Water Woes in the High Desert

Bamboo pond at Denver’s Botanic Gardens

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Sometimes I can’t keep my mouth shut; sometimes I need to say more. Recently, I might have found a balance between the two.

Recently we traveled to Denver. This region suffered a nearly rainless summer. They receive an average of 15.47 inches of rainfall each year, but as of September 26, they’ve only had 6 inches fall. This year is dry even for this high desert region.

The urban residential areas are on watering restrictions, and while the roadsides were brown and burned, home lawns were lush greens. Evidently, the restrictions mean they water as much as possible on the three days per week of allowed sprinklers.

A couple rode in the shuttle with us from the airport. They were returning home after a month in Europe, and they were worried about their lawn.

“It’s terrible around here,” the wife said. “We spend $250 per month on 16,000 gallons of water for our lawn. It’s a crime.”

“I think it’s a crime anyone would use that much water and spend that much on a lawn,” I said before I could stop myself. “Have you thought about planting something that’s more native that wouldn’t require all the watering?”

“If I wanted a lawn that looked like I lived in the desert, I’d move to Arizona,” she said. Then she pointed out a house we passed with no front yard or plants – just rocks. “See that’s just plain ugly.”

“There are other ways to make your yard look nice without filling it with only rocks,” I said.

Water Smart Garden – Denver Botanic Gardens

My husband decided to change the subject to something in his area of expertise.

“Where does your water come from?” he asked.

“We don’t pay attention to stuff like that,” she said.

Why should they as long as the water is there when they turn on the faucet? The next day I spent wandering one of Denver’s largest bookstores. An entire section was devoted to the problem of Colorado’s water and the diversion of it into urban areas lacking in the resource.

They both became silent when I mentioned I was an environmental writer. Then the husband surprised me as he pointed out the watering going on in the median of the roadway we passed.

“Now that is absolutely wasteful,” he said. “No one should ever be allowed to water at noon. And they certainly shouldn’t have the water spraying on the asphalt like that.”

A few days later, I wished I’d gotten their contact information so I could send them some photos. I visited Denver’s Botanic Gardenswhere whole areas are devoted not to lawns and landscaped perfections, but to beautiful flowers attracting bees, birds, and butterflies.

Dryland Mesa at Denver Botanic Gardens

The original mission of the Botanic Gardens is evident as a showcase for native plants that thrive in the arid climate of the region. The Rock Alpine Garden, Water-Smart Garden, and Dryland Mesa provide excellent examples of how residents can live with beautiful yards while contributing to the environment. Native plants do more than flourish in the climate; they are a part of the symbiotic nature with the land and wildlife.

I spoke to another longtime resident of Denver who keeps a beautifully manicured lawn and green grass. I asked her if she’d ever been to the Botanic Gardens.

“I have to admit, I’ve never visited them,” she said.

Let’s hope I said just enough to convince her to go.

Denver Botanic Gardens


Surprising Denver

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Denver surprised me from the moment we began our descent through a thick layer of clouds. When the plane emerged, a flat, dull brown landscape welcomed me to Colorado. I’d driven through southern Colorado before. I’d visited Colorado Springs and camped in Grand Junction where the Rockies dominate the landscape, but those mountains didn’t appear outside my small plane window. As we taxied to the gate, the Rockies loomed behind a hazy mist to the west as the landscape of the high desert contrasted with the peaks suddenly bursting forth from the earth. It reminded me of the flour and paste relief maps I made in elementary school.

Denver brags about its weather, claiming 300 days of sunshine each year. Our first day there, September 11, 2012, proved the Chamber of Commerce point – cloudless sky with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Without the spring and summer rains after a mild winter with low amounts of snowfall, the ground cried out in thirst. As we drove from the airport, only the medians with sprinklers running midday contained green grass. Everything else was crisp and a yellowish brown ready to give up the last gasp of life.

Denver on a rare day when mountain views are obscured by clouds

On our first night, while we wandered in the SoDo (South of Downtown) neighborhood, a slight rain began, but the temperature remained near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It rained all through the night and all the next morning. By morning, the rain continued, but temperatures dropped by twenty degrees with winter storm advisories in the mountains. Quite a contrast.

I ventured downtown again on the light rail system while cars crawled along through the pouring rain on the Interstates circling the city. I hung out at Tattered Cover Book Store  (SoDo location) for several hours. As the rain continued falling, I pulled five books from the shelf and did the best thing possible during a pounding rainstorm. I settled on a comfy couch inside the bookstore with old hardwood floors. Nothing beats reading surrounded by new and used books while the rain gushes outside.

The day was one of the sixty-five sunshine-less days in Denver. Instead of cursing the clouds, I bought an umbrella and celebrated with the residents grateful for some wet stuff to quench the thirst of the landscape.

I rode the free shuttle down the 16th Avenue Mall to the Civic Center and walked to Colorado’s state capitol building. The dome is under construction but still the architecture inside and out is stunning with its native materials of marble, granite, sandstone, onyx, and gold. When they built the dome, they covered it in copper. The gold miners saw this as an insult, so the miners of Colorado gifted the state with enough gold to cover the whole thing with gold leaf. It’s stunning reminder of how Colorado gained its prominence in the mining world. I wanted to climb the ninety-nine stairs to the top of the dome, but it’s closed for repairs now. Besides, the heavy layer of rain clouds still hovering over the city obscured the promised view of the Rockies.

capitol dome under construction

Next, I walked two blocks behind the capitol to the “unsinkable” Molly Brown’s house, again another surprise. The house is a preserved Victorian set as it was when the Browns lived there around the turn of the twentieth century.

Molly Brown House Museum

The woman the world has come to know as the Unsinkable Molly did more than survive the Titanic. Sure, she managed to escape in a lifeboat and helped save other folks, so did more than 400 other folks. Molly – real name Elizabeth – made use of her time after her near-death experience. She worked for women’s suffrage and fought for Colorado miner’s rights, which were nonexistent in the early 1900s. She ran for public office several times, even though women didn’t have enfranchisement. She made sure her voice received a spot, even for unpopular causes. As a wealthy woman, she could have lived a life of luxury behind the walls of her comfortable home – one of the first with electricity and running water. I’m only assuming she cared more for the human condition than the condition of her home.

Homes on Pennsylvania Street a few blocks off of Colfax Avenue

Afterwards, I headed back to the 16th Avenue Mall, crossing behind the capitol. I walked down Colfax Avenue with the gold dome directing me west to the shuttle. As I crossed Colfax legally, two police cars came roaring around the corner and almost hit me as they attempted to turn onto the avenue. I continued walking when I noticed I was no longer on the tree-shaded street with old restored Victorians near Molly’s house.

I was now in the inner city and across the street two women stood handcuffed outside a drugstore where five police cars pulled up to the curb at slanted angles to create a barrier.

arrest within view of Colorado’s state capitol

Homeless folks sat on the bus benches with signs asking for assistance and colorful graffiti watched over the blighted area within feet of the richly furnished and finished state capitol building.

Maybe Denver isn’t very surprising after all.


Salsa Heat

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Warning: This salsa is not for you mild salsa lovers. However, you can modify this recipe to fit your taste buds. This one won’t make you choke, but it might make your nose run and your eyes water – until you get used to the fiery heat.

I use salsa in the traditional way, but I also use it to make Spanish rice (I use brown rice) by cutting down on the water and adding a ½ cup to a cup of salsa. I also use it in soups. My husband loves it on his eggs, scrambled or over easy. It’s also good as a topping for baked potatoes or hash browns.

The amounts listed below made 12 pints (canned – that’s all the room I had in my two canners), 2 pints frozen, and 2 quarts which I put in the refrigerator for use first. I don’t recommend making a batch this large unless you find yourself as we did with an overabundance of ripened tomatoes. We grow our onions and garlic and use plenty of both. You can’t overdue either of these.

cilantro and garlic


40 tomatoes, approximately 10 lbs. (sizes ranged from small to huge – I counted them all)

5 medium onions, chopped

3 heads of garlic, minced (approximately 30 cloves)

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

8 sweet peppers, chopped (any and all varieties – we used red, yellow, orange, and green)

20 hot peppers, chopped (to taste – we used 20 jalapenos and cayenne peppers)

½ olive oil

1 cup cider vinegar

¼ cup lime juice

¼ cup cumin

1/8 cup chili powder

3 tsp salt

We prepare the onions, garlic, peppers, and cilantro first and begin sauteing them in the olive oil on low heat while we prepare the tomatoes.


Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-40 seconds and remove to ice water for same amount of time. Peel off skin and core. Chop and squeeze juice and seeds into bowl. Place in colander and press. Put in pot with other vegetables. We have a production line going in the kitchen. I’m blanching the tomatoes while my husband skins, cores, removes bad spots, saves seeds for next year and then cuts tomatoes in quarters. I squeeze those tomatoes with my hands and coarsely chop into a colander.

Add the rest of the ingredients and allow sauce to simmer while preparing the jars and canner.

simmer for a thicker salsa

Canning tip: Always have surplus containers ready. It’s difficult to figure out exact amounts. I had to scramble at last minute with this because I thought the batch would only make 10-12 pints.

Refer to a good reference book on canning for the process of preparing jars or check out Ball’s helpful website.

Process for 15 minutes in hot water boiling bath. I add five minutes to adjust to our 1,000 feet plus altitude.

heat for winter

This is our third year of making salsa together this way, and we finally have a good system in place and the test is always in the tasting. This year’s salsa is our best yet. It has a good consistency and excellent flavor without sending us to the volunteer fire department around the corner.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with making salsa. I’m always impressed with the variety of recipes to try.

Garden Art

peppers as art

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Vegetables are works of art as well as sustenance. Last year, we had an abundance of cayenne peppers so I decided they would become a decoration in the kitchen. I strung them up and hung them in front of a cupboard with some of my favorites dishes. When I need a little zest while cooking, I pull off one of the dried beauties and my artful creation becomes a part of our dinner.

decorating and cooking with cayenne

We had some small pumpkins crop up earlier in the summer – we’re not sure where they came from, but they’re too small to eat. In contrast, while we were on vacation some of our yellow squash turned into yellow bats. I turned both into a centerpiece.

garden centerpieces

My husband doesn’t like to be outdone in the decorating department. Since he does grow all the vegetables, I guess he needs an outlet for his artistic abilities. It’s just not the way I would do it.

vegetable decorating by Robert

Grilled Pizza

Pizza ingredients

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

This recipe is one I’ve been perfecting over the past several years, and best made with the freshest of tomatoes from the garden. Pizza is personal. I’m giving you the way I make it, but you may find other toppings you like better.

Just like with pie, it all starts with the crust. You can buy pizza dough, but this recipe is pretty basic and easy to make.

rising dough

Pizza dough

1 pkg. dry yeast

1 cup warm water

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp salt

2 ½ cups flour (all unbleached white or use half white and half whole wheat)

Olive oil

Beat yeast, sugar, and water until well blended. Let rest for a few minutes. Add salt and flour and mix until dough forms. Knead on floured board until smooth (3-5 minutes). Place in a warm bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with damp towel and leave in a warm spot. Allow to rise until dough doubles (approximately an hour). Punch down dough and roll into oblong roll on floured board. (I usually cut dough in half and place one portion in a zip-lock and freeze). Cut into 10-12 (full dough recipe) or 5-6 pieces and roll into a ball.

ready to roll

Roll out each piece into a thin circle and place on cookie coated with olive oil. Grill @400 degrees Fahrenheit on side with oil for two minutes or until a crust forms on the one side.

The trickiest part of the whole process is making sure the crusts don’t burn on the grill. You know your grill best. I’ve learned to do this by trial and error and mostly by hovering near the grill and watching.

After one side is grilled, make sure cookie sheet is still coated with olive oil and place crusts back on the cookie sheet with grilled side up. You are now ready to put the ingredients on top of the grilled side.

Pizza toppings

(For 6 pizzas – double if using full recipe of dough)

3-4 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

1 sweet or hot banana pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

8 oz. mozzarella cheese

Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste

Place sliced tomatoes on the grilled side of crust. Sprinkle minced garlic evenly on top of tomatoes to taste. Salt and pepper the tomatoes to taste. Sprinkle basil and feta. Put on peppers. Finish with the mozzarella cheese. You’re now ready to put back on the hot grill.


You must be very careful at this point so you don’t burn the bottom of the crusts. Again, I’ve had to learn from practice. For my gas grill (which is very old), this method works the best. I put the pizzas on the hot grill and shut the cover leaving burners on high. After 2-3 minutes (without opening the lid), I turn off the grill and let the pizzas sit while the grill cools down. After 20 minutes, the cheese is melted and the crusts are not burned. Sometimes I take the pizzas on the cookie sheet and place under the broiler for one minute to ensure a bubbly cheesy top.



I’d love to hear about your experiences with grilling pizza. It’s been fun to taste and test this recipe over the years. It’s one my daughter asks for whenever she visits so hopefully when she’s here in October, we’ll still have some tomatoes.

9/11 – A Time to Try Men’s Souls

Note: I wrote this column in 2001 right after 9/11. I republish it today in honor of all the victims of eleven years ago.


“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Thomas Paine, 1776, The American Crisis

Thomas Paine

 By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Two centuries later Thomas Paine’s words serve as a guide for our nation’s pain during the past several weeks.

The pain is evident in the voices and faces of those who speak of the events of September 11. Some people constantly read and watch the news. Others turn from it, hoping it will go away. Still others try to stay away from reading and listening, but are inexplicably drawn to the media like the moths come to the candle burning brightly on my porch.

I have a friend who is a state trooper in Michigan. He has been out of uniform for years now, working as a detective. Last week he was ordered to Lansing to be fitted for a uniform. All the state troopers in Michigan received the order.

“. . .lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake,” Paine wrote.

Someone told me about his sister who runs all the restaurants in the Jacksonville Airport. They have removed steak from the menus. The restaurants all sit inside the security check areas where steak knives were used daily. It’s too easy to walk away with one in a pocket or purse or backpack and board the plane.

“. . .God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent,” Paine believed.

I struggle daily with feelings of revenge and hopes for peace. However, I know that we as a nation will not survive in the world if we don’t do something to give meaning to the deaths of so many. From the rubble we have risen strong, and we must show terrorists of destruction that we are a nation of strengths brought together by the beliefs of democracy, and even with the diversity of our cultures, we all love our country.

“ ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death,” Paine predicted.

This morning I walked along the road trying to clear my head and push aside the heaviness of depression, which has threatened to smother me since September 11. I began to look around me and lose myself in nature. Flowers bloomed everywhere along the roadside. Goldenrod, asters in yellow and white, and wild morning glories waved at me as I breathed in the cool air and looked to the sky forgetting for once the fear of seeing planes overhead. Instead two birds flew low perhaps looking for berries among the wildflowers.


For the first time in weeks, I felt hope.

“I love the man that can smile at trouble; that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection,” Paine noted in parentheses as an afterthought to his dissertation on fighting the British.

Towers of Light

And so I gather hope in fleeting moments and hold it close in order to make sense of the chaos of the world. I hope we will forget our petty differences and forget about discriminating against others just because they are different.

I have hope that as a nation we can rise above partisanship and simply work as one to maintain the principles of this country set forth by our forefathers. And I hope the closeness established between families and friends who have taken the time to reach out to one another does not leave when the threats and insecurities of the past few weeks no longer lay like a cloud above our heads. I still have hope we can love one another through all this mess and remain loyal to our principles.

“These are the time that try men’s souls,” but once those souls have been tried, it is the valiant and strong and fair whose souls remain intact and continue to hope for a better world.


Fall Flowers

Once upon a pond

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

As summer fades into fall, the flowers continue to bloom. We inherited a small pond with our house, but the pond was not visible from the house or even the yard. It didn’t make sense to us, and we couldn’t keep the maple trees’ dropping from clogging up both the oxygen and the pump. Chopping down the maple trees was never an option, but filling in the pond was. I planted annuals in there this summer, but hope to get some wildflower seeds in the ground in late fall. Maybe next year the “once upon a pond” will be bursting with wildflowers.

sunflower as bird feeder

Sunflowers grace the edge of our vegetable garden. Right now the bees are drunk on their pollen, but within a few weeks, the birds will be munching on their seeds. We never know what we’re going to get when we plant the sunflowers, but each year the color and variety surprise and delight us.

We plant annuals in the front of the house, alongside all the inherited landscaping plants. Some of the choices made by the former owners make no sense such as planting dozen of hosta plants in full sun. They look fantastic for about one week in early spring, and then the sun turns them brown and yellow. Slowly, I plan to replace them with full sun-loving plants. We like to plant marigolds because they are easy to start from seed, and they bloom all through the summer and fall. This year we added dahlias. Most of the plants survived the extreme heat and drought of our summer.

dahlias and marigolds started from seed

Last year we had lots of zinnias, but this year none of the seeds took. However, some volunteers popped up out front along with two tomato plants (we used compost under the mulch). We usually pull out the tomato volunteers, but this year we had some empty spots and decided to see what happens. There are little tomatoes on the plants. We might be able to have fresh tomatoes through October – since it’s only two plants, covering them shouldn’t be too difficult if we do get an early frost.


Someone gave us a packet of cosmos seeds so my husband gave them a try. They’ve been a beautiful addition to the front yard this year.

cosmos gift

I savor these final days of summer, and with a little help from our flowers, fall will be welcomed with color and beauty as the days flutter by.

the original flutter by


Fallingwater – the melding of nature and man

Bear Run rushing over rocks at Fallingwater


By Patricia Zick @PCZick

There’s a missing element from the photos of Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. The sound of Bear Run resounds through the trees as it races over rocks to meet the Youghiogheny River in the valley below Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of organic architecture. Roaring waterfalls echo throughout the inside and outside space, impossible to capture in a photo.

Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann owned Pittsburgh’s largest department store, and they owned property ninety miles away in the Laurel Highlands, a part of the Appalachians. In the middle of the property, Bear Run flows over rocky waterfalls. The Kaufmanns brought Wright to the property in 1934. The roar must have left an imprint on the architect because when the Kaufmanns asked where they might build on the property, Wright gave them only one answer.

He told them he wanted to build their home over that waterfall, not to block it, but to become a part of it, just as a tree would grow out of the nearby hills. He envisioned a blending of the natural world using sandstone quarried right on the property and steel milled in Pittsburgh.

Bear Run under Fallingwater

I’ve visited the site twice now, both times in the summer. I’m ready to go back in a few months to experience the house surrounded in the glory of fall colors.

The dichotomy of Frank Lloyd Wright struck me on my most recent visit.

The man’s personal life screamed in tabloid headlines. His early success with the prairie house lay shattered as commissions dropped to nothing. Yet his vision for Fallingwater expresses tranquility, a peaceful joining with nature.

Wright wanted to blend with nature rather than to control it. He built around a giant boulder on the hillside. The boulder provides a shelf in the kitchen and a seat next to the fireplace in the living room. It also extends out from the house reaching toward one of the many balconies cantilevered out from the steel supports. Yet he sought absolute control over the layout of the house. Wright built the furniture – couches, headboards for beds, desks, tables –into the walls. The tour guide said Wright did that so the owners of the home couldn’t alter his design. Legend has it Mr. Kaufmann balked at the small surface area of the desk in his bedroom. Wright refused to change the design until Mr. Kaufmann told him, “The desk you’ve designed is too small for me to write the check to pay you.” Wright changed the design to expand the desktop.

House was built around the boulder to left of cantilevered balconies.

Wright designed Fallingwater not to encapsulate its visitors, but to open them to the outdoors. He hated square boxy structures, yet Fallingwater resembles a teetering tower of boxes from the outside. Inside is a different matter. Upon entering each room, nature greets the occupants, the Cherokee red steel supports give way to sandstone walls, and floors and windows open to the sky above, the trees around, and the water below.

Corner of living room – sky above and water below

Steps from living room lead to Bear Run

From every corner, the roar of water permeates the living space as Bear Run cascades over the rocks under the home.

Contradictions aside, Fallingwater is a masterpiece of ingenuity.

Boxes on outside – open to nature inside

A hallway leading to the walkway to the guesthouse is host to skylights and an original Diego Rivera (one of two in the house, along with two Picasso’s). The back wall abuts the side of the hill where water flows from the hilltop. Instead of fighting nature, Wright created a wall as waterfall, which allows the water do what it will do.

He might have believed in controlling his clients, but he knew better than to tell Mother Nature what to do.

If you go:

Admission: $22.00

Location: Fallingwater is located in SW Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands and 90 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. The home sits in a scenic, wooded setting on PA Route 381 between the quaint villages of Mill Run and Ohiopyle.

Phone #: 724-329-8501

Website: http://www.fallingwater.org