She Did It

This is where people share their success. Stand out and be a She Did It. You are our everyday heroes. Inspire other women by sharing your story:

  • You have rappelled down a cliff for the first time
  • You are crossing the finish line of a half marathon
  • You just launched your new business
  • You have helped someone move forward in their life and you want to share it
  • Your youngest child gets into college
  • Your have your first grandchild
  • You and your sister just baked the most gorgeous cake ever
  • You have found a new passion
  • You changed your first tire
  • You learned how to do something new


The PMC: A Community That Makes A Difference

riding the pmcRarely have I met anyone who doesn’t love to show up at their annual traditions.

Looking forward to celebrating with friends and family anchored by a good meal or an adventure pushes me to buy that plane ticket to Thanksgiving, spend all day cooking to host a holiday, or train my butt off to show up at my annual biking fundraiser.

But what if showing up at the “event” puts you at risk of a job, your health, or your relationship or even your life? No question, you’d have to ask yourself – how much does this mean to me? Maybe I could just send a check?

This year I had to ask myself, how much risk and misery I was willing to accept to be part of a tradition that I have participated in for 28 years — the Pan Mass Challenge. This one weekend bike event raises money for cancer research at Dana Farber – and this year is committed to a $40 million dollar goal.

The event is a 2-day 194-mile bike ride across Massachusetts from Sturbridge, Mass to Provincetown. For 25 years I have ridden the entire 194-mile event. These past 3 years I have opted for the 1-day ride of 84 miles from Wellesley to Bourne.

No matter the distance, the weather or life event that has tempted me to opt-out – I’ve never regretted showing up.

Unfortunately, for the first time this summer was accurate in their forecast.  Saturday morning as we rode out of Wellesley in 90% humidity and 69-degree temps, as predicted, within one-hour we were pelted by rain, which did not let up for the entire ride. The temperature dropped to a cold chill of who knows – maybe 62 degrees about 30 miles from our finish. It was brutal and the most challenging ride I have done in my 28 years.  It was the “coldest sustained rain in the 35 history of the PMC.” That said – I showed up for the ride knowing these were going to be the riding conditions as I was fully committed to the cause.

On the road survival ruled. I left my group, unable to wait at water stops as the chill of the day threatened to settle into my bones. With fogged glasses, clammy cold and ineffective rain gear layered with the dirt spitting off the tires of the riders in front of me – every pedal stroke required full on focus.

Chilled to the bone I zeroed in on pictures pinned to the shirts of the riders around me.  Pictures of moms, dads, kids, and friends lost to cancer. I thought about the 3,700 volunteers and the 5,700 riders who came out this past weekend. We are proud that none of the money donated is wasted on top heavy administration. 100 percent of the Pan Mass Challenge donations go directly to cancer research at Dana Farber.

Every rider has a story at this event and Cancer is our common thread. This disease impacts us all. Personally, cancer has attached itself into my closest circle of friends and family and shifted the very fibers of our lives. And frankly, like so many, I feel helpless.

This 2-day bike ride gives all participants an opportunity to communicate their losses, feel the community of those who understand, while at the same time physically participle by riding and raising money for this cause.

The PMC event creates the glue that binds all of us together in our search to help one another as we struggle with this deadly disease.

So as I pedaled forward to the Day 1 finish in Bourne – those thoughts fueled me forward.

I am so grateful for the community that the PMC has created which includes all the riders, the volunteers and the donors who collectively are joined in one singular mission – to find a cure.

However, I admit that next year I wouldn’t mind a little sun, a sweet tail wind and moderate temps. But no matter, as long as I am able, I will ride this event again and again.

P.S. Thanks to my husband Bill Cress for co-writing this piece with me



Why I’m Glad I Had A Boob Job

I had a boob jobRecently model Kate Upton did a zero gravity photo shoot and my only thought looking at the pictures was how happy I was to no longer be her boob size.

My boobs came in early and huge.  I was the girl who needed a bra at 13, mortified when I measured a DD at 16.   My friends called me ‘Dolly Parton’ once, causing me to burst into tears. After I had my first baby, a friend found my bra hanging in my bathroom and exclaimed, “one of these cups could literally fit over my head”. I never attempted breastfeeding since I knew I had to go back to work at eight weeks and I couldn’t imagine getting any bigger than I already was (EE) once my milk came in.  Never did I revel in the fact that I had huge, grapefruit size breasts with cookie size nipples.

In my mid-30s I decided it was time to take action.  My gynecologist recommended an excellent plastic surgeon.  During the initial visit he took pictures of my breasts (the only pictures that have ever been taken of them nude, I can assure you) and we decided to be proportionate to the rest of my body, I would become a full C cup.  He discussed the possibility of complete nipple sensation loss.  As I had very little sensation anyway, that was not an issue.

The surgery went well.  He removed over three pounds from my breasts.  I had to wear a tight binding over my chest for several weeks, which made me look unusually flat.  I worried perhaps he had taken too much out and made me a B cup.  Not to worry, once the binding came off, I was a beautiful C with quarter size nipples.  I had no idea that my own breasts could be so beautiful!  The surgeon also gave me a ‘lift’ so now that I’m 50, my boobs are where a 30 year olds would be and I couldn’t be happier.

The irony is that my beautiful breasts have absolutely no sensation at all—none.  My sister would love to have this surgery as well but won’t because her breasts are such an erogenous zone for her.  My 22 year old daughter talks of having a reduction (she’s a DD also) as well.  My best friend, who is an A on a good day, offered to take my left overs so we both could be Cs.

The most pleasant surprise came when people who had no idea what I’d done saw me for the first time.  “Have you lost weight?” was their first question.  Why yes, yes I have—from my boobs!  I just smiled and replied yes.   “You have a waist!” exclaimed my Mother-in-law.  Well, I’d had one all along but I had to wear such big tops you’d never been able to see it.  My breasts are now proportionate to my body, which is a beautiful thing.

My recommendation to anyone thinking of having a ‘boob job’:  do your research.  Pick a highly recommended or well-known plastic surgeon. Know what you’re getting into because it’s not just the physical appearance that gets altered.  There’s a huge psychological component as well.   Understand the risks and possible outcomes—are you OK losing all nipple sensation?  If you have a partner, how does he/she feel about you having a reduction?  My husband was nothing but supportive because he knew how I felt physically and emotionally about my breasts.

For me, having breast reduction surgery was life changing.  It made me get in better shape and hey, it’s a lot easier to swing a golf club these days!  Plastic surgery is definitely not for everyone but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I Never Thought My Life Would Turn Out Like This

out of controlAt almost 60, I woke up and realized my survival depended on an ability to make a big change…..

I had a great life, my husband had a career with a nice salary.  I raised the children, washed clothes, ironed, cooked, gardened, gossiped and pursued some enjoyable hobbies (plants and words).  I loved the security and safety.  Then my husband decided to go into business for himself, and although we had savings and a robust IRA I felt as though my safety was gone.

I love my husband so I was surprised to discover that having him home disrupted everything for me.  He was supposed to go to work and the home was mine because there are roles and rules to life.   Once when he tried to help out with the laundry I lashed out as though I found him in bed with a hooker.  I didn’t want him doing the laundry; I wanted him working.  Clearly, I had no idea his career change would cause severe safety and security issues for me.  My husband’s new choices sparked a fear I couldn’t fix.  I didn’t realize how large a problem I had uncovered, and the problem was not my husband.

We invested in real estate right before everything crashed.  I watched as suddenly the entire country was 50% off!  Between that and the stock market crashing, our money disappeared.  We took a loan on our home to keep our investments going but only ended with a heavily mortgaged home, no investments, and few prospects at our age to make a living. I embodied the adage “we attract what we fear the most.”

My husband cooked for a hobby, so we started making pizza out of our home, which morphed into catering.  It is hard work and I didn’t want to do it.  I would think,  “Who will trust us enough to hire us?”  “We are too old to do this.”  My fears were epic, I would lie in bed at night wondering how long it would be before the roof caved in.  I imagined having to move out of my home into a third floor apartment. It was impossible to stop the destructive thoughts because in my convoluted mind I deserved the pain because I had let the financial mess occur.  Only foolish people would have let so much money slip away. I would beg the universe for a “do over”.  Please no more life lessons!  I just wanted to make the investments over with present knowledge and then have lunch with my friends.

These thoughts did not bring peace, just sadness and confusion.  We weren’t foolish; we used our money to make an investment that didn’t work out.

Our reality was starting a business with no money with all problems new businesses have.  When the cook top in our kitchen went out we borrowed a camp stove to cook on.  Ever try to make pasta on a camp stove in your kitchen?  Then one day RC Willie called and said someone had bought us a new cooktop.  I was amazed and thrilled at the generosity, but sad I was someone to be pitied.  When our air conditioner went out we lived with the cold for the winter, but when summer’s miserable heat arrived our Bishop helped us get it fixed.  We were on the receiving end of one blessing after another.  Sadly, I didn’t want help; I wanted to be able to take care of myself.  My bouts of destructive thinking simply produced misery.

Our catering business wasn’t going to be a success unless I was “all in”.   But what I needed to do for the business was well outside my comfort zone.  Bookkeeping, networking, advertising, regulations, fees and finding business were overwhelming.  How would I ever learn it all, much less do it?  I cried a lot, mostly out of frustration, partly out of hopelessness and usually for the life I wanted that just did not exist.

I could sometimes hear a faint voice reminding me I was just trying to make a living; I wasn’t driving anyone to chemo. I still couldn’t see the blessings in front of me, only what I had lost, or actually never really had, but certainly expected.

Now my eyes are opening and I see many women with the same patterns in their lives.  Self-awareness is replacing self-doubt and pity and I decided not to give up.

I know I can do hard things!

Women wake up every day with a life they don’t recognize or certainly didn’t want.  Divorce, elder care, childcare, death, you name it.  Life can turn on a dime.  But we can do hard things!!

So who says to themselves “I never thought life would turn out like this”?

Almost everyone.


Figuring Out What Makes You Happy

Finding what you loveFrank McCourt published his first book, “Angela’s Ashes”, when he was 66 years old.  The following year he received The Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Critics Circle Award.

A few years ago I found myself wondering what I wanted to do with my life. Yes, I was nearing 50 and, similar to a woman in her 20’s who’d recently graduated from college, I wondered what the future held in store for me.  I never thought I’d be at the same crossroads I visited thirty years ago.  But there I was, holding my yearning in one hand and my self-doubt in the other.

What was a girl to do?

Depending on how you look at it, this time in your life can either be an exciting or an unhappy one.  The power to feel the thrill and challenge awaiting you is within your control.

I was always envious of people who knew at an early age exactly what they wanted to do.   I had floundered between jobs from publishing to real estate to healthcare, always trying to “find” myself.  I managed my work life the way I thought I was supposed to, working nine-to-five jobs that, in the end, ended up being unfulfilling but earned a steady paycheck.

Was this all there was?

Julia Child launched her first cooking show at the age of 51.  F. Murray Abraham received his first good role and won an Academy Award for his work in “Amadeus” at age 47.

Someone recently asked me, “What would your 20 year old self say to you about making yourself happy?”  Surprisingly I didn’t miss a beat.  The answer was already on the tip of my tongue. “Writing!”

There it was.  I said it out loud.  I suddenly felt a release of emotions I’d kept hidden for years.  Why is it that we ignore that little voice that says exactly what we need to hear?

So I decided to rely on my ability to write, and chose to focus on issues that mattered to me most.  Then I jumped full steam ahead and voraciously read everything I could get my hands on about how to create a blog, the use of social media in blogging, and how to reach a targeted audience.

A month or two later I was hired by a reputable health website to write articles and answer questions for my Multiple Sclerosis peers. Then I was hired by another website, and then another.

At age 65, Colonel Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken) took his money from his Social Security check and began to open franchises.  Less than 10 years later he sold the franchise to a corporation for 2 million dollars.

I am sticking with my dream of writing – shaping it, molding it and making it my own.  I am committed to doing it as my life’s work.  It demands a deep respect for the written word, and a dedication and commitment to an audience.

I love every minute of it.

Writing has also been rewarding because it’s allowed me to meet others who are like-minded, generous of heart and ready to offer constructive criticism and high praise.

Rodney Dangerfield was a last-minute replacement on the The Ed Sullivan Show, and became the surprise hit of the show.  He was 46 years old

I am a big fan of Don Miguel Ruiz who wrote in his book “The Four Agreements” about being “impeccable with your word”:

“Your word is the power that you have to create…

Through your word you express your creative power.  It is through your word that you manifest everything…

What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word.” 

What is your inner voice trying to tell you?  Listen closely; it’s waiting to guide you.  Open your heart and soul and listen to the truths of that voice.  Follow your passions. You never know.  Someday I may be writing about you!


Cleaning The Pool After A Bilateral Mastectomy

cleaning the poolTonight I back-washed and vacuumed our built-in pool all by myself.

I know, it may not sound like that big of a deal to all of you, but let me tell you, vacuuming a pool after a bilateral mastectomy is no small feat.  To vacuum a pool you need to use your chest muscles to push the vacuum all the way down into the bottom of the pool against the pressure of the water, and it’s way harder than you’d think under normal circumstances, let alone after a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

Let me just say: Ouch.

So, I feel like I’ve accomplished a huge task today.  In case you haven’t read my previous two posts about it, when I was going through my chemotherapy, which started in April of 2010, I just suddenly decided one day that I wanted to put in a built-in swimming pool in our backyard.

Yeah.  Weird, I’d never really wanted one before, but all of a sudden I was surer than anything I’ve ever been before that I wanted and needed to get a built-in pool that summer.

I had some theories about why we should do it.  I figured it would be a lot of fun for the kids and would keep them interested in hanging around at our house with their friends as they got older.  I had some theoretical ideas about having a lot of pool parties out there and inviting people over to barbecue and swim and sun by the pool.

I also attribute some of it to the chemo and what it was doing to my brain. I’ve never really been one to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a whim like that, but something about going through all that chemo seemed to inspire me to throw caution to the wind.

So, we spent the entire next year putting in a pool (if you read the posts you’ll see why it took a whole year, it was quite a crazy saga) and finally in 2011 we had a lovely built-in pool in the backyard after many months of back and forth phone calls, letters, arguments and discussions with the pool installation company (who had forgotten to get a permit during one of the most critical stages of the installation process!).

And for the first couple of summers the kids spent a lot of time in it, and it was wonderful.  But then by the 3rd year, as they got a little older, they spent less and less time in it and for a while the pool was just sitting out there in its cool, pristine beauty with no one actually going in it.  And I felt kind of bad about it.

And then last summer I decided to start having bi-weekly “Friday is BFF’s Hangin’ by the Pool Days” with my girlfriends and let me tell you, I have so much fun with that pool, now! I’ve been blocking out my Friday afternoons and refuse to book any client meetings after 12:00 noon on Friday’s, for (most of) the rest of the summer.

It is so relaxing to sit by the side of a pool with your closest friends who could care less how you look these days in a bathing suit; drinking wine, eating cheese and crackers and talking trash.  Hello, Summer!

Tomorrow is my first “Friday is BFF’s Hangin’ by the Pool Day” of the year.  I’m all stocked up with snacks and a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. If you’re in the area, come on over!

Hope you all have something fun planned for your weekend!

Claudia blogs at 

The Best Thing About Being A Syndicated Cartoonist

At 53, cartoonist Isabella Bannerman is at the height of her creative powers, and her peers in the cartooning world agree. She just won this year’s Reuben award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” from the National Cartoonists Society.

Bannerman is one of the six female cartoonists making up King Feature’s popular “Six Chix” strip, which is syndicated to 100 newspapers worldwide (and is also available online.) Bannerman has contributed the Monday cartoon (and as well as many Sunday strips) to the feature since it began in 1999.

To be considered for the Reuben, Bannerman had to submit a dozen cartoons published in 2013, which were then evaluated by a jury made up of other artists. Her favorite of the batch? This cartoon about texting:


“I was concerned about the danger of texting while driving,“ Bannerman says. “Texting and walking is a lot less scary than texting while driving, so it seemed better for a cartoon.  Everyone is familiar with “The Road Not Taken.” I liked the way the words of the poem fit with the sight gag.”

Another winning cartoon was this critique of a current bestseller.


“I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In—and just reading it made me tired!” says Bannerman. “Sandberg wants women to do more. Speak up more! Sit at the table! Lean in when we do sit at the table!  She’s clearly a super-high-energy person—after all, the woman is a former aerobics instructor. While I have no problem with her message, for a less energetic person, all that pushing and leaning sounded exhausting. I decided to reference that old hair spray ad—’She conked out but her hair held up!’  Even as a kid, I found that ad weird and funny.”

Still another cartoon pokes fun at an aspect of contemporary life many of us will recognize:


“I’m old enough to remember when yoga didn’t require a lot of equipment,” Bannerman says.  “Maybe, at most, a beach towel. So when I recently found myself in a crowded yoga class that involved hauling a small household’s worth of equipment to my spot, I found it funny.”

Bannerman was 38 when “Six Chix” began. Now she’s 53.  How has her work changed?  “I’m doing fewer gags about little kids and more gags about living with teenagers,” she says. “And more strips about aches and pains, going to the doctor, and trying to live in a healthier way. But her outlook has also changed. “These days I also do more editorializing about larger issues, like pollution and climate change,” she says. “When your kids are young you’re completely absorbed in the minutiae of their world. Now that my kids are older, I’m able to look around and take a broader perspective.”

The best thing about being a syndicated cartoonist? “I never take for granted that I have an outlet to express my thoughts and my feelings,” says Bannerman. “I love having the freedom to say whatever I want.” And an audience, including her fellow cartoonists, who can’t wait to see what she has to say.

Roz Warren’s ( work appears in The New York Times and The Funny Times. Connect with her on

This article first appeared in

Are You An Ambitious Woman?

Are you an ambitious womanFlannery O’Connor: “Success means being heard and don’t stand there and tell me that you are indifferent to being heard.”

Ask a woman if she’s ambitious and she’ll look at you as if you just asked whether she sticks pins in puppies for fun. Ask a woman if she’s competitive and she’ll look at you as if you suggested that she’s a hooker.

“Me? Ambitious? Well, I want to succeed in my vocation, of course, but I wouldn’t use the word ‘ambitious.’ I just want to get what I deserve, if that’s okay. As for competitive, no way. I hate being measured against somebody else.”

Women rarely admit our ambitions out loud not only because we fear failure — a fear we share with our male counterparts — but because wanting to succeed might make us seem less feminine.

That’s the tricky part.

Wanting an audience, wanting success, wanting to win — isn’t that what scary women want? We don’t like those women, right?


Isn’t it true that when women talk about wanting to win, to succeed, to be the best in their fields, to be at the top of the list, it can be unsettling? Doesn’t it sound — as is only ever said about women — too “pushy”?

And isn’t that why women often phrase dangerous statements as questions?

It’s time for that to stop.

Listen to Flannery O’Connor who, in a letter to a young woman who wants to write, insists on the importance of striving for success:

“Success means being heard and don’t stand there and tell me that you are indifferent to being heard. You may write for the joy of it, but the act of writing is not complete in itself. It has to end in its audience.”

Facing an audience whose evaluations will depend on merit rather than sincerity or emotional effort, girls are often encouraged to retreat. They are permitted to demur and back away from their goals. So they bite their nails, they diet themselves into near invisibility, they cry behind closed doors.

What a waste.

When asked to explain exactly why they are reluctant to describe themselves as ambitious, my female students reply that if they seem too eager to get the “A” or to be elected to run some university office, they might lose friends. They will be regarded as ruthless. “I don’t want to claw my way to the top,” a sophomore told me. “I don’t want to seem arrogant,” said another. “I’m no better than anybody else” said a third. These are all dynamic, smart, and diligent students, none of whom wants to be called a “winner” in public because she thinks it might hurt somebody’s feelings.

Let’s face it: Women have had restricted access, historically, to positions not only of privilege and power, but of possibility. One of my favorite passages by the essayist and novelist Virginia Woolf concerns the way she was barred from entering even the libraries at the great universities of England around the turn of the (last) century. As Woolf describes it in “A Room of One’s Own,” she’s walking along the paths at “Oxbridge” university when she’s yelled at by the guard at the gate. Not surprisingly, she begins considering the nature of exclusion. Here is one of the century’s greatest authors (not authoresses; if she’s an authoress then I’m a professoress or a doctorella) and she’s not allowed to go into a university library because the male students and scholars cannot bear to be disturbed by a woman — and they find women essentially disturbing.

Woolf, initially, thinks “how unpleasant it is to be locked out.” But it then occurs to her “how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”

To be denied access to a system is bad but it is nevertheless infinitely preferable to being immovably fixed and irrevocably locked into the system. Feminism — you knew I’d end up using the “f” word somewhere in this post, didn’t you? — is about choosing your own path, about writing your own script. About seeing all the possibilities.

Many girls are still instructed to imagine themselves only in mid-level careers because if they aim higher, they might not reach their goal. So what? The misery of failure is most often a story circulated by those in power to keep others out of it.

What can you do? Recognize that you have options and pass those along. You can laugh about it, you can learn how to do it yourself, and you can change it. You clear away the dust and clouds and what you have is something spectacular: freedom.

Freedom is scary; to stand or fall on your talents, intelligence, and energy is to take a risk. Grasping for success, you risk failure.

But why not focus on the brilliant first possibility — the possibility of coming first?

Somebody has to do it.

Why not you?

How A Famous Musician We All Know Got His Start

how a famous musician got his startA Grandson of slaves, a boy was born in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans known as the “Back of Town.”

His father abandoned the family when the child was an infant, his mother became a prostitute and the boy and his sister had to live with their grandmother. Early in life he proved to be gifted for music and with three other kids he sang in the streets of New Orleans. His first gains were the coins that were thrown to them.

A Jewish family, Karnofsky, who had immigrated from Lithuania to the USA had pity for the 7-year-old boy and brought him into their home. Initially given ‘work’ in the house, to feed this hungry child. There he remained and slept in this Jewish families home where, for the first time in his life he was treated with kindness and tenderness.

When he went to bed, Mrs. Karnovsky sang him a Russian Lullaby that he would sing with her.

Later, he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs. Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family. The Karnofskys gave him money to buy his first trumpet; aswell the custom in the Jewish families. They sincerely admired his musical talent. Later, when he became professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions, such as St. James Infirmary and Go Down Moses.

The little black boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family who had adopted him in 1907. In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore a star of David and said that in this family he had learned “how to live real life and determination.”

This little boy was called Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong proudly spoke fluent Yiddish




Post-Mother’s Day Memo: Don’t Forget Women Who Can’t Have Kids

466695887I know it’s late but I’m still recovering. (And no, this isn’t a rant against Mother’s Day. I salute Moms. Hooray for flowers, manicures, homemade cards. I bought my mother earrings with blue lapis to match her eyes. I hope to borrow them, soon.)

But for me, Mother’s Day is the hardest date on the calendar: I can’t have children and will never be a biological mother. Bad genes, bad luck and a huge cancer scare a while back left me without a womb and a few other body parts.

But at least I have no cancer; I dodged the big one — twice. After my surgery, friends danced around the fertility issue, but I shut them down with this effective retort: “I’m lucky to be alive.” Looking back, I think they were just projecting their own anxieties about their biological clocks. I, on the other hand, was fine.

And I continued to feel fine for a while. I looked at condos. Got back in the pool. Went back to work. Everyone marveled at how quickly I’d bounced back. Then Mother’s Day came, and I fell apart. Bam. I couldn’t even buy my mother a card that first year. It was ugly.

The following year, as Mother’s Day approached, I didn’t do much better. My family went out for a celebratory brunch; I stayed home. I said it was too painful to be out with all those happy moms and families. I took my mother out to dinner later that week.

I confided to a friend about my struggle. He listened, comforted me and then did something extraordinary. The Sunday after Mother’s Day he lifted the chalice at his church, and spoke these words to the congregation:

“I light this second candle for all the special women for whom Mother’s Day last Sunday brought pain and anguish. For those women who are infertile or medically unable to conceive a biological child.”

He went on to talk about women who had suffered miscarriages or were estranged from their children by divorce or misunderstandings. He ended the blessing this way: “May our prayers and concerns be with all of you, this day.”

He got it. He heard me. I wasn’t alone.

Over the years, I’ve made peace with my loss: I dote on my niece and I’m honorary aunt to many of my friends’ kids. At one point, I considered adopting a child and raising her on my own. But I decided that wasn’t the right path for me. And hey, I’m pretty lucky: I have a job people envy and a full life.

Still, all these years later, when Mother’s Day approaches, those old feelings bubble up; I’m pretty sure they always will. So every year, I reach inside my special box and re-read my friend’s kind words. They got me through those first tough years, and still do.

So on Mother’s Day, celebrate to the hilt. And the week after, check in on a friend who might have struggled that day. After all, we’re all special women.

Karen Shiffman is an executive producer at WBUR.  This post was first published on

She Did It: First-Time Novelist At 53

el palm frontJust before I turned 53, I decided to give myself a special birthday present—I was determined to get my first novel published. I’d written “The El” in a creative frenzy in 2005, taking time off to bring the book I’d been wanting to write for years to light. Well, “The El” took me six months to write and six years to see published! But I finally did it.

The novel is set in 1936 Brooklyn and chronicles two seasons in the lives of a loud, lusty Italian-American clan, loosely based upon my own. At times, I felt I was channeling the spirit of my grandmother, who inspired the female heroine “Rosanna.”

In the end, I created a family saga with a colorful array of characters who weather joy, loss and desire, and experience simple delights in the midst of the Depression. In “The El,” the ordinary becomes extraordinary. It is a place of unconditional and unrequited love, where the unimaginable is indeed possible, and the whims of a violent alcoholic threaten to destroy the idyllic applecart of the entire family’s existence.

Everyone who read my book loved it. Then came time to send it out to publishers. Without an agent, very few would even look at the manuscript. Without a track record, I couldn’t get an agent. Finally, one editor from Dutton rescued it from the slush pile and tried to convince his colleagues to get onboard, but he was overruled. Years passed.

Some publishers commented that readers didn’t care about things that happened 50 years in the past. But I knew otherwise. I knew that the past keeps reinventing itself; we keep making the same mistakes and the same tiny triumphs. They define who we are.

Undaunted, I was determined to find a home for “The El.” I kept sending it around and it kept getting rejected. I continued writing, helping others bring their own projects to fruition as a freelance journalist. But in the back of my mind was my project, my baby, sitting dormant on my computer. I didn’t give up.

Then I took on a new client. I happily proofread and copy-edited ebooks for a quirky publisher with an eclectic stable of authors. At my husband’s urging, I asked Vincent Corbo, the owner, if he might consider publishing my novel. Knowing my writing firsthand, Vinnie’s response was a resounding: “Hell, yes.”

And just like that, “The El” found a home. Vinnie held my hand as I gently let go of my characters, my literary family, and prepared to release them into cyberspace. His designer produced the perfect cover: a sepia masterpiece of elevated train tracks and antique buildings. So, five days before my 53rd birthday, I became a first-time novelist. And I haven’t looked back since.

Delighted, I’ve made appearances at bookstores, shared spicier passages at a literary event called “Between the Sheets,” did an interview for the public access show “Italian American Writers” and read at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard where a pivotal chapter takes place. I even set up “The El’s” own Facebook page, complete with mouthwatering recipes from its pages.

Even if I don’t sell more than 100 copies, it doesn’t matter. Through perseverance—and a little bit of luck—I still did it.


Learning Piano At Midlife

learning the piano at midlifeTwelve years ago, a casual elevator conversation with my neighbor led me to consider the absurd notion of learning classical piano at the age of 45. Like me, she had opted out from a full time executive career to focus on raising her two children, but unlike me, she had discovered a new challenge.

I grabbed the railing behind me to help stifle my envy and its inevitable sarcasm as she excitedly described her progress on a Mozart sonata. It had been a long time since I felt that kind of thrill. “Would you have any interest in lessons?” she asked. “My teacher comes to the building every Tuesday for the lesson, maybe you would like her phone number?” I had never considered taking up the piano, but when she asked, I was intrigued. My childhood pianistic endeavors had lasted two months, and as my mother had predicted, I had come to regret abandoning those lessons. I thought of the piano my husband and I had purchased the year before, now sitting silent in our living room upstairs. It was a Yamaha digital, and with the headphone jack, it was feasible to practice early in the morning or late at night without disturbing my family or neighbors. “Sure, give me her number,” I said as the elevator door opened.

I’m now 57 years old and if anything, I’m working harder now than I did in my business career. The Yamaha was replaced long ago with an acoustic upright, which was later replaced by a Steinway grand, a celebratory gift for my fiftieth birthday. My family’s move to an apartment downtown, inconveniently timed with my teacher becoming a mother, led me to my current teacher, a serious musician dedicated to teaching adults only. Her students range from complete beginners to conservatory level musicians, adults who reclaimed their childhood piano study, and myself, a former record executive, who, by putting rock & roll aside, fell in love with music from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

I have amazed myself by learning and then performing compositions from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. I’ve learned scales, the circle of 5ths, chords and inversions. But my type “A” competitive record executive personality pushed for even greater challenges. I wanted to memorize a piece of music. As a child, I struggled with memorization of the simplest of poems; a mere 5-line stanza terrified me. I can’t retain jokes or lines from movies, television shows or books. C’mon, wasn’t it enough that I was attempting to learn to play piano at this late stage in life? What more did I have to prove? But truthfully, I envied fellow piano students who had accomplished this feat.

In particular, I recall a young woman who was close to completing her degree at a Manhattan conservatory, performing a difficult composition from the Russian composer Shostakovich. She began at the lowest register of the keyboard, and in what seemed an instant, she had risen off the bench, and her hands, fast as a Japanese bullet train, had moved to the highest register.

That’s a level of piano playing I have little hope of reaching in my lifetime, but since that performance I had been dogged with the idea of memorizing. That young woman had been so profoundly engrossed in her playing. I wanted to feel that too.

One day last spring, under my breath, hoping she wouldn’t hear me, I whispered to my teacher that perhaps I could try to memorize something. “Of course you should, Robin,” she replied, implying with her tone that of course I could, and suggested I start with a piece I had already mastered—“From Foreign Lands and People,” a short, two page composition from Schumann.

In his excellent memoir, Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, an accomplished amateur pianist himself, shares stories about his own difficulties with memorizing music. In particular, he writes, “Ronan (head of keyboards at London’s Guildhall School of Music) tries to reassure me, telling me I probably don’t have a problem with memorizing, just an anxiety about forgetting.” Aha! Thank you, it’s precisely this anxiety I wanted to conquer.

It took me most of the summer to memorize the two pages. The work was so tedious and frustrating, that on several occasions I was reduced to balling up my fists and banging on the keys like a child, leaving me to wonder why I ever thought I could accomplish something I couldn’t do when my brain was young.

Luckily for me, my teacher never doubted that I could.

The first time I attempted the entire piece from memory, I went blank. But I refused to give up; I’d already spent my entire summer on this challenge. I opened the music, played through and started over. When my brain froze at certain measures, I repeated the process until I finally made it through without the music. To finish off, my teacher insisted I close my eyes and play. This was tough, like closing your eyes and walking a straight line, but eventually came a stunning reward.

By closing my eyes, I shut the world and its myriad distractions out, and for those three minutes, it was just Schumann and I.

I wasn’t rising out of my chair, but for me, I was flying.


Your First Marathon After 40: 5 Things You Need To Know

2014 trackConsidering your first marathon after 40? Here are 5 things you need to know.

1. Your first marathon won’t, as you probably know, be your fastest. Your first marathon is the one to finish. And you’re going to learn a lot not only in the training but also in the marathon itself.

2. Your first marathon will also be your hardest – most likely. No matter what their age – old or young – runners experience more setbacks in the first years of training than later. With time, you learn the effects of stresses on your body and you learn how to work around them.

3. If you like the marathon distance, you have a lot to look forward to.

mastering running cathy utzschneiderFirst, you can look forward to faster times. Your best marathon times may likely be 5 to 10 years after that – no matter if you’re in your forties, fifties or even sixties. The improvement from your first to your second marathon, weather and course depending, can be huge. As just one example among many, one runner of mine, now 57, ran her first marathon at 56 in 3:42. She ran her second, an easier course but a marathon nonetheless, in 3:27.

As long as you continue to train intelligently, you’ll become more focused, your body more prepared. I’ve had numerous runners begin training in their 40s and 50s only to run their best marathons 6 to 8 years later.

Here’s a diagram below that may help. It’s from my doctoral dissertation in which I compared performances of runners depending on when they started running. It shows that no matter when you start running, after ten years, your times can catch up with those with similar training and equivalent talent.

Screenshot 2014-04-17 13.15.48


Second, if you have found training for your first marathon tough, you’ll probably find training for subsequent marathons easier. You’ll have friends who live “the marathon lifestyle” or at least “the running lifestyle”. You’ll get better at planning and used to long runs. “A 15 miler used to feel like an impossible run when I trained for my first marathon,” is something I hear a lot. In short, training for a marathon once or twice a year will become almost a habit – something visceral as well as fun (most of the time).

4. Having coached hundreds of marathoners and conducted 20 years of research on runners over 40, I am convinced that the discipline of running a marathon translates to more discipline in all areas of life. Here is one diagram that illustrates that the discipline of running encouraged more discipline in runners (the “respondents”) in terms of being able to focus, face fears, manage their time, set priorities, and handle stress, and hardships.

Screenshot 2014-04-17 13.16.40

5. Get a coach (in addition to running partners) if you’re serious about getting faster – a coach who not only understands running and masters running in particular, but also understands you: your motivation, life circumstances, and goals. You’ll save energy, improve your speed, avoid injury, and, yes – spend a bit more money. It’s worth it, given all the time you invest in running. And you’ll appreciate the rewards!



She Did It/Boston March 2014 Event Photos

By all accounts, our second SHE DID IT/Boston event at Babson College on March 24, 2014 was a huge success:  a sold out crowd, some incredible workshop leaders, and many, many motivated women. The energy resulting from women learning and getting to know one another was palpable.  We hope you enjoy these pictures taken by our fabulous event photographer, Leise Jones, as much as we do!   And a final huge “thank you” to our premium sponsors: Babson College, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate and Leise Jones Photography and our incredible speaker.  We hope to see you all next year!

Photography by Leise Jones.

1-she-did-it-boston 2-she-did-it-boston 200-she-did-it-boston 199-she-did-it-boston 198-she-did-it-boston 186-she-did-it-boston 163-she-did-it-boston 160-she-did-it-boston 150-she-did-it-boston 144-she-did-it-boston 136-she-did-it-boston 131-she-did-it-boston 129-she-did-it-boston 125-she-did-it-boston 119-she-did-it-boston 117-she-did-it-boston 113-she-did-it-boston 100-she-did-it-boston 98-she-did-it-boston 97-she-did-it-boston 92-she-did-it-boston 78-she-did-it-boston 77-she-did-it-boston 74-she-did-it-boston 68-she-did-it-boston 66-she-did-it-boston 65-she-did-it-boston 64-she-did-it-boston 62-she-did-it-boston 52-she-did-it-boston 48-she-did-it-boston 46-she-did-it-boston 44-she-did-it-boston 40-she-did-it-boston 36-she-did-it-boston 35-she-did-it-boston 32-she-did-it-boston 31-she-did-it-boston 30-she-did-it-boston 25-she-did-it-boston 20-she-did-it-boston 19-she-did-it-boston 18-she-did-it-boston 17-she-did-it-boston 16-she-did-it-boston 14-she-did-it-boston 13-she-did-it-boston 12-she-did-it-boston 11-she-did-it-boston 10-she-did-it-boston 9-she-did-it-boston 8-she-did-it-boston 7-she-did-it-boston 6-she-did-it-boston 5-she-did-it-boston 4-she-did-it-boston 3-she-did-it-boston

Why We Love The Singing Nun

Move over Sally Field – we’ve got a new Singing Nun who’s a real spitfire.

If you haven’t seen the video of the Singing Nun in Italy on “The Voice of Italy,” you really must join the 36 million who have.  “Glee”fully,  I watched on youtube the 25 year old Sister Christina’s performance of Alicia Keys, “No One.” As the song unfolded I was swept along with the audience’s excitement as she drew us up and up, into her charismatic crescendo, and never let us down.

At first I thought having a nun perform on The Voice of Italy was a gimmicky move. I mean really, what could be more outrageous than hearing a nun, in full conventional nun garb, singing Alicia Keys on popular TV on the Vatican’s home turf.  It seems almost irreverent.

But in reality, the Catholic church is getting way more relevant and approachable these days, as seen in the popularity of the new Pope Francis.  Even the Vatican’s Minister of Culture applauded her efforts by quoting the scriptures when asked about her performance saying, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others (1 Peter 4:10).”  Sister Christina went viral with her performance and her hash tag #suorcristina set the twittersphere on fire.

“I have a gift and I am giving it to you,” Sister Cristina said, according to the English captions on YouTube (to get the captions, click on the ‘cc’ icon on the bottom right). “Shouldn’t things be this way?”

So why do we love the Singing Nun? Why does this singing nun strike a chord in so many of us?

She’s doing the unexpected and frankly it feels taboo for a nun to be singing on an extremely commercial program such as The Voice. A nun on The Voice is a juxtaposition that is just not supposed to happen and that in and of itself feels outrageous and gets us revved up.  What makes this performance outrageously delightful is the glaring contrast of the glam aura of the The Voice, which is diametrically opposed to the asceticism of a nun’s life.  The contrast of commercial and spiritual merge seamlessly in Sister Christina’s performance.

We also love the nun because we love discovering superstars.  Sister Christina blows away the religious barriers and stereotypes with just one powerful song. The Voice has created a fantastic venue for discovering new raw talent. Over the years of watching The Voice, we’ve heard profiles of small town hard luck kids and watched them come on the stage, defying their past, and creating a brighter future for themselves in front of our eyes.

So now we watch in awe as the Singing Nun finds her unique voice and takes over the stage with passion and soul and we begin to stand up and cheer with the audience as we realize that she is not only good, she is a gift to us all. Her joyous fresh spirit, and her soulful voice win us over.

And it makes us believe that anything is possible. Even in the guise of the most humble of all, a nun, we hear what people are capable of.

Make no mistake; Sister Christina is on the job so to speak.  When asked what the Vatican thought of her audition. “I really don’t know, I am waiting for Pope Francis to call me on the phone. He always says we should go out and evangelize, telling us God doesn’t take anything away from us, but will give us more. I am here for this.”

A Singing Nun rockin’ out on The Voice — it appears there is no Hollywood style trickery here.  Sister Christina is a reminder that there is power within each of us and given the right opportunity, the right stage, we too can find our own voice.


I Got In A Cage With A Great White Shark

my BA50 encounter with a great whiteI am often told how adventurous, crazy or “brave” I am, or that I am a major risk taker.  Well, that’s sort of flattering, but I have to tell you that it is really not the case.  I do take calculated risks, and participate in activities that may seem risky, but I make sure all precautions are taken.

More people are killed in car accidents than in “adventure sports” accidents.  I love nature, I love diving, but I am not reckless, far from it. My husband, Randy, and I took our young adult children, Wes and Ally, on our dream trip to Guadalupe Island to cage dive with Great White Sharks, and we could not wait to get on the boat and into the water!

Before you begin to think I am the world’s most irresponsible mom, you should know that Great White Sharks do not “prey” on humans.  Seriously!  Of the 33 or so Great White bites a year, most of them are “sample” bites, most are not fatal.  We are the ones killing them in unsustainable numbers. Many divers are animal enthusiasts, and conservationists, and the idea of being in close proximity to these amazing and beautiful apex predators is downright exhilarating.

tam cage diving

So, on the last dive of our 6 day trip, I was in one of the cages with two others.  I was taking photos when  I noticed that the bait was very close to the cage. I prepared to take an awesome close up! I got more than I bargained for…the shark went for the bait and ended up slamming into the opening of the cage.  These cages have an 18 inch opening for photographers (I mean, we have to be able to get our strobes through the bars, you know!) and it was just large enough for the 13 foot Great White to come for a visit…all the way to his pectoral fins!  He got stuck, and it felt like an 18 wheeler had slammed into the cage.

When the shark hit, the young man who was in the middle pulled me back…and believe me, I appreciated it!  The shark was panicked and thrashing violently…it felt like being in a big washing machine.  I kept trying to hold on to the bottom of the cage, but just could not keep my grip, so I floated up toward the shark.  The shark actually did a 360 degree turn in the opening, which caused his gills to bleed.  My husband and daughter, watching from above, thought it was my blood, so you can imagine how upset they were, but my daughter was taking photos, kept shooting and caught the entire event from above. What a pro!

After what seemed like an eon the shark managed to free himself and took off, scared to death!  While the shark was upside down I received a bump on the head from his snout, and he somehow ended up with my air hose in his mouth, so my air was wet and salty.  What an experience!  I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but my grandchildren will think I am totally cool (when and if I ever have them).  Our trip was fantastic, and we all loved every minute of it.

You know, I guess I could tell a harrowing tale of a Great White Shark “attack”, but it just isn’t true. No shark showed any aggression whatsoever while we were there.  Hey, getting in a cage with Great White Sharks swimming around has inherent risk, but no shark at Guadalupe has attacked a human being, and I know people who have been with them outside of the cages, free diving.  Would I go cage diving again?  Yes, it was a breathtaking experience.  I wasn’t hurt, no harm done (except to the poor shark’s gills) and I take full responsibility for being in the cage.  I do plan to go again, absolutely.

Lightning doesn’t strike twice, right?

Do Your Laundry Or You Will Die Alone

Advice for college kids

Listening, Life Lessons and Laundry

How launching my daughters launched a book and a new look at life…

A year before she graduated high school, when it hit me that my first-born daughter would soon be leaving home for college, I became overwhelmed by a frantic urgency. She wasn’t ready.

She had worked hard to earn grades and SAT scores that put her in the running for the most selective colleges. She knew French fluently. She knew how to handle a basketball and wield a microphone. And she knew how to parallel park. (Finally.) But NOT knowing what she DID NOT know was keeping me up at night.

In one of my Hollywood-lit nightmares, I saw her standing in the middle of a busy street, cars speeding toward her, her high-heel caught in a grate, trying desperately to save the shoe. Did I forget that lesson? “Leave the shoe, honey! Save yourself!”

So many things that seem like common sense have come to us through our mothers’ words sprinkled and repeated through the years. As I prepared to let my daughter go, I could not help but wonder if my teachings had made it through the noise of the past 18 years. Did she hear the rules of thumb and the cautionary tales? Were they even relevant? Did she know what she needed to know to take care of herself in this digitized, super-sized world?

Even though she still had a few months left at home, I knew it was too late to fill the gaps in my parenting. My daughter had stopped listening.

So did I let her go with my blessing, trusting that she would get her lessons as she needed them?

Not on your life.

I bit my tongue and quietly collected the advice that I thought she should have. When she left for college, I put it all in a good-bye letter and threatened to publish it on her Facebook page.

Dear Taylor,

Though you may think I’ve driven you half-crazy with reminders and lessons this past year, I’ve kept a lot of things to myself. Hush. I have.

Here are a few things that college will not teach you. Some are things I’ve told you a hundred times. Some are things that have never come up. Mostly, they are things that would make you roll your eyes if I said them in person.

So indulge me. I know you don’t need another lecture, honey. But I need to give you one. (There. Right there. I saw that eye roll!)

Love Always, Mom


Yes, we’re starting here.

Do your laundry regularly. Try every week. Do it before you run out of clean underwear and before you need your favorite jeans. Because when you want your favorite jeans, and only your favorite jeans will do, you will want them clean. You will not want to be in the dilemma of choosing between dirty, stinky favorite jeans and jeans that make your butt look (choose one: wide, low, flat, etc.).

Either of these less-than-perfect options will undermine your self- confidence, and you will not have the courage to talk to that cute guy. And then you may never get another chance, and . . . then comes the dying alone part.

This was the first of 150 pieces of advice; some snarky, some serious, most with very little to do with the laundry.

For example,

#9. A friend who is mad at you for taking her car keys is better than a dead friend.

#28. Fake it ‘til you make it.

#29. Everyone feels like a fake. Except the real fakes.

#36. A bad attitude makes your butt look big.

#97. Show your dreams who’s boss

My daughter wrote me back within 24 hours. She had read the entire long letter. She did not offer to take a test on it, but she convinced me that a few things had sunk in.

Then she turned the tables on me, and urged me to show my own dreams who’s boss. She challenged me to turn my letter to her into a book for her little sister’s graduating class. Turns out, this was advice I needed to hear. I wasn’t ready to be done with the project. It was therapeutic, and extending it to overlap with my artwork added a new dimension of fun to it. Expanding the letter into a book was just the creative project I needed to make myself feel in control of the transition I was in the midst of.

If we’re listening, we hear the things we need to hear. We hear ideas and encouragement. We hear reasons and next steps. If we listen with fresh ears, we hear that life after 50 is offering the same challenges as life at 18 or 22. And we hear that the best advice always comes from those who care about us most.

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages, available April 1, 2014.  Check out Becky’s web site,, and her blog, Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest @LaundryorDie.




Almost Dancing With The Stars

Dancing FeetI started in my stocking feet, so I could feel the floor beneath me; it was the only thing I could be sure of.

I had acted on impulse when I’d called the studio–an impulse born of years of waiting, but for all their advertising about this class and that, I was pretty sure they’d offer no “Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Into Your New Life” class, so what had I hoped to accomplish? The last time I’d been in a dance studio, I was twenty-four years old. Now, twenty-seven years, seven children, and one empty marriage later, I wasn’t sure if I was up to this challenge. My confidence had become as weak as my atrophied muscles, and I could no more locate my body’s center of gravity than I could pinpoint the core of my distress.

“What are you interested in learning?” the woman on the other end of the phone had asked.

I’d had to resist the urge to blurt out, “I’m interested in learning what the hell happened to my life!” I figured that was probably too much information, so I’d replied with a gentler truth. “I’d like to be able to dance at my children’s weddings.”

“Do you have a partner?”

“No, no I don’t.” I would spare her the explanation that, in fact, yes I did, but only in the way that a lost sock has a partner, and even if we were to find each other again, life had worn us too differently to ever be a good match.

“Not a problem,” she’d assured me. “When would you like to come for your first lesson?”

“Oh, as soon as possible,” I told her. “I can’t wait too long or I’ll change my mind.”

So, there I was, in my stocking feet, too self-conscious to look at my own reflection in the wall-length mirror. I had come alone, but I’d made sure my socks were a matching pair that day.

My only goal had been to remain tear-free for the hour-long lesson with my private instructor – a nice young man no older than my eldest son, but within minutes, I knew that dance had the power to restore me. My legs still remembered how to move to the rhythm of the music and so did my heart. I happily scheduled my next lesson and two more each week for the next year.

By month’s end, I’d bought my first pair of ballroom shoes, sturdy and stable with safe one-inch heels.  They weren’t unattractive, mind you, just a pair of functional, black shoes with suede on the soles that enabled me to pivot and glide across the floor with ease.

I was determined to learn first one dance, then another, to check off every box on the steps chart, and to perform moves that my instructor did by muscle memory, so I practiced whenever and wherever I could: on the hardwood floor in a corner of my dining room, while watching my reflection in my double-oven doors, and in my mind as I drifted off to sleep, and as I improved, my heart’s ache began to subside, replaced with anticipation, joy, and hope.

And I bought more shoes; transforming shoes. I quickly grew accustomed to my tan nubucks with two-inch heels. With their narrow straps wound stylishly around my slender ankles, showing off my newly toned legs, I could whirl, I could dip, I could practically fly.

A year later, I wore my shiny gold and silver shoes with two and a half inch heels for my first waltz exhibition…1 2 3, 1 2 3…and followed that experience with a competition that involved choreographing and teaching a cha-cha-cha to the novice partner I’d been paired with. By the end of my third year, I had earned the confidence of my accomplished dance instructor, prompting him to invite me to help him choreograph and teach a routine to a couple competing in our local Sparrows’ Club “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser. A few months later, wearing my black three-inch heels, I participated in a similar event for dancers with disabilities.

One shoe at a time, my confidence measured in inches, I have regained my footing, stepped out of the shadows and back into life. And now, when I dance in my stocking feet, it’s not because I’m fearful, but instead because I’m free.


SHE DID IT: Embracing Technology

Charlenephoto-3I knew I had to keep learning new technology to stay ‘in the game,” but what I didn’t know is that I’d fall in love.

I’ve had my own interior-design business for 25 years and things have certainly changed since my first hand-drawn working drawings for my first client.  Embracing new technology helps me keep up with the world. My clients, contractors and suppliers all use email, social media and texting. Twenty years ago I started on my first-generation Mac. Fifteen years years ago I started emailing designs to clients. Just four years ago I had no idea how to use Twitter. Now my business has a blog, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, and we’re on LinkedIn and Pinterest too. When I decided to dive in, I realized that I couldn’t do it gently: I had to embrace all of it for it to work. Now I use these things as tools to help me reach the people I want – and need – to reach.

What frightened me at first was the time it would take, and it does take time. As each piece of social media evolves, I have to work hard to stay on top of it. But here’s what I found out: I love having a voice! It gives me a way to ‘talk’ to my world – my clients, my craftspeople, vendors and suppliers about art, design and creativity in a way I don’t usually get when I’m rushing to execute a project.  I can also ‘listen’  – I follow my favorite woodworker and one of my furniture-makers and see what they come up with. Being part of the online world allows me to learn from others about what’s going on in design. It is truly worth the time and trouble.

I’m now learning something completely new – 3-D printing. My desire to learn this has focused for me on how important it is to grit your teeth and make yourself learn. But learning how to use 3-D printing is both easier and more difficult than learning about social media. Easier because it’s directly relevant to my work. It’s a way to create design and to – maybe – change aspects of the way I create my designs. More difficult because it is a more complicated technological process than, say, Twitter or Facebook. For those two, once I learned how to post, and how not to lose my passwords, I could even use them with my iPhone.

First I had to learn what 3-D printing is. I first heard of the concept when I saw a video of a person making a prosthesis for a young boy. As I learned more, and saw the small items being created quickly, I thought this is great, but what can this do for me that my wonderful draftsperson, and the craftspeople and artisans I work with, can’t do for me already?

The Museum of Art and Design in NYC is hosting an entire show on 3-D printing and associated processes. I talked a good friend into going with me to see “Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital,” right before Christmas. Standing on the second floor, we looked at various small objects that had been printed using 3-D technology.  My friend strolled over to a young woman at a laptop and started chatting with her (she’s like that). A young man who designs for 3-D printing joined us. The two of them started explaining what you can do using a 3-D printer…. (they thankfully didn’t try to explain how the mechanism actually works!) As they talked, I began to get excited. I was literally vibrating with excitement standing in the middle of the museum as I knew right then and there this was going to change my business and my ability to create unique and beautiful things.

I had a commission from a client to make a sofa. I had a very rough drawing. I wanted the sofa to be elegantly-scaled with a nod to traditional sofas but also be modern and clean, and marry this new piece seamlessly into her existing space. I had come up with a complex curve into a downward-sloping curved arm, but my drawing skills would not allow me to convey it properly. How to convey what was in my head to my upholsterer without doing a lot of mock-ups? I thought while seeing the 3-D process that this would be a terrific way for him to see for real what was in my head!

Here’s where the complexity comes in. You need special software to create the drawing you can give to the people who will actually print your artwork. See, you make a drawing on your computer, and when you print it, it comes out as a three-dimensional object!


Thankfully my wonderful draftsman loves to research so he began learning about what was needed to be able to produce the drawings for the 3-D printing process. We decided that the sofa would be a good test. It was an interesting learning curve on both our parts, but well worth it! When the model arrived at my doorstep, I was elated at the model and also with my design! I could immediately see that what I had created in my head was just right for my client. And it’s only about four by eight inches in size! I gave the little sofa to my upholsterer who was immediately able to see – in three dimensions – what I had in mind. He’s making the sofa for me now. With fewer steps for me and my upholsterer, and with the exact shape in front of him, it’s going to be just what I designed, with a lot less back and forth and false starts.

I believe this is the beginning of a revolution in the world of design, literally creating a physical object on your computer. I’m proud of myself that I still try to keep learning about new technologies as they appear, but I realize it’s the only way to keep moving ahead with my creativity.  I think it’s vital as we get older to keep up with what’s new, not just because it’s new, but because it’s useful.  (Ok, some new things I’m still scratching my head over a bit.) I’m very glad that I overcame my fears about 3-D printing and everything else – I know I still have so much to learn, but I know also that I will learn it. And it will make me a better designer.

Charlene is an interior designer who lives in New York City. She started her firm, Keogh Design, Inc., in 1988. You can see how much she knows about social media by checking out her website,

Your Fashion Image After 50

reinvention after 50, fashion image after 50So often you hear women fretting over the pending empty nest. Do you know that the more you fret, the worse you make it?

Let’s just step back and take a deep breath, if even just for the moment. Allow your mind to wander to the land of cups-half-full. The land of what if’s…

What if I could reconnect with the old me…the ‘me’ before kids, marriage, mortgages and body-changes? What if I could reinvigorate the bravado of  ‘I think I can?’

Often times when I am standing with a client in the shadow of her closet, we talk about not only where she wants to be in the next phase, but just as importantly, where she was in her previous phases, before the mommy decade. Who she was, how she dressed, where she frequented, and even how she felt when she dressed a certain way.

Believe it or not, the closet is a wonderful starting place, to not only get ready for what’s next, but also to revisit what was. Women will often pull something out from a decade ago and tell a story about where they bought it, where they wore it, how they felt wearing it and even why they stopped wearing it.

I hear things like, “This was so expensive that once I had kids I didn’t feel right wearing it, I was worried it would get ruined.” But here we were decades later with an outdated brand new ‘old’ fabulous something that hadn’t seen the light of day in over 10 years – the shame of it is, that she was waiting to feel special…

I remember my fist car; I inherited it from my Aunt who was one of those quirky ladies who ‘saved’ everything, some things sensible like coins and stamps. Some things, not so much! Her chairs and couches had plastic covers, anyone remember those, they were about as popular as TV dinners. The 15-year old VW Beetle that I inherited from her was like brand new inside – the seats had never been touched by human hands. Was I excited to be driving around in a brand new ‘looking’ bug? Yes, of course. But I questioned for years why she didn’t enjoy the car, why she saved it.

As we share stories, we share history. As we share, we get comfortable. As my clients settle in, they will often share that they are struggling with the concept of the empty-nest because they are struggling with the concept of concentrating on themselves.

It’s almost a forgotten art – putting themselves first. They question where to begin. They have reached out to me for the magic makeover. You know the ones you see on Oprah and Good Morning America, where in 30-minutes they have completely transformed Dowdy Dorothy into Stunning Sophia (I even saw a whole new set of teeth popped in one morning!) But the problem with that is that when Stunning Sophia goes home and washes her face and puts on her jammies, Dowdy Dorothy is the last person she sees before closing her eyes. Pretty sure you can guess who rises from that bed in the morning.

That’s why the makeover, the transformation, needs to go deeper from the start. We need to talk about the before, the daydreams, the hopes, the stumbling blocks and the detours that turned their clothing into a less than stellar wardrobe that is wreaking havoc with their self-esteem. Their image becomes the excuse why they can’t embark on something new, anything new!

Here’s a news flash ladies! The wardrobe is fix-able. This stumbling block is not insurmountable. You can look fabulous at any price point. You just need to know what fits, flatters, what will serve you going forward into the next phase and what to let go of! Seriously, when you buy new groceries do you not throw away a few wilted items from the frig?

Your closet should be treated the same way. You don’t have room for something new if you never purge the old stuff! You’ll never get a new hairstyle if you keep going back to the same salon. Your complexion will never look young and dewy if your makeup is old and moldy. You will never look well appointed if your favorite necklace is made of macaroni shells. And you are never going to rock that black slim skirt if you wear it with white socks and clogs.

If you are going to embark on something new, you first have to get in touch with yourself and jump start your self-confidence.

When you sent your child off to college no doubt you said, “You can do it – I believe in you”. Well now it’s your turn – you can do it, you need to believe in you. And if it takes some steps to get you there, then put yourself on your own to do list and take those steps. But in order to get your engine revved up – you need to take care of your self-esteem and that starts with how you feel about your own image. When you see yourself in the mirror are you looking at who you were or who you want to be? Embrace this time as a wonderful opportunity to get to know you. Start your ‘ME’ to do list and pinpoint what you need to outsource. This is a wonderful time to discover new confidence and well being. And by all means if you are looking for something deeper than a magic makeover give me a call. We’ll share a cup of coffee in the shadow of your closet.

Here’s my favorite testimonial from one of my new-phase makeovers:

I feel so much more confident and continue to get a ton of compliments on a daily basis. I think the best thing about the whole experience of the closet edit, new haircut and make up, etc. is that it just “stuck” for me. I am a perfect spokesperson for the value of this experience because this self-care is so far removed from my typical lifestyle. For me to fully embrace new ideas about how I present myself is a huge transformation, both psychologically as well as physically. Speaking of physically, I’ve already lost three pounds and feel much more motivated because I feel like I look amazing in the process! Last night, another mom asked me what my secret was for “looking so good,” and I glibly replied, “Divorce.” But in reality, the secret was you. You helped me to jumpstart a new me! Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

Are you ready for your encore?

Doreen Dove will be leading an afternoon workshop at “She Did It/Boston” on March 24, 2014 at Babson College, Wellesley, MA entitled, “Does Your Image Match Your Next Phase?”  

Sign up for SHE DID IT/Boston now-- and bring a friend for only $50.

Boomers Now Twice As Likely To Divorce

boomer divorceAre you shocked when a friend tells you that their 30-something year marriage has broken up?  You shouldn’t be. Today, I listened to a short segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, and learned that we baby boomers are setting new records for divorce: Americans over 50 are now twice as likely to get divorced as people of that age were 20 years ago.

The segment on NPR, only a little over 5 minutes, was filled with heartbreaking stories of women and men having to rebuild and find meaning in their lives after 50, post divorce. Divorce at or after 50 is no longer unusual, because 50 is no longer old– we assume we are going to live for at least another 20 or 30 years–and that’s an awfully long time for someone to spend with a spouse he or she really doesn’t love (or even like) anymore. At Midlife–and we believe the 50′s are mid-life- we still feel young and vital enough to make a change.

You can read or listen to the NPR segment “Older Americans’ Breakups Are Causing A ‘Graying’ Divorce Trend” here.

Whether we are happy in our marriages or not, many of us are thinking of rebuilding our lives after 50.  Why? Because 20 or 30 years of a life ahead of you is too long not to do try something else.  And that is what SHE DID IT/Boston is all about:  reinvention, change at midlife.  No one wants to spend the next 20 or 30 years with a spouse they don’t really like– or in a job they don’t really like– or without some purpose and meaning.  It’s time to take action, and DO something at this next stage –that will make the next decades the best ever.  

The time to do something is now.  Check out our SHE DID IT/Boston conference on March 24 at Babson College in Wellesley. Sign up today and do something to rebuild your life.