Taking a vacation–of sorts

This week I’m taking the closest thing to a vacation I ever do. It’s a week off from work to spend time with my family. It’s not exactly a trip to the beach, a cruise, or a European getaway, but it’s what I love–being on the family farm and hanging out with the people who have been part of my life since the day I was born.

In light of being on vacation, I’m giving myself a day off from the blog. No deep thoughts today. No peeks into history. No interesting tidbits. Instead, here are a few photos of my West Virginia home. I’m betting by the end of the week I’ll have a few more to add to the gallery . . .

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

applesI’ve mostly given up trying to grow our food. I keep a pot of herbs and this year I grew a cherry tomato in a pot near the front porch. Based on what I paid for the plant and the number of tomatoes I picked, I’d say I broke even on that one.

But, like the local bears, I’m opportunistic when it comes to harvesting food. Blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, and nuts tend to be plentiful in our area. We pick them wild and have neighbors who are glad to share.

This year, though, there just wasn’t much to harvest. I made an apple pie last weekend and had to supplement with store apples. The walnuts are few and far between. Even the hickory nuts are less this year.

Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). Walnuts turned our hands (and clothes) black. Chestnuts could be removed from their prickly casing by pinching them between the soles of our boots and pushing them out. Hazelnuts we just let dry a bit and then whacked ’em good with a hammer.

Mom probably made things using nuts, but mostly the pleasure was in just eating them straight from the shell. And eat them we did! Chestnuts in particular were an easy target and the crisp texture and flavor of that buttery, yellow nut was SO good. You can score them and roast them briefly to make them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Hopefully 2018’s poor harvest is just an off-year–a down season in the cycle. And since there’s not much out there, I guess I’ll leave most of it to the critters. I kind of like it when the squirrels sit on the back deck methodically eating nuts that leave smears of black, walnut leavings.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and growing children just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart today.

Appalachian Thursday – Firearms

Going Hunting

Wherever I got the gun stuff right, it was Dad and Daniel’s fault!

My latest novella–A Shot at Love–releases next Tuesday. It’s part of The Christmas Heirloom, a collection of stories that follows a piece of jewelry from Regency England to modern-day America.

Now, these are romances–sweet stories of finding true love. But when you write Appalachian fiction true love doesn’t have to come wrapped in hearts and flowers. It can come by way of a turkey shoot and a rogue blue jay.

My heroine–Fleeta Brady–is a crack shot who isn’t the least bit interested in finding love. But then she meets Hank Chapin, a gun collector from South Carolina who admires more than Fleeta’s way with a .22 rifle.

I grew up around all sorts of guns and learned to respect firearms from birth as best I can remember. Treat every gun like it’s loaded. Never point a gun at a person. Don’t shoot an animal unless you’re sure of a kill.

We knew where the key to the gun cabinet was, but would never have considered fetching it down without Dad’s permission. I didn’t hunt but I certainly helped to “process” plenty of wild game growing up. Guns were simply part of life on the farm. And I could hit a walnut with a .22 for all the good that did me!

Don’t worry, Fleeta mostly shoots targets in my story. But it was fun to research and write about rifles and then to get Dad and my brother Daniel to check behind me to make sure I’d gotten it all right. Peep sites and scopes. Shotguns and thirty-ought sixes. Learning what, exactly, an over and under is. Fine tuning words I’d been hearing all my life. It made me feel closer to the hunters I know and love.

Yes, my story is a romance, but it’s more than that. It’s yet another love letter to the people and the places nearest and dearest to my heart. Because when you love someone, you learn their language.

EXCERPT:
Fleeta noticed a second man catching up to Judd. He was shorter and thicker—though not heavy by any means. His hair was sandy—almost blond, but not quite. More the color of honeycomb. Fleeta thought he looked pleasant enough and started to smile. Then she froze as she got a good look at the rifle slung over his shoulder. It was a Woodmaster—a Remington 740 and a .30-06 caliber. And if she wasn’t mistaken, the gun was brand new. Her breath caught in her throat, and she forgot to blink. It was the finest rifle she’d ever seen and a semi-automatic at that. She wanted to reach out and touch it so bad she could almost feel the silk of the wood and the ice of the steel.

 

End of Summer

cropped-gedc0131.jpgSchool starts here today. I used to look forward to the first day of school, but even so there was a bittersweet feeling in the air. Now I miss having the definition–the segmentation that came with the seasons. Life anymore is a bit of a blur.

And Labor Day weekend is right around the corner. When I was growing up that meant time for the annual hot dog roast at Toad and Berle’s. Yes, his name was Toad and he lived in what had been the community schoolhouse when my dad was a kid.

There would be a big bonfire and the men would cut sticks and sharpen the ends for spearing hot dogs and holding them in the flames. The women would bring every side dish you could think of and there would be watermelon. Oh, and desserts. My goodness the desserts. Plus marshmallows. Although I think s’mores were too fancy for us.

The creek was nearby (see photo above) and we were meant to stay out of it but we didn’t. There was also a cliff over on Uncle Willis’ land (that’s somehow not nearly as high as I remember). We were meant to stay away from there, too. But we didn’t.

After eating, folks would sit around smoking cigarettes, talking, telling stories (otherwise known as lies), maybe playing some music. We kids would set fire to the hot dog sticks and write our names with burning embers against the night sky. Until someone made us stop. And then we’d do it anyway and sometimes we’d get in trouble and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d go to bed late that night, smelling of smoke, hot dogs, and burnt marshmallows.

I guess people still have picnics on Labor Day weekend. I guess they even have hotdogs. But I’ll just bet they don’t cook them on a sharpened stick over an open fire while dusk settles like a soft blanket and the voices of just about everyone who’s ever cared about them hums in the background.

This Labor Day I might build a fire out back and roast me a hotdog, but I have a feeling it won’t taste the same. Not even a little bit.

Summertime Supper (+a recipe)

Fishhawk plate

A summer supper at Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave, WV.

Summers when I was a kid meant supper from the garden. These days it would be a stretch to say I’m doing much vegetable gardening. There’s a pot of herbs on the porch, potatoes growing in the front yard, and a cherry tomato plant that’s almost produced enough fruit to cover it’s expense.

In short, we’d starve if we depended on what I’m growing. But that’s okay because there’s local produce at the grocery store and a farmer’s market on every corner. Which means we can still have supper from the garden–it’s just not OUR garden.

One of my favorite suppers this time of year includes buttery corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, fried okra, and corn bread. And if you really want to garnish that plate just right, you can add some crisp cucumber salad. And you should probably finish the whole thing off with peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.

Then go hoe the garden some more.

CUCUMBER SALAD

4-5 pickling cucumbers peeled and thinly sliced
1 sweet onion (Vidalia if you an get it) halved and sliced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove chopped fine

Alternate layers of cucumber and onion in a glass dish. Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, dissolving the sugar and salt. Pour hot liquid over vegetables, let cool, cover and refrigerate. You can eat this salad after six hours or so, but it gets better after a day or two. As you eat the cucumbers and onions you can just add more back into the liquid.

What’s your favorite summer supper?

 

Laying Up Treasure

treasuresThis past weekend a good friend and her family hosted a yard sale to empty out her grandparents’ house. Health issues and advancing years have forced the couple into a facility and it’s time to think about selling the little house they’ve lived in for so long.

Thistle and I stopped by for moral support AND to shop for a memento or two. I’ve known this sweet couple since we moved to our current house and she’s the one who first invited me to the church my husband and I now attend. I knew she collected teapots and thought it would be nice to have one.

I came away with a deviled egg plate just like the one my mom used when I was a kid along with a cast iron corn stick pan and a sweet little Brown Betty teapot. Which set me to thinking about what I consider my “treasure.”

I started walking through the house to pick out my favorite things. There’s the salt box and cast iron, elephant-shaped bottle opener from Dad’s childhood. Five or six wee pitchers from my grandmother’s collection. My mother-in-laws 40th anniversary salt and pepper shakers. The embroidered picture Aunt Bess stitched. A Christmas figurine from Mom’s childhood along with the butter mold she used when I was a kid (made by my great uncle).

And then there are the items that belonged to the senior ladies of the church. An amber glass cake plate and hand-painted dessert plates from Billy. A toll painting of a basket of eggs from Ann. And now Betty’s brown Betty teapot and egg plate.

These are my treasures.

But it’s not the THING so much as it is the person each one brings to mind. As I tallied my treasures I realized the value isn’t in the tangible item, but rather in the intangible memories and emotions and . . . love.

Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Betty’s teapot has a chip in it. I might break that egg plate while doing the dishes one day. Every last item could be lost or destroyed but that’s okay because they aren’t really my treasures. And ultimately, it’s not even the people they represent that’s the treasure–love is. And love never fails.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Summers in the Yard

grass

Learning to blow a piece of grass between her thumbs to make a honking sound.

Of an evening, I often sit out on the front steps and watch the daylight linger. As the fireflies rise and Thistle nibbles grass it’s fun to think about what a fabulous playground the front yard supplied when I was a kid.

There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with balls. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our nearly black feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize.

Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came (in July), we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash.

Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover.

It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels on TV, no video games or electronics, and even our toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the front door. I sometimes see neighbor children outside on summer days and it makes me glad. Maybe I’ll stop by and show them how to tie flowers together, how to blow on a blade of grass–these are skills worthy of being passed on.