One host + two co-authors + amazing Women on Fire book party!

It was such great fun couple weeks ago, celebrating Women on Fire Volume 2 in Chicago.


Take a peek at the event by pressing play!

*View more videos of the event here!

As a party planner, I couldn’t wait to “bring to life” the beautiful visual theme of Women on Fire.  It was exhilarating dreaming up the look and feel of the book signing party – from color palette to creating fiery florals, cocktails, savory and sweet menu items – we’re talking fun from start to finish.


Of course, nothing is can compare to the inspiration of our dear, fabulous, fine fellow Women on Fire.  The room was going to glow just from their sheer presence, as well as all the friends and family joining to cheer our local authors Leah Hamilton and Linda Neff onward and upward.  The party, the library at A Perfect Event, every room needed to raise itself up to the greet each guest with a warm, fiery embrace.


First up – creating the visual color palette.  Women on Fire means warm, jewel tones from yellow to orange to red – which are easy to incorporate into party details from flowers, cocktail napkins, and paper décor like menu cards.


Second – flowers!  Everyone loves a pop of fresh floral, especially in the winter doldrums.   Tulips are a low cost, fast and easy flower to buy in bunches from your florist or even right in the grocery aisle.   I love ombre design – arranging florals from pale color to rich intensity hues – so we clustered stems from yellow to orange to red inside the vase.


Third – menu.  This is the fun part.  Guests absolutely love to see and taste something new, unique, and tied to the theme.  A cocktail tied to the book title, Women on Fire, was in order.  Local Koval Distillery (fun fact, the first distillery in Chicago since the prohibition – and grain to bottle artisans, at that) is always my go to for whiskey cocktails.  “Whiskey on Fire” is fast and easy to whip up at home.  I am here to tell you, guests are still talking about how delicious these were – a week later.


For any cocktail party a combination of savory and sweet bites rounds out the perfect menu.  For an On Fire party menu we needed hot, grilled skewers, bien sur.  From beef to chicken, shrimp to veg, skewers are so easy to prepare in advance, cover in spiced all natural dressings (use them as marinades) right from grocery produce aisle, and grill or bake just before guests arrive.


Serve them ontop tasty, healthy salads like lentils, wild rice, cabbage slaws to add in more delicious, nutritious vegetables and grains.  I love to buy lentils, black beans, shredded carrots, cabbage, broccoli wokly right in the produce department, and instantly mash them up with bottled organic healthy choice dressings like Garlic Expressions (right from Toledo, Ohio, where my family lives, and carried in groceries coast to coast).


Time for dessert!  Parties need a sweet ending, and we instantly thought of fired up smores on skewers.  Marshmallows, wooden skewers, and a quick broil in the oven create an instant hit with guests.  Drizzle with some melted dark chocolate, crush a few graham crackers as garnish – and you’ve reinvented a childhood favorite.  For a healthier choice, skewer fresh strawberries, broil quickly, and drizzle with balsamic syrup (a thicker balsamic than vinegar, available in grocery aisle).


Set the Table  – I love to create a visual feast on the buffet – and rolling a colorful The hit of the night, were perhaps the inspired Women on Fire quotes, printed, cut and layered on colorful papers with washi tape accents, then frames, and placed throughout the party ontop mirrors with votive candles.

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Inspiration Frames- FOR PURCHASE ($15.00)contact

They came, they saw, they “fired” and nibbled.  Bought books, cheered, snapped selfies, instagramed.






It was a cherished, perfect night, filled with fire and finery.

Here’s to a 2014, that’s on fire.


Whiskey on Fire Cocktail

1 bottle Koval Whiskey (can use your local favorite whiskey)

1 jar dried Cinnamon sticks

1 bottle organic spiced Apple Cider

1 6 pack Ginger Beer (not alcoholic, but full of fresh ground ginger)

1 pack Simple and Crisp Orange Slices (can use fresh sliced oranges)

1 jar dried whole Anise

Open whiskey, and add 3-4 cinnamon sticks.  Cap, and let infuse for at least 24 hours.

Before guests arrive, pour into large drinking jar or pitchers 1/3 whiskey, 1/3 cider and 1/3 ginger beer.  Float cinnamon sticks and a few orange slices ontop mixture for garnish.

To serve, fill glasses with ice, top with Whiskey on Fire, and garnish with floating orange slice and anise “star”.

Debi Lilly, A Perfect Event, Women on Fire member

Photography by: Bethany Fritz/Maypole Studios

Food by: Pure Kitchen Catering

Whiskey by: Koval Distillery

Florals by: A Perfect Event

Video By: Jordan Lindley




What wonder awaits on the other side of the door?

There is so much excitement around here right now I can hardly sleep.

Women on Fire book co-authors Leah Hamilton and Linda Neff (Photo by Debi Lilly)

There was a fabulous book party hosted by one amazing Woman on Fire that featured two brilliant Women on Fire co-authors in Chicago last week!

And, in less than two weeks we will welcome more than 100 Women on Fire to Naples, Florida for our annual retreat — Ignite Your Life — and Soar!

It is a leap of faith each time a Woman on Fire steps up to take action on her life, hopes and dreams.

*This week’s Pinspiration*

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Insipration from Women on Fire-

Each one of the 21 co-authors of our latest book burst through her own fears and concerns to write a chapter about a powerful, true experience that many people in her life may not have even known about. Each did so to help other women who may be faced with a similar challenge. That’s taking courageous action!

I also am inspired that many women coming to this year’s retreat will be attending their very first one.  I’m sure some of them are scared, wondering what will happen, who will they meet, will they belong, will it be worth their time, effort and expense?

But this did not stop them from moving forward!

What is important to know is that movement creates growth and change. It gets your juices and your life flowing.

Every decision you make toward something that appeals to you, or that you wish for, or even that you are a little scared of, you move to one of two places:

Either you’re glad you did it and it makes a difference for you — or you learn something important and decide you won’t do that again.  There is no way to make a perfect decision every time. And, sometimes the result is even better than you might have imagined!

If you sit back and ponder and think and wonder about the thing you think you might want, nothing happens. You stall out.

I remember the years between getting divorced and meeting my husband Rob. After numerous disappointing experiences with men, I decided I wasn’t going to date anymore.  I was going to wait it out and figure it all out in my head.

Thank goodness I had great support to help me reconsider that brilliant notion of mine. Had I sat on the sidelines and thought and wondered about a partner, I probably wouldn’t be in a relationship today. I had to just jump in the stream and swim.

So, it is a brave and bold step that some women have made to attend the retreat — without knowing for certain what wonder is on the other side of the door.

What I know for sure (thank you, Oprah!) is that any time Women on Fire gather in person — whether it is a book party in Chicago or a two-day retreat in Naples — it is an experience warm and loving, thoughtful and provocative, inspiring, uplifting and celebratory.

I was re-reading the other day Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly and her powerful 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living.  She reminds us how letting go of the need for certainly and letting go of self-doubt will transform our lives.

Congratulations to our retreat attendees for letting go of what might have held you back from coming  — and deciding just to go for it! I can’t wait to hear what you discover after you walk through the door 🙂

And, back to that Women on Fire book party in Chicago …

Thank you to celebrity party planner and Women on Fire member Debi Lilly, founder of A Perfect Event, who hosted the exquisite party last week for Leah Hamilton and Linda Neff in Chicago.

It was cold outside but deliciously warm inside where Debi created another of her magical parties featuring a signature Women on Fire cocktail and exquisite food such a Orange Blossom Torched marshmallow brushetta. In addition to the many guests, other Women on Fire members attending included Dana Frost, Kendall DeBoom, Cindy Clendenin and Debby Edwards.

The party was so elegant, fun and exciting that we’ll post more photos and recipes later this week on the blog.

For this week, I wish you clarity and ease in whatever decisions you make to move your life forward. Go for it!

Have a wonderful week ~


Debbie Signature

And the winner of the spa package is…

If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

*This week’s Pinspiration*

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Inspiration from Women on Fire

That is my very favorite African proverb.  Mostly because it so beautifully sums up what happens when women join forces with each other.

Last week was filled with all kinds of collaborations here at Women on Fire that resulted in women achieving more together than alone.  Life is just too difficult to singularly take on the world.

So here’s what happened when a few of our members put their geniuses together!

But first …

We have a winner for the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Naples spa package, valued at more than $300, for an attendee to the Women on Fire retreat in Naples, Florida Feb. 28-March 1.

So before I say goodbye to you today, you’ll learn her name.  (And so will she!)

(And, if you’re ready to say goodbye to winter and hello to a weekend of sunshine and inspiration with your Women on Fire sisters, we still have a few more seats remaining! But please register today before our annual event is sold out.)

Now back to our fabulous women who came together last week to make something special happen:

Dana Frost and Linda Neff

Linda Neff of Shoreland, Wisconsin and Dana Frost of Wilmette, Illinois teamed up at a women’s event at Linda’s church, United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay.  Linda was the keynote speaker for the event — Wrapped in Love — and invited Dana to lead a workshop.

The participants couldn’t say enough in their Facebook posts about how energized they felt being supported by these inspiring women!

Janina Serden Sebesky and Jan Nolte

Janina Serden Sebesky, creator with her best friend and co-writer Kitt Moran of the musical Chick Soup, has been holding readings in her living room in New York City to prepare for what we are sure will be performances on Broadway one of these days soon!

Janina with Sarah Elizabeth Greer (Photo by Josephine Donatelli)

These are the Women on Fire who came to help and support Janina in taking next steps toward her dream:

Producer and stand-up comic Janette Barber, Women on Fire book, Vol. 2 co-authors Sarah Elizabeth Greer and Heike Vogel, voice coach Jan Nolte, Jodi Graber, Kate Perlman, Mary Ann Donatelli-Reilly and Jackie Reilly. Even candid photos to document the teamwork were done by a Women on Fire member, photographer Josephine Donatelli.

Of the collaborative experience, talented Janina said:

“It was wonderfully affirming to get such positive feedback about the new direction for Chick Soup, which follows the friendship of two women throughout the decades.

“The readings inspired conversation and debate about what makes a friendship survive.  It was helpful to hear what moved them and also what was confusing or unclear in our script.”

As Janette always says, “Women on Fire is a bonanza. Everything you need to be successful is in this circle!”

Lisa Umberger Arundale and Michelle Whittaker glowing at their book-signing!

Michelle Whittaker of Washington, D.C., a co-author in the latest Women on Fire book with her story “Getting Back To Life,” hosted a book signing in our nation’s Capitol. And she was joined by co-author Lisa Umberger Arundale of Naples, Florida who wrote the chapter “Leaning Into Grief.”

Both women said they found it fun and very helpful to work together to sign books and share in the experience of meeting and greeting audience members.

Tricia Simpson, Women on Fire member LaRaine McCoy and Laurel Hodory

Braving frigid temperatures in Columbus, Ohio, three co-authors — Carrie Saba, Tricia Simpson and Laurel Hodory teamed up at Spagio’s Wine Bar for their first book-signing  — and it was super successful!

“It was so great to collaborate,” Carrie said, “as it helped so much with nerves. We had each other to lean on and we all brought ideas to the table which helped with creativity for how the event would flow … the evening flowed beautifully and we were all busy talking and signing.”

Congratulations to all on joining forces to travel farther together in making your dreams come true!

This week who can you collaborate with to take next steps on your big dream? 🙂

And, finally, thank you to everyone who participated in our contest to become a winner of the Waldorf Astoria Spa package! You all did a great job sharing word about the retreat.  Our winner is …

  • Robin Butler Leonard of Clayton, Missouri

Congratulations, Robin! So excited for you to enjoy the spa’s exquisite artisan massage and a bountiful basket of products and treats.

Have a wonderful week and sending you big hugs ~

Debbie Signature

She’s a Woman on Fire! Meet Linda Neff

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…

Linda Neff- She's a Woman on Fire #womenonfire

Linda Neff

Shorewood, Wisconsin (a suburb of Milwaukee)

Member: #00046
Member since:  September 30, 2011

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

I have to say, I’ve just recently become comfortable with the “what are you on fire about, or not?” question—the question Debbie Phillips so wisely and lovingly asks each of us.

I remember the first time I heard this question when attending the Women on Fire Columbus retreat.  I wanted to shrivel up in a corner.  The movie in my mind immediately started, “You’re not on fire about anything. You’re dull. Everyone else in your circle is so much more dynamic. Any answer you come up with will definitely lack substance.”

And for quite some time, I thought there was a “right” way to answer this question. So, for anyone else who may also be trying to find the right way to answer this question, here is my personal “aha” discernment.  The answer lies within my heart—it’s those things that make my heart take an extra little pitter-pat; the people or ideas that I want to wrap my heart around with an extra squeeze.  We each have our own unique hearts—so what we’re on fire about is vastly different from woman to woman—which is what makes Women on Fire such an important community.

My heart, probably from the time I was a very little girl, has been wrapped around women’s issues.  I’m on fire today about issues and work that can strengthen and bolster women.

This spring, the reflection on a piece of artwork by my 15-year-old daughter Helen definitely sparked my heart. After seeing Steve Lambert’s “Invisible” art installation, she began sharing her thoughts on how profound the work was.  She said, “You know Mom, if the ‘N’ went dark, the art would read ‘I Visible.’”  With my heart’s desire to be a voice for women, Helen’s thoughts brought an immediate realization—in order to create change in the world for women, we need to step out of the shadows and into the light with our stories. We need to Be Visible.

I am greatly humbled and immensely grateful to my employer, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, for the opportunity to bring Be Visible into the light as a story telling project.  I hope you will take a moment to listen to these five incredibly brave women as they share their intensely personal and powerful stories.

Tweet: Be Visible.  Be You. That’s your true fire!


How did you originally connect to Women on Fire?

Okay, I love this question because my path to WOF is a little zany!

Prior to turning 50, I always looked forward to birthdays.  I loved that feeling of waking up knowing it was my birthday.  The day just always felt extra special.

Somehow in the months leading up to my 50th birthday, I became uncomfortable about turning an age that had always seemed so far away.  My husband Chuck and I had talked about a 50th party in our garden for many months.  We even planted the garden that year with the party in mind.  Imagine his surprise when I told him I didn’t want a party!

I was completely clueless about how to approach this birthday with some modicum of grace, so I turned to the internet to research “How to turn 50?”  I know—crazy, right? During my research, I discovered Michele Woodward’s blog and how she had celebrated her 50th via a virtual birthday party.  The party consisted of a number of fascinating women each calling her with their wisdom on turning 50.  One of the wise virtual birthday guests was Debbie Phillips.

As Debbie was sharing her wisdom on turning 50 (which I loved!) I Googled Debbie and found her Women on Fire website.   There, I learned about a retreat scheduled for September 30, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio which was only eight hours away by car.  Based on Debbie’s voice and her great message on turning 50, I decided to go for it.  My research was complete; I registered for the WOF retreat—this was going to be my birthday present!

As the retreat grew closer I started doubting myself.  After all of my initial research, I had registered for the retreat with a little too much haste.  In reality, I didn’t really know that much about this group. Who were these women and who was this Debbie Phillips gal?

Alone in the car for the drive to Columbus, I began imagining all kinds of Stepford Wife-esque scenarios for this Women on Fire group.  I actually pulled over several times and contemplated driving back home to Milwaukee.

Keeping the car on the road for a destination that was unclear has been the single best decision I’ve made in this new decade of being in my fifties.  I am forever grateful that in my zaniness of researching how to turn 50, I found Debbie Phillips and Women on Fire.  This diverse community of women inspires me every day and encourages me to be my own best Woman on Fire!

Best. Birthday Present. Ever.

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

I carry a cowbell in my work bag!

Prior to college my parents gave me a cowbell so I could properly cheer at the Purdue football games.  (I grew up in Ohio’s version of Friday Night Lights so football reigned supreme and my parents wanted me to be prepared for Big Ten football!)  Not having a booming voice, the cowbell became my expression of exuberance and support for my Purdue Boilermakers.  After college my trusty cowbell was shelved.

During the tumultuous political times in Wisconsin that ensued following the election of Governor Scott Walker in 2010, the cowbell quickly came off the shelf.  As I attended many of the now-historical rallies that took place in our state’s capital, I used the cowbell to amplify my voice and my values about all people having a fair shot for freedom, opportunity, responsibility and cooperation—especially as it related to women and families.

Rather than re-shelving my cowbell, I now keep it close at hand as it has become a symbol of hope for many of my co-workers and friends who share a similar value system.  From time to time, when the issues around women’s equality seem insurmountable, I let the cowbell work its magic.  It has the power to instantly re-energize spirits and replace what can feel like insurmountable obstacles with hope, ideas, and a course of action.

I highly recommend the cowbell as the perfect sidekick for any WOF chic lady fighter—a term Ruth Conniff, publisher of The Progressive magazine, used to describe the Planned Parenthood women who are addressing women’s rights with powerful femininity, style and smarts!

More about Linda Neff…

Despite being born in Bad Homburg, Germany, Linda describes herself as a true-blue Midwesterner.  She grew up in Dayton, Ohio, launched her career in Chicago and now lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin with her fantastically creative husband Chuck and equally creative daughter Helen.

With the exception of one previously overweight goldfish named Waggly Tail Fins, Linda had adamantly pronounced her home as a non-pet household—no matter what.  She is now looking forward to the arrival of their first four-legged pet, Chandler, an Australian Labradoodle who was born on 10/25/13 and will become the fourth family member of this former threesome.

While she is an active blogger in her head, she occasionally posts at Voices of Pearls. You are welcome to say hello to her at

She’s A Woman on Fire! feature is compiled by senior writer Becky Adams.

Sweet memories and a side-splitting performance

For those of you who are new to The Spark!, today is both an update and to shine the light on a Woman on Fire who is blazing brightly.

*This week’s Pinspiration*

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How well do you walk through the fire-

I am in Huntsville, Alabama this weekend to attend a celebration of life service for my brother Steve and his wife Gaby. Married for 32 years, they died only weeks apart – on September 11 and November 9.

The compliment most often said about my brother during his life and after was “Steve would give you the shirt off of his back.”  And, indeed, he would.  In fact, more than a decade ago he gave Gaby one of his kidneys and prolonged her life and their life together.

While extremely difficult to have two people in our family die so close together, when I reach into my heart of hearts I am grateful they are together again – free from their illnesses and pain.

In this deeply sad time for all of us and especially for Steve and Gaby’s daughters who are in their 20s, it’s also been a precious time of coming together in a new configuration of family.  In the face of losing our first sibling, new family bonds have been formed and strengthened.

It’s been my saving grace to live in our Women on Fire community at this tender time in my life, and I am so grateful to you for your oceans of support.

Thank you.

Last week I had the comforting pleasure of being with Women on Fire members in New York City and Columbus.

In New York, I was utterly dazzled by the performance of one of our long-time members.  Sarah Elizabeth Greer wrote and starred in her own hilarious show – Bio-Hazard: A Relative Comedy.

I joined Women on Fire Holly GettyJanina Sebesky and Janette Barber to laugh the night away.  It was an honor and profound joy to see Sarah achieve her dream and! And to meet her mother Connie Greer and Sue Donor.

Sarah’s determination to transform her pain into radiant joy is extraordinary.

You’ll be seeing and hearing much more from Sarah when she shares her story of adoption in our upcoming book – Women on Fire: 21 Inspiring Women Share Their Life Secrets (and Save You Years of Struggle!), Vol. 2.

You’ll also recognize Sarah in our new book trailer.  Guaranteed, in her few seconds  in the video, she’ll put a smile on your face and maybe even make you laugh out loud!

And, in Columbus last week, Women on Fire members gathered at my favorite restaurant LaChatelaine (you know I love anything Paris-inspired!). We caught up with each other and discussed ideas for honoring our beloved Jane Juergens.

Through generosity that is so typical of Women on Fire, we will create a scholarship for a deserving woman (or several) to help her make it through the transition from one career or job to the one she truly wants (just as Jane successfully transitioned from a corporate job to her own company with the support of her Women on Fire sisters).

There will be a nomination and application process to select the recipients.

If you’d like to be part of a small committee to meet (can be virtual) to craft the details for the scholarship, please email me.

In next week’s SPARK!, we’ll feature tips and strategies to get a good night’s sleep (although after Thursday’s turkey fest, falling asleep may not be an issue at all!).

My wonderful, brilliant friend Belleruth Naparstek (she who launched the entire industry of guided imagery recordings) is offering us her special report on how to achieve restful sleep and get more zzzzzz’s in your life. Each day more information is coming to light about how very essential sleep is to our physical and emotional well being. Belleruth’s report couldn’t come at a better time.

So stay awake to get that!  And I’ll see you then.

After Steve and Gaby’s service, I’ll be back home on Martha’s Vineyard to have Thanksgiving with my husband Rob and close friends.   I am oh-so-ever grateful for all I have in this world – which includes wonderful you.

Have a beautiful, abundant Thanksgiving.