Appalachian Thursday – Deer Season

Going Hunting
My father and brother–off to hunt on a snowy morning.

It’s almost holiday time in West Virginia. Oh, sure, there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the REAL festivities begin on Monday. The first day of deer season.

Many schools are out all week because, well, no one would come if they were open. Teachers, students, staff–they’re all out “celebrating” deer season.

So how does one celebrate? If you’re a hunter, it’s obvious. You go hunting. But what about non-hunters? That was always me. I know plenty of women who enjoy hunting, but I don’t happen to be one.

Even so, the week was a fun time for me growing up. First, we were out of school. Second, there was plenty of company. Friends and family would come to the farm to hunt, eat, nap, and tell tall tales. Which meant we got to indulge in junk food, questionable conversation, and interesting schedules. And when everyone else was out hunting, I got to curl up in a cozy chair and READ!

One friend of Dad’s worked for Lays and would bring us an entire case of potato chips. We NEVER got potato chips. Hunters eat packaged cookies, processed lunch meats, soda–it’s kid heaven. There’d be a fire in the fireplace, funny stories we didn’t always understand, early mornings, and as soon as someone got a deer–venison tenderloin seared in butter.

Here’s one of my favorite deer season recipes. My dad is the master of this one. Mmmm, I could eat a plate full right now!

VENISON GRAVY
butter
1 smallish venison roast
flour
milk
water
salt and pepper to taste

Partially freeze the venison roast (or, if it’s already frozen, partially thaw it).  Melt a knob of butter in a skillet. Shave off pieces of venison into the butter until you have enough for however many are hungry. As soon as the meat begins to brown add as much flour as you did butter and cook for a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste. Splash in some milk and stir, stir, stir until that begins to thicken. Alternately add water and milk until your gravy is bubbling and the thickness you like. Salt and pepper to taste (lots of pepper really is in order here). Serve spooned generously over hot biscuits (not from a can!).

Appalachian Thursday – WV to SC to KY

are Organics(1)I love my latest book’s release date. Why? Well, just look at it–all ones and sevens. Maybe it’s because Dad’s a math teacher, but for whatever reason, it pleases my eye.

At any rate, my fourth full-length novel, The Sound of Rain, will release next Tuesday. A handful of folks already have their copies and there are a couple of good reviews out (RT Book Reviews and Library Journal). The first one-star review is still out there in the future somewhere.

It’s weirdly wonderful to release a novel. A combination of pride and fear. I know the book is pretty good–it must be or Bethany House wouldn’t have put it out there. Still . . . doubts creep in and I want everyone to love the book as much as I do.

Which is, of course, impossible. Everyone didn’t write it, didn’t conjure up Judd from real-life family heroes or Larkin from favorite southern ideals. But maybe, just maybe, some folks will like it. And maybe, just maybe, it will touch a heart here and there and remind someone that change–although hard–is often God’s way of shaping us into what he had in mind in the first place.

The book starts in the WV hills and quickly moves to the coast of SC, then sends Judd and Larkin to eastern KY where coal is king and life is hard. I hope you’ll journey with them. And I hope you’ll enjoy the trip as much as I have.

Halloween in the Hills

Halloween

I LOVED Halloween when I was a kid. I’m still pretty fond of it even today. But when I was little it was all about playing dress up and eating candy.

I was one of those little girls who wanted to be something pretty. An angel, a princess–something pink and sparkly. And Mom was a whiz at making gorgeous costumes. Although I’m still a little annoyed about having to wear a turtleneck under my princess dress (see photo–that’s just not right!). Never mind that it was 40 degrees. I could have toughed it out.

But trick-or-treating was different when you lived in the hills of West Virginia. There was no running around subdivisions or shopping malls collecting candy. We piled into the car (angel wings rated the front seat) and drove from house to house. And we knew everyone we visited. Shoot, we were related to most of them.

Aunt Dorothy had homemade caramel apples and popcorn balls, Aunt Bess had full-sized candy bars, Grandma had little piles of candy arranged on a TV tray near the door, Floyd had Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (hands off, Dad!). And at each stop–especially when we had masks on–there was a great to-do about guessing who we were.

When my dad was a kid growing up in the mountains of WV, that was a BIG part of Halloween. You actually tried to disguise yourself so that friends and neighbors couldn’t recognize you. And there were more pranks. Apparently involving outhouses more often than not. Halloween was about visiting and laughing and connecting with community.

In the 17+ years we’ve lived here, we’ve had a total of five trick-or-treaters at our house. Although we live outside the city limits, we can see several houses from the front porch and still no one dresses up or sends the kids around. Oh, there are a few decorations out, but that’s it. Everyone takes their kids to where the houses are closer or to a church trunk or treat.

I say they’re missing out BIG TIME. I miss when Halloween was family time. When we got as many hugs as we did candy bars. When we could eat anything we got–even the homemade stuff–because everyone who dropped something in our bags loved us.

Appalachian Thursday – 10 Things Mothers & Daughters Should Do Together

IMG_0128
Mom and me taking our porch-sitting seriously.

I was winding down the other evening and came across an article link on Facebook with 40 things every mother and daughter should do together. Cool. I clicked. I got about 12 deep and gave it up. Several activities included drinking wine (Mom doesn’t drink). Most were expensive–spa visit, trip to the big city. And some just made me laugh. My mom is SO not doing yoga with me.

So, here’s a list for Appalachian mothers & daughters. Ten things (cause who has TIME for 40?!?) they should do together.

  1. Snap beans or pare apples on the back porch. Ideally, you should have a metal bowl or a dented pie tin for the leavings. And Mom should peel her apples with a paring knife while Daughter uses a vegetable peeler because she’s “modern.”
  2. Make grape jelly. This will begin with picking Concord grapes from the vine and will proceed to a hot stove, a jelly bag, and finally to Mason jar lids happily pinging away. If your fingers aren’t purple, you didn’t do it right.
  3. Pick wildflowers in a meadow. Well, okay, in the edge of the meadow because Dad will holler if you mash down the hay he’s going to cut to feed the cows this coming winter. Arrange your flowers in a Mason jar.
  4. Make a quilt. Warning–this takes a looooong time even if you machine quilt. If you get all Romantic and decided to set up a frame and quilt by hand–hoo boy–we’re talking some serious bonding time for Mother & Daughter.
  5. Go to the swimmin’ hole. You’ll probably have to take the boys with you, too. They can’t resist splashing around in the creek. Take soap (Ivory floats) and shampoo to kill two birds with one stone.
  6. Prepare wild game. My mom taught me how to parboil and fry squirrel, then to make gravy out of the drippings. Yours should, too. If neither of you knows how, find someone who does and learn together!
  7. Go to church. Preferably the same church your grandmother and great-grandmother went to. Sit close to each other and hold hands during the prayers.
  8. Churn butter. They have all kinds of fancy butter churns these days. Mom had a glass one with a crank that turned wooden dashers. After she made the butter she’d spread some on a piece of bread and sprinkle it with sugar for us kids. Soooo good!
  9. Go for a walk. People call it hiking now, but really it’s just tromping around in the woods looking at the trees and the streams and the plants and maybe even the critters. Moms have a knack for finding and pointing out interesting stuff.
  10. Porch sit with a glass of lemonade. This is the time to hash out the meaning of life because mothers and daughters can totally do that. Do this one more than once. Way more. And if you want a glass of wine instead . . . fine by me.

Writing Historical Fiction

Lorraine
Ladies were not part of the battle, but when you’re doing a reenactment with only a handful of folks, the ladies might hide in the trees and fire off a dozen or so rounds to add to the ambiance.

Oh dear.

As I hope most of you know, I write historical fiction. But not VERY historic. I’ve written as far back as the 1940s, which means when I want to do research I can often pick up the phone and just call someone who was alive then.

But this past weekend I went to a reenactment of the Battle of Kings Mountain. That would be a Revolutionary War battle fought to the south and east of where I now live. And while there were only a handful of folks depicting the unexpected overthrow of the British, it was oddly moving when the battle was won and a spectator yelled, “Go USA!”

I attended because some friends are reenacters. And VERY authentic, too. Their clothing is all handmade and true to the period (no buttons for the ladies and yes, Lorraine was wearing stays). The muskets were reproductions of the real deals and while they weren’t firing musket balls, they did use paper powder cartridges as the soldiers would have.

Seeing men firing long rifles against the beauty of the mountains brought history to life in a way I hadn’t expected and it occurred to me . . . shooting

One of the main reasons I don’t write fiction from longer ago is all the research that’s required. I love to jump into stories having a pretty good idea about what daily life would have been like so I can focus on the people. (Lazy? I won’t argue if you think so.)

But with friends like Dennis and Lorraine if I DID want to write a story from the late 18th century, and I had a question . . . I could just pick up the phone and ask it. My family’s history in Appalachia certainly goes back that far. Brothers David & Elijah Phillips left Massachusetts for what is now French Creek, WV, because they were Patriots and their father and brothers were Loyalists. A family divided!

Like I said at the beginning. Oh dear.

My problem isn’t trying to think of something new to write, it’s deciding which of the hundred stories bouncing around inside my head I’ll give a voice.

Lest my editor or agent see this and get worried, I have no plans to write a Revolutionary War tale. It’s not really my brand. But maybe one of these days . . .

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.

Life After a Hurricane

flood2
The great room and kitchen. That small desk is one of the few things I regret losing.

My heart is heavy for the folks in Texas who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They’re dealing with a horrific mess that won’t be tidied up quickly. But I do want them–and anyone else who feels like the worst has happened–to remember that God often does some of his best work through the worst messes.

We’d had floods and hurricanes before Floyd blew through Conway, South Carolina, on September 16, 1999. As a matter of fact, I owned my very own pair of chest waders. They were camouflage and they kept me dry when I had to park my car and wade the quarter of a mile in to our house overlooking the Waccamaw River.

Floyd didn’t amount to much in the way of hurricane winds, but it surely did dump an excess of rain. The problem with rain in a place where the land is flat and near the ocean, is that runoff has nowhere to go.

Although our house sat on a rise near the river and was a good three feet off the ground, the water just kept coming. We moved what we could to a neighbor’s second story bedroom. We wrapped the legs of the poster bed in trash bags and piled belongings on counters or on top of furniture we never liked. We loaded clothes into more garbage bags and stowed them in the kayak with our three dogs.flood1

Then we abandoned ship, paddled to high ground, and drove to my in-law’s in upstate South Carolina.

When we returned a few days later, the water was still rising. When the water crested, the only part of my car still showing was the tip of the antennae. Water in the house stopped just shy of the light switches. On a perfectly sunny, early autumn afternoon, we paddled our kayak through a set of French doors and into the great room. Light reflected off the water and shimmered across the vaulted ceiling. There was a stillness. An unexpected peace.

That was in September. Less than four months later, in January of 2000, we loaded what we’d salvaged into two cars and a moving van and moved to Western North Carolina. Eighteen years later, life in the mountains is good. And mostly dry.

We still look around at the beauty of the mountains and the changing seasons and marvel at our good fortune. Neither one of us misses the ocean or the flat land or the long, hot summers. We’re right where we’re supposed to be.

And all it took to move us, was a hurricane.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV)

*This is an abbreviated version of an essay I wrote for “When You Pass Through Waters: Words of Hope & Healing,” a collection of essays written to help raise funds for those affected by record flooding in SC in 2015.