Springtime Fun

10 04 2012

The sun is bright today but the wind is still a little brisk.  Think of all the things we might be doing if we were outside today?  Picking up sticks, looking for new buds on the trees or flowers or just taking the dog for a walk, are ways to get a little exercise and fresh air.  When we spend time outside with our children they have a wonderful classroom of new experiences and we can enjoy the moments of discovery with them.

It’s interesting to find more and more information that indicates time outside for children is just as important as good nutrition and a good night’s sleep.  It’s a time to connect with nature and learn about colors, and textures,  and so many living things that are available in our back yards.

When we think about getting children ready for school, the garden or backyard can lead to conversations in math, science, reading and vocabulary.  As adults, we benefit from the fresh air and exercise also.  Gardening supports children’s curiosity about the natural world and to build confidence as they grow and nurture plants that ultimately produce items for them to eat.  Rulers and magnifying glasses are great tools to share no matter what age they are to investigate things that we might miss at first glance.  Here’s a few other tips to consider while you are  outside this spring or summer, whatever you choose to do, remember that you are building relationships  by spending time together engaged in activity and learning.

*Make a wind sock from an empty powdered drink or oatmeal container and crepe paper streamers.

*Take a study stick and tie strings or fishing line to metal items to make your own wind chimes.  Things like old keys, beverage cans, old silverware, small piece of pipe, etc. work well.

*Select a few garden plants and make a container garden.  Use either a bucket or ornamental container for them to care for and observe the changes as they grow.

*Take an empty milk carton or other small container and make a boat to use outside in the puddles after a spring shower.  Which way does the wind blow it?  What ones sink or float?  What or how much can I put in the “boat” before it sinks?

*Take a strip of contact paper and make a loose bracelet.  On a walk around the yard or park pick up unique items that will stick to the bracelet.  Leaves, seeds, pebbles, flowers, bird egg shells, are all great conversation starters.

*How many different shades of green can you find outside?  Take a piece of paper or coloring sheet outside to color with no crayons….just the grass or the leaves, or the bark from the tree.  Ask permission before using flowers but they all share natural colors to enjoy.

*Make a chart of the sky and what it looks like at a particular time during the day.  See how it changes through the week.

There’s so many more fun things to do outside, but hopefully these will get you started thinking.  One of the most common comments, is “there’s nothing to do outside!”  I think once you begin looking, you’ll find so many fun things that they’ll forget about TV and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Melinda Hill, CFCS, CFLE

Extension Educator, Family and Consumer

Five Easy Ways to Eat Family Meals at Home

16 03 2012

Typically in mid-March everyone eagerly waits for peaks of spring, which is just around the corner at this time of the year. But with the warm winter most of the country has been experiencing so far in 2012, many people feel that spring has already arrived! Of course, this wonderful season brings along with it a busy schedule for many families to cope with; t-ball games, swimming lessons, and even college visits can leave little time for parents to worry about cooking a healthy family meal at home. By now families understand the need for eating home-cooked meals as a family. When families dine together, they tend to eat more vegetables and fruits — and fewer fried foods, soda, research shows. When younger kids frequently eat dinner with their families, they are less likely to be overweight than other children. Eating meals at home is also cost-effective and creates special family bonding and communication time. For example, when families eat together often, they’re more likely to communicate with one another and have more respectful and trusting relationships with one another, which is especially critical during the teen years. Families have heard all of these justifications for eating together recently, but how do you put it into practice? Below are five easy ways to eat more healthful meals at home as a family.

1)     Plan Ahead

We’ve all been there – when we arrive home at 5:30pm exhausted from a day at work and baseball practice begins in an hour. If you can plan ahead over the weekend for busy days during the week, you’ll be more likely to eat dinner during these days as a family. Plan ahead by making “weekly meal plan” for the week to come. For example, if you know that Tuesday night’s schedule will be chaotic, plan to make a healthy crock pot meal late the night before and heat it up during the day Tuesday. You’ll come home to a dinner that’s ready to eat, and much healthier than running through the drive-thru on the way to practice! By mapping out each meal of the week, you’ll also save money at the grocery store by not purchasing items that you won’t need or use.

2)     Make it a Habit

On average, it takes 21-36 days of repetitive behavior to create a habit. If you can commit to cooking meals at home every day for one month, you will increase your chances of making it an everyday habit that lasts!

3)     Make it a Family Event

If children are involved in the process of cooking a meal, or even choosing what to eat and helping to purchase it at the grocery store, they’re more likely to be enthusiastic about eating what’s cooked and eating it with the rest of the family. Younger children can help by selecting what to eat and using a dull knife (such as a butter knife) to cut fruit and vegetables before cooking. Older children can assist you by picking up items at the grocery store and even cooking the entire meal!

4)     Start Simple

If you eat dinner out or not as a family very often now, try to set a goal of eating a family meal together twice for the first two weeks. Start from there and then add additional days until you’re eating at home together at least five nights each week. Keep the meal simple as well; a family meal does not equal an elaborate spread.

5)     Make Meals Enjoyable by Limiting Distractions

Make a rule that the TV is turned off, cell phones are put away, and the conversation is limited to light-hearted topics. Try a change of scenery by having a picnic in your backyard on a warm day or under a home-made tent in the living room. The more enjoyable family meals are, the more likely it will be a daily event that everyone in the family looks forward to!


Author: Jamie Seger, OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant

Sources: http://nutrition.wsu.edu/ebet/background.html, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/10/change-your-life-habit-28-day-rule, http://children.webmd.com/guide/family-dinners-are-important

Making Your List Work for You

29 02 2012

Where does time go?  Do you ever feel like the more you do, the more there is to do and the list is never ending?  In searching for some resources to help as our work environment has changed, I found some tips from John Maxwell, author of “Make Today Count”.  He makes good arguments for planning and making changes that assist us in being more productive with less stress.  If that sounds good to you, keep reading for a few tips that I’ve found helpful.

Maxwell suggests that the secret to success is your daily agenda.  Each thing we do, prepares us for the next.  The question is, what are you preparing for?  Using our time wisely involves making decisions that move us forward towards our goal.  I’ve always used a list, but sometimes it doesn’t always align with the daily/weekly/or long term goals.  This was the first question I asked myself.

Our greatest possession is time.  We can choose to spend it or others will spend it for us.  He suggests three questions to ask:  What is required of me?  What gives me the greatest return? And what gives me the greatest reward?  These will help to set our priorities. My work has requirements and they change often.  The quick little things I can cross off the list give return but I had to ask myself, was it the best use of time? The time spent in preparation and presentation is my greatest reward, but it seemed these get slighted because of all the little things that rise to the top.

Learn what your strengths are and improve upon them.  This is a process but when identified your productivity and potential greatly increase.  This also means seeking others around you who are strong in the areas that you are not.  I’m still learning my strengths and weaknesses, but I have a strong team around me to support as assist as we work towards the goals.

Delegate whenever possible.  Build skills with others around you so that they can do the job better than you.  This contributes to strong teamwork at the office, but think about how effective a family might be if everyone worked together?  Delegation is an art.  To ask someone to do something takes clear communication of expectations and then letting go to let them do the job.  I’m working on this one.

 When prioritizing the day’s activities, correlate them with your personal work peak.  If you are a morning person, put the most important things at the top of the list.  The challenge is not to let the little things (mail, e-mail, interruptions) take over the time and the day pass without getting to the important things.  I know I work best in the morning, I’m most creative and energetic.  That’s also the time when everyone else wants a piece of my time.  Deadlines keep me on task, but this is an area I need to improve on not only the time management but how to work with others in respect to the overall goals.

Take a look at your to do list for today?  How might these tips help to accomplish the list and promote your personal productivity?  We know that if we keep doing the same things over and over, without progress, our outcome isn’t going to change.  Change is a challenge, but pick out one thing above that might help with your work habits and give it a try.  Identification of what’s not working so well is the first step in making changes that will help improve both quality and quantity at work and at home.

Melinda Hill, CFCS, CFLE OSU Extension Educator

Arguments with Teens and Parents May Be Beneficial

10 02 2012

If your house was anything like mine growing up in the teenage years, there were many heated arguments, often over homework, chores, and curfew.  Perhaps the issues are different in your house with teens, however, the situation is probably similar.  These situations can be very stressful and frustrating (to put it lightly) for both parents and teens, however, new studies show th
In the study, the parents who listened to their kids found that the kids often listened to the parents as well.  Both were acutally trying to persuade each other to come to their side, or see their point.  It didn’t necessarily mean that the parent always backed down, but it validated the teen by the parent being willing to hear them out.at these arguments are an important part of development and may actually serve as a critical training ground for adolescents. Though arguments happen in all families, the way that parents handle the arguments can actually make a difference in the teen.  Researchers found that parents who were willing to listen to their child and engage them in conversation about the issue that is bothering them had teens who fared better when it came to peer pressure from their friends.  By allowing teens to express their opinions and try to persuade their parents to change their mind teens then took those skills and that confidence into their peer world.  On the flip side, parents of teens who felt it was pointless to argue with their parents, or who were often shut down by their parents, tended to back down in arguments or pressure from their peers.

So the next time a heated argument comes alive in your house, try to step back and listen, knowing that the things you are teaching your child may be bigger than the issue at hand.

You can read an NPR article on this study here, or see the full study in the journal Child Development here

Going Up?

8 11 2011

On rainy dreary days like last week, it’s really hard for me to be upbeat, positive and energetic. I have a feeling that many of you may be able to sympathize with me or at least understand where I’m coming from. On the board above my desk I have a copy of the “mood elevator” described by Senn Delaney.

It looks like this:


Our emotional well-being is an important part of who we are and what we accomplish on a daily basis. When we find ourselves on the lower part of the “mood elevator”, our outlook on life and the effect that we have on those around us is not as productive or positive as it is when we are on the upper part. Larry Senn is the founder of the Senn Delaney group and gives the following tips from the Harvard Business Review to recognize and focus behavior towards a positive outcome. What I realize is that there is actual documentation that how I feel dominates not only my perspective, but those around me. Think about ways to apply the following tips in your daily life.

1. Become aware of your state of mind and use your feelings as your guide to the quality of your thinking. Make a conscious effort to notice where you are on the Mood Elevator. Use your feelings as indicators of the quality of your thought. Don’t let unhealthy thoughts become so normal you don’t notice them.

2. Take better care of yourself. Our physical state plays a role in our thinking. When we get tired and worn down we are more vulnerable to lower-quality thinking and lower moods.

3. Know your thoughts are unreliable when your mood drops. Our thoughts are often unreliable when we are in a lower state of mind. If possible, delay making major decisions until you move a few floors up the elevator. If you can’t wait, try to respond as you would if you were driving on an icy road: use caution and do not overreact.

4. Maintain your perspective through gratitude and a sense of humor. Taking the time to think each day of some things you can be grateful for is a powerful mood tonic. When you have perspective, you can see your momentary problem, challenge or issue in the context of all that you have going for you in life. Humor and lightness help you handle your serious challenges in a better, wiser state of mind.

5. Be aware of your leadership shadow. One reason to be aware of where you are on the Mood Elevator is that moods are contagious. The central finding of my doctoral dissertation on organizational culture published over 30 years ago was that an organization’s culture and climate is most greatly influenced by the shadow of their leaders. The biggest shadow we bring to work each day is our state of mind or mood. It is also the biggest one we carry home at night. That should be food for thought for all of us.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

The Joy of Technology

4 10 2011

I just returned from the beautiful state of New Mexico where the air was dry and the temperature was warm, a wonderful break from our current Ohio weather. The National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences gathered to share current trends, curriculums and materials that might be useful to others in Extension across the nation. I love to travel as I always enjoy the differences in the communities and cultures and in the process I learn more about myself. This trip was no exception. I learned many things, but the one that I’m going to focus on, is that there’s a name for those like me who have learned to adapt technology, digital immigrant. A digital immigrant is defined by Wikipedia as “an individual who was born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in life.” I’m guessing that some of you reading this can relate. This is different from a digital native who “is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technology, and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts.”
I recently observed a four year old who, with a tablet, colored beautiful pictures with the stroke of a finger. Her brother with a smart phone used apps to locate a particular book and their parents coordinating calendars on their phones. Technology is here to stay and it can serve us well if we understand the basic concepts. During one of the conference presentations, Barbara Chamberlain shared a few basic thoughts that cause me to reflect on why and how to use technology. Here’s what I took away from her inspirational message, as you read through them, see what you think.
*If the technology doesn’t do it better, don’t use it. Don’t let it take the place of people or nature, just enhance what you experience.
*It’s not about the technology, it’s communicating in a different way to strengthen relationships and knowledge.
*Technology does change things, look for the benefits. It offers a way to learn things when I want to and when I have time to or when the questions arise.
*It makes learning fun—games, interaction with others and keeping in touch with people that we can’t see on a regular basis.
*Use technology as a learning experience…it customizes things I want to know and engages me to something I usually don’t have access to.
Whether you are a digital native or an  immigrant like me, there is a whole world to explore in ways that we couldn’t do before. Look at the positive possibilities and see what fits into your life at the moment that enhances what you dream of or just simply can make the details in your life simpler. Try something new with technology today!


Melinda Hill, FCS Educator, Wayne County

New, FREE, online Money Management Course

7 09 2011

Money management is an important skill to have and one that can have a deep impact on a relationship.  Many studies have shown that disagreement over money is one of the top 3 reasons that couples state when separating or getting a divorce.  Money is important to think about and deal with because it can be so intertwined with trust in your partner. Trust in all areas of a relationship is important, but areas of finance may be especially important, as money management can be a very sensitive topic for many people. Ultimately, if partners are not honest and open in the area of money, it can have a detrimental effect on the marriage. Partners may begin to distrust each other about future finances, and it may also affect trust in other areas of the relationship. The skills to manage one’s finances can be tricky, and it may not have been a skill you were taught growing up.

There is an Ohio State Extension program that was developed for individuals and couples seeking to learn better money management skills, entitled “Manage Your Money”.  This program has been turned into a FREE, interactive, distance learning course.

The skills that are covered include:

  • ŸLesson 1:  Getting Started. This lesson focuses on individual and family values about money. It gives you some suggestions about ways to talk with your partner and family about money matters. You are asked to think about and develop some financial goals for the future. There are also suggestions and tools to help you start tracking your expenses.
  • Lesson 2:  Where Does Your Money Go? This lesson discusses cash flow, income, and expenses. There are worksheets on which to write critical information about your income, what you owe (your credit use), and types of expenses (fixed, regular flexible, and occasional) so you have a better picture of your current financial standing.
  • Lesson 3:  Stop Spending Leaks. This lesson will help you examine your spending habits to see if any problems exist. There are suggestions for changing spending practices and habits. Worksheets help you and other family members commit to a personal plan to change spending habits so funds can be used to reach important goals set in Lesson 1.
  • Lesson 4:  How Much Credit Can You Afford? The focus in this lesson is on the pros and cons of using various types of consumer credit, wise credit management, and the importance of your credit history. There is a checklist to help you determine if you have some credit problems, and worksheets help you compare some credit alternatives.
  • Lesson 5:  Develop Your Budget. Guidelines and worksheets for developing a written budget are the focus of this lesson. The guidelines and tools are intended to help you actually “plan” future use of income so you are in better control of day-to-day and longer-term finances.
  • Lesson 6:  Your Net Worth and Financial Records. The first part of this lesson focuses on your net worth and how you own property. The second part will help you collect and organize your important financial records.

The course link is: http://go.osu.edu/mym.  Access is free of charge; new course participants only have to create a user account before accessing the course.  Consider the great benefits of better financial management to you and your family, and start the course today!


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