Seven Ways to Embrace Appalachia in 2018

bluegrassAppalachia is kind of cool these days. Of course, I’ve been thinking it’s pretty fantastic for quite some time now. Guess I was ahead of the curve. Or maybe just incredibly blessed to grow up there!

If you, too, want to be Appalachian-chic, I thought I’d suggest a few things you could try in the new year.

  1. Grow a garden. It’ll be a few more months before you can start seed flats in a sunny window, but it’s prime season for garden catalogs. And if nothing else, they brighten gloomy winter days. Dig in and plan those rows of corn, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes.
  2. Learn to quilt. Start with something small like a placemat or wall hanging. Stitch your project by hand and if nothing else you’ll appreciate the incredible talent, patience, and persistence that goes into a full-size specimen.
  3. Attend a dinner on the grounds. Find a country church and ask when they have homecoming–even if they eat the meal indoors, this will be the spirit of a dinner on the grounds. Eat a little bit of everything and ask for at least one recipe if you want to get on their good side.
  4. Listen to live bluegrass music. The best way to do this is to find some out-of-the-way place that holds regular jams. Hopefully someone will dance. If you play an instrument, bring it along!
  5. Catch, cook, and eat something yourself. You can use a weapon, a trap, or a hook and line. Whatever it is, appreciate the process that starts with a living creature and ends with nourishment for you. It makes food so much more REAL. If you’re a vegetarian start with wild food (nuts, berries, etc.).
  6. Learn shape-note singing. I grew up with Heavenly Highway Hymns shape-note hymnals. I didn’t realize there was anything special about it until I saw the movie Cold Mountain with its shape-note singing. Different notes are represented by different shapes, simplifying the notation for folks who don’t read music.
  7. Go Sunday visiting. It’s just what you do after church and dinner on a Sunday afternoon. We spent many a Sunday at my great aunt and uncle’s or grandmother’s. You don’t go for a meal or for a purpose any more than just being together. A fine tradition to carry into the new year.

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

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

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 – Snow Days

creek snowLast Friday’s forecast of 1-3 inches of snow morphed into almost a foot. Suddenly, we had a full-blown snow day on our hands. Schools closed, there was a run on bread and milk, and a few unlucky folks ended up in the ditch.

I went home and took my dog out into the snow!

Because that’s what you do on snow days in the mountains. You bundle up and go out in it.

  • You catch snowflakes on your tongue.
  • You make snow angels (which the dog promptly spoils).
  • You throw snowballs and make snowmen.
  • You come inside with your cheeks rosy and drink hot chocolate.
  • You find dry mittens and go out again.
  • You go sledding!

Thistle and I ventured out into the neighborhood and found two kids doing most of the above. Best of all, they were building a snow ramp for their sleds. My brothers and I did that. If you poured water on it before going in for the evening it would freeze over and go even faster on day two. (Unless your mom found out and sent your dad out to break it up before you could break a leg.)

In my memory, snow days were times when all the regular, day-to-day busy-ness of life slowed and sometimes stopped altogether. It was as if the whole world–my whole world–was muffled in that glorious white mantle of snow.

Last Friday was like that. Sent home from work, no thought of going anywhere, and our sweet little valley utterly transformed by lacey bits of ice. It reminded me of the very best thing to do in the snow . . .

Stop. Tilt your face up to the sky. Listen.

Do you hear that?

It’s the gentle chink, chink, chink of unexpected, undeserved peace washing your overwhelmed spirit clean. Leaving it–if only for a moment–white as . . . snow.

 

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!

 

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.

Sound of Rain Q&A

After wrapping up the Appalachian Blessings series, how did you decide what would come next?

Riverwalk in ConwayI thought it was time to add a little variety to my Appalachian setting. I lived near the coast of South Carolina for ten years and loved the idea of taking a mountain man and dropping him into that hot, sandy landscape. It let me use my own experience of trying to adjust to a different climate and way of life. Neither Judd nor I ever got used to how hot it would stay all summer—even in the middle of the night. We also share a deep appreciation for southern cooking!

The story begins with your hero nearly dying in a mine cave in. What was it like writing that scene?

The first pages of the novel are drawn directly from my great Uncle Harry’s experience as a coal miner. He would often tell the story of being trapped in a mine with that boot pressed against his cheek—although his language was more colorful than Judd’s. Hearing him talk about his brush with death certainly captured my imagination when I was a child. It also convinced me that I never wanted to step foot in a mine myself!

Hurricane Hazel provides a turning point in the story—why did you choose to include that catastrophic event?

My first job out of college was doing public relations for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. I learned a fair amount of coastal history and was impressed with the way Myrtle Beach came to be the tourist destination it is today largely because Hurricane Hazel wiped the slate clean in 1954. Prior to that, Myrtle Beach was a relatively quiet seaside community. After Hazel, there was literally nothing left to hinder beachfront development. Except the Pavilion, of course, and it fit right in with hotels, restaurants, and shops. That beach music mecca weathered the storm—much as Judd does—a little the worse for wear, but still standing.

Larkin is somewhat naïve in her notion about helping the “backward” people of Appalachia. What attitudes do you run into about the region?

I hear a lot of West Virginia jokes when I tell people where I’m from and where I set my books. Of course, the best defense is to know more—and funnier—jokes than anyone else. I’m well aware that much of Appalachia faces serious challenges and has for generations. I hope my books highlight some of what’s wonderful and special about the region—the strength and perseverance of the people, their willingness to lend a helping hand, their pride (which can be a shortcoming!), and their love for the land. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture, but I do want to shine a light on the beauty of the people and the place.

What’s next for you?

luckenboothIn 2018 I’m partnering with three Bethany House authors to put together a novella collection that will trace a century or so of one family. A piece of jewelry ties all the stories together and each author is writing the generation that ties into her genre. Kristi Ann Hunter will start us out in 1827 England, then Karen Witemeyer will tackle Texas in 1890. My story is set in the 1950s in West Virginia (of course!) and Becky Wade will close us out with a contemporary tale in Washington. It’s the first time I’ve collaborated with other authors and it’s been so much fun. Writing can be solitary, so having others invested in my story has been a delightful experience.