On Diversity…

My guest blogger today, Addie Carter, is writing about diversity—about the beauty of our differences and the harmony of humankind. Too often these days, it feels like we’re out of tune. musicians-549812_960_720

Addie writes: Imagine the sound. The sight. The lights are low behind and beside you, but not in front. In front of you the lights are lit wildly, glimmering and glistening off of violins, cellos, pianos, drums, tambourines, harmonicas, trumpets, guitars. You’re listening intently and watching closely. Each person is playing a different instrument with different notes. But they are all harmonizing together to orchestrate a masterpiece of flowing sounds.

Sometimes you hear the soprano, softly singing the high notes. Sometimes you hear the tenor, belting out the middle notes. Sometimes you hear the flute. Sometimes you hear the ukulele—all the while watching faces change as new notes are played. Watching hands move and arms rise and fall, you realize that each person is different. While they’re all playing together, they are all unique in the way they strum, pick, or voice. Yet, the music they make touches your heart. Soothes your soul. Quiets your mind. The music they make is in a word: beautiful.

That’s diversity. While we can strive for ethnic diversity, racial diversity, or class diversity, we will never understand the true meaning of diversity until we see ourselves as diverse. We will never understand the true meaning of diversity until we see the instrument we play in the orchestra of the world, and we choose to play it in harmony with the ones around us. We each have a seat on the stage. We each have a spotlight shining glimmers and sparkles on the instrument in front of us.

The challenge now, is not to define diversity. But to live diversity.

Memphis, My Hometown…

As part of my new blog series, I’m asking college students to write about the issues that bother them most. My guest blogger, Tray Boyd, offers a personal and honest look at his hometown of Memphis and what it was like growing up there. Here’s what he has to say:

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee—a city ranked third  in the United States for domestic violence, first in overall crime in the United States, and first in the south for overall crime. Growing up, I saw gangs take over the streets, starting with kids in middle school. Teenagers would try to throw parties, but the divisions of gangs would just ruin them. What can fix Memphis?  What does Memphis need?

beale-st-742923__180To begin, I would target the most popular place in Memphis, which is downtown Beale Street. It’s the heart of Memphis music and entertainment and the perfect place to offer safe and fun activities to keep teens out of trouble. By offering safe activities downtown, such as indoor roller coasters or waterparks, Memphis can target the next generation. It starts with our mayor. He should focus on ways to improve the next generation of children and make Memphis a better, safer place. memphis-670810__180

And, it starts with us, voicing our concerns and ideas.I know improving Memphis isn’t going to happen overnight, but we need to come together for future generations.

Fall Break

Fall is definitely in the air. The leaves are starting to cover the ground. Temperatures have gotten cooler and our clothes warmer. And, for many of us, fall break is coming up. It’s the perfect time to plan a fun trip with family and friends. My guest blogger this week, Caroline Clements, talks about getting out and enjoying nature at our national parks.

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Caroline writes: Vacations are a nice getaway from real life and can be adventurous or relaxing. If you are looking for an adventurous vacation spot, I would highly recommend visiting one of our national parks.

This summer, my family and I took a vacation to Yellowstone, where we had many adventurous experiences. While all of our expectations were exceeded, some of my favorite parts of the trip were the following:

  • Animal sightings. While in Yellowstone, my family and I experienced many animal sightings. We saw herds of bison, moose, elk, a mama bear and some cubs, a gray wolf, and a bald eagle.
  • Old Faithful. This geyser erupts every 90 minutes and is surrounded by forty or so separate geysers that erupt at different intervals throughout the day. Visitors can walk trails that guide and provide information about each of the geysers.
  • Paragliding. On one of the last days of our trip, my brother and I got to experience flying. We jumped off the side of a mountain and floated in the safety of our glider. My guide was a “dare-devil,” so he took me on turns, flips, and tricks in the air.

yellowstone-national-park-1589616__180Overall, Yellowstone was a very entertaining and adventurous vacation, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys being in nature. But if you can’t make it to Yellowstone, no worries. There are national and state parks all around us where you can take advantage of the outdoors and the beautiful weather this time of year.

Missing Home

road-trip-925859__180With college students across the country settling into their homes away from home, many are left missing family and friends. My guest blogger this week, Emily Boyer (a college freshman), offers a few tips on staying connected to loved ones.

koala-61189__340Emily writes: I thought I’d always have my parents close to me. Now that I am in college—reality check! Plus, now I have to do things for myself that my parents used to do. But if I ever need my mom or my dad, they are only a phone call away. I now cherish every moment I get with my parents because I know they won’t be around forever.

Here are a few ways to stay connected to family:

  • If you can’t make it home, make a phone call! Sometimes you just want to talk with your parents about your day. Maybe you need advice about something going on in school or your life in general. Conversation with your parents is not only a good bonding moment, but it’s also a good way to stay connected.
  • Send a card in the mail—one that says “thinking of you” or “miss you.”
  • Arrange family activities. When you do get a chance to go home, plan a game night, go to the movies, or make dinner together. Take simple activities as an opportunity for quality time. And involve the whole family!
  • Then, take pictures of those family moments and email them to your parents when they least expect it.
  • Create your own “memory board” of family and friend pictures. Nothing is better than a seeing a smiling face on a tough day.

Use your time with your parents wisely. I miss my family a lot these days and look for every opportunity to stay connected.

Manners, Huh?

My guest blogger, Cheyenne Beeman, is writing about manners and wondering “where have they gone?” It’s a part of my new series, which asks young adults to weigh in on today’s issues. Cheyenne writes:

urban-438393__180Last week, as I walked into a restaurant, I held the door open for someone. To my astonishment, she just walked by. She didn’t even say thank you!  I could not fathom doing that. That incident really got me thinking about how manners have changed over the years. Have we gotten too busy to mind our manners?

I come from a family where manners are taught at a very young age. If I didn’t say please or thank you, I was being disrespectful. I feel like in this day and age, we are taught to do whatever we want because in the end everyone is a winner anyways. I think a problem with today’s society is that we just do not care anymore. If we stop caring about the little things, like opening a door for someone or being respectful enough to chew with our mouths closed, how can we be expected to care about the big things?

I finish in saying this: Manners really have not changed much over the decades. All that has changed is our willingness to use manners and live by them. Can you imagine how different society and the world we live in would be if we just changed the way we looked at manners and embraced them?   Can you imagine how positively our outlooks on life and interactions throughout the day would change?

 

New Blog Series

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m starting something new this week. I’ll be hosting a “hot topics” blog, and you’ll get to read what young adults are saying about new TV shows, bad manners or habits, social media etiquette, and more. This week, guest blogger Landon Walker is talking about being a college athlete. He writes:

baseball-1526857__180As a college baseball player, I hope to one day do what many athletes have done and do what some have not done. But I will never be able to accomplish those goals  if I don’t work to reach them. Some of today’s top professional athletes get paid the “big bucks” and bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars. But do these athletes really deserve these salaries?

Athletes like Mike Trout have to eat right, practice/train, and travel all the time. They have to be dedicated and make sacrifices for their team or they will not get paid. They compete at very high levels against other talented individuals. They don’t just go out and do what they do either. They have to work hard to enhance their talent on the playing field. They put in the work to keep getting better.

It is not all fun and games, and they have to work hard to live the dream.

 

The Letter Project: Sneak Peek!

Chapter 1

Quiet nights on the roof were the hardest for Anna, especially when the only sound was her own shallow breathing. But somehow, tonight, as she lay on the edge, looking up into the black sky dotted with tiny, bright stars, life didn’t seem so bad. She’d learned how to deal with a lot of things up there: her parents’ divorce, her heartbreak over Colton Jones in ninth grade, the rejection letter from her first pick, Yale, and the latest tragedy that had outweighed them all. Up there on that roof, she had perfected the art of learning to cope.

“Your mom said you were out here,” a voice said.

Anna jumped at the sound of her best friend’s voice from the window. She steadied her palms against the rough, weatherworn shingles and sat up slowly. “You scared me.” A little light-headed, Anna tried to focus on the dozens of moonlit rooftops around hers—all in the same two-storied bungalow style.

“Sorry.” Jules crawled over to Anna, lying down next to her.

“I thought you were leaving. I came to say bye,” Jules said, lying down next to her. The low rumblings of a car echoed from the street below.

“Change of plans. We’re going in the morning. Five a.m. sharp.” Anna pinched her eyes shut and inhaled, holding her breath tight in her chest. She was afraid to breathe sometimes—afraid of what might come next.

“You know how much that sucks, right?”

“What? Five in the morning?”

“No! It’s our last summer together before college and you’re spending almost half of it in New York—without me.”

“Not my choice.”

“It’s not like you’re a little kid anymore. Why can’t you just stay here?”

Anna bit her lip. She’d been over it a thousand times with Jules. “You know why.” She thought of the letter tucked inside the back pocket of her jeans.

“Can’t your grandmother hire someone to move all her stuff here?”

“I wish. The woman is practically a hoarder. There’s no telling what’s in that old house.” Anna shivered as a slight breeze swept through the trees and her thin t-shirt.

“That show creeps me out—the one about hoarders.”

“Besides, my mom thinks it’s a good idea for me to get away for a while.” A part of Anna agreed with her mom, even though she’d never tell her that, especially since she was mad at her for running off to Europe for two weeks while Anna stayed behind to pack.

“Wish I could go with you,” Jules said. “Not to help with the packing though.”

“Funny.” Anna turned to face the girl who had known her deepest, darkest secrets since first grade. “Me too.”

Jules smiled, and her huge blue eyes lit up, making her look six again. “Hey, want to watch a movie?”

“Like right now?”

“Sure, why not? It’ll take our minds off stuff, like you abandoning me for the big city.”

“She doesn’t actually live in Manhattan,” Anna said.

“I know, but you’ll be so close to it.” Jules sat up carefully and started crawling back toward the window overlooking the backyard.

The girls had spent hours on that low-sloping roof, laughing, talking, and crying about so many things. Anna’s mom had converted the dusty attic of the 1920s house into a bedroom for Anna—a consolation prize after a bitter divorce. The back window had become almost like an escape hatch for Anna, getting her farther and farther away from reality and closer to a sky full of stars and hope.

“Give me a few minutes, okay? And pick whatever movie—anything but—”

“I know…nothing with people dying,” Jules said.

Anna draped her arm over her eyes and listened as Jules’ feet hit the hardwood in the bedroom. Nothing with people dying, she repeated in her mind.

With her eyes shut, Anna saw his face as clear as if it were in real time. She touched the line of his jaw, then his lips, and wondered, in that second, how many times she had thought of kissing him—a hundred times? More? She remembered the first time they’d actually kissed. It was in her basement playing truth or dare. Jules had dared her to do it, and Anna, thirteen, had hated and loved every second of it—hated it mostly because she was so nervous. But in that dark closet, Josh was calm and his lips soft and warm.

She pictured the last time he had kissed her too—Josh in his army uniform and with a newly shaved head and Anna in a red dress. He had turned around on the tarmac, and she ran to him, practically falling into his arms. He held her tight, breathing his warm breath into her hair and kissing her temple.

Her stomach clenched, and she turned on her side away from her bedroom window. Balled up with her knees to her chest, Anna wanted to cry, but not in front of Jules again. Jules had never said anything mean, like ‘get over it already,’ but Anna sometimes wondered if she’d thought it. Deep down, she knew that going away to New York was best for everyone—that a change of pace or scene was more than needed.

Before going back inside to Jules, Anna pulled the worn letter from her pocket and started to read it again slowly, one tragically beautiful word after the other.

Worlds Apart

Thanks for stopping by my blog. This week, my guest blogger Walt Duncan is talking about family connections. You know, how to stay close to the people you love even when the miles separate you. It’s not always easy finding ways to stay connected, but the key is to make an effort. Yeah, I need to work on that.

Walt writes: My family is what one might call competitive. I have no idea why, but being competitive has always been a staple of my family’s bond, specifically between my brothers and me. Whether it be sports, video games, or even the occasional board game, we have always found a way to make whatever we did into a rip-snorting, smack-talking good time. arm-wrestling-176645__180Sometimes it was being competitive in stupid ways, like getting into an argument. Other times it would get to a point of devolving into an absolutely hopeless mess, where only the swift intervention of a parent would put an end to the argument. It’s at those times where my brother and I were throwing around strong words like “hate” that my dad would impart his wisdom to us. He would say “You boys might think you hate each other now, but I can guarantee you there will come a time when you’ll wish you could come back to this house and spend time together.”

As the years went on, my brothers and I would explore dozens of competitive games and activities in a constant drive to satiate our competitive thirst. As we grew older, my brothers and I became more mature and stopped getting so hot-blooded over such trivial things. However, we still had the desire to play and compete together as only we could. road-trip-925859__180The problem was that my older brother, who was probably the most competitive, moved off to college in another town, leaving me and my younger brother to our own devices. Whenever he would come home, on rare occasions, we would game together, but there was a gap. My older brother and I were pretty close when it came to gaming, so his being away from home was sort of disheartening.

My brother came home one Friday and seemed pretty excited. He’d found this new game for us to play online. It was played by millions of people, we could play it together, and best of all: It was highly competitive. I was a little hesitant at first, but after a few matches I was hooked.

game-1232879__180It was a ton of fun, even if I was getting smacked around all over the place. My brother left that weekend, but the next night we played, and even though we were miles apart, playing together online felt like we were kids again, hanging out, busting heads, and just having fun.

It’s been 2 years since we started playing online, and even though it isn’t real contact, playing online has been something that has kept us together. For a little while we went to the same university, and would play together a lot. Recently, my older brother and his wife moved again and aside from the occasional phone call, or weekend at my parents’ house, the game has been the only contact we’ve had. However, thanks to that game, we’ve kept pretty close.

With life being as hectic as it is, and both of us hitting adulthood like a brick wall, there’s something comforting about just being able to sit down for 30 minutes and play a game with my brother.

The funniest thing to me though is that my dad was right. There are times that I truly wish I could go back to our childhood home and spend time with my brothers. Even though it isn’t the same, I’m glad that if only for a moment, I can spend time with my brother before life dragged us back in. Even if he’s hours away, being able to spend time with him is something that is valuable to me, though I’ll never admit that to him.

One of Those Weeks

Its just been one of those weeks.We’ve all uttered this phrase at some point in our lives, right? Keep reading to hear what guest blogger Hannah Walls has to say about getting through a really bad day or week. girl-1098612__180

Hannah writes: I’m not sure if this particular sentiment is universal or American based, but somehow, we all understand it to mean “my life feels terrible right now. I know it’s not actually terrible, but it just feels that way right now.”

However far reaching the phrase is, the sentiment itself is something that knows no bounds. You’re running on little to no sleep. You got a speeding ticket. Your best friend is upset at you for a reason that still alludes you. Your boss got upset over an honest mistake and your significant other just can’t understand what the problem is. Of course these are fairly mild examples, and sometimes the trials we face are much more difficult than these, and may seem insurmountable. No matter how young or how old, we’ve all had these times in our lives when it just seemed like we couldn’t make it through, and this week would truly never end.

But the good news is, the week always does end. The light at the end of the tunnel might be small and impossible to see, but it really is there. Of course, the end of the week doesn’t always mean the end of all problems. Friday doesn’t bring magical solutions to all problems, but it does bring something else with it— confidence.

I recently had one of those weeks myself, grappling with making very adult choices (and quickly discovering just how un-adult I truly feel). But I made it through that week. And then, guess what? A new week started. And while life hasn’t fallen perfectly into place since, I know I can push myself, and that when these tough situations come along there is strength to make it through. woman-570883__180I probably won’t handle everything perfectly; I’ll most certainly make mistakes and at some point I’ll dig myself into a hole or find myself at a dead end. But life will go on, I will learn and grow, and a new week will always come.

Family Traditions

In this week’s post, guest blogger Beth Adams asks the question:  What’s a special part of your family’s identity? Here’s what she has to say about family traditions.

If you ask my mom to bring something to a potluck, she’ll bring dessert, which will probably be a chocolate pound cake: rich, dense, and frosted with thick chocolate icing. In preparation, she’ll get out the cake cookbook, flip to the most worn page, and scan down to the last recipe, marked by “so good—like Mom’s” in pencil. But baking means more than just cakes. cake-170191__180New neighbors receive fresh loaves of bread, and the first day of school means streusel coffeecake for breakfast. Maybe it’s part of Southern culture that we picked up in our borderline state of Kentucky, but baked goods have almost become a love language in our family. In our hectic lives, however, something as time-consuming as baking a cake may seem impossible. Instead, perhaps your family loves hiking or seeing the latest movie together. Traditions like these are part of what bonds a family together.

Find out what you and your family love. For my family, it’s baking. My sisters and I have inherited my mom’s knack for baking and the love that it conveys. cakeFor my mom’s birthday one year, we baked an Italian Cream Cake—her favorite. Four-layers tall, smothered in cream cheese icing, walnuts, and coconut, we thought it a masterpiece. It actually tasted pretty good, but we had more fun baking it and presenting it to mom than eating it.

Pass down traditions. My mom taught me how to bake, observing as I measured flour for pancakes, showing me how to use the flat edge of a butter knife to achieve a perfectly smooth cup. Mom knows the pancake recipe by memory, stored away with chocolate sheet cake and no-bake cookie recipes. I used to help her make her famous chocolate cake; I’d mix while she measured. Once I could read a recipe and didn’t need a stool to reach the mixing bowl, we developed a different routine. Now, I bake the cake—all by myself—and Mom makes the icing.

Share your tradition with friends. Most people love receiving a fresh, homemade loaf of bread or plate of cookies. My family loves board games, so we’ve started a tradition with another family that loves games, too. Every Christmas season, we have a game night with snacks, games, and a blazing fire. For generations, baking has been part of my family’s identity. chocolate-cupcake-993327__180Whether it’s a kickball tournament in the backyard or catching the latest sci-fi movie, each family has unique traditions that should be shared.