Back Creek Farms pure maple syrup … Highland Maple Festival

Originally published March 2014….

If you’re looking for personality, look no further than Pat Lowry who, with his wife Valerie (in the background talking with a customer) owns Back Creek Farms Sugar House. His quick smile and friendly conversation combined with an ease around newcomers make this fourth-generation farmer a natural salesman. Each year during the Highland Maple Festival they have a tent set up on Main Street in Monterey near the Courthouse where their pure maple syrup, crafted on the farm in the southern end of the county, is sold along with maple fudge and other products.

Pat noted that this year sugar water production was down 75 percent because of the cold winter. “Some days it might not start until 4:00,” he said, referring to sap rising in the sugar maple trees, “and then stop at 6:00 when the sun goes down.” That affects not only the amounts available but also the taste. This year it is exceptionally yummy.

We’ve been purchasing their syrup from the festival for a number of years but were pleasantly surprised to see it for sale last summer in the gift shop at Monticello. The Lowrys have found a number of other outlets as well.

This year Back Creek’s syrup has a buttery-caramel taste and is thick and rich and oh so good on pancakes and anything else.

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McAuliffe Vetoes Glenn Davis Bill That Would Have Protected Taxpayers

On Monday Delegate Glenn Davis, the pro-jobs Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, denounced Governor McAuliffe’s third consecutive veto of Davis’ bill to protect taxpayers from skyrocketing local taxes and keeping Virginia a right-to-work state.

“The Governor vetoed taxpayers once again by vetoing HB1753, which stops local governments from demanding union-level expenses from contractors. That drives up the costs of local projects and local taxpayers pay the price,” said Davis, who labor unions have always seen as a threat. In fact, labor unions have given over twice what the House Democratic Caucus has given to his liberal opponents since 2013 to try to defeat Davis, who has consistently prevailed.

“When government demands private companies pay union wages, you’re on your way to being a union state,” added Davis. “No wonder Virginia’s falling behind among the best states for business. We need to lower the cost of doing business and stop government from imposing greater costs.”

Virginia’s current Lt. Governor, Ralph Northam, also voted against this bill in the Senate in an effort to prevent its passage.

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David Rockefeller Dies at 101, Family Saved Colonial Williamsburg

David Rockefeller died Monday. He was 101 years old, the grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller Sr., last survivor of John D. Rockefeller Jr’s children, the youngest of his siblings. As heir to the Standard Oil fortune, David Rockefeller was a billionaire who made his way in the world as a banker, a philanthropist, and a patron of the arts with an art collection estimated to be worth $500 million.

John D. Rockefeller’s children and grandchildren were taught that with great wealth comes great responsibility, and over the years numerous projects have been the benefactors of the family’s generosity.

The citizens of Virginia and the nation benefitted greatly from the Rockefeller family’s generous philanthropy that made possible the restoration of a forgotten and run-down Colonial Williamsburg, a premiere living-history museum that is known around the world. The family’s financial support of Williamsburg exceeded $100 million over the years, beginning in the 1920s when David Rockefeller’s father became involved in the restoration and re-creation of this national treasure.

America owes a great deal of gratitude for this influential family’s part in preserving a very important part of our history.

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First Day of Spring 2017

The first day of Spring arrived at 6:29 this morning and, in Virginia, it comes after a lackluster winter that saw little snow and wildly fluctuating temperatures with plenty of spring-like days.

This first day of spring is brought to you by the animated spring equinox Google doodle. Click here to see the latest in a line of creative entertainment from the premiere search engine — but hurry because it will only be there one day — March 20, 2017.

Spring equinox marks the time of year when day and night are equal — 12 hours each — and then days become longer until the summer equinox on June 21. This year it offers the pleasing nugget of being on a Monday. Kind of take the edge off this first day of the week, doesn’t it….? Spring flowers, spring temperatures, spring sunshine, spring cleaning.

Enjoy spring!

Photo by Mark Robbins

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Shenandoah Mountain to Sapsuckers, a Photo Trip Through Maple Syrup Country

The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon Saturday morning when we left our house in western Augusta County on the annual trek to Highland County’s Maple Festival. The air was cold, and we had experienced a wintry mix of rain, sleet, and snow the previous night. Our destination had snow on the ground before more fell on Friday so we were hopeful there would be plenty of photo ops since the last time I had photographed the festival in snow was 2013. Road trip!

I clicked a photo of the sunrise from the road, and then we turned west onto Route 250, pointed toward the Appalachians. By the time we reached Deerfield in far western Augusta County, the ground was covered in snow and from that point on we were in snow until we returned home. The temperature was hovering just above freezing, and we still had to cross four mountains before reaching Monterey. Driving up Shenandoah Mountain, the fog set in, snow was deeper on the sides of the road, and snow plows passed going in the other direction. Mr. Mitchell, who had worked for VDOT while in high school, gave a wave to the drivers we passed. Thanks to them, we were about to make this trek on clear roads. The top of Shenandoah Mountain was socked in with fog and the historical overlook was empty — no view to be seen in all that fog.

At the bottom of Shenandoah Mountain we passed through the sleepy berg of Headwaters. The little general store, a popular stop for many over the years, is closed and for sale. Fog lifted for a bit at the lower elevation …


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Highland’s Laurel Fork Sapsuckers On Top of the World

Originally published in March 2014….
Okay, these guys get the prize for best view … and that’s saying a lot in Highland County where it’s impossible to find a bad view. Located on top of Alleghany Mountain that straddles the Virginia-West Virginia line ten miles west of Monterey, Laurel Fork Sapsuckers has the highest elevation of the seven sugar camps. How high? Try 4,400 feet. The breath-takingly spectacular scenery alone is worth the drive. They are also the newest camp. The land has been in the family for four generations but the camp has been operating since 2010 and features eighteen acres of sugar maples. This was our first visit but it won’t be our last.

Earlier in the day we had been to Duff’s Sugar House south of Monterey so when we left we took Rt. 84 from Duff’s to Rt. 600 at Back Creek and followed it north to Rt. 250, a drive we’ve done many times in the past. The pavement turns to gravel as this scenic back road climbs the ridge that parallels the Back Creek valley, and it was muddy and soft in many places but frozen over with ice in others. When we emerged onto Rt. 250, it was only a few miles further west to Laurel Fork Sapsuckers Sugar Camp. Why not, we thought … let’s go!

First thought when we turned at the very unassuming looking yard sign that said “Laurel Fork Sapsuckers:” Top of the world. Second thought: Oh my gosh, there’s so much mud. The sun was shining, snow was melting, and the parking area just off Rt. 250 was soft as we backed into a grassy-muddy spot.

A young man was standing nearby, dressed for the cooler-than-Monterey weather at that high elevation, and he walked toward us as we tried to get our bearings. Where was the sugar house? Where were the people? All I saw were a couple of parked cars, what looked to be an abandoned house, and mountains as far as the eye could see.

The young man was named Ladd and he pointed toward the road that continued up the mountain beyond the parking lot and disappeared into the snowy woods. That’s where everything was located, he told us. The road was bordered by deep snow which made it a gully that had a river of water running downhill.

“You need four-wheel drive to get up there,” he told us. Hmm … our four-wheel drive had moved away when our daughter married.

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Del. Jimmie Massie Will Not Seek Re-election in HOD-72

Facebook has certainly become the crossroads of political announcements recently, and Saturday was no exception. Republican Delegate Jimmie Massie (72 HOD)announced his decision not to run for reelection:

Representing my 72nd District constituents in the Virginia House of Delegates, for the past decade, has been the greatest honor of my professional life! I have always been immensely humbled by the trust and confidence my constituents have bestowed upon me to represent them in the oldest continually meeting legislature in the United States. Interacting with, helping, representing my constituents and all the persons I have met over the past 10 years from all walks of life has been the best part of the job.

After a tremendous amount of prayer, numerous consultations and deep thought I have decided not to seek re-election this year. This was a very tough decision!

I want to thank my constituents for their trust in me, my family for their sacrificial support of me, all the great Virginians I have met on the political and public policy trails, all the volunteers who have helped me, my wonderful colleagues in the House of Delegates (Republicans, Democrats and Independents) and the hardworking staff at the General Assembly. May God bless you all!

The news had barely begun making the rounds when a candidate announced his intention to seek the seat, again by Facebook. Attorney Edward Whitlock III, who serves as chairman of the Henrico County Republican Committee, wrote:

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Battling for the Heart and Soul of the Southern Baptist Convention

For those who have not been paying attention, there has been religious fallout following Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President.

Many have been following the saga of Dr. Russell Moore who is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention who stood up against supporting Trump for president, but he is by no means the only person of faith who resisted Trump. Among them are pastor and author Max LucadoDr. Michael Brown, and NC pastor and blogger John Pavlovitz.

Moore’s resistance to Trump made him the subject of a Trump tweet during the campaign: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”

I dare say Donald Trump never took the time to read the doctrine of the Baptist denomination but he cavalierly deemed Moore a nasty guy with no heart.

Dr. Russell Moore, 45, is a man of courage. It is difficult to stand up to the overwhelming majority, a head wind he has faced since splitting from the (as it turned out) overwhelming decision within the evangelical community to vote for Donald Trump (an estimated 81 percent of evangelicals backed Trump).

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Late Winter Snow Mixes With Spring Flowers in Shenandoah Valley

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” —Hal Borland

As a frigid breeze blew across my front yard Monday afternoon, I decided to take my camera and snap some pictures of our blooming plum and cherry trees because snow was moving in later in the evening. The temperature had dipped into the teens over the weekend, already causing blossoms to fall to the ground, limply piled up under the trees, but enough were left on branches to get some decent photos. Icicles were on the wind and I shivered as I reached out in the stiff breeze to steady a branch with one hand while focusing my camera with the other.


Pink and fragile-looking, these little guys are hardier than expected. The blooms in these pics had withstood the teen temps but I wasn’t sure they could withstand snow along with cold. So I clicked away, walking around the trees to try differing angles to showcase them in the best way possible.


Monday night the snow showed up right on time although we only saw about three inches instead of the 4-8 inches that had been in the forecast. However, what we got was pretty and so I returned to the trees Tuesday morning, again with camera in hand, to get pictures of soft pink blossoms covered in fluffy white snow.

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Why Are Fox News Watchers Calling For Anchor Shepard Smith’s Head?

On Monday afternoon and then again on Tuesday, Shepard Smith was right there in his anchor chair at Fox News Channel’s top-rated Shepard Smith Reporting. So much for the rumors of his demise. Over the weekend, some Fox viewers were calling for the chief news anchor’s head over at the fair and balanced network.

Smith, who is also manager of the network’s breaking news division and has been with Fox since its inception in 1996, was frustrated last week at the never-ending news of Russian connections with members of the Trump administration, and the lack of answers forthcoming from the White House.

After it was learned on Thursday that fired national security advisor Michael Flynn had just registered as a foreign agent for Turkey, Smith’s exasperation overflowed when he bluntly blurted out that there was too much smoke, too much Russia, and too much lying going on.

That was apparently more than some Fox News supporters could bear, and now they are beating the drum to see Smith dismissed, spreading fake news that he had already been removed or was about to be removed.

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Del. Farrell Won’t Seek Re-Election for HOD-56, Candidates Lining Up

In a surprise move, Republican Delegate Peter Farrell (HOD-56) announced last week he would not seek re-election to the House of Delegates district he has represented since 2011 when he won the GOP nomination against another candidate, Dave Brat, who quickly got over it and moved on to seek another GOP office.

Farrell, whose dad is powerful CEO Tom Farrell of Dominion Resources, was a rising star within the party but made the decision to step aside because of family and work considerations, writing on his Facebook page:

Many folks know that I have been deliberating whether to run again. After lots of prayer and consideration I will not be seeking re-election. Being a member of the House of Delegates has been the greatest honor of my professional life. Thank you to all who I have met along the way as the best part of the job is getting to meet a lot of great people from all walks of life. It was a tough decision, but with a young family and a growing business I cannot give the job as Delegate the time and energy that it deserves. Thank you to everyone who has given me the opportunity to be your representative and thank you to all the wonderful staff at the General Assembly who are some of the best public servants around!

Democrats have already fielded a candidate for the seat, Lizzie Drucker-Basch.
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Nor’easter Stella Predicted To Drop Substantial Snow On Virginia

Do you want to build a snowman? Hunker down because some who live in the path of the impending March nor’easter named Stella could see up to two feet of snow, and substantial amounts have been predicted along the East Coast from New England through the Carolinas. With such high snow totals, it’s sure to be boom or bust, depending on location.

In Virginia, the predicted snow comes on the heels of a relatively mild winter that seemed to have more up-and-down temperatures than usual. With the first day of spring a week away, this wintry forecast may seem like a cruel joke but it is March in Virginia so nor’easter blizzards are not unusual.

It’s worth noting that Stella is on a similar path as the March 11-13, 1993, winter “Storm of the Century” that hit the East Coast twenty-four years ago, causing 310 deaths, billions of dollars in damage, and had record low temps as well as thundersnow, extra high winds, and tornadoes. Stella is not predicted to be a repeat of 1993.

As a sad side note, Washington, D.C.’s famous cherry blossoms, expected to peak this weekend which is early because of the warms temps of winter 2016-17, are in danger from winter conditions that are the harshest since record keeping began in 1921. Northern Virginia and the nation’s capital have the potential to see up to a foot of snow.

At our house west of Staunton in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, we are under a winter weather watch. The forecast as of Monday morning was suggesting we are in the path for 4-8 inches of snow that will begin between 6-8pm, high winds, and overnight lows in the 20s. Temps through Thursday are expected to top out at daytime highs in the low- to mid-30s with overnight lows in the teens. Areas north of here are expecting much more wintry precipitation.

The National Weather Service as well as numerous weather outlets will be updating throughout the storm. The Weather Channel’s head meteorologist Jim Cantore was in Boston on Monday with a platoon of other TWC weather watchers on location through the storm area.

Wherever you are, and whether you’re expecting snow, rain, or nothing at all, be safe and keep a weather eye to the sky.

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Grandma’s Wedding Band

My wedding ring along with my grandmother’s thin gold band.

A friend recently lost his grandmother which made my mind drift back to memories of my own grandma who passed away when I was 14 years old. In her 80s, she was the first person to die who was close to me.

Her name was Mollie, and when she was in her late 60s she lost her wedding ring. My mom, who was in her 20s at the time, bought a replacement ring, a thin gold band that was larger than usual to fit over my grandmother’s gnarled fingers and knuckles. They were hard-working hands, hands that had raised 10 children, worked in the farm fields and canned the rewards from those fields; washed, ironed, and cleaned; snapped beans and made dumplings. I was an infant at the time but Grandma said that when she passed on she wanted me, my mom’s oldest child, to have that wedding band.

Engraved inside the thin sliver of gold were their initials, “JFO” for John Francis Osborne, and “MKO” for Mollie Kennedy Osborne, along with the date they were married: August 21, 1904, which was a Sunday.

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My Great-Grandfather’s Kennedy Country Store … Alleghany County, NC

My mother’s family has deep roots in Alleghany County, North Carolina, where they settled in the mountains just over the state line from Virginia and outside of Sparta, NC. Drive the back roads and you’ll see lots of Kennedys.

Cross the New River from Grayson County, Virginia, into North Carolina and follow the winding country roads to an area called Turkey Knob that has been inhabited for generations by my relatives. This is the location of the Kennedy Country Store, started in the 1880s by my great-grandfather, James L. Kennedy.

James L. Kennedy was my grandmother’s father, and he established the store in the Potato Creek Community in the late 1800s selling peanuts and coffee. He and his son, Carl M. Kennedy, took weekly turns working the store and going home to Turkey Knob Community to farm. This great-grandfather had 24 children … but that’s another family story for another day.

Around 1907, Kennedy Store was moved to a wooden building in Turkey Knob Community across the road from its present location at the intersection of Mount Carmel Road and Turkey Knob Road. Part of the old store stood in its original place until 2008 when it became necessary to tear it down from years of wear. The existing store was build in 1937.

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Spring Forward … It’s Daylight Savings Time

Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m. we spring forward an hour as Daylight Savings Time comes back into play for the spring and summer months. If you forget to set your clocks forward, you will be late to church in the morning.

Guess I’ll be pulling the instruction book out in my car to spring ahead until we have to fall back to Eastern Standard Time on November 5.

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