Recipe Contest for Healthy Aging Month

Healthy Recipe Challenge 2015

In an effort to promote wholesome eating and in honor of Healthy Aging Month, BrightFocus is holding a recipe contest. Your recipe should include at least three ingredients from the list below that are believed to be beneficial to brain and/or eye health. Visit to learn more.
  • Avocados
  • Bell peppers
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Canola/ olive oil
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Citrus fruits
  • Collard Greens
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Fortified dairy
  • Fortified milk
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Legumes
  • Lima beans 
  • Mango
  • Nuts
  • Oily fish (tuna, salmon, sardines)
  • Okra
  • Oysters
  • Peas
  • Poultry
  • Red grapes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet and white potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat germ
  • Whole grain
  • Yellow corn
Avoid foods that contain saturated fat and sugar.

Your recipe should benefit our audience of older Americans who are experiencing problems with vision or mental functioning and may need help following the recipe or shopping for ingredients.

The contest will run from September 1, 2015 - September 30, 2015.  Three winners will be chosen by BrightFocus Foundation. Each winner will receive a $100 gift card and BrightFocus prize pack.

Friday Feature: Meet Melody Kiersz

Melody Kiersz is an inspirational speaker, retreat leader, and Body Empowerment Coach. She is on a mission to boost women's self-worth, body image, radical self-love, and fearless authentic expression so they can have the confidence they need to take their love life and business to the next level. Melody is the founder of Naked Wellness and creator of Velvet Butter

Meet Melody.

Faten Abdallah (FA): Why is body image such a controversial topic in society?
 Melody Kiersz (MK): I'm not sure if controversial is the word, but it sure is a huge and important topic these days. Many women are waking up to the fact that we've been taught to adhere to a certain standard of beauty, and they are seeing that they have the power to redefine what beauty is for themselves.

We're seeing movements like the Body Image Project, the NU Project and hashtags like #effyourbeautystandard (this last started by Tess Holliday, the first real plus size model signed to an agency) take off, and women sharing pictures of their 'imperfect' bodies and calling each other to love themselves as they are.

As someone who's been speaking and sharing about self-love and body image for years, I'm very happy to see this happening. We're starting to see images in the media shift to incorporate more types of bodies, such as with Melissa McCarthy starring in Spy. Not only was she hilarious, she was also sexy as hell, showing how attractive a woman with a fleshier body can be. We're also seeing actresses and female music stars push back on the media pressure to look a specific way in order to be successful or attractive.

It's a very exciting time right now, and I'm very happy to see women empowering themselves and each other to change the conversation about what it means to be and feel beautiful.

FA: What are some ways women can fight negative body image?
MK: There are many ways to create space for a more positive body image to emerge. Some are more direct, and others a bit roundabout. That's because a negative body image in itself is an issue of thinking we need to 'fix' ourselves in some way, and taking an approach of fixing our body image problem is in some ways counterproductive.

Here are some suggestions:
1. Shift your visual diet
We are constantly bombarded with images trying to sell us a lifestyle that 'requires' us to look a specific way in order to be loved and successful. While it's impossible not to see all these images (and skinny is also beautiful), you can make a point of looking at and appreciating images of all kinds of bodies. There's plenty of body-positive images on instagram (you can follow me @melodykiersz for some), but you can also find some online to print and place around your house in places where you will see them every day. Another option is going to a Burlesque show: they are fun, and known to have people of all shapes, ages and sizes flaunting their stuff on stage.

2. Add daily self-care practices
We spend so much time criticizing the image in the mirror, which is why it's important to counteract this with self-care practices that tell our body how much we love it. You could write a love letter to your body, schedule a massage, go to the sauna or steam room, take a bubble bath... even taking a few minutes every day to caress your body lovingly makes a huge difference in how much you appreciate it.

3. Slow down and increase your pleasure
In our culture, pleasure is both something we pursue and a dirty word. But let's face it, we wouldn't want to be alive if pleasure wasn't available, now would we? So whatever it is that brings you pleasure and enjoyment, do it more. Is it chocolate cake? You have my full permission to indulge in it, but it has to be without guilt. Instead of taking it into your mouth without thought, slow down and look at it, smell it, savor it with all your senses. Or maybe you love to dance, so go ahead: put on some music, and shake your booty like no one is watching. Enjoy every stretch of your skin and movement of your muscles. Or to paint, or draw, or write. Do more of the things that make you feel good, and also pay attention to each thing that brings you pleasure in each moment: it could be the breeze caressing your skin, the delicious scent of garden roses, or a beautiful landscape.

4. Radical self-love
We all have things we don't like about ourselves, and there's no shame in that. But even if you don't like them, you can still love them. Just like maybe you don't like a relative but there's still love and appreciation for them in your heart. Whenever you encounter these parts of yourself that you don't like, try not to shut them off and open your heart to offer them compassion instead. Doing this helps us to feel supported and loved from the inside out so that we are no longer needing the approval of others to feel happy and confident.

5. Safety
A huge reason why women don't feel confident in their skin is also because they don't let themselves. The thing is, when we feel confident, we attract more attention. Sometimes that feels good, but sometimes we don't know what to do with it or it makes us feel like we're not safe. Many times women shrink their radiance to protect themselves, so it's important that they find ways to feel safe no matter the feedback we get from the outside. You can take some martial arts classes, learn the art of saying NO powerfully, and how to communicate your boundaries in a way that they (and you) are respected without having to shut down on your beautiful feminine radiance.

FA: How does body image affect you?
MK: In my view, the issue of body image is a lot more than just skin deep. It's driven by a deep need to have others approve of us because we've sadly been taught that there's something wrong with us since we were little. That no one will love, appreciate and respect us unless we look, be or behave in a particular way.

As women, we're not just taught to stay physically small. We are told we shouldn't be too loud, or too demanding or too selfish. That if we speak up or give directions, we're being bossy. We're essentially taught to not make up too much of a fuss, because no one likes that. We're told in implicit ways that if we take up too much space or too much attention we are casting a shadow over our playmates. We get mixed messages that we should stand out and be better than the other girls, and at the same time not shine so bright that we make them feel inadequate.

This push and pull leaves women feeling trapped. Like they're damned if they do show up in all the sparkle, and their also damned if they don't. It leaves us stuck and feeling like we can't win no matter what we do because we're either going to end up without friends, or we're going to end up without the intimate relationship and/or career that we want. So we play small in life, always wishing things were different.

Bringing it back to the pure physicality of it, having a poor body image leaves us without the confidence and power to go after the things we care about. We spend so much time and energy worrying about how big our ass is and whether we can wear a crop top or not that we have none left for our own projects, dreams or to even think about all the ways in which we could contribute to our communities.

As a general rule, women are prone to think collaboratively, look at the big picture and care about having a community that supports them and others who are facing similar issues. If women spent less time looking at the mirror and wishing they looked different, all that energy could be spent on creating supportive community services that can really have a positive impact on society and the world.

That's why I'm so passionate about the work that I do: when we let go of our focus on looking good and start putting our energy on the things we truly care about, we not only feel so good that our body image and confidence skyrockets, but we're also creating positive change for everyone around us.

FA: How can women build confidence in viewing themselves positively?
 MK: Asides from the tips above, it's also important that women surround themselves with supportive sisters who boost each other's self-confidence. As women, we tend to look at each other and compare, sometimes wishing we had her legs or her nose or her hair. We might even have the thought "Who does she think she is?" when we see a confident woman walking down the street; we feel intimidated and like she's going to get all the things we want. When you notice yourself having that thought, flip it: can you admire this woman and feel inspired by her courage to let herself be seen in her glow? If she can do it, so can you! So every time you see a woman like that on the street, it's a reminder to believe in and love yourself more.

FA: What inspired you to work in this field?
 MK: I've had my own struggles with not just how I felt in my body, but also feeling like I always had to be a 'good girl' and not rock the boat, or risk people (and men!) not liking me. I've always had great boobs, but I I thought that's the only thing guys were attracted to, and I was afraid of scaring them away by asking for what I want or saying how I really felt about something. I thought they would think I'm asking for too much from them, or that I'm too emotional.

Even when I did 'manage' to attract a guy, they would lose interest because I didn't stand up for myself. I thought I thought I was the best most understanding girlfriend in the world and they didn't deserve me, but the reality was that my self-worth was so low that I thought I needed to bend over backwards to keep the guy... and I wasn't even satisfied with the relationship!

I've done a lot of work in the last 13 years to undo all these subconscious patterns that were keeping me trapped. And I see so many women stuck in the same! I want to support them in realizing they are already worthy of love and they don't need to deprive themselves of the foods they like or expressing what they really want in order to be lovable and respected.

FA: What have you learned about yourself as you promote positive body image?
 MKThat I'm pretty tenacious when it comes to spreading the message of radical self-love, especially of all the parts we don't want to see in ourselves (physical, mental or emotional). I really want everyone to deeply get how worthy of love and appreciation they already are. I've definitely given up on spreading this message a few times, but when I check in with myself this is what always comes up and I get back in the saddle. Giving myself the gift of working on something I'm so gifted and passionate about is one of the ways in which I love myself.

FA: Anything else you would like to add? 
MK: Absolutely: for those ladies who are reading this and seeing themselves reflected in my words, please reach out. I'm opening my calendar for 10 complimentary consultations to discover how you're getting in the way of letting the amazingly sexy and powerful woman you carry inside outside of the box of 'shoulds' and out into the world. You can reach me at

Girls Can Play Too

There is a misconception that girls are not interested in sports. The truth is, nearly half of the fans in the major leagues are women and the number of female athletes continues to grow. Their voices need to be heard as well. Men currently dominate administrative roles in sports but women are gaining momentum as leaders in the field. Intrepid pioneers are changing perceptions and setting the stage for even greater female representation at the top of athletic programs. Created by Ohio University's athletic administration program, this infographic illustrates how women are beginning to play a more prominent role in the professional world of athletics and the challenges that still lie ahead for women in athletic administration.

OU Athletic Administration Online

Guest Post: Entrepreneurs - Surviving Burnout and Achieving Success Year after Year


Diana Ennen

Having your own business for the most part totally rocks! You’re the boss. You get to decide what goes on in the day-to-day operations, and most importantly you have a big influence in how fat that bank account looks. Life is good! But as many entrepreneurs will admit, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. And especially for those that have been in business for years, it can be challenging to keep excited about their biz. Not too worry, we are here to help.

Here are tips on Building and Maintaining a Successful Business:

·         You need to remain passionate about what you are doing. That’s the only way to keep going and face those odds, exhaustion and temptation to throw in the towel. You aren’t going to love what you do every day, but on the whole you have to believe in it and want to continue doing it.

·         Day to Day Business – You have to work your business right. And when you’ve been in business a while, let’s admit it, we can get just a tad bit lazy or bored. You don’t have the same jump and down ambition that you had in the early days, and that’s AOK. But you do need to once in a while give yourself a jumpstart. When you notice that you are getting tired and cranky of doing the same thing day in and day out and things take you three times longer because your heart just isn’t into it, that can be a sign a change is needed.

The good news is as an entrepreneur you can easily change. You don’t have to give up your business or your awesome clients. Figure out ways to get the passion and fun back. It can be as simple as adding new specialties or it can mean a complete reboot is necessary. Just be willing to evaluate it, know you need to do something, and then commit to doing it. Just do whatever it takes to get the energy and excitement back. And one more thing, don’t feel guilty at all because of this. It happens to the best of us. The smart entrepreneurs are those that recognize it and make the necessary changes.

·         Marketing can be Fun Too – We know marketing your own business almost always gets put on the back burner, especially when you aren’t as into your business as you once were. Now this can be a critical mistake. What you need to do is get back your marketing mojo. You do this by first doing something you really enjoy. The goal is to get you back into the marketing mode. When you do something fun, that can help and not feel like such a chore. Now add to it. Slowly add in more marketing that you know has been successful in the past. Before long, you’d be back at it and not even realizing you are doing it. Then the marketing magic happens.

·         Boundaries – Keep Them - We all know about boundaries. And we all know that they are hard to keep. Let clients know as a business owner and a valuable resource to them, you work best within those boundaries you have set. Reassure them that this enables you to always give 100%. Now, there might be times that a client really needs you and if it works out for you, then you can be a little flexible. Just let them know this needs to be an exception, not be the norm. If you do have to work an evening or weekend, take Friday afternoon off. Just remember to do what works best for you and your business.

·         Take Time for you -  I know everyone tells you to do this and next week when you have more time and this project is over you will. Stop it already! Take out your planner right now. Turn to next week and schedule in some “me” time. Now next week it might be a little difficult because you might already be booked, but do this for the upcoming month. Consider doing it at the same time each week so it becomes more of a habit. Now stick to it as much as you can. Consider getting an accountability partner who you love to talk with who can motivate you and inspire you to keep doing this. Just getting to talk with someone else, and truly be honest helps!

See how easy it is to keep your business going. The last thing to remember is sometimes you just need to take a break. It’s AOK to take a few days off and really think about what you want in your business. Go to the beach or get a change of scenery to get out of the office. It works. And of course, if you need help, consider hiring it. You don’t have to do your business alone and most businesses thrive because they realize this.

Diana Ennen, President of Virtual Word Publishing, offers PR and Marketing services and PR and Virtual Assistant Coaching. She’s the co-author of Virtual Assistant - The Series: Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA and So You Want to be a Work-at-Home Mom.

New Home Sales in the US

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sales of new single family houses in July 2015 were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 507,000 units. This represents an increase of 5.41% from the June 2015 annualized rate of 481,000, but a decrease of 2.69% from the May 2015 rate of 521,000.

New home sales in the United States peaked in July 2005, when the annualized rate of sales reached 1,389,000 units. In March 2008, new home sales hit an all-time low, with an annualized rate of just 535,000 units.

Annualized New Home Sales in the United States (Data Curated by

New Home Sale Media Price in the United States (Data Curated by

Women's Equality Day interview with Tiffany O'Brien Nels

Since 1920, August 26th has been Women’s Equality Day. Originally created to commemorate women’s suffrage, it’s a reminder of the continued fight for equal rights, “public or private, legal or institutional.” While we’ve come a long way since then, there’s still a significant gender gap in most boardrooms, despite the often-sited research from Catalyst, which found that companies with more women in top management outperform those who without.

I had the privilege to interview  Tiffany O’Brien Nels, Lifesize’s Chief Marketing Officer of Lifesize.

Faten Abdallah (FA): Have equality of women in the workplace improved, in comparison to 20 years ago? Explain.  Will women still have to fight for gender equality in the workplace in the future?
Tiffany O'Brien Nels (TON):Yes, equality for women has improved. There are more women in the workforce in general, and more women in the executive suite specifically.  We’ve seen the advent of mothers’ rooms, work-from-home and flex time policies, and affordable video conferencing services that accommodate women as full, functioning and critical aspects of the workforce.
That said, for the foreseeable future, people – not just women – need to continue to fight for gender equality in the workplace. While the income gap has shrunk, it’s still an issue. Moreover, inequality originally stemmed from the now outdated roles at home, where men were the breadwinners.  This is no longer true – in fact many families rely on dual incomes – and the inequality hurts families, children and partners, not just women.

FA: What are some issues women face today?
TON: Equality isn’t cut and dry, because women are not the same as men. Men rarely consider when they’re having a child in relation to their career trajectory, and I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t. 
The differences need to be accepted as differences, not as detriments. In this vein, women are judged across a broader spectrum than men, and the lens through which women are evaluated is more critical. For example, women are still the default caregiver to children and aging family members, and we are often criticized or subtly penalized for taking on the responsibility of caring for our families.
Companies are recognizing that women are high producers, and bring unique assets to the table, and the smart employers are creating environments where they can succeed and contribute without having to sacrifice.

FA: Why is there low amount of females in tech employment?
TON: We think of “tech jobs” as only engineers and builders, when we need to consider the whole spectrum of mission critical roles associated with tech, such as sales, marketing, customer support and business administration.  In my experience, there are many powerful women in tech, they’re just not always in the technical roles.

FA: How can more women work in the tech employment?  
TON: Go after it. There are a whole host of valuable roles within tech companies that go well beyond engineering. Think of it as a more all-encompassing ecosystem, across which women are making significant contributions.

FA: Anything else you would like to add?
TON: One thing that empowers women within businesses is to have a strong sense of self, your skill-set and aptitudes. Resist the tendency to mold yourself into a construct of a typical work environment. Instead, focus on being a strong contributor, so the mold changes to fit you and your passions and ambitions. As more women engage in the workplace with value and insights, the environment will increasingly shift to accommodate women, mothers and wives. When you make yourself valuable to your organization, you become an asset they want to retain, and opportunities will reveal themselves.

Guest Post: 9 Ways To Reduce Takeout Expenses


Andrea Woroch

In a time when nearly everything is available at our fingertips, we're growing more dependent on convenience, especially when it comes to food. With a number of food delivery apps like OrderUp, Seamless and the newly launched UberEats requiring a single tap on a smartphone to order dinner, it's no wonder more people are choosing takeout. While ordering out is a time-saving measure, it's important to weigh the additional costs of this convenience: every year, Americans spend an average of $1,100 per year on takeout alone.
While working families are more inclined to reach for their smartphones over the frying pan during the back-to-school rush, there are ways to keep dinner simple and inexpensive without depending on restaurants. Consider these 9 tips for quick and affordable meals.

1. Track your takeout spending.
To reduce spending takeout, you first have to know how much it's actually costing you each month. Track how much money you dish out each month by using a service like Mint, which links all your accounts in one place and categorizes your spending. This will help you quickly pinpoint the dollars going toward dining out so you can create a better budgeting plan.

2. Order groceries online.
If the task of grocery shopping is holding you back from cooking your own meals, consider ordering all your food online. Services like AmazonFresh and FreshDirect may not be the cheapest way to buy groceries, but they offer a convenient service that will ultimately help you reduce your takeout dependence and save money in the long run. Many grocery stores including Safeway offer delivery services, too, so do your research and compare rates.

3. Download free meal plans.
Creating a meal plan is a great way to save money on dinner, but in itself requires quite a bit of time! While services like eMeals make the task of meal planning and creating grocery lists easier, they can be costly. Instead, turn to Pinterest or the Internet for meal plans. You can find them at LifeAsMom100DaysofRealFood or this month of dinners compiled by Real Simple magazine.

4. Buy ready-made.
Purchasing ready-made meals may seem pretty similar to takeout, but typically you get more bang for your buck in the form of leftovers. Most grocery stores offer ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken for around $6, offering a quick and healthy main course for your family. Any leftovers can be made into sandwiches or thrown into salads and pastas for extra protein. For added convenience and nutrients, grab a bag of frozen veggies - these side dishes are flash-frozen at peak ripeness and nutrient levels, which means they're both healthful and convenient!

5. Stock the freezer.
When you or your family are hungry and there's nothing in the refrigerator to eat, ordering out seems like a fast and simple solution after a long day. Avoid these situations by stocking your freezer with meat and fish, stir-fry veggies, pizza and other ready-to-cook foods to make meals in a snap. This way, you have a back-up plan that doesn't include pricey takeout meals.

6. Schedule a prep day.
Prepare food for the week on Sunday (or whatever day you have some spare time) and make quick meals that your family can pop in the microwave before and after work or school. Do all the chopping, dicing and mincing of the ingredients you'll need throughout the week for faster cooking.

7. Get a slow cooker.
The closest you can get to having dinner ready when you get home is a slow cooker! Throw all your ingredients together in the morning and come home to the delicious smells of dinner ready to serve. Stores like Macy's, Kohl's and Best Buy offer a range of slow cookers, so compare prices and look for coupons for additional savings. For example, you can use a Best Buy coupon code from to save 20% on a highly-rated Hamilton Beach appliance, spending less than $45.

8. Repurpose leftovers.
While leftovers are the easiest way to save money and avoid food waste, consuming lasagna for the third time in a week is a tough sell for most kids. Instead of letting the meal rot in the back of your fridge, look for ways to repurpose leftovers into new dishes. Use the LoveYourLeftovers App for inspiration and recipes to remake the food you're sick of eating.

9. Cook what you have.
If spending over $1,000 per year on takeout wasn't shocking enough, consider this: Americans waste an average of $165 billion in food every year, with a family of four throwing away over $2,200 annually. Be a better steward of your food and your finances by using, a website that creates recipes around items you already have in your refrigerator and pantry. Spend a few minutes entering the ingredients and you'll be greeted with several recipe options to prepare. 

Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. As a sought-after media source, she has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Dr. OZ, New York Times, MONEY Magazine, Huffington Post, Forbes and many more. For more information, visit or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

The Pros and Cons of Cursive Handwriting

Cursive handwriting.  Is cursive still important or outdated today?  I teach social sciences in grades 7th-12th, and I still hang up the alphabet, this one Around the World Cursive Alphabet Set: 26 Ready-to-Display Letter Cards With Fabulous Photos of Extraordinary Natural Wonders, Ancient Sites, Architecture, and More  because it is a reminder to students that cursive matters in the social sciences world because of PAST historical documents.  If you can't read cursive, how are you supposed to read these documents?

I understand we have technology, but it is also important to be able to learn the "old fashioned" way as well because it exercises our minds.

Below, is a brief pros and cons of cursive handwriting.  
Pros and cons of cursive - Educents Blog

The Argument to Teach Cursive

Some parents and educators want cursive handwriting to be included in students' lessons. Here's what they said about that:
  • How will they ever be able to read historical documents such as the constitution, etc if they don't learn to read and write in cursive? -Sara J.
  • I don't think it has been taught in our school for at least the last 10 to 15 years. Cursive writing will become a lost art in America. I think it should still be taught. -Claudia A.
  • Yes! It's part of my children's 2nd grade homeschool curriculum. They just started doing it, and they are so excited about it. :) -Angela M.

Cursive - Educents Blog

The Argument Not to Teach Cursive

Some say cursive is no longer an essential lesson to teach kids, here's their reasonings for that:
  • No, it's not relevant anymore. Learn typing instead. -Robert C.
  • Honestly, it's no longer important. Teach them to sign their name; then teach them to convey their thoughts, and be persuasive, via oral and written communications. Why would we want to spend valuable school time, beyond a day or two, teaching someone to sign their name in cursive? Why don't we spend time teaching calculations via abacus or slide rules? -Gary F.
  • I can read Shakespeare, Mark Twain and the Bible among other things all without ever needing cursive. Just don't get the hype. -Mike E.

Handwriting Resources for Kids

Are you an educator or parent who wants to spend time teaching your kids how to write in cursive? If so, these resources from Educents will make it a lot more easy and FUN to learn cursive. Super Cursive Freebie - Educents Blog

Web Learning Resources for Kids

Online learning is becoming even more important for the next generations. Educents also has affordable resources that helps children develop their typing and coding skills. Writing Programs - Educents Blog
  • Learn to Mod with Minecraft - Did you know kids can learn how to code by modifying (or "modding") Minecraft®? Kids learn how to code in Java® and apply it to Minecraft® themed problems!
  • The WriteWell App - A simple and intuitive web-based tool that makes writing fun and effective. With its unique visual and tactile interface and library of interactive essay templates, WriteWell is a convenient tool for teachers and students at home or in the classroom.
  • Handwriting Worksheet Wizard - StartWrite helps teachers, homeschoolers, and parents create handwriting lessons quickly and easily. This program saves hours in lesson preparation time, yet allows you to easily create fun, meaningful worksheet to teach handwriting.

What do you think?

So what do you think about cursive?

Feature Friday: Meet Nicole Alhakawati

Not many Americans are prepared to travel to Europe and other countries for leisure.  It is very common to meet people who have never left the US.  Traveling overseas doesn't have to be overwhelming to be an enjoyable experience

Meet Nicole Alkhawati, an American who has traveled to Europe.  She has agreed to give tips on preparing a trip overseas.

 Faten Abdallah (FA): What kinds of preparation was needed to travel to Europe? 
Nicole Alkhawati (NA): In order to travel to Europe, you need to have a valid passport and some planning skills.  I start saving money and planning an itinerary at least one year in advance.  I knew I wanted to go with my high school senior after her graduation, so I was able to plan with that in mind.  We looked at many websites about places to visit in England and France, which were our target areas.  We made lists of the places we wanted to visit and were able to make an itinerary based on those locations.  Trip Advisor is a good site to read recommendations from other people about what they enjoyed and didn't like about their trip.  We were also able to use our credit card points to buy discounted plane tickets and book hotels.  Getting a reward credit card is a great idea for planning these kinds of trips.

FA: How long should someone plan in advance to travel overseas?  
NA: The time for planning will depend on how many of your family are going with you and how much money is needed to save.  You can save money on hotels and train transportation if you book early.  I saved a lot on the EuroStar train, which is the high speed train that travels between Paris and London, by buying more than six months in advance.  Also, never book visits or buy tickets with the concierge at the hotels.  You can save a lot of money by using the computer in the business lounge or by buying all tickets online before your visit.  A good example is Disneyland Paris.  The concierge was offering an adult ticket at 80 Euros.  I went on the French website for the park and found that there was a Summer deal.  I called the park number and was able to book the tickets at 59 Euros each and picked them up at the Guest Services desk.  They only had to be booked one day in advance to get the deal.  

FA: What were your thoughts before visiting Europe?  
NA: I had been to Europe before as a teenager, so I knew what to expect, but my teenage daughter had never been there.  I wanted to make the trip memorable for her as well as for myself.  I did have some safety concerns about traveling at this time after there have been several attacks in France.  Being a Muslim, was an added concern.  I was pleasantly surprised that I did not feel at risk while there and I was welcomed in every place that we visited.  

FA: What places did you visit in Europe?  What was your favorite? 
NA: We arrived in Paris and took the EuroStar train to London the next day.  We did the sights in London for two days and then took a train to Bristol to spend the night in a castle!  We stopped in Bath, to see the Roman Baths and then made our way to the coast to take an overnight ferry back to France.  I had my former Rotary Exchange host family pick us up in Brittany and we spent several days with them before returning to Paris.  My favorite part of the trip was spending time in regular neighborhoods and grocery stores with my host family.  We saved a lot of money buying food gifts from regular stores and we were able to get out of the harried tourist trap areas that most people visit.  I enjoyed the touristic sites, but I also really just wanted to relax during our trip and not be rushed.  
FA: What have you learned about yourself as a traveler? 
NA: I learned that I enjoyed the trip much more as an adult than as a youngster.  Perhaps I could appreciate the trip more and I knew the value of it?  I also learned that it is good know what kind of traveler you will be spending your time with on the voyage.  It turned out that my daughter did not enjoy walking a lot and climbing stairs, though she wanted to see ancient sites.  She didn't realize that being at those sites took a lot of energy and walking.  Be forewarned that Europe is not as handicapped friendly as the US and most metro and Underground stops did not have but stairs for access.  Even Disneyland Paris was much less accessible than the US counterpart.

FA: Why should Americans travel abroad? 
NA: Americans should travel abroad because 'old' in the US just can't compare to old in Europe or other countries.  We need to get outside of our comfort zone to appreciate how clean and organized our life is in the US.  We can better appreciate our blessings when we head outside and walk the streets of other nations.  

Eccentric 77- Year Old Darla Shaw’s Accessory and Style Tips

There is no doubt that 77-year-old Darla Shaw is an eccentric…and she is proud of that label. When she is not teaching as a full time college professor, She may be playing in her Kazoo and steel drum band… or attending her belly dancing class, or teaching Alzheimer awareness to middle school students, or traveling to Bhutan to help underprivileged kids … and these are just a few of her weekly activities… the list goes on! Her endless energy, desire to learn new things and share this knowledge with others is an inspiration to anyone one at any age!

In this brand new episode of a the HooplaHa original series, The Wonderful World of Darla, Darla reveals her tips to accessorizing your wardrobe. Shower yourself with color, take risks! Be as bold with your fashion choices as you are about your life choices!

Business profile: radius financial group inc. Co-Founder & CEO Paving Way For Mortgage Industry

Take one look at radius financial group inc.’s Co-Founder & CEO, Sarah Valentini, and the saying, “there’s more than meets the eye” rings true in on so many levels.  

At first glance, Sarah Valentini is short in stature and cute as a button. Her extraordinarily inviting demeanor may not immediately spell out “mortgage lending savant," yet, her entrepreneurial spirit and personal mantra, "if you're not engaging, you're missing opportunities” has made her a total game changer for radius financial group inc., a firm which employs 98 and had a business volume of $375 million in 2014. 

Valentini, an alumna of Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VY,  is prominently recognized for rapidly pushing radius financial group, inc. to unprecedented levels of revenue growth, - most recently ranking among “The 100 Most Influential Mortgage Executives in America” by Mortgage Executive Magazine. 

At radius, Valentini and fellow Co-Founder Keith Polaski have changed the way the mortgage lending game is played, as they work exclusively with Millennials – generally first-time homebuyers. Together, Valentini and Polaski have instituted a culture whose mission is to “offer a better mortgage experience" by changing the lending tone from a “dialogue of distrust” to a “dialogue of confidence.”

Valentini’s seismic impact stretches well beyond the walls of radius financial group, as well. This past June, Valentini was named the 2016 Women Build Chairwoman, succeeding HGTV star Taniya Nayak. Just months after being elected, Valentini acquired a $25,000 donation from a fellow women-owned company towards her chair and local MA-based humanitarian non-profit. Immediately following her election to chair, radius financial group inc. announced their new partnership with the Massachusetts South Shore Habitat for Humanity.

When Valentini isn't re-shaping the mortgage lending industry or engaging in her philanthropic endeavors, you can find her on the golf course where she boasts a cool 11-handicap…from the whites. 

I had the privilege of interviewing Sarah.

Faten Abdallah (FA): How can women enter the executive fields of companies? 
Sarah Valentini (SV): It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to “enter” an executive field. You have to earn it. To get on an executive path, one needs to shine in every role they take on so they can move up the ranks. People often get caught in the trap of worrying “what the next step will be” and lose focus on the job at hand – it can be a complete hindrance. You have to stand out and excel in each position in order to be offered a leadership role within a company. Leading up to that, it’s crucial to remember that every position can provide a knowledge base and unique experience that will make for a better leader once given such opportunity.

FA: How did you enter the executive field in your company?
SV: That’s a great question. I entered the executive field with a lot hard work and a little luck along the way, as well. I was promoted to a leadership role in a corporation at a very young age.  Looking back, I might have been too young, too inexperienced and completely over my head. Some would view those as detriments. I, on the other hand, used those as motivators. I was determined to succeed. It took a lot persistence, foresight, and fortitude to get where I am today, but that’s how it’s done these days. Nothing is given to you. You have to earn it.

FA: What are some tips and advice for women to stay competitive in their field?
SV: We live in an era of innovation. It’s important to adapt to change and be willing to learn new things - accept new ideas and take some risks. I’ve also never chosen to dwell on the glass ceiling. Actually, I unconsciously broke through it. Throughout my professional career, I never felt as if I wasn’t worthy enough because I happen to be a woman. That’s the mindset to which any woman in business must adapt.

FA: Let's talk mortgages. What would you like our readers to know about them and how are you impacting the market?
SV: There is no question our industry has been turned upside down and then some. Now, more than ever, it’s critically important for home financers to work with an expert they can trust. At radius financial group inc., we have loan officers working face to face with people in the communities we serve. We walk them through every step of the arduous process of home financing and help them make the right decisions for their future and their families’ future.

FA: What kinds of advice can you give to first time applicants or homebuyers?
SV: Once someone decides to buy a house, they are often inundated with “advice” from family and friends. The problem is their family and friends are generally not mortgage experts and sometimes do not get the best advice. It’s imperative to work with an experienced loan officer who can guide them through the process. No one would take medical advice from a non-medical professional or tax advice from a non-tax professional. Yet, we constantly see people listen to a parent who hasn’t purchased a home since 1975. They should be seeing the advice of an experienced and licensed mortgage professional. 

FA: radius financial group inc. partnered with Habitat for Humanity.  Why?
SV: We could not think of a better fit for our organization to partner with. We’re extremely passionate about promoting home ownership and the mission of Habitat for Humanity aligns succinctly with our core values. All of us at radius are excited to work with Habitat for Humanity on all facets and hope to make a real impact on their footprint within our community. We plan on making a difference, not just talking about it.

FA: Anything else you would like to add?
SV: At radius, our mission is to offer a better lending experience. We are laying the bricks for a better road to honest and straightforward processes within the mortgage lending industry – a sector that remains tarnished with the horrific stigma from the results of the past 10 years. 

In doing so, Keith Polaski (Founder & Principal) and I created the Next Generation Independent Mortgage Banker (NextGenIMB) training course. This course was developed to address the issue of an aging workforce and the needs of future millennial homebuyers by putting recruits through a 12-week course with a core curriculum centered around sales, operations and marketing to teach candidates about the residential mortgage loan business and prepare them to be loan officers, operations managers and sales support technicians. At the end of the program, candidates are tested and the best will be offered employment with radius financial group inc.

Though not all candidates are offered, or accept, a position with radius, we are accomplishing our mission by effectively instilling the skills, core values and moral principles required to succeed in righting the wrongs within our industry. 

Paying It Forward--Starbucks Style

My mom and my son were running errands this morning when they called me to see if hubby and I wanted Starbucks.  I had said yes.  About 20 minutes, later, my son called with awe and said another customer had paid their order which included two medium and one small coffee with coffee bag of Verona.  My son was amazed at how a random stranger had told the barista in the drive thru to pay for the next person.

This was a great teaching moment for my son.  I had asked him how he felt when that happened, he said that him and my mom were shocked and felt good about the unexpected surprise.  I also reminded my son that there are still good people out there.  He agreed.  My mother was very happy as well because she didn't expect the stranger's kindness at all.

I know some might say, it's just coffee that was paid what's the big deal.  The paid  coffee is actually a bonus in my opinion.  The real reward is the thoughtfulness of the stranger.  Doing something nice to people who they don't even know.

So, I want to thank you kind stranger for making my mother and son happy.  I also want to thank you for showing my son the kindness of random people.  Guess who will be paying it forward next time?

Feature Friday: Meet Jida Kalai

Often times, I've stared at my closet wondering what to wear.  Do I wear this or that?  Should I get whole new makeover?  Well I had the privilege of interviewing Jida Kalai, a fashion blogger and interior designer.

Enjoy the interview.

Faten Abdallah (FA): What are three must have pieces every woman should have in her closet? Why?
Jida Kalai (JK): Our closet essentials depend on our lifestyle and where we are at in our life.  A career woman's wardrobe may differ than a stay at home mom for example, but the three must have pieces I think every fashionista should have are:
        1. A pair of well fitting jeans is a must.  As long as it fits perfectly and hits you in the right places, it will never go out of style.  Denim can be worn  in day time to run errands and for going out at night by throwing a dressy top over it and some heels. This actually makes it perfect for traveling too.
        2. A little simple solid color dress.  I am not going to say black, because as long you pick a neutral color you will get a lot of use out of it.  Every fashionista should have a classic short dress that she can wear with flats, with boots, and with heels.  I have one that I wear in winter and summer.  I throw a large scarf over it and a pair of tall boots or I wear it with heels and a nice necklace.  Invest in a flattering dress and you will wear it a lot.
       3. A pair of statement shoes: I think every fashionista out there should invest in one pair of classic, yet flashy heels that you can wear to a party with a dress or with your favorite denim and t-shirt.  It's an easy way to look fab when you don't have the energy to dress up.

FA: How much should one budget for clothes per year?
JK: I actually have read somewhere that your clothes allowance should not exceed 5% of your net income.  I think it varies year to year, and it depends if you are investing in essential pieces.  For instance,  if you are buying a coat and a pair of boots you might go over budget for the year, but you are not going to make the same purchase every year.  The way I look at it is that you have to shop like an investor.  Spend your money on pieces that will get you the best return on investment: pieces that are universal, classic, and can be worn a lot.  

FA: How often should a woman update her closet?
JK: I would say every six months.  I take the opportunity at the end of the fall season to declutter my summer wardrobe and I do the same at the end of winter.  Everything I didn't wear in six months leaves my closet.  The exception is cocktail outfits.  These I might go over every 12 months.  We tend to hold on to things that don't serve us and create clutter in our lives.  We need to practice to let go and create space to invite new fresh things into our lives and in this case our closets :).

FA: How does a woman pick the right style/fashion for her?
JK: This is a question that will take pages to answer.  In general, don't follow a trend unless it works for your body type.  Every woman can look super fashionable and trendy if she is to pick what flatters her figure.  Super tight clothes and hip huggers for instance are not for everyone.  Pick clothes that highlight your best body parts and hide your imperfections.  Even though they say age is only a number, don't expect to look sexy in a teenage outfit.  Our body changes and so does our fashion style.  Your eye is your best judge.  Don't buy a piece that looks good, buy one that looks good on you.
FA: Give some tips on how to eat healthy.
JK: My number one rule for eating healthy is to avoid processed foods.  Go for fresh produce.  It takes your body less energy to digest.  I created the Elegant Eats blog to help people create delicious recipes that are super healthy.  Anything that is in a can or a jar has some sort of preservatives.  I don't believe in deprivation or counting calories to lose weight.  All these energy or protein bars have tons of processed sugars that don't do your body any good.  Your diet should be rich in fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to a good source of protein and carbs.  When it comes to meats, fish, chicken the same rule applies, avoid anything processed.  Make sure to include fatty acids in your diet.  Avocados, fish, nuts are really great for your skin, hair, and nails.  If you are over 20, cut down your dairy intake.  Start your day with a glass of warm water and lemon to cleanse your body.  Fruits are better consumed on an empty stomach not after heavy meals.  Opt for baking rather than frying.  Include grains in your diet.  Make your main meal  at dinner time.  Don't mix too many proteins in one meal.  Treat your body as a temple.  
FA: What's your favorite recipe?
JK: Because I have a sweet tooth, my favorite has to be a sweet, delicious desert. ;) Check out my "Memorial Day Sweet Bites.  They satisfy my craving for sweets and energize my body at the same time with no processed sugars whatsoever.  I always have them handy at home.

FA: Anything else you would like to add
JK: Give your self a chance to do what you like and have passion for.  It is never too late.  As for any future projects, I have two that I need to work on.  The first is to create an online interior design shop (as you might know I am an interior designer).  My next project is to put a healthy cook book together for the fashionistas out there.  It will include all the recipes on my blog and maybe more.  Make sure to follow me on instagram, Facebook, and twitter and of course my blog at   Leave me your honest comments and what you would like to see on my blog.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin

wibiya widget

Facebook and Twitter