Appalachian Thursday–Autumn LOVE

Fall TrailIn Western North Carolina we’re deep in my favorite season of the year. And so, I can’t resist taking a moment to enumerate some of what I love about fall in Appalachia.

  • Fall color! Red and gold, rust, sunshine yellow, orange so vivid it makes you feel warm . . . I can’t get enough. When I go on hikes I’m prone to coming home with a multicolored bouquet of leaves.
  • Crunching through leaves on forest trails. I used to love jumping in piles of leaves and I’m still willing to take a leap or two, but it tends to make me itchy. So scuffling through the windfall is good enough for me!
  • Crisp fall air and that cerulean blue sky. It just makes me feel alive.
  • Beef stew, lasagna, chili, and all those other cool weather dishes I haven’t wanted since temps climbed over the summer. A glass of red wine won’t go amiss, either.
  • Sweaters and turtlenecks and scarves. Cozy clothing that makes me feel snug (and hides the effects of beef stew and lasagna).
  • Halloween–a great excuse to play dress up and eat candy. It’s the one day of the year I can wear a tiara or angel wings without drawing undue attention.
  • Thanksgiving–turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and cranberry salad and sweet potato pie. Oh, and spending time with family while being thankful. That’s good, too.

So how about you? What’s your favorite part of fall?

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Home Again, Home Again – a WV Events Roundup

Well, it wasn’t exactly a book tour, but it’s about as close as I’ll get until my books are a bit more, well, known. I did two events back home in WV last week–a reading at a dinner at Fish Hawk Acres and a signing at Mainline Books.

And it was wonderful!


Twilight setting in at the Fish Hawk Acres dinner. That’s Mom at the end of the table with Jean and Aunt Pat.

The dinner was a little damp and chilly, which reduced our numbers, but those who came were delightful. We chatted over soup shooters–butternut squash and roasted red pepper–before settling under the pavilion for dinner. Chef Dale Hawkins told us a bit about the food, most of which comes from local growers (the couple who grew the gorgeous parsnips and multicolored carrots dined with us). Then we ate ’til we couldn’t eat any more. Pot roast with caramelized onions, pork loin with shiitake gravy, red cabbage with bacon, salad greens with beets and ginger vinaigrette, apple dumplings with caramel sauce. Oh my!

Anyone who thinks West Virginia food isn’t sophisticated and amazing needs to go see Dale. He’ll set you straight.

Then I got up to talk a bit and read about the first meal Perla cooked for Casewell. At least I wasn’t making people hungry! To close out the evening, I signed books for my new friends. Lovely.


At Mainline Books with Phil Ward–a cousin on the Phillips side of the family.

On Saturday, I went to charming Mainline Books in Elkins, WV, for a signing. It was another damp, grey day, but the bookstore was bright and cheery. There really should have been a cat curled up on the big chair in back. I had a table with fall decorations near the door and set my banner up outside.

We had a good turnout in spite of the fact that the WVU football game was at noon, halfway through the signing! You’re pretty much not allowed to live in WV unless you’re willing to care about WVU football. (They beat #4 Baylor–go Mountaineers!) My mom came and sat with me while my cousin and her husband drove down from Pennsylvania–what a great surprise!

While it was great to get Miracle in a Dry Season into the hands of some new readers, the best part was being at home, with my family, celebrating the wonders of being a published author. Pure joy!

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Appalachian Thursday–Traveling

I’m headed home today to see family and do a couple of book-related events. Next week I’ll share all the details about my first experience as a published author in my home state. In the meantime, here’s a taste of fall in Western NC along with a shot from my childhood. Prayers for safe travels, please!

Fall 2010 012 Fall 2010 015 Fall 2010 011playing in leaves

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A Note for a Friend–Through the Valley

ValleyHard times–valleys–come in so many forms. They can be obvious–job loss, death in the family, sickness, natural disaster. Or they can be harder to spot–a child gone astray, a marriage in tatters, a difficult work environment. And all too often, we try really hard to keep others from seeing our valleys.

I have a dear friend going through a challenging time right now–the kind no one would know about if she didn’t talk about it. And thank goodness she’s not only talking about it, but asking friends to pray about it. She’s walking through a valley and what she wants more than anything is OUT.

I’ve been through a valley or two of my own and I wish I could swoop in with a helicopter and airlift my friend to a lodge on the top of the mountain where we’d have hot chocolate and enjoy the view. Except . . . I don’t really wish I could do that. Because here’s what I’ve learned about valleys:

  • God let’s us walk through them for a reason. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to see the reason. Sometimes you never see the reason. But there is one and it’s really, really good.
  • There are no shortcuts. No airlift, no SUVs rolling through to offer a ride, no teleportation to the mountaintop. But there is a path and you might as well start walking it, one foot in front of the other, until the hard work is done and you’re no longer in the valley.
  • While your friends can’t rescue you from the valley, they can encourage you from wherever they are on their paths. And that friend you’re sure has never set foot in a valley? You’d be surprised how dark and deep it was.
  • When you look back at the valley from higher up the mountain, you kind of wonder what was so awful about it. Oh, you remember it wasn’t fun, but from this perspective you can even see some beauty in it.
  • The valley leads to the foothills, which lead to the mountain trail, which leads to the mountaintop, and oh-my-goodness when you get there the view is SO worth it.

I hate that my friend is suffering. I’ll pray for her every day until she’s through this valley. And I trust that one day we’ll talk about it, remember it, and thank God for how He worked through it.

by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Posted in Family, Friends, Love, Miracles, Nature, Waiting | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Appalachian Thursday–Side Dogs

ThistleThere are generally two types of folks I run into hiking in the national forest near our house. 1) Transplants with an appreciation for nature who carry water bottles, graphite hiking sticks, and often have a proliferation of bumper stickers on their cars. 2) Locals with an appreciation for the place they know who carry guns, sticks found along the trail, and often have an opinion about where the hunting is best.

Both kinds have dogs with them and Thistle and I like to visit with them all. A few weeks back, I ran into two young men who fell into the locals category. They had a hound and a second, mixed breed dog. They were, indeed, scouting spots to hunt and we chatted a minute about the dogs.

One young man allowed as how the hound was a hunting dog, while the mutt was just a good “side dog.” This was a new term for me, but a little more conversation led me to understand that a side dog is one that stays by your side, generally keeping you company. I LOVE this!

Turns out all my dogs have been side dogs. They aren’t for hunting or protection. They don’t herd other animals or track anything. They aren’t particularly well-trained. They’re just really good companions.

First there was Joe who licked the other side of my popsicle in the summer. Then there was Fred, a massive Airedale who technically had a job–to go wherever my brothers and I did on the farm. Then a series of rescues I wasn’t particularly attached to. After college there was Sammy–my first true, dog-love. And now Thistle who is the ultimate side dog. Even to the point that when I lay down, she curls into my side and grunts in contentment. Not quite an extra appendage, but almost.

Yes. Side dogs. Maybe they have the most important canine job of all. Embodying love.

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Book . . . analysis: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Somewhere SafeI was going to review Jan Karon’s latest novel–Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good–but I realized I didn’t want to review it so much as analyze it.

The thing is, Jan Karon doesn’t follow the rules.

If you go to conferences or classes (which I highly recommend) you’ll get lots of advice about starting the story in the midst of the action, piling on the conflict, being mindful of whose point-of-view you’re writing in, and lots of other really good tips.

Here’s what Jan Karon does:
1) She writes in omniscient POV. That means the reader sees the story through just about every character’s eyes. Much of it is in Father Tim’s POV, but we jump in and out of lots of folks heads. And I, at least, hardly noticed.
2) She started us off with Father Tim fretting over a tux that doesn’t fit anymore. Hardly a life-altering crisis. And yet, I was smiling along with Tim’s frustration over the pounds he gained on a trip to Ireland.
3) There’s conflict, but it’s not what you’d call big-time stuff. Dooley gave Lace a ring, but it’s just a “friendship” ring . . . or is it? Father Tim is offered his old pulpit under difficult circumstances. Cynthia’s eyesight is failing. Hope’s pregnancy is complicated. Sammy offers some solid difficulties with several thefts and some serious bad behavior, but otherwise . . . its everyday stuff. And I was glad.

This book doesn’t offer all the ingredients that a “good” novel is supposed to. And yet I LOVED it as have hundreds of other readers who have rated it on various book sites. There are certainly a handful that didn’t like it and several of them cite what I mentioned above by way of calling the book “boring,” the story “thin,” and saying it has “no dramatic tension.”

So what’s up with this book debuting at #2 on the New York Time’s bestseller list? Well, obviously, I don’t know or I would be debuting at #2. But here’s what I think.

As much as readers love a story that fits the template, there’s a hunger for . . . life. You know, the stuff that we all go through every day. Here are a few reviewer comments:

  • It’s not a book of epic struggles, rather it’s the small everyday trials and successes that make Karon’s books so delightful.
  • The Mitford books help me remember to say thanks for the joy and blessings in my own life where I’m “Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.”
  • It is a novel about the beautiful ebb and flow of everyday life in a small town.
  • I feel like I know all the characters personally and laugh, love, and cry with them as they go through their daily lives.
  • The characters and their lives were so relate-able and this made them feel so real that I could close my eyes and actually let my imagination picture life in Milford.

I think Jan Karon has mastered the art of capturing the beauty of the mundane. Of a Christmas tree being lit in the upstairs window of a bookstore. Of a single woman in a caftan meeting the man of her dreams over on-line scrabble. Of a man who is only just learning to read being captivated by The Cat in the Hat. Of mistakes redeemed. Of lives lived. Of people just loving one another.

The unifying theme for Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good is a question posed by the Mitford Muse: Does Mitford still take care of its own? And the answer is what I love about each opportunity to return to Mitford.

Yes, oh yes. And so, dear reader, should we all.

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Appalachian Thursday–WV Book Events

I’m headed home in October. Ahhhh. My favorite month in my favorite place. And as an added bonus, I’m doing two book-related events while I’m in West Virginia. So excited to take my book back to the place it was born!

Thursday, Oct. 16, 5:30 pm – October Farm Feast at Fish Hawk Acres
Fish Hawk AcresMy friend Dale Hawkins left little ole Rock Cave, WV, to become a big time chef, working his way up to executive chef at such acclaimed kitchens as Victoria and Albert’s at Disney, Glade Springs Resort, and Stonewall Resort. But his heart was always back on the family farm. Now he runs Fish Hawk Acres, celebrating the fantastic food of central WV with a Community Supported Kitchen or CSK (think CSA, but with the food arriving already prepared!).


A Chef Dale original. Oh my!

On the third Thursday of each Month from spring to fall, he hosts a farm dinner featuring seasonal victuals from his farm and the local area. And in October I get to be part of the party! I’ll do a talk and reading as well as sell and sign books. Oh, and I plan to eat like a farm girl! Visit Fish Hawk Acres if you’d like to reserve a spot for the event that starts at 5:30 p.m. Dinner is $25 (and a bargain at that!).

Saturday, Oct. 18, 11 am-1 pm – Main Line Books, Elkins, WV
I love independent bookstores. And turns out there’s a wonderful store not far from the family farm where owner Vickie has been gracious enough to host me for a signing. I’ll be there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and would SO love to see my WV friends and fans (who are just friends I have yet to meet). I have a feeling my family may be hanging around as well! Stop by and like their Facebook page if you get a chance!

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