Car Commercials and Birthdays

birthday giftsIt’s that time of year. The time when car commercials begin subtly hinting that this year a Jaguar or new SUV would be the perfect gift.

And while I wouldn’t say no to a Jaguar (even if it DID have 981 miles on it), that really isn’t my idea of a good gift. Rather, this past weekend was my idea of good gifts.

Yup, I turned 39 + shipping on Saturday. (I’m 47, I just get a kick out of that phrase!) And the people who love me best knew EXACTLY what kind of gifts I’d like.

There was the delightfully thoughtful gift from my husband–a new office chair for all my writing (plus dinner out!). We’ll actually shop for the chair this week since he’s also thoughtful enough to know I’ll have a strong opinion about it.

There was the collection of items from Mom & Jean. They commissioned a bookmark painted with watercolor thistles (my dog’s name) and queen Anne’s lace (my bridal bouquet). There was also a Luckenbooth shipped all the way from Scotland with a “stone” made from the compressed stems of Scottish heather. Sigh. If you don’t get that one, read The Christmas Heirloom. Now I have my own brooch passed from mother to daughter.

Then there was all the singing. The ladies at church sang to me (and Meg, who shares my birthday) as we decorated for Advent. Dad sang his own made up version of a birthday song for me. Mom sang. And best of all, my almost eight-year-old niece belted out Happy Birthday twice. And she remembered that 12/1 is my birthday. Remembering birthdays is her super power.

Finally, we extended my birthday into Sunday to celebrate with my adopted family (also Thistle’s godparents–dogparents?). Since mom’s far away and not up to baking anymore, I called her for the recipe for MY chocolate cake and made it myself. My friends asked me what I wanted for supper (adobo chicken and these AMAZING crispy potatoes) then we topped it off with Mom’s cake.

So am I just bragging about what a great birthday I had?

Oh, maybe a little bit. But mostly I’m pointing out that the very best gifts aren’t something you park in the driveway. Rather they’re anything laced with LOVE.

Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Happy birthday to me!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Thanksgiving Hog Killing

cookbooks

Additional source material.

I was talking to Dad about Thanksgiving when he was a child and learned that it was often hog killing day in Appalachia. Everyone was off work and gathering together anyway, so it was a good day for many hands to make light work.

While I’m glad NOT to be spending today scraping a hog (they have hair) or boiling down lard, knowing that folks used to do that just might come in handy for a future story. And because there’s a long-standing tradition of “using everything but the squeal,” I thought I’d give you some idea of how those various pig parts were used–from head to tail as it were.

  • The Head – I know, I know. These days you’ll find “pork cheeks” on menus. That’s the head folks. The whole head was typically boiled to get all those tender bits of meat off. The pork was then used to make things like souse meat which was also called headcheese (spiced pork–kind of a terrine) or scrapple (pork mixed with cornmeal, molded, and fried).
  • Some parts of the head were held back. The tongue would have been cooked much like beef tongue and the snout (rooter) was sometimes roasted.
  • The Liver – This would be for your liver pudding or liver mush. You could slice and fry it or eat it cold like lunchmeat. (Well YOU could. It’s liver after all).
  • The Lungs – These were also referred to as the “lights.” One recipe calls for boiling them in salted water to the consistency of gravy. Hmmmm.
  • The Intestines – You may have heard of chitterlings (pronounced chitlins). You clean them WELL, boil in salted water, and fry. Or . . . some people do.
  • The Feet – Well, we’ve all heard of pickled pigs feet.
  • The Tail – Toss it in a stew!

Of course, most of that makes me grateful for the turkey we’re planning to eat today. But there is one recipe that I’d happily add to many a dish . . . cracklins. This is what’s left after all the pieces of fat have been cooked down to make lard. The bits of meat are basically rendered out and deep fried. Man, mix that in some cornbread and you’ll forget all about the liver pudding.

Appalachian Thursday – Glad for Montana

MontanaNo, not the state.

I often brag about how the people of Appalachia are pretty fantastic. Well, this week, a young man named Montana helped prove my point.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad has Parkinson’s Disease. Every six months or so I head home and we go visit his neurologist at the WVU Medical Center. That was this past Tuesday. As we were headed out of town, Dad suggested stopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Well, sure!

Dad used to be quite the gun collector and hunted all his life. Activities that are more challenging these days. Still, it’s fun to look.

We made our way to “The Lodge” and there was Montana, a clean-cut college-age guy wearing a cross on a chain, ready to wait on a customer. Dad started talking guns with him. Montana pulled out rifle after rifle for Dad to admire. They talked guns, hunting, and worked around to sports. Montana played golf and Dad used to coach golf, so they compared notes on just about every course in the state.

It was wonderful.

Finally, another customer approached and Montana, who mentioned somewhere along the way that he’s studying nursing, moved on.

Dad and I browsed the store and as he headed for the exit, I circled back to thank this incredibly kind young man. Turns out his grandfather had Parkinson’s. He passed away two years ago, but Montana spent a lot of time with him and recognized the symptoms in my Dad.

I wanted to hug him, but settled for a thank you and a shoulder pat. Montana is doing my home state proud. He’s doing that cross around his neck proud.

I have a feeling he’s going to be an excellent nurse.

Taking a vacation–of sorts

This week I’m taking the closest thing to a vacation I ever do. It’s a week off from work to spend time with my family. It’s not exactly a trip to the beach, a cruise, or a European getaway, but it’s what I love–being on the family farm and hanging out with the people who have been part of my life since the day I was born.

In light of being on vacation, I’m giving myself a day off from the blog. No deep thoughts today. No peeks into history. No interesting tidbits. Instead, here are a few photos of my West Virginia home. I’m betting by the end of the week I’ll have a few more to add to the gallery . . .

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

applesI’ve mostly given up trying to grow our food. I keep a pot of herbs and this year I grew a cherry tomato in a pot near the front porch. Based on what I paid for the plant and the number of tomatoes I picked, I’d say I broke even on that one.

But, like the local bears, I’m opportunistic when it comes to harvesting food. Blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, and nuts tend to be plentiful in our area. We pick them wild and have neighbors who are glad to share.

This year, though, there just wasn’t much to harvest. I made an apple pie last weekend and had to supplement with store apples. The walnuts are few and far between. Even the hickory nuts are less this year.

Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). Walnuts turned our hands (and clothes) black. Chestnuts could be removed from their prickly casing by pinching them between the soles of our boots and pushing them out. Hazelnuts we just let dry a bit and then whacked ’em good with a hammer.

Mom probably made things using nuts, but mostly the pleasure was in just eating them straight from the shell. And eat them we did! Chestnuts in particular were an easy target and the crisp texture and flavor of that buttery, yellow nut was SO good. You can score them and roast them briefly to make them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Hopefully 2018’s poor harvest is just an off-year–a down season in the cycle. And since there’s not much out there, I guess I’ll leave most of it to the critters. I kind of like it when the squirrels sit on the back deck methodically eating nuts that leave smears of black, walnut leavings.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and growing children just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart today.

Appalachian Thursday – Firearms

Going Hunting

Wherever I got the gun stuff right, it was Dad and Daniel’s fault!

My latest novella–A Shot at Love–releases next Tuesday. It’s part of The Christmas Heirloom, a collection of stories that follows a piece of jewelry from Regency England to modern-day America.

Now, these are romances–sweet stories of finding true love. But when you write Appalachian fiction true love doesn’t have to come wrapped in hearts and flowers. It can come by way of a turkey shoot and a rogue blue jay.

My heroine–Fleeta Brady–is a crack shot who isn’t the least bit interested in finding love. But then she meets Hank Chapin, a gun collector from South Carolina who admires more than Fleeta’s way with a .22 rifle.

I grew up around all sorts of guns and learned to respect firearms from birth as best I can remember. Treat every gun like it’s loaded. Never point a gun at a person. Don’t shoot an animal unless you’re sure of a kill.

We knew where the key to the gun cabinet was, but would never have considered fetching it down without Dad’s permission. I didn’t hunt but I certainly helped to “process” plenty of wild game growing up. Guns were simply part of life on the farm. And I could hit a walnut with a .22 for all the good that did me!

Don’t worry, Fleeta mostly shoots targets in my story. But it was fun to research and write about rifles and then to get Dad and my brother Daniel to check behind me to make sure I’d gotten it all right. Peep sites and scopes. Shotguns and thirty-ought sixes. Learning what, exactly, an over and under is. Fine tuning words I’d been hearing all my life. It made me feel closer to the hunters I know and love.

Yes, my story is a romance, but it’s more than that. It’s yet another love letter to the people and the places nearest and dearest to my heart. Because when you love someone, you learn their language.

EXCERPT:
Fleeta noticed a second man catching up to Judd. He was shorter and thicker—though not heavy by any means. His hair was sandy—almost blond, but not quite. More the color of honeycomb. Fleeta thought he looked pleasant enough and started to smile. Then she froze as she got a good look at the rifle slung over his shoulder. It was a Woodmaster—a Remington 740 and a .30-06 caliber. And if she wasn’t mistaken, the gun was brand new. Her breath caught in her throat, and she forgot to blink. It was the finest rifle she’d ever seen and a semi-automatic at that. She wanted to reach out and touch it so bad she could almost feel the silk of the wood and the ice of the steel.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Sang Hunting

ginseng2While in West Virginia last weekend my brother showed me some ginseng plants. He was checking them to see if they had seeds he could plant to spur future growth. He gathered up the red fruit with seeds inside and sowed them in a new spot. Seeds need 18+ months to germinate so if we’re lucky, they’ll sprout in the spring of 2020.

Ginseng is not for those in a hurry.

The native plant is prized for all kinds of curative properties from preventing the flu to acting as an aphrodisiac. In the Orient, the fact that the root is often shaped like a man with a body, arms, and legs, makes folks believe it has all sorts of body-related benefits. Another name for it is manroot. It’s relatively common in Appalachia, although the fact that you can get $500 or more for a pound of the dried root has caused over-harvesting.

Enter sang hunters.

There are lots of regulations around how and when the roots can be harvested. Plants should be five years old or older before they’re harvested. If you plan to export the root, it has to be 10 or more years old. How do you know how old a plant is? The first year, there will be just one, compound leaf typically with three leaflets. After about five years, the plant should be at least a foot tall and will have four or more leaves each one with five leaflets. The plant pictured above with three leaves, each bearing five leaflets is probably three or four years old. Not ready for harvesting.

If you look closely, you’ll see a wee crown right in the center. That’s where tiny flowers gave way to red berries with two seeds each inside. They’ve been planted now.

Ginseng is going to find its way into my stories one of these days. It’s ripe with potential–poaching, stealing, the solitary act of hunting through the woods, the art of digging the plant so as to keep the root undamaged and intact . . . it’s an art and a mystery.

Just the sort of thing I love to write about.