I sympathize with everyone who lost their luggage on Southwest Airlines during the Christmas holidays.
The day after the September 11 attacks, I made the first of many calls to US Airways to see about retrieving my suitcase, which had been impounded at La Guardia Airport. After hours on hold, an airline employee asked for a description of my bag in order to locate it.
“It’s black,” I began.
“And I bet it has wheels and a pull-up handle,” she said.
This didn’t look promising.
She tried another approach. “Okay, if I open your suitcase, what will I see that tells me it’s yours?”
“Well, I have a pair of black slacks, a black turtleneck…and, um, a black skirt.”
I was in New York for Fashion Week, for God’s sake. Editors wear black, not Hawaiian prints. But I learned a valuable lesson: Something in your luggage must be easy to identify.
Miraculously, the airline found my black-wheeled-suitcase-with-handle in the impounded baggage. However, when I returned to Michigan, I marched into “Frederick’s of Hollywood” and bought the loudest leopard bikini panties – with a strategically placed red heart – that I could find. For many years, they were the final item I packed on every trip. I wanted to be sure that if another airline employee ever asked, ‘If I open your suitcase, what will I see?’ I’d have a much better answer.
Suzette’s early Christmas rituals occurred in a snowy New England city, with aunts and uncles, neighbors, and friends gathered at her grandparents’ dining table. The scene was pure Norman Rockwell.
Norman Rockwell never painted this one.
Though she never had a brother – at least not a biological one – 14-year-old Suzette LeBlanc acquired 150 of them when her father became Commandant of the Sanford Naval Academy, a boy’s boarding school on the shores of Lake Monroe in Florida. The family moved into a small apartment on the school grounds, where Suzette began to feel like something on a specimen slide in biology class.
For a time, parents sent their sons to military school to learn structure and discipline. They wanted a strong male influence. They did not, however, want girls. So, Suzette’s high school education occurred elsewhere, at a parochial school thirty minutes away.
When the Sanford Naval Academy emptied of students during Christmas break, the Commandant’s nightly ritual of Cutty Sark—consumed in his reclining chair facing the television—drove his wife and daughter out of their small apartment to search for something festive.
They found it in the lights on the twenty-foot tree which glowed brightly in the middle of a deserted Quarterdeck. The space had once been the lobby of a luxury resort hotel that was converted to the military boarding school. Suzette liked to think the original hotel probably had a similar Christmas tree, but then, they probably also had more guests to enjoy it.
Chairs in the far corners of the room disappeared in the dark, along with offices, classroom doors, and the stairway leading to the upper floors. Surprisingly, the illuminated area surrounding the tree seemed kind of cozy as her mother settled on one couch and Suzette on another, basking in the Christmas lights.
When it came to enjoying holiday decorations at the academy, it was either a feast or famine: the small tree in their claustrophobic apartment or the enormous version in the deserted school lobby. Odd that both spaces felt equally empty to Suzette, lacking in the warmth that gives holidays their special meaning.
She knew that a Christmas tree alone does not constitute a holiday. That came in the form of the midshipmen, those young gentlemen-in-training, who arrived at her door in the evenings under the pretext of questions for her father. In truth, she figured they needed her mother’s attention more, along with some semblance of family life.
Suzette never considered herself to be an only child, yet the seven-year age gap between her and her sister made it seem so. Magically, their apartment had filled with new siblings. A handful became regular guests at the dinner table since an invitation from her family provided a chance to escape the crowds and sameness that was served in the Mess Hall.
She guessed that midshipmen joined the family based on some combination of her father’s opinion of them, her mother’s intuition, and her own tolerance of their friendly overtures. They filled a void she scarcely knew existed, and suddenly, they were gone.
The Christmas tree was the last remnant of weeks filled with cookies, gift exchanges, and a senior midshipman known as “Big Mac’s” arrival as Santa at an ice-cream-and-cake party hosted by the academy for sixty children from the Methodist Children’s Home. It provided a backdrop for photos during the Christmas Formal Dance where Suzette was escorted by a quiet, young man from Panama with soulful brown eyes.
Those activities had lessened Suzette’s “transplanted Yankee” loneliness and filled her with a sense of family far greater than the one she had been born into. The midshipmen needed the LeBlancs as much as the family needed them.
New rituals replaced her Norman Rockwell Christmas, yet tonight, Suzette couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that she’d been jettisoned in favor of the boys’ real holiday, the one spent with family members who shared their name.
Sitting in the empty Quarterdeck, mother and daughter wondered aloud about the midshipmen’s homes, their parents and if the boys might miss them, too, when they returned to their native habitats.
“I bet Big Mac and his brother are cold in Connecticut.”
“Yeah, the kids from New Jersey probably are freezing, too. The boy from Panama isn’t too happy either, since it’s the rainy season there.”
Suzette stared at the colored lights. She didn’t want to go back to their apartment just yet.
“This tree is huge. I wonder where the school bought it.”
“I don’t know. We can ask your father. It really smells terrific though, doesn’t it?”
They sat in silence for a while. Suzette wondered how her mother could live with a man who drank himself to sleep each night in front of the television. Both women missed the young men who had become such a part of their family until the boys joyfully abandoned them to return to their biological ones.
The temporary nature of those bonds became clear that night as the Christmas tree shimmered with blue and gold ornaments above “gifts” wrapped in shiny metallic paper.
Suzette knew the boxes beneath it were as empty as her heart.
Excerpted from The Anchor Clankers. Renee Garrison is an award-winning author and past president of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
Forgive me, IKEA, because I’ve heard yours are amazing. But the version my sister prepared when we were growing up was inedible. (My mother, however, was thrilled when sis tackled recipes from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.)
At the dinner table my parents praised her, while I choked down enough to pass muster. The menu may have been lacking, but the conversation was good. Back then, my parents were on to something.
A youth mental-health crisis that was building for a decade before the pandemic, has worsened over the past two years. In 2021, 44 percent of high school students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, mounting scientific research shows that gathering for regular meals and conversation might be one way to build children’s emotional resilience. (Having TV on in the background has been found to reduce the quality of children’s meals.)
I know it’s hard to deal with conflicting schedules of working parents and kids. But avoiding digital distractions and eating family dinners together is worth the effort.
There is a proven way to help children learn and it’s free: Read aloud to them.
Young children who have lots of stories read to them enter kindergarten as much as 14 months ahead in language and pre-reading skills. According to educators, while listening to stories, children learn a more sophisticated vocabulary than they are likely to hear elsewhere, while also picking up grammar, syntax and general knowledge. The more children under five are read to, the richer and deeper their language capacities become (with positive effects later in English, math and other subjects.)
Even better, it works for students 12 to 13 years old, too!
In a study lead by the University of Sussex, 20 English teachers read novels to poor-to-average students for three months. Morale and test results soared. Children who once hated English lessons were practically racing into the classroom to find out what happened next. When given reading comprehension tests, average readers made 8.5 months of progress while poorer students made 16 months of progress.
The simple act of a teacher reading aloud a few times a week produced students who were happier, more motivated and more capable academically.
My Irish ancestors always viewed the glass as half empty.
I have a tendency to do the same, which isn’t unusual since people are influenced by the way they were raised. Yet I’m trying to change, since optimism helps us be more resilient, have better pain management, stronger immune function and longer lifespans. Fortunately, experts say that optimism is a style of thinking and not a fixed personality trait.
I’ve always enjoyed trying a new style.
Psychologists believe that it’s possible to boost optimism with practice: They suggest starting by limiting the negative elements in your life. Fill your social media with people and organizations making a positive impact. Spend more time with people who are optimistic. Listen to upbeat music. Try meditation.
Of course, when your car doesn’t start or your boss frustrates you, negative thoughts can wear you down. But experts advise us to get out a piece of paper (I have plenty) and write down three things about the situation that could help you see it more positively. (I’ll let you know if it works.)
Full-time optimism may be impossible to achieve, but I’m setting small goals to make me feel less pessimistic. My glass is beginning to look half full.
Renee Garrison is an award-winning author and president of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
Planning the Florida Authors and Publishers annual conference is exhausting work, but the benefits are worth it. There are speakers, networking events, name badges and swag bags, along with the President’s Book Awards Celebration to honor excellence in the publishing industry. I hope those who attend learn a ton of new things and are inspired by our workshops! That’s why I have a few suggestions on how to make the most out of FAPACon 2022.
Tip #1: Plan which sections to attend
Writing conferences like FAPACon share an agenda with attendees at least a few weeks before. I circle any talks, panels, or round tables that interest me. That way, I can “relax” during the conference itself and focus on the sessions and networking without worrying if I’m missing something important.
If different sessions run at the same time, I find a “conference buddy” to share sessions with — each of us taking notes and then sharing the important information with each other. (Some conferences also record sessions live, so you can access the replays later for the ones you missed.)
Tip #2: Find your peers
As writers, we can spend a lot of time sitting alone in front of our computer. And while we tend to have our social media friends, and gatherings, nothing beats meeting other writers in person — especially if they write in the same genre as you.
But how do you find those peers and approach them in the first place?
If your conference doesn’t have genre- or topic-specific meetups as part of the official schedule, create your own: Look for a Facebook group or other forums for attendees to chat in. Post something a few weeks before the conference asking: “Are any other historical fiction authors coming? If so, I’d love to meet up!” Set it up on the first day, so you’ll find your peers and be able to enjoy the rest of the conference in good company.
Tip #3: Make the most of the bar
I meet the most interesting people at conferences by hanging out at the bar — and that’s usually where I have the most insightful or productive conversations. Bars, lobbies, and coffee shops are where people go to relax during a conference. There, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation, mingle, and get to know other people.
Do you want to talk to one of our speakers? Most people will try to intercept them after their talk, which leads to massive lines trapping the speaker inside the room when their talk is finished. They may be exhausted from their workshop, and eager to leave the room. Offer to get them a drink (or a coffee) or just politely ask whether they’ll be at the bar (or in the lobby) later, so you can chat with them in a more relaxed setting.
Some people snoop in their friends’ medicine cabinet. I prefer to peek at their bookshelves.
If you want to understand someone’s true personality, take a look at his or her library. The books that they read offer a psychological profile of their tastes, interests and values. I believe book-centered rooms are the ultimate escape, the place to head for to think and read, regenerate your spirit and ideas.
· The library is a room of secrets. Add a hidden compartment to your bookcase, something Mr. Holmes would approve of.
· Books you love to read, plan to reread or need for reference, should never be out of reach.
· Standing on chairs or beds is no substitute for a sturdy, stable library ladder.
· Two comfortable chairs and good lighting are the most important elements of a well-stocked library.
Kathryn Knight is an international award-winning author, independent publisher/First Freedom Publishing, genetic genealogist, American historian, keynote speaker, and cemetery preservationist. For over thirteen years, Kathryn documented more than 20,000 hours researching the first recorded Africans to arrive in the English settlement of Virginia in 1619. In addition, Kathryn is a board member of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I use the pen name K.I. Knight. My literary works includes Fate & Freedom, a five-star Gold medal historical trilogy detailing the lives of the 1619 Africans, as well as my nonfiction work, Unveiled – The Twenty & Odd: Documenting the First Africans in England’s America 1619–1625 and Beyond, for which I was awarded the Phillis Wheatley Book Award by the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage. I have also written in or contributed evidence for several Historical journals and genetic how-to manuals.
I’m a board member for several national nonprofit organizations and a member of numerous genealogical, historical, and literary societies. I’m a mother of three adult children and live in North Florida with my husband, Tom.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
Let’s call it an addiction! My addiction began with the realization my husband descends from one of the earliest Africans to be brought to America.
Then I hit a brick wall. A brick wall is a term many genealogists use when they are out of leads or avenues to find a potential ancestor. Thirteen years later and over 20,000 hours of research, I was ready to start writing a historical trilogy most Americans knew nothing about.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Biggest problem, there wasn’t a lot of documented evidence. I had to start from scratch!
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
In 2015, I began to collect DNA from descendants who believed they too were related to the first Africans to be brought to Virginia. After three years of collecting DNA and analyzing the genomic patterns, I happened to run my own DNA sample and realized I, too, was related to the same African ancestor as my husband. This ancestor was the heroine in the Fate & Freedom Trilogy. What a surprise this was!!!
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I read a lot of history books. My favorite historian is John Daly Burke. President Thomas Jefferson gave Burke a special appointment to write The Early History of Virginia. His work is remarkable.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I do not write every single day. However, I do work with DNA daily.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I’ve been told I’m an “earthy person.” I spend most of my off-time gardening, taking care of animals, and working Investigative DNA cases.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
The Same: The 20,000 hours of dogged research it took to discover a 400yr. old hidden truth wasn’t an easy task. I can only say, when your passionate about something, follow that passion. Hard work pays off in many ways.
Different: Not sure I would do anything different.
Approximately 14 million middle and high school students are on their own after school.
8 in 10 Americans want all children and teens to have some type of organized activity or safe place to go after school.
The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
There are more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonald’s restaurants or Starbucks.
Students make 1.3 billion visits to school libraries in a given year, about the same as nationwide attendance at movie theaters.
Research shows that as an age group, teens (ages 12 – 18) receive the least financial support. Government, philanthropic and non-profit spending directed at teens lags far behind what is invested in children (birth through 11 years) and young adults (19 and up)
The one thing I remember most about the south of France is the fragrance of it. Inhaling deeply on a stone terrace in Nice, I discovered the air was scented with lavender and maybe a bit of eucalyptus that grew nearby. It was amazing and left me utterly relaxed! I’ve never found anything like it in a bottle – and I’ve spent a decade searching.
How can simply sniffing something in the air have such an impact?
As The Mayo Clinic points out, some studies have suggested that aromatherapy can benefit our sleep patterns, help us cope with anxiety and depression, and improve the quality of life for those with chronic health conditions and pain. Avid aromatherapy fans use essential oils for a variety of purposes:
Setting a tone of a room (think: relaxing or energetic)
Scent diffusion alternative to candle-burning
According to scientists, when we enjoy what we smell, a domino effect happens because of how the body is wired. Enjoyment of the scent helps the pupils to dilate, and the body will produce chemicals that can encourage the smooth muscle of blood vessels to relax. That’s when your blood pressure lowers, and heart rate slows a little, which is a signal of calmness and relaxation.
A friend (who knows nothing of my quest to duplicate the fragrance of Nice) gave me a candle called RELAX, which is scented with lavender and cedar. I light it while I’m writing and editing. While it may not be identical to the south of France, I’m getting close.