When I was a little girl, Disney Princesses Jasmine & Ariel were ALWAYS my favorite. Growing up, everyone I knew had their own favorite character and while so much has changed in the world around us, this happy slice of childhood has remained the same for little ones growing up in today’s world. That’s what inspired Alyssa Banks, founder of The Princess Program Foundation, to find a way to bring ill children’s beloved favorite characters to life during a time of great need. Filling the hallways & patient rooms of local hospitals with joy, Banks and her team work to bring princesses like Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, and so many others to the bedsides of little patients. “I got this idea by volunteering with children battling serious illnesses, and I saw the way it affected them and their families and I wanted to make a difference in their world.” Yet with the global pandemic still looming, it’s become a challenge to continue her mission. “With the current world situation, we aren’t able to physically go into hospitals and visit children,” explains Banks. That’s why today, a $5 donation will go not only towards continuing to support the work of the Princess Program Foundation to help them continue their work, but also enter you to win this adorable custom Princess Program Foundation teddy bear for your favorite little one in your life! Here’s how to win:
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY WEEK!!! For those of you who don’t know, the Fourth of July is my absolute FAVORITE holiday of the year. Why?
It’s the one day a year where we all truly come together united as a country, take advantage of the warm weather and spend time with our family and friends. While this year may look different due to Coronavirus and we’re not celebrating in a normal fashion, I believe more than any other year this holiday is SO incredibly important as we take time to reflect on how we can be better as a nation. We are lifting up the voices of our fellow Americans as we not only just celebrated pride month, but to do our part to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We as a nation have work to do, and it’s going to take change to truly make us “indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.”
That being said, I couldn’t think of a better time to launch my new GIVEAWAY CAMPAIGN to benefit a local U.S. charity every Tuesday (think #GivingTuesday) and I’m kicking it off in support of FMP Production’s Social Distance Dash 2.0. By pledging to the charity of your choice (they have 13 to choose from!), you can not only run to receive a medal, help out a local charity, but also be entered to win this #BornToRun t-shirt! Check out my video below to learn how to win 🙂
When we first come home from a long day, what do we do? We walk through the door, kick off our shoes, drop our bags or keys, and keep it moving. Yet that space, which quickly becomes the “drop zone” for all backpacks, shoes, packages, mail, grocery lists, things you want to remember to bring with you in the morning or just plain things you don’t know what to do with yet don’t exactly make for the cleanest and most relaxing entryway when you come home or welcome guests. It’s also the last place you’d think to check when doing those last minute cleanups before those guests DO show up, and nobody wants to be cringing at all the stuff on the side when they go to swing open that door to let in whoever is dropping by.
For us, a recently married couple living in a seaside city, we’re not quite at the point yet where we need the backpack hooks and cubbies. All that means is that we need something simple for the moment: a place to put our shoes, our keys or a bag, some hand sanitizer (lest we forget for a second that we’re in a pandemic), and a way to keep track of what we both have planned to keep our communication game strong.
Above, I placed a dry-erase calendar so we can keep track of EVERYTHING: our dog’s medications & flea prevention, important dates & deadlines, when certain bills are due, etc. (When it’s the first thing you see when you come in, having a reminder every day makes it easier to stay on top of things!) To the side, a simple picture frame of some of our favorite memories accented the calendar perfectly.
My favorite part of this whole experience was, surprisingly..making our personalized mail holder! Guys..you have NO idea how long I’ve looked for a new mail holder. Shopping from home is really difficult when you just can’t find anything you like online, and know it’s probably sitting somewhere on a shelf at TJ Maxx, Homegoods, or Christmas Tree (aka my three FAVORITE places to shop!). More than restaurants and bars, I honestly think I’ve missed these three places the most through this pandemic. Yet, when you can’t find something you like, sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands and get creative. Luckily, my neighbor happened to be getting rid of an old wall mailbox. From the moment I saw it, I KNEW it had potential to be exactly what I wanted. So, I got to work!
First, I had my husband cut it in half since we only needed one slot for each of us. Next, we sanded it down and added a coat of Benjamin Moore white paint before I began stenciling our names on. Yes, this did take a bit more time than just hitting “click & ship”, but it was SO worth the effort once we finally got it hung up and it matched perfectly!
What are your obstacles for creating a clean & comforting entryway? Are you low on space? Do you have a huge space and no idea what to put in it, or do you have young children that need their own dedicated space? Email me and I’m always happy to help you navigate individual needs!
Maybe she’s your co-worker that you know has a ton going on at home. Maybe she’s your mother or your sister, who you watch work hard on the front lines all day. Maybe she’s a friend who’s been home trying to raise her children, work from home, and be a school teacher to them all at once (and still manage to get food cooked and on the table!). Whoever she is, that woman in your life that you just keep thinking, ‘She needs a break!’: here’s your chance to give her one in the form of a gift card to Fashion Fun Pop.
Founder Ariel Koonce Fortes says the program, “Nominate Her”, started by chance when an old friend offered a donation to her small fashion boutique of $100 to keep things going after they were forced to close their doors due to COVID-19. “A friend reached out and was like, ‘Ariel, I know it’s not a lot, but I’d like to somehow donate $100 your way towards the business,” Ariel explained. While she was grateful for the donation to keep her boutique running, the pair immediately knew there was something larger they could do with this donation. “I started thinking, you know what, let’s throw it out to the community and have everyone say, I would like to nominate this person for a gift card. We find so many women in (our store) who just boost each other up during the events we have, share their stories and tell about their work, there’s so many connections made – and then COVID-19 hit. So it was a blow to the business, yes, but also to all those women who had been connecting with each other and loving on each other and boosting each other up, that now found themselves not having that space to connect. “
How does it work? The “Nominate Her” program is a no questions asked contest where you simply email a name and story to firstname.lastname@example.org . From there names will be put into a basket, and every Saturday evening Ariel and her young children will shuffle them and select a name. “You don’t have to share their personal information, just let us know who you’d like to nominate. The point is, we’d like to put smiles on these women’s faces.”
Outside of nominating a woman for a donation, you can also give a gift card to sponsor the next batch of giveaways, you can do that as well. Ariel’s own children have even stepped up in an adorable way to sponsor the next giveaway with their birthday money, a choice that she says makes her proud as a parent. “They heard what Mommy and Daddy were doing, and know they get to save half and spend half of their birthday money. My son came to me and said, ‘Me and Bella, we talked, and we want to give a $20 gift certificate’.”
Who are donations like these going to? Ariel described one entry she received that she says has been stuck on her mind every week. “A mom nominated daughter, who is a nurse on a COVID 19 unit and also she has 3 kids at home. She also has a part time job where she works at a nursing home,” Ariel explained. “She must go to work every day in anxiety, you know, ‘I don’t want to bring this home, I have to be super careful’, all the thoughts going through her head…then it’s the mental aspect of seeing these patients: Do they make it, do they not?” Stories like these have lead Ariel to, despite not even having met most of the nominees in person due to the pandemic, continue have personal relationships with her clients the same way she would if her doors were open. “I found myself praying for this woman, please let her win. She didn’t get nominated that week, but we keep the names for the random drawing every week and now that I know her name, I’m praying for her.”
To learn more about Fashion Fun Pop or shop online, visit their website at fashionfunpop.com and check out the full video below!
To say “it’s been a tough week” would be an understatement. Our nation has mourned the lives of many of our black brothers and sisters that have been taken from this world far too soon, far too long after a change protecting their lives should have come. While a bill is in progress to create change (click here for the Justice In Policing Act of 2020), racism is something that truly starts-and can end-at home. In our own home, I’ve spent this week documenting local protests, educating myself by watching movies like Selma (yup, I cried through 90% of the film), reaching out to local organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Boston chapter & @BlackOwnedBos on Instagram to learn how I can help uplift those that need it the very most right now, and reading my Bible. In doing so as a Christian woman, one message has kept repeating over and over to me all week : John 15:17. “This is my commandment: Love each other.” This week specifically, I wanted to hunt down an organization that celebrates this message, as the world cannot change until we look at ourselves individually and choose to change for the better. It was perfectly fitting that this week, I spoke with Mabel Valenzuela of House of Mercy in Lawrence: a woman who changed her life completely, dedicating it to uplifting the lives of others.
Looking on the House of Mercy website in doing research for today’s interview, I was nearly speechless at the amount of services they offered. From offering daily breakfast & lunch to clothing, a place to shower, health care and spiritual services, there is no basic need that goes ignored for those most desperate for it. When asked how the events of recent weeks from the pandemic to those on the front lines protesting in support of #BlackLivesMatter, Valenzuela had a positive response. “Because (our members) feel all equally treated, it’s not a subject that has come up to us. We don’t look at the race, and we try for them not to look at us as a race, as far as a human being: that’s what we are!” she explains. Yet the responsibility is on more than just saying all lives are equal: it is the action you take in your homes, in your hearts, and in the way you treat others in public. “You should have that respect all the time. It’s the message that needs to be sent for everyone, especially for the youth, is that everyone is equal and that we should not look at each person based on that skin color. Because that doesn’t define a human being.” This state of mind by all who enter House of Mercy has created a contagiously positive environment, Valenzuela says, that has made it so “you can’t tell the difference between who’s here for help and who is a volunteer.” That is the way, she says, that it’s supposed to be.
While the Coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on their services in term of limiting numbers of showers, creating a more socially distant way of serving their meals (currently, they are offering 500 meals a day on top of offering a food pantry) and has impacted their daily functionality, the need has remained the same. The most important need at this time, she says, is having someone to listen and guide those in the greatest need of direction or maybe just someone to talk to that can guide members on their path to improving their quality of life. “You become like a mother; it’s like seeing a kid growing,” she explains of the rewarding and unique experience available to those that come in to help others. “One of the couples, when they first came in, I was like, ‘Oh my God, they were about to die!’. They were extremely skinny and extremely damaged, and we took the time we sat with them and said, ‘What do you guys need to be able to come out of the streets?’ And they talked about their experiences in life.” This simple action was the first step in helping this couple to where they are today, living an entirely different life. “We helped them through finding a job, we sent them to a rehab. Now they have an apartment, they are working, they are stable. And just seeing those changes is very rewarding.”
To see my full interview with Mabel, watch the video below. To donate to House of Mercy, or if you would like to sign up to be someone to listen, visit their website at https://www.houseofmercylawrence.com/.
With all of this gorgeous weather, it’s nearly impossible to fight the urge to get outside and enjoy the sunshine! Finding safe, fun summer activities is on all of our minds right now, and earlier this week I found one that I just HAD to share that is not only safe, it makes for some seriously awesome Instagram pictures, too. Grab your favorite beach blanket-we’re going to go have a picnic on the beach!
Step one is making sure you scope out an isolated area to adhere to social distancing rules. My mom and I wanted to have a mother-daughter picnic, so we went to a local private beach where we knew we’d have enough space to spread out without inconveniencing anyone else. Once you have your location, you can start thinking of how you’re going to style your picnic!
The theme we chose since our picnic would be seaside is..yup, you guessed it, nautical! We wanted to go with a very teal & beachy vibe, and luckily there are so many decor sales going on right now that this was easy and fairly inexpensive to accomplish. While everyone’s look can be completely different, here’s what we used to get that light and airy beachside vibe:
Ah, the home office: for many right now, it’s our new best friend. Sure, it can be as simple as moving that old desk we’ve never had to use into an open space, but since we’re all jumping on Zoom calls left and right over here, it’s might be time to create an actual office space. So, let’s get started!
Step one of course is to choose your space. Do you have a spare corner in the kitchen, living room, or better yet- an entire room to dedicate to your new office? Regardless of your space restrictions, all you really need is room for a desk and either a blank wall or an open window in front of you. Remember that post I did a few weeks back on creating a ‘cloffice’? As many of you noticed, one thing was missing: the OFFICE space! That was on purpose, because I believe that this space really does deserve its own spotlight. It’s the space where YOU are going to be growing, creating, and building either for your own brand or for your company. It should be a space that not only fits your personality, but is pleasing enough to look at for as many hours a day as you need to sit your butt down and get to work in it.
Starting in my office, I was lucky enough to have two options so I’m going to share them both with you. Option #1 was a big blank wall, which is PERFECT for Zoom backdrops if I set up a stand that could have the desk in the background! I filled the space with one of my favorite pieces from Oliver Gal, a large gold chandelier canvas print (which you can get here). My second option was to center my desk in front of a large window overlooking our backyard where I could watch my dog play outside. While this was my favorite option and offered some great light into the room, it meant that my camera angle for those Zoom meetings could no longer have my desk behind me, as the light from the window would wash me out. So, I’d have to place whatever I was using (tripod to hold my iPhone or laptop) ON my desk so that the window was sending the light to my face rather than from behind me, which would provide GREAT lighting! However, I’d have to consider what would be behind me: my vanity. For me, that’s okay! Ultimately..I went with the window look 🙂
Now, on to the star of the post: the desk! I bought this super cute white and gold desk from Amazon to match the pink, white and gold theme I have going. Here are the three things to think about when picking out your desk:
Know your budget. There’s no way around it: a good desk is an investment. That being said, if you’re looking for a strong piece that will last for the rest of your life, it’s going to be a pretty penny. However, if you’re just looking for something to work for now that you don’t plan to use as a forever investment, it’s likely not a good idea to spend a ton of money. A decent desk that will get the job done will likely run you between $150-200, and while you can go cheaper it will not only be a hassle to assemble (even mine was a challenge!), but it also may barely feel it can hold the weight of what you need it to.
Know your needs. Many may just need desk space to have a solid Zoom backdrop-and that’s TOTALLY fine! I specifically picked a desk that had at least one drawer as I do have some stationary, files, and notes that I don’t necessarily want causing clutter. That’s key to consider: Do you need a lot of storage space? If not, don’t worry if you fall head over heels in love with something without drawer space. If so, make sure you use a filter when searching to include storage space (if the website allows it).
Know your style. Are you someone who likes a modern workspace, or more chic? Are you traditional, or rustic? If you don’t know, now is the time to find out. The best way to learn about your style is to simply use Pinterest or Google to look up “office space”. Pick several that you like, and see what the described style is. Once you see a common theme, you’ll begin to identify your style. You can then search “modern desk”, “glam desk”, or more!
Once I had picked out mine based on those specifications, the setup was…well..an experience (and there may have been a few times I yelled out, ‘THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!’) but I felt SUCH a sense of accomplishment when I finished finally putting it together myself. Trust me: if I can do it, you can, too!
Once you have your desk picked out, think about what you’ll need. Do you need a filing system? A mousepad so you don’t scratch the desk? A cupholder for pens? Do you need certain accent pieces to accomplish a specific look? Dive into research on what you need, and get after it! While stores like TJ Maxx & Christmas Tree Shop were my go-to for these things, I’ve learned to lean on online shopping more to explore Pier 1, Target, and Etsy. Here is how mine turned out!
When Olivia Achtmeyer Boger was 20 years old, she experienced the heartbreaking loss of her mother to cancer – a battle she didn’t even know the strongest woman in her life was fighting. Her mother had elected to hide the fact that she was in the fight of her life from her children so they wouldn’t worry about her, a selfless decision that Olivia says inspired her to create the very foundation today that helps other families in need. “My mom was an exceptionally wonderful mother, and also a very private person. She fought breast cancer for 10 years without really telling anybody! When she passed away in 2001, I was one of four kids and we didn’t even really know that she had as serious an experience with breast cancer as she did. ”
While Olivia at first didn’t know where to begin in honoring her mother’s legacy, she knew she had to do something. “I wanted to start an organization that celebrated that essence of childhood that she fought so hard for herself,” she explains. At a Red Sox game talking with friends who owned local boutique clothing shop Maggie Taylor several years later, Olivia received her opportunity. “I had become really close friends with some people in Concord who owned their own clothing boutique and offered the clothes to be modeled as a fundraiser. Instead of finding professional models, we asked people who had survived breast cancer or had somebody in their life pass away from it be our models.” Open to all who wish to attend, the event holds a special meaning for anyone who has lost a loved one to or battled breast cancer. “You know, you could be at the end of your breast cancer journey, you could be in the middle of it, you could have just lost your mom, or your mom could have passed away 15 years ago. It kinda gives everybody a night to remember, celebrate and reflect.”
What started as a one-time event, Runway for Recovery is now celebrating its 13th year of raising money for families whose caregiver has passed away from cancer. “While many breast cancer organizations look to find the cure,” the company’s slogan reads, “I am looking to find ways to help those families for whom the cure does not come in time.” From helping families pay for a child’s extracurricular activities to providing tutoring & therapy services or sending a child to camp, Olivia’s mission is centered around wraparound services that “allow kids to be kids”. “We are financially taking the place of what a mother’s paycheck would have been paying for if she was still alive,” she explains, and believes each family the organization is able to help honors her mother’s own mission in life.
When Natasha Verma was in the thick of her fight with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she began to notice changes in her image. As her eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair began to disappear, she became desperate for a solution to help her feel like her strong, beautiful self through her battle. For Natasha, that started with finding a good wig. Yet the solution wasn’t as easy as she thought. “I couldn’t find a wig that I liked, and they’re expensive. They can be itchy and stuffy, or the hairline doesn’t look right. A real hair, nice wig, costs thousands of dollars.” Natasha turned to a synthetic wig that was a bit more reasonable, but noticed quickly if she applied any heat or got it wet, it was ruined. – which meant no styling or washing, and that definitely did not feel like the sense of normalcy she had been hoping to achieve. What she did find worked was putting a baseball cap on top of her wig. With the hairline hidden, she thought: why don’t we start making these? That’s when the Verma Foundation was born.
The Verma Foundation provides real hair cap wigs to cancer patients at no cost that are soft and comfortable while also manageable enough to be styled and washed. Launched in 2017, the family-lead foundation managed by Natasha’s brother, sister, and parents has provided close to 900 cap wigs to survivors nationwide thanks to donations from sponsors. Working as a family, Natasha says, is critical. “Cancer is a family affair. When one person fights, we all fight and it affected all of us – my family saw the impacts of hair loss and it’s devastating.”
“We’re still operating during the pandemic because a lot of patients don’t have resources to get wigs, and they’re losing their hair. Cancer doesn’t stop because of this pandemic, and women still need a resource.” From the time the pandemic started up until now, between 70-80 cap wigs have been donated by the Foundation.
One of those recipients of a custom-made wine colored velvet cap wig is a woman named Aurora, whose story touched Natasha. “Aurora reached out to me wanting a cap wig. I was on the phone with her talking to her and she was-much like I once was-really scared and just very unsure of what chemo held; what her future held.” These are the Verma Foundation founder remembered all too well. “I said, ‘This cap wig is going to help you on those tough days and then your hair is going to grow back, and it’s just going to be a beautiful reminder of everything you went through and how tough you are.'”
Aurora’s response that came next reminded Natasha of why the Verma Foundation is staying strong through this pandemic. “She said she ‘has arrived’ when she put the wig on,” smiled Natasha as she told the story. “It reminded her of who she was and I think that’s something that a lot of cancer patients like myself struggled with. You feel like sometimes cancer rips away your identity when you lose your hair.”
How can you help give someone that “I have arrived!” feeling? By making a donation to VermaFoundation.org, you are doing exactly that. Now more than ever these donations are critical, two of their largest fundraisers of the year held in Boston & Texas have just announced their cancellations due to the global pandemic. “We need the help now,” says Natasha. “There’s nothing normal about cancer. Your whole life turns upside down and your whole schedule and your life is revolved around fighting for your life. The cap wig brings back that sense of normalcy, and confidence. When you give a woman a cap wig you are giving her hope ,strength, confidence, and the power to lift up her head, and keep fighting.”
You know that one room in your house where there’s that corner you have NO idea what to put in? Maybe you’ve considered placing a plant, a table with a lamp, or doing some kind of kitty-corner table but none of it just felt right. Ultimately, when you come home at the end of the day, nobody wants to look at their home and see a forced space they don’t feel right about. So, I came up with a solution to help you make that once awkward space feel like one of the coziest corners of your home. All you need is a few things to create a simple reading nook that can make your space not only look effortless, but welcoming!
First, ask yourself this question: Do you actually intend to utilize this corner for guests for comfortable space? If so, be more choosy in the selection of what you pick for a chair. Consider how much space you have in your corner and the dimensions of the chair you choose, as well as how comfortable it will be. If it’s simply decorative and you never intend to use it (unless it’s a holiday and you’re hosting), you can pick any chair in the world that matches your room’s wood or fabric tones. This really is the key: remembering that your corner is not just its own entity! It is an accent of the room that you are working within, and must be styled to match.
Personally, having a grey/white bedroom, I chose to take a grey chair to pair with a chic silver chandelier lamp , my favorite throw pillow and a cozy blanket knit by my sister-in-law. Before you know it, BAM! This simple space is done. While it does take a bit of investment into selecting the right chair/lamp combo, it’s an easy solution to adding extra space for guests while also giving you a comfortable place to relax at the end of a long day.