freezing rain last Sunday, followed by two days of single digit temperatures. Friday, we had a bit of freezing rain early, followed by regular. Saturday began with a thunderstorm and had plenty of non-freezing rain.

The resident humans and the house cats stayed inside for most of the week. When ice is frozen on the outside of the storm window, you know it's nippy out.

For the two days of single-digit temps, ice coated the inside of the storm door. Finally it warmed up a bit. 

When the sun came out, the floor in front of the south-facing sliding glass door was prime kitty real estate. 

Even George the garage cat came inside. Tanner loved sharing floor space with George.

But what about the outside critters? I can't very well bring a large mare into the house, and the barn cats and kennel dogs prefer where they are. What do they do for shelter? The dogs have a large "dog stall" built into the shed. I stuffed in some extra old cushions for them. In case one chose to sleep out, I added pine shavings to the dogloo and covered it with a blanket which draped over the opening. As for Melody, I bedded the stall end of her run-in shed with several bales of pine shavings.

The downside is that barn cats find the shavings a much better alternative than frozen grounds for certain, er, necessary functions. But certain unmistakeable evidence shows that Melody burrowed into the shavings at night. Since ice was four inches thick on her water tub, she used her heated bucket. (Note the cord coming from the blue bucket.) I carried hot water to cat and dog water bowls on the really frigid mornings.

The barn cats had several places to sleep. One of them is the tack room, where someone's discarded comforter and pillows give them a soft bed.

Sometimes they sleep in the shed, so a roll of carpet provides a sleeping tunnel in the straw.

Olivia, who spent a few months as a house cat but decided she liked outdoor living better, sometimes sleeps in a styrofoam cooler halfway back in the shed. I added a cushion and an old sheet for a windbreak. 

I also have made places for both resident critters and those who might be passing through. Under the boxwoods near my front porch is a plastic box filled with pine straw. Judging from the squashed appearance of the straw, a critter sometimes sleeps there.

On the porch, there's an old cushion under the wicker settee and a blanket over it. It's not like I'm using the settee in such cold weather. Might as well make it welcoming for critters.

A lot of the landscaping around the house is critter-friendly. The boxwoods are large and dense—they make good shelter. . . 

. . . as does this clump of dwarf nandinas.

I feed a lot of birds from feeders atop the pergola. Since the pergola is metal, the birds are safe from resident cats (who prefer small rodents to birds anyhow) and other predators.

The nearby trees provide good cover for birds waiting to access the feeders. See the cardinal?

Here's a closer look:

Several clumps of pampas grass provide cover for an assortment of critters, too. . .

 . . . as does the windbreak of white pines between the house and the pasture. Below, a feral cat who's been hanging around for the last few months rests under the pines while he watches me feed the others.

He knows where to find shelter.

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Sunday, January 05, 2014


No, it's a cat wash!

What do cats do when it's too cold to go out? The resident cats occasionally groom each other. Tanner likes to wash George.

Jim-Bob washes Tanner.

When not washing each other, cats lie in the sun.

Or sit in the sun, like Dylan.

Or enjoy the sun from the window shelf, like elderly Camilla.



Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings

Because 2014 is the "Year of the Horse," what better way to start the new year than with a horse book. I recently finished Thou Shalt Fly Without Wingswritten by one of my Facebook friends, Rhonda Tipton.

 I've been a fan of her blog, Song of the Raincrow, for quite a while, so I figured I'd like her book. I did.

 Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings is a collection of essays about Rhonda's life-long involvement with horses. Most of the essays are about her work on Thoroughbred breeding farms in Kentucky, but some are about horses and mules that she has owned or known, and a few are about her childhood experiences with horses. I'd classify the book as a cross between memoir and partial autobiography.

From the title, I'd expected the book to be about Thoroughbred racing. Instead of being set a the track, however,  it was a look behind the scenes at Kentucky farms that bred, raised, and sold horses for the track. Through the years, Rhonda and her husband worked in both foaling barns and yearling barns at several farms, and she skillfully shares many adventures from these times. She also shares stories about mules, about horses she has known or owned, and about people she knew who worked with horses.

I especially enjoyed her recollections from her childhood in the Kentucky Mountains. She learned horsemanship from her father, who provided her with many horses as she was growing up. Some of my favorite parts of the book are ones about her childhood: her first pony, Freddy-Boy who "was not of a mind to tolerate any shenanigans except his own"; the country horse sales where her father sometimes made purchases—"like many friends, we met, taught each other a lot, ad then passed on along some path life had laid out for each of us"; and a memorable ride one winter day on her favorite mare, Bess. "Everyone should have one perfect memory to carry them through the hard times," Rhonda writes in the intro to that ride, "times when life's everyday sludge gets too deep and treacherous." Here's a small portion of her ride's description:

Bess took the bit in her teeth and I let her. Blood-dark tail a-flag, she blew hot steam from her nostrils as she pounded the ground with hard hooves. The swing of her gallop up a slight rise reached fever pitch, those short perfect ears flattened back angrily, furious at not being able to take full flight.
 While the content was both interesting and informative, the book—only the second book produced by a very small new publisher—needed a table of contents. The endnotes, which weren't really needed, were a bit distracting. For the few terms that a reader might not know, a glossary would have worked better. Perhaps in a later edition, these changes could be made.

Target readers for Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings are horse people—those who have loved horses, owned horses, want to own horses, or want to know more about what happens at the big Thoroughbred barns. If you fall into that category, odds are good you will enjoy this book.

Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings is available both as an e-book and as a paperback.

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