gardenMay05,2016

THE FIRST SALAD OF THE SEASON – #GARDENLOVE

IMG_0648We rolling in lettuce right now. Radishes are beautiful and tasty, too. My husband planted a variety of radishes, and the taste differences are subtle, but none of them are bitter as sometimes happens with older radishes.

I’m amazed at how fast the garden is growing. I’ll soon be pulling down the canning equipment from the attic and buying new jars to put up sauces, pickles, and relishes. I didn’t pack our canning jars from Pittsburgh — too much to move as it was. Time to stock up on freezer bags, too, for peas and beans that will surely come on quickly and soon.

The photo on the left was taken March 20, and the one of the right I took this morning, May 5. It’s a lovely, yet shocking, surprise. I guess my northern gardener adapted to gardening in the mountains with ease.

The bed with straw on top in the photo on the right is planted with approximately twenty-eight asparagus plants that arrived via mail the other day. We have to wait two years to enjoy their bounty.

Today, he’s building the last of the beds, and I’ve asked him to hold off on planting anything there. Fat chance. He has winter squash in pots ready for the ground. At least, I won’t have to deal with preserving those because they should store all winter long once harvested.

We went to the local farmer’s market on Saturday to see what others were offering in local food. They had about the same things we did. I should look into getting my own table at the market for later this spring.

How’s your gardening growing?

 

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From Seed to Table is FREE on Kindle through May 7, 2016. Grab your copy by clicking on photo or if you’d prefer the paperback, click here.

 

 

 

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CELEBRATE THE EARTH BY REMEMBERING THE PAST

Florida Setting 1Sometimes an anniversary involves a celebration of some sort. The events marked today are separate, yet inexplicably connected through virtue of their messages.

Six years ago today, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven men working on the rig and doing untold damage to the environment and wildlife as a result of an uncontrollable spew of petroleum into the fragile and precious habitat off the coast of Louisiana. And just two weeks prior to that, twenty-nine men lost their lives in the Massey coal mine in West Virginia when gases and coal dust ignited.

Deepwater Horizon, BP oil spill

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

These two events have several things in common. The disasters could have been prevented if proper safety standards had been followed by the companies, and if the government who created those standards had actually enforced them. And in both cases, the workers toiling away at bringing fossil fuels to the surface for us and for the profits they garnered for Massey and BP.

As a writer, I felt drawn to both stories because of how they touched my life. But that book, Trails in the Sand, also addresses several personal issues about family and finding a way to heal the wounds that stretch back generations. All the while the oil spills and the West Virginia community deals with the shock of losing so many lives.

Both tragedies continue. BP is being held accountable but that doesn’t help the wildlife that swallowed all the oil. We may see the impacts of that for years to come. The CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, was recently sentenced to one year in prison for his blatant disregard of safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine (New York Times editorial). Some are surprised he received any punishment at all. The families of those killed feel it was merely a slap on the wrist as they believe the blood of their loved ones stains his hands.

BP oil spill, oiled wildlife

Now to the celebration part. It’s Earth Day, which began forty years ago as a way to celebrate the Earth and the start of the environmental movement in this country. Let’s all take a moment to think about how we can be a part of the solution by doing something positive for the environment this year.

To mark all of these books, Trails in the Sand, can be downloaded for free on Amazon. While a work of fiction, the novel follows the real-life tragedies in the Gulf of Mexico and West Virginia. Please grab your copy today and tomorrow (April 20 and 21), if you haven’t done so already.

 

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Click the cover to download

 

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It’s Growing! #gardenlove

Beds2My husband rushed to put all of his seedlings in his newly built garden bed before we headed to Florida for a few weeks. The light began fading from the day as he tenderly placed the last plant in the soil he’d been preparing for a few weeks. And then the heavens opened up.

He raced to the porch just as the rain poured down on the plants. Now almost three weeks later, I’ll let you be the judge whether that was a good omen. The plants are all thriving here in the Smoky Mountains.

Before we left, we put together a simple, yet effective compost bin. We’ve been unable to compost for the past ten months, and it felt wasteful to throw away onion skins, broccoli stalks, eggshells, and coffee grounds. We put the new bin right next to the deck steps for easy access from the kitchen.Compost

Here’s an excerpt from my book, From Seed to Table, which contains a section on creating a place for your scraps from the kitchen.

Composting

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then I’ve composted on a twenty-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

It’s not a complicated process, although many folks hesitate to begin because they believe it’s difficult. If you simply follow a few basic instructions, you’ll be rolling in the black gold of the gardening world as quickly as the tomato plants begin sprouting green fruit.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils, or grease because they attract wild animals, take a very long time to break down, and can spread harmful bacteria into the soil and infect plants.

Eggshells, coffee grounds, and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold. We buy brown (unbleached) coffee filters, so we throw the grounds and the filter in the compost bin as well.

Once the container is filled with your kitchen scrapes, empty it into the compost bin and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. The green things are those still close to the live stage, such as grass clippings, food scraps, and some manures. Don’t use the manure from pets or pigs, as it will promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Chicken manure is the best kind. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves, woody materials, and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace, too. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in the compost container and in the air without watering the pile. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $20 to several hundreds of dollars to make a compost bin. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. However, I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending tons of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow airflow. You can spend a little more on a galvanized garbage can, but it will be more difficult to remove the bottom. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the outer sides to make it secure.

I covered the bottom on the inside with the dirt I removed to make the hole, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

In Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has small panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.image008

In the spring, I fill flowerpots with the healthy rich soil from the bottom of the compost bin to assist grateful petunias, pansies, impatiens, and marigolds. We’ll gaze upon the blossoming colors on the patio and take satisfaction in making fertile soil that originated in our kitchen and garden. Our vegetables, herbs, and flowerbed plants will all receive a healthy dose of the soil as well, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt.

I love the symmetry of composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

How’s your gardening going? If you’re not a gardener, what’s going on with local food at the Farmer’s Market? Always love to hear what’s going on in different parts of the country. We figure we’re about a month to six weeks ahead from where we were in Pittsburgh. Even though we’re in the mountains, it’s still the south! Happy gardening and eating the luscious foods of spring and summer.

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Click on cover to purchase on Amazon.

 

August 2015 - Neglected Peppers

Building the Garden Beds

 

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Pre-Samuel

We began by hiring Samuel to bring his excavator out to the cabin to prepare the site for a garden. Tree stumps stood in Robert’s way to turning the soft clay soil. Samuel had no problem ripping them out of the ground and dumping over the other side of our small mountain (folks here call these hills or foothills).

 

We heard him before we saw him. He decided to unload his machinery down at the bottom of the hill and drive it up to the cabin. And then he got right down to work.DSC03568

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After three hours, Samuel finished the job, leaving the rest to Robert and another great guy, Peter, to start building the beds.

 

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Cutting the boards for the sides of the beds

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The inside of the boards were lined with plastic to protect the wood. Robert decided not to use pressure treated lumber even if it means replacing these boards in a few years. When that time comes, we hope to find a local supplier of boards made from recycled materials.

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Making the soil: Layers of mostly decomposed bark, mushroom manure, top soil, more bark, more manure.

 

 

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Raking in more bark, a sprinkling of lime, and another layer of top soil. 

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Robert stained the wood to make it blend in with the surroundings.

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The side going down the hill.

 

Originally, we planned to build two beds – one beneath this one. But then we decided that the lower bed would actually be two or three smaller boxes to be built later in the spring. One thing that has been difficult is finding good top soil. We finally found someone who will be delivering a load this week, and that will finish off this first bed.

Robert wants the soil to rest for a few days before he begins planting the seedlings, although he’s going to hold off on the tomato plants for a few weeks.DSC03589DSC03587

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And my little herb garden – the two larger plants (rosemary and oregano) were purchased. The little babies were started by Robert from seed. The planters will be right outside on the deck so I can easily grab them during meal prep

I think this will be an excellent garden. I will keep you posted on the progress.

Robert’s retirement brings him to a place where he can pursue his passion for growing food full time. Next challenge for him will be to create a garden in our Florida home. He’s in for a huge learning curve as all of his gardening – since he was old enough to hold a shovel – has been in the north. Lots to learn in the coming months, but also food to eat and stories to tell.

 

From Seed to Table presents lots of gardening tips and recipes for meals and also for preserving the food from the garden. I wrote this book based on a northern garden. I guess it’s time to start creating another volume for gardening in the Smoky Mountains! Still, I think you’ll find lots of good tips no matter where you live.

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Click on cover for $.99 cents Kindle version

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen

I thought this was a good reminder. I always forget all of them when I’m at the store and faced with the high prices of organic. I’m printing this list out and putting in my purse.

What's Green with Betsy?!?

The only way to insure that your food is safer – no pesticides, artificial colorants, preservatives, or GMO’s – is to eat organically. (Organic produce may contain more natural antioxidants and nutrients, and taste better too! ) The biggest obstacle to eating organically however, is the cost. And while I still maintain eating organically is cheaper than the doctor, I understand. That’s where the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen guidelines from the Environmental Working Group come in.

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen are the 12 fruits and vegetables most heavily sprayed with pesticides – they contain 47 to 67 pesticides per serving – and the ones you should always buy organic. These foods are most susceptible because they have soft skin that tends to absorb more pesticides.  They are, starting with the worst first:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas…

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Happy Spring – Building a Garden

 

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Cherohala Parkway – A frost in March that lingered

Living here in the Smoky Mountains during the winter made for some easy living. If it snowed, the sun shone the next day. If the temperatures dipped one day, we were in shorts the next. It’s been a lovely winter in our new home.

 

But now spring gradually spreads itself over us, and Robert has turned all of his attention to building a garden in the front yard of our mountain home. The first day we saw this cabin in May 2015, he jumped out of the realtors vehicle with his phone in hand with the compass app ready to go. He declared the side of the driveway (of course, on a hillside) to be perfect for a garden site as it faced south and receives the best of the summer sun.

DSC03586Onion seedlings ready to go in the ground. As usual,  he began his seeds several months ago, and now the onion plants are yearning to go into the ground. So are the other plants. Over the past two weeks, along with the help of some great folks, he’s been working every day to build beds and create a soil able to sustain vegetables during the growing season. It’s not cheap to build a garden from scratch in soil that is mostly clay, but it’s a one-time expense that will pay for itself within a few years of healthy harvesting of vegetables.The chosen spot for the garden before the heavy equipment arrived contained tree stumps we attempted to burn out to no avail. Let the excavation begin!

 

 

 

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Next post – the building of the beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 8, 2013 - Raccoon Township, PA

FREE March 9-13 – FROM SEED TO TABLE

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Good morning – Just wanted to let you know that my book, From Seed to Table, is available for free download on Kindle today through Sunday, March 13.

This book is a compilation of my blog posts about gardening, harvesting, and preserving vegetables. It’s full of recipes and organized by the season. If you don’t have your copy, now’s the time to get it.

I haven’t been posting about gardening much in the past few years because we’ve been in transition and moving. But this month, my husband–the real gardener in our family–is building raised beds on the side of our North Carolina hill, foothill, mountain, and I’ll be posting his progress as he begins our new garden journey.

Here’s an excerpt From Seed to Table:

SPRING

Most years by the end of March, the seedlings are growing; onions and garlic are in the ground; spinach, lettuce, and cole plants await placement once the soil is workable. During the second week of March, Robert begins covering the areas of the garden with plastic sheets where he’ll plant first to protect the soil from the late winter/early spring snow and rain. The soil needs to be dry when he begins turning it over and readying it for planting.

Since there’s still a chance for frost or a freeze, we watch the weather each evening and keep the Reemay® near to cover the onions, if necessary. It’s a time of growth, but it’s a tender and tenuous time as well.

From Living Lightly blog – April 2, 2013

The spring of 2013 is late in coming to western Pennsylvania and other parts of the Midwest and Northeast. Spring sprung on the calendar more than ten days ago, yet the cold temperatures stymied our gardening plans. Seeds sprouted a month ago are now seedlings growing under lights in our family room.

I can tell they are yearning, as we are, for the warmer days and nights of spring, for the sunshine to heat the earth, and for soil large enough to spread their roots.

The onions should be in the ground by now or at the very least, they should be outside getting sunlight for a portion of the day. My husband has been putting them out for brief periods, but the temperatures are still too cold for any type of sustained sun bathing.

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The soil for spinach needs preparation. They’ll be ready to go into the ground as soon as the weather cooperates. If spinach is started indoors about a month before transplanting into the garden, the harvest will triple or quadruple, and huge succulent leaves will grow before the plants go to flower in June. Any plants grown indoors need to be slowly exposed to direct sunlight for a few days with minimal mid-day sun during the early spring.

The peas have been most affected by the cold weather of spring 2013. My husband worried for weeks that he wouldn’t be able to get the sprouts in the ground in a timely manner. He sprouts seeds on an old cookie sheet and covers them with several layers of damp paper towel. He has one tray all ready to plant, which he intended to do this past weekend. Then we heard the weather report for the first week of April: nighttime temperatures hitting the low to mid-20s. He said he’d put them in the ground even with predictions of high twenty temperatures, but 25 degrees is too low. He sprouted another set this past week because he’s fairly certain the ones already sprouted won’t last until he can put them in the

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peas ready to plant on March 30, 2013

ground. He put the tray in the basement, hoping to slow down the process.

We’re learning to be flexible with the unpredictable weather patterns of recent years. It’s not always easy, especially when we’re as eager for the warmer temperatures as the plants stretching for light right before our eyes.

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt, download the rest of the book for free until March 13, 2016 by clicking here.

If you prefer reading the paperback, click here. It’s $7.99 on Amazon.

Thank you and happy gardening. Would love to hear what’s popping at your house!

 

BOOK REVIEW FRIDAY – GO SET A WATCHMAN BY HARPER LEE

Sadly, we say good-bye to one of the greatest authors of all times. Rest in peace, Harper Lee. You were loved and admired and respected. Your legacy is vast.

P.C. Zick

The much anticipated novel arrived in the mail only days after its release. I eagerly began reading the continuation of Scout’s journey in Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

I’ve stayed away from reading other reviews before I wrote this one. I’ve heard the rumors about the betrayal some feel in the portrayal of one of the twentieth century’s most beloved heroes and father. Heroes fall a long distance off those pedestals created by an adoring public. And so Atticus Finch has taken one of the biggest falls into the abyss of humanness.

Even though I haven’t read the other reviews yet, I did check on Amazon to see how the book is doing. It beat records for pre-orders and is still No. 1 in some categories. It has received 1,641 reviews with an average 3.8 ranking (out of five).

I believe book reviews should be about the quality…

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Poisoning the Poor

 

 

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Flint’s dirty, lead contaminated water

 

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The adjectives overwhelmed my brain, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on writing a cohesive piece.

Then for days, I would forget.

I would forget until the headlines forced me to remember.

Flint, Michigan.

Yesterday, the headline that made me take notice and remember, “Flint residents paid the highest rate in the nation for contaminated water,” forced me to sit on my rear to write this post.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The Detroit Free Press‘s article announced the results of a study by the Food and Water Watchgroup that studied the 500 largest cities in the country and found that Flint charges twice the amount as the national average for its water. Insult upon horrific insult made even worse by the fact these residents being served up contaminated water for more than a year had to even pay in the first place.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

General Motors essentially made Flint from the 1920s to the 1980s, when it decided to move their plants somewhere else. They moved the factories, but not the workers. Flint has suffered the fate of all company towns when the company no longer wants to be there.

The companies don’t even bother saying, “Sayanora and good luck, we must leave you, taking your jobs, your economy, and your dignity. In turn, we leave you with unemployment, crime, and hopelessness.” They just leave. And no one gives a damn about it.

Towns like Flint become wastelands of poverty, dissolving into vacuums ripe for drugs and violence. The human spirit deflates faster than Tom Brady’s footballs.

And no one cares, especially the ones who caused it.

As a result, Flint went into economic decline, and by 2011, the city was in a financial state of emergency. To cope, Flint cut its budget by changing the source of their water in April 2014.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. After the new water lines were installed to bring water in from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron, residents complained of discoloration and foul smells and tastes coming out of their faucets. The residents complained, but no one listened. Residents, who can’t afford bottled water and who most likely struggle to pay the exorbitant water fees, were charged for dirty water.

No one listened for almost two years. No one listened to the families living below the poverty level who knew one thing for sure. Water should never taste or smell or contain color. From April 2014 to late 2015, nothing was done, until folks starting dying of Legionnaires, and children began suffering from the symptoms of lead contamination.

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The noncolor of water

Today, The Detroit Free Press reported that a man suffering from headaches, sweats, and exhaustion has levels of lead in his blood that are five times the level that is considered toxic. Most of the worry previously had been about children, rightly so. But now it’s becoming obvious that adults will see the impacts as well.

Since April 2014, Flint residents bathed, brushed their teeth, drank, and cooked with toxic water.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

Bring us the bottled water and the filters now that this national disgrace has made headlines. Stop drinking the water now, dear residents, and don’t slip up and forget when you’re standing at the sink getting ready to brush your teeth. Don’t forget to close the lid on the toilet when you flush so you’re not spraying more than crap into the air. And pick up your bottled water–provided free of charge, of course–when you come to pay your water bill for the water coursing through your pipes that could poison you and your children if you use it.

What are the solutions? Unfortunately, the damage has been done in Flint, but there are things we could do so this doesn’t happen again, but we’re going to have to change our view about the poor and their right, yes their right, to clean water.

  • Make corporations that create these company towns or communities accountable when it’s no longer feasible for them to stick around. This happened in the towns surrounding Pittsburgh, too, in the 1980s when the steel companies pulled out. WalMart creates the same hole when they close out stores in communities where they destroyed the small businesses when they opened. I read that one town in Arkansas will no longer have a grocery store when WalMart closes their store this month. Why? Because WalMart ran the smaller stores out of business when they could not compete with the giant’s low prices. These corporations are given incentives and infrastructure to build in these small communities, so they should be forced to do something when they leave that will help the community they’re destroying.
  • Don’t allow local governments to cut back on infrastructure for essential services, such as water. I’ll say it again. Clean water is a right, not a privilege for the rich. If we think otherwise, we’re responsible for genocide. In fact, the folks in Michigan who allowed this travesty to continue for nearly two years did practice a form of genocide. Let’s hope it’s limited to just ten residents (which is still ten too many).
  • Listen when residents speak. I don’t care if the first complainers are the ones who always complain. Water should never smell or taste or be the color of tea. Didn’t the folks in Flint who made the decisions about changing the water source drink the water themselves? Or are they in some ivory tower somewhere drinking water brought in from Lake Huron? Or maybe only bubbly from France will suffice.
  • Never, ever make residents pay for services they can’t use. This is simply unacceptable. This means the folks in Flint paid premium dollars to poison themselves. I would encourage all residents to stop paying those bills en masse.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will risk repeating because it has to be pounded into our collective head until we stop treating the poor communities we created as if they deserve less than the rest of us. Or worse. The residents of Flint were treated worse than we’d ever treat our pets and wildlife. They were treated as if their lives didn’t matter.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

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Let’s make it better for all living creatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with author P.C. Zick

I found this post for Trails in the Sand on another blog this morning and thought it was still relevant! Trails in the Sand chronicles our modern history as the fall out from BP’s Deepwater Horizon still plagues us.

Men of the Ice

This week, I am pleased to feature an interview with indie author P.C. Zick, who stops by to chat about her latest release, Trails in the Sand.

SandTrails in the Sand follows environmental writer Caroline Carlisle as she reports on endangered sea turtles during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As she delves into the story, she uncovers secrets about the past that threaten to destroy her family unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies.

Her journey reveals the truth behind mysteries that have plagued her family for three generations.

Lost journals, a fake tablecloth, and nesting sea turtles lead her to discover why her uncle committed suicide, why her sister developed anorexia, and why her mother only wanted acceptance from those she loved.

Caroline and her husband Simon discover love lasts despite decades of separation when he was married to Caroline’s sister. Caroline’s niece Jodi…

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