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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Overcoming Negativity with a Positive Attitude

I don’t write much about my daughter; I feel that having a mother who is a writer is difficult enough and she deserves her privacy. However, this story must be shared. Someone needs encouragement, a few words to let them know that their struggles aren’t forever.

My daughter believes she’s stupid. Most parents have heard their children utter the phrase, “I’m stupid, or, I’m ugly; or, I have no friends.” These emotions are part of childhood and, in most cases, a temporary part of growing up. Her words hurt me. At home saying stupid is a bad word, second only to the word can’t. Can’t is a forbidden word in my home. Once I hear it I immediately respond with the phrase, Can’t never could do anything. Followed with never, ever give up.

Like every person on the planet who is currently breathing, my daughter has one particular aspect of her life that challenges her. In her case it is math. Can get an amen? Math, for many people, is difficult. For some it is english, or science. We all struggle with something. Students continually struggle with classes, tests, and pressure to earn scholarships. Parents struggle with jobs, health, or financial trouble. We are all struggling with something.

I have prayed for my daughter for a long time, knowing and believing that God will provide an answer. If you are a person of faith, I sincerely ask for your prayers.

My daughter can do math all day, working problems with accuracy.However, when test day comes, something terrible happens . . . she freaks out. The ability to work the same problems she just did at the kitchen table vanishes. I imagine she hears little whispers of doubt and those whispers become screams until eventually, everything gets jumbled in her mind.

Enter into her struggle a school employee. This person, who is not a teacher, and has never taught my daughter, said the word “can’t” during a recent conference. “Can’t do math . . . can’t do chemistry, can’t do . . . can’t do . . . Can’t Do.”

Unfortunately, my daughter was in the room.

This type of negativity places students at a crossroads. Take my dear friend, Julie Cantrell. She is the author of a lovely book titled Into the Free. She also is a New York Times Best-selling author who once had a teacher tell her “I hope you don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You may be able to write a greeting card, but that’s about as far as you’ll ever go.”

Read about Julie’s experience in her own words at her blog post here. intothefree

Julie shares: “I made a mistake that day. I believed her. I put down my pen for nearly a decade and let way too many stories go untold.”

Unfortunately, Julie isn’t alone. When an authority figure tells us that we’ll never amount to anything it is human nature to believe them. In my daughter’s case, the question of whether this employee was unaware that her words had power, or she meant to harm my daughter, or she was just too young and inexperienced to know better remains unanswered. This employee chose the word can’t over a kinder statement. She could have said, your daughter struggles with math and we need to get her the resources to bolster her confidence. Instead she launched the word can’t across the room like a grenade. A shift happened that day. You see, teenagers don’t listen to their parents. In their minds, parents are supposed to say positive things. My daughter didn’t believe me when I said, “Just keep keeping on. She doesn’t know you, at all. You are smart. You can do it.” Instead my daughter retained the negative word can’t.

And yes, the more I thought about the situation, the more I wanted to have a Madea Moment. (See link).

Months have passed since that meeting. I’ve watched my daughter become more frustrated and angry at home. She no longer wears her emotions in a curved smile on her lips. Do you blame her? In fact, after the previously mentioned meeting she said, “Mom, I’ve learned to live with disappointment.” She has been on the edge of shutting down. Exacerbating her emotional exhaustion is physical exhaustion. She suffers from anemia and vertigo. We do not use her illness as an excuse. We work around her exhaustion and dizziness and press on. Most days, she can barely carry that 35 pound backpack around. All of this is why the Tom Zachary VIP award matters to her.

Since 1999, the Zachary award has been distributed to students who follow Tom Zachary’s three keys to success which are: follow the rules, follow your curriculum schedule, and be respectful. According to Mr. Jim Coyle who has been with the high-school for many years, Zachary Award recipients “are the lifeblood of the school. They are the key to our school’s success.” Principal Jerome Huff echoes his praise, saying Zachary Award recipients “show merit and character. They are the kind of students who come in early, stay after school and help other students.”

For those who say we live in a society where everyone receives an award, let me add that this is a teacher-nominated award and my daughter currently has an 86 in the class. While she did not receive the award for math, after the ceremony the math teacher came up and embraced her with a hug. The teacher said, ‘I am so glad you got a VIP award. When I saw your name on the roster I was so happy! I could only choose three students and I’ve only had you in my class for a few weeks. You deserve this award. I am so happy for you.”

This my friends, is the kind of adult we need leading our children. This is the kind of support students need. Both of these teachers are a direct answer to prayer as is Principal Huff.

WP_001377During the ceremony, Principal Huff said, “not every student can be an honor student or a star athlete. When I was in school a lot of people said I’d never be anything. My momma was a single parent. My dad was in jail.”

I admire an adult who can motive parents and students with their honesty, don’t you? This man is changing lives with positive energy and encouragement ! I adore leaders who say: look at me. Everyone counted me out . . . they said I’d be nothing, but through hard-work I showed them.

Then Principal Huff said, “Just because you aren’t at the top of the class right now doesn’t mean you’ll wind up at the bottom. Remember, it’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Let’s let his words sink in for a moment.

Just because you aren’t at the top of the class right now . . .

…doesn’t mean you’ll wind up at the bottom.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll fail math.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll be pregnant and drop out of school.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll spend the rest of your life in jail.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll be living on the street, or worse, with your parents forever.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll get hooked on drugs.

It doesn’t mean that no one will ever love you.

It doesn’t mean that you will wear a tattoo on your forehead which reads failure.

Just because you aren’t at the top now, doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the same place forever.

Remember my friend Julie. It takes a lot of courage to pick up a pen after someone tells you don’t bother. Now she is a New York Times bestselling author. Way to go Julie !

For those who struggle for whatever reason, let me say this, “Don’t listen to what people say. Do what is in your heart. Do your best. Believe in yourself. Don’t let someone else keep you from your destiny. God has a plan for you. He knew that plan when he formed you, before your mother held you, or your grandmother changed your diaper. His plan is to prosper you. His plan is good. The word can’t is not in God’s vocabulary. So if you are discouraged, tuck that chin and keep walking the walk. Study more. Be more. Ignore the voices telling you that you can’t do.

Remember: Can’t never could do anything.

But honey, CAN-DO gets the job done every time.

CAN-DO changes lives.

Now you hold up that head and press on, confident. You got this. You CAN-DO anything you set your mind to.

Oh, and for the record. Since the afternoon when my daughter was awarded the VIP award, she has brought home an 88 on her science test, and (today) brought home a 100 on a math assignment.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of  In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

 
 

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Earth Day Activity: Making Seed-Starters from Recycled Newspaper

Earth Day Activity: Making Seed-Starters from Recycled Newspaper

Last week, while I was in the community garden ripping grass from the raised bed, I enjoyed a moment of being present. A moment where I felt the grime on my neck, the sweat trickling down my back; a moment of pure bliss. At that moment I thought if I could lead workshops, or teach people how to grow their own food that would be perfect.

I’m not big on perfection; but teaching others how to grow their food would be lovely. I would like to teach those intimidated by gardening that they can grow their own food. This was my focus as I tossed roots onto the compost pile, cursing Johnson grass.

Enter, Miss Liz, Go-Green Day chair at Crabapple Middle School. Someone suggested she contact me.

Would I speak to middle schoolers on Earth Day? she asked.

Would I ? Sign me up !

Deciding what to speak about was a challenge. At first I wanted to show them how to recycle newspapers in the garden. Then I determined that most of the students probably didn’t have access to a garden. (Being that they were trapped in the confines of a subdivision with a rigid Homeowners Association). That’s when the idea to demonstrate how to make a newspaper seed-starter emerged. WP_001385

Once I shared my idea with Liz, she suggested I have each student who visits my booth make their own seed starter. After the seeds sprout the students will plant them in their community garden. Imagine the Plant A Row for the Hungry concept. That’s what they’re doing.

Now we’re growing, and feeding the hungry nutritious vegetables!

For those interested in making these; or students who want to show their parents how to create a newspaper seed-starter, here are the instructions:

WP_001378Supply list:

Newspapers

Seeds

Potting Soil (Note: try to feel the quality of the soil. If you feel small sticks and pebbles, most-likely you are purchasing woodchips, not potting soil).

Glass container cylindrical in shape. (Note: glass works best because it is sturdy and newspaper).

Instructions:

Fold one sheet of newspaper lengthwise.

Place glass on paper. Leave some newspaper hanging over the lower edge of the glass.

Place glass on paper. Leave some newspaper hanging over the lower edge of the glass.

Place glass on newspaper. Allow one inch of paper to hang over the bottom end of the glass. You will fold this later and form the bottom of planter.

Once you have wrapped glass, fold ends toward the center to create bottom of seed-starter.

Once you have wrapped glass, fold ends toward the center to create bottom of seed-starter.

Wrap the glass with newspaper. When you reach the end, fold edges inward to form the bottom of the planter.

Stand glass up and press down firmly to secure the bottom.

Remove glass.

If desired, staple top of planter to keep pages intact.

Fill planter with dirt. Each planter will use approximately half a cup of dirt.

A shout out to the Roswell Garden Club ladies featured in the newspaper.

A shout out to the Roswell Garden Club ladies featured in the newspaper.

Following the instructions on back of seed packet, press seed into soil. Water lightly. Don’t worry if water leaks through planter. Once seedling starts growing it is ready to plant in the garden. Dig a hole in the garden, place planter in the earth and fill with dirt. Water well. The newspaper will deteriorate and allow the roots to grow deep in the soil.

This is an inexpensive way to start seeds, and recycle. I want to thank Miss Liz for allowing me the opportunity to fulfill a dream. If your school or church has a community garden and you’d like me to teach the fledgling gardeners in your area, please contact me through my website.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of  In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

Follow Billy on Faceboook HERE

 

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Local Food: Sugar Snap Peas

Local Food: Sugar Snap Peas

My Sweet Peas

It started in early January, the hankering to grow sugar-snap peas (which where I come from we call sweet-peas). I placed a handful of Botanical Interests seeds in a cup of warm water and let them sit for a hour. Later, I folded the seeds into a wet paper towel and zipped them up in a plastic bag and placed them on the heating vent.

I plant peas because my grandmother loves them. Each year we usually get into a growing contest which she  wins. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina, which is perfect for pea-growing.

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Loving my cold frame which fits in my deck planter.

My mother-in-law had recently given me a cold frame.  She knows spring fever comes early for me; knew I would put the garden tool to good use. I also knew that peas grow best when soaked, or in this case, partially sprouted.Here in Atlanta (zone 7a or b zip code depending), my desire for peas better start early. The weather is unpredictable and by April it is usually way too hot to plant peas and other cold-hardy plants.

Two days later, a tiny nub escaped the hard shells. It was time to take the seeds outside. Now I must say that I attempted sprouting the pea seeds in tea bags. A friend of mine had posted an image on her Facebook account. The results from my experiment follow: the tea bag dried out rapidly. In order to keep the bags wet enough to sprout the peas, the tea soured causing the seeds to rot. Conclusion: disaster. Paper towels and plastic bags worked best.

As an aside, I do have Brussels sprouts seedlings in the ground and will keep y’all posted on their progress, or my failures.

It wasn’t enough to shelter the seeds beneath the cold frame. Even in “hot-lanta,” this year, January and February temperatures were cold and oft unpredictable; it was also very dreary with little sunlight. Ever ready to trick my plants into thinking it was spring, I laid old Christmas tree lights on the ground and wrapped them around the interior of the cold frame.

Once I realized the cold frame would work, I quickly sprouted more seeds, hence the difference in growth-stages.

Once I realized the cold frame would work, I quickly sprouted more seeds, hence the difference in growth-stages.

The older lights gave off just enough warmth to coax the seedlings from the earth, the light tricked them into believing the sun was shining. I kept the lights burning day and night. (Thanks to my husband -who despises peas- and didn’t complain when the lights glowed at night).  Eventually temperatures rose and the sun began to shine more. It was time to remove the cold frame and trellis the pea vines.

Today, April 16, 2013, those same vines are about to bloom. Soon, I’ll enjoy sugar snap peas for dinner. The peas need to hurry up, they are growing an area reserved for tomatoes.

Tiny blooms on my sweet, sugar snap peas.

Tiny blooms on my sweet, sugar snap peas.

What tricks do you use to grow vegetables? What has worked, what hasn’t?

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of  In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

Follow Billy on Faceboook HERE

 

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Growing Your Own

 

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Friday’s Top Story: Early Spring Planting

Friday’s Top Story: Early Spring Planting

I’ve done it now, succumbed to peer pressure. Yesterday I did something that I never ever do,  I helped plant tomatoes . . . in April! I help plant tomatoes all the time, but in April, never.

Categorize this blog post in the category, Do as Renea says, not as she does. 

Knowing in my heart that it is too early to put delicate plants in the ground and realizing that Mr. Thomas, who never plants before May first, is probably right, yesterday (April 11, 2013) I followed Kelle’s lead and planted the seedlings she had sprouted for Billy’s garden. She’s the seed-sprouting queen, by the way.

I rationalize that the seedlings are heirlooms and perhaps stronger than other varieties. As Kelle said, the seedlings were tiny and “need to be in Billy’s dirt.” Truth be told, we needed to be in the dirt as well.

Tiny tomato plants are barely visible in the dirt.

Tiny tomato plants are barely visible in the dirt.

April is a volatile month. The whole tale of March being a lion or lamb rings true, but here lately April is schizophrenic at worst, unpredictable at best. Just ask the folk in Colorado who are digging out from another blizzard. On the east coast, Mother Nature sends violent thunderstorms in April, like the one that happened within hours of yesterday’s planting. I’m not even going over to Billy’s today. I am confident the seedlings are heads-bent leaves covered with mud.

The storms also bring cooler temperatures, or the “winters;” Dogwood winter (when the trees are in bloom) and blackberry winter when blooms are just forming on the vine. The Dogwoods should be in full bloom in a couple of days and blackberries have another couple of weeks, meaning we could experience another cold-snap. This makes me, who track these kinds of things, very hesitant with respect to planting. And then there were the “signs.” The zodiac didn’t give the green light to plant until today.

At Billy's, tomato-planting time means all hands on deck (and in dirt). Truly a joyful day.

At Billy’s, tomato-planting time means all hands on deck (and in dirt). Truly a joyful day.

But when helpers show up, it’s time to crank the tractor and get on hands and knees to plant, and say a prayer that this year we will be blessed with what Billy calls boocoos of tomatoes.

But, just in case, I have plenty of tomato seedlings at my house ready for May first.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

Follow Billy on Faceboook HERE

Footnote: “boocoo” is the Americanized version of the French adverb “beaucoup” meaning much or many.

 

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Protecting The Bird’s Nest

Protecting The Bird’s Nest

In Atlanta, spring has started to dust us with pollen. By the end of this week our cars should turn yellow, our front porches will follow suit. We will not complain. We haven’t seen the sun in ages. It is during this time when the sun shines that a fever consumes us. We rush to the store and purchase vegetables that are WAY too early to plant. (Atlanta folks don’t plant your tomatoes yet).

We fire up the lawnmower, or in my case, the chainsaw. Yes my friends, a chainsaw.

Those who have read my book In the Garden with Billy recall that I had a deep desire to own a chainsaw. For those who would like a copy of the book, upload to Kindle here or order here. Reasoning that I could have a fantastic garden if I took out a few trees, my dad let me borrow my mother’s electric chainsaw. It is capable of dropping anything three inches in diameter, or less. For the tree lovers in the group, please know that my front lawn is home to at least two hundred gigantic trees. I’m just thinning the saplings.

The spindly hedge must go. Where's my chainsaw?

The spindly hedge must go. Where’s my chainsaw?

My first project is an eyesore beside the house. I live in a much-older home in the Atlanta area, far, far away from a subdivision (Thank you Lord). For years I have despised the hedge bushes beside the house. If they were thicker at the bottom I would like them. Alas, they are thin and ugly at the bottom.

Plus, they encourage green mold on the cedar. I have discovered Tea Olive. Tea Olives are evergreen shrubs from the Osmanthus family. Envisioning their lovely fragrance, I plugged in the chainsaw and pulled the trigger.

I discovered the Cardinal’s nest, shortly after I removed most of the first shrub. All work ground to a stop. I recalled the times my dad brought home injured and orphaned animals. As a lineman for the power company, sometimes his crew was tasked with clearing limbs from the power lines. Many times he brought home animals in his yellow hard hat. My mother always kept a baby bottle so we could feed the babies. The Cardinal at my house had laid only one egg.There was something about the single egg that spoke to my heart.

The precious Cardinal nest.

The precious Cardinal nest.

With her nest now revealed, I worried about the cussed-infernal crows I had just (last week) seen flying with a baby blue jay. After I posted my loathing for crows, I received some flack from my Facebook acquaintances saying that crows are necessary, the “circle of life;” but from my front porch all I ever see is crows stealing defenseless baby birds.

Not in my front yard. No sir.

Picking up the removed limbs I wedged them in the shrub then secured them with that most-important gardening tool . . . duct tape.

As I wrapped the bungee and duct tape I kept thinking, my husband is going to kill me.

As I wrapped the bungee and duct tape I kept thinking, my husband is going to kill me.

When the tape failed to hold the heavy limbs I wound a bungee cord through the limbs, holding them in place so the mama Cardinal would feel secure. So now, my beautiful envisioned project is far from that. This morning as I checked the limbs to make certain they were secure, I stood on tiptoes and peeped inside the nest; there is another egg. I’ll overlook the eyesore as the Cardinals raise their babies. And I’ll stand watch for crows, and snakes.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

 

 
 

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