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Wellness

Child sex trafficking organizations set the record straight on QAnon conspiracy theories

Child sex trafficking organizations set the record straight on QAnon conspiracy theories

"Over 800,000 kids go missing in the U.S. every year! Child sex trafficking is the REAL pandemic. #SaveTheChildren #SaveOurChildren #ChildLivesMatter #Pedogate #Pedowood"

If you've been on social media in the past month or two, you've likely seen memes or posts to this effect. And if you're a person with a conscience, it likely caught your eye. Childrenbeing trafficked for sex—that's horrible!

Yes, it is. It's absolutely horrible. Child sex trafficking is basically the worst thing human beings can do, no question. But what do those #Pedogate and #Pedowood hashtags mean?

Yes, those. Unfortunately, they point directly to a QAnon-perpetuated conspiracy theory in which the world is being controlled by an elite global cabal of pedophilic Hollywood celebrities and high-level politicians (including Tom Hanks, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, and more) who secretly traffick, abuse, and torture children so they can harvest a fear-induced hormone in their blood to make adrenocrhome, which they consume to keep them young and/or imbibe during their drug-crazed Satanic rituals.

What?! That's crazy.

Yes, it is. It's absolutely crazy. But there are a baffling number of people who believe it, including people who will likely soon be serving in Congress. Many of these people are sharing the #SaveOurChildren and #ChildLivesMatter hashtags right along with #Pedowood and #Pedogate. They conflate this huge number of missing kids with the issue of child sex trafficking, and then point to the celebrity/politician cabal conspiracy theory in the same breath, as if it's all the same thing.

It is not.


The reality is that child sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar, heinous, disgusting, global industry—but it's not new. It's not a sudden and massive crisis that "the media" is ignoring or that governments and NGOs aren't addressing. Unfortunately, QAnon believers have pushed a lot of misinformation and misleading information into the awareness surrounding this issue that needs to be corrected.

To get to the heart of what child sex trafficking really looks like—and to be thorough in the debunking of QAnon's child trafficking theories—we spoke with organizations whose work centers around stopping trafficking and protecting missing and exploited children.

The QAnon Misinformation

A common question people who have been sucked in by the QAnon world ask is: How do you know it's not true if it's never been investigated?

Some things are simply too ridiculous to be entertained, which honestly should be the case with the QAnon cabal theory. But since it's somehow slipped into the mainstream, it has to be addressed head on.

So I swallowed my pride and directly asked anti-trafficking organizations—the people who specialize in this subject and are intimately involved in investigations—whether or not there was any truth to the theory. It was humiliating, frankly, but I straight up asked them: "It's a known fact that child abusers often hide in plain sight and that high-profile people can be abusers. Based on your work, have you seen any evidence that there is a global cabal of pedophile elites who traffick children in a coordinated underground effort to harvest adrenochrome?"

Across the board, the answer was "No."

I also asked this question: "Pedophiles and traffickers sometimes use coded symbols and code words in their communications with one another. Is there any official documentation that the words 'pizza' or 'hot dog' or 'sauce' have been used for such a purpose? (Or more directly, are the Wikileaks emails evidence of child sex trafficking?)"

Again, the answer was no. Of course.

(For those new to Conspiracyland, the code words question came from the claim QAnon folks make that the FBI has a list of code words and symbols that support the Pizzagate theory, which posits that Hillary Clinton and associates were discussing their dastardly pedophile deeds in code words—pizza, sauce, etc.—via emails released by Wikileaks. The FBI has documented known pedophile symbols, but none of the supposed code words in the Wikileaks emails are listed among them And the Washington D.C. police have called Pizzagate "a fictitious online conspiracy theory.")

Erin Williamson, VP of Global Programs for Love146—an organization that has been working with sex trafficking prevention and survivor care for 17 years—says that conspiracy theories like this just makes more work for the people trying to do the work of educating the public.

"If somebody comes to know trafficking and has no preconceived notions of what trafficking is, you're starting with a blank slate," she says. "You can build from zero. But if someone's coming to the trafficking movement or approaching this issue with preconceived incorrect information, then first you have to get them to the point where they realize all of the information that they've learned thus far is inaccurate before you can start building the accurate information. And it just is going to take so much longer to get people to a point where they actually understand what this accurately looks like."

A national organization that asked to remain anonymous (understandable, considering how my own inbox fills with people accusing me of being a pedophile each time I write about how QAnon is bunk) told Upworthy, "Questions like this distract from the realities of how sex trafficking actually occurs. Offenders do often communicate in code but we haven't seen any such official documentation and don't consider the Wikileaks emails credible. Unfounded conspiracy theories minimize, distract and draw valuable resources away from the tireless work being done by child protection advocates on the ground."

The Polaris Project, which runs the National Trafficking Hotline, offered an example of how resources get usurped by these theories. Last month, a rumor started circulating in the QAnon sphere that the Wayfair website was being used to traffick children because someone spotted an strangely expensive cabinet with a female name.

"The Wayfair theory resulted in online harassment and privacy intrusions of people mistakenly believed to be victims, as well as broad sharing of online sexual abuse material of actual victims who have not been connected in any way to Wayfair," Polaris told Upworthy. "This harm is real for survivors who want to maintain their privacy, victims who are being re-exploited by broader distribution of their abuse materials, or bystanders whose lives can be overwhelmed by the actions of potentially well-meaning online communities."

In addition, Polaris adds, "Conspiracies distract from the more disturbing but simple realities of how sex trafficking actually works, and how we can prevent it."

But isn't awareness about child sex trafficking a good thing, even if it's not all factual?

Love146's Erin Williamson says no.

"In the short term, it might make people aware that there is an issue of child trafficking that exists," she says."But if that doesn't lead to somebody actually engaging with the issue and taking effort to join the movement to actually effectively eradicate the issue, then no. It's harmful. It's just a bunch of white noise that's sucking up resources."

"The question really is how many of the people are going to, as a result of this, actually have enough concern about child trafficking that they do more research, effectively realize what the issue is about, and then consistently or actively engage in addressing it," she adds. "And I don't think we fully know the percentage. My concern is that that percentage will be pretty low."

Perpetuating these kooky cabal theories does more to hurt the child sex trafficking cause than to help it.

Those Missing Kids Numbers

But what about all those missing children then?

Every organization I spoke to pointed out that there are no hard and fast numbers because there's no way to know exactly how many kids are being trafficked or exploited beyond what gets reported. We know that a lot of exploitation doesn't get reported, but most kids who go missing do get reported somewhere.

Two organizations pointed me to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for missing children statistics. The NCMEC states, "According to the FBI, in 2019 there were 421,394 NCIC entries for missing children. In 2018, the total number of missing children entries into NCIC was 424,066." They clarify that this number represents individual reports of missing children, not the number of missing children themselves. If a child runs away multiple times in a year, each instance is counted separately and included in the yearly total, so the total number of missing children is likely less than those total numbers.

That's a lot of children; however, the vast majority of missing kids make it back home pretty quickly. Think of kids who run away to a friend's house and the parents can't find them, kids who get lost temporarily, or kids who get taken or not returned by a parent in a custody dispute.

The kids who don't return home and who are at risk of exploitation are where NCMEC comes in. In 2019, they assisted law enforcement and families with more than 29,000 cases. Less than one percent of those were non-family abductions, so the idea that loads of kids are just being snatched out of nowhere and sold for sex is totally inaccurate. In addition, NCMEC reports that 91 percent of those cases (around 26,300) were endangered runaways, and of those kids, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking. One is too many, of course, and these numbers are significant. But they're nowhere near 800,000.

Statistics come in various forms, of course. The Polaris Project, which runs the National Trafficking Hotline, tells Upworthy, " In 2019, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 2,582 underaged individuals involved in trafficking situations (all types)." However, they note, "It is incredibly important to note that these figures cannot be construed as prevalence."

Again, one child is too many, and these statistics only represent a fraction of the problem. Sharing these numbers is not meant to downplay the issue at all, but rather to explain that there's no real basis for the idea that 800,000 kids go missing and get sucked into child sex trafficking each year in the U.S.

So where did that number come from? There were some articles in the early 2000's that cited numbers close around 800,000. But the most recent statistics are shared above.

Numbers are always a bit fuzzy. What we do know is that children are being trafficked and exploited. Far too many, far too often.

What Child Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like

Child sex trafficking is a complex industry. Sometimes it looks like children being physically transported place to place and being bought and sold for sex. Sometimes it's kids being used to create child pornography. Sometimes it's a drug-addicted parent renting out their children to get money for their addiction. Sometimes it's teens recruiting other teens to engage in sex or create sexual images for money.

Love146's Williamson explained that trafficking can look very different in different parts of the world.

"We run a program in the Philippines, and most of our children come into that program under 10," says Williamson.. "We've accepted kids under the age of one into that program. In those situations, it's really familial a lot of times, and a lot of what is happening is happening over webcams. You'll also see reports of labor trafficking happening in other countries at very young ages.

"What we see in the United States and what we're working with is different. We're not seeing as many under 10 year olds trafficked. I'm not saying it doesn't happen—it does. But more of what we're seeing are adolescents. Preteen and teenagers who are being groomed and recruited, and while some is familial, a lot is not familial."

Williamson explains that the term "runaway" is a bit of a misnomer because some runaways are teens who get pulled away from home by traffickers in sneaky ways.

"Part of what traffickers do is they recruit and groom," she says. "They engage in a relationship for the purposes of exploiting this kid for trafficking. So it can appear that a kid is running away, or choosing to leave their house willingly, but it's actually an intentionality on the part of the traffickers to make it appear that way...to make it appear that way to law enforcement, to the parents, and to the child themselves. So the child says things like, 'I chose to go, I chose to meet up with so and so who I met online, or to meet up with so and so who I met in the park.' So again, even when we talk about the term runaway…they're really being groomed and recruited away from their home."

One common theme among the organizations I communicated with is that there are well-known conditions that greatly increase a child's chances of being trafficked.

Polaris Project says:

"Traffickers recognize and take advantage of people who are vulnerable in certain ways. There are several factors that may make a child vulnerable to sex trafficking including having an unstable living situation, having a history of domestic or sexual abuse, being frequent runaways, being involved in the juvenile justice or foster care systems, experiencing poverty or financial need, and/or dealing with addiction. While anyone can be trafficked, just as anyone can become a victim of any crime, due to factors such as historical oppression, discrimination, and generational trauma, LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color are more likely to be trafficked."

The anonymous organization also explained that certain conditions make kids more vulnerable. "Certain kids who are homeless or runaways, belong to certain minority groups, and who have contact with the child welfare system are particularly vulnerable to this type of exploitation."

Polaris also points out, "In the case of child sex trafficking in particular, the vast majority of victims know their traffickers and trust them. They may be professional traffickers who carefully groom young people on line and lure them into trafficking situations. They may well also be their parents, or other family members or trusted friends."

What We Can Do About it

Learning about the realities of child sex trafficking is the first step. The issue is complex and multi-faceted, but just because it's not simple or easy to solve doesn't mean there's nothing we can do.

One active thing we can do is what trafficking looks like.

"Trafficking is rarely perpetrated by a total stranger who kidnaps children," says Polaris Project. "What we frequently see through the Trafficking Hotline are stories of people being trafficked by intimate partners, family members, and others that they know and may even love and trust."

We can also make sure kids we are in contact with know that we are safe people they can go to if they are in an unsafe situation.

"When we talk to kids, it is always the little things that made the difference," says Love 146's Williamson. "It is always the neighbor who asked how they were doing, who then they realized was a safe person, that they could eventually talk to about what was happening to them in their house. It is always the teacher who they would curse out who would say 'I'm still here for you whenever you need something.' It is the little things that make a difference in a child's life."

Williamson also points out that the systemic issues we debate over in our society also impact child sex trafficking, and addressing those issues will help reduce the vulnerabilities that lead to exploitation.

"For most of us who have been working in this field long enough, there's now a general recognition that we're not going to arrest and prosecute our way out of this issue," she says, "We've tried that. That isn't happening. We need to go upstream. We need to deal with all of the things that make people vulnerable—the inequalities, the racism, the sexism, the homophobia. We need to address all of these issues that have all sorts of consequences, of which trafficking is one of them. It takes a while to get somebody to understand how this is all interrelated.

So when I hear somebody say, 'Black Lives Matter? What about children's lives? There's been a couple of quotes like that. 'Why are we marching for Black Lives Matter? Where's the outcry for trafficked children?' and comparing those two. First of all, this is not a dichotomy—we should be addressing all of this. And my thing is when you look at the statistics, especially here in the United States, trafficking is disproportionately affecting children of color. And so racism is at the heart of both of these issues, when you're talking about the disproportionality of violence against people of color. So it's not an either/or. It's actually a yes/and. Which is why we have to go upstream and start addressing some of these systemic issues."

To learn more about the real issue of child sex trafficking, check out these organizations' websites:

Polaris Project

Love146

The Exodus Road

ECPAT-USA

Child Rescue Coalition

Thorn

Operation Underground Railroad

International Justice Mission

Ileah Parker (left) and Alexis Vandecoevering (right)

True

At 16, Alexis Vandecoevering already knew she wanted to work in the fire department. Having started out as a Junior Firefighter and spending her time on calls as a volunteer with the rest of her family, she’s set herself up for a successful career as either a firefighter or EMT from a young age.

Ileah Parker also leaned into her career interests at an early age. By 16, she had completed an internship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, learning about Information Technology, Physical Therapy, Engineering, and Human Resources in healthcare, which allowed her to explore potential future pathways. She’s also a member of Eryn PiNK, an empowerment and mentoring program for black girls and young women.

While these commitments might sound like a lot for a teenager, it all comes down to school/life balance. This wouldn’t be possible for Alexis or Ileah without attending Pearson’s Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public school available in 31 states across the U.S., that not only helps students get ready for college but dive straight into college coursework and get a head start on career training as well.

“Connections Academy allowed me extensive flexibility, encouraged growth in all aspects of my life, whether academic, interpersonal, or financial, and let me explore options for my future career, schooling, and extracurricular endeavors,” said Ileah.

A recent survey by Connections Academy of over 1,000 students in grades 8-12 and over 1,000 parents or guardians across the U.S., highlights the importance of school/life balance when it comes to leading a fulfilling and successful life. The results show that students’ perception of their school/life balance has a significant impact on their time to consider career paths, with 76% of those with excellent or good school/life balance indicating they know what career path they are most interested in pursuing versus only 62% of those who have a fair to very poor school/life balance.

Additionally, students who report having a good or excellent school/life balance are more likely than their peers to report having a grade point average in the A-range (57% vs 35% of students with fair to very poor balance).

At Connections Academy, teens get guidance navigating post-secondary pathways, putting them in the best possible position for college and their careers. Connections Academy’s College and Career Readiness offering for middle and high school students connects them with employers, internships and clubs in Healthcare, IT, and Business.


“At Connections Academy, we are big proponents of encouraging students to think outside of the curriculum” added Dr. Lorna Bryant, Senior Director of Career Solutions in Pearson’s Virtual Learning division. “While academics are still very important, bringing in more career and college exposure opportunities to students during middle and high school can absolutely contribute to a more well-rounded school/life balance and help jumpstart that career search process.”

High school students can lean into career readiness curriculum by taking courses that meet their required high school credits, while also working toward micro-credentials through Coursera, and getting college credit applicable toward 150 bachelor’s degree programs in the U.S.

Alexis Vandecoevering in her firefighter uniform

Alexis, a Class of 2024 graduate, and Ileah, set to start her senior year with Connections Academy, are on track to land careers they’re passionate about, which is a key driver behind career decisions amongst students today.

Of the students surveyed who know what career field they want to pursue, passion and genuine interest is the most commonly given reasoning for both male and female students (54% and 66%, respectively).

Parents can support their kids with proper school/life balance by sharing helpful resources relating to their career interests. According to the survey, 48% of students want their parents to help them find jobs and 43% want their parents to share resources like reading materials relating to their chosen field.

While teens today have more challenges than ever to navigate, including an ever-changing job market, maintaining school/life balance and being given opportunities to explore career paths at an early age are sure to help them succeed.

Learn more about Connections Academy’s expanded College and Career Readiness offering here.

Science

A juice company dumped orange peels in a national park. Here's what it looks like now.

12,000 tons of food waste and 21 years later, this forest looks totally different.


In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica with an off-the-wall idea.

In exchange for donating a portion of unspoiled, forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste — a nature preserve in the country's northwest — the park would allow the company to dump its discarded orange peels and pulp, free of charge, in a heavily grazed, largely deforested area nearby.

One year later, one thousand trucks poured into the national park, offloading over 12,000 metric tons of sticky, mealy, orange compost onto the worn-out plot.



The site was left untouched and largely unexamined for over a decade. A sign was placed to ensure future researchers could locate and study it.

16 years later, Janzen dispatched graduate student Timothy Treuer to look for the site where the food waste was dumped.

Treuer initially set out to locate the large placard that marked the plot — and failed.

The first deposit of orange peels in 1996.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"It's a huge sign, bright yellow lettering. We should have been able to see it," Treuer says. After wandering around for half an hour with no luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the plot.

When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, Treuer was floored. Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the food waste deposit was "like night and day."

The site of the orange peel deposit (L) and adjacent pastureland (R).

Photo by Leland Werden.

"It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems," he explains.

The area was so thick with vegetation he still could not find the sign.

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.

The results, published in the journal "Restoration Ecology," highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area's turnaround.

The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.

Lab technician Erik Schilling explores the newly overgrown orange peel plot.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

In addition to greater biodiversity, richer soil, and a better-developed canopy, researchers discovered a tayra (a dog-sized weasel) and a giant fig tree three feet in diameter, on the plot.

"You could have had 20 people climbing in that tree at once and it would have supported the weight no problem," says Jon Choi, co-author of the paper, who conducted much of the soil analysis. "That thing was massive."

Recent evidence suggests that secondary tropical forests — those that grow after the original inhabitants are torn down — are essential to helping slow climate change.

In a 2016 study published in Nature, researchers found that such forests absorb and store atmospheric carbon at roughly 11 times the rate of old-growth forests.

Treuer believes better management of discarded produce — like orange peels — could be key to helping these forests regrow.

In many parts of the world, rates of deforestation are increasing dramatically, sapping local soil of much-needed nutrients and, with them, the ability of ecosystems to restore themselves.

Meanwhile, much of the world is awash in nutrient-rich food waste. In the United States, up to half of all produce in the United States is discarded. Most currently ends up in landfills.

The site after a deposit of orange peels in 1998.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"We don't want companies to go out there will-nilly just dumping their waste all over the place, but if it's scientifically driven and restorationists are involved in addition to companies, this is something I think has really high potential," Treuer says.

The next step, he believes, is to examine whether other ecosystems — dry forests, cloud forests, tropical savannas — react the same way to similar deposits.

Two years after his initial survey, Treuer returned to once again try to locate the sign marking the site.

Since his first scouting mission in 2013, Treuer had visited the plot more than 15 times. Choi had visited more than 50. Neither had spotted the original sign.

In 2015, when Treuer, with the help of the paper's senior author, David Wilcove, and Princeton Professor Rob Pringle, finally found it under a thicket of vines, the scope of the area's transformation became truly clear.

The sign after clearing away the vines.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

"It's a big honking sign," Choi emphasizes.

19 years of waiting with crossed fingers had buried it, thanks to two scientists, a flash of inspiration, and the rind of an unassuming fruit.


This article originally appeared on 08.23.17

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

Man shares intrusive thoughts while grieving. It's comedic.

Grief is something that touches everyone. There's no escaping experiencing the pain of losing someone you love. It's one of those human experiences that transcends race, gender and socioeconomic status. If you're a human being on this planet, grief is inevitable and while everyone processes grief differently, there are some similarities.

Kevin Fredricks has been very candid on social media about the unexpected loss of his older brother, Jason Fredricks, last year. Recently, the comedian shared a relatable yet humorous video sharing what his intrusive thoughts have been like this past year while grieving. It takes talent to make such a serious topic funny.

When the video starts out, Fredricks is laying in the bed watching television when out of nowhere you hear an intrusive thought, "Aye, remember that time your brother died? That is wild that it happened. Why'd he die like that, he wasn't even doing nothing and he died? That is so crazy. Oh, don't go to sleep I'll remind you in your dreams."


The intrusive thoughts seem to come when he's either content or enjoying life. They're a stark contrast to what is being portrayed on the screen, yet the realness of the thoughts resonates with a lot of people. Commenters shared their own experiences with intrusive thoughts related to grief.


@kevonstagetiktok I just be minding my business and here come GRIEF to ruin my day.
♬ original sound - kevonstage

"I be laughing and it just come out of nowhere like why you happy," someone shares.

"'Your mother is never going to meet your kids. She would’ve been the best grandma.' Sends me sobbing every time. Intrusive thoughts are so real," another person writes.

"Me in Lowes a couple days ago... crying looking at drill bits bc my dad had the nerve to die," one woman says.

"This has to be one of the most relatable videos about grief! I do this daily thinking about my dad," a commenter writes.

"I really appreciate how chill and casual this grief voice is. Of course sometimes it’s different, but most of the time it’s exactly like this. My father died 8 months ago. Thanks for the laugh," someone shares.

Grief shows up in all sorts of ways, but unexpected intrusive thoughts seem to be one way many in the comments experience extended grief. Fredricks doesn't offer a solution to how to fix the thoughts, his video simply allows space for others experiencing grief to share it with someone else and sometimes that's the best option.

Pop Culture

Airbnb host finds unexpected benefits from not charging guests a cleaning fee

Host Rachel Boice went for a more "honest" approach with her listings—and saw major perks because of it.

@rachelrboice/TikTok

Many frustrated Airbnb customers have complained that the separate cleaning fee is a nuisance.

Airbnb defines its notorious cleaning fee as a “one-time charge” set by the host that helps them arrange anything from carpet shampoo to replenishing supplies to hiring an outside cleaning service—all in the name of ensuring guests have a “clean and tidy space.”

But as many frustrated Airbnb customers will tell you, this feature is viewed as more of a nuisance than a convenience. According to NerdWallet, the general price for a cleaning fee is around $75, but can vary greatly between listings, with some units having cleaning fees that are higher than the nightly rate (all while sometimes still being asked to do certain chores before checking out). And often none of these fees show up in the total price until right before the booking confirmation, leaving many travelers feeling confused and taken advantage of.

However, some hosts are opting to build cleaning fees into the overall price of their listings, mimicking the strategy of traditional hotels.

Rachel Boice runs two Airbnb properties in Georgia with her husband Parker—one being this fancy glass plane tiny house (seen below) that promises a perfect glamping experience.

@rachelrboice Welcome to The Tiny Glass House 🤎 #airbnbfinds #exploregeorgia #travelbucketlist #tinyhouse #glampingnotcamping #atlantageorgia #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Like most Airbnb hosts, the Boice’s listing showed a nightly rate and separate cleaning fee. According to her interview with Insider, the original prices broke down to $89 nightly, and $40 for the cleaning fee.

But after noticing the negative response the separate fee got from potential customers, Rachel told Insider that she began charging a nightly rate that included the cleaning fee, totaling to $129 a night.

It’s a marketing strategy that more and more hosts are attempting in order to generate more bookings (people do love feeling like they’re getting a great deal) but Boice argued that the trend will also become more mainstream since the current Airbnb model “doesn’t feel honest.”

"We stay in Airbnbs a lot. I pretty much always pay a cleaning fee," Boice told Insider. "You're like: 'Why am I paying all of this money? This should just be built in for the cost.'"

Since combining costs, Rachel began noticing another unexpected perk beyond customer satisfaction: guests actually left her property cleaner than before they were charged a cleaning fee. Her hypothesis was that they assumed she would be handling the cleaning herself.

"I guess they're thinking, 'I'm not paying someone to clean this, so I'll leave it clean,'" she said.

This discovery echoes a similar anecdote given by another Airbnb host, who told NerdWallet guests who knew they were paying a cleaning fee would “sometimes leave the place looking like it’s been lived in and uncleaned for months.” So, it appears to be that being more transparent and lumping all fees into one overall price makes for a happier (and more considerate) customer.

These days, it’s hard to not be embittered by deceptive junk fees, which can seem to appear anywhere without warning—surprise overdraft charges, surcharges on credit cards, the never convenience “convenience charge” when purchasing event tickets. Junk fees are so rampant that certain measures are being taken to try to eliminate them outright in favor of more honest business approaches.

Speaking of a more honest approach—as of December 2022, AirBnb began updating its app and website so that guests can see a full price breakdown that shows a nightly rate, a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee, discounts, and taxes before confirming their booking.

Guests can also activate a toggle function before searching for a destination, so that full prices will appear in search results—avoiding unwanted financial surprises.


This article originally appeared on 11.08.23

Joy

Bring old-school family fun back to the table with these 10 all-age board games

These games are simple enough for young kids to learn but enjoyable for grown-ups as well.

Amazon

Finding games that are fun for all ages can be a challenge.

As a participant in the Amazon Associates affiliate program, Upworthy may earn proceeds from items purchased that are linked to this article, at no additional cost to you.

Ah, the joys of family game night. Bonding with your loved ones over the rush of competitive adrenaline. Friendly (hopefully) rivalries and vendettas as you try to vow to vindicate yourself after a crushing defeat. Kids and adults alike learning the subtle art of trash talk—but in the end, also learning to be good winners and losers.

The benefits of playing games together as a family are wide and deep, as games develop both mental skills and shared family memories. And when those games don't involve screens, they can provide a nice tactile respite from the virtual world.

However, finding board games that are simple enough for young kids but don't turn into "bored games" for adults can be a challenge. Most games that adults enjoy are too complex for the kindergarten kiddos and most little kid games are mind-numbing for grown-ups.


But some games strike just the right balance between simple-to-learn and challenging-enough-to-be-interesting, making them fun for nearly all ages. (By the way, even when a game has an age recommendation, that doesn't mean a younger kid can't play it. Just make sure they're past the choking hazard age of putting game pieces in their mouths.)

Here are 10 games that people say their whole family enjoys, from age 4 or 5 all the way up to the grandparents.

Sequence

SequenceAmazon

Sequence is kind of a mix between a card game and a board game, and it's a great introduction to standard card decks for very young children since they don't need to know the values of them.

On your turn, you place a colored chip on a card on the board that matches one of the cards in your hand, which you then discard and replace with a new card from the draw pile. The goal is to get five of your colored chips in a row on the board. One-eyed jacks let you remove another player's piece and two-eyed jacks are wild. Simple, fun, largely based on the luck of the draw but you can also utilize some strategy to increase your chances of winning.

Find Sequence here.

Blokus

BlokusAmazon

Blokus is a great game for increasing geometric awareness, and it's also fun for everyone. On your turn, you simply lay one of your pieces on the board, touching any of your other same-color pieces but only at the corner. It starts off easy, but becomes more challenging as the board fills up. The goal is to fit the most pieces on the board. When no more pieces will fit, the player with the fewest remaining pieces wins.

Find Blokus here.


Labyrinth (Junior and Original Editions)


m.media-amazon.com

Labyrinth and Labyrinth Junior are both great for a huge range of ages, but if you've got very young ones (like 4 or 5) you might want to start with the Junior edition. Don't worry, it's still fun for adults, but the regular edition is just a bit more of a challenge.

The goal of the game is to collect treasures along the maze, but on each turn a player moves part of the path, changing the way the paths interconnect. The game play is simple, and it's a great one for helping kids understand strategy without directly having to teach them.

Find Labyrinth Junior here and Labyrinth (original) here.


The Uzzle

The UzzleAmazon

The Uzzle is an arranging game, and if you've ever played something like this with kid, you know they can legitimately beat adults at it. There are two main ways to play The Uzzle. Each player gets five cubes with different colored shapes on each size. Then you either have each player draw a card with a pattern on it and whoever arranges their cubes to match their card first wins, or you draw one card that everyone uses and races to complete before anyone else. The cards have four difficulty levels so play can be adjusted to meet the level of players.

Find The Uzzle here.


Dragomino

Dragonimo Amazon

Dragomino is a younger player version of Kingdomino, which is a fan favorite people also say is good for a wide range of ages. Game play is a little challenging to explain without having the pieces in front of you, but here's how it's described:

"Dragomino is a Card Drafting and Tile Placement game using a Pattern Building mechanic. It’s like playing dominoes with a twist! On your turn, Pick a domino to add to your kingdom. Try to match it to the dominoes already in play. Each matching dominoes scores one egg. which is either empty or has a baby dragon inside! Who will find the most baby dragons?" And the reviews are stellar for both Dragomino and Kingdomino (which has a similar game play, just not quite as simple and without the dragon theme).

Find Dragomino here and Kingdomino here.


Qwirkle

QwirkleAmazon

Qwirkle is Mindware's best-selling board game, providing fun for families since 2006. It's a tile-laying game, similar to Dominos, but with its own twist. Here's a video that explains how to play in two minutes. Basically, you make rows based on either color or shape, playing your tiles and drawing more so that you always have six tiles to work with on each turn. You earn points based on the tiles you play and the player with the most points wins.

Find Qwirkle here.


Yahtzee

YahtzeeAmazon

Yahtzee is a classic for a reason. Though it says ages 8+, younger kids can play with the help of an adult to keep score. Since the play itself only involves rolling the dice from a cup, any age kid can play, and it's actually a great game for teaching adding as they learn to keep score themselves. Super simple and based almost entirely on luck of the roll, it's exciting no matter how many times you play it.

Find Yahtzee here.


Spot It!

Spot It!Amazon

Super simple in play and a test of everyone's powers of observation, Spot It! is more fun than it sounds. Everyone has a stack of cards with the goal to be the first one to get rid of them by matching an item that's on their card with an item that's on the card on top of the discard pile. The items on each card are different sizes, so it's not quite as easy as it sounds. But it's simple enough that the youngest kids can play.

Find Spot It! here.


Buildzi

BuildziAmazon

If you've ever played the dice game Tenzi, Buildzi is from the same creator with a similar premise, only instead of rolling dice, you're racing to stack shapes. Stacking games are a good challenge for all ages, and kids even sometimes have an advantage due to their small hands. Grown-ups may have more developed fine motor skills, though, making for a delightfully even match up. To play, each player gets a card with an arrangement of blocks they have to stack to match without the stack falling over. Kind of a Jenga meets Tetris meets Tenzi game.

Find Buildzi here.


Pengoloo

PengolooAmazon

It may look like a game just for little kids, but any adult who enjoys memory games will enjoy Pengoloo. Super simple play instructions from the game maker:

"On each turn, players roll the color dice and look underneath two penguins for eggs of the same color. If you guess right, the penguin hops on your iceberg. But watch out, other players may remember what egg it hides and steal your penguin on their turn! The first to collect six penguins on their iceberg wins."

Find Pengoloo here.

Happy gaming, everyone!

Pop Culture

It turns out Gen Z is resistant to driving and maybe they’re onto something

A growing number of young people say they're afraid to get behind the wheel.

Photo by JD Weiher on Unsplash

The percent of teens getting their driver's licenses has declined signifcantly.

If it feels like you're meeting more and more older teens and young adults who don't have their driver's license, it's not your imagination. Gen Z has been much less interested in driving than previous generations, according to Department of Transportation data shared by USA Today.

In 1983, about half of 16-year-olds had driver's licenses. By 2022, that number declined to about a quarter. During that same time, 18-year-olds with driver's licenses dropped from 80% to 60%.

There are some explanations for what's caused the drop. For one, thanks to video calling, young people don't need to drive to see each other like previous generations did. Even if they do get together in person, improvements in public transportation and the proliferation of ride share offerings like Uber and Lyft have made it easier to do so without a car. Driving is also expensive, especially when you take the higher insurance premiums of young drivers into account. Gen Z has grown up more environmentally conscious than previous generations, and have grown up hearing about the blight of carbon emissions on the planet.

But in addition to that, there appears to be a sharp increase in anxiety around driving, and some experienced adult drivers are defending those fears as warranted.


According to a survey of non-driving teens by insurance comparison website The Zebra, nearly 1 in 4 said that they haven't gotten a license because they are afraid to drive a car. While it's easy to chock that up to the general increase in mental health disorders among young people, the fear of driving may be warranted.

In our car dependent society, choosing not to drive might seem like an odd decision, but there may be some wisdom behind it. As a user on X posted, "Honestly, I don't understand why ppl shame teens for not wanting to know how to drive. Why do we act like it's not terrifying?" and many people shared their experiences of car accidents really messing them up.

Statistically speaking, driving is the most dangerous thing most humans do, and Americans do it more than any other nation. But because we drive so often, the risk factor isn't something we think about as much as maybe we should.

Young people learning to drive today are logically more aware of the risks than previous generations. Ask a boomer what they learned in Driver's Ed and it's a far cry from what Gen Z learns. Boomers didn't even have required seat belts when they learned to drive. Kids today have not only grown up with seat belts but with high tech car seats and various booster seat iterations specific to their age and size. Those safety restraints keep us all safer, of course, but they are also a constant reminder of the dangers inherent in being in a moving vehicle. Being a passenger is one thing, but the responsibility of being the driver of that moving vehicle is entirely another.

Driver education courses have also evolved over the years to include graphic warnings about driving under the influence and distracted driving, which previous generations only got a fraction of. The idea is to scare teens who believe they're immortal into understanding the danger that comes with doing those things, but for young people who are already prone to feeling anxious, seeing those terrifying scenarios can make the fear of driving worse. Most young people I've spoken to who have completed Driver's Ed but aren't in any hurry to get their license say that driving just makes them too nervous. Some of them have decided after a couple of years that they wanted their license, so it's just delayed a bit. Others don't have any plans to and seem to be doing fine with other ways of getting around.

Holding off on driving simply doesn't need to be viewed negatively, especially when the risks of driving are real. Driving may be a valuable skill to have, but there's no reason that skill has to be mastered by a certain age. If a good portion of Gen Z isn't feeling it and choose to walk or bike or carpool or use public transportation instead, more power to them. Those choices are more affordable and better for the environment anyway, so let's embrace the idea that choosing not to drive is a reasonable one and not judge or shame anyone for it.