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!).

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.

Memorial Day–It’s Not Just Hot Dogs

Veteran
My father-in-law, James Walter Thomas, Sr.

Memorial Day is set aside for remembering those who have died in the service of our nation. Originally, it was proclaimed in honor of the Civil War dead by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The order became official on May 5, 1868, and was first observed on May 30 of that year (next year is the 150th anniversary!).

Memorial Day has also been called Decoration Day because it was the tradition to decorate the graves of those who died in the war. The day was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971 to ensure a three-day weekend (cause that’s what really matters–right?).

In 2000 a resolution was passed to try and help remind Americans of the true meaning of the day. Signed by Pres. Bill Clinton it include a bullet “Encouraging individual department and agency personnel, and Americans everywhere, to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.”

So I encourage you at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to stop whatever you’re doing and say a prayer of thanks for those who have died to protect us and for those who are, even now, willing to do so.

I’ll be thanking God for some of the veterans I’ll be remembering:

  • James Walter Thomas Sr., my father-in-law, who served in WWII.
  • Bill Johnson, a neighbor, who was a  WWII fighter pilot.
  • Arthur “Judd” Loudin, my great-uncle, who lost part of his lung in the war.
  • Gail Phillips, a cousin, who had WWII shrapnel taken out of his leg in my memory.

All of them are gone, but certainly not forgotten. Who are you remembering this Memorial Day?

A May Day Posey for Your Virtual Doorknob

There’s an old-time tradition of hanging May baskets on people’s doors on the first day of May (May Day). Small paper cones or other containers would be filled with candy, small gifts, or flowers, then hung–anonymously–on someone’s door. Of course, hanging a May basket on the door of someone you admired romantically was a common twist.

I think this is an utterly charming tradition and wish we still did it. Sort of a spring Valentine’s Day that hasn’t been taken over by the greeting card companies and commercial businesses looking to mass produce plastic May baskets.

And since tracking all my readers down to hang a basket on their front doorknob is impractical, I thought I’d send you a virtual basket of flowers courtesy of my April hikes. I wish I could present you with an actual bouquet, but hope this virtual one will bring you the joy of spring just the same.

Song of Songs 2:10-11 – See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

A Palm Sunday Memory

Easter eggsI spent Palm Sunday at a friend’s church. It was a lovely service with lots of joy, but I’ll confess I missed the children’s processional of little ones waving palm branches that’s a tradition at my own church.

Which got me to thinking about a Palm Sunday back in 2011 . . .

That year, the children not only came down the aisle waving palm branches, they also offered up a series of songs and readings. It was alternately moving and, well, funny.

Three of the children performed solos, each taking a verse of a song. Camden went first. He was five at the time and very poised for one so young. When he began singing, clutching that microphone and pouring his whole heart into the song, I got a little teary. He was trying so hard and obviously wanted to do his very best. He finished his section and handed the mic off to the girl next to him.

And then . . . he heaved a sigh and began untucking his shirt from his pants. It was like the tired executive at the end of a long day loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. But then a look came over Camden’s face. I’m guessing he realized that this might not be the time or place for getting comfortable. So he began stuffing his shirt back into his pants–largely without success. Finally, with half of his shirt tucked in too deep and the other half flopped over his belt he stood up straight, thrust his chest out and looked like he was well-satisfied with himself.

I think when Camden began  singing, many of us got a little dewy-eyed. But now, looking around the congregation, I suspected the tears were from suppressed (mostly) laughter. I’ve never laughed so hard without making noise.

And I think that’s what Jesus might have been getting at in Matthew 18 when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Camden did his VERY best. He sang with all his heart and he remembered his manners if a little late. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t worrying about what the congregation thought as we giggled through his antics. He just knew what was expected and he did his best to meet those expectations.

God knows we’re not going to get it right. I think He loves it when we do our fallible, human best. He sent His son to die so we could keep trying to get it right every day. Whether it’s the start of Holy Week or just another Monday.

Appalachian Thursday – Old Christmas

GE DIGITAL CAMERAAs the year draws to a close, I thought I’d ease through this in-between the holidays time by revisiting a previous post about Old Christmas. I mention the holiday in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain. It’s a sort of contrarian celebration of Christmas Day that’s fast fading away. Here’s hoping we can keep the memory alive another generation or two!

Old Christmas is celebrated on January 6, which originally made me think it had something to do with Epiphany.

Nope.

Even into the 20th century, some folks in the mountains still celebrated January 6 as Christmas Day. Why? Well, mostly out of pure stubbornness which is a familiar character trait in the Appalachian Mountains.

It seems Julius Caesar used to organize the year around the moon–which never quite worked out. So he took the advice of his astronomers and changed over to a sun-based calendar that turned out to be a mere 11 minutes and some change off each year. The Julian calendar.

No big deal–right?

Well, by 1582, the calendar was a whopping 10 days off. So Pope Gregory XIII lopped off the extra minutes, turned the calendar back ten days, and instituted the Gregorian calendar.

Except the Protestants pretty much ignored the new calendar set by, gasp, a Catholic, so different parts of Europe were using different calendars. It might be February 11 in London, but February 1 in Paris.

Confusing.

So in 1751 a calendar act was passed to set things straight (the calendar now being off eleven days). September 2, 1752, would be followed by, of all things, September 14, 1752.

Just imagine how you would feel if I told you tomorrow is January 8, 2017. There were riots. People thought the government had stolen eleven days of their lives.

And so, some people simply refused to go along. And they continued to celebrate Christmas on the same old day–which now happened to fall on January 6 for anyone who was paying attention to the Gregorian calendar.

The tradition was carried over to America, and in some parts of Appalachia and the South folks still remember celebrating Old Christmas. If you want to read an account of a celebration in Rodanthe, NC, click here.

Eight ways to battle the post-holiday blues

church-doorsI have a day-after-Christmas tradition to fight those post-holiday blues. Good King Wenceslas.

Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia during the 10th century. You’ve probably heard his song–a Christmas carol. Except there’s no mention of Christ and the song is about the day after Christmas, also know as the Feast of St. Stephen. It’s about a king, a rich ruler, seeing a poor man and reaching out to help him.

Sounds like a lovely way to spend the days after Christmas–reaching out to help someone. Here are ideas to get you started:

  1. Clean out your closets and donate good, gently used items to a charity.
  2. Speaking of charities–there’s still time to give financially and get a credit for your 2016 taxes.
  3. Volunteer–at the animal shelter, a nursing home, a children’s home, a food pantry, your church–options are plentiful!
  4. Write a note to someone . . . on paper . . . and mail it.
  5. We’ve all eaten too many sweets–make a pot of chicken soup and take it to someone who could use a pick-me-up.
  6. Call your grandmother, or mother, or uncle, or cousin, or–well–you get the idea.
  7. Write a book review to cheer your favorite author (really, these are HUGELY cheering!).
  8. Tell someone you love them. Maybe several someone’s.

And just in case you don’t know all the lyrics to the song, here’s your post-Christmas inspiration:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.