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Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Family

We know the holidays will be different this year because of COVID-19. But one thing that won’t change is the importance of getting along with the family, whether it’s in person or over video chat.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to help your family have a better chance for a peaceful, enjoyable holiday together.

First, a few “Don’ts”

  • Don’t talk politics or bring up other “hot topics.” Often the urge is to help family members “really understand” your position or understand why their position is irrational and wrong. Too often, this ends with slamming doors and someone crying in the bathroom or car. 
  • Don’t be sarcastic, critical or give subtle jabs. These can cause emotions to escalate quickly, and can cause hurt feelings or resentment.
  • Don’t try to fix each other’s problems. Also, don’t discuss the problems of other family members who aren’t there. The holidays are not the time to suggest someone get out of a relationship, sell a house, be a better parent or start exercising.
  • Don’t take things personally. Some family members are more “prickly” than others, so choose not to get defensive. If someone does start fishing for a reaction, don’t take the bait.

Here are some “Do’s” 

  • When having meals together, take charge of seating. Set the table for success by separating conflicting personalities. Put the conspirators near you so you can put out fires and guide the conversation.
  • Remind yourself why you are doing it. You love your family, and ultimately, people are more important than problems or being right.
  • Ask others about their lives. Show interest in what they are doing, and don’t talk about yourself excessively. 
  • Get kids involved, but then turn them loose. Give kids age-appropriate tasks so they are involved. But they probably won’t enjoy being trapped for long periods of time and will likely get restless and whiny. It’s okay if they run off after helping or trying most of the foods at dinner. Don’t turn it into a battle.
  • Slow down a bit and take time to be kind. This can prevent hurt and promote more hope and happiness. Express appreciation often. And remember – the holidays won’t last forever, so throw kindness around like confetti!

 For more family facts and happy hacks, follow Dr. Dave on Instagram @DrDaveSchramm.

By: David Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist,david.schramm@usu.edu




Avoid Excess this Holiday

In general, there is a trend toward excess in our lives. We live in a world where both kids and adults have come to regard overload as normal, and anything less is boring. This time of year, the concepts of excess, over indulgence and over scheduling seem to be prominent.

It is important to consider the messages this behavior sends to our children. When is enough, enough? For them, and for us?

Ask yourself these questions:

· Are we spending a disproportionate amount of family income on any one category – i.e., clothing, entertainment, child enrichment (lessons, sports, etc.)?       

· Are we spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy in any one or two activities? Sports, screen time, cell phones, social media? In his book, “The Intentional Family,” William Doherty warns that many families are over scheduled outside the family and under scheduled inside the family.

· As a parent, are you keeping your children from learning age-appropriate developmental tasks by doing things for them or taking care of things they should be learning to do themselves? Examples include: picking up their own toys, doing their own laundry, paying for some things with their own money, learning to cook, etc.)

A few signs of over indulgence include: trouble learning to delay gratification; trouble giving up being the center of attention; trouble being competent in everyday life skills, including self-care and relationship skills; trouble taking personal responsibility – feeling like it’s always someone else’s fault; and trouble knowing what is normal.

A stark contrast to over indulgence is a term called “creative deprivation.” Parents are coming to understand that kids can have too much of a good thing, so they place limitations on it.

An example from an article in “The Tightwad Gazette” outlines this concept. On a recent trip to the mall, children ordered junior ice cream cones and consumed them in complete silence, savoring every bite. Many parents, seeing their children appreciate junior cones, would start buying them cones on every trip to the mall. Then, seeing their kids’ enthusiasm waning, would assume they must “wow” them with banana splits. When those no longer produced the desired effect, they would move up to the jumbo deluxe sundaes, and on and on, until the kids become impossible to please.

When there is diminished appreciation, it is a sign that children have had too much of something. Instead of moving up to banana splits, we need to, instead, decrease the frequency of the junior cone. We have habituated a certain level of expectation without appreciation. Another example of this is how frequently many of us go out to eat. It is no longer a treat, but often becomes the norm.

Consider these four rules of creative deprivation this holiday season:

1. Limit things your kids don’t need, but do not limit the things they do need, such as good nutrition and parental attention.

2. Provide them with creative alternatives to substitute for passive entertainment and “no brainer” play. Limit screen time, including cell phones, TV/video time and gaming. This will decrease the stimulation overload in their lives. Set boundaries, and provide rules and limits in all aspects of your child’s life.

3.  Maybe it is time for all of us – parents and children – to take a step back and evaluate. Are we needing increasingly more expensive gadgets, clothing, vacations, foods or other stimulating events to keep us happy?

4.  Creative deprivation may be just the ticket. Not only will it save money, but the simplification will also reduce stress levels, increase quality of life and set a good example for our children.

By: Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences educator, 801-399-8200, Teresa.hunsaker@usu.edu          




Meaningful Christmas Gifts for 2020

Thanksgiving is behind us, and hopefully it was celebrated without you or members of your household contracting COVID-19. We now have a few weeks to prepare for the next series of 2020 challenges – what will Christmas look like this year?

This is the perfect year to be both thoughtful and practical in helping others be better prepared for the months ahead as we work to stay healthy and happy. This year, gift recipients will likely include family and friends who now work reduced hours or have lost jobs, are home-schooling or learning to reach out through online platforms and social media.

Many websites tout the best gifts for 2020, such as www.popsugar.comwww.techgadgetstrends.com and dozens more. Consider scanning them to get ideas for girls, boys, tweens, tech-savvy people, people working from home, etc.  

Here are examples of gift ideas for a year that has been anything but typical:

            * A 1-month subscription to an at-home meal service – Those who are now working from home and not shopping for food as often may benefit from having someone else assemble all the supplies. The convenience of weeks of not worrying about planning meals and grocery shopping would be a welcome gift for most people. Consider Hello Fresh, Home ChefBlue Apron and others.

            * Gas card – Many people would appreciate a few gallons of fuel for running holiday errands or traveling home to be with loved ones.

            * A case of toilet paper – It may seem like a laughable gift, but then again, who knows when the next run on this popular luxury item might be in short supply?

            * A pantry stocked with the basics – Stock someone’s pantry with flour, whole-grain pasta, soups, canned tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. Check out extension.usu.edu/createbetterhealth/ for recipe and menu ideas.

            * Pre-paid credit card – Unlike a specific store/business gift card, a pre-paid credit card ($25-$500) is an excellent option if you’re not sure what to get. Be aware that there is an up-front service fee when purchasing the card – usually around $5.

            * Home office upgrades – Ideas include noise-cancelling headphones, a standing desk, a treadmill desk or upgrading computer software so that virtual backgrounds can be used. Or what about an ice machine or small refrigerator for their home office? Find something to help make the recipient’s workspace as comfortable and current as possible.

            * Designer or designable cloth face masks – Children or teens attending face-to-face classes or a college student returning to campus may enjoy a small wardrobe upgrade. Add some life and color for them with new face masks.

            * Neck/back massager – For those who sit at a desk all day, tension will likely begin to manifest itself as tightness in the upper-back muscles, neck and lower back. Think of how good a 10-15-minute massage would feel!

            * Ukulele or keyboard – Take a break to learn a musical instrument to help keep the mind alert and alleviate stress by creating music. A new trending instrument that users say promotes a sense of peace and well-being is the handpan drum, steel tongue or ethereal drum. Check it out on YouTube. 

Hopefully, the above list of ideas will help you consider thoughtful, creative gifts that will be especially meaningful this year.

By Kathy Riggs, Utah State University Extension professor, Kathleen.riggs@usu.edu, 435-586-8132




December Gardener’s Almanac Tips

Though yards and gardens were put to bed some time ago, there are still outdoor tasks to consider and holiday gardening gifts to give. Here are some tips.

· Use deicing compounds sparingly to avoid salt damage to landscape plants.

· If natural precipitation is sparse and the ground is not frozen, water evergreen trees and shrubs to ensure they are well hydrated heading into winter.

· Purchase poinsettias to brighten your home. Learn how to care for them and keep them alive beyond the holidays.

· Spruce up you holiday decorating with a wide variety of holiday plants. They offer color and texture to décor.

· Click here for information on Christmas tree selection and care.

· Shop for your gardener. Great holiday gifts include: books, pruners, gift certificates, gloves, a living wreath, pottery and yard ornaments.

· Click here to sign up to become a member of the USU-sponsored Botanical Gardens and receive discounts on classes and workshops, along with other benefits. Or, consider giving a gardening membership as a gift.




Healthy Eating for a Happy Holiday

The average American consumed about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day when taking into consideration pre-meal snacking, the actual dinner, dessert, then evening leftovers. That is enough to gain a pound or two, which can be remedied, but how many more days like this will there be?

Actually, there is the potential for quite a few as the holidays approach. Though COVID-19 is changing the way we celebrate, there will still be food on pre-holiday occasions, then there is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas week, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In addition to extra meals and calories is the reality that activity levels generally taper off during the holidays. The combination of overeating and not much exercise has the potential to provide weight gain that is often not lost, and year after year, a few more pounds can add to the tally.

With planning and discipline, it is possible to get through the holidays without gaining weight and being mad at yourself in January. Consider these tips for healthy holiday eating.

1) Eat what you love and leave what you like. You don’t have to eat everything that is put in front of you. Make careful choices and stick with the foods you enjoy most. Don’t select foods that aren’t your favorite just because they are there.

2) Follow the three-bite rule. People seem to most enjoy the first and last bites of what they eat, so put a bite in between and call it good after three.

3) Focus your attention on enjoying those you are with, not the food. 

4) Fill your plate with 80 percent healthy foods, and save the other 20 percent for dessert or treats.

5) Skip the punch and eat the cake. You’ll likely enjoy eating your calories more than drinking them.

6) Don’t save up for later. It doesn’t make sense to starve all day because you have a gathering that night. You will likely end up consuming more because you are hungry. Eat light, but don’t skip meals.

7) Pack snacks. Keep healthy snack choices available in your purse, bag or car when you’re on the run so you don’t overeat at mealtimes.

8) Don’t skimp on sleep. Being tired and cranky won’t be good for anyone during the holidays.

9) Drink water. Staying hydrated during the hustle and bustle will help you feel your best and will also help you not feel so hungry when you get to the table. Drink water with your meals rather than soda.

10)  Make small daily changes. Use whole wheat bread instead of white. Eat vegetables every day with dinner. Make sure your dessert includes a fruit. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your meals. Eat a green salad every day.

11) Serve meals on a smaller plate to help you practice portion control.

12) Pack lunch each day instead of eating out.

13) Walk or do some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

Pick one of the tips above and do it each day until it becomes a habit. Then move on to another one. Over time, the simple choice to do one healthy thing will have helped you create a healthy lifestyle. The joy you feel from accomplishing a goal will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Writer: Julene Reese, 435-757-6418, Julene.reese@usu.edu

Contact: Candi Merritt, candi.merritt@usu.edu