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Is Property Ownership Out of Reach for Our Youngest Generations?

These days it seems most of the youth of the world is woefully uninformed when it comes to financial literacy.  I was lucky to have parents who taught me early on about credit.  Even when I found myself, in my twenties and thirties, underpaid and overworked, living above my means with the help of numerous credit cards, I still knew how to right my own financial ship.  It seems that for the most part, today’s youth do not have the same experience or knowledge.

I know plenty of people, even in the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations, who consider owning their own piece of property pretty much out of reach in today’s world.  Many of them cannot afford today’s rent prices either.  This is glum on so many levels.  I mean, who wants to move back in with their parents in their mid-forties?  Sadly, I’ve seen this one too many times in the recent past.  To make matters worse, rents all over the world are skyrocketing and the cost of living is only rising…. (to continue reading, please go here)

Operation Handbag Smuggle

Terror washed over her as the realization hit- There was no trash can in this bathroom!

Panicked, Martha stood frozen for a few seconds, mind racing.  Flushing just was not an option.  Aside from the environmental concerns, the city plumbing just could not handle this sort of activity.  She didn’t want to bring down the entire plumbing infrastructure of her host!

She took the offending item and wrapped it in more toilet paper.  Slipping it up her sleeve, she crept back to the dinner party.  Feeling as if she was on some sort of covert mission she made her way to her handbag, which was hanging on the back of her chair.  There, the handbag smuggle operation was complete.  Doing the right thing sure was stressful.

Had anyone noticed the transfer?  Even worse, did anyone smell it?

This was not an exchange of highly sensitive documents or equipment.  It was a used tampon.

After searching in vain to find some product that would ensure she would never have to experience such awkwardness again, and surveying friends about what they do when faced with disposal of used tampons or pads, Martha Silcott realized there were no disposal products for used feminine care items.  She also discovered the horrifying levels of pollution that flushing period products causes in our rivers and oceans.  In the United Kingdom alone, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million pads are flushed every day.  When sewer systems fail, these can end up in rivers and oceans.

She then made up her mind.  She would create a solution.  FabLittleBag was born.

FabLittleBag is a multi-purpose, sustainably sourced, sealable, opaque disposal bag.  FabLittleBags are made of plants and recycled plastics, supporting the circular economy of waste.

After some time of letting her idea germinate in her head, with the particular challenge of how to make the bag able to be opened one-handed, Martha had her eureka moment during a series of snatched spare minutes here and there during mundane daily activities.  Martha took a sandwich bag, some Sellotape, and a staple, and there she had her rough version of FabLittleBag.

Some years later she applied for a patent.  She then created a handmade prototype out of black trash bags (or bin liners, as they say in the UK), and double sided glue.  She contacted nine different plastic manufacturers in the UK and went to visit them.  She asked each one if they could make this bag for her.  Every single one said “No”.

After quite a few stumbling blocks, to include the financial crisis of 2008-2009, progress stalled.  Eventually, after seven years, her patent was granted.  This pushed her back into the challenge of finding a manufacturer.  She revisited one of the companies that had previously rejected her, now under new management.  This time the answer was a resounding “Yes!”

One little catch though.  The manufacturer did not have the machinery required to make her bag.  The solution to this obstacle came from a machine manufacturer in Malaysia, where Martha then had a machine built from scratch.  No small feat.

FabLittleBag launched in November 2015.  They are currently made from 60% sugarcane waste, 30% recycled LDPE, and 10% renewable cornstarch.  Since a lot of sanitary waste is incinerated or ends up in a landfill, the goal was to be sustainably sourced.  Martha wanted to ensure that the bags were made from the best materials with the least negative impact on the environment.  She accomplished this goal – even the glue on the bags is vegan!

Since launching the FabLittleBag, approximately 10 million bags have been sold and sales are growing exponentially each year.  The bags can be used for not only discarded tampons and pads, but additional items such as condoms, tissues, wipes, and the modern, smaller incontinence pads.  The list of uses for the FabLittleBag is endless.

Martha didn’t stop there.  In March 2022 the HyGeeni bag made its entrance into the world!  The HyGeeni is a much larger multi-purpose disposable bag for items such as diapers, incontinence pads, personal medical devices like ostomy bags and catheters, as well as other eclectic uses.  The HyGeeni has been very warmly received, especially by those in the ostomy community whose only option previously were terribly thin, plastic dog food-type bags.  The HyGeeni helps people dispose with dignity.

Doing the right thing shouldn’t be stressful.  Out of an embarrassing incident at a friend’s house, an idea was born.  That idea was then transformed into a creation, through patience and persistence.  In today’s world, it is easy to find obstacles.  Martha Silcott not only identified a problem, she created a solution.

https://fablittlebag.com/

This article was originally published on OpsLens.com.

Secret Agent Teach is Back!

I believe that many of the problems we see today in the US stem from an overall ignorance of history and civics. There is a true lack of knowledge of historical documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to name a couple. Many do not understand at all how our government works or know anything about our founding fathers. Having attended high school in California, I don’t recall learning very much about US History and the founding of this country.

One of my clients, Secret Agent Teach strives to bridge this gap in knowledge by offering educator-tested, student-approved teaching resources to teachers (and parents) at a cheap price on his store. For the past 3-4 years, I have learned more about US History than I ever learned in California public school as I have built Secret Agent Teach’s online storefront.

We had 250-300 teaching resources available on our storefront on Teachers Pay Teachers. It wasn’t going to make us billionaires, but it was an easy 30-50 dollars extra passive income each month. That’s enough to help out with groceries, school supplies, whatever.

Beginning in October 2020, Teachers Pay Teachers started picking at Secret Agent Teach’s store. First, Secret Agent Teach was told he could not post any lessons that mentioned Christopher Columbus. Then Secret Agent Teach was told to remove any lessons that had any “sensitive” content in them. Sensitive content was any lesson or activity that had role-playing in it because it might be upsetting to the students. Finally, after all of the offending documents were removed from the storefront, Teachers Pay Teachers came at Secret Agent Teach with accusations of “copyright infringement”.

These emails were never very clear, and did not provide much guidance. Secret Agent Teach believed he had done everything that was asked of him in order to bring his storefront into compliance, as he did not hear back after he followed the cryptic instructions in the email received. Secret Agent Teach complied, and thought he was in good standing once again.

Imagine Secret Agent Teach’s surprise when in November 2021, Teachers Pay Teachers took his entire storefront down. Unceremoniously, without notice, all of Secret Agent Teach’s hard work vanished. A few years of work, gone!

When appeals were made, Teachers Pay Teachers simply ignored Secret Agent Teach’s requests and refused to submit the final counter-offer that Secret Agent Teach had asked them to submit.

The worksheets and presentations, reading activities – they were all just straight history, no commentary, no agenda. Just simply a way to teach US History to middle-school kids.

Well, I have some good news. Secret Agent Teach is back online! Secret Agent Teach’s new, smaller storefront can be found at https://www.etsy.com/shop/secretagentteach.

If you know of any teachers who used Secret Agent Teach’s documents to teach US History to their middle-schoolers, please let them know! Secret Agent Teach was a big hit and helped hundreds of teachers do their difficult job, even during COVID shutdowns.

Additionally, if you believe in teaching history without an agenda, if you are not afraid of history because it might be “upsetting”, please support this store!  Please tell any educators you know- home schooling parents included- about this resource. Let’s make learning and teaching easier, not harder.

Some Good News For A Change…

It’s no secret that human beings are bad for most things environmental, right? But what if we used our brains to come up with ways to FIX problems, not just whine about them or create more of them?

In this day of rampant virtue signaling, I’m happy to share news about a company and people who are really DOING something about plastic pollution in the ocean and waterways. Thanks to an introduction from Kerrin Black of Talentfinders, I was able to share RanMarine Technology’s story here….

It’s That Time of Year!

It’s time for my annual self-promotion, hopefully just in time for your holiday gift-giving. If you have any book lovers on your list, try out one (or more) of my books this year! I’ve seen some delays in shipments of hardcopy books, but e-books won’t have any delay and are perfect for last minute gift-giving. I have adult-themed books about my time working as an intelligence officer in the CIA, and I have children’s books that have nothing to do with the CIA – both picture books and a new elementary-grade chapter book series, just begun this year! My books are available online anywhere books are sold, and are likely in some brick and mortar stores (authors always love it if you request their books in brick and mortar stores because then the stores will order copies!).

My books:

My first book, Single in the CIA, is a comical memoir of my life in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency. It takes you through my adventures as a young, single woman in the intelligence world, and focuses only on my personal relationships while I was there – no work talk! It’s meant to be fun, but it ends up being sort of sad, if you realize that the book is set in the “premier spy agency”. Kind of disturbing, actually. This is the book I am most known for, and it began the series of books that I have now written, and continue to write.

My series, Mingling in the CIA, takes readers into the lives of officers in America’s premier spy agency. These short novelettes each focus on an actual real person I knew at the Agency, and takes the reader on a (hopefully fun) journey into their lives. I am currently working on the latest in this series, where you will meet a new character!

Mission: Stand Down, is a true-to-life spy thriller – my most controversial book yet. This one had the censors up in arms! It is highly redacted, but I still think you can get the gist of the book and it is one of my best.

Mommy Thinks She’s a Monster is a touching children’s picture book about moms and motherhood written from the perspective of a young child, who only wants their mommy to be present in their life. This was my first children’s book, and it was so much fun to do. I worked with a great illustrator, Paul Sewell, on this one – he was a delight to work with and he really brought my idea to life.

The Lemon Seed is a children’s picture book about thriving in adversity and flourishing, even in dismal circumstances and environments. This was my Covid shutdown project. In the very beginning, when we were the first in the country to be shut down and masked (Washington state had us beat on the first shutdown), I decided to challenge myself and see if I could illustrate my own book. It might not be perfect, but it is meant to look “homemade” and I’m really glad I did it.

A Manatee Miracle, the first in The Adventures of Shelly Beach elementary-grade chapter book series, takes young readers on adventures in the Florida Keys with a magical paddle boat. This book kicks off my newest series – this time for young readers. With this series, I hope to introduce kids to the wildlife of the Florida Keys that I was so lucky to grow up surrounded by.

Happy Reading & Happy Gifting!

Yes, the characters are based on real people at the Agency…

If you’ve ever had the mistaken belief that the federal government knows what it’s doing, you have got to read my books!

…It was hot, unbearably hot. Sweat dripped off of his forehead as he looked out at a sea of multimillion dollar yachts. He gripped the battered briefcase full of money with his left hand. 

    It’s too hot for this shit.

    He spotted a bar across the docks and made his way over into the dusky shelter of its doorway. 

    He had gotten the approval to go to the boat show and purchase a yacht suitable for his operation. The finance officer at Station had reluctantly counted out an enormous sum of money and watched as he stuffed it into the old briefcase that had been lying around the storage area, unused for years. He was still a little irritated that they wouldn’t approve his purchase of a super yacht – they would only grant approval for a regular luxury yacht. He had also requested the yacht be fully staffed, but Headquarters did not approve. How was he supposed to manage a yacht without a full staff? The thought of it made his blood boil. 

    Feeling increasingly disgruntled, he decided to duck into the bar and have a few drinks. He was sweating profusely at this point and was having a hard time breathing in the humid Florida air. 

    Tossing the briefcase full of cash on the bar, he sat down on a bar stool which barely supported his ample rear end…

This excerpt was taken from Mingling in the CIA: Bloud.

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Publicity & PR With a Heart

Kerrin Black is usually on the other side of the camera, but this time she’s the one in the spotlight. Her successful international PR business has helped numerous people elevate their message and gain considerable success.

What I especially like about Kerrin is her way of trying to bring positive inspiration to people – genuine information they can use – that not only educates but helps people, with real actionable steps identified to create success. In doing so, she single-handedly makes the world just a little bit better through her efforts and spirit.

Kerrin is now offering a Publicity Boot Camp- a three week (1 hour session per week) online training program that will teach you how to leverage PR and publicity in a way that will move you to the next level. She will cover interview preparation, how to leverage the media, and publicity for branding during this interactive Q & A class.

So if you’re ready to take your brand to the next level – please join us at the boot camp – use code SHELLY when you contact us at kerrin@talentfinders.com or enroll now!

My Appearance on American Snippets

I joined Barbara Allen, author of Front Toward Enemy and What Not to Wear to a Murder Trial, on her show American Snippets recently. We talked about all sorts of subjects – my longest TV appearance yet!

I think I’m getting slightly better at them…..

This episode should also be airing on OpsLens TV – which is now available on Apple TV, Roku and FireTV! Stay tuned!

September 11th

What happened to our memory?

When the events of September 11th occurred, it changed the world. It was a horrible change, but it did bring some unity to our country. Suddenly we were united against one enemy. I was in Washington DC at the time, and I can honestly say that people just got nicer, even if it was only in the congested Washington DC traffic. People waved, allowed you to merge in front of them, made room, consideration for fellow humans prevailed… suddenly. We were all in shock.

I have written about this before…. I saw the Pentagon burning. I saw cars pulled over on the side of the freeway – people lining up at phone booths (we had them at this time) to call their loved ones. Cell phones weren’t as common, but if you did have one, you could not get through to anyone. I remember worrying about my family in California and what attack might be coming their way at the various federal buildings in which they worked. It was still early morning for them. I wanted to warn them not to go in to work.

But it really didn’t hit me until I was back at my small studio apartment in Alexandria, Virginia and watched on my giant clunky television (we had those at this time) the extremely tall buildings being toppled by airplanes. I had just seen these buildings in person, for the first time in my life, just weeks prior on a trip to New York. I remember thinking how tall the buildings were – they almost made me dizzy just looking up at them – they were THAT tall.

I saw people jumping out or falling out of these tall towers. It still makes me tear up to think about what I saw that day.

I kept wondering, what was it like to be at your office, working as a clerk or secretary, or any other average office employee… and to look out the window and see a commercial airliner coming straight for you. That was the image I had in my mind. Did anyone actually see it or was it just so quick that no one saw it coming? I guess you wouldn’t know unless you were in that situation. And those people are gone. This is just how my brain works, I picture myself in the other person’s position.

Since March 2020 life changed dramatically for most of us – if you were in California as I was, your life changed dramatically more than people in other states in the US because of the extreme measures that were taken. But there were no planes hitting towers. There was footage coming out of Wuhan, China showing death and quarantining of people, due to a leak of a virus – COVID-19 or what we then called corona virus. Then we quickly saw the statistics in Italy, which has one of the oldest populations in the world, of the deaths due to the corona virus.

People freaked out. In California, parents locked their kids inside the house. I still have the image of a child’s writing on a window in my neighborhood etched in my mind. It said “Can I go to the Out now?” We were told we had to mask up. We had one of the first mask mandates in the country in our small desert town. Playgrounds were promptly roped off with tape. People were actually calling 9-1-1 on people who dared walk in the neighborhood with no masks. It was an extreme reaction, and frankly, I wasn’t buying it.

I tried to sound the alarm. I was shouted down by the most vocal and loud minority in our society. Nobody was listening. I’m guess I’m just not loud enough.

Now, as I can think of the positive that came from the horrible events of September 11th, small as they may have been – they were human. But, I cannot think of any one positive thing that has come from this COVID pandemic hysteria. In fact, it is quite the opposite. People are ruder, less humane, and more division and hatred exists now than before. There is more visceral hatred.

People don’t even seem to WANT to get along. They treat each other – and even worse, our children – as lepers. They believe everyone carries this virus, dormant inside, and somehow we can all infect each other – sort of like a zombie apocalypse movie. Everyone is a big germ.

I see people now embracing awkward elbow bumps instead of shaking hands. People avert eyes as their mask-covered faces quickly look down at the ground. Where I used to imagine getting involved in the PTA or volunteering at schools, for instance, I now feel uncomfortable and frankly, unwelcome. It’s as if I am a walking disease just waiting to make everyone sick. And my children are too.

Why would anyone be wary of me ? My vaccine passport wouldn’t fit in a large suitcase – I have had vaccinations that many reading this have never even heard of.

Now, I could have gotten by thinking this is just temporary, but we are going on two years of this. Where does it end?

After September 11th I had friends (yes, it was California) who claimed that President Bush had orchestrated the attacks and it was all made up, like a Hollywood movie. They had all these conspiracy theories. I was horrified listening to them. Now, I’ve seen this conspiracy theory theme twisted around. The original conspiracy theorists are now telling people how to think. These same people will tell you there has never been a pandemic in our lifetimes. These people will also tell you we’ve never had two or three hurricanes lined up in the ocean at a time ever before.

I even had one clearly deranged individual tell me that the people in those towers that day deserved “what they got”. That the problem was how rich all those people who worked in the towers were. It didn’t matter to this person that the majority of the people in their office early in the morning were not the mega-rich, they were the clerical workers, secretaries and mid-level managers. Either way, being “rich” does not justify being murdered by terrorists.

Where once, aside from the obvious nut jobs mentioned above, we stood together after a horrible terrorist attack on our country, now it seems it’s every man for himself. Parents of older children are not concerned with the effects of masking on our youngest children – because it doesn’t affect them directly. If it doesn’t affect them, they don’t want to get involved or even hear about it. They hide their heads in the sand. The small, loud minority of shrieking voices rules the day.

“It’s just the way it is now.”

It is only that way if you continue to allow it to be that way.

On this Patriot Day, let’s remember.

Dilemmas of the 21st-Century American Parent

Standing in the breeze on a warm spring day at the end of another school year, I listen as a pre-Kindergarten child receives a prize at the elementary school’s yearly awards ceremony. Inwardly, I cringe as I hear “ . . . and she wants to be a YouTuber when she grows up.” My attention suddenly is diverted as my 2-year-old darts off into the crowd, tearfully screaming for daddy.

I see far too many social media posts from well-meaning parents who worry that their toddler isn’t speaking yet, or fret about their 4-year-old’s short-attention-span. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard or read well-meaning but (to my mind) misguided advice to “get him (or her) evaluated.” What explains this push for a magical pharmaceutical remedy or some other treatment to shoehorn kids into our concept of “appropriate” behavior. Apart from wondering where this mythical child evaluation station is located, I wonder what is happening to the American parent.

When I was a child, I spent countless hours digging in the dirt, discovering beetles and worms. I could construct an entire village out of pebbles, coral, and rock. I built bridges and put ants on leaf boats that sailed across great puddles of water.

Nowadays, pre-school and pre-Kindergarten kids are placed in front of a tablet or a laptop almost as soon as they enter the classroom. Parents, understandably tired and overworked, willingly surrender their smartphones to their children when they can’t seem to entertain themselves for a few minutes. Teachers, overburdened with bulging classroom sizes, time-sucking administrative meetings, and more and more “professional development” requirements, sometimes rely on apps—educational as they may be—to teach children the basics during their long classroom days. Even if we assuage ourselves with the idea that our child is getting limited screen time at home, they are getting plenty of it at school.

Parents, on a constant scroll through social media, are bombarded by worries about how their children are developing. Are they measuring up with their peers? New young mothers often get their parenting advice from a Facebook group filled with other young, inexperienced mothers rather than from more experienced family members or from medical professionals. Doctors’ offices are overflowing with patients, though it is rare to see an actual doctor during an appointment. All it takes is a quick glance at the majority of commercials flooding our television screens—so many offering pharmaceutical solutions to just about every preventable health problem.

An Epidemic of Overprescriptions

You can’t even glimpse at a parenting blog or article without seeing numerous parental claims of a child suffering from anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), even for children as young as 3. Perhaps a small pill could solve all of our parenting worries.

The United States accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population but 83.1 percent of the global volume of ADHD medications. Methylphenidate (also known as Ritalin and Concerta among other trade names) is a central nervous system stimulant and is one of the pharmaceuticals used to treat ADHD. Some figures I have found say that 85 to 95 percent of the methylphenidate produced in the world is consumed in the United States. Does this mean that there is no ADHD in the rest of the world?

Many doctors will tell their patients that depression is caused by a problem in the brain, a chemical imbalance. This has been the explanation for decades. Yet every year, diagnoses of depression and anxiety increase, especially among kids. Administration of psychotropic drugs, such as Ritalin and Prozac (among others), causes long-lasting alterations in brain function. As a result, the brain operates differently from the normal state.

Some studies have found that there may be social or economic incentives that encourage an ADHD diagnosis. Public school children diagnosed with ADHD may qualify for additional educational services. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Sullivan v. Zebley led to the inclusion of ADHD for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. There was a three-fold increase in SSI benefits for children between 1989 and 1995. In 2013 alone, SSI benefits for ADHD were more common than those for intellectual disabilities, autistic disorder, speech and language impairments, and other developmental disorders.

One interesting theory for the increase is that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) may have encouraged school districts to pressure parents of academically low performing students to have them evaluated for ADHD and other learning disabilities. The belief was that if those same children were administered cognitive-enhancing drugs, they would perform better on standardized tests, which would stave off cuts in federal school funding. Some statistics support this view. In particular, low-income public school children from states where this strategy was introduced as part of NCLB showed double the increase in ADHD diagnoses between 2003 and 2007, relative to other states.

Since then, however, many state legislatures have become concerned about the influence that schools were having on mental health diagnoses and decisions about medications for students. Many states have since enacted child psychiatric drug laws (CPDL), which instruct public school boards to prohibit school personnel from recommending a child take a psychotropic medication, mandate that a child take psychotropic medication as a condition of enrollment, or use a parent’s refusal to medicate a child as the single basis for a neglect accusation.

What Have We Done to Our Kids?

I cannot help but think we are letting our children down with our desire for a quick fix, a convenient “solution” that does not even come close to identifying any underlying problems.

Not too long ago, a friend who works in the pharmaceutical industry told me a disturbing story. In the late 1990s, while working at a managed care pharmacy in Davenport, Iowa that serviced three surrounding states, he noticed a huge number of methylphenidate prescriptions from one particular state. When queried about the numbers, the head pharmacist replied, quite matter-of-factly, that ADHD was well covered by insurance in that state, so everyone there supposedly had ADHD.

Then the pharmacist said something that sent a chill down my friend’s spine: “Twenty years from now, we will look back on this and ask what we have done to our kids.”

Two weeks later, on April 20, 1999, my friend happened to be in Littleton, Colorado when two teenage boys went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School. They killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves as police closed in.

Oftentimes, the privacy of medical records is a barrier to uncovering the role psychiatric drugs may have played in violence such as the Columbine shootings as well as most of the student school shootings since that time. There is some evidence that many of the mass shooters of our recent history were either on or withdrawing from medications prescribed for depression, anxiety, and/or ADHD when they went on their murder sprees.

In our overworked, overstimulated, and exhausted lives are we too susceptible to believing that our depression, anxiety, or lack of an attention span is due to a chemical imbalance in our brains? Could that be cutting us off from discovering the real causes of depression or anxiety? Are we too quick to take bad advice from strangers on social media without educating ourselves first? Shouldn’t we strive to become our childrens’ greatest advocates? In doing so, wouldn’t we ensure that doctors do not hastily hand us prescriptions for powerful psychotropic drugs just to clear out their overcrowded waiting rooms?

Perhaps it sounds simplistic, but we may need to be more mindful of our kids. That does not mean that we need to coddle them, but we need to learn how to pay attention to them and truly listen to them without distraction.

We need to practice being present. True mindfulness means being in the moment and focusing on what you are doing at that moment. We need to learn how to hear our children and spend time with them, without the interruption of social media or electronic devices. We need to be aware of what they are interested in, and what they are doing in their free time. We need to place limits on electronics, social media, and video game usage and promote reading books, physical exercise, and being present.

What are we doing to our kids? We are all strapped for time; we are all busy. But somehow we need to make more time for our children—more time to listen to them. It may not pay a salary, but it could very well be the most important thing you can do for the world.

This article has been republished on OpsLens with permission from American Greatness.