As the holidays approach, it’s important to prioritize your mental health and well-being. According to a 2021 American Psychiatric Association poll, 41% of adults in the United States reported an increase in stress during the holidays. Common worries included general finances, the ability to afford gifts, and stressful family dynamics. The holidays also tend to magnify feelings of isolation or loneliness if there is a disconnect in current romantic or family relationships compared to traditional expectations of “togetherness.” Click to learn about combating loneliness during the holidays.
A great way to improve your mental health during the holiday season is to incorporate gratitude into your daily life and family traditions, not just around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Practicing gratitude, whether through meditation, journaling, verbal expressions, or acts of service, has been shown to increase satisfaction with life and is associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Consider these four tips to increase gratitude during the holidays.
1. Eat mindfully. Enjoy traditional holiday foods with intention and gratitude. Limit distractions and eat more deliberately, taking time to savor your favorite seasonal treats. Click to learn more about mindful eating.
2. Keep a gratitude journal. Writing about what you are grateful for can add perspective to a hectic season. Set aside a few times a week (it doesn’t have to be daily) to write in detail about the people and things you appreciate. Click to learn tips on keeping an effective gratitude journal.
Ideas to get you started include family, friends, significant others, holiday meals, Christmas lights, meaningful conversations, hot showers, music, books, your body (hearing, smell, touch, taste), the beauties of nature, indoor plumbing, funny online videos, sleep, long weekends, feeling safe, hobbies, animals/pets, religion, baking, artwork, music, sunrises/sunsets, and learning experiences.
3. Provide acts of service: Express appreciation to your family, friends, coworkers, pets, etc. Write a letter or choose a thoughtful, meaningful gift for a loved one. Focus on sentiment rather than value.
4. Meditation: Find a comfortable place to reflect on the things you are grateful for. If you are new to meditation, find an app for guided meditation. Bonus points for a gratitude-centered meditation guide!
If incorporating these strategies into your busy holiday schedule feels overwhelming, choose just one idea to get you started. It will be well worth the effort if it helps make your holidays more peaceful!
Don’t Get Spooked If Spiders Creep Indoors This Fall
As fall temperatures cool, spider encounters in homes become more common. This happens as spiders near the end of their life cycles and are searching for mates and places to lay their egg sacks. Fortunately, these encounters do not need to be scary, as most species of regional spiders are not risky to humans.
Spiders are highly beneficial to the environment and people. They are predators of insects and are also an excellent food source for insects and wildlife that we often enjoy, including praying mantises, birds, and mammals. The vast majority of spiders are also unaggressive and can even be considered docile. They come in a wide array of colors and shapes, and their diversity in ecology and behavior is truly incredible. So, perhaps they should be appreciated more than feared.
Common spiders you may see this fall include cellar spiders, wolf spiders, and hobo spiders.
Cellar spiders are named because of their habit of gathering in dark, cool, and moist places – usually cellars. Their cobwebs can often be seen in ceiling joists forming large mats. Having only six eyes and a “violin” pattern behind their eyes, these spiders can resemble brown recluse spiders to the untrained eye. Cellar spiders are not dangerous to people.
Wolf spiders are aptly named because of their hunting methods of stalking, ambushing, pouncing, and capturing prey. This is a contrast to other spiders that use webs to capture their prey. Wolf spiders have an easily identified eye pattern – four smaller eyes on the bottom, two large eyes in the center, and two smaller eyes on top. Giant wolf spiders (1.5” to 2” in diameter) are commonly encountered in Utah in the fall. Like other wolf spiders, they are not of medical concern.
Hobo spiders are one of the most common indoor spiders found in northern Utah. It is currently undetermined if their bite causes necrotic lesions in humans. Hobos cannot be identified by color alone, but they can be identified by the Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab (UPPDL) at USU. Visit the website at extension.usu.edu/pests/uppdl/ for information and instructions on how to submit a sample. Remember that there are related spiders that look similar to hobos. Grass spiders are often responsible for the small funnel webs abundant in shrubs and grass, and they are not harmful to people.
If you have been bitten, the only way to confirm the spider’s identity is to collect it and have it identified. You can rarely identify spider bites based on symptoms alone, especially if the bite marks are no longer visible. If you experience a reaction to a bite or have symptoms that mimic a severe bite, seek medical attention. Overall, spiders in Utah carry a very low risk when you consider their abundance, presence, and behavior.
Cook Smarter, Not Harder: Nine Time-Saving Cooking Tips
Meal preparation takes time, and it can be overwhelming on busy days. Consider these nine time-saving kitchen hacks, and say goodbye to kitchen stress and hello to more quality time at the table!
1. Prepare staple items (chicken, rice, beans, etc.) once a week.
It doesn’t take much longer to prepare extra. Brown rice takes 45-50 minutes to cook, which can be time-consuming if you do it several times a week. Prepare staple items in bulk, and add more time to your evenings.
2. Cook once, eat twice.
This easy shredded chicken recipe is perfect for cooking once and eating twice – or more! In 4-5 hours in the crock pot, you will have tender chicken for salads, burritos, tacos, sandwiches, and more.
3. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables.
This will give you easy add-ins to stir-fry recipes and side dishes. If you pre-chop produce once a week, it will make it easy to grab a handful and add it to your meals.
4. Freeze it.
If you’re going to make a meal, make a double recipe. You can eat one meal now, and freeze the other one to eat later.
5. Keep your pantry stocked.
Include food items you can add to recipes or supplements on the side to make a MyPlate (five food groups) meal. If your meal isn’t as well-rounded as you’d like, having a stocked pantry can make it easy to add something to the side or extend the food in a meal. For example, add black beans to your taco meat. You’ll use less meat and fill up on beans, which are generally less expensive and a great lean protein source!
6. Improve your cooking skills.
If you invest time learning to cook in different ways, you will readily know how to make a quick meal. You’ll also be able to cut down on prep time as you hone your skills.
7. Use leftovers as “planned overs.”
Leftovers aren’t always very enticing, but they can be more appealing if you have a purpose for the extra food. Leftover baked potatoes can become hash browns. Leftover roast beef can become a roast beef sandwich. Leftover taco filling can be used to top a salad. In general, leftovers should be kept in the refrigerator for no more than 3-4 days, or they should be frozen for later use.
8. Keep a list of “go-to-meals.”
Keep the ingredients on hand to make mealtime a breeze, even on crazy days. Easy go-to meals might include chicken fajitas, spaghetti, and breakfast for dinner. Include your family’s favorites in the rotation.
9. Keep a clean and organized kitchen.
Have you ever tried to find a recipe or cooking utensil to no avail? If you keep your kitchen and equipment organized, you can immediately start cooking rather than spending time searching for what you need.
Contact: Lea Palmer, Utah State University Extension Create Better Health assistant director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pumpkin Power: The Health Value of a Fall Favorite
Fall is in full swing, and pumpkins are populating porches everywhere. Not only are pumpkins used for decorating and carving, they can be used in casseroles, soups, sauces, desserts, snacks, and more.
Many people aren’t aware of the great health benefits of pumpkin, which is one more reason to enjoy it. Pumpkin is low in calories and packed with nutrients, such as fiber and beta-carotene. It is also rich in potassium.
Pumpkins are versatile and can be steamed, baked, boiled, microwaved (remember to cut slits in them), and cooked in the pressure cooker. Once cooked, they can be mashed, pureed, cubed, and stored in the fridge or freezer in air-tight containers. There are many options for mashed or pureed pumpkin (fresh or canned). Some include muffins, biscuits, quick breads, soups, and sauces for mac and cheese or other pasta. Pumpkin can also be added to chili, smoothies, cheese balls, and hummus. Cubed and cooked pumpkin can be used with pasta, risotto, soups, salads, and casseroles.
Carefully wash pumpkin seeds to remove the clinging fibrous pumpkin tissue. Pumpkin seeds can be dried in the sun, in an electric dehydrator at 115-120 F for 1 to 2 hours, or in an oven at a very low, warm temperature for 3 to 4 hours. Stir frequently to avoid scorching. Do not store dried seeds if any moisture is left in them.
Drying Pumpkin and Pumpkin Leather
Wash, peel, and remove fibers and seeds from pumpkin (or Hubbard squash) flesh. Cut into small, thin strips no more than 1-inch wide by 1/8-inch thick. Blanch strips over steam for 3 minutes and dip briefly in cold water to stop the blanching action. There is no need to cool to room temperature before drying. Drain excess moisture. Dry the strips in an electric dehydrator until brittle.
Pumpkin also makes excellent dried vegetable leather. Purée cooked pumpkin and strain. Add honey and spices, then dry on a home food dehydrator tray.
Freezing is the easiest way to preserve pumpkins, and it yields the best quality product. Select a full-colored mature pumpkin with fine texture (not stringy or dry). Wash, cut into cooking-size sections and remove seeds. Cook until soft in boiling water, steam, a pressure cooker, or an oven. Remove pulp from rind and mash. To cool, place the pan containing pumpkin in cold water and stir occasionally. Pack into rigid containers leaving headspace, and freeze.
Only pressure canning methods are recommended for canning cubed pumpkin. There are no properly researched directions for canning mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash, pumpkin butter, or any other pumpkin preserves (jams, jellies, etc.). All low-acid foods, including pumpkin, must be canned using tested pressure canning processes to be safe. Older methods, such as boiling water canning for vegetables, oven canning, and open-kettle canning, have been discredited and can be hazardous, so follow specific instructions for canning to be safe.
Autumn is officially here, and there is much to look forward to – pumpkins on the porch, apple cider, cooler temperatures, and walks through crunchy leaves. But before you get too comfortable, don’t forget there are yard and garden end-of-season tasks to complete. Here are tips from the Utah State University Extension Gardeners Almanac to help. Included are links to fact sheets and videos for further information.
Control tough perennial weeds such as field bindweed (a.k.a. morning glory). Refer to this list of weed control options.
Mow grass to a height of 1-to-1½ inches at the end of the season to minimize disease problems.
Apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer after the last mowing (late October to early November) for early greening next spring.
Pests and Problems:
Send diseased vegetable plants and leaves to the local landfill.
Use burlap or other soft materials to wrap evergreens to prevent snow breakage.
Treat stone fruits (cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums) for coryneum blight at 50% leaf drop.
Clean up and discard all fallen fruit to reduce overwintering sites for disease and insect pests.
For more tips, visit garden.usu.edu. Here you will find information on gardening courses, growing and maintaining the yard and garden, drought resources, and the Extension Gardener’s Almanac with tips for each month.
Nourish and Flourish: September Is Family Meal Month
American families who eat one meal together every day are among the minority. In today’s fast-paced world, eating Sunday dinner as a family is a great tradition, but it is a giant step away from more regular time spent eating and socializing around the table – the norm just one generation ago.
In recognition of its importance, September has been named National Family Meals Month. Why all the fuss about sitting down together for a routine that may last only 15-20 minutes? The benefits are numerous.
Utah State University Extension’s Create Better Health Utah (SNAP-Ed) program lists a few of the benefits – especially for children whose families eat together five or more times a week as opposed to those whose families eat together two times or less each week:
* Nutrition and physical development – Kids eat more fruits and vegetables, get a wider variety of nutritious foods, have lower rates of childhood obesity and make healthier food choices when they are on their own.
* Emotional development – Youth are better able to manage negative emotions, are at less risk of developing eating disorders, and have more positive interactions with others.
* Social development – Children learn important turn-taking skills, have improved communication skills and learn appropriate ways to share thoughts, feelings and opinions.
* Academics – Kids are more likely to earn good grades in school, and they develop larger vocabularies – even more than those who read together with their parents.
* Behavior – Youth are much less likely to use marijuana, alcohol or tobacco or have friends who use these substances. They are also less likely to engage in other risky behavior such as premarital sex.
If a family is new to the idea of eating meals together, there will undoubtedly be a few challenges. For example, it may be unrealistic to go from zero meals together to one every day. So, set a realistic goal all family members can agree on – it may just be Sunday dinner once a week, and that is a great start. If dinner isn’t the best option, perhaps family breakfast time on Saturday may work better for you.
Here are some additional tips for making family mealtime a positive experience:
* Plan meals ahead of time.
* Schedule a set time for meals.
* Involve all family members in the meal preparation and clean up.
* Turn off the TV, phones, and all other electronic devices.
* Have pleasant conversation and leave discipline and other negative emotions for another time.
Additional helps are available from Create Better Health Utah, including conversation starter ideas and making meals fun using themes (e.g., Taco Tuesday). In addition are ideas for menu planning with recipes, such as citrus chicken salad, oatmeal nut pancakes and honey glazed chicken. You will also find tips on preparing foods, eating healthier, and incorporating physical activity in your day.
Learn more about family mealtime and eating healthy on a limited budget here. You can also contact your local USU Extension office to find out about upcoming classes taught by Create Better Health ambassadors in your area.
By: Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor, email@example.com
Ten Things to Do Before Saying “I Do”
Many people spend more time planning for a wedding than they spend planning for a marriage. Before deciding to tie the knot, consider these tips to help create a “happily ever after.”
1. Ask: AmI ready?The happiest relationships are built on a foundation of two happy, healthy people ready to take on the challenges of a new life together. Those ready to be in a long-term relationship have dealt with their own personal challenges and issues and are not looking for someone to make them happy or to “fix” them in some way (or vice versa).
2. Take time.Really getting to know someone requires talking (mutual self-disclosure) + being together (in a variety of situations) + time. Because most people are usually on their best behavior when they first meet, and it takes time for patterns of behavior to emerge, this process can’t be rushed.
3. Be cautious when in long-distance relationships. While online dating is a common way to meet people, steer clear of commitment without spending a lot of time in person in varying situations. It is easier to show only our best selves in long-distance relationships.
4. Play detective. Ask deep and meaningful questions to help you know if you are compatible with the person you are dating. For example, check out these 10 Questions to Ask Before Saying I Do. To ensure you aren’t biased about how you view the person you are dating, think about how others might view him or her, or even ask others about their opinions and be willing to listen to what they say about warning signs you may have missed.
5. Start to become part of the family. Much of who people are was learned from growing up in their family, so a lot can be learned about what someone will be like as a partner and parent from observing, asking questions, and spending time with their family. If there are concerns about a partner’s family or negative traits that a partner has learned from his or her family, you may want to think twice before getting too serious. While change is possible, it takes time and effort, and it is much easier to change before getting into a serious relationship.
6. Watch for personality compatibility.While most people won’t have everything in common with their partner, happy relationships often have many of these important similar traits: emotional temperament, sense of humor, intelligence, energy levels, similar recreation interests, and how affection is expressed.
7. Be aware of each other’s values.Some of the biggest arguments in relationships relate to those things valued most because of strong feelings and opinions about them. Having similarities in how religious/spiritual you are, having common financial views and goals, and having similar ideas about family life are all significant factors in lasting relationship satisfaction.
8. Watch for daily life compatibility.While it may not be romantic, the truth is that most of the time spent in a long-term relationship is in the daily routines of life. Consider such things as: Who will earn and manage the money? How will household responsibilities be divided? How will free time be spent? The answers to these questions can be crucial to a happy relationship.
9. Learn conflict resolution skills.Because everyone is different, conflict is inevitable in even the happiest relationships. When handled positively, overcoming conflict can strengthen relationships. Having a conflict plan in place can be helpful. Begin by setting the ground rules, such as choosing when and where to deal with conflict, remembering to be respectful, and practicing good listening and communication skills.
10. Plan now to keep your relationship strong. As with cars, relationships need regular preventative maintenance to run smoothly. Research suggests that relationship education (such as attending a class or reading a relationship book together) can help relationships stay strong. Consider what you will do as a couple to create a relationship that is “happily ever after.”
National Preparedness Month: “Take Control in 1, 2, 3”
It is well known that preparation can help overcome fear, and since September is National Preparedness Month, now is a great time to evaluate your preparedness supplies and plans. This year’s theme, “Take Control in 1, 2, 3,” empowers everyone, especially older adults, to 1) assess their needs, 2) make a plan, and 3) engage their support network to stay safe when disaster strikes.
The website: https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit has an option to download printable instructions for a basic disaster supplies kit. Recommendations for the kit include:
Water – 1gallon per person per day for at least 3 days for drinking and sanitation
Food – at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable foods
Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
First aid kit
Whistle to signal for help
Dust mask to help filter contaminated air as well as plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows and doors if sheltering in place becomes necessary
Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities such as natural gas
Manual can opener for food
Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
Other items can be included, but adding size and weight to the kit may require additional portable totes or backpacks. Things to consider adding include pet supplies, changes of clothing and sleeping bags. A complete list is found at the link above.
Remember that assembling a kit is not a one-and-done task; it requires regular maintenance. You may consider placing a recurring reminder in your calendar to update and replenish the kit. Canned and packaged foods will expire, batteries will lose power, and you may think of things to add or adapt to better suit your current situation.
The link also describes where to store your kits – namely in three locations:
Home: Keep the kits in a designated place and have them ready in case you have to leave quickly. Make sure all family members know where they are kept. Consider including a list of pre-determined additional valuables that can be located and loaded in 5-15 minutes if there is time, space, and transportation available. The list can be taped to the container top or stored in a pocket of the backpack.
Work: Be prepared to shelter at work for at least 24 hours. Your work kit should include food, water and other necessities like medications and comfortable walking shoes. These should be stored in a “grab and go” container in an easily accessible location.
Vehicle: In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your vehicle. It can be similar to your work kit, but you may also want to include some form of shelter and a source of warmth should you need to leave your car.
The key to facing potential disasters is to be prepared and informed. Being proactive and preparing now will help reduce the fear of being hungry, cold, or injured in the future.
Checklist for September Yard and Garden Tasks
Fall is in the air, which may make you want to hang up the rake. But before you do, remember how hard you’ve worked to get to this point, and keep pushing forward. Consider these tips from the USU Extension Gardeners Almanac. Also included are links for further information.
Deadhead (cut off) spent blossoms of perennial and annual flowers.
Deep water established trees and shrubs about once per month when it is hot.
To see a video of the July Gardener’s Almanac tips, click here.
Consider taking an online gardening course. Courses cover topics such as container vegetable gardening, creating the perfect soil, planting trees, and controlling pests. Courses are geared to both beginning and professional gardeners.