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 – Daddies & Daughters

Dan & Olivia

Not long ago I posted a list of things Appalachian mothers and daughters should do together in response to a similar on-line list that I thought was a bit silly (spa trip, yoga, and a trip to NYC). Since then, I’ve been thinking I need to write the same kind of list for father’s and daughters. So here goes:

  1. Learn to drive a tractor. Ideally, the daughter should be about six or seven and sitting on her daddy’s lap. Not safe, you say? I always felt safest with my daddy’s arms around me.
  2. Milk a cow. Dad would do that thing where he lined us up against the barn wall and tried to shoot milk into our mouths. Moms do NOT like that.
  3. Read books together. Dad says I learned to read because he would fall asleep before finishing the story and I wanted to know how it ended.
  4. And speaking of sleeping . . . take naps. Dad’s are fantastic nap takers. Each winter my dad’s favorite spot was flat in the living room floor in front of the fireplace.
  5. Learn to hammer a nail. I never was very good at it, but it was fun to try!
  6. Churn ice cream. The great thing about doing this with your dad is that he’ll handle most of the cranking. That leaves daughters to sit on the churn to hold it still, to catch the salty water as it runs out of the spout, and to lick the dasher.
  7. Learn to shoot a gun. I’ve never hunted, but I’ve taken out some walnuts and shown several targets what for. I’m not a huge fan of shooting (too noisy), but I’m glad Dad taught me to safely handle–and more importantly respect–guns.
  8. Roast hot dogs over an open fire. Or bake potatoes in the embers. Or make s’mores. Just be outside around open flames and food.
  9. Go fishing. Start by digging the worms, then bait your own hooks, and the daughter should take at least one fish off the hook (after that let Dad take over). Dad’s are also good at frying the catch (do NOT bake or broil–grease should be involved).
  10. Go on dates. Tomorrow is my birthday and I love the sweet memories Dad supplied by taking me out on a “date” each year for my birthday. We’d get dressed up and go to a “fancy” restaurant where he’d treat me like a real lady. Actually, this one isn’t even Appalachian–it’s just what daddies and daughters ought to do.

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.

Book Review – These Healing Hills

healing hillsI try to keep up with books set in Appalachia, so I was excited when I saw that fellow Baker Publishing Group author Ann Gabhart was writing a book about the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky in the 1940s. These were women who went into remote hills and hollers as nurse-midwives.

Ultimately, These Healing Hills is a sweet story of a healing romance between a jilted nurse and a soldier returning home from WWII. But what utterly charmed me about the story, was Gabhart’s use of Appalachian language and phrasing unique to eastern Kentucky. While there are some commonalities to Appalachia, there are certainly regional quirks. Here are a few Ann uses:

  • Sass patch – Nope, I’ve never heard a garden called that, but I loved learning how native Kentuckians refer to their vegetable patch.
  • Shank’s mare – I want to use this one! It means your own two legs. As in, he traveled by shank’s mare. I looked it up, and it’s of Scottish origin, referring to the bone in the lower part of the leg that was once called the shank.
  • Punishing – Used to mean someone is hurting really bad. A woman in labor is said to be “punishing real bad.” I’d heard it before, but had forgotten it.

It’s the use of language and phrases like this that I think gives Ann’s writing an extra dose of authenticity. She writes Appalachia well because she knows it and loves it–warts and all. I definitely recommend These Healing Hills for a true-to-life peek into an important part of the region’s history. Plus, the story is just plain GOOD!

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.

An Anniversary Outhouse Memory

wedding dayToday is our 21st wedding anniversary and I’ve decided to re-run a version of last year’s anniversary post. Our wedding was uniquely Appalachian for several reasons, not the least of which was that the only “facility” at our wedding was . . . an outhouse.

We got married at Laurel Fork United Methodist Church in West Virginia. I’m the fourth or fifth generation in my family to attend the little, white church on the hill and it was where I wanted to pledge my heart to my husband for life.

The church is OLD and creaky, but it does have modern updates. We traded the pot-bellied, coal-burning stoves for gas heaters and installed a drop ceiling to help keep the heat in on cold winter mornings (I’m kind of sad about that). And we eventually updated the wiring so it wouldn’t burn the church down. It’s simple but picturesque.

We invited our friends and family to the ceremony, but didn’t expect many to make the trek to a remote hilltop in West Virginia for the nuptials. Those who did travel from SC (where we lived then) were encouraged to use the facilities at their hotel before coming to the church 30 minutes away in Laurel Fork.

Ha-ha, they thought, a West Virginia joke.

Nope. The closest thing there is to running water is the downspout at the corner. Even today the only bathroom is an outhouse. Of course, some adventurous souls might have enjoyed the experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone crossed their legs until the reception back in town.

When I was a kid, we actually had TWO outhouses at church. One for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. The ladies had two compartments (fancy) each with a separate door for privacy. It was painted white and tucked back in the trees behind the church for discretion. Unfortunately, it’s leafy, protected eaves seemed to be prime spots for wasps to build their nests, but you often have to sacrifice something for the sake of your dignity.

The men’s outhouse is a much roomier one-seater with an open end that serves as an, ahhh, urinal. It’s closer to the doors of the church, which often made it preferable when I was young. The wooden seat was worn remarkably smooth and there was always a stack of church bulletins in place of toilet paper. Waste not, want not.

And honestly? It wasn’t unpleasant to use. Oh, it wasn’t great on a January morning, but in general, it served just fine. It smelled of worn wood as much as, well, what you’d expect, and members of the church maintained both outhouses so they stayed relatively pleasant. MUCH nicer than any port-o-let I’ve ever been in.

Outhouses have become something of a redneck or hillbilly joke, but I’ve used them (although NOT while wearing a wedding dress) and they’re no joke. They’re just the best way to deal with a necessity in a place with no running water.

Of course, the standing joke is that every outhouse is too close to the back door in the summer and too far away in the winter. You can probably guess why.

The day my left hand went numb

handIt’s my anniversary.

Not of my birth or my wedding, but of my stroke. On April 15, 2016, I went to work like usual and as I was addressing an envelope at my desk I . . . fell out. You can read about that experience HERE.

In that post, I mentioned that having a stroke is the sort of life event that would continue to echo through my life for a long time. And it has. But not as expected (because what EVER happens the way you expect??).

At the time, I felt certain having a stroke would be some sort of watershed moment. There would be a definite before and after. Not so much. Basically, after my week-long recovery (translation: laying around letting friends and family spoil me), my life picked up where I left off on the 15th.

So how does having a stroke continue to resonate? Fear. Or rather the lack thereof.

Fifteen years ago I had a severe allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting. It was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to me. And the fear held on afterwards. Tight.

Not so with the stroke. I was never afraid. Confused, uneasy about my numb hand, tired, troubled about medication–but mostly I felt safe and well cared for. Loved. At peace.

And that’s a Holy Spirit thing y’all.

Because He was the main difference between the two events. I was on my own with the bee sting, with the stroke I had the Spirit to comfort me.

The only lingering effect of my stroke is some numbness in the tip of my left index finger and the side of the middle finger closest to it. The neurologist said to give it a year and if the feeling didn’t return it probably wouldn’t. Hello new normal.

And I’m glad.

That funny, tight feeling and lack of fine sensation is a wonderful reminder that with God I have nothing to fear. I’m safe even when I’m not comfortable. And when scary things happen–a bee sting, the illness of someone I love, all sorts of loss–I can tap that numb index finger and whisper, “fear not, fear not, fear not.”

Because so long as I am His, fear is transient and love is eternal.

Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.