Appalachian Thursday–Uncle Celly

The cemetery where Marcellus Phillips came to rest.

The cemetery where Marcellus Phillips came to rest.

Last week I included an excerpt from a booklet published by the Descendants of the French Creek Pioneers. It was about my great-great grandfather and included a mention of one of his children–my Uncle Marcellus.

This is particularly interesting to me because I’d heard stories about Celly Phillips all my life–not only from Dad, but from others in the community. Apparently Celly was a wee bit infamous.

Celly was known to go off and spend long stretches in the woods. Then, perhaps tired of fending for himself, he’d show up at someone’s house expecting a meal and a bed. Just about everyone in the community would oblige him.

Aunt Bess showed me the chair he’d sit in when he turned up at their place. She was just a child then and was more than a little afraid of wild Celly. She said he often drew pictures, but there were only two things he ever drew–lewd women and the devil. She got bold once and asked him how he knew what the devil looked like. “Seen him many a time,” said Celly.

Of course, Celly was not what you’d call a regular church-goer. He did, however, share that when he died he wanted to be buried in a chestnut coffin. When asked why he said, “So I can go to Hell a poppin’.” (Chestnut wood–especially when not dried–spits sparks as it burns.)

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This time it’s a REAL fast

Empty plateBack during Lent I went on a fear fast that was an amazing growth opportunity for me. But in recent weeks I’ve been feeling a tug to go on a real, honest-to-goodness, Biblical fast. You know, by abstaining from food.

Let me just insert here that food is one of my favorite things. It’s almost certainly the thing I think about most often. Even as I finish one meal, I’m planning the next. And I’m a grazer. There’s breakfast, then the mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon nibble, and finally supper.

So. Fasting. I decided the thing to do was to just cut out all the middle stuff. Have a nutritious breakfast and then a normal supper in the evening. I mean, surely I could go 10-12 hours without eating. I even opted to drink a small can of vegetable juice mid-day to keep my metabolism from jumping ship.

Turns out fasting is HARD. I work in an environment where there are snacks everywhere. But on fast days, it’s none for me. And the upshot is–I don’t like fasting. But I have learned a few things:

  1. It’s actually easier to NOT eat than to eat just a little. Just a few chips turns into half the bag. Ten M&Ms turns into the whole packet. A bite of this turns into a bite of that. But if I’m not eating? I can’t have one more bite of nothing.
  2. It doesn’t hurt me a bit to skip food for a little while. Okay, there’s the sugar headache, but that’s just my body telling me to cut back on sweets. Good advice. I don’t get faint with hunger. I can still take the dog for a walk without feeling weak. Turns out I have sufficient stores of energy on me. Mostly in my thighs.
  3. After missing a meal (well, three mini-meals) it actually takes less to satisfy me. Supper is delicious, but I don’t find myself making up for the missed food. My belly’s just glad for what it gets.
  4. Fasting makes it easier for me to say “no” to food that’s not a good choice. I’ve proved that I can say “no” to everything for 10 hours. Surely I can say “no” to one cookie.

Of course, the ultimate goal of Biblical fasting is spiritual. And I have chosen to fast on days when there was a particular challenge or concern weighing on my heart. I wish I could say fasting has brought amazing revelations and godly insight. But here’s what it’s mostly brought–knowledge that my body is not the boss of me.

I’m so much more than my physical body–how it looks, how it feels, what it craves. I’m a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is stronger than any chocolate chip cookie or cheeseburger. And so am I.


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Appalachian Thursday–Descendants of the French Creek Pioneers

French Creek Church

The annual meeting is held at French Creek Presbyterian Church.

The 40th meeting of the Descendants of the French Creek Pioneers was just held back home in West Virginia. I wish very much I could have been there and hope to make it in 2015. Next year will be the centennial year, which sounds weird until you understand that meeting weren’t held in war years while some meetings were called homecomings plus other oddities that add up to make the 41st meeting the centennial. I kind of like that.

I have copies of the reports from the 12th and 20th year meetings. They are TREASURES. I shared an excerpt from one of the booklets–an outstanding dog story that you can find here. But there’s also information about some of my ancestors. These are the people who inspire my stories, so I’m delighted to have information like this at my fingertips.

Here’s a bit about my great-great grandfather:

“David Phillips was also a son of Horace and Susan Cutright Phillips. He married Serena Howes and their children were Helen, Marcellus, Elem, Daniel, Amy, Alonzo, and Jane (my great-grandmother). He was a farmer, a very friendly and hospitable man, and honest and upright in all his dealings. Mr. Phillips was born March 25, 1847, on Laurel Fork and died February 5, 1921. David Phillips served in the Tenth West Virginia Regiment of Infantry, Company B.”

A treasure trove, I tell you! Come back next week and I’ll share some stories about Marcellus–generally known as Celly. To call him a character doesn’t do him justice.

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God’s Roller Coaster

roller coasterAuthors aren’t unique in finding their chosen field a bit of a roller coaster ride. I think everyone faces ups and downs. But let me tell you, the first few weeks of being a “published” author will give you vertigo.

Positive reviews from readers and national publications equal incredible highs. Negative reviews from readers and national publications equal ego-shattering lows. Someone you don’t even know writes the sweetest blog post and obviously “gets” what you are trying to say. Then someone you don’t even know suggests that if you’re going to call your book a romance you ought to include some actual romance.

You rocket into the valleys and tunnels and just when you think the ride must be over someone calls you their new favorite author. It’s kind of exhausting. And you kind of want to get off the ride, but as scary as it is, it’s also exhilarating.

I’m just really, really thankful that I’m ultimately writing for that audience of one. And God can use even my worst writing to accomplish his goals. Actually, I think he might be more likely to use my worst junk just so I’ll know for sure and certain it’s him and not me.

Earlier this week, my Facebook author page passed 900 likes. Whoa! That’s a lot, right? The roller coaster clicked up the hill. So I checked Debbie Macomber’s page. Um, that would be 205,000+ likes. Francine Rivers’ page has a mere 177,000+. Guess that wasn’t a hill so much as a bump.

Then I took a hammer and chisel to the third novel in the Appalachian Blessings series–that would be the first manuscript I completed. And just when I thought the stupid, dark tunnel of bad writing was permanent, a new writer friend messaged me on Facebook with encouragement. Seems most of us author-types are convinced we’ve forgotten how to write every now and then.

That’s why I don’t mind riding this roller coaster–I’m not riding it alone. God knows every twist, turn, mountaintop high, and stomach-churning drop. And he’s sent me angels disguised as friends to hold my hand when I get scared.

Thanks, friends.





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Appalachian Thursday–Stump Water

Stump Water

A fine source of stump water.

I have freckles. More than an adorable smattering across my nose. More than a dusting across my cheeks. I have a freckle on my lip, on my eyelids, my ears. And when I was a kid I wanted them GONE. Luckily (or not) there are quite a few folklore remedies for freckles including washing your face in stump water–which is readily available in the mountains of Appalachia.

You can also wash freckles in dew before sunrise on the first of May. Or, you can use the water from an urn in a graveyard to rinse them away. (Hint: None of these work.)

As an adult I’m delighted with my freckles. I credit them with tricking people into thinking I’m younger than I am. And more innocent. When you still look a bit like Laura Ingalls, people tend to think you’re sweet ; )

Of course, stump water is good for other things as well–curing warts for example. The way I heard it, you were to soak a dishcloth in stump water and then apply it to the wart. But Mark Twain had a different take on things.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck have the following exchange about curing warts:

“Why, spunk-water. . . You got to go all by yourself, to the middle of the woods, where you know there’s a spunk-water stump, and just as it’s midnight you back up against the stump and jam your hand in and say:

‘Barley-corn, barley-corn, injun-meal shorts,
Spunk-water, spunk-water, swaller these warts,’

and then walk away quick, eleven steps, with your eyes shut, and then turn around three times and walk home without speaking to anybody. Because if you speak the charm’s busted. . .”

It probably doesn’t work, but if you want to get rid of something badly enough, might be worth a shot. Right?

Posted in Appalachian, folklore cures, Nature, stump water cure, stump water folklore, Waiting | 6 Comments

The Psychology of the Review

the bookPhew. Launching a book is work, but unlike digging ditches, it’s hard to see exactly what you’ve accomplished.

And so, you look at reviews. There are reviews on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, on Goodreads, on There are reviews on blogs and as Facebook comments. Oh, there IS feedback.

And there’s finally enough feedback for me to feel confident it’s more than my immediate circle of friends and family posting. Strangers have read my book and are happy to share their opinion.

Now, I’m a pretty confident sort. Sometimes, people who know me might even suggest I’m a little TOO confident. But there’s something funny about reviews. The statistics are happy–lots of good reviews and only a handful that are bad or less than enthusiastic. So I ought to be feeling great, right?

Except. When I read the good reviews I feel good. I think to myself how nice it is that the book spoke to someone out there and gave pleasure. Maybe even communicated a message.

Then I read a bad or mediocre review. And even if I’ve just read five good ones in a row, the feeling I get is along the lines of having been caught in a lie by my mom when I was ten. Uh-oh. I’ve been found out. Someone noticed I can’t write and I use too many adverbs and the pacing is slow in places and–well, I don’t pay any attention when they say it’s too Christian. I was ready for that. But the rest–oh, I’m a fraud.

What is up with that?!?

And yet, I think we all feel like this sometimes. We feel like our flaws are big ole zits on the tips of our noses and the only reason someone hasn’t noticed is because they’re distracted by our new hairstyle or sparkly earrings and just give them a moment, they’ll see.

But here’s the thing. We’re all riddled with flaws. My novel has plenty of flaws. I used the word “somehow” over and over and maybe should have used it once. There are some typos. I could have crafted the story better.

Oh, but wait. God works through weakness. Paul was talking about something much more challenging than writing a novel when he wrote 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. But I think it describes what my attitude ought to be.

But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I am so very weak. And all too willing to feel as though my weaknesses define me (you know, because I’m weak). But God likes to show off his muscles by using weak things to do some of his best work. I’m just glad he’s using me.

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Appalachian Thursday–More Book Launch

The MOST special day of my life was my wedding day. The book launch party for Miracle in a Dry Season definitely comes in second. It was utterly Appalachian from the location–a little white church on a hill–to the food–cornbread and beans. But the BEST part was the people. Many are natives of Appalachia, while others grew up further afield. Everyone, though, was there to celebrate and so we did! Here are a few images so you can join in the celebration, too.

Posted in Appalachian, Church, Family, Food, Friends, Love, Miracles, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments