Stories All Around Us

SummerMy husband and I went to dinner Sunday. We enjoyed a lovely meal and headed out into the mild evening to make our way back to our car.

I think I’ve mentioned that I can’t resist a dog.

Well, there was a girl sitting on the sidewalk with a puppy dancing around her. I handed the takeout box to my husband and crouched down to say hello.

Oh my. Four months old and all feet. His name was Bemis.

I petted and played with the puppy and chatted with his person. She looked like she was late teens or maybe twenty. Neat and tidy if a little offbeat. She had some small sketches set out beside her with a sign that said, “Buy My Art.”

She said she travels from city to city, hopping trains and hitchhiking. I told her to be careful and she assured me she’s very careful. I bought a piece of art (a pencil sketch of a dragon–quite good!) and told her I’d be praying for her.

I don’t know her story. I don’t know her history or her dreams. But she touched my heart. Her and that adorable puppy.

But I know God loves her just like he loves me. And he loves you. He has a plan for her–and I hope she learns what it is.

So today, I’m asking you to join me in praying for Summer and Bemis. Pray for a girl with a backpack, a puppy, and a knack for drawing pictures. Pray that she’s safe and that she finds whatever it is she’s looking for.

She has a story and I pray that she lets God direct each chapter.


Appalachian Thursday – Snow Day!

Snow DayWe had a snow day yesterday–a couple of inches of the white stuff, hardly anyone venturing out, bacon for breakfast, and a good book to read (not to mention one to write!). Ahhhhh.

When I was a kid, of course, snow days were a bit more exciting. And in West Virginia in the 1970s, they seemed more dramatic, too. I remember missing almost the entire month of February one winter. It was so cold that a skim of ice would form on the top of the pail of milk in the time it took Dad to walk from the barn to the house.

Poor Mom. Stuck inside with three kids day after day. And it was too cold to play outside. At least Dad had livestock to tend.

I remember the power going out during a snowstorm once. Dad stoked the fireplace and we got to sleep in the living room floor in sleeping bags. Mom made us wear knit hats since those were the days when we still believed you lost most of your heat through the top of your head.

There was tomato soup with grilled cheese. Card games and board games. Sledding and the building of snowmen. We played in the hayloft, which was a smidge warmer than outside. Mittens were soaked through. Chapstick was applied. And woe to the child who realized she had to pee while wearing a snowsuit too far from the house.

We also fed the cattle. The winter my older brother had appendicitis, I got to ride on the trailer, cutting the twine on bales of hay, and pushing it off for the cows. Bart, our Black Angus bull, would steal bites of hay from the trailer. He was a sweetheart, though, and I’d scratch him behind the ears anyway.

It got dark early those days and in my memory the house was the coziest place in the world. A nation unto itself. A place where the snow and cold could never reach.

Now, snow days frustrate me–make me wish I could get out and work on my to-do list. Maybe I need to go back in time and embrace what I can’t change. Make a snow angel. Throw snowballs for Thistle. Snuggle under a blanket inside and, instead of being frustrated, give thanks for the reprieve of snow days.

2017 Reading Round-Up

RiverWhile I love being a writer, one of the downsides is that it definitely cuts into my reading time. I used to read several books a month, often reading several at once, and now if I finish one or two I feel like I’m doing well.

And then there are contests. If you enter some contests, you’re required to read entries in other categories. Plus, having found contests SO helpful when I was trying to get published, I really want to help judge them.

All of that to say I read fewer books for pleasure than I’d like to.

But, like cutting back on chocolate, it makes the books I DO find time to read all that more wonderful. And here are a few I particularly liked from last year:

  1. River to Redemption by Ann Gabhart – Okay. So sometimes being an author means you get reader perks. This book doesn’t actually release until 2018, but I got to read it as an endorser. Just let me say, you are in for a treat come July!
  2. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I’m not the only one who loved this book about a notorious woman who was essentially stealing and selling children under the guise of running an orphanage. Chilling and redeeming all in one!
  3. Camino Island by John Grisham – This one was such fun! It’s a writer’s book, with a main character suffering writer’s block and lots of literary fun. Not Grisham’s typical fare, but maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
  4. Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette – I don’t read a ton of Biblical fiction, but this story really brought Exodus to life for me. Really well done!
  5. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – If you liked Out of Africa, read this book. It’s the more or less true story of Beryl Markham who was the third corner of a love triangle with Denys and Karen. And that may be the least remarkable thing about her.
  6. A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron – I didn’t see the movie, but adored the book. The writing is simple (it’s a dog’s POV after all), but deeply touching. Plus, I’m pretty sure my dog could write a book, so it gives me hope.

How about you? What did you read in 2017 that stirred you?

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 – 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.

Bees, Rattlesnakes, and Bears – oh my!

rattlesnakeYou know it’s a doozy of a hike when the least scary thing to happen is a bear thundering off through the brambles.

That’s how my hike with Thistle started one evening last week. And we weren’t much alarmed. After all, the bear was leaving. Then Thistle ran on ahead and in short order came streaking back past me.

While hiking with my husband that morning she’d gotten into some yellow jackets (bears crack those nests open like pecans this time of year). I thought, surely that hadn’t happened again. I called her to me and two yellow jackets flew from her fur. Okay, it had. We ran down a side trail where she wallowed in some tight brush, divesting herself of any insects. Which was good since I had that MAJOR allergic reaction 15 years ago. (I’m theoretically cured after 7 years of shots, but who wants to test that?!?)

We made our way to a stream and gathered our wits. The bees were quite a bit scarier than the bear. Even so, we had hiking to do, so off we went, taking the long way around. As we came back down the mountain on a nice, wide trail, we stumbled across the scariest thing yet.

A rattlesnake.

A yellow phase timber rattlesnake to be specific (I only learned this later). And when I saw it, stretched full length in a sunny spot on the trail, Thistle was standing tail to tail with it. Or tail to rattle. My dog had no CLUE there was a snake in the world.

I convinced her to come to me with some treats and we stood there for a moment, marveling. (I did–Thistle just wondered why she had to wear her leash and might there be more treats?)

Then we went the even longer way around.

One of the themes in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain, is how we’re never really safe. No matter how many precautions we may take, bad things will still happen in the most unexpected ways. It’s just how this fallen world works.

My first thought after such an eventful hike was that maybe I should give up hiking until the first good freeze. But honestly, I love walking in the woods. It’s my freest, most creative time. And it’s something my husband, dog, and I love to do together.

So, I’ll keep hiking with the bears, the bees, and the rattlesnakes. Because, as my characters also learn, we may not be safe, but we are secure. Not because of any precautions we’ve taken, but because of who we trust.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

My Muse at Work

I’m working on a new story idea–which is typically my FAVORITE part of the process. That and finally seeing a cover! Even when I think I know what a story is going to be about, it will often go off on a tangent I didn’t see coming.

Thistle–my muse who lays at my feet while I write–likes to help me run down ideas. This video seems to capture the process. You often have to be incredibly persistent and just throw yourself into the pursuit of an idea with everything you’ve got.

Just be grateful that when you want to dig into something new, you get to use your hands instead of your face.

*Neither chipmunks nor story ideas were harmed in the filming of this video.