Be the Change

Next Step Adventure is offering a series of dinner discussions called “Be the Change” on Thursday evenings beginning January 2, 2014 with “Be the Change in Your Body.” All of the events will be held at Christopher’s Restaurant in Beaverdale. Register here for one event at $30, which includes a healthy dinner of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Or register and prepay for all five events for just $125 ($25 discount).

Many a conversation ends with a statement something like, “Well now that we’ve solved all the world’s problems…” Then we go on to the next discussion. I often feel more overwhelmed by the issues of the day at the end of the day than I did at the start. But Rachel Naomi Remen says something like, “What if you’re exactly what the world needs right at this moment?”

I love that, and I work to keep it in mind as I go through the happy and sad events in life. A dear family member was killed in a car accident a week ago, and it feels pretty hard to believe that all is right with the world. I know death is part of life. As Thich Nhat Han says, “We need to see the garbage as beautiful because the garbage is in process of turning into the flower.” So, I’m looking for peace and understanding.

Would you like to get some clarity and support for being the change you wish to see in the world? Then join us for a series of dinner discussions at Christopher’s Restaurant. Here are the topics for the five sessions:

  • January 2–We experience the world through our bodies, our senses and movement for our whole lives. We’ll discuss how to get back into our bodies and engage in life.
  • January 23–Join us for a lively discussion of lobbying, letter and op ed writing to be heard in the political arena.
  • February 6–Where is the courage to create change in times of big problems? It’s hard to be hopeful, but we’ll chunk down problems, explore how vulnerability enhances connection, and cultivate optimism.
  • February 27–Focus on being present in life through meditation, putzing, art and yoga. Whether through formal or everyday practice, mindfulness improves mental health.
  • April 3–How to improve our relationship with mother earth? We’ll explore things to do outdoors, eating a more sustainable diet, conserving fuel and decreasing stuff.


  • Martha McCormick–artist, yogi, transition coach, facilitator, teacher, entrepreneur
  • Kyla Cox–urban farmer, activist, community organizer, Zen student, counselor
  • Sonni Giudicessi–manager, yogi, political organizer, athlete

Attend one or all discussions at Christopher’s Restaurant, 2816 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines (Wheelchair Accessible). Register here for one event at $30, and includes a healthy dinner of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Register and prepay for all five for just $125 ($25 discount). Please send a check or money order to Next Step, 3615 Adams Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310 by November 18th, or pay by credit card the night(s) of the event(s).

Questions? Ask Kyla at or 515-689-7255


Love Your Life

I was smiling as this TED Talk ended. Then I struggled with getting Word to open (it’s the FOURTH time that’s really the charm) and listened to some of Amanda Palmer’s music (it’s NOT for everyone). Now I’m more thoughtful than smiling.

Palmer makes some wonderful points in this talk, and I decided it would be a good kick-off to my month of writing about women who make history. March? Women’s History Month? Yah!

I celebrated it for the first time back in the 1990s with a contest, custom printed tee shirts and a gala celebration. Anyhow.

Amanda Palmer talks about connecting. It’s about music, acting, asking for her. For me it’s about listening, with not just my ears but also my eyes and my heart.

Ms. Palmer talks about using Twitter to communicate instantly, to find what she needs. For me, technology is about getting and spreading ideas. For connecting people with those ideas.

At the center of Ms. Palmer’s talk is her split from her record company when they considered 25,000 records sold a failure. That seems to be about right sizing. When I was a girl I wanted to be a famous spy. Little did I know that spies by their nature are among the least famous of people. For the most part, their work is very boring.

Instead I’ve played games and gotten paid for it. I’ve built programs and organizations and even facilities and watched people learn and grow. I love my life!


Reach Out and Connect

I spent Thanksgiving weekend with LucyKate in New York City. We took the Metro to Noho, walked through Soho, the Bowery, and Washington Square. After a ramen lunch in St. Mark’s, we heard people shouting our names, and finally turned around to find the Kerman girls & friends, running to catch us. AMAZING to connect with people from home in the US’ busiest city. But it’s the second time it’s happened to me. Last time I was here, I ran into Duane Halbur outside Grand Central Terminal!

November and the holidays are all about reaching out and connecting. This time of year does bring up some stuff, as do sickness and loss. A couple old friends and I broke china, shouted, and got past family resentments so they can connect with their father, who has cancer, and needs to tell his story, forgive, and ask for forgiveness over the next couple years. They want to mend their family connections, and are working hard to do it.

When I reported on Healthy Polk 2020, Priority #8, to the Polk County Board of Health, I emphasized connecting and reaching out. Few people on my expert team were connected before. They weren’t the “usual suspects” who guide community action in central Iowa. I interviewed each of them before we met, and used each unique perspective throughout the process. At the first meeting I put toys out, used computer key intros, played “Get on the Bus.” They shared their bios to ensure connection beyond the task at hand.

At the Iowa Non-Profit Summit, I facilitated a panel of Gerry Schnepf, Elvin McDonald, and Jan Herke. When Elvin began as Director of the Friends of the Botanical Center, the Board complained of littering and vandalism on the grounds. Elvin reached out to the school up the hill, and now the Boys & Girls Club brings kids down every week to garden 20 ten-by-ten-foot raised beds. They pick up litter on their way, and vandalism has not been a problem since.

Jan talked about Youth in Parks, a program that’s been going strong since I worked with Urbandale, West Des Moines and Ankeny on a partnership that continues to plan, train and evaluate the program together. They connect hundreds of middle school kids with service opportunities in parks, nursing homes, and day cares.

Gerry talked about how service learning connects kids to communities, so much that some research indicates they’re more likely to stay put when they’re grown. Keep Iowa Beautiful is developing Teachers Going Green, based on service learning and place-based education. Both of these approaches connect kids and schools with the communities around them.

LucyKate is studying Independent School Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. Over the holiday, we talked about education and relationships a lot. We watched this wonderful TEDx video with Brene Brown. Could vulnerability really be the key to connections? What do you think?


Go with the Flow

At the end of August, Kate and I drove to New York City. The trip was going smoothly as we approached the exit toward Brooklyn where a worker and three orange cones blocked the way. “Closed due to flooding,” Hurricane Irene whirled through the city about a week before we did.

“I’m going with the flow this trip,” but as we got ourselves un-lost in the unmarked streets in urban New Jersey, and flew along upper levels of the freeway, it was hard to believe my driving skills were up to the challenge. Riding the subway during rush hour on my first trip to NYC in 1976 wasn’t nearly so stressful. Overwhelmed by the crush, a native turned to me, “just go with the flow.”

That’s a very different kind of flow than Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in his 1991 book, Flow. He heads the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont University in California. This TED talk is a great introduction to the requirements of flow. A key element of happiness, anyone can experience flow.

We are in flow when we’re completely engrossed in what we’re doing. When the challenge of the task matches our abilities to meet that challenge. It can happen in work or off the job.

It’s our job in adventure programming to create flow. To give participants challenges they can achieve, but that will take them out of their comfort zone. help them suspend disbelief. Eric taught me a lot about the time factor in facilitating. It’s better to end early than even a little late. People won’t stay engaged when they’re worrying about the time. Concluding and reflecting only happen while people are fully engaged.

I always want to do what I’m doing until I’m done, to do just one more thing. When Kate was growing up, and we were running late as we often did, we would say “time is not only relative, but simply an invention to keep everything from happening at once.”

Blue Zones research recommends we designate a “flow room” where we can immerse ourselves in activities that consume our attention. I plan to organize my studio to be the center for painting, sewing and projects that I originally envisioned, rather than the catchall it’s become. The last two days, I’ve painted the jetties, and the row of green umbrellas lining the beach. The first day was stormy at sea, and my painting is stormy too. For me, that painting captures the connection between creativity and flow.

Flow comes when our work makes us happy, contributes to society, and is its own reward. I’ve experienced it writing a grant that fit perfectly the organization’s mission. The feeling the grant was writing itself. I didn’t have to pull at the words like taffy.

When I’m out in my kayak, I totally lose track of time. I’m not distracted. I don’t check the clock. I’m not afraid. I’m exhilarated. That’s flow.



Turn the Radio On

Well, actually learn about social marketing. (Our radio show, though short-lived was a lot of fun, and even though it’s offline now, there’s some good stuff in this post) So read on…

Ben Stone gave us a lovely compliment, “Two Baby Boomers (three actually counting our producer Anne Larson) doing an Internet radio show gives me hope.” Ben owns RPO Consulting, and though he considers himself an HR guy (I know), he finds himself working more and more on helping people use social media effectively. The nuggets I’m still chewing on (along with my GORP) are these–

Facebook and Twitter are about relationships, not eyeballs.

When you use social media, imagine yourself traveling in another country; you have to learn the customs, the geography. You have to try the food and explore the culture to get the most from the experience.

I’ll keep those thoughts in mind as I develop my blog, content on my YouTube account and figure out how to make Twitter work for me and Next Step. We also discussed generational differences in how we use social media. Three generations of entrepreneurs were represented on the show–Ben Stone (Generation X), Talia Leman (Gen Y), Bruce Lehnertz and me (Boomers).

Talia is a sophomore in high school, but has accomplished more already than I ever hope to. Well, I can hope! About six years ago, she was inspired to start the wildly successful organization after she organized a trick-or-treat event to raise money to help victims of a storm in Ghana. That experience showed her the power of young people, and now she is unleashing it on the world . The global (20 countries with about 12 million? members) uses the Internet to provide youth the opportunity to safely collaborate with kids at other schools, and with people on the ground who work on behalf of their fundraising efforts, and help them achieve their goals.

Collaboration again emerges a high priority for entrepreneurs in all kinds of endeavors, whether agriculture and retail or cooking. Our conversation with Talia and Ben cemented my impression of the younger generations–they will find and create and enact solutions for the many problems that confront us. That gives me hope.

Push the Edge

We just did our fifth, Internet-based radio show–We’re Entrepreneurs. We Can Help–Women on the Edge. For several months, I played around with the idea of a weekly radio show. Then last fall I asked my friends Anne Larson and Bruce Lehnertz if they were interested in collaborating with me on it. They both trust me way more than they should, and said “sure!”

Well, two months and a lot of gray hairs later (not mine, mind you. at least I’m not admitting it), we’ve got a few not-so-great, and two very good shows under our belt and on Des Moines Amplified. The concept is to facilitate a discussion with local folks who are stepping out on the edge–starting businesses, hatching new ideas, solving problems, offering resources. In short, doing the deal. I described the concept to a friend at lunch yesterday, and she said, “It sounds progressive.” That’s what we’re going for.

Progressive. Creative. Upbeat. Fun.

Today I visited with two women entrepreneurs in areas traditionally dominated by males–LeAnn Ely owns Terre d’Esprit Farm, where she raises meat goats. One of her mentors told her not to do it, and that just made her want to prove she could. She said the challenges often come from unexpected sources–her customers, who may not be accustomed to dealing with businesswomen. And the government, which often insists on talking to her husband! In addition to her goat farm, LeAnn is raising a family and working a full time job. Talk about multi-tasking!

Kenna Neighbors recently opened Seed, an urban garden shop in the Des Moines’ East Village. It’s her second business, and she is wildly successful! She started her landscape business a while ago, and now has 27 employees (LeAnn has about 27 goats. hmmmmm) After trying jobs in retail, Kenna decided, “I’m just not a pantyhose kind of girl.” Like many women, she started her company after fleeing a wreck of a marriage and wondering, “How am I going to feed my kids?” along with a love for digging in the dirt. She blew a horse manure source’s mind by lifting a handful up to her nose. “This is what I want!”

Talking with Kenna and LeAnn made me even more excited about doing the show, and about my own business. I’m still not sure what radio has to do with Next Step, but I’m pretty sure that more will be revealed. I think I was a frustrated entrepreneur for all those years I worked for Iowa State University, and I’m grateful they put up with me. But I was always on the edge of the organization, and now I’m learning why. In yoga, we talk about pushing the edge. Women start about twice as many businesses as men; maybe we’re just more compelled to go out on that edge.

Ride a Horse

After reading and re-reading my favorite horse books–Misty of ChincoteagueBlack Beauty and My Friend Flicka–I bought a horse when I was in college. Well, actually two horses. The first was a green-broke Arabian gelding named Pegasus. He managed to throw me in the ditch each time I rode him, so I traded Peg for a pony named Butterscotch. At least when he bucked me off, it wasn’t as far to the ground!

Girls often are fascinated with horses; the romance and intrigue is rooted in reality though; studies show that girls’ self esteem is boosted through a relationship with horses. Bonding with a horse can develop trust, respect, affection, empathy, unconditional acceptance, confidence, responsibility, assertiveness, communication skills and self-control. Horse therapy can help young teens deal with substance abuse, eating disorders, attachment and bonding problems, low self esteem, defiance and depression.

The Jester Park Equestrian Center (JPEC) programs help teens build self confidence through horsemanship, horse safety and learning to read a horse’s temperament. The experience helps mold stronger teens who are good team members. JPEC also offers wagon rides, bonfires and teambuilding programs for groups. Email Debby Crowley or call her at 515 999-2818 for more information or to schedule your group for a program. Here’s what some JPEC riders have said:

  • “…learned to let go of my fears”
  • “You have to be patient with some things because I had to be patient with horses.”
  • “…and when I got home I was really tired and smelly but it was fun.”

Other horseback riding opportunities in the area are offered at:

Map Your Mind

I’ve filled about one sketchbook each year with notes since I learned to mind map in the early 1990s. Several years before that I had simply stopped taking notes. In those pre-mind map days, I found myself looking at the yellow tablets I’d been writing in and making little sense of the scribbles. Then at a creativity workshop, Rhonda Wiley-Jones introduced me to mind mapping. This process of “visual note taking” has been an indispensable tool for me ever since! I’ve used mind maps for everything from planning major grants to strategic planning and to do lists.

Mind maps and similar concepts have been used for centuries for learning, brainstorming, enhancing memory, and problem solving by educators, engineers, psychologists…But Tony Buzan made them popular. They are used more in Europe than in the US, but I recommend them especially to kinesthetic and visual thinkers.

Mind mapping has many applications for personal and business use. Because ideas are added into the map radially around a central idea or theme without the implicit prioritization that comes from outlining–summarizing, revising and clarifying thoughts and ideas come naturally to the mind mapper.

Mind maps have been useful to me in a number of ways–

The workshops I facilitate on mind mapping and other keys to creativity, are geared to your unique group, and provide background and rationale, group and individual practice time, ideas for tapping into your creativity and FUN!

–Martha McCormick

Explore the Teen Brain

I became fascinated with brain research more than 20 years ago when science began to really get inside the human brain and explore it. I’ve done my best to keep up over the years as more and more information is added to the body of knowledge. Right now I’m planning a mind mapping workshop; this technique of visual note taking is very helpful for me, as I go through the world as a concrete random thinker.

Instead of driving myself crazy trying to fit into a more sequential world, I’ve learned to build on my strengths and find colleagues who can help me with details and task orientation.  Brain research has helped me grow creatively and professionally. I use research on learning styles and personality types when I do team building and strategic planning. I’ve put together a post with links to a number of inventories besides the one below.

One of my favorite areas is adolescent brain development. Understanding how the young person’s mind is growing and developing helps me understand her mystifying behavior, sometimes. To that purpose, I’ve developed an experiential workshop for teens and adults that explore–

  • Brain development in adolescents
  • Addressing different learning styles in groups
  • Inspiring creativity
  • New approaches to academic gains

Other topics and areas of interest can be included. Schedule one session or more. Please email Martha to schedule the program.

–Martha McCormick

Take a Quiz to Find Your Style

It’s always interesting to find out more about yourself. I think that’s what life is really about–finding out who we are and then becoming the best of that. So, whether it’s the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the Chinese Horoscope (I’m a Tiger, rrrawrrr) on your placemat at your favorite ethnic restaurant, it’s fun to look at what it says about you and decide whether it fits or not.

Here are some links to quizzes that can provide some insight to your preferred personality, learning, thinking, relationship styles. Follow the links for free or inexpensive web-based assessment tools–

Some of the above are research sites; some may be more scientific and reliable than others. Please use your best judgement as you explore your inner tiger, boar or rooster!