Keep the Taste of Summer All Year Long

Blueberry season has finally arrived and Pick-Your-Own (PYO) farms across the state are open for picking. I love fresh, local blueberries, so I was thrilled to wake up on a recent Sunday morning with comfortable temperatures in the high-70s. Mother Nature was giving my heat-sensitive kids at least 30 minutes to pick before they started melting into a sweaty, cranky chorus of “Carry meeeeee!!!!” and “Can we get some ice cream?” So the family headed to Butler’s Orchard for a morning of blueberry-picking.

I had dreams of coming home with quarts of blueberries to eat and freeze. I even had plans to use my berries in this blueberry French toast bake. But then, my kids saw this:

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And they said, “What blueberries?”
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They also saw these massive slides, so you know…
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I could go on… but you get the idea. 

So, my plans to come home with insane amounts of blueberries resulted in lots of happy, smiley kids, but no blueberries (or pictures of blueberry picking for this post). #momwin #pyofail

If you are fortunate enough to actually reach the blueberry fields of your local PYO farm, look for plump and firm berries with a dusty-blue color. Jon Traunfeld, Director of the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center, also warns against picking berries with a reddish tinge, “These berries are under-ripe and they will not improve after picking.”

And if you get home with as many berries as I had hoped to pick, make sure to freeze some. Karen Basinger, our Extension Educator in Howard County, says that “Freezing will retain more of the original flavor, color, texture and nutritional value of fruits than any other home food preservation method.” Freezing also happens to be the easiest way to preserve fruits and they can last up to a year in the freezer if processed correctly.

To get the best end-product, first discard soft, under-ripe or defective berries, and remove any stems. You do not need to wash the berries, as that can cause tougher skin. Lay the (completely dry) berries on a parchment lined cookie sheet, leaving space between them. Place the cookie sheet into the freezer. Once the berries are firm, you can remove the pan and store all the berries in a freezer container or bag.  Make sure to mark the container with the type of berry and the date frozen. And don’t forget to wash the berries before using them.

If you want to savor more of summer’s bounty, we have Educators who will teach you how to safely jam or jelly your berries, or preserve any other harvested goodies. Check out our calendar of workshops!

Creating a Healthy Lifestyle for You

We all have a general sense of what it means to be healthy: eat right and exercise. But those two things are hard enough, once you throw in the other aspects of healthlike getting enough sleep, not getting too stressed, or kicking cigarettesthe notion of getting healthy makes anyone want to binge-watch and eat their way through the weekend. Where do you even start?

Hopefully, here; with our new blog, Breathing Room. We’re a group of educators from the University of Maryland Extension. We work across Maryland to help people live healthier by eating better, moving more, reducing stress, and managing finances. We want to use this blog to get you thinking about the little changes you can make to improve your health and well-being. We will be covering a lot of topics in this blog, butas with most things related to healththey will have one thing in common: making a choice to create a new habit. After all, a healthy lifestyle is nothing but a series of habits.

So, let’s talk habits. A habit is a repetitive behavior that is so ingrained that it becomes automatic. Breaking a habit or creating a new one takes time, anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the habit. That means, if you keep trying all the latest diets and have turned your gym equipment into really expensive laundry racks, then start smaller next time. Setting big goals are great, but getting and staying healthy is a lifestyle, which means you need to create habits that you will enjoy and stick with. Drastic diet changes and grand workout plans are often too hard to maintain and just make us feel terrible. If you ask your healthiest friends how they got healthy, I promise they won’t tell you it’s because they slogged their way through life by depriving themselves of all the things they enjoy.

Everybodyand every bodyis different. Finding the healthy lifestyle for you means finding ways to create healthy habits that will still leave you feeling good. Maybe you can’t give up chocolate cake, but you could wean yourself off of soda. Or maybe the idea of lifting weights makes you want to toss your sneakers into the trash, but walking with a friend sounds fun. Once you’ve made those smaller changes, you can start thinking about making bigger ones.

When breaking a habit, pay particular attention to the trigger that makes you perform your habit and the reward that you’re getting from performing it. If the box of cookies in the pantry triggers your 9pm sweet tooth, can you eliminate cookies from the house or replace them with something less sugary and caloric, like this chocolatey frozen treat? Maybe you love to laugh with your friends over dinner and drinks, but how about scheduling a walk, hike, or mud-run instead?

When creating a healthy habit, try to create a successful pathway. Maybe you’ve been paying that gym subscription for months but can’t seem to get yourself there. Would scheduling time with a friend or trainer get you there? How about taking your gym bag to work so that you can go straight to the gym instead of changing at home, where the soft, comfy couch will be singing her siren song?

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It’s hard to convince yourself to go to the gym once you’ve reached this point in the day.

If you and your doctor have a lot of concerns about your health, then work with your doctor to figure out a plan. Creating habits takes a lot of awareness, practice, and support before everything becomes automatic. Be flexible and try different things. You will have bad moments and, sometimes, days. But that’s okit’s a part of the process of learning and changing. Don’t beat yourself up when you mess up. And when you do get it right, make sure to praise yourselfyou deserve that internal high five.