Old Dog, New Kicks

I have a fun new purchase to share. But first, an anecdote.

You may recall that I took a design tour of Milan last year. While packing for the trip, I decided to wear my trusty old Converse low-tops on the flight for comfort, thinking that I'd leave them in the hotel closet for the duration of my stay. Milan, after all, is one of the top fashion capitals of the world and I'd heard that Milanese women wear stilettos everywhere...even on bicycles (since confirmed).

But what I didn't know then is this: when Milanese women are not wearing stilettos, they are wearing Converse All Stars! I'm telling you, these iconic American sneakers were everywhere in Milan. It seemed like every 3rd person on the sidewalk (women and men alike) was wearing them.

Billboards promoted them:

Converse Billboard

Store fronts featured them (and knock-offs):

Milan Shop Window

And mine ended up getting a pretty good tour of the town...to meet designer Antonio Marras...

Antonio Marras

...and tour his gorgeous studio...

Antonio Marras2

...to relax on the roof deck at 10 Corso Como...

10 Corso Como

..and lounge in my room at the Chateau Monfort.

Chateau Monfort

Interestingly, I even wore them to tour Missoni headquarters and was delighted to learn when I returned home that Converse had teamed up with Missoni to launch six new designs featuring their famous chevron print.


But the most exciting thing was when Converse - which was founded in nearby Malden, MA, and spent its most recent history in North Andover, MA (not far from my childhood home) - moved its worldwide headquarters to Lovejoy Wharf in Boston's North End (about a half mile from my current home).


The building houses about 500 employees, as well as Rubber Tracks (a community-based professional recording studio), and a 3500 square foot retail store on the ground level. Converse CEO Jim Calhoun even popped in to check on things while we were there (I hear his office is on the glass-encased top-floor of the building, which was a new addition that must afford spectacular 360-degree views of the city). Check out the fun lights in the lobby of the office building:

Converse Lobby

At the back of the retail store is the Blank Canvas workshop, where shoppers can customize their kicks, including choice of colors, materials, rubber toe caps, grommets, laces, and images - either from an assortment of ones in the Converse database (they have lots of fun Boston-themed images), or one you upload yourself (assuming you have copyright).

Which brings me to the real subject of this post, my sweet new customized Chuck Taylors:

Lulu Chucks

Because they're from the Boston store, they have the city designation inside, and a red strip along the bottom representing the Freedom Trail.

Converse Boston

How cool is that? The ability to not only customize but really personalize the shoe - and to do it so quickly (often same-day, mine took a couple of days due to backlog) - is awesome. Bravo, Converse.

I'll see you around the Wharf.

Lulu Chucks2


Living Well

It has been a big media week for me!

First off, I had an article published in Communication World Magazine: 5 Ways to Make Your Mobile Marketing Work Harder. That was obviously on the work front; thanks to our PR agency Denterlein for lining up the opportunity.

Karen and StephanieOn the personal front...I made my television debut! My friend Karen Fabian (pictured with me at left) has launched a fantastic new program on the Boston Neighborhood Network called Living Well. In it, she's putting her 25 years of healthcare and healthy living experience to work in order to bring the people of Boston (and beyond) information and inspiration for better health.

The first show airs tomorrow (Friday, June 5th) and the series will have segments on various topics including nutrition, stretching, meditation, technology and health, inspirational stories and activities and actions we can all take to stay healthy. While Karen will present various segments, guests will include teachers, physicians, nutritionists, community leaders, researchers, business leaders, yoga teachers, coaches and others making an impact in the health and wellness industry.

I was so honored to be included in the premiere episode of Living Well, on which Karen asked me to share a bit about my experience with breast cancer


Behind the ScenesIt was so fun to watch the taping of the entire show, including segments with:

Jose Masso, Director of Active Living and Wellness for the City of Boston (pictured above and at right with Karen) discussing the HealthyBoston/ #BostonMoves initiatives;

Yoga instructor Victoria Smith demonstrating stretches for the back; and

Yoga instructor Barrett Reinhorn sharing information on having a healthy pregnancy

Karen also launched a Living Well Twitter Challenge to get at-home viewers involved; simply use the hashtag  ‪#‎livingwellbnn‬ to share your ideas for living well, follow show updates, and/or pose questions for Karen or her guests.

The show will air Fridays at 7am on the Boston Neighborhood Network (Channel 9 Comcast or Channel 15 RCN for viewers in Boston) and via live streaming for those outside of Boston at bnntv.org/tunein.

It will also be available on the BNN YouTube channel, as well as Karen's Bare Bones Yoga channel for on-demand viewing, any time!


And before I sign off, I have to comment on the building that houses the Boston Neighborhood Network - the former MBTA Power Station in Egleston Square, which BNN purchased in 2005 and rehabilitated into a state-of-the-art media center that opened in 2007. They did a marvelous job maintaining the soaring arched windows, iron beams, and old pulley systems inside.














The mission and vision of BNN itself is also worth a read; it's a wonderful resource for the city of Boston. I hope you'll tune in.



Boston Calling Music Festival

Last weekend I attended the sold out 3rd installment of Boston Calling, a 3-day musical festival that drew over 60,000 spectators (roughly 22,000 per day) to City Hall Plaza.

Boston Calling

Check out that lineup! I love that the city has made this a regular event, and has been able to secure some great talent.

Boston Calling Lineup

I am posting this from the airport (more on that later), and having trouble getting my embedded videos to display, so Here are some links to the highlights:

  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Home. These guys were so fun. At one point, lead singer Alex Ebert came down into the crowd, grabbed a fan's cell phone, and proceeded to take a video of all his band mates and their view from the stage, before returning the phone to its owner (complete with selfie). https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephrog/14089015409/
  • Jack Johnson - Sitting Waiting Wishing. They also had fun with the audience: when a young woman down front held up a sign indicating she could play his songs on the guitar, Johnson brought her up on stage to jam with the band. It was fantastic.
  • Jack Johnson + Edward Sharpe - Rocky Raccoon. For his encore, Johnson brought his opening act back out to join him in a cover of the Beatles classic.
  • The Neighborhood - Sweater Weather. I saw this band from LA when they opened for Imagine Dragons in Boston last year.
  • Bastille cover of 1993 Corona hit, Rhythm of the Night. Bastille sounded awesome, and really got the crowd moving, as evidenced by this video. Lead singer Dan Smith also interacted with the crowd, donning a gray hoodie and then plowing through his fans while he sang.


We closed out Sunday night with some Modest Mouse.

Maria and steph

All in all, a really fun weekend.

Bonus track: Ray Lamontagne - Trouble, at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion last night. Now my week of music is complete. Stay tuned for a week of fashion & design...from Italy!

Parties on the Harbor

Springtime fundraisers are in full effect, now that the weather is getting better and people are anxious to mix and mingle.  I attended two this past week with similar names but on opposites sides of the Boston Harbor:

1) The Insitute of Contemporary Art's annual gala, Party on the Harbor.

This was a fantastic event. First off, you can't beat the ICA's gorgeous space overlooking the water in Boston's Seaport district. Add to that an eclectic and outgoing crowd, music by DJs Frank White and Questlove (leader of Jimmy Fallon's house band, The Roots), tarot card readings in the museum's glass-encased elevator, an amazing midnight buffet (mac-n-cheese! truffles!) and the obligatory party photo-booth and you have a hit. 

Photo Booth
In the photo booth with Joanne

While I didn't get to enjoy the high roller dinner earlier in the evening ($15K-$100K per table) and Keytar Bear failed to show up for a late-night performance, it was a really fun night in support of a wonderful institution.

Questlove on the decks...
Dance Party
...and a dance party ensued.

2) Charlestown YMCA's fundraiser at the Residence Inn on Tudor Wharf, Pahty on the Hahbah.

A much smaller event, but well attended by area residents, youths, and the servicemen and women who benefit from the Y's programs. Guests enjoyed a silent auction, live music, passed hors d'ouvres, and a beautiful (if chilly) view of the harbor from under a tent on the wharf.

Pahty on the hahbah
Charlestown YMCA's Pahty on the Hahbah

The partying continued on and near the harbor all through Memorial Day weekend. More on that to come.

Can the Media Help Fix Health Care?

Martha BebingerI work with a variety of healthcare brands in my day job, so when the MGH Institute of Health Professionals and the Upsilon Lambda Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International (Honor Society of Nursing) hosted a talk entitled "Can the Media Help Fix Health Care?" at their campus in the Charlestown Navy Yard recently, I was eager to attend.

Award-wining WBUR health reporter Martha Bebinger (right) led the discussion among an audience of mostly clinicians that highlighted several key issues that healthcare providers and marketers need to consider.

1) Shopping for health insurance isn’t – and may never be – like shopping for traditional consumer goods.

We talk about this a lot with our clients at PARTNERS+simons, particularly on website redesign projects. While it’s true that consumer expectations for how to shop from and engage with a business are being set by large, consumer brands (e.g., Amazon, Zappos, Apple), the reality is that shopping for insurance is a fundamentally different type of purchase. Access to price and quality data is spotty at best, and the ability to customize or configure products is limited by the regulatory environment. Add to that the complex nature of the product itself, the perceived low value for the money, and shoppers with a 12% health literacy rate, and you can see that this is much different from shopping for books, shoes or cell phones.

On her CommonHealth blog this week, Bebinger shared “The 26 Steps I Took To (Try To) Comparison Shop For A Bone Density Test.” She simply wanted to compare prices for this exam at three different labs, and she failed, because despite the hope of transparency promised by the ACA, cost data is not easily accessible (if at all) and requires consumers to wrangle with a myriad of websites, phone calls, and industry speak like “CPT Codes” (the Current Procedural Terminology used to designate a procedure).

Likewise, quality and safety data is difficult to find and assess, as there are no industry standards on how to measure or report it. Outcomes can vary widely depending on the procedure, the precision of the machine, the experience of the people administering the procedure/test, and the body being tested. There is no industry standard that accounts for these variables.

We need to create a culture where it is ok to collect and use these kinds of measures, and Bebinger is hopeful that by covering experiences like her own in the media, we will start moving in that direction.

2) Health Plans need to revamp their phone, web, and mobile experiences to begin to address these challenges.

MA law requires managed care health insurance carriers to “establish a toll-free telephone number and website whereby insured members can obtain the estimated or maximum allowed charge and the out-of-pocket cost that the insured member shall be responsible to pay for a proposed admission, procedure or service” within 2 business days of requesting it. Harvard Pilgrim members can use a tool called NowiKnow to shop for care, Tufts Health Plan says it will launch its own online shopping tool, EmpowerMe, in July, and BCBSMA says it, too, will have an online shopping tool ready for October when insurers are supposed to be able to give patients requested prices in real time. Nationally, Aetna has figured out how to do it.

WBUR runs an online community called Healthcare Savvy designed for patients trying to figure out how to shop for healthcare. At the time of this writing, it was suffering it’s own technical difficulties.

3) It is critical that we use the language of the public, and find ways they can personally relate to our products and services.

As a journalist, Bebinger spends a lot of time translating healthcare topics into language that the general public can (and wants to) understand. She urges healthcare practitioners, legislators, and marketers to get off of the system level and down to the patient level. The cost, quality, and safety measures mentioned above are 3 major disconnects with consumers not only because of lack of availability but also because consumers don’t understand how to read/evaluate them when they are available.

Similarly, NPs confess that they are “caught in the medical model,” using the coding technology and limited by time constraints that don’t support their holistic model. They are hopeful that the switch from fee for service to outcomes-based billing will help the situation, but they have not seen any real changes on this front yet.

Bebinger doubts that healthy people will ever see enough value in these policies to pay for them, especially if we keep talking about them the way we do. She cited cases wherepeople were gaming the system (signing up for coverage in time to get a specific medical procedure and then drop it) and noted the 15% of enrollees who failed to make their second payment were responsible for 70% of the costs.

She urged the audience to present their messages/stories in a way that makes it personal for the reader/listener (and acknowledged this is the best way to pitch her a story). “Scope of Practice” isn’t a phrase that patients know or care about, but hearing a specific success story about a person’s experience with their NP (backed up with sufficient data) may get them to pay attention. This theme of telling human stories and finding ways to emotionally connect with people, was very consistent throughout the talk.

Lastly, Journalists need to steer clear of creating alarm (e.g., “death panels”), reporting errors, and not having the courage to explore the stories that are difficult to tell.

4) As scope of practice rules begin to change, there is an opportunity to educate consumers on alternative care options.

There’s still a lot of speculation around whether the ACA will create a shortage of Primary Care Physicians as predicted. Regardless of that outcome, people don’t currently understand the roles of Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants and how they could support broader coverage.

The AMA and other medical societies have been pushing back on expanded scope of practice to NPs. As it stands, scope of practice is currently determined at a state level, with some states being very liberal (NH allows NPs to run their own practices) while others are not (AL doesn’t allow NPs to write a script). Unfortunately, the ACA doesn’t address this.

The fact is, there is no variation in how NPs are trained from state-to-state, and the healthcare system has become so complex that NPs now get more education than they did in the past. Nursing organizations want the public to know that NPs provide affordable, safe, high-quality outcomes; is there a role that the media can play so that the general public will be more accepting of these options?  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is currently doing a study comparing NP expanded scope of practice with outcomes that will hopefully support their case. There have been studies in the past showing that NPs have better outcomes with chronic disease management cases than MDs because they take a more holistic approach, but it hasn’t been widely publicized.

Overall, it was a really interesting conversation from both a professional standpoint and a personal one, as health care - and health reform -  affects all of us.


After a very long, cold, sad Winter, Spring has finally arrived in Boston. And with it, a sense of renewal. It's amazing what some sunshine and warmer temperatures can do for the spirit. Not to mention the gorgeous flowers blooming everywhere.

Harvard Street, Charlestown

Everyone asks me, "Will you get another dog?" To which I reply, "No, not anytime soon." Yes, the house lacks a certain energy it once had, and it was strange to break out of the routine Lulu and I enjoyed for over 10 years, but for now I am content with the flexibility of being dependent-free. I can go away for a weekend or out after work without having to make arrangements in advance, or worrying that my little one is home alone, yearning for a walk, a meal, or just some companionship.

Public Garden
Public Garden, Boston

I've returned to the yoga studio, the farmers' markets, and my favorite park bench. I revamped my tiny garden and reconnected with old friends.  And I've returned to this blog with a renewed commitment to write on a more regular basis, inspired by several friends who have done the same.

Christopher Columbus Park, Boston
Christopher Columbus Park, Boston

My health continues to be good, and thus far I've kept my New Year's resolution to visit at least one museum per month. In June, that outing will be especially memorable, as I'm traveling to Italy for a fashion and design tour of Milan. And of course I'm taking my camera and journal with me, so watch this space.

St. Leonard
St. Leonard's Church, Boston

But for now, I'll leave you with a tranquil scene from our own little piece of Italy, Boston's North End:

Peace Garden
St. Leonard's Peace Garden, Boston

Writing from Real Life

For some time now I've wanted to write a memoir. Or something memoirish, based on real life experiences - say, short little vignettes about my travels. Or what it was like to battle Breast Cancer. I love reading memoirs (Wild being the most recent), and every time I do, I think, "I could do this!"

So I enrolled in a 4-week workshop at Grub Street, a nonprofit writing center that welcomes people of all levels. It is, in fact, the second largest independent center for creative writing in the U.S. (The Loft in Minneapolis is the largest), and I first learned of it from my author friends, Crystal and Jane).

The workshop I'm taking, Writing from Real Life, is taught by Judah Leblang, a local teacher, author and storyteller. There are twelve of us in the class, and over the course of four weeks we'll learn how to structure memoirs and personal narratives based on our own experiences (as Judah says, "If you've made it to adulthood, you have lots of material!").

We had our first class this past Sunday night; it was at Grub Street headquarters in the beautiful old Steinert Hall building on Boylston Street (we're up on the 5th floor, but be sure to read about the abandoned music hall in the basement). Judah kicked things off with this quote from author Jean Rhys:

All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. And there are trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.

To me, Rhys is underscoring the idea that storytelling is central to humanity. That is why so many people choose to write, and so many choose to read. We talked about how it is the small details of life that make us human, and how the power of detail is central to writing memoirs and personal essays.  We also discussed the difference between a memoir and a personal essay - the former is often a chronological telling of difficult personal experience that leads to wisdom/meaning, and the latter is a lighter riff on a singular topic. 

Lastly, we ran through a few writing exercises where Judah (or fellow classmates) gave us a prompt (a topic or sentence) about which we had to write for 5-20 minutes. And then we had to read our work out loud! Nerve-wracking. But the whole idea is to create a "safe" environment for sharing ideas, getting feedback, and drawing on the energy of the group (it reminds me of yoga practice, in that sense).

Most important is getting into the habit of writing on a regular basis. Our homework assignment for this week is to compose an 850-word piece on leaving (a person or a place). We'll see where that goes...

PS: Today is my parents' 58th wedding anniversary - a remarkable feat and surely a great fodder for a personal essay!

Mom and dad

Seeing Red

Red Leaves

There is some stunning Fall foliage around the city right now, like this beauty in front of Burroughs Wharf in the North End:

Burroughs wharf

Red Sox

About one million fans lined the route for today's Boston Red Sox Parade of Champions. We checked out the scene from Cambridge's North Point Park, where the duck boats carrying the World Series Champs plunged into the Charles River. Here's a shot of the scene (if you look closely, you can see crowds of people all along the water's edge).

North point park

Red Skies

Check out the sunset over the city on Friday night:


Red Sauce

Also on Friday, I reunited with some fellow Bowdoin Polar Bears to remember our friend Linda Geffner '94 who passed away from breast cancer recently. We shared a (surprisingly good!) meal at Cantina Italiana, a North End institution since 1931 and site of Linda's celebratory dinner after she completed the Boston Marathon in 2012. Sadly, her dream to run tomorrow's NYC marathon went unrealized, but I'm sure she's up there running with the angels.

Remembering linda

Remembering linda2