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.

Ten Decorating Ideas for Christmas

Christmas treeI know lots of folks who jump on their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving (or sooner!), but I always wait until December 1. Maybe because it’s my birthday. And even then, I start slow, with a few outside decorations, maybe the nativity. I gradually add decor around the house and finally get the tree up a week to ten days out from December 25.

But this year, I have a new idea about decorating for the season. My pastor gave me the idea during yesterday’s sermon. What if we added a new kind of decorations this holiday season? What if, in addition to the greenery, tinsel, and lights, we decorated our lives with love?

How does that work? I’m glad you asked. Here are ten ways to decorate with love this December:

  1. Send an actual, physical Christmas card that you WRITE in to special people in your life. Real mail is getting scarcer than hen’s teeth these days. And mail with a handwritten, heartfelt note is the unicorn of the postal system. Be sure to sign your card with LOVE.
  2. Now send an actual, physical Christmas card to someone you only know a little. Maybe someone who might not get many cards. Write them a sweet note, too.
  3. Say something nice to someone you don’t know. Maybe it’s a mom in the grocery store trying to shop with kids–tell her how cute her little ones are. Tell the clerk at the mall you like her nail polish. Say thank you to someone in uniform.
  4. Leave the UPS or Fed-Ex delivery person some holiday sweets or maybe bottled water with a holiday ribbon. They’re working their tails off this time of year!
  5. Take a meal to someone who’s sick. Or overworked. Or overwhelmed. Or who simply might appreciate it. Take out is totally fine! And if a meal is too much, take cookies.
  6. Give an anonymous gift to someone you appreciate. It doesn’t need to be big or impressive–a bar of chocolate with a ribbon around it, a candle, or fancy soap–just a little something with a note attached that says, “You are loved” or “You are appreciated.”
  7. Make a donation to your favorite charity. Even better, make the donation in honor of someone you love.
  8. When you’re at a toll booth, or fast food drive-thru, pay for the person behind you. Ask the clerk to tell the customer, “Merry Christmas!”
  9. Go caroling at a nursing home. Or, if you can’t sing, take sugar-free cookies. And don’t forget a box of fudge for the nursing staff.
  10. Smile. Smile at family member, co-workers, shoppers at the grocery store, folks at church you don’t really know, neighbors. Sometimes the gift of a smile is just exactly the dose of love someone needs.

John 13:35 – By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Writing Stories & Walking on Water

Desk

When I first started writing, I had a character who could . . . maybe . . . walk on water. I came to realize the story line didn’t work the way I wanted and I gave that idea up. But I read the Gospel account of Peter walking on water many times.

Many times.

Then on Sunday morning our pastor mentioned that water walking passage in his sermon. And suddenly, I saw an entirely new (to me) aspect to those verses.

When Peter doubted and began to sink, Jesus took him by the hand and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then in Matthew 28:20b he sends the eleven disciples ot to make more disciples in every nation saying, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Peter did the seemingly impossible so long as he had faith in Jesus who was with him. I don’t think Jesus was admonishing Peter so much as he was suggesting that if only Peter had faith he could do so much more.

I doubt all the time. I doubt that I can meet my goals at work. I doubt that I’m meant to have a career as a writer. I doubt that I’m doing all I should for my family. I doubt that I know enough to lead Sunday School. I doubt.

But what if none of that depends on me? Or rather that it only depends on my having enough faith to do what God commands? What if I simply followed His lead–even when it’s hard?

What if I stopped trying so hard and simply had faith. Hmmm.

 

 

The BEST Reference Books

Hevenly Highway HymnsWhile you can look just about anything up on-line these days, it’s sometimes nice to have an actual book you can take down from the shelf and flip through to find what you need.

That’s what I do when I want to include hymn lyrics in one of my novels. When a character sings, mentions a favorite hymn, or is touched by lyrics, I reach for my 1956 copy of Heavenly Highway Hymns from Laurel Fork United Methodist Church.

By the time I was a kid in the 70s, we’d replaced the worn, softcover hymnals with foil stamped hardback copies. But, of course, no one threw away the old ones. So, probably 15 years ago, I asked for one of the 1956 copies (turns out to be the first printing). And now I treasure it. And refer to it often when working on a manuscript.

The problem is, once I dip into those fragile pages, I am typically lost. On the way to Rock of Ages–#225–I stumble across #241. And I have to sing it (aloud if no one’s around). Who can resist a chorus like, “Lord, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land . . . In the shade of the tree of life that it may ever stand; Where I can hear the angels sing and shake Jesus’ hand; Yes, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land.”

I can hear Smutt and Anna, Uncle Willis and Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Bess, Mom & Dad, Glenn and Mary, Freddie and Mary and all the others singing a capella because no one could play the piano that almost always sat silent at the front of the church. Freddie hit the bass notes.

And what’s even better, is that my book is a shape note hymnal. It’s an old-style of singing where each note (do, re, mi, etc.) is assigned a specific shape (diamond, square, triangle, etc.). It was a way to teach folks to sing without having to teach them to read music.

Trust and ObeyWhile my impromptu hymn-singing when I’m supposed to be writing can turn into a serious distraction, I think it’s also really helpful. Because I write about Appalachia–where shape note (or sacred harp) singing still hangs on. And those side trips back to my childhood in a one-room church where I first learned to call God by name–well, that’s why I write. It’s good to be reminded. And maybe to sing a few verses of #99, “When we walk with the Lord, In the light of His word, What a glory He sheds on our way!”

An Anniversary Outhouse Memory

wedding dayToday is our 21st wedding anniversary and I’ve decided to re-run a version of last year’s anniversary post. Our wedding was uniquely Appalachian for several reasons, not the least of which was that the only “facility” at our wedding was . . . an outhouse.

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.

The church is OLD and creaky, but it does have modern updates. We traded the pot-bellied, coal-burning stoves for gas heaters and installed a drop ceiling to help keep the heat in on cold winter mornings (I’m kind of sad about that). And we eventually updated the wiring so it wouldn’t burn the church down. It’s simple but picturesque.

We invited our friends and family to the ceremony, but didn’t expect many to make the trek to a remote hilltop in West Virginia 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. The closest thing there is to running water is the downspout at the corner. Even today the only bathroom is an outhouse. Of course, some adventurous souls might have enjoyed the experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone crossed their legs 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 compartments (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 is a much roomier one-seater with an open end that serves as an, ahhh, urinal. It’s 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 so they stayed relatively pleasant. 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 (although NOT while wearing a wedding dress) and they’re no joke. They’re just the best way to deal with a necessity in a place with no running water.

Of course, the standing joke is that every outhouse is too close to the back door in the summer and too far away in the winter. You can probably guess why.

Appalachian Thursday–Easter Sunrise

sunrise
Sunrise at the farm in WV.

I love most every holiday. Food, friends, decorations–it’s all wonderful. But my favorite holiday is Easter. And my favorite part of Easter is the Sunrise Service.

It’s a disappointment to me when the service gets moved inside because of the weather (too cold, too wet, too snowy). But I’ll still be there, in the pre-dawn light, waiting to celebrate the moment when the truth became clear. Jesus is ALIVE.

That’s why I love Easter now–remembering Christ’s resurrection. But I think I learned to love Sunrise Services when I would go with my Dad as a child. I remember at least one Easter when it was just the two of us. I remember getting up in the dark and putting on my new Easter clothes–a dress, white stockings, and black, patent leather shoes. Oh, how they shone.

As Dad and I went out the door I remember seeing our Easter baskets waiting–brimming with bright candy and other goodies. But I knew going to church to see the sun rise was somehow more important. Candy and treats could wait.

That might have been the year we went to French Creek Presbyterian and stood on the crest of the hill looking down over the valley. There were houses down there–mostly on the ramshackle side–with old cars and peeling paint. Some chickens scrabbled in the dirt and a dog or two stirred. It wasn’t exactly a bucolic scene.

But then the sun rose and we sang and proclaimed that He is risen! He is risen, indeed! And I was warm where I stood leaning up against my Daddy. Then we went home for breakfast and Easter baskets followed by church and Easter dinner with ham and deviled eggs.

And the world was good.

There’s plenty wrong with the world today. Some of it touches me personally, some of it doesn’t. But somehow when the sun rises on April 16 this year, it will be like starting over. And those first rays of the sun will fall on a world that God is still shaping. And I’ll remember that what Christ gave us most of all is . . . hope.

Happy Easter.

A Palm Sunday Memory

Easter eggsI spent Palm Sunday at a friend’s church. It was a lovely service with lots of joy, but I’ll confess I missed the children’s processional of little ones waving palm branches that’s a tradition at my own church.

Which got me to thinking about a Palm Sunday back in 2011 . . .

That year, the children not only came down the aisle waving palm branches, they also offered up a series of songs and readings. It was alternately moving and, well, funny.

Three of the children performed solos, each taking a verse of a song. Camden went first. He was five at the time and very poised for one so young. When he began singing, clutching that microphone and pouring his whole heart into the song, I got a little teary. He was trying so hard and obviously wanted to do his very best. He finished his section and handed the mic off to the girl next to him.

And then . . . he heaved a sigh and began untucking his shirt from his pants. It was like the tired executive at the end of a long day loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. But then a look came over Camden’s face. I’m guessing he realized that this might not be the time or place for getting comfortable. So he began stuffing his shirt back into his pants–largely without success. Finally, with half of his shirt tucked in too deep and the other half flopped over his belt he stood up straight, thrust his chest out and looked like he was well-satisfied with himself.

I think when Camden began  singing, many of us got a little dewy-eyed. But now, looking around the congregation, I suspected the tears were from suppressed (mostly) laughter. I’ve never laughed so hard without making noise.

And I think that’s what Jesus might have been getting at in Matthew 18 when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Camden did his VERY best. He sang with all his heart and he remembered his manners if a little late. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t worrying about what the congregation thought as we giggled through his antics. He just knew what was expected and he did his best to meet those expectations.

God knows we’re not going to get it right. I think He loves it when we do our fallible, human best. He sent His son to die so we could keep trying to get it right every day. Whether it’s the start of Holy Week or just another Monday.