Acts of Kindness

Grace and Benediction

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

It’s easy to forget in the every day bustle of our lives that the little things we do are often the ones that remain unforgettable.

Sometimes little acts of kindness can become giant deeds to the recipient and can make all the difference in the world. And we may not even have realized what we have done.

When I was eighteen, I decided I knew everything there was to know in the world and graduated from high school with a brick, not a chip, on my shoulder and a mental block the size of a cement block.

By the time of my graduation open house, I think my mother had actually stopped speaking to me. I had rented an apartment in Ann Arbor, thirty miles from my parents, and had gotten a job as a clerk typist for a large corporation. Now in my mother’s world a daughter didn’t do this kind of thing. I was supposed to live at home and work or go to college and receive my Mrs. Degree.

But I had no use for college or for anyone’s advice, and believe me, when I’d made up my mind on something, my family had learned in a mere eighteen years, to leave me alone.

Enter my high school government teacher, Howard Johnston. He was the only one who took a few moments to talk to me.

“You’re far too smart to not go to college,” he told me at my graduation open house. He pushed me into a chair in my parents’ living room and he sat on the ottoman at my feet. “You’ll not be happy as a clerk typist.”

Because he took those few moments with me, I began to reevaluate. I kept remembering his words. They weren’t a command or a question, but a statement. And because he had bothered with me at all, I began to open my mind to other possibilities. By the following January, I was enrolled in college and within four years, I was a teacher.

And my mother was speaking to me again.

When my mother contracted double pneumonia in 1998, I wasn’t sure when I should go back to Michigan from my home in Florida. She had a 50/50 chance for survival and my brothers and sister-in-laws didn’t know what to tell me.

One of my sister-in-laws went to the doctor and said, “Her daughter is in Florida. When do we tell her to come?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Now.”

I arrived within twenty-four hours with my mother still  conscious. She nearly pulled the IV out of her arm reaching for me when I walked into her room. Within hours of my arrival, she slipped into a coma and died a day later. I made it just in time to say good-bye.

I never thanked that doctor for his act of kindness. He probably has no idea what it meant to me to arrive at my mother’s bedside while she still knew I was there.

I never thanked my government teacher either. And I don’t know how to reach him now.

Those acts of kindness need not be with someone we know. A simple smile, a grateful word, a slowing of our pace to let someone else go first in line at the grocery store. We probably do many of these things unconsciously. Today try to consciously help someone and see what happens. Remembering to give a word of gratitude helps continue the cycle of kindness.

With so many words of hate and disparagement floating around us these days as the political season heats up, let’s remember we have more in common as human beings than we have differences. Kindness and compassion help us live in a state of grace.

It’s better than aspirin as a pain reliever.

Super-sweet and Beautiful Blogger Awards

Super-sweet Award

My blogger colleague Marcella Rousseau has nominated me for two awards: Super-sweet award and Beautiful Blogger Award. Marcella writes one of my favorite blogs, For Your Good Health. Please stop by her blog, and I think you’ll discover why she’s an inspiration to me.

I’ve received several awards since I started writing Living Lightly Upon this Earth in April. Each time I’m honored to be nominated. The requirements for acceptance involve mentioning the nominator (thanks, Marcella), answering some questions about ourselves, and nominating others. I’m going to take a few liberties today with the requirements. The super-sweet award wants answers about our sweet tooth, and I try to pretend I don’t have one.  I’ve answered lots of questions about myself on the other blogs. Since my book Live from the Road is about travel and I’m going to launch a new blog with travel posts in the next month, I’m going to give a list of some not so common places I’ve visited over the years.

  1. Marrakesh, Morocco
  2. Cortona, Italy
  3. Leaning Tower of Texas
  4. Eureka, California
  5. Bocas del Toro, Panama
  6. Santiago, Chile
  7. Newquay, Cornwall
  8. Stockbridge: Michigan, Massachusetts, Georgia, and England
  9. Paradise, Michigan
  10. Hell, Michigan

These awards are a way for our blogs to be recognized and to draw more followers and comments to our sites. I appreciate that, and I appreciate the followers of both my blogs. I love getting comments because it tells me someone out there is listening/reading. I want the same for my fellow bloggers. I’m going to provide a list below of the blogs I read every time they write a post (I follow 30-some posts – I can’t read every single one!) because they are so inspiring to me. If you’re reading this post, please visit at least one of the blogs below and leave them a comment if you like what you read. That helps us bloggers as much as anything.

  1. For Your Good Health
  2. What’s Green with Betsy?
  3. The Museum of Forgotten Pickles
  4. Staci Troilo
  5. wvfarm2u
  6. Hazy Shades of Me
  7. Attempting zero waste lifestyle in a military household
  8. Olemike’s Blog
  9. Thriving Pessimist
  10. Life in the Blue Ridges
  11. Faithrises

I will leave it to these bloggers now nominated for the Super-sweet award and the Beautiful Blogger Award to do what they may with the award!
And please remember to visit at least one of them and leave a comment. Thanks!

Kitchen Love

Seven jars of love

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

This past weekend we put up seven quarts of Italian sauce from our tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic and basil. See my post “The Tomato – Luscious and Delicious for the process and recipe.

This is our third year for preserving the harvest from our garden. We’ve developed a rhythm for our time in the kitchen as we make sauce. My husband washes, peels and cuts up the tomatoes, peppers, and onions. I prepare the garlic and basil. I squeeze the juice and seeds out of the tomatoes after my husband does his thing with them. Sometimes the process gets slowed down because he pulls out seeds from the very best to use next year.


The whole process – from washing the tomatoes to pulling the jars of sauce out of the canner – probably takes four hours. It’s not a cost effective process if only dollars and cents are factored. But there’s other considerations. Nutritionally, the minerals and vitamins from the vegetables are outstanding. The taste alone justifies the time.

And then there’s the other and perhaps the most important part. Robert and I love working together in our kitchen handling the vegetables we’ve nurtured. We handle the tomatoes and other vegetables with loving care. I am lost in the texture of the tomato as I squeeze each one. The smell of garlic and onion sauteing in olive oil beats eau de cologne any day. For mere hours, we are suspended and lost in the garden of our creation. The love we pour into our concoctions cannot be calculated on any cost analysis.

As the sauce simmers and boils down, we begin taking the pulp and straining it into juice. Then it’s time for our Bloody Mary or Maria (with tequila) with juice from our garden. Last night we savored our first taste of the sauce on pasta (I wanted the flavors to meld so I let a meal-sized portion rest in the fridge for two days). We both agreed this year’s batch is definitely the best – until next year rolls around.

Ready for winter

How about you? Do you think preparing your own food (even if it’s not from your garden) is worth the effort?


Good points for social responsibility

Fresh Air Musings

When is green more than a color?  When it’s part of social responsibility, of course.  It wasn’t long ago that we only focused on simple things such as can recycling and light bulbs when it came to being green; nowadays that is not enough.  People are looking beyond easy for ways to affect real change.  Recycling has blossomed beyond just separating out paper from other trash.  Most cities have massive recycling centers, and many locations have bins for recycling that don’t even need to be sorted.  That sure makes it easier for people to do the right thing.

But what happens when we move past recycling into the realm of social responsibility?  How about food recycling programs!  As the number of shelters and food shelves increase, it is more important than ever to have a plan to dispose of food waste.  Edible food surpluses can often times be donated to…

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Be Elvis or be yourself

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I saw a poor Elvis impersonator on a street corner in Portland, Oregon a few years back. I watched him from across the street as I sat with my daughter at an outdoor cafe in one of Portland’s lovely small-town neighborhoods.

He wore all the accoutrements of a typical Elvis imitator:  thick black hair, yellow plastic glasses, white sequined bell-bottoms, red cape and hand-held microphone. He looked the part. But when he sang? Nothing at all like the real “Jailhouse Rock” rocker. If someone walked by without stopping or tossing money, he drooped his shoulders and stopped singing, leaning down to turn off the boom box that sat near his white vinyl boot-clad feet.

Nothing sadder, I thought, than a poor Elvis impersonator. All the trouble it must take to dress for his excursion to the street. And frankly, , it looks ridiculous unless the impersonation is impeccable.

“Are you going to give him some money?” my daughter asked as I continued to watch the Elvis wanna-be across the street.

“I’m thinking about it, but I don’t want to contribute to his sad state of being,” I answered.

I wanted to walk across the street and give him the best philosophy I could impart.

“If you’re going to be Elvis, be Elvis, or just be yourself,” I wanted to say. “But whatever you do, do it well and don’t let anyone else tell you you can’t do it.”

I never gave him the advice, but I’ve remembered it myself every day since. Whenever I find myself headed away from who I am, I remember that man in Portland and change my direction.

Maybe he’s not such a sad character after all.


Enter to Win Live from the Road

Live from the Road is featured on Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews today.

The blog contains an excerpt from the book, an interview with me and a chance to win either a print or kindle version of the book. Drop by and visit and enter to win! The contest ends September 22, 2012.


Falling in Love Twice

two loves – the man and the city

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I fell in love twice several years ago. The first time I fell in love with my husband. The second time I fell in love with the city he called home for more than three decades:  Pittsburgh.

“You’re moving where?” family and friends asked. Even strangers asked me why I would move from Florida, the Sunshine State, to the cold north. I still am asked that question.

Each time I answer that love brought me here – twice. Pittsburgh remains a well-kept secret from most of the country, except for those of us who know about its not-so-secret charms.

How did this second love affair begin? Perhaps it began in a geography class in Michigan, my first year in college in 1974. That’s when I learned about the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converging to form the mighty Ohio, giving Pittsburgh a starring role in the Industrial Revolution of this country.

The idea of water creating our urban centers left an impression. Then I never thought much about Pittsburgh until 2009, when love brought a renaissance to my world.


Probably the first surprise was the landscape of the Pittsburgh area. When I drove into the city from the airport, I marveled at the hills and the valley below created by the three rivers of Pittsburgh. There are particular vistas all around the city and its environs that allow me to believe anything is possible.

I lived in Florida for nearly thirty years, having moved there from Michigan in 1980. Many of the residents come from somewhere else. Finding a native Floridian resembles the search for that old needle in the haystack.

When I first came to Pittsburgh, I noticed a difference right away. Most people I met and still meet were born and raised in the Pittsburgh area. Although they might think of moving somewhere else, they really do not intend to leave. I’ve learned those who do leave tend to return.

Soon after I moved to the Steel City, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported folks volunteered to paint planters downtown to freshen up for spring. No wonder Pittsburgh could reinvent itself after U.S. Steel left town. The people – not institutions – made it possible because they love this place, which uniquely exists as the western East, the eastern West, the southern North and the northern South of the United States.

Places of green still exist here because the hills make some sections uninhabitable, both surprising and delighting me. I am an urban country girl, and I have always wanted it both ways. Here I’ve found that balance in both my surroundings and in my personal life.

I love the hills, but I love the architecture of the churches, commercial buildings, and homes as well. Studying those structures is a lesson in American history all by itself. The bridges are also a wonder of engineering and architecture. Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other city in the world.

Ohio River bridge 25 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh

My love affair intensified after a visit to the Heinz History Center. I found myself curiously emotional as I learned about the city and its inhabitants. I never realized so many influential folks from Pittsburgh played an important role in my life. Dr. Benjamin Spock taught me I would not spoil my child by picking her up when she cried, and Mr. Rogers visited our neighborhood every day to reinforce the concepts of friendship and citizenship in my young daughter.

Rachel Carson, whose environmental writing helped develop awareness of DDT and the pollutants in the air, inspires me in my writing and life. Nellie Bly broke through glass ceilings allowing me privileges unknown to the women of her generation.

Stephen Foster immortalized the place I lived in Florida for nearly three decades through song. He never visited “way down upon the Suwannee River,” but he called Pittsburgh home.

Although I did not know it at the time, Pittsburgh and its inhabitants served as the backdrop to my life, from the ketchup I poured on my burgers to the polio shot I received as a child. No wonder I fell hard for this place of steel with its soft edges and open arms.

My surprise at falling in love with Pittsburgh is exemplified in the surprise that comes whenever I approach the downtown area from my home 45 minutes west of the city. Within one mile of the center of Pittsburgh, there is no view of a skyline, only the hillside and then the sign announcing the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Approaching Fort Pitt Tunnel on I-376

The tunnel is a mile long cutting through the rock of the hillside. The tunnel’s lights guide the way when suddenly daylight is seen at the end.

light at the end of Fort Pitt Tunnel

Suddenly, the car bursts out into the sunshine and I’m crossing the Monongahela River and there is the surprise and delight of a city in its Renaissance – Pittsburgh in all it glory with the Ohio to the left and the Allegheny straight ahead, and a distinctive skyline of steel and glass. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with my new city.

Pittsburgh skyline

Pittsburgh also provides the backdrop for my new marriage. As I traverse the city and experience the Strip District and its glorious markets, cruise the three rivers and cheer the Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates, I am certain my decisions to marry and to move here are victories for love both times.

Heinz Field – home of the Steelers

Note: This was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on May 5, 2010 in the “Raves” guest column as “Raves: She first fell hard for a Pittsburgher, then for his city.” It’s published under my former name, Patricia Behnke, three months before our wedding.

Saving Herbs

basil and sage

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Two of our herbs have done remarkably well this year. I have basil planted in the ground and in pots and all seem to love to heat and alternating dry and wet conditions. The sage took over this year in the same spot where we’d successfully grown parsley in the past two years, even through our mild winter. However, the parsley has done very little this spring and summer and I miss it!

We’ve been drying our sage for burning in the house as a purifier. When I went to find a page for the many wonderful uses of sage, I discovered the burning of it does more than cleanse our spirits and our homes – it also has medicinal properties for sinuses and headaches. Maybe this is why my migraines have finally disappeared this week. We pulled the sage down from the light fixture a few days ago and have been burning it in a large shell all over the house. I’m very impressed. beautiful sage drying Basil is one of my favorite herbs. It’s easy to grow and works in just about any dish. It is beautiful cut and placed in a vase with water. I cut off the leaves as needed. In the past, it seemed the leaves wilted after a few days. However, this summer I filled a small container with water and cut stems and it lasted for more than a month. It even rooted so now I have another basil plant in a pot outside. I hope to keep that going through the winter.All of my basil plants were headed to seed recently, so I gave them a trim. I ended up with this vase full, plus eight cups of leaves. Time for pesto. I’ve adjusted this recipe over the past two years, and it works wonderfully. Here’s my version of a large batch of pesto for freezing. Please note: Add the Parmesan cheese after thawing and before using.

Patricia’s Pesto (for freezing)

8 cups packed fresh basil leaves

4-6 cloves of garlic

3/4 cup pine nuts

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Combine basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor (you will probably need to do this in batches) and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the olive oil and process until mixed in and smooth. (If you want to use immediately add 1 1/2 cups of cheese at this point. DO NOT ADD cheese if freezing.)

I fill ice cube trays with the mixture. This batch took about a tray and a half (making approximately 24 cubes).pesto cubesFreeze the cubes and then place in a zip lock bag. Whenever I want to use pesto on pasta or in a sauce, I pull out a cube or two or three, add the cheese and it’s good to go. I’ve been told these should be used within six months. That’s about how long they lasted in our house so I’m not sure it that’s true or not. Enjoy!

pesto for winter

The Tomato – Luscious and Delicious

ripening on the vine

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

We’re eating tomatoes with every meal and still the windowsills in our home are filled with the beautiful red bounty of summer. The tomato is one of the most versatile of vegetables because it’s fantastic raw, but it’s also a wonder for turning into a myriad of sauces and dishes.

overflow from the garden

As the counters and windowsills filled with tomatoes, I knew it was time to pull out the canner and begin making sauce. I’m not going to sugarcoat this process – it’s time-consuming and requires two people if you’re doing any amount at all of sauce. My husband and I love growing the vegetables and as hard as it is to do, we love preserving it as well. When I served a sampling of the sauce we’d created the other night, we both sighed in contentment at the flavors all provided by food we grew right outside our den door. Besides, if we weren’t making our own food, we’d probably just be sitting in front of the television. There’s plenty of time for that when the weather turns cold.


Here’s my recipe for pasta sauce. We made 12 quarts with the ingredients below:

2 1/2 bulbs of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed

5 large onions, chopped

6-8 sweet peppers (I used yellow and red because that’s all we had for this batch), chopped

10 hot peppers (jalapenos/cayenne) – we like some heat so this is a personal choice

2 cups fresh basil leaves (add any other Italian herb you have), chopped

1 cup of dried Italian herbs

1 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

35-45 tomatoes (the photo shows all that I used), skinned, squeezed and chopped)

We prepared all the ingredients except the tomatoes first. I put them in the pot and sauteed to meld flavors while we prepared the tomatoes.

sealing the flavors


We like heat in our sauce so we put in approximately ten hot peppers, mostly seeded. We started doing this a few years back when we had too many jalapenos and found that we love it this way.

hot and spicy

Now the real work begins. To peel the skins easily, drop 4-5 tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for 30-45 seconds; then remove to ice water for the same amount of time. My husband then starts peeling and cutting out any bad spots on the tomatoes. He cuts each tomato into quarters and puts in a big bowl. I then begin a process that will help take out some liquid from the tomatoes. I’ve learned this is just the best way to do it. I pick up a handful of the quarters and squeeze out juice and seeds. Then I cut into smaller pieces and put in a sieve and press down, getting out more liquid. Then I throw the meat left into the pot. The sauce then simmers (with frequent stirs) for several hours.


I put the hot sauce in sterilized, hot canning jars (9 quarts and 1 pint) with a tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of each quart (about a tsp. for a pint). I still had sauce left, so I froze a container and kept back enough for us to sample. I processed in the rolling water bath for 50 minutes.

Next batch will be salsa!


By Patricia Zick@PCZick

As promised, I’ve now released Tortoise Stew on Kindle (by P.C. Zick). It’s a real deal at .99 cents. It was originally published in paperback in 2006 under my former name (Patricia Camburn Behnke). The new e-book version has been updated and edited.

Here’s a review of the book from 2006. It still holds true today, except I now live in Pennsylvania and work full time writing my blogs and working on my fiction. I especially love this review because the writer makes a loose comparison between me and one of my heroes, Carl Hiassen.

Book review: Tortoise Stew – a feast inside a whirlwind

By Peter Guinta, St. Augustine Record

Published Friday, July 07, 2006

An old reporter once said, “The smaller the town, the more vicious its politics.”

Patricia Camburn Behnke’s novel, Tortoise Stew, released in March, illustrates that point perfectly, even…

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