Serendipity at Sixty

Serendipity in San Antonio

Serendipity in San Antonio

Next month a milestone birthday visits me when I turn sixty years old. Sixty? Are you kidding me? How can I be sixty when I still feel thirty?

I’ve become more intro- and retrospective this year because I know for sure I’m beyond what we refer to as “middle-aged.” And I’m not sure how it happened.

Serendipity seems to follow me these days, or perhaps because I’m contemplating my life from all angles, I’m much more aware of those things. The latest serendipitous moment occurred this week when I traveled to San Antonio with my husband, who was attending a conference in the river city. I happened to be cruising on Facebook our second morning here when I saw that my childhood friend, Jodi, was also in San Antonio visiting her son and family.

Such a serious child

We grew up together in a small Michigan town. Her family lived four doors up from me, and Jodi and her brothers were my only childhood friends until I started school. My mother was very protective of me, and I was not allowed to play much outside of my own side and back yard. So Jodi and Jimbo often came to me, thankfully. I didn’t have a happy childhood for the most part, but Jodi’s free spirit and friendly smile brought some of my happiest memories to me there on Cherry Street.

Jodi moved to Denver, and I moved to Florida. We lost contact with one another until the advent of Facebook, where we reconnected once again. We met up at her house two years ago in Colorado when we traveled there from our home in Pittsburgh for yet another conference. It was lovely meeting her husband, seeing her house, and catching up.

So when I saw she was in the same city, I messaged her, and we met for lunch yesterday, without the hubbies. It was a lunch where we lost track of time–Jodi was almost late for picking up her granddaughter from preschool.

Here’s what I most enjoyed about the lunch: I’ve known this woman since my earliest memories, which means I’ve known her almost sixty years. We’ve borne children, gone through serious and fun times without each other knowing; we bear some lovely white hairs, have a few wrinkles around our eyes, and we’ve lost loved ones. Yet as I sat there amid the dirty plates and mostly empty margarita glasses, I saw her as the young playmate who brought her toys down to play with me in my yard. And I realized that because of this pretty woman sitting across from me, I do have some childhood memories worth remembering.

When Elvis walked by our table in his white cape and pumped-up black hair, our day was complete, even though he ignored our requests of a photo with him. He didn’t even throw us a scarf as he left the building. But we giggled like ten-year old kids when he swept by without a word.

Serendipity is the “phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for” according to Merriam-Webster. Our lunch together was both valuable and agreeable, so if turning sixty means these phenomena happen more frequently, then bring it on. I’m ready.feather

Serendipity can come softly like a feather floating down from the sky or it can hit us like a sledgehammer on the head. No matter how it enters my life, I’m ready to embrace it.

Do you recognize serendipity when it floats softly into your life?


The Well-Traveled Tomato Seeds

toms!By Patricia Zick @PCZick

We recently flew to Florida for a working vacation. When I put my large suitcase on the scales, it weighed in at sixty-one pounds.

“Either lighten the load or pay $90,” the airline agent said.

My husband went for the zipper of my suitcase. He pulled out four ping-pong paddles.

“Why are you taking those?” I asked.

“Because there’s a ping-pong table at the conference, but they have lousy paddles,” he said. He put the paddles in his briefcase — work-related materials. He lost at ping-pong last year when he played with a colleague, and for an entire year, blamed it on the hotel’s paddles.

Next, he pulled out a bulky plastic bag I hadn’t packed.

“My golf shoes wouldn’t fit in my suitcase,” he said. Those he squeezed into my briefcase. Another work-related item because his boss asked him to play golf. “You can rent clubs, but not shoes,” he told me as the scales announced we’d removed six pounds.

“Got to get rid of a few more things,” the agent said as I wondered how I’d manage to haul my now bulging briefcase.

My husband wasn’t finished. He pulled out a Tupperware container filled with packages of seeds and folded paper towels. Then he fished around some more and found Lleweylln’s 2013 Moon Sign Book, which contains a gardening guide for “conscious living by the cycles of the moon.”

“I need to start tomato seeds while we’re gone,” he said.

Even while traveling, the garden manages to come with us.

During the second quarter of February’s moon on February 22, 2013, my husband went into the bathroom of our hotel room  and layered damp paper towel sheets (the thinnest and cheapest kind of paper towel — that’s why he travels with them) over sprinklings of tomato seeds.

tomato seeds sprouting - from Florida to Colorado to Pennsylvania

tomato seeds sprouting – from Florida to Colorado to Pennsylvania

He usually starts them closer to March 1, but he believes in following the cycle of the moon for all phases of the planting stage, and this year that occurred in the third week of February. Who’s to argue with him? He’s been gardening for forty years with great success.

Robert's Garden 2012

Robert’s Garden 2012

“I like to start fruits with seeds during the second quarter,” he told me. “I’ll start some more during March’s second quarter so they’re not all coming in at once.”


The Moon Sign Book quotes Lao Tzu for the week of February 17-23: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” My husband knows himself, as well as knowing all he grows.

I remained in Florida when he flew to Denver for another conference. Guess what he took with him? That’s right, the container with tomato seeds beginning to sprout. A few days ago, he flew home to Pittsburgh where the container now rests in our bedroom on a dresser.

Maybe we can enter this year’s crop of tomatoes in the “Most Traveled Vegetable Seed” contest, if there is one. Let’s hope the tomatoes win because the golf and ping-pong matches didn’t fare so well, despite my husband’s best smuggling efforts, using my suitcase.

The seedlings went into small pots on March 2 and sit under grow lights along with onions, parsley, and lettuce.

Real Local Food - tomatoes ripening on the vine

Real Local Food – tomatoes ripening on the vine

Soon he’ll start spinach seeds. They only take three weeks to a month before they’re ready to go into the ground. He likes to start those seeds during the first quarter, which begins March 11. Again, he’ll start them in batches so we have spinach until the summer heat makes them bolt. I love having extra spinach to freeze (see my post on preserving spinach). We’re still eating it once a week and have enough to last until we can eat it fresh again.

Spinach 2012

Spinach 2012




That’s the gardening news from western Pennsylvania. What’s going on with your garden right now?


Rocky Mountain Majesty

Rocky Mountain Majesty

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

On our recent visit to Denver, we managed a day for leaving the city and driving north. It’s a dramatic drive because Denver is flat, but the mountains are a vision on the horizon. The tour guide Moon Handbook – Denver suggested the Peak-to-Peak Byway, “if you just want to enjoy the scenery at your own pace with lots of stops or none at all.” We chose the lots of stops version.

Blackhawk to Estes Park is about a 55-mile trip, but we turned it into more than a hundred mile trek that left us plenty of time for seeing some of the most beautiful vistas known to man, until the next one appeared.

Our first detour occurred when we saw the sign for Idaho Springs.

“That’s the home of Tommyknocker brewery,” my husband said. It happened to be one of our favorite brewers.

Idaho Springs, Colorado

We turned the car around and made the ten-mile detour for lunch. We enjoyed our Indian pale ales and a lunch of black beans and fish tacos.

When in Rome or Idaho Springs. . .

Back on the route again, we traveled parallel to the Continental Divide. The aspen trees were beginning to turn and at certain points, we came to colorful patches of the trees.

aspens displaying their true colors

They call the route Peak-to-Peak for a reason – we went in the crevices from one peak to another with views of Mount Meeker, Longs, Pawnee, and Ouizel peaks. We stopped at the visitor’s center near Longs Peak where a ranger convinced us needed to take another detour.

herd of elks

“It costs $20 at the entrance to the national park,” he said. “But you won’t be sorry in the least.”

He was right. We entered the Rocky Mountain National Park at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on Route 36. Then we began the climb to the alpine region of the park. We went around curves with no guardrails; we saw bulls herding their female elks; we went to the highest point on any paved road in the United States (12,183 feet); and we went where the trees don’t grow. We were in the clouds and looked down on the smaller peeks – those midgets of only 10,000 feet.

View from highest point

We came back down the mountain as the sun began its descent as well. The lowering sun made dark shadows on the mountains creating dark patches on my photos.

deep shadows

Rocky Mountain Majesty at its finest.

Steller’s jay

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.