Stayed During the Holidays – COVID Style

The holidays are usually a time filled with joy as many reunite with family members not seen as often. You might share special family recipes, play games, watch movies and just “catch up”. COVID-19 has certainly made this very difficult for face-to-face interaction but that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to connect. We have to be more creative and purposeful in how to interact.

According to an article published earlier this year by UNL faculty and published on Nebraska Extension’s ruralwellness.unl.edu website, “Research consistently tells us that taking care of others and maintaining meaningful relationships across generations are important for resilience and wellbeing.” (Bulling et al. 2020) Meaningful relationships contribute to a sense of belonging and help us feel connected. Sharing family stories and traditions among multiple generations is also a very special bond.

With the current pandemic, maintaining distance from our loved ones is difficult. We have missed birthdays, special events and probably other annual events or outings. The holiday season often triggers stress and sometimes even depression. Think about all of the demands we add to our plates – shopping, baking, cooking meals, cleaning and hosting events, just to name a few. This year, however, you are probably feeling a different type of stress – lack of normalcy, anxiety and disconnect. While COVID-19 has added new challenges, it has sparked creativity for some people. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to find new ways to stay emotionally connected to loved ones, so I searched and brainstormed some options.

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Pexels.com
  • Host a virtual Holiday meal with friends and family who don’t live with you. You can schedule time to have a virtual meal, say a family blessing together and converse in conversation. You could also have people share recipes and prepare the same special family traditional recipes. Have everyone put their devices on the table so you can talk while enjoying the meal.
  • If you plan to have a meal together, drop off or send an item to that person ahead of time so you can share that item. You can even send matching centerpieces for everyone to display on their table. Even though it might not be the traditional meal, consider using a meal delivery site like “Hello Fresh”, etc. to share the same food.
  • Search online games to play with family members who are in a different location than you. Google, “free online games” and many options will appear, even the AARP has free games, including Atari! Just be aware that if you download an app, there might be add-ons that cost money and it might take some time to explore what will work for you and your family. You can even play card games online at https://playingcards.io/.
  • Send care packages to family members to enjoy or for a special event when you connect virtually. For example, send a hot cocoa packet and small marshmallows and enjoy hot chocolate while virtually watching a movie together.
  • Have a virtual cookie decorating or meal preparation party. Pick out a recipe and make it together virtually. Deliver food to a friend or family members’ porch or mail items such as cookies to those who might need a little extra cheering up.
  • Participate in a gratitude activity, like writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.  Try a gratitude jar or bowl where everyone writes down something, they are grateful for on a slip of paper. During a virtual holiday meal, take turns reading aloud what is in the jar or bowl.
  • For a holiday meal, have your child host “opening” and “closing” ceremonies. This could include a prayer, song, dance or even jokes.
  • Thank people! Decorate your front yard with thank-you signs for essential works, healthcare heroes, teachers and other special people. Have your child paint rocks with kindness messages and set rocks in special places to brighten someone else’s day.

This might be a year to reflect on the things that really matter to you and find ways to allocate more time towards those activities. If you have kids, let them brainstorm for alternative plans and start new traditions. Help children cope with the holiday blues and validate their feelings of disappointment and sadness to their disrupted holiday traditions. Remember that helping children overcome disappointment helps them build resiliency. Teach fun relaxation strategies such as meditation or even trying out a new candle scent or lotion.

Regardless how you celebrate your holiday season, remember that you are not alone. We are all navigating through these uncertain times together and it’s okay to ask for help if things get too overwhelming.

Reaching Out is Nebraska Strong

Reaching out to others and asking for help may look a bit different now but staying emotionally and socially connected is important to our health and wellbeing at all times. Learning to recognize your stressors and how to manage stress can help you personally and those around you. If you recognize someone in distress, use a caring approach in listening to them, and then connect them to resources.

Keep these Hotlines in your phone contacts:

  • Rural Response Hotline: 1-800-464-0258
  • Nebraska Family Helpline: 1-888-866-8660
  • National Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990



Entrepreneurship Month

November is National Entrepreneurship Month! Did you know youth entrepreneurship is a program priority for Nebraska 4-H? Through various programs, Nebraska 4-H connects youth to important careers and strengthens their entrepreneurship skills. Entrepreneurship programs aim to increase the number of youths returning to rural communities in business and professions and to increase the number of youths who are entrepreneurs.

Nebraska Extension has created several programs to introduce youth to entrepreneurship and the mind set behind being an entrepreneur.  Curriculum reach youth between grades 3-8.  The curriculum, “T.E.C Box and “INVENTURE Day” have allowed youth to use their creativity through hands-on learning to explore the basics of Entrepreneurship while connecting them to their local communities. 

Tinker. Explore. Create. (TEC) Box is an experiential learning and maker movement activity that actively engages learners by encouraging them to think for themselves, work hard and learn with hands-on, minds-on methods. Through this program, youth will engage with entrepreneurship, empathy and utilize their innovative spark. Two hundred sixty-five youth participated in TEC Box curriculum activities.

During INVENTURE Day, students familiarize themselves with local businesses and business owners to identify potential entrepreneurial careers. Using innovation and creation, youth work in teams to develop a unique business around a product that solves a problem in the community.

In celebration of National Entrepreneurship Month, teachers and educators are invited to utilize a toolkit of free resources, including:

  • Calendar of fun, easy activities to use as bell-ringers, energizers, and simple ways to engage students in entrepreneurial thinking
  • Lesson plans designed to introduce students to entrepreneurship and building an entrepreneurial mindset by developing their non-cognitive skills
  • Virtual field trips to connect students to real people working as entrepreneurs
  • Spark to Start activity book containing activities, games, puzzles, and more to help students learn about starting a business

A sample Spark to Start activities book is also being sent to all 4th-grade teachers in Nebraska. To access the free resources, simply complete a form at go.unl.edu/e-shipmonth.  

Participants in Nebraska extension entrepreneurship and innovation programs have been shown to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and gain skills to create new businesses, which ultimately contributes to the economic vitality of Nebraska communities and beyond.


Communicating with Farmers Under Stress Program

Stress seems to be prevalent in the agriculture sector, with even more concerns arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many farmers and ranchers are facing financial problems and market uncertainties, along with challenges such as production risks, farm transfer issues, and more.  When temporary stress turns into chronic stress, it can impact physical health and mental wellness.

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Nebraska Extension, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, presents a free online webinar, “Communicating with Farmers Under Stress”, Tuesday, November 10, 2020 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, CST.  This workshop is beneficial for individuals who work with farmers and ranchers on a regular basis, such as bank lenders, ag suppliers, healthcare professionals, and anyone involved with the lives of farmers and ranchers.

Workshop Objectives include:

* Build awareness around potentially stressful conditions affecting some farmers and ranchers.

* Learn stress triggers, identify signs of stress, and review helpful techniques for responding.

* Learn techniques for identifying, approaching, and working with farmers who may not cope with stress effectively.

* Learn where to find additional help.

In addition to being helpful for working with farmers and ranchers, the workshop educates participants about managing stress in their own lives and teaches how stressors can affect physical health and relationships with family or coworkers. Register for the free online workshop at:  go.unl.edu/stress2020     . For more information, contact Nebraska Extension Educators Glennis McClure, gmcclure3@unl.edu or Susan Harris, susan.harris@unl.edu.

If you or your employees would like this program taught locally, feel free to contact me at brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu as I am also a certified trainer for the program.


Wellness in Tough Times Chat Café

The Wellness in Tough Times Chat Café features an anonymous group of phone conversations that offer a safe time to share what’s on your mind and connect with other Nebraskans who are facing similar challenges. Therapists from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies will be on the line to help callers work through issues connected to natural disaster recovery and gain skills to improve lives. You may ask questions or just listen. Everyone is welcome!

Mark your calendars to join our Wellness in Tough Times Chat Café for the following discussion topics: Follow the prompts and enter Meeting ID 979 232 622 59#.

  • Finances: A Balancing Act Nov. 05 | 12 – 1 p.m. CST
  • Successfully Resolving Conflict Nov. 12 | 12 – 1 p.m. CST
  • Raising Healthy Children Nov. 19 | 12 – 1 p.m. CST
  • Strengthening Your Couple Relationship Dec. 03 | 12 – 1 p.m. CST
  • The Scope of Grandparenting Today Dec. 10 | 12 – 1 p.m. CST

For more information on the Wellness in Tough Times Team and resources similar to these programs, go to Nebraska Extension’s, ruralwellness.unl.edu.


Tips for a Healthier Halloween

For many, autumn events like Halloween are a time to wear costumes, go trick-or-treating, go to parties with friends, and eat sweet treats. Celebrations such as Halloween are a chance to not only have fun, but also provide healthy snack options and be physically active with friends and family. Make your Halloween season healthier this year by getting plenty of physical activity to balance food intake and help children choose wisely and eat their treats in moderation. Below are tips to make your Halloween healthier for trick-or-treaters and guests.

Hand out healthier treats. 

  • Give out healthier treats for trick-or-treaters and party guests this year. The calories in all those bite-size treats can add up quickly. There are lots of options when it comes to healthier food treats.
  • Examples include cereal bars, packages of dried fruit, baked pretzels, trail mix, animal crackers, mini boxes of raisins, graham crackers, sugar-free gum or hard candy, snack-sized pudding containers, individual applesauce containers or squeeze pouches, sugar-free hot chocolate or apple cider packets, individual juice boxes (100% juice), or fig cookies.

Try out non-food treats. 

  • If you want to steer away from handing out food this year, children will also enjoy non-food treats, such as things you would put in birthday goodie bags. Some non-food items are suitable for all ages, but small items should be limited to kids over age three.
  • Examples include small toys, pocket-sized games, plastic costume jewelry, glow sticks, tiny decks of cards, pencils, pencil toppers, fancy erasers, stickers (including reflective safety stickers), bookmarks, bottles of bubbles, whistles, coloring books, or small packages of crayons.

Promote physical activity.

  • Use party games and trick-or-treat time as a way to fit in 60 minutes of physical activity for kids. You can encourage and pump up the enthusiasm for being more active by providing small and inexpensive toys that promote activity.
  • Items could include a bouncy ball, jump rope, sidewalk chalk for a game of hopscotch or foursquare, or a beanbag for hacky sack.

Moderation is key.

  • Halloween is a great time to discuss and demonstrate the importance of moderation. Keep track of children’s candy so they don’t go overboard in one sitting. Let them pick out a few treats on Halloween night and then let them have a few pieces each day after that.
  • Show kids treats can fit into a healthy eating plan in small amounts. Combine a treat, such as fun-size candy, with a healthy snack like a piece of fruit. Be sure they eat the fruit first, so they don’t fill up on the candy.

Survive sweet treats at work.

  • Snack- or fun-size candies are small and easy to eat but eating several throughout the day can add up to extra calories. Keep the wrappers where you can see them, so they don’t accidentally pile up.
  • If you can’t just eat a few treats at work, start bringing healthier alternatives with you. Stock your snack bag or desk drawer with fruit cups, dried fruit, lightly sweetened whole grain cereal, graham crackers, low-fat pudding cups, popcorn, or granola bars.
  • Remember that friends or co-workers may also be struggling to stay motivated to make healthy changes. Lean on each other and be there when others need encouragement. This year make an effort to bring healthier treat options to work.

Find recipes and learn more at https://food.unl.edu.


Youth, Screen Time & Social Media

This past week, I listened to a webinar hosted by Bryan LGH which featured Collin Kartchner who is an advocate for teen mental health. Specifically, fighting social media’s influence on teen mental health and emphasizing that their voice matters. There has been a lot of research which supports this, and results are shocking. This is one of the reasons, I as a parent was hesitant on allowing my 7th grader access to a smartphone. After Collin’s presentation and reading through literature, as a parent and educator there will be some changes made in our house and I hope you’ll read along to see key research points.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On his presentation sponsored by BLGH, Kartchner pointed out that parents need to be role models for their kids when it comes to phones and devices. This can be very hard to do in such an instantaneous society. Social media has made us share more than we have ever shared before. Think about it, how many posts do you see every day?  It is easier to connect with others and keep them updated on events which is handy, and it is also easy to push your political, social or other differing views which can create tension. How many of us carry cameras with us to kids’ events or other celebrations?  When is the last time you’ve actually printed off pictures to physically display?  I know I have caught myself being too involved with watching my kids through my phone rather than firsthand with my eyes.

When you pick up kids from school, do they see you on your device? When you are at home on the couch debriefing everyone’s day, are you on your device? Have you checked your screen time lately?  How many hours are you working or socially engaged on your phone? Is it fair to blame our kids for wanting to be on their phones? They have been conditioned that phones are a lifeline and connection.

Jean Twenge, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University authored a study that found teenagers are increasingly depressed, feel hopeless and are more likely to consider suicide. Her and colleagues found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 — around the time when smartphones became popular. An excerpt from an article on NPR, found that, “Twenge’s research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. And that’s regardless of the content consumed. Whether teens are watching cat videos or looking at something more serious, the amount of screen time — not the specific content — goes hand in hand with the higher instances of depression.” She found that half an hour or one hour seemed to be the time youth could handle electronic devices in terms of mental health. Twenge said that at 3 hours and more, there is a more pronounced increase in youth who had at least one risk for suicide.

Melanie Hempe, RN and founder of Families Managing Media summed up why social media is not for teens. 1) Social media was not designed for them. Biologically, their underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage all the temptations and information on social media. 2) Social media is an entertainment (and marketing) technology. It will not make them more prepared for real life of a job. 3) A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media. Do they really have as many “friends” as social media portrays? 4) Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment. 5) Social media replaces learning the hard “work” of dealing face-to-face with peers. 6) Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family and instead view “friends” as their foundation. 7) Social media use represents lost potential for teams. It’s too easy for teens to waste their brain on a digital world, as it’s hard to balance everything.

So, what can we do? Twenge suggests both teens and adults limit time on social media and phones to no more than two hours. She encourages people to spend time resting, seeing friends face-to-face (of course in COVID-19 times, FaceTime or other electronic devices might have to be adapted), going outside, exercising, engaging in a non-electronic hobby, etc. If you use your phone to facilitate those things, that’s an acceptable route to take.

Collin Kartchner also provided ideas for families. First of all, one day each week, have a designated time for NO phones. He recommended the time of 5-9 p.m. because kids need time to talk to their parents and parents need to listen. Kids need family dinner with no phones or distractions.  He said to talk like it’s 1994. He also recommends making sure your children get 8 hugs every day for 8 seconds minimum.  That might seem like a lot, but kids need physical touch and connection with their parent/guardian. He recommended that parents, guardians and even grandparents also evaluate their own digital behaviors and make necessary changes. Create a Family Tech Contract that is voiced by all family members, signed and posted on the fridge or visible spot.

Extension Resources
For resources on mental health, check out Nebraska Extension’s webpage at https://ruralwellness.unl.edu/.


Insect Invaders

With the cool temperatures, pests start seeking shelter for warm places like your house, so this week I’m sharing information on keeping these pests out of your house.

Some of the more common nuisance pests include occasional invaders like boxelder bugs, multicolored Asian Lady Beetles, millipedes, and crickets.  These pests don’t do any harm once inside the home; they are just looking for a cozy place to spend the winter. Proper identification of the insect will assure the proper control method.  Boxelder bugs are black and orange true ‘bugs’ that can be found in large numbers around foundations sunning themselves or trying to find their way inside. Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles are the orange ‘lady bugs’ with black spots.  Their distinct smell and ability to bite makes them even more of a nuisance once inside the home.  Millipedes are often misidentified as ‘wire worms.’  These skinny, brown critters have two legs per body segment and will curl up when disturbed.  Crickets hop their way into homes and provide ‘music’ in the night with their chirping.  Commonly it’s the black field cricket that migrates inside, but there are others that follow right behind.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Wolf spiders may look scary, but they are more bark than bite.  These large, hairy spiders can be found both outdoors and occasionally inside the home.  They are not poisonous, nor do they want to disturb people.  They are hunting spiders, so they don’t spin a web or a trap, but prefer to chase down their prey.  They often find their way into homes in the fall following their favorite food source the cricket.

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never been truer.  Discouraging occasional invaders from entering the house is going to take a little work, but it will be worth it in the long run.  Start by finding and sealing up any cracks or spaces they could enter through with silicone caulk or expanding foam.  Make sure that window screens are in good repair and that doors are tight fitting.  Also remove any dead plant debris from window wells. 

Pests can be discouraged from entering the house in a number of ways.  The most common way is by applying an outdoor perimeter insecticide treatment.  These insecticides are labeled for various pests and often times have residual effects to help protect the house for longer.  Read and follow the label instructions on how and where these products should be applied.  Ideally, try to apply these insecticides out from the foundation about five to ten feet around the perimeter of the home. The insecticides will help to decrease the numbers of pests that make it inside the house, but don’t expect it to stop all of them. 

Monitor the home regularly to see what pests have made their way inside.  Glue boards are sticky boards used to catch and hold pests as they try to move throughout the home.  Be sure to use sticky boards in locations where non-target animals, like pets, won’t get stuck in them.  If something other than the target pest does happen to get ‘caught’ in the trap, use an oily material, like vegetable or mineral oil, to dissolve the sticky substance on the trap.  When properly placed, these traps will allow you to see which pests are inside the home and their approximate numbers.

Once pests are found inside the home, there are a few techniques that you can use. The handy broom and dustpan or the vacuum are two techniques; they are also very environmentally friendly and very cost effective.  Be careful when selecting insecticides for use inside the home.  Read and follow instructions carefully as many of these products have to come into contact with the insect themselves and don’t offer much residual protection. With a little prevention and monitoring you can ensure that you are sharing your home with wanted house guests this fall and winter.