img_0829All right. I have a confession to make. I love beer.

Now that it’s out in the open, I can confess that not only do my husband Robert and I share a love of the suds, but we’re also homebrewers and seekers of other homebrewers turned into craft brew entreprenuers.

Let me clarify our love of beer. For us to love, truly love, a beer it must be robust and ‘hopping’ with flavor. India Pale Ale (IPA) that is strong in hops and in bitterness tops our list. But there’s nothing like a true Belgian with its high sugary notes in its finish. And then, finally, for my choice for dessert? A chocolatey, coffee-infused imperial stout. Yummy.

Craft breweries have become popular in recent years. One of the first, Sierra Nevada, began in Chico, California. I visited their restaurant and brewery in 1998–my first venture into the world of craft brewing. It was a nice site with the copper brew pots within view of our table. A tour followed lunch. I fell in love with their beers–always a good choice. Until the past ten years or so when other craft breweries began popping up all over the country.

Our home state of Michigan is becoming famous for their breweries in Marshall, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Holland. A few began popping up around the Pittsburgh area while I lived there. We even have a few recent start-ups in our small area in North Carolina.



Andrews Brewing Company and Calaboose Wine Cellars

Hoppy Trout and Andrews Brewing Company are our favorites. Hoppy Trout was opened by a homebrewer, and everything we’ve sampled there is outstanding. Andrews Brewing Company – same thing. Plus they also make their own wine at Calaboose Wine Cellars. The setting is spectacular for listening to music and watching the sun set over the mountains and small vineyard on site.


It was only natural for us to seek out some other craft brewers on a recent trip to Blacksburg, Virginia. When we learned Sierra Nevada had opened a brewery two hours from us, we had to visit. We stopped at three breweries on our journey. First, near Hendersonville, North Carolina, in Mills River, we went to the recently opened Sierra Nevada brewery.

We drove up a long windy road, loving the scenery and the rural setting. At the top of the hill we looked down at the largest brewery–I’m not counting Anheuser Busch here–I’ve ever seen. Rows of buildings with smoke stacks spewed forth white clouds of steam and gleaming copper pots dominated the glass fronts.

At the end of the ‘mall,’ sat a restaurant and gift shop. A separate entrace swarmed with visitors lining up for the tours which required reservations. We searched for a parking space and finally found one in the furtherest parking lot from the restaurant entrance. I desperately tried to put this Disney-esque place in the same category as the restaurant/brewery I visited eighteen years earlier. The bustling restaurant with two bars, outside terraces, and a cavernous room with tables provided good food and outstanding beer, but it sure didn’t feel like a craft brewery any longer.

Then we visited the other craft brewer in town–Mills River Brewery. This place sat in a strip mall and was a simple tap room serving a few of their own brews, but also the brews of other craft brewers in North Carolina. They are small and new–opened ten months ago–and made a decent IPA, but they have a ways to go to compete with the more established places. We wish them good fortune.

The next day we landed in Boone, North Carolina, at Appalachain Mountain Brewery. There are several breweries in this college town, but we chose this one because their porter, served to us at Parsons Pub in Murphy, North Carolina, really impressed us. When I read about them on their website, my admiration grew.

Here’s their motto:

Appalachian Mountain Brewery’s mission is to sustainably brew high quality beer, support local non-profits and help our community prosper. Our mission is simple: sustainability, community and philanthropy.

The tap room is unpretentious and simple, but that’s not how I would describe the beer brewed there. I did a sampler and can attest to the high quality of product. The pub doesn’t serve food, but a food truck sits outside waiting to serve up a delicious snack. We ordered black bean tacos and cheese bread–perfect accompaniments to all that we tasted.

And best of all, we met the folks who work there and discovered they work there because of the values set forth by the owners. We chatted with Danny Wilcox, the director of retail operations, and he told us that the publicly traded company stands by their mission statement of sustainability, community, and philanthropy. In our troubled times, it is refreshing, and hopeful, to find a small business doing their part to help their community.

Appalachain Mountain Brewery sets a tone and a mood that inspires others to do more and reach higher. We raise our mugs and say, “Salud.” And also, filler up.


We’ve taken a break from our homebrewing adventure while we moved and settled into our new routine. All of our brewing equipment is now in one place and very soon we’ll start up the boiling pots and fermenting pails. I’ll be sure to report on our first batch from Florida very soon. We need to get our holiday brews a’ bubblin’.


Hands circle,internationl teamwork concept

The name of this blog is “Living Lightly,” but the topic of this post may veer from my intentions when I first started the blog. However, I must write what’s in my heart even if it means some of you (I hope not) decide to unfollow me.

I’m sickened by the political debacle occurring in my country, the United States. I’m tired of people my age–normally the politically active baby boomers–telling me continually they’ve decided not to vote because they are so disgusted with what is happening.

How did we sink so low?

And how much further can we go?

I’m worried. But yesterday, I discovered my new found concerns really should have bothered me before the crisis in electing a president.

Weekend guests to our home showed me I’ve been living under the falsehood that we are a nation of souls who love one another for our diversity and our individuality. I’ve lived for more than sixty years assuming that if we can simply communicate and love one another, we can solve all our problems no matter who we are, where we come from, how much we weigh, where we worship, what we believe, or how much money we make. It’s all accepted here, except by a few fringe elements.

Back to the guest who opened my eyes and mangled my innocence. She wanted to buy a few of my books before she left. I showed her to my closet stock of novels. She picked out two books, and then I had the bright of idea of gifting her with a copy of my great grandfather’s memoir Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. I’m very proud to have published this book and believe its historical context to be of supreme importance. It gave me great pride to produce it. I explained it to our guest and attempted to hand her a copy. She stepped back as if bitten.

“My family was in the Confederacy,” she said.

I tried to explain that the journal shows the horrors of war and of brothers fighting brothers.

“My family owned slaves.” She stood in my living room saying words I thought I’d never hear. “My grandmother told me that she worked right along side the slaves, but one day a storm came up. The slaves were sent to the barn while my grandmother stayed in the fields.”

Her grandmother told our guest, “We valued our slaves more than our relatives because we needed them.”

Nervous laughter from everyone listening–except for me. I walked away protectively clutching my precious book.

“I still fly the Confederate flag.” Her words followed me back to my office.

I seethed all afternoon after she left. Then I watched the second Presidential debate last night. How can I possibly believe we can heal the great divide created in this campaign year if there are those still fighting the Civil War? And this comes from a woman my husband has known for more than twenty years. He admires her knowledge in their common field of work. She didn’t just come out from under a rock.

Even though I feel nauseated and hopeless in these waning days of the 2016 Presidential campaign, I won’t let it stop me from going to the polls and voting on November 8 for the candidate who I feel will not turn my beloved country into a totalitarian regime. And I urge every citizen of this great country to do the same no matter how you want to vote. That’s why we’re a great country because we do allow freedom of expression without fear of arrest. At least,that’s the way it stands now.

We always say to remember history lest we forget, but sometimes we might need to forget lest we continue to fight a war that ended more than one hundred and fifty years ago.

And remember propaganda,  which can be used for good or for bad, must be deciphered so we know what is positive and what is evil. Consider the following persuasive techniques to create propaganda:

  1. Take advantage of brewing discontent
  2. Offer the right answers in a time of economic upheaval
  3. Blame a scapegoat for the ills of an entire nation
  4. Place the success of a campaign on the back of one person’s personality
  5. Speak to the largest rallies possible
  6. Use a simple dogma and focus on only one or two points
  7. Repeat the simple dogma
  8. Find slogans to repeat
  9. Speak to emotions and stir them

I pulled these points together from several websites describing how Hitler managed to fool the German people long enough to form the Nazi party.

Think about it before you vote, and then remember this poignant piece from anti-Nazi and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

REMEMBER WHO WE ARE AND VOTE NOVEMBER 8USA map multicultural group of young people integration diversity


#DeepwaterHorizon-Using Reality in Fiction


Deepwater Horizon, BP oil spill

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

They’ve now made a movie about Deepwater Horizon (Click here to see the trailer). I heard an interview with the director, Peter Berg, and he said he didn’t focus the movie on the environmental impact but on the human lives lost. That’s good because the explosion on that oil rig killed eleven men. This tragedy could have been prevented.

I began writing Trails in the Sand in the months after Deepwater Horizon and the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed twenty-nine miners. Forty deaths within two weeks of one another pushed me to write something that might serve as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

The first tragedy occurred on April 5 when the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, killing twenty-nine miners doing their job in the bowels of the earth. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is several hours south of where I moved so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth between the two states sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone. And all their scientific facts and figures must be distilled into sound bites for the public.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist, I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.sargassum-oil-deepwater-horizon



An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.


The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let go and enjoy the gift. Trails in the Sand became a novel sometimes classified as “faction” because it combines real-world events with fictional characters and situations. I have written nearly twenty novels since 1999, and of all of them, Trails in the Sand remains the one closest to my heart. Because the subject chose me, the words came easily and the characters became an extension of my family.

I wish the disasters never occurred. But I can’t wave a wand and erase the past. But with strokes on the keyboard, I can create something lasting that might make a difference. At the very least, I made that attempt. And so did the director of Deepwater Horizon, which releases today. We need all the reminders possible so we never repeat the events of April 2010 again.

Florida, BP oil spill, sea turtles

Excerpt from Trails in the Sand

Chapter One – Caroline

The next morning the whir of the coffee grinder woke me as Simon churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.

“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time, we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oreal.

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

As I flipped the channels to find more news, I learned that volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland was costing airlines $1.7 billion to combat the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Matt Laurer announced the death toll after the April 14 earthquake in China now topped 2,000.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier.

But nothing more on a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said.

“They also said a former miner decided to talk about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine,” I said. “Sure wish I could have gotten that interview.”

A couple of the channels gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said as he sat on the edge of the bed, flipping through the newspapers.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up,” I said as I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek.


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New Release: “Mountain Miracles” by P.C. Zick and guest post “A Canvas for the story”

I wanted to share with you this piece posted my colleague’s blog about the setting of my latest romances. I hope you enjoy reading about why I chose the Smoky Mountains as the setting for my sweet romances.


mountainmiraclesnewI’m a devoted fan of P.C. Zick’s novels and have invited her over to my blog several times. So for her new release, which I haven’t been able to read just yet, here is a post written by her about the setting. This is particularly interesting to me, because, like P.C.Zick, I’ve moved recently and have chosen the new environment as the setting for my next novel. Great minds think and work alike…


By P.C. Zick

Setting plays the role of parent in the fiction I write. It creates, nurtures, and supports the plot, conflicts, characters, dialogue, and actions. It serves as the canvas on which I create a verbal painting.

From the beach to the mountains, from hurricanes to snowstorms, from southern drawls to Yankee nasal tones, setting defines what I write.

When I moved to a cabin in…

View original post 1,877 more words




Wild turkeys outside my office window in the winter.

The wild turkeys gather together as summer wanes forming their “gangs” to wander the mountains surrounding our cabin. Last night we heard a rustling outside our front door. When we went to look, a large turkey flapped its wings and flew into a tree in front of our porch, settling on a branch precariously. We watched as it moved around on the bouncing branch. Finally, it quieted and went to sleep for the night. The turkeys have come home to roost.


As always, the summer flew by and our days are numbered in the mountains, although we hope to see much of the color burst forth on the still-green trees. Yet, signs are everywhere as berries form on the holly tree and the sumac leaves begin to turn red.

dsc03660Our first full summer in North Carolina satisfied us. The garden grew and grew, providing the pantry and freezer with plenty of vegetables and sauces for the winter. We froze peas, beans, cole slaw, soup starter vegetable sauce, and zucchini bread. I pickled dills, chips, and relish. We put up pasta sauce and salsa. And if that wasn’t enough, my husband went out and bought local corn from a roadside pick-up truck because that’s one thing he doesn’t grow. He froze twenty bags of corn kernels. When his lima beans only produced enough for the table, he bought a bushel from a local farmer of “butter beans” and froze seventeen bags of those. If you’ve never tasted fresh lima or butter (same thing) beans, then you have no idea of the soft buttery vegetable’s virtue. Try it sometime.



Tomatoes waiting to become pasta sauce or salsa.

Our kayaks provided transportation on local rivers and lakes and gave us moments of serenity and inspiration. We’ve only begun to explore all the places of watery beauty in our area. We are the beneficiaries of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s damming of the rivers. The lakes that are formed as a result–Chatuge, Nottley, and Hiwassee–are deep and long. Plenty of boat ramps make them easy to access and give us a multitude of landscapes to explore.


Drives brought us to waterfalls with plenty more to explore and enjoy.

The only complaint I have is the weather. It’s been an unusual summer here in the mountains. We came here to escape the heat and humidity of Florida’s summer, but it followed us here but without the rain. Temperatures near ninety, humidity as high without even the relief of afternoon showers. The storms I love to watch moving across the mountains have been few and always bring us running to the front porch to catch a rare glimpse of darkening clouds and rain hitting the metal roof. Who knows what is normal anymore as far as weather goes? Maybe the winter will be sunny and warm in Florida all winter.

How did your summer shape up?