Appalachian Thursday – Moonshiners!

springI love it when I describe something in one of my novels that I can clearly picture and THEN find that what I described actually exists. In Miracle in a Dry Season Casewell cleans out an old spring with a catch basin. Guess what my husband found in the woods on the mountain behind our house?

Just such a spring with basin.

It’s a steep hike to get to the place where water flows from the side of the mountain, but clearly someone had been there before us. They dug out a spot and shored up the edges with stones set in place. It’s lovely.

And, of course, we wondered why someone would create such a spot so far from any sign of a house. Our answer was further down the mountain, near a neighbor’s house, in the form of a cast concrete cistern with an outflow pipe.

The spring flows there to fill the cistern. We asked a local fellow who’s lived in this valley all his life about our discovery. He gave us the name of the fella who used to live in that house. The fella who kept his still close so that the smoke could be mistaken for smoke from his own chimney.

You need good water to make good moonshine . . . or so I hear.

Casewell didn’t make moonshine, but his son, Henry got mixed up in that business. Guess I didn’t need to look too far for inspiration for either story!

I love living in a part of the world where such discoveries are waiting in my own backyard. Where an afternoon hike can turn into research. Or maybe verification of a past tale . . .

cistern

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.

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!).

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.

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 — Apple Pie Days

applesEarly signs of autumn are showing. Ironweed and Joe Pye weed blooming along the road. Cooler nights. A few leaves beginning to turn. And . . . apples! Oh, such an abundance of apples.

We’re blessed with a neighbor who has five apple trees all burdened with fruit this year. My favorite are the sweet/tart green apples that I’ve already been eating for more than a week. Next are the lovely, speckled rusty red apples perfect for applesauce and pies.

What kind are they? I call them Shopestone apples, named for a nearby creek and the neighbor who lets me pick all I want.

There are few things more pleasing than picking apples late in the afternoon and then eating warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream that evening.

If you want to test that theory yourself, here’s the recipe my friend Marilyn gave me written in her own shorthand style.

Marilyn’s Apple Crumb Pie – “The Family Recipe”

Crust: Pillsbury, red box, dairy aisle. Use single crust–put in pie plate, trim, flute.
Filling: Apples–cut, pared, sliced (Granny Smith is the best)
Sprinkle: 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon
Topping: 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter
Bake: 400 degrees F–40 minutes (sometimes longer)

I find that 5 large, grocery store apples fill the crust. Smaller, homegrown varieties may take 6 or 7. And you’d be remiss if you didn’t serve this warm with vanilla ice cream.

Four Authors, One Luckenbooth Brooch

luckenboothEven as I’m gearing up for the release of The Sound of Rain in November, I’m also writing next year’s story. It’s a novella that will be part of a collection along with some of my favorite authors and it’s scheduled to come out in September 2018.

At a writer’s conference in 2016 I saw Karen Witemeyer (I love her books AND she’s utterly delightful in person!). After the requisite greetings, she said, “You write books set in the 1950s don’t you?”

Why yes, yes I do.

Karen, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade were hatching an idea to write a series of novellas about four generations of women who pass down a beautiful brooch from mother to daughter (or daughter-in-law should the plot require it).

Kristi writes the Regency era, Karen writes books set in the American West, I prefer the 1950s and 60s, and Becky writes contemporary fiction. Perfect! We’d each tackle a generation of the same family, writing about a grandchild of the previous author’s heroine.

And tying them all together is a Luckenbooth. A what, you ask? The Luckenbooth is a 17th century Scottish brooch that was typically given as a wedding or betrothal gift (see photo of brooch we purchased for the cover above). And there’s a legend associated with our Luckenbooth–when a girl receives it, true love is sure to follow.

I’ve been having a great time writing about Fleeta Brady, a rough and tumble West Virginia girl who was orphaned as a small child. She grew up with her male cousins and is the best shot around, able to handle a rifle with exceptional skill. The last thing she wants is to fall in love because some old story says she will. And then Hank Chapin shows up from South Carolina and throws a wrench in all her plans. (Be on the lookout for Hank in The Sound of Rain.)

The plan is to set our stories around Christmas–which is perfect for my WV story since Thanksgiving to Christmas is hunting season in my home state offering lots of opportunities for Fleeta to show off her skills. (Don’t worry, her heart’s more at risk than are the local critters.)

So while I’m eager to introduce you to the characters in The Sound of Rain, I’m already thinking of what tales to tell you next. If you’d like a mini-preview. check out my Pinterest inspiration board for the story.