With Thanksgiving around the corner, this year we have much to be thankful for.  The pandemic which has separated us from family and friends makes it difficult sometimes to count our blessings. Rather than taking one day to acknowledge what you are grateful for, why not take a moment every evening to reflect on the best part of your day.

A creative way to do this is with a Gratitude Pumpkin. All you need is a pumpkin and a sharpie, and each night you can take a moment to write one thing on the pumpkin that you are thankful for. Start at the top and wrap the words all the way around the pumpkin until it is full. If you live alone, this is a great time for self-reflection and positivity and if you have children, it is a great way to get their creativity flowing. They will be excited each night to contribute their addition to the pumpkin. It is wonderful to watch the pumpkin grow with so many reminders of how lucky and blessed you and your family are.

If you begin writing on your pumpkin on Thanksgiving Day, it will be filled with words and ideas that have brought you happiness right up to Christmas. It will also be the perfect unexpected addition to your Christmas centerpiece and a great conversation starter to share with your extended family as you sit around the table and reflect. Sometimes we all need those little reminders that happiness can be found in each and every day and your gratitude pumpkin can do just that.

Whether you serve your Thanksgiving meal family style, buffet, or plated, there is room to add some pizzazz to the table and, therefore, the event.  People notice when you take the time to make something special.  It lifts their spirits and enlivens conversation, making your time together more enjoyable.

Here are some simple ideas to get you started.

Flowers, pumpkins, and gourds, oh my! These are the staples of Thanksgiving decorating and are used several ways. A woven basket of small gourds makes a colorful centerpiece for your table. Just make sure your centerpiece is no higher than 7 inches so guests can still see each other.

Cut the top off a small pumpkin, scoop out the pulp and place flowers inside to create a unique table accessory. It is easier to arrange the flowers in a small jar that sits perfectly in the pumpkin. This also allows you to keep water in it so your arrangement lasts longer.

Tiny vases of baby mums are great to cluster in empty spaces on your table or buffet.  Spread them down the table amongst the pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, or arrangements of larger flowers.

Consider creating a table runner of several small gourds, pumpkins, and flower arrangements.  Place a large cluster as the centerpiece of the table, then scatter the rest down the table in each direction.  Or, if your table is round, scatter them in a circular area around the centerpiece.

Size matters. As mentioned above, keep your table pieces 7 inches or shorter. This ensures that guests are able to make eye contact and keep their conversations going.  Very important if a fun, lively event is your goal.

Use any large pumpkins, gourds, or flower arrangements in other areas of your home.  On your coffee table, in your entryway, or on the front porch.

Get your family involved. Holiday decorating not only creates a pleasant, colorful atmosphere, it also provides a memorable bonding experience with your children.  Find ways to get them involved.  They might help arrange the items on the table.  If you have more than one child you may give each of them an assignment of decorating a specific area – the table, the living room, the entryway, etc.

Reap the rewards. Your guests and family members enjoy your efforts to make their holiday even more special.  Your children have their confidence bolstered from the compliments they receive on their decorations. Your Thanksgiving holiday is a success!

Pumpkins and Gourds
Pumpkins and gourds make colorful table arrangements

Flowers in a Pumpkin
Flowers arranged in a small pumpkin provide unique table decorations

Using baby mums
Tiny vases of baby mums make lovely space fillers

Roses
Large flower arrangements can be enjoyed in other areas of your home

Thanksgiving can be a joyful time with family and friends, or it can seem like you the host, have taken on too many responsibilities as the cook, server, and dishwasher. Whether having dinner with new in-laws, old friends, or close family members, there are certain tricks and tips that can make you look like a pro at hosting a thanksgiving feast.

Plan ahead. Make the turkey and side dishes in advance. Set a schedule and lay out exactly how much time you will need.

Accept help. If others offer to bring an item or come early to assist you, always welcome their kind gesture.

Set it pretty. Entertaining is the perfect excuse to pull out all the stops when it comes to your table setting. Use the china, crystal, and silver that you have. Place flowers, candles, and seasonal items down the center of the table to create ambiance. It is well worth the extra minutes and effort.

Shake up the seating arrangements. If possible, separate couples so that they are not sitting across from or next to each other. Seat people according to personality and interests.

Set the tone. Most guest will follow the host’s lead. Your mood is critical to set the tone of the dinner.  Always remain positive and keep a smile on your face.  Your attitude can put any guests at ease.

Get dressed and ready early. If you stayed up all night cooking and cleaning, never allow your guests to know you are tired or stressed. It is always best to plan ahead and make sure you are refreshed and ready for any small emergencies that may occur.

Steer the conversation. Stay away from conversations about sex, religion, or politics. These topics have been known to put a damper on the evening. Do your best to direct the conversations so that they don’t lead down a dangerous path.

Have your 10 questions ready to go. If you are acting as host, consider the opposing views of dinner guests. Plan a list of appropriate discussion points ahead of time. Stick to topics suitable and appropriate for all audiences.  Pick 10 questions to get the conversation going – include the weather, pets, movies, books, travel and so on.  Pay attention to local and national news so that you are well informed about things happening around you.

Make it a game. Between courses, if there is a lull in the conversation and guests get that glazed-over look, pull out a game such as Table Topics. Have guests draw a card and answer questions that are posed. Boredom be gone!

Stay neutral. Try not to take sides. Make your guests comfortable by listening to different points of view.  The relationships between guests in your home are far more important than anyone being right or feeling superior.

Being a great host takes planning and patience. Good conversation is as important as good food, wine, and flowers to ensure that everyone will have a great time - including you, the host.

These poor manners and actions of some are shore to ruin a good beach day. Don't let this be you!

The Negligent Neighbors . . . 

Even though space on the beach can sometimes be tight, these annoying neighbors never notice that they spread out right on top of your towel.  There might be a few inches of golden sand peeking out between the towels, but this is not enough to give people the privacy or elbow room they deserve. Personal space is sacred for many people; be mindful of others around you.

The Sandman . . .

This is the guy who wanders off the beach with wet feet, coated in a thick layer of sand, and then walks up to the hotel, leaving a trail of abrasive crumbs behind. Or, even worse, the person will jump into a nearby pool, depositing all that sand at the bottom of the pool – an unwelcome surprise for other swimmers! Beach-side establishments usually have showers readily available to prevent this mess; use them!

The Oblivious Swimmers . . . 

The Oblivious Swimmers jump into the water with a blatant disregard for the posted warning signs. Whether it’s a strong riptide, high populations of jellyfish, or inclement weather, nothing stops these Swimmers from their splashing. Respect the signs and the warnings from lifeguards; they’re there for a reason!

The DJ . . .  

DJs certainly love their music, and they make sure that the rest of the beach enjoys it too. However, not everyone shares their passion for the techno music genre. Sound travels easily on the beach, so keep volumes low or invest in a good set of fashionable headphones.

The Exhibitionists . . .  

We’ve all seen these types of Beachgoer; they make sure that we do. The Exhibitionists wear skimpy swimsuits or get too comfortable with their significant others on the beach. Beaches are public places – so save the string bikinis and loving kisses for private.

The Dust Devil . . .

Nothing is worse than getting an unexpected face-full of sand when these Sandstorms decide to shake out their towels. They’ll also whip up sand by running through dunes or wearing flip-flops through the sand. When cleaning off your sitting space, make sure that the sand returns to the beach.

The Beach Bully . . .

The Beach Bully is the worst kind of beachgoer. They needlessly destroy sandcastles, throw their trash onto the beach or into the water, and even steal beach furniture and chairs. This type of behavior does not need an explanation of why this is improper etiquette. They might be on a well-deserved break, but kindness and consideration for others never go on vacation!

Sand Castle Smash

Who are the enemies of etiquette today? Well, they are lurking everywhere and screaming for your attention.

We have compiled a list of our top “Enemies of Etiquette” as we like to call them so that you can be on the lookout.

The Enemy: Technology

Children and parents alike are glued to their devices. Seeing a family of four all staring at their iPhones during a dinner out is a common occurrence. With these distractions at our finger tips, communication and socialization are diminishing.

Advice: Actively be aware of how much time you spend staring at the screen.  Take back your precious time.

The Enemy: Social Media

Not only do we communicate more and with larger audiences, we do so at lightning speed, using emojis, status updates and 140 character announcements. Immediate updates, cute dog videos, personal information about friends and acquaintances along with new or fake news updates is constantly being thrown our way.

Advice: Limit time using social media, be aware of what you are reading and absorbing and always think before you post on any social site.

The Enemy: The Race

You’re in a hurry, I’m in a hurry, were all in a hurry! There is never enough time - - and especially not enough time for manners or courtesy.

Advice: Slow down, you’re not the only one whose time is important.  There is always time to show respect for others.

The Enemy: Trolls

People say things online that they would never dream of uttering out loud. The amount of hate and irresponsibility on social sites and in comment sections is unbelievable. Words have power and what we say online has just as much weight as what we say in person.

Advice: Don’t get involved with trolls – don’t read their remarks – ban and block those individuals. If you think you are being one – stop it immediately!

The Enemy: Time

Over-scheduled, rushed, too busy to sit down and eat together – this is typical. The Harris Poll states that 59% of people claim their family has fewer dinners together than they did growing up. This is cause for concern since the family dinner is the cornerstone of conversation skills and consideration for others.

Advice: Make time to have meals together.  This is an important sharing time – not only for families with children, but for everyone.  Sharing your day and listening to someone else is one of the best things we can do to eradicate the enemies of etiquette.

The “enemies of etiquette” all have one goal - To divide us. We must stay vigilant and continue fighting the battle in the hopes of preserving courtesy and respect. 

With school shootings, cyber bullying and teen suicide on the rise around our country, our youth need help. 

The “do unto others” foundation of former generations seems to be lacking in today’s youth who have no focus on core ethical values. 

Children should be learning these skills sets in school, but often times they are not.  With many schools limiting character building classes and activities due to academic pressure paired with more working  parents, who is responsible for these teachings?

Children spend more time at school and extracurricular activities than ever before.  The lack of  instruction is now becoming more apparent with schools coming under heavy scrutiny concerning the well-being and education of our children.  

“In the long run, I’m not sure that it matters if a student learns algebra, but I know that it matters if a student learns right from wrong,” says George Booz, former principal at South Carroll High School in Sykesville, Maryland, a school nationally recognized for its character education program.

“I know that it matters if a person learns that in this world we have to help each other. I don’t see how we get around that.”

Character Education is a process of teaching children the importance of core ethical values, such as tolerance, respect and compassion. 

Character Education has been shown to provide a 23% increase in social and emotional skills, an 11% improvement on achievement test scores, a 9% reduction in problem behaviors and a 52% increase in graduation rate. 

Effective programs engage children in hands-on activities where good character is emphasized throughout the school environment as well as through the curriculum. 

While studies show 93% of teachers support Character Education in schools, these teachings are most effective when they start in our homes.

Whether you are a parent, educator, friend or family member, each and every one of us who comes in contact with a child plays an important role in their development. 

It’s time to stop asking who is responsible. We are all responsible for helping to guide today’s children into compassionate, kind and confident young adults of tomorrow.

With time ticking and the need growing, The American School of Protocol® has created a new 1-Day Training Conference, Cultivating Character™ to help combat this crisis.

A Pre-K through High School series, Cultivating Character™ provides excellent benefits to anyone working closely with children.  Participants in Cultivating Character™ will receive the education and materials needed to become an influential instructor. 

For more information on Cultivating Character™ and how you can help click here

A recent article posted by The Conversation, an academic content website, listed 10 ways schools, parents, and communities can prevent school shootings now.

Number one on their list to combat this major problem is for schools and communities to teach social and emotional skills.

The article states that decrease in free play time and frequent social media use has reduced children’s opportunities to learn these basic social skills. Children should be learning these skills sets in school, but often times they are not.

As an etiquette and life skills educational company, The American School of Protocol, completely agrees that children need to learn life skills. However, we have found that during the school day is not when the majority of this learning takes place.

Many schools have completely eliminated character building classes and activities due to academic pressure and the need to meet certain benchmarks on state administered exams.

Studies have found that schools only try to implement a character building program, once it is too late or as a buffer to help solve an existing problem.  Children spend more time at school and extracurricular activities than ever before.  The lack of  instruction from parents is now becoming more apparent.

Character Education, Etiquette, and Life Skills are all necessary to help formulate a balanced and socially compassionate child who can conduct themselves with confidence and consideration for others. Eliminating home economics, life skills and character building paired with our new digital era and lifestyle, qualified etiquette teachers are more in demand than ever before, but without instruction in the class room and etiquette teachers in the communities, the outlook for the future of our youth is grim.

After every tragic event our requests, internet searches and calls soar. We also hear from individuals around the world who have the same problem. The American School of Protocol’s goal is for every state and city across the United States to have a knowledgeable etiquette teacher who is offering classes to students of all ages.

We continually find underqualified and inexperienced instructors who want to help, but just aren’t accomplishing their goals. Etiquette is an unregulated industry.  This is why it is so easy for other companies to market and sell certificates and programs that don’t teach the information correctly or address the real issues.

We have developed our 5-Day Certification Training and a complete Character Education Series for teachers who want to make sure they are teaching  high quality, accurate educational materials.

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To parents, educators, entrepreneurs, we need you to step up and bring etiquette to your community. If this has been on the back burner, we encourage you to lay out your goals and make it happen. Now is the time!

We have a huge problem on our hands.  Gun violence, mass murders, opioid crisis, and bullying.  America’s youth are in the front row of this chilling production.  

On February 14th Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida had one of the world’s deadliest school massacres. The students who survived have since decided to take their pain and transform it into something useful that may actually bring about change.

Lorenzo Prado, a Parkland High school shooting survivor said, "To let these victims' lives be taken without any change in return is an act of treason to our great country. What we must do now is enact change because that is what we do to things that fail: We change them."

Even after one and a half months since the shooting, the students continue to stay strong in their protest and demand for change.

Peggy Newfield, President of The American School of Protocol in Atlanta, Georgia believes, “We need to focus on our children and the messages we are sending them.”

Newfield applauds the student’s organization and focus. “With all the skepticism thrown towards the youth and their protesting, many adults have lost sight that youth issues are community issues and community issues are our issues” asserts Newfield.  

Newfield is a strong promoter of empowering America’s youth. She has taught etiquette to over 10,000 students in the Atlanta area.

“Our youth are crying out for answers and begging for a new message. Our children are taking a stand and we need to be supportive” said one of the parent supporters at the March of Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 24. 

On Sunday, the Pope spoke up and gave a poignant message to those who want to bring about change. “It is up to you not to keep quiet, even if others keep quiet.”

Stronger gun laws, mental health, school laws, bullying, anger management - - - the list goes on of where changes need to be made. Our children need a new message. 

A message of kindness, compassion, safety, and hope for the future.

Both near and far, in massive numbers or individually, tragedy and death often find us unprepared and unsure of how to approach the situation. 

Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who Is Grieving

I know how you feel. Even if you have suffered a similar loss or are currently grieving yourself, every experience is unique, just as every relationship is unique.

Everything happens for a reason. This could not be true according to the griever’s spiritual beliefs.

Time heals all wounds. People who have suffered the loss of a loved one often report that their life is permanently altered.

Be glad for the time you had together. Someone who is grieving will most likely cherish the memories of their loved one and be heartbroken at their loss, all at the same time.  They are not mutually exclusive.

At least he/she is no longer suffering. The fact that terrible physical suffering has ended in the death of their loved one is often not comforting to the bereaved.

Remain strong for others. This suggests that the griever should hide their feelings or try to appear as if they are not suffering.  Neither is a healthy approach to the natural process of grief.

What You Can Do

Open up. Share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or family member to relieve the stress.  Tread carefully when doing so in a professional setting.

Listen to others. Try to empathize with others and allow them to express themselves as needed.  Recognize that processing tragedy is stressful and can cause people to act differently than normal.

Seek joy. Do things that you enjoy, such as cooking, gardening or exercising.  Pick up a new book, attend a sporting event, go to a concert or plan a weekend getaway.

Protect yourself. Limit your exposure to dire reports by avoiding broadcasts on TV or your smartphone. Less is more when the media is focused on gruesome details.

Serve others. Change your focus by getting involved in a community-building event, organizing a service day, or supporting a non-profit fundraiser.

Tragic situations befalling those we know or those being reported on the news can make us uncomfortable and cause stress. Awareness of certain coping techniques and specific phrases to avoid can ease anxiety and allow us to support others in their time of need. Remember to always consider your audience and setting before discussing.  

To learn more on how to explain and discuss the horrific act of gun violence to children and teens Click here . . . 

A recent article featured in the Guardian by Alex Hern entitled ‘Never get high on your own supply’ delved into why social media bosses don’t use social media. Reading that the very people who invented these social sites and strongly promote them don’t use them might be a surprise to many.

Social media has such a strong presence in our culture today, so it's quite astonishing that the ‘founding fathers’ of social media object to using it. What do they know that we don’t?

#1 social media influences how we feel about ourselves and the world we live in

#2 it is compulsive and addictive

#3 we have no idea what the repercussions of using social will be

The article shares that the people who created these social platforms know all of this and they use it to their advantage.

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, exclaimed that he is “a conscientious objector” to social media at a conference this past October. Parker  is sounding the alarm to the dangers of social media and the deliberate ways that social networks do everything in their power to keep us coming back, even at the risk of hurting our brains.

The common understanding of what is considered appropriate has been drastically morphed over the years. Just log on to any social media site and you can immediately see the bullying and spewing of disrespectful rhetoric about race, politics, religion and everything in between. Could this transformation have to do with social media?

A recent national survey reported that an astonishing 75 percent of Americans believe that incivility has risen to crisis levels. Many people believe that technology plays a central role in the decline of good manners.

Stories of individuals being fired and even arrested for things they have said on social media sites have amounted to the thousands.  In late 2007, The American School of Protocol was asked to write the 'Dos and Don'ts of Using Technology and Social Media' into our Etiquette Certification curriculum because social media classes were in high demand. 

Technology and social media have reshaped the understanding and awareness of etiquette. Personal interaction is now being replaced with screen time, texts, online classes, dms, snapchats, and so on. And we are only just beginning to see the effects this has on our society. 

Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, said “Technology by itself doesn’t want to be good and it doesn’t want to be bad either. It takes humans to make sure that the things that you do with it are good.”

Since including our initial 'Dos and Don'ts of Using Technology and Social Media'' into our syllabus, we have written extensively on this topic to help educate others.  New content has been added every year and we ultimately had to give 'Technology and Communication' its own section in our training manual. 

"We are doing our best to combat the problem, but it would be easier if we had more support", says The American School of Protocol Founder, Peggy Newfield. Her words to those who want to listen,"Be aware of what you post, how you respond, and what you read. Social media already takes up much of our time and energy, don't let it take your dignity."