Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lee Thompson Young :: A Remembrance

I met Lee Thompson Young when he was 14 years old. We had been searching and searching for the young teen actor who could play the very difficult dual role of Silverstone/TV action hero and Jett Jackson, the kid who longed for a normal life. We saw many young actors – many of them convincing and compelling playing a teenage boy, but none of them believable as a young Hollywood star who is already living and working in an adult world. We sent our ever-patient casting director, Pat McCorkle, out yet again, to cast an even wider net.

Then Cas Hyman spotted a boy in a Robitussin commercial – and he was the one. It was meant to be – Pat had recorded his audition the previous day and before we could even ask for it, the tape arrived. Lee Thompson Young WAS The Famous Jett Jackson. As Cas wrote last night, this young actor carried our production effortlessly on his shoulders. He had absolutely no experience – just some school plays and a commercial – yet he instinctively knew what was required of a professional actor. He was completely believable in both roles. The series could not have succeeded, indeed, could not have been filmed, without him.

Lee was an incredibly old soul in a boy’s body. He had perspective, confidence and an abiding calm, no matter how much pressure we were under in shooting the Disney Channel’s first original series. One day he came up to me, touched my arm, and told me that he thought I was doing a really good job. It makes me smile to remember how thrilled I was to receive that compliment from a 14-year-old, but that was the power of his presence on set. Yet, despite this maturity and obvious star quality, he was unfailingly professional, fun to be with, and connected to the people around him. His default instinct in any situation was kindness.

We did an episode about Jett’s first girlfriend, and the story called for his first kiss. The Disney Channel was freaking out at the thought of an onscreen kiss, with numerous conference calls, meetings and admonitions to be sure that it didn’t “go too far.” Frankly, I was a little worried about it myself. Lee was not a typical teenager, he was stunningly attractive and charismatic, and I suspected that he was more experienced than his onscreen character. Finally, we came to the day of the actual shooting of THE KISS. After much haggling back behind the monitor, Cas and Disney Channel’s Adam Bonnett decided that I should be the one to talk to Lee. I took him aside, looked into those unforgettably wise, steady, amber eyes, and explained the concept of a “chaste kiss.” I was in my early 40s then, but I blushed like a teenager, detecting a flicker of amusement behind his level eyes. Nonetheless, he listened respectfully, processed the input, and perfectly portrayed a shy kid who had never kissed a girl before.

Cas and I have worked with so many child actors over the years. Despite the pressure to get the job done and stay on budget, we always tried to be mindful of their youth, respectful of their futures, and to honor the promise we made to their parents when we hired them. We took school time and tutoring seriously, and used our collective power as “the bosses” to make sure they knew how important we believed it was for them to keep their feet on the ground and use the money they were earning to go to college (Lee did so – USC, with Honors). Of all the young actors I have worked with, I would never in a million years have thought that Lee Thompson Young would end up in the class of fallen child actors.

Please don’t remember him this way. Lee Thompson Young was one of the most deeply spiritual, grounded, multi-faceted individuals I have ever met. I don’t know what happened. We may never know what happened. I do know that he brought the best of himself, every day, to the rest of us. My heart breaks for his mother, Velma Love.

Rest in peace, sweet prince.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Four years ago a farmer in Hillsdale NY, near our Copake Lake house, used his thresher and cut the word OBAMA in huge letters 30 yards high into his hayfield. It was so unexpected and delightful in largely Republican upstate New York. For the past four years we have referred to him as the "Obama Farmer." As in, "Hey, stop at the Obama Farmer on your way home and pick up some corn."

Rural Columbia County has been devastated by the recession and sadly, although I check every time I drive past his field, our agricultural ally has not yet declared his allegiance. I finally gave up watching for his declaration, fearing that like many others, his elated, hopeful feelings from 2008 had not carried over to this election year.

That is until today. I was driving along Route 23, slammed on the brakes and turned the car around. Sure enough, there was the Obama Farmer in his thresher in the gathering dusk, carving out the very beginning of those same big letters in his cornfield! Perhaps he was one of the undecided up until now, or maybe he just had a busy harvest. But our ally is back, and we've got his vote. GO-BAMA!!

Friday, September 09, 2011


Tremens factus sum ego.

I am trembling with fear.

I am singing Paul Leavitt’s REQUIEM today with the New York City Master Chorale as part of the September 11th Memorial Concert series at Trinity Church/Wall Street. The church was a haven for first responders and the injured after the attack on the World Trade Center. Various groups will be performing throughout the day, evening and weekend, as we seek to provide solace, hope and comfort to the hundreds of thousands expected to visit the site this weekend, the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

These words, "tremens factus sum ego," are part of the movement entitled “Libera Me.” The text has been set hundreds, if not thousands of times, by virtually every choral composer, as part of the requiem mass. The movement comes toward the end of the requiem, as the singer pleads with God for mercy (Libera me de morte aeternam…..Save me from eternal death / damnation). Leavitt has composed a strikingly unusual and unsettling version of these words. As the soloists sing their lyrical, beautiful plea, the entire chorale, sotto voce, is chanting repeatedly underneath their line: Tremens factus sum ego. I am trembling with fear.

As we rehearsed the piece on Wednesday night, my heart was aching with the thought of the brave fire fighters who climbed those stairs as everyone else was hurrying down. Surely, these words were in their hearts and minds, even as they bravely did their duty.

Ten years ago, I was living in Cornwall, New York, which is 10 minutes from both West Point and Stewart Air Force base. Many of my friends and neighbors were (and are) in the military, though I knew them in civilian clothes, coaching softball, serving as deacons and walking their children to the school bus just as I did. On the Sunday morning after the attacks, I processed into church with the choir, as we did every Sunday. When we settled into the choir stalls and looked out into the packed church, I saw, to my amazement, that the military men and women in the congregation were wearing their uniforms. We began to sing “America the Beautiful,” and tears rolled down the faces of these tough, seasoned officers. I caught one glimpse and never looked again. My job was to sing, and if I was going to sing, it was impossible to look at those heartbroken faces.

This is part of what a musician can and must do, when confronted with unthinkable heartbreak. We swallow the lumps in our throats, focus on the text and the beauty of the musical line, and do our best to wrap the suffering in God’s beauty. We have all experienced it at funerals; today, we make a similar offering, on a much grander scale.

My heart is full. I am very glad to be there. I hope that we can offer some comfort.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Organ Bliss in Seattle

For me, one of the highlights of the annual Tallis Scholars Summer School in Seattle are the performances of Joseph Adam, the organist at St. James Cathedral. He and Peter Phillips have established a tradition whereby Joseph lets Peter pick what he would like to hear for the Postlude after we sing at the Mass on Wednesday night.

It's always great, but this year's choice was an absolutely mind-blowing tour de force. The prelude was very beautiful, and a piece I hadn't heard before - Scherzo, op. 2 by Maurice Duruflé. I've sung and heard a lot of Duruflé this year, as my New York choral director, Dr. Thea Kano, specializes in his music. So it was lovely to hear the Scherzo, which was exactly what I've come to expect from this composer - intensely personal, ethereal music written by an organist who was clearly influenced by Debussy.

The big payoff was a 25-minute Postlude, a stunning performance of Franz Liszt's Fantasia and Fugue on "Ad nos, ad salutarum undam." You can expect to be awed by any performance of Liszt keyboard music, and this didn't disappoint. The huge, sweeping performance on the double organs was so powerful that you could actually feel it - something akin to standing close to a helicopter landing!

Joseph is really a treasure. He sings with us, too, which makes our alto section that much better. His work is a unique and special part of the Seattle TSSS experience.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Memories from the Dakota

My first direct contact with John Lennon’s domestic world happened five years after his death.

It was October 9, 1985, and his Central Park memorial, Strawberry Fields, was being dedicated on what would have been his 45th birthday. I was a producer for MTV News, and like every other news crew, VJ Martha Quinn and I were standing just inside the park, at 72nd Street and Central Park West, video cameras at the ready, with very little to shoot. Yoko Ono had made it abundantly clear that this was to be a private, family day for her and Sean. We could all film the mosaic in the park if we wanted to, but she wasn’t giving interviews.

As we stood there, a plan started to formulate itself in my head. For some reason that I’ve never quite been able to figure out, Yoko Ono had a particular fondness for Martha Quinn. And I knew that Martha had her phone number. I said casually, “Martha….there’s a phone booth right over on the corner” (this was pre-cell phone days). “Why don’t you give her a call, see if she’ll let us come up?”

Next thing I knew, we were in the elevator, on our way upstairs.

My first reaction was that the apartment was amazing – the entire top floor, front of the building, overlooking Central Park. My second thought was to worry about how we would ever get out of there without breaking or ruining something. There were expensive art and ceramics everywhere, and the entire apartment was white. I looked dubiously at my crew, who were rushing to quickly get set up before we wore out our welcome, hoping that they had wiped their feet very well when we emerged from the park.

The only people whom I saw in the apartment were Yoko, Sean Ono Lennon, and a bodyguard, wearing a gun in a shoulder holster. I remember thinking how unspeakably sad (to say nothing of incredibly ironic) it was that Yoko Ono and this beautiful boy lived with a loaded gun as a constant presence.

Yoko suggested that we interview Sean, who was then ten years old. We sat in the kitchen, where there were floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of cookbooks, art books and record albums (this was also pre-CD days). Martha asked Sean questions about his memories of his father, what kind of music he liked, what he was studying in school, whether he played music himself….and about what it was like to be friends with Michael Jackson. I remember that Sean replied, giggling, that it was really fun, and that Michael called him “Rubber.” Then she asked what they were doing to celebrate his father’s birthday, and he described pulling out the albums and listening to music – both his father’s music and the music that his father loved. It helped him try to remember his father. I glanced over at Yoko Ono, who was watching silently, her face impassive.

When the interview was over, Yoko took me aside and said that one question was a problem, and would need to be erased. “You understand,” she said, “that he is only 10 years old, and he doesn’t know exactly what he should share and what he shouldn’t.” I thought to myself, “Oh, NO. There goes that incredibly intimate story about listening to the music and remembering his father.” But I was wrong. She told me that if he were older he would understand that if you are going to be friends with Michael Jackson, you can’t talk about Michael Jackson.

And with that, the man with the gun escorted me into a room that had been converted into a professional video studio. We pulled our master tape out of the recorder, put it on the deck, cued it up to the answer about Michael Jackson, and erased it. He played it back, checked to be sure the video was deleted, and handed it back to me without a word.

Today, like everyone else, I find it hard to believe that John Lennon would have been seventy years old. We are all 30 years older than we were back when John Lennon died. Now I’m a parent myself, and understand much better what he was feeling when he sang the song “Beautiful Boy.” I’ll never forget the day that Yoko and Sean were generous enough to share a little bit of John’s world with us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I was trying to tweet from the panel as it was happening live, but there was not a viable wireless signal in the room. So, continuing here.

Author Susan Cheever was (to my ears) a voice of reason throughout the evening. “Things like royalty percentages are going to be settled in court, through negotiation. What I think we should be looking at is the fact that we’re in a whirlwind…we’re in a time that’s as revolutionary as the invention of the printing press. Is this going to change the way I write? If I know that my books are going to be digitized and made available chapter by chapter, then do I WRITE chapter by chapter? Thinking about these things now may at least keep us ahead of this breaking wave."

The consensus seems to be that the "going" royalty rate for eBooks is going to be 25% of net proceeds from ebook sales. i.e. 25% of proceeds that publishers receive (gross proceeds less returns)

Although nothing could be resolved in the room, it was a good evening for airing all sides, with moderator Michael Cader (publishersmarketplace.com) summing the evening as follows: The underpinning of trust among longtime partners is eroding as we explore this new business. Bad news for most authors is that your advance is going down… Publishers are worried about the dozen agents whom Amazon flew out to Seattle, feel like they need to explain their real costs to the agents……Agents would like to keep legacy rights with legacy publisher, but that doesn’t leave them with any leverage to negotiate…The traditional publisher/author/agent relationship is eroding – everyone has retreated to their trenches.

This is not as big an issue for children's writers yet, because the eBook readers aren't in color. It is looming on the horizon, though, likely within two years. Sorry the adult writers have to bear the brunt, but glad they're leading the way in getting this figured out (while the publishers build the digital infrastructure they need for this new world).

I agree with Jane Friedman and Susan Cheever, who both adamantly believe that these are exciting times!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Building a Distinctive Neopets Christmas Gallery :: Top Tips

OK, I admit it. Long after my daughter has grown up and moved on (I initially joined Neopets to share it with her....when she was 9), I'm still on Neopets nearly every morning. There are many "ways in" to Neopets - for me, it's building collections. And over nearly ten years, I've converted our original joint account into a Christmas Gallery (username lrn_jbk945) that I'm very proud of.

Thanks to everyone who has neomailed this season with compliments about my Christmas gallery. Some have asked for tips on how to build a collection like this, and since neomail is too limited to say very much, I am sharing my top tips here.

1. Be realistic about the size of your gallery, because the cost of upgrading can be crushing. The bigger your collection, the more impossible it is to buy anything because it costs so much just to add slots in the gallery. At this point, with over 800 items in my collection, I’m up to 33K (NP) just to add five item slots – a major investment when I'd rather be spending my neopoints on buying great Christmas items.

2. There is no index where you can find all existing Christmas/Holiday items. The best way to discover what's out there is to look at top collectors and see what they've got, what they're adding, and start making a wish list for yourself. Keep that list on your computer, and note the current "going price" on either the Shop Wizard or on the Trading Post. From year to year, the value of items changes, and you'll have a reference to refer to when Christmas is rolling around again and you want to consider buying new items.

3. My favorite gallery to for browsing is by a Canadian woman who calls herself Wizzney (gallery name is wizzneys_christmas). She always has the best stuff – I’m constantly surprised by new, great items she has (I don’t know how she affords them!) Anyway, I look there first to see what is there, and what I ought to acquire for my collection.

4. Narrow your focus. There are SO many Christmas items, and the older/rarer ones are terribly expensive. If you have a special focus that you highlight, it’s easier to come up with a standout gallery. In my case, I’m leading with Taelia, the Snow Faerie, and have a great collection of her items. That makes my gallery stand out as different from all the other Christmas galleries out there, and also gives me a message platform for the holiday season (see image above). Developing a focus also helps you determine things you know you DON’T want to waste neopoints acquiring (for example, I don’t really care about Wreathy, the Snowager or Raindorf…..so I don’t waste neopoints or precious gallery slots on them).

5. I don’t put all the Advent Calendar items in my gallery – only ones that actually relate to Christmas and have a positive vibe (the gross and/or violent/angry items just don’t work in my gallery). When you decide not to display a new Advent Calendar item, hold it for two days and then put it up for sale. You’ll get the highest price early – from people who forgot to do the Advent Calendar on a particular day and are willing to pay premium price to have the item during the Christmas season. The longer you wait, the less it will be worth, because Neopia is obviously saturated with these free giveaways.

6. What about NeoCash items? Hmmmmm.....this is a personal choice. These purchases are called "microtransactions," and they are a major Internet revenue source in Asia. The trend is just catching on here, and as a media professional, I'm interested in this trend. I'm also willing to spend small amounts of cash ($10 at a time) to buy items that particularly enhance the theme in my galleries. On the other hand, I do feel a little guilty about the kids on neopets who look at my gallery, see NC items, and know they can't afford them. Not guilty enough to stop buying them, though. I just try to balance those acquisitions with other items that I acquire through "free" neopoints currency, to keep it fair.

7. By the way, if you buy NeoCash cards (at Rite Aid, CVS, Target, etc), when you cash them in you get rare items that are worth a lot of neopoints. These small cash transactions pay off in large numbers of neopoints.

8. I spend the rest of the year building up my total of neopoints, so that I can buy for Christmas (and Halloween - my other gallery). If you're an adult like me you probably don't have time to play games to acquire neopoints. Still, there are steady and reliable strategies that require only about 10 minutes per day, and neopoints steadily build. They are:
* Set up a bookmarks folder so you can quickly click through all the free daily giveaways - Tombola, Coltzan's Shrine, Discarded Magical Blue Grundo Plushie of Prosperity, Neopets Fruit Machine, Weltrude's Toy Chest, Wheel of Slime. Do this every morning.
* Always keep 800 NP available so that you can play Test Your Strength and buy a Scratchcard from the Ice Caves as often as you can (you can do each of these every six hours). Test Your Strength gives good spooky items which always sell quickly, and you can always sell a scratchcard for more than 600 NP. Nice, steady income.
* Play Fashion Fever every day. Quickest 900 points you can earn.
* Buy Race to Riches scratchcards in bulk at the lowest price on the Shop Wizard, and scratch 5 Race to Riches scratchcards every day. You always make more than your money back - I'd say the average return is 50%.
* Don't scratch ScratchCards of a higher level than Race to Riches. They have the same prizes, so there's no premium to win. You'll make many more NP by selling them.

Good luck building your own distinctive gallery collection! And as I say on my Christmas Gallery homepage:
Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

Have a GREAT holiday, however you celebrate it!


Monday, November 30, 2009

Preparing for the Funeral of a Three-Year-Old

My heart is breaking for my friend, who has lost her beloved daughter Sylvie. How can we say goodbye tomorrow morning? What words can I possibly offer?

These two poems offer no answers, but possibly some comfort.



Here lies resting, out of breath,

Out of turns, Elizabeth

Whose quicksilver toes not quite

Cleared the whirring edge of night.

Earth whose circles round us skim

Till they catch the lightest limb,

Shelter now Elizabeth

And for her sake trip up Death.

- X.J. Kennedy

On such a night, or such a night,
Would anybody care
If such a little figure
Slipped quiet from its chair --

So quiet -- Oh how quiet,
That nobody might know
But that the little figure
Rocked softer -- to and fro --

On such a dawn, or such a dawn --
Would anybody sigh
That such a little figure
Too sound asleep did lie

For Chanticleer to wake it --
Or stirring house below --
Or giddy bird in orchard --
Or early task to do?

There was a little figure plump
For every little knoll --
Busy needles, and spools of thread --
And trudging feet from school --

Playmates, and holidays, and nuts --
And visions vast and small --
Strange that the feet so precious charged
Should reach so small a goal!

- Emily Dickinson

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Feel Like Quoting e.e. cummings Today

i thank You God for most this amazing
by e. e. cummings (1894 - 1962)

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Interview with the Kidsville News

I did an interview this week for the “What’s It’s Like To Be...” column in Kidsville News!, which explores different occupations.

QUESTION: How do you pick the kids who sing on the Kidz Bop CDs?
We did a nationwide talent search to find Kyra, Becca, Valerie, Harrison and Dana – the Kidz Bop Kids. They can all sing, dance, and do a really good job of working together as a team.

Liz Nealon at work with Becca, Kyra and Valerie of the Kidz Bop Kids

QUESTION: How do you pick the songs?
Kidz Bop is all about having the top hit songs on the CDs, so we look at what is selling, what is being played on the radio a lot, and we also listen to kids’ feedback on KidzBop.com. We try to give you all your favorites on every Kidz Bop CD!

QUESTION: What's your favorite song?
Oh, my. Having spent my entire life working with and performing music, I’m afraid I can’t name just one. BBC Radio has a program called “Desert Island Discs.” It holds the Guinness World Record for longest running radio show, and on the show they interview celebrities by asking them if they were to be cast away on a desert island, what would be the eight pieces of music they would simply have to take with them? So, if you have room, I’d like to give you my favorite eight songs!

1. “Theme from Peter Gunn” - best action music ever written. The original by Henry Mancini is still the best, but there’s also a great, new French pop version which samples the Peter Gunn theme. It’s called “Peter Gunn (Turntable Detective)” and the artist is The Killergroove Formula. You can find it on iTunes – play it for your French teacher!

2. “Theme from Twin Peaks” by Angelo Badalamenti. Twin Peaks was a dark, haunting cult television series created by David Lynch in the early 1990s. The theme song established the mood from the very first second, and when I hear it today I'm transported straight back to the dark Pacific Northwest woods where the Twin Peaks series took place (same location as the Twilight series, by the way).

3. “Pump it Up” by Elvis Costello. My favorite song from the original punk era – the 1970s! Intense, energetic, just keeps building higher and higher. For years I tried to convince another singer, my friend (the late, great) Robert Palmer, to record this song – I thought he’d really tear the roof off with this song.

4. “In the Evening” by Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant has one of the most distinctive rock voices ever; I think this is his most powerful recording

5. “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. I just love the lyric "I am three thousand and eight, you're so two thousand and late.” Wonderful.

6. “Un Bel Di,” from the opera Madame Butterfly, by Puccini. You don’t have to know (or like) opera to understand this beautiful, sad song. Madame Butterfly is a Japanese woman who falls in love with an American Naval Officer who has left Japan for good. She dreams that he will one day come back to her, and she sings this song (“Un Bel Di” means “One Beautiful Day”) about how she imagines his return. One of the most beautiful vocal lines ever written. Even if you don’t understand Italian, it will break your heart!

7. “Glad” by Traffic. No matter how many times I've heard it, this song always makes me want to jump up and dance. The person playing keyboard is Steve Winwood, who is also a great vocalist. He was first known as “Little Stevie Winwood,” and started touring and performing with famous rock singers while he was still in elementary school.

8. “Julia,” by John Lennon. He wrote it as a tribute/love song to his mother, who died when he was very young. I love it because my daughter is named Julia, so it is my love song to her, as well.

QUESTION: What skills do you need to be the General Manager of Kidz Bop?
Well, I have a pretty unique combination of skills that makes this the perfect job for me. I majored in music in college and trained to be a music teacher (though I’ve never actually taught in the classroom, I use those skills all the time). I worked for a record company for five years after college, and learned about how a record label chooses its artists, how it produces the records, and some of the important things that a company needs to do to sell the artist. Then I worked for ten years for MTV, where I learned all about making music videos and producing Rockumentaries (and of course, we do this all the time at Kidz Bop). And finally, I’ve done a lot of work producing television shows that star teenagers, so I’ve had a lot of experience looking for good young singers, dancers, and actors, and working with them to teach them how to become professional performers. All these skills are very useful in running a record label like Kidz Bop.

QUESTION: When, and why, did you first become interested in this profession?
I have wanted to work in music since I was a young child – singing is the thing that makes me happiest in the whole world. If I could have had my dream job, I would have been a singer/dancer in the chorus of Broadway musicals. It turns out that I don’t have a good enough voice to make a living as a musician, but I have always found ways to make music be a central piece of the work that I do. And I still go to see musical theater as often as I can!

QUESTION: What do you do? Describe a typical day on the job:
One of the best things about my job is that it’s different every day. Today I'll be in the recording studio with a wonderful 12-year-old singer named Sinai Rose; earlier this week I was in Los Angeles with the Kidz Bop Kids, shooting our next television commercial.

QUESTION: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Telling a young performer that we’re not going to choose them.

QUESTION: What is the best part of your job?
Giving a talented young performer his or her first professional opportunity.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to kids who are interested in this profession?
First, work hard in school, and get a good education. Right now, going to school is your “job,” and developing the habit of working hard and being the very best you can be is a life skill that will help you succeed later in life.

Second, if you want to be in the music business, you need to be listening to music all the time, and you should listen to all different kinds of music (see my list above!). Start to be a discerning listener. What is an artist doing to achieve a distinctive sound? How are songs different from each other? Who do you think is a good lyricist (writer of words) and why? The more you think and analyze music, the more knowledgeable you will become, and this will make you a better music executive.

Third, take whatever music appreciation classes are available to you in school. The more you learn about the “greats” and why their music has endured, the better prepared you will be to produce great music yourself!

Kidsville News! is a fun (and free!) educational resource used by teachers, parents and children to develop and promote learning, literacy and character education. Our readers include children, kindergarten through 6th grade, as well as parents and teachers. Kidsville News! is currently published in 23 states, with monthly circulation exceeding 1.25 million.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Letter from a Sixth Grade Teacher to Kidz Bop

I started my day today with an inspiring letter (see below). I wonder if there are other teachers out there who use Kidz Bop in school? We could create a section of our website where teachers and kids use our video upload tools to work on communication and literacy skills. Would love to hear from any teachers who are interested in this.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hi Liz!
A very close friend of mine is a 6th grade teacher in California and a while ago, I told her that I knew the head of Kidz Bop (you!) and she got so excited... She asked me to pass on this letter to you which I have copied and pasted below. You and your company are clearly making a really positive impact on her and her students! :) I hope this letter starts off your day with a smile.
Best wishes,


Hi Jane,
Could you please pass on this note to your friend who is affiliated with Kidz Bop? I'd love to let her know how her work is making a difference in my classroom. I teach 6th grade at a low-performing school (Ramona Elementary) in a low-income neighborhood (Montclair, CA). My students are predominantly Latino and most of them are below grade level. My colleagues and I work hard to provide quality instruction, valuable experiences, and new opportunities for the students here. We try to use music to encourage and motivate them to stay on task and work to their potential. The students are familiar with and enjoy radio music, but we cannot play it for them in a school environment. Even the "clean" edited version has inappropriate lyrical content. We download Kidz Bop versions from iTunes and play it for them during transitions, group work time, and even whole-school assemblies. The students love listening to the music while they work. Since they know any noise from them will cause me to turn it off, they are absolutely quiet when I turn it on. They have their favorites ("Let's Get it Started" by Black-Eyed Peas) and request them often. It makes my classroom a friendlier, hipper, and more enjoyable place to be. Thank you to the creators and employees of Kidz Bop for taking the time to make all of this music "clean" for my students!

(name withheld since I don't have her permission)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Family's Encounter with the Kennedys

My father was raised in a poor, working class, Irish Catholic family (actually, they were one step away from starving class - my grandfather's store failed during the Great Depression), in a hardscrabble Scranton neighborhood called Bone Hill. When he was accepted into the Naval Academy, my father became the first member of his family to attend college, and eventually moved away from the old neighborhood to start his own family.

We idolized the Kennedys. My parents spawned a similarly large (nine children) family, and we played sports together, sang around the piano together, and covered our heads with lacy tiaras as we lined up at Mass every Sunday, just like the Kennedys. Every evening we crowded around the dining room table under the peaceful gaze of a romanticized, Victorian portrait of the infant Jesus, which hung on the wall behind my mother's place. At my father's end of the table there still hangs a copy of a painting of the late Pope John XXIII, with Jack and Bobby Kennedy on either side of him. The three are walking away from us, into a sunlit place where presumably, they will no longer know pain or grief.

I was 14 years old, just finishing my freshman year of high school, in the summer of 1968. Though my idealism was rocked by the back-to-back assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, I remained an enthusiastic supporter of civil rights and champion of the underdog. After all, I was a first grader when President Kennedy was inaugurated. When he told us that he was passing the torch to "a new generation of Americans," it was clear that he meant he was passing it to me.

My father was devastated by Bobby Kennedy's death. He had been working for the county Democratic Committee, making calls to solicit donations for the Kennedy campaign and passing out literature to friends, colleagues, and fellow Little League parents. And so, after Bobby died, my father decided that we would go to Hyannisport for our summer vacation. That meant that on Sunday, our second day on the Cape, we all dressed up and headed to Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church, where the Kennedys worshiped. It was just one month after the death of Robert F. Kennedy.

As if my father had conjured her, Rose Kennedy was there. She was dignified in her still fresh grief, her face shielded by a black mantilla. But she spotted our family, eight (at the time) little kids all lined up in one of the pews, and it must have reminded her of her own. She approached us after the service and offered Memorial Cards, with Bobby Kennedy's picture on one side and a prayer on the back. My father shyly asked if she would take a picture with us, to which she gracefully assented.

My father idealized the Kennedys without ever recognizing that they were part of the privileged, patrician class, far removed from our existence as a large, suburban family doing our best to make ends meet. He refused to listen to any criticism of the Kennedys, and dismissed as lies any talk of their abuses of power, arrogance (and let's not even mention the President's philandering). As a "sophisticated" college student and young adult, I thought he was ridiculously naive in his unerring support of and identification with the Kennedys.

Looking back this week, I have to say that I think Dad had it right. Although Teddy Kennedy had every privilege in the world (and often took advantage of that fact), he nearly blew it all with a series of public and potentially crushing missteps. Still, he persisted on, righting himself and continuing to use his position to try to make a difference for the poor and minority citizens who counted on him to champion their cause. Frankly, I find it easier to relate to this flawed but compassionate man than it is to look up to a perfect hero immortalized in marble. I'll never be that, and Ted Kennedy surely knew he never would be, either.

Warrior, statesman, father, husband......and friend to many, even those who never knew him. As the NY Times wrote this morning, when Ted Kennedy is reunited with his big brothers in heaven, he's going to tell them "I carried the torch......I carried it all the way."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reuters Feed from Iran

Reuters has a Twitter feed which is one of the best sources of information that I have seen - @reuters_iran.

Al Jazeerah/English reportedly is streaming video, much more than our western news organizations can, but their server must be swamped. I haven't yet been able to get on.

Neda's Voice

Last night I joined the Facebook group - In Memory of Neda - which sprung up immediately after the videos started to circulate. Looking at the list of members this morning, it is the most diverse, international group I've ever been a part of of.

The mainstream media is still not reporting any details - I suppose because they are restricted from reporting on the ground and can't confirm the story. MSNBC.com mentioned briefly videos of a young girl with blood flowing from her nose and mouth, said that she had "reportedly died," and that was it.

Neda was reportedly watching the demonstrations from the curb, with her father, when she was shot through the heart by a sniper (unconfirmed - this is what everyone is writing on Twitter). Why would a peaceful, innocent young woman be singled out? She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not the chador required by Islamic law in Iran for women appearing in public. I suspect that was enough to make her a target. These young women, unrobed and demanding equal rights, are the leading edge of the "sea of green."

I hope, eventually, when the chaos dies down and it can be "reliably" reported, that Neda will become the Tank Man (Tiananmen Square) of the Green Revolution. Her death should not be in vain.

Twitter on the Barricades - Six Lessons Learned - NYTimes.com

This weekend is my first true immersion in Twitter, and I find it's more useful to read the information coming out of Iran as a big swath of general sentiment....rather than taking each individual tweet at face value. I found myself wonder why being in the thick of the dialogue with individual protestors trading tips, locations, and warnings was so absolutely absorbing, since I'm not there, don't know any of the locations they're describing, and don't really know who is who, in terms of reliable information. This article, from today's New York Times, explores these same questions.
Twitter on the Barricades - Six Lessons Learned

Morning in NY; Mid-Afternoon in Tehran

Dipping into the Twitter feed this morning, I'd say the overall tenor is less fraught, reaching still higher for moral authority and peaceful protest. There is also an overwhelming concern, which I didn't see yesterday, that the feed has been infiltrated by government agents.

Here are some highlights, 7:30am EDT:

pilotwomanf/tehran; "it will be in Vanak sq. Pple will be there at 4:30 pm,(after 30 mins) Tehran time. som1 called me and said it."

saitamaguy2002 Eyewitness: Special Forces are standing between Azadi Sq. and Emam Hossein Sq.; about 11 kms.

debbiezrm RT CAUTION: BLOCK all NEW users with NO or only VERY FEW followers! They are BASIJ!

oxfordgirl RT @persiankiwi: today the Gov is trying harder than ever b4 to hack our communications

iran_09: Iran is full of rumors - but the army is NOT on the streets - not against the people - no tanks yet –

mcaviglia: They have hacked GHALAM NEWs - website of MOUSAVI - Sea of Green will NEVER rest

Libertyfan44: Yesterday we voted for change. Today we fight for freedom. Tomorrow we will be FREE!!!!

koabal85: PLZ be careful, twitter full of gov agents joined yesterday, have few followesr and are spreading panic.

ranTweet @LiberT LiberT RT from Iran: "Iran isn't falling -- it's standing up"

karinaschneidrg RT frm Iran: Mousavi - Confirmed - calls for ALL the nation to stand on balconys TONIGHT and show support with 'Allah Akbar'

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Her Name Was Neda...

Newsvine - Her Name Was Neda...

I can't bring myself to post a link to the videos (there are two, shot on cell phones from different angles). It's just too sad.

The Battle is On: Sampling of the Twitter feed from the Streets of Tehran

legolas81: doctors/nurses wear red crescent/red cross symbol so news can see if you are attacked for being street medics

jkebeans: remove all street signs, so shipped-in forces will lose orientation

rinkjustice: LIST MAP to EMBASSIES ACCEPTING INJURED; DO NOT GOTO HOSPITALS http://tinyurl.com/nwrvsd

PatriotRose: Don't WET MASK WITH WATER-vinegar & Lemonjuice effective against teargas به ماسکهای جلوی دهنتون آبلیمو وسرکه بزنید. آب نزنید


pilotwoman: Her name was ندا (#Neda), which means voice or call in Farsi. She is the voice of the people, a call to freedom

D_chosen_one: Suggestion: Disorient Basij entering your neighborhood by painting over numbers and removing street signs.

muluap: go to German Embassy if wounded, set pressure on western embassies until they let you in. They are human, they will

soynicole: PLEASE RETWEET - Basij rounding up injured protesters at Hospitals. List of EMBASSIES taking in injured: http://bit.ly/2rYIbt

lauraluvscoffee RT GO BACK & DELETE PAST TWEETS that have Iranian usernames. Arrests have been made. Please ENSURE ALL SEE THIS

buzzard1964: Change your twitter location to Tehran and time zone to GMT +3.5. This helps shield & confuse security police

rarianrakista: Book on how to fight tanks and armed forces in urban areas. http://bit.ly/k2ARx

iamtheyak: If you haven't yet, please change your profile location to Tehran & time zone to GMT+3:30, to help foil Iran govt spies

SecularnFree: Please only post CONFIRMED SOURCE information. The GOVT has placed misinformation on Twitter.

iran_09: Hospitals in Tehran are NOT safe. Basijis there, ppl disappearing.

Dlsale: LIST OF FAKE IRANIAN ACCOUNTS (Some working for Iran Gov't) http://bit.ly/greenfakes

Magicspin: یک برده است که یکی از منتظر کسی که دیگری را به او آزاد است. A slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.

bigbadblackwolf Deleting tweets does NOT remove them from search. Iranians should remove their name from their twitter profile

VivianBoroff: Basij R marking doors 2 attack later. Use oil/petrol 2 remove the mark frm your door.

RDUgirl: Iransource45 is an Iranian agent. If enough people block him, his count will be disabled.

FairyKingAub: CHEMICAL BURN FIRST AID http://bit.ly/Za5k5

Rezaliteit: Embassies accepting injured people: Finnish, German,British, Dutch, Norway, Belgian, Italian, Slovenian, Portuguese

Schteeboman: muluap look policemen in the face. Appeal to the heart of younger ones, some will change sides

pilotwomanRT: Look at the ppl personally confirming tank story, they are new arrivals, have between 20- 0 followers & want to scare you

pilotwomanRT: There comes in every struggle a moment that tips the balance. Death of Neda has shifted this battle to the side of the ppl

Demian888: Tehran, Iran, for every basiji, 11 free women and men should stand up

EmpiresCrumble: 4CHEM.BURNS:cool running h20, 20mins, rmve jwlry/clths near burn, cool wet cloth/towel, sterile wrap, rewash if need

theresefarmer: Mousavi - we have gone too far to stop now

SecularnFree: Neda looked at the camera then died - She was looking at us. FREE IRAN NOW

toddbober: Do not listen to those who tell you to take up the gun. Mousavi calls on Sea of Green not to be violent

flipngenius: Iranian military and police - turn on the basij. This girl should not have died. http://tiny.cc/basij

The Revolution as it's being tweeted...

It's nearly 6am in Tehran - Sunday morning is dawning, another day of protests awaits (I know this because my Twitter account is set to GMT +3.5, Location: Tehran).

I've been glued to Twitter all day - the Internet, mobile/wireless communication, and social media have all converged to bring about the maturing of the concept of democracy. It has always been an ideal, practiced by various populations, with varying degrees of success. Democracy is no longer an ideal, it's a reality. No government, anywhere, can hold back the tide of information in the hands of the people.

One of the fascinating things tonight is the reporting, on Twitter, of the death of a young woman named Neda. Neda means "voice" or "call" in Farsi, and she will clearly represent the voice and will of the Iranian people, putting a face to their cause. #neda is currently one of the highest ranked feeds on Twitter, and links to video of her death are available (I can't bring myself to post it here - simply too sad). She was young, beautiful, and gravely injured. In the brief clip that I saw, she looked directly into the camera and then died - heartbreaking. What I find amazing is that even as thousands of cries of her name reverberate across the ethernet, not a word has been reported on any of the major news Internet sites - at least, not that I can find. I am sitting here watching Christiane Amanpour do her wrapup on CNN, entitled "Blood on the streets of Iran." She is clearly the most authoritative voice reporting on television, yet Neda has not been mentioned.

Last week, I would have said that I prefer to read news on the Internet - because when I pick up a newspaper or listen to the radio, I'm seeing/hearing stories that are a day old - I read them hours before on the Internet. Twitter has blown Internet news right off the track. Of course, there will still be a need for thoughtful, well-researched, "professional" journalism. But when it comes to an event like this, the news cycle has suddenly gotten exponentially shorter.

Gil Scott Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Seems appropriate for today. The Revolution will not be Televised, but it will be Tweeted!

Praying for the safety of all the women in the streets of Tehran, standing tall and green, insisting on equality.

BBC Persia - Images of gunshots in the streets

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Motherhood :: One of my Proudest Moments

In 2006, I chaperoned a church trip to Juarez, Mexico. We took a group of 20 American teenagers to work with a priest who was building churches in the poorest barrios and desert outskirts of Juarez.

As lunchtime approached on the fifth day of grueling work in the relentless heat, we pulled off the highway and stopped at a church in urban Chihuahua, where a group of women were waiting with a lunch of simple but delicious Mexican food. As on each previous day, lunch was tamales, and I heard some grumbling as the kids went through the line. They weren't used to a steady diet of rice, cheese and refried beans, and they were getting sick of it (as well as getting constipated).

As we settled in at the long tables in the church hall, I saw that three or four of our teens had filled plates full of food, taken one bite and pushed it away. Embarrassed, I passed their plates down to the other end of the table, suggesting to the kids sitting there that they should eat these before going back for seconds. A few minutes later, I was surprised to hear Julia’s voice raised in anger. I leaned over to look down the table and saw Jules choking down a tamale from one of the rejected plates and saying “….because it’s insulting, that’s why. They have been cooking all frigging morning to make this food for us.”

It was worth all the stress of the trip just for that moment.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

19th Century Stained Glass

It was 87 degrees in Cornwall-on-Hudson today - Spring coming in with a vengeance! Although I went to St. John's to photograph antique quilts, I was irresistably drawn to the 19th century stained glass windows, with the sunlight flooding through. Yet another treasure of hand-worked artistry.

WOMEN'S WORK : : Marveling at an Antique Quilt Show

My friend Bea Deamers is a master quilter, and she organized an antique quilt show as a benefit for our church today. St. John's is a beautiful, 19th century structure, with intricate, hand-carved wood throughout the sanctuary. The juxtaposition of the rich wood with the vibrant, hand-sewn quilts was simply breathtaking.

I am always moved by primitive, domestic creations because I see them as practical, though sometimes improbable, expressions of women's voices and creativity. I talked about this last summer with our friend Steven Kellogg, the award-winning children's author and illustrator, who has a world class collection of American Primitive antiques in his barn. Creativity and passion simply burst from these artifacts, which until recently were not recognized as ART. We've all heard the phrase "Anonymous was a Woman," and it's never more evident than in this kind of work.

I have read that Amish women, renowned for their abilities as quilters, always sewed a flaw into their quilts so as not to the mock perfection of God's creation. I don't know if this is true, but I can tell you that I love the hand hewn feeling of this incredible work.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

This phrase is relatively new to me. Although I've been an Episcopalian for many years, I grew up Catholic and they call today "Holy Thursday." I wonder about "Maundy Thursday" every year and tonight I finally decided to look it up.
MAUNDY THURSDAY: The Thursday before Easter, observed in commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus. Also called Holy Thursday.

[From Middle English maunde, ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on this day, from Old French mande, from Latin (novum) mandātum, (new) commandment (from Jesus's words to the Apostles after washing their feet, John 13:34).]

Here's what happens in the service. There are three readings, the first from the Passover service, which is familiar to both Christians and Jews (mark the lintel with blood, roast the lamb and eat all of it, consume bitter herbs, salt water, charoses, etc). The other two readings are about Christ's interaction with the Apostles on that Passover night, in which he established both the rite of Holy Communion (consecrating the bread and wine as his body and blood as a promise that he will always be with us) and the concept of Ordination (ordaining his apostles as priests, his surrogates, in the church). And then, he picked up a towel and basin and washed each of their feet. They protested, but he insisted.

Tonight, I took off my shoes and socks and Father Tom washed my feet to remind me of Christ's teachings about humility and the requirement of service to one's fellow man. The master is not greater than the servant, nor is the teacher of more value than the student. The washing of the feet is a concrete representation of the fundamental "Do unto others" principle.

The other thing that I love about Maundy Thursday is the vulnerability of Christ. Because he was God, he knew that he was going to die, yet because he was incarnated as a human being, he was terribly afraid. After the Seder (what Christians call The Last Supper), he goes into the garden to pray to his Father for help, and he asks Peter and some of the other apostles to come and pray with him. They have been drinking wine and they are tired - they keep falling asleep. Jesus is afraid, and he knows the Romans are coming after him - he wakes his apostles and begs them to stay awake and watch. But they fall asleep.

So for me, this is the most important day of the year to show up at church. I never miss the service on Maundy Thursday because I feel as though the least I can do is be there, be awake, and offer whatever comfort and support that I can. I know everyone doesn't believe that Jesus was (or is) God, but surely he was a tremendous human being in anyone's eyes - the "Obama" of his time.

In the Maundy Thursday service we end by singing a mournful, ancient chant, over and over, as Father Tom and his acolytes strip all the vestments from the altar. One by one, the lights are extinguished, until the congregation is in complete darkness.

The refrain we sing goes like this:


I wouldn't miss it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fantastic International Night at the Oscars

From the Japanese animator thanking his pencil, to Penelope Cruz who broke out into Spanish, to the Japanese director of Best Foreign Film - “We be back, I hope”....it all reminds me of Roberto Benigni (“LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL) jumping on the back of his seat and exclaiming “I have Lo-sed all my English!” But better.

What a great night for global culture.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And Why No YouTube in Schools?

Si (my partner, Seymour Simon) and I spoke at the Wisconsin State Reading Association last week, on the topic of Digital Literacy. We were describing his blog, SeymourScience.com, on which he provides a variety of teacher support materials for the use of his books in the classroom, including Discussion Guides, Science Projects, and video. A former science teacher, Si acts as a video curator, selecting clips that are exciting and compelling for kids, as well as scientifically accurate. He often sources these videos from YouTube, such as this recording of a mountain gorilla family, presented as supplemental material for his Smithsonian/Collins book GORILLAS.

Multiple teachers at the conference told us that they cannot use these links, as YouTube is blocked in their schools. That is ridiculous. Surely school administrators could supply teachers with passwords, that would allow them to "unlock" YouTube for educational purposes. It is free, and full of captivating video.

Dr. James Gee, a leading proponent of videogames as educational tools, created this scene as an intro to one of his books: Rip Van Winkle wakes up in the early 21st Century, and is totally confused. He is frightened by automobiles and disturbed to see people seemingly talking to themselves (on bluetooth cell phone headsets). Then, he sees a familiar and comforting sight - a schoolhouse. He rushes in, and sure enough, it is just as he remembered it. Teachers lecturing from the front of the room, students yawning as they laboriously take notes by hand, textbooks with familiar, 20th century images.....

Is this really where we want our schools to be? There is significant funding earmarked for "Education" in the stimulus bill that President Obama signed today. We can only hope that some of it will be for teacher (and administrator) training in and access to the media that children find most compelling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cell Phones as Educational Tools?

Today's New York Times has an article about wireless industry groups who are pitching cell phones as educational tools. The way the article reads, it was a set up for the companies to be slammed for pitching products rather than truly focusing on education. And, that's exactly what happened in the reader comments on the article.

Amazingly, the authors don't seem to have done even rudimentary research, or they would have stumbled upon "Pockets of Potential," the new white paper from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which advocates the use of cell phones and other wireless technologies to promote learning.

I added my comment into the mix - a lone voice in the wilderness of disapproval!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Voting with (and for) our Ancestors

Bill Cosby told Rachel Maddow a very moving story about voting for Barack Obama. After he entered the voting booth and closed the curtain behind him, he reached into his pocket and pulled out photographs of his deceased mother, father and brother. "And now," he said, "we're going to vote."

I heard a similar story from a friend who wore the dog tags belonging to his late father (a lifelong Democrat) into the voting booth, and is wearing them again today on Inauguration Day.

This means more than your typical election, without a doubt.

With Hands Outstretched

I was 6 years old in January, 1961 when President Kennedy was inaugurated. I remember that in the moment when he said "The torch is passed to a new generation," it felt as if I reached up and took that torch into my hands. That moment informed the way I have tried to live my life as an American.

I am moved, proud and honored today to accept the call to service once again. May God bless and protect President Barack Hussein Obama.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

MashUp: Beatles and Nine Inch Nails. LOVE it!


This site - called "The Real Blogger Status" is practical and usable. This finally explained site feeds in a way that I could make sense of it, and my blog is (or should) now be posting automatically on Facebook.

The Real Blogger Status: What Is My Blog (Site) Feed?

Posting this for other who may be having the same struggle.

Monday, October 27, 2008

If you die in The Matrix do you die in real life?

Cynopsis Digital reports today that a 43-year piano teacher from Kyushu was jailed last week after illegally hacking into the account of her digital partner in the interactive game Maple Story and destroying the character he had spent a year creating after he had unexpectedly demanded a divorce from the woman's avatar. If convicted she faces up to 5 years in prison, according to reports.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Seymour Simon's new book, THE HUMAN BODY

There is nice mention of Si's latest photo essay book in "Notes from the Horn Book."Notes from the Horn Book | October, 2008
Well deserved. This is a beautiful new addition to Si's Smithsonian series.

I found a detailed and adorable review on Amazon, written by a 6-year-old named Evan. It made me smile - a new addition to the list of "raising an intelligent child tips" that one of his parents is clearly employing! Amazon.com: The Human Body: Seymour Simon: Books: "I really liked looking at the pictures. There were some pretty big words in this book. I think lots of people would enjoy 'The Human Body' by Seymour Simon, even grown-ups."

HarperCollins: THE HUMAN BODY by Seymour Simon

Mathematics as Poetry on the London Stage

While in London earlier this week we saw a thought-provoking drama called "A Disappearing Number," from the highly regarded experimental theater Complicite (the director, Simon McBurney, directed the revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," which just opened on Broadway with Katie Holmes).

The play was amazing - interweaving the story of the famous Indian mathematician Ramanujan with a contemporary story of a tragic love affair between a mathematics professor (who sees beauty and poetry in her beloved equations) and a globetrotting business executive (who much as he tries, just can't see what she sees). The story was brilliantly couched in the context of the mathematical concept of infinity, representing the continuum and interconnections of life, past, present and future. If it sounds like the story was complicated, it was - but incredibly moving.

McBurney liberally incorporates multimedia into his staging - there was an Indian tabla musician onstage the whole time playing a sort of underscore to the drama, and film clips were often projected on a screen that was part of the set (and often projected onto the actors themselves). The whole thing was staged as if it were choreographed, even though it is hardly a musical. Fascinating evening of theater.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Busted because I was afraid to say ‘no.’ Idiot.

They say Christ died for our sins, but what good did that do, for Him or for us?

I think God got himself killed so he’d understand fear.

You act stupid when you’re afraid. Now He knows, and forgives.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


The night the old dog died he convulsed for hours, tears and juices mingling on the ground.

“Don’t clean it up,” I said.

Next morning the young pup sniffed, then leapt at the throat of the dog next door until we had to kick him off.

Alpha male redux.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Flash Fiction

A new form of writing called Flash Fiction has sprung up on the Internet. These mini-narratives are limited to 50 words - within you must establish a character, point of view and tell a story. The British website MiniWords runs an annual writing contest and features some really exceptional writing in this genre.

I've been experimenting with it all week. It is a fascinating discipline for a writer, trying to creative a narrative when each precious word must do double or triple duty.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Who Can Turn The World On With Her Marketably Pink, Sparkly Smile? -- Daddy Types

For some reason, I just got a Google Alert on this blog entry from August 2006. Who Can Turn The World On With Her Marketably Pink, Sparkly Smile? -- Daddy Types

Call me crazy, but I take a perverse pleasure in being dissed by complete strangers on the web!

For the record, I stand by my decision to create a mainstream, "lead" muppet to whom little girls can relate. The gender inequity on Sesame Street was appalling and always bugged me when Jules was little. Why were all the girls quirky, politically correct, un-relatable sidekicks, and never the hero? I think we've put that problem definitively to rest with Abby Cadabby. She's a star (thank you brilliant puppeteer Leslie Carrera!), and I'm so proud to have been involved in her creation.

If you Google my name you'll find more hilarious ones.....like How to get to Stereotype Street in the Boston Globe.

If I'm controversial enough to get all these folks fired up, I must be doing something right!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fabulous Shot of Kid watching THE UPSIDE DOWN SHOW

Remember When: Laugh

It still breaks my heart that we weren't able to make more of these shows. THE UPSIDE DOWN SHOW was truly a breakout concept built around the educational benefits of imaginary play. Which of course, our achievement/results driven culture needs desperately.

It's a crying shame to lose all that laughing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ice Storm

We had quite an ice storm here in the Hudson Highlands last night. They had predicted a layer of ice up to 1/2-inch thick overnight, and I think we achieved that, easily.

I was dismayed, this past Spring, when I realized I needed to spend $3000 to take down five large, dead trees, all dangerously close to the house. Thank goodness I did it. Every dead branch came down last night, including some big ones. I am glad the huge chestnut that used to rise outside my bedroom window wasn't there last night trying to bear the weight of this ice!

"Just Press Play" on your Palm Pilot?!

If you know a preschooler who watches The Upside Down Show , the fact that little kids love to play with the imaginary Remote Control will not have escaped your attention.

Palm is offering freeware for download from their website that will put "Just Press Play" (the phrase typically uttered by Shane and David on the show) on your Palm Pilot.Just Press Play v5.1a freeware

Now there is a picture. A rabid, 3-year-old Upside Down Show fan with your Trēo in his hand, refusing to cede control. Sounds like a tantrum waiting to happen!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Panwapa Word of the day is......PING PONG!

What a great word to learn in five languages! Panwapa is Sesame Workshop's new multimedia project, teaching Global Citizenship to 4- to 8-year-olds. That is a complex curriculum, and it's sorely needed. I think this is a very good effort, and I know it will just keep getting better. See for yourself at www.panwapa.com.
This is my avatar and my Panwapa home - I live on a boat! And as you can see from my Panwapa Island flag, I like rice, dogs, books, riding my scooter, playing the piano, and making shadow puppets! Every child who registers as a citizen of Panwapa makes their own avatar who represents them in this world. Try it - it's fun, and I guarantee you, that little avatar is irresistible!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Major Website Update Today

I've spent my day updating and expanding www.liznealon.com to reflect the professional activity that's occupied my time this fall. I now have links to some of the writing I'm doing (hired as an "expert" columnist covering Family Travel and Informal Education for eHow.com), as well as a section about the seminars that I am teaching (how to reserve a space in my mediabistro "Executive Producing seminar or book me to speak to your group).

I've been at it all day, am fairly pleased with the results!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Life With My X-Men" - A blog about the Upside Down Show

Kristie Meyer, describing her boys and their love of the Upside Down Show, writes "We used to have to get a napkin out for Shane and David at supper. Thankfully they started taking their meals elsewhere." Read her whole entry here: Life With My X-Men: Adventures of Shane and David:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Neopets Christmas Gallery

I have been collecting for many years, and if I do say so, I have one of the best Christmas collections in Neopia! I also take advantage of the season to send a message of peace to anyone who visits. My teenager says it's the "old hippy" in me. Guilty as charged.

(For residents of neopets.com, my username is lrn_jbk945. Use IE for the full effect with graphics and music)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Abby Cadabby Debuts in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Photo: Macy's
I have to say, I am so tickled to see our "girly" muppet, Abby Cadabby, looking so gorgeous in this bigger than life version! As I'm fond of joking, I only lasted long enough at Sesame Street to create one muppet, but she's a hell of a muppet! As usual, the Muppet Wiki provides the most in-depth information about the character (including a quote from yours truly) Abby Cadabby - Muppet Wiki

I think the fact that I was an outsider who did not come up through the Henson shop was an asset in the creation of Abby. Early on, I was spending a day at the studio, hanging back at the puppet table with Jason, the muppet wrangler. Curious, I asked if Henson muppets must always have those signature, "ping pong ball" eyes. He said no, which really got me thinking. I've always felt that the eyes were the main reason the previous female Sesame muppets were less than attractive. The pop eyes are funny on a guy (Cookie!), but not so flattering on a girl. I asked them to try Abby with wide, flat eyes, and prominent eyelashes. The first day the prototype puppet was brought into rehearsal, Fran Brill (the puppeteer who performs both Prairie Dawn and Zoe) took one look at the beautiful new puppet, and groaned "Look at those eyes. Damn you, Liz Nealon!" Sorry, Fran. I plead guilty as charged - she's a beauty and little girls want to be Abby's friend. Now, let's hope they buy lots of products at Christmas and give Elmo a run for his money!