Tips to De-Stress Your Holiday Season

De Stress Your Holiday.jpgThe finish line is in sight— Christmas is almost here. Don’t let the stress of the holidays get you down. Try these tips to manage your stress, and better enjoy the holiday season.


Perhaps it’s the first time you hear “Jingle Bells” on the radio or see Christmas lights go up on a neighbor’s house.  Whatever the moment may be, you have the realization that the holiday season is in full swing.  You may experience childlike feelings of excitement that accompany the season, but at the same time, a very adult feeling may sneak up on you — stress.

Counting down the days left to shop, making travel plans and organizing family get togethers can leave you feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, rather than full of holiday cheer.  The holiday season brings many responsibilities, and even the fun activities can leave you feeling tired and stressed.  According to the American Psychological Association, the main sources of holiday stress are related to relationships, finances, and physical demands.  By following a few practical tips, you can reduce and manage the stress that accompanies the holiday season.

Relationships can create stress at any time, but tensions and conflicts are often intensified during the holiday season when increased demands are placed on family members.  On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one can create feelings of sadness and loneliness.

  • Take time for yourself.  Spend 15 minutes alone to refresh and clear your mind.
  • Have realistic expectations.  Families change and grow, so traditions and rituals may change as well.  Hold on to the most special traditions, and be open to creating new ones.
  • Reach out to others.  Community agencies and social events offer support and companionship for those who may feel lonely and isolated during the holiday season.  Volunteering and helping others can lift your spirits and put your family life into perspective.
  • Make time for fun.  

Financial issues often arise during the holiday season, leading to undesirable stress.  Gifts, travel, food and entertainment expenses add up quickly and can lead to unexpected debt.

  • Stick to a budget. Consider how much you want to spend in total for the season, and set a spending limit.  Keep track of how much you spend on the holidays, including decorations, travel, holiday entertainment and meals, and cards and postage.
  • Plan ahead. Before shopping, look through newspaper ads and store circulars to find which stores are running specials and where the prices are lowest.  Comparison shop on the Internet to find out which stores carry the items you want at the best price.
  • Make homemade gifts or give gift certificates for your time and talents.

Physical demands of the holiday season can initiate or increase stress.  Shopping for gifts, attending social gatherings, and preparing holiday meals can be exhausting.

  • Know your limits.  Give yourself permission to say no to extra holiday activities.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits.  Continue to get plenty of sleep and stay physically active.  Avoid overindulging at holiday meals by preparing a healthy snack ahead of time.

The holiday season can be stressful and overwhelming, but taking small steps to combat the stress can help you to relax and enjoy the season.  

 


This article was written by Shannon Cromwell, M.A., Extension Assistant Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Utah State University Extension, Sanpete County, 435-283-3472, shannon.cromwell@usu.edu

Resources:

The American Psychological Association.  www.apa.org




A Fruitcake for Christmas

fruitcakeHave you ever received fruitcake as a gift? When a research firm polled some 1,000 adults about what they did with fruitcake, 38 percent said they gave it away, 28 percent actually ate it, 13 percent used it as a doorstop, 9 percent scattered it for the birds, 4 percent threw it out, and 8 percent couldn’t remember.*  Which category will you fall into this season?


Sun-ripened raisins, plump, juicy cherries, delicious pineapple, home-grown pecans, walnuts and almonds, a little tang of lemon and orange peel added, blended into a rich pound-cake batter and baked to a golden brown. This could be your traditional Christmas fruitcake. This moist Christmas cake is a festive favorite full of tasty bits of fruits and nuts, the ratio of which is fairly high, with just enough cake batter to hold it all together. This naturally results in a very dense, moist cake, no doubt giving rise to the “heavy” jokes. Fruitcakes range from light to dark, are made with and without alcohol and are delicately spiced.

Fruitcake dates back to the early Roman years, and you may hear jokes about them being 125 years old. I’ve been asked what the shelf life of fruitcake is. No one has come up with an exact amount of time, and each recipe is different. These cakes contain high amounts of sugar, which means that water activity will be low, keeping mold from growing and making the cake last a long time. The spices and fruit in the cake also contain antioxidants, which will help extend the shelf life of the fruitcake. The alcohol content in the cake may have only a small effect on the shelf life, as most of the alcohol is lost during the baking time, and the rest is lost over a long storage time. The recommended shelf life is usually a few months, with additional life added by storing it in the freezer. You may also want to keep it in the refrigerator for easier slicing.

Fruitcake is also an excellent choice to send in the mail. It does not spoil and is solid enough to maintain its shape and form. Now you know why your distant relatives choose to send you one each Christmas.

Most of your traditional Christmas fruitcakes are started in October allowing for the softening of dried fruits and the blending of flavors. These cakes are usually prepared with a syrup mixture, then the fruits and alcohol are added. However, many fruitcakes are non-alcoholic and much simpler to make.

Several old legends of the fruitcake have been passed on for centuries. From England it was told that a single woman could put a slice of fruitcake under her pillow to dream of the man she would marry. Crusaders carried fruitcake on their journeys because of its ability to withstand long trips and months of storage. In Egypt, the fruitcake was considered an essential food for a mummy to take into the afterlife, always being placed inside the tomb.

So, if you were lucky enough to receive a fancy fruitcake confection this holiday season, get ready to open up the tin, box or wrapper and enjoy. The fruit and fiber make it a more nutritious food than some holiday treats. 

Holiday Fruitcake

From McCall’s Cooking School

2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, quartered
2 cups light or dark raisins
1/2 cup brandy
3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cups butter or regular margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
7 eggs
1/2 cup brandy

In large bowl combine walnuts, cherries and raisins with 1/2 cup brandy. Allow to stand overnight at room temperature. Sift flour with baking powder and nutmeg. In a large electric mixer bowl, beat butter/margarine, sugar and vanilla at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat at medium speed for 4 minutes, occasionally scraping sides of bowl. Batter will become thick and fluffy and lighter in color. At low speed, gradually beat in flour mixture until smooth. Add cherry/raisin/nut mixture to batter and mix well with wooden spoon.

Heat oven to 350 F and grease pan of your choice and flour well. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes in bundt pan or 1 hour 10 minutes in tube pan. As an alternative, use 5-inch diameter by 2-inch- high souffle dishes and bake for about 45 minutes. Cake is done when long skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Cool pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Use small spatula to loosen cake around inside. Invert on wire rack and cool.  Soak cheesecloth in 1/2 cup brandy, stretch on large piece of heavy-duty foil, place cake in center and wrap with cheesecloth. Wrap foil tightly around cake. Store in refrigerator several days to several weeks. To serve, slice thinly and let warm to room temperature.


This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, retired Utah State University Extension professor, carolyn.washburn@usu.edu.

*Russell Baker, The New York Times




Ask an Expert // Are Holiday Layaways Worth It?

layawayWhat’s the deal with  layaway programs? Learn how to assess if layaway is a good option for you and how to set up your own layaway savings plan from USU Extension finance pro Amanda Christensen.


Layaway Highlights:

  1. Read the fine print
  2. Look at the cancelation policy
  3. Will the payments fit into your budget?
  4. Is there a sale price credit?
  5. Will you be tempted to overspend?

Set Up Your Own Layaway Savings Plan:

  1. Set a goal and stick to it
  2. Make a plan
  3.  Set up an automatic transfer
  4. Watch sale prices
  5. Stick to your list

 

Be sure to watch the video for the details on each tip.


Amanda Christensen is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. Follow her on Twitter: @FamFinPro, Facebook: Fam Fin Pro, Instagram: @FamFinPro.




Christmas is NOT an Emergency: 4 Tips to Tackle Christmas Without Using Your Emergency Funds

christmas-is-not-an-emergencyIt’s an emergency! My house is on fire… there’s been an earthquake… my furnace is broken! These are emergencies— Christmas is not. Check out this video from our finance pro Amanda Christensen and follow her tips to plan ahead for Christmas and save your emergency fund for a real emergency.


 

Highlights:

  1. Christmas is not an emergency!
  2. Set reasonable expectations.
  3. Shop early and after.
  4. Plan to give to those in need.

Be sure to watch the video for the details on each tip.


Amanda Christensen is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. Follow her on Twitter: @utahmoney moms, Facebook: Utah Money Moms, Instagram: @utahmoneymoms.




20 Holiday Tradition Ideas to Bring Families Together

holiday-traditions-graphicYear to year your kids may forget what gifts they have given and received, but they will always remember the traditions you do together as a family.Try adding one of these activities to your annual holiday traditions.


Family traditions are beliefs and customs that are passed down to our children to be carried on by future generations. Traditions foster closeness between family members, provide family stability and create feelings of belonging. Our values and beliefs are often reinforced through family traditions. Family traditions do not have to be elaborate or expensive. The significance of a tradition is for families to have time to relate and communicate with one another. Spending quality time together helps affirm values, faith and life experiences while celebrating the season.

  1. Watch Christmas shows together with hot chocolate and popcorn.
  2. Make your own Christmas cards to send to family and friends.
  3. Donate clothes or toys to a local shelter.
  4. Make decorating the Christmas tree a family event.
  5. Bake and decorate cookies to take to a neighbor.
  6. Go caroling.
  7. Take a special drive at night to enjoy Christmas lights.
  8. Collect pine cones and use them to make ornaments.
  9. Read one Christmas story each night before bed, or have your children write and act out a Christmas play.
  10. Go sledding, and then enjoy hot cider or hot chocolate at home.
  11. Have a campout night using sleeping bags under your lighted Christmas tree.
  12. Make paper snowflakes to decorate your windows.
  13. Light up your walkway or driveway with handmade luminaries.
  14. Learn how different cultures celebrate Christmas.
  15. Create a calendar so your children can count down the days until Christmas.
  16. Have a Christmas past, present and future evening. Look through old photo albums/scrapbooks to celebrate Christmas past. Discuss what makes Christmas special for each family member to celebrate Christmas present and talk about hopes and dreams for the coming years to celebrate Christmas future.
  17. Make gingerbread people out of brown grocery sacks. These make great gift tags for presents. Glue on googly eyes and candy canes to add dimension to your gingerbread people.  
  18. Make snow globes with old food jars.
  19. Have your children help you prepare a special family recipe that has been passed down through generations.
  20. Have a gift wrapping party.

Family traditions will create lasting memories, so whatever your traditions may be, remember to have fun and enjoy the time you are spending with family.  


This article was written by Shannon Cromwell, M.A., Extension Assistant Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Utah State University Extension, Sanpete County, 435-283-3472, shannon.cromwell@usu.edu




Quick and Easy Holiday Recipes

quick-and-easy-holiday-recipesDon’t let holiday party planning stress you out: try these quick and easy make-ahead recipes for your next holiday gathering, and enjoy this wonderful time of the year.


As the holidays become a fast approaching reality, the feeling of panic can quickly take over the sparkle…Will I be able to get everything done in time? Will it be just the way I want it? Can I make entertaining extra special without spending too much time or money on the details? Are there things we can do to entertain and prepare for the holidays without making ourselves crazy in the process?  

I cater on the weekends and in my spare time, I have come across some simple ways to make the holidays extra special. What can I do to have homemade rolls, a lovely platter of savory bites that can be taken to the next party or maybe a simple dessert that will appeal to even the pickiest foodie? Just by having a few simple ingredients on hand you can make the holidays sparkle.  Try out some of these tips and recipes to make your holidays merry and bright.

Chris’s Make Ahead Refrigerator Dinner Rolls

Homemade dinner rolls make any holiday meal extra special. With just a few inexpensive key ingredients, your house will smell like you have been baking all day and your guests will feel extra special when you are pulling these rolls out of your oven right before the event. Try these easy, foolproof dinner rolls for your next gathering.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for pan and brushing
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for shaping dough

Directions

  1. Pour warm water into a large bowl or stand mixer bowl; sprinkle with yeast, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add sugar, butter, eggs, and salt; whisk to combine. Change out whisk attachment to a dough hook. Add flour; mix until incorporated and a sticky dough forms. Move dough to a buttered bowl.  Brush top of dough with butter; cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface. With floured hands, roll dough into a thick log. Cut into 18 equal pieces (halve log, cut each half in thirds, then cut each piece into thirds again).
  4. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter. One at a time, flatten each piece of dough, then fold edges toward the center, pressing to secure, until a smooth ball forms. Place dough balls in prepared baking pan, smooth side up (you should have 3 rows of 6). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate (at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.), OR you can cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap; brush rolls with butter. Bake until golden and rolls sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 35 to 40 minutes (tent with aluminum foil if browning too quickly). Pull rolls apart, and serve warm.

Green Onion Cheese Ball

For that special get together, sometimes it is fun to have an easy-to-make alternative to the traditional holiday sweet treat. Here is a simple recipe that, for next to nothing, can be whipped up in a matter of minutes and will look like you spent hours preparing it. Even if you do not like onion, you will be amazed at the flavor. This cheese ball is mild enough that you get just a hint of onion along with the other seasonings. This could be the next neighborhood favorite.

Ingredients

  • 3 – 8 oz pkgs. cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 pkg. dry onion soup mix (I prefer Lipton)
  • 6 green onions finely diced (Whole onion – white and green parts)
  • Chopped nuts

Directions

Mix first three ingredients thoroughly, shape into a ball, and roll in chopped nuts.

If desired, use this recipe to make two or three small cheese balls out of one batch for a great addition to a cheese and cracker platter for a smaller group. As another option, shape the cream cheese mixture into a teardrop so it looks like a festive Christmas pine cone when sliced or whole almonds are added in a layered pattern, starting at the point and working back. Then place sprigs of green onions, rosemary, or parsley at the round end.

Easy Sugar Cookies

These quick and easy recipes will give your holiday the sparkle and shine that shows you care, with a minimum of effort allowing you to enjoy the holidays with your friends and family.

Ingredients

  • White cake mix (dry)
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine (melted)
  • 2 eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour all ingredients into mixing bowl. Mix with a hand mixer until everything is incorporated and looks like moist crumbles. Press into the shape of a disk. Roll out and cut shapes with cookie cutter or scoop dough into balls. Place on cookie sheet, and bake for about 7-10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Place cookies on cooling rack, let cookies cool. Ice cookies according to preference.


This article was written by Chris Jensen, Piute County Extension Educator.




Winter Bucket List

winter-bucket-list-graphic

What’s on your list of must-do winter activities? Get some inspiration from our winter bucket list. 


Each season has its own excitement and beauty to enjoy. Here is a list of fun things to do this winter to get you started. These are great for family, friends or date nights!

Outdoors

  • Go sledding.
  • Build a snowman.
  • Drive or walk around to see local Christmas lights at night, visit Holiday Lights at Thanksgiving Point November 21 to December 31 (closed Sundays) or Ogden’s Christmas Village (Saturday after Thanksgiving through January 1).
  • Go caroling.
  • Go for a sleigh ride.
  • Have a fun and safe snowball fight.
  • Try cross country skiing or snowshoeing at such places as  Soldier Hollow, Millcreek, Donut Falls, or a place near you!
  • Go tubing at Soldier Hollow.
  • Go skiing or snowboarding. Local resorts include Alta, Brighton, Deer Valley, Snowbird and more.
  • Visit the Macy’s 2016 Holiday-themed Candy Window Display at City Creek Center November 17 to January 1.
  • Go window shopping at the Shops at Riverwoods in Provo.  Enjoy shopping, lights, music, entertainment and outdoor firepits to warm you up. From 6 to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays in November and December. The lighting of Riverwoods is November 18 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Entertainment

  • Go ice skating. The Gallivan Center rink’s opening day is November 13 at 6 p.m.
  • Plan a weekend away at the Snowbird Cliff Lodge and Spa.
  • Visit the Festival of Trees located at the Sandy South Towne Expo Center from November 30 to December 3  from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Have a Candlelight Christmas at This is the Place Heritage Park December 9-23, Monday through Saturday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m.
  • Spend Christmas at the Grand America Hotel. They host Santa and Mrs. Claus with photo opportunities.  A great buffet is provided to complete the experience. There are select days throughout December with seating between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Visit their website to make a reservation.
  • Take a stroll through the Annual Holiday Window display at the Grand America Hotel from November 22 to December 31.
  • Go see the Hogle Zoo lights December 1 to 31 from 5:30 to 8 or 9 p.m., depending on the day.  Closed Christmas Day.
  • Attend the Messiah sing-in with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall on Saturday, November 26, and Sunday, the 27, at 7:30 p.m.   
  • Attend the Nutcracker with Ballet West at the Capitol Theatre on December 2 to 26, times vary.
  • Visit the lights at Temple Square. They are first lit the day after Thanksgiving and stay on through December 31. Free concerts and performances daily at six venues November 25 to December 23.
  • Eve Winter Fest December 29 to 31. Salt Lake City’s three-day celebration with concerts, DJs, grown-up drinks and engaging activities for kids and families. Discover everything that downtown has to offer with one all-access pass. 
  • Watch sporting events  – cheer for your favorite basketball, wrestling, ice hockey or gymnastics teams.
  • Attend a local play.
  • Visit a museum, local landmarks and local art galleries.

Home

  • Play a favorite board game or try a new one.
  • Make warm hot cider or cocoa and watch a holiday movie.
  • Build a fort with all the blankets and pillows you can find in the house.
  • Snuggle up to a fire or a sofa and read a holiday classic with someone.
  • Put together a giant puzzle.
  • Have a gingerbread house construction party where everyone brings their old candy, boxes, glue guns, crackers and more. This is fun for the little ones up to the hard-core construction engineer designers.
  • Make indoor s’mores in the oven. Lay the crackers on a cookie sheet, and then place your desired chocolate on the cracker along with marshmallows. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for  3 to 5 minutes until the marshmallows and chocolate are soft and gooey.  
  • Plan a progressive dinner with your friends when January gets boring. Pick your favorite theme and have everyone prepare a different course.
  • Host a murder mystery dinner.
  • Have a cookie exchange party where everyone brings their favorite cookies to trade, then everyone has a variety to take home.

Books

  • Winter themed books for youth:
    • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
    • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
    • The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen
    • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
    • Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
    • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
    • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
    • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
  • Christmas-themed books for all:
    • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    • How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
    • The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
    • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
    • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
    • Little Women by Louisa May Alcot

Crafts

  • Make a memory book with pictures taken throughout the year.
  • Make snow paint to paint the snow and add some color to winter.
  • Make someone you love a homemade gift for the season.
  • Create homemade ornaments with your children or friends.
  • Cut out paper snowflakes and decorate the house.
  • Make a holiday wreath for the season.
  • Make your own Valentine’s Day cards and decorations.

Food

Here are some foods to warm you up during those cold winter days.


This article was written by Marilyn Albertson, Utah State University Extension Associate Professor, Salt Lake County, and Kirsten Lamplugh, Utah State University Extension Intern, Salt Lake County




25 Holiday Money Wasters

holiday-money-wasters-graphic

It can’t hurt to spend a little extra during the holidays because, “Tis the Season.” Right? Wrong…it can and does hurt. No matter how caught up in the spirit of Christmas you may get, being wise and careful is the name of the game to keep your finances in good standing when January rolls around. Avoid these 25 holiday money wasters.


  1. Shopping without a budget. Before you make any purchases, figure out how much you can afford to spend, stick to your budget and track your spending. Don’t make purchases you haven’t budgeted for. 
  2. Not sharing the cost of entertaining. While it is tempting to just cover all of the costs yourself, share your entertaining costs by assigning such things as food and game supplies with guests. 
  3. Putting purchases on a credit card. Most of us tend to overspend when using a credit card.  We are also less likely to do as much price comparison when we think we will just get it now and be done, then pay for it later. We rationalize that the few extra dollars aren’t that big of a deal breaker. 
  4. Using out-of-network ATMs when shopping. Those fees can add up, so plan carefully. 
  5. Shopping at the last minute. This can be a tricky one. Sometimes in a rush, we buy too much and spend too much. With that said, sometimes there are still some “perfect” items at a great price later in the game. The trouble is, things are generally picked over, and the frustration may not be worth the savings. 
  6. Buying “little” gifts for too many people. In fact, consider an alternative to gift exchanges. Determine a set amount that you donate to a charity, then tell all those would- be-recipients of your gift what you have done. 
  7. Buying party supplies at grocery stores. Try discount stores and dollar stores for the majority of your party supply needs. 
  8. Not comparing prices. There are a number of great ways to check prices on things, so use them — they are free. Some websites/apps include: www.fatwallet.com (they even have a Black Friday app); www.pricehistories.com; www.consumerworld.org; Google Shopper app, www.pricegrabber.com. 
  9. Buying new decorations every year. Cut back on the decorations this year, and use last year’s decorations as much as possible. Get creative and put some time and effort into making decorations. 
  10. Getting new holiday clothes. We don’t need new holiday attire for a family photo, gathering or night out. Learn how to dress up the basics…like a black dress that can be used many times with just a simple switch of less expensive accessories. 
  11. Not taking advantage of free activities. 
  12. Buying too many specialty foods or drinks. Carefully plan menus for simple and economical meals for the majority of your holiday dining. Also, carefully plan your special occasion meals watching for sales. 
  13. Not shopping a year in advance, when things are considerably reduced at the end of each season. 
  14. Not using coupons. This time of year there are some really good deals and promotions…so if there are discounts on items on your list, don’t pass them up. Try www.retailmenot.com for online discount codes at checkout. 
  15. Buying overpriced wrapping paper just to make your gifts look extra special. 
  16. Splurging on meals away from home, or tipping too much when you do go out. 
  17. Paying for warranties on appliances and electronics. Odds are that you won’t need the extra coverage because most major appliances don’t break down during the extended-warranty period. Or you might already be covered. The four major credit card networks — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — provide up to a year of extended warranty protection for some cardholders, according to credit card comparison site www.cardhub.com. 
  18. Not clearly planning your charitable contributions. We all want to help out those in need during the holidays, but we usually either go overboard, don’t plan a set amount or get carried away with everyone who approaches your help. This can add up quickly. 
  19. Paying full price for gift cards. It is possible to find gift cards at a discount. Try these sites: www.giftcardgranny.com or www.cardkangaroo.com for up to 50 percent savings sometimes. 
  20. Buying “bad” gifts. Be thoughtful well in advance regarding gifts you plan on giving. 
  21. Going overboard for your kids. It is an easy thing to do, out of desire to make the season magical and a desire to grant their every wish, but be careful. Stay the course on your predetermined amount of money available for gifts, and live within the reality of your budget. 
  22. Running too many errands through poor planning. 
  23. Paying too much for shipping. Try www.freeshipping.org for shipping coupons and the date for free shipping for online purchases this holiday season. 
  24. Spending too much on greeting cards. There are many places to access e-cards. Or better yet, design your own letter/card in a simple program, and send it electronically. You will save on postage and the card. 
  25. Buying for yourself. While you may be worth it, no matter how good the deal, pass it up.  On average we spend about $130 on ourselves during the holidays, according to the National Retail Federation. So be careful…that is a lot of money. Imagine what an impact that extra money will make on your gift list. Only a couple more weeks of abstaining from unnecessary personal purchases and you can get back into the swing of spending on yourself at the first of the year, if you have the money.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension family and consumer sciences educator, Weber County




Ask an Expert // Christmas Tree Selection and Care

christmas-trees

Thinking of getting a live Christmas tree this year? Consider these tips from forestry expert Michael Kuhns.


In late November and early December, Utahns head for their local Christmas tree grower or tree lot to purchase this year’s Christmas tree. Selection of a good tree and care for that tree once it is home can help you have a happier and safer holiday season.

Choosing the Perfect Tree

Size is the first thing to consider when getting a Christmas tree. Measure the spot for the tree including width and ceiling height. Remember that several inches will eventually be cut off of the butt end. The stand, on the other hand, may add several inches to the tree’s overall height.

Several types of Christmas trees are available, including cut trees, potted or balled trees, and artificial trees.

Cut Trees

Cut, live trees are the most common type of Christmas tree. Three options are available to a person wanting a cut Christmas tree— a precut tree purchased from a dealer, a choose-and-cut tree purchased from a local grower, or a wild-grown native Christmas tree.

Freshness and moistness are the keys to having a Christmas tree that will last through the holiday season. Once needles dry out on a tree they usually stay dry, even when the tree is placed in a stand with water. The best way to ensure that your tree is fresh is to buy from a local grower or from a retailer you know and trust, either at a choose-and-cut operation or at a lot.

Trees shipped into Christmas tree lots from out of state may be fresh, but sometimes are old and dried out. Follow these steps to be sure that the tree you are buying is fresh and of high quality:

 

  • Gently pull on the needles. They should be tightly attached to the twig.
  • Shake the tree vigorously or bounce the butt on the ground. If green needles fall, look further. Dead, brown needles falling from the inner part of the tree may have been shed years ago and are less of a problem.
  • Check that the tree has a fresh, green color. Some trees are sprayed with a blue-green dye. This dye is harmless but be sure it’s not hiding a dry tree.
  • Buy early before all of the desirable trees have been sold.
  • Fir and pine trees hold needles better than spruce trees.
  • Break a few needles. They should be flexible and will feel moist or possibly sticky. They should also be fragrant when crushed.
  • Be sure limbs are strong enough to support lights and ornaments. Limbs should also be well placed to give the tree a pleasing shape. Minor defects can often be turned toward a wall, however, and can lower the purchase price.
  • Ask the dealer if the tree was locally grown. Local trees are much more likely to be fresh because they are cut nearer Christmas and aren’t shipped long distances.

Choose-and-cut trees are available from Christmas tree growers throughout Utah. For the locations of local growers, contact your County Extension office.

Buy a choose-and-cut tree the way you would a pre-cut tree. Freshness and health are still the most important characteristics. The grower will usually have many trees marked for sale with a variety of sizes. Some growers will cut the tree for you and others will expect you to cut your own.

Once a fresh tree is brought home store it outside with the butt end in water until you are ready to decorate it. Keep it away from sun and wind so it does not dry out. It also helps to recut a thin section from the butt end if possible to open the tree’s vessels. When you are ready to bring the tree in, cut the butt end again if it has been stored very long. Your can attach a ribbon to this disc and make an ornament. The disc will have 7 to 10 growth rings, which can be used to denote important family events.

Potted or Balled Trees

Some people buy a potted or balled Christmas tree with roots intact in the hope of having a new landscape tree come spring. This is very difficult to do successfully, but your chances of success increase if the tree is treated right.

  • Buy a healthy tree from a reputable nursery or grower. Expect to pay a higher price than for a typical Christmas tree.
  • Keep the soil in the ball or pot moist until well after it is transplanted after Christmas. A frozen ball need not be watered if the crown is shaded and protected.
  • Lift and carry the tree by the ball or pot, not the top.
  • Keep the tree in the house no longer than about 1 week.
  • Have the tree’s planting hole dug before the soil freezes and keep the fill dirt thawed if possible. The hole should be about the depth of the root ball or slightly shallower and three times the width of the ball.Remove packing and binding materials when planting the tree. Stake the tree for its first year, if possible.

Fresh Tree Care

Inside your house the tree should be placed in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. A fresh tree can lose this much water or more a day, so old-fashioned small stands just do not hold enough. Place the tree away from heaters, furnace vents, televisions, or other sources of heat.

Lights on the tree should be UL approved and protected by an in-line fuse. Small, pin-point lights are good because they remain cool. Old lights with cracked insulation or loose sockets should be discarded–don’t be sentimental about old Christmas tree lights. Turn lights off when the tree is unattended. Flammable decorations should not be used on a Christmas tree with electric lights. Candles should never be used to light a Christmas tree or wreath.

A fresh tree that is watered daily can stay moist and safe for several weeks. If a tree is displayed in a public building, it generally should be kept up for no more than 15 days and should be treated with a fire retardant solution.

After Christmas

Christmas trees can be useful even after they are taken down. Trees can be placed in the yard to add greenery and act as a bird haven until spring. Christmas trees can be used for firewood or chopped up and used as a mulch. Many communities have programs to gather trees after Christmas to be chipped for mulch or other uses.

A Note on Artificial Trees

Artificial trees must be used carefully. Electric lights should not be used on metal trees because of the danger of electric shock. Light these trees with off-the-tree spotlights. Plastic trees may be fire resistant but the fumes they give off when burned are toxic.


This article was written by Michael Kuhns, USU Extension Forestry Specialist




Ten Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

healthy-holiday-eating

It’s no coincidence that many New Year’s resolution lists include something about health or losing weight. Holiday party food is not known for being healthy, but there are a few things you can do to make better holiday eating choices.


 

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

Actually, there is the potential for quite a few as the holidays approach: Thanksgiving weekend, family holiday parties, work holiday parties, neighborhood/church holiday parties, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas week, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In addition to extra meals and calories is the fact that activity levels generally taper off during the holidays. The combination of overeating and not much exercise has the potential to provide weight gain that is often not lost, and year after year, a few more pounds continue to be added to the tally.

It is possible to get through the holidays, however, without gaining weight and being mad at yourself in January. Consider these 10 tips for healthy holiday eating.

 

1. Eat what you love and leave what you like.

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

2. Go to gatherings to gather, not to eat.

Focus on enjoying those you are with, not the food.  

3. Fill your plate with 80 percent healthy foods…

…and save the other 20 percent for dessert or treats.

 4. Skip the punch and eat the cake.

You’ll likely enjoy eating your calories more than drinking them.

5. Don’t save up for later.

It doesn’t make sense to starve all day because you have a party that night. You will likely end up consuming more because you are so hungry. Eat light, but don’t skip meals.

 6. And especially, don’t skip breakfast.

It is the most important meal since it fuels your body as you start the day.

7. Pack the snacks.

Keep healthy snack choices available when you’re on the run so you don’t overeat at mealtimes.

 8. Follow the three-bite rule.

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

 9. Don’t skimp on sleep.

Being tired and cranky won’t be good for anyone during the holidays.

 10. Drink water.

Staying hydrated during the hustle and bustle will help you feel your best and will also help you not feel so hungry when you get to the table.


This article was written by Candi Merritt, Utah State University Extension certified nutrition education assistant, Candi.merritt@usu.edu