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.

S2T-6

Click on cover to purchase on Amazon.

 

Poisoning the Poor Redux

I posted this post back in February. Yesterday I heard a report on NPR that Flint residents still can’t drink their water. They must still pick up water from city hall. The donations of bottled water have fallen off. And still, the people suffer because of horrid decisions made by those in power.

The Detroit Free Press reported in November that Michigan’s governor blocked a bill to provide bottled water to the poisoned city. Shameful.

Click here for an NPR report one year after the crisis broke nationwide.

For ways to help the residents of Flint, click here.

 

FlintWater

Flint’s dirty, lead contaminated water

 

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The adjectives overwhelmed my brain, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on writing a cohesive piece.

Then for days, I would forget.

I would forget until the headlines forced me to remember.

Flint, Michigan.

Yesterday, the headline that made me take notice and remember, “Flint residents paid the highest rate in the nation for contaminated water,” forced me to sit on my rear to write this post.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The Detroit Free Press‘s article announced the results of a study by the Food and Water Watchgroup that studied the 500 largest cities in the country and found that Flint charges twice the amount as the national average for its water. Insult upon horrific insult made even worse by the fact these residents being served up contaminated water for more than a year had to even pay in the first place.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

General Motors essentially made Flint from the 1920s to the 1980s, when it decided to move their plants somewhere else. They moved the factories, but not the workers. Flint has suffered the fate of all company towns when the company no longer wants to be there.

The companies don’t even bother saying, “Sayanora and good luck, we must leave you, taking your jobs, your economy, and your dignity. In turn, we leave you with unemployment, crime, and hopelessness.” They just leave. And no one gives a damn about it.

Towns like Flint become wastelands of poverty, dissolving into vacuums ripe for drugs and violence. The human spirit deflates faster than Tom Brady’s footballs.

And no one cares, especially the ones who caused it.

As a result, Flint went into economic decline, and by 2011, the city was in a financial state of emergency. To cope, Flint cut its budget by changing the source of their water in April 2014.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. After the new water lines were installed to bring water in from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron, residents complained of discoloration and foul smells and tastes coming out of their faucets. The residents complained, but no one listened. Residents, who can’t afford bottled water and who most likely struggle to pay the exorbitant water fees, were charged for dirty water.

No one listened for almost two years. No one listened to the families living below the poverty level who knew one thing for sure. Water should never taste or smell or contain color. From April 2014 to late 2015, nothing was done, until folks starting dying of Legionnaires, and children began suffering from the symptoms of lead contamination.

water

The noncolor of water

Today, The Detroit Free Press reported that a man suffering from headaches, sweats, and exhaustion has levels of lead in his blood that are five times the level that is considered toxic. Most of the worry previously had been about children, rightly so. But now it’s becoming obvious that adults will see the impacts as well.

Since April 2014, Flint residents bathed, brushed their teeth, drank, and cooked with toxic water.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

Bring us the bottled water and the filters now that this national disgrace has made headlines. Stop drinking the water now, dear residents, and don’t slip up and forget when you’re standing at the sink getting ready to brush your teeth. Don’t forget to close the lid on the toilet when you flush so you’re not spraying more than crap into the air. And pick up your bottled water–provided free of charge, of course–when you come to pay your water bill for the water coursing through your pipes that could poison you and your children if you use it.

What are the solutions? Unfortunately, the damage has been done in Flint, but there are things we could do so this doesn’t happen again, but we’re going to have to change our view about the poor and their right, yes their right, to clean water.

  • Make corporations that create these company towns or communities accountable when it’s no longer feasible for them to stick around. This happened in the towns surrounding Pittsburgh, too, in the 1980s when the steel companies pulled out. WalMart creates the same hole when they close out stores in communities where they destroyed the small businesses when they opened. I read that one town in Arkansas will no longer have a grocery store when WalMart closes their store this month. Why? Because WalMart ran the smaller stores out of business when they could not compete with the giant’s low prices. These corporations are given incentives and infrastructure to build in these small communities, so they should be forced to do something when they leave that will help the community they’re destroying.
  • Don’t allow local governments to cut back on infrastructure for essential services, such as water. I’ll say it again. Clean water is a right, not a privilege for the rich. If we think otherwise, we’re responsible for genocide. In fact, the folks in Michigan who allowed this travesty to continue for nearly two years did practice a form of genocide. Let’s hope it’s limited to just ten residents (which is still ten too many).
  • Listen when residents speak. I don’t care if the first complainers are the ones who always complain. Water should never smell or taste or be the color of tea. Didn’t the folks in Flint who made the decisions about changing the water source drink the water themselves? Or are they in some ivory tower somewhere drinking water brought in from Lake Huron? Or maybe only bubbly from France will suffice.
  • Never, ever make residents pay for services they can’t use. This is simply unacceptable. This means the folks in Flint paid premium dollars to poison themselves. I would encourage all residents to stop paying those bills en masse.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will risk repeating because it has to be pounded into our collective head until we stop treating the poor communities we created as if they deserve less than the rest of us. Or worse. The residents of Flint were treated worse than we’d ever treat our pets and wildlife. They were treated as if their lives didn’t matter.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

woodstork

Let’s make it better for all living creatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAYING GOOD-BYE TO #PITTSBURGH

PNCPark

PNC Park

Nearly seven years ago, Pittsburgh took me by surprise when it grabbed my heart and squeezed.

All I knew of the city came from my college geography and history classes. At the time, I was struck by the role of rivers in the formation of cities. Pittsburgh doesn’t just have one river, but three, and during the Industrial Revolution in the United States became known for its ‘dirty’ industry. The rivers made it an attraction and strategic location and the seam of coal sitting underneath created an important industrial capital. Despite my interest in the location, I never thought about visiting, and I certainly never considered living in the Steel City.

Yet, life had other plans for me when I reconnected with a love from my teenage years. That’s the other thing I knew about the city. I knew more than forty years before that he’d left me to make a go of his life in Pittsburgh. After I graduated from college, I headed south to Florida. And that was my connection to Pittsburgh until 2009.

Fort Pitt TunnelWhen we reconnected, I visited Pittsburgh for the first time. Once my husband drove me through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and I came out on the other side into the magical land of the three rivers, I was a goner. I became more familiar with the downtown of the city than my husband, who’d lived in the north hills and only came downtown occasionally.the view

I shopped in the Strip district every month, stocking up on seafood, freshly roasted coffee beans, cheese, stuffed grape leaves,  and craft beers brewed nearby. Walking down Penn Avenue that cuts right through the heart of the Strip, dodging vendors’ tables piled high with Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins gear and indulging in impulse purchases of scarves and hats, put me in mind of a Moroccan or Chilean market.

For years, I’d denied my sports-dominated childhood. I grew up with four older brothers–athletes all–where I existed as the physically ungifted girl. But that all changed when I moved to the ‘Burgh. I went back to my roots, except this time instead of cheering for the Lions, Tigers, and Red Wings, I’d become a fan of all things gold and black.

Go Steelers!

Go Steelers!

There is nothing quite as exciting as attending a Steelers game at Heinz Field and watching the ketchup bottle spill the red stuff whenever the home team made it to the end zone. The coolness of entering Consul Energy Center gripped me and kept me cool while the Penguins melted the ice, playing stellar hockey and entertaining the fans with the likes of Crosby and Malkin. I never really liked hockey until these boys made it impossible to sit back and ignore.

But nothing made me more of a fan of Pittsburgh than going to PNC Park and watching those Pirates grow into a team that could be a contender. My husband took me to my first game in the spring of 2010 on a Friday night. Along with maybe one hundred other fans, we had our choice of seats to watch a lackluster team. Except for two new players: Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. I felt a rush of adrenaline when either one of them came to the plate. Within two years, the Pirates rose from laughing stock to winning team. It’s been a pleasure to watch them play and revel in their victories. This past year, thirty thousand fans often packed the house of Friday nights.

PNC Park

PNC Park

Last month, we left Pittsburgh physically. We’ve been in the process of leaving for six months, but in December it became official. Each thing I did in those final weeks became poignant with the thought I may never pass this way again.

Seven years ago, I’d never imagine the sadness I felt about leaving.

The move is positive, but as with most things in life, change is still a form of loss. I will mourn the loss of Pittsburgh in my life, but will be forever grateful for the home it provided me in the past six years as my husband and I began our life together. I will always view the Steel City with the soft chewy center as the place of my honeymoon that never ended. Steelers Fans

Thank you, Yinzers. I will always be a fan, and you will always be a part of my heart.

Heinz Field

Heinz Field from the Allegheny River

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

The abundant garden

Our abundant garden

 

And always the bridges of steel

And always the bridges of steel

STOP THE BULLYING

pittvsnotredameI wrote the essay that follows two years ago after attending a football game between Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh. This past weekend the two teams once again took the field in Pittsburgh, and I asked my husband if it had been Notre Dame fans who almost ruined one of our few visits to Heinz Field for a game.

“That would be the same team.” And he remembered the game as vividly as I did. Notre Dame fans sitting behind us nearly ruined the whole night for us because of their rudeness bordering on bullying us simply because we wore the colors of Pitt and rooted for our home team. Recently, while going through my files, I found the essay I’d started after that game. It’s still relevant today, so I’ve pulled it out of the archives to share. I hope it gives us all a moment to consider our behaviors, whether it be during a sporting event, a political debate, or a religious discussion. We are a part of the human team, party, and church. Let’s act like it.

From November 2013:

bullyingI like rooting for the home team. I want them to win, but I don’t hate the opposing team and their fans.

We decided to buy last minute tickets to the University of Pittsburgh versus Notre Dame game. Our tickets plucked us right down in the South Bend, Indiana, home base at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. We didn’t care. It would be fun with good-natured ribbing, we thought. We only hoped it was a game, and that Pitt didn’t lose horribly as they did to Florida State at the last game we attended.

In the first quarter, a Notre Dame player ran into the lowered head of a Pitt player, and the Irish guy was thrown out of the game. While the Pitt player lay on the field, a group of five Fighting Irish fans behind us starting yelling, “Get up off the ground; you deserved that hit.” My husband tried to reason by saying any hit on the head was a bad hit. They yelled back that our player put his head down so he should expect to get hit. They continued their tirade every time a Pitt player was tackled or hit.

The ugly remarks continued behind us as Pitt kept one touchdown behind or tied. My husband tried another time to reason with them, and I told him to stop because they weren’t the reasoning kind.

They made fun of our dancers, cheerleaders, and band. They called anyone who lived in Pittsburgh “stupid.” There was more, but all stayed in the same vein until in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter when Pitt scored the winning touchdown. They became quiet, but we moved into empty seats away from them, just in case. They seemed to be the types who might do something more than hurl insensitive and cruel words. I saw bullying firsthand in those fans.

If we can’t be friendly with our rivals over a stupid and meaningless game, how can we ever expect to live in a peaceful world? Take the behavior of these fans as one snippet from the world in which we live. Take the stone walls in our lawmaking bodies for another. When did we stop listening to one another and leap into a world where only one view—our own—is accepted?

It depressed me on so many levels; I’m still attempting to absorb it all. The worst part was the struggle both my husband and I experienced as we fought not to respond. It felt far too easy to shout back about the “stupid Irish” or some other ridiculous epitaph. Sitting and tuning it out required a great deal of deep breathes and closing of our ears.

Right now, I have no desire to return to a game because of five young folks, both male and female, sitting behind us on a cold night in Pittsburgh. I have to remind myself not to let them represent all people from South Bend or Notre Dame. Next to me sat two lovely young women dressed in the green of the fighting Irish. They said little but clapped when their team did well as we did when Pitt did the same. We were polite to one another, and they did not enter into the nastiness of the folks behind us.

I implore all of us to overlook our differences and concentrate on our similarities. Act with kindness toward others. Don’t lower yourself to the baseness in others. And most of all, save your battles for the big ones in life, which will come at some point when least expected. Make sure you have the energy to fight the important stuff rather than on a football game that really doesn’t matter in the first place.

But maybe most of all, enjoy what you’re doing without venom, without spite, without violence. It can’t be enjoyable to yell angry f-bombs at the field and at the people sitting in front of you just because they’re wearing blue and beige with a Pitt Panther logo on the front. If we don’t start with us, there’s little hope that religions, political divides, and countries can ever pull together for the betterment of humanity.

peace_sign_rainbow_3.png

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.

A BASEBALL LOVE STORY – THIRD BASE

Hello – a Happy July to you all. We moved into the new digs this past week, but head back to Pittsburgh in a few days. I hate to leave but I still love the Steel City and plan on enjoying my last few weeks living there to the fullest.

Third Base_low resolution for webIn between all the moves, I still managed to finish my new romance, Third Base. It’s set in Pittsburgh, where I’ve created a winning Pittsburgh Pirates team with ace third baseman Tomas Vegas who hails from Puerto Rico. He falls in love with Adriana Moretti, a young, beautiful, and successful widow whose Italian family keeps a close watch on all of her romantic entanglements. Tomas must also deal with his super model ex-girlfriend whose not taken kindly to being dumped by the rising All Star. Lots of fun times in the Steel City this summer!

Third Base will be a part of the Score One For Love box set, which comes out later this summer and is filled with sports love stories by nine other authors.

Purchase Links:

Amazon

Nook

Kobo

Apple

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Serendipity at Sixty

Serendipity in San Antonio

Serendipity in San Antonio

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

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

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

Such a serious child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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