ENJOY A LITTLE HOLIDAY CHEER

fbI’m pleased to announce the release of a collection of Christmas short stories, Bright Lights and Candle Glow. You can download this anthology for FREE!

This collection from eight talented authors boasts short stories set during the winter holiday season. These tales encompass sober themes, heartwarming messages, and uplifting endings, appropriate for the winter season or all year long.

Arranged in chronological order, witness winter miracles from the mid-1800s through modern day, running the spectrum from somber to lighthearted.

  • Learn the meaning of the season from a Civil War soldier.
  • Go from rags to riches with a 1920s mobster.
  • Relive a fond holiday activity with a helpful Grinchy neighbor.
  • Create new holiday memories with a 1970s ranching family.
  • Meet a new friend whose advice rekindles the magic of the season.
  • Experience Christmas from a wise, aged perspective.
  • Cross cultures and beliefs to create a new holiday tradition.
  • Celebrate the season with estranged family after a life-changing revelation.

These stories are sure to enhance your experience of the holiday season. It’s a holiday-themed compilation of short stories with heavy messages and uplifting endings sure to warm the heart in the cold winter months.

Click here to download now!

I used my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier as my inspiration for writing my short story a Christmas truce. He wrote about the dismal Christmases he spent during the war. And I remembered one story, in particular, he told about encountering a woman aligned with the Confederacy. Through talking, they both reached a truce of sorts after listening to rhetoric, hatred, and lies being told about the Yankees and the Rebels alike. I wanted to write this story as an analogy for what we’ve experienced in this country in the past several months. In some ways, we’ve been embroiled in a type of “civil war.”

Fiction can serve a higher purpose than mere entertainment. It can enlighten and change minds at its very best. Here’s my effort to do a little of all three.

A Christmas Truce

by P.C. Zick

What is Christmas for a soldier such as me? I tried not to think of it. It did no good but remind us of our miserable state of affairs with the winter rains pounding down upon our heads and our huts, hastily built in the mud-covered mess of the Union army.

My family helped me along by not reminding of what I was missing, but some of the soldiers weren’t as lucky as I was. They received letters from home telling them of the holiday preparations—the parties, the decorations, the baking, the gifts—all the things that would be missed sorely by those of us in the sodden misery of Virginia wearing nothing more than the scratchy wool of our winter uniforms. My mother and sisters must have known better than to send letters that would make me ache and yearn for that which could not be. At least not for Christmas of 1862, as my troop from Michigan awaited orders to march.

The winter rains had begun the week before and already roads were rutted and spirits dampened. While we waited for the rain to stop, and the war to begin again, I took little comfort in my crowded and tiny hut with its smoking fireplace, earthen floor, and cloth roof. Without comforts, conveniences, or accessories, I had nothing much to do. I knew at any time, once the rains stopped, and the sun was able to shine down on the muddy roads, all of my energies would be focused on active service.

Too much time to reflect left me wondering what it all meant. Did my family miss me, especially now that Christmas was upon them, and I wasn’t there to help Father cut down the Christmas tree from my grandfather’s farm on the outskirts of the small community from which I hailed? I thought back to previous years in my worst moments and remembered the party that awaited our return from the woods with the perfectly shaped tree. How could I face my rations of hard bread, bacon, and coffee when memories of sugar cookies and roasted turkey filled my senses? All the days passed one like the other in camp with our regular military duties, which amounted to very little while at rest.

After the last round of steady rain for days, we received a few supplies and a newspaper full of condemnations for the idleness of the troops in the field. But no packages from home arrived, which meant any that had been sent would not be there in time for Christmas.

Any attempt to move large bodies of men was inexpedient and to move artillery and supply trains was next to impossible with the wet and soggy conditions. The clamor of newspapers, the quarrels among general officers, and the interference of Congress with artillery movements, discouraged and demoralized our ranks. It was bad enough for some of the youngest to be away from their homes for the first time at Christmas. The men felt they were enduring hardships and sacrificing lives without adequate results and all because of petty jealousies among the leaders. Idleness and discontent go hand in hand with soldiers, and the gloomy outlook of our winter camp was not cheering. The fences had all disappeared for fuel, and green wood for cooking and heating purposes had to be hauled long distances with the mules floundering knee-deep in the mire and the wagons cutting almost to the hubs.

Finally, on Christmas Eve the sun overpowered the clouds, and the incessant patter of drops on canvass stopped. I almost felt light-hearted to step outside of my hut. To break the monotony, a comrade, Jonathan, happened by and asked if I might enjoy a ride. It was the first day of sunshine we’d seen in more than a week. We both had friends in the 4th Michigan who were camped about four miles in our rear, and I decided the change of pace might very well make me miss my family less if I spent time in the company of other young men who missed home in equal measure. Our commanding officer even allowed us to take two of the horses instead of the regular mules we soldiers used for traveling with our packs. Both Jonathan and I had done extra picket duty on the stormiest nights, so we were in good stead with our superiors.

The day was filled with laughter and boasting and sunshine, and we enjoyed our visit very much. One of the soldiers told a story that had a somewhat sobering effect, although there were humorous aspects to it.

The soldier had heard about a lieutenant camped near Fredericksburg who had become enamored of a young woman who lived in an old-fashioned brick house with her mother.

The young lieutenant, whose duties called him to visit them, became acquainted with the young lady, and at her invitation called frequently upon her. He became quite taken with her charms after only a few visits that were social in nature. It wasn’t usual considering both of their ages.

“Was she Confederate or Yankee?” Jonathan asked.

“It seemed he never bothered with that formality,” came the storyteller’s response. “He said later that because of her friendliness, he assumed her to side with us.”

He continued to tell us that the lieutenant proposed marriage, and the young lady accepted with the blessing of her mother.

“Not a long courtship that,” one of the soldiers said. “But then if she was charming, why wait?”

We all laughed, but when we’d settled down, the story continued.

“One evening while calling upon his intended, during a brief lull in the conversation, the heavy atmosphere bore to his ear what he judged to be the click of a telegraphic instrument,” Samuel continued. “Instantly, his interest and loyalty were awakened and a suspicion of treachery aroused. Without betraying that he had heard the sound, he chatted on, his keen ear strained to catch and locate the clicking.”

“How could he ever suspect his beloved?” I sang out in a high-pitched tone.

“It is wartime, gentlemen,” Jonathan said. “Never trust a soul, especially an innocent maiden.”

The rest shushed us and urged for the story to continue.

“At the usual hour he left, convinced that a contraband communication was going on with the enemy,” Samuel said. “The next evening, taking with him a strong guard and leaving them in the yard, he again called upon the young lady.”

We listened attentively to the rest of the story. Receiving him with the warmth of an expected bride, the young woman conducted him to a sofa, where clasped in each other’s arms, they indulged in fond caresses and endearing words until the ominous sounds of the clicking telegraph again greeted his ear. Excusing himself for a moment that he might clear the phlegm from his throat, he opened the door and motioned vigorously to his guard despite the darkness. While the door was still open, the guard pressed in and exhibited an order from General Burnside to search the house.

“That ended the kissing, that is to be sure,” one of the soldiers said. “What happened then?”

“Everything changed in an instance, it did.”

The young lady, so recently the devoted lover, became a tigress. With flushed cheeks and blazing eyes, she let loose a torrent or rage and abuse upon the Union soldiers.

“Yankee brutes, Lincoln hirelings, scum of the North, and cutthroats” were hurled at the men as she let loose her hatred of the Union. Familiar with the favorite expressions of southern ladies, the guard with due deliberation proceeded with the search. Down in the cellar, they unearthed a young man with complete telegraph offices, the wires leading underground to Fredericksburg. They brought the cringing knave up into the habitable world, and he pleaded piteously for his cowardly life. The sight of his abject fear aroused the genuine affection of the young lady, and she begged in tears with the lieutenant to spare the life of her dear husband.

“A married woman!” I said. “And here she thinks we’re brutes?”

It seems that she had played lover to the lieutenant for the sake of the little information she could squeeze out of him for the use of the rebels.

This was only one such story I’d heard since joining the cause very early in the war. There were many instances where southern women served as decoys, and then their men were taken prisoner. Some were even taken to their deaths. They did not hesitate at anything, if they could cripple a Yankee. As a reasonable man, I knew that the same thing might exist on the other side, if given the chance. Neither side was exempt from fighting the battle of war however they might be able to win.

Jonathan and I soon made our good-byes as we knew the light of day would soon be gone. At least we’d found a way to forget about being away from home on Christmas Eve. As we rode away, I felt pleased with my decision to leave camp for a few hours. But dark clouds descended when we were gone not much more than a mile. At first, I thought we’d stayed too late and nightfall descended upon us.

The rain began in great big dollops of water, and then came faster until we were hard pressed to see the rutted road before us. When we met a group of officers on horseback, who were shouting and obviously had enjoyed some Christmas spirits, I struggled to keep my horse steady. They shouted insults to us when we ignored them.

“Too stuck up they are,” one said.

“They couldn’t win this war any better than two pups still sucking on their mother’s teats,” hurled another.

Jonathan and I concentrated on the narrow roadway. I worried that my horse might take a wrong step and end with us both in the ditch. We passed by them without giving any mind to the officers. One of them turned his horse back toward us after we passed.

“Why did you not salute your superior officer?”

“We weren’t aware that we must salute every jackass we meet,” my friend said.

I secretly applauded the rejoinder, but hoped it wouldn’t lead to an altercation. We hadn’t meant any disrespect, but were concentrating on passing without incident with our horses since the road was rutted from the rains of the previous weeks, and there was a precipitous drop off to our right.

In great rage, the officer demanded our names with regiment and company. These we truthfully gave him. He was young and green, and probably quite drunk, or he would not have turned back for such a condescending purpose. It was bound to be a very long war indeed for someone demanding salutes in precarious or even dangerous situations. It made me wonder how we could defeat the Confederacy if we practiced warfare amongst our fellow soldiers.

“I fear the winter rains have returned,” Jonathan shouted to me as he drew abreast.

“If this keeps up, it will be even more impossible to get supplies,” I said. I peered through the rain that had only let up a bit and saw flickering on the other side of the field to the south of us.

“Jonathan, look over there!” I pointed to the light.

“It’s a house. It may be filled with Confederates, but what have we to lose?”

“Just don’t be taken in by any fair maidens.” I led my horse across the field and toward the warming light of Christmas Eve candles and fires.

As we drew closer, I could see that it was a modest farmhouse, but the candles on the Christmas tree blazed from the front window. We tied up our horses to the front porch railing. A small barn stood behind the house, but I could just make out its outline in the cloud-filled gathering dark. A woman opened the front door. She walked out onto the porch, all the while peering at us.

“You’re not the doctor,” she said. “Who are you, and what is your business here?”

“We’re about two miles from our camp,” I began. “It began pouring, and our horses were having trouble on the road.”

“You’re Yankees.” She spoke in a flat voice. We would not be welcomed here.

“We are, but we mean no harm.” Jonathan pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket and waved it above his head.

“Are you expecting a doctor?” I asked. “You seemed surprised that we weren’t the doctor.”

I wanted desperately to climb the steps to the covered porch, but she was not welcoming.

“My sister is in labor, and we sent for the doctor hours ago.”

“The roads are terrible.” I swept my arm out over the rain that had started to pick up. “How far apart are the pains?”

She pursed her lips. She didn’t want to respond, but then I heard a noise from inside, and she turned her head toward the front door.

“Five minutes, maybe closer together by now.”

“I spent much of my childhood on my grandfather’s farm,” I began. “I don’t know much about humans, but I’ve assisted on plenty of births of our animals. I could perhaps provide some assistance.”

Her face went through a gambit of emotions until worry for her sister seemed to win out.

“I suppose I don’t have any choice. I’ve never seen anything born before in my life.”

“My name is William Bradford, and this is Jonathan Cameron.” I took a couple of steps toward the door, and then considered what might put her most at ease. I pulled my rifle from my shoulder and set it down on the step. Jonathan did the same thing.

“I’m Susanna Wolfson. Please come onto the porch where it’s dry while I warn my sister. She’ll be none too pleased that her help comes in the form of a Yankee soldier.”

We waited in the cover of the porch while our clothes dripped. She soon returned with towels.

“I’ve asked the house maid to rustle up some dry clothes. My father recently passed, and I’m sure there is something in his room that will do for now.”

After I’d changed into some dry, albeit large clothes, Susanna led me into a darkened bedroom at the top of the stairs. I found the sister, Elizabeth, in the throes of a labor pain. A Negress, I assumed a slave, stood fanning her.

“How long since the last one?” I asked her.

“Four minutes gone.”

I nodded and turned to Susanna. “Do you have someone who can start the boiling of water and making us compresses?”

“We have water boiling.”

I asked them to bring me hot towels that could be laid on her swollen belly.

“You’re a Yankee,” Elizabeth muttered from her bed once the pain stopped. “Are you going to cut my baby out of me and leave me to die?”

“Of course not,” I said. Her question left me nonplussed, but I supposed not out of order, when to her mind, I was the enemy.

“There are no gentlemen in the Yankee army,” Elizabeth said through clenched teeth. “You are all villains and cutthroats.”

“I assure you, I was raised to respect all living things,” I said. “It’s this war that has caused us to be enemies on opposite sides of the field. I have no intention of anything other than helping you bring your child into the world.”

“Even if I name him Johnny Reb?”

“Even if you name him Jefferson Davis.”

That brought a smile to both of the sisters. Finally headway.

“From what I know of the birthing process, it will still be some time before your little Johnny makes his way into the world. I’ll leave you for now. Try to rest when you can.”

Susanna and I walked out into the hallway.

“You and your friend must be hungry. We have the remnants of our supper that we can share.”

“That would be surely appreciated.”

Jonathan and I sat at the kitchen table eating the pork and potatoes laid out before us. There was cornbread as well. It was the best meal we’d seen in weeks, and we made it disappear in no time.

“We hate the Yankees, you know.” Susanna poured us steaming cups of coffee. “You may be acting like gentlemen right now, but I have no faith that you won’t rob us blind before you leave.”

“Have you known any Yankees before tonight?” I asked.

“No, but we’ve heard all the stories. Yankees have no regard for the dignity of life. You are scourges upon the earth.”

I saw Jonathan squirm in his seat. I struggled to keep my temper. I even managed to smile at her pronouncement.

“So I take it all the Confederate soldiers are gentlemen?” I asked in as mild a tone as I could muster under the circumstances.

“Yes, every one.”

“Think again. Is there not at least one man in the Confederate army whom you would hesitate to associate with?”

“Well, yes, perhaps one.” Susanna’s response came slowly, but at least there was the opening I wanted.

“Now, really aren’t there many?” I asked

She looked at me with a frown. I thought I might have stepped over a boundary, until she responded.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. There are many, but most of them are gentlemen.”

“That is exactly the case with the Yankee army.” I had gotten through to her. “The great majority of its numbers are gentlemen, but it is to be regretted that a few are not, and tonight maybe we’ll prove the truth of this statement.”

“He’s right, you know,” Jonathan interjected. “Just tonight we were almost run off the road by a Yankee officer who thought we should have been saluting him instead of keeping our horses from falling into a ravine. We might still be court martialed since he took down our names.”

Susanna stood and began pacing. “It’s so hard when all you hear are the horrible things, and we’re all on edge right now.”

“That’s what war does,” I said. “It’s even harder when we’re fighting our fellow countrymen. Do you know sometimes when we’re out on picket on quiet nights, either one of us or one of the Confederate soldiers will raise a white handkerchief, and then we’ll both come to the line to pass the night away in conversation?”

“That’s hard to believe.” Susanna stopped pacing and sat down at the table.

We heard commotion at the front door and went with Susanna to see what might be happening. Relief flooded through me, when she greeted the man as Dr. Johnson. I wouldn’t have to birth a baby after all. She led him upstairs, but when she came back down, she invited us into the parlor. She went to the piano.

“It always calms me down to play, but I’m afraid I only know Confederate songs.”

“We will take no offense, but will enjoy the entertainment,” I assured her.

She played the Confederate Wagon, the Bonnie Blue Flag and others. Afterwards, she whirled upon the piano stool to face us.

“You have been so kind, I think I will play the Star Spangled Banner for you.”

By the time she had finished, the rain had stopped. Jonathan and I decided we should head back to our camp. All appeared calm in the upper region of the house.

“Thank you, Susanna,” I said as we prepared to leave after donning our damp uniforms. “It has been a pleasure to meet a true southern lady.”

“And I to meet two Yankee gentlemen.” She grasped my hand to shake it. “I shall tell Elizabeth to keep the faith that her husband may be in the hands of men such as you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He was taken prisoner of war in Fort Lafayette last month,” she said. “We’ve heard nothing since then.”

“I shall look into this,” I promised. “And send word either in person or through a courier as to his well-being.”

“Then please stay the night until the baby is born so you may send him word that he has a child.”

“Nothing would please us more,” I said.

As we settled on the living room floor for a dry night’s rest, I reflected on our day. I suddenly remembered that in a few hours it would be Christmas.

“Merry Christmas, Jonathan. It may not be home, but we’ve all been given a great gift tonight.”

“What’s that?”

“We’ve all learned that we are much more than this pointless war.”

And as we drifted off to sleep, the strains of a baby’s cries wafted down the stairs. New life pulsed as night settled over us, and I fell asleep with hope for the first time in almost two years.

THE END

Remember to download the whole collection by clicking here.

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FIGHT THE FEAR WITH KINDNESS

IMG_0671I’m starting to pull out of the worst hangover of my life. It didn’t come from alcohol. It came from my recent addiction to the news and the results of the 2016 Election. Since last Tuesday night, I stopped watching television. Yesterday, I finally forced myself to listen to NPR and to read the newspaper. But that’s it. I can’t listen to George, Anderson, Lester, or Scott say one more word. I feel betrayed, and I’m in deep mourning.

I know I have to pull myself out of this funk, but it’s difficult. The person who will soon be president of my country does not represent me. And I hate that feeling. Even when my candidates lost (or had the election stolen) in the past, I still felt respect for the highest elected office in my country. Why can’t I do it this time?

Because whenever I try to wrap my head around it, I hear the words–the hurtful, full of rocks and stones words–hurtled by the man who will soon occupy the Oval Office. I hear him referring to “the blacks,” “the Hispanics,” “the Muslims” without any recognition of why that is such divisive and fearful rhetoric. I implore others never to lump me in the category of “the whites” because that means you’ve just lumped me with Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, and David Dukes. No, thank you very much. Do not judge me by the color of skin I share with such deplorables.

Those who supported the candidacy of the president-elect tell the rest of us to get over it. I’ve heard them say they didn’t do this when Barrack Obama was elected in 2008 and 2012. No? First, did President Obama ever threaten to deport them? Did he ever call them rapists and murderers? Did he ever implore them to turn in their neighbors or risk punishment themselves? Did he ever threaten to take away their rights? Did he ever threaten to take away their health insurance? Did he ever suggest he would date his daughter? And did he ever indicate that sexually aggressive behavior was the privilege of the famous?

I argue they did protest by blocking the President’s attempts to appoint a Supreme Court justice and to strengthen our gun laws, just to mention a few ways the other side protested.

Fear rules now that a man who has declared that sexual harassment in the workplace can be avoided by a woman simply leaving a job where she feels it’s occurring, who wants to abolish health care for millions who can’t afford it otherwise or who have preexisting conditions (although he may be softening on that), and who has a vice-president eager to do away the any rights gained for our LGBT community. Fear reigns in the lives of anyone who is an immigrant.

Yesterday, I saw it displayed at the post office. A young woman from China was behind me in line. She spoke broken English when she asked me some questions about mailing her package. Before I was called to the window for my business, I tried my best to advise her. She went to the clerk right next to me. He didn’t understand her English and was becoming annoyed with her. She turned to me, and what I saw in her eyes devastated me. She was afraid. Fear poured out of her, and she looked to me to help her. I told the clerk I’d take care of it, and he immediately called the next person in line, eager to be rid of the problem. I pulled her over to a counter and went through what she wanted to do and told her what to say to the clerk when she spoke to him again. She smiled and thanked me profusely as she touched my shoulder.

I walked away feeling better. I’ve been listening to those who say we must go on living our lives with more kindness to counterbalance the hatred running rampant in this country right now. It worked for me because for the rest of the day, I felt as if the hangover that had been hanging over my head for a week, lifted.

I’ve blocked and unfriended several folks on Facebook this past week. When a twenty-something relative who only works sporadically and then sponges off other relatives and the government while she finds herself told those of us who didn’t like the election results to leave the country, I blocked her posts from my newsfeed. When a friend from high school posted that anyone who voted for Hillary was insane, I unfriended him. And when another relative posted about her grief and was attacked by another relative for that grief, I cried.

We have the results. This is the reality. If we’re happy about last Tuesday’s election or if we’re struggling with accepting the results, let’s all vow to be kinder. Let’s fight the fear and hatred with love and compassion for all people. It’s going to be difficult some days. Fighting the bullies who have been given permission to act like bullies in public will take stamina, especially when the president-elect doesn’t recognize that he threw this coming-out party for jerks. Hope is difficult to keep when I hear him asked if he thinks his rhetoric went too far in the election process, and he answers, “No because I won.”

But I’m working on it, one day at a time, one act at a time, one person at a time.

Secretary Clinton and President Obama have set our bars very high for graciousness in a time of despair for many of us. Let’s reach their bars and go beyond.

And then pray.

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There’s Gold in that there Yard

Hello – I published this post four years ago when I realized that so many of my neighbors were raking leaves and then giving them to the waste collector. Where they went from there, I had no idea.

And now that I’m back in Florida for the winter, my waste management collector reminded me about putting out my yard waste on the same day as recyclables and garbage.

Wait a second – those large sycamore leaves piling up in our front yard, are gold for other areas of our yard and garden. We will rake them into places where they can do their job – decompose and help other things grow.

So without any more hesitation, here’s how we deal with the autumn gold.

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Yesterday I read in the newspaper that leaf pickup begins in our area this week. I’m shaking my head in amazement that leaves are raked, put into garbage bags (biodegradable, but still. . .), and left on the curb for the waste management crews to haul away to where we know not.

But there are ways to know where those leaves go when you leave them in your yard. With that said, here’s my annual (second, no less) installment on the golden opportunity provided by those leaves littering your yard right now. So here goes:

Raking leaves into piles and then burning them was a tradition from my childhood. When I became an adult, I realized this was one tradition that needed to go. We don’t need to send more smoke up into the air. In many townships, municipalities, and regions of the United States, the act of burning leaves is in violation of the law. In in many areas under drought conditions, burning leaves is an absolute no-no.

The Environmental Protection Agency warns against the burning of leaves because it causes air pollution, health problems, and fire hazards. Sending them to the landfill is no longer an alternative in most communities because of already overburdened landfills. Besides, putting them in plastic trash bags and hauling away organic matter to the landfill makes little or no sense.

It’s still a good idea to get most of the leaves up off the grass. However, leaving a few on the ground will provide some great fertilizer on the soil as they decompose.

We have more than an acre in our backyard where three old maples made themselves at home decades ago.

Right now the yard is beginning to look more gold than green as the leaves begin their descent from the limbs. I wait to do my magic until most of those limbs are bare. Yesterday I mowed  one last time with our tractor. I mowed right over the leaves, chopping them into smaller pieces. I mow carefully making sure to blow the leaves into long piles. Around the trees, I make sure the leaves blow around the base.

With the remaining leaves,we load them either the tractor trailer or wheelbarrows and haul the piles over to the garden We place the chopped up leaves on the almost barren garden. We’ve never had a problem with mold developing as I’ve heard some people say, but maybe it’s because we use chopped up leaves rather than putting them on whole.

The rest of the leaves we put next to our compost bin and use them throughout the winter as layers between our food scraps. If you prefer, you could even bag them and keep them in the shed to use as needed.

If you don’t have a garden or you don’t compost, look for gardeners in your neighborhood. Some of them may be eager to haul away your leaves after you’ve raked them. But if you have shrubs, they make a good protective layer around those as well. Remember, the leaves are organic matter, so it just makes good sense to use them accordingly.

What do you do with your raked leaves?

AUMTUMN IN THE MOUNTAINS

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Santeetlah Gap – Cherohala Skyway, Smoky Mountains, on October 25, 2016

We took a drive on the Cherohala Skyway last week. We hoped to catch the colors at their peak. The trip on the Skyway is always interesting, but the colors didn’t quite match our expectations. A dry summer with record-breaking temperatures must have stymied the production of color. The areas that were in color seemed muted and exhausted. And at the peak of the Skyway, the leaves were all gone. We were driving along, stopping at many of the pull off spots to search for bits of color, when suddenly, we reached 5,000 feet in elevation and the trees were bare as if it was winter already.

Still, we enjoyed taking a few detours, even though the creeks and waterfalls barely flowed. We picnicked on Citico Creek, about five miles down from the Skyway. Citico is a former Cherokee community that was destroyed when the Little Tennessee River was dammed. Now Tellico Lake covers the former community. We managed to find a secluded spot. The Skyway had become crowded with other color seekers, so we left them up on the Skyway.

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Later, after coming down off the peak of the Skyway, the colors returned on the Tennessee side.

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Beautiful day with my hubby that still lingers in our memory as we prepare to begin the next phase of our new life. We’re Florida bound for six months, but the Smoky Mountains remain in our hearts.

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Happy fall! I hope you’re enjoying the season. May the color of your life always be bright and filled with life.❤

 

GARDENING IN OCTOBER

dsc03682The garden started in March by building raised beds on the side of a hill are still producing! Tomatoes, winter squash, and lima beans grace our table. Although the butternut and Queensland Blue are there more for decoration right now.

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Queensland Blue Pumpkin – Cooks up just like regular pumpkin

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March 2016

 

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May 2016

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July 2016

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October 2016

Next on the agenda:  The Florida garden. We’re in the process of heading to our home in Tallahassee for the winter. It will be the first time my husband has spent the winter away from a northern climate. He’s already plodding and planning and ordering seeds. In fact, yesterday, he began potting some seedlings. He hasn’t even built the garden yet! But he plans on using the same concept of raised beds and creating his own mixture of soil.

How did your garden grow this year? Love to hear from you!

 

 

 

CONFESSION TIME – HOPPY TALES

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.

 

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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.

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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’.

WHEN WILL WE LEARN? #VOTE 2016

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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