Appalachian Thursday – Snow Day!

Snow DayWe had a snow day yesterday–a couple of inches of the white stuff, hardly anyone venturing out, bacon for breakfast, and a good book to read (not to mention one to write!). Ahhhhh.

When I was a kid, of course, snow days were a bit more exciting. And in West Virginia in the 1970s, they seemed more dramatic, too. I remember missing almost the entire month of February one winter. It was so cold that a skim of ice would form on the top of the pail of milk in the time it took Dad to walk from the barn to the house.

Poor Mom. Stuck inside with three kids day after day. And it was too cold to play outside. At least Dad had livestock to tend.

I remember the power going out during a snowstorm once. Dad stoked the fireplace and we got to sleep in the living room floor in sleeping bags. Mom made us wear knit hats since those were the days when we still believed you lost most of your heat through the top of your head.

There was tomato soup with grilled cheese. Card games and board games. Sledding and the building of snowmen. We played in the hayloft, which was a smidge warmer than outside. Mittens were soaked through. Chapstick was applied. And woe to the child who realized she had to pee while wearing a snowsuit too far from the house.

We also fed the cattle. The winter my older brother had appendicitis, I got to ride on the trailer, cutting the twine on bales of hay, and pushing it off for the cows. Bart, our Black Angus bull, would steal bites of hay from the trailer. He was a sweetheart, though, and I’d scratch him behind the ears anyway.

It got dark early those days and in my memory the house was the coziest place in the world. A nation unto itself. A place where the snow and cold could never reach.

Now, snow days frustrate me–make me wish I could get out and work on my to-do list. Maybe I need to go back in time and embrace what I can’t change. Make a snow angel. Throw snowballs for Thistle. Snuggle under a blanket inside and, instead of being frustrated, give thanks for the reprieve of snow days.

2017 Reading Round-Up

RiverWhile I love being a writer, one of the downsides is that it definitely cuts into my reading time. I used to read several books a month, often reading several at once, and now if I finish one or two I feel like I’m doing well.

And then there are contests. If you enter some contests, you’re required to read entries in other categories. Plus, having found contests SO helpful when I was trying to get published, I really want to help judge them.

All of that to say I read fewer books for pleasure than I’d like to.

But, like cutting back on chocolate, it makes the books I DO find time to read all that more wonderful. And here are a few I particularly liked from last year:

  1. River to Redemption by Ann Gabhart – Okay. So sometimes being an author means you get reader perks. This book doesn’t actually release until 2018, but I got to read it as an endorser. Just let me say, you are in for a treat come July!
  2. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I’m not the only one who loved this book about a notorious woman who was essentially stealing and selling children under the guise of running an orphanage. Chilling and redeeming all in one!
  3. Camino Island by John Grisham – This one was such fun! It’s a writer’s book, with a main character suffering writer’s block and lots of literary fun. Not Grisham’s typical fare, but maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
  4. Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette – I don’t read a ton of Biblical fiction, but this story really brought Exodus to life for me. Really well done!
  5. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – If you liked Out of Africa, read this book. It’s the more or less true story of Beryl Markham who was the third corner of a love triangle with Denys and Karen. And that may be the least remarkable thing about her.
  6. A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron – I didn’t see the movie, but adored the book. The writing is simple (it’s a dog’s POV after all), but deeply touching. Plus, I’m pretty sure my dog could write a book, so it gives me hope.

How about you? What did you read in 2017 that stirred you?

Appalachian Thursday – Raw Water

spring
Abandoned spring or gold mine?

I thought it was a joke. I’d seen a few internet-type things referencing “raw water,” but paid them little mind. Then, on the morning news, they did an entire segment on this new trend.

Seriously?

The idea is to drink spring water that hasn’t been filtered or chemically treated. A company in California is selling decorative, 2.5 gallon dispensers of the stuff for $60.99.

Seriously??

They say raw water has minerals that are good for you. Like drinking raw milk (which I love). Well, sure. That’s probably true.

Of course, the naysayers also point out that raw water could contain dangerous bacteria or pollutants that could make you seriously sick. Well, sure. That’s probably true.

The funny thing is, I’ve drunk plenty of “raw” water without thinking twice. We drank from wells where the water was drawn straight from the depths of the earth in buckets and then lifted to our lips in metal dippers (which add to the flavor!). We drank from the cold spring on the back side of the cow pasture. From the spring we passed as we walked up the hill from the school bus stop.

I’m not advocating for or against raw water. I’m certainly a big fan of NOT consuming anything that could leave me miserable in the bathroom or worse.

It’s just funny to me. Like the friend who went to France to learn how to cook wild rabbit and creasy greens. Apparently, Appalachia has been waaaay ahead of the trend curve for a long time.

Raw milk, free-range chickens, antibiotic free meat, and now raw water. My great-grandmother would just shake her head and take another puff on her corncob pipe stuffed with dried mullein. Which will probably be the “new,” “safe,” way to smoke in another five years.

Helping to Rescue Smokey Bear

SmokeyIn The Sound of Rain my hero, Judd, is shown a 1950s poster of Smokey Bear. His boss–who is also my heroine’s father–wants Judd to serve as a sort of liaison with the forest service in their efforts to preserve forests. Although I only mention the poster and Smokey in passing, it was fun to do a little bit of research about a childhood icon.

For example, it’s Smokey Bear, NOT Smokey the Bear. And he’s named after “Smokey” Joe Martin, assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department in the 1920s.

And now Smokey has entered my life once again!

On New Year’s Eve I took Thistle to the national forest near our house for her daily hike. As I pulled into the parking area I noticed something over in the trees. Upon closer inspection I discovered a full-size Smokey Bear sign leaning against a tree.

Odd, I thought. It seemed like a pretty remote spot for Smokey to campaign about the danger of forest fires. Especially since he wasn’t bolted down.

Then, that evening, I checked a local news site because our weather had turned downright awful. And what did I find but a piece about a Smokey sign being stolen from a local fire station!

Anyone with a tip as to his location was asked to contact the Sheriff’s office or the fire department. So I did. Turns out it WAS the missing bear. He’s back home now and being reattached to his post more securely.

I was even interviewed by the local newspaper.

Helping get Smokey home was the highlight of my new year’s weekend. Who needs champagne, countdowns, or midnight fireworks when you can be part of getting Smokey home?

Seven Ways to Embrace Appalachia in 2018

bluegrassAppalachia is kind of cool these days. Of course, I’ve been thinking it’s pretty fantastic for quite some time now. Guess I was ahead of the curve. Or maybe just incredibly blessed to grow up there!

If you, too, want to be Appalachian-chic, I thought I’d suggest a few things you could try in the new year.

  1. Grow a garden. It’ll be a few more months before you can start seed flats in a sunny window, but it’s prime season for garden catalogs. And if nothing else, they brighten gloomy winter days. Dig in and plan those rows of corn, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes.
  2. Learn to quilt. Start with something small like a placemat or wall hanging. Stitch your project by hand and if nothing else you’ll appreciate the incredible talent, patience, and persistence that goes into a full-size specimen.
  3. Attend a dinner on the grounds. Find a country church and ask when they have homecoming–even if they eat the meal indoors, this will be the spirit of a dinner on the grounds. Eat a little bit of everything and ask for at least one recipe if you want to get on their good side.
  4. Listen to live bluegrass music. The best way to do this is to find some out-of-the-way place that holds regular jams. Hopefully someone will dance. If you play an instrument, bring it along!
  5. Catch, cook, and eat something yourself. You can use a weapon, a trap, or a hook and line. Whatever it is, appreciate the process that starts with a living creature and ends with nourishment for you. It makes food so much more REAL. If you’re a vegetarian start with wild food (nuts, berries, etc.).
  6. Learn shape-note singing. I grew up with Heavenly Highway Hymns shape-note hymnals. I didn’t realize there was anything special about it until I saw the movie Cold Mountain with its shape-note singing. Different notes are represented by different shapes, simplifying the notation for folks who don’t read music.
  7. Go Sunday visiting. It’s just what you do after church and dinner on a Sunday afternoon. We spent many a Sunday at my great aunt and uncle’s or grandmother’s. You don’t go for a meal or for a purpose any more than just being together. A fine tradition to carry into the new year.

First Footing (and other firsts)

door swagMy grandmother used to pay attention to who first stepped over her threshold on the first day of the new year, claiming that person set the household’s luck for the coming year. This is likely based on the Scotts tradition of first-footing. For the best luck, Scottish tradition holds that the first person in your door after midnight should be male, tall, and dark-haired.

Grandma wasn’t that particular, apparently believing that family entering her house was luck enough (although the men of the family are tall and dark!).

Thinking about New Year’s traditions and all the first times to come for 2018 got me thinking about other firsts in my life and which ones I wouldn’t mind repeating. As I move into the new year and all I hope it brings, here are a few things I’d love to do for the first time all over again:

  • Read certain books – Pride & Prejudice, Little House in the Big Woods, A Voice in the Wind (hmmm, I need to read that one again) . . . Oh, the joy of discovering beloved authors!
  • Meet my husband. That was a pretty wonderful night full of first-time flutters.
  • Taste chocolate. I don’t remember the first time for this one, but how wonderful would it be to discover really good chocolate now that I fully appreciate it?
  • Be kissed–but this time I’d choose more wisely 😉
  • Hold a book I wrote in my hands. Of course, holding the fourth book I wrote was pretty wonderful, too!
  • See some of nature’s wonders–a spectacular sunset, a shooting star, a full moon tangled in the trees . . .

I’m eager to see what “firsts” I’ll encounter in the coming year. How about you–what first would you like to experience all over again?

Appalachian Thursday – Moonshiners!

springI love it when I describe something in one of my novels that I can clearly picture and THEN find that what I described actually exists. In Miracle in a Dry Season Casewell cleans out an old spring with a catch basin. Guess what my husband found in the woods on the mountain behind our house?

Just such a spring with basin.

It’s a steep hike to get to the place where water flows from the side of the mountain, but clearly someone had been there before us. They dug out a spot and shored up the edges with stones set in place. It’s lovely.

And, of course, we wondered why someone would create such a spot so far from any sign of a house. Our answer was further down the mountain, near a neighbor’s house, in the form of a cast concrete cistern with an outflow pipe.

The spring flows there to fill the cistern. We asked a local fellow who’s lived in this valley all his life about our discovery. He gave us the name of the fella who used to live in that house. The fella who kept his still close so that the smoke could be mistaken for smoke from his own chimney.

You need good water to make good moonshine . . . or so I hear.

Casewell didn’t make moonshine, but his son, Henry got mixed up in that business. Guess I didn’t need to look too far for inspiration for either story!

I love living in a part of the world where such discoveries are waiting in my own backyard. Where an afternoon hike can turn into research. Or maybe verification of a past tale . . .

cistern