October 22, 2015

Ways to Celebrate Make a Difference Day

For more than 20 years, Make A Difference Day has been an annual event encouraging people to get involved in their communities and make a difference.
It is a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. On Make a Difference Day (October 24th), millions of volunteers from across the nation will unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others. The stories told around Make A Difference Day show that anyone – regardless of age, location or resources – can accomplish amazing things when they look for solutions to challenges faced by the members of their community.
I wanted to get involved with Make a Difference Day in my community so I found three great organizations in East Tennessee that make a difference in the lives of folks in our area. I'm stopping by for a visit with my friends at WBIR/Foxville43 to share some of the ways you can help out too!

Of course, everyone has different organizations that are near and dear to his/her heart. I just picked three that are close to mine.

1) YWCA - 

The YWCA is a nonprofit organization that has been helping women and their families in Knoxville for 108 years. Women come to the YWCA in times of crisis, as survivors of rape or domestic violence, and for housing as they transition to a permanent living situation. The great folks at the YWCA work to help them become independent by providing career counseling and support.

The YWCA isn't just committed to helping women meet their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, but it also helps revive their spirits.

If you'd like to support the YWCA, take a look at their wishlist. It includes things like reading glasses, journals, women's toiletry items (hair care products for women with all different types of hair), and alarm clocks.

Reading glasses or a journal may seem like such a small contribution, but I think we've got to shake off this idea that the little things don't matter. They do. In fact, I think the little things are the big things.

It's not about having a lot of money and being able to write a big check. Making a difference starts with just the smallest idea and can only grow from there.

For a complete wish list of items needed at the YWCA Knoxville, click here.

2) Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley

I've been collaborating with the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley this year as part of the work of one of my clients and it's been so great to take part in those efforts.

The Humane Society has a wishlist too and they are always in need of various things like newspaper, pet toys and food bowls, leashes, collars and treats.

I could write many words about how much a sweet rescue dog named Leon changed my heart and life. Supporting other animals and animal organizations feels like a way to honor him and the joy he brought to the world.

3) Office on Aging

The organization that I was least familiar with, but wanted to support as part of Make a Difference Day is the Knox-County/Knoxville Office on Aging.

The organization's director, Susan Long, was kind enough to speak to me about some of the programs and projects they are currently doing, 21 in total!

Some programs help seniors get the hot meals they need, as well as offer them the companionship of people and pets. Then there are other services that assist seniors with learning how to use computers, how to make sense of social security paperwork and just having a trusted advisor for dealing with various issues.

The Connecting Hearts Program (a partnership between WBIR-TV, CAC Office on Aging Mobile Meals, and Second Harvest) provides extra help and companionship to Mobile Meals and Office on Aging clients who have been identified by program staff as extremely socially isolated and having limited access to food.

This program  allows volunteers to provide a weekly delivery of supplemental food to at-risk seniors in our community while also performing a check on their well-being over the weekend.

Long told me that this program grew out of a desire of younger folks (20s and 30-somethings) who wanted to get involved but couldn't take off work during the week to deliver hot meals. It makes me feel so great to know there are folks in my age demographic who want to help.

How you can make a difference - 

If you would like to make a difference in your community for Make a Difference Day or anytime, I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities! Visit the websites or social media pages of some organizations you'd like to support and see if they have wishlists or other needs.

If you can't find this information, give them a call! I called the Office on Aging and was connected with several people who gave me great information. It's always better to find out exactly what the organization's needs are before jumping in to help.

Sometimes it's something really specific that they need or maybe they want some help getting the word out about a particular project or initiative. Look for ways to help and lend a hand!

Are you doing anything special for Make a Difference Day? I truly believe the smallest things can have the greatest impact. We just can't limit ourselves or our thinking. Sometimes our time is our most valuable resource anyway. No matter what organizations you feel passionate about, I hope you'll take some time to support them in some way for Make a Difference Day. You won't regret it!

October 19, 2015

Why Justin Timberlake Belongs to Us.

I first saw Justin Timberlake perform with *NSYNC in Memphis in 2000. Come to think of it, I guess that's the only time I've ever seen him perform. It was the No Strings Attached tour (at the Pyramid) and I was with my three of my closest high school friends.

The experience was amazing, but a big part of that probably had to do with the fact that I was in Memphis with no adult supervision. I was a fairly big NSYNC fan, and thought Justin was great.

However, my real main squeeze was Howie D. from the Backstreet Boys, so I didn't geek out or go all crazy fan girl like some other concert attendees. A girl sitting behind us kept screaming in a high pitch voice "I LOVE YOU JUSTIN TIMBERLAAAAAAKE" while she dabbed her perspiration with a washcloth.

If you had told me that fifteen years later I'd be crying over Justin Timberlake myself, I wouldn't have believed it. But it's true.

At the concert, there was one point where they brought up one of Justin's former teachers who presented him with an official high school diploma, seeing as how he was a Memphis native and had missed out on the traditional high school experience because of touring and just being so famous.

It was a particularly poignant moment for my best friend and me, since we were just a few weeks shy of our own high school graduation. We've talked about it over the years, how Justin Timberlake is such a huge part of the zeitgeist during our coming of age years. At one point, I remember saying that being there for his "graduation" meant so much to me because it felt like Justin belonged to us: people our age, but also me and my friend.

I think my friend probably said something like, "yes, but that's what stalkers say too."

Today I watched a video of Justin Timberlake's acceptance speech into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. And cried like a baby. As a Tennessean and a southerner I can say that he truly does belong to us. And we should all be proud.

The video is nearly 40 minutes long (including Jimmy Fallon's hilarious introduction and general antics throughout). But I encourage you to watch it.

Here are the high points that left an impact on me.

1) Remember who you are and where you come from. My dad has been saying this to me all my life. Without a clear sense of your identity and the people who helped get you there, it's impossible to know where you're going.

2) And don't apologize for where you come from, either. You can't help it if you were born in a hospital or in a house out in the country. You didn't get to choose your neighborhood nor the people in your family. There's no sense being sorry about it because it helped shape who you are.

3) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Part of why I cried while watching the video is that Justin cried, too. To me, people who aren't afraid to show emotions are the ones with the real strength. And being a stoic just isn't any fun.

4) Pick the right friends and keep 'em. Justin thanked his longtime best friend in his speech and it was such a touching moment. No matter where life takes you, it's so nice to have people who can say they knew you when.

5) Choose a spouse or partner who will support your dreams. Justin's sentiments for wife Jessica Biel were short and sweet, but also heartfelt. He called her his rock and noted that while not a native, she had earned her status as an honorary Memphian by being such a strong person.

6) Know how to laugh at yourself and roll with the punches. Even though Justin's speech was supposedly playing out on a teleprompter, there were many great impromptu moments. And instead of freaking out or acting miffed, he rolled with it. This can be challenging for those of us who are inclined to embrace control (do you like how I said control freaks in a nicer way?). But I think you miss out on a lot of things you couldn't have imagined if you just let go and see what happens.

7) Believe anything is possible. How does a kid from a Memphis suburb end up as one of the biggest stars in the world? By believing it can be done. Justin told a story about how when he was ten, he figured out that Al Green was also living in Memphis, not too far away from his family. He decided that if someone else in Memphis could make an incredible career out of music, he could do it too.

8) Work hard. In his introduction, Jimm Fallon mentioned Justin Timberlake's extremely dedicated work ethic. I find it interesting that most of the people who equate their success to good luck were actually just really hard workers who looked for opportunities and weren't afraid to go for it.

9) Recognize your community. Nobody ever get anywhere alone. No matter how much hard work you put in, there are always people who helped you get there. I love how Justin thanks his grandparents, calling them his "original entourage." Then of course he also recognized many of the other artists whose work paved the way and inspired him through the years.

10) Be yourself. I've never met Justin Timberlake. I don't know what he's 'really like' any more than you do. But he just seems so genuine and real. That's hard to fake. Have you ever found yourself acting like something you're not? Being someone you're not? It takes way too much energy to keep this up. You are you for a reason. Just be you.

I was really inspired today by Justin Timberlake. It's not that I want to be a pop star or a music mogul. But I have a dream that I'd like to see become a reality. I bet you do too. Justin Timberlake reminded me that anything is possible. He reminded me that you don't have to sell-out or change who you are or conform to who you think the world wants you to be. He reminded me to keep chasing my dream and never give up. I hope you do the same.

October 13, 2015

To every thing, there is a season.

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes contains what have long been some of my mom's favorite Bible verses. She has quoted these words to me all my life, in different situations, under various circumstances.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (and so it goes...)

I thought of another set of things, and while it failed to be included in the Bible, each of these also has its own place in time (or at least in my life anyway).

A time to create, and a time to consume. 

I go through phases where all I want to do is create. It feels like a well is springing up inside me, with idea after idea that wants to be brought to life. Words flow onto the page during this time much more easily. Difficult things seem more possible.

In a season of creation, I find myself making time for the creative process, and making it a priority too. 

And then there is another season I often find myself in. When I just want to consume. When what I have to give creatively feels dry as a bone. And it's all I can do to simply enjoy somebody else's creation for awhile.

I used to heap lots of guilt onto myself for this. Especially as a creative type. These seasons of mass consumption can leave me feeling bad about myself, like I'm not contributing, not being productive, not tapping into my own unique whatever.

But some days are just this way. Some weeks too. Maybe even months.

A true creator understands there is a time to sit back and enjoy what you have created. And sometimes you sit back and enjoy what others have created also.

If you are in a season of creation, enjoy it. Savor every moment. Every frustrating, soul-searching, thought-provoking, mind-blowing, liberating moment. 

If you have found yourself in a season of consumption, well, enjoy that too. My only advice (and don't you love to hate people who give advice) is this: Be careful what you consume. 

Just like a healthy well-balanced diet needs a little junk food to keep life interesting, so does a time of consumption need things like binge-watching your favorite episodes of a cheesy reality show. But even though there's a place for it (in moderation), don't be fooled. It will never truly feed your soul.

You can't expect to have the energy and power you need to live this life if you wake up each morning and feed your body Twizzlers. And you can't expect to fuel anything deep in your soul by only feeding it things like Buzzfeed quizzes.

Read a chapter in a book that was written 100 years ago. Watch a movie in a language you don't speak. Listen to a podcast about something that challenges you. Talk to a person whose ideas are staunchly different from yours. Be open to what they have to say. Try a type of food you've previously wrinkled your nose at. Play music that you can't sing along to.

In whatever season you happen to find yourself, remember that it won't last forever. Often by the time we even realize what season we're in, it's already over. But please create. Something. Anything. The world needs all of us to be the beautiful, magical, amazing place it wants to be.

Finally, this passage which must have inspired me even though I didn't remember it til just before hitting the publish button:

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” 
― Kurt VonnegutA Man Without a Country

October 8, 2015

Unique Ways to Decorate Pumpkins: Chalk Paint & Foil

This past weekend my southern beau and I made our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch. This is one of our favorite fall activities and we've been going to the same farm for a few years now. Do you have any fall traditions you are getting excited about? 

The only problem with real live pumpkins is they don't last very long. We don't even carve ours, and they still end up dying a watery, rotten death sometime around December. 

But I still love going out to the patch and picking out a few favorites. Did I mention they have homemade donuts at our pumpkin patch? This year, they had a moonshine glaze. I love the south. 

In addition to our living pumpkins, we also like to decorate the house with the sights of fall. Some of that is Halloween specific (we love our little retro Charlie Brown characters dressed in costume and waiting for the Great Pumpkin). 

But I really like my decor to have as much bang for my buck as possible. 

This is why I usually look for fall decorations that can take us all the way through October and November. That's where my friend Jenny comes in. She recently shared two amazing projects with me and I was so blown away by the beautiful results, I decided to share them with the viewers of Knoxville's Fox43. 

These are really unique ways to decorate store-bought faux pumpkins and the best part is, the results are beautiful without breaking the bank. Oh and they are perfect for Halloween all the way through Thanksgiving.

For both projects, you need to begin with some type of store bought artificial pumpkin. You can find these at most craft stores. The larger ones are often made of foam and can be carved, but I don't recommend it for this particular do-it-yourself. You can sometimes find smaller, artificial pumpkins, gourds, etc. at Dollar stores, thrift stores, or wherever else you scour for treasures.

1) Decorating Pumpkins with Chalk Paint

Decorating faux pumpkins with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint® is a genius idea because there are so many great colors of paint to choose from. Who says your pumpkins have to be orange? With all the beautiful hues, you could really go wild and create some masterpieces.

And while it would just be gorgeous in its own right, that teal shade (Florence) would be perfect for folks with allergy issues participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project!

For our pumpkins, we started with a good base of Old White. What I love about Chalk Paint is how well it covers so many different surfaces. Sometimes these faux pumpkins are sort of shiny or plasticky (that's a word, right?), but Chalk Paint covers like a champ. 

Once your pumpkins are painted, you can go over them with clear or dark wax. When I painted a yard sale dresser Annie Sloan's English Yellow, I used the clear wax because I really wanted the color to pop. But with the pumpkins, the darker wax is also nice because it picks up all the great the texture and surface.

So once you have your pumpkins painted, you could stop right there and be happy as a clam with your results. Or you could take things a step further and make a real conversation piece. 

Allow me to introduce you to foil and size. 

2) Decorating Pumpkins with Foil and Size

Size is an adhesive made specifically for projects with gold and silver leaf, as well as foil. This is my first foray into the world of foiling, but it seems so much easier than leafing (also it's much more affordable). 

To begin, you apply an even coat of size (which is kind of like a runnier white glue) over your pumpkin. Wait 15 minutes for it to become tacky. Then, you apply the foil. Make sure to apply it with the pretty side up. The adhesive will pull the foil off the paper and cause it to stick to your pumpkin. 

You can burnish it to create a more even appearance or you can just embrace the splotchy look (which I happen to love). 

Check out the finished products below. I think they are gorgeous! 

To learn more about Annie Sloan Chalk Paint or to take a workshop, visit my friend Jenny's shop, The Backporch Mercantile.