Saturday, November 23, 2019

Art Appreciation for Dreary Days

Gray Novembers. Dreary Days. Gloomy. It's rainy outside, can you tell by my choice of words? So here I am inside an art gallery waiting for art lovers to brave the elements and appear at the door. Meanwhile I'm alone with only Alexa keeping me company.

Except for these critters.

Who could be lonely with my friends for today: a papier mache dragon and octopus by artist Carole King. Doesn't the dragon face just beg for attention...and company?

Today I'm surrounded by art. Tapestries. Jewelry. Wood sculptures. Wire sculptures. Glassworks. Textiles. Pottery. Watercolors. Acrylics. Charcoal. The minds who created them aren't here. They are home creating more. But I'm here with the beauty, perfect pick-me-ups to chase away the gloom.


Fortunately for me, the artist guild I belong to here at the gallery looks at writing and publishing as an art and have included me in their line-up. To think, my humble books surrounded by all this beauty. Here's the Christmas display for my books:

Check out those glasswork trout by Jim Burchett with my fly fishing book. How perfect the match of book and art. Yvonne Miller designs the gallery's presentations and she's the one who connected the two. She claims she's not an artist, but I disagree. She has the eye for fitting pieces of an art puzzle exactly in the right spot. Being surrounded by creative people is my joy of being a part of this whole society of artisans. I feed off them. Their art speaks to me in the silence of a dreary Saturday at the gallery.

Are you surrounded by art? You need to give it a try.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Leather Britches

Time was, back in the day, a floundering newly-wed bride could go to a granny to find directions on how to cook a meal. My mother-in-law was one of those go-to people. She didn't write her recipes. She just did them, and we daughter-in-laws watched and gleaned from her.

Now that I'm the granny...well...please, daughter-in-law, don't watch. I have no special skill to pass along that can't be found in the granny replacement called the internet. Look there.

So if Rebecca Boone, wife of frontiersman Daniel, planned to cook leather britches, she did so because she knew from her mother, who learned from her mother.

I have no such luck. Cooking something such as leather britches is a lost art, gone with the death of the last pioneer wife who toiled over a wood powered cookstove...would be gone, that is, if it were not for Granny Internet.
Once upon a day, there appeared at a club meeting I attended, a man with a bag of what he claimed to be "leather britches." Believe me, the leather britches in that bag did have the appearance of dried leather from whence the name is derived. These weren't strung together in the usual way, but glomped into a plastic grocery bag. Ha. A juxtaposition of modern and pioneer.

I had heard about leather britches, maybe even seen them hanging in pioneer replica museums. I read Laura Ingles Wilder with my fourth graders, and we learned they were green beans that had been strung on a thread in a homesteading way of preserving food for later use. Except that in the Ingles house, as in all pioneer homes, the granny taught not only how to string them, but also how to cook them. And there was my problem. How does one cook these, I asked the man. Alas. He had no granny to tell him either.

I resorted to the modern go-to search engine and voila, Smoky Mountain Living had the answer to How to Cook Leather Britches. The process is long (bless those pioneer women's hearts) and requires a watchful eye, so I set aside a long stay-at-home morning and commenced the grand experiment. I collected the appropriate ingredients, washed the beans, and started the cooking process using bullion cubes rather than the fatback of my mountaineer ancestors.
 They boiled. And boiled. And boiled.
 Until finally...finally...three hours later, I had reconstituted green beans with a most unique flavor.
Okay, so I followed the directions and added the full teaspoon of salt, and realized too late I should have nixed the salt in favor of seasoning already in the bullion cube. Easy fix. I pulled out a boil-in-bag of rice and conveniently (thank you modern life) neutralized some of the salty flavor. I'm glad I experimented, but I don't plan to do it again. Ever.

I can sort of imagine how Rebecca Boone survived without google in her life. I did, once upon a precomputer time. But a little deeper now, my food for thought question is, what are modern grannies good for if google has taken over that role?

Ha! I know the answer to that every time I text my granddaughters or hear a whistle on my cell that a new instagram photo has arrived from one of them. I may not be able to counsel them on leather britches preparations, but I am there for them in a way Rebecca could never in a million years have imagined, and I don't have to spend hours upon hours stirring a pot over a wood stove.

Ain't modern life grand!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Appreciating A Super Author

Few authors reach what I consider "super" status, but when they do, let me say, they deserve the royal treatment. As in a parade. As in a reception. As in a television interview in front of two hundred plus adoring fans. As in what happened in Hudson, North Carolina last weekend.
Jan Karon.

If you've never been to Mitford in your mind, then you don't know Jan Karon. If you have been to Mitford through reading her cozy novels, then you know her. You also know where she comes from. Here. Small town western North Carolina. Foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In her writing, she created a humble little village like I would find around where I live, populated with all kinds of fictional, but very real, friends of mine. Yes. I will claim them as friends and well known acquaintances, because the books in her Mitford series ooze with delightful characters that I feel like I know personally. I've met these people in my daily wanderings. 

Sort of. That's what great writers do, construct a setting so real you feel a part of it.

Last weekend, I discovered I'm not the only fan of hers. She has enough readers to deserve a parade in her honor.
Enough to mob her so those of us in the back can barely see.
To earn the key to the city from the mayor.
To be interviewed in front of the standing room only crowd by Carl White, executive producer and host of the award winning television show, Life in the Carolinas.
I attended it all. The parade. The brunch. The afternoon tea the next day with the live taping of the show and visits from some of her characters straight from the pages of her imagination.

And one more thing. I joined fellow readers in marveling at the delicious orange marmalade cake mentioned often in the series that had been made special for us attendees. Yum.

What a super weekend! What a way to celebrate an author!

Catch of the day,
 
Gretchen

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Outlanders R Us

Being an author has opened my life a wide variety of unanticipated experiences. One was yesterday at Leatherwood, a mountain resort here in western North Carolina. There's just something about being around passionate book lovers, in this case the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series set first in Scotland, and later in North Carolina. Here was my view: 
These kilted soldiers were in the process of returning to their encampment. A bagpipe's drone in the background sucked me back in time, much like the main character of these beloved books.
My tent was closer to the simple beauty of the flute.
And then later that of the harp.
None of my books cross paths with the time travel Scottish Highlander coming to America story of the Outlander series, but I did have books to offer, and these festival attendees were avid readers, after all. To those I met from Florida and Texas and Canada and Scotland (yes there were some who traveled across the Atlantic to this place in time specifically for the Fraser's Ridge Homecoming event), everything about the Appalachians was a draw. Reading for the love of adventure no matter where is the most remarkable phenomena ever! 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

PS Check out the website for Fraser's Ridge Homecoming. You might have missed it this year, but next year's date has already been announced.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Centuries Apart

Doing school visits is a true joy. This past week the joy multiplied when the school visit was at a reconstructed village called Whippoorwill Academy. I was there for Daniel Boone Day and the children were there to learn about living back in his time.

"Would you talk with the children about your books?" the director asked me last month.

Issue. None of my books are the least bit related to any mention of Daniel Boone.

"Sure, I'll do it."

And I did. Full costume and all. Log cabin and all.
Just how I pulled it off is a story in itself. I'm a former teacher and I knew I could make anything connect to ole' Dan'l Boone if I stretched it.

I just happened to have multiple copies of my Back on Earth book about Apollo Eleven. Before I passed them out to the children we compared Daniel Boone and Neil Armstrong, their character traits. Ding, ding, ding. And it worked!
We (mostly they) discussed how the two were similar and how they were different. These men might have made their footprints centuries apart, but they were both from a special breed of men who couldn't keep things as they were.

After one presentation, a parent chaperone came up to me and told he knew the man who opened the hatch when the capsule landed in the ocean, the first to greet the astronauts from their historic voyage. Because of restrictions and legal Naval agreements, this man could only say he was there and could give no details...ever. Would I ever love to sit at his feet and hear the real story! Imagine the courage to be the one who performed that small, but vital task.



Here's to explorers of the past who made our country what it is today. And to the children I met last week who one day might be the explorers who land on Mars!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Revisiting History

A summer Sunday drive a few weeks ago found my husband and me on a back, back, way back mountain road in Madison County, North Carolina. We weren't alone. Riding shotgun (literally, only it was a pistol) was the coauthor of one of my books, Jasper Reese. We had attended the yearly Spring Creek School reunion and were on the way home, or so I figured. "I sure would love to see my old homeplace one more time," this nearly ninety year old hinted. Off we went with his navigating, down an isolated road off state road NC #209 in western North Carolina.

Bluff Mountain Road. It's on the cover of our book, Back in the Time. Take a look at the picture of the road set back in the forties.
That's twelve year old Jasper in his homemade wagon
driving on the Bluff Mountain Road
Jasper described it as a major thoroughfare. Look at it nearly seventy years later:


Still a major thoroughfare, can't you tell! If you stay on it far enough, you'll intersect with the Appalachian Trail and then go on to the backwoods of eastern Tennessee. But to get to Jasper's homeplace, we had to turn off this road onto a much minor thoroughfare that had grass and foot high weeds growing between the ruts. That minor.
Jasper navigating
My thoughts as we inched along? "We could fall off the side of this mountain and no one would ever find us. They wouldn't even know where to begin looking!"

Best part of this side trip was his joy at seeing his old house (even better than my joy when we emerged from the wilderness back onto the major thoroughfare). The driveway was above the house, and he pointed out spots where he carried water from the spring, and where his family fled the night of the 1940 flood, and where he worked the fields that were now overgrown with tall pine trees. His memories were triggered and they flowed joyfully, like pent up children on the last day of school. Celebrating. Free. 

Sad, however, that in the front yard was a "For Sale" sign. Not the sign. His reaction. His mood turned to melancholy as we drove away. "If only I was twenty years younger. I'd buy that on the spot."

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Corn Meal and Clogging

Just in case you think the life of an author is glamorous, let me send you a little reality check. My husband and I had a booth selling my books last weekend at the Happy Valley Fiddler's Convention here in western North Carolina, the setting, at least a chapter or two, in four of my nonfictions.

We've done it before, under a tent on the main drag. This year was different. We were assigned the cow barn. Sounds dreadful, right? Well, they did clear the mess enough to dump a layer of sawdust for us to stand in. And. Since we were on a hill overlooking the festival, we had a panoramic view accompanied by the most lively music ever created. And. We had electricity, which means we had a fan to stir the brutal sweltering August heat. And. We had visitors aplenty seeking a reprieve from their personal baking. We loved it!
My husband is in the center, next to me,
watching the action on the opposite side of the barn.
On the other long side of the barn, there was cement, scraped clean with no sawdust, a perfect location for the dance hall. Remember, this was a fiddler's convention, so the dance style matched the music. Clogging. First however, came the corn meal, which I'm sure the mice have enjoyed ever since we left. Soft shoe and tap dancing can get treacherous even on the wooden frames designed specifically for dancing. To lessen the dancers' slipping and sliding and landing on the bum, a layer of corn meal is sprinkled on the surface for traction.

The teacher stood on his own platform in front of the dancers, instructing them step by step, and slide by slide, and kick by kick.

When dancing wasn't happening, this was the staging area for performers. I felt like we had private shows! And on the knoll just above us was a grave. Not just any grave stuck out in the middle of the cow pasture. The grave of Laura Foster.
In case you can't read the words on the tombstone:
Laura Foster
Murdered in May 1865
Tom Dula hanged for crime
If you've ever sung the chorus to "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley," then you have met Laura Foster, Tom's victim for which he was hanged. Yes. It's a true story, read the tombstone in case you wonder. My friend, award winning author, Charlotte Barnes, the one I'm talking to in the inside the barn picture above, first wrote a well researched nonfiction about the Tom Dooley scandal, and then the based-on-truth novel that just came out, told from the point of view of the reporter who covered the trial. I bought a copy from her and I've read the first two chapters. I'm hooked!

I'm also hooked on history and heritage. It's why I write what I do. And it's why I spent Labor Day weekend in a cow barn.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen