Saturday, April 28, 2018

April in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

(In front of our farm-house)
You are likely to find me out in the garden, because the garden is where life is. Everything is green, growing, flowering, or with the promise of blooms and fruit to come.  The garden is a vibrant place, and yet, deeply peaceful, too, and ever-changing. No two days in the garden are the same.  Each day holds new discoveries. Spring is a giddy time, with so much to do at once.
Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there. ~Thomas Fuller 1732 (This is very true)

While much of the country is still buried under winter, those of us fortunate enough to dwell in the Shenandoah Valley, or 'The Shire' as I call it,  are blessed with spring loveliness. Not that the weather doesn't waffle here, because it has and does, dipping back into frigid temps after luring everything into bloom. But most plants are hardy enough to withstand this whimsy. We are well accustomed to the annual dance. I cover my gullible lilies and pray for the blossoming trees.

A new project has opened up in my gardening world with the redoing of our farm pond--digging out years of accumulating silt--and the expansion of the surrounding fence.  This gives us much more room to grow our dreams, safe from munching cows, and a lot of tree planting has ensued. Yesterday, daughter Elise and I planted thirty additional trees and bushes on the pond banks, after a long planting session this past Saturday with the enthusiastic help of my three oldest grandsons. While we labored, we were surrounded by birdsong from meadowlarks, red-winged black birds, the song sparrow, killdeer, cardinals... It's hard work, but the pond will be glorious. Our aim is to plant for the birds, water fowl, fish, pollinators, and people. I'm envisioning magic.
(One end of our Pond)
(Elise, Me, and my three grandsons after a long tree planting day)
As for my writing, admittedly it has sagged as planting and gardening take priority, but I have a new story idea buzzing around in my head. Outside time gives me the opportunity to ponder my emerging plot. How can I not be inspired while enveloped in all this spring beauty?
(Virginia Bluebells in front of our house)
"Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day." ~W. Earl Hall
"April is a promise that May is bound to keep." ~Hal Borland

"The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s kiss glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze."
~Julian Grenfell
"In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours." ~Mark Twain
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
~Robert Frost

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke
"It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!" ~Mark Twain
***Images by daughter Elise Trissel

Monday, March 26, 2018

New #audiobook #historicalromance #Novel Traitor's Legacy

Journey back to the intrigue of the American Revolution, where spies can be anyone and trust may prove deadly. This gripping era comes to life in the rich tones of the audio book narrated by Lisa Valdini. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the story unfold and I already know what happens. If you like mystery, history, adventure, and romance, Traitor's Legacy is for you.

Traitor's Legacy Blurb:

1781. On opposite sides of the War of Independence, British Captain Jacob Vaughan and Claire Monroe find themselves thrust together by chance and expediency.
Captain Vaughan comes to a stately North Carolina manor to catch a spy. Instead, he finds himself in bedlam: the head of the household is an old man ravaged by madness, the one sane male of the family is the very man he is hunting, and the household is overseen by his beguiling sister Claire.
Torn between duty, love, and allegiances, yearning desperately for peace, will Captain Vaughan and Claire Monroe forge a peace of their own against the vagaries of war and the betrayal of false friends?
Traitor's Legacy is available in audio at Audible and Amazon. Also available in kindle and print at Amazon, and in eBook from all online booksellers.
While written to stand alone, Traitor's Legacy is the sequel to award-winning historical romance novel Enemy of the King. Traitor's Curse is book 3 in The Traitor's Legacy Series.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

April Online #Herbal Lore Class–Beth Trissel

If you missed my other classes, or want to catch the updated version, I'm giving my Herbal Lore and the Historic Medicinal Uses of Herbs class in April for Charter Oak Romance Writers. Non-members are welcome to join in. Register at this link. Scroll down:
(Dill and heirloom poppies from Monticello in our garden)
This workshop spans centuries of herbs and their lore from the ancients, through the British Isles, Colonial America, Native Americans, the Granny Women and the Mountain People of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies (general Appalachia).

Mountains are all around us here in the Shenandoah Valley. This area is rich in history and plants, and people who went to great lengths to thwart witches. Seriously.

There's so much fascinating stuff to cover. Too much, so I encourage participants to download and save the files for later. I also welcome discussion and questions. It's more enjoyable with participation.

My aim is for this class to be fun, informative and useful. I often incorporate herbs into my writing and into my life. Some of the more archaic uses are frowned upon today, and/or illegal. I recommend avoiding those practices.
Class members will receive the eBook of my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles (also available in print if anyone's interested).
This is my class outline, but I guarantee I will post even more than this. I have a wealth of information to share, and am accumulating more.

Week One:
Introduction to the workshop and meet & greet.

The wisdom of Native Americans. A focus on Native American herbs.
The Granny Women. A focus on the mountain people and old time cures, both herbal and some white magic.

Week Two:
Colonial American herbs (Part One)

Colonial American herbs (Part Two)

Week Three:
Plants for a Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles

Other related posts on herbs in the British Isles, including the Druids.

Week Four:

‘What can kill can cure’ but definitely kill and watch out for werewolves (Poisonous herbs and those believed to have power against werewolves and vampires)

For protection from spells and enchantment, the sacred, healing herbs
Knock yourself out and Ward off the Plague: Dwale, an Old-English Antiseptic

The Vinegar of the Four Thieves
An opportunity for final sharing from participants. 

“As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul.”
– Anonymous

Here's the registration link again:

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Chronicling Spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

I am a gardener, animal lover, author... Fortunately, I haven't had to choose a single focus and incorporate my loves into my writing. Among my greatest passions is the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in general, and our farm in particular. The meadows are covered in a wash of green and looking far more hopeful than the brown hue we've lived with since November A blanket of snow is pretty but we haven't had much snowfall this year. Thank heavens the rain has returned after months of drought.

Our drained and dug out farm pond is finally beginning to fill back up again. It was a dry crater all fall and winter like something on the moon. The barnyard geese were suspicious at first, but now go for swims. We are watching for the migrating waterfowl and birds who were once regular visitors here. Sadly, our place was off their radar last spring. Having an alive pond again is exciting. We're consulting experts about what to do regarding fish, and I'm toying with getting ducks. The original pond had filled with silt over the decades and had to be redone. It's located in a marshy spot in the meadow fed by wet water springs and is the head waters of Cooks Creek, which ultimately feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. Fencing keeps the cows out. We have planted some trees and shrubs around it and will plant more.

(Geese enjoying the new grass. Ruins of an old barn visible back behind our farm)

I'm in my 'giddy about the earth awakening mode', or was, until the wind storm hit. My spirits are a little battered, and the crocus are kind of sad after the roaring bluster. But I trust the blossoms will revive and new ones will open when this gale finishes with us and sweeps away. March really roared in this year. Inclement weather is a trial to gardeners everywhere. We hopeful souls go on. We must. I'm chronicling spring as it unfolds in my bit of earth.

Early crocus and snowdrops below.

I saved a lot of seeds last year, ordered many others, and started some early varieties of flowers, herbs, and vegetables in my little greenhouse. One late February day was so balmy, it felt like May. I planted my early salad greens in the garden during the warm spell. Then the lion returned, and the seeds will slumber until the warmth comes back.

"Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps;
Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps."
~A. Bronson Alcott, "The Garden," Tablets, 1868

"It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season." ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

(Miniature iris return faithfully each year)

(Yellow crocus)

***For more on me follow my Amazon Author Page:

Old-Time Dandelion Salad Recipe!

Socked full of nutrients, dandelions should probably be eaten more often than zapped with herbicides. We've been taught to look upon this humble wildflower/weed/herb as a plague in our lawns and flower beds, but perhaps we should have more respect for the much maligned dandelion. 

To further that end, I've searched out an old Mennonite recipe for a tasty hot dressing to pour over the tender greens. It's essential to gather the leaves quite young or they will be entirely too bitter. I'm sure you can also use this dressing for other greens, too, like watercress and endive.  My mother in law used to make it for dandelion salad and then forgot her recipe. But I found it, at least this sounds like what I remember more or less. I gathered new greens and prepared the salad this week. Very good, though not quite as delicious as hers.
For The Salad itself:
4 cups chopped dandelion leaves
3 hard-boiled eggs
3 slices of bacon
For The Hot Dressing:
1 1/2 Tablespoons flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 cups milk or water
Wash and chop dandelion leaves. Cut bacon in pieces and fry. Remove bacon from drippings. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients, add egg, vinegar and water or milk. Stir until well blended.
Cook this mixture  in the bacon drippings until thickened and cool slightly.  Pour over dandelions and mix lightly. Garnish with sliced eggs and bacon.
For those of you who are reluctant to use all that bacon fat in the dressing, I suggest substituting butter which is better for you than margarine. You could probably even leave the bacon out if you're vegetarian, but bacon makes everything taste better.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The hum of bees is the voice of the garden. ~Elizabeth Lawrence

(English Cottage Garden)

In midwinter my thoughts turn to gardening, of course. Ever wonder about the history behind these cherished plots of earth? Cottage gardens stretch back hundreds of years to the time when people used herbs for everything and grew most of their own food. These homey plots acquired their name from the country cottage around which they grew. I love cottage gardens and strive to have my own. However, I live in a boxy white farm house, not a cottage, and our yard and gardens are rather sprawling for that overflowing, filled to the brim, in a compact sort of way look. Like mine, these small gardens are (and were) a mix of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. I strongly associate cottage gardens with the British Isles, because of our shared history and the influence of the Mother Country on the New World. But other countries have them too.
(Bee on catnip blossom with our house in background)

(Heirloom poppies)

(Bees on poppies)

"No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden." ~Hugh Johnson
People acquired the plants for their cottage gardens from friends and family in the form of ‘starts’ (root divisions) cuttings, and seeds. Very much as I do today, only I have the added benefit of seed catalogs. They are called passalong plants. Sometimes these gifts of plant starts to others have come back to me when my own died out.  Thank heavens, I'm generous. If I gave any of you lupines, I would like some back now. :) I'm also a big fan of wildflowers.
(The front flower border in our garden)
Daughter Elise (my right arm in the garden) and I encourage beneficial insects to make their home among our plants. We are discovering which herbs and flowers, etc, are best for attracting pollinators, and we continually experiment with companion planting. It's as much a happy accident as intentional, but we grow a wide variety of flowers so that pollen sources are available throughout the growing season. We've learned that heirloom, non hybrid flowers and vegetables are best for attracting butterflies, beneficial insects, and bees... As it turns out, these are the kind that make up traditional cottage gardens. Those new and improved varieties may look more attractive to us, but not to the pollinators. Butterflies give them a pass. Elise and I noted this with the 'Wave' petunias we got from a garden center. Not a single butterfly or bee paid any attention to those prolific blooms. 

 A few pics from our garden this past summer and some of our visitors.

(Painted Lady butterfly on Agastache flowers)

(Hairstreak butterfly on asters)

(Bee on Tithonia)

(Butterfly On Forget-Me-Nots)

(Monarch visiting Bright Lights Cosmos)

Also, watch out for plants from garden centers that have been treated with systemic insecticides called neonicotinyl insecticides. You will unintentionally kill nectar seeking visitors with those flowers. For more on avoiding these killer flowers visit:

"It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season." ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

If you are in an herb growing mood and want to learn more of their lore and historic uses, I am pushing my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles: 

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.

Available in kindle and print at Amazon: 

You can't go wrong with herbs.

For more on me, follow my Amazon Author Page: