Relationship Resolutions for the New Year

As the year draws to a close, many people reflect on the previous year and anticipate the year ahead. Now is the perfect time to make “relationship resolutions” to become a better spouse or partner.

Consider these tips to become better together in 2023:

  • Commit to more fun and adventure. After years together, it is common for couples to fall into relationship ruts and routines. To counter this, intentionally plan to do things together. Consider a getaway after the holidays, or set dates on the calendar to go out or stay home doing something fun together. Plan an event or activity to look forward to this coming year.
  • Commit to more connection. Life gets busy, and we tend to become more critical when we get comfortable and casual. To stay connected, commit to minimizing distractions. A great place to start is to reduce time on your phones. Other ideas include: going to bed at the same time, eating meals together, checking in more frequently throughout the day, expressing appreciation, and doing random acts of kindness to express love and affection.
  • Commit to more understanding and less conflict. All couples disagree. Happy couples find ways to manage differences in healthy ways. It may be leaving a few hurtful words left unsaid, being less reactive and more responsive, or working to monitor your temper, tongue, or tone. Happy couples are also more likely to drop grudges, be grateful, and be quick to forgive.
  • Commit to complete financial fidelity. In today’s world of online bank accounts, Venmo, and PayPal, it can be tempting to make secretive purchases without your partner knowing. But “sly buys” can break trust and create resentment. Perhaps you could consider combining bank accounts if necessary or coming clean about credit cards. Commit to sitting down together at least once a month to review finances, reconcile accounts, and budget for purchases. When you both know where your money goes, it can create a feeling of peace and openness to more connection. 

As you look at making personal improvements in the year ahead, consider making relationship improvements as well. Commit to connect. Plan to be more playful. Think to thank. Give your time and attention to making your marriage a priority. It is worth the effort!

By: David Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist, David.Schramm@usu.edu, 435-797-8183

Holiday Lighting May Not Be So Jolly for Wildlife 

The holidays are here, and festive lights are burning bright. Although this tradition of illumination brings joy to many, it can also be considered a source of light pollution.

The International Dark-Sky Association coined the term “light pollution” to define excessive nighttime or non-natural lighting. The term applies to any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, and energy waste. In addition, light pollution can affect astronomers and scientists, wildlife migrations and activity, and has been linked to human health concerns.

Migrating birds that use the moon and stars for navigation can be attracted by light beams from high-rise buildings, towers, lighthouses, oil platforms, etc., causing them to become disorientated and resulting in more accidents. In addition, nighttime predators have the advantage of seeing over a greater area, and their prey must seek darkness and spend more time hiding and less on everyday activities.

A recent study published in “Human-Wildlife Interactions” explains the effects of holiday lighting on the environment during regular periods of darkness. Wildlife students at Texas A&M University-Kingsville reported that holiday lights used to decorate the college campus were a seasonal source of light pollution that contributed to a higher predation rate for native eastern fox squirrels. Eastern fox squirrels exhibited normal daytime/nighttime behaviors throughout the year but extended their foraging behavior nearly 4 hours after sunset with the addition of holiday lights. The students documented that monthly squirrel mortality increased seven-fold with the addition of holiday lights, possibly due to the extension of their foraging time.

Additional studies suggest that the public is often unaware that bright lights can negatively alter wildlife behavior. Because of this, the students recommended educating the public about how light pollution affects wildlife and the environment. Consider these suggestions:

* Check to see if there is a “Lights Out” program in your community. Some cities have adopted a program where interior and exterior lighting in tall buildings is dimmed or turned off during bird migration. Bare bulbs or upward-pointing lights are replaced with hooded fixtures that only shine downward. If lights can’t be turned off, a flat lens is used as well as a reduced number of lights and intensity.

* Turn off outdoor lights that aren’t needed in the evenings, and turn off holiday lights when you go to bed.

* Reduce light intensity by using fewer outdoor lights or using colored lights rather than clear white bulbs. Research shows that colored lights are least attractive to wildlife and may lessen the negative effects on them.

* Consider your relationship with the environment and how your actions affect it.

Thoughtfully weigh decisions dealing with cost, safety, health, and environmental well-being when planning and using exterior illumination. 

To access the full research report, visit https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol16/iss1/12/.

By: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist,

Terry.Messmer@usu.edu, (435) 797-3396

How to Have Happy, Healthy Poinsettias for the Holidays and Beyond

The poinsettia is the most popular decorative plant of the Christmas season. However, the compact, bushy plant we are accustomed to is far different than the poinsettia in its natural form in the wild, where it can grow to be 13 feet tall and wide. 

Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America and were grown by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes and red dye. They were introduced to North America by the first United States ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, in the 1820s. Since then, poinsettias have been bred for compactness, ease of growth, and a multitude of colors.

The colored portions of the plant are modified leaves, not flowers, with red being the most common bract color. The flower buds are the red or green buttons in the center of the bracts that open to the actual flower, which is the small, yellow part. Healthy poinsettias have dark-green leaves below the bracts and foliage to the base.

Consider these tips to keep your poinsettias healthy this season and beyond.

* Avoid plants with insects. When purchasing, gently tap the pot to ensure there are no insects flying around. If there are, find another plant without insects to avoid contaminating other house plants. 

* Protect your plant from the cold. If it is below freezing when taking it outside, gently place a bag over the top for protection. 

* Watch how you water. Remove the plastic pot from the decorative sleeve and water the poinsettia in the sink with lukewarm water. Let the water run out the bottom of the pot. Allow the poinsettias to sit in the sink for 15 – 20 minutes to drain after watering, then place it back in the sleeve. Standing water left in the sleeve can cause the roots to rot, and the poinsettia will die.

* Be aware of lighting and extreme temperatures. Keep your poinsettia away from heat vents as well as cold drafts. Plants thrive near a bright south or west window but will last until Christmas in lower light conditions. 

* Consider keeping poinsettias year-round. They can be grown as house plants past Christmas if given sufficient light. Remove them from the plastic sleeve and continue to water periodically. Fertilize them with any house plant fertilizer from March through September. 

By: Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, Taun.Beddes@usu.edu,385-268-6535

Combating Loneliness During the Holidays

The holidays bring mistletoe, caroling, eggnog, gift-giving, family, and friends. However, for some, the holidays can also bring loneliness. A recent survey from the American Association of Retired Persons found that 31% of respondents said they had felt lonely during the holiday season sometime in the past five years, and 41 percent worried about a family member or friend feeling alone. Though loneliness is common, there are things you can do to enjoy the season, no matter what your situation. Consider these tips.

Service: Think of someone in need or a good cause to support when you are feeling down. Service can help improve your mood and sense of self-worth. Service has been shown to improve conflict resolution skills and vocational capacity among adolescents. An act of kindness can be as easy as helping a family member, friend, or neighbor in need. If you are looking for a service opportunity, an internet search can help you find people and organizations with needs in your area.

Social relationships: We all need friends, family, and loved ones. However, even those with loved ones around them can feel lonely or have mental health challenges. If you start feeling lonely this year, reach out to friends or family members. Something as simple as sending a text or engaging in a conversation can lift your spirits.

Self-love: Some psychologists believe that our level of self-love is connected to our ability to love others and that to love yourself, you need to know and take care of yourself. Doing something nice for yourself can help increase your happiness. For example, give yourself a gift, write in your journal, watch a movie, or enjoy nature. Whatever it is, do something meaningful to you that makes you happy.

Gratitude: Even when circumstances seem bleak, practicing gratitude can help you remember the good things you have in life. Studies show that gratitude is associated with well-being and can be used to help face difficult times. To increase your gratitude, write a note, verbally express appreciation to those around you, or make a gratitude list. 

There are things you can do to help combat loneliness and poor mental health during the holiday season. Implementing ideas from the examples provided may help improve your mood and make the holidays happier.

For a list of references and citations, click here.