Appalachian Thursday – Signs of Spring

crocusEvery year a few hardy daffodils jump the gun and bloom in February.

Every year we act surprised.

Somehow it seems too soon, but I’ve looked back at notes from five years ago and this is nothing new. Every February the daffodils unfurl seemingly fragile yellow petals. Crocuses appear like someone scattered them in the night while we were sleeping. Sometimes there’s even a buttercup or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. And this year, the temperatures have veered wildly into the 70s trying to make us think spring is well and truly here.

But I try not to get TOO excited. I can’t help but remember how we often have at least one snow in April and I want to warn my flowers to take a steadying breath and wait.

At the same time, I love seeing signs of spring. I love getting hints that soft, warm days are right around the corner. The ultimate Appalachian harbingers of spring is, of course,  peepers. For a week now I’ve been hearing them each morning and evening in the swampy spot down by the creek. A chorus cheering spring on even if it IS too soon.

Because we’re still going to have some icy, wintry, northern days before it’s time to complain about the heat again. More than once I’ve seen apple blossom bitten back by a late frost. The old timers look at the daffodils and shake their heads. “We’ll have winter, yet,” they say.

I have a terrible habit of looking for “signs” in every area of my life. The catch is, I spend too much time looking for signs and not nearly enough living in the moment. I’m too busy trying to guess what comes next. Planning and anticipating can be good things, but they can also become debilitating. Spring and the future will both come when they’re ready.

In God’s own good time.

Ashes to Ashes – A Lenten Reflection


There were fewer than twenty of us gathered in the little white church on the hill for the Ash Wednesday service last week. The evening was mild and the service was brief with some music, scripture and words from the pastor, and then the ashes.

Lent is my favorite season and Easter is my favorite holiday. I like it better even than Christmas. I look forward to getting up early on Easter morning for the sunrise service and when we come to the place where the pastor says, “He is risen!” and we all answer, “He is risen, indeed!” my heart never fails to soar.

But before the resurrection, there’s this deep, lovely time of reflection. And it starts with ashes.

My pastor dipped his finger in the bowl of oil mixed with ashes from last year’s palm branches. He placed a gentle finger on my forehead, making a cross and saying, “Sarah, from ashes you have come and from ashes you shall return.”

And my heart soared with something like Resurrection Sunday joy. Because this is good news indeed.

In Genesis 3:19 after the fall, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Dust. Ashes. I suppose that might sound sad to some folks, but what I hear is that the pain, sorrows, difficulties, and challenges of this world are temporary. And this frail, human body of mine is just a temporary vessel molded from dust and ashes. It’s not meant to last forever.

So when I see all the ways my body is failing, declining, heeding the call of the dust from which it came, I can find peace in knowing that’s what’s supposed to happen. When my dreams, goals, and ambitions don’t quite work out the way I hoped, I can find peace in knowing this toil–this sometimes futile sweat of my brow–is only temporary.

Because I know there’s more to the story. We begin Lent with ashes–a reminder that we will die. But we end it by celebrating Christ’s resurrection–a reminder that in him, our earthly deaths are just the beginning of a new, perfect life eternal.

John 3:35-36 – The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Appalachian Thursday – The Heirloom

On October 2 of this year, my latest work will release–as part of a collection title The Heirloom (available for pre-order). As a follow-up to The Sound of Rain, I’ve written Hank’s story. You remember Hank–he was George Heyward’s right-hand man until Judd came along. And now he’s wondering where his future lies.

Earlier this week, we got to release the cover!

This collection has been SUCH fun. I was at a writing conference in 2016 when I sat down next to Karen Witemeyer and she looked at me and said, “You’re books are set in the 1950s, right?”


Karen, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade (all favorite authors of mine!!) were hatching an idea to write a multi-generational series of novellas that would trace the women of one family from Regency England to modern day America. Their only gap was the 1950s.

Oh, I was IN!

And so, after lots of e-mails and a pretty hilarious Skype meeting, we set to work. The thread tying the stories together is a brooch that’s supposed to bring true love when it’s gifted from mother to daughter. Fun!

Plus, I get to insert Appalachia into a series that includes Regency, western, and contemporary stories. Talk about variety! And my character is such fun–a mountain girl who’s much better at shooting than socializing.

Here’s the brief summary for A Shot at Love: Fleeta Brady’s rough-and-tumble childhood means she prefers hunting to more feminine activities. She never expected her family’s brooch might be how southerner Hank Chapin turns her attention from competition to romance.

Fleeta also puts in an appearance in Becky Wade’s contemporary story (the last in the bunch). So excited for this series of interconnected stories to be released this fall.


Social Media and REAL Community

KermitI am generally on the side of believing that social media is NOT conducive to developing REAL relationships. What we see of our “friends” on-line tends to be superficial and sometimes even downright misleading.

However. Every once in a while it turns into something compelling and wonderful

Saturday evening I checked Facebook and stumbled across a comment from a writer-friend in Canada. She was writing at a pub and noticed a large group of friends nearby . . . including an attractive guy (she’s single).

“i am trying to ascertain if the woman beside him is with him —or just part of the group. and this is me on sleuth duty. keep you posted.”

And that was the beginning of a four hour+ festival of her friends (many of them writers) being glued to a single Facebook post that ultimately had more than 600 comments. We waited breathlessly for her to report on observed interactions offering advice with varying degrees of helpfulness and posting a ridiculous number of gifs. My favorite being one of Kermit the Frog biting his nails.

Then . . . a loooooong silence.

Yet not silence because writers began doing what they do best–making stuff up. Entire romances spun out. Wedding invitations were mailed. One mom had to step away to deal with a poopy diaper. (Okay, that was pretty real.)

And then, about three hours in, our friend returned to report that she’d joined the group and learned that the cute guy in question was married. However, there was a plot twist. An unmarried guy in the group did ask to exchange numbers!

I think I heard the roar of applause across the United States, Canada, and apparently New Zealand.

She finally wrapped the evening up with this: “and some nights are so unique that you end up sitting with strangers and laughing and plotting cowboy romances for harlequin (yes) and cheering olympic skiing . . . and just feeling a community in a huge metropolis.”

The funny thing is . . . while my friend was experiencing actual, first-person community, she had also created a space where hilarious virtual community swept up 30 or 40 people in an incredible evening of love and laughter.

I’m still a HUGE fan of actual, in-person interaction. However, it seems that genuine, REAL, social media interaction is possible. The trick is for someone to start out by being so honest, open, and real that it attracts the same . . .

Appalachian Thursday – A Singing Valentine

Of course, Valentine’s Day is little more than a marketing ploy to get us to buy candy, cards, flowers, and other gifts.

But Appalachian Express in Johnson City, TN, has a more creative way to wish your sweetheart a Happy Valentines Day. As a fundraiser for their chorus, quartets go out on Wednesday, February 14, to sing to . . . well . . . your Valentine!

So, if you feel compelled to give someone a special gift this year, why not make it something that’s pretty different and that supports a great, Appalachian group. Just $50 gets you a song, a card, and a rose.

Assuming your sweetheart lives in the Tri-Cities area.


How would you give your Valentine’s gift an Appalachian twist?

A Poem for Remembering

Aunt BessWe all have special people in our lives. Folks who have an impact on us–whether fleeting or long term. I’ve been thinking lately about how many of those people in my life are gone now–Grandma Burla, Aunt Bess, Dusan & Marsha, Aunt Dorothy & Uncle Willis, Smutt & Anna, Grandma Ginny . . . the list goes on.

But maybe, since I carry a little bit of each one of those folks with me, they’re still here in a way. As long as I remember . . .

So here’s a poem for Aunt Bess who shaped my life and the person I am in ways I’m still discovering.


Sometimes love has no motive.
Sometimes love sprouts wild
between the rows of corn,
string beans, and tomatoes.

At 95, Aunt Bess took her cane
and walked me round—
down to the mailbox,
over to the swimmin’ hole,
past the garden where she
remembered her only son
shooting a groundhog the day
he died of scarlet fever.

At 98, she sat me down
on the porch and held my hand.
She talked about Uncle Celly who
appeared like a ghost for dinner
and drew pictures of the Devil.

At 101, she laughed with joy
to see me through the screen door.
She sat in a patch of morning sun,
pulled a kitchen chair close,
asked about people whose deaths
slipped her mind. We resurrected
them there, in that old house,
and they were as good as alive to us.

Always, she cupped my face in soft,
bent hands and said, “You are
so dear to me. So dear.”

At 102 I gave her eulogy, told how
she loved me for no good reason
and how I loved her just the same.

Appalachian Thursday – Burning Brush


Just a baby brush pile. This one will need to get quite a bit bigger before burning!

Last week I wrote about how we burned much of our trash growing up. Then, on Saturday, we had a soft rainy day with no wind–a perfect brush burning day!

Brush piles were simply something that had to be dealt with periodically on the farm. Clearing the pasture, trimming trees, picking up deadfall–there’s just a lot of bits of wood and branches that need to be gotten rid of.

Burning a brush pile is an art. And I like to think it’s one I’m pretty good at.

Now, most of the men in my life prefer the gasoline accelerant method of burning brush. My technique is more subtle. First, I rake the area around the pile clean so there’s less danger of a spark catching something close by. Then I make a sort of cave or opening in the bottom of the pile and add cardboard and some newspaper. Next, I drag out my hose, water bucket, rake, and a hoe so I’ll have the tools I need to keep the fire in check. And my work gloves, of course.

Then, light that baby up!

I prefer a slow, steady burn. I burn from one side of the pile to the other, slowly raking and pushing to keep a decent sized fire that’s not so big it’s likely to get out of hand. There’s a pleasure and a peace to watching flames reduce wood to ash. The best is when it’s a chilly day and I can enjoy the contrast of the cool air on my back and the fire on my face. A few snowflakes add to the ambience.

My most memorable brush pile burn was when I still worked for Biltmore Estate. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was leaning on my hoe, watching the fire die down when my husband called me inside for a phone call. My supervisor wanted me to get out to the estate to meet a VIP guest who was taking pictures on the front lawn of the house.

It was Andie MacDowell.

I didn’t have time to shower.

Somewhere, there’s a picture of Andie MacDowell and me with my hair shoved in a ponytail, wearing minimum makeup, hoping I don’t smell too much like smoke. I didn’t ask for a copy.

I hope they burned it.