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The Color of Life – Meet Cara 14 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet Cara:

(In her own words)

“I was twelve years old when it hit me for the first time: there was nothing more powerful than words. Perhaps in a last-ditch effort to give her students something to do at the end of the school year, my sixth grade teacher assigned my classmates and I one last creative writing story. I don’t recall it centering on a particular theme, nor do I remember what the story was actually about – but I do remember poring over the handwritten words on the page. I remember the hard won eraser marks on my college-ruled notebook paper, how I wanted and needed and demanded to tell the tale in a particular way.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

When I didn’t get my prized story back on the last day of school, I returned to Mrs. Johnson’s classroom a couple of days later and listened as she apologized for throwing my paper away in the recycle bin. I walked home, tears brimming in my eyes, devastated that my most important words lay jumbled in the bottom of a garbage receptacle. Even though the memory is fuzzy at best, it’s still something my mind chose to remember all these years later, its scene a telltale sign of my eventual future.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

Now, nearly thirty years later, when someone asks me what I do for a living, the word “writer” falls off my tongue, almost effortlessly. But this identifier didn’t happen overnight: after college, I taught high school English and leadership. A handful of years later, I remained deep in the trenches as the director of a non-profit youth organization. Even though I didn’t call myself a writer, the act of writing still gave me life. I blogged. I wrote sermons and speeches. I guided others in the art of writing. I dreamed of writing a book someday, although I wondered how it would ever happen. 

But then, becoming a writer really, actually happened. Almost six years ago, I quit the traditional work force to care for my oldest son and pursue a dormant dream of writing and speaking full-time. Although I doubted my abilities, a thousand times over, and received rejections, ten thousand times over, something deep inside kept telling me to press on, to keep putting one foot (or one tapping, typing finger) in front of the other and do the hard work.

Now, I write for various print and online publications; I guide others to stop and pause and read between the lines, quite literally; I pore over my own words, writing and rewriting because it’s what you do when you call yourself a writer. And in less than two months, my first book, The Color of Life, which is a memoir about my journey as a white woman into issues of race and justice, will publish.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

I’ve not arrived – not by any stretch of the imagination, because I doubt any of us actually arrive – but I have reclaimed old stories lodged in the recycle bin, as I’ve begged to get the story just right.”

Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her first book, The Color of Life, a memoir about her journey into issues of race and justice, releases in early February. She blogs regularly on Patheos, and you can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Om is where your heart is… Meet Alessandra 13 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet Alessandra:

(In her own words)

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

People tell me at work that when they see me they remember to pause and take a breath.  They take a moment to get out of their head, their worries, their anxiety.  Others ask me how I can keep a sense of calm and focus when the pressure is on.  I tell them I practice mindful meditation.  For 15 minutes every morning I sit by the same window and practice being still, in my body, in the present moment by paying attention to my breath.  Studies indicate that mindfulness may enhance emotional and physical resilience, improve cognitive functioning, and increase our connection to others.  I am in my early 50’s and feeling the best I have ever felt in my life.  Feeling happier, healthier, physically stronger, and with energy to live with purpose and make a difference in the world.  A few years ago, that was not the case.  I felt burned out, got sick frequently, woke up on weekdays cursing at the world, feeling exhausted.  I was perceived as “doing well” at work, I served on non-profit board to make a difference, I kept an active social life because I loved arts and culture and enjoyed it with friends.  I felt life was on track, and I believed burnout was just part of the journey.  Who has time to sleep?  In October 2014, I had my wake up call. I ended up in the emergency room due to non-stop heart palpitations.  When asked: are you under a lot of stress?  I answered: “no more than usual.”  So why would my body act differently?  I learned that stress builds up.  After being monitored for a month, the cardiologist concluded that what I felt was real, and not yet life threatening. The cause of my condition was stress and sleep deprivation.  I should manage both to avoid the symptoms.  I did not know how.  He told me that if the symptoms bothered me, I could choose to take medication or try meditation.  The second option surprised me!  I had been curious about meditation, and knew of a program called  21 day meditation integration”.  I choose meditation.  I downloaded the program the very next day and got started.  The program had great tips everyday, including where to do it, when, and how, and it led us from a 5-minute meditation to 20 minutes over 21 days.  After three weeks, I finished the program and continued cycling through the guided meditations.  I stuck with a morning practice following the tip RPM (rise, pee and meditate).  I was working hard on not being so sleep deprived during the week ensuring I got at least 6 hours.  My husband could not believe it!  “What have you done with Alessandra?  You are waking up earlier to do nothing?” he asked.  After 2 months the daily heart palpitations stopped!  I had lived with them for 5 months!  After a few more months I noticed other benefits: improved focus, improved awareness of the needs of my body (made a priority to eat, to sleep, to exercise), improved response to pressures including the ability to have a few microseconds more to respond versus react.  I was no longer driving home from work completely lost in thought on rumination and to do lists, I was no longer forgetting to pick up my husband on the way home when we carpooled.  I had lived so much of my life in my head.  I have missed so much because of worrying, being unable to shut up the nasty roommate in my head, and waking up to 3 a.m. meetings with myself to review the endless list of things I had yet to do.  I am now able to let go of that and do my best work because I am present.  By connecting with my breath and my body for 15 minutes every morning, I am now able to connect much more vibrantly with myself and the world.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

I have a passion for promoting mindful self-awareness as a vital aspect of being your best.  That is the mission of 3M Inspire, a Special Interest Group I am part of which began as an employee grassroots initiative at 3M, where I work.  Founded by 3 employees in 2015, the group has grown to a membership of over 1200 employees around the world.  I have had a personal mindful meditation practice for 4 years and I am interested in the science of mindfulness and its benefits.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

Resources: Book 10% Happier by Dan Harris Thrive by Arianna Huffington.  Other meditation apps I used: Headspace and Insight Timer. Article: 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness and Meditation

Photographed at the MCA art installation by Ernesto Neto (Brazilian, b. 1964) Water Falls from My Breast to the Sky

My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)”… Meet MJ 12 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet MJ: (@mjtam)

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©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

In her own words…

It was 1999 when I first stumbled writing online. I was in the fashion industry at that time, and I was extensively traveling for work so during my flights and hotel stays, I started documenting my daily experiences on an online journal. I anonymously blogged my life as the new mom-to-be. I instantly connected and found a community of blogging women and next thing I knew; I became a big part of the first collaborative blogging network in the nation. My blogging hobby became a career, and since then I worked hard on keeping progressive and always at the forefront of the new media. Social Media became my business. I hosted branded Social Media campaigns, organized high-profile influencer events, and even created a blogging conference that ran for a few years. But behind all that, I continued to blog and tackled topics that meant to me the most: family and parenting.

Part of writing about parenting, I often look to discover places to go and experience with my kids in Chicago. Bringing them up in a big metropolitan city was vital to me as a parent of color. Chicago provided the many cultures that I wanted to surround my family. Chicago is a city of immigrants, rich in diversity, and a perfect place for me to raise my children. I ran around with them exploring neighborhoods from up North by Rogers Park to get some Indian groceries, Vietnamese food by Edgewater,  Ethiopian food by Uptown, and of course, there’s Greektown, Little Italy, and Chinatown by me. I am passionate about this city and coined myself a Chicagonista.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

A Chicagonista is someone who lives, loves and breathes everything Chicago, and with that, in 2008, I launched chicagonista.com (link), so I can share the vast richness of culture that this city offers. At Chicagonista.com I am joined together with talented and dynamic collaborators from diverse Chicago neighborhoods and backgrounds who share their voices en masse to help unearth some city gems that some may have never heard of like the Filipino Kamayan Feast (link) or about the new Taiwan-inspired Bakery (link)  that just opened. Chicagonista.com also goes beyond Chicago. The site has covered travels from around the U.S. and as far as India (link) , Beijing (link), Malaysia (link), Japan (link), and many more!

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©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

In 2010 I also created and built the first Social Talk Show of Chicago called The #ChicagonistaLIVE Show . It was a Chicagonista.com come to life interactive show via live-streaming that garnered about 18million Twitter impressions during a one-hour show. I am proud to see that so many followed that path and now that everyone has easy access to doing live online shows, and as technology progress, I have to make sure that I keep up and stay ahead. So it’s that time again to respin, reinvent, or maybe morph the show into something different. Let’s just say; I’m not done yet!

Besides blogging, I also actively post and engage on Twitter  and Instagram . There I often use tags #CapturingChicago, #Chicagonista, and #ChicagonistaLife to share a glimpse of my everyday Chicago life.”

Ready for the adventure that is life: Meet Tabitha 11 of 52 Phenomenal Women

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”

― Oprah Winfrey

Meet Tabitha:

In her own words

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

“I’d always dreamed of two kids and that white picket fenced home. Little did I know what life would bring me in just my 35 years on this earth. A new kind of dream, and a little more than just two kids.

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Supplied by Tabitha Blue

“It’ll be an adventure,” I promised. It was a move that transformed the shape of our home, literally.

Just a month after the birth of my fourth, we moved into our downtown loft. It was a space that we’d converted for our studio… a space where we could shoot and film recipes I’d create with the brands I was working with. It was a place to host workshops and events… and now? It was becoming a space my family of SIX would live until we found our home.

In a turn of events the home we put an offer on fell through and we were so grateful we had a place to go.

The small storage room in the back became a shared kid’s room and the loft upstairs held a crib next to our bed for the master bedroom.

Something that year taught me, as we huddled as a big family in our small studio loft, is that home truly is what you make it… and dreams? They take on a completely different significance when you look through that lens.

That year, we grew so much closer as a family. It became the base for a big film and magazine project we did with Folgers and brought us so many new opportunities.

Isn’t it a bit like life as well? We don’t always know the twists and turns that will come our way, but even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.

What began with saying “YES” to the opportunity of downtown living with my family, taught me how to say “YES” to more… like being invited to the White House, cruising with Oprah and creating our own business (with more launching soon, shhh!).

Through it all, we’ve learned that we can live in just about any landscape, and sometimes what may seem the most terrifying can actually deliver some of the most beautiful moments. Those things that may be intimidating can be just the things that catapult us into our dreams… sometimes the ones we didn’t even know we had.”

Check out Tabitha’s blog,  youtube , and instagram.

A Life Filled With Travel : Meet Annita 10 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet Annita: in her own words

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

“Becoming a world traveler wasn’t on my radar as a young girl. I  wanted to be a businesswoman who would take the world by storm or at least my hometown. However, as fate would have it travel entered my life via WWII stories my father shared and I lingered to hear every detail of his travels through North Africa and Europe as a soldier. I imagined walking the same cobbled stone streets, sipping coffee in French Cafes tucked away along narrow streets and late night chats with new friends over Spanish tapas and Sangria. 

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Supplied by Annita Thomas

I applied with Pan American World Airways and started my journey to explore cultures, see far away lands and meet new friends around the world.  Exploring cultures became the highlight of my travels.  I was intrigued to see we lived our lives differently around the world.  On my first Pan Am flight to Japan, during a Soba Noodles meal service (Japanese noodles made of buckwheat), I  heard passengers slurping their noodles.  I was shocked because my mother always instructed that I not slurp my noodles, but cut them neatly enough to fit on my fork along with the spaghetti sauce. I later discovered this too was not the way to eat noodles in Italy.  I was amazed to learn that while my mother in South Georgia taught me “do not slurp, but cut,” another mother in Japan was teaching her little girl “slurp to show how delicious the noodles are.”  And, in Italy, little girls were learning to twirl their noodles with a fork & spoon.  My first lesson in cross-cultural communication helped me learn we love the same things around the world, although we express it in different ways.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

After traveling to over 100 countries, people often ask where is my favorite destination and that’s not an easy question for me. I am still intrigued by the cultural differences of the people, places, and foods I experience.  I love exploring them all.  Instead of expressing a preference for one destination over another, I want to inspire others to get up from the sofa, put down the city/country brochures and travel the world.  Through my radio show I seek to encourage listeners to have the one-on-one experiences of places right down the street, across town or around the world; explore this beautiful world we call home, and you will find there are more similarities than differences between people around the globe and most differences don’t really make that much difference.  Go explore – the world is waiting!”

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

Visit my website and social media to explore the world with me: 

Blog and Instagram and Twitter

-Annita

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