Cursive Writing Is Making a Much-Needed Comeback in Schools

Cursive writing is looping back into style in schools across the country after a generation of students who know only keyboarding, texting and printing out their words longhand.

Alabama and Louisiana passed laws in 2016 mandating cursive proficiency in public schools, the latest of 14 states that require cursive. And last fall, the 1.1 million-student New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system, encouraged the teaching of cursive to students, generally in the third grade.

It’s definitely not necessary but I think it’s, like, cool to have it,” said Emily Ma, a 17-year-old senior at New York City’s academically rigorous Stuyvesant High School who was never taught cursive in school and had to learn it on her own.

Penmanship proponents say writing words in an unbroken line of swooshing l’s and three-humped m’s is just a faster, easier way of taking notes. Others say students should be able to understand documents written in cursive, such as, say, a letter from Grandma. And still more say it’s just a good life skill to have, especially when it comes to signing your name.

That was where New York state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis drew the line on the cursive generation gap, when she encountered an 18-year-old at a voter registration event who printed out his name in block letters.

“I said to him, ‘No, you have to sign here,'” Malliotakis said. “And he said, ‘That is my signature. I never learned script.'”

Malliotakis, a Republican from the New York City borough of Staten Island, took her concerns to city education officials and found a receptive audience.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina distributed a handbook on teaching cursive writing in September and is encouraging principals to use it. It cites research suggesting that fluent cursive helps students master writing tasks such as spelling and sentence construction because they don’t have to think as much about forming letters.

Malliotakis also noted that students who can’t read cursive will never be able to read historical documents. “If an American student cannot read the Declaration of Independence, that is sad.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when cursive writing began to fall out of favor. But cursive instruction was in decline long before 2010, when most states adopted the Common Core curriculum standards, which say nothing about handwriting.

Some script skeptics question the advantage of cursive writing over printing and wonder whether teaching it takes away from other valuable instruction.

Anne Trubek, author of “The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting,” said schools should not require cursive mastery any more than they should require all children to play a musical instrument.

“I think students would all benefit from learning the piano,” she said, “but I don’t think schools should require all students take piano lessons.”

At P.S. 166 in Queens, Principal Jessica Geller said there was never a formal decision over the years to banish the teaching of cursive. “We just got busy with the addition of technology, and we started focusing on computers,” she said.

Third-graders at the school beamed as they prepared for a cursive lesson this past week. The 8-year-olds got their markers out, straightened their posture and flexed their wrists. Then it was “swoosh, curl, swoosh, curl,” as teacher Christine Weltner guided the students in writing linked-together c’s and a’s.

Norzim Lama said he prefers cursive writing to printing “cause it looks fancy.” Camille Santos said cursive is “actually like doodling a little bit.”

Added Araceli Lazaro: “It’s a really fascinating way to write, and I really think that everybody should learn about writing in script.”


Don’t let foodborne illness be unwanted guest at your BBQ

Summer is a great time to enjoy food and drink with family and friends, but summertime outdoor cooking also invites an unwanted guest – the threat of foodborne illness.  Whether at a family picnic, a barbecue at a park, sporting event or a group social activity, following some basic food safety rules can help prevent foodborne illness.

Plan ahead

Ensure that you have adequate cooler space and ice to last for the entire event. Pack plenty of utensils and dishware, and never reuse utensils and dishware that have been in contact with raw meat (such as a marinade), fish or poultry unless they have been thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water. Disposable utensils and plates can be a great a help in preventing food contamination.

Don’t cross-contaminate

Be sure to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood in a leakproof container or securely wrapped to prevent juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.

Wash your hands and keep things clean

If there are no facilities for hand-washing and no source of clean water at the site of your event, bring your own supply of water, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and work surfaces.

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot

Most bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40 F or above 140 F. The temperature range in between is known as the “Danger Zone,” where bacteria can grow rapidly and pose a risk for foodborne illness. After cooking, warm temperatures support the growth of harmful bacteria in food left sitting out.

Use a meat thermometer

You cannot tell if a burger or chicken is cooked by its color alone! Meat thermometers are inexpensive and provide a quick and easy way to check the internal temperature of meats on the grill. When reheating food at your outing, be sure it reaches 165 F. Keep hot foods at 140 F or hotter to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Watch out for leftovers

The USDA recommends that food not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90°F). If picnic leftovers have been sitting out for more than one hour and could have had many people handling them, when in doubt, throw them out. The more time that food has been sitting at an unsafe temperature, the more likely harmful bacteria has grown.


Best to Leave Fireworks to the Experts

Summer is synonymous with barbecues, parades and fireworks displays. But along with all the festivities are plenty of visits to emergency rooms – especially during July.

In 2016, at least four people died and about 11,100 were injured badly enough to require medical treatment after fireworks-related incidents, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. And while the majority of these incidents were due to amateurs attempting to use professional-grade, homemade or other illegal fireworks or explosives, thousands were from less powerful devices like small firecrackers and sparklers.

More fires are reported on July 4 than any other day of the year. On a typical Fourth of July, fireworks account for two out of five of all reported fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Each year, fireworks cause on average 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and nearly 17,000 other fires resulting in thousands of injuries.

The National Safety Council advises everyone to stay away from all consumer fireworks and to only enjoy fireworks at a public display conducted by professionals.

Following are some fireworks that are legal for consumers to purchase and use in some states. But just because they are legal doesn’t mean they’re safe. Check out this video by the NFPA.



Every year, young children can be found along parade routes and at festivals with sparklers in hand, but they are a lot more dangerous than most people think. Parents don’t realize they burn at about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals. Sparklers can quickly ignite clothing, and many children have received severe burns from dropping sparklers on their feet.

Bottle Rockets


These small rockets are attached to a stick, lit by a fuse and typically fired from a bottle. Teens have been known to have bottle rocket wars, firing them at one another and causing chest, head and eye injuries.

Physicians at Vanderbilt Eye Institute at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have seen so many eye injuries caused by bottle rockets they conducted a study they hope will lead to better education and “legislative enhancements” on fireworks safety.

“The majority of the children (in the study) ended up with reduced vision, and probably half of those were deemed legally blind,” said Dr. Franco Recchia, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Vanderbilt.



Firecrackers are designed to explode on the ground. They are often linked together by one long fuse and explode in a series. They are designed to be very noisy, but they also can cause burns and other serious injuries.

Roman Candles


Roman candles eject multiple exploding shells from a tube the user holds in his or her hand. There have been numerous reports of children losing fingers, severe burns and other injuries, which are sometimes caused when the device gets jammed.

Two Words About M-class Fireworks


Just don’t.

You hear them go off every year: M-80s, M-100s, even M-250s. The unmistakable explosions associated with these devices can rattle the windows of homes for blocks. They are produced illegally and without quality control, have short fuses and cause hundreds of extremely severe injuries each year.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives outlines the risks of these explosive devices.

If They’re Legal


If fireworks are legal to buy where you live and you choose to use them, be sure to follow the following safety tips:

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks
  • Older children should use them only under close adult supervision
  • Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear
  • Never light them indoors
  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material
  • Only light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting
  • Never ignite devices in a container
  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks
  • Soak unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off or in case of fire


Better yet, grab a blanket and a patch of lawn, kick back and let the experts handle the show.


Construction a critical time for fire protection

Building or remodeling a home or business is an exciting time, filled with many decisions. One consideration that’s easy to overlook is adequate fire protection.

During construction or renovation, your home or business is most susceptible to fire. In a recently published report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), during the years 2010-2014, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,440 fires in structures under construction, undergoing major renovation or being demolished. These fires resulted in $310 million in property damage each year.

Luckily, some simple and cost-effective solutions can significantly reduce the threat fire poses to your home or business:

  • Theft detection: Once the building is fully enclosed with roof, doors and windows, install and activate a temporary fire and burglar alarm system that reports to a central station. Because smoke detectors are susceptible to false activation from construction dust, heat sensors are better suited for temporary fire detection. If permanent power is not yet available, a temporary power source can be used. Cellular communication to the alarm monitoring station should suffice if an active phone line is not yet available. Tattletale Portable Alarm Systems offers these important features to Cincinnati Insurance policyholders and the public. Contact your local, independent agent for more information.
  • Site security: Because of the increased threat of arson and vandalism while your property is unoccupied, install security fencing and keep it locked on weekends and non-working hours. Motion-activated lighting, video surveillance systems and even security guards are additional options that can significantly reduce the risk of unwanted visitors or trespass.
  • Fire extinguishers: Keep fire extinguishers in highly visible locations throughout the jobsite. Multi-purpose extinguishers (Type ABC) of at least 10 pounds are recommended.
  • No smoking: Smoking should be prohibited, with no-smoking signs posted in visible locations throughout the construction site.
  • Flammable liquids: Store flammable materials such as paints, varnishes and solvents in an approved flammable storage cabinet. In addition, excess combustible building materials such as lumber should be stored outside the building a safe distance from the project.
  • Housekeeping: Because many commonly used construction materials are highly combustible, the jobsite should be broom-swept and cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned at the end of each work week. Remove all trash from the site daily or weekly.
  • Electrical: According to the NFPA report, “electrical distribution and lighting equipment was involved in 20 percent of the fires in structures undergoing major renovation, including 14 percent involving wiring and related equipment.” This high frequency warrants a closer look at the electrical systems, both of the property and those temporary systems installed by contractors.

Remember to discuss these loss-prevention measures with your contractors, including subcontractors, before construction begins. These established protocols can help keep your home or business safe during this critically important time.


Hurricanes: Plan, prepare, update, repeat

Being prepared for a hurricane requires constant updates and evolving actions. A true state of preparedness means you are ready for something, but more importantly, you are aware of the ever-changing nature of, well…Nature.

Anyone who lives or works near coastal waters, plans to visit them or has family and friends in those areas takes the time to become educated on hurricane awareness and preparation. A great online resource is The National Hurricane Center’s website. There you can download the Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide (PDF 6.2MB) that not only explains what a hurricane is in great detail, but gives you a starting point on how to recognize and prepare for the disaster before it strikes.

Those who reside further inland may ask “why would I ever need to prepare for or even be concerned about a hurricane?” In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused wind and flood damage in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania, to name just a few states. Remnants of Ike even caused damage in Canada. So much for hurricanes only being a concern for the coastal states!

Keeping track of hurricanes as they move inland is just as important as tracking hurricanes on the coasts. The NOAA’s National Weather Service can keep you apprised of what might be coming your way. Know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning.

Here are some things you as a property owner can do before a catastrophe hits that will help you in the event you need to file an insurance claim for property damage. Keep in mind, this is certainly not all-inclusive, and true preparation will be specific to the event and the property involved.

  • Understand the coverage provided in your policy. No one should be surprised that things like “flood” and “earth movement” may be limited or excluded under some insurance policies. If something isn’t clear to you, contact your agent and get an explanation of exactly what your policy will provide for you.
  • Educate yourself on how to best protect your property for the area where you reside and the disasters that may affect you.
    • Do you need to store plywood that has been cut to protect your windows and glass doors?
    • What is the safest part of your home or office should high winds blow through or a tornado touch down?
    • Do you have large trees next to your building that could be pruned or cut back to make them more stable against high winds?
    • Investing in a generator and having extra fuel on hand during those months where storms can be severe can save your basement from sump failure and flooding or your freezers from thawing and food spoilage. Refer to our tornado preparedness blog for more information about assembling an emergency kit for your home.
    • Organize and store your most important documents off-site (retaining copies for reference as needed) or in a fire- and flood-rated safe. This should include that home Inventory you’ve read about here before as well as your property insurance policy. Find our two-part series about home inventories here: Part One; Part Two.
    • Store your local agent’s contact number and your carrier’s direct contact number in your phone and also keep a written copy. Local agencies can be affected by loss of power and storm damage and may not be able to provide immediate assistance in reporting your claim. Chances are, your carrier will. If you have a policy with The Cincinnati Insurance Companies, you may report most claims by contacting your local professional independent agency or by contacting us directly.


How much life insurance do I need?

Once you have decided to purchase life insurance, the next question to answer is how much to purchase.

Some people select coverage based on an arbitrary amount: $100,000 or $200,000. Others purchase enough to pay off a home mortgage or other major bill. And some stick to the tried-and-true measure of 10 times salary.

But there are other methods to consider. You can complete a fact finder/needs list or use a life insurance calculator.

Using a fact finder ̶  something you would complete with your independent life insurance agent  ̶  is a fancy way of saying making a list. The list would include things you would want the life insurance proceeds to cover in the event of an untimely death: car note, college tuition, income replacement, etc. Then prioritize the list based on need and importance.

If you are computer savvy ̶  and you probably are if you are reading a blog  ̶  I would recommend the life calculator on Life Happens is a life insurance educational site independent from any life insurance company. You can find out about the different types of life products available, for example, permanent vs. term, universal life vs. guaranteed whole life and other options. The Life Insurance Needs Calculator is on the Calculator tab. By investing just 5 or 10 minutes of your time, you can receive a calculation of the amount of life insurance you need.

Regardless of calculation method, you may be overwhelmed by the size of the need number. Don’t be. Think of it as only a starting point. Show your calculations to a life insurance agent, who can help fine tune your numbers.

You also want to consider your budget. You never want to be insurance poor, meaning that you purchased so much insurance it caused a major change in your lifestyle. However, would eliminating one fancy coffee or unnecessary trip to the snack vending machine disturb your routine much? There’s nothing wrong with working backwards, first determining the amount that fits within your budget, then determining the coverage type and amount.

And one final thought: any insurance is better than none. Remember that the death benefit is TAX FREE. A little gift would still go a long way for your family.


Dog Bite Prevention: Responsible Dog Ownership

Responsible pet ownership builds a solid foundation for dog bite prevention. Some basics of responsible dog ownership and dog bite prevention include:
  • Carefully select your dog. Puppies should not be obtained on impulse.
  • Make sure your pet is socialized as a young puppy so it feels at ease around people and other animals.
  • Don’t put your dog in a position where it feels threatened or teased.
  • Train your dog. The basic commands “sit,” “stay,” “no,” and “come” help dogs understand what is expected of them and can be incorporated into fun activities that build a bond of trust between pets and people.
  • Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep it healthy and provide mental stimulation.
  • Avoid highly excitable games like wrestling or tug-of-war.
  • Use a leash in public to ensure you are able to control your dog and to show others that you are in control of your dog.
  • Keep your dog healthy. Have your dog vaccinated against rabies and preventable infectious diseases. Parasite control and veterinary care are also important because how your dog feels affects how it behaves.
  • Neuter or spay your dog.
  • If you have a fenced yard, make sure the gates and fence are secure.


United Pet Group Adds Eight Additional Brands to Its Dog Chew Recall

Update, 6/20/17: Rawhide loving dogs can’t catch a break this summer. The United Pet Group has announced that they are adding eight additional brands to its recall of this type of chew toy due to possible chemical contamination.

The company is now including its retail partners’ private label brands in the recall: Companio, Dentley’s, Enzadent or Dentahex, Essential Everyday, Exer-Hides, Good Lovin’ or Petco, Hill Country Fare and Priority Pet to the list of affected brands that already includes American Beefhide, Digest-eeze and Healthy Hide. A full list of products, their lot codes and identifying information can be found on the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s official announcement.

For more information about this recall, you can contact the United Pet Group consumer affairs team at 1-855-215-4962 between the hours of 8:00 AM and 11:00 PM EST.

Original Story, 6/14/2017:

  • United Pet Group is voluntarily recalling multiple brands of rawhide dog chew products due to potential chemical contamination.
  • This contamination can cause reduced appetitive, diarrhea and vomiting in dogs
  • Affected brands include American Beefhide, Digest-eeze and Healthy Hide.

Dog owners, listen up. If your pup’s favorite chew toy is a rawhide product, you may want to check the packaging. United Pet Group has voluntary recalled multiple brands of these products due to possible chemical contamination.

The affected batch was recalled after the pet group found that the rawhide chew manufacturers in Mexico, Columbia and Brazil were using a quaternary ammonium compound mixture in the process of manufacturing the items. This chemical is not approved in the U.S. for this manufacturing process and can cause an unpleasant odor as well as reduced appetitive, diarrhea and vomiting in dogs. United Pet Group has received a limited number pet illness reports based on these contaminated products.

The affected rawhide chews were sold at retail outlets as well as online in the United States and have an expiration date ranging from 6/1/2019 to 5/31/2020. The recalled brands and items are described below.

  • American Beefhide: Affected products contain a lot code on the back of the packaging that starts with AH and then lists expiration dates ranging from 6/01/2019 to 5/31/2020. All package sizes and/or weights are affected. Contaminated products also contain the following contact information: Manufactured by: Salix Animal Health, LLC Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
  • Digest-eeze: Affected products contain a lot code on the back of the packaging that starts with AH, AV, A, AI, AO or AB and then lists expiration dates ranging from 6/01/2019 to 5/31/2020. All package sizes and/or weights are affected. Contaminated products also contain the following contact information: Manufactured by: Salix Animal Health, LLC Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
  • Healthy Hide: All products containing Healthy Hide brand, Healthy Hide Good-n-Fit brand, and Healthy Hide Good-n-Fun brand on the label are affected.

“We take our responsibility to pets and their owners seriously and we are continuing to investigate the cause of this problem,” the company said in a statement on the FDA’s website. “We are implementing changes across the affected manufacturing facilities in order to prevent this problem from reoccurring in the future. United Pet Group is also working with retailers to ensure that the affected products are no longer sold and removed from inventory.”

Consumers who have purchased these products are being urged to dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase or United Pet Group for a full refund. You can contact the United Pet Group consumer affairs team at 1-855-215-4962 between the hours of 8:00 AM and 11:00 PM EST.


5 Deadliest Plants In Your Garden

Awhile back a reader sent me an email telling me about the tragic death of her dog after eating a particular plant in her garden. She wanted to know what plants are especially dangerous to dogs and cats if they happen to be roaming out in the garden. So I did some investigation. Proudly information in these are the deadliest plant. The first deadly plant is yew. No not you watching me at this moment. Yew y-e-w. It’s an evergreen shrub is use to landscape around a lot of houses And it has these little, juicy, red fruits on it that are very attractive. But, if a pet eats it, or if you eat it, it’s deadly.

The next deadly plant is castor bean, this is a plant that’s grown because it has a It has beautiful, exotic foliage, and it has bright red seeds. Problem is, every single part of this plant is extremely poisonous. In fact the KGB used to use an extract to kill enemy agents. The most poisonous part of this plant are the seeds. If your pet happens to chow down on these seeds, well you won’t have to worry about its next meal.

So the next deadly plant is a weedy tree called Chinaberry that was brought to this country from Asia. It spread all the way from the east coast out to Texas. It has fragrant lavender flowers in the springtime, and then in the summer and in the fall it develops these large clusters Of yellow fruits. Now when they drop to the ground, they kinda soften and get squishy and it might be something the pet would like to eat. If a pet does eat these things, it can mean a quick trip to the pet cemetery.

Another plant we have to watch out for in the South is one called Nandina. It also goes by the name heavenly bamboo. It’s very popular because It grows these big clusters of bright red berries that stay that color all fall and winter. Unfortunately, the berries are toxic. So if your dog or cat eats too many of those, he could be going to Heaven a little bit sooner than he had planned.

Last on our list Is the lily. Now this is kinda strange, a lily has absolutely no bad effect on a dog, but cats find it extremely poisonous. So keep your cat away from all types of lilies or else you could have a dead cat and that’s no joke. So if you love your garden, you love your pets, Keep them away from these deadly plants.


I Wish I’d Thought of That: 5 Cool Ways to Capture Ideas On the Go

Ever get a feeling halfway through the day that your mind is… heavy. Like one of those giant women’s handbags that seems to magically fill up with stuff to the point where finding anything in it is almost impossible.

As someone who was born to innovate, I often find myself distracted and irritable when I don’t schedule time to do a brain dump and get my ideas out of my head and onto paper. Or my phone.

But, like Archimedes, some of my best ideas come to me when I’m… unplugged.

After years of almost slipping and breaking my neck galloping out of the shower to write something down or leaving myself voicemails (that I never go back and listen to), I decided to get serious about collecting my thoughts.

Partly as a form of hygiene to keep my mind running smoothly for productivity.

Partly because I hate losing so many ideas that I know were brilliant or could have been developed into something brilliant.

So here are some suggestions for collecting ideas when you’re away from your desk

1. The virtual to-do list.

Applications like Wunderlist, Todoist, and Remember the Milk all accomplish the same thing. They provide a sleek, minimalist way to create everything from grocery lists to reminders. Simply create a category for ideas and jot them down as you go. Everything syncs in the cloud, so you can access it from your computer or smartphone. With a few taps, you can add, edit, delete or mark it as read.

2. For the notebook lovers (and those of us who like to brainstorm in the shower)

Why? Because science!

There are a surprising number of weatherproof notepads. They’re specially designed for people like marine biologists, adventurous sailors, and field workers. Also be used by people who spill their drinks, forget their umbrellas, or do their best thinking while singing off-key and shampooing their hair into an Elvis puff.

Perhaps the oldest in the market Rite in the Rain has been around since 1916. (Quite literally.) A special coating protects each sheet of archival paper. With normal use, this means it will last for hundreds of years.

If you want something a little fancier, Hustle is a premium planner made with stone paper. Instead of pulp, each sheet of paper is made from calcium carbonate. It is durable, recyclable, acid-free and waterproof. Plus, it saves trees.

But before you get too excited… It’s not available yet — at least not to most people. They’re successfully funded on Kickstarter, and they have already shipped some of the planners to the backers. So this might be the time to become an early adopter.

AquaNotes, my personal fave (the idea of my bath-time musings sticking around for centuries gives me performance anxiety and eco-guilt) produces waterproof paper that is recyclable, non-toxic and safe for the environment. Instead of soaking through, water beads up and rolls off the surface. Their special incense cedar wood pencils also won’t get moldy in the shower.

3. Look ma, no hands!

What do you do when a brilliant idea hits you, but you can’t use your hands to write or type?

Jott is a messenger app with automatic voice-to-text transcription. Once you sign-up, they provide a toll-free number you can dial. It records up to 30 seconds of your message then sends you an email. Unfortunately the app is only available in certain locations.

Dial2Do also offers hands-free note taking. By converting audio notes to text, you’re able to take notes even while driving. This would be wicked for those of us who prefer dictating instead of typing longer form blog content or emails.

For those of us with less-than-typical accents, the Dragon Dictation app can be a real godsend. It’s a little time consuming to set up, but then your notes actually make sense later.

4. Remember everything

Of course, the big daddy of idea-dump technology remains Evernote. With syncing enabled across devices, it remains one of my favourite ways to save ideas, images, memories and more. And because their search function even picks up text from within images, you can get away with a certain… ahem… lack of system.

5. Capturing collaboration

Now that we’re working as a team at my company and co-creating a lot of our products and content, we’ve been enjoying Asana’s board view which allows various team members to create a whole bunch of virtual sticky notes that act as a central idea file. Tasks can then be assigned and collaborators can be added on at the appropriate time (eg: we tag our graphics person once we’re done brainstorming, writing and editing a piece).

With the insane creativity that app developers display these days, I’m sure this is a rather incomplete list, so I can’t wait to hear your own list of apps, processes or tools you use to tame the idea machine in your head. Suggestions?