Inspiration & Motivation

INSPIRING WOMEN: Alyssa Volkmann

Alyssa Volkmann is quickly become part of my circle. I met her last year when she was in New Orleans with one of Hamline’s Catalyst spring break service learning trips. More recently, she has been helping me with some blog research and editing. I’m still getting to know Alyssa– but everything I know about her I love! We have lots in common and share some similar passions.

Alyssa is smart, bold, invested in supporting women around her, and socially conscious and critical.

Alyssa grew up in Northern Wisconsin with her mom and sister. Her parents divorced when she was young, so she spent her childhood with her mom and her big sister as her main caregivers. She has always really loved education. Despite economic obstacles, her family always told her she would go to college. Not only did she love school, but she had access to an awesome, small school that prepared her extremely well for high school where she graduated in the top 20% of my class as an honor roll student. She was very involved (a woman after my own heart!), participating in organizations like Model United Nations, German Club, National Honor Society and Student Council.

Now, Alyssa is at Hamline where she has declared a double major in Social Justice and Sociology (my fav!) and is considering a Social Justice concentration in Public Health and Youth Advocacy. She’s also involved in a plethora of organizations at Hamline on including Pride Black Student Alliance, the Hmong Student Alliance, Asian Pacific American Coalition, and is on the executive board of Spectrum - Hamline’s under-graduate LGBTQIA organization. And, naturally, she also works for the McVay Youth Partnership.

Alyssa plans to study abroad and recently got accepted into a study abroad program next spring with HECUA’s (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs) about Democracy and Social Change in Northern Ireland. She’s on track graduate in May ’17 and when she does, she will be the first person in her family to graduate from college. After graduation she plans to work for a non-profit organization that allows her to work with youth. Then she hopes to attend graduate school for sociology.

In her free time, Alyssa likes to spend time with friends, go out for pho in St. Paul (she says this is the best thing ever during long Minnesota winters), make mix CD’s, explore the Twin Cities and watch documentaries. She is a big lover of the outdoors, so she also jumps at any chance to go sightseeing and hiking.

Alyssa reminds me a bit of myself when I was in college! She seems to be involved in some similar activities and have several similar passions and inspirations. I knew I liked her when we met last year and I’ve been happy to stay in touch over social media since. Working together a bit recently has been great as she is incredibly patient with me and my overwhelming business.

I am admire Alyssa taking on a study abroad experience that aligns so well with her studies in sociology and social justice. When I learned she has studied German, I assumed she would go to Trier like I did in college but was pleased to hear about her decision to study in Northern Ireland as it will assuredly have more depth with themes of social justice and social change.  I also admire Alyssa’s bold voice. I love how she posts radical information and statuses over social media. I look forward to staying connected with Alyssa to see what exciting and world shaking things she’s working on.

I love what Alyssa shares related to her inspirations and advice below. . .

What inspires you? What do you care about deeply? 

“I care deeply about social justice and I am inspired by vulnerability, empathy and honesty. When working towards social justice, it’s extremely emotional and personal work. In order to be successful in in any capacity, it is necessary to work with people and build relationships and I admire people who are willing to be honest and vulnerable to establish interpersonal relationships with colleagues who share common goals. I believe that opening up and sharing your honest story and listening to others with empathy are necessary in working towards social justice and I am inspired by those who give so much of themselves in whatever work they do.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you? 

“My mom is one of my biggest inspirations in my life. She is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. Growing up, I feel like most kids go through the stage where they say they will never become their mom, but the longer I am away from home, the more I feel myself becoming my mother (haha). I am so thankful that she raised me to believe in myself and the value my opinions, while also letting me form my own opinions that are different than hers. Although I am growing to be like her in many aspects (smart shopping, cleaning, sarcastic and thoughtful), we are also extremely different. Luckily, we embrace that difference. After coming to college, I came out as queer and though my mother is not apart of the community, she has worked hard to understand my identity and has been extremely supportive. She puts in a lot of effort to grow with me and understand my opinions on things and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”

“Another woman who has inspired me is Audre Lorde. I love how unapologetically authentic she is. Women like her are the trailblazers that have made it possible for women to celebrate the intersections of their identities and practice solidarity among women with identities different than our own. Her wisdom is something that I seek when I need guidance or feel burnt out because she has a magical way with words that inspires me to move forward. One of my favorite quotes of hers is, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” I truly believe that our work as women will never be done until every woman in the world is free from whatever is oppressing her. This is something I carry with me in the work I do on my campus, in the classroom and in my personal life.”

If you had one piece of advice to your former self (10+ years ago), what would it be and why? 

“Stop negative self-talk NOW! à I wish that someone would have stopped me from developing this habit before it became as ingrained in my psyche as it is now. I know that I have accomplished a lot and that I am someone of value; however, there are days where my self-talk becomes very negative and once it begins to go down that path, it is extremely hard to stop the process. This habit is not beneficial to me and it uses up so much of my important, much needed energy that I could be putting into productive things. While I know that this habit is problematic, it’s extremely difficult to change it when it’s so much apart of me. I feel like it takes away a lot of my light, and I wish that someone had taught me how important it is as a child to develop the habit of positive self-talk. I can feel the difference in the energy I give off when my self-talk is positive, and that’s one of my biggest inspirations to continue changing this habit. I would like to challenge you to instill the value of positive self-talk in every person you have the opportunity to work with, especially young people, because I truly believe it could change lives.”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Jane Krentz runs the McVay Youth Partnership at Hamline University.  I worked for her all four years of college. McVay, an afterschool mentorship program, was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. As you have likely seen in several other profiles in this project, working for McVay is a common theme in many of my college friendships. And, Jane is to credit for this beautiful opportunity in my life.

Jane is civically engaged, caring, socially conscious, and dedicated to her work, students, and community.

I was (still am) the type of person who fully reads campus announcement emails in case there is an opportunity or info that might apply to me. This is how I found out about the McVay Youth Partnership. In my first semester of school, I applied or contacted Jane over email and then completely forgot about it. She (THANKFULLY) reached back out to me over email and asked if I was still interested before summer break. I started that fall. . . and the rest is history.

 When school started, I attended my first training. This was fall 2007, so I likely showed up wearing a short jean skirt over leggings, a scarf, and sunglasses (my uniform) and a lip ring.  I bonded with a fellow coworker who couldn’t whistle (Matrika), was captivated by the good-looking boy who thought I smelled good (Tony), and started talking to the folks that I would be having giggle fits with at the same training next year (Kelly and Adam). This was truly the beginning of something beautiful.

I, honestly, cannot underestimate the power of McVay in my life! I built some of the closest relationships with other folks in McVay (including my significant other)! Really and truly, college would not have been what it was and I would not be who I am were it not for McVay. I worked with passionate people who “loved the kids” and so did I! And, my conversations with students and coworkers deepened my understanding and interest in social justice issues.

I remember when I was a member of Hamline’s Wesley scholars Jane came and talked to us about her political background and some of her experience. That was the first time I learned about Jane’s depth and expertise outside of her role with McVay. Jane uses her brilliance and talents to serve others and positively impact our community and country.  

Jane, of course, is the Director of the McVay Youth Partnership - mentoring over 50 amazing Hamline students yearly, who serve as Fellows and Interns working with urban middle and high school youth in partnership with area churches.  Jane graduated from Hamline University in 1974 with a degree in Psychology and Elementary Education, and completed her M.Ed. at the University of MN in Special Education. 

She taught elementary school in the Mounds View School District, was a stay-home mom for 9 years, and served as a Minnesota State Senator for a decade (1993-2002) where she served on the Education Committee for 10 years, and was selected Chair of the Environment and Agriculture Budget Division and subsequently the Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. 

Jane is a mover and shaker – a true woman on a mission. She has had previous and current involvement in multiple groups and boards. She has served as the Regional Coordinator for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and has been active in the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Jane served as conference coordinator for “Turning the Tides”, an international conference on chemical policy and its impact on Women’s Health for the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Minneapolis in 2003-2004.  She currently serves on the board of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and is a Strategic Advisor for Conservation Minnesota.

In addition to her work at Hamline, Jane worked for 20 years for the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO), focusing on the inclusion of students with disabilities and English Language Learners in assessment and accountability.  And, she has worked at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis part-time for nearly 43 years.

Jane dearly loves her family (a son, two daughters, their spouses and a grand-daughter), as well as her McVay “family”.  She says McVay is the best job ever! (You and me both, Jane!) When she is not working, or spending time with family and friends, you can find her floating in her floating chair on Square Lake.

Jane has so many qualities I admire. She is dedicated to her student staff and the students served though McVay.  Jane is committed to hiring a diverse staff as she understands the importance of children seeing role models that look like them. She is also civically engaged and deeply committed to bettering our nation.  Additionally, I admire her extreme punctuality with letters of recommendation. Her quick turnaround time and willingness to write these is really an inspiration. (Seriously! It’s amazing and wonderful!)

Jane calls those of us who have worked for McVay her “McVay Family”. She travels around the country quite a bit and always makes every effort to see McVay alum when she’s in our cities. Unlike many folks, she does a superb job of keeping in touch with us.

Finally, Jane taught us something about programming with kids that I think is brilliant and applicable to all parts of life. When we were playing a game or doing an activity, she encouraged us to quit while it was still fun. Sometimes, you play a game till you’re sick of it and it’s not fun anymore. Her advice was to stop before you hit that point so the kids would leave on a high note and would look forward to playing it again. This is simple but really quite wise! And, I apply it to other parts of life, as well.

McVay was a major part of my growth into the woman I am today – lots of beautiful and hilarious moments sprinkled with a little heartbreak and challenge. I have Jane to thank for giving me the opportunity to be involved in this organization, supporting me while I worked for McVay, and staying in touch now that I’m an alum.

Read about Jane’s inspirations and advice below. .

What inspires you?

I am inspired by. . .
People who truly try to make a difference in this world
Positive, happy, caring people.
Generous, loving and thoughtful people.

I am particularly inspired by…
Children, youth and young adults
My own family and my “McVay” family
Persistent people who work to improve things, despite the odds.
Stewards of the land, air and water.

I am also inspired by…
The absolute beauty of a summer day, floating on my lake, listening to the loons call.
Snowy mornings sparkling with sunshine.
Art, music, and theater of many genres.

I am inspired by possibility.

Who are women in your life or throughout history who inspire you?

I am inspired by my daughters, Leah and Sarah, who are strong, smart, capable young women.  I’m incredibly proud of them and who they have grown to be.

I’m also inspired by many of my Hamline/McVay students, who have become like family to me. 

I’m particularly inspired by women in the Karen refugee community in Minnesota who have overcome so much, and remain caring, positive, generous and hard-working.

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

Surround yourself with positive people.  Don’t try to assuage the haters and those engulfed in negative energy.  Say goodbye kindly to them and move on. Life’s too short to spend time with people who suck the energy out of you. 

Enjoy some time in nature every day, or at the very least, as often as you possibly can.  Even on a cold winter night, if I come home late after working a couple of jobs, and stopping to pick up groceries- I try to stop and look at the stars, listen to the quiet of the night, watch the moonlight reflecting on the snow.  And, in summer, I can’t get enough of being outdoors. =)

Don’t judge others.  Everyone is who they are for a reason.  Cut them some slack. Give them a chance.  If they repeatedly mess up, then wish them well and say goodbye.  Life’s too short. 

Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

Love your children and family and friends with all of your heart. 

And, as cliché as it sounds, live everyday as though it were your last- and look for the good in everyone and every situation.


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Kor Zoua Pa Xiong is part of my extended circle. She is close friends with my close friend Susun, a fellow Hamline alum, and another former employee of the McVay Youth Partnership! I wanted to feature her in this project because I admire her work, fashion, and spirit! 

Koko is passionate, hardworking, full of life, strong and oh-so-stylish.

Koko is almost 26 years old and hails from the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota. She’s a true city girl. Koko loves good food, enjoys happy hour on patios and likes sunbathing on the boat with a glass of wine. (She’s a woman after my own heart!) She is an active lady playing a lot of sports - flag-football, basketball, tennis, and snowboarding. She also like the work out.  And, she requires a “zen day” once a week.

Koko graduated from Hamline University in 2011. We were in school at the same time and were part of some similar circles – most notably we both worked for the McVay Youth Partnership. (Do y’all see a trend? So many of the people I love have connections to McVay!)  

After college, she received her Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification in 2012. Koko works in law enforcement. She says she is employed by the “Blue Bloods” ;). She is truly working from within! And, talk about a system that needs more voices working within it to create positive change – especially the voices of women of color. I admire her choice in profession and am grateful for her presence there. 

Koko says “fashion is [her] thang! It’s a way to feel free and have fun and feel confident”. Um, yes, fashion is her thing.  Koko’s style is always painfully on point! She has amazing fashion sense. She is bold in her style choices and seems to pull any and everything off perfectly!

She jokes that she is the Fashion Police! ;) Maybe that’s why her sisters and friends are always looking fabulous, too. (Honestly, I don’t really get excited about a lot of non-plus size fashionistas. But Koko’s style is too perfect to overlook!) I am also kind of surprised she is not an Instagram celebrity! Fab outfits, exotic travel destinations, silly boyfriend photos, family cuteness, and the best food pics – ha ha, this is what IG celebrities are made of! 

I admire how Koko keeps a healthy distance between her work and private life. I know her hours can be long and hard but she seems to manage to make time for herself and the people she loves.  Travel is also important to her. She says trips are her escapes. I think that ties into her separation of work and private life. And, I love it! She also is dedicated to her family – another trait I admire.

Last year, Koko and several other fab Hamline ladies came down to New Orleans. It was great to see them. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with beautiful, strong women who are making positive impacts on the world in their own ways. (Linda, Sheng, Susun, you’ve obviously included in that, too!) 

Read about Koko’s inspirations below. . .

What inspires you?

To make something out of yourself.  Be about it and stand behind it.  I truly care and believe finding ones happiness is a must, whatever that may be. There are so many spaces in this world to fit in if that's what you want and there's also so many spaces that you don't fit in and that's also ok.  I am inspired by challenges.  I believe to truly see your fullest potential, you have to take on challenges.  Try something you are not comfortable with, that's going to test you mentally and physically until you fall back to homeostasis.

What woman inspires you?

The only woman who has inspired me in my life, is my mother. I know people think it's cliche but it's the truth. My mother is the strongest and most loving and forgiving person I know. A young female who was married in adolescent years, bore 9 kids, and the 1st born did not survive. Immigrated to the country of Freedom (The land of the American Dream). She did not speak the English language and after 30-plus years living here, she still doesn't speak the language fluently nor knows how to read or write. She doesn't even know how to fluently read or write in her native tongue.  Why? - because she was never given that opportunity as a female growing up. But wait - she survived, raised all 8 children to become something of themselves. Her and my father made sure they did what they could quickly get us off from welfare assistance. She taught me to love, forgive and accept. Never did she shed a tear in front of us, never complained of being tired or hungry. She kept it a secret, we only saw the beautiful smile she wore everyday.

This sums just a little as to why she inspires me everyday. She is a warrior. I tell myself everyday, I do what I do is because she shaped me to be who I am today. She's a reminder to me, that nothing in this world can ever be too hard to accomplish or to be faced with. I can only be half as good as she is.


If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?

Try/experience more! YOLO!!!

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!



LaToya Beck is part of my circle from our time working together in Hamline University’s Residential Life. As my supervisor during my last year at Hamline, our work was a big part of my college experience. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but that was an influential year for me. I was glad to have LaToya in my life at that time.

LaToya is caring, invested in our global community, strong, thoughtful and brilliant.

My final year at Hamline, I was an Assistant Area Coordinator (essentially, an assistant hall director for a two-building area).  LaToya was the Area Coordinator - my supervisor. Being an AAC was my first experience in a housing role - I was never an RA - and, my first actual semi-professional position in Student Affairs. It was a wonderful experience! LaToya, along with the other Residential Life staff including our great RAs, made it a really special year in my life.

I loved working for LaToya. We were an interesting duo! Her often no-nonsense attitude with my perkier, sometimes sugar & spice way of dealing with things seemed opposite but fit quite well together.  

Although she’s worked in higher education for seven years, LaToya wasn’t the typical Student Affairs-y type. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Student Affairs folks – but there was always so much more to LaToya. The idea that, yes, the work we are doing is valuable and important, but so are many other important things to consider.  Diversity and connection to culture was always a big part of our area - from the programs we pubbed to the multiple identities of our beautiful staff members. LaToya was also a strong advocate for international students and students with marginalized identities.

Beyond being my supervisor, I admire LaToya’s scholarly work. My undergraduate majors were German and Global Studies. Years previous, LaToya had graduated from Hamline with similar areas of concentration. She also studied at University of California Berkeley. While at Hamline, Latoya taught Anthropology courses. And, later at Carleton College, she taught Anthropology and African American Studies. As a guest speaker in some of my global studies classes, I was always impressed with how she talked about complex concepts in an approachable, conversational way.  She has my favorite combination of academic smarts and realness.

Recently, LaToya moved out of higher education and she assumed a position with the federal government working with asylum and refugee seekers. She says her work is full of challenges as she must weigh the needs of individuals seeking humanitarian assistance and protection against the interests of the country.

Every day, she listens to people tell her about the horrible things that have happened to them in their country of origins and conducts research on instances of human rights violations around the world. What she loves most about her work is being reminded of the resilience of the human spirit. People who have survived the most horrifying circumstances often come out of it okay the other side. Wow, what important work LaToya is doing!

I also love seeing LaToya’s travels and excitements through Facebook. She always does a great job of documenting her travels! Since we worked together, LaToya has been an inspiring woman in my life. Although we don’t keep in very close touch, I remember our year together at Hamline fondly.  That year was full of a lot of growth and change for me.  I certainly feel that LaToya has had an influence on who I have become– personally and professionally.

Read about LaToya’s inspirations and advice below. . .

What inspires you?

“I am inspired by art and the beauty of the human spirit that produces these great works. I am moved by music. It inspires my creative spirit and speaks to my consciousness. On a good day, music reinforces my feelings of greatness and gratitude. On a bad day, music reminds me that though there is ugliness in the world, light almost always overcomes darkness.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that have inspired you?

“I am inspired by the strength and courage of the women in my family. They are at peace with their humanity. They are sisters of the dust who have overcoming major obstacles, but have remained resilient. These sisters embrace a thought process that allows them to bounce back from obstacles. They are from where my strength comes.”

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?”

“Be fearless! During my younger days I spent so much time being afraid. As I grow wiser, I've made a promise to myself to not let fear hinder my pursuit of my aspirations. I accept and expect failure and use these misfortunes as opportunities to grow and come back better and stronger.”

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Ariana Brodsky is a close friend in my circle. We connected as exchange students in Germany in 2005-2006 and have stayed in touch since. We make great travel and discussion companions and I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Ariana is dedicated, thoughtful, intentional, smart, deep, compassionate, and fun.

In 2005, right after I graduated high school, I was an exchange student through Rotary International. Rotary youth exchange is a wonderful, well put together program. For almost a year, I lived in the Frankfurt area and remained close to the other exchange students, like Ariana, in my area of Hessen. I won’t take up space in Ariana’s piece to gush about the beauty, challenge, and adventure of my exchange experience. (Perhaps I’ll save this for another blog post.) It was one, if not the most, most influential years of my life.

Ariana and I spent time together while on exchange – visiting each other and catching up at the various Rotary functions. Our quirky personalities meshed really well - we had a lot of fun and good conversations.  Although I am still connected to many fellow students from my exchange year (mostly over social media), I have stayed in really close touch with Ariana.  

 Ariana is from Illinois. After her exchange year during high school, she went on to get a Bachelor's degree in Germanic Languages and Literatures. While in college, she spent a year in Latin America – Argentina and Mexico. While she was in Argentina, I had the opportunity to visit her! This was my first (and, well, only) time in South America. We stayed with her lovely adopted host mom, Alicia, who fed me like a queen. (Mostly because she was excited to have a fellow meat eater in her home. But, dang, those empanadas. .. . I am NOT complaining!) We celebrated Christmas in Argentina and then traveled to Chile’ for New Years.

That trip was full of so many wonderful and hilarious memories – like visiting the Argentine Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor, only to discover I had not, in fact, lodged anything in my ear, getting my beautiful back tattoo (with Ariana doing all the translating/talking with the tattoo artist), almost passing out from said tattoo experience, experiencing lemon mint chocolate chip ice cream (holy yum!), making lots of guacamole, walking in mountains, buying and eating pounds of local, low-cost fruits, and playing with Alicia’s super cute dog, Camilo.

Ariana has a love for languages and learns them at (almost) every opportunity. Her recent focus has been on Dutch, which she absolutely loves. (Dutch is always fascinating to me because, when I hear it, it sounds like someone is speaking German but exclusively with words that are not in my vocabulary. Ha ha.)

Currently, Ariana works as a freelance translator and language tutor. She has been living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID) for the last four years, which, she says, has been very hard but also very fruitful. She became a Christian somewhere between her sophomore and junior year of college, and being sick has forced her to grow in her faith like nothing else could. So, she says, she wouldn’t trade the experience. Eventually, Ariana wants to move to the Netherlands and do Christian ministry there - perhaps in the red light district.

I admire many of Ariana’s traits. I think partly because of her personality and partially due to her illness, Ariana is very slow, steady, and relaxed. Essentially – the opposite of me! She is mindful and careful in a beautiful way. Ariana is bright and has a fantastic mind. I admire her linguistic abilities. Ariana is also a strong individual. For the longest time (maybe years!), Ariana would visit the doctor and describe her symptoms, but they could not identify a diagnosis. They’d simply send her away and insinuated that she was making it up. In her own strong and steady way, she pushed back!

I align with many of Ariana’s views on life and the world. I love that, spiritually, our views may differ but we always find points where they connect. We have some great talks! Also – I love the dorky German things we do together (that most Germans would never do) – like watch the German Children’s News and listen to “Ich Kenne Nichts” on repeat!

I have visited Ariana in Champaign a few times and hope to visit again soon. I enjoy spending time with Ariana and love our catch-ups over the phone. Ariana is someone I will always have in my circle.

 Read about what and who inspire Ariana! Also, her words of advice below. . .

 What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?  

I care about people. People as individuals. I care that the people around me have their needs met. I care that the people around me feel safe enough to express their needs. I care that people feel at rest in their own identity and at peace with themselves and with God. I care about knowing people deeply and being in relationships marked by love, generosity, forgiveness, transparency and vulnerability. I'm inspired by the early church, where ‘all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts...’

I'm not sure why, but one of the pictures that inspires me the most is the bishop in the beginning of the recent Les Misérables movie. Jean Valjean, the main character, has just been released from a brutal 19 years in prison in France in the early 1800s. He stumbles around trying to find someplace he can sleep and some way to get food. Just when it looks like he's done for, a bishop takes him in and offers him food and shelter. But during the night, Jean Valjean gets up, steals all the silver from the bishop's cabinet and runs. He's caught by the police, which is basically a death sentence, or at least imprisonment for life. The police bring him back to the bishop, dump out all the silver and say, "He had the nerve to tell us you gave him this." The bishop then says, "That is right. / But my friend you left so early / Surely something slipped your mind." He gives him the two silver candlesticks left on the table and continues, "You forgot I gave these also; / Would you leave the best behind?" Every time I think about that, I am greatly moved by that picture of the apex of generosity. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." That is the kind of 'abundance of the heart’ I want to have. And I want to see more of that in the world.

What women in your life or throughout history inspire you?

Women who inspire me... a lot of different women inspire me. Mostly women I know personally. I think once you get to know someone well enough, everyone has something in them that you look at and think, "Wow, that's an incredible character trait/talent." I think I'm especially inspired by women who are wise. Women who pierce straight to the heart of matters; women who see things clearly from many different angles; women who can be simultaneously loving and impartial; women who are excellent at formulating practical solutions to problems; women who somehow always say exactly what you need to hear to be comforted or challenged or both; women who absorb wisdom from others and have a treasure trove of sage words to draw from; women who rarely get angry because they exercise such understanding towards others... there are a lot of ways that wisdom expresses itself, and they all profoundly impress and inspire me.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

One piece of advice for my former self. I think I would say, "Let it be." Like the Beatles song. I was always trying really hard to fix things, specifically in my relationships, and I think my life (and my friends' lives) would have been a lot easier if I had learned to step back and just let things be. Not that I do that perfectly now, but I'm learning. :)

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Caleigh Keith is part of my circle from our time working together at the University of New Orleans. She grew to be one of my absolute favorite coworkers as we shared lots of laughs and good talks throughout the last year. Caleigh is fun, spunky, inquisitive, expressive, supportive, and driven.

Caleigh and I started new positions at the same time – in July 2013. (She had been working at UNO previously doing her grad work.) She was a First Year Academic Advisor and I am a Student Success Counselor. Different jobs but similar area. Our friendship grew mostly through last summer’s retreat season. (Attending student retreats is a definite perk of our positions.) At one particular retreat, Caleigh and I spent an incredible amount of time journaling and discussing our dreams and plans with each other.  

Caleigh is from Roanoke, Virginia. She moved to New Orleans in 2010 to go to graduate school for acting. With an MFA in Theatrical Performance, she’s taught acting both at the University of New Orleans and at Tulane University. This past December, Caleigh moved back to Roanoke with her fiancé, P.J. - Caleigh and P.J. are getting married in October in Scotland! They are so excited. I think it’s beautiful that they’re doing an intimate, destination celebration.  

Although she isn’t currently acting, Caleigh is most certainly an actor. This is simply part of her essence and also her education and background. Right now, she is a Communications Coordinator at the Steidle Law Firm in Roanoke, Virginia.  She says she loves her new position because she is working in an urban community that rests in the middle of a heavily influenced Bible-Belt city. And, of course, Caleigh also working at a local arts venue, helping with house managing their music, dance and theatre shows.

Caleigh shares in a lot of my excitements. She sees the merit of a good side hustle (or two, or three. . . ) and is also invested in financial growth and literacy. She (and our amazing coworker friend, Nick) exposed me to podcasts and Serial was a major part of our fall! (On the day the last episode came out, Caleigh brought head phones to work to make sure I could listen over lunch because she was desperate to debrief about it!)

Caleigh is incredibly supportive of my entrepreneurial endeavors and gives me lots of positive energy and feedback – even now from Virginia. While working together, she was always happy to listen to me gush about my small victories and upcoming plans. She’s also helped me brainstorm and shared lots of helpful ideas with me. Plus, she is a major social media supporter of my Cat Inspired ventures – which I truly, truly appreciate!

This past fall was full of fun, and sometimes serious, work talks with Caleigh and Nick – two of my favorite colleagues. Caleigh and I had late nights together during her last semester at UNO (we both were staying late to make up time that we were away adjuncting during the day) and this lead to even more great chats and check-in. Now, it’s odd for me at work because both of my work bffs have moved on to bigger and better things. (Though, I will be, too, at some point ;).)

It’s only March and I can’t wait till I get to see Caleigh this June for her bachelorette beach weekend. Like, seriously, I think about it daily and simply cannot wait! Although I don’t believe it’s likely that we’ll be living or working close to each other again, I look forward to staying in close touch with Caleigh so we can see our dreams and plans unfold and provide support to each other along the way.

Read about what and who inspires Caleigh as well as her thoughts and advice below. . .

What inspires you?

“Truth and honesty! I love seeing people be themselves. I lived for about 6 years in a situation that stifled my true self.  I have found in the last four or five years that I am allowed to explore who I am, what I believe, what I love and I am allowed to display those things proudly!  I love watching other people (especially women!) enjoy themselves and their passions.  It's so inspiring!”

Who are women that inspired you?

“I've always felt a connection with Frida Kahlo.  I love that she's an artist who saw herself honestly and saw beauty differently than most.  She's unapologetically herself.  I think an artist painting a self-portrait is the epitome of self-awareness, especially if it's accurate.  Kahlo is known for her self-portraits and they are brutally honest! I love that about her.  I also connect with Kate Middleton. I know, how very basic of me.  But she's totally shaking up the British Royalty and she seems to give zero fucks what anyone thinks about her decisions.  She's a normal woman who happens now to be royalty.  That shouldn't change who she is, and she doesn't let it. That's badass.”

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

“Question EVERYTHING.  We don't have to follow the rules!  We don't have to listen to our authorities if it doesn't seem right. (Obviously follow the law, tho right?) Right now, my fundamental beliefs are very different from how I was raised. And they might change again as I get older and mature more.  It's important to being open to change and to question everything to ensure that you're living by your beliefs!  I also love conversations that allow for thought exchange. It's hard listening to thoughts that are different than your own, but I've grown so much from allowing myself to shift perspective and question things.”

Caleigh also adds:  “Culture is so important. Connecting to your own culture and exploring other cultures.  How cool is it that somehow on earth, people naturally think completely different thoughts than others? It's a cool reality to know that we were meant to be individual and unique.”

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Pamela Walker is part of my circle through our work at the University of New Orleans. I value Pam as a colleague and friend. I also admire her exciting and important academic work.  Pam is thoughtful, caring, supportive, chic and a dedicated scholar.

Pam is a graduate student studying history and is the Graduate Assistant for the Privateer Bound Bridge Program. Privateer Bound is the best part of my job. It’s a bridge program that allows students who are not admitted to UNO the ability to take community college classes on UNO’s campus in order to fulfill their developmental needs and transfer requirements within on academic year.  (Privateers are UNO’s mascot – which might be helpful in understanding the program’s name!) I started helping with the program at the perfect time and, quickly, coordinating Privateer Bound became one of my main job functions. In our second academic year, Pam and I have been wonderfully busy supporting our 75 students through orientations, meetings, programs, study hours, and lots and lots of email reminders. 

Literally, from the moment I read her resume, I knew Pam was the perfect choice for our program! Pam is clearly committed to our students succeeding and has the necessary skill set and attitude to relate them. I value my working relationship with Pam because she shares in my passion for supporting and empowering students while encouraging them to advocate for themselves.

Pam is 26 and lives in New Orleans with her puppy - a long hair Dachshund named Yoshi! She lives to: love God, love all people, pursue knowledge, and expose the voices of the voiceless from the past and present through her work as a historian. She’s currently a graduate student at the University of New Orleans and will soon be moving on to a PhD program to advance her study and scholarship in history. 

Her passion for history is just beautiful. We need more passionate and conscious scholars like Pam in our universities, libraries, and academic spaces. I’ve read some of Pam’s work and adore her focus on civil rights, social justice, and women’s forms of activism.  I cannot wait to see her work as she advances to a PhD program and then to world domination ;).  

Pam also enjoys dark chocolate, eating well, hula hooping, sunlight, and pretty journals.  She has an effortlessly funky and chic style. And, a beautiful spirit.

Throughout our year and a half together, our working relationship has evolved into friendship. Beyond discussing our students’ struggles and successes, we’re often chatting about recipes, fashion, dreams and plans. She has also seen my small business grow and is always excited for my updates – which I appreciate so much! Pam is one of my favorite people to work with and I already know it will feel odd when she graduates and moves on from UNO.  I look forward to staying connected with her as her exciting future unfolds.

Read about what and who inspires Pam, her advice and lovely quotes below. . .

What inspires you? 

“(I can be a pretty sappy person so some of these things may seem a bit gooey.) I am inspired by witnessing unexpected acts of love and kindness.  I am inspired by young people and women discovering the beauty and strength in who they have been created to be.  I love it when people who work hard get what they deserve and then some! (if that makes sense!)” [Yes!!]

Who are women that inspire you? 

“Other than my mother who is the strongest, bravest, smartest woman I know and my sister who is the funniest person on the planet, I am often inspired by women throughout history who fought (and continue to fight) tirelessly for equality, justice, and education in their communities but have been forgotten or overlooked by time.  A few women that come to mind: Fannie Lou Hamer, Clarie Collins Harvey, Victoria Gray –awesome, activist women from Mississippi!”

“I am also inspired by phenomenal black women scholars who pursue truth, knowledge, and excellence and encourage me, though their work, to continue my journey as a budding historian! A few women that come to mind: Deborah Gray White, Tera Hunter, the late Stephanie Camp.”

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

"Do all things with kindness! – it goes a long way!"


Pam also shared some quotes that she loves: 

She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans!
Strength and dignity are her clothing. And she smiles without fear of the future.
— Proverbs 31:25
If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.
— Zora Neal Hurston

 This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Rachel Phoenix Johnson

Rachel Phoenix Johnson is a strong woman in my circle from Hamline University. Our paths connected in a variety of ways throughout college and I was always impressed by Rachel’s work, passion, and strong voice. Rachel is radical, unapologetic, vibrant, kind and creative. 

Throughout college, we had a lot of connected friends as well as involvement and employment in common. Rachel was also a dedicated member of the McVay Youth Partnership staff and worked for Residential Life. (I know I’ve mentioned McVay before – it was the most amazing program to be part of. I’ll go more into detail in an upcoming post.) Our mutual friends are countless and include another inspiring woman in my life, Kelly Dahlman.

Rachel truly practices what she preaches in through her work. She has been active in the field of gender empowerment, sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy in professional and grassroots environments for six years.  While studying at Hamline University in St. Paul she earned degrees in Public Service, Spanish and Sociology. Her sociology pilot research focused on heterosexist bias towards sexual abuse history disclosures of LGBTQAI survivors.

Rachel also shares a passion for travel and an investment in world and global affairs. In 2011, Rachel studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador. While she was there she also worked at a women’s shelter where she provided supportive, Spanish language services to domestic violence victims and their families.

Most recently, Rachel worked at North Shore Horizons in Two Harbors, MN serving as the facilitator of the Coordinated Community Response Team while also providing advocacy and crisis intervention services to sexual and domestic assault victims. Rachel is currently the Multidisciplinary and Outreach Coordinator at First Witness Child Advocacy Center, where she serves a child abuse forensic interviewer, provides youth education and coordinates the child abuse response multidisciplinary team for Saint Louis County.

As you can glean from her work history, Rachel is passionate about the integration of advocacy into systems response to foster community accountability, inclusivity and cross-cultural competencies. The work she is doing is so, very important for Minnesota communities. We need more women-centered advocates like Rachel in our world. Rachel is also a musician performing with two bands, The Social Disaster and Black Diary.

Rachel radical and unapologetic!  These are qualities that exude from within her. I sensed this from her at Hamline and have seen in grow since our time away from school. As I have paid attention to Rachel through social media in the years following college I love Rachel’s unique portraits, pointed status updates, artistic expressions, and rocking band photos.

Although Rachel and I do not remain very tightly connected, I have always been impressed by her and admired her work and spirit. Her dedication to social justice issues and women’s issues is always apparent --as you can clearly see from her biographical info and responses below. I love the strong voice she brings to important and necessary conversations. I look forward to staying in touch with Rachel as she continues to make a positive impact on our community and world.

What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“I care deeply about human relationship dynamics and the dismantling of oppression. I care about women’s relationships to their bodies and their right to self-determination. I care about art and art as a conduit of social change, especially fringe media and self-publishing or self-led production.  I am inspired by unapologetic selfhood; the women (but also men) in my lives that pursue their dreams, goals and aspirations without hesitation. I am inspired by creators; women that translate ideas into visionary futures. Because women are excluded or devalued from so many social and political forums and discourses I am passionate about women building platforms and infrastructure to further their passions and pursuits.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you

“I am lucky to have so many women in my life that inspire me. The women in my family are all vibrant, unique, passionate people that have worked exceptionally hard for all they have. I am inspired by their perseverance and drive. In my current community, I am surrounded by a lot of working women artists of which I am inspired to work with in a lot of different contexts. I am inspired by women that actively engage and critique pop culture and address social norms, Roxane Gay, bell hooks and the women at Bitch Media just to name a few.  I am also a critical theory nerd so I also love women like Hannah Arendt and Susan Griffin.”

If you had one piece of advice to your former younger self, what would it be and why? 

“Do less. Self-reflect more on what really motivates you and focus energy on these things that really sustain you and pay less attention to the rest.”

Additional wisdom from Rachel:

“Horizontal hostility sucks! It is a destructive tool used to dismantle women’s power as a collective, political entity. I implore women to be aware address their horizontal hostility they have towards other women.”

 This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


INSPIRING WOMEN: Tina VanSteenbergen

Tina VanSteenbergen is one of my absolute favorite people. She is an inspiring woman in my life from our time together at Hamline University. I have always been drawn to her bold spirit. Tina is driven, outspoken, positive, confident and dynamic.

Tina and I were both attendees at Hamline’s 2007 Women’s Leadership Retreat. This retreat was a pivotal moment in my college life. I stated college as a first-time freshman in the spring – which was tough. My first semester, I had an odd kind of existence but, at the end of the spring, I attended my first Women’s Leadership Retreat and things changed! I was introduced to strong female leaders on campus, like Tina, and felt immense opportunities before me in terms of friendship and leadership.

Then, college life took off for me. In the semester that followed, I became a part of student government, started working for the McVay Youth partnership, made amazing friends, met the love of my life, attended Hamline’s conference/student retreat on race and ethnicity, and the moving and shaking began.

Tina was closely tied to many of these experiences and played a large part in my growth through college.

I spent the most time with Tina through our leadership roles in student government, orientation, and our gig at the Student Center Front Desk. Looking back, I think I got involved in these areas because she was active within them. Tina occupying these leadership positions showed me that I could do the same. I loved being around her and wanted to absorb her energy and wisdom.  

Tina is a proud Minnesotan and has lived all around the Midwest and and traveled North America. Professionally, she serves as an Education & Training Director with two sister companies, Phired Up Productions and The Social Excellence Project. She’s a professional speaker and trainer, teaching college students to put down their phones, and connect with other human beings face-to-face. She absolutely loves her job! (And, knowing her, I am sure she is an amazing speaker and trainer!!) She has two degrees in education, one from Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN, and a masters from Illinois State University in Normal, IL.

Tina spends lots of time with her dog Sherri and her great roommates and friends – while in the sunshine as much as possible. She loves to travel, read, write, journal, watch baseball, yell about football, teach, sing (although, “not well” she says), and listen to great music that speaks to her soul.

I admire Tina and always have. I’ve been watching the moves she’s been making since college with joy and admiration.  She is so perfectly suited for her role as a speaker and trainer. The women she works with are lucky to have her inspiring and guiding them in their reflection and interactions. Tina has been and always will be an inspiration to me.  I am fortunate to have her in my circle.

Tina had soooo much to say in her responses. And, when she wrote me back I let her know that I would probably cut them down. But, I don’t want to! I love what she has to say and I want y’all to experience it, too. So, please read about Tina’s passions, inspirations, and advice below. . . 

What inspires you?

 “I think the capacity to create change, to help people, is what inspires me most. Not just my own, but in general, peoples’ capacity, ability and willingness to do good is what gets me most excited—what gets me out of bed in the morning. When I’m feeling lazy, defeated, unmotivated, or discouraged, that thought, that I have a capacity to create positive change, that there are people to help, is the one that gets me up and moving again. I like to think that I, we, have a responsibility to help people. We all do it in our own ways, but we all have a capacity to help. Some serve, some bake, some bank, some create, file, run, deliver, educate, while others heal, build, edit, count—doesn’t much matter how we do it, as long as we’re all doing what we can to help others. It feels human to me, like it’s our job. In whatever way we can, we should at least try. It inspires me to think that in some way, I’m helping. To me, that often looks like speaking—sharing my messages with people. By teaching students to connect, to join, to believe, to help, I feel like I’m helping. Seeing others help others, being kind and sharing their gifts with the world in meaningful ways, makes my soul sing. Helping inspires me. Our capacity to help, and the choices we make to do it.”

“On a lighter note…Music. Poetry. Spoken word. Sunshine. Snow. Stories. Thunderstorms. Powerful people. Action. Kindness. A beautiful sunrise. A gorgeous sunset. Love. The perfect cup of coffee. Smiles. Pictures. Hugs. ….also inspire me. :)”

 What do you care deeply about?

 “I care deeply about my work. I’m blessed to love my work, and to believe powerfully in the messages I share and the impact they can have. Doing my job feeds my soul, and makes my heart sing. I often have a moment during a program I’m delivering where I look around and literally think to myself, “I can’t believe this is my job!” It’s magic. But there’s a part of my job that means something special to me that I don’t often talk about… I’m an educator, so for me, being on stage is more about what they’re learning than it is about me and how I’m feeling. That being said, I’m often on stage in front of hundreds of women at one time—and I think, more times than not, I’m the first person they’ve seen on a stage that is NOT a size 2, and yet, is still confident, comfortable and authentic. I can see it on the faces of the women who approach me after a program, women who are inspired not just by the words I said, but by my comfort in my own skin. In a strange way, it feels like I get to give them permission to love themselves, to feel good, to be confident, exactly as they are. I don’t say those words (although maybe I should…), and that’s not necessarily my purpose or goal, but it gives me my own, personal, secret joy—each time I get to give permission to women to be proud of who they are, to know they’re beautiful and good enough, to be confident, I’m reminded how deeply I care about that, and them. “

“I care deeply about people. Sure, yes, of course I mean the people in my life that I love—family, friends, colleagues, etc. But when I say “people,” I mean it in the larger sense. We need people in our lives. Deep social connection, honesty, trust, real conversations and relationships—these things bring our lives meaning. Being social with one another is essential to who we are as humans, and we’re forgetting how to do it. We need one another, and we need to remember how to need one another. This is one of the topics I share with our audiences, and it’s truly my life’s work. Helping college students remember not only what skills they need to connect with people, but its importance and its benefits is one of my favorite things to do. Social Excellence is something I care deeply about.”

“I care deeply about sorority. Sorority changed my life. I never used to ‘get’ women, or to be friends with them. I was afraid and intimidated. My mom had always said, “Boys are dumb, and girls are mean.” Dumb seemed easier, so I was always friends with boys instead. I decided that women didn’t like me, so I didn’t like them. I didn’t like myself. Then, when I was in graduate school, I took a job as a house director for a sorority on campus. I was terrified, sure I was going to hate this experience. But moving into that house, taking that job, changed my life. Those women were warm, kind, welcoming, honest, vulnerable, and loving. They taught me about the power of female relationships—that women, when kind to one another, when choosing to be sisters, are powerful. Beautiful. Amazing. Game changers. The richest relationships in my life are those I have with other women, women who love, support, challenge, and move me. Without sorority, I don’t know if I’d be able to say that today. I care deeply about sorority, and about helping sorority women do it right. Sorority was created in an act of justice, of equity. When we’re doing it right, when we’re living our values and deepening our relationships with other women as we strive to better ourselves and the world, sororities can change the world for the better. I believe that. And I care deeply about helping that happen.”

“And my dog. I care deeply for my dog :)”

Who are women in your life and/or throughout history that have inspired you?

  • My little sister is brave—braver than she believes. She inspires me to have courage, to be bold and brave.
  • My big sister has always had more confidence than anyone I know. She is who she is, with no apology. People have always been drawn to her for that reason, and when I think about where I find my confidence in my life, and especially on stage, I think she’s been a huge part of that piece of me.
  • My 4th grade teacher, Ms. Palmquist, inspires me. When I remember her now as an adult, I liken her to Ms. Honey from Matilda—seriously! She was smart, kind, nurturing, but funny. She believed in me, and taught me to believe in myself when I was 10.
  • Wendy Burns, my advisor and mentor from college, inspires me. She has always been the definition of authentic to me. She never pretended to be something she wasn’t. Honest, transparent, real, and truly Wendy. She inspired all of us female leaders at Hamline to be unapologetically ourselves—6 years later, her voice is still in my brain, teaching me that same lesson. [Cat’s note – ditto to ALL of that about the amazing Wendy Burns!]
  • Cat, you inspire me. You always have, actually. You’ve always had an intensity about you that motivates me. You have passion, sure—lots of us do. But you, more than most women I know, can channel that passion into real action. You don’t just talk, you do. [Thank you, Tina!]
  • My boss inspires me. She's smart, bold, daring, unafraid, compassionate and captivating. She’s so naturally talented, and yet still works harder than most people I know. She teaches me strength and leadership in new ways on a regular basis.
  • Mostly, my mom inspires me. She’s literally the best person I know. After all she’s been through, she is still the one that reminds me to be kind, patient, resilient, loving, giving. She’s my heart.
  • And Beyoncé. Obviously. #flawless

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

“Young Tina,
If I could give you one piece of advice based on what I’ve learned in the last 10 years of my life, it’s this: trust women. Open up to them, and build healthy relationships with women. They will bring so much more to your life than you’ll ever know. The women in your life will teach you power, goodness, empathy, intuition, acceptance, self-worth, connectedness, understanding, kindness, patience, strength, love, growth, authenticity, and vulnerability. “

“That’s the other thing, Young Tina. Vulnerability scares you right now, and will for most of your young-adult life. You think that choosing to be vulnerable makes you weak. That’s not true. Choosing not be vulnerable just makes you lonely. You’re still feeling all of your feelings, you’re just feeling them alone. Let down a bit of your wall from time to time—choose vulnerability. It will make you a better human, a better leader, a better friend, sister, and woman. Let people in—you don’t have to do this alone. You need people more than you think you do. We all do!

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Latasha Kinnard

Latasha Kinnard is my financial coach. She’s a recent addition to my circle and has provided a great deal of education and support to me – especially with my finances and growing small business. Tasha is a really special person and I am happy to have her in my circle. She is driven, smart, positive, realistic, and committed to empowering others. 

Tasha is the CEO and Financial Freedom Fighter at Start Young Financial Group and the Amazon best-selling author of 20-Something & Rich. She currently works as a financial coach and revenue strategist to Millennials and women entrepreneurs.

I initially connected with Tasha over social media. (She and I have a mutual friend – my sister!) I was drawn to her financial insight and advice as well as her commitment to social justice and racial justice. In getting to know her and her business more, it is clear that she is deeply invested in dissolving wealth disparities through education and empowerment. Her programs at Start Young Financial are very “meet you where you’re at” in their nature. She is so smart but able to explain sometimes complex issues in an easy-to-understand and interesting way. (This is a gift!)

 I am making significant strides toward achieving my financial goals since I’ve been working with Tasha. It really is helpful to work with a coach. It’s odd – I am a success coach for students in my current full-time job and am planning to start providing life coaching soon, myself, but I sometimes forget the huge impact a coach can have. Because of her support I am more focused, positive, and optimistic. Plus, I am working harder to pay off debt and grow my savings than I ever have before.

 I’ve been recommending her to lots of folks who are looking for support in achieving their financial goals. (Related – if you’re reading this and that is something you’re looking for, seriously get in touch with Tasha!)

 Tasha has also been very helpful as I pursue my entrepreneurial passions and plans. She’s both realistic and optimistic! As I begin to make some more major moves in this area, she is definitely someone I want in my corner. Before I even launched my blog, Tasha featured me on her Start Young Financial blog. (You can read the piece about looking fab on a budget here.)

 In addition to being a great financial coach and amazing resource, Tasha is clearly committed to improving her community and the lives of others. One way I have seen this is through her engagement with others around race-related injustices. She has a strong voice and doesn’t hold back as she asks questions, challenges others, and engages in conversation. 

 I am so fortunate to have Tasha in my circle. I admire her in many ways and look forward continuing my work with her as my financial health and wealth continue to grow. Read about what and who inspires Tasha, as well as her advice, below. . .

What inspired you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“This question was much harder for me to answer than I imagined it would be. But I suppose that I am inspired by pain and suffering. I hate to see people struggle and it inspires me to find ways to alleviate wealth disparities.”

 “Honestly, the thing I care most deeply about is family. I enjoy working on my business, I love helping people achieve financial freedom, but it is family that I care most deeply about.”


Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you? 

“I don’t know what women inspire me the most but I know that my mother has influenced me tremendously. When I was younger she would tell me that I should never wait on a man to do anything and that whatever needed to be done, I could do for myself. And while her words were powerful, it was her actions that made a huge impact on me. While I don’t mind accepting chivalry from men, I can thank my mom for empowering me to believe that I can do anything.”


If you had one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be and why? 

“I would tell my former self that the sun always comes out tomorrow. Things might get bad, times get dark, and sometimes you will feel burdened and alone but the sun always comes out eventually.”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Rachel Summers is one of the powerful women in my circle from Hamline University. Our paths crossed in a variety of ways throughout college and Rachel has been sharing art, beauty, and inspiration with me since we connected.  She is creative, talented, supportive, deep, and a social justice hustler.   

In Rachel’s words, she’s “a 90’s baby, a poet, an avid Daria watcher, a one-time skydiver, black grrrl, who hails from the land of 10,000 lakes”.  We spent several years at Hamline together. My favorite college memories with Rachel include our NCORE team moments, photoshoots and lots of talks about things that matter.  

NCORE is the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education. Both Rachel and I, along with a few other dedicated students, staff, and faculty, were part of the 2009 team that attended the conference and then put on racial justice focused programming for the academic year to follow. (I still remain close to many of the folks in that crew – especially Susun, Michael, and Jozie!) Our work with NCORE, along with the discussion and conversations that followed the conference, stayed with us throughout our time at Hamline and continue to be part of my life and work today.

Rachel is a skilled photographer and indulged me in several photo shoots throughout our time together in school. Her photos still are some of my favorite images of myself.  (I show them off for #ThrowBackThursday sometimes on Instagram. You’ll have to look out for them!) Rachel’s artistic nature and eye extend far beyond photography. She is talented in a variety of art forms including writing, music, theatre, and film. Not to mention her personal style – which is always eclectic perfection.

Committed to social justice, Rachel’s work has led her to pursue her MFA at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in the Film and Television Production program.  As a black woman filmmaker, Rachel seeks to re-center the narratives of people who are too often overlooked, and transform the culture of consumption and distribution. She aims to curate celluloid & digital experiences bound in worlds featuring dynamic, complex, and diverse narratives while spotlighting characters with multifaceted identities. This is powerful work and exactly what we need to alter the monolithic stories that fill our TV screens.

This woman is going places! I really feel like in years to come I’m going to be reposting articles about Rachel like “I know this woman!! Look at her gooooooo!” She is brilliant, passionate, capable, and talented – a fierce combination. And, Rachel has a spirit I admire.

Another reason I value Rachel is that she has been so supportive of my hustles and Cat Inspired projects! You’d be surprised how many folks and friends simply aren’t really interested in your personal projects - or don’t let on that they are. (Y’all, I am probably just as guilty of overlooking the awesome moves of my peers as the next woman. This is something I’m working on.) It is really flattering and wonderful when friends look up to notice your hustle and support your mission. I am thankful to Rachel and others who have done this for me.  I was able to see Rachel this past fall in LA and hope that our paths cross again soon.

Below, read about Rachel’s inspiration, advice, and wisdom. . .

What inspired you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“I find myself seeking inspiration constantly. Whether it's the new Drake mixtape or Broods album, escaping everyday chatter to explore new sonic landscapes is essential. Singing is the most therapeutic thing I can do within a day, so I sing in the car, and the shower, and in my apartment. I'm attracted to people who are spontaneous and creative and have a deep knowledge of history. Poetry in the middle of night is a ritual. I live for style: bold colors, artfully mix-matched patterns, simplicity, and chaos. People that are crazy enough to do the thing they love, and smart enough to know when it's time to move on.”

“I care deeply about connectedness. I care about equality, inclusivity, and empowerment. It is more lucrative to me to begin demolishing oppressive systems and paradigms by enabling people with marginalized identities to use their voices to begin delivering alternative and innovative narratives. My family's livelihood is something that always weighs heavily on my heart and mind and whether they are simply just surviving or thriving in doing what they want to be doing.”


Who are women that inspire you?

“The homegrrrlz that are in my life are ride or die. I am lucky to have so many women in my life that lead, teach, create, love, collaborate, and challenge and support me that I'm forever spilling with gratitude for them. bell hooks is my cultural studies mama, Maya Angelou is the matriarch of the written word, Angela Davis' radical activism inspires me, and Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking films and distribution company, AFFRM, really instill an ideology of no excuses, and a practice of making the things you want to see on screen and unapologetically carving out the spaces for them to be seen.”

If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be and why?

“In between being an emo screamo, free movie kid, and basketball player at the age of 15, I would remind myself that although the general teeny boppers won't necessarily understand you, ultimately it's still okay to like and be all kinds of things at the same time. Your worldview can be extensive; you can listen to Dashboard Confessional and Ja Rule and Ashanti on the same playlist and give no fucks. I would remind myself that although suburban whiteness tells you aren't beautiful or worthy, you have more inside of you than you'll ever know and you'll go places they'll never go. I would tell myself to stand up for what I believe in even if it doesn't fit with normative hegemonic bullshit.”

More wisdom from Rachel:

“Women should love themselves, love their bodies, support each other, don't expect others to participate in self-hating practices, they should be loud, and be listeners, and be unapologetic, and be thoughtful, and do whatever the fuck they want to do if it makes them feel good and doesn't hurt anyone else. Women should visualize, create testimony, and manifest anything and everything that helps them grow.” [Yes, yes, yes!]


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Jennifer Buckingham

Jennifer Buckingham is new to my circle. I have been following her on social media for some time and recently got to know her in person.  I’m fortunate to have this beautiful, body positive woman in my circle!

Jennifer is vibrant, bold, supportive and body-positive.

Jennifer is an actress, body positive personal style blogger, and plus size model.  She believes that great style knows no size and started her blog in hopes of inspiring a radical new way of looking at the role models in our lives. And, to spread the message that everyone is beautiful and enough – just the way they are.

Jennifer is on an ever progressive journey to love and accept her body. Her goal is to inspire other women to bravely embrace their bodies and if they so choose, to have amazing clothing options in the process. 

I’ve been following Jennifer on social media for some time. On a trip to Los Angeles last year, I was able to connect with her in person because of our mutual friend, Rachel Summers. (Rachel will be featured in an upcoming post!) Jennifer and I met for lunch and it was as if we had known each other for years. We immediately connected.

We have a lot in common and share many passions including plus-size fashion, body positivity, self-love, and women’s empowerment. Jennifer also ascribes to the “women supporting women” philosophy that’s so important to me! She says “it is vital that we raise each other up and if we stand by one another there is enough success for all of us”. Yes! I could not agree more!

Jennifer has great style and an excellent eye. Her photos on Model Radical professional, artistic, and fun. Her looks are fab and her Instagram game is so strong! (@Model.Radical) Love this girl’s fashion!

As I grow my Cat Inspired brand, I am appreciative of women who are willing to add me to their networks and circles! I am so fortunate to be connected with Jennifer – both in terms of our fashion and self-acceptance endeavors but also as a like-minded, positive and supportive woman in my circle! I look forward to staying connected to Jennifer so we can support each other in our respective projects and goals.

Read about what and who inspire Jennifer, as well as advice to her younger self, below. . . 

What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“I am constantly inspired by a variety of different outlets.  Professionally I am very inspired by my acting studio Anthony Meindl Actor's Workshop which not only is incredible for practicing my craft but as well as life growth and work.  I feel compelled and inspired by seeing people live in a genuine open way and operating through love.”  

“What do you care deeply about?  I care deeply about all the people who love and support me. It keeps me motivated, humbled, and grateful to know that my message is embraced.  I also care deeply about spreading positivity and equality in our world.  We need more kindness and compassion. I greatly admire people who put that in the forefront of their lives.”

Who are the women in your life and throughout history who inspire you? 

“Directly in my life my Great- Grandmother and Grandmother are both huge inspirations to me.  My Great- Grandmother was the first prima ballerina to dance Swan Lake in the US so I greatly admire her drive and artistic endeavors. My Grandmother is the most caring woman I know and whatever differences we have I will always appreciate her willingness to be there for me.”

If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be and why?           

“Wow, it is truly crazy to think back to that time [10+ years ago]. At 15 I really was going through a lot of complex issues including a parent being extremely sick to bullying and self-harm.  I would tell myself that I am beautiful, enough, worthy, and strong.  That self-love and care is the basis of everything healthy and that there is nothing wrong with you.” 


 This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Megan Dingfelder

Megan Susanne Dingfelder is my long time best friend from high school. We both made the absolute most of our high school experience and became very close along the way.  She is a positive presence in my life and a reminder of where I come from!  (Also, I refer to her exclusively as “Megan Susanne” or “Ding”, so it’s odd to be writing Megan throughout this piece!)

Megan is dedicated, smart, hard-working, positive, and joyful.

Megan is from an itty-bitty town in south east Minnesota - even smaller than my home town, LaCrescent.  We were young women on a mission, even then, holding almost every possible student leadership or elected position at LaCrescent High School. Student Council all four years, almost every homecoming and prom court, class officers – junior year I was President and she was VP while senior year it was vice versa.  

(I was so weird in high school- Ding can attest - but, somehow, people kept voting me in for things. I still don’t quite know how that happened. “But how weird were you?”. . .well, my style was so eccentric that, during dress up weeks, mismatch day was also referred to as “dress like Cat day”. Mmm hmmm.)

Although we were always friendly, we got very close toward the end of high school and have done a good job keeping connected to each other since then. Megan is always on my list to visit when I’m in Minnesota. Our relationship has truly withstood the test of time and I am sure she will be in my life always.

Megan is the only daughter of three children. She loves her encouraging and supportive family so much! Megan attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and then the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. She’s a Registered Dental Hygienist and, oh, does she love teeth. Smiles and teeth! On her wall she has a large quote that reads “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” – too perfect for her!

Megan is engaged to a great guy named Corey and I am thrilled to be a bridesmaid in their wedding this upcoming May. (I’ll be honest, as a close friend, I was obviously skeptical of Corey before I met him. I mean, that’s a bff’s job, right? Well, he is wonderful and I couldn't imagine anyone more perfect for Megan. I think they complement each other beautifully.) I am really looking forward to their wedding as it is my first experience being a bridesmaid. I’m truly honored to be part of their celebration.

Megan loves Minnesota so much! Like, every part of MN. Exploring the state, attending and/or watching all MN sports teams, wearing jewelry, clothing, and accessories that rep MN – anything and everything MN! She loves shopping and has a taste for dark chocolate, sushi and visiting neighborhood restaurants that support locally gown food and drinks. She’s also deep into wedding planning so is frequently on Etsy, Pinterest, and looking at wedding magazines!

I admire Megan’s spirit and positive nature. Y’all think I’m a positive person? You need to meet this girl! (She talks about this in her thoughts at the bottom!) I mean, there’s a reason this woman has attended or been in like 10 weddings each of the last few summers – she is a joy to be around and, therefore, keeps a large friend group. Her energy and joy is contagious and people want her in their lives! I certainly do!

Read what and who inspire Megan and her words of wisdom below. . .

What inspires you?  

"Making other people smile.  I enjoy being a "day maker."  My career allows for me to visit with people and crack jokes as often as possible and I really love to see other people happy/smiling.  Life is too short to not be happy."

Who are women in your life that inspire you?  

"It's so cliché, but MY MOM!  She's so STRONG-WILLED and works so hard to make sure that my family is happy, healthy, and cared for and I love her so much for it."

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

"Be true to yourself.  Don't be a "people pleaser" and bend over backwards and compromise your VALUES and BELIEFS to make others happy.  I have learned over the years that stronger individuals recognize that and capitalize on your weakness. I demand to be considered an equal and tell people what I want now rather than do whatever I can to convenience those around me. "

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Matrika Bailey-Turner

Matrika Bailey-Turner was a close friend at Hamline University.  My first full year of college was Matrika’s last, so we were not at Hamline together for very long. But, the time we shared was just what my young, budding feminist and increasingly socially aware heart needed! Matrika has been an inspiring woman in my life since we connected in 2007.

Matrika is bold, smart, deeply committed to women’s and social justice issues, and unapologetic.

Matrika received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Justice and Women’s Studies from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, but found her true passion in international relations when she spent a semester in Fiji months after the 2006 coup d’état. Although she hails from Hanover, NH, Matrika considers herself a dual citizen of both Minnesota and New Hampshire. She is also a fellow Green Bay Packer fan! ;)

Although we were pretty similar in age, I started college much later than Matrika because of my exchange year in Germany and an additional semester off. So, it felt like I was coming in to Hamline just as Matrika was going.  Like it is for many young people, college was truly a time of momentous growth for me.  Of course, it was much more than classroom experiences that created this time of change. It related, in large part, to the people that came in to my life– like Matrika.

I loved Matrika’s presence and took note of what she said as she was able to put things into words what I was still exploring or grappling with. She took me under her wing and helped me connect to students, staff, faculty, and organizations that became huge parts of my college experience.

The biggest piece of advice I took from Matrika was to be unapologetic. On her bathroom mirror in the Hamline University apartments, Matrika often had post-its and quotes to live by. I remember, distinctly, one post-it that read “do not apologize”. This troubled me at the time. My Minnesota nice, naïve self didn’t quite get that living and speaking unapologetically is a revolutionary act.  Those with marginalized identities are often silenced, asked to explain, made to feel bad for speaking the truth. Realizing this blew my quickly-developing, young feminist, socially-critical mind!

Now, of course, I see the beauty in this and ascribe to the same sentiments. Do not apologize for your thoughts and feelings. Do not apologize if your truth makes someone uncomfortable.  As women, we’re taught to quickly apologize if we might have offended or “overstepped”. And, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, how often do we say “sorry” as a reflex or start a statement with “sorry, but. . .”? No! Sorry, not sorry! 

Matrika just recently took a new position as a Speaker Management Coordinator at Orate – an online marketplace that helps event organizers and public speakers more easily find one another. She is the first employee in this fast-growing start up. (How exciting!)

Before this new position, Matrika worked with the United Nations Foundation to weave entrepreneurship and innovation across its campaigns and initiatives, building partnerships with entrepreneurs and private sector champions that positively impact the United Nations. She believes that entrepreneurs help drive global change, and are critical players in helping create solutions to the word’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.

Prior to Orate and the United Nations Foundation, Matrika was also doing important work centered on empowering and supporting women and girls through Girl Up and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I admire Matrika’s professional dedication to women-centered causes. I’m inspired by her career moves.

Below, read what and who inspire Matrika, advice, and words to live by. . .

What inspires you? What do you care about deeply? 

“I was adopted from Kerala, India when I was 2.5 months old, and I know that my life has turned out very differently than if I had stayed in Kerala, so I am constantly thinking about the improvement of women and girls around the world and in the U.S. to have the same opportunities I have been afforded."

“I am fortunate to have worked alongside passionate global leaders who are driving global progress through entrepreneurship, innovation, and long lasting partnerships. I have truly internalized that empowering women and girls is one thread throughout global development that really underscores and elevates change, but also impacts women at the local and national level here in the U.S.  Groups like NOW, Girls Who Code, Girl Up, Women for Women International, and Girl Scouts help create a platform for women and girls to succeed and are entities that I support.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you? 

“My mother and grandmother are certainly trailblazers that stick out in my mind. They have both busted through stereotypes, disproved assumptions, and mastered the art of juggling the home and work life. They were the first women in my life to display what it looks like to go after what you want and still be able to have a family and tick off those awesome life milestones.”

“Lately, I’ve been inspired by South Asian women doing bad ass things, because growing up I didn’t really see women who looked like me in the media. Right now, I’m deeply in love with Mindy Kaling, Kamala Harris, Maya Harris, and Mira Nair. All South Asian women but different in their self-expression and demonstration of ‘what it means to be a South Asian woman’.”

“My close friends in D.C. and college friends and high school friends throughout the country inspire me. I feel honored to be surrounded (both physically and digitally) by women doing amazing kickass shit that makes them feel powerful and excited about life.”

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why? 

“I wish I could tell myself that, despite the pressure from high school/college/external influences to pursue certain career paths and how to obtain those careers, I should always trust my gut and keep moving in the direction that makes me feel excited, happy, and powerful. I am happy to say that I eventually found my way to these opportunities that made me excited, happy, and feel powerful, but I was dubious and unsure of myself when I really should have just jumped in.”

“There are far too many assumptions and expectations of how to craft your personal and professional trajectories as women, millennials, women of color, women of certain educational backgrounds…if I could go back 10 years, I would shut out the external noise and just put one foot in front of the other without pausing.”

Matrika also shared a few mantras that she incorporates into her everyday life: 

Don’t second-guess your gut instincts, because 99.9% of the time they’re on point.
Only do it if it makes you happy even if your friend/significant other/family member will get annoyed if you pass it up…no reason to torture yourself for someone else.
Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just a few steps.

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Karyn Cave is one of my best college friends. She is a strong women that’s part of my circle by way of Hamline University. For a while in college we were basically inseparable.  Oh, the laughs, important talks, snacks, and side eyes we’ve shared. . . . I have so much love for this amazing woman.

Karyn is warm, creative, fun, compassionate, thoughtful, and body-positive.

Karyn is from Colorado and came to MN for college where she majored in English and Sociology. (Another sociology major - or minors - in my life!) After college, she worked for Playworks and, then, as a Special Education Assistant for Minneapolis Public Schools.  Now, she’s a full time grad student getting her Masters in Social Work at the University of Minnesota.  

Karyn lives in Minneapolis with her finance, Margot, and their cat, Socks. I haven’t seen their new home yet – I cannot wait to see it this summer! Karyn loves Zumba, natural hair, laughing fits, biking, and bubbly water.

Oh, the memories I have made with Karyn. . .At Hamline we were involved in some of the typical leadership gigs together - Orientation Leaders, working for the McVay Youth Partnership, Women’s Leadership retreats, and working at the Student Center Front Desk.  Some highlights of our college antics include seeing the amazing India.Arie in concert together, attending Women’s Leadership Retreats (yes, mentioned twice – it’s that important), some amazing but epic fails of nights out, day drinking, spending time on our fav 3rd floor library couch during finals, and working on our fitness. 

To this day, Karyn is my favorite work out buddy. For a while, we would work out several times a week early in the morning. (Ok, like 7AM!) We had a system- She would call me to make sure I was up. I would walk from my place to her’s and then we would groggily make our way across campus to the gym. Our workouts were mostly just chatting while we walked the track and then doing dorky partner stretches (the cutest, right?), but it as a great excuse to move our bods and enjoy quality time together. For a brief time we also went to the local LA Fitness which just resulted in lots of amazing and awkward incidents including an aquafit class where another participant thought that Karyn was my daughter. (I know. . .what?!)

And, “the people”! Karyn and I always joke about how people are wonderful and amazing but sometimes, when they are in crowds or there are lots of them around, we’d prefer to just avoid them and be at home eating taco dip instead. 

Whenever I’m back in Minnesota I always see Karyn and Margot. Trips home wouldn’t be the same without catching up with them. They welcome me into their home every time and I always feel so comfortable at their place. (And, not just because I get to cuddle with Socks on their ultra-comfy futon.) And, in between visits, I love our facetime catch-ups!

Karyn is one of the folks in my life who is deeply committed to social justice. I admire her path to pursuing her Masters in Social Work as I am sure she will use that position to continue making positive impacts on the lives of others. I also admire Karyn’s creativity and artistic eye. Two collages she has made decorate my office at work.

I also love that two of my closest friends have become partners. They are role models of a healthy and happy relationship – and I couldn’t be happier for them. They’re getting married this summer and I am excited for their beautiful, joyous occasion. Related, I also daydream about us both having babies around the same time so they can hang out together (or, I guess that’s called play dates?) and we can have the most radical children surrounded by amazing, strong women in their lives.  

Read what and who inspire Karyn as well as her advice below. . .

What inspires you & what do you care about deeply?

“Being around and feeling connected to people I love and admire inspires me.  This includes friends, family, mentors, communities of color, queer communities and so on.  Also, working with youth and witnessing their resilience and potential inspires me.  On the flip side, investing in my health and practicing self-care inspires me to keep doing the work I do.  Moving my body to music, biking around the cities and journaling keeps me sane.”

“I’m fiercely passionate about social justice.  I am committed to enriching lives by empowering people in efforts to create a just society. This is why I am studying social work.  Social work aims to create a safe environment to hone knowledge and life skills of individuals.  It’s a field that’s grounded in community, action, dialogue and other values that ultimately guide people’s successes.  This is what I want to do.”

Who are women in your life or through history that inspire you?

“My fiancé is a woman who deeply inspires me to be my best self everyday.  Her support and encouragement means the world to me.  Her loving spirit and sense of humor inspires me everyday.”

“My mother inspires me to care deeply about loved ones through compassionate actions.  This is the kind of love she shows me.  Every now and then I see a bit of my mother pop up in my words or thoughts.  It used to freak me out but now I embrace it.”

“And of course there is Auntie, in all her stubbornness and quirky idiosyncrasies.  She inspires to me never apologize for who I am.”

What advice would you give your younger self? 

“Embrace your natural curls and curves!  Your hair is perfect.  Back away from the relaxer.  Your thighs are beautiful.  Yes, your butt is big and that's okay!  If you wanna shave, then shave.  If you don't, then don't!  After years of self-deprecation, I learned to love myself the way I am.”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Krissy Norgaard

Krissy Norgaard is one of my very best friends. Krissy was my ride or die bff in high school. (And, I do NOT throw around a very eloquent and intellectual term like “ride or die” loosely, folks!) The majority of my great high school memories have Krissy and I in the starring roles!

Krissy is caring, kind, fun, smart, determined, driven, and musically gifted.          

Krissy grew up in La Crescent, MN and went to college at UW-Superior to study elementary education. After school, she moved back to the La Crosse area and got a job at Chileda where she found her passion for working with children and young adults with disabilities.  (Chileda supports children and young adults with cognitive and behavioral challenges who come from local communities, as well as from across the country.) She’s been a special education teacher at Chileda for almost 5 years.

Krissy recently completed her licensure in special education with an emphasis in cognitive disabilities. She currently lives in La Crosse, WI in her beautiful home with her sweet dogs – Chloe and Georgie. She’s also involved in the Pet Therapy Program though the Humane Society with her dog Chloe.

I loved high school. Unlike many people, I thought it an awesome time in my life. Granted, at the time, I thought it was as good as it would get. Whoa, was I wrong! But, the kind of silly fun I had in high school has never been matched at any other point in my life thus far.  When I reflect me and Krissy’s antics, all I can think of is good, clean fun, lots of singing, and the deepest of belly laughs.

During high school, I was really involved in my church. I’ve since realized that I am not a religious person. It was the incredible community and opportunity to engage with music that was the real draw for me. And, in terms of church related opportunities for music and fun, Krissy and I did it ALLL – church choir (with a group of mostly older folks), praise and worship band (with all of our hilarious church and school bffs) lefse bakes, teaching Vacation Bible School, youth group, committees, projects, and we even lead a little kids choir for a bit.

We were also involved in basically every singing opportunity in which high school choir (and theatre) would allow us to participate. This included musicals, madrigal group, singing the national anthem at sporting events, caroling, and basically the largest number of Solo & Ensemble performances we were allowed to participate in each year. Not to mention, what I like to call one of our claims to fame – La Crescent Idol! We didn’t sing in this competition but organized it all including the initial try-outs complete with teachers serving as judges and a student who videotaped it so we could show the blooper reel at the event before the 10 finalists performed.

And, we didn’t limit our singing to just school and church. . . We wrote and sang songs for everything – contests we didn’t win, Mother’s Day (twice–both tunes fittingly entitled “The Mom Song” and “The Mom Song 2”), Diversity Week, class projects, and a bucket list level performance on a mission trip. We even recorded a Christmas Carol CD for our families (with the help of two boys from our church band). Krissy was more musical than me – she can play piano and guitar as well as sing beautifully. And, still does in her church to this day.

I am truly fortunate to have had Krissy in my life growing up in La Crescent. There are so many opportunities and excitements that I wouldn’t have known about or had the courage to pursue on my own, had it not been for our connection. I admire Krissy’s dedication to her family, faith and community. And, her dedication to working with and advocating for her students is immensely valuable! We need more people like Krissy in our world. 

Whenever I see Krissy when I’m home it’s like nothing has changed. Our updates are more grown up. . . like homeownership (her) or job changes and moves (me), but our connection always runs deep. Also, most holidays, me, my sister and Krissy still get together to play monopoly! Lilly and Krissy always gang up on me. . .ahem. . .always win! ;)

Read about what inspires Krissy and her words of wisdom below. . .

What inspires you & what do you care deeply about?

“I am most passionate about working with and advocating for people with disabilities. The past five years I have been working with children and young adults whose behavioral needs exceed the scope of services within the public school system and/or typical home environments. My students have taught me to see the fun and beauty in everyday situations. They show me how to live without too much worry and stress. It is beautiful to truly see people live in the moment. Even though many of my students struggle with basic care needs, independence, or uncontrollable behaviors, they are very inspiring. Unfortunately many people with disabilities are unable to advocate for themselves so they don’t get the services, resources, and dignity that they deserve. I am passionate about preparing my students for their future and giving them the tools they need to find success in adulthood. I strive to spread awareness about people with disabilities and to inform people about how to show respect to those with disabilities.”

“I have also recently found a passion in pet therapy. I have seen first-hand the joy and healing that a dog or other therapy animal can bring to those in pain, crisis, or the stress of everyday life. Animals give indiscriminate and unconditional love. They bring peace and companionship. I work to share the value of pet therapy in my community and share the love of my dog with those who need it.”

Who are women in your life that inspire you? 

“The woman who has inspired me most in my life is my mom. She was always an example of the teacher I wanted to be – someone who is passionate about her job, her students, and their success. She always went above and beyond to make school fun and interesting for her students. She also instilled in me the joy of serving. My mom is always willing to help those in need, whether it be bringing mittens for a student at school or serving at church. Even in her retirement, she is continually busy volunteering her time in a variety of ways. I believe, because of her example, I have a passion for helping and serving people in need.” [I love Barb, too! She is a really special lady!]

 If you had one piece of advice to give your former self, what would it be?

“One piece of advice I’d give my former self is let go of expectations. Life never turns out how you expect it to be, but it is still fantastic! Do what you love and care about, not what others expect you to do. Comparison is the thief of joy, so love the life you live and find happiness in what you do.”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

LOVE YOUR BODY: Make Healthy Choices Because You Love Your Body


I've been feeling mysteriously tired and kind of run down the last two weeks. I described it to someone as "pre-burned-out feeling". Like, I'm fine - not sick, not too overwhelmed, not too busy. . .but it seems like just a little bit more and I would get there.

Acknowledging that "pre-burn-out feeling" is important! Last week I made several conscious choices to benefit my physical and metal health! I ate more veggies, drank more water, went to yoga, and cancelled some evening commitments. 

I chose to do these things because I love myself and I love my body. It is counterproductive to make "healthy" choices out of punishment or judgement of yourself. (How "healthy" can something be if you are pressuring or shaming yourself into doing it?!) 

When mid-March comes (like, next week), things get even busier for me. So, I'm taking a few moments now to get back into my groove and prioritize my health. 

Hope you liked the quick video excerpt above reminding us to make healthy choices because we love our bodies! You can see the full video from a few months ago here



Jess Gamez is my former supervisor and friend from Texas A&M-Commerce in Commerce, TX.  Although I didn’t always feel this way at the time, I look back on my experience in Commerce with so many fond memories. Jess plays a big role in lots of those memories!

Jess is thoughtful, caring, humble, creative, and dependable. (Also, as my friend Lelia would say, Jess GSDs – gets shit done!)

Jess Gamez, originally Jessica Bryan, grew up in a small, rural town - Blair, Nebraska. She attended Wayne State College and majored in Counseling. In college, she was an RA which inspired her to stay in higher education. She worked at a rural community college for a few years and then moved to Commerce, TX to work at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

At Texas A&M-Commerce, Jess was my supervisor in Residential Living & Learning while I was a Graduate Hall Director for several apartment communities on campus. I loved working for Jess! She treated me like a capable professional – which isn’t always the case in graduate student positions. Many of Jess’s skillsets are different than my own, so it allowed me to see other ways of doing things – and it was really good for me. Additionally, I loved how she left work every day at 5PM to pick up her kid (now kids) at the university’s Children’s Learning Center in order to make the most of every minute with them before they went to bed. Leaving on time is not something typical of Student Affairs Professionals. This was excellent, excellent role modeling! Plus, I always knew Jess cared about me and had my back.

Family is extremely important to Jess. And, she has a beautiful family! She says she is married to the love of her life, Jeremy, and they have two children, Sam and Sky.  They love to play outside, have family dance parties in the living room, and attend community events.  Jess’s commitment to her family and her role as a mom is something I admire very much. She is so intentional and thoughtful with how she raises her children. (She talks about this in her comments below!) When I reflect about the kind of mom I want to be, I think about Jess.

Jess says that making something from nothing is what gets her most excited.  Whether it is putting together a complex schedule, creating a program, or making some type of craft project, she absolutely loves to use her creativity to make things for others.  Jess is always sharing cute and thoughtful gifts with those around her - from sweet gift basket surprises to clever Valentine’s Day treats. (I observed via Facebook that one of this year’s valentines was bananas with “’I’m bananas about you!” notes attached! The cutest!)

Jess is an amazing woman. As a professional, as a mom, as a friend – Jess embodies qualities that I admire.  I am impressed by her thoughtfulness in all parts of life and openness to thinking about things in new or different ways. I am so happy Jess is in the circle of powerful women around me.  

Jess’s inspiration relates, in large part, to her beautiful children and family. She also has some lovely advice that she shares below.

 What inspires you & what do I care deeply about...

"I want my children to have happy childhoods.  I want them to be able to look back and see how hard we worked to create experiences to teach them how to love and care for others. There are a few experiences that I hope they have that I was not provided: 1) I want them to see happily married parents that are passionately in love with each other.  I want them to see Jer and I take care of each other, work as a team to accomplish our goals together, and be there for each other in the tough times.  2) I want them to be exposed to and excited about meeting different people.  I absolutely love that we live on a college campus where we are able to take the kids to cultural events several times a month.  Beyond that, I love that they get to see the deep relationships that I have been able to form with our diverse student population."

If I had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

“I am still working on this, but I would tell myself not to take so many things personally. For the longest time, every time someone did anything that impacted my day negatively, in even the tiniest bit, I took it personally. I thought that person was out to hurt me.  I have learned that people are just people, they make mistakes, they have bad days.  If I just take a few seconds to breathe, let things go, and extend grace, my relationships with others are significantly better.”

“I have changed in a lot of ways over the years, but my faith is what has changed the most.  I used to be a very legalistic Christian.  For so many years, it made me feel like I had some type of control and power over people and situations.  As I have matured and learned more about Jesus, I have learned that forgiveness, love, grace, generosity, acceptance and inclusion is really what Christianity is about.”

 “Also, listen to your inner voice. 99% of the time it will lead you towards a decision that aligns with your values, goals, and passions. Your inner voice will tell you when a person is good in your life. It will tell you when to hold on tight during the hard times and when to walk away and not look back. Now, of course there is that 1% of the time that I look back and think, "what the hell was I thinking".”

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Alysse Dalessandro

Alysse Dalessandro is new to my circle. As women in small business, we’ve connected over the last year. Through our communication, I have really enjoyed my interactions with Alysse. Not only is she kind and supportive, she is truly someone who aligns herself with a “women supporting women” philosophy.

Alysse is bold, brave, creative, and powerful.  She is the owner of Cleveland-based fashion brand Ready to Stare. A jewelry designer, trained metalsmith, creator and self-empowerment advocate, she handcrafts statement jewelry and bold plus size apparel with an unapologetic confident attitude. Ready to Stare is designed for those who believe in following their passion, loving themselves and inspiring others to do the same. 

 Alysse is talented designer and entrepreneur! And, she recently released a new line that is just amazing. (I have my eye on that fab floral skirt she’s wearing in her photo.)

I haven’t officially announced it yet, so I’ll take this opportunity to do so! On April 19th, Alysse, and I will be doing a trunk show at Blair - a plus-size boutique in Chicago! (Find out more about our event here!)  I cannot wait for this in-person shopping event! It is so wonderful to be able to work on new projects like this in collaboration with other powerful, entrepreneurial women.

 I admire Alysse’s drive, business savvy, body positive passion, and collaborative spirit.  As I expand my networks, I feel very fortunate each time I make a valuable connection with a strong women in small business.  I am thankful that Alysse has taken the time to engage with me and my growing brand.   

 Alysse is a woman full of inspiration! Read about what and who inspire her as well as advice she would share with her younger self. . .

 What inspires you?  

“I think both in my designs and in my everyday life, I am inspired by powerful women. I have always rejected the idea there is one way to be a woman. I believe that gender is a social construction. I find so much inspiration from people who choose to reject society's idea of who they should be and have the strength to live, dress, act, talk etc in the way that comes naturally to them. As a designer, I am constantly looking for ideas and inspirations that challenge the status quo in their own way. I have always looked up to drag culture. Paris is Burning is my favorite movie and RuPaul's books are like my life guides. I also have always loved older stylish women such as those captured by the blog (now book and movie) Advanced Style. And of course, I love powerful women in pop culture such as Beyonce who uses her mainstream platform to subtly challenge norms. I mean that's an obvious one for me.”

“Someone told me once "speaking your mind is like breathing for you; you need it to survive."  I'm not afraid to be a voice for the voiceless.  I've heard some people say that confidence is quiet and I don't agree with that. I think confidence is never silent. Confidence is the ability to speak loudly and clearly who you are and what you care about. I think there's something so powerful about being publicly vulnerable. I don't subscribe to the idea that power means that you hide you feelings and emotions. We associate power with masculinity so power is often also linked to being emotionally guarded as men are taught to be. I want to show people that vulnerability is powerful. I also want to remove the negative connotation of the word fat. We still give so much power to that word. And there's an association that fat equals ugly which also needs to be challenged. Basically I want to challenge societal gender and beauty norms. And I also care deeply about using my platform and voice to encourage self-love. We need to learn to look at ourselves and each other in a loving way. Hate towards others starts from a lack of self-love.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you? 

“I am really lucky that I grew up with two powerhouse women in my life. My mom has ran three small businesses and my aunt owned a salon by the age of 30 and now works for the federal government. The women in my life taught me that if I wanted something, I possessed everything within myself to make it happen. They taught me to never rely on anyone else for what you want. Through their example, I really gained the attitude that anything was possible through hard work, persistence and patience. My mom is a beast in sales -- she refuses to take no for an answer. She taught me to never give up, but if you don't succeed the first time, try again and again.  And my aunt is a dreamer -- she believes in the power of learning and that anything is possible. I've never once told her something and had her tell me I couldn't do it. She actually helped me make my first business plan and is still my mentor.”

Some of the other women in my life that inspire me and have been super influential in my own journey as a entrepreneur are my mentor Nikki Halgren who owns the brand, Gleeful Peacock, style and business consultant, Aaja Corinne, author and journalist Jonnita Condra, nail artist and designer Spifster Sutton, and boutique owner Jessica Blair. There's a million people in the plus size industry that I look up to also. This list could go on and on!”

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why? 

“If I could tell my former self one thing it would be that confidence does not concern itself with acceptance. I think self-doubt, insecurity, and not feeling worthy affected my ability to get close to people and for me to reach my full potential. I wasted so much of my teenage years and early 20s hiding behind a front and acting like everything was okay. I believed that pain was weakness. And the front prevented me from really seeing myself clearly. One of the biggest things that has inspired myself love journey is that something that one of my favorite fellow entrepreneurs Myleik Teele said in one of her podcasts: "Your deepest wounds reveal your great gifts." I can confidently say that speaking out about my sexual assault and being upfront about having anxiety has changed my life and been hugely impactful on the work that I do with Ready to Stare.”

Check out Alysse’s brand, Ready to Stare, at! And, on Instagram at @ReadyToStare!

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!



Saraya Boghani is another beautiful friend from Hamline University. Our paths connected in many ways during college – friends in common, Residential Life, Spring Break Service Learning, White Privilege Conference and plus-size clothing.  Saraya is reflective, creative, kind, strong, and has a lovely grace and style about her.

Saraya a 25 year old Minnesota native currently residing in CARAG neighborhood of Minneapolis. She is interested in the immersive experience of pop culture exploration with intersecting identities. Saraya self-identifies as biracial and has family from Hutchinson, MN to Sydney, Australia and everywhere in between.

Coming from a long line of educators, Saraya engages in every opportunity to learn about the world. She developed a love for learning about people while managing two coffee shops – along with a serious coffee habit and respect for the entire bean process. Currently working in higher education myself, I was excited to learn that Saraya is embarking on a new career path - recently starting a position in higher education advising. She says she’s loving it so far!

Saraya attended my first ever plus-size clothing swap. (I would argue that it was the start of all of this.  ("This" being Cat’s Closet, Cat Inspired, my world take over, etc.). It was the first event that allowed me to celebrate women around me, exchange plus-size clothing, and share body positivity – all at one time.

One of my favorite memories with Saraya was a wonderful and eventful week visiting White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota. My last semester at Hamline I was technically graduated and taking some grad classes to keep my Assistant Area Coordinator position while applying for jobs and making plans for the future. My grad student status allowed me to be the staff advisor for a spring break service learning trip to White Earth where students and I worked with the White Earth Land Recovery Project. (I remember I specifically helped to organize their library, sort seeds for their seed catalogs, and worked in a greenhouse.) We also explored Itasca State Park (where the mighty Mississippi River begins), played with farm animals, and attended a moving and ground-breaking day conference on Historical Trauma in the Native American community. There were some amazing women on that trip. And, if it had not already been solidified, my fondness for Saraya was further confirmed during our time together at White Earth.  

Saraya (and Maum) were also the only folks who showed up to my graduation party (besides my mom and sis). Heavy rains, flooding, and strong winds didn’t stop them and allowed us some great bonding time while taking shelter in the park restrooms. ;) (See photo below.)

Saraya has a fierce love for social justice and the many forms it takes. Her specific areas of interest include: food justice, indigenous rights, civil rights within racial and LGBTQA communities, as well as general and personal feminism. She also is always looking to stride forward in her personal journey. I admire this in Saraya. These are traits I truly value in others.

Saraya is certainly an inspiring woman in my circle! Read about what and who inspire her as well as some words of wisdom below. . .

What inspires you?

The creative process and seeing people fully engaged and enthusiastic with their lives.  Music!  I have an incredibly strong love for music, don't participate but am an enthusiastic listener and supporter.  The circle of friends and family that support me and give me life.  The written and spoken word - the way language can diffuse and create meaning is so powerful. 

What women inspire you? 

“My mother:  she cares so deeply and has been so supportive of anything I've wanted to do.  She has never conformed to others expectations and hasn't expected me to either.  My views are very radical, in my opinion, from the household I've grown up in but at the same time my mother (and father by extension) have been completely open to dialogues and creating shared mindsets.  She's given me a lot of autonomy.  Also, a woman named Kerry who is a Judge within MN.  I knew her through Girl Scouts (an incredibly empowering and important organization) and she dedicated a lot of her work and spirit to me in a way I still don't fully understand.  There are so many others and I know there will continue to be more."

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

“I feel like I didn't participate in a lot of the dramatics of high school and did what I wanted most of the time but I would've asked myself to question authority more.  Not in an angst driven way but at that point in my life I trusted wholly in the discretion and certainty of adults.  Also I would've told myself to cool my jets and not be stressed.  I mean when you've only lived for so long everything seems "do or die" but it's not.  It's not worth that energy.”

A few more thoughts from Saraya:

“I was very fortunate to come into a loving family and a good, albeit closed minded, education.  Girl Scouts provided me with a long term demonstration of a community of women.  I think that created a social pattern for me to reach out and connect with strong women.  Many of my closest friends are women and everyone else I'm close with knows how important it is to have autonomous women in their lives as well.  I'm pretty darn happy with who I am and where my life is headed. It hasn't always been that way but there have been so many people to help me become who I am. Also, hooray for Cat putting together this marvelous project.  This is a sustaining and celebrating testimonial to power and love and the future.” [Thank you, Saraya!!]

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!