As I sit and write this introduction to new NABBW member Phyllis Coletta’s profile, I feel an instant kinship with her, though we’ve barely met. Why? Because she blogs as “Barefoot Broads,” and I can totally identify with the pleasure of that footloose feeling.

Back when I worked in Corporate America, I temporarily forgot the pure comfort of  bare feet. In fact, I went so far the other direction, I became a hopeless “shoe-aholic,”  and confess that I often bought my shoes six pair at a time. I loved completing every one of my outfits with the perfect pair of shoes. Pink, green, red, blue, taupe, brown, black. Suede, leather, patent. Stilettos, platforms, kitten heels and sandals. I wore them all. (And of course, like Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s iconic series, Sex and the City, I swore my feet didn’t hurt!)

But since leaving that world back in the early 90’s, I have become a fan of living the “barefootin’ ” lifestyle (with apologies to musician Robert Parker, who released that song back in 1966.)  So when Phyllis told me she blogs at Barefoot Broads, I knew we had instant kinship! (Heck, I’m barefoot as I post this story…)

The other thing I find fascinating about Phyllis is that she is not afraid to upset the status quo. As you explains in her answers below, she began her professional career as a litigation attorney, but didn’t stop there. In fact, she has capably taken on more than a handful of other careers. 

Amazingly, Phyllis has also worked as an ordained Zen Buddhist hospital chaplain and a hospice volunteer, as well as serving as a teacher, and a professional freelance writer. She also worked as an EMT for ten years, both in the field and as an ER tech in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Perhaps because of her law background, Phyllis also gained experience as a Risk Manager for a community hospital, giving her a broad understanding of how our American healthcare system works. (Or perhaps doesn’t, she’d certainly know this better than I.)

But she hasn’t done all of her work in the US: In 2011 she participated with Centura Global Health Initiatives in a medical mission to Nepal.

Phyllis also serves as a Regional Consultant for The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. While a chaplain, Phyllis worked in the medical ICU of a large teaching hospital, giving her a deep understanding of how miscommunication and lack of advance care planning can create much suffering at the end of life. It was this experience that compelled her to focus on helping families have important conversations early, well before anyone is admitted to an ICU.

Phyllis received her BA in Theology and English from Boston College and her JD from Rutgers University. An avid adventurer, Phyllis loves all things outdoors from running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing to swimming and rowing crew. Her three sons and families live in Steamboat, Seattle and Panama, giving her great excuses to visit beautiful places.

Welcome to the NABBW, Phyllis! And thanks for making time in your busy life to give your answers to our standard questions, which are posted below:

 

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

I have always been in love with life. From the time I was a scrawny kid climbing trees and wondering about God, I’ve been engaged in the whole dang show. A lover of change, I’m a restless nomad – changing careers and jobs from lawyer to teacher, writer, EMT, chaplain and cowgirl. I’m very connected to my Italian culture and heritage; big, loud love is my default and family is everything.

Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc.

Born of first generation immigrant parents, I was raised in a high volume, loving household in Philly along with five siblings. Thrice married (!), now wildly happy as a solo 62-year old, I raised three boys in a sweet beach town in south Jersey. I have five grandkids and I teach in an alternative high school in Seattle, where other people’s kids continue to drive me crazy.

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

Roaming the neighborhood – free as a bird – with my three brothers, riding bikes (without helmets!) and looking for trouble; playing basketball in someone’s driveway and pedaling home hard when the light started to fade.

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

I am tenacious and deeply committed to social equity.

What inspires you?

People who whistle and sing while they shop or work or play with their kids.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

The freedom to not give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of me.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Backpacking, mountain biking, skiing – anything that reminds me of the six-year-old me who just loved to play outside.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle – the story of a priest who has worked for decades with the toughest gang members in East LA. You will weep, as I did/do every time I read it.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

I tend to wander, not “travel” so much. I’m not interested in tourism or destinations. Last summer I took a three-week solo wilderness road trip – camping and backpacking through Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon. I backpacked in Glacier and rafted the Salmon River in Idaho. Kind of an outdoor gypsy.

Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate.

I’m very mindful of what I eat – clean and green mostly – and I run or walk/run an average of 3-4 miles almost every day. But most importantly I mediate 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes at night. Best medicine ever.

What do you stress about?

Not much in my personal life, but I am profoundly disturbed by the massive income inequality in this country, where 78% of Americans (including my youngest son) live paycheck to paycheck no matter how hard they work.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

Nope. When I got breast cancer in 2014 and had a bilateral mastectomy I didn’t bother with reconstruction. In fact, I ended up with a big beautiful chest tattoo of an eagle, landing on branches (with lotus flowers) that cover my scars.

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

Lordy, every 10 years I change it up completely. When I was 48 I quit my lawyer job, sold my house and everything in it and moved to Colorado to be a cowgirl. That was so much fun.

Do you plan to retire?

Hell, yes. I envision a simple life of wandering around, hanging out with friends and family.

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

I have a pretty tiny carbon footprint and I’m vigilant about composting, recycling etc., but the biggest contribution I make to the planet is not consuming. I rarely buy anything (besides food).

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

After 15 years of being a litigation attorney, I remember thinking that I’d rather live out of my Honda than spend one more day fighting and arguing. That put me on a path – years later – of transforming my life from a Jersey lawyer mom to a Colorado cowgirl.

Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

One left: I want to work on a presidential campaign. My deepest dream now is to leave an economic legacy to my kids and grandkids so they will feel secure and be able to thrive. I volunteer every spare moment for Andrew Yang, a Democratic candidate and if they ask me to join full time I will drop everything and go.

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

I work in Seattle’s only Recovery High School – an alternative public high school for kids in recovery from drug/alcohol addiction. Besides my work, I try to live with integrity and compassion every moment. It’s a pretty fun way to be in the world, once you get the hang of it.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

My three boys have been my greatest teachers. You know how you would do anything for your kids? I have, over and over, changed my thinking, approach, philosophy and way of being in order to build better bonds with them. So worth it.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose.

My mission is to inspire people to be their best selves, by being mine, and to use my skills and talents to lift up others.

Martha BoltonWe have a special treat for you today! Let’s give a big hand to one of our newest NABBW members, Martha Bolton.

You may not recognize her name or face, but we can assure you that Martha Bolton has made you laugh.

She is a woman who loves to laugh, lives to make people laugh, and who has successfully made a career utilizing her genius writing skills and her ability to find the humor in everyday living.

Martha has not only had the opportunity to work with some of the funniest people of the past century, but they are not hesitant to share their appreciation for her ability to make them look good. Here are just a few of the things her peers have said about her:

  • “Martha Bolton finds the fun in the familiar, the mirth in the mundane, the belly laughs in the bellyaches of everyday living.” ~~  Bob Hope
  • “Martha is one of the funniest writers alive today.” ~~ Phyllis Diller
  • “Few people can drive home a point with humor the way Martha can. She lives life in the laugh lane.” ~~ Mark Lowry
  • “Martha Bolton brings her genius writing skills to express hard truths that we all need to chew on. Her unique gift of humor makes the going down so much sweeter.” ~~ Kathy Troccoli
  • “Martha makes you laugh the old-fashioned way–with her cleverness, wholesomeness, and realism.” ~~ Ann Jillian
  • “The best comedy writer I’ve ever worked with.” ~~ Jeff Allen
  • “Martha Bolton is a terrific comedy writer and I consider her a wonderful friend as well. Her characters rock!” ~~ Karen Knotts
  • “As nice as she is funny. And she is very nice.” ~~ Jimmy Brogan, comedian and former head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
  • “Martha Bolton has an attitude that makes her writing special – she cares about her audience. That makes every reader part of her writing and makes it that much more enjoyable for anyone who reads or listens to any of her work.” ~~ Gene Perret, staff writer for Bob Hope and 3 time Emmy Award winner for The Carol Burnett Show
  • “Martha Bolton is a consummate professional and a joy to work with. Talented, extremely funny and clever, she deserves all of her success.” ~~ Brad Dickson, writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

In other words, if you’ve laughed at jokes cracked by Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller,  Jeff Allen, Ann Jillian, or anyone else quoted above, it’s very likely Martha was somehow involved in crafting that joke…

But there’s more to Martha’s career than TV comedy writing. She’s written humorous books focused on finding the humor in life, and especially in being a baby boomer, received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Music and Lyrics, and written books for children, including JESSE and the SUPER SENSORIFIC SEASHORE, A Day in the Life of a Boy with Autism, which was recently named Book of the Year in the Special Needs division, by Creative Child Magazine. And Martha’s children’s musical, A LAMB’S TALE, written with Dennis Allen, also received a Dove award nomination.

But let’s allow Martha speak for herself. Here are her answers to our favorite NABBW questions, for your personal enjoyment… Or maybe we should have said, Ladies and Gentlemen, please give it up for… (drumroll please) a very seriously funny woman:  Martha Bolton!

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

Bolton World ChangingI was the first full-time female staff writer for Bob Hope, and I’m also a published and active playwright, as well as the author of 88 books of humor and inspiration.

My books include humorous books for the boomer market, such as: Didn’t My Skin Used to Fit?, The Whole World’s Changing and I’m Too Hot to Care, Cooking with Hot Flashes, Growing Your Own Turtleneck, and If a Woman’s Hair is Her Glory, Why am I Tweezing My Chin?

I write comedy and drama, as well as inspirational, and I was the librettist for three musicals currently playing in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. They are: Half-Stitched: The Musical, Our Christmas Dinner (with Wally Nason), and Josiah for President. I was also the librettist for The Confession Musical, based on Beverly Lewis’ bestselling trilogy. Most recently, I wrote the script for another new musical, The Home Game, which will be opening in 2016.

Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc.

I’m married to my high school sweetheart. We have three sons, seven grandchildren, and one great grand.

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

Sitting in front of our black and white television set (when it was working) and watching the old television shows – The Honeymooners, The Monkees, Gilligan’s Island, The Andy Griffith Show – too many favorites to list. My dad would “fix” the antenna with clothes hangers. I also loved Bit o’ Honey candy bars, hula hoops, and long skateboards.

bolton half stitchedWhat qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

I believe in hard work, keeping a positive attitude, and appreciating the benefits of humor.

Bolton HopeWhat inspires you?

Stories of perseverance, faith, and hope.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

Writing. New adventures. Stretching myself creatively. Traveling and doing fun things with my family. Laugher – love a good belly laugh.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Collecting friends. (You can find them everywhere and their value goes up every year!)

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

Movie: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Every word is sung in French with sub-titles, and it makes me cry every time I see it.)

Books: Right now my favorite is Dr. Phil’s “Life Code – The New Rules for Winning in the Real World.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

I love to travel. I usually travel with my husband, and sometimes with the whole family or with good friends.

Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate.

I try to remember to take vitamins.

Martha Blue AngelsWhat do you stress about?

Remembering to take vitamins. Actually, I try not to stress about much, except I don’t want a single day to pass without my having taken note of it. Live in the moment. Enjoy your life. If we don’t know it already, there will be plenty of tears in life. What we have to watch for, and sometimes plan, are times and places for us to get enough good belly laughs.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

People tell me I still look the same as I did in high school. But if they went to high school with me, then I’m figuring they may have had their vision diminish a bit over the years. : ) I do try to look my best, but I’ve never, and still don’t, wear a lot of make-up. No, plastic surgery, but I am waiting for the perfect skin crème that truly works miracles.

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

A few years ago I wrote my first novel. I was always afraid to try it, but it surprised me how much I loved the process. My philosophy is—never stop learning.

Bolton BookDo you plan to retire?

I don’t think so. Writing is such a part of my life now, and I’m having too much fun writing the scripts for these musicals, as well as my new interest—novel writing. If the pen ever drops out of my fingers, friends and family will know I’m gone.

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

I used to write out everything long hand. But I’m starting to do more of my creating on the computer.

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

Interestingly enough, it was the sad times in life that set me on a trajectory to pursue writing. It was after a full term still birth that I found myself accepting a job as a church secretary to keep myself busy. That led to writing church plays and “roasting” the pastor at church banquets. The comedy writing that I was doing for my church led me to try writing for television and the inspirational book market.

Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

I would like to continue writing novels and to have some of them made into movies. I am working on my second novel right now, and have written the screenplay for my first novel, Josiah for President.

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

I try to spread the message that laughter is one of the best survival tools in life. Also, I enjoy encouraging other writers. My Facebook fan page, listed as Martha Bolton, Author, offers a writing tip per day for both published and unpublished writers. The musicals have encouraging messages, too. You can find additional information on those – including shows, venues, tickets and auditions – at: www.bluegatemusicals.com

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

People who have encouraged me along the way. It may have only been a simple comment, but they set me on a course to a career that I have loved. Some of these are:

  • Martha Gene PerretMy English teacher who read one of my poems aloud to the class, while I sat in the back, ducking my head from embarrassment (I’m shy, but the validation did feel good).
  • My pastor who read another one of my poems aloud to the church during a Wednesday night service when I was about twelve years old.
  • My sister Melva who bought me a Writer’s Digest magazine when I was a teenager. I had never even considered writing as a profession.
  • My cousin who used to spend the night at my house and read my poems that I had taped to the wall above my bed. She always had an encouraging word to say.
  • Gene Perret who was a huge influencer on my life. (That’s us at NBC, in the photo on the right.)
  • Other friends and family members.
  • At the top of the list, my husband who has always supported me.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose.

“Life’s tough, God’s good, and laughter is calorie-free.”

 

Olfet  AgramaA warm, international welcome to Olfet Agrama, who is, as far as we know, NABBW’s first Egyptian-born member.

Though she lives an international lifestyle now, Olfet was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up during the 1950s, a time when the country was at a cultural and political crossroads.

Traditionally the Muslim women of Egypt – just as they were elsewhere – were raised in a very cloistered manner, trained to be subservient, second class citizens, governed by a strict religious ethic and male dominated society. The goal: to prepare for a life dictated to them first by their fathers and later by their husbands.

But just as happened in other parts of the world, right after the Second World War, cultural changes began to brew in Egypt. It was a time of military revolution and cultural upheaval. As a result, Olfet  was able to attend a private school, where she was exposed to girls who led more emancipated lives.  Scrambling to enjoy these freedoms herself, she eventually earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Ein Shams in Cairo.

Next, she broke with tradition by teaching English literature and grammar at the University of Cairo. And when she was 24 years old, she came to the U.S. and received a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of California.

Olfet_ Henna-Cairo These days, Olfet also enjoys playing the piano, reading, painting and sculpting. Some of her favorite artists are the Fauves: Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Raol Dufy and Georges Braque. Like the Fauves, she paints nature and people in her own bright palette, which reflects an optimistic view of the world.

After taking art courses in Los Angeles, Spain and France she has had single and group exhibitions showcased internationally in cities including Paris, Madrid, Nagasaki, Japan and Los Angeles, California. (A few of her paintings are reproduced here.)

Later, Agrama became CEO of Intersound, a dubbing and post production studio in Los Angeles where she still sits on the board of directors at Harmony Gold, a television production and distribution company.

Most recently, this pioneering woman has tackled a new creative medium, novel writing. And since all authors are advised to write about what they know, Olfet’s first book, “At the Crossroad,” is loosely based on the people she knew growing up, and the experiences they lived, during that volatile transitional period of the 1950s and 60s. She’s currently working on a second novel.

We heartily recommend At the Crossroad. It is a book that provides you with a realistic front row seat to a time when the young Egyptians were attempting to straddle two cultures. The question they needed to answer being: will they rebel against their parents or submit to tradition?  An eternal question, that many other authors, in other evolving cultures have also addressed.

Using four characters, friends who each have slightly different backgrounds, Agrama skillfully depicts a range of emotions – from  loneliness to elation, from confusion to fulfillment, from humiliation to hope,  she tells their revolutionary Egyptian story.

Meanwhile, we caught up with Olfet during one of her recent trips to the United States, and asked her our favorite NABBW blog questions. Here’s what we learned:

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

Olfet_one more paintingI was born in Cairo Egypt to a conservative family. I got married very young and went to college after my marriage. I immigrated with my husband and two children to the USA at age 24. I earned a Master’s degree in English literature from UCLA.

My life was nomadic. I lived in Lebanon for four years, Italy for eight years, London for one year and Spain for too many years. Now I divide my time between Paris and Los Angeles.

Tell us about your family

I have two brothers living in Cairo and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. I have two children and five grandchildren all living in Los Angeles. We have a private family business – film production and distribution.

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s and 70s?

My favorite early memory is the celebration of the Moslem feast. We all went to our grandparent’s home and each received a silver coin worth about a dime. We then went out into the street and bought candy and watched the itinerant puppet show.

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

I think I share with today’s women the fact that I raised a family while pursuing my education and having a career. It was not common in Egypt while I was growing up.

What inspires you?

The women who fought for women’s rights in Egypt. They succeeded in gaining the right to vote and just as important lifting the veil off women’s faces.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

My children and grandchildren bring me pleasure.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?Olfet Crossroad

Other than being a writer, I enjoy playing the piano, reading, painting and sculpting. I like the Fauves and I paint nature and people in my own palette. My paintings reflect an optimistic view of the world. I have had single and group exhibitions of my artwork in galleries in the U.S., Far East and Europe.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

It is difficult to say which is my favourite book. In Arabic I love Naguib Mahfouz and I also love the Bronte Sisters. Wuthering Heights was my favorite book as an adolescent. I also like Balzac for his down to earth, realistic portrayal of the human comedy.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

I travel a great deal. I like to go to exotic places like Africa for a safari; Iceland and Greenland for the whales, hot geysers springing from the earth and the Inuit culture. Europe is always a cultural experience. It feeds my passion for the art . I enjoy ancient cities like Rome and Athens.

My favorite trip of all is up the Nile to Luxor and Aswan. Nothing equals the magnificence of the ancient Egyptian monuments nor the full moon reflected on the Nile.

Do you practice preventive medicine?

I exercise three times a week and I watch my diet. I take vitamins and supplements. I don’t smoke and rarely drink alcoholic drinks.

What do you stress about?

Everything, I try to do too much and feel frustrated when I don’t accomplish what I start.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

Maintaining a youthful look is a losing battle but I would do anything to preserve it — surgical operations, creams, diets, massages anything that promises a miracle-though I don’t believe in miracles.

Olfet_ Bedouin-WomanHave you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

  • I went to college in a society that looked down and feared education for women.
  • I followed my husband to the New World at the cost of losing the comfort of a secure home and the loss of family and friends.
  • I changed my career to work in the movie business after studying for years to get a Ph.D in literature.

Do you plan to retire?

I am semi-retired from the business world but I am very involved in writing and painting. There is no question of retiring.

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

I don’t drink water from plastic bottles. I have two bags in my car for grocery shopping. I drive a hybrid car that reduces emissions. I recycle paper and cans. I eat organic food.

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

The first turning point was marrying for love against tradition and custom. Then it was going to a University after getting married. The third was immigrating to the United States and adapting to a different culture. The fourth turning point was I rejected all religions as such.

Olfet_Fatma's-HandsDo you still have unfulfilled dreams?

I would like to write more and better books and paint more and better pictures.

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community. your world?

I support organizations that help women to gain their rights and their dignity.
I support human rights organizations. I support Arab American organizations that promote the Arab culture and seek to improve the image of Arabs in the USA.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

First and foremost it was my husband, who pushed me to be independent and encouraged me in whatever endeavor I started.

Also, I’ve been influenced by the brave Egyptian women who, at the turn of the century, fought for women’s rights and for their freedom from archaic customs.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be?

I would like to live life to the fullest. I’d like to inspire my children to be better than I am. I’d like to leave behind lasting memories in the form of literature and art, and to contribute to a better understanding among people of diverse origins and beliefs.