‘Buyer Beware’ – A Holiday Warning

‘Buyer Beware’ – A Holiday Warning

We’ve all been there, standing in a toy store facing an incredible array of puzzles, robotics and science kits. Maybe you’re in a hurry on your way to a party or desperate for a gift in a faraway airport. You spot it – the perfect choice! Then you see it – the small letters that say “Ages 5 and Up.”

Your child is 4.

Walk away. Younger kids lack fine motor skills, which can lead to frustration and tears and rules and strategy may be concepts beyond their current attention span. And small parts? That is the biggest problem, children under the age of three are still putting things into their mouths. Small batteries can look like chocolate chips and puzzle pieces like candy.

“Parents always think ‘My kid is smart – she can handle it,’” says Maryanne McGerty-Sieber, a Product Safety Investigator for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A two-year-old is a two-year-old and will act like one. “When you’re buying toys for your children, your grandchildren, nieces or nephews or family friends be a label reader. Look at the information that’s on the product packaging and buy for the appropriate age. And for those families that have kids of different ages, there are small parts warning labels on toys for ages 3-5 that let the parent know that this toy contains small parts.”

“Small parts” is one the biggest concerns for the CPSC in children’s products. Assembly parts, pieces that detach or break off, removable batteries, or accessories can be dangerous if swallowed. Sometimes the problem is not obvious; an innocent-looking plush toy could lose its nose after a lot of wear and tear.

Families with children of different ages have to be especially careful. “My girls are two and a half years apart,” Maryanne says. “My younger daughter always thought she was the same age as her older sister!” Because you can’t watch them every second, separating toys and not putting them in shared toy boxes are good ideas.

Sports equipment like bikes and scooters are another example when you should always buy according to their age. Buying a bike your children can “grow into” may be too large to ride safely. That also includes scooters and hoverboards. And don’t forget the safety gear – helmets, elbow pads, and knee pads are usually sold nearby, so make it a complete purchase.

What about second-hand items? Garage sales and thrift stores offer attractive prices for everything from bikes, toys and other children’s products. But there are some items that shouldn’t be bought second-hand like bike helmets and infant/car seats. They could have been involved in an accident and have internal damage that affects their integrity.

The CPSC has other recommendations to help keep your kids – and you – safe. Information about product recalls, seasonal safety tips and guidelines are part of their website offerings. Check it out at: www.cpsc.gov or give them a call at their toll-free Hotline – 1-800-638-2772.

Remember, before you buy or accept any second-hand item always check to see if there has been a product recall on the CPSC website. The agency has listed every recall they have ever done since its creation in the ‘70s. “Go to CPSC’s website,” she advises. “One cautionary thought to keep in mind, before you make any purchase, always make sure there’s some type of identification. A manufacturer, a model number, a serial number, that’s the basic information you need to find out if it’s safe. If you don’t se
e anything at all – walk away.”

Helping the Hungry

Helping the Hungry

This year many of our food banks and community pantries are facing more demand than ever before. As we shop for our own celebrations, consider buying extra to help restock shelves to help families who aren’t as fortunate. Here are some tips to make the most of your donations!

We all know that shelf-stable proteins and canned goods are the easiest – and most desirable – donations you can make to a food drive. Everyone likes peanut butter or tuna, and rice or pasta can stretch a can of soup into a real meal. Every food pantry’s wish list includes canned meats, fruits and vegetables, as well as oatmeal, soups and whole grain pasta, because they’re in high demand and have a high nutritional value.

But think about your own meal planning. Perhaps you’re going to jazz up a simple jar of spaghetti sauce and serve it with dried pasta. Maybe it’s a special occasion and you’re going to treat your kids to boxed brownies for dessert. What do you put in your pan before cooking down your onion? What do you add to the cooked pasta to keep it from sticking? And does the brownie mix require anything beyond a half cup of water?

Cooking oil

Cooking oil, vegetable shortening, salt, pepper, even cinnamon, food starch or tabasco sauce are kitchen staples, yet they are rarely found in food pantry donation boxes. They’re not luxuries, but try making the simplest boxed meal without them!

If you’re donating boxes of cake or baking mix, why not go the extra step and check the label for any additional required ingredients? Include shortening sticks or oil, and powdered or canned milk. Contributing cans of tuna? Add mayonnaise or dressing, or even jars of relish. Canned spaghetti or jarred tomato sauces really call for canisters of shelf-stable grated cheese.

Helping out a local center? Community or shelter kitchens relying on donations often have to purchase these basic supplies for their bulk meal preparations. Institution-sized boxes of these cooking and baking staples would help them allocate their limited funds towards more food to prepare!

Cleaning products

Finally, if you’re willing to hit another aisle after the pasta or canned goods, consider what you do after every meal. Clean up! Dishwashing soaps and cleansers are among the first things families cut from a tight budget and they’re not available at all to anyone shopping with a SNAP benefits card. Volunteer cooks at community centers and emergency shelter staff often have to supply their own cleaning supplies to keep food prep areas safe and the dishes clean. If your budget allows, consider including liquid soap and reusable cloths in your donation.

When in doubt, or trying to do the most with a limited budget, go for the top ten. Canned vegetables, fruit and proteins as well as dried pastas and oatmeal are the big requests for a reason, they are desperately needed and they provide the greatest nutrition. But, if you can go the extra mile, check your own shopping list, then push that cart an extra aisle or two for your donation.

Want to learn more about ending hunger in your community? Feeding America partners with 200 food banks and 60,000 meal programs across the United States and Puerto Rico, they offer information about hunger and ways to help in your neighborhood, including virtual and on-site food drives!

Holiday Fire Safety

Holiday Fire Safety

Your hand-cut tree has been up since Thanksgiving; the holiday oven mitts rest on the range as the turkey fryer heats up by the garage. Next door, the electric menorah shines in the window as the new electric scooter charges nearby. The holidays are a great time – but there are lots of ways that disastrous fires can start.

Christmas Tree Safety

The National Fire Protection Association reports that our fire departments responded to an estimated 160 Christmas tree fires each year between 2016 and 2020. We average two deaths per year, lots of injuries, and $12 million in property damage. According to the NFPA, even a well-watered tree will only last four weeks. That means if you decorated after Thanksgiving dinner, it should be discarded the week after Christmas, not after the new year.

That fresh-cut tree should immediately be placed in a container with at least one gallon of water, and bigger trees may require more. Check the level each day to keep that tree hydrated. A well-watered tree will have flexible needles that hold onto the branch.

While nobody places real candles on the tree today, one short from your decorative lights can ignite dry needles. Electricity and a drying tree can be a deadly combination; they cause nearly half of those fires. Before you place that first ornament, check your outlets, tree light bulbs, and light cords for fraying or damage.

Think you’re safe with an artificial tree? Plastics melt and ignite, so follow the same rules that you would with a real tree. Look for the “Fire Resistant” label when buying an artificial tree, and keep all trees away from heat sources, including lamps, heating vents, radiators, fireplaces, space heaters, and candles.

Turn off lights and electrical decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.

Remember, once you stop watering that tree, it becomes an even greater fire hazard. After the holidays, keep the drying tree away from your house until it is recycled or collected on trash day.

The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) has tips and more information for a safe holiday display.

Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers

Almost every cook has triggered a smoke detector, which is embarrassing in the moment. But smoke detectors can be a lifesaver. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that cooks install alarms at least 10–15 feet from the kitchen range and use photoelectric alarms, as they are less sensitive to cooking activity. Like the smoke detectors in your hallways and bedrooms, your kitchen unit should be installed following the manufacturer’s instructions and have the batteries checked monthly and changed once a year.

Fire extinguishers are rated by their designed use. For example, Class A extinguishers are for fires that involve ordinary household items such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and plastics. Class B extinguishers are for flammable liquid fires such as kitchen grease, gasoline, solvents, and oil-based paint. And Class C are rated for fires involving electrical equipment such as wiring, circuit breakers, electronics and appliances.

For general households, use a combined A-B-C extinguisher and place them at every level of your house or apartment, near exits, to create a safe escape pathway. The National Fire Protection Association says to use them when the fire is confined to a small area, it’s not growing, everyone has exited the building, the fire department has been alerted, and the room is not filled with smoke.

For kitchen use, a Class K, designed to prevent burning grease from splattering and spreading, is the one most often found in the home. Since most kitchen fires are small and in a tight area, Class K fire extinguishers use a high-volume, low-velocity spray.

Remember to read the instructions and know how to use a fire extinguisher before you need it!

FEMA offers easy-to-follow home fire prevention tips at their website.

Kitchen Fires

Cooking is the leading cause of all residential building fires and injuries, accounting for an average of 187,500 fires per year from 2017 to 2019, according to FEMA.  Food, grease, oven mitts, towels, window curtains, and even wooden spoons can all ignite and cause a potentially deadly fire.

Practice prevention! Keep the stove top clear. Dump those flammable toaster crumbs! Keep handles turned away from you to avoid bumping into them or turning them over. Don’t just stand by that pan. If you have to leave the room, turn off the burner. Practice cleaning up spills as you go and double-checking that you’ve turned off all burners.

Know what to do if you do start a fire. If it’s in the oven, close the door. A burning microwave dish can be put out by closing the door and unplugging the unit. For small pan fires, salt and baking soda can put out the flames, or you can smother the fire with a lid or baking sheet. Never move a burning pan or throw water on burning grease; both can spread the fire.

Turkey Fryers

What could go wrong? Three or more gallons of bubbling oil in a top-heavy pot with red hot handles? Tip-overs, contact burns, and fire are just a few of the potential dangers of these popular holiday cookers.

Start your holiday meal prep safely. Read the instructions that came with the cooker.

Make sure that the fryer is placed on a flat, sturdy, non-wooden surface, a minimum of ten feet away from your home and away from eaves and low-hanging foliage. Never move it while it’s in use! Make sure you have flame-retardant, insulated oven mitts handy – the lid and handles can get dangerously hot. Long sleeves and goggles can protect you from spatters.

Thaw that bird before cooking it! Dropping a frozen or frost-covered turkey into the fryer will cause the oil to splatter out and possibly burn you. Keep kids and pets at least three feet away, and remember, the oil stays hot for several hours.

Electrical Cords

We all have cherished decorations that come out once a year: electric trains, plug-in candles, bubble lights, or window displays. Maybe they are family hand-me-downs with decades of use behind them. The Electrical Safety Foundation estimates that electrical fires are responsible for 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage each year.

Old or damaged household wiring is a year-round safety concern, but the holidays add to the potential risk as we plug in and turn on our treasured decorations.

Extension cords are meant for temporary use only. Match the cord to its use; they’re rated for indoors or outdoors and by how much power they can withstand. Check for damage, and never plug two together. Cords can easily overheat when used incorrectly. Never cover a cord with a rug, and keep them away from flammable materials.

Before you plug in that dancing snowman for another holiday, check his wiring. Old insulation may be peeling, leaving exposed wires, or the plug may be loose. It may be time to retire these pieces. Even new devices should be unplugged when not in use.

Electric Scooters

E-bikes and e-scooters are more popular than ever. Lower-cost and environmentally friendly, young and old will be unwrapping one this year. But did you know their batteries have been known to catch on fire and cause explosions? The NFPA recommends that you only buy devices and accessories that are rated by a national testing lab, always follow manufacturer instructions, and only use the batteries and accessories that were designed specifically for that model.

Never overcharge a battery. Stop using the bike if the battery gets hot, puts off an odor, leaks, smokes, or changes shape or size. Never throw an old battery into the trash; dispose of it through an approved battery recycling site.

Batteries should be stored at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. E-bikes, scooters, and their batteries should never be stored by an exit or near flammable items.

Want to learn more fire prevention tips? Visit CPSC’s Holiday Safety Information Center for more holiday safety tips, as well as a sharable Holiday Safety video, poster and b-roll that show the serious risks posed by using a turkey fryer too close to the home, a dry Christmas tree, and burning candles near flammable items.

How To Defeat Hate: Here Are Some Resources

How To Defeat Hate: Here Are Some Resources

Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.

On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine Black worshipers, including the senior pastor and a state senator.

On Oct. 27, 2018, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with multiple firearms, including three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations. He also injured multiple responding police officers as they attempted to rescue surviving victims.

In March of 2022, a 28-year-old man was arrested and charged with hate crimes following a two-hour spree of attacks on seven women of Asian descent in Manhattan. It was an ugly year for New York as four Asian Americans had died by beatings in apparently random attacks.

On August 22, 2023, a California clothing store owner was killed by a gunman. Police say he tore down a Pride flag outside her business and made homophobic remarks toward her. The married mother of nine had confronted him about the flag before he shot her.

Some Statistics

Millions now live in fear of being targeted for their faith, race, ethnicity, and identity. In the Federal Bureau of Investigations report on hate crimes released in March 2023, hate crimes reported in the United States increased nearly 12%. The FBI said close to 65% of victims were reportedly targeted because of their race or ethnicity. 15.9% were targeted for their sexual orientation, and 14.1% were targeted because of their religion.

Over half of religious-bias hate crimes in America in 2020 targeted Jews, yet only 2% of Americans are Jewish. Jewish families worry if it’s still safe to wear a Star of David necklace in public. They worry if it’s safe to put a mezuzah on their front door. It’s common to see armed guards patrol synagogues and metal detectors greet members.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Asian communities have seen a drastic rise in harassment, verbal abuse, and hate speech. A study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 339% nationally between 2020 and 2021. Women and the elderly were the most frequent targets.

What can you do? Look to the internet and social media for ways to combat prejudice. Take a stand against hate in all its forms. Become educated. Learn to recognize hate speech and research “facts” and stories before reposting. (The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions provides a great checklist called “How To Spot Fake News.” You can find it here.) Know what to do when you see an act of discrimination and how to support its victim. Teach your children about prejudice and discrimination.

Some resources

There are many trusted and well-vetted organizations to help you in this fight. It’s worth checking out their websites, and following them on social media.

Shine A Light is a purpose-driven platform for organizations, companies, institutions, and individuals to unite to fight antisemitism in all its modern forms. The platform offers resources for advocates and allies. This includes research data, educational material for children and teens, and information about antisemitism through the decades. They trace how today’s Jewish hatred was shaped by literature, culture, policies, and law in the past.

Stop AAPI Hate is a coalition dedicated to ending racism and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAs & PIs), working with other communities of color to advocate for equity and justice. Like Shine A Light, Stop AAPI Hate challenges harmful misconceptions about their community. They work towards social change by shifting how everyday people and lawmakers see them. At the same time, they offer resources for their community, with guides to knowing your rights through a fifty-state recap of local anti-discrimination laws, safety tips, and downloadable flyers.

For over 100 years, The Anti-Defamation League has fought “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all through research and advocacy,” per their website.  They offer educational materials, global data, an extremism glossary, and a hate symbol directory. The ADL is also a leader in battling online prejudice and hate speech.

The Sothern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is an agent for racial justice, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human and civil rights of all people, Blacks, children, women, the disabled, immigrants and migrant workers and the LGBTQ community. Their Intelligence Project tracks and exposes the activities of hate groups and other domestic extremists.

With understanding and education, hopefully, one day, we can defeat hate.

Clint Black Discusses The ‘Formula’ of Songwriting

Clint Black Discusses The ‘Formula’ of Songwriting

Clint Black is a superstar, and he worked extremely hard to earn that status. He is a singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and actor. He is known and loved forfor his heart-wrenching break-up songs and inspiring love songs that stand the test of time.

It’s often interesting to hear an artist’s definition of country music and how they feel about today’s music compared to, in this case, the music of Clint Black’s era. In this episode of How I Wrote That Song, Clint discusses the importance of lyrics, poetry, and the high standard for calling a song “country.”

Black came onto the country music scene during a very exciting time. The music was changing thanks to artists like Clint, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. These five artists make up the storied “Class of ‘89.” As The Tennesseean wrote: “The Class of ‘89 … changed the face of one of America’s truest art forms, propelling country music to unprecedented commercial success and worldwide popularity.”

That class paved the way for today’s heavy hitters like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Carrie Underwood; each of whom made his or her country music debut approximately 15 years later. How I Wrote That Song with Clint Black will take you on a trip back to when Clint was a young man with a record deal, a successful radio single, yet still only pulling in $50 a gig. He was chomping at the bit to finish his album and had a hard time “killing time” waiting for it to come together.

You’ll hear how fate brought the unmistakable voice of Wynonna to join Clint on one of the most emotional songs in his repertoire, “A Bad Goodbye.” And wait until you find out how long it took him to write it!

And, ironically, you’ll laugh when you hear Clint describe how he fooled his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, into joining him to sing what is still considered to be one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, “When I Said I Do.”