Friday, August 26, 2016

Don't let the TRAINing leave the station without You!

Are you a community, church, 4-H, or school volunteer or teacher who works hard to do your best to keep youth on the track to a successful future?  Do you sometimes find yourself dragging your caboose because of the energy it takes to keep things from derailing? You are invited to get “On Track to Volunteer Success” at the annual Montana 4-H Leadership Forum, which MSU Extension and 4-H in Teton County are helping to plan with other counties in District 3.  The event is September 30-October 2 in Lewistown, Montana.  There are tickets available to several topic tracks and there are OPI (Office of Public Instruction) renewal units available for certified teachers.  Jump on board now and register by August 31 to receive a discounted ticket for $80.  If you need more time to consider, you can get a main cabin registration between September 1 and 14 for $100, and for those bringing up the caboose, registering between September 15 and September 23 the cost will be $150.

On Friday, September 30, the train leaves the station for several different tour locations. Tours at Bear Gulch Pictographs, Bos Terra and a tour of three manufacturing businesses in the heart of Montana, are just three of the eleven tours that should capture the interest of volunteers who serve in a wide variety of roles.  On Saturday, October 1, there are educational tracks including Family Consumer Science, Art, Agriculture, Communications, Science, Natural Resources and some general track items such as curriculum exploration and leadership.

Holly Hoffman, Keynote
Holly Hoffman, Survivor
There will be keynote speakers to keep some steam in your volunteer engine.  Holly Hoffman will help you not only survive, but thrive as a youth volunteer or educator.  Hoffman is the author of Your Winner Within and was a contestant on the Survivor television show.  Hoffman teaches how to focus thoughts, emotions and energy to succeed.  She offers encouragement and optimism and lays the tracks for self-discovery and enlightenment.  She will be the keynote speaker on October 2, as well as teaching one of the workshops on Saturday called, Lead Simply. 

Be sure to get your ticket on the Track to Volunteer Success. Contact MSU Extension in Teton County for more details or look online at  Consider this message your first boarding call.  Thank you to all of you out there who are the conductors and engineers of educational opportunities for youth in our communities.  We appreciate the tracks you are laying with youth as they are fundamental to our future. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Off to a Good Start!

I’ll admit, I wasn’t always a breakfast eater.  When I was growing up, I got on the bus just after 7 a.m. and had an hour on the bus before I got to school.  My stomach didn’t seem to wake until later in the morning.  On weekends, I remember enjoying breakfast more.  My mom made Cream of Wheat or Cream of the West, I'm not sure why, but we were never oatmeal eaters back then.  On a rare occasion, my dad made breakfast.  Though we didn’t camp often, it seemed he always took over breakfast at the campfire and the meals were delicious.  
Oatmeal breakfast to go in jar with one-piece lid and jar of milk!

As an adult, I started eating breakfast consistently when I was eating for two.  That first "baby" is now 15 years old! Once the breakfast-eating habit was formed, it stuck, but I wanted easy items that I could enjoy every day without much hassle.  I also became more interested in adding oats to help with cholesterol levels and to make sure I was getting the recommended fiber in my diet.  Below are some of my favorite, quick, easy, inexpensive, whole grain options. 

For the past year, I have alternated between some of my favorite oatmeal recipes.  I generally make the recipe on Sunday and then portion into containers for easy "grab and go" breakfasts.  I'm a big fan of canning jars with one-piece, reusable plastic lids for transporting breakfast.  These containers and recipes work well for freezing in individual portions, too.  I typically eat breakfast at work around 9 a.m.  If you don't need a transportable breakfast, many of these recipes are easy to make in a pan and store in the refrigerator with a lid to enjoy at home.  

Baked Berry and Peach Oatmeal

3 c. old rolled oats
½ c. brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 whole eggs
1 ¼ c. skim milk
¼ c. canola oil or applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can peaches chopped (I use kitchen shears to chop in the jar and use the juice and all)
1 c fresh or frozen berries (my personal favorite are huckleberries)
A few finely chopped nuts can also be added

Yum!  Peaches, huckleberries and oats!
In a large bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.  Whisk eggs, milk, oil, vanilla, peaches and berries.  Bake in 9x13 cake pan lightly coated with spray.  Bake at 350 degrees F, for 35-40 minutes. This recipe has been a hit when I’ve made it for 4-H members.  A light sprinkle of cinnamon goes great with this oatmeal and milk. 

Steel Cut Oats

1 c. steel cut oats
3 c. hot water

In a bread pan, mix oats and water.  Put in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  When done, stir and put ½ to 1 cup in pint-size canning jars with lids and refrigerate.  To serve, add chia seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries or chopped nuts.  To add extra fiber, dice a few apples and treat them with a fruit preserver (Fruit Fresh or lemon juice) to keep them from browning and put them in a container in the fridge.  Each morning, heat the oatmeal in the microwave for a few seconds, stir in a spoon of yogurt, add the diced apples and any other extras.  Eat from the jar.  Each morning, hot oatmeal, dairy, fruit and only one dish to clean!

Steel Cut Oats

3 ½ to 4 c. water
1 c. steel cut oats

Place in slow cooker on low for 8 hours.  Can serve them with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. This same recipe can be made in the oven by placing items in a baking dish in a 325 degree oven for 45 minutes. Stir once about 30 minutes into cooking time

 Make Your Own Oatmeal Packets

4 c. Rolled Oats
Chia seeds
Sugar (brown or white)
Dried Fruit

Quick cook oats can be used, but I had rolled oats on hand when I made these packets.  Put rolled oats in blender or food processor (I used about 4 cups).  Blend for a bit, until you get some fine powder and some regular oat shapes.  You could probably powderize about 1 c. of oats and then add 3 cups regular or quick cook oats to that powder.  The powder should make a creamier and faster cooking product.  If doing different flavors of packets, take about ½ c. of the oats and put in snack-size bags or containers.  I think I’m going to try half-pint jars with one piece lids next time I make these, so that I have my serving container for adding the water.  Add about 1 tsp of sugar, dried fruits, nuts, chia seeds, etc. per each “packet.” If doing all the same, mix “extra”  (fruit/seeds/nuts/sugar) ingredients into one large container with oats and then portion out 2/3 c. or so into snack-size bags.  I like dried blueberries, cranberries, chopped pecans, chia seeds and brown sugar in my oatmeal packets. You’ll have to experiment with the sugar for a bigger batch or just add it to each portion.  When ready to use, pour contents of packet into a bowl, add hot water and let sit until oatmeal is creamy.  Not only will making your own oatmeal packets save you sugar in your diet, they will also save you money.  Making your own is generally far less expensive. 

Baked Oatmeal

1 can pears pureed in blender
2 ½ cup milk
2 ½ cups sugar (brown or white, honey also works as substitute)
4 egg whites
7 ½ cups oatmeal
5 tsp. baking powder
2 ½ tsp. salt

Mix together sugar, sugar and eggs.  Add oatmeal, baking powder, salt, milk and cinnamon.  Put in 9 x 13-inch pan that has been greased.  Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes.  Can be frozen in individual portions to be heated later.  This is a recipe I adapted.  I was looking to reduce the oil, since I eat oats to help my cholesterol levels.  A can of pears (canned in juice) happened to be sitting on my counter as I analyzed the recipe.  I decided to blend it and try it out.  It worked well.  I think other types of fruit could be blended and used as a substitute for the pears. I've had friends who have reported peaches and apricots also work well.  

Baked Oatmeal from Glenn Deuchler

6 cups old fashioned oatmeal
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. honey
¾ c. egg substitute or 4 whole eggs
2 tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
½ c. oil
½ c. apple sauce
1 c. raisins (optional)
2 c. bran cereal (optional)
1 ½ c milk (separate into 1 c. and ½ c.)

Stir all together.  Dry ingredients first, then liquid ingredients.  Use 1 c. of milk with all other liquid ingredients.  Mix all together well.  Add additional ½ c. of milk (approximately) to create a consistency like bread pudding.  Grease 9x9 pan.  Bake in oven at 375 degrees F for approximately 45 minutes, or until center is set (if toothpick comes out clean, it is set).  Enjoy!

Hit the Road Oatmeal

Last summer, I was trying to keep up with healthy whole grain breakfasts, but we leave super early on Saturday mornings for swim meets.  On a whim, I made oatmeal in a wide mouth thermos and packed along a container of fixings (brown sugar, chopped pecans, cranberries and a spoon).  I was surprised how well it worked.

½ c. rolled oats
1 c. hot (near boiling) water

Put oats and water in a thermos.  Wait a few minutes (or until you reach your destination).  Stir in extras and enjoy. 

Whole Wheat Cereal
1 c. cleaned raw wheat
2 c. water
½ tsp salt

Cook overnight in slow cooker on low.  Can triple. Remainder keeps in refrigerator. Reheat portions needed for cereal or use as ingredients in soups or salads. Can replace dry beans as in chili or rice in many dishes.

Cooked Wheat Berries
1 c. raw whole kernel wheat berries
5 c. water
½ tsp. salt

Rub slow cooker wall with 1 Tbsp. butter. Cover the ingredients and cook on low 8-9 hours. Cook until tender. Drain and cool. Cover; store in refrigerator or freeze to use in recipes, thaw first.

There are so many ways to get off to a good start nutritionally in the mornings!  I hope you enjoy these recipes and ideas and use the comment space to share some of your own.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Canning the Montana Meat Harvest

Growing up, my family raised beef.  I would guess about 85% of our meals were beef-based.  No one in my family did much hunting or fishing.  A few of the hired hands occasionally enjoyed hunting, so every once in a while, we would get some delicious elk jerky or deer salami as a treat.  Not only did we have several cuts of beef in the freezer at all times, we also had meat stored in our food room on the shelves in jars. (We lived pretty far from town, so it really was a room, not a pantry.  We had both a food storage room and root cellar in the basement. We could have been stranded on the farm for months and we would not have starved. )

My mom always canned beef.  I didn't pay much attention to the canning process, until I got older, but I always loved the soft, tender, juicy canned beef.  Mom would open the cans, boil the meat (as an extra precaution) and serve with noodles and soy sauce.

According to the USDA, "If it is possible that any deviation from the USDA-endorsed methods occurred, to prevent the risk of botulism, low-acid and tomato foods should be boiled in a
saucepan before consuming even if you detect no signs of spoilage. At altitudes below 1,000 ft, boil foods for 10 minutes. Add an additional minute of boiling time for each additional 1,000 ft elevation. However, this is not intended to serve as a recommendation for consuming foods known to be significantly underprocessed according to current standards and recommended methods. It is not a guarantee that all possible defects and hazards with non-recommended methods can be overcome by
this boiling process."

The USDA gives the following directions:
"All low-acid foods canned according to the approved recommendations may be eaten without boiling them when you are sure of all the following:

  • Food was processed in a pressure canner.
  • Gauge of the pressure canner was accurate.
  • Up-to-date researched process times and pressures were used for the size of jar, style of pack, and kind of food being canned.
  • The process time and pressure recommended for sterilizing the food at your altitude was followed.
  • Jar lid is firmly sealed and concave.
  • Nothing has leaked from jar.
  • No liquid spurts out when jar is opened.
  • No unnatural or “off” odors can be detected."

I do know families who process their meat and then, without boiling, add mayonnaise and make it into a sandwich spread.  While that sounds delicious, I am like my mom and I always like to take that extra precaution of boiling.

My upbringing on beef didn't deter me from canning game meat when it has been available to me.  I have canned venison and elk and find I like it just as well as, if not better than, the canned beef I grew up eating.

Meat is a low acid food and must be pressure canned.  Acidic foods are hot water bath processed. Some people find pressure canning intimidating, but it is actually pretty easy.  Honestly, meat is one of the easiest products to can.  I generally do a raw pack, so it is a matter of putting the meat cubes in the jar, sealing with a lid and starting the processing.  Once while I was canning, a neighbor stopped over and watched the process.  She could not believe how simple it was.  Her family does quite a bit of hunting and fishing and they have since started to can portions of their harvest.  It is a great way to preserve meat tying up the freezer.  (The meat doesn't have to be pressure processed right away, it can be frozen first, until a more convenient time -- provided you have the freezer space.)

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has prepared this video on canning meat from your hunting and fishing.

Right now I'm thinking about using a can of meat to prepare supper. When my Mom cooked the meat and noodles, it was a nice, simple meal with salad and veggies added. My family also enjoyed canned Flathead cherries as a dessert. I know it was great to have the canned goods when Mom had lots of mouths at the table and little time to prepare.  It was not uncommon for 8-12 people to be around our farm table.  Lots of good food and stories passed around that table! Fortunately, some good food preservation skills got ingrained, too.

You can find MontGuides here for your food preservation needs or you can access the National Center for Home Food Preservation or the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.  While home canning and food preservation is relatively simple, there are still some scientific principles at work and food safety concerns, so be sure to follow tested, recommended guidelines and recipes from reliable sources.  Also, remember to get your dial-gauge pressure canner tested for accurahere to find an MSU Extension Office near you and call to see if they offer the free pressure canner testing service.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Depression: What’s the hook?

When we teach the Powerful Tools for Caregivers class, one of the assignments for caregivers is to make an action plan to do something they enjoy each week.  Sometimes when we care for others, particularly in long-term caregiving situations, we can “lose ourselves” in the process.  The focus is so much about the other person that slowly parts of us erode away.  One of my colleagues tells about a caregiver who had “lost herself” for so long that she could not even remember anything that she enjoyed.  My colleague prompted the participant, “Did you ever do any crafts?  Sewing, knitting, crochet?”  As it turned out, the woman used to enjoy crocheting.  The instructor asked her to use crocheting as her action plan for enjoyment.  The woman balked.  She didn’t think she could do that.  In a stroke of inspiration, the teacher said, “Do you think you can either find or buy a crochet hook sometime this week?”  Sometimes, you just have to start somewhere.  

Graphic used under license agreement from
As it turned out the caregiver found her crochet hook, and with it she found some skeins of yarn.  Eventually she found a few minutes to start crocheting.  Before she knew it, she was taking a bag of crocheting supplies with her to her husband’s medical appointments.  She still enjoyed crocheting!  When she found the crochet hook, she started to find a little part of herself that she had lost along the way.  
Sometimes depression can be a slow losing of yourself or a lack of joy and enjoyment. I have been reading about depression and one author suggested finding four things you can enjoy each day.  I think of the woman and the crochet hook.  When you are truly depressed, finding one thing may seem daunting.  A booklet from the National Institute of Health, explains that depression affects different people in different ways.  Depression is a real illness that is treatable.  And, if you have depression, you are not alone.  According to a Center for Disease Control site, during 2009–2012, 7.6% of Americans aged 12 and over had depression (moderate or severe depressive symptoms in the past 2 weeks). Depression was more prevalent among females and persons aged 40–59.
Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities is just one of the signs of depression.  A persistent sad or empty feeling, along with feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness can be signs of depression.  Decreased energy and difficulty concentrating or sleeping are also symptoms and are worthy to note, particularly when these symptoms stretch out over several weeks.  Depression not only affects mood, but also cognitive abilities and can manifest in physical symptoms.  

There are many components that play a factor in depression, as well as multiple types of depression.  Depression can be different throughout the lifespan.  While there is much to study and learn about depression, one of the most important things to know is that depression is treatable.  The treatments may be as varied as the individuals who have depression.  I met a person once who even used an app on his phone to assist his mental health.  More commonly, though, treatment for depression includes medication or one of several types of therapies, or a combination of medication and mental health counseling therapies.

If you feel you have been dealing with depression, be sure to consult with a medical or mental health professional to see what therapies and/or medications might be recommended for you.  As well, there are some other things you can try.  Being active and exercising can provide a huge mental boost.  Spending time with others can be an uplifting activity.  Doing something good for someone else can go a long way to make you feel better.  Of course, doing something you enjoy or used to enjoy is particularly important.  

If you are feeling depressed, you need to find your “crochet hook,” whatever that positive thing might be in your life.  Like a string of yarn, you may feel unraveled or knotted up, but seek help until you find the pattern that works for you and your depression.  

The links below may be the hook you need for help:

Depression and College Students
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens
Bipolar Disorder
Depression in Women

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Build the Bridge to Connect People

Build a Bridge to Connect People

Graphic used under license agreement from

When I attended a recent training on youth in crisis, the instructor spoke about suicide. Because of my degree in counseling, I was not surprised to know that Montana ranks very high in suicide rates.  What did surprise me, though, was a statistic that in the United States in 2012, middle-aged people (45-64 years) had the highest rate of suicide, followed by the elderly (64 and older) and then the young.  Men over the age of 65 have a rate of suicide that is nearly seven times higher than that of women over age 65.  The statistics startled me and compelled me to study further.

As it turned out, the Town and Country Homemakers group in Dutton, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with several times a year for nearly two decades, were looking for an educational program for their March meeting.  I quickly volunteered to teach on the topic of seniors in crisis and suicide in the older population.  

I often find myself as much the student as the teacher with this wonderful group.  Their role call for the meeting was to tell about a time when they were struggling and someone helped them.  Years of life experiences poured out, with the critical message that each crisis passed and someone had been integral in pulling each of them through a dark point in their lives.  The group then went on to their business meeting, some of which involved purposefully considering others who might need company or correspondence.  It seemed one of the main goals of the meeting was to provide points of connection with those who might need it.  It warmed my heart, because the lesson I had prepared included statistics about suicides, signs for suicide and successful prevention of suicide. According to the Montana Strategic Suicide Prevention Plan 2015, one of the suicide risk factors in the elderly includes social isolation and loneliness.  This community-minded group was already working on their own prevention plan.  They gather each month.  During every meeting there are announcements about other community events.  They plan activities to look forward to as a group.  They make an effort to connect to others who might find themselves isolated or going through a rough transition.

Some of the other risk factors for suicide among the elderly include bereavement, perceived poor health, undiagnosed depression, major changes in social roles such as retirement or moving, and financial insecurity.  Also, physical illness, particularly uncontrolled pain, contributes.  However, very few (2-4%) elderly people who complete suicide have been diagnosed with a terminal illness at the time of their death.  

Some of the factors that protect people from suicide include social activity, established social support network, pets and restricted access to lethal means.  In Montana, 63 percent of suicides are from firearms – a particularly lethal means.  It is suggested to have firearms locked and to also have trigger locks.  I’ve heard the recommendation that ammunition and firearms be housed separately.  Anything to make it more complicated or take more time can create a preventive barrier.  Sometimes a delay of even two minutes is enough for someone to change their mind or to have their attempt interrupted.

There are often warning signs before a suicide attempt.  When someone says he should just kill himself or if she talks about ways to kill herself, it is called ideation.  Pay particular attention if a person is unusually focused on death, dying or suicide or if they are unusually seeking access to firearms or pills.  Any time someone expresses that they are considering suicide, it should be taken seriously.  Increased alcohol or substance abuse can be a warning sign.  Starting to give things away or neglecting to take care of themselves or their own hygiene are signs.  Withdrawing from friends and isolating themselves are also signs of concern.  

A way of offering hope is through QPR.  QPR is a technique to offer hope and stands for Question, Persuade and Respond.  In the same way that CPR can keep the heart beating and the blood circulating, using QPR for someone close to suicide can be lifesaving.  It is a very direct approach.  If you suspect or are worried about someone contemplating suicide, ask directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”  You can provide a softer lead, if you want, acknowledging your observations, “You have seemed pretty upset and miserable lately.  Sometimes when other people get to that point, they wish they weren’t alive.  Are you feeling that way?”  Avoid anything judgmental.  It is critically important to remember, this is about them, no matter how you might be impacted.  If they are at the point they are considering suicide, you need to park your own feelings.  How they feel and what they are thinking should drive the conversation.

If they answer that they are thinking about suicide, persuade them to stay alive.  They are considering suicide as a solution.  Find out what the problems are.  Validate their feelings.  Try to really understand, and offer hope in any form.  Ask if you can get them some help.  Even your time listening to their problems is likely to be helpful and hopeful for them.  You may even persuade them to postpone any suicide decision until they have tried some other potential solutions.

Imagine the despair that a person must feel when they reach a point that they are considering ending their life.  They may feel helpless, so the next step is to refer them to help.  It is best if you can take the person directly to help, whether the emergency room, a counselor, clergy or police.  You can also get a commitment from them to accept help and start making the arrangements for a time in the very near future.  If neither of the first two options work, try to get a promise for them to schedule time with a therapist and to not attempt suicide.  

At the Golden Gate Bridge, a site of many suicides and attempts, officers are trained to spot potential jumpers.  One officer has had particular success intervening and has persuaded more than 200 people to reconsider.  His technique is much like QPR.  He asks how they are feeling, and I suspect he is particularly skilled in listening and reaffirming.  He asks them about their plans for the next day.  If they don’t have one, he helps them make a plan for tomorrow, which, in a way, is asking them for a commitment to their plan for tomorrow.  

While many of us are not specially trained to look for signs of suicide, many of us can still build the bridge to human connection.  Sometimes an act as small as a smile can be a huge acknowledgement, and a heartfelt conversation can be a lifeline.  As the women in the Town and Country Homemakers know, connection can make the difference.

Click on any of the links below to connect to more information.

Here are some resources from MSU Extension:

Handling Challenging Times

Understanding and Managing Stress

Helping Friends Cope with Financial Crisis

Depression: What You Should Know

If you are in crisis and want help, call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, at 1-800-273-TALK
(1-800-273-8255).  Reach out to someone.  There are people in your life and in your community who have their hearts open and want you to live.  

Graphic used under license agreement from
The following resources were curated by Montana Department of Health and Human Development and can also be found on their website.

2014 US Suicide Data
After an Attempt
After a Suicide Toolkit for Schools
Let's Talk Montana
Primary Care Guidelines in Assessing Suicide Risk in Veterans
Suicide Mortality Review Team

Suicide Prevention Resources for LGBT Youth
Tools for Primary Care