Appalachian Thursday–When there’s a need

lasagna-kidsOur little, mountain church got word not long ago that some missionary friends on the far side of the world need a van. The old one gave up the ghost and transportation is important.

There were probably folks who thought about sending a few dollars, doing what they could. But a van, even used, well that would cost a good bit.

The kids, though, they got serious and began brainstorming ideas to help. They settled on a lasagna supper. They wouldn’t charge, they’d just ask for donations and have a few things to raffle off. They also thought about karaoke, but who does that?

Well, the adults got behind the idea. Donations came in for food and raffle items. Volunteers set to work helping the young’uns get their project off the ground. And one elder of the church mentioned in men’s Bible study that the kids wanted to do karaoke–ain’t that a hoot?

Such a hoot, that the next thing he knew, he’d been challenged to sing for his supper. And a fair amount of cash money was put up to see him do it.

The night of the supper the kids donned their aprons and served plates of pasta, salad, and rolls. The ladies set up a dessert table. That elder stood off to the side, trying to look calm.

mike-singingWhen he got up on the stage, he introduced the band–mandolin, guitar, and bass guitar. “This is how we sang karaoke when I was a kid,” he said. Then he took a deep breath and they were off. “Sing to the living God,” the tune went. The crowd grabbed the beat and kept a steady rhythm. Verses, choruses, instrumentals, steady on through to the end and a round of thunderous applause.

Then an encore of “Rocky Top,” just for fun.

The kids pretty well finished off the dessert table while the donation jars were emptied and counted. And the grand total was . . .

. . . $2,600 that will help buy a van for a missionary family on the far side of the world.

Amen to that.

An Unconventional Valentine

ladies-of-the-churchLife is hard.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but just living life really does get tough some days. Sometimes you’ll run into a whole string of those tough days right in a row.

I’m part of a group of women at my church who gather for Sunday School and Bible study and food and fun and sometimes all of the above. And I’m grateful to have ladies who challenge me to dig deeper in my faith; who hold me accountable and encourage me.

But here’s why I’m especially grateful for this group of ladies. They make life, if not easier, at least more bearable. Because when life inevitably gets hard, there they are with hugs and smiles and casseroles and maybe even a measure of correction if it’s needed.

Our last few meetings have included tears. There’s been the loss of a child. There’s some tough stuff happening with parents in their 90s. And illness. And frustrations. And family challenges. But there’s also been joy. A health scare that miraculously turned out well. A child who got a good report. One of our own who passed her exams and is ready to be ordained.

But whether we’re laughing or crying, here’s what this group gives each other that I don’t ever want to do without. L.O.V.E. If we need to cry, there’s someone to cry with us. If we want to celebrate, there’s someone to cheer with us. Listening ears, soft shoulders, warm hugs, sage advice, and hearts lifted in prayer.

Your support group doesn’t have to be church ladies, but I hope you have one. I think we were designed to bushwhack our way through life as part of a community.

Life is hard. But when I’m with my girls, it’s not nearly as hard as it could be. Thanks ladies. I love you, too.

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–The Outhouse at My Wedding

Dad at church
When we say it’s a one-room church, we’re serious.

We celebrated our 20th anniversary yesterday, which seems impossible since we only just met, fell in love, and decided to spend our lives together! But here we are, a chunk of LIFE under our belts. I think you could say our wedding was pretty uniquely Appalachian with some special, “rural” touches. I say it was perfect.

We got married at Laurel Fork United Methodist Church in West Virginia. I’m the fourth or fifth generation in my family to attend the little, white church on the hill and it was where I wanted to pledge my heart to my husband for life.

We invited our friends and family, but didn’t expect many to make the trek to Nowhere, WV, for the nuptials. Those who did travel from SC (where we lived then) were encouraged to use the facilities at their hotel before coming to the church 30 minutes away in Laurel Fork.

Ha-ha, they thought, a West Virginia joke. Nope. Even today the only bathroom is an outhouse. Of course, some adventurous souls might have enjoyed the experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone held it until the reception back in town.

When I was a kid, we actually had TWO outhouses at church. One for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. The ladies had two stalls (fancy) each with a separate door for privacy. It was painted white and tucked back in the trees behind the church for discretion. Unfortunately, it’s leafy, protected eaves seemed to be prime spots for wasps to build their nests, but you often have to sacrifice something for the sake of your dignity.

The men’s outhouse was a much roomier one-seater with an open end that served as an, ahhh, urinal. It was closer to the doors of the church, which often made it preferable when I was young. The wooden seat was worn remarkably smooth and there was always a stack of church bulletins in place of toilet paper. Waste not, want not.

And honestly? It wasn’t unpleasant to use. Oh, it wasn’t great on a January morning, but in general, it served just fine. It smelled of worn wood as much as, well, what you’d expect, and members of the church maintained both outhouses well. MUCH nicer than any port-o-let I’ve ever been in.

Outhouses have become something of a redneck or hillbilly joke, but I’ve used them and they’re no joke. They’re just the best way to deal with a necessity in a place with no running water. And trust me, if your power went out (along with the well pump), you’d be glad to have one.wedding day

Appalachian Thursday–Old Folks

Growing up with some of my favorite old folks--my grandmother and great-grandmother!
Growing up with some of my favorite old folks–my grandmother and great-grandmother!

At my church here in the mountains of NC we call homecoming, “Old Folks Day.” I LOVE this. Although there has been some push back in recent years from some of the folks who felt like they were beginning to fall into the “old” category.

I see the name as referring to all those people–living and dead–who have brought us to the place we are today. And I really, really like those people.

I guess my daddy raised me to have respect and admiration for the “old folks.” I went to a church where most of the congregation was edging on toward senior and although we few kids had our own Sunday School class, we interacted with everyone. And we visited the old folks regularly–my great-aunt and uncle, grandparents, neighbors–they were just people who happened to have been around longer than me. Sometimes a LOT longer.

Some of my dearest friends have been or are old folks. Yesterday I went to visit Anne (93). We had a lovely chat about books and farm life and what we like to eat. She was a librarian from Kentucky who spent a year working in New York City–what stories!

The day before that, we attended our friend Bill’s (94) funeral. I knew many of his stories, but got to hear for the first time a line from a letter he wrote shortly after he met the woman he would be married to for 64 years. “She has a barrel full of good sense,” he wrote. Indeed she did.

I think the people of Appalachia tend to have a deep respect for their elders. Maybe it’s because they know how to do things the modern world has forgotten. Like cut hay with a scythe. Or make a spring tonic. Or sit on the front porch and watch the night fall as the whippoorwills call.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have “old folks” in my life–even though it means losing them all too often. And I very much hope to earn that name for myself one of these days. I promise not to protest.

Appalachian Thursday–Take Me Home, Country Roads

I’m in West Virginia visiting family today. Thanks to spring break we’re all in the same place at the same time for once. A gift too precious to set aside for blogging. I’ll check in at the weekend!

Below are some images from home that inspired settings in Appalachian Serenade and Miracle in a Dry Season. Always happy to return to such special places.

Laurel Fork
Laurel Fork (this is the creek I imagined Delilah dipping her toes in)
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Aunt Bess’ House (this is where I picture the Talbot sisters living)
Dad at church
Laurel Fork United Methodist Church (AKA Laurel Mountain Church with TWO front doors)

Appalachian Thursday–Planting by the Signs

SignsIt’s finally March and temperatures actually soared into the 70s yesterday. Of course, we’re supposed to get SNOW before today is out, so we’re not too excited. But it is getting to be time to think about planting the garden.

When I was a kid my father and one of the more mature ladies of the church would have pretty much the same “discussion” every spring. She believed strongly in planting by the signs and Dad was determined to convince her it was not only silly, but un-Christian to do so.

As far as I know, neither one ever came around to the other’s way of thinking. I suspect it would have spoiled the fun they had talking about it every spring.

There are still plenty of folk who plant by the signs in Appalachia. Here’s a quick primer, in case you want to give it a try this spring:

  • Plant ABOVE ground crops when the moon is waxing (getting bigger). Things like peas, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, etc.
  • Plant BELOW ground crops when the moon is waning (getting smaller). Things like potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc.

That’s the BASIC rule. Now, let’s look at the signs. Each month, the moon passes through each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which can be divided into four elements:

  • Water – Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio
  • Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
  • Fire – Leo, Ares, Sagittarius
  • Air – Gemini, Aquarius, Libra

Water and Earth are FERTILE elements while Fire and Air are BARREN elements. Generally speaking, you want to plant in one of the fertile signs and cultivate, prune, and harvest in the barren signs. Of course, you’ll also want to match the phase of the moon to the particular sign. (E.g. Plant potatoes in a fertile sign while the moon is waning.)

Of course there are a few caveats as well. NEVER plant on Sunday, a fiery, barren day. And don’t plant while the moon is full, new, or in one of its quarters regardless of the sign.

Got it? Good. Now go plant something. But only if it’s after the last frost date for your region. (FYI–You should plow a late snow into the soil–it’s known as poor man’s fertilizer.)

For more information (like the proper sign in which to set fence posts or shingle a roof) check out Planting by the Signs, a blog that figures it all out for you.