Big Birds and Big Green Eggs

Story by Claire Stuart, photos by Bre Bogert
If you take a drive down Springsbury Road in Berryville, you might catch a glimpse of two huge ostrich-like birds in a field beside the road.
No, you aren’t seeing things. It’s just Big Bird and Puff, Dave and Lauren “LuLu” Conrad’s emus. The Conrads have been keeping the gigantic birds since 2006. Emus are flightless birds that are native to Australia. They grow to be five to six feet tall, weigh well over 100 pounds and live about 20 years in the wild and about 35 in captivity.
Dave Conrad explains how they came to own them. “One day my daughter called and said, ‘Dad, I’m bringing you some emus.’  She knows that Dad will take anything that’s free! At the time, we didn’t even know what an emu was.”
Their daughter was into horses, and the family of one of her friends had a riding stable. For whatever reason, they’d bought some emus and soon discovered that juvenile emus are like packrats —they love bright shiny objects. The birds were stealing items of horse tack and anything else interesting they could find. They had become a nuisance, so the owners decided to get rid of them.
“They’ll pick at people’s rings and watches,” said Dave Conrad,  “and they’ll try to take glasses off your face.”
The Conrads describe Big Bird, the male, as friendly, but he gets aggressive when he has young. Puff, the female, is more standoffish. Once a clutch of eggs is laid, the male emu sits on the eggs and turns them for about eight weeks, without eating or drinking. When they hatch, he cares for the young. In the wild, the female leaves and finds another mate.
Emus can run at speeds of 30 to 40 miles an hour, zipping off in a flash from a standing start. They readily demonstrated this as they took off after a family pup who was annoying them. They defend themselves by kicking, and they have long, sharp claws. However they are generally gentle birds.
Dave Conrad explained that you can’t tell the sex of an emu by looking at it. Emu reproductive organs are internal, and trying to do an intrusive examination of a six-foot, 150-pound bird with claws like a velociraptor, while possible, is not anything most people would attempt. It is easier to do when the birds have just hatched. You can send for an expensive DNA test, or you can just wait and see, as the Conrads did. When emus reach maturity, which takes a few years, the females begin to make a drumming sound. The males just grunt like pigs.
Lauren Conrad brought out one of the emu eggs. It was huge and green and looked a bit like an avocado. “Last year we got 29 eggs,” she said. “One emu egg is equal to about a dozen chicken eggs. We don’t eat the eggs but you can. You can scramble them. We hard-boiled one, but there was too much white before you could find the yolk.”
“It took three sandwiches worth of white sliced off to even get to the yolk,” Dave Conrad recalled. The eggs are not green inside and look just like giant chicken eggs.
In this part of the country, emus only lay eggs in winter, from about November into March. In normal winters, they usually lay an egg every three or four days. In very cold winters, they lay less often. The birds are very cold hardy but they take shelter in their shed in extreme cold.
Big Bird and Puff are very curious. They like certain noises, especially the sound of a loud car exhaust, and they will run to the fence to check it out. The Conrads guess that a local young man with a noisy exhaust purposely guns his engine to get the attention of the emus when he drives by.
The Conrads were raising and selling emus for a while, but it became too much work and expense, considering the price they could get for the emu chicks. Now they only sell the eggs, which people buy to decorate. A customer arrived to pick up some eggs that she planned to use in a decorative nest.
Egg carving is also popular and has a long history as an Australian aboriginal art form. Emu eggs are particularly good for carving with a Dremel or similar tool because the thick shell has three layers of different colors. The outer layer is green, the next layer is turquoise and the inner layer is white, allowing for beautiful three-dimensional effects.
Lauren Conrad sells emu eggs at the Clarke County Yard Sales and other community happenings, or you can e-mail her at:

Gemparcel is Sparkling on Main Street in Berryville

Story by Rebecca Maynard, Photo by Bre Bogert
If you’re looking for a gift for that someone on your list who loves jewelry, look no further than Berryville Main Street’s newest business, Gemparcel, located at 23 East Main Street, Suite B (right above Fire
House Gallery).
Gemparcel is owned by husband-and-wife team Michael and Pachariya “Peach” Perez. The couple met in Bangkok, Thailand, Peach’s home country, at GIA — where Peach worked. Established in 1931, GIA is the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls. A public benefit, nonprofit institute, GIA is the leading source of knowledge, standards, and education in gems and jewelry.
In 2007, while in Bangkok, Michael graduated from GIA’s gemologist program, which provides him with the technical expertise and practical skills to evaluate gemstones and diamonds by the “Four Cs” (color, clarity, cut, and carat weight), the International Diamond Grading System, and the Colored Stone Grading System.
“For me, it was kind of a hobby at first, because gemology is the study of the stones, so it was more the science aspect of the gemstones and diamonds that interested me,” Michael said. “Then friends started saying: Hey, I have a question about diamonds, rubies, or sapphires. Because I have the certification it became more than just a hobby; it was a way to transfer knowledge.”
While Gemparcel’s business space opened in early November, Michael and Peach have been in the business for ten years. “Slowly, we got to know people in the business more, so we work with jewelers and can work with customers to do custom orders,” Peach said.
Peach also makes and sells affordable jewelry made with non-precious beads and stones, another great option for Christmas shopping, she said.
“I started selling my jewelry in the Fire House Gallery this year and one day I saw a sign saying this incubator space was available,” she said. “We thought, why not?”
Michael and Peach spent time studying the local market and decided that Clarke County was a promising location for what they offer.
“We’re trying to hit a couple of markets,” Michael explained. “If a customer wants a custom-made jewelry piece or something we may already have in stock, we offer that, and we also sell wholesale to jewelers so we’re in the retail market of jewelry and the wholesale market of gemstones
and diamonds.”
“We’re basically trying to bring unique stones to the local area,” Michael said, in addition to classics such as clear and colored diamonds. All the gemstones they offer are premium quality. “Tourmaline, spinel, garnets, some you’ve never seen before.”
Aside from affordable handmade jewelry and gems,
another potential gift idea Gemparcel offers is the Seiko line of watches, which range reasonably from $140 and up. Michael has always been interested in automatic watches and he and Peach felt that carrying a line of quality, affordable watches was an ideal addition to their business.
Michael and Peach are enjoying getting to know Berryville and hope that people will feel free to stop by even if they are still just considering
a purchase.
“We want people to come in and ask questions and gain their trust,” Michael said. “You go to some stores and you’re afraid to try on rings, but I tell customers to try them on so they can see the quality
and compare.”
Peach noted that they are located right next to the town Christmas tree and that she enjoys all the foot traffic on Saturdays. “It’s a great town,”
she said.
For information, call 540-277-2053 or visit Hours are Wednesday and Thursday 10am–6pmFriday 11am–7pmSaturday 11am–6pm and Sunday 12–5pm. 

Love at First Bite

by Claire Stuart

There is one thing that all human cultures have in common — life’s most important events are celebrated over food.  We all have cherished memories of a holiday meal from our childhood or a special dish that Mom or Grandma made.
Lisa Trumbower-Sheppard of Love at First Bite never planned to become a caterer. She studied to be a professional photographer, taught photography, sold cameras, and landed a job with a master photographer who ran a high-end photo studio in Great Falls. They frequently photographed lavish parties, and she was fascinated with the catering process, from the unloading of the food and setting up the mobile kitchen to the artistic presentation of the food.
“It was creative,” she recalled, “and you were part of an important event. That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Trumbower-Sheppard got to know the Great Falls caterer through those events and eventually asked if she’d take her on.  The caterer did, and the rest is 27 years of history!
“I started on commission only, doing off-premises catering. Then I went on to Lansdowne Resort as Director of Catering and did on-premises corporate catering.”
Her own catering business began as a hobby and grew, but she keeps it at low volume to maintain the warmth and creativity that goes into
every event.
“We are not a cookie-cutter caterer. Every event is custom created for the client’s needs, from the menu and decorations to the equipment and the staff. It’s fun to talk to clients and get to know them.”
The number of staff varies with the event’s requirements, but Trumbower-Sheppard has a core of people she depends on. She emphasizes that they are an essential part of the process and lend their personal touches to the creation of
successful events.
“We work as a team. I can’t do it by myself.”
 Love at First Bite caters everything from parties and life events to corporate functions, galas and fund-raisers. They’ll even do an all-dessert event if you want one!
“We can adapt to any degree of formality, from moon-bounces to champagne brunches. We’ve done white-glove fine dining for 10 people and company picnics for 500. We are well-known for providing something for everyone—picky eaters, hearty appetites, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free diets “
Trumbower-Sheppard is always ready to try new things.  She says that she works very hard when she is at work, but when she’s off, she likes to travel and absorb the food culture, try things and think about how she can adapt them. For the past four years, she has attended a catering convention in Las Vegas to learn about what’s new.
“I try them out in my own kitchen,” she reported. “Then I have a ‘guinea pig party’ for tasting new things.  If they are appealing, then I find the right event to introduce them.”
She says that her favorite events are heavy hors d’oeuvre receptions, “with lots of little nibbles. They give us an opportunity to display food artistically. It’s the most fun!”
The local auction is a source for all sorts of interesting props and accessories that make for unique “tablescapes.” Trumbower-Sheppard noted that appealing presentation of the food is essential for any event.  “Every event is like a canvas that I get to paint!  It’s well-known that you ‘lead first with your eyes.’”
She was always aware of the warmth and impact that food provided as she watched her mother prepare meals. “Mom was a cloth napkin lady,” she recalled. “We never had a jar of ketchup on the table—it was always in a bowl with a spoon. That’s what we try to do—make it really special.”
Her own favorite main dish is chicken curry. Her favorite dessert is the hot milk sponge cake that her Grandma made. “I still have her hand-written recipe card and her sponge cake pan.”
There is no hard-and-fast rule about how far in advance an event needs to be booked. Some events are booked a year or more in advance, but you might get in the same week. It all depends on the event size and how busy they are. Some things, of course, like celebrations of life, can’t be planned in advance.
Love at First Bite can create memorable meals and a festive atmosphere for most holidays and seasonal celebrations, but they do NOT do Thanksgiving!
They have travelled as far as Washington, D.C. and will serve a radius of about 50 miles, but most of their business is around Winchester, Clarke County and western Loudon.
As Trumbower-Sheppard reminds us, “The most important ingredient is love—and that’s why we are called Love at First Bite.”
For more information and a look at menus, visit or call
Twin Oaks Tavern View

Twin Oak Tavern Winery

By Keith Patterson
Twin Oaks Tavern View
 The first thing I noticed was the color, like amber covered in smoked honey, as our glasses of Twin Oaks’ signature Chardonnay danced gleefully across the Great Room to our table by the window overlooking the beautiful mountainside vineyard. Our charming waitress also delivered our baguette and honey-dripped almond baked brie from the amply stocked Light Fare Menu which also includes a pulled-pork barbeque sandwich, home-made chili, meat pies, burritos, sausage, cheeses, chocolates and more.
My wife and I clinked our glasses in “salut” and sniffed the crisp bouquet of the liquid gold. There is just a hint of citrusy fruit, complex and muted, not sweet, and a tastefully restrained remembrance of the oak casks in which all of Twin Oaks’ wines are created. A taste of the nectar confirms what the nostrils already knew. The Chardonnay grape itself is the star. This wine-maker loves wine and knows how to make the wine that she loves.
Donna Evers, owner and hands-on proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery, has wine-making in her blood that goes back several generations to her family’s hillside vineyard in the Central European country of Croatia. Her grandfather immigrated to America in the early 1900s and the Kobasic family put down solid roots. This firmly-rooted foundation has now flowered into a dream-come-true, the magnificent, must be-seen Twin Oaks Tavern Winery. “There is no place like America,” says the owner. “The opportunities here are endless. If you can do it… you’re on! I’m so grateful to be in a country where nothing can stop you. Go! Go do it! I feel like I have so much to be thankful for.”
Donna Evers built this winery with her own very capable hands. There are three and a half acres of grapes including two full acres of Chardonnay, three quarters of an acre of Cabernet Franc and three quarters of an acre of Merlot. She tells us how she and her late husband planted their first vines in 1999. Those vines yielded only leaves for three years before their first real harvest that produced thirty-five gallons of wine in 2002. By 2015 Twin Oaks was up to full-production and Donna produced 2700 gallons of wine. It is top quality, award-winning wine, made by a master that knows the strengths and weaknesses of the varietals that she planted and also understands the intricacies of the unique local climate of the Western slope of Mount Weather.
We sip our Chardonnay and nibble on our baguette and brie as we sit in the newly renovated Great room that hosts weddings, parties and events. Outside and below our table by the window, on a deck that spans the entire Western side of the Winery’s main building, a guitarist entertains the happy, sun-splashed crowd with well-played classic covers and a clutch of fine originals. Everyone that we encountered was in a friendly, jovial mood. There is a nice, laid-back vibe to the place that starts from the top.
There is always live music on Saturdays and an open mic on Sundays. You might even be lucky enough to catch the owner herself, with a guitar in her hands, singing and picking her way through her set that includes some Creedence Clearwater Revival classics. When the weather is nice the live music is on the deck. When the weather will not cooperate, the music moves inside to the Twin Oak Winery’s brand new Great Room.
The original stone dwelling on the scenic Bluemont
property was constructed in 1893 and was one of the first stone houses in the area. When the train began service to Bluemont in 1900 there was a Real Estate frenzy “like the vicinity had never witnessed” which resulted in a few more houses being built. Around 1910 the owners of the property converted it into a B&B for city folks who took the train from DC out to Bluemont to escape the heat of the city. People stayed for the weekend, the month or sometimes the entire summer at the inn called Twin Oaks Tavern. And the business continued on as an inn all the way up until the 1950s. And then in 1968, the train stopped coming
to Bluemont.
In 1997 there was a catastrophic fire that destroyed the original residence. Donna and Bob Evers bought the property in 1998 with the intention of rebuilding the house and selling it. They loved the results so much, and fell in-love with the gorgeous vista so deeply that they decided to sell their other residence on the mountain and dwell at Twin Oaks. Donna tells us a story:
“That summer, Bob and I were on vacation in Europe. We were riding on a train through Italy and I was dozing and dreaming. I remember waking up- and here it starts sounding like a Bob Dylan song. I looked out the window of the train and beheld the most beautiful landscape of rolling hills and mountains and everywhere were vineyards, as far as the eye could see. I decided then that I had to have a vineyard and after  several months of research and planning we planted grapes on this Twin Oaks property and worked with them and improved our knowledge every year. We built a three-car garage and that eventually became our first tasting room, which we opened in 2009. Since then we’ve added two large additions, one in 2011 and one in 2017.”
In the tasting room at Twin Oaks Tavern Winery you can experience several Gold Medal winners, including the outstanding aforementioned Chardonnay “…apple and pear, an oak center and a long, zesty finish…”. Vidal Blanc “…aromas of melon… creamy honey center…”, and Norton 2015 “… smoke, cedar and blackberry… pairs well with steak…”
This is a beautiful, friendly place. Come on out to Bluemont and enjoy yourself!
Twin Oaks Tavern Winery
Open Thursday and Monday 12pm–5pm; FridaySunday, 12pm-7pm.

Berryville Main Street: Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns

Berryville’s Booster-in-Chief Turns 25

Berryville’s commercial scene has changed a lot in the last decade. I remember visiting the town when working on a travel guide to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. I remember thinking, “Cool, what a nice place.”

It was actually a functioning downtown. You could still come to Berryville to buy things you need — an almost extinct phenomenon in
America’s small towns.

Today, Berryville is more than a functioning town; it’s a truly awesome place. You can still buy things you need: eyeglasses, prescription drugs, flowers, electronics, appliances. All that good stuff. But now you can find things way beyond the everyday. Experiences that make life a little better, like galleries, gift shops, and locally sourced eateries.

There is much credit to recognize. Good planning, the Barnes of Rose Hill, and incredible community financial support for a town of this size, to name a few.

Let’s also give credit to the work of Berryville Main Street, a nonprofit booster for downtown that recently celebrated his 25-year anniversary.

The group has brought amazing energy to create an atmosphere hospitable to locals and tourists alike — and one which has attracted several businesses that have relocated to Berryville in the past few years.

There is an old saying. “Bad things happen through neglect. Good things happen only through intention.” When you look at all the wonderful things about Berryville, you see that the Main Street miracle is part inspiration and a heck of a lot of perspiration. It’s intentional.

Much hard work, most of its volunteer, has gone to create the charming yet still practical small town å is Berryville. It’s nice to know that Berryville Main Street is not resting on its laurels. Instead, Main Street is looking ahead to the Town of Berryville in the next 25 years.

Time for the Clarke County Studio Tour

By Liam Harrison

Mark your calendars for the Clarke County Studio Tour on Saturday October and Sunday October 2. This self-guided, free family-friendly tour will take visitors through the Clarke County countryside and the towns of Berryville, Bluemont, Boyce, Millwood, and White Post. The tour offers a diverse group of 30 artists and 22 different locations. The artist studios will be open 10am–5pm each day. Most artists will be doing demonstrations, offering refreshments, and have items for sale. Locations will be marked by a tour sign at

the location.

On the tour you will see woodworkers, furniture makers, fine artists in watercolor, pastels, acrylics, and oil painting, pottery, a variety of sculpture, fiber art, jewelers, floral design, antique upcycled/repurposed items, art in nature, and hand carved gilded work. The following 30 artists are participating on the tour:

Julie Abrera, Gale Bowman-Harlow, Scott Carpenter, Tim Chambers, Mizue Croswell, Christy Dunkle, Jay and Peggy Duvall, Constance Fisher, Norma Fredrickson, Malcolm Harlow, Diane Harrison, Liam Harrison, Russ Harrison, Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton, Hip and Humble – Julie Ashby & Steve Scott, Dave Hickman, Sue Hickman, Ron Light, Carl Maples, George Maxwell, Tia Maggio, Julie Miles, Peter Miller, Keith Patterson, Kellie Patterson, Nancy Polo, Rachel Rogers, Mikisa Shaajhante, Bruce Smallwood, René Locklear White-Feather.

Peter Miller, a frame maker on the tour, was key in helping revive the tour. A Connecticut native who moved to the area and opened his shop on Main Street in Berryville was amazed at the number of artists and artisans in the county. Peter started in January by pulling in a key group of artists, shop owners, citizens, and staff working on tourism in the town and county. After receiving all the responses from artists, the group was surprised by how many newcomers and the variety there is in the area that will be opening their studios.

The Clarke County Studio Tour organization, headed by Miller, hopes to highlight the abundant creative talent that resides in Clarke County. Also, the group wants to help promote tourism which will benefit the county as a whole. The Clarke County visitor’s center at the Barns of Rose Hill is the center point of the tour, providing information on the area and tour, brochures, and a viewing of the raffle items beginning mid-September. The center will have extended hours that weekend from 10am–4pm on Saturday and 10am–3pm on Sunday.

Diane Harrison, a Berryville potter, helped run the previous tours in the county. She said that this tour goes above and beyond any that we have had in the past. The quality and the variety of skilled artists and artisans is amazing. “It has been a great pleasure to work with the group to get this one off the ground and to meet so many new artists to the area,” she said. A number of the artists are also participating in the new Top of Virginia Artisan Trail kicking off in September. This will help to give tourists and locals an idea of what a treasure of artistic talent Clarke County has to offer.

A Passport Program gives each tour visitor a chance at one of many artist-donated items which will be on display starting September 16 at Barns of Rose Hill. Visitors will pick up a passport at their first stop. At each stop, the passport will be stamped marking where you have been. When a participant is finished with their tour, they turn in the passport at their last stop to be entered into the raffle. You must have visited at least one tour stop to be eligible for the raffle. Winners will be drawn the following week.

A website allows visitors to preview artists with links to their websites and maps are available so that you can plan the route. The site is also phone friendly, and ties into Google Maps. You may also download the PDF brochure if you want to ‘go green’. The website address is clarkecountystudiotour. You may also access the tour Facebook page directly from the site for posts highlighting artists on the tour and updated information.


Beaumont House Design: Telling your love story with flowers

By Claire Stuart

Whether it’s a single lovely bloom, a bouquet, or a whole garden, flowers have a certain magic that elicits smiles and happiness, and there’s no happier occasion for flowers than a wedding. As a floral designer specializing in weddings and events, Julie Wheeler Abrera radiates enthusiasm when she talks about her work. She understands how important flowers are to a bride and believes that every bride “needs to feel amazing and wonderful with everyone on her team of wedding vendors.”

Growing up in Berryville, Abrera always loved flowers and trees. “Gardening is in my DNA,” she says. “Mom was an avid gardener — Dad, too. But at 18, I never would have thought that I’d be doing this.”

Actually, Abrera took a vastly different path before returning to her figurative and literal roots. For 20 years, she lived in Alexandria, working in management of nonprofits involved with humanitarian projects like affordable housing and school nutrition programs. She was proud of her work, yet felt that something was lacking in her life.

Pondering a career change, Abrera thought about how she had always enjoyed working with flowers. It could be possible to make people happy while bringing herself the joy that creative people seek in
their work.

She decided to take some classes at FlowerSchool New York while still working, “to see if I could seriously do this for a career.” FlowerSchool New York offers floral design classes on a host of topics, from beginner’s level through the latest new design styles for experienced professionals. Intensive workshops are taught by top floral designers from all around the world.

“It’s a wonderful place to hone your skills,” said Abrera, “and discover the things you are good at.”

Abrera came away convinced that she could be successful, and launched her own studio, Beaumont House Design, in 2013. The first wedding she booked was for a friend of a friend in Alexandria. She recalls that she felt tremendous pressure to make her flowers live up to the bride’s expectations, and she was happy to report that the bride loved them.

Her business has continued to grow through brides referring her to friends and through social media. She does a lot of networking, building relationships with photographers, wedding planners, caterers and other wedding vendors. She joined the Ashburn chapter of the Rising Tide Society, a national online creative community with local chapters. They offer business webinars, educational opportunities, and ideas for creative entrepreneurs, and they meet in person once a month.

Abrera enjoys the challenge of constantly stretching herself to learn more. “Working with flowers, you are always learning new things and practicing,” she reported. “You have never completely mastered it.”

She recently attended a workshop in Bethesda
learning a new technique for making flower crowns. She follows Ponderosa and Thyme, an Oregon fine-art wedding and event floral boutique online. She was so taken with a picture of a bouquet they posted that she contacted them. When it was announced that they were giving a workshop, she quickly grabbed a spot before they sold out and flew out to Oregon
to participate.

Abrera loves creating everything from wrist corsages to floral arches. She shared a photo of a stunningly beautiful arch made for a wedding, using a trellis base covered with chicken wire, into which the flowers were placed.  “I did one with eight or nine hundred individual blooms,” she said. “Each bloom is in a flower pick with water to keep it fresh.”

She also loves to teach. She has held wreath-making workshops and looks forward to doing some flower
crown workshops.

Some of her flowers are gathered from her own cutting garden, which she started just this year. She pointed out a stack of seed catalogs and noted that she is taking what she learned this year into her planning for next year. She also enjoys foraging for wild flowers and green accent plants in the fields near her Clarke County home. “I always keep clippers and a basket in the car,”
she declared.

Other flowers are purchased, and she buys as many locally-sourced flowers as possible. Additional flowers come from a wholesaler in Baltimore, where flowers from all around the world are available. She buys a lot of flowers from Greenstone Fields in Purcelville, where they raise over 90 varieties of flowers and something beautiful is available throughout the growing seasons.

“Greenstone Fields raises their flowers using organic methods,” she said. She noted that this is especially important for weddings, so that the clients will not have to be concerned about pesticides on
the flowers.

Of course, Abrera admits that production work can be stressful, particularly on the wedding day. “I might have 20 centerpieces to pack and load safely,” she explained.  “My husband Richard helps me with deliveries. He is the vice president of logistics!”

Abrera likes to form a relationship with every bride-to-be, inviting her to bring her ideas, lists of favorite flowers, and dreams of what she wants her special day to look like.  She reports that she has never experienced a “Bridezilla.”

“All the brides I have worked with have been wonderful and appreciative. I love to present the bouquet to the bride. I want to be her personal connection with the flowers. When the bride says, ‘It’s what I imagined,’ it makes me float!”


Visit her website at or call  703-801-3529; studio hours by appointment

Phil Travis Teaches Blacksmithing for Everyone

Story and photos by Claire Stuart

In Colonial America and during the settlement of the west, “the blacksmith shop was the hardware store of the day,” says blacksmith Phil Travis, who teaches a series of classes in this vital traditional craft. He explains that the town blacksmith made all the essential tools (and tools for making tools) for home and farm, from nails and hinges to shovels, axes, forks, pots and pans.

To 21st Century eyes, the most amazing thing about blacksmithing is that all of these things can be made using only a forge, an anvil, and a hammer. Tongs are useful for holding metal stock, but not essential.

Movies usually show the blacksmith at a huge brick forge, often making horseshoes. Travis explains that farriers are another type of blacksmith, and they specialize in not just making horseshoes but also caring for the horses’ hooves. If a blacksmith was the only metalworker in town, he would be making all of the implements and hardware, and horseshoes would be a very small part of his business. If the town was large enough, there was a blacksmith and a farrier.

The big brick forge in the movies also isn’t necessarily typical. Forges come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Travis conducts his classes at forges that are about the size of a backyard grill. The forge is a very simple invention, requiring only a firepot to hold fuel and a source of air that is forced through to make the fire burn hotter.

Travis uses a coal burner and an electric fan, but explains that in third-world countries, blacksmiths use whatever fuel they have — be it charcoal, wood, or animal dung. The firepot can even be just a hole in the ground to contain the fuel and a way to blow air through it. For air, they might use a child blowing into a tube or operating a simple bellows made from animal skin.

Of course, nails were essential for early settlers, and Travis says that they were frequently made in the home. Mothers and children would make them during winter in the hearth fire. Often they would make enough to sell for extra cash, just as farm women sold butter and eggs.

Forging differs from other types of metal work because forging does not remove any of the metal. Travis explains that all blacksmithing is based on one or a series of just five processes. “Drawing” is thinning or lengthening a metal rod by heating and hammering it. “Upsetting” is shortening and thickening it by heating it and hammering in at the end of the rod. Then there is cutting (punching holes), bending, and forge welding (which joins two pieces of hot metal by hammering them together).

Blacksmiths generally work in dim light so that they can see the color of the metal being heated, which is essential to the process. As it heats up, the metal goes from dark gray through shades of red, orange, yellow and white. Golden yellow is the ideal color, and white is too hot, causing oxidation and flying sparks.

Travis has been interested in blacksmithing since he was about ten years old. As a teenager, he made a forge out of a hibachi grill. He recalls forging arrowheads out of 16-penny nails. He learned his skills by reading about blacksmithing and taking classes. In 1989, he took a class at the John Campbell Folk School in North Carolina with noted seventh generation blacksmith Daniel Boone VII, descendant of THE Daniel Boone.

Retired as an electrician and project manager with Xerox, Travis says he doesn’t call himself a professional blacksmith, but rather an enthusiast and hobbyist. He has participated in French-Indian War and Revolutionary War living history demonstrations, Shenandoah Longrifles and other events. He used to camp at the Belle Grove Plantation and he rebuilt the forge there, and he demonstrates at Sky Meadows State Park. He enjoys going to blacksmith “hammer-ins” and meeting people in the blacksmith community, who he describes as having “old American-style ethics.”

He has been teaching since 2011, and his classes are open to anyone age 16 and up. He says his students have included teens and seniors, men and women, office workers and construction workers, jewelry makers and artisans who want to make specialized tools for their craft.

“They can make a tool and then use the tool,” he says.

In his first class this year, Travis taught students to work with a coal forge, hammer and anvil to make wall hooks, nails, punches for metal work and several types of tongs. The punches made by the students were used to make holes for inserting nails to hold the two arms of the tongs together. It was interesting to see how many steps were necessary to make a small steel bar into a simple hook.

Student Jay Quintin was taking his second class with Travis. He said that he grew up on a farm and his father did blacksmithing to maintain equipment. He is trying to set up his own shop. “I make stuff like hooks and nails and give it away,” he laughed.

David Patton was taking his first blacksmithing class. He, too, says he likes to “make stuff,” especially “old school stuff” and also plans to have a small forge.

Travis recycles discarded metal and gives it new life. He indicated some pieces used in the class made from coil springs and a hammer he made out of a truck axel.

He notes that several popular old sayings came directly from blacksmithing, including “dead as a doornail,” “Strike when the iron is hot,” and “too many irons in the fire.”

Travis will teach two-day blacksmithing classes on several weekends from April through July and one five-day class. Absolute beginners are welcome in all classes and will learn to make items like bar-b-que tools, hammers, colonial boot scrapers, shelf brackets, and custom tools.

All classes are held at Opus Oaks Art Place, 2330 Crums Church Road in Berryville. For dates and details, e-mail or call  540-539-6685.

5 Tips to Sell Your Home

By Patrick Blood

Well, it’s April and we’re finally into spring. No, seriously, I jest you not; spring is here!

If you’re able to look out your window while you read this and see some remnants of a snow mound—the one you’ve seen for at least two months—and you don’t believe me, you need merely look towards the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C., where cherry blossoms will bloom at their fullest between April 8 and 12 this year. That’s your sure-fire indicator that we’ve rounded the equinox.

What does spring mean in Real Estate World? It means hibernation has ended, people are beginning to walk out of their caves and bathe in the sunlight, getting re-motivated to do things like look for new homes and consider putting their homes on the market. If you’re one of those thinking of selling a home, now is a good time to size up what you need to do.

There’s a weird psychological thing that happens when people go house hunting. The condition of the house when the buyer sees it becomes, in their mind, the permanent condition of the house. So, if a buyer walks in to a sparkling tidy home they will subconsciously think “Wow, I’ll be so organized.” Conversely if they walk in to a home that is cluttered and messy, they’ll think, “Ugh, I’ll have to clean all the time.” Of course, this doesn’t make logical sense. Buyers do know that there’s no such thing as a magically clean house. Still, knowing how to prepare your house so that it appeals to the buyers’ subconscious experience can make all the difference.


Here are 5 tips for preparing your home for sale.

#1: Prepare your home for pics

It is like school picture day . . . for your house. Buyers are finding their houses online, which means having the house looking appealing on the web will reduce its time on the market. It doesn’t have to “be” neat and tidy, it just has to “look” neat and tidy when the shutter snaps.

#2: Little Things count big time

It may cost you a trip to Home Depot and a weekend of your time, but taking care of the little things will pay for itself many times over when the offers come in. Pressure wash and seal that deck, mulch that garden, replace the 1980s hardware on the cabinets, replace those dead bushes. These are some of the details all buyers will notice—in their minds they’ll be thinking of all the things they’ll have to do if they buy your house.

#3: Be relevant to the buyer

We recently went to an open house and saw, sitting smack in middle of the living room, a wheelchair and some geriatrics equipment. Now, you tell me: is that how to prepare your home for sale? Nuh-uh. The golden rule for preparing your home is to appeal to buyers. Since you don’t know if your buyer will end up being an elderly couple, a young family, or a single professional, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take down your child’s art, put away grandma’s oxygen tank, and replace those leopard print satin sheets with something, um . . . neutral. Just sayin’.

#4: Say buh-bye to tenants

An important tip for how to prepare your home for sale is to avoid having a tenant stretched out on your couch eating a bag of Cheetos during showings. I tease, but truly, unless you have an extremely cooperative tenant, it is a good idea to be renter-free before you list. Keep in mind, when your house sells, your tenant loses their home, so it is not in their best interest to tiptoe around to help you sell faster. A little rental income is not worth losing your sale altogether.

#5: Stage Or Sparkle It

For vacant houses, a couple of towels in the bathrooms, or a bowl of fruit and some cookbooks in the kitchen can bring it from looking barren to having a feeling of home. Although more common in markets like DC, a professional staging is often a worthwhile investment, particularly if you’re about to put a heavyweight home on the market—or if you’re out to demand a higher than average price for your home. We have worked with stagers in the area that can do a wonderful job at this, too.

Patrick Blood is senior partner at Blackwell Property Management and Real Estate Services. Contact him at or visit