Category Archives: Magazine

Divas Uncorked on Wine, Women, and Friendship

(The ladies of Divas Uncorked: Carole Alkins, Stephanie Browne, Gert Cowan, Barbara Cruz, Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, Katherine Kennedy, Karen Holmes Ward, Paula Wright. ~ Photo courtesy of Divas Uncorked.)

Like many women, Carolyn Hebsgaard and Karen Holmes Ward enjoyed drinking wine socially, although they admit that they knew little about it. When ordering at a restaurant, their wine specifications rarely extended beyond “red” and “white.”

That changed in 1999, when Hebsgaard, Ward and 10 of their girlfriends decided to educate themselves, and other women, about the history of wine and the art of drinking it. What started as casual gatherings over snacks and Chardonnay expanded into the tour de force known as Divas Uncorked.

For nearly 13 years, the Divas have transformed the fun pastime of sipping wine with friends into a successful side business, international phenomenon and lifelong adventure. “It’s like a hobby run amok,” Hebsgaard chuckles.

Today, eight of the original 12 core members of Divas Uncorked remain committed to the organization and to each other. More than social wine drinkers and business associates, the ladies have become entrepreneurs, experts and the best of friends. “When I have a get together, the first people on my list are the Divas,” says Hebsgaard, a consultant and executive director for the Boston Lawyers Group. “We will always have the Divas in some form, regardless of the business.”

The idea for Divas Uncorked stemmed from dinner outings at Marché, a former restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay area. While working together with The National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW), a nonprofit organization, Hebsgaard and Ward joined four other members after meetings for food, wine and conversation. After visiting the restaurant’s wine cellar, the women realized how little they knew about what they were drinking.

Stephanie Browne, an Information Technology expert and another co-founder of Divas Uncorked, insisted that the group learn more about wine on their own. She offered to host the first dinner party, which she modeled on her mother’s bridge club parties. The six women each invited a friend — totaling 12 professional, self-proclaimed A-type divas, now in their 50s and 60s — forming the core group of the organization. Kicking off the festivities at 2 p.m., the ladies ate, drank and merrily studied the history of wine until midnight.

“The beginning of Divas Uncorked happened innocently,” says Ward, a television host and producer at WCBV-TV. “We just wanted to learn about wine in a fun and relaxed way. Like a ‘spoonful of sugar,’ studying wine is easier with friends.”

The relatively simple fêtes morphed into themed, five-course dinners replete with gift exchanges, guest lecturers and hours of laughter. Friends of the Divas heard about their wine parties and envied the regular celebrations.

Shortly thereafter, they started planning public wine dinners with local experts, including Alicia Towns, wine director at Grill 23, and Jody Adams, chef/owner of Rialto, who appeared on the reality television program “Top Chef.” The dinners grew into larger conferences, attracting a turnout of more than 100 women per gathering.

The get-togethers underscored the importance of friendship while bonding over wine education. The Divas aim to teach women about wine in a fun, relaxed fashion while boosting self-confidence when making wine choices. Having learned the nuances of their own wine preferences while strengthening friendships, the founders of Divas Uncorked want to encourage and teach other women to do the same.

Ward can now describe to sommeliers what she wants to order or pair with appropriate dishes. “I can’t necessarily say that I want a bottle of 1978 such-and-such,” she says. “But I can now attach adjectives to my description and articulate specific preferences.” From her education with Divas Uncorked, Ward has learned that the oaky, vanilla flavors which appeal to her fit the profile of a Chardonnay. Conversely, the grassy, citrus flavors that she avoids are characteristic of a Sauvignon Blanc.

According to the Divas, women are largely neglected by the male-dominated industry and receive less attention from salespeople at wine shops and liquor stores. Ward explains that men and women shop differently for wine. While men tend to spend more money, often to impress a woman, women generally seek value or follow a recommendation. “The wine industry certainly wasn’t responsive to women or people of color,” Hebsgaard says. “So, like divas, we took it on ourselves!”

Since their inception, Divas Uncorked have caught the media’s attention, appearing in O Magazine, Edible Boston and Reuters, as well as a stint on NBC’s “Today Show.” Also, in their free time, the ladies, all of whom have full-time professions outside of Divas Uncorked, represent at food and wine festivals, including South Beach and Martha’s Vineyard; manage their own website (www.divasuncorked.com); sell their own wine, Divas Uncorked Chardonnay, which is produced by the Mendocino Wine Company; and organize wine tasting cruises called Divas at Sea.

Their progress has been conspicuous, although not always easy. Hebsgaard explains that gaining financial support and securing sponsorship for their cause has been challenging. “I still consider us a startup,” she says. “It’s really hard out there for women, especially women of color, to run a successful business.”

 

The obstacles have not deterred the Divas, who plan to continue growing, both personally and professionally. “The more we learn about wine, the more we want to share,” says Hebsgaard. “The best way to do that is to create audiences with groups of women. Just when we thought ‘this is good enough,’ something else would come up.”

The next thing up for the Divas is their second annual cruise in September, when they will sail around the Mediterranean Sea for 11 days. As advertised on their site, the “wine savvy, not wine snobby” ladies invite interested parties to join them and a sommelier on board to learn about wine and visit Italy, Turkey and the Greek Islands.

Although the Divas pride themselves on “first-class, five-star service” for their events, they also stress the importance of humility in their organization. Ward claims that their goal is to demystify the process of ordering and learning about wine, as well as removing the “Frasier Crane, snooty approach.”

The future of Divas Uncorked has not been determined, but the cohesion of the core group of friends is stronger than ever. “The thing I know for certain is that we’ll be together for the rest of our lives,” Hebsgaard says. “We will always have the thing we started with: wine, food, friendship.”

(This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Exhale magazine.)

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Pipeline Fellowship Promotes Women Investors


(A. Lauren Abele, COO of Pipeline Fellowship, and on the right is Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline.)

Although women constitute a slight majority of the population, they are vastly underrepresented in the business world. The Pipeline Fellowship intends to change all of that.

With Natalia Oberti Noguera at the helm, the Pipeline Fellowship is expanding the business model and changing its dynamic. The hands-on organization focuses on for-profit business ventures with social impact led by women who pitch their startup ideas to a panel of female investors trained by mentors and business experts.

As clearly stated on its homepage, the organization’s mission is to train “women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring and practice. Fellows commit to invest in a woman-led, for-profit social venture in exchange for equity and a board seat at the end of the training. The Pipeline Fellowship aims to diversify the investor pool and connect women social entrepreneurs with investors who get them.”

Based in New York City, the Pipeline Fellowship has recently expanded into Boston, announcing its 10 fellows in November 2011. The group consists of professional women with varying backgrounds, ranging from education and journalism to law and real estate development. Likely to donate to nonprofit organizations, the fellows have the opportunity through the organization to maintain a focus on social change while investing in for-profit companies, primarily led by women.

“Women-led doesn’t mean women only,” Natalia, founder and CEO of the Pipeline Fellowship, says with a smile. “But I am a big fan of women only.” The 10 fellows each invest $5,000, which is combined and invested in one woman-based for-profit business with a social conscience. The winner is chosen among several applicants and is awarded $50,000 to use for developing her startup. During the six-month process, the fellows are guided by mentors — comprised of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors, both men and women — and taught the basics of choosing and investing in women-based businesses with potential.

At the Boston Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summit on February 24, nine female entrepreneurs shared their business plans — ranging from home health care to beauty products — with the 10 fellows.

Siiri Morley, founding partner of Prosperity Candle, which creates at-home candle-making business opportunities for women in war torn and post-disaster countries, says that her company is “creating tchotchkes with a cause.” Morley opened her pitch with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Investing in women isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.”

But providing a platform for women entrepreneurs fulfills only one part of the Pipeline Fellowship’s objective. Natalia primarily focuses on the investing side of business with her organization. Noting that there is no dearth of hybrid entrepreneurs, she underscores the need for more hybrid investors. Claiming that only 12 percent of venture capitalists are women, and a mere 5 percent are racial minorities, Natalia says, “we need to increase diversity in the angel investor sector,” which is what the Pipeline Fellowship is attempting to achieve with its program.

Her intent is to combine the business models — merging of the public and private sectors — and make women-based hybrids a more common alternative. Having heard how difficult the for-profit model is, she notes the binary nature of the traditional business world. “The options are either nonprofit or for-profit,” Natalia says. “But it can be both!”

Without seeking donations or grants, the Pipeline Fellowship aims to create and expand upon a self-sustaining system with a social mission. “We’re combining the business savvy of the corporate world with the heart of the nonprofit world,” says Natalia. “The world really needs more hybrids.”

Deeming herself a hybrid, as well, Natalia explains that she “is very comfortable with ambiguities.” Half-Italian and half-Colombian, the Yale graduate grew up speaking English, Spanish and Italian and later studied French and Russian in school. Her father worked for the United Nations, and the family moved around frequently, which helped Natalia develop her adaptability. With an international, multi-lingual upbringing, she transcends categorization with ease.

Natalia’s parting word of advice: learn a second language, if you haven’t done so already. “It really expands one’s mindset,” she says. “Knowing that there is more than one word for ‘glass’ is very powerful.”

(This article originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Exhale magazine.)

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Nourish Your Soul

NourishYourSoul

Susan Cabana at her store Nourish Your Soul in West Medford. (Astrid Lium photo)

“Juice is such a life changer,” says holistic health counselor Susan Cabana.

A diet trend for some and a weight loss aid for others, juicing has become a passion and purpose for Cabana, who now builds her lifestyle and livelihood around it.

On June 9, the vivacious 45-year-old entrepreneur opened her shop, Nourish Your Soul, in West Medford, Mass. The business features fresh juices, smoothies and cleanses, and emerged in the wake of what Cabana refers to as “life challenges.”

In November 2004, her husband, Christopher, died unexpectedly at the age of 37. Cabana was suddenly a widow and single mother of three girls, then aged 5, 3 and 1. Less than five years later, in February 2009, she was laid off from her long-term financial job at Putnam Investments. “I was in a dark place for a while,” Cabana recalls. “It was like losing Chris all over again.”

She eventually began to make positive changes for herself and her family. Cabana, a longtime resident of Winchester, Mass., started to run more regularly, practice yoga daily and make healthier food choices. “I kind of woke up and decided to live,” she says. “Chris would want me to.”

While working in finance, convenience influenced many of her decisions. Relying on “whatever got me through the day” meals often consisted of quick, easy and processed foods. Those habits changed after she lost her job and examined her life more closely.
With the help of yoga, Cabana took more time for introspection. She eventually saw the layoff as an opportunity to take her life in a different direction. “I never thought it would happen, but it was truly a gift,” she says. “I’m not sure I would have been able to leave something so stable.”

Cabana enrolled in Natalia Rose’s Intensive Teacher Training program as well as the holistic Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She also completed the Prana teacher-training program and became a certified yoga instructor.

Since going into business for herself, she has not looked back. As a holistic consultant, Cabana has attracted several clients, many of whom joined friends and family as juicing experimenters. “My clients often made excuses about why they wouldn’t juice,” Cabana says. “But they told me that if I made the juice, they would drink it.”

Less than four months old, Nourish Your Soul has already attracted regular customers and local press, including a nod from Stuff Magazine’s Top 100 list in July. Relying on word-of-mouth advertising thus far, Cabana has not promoted the business in more traditional ways. “There is no need to advertise just yet!” she says with a chuckle.

The next step for Nourish Your Soul is to add more edible treats to the liquid menu. Cabana also hopes to expand to more locations and add a delivery service in the near future. “I want to provide a healthy alternative to what is out there,” she says. “The standard American diet is lacking on so many levels.”

A believer in balance, Cabana says that deprivation is not sustainable. One to indulge on occasion—especially in dark chocolate—she views juicing as a lifestyle, not a diet. “Yoga is about combining the mind, body and soul,” says the holistic health consultant. “Juice does the same thing.”

Still juicing everyday, Cabana also recommends her favorite elixirs to loved ones. “My kids all love something different,” she says of her daughters, now 13, 11 and 9. Her 20-month-old son, George, from a recent relationship that was short-lived, regularly drinks a version of her green lemonade. “The sippy-cup age is a good time to start incorporating juice into the diet,” Cabana explains. “It isn’t too taxing because there is no fiber to digest.”

Her mother has also integrated fresh juice into her diet after battling two bouts of cancer. According to Cabana, the nutrients have helped boost her mother’s immune system. “Juicing has helped with the healing process,” she says. “And sharing it with others helps me heal, too.”

Nourish Your Soul’s juice and smoothie produce comes from Russo’s market in Watertown, Mass. Cabana opts for local and organic ingredients when she can, emphasizing the need for large quantities.

Focusing more on seasonal options, she introduced Watermelon Mint juice in the summer and plans to add a carrot and root vegetable-based juice/soup for autumn. To view the entire Nourish Your Soul menu, visit nourishyoursoul.com.

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Baring a Private Self on a Public Page

For 26 years, I have written my most intensely personal thoughts and reflections in journals. Starting with a gold-padlocked teddy bear diary in 1985 and continuing through my current three-hole Staples notebook, the collection contains entries I wouldn’t consider showing to anyone.

glass steps

“Glass Steps” © Jeff Shelden

Yet, three years ago, within weeks of launching my own blog for a journalism class, I was using my posts to expose my soul to an audience of virtual strangers. Details of my first bikini wax and the dynamics of my dysfunctional family—topics generally reserved for brunch with my best friend or costly sessions with my therapist—appeared for all to read.

Blogging unlocked my inhibitions and sent into the world a raw, private version of myself that coexisted dangerously with the more polished self I normally displayed in public. With no editors or red ink, the blogosphere granted my inner life carte blanche on a public platform.

Exhilarating at first, this situation eventually grew unsustainable. I found I had to reconcile my two selves, especially when navigating my eventual relationship with the man who fell in love with me by reading my blog.

How It All Started

I created my blog, The Pithy Pupil, in 2009, when I moved to Boston and enrolled in a blogging course, a component of my master’s program in journalism. The previously unknown world of tags, widgets, and RSS feeds excited me, low-tech neophyte that I was.

Strewn with hyperlinks and naïvely pirated stock photos, my posts included pop culture references, literary analyses, intellectual debates, and personal anecdotes. Embellished in this way, my private life and unique opinions suddenly seemed more interesting—more official, somehow. Knowing that my words were accessible to millions of online viewers validated my voice.

My family and my then-boyfriend never read The Pithy Pupil. My father, a Neo-Luddite, has neither a mobile phone nor an email account. My mother, a columnist for her local Vermont newspaper, asked why she couldn’t find my blog online. I reminded her that not only had I emailed her the link at least five times but that she could access it directly through Facebook. To this day, she insists I prevented her from reading my posts.

My boyfriend, a musician and carpenter, sought creative outlets in drumsticks and a hammer. Words on paper or screen held little value for him. My use of vocabulary and the way in which I labored over a paragraph confounded him.

“You’re such a perfectionist,” he said with contempt. “You spend hours working on one assignment!” (It didn’t feel like the right time to point out that he spent days fine-tuning a nightstand.)

So, I integrated the people closest to me into my blog without fear of retribution—as in this passage about my boyfriend’s devotion to his pet rabbit:

I expected a more masculine pet from a rugged rock-and-roll drummer who swings a hammer every day. He refuses to chop his long hair or shave the mountain man beard because they enhance the authenticity of his hardcore look. Yet, after bloodying his knuckles on a snare drum during every show, he goes home to kiss his bunny wabbit goodnight.

The incongruity escapes him. (And, fortunately, he doesn’t read my blog. I told him that I’m writing about rock-and-roll bands in this week’s post, which isn’t completely untrue.)”

The catharsis of writing passages like these proved more helpful and affordable than psychotherapy sessions. I let down my guard, reveling in my ability to reveal my uncensored self—and to entertain my invisible audience at the same time:

Surround me in greasy onion rings or cheesy Doritos and I’m likely to die of starvation. But dangle a caramel-covered carrot, a box of Godiva chocolates, or, sadly, even a frosted sticky bun and I’ll offer my pinky toe in exchange (since I need my fingers for typing and dipping in cake batter) and promise my firstborn for the prospect of another fix.”

Sharing these personal tidbits online granted me access both to an audience and to parts of myself. I felt a great sense of relief at revealing these parts of me in my blog—the raw frustrations, the irrational cravings, the macabre realizations of my own human predicaments—and I hoped readers would share that sense of liberation, refreshed by my honesty.

Still, while the release of my private self into the world was liberating, it was also embarrassing at times. And it had consequences I never could have anticipated.

Pavers

“Pavers” © Jeff Shelden

An Inside-Out Love Affair

After two months, my colorfully formatted, photo-enhanced public confessions found an unexpected audience: a man I met at a party. After we’d exchanged a few emails, he knew that I had my own blog. Based on my experience with my family and friends, I assumed he wouldn’t read it.

But he did. While awaiting a flight at Logan Airport, he read nearly every post in one sitting. Afterward, he sent me an email that read, “Pithy, yes, although some were a bit long, at least for me, reading from an iPhone.”

Our correspondence turned into a relationship: first virtual, then physical. Later, he told me that my posts taught him more about me in one day than dating for weeks could have accomplished.

In person, we developed a friendship the old-fashioned way: setting forth heavily edited, well-mannered versions of ourselves. However, thanks to my blog, he already had a direct line to my inner self—to a version of me that was brutally honest.

“I felt like I was reading things I shouldn’t have been privy to,” he eventually admitted. “My relationship with your blog was light-years ahead of my relationship with you in real time.”

He felt that our relationship was out of balance from the start. While I knew little about his personal life, he had used my blog to (virtually) meet my family, get acquainted with his competition, unearth my quirky sense of humor, and discover my vices.

“It was like I was spying on you,” he recalls. “From your blog, I knew that you didn’t want kids, and I discovered the names of your sex toys. I wanted to learn these things from you in person, if at all.”

The Blog Hangover

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I never expected Newton’s third law of motion to apply so aptly to my blogging experiment. But I found that my discovery of writing freedom did produce consequences of comparable proportion. People were reading my posts. And they had feedback.

the tourists

“the tourists” © Lois Shelden

My former mechanic in Vermont found my blog in a Google search and religiously read every post. When I bumped into him at a Fourth of July parade, he said, “I read about your bikini wax. That was kinky.”

Only after we broke up did my ex-boyfriend read my blog. He claimed to have found the posts about him amusing, although he didn’t entirely agree with their content. If he’d read them when I first posted them, though, he might not have been quite so forgiving.

Ultimately, what curbed my oversharing was this: dating, and then living with, a man who reads everything I publish. My posts became less personal and more prudent once someone close to me was reading them. Finally, they dwindled away.

These days, most of my writing is for publications and class assignments. It reflects my public self, not the unguarded inner me who made my blog an invitation for voyeurs.

That part of me still writes, of course. But only in my ninety-nine-cent Staples notebook. And I’ll never tell you where I hide it.

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Gun Debate Creates More Tension Than Answers

Monday, January 28, 2013

The gun debate is front and center in the United States again. Mass shootings across the country dominated headlines in December.

Early in the month an NFL player shot and killed his girlfriend, and then himself. One week later, at an Oregon mall, a 22-year-old man shot three people, two of them fatally, before killing himself. Then, on December 14, a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, killed his mother with her own firearm before continuing the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The 20-year-old shooter killed twenty children and six women before turning a gun on himself.

That night, a plethora of Facebook updates referenced the shooting. Most of them offered condolences, thoughts, and prayers on their walls. Others Tweeted similar sentiments. Mainstream, fringe, and social media gave the event its nearly undivided attention and offered their political views. My Constitutionalist friends expressed concern about the government exploiting the shooting to disarm a nation. Gun-control advocates found those worries inappropriate in light of the death of twenty children. Some emailed jokes like these:

Q: How many NRA members does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: More guns.

I found this neither offensive nor particularly funny. I did find it an example of appealing to ridicule, a tactic employed to discredit an opponent’s argument with humor or mockery, not reason or debate. Such approaches can invoke laughter, but they do little to encourage open discussion and plausible solutions on which most people can agree.

The school shooting captivated the entire country, and reached others around the globe. When any one story captures worldwide attention, my cynical side asks, “what else is going on from which the government needs the public distracted?” As it turns out, the country is about to fall off something called a fiscal cliff.

Anyway, since Newtown’s tragedy, the small, affluent, New England town––virtually unknown to the rest of the country or world––has become a household name. And, predictably, everyone is talking guns. Like the political hot potatoes of abortion, capital punishment, and gay marriage, to name a few, the firearm issue is boiled down to two polarized camps: pro-gun rights vs. pro-gun control.

On one side of the oversimplified argument is America’s “gun culture,” a term coined by historian Richard Hofstadter in 1970. It conjures up caricatures of gun-toting, backwoods Republicans who like to hunt, donate money to the National Rifle Association (NRA), and staunchly defend the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms). They are usually older, white men who resemble Charlton Heston and Tom Selleck.

On the other side emerges the image of liberal pacifists in Blue States––several of them Hollywood actors who Tweet their political views––who want the government to crack down on crime and make the streets, malls, and schools safer for citizens. They deem the NRA an all-too-powerful lobbyist group full of right-wing nut jobs with guns.

I subscribe to neither of these groups. I suspect that most Americans, like me, can see valid points in both arguments, as well as seeking something more viable in between. But when I went hunting through articles, opinion pieces, and videos on this topic, what I found was a line of demarcation separating those two opponents. From Fox News and MSNBC to Alex Jones and Jesse Ventura to some dude in his basement filming himself for a YouTube video, only two forces emerged, no matter how articulate (or not): protect citizens’ civil liberties to arm themselves, or further restrict gun use to protect citizens.

In search of something that resonated with my more nuanced and complex views, what I found instead was a divided country, each side screaming their own perspective while ignoring the “opposition.” The closest thing I found to an argument that transcended the blind stone throwing was an opinion piece by CNN contributor Roland Martin.

In his December 28 article entitled “National gun ‘conversation’ mostly a waste of time,” Martin writes:

“The tragedy has allowed the usual suspects to declaim from one side or the other. It’s either pro-Second Amendment or restrict guns. Very little else has broken through to put this gun violence epidemic into the proper context.” He continues, “If we are going to keep saying, ‘let’s have a conversation,’ then by God let’s do it. Right now, we are seeing advocates against guns and for guns try to score points and demonize one another. That’s not a conversation. It’s an exercise in futility.”

One point on which everyone does agree is that what happened in Newtown (or Clackamas Town Center, Aurora movie theater, Columbine High School, or any other mass shooting) was tragic and should be avoided in the future. The approaches to working toward that end differ. The NRA suggests that more armed guards at schools can protect against shooters. Gun control supporters call for stricter gun laws, comparable to those in Europe and Australia.

In a country that thrives on buzz words like ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom,’ open discourse with varying viewpoints is to be expected, even encouraged. But I have yet to hear a variety of arguments. I have yet to see either side listen to the other. I have yet to come across a viable solution to this problem. It starts with a conversation, which requires both sides to listen. Then, maybe, more than two arguments can infiltrate the discussion.

This article was published in The Politico Magazine on 1/28/2013.

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February 8, 2013 · 2:53 am