FLORIDA GARDENING

 

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House painting in progress

 

We’ve been in Florida since November. The time has flown as we’ve been taking back a house that had been a rental property for six years. We tore out the kitchen and replaced it with new cupboards, counters, and appliances. We painted most rooms and had renovations done in the bathrooms. And then in January, we tackled the exterior of the house turning it from gray to barn red. We love the results.

But through it all, my gardener husband, Robert, studied and planned and then he built. He sowed seeds and planted. We now have a 20 x 4 raised bed garden, a small herb plot (that was already here but filled with weeds), and three fruit trees planted.

Peas

Peas climbing

 

He’s been pulling seedling trays outside and then back in at night under grow lights. These will go to our cabin in Murphy, which he plans on putting in next month. Finally, this week he built a cold frame, which is large enough to be a guest bedroom, so those plants can just stay outside permanently until they’re ready for the ground.

 

ColdFrame

The Cold Frame

We only have a few months left to enjoy the Florida garden, but that’s all right. It will be a delicious two months. We’re eating lettuce and spinach every day now. Herbs are lush and green and grace every meal. Pea pods are forming, and the broccoli and cabbage appear to be doing well. Bush beans will be ready for consumption soon. What we can’t eat, will be blanched and frozen.

 

 

herb-beans

Beans and Herbs

When I prepared to roast a chicken the other day, I chuckled and hummed, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” and that’s precisely what I put in the pot with the chicken.

 

Robert has found the best of all possible worlds for a gardener–year round gardening. And I am the lucky recipient of all his hard labor. It’s a good life.

NATURE WORKS MAGIC

dsc03807A weekend spent enjoying the wonders of where we live helped fight the anxiety of the past few months. Nature always rejuvenates me and inspires me to continue. If the bald eagle, the great blue heron, the white ibis, and the anhinga can survive the loss of habitat and invasion by humans, then I can survive the political turmoil occurring wherever I turn, except when I’m surrounded by blue skies, water, and wildlife. Enjoy my little photo journey and inhale its curative powers. (Photos by P.C. Zick from St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and Wakulla Springs State Park, both lovely spots less than thirty minutes from our home in Tallahassee.)

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WINTER SOLSTICE CHEER

DSC03760.JPG After spending the past five years in the north, I am happy to return to the place where I lived for so many years in north Florida. We spent some time this past weekend taking advantage of nice weather while sending some of our warm thoughts back to those of you in the throes of an early onset of winter.

Tonight, it’s a bit chilly outside, but remembering the time spent on the Wakulla River and at Wakulla Springs warms me. For the winter solstice, I hope to light a fire in the yard in a symbolic gesture for hope in 2017.

I wish you all the happiness of the season and peace in your life. Take a break from wrapping presents, baking cookies, cleaning house, and shopping to see how the “wild” side spends the holidays.

FLORIDA FICTION – GRAB A COPY FOR #FREE!

Good morning – I’m running a special offer this week. If you haven’t read any of the books from my Florida Fiction series, now is the chance to grab the first two for free. All three books are stand alone novels. Each one has its own cast of characters and political, romantic, and environmental issues facing them. Let’s start with the first one.

TORTpsdTortoise Stew – FREE May 11-15 – The first book in the series follows the antics of rural small town Florida politicians, developers, reporters, and environmentalists. All of them have something to hide and the events that start unfold as Monster Mart tries to take over the town with trucks and warehouses.

Blurb:  When a bomb is left on reporter Kelly Sand’s desk, she’s determined to find out who wants her to stop reporting on corporate growth in rural Florida. The open threat thrusts Kelly back into the arms of her editor and former lover, Bart Stanley.

Together, the two begin to unravel the master plan of major developers who want to destroy the last vestiges of Florida’s natural beauty. Tortoise Stew is a satire on political crime and Florida sensibilities.

A sometimes humorous, often harrowing, and never boring Florida suspense novel, Tortoise Stew contains a cast of characters who leave dead armadillos as calling cards, dynamite ponds as a way to fish, and carry guns under Santa Claus costumes during the annual Christmas parade.

Through it all, the steamy relationship between Kelly and Bart heats up to blistering hot as they rediscover what brought them together in the first place.

Click here to download.

Trails in the Sand - BookcoverTrails in the Sand – FREE May 11 and 12 – This book leaves rural Florida to concentrate on state issues when the oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig threatens to harm the wildlife and environment on Florida’s Panhandle. While a sweeping romance between Caroline and Simon reveals much more about the family, environmental issues create the disastrous background from the oil spill to a coal mine tragedy in West Virginia.

Blurb: Caroline Carlisle loved Simon from the moment she first laid eyes on him when she was nine years old. Unfortunately, he married her older sister, and thus set a southern family on a collision course with its past. After the death of her sister that makes Simon a widow, the two finally marry and attempt to make a family with Simon’s daughter Jodi. Jodi has other ideas, and they don’t include welcoming a new step-mother who also happens to be her aunt.

As Caroline starts to report on the oil spill threatening the sea turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, she begins to uncover the secret of her own mother’s past, which includes her brother’s suicide and a teenage pregnancy. With Caroline’s sharpened reporter skills, she digs until she brings all the secrets to light, including her own.

Click here to download.

NATIVE_WEBNative Lands – $2.99 Kindle – The final book in this series widens its scope to the whole state from St. Augustine and the Everglades and beyond. It also goes back in time to the original native Floridians who are also fighting the invasion of their world.

Blurb: When their environment is torn apart by a conglomerate of international interests, a tribe of native Floridians thought to be extinct rise up and form their own oddly matched conglomerate, and with the assistance of nature, attempt to halt the destruction of the natural world they treasure. Cultural boundaries established centuries ago are erased as love and nature seek the balance lost in the battle for power and control of the last of the Florida frontier. Native Lands is a novel rich in intrigue and history as a tribe of Native Americans, thought to be extinct, fight to save their beloved heritage. They join with others willing to sacrifice everything to save the Everglades and St. Augustine.

Click here to download.

There you have it! The three books in my Florida Fiction series. I’m also thrilled to announce that all three books are now available on Audible, narrated by the talented Jeffrey A. Hering of Hering Voices.

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Tortoise Stew

Trails in the Sand

Native Lands

 

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.

 

BRUSHING UP AGAINST FAME

A brush with Buddy Guy at his club in Chicago

A brush with Buddy Guy at his club in Chicago

Fame is fairly easy to achieve these days with the advent of social media. Criminals post their whereabouts on Facebook and even post video of the criminal act on YouTube The fame that might ensue entices and lures them to stupidity.

I’ll admit I’ve yearned for fame as a writer, but these days I’ll settle for adding “bestseller” to my author moniker. I’ve also brushed up against the famous, sometimes without even knowing it. In 2007, as my friend and our daughters began our Route 66 adventure in Chicago, we met the famous blues musician Buddy Guy. Yes, we took the obligatory photo, but he was gracious and precious to two giggling middle-aged women on an adventure.

As I wrote this post, I sat in the library. Two women were at computers next to me reading about the stars. “She’s beautiful, but wears too much makeup.” “He’s going to have his ninth child. I love him, but he’s going to be working the rest of his life.” “I can’t believe someone said that about her. She’s such a nice person.” They mentioned the names of the stars, but if they hadn’t, I would have thought they were taking about family. No, they were brushing up against fame as if the famous were a part of their lives.

In 2004, I visited a friend in Casablanca where she worked at the U.S. Consulate. Among her duties was the handling of Visas for U.S. citizens working and living in Morocco. One day, I visited her office to check my emails. She had gone to another office to work on some papers for an actor filming a movie in the desert. Before I went into her office, I chatted with a beautiful young woman in the lobby who was waiting for her boyfriend to get his Visa extended. She was enjoying Morocco, but she missed some things from home, such as her dog. We chatted for a few minutes before I headed to my friend’s computer. As I read missives from home, a young man with scraggly dark hair and a blue bandanna on his head came into the office and asked for my friend. He smiled sweetly when I pointed to another office nearby. Then I went back to work. A few minutes later, several young women ran into the office.

“Did you see him? Did he come in here?” They were giggling and bombarding me with questions.

“A young guy was here, and I sent him over there.” I pointed. “Why?”

OrlandoBloom“That was Orlando Bloom,” one of them said. “And his girlfriend, Kate Bosworth, is sitting in the lobby.”kate-bosworth-80284

Seems Mr. Bloom was in Morocco filming Kingdom of Heaven and his Visa has almost expired. He was an average looking dude with a nice smile. I felt nothing more for having encountered him and his then girlfriend. Nice folks, but I’d met many of them on this trip. They just joined the long list.

Why do we get so excited and flustered in the face of someone famous? They bleed and use the bathroom the same as the rest of us. I’ve never quite understood it, but I’ve felt the flush of nervousness when encountering it.

Several years ago when Charlie Crist was governor of Florida, I needed to get a quote from him on an article I was writing for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. I’d been assigned to write a piece on the agency’s Commission Chairman, who was friends with and appointed by Gov. Crist. The protocol for getting such a quote involves calling the press office, which I did, and then waiting for the press secretary to respond with a statement, supposedly from the governor. I waited patiently for the statement when late one afternoon my blackberry rang.Gov_charlie_crist

“Hello, Pat, this is Charlie Crist, and I understand you’re writing an article about my friend.”

I was certain one of my friends was pranking me because I had just started the job, and this was my first assignment. But then I recognized the voice I’d often heard on the news. Of course, I couldn’t find my notes for the piece, along with my questions.

“I’m a little nervous,” I admitted.

“Don’t be nervous, Pat. Let’s just chat.”

And so I chatted with the governor. Then when I’d finished asking him everything I could think of without my notes in front of me, I attempted to thank him.

“I’m sure you have plenty of other things to deal with besides helping me with this article,” I began. “Like, like. . .” My mind went blank. “Like water,” I finally blurted.

Really? Water? That’s all I had. Florida is a peninsula surrounded by sea water and dotted with rivers and lakes everywhere. He deals with water.

president_jimmy_carter_nobelPrior to my Charlie and Orlando encounters, I almost met another famous person. A friend and I were in Georgia and decided to visit Plains, the home of President Jimmy Carter. We went into the general store and the clerk told us if we stuck around, we might get a chance to meet the President and Mrs. Carter who were in the back room attending a luncheon. My friend and I wandered around the store set up as both a tourist attraction and museum to anything Carter. We stood in the aisle on the far side of the store, laughing at an unopened six-pack of Billy Beer on the shelf, named after the President’s brother. A couple of people brushed by us. We moved a little closer to the shelves to let them pass, then we went to the counter to pay for our purchases because we’d decided we had waited long enough.

“Did you get to say hello?” the clerk asked.

We stared at her blankly. “Hello?”

“Yes, the President and Mrs. Carter just left the store. They must have walked right by you on the way out.”

We’d been too busy laughing about Billy Beer to notice that fame had literally brushed right by us.

The air hadn’t rarefied, and we were unchanged, except now I had another story to tell.

A brush with fame brings me great stories to tell on dark nights around a campfire, which makes me famous to my friends. I make a great guest around that old campfire because even as slight a thing as President Carter passing behind my back, with secret service agents in tow, becomes the fodder for flames and fiction.

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And in my ever-present quest for my own piece of fame, I’m happy to announce the completion of my first series, the Behind the Love Trilogy. Download the first two books in the series November 6 and 7 for FREE! The third book releases on November 10, but is available for pre-order now. Enjoy!

Behind the Altar, Book 1 – Click here to download FREE Nov. 6 and 7

Behind the Bar, Book 2 – Click here to download FREE Nov. 6 and 7

Behind the Curtain, Book 3 – Click here for New Release

Thoughts on Moving

wild plum

Pittsburgh Home

My brain struggles to keep it all straight, so a little notebook has become my friend in recent weeks. We’ve made some major decisions in the past month that will impact our lives for years. Timing seems to be a little off, but I believe there is a reason for everything. It sometimes takes years to figure it out. Sometimes, we never do.

NEWHOUSE

New Cabin in NC

We are in the process of becoming hybrid snowbirds when my husband retires. We’re not sure when that will happen, but it will be within two years, maximum. His company doesn’t want him to retire, and he still enjoys his work, so why mess with that? Except his job is in Pittsburgh, and we’ve just sold our home here and bought a new log cabin in Murphy, North Carolina. Our home in Tallahassee has tenants in it until April.

Interesting times ahead. I feel as if I’m juggling balls in the air as I make arrangements for the moves, buying a home, selling a home, and giving away as much as possible. I’m packing for the move into a condo here in Pittsburgh temporarily; I’m separating our lives into Florida and North Carolina.

As hectic and chaotic as life is right now, I’m enjoying parts of it. Once I started on the task of going through all of our stuff, I began to find a rhythm for what to throw away or recycle, what to donate to our local Vietnam Veterans group, and what to keep. I find it fascinating to discover that many things from my past no longer hold any attraction–at least not enough to want to fill yet another box. So the award trophies and copies of everything I’ve had published meet either the recycle bin or the garbage bags. I’m recycling the article I wrote about kindergartners dressing up as mice and singing “Three Blind Mice” during their end of the year program at the local elementary school. No, I don’t think I need that for my portfolio. I don’t need the feature article about the scary man who raised hairless dogs in a trailer. But maybe I’ll hang onto the series I did on drugs in the community where I lived. I won an award for that and for columns I wrote. Perhaps I should keep those, too.

I found my baby book yesterday, hidden way back on a high shelf in my office. I thought I’d lost that in my last move. But there it was with little tidbits about my early life. I was child No. 5, so Mommy didn’t write too much about little Patti, except one tidbit I treasure: “By twenty months, Patti had a very large vocabulary.” I wonder what words my not-quite-two-year-old brain processed.

I read my diary from seventh grade yesterday. I admit after reading it, that it’s a wonder I made it this far as a writer. “Today I went to school. I came home and did chores. I talked to Brent on the phone for hours.” Dull and not worth saving anymore. When I become famous, I’d hate for anyone to use that in my archives.

I found yearbooks and cards from my teaching years, also not worth keeping. “You’re my favorite English teacher ever, and I hope I make an ‘A’ in your class this semester.” Those comments made me laugh, right before I placed them in the recycle pile.

Photos from my years as a Girl Scout leader and the girls in my troop, who are now young women in their thirties in professional careers and raising their own children. Those I keep because my own daughter and her friends who were like my daughters are chronicled in those photos.

So many phases of a life, but I don’t feel old. Yet I’ve lived nine or more lives it seems.

I’m keeping just enough to remind me of those good times. The rest I’m willing to let go because I’m moving into a new phase. As I do my juggling act, I’m trying to keep things in perspective. Every day brings new tasks and challenges, but it’s now that counts so I stay present while visiting the past for a minute here and there.

It’s strange to be moving right now as the garden begins to blossom and bring us bounty. My husband couldn’t help himself. Despite selling the house, he put in a garden as a gift to the buyers. More on that later, I promise.

To help with your gardening and abundant produce, check out our book From Seed to Table filled with gardening tips and recipes.

Click on cover for $.99 cents Kindle version