Bring in the spring with colorful, fun treats while helping children learn new skills

Kids Baking

March can be a tricky month. One week we can have a warm and sunny day followed by a cold and blustery one. It may even snow. Some of our biggest storms have happened in March.

Because of this, it’s somewhat difficult to make plans. Although winter is on its way out and we’re eager to get outdoors, those plans don’t always work out. Children especially have a hard time being stuck inside and tend to develop cabin fever much quicker than adults.

Why not then plan some fun things to do in the house? It’s even better when we can combine something the kids will enjoy with learning new skills.

Baking is one of these perfect activities. Not only will children love mixing the ingredients and decorating the cakes and cookies, but they will also learn how to make something from scratch, instead of buying it in a store, ready-made.

To make things even more interesting, use cookie cutters shaped like flowers and bunnies and anything else that will make them smile. And when those cookies and cupcakes are ready for decorating, use pastel icings, dyed sugars and bright sprinkles to bring some spring color indoors. Make them festive and fun to liven up an otherwise gray day.

Besides being a great way to pass the time indoors, another benefit of baking is that children can also acquire some useful skills in math and science. Depending on the child’s age, you can make it as easy or as hard as you like. For example, with little kids, if a recipe calls for 2 eggs, ask them how many they would need in order to double the recipe. Or, for older children, if it says ½ of a teaspoon of salt, ask them how much they would need if you were to cut the recipe in half.

For science, explain what baking soda and baking powder do and why you need them in some recipes. Or, if making bread, give them information about yeast and how it makes the dough rise. These are quick and entertaining ways to teach children some basics while they learn how to make delicious cookies or crusty bread.

After all this, if the sun eventually does come out, gather up all the treats you’ve made and have a picnic outdoors. Just remember to pack some cold milk with those cookies, and you’re all set.

Simple Spring Sugar Cookies

• 1-½ cup Sugar
• 1 cup Butter softened for flat thinner cookies (or you can use Butter Crisco, for fluffier cookies)
• 3 whole Egg Yolks
• ½ teaspoons Vanilla
• 2-½ cups Flour
• ½ teaspoons Baking Soda
• 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
• 1 pinch Salt
• Various Colored Sugars, for Garnish

Cream sugar and butter (or Crisco) until light and fluffy, then add egg yolks and mix well. Add vanilla extract. Add remaining dry ingredients (except the colored sugar, which is a garnish) and mix until mixture becomes a soft dough. Chill in the refrigerator for 1–3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Roll dough into 1″ or 1 1/2″ balls and roll in colored sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheets about 2″ apart and bake for about 12 minutes.


Recipe credit: Brandy’s Baking.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada


Putting a stop to the increase in teen suicides

Be the solution for teens in crises

Teens are under enormous pressure to succeed both academically and socially. Social media also heightens feelings of inadequacy by making everything and everyone seem perfect, and trying to live up to these high standards can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Once a person feels overwhelmed or without hope, it’s crucial for them to get the help they need, and fast. Thinking that they’ll just get over it eventually and waiting for the crises to pass is not the solution.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 5 to 24. They found that “suicide attempts may be associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss.” To put a stop to these feelings, some teens feel that suicide may be the only option.

As reported in the 2018 article “Teen suicide is soaring. Do spotty mental health and addiction treatment share blame?” by Jayne O’Donnell and Anne Saker in USA TODAY, “The suicide rate for white children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016, the latest data analysis available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, the rate of increase was higher — 77%.”

There are things that can be done to prevent these tragedies, but quick intervention is key. Knowing about the causes, signs and risk factors can save lives.

Suicide rates are actually on the rise in the US, despite the myriad of resources available for help. “Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”

While speaking about suicide, it’s important to note the differences surrounding this topic. The National Institute of Mental Health breaks them down into three types:

• Suicide – death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior.
• A suicide attempt – a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury.
• Suicidal ideation – thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.

Parents, caregivers, teachers and others who deal with teenagers should be on the lookout for signs that a teen is at risk for suicide. Some of these may include withdrawing from friends and family as well as activities that they used to enjoy. A decline in school grades, giving away beloved possessions, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and a more than passing interest in death and dying are other possible indicators. Some teens may even directly express their wishes such as saying “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”

Other risk factors to take into account are if the teenager is a victim of bullying, has a family history of mental illness or suicide, has access to firearms, and/or is exposed to violence.

As stressed by the AACAP, speaking to teens about depression and suicide is critical. People shouldn’t fear that bringing it up will put the possibility into the person’s head and therefore lead to its occurrence. Some of the questions they recommend asking are:

• Are you feeling sad or depressed?
• Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
• Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, the teen needs immediate help and encouragement to speak with someone they feel comfortable with, be it a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or clergy person. In addition, they should call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone and all calls are confidential. In Virginia, they can also go to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at for a list of people and agencies that can assist.

Help is available. With the right knowledge, awareness, and interventions, teen suicides can be prevented.

Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA

Modern Midtown Style at 999 Peachtree

Modern officeSurfboardsSkull.-150x150

Christina Pumphrey has always been interested in the arts. When it came time for her to pick a major in college, she chose interior design since this was a profession she knew she would enjoy.

Later on, she and a friend, Ursula Holly, who lives in Tallahassee, FL, would start C’Décor, their very own design business. Ursula is so talented, said her friend, that her home was featured in Architectural Digest. The two worked together often until marriage and children consumed most of their time and energy, leaving little for the business. Now, it’s more of a hobby for both of them.

However, Christina was able to use her interior design background once again when her husband, Dr. Brock Pumphrey, renewed his office lease and was given some money to freshen up the place. Christina took on the challenge and decided to give the office a whole new look. Today, her husband’s practice, Midtown Center for Advanced Periodontics, Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry, is a showcase. Located at 999 Peach Tree Street, it’s right in the heart of Midtown.

“Midtown is a fun and vibrant area, and my style is contemporary/modern,” said Christina. Since the practice is located in such a lively area, she wanted to go with bold designs. The walls and doors are white, with black trim and dark floors, so the art work really needed to stand out. It’s really bright and funky, she explained, which she feels is a good fit with the neighborhood. Some of the artwork is shaped liked surfboards and made of acrylic glass and another piece is constructed in a 3D pattern. These are not your standard rectangular painted canvases. Hanging on the wall in the x-ray area is a huge skull. She wasn’t sure how that would go over, but patients think it’s great.

“I wanted to do something fun and modern and spunky. Staff and patients love it, especially the art work. It’s super bright,” said Christina. She found a lot of it at Atlanta’s Mart where designers can go to find all sorts of treasures. She will also sometimes go to the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC), which is another great resource for designers.

“Modern is having a big comeback,” said Christina. “In Atlanta, a lot of the new buildings are ultra-modern, very Miami.” However, even though her style is contemporary and she gravitates more towards the clean, streamlined look, she feels that there are really beautiful ways of doing traditional design.

“What’s in and out is all relative,” she stated. She tries not to follow super trends, because then she’s just setting herself up for being out of trend within 10 years. Christina likes to mix it up. She doesn’t think having one solid style is very interesting.

One thing she has noticed recently is that designers will buy a really cool antique piece and refurbish it to make it look more new age. Since antique furniture was built so well, and it’s really hard to find good solid furniture nowadays, giving it an updated look is a great way to make it fit while being functional.

Christina had a great time redoing her husband’s office and gets a lot of satisfaction from knowing how much he and his patients enjoy it. She and Brock, who met in college in Tallahassee, have been married for close to eight years, have two children, Brock Jr. age 6 and Pierce, age 4, and live in Buckhead, Atlanta.

One day, when the children are older and don’t need her around so much, Christina hopes to be able to give more time to her and Ursula’s interior decorating business. Until then, she’ll enjoy going into her husband’s office and seeing the beautiful transformation she has made.

Christina’s tips on design:

• Declutter – the first thing you should do is put things away. Finding a spot for everything will give the room a clean, fresh look.

• Use natural muted tones for walls and furniture. For fun pops of color, use throw pillows or throws. If you’re going to buy something really funky, try not to spend too much money on it because you’ll likely get tired of it after a while. You can get then get rid of it without feeling guilty. Afterwards, you will once again be left with that original blank slate and can change it up according to your new style or current trends. Christina said that this is what she did with the office and the same thing she does with her own home. Her furniture is gray, white, and taupe, so that way she can reinvent it whenever she wants.

• If you have children and/or pets, cover your furniture and walls with fabrics and paint that you can wipe off. Also avoid white and keep fabrics on the darker side which will camouflage stains. Look for places that offer COM (customer’s own material.) There are stores in Atlanta where you can buy unfinished furniture and then pick out the fabric you want on it, either in that store or from another one. This way you can get easy to clean and durable fabric on the furniture that fits your room and style.

• Have fresh flowers in the house. A bouquet is a great design tool and lends color and beauty to any room.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, Georgia

Every note cover

In her latest book, Every Note Played, Lisa Genova explores the complexity of forgiveness in the face of tragedy. How does a person let go of a series of wrongs in order to do the right thing?

Richard Evans is known throughout the world for his concert piano skills. His fans adore him, other musicians aspire to play like him, and women want to be with him. However, when he finds himself diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), no one wants to know him. He is all alone in the world, except for an ex-wife whom he hurt and betrayed time and again and a daughter who he barely knows. He chose the piano, touring and other women instead of being with his family. Now alone and becoming more and more helpless, Richard realizes the mistakes he has made. But is it too late to make amends?

Karina, his ex-wife, has been trying to move on for the last few years without much success. She is in the same house, doing the same job, and is filled with anger for the life she never had. She also wanted to be a successful pianist and was, in fact, much better than Richard when they were starting out. But when she got pregnant, she let her dreams slide away. She loves her daughter, but still blames her ex-husband for being a part of losing herself. However, she has some things to be forgiven for as well. She had her own secrets during their marriage.

When Richard can no longer live by himself and doesn’t have the resources for round-the-clock care, who will step up to help him during the last stages of his life? Will it be Karina, who can barely stand to look at him, or his daughter Grace, who is filled with resentment for having a father who was never around?

Genova shows the devastation of a disease that has no cure and slowly robs its victims of every function, until it takes away life itself. She also portrays the power of family and what forgiveness can do for the soul.

Lisa Genova lives in the United States and is a New York Times best-selling author who has appeared on Dr. Oz, the TODAY show, CNN, PBS Newshour, and NPR. She has a degree in Biopsychology and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. To find out more about her, please go to

Written for The Felixstowe Magazine in the U.K.

The Old, Old Jail – Preserving history in all its glory


These days, if something doesn’t work well or doesn’t look good, it’s likely to be thrown out and replaced with something new. Some things, however, like old buildings steeped in history, cannot be so easily replaced, nor should they be.

Fortunately, the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County in Tennessee understands this and tries to preserve historical sites. Their mission is “To preserve the communities and cultural heritage of Williamson County. We work with area leaders to continually care for historic spaces, treasured landmarks, and cherished local businesses. In short, we save the places that matter in Williamson County, Tennessee.”

Their latest success story is the renovation of the old, old Franklin Jail located at 112 Bridge Street in Franklin. It’s called the “old, old” jail because there were once three jails on Bridge Street.

Built in 1941 for $25,000, the two-story jail was a no-frills steel and concrete edifice to house prisoners. Some of these inmates included Better Burge, the first woman in Tennessee sentenced to death in the electric chair, and convicted murderer Willie York, who became rather infamous as being the inspiration behind a song by Johnny Seay, a country music singer and neighbor. Titled “Willie’s Drunk and Nelly’s Dying”, it was released in 1970.

The jail was eventually closed after a newer one was built in 1973, and afterwards it served many purposes such as book storage for the school system, an employment office, and a highway patrol outpost. Eventually, due to its deteriorating condition, it became vacant in 2008. The roof eventually leaked, leaving all the metal inside with a coating of rust. The art deco style building had no working electricity or plumbing, and was filled with asbestos, mold and lead paint. It was literally in ruins.

Even with all these issues, the Heritage Foundation saw its potential and knew that saving and restoring the building could be the biggest challenge they ever faced. Though it was scheduled to be demolished, they persevered and bought the building in 2013 for $25,000 dollars with a donation from FirstBank, knowing they would have to raise millions to bring it back to life.

And so, they rolled out their Big House for Historic Preservation fundraising campaign, and for the next three years worked to raise the necessary money to turn the dilapidated structure into modern, usable office space. All in all, it would take $2.8 million to complete the renovations.

The grand opening of this beautifully restored and environmentally-friendly building with its cut-stone foundation and grand stairway took place in May of 2016 and became the permanent home of the Heritage Foundation. Now called the LeHew Magid Big House for Historic Preservation, it serves not only as the headquarters for the foundation, but also as a resource for historic preservation issue.

“It is fantastic that the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN is headquartered in the LeHew Magid Big House for Historic Preservation in historic Franklin. I am grateful to the leaders who came before me and had the vision and determination to save this building. We host guests almost daily for tours, and we enjoy telling stories of the many characters who spent time in the Jail throughout the years,” said Bari Beasley, the CEO of the foundation.

Along the restored stairwell hang almost 200 historic photographs of the city. The old graffiti, etched into the concrete and steel walls by former prisoners, has also been preserved.

“When the Heritage Foundation saved the Old, Old Jail, it was truly like making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. No one wanted the white elephant because it was leaky, mold-ridden, costly to make livable yet a solid piece of concrete and steel. The project was a win-win situation. The Foundation found a home and a county landmark was saved,” said Rick Warwick, the county historian.

Written for Franklin Lifestyle in Tennessee (March 2019 issue)

Spotlight on Time and Again Galleries


Time and Again Galleries can help you buy and sell everything from paintings and rugs to costume jewelry and more. They have the expertise to determine the value of a variety of goods, both modern and antique.

Jeff Zimmerman, the CEO, has seen the business expand from the New York Tri-State area to the international stage. When asked what makes him stand out from other buyers and sellers, Jeff said “My honesty, my integrity and my knowledge. I developed a following of people who trust what I say and what I do which I found to be a good business model.”

If you are in the market to buy something specific, he will do his very best to find it. Likewise, if you are looking to sell something but aren’t sure of its worth, Jeff is an experienced appraiser who is readily available to assess the value of your items. You can make an appointment or even email images of your items. “The cost for a verbal appraisal is $100 and if they decide to sell through us or to us that money is refundable,” said Jeff.

For appraisals of large quantities or high-value items, he will travel across the country. And his buyers come from not only the U.S., but all over the world. Time and Again Galleries once auctioned a pair of Chinese vases that turned out to be much older and more valuable than originally thought. They ended up selling for $160,000. The buyers, from Shanghai, traveled to the U.S. to pick them up personally. Jeff can also ship merchandise wherever it needs to go.

Many of the items he buys and sells come from family estates, attics, storage facilities and garage sales, to name just a few. “People need to know what it is they’re selling. They need to be careful what they sell and do research before they sell something,” said Jeff.

Besides dealing with single items, Time and Again Galleries offers complete and partial buyouts and cleanouts of estates. They offer top dollar for your property and are proud of the service they provide.

Jeff mentioned that the business has changed dramatically over the years. Antiques are much less desirable and more modern items are in. “Younger people are much more interested in simple and modern furniture,” he said.

He also stated that collectibles, such as Hummel’s, Royal Doulton, Roseville pottery, carnival glass and other similar items have greatly depreciated in value. Traditional French furniture that once used to be so popular has been greatly devalued as well.

Besides the items already mentioned, Jeff also buys and sells gold and silver, fine porcelain, decorative arts, bronzes, antiques and other high quality items. Auctions are held every year at different locations.

Time and Again Galleries is recognized by the Certified Appraiser Guild of America and Jeff is a certified appraiser and a member of the New Jersey State Society of Auctioneers (NJSSA.) If you have something to buy or sell, Jeff Zimmerman is confident that he can provide the best service and most accurate appraisals to ensure that you get your money’s worth.

To contact Time and Again Galleries, call 908-862-0200 or email To find out more, go to

Written for The Showcase Magazine

Homemade toys spark creativity and imagination

Old-fashioned fun for big and little kids


When many of us think back to our childhood toys, we don’t think of computers or video games. The majority of our toys didn’t make noises or light up, and we often had to use our imaginations to have fun.

Parents and caregivers can bring back this same kind of joy and wonder for their children. Yes, a lot of kids love the latest and loudest products as seen on television commercials and store shelves, but many don’t realize the entertainment value of quiet, simple and even homemade toys.

As a little girl, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. I loved playing there, even though she didn’t have a lot of money for anything extravagant. But I do remember her sewing together little square bags out of extra fabric and filling them with dried beans. She would then take a basket and have us toss these bean bags in there for points. What a great memory for me and my siblings.

There is an abundance of ideas for simple, homemade toys to be found online on sites such as, in library books and in magazines. Many of these are made with items already in our homes or even in our backyards. Making toys is also a great way to recycle all those plastic bottles and soup cans.

In her article “Really Cool Toys for Kids to Make Themselves” on, Sharon Harding writes, “Children are naturally creative and have fantastic imaginations. They can make toys out of anything.” She also goes on to cite that making their own toys “stimulates the imagination, helps children solve problems and discover that they can make their own fun.”

Besides having a great time with the end products, the making of these toys can also help children in a myriad of ways. Kids get to use their imaginations while honing their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Oftentimes counting is involved, so it can help children learn numbers and math skills.

In her article, “Why Art and Creativity are Important” on, author Paula Bernstein writes, “When children experiment with materials, they dabble in science. Most important perhaps, when kids feel good while they are creating, art helps boost self-confidence. And children who feel able to experiment and to make mistakes feel free to invent new ways of thinking, which extends well beyond the craft room.”

Letting children help with making these toys enables them to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they’ve created. This in turn will increase the likelihood of them playing with the things they’ve made and motivate them to make even more. These projects are also a great way for parents and children to spend time together in a meaningful and goal-oriented way.

Here are some ideas for parents and children:

• Want to do a hand puppet show with your kids? Grab some old socks and make faces on them. If you want to get really fancy, glue or sew some buttons for the eyes and nose and maybe some yarn for the mouth and hair. Have kids color a big piece of cardboard (even a pizza box will work) to make the “stage” that the puppets will appear above.

• Speaking of cardboard boxes, the ideas are endless. Have children paint or color the outside. These can become playhouses for kids or dolls, blocks to stack on top of each other, or even a toy box for all those homemade toys. Most kids (and cats) love boxes.

• What child doesn’t like balloons? Take large paper plates and a large Popsicle stick for the handle. Make a slit in the bottom of the plates, slide the “handle” partway into it and tape. Now they can play balloon tennis, which is even safe to play indoors since a balloon can’t do much damage. Use a bed, coffee table or a couch as your “net.” This is a great rainy day activity.

• What about homemade play dough made with ingredients already in your kitchen? For a great recipe, go to Then use cookie cutters, small rolling pins and other plastic and safe baking items to make all different shapes and patterns.

• Have your kids find some smooth rocks, paint or color on animal faces, and they’ll have their own set of pet rocks. Or use seashells; these can become sea pets.

• A simple piece of chalk can make a hopscotch board and a small rock can be the marker. This makes for great exercise and balance control.

• Holiday themed toys are also fun. Make ornaments out of old costume jewelry or cut out pictures from last year’s Christmas cards. A simple hole puncher and some yarn and you’re ready to hang it on the tree.

Start collecting things now for future toy making. Rinse out and store bottles, cans, and other odds and ends for fun, easy and inexpensive projects. Remind your children to be on the lookout for anything that can be used in your next creation. Make it a family event, one that will foster great memories now and into the future.

Written for Growing Up in the Valley magazine in Virginia

Local Lowdown: John O. McManus

When John O. McManus decided to become a lawyer, his father, John B. McManus, gave him some great advice right from the start. Being an active volunteer in his community and at church, he raised John in an environment of outreach and service, and told him to be a lawyer that helps unite families, not divide them. Thus, after watching his family get involved in a multi-year struggle over his grandfather’s estate, he decided to become an estate lawyer and founded McManus & Associates nearly 30 years ago.

John has found other ways to help families as well, especially those in care of children and the elderly. In 2005, he joined the Board of Directors of the Somerset County YMCA (SCYMCA), and has raised almost $280,000 for those in need.

John is currently the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Board Governance Committee. He has also served on the Financial Development Committee and Capital Campaign Leadership Cabinet. In November, he was elected as the Board Chair for 2019.

Due to his hard work and dedication, John was awarded the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance 2018 Social Responsibility Champion Award in October. This award is presented to a leader dedicated to Giving Back and Providing Support to Our Neighbors.

When asked what makes him such a successful fundraiser, he said “the people you raise money with have to become your friends, even if they don’t start out that way.” Plus, you have to be an unselfish friend, give people what they need, and you have to give in order to get. It’s also important to form relationships with donors so they learn what is important about the Y and help them understand the story behind the mission.

John’s wife, Rosemary, not only helps raise money for scholarships for students going to college, but she also judges scholarship distributions. The awarding of these scholarships acknowledges the students’ hard work and shows appreciation for their talents.

The money raised also helps to offset childcare costs for families having difficulty making ends meet, and helps defer costs of membership fees so their children can exercise and be healthy.

Summer camps are also financed with this money so parents can continue to work and support their families while their children have a rich and positive experience.

John credited his success to others, such as David Cerciri, the CEO of SCYMCA, who John believes transformed the Y into an efficient and charitable organization. His other role model, current Board Chair Mark Irwin, has an enduring, unmatched everyday commitment to the Y.

As his father raised him to give to others, John and Rosemary of Basking Ridge have raised their children the same way. Their eldest daughter, Allie, a graduate of Johns Hopkins, has spent time in Africa and South America assisting people there. Their middle child, Emmie, is in undergraduate school at the University of Notre Dame. She has received the President’s Volunteer Gold Service Award and plans to become a human rights lawyer. Their youngest son, Matthew, attends the Pingry School and this year will receive the President’s Volunteer Gold Service Award for his commitment to the community, including the Y.

You do have to give in order to get, and with this award, John is getting the recognition he deserves.

Written for The Showcase Magazine


How reading to animals can help children improve their literacy skills

jason and dog

Reading is a necessary skill for everyone, but sometimes children can feel overwhelmed with doing it and even more afraid of reading out loud. However, reading to animals can make it a lot more fun and enormously less threatening.

There are quite a few programs that offer children this opportunity, such as Paws to Read, Tales to Tails, Bow Wows and Books, and Pawsitive Reading. No matter where you live in the country, you can usually find a program nearby.

One of the larger and more well-known programs is PAWS for Reading, which is one of nine programs run by PAWS for People, an award-winning, all-volunteer nonprofit organization. The therapy animals involved with the program, whether they’re dogs, cats or bunnies, are well trained and loving. Children receive supportive feedback and guidance, as well as stickers and bookmarks, from trained “human” volunteers.

“It’s a lot of fun sitting next to the dogs who often have their tongues hanging out while I’m reading. Plus, it’s something really different to do,” said Jason B., from Dover, DE, who has been taking part in the program for the last four months at his local library.

Many of these programs usually take place in libraries and schools, but sometimes they are done at animal shelters. According to Project Literacy, “The Read to the Animals program has become a great opportunity for students to improve their reading accuracy, speed, comfort, confidence, and ability with a furry animal friend in the audience. Another added benefit of the program is that the animals in the shelter are gaining socialization and companionship throughout the reading sessions.” It’s a win-win situation.

On, author Melissa Taylor in her article A Reader’s Best Friend: The Many Benefits of Reading with Animals, cites educational researcher and linguist Stephen Krashen, who says that “a child’s ‘affective filter’, or affective emotions such as low self-esteem and anxiety, can create a mental block that often inhibits learning. Reading to pets removes that mental block and increases the chance for learning to occur.”

While reading to animals, not only do participating children improve their reading skills, but teachers, librarians and volunteers have reported an increase in their confidence, communication skills, self-esteem, social skills and attendance rates. As stated on the PAWS for Reading website, “Nationwide, similar programs have tracked a rise in students’ reading test scores and attitude toward reading.” Special-needs and English-as-a-second language (ESL) students also benefit greatly from these reading programs. There are even programs available for teens and adults.

According to the National Education Association, “Having kids read a lot is one of the crucial components of becoming a good reader. Young readers need to become practiced at recognizing letters and sounds. The only way to get good at it is to practice.”

Reading is not only an important skill set for education, but for everyday enjoyment as well. Getting lost in a good book is something we never outgrow and instilling a love of reading in children is one of the best gifts we can give them.

This is why it is so important for kids to become proficient readers who don’t see reading as a chore or something that they need to do. Instead, children should find pleasure while in the midst of a story and feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a book.

These unique literacy programs, along with parents, teachers, librarians, volunteers and animals, can help accomplish these goals. Reading is learning, regardless of the subject matter. It opens up our minds to a myriad of possibilities and lets us experience a whole new world, if only for a few hours.

Many of us find being with dogs and cats calming to both our minds and bodies. Interacting with animals often leads to lower blood pressure, an improved mood, and a sense of comfort.

While every reading program in slightly different, the animals involved are usually therapy dogs and the volunteers that assist with the programs are generally required to go through a training session themselves. Once you find a program nearby, you can check out the individual requirements.

In her article Books and Bones: The Benefits of Reading to Animals, Cecilia de Cardenas focuses on a program called R.E.A.D, Reading Education Assistance Dogs. “R.E.A.D. dogs are usually mild mannered and patient, calm and well groomed. Other animals have been used in the program as well, from rabbits to guinea pigs to parrots.”

In Virginia, you can currently find these types of programs in Arlington, Alexandria, Hampton, Richmond, Williamsburg, Roanoke, Virginia Beach, New Kent, and other cities in the state. A great resource for locating these programs is “My website is there to connect people with ‘read to animal’ programs across the country. I write children’s books and know how important it is for children who are struggling with reading problems to have a safe, non-judgmental environment in which to practice their reading skills,” said Lee Wardlaw, the website creator. Not all cities and states are listed, so if you don’t see yours, use the email form to send a message to Wardlaw and she will get back to you with that information.

Increasing your child’s literacy skills while giving him or her a furry companion who will listen without judgment is a true gift all around. And they might get in a good snuggle or two.

Published in Growing Up in the Valley Magazine, VA

Book review of Shelter in Place


What started out as a fun-filled day at the mall – watching movies, shopping and grabbing a bite to eat – became a memory that people there would never forget. They heard the term “shelter in place” many times before, but only then did they really understand what that meant. Sometimes hiding meant the different between life and death.

Nora Roberts, a New York Times best-selling author, weaves a tale that unfortunately mirrors real life all too often. Shelter in Place, published in 2018, shows how average people doing everyday things can quickly become victims and sometimes heroes while a nightmare unfolds around them.

Sixteen-year-old Simone Knox, who by a stroke of luck was in the restroom when the first gunman entered the movie theatre where her best friends were sitting, had the presence of mind to call 911. Her actions saved a lot of people that day, and she was heralded as a hero. Inside, however, she felt like a coward for not doing anything to protect her friends that day, even though the operator told her to stay hidden. Once old enough to be on her own, Simone tried to escape the pain by running as far away as she could from her hometown.

Reed Quartermaine was working at his after-school job and was on a break when the second shooter came into the mall. As he ran to hide, he spotted a scared little boy looking for his mom. Scooping him up and hiding him from the bullets saved both of their lives that day. Reed too was hailed as a hero. To deal with his pain, he went on to become a cop so he could try to prevent more crimes against the innocent.

Little did they know there was one person left from that night who was the mastermind behind the terror, and she wasn’t done with her plans yet. One by one Patricia Jane Hobart was coming after the people who survived the carnage, and that included Simone and Reed. Now in a relationship and looking forward to their future, they will once again have to fight for their lives and the lives of those around them.

Shelter in Place is a book about the courage and resilience of everyday people who are forced to confront evil, not once, but twice. Will Simone and Reed escape with their lives once again, or will Patricia succeed the second time around?

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Written for The Woodbridge Magazine in the UK.