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.

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

Appalachian Thursday – Light for the Darkest Day

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s the first day of winter.

The darkest day of the year.

Which, of course, has me thinking about LIGHT and all it’s sources. Even on dark days, there was lots of light on the family farm come December and not always electric.

CANDLE LIGHT – We didn’t have all those fancy, scented candles, but there were Christmas candles out. On the table, in special holders in the window. But best of all were the angel chimes. The little spinner with four candles that propelled angels around and around, ringing the chimes.

LANTERN LIGHT – Okay, so this was really only used when the power went out, but winter storms made that more common than Mom liked. Lamp oil, wicks that could be turned up and down, fragile glass chimneys–I thought it was fun!

FIRELIGHT – Oh how a fire on Christmas Eve worried us! Would the chimney be too hot for Santa to come down? Still, those fires made the living room ever so cozy and it was wonderful to back up to the heat and then plop down on the sofa to feel how toasty our bums had gotten.

STARLIGHT – I know there weren’t REALLY more stars back then, but we sure could SEE more of them. I still marvel at the infinity of stars that can be seen on a clear winter night from a remote hilltop in West Virginia.

And, of course, LAMP LIGHT – Our little house, all alone in the midst of darkness, simply glowed with light and warmth and love. I can remember looking out in the sea of blackness washing over the farm at night and feeling so perfectly safe inside where it was bright and warm. A fine light to hold in my memory to brighten my world even today.

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – Snow Days

creek snowLast Friday’s forecast of 1-3 inches of snow morphed into almost a foot. Suddenly, we had a full-blown snow day on our hands. Schools closed, there was a run on bread and milk, and a few unlucky folks ended up in the ditch.

I went home and took my dog out into the snow!

Because that’s what you do on snow days in the mountains. You bundle up and go out in it.

  • You catch snowflakes on your tongue.
  • You make snow angels (which the dog promptly spoils).
  • You throw snowballs and make snowmen.
  • You come inside with your cheeks rosy and drink hot chocolate.
  • You find dry mittens and go out again.
  • You go sledding!

Thistle and I ventured out into the neighborhood and found two kids doing most of the above. Best of all, they were building a snow ramp for their sleds. My brothers and I did that. If you poured water on it before going in for the evening it would freeze over and go even faster on day two. (Unless your mom found out and sent your dad out to break it up before you could break a leg.)

In my memory, snow days were times when all the regular, day-to-day busy-ness of life slowed and sometimes stopped altogether. It was as if the whole world–my whole world–was muffled in that glorious white mantle of snow.

Last Friday was like that. Sent home from work, no thought of going anywhere, and our sweet little valley utterly transformed by lacey bits of ice. It reminded me of the very best thing to do in the snow . . .

Stop. Tilt your face up to the sky. Listen.

Do you hear that?

It’s the gentle chink, chink, chink of unexpected, undeserved peace washing your overwhelmed spirit clean. Leaving it–if only for a moment–white as . . . snow.

 

Appalachian Thursday – A Homemade Christmas

door swagOnce 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 are some ideas.

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.

PRESENTS

  • Make some fudge or a batch of cookies and tuck them in boxes lined with parchment paper.
  • Use some of that greenery you gathered to make a swag for a friend’s front door or mailbox.
  • Knit or crochet a scarf. (Requires patience and persistence again + a modicum of skill.)

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.
  • And use up those leftovers! Waste not, want not. Here’s a 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!