Monday, April 10, 2017

Florida Wood Playground Rehabilitation: Using Olympic's Rescue It MAX: Deck Cleaner

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lenten Reflections: Increasing General Happiness by 10%

I have often failed at my annual Lenten offering, but most of my fasting choices have still improved my life in some way, and so I push forward every year thinking of ways to excise negative energy and bad influences from my life. So even I rolled my eyes at the thought of giving up Social Media for Lent. I knew that the stereotypically cliché offering would annoy my mother the most, who frequently checks up on both of her children on Facebook, and I didn't want for her to feel 'left out' of my life, but something had to be done: my energy, motivation and lack of general happiness were spiraling out of control in a way that I was pretty sure was somehow related to viewing digital screens. Turns out: I was right.

After taking twenty days off from Facebook and Instagram, and coming out of a nightmarish fifteen-year "fever dream" of overstimulation and information overload, I realized that it's not the Apps that are the problem: really it's the cell phone in general. Getting off of the addicting apps is a start. Putting down the cell phone in general presents a much harder challenge. Becoming sober from social media was as hard as quitting Red Bull for me. It also feels creepy and overpoweringly addictive in retrospective. Yes, I had the "Millennial Enlightenment" epiphany of horror at how many times I mindlessly opened the internet browser to get to Facebook before staring at the Login page and remembering it had been deactivated. Yet, as the days crept by without it, I found 10% more energy, 10% more happiness, and four moments of "pure joy" where I thought "this is the best day/moment of my life." Coincidence? I think not. 

The truth is: social media "feeds" are a never-ending rat wheel  and we are the rats. If you have a cell phone, then you are probably checking it the average 110+ times per day (source). Also: "A recent study by has revealed that the average person spends 90 mins a day on their phone. That figure may not sound like a lot but that amounts up to 23 days a year and 3.9 years of the average person's life is spent staring at their phone screen."

So I realize how preachy this post sounds. I realize that no one will read it because I haven't linked it to my deactivated Facebook pages. The truth is, you don't need me to tell you this, you already know that this is true. You've already heard the data, you know that you have control and power over yourself and your screens. You know that you, too, could quit these apps. You know that you, too, could remember the rules of etiquette in public and put your phone down at any time...but you don't. You're still waiting for that life-changing text or call. You're sure it's coming. You want to hear the latest Facebook gossip, you're certain it's going to be juicy. You want to stay caught up with the news, the world is falling apart. The truth is: you're a slave to the rat wheel and all I can say is this: if you want to be 10%+ happier, stop looking at screens, and get off the wheel. Don't believe me? Try it for fourteen days. It will also help to calm down your stress levels. 

If you're interested in my Lenten journey, where I've given up Social Media and started finding other ways to increase general happiness without buying things (such as by embracing Minimalism and increasing my happiness by 10%,) please comment below.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"48 States in 48 Days: One Man's Journey of Activism."

When I think back on my childhood role models of activism and environmentalism, the foremost couple in my mind are the wonderful Barbara Clark and Charlie Adler of Attleboro, Massachusetts, the parents of my lifelong best friend Carlen. From the time we were little, Barbara and Charlie graciously and selflessly opened their home to international exchange students, and offered them a quintessentially American learning and life experience, paving the way for my future goal and experience hosting my very own students in my house.

Photo: From Charlie's @48states48days Facebook page
Charlie has always been very active in local land conservation and city politics, often running for positions to help steward the green spaces and interests of Massachusetts. I remember the fabric wall hanging in their house of political buttons reaching back decades and the stories of Barbara and Charlie's involvements in supporting candidates in every election. I have always admired their work and efforts.

This past election cycle has created a cloud of apathy against the major party candidates, pitted patriotic Americans against each other as we argue about the way to move forward, and broadcasted an ugly and contentious political race both internationally and to our children at home, as a race unlike that of which I have ever seen in my three decades of life.  Yesterday, I learned that Charlie is undertaking a quest of personal activism to travel to the State Houses or Capitol Buildings of all 48 of the contiguous States of America to share the following important message:

Photo: From Charlie's @48states48days Facebook page

As a fellow environmentalist and traveller, I will be tracking Charlie's journey and countdown to election day. If you would like to learn more or follow his journey, please like and follow @48states48days on Facebook. Wishing you a safe and positive journey, Charlie. Godspeed!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Hosting International Students: The Toughest and Most Rewarding Years of my life."

At the airport! 
In 2012-2013 my husband and I decided to become host parents to two Chinese foreign exchange students in order to help raise funds for a non-Profit near and dear to our hearts. ( I'd like to share some of the highlights of our experience in case you'd like to know what it's like to host international students.

Cue Stage One: a.k.a. "Naive Euphoria."

In August of 2012, I tried to prepare the house as best that I could in advance, not realizing that everything would need to be changed almost immediately, because I had pretty much guessed incorrectly. Before the first week was out we had taken the bunked beds down and immediately went out to buy different food and school supplies and clothes.

Cue September. After a few weeks of unsuccessful and stressful roommate living, we moved one student out into the other guest room. Luckily, we had an extra room to be able to do this, because these two individuals could not have been more different. It had never occurred to me that these students might not get along! I should have remembered back to my own dorm experiences at Simmons College (my all women's undergraduate college.) However, pretty soon we settled into a routine that I could live with. Let's call this "The Honeymoon Stage." Stage two consisted of me giving up all of my free time and exercise time to shuttle the youngest home from cheerleading practice everyday (three hours after school had ended) and then to cook dinner at 7pm every night while I tried to be the perfect host parent. (I now empathize with parents of Varsity sports all over the country.) I gave up my weekends to cart the kids around to go shopping at all different places in Tampa Bay and to try to give them an incredible American stay experience. I even spent a record 15-hours searching for "the perfect" Homecoming dress for our younger student. (No joke.) I watched my colleagues leave school at 3:30 or 4pm with envy every day. I became frustrated with hearing "well, you're a parent now," in response to needed advice or understanding. I heard more and more stories of Richy's friends, also students at other schools in America, who were having horrible home-stay experiences because their host parents never took them anywhere, or allowed them to buy groceries that they liked, who never took them shopping, or let them hang out with friends, or go out to sight see in Florida. Apparently I had been a Super Host Mom. Cue the "Great Breakdown of October."

At some point in October, after running three loads of dishes in the kitchen in a single night with still more dishes to wash, despairing of seeing the guest bathroom two inches deep in water on the counter everyday, and having a general wariness or fatigue of cleaning up after teenagers everyday, I instituted daily chores. This alleviated some of the burden on me at 8pm every night, cleaning up after an already long day. Several people again advised me with a "you care too much" mantra which only made me want to react badly. (If my child were studying abroad, I would damn sure want to make sure someone was taking as good care of him or her.)

So at this point I should apologize. I should apologize because I did care about these girls so much. I wanted for them to be happy, safe and well adjusted as they studied here in America. I wanted their experience of the USA, Florida, Tampa, and for their experience at our school to be a genuine one, one that they reflected back upon  happily for the rest of their lives as being a worthwhile sacrifice towards advanced learning and opportunities. I wanted to share moments with them and delight in their expressions as they saw Disney World for the first time, as they tried new foods, as they scored a '100' on a test that they studied for four hours for, translating all of the information, and learning it in a foreign language. I want to share my own service to a community, gratitude and patience with them. I want to be fair, helpful and kind to them when they had a problem.

Cue "Survival Mode." By then it was almost Christmas Vacation, which means for teachers all across the nation, the next 21 days were the most painful of the entire school year. Sprinting through curriculum and exam review, grading an obscene amount of work in time for report cards, all with little to no energy due to a lack of time and exercise and an overabundance of work and caffeine. The girls holed up in their rooms. I holed up grading/eating/napping/walking/mindlessly watching television. A colleague, also with exchange students, bemoaned the relentless energy of teenage boys and I started to appreciate the quiet in my household. I saw the "light at the end of the tunnel" where the next weekend's cheerleading competition meant the end of the varsity season for my younger student. I knew that Tom and I would have two weeks to ourselves over Christmas Break when the girls returned to China for two weeks, for us to unwind, clean and house hunt... and also to spend some time alone together, something that literally had not happened for more than 24-hours since August.

However, I ended up spending a lot of Christmas Vacation worried about how things would get back to normal in January. Cue "The Break up." To be honest, things had been going pretty badly. I won't go into details. When they came back in January, the girls avoided each other, and Tom took over delegating the teenage chore regimen because it had become too stressful for me. Problems escalated to epic proportions, and finally, after eight challenging months, one of the students was moved out of my house. I've thought a lot about this "failure," and taken a lot of the blame upon myself. I've wondered how I could have been more patient; my nearest friends assuring me that I had shown the patience of Job throughout the year. Mainly, I was upset because I had truly thought that I might have made a difference for that student if I had just tried a little harder, which in retrospect was vanity, I suppose. In my dealings with over 600 students over the course of my professional teaching career, I've never seen a student quite like this one. I learned some very powerful lessons from this year of successes and failures. (1) For someone to change, they must decide to do so for themselves. It is vanity to assume that we can change others. (2) There is great happiness in sharing a home life with a teenager once a routine is established. I've never laughed so hard, been so proud of my husband's support and caring for our students, or had so much fun experiencing things and going on trips. (3) I can be a good parent in the future, but only with the help of a spouse as supportive as mine has been.

Cue "A New Beginning." Life became enjoyable again. There was no fighting, or stress in the house, and the three of us enjoyed a little more breathing space for the rest of the year. My mom and I excitedly prepared our passports and visas to make a trip to China with Richy to meet her extended family and to see her country. By the end of the year I knew a dozen Chinese songs by heart. I could cook fried rice. I could use a rice cooker. I had moved into expert status with chopsticks. I no longer needed to worry about ordering food at an Asian or Chinese restaurant: I let Richy order for us and I've never been disappointed. I looked forward to welcoming her back to our house for her Senior year, knowing how happy that time will be for Tom, and I and for her as she applies to an American college or University.

Fall 2013: Richy returns for her senior year! 

Cue "The Best Year of My Life!" Everything was whole again: Richy came back, thank God. (My husband and I had endured ten days together this summer when we were both home and the house was kid-free. It was weird. It was too quiet. We were both bored. We ate Chinese food anyways. We were ancy. We talked about having our own kids in the near future realizing that we had had a lot of fun with the kids last year, and that our dual independent natures are more conducive to being synchronized and balanced when there are kids around.)

I picked her up at the airport, no traffic fuss, easy baggage claiming, and then she slept for a week at our house and I barely saw her. She's pretty independent and self motivated, and studied all night long while she adjusted to the complete reversal of time zones and slept all day. She emerged from the cave of her suite to chat, eat food, or check on us, but mostly it was a quiet first week back. She went to school with me after four days to be an International Student Ambassador for the New Families Night at school, and she was extroverted, social, caring and a great hostess for another new Chinese student. I was so proud of her.

Her senior year went by in a whirlwind of "lasts," from dances to trips, and it was one of the happiest years of my life. I cried when she dedicated her "Senior Speech" to talking about her experience with Tom and I and how we had grown to be family.

When she graduated from Academy at the Lakes I have never been more proud. It was with great heartbreak for me that she moved on to college in California but I looked forward to welcoming her home to our new house for her college breaks and spending time with her, like over Thanksgiving in San Fransisco in '14 and Christmas in Tampa in '15. My life has expanded by tenfold from this experience and I would recommend it as one of the hardest and most rewarding life experiences possible.

Summer 2013: Traveling to China:
You can read about my experiences traveling to China on this blog, here. You can watch our trip video below:

March of Dimes Walks: 2016

Greetings followers! I am writing today to invite you to join me or sponsor me in the 2016 March of Dimes walks happening next month. I will be walking twice, first in downtown Tampa and then the week following in Wesley Chapel. Feel free to visit my walker pages at the links below and please consider sponsoring me with a donation! Together we can really make a difference for the beginnings of so many tiny lives!

(Wesley Chapel walk: April 30th, 2016)

(Downtown Tampa walk: April 23rd, 2016)

Kind regards,

Thank you sponsors!

Liz and Scott Nadow
The Emerick Family
The Burnley Family

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Trying not to let an American Dream dim...

I donated to this deserving young man today so that he can continue his junior year at college in America after working incredibly hard to have a perfect 4.0 GPA for both his high school career at my school (Academy at the Lakes) and also at college. With an almost full scholarship he is only $4,500 away from being able to remain in the USA as a full-time student. Can you help keep the light of the American Dream on for him, too? Any denomination helps.

Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, you can read about Gleb's incredible journey of sponsorship by the RenProject here...

Monday, August 03, 2015

"A Caribbean Daydream," trip video by Aimee.

Escape to the Caribbean for 3-minutes and watch my highlights video of gorgeous waters, tropical fish, rainforest sounds and spectacular oceanic sunsets!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Blog Update via Twitter

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bucket List Update: January 2017.

Aimee's Bucket List:
-Hike all 48 four thousand footers in New Hampshire with Mom. (8 left!)
-Hike the Appalachian Trail.
-See Antartica.
-See the Aurora Borealis.
-Boire un cafe, sans lait, en Paris près du Tour Eiffel.
-Visit Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France/French territories, England and UK territories, Germany (Bavarian Christmas Shops), Russia, Czech Rep. (Prague), Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Svalbard's seed vault, India, Japan, China, South Korea, Mexico, Grand Cayman, St. Maarten(Dutch side)/St. Martin(French side), St. Kitts, Grand Turk, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, Tahiti, Iceland, Morocco, and more...
-Pray in a Buddhist temple in the Himalayas.
-Walk on the Great Wall of China.
-See the Terracotta Warriors.
-Build a tiny house!
- Send my dad to space
-Buy Nate a '70 Chevy Nova.
-Buy Tom a race car
-Get Beth to hike Mt. Washington.
-See Christy get married in Ireland.
-Go on a cruise.
-See one of my students become a teacher.
-To be able to take care of my parents for the rest of their lives.
-Drive with Rachel from Seattle to Alaska 
after our 2011 drive from Tampa to Seattle and back.
-Go back to Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Montreal. 
-Drive Across America. (East-West)
-Ride the mules down to Phantom Ranch and see the Grand Canyon.
-White water raft part of the Colorado River.
-Publish a novel.
-Build a treehouse.
-Host foreign exchange students.
-Build a log cabin in the middle of the NH/ME woods.
-Win a shopping spree at L.L.Bean.
-Get a tattoo
-Own a '65-'66 Mustang
-Have kid(s). <3 DJ
-Adopt/foster a kid.
-See a Red Sox Spring Training Game: 3/20/2011!
-Be a bridesmaid.
-Sing on a television show.
-Go on am Survival Show.
-Plant an organic vegetable garden.
-Install solar panels on my house.
-Stay for a week at the Mt. Washington Hotel to ski :)
-Compete in a Sprint Triathlon.
-Get cats.
-Scuba dive in the Caribbean.
-Go to Harry Potter World.
-See a Red Sox game at Fenway.
-See the Sox win a World Series.
-See the Colts win a Superbowl.
-Get married.
Travel Internationally.
Raise over $4,600.00 for cancer research.
Walk all 60 miles of the Susan G Komen 3-Day for the Cure. 
Walk the 3-Day with my Mom and friends for a second time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My "top ten" ways to integrate technology into the classroom.

I was a guest blogger over on my school's blog this week, talking about the "top ten" ways to integrate technology into the classroom: check it out! (Click on Word Cloud to redirect.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ultralight Gear Review: Klymit O-Zone Air Mattress

Today I reviewed the Klymit O-Zone air mattress for a new Vlog series on YouTube called Appalachian Trail Series: Ultralight hiking gear. Check it out!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Great Move of 2013/2014: Upcycle Projects for the new house!

With the move to the new house underway, I've been pinning a lot of renovation and project ideas over on Pinterest. I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you!

From making a hula-hoop rug, to "tank top" tote bags, book-shelves, tea-cup hanging lights, upside-down rake wine glass holders, here's my collection of project solutions for the house:

If you don't have the time to DIY, there are also many Etsy craft makers that make ready-to-buy recycled products, like Andrew over at Reclaimed Wood, who makes beautiful modern style wood pieces for the home.

My upcoming projects consist of the following:

Cutting stars out of bark for candle wrappers.

Using a newly painted "rustic" door as a bookshelf. Going to check out a salvage lot!

 Also hoping to find a good fireplace from a salvage lot. 
The cushioned back board has been on HGTV so many times that I'd like to try it. 

The 5 acre lot should provide some good branches.
Maybe even some wooden benches! :)

Winter Movie Review: Walter Mitty, Catching Fire, Frozen, The Desolation of Smaug and my Sanity, Thor 2.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: It's an introverted underdog story about a guy who has a midlife crisis which stirs him up to follow his dreams, and his subsequent adventures which finally become more exciting than his daydreams about life. Highlights: You can literally see the vigor and life be breathed back into Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, who emerges from the end of the movie, glowing and transformed from a zombie-like office prisoner. Sean Penn is also delightful as the elusive photographer Mitty must trek the globe to find. Based on a short story. Advice? Rent it for a date night.

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2): Having read the books ages ago (thank you AATL student Kenny for recommending me to do so back in 2011!) I have to say that the film version of Catching Fire was spectacular. It's not what I imagined at all, but at least the lead characters are settling in to her their roles and are quite enjoyable to watch after an awkward beginning in the first movie. Jennifer Lawrence 'takes no prisoners' in her delightfully sardonic dialogue which seems aptly appropriate for the horrible circumstances she finds herself in. Compelling story, great effects, go see it! Highlights: Watching first timers react to all of the plot twists in the theaters. Woody Harrelson, need I say more. Advice? See it in theaters. 

Frozen: Disney has a bad habit of disappointing me on an existential level. Frozen was another let down. The music was lackluster, even with Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and Jonathan Groff. Yes, I understand that you are systematically reinvigorating the outdated parts of your theme parks (The Muppets, Pirates of the Caribbean, Norway in Epcot) but this movie is still frustrating. I appreciated "the message" at the end of the story which saves the day, but it was a long, tired journey to get there. Also, the costumes were ridiculous. (See photo left.) Why can't our ice princesses be decked out in Patagonia or North Face for once? I'm tired of all of these harsh climate ridiculous outfits (Jasmine, Elsa & Anna, Ariel, etc…) can we be more practical, please? Disney purists are vetoing my future movie reviews as a result of this post; don't get me wrong, the movie was fun, and probably spectacular in 3-D, but I'm still looking for a bit more for my future daughters/nieces to appreciate. Highlights: Beautiful ice and snow animations recycled (as the originally canned 'ice' setting from Brave) great for the holiday season. Advice? See it in 3-D, or rent it.

The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug. If I could emit obscenities in public without being  a bad role model for the younger generation, I might waste them on this film, which was a complete mockery of the genre, and a desecration of the Tolkien text. Admitting that the original Tolkien text was more of a bedtime story than a 3-movie battle pic, is committing heresy in Middle Earth, but someone must do it. I laughed through the entire first scene, and enjoyed fellow moviegoers' bafflement at the strange and alien scene playing out, a back story, which would lead us in a new direction for this film, which literally needed to provide a plot reference point. Cue two hours of "the only path before us is the most treacherous one but we must take it anyways." I laughed again when Gandalf abandoned his comrades right before that path, as I would have done, before entering a forest of the worst gargantuan spider infestation you could imagine. Sorry, Ron, the path never "follows the butterflies." Fast forward two hours and the third hour takes you to meet Smaug, the most beautiful, terrifying and fun dragon we've met since Draco in Dragonheart. As Smaug, Benedict Cumberbatch emits dark baritone phrases reminiscent of his Khan (Star Trek: Into Darkness) character, and here we finally have something interesting to watch. (Since up to this point, I've only enjoyed the inserted scenes with the new *girl* character, Tauriel. For those of you who didn't know, she was added by filmmakers because Tolkien doesn't have any female characters in this book. Even so, Evangeline Lily's character (Tauriel) is the seventeenth billed cast member. Ouch. So much for the Bechdel test!) The movie ends with a cliffhanger which is annoying, because by this point I wanted to see everything burn. Also, this movie has an 8.3/10 rating on IMDB which just goes to show me that Hollywood can buy reviews by adding Michael Bay style effects. Great effects, horrible story. End rant. Highlights: A dragon. The Freeman-Cumberbatch reunion. Orlando Bloom as a young(er) Legolas who is apparently almost mute at this point in his immortality. Advice? Rent it, fast forward until you see a dragon, watch, cry into your pillow at the desecration of a much beloved story. 

Thor 2: The Dark World. I am thrilled that this movie was awesome, because, let's face it, the first movie was a little bit a good way which I saluted Marvel for, even as my own friends laughed at me. I actually saw this slaphappy sequel twice, and it was fun and enjoyable both times; due mainly in part to witty dialogue, acting performances and and precise punchlines (Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård) which entertained us through the ominous and certain terrifying onslaught of an alien fueled armageddon. The story was brilliant, concocted by the best science fiction writers, seamlessly mixing fake science (gravitational fields that can be messed up by planetary alignments sorry geophysicists, "soul forge" quantum field generators, and portal-type traveling worm holes) with movie magic, making science exciting again, even if we've finished our science courses for life. Highlights: Female scientist protagonist. Female "political science" assistant. Chris Hemsworth's costume. Tom Hiddleston's giddy delight at Asgard's imminent demise. Stellan's nude insanity.  Stan Lee's cameo. Chris Evans' cameo. (Geeks: Read the Scientific American's expose on the science behind Moljnir (Thor's hammer) here.) Advice: See it in theaters!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Online Shopping: To try, or not to try? This is the question.

In the Comment Section: Forum: Where have you shopped successfully or unsuccessfully online?

I've always been an extrovert. For some reason, however, I have always hated shopping for clothes in a store with crowds of people out and about. I have always preferred to buy online, but it's hard to know store policies online so today's review will bring that process to light!

Top Customer Service: 

L.L.Bean: Besides the fact that 100% of products are guaranteed from L.L.Bean, they have free shipping. Which means that they will ship returns/exchanges back to you for free and give you a free shipping return label, which comes with your initial order so you don't need to print anything. They also have live chat online which has always been very helpful for me, especially when I'm trying to figure out product weights or materials questions for hiking and camping gear.

ModCloth: I won't lie, I was really irritated last week when my $54.00 sweater came by FedEx with a completely broken zipper:

But then, ModCloth Customer Service reached out and linked me to Live Chat so that I could resolve the issue. The representative sent me a free shipping label to return it, and sent me another sweater in the meantime so that I didn't have to wait for them to process my return. That was great customer service...and it was smart: they didn't know I was a blogger! I think we should applaud great customer service.

Amazon Prime: Did you know that you can pay a one time fee ($80), and then have everything Amazon sells shipped to you with FREE 2-day shipping? I have many friends who use Amazon Prime all year long and they really rave about how awesome it is to get everything with 2-day shipping. There are other perks of Prime also: 41,000+ movies/t.v. shows to stream for free and 350,000+ Kindle titles to borrow for free! If I was planning to get all of my X-Mas presents online, I would definitely upgrade to Amazon Prime. 

Mattie's Mountain Mud: If you want incredible, organic, fair trade certified coffee hand roasted by a master, Mattie's is worth the try! (Bavarian Chocolate, need I say more?) Recently, I ordered my standing order from Mattie's but I used Paypal to check out and my delicious coffee was sent to my old address because I hadn't used Paypal in years. Mattie expressed her sorrow for me via e-mail and even offered me free shipping for a new order. Just before I ordered more, I decided to see if it was still in Florida. Normally, I would have assumed that it was being consumed by a new tenant, but because I love that coffee so much, I drove over to my old address and checked for the package at the Clubhouse to see if it was there: it wasn't. So a few days later, Mattie e-mailed me a picture of the returned coffee and shipped it back to me for $7.

That was great customer service! It only cost me $7 to get my coffee back from an i.d.10.T (me) error on a $18 gourmet coffee order. I was very pleased. (Of course I updated my Paypal address so that my chocolate organic coffee never goes anywhere else!)

Lackluster Customer Service:

Victoria's Secret: It's been years since I've ordered anything from V.S., but back when I did they had a similar return policy to L.L.Bean with the exception that for a return or exchange you were re-billed for shipping once. That was frustrating because it was hard to guess clothing sizes even with their "size charts" because they have many different brands on the site by different manufacturers. Now you can see why I've stopped buying online from this retailer. My husband is contributing to this article today, because he has been ordering car parts from this company since 2008. Recently, the wrong part was shipped to him and he had to pay triple shipping to get the right one. (1) Original wrong part to him, (2) the return shipping and (3) new, correct part shipping. So he paid $30.00 in shipping for a issue that was not his fault. Now this company should have looked at his records, seen that he had been purchasing a dozens different parts (many expensive) over the past six years and found a better solution. However, because it was a busy dealership, his order was overlooked and they responded badly to his request, losing a customer.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Horrors of Honey?

Go to your pantry. Take out your honey jar, and investigate its origins. Unless it says USDA certified organic, there's a good chance that it's illegally imported, mislabeled Chinese honey, which evaded taxes and could contain banned antibiotics.  Earlier this year, National Public Radio exposed the mislabeling from two of the biggest USA honey packers (which was the "largest food fraud case in history"):

"This is a huge deal for the industry. This is the first admission by a U.S. packer, the actual user,” that they were knowingly importing mislabeled honey, Eric Wenger, chairman of True Source Honey, an industry consortium that has set up an auditing and testing system to guarantee the true origin of honey, told NPR." 1

However, evading the $180M in import taxes didn't seem to help out the struggling company as GROEB (USA), one of the big packers, filed for bankruptcy on October 3rd, 2013, and this filing put an end to the class-action lawsuits against the company. Ethics aside, this case is not really "new" news, with reports of tainted and illegally imported honey having been reported back in 2011. Since then, the European Union has been in the vanguard of banning Asian honey, and our FDA which "checks few of the thousands of shipments arriving through 22 American ports each year," 2 cannot possibly regulate it all...and it's not just illegal Chinese honey that's being found, Indian and Vietnamese honey are also part of the problem. (How can we avoid filtered, stripped, tainted-with-antibiotics illegal honey? By buying local organic honey, which must be labeled as follows.)

Of course, what's especially alarming at this moment, 45% of American FDA workers (around 6,500 workers nationwide) have been furloughed currently pending the government shutdown. 68% of the staff at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in surveillance presently have also been furloughed. So honey testing aside, all major "routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of lab research" has stopped. 3 I did some additional research into the effects of the Government Shutdown on the FDA and discovered that the full time FDA meat production facility employees will still be working, but this is still troubling. It is estimated that the FDA inspects 80 facilities nationwide per day, so if the shutdown continues to Oct. 17, another estimated 960 facilities will go without being inspected. What is really interesting, are the horrifying 2013 warning letters to companies that failed inspections which you can read here. There are major companies listed there with violations of illegal drug residue (mainly in cows which were sold living in inadequate living conditions), misbrandings, insanitary conditions, mislabeling, unapproved supplements, modified tobbaco products...the list goes on and there are over 25 pages of summary violations.

So what began as an investigation into illegal honey mislabeling, has led me down the closed hallways of food inspection, reminiscent of the horrors of the meatpacking industry in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Why aren't we hearing more about this?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

2013 Organic Product Review Guide

Greetings Readers! It is with great excitement that I present my 2013 Organic Product Review Guide! These are products worth buying, trying and sharing. 

I love organic products. I feel so much better about using them on my skin than I do about using many of the harsh products that I have bought in the past from CVS, Mary Kay, and the mall. Born with sensitive skin, I have also been limited to unscented and hypoallergenic products, and being a girl, I’ve tried many of these as well. So today I’m going to share my experience using organic, hypoallergenic, natural and sensitive skin type products as I skip along on my quest to find the healthiest, easiest and most cost effective cleansing and beauty regimen.

Although I had been buying my natural products on The, (which I reviewed last spring on this blog, here…) I recently discovered the small businesses on, which, if you have never visited this site, is an online marketplace “to buy and sell all things handmade, vintage, and supplies.” I decided to check out some of the smaller organic goods sellers, and found a few companies worth mentioning. It is important to me to try to buy products from small American business owners, and I especially like supporting female business owners.

Firstly on, is Alena over at Bella Organics, ( who was very friendly and supportive of sending me some products to test out. She grew up on a farm, and stands by her motto: “Love your body—Pure and Natural. Never any toxic ingredients, only organic, healing botanicals.” She started making organic products after having moved to the city and becoming more tired and sick. 

I wasn't allergic to any of her products and I tested many. My favorite of her batch, was the "Chocolate Lip Balm" which you can buy for $3.50. What a bargain! Expect to get one from me for Christmas, colleagues! :) Her other flavor of lip balm, was a bit dry for my overly and already dry, cracked lips, but also worked to hydrate them, just as the chocolate flavor did. 

Another product I was surprised to find in my goodie box was "Organic Sunscreen." I was very excited to see what ingredients would be in that! Its main ingredients were essential oils, zinc oxide, and aloe. It had the texture of a light facial butter, and the scent of mint. It was a very refreshing layer to add over my makeup. 

Her "Not Scented Body Butter" hydrated my legs to feel and look as moisturized as a supermodel's and wins my "Best Skin Moisturizer for the Body" award. It was the first time my husband Tom had noticed my smooth legs in years: a win! 

I also received several product samples from Ann over at Ann's Herbals, who is also on ( Ann got started making products to help sensitive skin, eczema, and itchiness, trying to avoid harsh ingredients. Her products were especially suitable for me! 

Her lip balm was the first lip balm ever to moisturize my lips for over four hours with only one application. To get this result I used her "Lavender Vanilla" flavor. It was light, smooth, and worked for hours. 

Another product of Ann's that I loved was her "Simple No Pimple" body soap bar. It was great for the neck, chest and back, and just took away the excess oil and irritants on the skin, and restored the skin to a soothing feel. I'd share a photo of the bar, but I used all of that product gleefully, and now it's gone! It is available at her website above. 

I was also excited to try the "Simple No Pimple" salve, but I put it on before bed and when I awoke it had got in my eyes and irritated them, so don't try using it like that! Luckily, having been using the aloe listed below, I haven't had too many pimples, but the salve does help when I've got one or two to deal with. 

One of my favorite Eco-Chic brands is Giovanni Cosmetics. I first tried the Volcanic Ash Exfoliating Face Wash, and ever since I've been trying more and more of their products. I highly recommend them. (Florida readers: Their "Smooth as Silk" Shampoo and Conditioner's are at Publix now!)

The shampoo smells like the light scent of grapefruit, and the conditioner really fills in dry, cracked hair in a non-greasy or dandruff building way. That smooth feeling really took the frizz out of my hair, and for September in Tampa, that's saying something! 

Another new weekly staple is the detox-mask, also with Volcanic Ash and Antioxidants. While you might think these products are too drying, the Açaí and Goji Berry really moisturize well. Giovanni's products have all really made a mark on me. They are definitely worth checking out. As you can see in the photo on the right, my exfoliating mask is almost gone because I love that one so much. It's my third tube this year! The black facial soap on the right is a lighter, daily version of the facial scrub, also great on the body areas that are prone to acne. 

Best Facial Moisturizer: Nature Republic's Aloe Vera Gel. How to clear acne? Aloe cooling gel. Who knew? Of course it soothes burns and dry skin, and it's in practically every skin care product out there, but I had never thought to put it on my face until I saw my brilliant Chinese student doing exactly this yesterday. Then she showed me the "before" pictures on her iPhone, and I was surprised how clear her face had become since the photos. "Three days," she said when I asked her how long it would take to work. I had figured about a week.

So I put it on two weeks ago. The first morning after using it, my face had gone overnight from red and itchy and raw to white, and clearing and fresh. Still, I had stress and heat acne, so I reapplied twice today. Excited to see the results after two weeks. Much improvement already! This is the jar we've been using. It's Korean and you can order it on Amazon for about $6, but honestly, we have many similar products in the USA, so I'm guessing your after-sun cooling gel with Aloe will also work. Check the percentage of Aloe.

Organic Makeup: The best brand that I've been able to find for organic make-up is Physician's Formula Organic. My best friend from college recently wore this brand for her wedding and looked radiant. I've used these products before for years, and after taking a break for a higher SPF foundation, (hello summer in Florida) I've switched back to these.

The light tinted moisturizer is great for sensitive skin, even with the light scent that it has. It does has SPF 15, too. It just seems a tad oily, so when I forget to use toner at night my skin gets greasy.

Update to Tinted Moisturizer: (9/16/13) Lately, when I put it on in the morning, I find that my eyes are extraordinarily sensitive to light. It appears I'm allergic to the scent/make-up. Back to the drawing board. 

The Physician's Formula Organic mascara is pretty heavy for an organic formula, so it's definitely better to use a lighter color (like brown instead of black) or less product.

This product, the Physician's Formula "dark circle corrector" really does help to take the sleeplessness off of your face. It's double-sided roller balls cover with a yellow tone, and then even out with the skin shades, for a more refreshed look, even when you're exhausted or traveling. Worth the $14 sticker price!

 So I hope that you've enjoyed my organic product review.

What's your favorite organic product? Please share products or brands that I should check out and review below!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Product of the Week: A $3-6 Acne fix.

How to clear acne? Aloe cooling gel. Who knew? Of course it soothes burns and dry skin, and it's in practically every skin care product out there, but I had never thought to put it on my face until I saw my brilliant Chinese student doing exactly this yesterday. Then she showed me the "before" pictures on her iPhone, and I was surprised how clear her face had become since the photos. "Three days," she said when I asked her how long it would take to work. I had figured about a week.

So I put it on yesterday before bed. This morning, my face had gone from red and itchy and raw to white, and clearing and fresh. Still, I had stress and heat acne, so I reapplied twice today. Excited to see the results tomorrow on Day 2. Much improvement already!

This is the jar we've been using. It's Korean and you can order it on Amazon for about $6, but honestly, we have many similar products in the USA, so I'm guessing your after-sun cooling gel with Aloe will also work. Check the percentage of Aloe.

Let me know if it works for you or your teens!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

"The Secrets of Chinese Green Tea."

This past June, my mother, Richy and I sat down to learn about the National green tea of China, in Hangzhou, China at the National Tea Museum. The country chose the "Dragon Well" tea to be the national tea, and it is also called Longjing tea, which if picked during the month of March or early April, (the highest standard) is called "Emperor's tea" and can cost up to $1,000.00 USD per kilo.

I learned about how the Chinese pick tea during different months to improve taste and benefits. For example, the most desirable (and expensive) green tea leaves are picked in the month of March, the next best in April, then May, and all the way through early fall when picking stops.

We were able to sample the tea from May during our free tea ceremony, and we purchased Emperor tea from April afterwards.

Steps to make Proper Green Tea:

1. Use hot water (not boiling water).
2. Put one pinch of green tea leaves in a glass or mug. (Use two fingers and thumb for a pinch.)
3. Put one inch of hot water in the glass or mug.
4. Steam your eyes (open) for thirty seconds on each eye by holding eye over glass. According to our tea expert, this is good for your eyes and skin near eyes. Apparently, the steam brightens your eyes and the antioxidants/vitamins are good for them.
5. Add more hot water until your glass is full. Let steep/sit for up to two minutes before you drink.
6. It is beneficial to "eat" the tea leaves that are loose in your glass. In China, people say "eat your tea" instead of "drink your tea" for this exact reason.

Green tea can help cleanse your body. For example, our tea expert put rice in water in a clear glass and added iodine. The rice soaked up the iodine and the water turned brown. After adding a pinch of green tea leaves, the water cleared to clear again. (The rice was still brown.) This is the green tea working in your body against foreign chemicals. To clear the rice so that the water was clear and the rice was white, she put a condensed green tea tablet (also sold there) in the water and the tablet cleared the rice and the water quickly. It was unbelievable! Drink up!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"America's Dirty Habits: Bad for the Environment, Bad for U.S."

Of course there are many things that we have adopted into our culture that are bad for the environment but today's post outlines some big offenders. I am spreading awareness to try to break this mold of "standards" that have originated from other ecosystems (Lawns), to get people to consider alternatives to dry-cleaning and hot air drying, investing in reusable universal BPA-free plastic bottles, and even trying to raise awareness about communities that aren't recycling. Check 'em out!

-> Comment Forum: Let me know about any other Bad Habits for the environment that you might be educated about below.

1. GREEN LAWNS. Lawns are a big offender. First, there's the water waste in watering the millions of lawns across America, many of which are in ecosystems where green grass is not natural. There are also the billions of gallons of fossil fuels used to mow and maintain these lawns. Then there are the pesticides, herbicides and chemicals used by landscaping companies with big development or business contracts that are polluting the ground, and areas nearby and underneath these lawns. Read more about the hazards to the environment as a result of lawns here on Smithsonian's Blog.  I truly resent that the "classic green lawn" is the standard for subdivisions and businesses everywhere. They are not conducive to a green planet, even though they may look like it.

Where did lawns originate? In England, where rains are a daily occurrence. It's ridiculous to me that this fashionable landscape can be found in the deserts of America in subdivisions and of course at golf courses throughout many climates where irrigation, reclaimed water and vast amounts of chemicals are needed to maintain the greens.

What are alternatives to a green lawn? (1) Replacing your lawn with clover, which requires little water, no herbicides and gives you good luck! (2) Planting a wildflower garden or meadow. (3) Replacing your concrete or asphalt driveway with gravel. (4) Creating a vegetable garden paradise instead of a lawn. (5) Creating a pebble or rock "zen" garden. (6) Creating a "southern desert" rock garden.

2. ELECTRIC DRYERS. I live in the humidity of Tampa, Florida and I understand why hanging laundry outside is a bad idea: mold, bugs, pollen, spores, etc...However, there has to be an alternative to these electric dryers. Even the newer ones use a large amount of energy. However there are ways to be mindful of the energy being used. Read my friend Nicole's blog post about "Ten Eco Friendly Laundry Tips" here. For example:

  • Use a tennis ball, or a natural dryer ball (read Nicole's review of organic ones here.)
  • Use less of the heat, more of the air dry.
  • Consider hanging clothes inside instead on a clothes rack or a line.
3. DRYCLEANING. Don't dryclean your clothes. EVER. The chemicals are extremely harsh (and carcinogenic), and are put on your skin when you wear the clothes. You can read all about it on the EPA's website here.  Educate yourself! Besides, contrary to the name, dry cleaning is not a dry process, and also requires heat drying, which wastes power. Hand wash instead! Or consider trying to find an "Organic Drycleaner" which are becoming more and more popular. 

4. PLASTIC BOTTLES. I can't believe how many plastic bottles Americans go through each year. This isn't going away, folks. They are just increasing in number in vast quantities and so many of them aren't being recycled! It's sickening. Please buy reusable BPA-free bottles. TIP: While I know they can pile up and be expensive, if you buy many that are the same type it is easier to find lids for them. 

5. COMMUNITIES that AREN'T RECYCLING: That's on you, Florida! (And many other places.) While the counties around me recycle, none of the apartment/condo/townhouse subdivisions do. That's hundreds of pounds of trash that needn't be in the landfills. It makes me ill to think about it, and no one is advocating for change in this regard. I've been known to drive bags of plastic and paper to recycle centers, but these are few and far between, and it still uses gas to get there. Any ideas on how we can clean this dirty habit up? Comment below. 

So perhaps I missed the Bad Habit that you wanted to read about: Flying, home energy consumption, junk mail, newspapers, eating meat, plastic bags, driving and parking. I too considered these habits, and wanted to learn more about them. I found a great article by the Chicago Tribune which included these habits, which is highly worth reading if you want to educate yourself about even more bad habits. 

Really, to change a habit requires commitment for about thirty days. So challenge yourself this year, and if you forget for your New Year's Resolution to axe some or all of these habits from your list and you can join me in the quest to leave less of a carbon footprint on mother Earth. Thank you for considering making some of these changes: together we can change the world.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Coffee? Yes, please!" Confessions of a Coffee Addict...

Coffee Forum-->Share your favorite blends/coffee drinks below!

I am a caffeine coffee addict. So naturally, I take coffee, very, very seriously. I look forward to a morning cup of coffee before bed, while I'm making it, while I'm drinking it, and sometimes in the afternoon, when I'm making another. I have definitely pasted that same smile (see photo) as the 50's style meme to the right before I have taken a sip of the coffee in my hand and someone asks me a question forcing my brain to operate painfully before 8AM. Any student who has ever sat in one of my classes knows that at some point during the class period I will look up and say, "Where did I put my coffee?" in panic as I'm wandering all over the classroom. I realize this might not be normal behavior. I realize that it's clearly due to a caffeine addiction and obsessions with the smell and taste of roasted coffee beans.

I realize that Green Tea is healthier, if not as satisfying (I've actually reviewed my Top Ten favorite teas on this blog before, here.) I know that Splenda is probably bad for me and Aspartame is definitely bad for me, and refined sugar is bad for me, and heavy cream and milk and large quantities of caffeine are also bad for me, but over the years, I've loved most of or all of those ingredients at one time or another. I have contemplated the humorous ingenuity of an IV drip of coffee. Yes, I am also a Starbucks Gold Card Member. If you don't know what that is, please don't go look it up, it's embarrassing. Yes, I frequently go to Dunkin' Donuts when I'm sick of Starbucks, because honestly, I love coffee and I love both chains. I have opinions about types, roasts, fair trade and what should and shouldn't be in coffee. So I must confess: I am a Coffee Snob. I realized this fact this past weekend after going through my shelves to see what kind of coffee my relatives would like and realized that I had over three pounds of different types, and at least five different flavors.

Me drinking coffee in Wuzhen, China.
So, today, I'm going to share all the knowledge of coffee that I've accumulated like Gollum researching the One Ring, and hope that we can share in some of this coffee madness together. The research on the benefits and harm of coffee is conflicting. Some sources say that it prevents Alzheimers, others that it leads to high blood pressure and heart disease. Generally, many sources agree that is is bad in high doses, meaning that there is a "magic number" which is considered too high for caffeine intake. I even found, recently while doing research, this article, compiled by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) about "How drinking too much coffee can induce a mental disorder," which warned of the dangers of caffeine intoxication and withdrawal! It seems we can't win! So putting aside "the debate: is it good? Is it bad?" I shall review my favorite types, flavors and varieties.

I started drinking coffee around the age of sixteen. This coincided with the increasing challenge of waking up earlier and earlier for high school. (Why did classes start at 7:05?) Being a Masshole New Englander, meant that I had my pick of Dunkin' Donuts locations [chain was founded in Quincy, MA] and this being 2002, there was not a Starbucks for thirty miles. [Banned by the Quincy, Massachusetts Coffee Mafia?] So I drank my "French Vanilla, Extra Extra" happily for months, until I realized that it was the source of daily agony (milk intolerance) and switched to black coffee, which I've been drinking since.

At nineteen, on my summer break before Sophomore year of college, I got a summer job as a barista at Jaec's Coffee in Attleboro, MA, by the train station. While I was usually called "The Sandwich Queen," since I loved making the salads and sandwiches, I was still trained on and often made drinks using the industrial espresso maker at the coffee shop. I grew to appreciate a good espresso, which has a drip of 25-30 seconds, made from freshly ground beans in a packed handle, in a clean glass so that it doesn't taste "burnt." I grew to love the "Pumpkin Spice" flavored roast at Jaec's so much that I bought a five pound bag which lasted years in the freezer at my parent's house. That summer culminated in my drinking eight espressos before the "American Cancer Society's Relay for Life" where I ran around the track for the midnight-4am shift and woke up sixteen hours afterwards having a new understanding of caffeine addiction. So I quit coffee cold turkey, walked around like a zombie for three weeks, and eventually switched to a more green tea influenced diet for years.

Then I decided to become a middle school teacher, 8AM classes continue. On a related note: seven years later, I have tried dozens of brands, varieties and flavors and have narrowed down my favorites to the following.

"Aimee's Must Try Coffees."

I think I have a problem...
I order my coffee from Mattie's Mountain Mud in New Castle, Virginia. (So does one of my colleagues and my boss, because we field trip up to that city annually with our students for an outdoor trip.) Mattie ships it to me with bumper stickers and a handwritten note, because she is a small business owner, uses certified organic beans, and ensures that her beans are Fair Trade certified. My absolute favorite is BAVARIAN CHOCOLATE. In fact, my husband who only drinks Mochas from Starbucks popped his head into the kitchen to see what that delicious smell was (newly ground Bavarian Chocolate coffee beans) and helped himself to a cup every time I made a pot of it for the next two weeks. 

My second favorite, is also a Mattie's product: COAL. This one has an awesome story of creation, where Mattie charcoaled the beans as far as she could before they caught on fire. Surprisingly, this extra dark roast isn't flavored like dusty carbon or charcoal, and has a deep, full taste, which with raw sugar is smooth and sweetened. It's definitely a headache killer, as a few sips restore the brain of any caffeine addict to normal operation.

If you love coffee, be sure to try her incredible Dark chocolate covered coal coffee beans: they are to die for. 

Pumpkin Spice Coffee Vs. the Pumpkin Spice Latte: HELP ME FIND "THE ONE!" 

Even though Floridian Octobers are incredibly hot still, I still yearn, as do all of the other Yankee transplants in the Fall, for a decent Apple Cider and Pumpkin Spice coffee or latte. I usually default to the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with soy milk (which I could dare you to try to find a difference to normal milk it's so hard to tell.) However, since this latte is still loaded with sugar, I buy a couple of pounds of the Dunkin' Donuts' Pumpkin Spice flavor. Granted, as that's loaded with artificial flavors, I'm still searching for the perfect blend: care to share yours?

The Starbucks Secret: Peppermint Mochas are available YEAR ROUND.

Sometimes, when I need a comforting warm drink to hold, I order a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha off season. In case you didn't know: they're available year-round. As are these other Starbucks secrets: the "Off the Menu" drinks that you can order. I've tried the Thin Mint Frappuccino and it tastes exactly like a Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookie.

The Best of Normal "House" blends of coffee:

#1. Waffle House regular coffee: the best in the USA!
#2. Starbucks' Pike's Place Blend.
#3. Starbucks' Italian Roast Blend.
#4. Cracker Barrel coffee.
#5. Dunkin' Donut's House with French Vanilla.

Varieties I avoid: 

#1. Starbucks' "Blonde" roast. Ew. Too light. Just drink tea instead.
#2. Starbucks' Dark Roast. Burnt taste. Too sour.
#3. Starbucks's French Roast. There's a whole lot wrong with this.
#4. Dunkin' Donut's regular house: bland, sawdusty.
#5. Fast Food Chain coffee. $0.59 of D grade. No thanks.

So, I've admitted that I'm a coffee snob: preferring to order "Off the menu" at Starbucks sometimes, ordering coffee from an awesome organic roaster in Virginia, and blasting varieties that taste like sawdust or too burnt because I care passionately for coffee. But, if you're reading this, perhaps you do to. 

Please share your coffee secrets, favorite blends and types 
that I should try below and I will love you forever. 

Other Media/Sources/References:
1. Dufty, William. "The Dangers of Refined Sugar." 07 JUL 2013. Web.
2. "Aspartame." American Cancer Society. 07 JUL 2013. Web.
3. Schwaner-Albright, Oliver. "Coffee Pollutant No.1: Cream."New York Times. 07 JUL 2013. Web.
4. Veracity, Dani. "The Hidden dangers of Caffeine." Naturalnews. 07 Jul 2013. Web.