Upcoming Events

Deal with Holiday Stress & Beat the Winter Blues

The holiday season is here.  It is time for family get-togethers, decorating, shopping, gift-wrapping, baking, and attending special events.  You and your family may feel stressed because of the extra demands placed upon already busy schedules.  We put too much pressure on ourselves to create the “perfect” family occasion.  The three main causes of  stress  are relationships, finances, and physical demands.   Sometimes emotional disappointments combined with excess fatigue and stress result in post-holiday letdown.    It can take us the rest of the winter to recover.

 The  following  25  tips  can  help  you  to  avoid  stress  overload  and  ward  off  the  “blues”  :    Make time for yourself each day to relax and plan ahead.

  1. Remind yourself to slow down, take 3-10 deep breaths and relax!      
  2. Check our attitude – Focus on peace, love, joy, and fun!
  3. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Avoid scheduling too many extra activities and obligations.  It is OK to say NO! Try these statements:  “Yes, if you’ll help me!”, “I really can’t give that the attention it deserves right now.”, or “I’d love to, but right now I just can’t.”  
  4. Don’t raise your expectations too high for the holidays.
  5. Get the whole family involved. Share the work and the joy.  Encourage children to keep up with their chores and responsibilities.   Sharing tasks allows everyone to feel like a part of the celebration and fun.
  6. Sit down as a family and make a list of all the things that need to be done. Let them volunteer to help or  delegate tasks.
  7. Make up a calendar that includes dates and times of all activities to attend, and a schedule of when tasks such as cleaning, baking, and shopping need to be done.
  8. Think about cutting out some activities. Ask your family members if they really enjoy and want to continue to do certain activities.  You may be surprised.  What you thought was a “must do”  may not really be enjoyed by most people in your family.
  9. Plan easy meals. Double batch casseroles and put one in the freezer for a quick meal.
  10. Control your holiday eating by not overeating; eating only what you really need; eating light healthy snacks; and drinking plenty of water (at least 8 glasses or 64 ounces or half of your weight in ounces of water).
  11. Exercise regularly for 30 minutes, get 6-10 hours of sleep, and don’t skip breakfast.
  12. Keep children’s eating and sleep routines as close to normal as possible to prevent them from becoming cranky, overtired, or getting sick.
  13. Expect young children to misbehave occasionally. Remember that they have short attention spans and tire easily.  Continue to enforce rules and limits.  Children need a stable and predictable world!
  14. Keep traditions and family gatherings simple. Allow for flexibility. 
  15. Shop with spending plan and gift ideas for each person. Stick to the spending limits you’ve set to avoid overspending.   When you spend more than you can afford, you prolong the stress into the New Year.
  16. Resist comparisons. Others may be able to do or give more, but more is not always better!
  17. Remember that people are more important than things, events, or tasks.
  18. Focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have. Count your blessings.
  19. Focus on sharing and doing for others rather than receiving (What can I do to help others?).
  20. Discuss holiday schedules and traditions ahead of time. This way, the child and all family members can plan ahead and know what to expect.
  21. When visiting, share your plans with your host/parents, so everyone knows what to expect.
  22. Realize that there will be disappointments as well as excitement and friction as well as happiness.
  23. Don’t expect yourself or those around you to be at their best all the time.
  24. Laugh! Look for ways to keep humor in your life.  It’s good for you!

Happy Thanksgiving & Merry Christmas!  See you in 2019 at an Extension program!


Melanie Allen, REA, Family & Child Development

 256-200-2996    allenmg@aces.edu        



The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!  www.aces.edu




Q.  Fall is finally upon us, and thankfully so. As I spend more time outdoors, enjoying the almost perfect weather, I have noticed that the leaves are beginning to fall.  How can I put these leaves to use in my landscape or garden?

A.  Have you thought about starting a compost bin? Composting is fast becoming a growing trend for homeowners, and thankfully so. Alabama produces around 2.6 million tons of solid waste every year.  Roughly 20 percent of that amount is made up of lawn and garden wastes – grass clippings, leaves, tree and/or shrub prunings, home garden refuse, and kitchen wastes.  The massive amount of solid waste produced in our state is creating disposal problems in landfills, and as a result, many disposal facilities have been forced to close.  While composting is not the only answer to this problem, it is an extremely important step in the right direction.

Composting is simply the acceleration of the natural process of decomposition.  A process that could take years to occur in nature is compressed into a period of months, and in some cases, even weeks in the yard or garden.  The key to successful composting is maintaining the proper balance of all components involved.

  • Water – 40 to 60 percent is the ideal moisture content range of the compost pile.  When squeezed, the compost should be moist, but not dripping wet.  Too much moisture results in a slowing of the decomposition process.
  • Carbon and Nitrogen – the ratio of carbon (plant residues) to nitrogen (manures, kitchen scraps, fertilizers) is very important.  The optimum ratio of carbon to nitrogen is about 30:1.  Too little nitrogen results in reduced microorganism numbers, causing a slowdown in the decomposition process.  Too much nitrogen rapidly increases microorganism growth, therefore speeding up decomposition, but can result in oxygen depletion and foul odors.
  • Temperature – as decomposition occurs, heat is generated.  In moderation, heat is beneficial because it destroys many disease organisms and weed seed.  However, temperatures above 140°F create an unsuitable environment for the microorganisms, and they begin to die.  Overheating can be prevented by turning the pile when temperatures begin to exceed recommended levels.

Beginning your compost pile is not difficult – it simply requires following a few fairly easy, but very important steps.  A successful compost pile is constructed of alternating layers of yard wastes, a source of nitrogen (if required), and soil or finished compost, which provides an inoculation of beneficial microorganisms.  You should start with a 6 inch base layer, consisting of coarse material, such as twigs or small branches.  Then add a 6 to 8 inch layer of leaves or grass clippings.  One note – other materials, such as wood chips, can be used in the place of leaves or grass clippings, but require the addition of fertilizer or manure to maintain the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio.  The final layer should consist of 1 to 2 inches of soil or finished compost.  Continue this layering pattern, omitting the base of coarse material, until the desired size is reached.  To achieve the proper internal temperature, a compost pile should be 3 to 4 feet tall.  The width of the pile can vary, but should be a size that can be easily managed, generally 3 to 4 feet.

While my comments are just a basic overview of the composting process,   I hope that I have made things a little less confusing and a lot less intimidating.  For more detailed information and answers to commonly asked composting questions, please check out the following links.  Happy gardening!



The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!


Garden Talk: Fall and Winter Gardening: Getting Ready for the Change!

Sept. 21, 2018          Sallie Lee

Question: Give some suggestions now that [hopefully] our weather is moving toward “real” fall about what we can do in our gardens and yards. Is this a good time to plant things?  What about fertilizing my Bermuda grass lawn?  I don’t want to stop garden activities especially now that fall is here – how about some options?

Answer:  It’s that time of year when many of us are ready to put away shorts and tank tops in favor of long sleeves and blue jeans. In this area of Alabama, in addition to the return of Football season (War Eagle!), it’s also time for yards and gardens to receive a little end of season attention.  Work these activities into your pre-game warmup or post game cool down, so both your body and yard will benefit!

What goes with football?  Or any other activity such as gardening or yard work in which muscles are utilized? Backs and shoulders in particular need protecting; muscles need to be warmed up and stretched out just as athletes do preparing for competition!

What activities are going to benefit our gardens and our bodies?  Raking leaves for use in compost or as mulch not only means we get for free what nature has so generously provided us, but we burn approximately 150 calories an hour. Depending on how many leaves are raked, once the task is completed we have exercised, cleaned up our lawns, and added a carbon source to the compost pile.  Soil amendment for flower beds and veggie gardens, right from our own back yard!

Why not plant cool-season annuals in colors of your favorite team? Either in-ground or  containers, mums (chrysanthemums), sage, aster, ornamental kale, pansies and verbena are available in a range of colors and growth habits.  So remove the tired, sad plants to your compost pile and let them become ingredients in next spring’s garden soil!  Nature loves to recycle; we can do the same by putting leaves from our trees into our flower beds and gardens instead of purchasing the same material in bags from a retail store!

Want to make changes to your landscape by moving, removing, or adding plants?  After the first kickoff of the season, start planning to plant!  Many plant sales occur during September and October, perfect for those wanting to purchase and install trees, shrubs  and bulbs that will flower next spring.  Cooler days make establishing root systems easier on plants, but keep in mind they’ll still need water to survive.  And while you’re digging holes, “dig” that about 100 calories per 15 minutes are burned off, helping to keep those game day snacks from inflating our midriffs!

Got weeds?  If you’re a gardener of any sort, you know weeds are part of life in the garden or yard.  Hand weeding is worth about 240 calories burned an hour, is the most environmentally friendly form of weeding, and makes us appreciate the tenacity of unwelcome plants.  Using a pre-emergent herbicide helps prevent cool season weeds from popping up, but it has to be applied early enough to suppress them, and we don’t get to work off those cheese Doritos!

Weeding, composting, mulching, planting, transplanting – all timely activities to embrace between ball games.  However, fertilizing our lawns is not recommended for our area unless you want bigger, healthier weeds! As our warm-season turf grasses go dormant, we can mow one last time, compost the clippings, and winterize the lawnmower. But back off “feeding” your warm season turf grass at this point.

Pruning is also good exercise, so save the calories burned with that activity until after football season is over.  While we’re trying to get back in shape after watching all those games, and get our landscapes in shape for the spring, work off about 170 calories an hour starting in mid- to- late February if plants bloom in spring.  For plants that bloom early, like forsythia (Yellow bells) and some azaleas, prune them right after they stop flowering.

Stretch to check any materials, including pesticides, stored on shelves.  Be sure they are in weather –and – child- proof containers, preferably in locked cabinets or rooms. One of those situations where an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, chemicals used to treat lawn and garden pests need to be handled with the respect they deserve.

Enjoy the fall and winter seasons, whether burning calories working in your yard or consuming a few watching football games.  Balance the watching and working, both your body and your yard will be in better shape!

Courtesy http://www.greenphillyblog.com/philly/set-your-leaves-to-the-curb-starting-monday-philly/

“Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Fall into Health Eating

Perhaps we eat more simply because bathing suit season is over, and we can start hiding excess calories beneath our winter clothes. Whatever the reason, it’s important to realize that fall foods (soups, stews, breads, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apples, pumpkins and all types of greens) can actually be healthier than foods of other seasons. They are typically packed with great nutrients, such as fiber, protein, beta carotene and vitamin C. Here are a few tips to keep the fall tasty and healthy:

Soups are great for you if they’re not made with cream or cheese. Just watch serving sizes–we tend to eat whatever’s in our bowls.

Stews can be hearty and fattening. Use loads of fresh vegetables, and go light on the meat and potatoes.

Avoid unconscious eating while watching football and the new fall TV lineup. Never bring the whole bag or bowl of anything to the couch or coffee table–pre-measure it in the kitchen beforehand. When it comes to chips, make sure they’re baked, not fried.

For pizza, watch the toppings–they can double the calories.

Celebrate the fall harvest in other ways besides making pies. Apples are low in calories when they’re off the tree, not in a pie.

If it’s got to be pie, try making pumpkin pie with artificial sweetener, egg whites and low-fat milk. And of course, just have one piece. Keep in mind that pumpkin seeds have about 300 calories per 1/4 cup.

Turkey is healthy, as long as you keep it lean and white.

Get out and enjoy the fall weather. The air is cooler, the leaves are turning and the countryside becomes more scenic. It’s the perfect time to go outdoors and do something: Take walks on the beach or by the lake; go to the zoo; or ride a bike.

Keep in mind that once we set the clocks back, it gets darker earlier, so there are fewer outdoor options for physical activities in the evening. Make adjustments by joining a gym, planning evening walks at the mall or becoming an early riser.


Taco Soup

2 lb. ground beef, browned and drained

1 onion, chopped

1 package taco mix

1 package ranch dressing mix

1 large can diced tomatoes (undrained)

1 can whole kernel corn (undrained)

1 can diced tomatoes and green chilies

1 can chili beans (undrained

1 can black beans (drained and washed)

Combine, cook, and serve. This is good for a large crowd.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

 Elaine Softley, MS, Home Science Agent II, Family Nutrition and Health

Alabama Cooperative Extension System