Magic Black Raspberries

I am not on this blog often in the summer since we own and operate a small outfitter on the North Fork of the Holston.   We’ve been very busy until this week when it rained — much needed rain.  We are like farmers — we watch the skies and the weather diligently.

The rain gave us much needed rest and a chance to do berry picking.  It was only a chance because I didn’t go.  My friend Sandy went and picked the berries.  I may go back with her tomorrow.   These berries are a treasure.  Sandy made the comment that Mike and I are hard to buy for because we have about everything we want and that is true.  However, we did not have black raspberries.  In fact, I haven’t eaten a black raspberry in over 40 years.   That changed this week.

Here they are.


My mother’s voice comes to me when I see these.  When she was a young girl of about 12, she picked a black raspberry from a vine and ate it.  It had an ant inside the hollow of the berry and it bit her tongue.  Ouch.

I read on the internet (so it must be true) that black raspberries contain 11 percent higher levels of antioxidants than blueberries and 40% more than strawberries.

I made jam with mine.   It is so good.   I stirred like crazy getting everything just right so the jam would “set” nicely.  It has.    There’s tons of folk lore regarding raspberries…they are magical.  They provide a fertile ground for creative thinking.    Ironically, this picture reminds me of an early ultrasound that I see on Facebook for the early stages of pregnancy.

Inside of Pan

Here’s the resulting prize.   I have nine of these and I’ll be making another nine tonight.   “You never double your recipe when making jam” are the wise words of Barb Leonard, a friend here in Mendota.   I left the seeds in mine, and while they may be annoying for some, they give the jam more flavor.   Sandy, my friend who picked the berries, and I compared the jam with the seeds to the jelly that had been strained.  The seeds gave an extra burst of flavor.

One Red Jar


I can’t wait to share a jar with each of my sisters.   I’m thinking about Christmas gifts.   When it’s cold out this winter, Mike and I will open a jar and spread it on toast, and I’ll remember the summer.





The Vines On North Fork

What I like about blogging is chronicling time.   In Mendota, things move slow but we do have change.   Some very good changes, but we remain a rural farming community.

Farm Use

It’s such pretty country…

God's Country

While only a very few tobacco farmers remain, we still have several organic operations, RiverGate dairy, sheep, cattle, and finally, a small vineyard quietly went into place on Friday and Saturday of this week.    Here’s The Farmer.

Farmer Kevin

I don’t have a picture of The Farmer’s Wife, because she was cooking and running about, but she is the reason for the vineyard.  She wanted some grapevines for grapes for jelly.  The Farmer must really like her jelly.   She has 1,000 grapevines.  I hope she has a lot of jars.

Kevin and Ginger Mumpower own and operate Gingerbread Cooking and Catering and, hopefully, in a few years, they’ll have some grapes ready for the first homemade jellies and food sauces.    Ginger’s jellies for our bellies!

The grapevines arrived last week.   They are dormant at this time.

Grapes in the Barn 2

Kevin worked with Virginia Tech to determine the soil PH and how it should be amended as well as to determine what grapes would grow best here in Mendota.   Everything is ready to go in the picture below.

Rows for Grapes

Each vine was tucked into its place.  It rained shortly thereafter.

Vine in the hole

It’s good to have some help.  This is Bill, Kevin’s father in law.

Bill's Tractor

Some help came from East High…and one former Gate City High School (now JMU) fella..

It Takes a Village 2

And that’s Scarlett….every vineyard needs a dog.

Guard Dog

And it has to have a name…


Vines on the North Fork 2








Some Things Work Out

Remember the crates that I found in Gate City at Memory Lane Antiques?   Here’s how they’ll look with the tees in them.  This is the Canada Dry crate which works well for small t-shirts.   I take no credit.  Mike thought this up.

Crate of Tees

Also, long…I talked about the kayak quilt square Mike was making me.  the date of the post was April 27, 2015.   It’s done–it’s hanging up on the shop we use for our base camp.   It took him one year, but he got ‘er done!   Thank you honey!

Kayak Barn Quilt Square

We have both enjoyed repurposing things for Adventure Mendota’s base camp.   Since we have a septic tank, we have to b e careful what goes in the toilets, so we ask guests to dry their hands using paper towels outside of the bathroom.   It’s our hand drying station.  It’s made of an old sawhorse Mike made, the center leaf to an old table that we used 25 years ago, and we added the Saltville crate that we got at Memory Lane to house the paper towels.  We could have used a plastic bin, but it just didn’t seen right.

Saltville Box With Towels R


I’m rolling and folding t-shirts for the crates.   It seems like they have multiplied since I started this!


Treasure Hunting in Gate City, Virginia

Hi there!   It has been such a busy time around here as we prepare for the first days of Adventure Mendota 2016.    Mike and I have also been on the fundraising merry-go-round for the Goodson Kinderhook Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Crossroads Christian Academy and the Washington County Public Library.   We’ve  bid in three silent auctions in less than 8 days.  I’ve ended up with a few dinners out, several tickets to the Barter, and a pretty wall piece.  We’re now broke.

Last night, however, we got into a bidding fever over these…apple crates from Chilhowie.

Crates from Gala

Mike bid….are you ready…$185 for these crates.   We want to use them to hold Adventure Mendota’s t-shirts.  We’re rural…they’re rural…it’s  a match.   If you are still reeling from the $185, the real shocker is that we didn’t win the bid.  They went for $200.     Mike was bummed, but I was secretly relieved.  Whew!   Close call!

However, as we went out to deliver Adventure Mendota rack cards today, I suggested that we stop in a few antique stores in Gate City to see if they were aware where we could find some similar crates.    We stopped in the old Hackey Furniture and Appliance Store.    I don’t know what it looked like “in the day” but here’s what it looks like today, and it is the home of Memory Lane Antique Mall.  Very, very nice folks.

Hackney Furniture Store

So, I went in…

Interior of Store

I left a pool of drool when I saw this.  It’s sold, and I’m kind of relieved.    It’s hard to explain to Mike why I want something chippy and blue and wonderful.   He does not get it.   Sorry for the blurry picture.  I took this with my iphone.

Blue Chest

This is all about hunting crates, but there is one more thing I want to show you.  This light fixture was $199.  I’m going to look at similar new ones and compare prices.    When I redo my dining room, I’m replacing the light fixture and this one would look very good.   They were asking $199.  I’m sure I could get it a little cheaper.   $150??

Light Fixture

But the real story here is the crates.   I cannot see things in stores like this.  Something in the way my mind is wired does not let me find that “needle in a haystack.”  If there is a lot of distraction going on, I am…well…distracted.  So I walked all the way through and started to leave and then I asked the salesperson if they had any old fruit crates with markings.

Here’s all the ones I passed walking through the store.   I’m so glad I asked.   This was just the start.  We bought 7.

Crate Crazy

Here’s a few of my favorites…starting with my #1’s from Saltville.  This box has so much history.  It’s really about the rise and fall of an industry and how it affected a town and the environment.     I’m honored to have it as a home for my t-shirts!

Soda Box

I’ve seen fake crates in stores.   I do not meant to sound snobby, but really…why get fake when the real think actually tells a story?   I’d rather do without than have a crate that doesn’t know how to speak!!!    My crates speak AP-PAH-LACH-UN!

Here’s another one…this is actually from California and doesn’t speak AP-PAH-LACH-UN very well, but I couldn’t resist it.    My XL tees will go in this one.

Mendota Melons

And finally…this little Canada Dry sings to me as well.    I think it’s singing “I want tank tops!”

Canada Dry

Yes, those are my feet.

New topic.   Guess how much the Adventure Mendota Basket went for at the WCPL A Tisket A Tasket Fundraiser…$120.  I’m thrilled!  Each basket is around a book.  My book was “A Day on the River” and if you can believe it, the little girl’s name in the book is….Eva!

Adventure Mendota Basket

Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage.  XOXO


Cleaning A Vinyl Fence

When we first built this house, we said “everything is to be maintenance free.” We were dumb. There is no maintenance free anything. While it’s nice that we don’t have to paint the vinyl fence, it does require maintenance. Each year following winter, we are greeted with black and green mold on the fence.

Fence Before

If the weeds in the beds were not depressing enough, here’s a close up of the nasty fence.

Fence before Cropped

And another…

Fence top before Green

I’d looked on Pinterest for some ideas on the very easiest way to clean the fence, and Magic Erasers came up again and again. They do work! However, I have a lot of fence and Magic Erasers are expensive and for some reason, they fall apart on me. The picture below is one taken from Pinterest of a fence as nasty as mine, and I have no doubt those Magic Erasers did the trick.

blogger 2

But, with my bigger vinyl fence, I reverted back to a tried and true method. A bottle of cheap bleach and an old Windex spray bottle. I filled the bottle with a 2/3 bleach 1/3 water solutions and sprayed the fence and then just wiped it down with a wet rag. Here’s the tools of my trade as a fence washer. All done for about $2 plus my labor which is priceless. probably a bargain.

Here’s the instructions:

1 Bucket filled with water and about 2 cups of bleach
1 Rag
Double Gloves. Trust me.
1 Gallon of Bleach
1 Empty Windex House Spray Bottle which you then fill with the 2/3 bleach 1/3 water solution

Working in 10-12 ft. sections on a sunny day, spray your fence. After spraying, wipe with a wet cloth. You are done. Finished. Yes!!    I hear my mother’s voice when I do things such as this “you can be poor but there is no reason to be dirty and nasty.”   She hated dirt.  I’m not that way, but I do want things to be cleaned up every once and a while!  On the really dirty parts of the fence, I pulled the plastic “posts” right out and washed them.

Cleaning the Fence

But the fence looks great. Especially now that it’s weeded and composted. Ready for planting some seeds and flowers for spring.


Sparkling white fence and all those weeds are pulled. I’ve been in weed hell, people. Our friend, Jenna, came and helped so there was solidarity. We dug and dug and dug like moles. Piles of weeds. I put newspaper down underneath the compost in the worst parts where I have had weed problems in the past.

Here’s the “before” once more..

Fence Before

And the after.

Fence After

It has been 8 days since I quit my job. Someone asked what I was doing with my time! While it’s true that I haven’t missed many episodes of Ellen, I have scrubbed the fence, pulled about a million weeds, helped move the compost around, took Muffin for his transformation into a more domesticated, neutered male kitty, done a very small amount of housework and made chili for 14 (which now resides in many containers in my freezer). Oh…and I also came in 1st place in the Existing Business Category and won $5,000 in the Washington County Business Challenge for Adventure Mendota! It’s all been good!


Mendota in the Past – Sand And Silica

I have always had an interest in the sand and silica mining that took place in Mendota long ago. My grandfather mentioned it here, and later, when I worked for AGC Glass, I was taught how important sand was in glass making. I kinda sorta knew where the mining took place.

I finally got to visit this place. It’s on private property and difficult to get to. It took me a while to mooch my way into getting an invite. I took a lot of pictures and posted three or four on Facebook. What was fun was talking on Facebook with my cousin, Terri Collier McCroskey, and Karen McCormack Quesenberry after sharing the pictures.

Terri’s dad, Ralph Collier, had worked at the Clinch Mountain Silica Sand Mine when he was young. Karen’s grandfather, Cleveland Johnson, also worked there and after breathing in the silica dust, he died of silicosis (a lung disease caused by silica dust) leaving behind a widow and six orphans. Clinch Mountain Silica Sand Corporation operated from 1920 until 1931 at which time it declared bankrupcy.

Silica Plant With words beneath

I was up at the quarry Saturday which is 4000 ft. up Clinch Mountain. Here’s the quarry site and although almost 100 years have passed, there is still evidence of a sand quarry. It was here, in 1921, according to the “Pit and Quarry” trade magazine that the sandy rocks were crushed, pulvarized and screened before being loaded into the tram cars.

Quarry 1

The sand is gray and sparkly on this part of the quarry site.

Sandy Soil 2

Here’s what the site looked like so many years ago. I found this in an ancient rock trade magazine on Google. It’s the staging area where the sand was moved into the carts that would then zoom down the tram line.

Loading Dock for Sand

Here’s the same area today. You can see the remains of the stone foundation.

Staging ARea

The carts then went down the tram path. The full cart went down which sent the empty cart back up!

Tram View Looking Up

From that same magazine I found, here’s a picture of the actual tram. I was so excited when I found this. I also learned this tram must have been busy as it had a capacity of between 300 and 400 tons every 10 hours. Also, even the quarry at the top of the mountain was electrically driven by water power.

Sand Tram Crisp

So it was a very interesting Saturday. Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage.

I’m going to be on my blog more. I will be working two more days at my “real” job and then I’m transitioning to my “real” job being Adventure Mendota + cleaning this filthy, filthy house + playing with the staff at About Face! I’m so excited!


Are The Bees Alive?

We have heard from everyone that this was a bad winter for bees, but thankfully, it appears my three hives survived.  See for yourself.   I started feeding them today.   Their enclosure is a mess…I’m going to clean it up and plant flowering seeds out there.

Bees Spring 2016

Here’s what I plan to plant…”Black Eyed Susie Vines”. They are also called Thumbergia. Now can you see why I call them Black Eyed Susie Vines? Seriously, who thinks up these names?


The reason I’m feeding the bees is that it’s warm and they are wanting to forage…but there’s not much to eat. Dandelions are one food supply that there are a few of. Do you put weed killer on your dandelions? No…I don’t even want to know the answer.

bee on dandelion

Leave those dandelions alone. We need them for a few more weeks.

Other news…I’m only working about four more days! I’ll be working full-time at Adventure Mendota this summer! However, that doesn’t start until May so I have almost six weeks off to get stuff done. I’m thrilled.


Copycat Wendy’s Chili Recipe

In Mendota, we didn’t think winter would ever arrive when we were lounging around in 70 degree temperatures in December.  Whoops!  Were we wrong!   It’s here!

We had a weird little snow last night that left things very slick so I took a serendipitous holiday/vacation day from work.   I was about to change my mind and go in around 9 am when WCYB TV came on with a report about all of the wrecks–one near where I work which, apparently, downed two power poles.  My driver said he wasn’t taking me and I wasn’t going to drive my Prius, so it was a day at home!!

So…it was a good day for chili and I’d been looking at a  Wendy’s chili recipe that I found on a website called    I followed the recipe closely with the exception of medium tomatoes, chopped.   Instead,  I used the southern woman’s secret weapon for any recipe — our home canned tomatoes and then I reduced the amount of water that the recipe called for.    There are few things as good.

Canned Tomatoes

I can open the jar and just eat the tomatoes.  I only used the quart jar of tomatoes.

At any rate, I used a quart jar of tomatoes and just reduced the water in the recipe to 1 and 1/2 cups vs. 2 cups.

Here’s the recipe:

2 pounds of ground beef

one 29 oz. can tomato sauce

one 29 oz. can kidney beans (including liquid)

one 29 oz. can pinto beans (including liquid)

1 cup diced onion (1 medium onion)

1/2 cup sliced green chilies (2 chilies)

1/4 cup diced celery (1 stalk)

3 medium tomatoes, chopped (I used 1 quart of home canned tomatoes)

2 teaspoons cumin powder

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

2 teaspoons sale

2 cups water (I used 1 and 1/2 because of the water in the home canned tomatoes)

Brown the beef in a skillet over medium heat and drain the fat.   Using a fork, crumble the cooked beef into pea-size pieces.  (I mashed the heck out of the beef with a potato masher).  In a large pot, combine everything and cook about 2 to 3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes.

Here’s what it looked like.  I didn’t have any cheddar cheese to put in it so I used what I had…mozzarella cheese.    Yeah…I eat all my chili out on the porch in the snow.   It’s just our way around here.

Chile 2

This made a ton of chili, and it does taste like Wendy’s chili.    However, I miss those yellow cardboard bowls.

Have any of you heard about a large snow headed for southwest Virginia on February 16?  If you want that snow, you know what you need to do:

  • Wear your pajamas wrong side out
  • Sleep with a spoon under your pillow
  • Flush six ice cubes down the commode
  • Brush your teeth with the wrong hand

It works.   This is science.  You can make it happen.



A Queen No More….Navy Bean Soup

It’s January.   Winter of 2016 is here.  Looking to the left from my front porch…

Big Old Snow

Looking to the right from the same spot..

Big Old Snow 2

Definitely is God’s country.   However, there is almost a foot of the “devil’s dandruff” covering everything, and we’re stuck.  River, my beloved Little Man, has not ridden in his truck for days.  Can you imagine?    He’s going crazy.



We, and I do mean we as in “my people,” are wired to get prepared for snow including, strangely enough, cleaning house.   I understand the gathering of food, but cleaning house?   We’re the Stepford wives before a snowstorm; everything becomes spotless. Thursday night, in preparation for the storm, I even cleaned out my refrigerator freezer. People! This is sick!!

Stuff Eveywere

When I got up at 5:30 am Friday and there was three inches of snow and more coming down, I emailed my boss and said I would not be in.   How could I?  I had to continue cleaning!   By 5:35 am, I had a casserole in the oven.  Shortly thereafter, I mopped the floor.  I completed the laundry I’d started the night before and began changing the sheets. I was ironing at 7:00 am.  Ironed pillowcases–before daylight!   I thought about the beautifully written article  by Anna Wess about the Kings and Queens of Central Appalachia. Here it is. It’s true. Read it if you have a minute; you may relate if you’re from my neck of the woods. At any rate, as I completed my tasks, I knew I was one of the Queens of Appalachia. I could hunker down and withstand this storm for weeks, because I was a survivor–prepared, organized and efficient and my pillowcases were ironed.

Less than 48 hours later, today…Saturday at 10:30 am–my royalty is no longer a certainty. Perhaps I am not a Queen, but actually one of the People of Walmart.


As I look at all the piled up snow, I miss my people…the People of Walmart. I want to see the brightly lit store…shelves full of food.  I also want a Pal’s tea. My prince, River, wants to pee at his favorite spot.  We are not just sad.  We are bereft.

Here’s a recipe for some soup that tastes good on this cold, wintry day.   It’s Bear Creek’s Navy Bean Soup.  It is not from an Appalachian Queen who went out, slayed the bear by the creek and then came back inside to make soup with the beans she grew and dried this past summer.    It’s from me…a proud member of the People of Walmart.   Bring 8 cups of water to a boil and dump the mix in.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Boom!   Perfect navy bean soup!

Navy Bean Soup Mix

Not so fast.   Oh, crap…it actually didn’t thicken right, so I added another Walmart find.   I’m now wondering why I didn’t just open this can and add water and not even use the mix?

Campbell's Soup

It was not something a true queen would have served, but it worked.  Mike really liked it.



First Real Snow of 2016

I love snow.  It’s magic.   We had a little magic this morning!    Al Archer, the weather guy for WXBQ, said we’d have about one inch of snow.   We had anywhere from about two to five inches throughout the Tri-Cities.    I went into work and decided to leave at 10:00 am, because I was concerned about the slippery roads.   When I got home, I felt guilty because it stopped snowing!!   Later, however, I was really happy with my decision.

Here’s a picture that I took on the way home…Caney Valley.

Caney Valley 2

If you look closer in the picture above, you’ll see the big icicles…here they are up close…

Rock Ledge with Water

When I got home from work, I asked Mike to drive me down the road in the truck with four wheel drive.    We had a bit of a traffic jam…


We got through all this goat business and saw the river.  It looks cold!!   It reminds me of the funny weather forecast that Rita Quillen posted on Facebook.  Rita is a teacher, a poet, a musician and the writer of one of my favorite books “Finding Ezra.”   She’s an Appalachian Queen.  Here’s Rita’s weather update for Scott Count and surrounding areas..”Slicker-n axle grease on a pump handle.  Partly crashy with widely scattered KA-BLAMS this afternoon.  Caution is advised.”

Icey River 2

This is the North Fork of the Holston.    This is the river that runs through my world…Mendota and then Hiltons.  We love this river.   I double dog dare you to say she’s not beautiful!!

River With Ice

We are supposed to get a bunch of snow on Friday.  We’re all getting ready.  People of Mendota…Start Your Generators!! 


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