Spring Drinking Water Tune-Up

Home appliances require periodic maintenance to ensure they last and operate effectively. This is especially true if they have filters such as a vacuum or heating/air conditioner. Your water supply and filtration system also needs regular attention. Water quality is very important to your health, so understanding your water supply, its quality, and treatment is essential.

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune up procedures will vary. For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you have older plumbing pipe and fixtures. In this case, testing for lead and copper is recommended. 

If you are on a drinking water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants), and every three years test for chloride, copper, lead, iron, pH, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. In some areas, there may be other contaminants such as arsenic or radium (local health departments can provide information), which you can test for. Be sure to use a certified lab – your local county health department should have a list. If your water results indicate treatment is needed, go to this resource to find out more about filters: http://dwit.psiee.psu.edu/dwit.asp.

Whatever type of water filter you use — faucet, pitcher, refrigerator or under the sink filter – they all require maintenance. Simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Not changing them can lead to reduction in water flow and filtration performance, and can also result in contaminants no longer being trapped, which can then be released into the water. Water filters can also build up bacteria if not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

Investing a little time to check on your water and filtration system can help ensure safe drinking water for you and your family.

Inflation – What is it?

One thing that we all know for sure is that the price of goods is going up. A gallon of milk in 2020 cost $3.32. Over the past year it increased by 6.9% to $3.55 per gallon. The increase in the cost is referred to as inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines inflation as the overall upward price movement of goods and services in an economy. 

Often referred to when we discuss inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is the change overtime in the prices paid for a basket of consumer goods and services. Those items fall into eight major groups; food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication, and other goods and services.

There are a lot of factors that impact the costs of goods. Simple things like the increase in cost of labor and materials make the price go up. If the workers are paid more than the price will increase to offset the increased expense or the price of gas to transport, will increase price. Then there are more complicated issues like interest rates, government policy, and supply vs. demand. In general, an inflation rate of 2% would be considered average. Right now, the inflation rate in the United States is around 7% to 8%. For most of us, our salaries have not increased at the same rate, meaning we have less money. This is why it is important to start tracking your money.

Now I could go down the road that you need to create a budget, but I am not going to do that. Instead, I will respond with a question. When the cost of goods you typically buy (like gas and groceries) go up, where will you get the money to pay for those goods? 

The answer is you will need to increase income (money you make) or decrease expenses (buy less). Unfortunately, you’re not likely to get a raise at work that will cover the increased costs. Your other income options include getting a new job that pays more, getting a side job, or selling goods you no longer need or use. Options to decrease expenses often involve a change in habits. Some good habits include being a frugal shopper by looking for deals, eating out less, consolidating trips, and evaluating your wants vs. needs. Some not-so-good habits include not tracking your expenses, using credit cards, paying your bills from your savings, and reducing your savings. 

At this point, you may consider making some changes to your personal finances. There are lots of good materials out there. One source that I like to share is the Your Money Your Goals toolkit, by the CFPB. The toolkit includes tools and handouts to set goals, track income, pay expenses, and plan your spending.

Especially for Teens – Let’s Talk about Gambling

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, so let’s have a serious talk about gambling. And by gambling, I’m referring to the activity of betting: the practice of risking money or other valuables in a game or bet. Gambling is taking on a risk with the hope of an uncertain gain. Some examples of gambling are betting on sports teams or card games for money, playing the lottery and using online gambling sites. 

Why do people gamble?  Gambling can be a form of fun or entertainment. Some teens only gamble during games among friends, and keep the risk low by using only tokens, treats, or small change. The activity of gambling is not necessarily a problem, as long as it is managed well.     

Why is this important?  Evidence indicates that about 6% of teens under the age of 18 have a serious gambling problem. That doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but what that means is that in a class of 30 people, 1-2 of your classmates are facing this challenge. About 80% of youth have participated in some form of gambling, and 10-15% are at risk of gambling becoming an addiction.  

How can gambling become a problem?  Gambling can become risky in several ways.  One is when it becomes obsessive. The reality of gambling is that you are much more likely to lose money than you are to win. Over time, very few people come out ahead financially with gambling. However, after losing money, the common reaction is to “play again” in an attempt to win back losses. This almost never works. Instead, more money is lost.  

Gambling also becomes a problem when it starts to become addictive. Gambling can actually activate the brain’s reward system, much like addictive substances. Someone with a gambling addiction feels a need to continue gambling. 

What happens when gambling becomes a problem?  People experiencing gambling challenges put their future success at risk. Instead of having money to reach life goals and pay living expenses, it becomes lost to gambling organizations. People addicted to gambling sometimes resort to stealing from friends and family, and often start to suffer from depression and poor health.  

What can you do?  Nobody intends to have a gambling problem, or hurt themselves, their friends, and their family. If you or someone you care about is facing life challenges caused by gambling, talk ASAP to a trusted counselor. Confidential help is available on-line, or by calling 1-800-GAMBLER. 

The Dimensions of Wellness

At the beginning of February, Breathing Room special guest writer Alex Chan, Mental Health Specialist with the University of Maryland Extension, offered some reasons why we have trouble keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Even after acknowledging the pitfalls in goal-setting, it may still be difficult to set a reasonable goal and an accompanying step-by-step process to get there. By understanding the dimensions of personal wellness, you may be able to identify the areas affecting your ability to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Creating A Healthier Life, A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies the eight dimensions of wellness as:

Physical – the area that encompasses physical health and all that it includes. Things like sleep, exercise, and eating well all contribute to the physical dimension of wellness.

Emotional – this dimension of wellness is about maintaining emotional health. Stress management, coping skills, and therapy are activities relevant to this area.

Social – maintaining social wellness includes aspects like having a support system, setting boundaries, and interactions with social media.

Spiritual – this includes spending time alone, prayer, or even spending time in nature to care for yourself.

Intellectual (Personal) – spending time partaking in hobbies, following goals, and validating your identity all factor into your personal wellbeing.

Environmental (Space) – ensuring and maintaining a safe, stable, and healthy environment contributes to your environmental or special wellness.

Financial – taking control of your money so it doesn’t take control of you.

Occupational (Work) – taking breaks and managing time at work are tasks that help maintain occupational wellness

Each of the dimensions interact and affect one another, creating multifaceted obstacles to creating a path to your wellness goals. Do the following activity for each of your wellness goals to begin outlining your personal step-by-step guide to self care. Once you have your plan, set a reminder to review your plan after 2-3 weeks and see if any unforeseen obstacles have emerged.

1. Define one wellness goal that you’d like to achieve.

2. Which dimensions of wellness are involved?

3. What small step can you take towards reaching that goal?

4. When you will take the action described in #3?

5. Are there any barriers to taking your first step? How will you deal with them?

For more information, or to request a training in self care and stress management, contact Alex Chan at alexchan@umd.edu.

America Saves Week – *Special Report*

Did you know that this week — February 21-25, 2022 — is America Saves Week? Do you even know what it is? America Saves Week or ASW is a call for Americans to commit to saving. Organizations sign up as partners to promote and facilitate programs that are occurring throughout the week.

This year’s theme is Building Financial Resilience. What an important topic as the price of goods has increased over the past months. Money you had last year, will not go as far today.

For ASW each day will have a theme:

  • Save Automatically – Monday
  • Save for the Unexpected – Tuesday
  • Save for Retirement – Wednesday
  • Save by Reducing Debt – Thursday
  • Save as a Family – Friday

Visit the website to find out what is being offered on each day.

Now that we have introduced the topic of savings, let’s talk details. You need a starting point and direction when it comes to savings. There are lots of financial tools out there, but I will share the Your Money Your Goals (YMYG) toolkit by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You need to start with a financial assessment and goals. This is like driving a car. You need to know where you are at and where you are trying to go. Along the way you need to track your income, pay your bills, and deal with debt. The toolkit has worksheets on all of these topics.

So now you know about America Saves Week. The next step is to get involved in activities promoted. Then start your own financial journal using the tools in the YMYG toolkit. Along the way if you have questions, find your local Extension Educator that focuses on financial literacy. If you are not sure where to start, just reach out to me.

SUPER BOWL — THE HEALTHY WAY

This blog was originally published by our sister blog, Eat Smart, developed and maintained by the University of Maryland Extension SNAP-Ed team.

The Super Bowl isn’t just about watching football — many people love the food, too!  Super Bowl parties often have lots of unhealthy foods.  This year why not try something new!  Continue to work on your New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier.  When your friends come to watch the [game], why not have a tasting party this year?  Invite friends over to bring healthy foods for everyone to eat. 

Need ideas?  Here are 10 ideas for “healthier” Super Bowl snacks that everyone will love! 

  1. A Healthier Spinach Dip.  Try using a reduced fat cream cheese and non-fat yogurt instead of mayonnaise.  This will add extra protein for less calories.  Your friends won’t be able to tell!
  2. Salsa — try this MyPlate salsa recipe which is a hit with the kids and the best part — you get all of your food groups in one recipe.
  3. Mini Pita Pockets — instead of filling pita pockets with meat, try adding cucumbers, green and red peppers, and low fat cheddar cheese in the pita.  Spreading hummus in each pita will also give a nice flavor too.
  4. Fruit pizza — who doesn’t love pizza?  Try making them with pita bread or whole wheat tortillas. Use peanut, almond or sunflower butter and add your favorite fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and oranges. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top for an added treat.
  5. Pasta salad — a great addition to any party.  Try using whole grain pasta and then adding your favorite veggies like carrots, celery, green peppers and mushrooms for added crunch.  Use low fat Italian dressing for less fat and calories.
  6. Kale chips — an alternative to regular potato chips.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to fresh kale and bake at 300 degrees for 35-45 minutes.  These are a great grab and go snack the kids will love.
  7. Guacamole — a great dip that goes with many things!  Mash the avocado with tomatoes, add a little garlic, onion and lemon.  Guacamole goes great with whole grain tortilla chips or fresh veggies.
  8. Fruit and Veggie Tray — a must have for any party! Add all of your favorite fruits and veggies in a colorful display. 
  9. Low-fat popcorn — this whole grain is good for you and good to munch on too!  Try sprinkling with spices like garlic and pepper for a new flavor.
  10. Fizzy fruit water — a drink that will quench your thirst without adding the calories.

What are you some of your healthy foods that you plan on making for a Super Bowl party?

Follow the Eat Smart blog for more great nutrition information and healthy recipes the whole family will love!

Why Couldn’t I Keep My New Years’ Resolution?

Now that we are over a month past the New Year, it is a good time to assess the status of our New Years’ resolutions, if you made any. Although this might be a disappointing moment for those of us who have not been able to sustain the commitments we made, it is still important to look back on them and identify what worked and what did not. This reflection enables us to learn from any mistakes that we made during the process. 

First, let us acknowledge that change is hard. There is quite a bit to the process of change that is involved before we even make a commitment to change . We have to recognize that something is a problem, weigh the options of changing or maintaining the status quo, and create a plan that is sufficiently detailed and achievable (more on this later), all before we make our first attempt at a new behavior. Furthermore, once we do take our first steps, we have to monitor for pitfalls and ensure that we can sustain the new behavior long-term.

For the sake of this article, we will take the commitment to a New Years’ Resolution as evidence that you had some kind of plan (or intent) to change, which would indicate that you had already recognized a problem and decided that change was more appealing than the status quo. Some of the most common pitfalls in creating lasting change are that the goal itself is either too vague or too lofty.

Too vague: I want to get fit.

This goal is not specific or meaningful enough to spur organized action. What does being fit mean to you? Being able to run a mile without stopping? Being flexible enough to play with your grandchildren on the floor? Having a specific goal focuses your effort and reduces the chance of feeling overwhelmed by possibilities.

Too lofty: I (never was a runner, and) am going to run a marathon next month. 

Lofty goals impose harsh expectations that may ultimately demoralize you, even if they are specific and meaningful. The pride of achieving smaller milestones will provide the motivation to keep moving toward the loftier goal.

As your goals become more specific and achievable, it is important to celebrate milestones as a chance to both feel good about your accomplishments and set the next achievable goal for yourself in that realm. 

What if you set small achievable goals that are meaningful to you, yet still find yourself unable to follow through consistently? 

Unexamined Root Issue 

A lack of sustained change indicates that the status quo might serve a more important function in your life than you have imagined. Say you are a parent of two young children who wants to start a workout regimen in the mornings. If working out every morning means you aren’t able to cook the healthiest, warmest breakfast for your children, guilt may be keeping you from changing. In essence, you value providing for your children in a specific way more than you value the personal fitness changes. For another example, what if you resolved to stick to a reasonable budget each month by reducing frivolous spending? Inflation and price hikes aside, perhaps you have not identified that shopping gives you a sense of freedom – a compelling reason NOT to stick to a budget where that sense of freedom is limited.

Whether it is guilt, feeling restricted, or some other emotional issue, it is often difficult for people to identify and tackle these issues alone. Friends and family are a good place to start the conversation about some of these root issues, because sometimes close associates can see our blind spots – personal qualities or circumstances we are unaware of but that are visible to others. Talking about our goals with others also helps us rehearse our belief in their importance. Licensed mental health professionals can help us look deeper into the emotional issues that may be holding us back, and can also help us develop more specific, achievable goals that keep us motivated in the long-run. They can also help brainstorm new ways of meeting formerly unacknowledged needs in ways that do not interfere with the changes or resolutions that you are trying to make.

The blog written by Breathing Room special guest contributor Alex Chan, Mental and Behavioral Health Specialist with University of Maryland Extension.

Mindful Relationships: How mindfulness practice and techniques can help you connect more deeply with your partner

Relationships are never static; they are ever-changing and have ups and downs. With the evolving dynamics in our relationships, how can we achieve a fulfilling and happy relationship? It is a question that often crosses our minds when faced with challenges and conflicts in any relationship, especially with our partners. Though it is challenging to come up with a definitive answer, some successful practices and habits can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship.

Couples therapy and individual counseling can be powerful tools to strengthen and improve relationships. One of the other practical and effective tools you can use to improve your relationship is mindfulness practices. Mindfulness helps us cultivate present moment awareness with our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. In relationships, mindfulness can help us enhance our awareness of how the relationship has been evolving and tap into what is working and what is not.

Mindfulness enhances awareness of self and others. It helps us recognize how we interact with our partners and allows us to become aware of specific patterns of behavior that might be causing damage to our relationship. Such awareness also helps open up our limiting beliefs to a different perspective that our partner holds. For example, we tend to assume how the counterpart would say or behave based on our observed behavior from the partner. This creates prejudice and a specific construct that could limit us from accepting an evolving side of our partner.

Dr. John Gottman, a well-known specialist in relationships, says that the ability to turn toward one another and continually deepen the bond by making an effort every day to reach out to your partner is a vital indicator of a good and sound relationship. In addition, practicing mindfulness helps us understand our own needs and the needs of our partners.

The experts say that the vast majority of disagreements in romantic relationships occur due to turning away from each other, especially during times of conflict. Here are some of the challenges and struggles that we encounter in different scenarios of relationships with our partners.

Long-distance relationships

Long-distance relationships can be challenging due to miscommunication, time conflicts, lack of intimacy, and accountability issues.

Closed off relationships

A partner experiences disconnection, isolation, and aloofness in a closed-off relationship. It can lead to feelings of rejection. A partner may not comprehend why you refuse to talk, which becomes a cycle of silence and resentment.

Pandemic relationship struggles

Pandemic has caused anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and social isolation. These aspects have made relationships with partners more challenging than ever. Not having space, spilling of work and personal life, and pandemic worries have created a hostile environment for couples. Reports by Stanford Medicine mentioned that there had been an increase in people’s hostility of anger, and frustration during the pandemic. Such hostility could be taken out to your partners and loved ones. In order to restrain from outbursts, mindfulness can be helpful in the regulation of stress and emotions effectively.

Using mindfulness approach to improve relationships:

Expressing gratitude

Mindfulness helps us to cultivate appreciation and gratitude in all things and connections. Practicing gratitude can help you guide your mind to focus on the positive rather than the negative – to look for opportunities rather than signs of failure. In addition, research shows that expressing gratitude in an intimate relationship enhances the level of connection and happiness in both the giver and the receiver the following day. So, expressing your gratitude and appreciation to your partner is mutually rewarding.

Here are some of the techniques suggested to express your gratitude:

  • A letter of appreciation expressing all that you admire in your partner in writing.
  • Daily Gratitude, like thanking your partner for making efforts and being thoughtful on a daily basis, like making a delicious meal or doing dishes.

Cultivating curiosity

Mindfulness practice can help cultivate a beginner’s mind attitude and curiosity towards your partner. It helps you to notice the minor attributes of your partner. Ask questions to your partner and be open to the aspects of this person you still do not know about yet. Even if you interact with each other every few hours or stay together in the same house, keep in mind that all humans are ever-changing in their way. If you ask more questions, it shows that you are interested and are curious about what is happening in your partner’s life. Next time try asking a few pertinent questions regarding their experiences.

Mindful listening

Have you ever engaged in a conversation and noticed that your partner was not listening to you? Or are you listening to understand what your partner is saying, or are you already preparing your response?

Listening indeed takes time, and we often jump to judgments before hearing out the whole story, especially with those whom we have known for a longer period of time. Therefore, to be good listeners, we need to hone our listening skills, as it is one of the essential skills in maintaining healthy and strong relationships.

Experiment with mindful listening practice to cultivate non-judgmental listening skills that can provide your partner an opportunity to share their feelings with complete acceptance and patience. Mindful listening is about recognizing that you have wandered away during the conversation and getting back to listening to your partner with your undivided attention.

Simply listen to your partner and observe their expressions and posture to try this practice. Try to refrain from providing suggestions or solving their issue. Once your partner stops sharing, confirm what he/she/they were trying to express to get a better grasp on the issue.

Prevent stress from affecting your relationship

Mindfulness has been shown to help us manage stress. Under constant stress, we tend to be more reactive and sensitive to even the smallest amount of tension in a relationship. When you are able to successfully manage stress, it is easier for you and your partner to have the most productive, meaningful, and intimate interaction.

Research has shown that simple mindfulness techniques such as the belly breathing method can improve stress coping skills, provide relaxation, boost mood, and improve focus. See below to learn how to apply this method:

  1. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose for one to two minutes
  2. Place one hand on the belly or your chest.
  3. Notice how your belly or chest expands and relaxes with in-breath and exhale.
  4. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

Here are some effective and practical tips on improving relationships:

  • Scheduling time together with your partner (For example: Time to talk, movie nights, evening walks)
  • Communicating clearly during the time of conflict on what you need (For example: If you find the situation overwhelming and need time to think, clearly indicate to your partner and suggest how you will follow up regarding the conflict).
  • Communicate and plan based on realistic expectations
  • Adopt a no-tech time while interacting with your partner
  • Prioritize yourself and engage in things that fulfill you, create a productive space to energize yourself, and encourage your partner to do the same.
  • During the time of conflict, start by explaining how you feel due to certain actions by your partner rather than being accusatory. (For instance: Rather than saying, “You never do dishes,” tell your partner, “When you do not do dishes, I feel less appreciative and cared for”).

This blog written by Thoinu Karam, Family and Consumer Sciences intern.