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Common Reasons for Feeling Disconnected in Marriage

When many people are asked what they want for their marriage, they reply that they want to love and be loved. And while that is true, most couples want even more. They have a deep desire to feel understood, respected, safe, needed, heard, appreciated, and perhaps most of all, to feel connection (Johnson, 2008). 

When most new relationships are formed, there is often a feeling of excitement and anticipation surrounding the “newness” of the relationship. Our brains and bodies release a host of happy neurochemicals designed to draw couples together. 

But for all couples, at some point, the newness wears off and the reality of stresses and imperfections arise. Busy schedules, bills, and babies come along and that feeling of closeness and connection becomes more difficult to maintain.

What happens to the connection between couples and what can be done? Here are 8 “D’s” of disconnection that help explain why most couples grow more distant over time.

1. Drifting

Over time, without being mean or nasty, all couples experience a slow drifting apart. Like two people in inner tubes floating a slow river, without intentionally holding on to each other, they will naturally drift apart. Over time, all couples get used to each other and when they get casual and comfortable, they tend to get critical. This often leads to “affection deprivation” and ADD or “attention deficit dilemma” as couples get busy and neglect doing the things that created feelings of connection earlier on.

2. Darts and Daggers

Many couples feel hurt when unkind things (darts and daggers) are expressed. Excessive complaints, criticism, name-calling and contempt drive distance between people. It has been said that reactions can wreck relationships. Couple connection could be strengthened if partners pay more attention to their temper, tongue, and tone of voice. And when unkind things are said, be quick to apologize and forgive. One more tip – don’t parent your partner. No one likes to constantly be told what to do.

3. Disruptions to Daily Life

Often circumstances out of our control cause chaos and disruptions that create distance and disconnection in a marriage. These range from mental health and moving to job loss, car troubles and even having a baby. These anticipated and unanticipated disruptions and stresses can create tension that creeps into couple relationships. The key is to be aware of them, manage them in healthy ways, and don’t let a challenge to be solved become more important that a person to be loved.

4. Distance

Close relationships require meaningful time together. Some couples drift apart due to factors that keep them from being together. These can include being physically apart for long periods of time, working long hours or different hours than your spouse, working multiple jobs, and frequent travel. Long periods of physical distance can lead to emotional distance in relationships.

5. Destructive Decisions

Marriage requires consistent clear communication about all aspects of life. Making some decisions without discussion or one-sided, secretive hidden habits can diminish trust, connection, and closeness. This could be things such as excessive spending and pornography addiction to substance abuse and even affairs. How each partner uses their time and how they make decisions can make or break some relationships.

6. Disagreements and Defensiveness

All couples will experience disagreements and it is natural to become defensive and even feel some resentment when there is a heated discussion. Common topics of disagreements include money, sex, how time is spent, and how to parent children (Schramm et al., 2005. Anger and resentment can create icy distance that melts feelings of closeness and connection. Instead, view irritation as an invitation for understanding and compassion. 

7. Daily Hassles

Living with another person and managing schedules and daily stresses can be exhausting and overwhelming. The arduous list of to-dos ranges from cooking and cleaning to paying bills and running errands. All couples will face daily hassles—connected couples find ways to check in regularly with their partner, express gratitude, ask how they can help, and practice patience.

8. Digital Distractions

Married couples today encounter a relatively new 8th challenge—managing digital devices and screen time balance. Social media, working from home, gaming, emailing, texting, television—all of these can consume our time and more importantly, our attention. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your spouse is not your time, but your full undivided attention. Living in the digital age has plenty of perks, but when it intrudes into couple time it can create “technoference,” and quickly erode connection (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016). It may be wise for couples to consider kicking technology away from two areas of connection—tables and beds.

It is important to point out that these 8 “D’s” of disconnection are relatively common in most relationships. The key is finding balance, managing emotions and differences in healthy ways, responding with patience and kindness, being aware of how you use your time and attention, and intentionally investing in ways to connect and communicate.

References

Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little, Brown.

McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5, 85– 98. doi:10.1037/ppm0000065

Schramm, D. G., Marshall, J. P., Harris, V.W., & Lee, T. R. (2005). After “I do”: The newlywed transition. Marriage & Family Review, 38, 45– 67. https://doi.org/10.1300/J002v38n01_05 

By David Schramm, Extension Associate Professor




Five Tips for Using Grocery Store and Fuel Apps to Combat Inflation 

Inflation has increased 8.6% since May 2021, according to data released this month from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. An average family of four is spending about $700 more per month on the same things they purchased a year ago. Inflation is most noticeable at the gas pump and grocery store. While price increases affect each family differently, most consumers are feeling the pinch and changing the way they spend to accommodate surging costs.

One way to tackle increased food and gas prices is to take advantage of grocery shopping apps and fuel rewards programs. Consider these tips.

1. Stay within budget. Download grocery store apps on your smartphone to plan shopping trips or place a pick-up or delivery order. The apps can help monitor grocery bill totals and help you stick to your spending limit. In addition, they can help you avoid adding more than you need to your grocery cart since you don’t see the enticing items on aisles or end caps. These items are usually the culprits for pushing shoppers over their spending limit.

2. Use all coupons for stackable savings. Many grocery store apps include in-app coupons or specials where coupons are loaded onto your account, saving you money on often-purchased items. These savings are in addition to manufacturer deals and promotions. The key is adding these coupons or savings to your account before checking out. Shoppers can often use digital and traditional paper coupons, so remember to use both if they are available.

3. Earn points for gift cards and other perks. Some shopping apps provide opportunities to accrue points that can be cashed in for gift cards to grocery stores, restaurants, or even PayPal. Apps such as Ibotta, Shopkick, and Fetch help shoppers earn points by adding coupons or promotions before shopping. Many can be used in addition to paper or digital coupons from grocery store apps. These apps allow shoppers to use their phone camera to scan items while in a store looking for promotions or bonus points and can also provide paper receipts after a shopping trip. Over time, shoppers can redeem these points for gift cards or PayPal credit, helping offset spending in other budget categories. An average user could earn $10-$20 a month or more, and frequent users could earn up to $100 per month. 

4. Use the app consistently. Grocery and shopping apps work best when used consistently. Choose an easy-to-navigate app you can remember to use. Also, choose one that will transfer points to gift cards or credits that align with your spending habits.

5. Join a fuel rewards program. Fuel rewards programs connected to grocery or warehouse stores provide one of the best ways to reduce spending at the pump, aside from carpooling or reduced driving. Join a fuel rewards program for a gas station that is convenient for you. When comparing fuel rewards debit or credit cards, be sure to read the terms of use carefully and pay off the card in full each month.

By: Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension professor, Melanie.Jewkes@usu.edu




Co-Parenting During the Summer: Tips for a Successful Summer


Child playing with two parents

With the arrival of summer, stepfamilies may be gearing up for visits from stepchildren. Often children living with one parent during the school year will spend time with their other parent for extended periods of time throughout the summer months. Extra complications may arise within the stepfamily due to changes in routines and schedules, but by incorporating a few strategies, summer transitions can run smoothly for all family members (Bonnell & Papernow, 2019).

1. Provide structure and routine for children

During the school year, children have routines and scheduled activities, so by making a summer schedule, including planned summer camps and events, children will have some consistency between both households. The schedule should also include pick-up and drop-off times and locations, so all parents are prepared. Scheduled pick-up and drop-off times also provide clarity for children about where they will be and when (Papernow, 2013). Communicating the summer plan with the other parent helps to keep them in the loop and provides important information about their children. Finally, it is helpful to give the children a copy of the calendar, whether it’s a hard copy or electronic copy. This will provide consistency and predictability for children as they transition between households. 

2. Be consistent about rules and expectations at both houses

Parenting expectations and family rules are common areas of disagreements that can cause stress and tension among parents. Although children do not need both households to have the exact same set of rules, agreements on basics such as bedtimes, screen time, and curfews create consistency for children (Bonnell & Papernow, 2019). Keeping expectations similar at both houses not only instills good habits in children, but it also helps with the transition between households. 

3. Create a living space for the children

Every child needs a space that they can call their own, especially if they are spending an extended amount of time in a different home. Creating a personal space for children, including a bed, closet, dresser, etc., helps them to deal with the transitions between households.

4. Create memories with your children

Co-parenting during the summer months can be stressful, but it provides opportunities for children to strengthen their relationship and create memories with their non-residential parent. Spending quality time with both parents provides reassurance for children and helps to strengthen and reinforce family customs and traditions (Ahrons, 2004).

The summer months often provide opportunities for children to visit their non-residential parent, and the transitions between households can be complicated. By focusing on co-parenting strategies, the summer experiences can also serve as an opportunity to make life-long memories for all family members.

References

Bonnell, K. S., & Papernow, P. L. (2019). The stepfamily handbook: From dating, to getting serious, to forming a “blended family.” CMC Publishers.

Ahrons, C.  (2004).  We’re still family. Harper Collins.

Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and thriving in stepfamily relationships: What works and what doesn’t. Routledge.

By Shannon Cromwell, Extension Associate Professor




Seven Principles for Water-Wise Landscaping

Our landscapes provide us with beautiful surroundings, natural cooling, and the cleansing of our environment. Nearly 65% of the annual culinary water consumption in Utah is applied to landscapes. Unfortunately, many landscapes are over-irrigated, wasting precious water.

Keeping water-wise landscaping principles in mind as we design, install, and manage our landscapes can help conserve a great deal of water. Though the heat of the summer is not the best  time to install and irrigate new landscape plants, it is a good time to make plans for the fall when temperatures cool and less water is needed for irrigation. Consider these principles from the USU Extension Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping.

1. Planning and design. Develop a landscape plan, paying attention to sun, shade, soil conditions, slope, etc., then determine where plants should be placed for both function and aesthetics. For example, deciduous trees can be planted to increase summer shade as well as winter sun.

2. Soil preparation. Proper soil preparation improves plant water use efficiency in the future. Consider soil texture, structure, organic matter content, nutrient status, and pH when choosing plants. Soil can be tested at the Utah State University Soil Testing Laboratory.

3. Plant selection. Choose plants for the size and function of the area. Consider irrigation requirements, adaptability, bloom-time offsetting, mature plant size, and climate hardiness zones.

4. Practical turf areas. Plant grasses where they are functional. Choose species and varieties with lower water requirements and mow to a height of 2 ½ or 3 inches for deeper rooting. Properly fertilize to improve drought tolerance and recovery, and don’t gather grass clippings when mowing.

5. Mulch. Cover bare soil with mulch to prevent crusting, compaction, and evaporation of moisture. Organic mulches include wood or bark chips, nut shells, pine needles, etc. Inorganic options include gravel or crushed stone, lava rock, and cobblestones.

6. Efficient irrigation. Hydrozone or group plants with similar water requirements in the same irrigation zone(s). Use drip irrigation systems to apply water directly to plant roots. Water trees and shrubs less frequently than grass areas, but for longer periods of time.

7. Landscape maintenance. Control weeds, fertilize regularly, and control plant growth through pruning. Also monitor for and control damaging diseases and pests. Visit Utah Pests for tips.

For further landscaping tips, visit seven principles for water-wise landscaping.

By: Kelly Kopp, Utah State University Extension turfgrass specialist, Kelly.Kopp@usu.edu




Working Through Religious Differences in Marriage

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you love and disagreed with them? These conversations can be very uncomfortable, especially about firmly held beliefs. Differences in religious beliefs or spirituality can be a source of pain and discontent if not addressed in a respectful and accepting manner. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the religious landscape of the U.S continues to change at a rapid rate. With adults who identify as non-affiliated, atheist, or agnostic increasing yearly, changes and differences in religiosity and spirituality have the potential to negatively impact intimate relationships. This is further complicated because religiosity and spirituality affect more than Sunday worship, such as decisions on parenting, finances, and friendships. Even couples who practice the same religion may not agree on religious or spiritual practices. For example, a couple who belong to the same church may disagree on how often to attend service or engage in church activities. It is important for couples to recognize the pitfalls and potential for hurt when either engaging in a mixed faith relationship or when one partner’s beliefs change and are no longer in alignment with their spouse’s beliefs. 

There are many mixed faith marriages and relationships that are able to thrive despite having significantly different beliefs. Here are some tips from relationship expert Dr. John Gottman to help you navigate religious differences (or any type of conflict) in intimate relationships. 

1. Explore your own relationship with your faith.
There is a difference between identifying with a religion or spiritual practice and how you engage in that faith. Explore your religious or spiritual identity and what that means to you. It is necessary to understand your own faith identity to be able to navigate the differences with your partner. Here are some questions that Gottman recommends to help you with this process of exploration

  • Did you grow up in a religious or spiritual household? If so, what was practiced? What was your experience like?
  • What brings you peace? What helps you get through tough times?
  • What aspects of your religious or spiritual beliefs do you hold onto tightly?
  • Which ones are you more flexible with?

 
2. Acknowledge the difference and what they will mean for your life together.
Recognizing the differences and how they may affect your life together is an important step. Avoidance is not a sustainable option, identify the ways that may affect you so you can make a plan together for how to deal with these differences as a couple. 
According to Dr. Gottman, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual, meaning they are not solvable. While that number sounds high it is reassuring to know that this is normal and includes happily functioning couples. Instead of trying to change the other person’s mind/belief, approach these conversations with curiosity and interest, try to understand your partner’s point and realize that this is an opportunity to increase your love for them.
The way that you start a conversation can predict how the rest of the conversation will go or be perceived by your partner. Be intentional in your tone of voice and the words you use to initiate a conversation. Using soft start up techniques such as ‘I messages’ and positive statements to start conversations allows for your partner to better receive and understand what you are saying.

3. Share stories
Sharing stories is a great way for you and your partner to get to know each other and this aspect of who you are. Stories can share your cultural and religious experiences with them in a way that is not threatening and invites understanding.

4. Participate before negotiating. 
It’s important to show genuine interest and curiosity in your partners beliefs and practices. Go with them to their religious events services and as they observe rituals. This is not a promise to leave your own beliefs and convert, this is a powerful way to communicate that you value them and are embracing who they are. 

5.  Make Repairs. 
We will inevitably mess up. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, apologize and move forward. Well used humor (not sarcasm) can help ease these tense moments. The main goal with a repair attempt is to determine what when wrong (not blame our partner) and resume being on the same team to address an issue together instead of treating each other as the issue that needs to be fixed.

6. Therapy is a helpful support.
Talking about faith is deeply personal, it can be hard despite our best efforts. Some differences might seem impossible to figure out. Seeking the help of a professional can provide relief. Find a therapist who specializes in helping interfaith couples.
It is unlikely that you will change someone else’s views, feelings, or beliefs on the topic of religion or spirituality, but you can practice respecting each other’s beliefs and purposely refrain from criticizing or attempting to sway them. Dr. Gottman maintains that disagreements provide an opportunity for increased intimacy and connection, and religious differences provide an opportunity for increased respect, understanding, and love.

References

https://www.gottman.com/blog/communication-tips-for-interfaith-couples/
 
Gottman, J. (1995). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. 
Simon & Schuster New York
 
Pew Research Center (Oct 2019) In U.S., decline of Christianity continues at rapid pace: An update on America’s changing religious landscape
https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/
 
Racco, M. (Dec 2017) Global News. How to manage differences in religious beliefs in a relationship
https://globalnews.ca/news/3905900/religion-in-relationships/

By Elizabeth Davis, Extension Assistant Professor




How to Budget the Right Amount for Expenses

If you are wondering how to determine appropriate amounts to budget for food, gas, bills, and savings, use the following steps to guide you.

Track all your expenditures for one month. 

  1. Keep a record of all the money you spend, whether you spend with cash, credit/debit card, or checks (they still exist). As you track your expenses, you will notice two types of expenses: fixed and variable.  Examples of fixed expenses include mortgage/rent, car payment, and insurance payment.   Examples of variable expenses include groceries, eating out, and fuel.
  2. Create a list or visual. Using the information gained by tracking your income and expenditures, create a computer spread-sheet or notebook/notepaper with the following categories across the top: Description (this is to list what each income or expense is), Type (fixed or variable), IncomeExpense, and Balance.  The lines down the page or spreadsheet will be where you will individually list your incoming and outgoing funds (income and expenses).

Build your budget.

  1. Now that you know how much you spend each month it is easier to determine how much to budget for each item, such as food, gas, vacation, etc. If you find that your expenses are greater than your income, don’t despair. Tracking your expenses and building a budget will help you identify where you can cut back.

Knowing what you spend and how you spend will not only help you determine the appropriate amount you should budget for each expense but also help you save for long-term goals, such as buying a car or house.

By: Catherine Hansen, USU Extension Assistant Professor

June 7th, 2022




Questions to Ask When Dating Someone

It might sound strange, but have you ever considered how much dating is like doing a research project? I say this because at the beginning, when you are first getting to know each other, both of you are collecting data. You are learning about them and they are learning about you through the questions you ask each other. This is very similar to how scientists collect data to answer their research question, except in this case, the research question is: Are we a good match with the potential to have a successful long-term relationship?

This article isn’t going to give you a one-size-fits-all list of questions to ask everyone that you go out with, or a detailed schedule of when to ask certain questions. Instead, it will provide guidance on how to start by asking yourself some key questions designed to help you learn about yourself and what is most important to you. Once you get clearer about what you need and want in a partner, the information you should collect about them will also become clear. 

Before we dive into some self-exploration questions, we are going to briefly cover which characteristics tend to be most important for couples to have in common. Research has shown that sharing characteristics such as attitudes, values, and background (e.g., social class and religion) tend to predict satisfaction, companionship, intimacy, and love in long-term relationships better than sharing personality traits (Gordon, 2020). In addition, researchers have found that when there was more overlap in the ideal preferences someone said they wanted in a romantic partner and their partner’s perceived traits, they were less likely to get divorced (Eastwick & Neff, 2012). 

Before you try to make a list of questions designed to assess how much you have in common with someone, take some time to reflect on your own values, beliefs, and priorities. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your religious and/or spiritual beliefs?
  • What are your plans for marriage and having children?
  • What is your philosophy when it comes to money and finances?
  • What are your career aspirations or plans for the future?
  • Where do you want to live? Do you plan to stay in the same place, or would you like to move around?
  • What are your political views and views on key social issues? Are they likely to change?
  • How much time do you like spending alone, with friends, and with each other?
  • What makes you laugh? How would you describe your sense of humor?
  • What role does your family play in your life? 
  • Are you open to new ways of looking at things or do you tend to hold your ground when it comes to your beliefs?
  • How do you feel about the use of alcohol and other substances?
  • What are your values in terms of things like honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, etc.?
  • What are your favorite things to do?

Next, rank or rate each one of these items in terms of how important it is that your partner shares your response and circle the ones that are “deal-breakers” for you. These are things that, at least at this point in time, a potential partner must have in common with you for your relationship to be viable. Remember to be true to yourself as you answer these questions. It doesn’t do much good for your long-term relationship potential if you aren’t open and honest about yourself, your values, your vision for your future, and what you are looking for in a potential partner. Also know that it is perfectly okay to decide that someone is simply not compatible with your current or future lifestyle plans. That doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means that there is a better match for you out there.

Working through this process should have helped you learn more about yourself, while helping you identify the most important questions to ask your dates. Now you just need to figure out how and when to ask these key questions during your next dinner conversation. 

References

Eastwick, P. W., & Neff, L. A. (2012). Do Ideal Partner Preferences Predict Divorce? A Tale of Two Metrics. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(6), 667–674. 
https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611435941

Gordon, A. M. (2020, September 25). Does similarity matter in a relationship? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-you-and-me/202009/does-similarity-matter-in-relationships

By Lisa Schainker, Extension Assistant Professor




The Physical Benefits of Camping

A recent survey reported that more North Americans are discovering the benefits of camping and spending time outdoors. According to the 2020 North American Camping Report, there are more than 94.5 million camper households throughout North America. In the United States, 48.2 million households reported that they camped at least once during 2020, including 10.1 million households who said they went camping for the first time (Cairn, 2020). With the increased number of campers, one might wonder, what’s the draw to the outdoors? 

Camping provides a host of benefits. Simply put, camping is good for you, both in body and mind.  Benefits include relationship building, opportunities to learn and develop new skills, unplugging and getting away from screens, connecting with nature, stress reduction, and increasing physical fitness.  The fitness benefits of camping are well documented. Research suggests that physical activity in the outdoors and feelings of connection to nature enhance psychological health and well-being. Activities such as walking in forests and participating in outdoor activities have been shown to enhance mood and focus, and increase attention and cognitive capacity. Additionally, significant improvements in self-esteem occur with physical activity in the great outdoors (Lawton et al., 2017). The physical demands of backpacking, setting up tents and making camp, hiking, fishing, and exploring nature certainly count as exercise which contributes to our overall health and well-being. Outdoor physical activity has been linked to a decrease in depressive thoughts and sleeping under the stars can help promote our natural circadian rhythm, which is a foundation for high quality sleep and health (National Park Service, 2019).

With all of these health benefits, why wouldn’t you want to go camping? Perhaps you are new to camping and feel a bit intimidated. Start small and work your way up. To ease into it, consider a camping trip close to home. Pitch a tent in your backyard or someplace close to where you live. Another idea would be to plan a backpacking trip close to home. These are great for overnighters where you can pack light and carry what you need with you. Campouts close to home take less planning and allow for scheduling flexibility. As you explore areas and find hiking trails close to where you live, you may discover a location you didn’t realize would become your new favorite place to camp. As you become more comfortable with camping, you can branch out and discover the beauty of state and national parks or one of many campgrounds across the country. 

When you consider all of the amazing benefits to your health and life in general, whether you go camping in your back yard or in a campground, time spent camping is time well spent! 

Additional Resources:

References:

By: Christina Pay, Extension Assistant Professor




June Gardening Checklist

June is here, the sun is shining, and gardening is in full swing! Consider these tips from the Utah State University Extension Gardener’s Almanac to help make your yard and garden the best they can be. Also included are links for tips and additional information.

  • Consider drip irrigation in the garden to conserve water.
  • During a drought, it’s especially important to remember that turfgrass only needs 1-1 ½ inches of irrigation per week. Click here for irrigation needs in your area.
  • Discontinue harvesting asparagus spears in early June to allow the fronds to form for the rest of the growing season.
  • Prune tomatoes to open the canopy of the plant.
  • Consider planting sweet corn in the garden every other week (until early July) to extend the harvest.
  • Prune spring flowering shrubs (those that bloom before June) after they have bloomed to encourage new flower buds for next season.
  • Deadhead (cut off) spent blossoms of perennial and annual flowers.
  • Thin the fruit of apples, peaches and apricots to approximately one fruit every 5-6 inches.
  • Apply a second application of pre-emergent herbicides in late May to early June to control annual weeds in the lawn, such as crabgrass and spurge.

Yard and Garden Pests

  • Monitor vegetables and herbs for earwig damage.
  • Protect ash trees with a registered chemical to prevent lilac/ash borer damage.
  • Control codling moth in apples and pears to reduce wormy fruit.  
  • Treat apples for powdery mildew when leaves are emerging (at 1/2 inch green) until early June.
  • Watch for insect pests in raspberries from mid-May through early June. For specific timing, visit Utah Pests Advisories.
  • Control the Western cherry fruit fly when fruit changes from straw color to pink to avoid maggots in cherries.
  • Control the peach twig borer in peaches, nectarines and apricot trees. For specific timing, see our Utah Pests Advisories.
  • Monitor for damaging turfgrass insects. In areas previously damaged, consider a preventative (systemic) insecticide.
  • Click here to subscribe to the Utah Pests IPM Advisories for timely tips on controlling pests in your yard and garden.
  • Consider taking an online gardening course. Courses cover everything from container vegetable gardening and creating the perfect soil, to planting trees and controlling pests. Courses are geared to both beginning and professional gardeners. Use the code “GARDEN5” at checkout to get $5 off.
  • Explore more gardening tips on Extension’s newly designed yard and garden website. For drought information and tips, click here.