Making Forever Memories at 4-H Summer Camp

Making Forever Memories at 4-H Summer Camp

Hanging with friends at 4-H Camp. Melanie Taylor as a 4-H Teen Counselor (right). Photo source: Melanie Taylor

Spring is upon us and 4-H Summer Camp preparations are in full swing. As a 4-H Agent preparing for our week of county 4-H camp, my days are busy with phone calls and emails from parents, teen counselor trainings, adult volunteer screenings, paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. Although this is a very busy time for me as a 4-H Agent, it also allows me to reflect on why I chose this career path and why there is a sense of nostalgia as I prepare for 4-H camp.

I attended 4-H camp in Virginia, where I grew up, every year from age 9-18. I was a camper who grew into a counselor-in-training and then a counselor. Those weeks of 4-H camp were filled with hot days and warm nights, but it was worth it all for the memories I will have for a lifetime. I can still smell the cafeteria food and hear the sounds in the gymnasium as kids played basketball and pounded at their leathercraft projects. I can feel the chills I would get as the entire camp sang around the campfire circle and patiently waited for the canoe to land on the lake’s edge; the camp staff would carry a flame as they entered the campfire circle and ceremoniously light the fire. Most importantly, I am still connected with my 4-H camp friends through social media and/or as close friends and we continue to share our old, blurry camp pictures from the 1990’s each year on Facebook.

Morning flag raising ceremony at Camp Timpoochee. Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

So, as I work hard to prepare camp for my county campers and teen counselors, I want to create similar memories for them. In ten, twenty, and thirty years from now, I want them to think back on the fun moments they experienced in the Florida 4-H camping program. I also want them to form friendships and make camp connections for a lifetime, whether it is learning to kayak, fish, make arts and crafts, cook over a campfire, sing camp songs, etc.

With all of this said, I hope you as parents will consider giving your child(ren) these special moments. The days will be long, but fun, and their nights will be filled with campfires and hanging out with friends. When they arrive home on Friday, they will be exhausted, but so excited to share all of the camp songs with you (prepare yourself for lots of loud, enthusiastic singing). They will have new friends they want you to meet and they will tell you camp stories they will always cherish.

In Northwest Florida, there are two 4-H Camps, Camp Cherry Lake in Madison and Camp Timpoochee in Niceville. Each county in these camping districts has one county week of camp each summer. Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office now to find out the details and register your child for a week of fun and memories.

 

 

Northwest Florida 4-H Camp Dates 2019. Photo source: UF/IFAS Extension

Make Mindfulness Part of Your Daily Routine in 2019

Make Mindfulness Part of Your Daily Routine in 2019

Blue and orange sunset over a lake surrounded by trees in the foreground and background.

Be mindful and enjoy the moment.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

Now that the busy holiday season is over, it is time not only to reflect on the past, but to prepare and refocus for the New Year ahead. As we focus on the New Year, it is always refreshing to have a clean slate. As the year begins to unfold, there are tips to help you manage your day-to-day stress levels.  It begins with mindfulness.

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” –Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991)

Mindfulness is best thought of as a way of being rather than an activity in and of itself. Almost any activity can be carried out with mindful awareness.

Mindful awareness has three key features:
Purpose – mindfulness involves intentionally and purposefully directing your attention rather than letting it wander.

Presence – mindfulness involves being fully engaged with and attentive to the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future that arise are recognized simply as thoughts occurring in the present.

Acceptance – mindfulness involves being nonjudgmental toward whatever arises in the moment. This means that sensations, thoughts, and emotions are not judged as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; they are simply noticed as “happening,” and observed until they eventually pass (Naik, Harris, and Forthun 2016).

Mindfulness is a mind-body practice that has been found to benefit both psychological and physical health. The primary psychological change that occurs during mindfulness practice is an increased awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment. Over time, mindfulness practice can help you to become aware of the space between noticing experiences and reacting to them by letting you slow down and observe the processes of your mind (Black 2010). The ultimate goal of mindfulness practice is for you to take advantage of this space so you can make more intentional decisions – to wake up from living life on autopilot, based on unproductive habits of mind (Black 2010; Walach et al. 2007).

According to the American Psychological Association, some empirically supported benefits of mindfulness include the following (Davis & Hayes 2011):

Psychological Benefits
Increased awareness of one’s mind
Significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and negative emotions
Increased control over ruminative thinking (a major cause and symptom of depression and anxiety)
Increased mental flexibility and focus
More working memory
Decreased distracting thoughts
Decreased emotional reactivity
Increased capacity for intentional, responsive behaviors
Increased empathy, compassion and conscientiousness of others’ emotions

Physiological Benefits
Enhanced immune system functioning
Increased brain density and neural integration in areas responsible for positive emotions, self-regulation, and long-term planning
Lowered blood pressure
Lowered levels of blood cortisol (a major stress hormone)
Greater resistance to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease

Spiritual Benefits
Increased self-insight and self-acceptance
Increased acceptance of others
Increased compassion and empathy
Increased sense of morality, intuition, and courage to change
Increased control over automatic behaviors
Increased self-discipline

The question is: how many of us would like to benefit from mindfulness if it provides these positive benefits?  All of us should strive to lower our stress level and enjoy our daily lives with a more positive attitude and more attentiveness. So, how can we incorporate this into our lives?  The majority of this practice is about familiarizing yourself with what it feels like to be mindful, and getting better at “remembering” to maintain mindful awareness.

Experiment with creating your own mindfulness practices throughout your day. Being mindful of the sensation on the soles of your feet as you walk to your car or the taste and texture of your morning coffee can transform routine moments into deeply satisfying practices. However, having a ritualized and structured practice can be beneficial. To find out more about practicing mindfulness and how to incorporate a more structured practice in your life visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu, Publication # FCS2335 – Mindfulness: An Introduction.

Source: Mindfulness: An Introduction. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Publication # FCS2335.

Handling the Holiday Blues

Handling the Holiday Blues

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many people are filled with extra holiday cheer and enthusiasm.  Some are jolly, but still overwhelmed with all of the activities, decorating, and shopping that needs to be completed.  Then, there are those that find the holiday season as a reminder of things such as, the death of a loved one, family feuds, divorce, and the list goes on. If you are feeling this way here are a few tips to make getting through the season a little bit easier.

1. Feel your emotions – Many people want to suppress their sadness or anxiety, but this only makes it worse. We are all allowed to grieve, cry and feel mad at times.  If you feel this way, let yourself feel your feelings.  You will feel better once you have accepted and worked through the emotions. You also do not have to force yourself to feel happy just because it is the holiday season.

2. Reach out to others – Instead of secluding yourself spend time with others, whether it is at church, a community group or with family and friends. Spending time with others and socializing is good for the spirit.  In addition, there are tons of volunteer opportunities during the holidays.  Try something new and volunteer your time to a worthy cause.  You will feel great about helping others and contributing to the cause. Research such as this one conducted by UnitedHealth Group commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults and found that the majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience. The research showed:

  • 96% reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
  • 94% of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood
  • 80% of them feel like they have control over their health
  • 78% of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels
  • 76% of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier
  • About a quarter of them reported that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems
  • Volunteering also improved their mood and self-esteem

3. Be realistic – Realize that times and traditions change as families grow and age. Do not focus on everything having to be the same every year.  Be willing to accept changes, such as adult children may not be able to attend the family gathering, so utilize technology and talk through video conferencing, share pictures on email and/or Facebook.  Find a way to make it work.

4. Set aside differences for everyone’s sake. Aim to accept family and friends the way they are, even if they do not meet your expectations. Leave grievances at the door for the day and enjoy your family and friends. Share those grievances and talk at a more appropriate and private time. Also, remember they could be feeling the stress of the holiday too. So, be patient if someone is grouchy or sad as you celebrate.  You may both be feeling the same way.

5. Learn to say no – Be realistic in the number of activities you and your family can participate. Do not feel guilty because you cannot attend every party and event you are invited too.  Graciously decline an invite and share that your schedule is booked, but thank them for thinking of you. A host does not expect that everyone will attend their parties.

6. Take a breather as needed – If you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, anger or sadness take a few minutes to be alone. Take 15 minutes to spend in the quiet to reduce the stress and clear your mind. For example: listen to soothing music, do a few mindful breathing exercises to slow yourself down or read a book to temporarily escape the stress.

7.Seek professional help as needed – there are times when the emotions are just too overwhelming to sort through on our own. If you continue to feel sad, anxious, angry, etc. there is absolutely no shame in seeking the help of a doctor or mental health professional. It will only help you work through your feelings with a non-bias person. Helping yourself feel better will improve your quality of life and those around you.

Do not let the idea of the holidays turn you into a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge.  Learn to take care of yourself first. Learn your limitations and accept them.  Do not let others’ expectations overwhelm you.  Just remember when you start feeling extreme levels of emotions and/or stress take a few deep breathes and remind yourself to relax and feel the moment.  Be mindful of your surroundings and remind yourself of your many blessings, even when going through difficult times.  Make it your personal goal to feel your feelings and enjoy what you can about the holiday season, whether it is the twinkling lights, time with friends and family, the food or any of the many special holiday traditions.

Aim to find JOY during this holiday season.

Sources:

Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. www.mayoclinic.org,

Signs and Symptoms of Depression http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY10000.pdf

Depression and Older Adults  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY95200.pdf

Summer Canning Methods with Your Children

Youth learn food preservation skills. Photo source: Melanie Taylor

At this point in the summer, many parents are at a loss for what to do to keep their children engaged and “off the couch.” How about a focus on healthy eating and food preservation? If you have a backyard garden be sure to pick the fruits and vegetables at their peak readiness. If you do not have a garden make a family trip to the local farmers market and/or a local u-pick farm.

Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrition and taste, but if you have or buy more than your family can eat in a few days’ time, be sure to make preparations to teach your children how to preserve those foods to eat later in the year. There is nothing more enjoyable than having fruit jam on biscuits or summer vegetables in your soup during the cold depths of winter.

There are six different methods of food preservation to teach your children. They are boiling water/water bath canning, making jam, pickling, freezing, drying, and pressure canning. The easiest method being freezing and the most complex and time consuming being pressure canning. No matter which ones you choose to teach your children be sure to follow valid recipes and procedures. Family and Consumer Science Extension Agents always recommend using the most current recipes and procedures from The National Center for Home Food Preservation, which are maintained at https://nchfp.uga.edu/. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (CSREES-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. Many of the recipes are available for free on the website, or you can order the 6th edition of the “So Easy to Preserve” food preservation book at https://setp.uga.edu/.

Specific to children, there is also a Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth curriculum through the University of Georgia, which is a series of informal educational lessons that guide youth to explore and understand the science of safe food preservation. This free curriculum can be found online at https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Y4IfBZ2Vh0EIt after a quick questionnaire of how you plan to use the curriculum.

Teaching these food preservation skills to your children will be a fun-filled and very educational opportunity. Be sure to use the above resources to assist you in the food safety methods to be certain your products are safe for consumption. Enjoy this special time in the garden and kitchen with your children this summer.

Resources:

National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/

“So Easy to Preserve” https://setp.uga.edu/

Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Y4IfBZ2Vh0EIt

 

 

 

WATERMELON – Red, Juicy, Sweet and Healthy…It is Oh So Good!

WATERMELON – Red, Juicy, Sweet and Healthy…It is Oh So Good!

Watermelons are nutritious and help to keep you hydrated.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

We tend to think of watermelon as a summer fruit and that is because in Florida, you can find watermelons growing from late spring through mid-summer. “Fresh From Florida” watermelons are available in stores and roadside markets from April through July. Time is running out this summer to have a fresh Florida watermelon, so be sure to get them soon.

Why is watermelon such a popular fruit? One, it is in high abundance during the summer and can be found in most stores. Watermelon also tends to appeal to those with a “sweet tooth,” but it’s still healthy. Red watermelon is a good source of lycopene, which gives watermelon its color (and tomatoes, too). Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps protect the body against heart disease, inflammation, and some cancers.

Watermelon also is a good source of vitamin C and contains vitamin A. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. People also are exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun. The body also needs vitamin C to make collagen, a protein required to help wounds heal. In addition, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps the immune system work properly to protect the body from disease. Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly.

Probably most impressive is that watermelon is fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free, so we all should feel good about eating it. In addition, as the summer heat continues to increase, we need to drink more water to stay hydrated. Well, watermelon is 92% water, so eating it is an additional way to hydrate. In fact, early explorers used watermelons as canteens.

Here is a technique to know you have chosen a ripe watermelon. Ripe watermelons have a yellow or cream-yellow “ground spot” where the melon rested on the soil. If this spot is green or white, the watermelon probably is not ripe. In addition, once you have selected a ripe melon, a whole watermelon will last in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Before cutting your watermelon, be sure to wipe it with a clean cloth and light, soapy water and then rinse it off. This will prevent you from dragging any bacteria, etc. on the skin through the fruit as you slice it. Once cut, the melon should be kept refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap. If the watermelon flavor is not quite what you expected, you can enhance the flavor by adding a squeeze of lemon juice, honey, or chopped mint.

Be sure to excite your taste buds this summer by biting into a cold, sweet, juicy slice of watermelon. Feel confident in selecting your ripe watermelon and enjoy it, knowing you have made a healthy choice in your food selection.

A Few Fun Facts: (www.freshfromflorida.com/farmtoschool)

  • Watermelon seeds are a good source of healthy fats and protein, which help your muscles grow.
  • Florida leads the United States in watermelon production.
  • Watermelons have been in production since around 2000 BCE.
  • Seedless watermelons have been growing in the United States for over 40 years.
  • Some countries, like Japan, grow square watermelons.
  • Watermelons can have up to a thousand seeds, which can be black or white.
  • As it matures, the watermelon’s insides transform from white to red or pink.
  • You can eat the crunchy rind and seeds of a watermelon.
  • According to John Mariani’s The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, the word “watermelon” first appeared in English dictionaries in 1615.
  • Watermelon is the most consumed melon in the United States.

Resources:

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Fresh From Florida

Florida Farm to School

Living Healthy in Florida