She’s a Woman On Fire! Meet Michelle Whittaker

Welcome back to our ongoing series to introduce you to each other. She’s a Woman on Fire! member and we want you to know her. Please say hello to…

Michelle Whittaker  
Washington, D.C.
Member: # 00064
Member since:  November 15, 2011

Please tell us about YOU, where you’re from, your family, your work, what you are “on fire” about, etc.

Chicago will always be my hometown, but I call Washington, DC my home now.  My life and apartment in D.C. is filled with friends, food and knitting – and my lovable miniature schnauzer, Lola, and her big personality.

Currently I’m “on fire” about going back to school to become a pastry chef. Desserts have always been a passion for me.  It has taken me years to gain the courage to take the leap into this field.  I’m just at the beginning of this journey, but I’m excited about it.

How did you originally connect to Women on Fire?

During a visit to Lake Austin Spa in Texas, I met and heard Debbie Phillips and Jamie Eslinger speak, and I learned about the Women on Fire organization.  I had a few other conversations with both of them during my stay there.  After the trip, I signed up for the newsletter and later I joined the monthly membership.

What’s your favorite component of the Women On Fire membership?

My top two favorites would be the other Women on Fire members, followed by the CD interviews.

The last book you read that you would recommend to other Women on Fire?

May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein

Your favorite part of the day?

The early morning when the world is still quiet and it feels like no one else is awake.

One thing you’re proudest of?

The play, The Hair Chronicles, that I co-wrote with two friends from graduate school, along with our successful run of performances during the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC.

If you had an unexpected free day, how would you spend it?

I would start the day with a Pilates class, then I would spend the day making a wonderful dinner and dessert for my friends to come over and enjoy that evening. I might try to squeeze in some knitting while cooking, too.

Your favorite city in the world?


Share a special Women On Fire moment or experience.

The entire trip to Paris in 2012 with Women on Fire! While I enjoyed my first tea party, it did not give me the chance to really get to know other women in the way Paris provided the opportunity to have longer conversations and connect.

It wasn’t until I was on the trip, and then returned home, that I could truly appreciate the power of Women on Fire.  The organization became about so much more than Debbie Phillips alone, but also about the other women who supported and inspired each other.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced and how did you overcome it?

Losing my mom. (I wrote about her tragic death and my role in caring for her in the upcoming Women on Fire book.)

The day she died I lost a mom and best friend. I’m not sure if I’ve overcome my grief, but I have learned to manage it.  At the beginning, I just leaned into the grief and allowed myself to feel whatever I felt.

Later, I learned to balance grief with everyday life by allowing myself a timed “pity-party,” which helped me to readjust to life.  My friends and family also provided so much support and grace for me.

What is something that we might be surprised to learn about you?

Most people cannot believe how painfully shy I am. As a child, the anxiety of trying something new would cause me to get stomach aches. I still get anxious about going into a new situation.

If you had the opportunity to teach a child one strategy that would help to guide her life, what would that be?

Be aware of fear but choose love and adventure.

What’s your big dream?

My big dream is to be married, maybe have a kid (or two or another dog) and own an English-inspired tea house. However, I’m always tweaking my big dream.

Name three women who have influenced your life, and what you’ve learned from each.

My mom. A best friend and mom rolled into one person. She influenced my love of cooking, baking, clothes and shopping.  She taught to be kind to others and help when I could.  She also showed me that you can easily put a smile on someone’s face with a homemade cake.

My grandma Anna.  My paternal grandmother kickstarted my crafty nature.  When I was little girl, she taught me to crochet, which I always turned to relieve stress.  Now I knit more than I crochet, but I am grateful that she showed me how much peace could come from creating something out of nothing.

Roberta Kipper. My best friend’s mother quickly became a second mom to me during my college years.  She was another pair of ears to listen to my fears and concerns about life. Still to this day I value her opinion on so many of my major and minor life decisions.

Who cheers you on?

My friends, near and far, all of my Women on Fire sisters, and my Dad.

What is your favorite “pig-out” food?


Your favorite pastry to make?

Mini-bundt cakes, teacakes and cookies. Picking just one is so hard!

What are the top 3 songs on your iPod right now?

Strength, Wisdom and Courage” by India.Arie; “Uncharted” by Sara Bareilles; and “Infatuation” by Maroon 5

Your go-to self-care strategy?

A Mental Health Day — I take a day to do whatever I need to do to recharge. Sometimes it’s a day watching my favorite classic movies; other times it’s quiet time at a spa.

When you reflect on your life so far, what is the first word or two that comes to your mind?

Unexpected but blessed — I remember as a child daydreaming about what my life would be like when I grew up.  My life hasn’t turned out as I imagined.  Yet, I would say that all of the grief and happiness has made me a more interesting woman than I expected.

More about Michelle Whittaker…

When not exploring the far corners of the world in her travels, Michelle can be found at home going to the theater, visiting Virginia wineries, and absorbing pop culture in all forms.

As an active member of  the Washington D.C.-area knitting community, she loves spending time in yarn shops and coffee
shops knitting with friends.

~ Compiled by Women on Fire Senior Writer Becky Adams