THE ART OF COMPOSTING

CompostHere’s something you can start at home without much effort. You might have all the ingredients right at your fingertips.

We start with either a plastic or metal garbage can for the outdoors bin. But for the kitchen I’ve used many different containers with a air-tight lid, until recently. When visiting a friend, I spotted a stainless steel container on the counter top that blended right in with the kitchen appliances. I was happily surprised when she told me it was her compost container complete with a lid with air holes and a carbon filter  to capture smells.

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Stainless Steel Compost Bin

 

Here’s an excerpt from Seed to Table on composting.

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. 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 scraps, empty it into the compost bin outside 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 if you can find it. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves, woody materials, and even shredded paper. We use some of 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 composters 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. However, I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and managed to do it successfully without expending tons of money.

We use the simplest and cheapest compost bin possible. We bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom and 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. Dig 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.

Cover the bottom on the inside with the dirt removed to make the hole. Don’t pack the dirt but keep it loose and airy. You’re now ready to throw kitchen scraps on top. We cover the scraps with leaves from the yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time we put new material from the kitchen into the bin, we stir or stab at the layers with a shovel. It is very important to cover those scraps with the brown material, or you will attract insects, and maybe even wild animals because the scraps will begin to smell as they decompose. The dead material hides the process of decomposing.

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.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

GARDENING IN OCTOBER

dsc03682The garden started in March by building raised beds on the side of a hill are still producing! Tomatoes, winter squash, and lima beans grace our table. Although the butternut and Queensland Blue are there more for decoration right now.

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Queensland Blue Pumpkin – Cooks up just like regular pumpkin

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March 2016

 

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May 2016

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July 2016

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October 2016

Next on the agenda:  The Florida garden. We’re in the process of heading to our home in Tallahassee for the winter. It will be the first time my husband has spent the winter away from a northern climate. He’s already plodding and planning and ordering seeds. In fact, yesterday, he began potting some seedlings. He hasn’t even built the garden yet! But he plans on using the same concept of raised beds and creating his own mixture of soil.

How did your garden grow this year? Love to hear from you!

 

 

 

#Garden Abundance

IMG_0716It’s a good thing we took a break this week because, by Friday, the refrigerator and countertops overflowed with zucchini, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, peppers, and carrots! Time to get to work.

Normally, I try to spread it out over a few days, but I decided since I’m between writing projects that I’d take one day and devote to the preserving the produce.

I started with a new recipe. Zucchini Blueberry Bread. The local market called me this week to tell me local blueberries were in, and they’d saved two gallons for me. After freezing two large gallon bags for use in smoothies, I still had a full container and zucchini in the crisper. After researching online for recipes combining the two, I finally found one that I could modify for our tastes and preferences. So here it is! I’ll be adding it to the next edition of From Seed to Table, but until then here it is.IMG_0765

Zucchini Blueberry Bread

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup oil

1 cup maple syrup

3 cups, zucchini (unpeeled and grated in food processor)

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp almond extract

3 cups flour (I used 2 cups unbleached white, 1 cup whole wheat – personal preference)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

4 cups fresh blueberries

Directions:

  1. Add oil, syrup, vanilla, almond extract, and zucchini to beaten eggs.
  2. Sift dry ingredients and add to batter.
  3. Fold in blueberries.
  4. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour to one hour, fifteen minutes until toothpick comes out cleanly.
  6. Cool on rack. Bread freezes very nicely.

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We had it for breakfast this morning, and it’s very moist and delicious. I modify recipes to reduce the oil usually suggested. Then I add more zucchini because if I’m making zucchini bread, chances are I have enough to spare.

IMG_0770My husband picked the first cabbage yesterday along with a few lovely carrots. Nothing else to do but make some cole slaw. I used the recipe for freezing slaw originally from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preservingmodified for my book, From Seed to Table. When I first saw this recipe, I was skeptical, but in our family, it has a proven track record!

Here’s the recipe from From Seed to Table:

Cole slaw to freeze

This is a wonderful way to preserve all that fresh cabbage. Once thawed, add mayonnaise to taste. The flavors are even better in this slaw when thawed than when fresh, even if the cabbage wasn’t as crisp.

1 large head of cabbage, shredded

3 large carrots, grated

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp salt

1 ½ cup sugar

1 tsp dried mustard

1 cup white vinegar

½ cup water

Combine all vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let mixture stand for one hour. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil and boil for three minutes. Cool. Ladle over vegetables and stir together. Place mixture in freezer bags or containers and place in freezer. We like our slaw with a little bit of mayonnaise so I add about a tablespoon to each two-serving bag when it’s unthawed. If you like an all-vinegar slaw, you don’t have to do anything except thaw the slaw when you’re ready to eat it.

We saved back some for dinner last night, and it was tart and biting, which we like. The freezer will mellow some of that.

Finally, we put together our pasta sauce, using the method and recipe from our book, which brings me to one final thing!

Normally, From Seed to Table  is $3.99 to download on Kindle, but through July 25, you can grab it for only $0.99. The book also comes in paperback. Check it out!

 

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Click on cover for $.99 cents Kindle version

Kindle

Paperback

What’s growing in your garden? What’s going on at your local farmers’ market?

 

 

 

 

WATERFALLS – HEAT RELIEF

We decided to take a break this week and go out in search of waterfalls near us here in the western Smoky Mountains. The vegetables are piling up, but before we begin the arduous task of canning tomatoes, we needed a respite. Here’s a little photo journey to help beat this July heat wave of 2016.

The road trip book said Conasauga Falls were down a mostly paved road two miles off the road. Instead, we took a rough ride on a rutted road, mostly gravel, for more than three miles with no signage except the cardboard from a case of beer someone had attached to a tree, with the word “Falls” and an arrow when we reached a crossroads. That should have been our first clue that perhaps our guide book didn’t have all the information. To be fair, it did say the “less than a mile” hike to the falls was “moderately difficult.” That is definitely was but it was more than a mile down to the falls and the walk back to the car was not as easy as the book suggested with switchbacks lessening the incline. There were only two very long switchbacks and in 90-degree heat, the climb felt tortuous. But was it worth it? Take a look and judge for yourself.

 

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Conasauga Falls, Cherokee National Forest, Tellico Plains, Tennessee

 

The heat wore us down, but we continued in our quest. The next waterfall on our journey was said to be easily accessible and perfect for the handicapped. Just what we needed. And this time, the directions were perfect and the description apt. The waterfall was right next to the road. And even better, a short drive further, and we were at smaller falls–more like cascades–with a picnic spot and bathrooms.

 

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Bald River Falls, Tellico River, Tennessee

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Baby Falls, Tellico River, Tennessee

 

How are you beating the heat? However, you’re doing it, I hope you’re enjoying the summer.

 

 

WANING DAYS OF SPRING

beans1There’s something powerful in eating locally grown vegetables, either from our own garden or the farmer’s market. It makes me want to eat much healthier in all ways when the main pieces of a meal showcase homegrown bounty.

Something about the mountain air and my husband’s green thumb has bombarded our garden beds this spring, and now that his hard work is done, he spends his mornings and early evenings picking his ‘fruits.’ He likes to pick vegetables when the sun is not beating down upon them. He says the cooler times of the day are better because all the ‘energy’ of the plant are in the fruit. When the sun is out that energy is transferred to the roots. Using his philosophy, the root crops are best picked during peak sun times. Others say the morning while still fresh with dew is the best for capturing the most moisture.

All I do is say “Grilling salmon tonight. Make sure we have some green to go with it.” And right now magically when I go to cook dinner, the crisper is filled with rich goodness.

Right now, at the end of May, we are eating the last of the lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and radishes. But the broccoli, beans, and peas are coming on strong.

What are you enjoying in your area?

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

IMG_0677We moved to the mountains of southwest North Carolina to heal and live in a peaceful and clean environment. Since December, we’ve lived here full time. But our neighbors, with whom we share a driveway, spent the winter in Florida. They came back last week, and with their arrival, a bit of our peace vanished.

What happened shows us the problem in our world today when people become so focused on their own agenda that they forget some simple courtesies.

Communication before accusation and love instead of hatred are the main ones that come to mind. If two families with a shared driveway are unable to discuss calmly and with respect then what hope do we have as a country to find a way to solve our problems?

We initially bought this cabin with the intention of healing and restoring our balance. For the past three years, either my husband or I have been at dis-ease with our bodies. First, I was hit with a nasty virus that killed nerves in my legs and left arm that resulted in months of chemo-like treatments to rid myself of the unwelcome invaders. Three weeks after I received the green light from my doctors that I was cured, my husband’s dis-ease began. We’re still on the journey to his well-being. And the one thing that has helped him the most has been building, creating, planting, and now harvesting a bountiful garden. Along with the mountain air, I see him regaining his strength and will to live. The growth of the green produce has been inspiring and fulfilling for both of us.IMG_0668

Then the neighbors returned from their winter sojourn.

All through the winter, I kept her informed of the progress of our garden building which came within a couple of feet of their property line on the driveway.  When dirt was delivered and accidently dumped over the property line in March, I sent her an email with photos explaining that Robert would remove the dirt as the gardens were built, and that we’d be keeping them in produce all summer. She replied that there was no problem, and they looked forward to sharing in the bounty.IMG_0627

Within an hour of their return, she visited with Robert as he worked on the garden. She talked about the property line, about the eventual paving of a portion of the driveway, and about gravel on the rest. We would share in the cost of all the work. Robert chatted with her several times over the next three days, believing neighborly relations were fine.

Then the email to me came informing me, in case my husband hadn’t, that Robert didn’t realize the importance of property lines and that they must have control over their property. She accused him twice in the email of “clearing” their property, and then gave me all sorts of legal descriptions of the property line. Then they stopped talking to us but daily walked the property line, pushing back weeds and climbing the hills.

The other day, they came down to the edge of the garden, once again looking at the property lines while Robert worked in the garden just feet away. He forced them to speak to him.

“We’re getting a surveyor out here because this has to be legal,” she informed him.

“Fine,” he responded, thinking that it didn’t have to be this way but if they wanted to spend the money to determine if we’ve done something so horrendous that they had to accuse us in an email and then stop speaking to us, then fine. Go ahead.

Based on the information provided to us by both the developer of our little subdivision and by the neighbors, we kept within our property lines. Dirt was spilled across the line, which has been removed. And to get at the dirt, Robert did remove some suckers on a stump from a tree removed before we moved here, which is one foot into their property.

I might add that this property line in question is at the back of their cabin and down a slight hill. They can’t even see it from their home.

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The back of their cabin

 

I understand wanting to establish legal property lines. And if they’d approached us first without accusations, we might have been able to work it out, and even shared the cost of the surveyor. We’d feel better, and they would be blessed with produce throughout the summer.

We have decided that our peace shall not be broken by the lack of good manners. We are praying for a satisfactory outcome, and we’re sending them all our loving energy via prayer. We’ve come too far in this process of restoring our well-being to let anyone else take it away.

My husband and I are in our sixties and have lived in various places separately and together during our lifetimes. This is the first time either of us has encountered a problem with a neighbor, so it has been disturbing.

Please keep us all in your thoughts that we can solve this little problem because I need the hope that we can solve the bigger issues in the world today. And it all starts with the little seeds in our own backyards.

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THE FIRST SALAD OF THE SEASON – #GARDENLOVE

IMG_0648We rolling in lettuce right now. Radishes are beautiful and tasty, too. My husband planted a variety of radishes, and the taste differences are subtle, but none of them are bitter as sometimes happens with older radishes.

I’m amazed at how fast the garden is growing. I’ll soon be pulling down the canning equipment from the attic and buying new jars to put up sauces, pickles, and relishes. I didn’t pack our canning jars from Pittsburgh — too much to move as it was. Time to stock up on freezer bags, too, for peas and beans that will surely come on quickly and soon.

The photo on the left was taken March 20, and the one of the right I took this morning, May 5. It’s a lovely, yet shocking, surprise. I guess my northern gardener adapted to gardening in the mountains with ease.

The bed with straw on top in the photo on the right is planted with approximately twenty-eight asparagus plants that arrived via mail the other day. We have to wait two years to enjoy their bounty.

Today, he’s building the last of the beds, and I’ve asked him to hold off on planting anything there. Fat chance. He has winter squash in pots ready for the ground. At least, I won’t have to deal with preserving those because they should store all winter long once harvested.

We went to the local farmer’s market on Saturday to see what others were offering in local food. They had about the same things we did. I should look into getting my own table at the market for later this spring.

How’s your gardening growing?

 

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From Seed to Table is FREE on Kindle through May 7, 2016. Grab your copy by clicking on photo or if you’d prefer the paperback, click here.

 

 

 

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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Building the Garden Beds

 

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Pre-Samuel

We began by hiring Samuel to bring his excavator out to the cabin to prepare the site for a garden. Tree stumps stood in Robert’s way to turning the soft clay soil. Samuel had no problem ripping them out of the ground and dumping over the other side of our small mountain (folks here call these hills or foothills).

 

We heard him before we saw him. He decided to unload his machinery down at the bottom of the hill and drive it up to the cabin. And then he got right down to work.DSC03568

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After three hours, Samuel finished the job, leaving the rest to Robert and another great guy, Peter, to start building the beds.

 

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Cutting the boards for the sides of the beds

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The inside of the boards were lined with plastic to protect the wood. Robert decided not to use pressure treated lumber even if it means replacing these boards in a few years. When that time comes, we hope to find a local supplier of boards made from recycled materials.

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Making the soil: Layers of mostly decomposed bark, mushroom manure, top soil, more bark, more manure.

 

 

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Raking in more bark, a sprinkling of lime, and another layer of top soil. 

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Robert stained the wood to make it blend in with the surroundings.

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The side going down the hill.

 

Originally, we planned to build two beds – one beneath this one. But then we decided that the lower bed would actually be two or three smaller boxes to be built later in the spring. One thing that has been difficult is finding good top soil. We finally found someone who will be delivering a load this week, and that will finish off this first bed.

Robert wants the soil to rest for a few days before he begins planting the seedlings, although he’s going to hold off on the tomato plants for a few weeks.DSC03589DSC03587

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And my little herb garden – the two larger plants (rosemary and oregano) were purchased. The little babies were started by Robert from seed. The planters will be right outside on the deck so I can easily grab them during meal prep

I think this will be an excellent garden. I will keep you posted on the progress.

Robert’s retirement brings him to a place where he can pursue his passion for growing food full time. Next challenge for him will be to create a garden in our Florida home. He’s in for a huge learning curve as all of his gardening – since he was old enough to hold a shovel – has been in the north. Lots to learn in the coming months, but also food to eat and stories to tell.

 

From Seed to Table presents lots of gardening tips and recipes for meals and also for preserving the food from the garden. I wrote this book based on a northern garden. I guess it’s time to start creating another volume for gardening in the Smoky Mountains! Still, I think you’ll find lots of good tips no matter where you live.

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