5 Steps to Spring Clean Your Finances

Get started on your spring cleaning—no elbow grease required! Try these 5 steps to spring clean your finances from USU Extension Family Finance Pro Amanda Christensen.



How to have Themed Family Mealtime

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Enjoying a family meal is a great way for families to bond and create lifelong memories, however it is something that some families struggle to do five or more times a week. A themed family meal can get all family members involved and put a spin on an everyday, mundane event. Here are some fun ways to start having family mealtimes or if you already have family mealtimes, change up the routine!

1. Have one night a week dedicated to a theme, i.e. Taco Tuesday, Meatless Monday, Wok Wednesday, Western Wednesdays, etc.

2. Try adding decorations to your meal to really get your family involved. Put a red and white checkered tablecloth on the floor and have your own picnic inside (if weather permits go all out and have a picnic outside).

3. Highlight a holiday each month and have a meal centered around it. For example, cook green foods or traditional Irish cuisine for St. Patrick’s Day.

4. Travel the world by cooking traditional dishes from different countries. Add some fun facts from that country for interesting family table talk!

5. Make it a whole night. Dinner and a movie -have dinner, some movie theater treats, and then watch a movie together. Try tying your movie into your dinner theme, like fried chicken and What About Bob?, or spaghetti with Lady and the Tramp.

6. Your very own chopped! Provide three ingredients to family members and let them come up with a meal for the whole family with other ingredients in the kitchen.

This month try something new with your family. Here are a few recipes to kick start your own St. Patrick’s Day themed dinner— or you could go with the classic corned beef and cabbage!

Irish Stew

  • 2 lbs stewing steak cut into small pieces
  • 8 large potatoes, diced
  • 4 to 6 large carrots, diced
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown beef and add to stewing pot or slow cooker along with juices. Add potatoes, salt and pepper, and 4 quarts water (more or less, as desired). Bring to a boil. Add carrots and onions. Simmer on low for 1 to 2 hours until potatoes can be pierced with a fork.

Optional variations: Add 1 to 2 cups of diced celery with carrots and onions. Add 1 to 2 tsp of dried thyme with potatoes. Use beef broth in place of water. If desired, you can add a little flour mixed with water (a roux) to the simmering soup about 20 – 30 minutes before serving to thicken broth, but traditionally, it is a fairly thin soup.

Recipe Source

Irish Soda Bread


  • 4 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ Cup butter, softened
  • 1 Cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ Cup butter, melted
  • ¼ Cup buttermilk


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and softened butter. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf.

3. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Check for doneness after 30 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes.

Colcannon (Irish Potatoes and Cabbage)

  • 6 medium potatoes, washed, peeled (optional) and quartered
  • 2 cups grated cabbage
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 stems of green onion, chopped

Add potatoes to a large pot of boiling, salted water, and cook until tender, about 20 – 25 minutes. When the potatoes have cooked 15 minutes, add the cabbage and continue boiling until the potatoes are fork tender. Right before draining the potatoes and cabbage, add the chopped green onion and cook for one minute. Drain the potatoes and mash them. Add the milk and butter. Adjust milk if potatoes are too dry.

Recipe Source

Key Lime Meringue Pie

One baked 9-inch pie crust of your choice

Key Lime Curd:

  • Finely grated zest from 4 limes
  • ⅓ cup lime juice
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Green food coloring, if desired.

In top of double boiler, whisk lime zest, lime juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and salt. Whisk constantly until the mixture becomes thick, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter one piece at a time until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring for a brighter green, if desired. Strain curd through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. Line the surface of the curd with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Whip cream to soft peaks and fold into the chilled curd. Pour into completely cooled pie crust.


  • Egg whites from 4 large eggs
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375° F with the rack positioned about 8-inches from the top of the oven. Beat egg whites for about 5 minutes and gradually add granulated and powdered sugars in a slow and steady stream. Add vanilla and salt. Increase the speed and beat for about 10 minutes or until the meringue becomes very thick.

Spread the meringue over the curd and cover up to the edges of the curd and crust. Swirl and create peaks using a spatula. Place pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating it halfway through the baking time. Meringue peaks should be a beautiful light golden brown with white “valleys”. Completely cool pie on a wire rack before chilling in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Best served the same day it is made.

Recipe Source 

By: Jaqueline Neid-Avila, RDN, CD Extension Nutrition Assistant Professor

Bully Proof Your Kids with Strong Self- Esteem


Self EsteemThere is something you can do to help protect your children from bullying: help them to strengthen their self-esteem. 

No one wants to have their children bullied, yet one out of every four youth report that they have been.  More than 160,000 U.S. students stay home from school each day for fear of being bullied.  Bullying is often listed as a major cause of depression and suicide.

How do parents combat this behavior of threats, spreading rumors, verbal and physical attacks, and cyber bullying?  One approach is to make sure you are building strong self-esteem and values in your children.  Teach them to respect themselves and other; spend time talking and listening to them; encourage them to find good community support programs and activities such as 4-H community programs.  If you are interested in finding additional things to help youth build self-esteem, visit search-institute.org and learn about their developmental assets.  Search Institute can provide many ideas and resources that can help in building strong resilient youth.

Self-esteem is built by experiences, relationships, and how people feel about themselves.  Successful experiences and overcoming non-successful experiences builds positive self-worth.  These words:  self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect are what we believe about ourselves.  At times, they may fluctuate with our life experiences, but rebuilding is important for happiness and success.  Strong communities have strong families and strong youth.  Strong youth have good self-esteem.  It is important!


This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences agent, Washington County

Find out more at www.stopbullying.gov


7 Ways to Make Media Work for Your Relationship

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Does social media add or detract from your relationship with your partner? Check out these tips on how to use media as a tool to strengthen your relationship.

According to recent statistics, over 97 percent of American adults own a mobile phone, and 67 percent own a smartphone.  In addition, the platforms and mediums for connection are seemingly endless (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, email, Instagram, WhatsApp, IM etc.).

Increased options for instant connection can have positive and negative impacts on relationships. While online resources can help us stay connected to those we love and increase relationship satisfaction, being constantly connected to the world through online platforms can also potentially lead to neglecting our partners, conflict, less relationship and life satisfaction, and affairs.

Consider the following seven ways to use technology to strengthen your relationships.

  1. Checking-in texts. Take a minute during a break to tell your partner you are thinking of him or her or to send a “kiss.”
  2. FaceTime/Skype. While media cannot replace actual face-to-face time, it is an important tool that can be used to help couples stay connected. This is particularly true for couples who spend extended periods of time physically apart (e.g. military, those who travel for work, etc.).
  3. Facebook Posts. Facebook can be used to publicly express admiration and appreciation for your partner. Photographs, memes, videos and messages can all be used to express affection.
  4. Instagram. Instagram can be a great way to share moments and different aspects of your day and life with your partner.  This can be particularly useful for couples who are often physically separated due to work or other circumstances.
  5. Email. Emails can be a fun way to share possible gift ideas found online, date night or getaway ideas, silly pictures or jokes or just to check in with each other.
  6. Pinterest. Similar to emails, Pinterest can be used to collect fun date night ideas, funny pictures to share with each other, or to create a dream board for future events or goals.
  7. YouTube and Videos. Videos can be a fun way to connect with each other if you are watching, discussing and/or laughing about them together.

While using media to express affection and commitment can be a great boost to relationships, in order to prevent misunderstandings or frustration, be sure to also discuss boundaries for technology with your partner (keeping profiles public, being open and honest about technology use and who you are communicating with, having technology-free zones or time while you are together, etc.). By having an open and honest discussion and agreeing on boundaries as a couple, you can better ensure that technology will be a benefit rather than a detriment to your relationship.

This article was written by Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor, naomi.brower@usu.edu, 801-399-8206, and Elizabeth Davis, Utah State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Assistant Professor for Kane County,  elizabeth.davis@usu.edu 


Quick Financial Tip // Preparing to Spend your Tax Return

Tax Return.jpgAre you one of the lucky Americans who gets a tax return? Check out this quick financial tip from USU Extension Family Finance Pro Amanda Christensen and learn how to use that extra money wisely.

Ask an Expert: How to Combat 13 Barriers to Relationship Fun

relationship-fun-graphicLooking to add some fun back into your relationship? Take a look at these thirteen common barriers to relationship fun, and how to combat them.

Boring, drab, lifeless, stale, dull, tedious. These are probably not the words you hope to use to describe your relationships. How about well planned, frugal, precise, productive, serious, busy? Though these can be characteristics of a strong, healthy relationship, they are not likely those things that make a relationship seem appealing. What made your relationship so attractive in the beginning? What is it about your partner that made you want to be with him or her?

In the beginning, no matter what the “spark” in your relationship was, it was so enjoyable you that both wanted to continue being together. Have your blissful days of being in love continued? Unfortunatelystrong, healthy, long-lasting marriages don’t just happen. We have to be intentional about our marriages, and research tells us that playing together helps us connect and feel more positive toward each other. Keeping the spark alive can be the most enjoyable work you and your partner will ever do. Make time to play and have fun; it is good for you and your relationship.

Consider the following barriers that stop couples from playing together and also ideas on how to combat them.

  1. Lack of energy, unhealthy living habits. Make a plan to eat right and participate in physical activities. Help each other stick to the plan.
  2. “Some day” syndrome. Schedule it and leave reminders for yourself.
  3. Fear of looking silly. Let your partner know your fears and trust him or her to help you overcome them. Do fun things together that you feel comfortable with.
  4. Differing ideas of fun. Find out why your partner enjoys his or her hobbies so much by asking questions and trying it yourself. Be open minded. Compromise.
  5. Serious disposition. Laugh at yourself. Just try playing and see what happens.
  6. Resentment. Remind yourself of how you used to feel toward each other by doing things you used to enjoy together, looking at old photos or talking about feelings.
  7. Loss of hope in the relationship. Remind yourself of happier times by displaying happy photos, reminiscing, looking at memorabilia, etc.
  8. Too competitive. Play a new game. Don’t keep score. Work together to complete a task.
  9. Lack of money. Find fun things to do together that are free. Or, save for a special occasion.
  10. Other priorities. Talk together about what you feel is important to make an enjoyable relationship.
  11. View it as a waste of time. Consider play as a way to strengthen your relationship, because it is!
  12. No role model. Talk to or read about other couples that have had successful relationships. Watch children play; they are the experts.
  13. Feel it is unnecessary. Just try it and see how much more enjoyable your relationship can be.

Now that you have considered some of the barriers to play in your relationship, take action and make a plan to do something fun.

Based on ideas from The Power of Play in Relationships Manual (Braff & Schwarz, 2004) and Your Time Starved Marriage (Parrott & Parrott, 2006).

For additional ideas, see the fact sheet:


This article was written by Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor, naomi.brower@usu.edu, 801-399-8206, and Clarissa Barnhill, USU Extension intern

After the Flood // Salvaging Carpets and Clothes

floodingHave you been hit with flooding in your home? Try these eight tips to care for your clothes and carpets after the floodwaters have subsided.

With heavy snowfall and recent warm temperatures, many Utahns have experienced flooding in their homes. Flood or drain backup water may contain sewage and unknown chemicals that can contaminate carpet and present a health hazard. Water from irrigation leakage or sump pump failure may be less risky, but equally damaging. In addition to carpet damage is clothing and fabric damage and the race against mildew. Consider these tips for cleaning up after a flood.

  1.  For carpet, the first step is to immediately get it off the floor to start drying it and to preserve the wood under the carpet. You may also have to remove the foam carpet padding. If possible, take it out to a driveway or patio to dry. If the carpet is too heavy to move, lift it off the floor and prop it up to allow air to circulate around it. If possible, don’t let the carpet completely dry this way if you want to save it, as it will likely be stretched out of shape when it dries. If you are working with contaminated water damage, be sure to wear rubber gloves before handling the carpet.
  2. Next, clean the floor to minimize odor and mildew. Scrub the floors with hot water and detergent, then rinse them with a bleach solution of one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  3. Determine if the carpet can be saved. You may need to consult professional carpet cleaners to decide if it is worth saving. Your decision will depend on the source of the water damage. If it is flood water or a sewer backup, your main concern will be sanitation. If the damage is from rain or culinary water, your main concern is preventing mildew. In this case, most rented carpet cleaners should do an adequate job cleaning it.
  4. Recovering flood-damaged clothing is a time-sensitive battle in preventing mildew. Most of the dirt can be washed out, but mildew can permanently damage clothes quickly. Be sure to wear rubber gloves when handling wet clothing and fabric.
  5.  Since you likely have more clothes than you can clean all at once or want to have dry cleaned, let everything air dry as quickly as possible. Don’t leave clothes in a heap, as this promotes mildew growth. Once dry, shake them out or brush off loose dirt and dried mud. Next separate clothes the way you would for normal washing. Store dry, separated clothes in plastic bags if it is going to take a long period of time to get everything washed.
  6.  Pre-soak clothes in cold water or use the pre-rinse cycle on your washer to remove any additional dirt. Use hot water and detergent to kill germs, and remember to load the washer more loosely than usual since the clothes are extra dirty.
  7. Wool and delicate items may not tolerate hot water. If you don’t want to pay to have them dry cleaned, hand wash them in a basin of warm water using 1-2 tablespoons of heavy duty liquid detergent. Allow to soak for at least 3 minutes and rinse thoroughly.
  8. Most blankets, throw rugs, bedspreads, quilts and down-filled items can receive the same treatment as clothing, just be sure to carefully support them when they are wet to avoid ripping from the weight of the water.

Cleaning water-damaged areas is often difficult and discouraging work. However, with time and patience, most clothing items with light-to-medium water damage can be salvaged. There’s also a good chance that carpet with minimal damage can be saved. For large jobs or major sewer backups, it may be best to contact a disaster cleanup company.

This article was written by Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Extension professor, family and consumer sciences,kathleen.riggs@usu.edu, 435-590-7727

Ask an Expert // How to Start the Money Conversation


Struggling to get that money conversation going with your partner? We’ve got some tips on how to discuss finances without creating contention.

Talking with a significant other about money-related decisions can be difficult. Financial experts suggest one reason we may struggle to communicate about money is that we are unaware ourselves of the underlying values and beliefs that inadvertently guide financial decisions.

Communicating about value-driven money decisions can often lead to contention or misunderstanding when we do not first attempt to understand each other’s money values and attitudes. The way we choose to spend, save, invest and otherwise allocate our money is often a reflection of our knowledge, personal beliefs and values—including how we were raised with regards to money management.

To start the money conversation, try answering the following questions for yourself and ask your significant other to do the same. Once you have your answers, have a conversation and share with the intent to listen and understand each other’s perspective.

  • What are your first money memories?
  • How did your family handle money when you were growing up? How does that affect the way you handle money now?
  • What was the first big purchase you made entirely on your own? How old were you?
  • How would you choose to spend $1,000?
  • If you could change one thing about your current financial situation, what would it be?

Talking through questions like these may provide valuable insights to help you understand your own money values as well as those of your loved one. Focus on listening to each other and being honest when communicating. Do not hold anything back, even if you think it may be different from how the other person thinks and feels about money.

Once you have discussed each other’s answers, consider setting a goal that will help you achieve a money-related objective. For example, you may decide to save for a major purchase or pay off a debt. Whatever you agree on, do it together and decide what each person will sacrifice in order to accomplish the goal.

Having different money values can be a great strength in a relationship. Take time to discuss and focus on the positive aspects together. You might find you have more in common than you think.

By: Amanda Christensen, Utah State University Extension Associate Professor

3 Ways to Jump-start Spring

jumpstart-springIt’s not quite springtime, but that doesn’t have to stop you from getting things growing. Here are three ideas to get an early start on spring that we shared last week on Studio 5. Watch the video, or read on for highlights.


Starting Seeds


Start thinking about your vegetable garden, and start your own plants from seed.

Materials Needed

To start your own seeds you’ll just need a few basic supplies:

  • Seeds: If you plan well enough in advance, you can order seeds from a catalog and find unusual plant varieties, or you can pick up seed packets at your local garden center or nursery.
  • Containers: You can find trays and containers at your local garden center, or you can use small plastic containers from your recycle bin. Egg cartons work really well– you can cut off the lid and use it as a tray to catch drainage water. If you do use recycled containers, be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage, and sanitize them before using.
  • Soil: Use soil mix specifically for starting seeds, and do not reuse soil from other plants or take soil from your yard.
  • Light Source: Young seedlings need a lot of light as soon as they emerge, even more than a sunny window can offer. You can buy a lighting setup, or build your own (see instructions here).
  • Fertilizer: Find a fertilizer specifically for seedlings or vegetable plants. Mix as directed on the package, and begin using once seedling has emerged.

Caring for Seedlings

Most indoor air temperatures will be perfect for seedlings—between 60-80 degrees. Just after planting seeds, dampen the soil using a spray bottle. You don’t want to water log the seeds or seedlings, but you don’t want them to dry out at any point during the germination process. Continue to keep them moist with a spray bottle until they germinate and emerge.

Cover trays or containers with plastic wrap or a plastic bag until the seedling emerges, then begin watering with a plant production fertilizer for optimal results. You’ll also want to start using your grow light once the seed has sprouted. Keep the light 2-4 inches above the plants as they grow. Run your grow light for 12 to 14 hours a day, and give your seedlings a break at night.


It takes about a week for seeds to germinate and sprout, and the seedlings need an additional 4-6 weeks before they can be transplanted into the garden, depending on the plant type. Mid March is a good time to start seeds indoors, but check with your local Extension office to find out exactly when you should start your seeds and transplant your seedlings into the garden, as it varies year to year depending on the previous year’s frost date.

If you take your seedlings directly from their cozy indoor setup to the garden, they won’t survive. You have to harden off your plants; a process that takes about two weeks. This means gradually getting them used to being outside. Start with an hour in the afternoon, gradually working up to a full 24 hours.  Then your plants are ready to be transplanted into the garden!

Find out More

View our seed starting fact sheet, Wasatch Front vegetable planting guide, detailed seed starting video, visit garden.usu.edu for more information on gardening, or attend the Seed Starting Workshop on February 22 at USU Botanical Center (registration required).

Easter Wheat Grass


Sprout wheat grass this year for fun springtime decor. This makes lovely table decor, and is a fun activity to do with children.

Materials Needed:

  • Wheat berries
  • Potting Soil
  • Festive containers (pots, baskets, bowls, etc.)
  • Spray bottle
  • Plastic wrap or bags

Soak wheat berries overnight so they begin to sprout. Prepare containers by adding soil. If using an Easter basket, line with plastic wrap before adding soil. Spread a thick layer of sprouted wheat in your container of soil (any potting soil will do, you can even wet the soil before adding the wheat). Spray with water so that everything is saturated evenly. Cover container with plastic wrap or place it in a large plastic bag, to keep the wheat berries moist and encourage growth. Move containers to a sunny window, and spray  with water a few times daily. Don’t let them dry out! Once the grass has begun to grow, you can remove the plastic and continue watering regularly. Grass should grow 6-10 inches in two weeks.

Forced Branches


You can urge those spring blossoms out a little early by bringing budding branches inside. Willows and Forsythia are probably the most common branches to force inside, but you can also try dogwood, cherry, lilacs, or serviceberry branches. Be careful when pruning that you aren’t ruining the shape of your bush or tree. Choose long and thin branches with well-formed buds on them, and cut near a junction. Bring them inside and put them in a vase of lukewarm water, out of direct sunlight (a cool basement room works well). Keep an eye on the water level, and add more as needed.

Marriage Survival: It’s a Jungle Out There!

marriage-survival-graphicInterested in strengthening your marriage? Read on!

Research has found that married couples are healthier, wealthier and their children do better in school than those who are unmarried or divorced.  But, marriage can be challenging! Gaining skills and tools of healthy relationships can keep relationships happy and strong. Here are tips to keep relationship strong in five important areas of relationships:


Being committed to each other is the first step in a good relationship. As part of thinking about “we” instead of “me,” it is important to understand and discuss each other’s personalities and needs.


Learning and practicing healthy communication skills such as “I messages” and good listening skills can show your partner that you value your relationships and promote positive communication.

Financial Harmony

Understanding each other’s money styles, keeping a budget, and setting financial goals as a couple can all help you to help you grow closer together rather than having finances be a source of frustration and contention in relationships.

Strengthening Your Friendship

Investing in your relationship with quality time, finding small ways to show that you care, and maintaining a positive mind set can strengthen your relationship.

Protect Your Marriage

Learning how to cope with conflict effectively, and learning traits of safe and happy relationships can help you protect your marriage from negative outside influences.logowithcouple

Learn More

Join us for a fun and interactive class to learn more about these five important areas and strengthen your relationship. Register Here

This article was written by Naomi Brower, USU Extension associate professor, Weber County