Book Review #100: “Maritza: Lead with Your Heart” (World By Us)

The third book in the World By Us from American Girl was as equally compelling and thought-provoking as the other two.

As an American Girl collector, I wish I had the space for all of the community center items and accessories. It’s so colorful and fun!

I appreciated the fact that American Girl tackled immigration and deportation in this book. Like Evette’s and Makena’s books, it’s clear that this was well-researched and carefully crafted.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #99: “Makena: See Me, Hear Me, Know Me” (World By Us)

After reading Evette’s book, I quickly moved to Makena’s book in the World By Us collection from American Girl.

Makena loves fashion, and posts her #OOTD (outfit of the day). I love how expressive she is!

Similar to Evette’s story, racism is a major theme in Makena’s story. Despite Makena’s struggles to come to terms with not one, but two incidents in her young life, I applaud American Girl for addressing both incidents in a thoughtful way. It definitely educated me.

It also encourages open communication between family members, and how talking about your feelings with someone that you can trust is so important.

Reading Makena’s story was another eye-opener for me, as a white woman, to how one phone call or one remark could very easily put someone else’s life at risk in an instant.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #98: “Evette: The River and Me” (World By Us)

I’m always up for new books from American Girl. When they announced the new World By Us line with three books, I was excited. I was able to get the books practically brand-new from a seller in the big American Girl Obsessed BST group that I’m a member of on Facebook.

The first book that I read is Evette’s book. She’s passionate about the environment. The book also addresses the pandemic, social media, and other real-life issues. Racism is one big topic that’s incorporated. I also love the community center that’s featured!

I read through the whole book in one night several months ago. Most American Girl books don’t take me long to read at all, but this one was also beautifully illustrated!

The interesting part about these books, and this line/collection, is that the characters are 13 years old, which is older than the typical target demographic for the company. I personally think this is a great thing, and it shows that American Girl is dedicated to diversity, inclusion, education, and other things.

Given that the target audience is quite a bit younger than myself, I had to put myself in the shoes of a 13-year-old while reading it.

I really appreciated how the author and the diversity team that is recognized in the book did their homework and tried to respectfully and carefully craft a story that was relevant and would potentially resonate with readers, families, and others.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #275: Stranger Things The Upside Down LEGO Set

Al got me the massive Stranger Things The Upside Down set for Christmas!

Part 1

Part 1 was building four things: Hopper, the mini-fig stand with the Stranger Things title card, Hopper’s Hawkins Police Department SUV, and the bike.

The wheels really move!


Part 2

The second part was building the base of the “real world” house and Mike.

The base took the better part of two hours! But you can start to see parts of the house and the yard.


Part 3

Part three began building the house and Joyce. She is holding Will’s drawing in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Plus, her mini-fig head has two different facial expressions.

The enclosed room is Will’s bedroom. It has his bed, desk, boom box, and shark poster.

The other room is the living room with the couch and coffee table. The yellow phone is on the wall. You can see the alphabet and Christmas lights on the wall next to the door.


Part 4

Part 4 saw the completion of the living room, with the green chair, and building Lucas. He’s holding his slingshot and a flashlight.

The siding was added to the house, along with the front porch furniture and accessories.


Part 5

Part 5 included the roof and building Dustin.

Dustin is holding a walkie-talkie and his compass.

Part of the ceiling is this cool light brick that lights up when you push the button!


Part 6

Part 6 included building Will and the base of the Upside Down house.

It’s definitely darker!


March 18th: This post was scheduled to publish before I finished the set, so I will update soon!


Part 7

Part 7 is building the Upside Down house bedroom and living room.


Part 8

Part 8 is continuing the Upside Down house, with the living room, and the outside details, like the siding, chairs, and other finishing touches.

I love the blues and grays.


Part 9

Part 9 was the roof and additional details.

Love the spooky vines and leaves.


Parts 10 and 11

This is the end!

Getting Personal #269: My Favorite Things of 2021

Image Credit: Quote Master

So, before starting the lists of favorites, here’s my tally for books and Book Reviews for 2021:


Now, on to my favorites!

Favorite Books

Favorite Movies

  • Baby Driver
  • Beanie Mania (HBO Max)
  • Black Widow
  • Coming 2 America (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
  • Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions (Disney+)
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  • Moxie (Netflix)
  • Noelle (Disney+)
  • Richard Jewell (HBO Max)
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy (HBO Max)
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • The Tomorrow War (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Without Remorse (Amazon Prime Video)

Favorite TV Shows

  • Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children (HBO Max)
  • Black and Missing (HBO Max)
  • Cold Case – Seasons 1 – 7 (HBO Max)
  • Hawkeye (Disney+)
  • Head of the Class – Original Series (HBO Max)
  • Hoarders (YouTube)
  • LEGO Masters – Season 2 (Hulu)
  • Loki (Disney+)
  • LuLaRich (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Midnight Mass (Netflix)
  • Supermarket Sweep (YouTube)
  • Ted Lasso – Season 1 (Apple TV+)
  • The Baby-Sitters Club – Season 2 (Netflix)
  • The Muppet Show (Disney+)
  • WandaVision (Disney+)

Favorite Podcasts

  • 48 Hours
  • American Radical
  • Auld Lang Gone: The Lost Carmen Sandiego
  • Criminal
  • Cold – Season 2
  • Crimes of Passion
  • Dateline NBC
  • Embedded
  • Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera
  • Life After MLM
  • Mind Over Murder – Seasons 1 and 2
  • Operator
  • Over My Dead Body – Season 3
  • Suspect
  • The Thing About Helen and Olga
  • Up and Vanished – Season 3
  • Small Town Dicks
  • StoryCorps

Well, that wraps up my favorite things for 2021!

What about you? What were some of your favorite things of the year?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #33: Not Guilty Verdict for Rittenhouse

Joseph Rosenbaum (left), and Anthony Huber (right) were shot and killed on August 25, 2020 in the wake of protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin over the shooting of Jacob Blake. Image Credit: NBC News

I cursed out loud earlier today when I caught wind of the Not Guilty verdict for now-18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. He was acquitted of all charges today in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Am I surprised? No.

Am I angry, disappointed, and frustrated? YES.


I’m not going to rehash the case here since it’s been such a high-profile case with tons of media coverage.

However, I’m thinking of the families of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, along with Gaige Grosskreutz today.


As I mulled over my own thoughts and feelings today, I sincerely hope that something good will come out of this. According to NPR (article linked below), even though he was acquitted of criminal charges, it’s likely that he faces one or more civil lawsuits in the very near future.

I also think that Judge Bruce Schroeder should be investigated. His courtroom conduct during this trial has been beyond bizarre to say the least. I’m really curious to see what happens with Judge Schroeder now that a verdict has been reached.


Resources

Kyle Rittenhouse is acquitted of all charges in the trial over killing 2 in Kenosha | NPR

Kyle Rittenhouse acquitted on all charges | ABC News

EXPLAINER: Which charges did Kyle Rittenhouse face? | AP News


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #118: “Mom Opens Store and Uses Proceeds to Pay for People’s Adoptions”

Brittany Berrie opened The Adopted Closet in Davenport, Iowa to help cover the cost of adoption for families. Image Credit: Amanda Williams

This is such a cool story that Good Morning America covered!

Mom opens store and uses proceeds to pay for people’s adoptions (November 11, 2021)


Brittany Berrie finalized the adoption of her 11-year-old daughter, Gracie Lou Susan Johnson, earlier this summer. It was finalized after several years thanks to the generosity of Berrie’s cousin, who insisted on paying for the remaining costs. The average cost of adoption in the Unites States, through a private agency, ranges between $60,000 and $70,000. Costs can vary wildly as well.

Trying to find a way to thank her cousin, Berrie decided to help pay for another family’s adoption. She knew first-hand how expensive the process was. While organizing a garage sale with her mom, she had the idea to use the proceeds to help fund another adoption. Once people knew where the proceeds were going, donations poured in and never stopped.

Overwhelmed with clothes and other items, Berrie knew that they needed a store.

She converted her family’s garage into The Adopted Closet. Family members, including Gracie, keep the store running three days a week.

The proceeds from the garage sale and the store, in a matter of months, have already helped fund one family’s adoption, of two boys, which was finalized on November 6, 2021.

Berrie’s efforts coincide with National Adoption Awareness Month, observed every November. The lawyer for the family whose adoption was just finalized stated that the high costs is very prohibitive for a lot of families, making Berrie’s commitment and efforts even more remarkable.

Berrie is committed to continuing The Adopted Closet, and hopes to expand into a storefront to keep the store open year-round.


I’m super impressed with Berrie and her family. Being foster parents and/or adopting children is a huge act of love. And there are so many in need right here in the U.S. I’ve listed several resources below!


Resources

Fact Sheets | Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI)

National Council for Adoption

National Foster Parent Association (NFPA)

AdoptUSKids

Average Adoption Costs in the United States | Family Equality

Comparing the Cost of Domestic, International and Foster Care Adoption | American Adoptions


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #117: “A Free In-School Grocery Store At An Atlanta School Is Tackling Child Hunger”

Image Credit: Jasmine Crowe, featured in NPR story.

I love this idea! Way to go, NPR!

A Free In-School Grocery Store At An Atlanta School Is Tackling Child Hunger

Jasmine Crowe is one amazing woman. She started feeding people out of her apartment in 2013, every weekend for three years. That alone is amazing.

But then she went further, and truly above and beyond.

Check out the information below. Her company, Goodr, is incredible. Now that she’s partnered with rapper Gunna, the students at Ronald McNair Middle School have access to amazing resources. What struck me the most was that now, the kids at school can bring home dinner or other supplies, no questions asked. If the adults are working when school lets out, these kids can bring home food for their families. To me, that’s a huge weight lifted!


Resources

Goodr

Everybody Eats

Jasmine Crowe: What Can We Do To Tackle Food Waste and Hunger? | TED Radio Hour (September 3, 2021)

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #116: Thoughts on “LuLaRich”

Image Credit: Google Images, Amazon Prime Video

Buckle up, friends. This is going to be a long post. Strong language is used.

Some of you know that I used to buy LuLaRoe (LLR) clothing for two years, from 2017-2019. At the time, I had no clue it was a multi-level marketing company, or MLM.

Now, Amazon Prime Video has released a decent documentary that features the founders, former front office employees, current and former “retailers,” and a few more.

NOTE: I originally set this post to publish on September 20th after having re-watched Episodes 1 and 2, thinking I was going to be able to re-watch all four episodes before the post published automatically. That didn’t happen. It published automatically, and I forgot about it for a few days. I decided to update the scheduling to publish it on September 24th after needing to re-watch Episodes 3 and 4 and make my notes about it. So the updated publishing date is actually September 24th.


Episode 1 – Start Up

Image Credit: LuLaRich

I can’t believe the producers of this documentary were actually able to get DeAnne and Mark Stidham on camera! I’d love to know how that conversation went. Wow!

You are the boss of your business! — Hahahahaha. No, you’re not. MLMs are not legitimate small businesses. Period.

One of the commentators is Robert FitzPatrick – Author, MLM Expert – He was interviewed on Roberta Blevins’s excellent podcast, “Life After MLM.” He’s written two books on MLMs.

Independent fashion retailers — No, actually, you’re an independent contractor. And you have to pay taxes!

$5,000 buy-in (Say WHAT?!?!) Holy moly. This one blew my mind. What the fuck? I could do so much with $5,000 – So much!

Selling breast milk to afford start-up costs — Ummmmm. Yeah. That’s absolutely insane. Nope!

A million dollar company to a billion dollar company. — It grew way too fast, and no one was able to keep up. Plain and simple.

Weight loss surgery — What the actual fuck. No, no, no.

Roberta Blevins — Amazing woman! I have a link to her podcast above! She is awesome!

“Why are the leggings wet? Why does the whole house smell like dead fart leggings?“ — Right on, Roberta! Inferior product doesn’t sell!

“LuLaRoe tricked people into joining a pyramid scheme.“

Actual depositions from the State of Washington v. LLR — I laughed and cringed at the same time!

Mark spouting passages from the Book of Mormon — Yeah. Roberta was right. You are/were in a cult!

LLR logo is a pyramid!

DeAnne’s maiden name is “Startup.” Seriously!

DeAnne is the 10th of 11 children. She has a twin sister, Diane.

Mark is one of four kids. Never wanted to work a job or work for a boss. “When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s no upper limit.”

1988 – DeAnne went to a swap meet in California. Bought four dresses from a man. Started booking dress parties. The first party sold 300 dresses. DeAnne did that for 27 years.

She started making maxi skirts after her daughter asked for one. Sold 20,000 maxi skirts quickly. Mark started in production.

2012 – Brittany Hunter from Utah, came and got skirts out of DeAnne’s van. DeAnne and Mark officially formed LuLaRoe, LLC in 2013. The name comes from three of their granddaughters – Lucy, Lola, and Monroe.

What I really liked about LuLaRich was the group of people they interviewed. When I first saw the trailer, I was pretty sure the producers had only interviewed DeAnne, Mark, and both former and current fashion retailers. It was really nice to see journalists and other experts, too! And home office employees that really spilled the tea.

For those who may not know, MLMs have been around for a good long while. The first one in the United States was Nutrilite in the 1940s, and then they were purchased by Amway. Other MLMs include Tupperware, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Scentsy, Herbalife, and Rodan + Fields. But there are a lot more – I remember hearing for either this documentary or Roberta’s podcast that there are about 300 active MLM companies in the United States. And many of them have gone global to other countries. Ewwwwww.

What is really being sold is the opportunity.

You can only go about 13 levels, and you surpass the population of the Earth.

Even though MLMs have been around and growing since the 1940s, it’s really exploded in the last 10 years or so. It’s advertised primarily through social media.

Buy it for wholesale, sell it for retail. It’s not get-rich-quick. —- Yeahhhhhh. Right.

Mark: Underutilized resource of stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs). A lot of people of faith attracted to this business. It’s a pure meritocracy.

Meritocracy: Government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability.

Sam Schultz, DeAnne’s nephew, joined LLR in 2015 as the events director. Part of the same demographic as the fashion retailers. He hired Mario Lopez to present DeAnne with an award. The photos went viral, and 11,000 people wanted to join the company after that weekend.

2016 – LLR made over $70 million, and expanded to a new home office in Corona, California.

Catastrophic growth, corporate tornado.

“Helping families, blessing lives.” — Wow.


Episode 2 – Show Up

Image Credit: LuLaRich

LLR created a video called “5 Ways to Finance Your Start Up Costs.” The smallest initial package was $5,000. The largest was $11,000!! Examples: Open an interest-free credit card, sell your breast milk.

LLR home office employees! I honestly wasn’t expecting these people to be interviewed, but it was AWESOME. LaShae is my FAVORITE. Worked at Macy’s originally. She met DeAnne in the hallway, she had Chanel on. She marched her to the warehouse and picked out a few pieces because she wasn’t wearing LLR! She was wearing Chanel!!

Derryl Trujillo came to LLR after working for Steve Madden, and reffing and officiating high school volleyball too. He found the ad for data entry and customer service on Craigslist. He was placed in the email department, which was the first line of defense for the company. They tried to be the filter of the building. Mark and DeAnne were seldom around the office, the window seat had to look out for their cars. The family had six Mercedes vehicles. Eight-five to ninety percent (85-90%) of the sixth floor was the family. No one had a clue to run the company of that size. “Data entry” was a Google Doc spreadsheet. Everyone kept editing it, and things would change second to second!

Creating the compensation plan on the fly.

Onboarding team – Fill out your application for LLR, and you were put into the onboarding queue. The team would call these retailers and let them know they were now a part of the family. Mark had a quota. What do you need to onboard 500 people on a Saturday?

These prospective retailers had the LuLaRoe phone number saved as “LuLaRoe – Life Changing Call.”

The number of retailers just grew and grew and grew. By 2016, there were 15,000 retailers! By the end of 2016, there were over 60,000!!

Unicorn hunting – Because you could only pick sizes and the type of clothing, you never knew what prints you were going to get! There were limited prints, too. It was nuts watching the documentary! I participated in multiple Facebook Lives when I bought LLR from three different consultants, so I understand the frenzy!

They talked about the Leadership Bonus Plan. It went from Retailer to Sponsor to Trainer to Coach to Mentor. There was a huge push to recruit and to buy. Recruiting was emphasized. Roberta purchased $78,000 worth of clothing wholesale, and made $83,000 total. And that didn’t include her business expenses. She made $65,000 in bonuses! It’s really easy to see how lucrative this was!

Social media posts were always supposed to be positive, and then attributed to LuLaRoe! DeAnne would become upset if a post didn’t have the #becauseofLuLaRoe hashtag!

And then there were the LuLaRoe cruises! You had to qualify for the cruises, which meant you had to sell $12,000 worth of clothes per month. That’s crazy! But there are/were people who qualified for 5-6 cruises!


Episode 3 – Blow Up

Image Credit: A member from the Facebook group your MLM is not a small business, Karen. https://www.facebook.com/groups/166294847640193/?ref=share

Mark and DeAnne would go live online. Every single Tuesday, people would tune in! There was so much idol worship and celebrity.

People started realizing that there was a lot of control. A couple of people started putting the pieces together and thinking, “Oh my God I’m in a cult.”

Enter Becca Peter. She sells washi tape online. For fun, she researches LuLaRoe online. The sales tax was strange, that was her first clue.

LuLaRoe takes advantage of these feelings that women have – They want to be great moms to their kids, but also contribute to the household. It’s the opposite of empowering.

Some of these women started involving their husbands in their LuLaRoe world. And then there’s the “retire your husband” thing. I hate that with a burning passion. It’s another control thing!! Paul said it perfectly – It’s devious and sinister! You’re trapped!

Over 80 percent of people have no one underneath them in MLMs. In 2016, 70 percent of LLR consultants made NO MONEY – ZERO.

If everything is possible, nothing is true. It’s all a farce, a fallacy. The documentary didn’t really discuss the cost-sunk fallacy, but it’s true of all MLMs.

Then there’s the gastric sleeve. DeAnne and her sister, Lynnae, were recruiting women to go to Tijuana, Mexico to get the surgery! The group chat was called “Tijuana Skinny’s.” DeAnne got the surgery and is on video where she lost 72 pounds. Courtney Harwood from North Carolina was looking into it, and ultimately decided on the weight loss balloon surgery in the U.S. – She nearly died! And then she was told that the gastric sleeve was the way to go.

Then the number of retailers went up to 90,000. And if you weren’t making money, it wasn’t the obvious over-saturation of sellers, but it was because “you weren’t working hard enough.” How demoralizing is that!?

Roberta opened a box of inventory in 2016, and realized one item was soaking wet – One pair of leggings. A couple of shipments later, there was a horrible smell from the box. When filing a return request, one of the choices was “Stinky leggings.” Seriously! They were selling moldy leggings, and there was product outside, exposed to the elements. The Mentors went to the home office, and it was met with agitation and being dismissive.

The material was changing! The leggings were arriving with holes, or ripping apart after one hour. The material itself was thinner. The company claimed that they weren’t distributing old product, but they were. The design theft was rampant. They told designers to find a print, change two things, and then voila! It’s a new print!

If you complain or criticize, then you’re the loser. It highlights so many insecurities! Negativity is a big no-no. Use the delete button! People were being scolded like children. For most of the consultants, they were used and betrayed. In my opinion, there was also abuse! There was gaslighting and love bombing.


Episode 4 – Toe Up

In June 2017, LuLaRoe changed their bonus structure. It would be based on sales rather than ordering. The checks were cut in half almost overnight.

Complaints were rolling in, and the question of whether or not LLR was a pyramid scheme kept coming up. And then there was the return policy. The company implemented a 100 percent buyback policy. Consultants would get a full refund, and there was no expiration date.

A bunch of people joined, and then a lot of people left. It was a mass exodus. LLR paid over $100 million during that time. Then they reverted back to the original policy with an additional stipulation, and leaders were not eligible for refunds.

News coverage swelled. Social media groups exploded, such as “LuLaRoe Defective.” And then a few people started talking about hiring a class-action attorney. The reason? Withholding approved refunds is illegal.

The case started as a breach of contract case because they changed the buyback policy almost overnight. They started a website called LLR Class Action. The number of people who contacted the attorney was staggering.

There have been dozen of lawsuits filed against LLR, in multiple states. They were sued for defective leggings, and then copyright infringement. The MyDyer lawsuit basically called Mark and DeAnne outright scammers – One claim is that LLR owes them $49 MILLION DOLLARS. LLR is also tied to many LLCs, in multiple states. Many of them were set up simultaneously in 2017.

Then, in January 2019, a civil lawsuit was filed by the Washington State Attorney General. It alleged that LuLaRoe was operating as a pyramid scheme.

Depositions were taken from DeAnne, Mark, Kenny Brady, and Jordan Brady. They have absolved themselves of all blame and/or responsibility. In my humble opinion, they are all fucking scammers and greedy bastards. There, I said it. All of them are awful people. Mark, especially, reminded me of both of my abusive relationships. It’s all about the money!


Resources & More Information

How LuLaRoe cost some women their homes, cars, savings, and marriages | The New York Post (September 2021)

4 Shockingly Manipulative Work Moments in the ‘LuLaRich’ Documentary | HUFFPOST (September 2021)

Amazon’s ‘LuLaRich’ perfectly explains the demise of the girl boss | MSNBC Opinion (September 2021)

Why Women Are Quitting Their Side Hustle: Leaving LuLaRoe | VICE (May 2019)


Have you watched LuLaRich? If so, what did you think?

If you haven’t, are you planning on watching it?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #115: “Israel Eases Restrictions on Blood Donations By Gay Men”

Photo Credit: redcrosschat.org

This article, from ABC News and The Associated Press, published in mid-August, is news that is long overdue.

Israel eases restrictions on blood donations by gay men

Israel follows the U.K. and the U.S. in easing restrictions due to a decrease in needed blood supplies. The U.K. made their changes earlier this year to allow more gay and bisexual men to become donors, and the U.S. updated their screening questions in 2020.

The health history screening in Israel has been updated to use gender-neutral wording, and changing the timeframe from 12 months to three (3) months.

While I personally think that the overall restriction should be dropped entirely, I also understand the continued need to protect blood recipients. I have several gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends who have not donated because of these restrictions. Their argument is that blood products are now tested, and have been for years, for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other life-threatening infectious diseases. While this is true – Testing for HIV with the American Red Cross started in 1985 and has been reviewed and updated since then – I’m honestly not sure this restriction will ever be dropped entirely. It’s very rare that HIV Type 1 or 2 will come up after a single blood donation, but it has happened.


Resources

If you’re interested in giving blood or other blood products (platelets, plasma), visit these websites for more information.

United States – American Red Cross

Blood Donation Eligibility Requirements | American Red Cross

United States Blood Banks (not affiliated with the American Red Cross)

United Kingdom – NHS Blood and Transplant

Israel – MDA – National Blood Services

The easiest way to search is to type in “giving blood” plus the country that you reside in.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂