Appalachian Thursday – Anvil Shooting

watermelonJust like everywhere else in the country, folks in Appalachia spent yesterday enjoying cookouts, eating watermelon, warning the kids not to burn themselves with sparklers, and maybe enjoying some patriotic music.

We grilled hot dogs and chilled our watermelon in the creek out back. (It takes up too much room in the refrigerator.)

But back in the day there was another way mountain folks celebrated Independence Day–back before they could buy fireworks at a stand in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s called anvil shooting.

The idea is to place one anvil upside down on the ground and fill the concave space in the bottom with black powder. Then, place a second anvil right-side-up on top of the powder-filled first. A fuse is stuck into the powder, lit, and the resulting explosion can send the 100+ pound top anvil up to 20 feet in the air.

This was done in place of fireworks for rural people who wanted something more spectacular than just firing off a hunting rifle. It allegedly sounds like cannon fire.

There are actually anvil shooting competitions now and an anvil shooting world champion from Missouri named Gay Wilkinson. He’s launched anvils as high as 200 feet. The good news is anvils generally fall close to the launching point. Even on a windy day.

I generally love all things Appalachian, but I think I’ll stick to sparklers for my celebrations!

Holy Week–The best story EVER

Easter gardenJust picture it.

Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. People act like he’s a rock star–waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks down in the street.

The king is here.

But wait. This isn’t the king they expected. He doesn’t overthrow Roman rule. He doesn’t claim a throne, wear a crown, or live in a palace.

Instead, he makes fools of the religious leaders. He sets the temple straight. He tells stories and gives them the greatest commandment all wrapped up in love.

He is NOT what anyone expected.

And then they arrest him and kill him.

But Holy Week doesn’t end there. Easter morning is yet to come. And it’s the greatest day the world has ever known.

This is my FAVORITE time of year. It’s better than Christmas. Better than my birthday. Better than my wedding day.

This coming Sunday, as the sun tips over the horizon, I’ll remember what God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit conspired to do . . . for me. Every year I recognize that I don’t deserve it. And every year I recognize that, nonetheless, salvation is mine.

I hope and pray salvation is yours as well. Because he didn’t do it JUST for me (although he would have). He did it for YOU as well.

 

Ashes to Ashes – A Lenten Reflection

Church

There were fewer than twenty of us gathered in the little white church on the hill for the Ash Wednesday service last week. The evening was mild and the service was brief with some music, scripture and words from the pastor, and then the ashes.

Lent is my favorite season and Easter is my favorite holiday. I like it better even than Christmas. I look forward to getting up early on Easter morning for the sunrise service and when we come to the place where the pastor says, “He is risen!” and we all answer, “He is risen, indeed!” my heart never fails to soar.

But before the resurrection, there’s this deep, lovely time of reflection. And it starts with ashes.

My pastor dipped his finger in the bowl of oil mixed with ashes from last year’s palm branches. He placed a gentle finger on my forehead, making a cross and saying, “Sarah, from ashes you have come and from ashes you shall return.”

And my heart soared with something like Resurrection Sunday joy. Because this is good news indeed.

In Genesis 3:19 after the fall, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Dust. Ashes. I suppose that might sound sad to some folks, but what I hear is that the pain, sorrows, difficulties, and challenges of this world are temporary. And this frail, human body of mine is just a temporary vessel molded from dust and ashes. It’s not meant to last forever.

So when I see all the ways my body is failing, declining, heeding the call of the dust from which it came, I can find peace in knowing that’s what’s supposed to happen. When my dreams, goals, and ambitions don’t quite work out the way I hoped, I can find peace in knowing this toil–this sometimes futile sweat of my brow–is only temporary.

Because I know there’s more to the story. We begin Lent with ashes–a reminder that we will die. But we end it by celebrating Christ’s resurrection–a reminder that in him, our earthly deaths are just the beginning of a new, perfect life eternal.

John 3:35-36 – The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Appalachian Thursday – A Singing Valentine

Of course, Valentine’s Day is little more than a marketing ploy to get us to buy candy, cards, flowers, and other gifts.

But Appalachian Express in Johnson City, TN, has a more creative way to wish your sweetheart a Happy Valentines Day. As a fundraiser for their chorus, quartets go out on Wednesday, February 14, to sing to . . . well . . . your Valentine!

So, if you feel compelled to give someone a special gift this year, why not make it something that’s pretty different and that supports a great, Appalachian group. Just $50 gets you a song, a card, and a rose.

Assuming your sweetheart lives in the Tri-Cities area.

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How would you give your Valentine’s gift an Appalachian twist?

First Footing (and other firsts)

door swagMy grandmother used to pay attention to who first stepped over her threshold on the first day of the new year, claiming that person set the household’s luck for the coming year. This is likely based on the Scotts tradition of first-footing. For the best luck, Scottish tradition holds that the first person in your door after midnight should be male, tall, and dark-haired.

Grandma wasn’t that particular, apparently believing that family entering her house was luck enough (although the men of the family are tall and dark!).

Thinking about New Year’s traditions and all the first times to come for 2018 got me thinking about other firsts in my life and which ones I wouldn’t mind repeating. As I move into the new year and all I hope it brings, here are a few things I’d love to do for the first time all over again:

  • Read certain books – Pride & Prejudice, Little House in the Big Woods, A Voice in the Wind (hmmm, I need to read that one again) . . . Oh, the joy of discovering beloved authors!
  • Meet my husband. That was a pretty wonderful night full of first-time flutters.
  • Taste chocolate. I don’t remember the first time for this one, but how wonderful would it be to discover really good chocolate now that I fully appreciate it?
  • Be kissed–but this time I’d choose more wisely 😉
  • Hold a book I wrote in my hands. Of course, holding the fourth book I wrote was pretty wonderful, too!
  • See some of nature’s wonders–a spectacular sunset, a shooting star, a full moon tangled in the trees . . .

I’m eager to see what “firsts” I’ll encounter in the coming year. How about you–what first would you like to experience all over again?

Appalachian Thursday – Light for the Darkest Day

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It’s the first day of winter.

The darkest day of the year.

Which, of course, has me thinking about LIGHT and all it’s sources. Even on dark days, there was lots of light on the family farm come December and not always electric.

CANDLE LIGHT – We didn’t have all those fancy, scented candles, but there were Christmas candles out. On the table, in special holders in the window. But best of all were the angel chimes. The little spinner with four candles that propelled angels around and around, ringing the chimes.

LANTERN LIGHT – Okay, so this was really only used when the power went out, but winter storms made that more common than Mom liked. Lamp oil, wicks that could be turned up and down, fragile glass chimneys–I thought it was fun!

FIRELIGHT – Oh how a fire on Christmas Eve worried us! Would the chimney be too hot for Santa to come down? Still, those fires made the living room ever so cozy and it was wonderful to back up to the heat and then plop down on the sofa to feel how toasty our bums had gotten.

STARLIGHT – I know there weren’t REALLY more stars back then, but we sure could SEE more of them. I still marvel at the infinity of stars that can be seen on a clear winter night from a remote hilltop in West Virginia.

And, of course, LAMP LIGHT – Our little house, all alone in the midst of darkness, simply glowed with light and warmth and love. I can remember looking out in the sea of blackness washing over the farm at night and feeling so perfectly safe inside where it was bright and warm. A fine light to hold in my memory to brighten my world even today.

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – A Homemade Christmas

door swagOnce upon a time Christmas was simpler. Preparations didn’t start before Halloween, presents were homemade, food was based on what was in season, and decorations came from nature.

Or so I hear.

All of that could be me romanticizing a simpler, POORER time in the mountains of Appalachia, but hey, it’s nice to think about (and write about!). So, just in case you take a notion to try for a simple, Appalachian Christmas, here are some ideas.

DECORATIONS

  • Lots of fresh greenery–pine, holly, boxwood, mistletoe. Tuck branches behind picture frames and arrange them in Mason jars on the mantle. Tie swags with red ribbon for your front door.
  • Make an old-fashioned popcorn and cranberry garland. Air pop corn (you don’t want it oily) and put heavy thread through a darning needle. You may not want to do a whole tree worth unless you’re patient and persistent, but it would look nice on the table with some of that greenery.
  • Paper snowflakes. We LOVED making these as kids. Fold circles of paper in half over and over, cut out interesting shapes and unfold. They look wonderful in windows.

PRESENTS

  • Make some fudge or a batch of cookies and tuck them in boxes lined with parchment paper.
  • Use some of that greenery you gathered to make a swag for a friend’s front door or mailbox.
  • Knit or crochet a scarf. (Requires patience and persistence again + a modicum of skill.)

FOOD

  • Roast meats, root vegetables, nuts, and pickled items would have been standard winter fare. Not to mention wild game.
  • Citrus fruit would have been a huge treat. An orange in your stocking sounds kind of lame now, but it was still a big deal when my dad was a kid in the 1940s.
  • And use up those leftovers! Waste not, want not. Here’s a recipe for leftover mashed potatoes that will put you in sugar shock.

POTATO CANDY

1/2 cup cold, leftover mashed potatoes
Powdered sugar
Creamy peanut butter

Keep adding powdered sugar (we’re talking like, 4-5 cups here) to the mashed potatoes a little at a time until you have a soft dough that holds together when you knead it (but doesn’t crumble). Dust your counter with powdered sugar and roll the dough out to about a quarter of an inch. Spread peanut butter over it like you would for a sandwich. Roll the candy and wrap in plastic, then chill for a couple of hours. Cut into half-inch slices and enjoy!