Live United with Clarke County’s Nadine Pottinga

By Victoria Kidd

The United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley’s brochure asks a bold question. “What happens when people work together?” It’s a question answered every year during their annual Day of Caring. On a particular day in the waning weeks of summer, hundreds of volunteers from the Top of Virginia Region come together to spend time completing volunteer service in the area. With Joe Shtulman leaving the United Way after an incredible and successful tenure of 14 years, someone new is at the helm for this year’s Day of Caring.

A little under a year ago, the organization announced that its executive search committee had selected Nadine Pottinga to succeed the much-loved Shtulman. Pottinga leaves a role as the director of development for the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation. It has been reported that she was able to grow the foundation’s income by more than $1 million. Prior to that role, she led a campaign to garner $2 million as the executive director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Pottinga claims that her ability to lead organizations and build the relationships needed to fundraise is an unexpected derivative of her unique upbringing.

Pottinga’s parents met and fell in love while working at a hotel in England. Her mother is German, her father Dutch. Their language barrier did not prevent them from wanting to marry and start a family. They would subsequently move around a lot, pursuing opportunities in hospitality organizations that would afford them a better life. When Pottinga was a freshman in high school, her father was offered a job in Minnesota. It would be the family’s first time living in the United States. It was a difficult transition, although those before it could not necessarily be considered easy.

“I sort of always felt like a square peg in a round hole,” she explains. “ Every move was a transition, but it did make me very adaptable and flexible. It also taught me how to understand and work with all kinds of people from all types of backgrounds.”

That would prove to be an important skill when she accepted her first job with YouthWorks, a faith-based organization that, among its other programs, connects youth volunteers with nonprofits in their region to encourage service and community participation. “This is the job where I fell in love with nonprofit work,” Pottinga says. “I fell in love with the idea that I could help people learn compassion and understanding for others.”

During her time with YouthWorks, she was accountable for everything from sales and marketing to volunteer placement and project screening. She would eventually find her way to the operation’s D.C. Metropolitan Region. “I loved D.C. It was a place that made me feel a little less like that square peg. It’s really a place where there are no outsiders…I decided to stay.”

Pottinga would take a position with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital before accepting the position with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “I loved working with nonprofits, and I loved making a difference. At the time I really just had one more goal professionally, and that was to work in some sports-related organization.”

She had grown up playing and loving sports. It was a way to fit in at any new school, in any new location. When she was offered the position with the Redskins Charitable Foundation in Ashburn, she felt she had found her place. Things were going well. She had met and married her husband, Jonathan Bullock. The pair had found a beautiful house on five acres in Clarke County. Everything was going well, but it wasn’t long before Pottinga felt something was missing from the nature of the work she was doing.

“About three months in, I realized I had made a mistake,” she says. “I’d spent so much of my career serving communities and developing others to lead service in their communities. I love seeing people work together to solve community problems. I wasn’t really doing that anymore. My work with the foundation was meaningful, but it felt different. I wasn’t really doing what I was passionate about. It felt like my first little bit of time there was a gut check. I stayed on for two years, but I missed the feeling of community and the feeling you get when you do meaningful work on a community level.”

One day early in the NFL season, she came across the announcement for the position with the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley. “It seemed too good to be true,” Pottinga says, reflecting on the day. “It was perfect. I was so humbled and happy to have been offered this role. It is truly getting back to the roots of the type of work I first fell in love with.”

Since assuming the title at the beginning of the year, she has come to believe that this is truly “her place” and this community is unique among all others in which she has worked. “This community is the most generous one I’ve ever worked in. You can feel a sense of optimism. People really care about this community, and people here are so good, so genuine. It’s really a privilege to work at their United Way.”

As such, she is very excited about her first Day of Caring. According to, 745 volunteers representing 45 companies and clubs came together last year to complete service projects in Frederick, Clarke, Warren, and Shenandoah counties. These volunteers completed 178 service projects across 89 separate locations. Projects are submitted by area nonprofit organizations, and are vetted by a committee which examines the nature of the submitted tasks and ensures suggested worksites are safe for the volunteers. With the projects identified, volunteers (either as individuals or as groups representative of participating organizations) are assigned to worksites for that day.

There are enough projects for 900 volunteers this year. It’s something special to be a part of, and Pottinga says that she is personally moved when she considers the day’s impact. “I truly get goose bumps when I think about it,” she says. “When I step back and think about the big picture, I am overwhelmed. It’s incredible that there are so many people who want to participate, and just think about the employers who are allowing their employees to participate during working hours! I can’t wait to see it; I only wish there were more of me so I could visit each site and meet every volunteer.”

“Those volunteers are special,” she continues. “I want the whole community to know that, and I want the community to know the United Way is a place where everyone can find a way to ‘fit.’ I spent a long time considering myself a square peg trying to squeeze into a round hole. This is a place where any sized peg can belong. Our core areas of focus—education, income, and health—include so many meaningful projects. You can absolutely find something you are passionate about, and we can absolutely use your help.”

Pottinga’s words really echo the organization’s answer to the aforementioned question about what happens when people work together. Their brochure offers, “United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley believes in the power of people coming together to make communities stronger and lives better. Be part of the change. Work and play together. Let’s live united.”

Sharing Secrets with Robin Murphy

By Victoria Kidd

Think about the last time you visited a bookstore. A sea of shelves present row-upon-row of titles waiting to ignite your fascination and imagination. Colorful jackets and covers beg for attention and entreat you to take a chance on the contents hidden within. Many dream about publishing a novel, but the discipline to do so escapes most of us. For Robin Murphy, an author from Maryland who will soon be signing her work at the Winchester Book Gallery, inspiration hit suddenly and the act of writing became as necessary as breathing. It simply had to happen.

Murphy is rare among writers, many of whom claim to have always felt the call to write. For her, the drive came on suddenly. “I never dreamed of being a writer,” she says. “I’m not even sure I can explain it well enough, except that the first story I ever wrote ‘just happened’ in 2006. I began to imagine this romance story that took place in Ireland and I sat down one day at my laptop and…wrote. It just poured out of me.”

Having no formal training in the world of writing and publishing, she listed the book on Lulu, an online self-publishing and eBook company. Success was not immediate, and she relays that she sold “a whole whopping five books to family” (including one to herself).

The itch to write did not subside, even after the disappointing sales associated with her first work. So, she took a few college-level writing courses. Murphy is also a graduate of Long Ridge Writers Group, a program that teaches writers both the craft of writing and the act of selling their work. Having built the foundations of a career, she made writing an integral part of her life. Today, she is attuned to her creative vision and finds that the voice inside her can whisper its inspiration at any time.

“Writing for me comes in different ways, in the sense that I never know when the creative muse will begin to knock on my brain crying to get out, but even if it’s percolating, I’m not always in the situation to just sit down and write,” she says. “Being at work is one of those scenarios, but what I always have with me is my journal. So if something pops into my mind on how I’m going to kill off a character, I quickly pull out my journal and make a note. I’ve even grabbed my smart phone in the middle of the night to write down a thought in my notes.”

Her method has led to the creation of a successful series centered on a protagonist named Marie Bartek. The character discovers that a childhood psychic ability has returned. Bartek embraces her gift and works to create a paranormal (read ghostly and otherwise unexplained) investigative team of talented individuals called Sullivan’s Island Paranormal Society, or SIPS for short. The team investigates mysterious occurrences and helps people deal with paranormal activity plaguing their homes or businesses. Murphy explains, “Because of their talents, they get pulled into mysteries that involve murder, ghosts, demons, the mafia, and even pirates.” Their story is told through a series of four novels within which she has woven a tale of mystery, friendship, and romance.

The first book in that series, Sullivan’s Secret, ended up being recognized as an best-selling book. Murphy recalls what it was like when her work achieved that status. “I think I did a little happy dance in my kitchen the morning I found out, while my husband looked at me as though I had lost it,” she recalls. “No seriously, that was an inner goal of mine and I kept it in sight. I never gave up. I self-published the first three books in my series, and then my publisher, Creativia found me on Twitter and asked to see my manuscripts. It took off from there.” She gives credit to the publisher while recognizing that the investments she has made in her work has paid remarkable dividends. “It’s my passion and there’s nothing greater than seeing all of that hard work come to fruition. It’s exciting, but I’m also very humbled.”

When the ink dried on Sullivan’s Secret, Murphy found it hard to let go of the characters whose lives were plotted in the work. “I missed them and I felt they needed to grow and they had more to accomplish,” she says. “I’m not sure if there was a catalyst other than the inner drive to write. It’s just there. You can’t stop it.” Her successive works provide readers additional opportunities to delve into the lives of the inhabitants of Sullivan’s Island.

In addition to her successful paranormal series, Murphy (now a veteran author) has written a nonfiction title called A Complete “How To” Guide for Rookie Writers. She says that she loves helping others, especially new writers. The work details insights from her beginnings as a rookie writer and her adventures in self-publishing to how she achieved her dream of being traditionally published.

“I’ve read countless helpful books that tell you to go here, or go there, but I wanted to take it a little deeper and actually give the step-by-step instruction to make it easier. It’s simple to say go out to this link, but what happens once you get there? Writing is my passion and I have met so many amazing people that have helped me along the way. I want to share what I’ve learned…I hope I achieve that in this book, as well as from my website,” The site provides writers numerous tips and insider tricks to help them market their work and achieve their goals.

While the site provides a crash course in what it takes to pursue a successful writing career, Murphy recognizes that it is an author’s work that drives that career. She encourages would-be authors to write as much and as often as they can. “Write…write…write!!! It doesn’t matter how you do it; just write it down. Get it out there on the page. Don’t worry about your commas, sentence structure, or point of view, just get the story down, and then you can go back and edit or take a writing course if needed.”

Locals seeking additional inspiration would be wise to check their calendars and reserve some time on September 26, 2015 from 11am to 1pm. On that day, Murphy will be at the Winchester Book Gallery at 185 N. Loudoun Street on the Downtown Walking Mall in Winchester. To learn more about Murphy’s work, visit Perhaps her story will help you finally pen yours.

Working And Living The American Dream

By Samantha Piggot

For the last four years my family has been making friends with and buying gas from the 7-11 store on the corner of Route 7 and Triple J Road. I admit, I was so skeptical and sad when the old Triple J shut down and I heard the dreaded words . . . 7-11. The whole idea of a national chain where our beloved Triple J store had been made me cringe. What about the people, I loved knowing the girls in Triple J and they made the best breakfast sandwiches. The thought of a 7-11 seemed so ‘Un-Berryville’ to me. As we all know, change is the only thing that stays the same.

Then I walked into the sparkling new store a day or two after it opened. It was beautiful, bright, and clean. I couldn’t believe how lovely it was and how many selections were available. I decided to risk it, and get a cup of coffee. It didn’t taste the same. It wasn’t what I was used to, and I’m ashamed to recall, I told whichever poor soul was working at the time that it was not up to par! She politely replied, “7-11 sells the most coffee in the country, besides Starbucks.” I may or may not have replied to that. I was still miffed by the corporateness of this endeavor at the end of my street.

Regardless, I need gas (and coffee), so I continued to patronize 7-11. Back then it was out of necessity.

A few tanks of gas and gallons of coffee later, I started to notice something different about this place. The employees were nice. They knew I was a regular. They knew who my husband was, and that he always writes checks. If I did not have my very active boys with me, whoever was working would inquire as to their whereabouts. Before I knew it my boys were high fiving Shyam, the manger, and begging him to let them help stock the soda. What kind of place is this? A convenience store that embraces children?

That year we went to The Outer Banks for vacation and, as we headed home, we stopped off at the souvenir shop. My husband saw a gigantic Outer Banks pen; he scooped it up and triumphantly proclaimed, “We have to get this for Shyam at 7-11; their pens are always disappearing!”

Sure enough he bought that pen, and so began our friendship with the 7-11 crew; over an Outer Banks pen.

What I really wanted to know is what makes this 7-11 different than any other location I have been in. How is it so clean? Why are the employees so nice? Why is there no employee turnover?

I finally got to sit down with Prayas Bhatta, who operates and owns the Triple J 7-11 with his wife Shweta Bhetwal, and get the inside story to the success of his business.

Bhatta immigrated to the United States at the age of 21—his parents had been here working, for eight years. He had not seen them during that time. Bhatta had begun some college in Katmandu, Nepal, where he grew up, but when the green card sponsorship through his father came up, he had to drop what he was doing and come to the U.S. When he arrived, he found himself not equipped for a lot of jobs. His experience didn’t translate to much, here.

Bhatta’s uncle owned 7-11 stores in Culpeper and Manassas at the time, and he agreed to take him on. Bhatta started as any employee would, and quickly took on two jobs, working at one 7-11 from 2pm to 10pm and another from 10:30pm to 7:30 am. He worked 16 hrs a day, 6 days a week. He did that for a year, and saved up enough money to send his hard working parents back home to Nepal for a vacation.

After a year, Bhatta’s uncle promoted him to manager of the busy Manassas location. Bhatta started to realize the value 7-11 can provide for owners and employees. “If you are willing to work hard and learn, you really can realize the American Dream,” Bhatta reflects.

The Triple J location has been a convenience store and gas station since at least the 1950s. The Slater Family purchased the land in 1949; it is not clear from the tax records if it was a store before they owned it. According to Berryville native Irene Pope, “Slater was the sheriff and he ran it. Then his children took over and ran the store, until Joe Lambert bought the property, that must have been early 80s.” In fact, the Lamberts, whose family corporation still owns the property, did purchase it in 1980. This was right about the time the state put in the Route 7 bypass.

Joe Lambert (deceased) ran the gas station and store for over 20 years. Many locals, myself included, remember the family atmosphere and local feel of the Triple J store.

In 2005 when Joe decided to retire, the location was one of the hottest commodities in three counties. Several large chains were in the running for the busy, profitable spot. In the end, 7-11 had the winning bid and after much renovation the store opened under corporate ownership (as all 7-11’s do).

When Bhatta learned about the location and that it would be available for private sale, he was intrigued. He and his wife spent a month driving to the store and watching the traffic pattern. “It didn’t take long to realize, with the volume of traffic on Route 7 in the morning, this was a great location,” Bhatta recalls.

He said it was a natural step for him. He knew 7-11 and understood how it works—as well as what ownership would mean. One thing he knew for sure was there was more hard work in front of him. Bhatta welcomed the challenge. Unlike many 7-11 owners, Bhatta works at the location at least five days a week. This business is not simply an investment to add to a portfolio, the store is a representation of the American Dream. He has to continue working to keep that dream alive.

Bhatta has a special work ethic. He exemplifies and imparts to his employees that hard work and a clean store are the start to running a really successful business. “We want our customers to leave with a smile, even if they didn’t walk in with one,” he said.

This is where the true success lies. When anyone walks through the doors of Bhatta’s 7-11, they can tell there is a difference. The store itself is amazingly clean: the floors, the coffee bar, the restrooms. The employees care. Because just like Bhatta they realize that the customers write their checks.

Marina Cash has worked at this 7-11 since before Bhatta owned the business. She is always ready to help and always asks about family and work. Manager Shyam Khatri has been with Bhatta for 4 years. He is another integral part of the store’s success.

Bhatta says as soon as he met Khatri he offered him a job and more money then he was making at his current 7-11. “Shyam is from the same area of Nepal as I am. Beyond that I knew he was hard-working and loyal, and that he had a dream—and that he was a keeper.” Any customer could easily think Shyam is the owner just because of the care he takes for the store and the customers.

The culture and climate at Bhatta’s 7-11 is all about being positive, family values and consistency. Bhatta also has the great pleasure of having his father working alongside him now at his 7-11.

A lot of the employees are able to communicate with people in three or four languages. That goes a long way to make customers feel comfortable. “They are the ones that make it happen, they do a great job,” Bhatta said. “I’ve been in their shoes.”

A Revolution of Love

By Victoria L. Kidd

Every July offers us another opportunity to reflect on our individual liberties and freedoms. After all, on the fourth of the month we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and remember that our nation’s ideology of freedom was born of revolutionary acts. While the holiday is often most associated with fireworks, family barbecues, and main street parades, it’s a day that is about much more than that, and this year it feels particularly meaningful to me.

As we rip June from the wall calendar, many of us will stop (as I will) to reflect on how the freedom to marry, granted by the Supreme Court’s decision on June 26, makes the upcoming month of patriotic fervor seem even more appropriate. As a plaintiff involved in the litigation that brought marriage equality to Virginia, it’s a particularly meaningful month to me. It’s the first full month during which I will travel without driving through or to a state where my marriage remains unrecognized.

My wife and I were married in 2011. We’d been together for seven years at the time, but marriage had seemed unattainable, despite the slowly increasing number of states allowing it. Eight years in is a make-or-break mark for many relationships. For us, it was time to reflect on our partnership, our careers, our academic pursuits, and the time we have left together. Our discussions covered a wide range of topics, but we came to the conclusion that what was missing in our lives was not related to our career or academic successes. We concluded that it was time to start a family.

Christy and I both come from conservative backgrounds. We were raised to believe that if you wanted to start a family, you needed to be married. Thus, we stood before friends and family in a little church in Washington D.C., recited our vows, and retired to the church’s office to sign the paperwork that would render us legally married, or at least legally married in the nation’s capital. The following year, Christy gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Lydia.

And that’s when the issue of marriage equality really started to get under my skin. I was barred from being listed on my child’s birth certificate, barred from adopting her subsequently, and otherwise consigned to be nothing more than a “co-custodian” under the laws that were in place at that time. I was a legal stranger to the child I cared for while Christy was at work. I was her mommy—but not really. I was her caregiver—but unable to make emergency healthcare decisions for her. My relationship, which felt so solid and real to me, existed in a murky deep-water byway of legally sanctioned discrimination.

Aside from the implications that the state’s ban on marriage equality had for Lydia’s relationship with me, there were impactful implications for the relationship I had with my partner of now eleven years. Christy, a veteran, could not sign a VA home loan with me, barring her from the benefits her military service afforded her. Each year, we paid hundreds more in taxes because we were not able to file jointly. We had to have complicated and unnecessary conversations with doctors, insurance offices, and other professionals serving our family. When at work in D.C., Christy was considered married with a family. When she crossed the border into Virginia, she was considered a single mother. The implications of the state’s ban on marriage equality echoed through every part of our lives.

More importantly, the ban allowed and encouraged others to see us as “less than.” To see our family as “less than.” When the law says you are second-class citizens, people treat you like second-class citizens. When we’d finally had enough, we asked the ACLU of VA and Lambda Legal to represent us in post-Windsor litigation to challenge the laws that left our family unprotected. Once filed, our lives became indescribably public. While we mostly were applauded for our actions, some people found our efforts as a reason to reject or ridicule us. I had people refuse to sit next to me at certain community functions. Others would publicly make known their disgust through hate-filled words and actions. They jeered as we left the courthouse and posted threatening commentary on social media sites.

These reactions were not unfamiliar to me. After all, I started openly talking about my sexuality in 1998, just after Matthew Shepard, a twenty-two year old student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tortured, and left to die. Shepard’s sexual orientation was, by almost all accounts, a significant factor in how his murderers treated him. His death coincided with a period of my life where I was struggling to determine the extent to which I would live authentically, and in the end, I decided that I would no longer lie by omission or try to live as a person I wasn’t.

Coming out was difficult. In the mid 90s, being a member of the LGBT community was difficult. I was subjected to far worse discrimination and hate than (thankfully) most people experience in their lives. I was denied promotions and fair treatment at work. I was subjected to violence, up to and including the threat of rape. I was spit on by strangers, abandoned by family, and rejected by friends. But those experiences have never deterred me, because I know the advances, and acceptance, we’ve seen in the past ten years is fueled by a power much greater than hate.

I know that love, the foundation of every faith and every action worth doing, was and is the fuel of the LGBT rights movement. In particular, love is the fuel that has caused the wildfire of marriage equality acceptance to burn across this country in a matter of years equivalent to a speck of time for this planet. Yes, love fuels our revolutionary acts.

Love is a simple, short word of tremendous power. I feel it when I hold my wife’s hand. I feel it when I hear my daughter call me mommy. I feel it when a young LGBT person says, “Thank you for making my future better.” Yes, love is a simple, short word of tremendous power between two people, between neighbors, between congregation members, and between communities of those who understand that we are one global human race.

And I think the past June holds a lesson for us and for anyone who will listen. It’s a lesson about that love. Love is revolutionary. If we love each other, from the moment we wake to the moment we go to bed, we are revolutionaries. If we find outrage in discrimination, in actions that subjugate people and separate them, or in actions that offer violence to another because of their race, gender or gender expression, religion, nationality, or sexuality, we can and should use that revolutionary act to fuel a work greater than ourselves, greater than our lives.

Revolutionary acts have secured marriage, but we cannot abandon our work toward justice, equality, and peace yet. There are still people being fired or being refused housing for being gay right here in America. Globally, LGBT people live in fear for their lives. Using the hashtag #lovewins, the trending celebratory hashtag used to mark June’s historic Supreme Court decision, ISIS made their response to marriage equality by throwing four gay men off a rooftop and tweeting about their deaths. Every year hundreds of transgender individuals are murdered across the globe, and that number includes numerous U.S. citizens.

Outside of the LGBT rights movement, corporations are destroying our environment—selling our future for immediate profit. The new Jim Crow is a system of incarcerating a disproportionate number of African Americans for longer periods of time and a secondary system of making it nearly impossible for them to regain the right to vote and participate in the democratic process after being released. People are being gunned down while worshipping and churches are again burning in America.

I believe the world needs a revolution. It needs a revolution of love. It has to be a revolution of joined hands and open hearts. It spreads one person at a time, one act at a time, one commitment to living a life of compassion and love.

Love gets us to the finish line of any fight, and in June, we’ve certainly learned that together, if we fuel our revolution with love, we can fight and we can win.

Magic Down By The River

Story and photos by Jennifer Lee

The 2nd annual River & Roots Festival at Watermelon Park on June 26 and 27 may have been a little damp and muddy, but the spirits of the nearly 1,000 attendees were soaring the whole weekend thanks to a combination of excellent music, beautiful surroundings, and unique offerings for people of all ages.

The David Grisman Sextet was the music headliner Saturday night, playing old and new favorites of his self-described “dawg music,” a combination of bluegrass and Django Renhardt-influenced jazz. Lilting jams floated over the river and crowd, culminating performances by ten regional and national acts including Pat Donohue, The Hillbilly Gypsies, Danny Knicely with Wyatt Rice and Mark Shatz, White Top Mountain Band, Town Mountain, The Hot Seats, and Furnace Mountain. Local favorite, The Woodshedders, capped off the weekend with a jam-packed party of revelers under the Dance Tent on Saturday night.

“Despite the rain, everything went well,” said Frazer Watkins, co-founder of Shepherd’s Ford Productions, the group who puts on the Festival in partnership with Watermelon Park. He said the biggest reward of this year’s festival was having the participation of several environmental organizations and other groups. The Friends of the Shenandoah River hosted a special interactive activity for kids; The Downstream Project hosted a wildlife photography workshop with National Geographic photographer Ken Garrett; the Piedmont Environmental Council engaged participants to be ‘Watershed Heroes’ to protect river and stream health; and local farmers demonstrated cheesemaking and discussed their farming practices.

“We were able to exceed our contribution goals to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper and we selected Friends of the Shenandoah River (FOSR) as the 2016 recipient of the River & Roots Award,” Watkins said. Shepherd’s Ford Productions and Watermelon Park Campground donated over $3,000 to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper this year and will be able to give FOSR even more in 2016.

Kids had a blast at the festival, too, as evidenced by the dozens of them playing in the river, hula-hooping and dancing near the stage, roasting marshmallows over campfires, and participating in the first Kids Talent Showcase for singers and musicians aged 2 to 12. River and Roots calls itself a “transformational festival, changing lives and the world by offering sustainable practices and community building in its foundation.” The joyful sounds and sights of children playing, impromptu bands forming around campfires, families frolicking in the river, and old and young alike enjoying very fine tunes on the shores of our beautiful river demonstrate its success.

Watkins and fiddler Dave Van Deventer formed Shepherd’s Ford Productions in 2004 to present roots music through festivals, concerts, and studio recordings. This year marks the 12th of their annual Watermelon Park Fest, headlined this year by none other than Loretta Lynn and joined by over a dozen other acclaimed performers, September 24 to 27. So, if you missed River and Roots, you still have a chance this year to enjoy great music and friends in what really is one of the happiest places on Earth!

Visit for tickets and more info.

Examining a Life Fully Lived

By Victoria L. Kidd

Around town she’s known as Wendy Clatterbuck, although her literary and given name, Wendell Hawken, graces her published works and drafted manuscripts. On the streets of Berryville, she readily offers an easy smile as she warmly greets people in a way that only residents of small, close-knit communities do. Strangers smile back without any awareness that this delightful woman has experienced sorrows unfamiliar to most. Her life is an interesting tale—and one of tremendous courage—told through poetry, and her most recent work catalogues her journey travelling alongside an ailing husband, Vaughn Clatterbuck, who lost his battle with multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndrome in September of last year.

The work is called Throat of Morning: A Memoir in Verse. It has recently garnered praise from Fish Publishing, an Ireland-based publishing house that hosts a number of contents recognizing talented writers working throughout the world ( Hawken’s work was selected as the best short memoir in a 2015 contest to which nearly 800 writers submitted their work.

The work is a true masterpiece, threading details of Clarke County life throughout a series of poems addressing the varied emotions one feels as he or she watches a loved one battle serious illness. “When hospice comes in,” she explains, “they ask you, the caregiver, to write a journal. For me it was really a method of staying sane while everything else seems out of control.” The journal was intended to help Hawken understand her own journey of grief while supporting her husband.

Writing from a place of pain is not unfamiliar to Hawken. An earlier published work called The Spinal Sequence again channels images familiar to area residents and anyone who has ever had any connection to farm life. These images are settled between verses addressing the very real pain associated with watching your child suffer. The work chronicles a time directly following a 2011 freak golf course accident that left her son a quadriplegic. (The book is available for purchase through Finishing Line Press by way of their website at

Poetry gave Hawken a voice to pry out the stifling pressure of these experiences and speak not just for herself, but also for any wife and mother who has experienced the same. “What I feel is not unique,” she says. “We all carry a bucket of sadness around with us. Sorrow is unavoidable, but I know that writing about that which hurts is reaffirming. That’s the exact word the judge in the contest used when speaking of my work. He said the work was reaffirming, meaning that we see our world, its beauty, and the joy of life most clear when we explore that which hurts. The Spinal Sequence explores the hurt of watching a son suffer and the hospice journal dealt with the unrelenting care associated with a slow death.”

In both cases, she asserts that the words are simply a means to explore that which hurts while putting into perspective how rich and wonderful life is when you accept that living requires one to experience a variance of emotions, including those most unpleasant. Poetry seems to lend itself well to this type of exploration, although it was a talent Hawken only discovered later in life.

Her first poem, An Ode to My Uterus, was written during her recovery from a hysterectomy at age 47. She would eventually return to school and earn her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College in 2005, nearly four decades after receiving her undergraduate degree. Her first full collection, The Luck of Being, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press in Omaha, Nebraska. It includes many poems developed during her MFA program, but her home in Clarke County still plays a vital roll in the work, as she sees her farm as a grounding source of inspiration.

“A sense of place, this particular place, is very important to my work,” she states on her website ( Her place is a farm called “Bartley.” Her husband’s family use to clatter the bucks in New England when the royals hunted there. Their profession lent itself to the their surname, and the town from which the Clatterbucks came was called Bartley. The farm serves as a thread stretching through history to connect past with present and give roots to Hawken, who can often be found reclining in one of the many green rocking chairs that grace the homestead’s impressive front porch.

It’s a porch that often provides her a spot of solitude she finds necessary for her work. “I come and sit out here and reflect on things,” Hawken states. “The words can come from anywhere. There will be an incident at some point, maybe someone’s tone of voice during an exchange or something simple like the way a butterfly juts up and down among the flowers here. It can be anything. It sticks with me like a burr until I explore it, until I think about it. It’s usually something someone else would find easy to ignore, but if you have the gift of solitude and time, you can really think about why it sticks. What is its meaning to your own spirit? You see, I want to lead an examined life. I want to be aware of the authentic reality of the human experience, including both that which is joyous and that which is painful.”

Hawken essentially argues with her work that those extremes, joy and pain, cannot truly exist without each other. To ignore the one and gloss over that which brings hurt is inauthentic, and she believes that there is too much “smoothing things over” today. She says, “That’s not real life, and to ignore the feelings that are painful…well, that simply ignores a very significant and important part of the human experience. I hope that readers can connect with my work in a way that helps them live more authentically.”

She says that the recent award for her memoir has energized her, and she is looking forward to seeing what future incidents—no matter how small—inspire her to write. No matter the inspiration, it can be assured that Clarke County and Bartley will serve as the birthplace for her work. After all, there are few places in Virginia that afford one a better pace and place from which to live authentically and examine the ebbs and flows inherent in a life fully lived.

Good Home Cookin’ Up On The Mountain

By Brian Kumnick

Nestled peacefully in the Blue Ridge Mountains about halfway between the Shenandoah River and the Appalachian Trail there is a charming little restaurant that serves what might be the best home cooked meal around.

The Pine Grove Restaurant is a real gem just off the beaten path in Bluemont. It has served for years as a community gathering place, first as the grocery store and gas station, later as a restaurant, and now as a paragon of old-fashioned home-style country cooking.

The grocery store was built in the late 1940s by Ralph May and his wife Louise on land purchased with the proceeds from Ralph’s military service in Europe. When Ralph had finished his obligation to the Army, the May family did a thriving little business selling fresh meat, fresh bread (sometimes baked by the Cistercian monks at Cool Spring), bags of ice from the only ice machine on the mountain at the time, and the coldest beer for miles around. They sold beer like it was going out of style. Mr. May drank his own Michelob warm, a habit he apparently picked up in Germany during the war.

The Pine Grove Service Station also had a couple of gasoline pumps, but mostly sold gas to the locals—there just wasn’t enough room to service tractor trailers. In fact, the big trucks preferred to get through that stretch of the old highway as quickly and smoothly as they possibly could because it was not unheard of for a trailer to jackknife at the harrowing Horseshoe Curve.

Eddie May, who grew up in his father’s store, looked after the Pepsi machine. His younger sister Diane had charge of the Coke machine. He reports with satisfaction that he sold more soft drinks because his vending machine offered not only Pepsi, but also Mountain Dew and Kickapoo Joy Juice (a citrus-flavored soda that seems to be making a bit of a comeback). The placid village of Pine Grove, already acquainted with armed conflict, it seems saw some of the early skirmishes of the Cola Wars.

Eddie remembers going down to the Shenandoah Retreat golf course along the river (which had been developed as a country club and weekend retreat in 1952) as a boy, and hunting all night for earthworms. He’d typically collect a five-gallon bucket full of nightcrawlers and sell them as bait at the store. The dollar a dozen he’d collect was his allowance. When bait was scarce, he’d sometimes get the price up to $1.25 or even $1.50 per dozen worms, a most profitable return. A hint of nostalgia crosses his features as he recalls the days when they sold gas for 30 cents a gallon and cigarettes for a quarter a pack.

Eddie also spent many happy hours as a teenager hunting for artifacts back by the creek behind the store and down at the river’s edge. Over the years he gathered quite a collection of arrowheads, and also Minié balls, US Army belt buckles and breastplates, and even the odd bayonet left over from the Civil War.

The Civil War had shattered the peace of the Blue Ridge in the midsummer of 1864. The old Colonial Highway, which in the late eighteenth century was a toll road between Snickers Gap at the top of the mountain and Snickers Ferry down at the river (and was overseen by Edward Snickers himself back when young George Washington was surveying the area), saw a good deal of military traffic in the first weeks of July that year.

After his failed attack on the Washington, D.C. defenses at Fort Stevens on July 11, 1864, Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early retreated along that highway into the Shenandoah Valley and set up headquarters at Berryville. The pursuing federal army took control of Snickers Gap (which now divides Loudoun and Clarke counties) and set up artillery covering the western slopes of the Blue Ridge down to the Shenandoah River. Major General John Gordon’s division was left to guard the river crossing at Castleman’s Ferry (a.k.a. Snickers Ford), which it did successfully against several Union attempts to get across.

On February 18, 1864, the Union did a reconnaissance in force, crossing the river at the island fords about a mile upriver from the ferry. The armies clashed. The ensuing battle claimed nearly 850 casualties. In the confusion of the battle, a number of Union soldiers leapt unwittingly into the deep water at Parker’s Hole and drowned. Stories have been told of bass fisherman fifty years later thinking they had made the catch of a lifetime only to pull an old musket from the dark waters.

By 1973, it was clear to Mrs. May that the time had come to sell the store while it might still be sold. Plans were in the works for Route 7 to be expanded, and to bypass Pine Grove. In the summer of 1973, she sold the property to Earl and Shirley Tomblin, who converted the store into a restaurant. Five years later the Tomblins sold the restaurant to Eddie and Dorothy Stone, who ran it until 1994, when they sold it to Malcolm and Shirley Brown and their partner, Geoff Cole, whose family still visits the restaurant. Joan Farris bought it in 1999, and in 2001 sold it to Glen Poe—who owns it today.

The Route 7 expansion and straightening did wonders for commuters who live west of the Shenandoah River. The new four lane road, known now as Harry Byrd Highway, carries thousands of drivers into and out of the Washington, DC metropolitan area every day. But many of them race across the mountain completely unaware that such a village as Pine Grove even exists.

The Pine Grove Restaurant has gone through many changes over the years, some ups, some downs, some successes and some difficulties. It seems at last to have hit its stride. After a number of years of starts and stops, three years ago Glen Poe met Phyllis Mainhart. He felt she could revive the authentic country cooking and casual family
atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.

Phyllis says she wasn’t really looking for another business venture, but a couple of old friends heard that the restaurant was coming available. And because she had successfully run a similar country restaurant in Stephen’s City some years earlier, these friends called her and said, “Why don’t you take that place on?”

Phyllis and Glen both had a clear—and very similar—idea of what would work in terms of food, service and atmosphere. Phyllis’ vision was simple: “I wanted it to be the best home cooked meal around, the best home cooking restaurant in the area.” With loyal support from family members and long time local residents who work in the restaurant either serving or cooking, that vision has become a reality. All of the food is homemade, from scratch, and largely from old family recipes. Her sisters bake pies and whip up chicken salads, potato salads, macaroni salads and even broccoli salads that have to be tried to be believed.

The whole enterprise has the feel of a family effort, a community effort. They strive to use local products, growing many of their vegetables either on site or in the gardens at the Mercer farm. They buy their meats and sausages locally, like the beef from Audley Farms in Berryville—fresh, antibiotic- and hormone-free. They use only the freshest eggs, which are served in one of their breakfast masterpieces: the Clarke County Eggs Benedict. This is serious country cooking. It’s an open faced biscuit topped with fried eggs and sliced ham, smothered in sausage gravy, and served with a side of home fries. Just imagine. The Buckwheat & Blueberry pancakes are also quite a hit.

Pine Grove Restaurant also has a small farm market. They continue to expand the
offerings of local delicacies. You can buy local honey,
organic farm eggs, even whole fresh homemade pies.
Phyllis’ son Eddie raises grass fed organic beef which they sell whole or in parts. They’ve raised organic Cornish game hens and turkeys for
Thanksgiving—which always sell out in
short order. They even do
some gluten free items and are looking
to add more. Pretty soon
they’ll be adding ice-cream
and milkshakes.

Pine Grove has patrons from all over the region, near and far. From Phyllis’ old schoolmates and other local regulars, including church groups, to motorcycle clubs from the city, bicyclists, and hikers passing by on the Appalachian Trail, the restaurant has become a lively gathering place. A couple from Alexandria makes a regular weekend trek just to enjoy breakfast on the front deck in the summertime. A large table in the back room that seats 25 comfortably has been used for rehearsal dinners, birthdays, and other large family gatherings.

The restaurant opens at 7am, seven days a week, and serves until 8pm, Monday through Saturday and until 2pm on Sundays. And by the way, serving until eight means exactly that: If you arrive at 7:55 pm, they will happily serve you dinner and allow you to eat it at your leisure, in peace. Breakfast is served all day every day, in addition to lunch and dinner.

Most who have enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere, friendly service and the fantastic food at the Pine Grove Restaurant subscribe to a simple truth: That is one good old-fashioned home-style country meal!

Woodcock Wings

Story and illustration by Doug Pifer

To me the late evening song of the woodcock means spring has truly arrived.

This year it came on the warm evening of March 6, a sharp dry “bzzt” repeated every 15 seconds or so. It came from the edge of the woods next to an overgrown pasture beside the house. The dry, toneless sound was more frog- or insect-like than anything you’d expect to come from a bird.

I listened with both hands cupped behind my ears. What came next was a light twittering made by the bird’s wings as they carried it unseen into the dark sky. The twitters got softer. I opened my mouth to better receive the sounds as they sped up in tempo and became more bubbly. There was a crescendo of “chip-chip chips,” then silence. Nearly two minutes passed before I heard the “bzzt” again, from the same field as before.

This is the love song of the woodcock, one of my favorite birds. The woodcock is  full of contradictions. It’s in the shorebird family but prefers wet woods and brushy fields. It wades in water but has short legs and un-webbed toes. When it probes its long bill into soft soil after earthworms, the flexible upper tip can grab a worm like a pair of tweezers while the bird’s mouth stays closed.

Enormous eyes, set ridiculously high on the top of the head, indicate a nocturnal lifestyle and reflect ruby-red when a flashlight shines on them.  The plumage has a dead-leaf pattern that a bow hunter might envy. During the day a woodcock will crouch among dead leaves or grass until you nearly step on it. At the last moment it will explode from the ground in front of you, leaving your heart pounding as it helicopters upwards through the trees and brush in twittering flight.

Such flights are generally short, and you can often follow the sound of their wings and flush them again. The three outer flight feathers are narrow quills that make the characteristic sound whenever they fly.

My favorite thing about the woodcock is its funny walk. The first time I saw a woodcock, many years ago, it was standing in the middle of a back road in front of my car. I slowed to a stop. When, after a brief pause it decided to start walking, I burst out laughing. “The woodcock walk” is a dance step I’ve enjoyed seeing many times since.

The last time I saw it was a wintry January day. I noticed a woodcock bopping merrily along through the snow under some loblolly pines. As it stepped slowly along, its body seemed to bounce up and down independently of its head and feet.  Dark and perfectly visible in the snow despite its dead-leaf camouflage markings, the bird stopped several times to probe the sandy soil with its long beak.

Note: To hear the woodcock’s song, check out Lang Elliott’s “American Woodcock” video on Also type in “American woodcock walking” to see that crazy walk.

The Observer’s Guide to Locally Produced Food, Drink, and More


Chilly Hollow (Berryville): Providing chemical-free, naturally grown produce. Community supported agriculture (CSA) provider with a presence at the Clarke County Farmers’ Market; (610) 574-0008 or (484) 368-1157; See add on page 15.

Mackintosh Fruit Farm (Berryville): Offering tree-ripened fruit and other produce available through onsite market and at Clarke County farmers’ market; (540) 995-6225;

Oak Hart Farm (Berryville): Educational produce farm providing experiences to introduce consumers to different facets of food production, preservation, and preparation; (540) 533-3096;

Shallowbrooke Farm (Boyce): Community supported agriculture (CSA) provider of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers. Also has a presence at the Clarke County Farmers’ Market; (540) 837-2381 or (540) 247-8358;

Shenandoah Seasonal (Boyce): Offering locally grown and sustainably grown produce and eggs. Community supported agriculture (CSA) provider with a presence at several local farmers markets; (540) 535-5474 or (571) 447-8556; See add on page 13.


Audley Farm: Offering all natural beef free from hormones and antibiotics, pasture raised beef; and cooking classes and beef club, too., 540-955-1251;

Smith Meadows (Berryville): Community supported agriculture (CSA) provider of meats with a presence at the Clarke County Farmers’ Market; (540) 955-4389;

Briars Farmstead (Boyce): Community supported agriculture (CSA) provider of chicken, pork, and other products; (540) 664-8005;

Stores Selling Locally Sourced Products

Locke Store (Millwood): Retail store offering produce, meats, wine, flours, baked goods, and more. Ask about the availability of locally sourced products; (540) 837-1275; *See our add on page 15.

Mt. Airy Farm Market (Boyce): Retail store offering meats, dairy, and seasonally available produce. Ask about the availability of locally sourced products; (540) 837-2043; *See our add on this page.

Nalls Farm Market (Berryville): Retail operation offering various local and regional produce, dairy, pies, plants, and more. Ask about the availability of locally sourced products; (540) 955-0004;

Village Emporium (Berryville): Retail operation offering local crafts, pottery, honeys, jewelry, and more; (540) 955-4850;

Restaurants/Caterers Serving Local Products

Hunter’s Head Tavern (Upperville): Provider of locally raised meats and locally produced vegetables alongside other offerings produced outside the region. Ask about the availability of locally sourced products; 540-592-9020;

Top Flight BBQ (Winchester): Food truck operator and catering company serving the region. Ask about the availability of locally sourced products; (865) 384-5949;


612 Vineyard (Berryville): Locally based winery producing, bottling, and selling wine; (540) 535-6689;

Twin Oaks Winery (Bluemont): Locally based winery producing, bottling, and selling wine; (540) 554-4547 or (202) 255-5009;

Veramar Vineyard (Berryville): Locally based winery producing, bottling, and selling wine; (540) 955-5510;


Double 8 Alpaca Ranch: Working alpaca farm. Provider of wool and other goods; (703) 628-1930;

Duvall Designs Gallery (Millwood): Local designer making fine quality furniture and other goods; (540) 336-9631;

Geo’s Joy (Berryville): Registered clinical herbalist who grows, harvests, and packages locally grown herbs; (540) 955-4769; See add on page 13.

Local Woods (Berryville): Provider of locally harvested wood and products made from local wood; (540) 955-9522;

Sunset Acres Alpaca Farm (Berryville): Working alpaca farm. Provider of wool and other goods, (540) 955-3529;

Baked Goods

Cookie Guy (Berryville): Provider of cookies, candy, baked goods, and locally roasted coffee; (540) 955-1077;

Geneva Jackson (Berryville): Provider of made-to-order baked goods with a presence at the Clarke County Famers’ Market; (540) 955-2538.