From Virtual to Live Friend

Rachelle and P.C.

Rachelle and P.C.

I’m fortunate to have a load of virtual friends and fellow authors through my blogs and my writers’ group. When I first started my leap into Indie Authordom, one person appeared in my online life and has remained constant. She writes under the name, Rachelle Ayala, and she was the first to appear on my Author Wednesday posts over at Writing Whims.

I’ve read all her books and reviewed them. I belong to two writing online groups in which she’s involved. I even joined a class she’s teaching on how to write a romance in a month.

We’ve exchanged personal emails and feel we know one another through our novels and through our personal sharing, yet we’ve never laid eyes on one another, until yesterday.

Rachelle posted that she was visiting Pittsburgh and I told her she would be in my part of the world. She invited me to join her and her sister for lunch at the Frick Estate about an hour from my house. I was nervous about this meeting–the first time I’d ventured out to meet one of my very dear and treasured online friends. What if it was awkward, or worse, we disliked one another on sight?

Not to worry. Rachelle is even more delightful in person. And with a mansion more than one hundred years old. we wandered the grounds and house, imagining putting characters in the settings surrounding us.

My literal work world has shrunk in the past two years to a 10 x 10 office. But the world is much closer than ever before, and I’m all the richer for it. Otherwise, how else would have met such a wonderful woman and writer who lives on the other side of the country from me?

Click here for Rachelle Ayala’s Author Central Page on Amazon.


#Oil Spills Continue

Last December, scientists announced that dolphins in Louisiana were experiencing lung diseases and low birthrates in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that released more than 636 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Now, researchers have also found evidence of potentially lethal heart defects in two species of tuna and one species of amberjack — all economically important species for commercial fisheries. This news, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today, comes less than a week after the announcement that BP will once again be allowed to explore the Gulf of Mexico for oil. . .

. . .But a BP spokesperson contacted The Verge to state that “the paper provides no evidence to suggest a population-level impact on tuna, amberjack, or other pelagic fish species in the Gulf of Mexico,” as the “oil concentrations used in the lab experiments were rarely seen in the Gulf during or after the Deepwater Horizon accident.”


To top off my morning of reading, I read that a tanker has spilled oil into Lake Michigan, which occurred less than two weeks after the United States lifted BP’s ban on seeking new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. (Click here for complete article)


Four years ago, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. I handled all the media and public relations for a bold effort by scientists to save sea turtle hatchlings from the oil encroaching on Florida’s offshore habitats and beaches.

Photo by P.C. Zick

Photo by P.C. Zick

Today, four years later with two more oil spills threatening our environment and innocent wildlife, I ask where will it all end?

The answer is not in giving up petroleum-based projects, but in forcing the industries involved in farming, harvesting, and producing fossil fuels to abide by safety standards and insisting that our enforcement agencies do their job.

Click on cover

Click on cover


My book Trails in the Sand follows the disaster of the BP oil spill and sea turtle nest rescue as the main character, an environmental writer, attempts to rescue her family from destruction.


National “I Am In Control” Day – No, really.

From good friend Lori Crane – these are so true and right.

Lori Crane

I-am-in-Control-Day-744938 It’s coming quick. Do something. March 30th is National “I am in Control” Day.

It commemorates the date in 1981 when Secretary of State Alexander Haig said, “I am in control here,” in response to an interview regarding the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Take control. Put your foot down. Show people you mean business.

Well, how in the world can I do that, you ask? Let’s start with the outside stuff.

1. Make sure your clocks are set accurately.

2. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors, flashlights, remotes, clocks.

3. Fix those dumb things in your life that you tend to ignore – the burnt out lightbulb in the closet, the loose doorknob in the garage, the broken tile in the kitchen, the non-working blinker on your car.

4. Make appointments for those things you neglect – the dentist, the financial planner, the mammogram.

5. Organize those little places…

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If You Can’t Garden, Clean!!!

What's Green with Betsy?!?

Happy Spring!  Whether it feels like spring or not, there is a psychological lift to just spotting a crocus or two and knowing that winter is officially over.  It may be too early to start gardening, but it’s not too early to start a thorough spring cleaning!

If you don’t already use non-toxic cleaners, now is the time to switch!  Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies among other diseases. Fortunately you can find several brands of non-toxic cleaning supplies at your local grocery store and many of the conventional brands are now making a less toxic product.  Be sure to read the ingredients though; some products claim to be “natural” when they really aren’t. Visit Environmental Working Group’s Cleaners database “Hall of Shame”

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#Civil War Journal on Special #Sale

Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, the memoir of my great grandfather, is on a Kindle Countdown deal this week. March 22 and 23, the Kindle version is only .99 cents. On March 24, it goes up to $1.99 for four days, before reverting back to its original price. If you haven’t downloaded the journal yet, here’s your change to take advantage of this special offer. The book is also available in paperback for $6.93.

Here’s an excerpt from 152 years ago this week. Harmon Camburn brings the sights, sounds, and sensibilities of the regular infantry soldier to light with his riveting prose.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page


March 21, 1862 – The bugle sounded “Strike Tents.” Taking the road up Hampton Creek a mile or so, we crossed the bridge and passed through the ruins of Hampton. This was the oldest town and had the oldest church in Virginia. The rebel cavalry general, Wade Hampton, occupied this place through the winter with the Hampton Legion. Upon the approach of the “Yankees,” he fired the town and retreated. The town was entirely destroyed, but the greatest regret felt for the loss of the old church, said to have been built by John Smith of brick brought from England.

Leaving the blackened ruins of this little hamlet behind, we soon pitched our tents near Back River about five miles form Newport News Point. In this camp, we passed the next two weeks. The rain fell almost continually and the ground became a sea of soft mud through which it was difficult to move. Troops were arriving and going into camp around us every day. The enemy was in possession of the other side of the river and picket duty came around often. A night on picket in the rain was not much relieved by a day under our pup tents. We were not yet used to accommodating ourselves to such close quarters, but it was discovered that a third half tent, turned corner-wise would button on to the others and close up the end. This and other discoveries afterward enabled us to make ourselves comparatively comfortable.

I had often noticed in Virginia a small thicket in the midst of cultivated ground. In an intermission between showers one day, I explored one of these and found it to be, as I did others after, a family burying ground. The tombstones were common sandstone and lay flat upon the ground. Rudely chiseled upon their rough surface was the name, date of birth, date of death, and sometimes a brief epitaph. The date of death on one was 1711. I saw others ranging along to 1790. It seems disgraceful that these old burial places should be neglected to grow up on tangled thickets and plowed around like any difficult obstruction.

While our regiment was on picket along the river one day, men were discovered lurking in the woods on the opposite bank. A peremptory order enforced with loaded muskets brought them over the river. There were seven of them, and they proved to be Negro slaves escaped from Yorktown. They were in a starving condition, and one of them died the same night. Twenty-four of them had escaped from Yorktown, an easy day’s march from us, four weeks before. They had concealed themselves by day in ditches and wandered by night in search of the “Yankees.” Seventeen had died by the way from hunger and exposure, and one died just after reaching the goal of their desire. They gave important information concerning the enemy’s fortifications, position, and strength. The survivors were employed as servants by our officers. This incident shows that slaves will risk their lives for freedom.


Time to Come Clean

I’m a writer in all that I do, but for the past year I’ve hidden from exposing myself too much. Now that it’s all over, I find it’s time to speak out and lend my voice to something that’s affecting baby boomers in larger numbers every year.

It’s the silent disease, and after AIDS, it’s the most shameful disease of all because of its association with drug addicts, even today.  I discovered the stigma as I began my journey for treatment of Hepatitis C in 2013. There may be some headway, if this commercial from that’s playing frequently on the airwaves is any indication.

My journey began in 1975, and I was twenty-one years old. I was in my second year of college paid for with scholarships and student loans. I worked full time and took a full load of classes. I didn’t have health insurance, and I didn’t have the financial support of parents. I developed a pimple at the base of my spine that grew and grew, filling with liquid until it was hot to the touch with a size somewhere between a golf and tennis ball. Finally, when I couldn’t sit any longer, my roommate took me to the emergency room where I was immediately admitted and prepped for surgery for the removal of an abscessed and infected pilonidal cyst.

My brother and mother came to the hospital as I went under the knife to puncture and drain the cyst. I lost lots of blood and my brother and mother were asked to give blood, but they weren’t my blood type. I was given a blood transfusion with blood from the local bank. At that time, anyone could go to a blood bank and give blood in return for $10. Anyone meaning mostly drug addicts in need of a quick few bucks. It wasn’t until the 1990s that blood was screened to prevent injecting someone with HIV or hepatitis or some other blood-borne disease.

I recovered from my surgery and the cyst never made another appearance. I lived my life unaware that on that day in a hospital in Lansing, Michigan, a doctor introduced an unnamed virus into my blood.

In 2008, after a routine full-blood work up, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which is transmitted through the blood, most often through needle sharing and blood transfusions. Health care practitioners, prior to the development of safety standards, are also susceptible. But unfortunately, the stigma of drug addict still follows the victims of this disease that affects the liver and untreated can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis. Hep C can also lie dormant and undetected for decades as it did in my case.

My doctor determined after a liver biopsy that I was in a safe category to wait five years or so until the treatment for Hep C improved. So I lived my life and forgot most of the time I had the virus. I imagined myself in the very tiny percentage of folks who have it disappear for no discernible reason. My doctors never told me this–I surmised it from my reading and my ability to live in denial.

By 2013, I could no longer live in denial. The Hep C virus, while silent, caused another complication called cryoglobulins, a bad protein produced by the liver that essentially causes the blood to pool and can attack the body anywhere at anytime. Mine attacked the nerves in my legs and in my left arm. It took several months to be diagnosed and for the Hep C to be called the culprit. In that time, the cryo destroyed two major nerves in both legs and one in my left arm. My feet are numb most of the time and are ice cold to the touch. I have no feeling in my little left finger and a permanent weakness exists in my left hand. Before it could go any further in my body and destroy an organ, I began the grueling treatment for Hepatitis C.

The treatment had improved in its effectiveness, but it was still a horrendous seven-month process. My doctors gave me a 75 percent chance for killing the Hep C virus, and a 60 percent chance of abating the cryoglobulins. Before I began treatments, a psychiatrist had to declare me strong enough mentally to begin treatments. Major side effects of the three-cocktail drugs all include depression. That over and declared ready to begin, I then had to take a class for administering the pills and shots and understanding all the side effects. The class was taught by a representative from the pharmaceutical company.

“Be careful who you tell about your illness,” he said to begin the four-hour class. “People will judge you if you tell them.”

The week before, during an EMG to test the damage of my nerves, the neurologist running the test said, “So you’ve got Hep C. My uncle died of that. He was a drug addict.”

I ignored him, but he continued as he poked needles in my arm trying to determine the level of nerve damage.

“I worked on the East side of Manhattan, and the only Hep C patients we had were heroin addicts and homosexuals.”

I clinched my teeth and prayed to God for my own set of needles to use on this insensitive doctor, I was trusting to poke and prod my arm.

I found my doctor and her nurse practitioner to be a little brisk with me in our initial meetings. In fact, my husband didn’t like the doctor at all. After one of the first appointments, the nurse looked at me and asked me to promise one thing.

“What?” I asked.

“Promise me you won’t take any new drugs.”

“Of course not; you folks are the ones prescribing my drugs.”

Later my husband and I decided that every one of the professionals we’d seen so far assumed I was a drug addict. I will say as soon as my doctors and nurses realized I never missed an appointment, and I kept to the strict regimen, and I asked intelligent questions about my illness and treatment, their behavior toward me changed. When I told the doctor about the blood transfusion in 1978, which I’d forgotten about until my brother reminded me, she almost leaped for joy at the news and wrote quickly in her notes.

The day the doctor announced that the virus was no longer detectable, we both had tears in our eyes, and I received hugs all around. In two weeks, I go for my final blood work, and if comes back at zero detection, I will be set free. The cryo seems to be at rest for now as well, but I’m still being treated for that.

I feel better having written this post. Why did I write it? I wrote it to make an attempt to do away with the stigma attached to this disease so others don’t have to feel the shame I’ve felt this past year. For months, I’ve kept hidden from everyone, except my closest family and friends, what I had, and why I was receiving “chemo-like” treatments. When asked what I had, I told them it was a rare virus. I even found out a very good friend made up a story for her family about my illness. It all hurt me at a time when I needed support and kindness.

I’ve heard that new drugs are being developed that will be even more effective and less invasive on a person’s body. Toward the end of my treatment, my hair began falling out in handfuls. Today, my hair is the shortest it’s been since I was a toddler, but it’s new hair, and it represents my good health and new appreciation of life.

thorny starfish

thorny starfish

#Love and #Gardening Go Together

DSC03106Here’s our yard in February 2014. It’s hard to be excited about gardening, but my husband usually manages to bring a little spring into our home every winter. However, this year he’s had a  few rough months, starting with our trip to Mexico in October. Finally, now in the first week of March, he’s showing signs of improvement after the final diagnosis of chronic diffused sinusitis and asthma.

His lack of energy, weight loss, and nagging cough worried me. But nothing worried me more than the day Robert looked at me after a particularly bad bout of coughing.

“I don’t think I can put a garden in this year,” he said. His shoulders drooped, and life seemed to have fled his eyes.

That one statement scared me more than anything else. My husband has never not had a garden. He grew up working with his father in his garden, and since he’s lived on his own, he’s always grown food. For him to give up gardening is to give up on living.

Robert's garden 2013

Robert’s garden 2013

The next few weeks saw little improvement as I hovered and continued to push him back to life. Then slowly it began to happen two weeks ago. He perked up and ordered a few seeds  from the dozens of catalogs arriving daily. He read about grafted tomato plants that resisted disease and asked me to order a few of them for delivery in April. I held my breath, until yesterday, when I knew we’d turned a corner. At brunch, I ordered an omelet stuffed with spinach. I said it tasted fresh but not quite as fresh as his straight from the garden.

“I need to get spinach seeds started this week,” he said. “We need to get those in the ground this month.”

“Welcome back,” I said as I reached for his hand.the leaves

Here’s one of my favorite winter recipes, using our tomato sauce and spinach we froze the previous spring.

Meatless Lasagna


We enjoy this meal in the winter, using our canned tomato sauce and frozen spinach. You can do any variation you’d like, such as adding more vegetables or meat. I’ve developed this recipe over many years until I’ve finally found the right formula for having lasagna that is tasty and not liquidy when pulled out of the pan. One of the keys is to make the lasagna with raw noodles.

Ingredients – Gather all ingredients together before layering

7-8 cups tomato sauce

Lasagna noodles, raw (doesn’t use an entire box, but about 2/3)

l lb. mozzarella cheese

¾ cup of parmesan cheese

Filling – mix together the following ingredients

2 ½ cups cottage cheese (you can use ricotta, but I prefer cottage)

2 cups chopped and cooked spinach (frozen or fresh; this amount is for spinach cooked)

2 eggs

salt, pepper to taste

dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 13” x 9” x 2”, begin layering as follows:

Small layer of sauce on bottom of pan

Raw noodles

½ of filling

1/3 of sauce

½ of mozzarella cheese

Raw noodles

Rest of filling

Another 1/3 of sauce

Rest of mozzarella cheese

Raw noodles

Rest of sauce

Parmesan (or Romano works as well)

Cover and bake 60 minutes. Uncover and bake for additional 10 minutes. Take out of oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving. Freezes exceptionally well, and it’s even better as leftovers the next day.

This recipe and many more can be found in our book From Seed to Table, available both on Kindle and in paperback.

Click here

Click here