Christmas in Appalachia

Christmas treeWhile I suppose we were relatively modern when it came to my childhood Christmases, the old-timey traditions are still hanging on in the mountains. And there are some I very much think we should revive for broader use. Here are a few of my favorite Appalachian Christmas traditions:

VISITING – My 85-year-old cousin and I were lamenting the fact that no one visits anymore. It was customary throughout the year, but especially on Christmas day. The idea was to simply get out and see your neighbors. In my experience, the older folks stayed at home awaiting company while the younger ones did the traveling. You didn’t stay long, but there were refreshments–fruitcake, cider, cookies–and it was bad luck not to partake lest you spoil the Christmas Spirit.

CHRISTMAS GIFT – If you go a bit further back, there was a tradition of carrying small gift items like candies in your pockets as you went visiting. If you met another visitor the first one to say, “Christmas Gift,” would win a gift from the other.

DECORATIONS – There was plenty of greenery to be had–pine, holly, or even bittersweet–and it was simple enough to cut a tree. Decorating the tree was another matter. Common decorations included popcorn strings, paper chains, seed pods wrapped in the foil from chewing gum wrappers, gingerbread cookies, and scraps of bright fabric.

SERENADIN’ – No, not caroling. The idea was to gather as many noise-making items as you could lay your hands on–cowbells, shotguns, pots and pans, etc. A group of serenaders would then sneak up on a neighbor’s house after bedtime and commence to making as much racket as possible. The neighbor would light a candle or two and invite the seranaders in for refreshments. If the neighbor heard the group before they got started, he’d fire off a shotgun to let them know they’d been “caught.” And then he’d invite them in for cider anyway!

A CANDLE IN THE WINDOW – This had a couple of meanings. First, it was a welcome for visitors or even strangers–light for the path and warmth for the feet. Second, it indicated that the Holy Family would be welcome and wouldn’t have to sleep in the stable.

TALKING ANIMALS – Okay, so this is just superstition. I think. The idea is that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals can talk. I actually worked this one into The Sound of Rain with Judd remembering a time he and his brother Joe snuck out to the barn in hopes of chatting with the family’s livestock.

So if you see me next Tuesday, watch out. When I holler “Christmas gift,” I’ll be expecting a little something. And in turn, I’ll be sure to tell you what Thistle had to say at midnight the night before.

The Pleasure of Boring Days

snow dogWell, we didn’t quite get the foot and a half of snow predicted, but I’d rather the weather forecasters overestimate than under. Still, it began snowing Saturday and there was a lovely layer of snow when we woke Sunday morning. The result was a delightfully quiet day at home.

In light of the forecasts of impending doom, I did my usual weekend shopping on Thursday. And church was cancelled on Sunday. Which meant . . . most of my typical weekend tasks were off. Which meant . . . the chance to experience a bit of boredom.

Of course, being bored REALLY means doing the stuff I’d like to do every day. I read (Where the Crawdads Sing), I tromped around in the snow with my husband and dog, I began a jigsaw puzzle, I worked a crossword, I plotted a new story, I cooked and ate, I put up Christmas decorations . . . in other words, I just did what I felt like.

Being bored is LOVELY.

Of course, it’s lovely because it doesn’t happen very often (and because we didn’t lose power). I suppose it might get old after a week. Or two. But, for now, I’m grateful for a bit of boredom.

Car Commercials and Birthdays

birthday giftsIt’s that time of year. The time when car commercials begin subtly hinting that this year a Jaguar or new SUV would be the perfect gift.

And while I wouldn’t say no to a Jaguar (even if it DID have 981 miles on it), that really isn’t my idea of a good gift. Rather, this past weekend was my idea of good gifts.

Yup, I turned 39 + shipping on Saturday. (I’m 47, I just get a kick out of that phrase!) And the people who love me best knew EXACTLY what kind of gifts I’d like.

There was the delightfully thoughtful gift from my husband–a new office chair for all my writing (plus dinner out!). We’ll actually shop for the chair this week since he’s also thoughtful enough to know I’ll have a strong opinion about it.

There was the collection of items from Mom & Jean. They commissioned a bookmark painted with watercolor thistles (my dog’s name) and queen Anne’s lace (my bridal bouquet). There was also a Luckenbooth shipped all the way from Scotland with a “stone” made from the compressed stems of Scottish heather. Sigh. If you don’t get that one, read The Christmas Heirloom. Now I have my own brooch passed from mother to daughter.

Then there was all the singing. The ladies at church sang to me (and Meg, who shares my birthday) as we decorated for Advent. Dad sang his own made up version of a birthday song for me. Mom sang. And best of all, my almost eight-year-old niece belted out Happy Birthday twice. And she remembered that 12/1 is my birthday. Remembering birthdays is her super power.

Finally, we extended my birthday into Sunday to celebrate with my adopted family (also Thistle’s godparents–dogparents?). Since mom’s far away and not up to baking anymore, I called her for the recipe for MY chocolate cake and made it myself. My friends asked me what I wanted for supper (adobo chicken and these AMAZING crispy potatoes) then we topped it off with Mom’s cake.

So am I just bragging about what a great birthday I had?

Oh, maybe a little bit. But mostly I’m pointing out that the very best gifts aren’t something you park in the driveway. Rather they’re anything laced with LOVE.

Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Happy birthday to me!

 

Should I Pray for Power?

crosswordWe saw some storms blow through late Friday afternoon knocking out the power just before five. Our landline went down as well, so I loaded up Thistle (who is FREAKED OUT by power issues) and drove about a mile and a half to where I can get a cell phone signal.

Called it in. Of course, they’d had about 400 other people call it in by then, but hey, it’s something to do. Word was that 1,700+ folks were without power in our outage and crews were assessing. They’d text me once they had news.

Well, good luck with that. I went on home where I:

  • Listened to a battery-powered radio,
  • Read a book,
  • Wrote a thousand words or so of my new book (laptop was charged),
  • Worked on a crossword puzzle, and
  • Pondered what I could eat that wasn’t refrigerated.

Then, around 7 p.m., the power blinked back on and I proceeded to cook the chicken breasts marinating in the fridge. No problem-o.

And honestly, other than not having access to the internet, that wasn’t much different from what I would have been doing anyway.

Neighbors called at 8 p.m. to see if the power was back on. They’d gone out to eat after the electricity had been off for about an hour and were faced with crowds of other people doing the same thing.

I told them we’d had power since seven and they asked if I’d said a prayer for restoration. Which kind of took me by surprise. Well, no. I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to pray about the power being out. And while I don’t think God would have minded a chat about electricity in the least, I’m pretty sure he and I can come up with better stuff to talk about.

Sure, power outages can be scary. For people who depend on electric medical equipment. For hospitals and nursing homes. For people living in extreme heat or cold. But for me on a cool, rainy Friday evening? It was a minor inconvenience at most.

We talk about taking a “break” from things like Facebook or our cell phones. We take vacations from work and sometimes give up food or drink like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or wheat when we’ve been overindulging. Maybe we should start taking breaks from electricity. Eat peanut butter crackers, go for a walk, play cards, read books, and talk to each other.

Hmmm. Maybe the power should go out more often . . . I think I know where the breaker is.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Wild Critters

Spring 12 bears 051There are people who have never seen an animal in the wild. Oh, maybe a city squirrel or some pigeons, but I’d argue they’re not really wild.

My mountains are a veritable zoo of wildlife. Just yesterday Thistle and I encountered a teenage bear on our evening hike. She was easily persuaded to abandon the trail for the deeper woods where she melted into the rhododendron like she’d been a dream. Thistle knows better than to give chase.

But she will chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits all day long. As well fed as she is, I suspect it’s just for sport. We’re also knee-deep in turkeys and see the occasional deer. Back in WV you can’t NOT see a deer. They’re frankly too plentiful.

We’re also treated to sitings of raccoons, possums, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and the truly rare bobcat. I saw more skunks back in WV where we had one living under the back porch for a while. He would come out after dusk and see if there were any scraps left in the dog dish. We’d stand behind the screen door, watching, and he’d squint at us (I think skunks may not have the best eyesight). Adorable, but we knew better than to go out there.

I suppose there are folks who would rather NOT encounter wildlife every time they go outside, but it’s one of the reasons I love these mountains so much. Bears on the back deck can be a bit of an inconvenience, but they’re also a living, breathing example of God’s miraculous creation–a reminder I’m glad to have.

Time to Complain About the Heat

Ah, June. Those days of complaining about how cold it is are well behind us. Mild spring days have wound down. Some afternoon it’s even getting . . . hot.

While the first true day of summer may not be until June 21, school is out this week, I’m going bare-legged in skirts and dresses, we’re getting produce at the farmer’s market, and I say this is summer.

Which means it’s time to start complaining about how hot it is. Except I’m trying to learn a lesson from my dog. She doesn’t complain, she just gets cool. And here’s her favorite way to do it . . .