SUMMER LINGERS WHILE FALL BECKONS

 

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Wild turkeys outside my office window in the winter.

The wild turkeys gather together as summer wanes forming their “gangs” to wander the mountains surrounding our cabin. Last night we heard a rustling outside our front door. When we went to look, a large turkey flapped its wings and flew into a tree in front of our porch, settling on a branch precariously. We watched as it moved around on the bouncing branch. Finally, it quieted and went to sleep for the night. The turkeys have come home to roost.

 

As always, the summer flew by and our days are numbered in the mountains, although we hope to see much of the color burst forth on the still-green trees. Yet, signs are everywhere as berries form on the holly tree and the sumac leaves begin to turn red.

dsc03660Our first full summer in North Carolina satisfied us. The garden grew and grew, providing the pantry and freezer with plenty of vegetables and sauces for the winter. We froze peas, beans, cole slaw, soup starter vegetable sauce, and zucchini bread. I pickled dills, chips, and relish. We put up pasta sauce and salsa. And if that wasn’t enough, my husband went out and bought local corn from a roadside pick-up truck because that’s one thing he doesn’t grow. He froze twenty bags of corn kernels. When his lima beans only produced enough for the table, he bought a bushel from a local farmer of “butter beans” and froze seventeen bags of those. If you’ve never tasted fresh lima or butter (same thing) beans, then you have no idea of the soft buttery vegetable’s virtue. Try it sometime.

 

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Tomatoes waiting to become pasta sauce or salsa.

Our kayaks provided transportation on local rivers and lakes and gave us moments of serenity and inspiration. We’ve only begun to explore all the places of watery beauty in our area. We are the beneficiaries of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s damming of the rivers. The lakes that are formed as a result–Chatuge, Nottley, and Hiwassee–are deep and long. Plenty of boat ramps make them easy to access and give us a multitude of landscapes to explore.

 

Drives brought us to waterfalls with plenty more to explore and enjoy.

The only complaint I have is the weather. It’s been an unusual summer here in the mountains. We came here to escape the heat and humidity of Florida’s summer, but it followed us here but without the rain. Temperatures near ninety, humidity as high without even the relief of afternoon showers. The storms I love to watch moving across the mountains have been few and always bring us running to the front porch to catch a rare glimpse of darkening clouds and rain hitting the metal roof. Who knows what is normal anymore as far as weather goes? Maybe the winter will be sunny and warm in Florida all winter.

How did your summer shape up?

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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SPRING IN THE MOUNTAINS

 

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Dogwoods of early spring

It’s been a beautiful spring here in North Carolina — our first one. We’ve been blessed with two months of one tree or another in full bloom, beginning with the dogwoods and then the flame azaleas. Now, along with the mountain laurel and wildflowers, our own flowers planted from seed, are starting to bloom. Here’s a little photo journey of what’s been happening this week.

 

Happy May to you! What’s blooming in your neighborhood?

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.

 

A WRITING RETREAT

Office at CabinIt began three weeks ago, this self-imposed writer’s retreat for one. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for years. Time alone, during which I would write and create astounding stories.

Alas, when the time came for me to be alone in the mountains, other things crowded my plate. Editing jobs for others, marketing of my books, and organizing the new home. Writing once again took the shortest piece of the straw. But I organized the new office, and I’m comfortable.

Then this week, when I realized my time for the writer’s retreat could be counted in days and not weeks, I developed a schedule and managed to write 6,000 words on a new manuscript, but it wasn’t anywhere near the goal I’d set. Then I got sick. Momentum gone.

I’m down to my final four days of my alone time, and I need to push forward. My mind doesn’t sit down for the tasks I need want to complete. So here it is, one-thirty in the morning, and I can’t sleep. So I laid down 1,000 words. I have no idea if they are words worthy of the new book. But they are words–imagines and thoughts of my characters–jumbled out of my head onto the computer screen.

ColorCabinWhat I want to do requires more stamina than I find I have right now. Instead, I want to stare at the trees on the mountainside turning first yellow, then scarlet, and then the softer muted tones of red and orange. It’s been quite a show. Those moments of silence staring at the landscape or gazing at the stars in a sky not clouded with city lights bring peace.

Six novels await creation. Perhaps they can wait just a little longer.

I still have four days with an organized office, editing jobs completed for now, and rain on its way, keeping me inside. The long-anticipated writer’s retreat shall begin, unless the rain stops and more leaves turn red or yellow.

Happy Halloween, autumn, and October. And be forewarned, when dreams turn to reality, something else just might occur instead.???????????????

GARDENING BY DEFAULT – TOMATOES, PEPPERS, AND PRAYING MANTIS

June 8, 2013 - Raccoon Township, PA

June 8, 2013 – Raccoon Township, PA

I’ve written several tons about my husband’s gardening abilities and prowess. But this year, we’ve had to readjust because of the major transition in our lives. We’re still one foot in Pittsburgh and heart and soul in the Smoky Mountains. He knew this year’s gardening would be non-existent, but still he refused to give up completely.

Before he left our cabin in early July, he threw two pepper plants and two tomato plants in the ground where he hopes to build terraced beds next year. He bought the plants at Lowe’s, unlike in past years when he started all plants from his own seeds. Yet, he persisted. When I came back to the cabin in August, the plants had survived and banana peppers and one tomato hung on the vine ready for me to eat.

August 2015 - Neglected Peppers

August 2015 – Neglected Peppers

I left the mountains and came back to Pittsburgh for a few weeks. We returned to the cabin last week. To our surprise, our neglected, but not forgotten plants thrived in our absence. My husband feels certain the soil and the sun will provide us with a two-season garden in the years to come.

Garden Bounty

Here’s another little treasure from our trip to the mountains. We picked up a hitchhiker and he clung to our windshield until we drove to the river where he finally flew off. Hopefully, not to get his head eaten by his female partner as some rare species of praying mantis are wont to do. Autumn is mating season so perhaps he decided to get away from that dreaded fate.

praying mantis

Tomorrow Robert undergoes surgery for his GERD, which we hope will help alleviate many of the symptoms he’s suffered through the past two years. It’s been tough for him, and we would appreciate prayers and positive thoughts for his recovery back to his old self. the leaves

Lessons on Moving

My life has been one big box of junk for the past three months. I’ve posted enough about that move. If you’re like me and you’re behind on your blog reading, here’s a list of my previous posts. Just click on the title to read.

Thoughts on Moving

Saying Good-bye

Mountain Living

Mindful Monday – Discovering the Truest Pleasures

We’re still in transition with a part of us in North Carolina, some sections in Pittsburgh, and a whole lot in a storage unit waiting to move to Florida (sorry, furniture, but you’ll have to spend the winter in Freedom, PA).

Leaving Pittsburgh

Leaving Pittsburgh

But at least the packing is done, and we are grateful to the family member who is allowing us to stay in an empty condo while my husband continues his job, and we’re grateful for that little piece of heaven down in Murphy, North Carolina. Along the way, I learned some important lessons about one of life’s most stressful events – THE MOVE.

Minions1. Minions – Every night when I went to bed, minions entered the house and added more stuff. I would clean a closet, a cupboard, a shelf, it didn’t matter. Yet, when I returned in the morning more items appeared on the shelves I’d emptied the day before.

hangers2. Hangers – Hangers are the rabbits of inanimate objects. I figured out that for every hanger left on the rack, ten more reproduced in the course of a day. This phenomenon is real and not imagined by me. Ask the minions – they come in at night to watch. Creepy little dudes.

3. Windex® – Windex is a miracle cure for everything. I learned this from watching the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. One day, while in a frantic state to finish all the tasks for the buyers of our house, I was stung by a wasp. I had to mow the lawn before the rain came, yet all medical supplies had been boxed and moved, except for the few things the minions left on the kitchen counter the night before. I ran in the house and saw the bottle of Windex, sprayed my chest and the bite, and ran back out to the mower. The bite disappeared without redness or swelling. I guess the minions can be helpful after all.

4. Scientists – My husband with his brilliant engineering/scientific mind surprised me when it came time to get those boxes packed. He finally went down to the basement and garage area of our home and began sorting and putting things in the boxes I provided. I presented him with his own large Sharpie® and packing tape. “Why do I need these?” he asked. I explained about taping boxes shut, which he thought silly when he could just fold down the four sides. “But movers are putting these in the storage unit, so they need to be taped.” He understood, but he stared at the Sharpie as if I’d brought him a cockroach. “Why do I need a marker?” Again, I explained that we were moving things to three different locations and the destination needed to be designated on every box. Plus, I wanted him to indicate what might be in the box. “We’ll just move everything to the storage unit and open them up to see what’s inside,” he said in his very logical scientific mind. No, we won’t is the paraphrased version of my response. He did mark his boxes, but still questioned the necessity of such a thing. He didn’t understand that we had more than one hundred boxes going to different locations. His mind was on getting all of his junk treasures off the shelves. I love that man, but his mind works at angles so very different from my own.

Somehow we pulled it off, and now we spend a few months in transition between Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It’s a suspended sort of time until he retires and our home in Florida becomes available. At first, not really being settled for months bothered me and my A-type personality. But when I came to the mountains, I gazed out over the Smokies and something changed. I don’t know if it’s the mountain air or the realization that hit me as I sat with my husband amid the boxes and chaos of our current life. With him, no matter the location or situation, I am home. Forget the minions, hangers, Windex, and Sharpies–home resides somewhere beyond the physical. Perhaps that’s the sole reason our timing was so screwed up this year. I needed this time to realize my real home is right where I am at any given time.

My daughter visited our new home recently. A day after her arrival, she looked around the cabin with boxes strewn here and there. “You’re different here, Mom.” How so? “You aren’t worried about making everything perfect,” she said.

No, I’m not, and that’s because it already is.

Mountain Living

Smokies1Our entry into living atop a mountain didn’t begin with any auspicious drum rolls. In fact, if I took those first few hours after arrival at our cabin with two vehicles and a U-haul trailer as a sign, it would send me right back to Pittsburgh. But life throws us those little curves so we know how wonderful it feels when things go from bad to good.

We left Pittsburgh on a Friday morning around 6 a.m. in our little caravan of loaded vehicles and trailer. Mostly a smooth drive, but long because we both needed to stop often. Probably our tiredness and exhaustion from preparing to move was the key to our lack of stamina for what should have been a nine-hour drive. Within an hour of the new place, dark clouds came rolling over the mountains. Around 6:30 p.m. we pulled down our road. Unfortunately, the rain had started, and we forgot which of the turn offs led to our cabin. A newly installed steep driveway at our neighbors confused me, and I led our caravan up the wrong drive. I backed up my little Hyundai–right into a ditch. My husband had headed up a very steep drive that was not ours with the truck and trailer. ditchWhen he tried to back down, he ended up jack-knifing the trailer, blocking the road up to our driveway. jackknifedTwo hours and one wonderful tow truck driver later, we arrived with everything intact, albeit wet, at our cabin. We wondered if we’d made a hasty decision in moving here, but daylight and views of the smoke on the Smokies changed our minds.

 

meSo did the beautiful cabin that we’ve spent this week making our own. I brought my office desks and a dining room table. The rest of the furniture we purchased here, but it won’t arrive until our next visit later this month. As our ten-day stay nears an end, I yearn to stay. This place has grabbed me despite the incessant rain for the past five days. I feel at home here already. I can tell because I’ve been able to work on my next novel every day this week. The words come easily in my new office, and it feels like the place where I’ll write plenty more novels.Smokies

 

Yesterday, my husband planted two tomato plants and two pepper plants. tomato plantThat’s always a sure sign that we’re home.

 

 

 

 

 

WORD OF CAUTION: “Someone” in our crew threw in a large bottle of anti-bacterial hand soap at the last minute. It came open on the trip and dumped all over a table my great aunt made more than one hundred years ago. The table had been draped in a quilt made by my grandmother seventy-five years ago. Over that I wrapped an old tablecloth and put bungie cords around the whole thing. To our surprise, that soap acted as a harsh chemical and ate through the tablecloth, quilt, and damaged parts of the table. I don’t use this stuff and it wasn’t supposed to come on this trip, but “someone” saw it on the floor of the garage where we’re staying in Pittsburgh and decided it would fill a hole nicely. I’m even more convinced that I’d rather not use this stuff on my hands.

Soap damage.

Soap damage.

Soap ate the quilt.

Soap ate the quilt.

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