Appalachian Thursday–Christmas Trees

TreeWe’ve had a live Christmas tree almost every year–when I was a child and now as an adult. When we were kids in WV, we’d go to a nearby Christmas tree farm (I mean, a mile or so away) and pick out a tree. Now, in Western NC, the tree farms are higher up in the mountains so I settle for a pre-cut tree from a lot on the side of the road.

But when Dad was young, they had real Appalachian Christmas trees. By this I mean my grandfather would go out and cut a tree in the woods. You know, a scraggly, scrawny tree with bare spots, a crooked trunk, and branches every which-a-way. Then he’d gather some extra branches, drill holes in the trunk (with a hand drill), and insert the spares to fill out the tree.

What I wouldn’t give for a picture of one of those trees!

SantaThe decorations were simpler, too, and Dad still has one of them–a paperSnowman cutout Santa Claus that he’s had since his first Christmas. While I don’t have any ornaments that have been around that long, I do have a handful from my childhood–mostly homemade. There’s a wooden snowman along with Mr. & Mrs. Claus ornaments Mom and Dad painted when they were first married. I also have the felt Mary with her Little Lamb sewn by my mother.

I add to my ornaments each year, picking and choosing which to display as I unpack ornaments and remember . . . But none will ever be half so dear to me as the ones that carry me to Christmases past. Christmases on the farm in West Virginia.

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My letter to Santa

GiftsWhat do you want for Christmas? I’ve probably posed that question to every child I know and I’ve been asked it by several friends and family members. It’s the, “Hi, how are you?” of the season.

So how does one answer such a question? Kids are great–they want real baby dragons, and red hair ribbons, and dogs with puppies (actual answers from this year). And when I was younger, it was easy. I wanted a particular toy or book or clothes or music or, well, there was always something I thought I couldn’t live without. Like that horse I never received. But these days . . .

The problem is, so many of my wants are met on a daily basis. I want a book by my favorite author. Downloaded on my Kindle in five minutes. I want a turtleneck sweater to go with my black pants. Ordered on-line in a twinkling. I want something special for dinner. Reservations made. I want . . . well, I hardly even think in terms of what I want. I’m blessed to have so much more than I need I barely have a chance to want for anything.

But maybe that’s because I’m limiting myself to what can be wrapped in paper and tucked under the tree. After all, what do I really want?

  • I want my novels to reach lots of readers who will love them and beg for more. (My noble want is that the books will spread the Good News, but if I’m honest, I also just want lots of people to read and like them.)
  • I want a hundred-year-old house on a sizable chunk of land where we can fix it up just the way we like and go for long walks without leaving our own property.
  • I want to find the balance between working in a ministry that makes a difference in the world while still having plenty of time for my writing.
  • I want to spend more time with my family and see my nieces and nephews grow up.
  • I want a gas stove in my kitchen with unlimited free gas (this is a thing in WV).
  • I want . . . well, ultimately I want what God wills for me, but sometimes I haven’t the foggiest what that is.

Maybe I need to get back in touch with that child who knew exactly what she wanted for Christmas–even if it was a baby dragon. And then I should ask for it. Because I don’t write letters to Santa Claus anymore. Instead, I lift petitions to God. And he loves to give good things to his children. I know because he told me so and because he’s already given me more than I ever thought to ask.

Matthew 7:11 –  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 

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Appalachian Thursday–Great Gifts from WV

Have you finished your shopping yet? I’m just about done and I’ve even wrapped everything and shipped the gifts that need to go to family I won’t see this holiday season. Which means I have time to help YOU shop! And what would I recommend but some great gifts from West Virginia?

As I get older and acquire more stuff, I appreciate gifts I can consume–food, drink, beauty products. And at the top of that list is, of course, chocolate. Try DeFluris Fine Chocolates in Martinsburg, WV. Their Buttercrunch (almond toffee) is a sure-fire winner!

Ron Hinkle ornamentGEE-GAWS
That’s what my grandmother called the pretty little odds and ends scattered around her house. They’re also known as knick-knacks. Ron Hinkle is an incredibly talented glass blower who lives and works not farm from our family farm. He makes stemware, vases, purely decorative items and the loveliest Christmas ornaments. I have a treasured collection on my tree even now!

How could I skip recommending a book or two? Chris Fabry is among my favorite authors AND he’s from West Virginia. He’s probably best known for June Bug, but I also really enjoyed Almost Heaven. And Judith Miller’s latest series is set in West Virginia. Book #1, The Brickmaker’s Bride, released in October and is in my to-read stack.

If YOU happen to have someone who loves writing in your life, you can’t go wrong with a really gorgeous pen. Pioneer Pens has a shop on Etsy and I’m half in love with the walnut burl pen. Lovely!

Happy shopping!

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My Best Book Review

Miracle in a Dry SeasonI’ve been fortunate to have had some very nice reviews of my books. Library Journal had some nice things to say, and there are several lovely reviews on and GoodReads. Not to mention blog reviews scattered around the web.

But on Friday evening I got my BEST review. I’d given a copy of Miracle in a Dry Season to our 93-year-old neighbor Bill. I didn’t know if he would read it, but I wanted him to have a copy. Well, he called on Friday to let me know he’d finished the book.

He said he hadn’t really felt like reading lately, but he decided it was time to tackle my novel. And he read it straight through. Bill was born in 1921, just two years after the fictitious Casewell Phillips. And he grew up on a farm in Virginia where he often rode a blind horse (a story for another time).

“It reminded me of those days on the farm,” Bill said. “Except for one thing.”

Uh-oh, I thought, I got something wrong.

“There was a whole lot more forgiveness in the book,” he said with a laugh.

Bill went on to ask if I’d meant for readers to cry at the story. I said I thought it was a fine way to react. “I shed a few tears. It just seemed like the thing to do,” he said and I got a little teary myself.

I think Bill’s “review” of Miracle in a Dry Season means so much to me because he represents the generation of my family that’s gone now. I would have loved to give a copy to Grandma Burla, Aunt Bess, my great Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Willis, Grandma Ginny–people who deeply influenced my writing and the stories I tell. They’re all gone now, but Bill, he’s just up the hill and he cried when he read my book.

The best review an author can hope for.

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Appalachian Thursday–Christmas Countdown

Christmas treeGuess what? It’s 21 days ’til Christmas! Yup, Christmas is just three weeks away. Are you ready? Are you counting down with joy and anticipation? Or is there a little how-will-I-get-everything-done dread mixed in there?

When I was little, we had a count-down to Christmas wall hanging my mom made. It was in the shape of a Christmas tree and had 24 little beads from which we would suspend 24 little, felt ornaments. There was an angel that went at the top. A Santa, little wrapped packages, a candy cane with sequins–it was wonderful. And I always got to hang the first ornament since my birthday was December 1.

I LOVED counting down to Christmas when I was a child growing up on the farm in WV. Each year I looked forward to all the things we got to do as we counted down. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Singing carols in the car. Snapping our fingers for reindeer hoofs up on the housetop. Dad substituting our names as he sang, “First comes the stocking of little Sally (his nickname for me).” Rudolph and Frosty and oh, what fun!
  • Decorating sugar cookies. I now know this makes my mom a saint. Arming three kids with frosting and sprinkles is a bold move.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree. Dad did the lights and hung his one ornament remaining from childhood–a tattered cardboard Santa. We got to do the rest. And no clumping icicles, if you please.
  • Hanging our stockings and posing for a picture looking up the chimney. As if we thought Santa would be up there before we went to bed. Honestly, Mom.

My husband and I have our own traditions to mark the days until Christmas–a gathering with friends, Christmas Eve services, peanut butter blossoms, and stealth decorating (he’s not as big a fan of glitter and greens as I am).

But all too often our grown-up traditions get bogged down in hurry and self-imposed pressure to make this Christmas the best ever. This December I’m encouraging you to remember what it was like to be a child counting down the days–not wondering how you would fit it all in and get it all done–but wondering how much longer do I have to wait? Because we are children, after all. God’s children. And what we’re waiting for is a chance to celebrate the best present ever.

Merry Christmas.

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Typing The End–A Birthday Deadline


Ella Phillips is the heroine of book #3 in the Appalachian Blessings series.

When given the option, I tend to pick dates that have some significance for me. So, when my editor asked when I’d have book #3 for him to look at I picked . . . my birthday. So here it is, on the day I turn 43 I’m sending my latest manuscript off to my editor. And then I may very well drink champagne.

This is actually the first manuscript I completed at least five years ago–maybe more. (I’m getting old, I can’t remember these things like I used to.) The day I typed THE END I thought I’d written the next great American novel. Oh, I knew hardly anyone wrote a great first draft, but I’d kind of edited as I went and was pretty sure I’d be the exception to the rule.

I wasn’t.

And this editing process has been–shall we say–significant. That handful of folks who read the original draft will find little to recognize beyond the main character’s name. And some of the food–I did keep the food.

But here’s what IS the same after several birthdays, quite a few rejections, conferences, edits, an agent, a contract, and two-and-a-half novels–my passion for these stories. I started writing seriously when I was a mere child in my early thirties. While I’m beginning to have an inkling of how much I don’t know about writing, the desire to tell stories that wrap my love for family with my awe of God still clamor for release each time I open my laptop.

I’m excited for my editor to help me make this latest story better. I’m excited to share Ella Phillip’s journey toward a real, living faith with you. I’m excited to keep telling stories as long as God blesses me with stories to tell.

Happy birthday, indeed!

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Some thoughts on giving thanks

Give Thanks“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” ~William Blake

“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” ~H.U. Westermayer

“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” ~W.J. Cameron

“Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.” ~Robert Caspar Lintner

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~Thornton Wilder

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~William Arthur Ward

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” ~William Jennings Bryan

Happy Thanksgiving–don’t forget to share your blessings.



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