Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Child wearing his big brother sweater.
Child wearing his big brother sweater – Photo: Rachel Sweeney

Pregnancy and adding a new baby bring about a lot of changes that may cause Thomas to feel scared or rejected. Oklahoma State University Extension has compiled a helpful table of things to do and say as you prepare older siblings for a new baby sibling. I’m planning to print off this chart and post it on the fridge so I can easily reference it. Too often, parents may emphasize things children should not do with babies. It is recommended that parents give more attention to showing children ways they can have a safe and enjoyable time together. An older child needs to know how to play with a baby, how they can communicate, and how to handle conflict and frustration.

It is also important to consider the age of the older sibling and what is age-appropriate for them as they welcome home a new sibling. The Child Mind Institute offers great age-specific tips to prepare older children for a new sibling.3

Strategies to Help Older Children Adjust:

  • Expose and introduce them to other newborns and babies: this gives them the opportunity to interact with babies and demonstrate how they should behave around babies. My sister has an eight-month-old daughter, so I have been more intentional about holding her when Thomas is around.
  • Read books about babies: the list below can get you started, and you can also check with your local librarian for suggestions.  
    • I Am a Big Sister (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • I Am a Big Brother (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • My New Baby (Fuller, 2009, Child’s Play International).
    • Peter’s Chair (Keats, 1967, Harper & Row).
    • A Pocket Full of Kisses (Penn, 2006, Tanglewood).
    • 101 Things to Do with a Baby (Ormerod, 1984, Puffin Books).
    • She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl (Greenfield, 1974, Harper Trophy).
    • A New Baby at Koko Bear’s House (Lansky, 1987, The Book Peddlers).
  • Create a special basket of toys for when I am caring for the baby: only use these toys when doing something with the baby that needs all my focus. Several items I plan to put in this basket include a self-propelled plane, dimple fidget toys, and books with sound.
  • Each parent spending individual time (10-15 minutes) with older child: this is a routine to begin before the baby arrives and to continue after the baby arrives. It is important that this time include no younger siblings, no screens, and no other distractions. Make child-directed play the goal; meaning your child chooses what and how to play, and you follow their lead.
Child practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll.
Child practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll. Photo source: Rachel Sweeney
  • Purchase a doll and practice skills such as holding, diapering, and feeding: this can help teach children how to rock, hug, cuddle, and even feed and diaper a baby by practicing first on a doll. I am planning to snag one of these at a garage sale this spring.
  • Sibling preparation classes: check with your hospital to see if they will be offering these classes. Unfortunately, the hospital I will be delivering at currently does not offer these classes in-person, but I do see there are some classes available online.
  • Limit major changes to routine: it is recommended to not make any major changes in the routine of the older sibling in the several months leading up to the baby’s arrival as well as a few months after the baby’s arrival. This includes things such a transitioning to a toddler bed, potty training, weaning from a pacifier, and starting a new daycare. We will be moving to a new home this summer, but we are trying to get that done in early summer, so Thomas has several months to adjust to our new home before the baby arrives.
  • Find ways to invite your child to help: you want to make sure your child feels included, which helps create a bond between siblings. I have been brainstorming some tasks that Thomas can help with, including bringing diapers, bringing items to the baby (such as a pacifier), and turning on the sound machine for baby.
  • Ask visitors to spend one-on-one time with the older sibling: this will help the older sibling feel special and not left out. We plan to have guests visit when we return home and since the weather will still be nice outside, I am hoping many of our family and friends can take Thomas outside to play.

Welcoming a new sibling is a big transition for an older sibling but planning and being intentional with your actions and words as a parent can help make the transition easier for all involved. We are eager for Thomas to bond with his sibling once he or she arrives!

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Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.
Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA
Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA
Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA
Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Royal Icing Made Safe

Decorated gingerbread cookies
Decorated gingerbread cookies.

Cookie decorating is one of the most beloved holiday traditions.  Royal Icing is the traditional icing used for glazing cookies, piping decorations, or assembling the walls of gingerbread houses. It dries and hardens quickly and is easy for nearly anyone to achieve decorating success! Made traditionally from egg whites and powdered (confectioners’) sugar, it is an easy icing to prepare. However, if raw egg whites are used, the icing may be a health risk.

It is a well-known fact that eggs may contain the bacteria, Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), that can cause foodborne illness. Researchers say that if present, the SE is usually found in the yolk, but the possibility of SE in egg whites cannot be ruled out. To eliminate risk and be certain of a safe frosting, raw egg whites should be replaced with lightly cooked egg whites, meringue powder or dried egg whites, or pasteurized egg whites when making Royal Icing.

Lightly Cooked Egg Whites. Use the following method provided by South Dakota State University which can be used for Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites. In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites). Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160° F. Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe. Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.

Meringue Powder. Meringue powder is available in specialty stores wherever cake decorating supplies are sold. Meringue powder is composed of cornstarch, dried egg whites, sugar, citric acid and some stabilizers. It’s perfect for making royal icing. There is usually a recipe on the package. If not the following recipe for Royal Icing works well:

4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder
1/3 cup, plus 2-3 tablespoons, warm water, divided
desired food coloring
In large mixing bowl, combine powdered sugar, merinque powder and 13 cup water. Beat on low speed until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat 8-10 minutes, addined 2-3 tablespoons warm water, as necessary. Icing should be stiff enough to hold peak when tested. Color as desired.

Dried Egg Whites. Dried egg whites are just that, 100 percent powdered egg white; they require no refrigeration. Dried whites are pasteurized by heating to the required safe temperature. Like meringue poweder, the egg white powder can be reconstituted by mixing with water. The reconstituted powder whips like fresh egg white and, because it is pasteurized, can be used safely without cooking or baking.

Pasteurized Egg Whites. Pasteurized egg whites are of two types—pasteurized in-shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg whites. Pasteurized in-shell eggs are available at some grocery stores. Shells of such eggs are stamped with a red or blue “P” in a circle. Whites of pasteurized shell eggs may appear slightly cloudy compared to fresh eggs. Liquid pasteurized egg whites are found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store in a milk-like carton usually near the regular eggs. According to the FDA, both of these products are safe to consume raw. Use these two products like raw whites in the recipe.

Keep unused icing covered at all times with a damp cloth or tightly wrapped to prevent drying and caking. For longer keeping time, store in the refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three months. In addition to preventing food borne illnesses, refrigeration seems to help with separating. (If separation occurs–yellowish liquid on the bottom—just remix.).

Make sure that your holiday cookies or gingerbread houses bring nothing but joy! Avoid raw egg whites when making your decorating frosting.

Updated December 2023, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Success with DIY Caramel Apples

Four caramel coated apples on a stick
Four caramel coated apples on a stick.

There is no substitute for the thrill and challenge of eating a caramel apple—biting through the sweet, sticky caramel into a tart crisp apple while sweet, sticky juice runs down your chin.  Oh, the memories!

While the memories are sweet, the potential for a foodborne illness from caramel apples is real.  Caramel apples should either be eaten freshly made or refrigerated.  Once punctured with a stick, caramel apples can become a breeding ground for Listeria monocytogenes, a harmful bacteria, if left at room temperature for prolonged time. When the stick is inserted into the apple, a bit of apple juice tends to leak out and that moisture, trapped under the caramel layer, creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria which is naturally present on the apple’s surface.   If caramel apples are purchased at the store, farmer’s market, carnivals, or even presented at a party, make sure that they have been refrigerated.

The best way to safely enjoy caramel apples is to make them fresh.   While DIY caramel apples may be intimidating, it really is quite easy and a fun family or party activity. 

Tips to craft your very own caramel apples

Choose Apples.  Any apple variety will work as long as it is crisp.  Smaller apples give a better ratio of caramel to apple.  Apples should have a flat bottom so that they sit upright.

Do All Prep Work in Advance. Have apples and all needed equipment ready and at hand.  If you are going to decorate the apple with candy, nuts, sprinkles or anything else, make sure all is ready to go before you dip.

Remove Wax.  Wax must be removed from the surface of the apple skin to allow the caramel to adhere to the apple.  This can be done by dipping in boiling water for 3-5 seconds and wiping with a paper towel or scrubbing the apple with vinegar (white or apple cider) or lemon juice and baking soda. In addition to removing wax, vinegar also help remove pesticides and bacteria.  Another option is to wash the apple and lightly sand with fine sandpaper.  Whichever method is used, be sure not to puncture the skin.

Thoroughly Dry and Chill the Apples.  Any moisture on the skin will cause the caramel to bubble and stick poorly to the apple.  Chilling the apples for about 30 minutes will help the caramel set quicker and keep it from running off.

Insert Sticks. Use candy or popsicle sticks and insert them directly through the center (stem end) of the apple straight down about half to two-thirds way into the apple. Be sure to dab away any juice that may seep out when inserting the sticks. The presence of moisture will keep the caramel from adhering to the apple.

Use a Good Recipe.  Recipes can be as simple as two or three ingredients added to a bag of purchased wrapped caramels or a recipe made with all pantry ingredients from a trusted source.  Regardless, follow the recipe carefully.  If making from scratch, be sure to use a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides and a good candy thermometer.  For additional tips on making caramel, visit Success with Caramel.

Carefully Prepare Caramel. The temperature of the caramel is really important.  Whether making caramel from a recipe or melting caramels, you will want to cool the caramel to about 190 degrees before dipping. If you dip the apples as soon as the caramel is made, it will slide off or form a thin layer instead of a nice, thick caramel layer.  The caramel will be the right temperature to set up properly on the apple if you maintain your caramel temperature in the 180°-190° range, stirring sparingly to minimize air bubbles.  Some like to put the melted caramel mixture in a slow cooker on the low setting to maintain this temperature.  Caramel that gets too hot will lose the proper consistency, becoming too firm and crunchy to dip. 

Dip – Scoop, Twist, Drip, Flip. Set your apple in the caramel, scoop the caramel up onto the apple twisting the apple slowly with the stick while continuing to scoop the caramel onto the apple.  Raise the apple and let the excess drip off.  Scrape the bottom, flip the apple over and count to 20.  Set the apple on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let cool.  If you get a caramel foot, fold it under the apple or cut it off.  Sliding the apples into the refrigerator after dipping will help set the caramel and prevent the caramel from sliding off. 

Decorate (if desired).  Roll, sprinkle or drizzle the caramel apples with any desired decorations once the caramel has cooled but is still tacky.  If the decorations will not stick, the caramel may have set up too quickly. By carefully holding the coated apple over a saucepan of boiling water, the steam will soften the caramel enough so the toppings will stick.  After decorating, return the apple to the parchment paper to continue cooling. Dipping the caramel coated apples in chocolate is another option.  Be creative.  Taste of Home has some fun ideas if you want to go beyond chopped peanuts and sprinkles.  Be careful not to overload the apples with too many toppings as the caramel may become too heavy and slide off. For gift giving, wrap the apples in a cellophane or plastic bag.

Enjoy and/or Store Safely.  To enjoy immediately, let the caramel set about 45 minutes. If the treats are not consumed right away, they should be refrigerated.  This will prolong freshness, slow oxidation, and slow the growth of bacteria.  If the apples are refrigerated, remove them from the fridge about 45 minutes before eating to allow the caramel to soften. The coated apples will keep 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

After creating your very own caramel apple personalized with assorted decorations or not, waiting for the caramel to set is the hard part.  Maybe, there will be no need to refrigerate! 

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References: 

Allen, Lauren. (2020, October 10). How to Make Perfect Caramel Apples.  Taste Better from Scratch. https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/caramel-apples/

Anita. (2014, October 10). 10 Tips for Perfect Caramel Apples.  Eat, Think, & Be Merry. http://eatthinkbemerry.com/2014/10/10-steps-perfect-caramel-apples/

Brazier, Yvette. (2015, October 17). Dangers of Listeria in Caramel Apples. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301091

Geiger, M.R. (2021, October 26). Success with Caramel.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2021/10/26/success-with-caramel/

Glass, Kathleen A., Golden, Max C., Wanless, Brandon J., Bedale, Wendy, and Czuprynski, Charles. (2015, October 13). Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment.  ASM Journals, Vol. 6, No. 5.  https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/mBio.01232-15 

Habermehl, Lauren. (2022, August 20). How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples.  Taste of Home.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-make-caramel-apples/

McKenny, Sally. (2019, October 1). Homemade Caramel Apples.  Sally’s Baking Addiction.  https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-caramel-apples/

Rachel. (2022, September 27). Tips for Perfect Homemade Caramel Apples.  Adventures of a DIY Mom.  https://www.adventuresofadiymom.com/2012/10/caramel-apples.html

Steed, Marcia.  (2016, September 29). Storing Caramel Apples.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2016/09/29/storing-caramel-apples/

Updated 9-14-2023 mg

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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May Day

May Day is celebrated on May 1.  It is an old day of celebration dating back to the Roman Republic.  Over its many years, there have been different meanings, festivities, and representations of May Day. Beginning as a day marked with ceremonies, dances, and feasting, it celebrated the rite of spring.  It also marks the half way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solace.  In addition, it has been known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, a day commemorating the historic struggles and gains made by workers and labors.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, May Day traditions changed to leaving a gift basket filled with flowers or treats at the front door of a neighbor, friend, or loved one.  The giver would leave a basket or cone of treats, ring the doorbell, shout “‘May Basket!” and run away.  In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone’s door was a chance to express romantic interest.  If the recipient caught the giver, he or she was entitled to a kiss.  It has also been celebrated with dancing and singing around a pole laced with streamers or ribbons.  During my grade school days, we made May Day baskets filled with homemade treats, candy, or dandelions to exchange with school mates.

May basket filled with biscotti
May basket filled with biscotti left on door step – Photo: mrgeiger

Today, May Day is almost forgotten. The sentiment of the day certainly has a place in modern society as a time to share a random act of kindness and celebrate spring and friendship—an opportunity to pay it forward. Baskets don’t necessarily have to be left at a front door.  Treats can be left for co-workers, teachers, children—anyone—anywhere they will find it.

There are numerous ideas for baskets online—paper cones, styrofoam cups, fabric, tin cans, strawberry baskets—anything goes. And, who says baskets have to be filled with flowers, candy or treats?  Don’t limit yourself.  Use imagination and creativity.  Baskets can be filled with anything appropriate for the recipient.  For example, the homeless may appreciate baskets filled with bath products, socks, non-perishable snacks or gift cards. Baskets for others could be filled with small office supplies, seed packets, cooking utensils, hair accessories, or craft supplies. The ideas are endless.  Add a little treat to brighten someone’s day with a piece of candy, a flower, or a pop of color with a piece of tissue paper.  And if making a basket isn’t for you, maybe buy a cup of coffee for a random stranger and wish them a Happy May Day. Get the kids involved; make it family activity or a youth group project (4-H, Scouts, Church).

So make a basket, ring the doorbell, and run! Spread some kindness! You’ll be glad you did! Happy May Day!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Celebrating Spaghetti

Plate of spaghetti
Plate of Spaghetti for National Spaghetti Day.

January 4 is an unofficial holiday—it’s National Spaghetti Day—a day to celebrate the pasta that is commonly served with sauce, meat balls and Parmesan cheese.  American are great spaghetti lovers.  More than 1.3 million pounds of spaghetti are sold each year in American grocery stores.  If those packages were lined up, they would circle the Earth’s equator nine times.

Pasta is thought to have originated in ancient China being brought to Italy by Marco Polo during the 13th century.  The pasta form known as spaghetti has origins in Italy and Sicily.  “Spaghetto” in Italian means a thin string.  Prior to the industrial revolution, spaghetti was a luxury in Italy. Thomas Jefferson is credited with popularizing macaroni in America but it was the Italian immigrants that brought spaghetti to America.  Originally, 18 inches (50 cm) long, it is most commonly available in 12 inch (30cm) lengths today.

While there are numerous companies that manufacture spaghetti, the oldest pasta company and the biggest pasta factory in the world is Barilla located in Parma, Italy. Though the company manufactures 150 different pasta shapes, spaghetti remains the simplest pasta shape to produce and the Barilla factories produces miles and miles of the stuff every day. Nearly all Barilla pasta sold in the United States is made in Barilla plants located in Ames, IA and Avon, NY. To maintain consistency and quality, the recipe, wheat blend, and machines used in the Ames and Avon plants are the same as used in the Parma factory.

As part of the pasta family, spaghetti, is a fat-free, low sodium food made from hard wheat. More nutrition can easily be added to a meal by using whole grain pasta options.  Gluten-free pasta is also an option to those who cannot tolerate gluten. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs is the epitome of comfort food, but spaghetti is the perfect backdrop for all sorts of toppings and applications such as soups, stir frys, casseroles, and salads.

What is a serving of spaghetti?

When it comes to preparing spaghetti, knowing how much dry spaghetti is needed per serving is always a question. According to the USDA, the proper pasta portion is 2 ounces (56g) of dry pasta per person.  Because 2 ounces (56 g) of pasta is determined by the shape of the pasta, Barilla has charts to help determine the right portion of pasta to use.   For long shapes—spaghetti, angel hair, linguine, vermicelli, and fettuccine, you can measure the right amount using a scale OR use a dime (approximately ½-inch diameter) for thin shapes or a quarter (approximately 1-inch diameter) for thicker shapes. Once a bunch of long pasta equals the diameter of the coin, you should have the recommended 2 ounce serving which will yield approximately 1 cup of cooked pasta.  A pound of pasta is about right for 8 people with the recommended 2 ounces dry per person.

Tips for cooking and serving spaghetti perfectly

  • Salt your water.  Salt raises the temperature of the water so the pasta cooks a bit faster and adds flavor.
  • Use plenty of water and keep it boiling.  4-6 quarts water per pound of pasta is recommended.  Bring the water to a boil before adding pasta and return to a boil after adding pasta Using plenty of water helps prevent sticking and reduces the time it takes for the water to return to a boil when the pasta is added.  Keep the water at a rolling boil during cooking and do not cover.
  • Stir the pasta.  Stirring occasionally encourages even cooking and prevents the strands from sticking together.
  • Cook to al dente or firm to the bite.   Al dente is usually reached within 8-10 minutes of putting the spaghetti into the boiling water.  For recipes with extra cooking time, undercook the pasta by 1/3 of the cooking time.
  • Drain and reserve some pasta water for thinning the sauce if needed. 
  • Plate with a twist and drizzle.  Whether served in a sauce or alone, the key to plating spaghetti is to gently grab a serving of spaghetti with a tongs and give it a twist as it is placed on the plate causing the noodles to twist on themselves and pile upward.  Garnish, if desired, with a drizzle of olive oil and a little grated parmesan cheese.

Here’s to spaghetti and National Spaghetti Day!  Celebrate with a favorite spaghetti dish for dinner or head to your favorite Italian restaurant for a spaghetti entre.  Be sure to post your spaghetti pictures on social media using #NationalSpaghettiDay. Oh, and did you know that you should not break spaghetti? Length is needed to keep the Italian tradition of twirling spaghetti on a fork!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Keep Memorial Day – Honor Our Fallen Heroes

Memorial Day is just around the corner and for many Americans it is about a three-day weekend and the “unofficial” start of summer—barbecues, swimming, camping and lake trips.  However, Memorial Day is more than all of that. Since 1868, it has been a national holiday dedicated to the men and women who have died while serving in a branch of the United States military. Learn more about this national holiday that memorializes our fallen heroes and how to respectfully honor them with flags and flowers tributes.

Child placing an American flag on a fallen hero
Young girl placing an American flag on a fallen hero.

History

Prior to 1971, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th regardless of what day of the week it fell on; it was also known as Decoration Day. The very first Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, when General James A. Garfield gave a remembrance speech to thousands of onlookers at Arlington National Cemetery in memory of those lost during the Civil War. [1]  However, before the Civil War, women’s groups had been decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.  The name Memorial Day would be used with or in place of Decoration Day over the next decades, and after World War I, the day came to honor veterans from all wars, not only the Civil War. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day the official name for the national holiday and set the last Monday in May for observing a day of “National Mourning.”

Poppies have long been a national symbol of remembrance and hope beginning with the end of World War I when the bright red flowers bloomed on war-torn battlefields. The flower became associated with Memorial Day in 1915 when Moina Michael, inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields,” [2] penned the poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith” [3] and vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.

The true meaning of Decoration or Memorial Day has gradually been lost or mixed with other holiday traditions. Since the early 20th century, Memorial Day gradually became an occasion for more general expressions of remembering loved ones, as people visit and decorate the graves of their deceased relatives in church and city cemeteries, whether they served in the military or not.  Even though this is not the intention of Memorial Day, it does make for beautiful cemeteries as fresh or artificial flowers and wreaths adorn the graves. When the 1971 Congressional act established a three-day Memorial Day weekend, it also became vacation time for many and opportunity for businesses to cash in on Memorial Day savings.

Ways to Correctly Observe Memorial Day [4]

While there are dozens of ways one can honor America’s fallen on Memorial Day, here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Wear a Memorial Day button or poppy.
  • Visit cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
  • Fly the American flag at half mask until noon.  Per the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the flag is to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of our fallen heroes. This goes for all flags on government buildings, grounds, and naval vessels, as well as flags flown by private citizens.
  • Observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm.  The National Moment of Remembrance Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, asks all Americans to observe a national moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on the afternoon of Memorial Day.
  • Attend local Memorial Day services, parades, concerts sponsored by VFWs, American, Elks, Boy/Girl Scouts, government, business or educational groups, or religious services of choice.

Honor with Cemetery or Grave Marker Flags

Check in advance if a local group is planning a flag-placing event.  If a flag-placing event has been planned, extra hands may be welcomed.

  • Correctly place flags.  Flags placed at graves should be erected in a uniform matter, usually one foot, centered and in front of the headstone or grave marker according to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.
  • Use correct flag types. Cemetery or grave marker flags of appropriate size (8×12” or 12X18”) should be mounted on a wooden dowel of appropriate diameter and length.  Flags should be made of a durable material and exhibit no fraying or wear.  Flags made from fabrics which fray must have a rolled hem for more durability.
  • Be respectful and observe US Flag Codes. [5]
  • Place and remove flags at the appropriate times.  Cemetery or grave marker flags can usually be placed three days prior to the holiday and remain up to one week afterward. Make sure to check with the cemetery director to determine when to place and remove the flag.

Honor with Flowers or Floral Tributes

Cemeteries usually have rules and regulations for flowers and floral arrangements.  If you are not familiar with the rules, check before making a purchase to avoid disappointment. 

  • Choose hardy, long-lasting flowers. Flowers that are currently in-season and sourced locally will last longer than those that have been imported from another country. Chrysanthemums and carnations are both known for being hardy and long-lasting, even in outdoor conditions.
  • Place cut flowers in floral foam or a vase. A bouquet laid on the grave will not last long without water. Cut flowers in a well-soaked floral foam or a cemetery-approved vase with water will ensure that the flowers look beautiful for as long as possible.
  • Choose a potted plant. A correctly chosen potted plant may create less of an impact than cut flowers, but will last for a very long time.
  • Plant flowers on the grave. Some cemeteries allow planting of flowers on or around a grave. Peonies are a common choice when allowed as they are often in bloom for Memorial Day. 
  • Artificial flowers.  High quality silk flowers can look stunning, add color and beauty for a very long time, and require very little maintenance.
  • Be sure that any and all tributes are anchored properly.  Wind can be a real menace to grave-site tributes.  Some artificial arrangements come with wires or cones that can be poked into the soil.  Headstone saddles are designed to clamp on the top of the stone and hold arrangements in place, but may not be ample for our Midwest wind; the metal arms of the saddle have been criticized for not being strong enough to clamp tightly. A third option is a headstone flower anchor. The flower anchor is designed to be used on saddle arrangements to secure them to the stone, but it could easily be used to secure a wreath, a cross, or other style of arrangements.  Cemetery rules should always be observed.

Yes, Memorial Day has come to signify the “unofficial” start of summer as well as to memorize veterans and loved ones. In whatever way one chooses to observe it, do take time to keep Memorial Day and remember and honor the fallen heroes who made it all possible. 

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tell Your Story

Grandmother reading to a child

Recently my granddaughter who lives in North Carolina started first grade virtually.  She was telling me how her online school works.  She seems to like it well enough, but she’d rather go to school.  As we were talking, she asked, “Did you go to school, Grandma?” 

“Yes, Grandma went to school but school for Grandma was very different!” which brought the conversation around to Grandma’s school days.  Since she reads well and is quite computer literate, she recently got an email address.  We agreed that I would write a short story daily telling her all about my school days.  The daily story telling has begun.  Each day I develop a story around a theme such as getting to school, recess, lunchtime, celebrating holidays, a typical school day, my classmates, etc. When I can, I try to add old photos that help tell the story. Since I attended grade school in a rural Nebraska one-room school, I am sure she must think I grew up with the dinosaurs!

While writing these little stories have been a trip down memory lane for me, psychologist suggest that sharing our stories with our grandchildren is an irreplaceable gift.  Researcher, Marshall P. Duke from Emory University has discovered that this shared information nurtures children emotionally and psychologically. Duke writes, “research shows that children who know a lot about their family tend to be more resilient with higher levels of self-esteem, more self-control, better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better chances for good outcomes when faced with challenges.” As we know these qualities are important for success in life.

So grandparents, tell your story.  Tell them about what life was like when you were growing up.  Tell them about the silly things you did.  Tell them about their parents growing up.  The stories can be written or shared verbally or told in drawings or pictures–anyway that you can express yourself.  All you need is love for your grandchildren and family and desire to open yourself up and invite them to enter your world.  If you don’t live nearby, get creative with Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, email, journals, or even old-fashioned letters.  Sharing stories will melt the distance into nothingness.

For more information on the value of sharing stories see HOW FAMILY STORIES CAN STRENGTHEN AND UNITE.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Aronia Berries – Old Fruit with a New Name

Stained hands after picking aronia berries
Stained hands after picking aronia berries at Berry Hill Farms near Fertile, IA. Photo courtesy of Jaci Thorson.

Its aronia berry picking time in Iowa!  And if you are lucky enough to live near a pick-your-own aronia berry orchard, you are in for a day of fun and stained hands!  Fresh berries, juice and other aronia products may also be available now in some local grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Aronia harvest happens during the last week of August and the first week of September.

Aronia berries are not new to Iowa; they are actually indigenous to the state and were once used by the Potawatomi Native Americans to cure colds. Formerly known as black chokeberries, rebranding of the less appetizing name of “chokeberry” has helped the native berry catch on and develop into what is now a big industry.  The berry’s new name comes from its genus, Aronia melancorpa. While grown throughout North America, the first US commercial cultivation of the berry bushes can be traced to the Sawmill Hollow Family Farm in the Loess Hills of western Iowa, where Andrew Pittz and his family planted about 200 bushes in 1997.   Since then, aronia production has grown and bushes have been planted in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  Presently there are 300-400 growers in Iowa with small to large operations.  80 of these operations have been organic certified by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Aronia berry plants
Arona berries at Berry Hill Farms near Fertile, IA. Photo courtesy of Jaci Thorson.

These purple, pea-sized berries boast one of the highest antioxidant values ever recorded for fruits, superseding blueberries, elderberries, acai berries and goji berries, according to research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.  Also rich in vitamins and minerals, they have high levels of polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavanols–antioxidants needed to fight free radicals–making them good at fighting inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and urinary tract infections.

While aronia berries are more astringent than blueberries, they can be eaten fresh or frozen.  Not many people eat them fresh. The fruit has a lot of tannins in the skin that creates a dry or chalky sensation in the mouth when eaten. They are a little less astringent after freezing but usually best processed into jam, juice or baked products where the aronia takes on a whole new taste of its own. To eat them raw, they are best used in smoothies, yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal. Berries, either fresh or frozen, can be used in any recipe as a substitute for cranberries, blueberries, or chokecherries.  They are also good added to pancakes or mixed with other fruits in a crisp or pie.  Other ideas include salsa, salads, beverages, cereal, pizza, chili, and soups.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information on making jam from all berries.

So if you haven’t had an opportunity to try aronia berries fresh, frozen, or in another product, perhaps it is time to venture out and give these tart little berries a try!  They might make you pucker, but this superfruit will definitely add some health benefits to your diet.  And, chances are, this Iowa crop will grow on you!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Making Apple Cider

Wooden cider press

When apples rippen in Iowa orchards, it’s time to make apple butter, applesauce, apple pie, and all things apple. Another option is apple cider! Besides being a great way to use an abundance of apples, it is also a great fall activity for family, friends, or neighborhood fun. Kids of all ages will enjoy the making and sipping!

Flawless apples are not needed for cider so small sized apples or those with blemishes are good candidates. Avoid using over ripe apples or apples with spoilage as both will cause the juice to ferment rapidly and ruin it. However, apples with a small amount of spoilage that can be be cut away are acceptable. Use mature apples as green, immature apples give cider a flat flavor.

There are no particular varieties to use for cider as it depends upon taste preferences. Gala, Fuji or similar varieties yield a sweeter cider whereas McIntosh, Pink Lady or other tart varieties offer more tartness. Blending sweet and tart varieites brings out the best of both.

Apple cider can be made in various ways. The most fun is derived from using a cider press. If you are lucky enough to own one, you know all about the set up and fun. A press may be availabe from a rental agency. In addition to a press, a crusher is very useful for grinding the apples to make pressing easier to extract the juice; in the absence of a crusher, a food processor will do the job. Begin by setting up the equipment (crusher and press) and making sure it is clean.  Also gather and wash buckets and jars or containers for the juice. Utensils and equipment can be sanitized after washing and rinsing by filling with or soaking in a mixture of 1 tablespoon household bleach per gallon of warm water for at least 1 minute.

Head to the orchard to pick apples from trees; do not use apples that have fallen to the ground. (Windfall apples are more likely to have come into contact with E. coli bacteria from animal or rodent feces.) A bushel of apples will yield about 3 gallons of juice.  Wash the apples carefully. After washing, cut the apples into quarters. It is not necessary to dry the apples or remove the cores and skins.  The cut apples go into the crusher where they are mashed by turning the handle on the crusher; the crushed apples fall into a mesh lined bag which is then loaded into the press. As the ratchet handle on the press pushes the press plate down, the juice begins to pour out of the press into a bucket within seconds. This process is repeated until all the apples have been pressed and apple remains composted. Some pulp or seeds may also come out of the press with the juice; to remove these particles, the juice can be put through a jelly bag which will remove most of it.

There are two options for the juice–apple juice or fermented juice (cider). If the juice will not be fermented, it should be pasteurized by heating the juice to 160°F; this will eliminate the possibility of foodborne illness from E coli or Salmonella.  After the juice cools, pour it into clean jars or containers. Juice can be refrigerated for up to five days. The juice can also be frozen or canned. If cider is desired, the juice can be fermented to make sweet cider, hard cider, or turned into vinegar. Directions for making these processes safely can be found in the University of Georgia publication, Making Apple Cider.

Homemade apple cider–fresh or fermented–is a delicious and satisfying way to celebrate fall!.

Sources:
Pressing Apple Cider at Home. Michigan State University Extension.
Making Apple Cider. University of Georgia.

Reviewed and updated, 4-24, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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