Find your voice…and use it!

Chicago Ideas Week’s 2017 “Finding Your Voice with VOXX and Queens Brunch” lab was geared toward women, but men can use these techniques too, because we all need to find our voice and speak up. To not do so is stifling.

Every women has a voice, but women aren’t always encouraged to use their voices (and are sometimes even discouraged from speaking), so not all women are used to sharing their voices. And it’s hard to use your voice if you don’t even know your voice. This workshop and what I will share with you here will assist you in finding and utilizing your voice. Once you do, things should start to look up in your life.

The workshop started out when we were asked to do a couple of small exercises. The first, although so quick and simple, felt extremely liberating: We wrote down on a piece of paper something we wanted to expel. Then we crumpled it up and threw it away. Next, we were asked to stand up and shake various body parts to loosen up, something we should do any time we feel tight/stressed. That of course felt good too.

The organizations VOXX and Queens Brunch were described and a bit about each group’s founders (Lisa Sorich and Rosetta Lane of VOXX and Shayna Atkins of Queens Brunch).  VOXX is about bringing women together to give them the chance to share their voices. Queens Brunch is an organization that brings women together to find their voices over brunch. A practice at VOXX is two women sitting on a couch sharing what they have learned.


Kari McGrath and Torri Shaaron were invited to come up to the stage and make themselves comfortable on the couch. What followed was a conversation between them that was very frank and open, thought-provoking, inspirationally stimulating and potentially life-altering to those in the audience who needed to hear these women’s stories so we too could find our voices.

McGrath said she had been feeling “like a bird in a cage” who couldn’t find her song. She described this feeling as energy-draining, especially as she was the type of person who really invested herself and “gave 110 percent.” When she was let go from her job, it felt like she was set free out of the cage. She described this as a beautiful shift. Subsequently she got into coaching and built a business helping others to “show up.“

Tidbits of McGrath’s wise advice:
We each have a story. Write your story the way you want it to be.
Follow other story tellers because it’s helpful to learn that somebody else has a similar story.
We have several characters living within us. For instance, there can be chatter in our heads that tries to discourage us, makes us doubting whether we are good enough, whether we should even try to do something amazing. Ignore all that; hear a different voice!
Get rid of preconceived notions; let go of what you think it should be like. Throw all that away. One concept to throw away, for instance, is that of “perfect timing.” Don’t wait for that!
When what you are doing comes from your passion, it makes sense and it all falls into place.

Shaaron quit her job in engineering, and although still not employed, she now has her voice. She believes in disruption: Speaking up and challenging the norm, throwing away the rule book. When she does re-enter the workforce, she knows she “wants to work only with nice people.”

Some of Shaaron’s words of wisdom:
Sometimes you don’t know what “there” looks like much less how to get from here to there…but you know you have got to get there. Her motto is “Just start.”
Sometimes you voice is challenged and you have to stretch our of your comfort zone. The biggest challenge can be you own self-doubt. We all want to be liked and respected. Sometimes you need to stand up and speak out.
Important values: Respectful honesty, being kind, staying true to the mission.

Kari mentioned that our center is where our voice lives. So she had us get quite, comfortable  and close our eyes while she led us on three visualization journeys. Readers, try these feel-good confidence-boosters yourself:

  1. Think back to when you were at your best, the top of your game, confident, you were in the right place at the right time and things were going your way. How did that feel?
  2. If you had your own billboard, what would it say?
  3. Imagine yourself about to go on stage to make a presentation and a voice addresses you by name and says, “In the next few moments, when you get on stage, you will make an impact that affects everyone in the audience for the rest of their lives” What would you want that impact to be?

Next, we were given brief questionnaires to fill out. Readers, fill in the blanks for a better understanding of when your voice gets locked and how to unlock it:

  • When I am passionate, I sound like:
  • My voice gets small when:
  • What I want to say more of, more often is:
  • My voice is unlocked when:


After another similar fill-in-the-blanks exercise, a request was made that two folks from the audience volunteer to go to the couch and talk about how these exercises helped them. Here are some of the highlights of two one-on-one couch conversations that followed:

A strongly patriarchal upbringing can lead to an ongoing fear of authority.
Many of us have lost jobs; this led to the discovery that often it takes losing a job in order to find our voice. This is not unusual.
You can say you were “fired” or “let go.” The second way of looking at it is obviously more positive and, in fact, freeing.
We are all making it up as we go. So it’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I have to think about it.” And also to call on others for help or advice.
First things first: You have to “be there.” Being more present to one’s own heart, soul, gut will enable you to know exactly how you feel about a situation before you speak.
No matter what you’re going through, “You’re going to get through it.” Keep going.
Let your light shine — but also let the light in!

Atkins of Queens Brunch wrapped up by imparting some gems of wisdom:
When people network, most people seek to network up. But what is often overlooked: It’s very important to network across as well.
She feels most fervent when she knows she has a tribe at the end of her journey. Women, find your tribe or collect a tribe around you.
“You can start over. You can do anything!”


If statues could talk – Yo, they can!

When you are in Chicago and you come upon a monument, don’t you wish you could know more about the person being represented other than the brief explanation, if any, on the plaque? I’ve often wished I had the inside scoop on what their lives were all about. And there are also non-monument statues sprinkled all over Chicago, too, which I’ve often wondered about: Who was the artist and what was his or her life about? Whom were they depicting when they created the statue – is there some message inherent in the statue or was it simply commissioned for decoration?

Statue Stories Chicago now provides answers on many of our monuments and statues! And this is why I had a keen interest in attending the Chicago Ideas Week lab “Bring History to Life with Statue Stories.” Fortunately, this happened last week while the weather was still very pleasant, since part of this lab involved a walk to a nearby work of art (which happened to be the Cloud Gate a/k/a “the bean” in Millennium Park) for a listen.

Julia Bachrach introduced herself as a historian, preservationist and author who has written several books for the Chicago Park District for whom she is the historian and planning supervisor. She mentioned that for anyone who is interested, there is an archive of about 70,000 statues available at the Harold Washington Chicago Public Library.

Statue Stories took about four years to put into play and has been in place for three years, with more statue recordings coming; some of them are contests one can enter, even children – not just for statues, but for some of the dinosaurs and cows on display. Bachrach gave us a history of how Statue Stories came about and how it works. It’s very easy. You need a smart phone with the swipe (a/k/a scan) app on your phone. When you find a participating monument or statue (see Who’s Talking Where for an online index), you look for the tag code. Shortly after you swipe, your phone will ring. It will be the statue calling you to tell you about him/herself! There’s no charge for this, other than what you would normally be charged by your provider for a call.

Local writers, actors and celebrities wrote and recorded the statue monologues. One original requirement for a qualifying monument is that it have a face. But after it was discovered there’s a dearth of women’s monuments, some exceptions were made so there could be more female statues in the project. Some statues, like Bob Newhart at the tip of Navy Pier, are in popular locations and tell their stories often. Others are more far-flung.

Bachrach herself wrote the monologue for the Alexander von Humboldt monument in Humboldt Park to be recited not by von Humboldt himself, but by the lizard toward the base of the statue. She did this to represent his worldwide travels, and then it was recorded by Colombian-American actress Sandra Delgado; Bachrach felt the casting was perfect and that Delgado had done her monologue justice.

After Bachrach introduced Statue Stores, we watched a “Chicago at Play” video which started out, “One day, 30 statues came alive and started speaking.” Because of my love of Chicago and the monuments and statues I’ve happened upon over the years, I found this moving: Finally we could learn about these statues! As Chicago has one of the world’s most important collections of public art, this project gives even more of a sense of pride in Chicago, its history and the fascinating personalities who have been a part of that history.

After we all took a jaunt over to Cloud Gate and back, we got to create our own Cloud Gate compositions. Lead by MT Cozzola in coming up with our own monologues, Quraysh Ali Lansana in creating poems and social media guru Jessie Jury who taught us how to share effectively online,  it was another wonderful Chicago Ideas Week lab that was full of learning, first-hand experiences and creating,

As class wound down, we were asked if anyone wanted to read their piece aloud. One of the exercises was to write what the Cloud Gate might say if it recorded a voice mail message. Somehow I found my hand in the air volunteering to read mine: “Hi. This is Cloud Gate. I am always here, so come on by. I will welcome you in any season at any time of day or night. Let’s be friends.” Why did I add “Let’s be friends”? Because, Cloud Gate’s monologue sounds open and friendly — but you’ll just have to go and listen for yourself.


Make a difference: Raise your voice

The Chicago Ideas Week topic was “Journalism + You = Power,” a timely topic  in the current media environment where the term “fake news” is used a lot, yet this Chicago Ideas Week presentation went far beyond that trend, to where each individual can make a difference. In attendance were mostly writers and those in marketing and public relations, although this class would have been valuable to anyone who wonders what news they can believe anymore and what, if anything, they can do about it.

Although this Chicago Ideas Week lab was interactive, we soaked up much knowledge, wisdom and inspiration by listening attentively to our class instructor, Public Narrative’s president. I’ll admit when I volunteered for this writing assignment, I didn’t realize how deeply compelling the presentation would be.


Storytelling – News – Journalism
Storytelling: It’s a form of communication; we all do it. We tell stories for a reason; when a story is told, there’s an intent on the part of the storyteller. Journalists are the storytellers who tell the news. Journalists are accountable to very high standards, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and rightly so. Citizens have a right to news that is reported with the purest motives: To inform accurately.

A lot of what we read and hear now, although passed off as news on “news channels” and “news programs” is not really news. It’s often overlaid with the opinions and highly-charged emotions of the reporters. The expression “fake news” has been used a lot lately, yet it was pointed out the term doesn’t make sense and in fact is an oxymoron. In any case, it’s undesirable when the border between news and op-ed are blurred by those who report the news. It’s especially injurious when public alarm is caused — and we seem to be in a continuous state of this lately.

There are several different types of news. Basically, news is meant to tell something that happened, but it can also be informational, announcing something that is happening or is going to happen. How-to news is also informational.

An example of everyday observational was shown: A story of something that had happened, posted to Facebook, backed up by pictures and a video. Someone commented on the post explaining what had specifically happened on the train that caused the delay. The author of the story thanked her commenter and asked who she was and also looked her up on the internet. Turns out she was a spokesperson for the CTA, a trustworthy source. Now everyone who read this post knew what happened and why. That was news.

Credible Journalism
There are a few different types of news, and there’s non-news: Propaganda, opinion, advertising, entertainment (some of it true) and public relations – trying to pass themselves off as news. This includes infomercials that sometimes even look as if they’re on a legitimate news site, but most people now-a-days can spot marketing ploys that come disguised as news.

So how does one know if something they read or hear is actual news and not one of the above-mentioned foolers?  The first thing to ascertain is: What is the intent? Is it to inform, entertain, persuade? Beware of biases. Look at who the sponsors of the program are and who advertises on their show or site.

Also good to note is the news source. “News organizations that are more transparent are generally more credible.” In early times, newspapers were very slanted, depending on who owned them and their beliefs. It used to be that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times were strictly conservative or liberal as were the dedicated readers of each. Now, not so much anymore. But even newspapers tend to have some native advertising, so stay aware. After all, news is a business; it takes money to produce the news, and in order to stay afloat, ads are part of the business that make that possible.

On social media, countless stories are passed along continuously, often as a knee-jerk reaction. Before you pass something along, consider your own credibility: Make sure what you’re sharing is true. First, do your research. While you read a piece, after perhaps a couple of introductory paragraphs, you should start seeing attribution, which denotes true news. Attribution can be in the form of sources cited (actual names and titles), context (this year’s budget versus last year’s), verifiable quotes and links that lead to respectable internet sites that can back up what is being said.

Don’t simply believe everything you read. Be a fact checker, do a little digging; reading the news isn’t a passive activity but a participatory one. Why is this important? So you get real news, so you share only what is true. By doing so, you are being a good citizen. Everybody needs to be able to rely on the news, which should be comprised solely of legitimate facts.

Good citizenship and the news
As citizens of this country and consumers of the news, we have a right and a responsibility, per the First Amendment to keep news honest. It was put forth that “We are the checks-and-balances of the news. We depend on the media to be our guardian; we in turn need to be guardians of the media. The democracy depends on us. The news organizations uphold democracy.” Does one individual have any power in this regard? Yes! How?

To Do:

  • Know who is reputable, someone without their own agenda whom you can believe. Our class instructor curated her own list of seven to eight people who are in the know and checks them first thing each morning. Some of these are, as she put it, “people on the ground” who sometimes report something before it even breaks in the regular news…Wouldn’t it be great to have your own list like this? Then you would be intelligently informed as to what’s really going on, minus any reporter’s slant or bias, minus fear-mongers. You can do this: Scout around for trust-worthy journalists. Now you know how. You can (and should) be in the know.
  • Next, if you are not subscribed to any news source, find a good one and buy a paid subscription. Many seem to be under the impression the news should be free, especially in this information era. When you become a paying subscriber, you are helping uphold the First Amendment. Still, the news service is a business and it needs funds to produce the news. Just as you would expect to pay your bill at the dentist, paying for news is no different. By subscribing, you can reward the hard work countless people in the media are doing for you.
  • When is the last time you interacted with a news outlet or journalist? Perhaps you don’t realize: You have more power than you think! News providers are beholden to us to get it right. Communicate with them, be it a strong disagreement with what you’ve read or if you feel they’ve done a particularly good job presenting coverage on a story. Our class instructor assured us that editors and journalists read their mail; they want to get it right; that is their duty. Your communication with them doesn’t have to be lengthy. A simple “Thank you for taking the time to write this” can be compliment enough to keep good news coming. The more you communicate with the media, they will start to recognize your name and the more influential you will become. We live in a democracy; let’s raise our voices…so we can ultimately live in a more ideal world.


Can’t bring yourself to meditate? Mini-meditate!


Author’s Note: I originally published the following article in 2015.


Chicago Ideas Week presented what everybody needs — especially anyone who exists in a noisy environment: A class on how to meditate amidst distractions. It was held outdoors so participants could truly practice this concept. The class was billed thusly: “…learn how to use your surroundings – even the bustling Michigan Ave. – to become grounded and meditative.” And that is exactly what we did – even more so than expected, actually, because it was surprisingly chilly with a cruel wind that just wouldn’t stop. Talk about learning how to meditate in challenging conditions!

For those of us who dwell in the city, the distractions of traffic and people passing by are so common anyhow, we barely notice them. But sitting in an open plaza exposed to a wind that rumbled between the buildings with the sound of rolling thunder, trying to keep our hoods from blowing off and our noses from running — now that was distracting.

But part of a meditative philosophy is to accept what is – embrace it even – and not just cope but make the best of it. And so if we could meditate and do our minds and bodies some good in this setting, we could probably succeed at this just about anywhere.

Our meditative lecture and exercises were led by Jacquelyn Brennan and Kelly Moore of MindFuel Wellness, a company that organizations hire to come in and counsel their employees on all things wellness. We managed to do three meditative sessions throughout the event: A two-minute meditation for openers, a five-minute mid-class meditation and ended with a full ten-minute meditation.

We also did some light stretching; it felt good to move around a bit and get the blood circulating in hopes of generating some body heat. We learned about breathing, anatomy and posture and how these interrelate to meditation and affect our well-being in day-to-day living. Despite the cold weather, concentrating on one’s breathing took us inside our bodies, where it was warm; and as long as we continued to focus inward, this was ideal.

Kelly opened with mention of just a few of the benefits of meditation: A decreases stress and high blood pressure as well as mental clarity, good immunity and whole-self well-being. Jacquelyn introduced the concept that breathing properly is key, not just while meditating but in our lives at every moment. Today’s civilization creates a fast-paced lifestyle and we tend to react to this with shallow and sometimes even rapid breathing. Breathing like this is not good for the body or ones hope for peace of mind. An interesting bit of trivia was mentioned: Navy Seals snipers slow down their breath for accuracy.

We may be cutting down on our capacity to breathe properly by 30 percent with poor posture. Ideally, we need 60 to 70 percent of our lung capacity to breathe deeply and all the way down to our core. Slouching can reduce your lunch capacity by 30 to 40 percent. When it comes to posture, how is your forward head position, also known as FHP? For every inch your head is forward, you add 10 extra pounds of stress on your neck joint and back and this stress spreads out to impact the whole body. Mind your posture!

Here are some tips to meditate well: Focus on breath so your mind won’t wander. Find a yoga pose you like and sit comfortably. Yoga poses are actually designed for comfortable sitting. You can create meditation at any point during your day. Try to put yourself in a position where you won’t be disturbed – but don’t make the lack of a quiet place an excuse not to meditate. Even five minutes of deep breathing, really concentrating solely on your breath as much as possible, is a form of meditation. Heck even a one-minute meditation can be helpful. And there are several ways to meditate. Do what works for you.

Now you know a bit more about meditation and that it is important and distinctly possible to incorporate at least mini-meditation – anytime and anywhere – into your life – you have no excuse: Just do it – every day!

And I highly recommend being present at Chicago Ideas Week, which happens every autumn, to enhance your life immeasurably.


Better nutrition now can make you and your future generations healthier


Author’s Note: Below is a reprint of the article I did for Chicago Ideas in 2015.


Among its many features, Chicago Ideas Week presented “Food as Medicine,” a panel discussion moderated by Monica Eng, producer at WBEZ and featuring Geeta Maker-Clark, M.D., clinical assistant professor & coordinator of Integrated Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine; Rebecca Katz, chef, author of several cookbooks and founder of the Healing Kitchens Institute and Michel Nischan, chef and founder & CEO of Wholesome Wave.

Author’s disclaimers:

  • Almost nothing in the article is verbatim, but rather, paraphrased per the author’s take on what was said.
  • Whereas each panelist responded to all the questions, what stood out most to the author is what was included in this article, although each participant contributed loads of fascinating nutritional information.
  • Ideas put forth in this article are not necessarily presented in the order in which they were discussed but were organized for cohesiveness.

Eng opened with a heavy statement: The #1 cause of death is the quality [or lack thereof] of ones diet.

Maker-Clark confirmed that food is a most powerful drug. We take it every day, several times a day. She added that a healthful diet can improve or even prevent any chronic disease.

There’s a science called nutrigenomics: Food alters the way our genes are expressed. We are born with a genetic map. Stress, toxins and food affect this. We don’t have much control over the toxins in the environment; we can learn to cope with stress, but it’s a constant part of life. Food is the variable over which we have the most control. You can change your gene expression by the way you eat and live your life.

Know yourself: What are you most prone to? How can you eat in a way to optimize who you are? She recommends if you want a doctor to help with this, turn to one who practices functional medicine or integrative medicine. Eng cited this is also known as “Oriental medicine.”

We all have a genetic predisposition toward certain diseases or ailments. Food can act like a switch that either flips on the DNA in our bodies that triggers those diseases or stops us from ever getting those diseases. If you don’t get a disease to which you are genetically vulnerable, you start to create a different gene pool for future generations in your family so that they will no longer vulnerable to those diseases anymore.

3Eng asked: How is it that we have medical schools that don’t teach nutrition?

Maker-Clark revealed that, having been through medical school herself, although doctors are taught very comprehensively about the human body and related topics, school curriculums only briefly touch on just the rudimentary basics of nutrition. In fact, nutrition has never really been considered part of a doctor’s business. But now, patients are asking doctors nutritional questions, and many doctors don’t know the answers and have to turn to “Dr. Google” themselves.

In the culture in which she was raised, even children grow up learning that foods can have medicinal properties. In her own practice, she started to realize at a certain point in her career that she was simply becoming a “medication manager” and wanted to share yoga, stress reduction and healthful eating. Thus, she has made it her mission to bring culinary medicine to medical schools where she teaches nutrition to a class by cooking and eating together.

Eng asked: How did we (the U.S.) get where we are today regarding food?

Nischan responded it likely started when we needed to move armies of stomachs; food technology strived for efficiency. For instance, convenience foods can travel farther better and withstand extreme conditions.

Also, modifications to foods were made with the greater good in mind: In an attempt to feed the world, there’s been a striving to make food more available and more affordable.

Hippies started the health food trend, partly as a rebellion against “the man” but also because they didn’t want any chemicals in their food. But this has gone too far with salt, sugar and other seasonings having been vilified.

The public school systems are now trying to feed children healthier diets, but they’re overcooking it and leaving out the herbs and spices that would make the food taste good. This is non-ideal, as children’s taste buds are very sensitive to bitter foods.

4Eng mentioned: “Bringing the yum.”

Katz cited she is all about “the power of yum” and for good reason: If it doesn’t taste good, you won’t eat it, simple as that. Some people see salt and sugar and fat as major bad guys to be eschewed entirely. But a pinch of sea salt, the use of olive oil and, yes, even a bit of natural sugar can make an otherwise bland and boring dish, that’s also good for you, palatable. She is also big on lemon as a flavoring and lemon zest. Herbs and spices can be used to build flavor. Food should not taste like “hippie gruel.”

Maker-Clark agreed it is key that food be fun and pleasurable. She says she has a cartoon in her office portraying someone who says, “I lost 30 pounds on the reduced joy diet.”

Eng asked what each of the panelists’ favorite recipes were. Maker-Clark said hers is roasted miso tahini cauliflower. Katz makes something she calls “the everything drizzle.” Nischan’s favorite is scrambled eggs with roasted garlic, chopped kale stems and shallots.

Eng posed: Which diet is the best, most healthful? There are so many out there right now.

The panel unanimously agreed diet is a very individual thing – there is no “one size fits all” – but one thing is for certain: Plants are where it’s at. Maker-Clark recommended lots of vegetables in all different colors. Nischan advised avoid highly processed carbs, especially high-fructose corn syrup and packets of “cheese powder” passed off as a dairy product.

One needs to listen to and be in touch with ones own body: What makes your body feel good – or not? Perhaps try the Aruvedic approach.

Audience Q: How we can overcome “food insecurity”? (This term applies to those who cannot afford healthful foods, which are often far more pricey than junk food). Maker-Clark said she feels there’s validity in frozen and canned goods, which are less expensive than fresh foods.

Audience Q: How to quit a sugar addiction? Maker-Clark answered it takes time, one step at a time. Try to replace refined sugar with a sweet vegetable — i.e., maple syrup on a sweet potato. Nischan said turn to your family, community and a support group for assistance for a sugar addiction or any type of addiction.

And that wrapped up another Chicago Ideas Week event packed with great information and inspiration for us to live better lives.