Appalachian Thursday – Family Stories

family treeThere’s no shortage of great story ideas in the hills and hollers of Appalachia. But my favorite place to mine for stories is my own family.

A few years ago, I used to research Dad’s side of the family. We knew our farm had come down through the Phillips line, but I hadn’t realized just how STRONG that line is. While we were surprised to find some Dutch and German ancestry, we also learned that we’re pretty solidly English on my great-grandfather’s side. And as much a Phillips as you can be.

Why? Because if I go back seven greats, two Phillips brothers (John and Joshua) married two Drake sisters (Elizabeth and Amy) making my eighth-great grandparents the SAME on both sides of the family. THEN, those two couples’ grandchildren, Phillip Phillips and Mercy Phillips got married (I know, I know!) and had David Phillips who left Massachusetts to settle on the property we now own.


Or maybe not. It does cut down on ancestors.

And while I may not decide to go all the way back to the 1670s to write a family saga about brothers marrying sisters whose grandchildren then marry (oh, the possibilities for how that might happen!!), it is an intriguing story that could be plopped into another century . . .

Yup, no shortage of great ideas!

Enough Bingeing Already!

grantchester-s3-what-to-expect-sfv-3200x1800-1920x1080My husband and I have discovered the joy of watching programs available through Amazon Prime. We made our way through Endeavour and are now enjoying Grantchester. (FYI – I think I have a bigger crush on Geordie than on Sidney.)

But I feel like we just might be the only people left who are watching ONE episode at a time!

All around me I hear people talking about binging shows. Programs are advertised as “binge-worthy.” And I just don’t get it.

Okay, I did get pulled into watching multiple episodes of Downtown Abbey in one day when I discovered it in the middle of season two, but I didn’t watch them all.

First, who has the TIME to binge-watch anything?!? In my free time I want to hike, read, write, talk to friends and family, cook, eat . . . well there’s lots of stuff. Not to mention the things I should be doing like laundry and house cleaning. Even a two-hour movie feels like a big commitment to me!

Second, whatever happened to anticipation? I LIKE watching an episode, thinking about it, and then anticipating the next one. If you watch them all in one day, what’s to look forward to? I love finding a series with several seasons and lots of episodes that means weeks of contented viewing.

So how about you? Do you binge-watch programs? If so, what have been your favorites? Maybe I’ll try them and see how long I can make them last . . . 😉



Spreading the Love!

valentines _day_clip_art_heart_love (1)Just in case you didn’t know . . . Valentine’s Day is this Thursday. I’m generally opposed to the holiday as an adult. It feels to me like a marketing ploy to sell cards, flowers, and candy. That said, I have fond memories of the day when I was a kid.

At Adrian Elementary School, every child would make a “mailbox” out of cardboard box and bring it to school on Valentine’s Day so all the other kids could deliver cards. I vaguely remember the actual Valentines–slips of shiny paper with cartoon characters and silly sayings. But what I really remember is that marvelous box covered in paper with a slit cut in the top.

For some reason, I thought the Valentine’s delivery box was one of the world’s greatest inventions. And I remember the year I had a perfectly square box (I’d gotten a stuffed cat in it for Christmas). Mom covered it in paper–pink I seem to remember–and cut that slit in the top. It was exquisite.

We’d place our boxes on our desktops and everyone would deliver their Valentines. I guess it could seem like a popularity contest, but I don’t remember ever feeling left out or being jealous because someone got more cards than I did. I just remember crackly thin envelopes and conversation hearts.

It was WAY better than that goofy bud vase with a single rose or carnation that we hoped for in high school. Better than going out to dinner in an over-crowded restaurant with mediocre food as an adult. Better than a box of chocolates . . . well, I DO like chocolate. Okay, better than a goofy stuffed animal holding a heart.

Anyway, I was thinking it’s kind of a shame we let this tradition fade as we become “adults.” What if, this week, you delivered a Valentine to everyone in your office? Maybe gave one to every member of your Sunday School class or book club or civic organization?

What if you paused to say “I love you” to the people you encounter every day? Seems like I read something about that once . . .

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Yes. Happy Valentine’s Day.

What’s Up Next – When Silence Sings


Dave Fuerst with the National Park Service did a fantastic job of sharing history along with the magic of Thurmond, WV.

One of the challenges of being an author is promoting one book while writing another. And often planning a third. I’m in that place right now with The Christmas Heirloom currently out while I’m writing When Silence Sings (releasing Fall 2019) and toying with ideas for a novel to release in 2020.


And while I really hope you’ll go out and buy The Christmas Heirloom for your holiday gift giving, my heart is SO wrapped up in next year’s story. This is the first time I’ve written a story set in a REAL place and last week I got a deluxe, guided tour of that very place.

Thurmond, West Virginia.

The cool thing about Thurmond is that it’s a ghost town. There are currently something like seven full-time residents of this town that at the turn of the twentieth century saw more coal come through by rail than Cincinnati or Richmond.

The town is now owned by the National Park Service and Dave Fuerst, cultural resource specialist, took time out of his day to give me a guided tour. Here are a few highlights (e.g. teasers for my next novel).

  • I got to stand in a store room from the Dun Glen Hotel–a notorious establishment that helped Thurmond earn the nickname, “Dodge City of the East.” A key scene is set in this very space which is all that’s left after a 1930 fire.
  • I peered in the windows of the Thurmond Union Church–my hero preaches a funeral here.Union Church
  • I stood outside the Thurmond National Bank. Oh, something terrible happens here when my heroine goes in to conduct business.

Dave asked if it was helpful for me to see everything he so graciously showed me. I told him it was like stepping into the pages of my story. As if I didn’t already tend to forget my characters aren’t real!

I walked around houses that were THERE when my characters roamed the town in 1930. I saw the same views. I walked through the depot and crossed the railroad tracks. It was fantastic.

In the past I’ve shied away from writing stories set in “real” places. After visiting Thurmond, I think I’m sold on getting to visit the settings for my stories.

Appalachian Thursday – Shin Rippers

shinIf you follow my blog and/or my Facebook page you know that I spend time tromping around in the woods almost every day. In theory, I’m taking Thistle for a walk, but I also just love being in the woods.

Which is not to say they’re a perfectly safe place to be. It isn’t the bears, the snakes, or other critters that give me trouble. It’s more the flora than the fauna tripping me up. Turns out there are plenty of plants that will challenge you if you go off trail in this part of the country.

Last week I headed up the mountain behind our house. There are some critter trails back there that we’ve trimmed back enough to allow human passage. Mostly. I hike these trails mostly in the winter when the leaves are down and the undergrowth is minimal.

I jumped the gun going up there in October. While the poison ivy had largely died back, the shin rippers were plentiful. What’s a shin ripper? It’s a briar or other prickly, vine-like plant growing low across the trail. You’re tromping along, you catch one of those briars, and it rips across your ankle or shin. I ran into several. As you can see. And I had long pants on!

Other prickly Appalachian flora challenges include:

  • Hollies – these are basically just prickly, although if you step on a leaf barefoot, it can be pretty awful.
  • Stinging nettle – what looks like tiny hairs on the leaves and stem are actually needle-like tubes that inject chemicals onto and even into your skin. It will burn, itch, and maybe even cause a rash. The best thing you can do is NOT touch it. If you do, DON’T RUB IT!
  • Chestnut burrs – these will be from the Chinese chestnut rather than the American chestnut that died in blight decades ago. Again, BAD to step on barefoot. Also, tricky to open the burrs with your hands without getting stuck. We pried them open with our well-shod feet.
  • Wild parsnip – what looks like a friendly yellow flower has a photosensitive chemical on its leaves. Think chemical burn.

Still, I say it’s worth the risk to get out into the woods where I can enjoy the beauty of even prickly things.

A Shot at Love – Releasing 10.2.2018

PreOrderTheChristmasHeirloomI’ve been sharing about the upcoming release of The Christmas Heirloom. It’s a novella collection with four generations of stories from Kristi Ann Hunter, Karen Witemeyer, me, and Becky Wade. We each wrote stand-alone stories tied together by a Luckenbooth brooch that’s passed from mother to daughter down through the decades.

It was SO much fun to finally get to read all the stories together. Reading the first two stories was like discovering a genealogical goldmine for my heroine, Fleeta Brady, and reading the final story gave me a peek into Fleeta’s future. Fun!

Now, to hopefully whet your appetite for this collection, I thought I’d share the opening pages of A Shot at Love–my contribution. Fleeta was orphaned at a very young age and was taken in by an aunt and uncle in West Virginia. Her gift is a knack for shooting. Enjoy!

Fleeta hunkered low, careful not to rattle the crisp, fallen leaves all around her. She didn’t want to be seen or heard.

Albert was meant to be coming around the crest of the hill, pushing deer toward the spot where she waited. Fleeta wished her oldest cousin would still hunt with her, but he was too interested in girls these days. Had his eye on that prissy little Rebecca Howard. Fleeta sighed and flexed her right hand, keeping alert and ready. The family needed the meat. Especially if she was going to take Bud Lyons up on his offer to buy out his business. She needed to make sure her family was taken care of, so she could focus on making her dream come true.

She heard leaves crunching off to her right. If it was a deer, it was coming slow and easy. That was good. Best if Albert didn’t scare the deer and send it running. She examined the terrain and the scattering of hardwood trees. The forest was more mature here, offering plenty of room between trunks, another blessing.

Movement caught her eye and she saw a stout buck step out of the shadows. Her breath caught. He was pale, almost white with a spray of brown across his rump and his rack was immense. Could this be the ghost deer the men spoke about in reverent tones every fall? The one that seemed to escape even the best hunters? He was coming easy, browsing on the nearly leafless branches of sassafras and maple trees, one ear cocked in the direction Albert was surely coming.

Fleeta exhaled and lifted her rifle, careful not to attract his attention. She took aim, breathed a prayer of thanksgiving, and applied pressure to the trigger.

“Fleeta, Albert—come quick.” The shrill voice pierced the perfection of the moment.

Both the deer and Fleeta froze, then the buck bounded away, his white tail flashing.

Appalachian Thursday – Apple Butter Time

applesA nearby neighbor gives me free run of his apple trees. This is the kind of neighbor I like to have! While the “eating” tree has failed to produce much of anything this year, the “cooking” apples are just about right. That means I’ll soon be making applesauce and apple pies. I tried making apple butter once, but I’ve had really good apple butter and you just can’t duplicate it on the stove top (or in the crock pot!). So, apple crumb pie it shall be.

Speaking of really good apple butter–more than a decade ago my husband and I had breakfast in Oxford, MS, as part of a Southern Foodways conference. On the table that morning was a jar of apple butter. As soon as we tasted it, we agreed it was the BEST we’d ever eaten. For me, it hearkened back to the apple butter we used to make in Aunt Bess’ huge copper kettle.

The secret? Oil of cinnamon. None of this ground cinnamon or cinnamon stick nonsense–it was pure oil of cinnamon paired with looooong sloooow cooking that gave the condiment it’s depth.

I put that jar in my purse and once home, read the label carefully. Turned out it had been made in Snowflake, Va. So, next time I drove from NC to WV, I swung by Snowflake which was only a little out of the way.

You’ve heard jokes about small towns. Well, the highway sign for Snowflake is actually printed on both sides. And the only thing there, is the Snowflake General Mercantile. I’m pretty sure it’s closed now, but when I pulled up, they were having some sort of pre-Christmas celebration complete with Dickens carolers.

Inside, it really was a general store with a little bit of everything including a lunch counter and . . . apple butter. They made it from Rome apples growing out back. I bought a case.

When that ran out, I called them up and ordered another case. It was the first and probably only order they ever shipped out. Not long after that, the old folks got old, the young folks moved on, and they stopped making apple butter.

It was a sad day when the last jar in our pantry was empty.