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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fall Hay 2015

It won't be fall for a couple of weeks, but the fall cutting of hay on Polecat Creek Farm is done. Last week it was cut, raked, and baled during a hot dry spell that was perfect for hay-making. Hay is cut one day, given a day or two to dry, then raked, and finally baled. On the day I took these pictures, the first field that was raked was soon baled while another field was being raked.

Nothing smells better than fresh-cut hay!

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Kroger Storm Trooper

Growing old is a pain—as I well know from personal experience. My lack of mobility challenges me. I can't stand for more than a few minutes, and I can't walk very far. Consequently, when I go shopping, I need to use the handicapped cart. 

At the Rocky Mount Kroger, I have enough trouble negotiating the aisles without added impediments. Some of the aisles are narrow, some are blocked by signs or by employees restocking shelves, some turns are hard to make.

Last Monday, in the produce section, there was an added impediment at the end of an aisle—a big inflated plastic storm trooper. Normally, swinging around this corner is challenging enough. Having this piece of crap there made it downright difficult.

What a storm trooper has to do with produce I have no idea. But it didn't help my shopping experience. 

Having a weapon pointed—even by a non-human piece of plastic crap—is disconcerting as well as tasteless and insensitive, especially with recent events in the county.

Last Sunday, a father in the county killed his three-year-old son with a gun. On Wednesday, our county made international news when a WDBJ7 reporter and cameraman were murdered during an interview broadcast live from Smith Mountain Lake. The woman being interviewed sustained serious injuries. One of the last things the young reporter saw before she died was a big black gun pointed at her.

If someone can explain why stores need to display—and sell—inflatable storm troopers with pointed weapons ($19.98!), I'd like to know the reason. 

When I go to grocery stores, I want buy actual groceries. Not tasteless gun-pointing crap.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Praying Mantis

One of the working insects around our house is the praying mantis. This one blends nicely with the elephant ear beside the driveway. Do you see it?

Here's a closer look:

Several inhabit the two Norfolk Island pines on the front porch:

One of them (or perhaps it's several working different shifts), inhabits a flowerpot on the table where I feed one of the outdoor cats. The cat food attracts flies, which attract the mantis.

About two weeks ago, a mantis figured out that it would be more efficient to lie in wait for the flies at their destination. I haven't actually seen the mantis catch flies, but I've noticed a considerable decline in the porch-fly population.

The cat doesn't seem to mind, either.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saving Laurel Springs

A book review with a little help from the cats.

Spoiler Alert: Lin Stepp’s new novel, Saving Laurel Springs, ends happily. However, quite a few twists and turns and misfortunes surprises happen before the happy ending arrives. A few are predictable, but some are completely unexpected—and that’s part of why this Smoky Mountain romance/mystery is such an enjoyable read.

Published by Kensington and set to release in late September, 2015, Saving Laurel Springs is one of Stepp’s several novels set in the Smoky Mountains. As Dolly Parton said about the book: “I've finally come across someone that believes in all the things that I do . . . love, family, faith, intrigue, mystery, loyalty, romance, and a great love for our beloved Smoky Mountains.” Saving Laurel Springs has all that and more.

Because I’m a fan of Appalachian literature and country life, I figured I’d like the book. I did. (I think the cats did too.)

Tanner: "I can read it in my box."

Main characters Rhea Dean and Carter Layman, whose families own the now-rundown Laurel Springs Camp Assembly Ground, were childhood friends and high school sweethearts. They had plans to marry and restore the old campground to attract more tourists. Here’s a map of the campground:

But life intervened. Carter went to college in California, and Rhea planned to attend a college in a nearby town. But Rhea’s father had a heart attack, so she was needed at home to help out. When he died, she had to spend more time running the campground.

Meanwhile college-student Carter created a video game and was hired by a big company.  He couldn’t come home during the summer because he needed to stay in California for the game’s development. He married the boss’s daughter and they soon had a son. And he became wealthy. Rhea felt betrayed and could not forgive Carter. She never married.

The novel opens nine years after Carter left.  Rhea’s friend and fellow camp-worker tells Rhea she heard that Carter is coming home for a vacation. When he appears on a tour Rhea is conducting, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Despite his several attempts to woo her back, Rhea remains cold to him. She’s even dating one of his high school rivals.

Besides the stress of having Carter around, Rheas is dismayed that some of the cabins are being vandalized at night, and Carter is attacked in the dark while he’s near one. It appears that someone is looking for something—but what, and why?

Carter, meanwhile, sets about restoring the cabins, the chapel, and other aspects of the camp. While Rhea is grateful, she can’t bring herself to forgive him, even though both their families are urging the two to reconcile. Without Rhea’s knowledge, Carter begins work on the house he and Rhea had planned many years ago to build. Carter’s precocious son loves the area, his grandparents, and Rhea. He thinks his dad should marry Rhea, and Carter thinks so, too. But Rhea can’t forget how Carter abandoned her.

Jim-Bob: "Don't worry. I won't let the cat out of the bag about what happens."

Some surprising events and revelations occur, but it would indeed be a spoiler if I told you. I’ll only tell you that Carter and Rhea both reveal reasons for their actions so long ago, and Carter makes plans for himself and his son to return to California. But then—well, the story has a happy ending. Finding out what it is and how Carter and Rhea got there is part of the enjoyment of this book.

Chloe: "I think this book's the cat's pajamas."

Saving Laurel Springs is rich in small town values, a sense of place, and the importance of family. If you’re looking for a story that’s truly “heartwarming,” this is it.

Saving Laurel Springs is available for pre-order on Amazon at a price that’s hard to resist. 

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Ads of Age

When you get old elderly, there's a big increase in certain kinds of mail you get—ads from retirement communities and funeral homes, for instance. Here are a couple I recently found in my mailbox.

So, I can "enjoy nature" at an upscale old folks' home? I've driven past the one in the above ad, and I didn't see much nature. I did see a very busy road going past it.

As for the funeral pre-planning, that's something I've been planning to do (my mother prepaid her burial arrangements and it worked very well). After all, I already have a tombstone* marking my spot in the family cemetery.

 I plan to opt for the "single cash payment"instead of the layaway plan "affordable monthly payments."

The strangest elderly-targeted mail that came recently was a card that unfolded. From the front, I thought it might be some sort of a humorous greeting card.

But it wasn't. I unfolded it to reveal this:

Was someone laughing at another's allergies, maybe? That's not funny. I opened another fold:

If you're having trouble reading that page (elderly with poor eyesight, perhaps), here's a closer look.

Carilion Clinic, our local health-related mega-business, is advertising for one of its, uh, services?!

I didn't find Carilion's attempt at humor laughable at all. In fact, it pissed me off.

*Actually, my second tombstone; the first one went missing.

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Monday, August 03, 2015

Setting a Watchman

I'd pre-ordered Harper Lee's new (?) novel  Go Set A Watchman when Amazon first announced it was available. It arrived the afternoon of July 14, and by late that night I'd finished it. From the pre-publication hype, I knew two things: (1) It wasn't as good as To Kill A Mockingbird, and (2) Atticus was revealed as a racist.

I'd already read the first chapter online, so I knew (Spoiler Alert!) Jem had died before Go Set a Watchman began.

For those not familiar with the multitude of media that gave away the plot: Scout, called by her grown-up name Jean Louise, returns home to Maycomb from New York City where she is now living and discovers that home isn't what she thought it was. Her father, though elderly and suffering from arthritis, still goes to his law office daily but now has a young partner, Henry Clinton. Her brother Jem died from a sudden heart attack (but we know from TKAM that heart trouble ran in their mother's family). Her Aunt Alexandra, who'd added a streak of racism and hypocrisy to the book TKAM but was noon-existant in the movie, keeps house for Atticus and still tries to make a lady of Jean Louise. Calpurnia, now elderly, no longer works for the family. Jean Louise has trouble coping with what she learns about Atticus and Henry.

I've been mulling over what I thought of the book for over two weeks. There are a lot of layers to this book, and it could have used a bit more editorial polish. Despite its rough edges, though, I really enjoyed it. Like Mockingbird, Watchman has some wonderful descriptions of small town life and the people in it. Some of the flashbacks to Scout's childhood are laugh-out-loud funny—for instance, when Jen, Scout, and Dill play revival and when Scout has a wardrobe malfunction at her first formal dance.

Part of the charm of To Kill A Mockingbird  is that it's told in first person in the voice of a child, who will obviously see certain things and not see others. The third person viewpoint in Go Set a Watchman puts distance between Scout  and the reader but allows us to see more of other characters. And it allows us to gain a different perspective of Jean Louise who, though all grown up and living in the big city, is still very Scout-like. However, her childlike innocence and her belief in her father is shattered when she learns that he, like most of the white men in Maycomb, is a bigot.

I think the realization that Atticus was a man of his times was also shattering to a lot of critics and readers. But, those of us who were children in the 50s shouldn't have been surprised. We heard the same prejudice from our parents, our neighbors, and even some of our teachers. If a man was to be a success at his business back then, he had to conform to a town's standards.  It's just the way things were.

When Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman, she was old enough to realize what small town standards were. That many critics expected a book conceived and written in the late 50s to echo today's values and standards is unrealistic. Harper Lee, like many successful writers, wrote what she knew.

Boo Radley was missing from Watchman, and I couldn't help but wonder what happened to him. After he came out, did he go back in? Perhaps in Watchman, another Boo Radley has come out—but this time he's Atticus.

Go Set a Watchman reinforces the idea, used in so many other novels, that you can't go home again. And just maybe you shouldn't go there.

Some blog posts about the book worth reading are Eric Schnurer's: "Et Tu, Atticus," Mark Lawson's review in The Guardian, and Randall Kennedy's New York Times review. I pretty much agree with all three.


Sunday, August 02, 2015

July Sky

We've had some lovely clouds in July. Here are some cloud pics from the end of the month: