Take a Hike

This path you’re on? The one where an irritant nestles its way into your shoe causing you to –


Sit down.

Remove your shoe.

And shake the debris loose?

Turns out that very debris, that very irritant, that very sit down, all hold great beauty and wonder.

Upon closer examination and honoring of the debris, you’ll discover both the irritant and the pause contain messages and knowledge to inform your own unique path.


Take a hike.

Beautiful bits of irritating debris are awaiting perfectly perfect you.

Photo by Victor Bezrukov on Foter.com / CC BY-NC


Words of wisdom from women who are making a difference in the world:

Build your ark before the storm hits.Sophfronia Scott, Author

The harshness with which we judge others is the harshness with which we judge ourselves. – Mara Schiavocampo, MSNBC and NBC News Anchor

Stretch into the feeling of not knowing and trust that it’s going to be awesome!Terri Cole, Psychotherapist, Strategist, Coach

Be a priority in your own life. – Dr. Bernadette Anderson

Your dream may be bigger and have more legs to it than you even know. – Debbie Phillips, Founder Women on Fire


Giving things up can be challenging. This is the time of year when you may have decided to give up something that is near and dear to you for a period of 40 days. Perhaps it’s sweets, television or if you’re really hardcore, social media.

During my marketing communications/advertising years, I recall an initial strategy meeting. It was the beginning of a new business pitch for a coveted blue-chip client. A large group had been assembled so name cards were in order. On the back of our name cards appeared these words: Strategy is Sacrifice.

I had no idea what that meant.

7218257The strategic planner leading the meeting explained the statement. The meeting would produce lots of good ideas – out-of-this-world brilliant ideas. He went on to say the most brilliant thing we could do was to make sacrifices during the process. To be willing to walk away from ideas we were in love with in order to make two or three ideas so emotionally and strategically compelling that the client would select our team.

In retrospect I had learned about the Strategy is Sacrifice concept from my beloved high school English teacher, Mrs. Elling.

She encouraged students to not reflect every resource discovered when writing research papers. Rather only reflect the most salient. “I’ll know you conducted extensive research by the limited number of resources you cite.”

This was a tough concept at 17. How could less be more? While I really wanted to please Mrs. Elling, I also wanted her to know how thorough I had been. The hours I had spent at the high school library, the local library and the university library. I had hundreds of 3 x 5 note cards all worthy of inclusion.

In the end I followed Mrs. Elling’s advice. The paper was returned with her handwritten notes and observations noting this was a well researched paper.

Strategy is sacrifice. Getting super focused to make your idea, your project, your work so brilliant, it takes on an energy and passion of its own. Coming to life in a way that instills confidence and knowledge. Creating the connection that wins the new business pitch and earns the A+.

When it comes to ideas and projects, sacrifice is the winning strategy for all the days of the year.

Gritty, grimey and glorious

Featured on a banner that prominently hung in my daughter’s school gymnasium were the words:

“If you had fun, you won”

My daughter received the most amazing education from this school.  A school positively, hands down, invested in helping children discover their gifts and talents.  At the same time challenging them to find their own voice, their own north star.  It is also a school that recognizes that one size of teaching does not fit all.

The aforementioned prominently displayed banner, however, is at head scratchingly odds with the school’s philosophy and value system.

The banner became a source of complete irritation and frustration for me.  I fantasized about sneaking into the school late at night and climbing on a ladder to reach the banner with a can of spray paint.  A can of spray paint obtained from the hardware store that I would have promised the clerk, as she was unlocking it from its storage space, that I would absolutely not, under any emotions of irritation or frustration, graffiti the misguided banner at the school’s gymnasium with the words:

“If you lost, you lost”

As I was paying for my spray paint, I would continue to assure the clerk that I would most definitely not add the words:

“Suck it up.  You just learned.”

Some of the greatest lessons come in the form of losing.  In the United States it seems as though we have placed an unhealthy, almost obsessive emphasis on winning.

"Winners" medal

“Winners” medal

We are inundated with the “winner winner chicken dinner” mind-set from reality television shows to sports to award ceremonies.  As parents we might even be accused of manically protecting our children from any circumstance in which they might not experience 100% success – a la, the ole’ “If you had fun, you won” banner or worse yet, medal!

In not allowing ourselves, our work teammates and our children to experience the gift of losing and avoiding healthy discussions about losing, we become robbed of the opportunity to learn.  This winning obsession also negates the opportunity to consider and honor the laden-filled gems of knowledge and wisdom indigenous to losing.

The grittiness and grime that comes from losing is merely the greasing of the skids for your next project and your next idea.  What’s keeping you from diving into the brilliant grit and grime of losing?

Mirror image

What happens to your big dream when you go along to get along?

What happens to the outcomes of your first high profile project when you go along to get along?

What happens to your personal values when you go along to get along?

When you go along to get along, who do you see reflected in the mirror? Is she your perfectly, perfect brilliant self or someone else?

Art Kids

An objective of Voices of Pearls is to feature voices who are making a difference in the world. The perfectly, perfect brilliant voices that surround us each and every day. Sometimes we just have to take a pause, engage and listen to the voices that are right here, right now.

Tonight I did just that. As an almost weekly volunteer at a local high school’s art department, I am fortunate to be surrounded by the brilliant voices of the young women and men who identify as “art kids.”

Meet Maddie – a 17-year old artist who is brimming with wisdom and inspiration driven by her desire to use art as her voice in the world. I’m excited to share Maddie’s powerful voice with you and some of the topics we discussed this evening.

Maddie with her art

Maddie sitting amongst her art; her newest piece reflecting freedom of expression sits on the floor – très bien Molly!

Maddie’s most recent art piece

At the core of her newest piece (see photo) is the power of stories and how they are expressed. Maddie shared that the magazine wrapped pencils create stories about people – from healthcare workers battling Ebola, to marchers in Ferguson to celebrity. The pencils also represent how quickly important stories are erased from public consciousness and awareness. At the same time Maddie cautioned that we can become chained to our stories. She believes that these chained stories hold us back from reaching our greatest potential. Chained stories become the ones that define and prevent us from continually stretching ourselves to write our very own best life story.

Thoughts about her big dream

Maddie wants to inspire others through art while also teaching about the power of art. She shared that words can be hard. Art, however, provides the medium in which she can authentically express and represent her ideas, opinions and values.

Thoughts about the change she wants to be for the world

To inspire and encourage others to accept where they are in life, embrace it and understand that you don’t have to live in a box that someone else gives you.

Best advice

Don’t be impulsive. Think about your actions because they affect yourself and others.

What she’s listening to

Take Me to Church by Hozier

Maddie’s closing thought

I’m just a girl trying to find my way in the world.


Thank you perfectly, perfect Maddie for sharing your inspired voice. Keep on creating, keep on being you, keep on making a difference!


A SCOTUS kind of love

The goal behind Voices of Pearls was to create a place where voices, thoughts and ideas could be shared.  In that spirit, I am honored to share with you the beautiful voice of Lisa Clair, a fellow Women on Fire member.  With her inspiring words Lisa paints a moment in history about faith and hope.  For me she  paints a picture of the America and the world I believe in.  Most importantly her words paint how love did conquer all this week making 21st century American and world history. Read on and be filled with the faith, hope and love that together we can make positive changes in our world.  Onward!

Guest Blogger:  Lisa Clair

Waiting on history

Waiting on history

I had the rare privilege yesterday to stand in front of the Supreme Court with hundreds of people, gay, straight, and the media, waiting for the announcements on DOMA and Prop 8. Here’s what it was like: in stifling heat and humidity, there was good humor and hope. Rainbow flags and equality flags, printed signs and many more handmade signs. One said “I love my straight daughter and gay son EQUALLY.” Another told the story of losing his lover to a tragic accident before they could marry, but he was there in support of others’ dreams. A third said “If I can’t marry my boyfriend, I’ll marry your daughter!” (This was from a lovely young Mormon man, with a delightful sense of humor.)

There were bursts of chanting: “gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right!” There was singing: America the Beautiful, and the Star Spangled Banner. Whatever else this crowd was, it was a group of Americans, standing together for what they believed was right. There was constant communication using phones and social media. Everyone was on the SCOTUS blog, so they were following justices’ opinions as they were posted, in real time. Then they facebooked it, tweeted it, vined it.

My daughter, who is interning this summer in the Senate office of CT Senator Dick Blumenthal, was released from her desk and told to “go be a part of history.” Other interns were there, too, sent with the same message. There is less cynicism and jadedness in government offices than you might believe. And the crowd itself? Welcoming, friendly, polite. To move from the back of the crowd to the front was a simple matter–an “excuse me,” a touch on a shoulder, a smile. People stepped back, made way, offered space.

Interns celebrate: Love Wins!

Interns celebrate: Love Wins!

Only one dissenting sign was held. One man, who separated himself and stood across the street, had a sign that said “Supreme Court, you are not GOD.” The back side of that same sign, seen the day before, said something about sodomy and sin, but he restrained himself on Wednesday. He stood quietly, holding only the front side of the sign. I didn’t see anyone talk to him. It was his own silent and unmolested protest.

When the announcement finally came, at ten thirty, there were cheers. But everyone already knew. Almost every hand held a phone, and heads were down, fingers rapidly telegraphing the news. Love is love. Love is love.

Donkeys and Eggs

The Good Samaritan. Church-goers or not, most of us have heard this Bible story. The Samaritan, a man of little privilege, helps an injured stranger lying in the ditch while two others of greater privilege pass by.

In discussion with women from my church about the story, I recognized an equally important lesson of The Good Samaritan in addition to doing good. In order to do anything, we first have to get off our donkeys. (Yes, it’s okay to giggle – I’m quite certain this is the genesis of the more off-colorful adage.)  Getting off our donkeys isn’t always easy. And until now, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t easy for the Samaritan either. By getting off his donkey he faced significant risk and inconvenience, especially given the social and political landscape of the day.

I’m convinced we don’t necessarily have an awareness that we’re about to get off our donkeys and do something big – something really big like the Samaritan did. With one small act he started a conversation that created change in the world.

This year I’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know a remarkable young woman, Niki Johnson. Niki is a beautifully thoughtful and intelligent artist – she is creating important work that makes you think.

Our paths first crossed as she was looking to purchase condoms – 7,000 of them. When you work at a women’s reproductive health care provider as I do, this isn’t an odd request. What was unusual however, was the use Niki had in mind for the condoms – they were needed to complete a massive project she had undertaken. Niki was in the finishing stages of a piece of artwork. It was to be her response to comments made by the former Pope while travelling through Africa in 2009. During that trip, the Pope suggested that condoms could increase the spread of AIDS.

Niki completed the project, a portrait of Pope Benedict woven with thousands of condoms, entitled Eggs Benedict, just as the Pope was announcing his resignation.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Niki’s Eggs Benedict has created a stir. The media coverage has been extensive on a local, national and international basis. Niki’s work is making an impact.

For me though, the story is bigger than the art piece itself. The story is about Niki’s unbridled bravery. There’s a vast difference between bemoaning Pope Benedict’s comments among friends and getting off your donkey to make a significant and profound statement to the world. Striking out against one of the most revered religious leaders in the world takes guts, courage and conviction. It takes a belief that an individual voice can spark a conversation. Niki’s brave voice has sparked a global conversation.

Despite several generous offers to purchase her artwork at its debut, Niki announced on CNN she is auctioning Eggs Benedict, and donating a portion of the proceeds benefitting AIDS research and advocacy.

That’s the funny thing: when we get off our donkeys and use our voices, whether it be through written, spoken or artistic expression, we can be the brave spark in the world to ignite change and do good. Just like Niki.

Happy 50th!

One-half century ago today, a young expatriate couple living in Europe, welcomed the first of two daughters into the world.

As they navigated first-time parenthood in a foreign country, were they aware of their voices?  Voices of never-ending love and support?  Voices of positive role-modeling?  Were they aware of their guiding voices?  Their words set the foundation for a value system; all integral components of what I now recognize as my voice journey.

My parents continued using their voices to set strong examples for my sister and me:  their commitment as Sunday school teachers… my mother’s creativity and energy as co-leader for Girl Scout Troop 637… my parents’ friendship and support to a young Air Force pilot who flew one of the last American military transport flights out of Vietnam… my parents teaching us to be kind to everyone in thought, word and deed… my mother standing strong with her teacher colleagues as they struck during tense contract negotiations… my parents teaching us to take responsibility for mistakes, learn from them and then move forward.

Even today, their voices remain strong as parents, grandparents, and active members of their community and church.  I am grateful for all my parents have done to guide and support me as my voice has taken shape over the years.

Today, that first daughter turns 50!  (Isn’t this something that just happens to other people?!!)

So now, how to celebrate?  For months, it was all about the “big party.”  And then something changed.  I started giving voice to the things I believe in.  I lobbied against Pence in DC, I marched in Madison, I got political on Facebook and Twitter, I door-knocked for candidates, I called and wrote elected officials – I got out of my comfort zone.

I began listening more intently to the voices of others.  Dasha Kelly’s powerful spoken word, advocating for change and social justice.  A new friend Barbara, who celebrated her 80th birthday with gifts to Planned Parenthood – a cause to which she’s been giving voice since the early Sixties.  And the amazing voices from Michele Woodward’s virtual birthday party, during which women shared their wisdom for turning 50.

As I thought about how I might celebrate sans the big party, I recalled my father taking me to see Mary Poppins the night my sister was born, and how Mrs. Banks’ effusive rendition of “Sister Suffragettes” planted a seed in the mind of an almost four year-old girl.  From that seed grew a passionate voice for women and equality.  And so today, on my 50th birthday, I stand strong with Planned Parenthood.

Yet the question remains: how to celebrate?  My birthday wish is that you’ll join me in celebrating the voices who are working to keep all people safe, healthy and strong with a gift to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, whether it’s $5 or $50.  Barbara has raised over $2,000 during her birthday celebration – what might our voices do together?

Here’s to celebrating a half-century, and the power of our collective voices!