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.

Happy #Earth Day – Pay Dirt – #Composting

Happy Earth Day 2015!

Celebrating Earth Day is a little bit like giving canned goods to the homeless at the holidays as if that’s the only time the food is needed. Same with Earth Day. We get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking about doing things to help the environment, but then May comes along, and we forget that the Earth still struggles under the weight of human weight and consumption, just as the homeless need food as much, if not more, once January 1 rolls around.

Here’s something to do year round to help you, the environment, and maybe even those who have less than you do. Food banks welcome fresh produce and making compost surely helps you grow your own.

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 20-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.

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 all attract wild animals and take a very long time to break down. Egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold.

Once the container is filled, take it to the compost bin and put it inside 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. Think of the green things as those still close to the live stage: grass clippings, food scraps and manures. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves and woody materials and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace. 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 my compost container and in the air to not worry about wetting the materials. 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 $50 upwards to several hundreds of dollars. 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. But I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending lots of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. But it could easily have been expanded. 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 air flow. A nail and hammer would have accomplished the same thing. 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 sides to make it secure. I covered the bottom with the dirt I had just removed, 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.

Here in Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.

I fill my flower pots full of this healthy rich soil where grateful petunias and pansies thrive in the dirt that started in my kitchen. Our vegetables and herbs will receive a healthy dose of the soil when it’s time, 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. Maybe that’s what I love most about composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

When I began pulling together information for my book, From Seed to Table, my copy editor read the part on composted and was amazed that she could very easily start a small pile in her urban backyard. Just be sure to cover all the food scraps and keep a secure lid on the heap or you’ll have wildlife other than earthworms wanting to eat your scraps.

Do you compost? What’s been your experience? Any tips or suggestions to add?

Click here for paperback Click here for KindleClick here for paperback
Click here for Kindle

And in honor of Earth Day and in remembrance of all we lost during Deepwater Horizon, I’m offering an eBook sale (either $.99 cents or free on Smashwords) on my novel Trails in the Sand. This contemporary fiction chronicles BP’s oil spill in 2010 as environmental reporter Caroline Carlisle races to save her family from the destructive forces of their past.

3-D1web

Click below to be taken to the purchase site of your choice.

Amazon Kindle

B&N Nook

Apple iBook

Kobo

Smashwords (use coupon code FR84H)

Paperback (Sorry, I don’t set the price on this version!)

Winter Gardening Blues and Greens

???????????????????????????????Usually by this time of year, hubby happily starts a multitude of seedlings and places them under grow lights in anticipation of planting time. It’s different this year. He’s planted a few seedlings–onions, greens–but nothing like in years past because this year our house and, of course, our garden are for sale. We don’t know if we’ll be here in the spring. We certainly hope we’re not here in the summer.

He couldn’t help himself though. When I asked him why he started the onion seedlings, he said he wanted to plant them, so the new owners would be able to enjoy them in the summer.  I’ve joked that we should sell him with the house. Not that I want to leave my sweetie behind, but he could maintain the garden and share half of the produce with the new owners. After all, after five seasons of living here, he has the soil just where he wants it. Besides, it would make finding our new smaller digs easier. Try finding flat and sunny plots of land in western Pennsylvania. It’s not an easy task. In fact, it’s one reason we bought this house much too large for two people. But we have a wonderful side yard–flat and sunny.

The seed catalogs arrive daily now, and I’m proud that he’s showing restraint. The magazines arrive, but so far no subsequent delivery of seed packets. Unless, he’s shipping to his work address.

I added a few recipes to my guide on gardening, From Seed to Tableand gave the book a face lift for spring. Here’s one of my favorites for a cold winter night.

Drunken Butternut Squash Bisque

1 butternut squash, roasted – cut into several pieces (seeded). Dribble olive oil and maple syrup over the top. Roast in 350 oven until done. Roasting times vary by squash, but it usually takes from 45 minutes to an hour.

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP butter

1 onion, chopped

¾ cup celery, chopped

½ tsp ginger (if you have freshly grated, it’s always better)

Cubed pieces of cooked butternut squash

½ cup Bourbon

2 TBSP maple syrup

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Salt and pepper to taste

Ground nutmeg to taste

½ cup heavy cream (optional – I rarely use it and the bisque is still wonderful!)

Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, ginger, and celery and cook until onions and celery are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the cream) and cook together for 15 minutes, until flavors are well blended.

In a food processor or blender, puree until smooth. Return to heat and stir in cream, if using. Heat thoroughly, but do not bring to boil. Serve hot.

Yummy.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

 

Great News as Earth Day Anniversary Approaches

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Environmental stories usually leave me frustrated and disappointed – with both sides. But not today. Finally, I read something that gives me hope for civil discourse in this country on the issues that matter most. If we’re all shouting at one another to make our point, who’s listening?

In western Pennsylvania, where fracking for natural gas is becoming commonplace, a group has formed to help raise the standards of the fracking industry so the practice is sustainable and safe for humans and the environment.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development, formed on March 20, is comprised of a combo of representatives from energy companies vested in fracking and representatives from environmental groups dedicated to safe practices. Their goal is to adopt higher performance standards for fracking companies in the areas of air quality, water resources, and climate. Folks from Consol Energy, Chevron, and Shell are sitting at the same table with members of the Clean Air Task Force and the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Even better than sitting down together – they’re getting something done without shouting.

By September, they will begin certifying companies following exemplary practices. The certification will be a badge worn by companies to show they are practicing safe and sustainable methods of fracking. So if a company comes knocking on your door offering you a lifetime of riches for drilling on your property, you can ask for their CSSD badge. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the “CSSD endorsement will be similar to the LEED certification given to energy-efficient buildings.”

I love it when we participate in civil discourse, particularly in areas of great diversity of opinion. I applaud both sides for coming together to find a way to get natural gas out of the ground without wrecking our water and future.

I hope this group can put a stop to things such as what happened in Ohio a few months ago when Hardrock Excavating illegally dumped thousands of gallons wastewater from a fracking operation into the Mahoning River. A mishap of miscommunication occurred, and no one let us folks know just across the border here in Pennsylvania. (Beaver County Times, March 31, 2013) The Mahoning River feeds directly into my beloved Beaver River where my husband and I spend many summer days kayaking and boating.

Beaver River

Beaver River

Lupo owns Hardrock Excavating. Lupo also owns D&L Energy, the company that operated the injection well that caused the 2011 earthquake near Youngstown, Ohio.

It’s time companies, such as Lupo are stopped, and companies who practice exemplary fracking operations are rewarded. We need to encourage the good guys and put the bad guys out of business.

When we do, all sides win. Our communities get much-needed jobs, we receive cheaper methods to heat our homes, and we protect our water from harm.

Another Dangerous Side to Fracking

Frac-2

Fracking drill site

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I don’t usually post on Sundays, but I wanted to share this series of articles from the Beaver County Times. Saturday’s story explores “brine” or wastewater disposal. Sunday’s piece (not yet posted online) profiles a driver of one of the trucks hauling away the wastewater. The disposal of what comes out of the ground is another layer in the controversy over fracking.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a study recently linking fracking wastewater disposal in deep wells to recent earthquakes in the United States near these wells. Another website EcoWatch also presents information on this subject.

To be fair, I checked the Marcellus Shale Coalition website and put in “fracking wastewater.” Here’s what came up: http://marcelluscoalition.org/2012/11/what-theyre-saying-natural-gas-creating-significant-environmental-benefits-sparking-a-manufacturing-renaissance/.

My searches haven’t turned up anything else in response to this. Please let me know if there’s another side to this issue. I’m a journalist, and I want to be fair. I also live atop the Marcellus Shale and want solid unbiased answers.

Glaciers create landscape drama

Slippery Rock Creek

 

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When my daughter visited me recently, I wanted to show her some of western Pennsylvania’s landscape without driving very far. Serendipity intervened by delivering to my mailbox “The Sylvanian,” the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter’s magazine. An article on Slippery Rock Gorge offered me a solution. A forty-mile drive from Pittsburgh, McConnells Mill State Park is home to some of the state’s most dramatic landscapes along Slippery Rock Creek and the gorge that was created by glaciers some two million years ago.

slope leading to the creek

The glaciers left behind waterfalls, Homewood sandstone boulders, and a whitewater creek. The Pennsylvania State Parksystem offers trails and picnic spots where nature puts on a theatrical show for visitors. And it’s free since Pennsylvania doesn’t charge an entrance fee into any of its parks.

Homewood boulders in the gorge

There are nine-miles of hiking trails within the park – some are more vigorous than others. We decided to hike the two-mile loop of the Kildoo trail, which begins/ends on either side of the 1874 covered bridge. Opposite the trail heads sits a gristmill constructed in 1868.

covered bridge and grist mill

We didn’t have time to make it to the falls because this “moderate” hike took a little longer than we anticipated and our schedule required us to turn back. Even though it’s marked as moderate, the hike can be slippery and narrow at some points. Slippery Rock Creek roars below so falling off the edge of the gorge is not an option. If we had made it to the falls and crossed over the foot bridge, we would have been on the North Country National Scenic Trail, which runs through the park. This trail, a part of the National Park Service, goes from New York to North Dakota.

whitewater awaits in the valley of the gorge

Next time I visit – and I will – I’ll plan my schedule better and be prepared to stay the whole day.

a waterfall in the sandstone

Serendipity is welcome in my life at any time.  I’d love to hear about times this has happened to you.

NOTE: I’m cutting back on my blog writing starting this week. I’ve been writing four blogs a week – two for Living Lightly Upon this Earth and two for Writing, Tips, Thoughts, and Whims. While I enjoy writing the blogs and interacting with followers, I need more time for writing novels and nonfiction books. From now on, I will post two times – one for each of my blogs. Thanks for reading my posts. I’m always thrilled when I see someone has left a comment.

 

A Love Affair with Birds

great blue heron in the salt marshes of Florida

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

My grandmother taught me a love of birds many years ago back in Michigan. She had a bird feeder right outside the window so she could see it from her chair in the living room. She kept bird books on the table there and I loved to visit her in the winter to watch the colorful birds come to the white-covered feeder.

When I moved to Florida, I continued my love affair. I’m not an expert, but I know I admire birds, especially large ones. The great blue heron is found near any type of water, but I thought it was only in Florida. When I moved to Pennsylvania two years ago, I discovered they are year-round residents here as well. One morning when I woke in my new house, I looked outside the French doors in my bedroom to the balcony railing. A great blue was perched there looking down at the small pond below as small gold fish swam unaware of the danger lurking above. Too bad my camera was in another room.

Great blues forage alone so it was with surprise that I saw two flying over us as we cruised on the Beaver River recently. I assumed they must be migratory here, but according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they are year-round residents in much of the continental United States.

great blue heron on Beaver River in western Pennsylvania

Right now, the males are searching for places to nest in the trees, which provides an explanation of why these two kept perching on tree limbs instead of the usual foraging on the banks of the river. It also explains why these two traveled as a pair. Most likely, the male is looking for the right platform while enticing the female to join him.

We also saw a great egret on the river the same day.

great egret on Beaver River in western Pennsylvania

I’d never seen one of those in Pennsylvania, but they are abundant in Florida. These are migratory birds, but usually travel in flocks so I’m not sure why this one was alone. According to Cornell, during mild winters the great egret will remain in the north. We did have a mild winter last year. In that case, the male may have been doing the same thing as the great blue: looking for a nesting site in the tree. Then again, this great egret may have just been resting for a bit before heading to its winter home in the south. No matter the reason, it’s good to see the great egret here. At one time, they almost disappeared because women’s fashion required their plumes in gilded age hats of the late nineteenth century.

This time of year anywhere in the world, is a great time to see the birds preparing for the change in season.