March 30, 2009

Is Your Family Built For Change?

Vestina F. Crayton, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Whether you are an architect, contractor, or simply a person who has an interest in how buildings are constructed, you understand that a building is only as strong as its foundation. The same principle applies to building a solid family. According to research conducted by the University of Florida, Institute of Agriculture and Science (IFAS) Extension the building blocks for a creating a strong family are their “commitment to each other; physical, spiritual, and emotional wellness; effective family communication; appreciation of all family members; meaningful and sufficient time together; and effective strategies to deal with stress.”

It is important to take the time to examine your family’s inventory of abilities and strengths. Take this moment to celebrate the qualities you currently possess and work on acquiring the ones you feel you lack. Having these characteristics will help families deal with unplanned changes. Change is inevitable. In a family, change can range from a child’s first day of school to the loss of a job. No matter the change, good or challenging, a family exhibiting these basic qualities is better equipped to handle the stress that comes with change.

Handling Unexpected Change

Have a candid discussion with your family about the situation. Be aware that each family member may deal with unexpected change in a different way. Researchers, at the Michigan State University Extension Office (MSUE) have identified five distinct stages that individuals will go through when dealing with life-altering loss:
  1. Shock and Denial – “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This is a natural initial response. Accept and acknowledge the loss. This will help you move towards recovery quicker.
  2. Panic and Fear – “I don’t know what to do.” At first glance, the situation may seem insurmountable. Take a step back, breathe, and deal with one issue at a time.
  3. Anger- “Why is this happening to me?” Be careful that you do not express your anger in an unconstructive manner. Find ways to vent such as taking a walk, counting to ten or taking deep breaths.
  4. Hope- “This may be an opportunity to try something new.” Sometimes the excitement of the endless possibilities is attractive. Take the time to sit down and evaluate the pros and cons of each possibility. Be realistic. Examining your options objectively may eliminate further disappointments.
  5. Despair – “It’s never going to get better.” For example if someone in the family lost their job, searching for a new job may take longer than expected. Don’t give up! Consider acquiring new skills during this time that will increase your marketability.
Determine what stage you are in. Understanding and knowing that what you are feeling is normal, can help you deal with it.

Identify Roles
Each family member has a role to fulfill. It does not matter how the family is composed, each member can operate in one of these roles: provide resources, manage the resources or provide support. Each role is critical to the effective functioning of the family as a whole.

Assign Roles
Make sure expectations are discussed. Make it clear that as time progresses and change continues expectations will change. Be flexible.

Handling the Loss of Income

Set Priorities: Needs versus Wants
In the event of a loss of income, setting priorities on how to manage your finances is critical. If priorities are not set, you run the risk of spending money unnecessarily. As a family, define and discuss the difference between “needs” and “wants.” To initiate your discussion use the following definitions provided by MSUE “A need is something that you must have; it is essential for living. Some examples of a need are shelter, warmth, good health, and food. A want, on the other hand, is something that is not necessary to survive, but you really desire. Examples of a want are a new car or a winter vacation.”

Set Goals
Decide what your short term, mid-term, and long term goals are. Short term goals are goals that you plan to achieve in a few days or weeks. Mid-term goals are goals you plan to achieve in one to six months. Long term goals are goals you plan to achieve in a year or more.

Create a Plan
Developing a plan requires decision-making. Start the process by answering the following questions:

· What do we want to accomplish?
· How will we do it?
· When will we do it?
· Who will be responsible for each assignment?
Every good professional builder takes inventory of the tools and materials they will need to erect a sound building. Building a stable foundation for your family is no different. Make it a priority and identify your family’s strengths. Taking the time to examine what tools you already have will provide encouragement and will highlight the areas that need improvement. Every change brings with it some level of stress. However, making sure that your family embodies the basic characteristics of a strong and resilient family will alleviate some of the stress and will help you be more optimistic about the future.

For more information on how to help your family build and enhance their strengths, visit Pinellas County Extension’s 4-H Family at

Smith. Suzanne 1990 Building a Strong and Resilient Family
Furthering Families - Change is stressful!
Furthering Families – Income Loss

March 24, 2009

Spring Vegetable Gardening

Cindy Peacock, Horticulturist, Pinellas County Extension

If you have not planted your spring vegetables yet you still have time. The University of Florida/IFAS Extension Vegetable Gardening Guide for Florida can be accessed at: . In this guide there is a list of the spring vegetables that can be planted at this time.

To make room for your spring vegetable plants you will need to take out those vegetable plants that have stopped producing, that are sick with diseases like powdery mildew, that are loosing leaves, or are cold damaged. Some of your fall plants may still look good and are producing, so keep them in as long as you can. The broccoli will continue to give you small florets until the temperature gets too hot. Greens will slow down the hotter it gets. Tomatoes will continue to produce too, although when the night temperatures stay above 70 degrees, you will have fewer tomatoes. If your tomato plant is not producing, you can start over with a new plant. The small cherry tomatoes are a good choice for warmer temperatures since they will set fruit better in the heat. For more information about Tomatoes in the Florida garden, access the University of Florida/IFAS Extension fact sheet:

Once you clear out those old plants you will have room to add more organic matter such as compost. You can also add more top soil. Be sure to mix it in with the soil.

Choose seeds of those vegetable that you like. Use the spring vegetable list.
Warm season vegetables such as beans, cucumbers, eggplant, southern peas, peppers, okra, summer and crookneck squashes can all still be planted. Carrots and radishes can be planted through March. This is a good time for cantaloupe and watermelon too. But remember, these two plants require a lot of space, so give them plenty of space to spread out. If you put in five seeds of cantaloupe or watermelon you should leave a 6 ft. by 6 ft. space for them to grow.

Be sure not to plant the seeds too deep, usually no deeper in the soil than the size of the seed. Keep them moist until you see them start to sprout, then cut back on the water. Your vegetable garden needs water two to three times a week. If we have rainfall, then you can skip that watering day.
Starter plants that you purchase can also be used. When planting tomatoes, bury the plant up to the first set of leaves.

Here are some things to look for in your garden. As the temperatures fluctuate, vegetables can develop problems due to environmental factors. Powdery mildew, a white powdery film that covers the leaves, is a disease that we tend to see on our vegetables in the spring. To help control this disease, you can use one tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of a paraffinic oil (horticultural oil) per one gallon of water. Mix this well and spray on the leaves every five to seven days. This fungicide was developed at Cornell University.

As the plants get new tender growth you will see an increase of insects. Not all insects are bad. We have insects that help us keep the harmful insects away. It is helpful to know the difference. Look at the University of Florida /IFAS Extension fact sheets of harmful vegetable garden insects: and
Now review the fact sheets of beneficial insects:,, and You will want to look for these beneficial insects any time you see the harmful insects.

Aphids and whiteflies can be a big problem with the tender new growth of your vegetables. These insects are tiny soft bodied insects that suck the juices from the plants. They also excrete a sugary substance that a black sooty mold uses for food. Sometimes you see the mold before you see the insects. These insects can be sprayed with a light horticultural oil. Before you spray look around for those beneficial insects. If you see lady bugs, or lacewings, or their larva, they will eat these insects for you. Check back in a couple of days to see if there are fewer of the aphids and whiteflies. If not, then you can use a horticultural oil, or insecticidal soap.

Wasps are good insects, too. They help to control caterpillars by feeding them to their young. Caterpillars can be a big problem in your vegetable patch. Look for them on cucumber and squash leaves, near the soil around peppers, beans, and eggplant, and those really large green hornworms on your tomato plant.
By picking them off and putting them in a sealed baggie, or in a can of soapy water, you will not have to use pesticides. If you choose not to pick them off, you can use a product containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), such as Thuricide or Dipel. These insecticides will kill the caterpillars, but will not harm pets or humans.

Over-watering can cause problems. Too much water can promote the development of fungal diseases that might cause plants to rot, or become diseased. Once your vegetable garden is established, watering two to three times a week is all that is needed. It is best to water in the early morning.

Tomato leaf curl virus is a disease that we have seen frequently. The new growth is shriveled and the leaf veins are yellow. Whitefly insects spread this virus. Once a vegetable plant has a virus it should be taken out because there is no cure. For more information about this virus go to University of Florida/IFAS Extension fact sheet:

Nematodes are microscopic worms that feed on the roots of vegetable plants (Root Knot, Sting Nematodes). Raised beds and containers that have organic matter (compost) added will help lessen nematode problems. Using clear plastic over the beds to solarize the soil during the summer will help sterilize the soil to keep the population of nematodes down. The University of Florida/IFAS fact sheet for managing nematodes can be accessed at:

There are many other fact sheets available from the University of Florida/IFAS Extension that will help you with your vegetable gardening, see this topic area:

For problems that you need diagnosed, bring your sick leaves, stems, flowers, fruits and insects into the Lawn and Garden Help Desk at the Extension office in Largo and we can identify the problem and suggest treatment.

Vegetable gardening is a learning experience that is worth the work involved. Don’t let the insects and diseases scare you. We have plenty of the good insects to help control pest insects, and using the right cultural practices can control diseases. Just be patient and learn as you go. You will be amazed how good your own grown vegetables will taste.


March 18, 2009

Finding Quality Family Time in Everyday Activities

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Recently a middle school teacher asked her students how they would like to spend more of their time, leaving it open to all possible responses. The surprising response was that they would like to spend more time with their families. Inspired by their responses, I asked a group of elementary school students what was the best part of the recent holidays. The most popular answer was that they spent time and did activities with their families.
This is certainly good news since youth learn from the example of others, whether it is the example of parents, other adults, or peers.

Spending more time as a family or with a particular child does not mean you have to plan special activities or even leave your home. There are many ways you can spend quality time with your family while doing everyday activities. Cooking can be a fun and educational activity. Younger children are usually eager to help in the kitchen. By using measurements asked for in a recipe, you can turn helping in the kitchen into a lesson in fractions and strengthening math skills. Simply use ½, 1/3, or ¼ cup measuring cups instead of the one cup measure. Multiple sets of inexpensive plastic measuring cups and spoons can be purchased to use during family cooking time. Look for a recipe with several ingredients that don’t have to be measured exactly. For example, salads, casseroles, or meatloaf recipes would be good choices. Ask the child to measure and set out the ingredients needed using the different size measurers. For example, use three 1/3 cups to measure one cup of chopped lettuce or a ½ cup measure and two ¼ cup measures. In addition to practicing fractions, and learning to prepare a recipe, your child will gain a sense of accomplishment and pride, from contributing to a task that benefits the entire family.

Just the act of sharing family meal time has benefits. Family bonds become stronger and family members tend to eat more nutritious foods. Younger children feel a sense of security and belonging. According to a Columbia University study, teens prefer to eat with their families than eat alone. Teachable moments abound at the dinner table. Discussing current family, school and community events strengthens communication and social skills. Incorporating special “dress up” meals throughout the year provides an opportunity to practice social skills and table manners during a less hectic time of year. This is a time for you to be the role model simply by showing good table manners.

One way to continue the mealtime theme is to expand it by growing some of the ingredients. What better way to teach the origins of food than to grow some food? Many vegetables grow well in containers and many salad ingredients are easy to grow. Let your child select from a list of easy to grow vegetables such as radishes, greens, onions, and New Zealand spinach. While planning the garden or waiting for the seeds to come up, take time to learn how plants grow. Try dissecting a fresh green or pole bean. Open the pod or cover and remove the seeds. Open up the seed and show how the seeds we eat contain the embryo of a new plant. Then compare it to the seeds you purchased to plant. By relating these two activities to each other, your child will develop a deeper understanding of the process of growing food and the process of how plants grow.

Please join me for a free Solutions in 30 webinar titled "Making the Most of Youth Activities" on March 25th from 12:15-12:45 to learn more about youth activities for your family or youth group/organization. You can register at and click on the online class registration button.

Additional ideas for activities can be found in 4-H project books, leader’s guides, and curricula. The seed activity is from the 4-H gardening project book “See them Sprout”. For more information on the value of family meals, please read: Family Nutrition: The Truth about Family Meals by Larry Forthun, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

March 9, 2009

Pinellas County Leading the Way for Energy Conservation

Mary Campbell, Extension Director, Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

As energy costs climb and greenhouse gas emissions from power production are linked to climate change, governments are motivated to put policies in place that can have powerful impacts financially and environmentally. Pinellas County government, the first green local government certified in the state of Florida, took energy reduction seriously with the implementation of an Energy and Water Management Policy. The policy was put into place in January, 2008 with a goal to reduce electrical consumption by 18% and water consumption by 10% over the next 6 years. The County’s Real Estate Management Department concentrated efforts on reducing electrical consumption at all county-owned buildings with the exception of the Detention Facilities (due to unique operations requirements). For 2008, countywide electrical consumption was reduced by 2,539,283 KWh. This equates to an 18.95% in comparison to the mean of 2006 & 2007. Paul Sacco, Real Estate Management Director, said “this reduction is the combined result of the policy implementation, energy conservation projects and some moderate ambient temperatures in spring and early summer.”

So what are the policies that have helped make this such a big success? Almost 1000 occupancy sensors were installed in offices and meeting rooms to turn off lights automatically when there is no movement in the space. If you sit quietly the lights may turn off automatically but a quick movement turns them back on. These are a very simple and inexpensive ways. Each unit costs $55 to purchase and install. Progress Energy offers a $10-20 rebate per unit as part of their ‘Save the Watts’ program. Thermostats have been reset to policy requirements for heating and cooling. A couple of degrees energy change can make a big impact and dressing correctly in offices for either warm or cool days will become a standard. When buildings are shut down in the evenings or weekends, cooling and heating is reduced even further. Each employee is responsible to switch off computers, monitors and printers at the end of each day. Lighting, copiers, faxes and coffee pots are switched off in work areas when not in use. Investing in Energy Star certified products and looking at retrofits and Green Building (LEED) certifications for buildings are also part of the program.

This reduction in energy not only saves money but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions created from burning fossil fuels (coal) for power production. Greenhouse gas emissions are linked to climate change, which is of growing concern globally. Carbon dioxide and other gases build up in the atmosphere, which scientists now believe is causing changes in rainfall, temperature, and sea level. Impacts include increased flooding, movement of pests and diseases to new areas as global temperatures increase, and greater incidences of droughts, floods, forest fires and severe weather events.

For more information on saving energy and what you can do, contact Pinellas County Extension or Pinellas County Utilities or go to or

Resources from the University of Florida:
Keeping It Safe: Energy Conservation =More Money
Energy Efficiency in the Home
Energy Efficient Home Series

March 4, 2009

April’s PCE Classes Will Put a Spring in Your Step

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30.

The classes being offered in April are:

Solutions in 30:
April 1st - Managing Stress Webinar
April 8th - How Sweet It Is . . .Webinar
April 15th - Diabetes . . Avoid Being a Statistic Webinar
April 22nd - Spin the Bottle Webinar

Commercial Horticulture:
April 29th – 30th - Palm University contact Dr. Monica L. Elliott, Professor and Associate Center Director, University of Florida – IFAS to register. phone: 954/577-6315 e-mail:

Families and Consumers:
April 11th – Get Cooking Demonstration: Blueberries: Fruit Pizza, Salads, Smoothies Oh, My

Sustainable Living:
April 7th - Green Office Webinar
April 16th – Lighting Your way the Energy Efficiency Webinar
April 21st – Green Home Webinar
April 21st – Green Purchasing Webinar

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

March 2, 2009

Managing in Tough Times-Getting Control of Your Money

Many of us feel added stress and anxiety about our financial future as talk of high consumer debt, falling housing prices, increases in the cost of living, and declining retail sales bring up worries about the nation’s economic health.

Learning positive money management techniques can help you and your family adapt to tough economic times. Sometimes people try to ignore financial problems and hide them from their family members. Not facing the problem can be destructive because the worry and stress caused by financial uncertainty and lack of cash may be worse than the financial problem itself. Despite the discomfort, it's important to look realistically at your situation and actively seek solutions to problems.

A spending plan is a tool to help people get control of their money and their lives. It can help you manage the money that you have and put the “needs “before the wants.

Three steps are essential before you begin to develop your spending plan.

Involve the family. Because spending decisions affect the whole family, talk with your family about the situation. Help them understand that all family members need to adjust their spending habits. Involve everyone in deciding spending priorities. If family members understand the tough choices that must be made and have a voice in making the decisions, they will be more willing to accept the decisions.

As your family talks about what is most important, be sure to listen to what they say. Supporting each other can help you pull together as a family and get through these tough times.

Designate a business area in your home. A home business center is a place in the home set aside for planning and filing your household business records, including your spending plan. A home business center is the first step to getting organized. It helps save time and energy as well as money by keeping all the records and necessary equipment in one place.

Collect information. Because people tend to overestimate their income and underestimate their expenses about your income and expenses for two or three months.
With facts in hand you can be more realistic in your planning.

Below is a publication to help you get started with your spending plan. It has information and worksheets on goal setting, tracking your cash flow and setting up a yearly an annual plan and spending chart.

More information on money and related topics is available at the following website.

Managing Money in Tough Economic Times-A great resource to help consumers during this tough economic time. This resource highlights tips and resources like stretching your food dollar; deciding what bills to pay first; building an emergency fund; and debt management in tough economic times, to name a few.

Next month, we’ll offer more ideas on managing in tough times.