Appalachian Thursday–A Birthday Memory

candlesI’m turning 45 today. I’ve opted to brag about my age rather than quibble about it. I’ve known too many ladies who loved to lay claim to being the oldest person still living in our little community to blush at something as arbitrary as age.

I’m celebrating with some gifts and plenty of good food. Friends are helping me transition to the next year of my life with laughter and love. But as much as I enjoy reveling in my birthday, it will never quite match up to those birthdays past.

When we were kids, Mom would pile beautifully wrapped gifts on the counter or in the kitchen window a week or so out, giving us time to anticipate what was inside. I still enjoy some solid anticipation. On the actual day, I got to choose what I wanted for supper. Fried chicken, thank you. And macaroni and cheese and if there must be a vegetable, green beans will do. Mom took cake decorating classes, so I had some magnificent cakes over the years. The cake baked in a bowl, then turned upside down to look like the skirt of the doll poked in the top was a favorite.

But back to the fried chicken.

When I turned eight or so, I remember that Dad actually killed the chicken Mom fried. Mostly, we had chickens for eggs, but we ate one now and again. Those were the days before I was quite so prone to try and make a pet out of any critter I encountered. Eating farm animals was just what we did.

This chicken, though, was special. Because it was my birthday, Dad removed it’s head and then . . . let the body go. You may have heard the phrase, “Running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.” And maybe you haven’t examined that phrase too closely. But it’s apt. And when you’re eight, it’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen.

And maybe, 37 years later, it’s still just about the craziest thing you’ve ever seen.

Happy birthday to me!

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Seven Reasons to Give Thanks



Thanksgiving is over. The cornbread dressing is gone and the last of the turkey has lost it’s appeal. But I still have a great deal to be thankful for.

  1. I’m feeling fine! After a stroke in April I have a new appreciation for good health.
  2. I have an incredible support system. With my family, my church family, wonderful neighbors, co-workers, a writing community, and an array of other friends, my cup truly overflows in this area.
  3. I’ve spent most of my life in a beautiful place. The Appalachian Mountains have it all in my opinion–mountains, trees, streams, wildlife, good people–I’m so fortunate to live where I do.
  4. I get to write books that people actually read. I still can’t quite get over that. People read my books. Sometimes they even like them!
  5. I love a wonderful man who has been by my side for 20+ years now. He loves me, but doesn’t let me get away with any nonsense (well, not much). Just the combination I need!
  6. I have a lovely home, a good job, and a measure of financial security. Oh, I know, a dozen difficult things could happen to change that, but at the moment I’m blessed.
  7. And then there’s the thing I’m MOST thankful for. I know how the story ends. No matter how hard it can get to count my blessings, no matter how many challenges come my way or how crazy the world seems–I know how the story ends. I flipped to the last page and have the assurance that the ending is beyond wonderful.

How about you? What are you most thankful for?

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Appalachian Thursday–Thanksgiving in WV

Give ThanksWe’re headed for those West Virginia hills today to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family. Not wanting to stick my poor brother with preparing the meal, we’re taking advantage of the prepared Thanksgiving dinners offered by my friend Chef Dale Hawkins at Fish Hawk Acres.

The menu is mostly what I was used to growing up in Appalachia–turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls. But we did throw in a sweet potato casserole and the dressing is cornbread. Oh, and Jack Daniel’s cake for dessert. I mean pumpkin pie is fine, but when you can get a chocolate, buttermilk cake with whiskey laced chocolate mousse, and ganache, why wouldn’t you??

The meal won’t be exactly like it was when I was a kid, but close enough.

Of course, traditional dishes vary from region to region. My southern husband will be missing homemade macaroni and cheese and his mother’s stuffed celery, but compromise is the heart of marriage😉

Whether you’re in Appalachia, the deep south, way up north, or somewhere out west, what Thanksgiving dish are you most looking forward to today? Hope it’s every bit as delicious as you remember.

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When You Can’t Make It Rain

RainStill no rain.

People sometimes joke about the forests of Western NC being rain forests. Not this year. We haven’t had enough rain to count since August. And the forecast isn’t promising.

I’ve certainly prayed about the weather before. Prayed that it would or would not precipitate depending on my plans. Prayed for sunshine for farmers putting up hay. Prayed for the power to stay on in a storm.

But this time there’s an urgency I’ve never experienced before. In the past, my weather prayers were about convenience and preference. If there was real need, it was someone else’s. But now I see the creek dwindling out back. I wonder if our well will hold out. I wonder how the flora and fauna of these mountains I love will be affected.

And I’m a little bit afraid.

What I’ve noticed is that my prayers for rain are REAL. Because there’s simply nothing else I can do.

  • When I pray not to catch a virus going around the office, I also wash my hands, wipe surfaces down with Lysol, and take vitamins.
  • When I pray for a friend who is sick, I also take her some soup or a book, send a note, or research possible treatments.
  • When I pray for a family member’s situation, I also help with his finances, research housing options, and call to cheer him up.

But there’s nothing I can do about the weather. Oh, I wear my rain coat and carry an umbrella. I joke about doing a rain dance. But none of that makes a difference. Which means prayer is it–the sum total of my contribution to an environmental crisis. And that’s a helpless feeling.

Which, I suspect, is right where God wants me. Recognizing that I am helpless, powerless, feeble, and useless . . . without Him.

I can’t make it rain. But I CAN ask God to. Every day, several times, with hope in my heart. And then I can trust that he’ll do what’s best in light of eternity.

The hard part will be to carry that lesson into all the other areas of my life where I only think I have control, and let God have his way there as well. Because his way is the best way, even when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, the rain cloud on the horizon, or the perfect plan he’s worked out for his beloved children.

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Appalachian Thursday–Drought


This creek is normally a good 15-feet wide. You can see a patch of water out there in the middle . . .

When I wrote about a drought in Miracle in a Dry Season, I’d experienced some minor droughts and read about some serious ones. This year is the first time I’ve actually felt fearful because of a drought.

We had some rain in August. But in September and October there was only about a half an inch per month (cumulative!). November has seen only trace amounts. And now tens of thousands of acres are on fire–dry leaves providing ample kindling.

Here’s a passage from the book that touches on that fictitious dry spell:

Casewell was so absorbed by his work that he paid little attention to what was happening in the community over the next few weeks. But as the dog days of August approached, the drought became so dire no one could remain oblivious to it. Cattle were chewing on twigs and eating ivy and there wasn’t a farmer in the county with even one bale of hay remaining in his barn. Housewives raided cellar stores as gardens wasted away. Everything was coated in dust and creeks had been reduced to dry rocks.

As he walked outside, Casewell felt like he was waking up from a deep sleep. He looked around him at what was suddenly an alien landscape. He realized that the grass in the yard was brown and there were bare spots of nothing but dirt. Some of the trees had lost their leaves and those that remained looked sad and shriveled. A stand of pines close to the road was coated in a layer of dust as was the mailbox. And it was hot. The sun beat down on the cracked earth and Casewell noticed an absence of birdsong. He had emerged from his work into a wasteland. Fear rose in him, a foreboding tide that somehow seemed greater than the drought they were facing.

While the drought here isn’t anywhere near this bad, the addition of wildfires has left us all on edge. I think I got the fear right–a rising tide that requires faith and a healthy dose of hope. Please keep praying for rain.

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Praying for Rain

Rain on TinWhen it feels like the world all around you is on fire, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

As of Sunday evening, a wildfire near Lake Lure, one county over from where we live, is approaching 3,000 acres. Smoke hangs heavy in the air. The 10-day forecast offers no hope of rain.

I look around the house and try to think what I would grab if we had to evacuate taking only what we could carry in the car. The computers, family mementos, original artwork, some of my favorite clothes and jewelry. Packing up Thistle goes without saying. The bedroom suite we saved from the flood in SC won’t fit in the car. The dining room furniture Dad found for us won’t either.

Just stuff. Replaceable.

What’s really hard is this sudden reminder that the world I know is incredibly fragile. Illness, natural disaster, economic hardship–any number of crises could suddenly change everything.

And I feel dry and dusty.

I’m praying for rain. Even though the forecast is dry, dry, dry.

I’m reminded of Elijah in I Kings 17& 18. After three years of drought God told Elijah he would send rain. So Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call on their god to consume a sacrifice. Baal had nothing to say. Then Elijah doused his own sacrifice in water three times (during a drought!) and God promptly consumed it and the people believed. Afterwards, Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and bowed low. Seven times he sent his servant to look out across the sea. On the seventh trip the servant saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand.

And then a heavy rain began to fall.

God can do anything. He can send fire to consume a sacrifice and he can send rain to refresh a dry land. But sometimes we have to wait and have faith.

Please join me in praying for rain.


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Appalachian Thursday–WV Veterans

Treasures!Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day so I thought I’d take a look back at some of the veterans who fought in the days when my home state was just being born. It was during the Civil War that West Virginia seceded from the Union and became it’s own state. I had family wearing blue and some wearing grey.

My great great grandfather David Phillips had quite a few first cousins, the sons of William and Mehitable Gould Phillips, who fought in the war. They included:

Franklin – The eldest Phillips son was a member of Co. E, Sixth West Virginia Cavalry, late Third Infantry. He was wounded and captured, but lived to father ten children by two wives. He died November 26, 1899.

Herbert (Cudge) – The fourth son was taken prisoner at Franklin in Pendleton County on May 25, 1862. He was sent to Libbey Prison and was never seen again. He had one child–Jerome.

James – A member of Co. E, Third West Virginia Infantry, James was killed at the Battle of Cross Keys, Virginia. It was around the same time Franklin and Cudge were taken prisoner.

Lafayette – Another member of Co. E, Third West Virginia Infantry, Lafayette survived the war. He married Elizabeth Cogar and had seven children. He died November 13, 1907.

Lothrop – His first enlistment was in Co. E, First West Virginia Light Artillery. He re-enlisted in the First West Virginia Cavalry. He survived the war and had eight children.

Mortimer – Somehow, Mortimer ended up in the Sixth Illinois Infantry. He died February 28, 1885, in Illinois.

In 1976, Mona Phillips Morgan wrote this:

The New England patriotism of the Phillips family was renewed in its Upshur County branch during the Civil War. We are proud to say no Upshur County Phillips had to be drafted in that war. There are thirteen Phillips names listed.

Most of the Phillipses were fond of hunting and fishing. They did not strive for wealth although they lived well, and had plenty to eat and wear. They were honest, law-abiding people who always stood for the right and were ready to defend and protect the flag of our country.

They had a common purpose, that of building a nation under God. They had high hopes for their descendants.

As one of those many descendants, I hope they’re well pleased.

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