Madeline at 75

It’s a big birthday week. My mother’s 84th  a grandson’s 1st, and Britain’s Prince George also turning one.

This year also marks the 75th birthday of a very special little girl, beloved worldwide: Madeline. Immortalized by author/illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans , the character first appeared in 1939. The New York Historical Society is celebrating this classic (and the six books about her) and its creator.  bemelmans_flower_shop

My sister Naomi and I loved the book so much when little, we asked our parents to name the new baby, if a girl, Madeline. And they did.

Born in 1898 in the then Austria- Hungary, Bemelmans flunked out of school and failed working in the family hotel business. He arrived in New York in 1914, alone. He landed a job at the Ritz Hotel and began drawing, creating Madeline on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in New York’s Gramercy Park.

I attended the exhibit with a friend, also a former educator and grandmother. We particularly enjoyed the reading room, where we plunked ourselves down on couches and read, noticing that at the back of each, there’s a list of all the places Madeline visits in the stories. Bemelman’s grandson John Bemelmans Marciano is continuing the legacy, creating Madeline and the Cats of Rome, Madeline at the White House, Madeline’s Tea Party and his latest, Madeline and the Old House in Paris

Of course the museum shop couldn’t be missed.

Rachelle as Miss Clavel

Rachelle as Miss Clavel

And there’s a little girl who’ll be getting a Madeline doll and a collection of books for her 3rd  birthday very soon. This grandmother can’t wait to snuggle up with her and read:

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines they broke their bread
And brushed their teeth and went to bed.
They left the house at half past nine
In two straight lines in rain or shine—
The smallest one was Madeline.”



Posted in Books, celebrations, Family, Grandchildren, History, Museums, galleries, New York City, parenting, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

“Break A Leg”

With the opening of my play, The Shabbos List, tomorrow, friends are wishing me “break a leg.” Curious about the origin of the term, I did some Internet browsing.

Here’s a summary culled from various sites:

The idiom “break a leg” is said to actors instead of good luck, which is not said as it could jinx the performance and bring bad luck. Wishing an actor “break a leg” hopes a performance will be so well received the actor has to bend his/her knee in a bow or curtsey to acknowledge applause or that going on stage will give the actor the “big break.”

The phrase’s origins are unclear. Some link it to the Ancient Greeks, who showed appreciation of a dramatic performance by stomping feet instead of clapping hands. Stomping too hard could break a leg. Likewise, some say the term comes from Elizabethan times, when audiences stomped their chairs, leading to possible furniture fractures.

Some cite the Hebrew blessing ‘hatzlakha u-brakha’, meaning ‘success and blessing’, that was then adapted by the German World War I aviators into “Hals und Beinbruch,” meaning “break your neck and leg,” to wish a good flight. It coincided with the phrase “Happy Landings,” used by English and American flyers.

Regardless of its origin, I wish my cast and crew, “break a leg,” and also much gratitude for all the hard work and dedication that helped bring my words to stage.

Tickets still available:

Roy Arias Studio II, 300 West 43rd St. NYC


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Children’s Book: Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?

Where do Diggers Sleep at Night? Unknown

I mentioned I’d bought this book for my three- year-old truck -loving grandson to his mother, who replied, “Hmm I’ve always wondered that question.”

 Brianna Caplan Sayres‘ charming debut picture book, first published in hardcover in 2012 and recently released as a board book, is sure to delight toddlers with its rhythm and rhymes and whimsical illustrations by Christian Slade. From diggers, the book goes on to ask where other trucks and construction vehicles sleep- like dump trucks, garbage trucks, fire trucks, snowplows and more.

Here’s the first verse:

Where do diggers sleep at night?
Do they dream of holes they dug?
Do their moms reach front to backhoe
when they give a good-night hug?

There are no answers; readers have to imagine until the last page, when we learn they’re snug in a toy box, awaiting the next day.

What makes this book extra special to me is that I know Brianna. Many years ago, I joined a children’s writing group and met Brianna there where she shared versions of this wonderful book. The children’s book market is a tough nut to crack; one must have incredible tenacity. Bravo to Brianna and I look forward to her next picture book, Tiara Saurus Rex  due out in February.

Meanwhile, I’ve already read Where do Diggers Sleep at Night about six times to my grandson, who always asks me to read it again.




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Finding the Right Birthday Book

I asked my sister Madeline, bookmaker extraordinaire  to make me something to help remember all the birthdays and anniversaries of the children, their spouses and grandchildren.

Give an artist a project and it becomes a mission. Madeline created a work of art, using collage items like buttons and photos, poetry and quotes, and applied fashion as a theme to remember the year. Each season has a different motif and different ways to record names on dates.

It’s beautiful; yet even she admits, not too functional. I love it; and have it on my shelf over my desk.

For July & August: "They say stay out of the SUN- NO! Be in the sun; play in the sun; worship the sun; DANCE in the sun! WEAR SUNSCREEN! Simple!

For July & August: “They say stay out of the SUN- NO! Be in the sun; play in the sun; worship the sun; DANCE in the sun! WEAR SUNSCREEN! Simple!

I had bought one for my mother, thinking that she too could benefit from it and has even more dates to remember than me. While it serves the purpose, it’s long and narrow and doesn’t fit on a desk or shelf. It needs to be hung on a corkboard, which my mother doesn’t have near her desk. 51VrgU7kmtL._AA160_

Having some time before a hair appointment, I entered a stationary store, and asked the proprietor, an elderly woman, if she had perpetual calendars, having learned that’s what these things are called when no year is given.

Delighted to have a customer on a scorching summer day, she smiled, and said, “You mean you still send cards?” I try I responded, if I can remember.

She dug around and found a book on a bottom shelf, covered with dust. It’s a greeting card organizer and comes with an assortment of cards, and each month not only has the dates listed but a pocket to store extra cards. photo-49 I could buy cards when I see them and save them for when they’re needed. Its design is no match for my sister’s creation – but it will work, if I remember to look in it!

The shopkeeper and I chatted about the lost art of writing personal cards- like thank you notes. Most of her business is custom printing for invitations and such. I suggested she move the remaining organizers to a higher shelf – certainly there are other grandmothers who’d want one as a gift.


Now if I could combine the artistry of the one Madeline made me with the usefulness of this one…

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The Bites of Summer

It’s summer.

Bees bite.

Spiders bite.

Mosquitoes bite.

Snakes bite.

Sometimes dogs bite.

It’s instinctual; they’re seeking prey or defending themselves from perceived danger.

And a soccer player bites when a match isn’t going his way.

In yoga today, a place where no one bites and we find inner peace and balance, the conversation turned to the latest news from the World Cup.

“Didn’t he have a mother?” asked Dana, the instructor.

Really, can we blame Uruguay forward Luis Suarez’s biting behavior on his mother?

I don’t think so.

Then who?

A society that condones athletes and other celebrities behaving badly; that elevates people who are role models to youth worldwide above right and wrong.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, can ban Suarez for up to two years. But the referee claims he didn’t see the bite occur and no foul was called, despite the victim, Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s display of tooth marks in his left shoulder. Italy's Giorgio Chiellini shows his shoulder

Kids bite sometimes and usually leave that behavior behind after nursery school. Should kids now assume biting is ok?

One can take precautions against bug bites: wear long sleeves and pants in the woods, wear repellant.  With snakes and dogs, don’t bother them and generally they’ll leave you alone.

With adults?

Adults who bite shouldn’t be allowed back in the game.



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From Page to Play: The Evolution of The Shabbos List

Ever since my sons decided to follow a different religious path than they’d been raised, I’ve wanted to tell the story. As a non-fiction writer, I’ve shared my journey a little in blog posts. I had ideas about a book or perhaps an anthology that would include stories by others facing similar challenges and never pursued them. Then one day about two years ago, an image came into mind that stayed with me, almost goading me into tackling the subject through dialogue and drama.

I wrote a sentence on a sticky note, and started exploring play writing classes. A writer friend introduced me to Charles Maryan  affectionately called Chuck, a director and college professor who’s offered a playwriting and directors workshop in Manhattan for more than 30 years.   An email led to a coffee date- the first of many in the writing process- and he accepted me into his workshop that meets every two weeks, on Monday nights, from September to June. I began in 2012.

For the first few months, I wrote nothing.

I sat, intimidated by the other participants, some both published and produced playwrights, some beginners like me. Professional actors would volunteer to read the scripts. In true workshop procedure, we offered positive feedback and a few suggestions. I was mesmerized by the entire thing. I remember asking Chuck, “you mean there are hundreds and hundreds of actors willing to volunteer to read?”

His answer startled me. “No, Lisa, there are thousands and thousands.” Acting’s a competitive business; actors never know when something may take off and give them employment.

I had more coffee dates with Chuck at Malecon, and we talked. He suggested I start with a couple pages. Timidly, I gave him 10 pages. Then 15, then 20. And so on. m3

I signed up for a reading slot for the end of April, 2013, giving myself plenty of time to either produce something or pull out and give the slot to someone else. I had about 45 pages by April, which translates into about 55 minutes of stage time. I loved hearing my words  be read and interpreted.

And I felt I was done.

I had said what I wanted; I didn’t have any ideas on how to expand it. Chuck insisted I dig deeper into the story, give the characters more to say and  do; as he says, all theater is “life and death.” I needed to mine the life and death a lot more.

We had a lot more coffee over the summer and I bravely signed up for the first session in September, 2013.   I absorbed the criticisms. “Look for consensus,” Chuck advised. “Go with the humor,” he said.

My play had its third reading in early January, 2014. And this time, there were fewer tweaks and I really felt I was done.

“Write another play,” urged Chuck. I didn’t have any more ideas. This was my story.

“Something will turn up,” he said. In the meantime, he suggested I start submitting it to various theaters and drama festivals around the country that might be interested in the subject matter.

My play met the requirements for the Thespis Theater Festival.  It’s under 90 minutes and I’m from New Jersey. (the playwright had to be from either NY or NJ). Within three weeks of sending my play via email, I received an email telling me I’d been accepted. The theater supplies the space and some marketing and handles ticket sales. They run the festival as a competition too.

Over dinner, Chuck  outlined what I’d need to do to produce the play. A cast of 5, a crew of 5 or 6, set, props, costumes, rehearsal space. I had no idea what goes into a production. I debated whether I should do it. Judd Silverman, a playwright and director and workshop participant agreed to direct.

Suddenly, the solitude of writing turned into the collaboration of producing. We held auditions, inviting actors we were familiar with to read. Instead of coffee with Chuck, I’m having light suppers in diners with Judd and members of the production team. The set, props, and costumes are coming to life. I’ve attended a couple rehearsals and am fascinated watching the actors inhabit the characters and listening to Judd direct them. I’m still revising too; words on the page don’t automatically work as words on stage.

The cast

The cast

The crew

The crew

The Shabbos List  has three performances July 17, 18, and 20.  And that scene that rolled around in my head? It’s in the middle of the play.


Shabbos poster text-1



Posted in Family, Judaism, New York City, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Grandparent Diary: Bumpy Knives!

Gadgets galore! Enter any kitchenware store and utensils ranging from apple corers and avocado peelers to citrus zesters and zingers and every letter in-between bombard you. There’s a slicer, dicer, shaper, picker, or grinder for every fruit, vegetable, meat, or cheese. Seeing a “peanut butter and jelly spreader” years ago, I wondered how any of us had ever made a successful sandwich without one.

I do have my favorite essentials: an ice cream scoop, a garlic press, and a carrot peeler. Add a couple sharp knives and I’m set. (Ok, add the food processor too).

Then there are what my eldest grandson dubbed “bumpy knives.” Also known as crinkle knives, they give vegetables ridges, and are often used to make French fries. I first discovered these knives when my eldest son, then about 5, ate over his friend Mitchell’s house. His mother, Robin, used this knife, making vegetable eating so much more fun. Robin bought me such a knife that has been used for countless vegetable platters, often delivered to the kids while they were doing homework before dinner.

When the grands were big enough to start helping in the kitchen, they’ve used my bumpy knife, so of course I bought them each their own. They love helping make salads and eating while they cut. They prefer cutting cucumbers and apples as carrots, as I’ve been told, “fly all over.”

Anticipating some summer visits, I wanted to get a couple more of these “perfect for little hands” knives. I was in NYC last week and couldn’t find any after searching several stores. Fortunately my local Bed & Bath still carries them; I bought two in red to prevent arguments about who has which color. When I went to pay, the cashier tried to convince me to buy a new gadget—a hamburger stuffer—a contraption that presses ground meat around whatever you want inside. Only $9.99.   I declined.

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget?


Busy with the Bumpy Knives

Busy with the Bumpy Knives



Posted in Family, food, Grandchildren, parenting, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments