Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Before the current political upheaval in our country, the phrase “she persisted” might not have carried much weight. But now it has taken on an iconic meaning, representing the uphill battle women face when advocating for their right to be heard.

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

This struggle persists, as does our rebellion.

Lilli de Jong

As I read Janet Benton’s absorbing new novel, Lilli de Jong, I kept thinking that the eponymous Lilli, thrust into a fight for her survival, might have demurred at the idea of being a persister, but indeed her struggles in an unyielding world required every ounce of persistence one could muster.

At a time when having a child out of wedlock branded the mother — and the child — in the most cruel and unforgiving way, Lilli discovers she is pregnant and has nowhere to turn. The father of the child was unaware of the pregnancy before he moved across the state for a better job opportunity. Lilli lost her beloved mother due to an accident, and her father brought shame to the family by taking up with a first cousin afterwards. Because of that, Lilli has lost her job as a teacher. She is frighteningly alone.

Raised in the Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers, Lilli is an educated, purposeful young woman, and now is banished from the order.

Unwed pregnant women in those days had few options. Back alley abortions often resulted in the mother’s death. Keeping the baby meant a lifetime of shame for both mother and child. Giving a child up for adoption could be too heart wrenching to consider. Fathers shirked their responsibilities without fear of retribution.

Lilli decides to leave home to have her baby at an institution for unwed mothers and plans to give the baby up. But then, she just can’t.

Set in 1800s Philadelphia, the story is both harrowing and uplifting, because it is about a mother’s unrelenting fight for her child. The fierce bond between mothers and babies, and in particular the mutual nourishment of mothers and their nursing babies, propels the story line.  Lilli’s dogged determination is fueled by the unconditional love and trust of her baby.

I loved the historical background of this story. Having always lived in the Philadelphia region, I enjoyed learning more about this era and recognizing the local landmarks. Though this is a novel, this feels very authentic. In Lilli’s diary form, it reads like a memoir.

Benton has a lovely, engaging writing style and the plot had some unexpected turns. She has given us a glimpse into the past that continues to resonate in the present day. Lilli de Jong is a virtual maternal hug of a novel, that acknowledges the persistence of mothers everywhere.


One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Lilli de Jong. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Lilli de Jong from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.



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Writing a Book Made Simpler in 1-2-3

This book writing stuff. It’s really hard.

My novel has been a work in progress for a good year and a half, and I wish I could say it was almost done. I realized, however, during three days of writing workshops at the Philadelphia Writers Conference that I have much to do before calling it a day.

Book writing isn’t just the writing.

A key part is the planning, the structuring. There are mechanics to novel writing that can not be ignored. Each character, for example, must have a story arc comprised of the situation, the spark and the conclusion. A character must have a goal and obstacles that must be overcome to reach that goal. And once that is established, the character’s arc must intersect with the other characters’ arcs.

Dialogue needs a context and a subtext. Dialogue must be authentic but not mundane. It can be reported or condensed, and it needs to propel the action.

I could have done this differently.

There is another way, a better way, that writer and editor Stuart Horwitz presents in his new book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love it, the third book in his Book Architecture Trilogy.

Writing: Finish Your Book in Three Drafts

Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence, RI (www.bookarchitecture.com) whose clients have reached the bestseller list in both fiction and nonfiction.

I was fortunate to meet Horwitz at last year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference, and his keynote was one of the highlights for me, so much so that I approached him after his presentation to tell him how much I enjoyed it. Not only is Horwitz a smart guy, he is down to earth and has a great sense of humor. As a writer, he totally gets the frustrations we writers experience with endless revisions. He’s been there himself.

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts gives writers, fiction and non-fiction alike, a practical way to get through the revision process with minimal consternation. Horwitz proposes that a book can be completed in three drafts:

  • The messy draft: which is all about getting it down.
  • The method draft: which is all about making sense.
  • The polished draft: which is all about making it good.

“I think about the people who don’t publish their books, and too often it’s not because they lack the writing skills. It’s because they got lost along the way. One draft isn’t going to cut it, but neither is twenty,” Horwitz says. “All you need is three drafts, and the tools to know where you are in the process.”

What’s more, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is interactive. The book is nicknamed “3D” because it contains nine stop-motion videos that bring the concepts to life through the use of action figures, and nine PDFs for when you want more detailed information and instructions about topics such as “How to Find Your Theme,” “The Five Definitions of Scene,” and “How to Construct Your Book Proposal.”

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is available in both print and digital editions from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

I’m taking a look at my novel through a different lens now, and it is so worth the extra time.


I received a copy of Finish Your Book in Three Drafts for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.


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Why We Need Little League

I’m from Philadelphia, yo.

My Philly town, known for soft pretzels and cheesesteaks. The Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day, the lights of Boathouse Row. Rocky and the Art Museum steps. Grace Kelly.

A town that has a love-hate relationship with its sports teams, depending on how they are doing. Lately, it’s been mostly hate.

But when a Philly kid shines and the world takes notice, the hearts of Philadelphians swell with pride.

And when this kid is a 13 year-old girl pitching her way into the history books in a field of dreams, we are euphoric.

She is one of ours.

Such is life this week in Philadelphia.

The Little League World Series

I’m talking, of course, about the wunderkind Mo’ne Davis, starting pitcher for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons, a contender in the Little League World Series taking place right now in Williamsport, Pa.

Little League

Already gracing this week’s Sports Illustrated cover, Mo’ne has secured her place in history, no matter what the outcome of the series. Her pitching prowess is the talk of the sports world.

But it’s not just her talent that has everyone abuzz. It’s also her demeanor, her cool, focused groundedness  under a torrential amount of pressure. How she retains this composure in the spotlight of international scrutiny is beyond comprehension.

She is humble, too. She tries to shift the attention to her team mates. It’s not all about me, she insists over and over.

Mo'Ne Davis in the Little League World Series

For us Philadelphians watching at home, it’s been an exciting week. When was the last time we arranged our schedules to be around to watch a baseball game, let alone a Little League game? Oh right — back in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series. Which seems a lot longer ago than six years.

Mo’ne and the Taney Dragons have been awesome to watch, and with the story now trending worldwide, it feels good to be talking about something positive and wholesome. It’s a story with a happy ending, no matter what the ending is, about a terrific group of kids and a girl with the 70 mph fastball.

In this bleak and violent summer, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

The unrest and violence in our streets and around the world, the increasing threat of terrorism, the Israel-Gaza uprising, Michael Brown and James Foley … the bad news is endless. Our feeling of helplessness grows as the problems escalate.

And then there is Little League.

Is Little League baseball the answer to life’s problems? Of course not. But especially now, when we’re badly in need of a reminder that life is good, it’s a welcome diversion.

Little League is an example of what is best about America. If you’ve got talent and work hard, the sky is the limit. A bunch of Philly kids got together to play a game they love and ended up going to the World Series.

Tonight the Taney Dragons play a tough Chicago team, and it’s an elimination game. We Philadelphians will be cheering on our team.

No matter what happens, Taney Dragons, you are winners.

And if there’s a ticker tape parade down Broad Street, I’ll be there.

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Downton Abbey at Winterthur Museum

If you’re like me — shamelessly obsessed with PBS’s Downton Abbey — you have followed the saga of the Crowley family from Season One, Episode One and suffer serious withdrawal during the hiatus.

Are you bereft when the too-short seasons end? Do you search for a replacement in that Sunday night time slot and come up short? Have you been known to absently hum the Downton Abbey theme? Are you counting the days until Season Five debuts?

Me too.

If you’re impatient — like me –and need a Downton Abbey fix NOW, I’ve got the answer.

Downton Abbey at Winterthur Museum

Winterthur Museum, located in Delaware, is exhibiting the Costumes of Downton Abbey until January 2015.  If you live in the northeast USA, or are planning a visit, you’re in luck. it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC.

It took under an hour to drive my three equally besotted Downton Abbey friends to the museum from my home outside Philadelphia.

Just off a main thoroughfare, the museum’s entrance takes you down a winding road with rolling hills of verdant farmland all around. Once inside the Visitor’s Center, you can hop on a tram that winds through the glorious grounds to take you to the Downton Abbey exhibit.

Downton Abbey at Winterthur MuseumA Visual Feast

Oh my. The actual costumes close up are even more magnificent than on the screen. Each one is featured next to the scene in the show in which it appeared, so you can see up close how truly fabulous and intricate those costumes are.

It’s fun to see the costumes up close, and those of us who are truly obsessed will recognize them right away.

Scattered about are some of the humorous quotes from the show. Remember Violet’s famous line, “What is a weekend?”

And the many barbs Mrs. Patmore peppered poor Daisy with? Reading those lines will make you chuckle – and also appreciate even more the brilliant writing on the show.

Some of the costumes are positioned next to actual footage from the show. The final scene in Season Two, when Matthew proposed to Mary, with the snow falling all around? So romantic, so tragic (it turns out). I confess that I stood in front of this video for an inordinately long time, watching the scene over and over.

Downton Abbey at Winterthur Museum

But don’t leave yet.

After  you’ve gotten your Downton Abbey fix, stick around, because there is so much more to see at Winterthur.

Located on 1,000 acres of tree-lined paths, beautiful architecture and lush gardens, Winterthur (pronounced “Winter-tour”) was founded by Henry Franics du Pont (1880-1969) who lived here with his family. He always wanted to share his art and gardens with the public, so in his later years, he and his wife moved to a smaller home on the grounds and allowed the main residence to be turned into a museum.

Mr. du Pont wrote at that time,

I sincerely hope that the Museum will be a continuing source of inspiration and education for all time, and that the gardens and grounds will of themselves be a country place museum where visitors may enjoy as I have, not only the flowers, trees and shrubs, but also the sunlit meadows, shady wood paths, and the peace and great calm of a country place which has been loved and taken care of for three generations.

How lucky we are to benefit from his largesse.

You’ll want to save time for a tour of the mansion, because it is truly spectacular. Mr. duPont was an avid art and furniture collector, and the 175-room mansion is resplendent with gorgeous antiques, rugs and special touches that only someone like a du Pont can implement or acquire. For example, he was known to import Oriental wallpaper and reconstruct the size of a room to accommodate it.

He was also a visionary gardener, and created a 60-acre “naturalistic” garden that is just breathtaking. If you take the tram ride from the Visitor’s Center to the museum, the guide will tell you fascinating things about the making of this garden and the varieties of plantings all around. Families with young children must make a stop at the Enchanted Woods, truly a fantastic and magical place for kids to explore.

Before we left, my friends and I made a stop at the Campbell Soup’s Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens right there on the premises. The antique tureens are among the treasures Mr. du Pont collected.

You can imagine one of the 30 Winterthur house staff polishing the fine silver, perhaps just as diligently as did the housemaids of Downton Abbey.

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Hello, Gorgeous



Oh Barbra. Barbra Joan Streisand. How many years have I admired and adored you? Last night my dreams came true when I was among the 12,000 worshipful fans to see you perform in your Back to Brooklyn concert tour that opened in Philadelphia. That was me in Section 212, Row 11, the one with clasped hands and glistening eyes mouthing the lyrics. You didn’t notice? Maybe because we all looked that way?

Not that we were all the same. There were gray heads and color-treated heads, 20-somethings in stiletto boots and couples arm-in-arm. You had us wrapped around your famously long-fingernailed finger.

Starting with the photo montage that opened the show: photos of you as a little girl in Brooklyn, a teenager at Erasmus High, a young singer on the Ed Sullivan Show and then a Broadway star. You charmed us with your stories about Brooklyn, and noted similarities to South Philly (“You have cheese steaks; we have cheese blintzes”). I can assure you that Brooklyn was never applauded so loudly ever before in Philadelphia.

Barbra, I must confess, I was a little worried about you. Your performance anxiety has been well documented. But last night you sat down and chatted with us like we were having a cup of coffee in your kitchen. You kibbitzed with the reporter in the front row. “You’re writing? You’re reviewing me? Oy.” Someone asked, “What do you think of Mitt Romney wanting to fire Big Bird?” “I wasn’t going to get political,” you sighed. “But I hope he doesn’t find his way to Sesame Street. Or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” The audience roared.

You were funny, relaxed, warm and genuine. And sentimental. “I may have left Brooklyn, but Brooklyn has really never left me,” you said.

And that precious finely tuned musical instrument, that voice of yours, still electrifies and brings chills.

For three hours you mesmerized us with some of your classics, “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” “Evergreen,” “The Way we Were,” “People,” “What Will I Do?” and more. We met your son, Jason, who came out on stage and very creditably performed “How Deep is the Ocean” with you. His first time performing, you told us, beaming.

You sang from “Gypsy” and “Sunset Boulevard” and performed an homage to Marvin Hamlisch and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Trumpeter Chris Botti and Italian group Il Volo added extra umph to the dazzling music performed by your 60-piece orchestra.

We could have stayed all night, Barbra. But I know last night will stay with me, always.


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Mom Revisited

I nod with a knowing smile at my young mother friends who throw up their hands at the latest crisis with their children. Is it bed-wetting, pink eye, inability to play nicely with others? Mark my words, I say, you will blink and all of a sudden they’re grown up. This is what older women used to tell me when I was a young mother and I thought they didn’t know what they were talking about.

How fleeting those years would be I could not understand, not with a fretful, colicky infant who screamed himself into exhaustion night after night. I remember wishing those years away, wanting him to grow up.

Now I would give anything to go back in time to savor every moment a bit longer. My little boy grew up way too fast, and now he lives halfway across the world. I miss him so much.

Evan is here for a visit now, and as an added bonus, three of his buddies flew in for a few days. The house has been  bustling with 24/7 hubbub: deep guy voices talking football and trash, late night pizza deliveries, ping-pong matches, clothes and electronic devices scattered throughout. Tantalizing aromas of home cooked hearty casseroles and peanut butter cookies waft through the house. I fill the dishwasher, empty it. Rinse and repeat.

I have loved every minute. Gerry, Mike and Dan are now officially our adopted sons and have an open invitation to come back anytime.

The guys holding tickets to the Eagles/Cowboys game — Gerry, Evan, Mike, Dan

Evan gave them the grand tour of our fair city, Philadelphia. They sampled cheese steaks and hoagies until they could eat no more. They also went to a Halloween party.

My son, the rabbi, second from left

Today, as they all board their various flights, I will be straightening up the house, throwing a few loads of laundry in the wash, reheating the leftover baked ziti for dinner. And missing the guys a lot.

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