The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act taking place this week at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, reminds me of my own somewhat distant history with President Johnson, my first big professional break, and of the excitement that comes with having your whole life ahead of you and thinking anything is possible.
While visiting my parents, a friend who worked as a copywriter at ABC News in New York told me that the network needed to staff up for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. He knew I wanted to be a journalist but he also knew how old I was so I’m sure he was teasing me. Without telling anyone, a few days later I got on a bus and showed up at ABC’s employment office in New York…they didn’t have “HR Dept’s” yet.
I told just a teensy tiny little white lie to get hired…that I was about to graduate from college with a degree in journalism. Actually I was still a teenager. Before the internet it was much easier to get away with that kind of thing. I dropped the name of my parent’s friend, saying he had referred me for a position, again, no one checked, and I was hired right on the spot. The job description was a little vague, something about “assisting as needed”, but nothing could have mattered less…I floated home.
My parents were more supportive than I expected. Of course, I was once again stretching the truth a bit, like how all the girls who were hired to assist at the convention would sleep in a dormitory and be chaperoned.
I had my first professional head shot taken and off to AC I went in my father’s “quarry car” a beat up Plymouth with big fins. I found a room for $20 a day at a boarding house near the convention center. I was so naïve that it never occurred to me I could be in any kind of danger or that anyone might be dishonest. The first night I got in from work, all my jewelry had been stolen from the room.
Even that reality check could not take the glow off what turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I’ve never worked harder, had less sleep, or felt more exhilarated. We were making a difference; keeping the American public informed. Everyone, even rival networks, had a spirit of camaraderie. The ABC anchor booth was near NBC, and one day, when nothing was happening on the floor, the famous Chet Huntley of Huntley and Brinkley, invited me in for a cup of coffee. They seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing, how I felt about being there, and what kind of career path I was planning. Not sure a leading network anchor would do that today…
It was my first taste of power and success. I’ve never forgotten it. When Johnson walked in to the Hall, his presence changed the air…it was thicker, heavier, carried more weight. So as we honor Lyndon Baines Johnson and his momentous accomplishment for this country, I’m also enjoying honoring the adventurous spirit of a young woman I used to know.
Every conceivable event, product, food, seems to have its own day or month: March alone runs the gamut from ridiculous to serious, from National Ear Muff Day to International Women’s Month. Although it was chilly enough for the former, it was in honor of the latter that I, along with friend and colleague, Attorney Eleanor Breslin of Easton, traveled to New York to attend the United Nation’s Conference on the Status of Women.
Eleanor and I share a desire to have a positive impact on the struggles of women in the developing world, especially in post-conflict countries where war and violence have resulted in many women being subjected to brutality beyond the imagining of most westerners. Eleanor has traveled to Africa to work with victims of mass rape and I have been to Afghanistan as both an advocate and writer. We have found outlets for our passion on this side of the ocean through two NGO’s, The Business Council for Peace, Bpeace, an organization whose focus is creating women entrepreneurs who will then create jobs, and Open A Door Foundation, OAD, who believes in global transformation through women’s higher education.
Four of OAD’s students are currently in the Lehigh Valley, three at Lehigh University and one at Lafayette College. More will be coming in the fall of 2014, including the addition of a student at Muhlenberg College. It was at the invitation of OAD that Eleanor and I boarded a bus bound for New York and the United Nations’ CSW Conference.
To call our experience “inspiring” would be an understatement. Sharing the energy of women from around the world all gathered in one place for one purpose, advocating for the welfare of their sisters, creates an atmosphere of “anything is possible”. Eleanor and I especially enjoyed two panel discussions where OAD co-founder, Barbara Bylenga, participated; “Empowering Women as Change-Agents through Global Networking” and “From Higher Education to Women’s Leadership”.
After spending time in the company of hundreds of women committed to improving conditions for women within their countries, it’s almost easy to envision a future where every woman enjoys equal protection under the law and equal opportunity in their culture. Yet, certain voices remain with me, certain faces are imprinted on my mind days after returning home, like the woman representing a united federation of women’s organizations from the Ukraine, who stood to say that the young women of her country are demanding democracy. And the woman who spoke of the Syrian university students her organization is rescuing so they can continue their education. Through the euphoria of our common purpose, they are a stark reminder of the realities that still exist.
Why should this matter to those of us whose lives are safe and secure? Because where women are repressed, uneducated, brutalized, half of that country’s potential is lost. No economy can thrive without the input of its women. The result is poverty, war, turmoil, and terrorism.
In honor of International Women’s Month, and for the good of the planet, please consider doing your part to have a positive effect on the future of women around the world. Donate; Volunteer; Mentor. One person CAN make a difference.
Mary Barra’s rise to CEO at General Motors is a win not only for women who wonder if their gender will ever see parity in America’s corporate “C” Suites, it’s also a win for STEM proponents everywhere. Mary rose through the ranks not from sales or marketing but as an engineer. One of her first public statements after her appointment was to promote the importance of girls, and boys, becoming proficient in science and math.
According to an article on CNBC online, labeling Barra a “rock star”, her mere presence at this week’s Detroit auto show caused a near media riot. While this level of attention will undoubtedly be short-lived, let’s hope her influence on how women view their chances of making it to the top, are not. And if even one smart little girl decides it’s cool to study math, science, biology, & engineering, then Mary Barra will have something, beyond her own success, to be very proud of.
When Hurricane Sandy dropped a tree on our house last October, destroying our yard and patio, an important part of the security and serenity of our world came undone. To call that event “stressful” would be an understatement, but like many negative things in life, there are lessons to be learned and even a positive outcome or two.
When Spring arrived this year, we began to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again including lots of reseeding and replanting. Just outside our kitchen door was our favorite place, a lovely, shady, patio. The steep bank that protected and provided privacy for that patio was totally rearranged when the giant tree that lived there came crashing downÂ leaving a crater reminiscent of WWII and a slash of muddy earth that had once been a lush barrier to the outside world.
The landscaper did his best, within the limitations of our budget, to restore some semblance of green, but there were lots of barren brown patches and we knew it would take at least another growing season for that “scar upon the land” to heal.
One day I noticed a plant that had seemly sprung up overnight and one we definitely didn’t plant. It looked like a squash of some sort, but in its early growth stage I couldn’t tell. I asked my husband, a prolific gardener if, for amusement, he had planted something. No, he hadn’t and why would he plant a large vegetable in the middle of our hoped for butterfly retreat. The invader grew quickly and started climbing across and up the bank for some twenty feet. Soon it was covered in what were obviously yellow squash blossoms.
The blossoms have finally revealed their bounty… beautiful dual-colored decorative gourds, just like the ones I had in a basket by the front door last October when Hurricane Sandy came calling. The circle of life and a life-lesson wrapped up in a lovely little green and gold package. It reminded me that…
Life’s storms, both emotional and meteorological, can strip away everything you’ve worked for: Someone dies; someone doesn’t love you anymore; your children move away; your job is eliminated. The peace, security, and beauty that surrounded and sustained you are gone. Allow yourself to grieve, then take a deep breath and figure out the best way to move on. Begin again, planting as you go.
And most of all, remember, sometimes unexpected surprises may take root in your life…in the midst of your lovely new garden. Don’t look at them as weeds, as uninvited intruders, instead celebrate the chance to try something entirely different than you had planned. You may end up finding an exciting new life… or with a basket full of fall gourds.
Well do you…do you believe in magic? I do, and sometimes it is what keeps me going during those times when you think you’re never going to be happy, or successful, or appreciated, again. I believe that out there, somewhere, is always the possibility that lightening will strike and offer us mere mortals one of those rare moments when all the stars align.
Such a moment happened recently to Sarah Horn. Sitting in a Hollywood Bowl audience of 15,000 at a Kristin Chenoweth concert, Sarah had no idea that her lightening strike moment was coming. Chenoweth often chooses someone from her audience to come on stage to “sing” with her. Last Friday evening Chenoweth stopped in front of Sarah, who due to a ticket mix-up was in a different seat, to ask if she knew the words to the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked.Â The result of this random audience selection is usually an endearing amateur effort followed by a quiet return to their seat.
Not this time: The video of Horn’s performance with Chenoweth has gone beyond viral with nearly two million hits. No wonder, it’s the kind of moment we all dream of having…of getting our shot. But this was so much more, Sarah Horn was ready; an unknown vocal instructor from Riverside, California, she had in her own way been preparing for this all her life. She had the goods and she delivered, knowing this would never come again. She got up on that stage in front of thousands, stood next to a Broadway star and held her own…it was magic.
Sarah Horn’s inspiring performance provides a real life-lesson for the rest of us: Never give up your dreams; always believe in magic; and most importantly, be prepared to wow ‘em when your moment comes. Oh yes, and when they make a mistake with your ticket, trust that your fairy god-mother is on duty and move post-haste to the new location.
When I was growing up, one of the most frequently uttered threats from my parents was, “You will sit right there until you eat everything on your plate. Don’t you know children are starving in China”.Â My knowledge, at the time, of starving children was limited to hearing about them over cold, soggy peas and I couldn’t find China on a map. But the American middle-class message, imparted to my generation of Baby Boomers by millions of Great Depression/WW II parents was clear: Waste not, want not; Be grateful for what you have; Remember those less fortunate, which, along with the country’s Judea-Christian values, is likely why the United States ranks as the most charitable, generous nation in the world.Â
That generous nature seems to have trickled down to the following generations with a slight twist: If I set up a charitable foundation and give to the less fortunate, I can spend as much money on myself and live as lavishly as I please. To wit… The recent wedding of, according to Vanity Fair, “social media baron”, ala Facebook and Napster, Sean Parker, to singer – songwriter Alexandra Lenas.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a free-market capitalist. If you earn it fair and square, it’s yours to spend however you like. Mitt Romney has an elevator in his garage, John Kerry and Teresa Heinz between them own five expensive houses, and David Tepper, of hedge fund fame tore down a perfectly good mansion in the Hamptons to build an obscenely bigger one with a sunken tennis court.
But in shear “I have it so therefore I spend it” fantastical audacity, the Parker-Lenas extravaganza takes the cake, the nine foot wedding cake that is.
The theme was “Lord of the Rings”medieval and the backdrop was a primordial forest that cost over $4.5 million to rent. The photographs, which appear in the September edition of Vanity Fair magazine and at VF online are simply breathtaking.Â They also stretch credulity that mere mortals could create such a scene in the middle of nowhere for the sole purpose of one night’s revelry.
As I clicked through the photographs, followed by reading the story in the magazine; I’m a long-time subscriber, I had mixed emotions about the amount of money expended for such a self-aggrandizing reason. My artist’s soul was mesmerized by the beauty and creativity, the attention to every detail resulting in the closest thing to a living fairytale most of us are likely to ever see. And then there was my practical head which in I heard my mother’s voice saying, don’t you know there are children starving… if not in China, then somewhere.
This past week has refocused my thoughts on the importance of “international relations”, how important it is for humanity to get along and live together on this planet without killing each other. Every tiny step toward that goal is reassuring even though it often feels like one step forward and two steps back.
For the past eleven years I’ve participated as a “Visiting Executive” in Lehigh University’s Global Village for Future Leaders. Each summer Global Village brings together over one hundred mostly 20 somethings from around the world for an intensive month or so of international leadership training. These are truly some of the best and brightest from nearly fifty countries. Following an afternoon of my lecturing onÂ “Modern Leadership”, their asking questions and challenging my assertions, and one-on-one interactions about their hopes and dreams, I came away, as I do every year, with the same belief…and prayer, that by the time their generation assumes the world’s leadership roles running governments and international conglomerates, they won’t want to blow each other up. I remain hopeful that such a new global attitude is possible.
One of the reasons I remain hopeful about the big picture is because in my work and travels I have witnessed many small victories taking place all the time, seen what good people can accomplish on a micro scale; how one person can indeed make a difference.
My first trip to Afghanistan occurred in 2006. I accompanied Toni Maloney, co-founder of the Business Council for Peace, (Bpeace), and a group of volunteers on a mission to assist Afghan women to become entrepreneurs. On of our goals was to help Habiba grow the first real daycare center/pre-school program in Kabul, which she was operating out of small house with a courtyard. The children had few toys and no outdoor play equipment. From the time we spent with her it was obvious that what they did have was a lot of love, patience and support from Habiba and her staff, but they needed to provide a proper facility for the children. My generous friends and colleagues contributed $4000 that went directly in to the construction of a new school building. Bepeace’s total effort raised over $30,000 so the children of Kabul could have a safe, clean daycare center.
A few days ago, I received a photo from Toni of Habiba today, watching over a new class of students. She and the daycare center are still going strong providing early education to the next generation of Afghans. I’m very proud of the role that I and so many others played in that outcome. Just as I am proud of all the young, smart, savvy Villagers who will return to their countries with a broader knowledge of their global neighbors.
Until that next generation is ready to lead, the world will most likely continue to careen between crisis and hope..from civil war in Syria, a coup in Egypt, to a new proposal of Israeli / Palestinian peace talks. What we can do in the meantime is light candles in the darkness and use them to show the way.
I wonder what Edward Snowden was willing to trade when he divulged the inside workings of the US NSA surveillance set-up. He has most certainly changed his life forever and at the age of 29, that’s saying something since he likely has much more life in front of him than behind. Believed to be hiding out in Hong Kong, a place that has already indicated they will likely extradite him if the US government requests it, he’s gone from “The world is my oyster international consultant” to one of the world’s most wanted men in the blink of an eye. Being at the center of a media feeding frenzy is almost never a good thing unless your last name is Kardashian.
The personal fate of Snowden aside, he has raised the bar on the issue of “what price” and “what will we trade”…Â Now that we know our own government is spying on us, following our communication trails, and storing that information, what price are we willing to pay to stop the bad guys and how much of our privacy and freedom are we willing to trade to do it? On your trade-off sliding scale will you tolerate the intrusion of your government in to your private, constitutionally protected rights in return for the promise from that government that will keep you safe?
As for me; I don’t live in Alaska because the beauty isn’t worth freezing nine months of the year. And as much as I think Edward Snowden should be dragged home and put on trial as a traitor, there is a part of me that is grateful to know the information that he revealed because I also don’t believe my government needs to intrude in the lives of its citizens to this extent.
By now, almost everyone who earns one has received their first paycheck of 2013. Depending on your income bracket and your budget the reality of what the expired Payroll Tax Cut means to you is starting to hit home. 2% more out of your paycheck probably didnâ€™t sound like much in the abstract when you hear it on the news, but now that the actual numbers are staring you in the face, the reality is something else entirely.
One night this week, just after dark, our doorbell rang, not a common occurrence for this empty nest. It was the young man who does handy work for us. Bob, not his real name, is sincere, hardworking, and trustworthy. He holds down a full-time blue collar job managing a small warehouse, helping his â€œmoonlightingâ€ customers at night and on weekends. Heâ€™s single, has his own apartment, and drives a beautiful extended cab truck that is his pride and joy. Weâ€™ve come to know him well enough to know heâ€™s not a party boy; he keeps a schedule and a budget.
When Bob stepped inside I could see how upset he was. Pam, he said, Iâ€™ve stopped by to see if you have any extra work for me. I got my paycheck today and the new taxes are going to cost me over $100 a month. Iâ€™m not sure what to do.
What I didnâ€™t have the heart to tell Bob is that our fist paycheck came, too, and the amount our budget will have to be adjusted is a bit more than $100 a month. We do know what we have to do: We have to cut back on discretionary spending like how much we give to charity, how often we go out to dinner, and how much we use services such as a handyman.
This story is playing out across the country at every income level. Yes, there is a segment of the population that will be much less effected than others. The $1200 a year loss that has Bob in a panic is pocket change to some, but for most of us the impact of this change in income has consequences.
The ripple effects are already a topic of conversation across the blogosphere and social media: The hash tag, #YourPaycheckIsLowerThisWeek has been one of the top trends on Twitter, and no less than liberal bastion MSNBC posted an article titled “Americans Feel Austerity’s Bite As Payroll Taxes Rise”
Iâ€™m no economist but if I read the situation in Washington correctly, better buckle your financial seatbelts because unlike Thelma & Louse, we may not have gone over the fiscal cliff, but this is just the first mile on a very bumpy road ahead.
What does the Payroll Tax Increase mean to you?
I love the start of a New Year for the nostalgia and introspection it inspires. I have a tradition on New Years Day of reflecting on where Iâ€™ve been, the people Iâ€™ve met, the experiences that mattered and the lessons learned; the cumulative effect of victories won and wisdom gained along the way that I can take with me moving forward. Each year I seem to journey to a different time and placeâ€¦
I used to have a television program on PBS 39/WLVT called â€œA View from the Valleyâ€, of which I was quite proud. It was a â€œlive to tapeâ€ show shot with no script and broadcast a day or two later with no edits. What happened in the studio was what you saw on the screen, just not in real time. I suppose if someone had used a bad word or keeled over in their chair we might have stopped the cameras but it was never necessary. I was the executive producer and on-air host. The program aired for five years and I loved every minute of it.
With more than a little help from my friends like Mike Bruckner of Muhlenberg College and James Harper from Lehigh University and other well-connected PR & communications buddies, I had the opportunity to interview the likes of erudite and charming Gennady Gerasimov, former spokesperson for Mikhail Gorbachev during the end of the Cold War; the magnetic and dynamic former Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres; and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, who was the only human being Iâ€™ve ever encountered that I thought actually had an aura around himâ€¦an other-worldly light and energy. Such renowned leaders made for great interviews that to this day hold up when I see themâ€¦and when I see me.
Beyond my little walk down memory lane, the point of this exercise is how impactful it can be to look back on ones younger self in action. Not just a one dimensional photo or an often blurred memory, but a walking talking avatar of an earlier version of you. Such a journey can be rejuvenating, or not, but either way I promise it will be enlightening, and isnâ€™t enlightenment what weâ€™re striving for.
Not all of us have taped evidence of our more youthful â€œI can conquer the worldâ€ self to propel us in to a New Year. If you donâ€™t, you can still take that journey in your mind. Call up the image of you that believed in luck and miracles and immortality; turn them loose to dance across the room and in to your dreams with wild abandon. Then tomorrow, tuck them in your pocket and venture forth in to the New Year.
Wishing you the blessings of health, happiness, and love, and the wisdom of the past, in 2013.