Tag Archives: country life

Choose Life — Support Small Family Farms


Years ago, after I’d first written Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about the joys and trials of life on our small dairy farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Mom showed the manuscript to a local historian. He said I’d beautifully captured a vanishing way of life and that this book must be published. His insistence, coupled with the term ‘vanishing way of life’, gained my attention. I knew it was hard for small farmers to hold on with mounting pressure from the broader dairy industry, unregulated imports, and the growth of mega farms, but I didn’t realize we faced extinction.

Irregardless of our fate, the consumer will always have dairy products, but are they of the quality you desire?

Have you heard of Milk Protein Concentrates, also called MPC’s? There’s scary stuff sneaking into food, we need to become aware of and speak out against.

cows grazing in pasture

(Cows in our meadow by daughter Elise Trissel)

From Food and Water Watch:

“Unregulated imports of cheap milk protein concentrates are driving down the price of domestically produced milk and putting American dairy farmers out of business. And fewer American dairy farmers mean fewer choices for consumers, who are seeing increasing amounts of MPCs’ new, unregulated protein source‚ in their food supply.

MPCs’ are created by putting milk through an ultra-filtration process that removes all of the liquid and all of smaller molecules including the minerals that the dairy industry touts as being essential for good nutrition.

What is left following the filtration is a dry substance that is very high in protein and used as an additive in products like processed cheese, frozen dairy desserts, crackers and energy bars. Because MPCs’ are generally produced as a dry powder, exporters can ship the product long-distances very cheaply, and almost all of the dry MPCs’ used in America are imported.”

Visit the above link for more on MPC’s, not inspected or subject to the quality standards demanded of American dairy farmers. Check your labels carefully.

farmer-field

(Harvesting rye in the valley by my mother, Pat Chuchman)

My question is, do you care where your milk and other food comes from?  Are you concerned about the quality of what you’re feeding yourselves and your families? If so, then support your local farmers. We’re a dying breed.

Back to our farm which has been in the family for five generations. To try to preserve our way of life, we banded together with 20 other farmers in 2013 to form Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. Our goal: to purchase our own creamery and sell local natural milk and other dairy products from our farms to appreciative consumers. Nothing tastes as good, or is as good for you, as milk fresh from happy cows grazing in grassy meadows. We’re as picturesque and idyllic as the hobbits in the ShireBut a growing shadow hangs over us.

Farm garden image

(Our farm garden by daughter Elise Trissel)

Marketing our own dairy line was a great concept, and our products were very well received by the public. The work farm families poured into this venture is beyond description, No one could have tried harder to succeed than this group, but the creamery was too costly to run on our own. We failed to gain vital investors and co-packers. In mid-January 2015, after less than one year of actual production, Shenandoah Family Farms was forced to close. Our products are no longer offered. Instead of better helping our farm(s) to survive, we have further endangered ourselves. Our story is woeful, indeed. Barring a tidal wave of support, we’re not going to recover.

children with farmer in meadow

(Our farmer son and grandbabies by daughter Elise)

If you want to help the Trissel farm family and learn more of our lives, buy my book, Shenandoah Watercolors, available in kindle and print with lovely pictures taken by my talented family. There’s also much in here of interest to gardeners, to anyone who loves the country and a more natural life style.

Our beautiful valley. For now. Some things are worth fighting for, some things worth saving. If this isn’t, I don’t know what is.

Image of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring by my mom.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring

***Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual farm owner and NOT as the official spokesperson for Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. .I am entitled to a voice. This is my post and mine alone.

Old Time Sayings and Superstitions From the Shenandoah Valley


Spectacular Autumn Day!
These sayings are from Shenandoah Voices:  Folklore, Legends, and Traditions of the Valley by late historian and author John Heatwole. I also threw in some cures. Images of the Shenandoah Valley and Mountains were taken by my talented family. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mom, Pat Churchman, above.
I knew and greatly respected John Heatwole.  He even helped me with some of the initial research for my first historical novels. The wealth of knowledge he amassed is just one of the rich legacies John left behind.
Shenandoah Voices is my favorite book by him.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the old ways and days of rural Virginia, especially the valley and surrounding mountains. I was also privileged to hear John speak on this fascinating subject. He’s best known for his vast knowledge and books about the Civil War. He was also an amazing wood-carver/artist, a man of many talents.  Much missed. (Log hog/chicken barn by my husband Dennis.)
****
Many early valley settlers were Scots-Irish, my ancestors among them.  People from the British Isles tended to be superstitious. Also prevalent in the valley were Germans bringing the influence of the Pennsylvania-Dutch, another superstitious group. To quote Michael Scott, from The Office, “I’m not superstitious, just a little stitious.”
autumn in the Alleghenies
It’s bad luck to lay a hat on the bed.~
An itching nose means a visitor is coming. ~
A cardinal bumping against the window pane is an indication of an early death~
(The Alleghenies by my mom above)
old barn with Virgina creeper*To this I have to add ‘or an insanely jealous bird regarding his reflection as another male which tends to happen with cardinals.’
Peel an apple all in one piece and throw the peel over your shoulder.  When you turn around and look at it lying on the ground, whatever letter it reminds you of will be the first letter of your future husband’s last name.~ (This is an ancient Celtic Custom)
It’s bad luck to point at a rainbow. ~ *I suspect we are all guilty of this one.  Who knew?
It’s bad luck to bring a shovel into the house ‘because it is a grave tool.’ Some also think a hoe in the house bodes no good.~
HEARTHIf you enter a house and leave it without sitting down it is bad luck. Particularly if you leave by a different door than the one you entered.~
If a bird flies into your house there will soon be a death in the family~Within six months if a whippoorwill comes to your treetop and sings at night. ~ *How many of you have even heard a whippoorwill?  I have. Though not lately.
(Hearth in the old smokehouse on the Christmas tree farm in Singers Glen, VA)
If a baby smiles in its sleep, the child is talking to the angels. ~ *My personal favorite.
Rain isn’t far behind when a tree shows the underside of its leaves.~
Count the number of foggy mornings in August and that is how many winter snows there will be.~ I heard this one not long ago and suspect it may be true.  I’m also a believer in wooley bears predicting winter…
old barn at dusk(Creepy old barn up behind our house by Daughter Elise.. Also pictured above.)
A new moon with the points up means dry weather, and a moon with the points down means rain will soon fall. ~
If a full moon has a ring around it there will be snow by morning. ~ If the ring is large, the number of stars you count in it will be the number of inches that fall.~
*We say a ring around the moon means rain, or snow, within a few days.
Sheep shearing takes place around the first of May.  A cold rain will follow within a few days of shearing called a sheep rain. ~
On Ash Wednesday people made pancakes or the chickens wouldn’t lay.~ *We still have pancake suppers in the valley on that day.
Horse chestnuts carried in the pocket are thought to ward off rheumatism. ~
Sassafras tea is good to thin the blood. ~
Broth made from the hind legs of mice is good for kidney ailments.~ *Not tried this one.
‘Swamp root’ tea is also recommended for kidney disorders.~ Swamp root tea is considered by many to be a kind of ‘snake oil’ that was peddled years ago. A patent medicine. Here’s a link to learn more. (The Alleghenies by my mother)
For someone who is weak and recovering from long illness, make them sparrow broth tea. ~ *This supposedly saved my grandmother’s life when she was sick as a child.
Before taking a new baby out for its first ride (this probably applied to a wagon or buggy) the ‘herb lady’ rubbed warm bear grease on one of the infant’s palms and the bottom of the opposite foot thus insuring that the baby was protected from the rigors of the journey. (The herb lady was the granny woman).
A hog’s tooth carried in your right pocket will ward off toothache.~ *Maybe I should take up this one.
Catnip tea was made for children with colic.~ Tea from peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache.~ *These are still practiced.
Sage tea will keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.~
(old bridge in the valley, bordering the Alleghenies by my husband)
Treat measles with sheep manure that has been boiled, strained, and diluted with moonshine.~ *I assume with enough moonshine the patient didn’t notice the manure so much.
For a bad cold put lard on your chest sprinkled with salt. Another remedy is a mustard plaster made with mustard, lard, and egg whites and laid on the chest~
Freckles on the face can be washed away on the first of May. If they are washed in morning dew, they will be transferred to the hands which can be dried on another less visible part of the body like the arms or legs and left there permanently.  It’s recommended that this practice be repeated for three years in a row to work. ~
Quite an investment in time.
(Image of river in the mist by my mother)
When mumps invade your house put hog manure on the throat as a relief or cure.
 
*Considering the stench of hog manure, I doubt the sufferer would find much relief.
To get rid of warts, tie a knot in a string for each wart you have and bury it under rock.  When the string rots the wart will be gone. ~ (Tried this one, took years to work, but the wart is gone).
Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains
 (Old house in the Blue Ridge Mountains by my husband)
If you are sitting up with an ill person and a spark flies from the fireplace in the room, it is a sign of impending death. (From Hardy County, West Virginia).
It would be a terrible mistake for you to kill a lightning bug because lightning might kill you during the next electrical storm. (From Wise County, Virginia)
In the Blue Ridge Mountains it was believed that if a glass fell from a table after midnight and rolled across the floor, a coffin would have to be made the next day.
And I could go on, but this is enough for now.  Well, maybe one more.
When springtime rolls around again, and if you are fortunate enough to make a wish on the first toad you see hopping by, you will have abundant good luck. (From Wise County, VA)
This piece is a repost from the past, but seems appropriate for this time of year.

Gardening and Country Life in Glorious Color!


cover-for-swcI’ve labored away adding lovely images to Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about life on our small family farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Given my love of gardening, this includes a strong focus on my gardens and love of nature. The book is already out in print with images, but now that kindle and nook E-Readers support colored photographs, I’ve added heaps more. Shenandoah Watercolors in available in  eBook and print format at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I will also get it up on Kobo soon. If someone is dying for me to have it somewhere else, let me know.

Book description: Author/farm wife Beth Trissel shares the joys and challenges of rural life on her family’s small farm in the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Journey with her through the seasons on the farm, owned by the family since the 1930’s, and savor the richness of her cherished gardens and beloved valley. This journal, with images of her farm and valley, is a poignant, often humorous, sometimes sad glimpse into country life. Recommended for anyone who loves the country, and even those who don’t. ***Shenandoah Watercolors is a 2012 EPPIC eBOOK FINALIST.


The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in springExcerpt:
  The heavy rain has given way to a misting drizzle, but streams of water pour down from the hills and make new ponds and creeks. It’s chilly with that raw wet feel. This spring is awash in moisture and amazing after last summer’s searing drought. I’m struck by the intense beauty around me, and I thought I was already seeing it, but it’s so much more somehow. The grass seems to shimmer, yet there’s no sun out today, and the meadow is so richly green it’s like seeing heaven. Our barnyard geese are enraptured, as much as geese can be, with all the grass. If there’s a lovelier place to revel in spring than the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains, I don’t know it. Narnia, maybe.I’ve been thinking about my favorite places.

Dark hollow falls on Skyline drive, Shenandoah national parkThe pool I like best lies in the woods near a place called Rip Rap Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A splendid falls cascades up above, but I like the pool far more. We always meant to go back, but never have. The cold water ripped through me like liquid ice and is as clear as melted crystal. I could see the rocks on the bottom, some slick with moss, others brown-gold in the light where the sun broke through the leafy canopy overhead. Trout hid beneath big rounded stones or ones that formed a cleft, but the men tickled them out to flash over the flat rocks strewn across the bottom like a path. Drifts of hay-scented fern rose around the edges of the pool, warming the air with the fragrance of new mown hay, and made the shady places a rich green.Now, that’s a good place to go in my mind when I’m troubled. The problem with cities is that people don’t learn what really matters. Don’t really feel or know the rhythms of the earth. When we are separated from that vital center place, we grow lost. Sadly, most people will never know what they are lost from, or where they can be found.~

***Images of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring and Dark Hollow Falls in the Blue Ridge.

For the Loveliness of it All


Crocus AgainI love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.  ~Ruth Stout

Why, some of you may ask, am I so drawn to gardening? Granted, toiling in the earth has its downsides, like the aching back I will soon be complaining of, the chewing bugs, and inevitable weather affronts, but nothing is more uplifting to the spirit than a fair day in and among growing things. The joyous sights of new life returning to our beautiful valley after a long winter, the delectable scents and sounds…the trill of a meadowlark, the song sparrow singing overhead as I plant seeds in the crumbly brown ground…the swoop and soaring of the first butterfly…the pussy willow bursting with fuzzy catkins…the glowing crocus. Snow still obscures the landscape and cold wind nips my face, but the forecast promises better days and I shall soon be out sniffing the air with profound appreciation. The barnyard geese are fussy. Egg laying shall commence.

early_spring2The delights of spring are almost upon us. There’s always a moment that catches and holds me transfixed, and in that moment, all is perfect. All is lovely. My piece of heaven on earth.~

***Images of crocus from last year and spring in the valley taken by my mom in past years.

I’m Calling it–Spring!


Meadowlark, Eastern MeadowlarkSpring is when the meadowlark sings and I heard one in the field across the road from our farm this morning while out walking the dogs. I stopped and listened closely to be certain I’d heard right. Yep, three more unmistakable trills floated on the cold air. In full-blown spring, those sweet calls resound from various places in our meadow and the neighbor’s. Tracking down the elusive songster is almost like trying to catch a leprechaun. Getting a photograph of a meadowlark has long been a goal of mine and daughter Elise’s. We have yet to succeed. Still, hope, like spring, reigns eternal. Yes, we have snow and more biting temps in the forecast, but the barnyard geese are getting fussy and pairing off, our earliest indication of the renewal of the earth, and now the meadowlark has proclaimed the end of a brutal winter is in sight. (*Image of meadowlark I purchased)

Gray Geese sitting on eggsThe dogs and I tramped the yard to survey my dormant flower beds. I wonder how many plants will return after the frigid cold that engulfed the Shenandoah Valley these past weeks. The vegetable garden should be sporting the promise of a glorious cover crop of crimson clover, but the seedlings I knocked myself out to establish last fall are conspicuous by their absence. I will try again next fall. Over the weekend, Elise and I poured over seed catalogs and sent off several orders. I plan to start seeds in my little greenhouse later this month or the first of March. It’s solar, without an alternate heat source, so not much point in starting anything before then. If we really want it going all winter, we will have to install some kind of heat. As it is, the greenhouse is frozen out, so any bugs and diseases that might have lingered from last year are well and truly zapped. One advantage of a severe cold snap.

(*Nesting geese from last spring. Image by my husband, Dennis)

snowy pussywillow by the old red barn on march 25Another early sign of spring is the pussy willow in the back garden. Fuzzy grey buds are beginning to swell. Last year, I planted several pussy willows I’d rooted from cuttings down by the pond. I ought to trek over there and see if any of them made it. I’ll report back, and, if they didn’t, I shall persevere. (*Image of pussy willow by the old red barn from last spring by Elise)

Onward ho.

The Heartwarming Story of Violet the Cow and Baby Buttercup


Colin and Chloe with Buttercup“The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.”
― Ogden Nash,

In the world of cows, 92% of the females in a boy/girl set of twins are sterile and called Freemartins. The reproduction systems in these cows are malformed and they rarely ever grow to adulthood with the ability to reproduce. One cow defied the odds. She was taken in by our daughter Alison and her husband to raise on their little farmstead.  Her story as told by Alison.

Diron holding baby calf.jpg1 “Early in 2011, a brother and sister twin Holstein calf set from my parent’s dairy farm (Trissel’s Farm) came to live with my husband and me. A female cow, who is twins with a male, is almost always infertile, nature is smart like that, and so they’re generally used for beef. And that’s what we were raising them for. We decided it was best not to name the pair; but our [then] 5-year-old son, Colin, called the twin calves Violet and Moo. As Violet grew, we couldn’t help but notice that once a month it was an incredibly hard job to keep her in our pasture. Our neighbor’s field of a few beautiful Herford cows, complete with a bull, boarders ours. One cold morning in early spring, I was loading the kids in the car, getting ready to take Colin to preschool. I noticed Violet was missing from our field. We drove all around looking for her, and even drove to our neighbors house, twice, thinking maybe she was visiting their cows. The second time we drove to their house, because I had no idea where else she could be, Colin spotted her. “There she is!! She’s making friends already with the ‘bully’ cow!”  So she was, and so our neighbors allowed her to stay for a few days.

Months went by and we hadn’t thought much about the incident with the “bully cow.” But come to think of it, she hadn’t tried to leave the field in a long time.  And well, yes, she was getting big. Bigger than her twin brother.This past fall, a farm vet confirmed that the (almost) impossible had happened. Violet was pregnant and due around Christmas time. Her darling half Herford heifer calf was born a few days before Christmas. Violet the Cow rejoined her sisters of the herd at the Trissel Farm. My neighbor says she thinks Violet knew what she was doing all along. Her baby girl, named Buttercup, is with us now and someday will be a dairy cow too, only not on the Trissel farm, but on a place in the country providing milk for several families.”~

Colin and Chloe holding heavy cream carton with their image on the label ***Baby Buttercup, Colin and little sister Chloe are featured on the Shenandoah Family Farm’s cream label. In 2013, our family banded together with 20 other small family farmers in the Shenandoah Valley to produce and sell our own natural, local, sustainable dairy products. For more on Shenandoah Family Farms, visit our website and like us on Facebook. Also, you can help us bring our local products to your grocery store by signing the Product Request Petition. We’ll send these requests right to stores in your area so you can try our products as soon as they are available (we’re shooting for later this month). It’s a dream we’ve worked hard to achieve and our best hope of preserving our farms for future generations in the Valley.

*Images of Baby Buttercup and Colin and Chloe and their father Diron

Superstitions and Lore from the Shenandoah Valley


(The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mother Pat Churchman)
These sayings are taken from Shenandoah Voices:  Folklore, Legends, and Traditions of the Valley by late historian and author John Heatwole. I also threw in some cures. Images of the Shenandoah Valley and Mountains were taken by my talented family.
I knew and greatly respected John Heatwole.  He even helped me with some of the initial research for my first historical novels. The wealth of knowledge he amassed is just one of the rich legacies John left behind.
Shenandoah Voices is my favorite book by him.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the old ways and days of rural Virginia, especially the valley and surrounding mountains. I was also privileged to hear John speak on this fascinating subject. He’s best known for his vast knowledge and books about the Civil War. He was also an amazing wood carver/artist, a man of many talents.  Much missed.
(Image of log hog/chicken barn by my husband Dennis.)
****
Many early valley settlers were Scots-Irish, my ancestors among them.  People from the British Isles tended to be superstitious.  Also prevalent in the valley were Germans bringing the influence of the Pennsylvania-Dutch, another superstitious group.  To quote Michael Scott, boss from NBC’s hit show, The Office, “I’m not superstitious, just a little stitious.”
It’s bad luck to lay a hat on the bed.~
An itching nose means a visitor is coming. ~
A cardinal bumping against the window pane is an indication of an early death~
*To this I have to add ‘or an insanely jealous bird regarding his reflection as another male which tends to happen with cardinals.’
Peel an apple all in one piece and throw the peel over your shoulder.  When you turn around and look at it lying on the ground, whatever letter it reminds you of will be the first letter of your future husband’s last name.~ (This is an ancient Celtic Custom)
It’s bad luck to point at a rainbow. ~ *I suspect we are all guilty of this one.  Who knew?
It’s bad luck to bring a shovel into the house ‘because it is a grave tool.’ Some also think a hoe in the house bodes no good.~ (Image of old smokehouse from the outside and from the inside below. The smokehouse is at our favorite Christmas tree farm outside the tiny hamlet of Singers Glen.
(Images by daughter Elise.)
If you enter a house and leave it without sitting down it is bad luck.  Particularly if you leave by a different door than the one you entered.~
If a bird flies into your house there will soon be a death in the family~Within six months if a whippoorwill comes to your treetop and sings at night. ~ *How many of you have even heard a whippoorwill?  I have.
If a baby smiles in its sleep, the child is talking to the angels. ~ *My personal favorite.
Rain isn’t far behind when a tree shows the underside of its leaves.~
Count the number of foggy mornings in August and that is how many winter snows there will be.~ I heard this one not long ago and suspect it may be true.  I’m also a believer in wooley bears predicting winter…
A new moon with the points up means dry weather, and a moon with the points down means rain will soon fall. ~
If a full moon has a ring around it there will be snow by morning. ~
If the ring is large, the number of stars you count in it will be the number of inches that fall.~ *We say a ring around the moon means rain, or snow, within a few days.
(Creepy old barn up behind our house taken by Daughter Elise.)
Sheep shearing takes place around the first of May.  A cold rain will follow within a few days of shearing called a sheep rain. ~
On Ash Wednesday people made pancakes or the chickens wouldn’t lay.~ *We still have pancake suppers in the valley on that day.
Horse chestnuts carried in the pocket are thought to ward off rheumatism. ~
Sassafras tea is good to thin the blood. ~
Broth made from the hind legs of mice is good for kidney ailments.~ *Not tried this one. ‘Swamp root’ tea is also recommended for kidney disorders.~ I’ll have to research exactly what swamp root is.
(The Alleghenies by my mother)
For someone who is weak and recovering from long illness, make them sparrow broth tea. ~ *This supposedly saved my grandmother’s life when she was sick as a child.
Before taking a new baby out for its first ride (this probably applied to a wagon or buggy) the ‘herb lady’ rubbed warm bear grease on one of the infant’s palms and the bottom of the opposite foot thus insuring that the baby was protected from the rigors of the journey.
A hog’s tooth carried in your right pocket will ward off toothache.~ *Maybe I should take up this one.
Catnip tea was made for children with colic.~ Tea from peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache.~ *These are still practiced.
Sage tea will keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.~
(old bridge in the valley, bordering the Alleghenies by my husband)
Treat measles with sheep manure that has been boiled, strained, and diluted with moonshine.~ *I assume with enough moonshine the patient didn’t notice the manure so much.
For a bad cold put lard on your chest sprinkled with salt. Another remedy is a mustard plaster made with mustard, lard, and egg whites and laid on the chest~
Freckles on the face can be washed away on the first of May. If they are washed in morning dew, they will be transferred to the hands which can be dried on another less visible part of the body like the arms or legs and left there permanently.  It’s recommended that this practice be repeated for three years in a row to work. ~ Quite an investment in time.
(Image of river in the mist by my mother)
When mumps invade your house put hog manure on the throat as a relief or cure. ~ *Considering the stench of hog manure, I doubt the sufferer would find much relief.
To get rid of warts, tie a knot in a string for each wart you have and bury it under rock.  When the string rots the wart will be gone. ~

                   (Old house in the Blue Ridge Mountains by my husband)
If you are sitting up with an ill person and a spark flies from the fireplace in the room, it is a sign of impending death. (From Hardy County, West Virginia).
It would be a terrible mistake for you to kill a lightning bug because lightning might kill you during the next electrical storm. (From Wise County, Virginia)
In the Blue Ridge Mountains it was believed that if a glass fell from a table after midnight and rolled across the floor, a coffin would have to be made the next day.
And I could go on, but this is enough for now.  Well, maybe one more.
When springtime rolls around again, and if you are fortunate enough to make a wish on the first toad you see hopping by, you will have abundant good luck. (From Wise County)

(The Alleghenies by my husband)