Outdoor Meals While the Sun Shines

We may be limited in our travel options right now, but nothing says we can’t get out in a natural setting and enjoy a lovely picnic. A change of scenery may be just the pick-me-up you and your family need right now.

Start with a hearty entrée and dress it up with some tasty side dishes. Do some of the preparation work at home and then sit back and enjoy a great meal “al fresco.”

Hot Dogs or Brauts and Sides

Pair your tasty dogs with Cowboy Caviar made of corn, black-eyed peas, avocado, cilantro and fresh lime to be dipped with tortilla chips. Add some homemade brownies and your favourite drinks for a fun out of doors meal. Don’t forget to take along some outdoor fun such as a Frisbee or a whiffle ball and bat. Work off some of that good food and have a great time with the family.

Salmon and Sides

If your picnic is planned with an all-adult guest list, you may want to bake or poach some beautiful salmon steaks to serve cold. Buy a crusty loaf of French bread, then add tasty sides such as a Lemon Orzo Salad. Include a crisp white wine and a fruit dessert: sliced peaches and cream or macerated strawberries. Truly yummy.

Street Tacos and Sides

You’ll need to picnic with a grill for this yummy meal. Prepare a soy sauce marinade and place lean strips of beef in a zip lock bag. Allow to marinate one to four hours. Take along mini flour tortillas, chopped onion, cilantro and lime wedges. Cook the steak on your grill and warm the tortillas alongside. If desired, serve refried beans and rice to round out your meal. Cinnamon-topped sugar cookies would make a great dessert for this meal.

Pulled Pork and Sides

If your man has a grill and loves to cook brisket, you’ll enjoy planning a pulled pork picnic meal. To the delicious pulled pork, add a side such as Grilled Leek Potato Salad. Pack an assortment of fresh finger veggies such as grape tomatoes, carrot sticks and cucumber slices. Take along some homemade spice or carrot cake cupcakes to round out this feast.

Baguette Chicken Sandwiches

These crisp and crunchy chicken sandwiches work well for a picnic because the baguette is split and toasted ahead of time. Grill or bake chicken breasts and slice into slices. Add red onion, baby spinach combined with an olive oil/red vinegar mix. Put the sandwiches together onsite and prepare to enjoy a taste treat. Add chips and fresh fruit plus a tempting fruit cobbler and your family will praise your efforts.

Be sure to do a little research ahead of time and find that perfect picnic spot. Take along camp chairs and blankets to make your outing comfortable. Allow time to explore the area and perhaps take a short hike. Enjoy the natural setting.

Camping, Glamping or Caravanning This Summer

Camping, Glamping or Caravanning This Summer

If your local regulations allow it, you and your family probably want to get out of your home and into a natural setting this summer. And all the studies on the benefits of outdoor time tell us that being out of doors is good for us in some expected and also unexpected ways.

Some of the expected benefits of spending time out of doors are things like breathing cleaner air, feeling happier and freer of stress, getting a higher level of physical exercise and absorbing necessary Vitamin D.

But studies reveal that the health benefits of spending time in nature can be even greater and may reduce risk of developing diabetes II, improving heart health and lowering blood pressure. It would seem that nature has good answers to our daily health problems.

Have you heard of Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing? It’s a popular practice in Japan and consists of going into a natural area and sitting, lying down, or walking in that space for the purpose of increasing health. The theory is that phytoncides, organic compounds with antibacterial properties, are released by trees and boost the immune system while reducing inflammation in the body.

Even city dwellers who spend as little as two hours a week in a green space or natural setting report health benefits such as reduced stress, improved short-term memory and better sleep.

Planning a Summer Camp-out

Tent camping

The traditional family camp-out is a popular summer activity in the U.S. Many families have camping gear stowed away for their annual ventures out into nature, while others rent their gear as needed. Family members eat their meals over an open fire or bring along a cook stove of some sort. Camping trips usually include a variety of family fun activities such as hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming with the possibility of side-trips to local offerings such as museums, bike trails, horseback riding, or various sports activities. The emphasis is on family together time and is definitely a time to unplug from screens and the world of technology.

Due to covid many campsites are either closed or on modified schedules this summer. Go to www.nps.gov/subjects/camping or www.pitchup.com/en-us/campsites/usa  for current information on reserving campsites and finding the right spot for your family camping fun.


While some prefer to “rough it,” and want things as simple and down to earth as possible, other campers prefer a bit of comfort as they enjoy nature. Thus, the rise of camping experiences that rise a notch above a sleeping bag on the hard ground inside a tent. 

Glamping is a mix of the words glamorous and camping and implies camping amenities not experienced in traditional camping scenarios. Glamping sites provide a more comfortable experience with a large tent area filled with items such as comfortable beds with linens, end tables, clothing racks, lighting features and wooden decks with chairs.

Some glamping sites come with yurts or small Quonset huts and some even offer landscaping of each site. This is a “gentleman’s camping experience.” Go to www.glamping.com for more information on the glamping experience. In Europe, look at https://euroglamping.com 


In the U.S. it’s called trailer camping, and in Europe it’s called caravanning. Either way you’ll be taking a trailer-type vehicle to a natural site and making it your headquarters for your outdoor experience. 

The beauty of caravanning is the option to get inside and comfortable if the weather should not cooperate and it also provides sleeping arrangements more comfortable than tenting. It is your “home away from home.”

For information on rentals of recreational vehicles in the U.S. go to www.reserveamerica.com. Another source of caravanning information is www.UKcampsite.com

So take advantage of all the great health and well-being benefits the outdoors has to offer your family this summer. Get some healthy exercise, sit around the campfire eating, telling stories and enjoying one another’s company. Take some naps, write in a journal, breathe in clean country air and just….enjoy.

Patience, Avid Cruisers, Smooth Sailing Ahead

The global pandemic put a sudden stop to cruising around the world on April 9, 2020. On that date the Center for Disease Control issued a no-sail order, which put cruise ships in their quays until further notice. The order has been extended to September 30th as infection numbers continue to rise in many areas, and especially in the United States.


But there will be better times ahead. And while there are still many reasons for caution in regards to travel, the cruise industry is looking toward limited openings as early as this fall. 

All major ocean cruise lines are in the process of planning their re-openings. With careful strategies they hope to begin cruising again this fall and have new methods in place to assure the openings are successful. For starters, they will begin small. Most will schedule only a fraction of their ships and travel in restricted areas only as they open. These early cruises tend to be located in Italy with itineraries from Rome to Athens, Rome to Venice or a visit to “Ancient Adriatic Treasures.” As long as these cruises go well, the companies will expand in phases until they reach their full capacity.

It is fully expected that the fares for upcoming cruises will be deeply discounted to attract travelers. The lower prices may be as much as twenty-five to thirty percent cheaper. In addition, many cruises are adding incentives such as shipboard credit up to one thousand dollars per couple per cruise. To encourage the public, there are relaxed cancellation policies offering full refunds should the travelers need to cancel for any reason.

What Has Changed?

The pandemic has most likely changed cruising rules and regulations forever. You can expect to see some of all of the precautions in place on your next cruise:

  • Staggered boarding and a reduction of interaction/crowds throughout your cruise
  • Health checks before boarding. You may be given temperature checks both before boarding and at several times during the cruise. You will also fill out a health questionnaire before boarding.
  • Some expect cruise lines to either refuse passage to those over seventy or require a letter from a medical doctor stating the senior citizen is healthy enough to travel and has no serious chronic illnesses.
  • A reduction in numbers of people allowed on each cruise. The ships will not operate at full capacity.
  • A limit of fifty percent capacity in theaters, bars, and entertainment sites onboard.
  • There will be no self-serve buffet lines. Instead staff members will serve both food and drinks to reduce touch spots.
  • Staff will conduct sanitation processes more often and more thoroughly.
  • Crew members may wear masks.
  • In general, itineraries may be shorter than in the past.

When is it Safe to Plan a Cruise?

While no one can speak for your level of concern about travel, you can make informed decisions based on the number of active cases of the disease and also on your own general health. In addition, you’ve already learned some important health practices such as hand washing, avoidance of touching your face, sanitizing living spaces, wearing a mask in public and the like. You’ll know when it’s time to break free of your home and get out to enjoy a lovely cruise.

To read the latest from the Center for Disease Control, look here.

Does It Really Make a Difference if They Read This Summer?

Summertime has come both kids and parents need a break from online learning. The kids need to run and play and swim. They need to forget about homework.

You’re right, they do. But what they don’t need is several months without reading practice. If things went well with your distance learning, you know how important it is to do daily reading practice. If things didn’t go so well, well…..it’s even more important to read over the summer. 

Teachers know that kids who don’t read over the entire summer take giant steps backward in their abilities. They forget sight words and sounds. They can’t remember what to do when they get stuck and even worse, they fail to hang on to the fluency they gained over the past school year.

Reading is so key to all of learning, that it’s the single most important skill to practice regularly. And it doesn’t have to be only independent reading, it can also be family read alouds, listening to good books, writing and reading their own stories and attending library story hours.

There are not enough “shoulds” to convey how important it is for your child to practice reading over the summer holidays. And here’s why:

Emergent Readers

Emergent readers are Kindergarten through second or third grade readers who are still learning the basics of all those squiggles and shapes. They sound words carefully and often get stuck. They are ready for simple sentences, but may forget the sound of the letter y or w. They use their finger to follow along and need reminders to re-read or try again when they make a mistake. They’ve got a lot of reading skills in place, but they’re not there yet. Their skills are fragile.

These little readers will forget much of what they’ve learned if they don’t practice during the summer break. They’ll probably go back to school in the fall and need to begin from scratch. The difficult truth about emergent readers is; they can easily lose confidence. 

Don’t let that happen. Ten to fifteen minutes of daily oral reading practice, plus some fun story times together will do the trick. Not only will they keep their hard-won skills in place, they’ll continue to grow and be ready for further challenges next fall.

Average Readers

These kiddos have made good progress throughout the school year, but are not yet independent readers. Their fluency is up and down. They may need reminders to ask themselves questions as they read to maintain the meaning of the words. They’ll tend to focus word by word rather than read smoothly through sentences. They have limited vocabulary, but are able to read easy books independently. 

These kids need to read books they know well for fluency and also tackle some harder books that are high in interest. They’ll benefit from both independent practice and some side by side help to encourage good reading strategies such as rereading for meaning, trying something else if the words don’t make sense, and thinking about such story elements as beginning, middle and end, characters and plot. 

These readers will definitely lose ground if they don’t read during the summer. But with just fifteen to twenty minutes of daily reading, they’ll both keep the skills they’ve already learned and may even make some progress on their own. 

Choosing high interest books is very important for average readers. Remember that comic books, magazine articles, and even reading instructions for putting together model airplanes count as reading. Be creative and find reading materials that motivate your average reader. You’ll be glad you did.

Fluent Readers

It’s tempting to think that fluent readers don’t need to practice their reading skills over the summer. After all, they’re cruising. But think of the learning opportunities they’ll miss if they don’t find good books to read all summer.

In addition, studies have shown that vocabulary is the single best predictor of success in higher learning and reading is the best possible way to grow vocabulary knowledge. Even fluent readers need to keep honing their skills and may need to branch out into new genres such as biographies, poetry, science fiction, or topical non-fiction books to broaden their reading abilities.

Great thinkers are good readers. Independent learners need excellent reading skills to take off on their own projects. Find some lists of excellent reading in various genres. Encourage your fluent reader to both read and extend knowledge through art projects or other creative activities. Guide them to select quality literature. Reading is the foundation for excellence in academic performance.

Be Intentional

You’ll find more success in incorporating reading into your summer schedule if you’re intentional about it. Set a time of day for a reading break and stick to it as much as possible. Find ways to access books in this time of social distancing. Check out your local library for free online lending programs to your kindle or other devices.

You might enjoy having a family summer reading challenge to encourage reading a certain number of pages or books. Be sure to offer a motivating prize when your reader meets his or her goals.

Check out great reading websites such as pbs.org, ala.org (American Library Association) or look up your child’s favorite author websites. Jan Brett, Kevin Henkes, and Jon Scieszka have wonderful sites to encourage reading. 

Read this article to find ways to encourage summer reading.

Especially for boys: www.thoughtco.com/librarians-recommend-books-for-boys-627556

Happy Summer Reading!

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun: Unplugged. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net

Exotic Gifts for Those Special Occasions

If there is a birthday, anniversary or a “just because” occasion coming up, you’ll want to browse through these international treasures. You’ll find everything from jewelry to clothing accessories, from home décor to quality wood carvings and paintings. And all of the items are created by artisan workers who have begun their artistic journey through micro-loans or work in fair trade settings. 

In addition to buying beautiful and unique items on these sites, you may be interested in becoming a short-term micro loan donor. It’s a satisfying way to find the right gifts, plus benefitting a creative artisan in another part of the world.


Novica works in conjunction with National Geographic in many areas around the world including the West Indies, West Africa, India, Bali, Thailand and Brazil. You’ll find stunning, high quality jewelry, scarves and shawls, wood and soapstone carvings, leather and cotton bags and many more gift items.

Greater Good

Greater Good is a unique organization which allows your purchases to contribute funds to a cause of your choice. You may choose world hunger, autism, animal protection, rainforests and more. They highlight a project of the day, but you can search out your favorite cause. Currently much is being done to meet the needs of the people of Nepal. 

Items for sale span a wide array from clothing to home and garden items and even educational toys. Take a look. You’ll find great items to purchase and you can help support your favorite cause at the same time.

Ten Thousand Villages

One of the oldest and most respected fair trade companies is Ten Thousand Villages, now in operation with the fair trade vision for over 65 years. You’ll find gift items in many categories from kitchen baskets, tablecloths and candles to more artistic items such as sculptures, stone carvings and one of a kind ceramics. 

Gifts with a Cause from World Vision

Gifts with a Cause has a wide variety of jewelry and home décor items. They specialize in elephant-themed prints, paintings and carvings. In addition they have collections of items especially for holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. As with all the above organizations all items are made by adult artisans in safe working conditions and each artisan is paid a fair wage for their work.

When is Father’s Day? Gifts for Guys


Whether it’s Father’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions, we love to find  the perfect gift for our guys.

And, who wants to give another tie or shirt? Look through these gifts and gadgets and see if you find that just right something for your special guy.

Guys Like to Grill

  • Personalized Cutting Board: Get this beautiful grillmaster cutting board with a personalized design and the name of your favorite griller.
  • A DIY Grill Basket filled with things like tongs, sauces/marinades/rubs, spatulas and tongs, skewers, a grilling mitt or anything else that your griller guy needs to turn out spectacular grilled food.
  • Global Hot Sauce set from Brandon Clark and Don Hopkins. This gift set will add some heat to your man’s grill.
  • Complete Grilling Cookbook from Williams-Sonoma contains over two hundred mouth-watering grilling recipes including meat, veggie and even dessert grilling recipes.

Guys Like to Build

  • A Hobart Leather Apron made of cowhide split leather and finished with heavy-duty stitching is a great gift for the guy in your life who does woodworking or metal work. Go to Leather Apron.
  • Readywares Waxed Canvas Bucket Organizer fits any five gallon bucket. This nifty organizer has a total of sixty pockets inside the bucket and out for maximum tool management.
  • Contractor Pen: This nifty little pen is a multi-tasker. It comes with a ruler, level, magnetic strip, angle and drywall gauges. It’s compact and helps your guy get the job done.
  • Apollo Tools Household Carpenter Kit: This handsome carpenter kit holds all the most-used hand tools for home repair. With seventy-one pieces it has all the tools your guy needs including screwdrivers and bits, wrenches, pliers and more.

Guys Like to Play

  • Sit n Fish Personalized Cooler and Chair is a great gift for the fisherman in your life. This sturdy but lightweight chair includes an insulated cooler that can hold up to twenty-four cans. It collapses and has a strap for easy carry to the best fishing spots.
  • Paintballing for Four: Not for the faint of heart, this gift voucher will enable the recipient to book a day of paintball fun for himself and three of his best friends. 
  • A Personalized Cotton Gym Sack is the perfect bag to take to the gym. Toss in your towel and a change of clothing and then toss the used clothing in the bag for your trip home. Comes in navy or black and you can print up to two lines of text.
  • Vivosport Fitness Tracker from Garmin is the ideal tool for tracking your activity both indoors and out. Tracks distance, time, speed or pace and also tracks stress and heart rate. It has a gps for outdoor runs. 

Guys Like Gadgets

  • Keysmart is a unique gadget that holds up to eight keys and compacts them into the look of a swiss knife. It keeps keys quiet and comfortable in the pocket. Find it at Keysmart.
  • Personalized Bottle Opener and Corkscrew: This handsome silver opener can be engraved with your guy’s name. It includes a corkscrew, a foil cutter, bottle opener and a small blade. No drink will remain unopened.
  • Leather Travel and Grooming Set: This upscale grooming kit comes from Royce. It comes in black or tan and has all the tools your guy needs when he travels. 
  • The Muama Enence Translator is the perfect gift for the guy who travels for business or fun. This tiny translator comes with over forty languages pre-installed. Just hold a button and speak, then let the translator do the work for you

Have fun searching for the best gift to let your guy know how much you appreciate him.

(Father’s Day is normally held on the 3rd Sunday of June. This year it falls on Sunday 21st of June in the UK and the US.)

Tracing Your Family History: Where to Begin


Our identities are rooted in our family history. Most of us know bits and pieces of our genealogy via our shared stories and a hodgepodge of growing-up memories. But really, getting a handle on our family and its past generations is a very big research project and it can be a fascinating journey.

Unless your family already had members who did the work of charting and digging for information on the family tree, you may not know where to begin. After all, most of us know our parent’s and grandparent’ stories, but not much beyond that. And if your family emigrated from one country to another, the sources of information may be thousands of miles away. 

Thankfully genealogy is a popular hobby these days and the resources are many. It’s a good idea to keep careful records as you do your research, both online and in hardcopy notes, pictures, photo copies and the like. But where should you begin to uncover your family history?

  1. What do you already know? 

Begin your family history journey by jotting down everything you currently know. Where were your parents born? What years? What were their life experiences? Did anyone serve in the military, note levels of education achieved and so forth.

Continue on with grandparents and any other family members you know about.

Beyond that, there will be clues to the past in your home and the homes of family members. Look for photos, which often have names and dates written on the backs. Find old letters, wills, birth, marriage and death certificates. Check out the family Bible for important dates. Leaf through old yearbooks, scrapbooks, photo albums and newspaper clippings.

  1. Do Some Family Interviews

When you’ve exhausted all the resources close at hand, it’s time to interview older family members. Sadly many people wait until parents and grandparents have passed on before they realize they have lost important family history. Get those interviews and stories now, while you can. 

Ask for the basic data, but also give your relatives and friends the chance to tell important stories and share memories. Those stories hold the heart of the lives lived before and will often produce much more than mere dates and places; they’ll encompass the challenges and joys of life in earlier times.

  1. Begin to Chart Your Family Tree

At some point you’ll want to begin a family tree chart. Templates for these are easy to find and range from free printables to extensive and often expensive hard copies. Many people find it easier to keep informal charts as the research begins and then later move the information to a more permanent format. There are online programs that allow people to move genealogical information from one site to another, thus combining all they’ve learned to that point.

  1. Locate Your Sources of Information

Once you’ve done your basic family research and compiled it into a file, it’s time to go further. Maybe there is a missing family member, or a branch of the family with very little information. It’s time to set some goals and focus your attention on the information you want to find next.

There is a dizzying amount of information, search programs and genealogy resources online. You may want to begin with good, old-fashioned in-person research in places like your local library, the county courthouse records, historical societies, cemeteries and so forth. In some cases you can find this sort of information for places far away by searching online.

Then it’s on to databases such as voter registrations, census records, genealogy message boards, military records databases, and obituaries. There are many websites that will help you get started on your unique research needs. Several of them are www.ancestry.com, www.legacytree.com and www.ancestry.co.uk. The largest genealogy library in the world is housed in the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their website is www.familysearch.org

The whole concept of researching a family history may seem a bit overwhelming. For a clear guide to beginning simply and then moving on to finding more information in an orderly manner see: Your Family History Journey. 

At some point you may consider doing a DNA test to determine your geographic origins. These ancestry tests may reveal both health and origin information. Several of the best-known companies for DNA testing are CRI Genetics, 23 and Me and AncestryDNA.com

  1. Compile Your Data and Store It for Future Generations

As you do your research you’ll gather quite an assortment of pictures, photocopies and newspaper clippings. Add to that a printed family tree and you’ll soon wonder what to do with all the “stuff.” 

There are several programs designed to help you manage all your genealogical records. The first is Legacy Family Tree. Another is RootsMagic.

Tracing your family history is an ongoing project. The more you search, the more you’ll find. Are you ready to delve into your family’s fascinating past? There may be surprises and unsolved mysteries along the way, but the journey is a worthwhile and satisfying one as you learn about the lives of those who have gone before.