Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Star Wars Jew

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I am not a Star Wars fanatic -- or fan -- in the least, but I know that many of you readers are. So I decided I'll share this cute piece that appeared in the Jewish Journal (Los Angeles).


‘Star Wars’ for Jews

by Adam Wills, Associate Editor

I was out communing with the nerds last weekend, contributing to the $158.5 million record four-day opening for “Revenge of the Sith.” Now that the series is over and done with (at least until George Lucas launches his live-action “Star Wars” television series), I began reflecting on all things Jewish in the saga set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Even though Lucas considers himself a “Buddhist Methodist,” and many of the themes from the series are inspired by the universal mythic structure explored by writer Joseph Campbell, there are some elements in the series that are undeniably Jewish.

Is Darth Vader a Kohen?

Even though it’s too small to see on screen, part of Darth Vader’s chestplate features three lines of Hebrew, one of which appears to be upside down. What the lines say is a matter of much online debate among Jewish “Star Wars” fans. On TheForce.net, which features photos of the Hebrew script in question, one blogger believes it’s a play on a section from Exodus 16 about repentance, while another thinks the lines read: “His actions/deeds will not be forgiven until he is proven innocent” and “One shall be regarded innocent until he is proven guilty.”

May the Fast Be With You

Much like nonpracticing Jews, many of the folks in the “Star Wars” universe invoke their belief in the Force, a God-like energy that permeates every living thing, typically when a situation seems dire or when luck is needed. And even though there aren’t that many Jedi, the only people who seem to practice this faith on a day-to-day basis, the Order has an opulent temple.

Once Anakin Skywalker was done offing the Jedi order in “Sith,” I pondered why they would have bothered to construct such an obscenely large facility, especially considering that each time it’s featured in the films the structure is obviously not being filled to capacity. Then it dawned on me: the High Holidays.

Shylock in Space

Lucas was criticized for being fairly politically incorrect with his aliens in “The Phantom Menace,” from the Japanese-sounding Neimodians and the grammatically strained Jamaican gobbledygook of the Gungans. But the character most offensive to Jews was the flying alien Watto, the bearded, Eastern European-accented slave owner of the Skywalker family, who comes off as a greedy Jewish merchant. To paraphrase Jar Jar Binks: Mesa farklempt.

Yoda: In the ‘Know’

The name of the pint-sized Jedi Muppet, voiced by Jewish actor-director Frank Oz, translates as “the one who knows” in Hebrew. Yes, but when that knowledge is delivered in a way that’s reminiscent of a bad fortune cookie, it’s difficult to take seriously.

Jedi Jew

Anakin Skywalker’s story is quintessentially Jewish. He starts off as a cute kid everyone thinks will grow up to be the messiah. When he finishes studying with the rabbi (Obi-Wan Kenobi), he disappoints everyone by dropping out of the shul and falling in with the wrong crowd. In his old age he ends up a ba’al teshuvah.

C3PO, Bar Mitzvah Boy

After the Rebel Alliance landing party is captured by the Ewoks on Endor in “Return of the Jedi,” Luke Skywalker levitates the chair C3PO is sitting in to convince the fuzzy creatures that the protocol droid is a god. The only thing missing from this scene: a round of “Hava Nagila” and Ewoks dancing in circles.

Jewish Chicks Kick Butt

In the prequels, we have Natalie Portman, an Israeli-born Jew, playing Luke and Leia’s mother, Padmé Naberrie Amidala. While she fought beasties and looked fabulous doing it in a slinky white cat suit in “Attack of the Clones,” Amidala never displayed the same feistiness that made Leia stand out in the original films.

Carrie Fisher, Jewish on her estranged father’s side, played against the Jewish American Princess stereotype as the gun-toting, take-charge Princess Leia Organa. Never one to shy away from a fight, Leia, in a very Judith-like way, seizes on an opportunity and strangles Jabba the Hutt to save her own people in “Return of the Jedi.”

Even if the “Star Wars” saga wasn’t written specifically with Jews in mind, the theme of good versus evil set in an alien universe speaks to the American Jewish experience. Like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, we must often choose between the comfortable complacency of assimilation and the risks associated with membership in a noble but highly misunderstood path to repairing the universe.

May the tikkun olam be with you.

Lincoln Place Lullaby

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Many many years ago, my mother's aunt through marriage had a sister who was in a local Jewish nursing home. At the time, she was rather "out of it" but nonetheless my mother made it a point to visit the woman, and a number of times I joined her for a visit.

This one particular time, I sat in the floor's lounge, waiting because the woman we'd come to see was sleeping. So I sat there and observed the residents. And then I began to write down what I was seeing and hearing, and after I got home, I incorporated what I'd jotted down into a poem. It is called "Lincoln Place Lullaby."

Oy. Where am I?
Vey. Where are you?
Iz. What is this place?
Mir. What’s going on?
What do we do here?
What are we doing here?
Why am I here?
Where are you please, Lydia?
How could they do this to me?
How could they?
I’d like to go down please.
I would like to go home, please, Nurse.
I’m not home.
I don’t belong in here, that’s for sure.
Nobody takes any notice.
I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.
Oy. Never.
Vey. Never.
Iz. Never.
Mir. Never.

“Hey, take that damn record off, will ya! It’s skipping.”

Monday, May 30, 2005

Moving On

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Regarding some of my posts over the past several months, one might think that I thrive on sadness or tragedy or life's difficult challenges. Such is not the case. I have just always been a thinking, feeling person -- my heart bleeds very easily for people, even people I do not know. My feelings of empathy and compassion are strong and sometimes overshadow my thoughts. But I cannot help that.

It is certainly not as if I grew up in a depressing environment, even while being a child of a survivor. Love and laughter have always prevailed in my parents' home, and certainly now in my own.

But I guess I often stop to smell the roses even if I've cut myself with its thorns...

Do read Glen Holman's personal blog, Moving On. He has words to share with you -- words describing love...loss...and love.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

UNITEd We Stand

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So today was the Walk for Israel walkathon. I don't know numbers, but let's just say thousands of people gathered at a park at the lakefront where it started, wearing their T-shirts, touting Israeli flags on knapsacks, wagons, carriages, backsides and even on faces. Dignitaries speak at the beginning of the walk, there are inflatable rides and amusements for the kids, the world's largest hora is attempted and the fever is set.

It is a beautiful thing to march in with friends, neighbors -- and countrymen. And what is even nicer is when you have non-Jews who march in solidarity with us, some representing Christian causes, others just feeling pro-Israel and letting the Jews know it.

Many groups and schools and synagogues are represented -- it is really a cross section of the community in this city who come out to this event and help make it what it is. Lubavitcher men approach male participants of bar-mitzvah age to ask them if they'd like to lay Tefillin, Jews for Judasim folks are out, ready to hand out brochures if they meet up to Jews for Jesus missionaries.

I've lived in this city my entire life, so I get to see people who have crossed my path my entire life, whether from day school, high school, university, jobs, shuls, parenting groups -- to share in a commitment is a special thing, and I think we all know it when we're walking across the lower part of the city together for a few hours.

I have fond memories of the "Walks for Israel" that I participated in when I was a young girl -- the route took us through just about the whole city and took an entire day to complete, if we were lucky. So, yes, of course they were longer as well. But whether the route or the mileage differed, the cause has always been the same: raise money for Israel to help nurture this still-growing country and make it the best it can possibly be. In doing so, bring out Jews from the Toronto woodwork who join in a common cause.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Holiday Weekend

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Hello, Americans. This is a post to you because I think most of my readers are Americans...or ex-Americans living in Toronto!

I hope today was a lovely start to your weekend...your long weekend: Memorial Day.

We Canadians had our weekend last weekend, Victoria Day, complete with fireworks -- some public displays on Sunday night, others on Monday night. But most people don't associate the weekend with anything other than fireworks, bar-be-ques, beer, no work on Monday. They forget the holiday is named for Queen Victoria...our country's "grandmother".

You Americans on the other hand might also associate the weekend with bar-be-ques and beer and no work on Monday -- I don't know if fireworks are lit. But you also make a beautiful point of associating the weekend with memories...of veterans...who helped fight your wars and keep your country free and safe. I don't know if you have fireworks, but I do know that you have local parades, with citizens showing their pride, waving their flags, displaying their patriotism on their sleeve and on their chests with medals and ribbons and the like.

Kerckhoff Coffeehouse's blogging buddy of mine, Doctor Bean, said it beautifully in his post the other day:

In Grateful Memory

I have dozens of work and family obligations to fulfill before this weekend, but it would be wrong to let Memorial Day come without some reflection on its meaning.

I own my home and my own business because of property rights we usually take for granted that do not exist in many countries. I worship as I please, which can not be said in Saudi Arabia or Yemen. My family is safe, which would not be true in much of Africa. I can criticize my government publicly, and frequently do right here in the Coffeehouse, which would be a criminal act in China.

These freedoms are the bedrock of our lives upon which everything else is built. Our families, our individual traditions, our professions and our leisure would all be swept aside in an instant if tyranny replaced liberty.

All these abundant blessings were bought with the lives of American soldiers. On Memorial Day, we stop to realize this; we honor their sacrifice; we offer our heartfelt thanks to the families who grieve for the loss which helped sustain our nation. May we all strive to live in a way that is worthy of such sacrifice.

Here's a concrete way we can show our appreciation. I'm going to ask ball-and-chain to break out a credit card and donate to one of these. Please do the same.

Operation Hero Miles. Donate frequent flier miles to our troops.

Any Soldier. Send a care package to an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Operation Gratitude. Send a care package to a U.S. soldier

I applaud you Americans, the vets and the citizens who've stood behind them over the years. You help make your country a colorful one and I tip my hat to you.

Happy Memorial Day!


BTW, you folks had better be celebrating because my reading "stats" were quite low yesterday (today was Shabbos, so that usually lowers the numbers), and I'm guessing they might be the same for the next two days. But don't forget about me; you can read my words (old or new) once you're back at your jobs on Tuesday and need something to do besides WORK, or instead of it. (PsychoToddler, Air Time, Just Passing Through, Still Wonderin', Doctor Bean -- yeah, I'm talking to you.)

And tomorrow is our community-wide annual walk for Israel, a big and very fun to-do with family and friends. Hope the weather cooperates, hope my legs cooperate and hope my kids cooperate. "Right, left, yemin, smol, right left, yemin, smol...!"

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Latest Hit Parade

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K-Tel (R) Records is proud to present this compilation of the hottest hits. Look for some of your favorite songs, reworked just for you!

You Light Up My Blog -- Debby Boone
Whole Lotta Blog -- Led Zeppelin
Mother and Blog Reunion -- Paul Simon
Hard To Blog I'm Sorry -- Chicago
Blog Man -- Sam & Dave version AND The Blues Bros. version
I Blog for You -- Chaka Khan
Blog It -- Devo
Blogger's Delight -- Sugar Hill Gang
Oh, What a Blog! -- Irene Cara
American Blog -- Don McLean
Blog 'Round the Clock -- Bill Haley & the Comets
Blog with You -- Michael Jackson
Rock the Blog -- the Hues Corporation
How Deep Is Your Blog? -- the Bee Gees
The Blog from Ipanema -- Joao Gilberto

and featuring that famous hit Get Off My Blog -- the Rolling Stones.

Run, don't walk to the nearest music store to get this collection. It'll be flying off the shelves before you know it.

What Are You Dangling These Days...?

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GOTCHA! (with that title, didn't I?) Nothing perverted here; if that's what you're looking for, link elsewhere!

While driving in to work this a.m. my mind got stuck on the notion of items people have dangling from their car's rearview mirrors.

I've seen fuzzy dice, rosary beads, keychains, garage door openers, "artwork" that children have made, baby shoes, blessings.

I have something hanging that my friend once sent from Israel--no doubt a freebie for her, considered to be a gift for me... It's a heart-shaped laminated card with a Tefillat ha-Derech (The Traveler's Prayer). How do I know it was a freebie, you wonder? Because on the other side of the prayer, there's an advertisement for some product, but I never read the small Hebrew print to learn what the product actually is. But the advertisement, translated from the Hebrew, reads: "Mother, you promised us chicken for this Shabbat!"

How is it that for the Jews everything comes back to FOOD?

"Okay, kids, we're leaving the city limits now. Let's say Tefillat ha-Derech...and then let's break out those chicken sandwiches!"


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, and here's hoping you all get to have chicken.

"Gehrls Just Wanna Have Fun"

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I am about to talk about my youngest child, a five-year-old; I don't mean to embarrass him, although I am bringing one of his weaknesses to light. But this "weakness" is also a MOST ENDEARING AND SWEET ATTRIBUTE OF HIS, so in my mind I am elevating his sweetness for you.

The other day, when I posted about "A Whole New World," I got a comment from Rochelle who said that her granddaughter, although she lives in Los Angeles, sings the song, pronouncing it as "A Whole New Woild" -- a taste of Brooklyn.

I couldn't help but think of my own little one who cannot pronounce my name properly nor the word "girl." Now "girl" and "Pearl" rhyme with each other, and one would think they're easy to say. But not for him!

For reasons beyond my comprehension, N seems to have a Scottish brogue when he says these words. He rolls his R's, so "girls" becomes more like "gehrls" and "Pearl" becomes "Pehrl." I try to work with him on his pronunciation but at the same time am amused by this quirky stylistic "thing" of his.

What's even more interesting is that lately I've been listening to myself when I speak. And, just like N, who seems to use inflection at the end of every statement, and tags his statement with "Yeah?", I've started to do it. For example, saying, "We're going to finish our homework today, kids...yeah?"

Not too long ago, I'd reached a point in my life when I panicked and thought: "I'm becoming my mother!" These days I'm sort of laughing and thinking: "I'm becoming my five-year-old!"

Yeah, that's right -- this gehrl Pehrl just wants to have fun...

Thursday, May 26, 2005


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Hey, someone over at nbc.com linked to my "Bloggers Anonymous Wannabe" post a short while ago, referred to by jrants.com.

Hey, who are you, nbc.com? I have a show I'd like to pitch to you. It's a show about a blog. But in reality it's about NOTHING. "Yeah, a show about nothing. It can work. We'll make it work!"

So, someone over at nbc.com, who linked to my site, when can we set up a meeting? Have your people call my people. Better yet, have your people send a comment to my blog!

Bloggers Anonymous Wannabe

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Fellow blogger Neil Fleischmann, of NY's Funniest Rabbi fame (see link in margin) posted this wonderful scenario.

I hate to admit it, but I'm supposed to be at that meeting...right now, at 12:55 a.m.

Care to join me at Bloggers Anonymous?

"Hello my name is {YOUR NAME HERE} and I'm a blogger."


"I started out slowly. Someone told me I'd like it so I got a blogspot blog. It was free. I figured why not. I posted...I thought that was it. But a few days later I went back. Then I went back the next day. Before I knew it I was posting several times a day. Then I got my first comment. I'll never forget the rush...I was hooked. I started checking regularly for comments. Commenting on other blogs... hoping they'd visit mine. Then I stopped leaving the house because I needed to blog. Then I started skipping meals...staying up all night. Then a friend told me about these meetings. At first I said I could stop whenever I wanted, that some people had blog addictions but not me. Then they turned my electricity off because I didn't pay because all I was doing was the blog. The blog became a blob... taking over my life. So I joined a friend for a meeting, just to see, not because I was ready to admit my problem. And I couldn't believe the similar stories I read. People from far away... Texas and Toronto... with stories that sounded so much like mine. Computers needed fixing, books needed editing, students needed to be taught, but they all fell to the wayside because of THE BLOG. But then I saw people getting better... through the meetings. We will always be bloggers. But there is a force bigger than ourselves, even bigger than technical support. We must give ourselves over to the program. If you're in this chat room for the first time know... there is hope. Thank you.

~ copyrighted by Rabbi Neil Fleischmann 2005 ~

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It All Comes Out in the...Comments

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When I feel that I need to laugh in the middle of the day, I just click on some of my favorite blogs. Some of these bloggers have me bursting out in laughter or silently grinning from ear to ear behind the walls of my work cubby -- oops, I mean office.

There are dynamics at work amongst these bloggers that work wonderfully together.

Do check out the blogs and comments of Treppenwitz, Jack's Shack, PsychoToddler and Doctor Bean and his gang. You will see overlaps throughout these comments and the same familiar names popping up on all of them. One would think that these folks have been pals forever, but that is not the case (except for Doctor Bean and some of his "pallies" -- and wife); they are strangers in a strange land, and have become stranger for the experience. But they're most amusing and it's a breath of fresh air.

Another set of bloggers who are newer to the scene and to my list of faves work equally well in unison/tandem. They are Air Time, Still Wonderin', Just Passin' Through and sometimes OrthoMom. Some of these folks know each other, others pretend to know each other, but they all make beautiful comments together.

Do check out these people for your cheap entertainment.

One of these days, you might even notice me commenting on a blog near you. Just ask around; my puns are better than yours. Na, na, na, na, na, na!

All Roads Lead to Here

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People, I'm brainstorming and I need help. I want to find alternatives for naming streets. So far I've come up with Place, Street, Avenue, Road, Boulevard, Crescent, Court, Gate, Way, Gardens, Circle, Lane.

Do you have any other suggestions? Think of where you live -- anything different to what I mentioned above?

Guard Your Tongue

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I've talked about "lashon harah" before in my posts and how my parents tried to drill it in us to not speak ill of someone and to watch what we say and how we say it.

This morning, I got the following mailing from www.aish.com. It is a pearl of wisdom that is not my own, but one I wish to share with you.

Their tongue is like a sharp arrow (Jeremiah 9:7).

Some people would never physically injure another person. The sight or even the thought of violence makes them cringe. They may not realize that their words can cause more damage than their fists ever could. A physical injury eventually heals and may even be forgotten, but an insulting word can penetrate to the depths of someone's being and continue to reverberate, long after a mere physical wound would have healed.

I have seen this phenomenon in my own practice. Many children are spanked by their parents. Still, with the exception of cases of severe abuse, my patients rarely, if ever, mention the spanking as a trauma. Not so with degrading words. After thirty or more years, patients will remember having been called "stupid," "rotten," or "a no-good bum." A child who was not spanked, but was instead disciplined with shame and made to feel that he or she was a disgrace, is likely to retain that feeling for decades and may harbor an attitude of shame that affects everything that he or she does.

While we are taught to refrain from striking out in anger, we are far less restrained when it comes to verbal lashings. Whether we direct them towards spouses, children, or peers, we should be aware of the impact that words can have. The verse cited above correctly describes the tongue as a sharp, penetrating arrow, which can be every bit as lethal as any physical weapon.

Some people have a wise custom. When they become angry, they clamp their lips tightly. The anger will safely dissipate and the words which could have stung for years never come out.

Today I shall ...
... try to avoid words that may be injurious to another person.

The Ultimate Dinner Party -- Revisited

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I'm not desperate for posts, but I was just reviewing some earlier ones and came across this one from March. It received no comments then. Perhaps today I have some different readers, who are in a different frame of mind, who might want to respond to the call-out...

Back in March this is what I wrote:

If you could host an intimate dinner party with 3-5 others, people from the worlds of music, politics, entertainment, history, etc., and it could be people living or now deceased, who would sit at your table, and what would you serve?

I'm not sure about menus, but I'd love to have one dinner party that hosted Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld. I'm not sure that I'd have to serve anything in fact, because I'd be too busy laughing to eat, and those guys would be too busy keeping me in stitches to care enough about eating. And Jerry? Jerry would talk about NOTHING...but that would be something.

And then I'd like to have a literary dinner party, surrounded by Elie Wiesel, Sholom Aleichem, Anne Frank and perhaps author Judy Blume. Some heady conversations, some personal recollections and some sadness would permeate the room.

And one night I'd like to host a musical-inspired dinner party with Chopin, Ella and Louis and Isaac Stern. What kind of dinner music they would provide, huh? Better make sure the piano is tuned, the violin strings are tightened and water bottles and hankies are available for the vocalists.

So, you fellow bloggers, how about sharing plans for your ultimate dinner party?


And in the next post, this is what I wrote:

Well, this evening I figured that if I threw this post's scenario/question out to a bunch of strangers, why not pose it to my family!?

My 7 1/2 year old daughter wants to entertain celebrity teens-of-the-hour Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Raven, and...get this, ALBERT EINSTEIN. She specified that she'd serve Albert "brain food", ie. sushi.

My 5 year old son wants to entertain Spiderman and several other characters from Game Cube games.

My 9 1/2 year old son wants to...just entertain us, it appears, with his dry wit and his sharp observations.

My 40-something-year-old husband wants to host Shammai and Hillel. I told him that guests like these would have to sit at opposite ends of the dinner table because they'd be in disagreement all the time. I guess hubby would have to be the buffer, the deciding factor in the "discussion/debates."

And if any of you would like to come to a bloggers' dinner party at our home, we could arrange that too...!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I Applaud All of You... or : BUTTERFLIES

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Have I ever stopped to openly thank my blog readers? No, I don't think so. Now is as good a time as any to do so. I don't have to wait for the six-month mark.

Thank you. Todah rabah. Merci. Gracias.

When a person starts a blog for whatever reason, he/she is writing in a vacuum...because that's what cyberspace really is: one, big, gaping hole. Your words are tossed out to float around, sometimes endlessly, without a true destination.

I visualize a post like a butterfly -- some are very beautiful, others ordinary, some are unique-looking. But for every butterfly that flutters around, there has to be a flower upon which it'll settle, or there has to be someone out there to catch the butterfly with a net. We send our butterflies out to the world, not always knowing if they're caught, but surprisingly thankful when they are.

"Happiness is as a butterfly, which when pursued, will fly away, but which when you sit quietly will alight upon your shoulder."

I'm very happy with my butterflies; no doubt some of you are too. I've even noticed new visitors to the butterfly garden, visitors who've linked my efforts to theirs. What a beautiful butterfly garden each one of us can cultivate on our own or as part of an ensemble.

Here's hoping many more of you catch up to my butterflies sooner or later...

Monday, May 23, 2005

It's All Relative

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I'm not going to reveal my maiden name or my married name. But I'll tell you that my maiden name is a German name, although my roots are Polish. I know several people with the same last name, although their roots are Hungarian. And then there are those with the same last name, whose roots are actually German.

My married name is a Hebrew name and my husband likes to joke and say that the name was shortened from ____ovitch -- he was born Ashkenazi, but they shortened the last name and he became Sefardic. I will say that through marriage I share the same family name as some big Hollywood producer. Are we related through marriage? Don't know, but if he has a job for me as a writer or even as a studio gofer, then yeah, okay, we're related...

Are you like me? If you travel, or even if you don't travel but just check out phone numbers online, do you look for your own name in a foreign phone book? Don't know what attracts someone to do that, but I do know it is a common curious habit of people. Perhaps it's just natural curiosity, perhaps it's somewhat of a power trip to know that there are more of you in the world.

In the same respect, a few years ago someone told me that she GOOGLEd my name; at the time, I wasn't as Internet literate as I am today, especially because I was an ASK JEEVES junkie. I had no clue what GOOGLE was or what she'd meant when she said she'd GOOGLEd me. When she explained that she inputted my name and saw items that came up, I had to see for myself. Wow, I was famous. I was actually listed and some genealogical correspondence I'd had with someone was linked to the listing, as were reader tips I'd sent in to a magazine, as was a contest suggestion.

Over time, my egotistical self learned to GOOGLE combinations of my name; name and maiden name; name and married name; name and maiden name + married name; name of my blog. Suddenly I'm "computer famous," I realize. I'm listed under all those name combinations.

So I figure that I soon I won't be checking my name out in phone books any longer. GOOGLE meets my needs just fine...for now. One day, perhaps, I can work my way into a Who's Who In... book. But how will I list my name for that entry: given and maiden name; given and maiden and married name; or given and married name?

Guess it's all relative...

A Whole New World

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I can show you the world
shining shimmering splendid
Tell me princess now when did you last let your heart decide?
I can open your eyes
Take you wonder by wonder
Over sideways and under
On a magic carpet ride.

A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no
Or where to go
Or say we're only dreaming
A whole new world
A dazzing place
I never knew
But now from way up here
It's crystal clear
That now I'm in a
whole new world with you.
Unbelievable sights
Indescribable feeling
Soaring tumbling free wheeling
Through an endless diamond sky.

A whole new world
A hundred thousand things to see
I'm like a shooting star
I've come so far
I can't go back
to where I used to be.
A whole new world
With new horizons to pursue
I'll chase them anywhere
There's time to spare
Let me share this whole new world with you.
A whole new world
That's where we'll be
A thrilling chase
A wondrous place
For you and me.

When I married, "A Whole New World," the theme song from the movie Aladdin was to be "our" song. Because I had a mixed crowd at my wedding, we were only going to have mixed dancing after the meal and after bensching when a lot of people disappear.

When we spoke to the bandleader, we told him that he could not have a female singer, and so he told us that he wasn't certain our choice song would work. So he asked for any other songs we might want.

The wedding was beautiful and very "leibedik" with LOTS of shtick being performed for hubby and I. And the speeches were very nice -- of course, I felt the need to speak and used lots of publishing and book analogies to describe my husband and our "courtship."

The evening was nearing its end, the eating and bensching had been done...and it was time for our song....

Well, turns out our song was not to be and second choice won out: "It Had To Be You."

Well, eleven and a half years later, it still is "him" and every day of our marriage is "a whole new world."


Everyone has a fantasy world of their own. My fantasy world includes a lot of singing. In my world, my wedding would have seen me at a piano in the middle of the dance floor, spotlight on me and me playing and singing -- serenading, really -- to my husband Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." The lyrics are beautiful, the music is beautiful.
Oh, well, some fantasies are better left as fantasies...

Saturday, May 21, 2005

More than Words

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I work for a publishing company that is rather big on philanthropy: medical causes, educational causes, women's causes, among others. Two years ago they began a program in which our readers/ our authors submit nominations of people who are working on behalf of a cause or have started a foundation, etc. A company panel reads the letters and chooses five winners. Each winner receives $10,000 U.S. on behalf of their charity/cause and then our company has one of our better-known writers write a story, a fictionalized depiction of the person and their cause. The five stories are then published in an anthology and sold.


Yesterday, we had a company meeting; one of this year's recipients was there to talk about her cause -- Melissa's Living Legacy Foundation.


Her daughter, Melissa, who died of cancer a few years back was the inspiration for her starting a cause. This group tries to raise funds to help teens living with cancer. They recently started a web site that attracts countless teens who are looking for medical information, for support systems, for new friends.

What is astounding to learn is that teens are sort of the forgotten population when it comes to being treated for cancer. They are usually treated in pediatric hospitals or in adult hospitals. But they are neither children nor adults--their needs are different than the other two categories, and as many of them are undergoing major life/hormonal changes, it is a truly difficult time to be diagnosed or treated for cancer.

I listened to this mother, thought about her living hell with a sick daughter and the subsequent hell that has become her life since her daughter passed away. But I also thought of the good that she has done since her daughter's passing.

Yesterday morning I had a massive headache when I woke up; to sit in the audience and listen to this mother and try to hold back the tears that wanted to plummet down (yes, I meant to use that verb) my cheeks built up the pressure in my head and made my headache worse. But I knew that my headache pain was only temporary. Melissa's mother's pain is not.


I sat there and thought about young people I knew, whom I went to high school with who were stricken with cancer and didn't make it. And I thought about young people I didn't know, but knew about, who also succumbed to their cancers.

Ariel Chaim Avrech was one of those young people. He is the reason that I will be going to California -- I will be attending the second annual Ariel Chaim Avrech Yahrzeit lecture.

And from what I've learned about Ariel, I know that he left behind a living legacy of "More than Words."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I've Got That Holiday Feeling

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My brain has gone on vacation -- WITHOUT MY BODY!

I'm still in Toronto, but my head is in California, specifically Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

What's it doin' there, you ask?

I guess it's casin' the joint, checking things out until my body can join it in a few weeks' time.

It's MAPQUESTing and GOOGLEing and doing that kind of research stuff, just so when I get there, my body will know what to do and where to go.

My brain already knows who I'm going to meet when I'm in LA-LA Land: at least three fellow bloggers, and perhaps some commenters, too. My brain isn't quite sure, though, what to do now that it has that information. Right now my brain is telling me I should be excited about these face-to-face encounters...and I am. I will be meeting people with whom I exchange playful banter, heartfelt emotions and serious thoughts. Hopefully they will see that I am the same in person as I am on a computer screen. Will I give them any reason to think any less of me when the words I speak are not tapped away on a keyboard, but come from my mouth? I can't make a comment and then hit a DELETE key; everything I say -- and do -- will be the equivalent of the PUBLISH key.

Hey, I think my brain is visiting Hollywood Boulevard as I'm typing this. It already checked out West Pico. Hey, brain, wait for me....

I'll let you people know when my body has arrived to meet my brain.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Long Ago, and Oh So Far Away...

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Nostalgia time (aka blog filler time)!

When I was a young kid I watched some good shows, and even better movies.

My earliest 1960s TV memories, aside from the variety TV shows the Lawrence Welk Show, the Ed Sullivan Show (family nights for both of them), Wonderful World of Disney, the Red Skelton Show, the Jackie Gleason Show were the sitcoms The Mothers-in-Law; the Phyllis Diller Show. I was pretty young when they were around, but remember them.

As for my memories of early movies, I loved Ma and Pa Kettle films, the Marx Brothers movies, Bob Hope ("Going Down the Road") movies, Westerns, Disney movies, Shirley Temple movies, Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies.("C'mon gang, let's go put on a musical!") The list goes on, the memories go on...and life goes on.

Tell me what early TV/movie memories you have.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Something's Fishy

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I've read blogs that have shared recipes, so I'm going to share one here. I guarantee that you bloggers who try it or pass it on to your wives to make will be surprised by how easy and tasty a recipe this is.

Take one store-bought, freezer section's gefilte fish loaf, and let it thaw enough so that you can slice it. Once sliced, dunk slices one at a time in matzoh meal or bread crumbs so that complete slice is covered. (sometimes I have to give slices a light and quick rinse under water before placing it in the crumbs, so that crumbs stick). Then slowly pan-fry with little or no oil till side is browned; turn over and repeat.

Serve warm or cold.

Children may not eat gefilte fish, but they certainly eat these gefilte fish patties. Can be eaten with horseradish, ketchup, mayonnaise or nothing. I like topping my slices with babaganoush!

Be'teavon. Enjoy. The hostess will no doubt be fishin' for compliments when all is said and done -- I mean EATEN.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fade to "Twilight Zone" Music

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Someone up there is trying to tell me something...in a most subtle way. I think it's time to stop being on the Internet so much, reading others' blogs, writing my own, and commenting on blogs when moved to do so.

For the past fifteen minutes, I was scanning down the list of favorite blogs I've marked via shortcuts on my home computer. Funnily enough, I could access everyone else's, but not my own! As many times as I tried, I was met with a blank screen.

I finally managed to get in through the Blogger site and felt the need to record this Twilight Zone event.

Okay....everyone all together now; follow the bouncing ball: "Doodoo doo doo, doodoo doo doo..." ("Twilight Zone" theme song; if you don't understand the "bouncing ball" reference, then that's pretty sad, too. Just think pre-Karaoke days...)


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I am not much of a film-goer, and if I do see a film, generally it's a family film. Yes, I love animation and computer graphics and usually think the work is brilliant and so realistic. I have no shame in admitting even kids' movie soundtracks can have me crying, and trying to hide the tears from my kids and hubby as soon as the theater house lights come up.

Recently we rented two DVD's -- one for family/kids' entertainment and one for grown-up entertainment (I figured "adult entertainment" doesn't sound so nice.) The family film was Shark Tale http://www.sharktale.com/ -- we all enjoyed it, although there were no real laugh-out-loud moments for anyone. I, however, laughed when my five-year-old asked me in the middle of the film, "Where's Nemo?" Guess he's seen one animated film too many!

I am fascinated by the graphics animation and the myriad details that go into making a film such as this. The characterization and physical traits of the voice-over actors (Robert De Niro, Martin Scorcese, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie for examples) are so closely linked, I can't help but smile inwardly as I think how the many fine nuances of these actors have been captured on-screen for the audience. Of course, children wouldn't recognize this, but we adults do, and are most appreciative of what we're viewing.

Many of these children's animated films are truly grown-up films -- the jokes, the innuendos, the references are tangible for us, if not for children. But they are seeking their own reasons for considering it a good film. Shark Tale passed the test for this family, young and old(er)!

Once the kids were in their beds for the night, hubby and I had tuned in to the second feature, Sideways. My husband had already seen the film at the theater with a male friend several months earlier, but wanted to rent it for me to watch. Am I ever glad he did!

Although slow-moving, it was a brilliant film -- in its casting, in its story line, in its setting, in its photography, in its characterization, in its story within a story, along with the insights to fine wines: wine-tasting, bouquets, clarity, flavor, aging, etc.

Perhaps had I seen the film in a theater, I might have found it more slow-moving, but in the comfort of our family room, with the chance to lounge on the sofa, I found it satisfying, and what I call to be "a thinking man's movie." There's a lot of introspection being done by one of the main characters, and although it's not him who is supposed to be taking a metaphorical journey before marriage, but just leading the way, he also becomes a passenger as he explores his past, present and future relationships and examines himself and his qualities against those of other characters.

This film is quirky and simple and was just right for my husband and I to enjoy -- it's not often that we're both agreeable on viewing a film. I'm pleased that Sideways was one film that we could agree on!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

If I Could Be... (tagged by Life-of-Rubin)

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I have to choose five of the starters below and tag three more people, so here goes nothing:

If I could be a scientist...If I could be a farmer...If I could be a musician...If I could be a doctor...If I could be a painter...If I could be a gardener...If I could be a missionary...If I could be a chef...If I could be an architect...If I could be a linguist...If I could be a psychologist...If I could be a librarian...If I could be an athlete...If I could be a lawyer...If I could be an inn-keeper...If I could be a professor...If I could be a writer...If I could be a llama-rider...If I could be a bonnie pirate...If I could be an astronaut...If I could be a world famous blogger...If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...If I could be married to any current famous political figure... If I could be a rabbi...

1. If I could be an architect I'd design myself a modern-looking home featuring lots of glass, stone and wood. It would be built on a pyramid-like design, each level backing into a forest setting. Lots of windows, lots of natural rock, and wood decks bordering all sides of the house.

2. If I could be a gardener I would have a greenhouse used specifically for therapeutic purposes. I would have shut-ins, seniors, physically and mentally challenged children and adults come and learn how to maintain flowers and plants and watch the fruits of their labor thrive.

3. If I could be an inn-keeper I'd maintain an exclusive Kosher bed-and-breakfast in the Hamptons, or in the Berkshires, or in the Swiss Alps, and cater to a finer clientele who appreciate the accomodations and the "haimesche" atmosphere.

4. If I could be a painter I'd probably work in watercolors and create scenes by the Seine, or tranquil landscapes of meadows and forests or serene, beatific portraits of innocence, ie. babies and young children.

5. If I could be a writer I'd write countless children's picture books and humorous personal essays and incessant blogs that would grab each and every reader's interest.

I will now pass the baton to Rabbi Neil Fleischmann, Rochelle Krich and Mirty. (Hope they're each okay with this honor!)

I Can Name That Post...in Five Words or More

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Admit it, folks. Many of you are like me. You take time to think of a catchy title for each and every post of yours. It's not a science; it's an art.

Each one of us has suddenly become a copywriter; we are looking to brand ourselves and our product -- in my case, Pearlies of Wisdom -- and we are looking to attract new interest or maintain any interest in what we have to say -- in this case, readers and commenters.

And so many of us are witty or punny or blunt or crass in how we name our post-of-the-day. Surprisingly, doing so attracts people. But read on in the post and you might be surprised that it has NOTHING to do with what the title inferred. A play on words can be a great snare!

For example, my post before this one is named "Rabbi Witty"--I know of more than one Rabbi Witty in Toronto. If one of their family members just happens to read that header, they might think I'm writing about the patriarchs of the families. But read on in the post, and it's not so.

I chose early on to have my posts linked to JRants.com. Whenever I have a new offering, it's listed on there. The title of my post might intrigue someone enough to link to my blog, and so I might have gained a new, if just even a one-time reader.

I enjoy giving my posts eye-catching titles, and I equally enjoy reading eye-catching titles on other posts.

After all, you rarely, if ever, get a second chance to make a first impression...

"Rabbi Witty"

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I've recently happened on to this blog, NY's Funniest Rabbi.

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann is funny; he's sharp; he's an intellect; and he writes poetry. What more can an audience -- or a congregation -- ask for?

Read and enjoy.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The J*A*P Chronicles

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I like the notion of this book that is being released next week. I look forward to reading it if I can get my hands on a copy.

I know JAPS. I went to school with them. In our high school yearbook graduation forms, some of these same females wrote under "DISLIKES: JAPS."

Someone should have bought these girls mirrors -- oops, I guess they did. Vanity mirrors.

These same females are now hanging out at the mall, at the gym, at the local cafes.

I'm not.

Okay, and a One...and a Two...and a Three

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Yes, people, I'm back -- for the third time -- with an excerpt from a published book. Care to share? You know how it's done; someone adds to the original excerpt, and subsequent (hopefully there will be some!) contributors add to the person before them. Have fun. Here goes...

The thought of Mom being upset and guilt-ridden was an interesting reversal. I have to admit, it was strangely liberating.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Freudian Slip(covers)

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Some years ago at my job, I was editing a Christmas story called "I Heard the Rabbits Singing."

I was supposed to note the title at the start of each chapter, and more than halfway into the manuscript, I noticed what in fact I'd been writing:

"I Heard the Rabbis Singing."

Some Christmas story that would've made, huh?

Could I Please Have Your John Hancock?

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When I was young(er), I used to like to sign my name everywhere, practicing it in flowery script with hearts and flowers, or very jagged script or printing. In a sense, I was having autograph sessions for myself, checking out my handwriting from all different angles and styles.

As I got older, of course my handwriting evolved, as did my personality. And it seems as if my handwriting reflected those changes, as well. It was okay to have flare, and not take as much care with each letter, each rounded shape -- my handwriting became a combination of cursive and print. My handwriting took liberties in how it presented itself.

When I was at the dating stage, I used to practice writing my name along with my male interest of the moment. I was playing, and it was all a game. But when I met my husband-to-be, it felt better than a game, it felt like real-life. And so I practiced writing my name, together with my maiden name, together with my now-husband's last name. Then I'd practice writing my first name with just his last name. And then I practiced writing Mr. and Mrs. ______ & Pearl _______.

And I discovered that practice makes perfect!

I'm hoping that theory applies to my future/intended "career" as a published author. I've practiced writing "autographs" for people who will have bought my children's book, Dance Me a Dance...Please
From the time that I wrote the manuscript and had it accepted for publication, I already wrote a dedication for the book and found myself a phrase to use in autographing copies at readings and children's book festivals.

And since I don't think I'll have a reason to put that phrase to use anytime soon on a title page, I'll share it with you folks: ...Dream a little dream yourself... Best wishes, Pearl _____.


I'd like to know if any of you readers, male or female, have practiced the art of signing your name, as I have -- writing down your name along with that of a member of the opposite sex, someone whom you hoped to share your life with. Writing your name to practice how it would look on an important document or check. Writing a sample "autograph" to hypothetical fans.

And to those actual authors out there whom I know do read this blog, please share your thoughts, too. Did you ever practice your signature or autographed message before actually being able to put it to good use?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

James Brown in the Yichud Room (knew that would grab your attention!)

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I drove home from work today the way I always drive -- one hand on the wheel, one hand on the radio tuner. I'm a notorious "tuner"/"channel changer"! I'll listen through a song or oftentimes just a few bars, and then I'm surfing the airwaves yet again. When I actually examine my habits, I realize that if the dial is set to a classical radio station, I'll keep it there for a longer time.

But any music I listen to grabs me...if only for a little while.

Today a James Brown song, "Papa's Got a Brand-New Bag," came on, and of course I had to listen to the whole song. Although James Brown is a caricature-like person to look at, his music is uplifting in its own way. His screaming voice, his grunts, the keyboards and drums in the background grab a great beat and stick to it. The music reminds me of days gone by, different clothing styles, different lingo, different world mentality.

As I listened to James's song, I couldn't help but have a flashback to my wedding day. Specifically following the chupah. Specifically in the yichud room.

Now I'm not sure what generally goes on in a yichud room between new husband and wife, and I've never bothered to consult with other newly-marrieds to take a poll. But I know how this newly-married at the time spent her time in the room.

Of course, my husband and I had both fasted that day, and it was probably after 7:00 p.m. by the time the chupah was over and we had our private time. I remember there being trays of hors d'oeuvres laid out for us, as well as drinks, but I wasn't hungry, even after the fasting. I was EXCITED, ELATED, ECSTATIC, ENTHUSIASTIC; I was someone wife, someone's daughter-in-law.

And what did I do to display my newfound energy? I kicked off my heeled shoes, picked up the hem of my beautiful wedding gown, started to dance and sing..."I Feel Good," one of James Brown's more famous tunes. It defined the moment, defined how I was feeling, defined my energy level.

Life was good. The night was young -- and I was married!

Roll Call

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Time: 9:00 p.m.

Setting: N's bedroom

Announcer: Okay...so is everybody here?

Paddington Bear? "Here."
Brown Bear? "Here."
Clown Bear? "Here."
Mommy & Baby Bear? "Here, here."
Barney #1? "Here."
Barney #2? "Here."
Charmander? "Yup."
Moo-Cow, aka Cowie Mandell? "Here."
Gooberlee, formerly known as Dogless? "Right here."
Goldie? "Here."
Squeezer? "Here I am!"
Senor Toucan? "Si, senor, I ees here."
Whaley? "Here."
Crabby? "Here."
Kuni, aka Kuni Lemel? "Ani poh, I think."
Giraffa #1? "Poh."
Giraffa #2? "Poh."
Puppets? "Hey, give us a hand -- we're here."
Blankie, aka Shmatta Blankie? "Here."
Cowboy Blankie? "Ya, pardner, I'm gosh darn it here!"
Clown Blankie? "You're silly. Of course I'm here."

Announcer: Wait! Where's the kid?

Murmuring is heard. We wouldn't be here if not for the kid. Where's the kid?

Kid runs in breathless. "Sorry, I had to pee."

Announcer: This sleep session will now come to order.

Monday, May 09, 2005

What's on the Menu at the Blogeteria

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Every now and again, I like to remind my MANY or few readers about some of the blogs I check out rather regularly. Of course, these blogs reflect my personal taste, but may I at least interest you in checking out what's on at the blogeteria?

For starters, every day (except Shabbos and Yom Tov) I check out A Simple Jew http://asimplejew.blogspot.com. Doing so gives me a boost of Jewish insight, never complicated, just simple and understandable. Doesn't hurt when some personal children's antics are described, as well.

I check out "Live...from Israel, it's David Bogner's Treppenwitz http://bogieworks.blogs.com/treppenwitz. This witty and wise fellow's blog dabbles in Israeli lifestyle/Israeli politics/Israeli-American families...and Israeli-American DOGS.

I seek out Milwaukee-based rock'n'roll doctor, aka PsychoToddler http://www.psychotoddler.blogspot.com. I like reading his remedies for life and for his children's nasty habits. The good doctor has managed to attract a couple of spinoffs. Check out Mrs. Balabusta,http://mrsbalabusta.blogspot.com/ -- and another kindred and witty POV in Laya's Place, http://layasplace.blogspot.com/.

I've visited with newfound friends over in California at some coffeehouse -- the donuts are stale, the coffee never arrives hot, but the posts truly make up for it. Send the restaurant reviewers over to Kerckhoff Coffeehouse at http://kerckhoff.blogspot.com/

I get a great kick out of reading Yettabettaboo. She's very funny, even if she doesn't mean to be, but her straightforwardness and at times her insecurity (not to mention a great husband) remind me of me. She is very entertaining. Check her out http://yettabettaboo.blogspot.com/

Life-of-Rubin http://life-of-rubin.blogspot.com/ reminds me of someone who is throwing darts one after another to hit his target. So often does he get a bulls-eye. After all, he is posting constantly throughout each day, picking and choosing his topics rather well, even if people don't comment. I comment from a distance!

Mirty Gets Married http://mirty12.blogspot.com/is the journal of a fairly recently married woman who's become a stepmom to two teens and has taken a winding life's journey in religious observance.

I also sample heavily from these most creative writers who grab my reading attention and very often tug hard at my heartstrings.
Five Years Later http://fiveyearslater.blogspot.com/
Seraphic Secret http://www.seraphicpress.com/
NY's Funniest Rabbi http://rabbifleischmann.blogspot.com/
Ink as Rain http://inkasrain.blogspot.com/
News, Views and Shmooze http://rochellekrich.typepad.com/rochelle_krich/
A Window into Ours http://jwindow.blogspot.com/
and Jack's Shack http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/.

Of course, I snack on other menu items throughout the day, but these are most often my main courses. I have since discovered some great junk food items at the blogeteria and hope to give you that list at some future time.

In the meantime, happy eating, and hope you digest everything real well. (if not, the antacids are on the top shelf of the master bathroom medicine cabinet)

Shall We Try This Again...?

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Thank you for those who posted "additions" to the excerpt taken from a published book. Here is another excerpt. But this time, don't add to it -- except for the first person who starts this off. Check the comments section and continue the story from the preceeding person's comment/addition.

Here is the excerpt:

I stop short in the doorway to my cube. A white envelope is propped on my keyboard. My name is scrawled on it in black Sharpie. My hands are shaking as I tear the envelope open.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Hats Off to E.E. Cummings

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A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.
This may sound easy. It isn't.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel -- but what's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling -- not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel.
Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people; but the moment you feel, you're NOBODY-BUT-YOURSELF.

***Back in December 1979, I copied this into a journal of mine. It held a lot of truth for me then; it holds a lot of truth for me today.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Happy Mother's Day ( a few minutes early!)

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Mother. Eema. Madre. Mutter. Mama. Mom. Ma.

No matter how you say it, it should mean the same in all languages: Life. Birth. Love. Generosity. Wisdom. Love. Guidance. Benevolence. Love. Nurture. Honesty. Communication. Love.

Here's hoping that it does.

To all of you out there, think of the past, the present and the future.

Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Doing It...WRITE

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I'm going to try something here. Perhaps I will have no takers, perhaps I will. But I foresee that if I indeed have takers, this could turn into something fun. Chaim, "M" and others who like writing, you've got to pay attention!

I'm going to write a line that appeared in a published book and I want you to continue writing, add a couple lines, or a couple paragraphs to it, and let's see where it takes us.

My line deals with Jews, mothers and food. Nowhere can you go wrong with that!

After fast-forwarding through the rest of the messages, all from my mother, I glanced down at the cake to discover I'd somehow eaten half of it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Honk If You Need...a Carpool!

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Today is May 5; my children's day school is over around June 23; the new school year starts after Labour Day, around September 5, I believe.

And this evening I received a phone message from a woman, a stranger to me, whose child was going to enter my children's day school come September, was to be in the same grade as my oldest child, and who lived quite nearby. She was looking for a carpool for her child, and had received class lists for kids currently in the same grade as her son.

She is rightfully planning ahead for September; I can't even plan for two days from now! But maybe I should take the bull by the horns and declare, "Great, fine. Sure we'd love to carpool. We'll pick up your one child and will bring him in the mornings, and you pick up and take mine home in the afternoon -- just make sure to pick up all three kids, but remember they get out at different times, get out at different areas in the school, the youngest isn't to leave the building without a guardian or sibling; on Thursdays A has choir; on Wednesdays, A has chess. On Wednesday and Thursday, the kids stay at school till 5:00. Make sure they take all their homework with them, make sure they have their knapsacks and lunch bags with them when they get into your van; make sure they don't leave them in the van; make sure A and N don't sit together--they'll fight like cats and dogs; oh, nobody's around when you should drop them off, so could you take all three kids back to your place for a half hour till we're in the neighborhood. Give them a small snack, help them start their homework and keep them occupied till one of us manages to get there and pick them up. Does that sound good for you, too?"

"Um, hello? He...l....l.....o....? Oh, well, I guess she didn't need a carpool that badly."

It's a Beautiful Day, Don't Let It Slip Away

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Not every day granted to us is a beautiful day. Yes, we thank G-d in the morning when we wake up from sleep, and when our bodies can function correctly, and when we meet daily requirements with ease. But some people are not as fortunate. Some people suffer. Some people do not see the beauty for the suffering, while others see the beauty in spite of the suffering.

This morning I had a follow-up medical appointment with a specialist, whom I have to visit every six months for a not-so-serious reason now, but which one day might turn on me. And as I stepped out of the hospital, knowing that all was well and I wouldn't have to see him for another six months, I looked at the blue sky and the brilliant sunshine, I looked at the people bustling past on the avenue, I looked inward and mentally sang the U2 lyrics "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away."

A week ago today, I also stepped out of a hospital, a different one. And although it was rather cold outside, bleary and gray, I knew that it was a beautiful day. We were bringing someone home from the hospital, a close family member who, hours earlier, had to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital for severe reasons. Lying on a gurney in a transitional emergency department "room", hooked up to monitors and IVs, not knowing if you're coming or going, having X-rays taken, CT scans taken, needles probing does not make for a beautiful day.

But coming home sure does.

Let's Shake On It

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I'm a child of Eastern and Western European parents. Being that, shaking hands is a big part of the European culture, a way to forge temporary bonds with people, in greeting or in parting. It wasn't until I was in my late teens, though, that I truly took the hand shaking habit on.

And it worked for quite a while, but every now and again, I was reminded by circumstance that shaking hands was a no-no. I have a first cousin in the U.S. whose wife I could hug and embrace warmly whenever we reunited, but I could not direct the same actions to him for religious reasons. I'd stand awkwardly, not being able to extend a hand or even touch his shoulder in acknowledgment. Running through my head was always the refrain, "Never the twain shall meet."

The practice of shomer negiah is a friend to many, a stranger to others. I'm a "shomeret," a person who watches how she comes into contact with people, but does not refrain necessarily from shaking hands. I've learned to know to whom a hand may be extended, and to whom it cannot. I will always shake a hand if it is offered to me, but will think twice about initially offering my own. My biggest lesson in this area happened when I was nearing the end of my University of Toronto days.

I'd been campus/Hillel friends with a MO guy whom I'll refer here to as Danny. I recall Danny and I showed up once to help decorate the Hillel sukkah. We were the only ones volunteering for the fun and creative task, so we made it fun for ourselves, and just enjoyed the spirit of the afternoon as we put our own touches on the decorations. He poked my shoulder, I poked his (I have a tendency to do that when I'm being emphatic; think along the lines of Seinfeld's Elaine character, when she pushes people as she declares in disbelief: "Get out!" That's me to a much lesser degree.), and there was just this fun, flirtatious spirit in the air. But that's all it was. And whenever Danny and I would see each other at the Hillel house or on campus, we'd wave, chat a bit and continue on our paths.

Some time passed; I think it was already the next school year, and I saw Danny after a long lapse of time. I immediately moved to shake his hand in greeting and he quickly put both hands behind his back, as if he were playing a hiding game, placing something quickly out of sight. I automatically did the same with my hands in an reactive, impulsive way. There had been no "Sorry, I no longer shake hands with women," no "I'm now shomer negiah." It was just that he had to get his hands out of the way as fast as he could. I was so embarrassed by the situation, knowing I'd embarrassed him and myself in the moment. But that moment has stuck out in my head all these years, and it still makes me rather uneasy. Here was a guy who'd teased me and poked me in the arm just several months earlier, and suddenly doing so was off-limits. The off-limits part was fine by me, but an explanation, similar to a small-print warning sign on a product, would have been nice, too.

I've consulted with several Orthodox people about this uneasy memory of mine, and most of them said that to avoid embarrassing me, since I'd already put out my hand, Danny should have shaken it, then maybe launched into an explanation. I can't help but see in my mind that "quick-draw action" of his hands as he pulled them out of sight, away from my offered handshake.

Yes, I understand the halachot of and the reasons for shomer negiah, and I respect one's observance of it, so now that we've come to an understanding, can we please shake on it?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Just the Facts, Kid. Just the Facts!

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My precocious, lovable daughter, A, is seven going on seventeen. If you think I'm verbose, you haven't yet met her. She talks a mile a minute, barely taking a breath, and I'm forever hiring a United Nations interpreter to translate her words into plain English. She is a lot like I was as a kid, but she's sociable and I was shy. I, however, also talked my mother's ear off, and came in every morning to tell her in great detail what my dreams were all about the night before. The difference between my daughter and I is that I think she makes up the dream descriptions as she goes along!

In any case, she, too, is very detail oriented. And aside from it being most evident in her conversations, it's very evident in her writing, as well.

Remember when you were in school, Jewish day school or otherwise, and you went back after summer vacation or spring vacation, and had to write the expected piece: "What I Did On My Holiday" -- she does it, too. She did it after summer break, did it after Chanukah break, did it after mid-winter break and now had to write what she did on her two-week Pesach vacation. She has a journal in her English studies, and after school breaks or after school trips, or around Jewish holidays, she is supposed to write in her journal and accompany her entry with drawings.

Yesterday I asked A if I could look at what she'd written in her journal about her Pesach holidays. She gave me permission, and before I began to read the particular assigned entry, I looked back at a couple of earlier entries. I was pleased when the teacher commented on one: "Are you going to be a writer like your mom?"

I then turned to read the Pesach entry. It was pretty much a play-by-play listing of the first days of the chag and who was at the seders we attended and hosted, and who she played with and what she played (Trivial Pursuit for Kids -- I recommend it highly. It's meant for age eight and up, but even my five-year-old can get answers right. It is multiple-choice answers)when it wasn't the seders. And which cousins and friends got to sleep over. And her closing sentence for the entry was: "And on Monday at 2:00 a.m. I barfed."

The hysterical laughter just erupted from me. She definitely had ended her piece on an "upbeat" note, in her matter-of-fact way. Yup, yup, yup, that's my daughter, folks. Giving her all to tell a story, and as Walter Cronkite would have said, "And that's the way it was!"

Dance Me a Dance...Please

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So, you wish to read on in the children's book saga, do you? Here's my "story":

Back in June 2001, en route home from work, while driving, (just clarifying so you won't think I was on public transit) I was singing "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," the all-time classic from Fiddler on the Roof. I was singing some of the original lyrics and then making up others, ie. "find me a find, make a make, bake me a cake, DANCE ME A DANCE..." That last bit stuck in my head, and I recalled when I was young and going to a couple of weddings or bar mitzvahs with my family, where the dancing was mixed and acceptable by us (we were Conservadox). I loved watching my parents dance together and then joining in between them to make the waltz a threesome. So that image, together with "DANCE ME A DANCE" stuck in my brain, and swirled around relentlessly. I quickly pulled out paper and pen, and at the red lights, wrote down some thoughts, and within twenty minutes, I had written the basic manuscript for a children's picture book. Of course, I went home and immediately polished the writing, smoothing out any rough edges. But basically, here I had a short manuscript, written in twenty minutes.

I decided to forward it with a cover letter to Canadian children's book publisher #1. Several weeks later I received the rejection form letter. On to Canadian publisher #2; again a rejection form letter. And then I showed it to someone at work, who'd interned at a Montreal-based publisher, and she suggested I send it there...and gave me a name of an editor.

After checking out the publisher's Web site (Lobster Press, a nice name for a Kashrut-observing person to send her manuscript to!), I forwarded a very nice letter to that particular editor and asked if I could forward the manuscript, which I'd described to her. I got a green light, and said manuscript was out of my hands.

This was at the start of September 2001, and she gave me such complimentary feedback about her first impressions of the manuscript:

Hello Pearl

Yes, I received your file and read it. Quickly, my first impression was that Dance Me a Dance Please is quite artful, capturing many of the elements that are necessary for a good children's story. The tone is also very good.

There are some problems on a minor level, easily changed during the editing process if this story were to be published, for example, one of the transition points contains an inconsistency, where the child feels like moving, but then her mother moves instead. Also, I don't think it's necessary, neither instructive nor poetic, to include the place in each beginning line (the living room, the garden), as the place will be evident in the illustration.

As for illustrations, this story lends itself beautifully to them.

So I'll see if we have a place for it. The chance is a slim one for a few reasons: until the Canadian publishing industry pulls out of the current crisis, we can only publish a few picture books per year; other editors may have other mss. they feel are excellent and want to fight for; our marketing people may not think the age you're targeting is a good one at the moment; and possible other reasons I can't think of at the moment.

But I'll let you know. Please give me some time, like several weeks.

And then October 16 came, along with this message:

Hi Pearl

Has more than several weeks passed? I've lost track of time.

The good news is that AF, Lobster's publisher, wants to publish your story, Dance Me a Dance, Please. But she's not sure for when exactly, either Spring 2003 or Fall 2003. I'm hoping the lineups will be nailed down by the New Year, which will set everyone's mind at ease. Then contracts go out and away we go.

I would be the lucky editor to work with you (I like the story very much).

I was elated! Only had to send my book to three publishers and it was already accepted for publication, with a release date. I was in my 40th year and I felt I'd accomplished something BIG, something personal, with this milestone birthday. (husband, children, house, degree, family and friends aside)

And so the waiting game began... I work in publishing and understand many aspects of the industry but nothing of contracts, as I don't work in that area. So I contacted the publisher about seven weeks later when I hadn't heard back, after I'd sent on my contact information as requested. Here is part of the letter I received back from a manuscript coordinator:

It is certainly understandable that you would like to have an update on the status of your manuscript and obtain a definite confirmation as to our scheduling decision. Please be assured that we did not forget about you! What I can say for now, as J has mentioned as well, is that your manuscript has been placed on our Fall 2003 lineup. I would like to add, however, that we are obliged to wait before we contact the authors and illustrators because lineups often change for numerous reasons thus affecting contract and productions details too.

This is an ever-changing business, as I am sure you will agree. We are constantly trying to work out the best lineup so that we can align it with the best marketing strategies possible. From prior experience, we believe that the most efficient way to proceed would be to contact you immediately after a definite final decision has been made by our Publisher. I can then send you your contracts, give you additional details as to deadlines, and offer my help in any way possible.

We really do look forward to working with you, and sincerely regret this delay. I will contact you right after a final decision has been made, most likely in a few weeks.

Nothing more until late February 2002, when I was asked to resend an e-file of my picture book manuscript. In the meantime, people were asking me about my contract (I was asking MYSELF about a contract), when the book would be released, who my editor would be...and I truly had no answers. Impatience and frustration were eating away at me.

And then, in July 2002, I received this message:

Hello Pearl,

Our Publisher has asked me to contact you with regards to your manuscript, Dance me a dance. We must unfortunately advise you that we have had to cancel the production of this book due to a decision that was recently made to reduce the number of picture books. The reason being, is because they are so expensive to produce and they are very difficult to sell. We are focusing now on novels, chapters books, and non-fiction.

We understand how disappointing this must be for a writer, but hope you understand our position. This is not a reflection on your story, but a question of finance. Should you have any materials in the above categories, we would be happy to review them.

We wish you all the best of success in your future endeavors and wish to thank you for allowing us to review your work.

Can you imagine how I felt?! I could only liken it to a girl being so excited to be asked by a boy to the prom and then some time before the prom, the boy comes back and says, "I can't take you to the prom, after all....it's not you, it's me...."

Accepted. Rejected. Dejected. Those three words well describe how deflated I felt. But when I wrote a final note to the editor (the rejection came from the company's manuscript coordinator), she had this to say:

First I've heard of this, and I'm very sorry. In my mind's eye I can see your book as clear as day (the illustrations, the flow) and it's a delight. I must write to G to find out what the reasons are. Sounds like Lobster isn't going to do picture books anymore. Wish they'd told me!

Good luck in the future. Keep submitting, again and again and again. And then some more. It's the only way.

It actually turned out that Lobster Press had run into some major (read: BANKRUPTCY) financial woes and came back with a restructure plan...which didn't include my book.

Yes, over the past couple years, I have sent it elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. for publishers to consider. Although many times I get very positive feedback, with a personal note saying that it's not what they're looking for, I also get more form rejection letters.

Writing is usually time-consuming. (even if it only took twenty minutes to write this particular book)Preparing the manuscript to "shop around" to publishers is most time-consuming, too. Waiting for positive or negative responses is VERY TIME-CONSUMING. I can wait five months to get a "No thank you" from a publisher, and at the same time, publishers don't appreciate simultaneous submissions, so honest little me sends the manuscript to one publisher at a time and waits to hear back before I send if off elsewhere.

I've taken a lengthy hiatus from sending out that manuscript, and other picture book manuscripts I've written. Yes, I've learned to live with the rejection, but it's just that nobody seems to want to "DANCE ME A DANCE...PLEASE."

Hey, Madonna/Esther, maybe you're reading Pearlies of Wisdom... Wanna help me out!? My manuscript could now stand to have a big-name celebrity behind it to push it to publishers. Sorry, no real Kabbalah references in my story, but it is lyrical and there is a symmetry to it, dealing with days of the week, thus a cycle in itself. How about it, Madonna?

Hey, Jerry Seinfeld -- are you out there? Jamie Lee Curtis...? Katie Couric...?

To Write...Perchance To Dream

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What does Madonna -- oops, sorry, I mean Esther -- have that I don't have? What about Jerry Seinfeld? Judge Judy? Carl Reiner? Jamie Lee Curtis? Katie Couric?

Okay, besides money, and an executive parking spot or two?

Give up? These celebrities have written children's books that have been published and heavily publicized. This blogger has written children's picture book manuscripts that have not been published or heavily publicized. This blogger is somewhat envious -- not jealous; there is a difference -- of these celebrities solely for that reason.

I will introduce this topic with an article I read and feel strongly about. My next post will deal with a personal children's book manuscript story of my own.

Read this:

Critics, authors chafe as more celebrities join ranks of children's authors

By Karen MacPherson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jamie Lee Curtis wrote her first children's book in 1993, "When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth." Her latest, "It's Hard to Be Five," is No. 4 on The New York Times children's picture book best-seller list.

Ed Koch has held many jobs during his storied career: lawyer, television commentator, college professor, restaurant reviewer, congressman and mayor of New York City.

None of that prepared him for his latest title: children's book writer. With the recent release of his picture book, "Eddie: Harold's Little Brother" (Grosset & Dunlap, $16.99), the 79-year-old Koch joins the likes of Lynne Cheney, Julie Andrews, John Lithgow and Jerry Seinfeld in writing tomes for tots.

They're not the only ones. The list of celebrities writing children's books is long and growing ever more diverse, as publishers seek to fill a lucrative new niche in the children's book market. These days, all kinds of celebrities -- from movie stars to politicians to TV anchors to sports stars -- are finding new fame and fortune in children's books.

This season's list of celebrity children's books, for example, includes offerings by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, football-playing siblings Tiki and Ronde Barber, Democratic political whiz James Carville, TV personality Katie Couric and soccer star Mia Hamm.

There's even word that mobster John A. Gotti has written a children's book, "The Children of Shaolin Forest." The New York Times recently reported that lawyers had attempted for Gotti to be released on bail by informing the judge in his case that he "now prefers writing children's books to extortion and racketeering.''

If his book is published, Gotti will join a list that, over the past 20 years, has come to include comedians Bill Cosby and Jay Leno; former President Jimmy Carter; TV anchor Deborah Norville; California first lady Maria Shriver; advice maven Dr. Laura Schlessinger; Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York; director Spike Lee; movie stars Jane Seymour and John Travolta; and even Madonna.

Critical of celebrity books

There's no doubt the celebrity volumes sell well to parents and other adults dazzled by celebrity. But book critics and librarians generally disdain celebrity books as preachy and poorly written.

"Celebrity-written children's books are the worst kind of disconnect between a parent -- who is attached to a book written by a celebrity they like -- and a child, for whom that celebrity is totally meaningless," contends Anita Silvey, a noted children's book expert and author of "The 100 Best Books for Children."

Trev Jones, book review editor for School Library Journal, agrees that "most of these books are pretty bad, although it's hard to pan them all. Some of these people can write, but many can't. And there is seemingly no connection between whether they can write and whether they will get published."

Indeed, there's every sign that the celebrity children's book boom will just keep growing. There are even new, related boomlets -- children's books written by best-selling adult novelists such as Jan Karon and Michael Chabon, as well as picture books whose texts consist of songs written by people such as Judy Collins, Jerry Garcia and even Bob Dylan.

Football player brothers Tiki and Ronde Barber have penned "By My Brother's Side."

There's no mystery about why celebrities write children's books. They get to play to a new audience, earn money and media attention and perhaps revitalize a career. In addition, celebrity children's book authors often "cross-promote." In plugging her new children's book, "It's Hard to Be Five," for example, Curtis also mentioned her soon-to-be-released movie, "Christmas With the Kranks."

Many celebrities also genuinely like the idea of doing something for children. "I really enjoy the idea that a picture book is intended to be read to a child by an adult," says Curtis, a mother of two.

In her typical fashion, Madonna ignited a storm of controversy last year when she explained her reasons for becoming an author.

"I'm starting to read to my son," said the Material Girl, once famed for her sexual escapades and pointy bras. "But I couldn't believe how vapid and vacant and empty all the stories were. There's, like, no lessons. ... There's, like, no books about anything."

For Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park, such a statement just exposes Madonna's "shameful ignorance of the world of children's books."

More importantly, Madonna's remarks "insult not only those of us who dedicate our lives to writing for young people, but also those young readers who have discovered good books and funny books that they love, and then hear [her] on television saying there aren't any," added Park, who won U.S. children's literature's top award in 2002 for her novel "A Single Shard."

Jane Yolen, a prize-winning children's book author, contends that "celebrity children's books eat up all the available oxygen ... I have over 250 books out, have won a great number of awards within the field, have been given four honorary doctorates for my body of work, but have never been on 'Oprah' or spoken to Katie Couric or gotten a $100,000 advance for my work.

"I am not complaining. I do very well by the ordinary parameters of the field. But I have been thinking about getting out my pointy bra and brushing up on my singing and dancing because there's no good pop music out there. And because -- you know -- if it's celebrity they want ...''

What particularly bothers many non-celebrity authors is the notion that "anyone can write a children's book."

"The assumption is ... that it's easy. It isn't," says children's book author/illustrator Katie Davis, whose books include "Who Hops?" and "I Hate to Go to Bed!" "It takes years of hard work. It takes dedication and passion."

Davis adds that she has "very mixed feelings about books by celebrities. On the one hand, if it gets more kids reading, I'm all for it. That said, I have never met a child whose favorite book was written by a celebrity."

Publishers reap revenue

Publishers, meanwhile, defend their decisions to publish celebrity books, saying they pick only the best and that the additional revenue generated by celebrity children's books can allow publishers to do more with non-celebrity books.

"I don't like to publish a book because it's written by a celebrity," says David Gale, editorial director of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. "I do like to publish good books, and if they're written by a celebrity, it's all the better because we can get publicity that we could otherwise not get."

Gale acknowledges that celebrities often get higher advances and bigger marketing campaigns than non-celebrity children's book authors. "But that's charged against the book; it's not stopping something else from getting published or getting publicized," he says.

There's no doubt that celebrity children's books are a good financial bet for publishers. Madonna, for example, has sold more than 1 million copies of her three children's books. A fourth book, to be published next month, is expected to add to her sales.

But publishers insist that celebrity books aren't automatic moneymakers.

"A first-time book by a celebrity gets more attention than a comparable book by a first-time author, and that helps the book sell into stores," Gale says. "However, if it's not a good book, it won't sell to the customers."

To many book critics, librarians and other professionals, however, it's galling to see celebrity children's books make any money. These critics say that the greatest flaw of celebrity books is that they usually construct their stories around a message.

This runs directly counter to the best children's books, in which the "message" -- if there is one -- takes a backseat to the story.

"Because the message in celebrity books weighs more heavily than the story, even the best of them is good only for two or three readings before a child will become bored with the message," says Maria Salvadore, a Washington, D.C.-based children's literature expert.

Historical perspective

While the big wave of children's books written by celebrities has hit the bookshelves over the past five years or so, there's actually a lengthy history of such books.

Child star Shirley Temple published a series of storybooks in the 1930s, and in 1946, teenage Elizabeth Taylor wrote "Nibbles and Me," a memoir of her adventures with a pet squirrel.

Over the years, various celebrities, from Frank Sinatra to Roy Rogers, have published books for children. But these were just a tiny part of the children's book market of the time, and few -- if any -- are still in print.

Julie Andrews launched the modern era of celebrity children's books when she published "Mandy," a children's novel in 1971. Seven years later, Andrews published a second children's novel, "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles." Both books have won kudos from critics and children and are still in print.

In 1991, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson published a book about a heroic helicopter named "Budgie." Although the book was widely -- and deservedly -- panned, it also showed there was a market for celebrity children's books.

But most critics credit Curtis with making it fashionable -- and profitable -- to write for children. During a lull in her acting career, Curtis wrote her first children's book, "When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth," inspired by a remark by her then-4-year-old daughter.

Featuring cheerful, energetic illustrations by Laura Cornell, the picture book was published in 1993. Curtis so enjoyed her new status as a children's book author that she decided to write a second book, "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born." Published in 1996, the book, also illustrated by Cornell, has become a classic in the adoption community.

Since then, Curtis and Cornell have published four more picture books, each of which has become a best seller. Their latest effort, "It's Hard to Be Five," is No. 4 on The New York Times children's picture book best-seller list.

Unlike most celebrity books, Curtis' books are praised by many critics, although others contend that her books are mediocre efforts that wouldn't be published if they weren't written by a star.

While these celebrity books are obviously popular with parents, Silvey, the children's book expert, wishes they weren't.

"There's nothing to be gained with reading any of them," says Silvey, a former editor of The Horn Book magazine, the bible of children's literature. Instead, Silvey counsels parents to buy books by the real "celebrities" of children's literature, such as Robert McCloskey ("Make Way for Ducklings") or Maurice Sendak ("Where the Wild Things Are").

Park, the Newbery Medalist, meanwhile, makes a "heartfelt plea" to publishers. "Every single time a child reads a poorly written book, that's time lost forever to the possibility of reading a good book," she says.

"Please, if you are going to publish celebrity books, try to see beyond the sales figures to the individual child reading that book, who depends on you to give them good books."