Appalachian Thursday–The Bees are Angry

Tis the season.

Yup, September is the month when the stinging insects are mad at the world. And who can blame them? Killing cold is right around the corner and this is the time of year when bears and skunks are raiding their hives, eating larvae like popcorn.

On Saturday we walked past FOUR recently dug out ground hives. Two were abandoned and two still had stragglers milling about.

This is something I pay a great deal of attention to after having experienced a serious allergic reaction 15 years ago. A 911, emergency room reaction. I spent seven years getting shots and still carry an epi pen. Which I am NOT keen on using.

hand sting
Sting #1 was in the first knuckle of my middle finger. A little swelling was a small price to pay!

So it was just plain foolishness on my part when I saw a bear thumping around not far off the trail last week. I KNEW to look for a disturbed hive. But I didn’t. And I got stung FOUR times.

Turns out I can run and pry a Benadryl capsule out of it’s bubble pack at the same time. I really had NO plans to ever test how effective my allergy shots had been. I especially didn’t want to test it while alone in the woods with a little less than a mile to go back to the car.

And that’s the thing I want to tell you. I wasn’t alone. (And I don’t mean Thistle, who was sticking to me like glue–she doesn’t like bees either.) Even though I was frustrated that I’d been stung and I was concerned that I might have some sort of reaction, I wasn’t in a panic or overwhelmed with fear.

And I finally understood that whole, “pray without ceasing” business.

This is why I have faith. It’s not that God keeps me from getting into sticky situations, it’s that I can feel his presence when I dig myself a fresh hole and fall into it.

Being reminded that he’s with me no matter what almost makes getting stung four times worth it.


Writing Historical Fiction

Ladies were not part of the battle, but when you’re doing a reenactment with only a handful of folks, the ladies might hide in the trees and fire off a dozen or so rounds to add to the ambiance.

Oh dear.

As I hope most of you know, I write historical fiction. But not VERY historic. I’ve written as far back as the 1940s, which means when I want to do research I can often pick up the phone and just call someone who was alive then.

But this past weekend I went to a reenactment of the Battle of Kings Mountain. That would be a Revolutionary War battle fought to the south and east of where I now live. And while there were only a handful of folks depicting the unexpected overthrow of the British, it was oddly moving when the battle was won and a spectator yelled, “Go USA!”

I attended because some friends are reenacters. And VERY authentic, too. Their clothing is all handmade and true to the period (no buttons for the ladies and yes, Lorraine was wearing stays). The muskets were reproductions of the real deals and while they weren’t firing musket balls, they did use paper powder cartridges as the soldiers would have.

Seeing men firing long rifles against the beauty of the mountains brought history to life in a way I hadn’t expected and it occurred to me . . . shooting

One of the main reasons I don’t write fiction from longer ago is all the research that’s required. I love to jump into stories having a pretty good idea about what daily life would have been like so I can focus on the people. (Lazy? I won’t argue if you think so.)

But with friends like Dennis and Lorraine if I DID want to write a story from the late 18th century, and I had a question . . . I could just pick up the phone and ask it. My family’s history in Appalachia certainly goes back that far. Brothers David & Elijah Phillips left Massachusetts for what is now French Creek, WV, because they were Patriots and their father and brothers were Loyalists. A family divided!

Like I said at the beginning. Oh dear.

My problem isn’t trying to think of something new to write, it’s deciding which of the hundred stories bouncing around inside my head I’ll give a voice.

Lest my editor or agent see this and get worried, I have no plans to write a Revolutionary War tale. It’s not really my brand. But maybe one of these days . . .

Appalachian Thursday–After the Storm

storm damage2Mountain people are good in a crisis. Maybe it has something to do with how many grew up hardscrabble. Or if they didn’t, their parents and grandparents did.

It’s not so much about being prepared in case of an emergency, it’s knowing if there isn’t an emergency now, there will be soon enough.

These are the people who drive around in trucks with a come-along, jumper cables, and a chainsaw in the bed. There are probably some empty beer cans, too. And maybe a dog.

These are the people you want living next door when a hurricane turned tropical storm tears up your neighborhood.

We woke Tuesday morning to no power and a yard that looked like, well, like a hurricane had hit it. The rain was less than expected and the wind more. Proving my point that the only thing you can trust about the forecast is that it’s wrong.

The reason for the power being out was immediately evident. It was the same reason none of the folks further up our dead end road would make it in to work that morning. Several large trees right in the edge of the power line right-of-way had tipped over taking down the power lines and blocking the two-lane road.

But not to worry. In short order, every volunteer fireman in the vicinity was out with chainsaws taking care of the scariest downed tree on our road. And by the time they were done, locals on up the road had cleared everything between there and the end.

Which means Thistle and I were able to go for our usual hike in the national forest late that afternoon. Or not so much hike as scramble and dodge. There are a LOT of trees down in our corner of NC. But thankfully, we’re in the mountains where a crisis brings out the best in folks.

Anyone need some firewood?storm damage

Appalachian Serenade Quotes to Lighten Your Day

Appalachian SerenadeYou can still download Appalachian Serenade, the novella that kicks off the Appalachian Blessings series, for free–Kindle, Nook, or just an e-file for your computer. It’s a sweet little story, not too complicated, with a happy ending (I aim to do that EVERY time). Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. Hope they lighten this day when we’re dealing with a sad anniversary and a raging storm.

He wanted to say something . . . poetic. Instead he’d talked to her about mud and manure. – Robert Thornton

You need a man who will challenge you, who will encourage you to be better than you are. A man who compliments and loves you is a good thing, but the real prize is a man who tells you when you’re wrong and when you’re taking the easy way out. – Emily Phillips

Sometimes God gives you strength to do without because, for whatever reason, he knows it’s better for you not to have your heart’s desire. – Charlotte Long

If there’s one thing I know after all these years, it’s that you lose every time you try to out maneuver God. – Robert Thornton

God knows best. It doesn’t always feel like it, but I’m pretty sure he does. – Charlotte Long

He felt certain God had a plan. He just wished he knew what it was. – Robert Thornton

We all need a little pretty in our lives. Mother always said so. – Liza Talbot

Appalachian Thursday – Porch Sitting Weather

Olivia kisses
Porch-sitting at the farm.

While it’s still a little early to proclaim the season changed, we are getting the loveliest taste of fall this week. Which means it’s prime porch sitting time!

The house we live in has the sorriest excuse for a front porch. But it’s still a porch and I’ll take it. Because the need to sit on the front porch is embedded in my genetic material.

Porch sitting is simply a way of life in the mountains. It’s for work, for socializing, for relaxing, and for keeping an eye on the neighborhood (people AND critters). Characters in my novels do all kinds of things on porches–cry over men, talk about weddings, wait for family, digest meals. Porches make an appearance in pretty much all of my stories.

Every dog I’ve ever had loved ducking under the porch. Sometimes wild animals move in under there (we had a skunk for a time). If the porch is high enough, kids will, too. The porch light serves as a beacon of welcome. Once, we slept on the porch.

On these cool, pre-autumn days, my husband and I will take a glass of wine out after dinner to sit on our skinny little excuse for a porch and enjoy some lazy talk. No serious topics, no important decisions, just chat. Because porches bring that out–that desire to idly talk about nothing in particular. At peace and in communion. Waving to the cars going by.

Probably, if we could get the people we don’t see eye-to-eye with to sit with us on a porch with a glass of lemonade (or something stronger), we’d learn that we have a lot more in common than we ever realized.

Just don’t disturb the bird nesting in that hanging basket. The eggs should hatch any day now.

Life After a Hurricane

The great room and kitchen. That small desk is one of the few things I regret losing.

My heart is heavy for the folks in Texas who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They’re dealing with a horrific mess that won’t be tidied up quickly. But I do want them–and anyone else who feels like the worst has happened–to remember that God often does some of his best work through the worst messes.

We’d had floods and hurricanes before Floyd blew through Conway, South Carolina, on September 16, 1999. As a matter of fact, I owned my very own pair of chest waders. They were camouflage and they kept me dry when I had to park my car and wade the quarter of a mile in to our house overlooking the Waccamaw River.

Floyd didn’t amount to much in the way of hurricane winds, but it surely did dump an excess of rain. The problem with rain in a place where the land is flat and near the ocean, is that runoff has nowhere to go.

Although our house sat on a rise near the river and was a good three feet off the ground, the water just kept coming. We moved what we could to a neighbor’s second story bedroom. We wrapped the legs of the poster bed in trash bags and piled belongings on counters or on top of furniture we never liked. We loaded clothes into more garbage bags and stowed them in the kayak with our three dogs.flood1

Then we abandoned ship, paddled to high ground, and drove to my in-law’s in upstate South Carolina.

When we returned a few days later, the water was still rising. When the water crested, the only part of my car still showing was the tip of the antennae. Water in the house stopped just shy of the light switches. On a perfectly sunny, early autumn afternoon, we paddled our kayak through a set of French doors and into the great room. Light reflected off the water and shimmered across the vaulted ceiling. There was a stillness. An unexpected peace.

That was in September. Less than four months later, in January of 2000, we loaded what we’d salvaged into two cars and a moving van and moved to Western North Carolina. Eighteen years later, life in the mountains is good. And mostly dry.

We still look around at the beauty of the mountains and the changing seasons and marvel at our good fortune. Neither one of us misses the ocean or the flat land or the long, hot summers. We’re right where we’re supposed to be.

And all it took to move us, was a hurricane.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV)

*This is an abbreviated version of an essay I wrote for “When You Pass Through Waters: Words of Hope & Healing,” a collection of essays written to help raise funds for those affected by record flooding in SC in 2015.

Appalachian Thursday–Summer’s End

Laurel Fork
Laurel Fork–the creek we were meant to stay out of.

Can you believe tomorrow is September?

My grandmother was right when she told me time picks up speed as you age. She was right about a lot of stuff.

When I was a kid, Labor Day weekend meant it was time for the annual wiener roast at Toad and Berle’s. Yes, his name was Toad and no one thought it the least bit odd. Toad and Berle lived in what had been the community schoolhouse when my dad was a kid.

The wiener roasting happened over an open fire using sticks with sharpened ends. (I can only imagine what those men and their pocketknives would have thought of manufactured, metal hot dog sticks with wooden handles.) The women would bring every side dish you could think of and some you couldn’t. And oh the desserts! My goodness the desserts. Plus marshmallows for toasting on the hot dog sticks (a taste sensation, indeed!).

The creek was nearby and we were meant to stay out of it but never did. There was also a cliff over on Uncle Willis’ land (not nearly as high as I remembered). We were meant to stay away from there, too. Of course we didn’t.

After eating, folks would sit around smoking cigarettes, talking, telling stories (otherwise known as lies), and playing music. We kids would set fire to the hot dog sticks and write our names with burning embers against the night sky. Until someone made us stop. And then we’d do it anyway and sometimes we’d get in trouble and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d go to bed late that night, smelling of smoke and hot dogs, hearts and bellies full.

I guess people still have picnics on Labor Day weekend. I guess they might even have hotdogs. But I’ll just bet they don’t cook them on a sharpened stick over an open fire outside an old schoolhouse while dusk settles like a soft blanket and the voices of just about everyone who’s ever cared about them hums in the background.

This Labor Day I might have to build a fire out back and roast me a hotdog. But I have a feeling it won’t taste the same. Not even a little bit.