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Category Archives: A Glimpse into My Life, Wrinkles and all

My life, wrinkles and all. No photoshop, no rose colored lenses.

Miss Robin’s Letter

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post about a lady I met named Robin. The encounter was the life-altering kind, one that changed me more than it changed her.

Robin would disagree.

In the post, I asked y’all to reach out and send Robin encouragement. If you haven’t read about Robin, please take a moment to do so here. As you can imagine, she has been on my mind lately and as the days ticked over into weeks I became more concerned. Each morning, a Robin-red-breast appeared outside my kitchen widow, quite rare for my house, unless it is about to rain. I sensed that the bird was a reminder to pray, and I have. Each time the bird lights on a limb I lift up my friend.

And then her letter came.

I unfolded the purple paper and read her words written with purple ink in a beautiful, artful exhibit of penmanship. Robin has been unable to write due to neuropathy in her hands and fingers. She wrote about being human, being sad, and doing her best to stay strong. She asked about my mother, told me that she had lost a friend on March 28th, but quickly changed the tone of the letter to thanksgiving.

Dear Ones, Robin is so very thankful for everything you have done. Please allow me to share her words:

“Every card, letter, and gift brought me tears (literally) of joy, hope and strength and I will answer all in time. They were all filled with prayers, blessings, and so much love.”

By the second paragraph, I was crying. Weeping actually, with gratitude for the legion of friends who simply mailed a card, invested a moment of their time, sent a scripture to a complete stranger.

Robin’s letter continued, “I have prayed for so long (more desperately this past year), for help-resources, connections, and means to live my last dream to print and publish a book of my poems. Thirteen years ago, the door was closed, but alas I have hope…I have never felt such a profound spiritual uplifting in my life. The Lord has send earth angels to walk a ways with me, and perhaps to lead me through the door to my last dream (publishing her book of poems).”robinletter1

Dear Ones, I can’t speak for you, but I feel like we’ve had a little bit of church, don’t you?

Today, right now, if you are reading this on Tuesday, April 15th, our sweet friend Robin is enduring a bi-lateral total mastectomy. robinletter0This surgery is going to set her back for who knows how long. But I really want to figure out a way to get her book of poems published. The manuscript is handwritten on purple paper with purple ink and is on 8 and ½ by 11 legal pads. Does anyone have suggestions? Of course I think big, so I would also like a way for y’all to buy copies of her book, but that is a long-term goal. Already, an anonymous reader has offered to help make this happen. What are your thoughts about just copying her hand-written work and binding it into an 8 and ½ by 11 sized book?

The most important thing is to pray her through the surgery and then we will focus on making her publication dream come through.

This, Dear Ones, is what happens when we reach out to a complete stranger. While they may think we are changing their life, it sure feels like they change ours. Doesn’t it feel good?

About Renea: Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com.

 

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The Man with The Cardboard Sign

The Man with The Cardboard Sign

He stood at the corner of a busy thoroughfare with a folded piece of cardboard:

I DON’T DRINK

There were other words on the sign, scrawled out in desperation. Words that neither I, nor most of the other people who whizzed by, took the time to read.

The light was green. Thankfully, green. I despise that traffic light. If it catches you you’re stuck there for 2.5 minutes. And on a sunny Saturday as spring unfolds I can squeeze a lot of work into 2.5 minutes. I was traveling to the Community Garden at Christ United Methodist Church with a load of flowers I had rescued from a construction site. This is what I do, rescue flowers from development. I also grow my own food, so I really didn’t have time to plant the flowers; I had my own garden to tend.

Popping the back of my husband’s vehicle, a voice in my mind whispered, If you were standing on the corner of a busy intersection would someone stop to help?

The answer was a short. NO.

I have  experienced this thought before, and today I fail to adequately express these feelings into words. I have never picked up a homeless person before. Never. But I know this, there are many faceless people in this world, people that –for whatever reason–we don’t take the time to see. I could fill volumes with the reasons why we don’t see people, but this story isn’t about me, it is about, someone who has never experienced love.ross

Throwing my shovel and pitchfork onto the ground the voice whispered again: If you were standing on the corner of a busy intersection would someone stop to help?

Again the answer: NO. Because no one would see you.

Turning the key in the ignition, I backed out of the parking lot and made a U-turn where I picked up the man with a bent cardboard sign.

Lord, if I pick him up please don’t let him kill me, I prayed.

ross2“I’ve got some flowers to plant. Do you think you can help me with them?” I said through the rolled-down window.

He shouldered his backpack said, “Sure. I’m about to loose my storage space. I need all the work I can get.”

I didn’t have gloves for him; my own gloves which were ten-sizes too small for his hands.

“My name is Ross,” he said while extending his hand. I shook it. The skin was thick. Rough.

We set about the task of pulling weeds, attacking the ground with the intensity of two people who had known each other for years.

“I’ve been real lonely lately,” Ross said. “I let someone watch after my dog and she gave him to the Humane Society.”

Clumps of grass landed. “I miss my dog. He was my best friend.”

I nodded, understanding fully.

“I’m from Missouri,” Ross volunteered. “My dad was full-blood Choctaw and my momma descended from Jesse James. Her first name is James. So I guess you could say I’ve got a family of cowboys and Indians. Mind if I switch with you, I think the shovel would work better for me.”

We switched tools, cleared and planted the flower bed in twenty minutes. Looking toward my garden spot, I said, “let’s put those old corn stalks in the compost pile . . . if you have time.”

“I can clean the whole thing if you want,” Ross said. “Turn the dirt over too.”

We rolled up our sleeves and began.

“Yes, I sleep in the woods,” Ross said without my asking. “I’m homeless, but I’m not hope-less.”

He doesn’t sleep in the woods all the time. He’s staying with a friend right now. I spoke to her on the phone. He wanted me to tell her he’d be late, due to getting the job pulling weeds.

“My momma drank a lot when I was growing up, and my dad left when I was six. He used to beat the hell out of me. Momma beat me too.”

Ross needed to talk and I needed to listen. Not with my ears, but with my heart. Ross told me his story, one of drugs, alcohol, and children taken by the Department of Child Services.

“I need me a good Christian woman,” Ross said. “I got two children, both born premature, with crack in their system. I didn’t use cocaine. I was a drinker, but my wife . . . she like cocaine. The hospital took both babies right after they were born.”

Stalks of corn collected outside of my garden plot. Ross, who is over fifty years old, stacked them neatly, readied them for the compost bin. “I tried to get second born. It was boy. I knew I could raise him. I was starting to get myself together, even went to court, begged them to let me raise my boy, but they wouldn’t . . . on account of my drinking. His momma never got off crack. So I left her. Yes, I need me a good Christian woman.”

Both children landed in foster care. Both children were adopted by their foster families. “My kids are together as a family and I’m proud of that. They have something I never had.”

Even thought Ross didn’t say so, I knew he was speaking about love.

In the South we like to say, there but for the grace of God. We say it not knowing, or perhaps not caring, that there exists a smattering of people who didn’t ask to be born, who never-not even once-have known what love feels like. These are homeless, or poor, or angry, or scared (or perhaps all of these emotions) all because they weren’t wanted or loved. The obvious question is how can you give something you never had? When all you know is yelling and drinking, fists and fights how in the name of humanity is it possible to know anything else?

And so we thank God . . . for what? Because we aren’t like them? Because we have a home? Because we aren’t in jail? My friend Tara recently penned a blog that caused me pause. Please take a moment to read it here. Tara reminds her readers that Not all people who are homeless are lazy and don’t have any ambitions or dreams. Tara also wrote something particularly profound People should not be defined by their circumstances.

But we do define people by their circumstances, don’t we? We see Ross standing on the side of the road and we think he’s a bum. We think that he has done something to deserve the desperation he feels every single day. Never once does it enter our heart that he is a lonely soul whose hunger for love is so strong one can almost hear it.

We think that we deserve the best life has to offer, but what about Ross? What does he deserve?

“No one believed me when I said I stopped drinking. But I did,” Ross said while raising his chin proudly. “My momma didn’t even believe me. My step-dad didn’t either. I visited Momma before she died. Went back to Missouri and spent some time with her. She said, “Ross, I am proud of you for giving up the liquor.”

Thinking back on the sign Ross held, I realized that it was his affirmation I don’t drink. Ross is proud. He has conquered something that according to him, “had me in bondage for years.”

“God don’t make junk,” Ross continued. “He’s put on my heart a passion for the youth. I really want to talk to young people today. I think they need to hear about my life.”

I nodded. He’s right. But let’s get real, would you want Ross speaking to your teenager?

Would you? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d want someone educated and refined. You would want someone from a good family who could teach your children, someone with a degree in divinity who could teach the youth.

Teach them what?

“I’ve got me a job,” Ross said. “It starts next week. Going to be building houses,” Ross volunteered.

“Now you be careful,” I warned. “The construction field is full of drugs and alcohol. People who need a little something just to get buy.”

Ross smiled. “Aw now, I’m not worried. God has delivered me from all that. I don’t need to drink no more. I’ve been delivered.” Ross wiped dirt off his hands, pulled a briar out of the pad of his hand with his teeth. Then tucked the cardboard sign under his arm. At that moment I understood why the first words written were I DON’T DRINK. Ross is very proud of where he is.

“I’m not where I ought to be, but I’m not where I used to be either.”

I nodded, said a silent prayer of Thanksgiving.

“Only thing I’m addicted to now is chocolate. I buy chocolate chips by the bag. I’m kind of partial to the Publix brand . . . milk chocolate.”

I smiled. “Well now, we’ve all got our vices.”

Cranking the truck, I drove Ross to the CVS where his scooter was parked. Plans are currently underway to pay Ross to clean the rest of the community garden at Christ Church. If you’d like to make a monetary donation to the maintenance of the garden send your contribution to Christ United Methodist Church: Attention: Mrs. Lundstrom  1340 Woodstock Road, Roswell, Georgia 30075

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com I would be honored if you’d download a copy of my work.

 
 

Wordless Wednesday: Spring Cometh

20140302_17151120140302_17142320140301_17142620140301_17123920140302_17145920140301_17272920140228_101609Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com I would be honored if you’d download a copy of my work.

 

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The Poison of Jealousy

This week I have been suffering with an affliction known as poison sumac. Not to be confused with poison ivy, sumac is a woody plant, and in my case it was a tree-size. I encountered it during a rescue mission on a 50-year-old-farm and because there were no leaves, I mistook the vile thing for a popular tree and promptly dug it up and then rescued a bucket load of daffodils scattered around it.

I told the doctor, all of my itching is worth the discomfort.

As someone who can dig poison oak without so much as a blemish, this affliction both surprised me and had me sitting at the doctor’s office begging for a shot.(and pills and cream). Back home, I sat on the couch I replayed a conversation with an author friend of mine. She is a veteran author who has written for several esteemed magazines and recently released a charming book. However, like me, she has encountered quite a bit of what I call jealousy.

This year, as an effort to encourage readers to shop local, sustain local booksellers in the community, and feed starving authors (including myself), I am writing a quarterly newsletter featuring up to four books. Featured authors do not know I am choosing them and I have not been paid to write about them. In most cases, I haven’t personally met the author.

I provide that back story, because I recently learned that some authors have crossed their arms, pooched out their lips and are pouting. Yes, the jealous authors who-I’d bet money-don’t even know me, nor have they taken the time to know me.

Jealousy, you see, is like those tiny blisters on my arms. Jealousy starts small, with a pooched out mouth. Then it begins to itch. So we scratch it.

I included all four authors in the email mailing of my newsletter and those authors shared my newsletter with their readers. I don’t use a secondary carrier. Instead I paste the newsletter in my blog, AND, I send the newsletter in a personal email to the readers I have met during my years of traveling. (FYI: Your contact information is always safe with me).

Shouting out the books others have written is what I do. Again, I invest my time, for free. Here is an example of my blog posting last year featuring Susan, Jolina, Ann, and Karen. None knew of my plans. No compensation for my work. My newsletter is my gift, a valuable one, to my readers.

However . . .

Like the sumac blisters, jealousy festers. It collects and annoys until one either must scratch, or explode. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my most recent newsletter, this week, sparked an email from an unhappy author.

Yes. It. Did.

Not from the authors I featured, but one I did not.

I am writing to her today. No one shared your name with me but you need to know this. Lean in close because this is important. You do not understand how badly jealousy is damaging your career.

There. I said it. You are sabotaging your career.

I am not “always” promoting one particular author. I am promoting authors who have written books I like.

Lean in again. Support others. Be nice.

Readers who know me trust my opinion. I read several genres and you-missus unnamed author- must understand that we authors are in a big old gumbo pot together.

We are not in a competition. There are plenty of readers out there. That is why I pick several different types of books. I do not surround myself with people who read only what I read.

I want to grow. I want to be better every day. I want to be a better writer and a better friend. I want to make a positive impact on this earth. Most of all I want to help people.

Now I ask how did your remarks benefit you?

Did your remarks about another author make a reader want to buy your book?

Did your remarks about me want anyone want to help you sell your book?

Again, let me whisper. Stop it my colleague. Just stop.

Don’t scratch the jealousy blisters my friend. Treat them. Cure them. Stop scratching.

And yes, several people are going to think this blog post is harsh. But it is past time that rude and jealous authors be called out. Because here is the truth, I can be that author. We all can. Authors are afraid. We are loosing contracts. Publishers are dropping us. And people think Amazon is making us rich.

It isn’t. None of my author friends are wealthy. None of them.

Jealousy is inside all of us. We are consumed with fear that we aren’t selling enough books. We look at Facebook (which is you believe that hype you should really get a reality check), and we believe that we deserve the same sales as someone else.

We do deserve success. We have worked hard. And that is why I help others. Unprompted. Unsolicited.

If you are an author who has experienced jealousy, do your friend a favor, tell them to stop. Tell them how badly they are hurting you and their own career. Or, just forward them this blog.

If this blog has been forwarded to you it means someone cares enough about you to help. Perhaps the jealousy consuming you is keeping you from attaining the success you crave. If you are wondering why aren’t my books selling? Here is one possible reasons: your attitude toward others.

You can’t act on fear, or jealousy. Instead WRITE A GREAT BOOK. If you have a good book your colleagues will support you, IF you play nice.

Just be nice, or as my grandpa used to say “Be somebody!”

Stop scratching the itch, or soon you will be poisoned with jealousy.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com I would be honored if you’d download a copy of my work.

 

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THINK SPRING (and new books)

It’s been a long and cold winter here in “Hotlanta.” We’ve survived snow, ice, and –in my case-packed on an extra couple pounds due to being snowed in with one too many brownies. I think I speak for most of us when I say that we are ready for warmer weather. This newsletter is packed with exciting news for readers and authors who are working on their manuscript. First, for the authors: on April 26, 2014, Ann Hite and I will lead a workshop in Atlanta.  Ann and I have planned a delightful workshop that will teach you how to create memorable characters and tap into your creativity.

The workshop is affordably priced and lunch is included.

Visit this link to learn more about the conference. Early bird registration is NOW until

March 1, 2014.

Additionally, for those who have completed a manuscript, critique sessions and editing services are available.

Please tell your friends about this workshop.

NEW BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ:

nl1Spring means the release of NEW BOOKS:  I am proud to be the cheerleader for several books you should read this spring. I’ll start with Project Keepsake because-well-I have a story in this book. Do you have treasured keepsakes? Most of us do which is why I was honored when Amber Nagle asked me to contribute to her collection.  Project Keepsake releases in just a few weeks. Get ready to read some delightful stories. Click here to learn more about Amber and buy a copy of the book.

For the Horse Lover If you love discovering new authors, I have one for you. R.L.M Tipton is new to the publishing world.  Her supporters have been waiting, for Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings for some time. Tipton offers a look into the world of horses, and horse champions. These stories are from the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. If you have ever loved an animal, you will love this book.

Now, Let’s Get Sassy: Beth Albright is a gem of a Southern Belle who is the author of the Sassy Belle series. Beth creates characters that readers adore. Just in time for Spring, she has released a charming novella that you simply must check out (Click here). Readers hope she’ll stop by Atlanta on her way to Alabama during her next tour. I’ll keep you posted via Facebook. Y’all must meet this Belle.nl3

Life is finally wonderful for Tuscaloosa’s Blake O’Hara Heart: a rekindled love affair with her high school sweetheart and a precious new baby on the way. But when she gets an unexpected call from Harry Heart, her soon to be ex-husband, Blake’s new sweet world is turned upside down.

heartwideopenSpring Means New Beginnings: I met Shellie Rushing Tomlinson a little over a year ago and this little Belle of All Things Southern is the real deal. Her lovely book titled, Heart Wide Open speaks to my heart. When I started reading it, I thought I would scan a few pages, but no, I found myself doing something I never do . . . writing notes in the margin! I became so inspired and excited that I sent her texts in the middle of the night. Fortunately she is in a different time zone and didn’t mind.

There is so much to share about this book. I want to quote my favorite parts, but I am won’t because this is her baby and she gets first dibs. I will say that Shellie penned some of the thoughts I’ve felt as I walk a life of faith. This is the PERFECT gift to slip inside an Easter basket, but be warned, buy two copies because you will want to keep a copy for yourself.

finalcoverinthegardenwithbillyAnd Finally, about Me: Mercer University is still on target to release the latest installment of the Billy Albertson book in the fall of 2014. If you haven’t downloaded my short story collection or purchased my other books, you can do so here.  I am currently working hard at my first novel.

I am passionate about literacy, gardening, and I still help Billy Albertson on his farm. Friends, family, and you-the reader- are important to me. If you like my books, please tell your friends. I am only successful if you tell others about my work. If you are a blogger or belong to a book club, please contact me so we can talk about booking events and guest blog posts.

Contact me via my website www.reneawinchester.com.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in A Glimpse into My Life, Wrinkles and all

 

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Meeting Robin

I have a face, or a smile, or a goofy look about me that compels complete strangers, and life-long friends, to tell me their secrets. For that reason I am a vault packed chockablock full of things people have told me through the years all while they whisper, “Don’t you dare tell a soul.”

And I don’t. Whisper your secrets in my ear and they are safe.

But Robin didn’t tell me a secret. She shared her soul.

To set the scene, I was at the Rose Glen Literary Festival. Imagine a room filled with 49 authors. Mix in another hundred or so booklovers and another hundred who were dashing in-between author sessions.

Robin followed me back to my table. I had just finished speaking and if you’ve ever heard me speak you know that I try my level-headed best to encourage fledgling authors, many times to my own exhaustion. But this story isn’t about me. It is about Robin.

Please, don’t think this post is about me, at all.

Her hand held a crumpled Kleenex. Her cheeks were sunken and her skin bore the familiar pallor of cancer. And, if you’ve ever heard me speak you know that I usually ask readers to pray for my mother, who has ovarian cancer.

“I was wondering if you could tell me how to find a group of people who might read my work and tell me if it’s really any good. People have told me my work is good, but . . . well. . . she paused, what I really want is to publish my work before I die.”

All authors say this, but in Robin’s case the expression is literal.

Robin then said, “I’ll pray for your mother.”

I looked up at her, really looked and saw this woman as a broken bird. She hovered, barely fluttering to stay in flight.

“What type?” I asked knowing that she was struggling with something.

“End stage breast cancer. I knew I had it three years ago, went to my doctor. She told me it wasn’t cancer, gave me some sort of hormone cream to rub on my breasts.”

Robin paused and smoothed a strand of her red-haired wig. “But I knew, deep in my gut. . . I knew that I should not rub hormone cream on me. I knew it was breast cancer even then. Me and my husband were getting a divorce and you know . . .” her voice trailed off.

I knew.

I wanted to say, Oh Robin, if you only knew how much I knew. I was sitting in the very spot, within eyeshot of the same golf course my where my ex-husband had played golf so many years ago. If anyone knew what she had lost it was me.

Her home.

Her husband.

Her career.

Her friends.

Her insurance.

She had lost it all and just when she thought there was nothing else to lose, cancer took her health leaving her with nothing, nothing, but fear, loneliness and the ear of a stranger.

“My momma’s gone too,” she said her chin lowering, her hand coming to her eye to catch a falling tear. “I miss her.”

I replied, “I’ll pray for you.” Robin nodded and asked some particulars about publishing. She told me how she writes (by hand, purple pen to paper). She explained that she doesn’t have a computer (sold it). She doesn’t have a career (was once a photographer, now too sick). And she laughed this time when she said, “I want to get my work in a book before I die.”friendship1

“Would you mind if I prayed now,” I said and when she nodded I grabbed her hand.

For the record I do not consider myself an eloquent prayer. Not in private or public. I don’t remember what I prayed, I only did what I felt lead (or called) to do. Then I came around the table and gave her a hug. That was when my little Robin fluttered, when the energy she’d been using to remain upright gave way.

Our hug was the kind that joins two souls. A kind of physical connection so strong I could feel her tiny abdomen fluttering against mine with each cry. Tears fell wet on my thin jacket, soaked through the fabric and onto my skin. As her tears wet my hair all I could say was “You’re ok. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

But this post is NOT about me. It is about my broken friend Robin. I do not have her. God does.

I wanted to take her picture but my daughter forbade it; said Robin wouldn’t want me to share it. I argued that she was beautiful to me but my daughter gave me the look. I defer to my daughter. She is wise beyond her years.

What I want from you my friends is to shower Robin with love. I want you, my readers, to help me hold Robin up, for as long as we can.

If you have ever been afraid−not the eek! kind of fear that comes from finding a spider in the bathroom−but genuine fear and loneliness, please consider sending Robin a card. Contact me via my email reneawrites(atsymbol)gmail.com and I will share her mailing address.

Robin’s healthcare is 100% through the Health Department. And I don’t have to climb up on my soapbox about how the poor and indigent receive substandard care and how easy it is to get lost in a healthcare nightmare. Robin said it took a full year to get an appointment to see the doctor, to even receive care at the Health Department. By then she was end-stage.

Can we even imagine how she feels?

When I wonder what God’s plan is for me, when I look at my God-given “gift” all I see is a BIG mouth. And today I am using this mouth to ease Robin’s loneliness. Sadly, there are thousands like her, people who are afraid, and who will die alone. But God didn’t show me them, he showed me Robin. friendship

So if my words have moved you, please send me an email. When you write I ask that you do NOT mention me. I would like this “Love Project” to be one where we just send her cards from random strangers. Of course you can include your mailing addresses, but I don’t think she can afford to return the correspondence. Perhaps we can each send her a little something, stamps, stationary . . . pens, but the Bible says we aren’t to boast when we help another. Do what you feel led to do but do not tell me what it is. My job is to tell you about her, to give those who ask her mailing address. The rest is up to God.

Because this post, isn’t about us, it is about our new friend Robin.

Please, PLEASE, share this. If you share on Facebook, please write a short sentence asking your friends to read the post. Let us shower Robin with love.

About Renea:

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com I would be honored if you’d download a copy of my work.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in A Glimpse into My Life, Wrinkles and all

 

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What do I really want?

The temperatures climbed to a balmy 60 degrees on Sunday. And while I wanted to lie outside like a lizard on a rock, for some reason, my daughter and her friends thought Sunday was the perfect time to go ice skating. C’mon now, really?

Just days from having an unprecedented snow and ice storm which left enough ice to skate in my driveway, the girls house wanted to go skating. (I blame the Olympics) Just about everyone in Atlanta has cabin fever. It’s not that we want to put our children’s safety at risk, but if they don’t return to school (soon) we momma’s are going to start screaming like banshees. So it was with sheer joy that I dropped the teenagers at The Cooler, and pulled the people mover into a parking space. I tightened my shoelaces, donned sunglasses and stepped into the glorious sunshine determined to work off the extra pounds that magically appeared after five days of being trapped inside with nothing to eat but brownies.

Usually, I multi-task during my walks. I call friends, or my parents. Walk time is catch-up time, one when I do my best to disguise the tears and pray my voice won’t crack after learning that my momma’s hematocrit is two. (Yes. One plus one = 2). Today, as I wrapped my hands around my cell that still small voice told me to run to the throne instead the phone.reallywant1

I’ve been analyzing my life a lot lately, worried because my daughter will be a senior next year. Worried, because I do not have enough money saved for her college; worried because, despite my efforts, finding a full-time job has been impossible; worried that my next book won’t be well received.

And I know, truly know in my heart, that worry is not of God.

Authors are a worrisome lot, especially in today’s world. There is so much negativity out there: shrinking advances, lackluster sales, Amazon-the devil incarnate-driving small bookstores out of business. Still, many of my peers are doing well. They are doing very well and I love hearing about their success because it gives me hope. I am happy for them, but I also want some of their success.reallywant2

Honesty: that is what you always receive when you read my blog. Honesty. On this little blog I open a vein and share my soul. I have been an author for ten years now and while my time is but a blink compared to other authors, I have worked hard to grow and improve which is why as I walked I asked myself, what do I want?

I ticked off a list:

I want my mother to be healed of cancer.

I want to sell a lot of books.

I want my daughter to do well in school, well enough to earn a partial scholarship.

I want to finish my novel in progress

I want to restore my Dad’s Jeep.

I want to have money left over at the end of my husband’s pay day.

I want to return to school.

As I turned and walked back up the hill toward the parking lot, God whispered, Are you done?

So I thought some more.

I want a lot of people to come to my writer’s workshop in April. (Because I have so much to share).

I want more fledgling authors to use my editing services.

I want the weather to be clear when I travel to TN for a conference next week.

I want to sell books at the TN event.

I want to stop worrying.

I want to trust Him more. reallywant0

I want what He wants for me.

Ding. Ding. Ding!

Finally. After the third trip up and down the concrete hill, I got it. God doesn’t want me to rattle off a list of what I want. He already knows what I want and what I need. What I really wanted, what I really needed wasn’t any of the things that I had mentioned.

Sometimes I imagine God gazing down on me and asking my relatives who are in heaven, “Who’s got money on three times up the hill . . . cause she’s almost there.”

I didn’t want to be as successful as my friends. I didn’t even want to be more successful than my friends. I wanted to trust God to give me what I need, and I want to accept that what He gives me is the best for me. I really want peace. Peace that only comes when I trust Him first.

Because if I get all of the things on the list and I don’t have a relationship with Him, then what good are those “things?” What good is money, college, a refurbished Jeep, Momma’s health when compared to my relationship with Him?

Turning, I headed down the hill again, only this time I said. “Lord, I don’t want the success my friends have. I want what you have in store for me. What you’ve got already planned with my name on it. I want to stop worrying. You know I am not afraid to do the work. You know that I work as hard as anyone my size possibly can, but you also know that somehow, somewhere deep inside of me I don’t really trust You to keep your promises. For that I am sorry. Forgive me. Replace my want of things with a want of You!

My legs were burning as I climbed the hill, but my burden was lighter as I realized that what I want, and what I need can only be found if I trust The One who made me.

He will keep his promises, of that I am certain.

I would be honored if you’d download a copy of my work. Visit the links below:

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in A Glimpse into My Life, Wrinkles and all

 

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A New Routine

During the past two weeks I’ve taken steps, tiny toddles which moved me as a person, and an author. It began when a blanket of cold air and puffy clouds blocked the sun and Old Man Winter blew out a frosty breath. I have been, downtrodden. I’ve never experienced SAD before, the winter ailment that changes happy people into someone who doesn’t want to get out of the bed. But this year, I am SAD. I could feel the difference in myself, in my body and worse, in spirit. There has been a heaviness wrapped around my body, constricting the person I am like a turtleneck sweater that’s two sizes two small.

As most of you know, I am an author. This life isn’t one of glamour and fame; it is filled with hours, and hours, and hours of solitude, worry and fret.  For a people person such as myself, solitude is a recipe for disaster. People persons who prefer hugs really shouldn’t do this writing thing; it is far too painful. I am working on my first novel and this work-in-progress has been locked down tight. Unmoving. Frozen like I-285 during last week’s snowstorm.  My next book is coming out this October, but my first novel really, really needs to be complete before then. That is why two weeks ago I started making steps toward the person I think I’m supposed to be.

My house is a dark monstrosity, shaded by hundreds of beautiful trees that I adore in the summer, but in winter, block the sun. But like a lizard, I determined to seek the sun, and doing so meant leaving the house with my work in progress tucked inside my bag. I set up my office in a local coffee shop. Literally: tea goes here . . . pencil, highlighter, eraser and paperclips there . . . work in progress, front and center where it belongs. writingroomSunshine drove out the chill and being surrounded by chatter energized me. On days when I didn’t really want to leave the house, I hold up in my writing room, which is nothing more than a sunny window in our bathroom. Yes, the bathroom.

I have also placed myself on a strict schedule which hasn’t been easy. Limiting Facebook has been necessary. There’s too much negativity and right now it sticks to me like a static-covered sock. As an example when I asked for prayer for a family who had just suffered a tremendous loss due to suicide, three people started blaming the family for the suicide. Compassion, it seems, is as scarce as the sun this winter. My new regimen: Facebook in the morning, then once more before dinner, and then I am unplugged. Nothing electronic after 6 pm, not even email.

Tuesdays are devoted to Bible study. I admire women of faith. Strong women who are ready to grab your hand and pray, who have an encouraging scripture during times of trouble. I have wanted the knowledge of Godly women, and then one day it occurred to me, BOOM, that type of knowledge doesn’t happen by osmosis. I must study the word. I guess you could say I am seeking the Son and the sun.

By 9:30 each morning I’m either in the coffee shop, or my writing room at home. Soaking up the sun and writing – by hand – as fast as I can, except when I’m seeking the Son.

Part of my discouragement came in December. In November of 2013, I accepted the NaNo challenge to write 40,000 words during the month of November. I don’t know why I did this to myself, I can’t write 40K words in 30 days. I am a mother, a wife, a ball-thrower for our Labradoodle. Each day NaNo writers enter a word count reporting how many words they have written that day (notice the last word in that sentence . . . day). The goal is to motivate yourself and others, and know how you are progressing. The problem is that there are always, ALWAYS, people who by day two say they have written 10K words and by day four, they’re posting 30K. Going from zero to 30K in three days is not physically possible. At minimum, one must eat, and use the bathroom. Let me call that behavior what it is: lying, cheating and wrong. Even I can tell when someone is taking their old work in progress and plugging the numbers into the counter. That type of behavior, like negative Facebook posts, discourages. I finished NaNo with roughly 28,000 NEW words with a personal goal of finishing my manuscript by January.

That did not happened.

But this week I pushed past 40,000 words. These were my words. I own them. I wrote every single word and they’re not half bad. I have studied books on scene, plot, character development. I didn’t copy someone’s ideas, they came from inside of me. I found a sunny spot, poured a cup of tea and invited my characters to join me. They told me their stories. I listened. For that I am incredibly grateful, and while I am no braggart, I am also a tiny bit proud. If you are an author, step away from the nonsense and the desire to be like someone else or write like someone else tells you. Find a routine that works for you and your characters. Be yourself. Only you can pen the story inside of you. Write your words and then be proud of that accomplishment. If you have a routine that works, please share.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com 

 

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Gluten-free Gumbo

With frigid temperatures blanketing most of the Northeast, and the Super Bowl countdown underway, today I thought I’d share a delicious and satisfying gumbo recipe. For those who love gumbo, but can no longer tolerate gluten, take heart, you won’t even miss the roux, I promise. I can almost hear my Cajun friends. “Gumbo without roux. . . that’s sacrilegious. ”

Oh contraire mon frère, life without gumbo, now that’s sacrilegious.

Equipment: Cast Iron Skillet and gumbo pot

Ingredients:

1 bag frozen sliced okra (in the summer use two cups of fresh)carolinapridesausage

1 large onion

2 cans chicken broth

2 Tablespoons chopped garlic

1 large bell pepper (any color)

1 large jalapeno (or more, depending on your tolerance)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Bay leaf (you just have to include a bay leaf)

2 Cans Chopped Tomatoes (or 1 quart jar of tomatoes from your garden)

Tabasco sauce (quantity depending on your tolerance)

2 pounds Carolina Pride Smoked Sausage

2 pounds of shrimp (gulf-coast shrimp only) Note: Add it last

Salt

Pepper

Creole or Gumbo seasoning of your choice

Cooked ricegumbo1

A Bit of History: Before I start chopping, I have to tell you about the Carolina Pride Company. When my husband went on the Atkins- low carb-high protein diet-I wanted to make sure the meats I prepared contained the least amount of preservatives possible. Standing in front of the smoked sausages, I read the labels. Are you a label reader? You really should be. It’s scary stuff. Finding a smoked sausage that did not contain MSG was nigh on impossible, then I read the back of the Carolina Pride Smoked Sausage. No MSG. Well now, I already knew this company: Southern to the core from Greenwood South Carolina, this company has been around since 1920. So for me, it’s only Carolina Pride for my family. With that out of the way let’s get to chopping.

Note: Instead of stirring a roux for hours, you will use a pot and a skillet.

Instructions: I like to do all of my chopping, slicing, and can opening as prep work. Then add everything when necessary. Dice the onions and peppers and set them aside. Slice the sausage into bite sized pieces.

Heat cast iron skillet and pour2 generous tablespoons of olive oil into the skillet. Add sausage. Cooking the sausage first releases the flavors. Partially brown the sausage in the skillet and then transfer into the pot. Turn heat on low.

Still using the skillet, add onions and chopped peppers. Cooking the vegetables immediately after the sausage allows the vegetables to absorb the yummy flavor from the Carolina Pride Sausage. Cook until the onions become translucent.

Now the trick: transfer the vegetables into the gumbo pot and deglaze your skillet. Turn the heat on the skillet to high. Pour in one can of chicken broth. This “deglazes” the skillet, releasing the remnants of yummy flavors. Pour stock into pot.

You are now done with the skillet.

Pour canned tomatoes into pot and stir. Adjust heat to medium.

Add bay leaf, frozen okra and second can of chicken broth.

Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes or until okra is the consistency you like.

Taste. Add pepper, salt, creole seasoning and Tabasco to your liking.

Then, the shrimp is added last. Because shrimp cooks fast, I always add it last. This will keep your shrimp moist and not rubbery. Shrimp is done when it turns a beautiful pink color.

Spoon over rice. Enjoy the gumbo and do let me hear your thoughts about this recipe.

Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for reading my blog.  Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com 

 

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Snowmagadon 2014

By now most of the country has heard about the snow storm in Atlanta, how the city was gridlocked and thousands of people, including children, spent the night away from their loved ones. (not including first responders, officers, power company workers). snow3

Here are the details about what and how this happened.

First, because of the warm climate, communities and suburbs around metro Atlanta do not have trucks that scrape the roads. The expense outweighs the probability of ever needing the equipment. We do not have salt, sand, chat (tiny pieces of gravel) or any other means of road maintenance. We do have weathermen who did forecast 1-2 inches of snow. We were not taken by surprise: However, take this into consideration, my personal example if you will:

snow4

Notice tractor trailer and bus accident, also notice ticker saying don’t get on Johnson Ferry, seriously, don’t.

My example is one school district. Multiply that by the surrounding counties and you can imagine the kind of traffic we were dealing with. Between 1:43 to 1:46 (depending on where you are in the queue) 98,000 parents whose children are enrolled in the Fulton County School system received a call saying that “all schools in Fulton County are closing at 1:45. Parents you may come get your children.” There were no instructions regarding placing your child on a school bus. Many of those 98,000 parents were at work. They got into their cars to get their kids. That equaled gridlock. As an example my husband’s 15 minute commute, took 1 hour 44 minutes. He arrived home just as I was getting the call from the school.

“We can’t get out,” he said. “No way, we will have to walk.”

Because a Momma bear and a Poppa bear will walk 500 miles for their kid (and your kid too!)

Because a Momma bear and a Poppa bear will walk 500 miles for their kid (and your kid too!)

So we donned our warm clothes, grabbed extra boots and a coat for my daughter and began walking.

Neighboring counties had already released. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people on the road simultaneously.

Let’s enter Facebook for a moment. Beginning at 11:30 am, I and hundreds of parents were begging Fulton County to release their students. We were calling, texting, tweeting, and sending messages to the board and the new station. Yet three hours passed before the administration released our children.

Buses: Again, the automated message did not tell us about a bus schedule. On a normal day, each school bus makes three trips. Beginning around 2:30, a single bus picks up Elementary school kids first, then high school, and finally, middle school. So on a normal day, the last students gets off the bus by around 6:00. But when the snow storm hit, by 6:00 pm tens of thousands, of HIGH SCHOOL kids in the Fulton County school system were either on a school bus or still in school; many buses simply returned to school because they could not navigate the icy roads. That left middle school kids still at school and a large amount of high school students as well. Thousands of children spent the night at school. The National Guard was dispatched to ease parental concerns. As of noon 1/29/2013 2,000 students are still at school and the National Guard is escorting busses on the roads.

This morning. Solid ice.

This morning. Solid ice.

Politics: Before we crucify the Governor, please know that he has no power, no control whatsoever over when the school, or local businesses release their workers. Both the Mayor and Governor wisely released non-essential employees at 10:00 am (before snow started). They took care of their employees. The school systems did not release until the roads were white with snow. Also of note, there are approximately 60 mini-municipalities outside of the Atlanta Metro area with their own board of elected officials. Those “small towns” for lack of a better word, are responsible for their own road maintenance. Imagine the Governor or the Mayor calling any of them and saying, “I think y’all need to let your employees go home early.”

Ponder that for a moment. How do you think those municipal leaders would respond?

Throwing propane on the panic, around noon the City of Roswell’s Emergency Management Office sent an automated message for people to stay off the roads. They reported icy conditions and basically sent the population of 93,962 residents into a panic with their message. And where do a lot of those people work? You got it…downtown Atlanta.

Further,  school administrators do not report to the Governor, or Mayor of Atlanta.  Had the interstates been clear this issue would have still played out due to volume and lack of maintenance on side roads. It is just impossible to funnel over a million cars through an interstate system that goes from six lanes, to four lanes, to two lanes without significant, significant back up. As my husband said, “this type of bottle neck happens every time it rains; it was just made worse because the roads were icy.”

Gridlock: By 4 pm, tens of thousands of vehicles were jammed onto the roads: workers, frantic mothers who worked in downtown were trying to get their children; children didn’t know how they were going to get home and wanted their parents; tractor trailers who most-likely had passed a weight station that was CLOSED. But in the middle of bad, something good happened. Michelle Sollicito, an angel on this earth, created a Facebook Page called Snowedout Atlanta. I watched the group from a thousand, to 7 thousand to over 35 thousand to 50,000 now. The page offered links to people who were opening their homes, to heroes who were driving out to get stranded motorists, to shelters, churches, businesses. Let me SHOUT OUT to HOME DEPOT and KROGER and other businesses who stayed open 24 hours. Neighbors, and strangers, reached out. As the posts came in, Snowed Out Angels monitored the Page then left their homes and braved snow and ice to pick up strangers and unite them with families. By dark, thousands of people had no choice but to leave their cars and walk in freezing temperatures. Frantic family members posted pleas for help and help came. The spirit of fear was replaced with hope.

Today: We are not out of the woods. At 10:00 am, it is 12 degrees. Thousands are still in their cars. We are not expecting temperatures to rise above freezing. Tractor trailer drivers, HERO units are getting stuck. Help is coming but they are having to plow their way to you. Please, I beg you, please pray for us.

If you are home. Do. Not. Leave.

If you are home. Do. Not. Leave.

Yesterday, and still today, we were and are all one. We just wanted to be inside. We wanted our parents, our family, our pets. There were reports of people standing at the end of their driveways offering food, shelter, and ya know what? That felt good.

Why did it feel good? Because you, yes you, were being the hands and feet of Jesus. You were using your gift, your purpose to help someone else. It is a powerless feeling to see so many people stranded, afraid, just wanting to get home. All I could do was pray, and post links of people opening their doors. My prayer was that neighbor would help neighbor, strangers would reach out to another, that the fear blanketing the area would be driven out, and that His name would be glorified.

You may not be a believer, but that wonderful feeling you experienced by helping another, that is your purpose. That is what God made you for. Whether you wanted to or not, at that moment you made God smile. So today as we are iced in here in “Hotlanta” I would like you to reflect on the goodness you have experienced, what you saw, what you felt, what you did.jan2014 115

You my friends, despite your religion, despite your belief, despite your past wrongs, despite the fact that you and God don’t really get along anymore . . . you did what you were called to do, what you were placed here to do. You helped, by prayer or deed and you made God smile.

Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for reading my blog.  Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com 

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2014 in A Glimpse into My Life, Wrinkles and all

 

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