Appalachian Thursday–Snow Day!

GE DIGITAL CAMERALast weekend we had our first good snow of the season. I kept calling it four or five inches until my husband took the tape measure out and proved it was actually more like NINE.

We did the usual snow day things–made lasagna, read, wrote, watched movies, had many cups of tea, hung out with our neighbors (no driving required), bundled up to walk Thistle through the drifts, and posted pictures of the snow on Facebook. Just in case no one else had seen it.

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 and hung up to dry. Chapstick was applied and reapplied. And someone usually had an accident in their snowsuit.

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.

Somehow snow days were more magical then.

Top Posts of 2016

chartsI’m kind of a data nerd. I like charts and statistics. Survey results make me giddy.

So, at the end of another blogging year, I like to take a little time to look back over the data. And inside my blog there’s this fabulous little tab titled “Stats” that let’s me do just that. You may not care about blog stats, in which case consider the next few minutes free time to do something else. But if, like me, you dig data, then here we go!

I began blogging in 2010 when I had just over 1,000 views–mostly my mother visiting again and again. By 2013, I’d gotten in the grove with nearly 9,000 views and around 3,000 visitors. So not just my mom. In 2015 and 2016 I seem to have leveled off with around 13,000 views and 6,500 visitors. Is that good? I have no idea, but it feels pretty good to me.

In 2016 I posted 107 times–twice a week with a few extras thrown in. Here were the top five posts for the year:

  1. Appalachian Thursday–Old Christmas (This was carryover from a 1/31/15 post.)
  2. Let’s Talk About Sex . . . In Christian Fiction (Published in October 2011, this post appears to be what’s called “evergreen.” Sex attracts attention. Who knew?)
  3. A Blessing Disguised as a Medical Emergency (If you ever need to boost blog traffic, having a stroke and writing about it is super effective.)
  4. The 10 Comments Authors Like to Hear Most (People seem to LOVE top 10 lists.)
  5. Appalachian Thursday–The Outhouse at My Wedding (I’m guessing the juxtaposition of outhouse and wedding piques readers’ interest!)

Other interesting (at least to me) bits of data include:

  • 89% of my readers are in America; 4% are in Canada, 1% in Brazil (really??); 1% in the UK; and .5% in Australia (thanks Rel)
  • Most people find my blog via Facebook (#1) and Google (#2) with Twitter a distant third
  • The top search term is . . . Sarah Loudin Thomas (people are spelling my name right!)

So what’s my takeaway from all this lovely data? Be honest, be real, stay active on Facebook and be nice to my mom–I still think she’s my biggest driver of traffic.

Appalachian Thursday – 2016

I’m not a fan of looking at the turning of the calendar as any kind of clean slate. I figure most every day is the perfect time to begin doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. But in the spirit of the New Year, I took a moment to look back over 2016 in Appalachia. Whether at the house in North Carolina or the Farm in West Virginia, I don’t like to stray too far from my mountains. And flipping through a year’s worth of images reminds me why.

New Years Food Traditions

vasilopitaAs much as I enjoy researching (and sampling) Appalachian food traditions, I also like to explore traditions in other cultures.

We often serve refreshments after church and yesterday was my turn. Since collard greens and black-eyed peas are a bit tricky as finger foods, I researched what else might work as fun, New Years food.

Which is how I learned about Vasilopita cake–a Greek confection typically served right after midnight. The fun of it is the coin hidden inside. Typically, the cake is cut in the sign of the cross, then several slices are set aside. One for Jesus, one for the house, one for St. Basil, and so on. The person who gets the coin gets the best luck in the coming year. If the coin is in a reserved slice, everyone gets the luck.

So I baked the cake, boiling a penny and wrapping it in foil to tuck into the batter. I opted to do the cross cut, then, with a bevy of little girls watching and waiting, I set aside just one slice for Jesus. As I served my church family, one of the girls eyed Jesus’ slice of cake and spotted . . . the coin! How cool is that?

On the side, I served grapes and cheese in honor of a Spanish tradition. At the stroke of midnight, Spaniards try to eat 12 grapes before the chimes of the new year end. If they do, good luck is sure to follow. Some say sweet grapes represent sweet months, while sour grapes are for not-so-great months. Interestingly, this tradition was begun by grape growers facing slow, winter sales.

Regardless of what you ate yesterday–lucky greens, a cake with a lucky coin, or just your usual PB&J–I hope your New Year is blessed!

Appalachian Thursday – Old Christmas

GE DIGITAL CAMERAAs the year draws to a close, I thought I’d ease through this in-between the holidays time by revisiting a previous post about Old Christmas. I mention the holiday in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain. It’s a sort of contrarian celebration of Christmas Day that’s fast fading away. Here’s hoping we can keep the memory alive another generation or two!

Old Christmas is celebrated on January 6, which originally made me think it had something to do with Epiphany.

Nope.

Even into the 20th century, some folks in the mountains still celebrated January 6 as Christmas Day. Why? Well, mostly out of pure stubbornness which is a familiar character trait in the Appalachian Mountains.

It seems Julius Caesar used to organize the year around the moon–which never quite worked out. So he took the advice of his astronomers and changed over to a sun-based calendar that turned out to be a mere 11 minutes and some change off each year. The Julian calendar.

No big deal–right?

Well, by 1582, the calendar was a whopping 10 days off. So Pope Gregory XIII lopped off the extra minutes, turned the calendar back ten days, and instituted the Gregorian calendar.

Except the Protestants pretty much ignored the new calendar set by, gasp, a Catholic, so different parts of Europe were using different calendars. It might be February 11 in London, but February 1 in Paris.

Confusing.

So in 1751 a calendar act was passed to set things straight (the calendar now being off eleven days). September 2, 1752, would be followed by, of all things, September 14, 1752.

Just imagine how you would feel if I told you tomorrow is January 8, 2017. There were riots. People thought the government had stolen eleven days of their lives.

And so, some people simply refused to go along. And they continued to celebrate Christmas on the same old day–which now happened to fall on January 6 for anyone who was paying attention to the Gregorian calendar.

The tradition was carried over to America, and in some parts of Appalachia and the South folks still remember celebrating Old Christmas. If you want to read an account of a celebration in Rodanthe, NC, click here.

Hair Color Reveal for The Sound of Rain

Thomas_SoundofRain_Design11.inddLast week I wrote about getting to see the cover for The Sound of Rain releasing in November 2017. While I’m in LOVE with the cover, it did pose a minor problem. The heroine’s hair color wasn’t what I originally imagined. So I changed it.

Then I invited readers to guess the original hair color and what color I changed it to. Originally, Larkin was blonde, but the woman on the cover has lovely burnished auburn hair. It’s somewhere in between brown and red, so I’m counting anyone who landed in that vicinity.

Here are the winners:
-Blonde to brunette – Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House
-Blonde to a redhead – Susie Bragg Wilcox
-Blonde to redhead – Jessica Loudin

Congratulations ladies! If you aren’t already on my influencer list, I’ll be adding you.

 

Eight ways to battle the post-holiday blues

church-doorsI have a day-after-Christmas tradition to fight those post-holiday blues. Good King Wenceslas.

Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia during the 10th century. You’ve probably heard his song–a Christmas carol. Except there’s no mention of Christ and the song is about the day after Christmas, also know as the Feast of St. Stephen. It’s about a king, a rich ruler, seeing a poor man and reaching out to help him.

Sounds like a lovely way to spend the days after Christmas–reaching out to help someone. Here are ideas to get you started:

  1. Clean out your closets and donate good, gently used items to a charity.
  2. Speaking of charities–there’s still time to give financially and get a credit for your 2016 taxes.
  3. Volunteer–at the animal shelter, a nursing home, a children’s home, a food pantry, your church–options are plentiful!
  4. Write a note to someone . . . on paper . . . and mail it.
  5. We’ve all eaten too many sweets–make a pot of chicken soup and take it to someone who could use a pick-me-up.
  6. Call your grandmother, or mother, or uncle, or cousin, or–well–you get the idea.
  7. Write a book review to cheer your favorite author (really, these are HUGELY cheering!).
  8. Tell someone you love them. Maybe several someone’s.

And just in case you don’t know all the lyrics to the song, here’s your post-Christmas inspiration:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.