Making Contributions During the Holidays

The holiday season gives youth and adults an opportunity to stop and reflect on events of the past year, one’s beliefs and values, and what gives life meaning and purpose. For the last 21 months, the global pandemic has given many young people and adults the opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to them. As 2021 draws to a close, it is a wonderful time to reflect and act in ways that provide contributions to others.

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Research has found when we feel we have made a difference in the lives of others, it often gives our own life meaning and purpose. Even small acts of kindness can provide great life satisfaction. By serving others in a positive way, one can gain a deeper sense of perspective. When considering ways to contribute, make sure to ask a few questions. Does this opportunity align with my values, budget, and time capacity? Below are some tips to help you and the young people in your life make meaningful contributions this holiday season.

  • Become a Volunteer – This requires giving your time, talents, and energy to a cause without receiving money. Volunteering can be an individual or family activity. It can be a great way to meet new people and strengthen existing relationships. Taking the initiative to address a need in your community can give you a sense of accomplishment. Depending on the task, volunteering can help you or a young person build self-confidence and improve one’s physical health. This holiday season, look for places to volunteer like a food pantry, school, animal shelter, or a youth program like 4-H Youth Development.
  • Raise Funds – Raising money can build momentum around a cause in your community. It is important to support something that aligns with your values. Many organizations rely on the generosity of others to assist them in their work through financial contributions. These funds go toward needed items, services, and programs. Raising funds for others can teach children, youth, and you to appreciate what you have and understand that at any age you can share your resources with others.
  • Be an Advocate – By bringing awareness to a topic you are passionate about helps other people learn more about an issue which, in turn, can lead to additional support now and in the future. For example, you might want to raise awareness about issues of hunger and poverty in your community or highlight the need for safe places for children and youth to gather.
  • Express Gratitude – Gratitude is expressing a feeling of appreciation for something or someone that has added goodness to your life. It costs nothing and the advantages can be life changing. The benefits of gratitude can bring us happiness, reduce anxiety and depression, and strengthen our immune system. It can help us to sleep better, be more resilient, and strengthen our personal relationships. Showing appreciation can have a lasting impact on others. Take time to say “thank you” to a friend, neighbor, or family member for all they have done this past year.

Contributing this holiday season can lead to meaningful events throughout your life and have a lasting impact on you, your family, and your world. Remember to always ask the question, what can I do to contribute to others and in my community now and in the future?

More information and resources about youth social-emotional development can be found on Nebraska 4-H’s Supporting Young People page or by contacting local county Nebraska Extension offices.

Article written by Dawn Lindsley, Nebraska Extension Educator


Communicating During the Holidays

The challenges that we have all faced since the onset of COVID-19 are still present. The holiday season is upon us, and this year could be more stressful than previous years given the current challenges and events of 2021.  As individuals and families plan holiday gatherings, many are wondering how hot topics about politics, health, wealth, or a favorite sport team will come up in conversation.  Additionally, children and young people may experience a variety of emotions during the holidays and have a difficult time expressing themselves in words which lead to misguided behaviors and hurt feelings.  Whether it is an adult chat after a holiday meal or a conversation with children after opening presents, using good communication skills can prevent misunderstandings and avoid hurt feelings.   Below are some strategies to help youth (and adults) communicate throughout the holidays.

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  • Engage in active listening.  In responding to children and adults, engage in active listening.  Listening is the key.  Allow the person talking to finish. If you desire more information, ask questions to gain understanding instead of jumping to conclusions.  Simply, say, “Tell me more.” Use “I” statements instead of making comments like “you never help clean the house.” Passing judgement, interrupting, name calling, and yelling will close the door on future conversations and can contribute to a lifetime of hurt.
  • Engage in conversation with your children.  Be intentional about taking the time to talk with your children.  Simply, ask them about their day or what is bringing them joy, happiness or what they are finding difficult.  If not meeting friends and family in-person, schedule a virtual meeting for children to interact with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other extended family members over the holidays.  These social interactions can help young people feel valued and supported.
  • Acknowledge your child’s (or other’s) feelings.  Simply ask them how they are feeling. As an adult check-in with them daily about what feelings they are experiencing.  As your child is sharing their feelings with you, make sure you are listening and not passing judgement.  Try as best as you can to keep the lines of communication open.  As an adult be a good role model and take the time to express your own feelings with family members.  Showing youth how to show and communicate one’s feelings in a healthy fashion provides a positive example for young people.  Allow this to be a time to share differing viewpoints in a healthy manner, while acknowledging differences among family members may always exist.
  • Respond with empathy.  Offer words of encouragement and support.  Think about how you would want others to respond if they were listening to you.  Use words like “that might be hard” or “I haven’t thought about it that way.”
  • Stay calm.   If conversations do get heated remember that it is important to stay calm.  It is okay to take a short walk or remove yourself from the situation for a minute or two so that you can calm down and regain your composure. 
  • Remember the “big picture”.   The reality is that we all need to support one another to make it through life.  Friendships, family ties, and community connections are what make life worth living.  Getting upset about politics, religion, or long-time family issues will not be helpful, instead, it can create divisions that take a lifetime to heal.  Choose your words wisely. 

These communication strategies can be helpful in family gatherings, chatting with the teenage neighbor, lifelong friends, or with Santa at the mall.  Take this holiday season to use words of love, joy, and peace.  More information and resources about youth social-emotional development can be found at http://www.4h.unl.edu/supporting-young-people-through-change or by contacting your local county Nebraska Extension office.

Article Written by Kerry Elsen, Extension Educator- Buffalo County


Christmas Tree Selection

Extension horticulturist, Nicole Stoner shared some tips on selecting the perfect live Christmas tree. If you have heavy ornaments, consider a Fraser Fir, Scotch pine, blue spruce or Black Hills spruce because they have stiff branches that hold ornaments better. If you’d like a Christmas tree scent, consider a Balsam Fir. If you prefer softer needles, go with a White pine.

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Stoner also said, when choosing your tree, assess the tree condition. Walk around the tree to look for holes in the branching. Slightly tug on the needles that are on the tree to ensure they are tightly attached to the tree and have some flexibility. Also, give the tree a good shake, if green needles fall off or if it has a lighter green color that is not a fresh tree, choose another. Brown needles will naturally fall from the interior of the tree, that doesn’t mean there is a problem with it.

Finally, she provides some tips for home care of a real tree. When you take your tree home, place it immediately into the tree stand with plenty of water. If the tree was cut within the past 12 hours it doesn’t need to be recut but if it has to sit longer than 12 hours prior to placing it in the stand, it will need to be recut to improve water uptake. Place the tree in a stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water and be sure to add water daily. Research has shown that additives and water alternatives are not as effective as plain water in maintaining a tree through the holiday season.

Keep the tree away from sources of heat to reduce water consumption and help reduce fire hazards. Christmas trees rarely start fires in our homes, but they need to be watered to help them retain their color and keep your floor from getting too messy from fallen needles.


Supporting Youth During Holidays

Handling the stress and mental health effects during the Holiday season is hard for a person at any age, let alone a child. Don’t forget to monitor how children might be handling the chaos and busyness of the season and potential disappointment by not getting what they wanted for Christmas, plans not going as anticipated etc. These can lead to feelings of sadness, despair, anger, anxiety and stress. It is important as adults we take time to acknowledge these feelings and talk through them. Listen to them and let them know you care. You don’t have to have all the answers; just assure them you are there to help them through this difficult time.

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The 4-H youth development program has always and continues to build a firm foundation for youth that encourages good decision-making and strong interpersonal skills. Social-emotional health is the cornerstone to confident, caring young leaders who understand how to take care of themselves both mentally and physically. The Search Institute’s research has demonstrated that when young people experience developmental relationships with caring adults their outcomes are better, their risk behaviors are lower, and they are more likely to be on the path to thrive in life. The Search Institute has created a checklist with strategies for relationship-building steps. While the list was intended mostly for staff in schools and youth development professionals, they apply to all adults, even parents.

  • Express care. Show youth they matter to you.
    • This could be as simple as telling them you believe in them and you know they will get through this difficult time.
  • Challenge growth. Push youth to keep getting better.
    • An example includes asking the youth what they are or could be doing to help others during this time.
  • Provide support. Help youth complete tasks and achieve goals.
    • Ask how they are feeling about the world, themselves and the future during this time. Indicate that you really hear them when they response and that you care about their feelings.
  • Share power: Treat youth with respect and give them a say.
    • When you can, offer choices rather than mandating a single option.
  • Expand possibilities: Connect youth to people and places that broaden their world.
    • Explore through the Web or social media how young people very different from them around the country or even the world is experiencing the Holidays.

In summary, take time to listen and recognize how youth are feeling. Take time to practice gratitude and find ways to express gratitude to those less fortunate such as writing a note to someone who might need extra joy in their life. Be kind to yourself and each other.

Source: Search Institute, https://www.search-institute.org/


Thanksgiving Trivia

The American Farm Bureau Federation annually calculates the cost of a Thanksgiving meal to serve 10 people with plenty for leftovers. This year, with a traditional Thanksgiving meal, Farm Bureau estimated a meal total of $53.31 which is an increase from $46.90 last year. This is a 14% increase in last year’s cost. The turkey price is up about $1.50 per pound compared to last year. Included in the meal is a 16-lb. turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee and milk. You can thank our American farmers and ranchers who are able to provide us the bounty of safe and affordable food. Another interesting fact about Thanksgiving include that 88% of Americans are expected to be feasting on turkey for Thanksgiving this year (National Turkey Federation).

Now let’s talk trivia:

Q: Why are turkeys raised?   A: Because of their excellent quality of meat and eggs

Q: What is a male turkey called?  A:  Tom

Q: What is a female turkey called?  A:  A Hen

Q: What sound do turkeys make?  A: Only tom turkeys gobble; the female makes a clucking sound.

Q: How many feathers does a turkey have at maturity?  A:  3,500 feathers

Q: How big was the heaviest turkey ever raised?  A: 86 pounds, about the size of a large dog

Q: Which gender of turkeys are usually consumed whole?  A: Hens (females) are usually sold as whole birds. Toms (males) are processed into turkey sausage, turkey franks, tenderloins, cutlets and deli meats.

Q: How long does it take a turkey to reach market size?   A: Hens usually grow for 16 weeks and is 8-16 lbs. when processed while tom usually takes 19 weeks to reach market weight and weighs 24 lbs. Large toms (24-40 lbs. are a few weeks older.

Regardless of what you do this Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful for what really matters.


Reconnecting During the Holidays

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”.  This year might be particularly special as many families were unable to gather last year due to COVID-19. Whether you connect in-person or virtually, it is important to have social connection. Connecting with family and friends is important and improves physical health and mental and emotional well-being (Seppala, 2014).

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According to an article 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.

The holiday season can trigger stress and sometimes even depression. Think about all the demands we add to our plates – shopping, baking, cooking meals, cleaning, and hosting events, just to name a few. With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, make sure to create time for meaningful connection with friends and family. Dr. Emma Seppala, the science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, points out that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Studies also show connected people have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, therefore, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.

Here are some fun ways to not only physically connect, but emotionally connect to loved ones this holiday season.

  • Play games with each other. This can be low-tech with board games and cards or if you are not able to physically be together, search online games to play with family members. 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/.
  • Arts and crafts are a creative and fun way to spend time with family, especially kids. It’s a way to help each other, learn about each other’s talents and create memories.
  • For a holiday meal, have your child host “opening” and “closing” ceremonies. This could include a prayer, song, dance or even jokes.
  • Cooking together is a fun family activity and can even take some of the stress off the host. After the meal, share the chores so everyone can relax and participate in other activities.
  • Send care packages to family members to enjoy or for a special event if you connect virtually. For example, send a hot cocoa packet and small marshmallows and enjoy hot chocolate while virtually watching a movie together.
  • Bake cookies together.  Not able to do this in person? 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. For a virtual holiday meal, take turns reading aloud what is in the jar or bowl.
  • 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.

However, you spend your holiday season, remember that having social connection has many benefits. Do what matters to you and find ways to allocate more time towards those activities. If you have kids, let them brainstorm for holiday plans and start new traditions. Help children cope with the holiday blues and validate potential 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 still navigating through 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



Returning to the Farm Planning Program

Since I have been in Extension, a lot of things have changed in production agriculture. New technologies continue to emerge making production agriculture more efficient. Stress from difficult weather, production risks & input prices is constant. One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for generations of farm and ranch families to discuss and implement succession plans. Lack of communication between families creates stress and uncertainty which in turn can lead to conflict. 

Many in the area know Dr. Ron Hanson, UNL Ag Econ Emeritus. Hanson has worked with farm families over 40 years and reminds farm & ranch families that money, wealth, and property, especially land always put a family’s relationship to the test. At the last program he did in 2020, he used shark tank analogies. His analogies to sharks indicate that some families have “predator sharks” that lurk parents’ property or belongings, waiting to make a move and take a “bite” into family wealth or estate. An effective management strategy is to put yourself in the shark tank and begin addressing difficult situations and questions that might arise from uncertainties in agriculture.  I’ve heard from other farm family succession planners, coin the term, “waiters”. Waiters are people who wait for parents or grandparents to die and then move in on property or land. Too many families are destroyed by not just taking time to sit down and openly and clearly communicate with each other

This doesn’t have to be your family. Nebraska Extension can help!  Returning to the Farm, Dec. 10 and 11 in Columbus, is for families who are in the transition process of bringing more family members back to the farm. This event will give families the tools and resources to have a successful transition with more family joining the operation.

Bringing a young person into a farm/ranch operation presents challenges. However, the business operation can accomplish numerous goals by:

  • Helping the young person get a solid start in the operation
  • Keeping the farm or ranch in the family
  • Ensuring a comfortable retirement for all

However, success does not come automatically. It requires effort. Blending a variety of talents and personalities into one farming or ranching operation takes planning, communication, and effective management. The Returning to the Farm program is designed to assist families and operations in developing a financial plan and successful working arrangements that will meet the needs of multiple families.

During the program, participants will:

  • Review financial feasibility and financial tools for success
  • Identify estate planning issues and develop effective strategies for planning the future
  • Develop a farm or ranch transition plan
  • Set both personal and professional goals
  • Look at the communication process between family members

Students, beginning farmers and established operations — including entire families — are welcome. The workshop fee is $50 per person. That includes dinner on Dec. 10 and lunch on Dec. 11. It also includes two follow-up meetings, to be held virtually, in the evenings on Jan. 13 and Feb. 10. The Ramada Inn and Conference Center is located at 265 33rd Ave., in Columbus, Neb. Registration does not include reservations at the hotel. To book on your own, their number is 402-835-4350.

If you have questions, please contact Allan Vyhnalek, Extension Educator, at 402-472-1771 or avyhnalek@unl.edu.


Uninvited Guests


Temperatures are dipping and that can only mean two things. Halloween will be here soon, and mice will start migrating inside. Take a few steps now to make sure the ‘guests’ that come to your house are the cute ones dressed up in costumes, not the furry, unwelcome kind.

House mice are common guests once the outdoor temperatures drop. These small, light gray, furry rodents have large ears and long tail. Their preferred food is grains, but they will munch on just about anything. One reason mice can be a problem once inside is due to their rapid ability to reproduce. Each year, a female mouse can produce 5-10 litters, with about 5-6 young per litter. Mice make nests out of materials like paper, feathers, or other fluffy materials.

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Understanding how mice function helps in the control process. They have relatively poor eyesight and are near-sighted. To make up for this deficit, they utilize their whiskers to feel the walls as they move around. Mice also have extreme physical abilities. They can climb up vertical surfaces, balance along wire cables, jump 10” high or across a 3’ gap, and survive a 9’ drop. Their most impressive feat is being able to squeeze their bodies into holes 1/4” in diameter, the size of a pencil.

If you don’t want these guests to become permanent residents, there are several methods that can be used for controlling mice in the home. Exclusion is the most common in the fight against house mice. Prevent mice from entering buildings by eliminating openings that are 1/4” or larger. Use sealants or mortar to help fill the gaps. Spray-in-place foams and steel wool pads will fill the gaps, but they won’t do much to stop mice from entering. Make sure doors, windows and screens fit tightly. Cover the edges of doors and windows with metal to prevent gnawing.

Population reduction is another method for controlling mice. Traps and baits are two common population reduction methods. To ensure success with traps, you need to use enough traps in areas where mice are living. Snap traps or multiple-capture traps can be used to capture mice. Double setting snap traps, placing two traps close to each other, will yield the best results in situations with high activity. Multi-catch traps can catch several mice at a time without resetting. Glue boards are another alternative to traps. These sticky boards catch and hold mice as they try to move throughout the home. Be sure to use sticky boards in locations where non-target animals or items won’t get stuck in them. If this does happen, use an oily material, like vegetable or mineral oil, to dissolve the sticky substance. To make the traps more appealing you can apply a food source such as peanut butter, a chocolate chip melted to the trigger, or you can secure a cloth scented with a food source to the traps’ trigger.

Baits are another population reduction method. Be sure to read and follow all directions on baits. When choosing baits, consider the location and method of applications and any non-target pets and children. Choose the type of bait for your specific location and application. Mice have been known to move pelleted baits without eating them. Just because you have an empty box, doesn’t mean they have eaten the bait. Bait stations or bait blocks ensure that the critter ate the bait. Baits might not be the best option for inside the home, so select their location wisely.

Use caution when cleaning up droppings, nests, or mouse remains. This can help to decrease the potential spread of diseases carried by mice like Hantavirus. Use protective waterproof gloves and spray the carcass and trap or nest with a household disinfectant or a 10% bleach solution. Use a sealable bag turned inside out to pick up the mouse. To remove feces or urine, spray the area with a disinfectant until wet and wipe up with a towel, rag, or mop. Don’t use the vacuum or broom to collect dry feces as that can cause the material to go into the air and be inhaled.

We all want guests to stop by, but with a little work upfront, you can make sure the guests that enter your home will be welcome ones who will yell out ‘Trick or Treat’.

This article was written by Elizabeth Exstrom, Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at elizabeth.exstrom@unl.edu.