Appalachian Thursday – An Empty Larder

Snow DayIt’s January.

In case you hadn’t realized.

At the grocery store these days, I can buy strawberries and asparagus. This (along with an occasional warmish day) adds to my delusion that spring is just around the corner. The sun stays up just a little longer, rises just a little earlier. And yet . . . we still have February to get through. I’m just dreaming of sunshine and wildflowers.

My great-grandmother had no such luxury. The turn of the year was the lean time back in the early 1900s when she was growing up and raising her family. It was when last season’s put up food began to thin out. It would have been a long time since last fall’s hog killing, the shelves in the cellar would have more empty jars, and even the wild game would be getting thin (in quantity and quality).

Lean times.

Running to the store for fresh produce wasn’t an option. Chickens don’t lay as much in the winter and the cow’s milk has less cream. Christmas is past and Easter is months away.

This would have been the time when mountain folk began to dream of poke, creases, dandelion, dock, and other spring greens.

So in honor of these lean days, here are two recipes. The first is a “lean times” recipe using corn cobs to make jelly. The second, well, you judge what sort of recipe it is. These are both from my “Old Timey Recipes” cookbook.

CORNCOB JELLY

Boil 12 bright red corncobs in three pints of water for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Add enough water to make four cups liquid. Add on package fruit pectin and bring to a full boil. Add four cups sugar and boil two or three minutes until jelly stage. 

Allegedly, this tastes like apple jelly and the red corncobs give it a rosy hue. I suppose you could use any color corncobs if you weren’t particular about the shade of your jelly.

PORK CAKE

1 lb. mild sausage
1 pint black coffee
1 box raisins
1 cup walnuts
1 box dark brown sugar
1 T soda
1 tsp cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg
Enough flour to thicken

Put sausage in pan to simmer until grease seeps out. Drain and add all other ingredients. Bake 1.5 hours at 250 degrees.

Is it a dessert? A breakfast food? And is that a teaspoon EACH of those spices? I don’t know. That would have been expensive. And I haven’t had the courage to actually TRY this recipe. If you do, let me know.

Live Like You’re Dying

crocusYou’ve probably heard the advice to live like you’re dying . . . because you are. And it’s true, so far as it goes. We’re all going to die one day.

One day. You know it, I know it, we all know it.

Or do we?

I have a friend who has a fatal illness. She’s already lived longer than the doctors thought she would. She IS living like she’s dying. And it isn’t necessarily what I imagine when I think about living as though my time here were short.

I visited her recently and she made an observation that really stuck with me. It  was about how we say we’ll do things, “for the rest of our lives.”

As in, “You’ll need to take this medicine for the rest of your life.” Or, “I’m going to wear this ring for the rest of my life.” Or, “I’m going to live here for the rest of my life.”

Well sure. But that assumes the medicine will be helpful right up until the moment you take your last breath. Unfortunately, medicines stop working. It assumes that the ring will always fit and you’ll always want to wear it. Grandma gave me her engagement ring when she could no longer slide it over her arthritic knuckle. It assumes you’ll be able to live in the same place until the end. Which would put a lot of assisted living and nursing homes out of business.

It would seem there’s nothing like nearing the actual end of your life to make you realize how tenuous and fragile any future plan is. It also makes me realize how foolish worry is. I take a medication to regulate my heart rate and the consensus is I will need it “for the rest of my life.” Except the first medication quit working back in September. And while the new medication is working just fine . . . who knows? Will I take it for the rest of my life? Probably not. And that’s a bridge I’ll cross when the time comes.

When I say, “for the rest of my life,” I suspect I’m exercising a measure of denial. I know nothing is forever and change is inevitable, but imagining that this one thing will remain true and steady no matter what . . . that’s consoling.

Which brings me to the only thing . . . the only ONE . . . that really is forever. And the thought of spending eternity with Him is consoling, indeed.

So how DO you live like you’re dying? I don’t think there’s a formula. My friend seems to just do it one day, one moment at a time. Taking life as it comes with thought and prayer doing the best she can. I’m pretty sure that you can’t plan for dying. You just see what each day brings, living, loving, and hoping as best you can . . .

New Year’s Evolutions – Hope for 2019

PlanningWhat is it about the turning of the year that makes us want to reassess our lives? To pledge to do better or to, at least, not make the same mistakes we did last year?

I’ve never been a fan of new year’s resolutions, but I do like the idea of making plans. This year I invested in Susie May Warren’s Brilliant Writing Planner and I’ve spent part of my holiday time off watching the accompanying videos and . . . well . . . making plans.

A big part of that is simply the stuff I know I need to do:

  • Finish this round of edits for When Silence Sings,
  • Tighten the synopsis for the book after that one,
  • Write my blog posts each week,
  • Teach at/attend a conference or two,
  • Do some marketing around my next release in November . . .

But the planner is challenging me to think bigger than all the “usual” stuff. I’m also pondering:

  • What are my writing-related dreams?
  • What goals do I want to focus on?
  • How does writing fit into the rest of my life?
  • What’s my daily inspiration?
  • What habits would I like to make more ingrained?

I love how the planner isn’t just about writing. It focuses on my goals, dreams, and ambitions across the board. I can include my day job, growing my faith, health-related habits, and so on.

Having spent just a little time hashing out where I want to go in 2019, I think I understand why this resolution/turning-over-a-new-leaf/taking stock thing is so appealing. It focuses on hope. This process assumes I can do better, accomplish more, grow and evolve.

And hope is the very best fuel for the spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

What are you hoping for in 2019?

 

Appalachian Thursday – Christmas Countdown

Christmas 1974Guess what? It’s 12 days ’til Christmas! Yup, Christmas is less than two weeks away. Are you ready? Are you counting down with joy and anticipation? Or is there a little how-will-I-get-everything-done dread mixed in there?

When I was little, we had a count-down to Christmas wall hanging my mom made. It was in the shape of a Christmas tree and had 24 little beads from which we would suspend 24 little, felt ornaments. There was an angel that went at the top as well as a Santa, little wrapped packages, a candy cane with sequins–it was wonderful. And I always got to hang the first ornament since my birthday was December 1.

I LOVED counting down to Christmas when I was a child growing up on the farm in WV. Each year I looked forward to all the things we got to do as we counted down. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Singing carols in the car. Snapping our fingers for reindeer hoofs up on the housetop. Dad substituting our names as he sang, “First comes the stocking of little Sally (his nickname for me).” Rudolph and Frosty and oh, what fun!
  • Decorating sugar cookies. I now know this makes my mom a saint. Arming three kids with frosting and sprinkles is a bold move.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree we cut on a neighbor’s farm. Dad did the lights and hung his one ornament remaining from childhood–a tattered cardboard Santa. We Santagot to do the rest. And no clumping icicles, if you please.
  • Hanging our stockings and posing for a picture looking up the chimney. As if we thought Santa would be up there before we went to bed.
  • And if we were lucky, sledding and playing in the snow!

My husband and I have our own traditions to mark the days until Christmas–a gathering with friends, Christmas Eve services, fudge (the marshmallow fluff kind), and stealth decorating (he’s not as big a fan of glitter and greens as I am).

But all too often our grown-up traditions get bogged down in hurry and self-imposed pressure to make this Christmas the best ever. This December I’m encouraging you to remember what it was like to be a child counting down the days–not wondering how you would fit it all in and get it all done–but wondering how much longer must I wait?

Because we are children, after all. God’s children. And what we’re waiting for is a chance to celebrate the best present ever.

Merry Christmas.

Letting Go – When Silence Sings

Sarah Thomas (1)

There I am with the Thurmond, WV, depot behind me. Covering the same ground my characters did.

I submitted my latest manuscript to my editor over the weekend. After the hours of writing, re-writing, and editing you’d think I’d be glad to turn it loose and move on.

But releasing a story is surprisingly hard.

I think this is a good story. Maybe the best I’ve written. And as long as those 87,750 words are sitting on my hard drive, I can keep thinking that. But once I release them . . .

No one told me that being a writer would require me to be this vulnerable. Oh, I was warned to develop a thick skin, but it was hard to understand what that meant until I submitted a manuscript and got back those pages of editorial notes.

They’ve always been GOOD notes–thoughtful, inciteful, helpful. Well, except when my editor said churning butter in 1970s West Virginia seemed out of place. Shoot, I helped my mother churn butter many a time and I wasn’t born until 1971.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, turning a story loose is what I imagine it must be like to send a child away to school. You know your child is amazing, wonderful, exceptional even. But you also know that she likely has a few flaws you’re too biased to see. And odds are pretty good someone is going to point those out.

It was hard to hit the “send” button, but now that When Silence Sings has landed in my editor’s in-box, I feel better. He’s going to help me find any weaknesses and strengthen the story. And if it really IS good, well, then it’s about to get even better.

Within the year I’m looking forward to introducing you to Colman Harpe, Serepta McLean, Ivy, and little Emmaline. I expect they’ll all do a bit of growing between now and then and I’m excited to see it.

Mostly 😉

Appalachian Blessings on Sale

blessingsLeading up to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, my publisher has put some of my books on sale. You can currently get the digital editions of Miracle in a Dry Season for $0.99, Until the Harvest for $1.99, and A Tapestry of Secrets for $2.99 (or less!).

The stories follow three generations of the Phillips family through the trials and tribulations of love and faith from the 1940s to present day. If you’ve read one of the earlier books, this is a great time to snag the follow-up stories!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Roots of the Mountain

roots contract

Even as I’m looking forward to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, I’m excited to be working on my next full-length novel tentatively titled Roots of the Mountain. I signed a contract with Bethany House for two more Appalachian stories with the first releasing in the fall of 2019.

And for the first time, I’m writing about ACTUAL places in West Virginia. My story is set in the southeastern part of the state, specifically Thurmond, Ronceverte, and White Sulphur Springs–all rail towns.

White Sulphur Springs is best known as the home of The Greenbrier Resort. The resort opened in 1778 when guests came to “take the waters.” The year of my story–1930–is when the current hotel was substantially rebuilt and refurbished. But this part of WV really only gets a cameo. The bulk of the story is in Thurmond and Ronceverte.

And here’s the cool thing about Thurmond–in the 1920s it was a thriving coal town with a bustling population and lots of ritzy visitors. Today, it’s a ghost town with a population of FIVE. For years, it was accessed primarily by rail and even today getting there involves a harrowing drive down into the New River Gorge. But the town IS STILL THERE. The National Park Service owns it and it’s something of an out-of-the-way tourist destination.

Ronceverte was a thriving coal and lumber town, also on the rail line. There’s a particularly lovely depot built in 1915. The name of the town, incidentally, is French for greenbrier–the name of the county and a prickly plant common to the area.

I’m about to finish the first draft of this story and I’ll be sharing more as I go along, but for now I’m just calling it Jonah meets the Hatfields & McCoys! Looking forward to sharing the whole story with you in about a year . . .