Category Archives: volunteer


Have you ever experienced someone crossing your path and you knew at once it was divine intervention? A few weeks ago, a woman was walking past our shop on Magazine Street and she made a sudden decision to go inside and look around. That woman was Claire Koch. She saw the beautiful fabrics, and she told me the touching story of her daughter’s experience with ‘heart pillows’. Within that conversation we developed an idea, and within minutes we had a plan. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, February 20-22, we will have a “Heart-a-Thon” and sew as many heart pillows as we can. More details below. But first, Claire’s story – so appropriate for this Valentine’s Day: “My daughter was born 6 weeks early during a hurricane evacuation.  But that was not the shocking news for me.  It came when the doctors told me something was very wrong with her heart and she would need surgery.  My baby had her heart “fixed” at four months of age.  It was not lost on me that I lived in a country where the best health care in the world was provided to my precious baby.  I made a deal with my God: if he made sure my baby recovered I promised to one day help other children. That was the beginning of my 16-year journey to this point.  Once my daughter began to grow up and become more independent, I started to look for organizations I could join to help other heart children.  I had a difficult job finding the right organization that I felt used the funds completely for the kids, and one where I could be a volunteer for as well.  Until I read about HeartGift in the newspaper. HeartGift in a non-profit organization dedicated to providing lifesaving heart surgery to children from developing countries where access to specialized medical care is either scarce or nonexistent.  Participating pediatric physicians donate 100% of their time and talents and HeartGift assumes all other financial obligations for the child and mother. The only thing the families are responsible for is seeing their children grow and flourish. HeartGift has five chapters in Texas and one here.  We could not achieve our success without our partnership with Children’s Hospital here in New Orleans. I have been with HeartGift since 2011 and have seen 20 children through the surgery and recovery process.  I have been at the airport welcoming a weak and frail child, only to watch that same child return to the airport 5 weeks later to run past angered TSA agents.  But it is the courage of the mothers that gets to me each and every time.  These mothers leave their villages and countries for the first time and make long trips to New Orleans to seek help from complete strangers in a foreign land.  They hand over their child to us.  It is amazing to see the hope and trust in their eyes.  While I have spent many hours in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) I have noticed every year we see a few heart shaped pillows arrive for the patients.  In the past, a local Boy Scout troop made twenty or so pillows for the kids each year.These pillows do not just brighten up the room but proved to be more effective to use than a regular pillow to press against a child’s chest post-surgery when a child starts to cough.  Coughing is normal post surgery, but can be extremely painful.  The nurses use a pillow to press into the child’s rib cage to help cushion the child’s ribs as they cough. I happened to meet Emma when I was walking down Magazine Street.  I am so excited she has offered to do a “Heart-a-Thon” to produce needed pillows for all the children in the Heart Center of Children’s Hospital. Currently, there are 22 beds in the ICU.  Many of them are filled with little babies who do not need the pillows, but the kids who are two and up, as well as teens, could sure use some of your loving handiwork! The pillows will be a valued dearly by the children recovering from heart surgery, their families and the staff of the Heart Center at Children’s Hospital.” DSC00331Come join our “Heart-a-Thon! Uptown Needle & CraftWorks will donate fabrics.  Clair has already purchased fiberfil. Now we need you – to cut out hearts, sew, stuff, and hand stitch – for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour of your time on either of the days above. We will have sewing machines set up, fabrics and scissors at the ready. Experienced sewists needed to come and assist! You will be glad you did.  February 20-22, Friday and Saturday 10-5pm, Sunday noon-5pm. Below are a few pictures of some of the kids HeartGift hosted last year. You may get in touch with Claire Koch at Claire@ClaireKoch.netLearn more at kids 

A Conversation with the Creative Unconscious.

As an INFP, I love doing a variety of things, and can multi-task like a champion. To paraphrase from the description of this personality type, INFPs never seem to lose their sense of wonder. One might say we see life through rose-colored glasses. It’s as though we live at the edge of a looking-glass world where mundane objects come to life, where flora and fauna take on near-human qualities.There are others like us out there – who become interested and adept at a variety of things and like a new puppy happily jump from one thing to another. We are also multi-talented.  And sometimes we have to stop and back up, and sleep.  The following is a dialogue, in a Dear Abby kind of way,  that I shamelessly stole from the SheWrites blog Creative Catalyst and revised it to fit my own conversation with my creative unconscious:
Dear Creative Unconscious:
 It’s only the first week of the academic year, and I’m feeling swamped already! Is painting and gardening and mentoring and facilitating workshops and training volunteers in addition to pastoral counseling a dodge from my main work as a writer? Is it a secret wish for failure? Or a fear of success?- Swamped in Memphis

Dear SM:
 That depends on your motivation and how you manage time and energy. Does fear not being enough lead you toward distraction? More practically, are you over-committing yourself?
SM: I don’t want to say no when someone asks me to do something, but I certainly say it plenty. I want to help people.  Do you think this is the unconscious pursuit of something?
CU: Wholeness, as I see it. But there is only so much of you to go around. Your quest leads to fragmentation rather than wholeness.
SM: I want to feel that expressing myself as a writer is enough. I want to feel worthy without having to add another layer—say, becoming a hero for the downtrodden before I can be a worthy writer.
CU: It’s a bitch to be an artist in our linear world! Be careful not to internalize judgments from well-meaning volunteers, family and friends. Sure, it’s okay to be the writer you are without another layer. You don’t have to prove yourself to feel worthy. Layering springs from a creative impulse and is a quest for richness. Simpler is easier. But now all the richness, wholeness, and layering is a part of you and your writing. Do not renounce an iota of the richness yet continue to focus. Do what you can without going crazy.
SM: How can I know if I’m sidestepping commitment, or avoiding success? What if I am unconsciously afraid of success?
CU: Ask yourself if some fear leads toward your seeking distraction.
SM: If I were truly committed to my writing, wouldn’t I do something like go on a month-long writer’s retreat and dive deep into myself?
CU: Not necessarily. You don’t have to prove yourself by undertaking extraordinary steps. Staying home and doing your work is enough. However, I love the self-guided writing retreat idea! You could even volunteer during your retreat! Does mentoring, your secondary interest, feed your primary writing interest? If so, you’re on a path that will serve your work.
SM: Oh, yes. For me, the smiles and words of the girls in writing workshops embody the rhythms and richness of language. I know that mentoring helps reduce my stress. It makes me feel alive and healthy (as does painting). Plus, it’s fun to be in community with women. Even when we speak different languages, writing unites us.
CU: It’s rejuvenating— your personal Fountain of Youth.
SM: Yes! But how can I tell when studying with a good writing mentor myself will help me, and when it’s more of me hiding from what I know?
CU: Take stock of what you know now. You are wise. Do you need to know more in order to go further? Claim your authority, and just do it. Perhaps later you’ll benefit from a mentor, or another class, or another workshop.
SM: My new resolution is to focus on my writing in the coming months Instead of spinning off in so many different directions.
CU: Focusing your prodigious talent and energies makes perfect sense. Go easy on yourself, and let your work flow.  Say “No” before you say yes. It’s easier to change your mind.

What are you thoughts on the fear of success?

Lessons from a Tennessee Volunteer

If I had the time, I would spend all day writing. But sometimes things get in the way and take so much energy that I am diverted for hours from what I love into what is necessary.

This morning I eliminated the volunteer that had taken over my life. I hated to do it at first, but as I ripped and tugged and hacked at this invasive varmint, I showed no mercy. I sweated profusely, powered by my anger, as I yanked it up by its roots and cast it out of my life. This pesky thing had taken over. It entwined its skinny fingers around my okra, gripped my wonderful and prolific grape tomato plants at their necks and nearly choked the life out of them. Six bell pepper plants never had a chance. Oh, they started off healthy, with large dark green leaves, but once the vine got aholt (acceptable in the south as a real word) of them, they were stifled into puny sprouts never to even produce their first flower.

Not to mention what this thing did to my cherished eggplants. But the eggplant bush was determined, growing above the vine to tower over it and bravely produce a few lovely aubergine fruits on its few spindly arms.

I was tolerant at first. Gleeful even, that this new little vine was so healthy. I watched the abundant gigantic yellow flowers bloom. Are you a squash? A melon? No indication of which variety of fruit to expect. I nurtured the little thing, propping it up on my garden fence to protect it from snails, every day guiding it along. Then, when the vine was maybe 75’ in length, wrapped around and around my garden fence, a small oblong yellow fruit appeared. First a lone little baby something, then another and another. In all, perhaps 5 of these fruits appeared. I let them grow, thinking for sure this is a spaghetti squash. The fruits grew large, perhaps 8-10” in length, and were fat, like a spaghetti squash. But different somehow. I left them alone to grow.

Every night the vine grew. The leaves were huge. Each morning there appeared tendrils grabbing onto grass, invading now my back yard. This is the healthiest plant I’ve ever seen, I marveled! Is this how Jack and the Beanstalk began?

One must discern the motives of volunteers early on, before they take over. I always think they have good intentions, they will be fruitful, and will contribute to the good of all. They pop up and say I’m here, and I welcome then. I expect them to be surprising, as I cannot always tell what type they are in the beginning, those things that sprout up where you did not ask them to grow. Where you did not plant them.

But always always I start off loving them, smiling at their new little faces, marveling at their capacity to grow several inches in a day, and waiting, with much anticipation, what the fruit of the vine will be. These volunteers are eternally the most energetic, charismatic plants in the garden, usually coming from some composted plant consumed perhaps years ago, or dropped by birds, and just waiting until the precise moment in time to burst forth its seed and devour everything in its way.

Don’t trust them. No matter how they try to seduce you, no matter how smart they say you are. They are a clever lot. But I implore you, cut them down in their infancy. Grab your hoe and chop unmercifully until you get them at the very roots of their lives. Pull them up, throw them in a heap, or, better yet, burn them to ashes!

Today, my tomato plants are free at last from the vine’s strangle hold. As are my peppers, my eggplant, my okra. And do they appreciate it? I cannot tell. It is 100 degrees outside and they wilt if I look at them. Parched. They enjoyed being in the shade of those big leaves, even if that vine stifled their growth. But they are trying to recover in their newfound freedom. They are blooming, leaning toward the sun as if they are happy to at last see the light. Free to grow into what they were created to be.

Free at last.

I just hope it’s not too late.

Sometimes I feel like this is how some of my characters take over my writing. I develop small characters with great potential, then someone else eases in my mind’s eye, and suddenly it’s all about them and the other characters get lost in the excitement. I have to then put forth loads of time and energy clearing out the fluff to get back to the original idea.

Have you had anything that took over your life, slowly, before you knew what happened? Please share your experience with me.