Appalachian Thursday – Outhouses

Outhouse posterTomorrow is my wedding anniversary–twenty-two years! So what does that have to do with outhouses? Well, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that the church where we married was lacking indoor plumbing.

It still is twenty-two years later.

So, in honor of the outhouse at my wedding, I thought I’d share some interesting outhouse facts.

And no, I did NOT attempt to use the facilities in my wedding gown.

  1. Crescent moons. The crescent moon you often see cut in the door serves a couple of purposes. First, it lets in a bit of light. Second, it was a way to differentiate between ladies and gents. Women got the crescent moon while men had a star. Allegedly, the moon is more common because the ladies took better care of their facilities and so they lasted longer.
  2. Two-seaters. You may have seen an outhouse with two holes and wondered just how chummy folks were back in the day. Typically, the second hole wasn’t for simultaneous pottying. Often there was an adult-sized hole and then a smaller, child-sized hole.
  3. Garbage disposal. There are actually folks who go around digging where they think outhouses might once have been. This is because owners used to toss all kinds of stuff into the opening. And yesterday’s trash is sometimes today’s collectible.
  4. Toilet paper. Often, there wasn’t any. This is where the Sears catalog came in with its nice, soft pages. And if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “rough as a cob,” it originated in an outhouse where shucked corn cobs were sometimes re-purposed.
  5. WPA Outhouses – In the 1930s part of Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) was improving rural sanitation through the construction of Red Cross designed outhouses (see image above). These were luxury models with cement floors, smooth seats, and vents. They were also meant to be fly and vermin proof, although I have my doubts.

All in all, having used an old-time outhouse and a modern port-o-john, I have to say the Appalachian outhouse is the nicer of the two experiences.

Revisiting My First Love – Poetry

Sarah & Ann

I also got to hang out with one of my favorite authors–Ann Gabhart!

I had a wonderful time at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest this past weekend. I had a chance to teach a class, sit on a panel, and interact with readers (and writers!). Some of my favorite things to do!

On Friday I sat in on a poetry workshop with former Wisconsin poet laureate and Kentucky native Max Garland. It took me back to my first love–poetry. It’s such fun to sit with a group of other folks who are passionate about stringing words together in a meaningful way.

Which made me realize I’ve never shared my favorite poem (of mine) with you. So here you go–one of my earliest published poems that appeared in Appalachian Heritage way back in 2006.

SAD STREAKS AND WEEPY MERINGUES

Illness, death, disease and even divorce
bring out the mixing bowls, the spoons,
the flour, the sugar and the speckled brown eggs.
Good women converge in kitchens on far
sides of town, all for the expression
of love and sorrow, sadness and hope.
They consult stained cookbooks, faded cards
and memories sharpened with use to concoct
something that will stave off the hunger for
knowing what comes next—what comes
after we get through this . . .

And when the pound cake isn’t quite done,
with a soft, moist middle that invites us
to sink down and find an almost peace—
When the sugar in the meringue doesn’t
quite melt, and caramel drops bloom like
smoky topaz tears—That’s when love
and sadness meet the perfect measure,
filling our sorrowing hearts,
if only for a mouthful.

Appalachian Thursday – A Spring Walk

We’re fortunate to live just a mile from Pisgah National Forest. Almost every day after work I head to the woods for a hike with Thistle. On the weekends, my husband comes along and we go even further afield.

Hiking not only provides Thistle and I with exercise, it also gives me a break from the world, a chance to enjoy nature, freedom to mull over story ideas, and to ponder life.

So, in case you can’t go for a lovely hike most days, I thought I’d share mine with you. Come along . . .

We have toad shade trillium, redbud, dwarf iris, painted trillium, showy orchis, stone crop, phlox, and the elusive morel. I still love fall, but spring is steadily growing on me. In spite of the pollen . . .

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – Come See Me!

I’m super excited to be heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this week for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. I’ll be teaching a class titled “Setting as Character” at 9 a.m. Friday morning, attending a meet the authors reception Friday evening, and sitting on a panel titled “People, Places, and Pie” Saturday morning. That last panel is with Karen Spears Zacharias, Ann Gabhart, Naomi Miller, and Rachel Miller so it’ll be a treat for me as much as anyone!

I’ll also be signing as many books as they’ll let me!

The Southern Kentucky Book Fest is one of the state’s largest literary events and is presented by Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Warren County Public Library, and WKU Libraries. The event is in it’s 20th year and I’m honored to be included.

And while it’s great to meet readers, I’ll confess I’m also pretty excited to get to hang out with some author friends. In addition to the ladies on the pie panel, I’ll get to see some other author friends and hopefully meet several new ones. Writing can often feel incredibly solitary, so having an opportunity to spend time with other writers is always a treat.

If you’re in the vicinity of Bowling Green this weekend, I hope you’ll come out to see us. And if you’d like to register (the event is free), click HERE to learn more.

Appalachian Thursday – Which Winter is This?

redbud

A sure sign of redbud winter.

We’ve been complaining lately about the weather.

I know, I know, everyone does that ALL the time. But spring this year has really been a roller coaster ride. Windows open. Windows closed. Coats off. Coats, hats, and gloves back on.

I was thinking the weather really is getting crazier. Then, this past weekend, I noticed that the redbud trees had bloomed almost overnight. Suddenly there were all these gorgeous sprays of deep pink in the edges of fields and neighbors’ yards.

Which reminded me. This warm, cold, hot joy ride is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it’s so not new, there are several old-time names for the various bouts of cold that crop up after that first taste of spring.

Like redbud winter. Which is what we had last weekend.

Now, let’s see. There’s also dogwood winter, locust winter, blackberry winter, britches winter, and whippoorwill winter.

Some of these are pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a primer:

  • Redbud winter – When the redbud trees bloom
  • Dogwood winter – When the dogwood trees bloom
  • Locust winter – When the locust trees bloom (see a pattern?)
  • Blackberry winter – When the blackberry brambles bloom
  • Britches winter – Wait. What? This one is more fun. The full name is linsey-woolsey britches winter which means it’s the last time it’ll be cold enough to wear your long underwear
  • Whipporwill winter – (I smell a book title) This one is barely cold enough to call winter, but it’s when the whippoorwills migrate north from Mexico

So, turns out the now-warm-now-cold craziness we call spring in Appalachia really isn’t anything new. It’s been around at least as long as long underwear.

A Man Called Ove–a Book I Hated Then Loved

OveI’ve had a copy of A Man Called Ove in my to-be-read pile for quite a while. Finally, I got an audio copy and began listening to it on a long drive.

I could NOT stand Ove.

There were one or two flickers of seeing something worthwhile in him, but overall, I simply found him to be a miserable human being. And I wondered why so many people raved about this book.

I was tempted to give up, but I had more driving to do and, well, what the heck.

I finished the story last night and I LOVE Ove.

Which, I think, is the point.

A story about a grumpy old man who turns out to have a heart of gold is NOT a new idea. But Frederik Backman managed to take what could have been a simple story of redemption and elevated it to a deep message of hope and love.

Ove was awful at the beginning and he was still pretty awful at the end. I mean, the poor guy who sold him an iPad would not have gone home and talked about dealing with a curmudgeon who was really a marshmallow inside. Ove was vindictive, unbending, impatient, and deeply set in his ways.

And yet. He was also fiercely loyal, ethical, and willing to stand up for what he believed to be right even if it killed him. Backman retained the essence of Ove even after he was redeemed.

Which is why I found this book so ultimately hopeful. The message wasn’t that Ove needed to change, rather it was that Ove needed to be appreciated. He didn’t change so much as the people around him came to see the beauty inherent in this big, tough Swede.

I like that.

Too often, I suspect we think the people around us (especially the people we disagree with) need to change. But maybe, just maybe, if we were willing to understand what makes people see the world the way they do . . . we could–if not agree–at least understand.

And then, perhaps we could see the value in everyone.

Appalachian Thursday–Enjoy Some Ramps

ramps 18Ahhh, ramp season! I’ve been keeping my eye on the patch behind a neighbor’s house. They’re in Florida this time of year so, by default, that’s MY ramp patch.

Of course, I’m not really one for cooking what you’d call a mess of ramps. I’m more a fan of the idea of ramps. I’ve shared before that while I think foraged food is nifty, it’s not a major part of my diet. Shoot, my ancestors ate that stuff because they HAD to.

But I did eat some ramps last night. There’s something about spring that makes me crave simple egg and asparagus dishes. So, I roasted fresh asparagus and made a basic cheese omelette with a few ramps sauteed in the pan. Simple. Easy. Delicious and downright nutritious. Nothing like eating a plant that was in the ground 15 minutes before dinner.

Now, if you really want to purify your blood, what you do is boil up a pot full of ramps, douse ’em in vinegar with some salt and pepper, and eat them alongside ham, beans, and cornbread. If you’re like me, though, you’ll carefully clean five or six of those beauties, slice them, saute them in some butter, and then cover ’em up with eggs. And cheese. Season to taste and call that spring on a plate!

How about you–do you eat ramps? If so, how do you like them?

ramp omelette