Appalachian Thursday – Homemade Christmas

Christmas 1974For those of you paying attention, this is a reworked post from a couple of years ago. But I really like the idea of slowing down and taking time to MAKE Christmas. So here we go again . . .

Once upon a time Christmas was simpler. Preparations didn’t start before Halloween, presents were homemade, food was based on what was in season, and decorations came from nature.

Or so I hear.

All of that could be me romanticizing a simpler, POORER time in the mountains of Appalachia, but hey, it’s nice to think about (and write about!). So, just in case you take a notion to try for a simple, Appalachian Christmas, here’s some inspiration.

DECORATIONS

  • Lots of fresh greenery–pine, holly, boxwood, mistletoe. Tuck branches behind picture frames and arrange them in Mason jars on the mantle. Tie swags with red ribbon for your front door.
  • Make an old-fashioned popcorn and cranberry garland. Air pop corn (you don’t want it oily) and put heavy thread through a darning needle. You may not want to do a whole tree worth unless you’re patient and persistent, but it would look nice on the table with some of that greenery.
  • Paper snowflakes. We LOVED making these as kids. Fold circles of paper in half over and over, cut out interesting shapes and unfold. They look wonderful in windows. (And if you want to get all modern, there are beautiful templates you can download online.)

PRESENTS

  • Make some fudge or a batch of cookies and tuck them in boxes or tins lined with parchment paper.
  • Use some of that greenery you gathered to make a swag for a friend’s front door or mailbox. Bouquets of greenery and berries are nice, too!
  • Knit or crochet a scarf. Hemstitch some napkins. (Requires patience and persistence again + a modicum of skill.)
  • Write a Christmas poem or short story (ah-ha–my gifting!).

FOOD

  • Roast meats, root vegetables, nuts, and pickled items would have been standard winter fare. Not to mention wild game.
  • Citrus fruit would have been a huge treat. An orange in your stocking sounds kind of lame now, but it was still a big deal when my dad was a kid in the 1940s.
  • Fruitcakes would have been made back in the autumn with a wealth of dried fruit and fresh nuts then tucked in cheesecloth, dampened with whiskey, and tucked in the cellar until time to celebrate!
  • And use up those leftovers! Waste not, want not. Here’s an old-time recipe for leftover mashed potatoes that will put you in sugar shock.

POTATO CANDY

1/2 cup cold, leftover mashed potatoes
Powdered sugar
Creamy peanut butter

Keep adding powdered sugar (we’re talking like, 4-5 cups here) to the mashed potatoes a little at a time until you have a soft dough that holds together when you knead it (but doesn’t crumble). Dust your counter with powdered sugar and roll the dough out to about a quarter of an inch. Spread peanut butter over it like you would for a sandwich. Roll the candy and wrap in plastic, then chill for a couple of hours. Cut into half-inch slices and enjoy!

Would you trade your gift?

Each Advent season my church puts together a book of daily devotions written by members. I LOVE it!! Our pastor assigns scripture to volunteers and they then share their thoughts about the verses. It’s such a beautiful, personal gift and look forward to reading advent insights from my church family each morning.

And, of course, I look forward to writing my two entries each year! I’ve gotten into the habit of including at least one poem and a friend asked me how I come up with those. As I explained, she kept saying, “I guess that’s why you’re a writer.”

Which made me feel pretty good.

Of course, she has an incredible gift for music–something I do NOT possess. Which got me thinking about how we all have unique gifts. And how, I suspect, many of us wish we were good at something we’re . . . not.

I would LOVE to be good at music. To be able to sing and play instruments. To delight people with song. But would I be willing to trade? Would I be willing to give up my ability to write–to communicate through story–if it meant I could sing and play?

It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. Nope.

I think that might be a big part of recognizing our natural gifts. They’re the things we don’t really think about being good at. The things we do because they’re just part of who we are. And if we didn’t do them–we wouldn’t be so much ourselves anymore.

Music. Writing. Hospitality. Generosity. Inspiring Others. Athletics. Organization. Leadership. There are as many gifts as there are people.

So how about you–would you be willing to trade something you’re naturally good at for something you WISH you were good at? Tell me!

Appalachian Thursday – How about a Christmas story?

Fleetas coverHere’ in the mountains it’s getting to be the season for curling up with hot cocoa and a good book while the temperatures drop outside. And what could be better than a Christmas story?

Oh wait–I have one of those! My novella, A Shot at Love (the one nominated for a Christy Award!), is now available for download for just a few dollars. It’s shorter than my novels and I think it’s sweet without being sticky. If you’d like a taste, here’s a Christmasy snippet to whet your appetite:

Hank tried to pay attention as James and Grace showed him their favorite holiday traditions. They’d all trooped out into the woods the day before and cut not one, but two evergreens. The prettier of the two had been stabilized in a bucket of rocks and sand, then Abram drilled holes into the trunk, cut branches from the second tree, and inserted them to fill out the first one. The result was a remarkably full and uniform Christmas tree. Hank marveled at the ingenuity while continuing to kick himself for upsetting Fleeta.

“Stepped all over her pride,” Abram said when Hank shared his tale.

“What can I do to fix it?” he asked.

Abram shrugged. “Women,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure Lydia out and she’s not half so contrary as Fleeta Brady.”

Now Hank gave his host family about a tenth of his attention as he pondered what he could do to make things right with Fleeta. Lydia bumped his elbow and handed him a darning needle with a long length of heavy thread. She pushed bowls of popped corn and cranberries toward him.

“You’re too distracted for anything trickier than this,” she said. “Don’t worry about a pattern, just put on some corn and then some berries—it’ll look nice once you’re done.”

Hank gave her a grateful smile. “Lydia, when’s the last time you were put out with Abram?”

“Oh now, the secret of a good marriage is not telling when you’re mad at your husband.” She laughed. “Or your wife. Doesn’t do anyone good to air dirty laundry.” She gave him a sideways look. “Although once you’ve washed it, you’ve got to hang it out to dry.”

Hank raised his eyebrows and strung several kernels of fluffy corn on his thread, followed by two berries.

“I’ll tell you a secret.”

He leaned in closer and kept to his work.

“The main thing any woman wants from a man who’s upset her is . . . an apology.”

Hank paused, a red berry in his fingers. “You mean just walk up to her and say, ‘I’m sorry?’”

Lydia nodded as she continued sifting through a box of ornaments. “That’s a start, sure enough. But the best apologies have something to hold them up. Maybe a bunch of flowers you cut out in the woods, or a tin of tea from the store. The words are the main thing, but it’s nice to have something to remember them by.” She smiled and touched a basket of pinecones on the end table beside her. “Doesn’t need to be fancy, just from the heart.” She tapped Hank’s chest. “The heart’s where healing lives.”

Hank nodded and strung some more corn.

 

 

Weighing in on the election process

Voting hands and ballot boxDoes that title make you nervous? I’m supposed to be writing about the holidays and my latest release (When Silence Sings) and instead I’m breaking the rules to mention POLITICS.

But I had the BEST idea for how to handle all future elections and I just have to share it. Goodness knows, whether you lean red or blue, election season is maddening. And ugly. Apparently running for office is just automatically icky.

Well, I have a solution.

I keep hearing about how much money various candidates have raised for their campaigns. And as a non-profit fundraiser I can’t help but translate those dollars into the impact we could have on helping children. Or feeding the hungry. Or treating the sick. Or providing clean water. Or whatever cause tugs at your heartstrings.

So how about this? Instead of running campaign ads, showing up at debates, slapping bumper stickers on cars, and planting a bazillion yard signs, what if candidates put the money they raise toward charities dealing with the issues they support?!?

Is climate change a major plank in your platform? Support The Nature Conservancy. Want to make healthcare for all a campaign promise? How about putting some dollars toward the Red Cross? Want to help children and families? Well, I can HIGHLY recommend Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth & Families.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Instead of buying advertising, running campaigns, and hiring staff, candidates could literally put their money where their mouths are. And even those who don’t win the election would end up making the world a better place.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to vote for the candidate who contributed toward the cause that stirs your heart the most?

Appalachian Thursday – The Last Thanksgiving?

leaf farmI like Thanksgiving almost as much as Easter. It combines gratitude with amazing food and those are two of my favorite things. And Thanksgiving at our family farm has long held a special place in my heart.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving most years centered on my Mom’s family. My grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and my favorite cousins would come for the feast. Mom would dig out the one ashtray we owned along with the jar of instant coffee (both for my grandparents), then she’d COOK.

For days it seemed.

We’d watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade until the cousins came. After that, the only thing that could pull us back to the TV was Santa Claus bringing up the rear. We kids had our own table and although I can’t remember what we talked about, I know we laughed as hard as we ever would.

Then my parents divorced and Mom moved to another house and I knew there’d never be another Thanksgiving like that.

Eventually, I got to be a pretty good cook and in high school I was the one in charge of the kitchen. Dad’s side of the family would come to the farm and they’d be so proud of me for making dinner (with some help!) and it was wonderful.

Then I went away to college in South Carolina and I knew there’d never be another Thanksgiving like that.

Eventually, my Dad remarried and it worked out one year for me to go back to the farm for Thanksgiving. Dad’s wife saw a blog post I wrote about all my favorite Thanksgiving foods and by golly, she recreated one of those amazing, childhood feasts, and we were all together at the farm and it was wonderful.

Then my Dad got sick and had to leave the farm for an assisted living facility and I knew there’d never be another Thanksgiving like that.

But I think I’ve finally learned something over the course of my nearly 50 Thanksgivings. As important as the food and the place and the setting seem to be . . . they’re not. It’s the thanks part that matters. And even if I never eat another dinner at the farm where I ate my first, I’m thankful–grateful even–for the foundation of love my family laid in my heart.

There will always be Thanksgivings like that.

My WV book event–the REAL highlights!

library-11-19-e1574643452290.jpgLast week I had the chance to do a reading and book signing at my hometown library in Buckhannon, WV. It was wonderful, but it was SO much more than a book event. So today I thought I’d share some of the REAL highlights from the day.

My almost nine-year-old niece got her first library card! Seeing a child thrilled by the realization that she can go to a building full of books and choose some to take home for a while does a writer’s heart good.Dad & Olivia 11-19

My parents were able to attend (as well as my brother). Mom and Dad both have health issues and can’t travel far for my book events. Having one close enough for them both to come to was a special treat.

Some of my friends/fans were able to attend. A member of my launch team who lives in WV stopped by (hey, Kristi!), Teresa and Katrina (who dotes on my dad) came, and cousins from Dad’s side of the family attended. Talk about making me feel special!

I noticed a bearded gentleman in the back row and thought it was neat that he was joining my typically female audience. Turns out he’d read about me in the library newsletter and came to get all five of my full-length novels for his wife for Christmas. I like to think that makes for a merry Christmas for her as well as me!

Candy 11-19A friend from high school (who is also on my launch team–hey, Candy!) not only came to the event, but brought her copies of ALL of my books. And I do mean ALL. She even had a book of essays I contributed to. I signed each and every one!

Best of all, I read from and signed copies of books I’ve written in the place that nurtured my love of books for most of my growing up years. I’m still trying to decide what it means to be a successful author–but whatever it means, last Thursday evening was a big part of it.

Appalachian Thursday – At Home in WV

Today I’m visiting family in WV. We’re headed to Beverly and Dailey this morning–sites for my 2020 novel. And this evening I’ll be giving a talk and doing a signing at the Upshur County Public Library (my childhood library!) for When Silence Sings.

So not much of a post today–just a photo of Main Street Thurmond. You can imagine Colman and Serepta striding along the tracks. I sure have!

Swing by next week for photos from my visit.

Thurmond

Leanna Sain – HUSH Releasing 11-19-19

HushI met Leanna at a book event in Flat Rock, NC. We were seated together behind a table piled with our books hoping attendees would flock to buy them! And when we weren’t being flocked, we got to talk and discovered much in common beyond being writers.

Now, Leanna’s stories aren’t like mine–her latest features a serial killer! And yet, she writes from a similar place–a place that wants to honor the people she loves. And that’s exactly what she’s done in her new novel Hush, which releases tomorrow!

Leanna Sain – Hush

The story about a serial killer who uses the verses of the lullaby, “Hush, Little Baby” as a sort of blueprint for his murders had been percolating in my brain for a while, but the actual writing didn’t begin until Mama started going downhill with her Alzheimer’s. So, I guess you could say, she was the inspiration for writing this new novel, Hush.

I was struggling badly with the pain, anger, and frustration of it all and I needed an outlet. I hated that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a death sentence. The worst kind of death. It steals away everything that makes a person who they are. My Mama was gone. Oh, yes, there was an empty shell who looked like her, but that’s where any similarities ended. The person I loved and who loved me died long before her shell did, and there was nothing I could do about it.

So I decided to give my protagonist’s mother Alzheimer’s so we could travel this road together. It was a mean thing to do, but at that point in my life, it felt necessary, and it allowed me to honor Mama by weaving some of the things she said and did into my story. Doing this helped remind me that God is in control even when everything feels chaotic. It helped me to have this tiny measure of control over one small thing in a fictional world.

Another way I decided to honor Mama is by donating my royalties to Alzheimer’s research. It’s my hope that it will help them find a cure for this terrible disease so others won’t have to go through what my family did.

You can learn more about Leanna and her books at www.LeannaSain.com.

 

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – Wooly Adelgid

adelgidA while back I wrote about the blight that eradicated the American chestnut in Appalachia. There’s a new blight happening now–the wooly adeligid. These non-native, invasive insects are doing their best to wipe out all the hemlock trees. While measures are being taken to fight back including insecticidal soap, horticultural oils, and predatory beetles, a lot of trees have already died. It’s sad on so many levels. So, I wrote about it.

WOOLY ADELGID

A dusting of sugar on the tips
of spring green branches.
So small, so soft, so delicate.
Like the first snowflakes
whispering about a blizzard.
This storm will take take trees
down. Ravage the forest.
But the storm is in the offing yet.
The air is warm, the breeze gentle.

Is this how it was?
When the chestnuts died?
Did anyone really believe
such giants could fade away, leave
hollowed out stumps big enough
for a child to set up housekeeping?

There’s a hemlock above a stream
with branches turning to glass.
The diagnosis hasn’t sunk in yet.
Standing beneath spreading boughs . . .

I feel fine.

The Joy of NOT Winning a Christy Award

at the ChristysNope. Didn’t win.

Except, maybe I did in a way. Oh, I don’t have one of those sparkly glass awards to sit on my desk, but I sure as shooting felt like a winner last week at the Christy Award Gala and in the days following.

MY WINS:

  • I got to wear a fancy dress. It’s vintage–from the 1960s–and it made me feel elegant and timeless. I added the Luckenbooth Mom gave me for my birthday last year (found in the story I was nominated for)–the perfect touch! Plus, I carried the Jane Eyre book-purse my brother gave me.
  • I got to spend quality time with readers and writer friends including Conni (in the photo above). She DID win a Christy and it was a treat to celebrate with her.
  • I had a chance to connect with folks from my publishing house including me editor and had fun talking about promotions and future stories.
  • I enjoyed some pretty fantastic food eaten in excellent company. I mean, the salmon at the gala was delicious. Who gets fish that good at a banquet?!?
  • When I told family and friends I didn’t win, responses included the following:
    • Who are the judges?? – Mom
    • Are they crazy? – My snowbird neighbor back in FL
    • We watched the live stream and were disappointed for you. -Dear friends who don’t necessarily read a bunch of Christian fiction, but read ALL of my fiction
    • It’s SO subjective. -Several friends
    • You should have won! -Several other friends some of whom may not have actually read the story
  • When I got home my husband had made me a “consolation” dinner. Meatloaf, roasted asparagus, crusty bread, red wine, and Ghirardelli raspberry dark chocolate squares. He’s a keeper!

So, really, I feel very much like a winner. Not because I got an award (and hey, I wouldn’t mind winning one!) but because I’m blessed with a whole host of people who care about me, support me, and love me whether I ever win an award or not.

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