April Fool’s in Appalachia

the-tipping-point-sidebar-fixedJust in case you didn’t notice, today is the first day of April. OR April Fool’s Day. I’ve never been a fan of April Fool’s jokes, but there IS a long-standing tradition of natives of the mountains (or most any place) playing tricks on outsiders who aren’t familiar with the local habits.

Take Snipe hunting for example.

Now, there IS such a critter as a snipe–it’s a shore bird that I’m pretty sure isn’t actually hunted. But snipe hunting involves taking someone who doesn’t know any better and leaving them alone in the woods in the dark literally holding the bag.

You supply the new hunter with a burlap bag and instructions to hold it open while you and your friends chase snipes toward the hunter. Then you station your friend in a likely spot, thrash around in the woods yelling “snipe,” and making strange calls. Gradually you move away and leave your friend to find his or her way sheepishly home in the dark.

If you’ve done a really good job your friend will think he or she maybe saw an actual snipe but failed to catch it.

Then there’s cow-tipping. Even today you’ll likely find someone who will swear that they’ve tipped a cow. Don’t believe them.

The idea is that you go out in pastures at night, find cows sleeping standing up, and tip them over. Ideally, everyone (except the cow) is drunk.

I suppose it’s possible this has actually happened somewhere, sometime, but my theory is it’s another way of getting city slickers to step in cow poop. Or better yet, to encounter a bull that is NOT sleeping and learn an important farm lesson.

I grew up on a farm with cattle and I NEVER saw a cow sleep standing up. Nor did I ever sneak up on a cow. They’re actually pretty alert. Not to mention HUGE with a low center of gravity. Good luck tipping one over under any conditions.

If you want to dig deeper into just how unlikely cow-tipping is, check out this website (I used their cow-tipping graphic–I couldn’t resist how scientific it is).

So, rather than trying to fool you, let me just say, “Happy April.” Of course, after several days of delicious spring weather in the 70s it’s in the 20s this morning. And that’s April Fool’s enough for me.

 

How to Celebrate the Lenten Season

Easter gardenOkay, so not many folks think of Lent, which starts this Wednesday, as a celebration. This is, after all, a serious time when we’re meant to reflect, repent, and ponder Christ’s sacrifice for us.

But I love Lent and, for me, it’s a somber celebration. I relish the notion of having a time set aside to actively anticipate and prepare for the best worst thing that ever happened. It’s the ultimate looking forward to.

So, how to celebrate Lent?

First, I like to consider whether to give up/sacrifice something or add something. I’ve given up specific foods (French fries!), credit cards, shopping, checking reviews of my books, and one year I even gave up fear. That one was tough! I think I’ve only added something once–it was the fruits of the Spirit. Now that was a good year!

If you’re giving something up, it should be a challenge. If it’s not hard, what’s the point? One year I gave up candy. Where I work there’s a candy dish in every office. It was tough not even snagging a mint! On the flip side, this probably isn’t the time to stop smoking if you’ve been a pack-a-day smoker for years. I’ve toyed with giving up sugar, but recognize that would be setting myself up for failure.

If you’re adding something, make sure it’s something you can stick to as well. Pray as you drive to work each morning. Read one of the Psalms before bed each night. A friend told me she’s setting aside an item to donate to charity each day of Lent (and not just stuff she doesn’t want!).

Next, each time you crave the thing you gave up, or participate in the thing you added, let that moment turn your focus toward God. Consider the ways you’ve turned away from Him and refocus your heart and mind. It’s not about beating yourself up, but gently redirecting your attention towards grace.

Next, if you slip up, don’t quit. If you just can’t resist that slice of cake or forget to say that prayer–don’t let it ruin Lent for you. Use it as yet another opportunity to turn your heart toward God again. And again. And again. Lent is 40 days for a reason. God knows how slow, obstinate, and hard-headed we are. (Or is that just me??)

Finally, when Easter arrives (the BEST celebration ever!!), consider indulging in the thing you sacrificed. If you gave up chocolate, get a Lindt bunny. If you haven’t looked at Facebook in six weeks, check in to see what your friends are up to. Of course, it might be that you gave up something you now realize you can do without. I still don’t have a credit card. If you did gave up cigarettes, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to them forever. If so, celebrate that.

And if you added something? Consider the fruit you’ve harvested. Has your prayer life improved? Do you know scripture better? Have you made a difference in someone else’s life? If so, celebrate that.

How about you? Have you given up or added something for Lent? Do you plan to this year? Let’s cheer one another on!

Groundhog Day (and an even lesser known holiday)

Freddie

Thank you Katrina for the shot of Freddie!

You probably know that last Saturday was Groundhog Day. Not exactly one of the big ten holidays, but still, there was a bit of hoorah around Punxsutawney Phil who did NOT see his shadow which means an early spring! Of course, French Creek Freddie, a resident of the West Virginia Wildlife Center located not far from our family farm DID see his shadow. So I guess that means six more weeks of winter back at the family farm. Sigh!

Saturday was also Candlemas, a Christian holiday celebrating the day Jesus was presented at the Temple after Mary’s 40-day time of purification. Simeon held Jesus in his arms and called him, “The Light of the World.” Hence, Candlemas. It was tradition to take candles to the church to be blessed for use throughout the year.

Of course, we can’t take a Christian holiday and not fiddle with it. So some pagan traditions slipped in, including a superstition that if the sun came out on Candlemas, thought of as winter’s halfway mark, it meant another six weeks of winter. Conversely, an overcast day predicted an early spring.

An Old English saying goes like this:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So how did the groundhog get tied into that? Well, there’s this entry from Berks County Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris’ diary dated 2/4/1841:
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks of nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

Freddie has been checking for his shadow since 1978 (presumably several Freddies). And he’s not the only one. Here’s a list of other groundhogs around the nation:

  • Punxsutawney Phil: Pennsylvania
  • Buckeye Chuck: Ohio’s official groundhog
  • Staten Island Chuck: The Staten Island zoo
  • Smith Lake Jake: Birmingham, AL
  • General Beauregard Lee: Stone Mountain, Ga.
  • Octorara Orphie: Lancaster, Pa.’s
  • Dunkirk Dave: Dunkirk, NY
  • Woodstock Willie: Woodstock, IL
  • Malverne Mel: Malverne, NY
  • Jimmy The Groundhog: Sun Praire, WI
  • Stormy Marmot: Aurura, CO

I don’t know about all these predications, but I do know that our weather is supposed to be in the 60s the next few days and I’m glad of it!

New Year’s Evolutions – Hope for 2019

PlanningWhat is it about the turning of the year that makes us want to reassess our lives? To pledge to do better or to, at least, not make the same mistakes we did last year?

I’ve never been a fan of new year’s resolutions, but I do like the idea of making plans. This year I invested in Susie May Warren’s Brilliant Writing Planner and I’ve spent part of my holiday time off watching the accompanying videos and . . . well . . . making plans.

A big part of that is simply the stuff I know I need to do:

  • Finish this round of edits for When Silence Sings,
  • Tighten the synopsis for the book after that one,
  • Write my blog posts each week,
  • Teach at/attend a conference or two,
  • Do some marketing around my next release in November . . .

But the planner is challenging me to think bigger than all the “usual” stuff. I’m also pondering:

  • What are my writing-related dreams?
  • What goals do I want to focus on?
  • How does writing fit into the rest of my life?
  • What’s my daily inspiration?
  • What habits would I like to make more ingrained?

I love how the planner isn’t just about writing. It focuses on my goals, dreams, and ambitions across the board. I can include my day job, growing my faith, health-related habits, and so on.

Having spent just a little time hashing out where I want to go in 2019, I think I understand why this resolution/turning-over-a-new-leaf/taking stock thing is so appealing. It focuses on hope. This process assumes I can do better, accomplish more, grow and evolve.

And hope is the very best fuel for the spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

What are you hoping for in 2019?

 

Christmas Eve 50 Years Ago

Five decades ago on Christmas Eve astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first men to orbit the moon. This flight–Apollo 8–is the one during which Anders snapped the famous “Earth rise” photo. But they did something else as well.

They broadcast to the largest audience that ever listened to a human voice. And all the instructions NASA gave them was that they should say something “appropriate.” I can imagine people all around the world waiting, holding a collective breath, to hear what these men would say.

And so, three men drifting through the vastness of space with the moon below them and the blue swirl of Earth so far away it fit behind Anders’ thumb, read the first ten verses of Genesis from the King James Bible.

Anders – “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  

LovellAnd God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.  

BormanAnd God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas–and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

I can’t think of anything they could have said that would be more perfect.

Merry Christmas.

Christmas in Appalachia

Christmas treeWhile I suppose we were relatively modern when it came to my childhood Christmases, the old-timey traditions are still hanging on in the mountains. And there are some I very much think we should revive for broader use. Here are a few of my favorite Appalachian Christmas traditions:

VISITING – My 85-year-old cousin and I were lamenting the fact that no one visits anymore. It was customary throughout the year, but especially on Christmas day. The idea was to simply get out and see your neighbors. In my experience, the older folks stayed at home awaiting company while the younger ones did the traveling. You didn’t stay long, but there were refreshments–fruitcake, cider, cookies–and it was bad luck not to partake lest you spoil the Christmas Spirit.

CHRISTMAS GIFT – If you go a bit further back, there was a tradition of carrying small gift items like candies in your pockets as you went visiting. If you met another visitor the first one to say, “Christmas Gift,” would win a gift from the other.

DECORATIONS – There was plenty of greenery to be had–pine, holly, or even bittersweet–and it was simple enough to cut a tree. Decorating the tree was another matter. Common decorations included popcorn strings, paper chains, seed pods wrapped in the foil from chewing gum wrappers, gingerbread cookies, and scraps of bright fabric.

SERENADIN’ – No, not caroling. The idea was to gather as many noise-making items as you could lay your hands on–cowbells, shotguns, pots and pans, etc. A group of serenaders would then sneak up on a neighbor’s house after bedtime and commence to making as much racket as possible. The neighbor would light a candle or two and invite the seranaders in for refreshments. If the neighbor heard the group before they got started, he’d fire off a shotgun to let them know they’d been “caught.” And then he’d invite them in for cider anyway!

A CANDLE IN THE WINDOW – This had a couple of meanings. First, it was a welcome for visitors or even strangers–light for the path and warmth for the feet. Second, it indicated that the Holy Family would be welcome and wouldn’t have to sleep in the stable.

TALKING ANIMALS – Okay, so this is just superstition. I think. The idea is that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals can talk. I actually worked this one into The Sound of Rain with Judd remembering a time he and his brother Joe snuck out to the barn in hopes of chatting with the family’s livestock.

So if you see me next Tuesday, watch out. When I holler “Christmas gift,” I’ll be expecting a little something. And in turn, I’ll be sure to tell you what Thistle had to say at midnight the night before.

Appalachian Thursday – Christmas Countdown

Christmas 1974Guess what? It’s 12 days ’til Christmas! Yup, Christmas is less than two weeks away. Are you ready? Are you counting down with joy and anticipation? Or is there a little how-will-I-get-everything-done dread mixed in there?

When I was little, we had a count-down to Christmas wall hanging my mom made. It was in the shape of a Christmas tree and had 24 little beads from which we would suspend 24 little, felt ornaments. There was an angel that went at the top as well as a Santa, little wrapped packages, a candy cane with sequins–it was wonderful. And I always got to hang the first ornament since my birthday was December 1.

I LOVED counting down to Christmas when I was a child growing up on the farm in WV. Each year I looked forward to all the things we got to do as we counted down. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Singing carols in the car. Snapping our fingers for reindeer hoofs up on the housetop. Dad substituting our names as he sang, “First comes the stocking of little Sally (his nickname for me).” Rudolph and Frosty and oh, what fun!
  • Decorating sugar cookies. I now know this makes my mom a saint. Arming three kids with frosting and sprinkles is a bold move.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree we cut on a neighbor’s farm. Dad did the lights and hung his one ornament remaining from childhood–a tattered cardboard Santa. We Santagot to do the rest. And no clumping icicles, if you please.
  • Hanging our stockings and posing for a picture looking up the chimney. As if we thought Santa would be up there before we went to bed.
  • And if we were lucky, sledding and playing in the snow!

My husband and I have our own traditions to mark the days until Christmas–a gathering with friends, Christmas Eve services, fudge (the marshmallow fluff kind), and stealth decorating (he’s not as big a fan of glitter and greens as I am).

But all too often our grown-up traditions get bogged down in hurry and self-imposed pressure to make this Christmas the best ever. This December I’m encouraging you to remember what it was like to be a child counting down the days–not wondering how you would fit it all in and get it all done–but wondering how much longer must I wait?

Because we are children, after all. God’s children. And what we’re waiting for is a chance to celebrate the best present ever.

Merry Christmas.