Appalachian Thursday – Remembering Miss Anne

May QueenIt’s funny how something can be wonderful and deeply sad at the same time.

One of Appalachia’s sweet ladies is at home in heaven today. Earlier this year I wrote about my friend Anne–Queen of the May. Her 96th birthday was on May 1 and last night she slipped into forever.

A child of Kentucky, Anne would tell stories about growing up on a farm, attending a one-room school, spending time with her grandparents, briefly working in New York City, and raising her girls. She was a bit of a muse for me. And she still is.

I’m happy for Anne today. And I’m sad for her family who loved her so. I’m sad for all of us who knew Anne and will miss her and I’m sad for those who never got to meet this sprite of a lady with dancing eyes who loved nothing so much as a good book.

That was the thing about Anne–books. I think that as soon as she learned to read she picked up a book and only put that one down long enough to pick up the next. When visiting her she was always surrounded by stacks of books. If you checked out books from our church library, odds were excellent that Anne’s name would be on the card already. She read everything and was happy to tell you what she thought.

She read my first novel while I was still shaping it. She read each book as it released and her stamp of approval meant so much to me.

I hope there are books in heaven. I can’t wait to hear which ones Miss Anne will recommend when I get there.

Start the week with words of love

AugustineTwice yesterday I heard someone talk about the importance of sharing words of love or affirmation. That old saying about how sticks and stones can break bones but words can never hurt is nonsense. Words can be excruciating.

Conversely, they can be precious, healing, inspiring, blessed gifts when shared in the right way. So, I thought I’d start the week with some words that I hope bless you.

YOU, whoever you are, have been handmade by God. He designed you and is even now shaping you. Why? Because he loves you. No, he absolutely adores you. You’re the most amazing part of his creation and he knew exactly what he was doing when he gave you that hair, those eyes, and your own special way of laughing.

He did NOT make a mistake when he made that bit of you that you’ve never liked–your nose, your thighs, your toes that make you not want to wear sandals. He knew all about that thing that challenges you–that illness, that habit, that addiction, that tendency you try to control . . . And he STILL thinks you’re absolutely amazing.

And so, since I know God is never wrong, I thought I’d remind you today that you ARE amazing. And you are loved.

Romans 8:38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Pawpaw Season

Pawpaws-with-spoon

Earthy Delights offers pawpaws by mail along with a blog featuring pawpaw (and other wild food) recipes. Check them out at http://www.earthydelightsblog.com.

No, it’s not a pet name for your grandfather.

September is when pawpaws–also known as Appalachian bananas–are getting ripe. A pawpaw is a large, greenish oval that’s the largest, edible native fruit in the U.S. Folks say it tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana with a pudding-like texture. I’ll confess I’ve never had one since I really, really, REALLY don’t like bananas.

They’re beginning to show up in farmer’s markets and some folks are even growing them commercially. They haven’t really caught on at grocery stores, though. They don’t last long once picked and bruise easily. And, of course, our current food system depends on being able to ship huge amounts of produce long distances. Hence rock hard peaches and cardboard tomatoes. (Don’t get me started!)

In the 1800s, Agronomist E. Lewis Sturtevant described the fruit in his book “Edible Plants of the World” this way: “… a natural custard, too luscious for the relish of most people. The fruit is nutritious and a great resource to the savages.”

The fruit has been growing in notoriety since NPR did a piece in 2011 and again in 2017. You can even order frozen pawpaw pulp pretty much year round with the whole fruit available in season.

I’m hoping pawpaws don’t become the next ramp for the local food scene. The last few Aprils in the Asheville area have seen ramps worked into the menu of every trendy restaurant. I kind of like the idea that pawpaws resist being mass-marketed. There should be at least one food that really, truly is seasonal. You may be able to buy strawberries in October and asparagus in January, but here’s hoping pawpaws remain a foraged delicacy of early fall.

Pawpaws on NPR

 

Contests–It’s all relative . . .

Rita. . . or do I mean subjective?

I got scores back from RWA last week. (That’s Romance Writers of America.) I entered The Sound of Rain in the “Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements” category.

Spoiler alert–my story didn’t win.

I tend to brace myself when I get scores. Having not even made the finals, I knew they weren’t going to give me the big head. There were five scores. (Which impresses me–that’s a lot of judges to wrangle and ensures a fairer contest.) The first four were downright respectable averaging out to 8.1 out of 10–not too shabby.

Then there was score #5. A big ole 3.7. Ouch. The reader indicated that she felt my book didn’t fit the category. Hmmmm. Too many religious elements? Or too few?

And that right there is the summary of this crazy, roller coaster ride of putting stories out for the world to read. There will usually be someone who ADORES what you write. And then there will be someone who can’t believe you had the audacity to put those words in print.

I’ve had reviewers upset because they didn’t realize I was writing a religious story. And others upset because they thought this was supposed to be Christian fiction.

One of my favorite reviews said that the writing was really good, but the story was terrible. She DID say I was a good writer . . . But my stories will never make everyone happy.

And that’s okay. It reminds me of those old commercials that said things like, “Four out of five dentists who chew gum recommend . . .” There was always that fifth dentist who probably preferred Black Jack chewing gum (licorice!) or who maybe didn’t chew gum at all.

So what’s my takeaway after receiving my scores? Hey, 80% of the readers enjoyed my story. I’d say that’s not too shabby. And reader #5? Well, I guess she’s not my target audience.

Summertime Supper (+a recipe)

Fishhawk plate

A summer supper at Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave, WV.

Summers when I was a kid meant supper from the garden. These days it would be a stretch to say I’m doing much vegetable gardening. There’s a pot of herbs on the porch, potatoes growing in the front yard, and a cherry tomato plant that’s almost produced enough fruit to cover it’s expense.

In short, we’d starve if we depended on what I’m growing. But that’s okay because there’s local produce at the grocery store and a farmer’s market on every corner. Which means we can still have supper from the garden–it’s just not OUR garden.

One of my favorite suppers this time of year includes buttery corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, fried okra, and corn bread. And if you really want to garnish that plate just right, you can add some crisp cucumber salad. And you should probably finish the whole thing off with peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.

Then go hoe the garden some more.

CUCUMBER SALAD

4-5 pickling cucumbers peeled and thinly sliced
1 sweet onion (Vidalia if you an get it) halved and sliced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove chopped fine

Alternate layers of cucumber and onion in a glass dish. Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, dissolving the sugar and salt. Pour hot liquid over vegetables, let cool, cover and refrigerate. You can eat this salad after six hours or so, but it gets better after a day or two. As you eat the cucumbers and onions you can just add more back into the liquid.

What’s your favorite summer supper?

 

Appalachian Thursday – Clay Co. Wild Man

wild man

Photo courtesy of Norton Arborgast, findagrave.com

I’m always looking for inspiration for my characters and in WV I don’t have to look far. Take, for example, the Wild Man of Clay County.

First, his name was Orval Elijah Brown–a most excellent name for any character. Second, he spun his penchant for growing a beard and wearing little more than a loin cloth into ready money during the Depression.

Born in 1908, Orval, grew up on a farm, was educated through the eighth grade (pretty good in the early twentieth century), and was an avid reader. While something of a free spirit, he was also dedicated to healthy living. He claimed to eschew sex, drugs, and alcohol and kept in excellent physical shape. As is obvious in the photos he posed for.

When word got out that there was a Tarzan-like man living in a cave in WV, visitors began to come. Folks paid a quarter to have their picture taken with him.

His posing career was cut short, though, when he was called up for service in 1930. He served in the US Army for three years and then did a stint in the Navy from 1941-1943. I assume he wore the requisite uniforms.

Pretty good story, right?

But it gets more interesting! In 1950, Orval killed his first cousin. He claimed self-defense, pled insanity, and spent 18 years in a state mental hospital. After his release he lived with his sister in Nicholas County for nearly 30 years. He spent his last ten years in a retirement home, finally passing away at the age of 97 in 2005.

Man, you just can’t make this stuff up.