Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bloom Chapter 10

     It's blogvel time again! I know; how can you get appropriately excited if you don't know what a blogvel is? In the best tradition of weekly serials, a blogvel is a traveling novel. Each Monday (I know it's Tuesday.) a different writer posts a chapter on their blog. This week it's my turn. If you want to catch up, and you should, you can find the first chapter here at the lovely Michelle Simkins blog. Start reading and follow the trail back. Last week's chapter is at the Inner Owlet (I love the name, too.) and next week's chapter will be at Tightie Writie. For now, here is my contribution to Bloom.

Chapter 10

     The jeep hit a pothole and Jessica groaned from the back seat. Her pain knifed through him. He was her big brother. He was supposed to look out for her. He’d thought when he left and hadn’t come back he done just that.

     He hated that she’d gotten mixed up in this – hated that he’d had to hurt her. But there hadn’t been another way. As much as he loved his plants, he didn’t want his little sister to become one. He could still smell the decaying flower smell, but it was fading. Nothing like cloyingly sweet scent that had poured from his sister’s cuts while he’d sliced through her skin and Wanda stabbed her.

     He glanced at the redhead driving the jeep. Her hands gripped the steering wheel and her lips crooked up in a cruel sneer. As an evil genius, he couldn’t help but appreciate her rocking the Rambo Barbie thing. As a big brother, it pissed him off. She’d been rough with Jessica – rougher than she needed to be. The hair pulling thing was definitely out of line. The jeep jolted again and Jessica whimpered.

     “Watch where you’re going.”

     Wanda turned her sneer on him and glared. “I am,” she said through gritted teeth. “It’s not my fault we’re driving on this crappy road, genius.”

     “You forgot the evil.”

     “No, I didn’t. After that scene back there, I didn’t think it applied.” She tossed her red ringlets and the hard angle of her jaw jutted out from between the curls.

     Ouch. “She’s my little sister. I didn’t want to hurt her.” He was evil. He’d made flesh eating plants for Pete’s sake. Tank and Velvet were probably still following behind them, massacring innocent bystanders along the way. God knew what terror the metal tree would wreck upon the townspeople. “I am too evil,” he murmured under his breath.

     She spared him an eye roll. “We’ll see. So what’s the plan, boy wonder?”

     One moment of compassion and he’d gone from sexy evil genius to Batman’s tight-wearing sidekick.

     "I’m not sure.” Her ‘I knew you weren’t evil’ snort made him cringe. “Magnets might work. There’s not a lot of steel in the plants’ molecular make up, but it might be enough to contain them, provided we can generate a large enough magnetic field.”

     “Where are we going to get enough magnets in this backwoods town?” Her obvious disbelief in his plan hurt. Man, give an evil genius a break.

     “We could get some copper wire and iron, but a battery strong enough to generate the electromagnetic charge we need to stop the plants would probably create too much heat.” He was going to string this out, remind her he knew what he was doing. “There might be a magnet at the dump. Even a town as small as this one needs to sort their recycling. We could use that to create a containment field.”

     “Why don’t we just use Roundup?”

     Horrified, he stared at her. Kill them?

     “No, no, no. I was kidding about the weed killer and the napalm. I can’t kill them.” He thought of the way Velvet’s leaves danced in the sunlight of how she’d teased him with her tendrils. “I don’t want to kill them.”

     “Jamie, they eat people.”

     “You don’t run around spraying living things with pesticide because they get hungry. Everything’s gotta eat something.”

     “Not something, genius.” She sure knew how to hurt a guy. “People. Your creations eat people and the can reproduce.”

     That was a problem. Growth, he’d counted on, but reproduction, that was an unintended side effect. Still, it hardly warranted murder.

     “We’re going to catch them and contain them. We’re not going to kill…”

     Wanda slammed on the brakes and the grab of the seatbelt cut off his breath and the last part of his sentence. A Cadillac, circa late twentieth century, sat across both lanes of the road. The doors hung open and the windows looked like they had been punched out. An aluminum walking cane poked out the driver’s side window and a crocheted shawl with bright yarn flowers was draped across the hood.

     Well, crap.

     In front of the car stood a tree, its leaves shimmering gold and iridescent green in the sunlight. Stooped bushes, tangled and gnarled like laurel, danced on either side of it, their flitting movements at odds with their bent shapes. Roots like spider legs scuttled across the rust-stained pavement.

     That explained it. Old people changed so fast, and it looked like they’d found something to eat. Jamie leaned forward to see why the plants were stopped in the middle of the road, but he could only catch glimpses between the shining leaves. He opened the door, reaching out to stop Wanda when she grabbed her door handle.

     “I’ll get a closer look. I am the evil genius.” He flashed her what he hoped was a sexy roguish grin. “Wait here.”

     “The hell I will.” She shoved the door open and got out, leaving him to scramble out after her.

     They were still too far away to see what was blocking the plants’ path and he didn’t want to risk getting closer. Creator or not, he didn’t like the looks of those bushes. He climbed onto the roof of the jeep, cringing a little as the metal dented under his feet. Wanda jumped lightly onto the hood, and he reached out to help her to the roof. Balancing on the roof rack, he stretched to peer around the flashing leaves.

     A black Hummer with tinted windows blocked the road in front of the plants. A figure, clad in black, stood, feet shoulder width apart, on the roof and pumped something. Jamie shaded his eyes, trying to get a better look. When the figure looked up, he heart took a roller coaster ride from elation to horror.

     Armed with an ordinary green and white handheld garden sprayer, his mother fought off his plants.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Which came first - the restaurant or the farm?

It's been so long since I blogged; it would be easy to assume I'd spent time in the pen because my pig didn't stay in his. Thankfully, that is not the case. After a terrifying appeal, all the charges were dropped. That is a story for another time, but it bears remarkable similarities to the recent Hatfields and McCoys movie. "Is the pig in the courtroom, today?" asked the judge. "No, sir." "Why not?" "He's done been et." My story is not quite that colorful, but it's damn close.

One of the coolest things I've done recently (and in the running for one of the coolest things ever) was to interview Dr. Steven Hopp for Lancaster Farming [LF A03 6/16/12.] Dr. Hopp owns the Harvest Table Farm and Restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia. He is also married to Barbara Kingsolver who happens to be one of my favorite authors. Her characters in the Poisonwood Bible are so clearly drawn; you can turn to any page in the book and tell who is speaking - without gimmicks. Prodigal Summer, The Bean Trees and most recently The Lacuna are all fantastic. I could go on and on. If you haven't read her, you need to.

I rarely go to concerts and have never been a groupie for anyone. When I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, the book Kingsolver wrote with Hopp and their daughter Camille, however, and found out that she too lives in Virginia, I was tempted to start stalking farmers' markets, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Instead and because, pigs notwithstanding, I am a law abiding citizen, I did the next best thing and asked my editor if I could cover the Harvest Table Farm for the paper.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (AVM,) Kingsolver and Hopp documented a year of their family's attempt to source their food locally. It's a treat for anyone, but particularly for anyone living in the mid-Atlantic region where your seasons will mirror the family's. I revisit the book again and again and have read sections to my husband and squirming kids. The kids are pretty familiar with where their food comes from. We've done plenty of agritourism farm visits, we grow a decent sized garden, and they've eaten Daddy's venison, Mommy's Fat Boy and rooster enchiladas.

The parts of AVM I was most interested in reading to them were Hopp's essays on petroleum use in agriculture, GMO foods and artificially low food prices. Hopp makes very clear arguments about the amount of fossil fuel it takes to raise our food (about 400 gallons of oil per year per citizen) and the artificially low price of food ($725 per household per year to subsidize the use of fuel, etc. in agriculture.) Even better than his writings, he's put his time, money and energy where his intention is.

After the Kingsolver Hopp household figured out how to eat locally, Hopp pushed the idea to include a restaurant where the food, with very few exceptions, is sourced locally. The farm was a natural extension, allowing them to raise what the restaurant needs and extend the growing season on either end. Matt Sanders and a collection of the nicest, fresh-faced interns in the world run the farm. Sanders and chef Philip Newton talk every day, taking time in December to plan for what the restaurant will need throughout the year. It is a beautiful symbiotic relationship, and the food is fantastic.

I don't agree with Dr. Hopp about everything. I know my Dad's generation of agriculture believed their increased efficiencies would feed the world, and I've watched the pride in the small grain farmers' eyes when they accept trophies, worthy of any bowling league, for their yeilds per acre. Hopp would argue that the increase in yield is solely because of an increase in fiber in the plant and not an increase in nutritional value. I don't know if he's right, and we've certainly made interesting choices when it comes to how we raise corn that often don't relate to food for human consumption, at least not the way we were intended to consume it.

I do know, however, how important it is for dairy farmers to raise wholesome food for their families and their neighbors. I've sat through enough milk toasts to know there is no artifice involved, just lots of hard work and a surprising amount of attention. In 1944, there were about 25.5 million cows. By 2007, that number had dropped to 9.2 million. Milk production, however, increased over 258 percent. It takes 65 percent less water, 90 percent less land and generates 76 percent less manure to produce a gallon of milk than it did in 1944. It's not because of rBGH; dairy farmers have gotten much better at their jobs.

The world's population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. With organizations like the World Wildlife Federation stating we need to "freeze the footprint of food" to maintain the planet, those kind of efficiencies are going to become crucial.
I also know that without government safety nets, years like 2009 could turn herds of dairy cows built on generations of genetics into hamburger. That doesn't serve anyone. Subsidies aren't always evil and the Farm Bill doesn't only protect the big guys.
I have an enormous amount of respect for Dr. Hopp. I'm impressed with his commitment to put his muscle behind his mouth. It's obvious he believes in community, and he's worked hard to foster his. I'm grateful for the time that he spent talking with me. I'm also grateful to have made it through the actual interview without gushing about Barbara Kingsolver. Although when Hopp said Barbara told him to change clothes before he met with me, my heart did flutter a bit.
Thanks also to Matt Sanders for taking time to talk to me on market day. If I was 20 or 25 years younger, I'd intern at Harvest Table Farm. What a wonderful life enhancing / affirming way to spend a summer.
If you want to know more, check out the Harvest Table and Meadowview Farmers' Guild.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Baby, if the cops come to get me, bring the bacon!

A while back I wrote about a woman who was being charged with animal cruelty because she put her goat in the trunk of her car. At the time, I had a billie goat and was sympathetic to her plight. I hope the judge is sympathetic to mine.

On October third I have to go to court because of my pig. Before you jump to conclusions, I'm not being charged with animal cruelty. Believe me; it's not that I haven't wanted to hurt something. I just haven't given in to the impulse although with the border collie it has been a very near thing. I'm being charged with Livestock at Large.

The pig won't stay in his fence. He pushes his way out and goes to visit the neighbors. The neighbors don't love him like I do. It is a situation that is exacerbated by the border collie who in his zeal to herd the pig merely manages to chase him off our property and onto the neighbor's. The neighbors have lost patience with my pig and I. Animal Control has lost patience with my pig and I. I have precious little patience left myself.

While I do understand the concerns of Animal Control and the neighbors, I do not think I am guilty of Livestock at Large. The Livestock at Large charge states that the livestock's owner is permitting the animal to roam free beyond the borders of their property. I assure you there is no permitting going on. The pig has never asked for permission before he goes on walkabout. If he had, I would have said no. I have gone to elaborate, embarrassing measures to fix the fence and keep him in. He is, however, as big as I am and probably smarter. He finds a way out, often with the help of the border collie who is desperately trying to find a way in.

When I call him, he comes home following me like Mary's lamb, but like Mary's lamb, he's a rule breaker. On Wednesday, he's going to the processor. The border collie and I are going to miss him. Tell me; do you think I'd get in trouble if I took the judge sausage?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Skeleton Key - Chapter 8

The amazing Michelle Simkins (a.k.a. The Greenwoman) started a blogvel. I know; I didn't know what it was either. Actually, it's a group of writers who each write and post chapters of a novel on their blogs. You can find the Table of Contents with links here. While you are catching up on the other chapters, look around. The blogs are fun, interesting and worth following. I was fortunate enough to be able to write Chapter 8. It was a blast writing someone else's characters, and I can't wait to see what happens next. You can find Chapter 7 at kacimari's blog Hey Now Chapter 9 will be at J. Lea Lopez's blog, Jello World, on August 1. Hope you have as much fun reading as I had writing. Thanks again, Michelle, for letting me play!

Chapter 8

"What do you mean she's going to kill you? I thought you were the most powerful being this side of the Quaterjarnexal Complex?" I pitched my voice low to mimic his. It was pissy. I know, but I was trying not to think about the ex-girlfriend thing, and I was hungry. It had been most of a day and three countries since my half-eaten sandwich.

"Don't you think it's odd that your sister happened to end up working with Angelica?" He spat out her name like it left a bad taste in his mouth. "The prophetess sees you standing against the one killing the doorkeepers, and suddenly a powerful monster decides to model for your identical twin."

I relaxed my angry stance a bit while I thought about that. When he said it that way, it did seem odd- odd and a little scary. The thought of someone targeting Ashley made me fiercely protective. I was the big sister after all. I was so caught in my own thoughts, I missed Ax stepping closer until I felt his breath on my face. Heat radiated off his body.

"And Rebecca," he said letting his lips brush the shell of my ear. "I am an incredibly powerful being."

He turned and stalked off still dangling Ashley over his shoulder like a limp sack. I stumbled forward, caught myself and took off after them. The sidewalks were a sea of commuters in dark suits moving single-mindedly towards the Metro station. No one was paying any attention to the man-shaped dragon trailing wisps of smoke and carrying an unconscious woman over his shoulder. I had to push my way through the masses of commuters to keep up with them.

Tantalizing food scents wafted from street food vendors, and my stomach growled. I wasn't sure if it was breakfast or dinner. I looked longingly at the people standing at counters eating bowls of rice and vegetables with chopsticks as I rushed past them. Ax must have assumed I'd follow him because he was carrying my sister. He wasn't bothering to drag me by the hand anymore. The protective mate thing must be wearing off. At least it wasn't hard to see them. He towered over most of the crowd.

"Wait, wait! Where are we going?" I puffed catching up to Ax and Ashley. He'd stopped in front of a concrete and glass skyscraper. I stepped out of the stream of people to meet them.

"Why are we stopping here?"

"There is someone I need to talk to , and I need a safe place to put her. Somewhere safe but out of our way." He jostled Ashley, and she moaned softly.

"Oh for Pete's sake, Ashley, wake up." I grabbed my sister and helped Ax set her on her feet. He held her upright while I lifted her head and pushed the tousled curls out of her face. "Come on Ash, time to wake up."

"What?' Her eyes fluttered open. "Where am I?" She saw Ax and instantly snapped awake. "You," she said stabbing a finger at him. "You set us on fire." She patted her hair and eyebrows checking to make sure everything was still there.

"It's okay, Ash." I put myself between them, but she continued to glare over my shoulder at him. "You're okay we're in Tokyo."

"Tokyo? The one in Japan? How did we..." Her voice trailed off. "Never mind, don't tell me. I don't want to know."

"I have a condo here. You can freshen up." Ashley touched under her eyes, I think imagining what the remnants of her make-up must look like. My normally polished sister was a raccoon-eyed mess. I felt a little bad for taking pleasure in that, but it was her fault she'd freaked out and fainted.

Ax ushered us through the revolving glass door and into the building. he pushed the down button for the elevator, watching Ashley closely for signs of hysteria. when the polished chrome doors slid closed, he turned his attention to me and stepped in close. His hand moved to the small of my back radiating warmth through the thin cloth of my shirt.

Standing this close to him was making it hard to think. I took a step back and bumped into the wall of the elevator. "I thought you didn't go out much. Why do you have a condo in Tokyo?"

"I don't go out much," he said. "But I do go out. Japan is an important place for dragons. I find it easier to keep a den here than to find a suitable place to stay when I visit."

The doors opened to an entryway that looked like it had been chiseled out of the bedrock. The soft lights and rich oak doors were at odds with the glass and chrome of the rest of the building. Ax took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. "After you."

He motioned us inside, and Ashley rushed off to find a mirror. I stood inside the cool dark room and looked around as much as the dim light would permit. A huge tatami platform bed sat in the center of the room, and the walls were lined with bookshelves. A doorway to a long hall was tucked between the bookcases. I could hear Ashley banging around and muttering to herself in a room off the hallway.

Ax stepped in close behind me, the heat from his body toasting my back. It was like warming myself in front of a campfire. His hands closed gently over my upper arms. When I moved to step away, they tightened squeezing in and holding me in place. I started to protest, but the words caught in my throat as he bent to nip at the tender skin under my ear.

Holding only my arms in his strong hands, he pulled me back against the hard, hot length of his body. His tongue played along my neck, and the part of my brain that hadn't melted decided it didn't care if he was a dragon. I was also sure now that he had male parts because they were pressing against my butt.

"I have to go out for a while." His breath was hot against my ear, and the low rumble of his voice set off tremors deep in my body. "Make yourself at home. I won't be gone long."

"What? Wait. What?" My brain stopped its slow melt stuttering over the herd of unanswered questions stampeding in my head. I squirmed out of his grip and picked one to start with. "What do you mean you're going out? Going where? Don't you need me to come along and use that hummer thing?"

"Something about the killer's mist is familiar. I have an old friend who might know what it is." He held up his hand to stop me before I could interrupt. "I can't take you and your sister with me. Nushi gave up eating the flesh of young woman centuries ago, but it's better not to tempt him."

I gave an involuntary shudder. It was too easy to forget the handsome man in front of me was one of the monsters. "What am I supposed to do while you're gone?"

"Rest, relax, make yourself at home. This will be your home soon, mate. One of them anyway. Stay inside; you'll be safe here."

He turned and left me standing with my mouth hanging open.

Mate. Holy crap.

I shook myself and went to find Ashley.

She was soaking neck-deep in an enormous stone tub filled with lavender scented bubbles. I guess it was important for dragons to stay calm.

"What are you doing Ash?"

She arched an expertly groomed brow. "I'm taking a bath." She said it slowly like she was speaking to a child.

"I can see that. Why are you taking a bath?" Ashley had gone from delicate flower to smart ass. She'd learned monsters were real and travelled by fire. Leave it to my sister to cope by soaking in a tub.

"I felt singed. Mmmm, it's not as good as a massage with Sven, but at least Mr. Hottie has a decent bathroom. Speaking of which, he sure is a step up from the newt boy. What was his name? Doug? Deck?"

"Dex. His name is Dex, and you know I hate it when you call him newt boy."

"Whatever. No one is going to cal Mr. McSteamy a boy."

She was right about that. Ax was definitely all man. Except he wasn't a man, he was a dragon. It was too easy to forget that. Every time I started to think of him as a man, he'd do or say something to remind me he was a monster. He had friends who used to eat women. My stomach pick that moment to growl.

"Ax went out. I'm going to go look for something to eat. Maybe there is some popcorn or rice in the kitchen. Do you want something?"

"Carbs? god no." Ashley leaned her head back against the tub and closed her eyes.

There was no kitchen. I looked behind every door. I found a room filled floor to ceiling with locked drawers. There was a guest room, and an opulent master bedroom with a bed big enough to hold an orgy or a dragon. I wasn't going to spend any more time thinking about that one. There was no food in the entire apartment. I sat on the tatami mat willing my stomach to be quiet.

"I thought you were fixing something to eat." Ashley came in wrapped in an enormous bath towel. She looked fresh and beautiful. I was rumpled and starving.

"There's no food."

"Well go out and get something." She was talking to me like a child again. "I love Tokyo. I came here when Chic did that spread on Fairy-kei girls." At my blank look she went on. "You know, baby doll colors, short skirts. Anyway, I fell in love with the city. It moves so fast, and the fashion isn't like anywhere else - leggings or knee socks with heeled boots, mini skirts and short swing jackets. I can't wear it. My breasts are too big." She looked down at her towel clad body and flopped on the mat next to me. "But I love it."

Funny, I'd never thought of my breasts as big. "Let's go out. Get dressed, Ash. I'm starving." I was whining. I knew it, but I really don't do well when I'm hungry.

"I'll go out later. It's only...what...ten in the morning here? I want to press my clothes and try to save my job. I can't believe I ran out on Angelica. You go; I'll wait here."

"I don't speak the language. How will I order anything?" Until today my international travel had been very limited. I also didn't like the idea of Ax coming home and finding my twin sprawled out wearing nothing but a bath towel.

"Don't worry. The Japanese are very polite. You can kudsai and domo arigatou your way to a bowl of noodles. Just go Beck. Don't be a baby." She laid back and closed her eyes.

Dismissed, I grabbed my bag and headed out. I had a moment of panic when I realized I didn't know how I was going to pay for my food. I hoped my credit card worked. On the street I quickly found a store front food stall that looked like it would take a credit card. I was reaching in my bag for my wallet when I felt the buzzing. I wondered how my cell phone which barely worked outside NYC could be ringing in Tokyo. I dug around in my bag for it and found the hummer. And it was humming.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Middle Aged Woman in Paris

I watched Ian Garten's Barefoot in Paris the other night, and I was struck by two things. First, how adorable are Ina and her husband Jeffery? Everyone should be loved the way Ina loves Jeffery. The second thing that hit me was an almost physical longing to go back to Paris.

My mother, sister and I went to Paris this past March. My sister had been there before, but it was the first time for my mom and I. I have wanted to go since I was a teenager so when my sister said she had room credits she had to use did we want to go to Paris, I said yes. This was the view outside our window.

We stayed a few blocks from the Bastille. The city was fantastic, and my sister was an awesome tour guide. She made sure we saw all the things we wanted to see and things we didn't know we wanted to see.

I had years of French in high school and college and can't speak the language at all. I tried, but I had stage fright. My sister did most of the talking. It is a common misconception that the French are rude. That was not my experience. Even at the busy Boulangerie where I bought pastry and the best fromage blanc ever, the saleswoman was patient with my ridiculous franglais. If you try to speak their language, Parisians are accommodating. They are also very polite. What they aren't is smiley.

This is a picture of my sister and I. She's the cool tall one. Unfortunately, the only picture I have of the three of us was taken during what we've come to call the international incident. We had the misfortune of sitting next to a loud midwestern couple at a cafe outside the Louvre. They were the worst example of stereotypical American tourists. My mom tried to be nice to them, and it was guilt by association. It's the only time we had bad service, and it was a real shame because the food was very good.

It worked out okay, however, because about an hour later, I got to see this. Antonio Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss.

The light was coming through the window at the perfect angle to make the marble glow. It is one of the things I will remember for the rest of my life. Spending time with my mom and sister was another.

Next Paris blog - the Revolution, breasts, poo and food deserts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grandma Lucas's Cup Custard

It's raspberry picking time. This week the berries went from red to purply black overnight. The boys and I have been picking everyday and the berries show no sign of slowing. My four-year-old has declared raspberries to be his favorites. Last month strawberries held the coveted spot.

My dad was visiting last week and commented on the abundant red berries. I could see forager envy in his eyes. I have a bigger crop than he does, but he's the reason I know how to pick berries. When I was a girl, my dad and I would pick raspberries in the fence row behind the house. We'd work our way up one side and down the other filling our buckets and bellies as we went. The berries that made it back to the house often ended up in my grandmother's cup custard. Sturdier than its creme brulee cousin, this recipe will work with any fruit, but it's particularly good with raspberries.

Grab your kids, find a fence row and start picking!

Grandma Lucas's Cup Custard

4 eggs and 1/2 cup sugar beaten together

2 1/2 cups scalded milk

1 tsp. vanilla

Let the milk cool slightly and mix into the egg mixture gradually to avoid scrambling the eggs. Put the berries in the bottom of oven safe ramekins. Fill ramekins with custard mixture and bake at 475 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes. The custard will still wobble when it's finished. You can temper the eggs, strain the custard and bake it in a water bath if you want to, but for me the charm of the recipe is how quickly you can make it. I have a hard time waiting for it to cool!

Monday, May 9, 2011

What I Didn't Know

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I climbed on the motorcycle and rode to Paint Bank, Virginia so I could cover Hollow Hill Farm, a bison farm, for Lancaster Farming. The ride was beautiful. Spring was in full bloom in western Virgina and there were wildflowers everywhere.

Paint Bank is an intersection in the middle of nowhere. I'm not kidding. There is a gas station with a general store, a small quaint hotel and a smattering of houses. The Paint Bank General Store is like a movie set with barrels of dry goods and glass jars of penny candy. The second floor has a country chic gift shop and outdoor outfitter. The general store is also home to the Swinging Bridge Restaurant which has an actual swinging bridge suspended from the second story and serves a fantastic hot bison sandwich with sweet potato fries.

The same family owns the farm, general store and hotel along with Potts Creek Outfitters, a hunting and fishing guide service. It's obvious that they spent a lot of money making Paint Bank special. Everything is a little nicer than you would expect and all of it is charming.

The bison farm itself was inspiring, with green, lush pastures, a committed farm manager and enormous bison. Some of the bulls were over 2,500 pounds and looked me in the eye in the pickup truck Aaron Calfee, the farm manager, was using to show me around. It was a completely humbling experience, and I couldn't wait to tell my sister about the size of the animals. She's a bison freak, and I knew she'd want to know about the farm.

I called her as soon as I got home, and to my surprise, she said she knew about the farm. "That guy that worked with Michael Milken started it," she said. "You know, the insider trading guy." Well, I didn't know about the "insider trading guy" so I googled Mulheren, the family's name.

John Mulheren was a financial powerhouse and a Wall Street icon. By the age of 25 he was the managing director of Merrill Lynch. In the 1980's, he was implicated in an insider trading scandal. He was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in 1990, but his conviction was overturned in 1991. Ivan Boesky, who was an informant in the Milken case, was apparently the one that implicated Mulheren in the insider trading scandal.

Mulheren loaded his car with weapons and set out to kill Boesky. Fortunately his wife called the police and stopped him from making a life altering mistake. Mulheren went on to switch from trading to management, building a successful career at Bear Wagner Specialists. He died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 54. Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen both spoke at his funeral.

Mulheren and his wife were prolific philanthropists giving millions of dollars to a varitey of causes. They built buildings, funded scholarships, and they raised seven children of their own. Regardless of what may or may not have happened in the 1980's, the Mulheren's Paint Bank employees are very loyal and obviously like the family. They're passionate, hard workers committed to the Mulheren's vision. Mulheren, a kid from the Bronx, built a tangible legacy in western Virginia.