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.
I’ve always envisioned being buried in a cavernous mausoleum, with a large bar and seating area. (That way I know my kids would visit.) However, I just learned of a new option: reefball burials.
A “reefball” is a large mass of rough concrete in the shape of a ball. Holes are deliberately left in it to allow fish and other creatures to use it for feeding, security and development. The cremated remains or “cremains” of an individual are incorporated into an environmentally safe cement mixture and installed in a marine environment that can benefit from an artificial reef. (I wouldn’t be fish food.)
Imagine – a final resting place that helps restore marine environments and establishes new habitats for fish and other sea life. A Sarasota Company, Eternal Reefs, is the only firm in Southwest Florida currently providing such a service. There are more than 750,000 reef balls in oceans around the world, according to the company.
It’s nice to think that, even after my death, I could support marine life long into the future. Plus, my kids love boating, so maybe they would still visit…
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.
My early Christmas memories in New England resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, with my aunt and uncle arriving at my grandparents’ house for a lavish holiday meal. Friends and neighbors dropped in for a sip of eggnog (and some Fanny Farmer chocolates) while we waited for Santa.
When my children were growing up, we stayed home for the holidays. The menu may have varied, but the essentials stayed the same: watching our favorite holiday movies, friends and family stopping by and spending time together on the couch. Today, my kids live in separate states with families of their own, so our traditions have changed. They usually involve an airport, and sometimes that feels like a loss.
Here’s the truth: our adult holidays may never match the magic of our childhood. And celebrating on Zoom is definitely not the best way to connect with our family.
But instead of scrolling through Instagram and looking at other people’s picture-perfect (and undoubtedly, STAGED) holidays, I am thankful for the holiday I do have — TSA checks, airport food and presents in my purse instead of under the tree.
Apart from my Great Aunt Margaret’s stuffing, my favorite part of childhood Thanksgivings in New England was watching the Macy’s parade. My sister and I waited until the end, when Santa Claus arrived to officially open the Christmas season.
In particular, we loved the balloons, but we didn’t know their history. 1927, puppeteer Tony Sarg suggested introducing inflatable balloons to the parade. That year, Macy’s featured Felix the Cat, a 60-foot-tall toy soldier, and a 20-foot-long elephant, all manufactured by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, in Akron, Ohio. The helium inflatables, a bit more fearsome than those of today, grew larger and more complicated with each passing year. Some contained their own sound effects—like a barking dachshund—and others needed as many as 50 handlers on the ground, with a Pinocchio requiring 20 handlers for his nose alone.
Eventually, the balloons were fitted with slow-release valves so they could be let loose into the sky at the end of the parade, averting a logistical nightmare on the ground and simultaneously creating an airborne sensation.
In another feat of well-calculated promotion, Sarg offered a reward to anyone who returned a wayward balloon to Macy’s. The ensuing races to find and give them back were so heated that they became news in their own right—one woman, trying to catch Felix the Cat on the wing of her biplane while aloft, crash-landed her way onto the front page of the next day’s New York Times.
Thankfully, that tradition ended – like so many others. Today I buy my stuffing at the grocery store, but I make it as I watch the parade. Happy Thanksgiving!
While you’re spending the holidays in a tropical locale or in a quaint European town, thieves could be planning to attack your home. Yet a few easy steps can make your home look occupied and protect your property. (If it looks like there are still people at home, you’re much less likely to be robbed.) Do everything you can to make it look like there’s activity both inside and outside the house. • Up your exterior light game: While you’re automating your lights, make sure you have enough of them on the outside of your home. A well-lit place is less likely to be an attractive target for a thief. And motion-activated lights that pop on when they sense movement outside your home can help protect it every day. • Let your neighbors know: If those who live closest to you know that you’re away, they’re likely to keep a closer eye on your home and be alerted to strange noises or unfamiliar faces. • Consider mail and newspaper delivery: Thieves may notice an overfilled mailbox and take that as a cue to hit your home. A smart robber who is watching will notice that the mail is not being delivered. It might be best to continue with mail delivery and ask a neighbor to collect it for you. • Check your doors and windows before you leave: You might not realize you have a back door or first-floor window that’s unlocked, but a thief will. • Chill on the social media updates: Just posted a picture on Facebook of the family hanging out on Maui or tweeted about a great restaurant you found near Disney World? You just gave thieves all the info they need to make your home next on their list. If you still want to make sure you’re sharing your good times online, set your profiles to private. Or, wait until you get home to post photos.
Have you considered a family book club this summer? Even if it’s hard to get your crew motivated, don’t give up. No matter how much they balk, you’ll have a good time discussing the book (and anything else that comes up!)
It’s a great way to spend device-free time together. You don’t have to choose a serious or literary book. (It can even be one of their required reading selections.) Family book clubs have no rules, except read something and have fun.
Here are a few tips:
Any family member can nominate a book.
The whole family votes on which books to read.
Be realistic regarding the number of books you’ll get through and the length of each.
Make discussions special. Combine it with something else your family enjoys. Go to a restaurant. Have a picnic. Dress in character.
Mixing reading levels is fine as long as the youngest can listen to audio versions of advanced level books, or an older person reads to a younger. Young readers love when older family members read their picks. Older siblings get a kick out of feeling nostalgic rereading kiddie books.
Naughty words and/or scenes are hits.
Take turns leading the discussions. Be flexible, but prepare questions in case there’s a conversation lull. Many books come with discussion guides.
Be open to unconventional genres and reading tools (like audiobooks or e-books).
Don’t cancel, even if everyone hasn’t finished the book.
During the teenage years, enthusiasm for reading can wane. Maybe it has to do with getting smartphones, which provide a different type of entertainment. Or the desire to spend more time with friends. Maybe it’s because they now also have assigned summer reading for school, which sucks a bit of the joy out of this pastime.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you’re wondering how to get your kid’s nose back into a book, you’re not alone. One way to encourage summer reading is to make it relaxing and offer some escape, especially after the challenging year we’ve just had. (We all need a beach read sometimes.) So don’t pressure them into anything too challenging. This is a chance to use their imagination. Or break out the Harry Potter set and let ‘em re-read old favorites. And if your summer plans involve a long car ride, try an audio book to make the trip go faster.
Reading has so many benefits, including increasing language fluency and vocabulary. But it also helps our kids to empathize with others by learning about unfamiliar experiences. What better way to spend their summer?