Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Signs, Superstitions, and Omens - Week 2

*This post was originally published here on 9/27/16*

It's time for our next installment of signs, superstitions and omens! If you missed last week's you can go here to catch up.

A sign is believed to predict the future but unlike the omen,
signs do not foretell negative happenings.

  • Two blackbirds flying together is a sign of good fortune.
  • If a person's medicine has been spilled accidentally, it is a sign that he will soon recover. 
  • A bee that flies into the house is a sign that a stranger is coming. 
  • If a chair falls over as a person rises from the table, it is a sign that the person is a liar. 
  • It's a sign of good luck when your right eye itches.

A superstition is an irrational belief, usually arising from ignorance or fear, that is believed by a number of people but is without foundation.

  • If you walk barefoot in the first snow of winter you will not catch cold all year. -submitted by Mary Blevins
  • If you leave a piece of tin on top of an ant's nest during the full moon it will turn to silver.
  • Placing a knife on the doorstep of the house where a birth had taken place will prevent witches from entering and harming the baby. (Scottish)
  • You should not was a baby's right hand for its first three days or life or you will wash all of it's luck away.
  • If a coal miner washes his back right before going to work, the mine roof will collapse on him. 


Omen- a phenomenon that is believed to tell the future, which also signifies change...usually negative.  

  • If a picture falls off a wall for no apparent reason, it is an omen of a coming catastrophe. 
  • It is an omen of an extremely hard winter ahead if several plants come into bloom out of season. 
  • See a butterfly at night? It is an omen of unexpected death. 
  • A candle that has been put out but continues to glow is an omen of misfortune. 
  • If a rooster crows as you leave to go on a trip, it is an omen of trouble. 

I loved reading some of these that you shared with me here and over on Facebook. I would love to hear any more that you happen to thing of! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Signs, Superstitions, and Omens- Week 1

As the diversely ethnic settlers came into the Appalachian region, a detailed system of folklore was developed by combining signs, superstitions, omens, music, stories and beliefs. This system was passed down orally through the years and practiced as a way of keeping the folklore alive. I've heard many of these stories and beliefs while growing up and while I would not consider myself a superstitious person, the possible outcomes of not abiding by these rituals will inevitably worm its way into my mind. Better safe than sorry, right?

Over the next few weeks, I plan on sharing some of these signs, superstitions, and omens and hope that you will be willing to share any that have been passed on in your families and communities. 

A sign is believed to predict the future but unlike the omen, signs do not foretell negative happenings. 
  • A chin dimple is a sign of bad character. Dimples on the chin are said to be made by the devil's shoe. (Why not start off with one the applies to me, huh? I have a chin dimple and like to think that I'm not known for my bad character!)
  • Tingling or itching ears are a sign that someone is talking about you. If it is the left ear, you're being gossiped about. If the right, good things are being said.
  • Sole of your foot itching? This is a sign that you are about to embark on a long journey.
  • If you have a candle that is hard to light, it is a sign that rain is on the way.
  • Dreaming of bees is a sign of good fortune.

A superstition is an irrational belief, usually arising from ignorance or fear, that is believed by a number of people but is without foundation. 
  • An acorn placed on a window will will protect the house from lightning strikes.
  • Treading on an ant nest will cause rain that day.
  • A man who wipes his hands on a girl's apron is sure to fall in love with her. (German)
  • Spitting on a new baby will bring the child good luck. (Irish)
  • Never leave a baby's washed diapers on the clothesline during a full moon because they will attract evil forces.

Omen- a phenomenon that is believed to tell the future, which also signifies change...usually negative
  • A chicken laying an uneven number of eggs is an omen of danger.
  • If a rabbit crosses your path before sunrise, unhappiness will cloud your day.
  • If the dough for baking bread cracks while being shaped, a funeral will occur soon.
  • If a broom falls over for no reason when someone walks past, it is an omen of bad fortune.
  • Calling out the name of a deceased person while dreaming is an omen of a death.

I would love to hear any of the signs, superstitions, and omens that are a part of your families or communities. Feel free to share in the comments section below or you can send me a message on the Appalachian Mountain Roots Facebook page.
*This post was originally published here on Appalachian Mountain Roots on 9/20/16.*

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Circuit Riders

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ.- 2  Corinthians 4:6
*Photo by Sharon Fox*

I saw this picture, taken and shared by Sharon Fox, in a Facebook group that I follow. After reaching out to her to ask permission to use it, this scripture verse (2 Corinthians 4:6) came to mind. That verse led me to wonder what the early churches of Appalachia were like...which led me to think about circuit riders. 

Honestly, the only thing I knew about circuit riders (before researching and writing this blog post, of course) was what I had learned from television or books that I'd read. The first character who came to mind was Preacher (Clint Eastwood) in Pale Rider. While I think that it is an EXCELLENT movie and that Clint Eastwood is an EXCELLENT actor, director and producer, it's not a great source for information on circuit riders. So, I turned to my books on Appalachia and the internet.

Circuit riders, also known as saddlebag preachers, were a group of primarily Methodist ministers who would travel to two or more churches which were spread out in a rural area that was 200-500 miles in circumference, known as a circuit. A minister was expected to visit each church on the circuit at least once a month, and possibly start some new ones. Far and wide, they preached as often as possible, at any site available be it a member's cabin, a school house, barn, or the great outdoors. 

The typical circuit rider was a young, single man whose life had been suddenly transformed by a dramatic conversion experience. In the majority of cases, the only difference between a Methodist preacher and his audience was what side of the pulpit he was on. A formal Biblical education was rare. This served the ministers well in that their members felt as if they were cut from the same cloth. 

Everything these men owned was usually what could be carried with them in their saddle bags. They truly trusted in God to provide a place for them to lay their heads and for what food filled their bellies. These men knew that their calling wouldn't lead to a comfortable, prosperous life but that didn't matter because they wanted to help bring God's light to the dark desolate corners of these rural areas. Most preachers didn't live to be 30 years old due to the wear and tear from constant travel and the harsh conditions of life. 

Knowing that their time with each congregation was a short one, generally every two weeks to once a month, sermons had to be treated as a golden opportunity to reach people for Christ. When one is convinced that possibly but for this one sermon, souls are on the way to hell, it tends to make one take the task at hand very seriously. For the most part, sermons centered around converting the lost and the converts were then left "to work out their salvation with fear and trembling" on their own. The way might have been blunt (repent or go to hell), but it was effective. 

To the lonely people, back in the dark hollers and coves, these circuit riders were their entertainment, their source of outside news, their moral compass, and most importantly, their preacher. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Phrases Of Appalachia: Are you peart?

peart-  (adjective) lively; brisk; cheerful

Chiefly Southern and Midland; first known use: circa 1520

The fathers of other "peart boys" cleared their throats uneasily,
 but offering contradiction."  The Young Mountaineers by Charles Egbert Craddock
He uster be chipper, an' peartan' clost frens with me; 
an' now he don't saynothin. A Pessimist by Robert Timsol 

Peart is a word that I've heard for most of my life. When I was younger I asked my Granny what it meant and she said, "I don't directly know the real definition of it but I use it when I'm meaning to ask if you're feeling well and happy." 

Granny asked me if I was peart today and I didn't waste a second when giving her my answer. I'm getting ready to spend my fifth night, back to back,  in the hospital. Chronic pancreatitis is the opposite of peart.

Have you ever heard anyone use "peart"? Does it fit how you're feeling this Saturday?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Canning Grape Juice (Easy and Fast)

"In southern Appalachia, the wild grapes are muscadines, foxes, possums, and scuppernogs."

I picked these Concord grapes from vines my in-laws planted nearly 35 years ago. Just imagine how many jars of jelly and juice those vines have produced over the years! It is still a popular grazing spot for everyone in the family. One for me, one for the basket, two for me, one for the basket...you get the idea. 

"Like the native American crab apples that farmers grafted with European apples, the Concord grape was the result of an intense breeding program. While European grapes tend to have thin skins, native American grapes are thick-skinned. Botanists call them slipskins; settlers and foragers today call them fox grapes. Two hundred years ago, the wild grapes growing in New England were abundant, beautiful, and sweet-smelling, but they did not taste good, and so some New Englanders store them in brandy. However, Ephraim Wales Bull of Concord, a friend of Henry David Thoreau, believed he could find a solution to the problem, and he worked hard to create a new grape. After ten years, in 1853, Bull presented a new grape to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and he called it the Concord. It did not take long for the new Concords to spread to Appalachia, where mountaineers used them to make jelly, wine, juice, and pies." Encyclopedia of Appalachia

Since I've already made several pints of peach jelly and plan to make some apple in the next week or two, I decided to turn these freshly picked grapes into juice. The recipe I use couldn't be simpler:
  1. Heat your clean jars, lids, and rings.
  2. Boil a big pot of water.
  3. To each hot jar, add 1 cup of well rinsed grapes (you can also use Muscadines) and 1/2 cup of sugar.* 
  4. Fill each jar with boiling water leaving a half inch space at the top.
  5. Wipe rims with a clean towel and place hot lids and rings on jars. Swish the jars a little to help the sugar dissolve.
  6. Process the jars in a water bath (at a rolling boil) for 20 minutes.
  7. Carefully remove the jars and place on a towel. Allow to cool and seal for 12-24 hours before moving to storage.

*You can adjust the amount of sugar. I've seen other recipes that use as little as 1/4 cup and as much as 3/4 cup. 

Allow the juice to sit for about two months so everything can blend. I'm not a patient person so I decided to open a jar tonight after waiting one whole month. I should get an award! I'm surprised that I was able to make it that long. I noticed that it had developed a deeper color and know that it'll darken up the longer it sits. I drained mine through a mesh strainer into another jar and store it in the fridge. It is great! 

I believe that you would be hard pressed to find a simpler recipe for grape juice. Fun Fact: If someone in your house comes down with the stomach bug, start drinking as much grape juice as you can. It is supposed to change the pH in you intestinal tract and have enough vitamins and antioxidants to fight off the germs. If you are already having symptoms, it's too late. Not even grape juice can save you now.   Please let me know if you give this recipe a try and how you like it! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Meet Willis Plott: Jaw Harp Musician

Willis Plott at the 2016 Mountain Heritage Festival

As I was walking around looking at the different demonstrations at the Union County Mountain Heritage Festival, I heard a very distinctive "boing-boing" sound coming from the 1861 John Payne Cabin. I knew I had to meet whoever was making that sound! 

Mr. Willis Plott is a man of many talents. He is very skilled at caning chairs, making baskets, and playing the jaw harp. After I introduced myself, Mr. Plott told me that he is from the Gumlog community of Towns County, GA. When asked how long he had been playing the jaw harp and he said, "Well, I'd say about 40 years. It's not as hard as you'd think." 

I didn't know a lot about the jaw harp so I was curious to find out more about the history of the instrument and it's role in Appalachian music. 

"The Jew’s harp (sometimes called juice harp or jaw harp) has been played in many cultures but is most closely associated with Europeans. In Appalachia, the instrument was traditionally played as both a solo and an ensemble instrument. The Jew’s harp is played by using the mouth cavity as a sound chamber and by plucking a reed positioned inside the body of the instrument. Most Jew’s harps found in Appalachia have been commercially manufactured out of metal." Encyclopedia of Appalachia

I bought one of the jaw harps that Mr. Plott had available and he gave me a few hints to help play it:
  • Rest your upper and lower lips on the top and bottom of the frame and leave your teeth slightly apart.
  • Pluck the harp while pushing or pulling. While the "tongue peace" is moving, breathe across the instrument while silently pronouncing A-E-I-O-U. This shows you how to create different sounds by changing the size and shape of your mouth.
  • Breathing in different ways and moving your tongue slightly also changes the sound...just like whistling. You would think that you would need to hum but that isn't true. You simply breathe across the mouth piece. 
If you would like to purchase your own jaw harp, you can do so here. I'm sure I'll be hearing plenty of "music" as soon as my son figures out how to work mine! Is there anyone you know who plays the jaw harp? 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Mountain Heritage Festival

This past Saturday, my husband and I took a short drive over to Blairsville, GA to attend the annual Mountain Heritage Festival. This festival is held every Labor Day weekend at the Mountain Life Museum. 

They honestly have something for everyone. You'll find mountain arts/crafts, music, food vendors, storytelling, farm animals, gold panning, living history activities, demonstrations on basket making, chair caning, quilting and spinning along with activities for children. 

The activities are centered around the Mountain Life Museum property consisting of the Historic 1899 Courthouse, the 1906 Butt/Mock Home, the 1861 John Payne Cabin, the circa 1830 Duncan Cabin, and a late 1800's corn crib. 

I'm a bit of a talker, if you haven't already picked up on that, and I love meeting people and hearing their stories. On this trip I met a talented jaw harp player, a hilarious 81 year old Civil War reenactor, a gifted open fire cook/demonstrator, and a kind butter maker. I look forward to sharing a little about each of these characters and their skills this week. 

My only regret is not getting to attend Sunday when The Pressley Girls took the stage to perform. The twin sisters play and sing a wonderful mix of blue grass, folk, and indie music. You should definitely check them out! 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

It Is Well With My Soul

This was taken at the  Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center (Mountain City, GA) 
during their 50th Anniversary event back in May of this year.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, 
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, 
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

Though Satan shall buffet, tho' trials should come, 
Let this blest assurance control, 
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, 
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound and Lord shall descend.
"Even so" it is well with my soul. 

Lyrics: H.G. Spafford 1873 Composer: P.P. Bliss

I can imagine that this hymn has been sung in many Appalachian churches. It is one of my favorite (among many) hymns. It wasn't until recently that I learned the story behind the song. 

Following the death of his two year old son in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire (which also ruined him financially), Horatio Spafford booked passage to England on a ship for himself, his wife, and four daughters. Due to a late change of plans, Mr. Stafford sent his family ahead without him. While their ship was crossing the North Atlantic, it ran into trouble and sank, taking his four children to a watery grave. His wife miraculously escaped drowning. As soon as Mrs. Spafford was able, she sent a telegraph to her husband that said: "SAVED ALONE". After the husband and wife were reunited, while on the returning voyage home, as the ship neared the place where his children had drowned, it is thought that this was the time he wrote the words to It Is Well With My Soul, describing his own grief and faith at the same time. 

Can you imagine? Mr. Spafford's faith was so strong that he turned his eyes upon Jesus and wrote a song all while dealing with the loss of his five children. His was a true, strong faith. 

Faith is something that runs deep in Appalachia. It is very personal and dear. It is steadfast and what we cling to when our own ships are tossed to and fro. It is something that must be nurtured and shared. I can't imagine a life without my faith. 

What are some of your favorite old hymns?