Thrifty DIY: Puffy ceiling success story

One of the most popular posts on my blog here is one about my project to make a puffy ceiling for cheap. At the time, I was living in a space that had a “drop ceiling,” where there are tiles hanging on a grid. I wanted to make my space more inviting and warm. I ended up moving about six months later and didn’t have the completed thing for long, although I definitely enjoyed the space for the time I was there.

Last month, a reader saw my post and wanted to do the same project for her salon space. She reported back:

It only took a few hours, and the look has completely changed the feel of my room. It’s more cozy, tranquil, and inviting. My clients and co-workers are impressed and amazed!

Nikki’s facial and massage room! Click on the image for the Bliss by Nikki Facebook page.

If anyone wants to go and check it out, Bliss by Nikki is located in Fairview Park, Ohio.

Thanks for sharing, Nikki! I’m so glad it worked for you!

Fast food workers protest for higher wages

A wave of chants filled the courtyard in front of the National Civil Rights Museum as a group of more than 50 protesters rounded the corner from the hot asphalt of Main Street. Their signs demanded $15 an hour and the ability to organize a union.

“You can’t survive on $7.25,” they chanted.

The strike Thursday afternoon started in the morning after workers walked out and rallied at McDonald’s on Union Avenue. Memphis joined cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and New York City to participate in a nationwide strike against fast food companies.

As protesters gathered together in front of the museum, organizers brought speakers forward. City councilman Myron Lowery endorsed the fair-wage protest, speaking to protesters about his support for alleviating poverty and raising wages in Memphis.

“The city has an obligation to take care of its people — all of its people,” Lowery said.

Reverend Dr. Herbert Lester of the Asbury United Methodist Church also spoke to the protesters, explaining the importance of organizing together.

“Today, we make history,” he said.

After the speakers, a handful of protesters used a megaphone to thank God for allowing them and the workers surrounding them to be there.

Bjorn Carlsson, a civil engineering graduate student at the University of Memphis, said workers are not able to support their family on the current wages given by companies like McDonald’s.

“You shouldn’t have to work two and three jobs to live,” Carlsson said. “Memphis is a poor town in a right-to-work state.”

In studies about poverty in America, Massachusetts Institute of Technology uses a living wage calculator to determine how much an individual needs to earn to support his or her family, depending on location.

According to that calculator, in Shelby County, one adult needs to earn at least $9.76 per hour to pay for all expenses, which include food, housing and transportation. One adult with one child needs to earn $18.18 per hour.

In July, McDonald’s came under fire from critics when it released a budget planning website for its employees with Visa. In the sample budget given, McDonald’s assumes workers will have a second job. The first job—presumably the fast food company—is given as a salary of $1,105 per month. The expenses given are for the basics—such as mortgage, car payments and utilities—are totaled at $1,310.

The group of workers also stressed it wasn’t just about McDonald’s. According to organizers, workers of Taco Bell, Church’s Chicken, Subway and Krystal’s were among those in the protesting ranks. Alongside the workers, groups like the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Workers Interfaith Network, the Progressive Student Alliance at the U of M and United Campus Workers joined the protesters in solidarity.

“They’re lifting up their community (and) building more power for themselves,” Carlsson said, looking out into the crowd. “Fast food workers are people too.”

This article was previously published in August 2013.

Veteran organizations provide lifetime of benefits to service members

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars attend a memorial ceremony April 6 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The ceremony commemorated the 67th Philippine national holiday "Araw ng Kagitingan" or "Day of Valor," and honored Filipino-American service members during World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Hight/Released)

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars attend a memorial ceremony April 6 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The ceremony commemorated the 67th Philippine national holiday “Araw ng Kagitingan” or “Day of Valor,” and honored Filipino-American service members during World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Hight/Released)

After soldiers are discharged from the military, whether or not they come home from war, people who have never served in the military may picture the transition as a straightforward one: return from service and adjust into civilian life again. What is often lost to the average person is what exactly adjustment entails.

Some soldiers try to do it on their own, but the chance to join a veteran organization is one that Anthony Ferguson says all soldiers should take. The 30-year-old former Marine soldier has been a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars for two years, after doing one tour in Afghanistan.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, has a long history with the United States. The organization helped establish the Veterans Administration and create the GI Bill, according to the VFW website. The fee for membership to the organization is $35 a year, an amount that Ferguson has no issue paying.

“You feel a camaraderie with your group,” he says. “That’s something all soldiers need. It’s from the very beginning with our training. It’s priceless.”

Ferguson has struggled with depression since his service, which has affected every aspect of his life. Since being involved in the veteran organization, he has been able to talk about his issues and eventually seek help professionally. “Civilians can’t relate to what I’ve been through,” he says. “It’s easier for me to talk to other soldiers. They get it.”

Tristan Tran, 22, is an Army Reserves soldier while he goes to school at the University of Memphis. After two tours overseas, he joined a soldiers’ union as a donor.

“I just wanted to show my support for the enlisted advocacy,” he says.

Tran says he can see why service members who suffer from mental illness after their service would join veteran organizations.

“But that’s not all that they’re for,” he says. “They help build relationships, prepare you for a world outside of the service.”

Sarah Jones, a 31-year-old member of the Air Force Reserves, hasn’t joined a veteran organization, but plans to. She says she feels like she doesn’t fit in just yet, but the right group aimed toward women may be her route.

“I think, even though airmen are airmen and soldiers are soldiers, there’s just something really cool about a bunch of women in the service getting together and talking about things that apply to us,” she says.

Ferguson agrees. “Some guys can’t talk about their problems from combat,” he says. “But even if you don’t have any, you can still get something out of being a member.”

Active-duty service members can also join VFW and often come into meetings during their short time at home, Ferguson says. There are eight posts, or meeting locations, in the Memphis area for VFW. Each post has a different meeting time and day, which is usually monthly.

Ferguson says the eligibility requirements aren’t ridiculous or extensive. The organization’s website listed the requirements as receiving a campaign medal overseas, having served at least 30 days in Korea, or ever receiving hostile fire or imminent danger pay.

VFW also helped Ferguson find a job after his honorable discharge. Employers often look to VetJobs, a service dedicated to matching veterans with companies looking for qualified employees. The organization utilizes VetJobs, working with the service to help its members find jobs and careers.

“I can’t act like I’m not biased,” Ferguson says. “There’s no reason not to join an organization that aims to help you and people like you, members of the military.” More information can be found on the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.

This story was previously published on a niche blog for a University of Memphis class.

Jet-setting students can travel cheap in 2013

For students who enjoy traveling, there’s a new way to fly to some favorite beach destinations and major cities in the South without breaking the bank.

Southern Airways Express has stepped into the airline transportation market in the Memphis area, catering to destinations within a 500-mile radius of city. Travelers can now buy roundtrip flights from Memphis to New Orleans, La.; Destin, Fla.; Gulf Shores, Ala.; Gulfport, Miss.; Oxford, Miss.; and Panama City, Fla.

It all began with CEO Stan Little’s purchase of a Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, a six-seat personal airplane, according to chief operating officer Keith Sisson.

“The moment he got it, everyone wanted to rent the plane to go to Destin,” Sisson said. “Well, what if they didn’t have to rent the entire plane? What if they could rent a seat?”

That one airplane has expanded into a fleet of eight-seater Cessna 208 Caravans and ten-seater 208B Grand Caravans.

For $129, customers can typically buy a ticket for a one-way trip. Deals are sometimes given on Facebook and Twitter for last-minute getaways, sometimes for as low as $9 for one-way.

The airline had its inaugural flight in June this year, the month Delta announced its de-hubbing of the Memphis International Airport.

While Delta does some things well, Sisson said, legacy carriers—that is, major airlines—are no longer interested in routes less than 500 miles.

“We’re the only (airline) in the country operating on this model,” Sisson said. “Memphis to Birmingham will never happen again on a legacy carrier. There’s a need to take people from major population centers in the region.”

Because the airline operates smaller aircrafts, Southern Airways customers can bypass many of the hassles that the Transportation Security Administration regulates for major airlines. Travelers can park for free at the smaller airports and walk up to the plane, where the captain will greet customers and take their bags for no fee.

“We aren’t going to tell you to throw away your shampoo bottles,” Sisson said. “That’s not the system we have in place.”

Legacy carriers have been making nationwide cuts on features and adding fees, but Southern Airways has been adding amenities to their flights. The airline just included an iPad for every seat, complementary to use during the flight, along with use of Bose headphones.

“With a major airline, you’re sitting right next to somebody,” Sisson said. “Sometimes you have a window, sometimes you have an aisle, but you’ll be sitting very close to somebody. Our seats are spread out. You have more space. Every seat is a window seat and an aisle seat. It works out really well for people who are larger, taller or claustrophobic.”

Though some may enjoy those amenities, flyers who enjoy the convenience and efficiency of major airports may have to sacrifice some for the price of a Southern Airway ticket. The airline operates out of smaller airports, like the General DeWitt Spain Airport located in downtown Memphis on 2nd Street, which can put travelers on outskirts of town depending on the location.

Despite just opening this summer, Southern Airways is planning its expansion to large southern markets.

As the airline continues to expand to different cities, Southern Airways plans to keep pricing the same, between $129 and $249 for one-way flights. Limits may be made in the future in the amount of lower-price tickets, but tickets will never cost more than $249.

“We may raise the basement, but we won’t raise the roof,” Sisson said.

In early August, Southern Airways Express announced that during the fall, it will be providing flights from Memphis to Birmingham, Ala. There will also be flights to Atlanta, Ga. and Knoxville, Tenn.

Anyone looking for a budget option to fly into Atlanta would benefit from the Southern Airways flight, Sisson said, which takes travelers right into DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.

For the students who love the beach, there will be daily flights to Gulf Shores, Ala., as well as a weekend getaway service to Gulfport, Miss. after Labor Day. There may even be student discounts for those two-flight routes in the future, according to Sisson.

David Cohen, a junior computer science major, visits New Orleans once a year but drives the six-hour trip.

“The drive isn’t bad, but a train is $100 roundtrip,” Cohen said. “($129) is closer to a price I’d be willing to pay if I wanted to fly.”

Cohen said Southern Airways could fill an untapped market in Memphis, attracting students who like to take beach trips because of the competitive pricing.

“It will absolutely be beneficial (to them),” he said.

Students can find more information and buy tickets by visiting Southern Airways at

This article was previously published in August 2013.

Search for U of M president begins

As University of Memphis students gear up for the new semester, some returning students may notice the change in administration. On July 1, President R. Brad Martin replaced retiring Shirley Raines, who had served as president since 2001.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan announced Martin as the interim president earlier this year.

“The good thing that Brad Martin brings to the table for this interim assignment is that he is committed to this University, but he is also a businessman,” Morgan said. “He’s a successful businessman who can look at the University through a different perspective than an academician can.”

After graduating from the U of M in 1976, Martin worked his way up to chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Incorporated, which includes luxury brands like Saks Fifth Avenue. He retired in 2007. He is currently the chairman ofRBM Venture Company, a private investment firm.

Monica Greppin-Watts, communications director for the Tennessee Board of Regents, said the search for a new University president still has a long way to go.

“There will be a search committee that is formed, and the chancellor is advised by the search committee,” she said.

According to the board’s FAQ about the process, finding a new university president can take around six months.

“Each search is unique, and this search will include participation from the Board of Visitors as well,” Greppin-Watts said. “We aim to craft a process that best suits your campus.”

Because the University is still early in its search process, a specific criterion for the new president has yet to be identified. After that has been determined, anyone can nominate someone or apply for the president’s position.

“What we’ve done in the past is use a search firm to help spark interest and get people to apply,” Greppin-Watts said. “We do solicit applications for the position.”

In 2012, state law changed whether or not information about a presidential candidate could become public. Since the law passed, candidates can request confidentiality until they are considered to be a finalist for the position.

When the information about finalists becomes public, students and members of the public can attend meetings or interview sessions.

After the interview sessions have concluded, the committee will not meet again.

Each member lets the chancellor know his or her views. The chancellor also hears the views of any groups on or off campus who have met with the candidates.

During his term here in Memphis, while the Tennessee Board Regents finds a permanent president, Martin has just as many responsibilities as his successor and predecessor.

“President Martin is fortunate to have a very talented leadership team to work with at (the) U of M,” Greppin-Watts said.

On average, the chancellor organizes two presidential searches a year due to retirements or resignations, according to the chancellor’s office. Currently, Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tenn., is also looking for a president.

This article was previously published in August 2013.