Appalachian Thursday – Light for the Darkest Day

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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.

 

 

Just One Week Till Christmas!

church-doorsAre you ready?

Tree lights twinkle in the window, I’ve finished my shopping, made a pan of fudge, even sent out some actual Christmas cards . . . I guess I’m ready.

Do you remember Christmas Eve when you were a kid? Lying in bed, eyes wide open, listening for reindeer on the roof or the jingle of sleigh bells? Then, somehow, actually falling asleep and waking in the small hours of the morning to wonder if you could get up yet. And finally running to the tree to find all those wonderful gifts.

When’s the last time you were that excited about anything?

Of course, by the end of the day I also remember being tired from too little sleep, worn out with excitement and cousins, and somehow finding my gifts–as nice as they were–less exciting than they’d been that morning. The shine always wore off . . .

Maybe that’s because I’ve typically prepared for the wrong thing. It’s easy to say Christmas is about more than presents and decorations and food, but it’s hard to live that out. It’s hard to hold on to the idea of God incarnate when the world is so determined to draw our attention with all the little gods of the season.

So this week–this week leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth–my goal is to prepare my heart for Christ and him crucified. Which the world would say is a funny thing to think about at Christmas. But which my heart tells me is exactly what I should be preparing and living for every day . . . with excited anticipation.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

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.

 

Please Stop Asking Authors THIS Question

4 booksI love talking about my books and my writing. And it’s so nice when friends, family, readers, and others ask for details.

But there’s one question that comes up over and over that I simply don’t know how to answer. It usually comes up in that quiet time after the flurry of releasing a book is over but before I’m really promoting the next one.

The dreaded question is some variation of . . . How are your books doing?

Oh wait, I do know how to answer it. I DON’T KNOW.

And even when I kind of know, I still don’t know.

Here’s the problem. I get statements twice a year. Sure, they list how many books have been sold . . . as of three or four months ago. So I kind of have an idea of how many books moved a while back. Of course, if a new book has released in the meantime, I don’t know much about that one at all.

Oh but wait. The statement doesn’t actually list how many books SOLD, it lists how many books have been ordered by bookstores and other vendors. And guess what–they get to return the books they don’t sell.

For example: Say a June statement shows that 1,000 copies of a book published in January had been ordered as of February. The December statement may show that 250 of those were returned as of August. Does that mean 750 sold? Maybe. But not necessarily. Another 250 might have been returned in September.

Sigh.

So here are a few questions I’d love for you to ask instead:

  • How’d you come up with the idea for that last book?
  • What are you working on next? (I’ll be vague, but it’s still nice to be asked.)
  • What do you like to read when you’re not writing?
  • Or any of a dozen what’s-your-writing-life-like questions.

Basically, ask me about writing. Because I really don’t know how my book is doing . . .

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!

 

Advent – Looking Forward to Christmas

YChristmas 1974esterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Which, in my book, means the Christmas season has begun.

Advent is traditionally a time of preparation, of looking forward to celebrating the birth of Christ and to his return.

Do you remember what it was like to look forward to Christmas when you were a kid? I know I was on pins and needles. I’d mailed off my list to Santa. We’d be baking cookies, singing carols, and decorating the house. There might have been a visit to some obviously lower level Santa at the mall. The anticipation was building and . . .

. . . I was EXCITED!!

So how do I look forward to Christmas these days? Hmmmm.

There are presents to buy, decorations to put up, parties to host or attend, cards to mail, food to prepare, family to wrangle, and expectations to . . . well . . . fail to meet.

Oh, and then there’s all the church stuff. Greening the church, our ladies’ Christmas party, a Christmas program, a Christmas Eve service . . .

And somewhere in there maybe, just maybe, pausing to remember what’s actually worth looking forward to–what I really should be anticipating. In a word–Jesus.

The Christmas season is upon us. We all know how easy it is to be swept up by our to-do lists and to end up just checking off each day until suddenly, Christmas has come and gone.

This Advent season I encourage you to pause and remember that tingle of anticipation you felt when you were a kid. And then to realize that while you may not believe in Santa Claus anymore, you still have something truly wonderful to look forward to.

Merry Christmas.

 

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.