Hot As Mercury

I adore Chicago.

It is the pulse 

of America.

Sarah Bernhardt


Famous for it’s gigantic drop of liquid mercury, Chicago just won my vote for The Prettiest City in the U.S.!

You’ll love the river that snakes through dazzling skyscrapers, the helpful locals, and the ease of getting around and through the fabulous park set beautifully next to a lake. See the city in different ways:

Inside Chicago Tours Hillary is charming and funny as she takes you on small group walking tours of the city’s best building interiors and sssshhh! secrets.

Architecture River Cruise The Architecture Foundation’s First Lady Cruises will give you all the right facts. For more entertaining versions, try Shoreline and Jim Collins is one of the fun guides of Wendella boats. Choose the sunset cruise to see the lovely change of city lights.

Bobby’s Bike Hike Yes, you can stand on a Segway or sit in a cool limo. I like combining the distraction of interesting sights with a workout and a bike tour on a cool night is just perfect. Wednesday and Saturday evening tours end with spectacular fireworks on the lake.

Other evening entertainment:

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Chicago is the home of improv comedy so skip Broadway for this town’s longest running show of 30 mini plays in one hour. Mostly funny, sometimes poignant, sad and real. Not 21+ though the material can be.

Upstairs at the Virgin Hotel. I’ll have to come back without a teen chaperone to check out the fun at this naughty venue.

Fun restaurants with the family or not:

Three Arts Cafe Whether it’s your first date or the 100th, you’ll enjoy this romantic courtyard with chandeliers, a fountain and glass ceiling, indulgent service with a rooftop, too.

The Palm Court at The Drake Hotel Old world elegance for glamorous high tea after a day exploring the Gold Coast neighborhood. You can combine your tea reservation with a tour of the hotel on weekdays.

Fulton Market Kitchen Feed your inner artist with this feast for the eyes.

The Terrace Regardless of your politics, the Trump Hotel has the best open air views facing the river and half the Chicago skyline.

And if the kids insist on the Skydeck, mom must stop by the breathtaking atrium of the pink building next door.

The neighborhood you stay in makes all the difference and I suspect I adore Chicago because I chose a central location (between Clark Street Bridge and Millennium Park) for easy access to the city’s attractions, shopping and innumerable dining options.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your best Chicago travel tips here.







Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

My Grandmother’s Closet

My grandmother was a very tough woman.

She buried three husbands and

two of them were just napping. 

Rita Rudner


A quiet moment of thanks to commemorate the life of the woman who inspired the mission of Powerful Goddess Portraits: To celebrate every woman’s best by making the most of what she’s got.  My grandmother passed last week at 92 surrounded by everyone who loved and was loved by her.

Corazon (Spanish for “heart”) was my first arbiter of style. Her busy extended household was the home of my childhood. A prudish Catholic upbringing failed to  dampen her sense of humor, her love of retelling (saucy) jokes and collecting gag curios to make you blush. Her womb birthed 6 children, she raised many of 15 grandchildren and 13 more call her Great Grandmother today.  Thinking about her signature dishes continues to have a Pavlovian effect on my mouth.

As the inveterate night owl, she fascinated me on many late school nights with her ingenuity, her hunched figure diligently presiding over the formal dining table filled with accoutrements for her project de la nuit.  When my mom was crowned teen queen, she designed the very first quick change gown the town still talks about–no one had ever witnessed a gown transform into a completely different outfit in the blink of an eye!   When my daughter was 6 and ready for the hula dances I learned at her age, guess who sent us matching handmade grass skirts?   There was a time when Ikebana was the rage, bonsai plants took over the garage, her sewing machine a permanent fixture in the living room.   Her house was a revolving door not only of creative projects, but also of pets from goldfish, turtles, chickens, birds, several breeds of dogs, way before the grandchildren  joined the parade.

You didn’t have to leave her house to get a hair cut or perm because she could do that, too. “Let’s shape your eyebrows…” was my initiation to the wonders of makeup.  You can’t buy my favorite summer purse on 5th Avenue–it’s an antique of timeless design from her closet.  For my recent birthday, my kids were impressed by her sketch of animals kissing, elegant calligraphy lacing through the card decorated with her lipstick kiss marks–Who would guess that this artistic script in impeccable English is by someone who never made it to highschool nor to other countries much?  She rarely steps out of the house these days, but when she does, lipstick has got to match the dress.

It was s  sweet homecoming with the aunts, uncles, cousins I grew up with.  How I wish my kids could enjoy the pleasures of being imposed on, sleeping through chaos, being loved by and required to love noisy and nosey relatives of countless degrees!   I say personal space is overrated and Hillary is right about that village!

Laughter mixed with tears when we had to say “When might we see each other again?” goodbyes and I am forever grateful for a childhood around this doyen of talent and creativity.  I am forever blessed with the strength of my self-defined style, compassion, a keen eye for design among the very many talents I have been so lucky to inherit from this Powerful Goddess.  Daghang salamat, Ama Azon, for the treasures of your closet and the treasured memories and wisdom of a lifetime:

that happiness, like religion, has many faces and true faith means respecting each other’s choice for what best suits our needs

that marriage is not a reform institution.  To make any relationship work, there can only be gratitude and the question “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?”

that today is the day to enjoy what we’ve got and be present for the love and laughter of family and friends

I am grateful for all that I am because of you, Ama Azon!


You can swim the deepest ocean and never find a fish like this


These hands make countless memories and things out of nothing–

and yes, may you wear hip nails at 90, too!


My Birthday Card


Half a lifetime ago


And now a bit too big for Grandma’s lap



© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Email me

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

My 7 Fave Books About Paris

America is my country


Paris is my hometown.

Gertrude Stein

“I don’t like reading!” must be the only chorus my two younger teens agree on. They usually bicker like cat and dog yet form a united front on the topic of books, stubbornly glueing their noses to the computer. If it’s any consolation for a mother, at least, their older brother in college actually values the occasional recommendation, discussing his insights and revelations when we talk on the phone. He says this may simply be a function of age and how the book resonates with his current life journey. I say one out of three kids is not a bad average, yes?

In honor of this blog’s favorite French fan’s birthday, here are  stories set in Paris you’ll want to chill with on or off the beach this summer:

The Flaneur by Edmund White. Because meandering strolls with no particular destination is so very Parisian, observing the everyday theater on the city streets.


Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik (2001): What would it be like to raise children in Paris? An American writer shares his adventures starting a new career and family abroad.


Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.  An Australian’s memoir of her giant leap, moving to Paris and marrying into a different culture.


The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain.  Would you marry a struggling writer much younger than you? Could you be friendly with your husband’s mistress? A story told from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife.


My Life in France by Julia Child.  How did the student become the master? Julia tells of her move to Paris with her husband before she figured out what she wanted to do when she grows up.



The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. A bookseller helps heal wounded hearts by prescribing the perfect story for them to read, eventually mending his own.


Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott. shares her 20 style secrets learned while living in Paris.


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share what’s on your summer reading list.  Stay cool and tres chic!


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Like My Father Always Said

Be good


be careful.

Dominic, father of Michele


My favorites from Erin McHugh’s Like My Father Always Said, a collection of memorable quotes and gruff advice, sweet wisdom, and half-baked instructions on how to fix your life:

What other people think of you is none of your business.

You can have as much freedom as you can pay for.

The early bird gets the worm, but the second rat gets the cheese.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

The moment you think you want to change someone you love, dump ’em. You don’t like them for the right reasons and they won’t change anyway.

Never marry for money. Just hang out with a lot of rich people and fall in love.

Learn at least one new thing everyday.

Don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash.

The squeaky wheel gets replaced.

Before you speak ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

The only bad mistake is one you stick by.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your favorite man’s memorable quip.







Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman


Keys to No Makeup

The most beautiful makeup

of a woman is passion.

But cosmetics are easier to buy.

Yves Saint Laurent


 by Paola Kudacki for “In Common”

Alicia Keys, 15 time Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, producer and accomplished actress, a New York Times best selling author, entrepreneur and activist, wrote on

We all get to point in our lives (especially girls) where we try to be perfect.

The harsh, judgmental world of entertainment was my biggest test yet. I started, more than ever, to become a chameleon. Never fully being who I was, but constantly changing so all the “they’s” would accept me.

Before I started my new album, I listed all the things I was sick of. And one was how much women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect. I was tired of the constant judgment of women. The constant stereotyping through every medium that makes us feel like being a normal size is not normal. Or the constant message that being sexy means being naked. All of it so frustrating and so freakin’ impossible.

During this process, I wrote a lot of songs about masks filled with metaphors about hiding. I needed these songs because I was really feeling those insecurities. I was uncovering just how much I censored myself, and it scared me. Who was I anyway? Did I even know how to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?

I didn’t know the answers exactly, but I desperately wanted to.

I walked into the first shoot for my new album and this issue was front and center. The photographer Paola Kudacki said, “I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be, too!”

I was shocked. Instantly, I became nervous and uncomfortable. My face was totally raw from the gym. This was my run-to-the-shoot-so-I-can-get-ready look, not the actual photo shoot look. So I asked, “Now? Like right now? I want to be real, but this might be too real!!!”

And that was it. She started to shoot me. It was a plain white background, me and the photographer intimately elating, me and that baseball hat and scarf and a bunch of invisible magic. I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that i have ever felt.

I felt powerful because my initial intentions realized themselves. My desire to listen to myself, to tear down the walls I built over all those years, to be full of purpose, and to be myself!

Once the photo I took with Paola came out as the artwork for my new song “In Common,” it was that truth that resonated with others who posted #nomakeup selfies in response to this real and raw me. I hope to God it’s a revolution.

‘Cause I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share your personal revolution.



No Makeup by Paola Kudacki


 With makeup for “Queen of the Field”


for a billboard ad


for “If I Ain’t Got You”

All images from Google.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

If You Lean In…

Women who seek

to be equal with men

lack ambition. 

Timothy Leary


I dare you to keep a straight face after reading this title of Gina Barreca‘s compilation of musings on life, love, and work:

If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?

She makes her point in this excerpt:

I asked a woman, “What did you think about Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In?”

“At my job, if I lean in, guys just look down my blouse.”

For many of us, reading about wildly high-profile women is a form of masochism. It’s like tearing off our cuticles. We turn pages and wonder, “Why can’t I be more like her?” Then we think what we could have done better.

If only we’d been more focused as teenagers. (That probably would have been possible.) And if only we’d done our senior thesis at Harvard with Larry Summers, who’d have coached us to get our MBA at Harvard and then hired us at twenty-nine to become chief of staff at the Treasury Department. (Maybe slightly less possible.) I’m just saying that not everybody has access to the same playing field as Sandberg and that point needs to be recognized.

Until every woman has access to employment at wages equal to her male colleagues, until women are not told, as Microsoft CEO Sarya Nadella announced at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, that women should “trust the system” and rely on “karma” to reward them financially without asking for raises (as if that’s worked really well up to now), and until every child has a stable secure home, everything else sidesteps the real issue of equity.

I am grateful to this Powerful Goddess for her inspiration to brave new beginnings and define her own success. Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share who holds the key to yours.







Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Packing Light

When preparing to travel,

lay out all your clothes and all your money.

Then take half the clothes and twice the money.

Susan Heller

Jeeeeezzz! Someone please remind this winter chill it’s supposed to be elsewhere by mid-May! With the calendar ticking whether the heat turns up or not, might a summer adventure with one of these suitcases tempt you to travel light?

T. Anthony glazed red alligator leather with roomy sections, interior pockets, zip compartment, and polished nickel hardware. $12,000.


Louis Vuitton Pegase 55 Epi leather in a range of happy colors comes with a garment bag. $4,650.


Vocier bags. Shirts, shoes and accessories go in the middle of the bag; suits and dresses slip into the outer shell for minimal folding. An easy opening provides direct access to a laptop.  The C38 made of canvas is $595. The F38 clad in leather is shown here ($1,195.)


Tumi‘s Super Leger International four-wheeled carry-on is the lightest of the lot, allowing more weight allowance for your stuff. $545 is on sale now at $405.


This duffel has compartments for clothes, smaller ones for a laptop, phone, and shoes, even a sneaky slot along the spine for ties and comes in chic black canvas or five hues of leather. Debuts in July at ($355-$575).


Polycarbonate Zero Air II 20 inch carryon on four wheel spinner travel case. at $395.


And if a carry-on is just not enough, Send My Bag picks up your belongings and ships them almost anywhere in the world within a week.  Fedex tailored to travelers. Sed a bag, a box, even a bicycle within the US for $59 one way. Shipping from the US to Europe starts at $99 for 33 pounds.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your favorite travel tote.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

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