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American Thanksgiving: A Multicultural Feast

Nov-09, 2020

father and son, multigenerational, Indian family, South Asian family, grandpa and grandson, Thanksgiving, football, backyard, outdoor activities, games, family fun

If there is one American holiday which best exemplifies what it means to be American, it's Thanksgiving. Cooking a special meal, gathering the relatives, watching football, and expressing what everyone is thankful for. While the Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which started a chain of events ending in the creation of the United States, Thanksgiving's roots go further back. To many, Thanksgiving symbolizes a time before the country was founded, when people of different backgrounds were able to come together and share a meal. Food has long been used to represent people, and food is the best, easiest way to share cultures. It's no surprise then that, for immigrants, adopting and adapting "American style" cuisine is often a way to integrate into American culture, while still celebrating one's heritage.

Close to 4 million South Asians have immigrated to the US, many recently. So, what does Thanksgiving look like for them? Well, you can expect more than one centerpiece dish. While a big roasted turkey is often the focal point of the table, many South Asians are vegetarian. So, you're just as likely to find a smaller chili and ginger marinated chicken beside a mutter paneer or chickpea curry. This goes for the traditional sides, too. Sweet potatoes, corn, and cranberry sauce benefit from an infusion of traditional spices like jeera, garam masala, and coriander. Even pumpkin spice, that famous cocktail of cinnamon, ginger, and other warm spices that seems to be in every fall-themed treat, can be given a South Asian twist with the addition of chai masala or cardamom.

Beyond the dinner table, many South Asians take the message of giving thanks to heart. While we can criticize the historical inaccuracies of the Thanksgiving narrative, and should very rightly acknowledge and do what we can to rectify the suffering caused to the Native American population by the expansion of colonization in this country, the spirit of Thanksgiving, the messages we try to instill in our children about acceptance, sharing, and togetherness, speak to an immigrant population who wants to feel accepted in their new home, and has so much to offer their fellow citizens. Sharing abundance is another theme of the holiday, and many South Asians take Thanksgiving as an opportunity to get involved in charitable activities. Especially this year, when 54 million Americans are facing food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital to embrace a giving spirit going into this holiday season.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, South Asians being a part of a large, multicultural melting pot. By embracing American traditions, taking what is best from them, and adding fresh flavors and new customs, it strengthens the holiday for everyone!

Celebrating Diwali Safely During the Pandemic

Nov-02, 2020

Diwali, Deepavali, festival of lights, deepa, lighting oil lamps, hand lighting lamp, henna

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many families have had to change their plans this holiday season. Whether cancelling international travel, cancelling public events, or just limiting the number of guests at the house, the effects of social distancing are disproportionately hard on our celebrations. But canceling plans and canceling holidays are two different things. As we've discussed before, hardships throughout history have affected holidays in various ways. With an attitude of patience and gratitude, we can make this holiday season one to remember!

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. It is the biggest and most important holiday of the year, and is often compared to Christmas. Lighting oil lamps called deepa (pictured above) and wearing bright flowers are symbols of the celebration. Diwali is celebrated over a 5-day period, with special activities for each day including cleaning, decorating, cooking, visiting with family, and setting off fireworks. The date of Diwali changes from year to year on the Gregorian calendar because it is always celebrated on the 15th day of Kartik on the Hindu calendar. In 2020, we will celebrate on November 14th.

So, what can your family do to make your Diwali celebration safer? Firstly, the CDC recommends outdoor gatherings over indoor gatherings. Since that may not be as easy in the late autumn, due to dropping temperatures in most of the country, your family may want to look into buying or renting fire pits and indoor heaters. These will not only make an outdoor gathering more comfortable, but are a great investment for any backyard. If you must stay indoors, keep your gathering space well ventilated with open windows and fans. Circulating air helps slow the spread of germs. Also, you can try to spend as much time as possible outside, maybe only coming indoors to eat.

Next, you should limit the time you are in contact with people who you don't live with. Longer exposure poses greater risk. So, consider doing as much preparation in your individual houses as possible, such as cooking different parts of the celebratory meal, and then coming together for the actual eating and enjoying. Spend time over the phone or video chat catching up with relatives who are going to be at your party, so that you're not tempted to spend hours and hours sharing stories and reminiscing in person. And utilize as much space as possible when you are all gathered together, whether that means having multiple tables or spreading chairs farther apart. Additionally, you may want to have multiple smaller gatherings instead of one large one, and connect via video chat to feel as if you are all together.

Lastly, we encourage you to take the meaning of Diwali to heart. Use the traditional gift giving to contribute to the safety of the host home with items like air purifiers, extra PPE and sanitizer, or additional outdoor furniture like tenting, dining sets, and heaters. Do not succumb to spiritual darkness, and embrace the light of gratitude and empathy. We are all suffering due to this pandemic. But the beauty of the holidays is that they are a constant in our lives, both as something to look forward to in the future, and as the treasured memories of the past. Diwali 2020, in that regard, is no different. So, from all of us at Best Brains, we wish you a safe and happy Diwali!!!

How to Talk to Your Kids About the 2020 Presidential Election

Oct-16, 2020

classroom, teacher, voting, raising hands, diversity, participating

With the 2020 Presidential election approaching, parents are faced with a unique situation when it comes to explaining the process to their kids. While every election cycle is an opportunity to teach kids about civic duty, the responsibilities of citizenship, and many educational concepts like math and history, this election and the current political climate have some additional challenges. Let's explore the landscape of this election.

Political rhetoric has a direct effect on our kids.

While we like to think of our children as apolitical, the truth is they are not immune to political rhetoric. Children often suffer the consequences of their parent's actions and beliefs, and in 2020, these consequences can be very serious. According to reports, bullying is on the rise in our schools, showing a 35% increase in reported cases between 2016 and 2019. And while this figure may be partially inflated by increased awareness and a safer environment to come forward with reports of bullying in, there are other factors involved. During the last election cycle, many parents and educators reported identity-based bullying echoing Republican political rhetoric, particularly anti-immigration slogans that were popular at the time. This inspired a study of Virginia school districts in 2017, which did find an increase in bullying in areas which favored Republican candidates, where previously there had been no quantifiable difference. This emboldening of racially motivated discrimination among children reflects the larger political discourse, and is a direct consequence of the climate we find ourselves in for this 2020 election.

Politics is bigger than any one person.

While the Presidential election tends to be the most participated in election in the US, it's important to remind our kids that it is not the only election we will be voting on this year, or the only political issue worth caring about. Like it or not, politics is a vital part of living in a society which allows its citizens to vote. Despite anything related specifically to the current Presidential election, politics is a side effect of our civic duty, and should not be ignored by anyone. "Children grow up so fast," is the common phrase, and when they turn 18, they become directly involved in the voting process. It's our duty as parents to make sure that our kids understand that their vote matters, and that an elected government will reflect the people who show up to make their voice heard.

All children benefit from civic education.

As soon as children learn how to sort things into groups, they can begin to grasp the basic ideas of politics. All the lessons we learned in preschool, to share, to be kind, to participate, to learn, are all components of what make a good citizen and a responsible voter. As children age, they start to form opinions about the world based on their experiences. These experiences can be related to politics very easily. What is the best part of the school day? What is the difference between a happy classroom and an unhappy one? How do kids relate to one another in group projects and what makes them successful? Older children can draw even deeper meaning from the world around them to see how it is influenced by politics, from which subjects are taught in schools and which subjects have been cut, to what is on the menu in the cafeteria, to the presence of third parties invited to their school such as school speakers, recruitment organizations, etc. Life is a political experience, and identifying and taking ownership of this fact can be the difference between a child who is involved in civic life and one who is too intimidated or indifferent to participate.

There may still be time to register to vote in your state. Go to to see if registration is still open.

Halloween & COVID-19: How to Have a Safe and Fun Holiday

Oct-16, 2020

girl, costume, pumpkin, trick-or-treat, mask, PPE, COVID-19, social distancing, Halloween, holiday, 2020

COVID-19 has altered or canceled many of the plans and traditions we celebrate every year. But does that mean Halloween is #canceled? Of course not! Halloween is the most creative of holidays, and we can step up and be creative to make this year's Halloween just as much fun as any other. And we can stay safe doing it.

Which traditional Halloween activities are high risk?

According to CDC guidelines, large gatherings and candy exchange are both high risk activities this year. This means that the popular solution known as "Trunk or Treat," where families gather in a parking lot to share Halloween candy in decorated cars, might not be the safest choice to substitute for going door-to-door. Since the virus is transmittable on surfaces, individually wrapped candies can be a way to spread disease, even if you're limiting person to person contact.

Now, we're not saying that it's impossible to collect candy this year, we just need to take some extra precautions. Make sure your child's PPE, personal protective equipment, is secure and goes with their costume. Or, you can choose a costume that incorporates masks like a super hero, ninja, or cartoon character with a plastic mask. Next, stay in your local community, since traveling can increase risk. If you're participating in a trunk-or-treat event this year, keep all fun size candies in their larger bags until it's time for the event to begin. Use gloves when handling treats, and consider offering gloves to participants or using tongs when handing candy out to avoid direct contact. Or, instead of using the traditional bowl of candy, spread out candy packets on a table, so kids can grab one without touching any others. Use a disposable table cloth that can be trashed when the event is finished. And remember to bring sanitizing wipes to use periodically on surfaces.

If your child is collecting candy this year, consider giving them gloves and wipes, and sterilize all candy wrappers before enjoying. Do not take candy from open bowls left on front porches without sterilizing first, as you can't know who has stuck their hand into it before your child. Lastly, if the kiddos can hold off on touching their candy for 72 hours, then it should be safe to unwrap without risk of transmission. And if all of this precaution seems like too much work or would spoil your child's fun, consider opting out of trick-or-treating this year. There are still plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday, and plenty of opportunities to get a sugar rush!

What are some safe alternatives for Halloween fun?

Since outdoor events are considered to be less risky, many communities have organized special parties and gatherings with COVID-friendly precautions in mind. Consider taking the family, a big blanket, and some candy to a local park that's screening a Halloween movie classic, or organizing your neighborhood to do the same thing! Your kids still get fresh air and the goodies they would get from trick-or-treating, and the whole community can celebrate together in a safe way.

You can also go virtual! Many organizations are putting together online parties complete with costume contests, games, and watch-alongs. Connect with your neighbors or families from another part of the country. Display your creativity by constructing a spooky background for your webcam, go all out with themed desserts, and participate in contests like pumpkin decorating, best family costume, or even most festive pet! Staying home for Halloween also means your costume doesn't need to incorporate PPE like masks or gloves. You can also tour the neighborhood to look at all the spooky lawn decorations. If you noticed more families participating in this practice this year, you're not imagining things. There was an increase in decorations this year, probably thanks to the pandemic, so pile in the car and take a tour. Maybe it will inspire your plans for 2021!

Adjust your expectations for holiday season 2020.

The truth is, the holiday season this year is going to be very different, and Halloween is just the start. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Eid-al-Adha will all be different than they were in previous years. The important thing to remember is that holidays always change in periods of turmoil. But that doesn't mean that we stop celebrating, or that they aren't as special. Part of the job of being a parent is being responsible for the memories our kids carry with them for the rest of their lives. So be brave, be creative, and above all, be patient. We'll get through this time as one big family, with plenty of great memories to share.


The 19th Amendment Turns 100

Aug-17, 2020

protest, women's rights, signs, register to vote, voter's rights

Hi everyone, it's Practical Pam, bringing you another entry for Today in History. We're going to be discussing government today, so check out my Government 101 video for an overview before we go on.

On August 18th, 2020, the 19th Amendment will celebrate its 100-year anniversary! The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on August 18th, 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to approve the amendment. According to federal law, 3/4 of the current US states have to approve a proposed amendment in order for it to be officially ratified. So, when it passed in Tennessee, it became federal law.

The wording of the 19th Amendment is as follows: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." In general, the language of amendments needs to be very simple and direct, since it will be applied to every citizen in the nation. This language can also have effects on future legislation as well as current legislation. For example, the 19th Amendment's wording also ensures that those who identify as non-binary are guaranteed their voting rights, since they cannot be discriminated against on account of their sex. If, in the future, being non-binary is a more common designation, there will be no worry that those who identify legally as NB will be denied the right to vote.

While the fight for women's suffrage was long and sometimes violent, women had already been voting in the United States since 1869, when Wyoming passed the Wyoming Suffrage Act back before Wyoming was even a state! By the time the 19th Amendment was sent to the states to be voted on, 16 states and territories had equal voting rights, and several more allowed women to vote in presidential elections. Conversely, it took a surprisingly long time for the rest of the states in the Union to ratify the 19th Amendment, even though it had already become federal law. The last state to approve the amendment was Mississippi, in 1984!

While the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, it's important to remember that there are still many barriers keeping people from voting freely. As we look into the next 100 years of American history, let's be inspired by all the amazing suffragettes of the past and ensure that every citizen is given the same opportunity to let their voice be heard!

National Candy Month!

Jun-08, 2020

candy, lollipop, m&ms, gummy worms, sugar, peppermints, fruit slices, swirls

Did you know that June is National Candy Month? Talk about a sweet celebration. June is the month we celebrate all things sugar. Beyond its incredible taste, sugar is actually a fascinating molecule with some pretty remarkable scientific properties. Let’s take a closer look at what makes sugar such a special substance in our lives.

The molecule which we call sugar is officially known as sucrose. There are several different kinds of sugar molecules. Sucrose is actually a combination of two of them: fructose and glucose. Fructose is found in fruit and honey, and gives things like apples, oranges, and bananas their sweetness. Believe it or not, fructose is sweeter than sucrose! Glucose is often found in grains like wheat, rice, and corn, and is not as sweet as either fructose or sucrose. Another kind of sugar is lactose, the sweet molecule found in animal milk, perfect for growing babies who need lots of nutrition for healthy development. Lactose is the least sweet of the four major sugars, probably because it’s meant mostly for infants to eat.

So where does sucrose come from? Certain plants like sugar cane and sugar beets produce sucrose instead of fructose or glucose alone, combining the molecules and creating a more complex and pleasing flavor. Their juices are boiled, leaving sugar crystals behind. The byproduct of making sugar is called molasses, a thick syrupy substance with a smoky, complex flavor. Originally thrown away, molasses has become a staple of many cuisines for its distinct taste. White sugar contains no molasses, but brown sugar has some of the molasses mixed into it, creating a deeper flavor and adding moisture. Many baking recipes call for a mix of both white and brown sugars in various proportions. Products that only use white sugar tend to by dryer and more brittle, like sugar cookies or shortbread. Products that use mostly brown sugar tend to be chewier and sometimes stickier, like chocolate chip cookies or Dutch apple pie.

Candy makers, or confectioners as they’re know, have found many interesting ways to cook with sugar. By mixing sugar with water, flavorings, and other ingredients, and then heating and cooling their concoctions to various temperatures, they can produce different textures to the candy they make. Sometimes it can be stretchy and chewy like taffy, or hard and clear like lollipops. Which candy contains the most sugar? That would be cotton candy, or spun sugar. It’s about as pure a sugary candy as you can find! There’s actually a lot of science that goes into candy making, and confectioners use many of the same tools that scientists do when creating experiments in a lab!

So, what do you think? Interested in turning your home kitchen into a candy laboratory? There are lots of experiments you can do to learn more about the cool properties of sugar! Be sure to share any tasty results with your family, that way they can celebrate National Candy Month with you!