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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014's End

2014, which hasn't been a particularly good year, ends in a few hours. It's been a year of endings. Too many people I know have died. Some friends have had relatives die. Some have lost pets.

I've lost a couple of pets, too—elderly dog Emma and favorite cat Eddie-Puss.

Moon on the last evening of 2014

The environment is changing, and not for the better. Fewer birds and bees were around here in 2014. And way fewer butterflies. I saw only a couple of Monarchs. Lots of woods in the county were clear-cut. There are more GMO crops in the area, which means a lot more herbicide spraying. The Mountain Valley gas pipeline will pass close to our property if the powers that be don't stop it. It'll be near the big power lines that went in a few years ago. While it won't be on our property, we'll be in the blast zone (if there's ever a mishap).

View looking south. There's a big power pole on the right.

2014 is the year that I became elderly. I've lost the energy I used to have, so I've dropped out of some activities I used to enjoy. I've given up expecting to ever be fully mobile again. Thanks to diabetic neuropathy and fascial restrictions, my legs just don't work the way they should, and my strength and stamina has lessened. Luckily I bought a golf cart several months ago, so I'm able to get around the property. But I'll likely never be able to walk the woods the way I once did or even ride my horse—who's also elderly and has had some health issues.

I no longer go to places where I can't get a close parking space, and I rarely drive at night. No use taking foolish chances. I rarely go into Roanoke—anything I need I can find in Rocky Mount or at Westlake. Luckily I live in a house with few outside steps and all I need on one floor.

So I'm making do, taking one day at a time, and whatever other clichés happen to fit.

Sunset in the west. Another big pole to right of center.

Will 2015 be better? We shall see.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cat Boxes

We have been getting a lot of boxes from Amazon lately. While we humans have looked forward to the merchandise inside, the cats have coveted the boxes.

Camilla: "I saw it first. George. Too bad!"

"Hmm. It's certainly roomy. Maybe too big. I don't need all this space."

"I'll try this one." 

"No, that box is too small. Maybe this one."

"Ahhh. This one is just right."

George: "OK, I'll take this box."

"Camilla's right. This box is too big."

Chloe: "Let me have it then."

"Yeah, it's too big. Tanner, you can have it."

Tanner: "Yeah, too big."

George: "I thought Camilla would never leave! This box is just right."

"Snug. I like that in a box."

"But sometimes it's good to sleep outside the box."

"Especially if friends sleep with you."

"But sometimes it's nice to sleep alone. Outside the box."



Friday, December 05, 2014

Another Iggy Loomis Book

Back in October 2013, with a little help from my cats, I reviewed Jennifer Allison's very funny chapter book Iggy Loomis, Super Kid in Training on this blog. The cats and I just finished another Iggy Loomis book—Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirleyand it was just as funny as the first one. If you haven't read the first one yet—no problem. You'll understand this one just fine.

Publisher's Weekly pretty much nails what the Iggy Loomis books are about: "Allison creates a comically put-upon older brother in Daniel in a lighthearted story that captures the chaos of everyday family life, superpowers or not." 

Tanner: "It's got fish in it? This might be interesting."

Once again, the story is narrated by Daniel, whose younger brother Iggy has some strange powers of the insect variety. Once again, Daniel's best friend Alastair, the alien next door, provides interesting and sometimes hilarious plot complications. The complication in A Hagfish called Shirley is that Alistair brought a hagfish back from the beach and wants to make a pet of it. He's even named the slimy creature Shirley. Unfortunately Iggy flushes Shirley down the toilet and, well, complications ensue.

Jim-Bob: "Move Chloe. I get to read it first."
Chloe: "Jim-Bob, you need to learn to share."

Obviously, the boys want to get the fish back, but Alistair's dad has taken away Alistair's watch that can do cool techno-things, so the boys decide to use Iggy's powers, which luckily Iggy's twin sister Dottie can help with.

Chloe: "I'm glad the girl character gets to do important stuff."

Jim-Bob: "Yeah, yeah. But she's not the main character.
The boys do the most important stuff."

The cats were impressed that a pet plays such an important role in the book. They really liked the letter Alistair writes to his beloved Shirley.

But they were frightened by the slime monster that imprisoned a lot of pets—including cats! 

Chloe: "Oh, no. A whole bunch of pets go missing!"
Jim-Bob: "What!? Let me see that!"

Jim-Bob: "Ewwww! Imagine getting slime all over your fur."

George: "This is getting too scary! All those missing pets!
Chloe and Jim-Bob, y'all tell me what happens, OK?"

Tanner: "I'll skip to the end and find out what happens.
It looks like all of the pets are OK."

But what about the main characters? Are they OK? What happens in the sewer? And on the spaceship? What becomes of Shirley, and how does she help Alistair's dad?  Looks like the cats missed a lot. You'll just have to read about all those adventures for yourself. Cats are so not interested in sewers or spaceships.

Jim-Bob: "Aww, there's not more?!
I want another Iggy Lomis story!"
Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirley is a humorous science fiction story much more suited to elementary-age boys than to cats. It has plenty of gross stuff to appeal to that demographic—poop, slime, sewers, etc. Plus there's the school stuff—the science project, homework, Chauncey the bully—and other things that kids can relate to—parents not understanding, pesky younger siblings, etc. 

And there's some stuff the average kid can't relate to but probably wishes he could— a kid brother with super powers, a visit aboard the alien spacecraft, and parents who peel off their human disguises and hang them over a chair at night. 

Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirley is a fun and fast-paced read with great illustrations by Mike Moran. The author also sneaks in a little science, at least where hagfishes are concerned. If you're looking for a great Christmas present for young boys, Iggy Loomis, A Hagfish Called Shirley might be it.

Tanner: "Is this book review over?
I want to go back to sleep."

Sleep tight, Tanner. And don't let the hagfish bite.