Recipe for a Stress-Free Dinner Party: KISS the Cook(ing)

News-Record, April 18, 2019
Rose Bennett Gilbert

Giving a dinner party this Saturday night? Then you'd better get started now, this very evening, warns Ben Salmon, food and fiber artist, founder and former owner of Kitchen a La Mode, the award-winning kitchen supply shop in South Orange.

Out of the frying pan, into the classroom: Ben Salmon shares step-by-step how-to's for stress-free dinner parties.

Out of the frying pan, into the classroom: Ben Salmon shares step-by-step how-to's for stress-free dinner parties.

Successful dinner parties have one key ingredient in common -- preplanning, says Ben, who will be teaching a new class on "No-Stress Dinner Parties," April 24 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.

His not-so-secret recipe for being an unharried host: "Plan it out in advance. No seat-of-the-pants, last-minute running around. Remember, you control this party. It doesn't control you. Choose recipes you're comfortable with, nothing you'd have to serve hot off the griddle. And save experimenting with new dishes for when you're having close friends over.

"Apply the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Several days before the party, allow time to sit with a glass of wine and block out the job ahead. Make a list of all the tasks you have to do to get ready.

"First, decide what you'll be serving and how: buffet-style, family style, or plated. Then copy or print out your recipes. Next, transcribe the ingredients to another list according to the departments in your grocery store: dairy, meats, vegetables, like that."

For a Saturday night dinner party, for example, Ben lays out four "boxes" of time and allots specific chores to each, starting with Friday night. Maybe that's when you clean the house, and/ or do the shopping, he suggests.

"You might also want to chop some vegetables on Friday night...marinate the meat, maybe set the table early. I like to pull out the platters I'll be using, and lay out the utensils I'll need, the peeler, the grater, whatever."

Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon offer two more boxes of time in which to handle specific chores. The fourth time slot goes to last-minute details. With which you can ask for help, Ben reminds. "Having your tasks written down makes its easier to enlist a spouse or a friend who comes early. Just hand over the list and point to what you need done."

Finally, relax with your guests. "You want to give a great dinner party, but you also want to enjoy it yourself." And never mind if some things are not as perfect as you'd planned, Ben says. "I'm a big believer that perfection is the enemy of good. I once ran out of food when more people showed up than we'd expected. I'd made pulled pork, which took 15 hours to cook, and it was all gone."

His lesson learned: "Now I always have way too much. Now I cook like a Jewish mother!"


EDITOR's NOTE: Ben's artwork is included in "New Directions in Fiber Art," a juried show at the Montclair Museum of Art through June 16.


Column for NEWS-RECORD, March 14, 2019
Rose Bennett Gilbert

Frida Kahlo, Mexican Artist,Activist, Feminist Icon,  Headlines Art Talks Series at The Adult School

Frida Kahlo, Mexican Artist,Activist, Feminist Icon,

Headlines Art Talks Series at The Adult School

Art History Educator Janet Mandel 'Memes' A Favorite Subject

Art History Educator Janet Mandel 'Memes'
A Favorite Subject

Ask Janet Mandel to name her favorite artist and you'd better pull up a chair for a long listen.

An award-winning art history educator, Janet is on fond and on intimate terms with almost every artist who made history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Van Gogh, Renoir, Andy Warhol — she's spent "hours and hours" with the major painters, she says, digging into their personal histories for the bio-details that bring them vividly to life in her popular series of lectures.

Who knew, for example, that Frida Kahlo, the famously crippled Mexican artist, feminist icon and enigmatic painter, designed her own prosthetic leg? Or that she carried on with Soviet communist leader Leon Trotsky when he and his wife moved into Frida's family home in 1937? And that was she was married to fellow communist and fabled muralist Diego Rivera, just before Trotsky was assassinated (by someone else) in 1940!

Janet knows a wealth of such bio-bits, and in her lecture series at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School beginning Mar. 21, she'll reveal even more about the stormy Kahlo-Rivera relationship. That they married in 1929, for example, were equally given to extra-marital affairs, divorced in 1939, but remarried the next year.

"Frida painted her biography," as Janet described Kahlo's life. It was a life of pain and suffering that began when at age 6 when polio left her with a deformed leg. Then, as an l8-year-old, she was involved in a horrendous bus accident that made her unable to bear children — a lifelong sorrow, Janet points out — and confined her to bed in a full-body cast.  "Frida was a brilliant student. She'd wanted to be a doctor," Janet reports. The bus accident and long confinement rewrote her life's plan.

"Frida's parents rigged up a mirror over the bed so she could at least paint herself," Janet tells. It was the beginning of the unflinching self-portraits, including her unibrow and mustache, for which she would became famous. 

As Frida herself commented in l938, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."

Kahlo is only one of the artist subjects whom Janet has come to know best since she and a co-teacher developed the art history curriculum as part of a special-ed program at Columbia High School. "Retired" after 32 years of teaching in local schools, Janet's minutely researched and illustrated biopic-ish "Art Talks" now attract enthusiastic audiences of art fans and artists' groupies. Her Adult School series also includes Elaine de Kooning  (Apr. 25), wife of Willem and a celebrated Abstract Expressionist herself; Edouard Manet (May 23), the French painter often credited as the originator of modern art; and Chaim Soutine (June 13), a radical colorist known for "painting emotion," as inimitable Janet would describe it.



'Laughter is Addictive:' Stand-Up Comic Lee Navlen at Work

'Laughter is Addictive:' Stand-Up Comic Lee Navlen at Work

In a New Yorker cartoon, two cannibals are eating a clown.  Says one to the other, "Does this taste funny to you?"

It certainly would to award-winning comic Lee Navlen, who can see the funny side of almost any situation.  Lee will be sharing his perspective with wannabe comics in six Thursday night classes, "You Take the Mic," at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School, beginning Mar. 7.

Wait!  Is it even possible to teach someone else how to be funny? In this community, that's not a problem, says Lee, a 20+year resident of Maplewood and South Orange.  "There are a lot of very creative people here.  They often have a background in the arts, the theatre.  People who take a comedy class already know they're funny.  All their lives they've been told, 'You should do stand-up.'"

That's exactly how Lee himself ended up on stages at Carolines on Broadway and the Greenwich Village Comedy Club. He's also a regular at Scotty's Club & Comedy Cove in Springfield (where his students' final exam has them performing before a live audience). In earlier careers he was a senior producer at Fox News for a decade, before returning to the stand-up stage full-time.  He has also acted in films, "usually cast as the angry Irish dad, angry Irish cop or angry Irish drunk. Sometimes, all three at once!"  He's also played an angry Jewish lawyer in the web-series "Goodstein," and produced musical programs, including some at the now-dark Highland Place in Maplewood.

But, Lee says, "There's nothing better than getting people to laugh. Laughter can be very addictive."

Never mind if you don't know how to begin.  "No material?  No problem," Lee assures.

"Just get on stage and talk about life, your wife, your dog, anything.  The idea is to get used to the mic and the sound of your own voice.

"Bottom line: I'm teaching courage and confidence first, then material."

Talk about courage:  a teenager with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is taking Lee's class this spring for the fourth time.  "He came to class with a book of funny one-liners, but when we went to graduation at Scotty's he did five minutes on being autistic.  He set the room on fire!  There were about l00 people in the audience and not one was not laughing!"

Stand-up success does not always come so easily, Lee warns.  "There are thousands of stand-up comics out there performing and only a hundred are making a living.  But don't give up, Lee counsels.  Some of his former students are now performing at clubs in NJ and Manhattan.

Stand-up training is not just for comics, Lee points out.  "Learning to crack a joke helps with public speaking, especially if you're in marketing or sales."

Think you could do stand-up, too? Heed Lee's professional advice:

First, move the mic stand out of the way!  So many comics forget. 

Practice.  Have a friend with a bar and a backroom?  How about the local Elks Club or a beauty salon?  Get five, six, seven comics together and make it a space for stand-up.

Know your audience. "If you've got a room full of 20-year-olds, don't do jokes about going to the doctor."

What about hecklers? "Sometimes they're just trying to get laughs themselves, or impress their girlfriend. Try to work them to your advantage. Sometimes I just say, "You wanna do this?"

What if you die on stage?  Last night's biggest joke gets no laughs tonight. Stick with your prepared material.  And don't worry about repeating the same jokes. Tonight's audience hasn't heard it. It was funny before and it will be funny now.

You might bomb, but remember it's just five minutes of your life. 

Final advice to would-be stand-ups: Don't give up your day job!"



Journalist and Adult School trustee Rose Bennett Gilbert laughed all through this interview with Lee Navlen.

ECO-EXPERT: Spring's a Fine Time For Fall Yard Work

Landscaping is for the birds, says green guru Neil Chambers

Think winter's looking especially bleak this year? Maybe you can blame those long hours you spent cleaning up your yard last fall.  

Put down those clippers and unhand that rake, urges "green guru" Neil Chambers.  Take his class on "Creating a Vision for Your Outdoor Space" at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School (Feb. 28 and Mar. 7), and you can look forward to a lazier autumn and a more colorful winter this time next year.

A LEED-AP BD+C-certified architect, landscape designer, eco-blogger (, and author ("Urban Green: Architecture for the Future"), Neil co-founded Chambers Design, the award-winning landscape firm in South Orange, some five years ago.  His seasoned advice to local homeowners:  "plant for all four seasons, and a garden can be colorful year 'round."  Even in the dead of winter.

 "Don't cut your plants back until spring," he counsels "There's something majestic about, say, a cone flower stalk crowned with snow." So when is the right time for that "fall" garden clean-up?  The March equinox (coming up March 21) is perfect, Neil says: "That way the plant roots will hold the soil against the run-off of melting snow, and the seeds will feed the birds all winter."

For Neil, landscaping is as much about ecology as esthetics.  Now impressively credentialed (being a LEED-AP BD+C means he's certified by the US Green Building Council in Green Building Design + Construction), Neil was studying architecture at Clemson University in his native South Carolina when his interest "gravitated to landscape design." Buttressed by further studies at the venerable Maryland Institute College of Art, he's now a member of the Society of Professional Landscape Designers and a frequent lecturer at top universities and design schools, including NYU, Columbia, Pratt, and Parsons.  He's also handled eco-projects all across the US and in China, building bioswells (rain gardens) and applying his belief that we can "use nature both as an amenity and a healer." (One project that got away: Green Ground Zero, his grand plan to green-build lower Manhattan after 9/11.)

 Closer to home, literally, Neil plans to help his Adult School students re-visualize their own yards, complete with any new amenities (pool? deck? lighting?). Equally important, he'll show how to choose between the quality and not-so materials they'll need to "put some meat" on their visions.

"There's so much available for interiors today, but exterior design is still in the l980s," Neil laments. Choose wisely -- he will offer local sources -- and "you can achieve high-quality design within reach of your budget," he promises.

However, it's not always a walk in the garden. Neil warns against three common landscaping mistakes:

  1. Devising a plan that's too complicated.  And focusing only on one specific area. Before you start, have a master plan with all the elements you want to include.

  2. Don't let your budget define your vision.  For example, it's smart to plant plugs, small plants that are less expensive to buy in volume now and will eventually grow to fill in your plan.

  3. Don't plant bushes and shrubs right up against the house.  Azaleas, for example: "Gorgeous for a couple of weeks, then they disappear.  The thing is to intersperse other plants so you have color from April to October."

Bottom line, according to the expert:  "Your house's exterior is the last thing you see when you leave in the morning, and the first thing you see when you come back.

"How it looks makes a big impact on the very way you feel about your home."



News Record column for February 14, 2019

Rose Bennett Gilbert



On Friday, Nov. 2, climb aboard a bus with the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School and go see a world-famous house in New Canaan, CT., a house that is almost not there.

No walls, all windows, The Glass House was built by architect Philip Johnson some 70 years ago on a grassy knoll overlooking his 49-acres of woodlands. It's the set piece for a unique architectural experience now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and open to the public on a limited basis (the site closes down in the winter). Johnson eventually incorporated 13 other structures, including a 1905 farmhouse, galleries for his painting and sculpture collections, and an alter-ego for his all-glass house: a nearby all-brick house that holds all the support systems for its see-through sibling.

Johnson's own esthetics are not quite as transparent. Never mind that he gets credit (or blame: see below) for bringing the International Style into residential architecture at Mid-Century, Johnson never quite let go of good old traditional ideas and motifs. Consider New York's AT&T building (now 550 Madison) shaped like a 37-storey Chippendale clock. Or the bedroom in the Brick House that's dressed in print silk Fortuny fabrics and fit out in novel furniture by Italian architect Gaetano Pesce.

Here's Johnson himself, explaining his penchant for time- and style-traveling: "A very few years after I moved in, I changed everything on the inside of the Brick House in order to express what I was working on at the time, which was another wave of emotion that overcame me for the arch and for the eighteenth-century and for Sir John Soane, the great English architect, so I started deliberately copying whatever I felt like it."

Earlier in his career, Johnson had been copying Bauhaus guru Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, had worked with him, in fact, and had Mies-designed furniture in his New York apartment (when Johnson was curator of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art). Van der Rohe was chief among the European architects and artists who fled the Nazis and brought what became the International Style to the US. Tom Wolfe, the late author, art-and-social critic, had another description for the International Style: "...sensory deprivation (caused) by the whiteness & lightness & leanness & cleanness & bareness & spareness of it all," Wolfe wrote in his 1981 broadside against the tide of "glass boxes" that had taken over America's skylines and routed all trace of traditional decoration.

"These are not merely my impressions, I promise you. has only to go to the conferences, symposia, and jury panels where the architects gather today to discuss the state of the art. They profess to be appalled themselves. Without a blush they will tell you that modern architecture is exhausted, finished. They themselves joke about the glass boxes. They use the term with a snigger. Philip Johnson, who built himself a glass-box house in Connecticut in 1949, utters the phrase with an antiquarian's amusement, the way someone else might talk about an old brass bedstead discovered in the attic."

Wolfe may have had a point -- the Post Modernism Movement was already rising in reaction to the austerity, formality, and sameness of the International Style -- but nonetheless nearly 140,000 annual visitors make a pilgrimage to see The Glass House with Johnson's original design still in place, reports to Christa Carr, Communications Director. With 1,815 sq. ft. encased all in glass with doors opening in all directions onto the landscape, "You use a lot of Windex," she says.

Johnson would insist on an unsmudged view. As he explained, "I thought it’d be nice to have a place that you could swivel all the way around and see the whole place...I claim that’s the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place. Because that’s an impossibility in any house; you have to walk to another room to see one or the other of those effects. But I get it all the time here in the Glass House."

Visitors on The Adult School's two-hour tour will get it all, too: the Glass House, painting and sculpture galleries, as well as the pavilion inspired by Frank Stella, known as Da Monsta, plus a three-course lunch at Spiga Wine Bar & Salumeria, and a tour of Gores Pavilion, a pool house designed by Johnson and Landis Gores, one of the celebrated "Harvard Five" architects who made New Canaan a focus of the mid-century modern movement. Deadline to register for the "Mad About Mid-Century Modern" excursion is Oct.2.




September 20, 2018

Rose Bennett Gilbert


Knock! Knock!

"Who's there?"

"It's the FBI!"

"Oh, my goodness! Come right in.  I've never painted an FBI agent!  Will you pose for the nude?"  So goes the story that became legend about Alice Neel, one of the great American painters of the 20th century and a pioneer among women artists.

Art historian Janet Mandel will be telling more next week in her class, "Alice Neel: Portraits, Politics, and Power," at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School (May 17, Black Box Theatre, Columbia High School).

There's plenty to tell.  "Alice had a lot of skeletons in her closet.  She was stalked by the FBI for years because she was a Communist," Janet explains.  Not an active Party member, however; "she felt her art expressed her politics."

Consider her politically 'incorrect' subjects.  Neel is rightly called a "painter of people" (not including FBI agents in the nude -- "They left her alone after that," Janet reports.) 

Living in poverty in Harlem for some 25 years, Alice was the original 'People' magazine,  as Janet describes her range of subjects. Waifs and poets (Allen Ginsberg), artists (Andy Warhol).  other friends and Harlem neighbors came in to sit for portraits she painted "without sermon or sentimentality," as one critic wrote of an Alice Neel exhibit in l951.  "At times, an element of foreboding, akin to that in the work of Munch, creeps into her work, and there are portraits that are almost vivisections."

Neel ”vivisected" the critics, too, painting such well-knowns as Meyer Shapiro, the Columbia University professor whose lectures drew the contemporary crowd, including Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and George Segal. 

Another sitter was acclaimed art critic Linda Nochlin, whose l971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” is generally considered the first major work of feminist art history.  But Alice Neel was no feminist, Janet hastens to add. "In fact, she said she didn't even like women very much."

Typically Alice.  "She took no prisoners.  She would be right at home in the world of 2018," Janet believes. "She'd be out there today, protesting Donald Trump and defending Michelle Wolf's speech (at the White House Correspondents' Dinner).

"Alice took her own path. When Abstract Expressionism came in vogue, she kept right on painting her way.  'Artistic suicide,' a critic of the time said. So she was poor most of her life.  She didn't start making money until the l970s" (after her portrait of feminist Kate Millett was on a Time magazine cover.  Neel later painted FDR for another Time cover, drew commissions for the likes of Mayor Ed Koch, and appeared twice on the Johnny Carson Show).

Alice Neel died at 84 in l984.  But her reputation continues to build, Janet points out. Today's U-Tube fans can still catch the Beat classic film "Pull My Daisy," featuring Alice with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Karouac, and Larry Rivers.  And fans with moderately deep pockets can own actually own an Alice Neel master painting, Janet reports.  And sighs slightly, "For just $1 or 2 million."



SMARTEN UP @ The Adult School

For News-Record, May 9, 2018

Rose Bennett Gilbert



Take off your shoes and step into the world of mega-artist Jackson Pollock on May 16, when SOMAS (South Orange-Maplewood Adult School) leads a tour to The Springs, far out on Long Island's fabled East End.

His was a turbulent, paint-splattered world, inhabited by emerging talents who would soon rewrite the history of art in a startling, new vocabulary of cacophonous color and
abstract forms. Unlike most artists before them, these painters were not interested in the visual world; the idea was to use abstractions to convey strong emotions and expressive content.

Bingo!  Abstract Expressionism was born.  A radically new concept, Abstract Expressionism has been called  the "first authentically American avant-garde," and Pollock was chief among its innovators, along with his artist wife, Lee Krasner and Willem de Kooning, Larry Rivers and others who made New York the Art Capital of the World in the mid-20th century.  

A lot of  the action happened among Manhattan ex-pats in the quiet little village of The Springs, where Pollock and Krasner had moved in 1945. They were looking for cheap living, luminous light, and space enough to make really large works of art.
They found it all in a humble little farmhouse on five acres overlooking Accabonack Harbor.  Built in the l9th century, the house had no heating or plumbing, but it was affordable, thanks to a $2000 loan from famed art collector Peggy Guggenheim. 

Now restored to its mid-century self, the Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center will be the first stop on the Adult School's tour, which includes two other Pollock-related sites. One, The Springs Tavern, for a two-course lunch.  Dating to l934 and known as Jungle Pete's in Pollock's  time, the tavern has been refreshed by the current owners but looks much the same as when he famously bicycled there nearly every night to hold court with the locals and other artists, musicians, and philosophers of the day. 

 It was one of three Hamptons watering holes that attracted the likes of Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, Marty Feldman, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, and a young Bob Dylan.  It was also the setting for John Updike's novel, "Seek My Face," a roman a clef about the Pollack-Krasner relationship. And it was from the tavern that an over-imbibed Pollack drove that August night in l956 when he was killed in a car crash at age 44.

A second optional stop -- time-permitting, says Adult School assistant director Liz Herring -- could be at nearby Green River Cemetery, where Pollock is buried under a 50-ton glacial erratic boulder.  In a graveyard originally intended for  the simple folk of The Springs, Pollock rests in the company of other such artists as Lee Krasner, Stuart Davis and Ad Reinhardt, and notables like Pulitzer Prize writer Jean Stafford and French chef  Pierre Franey (whose grave has been planted in parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme).

Again, time permitting, another tour option will be a stroll around East Hampton itself -- the chic "other side of the hedgerows" from Jackson's haunt in working-man's Springs.  Then the tour will take off to Palmer Vineyards for an al fresco, four-flight wine tasting with charcuterie.  

Deadline to register for the tour is April 24.

Meanwhile, back to the Pollock-Krasner Museum: we weren't kidding about "stepping into Jackson Pollock's world" --  the museum provides visitors with padded slippers so you can walk over a floor actually painted by "Jack the Dripper," who famously flung, dripped, and swirled paint on canvases laid on the floor.  

Shedding one's shoes makes the museum feel "like it's a holy place," one visitor has observed.  For many international visitors, it's truly that, reports Theresa Davis, assistant director of the museum.  A surprising 75 percent of the museum's visitors come from abroad, she says.  "Especially the French.  They are so taken with the American West." Born in Cody, Wyoming, in l912 and raised in Arizona and California, Pollock was a
true son of the Wild West, and his wild, wild art clearly confirms it.

April 19, 2018
Rose Bennett Gilbert


News-Record March 8, 2018
Rose Bennett Gilbert


Mothers-of-the-bride, avert your eyes!  This column is not for the faint of heart.  It's about "How to Become an Event Planner," a new class launching Mar. 15 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.

Professional planner Tasheea Nicholson, owner of Socialbfly Events, will be sharing start-to-finish tips on how to master the business of successfully planning and producing any large event, from a wedding to a big birthday, from a baby shower to a funeral, and all life's important occasions in between.

Wait! On second thought, maybe this column should be required reading, not just for wannabe event planning professionals but also for anyone who finds her- or himself charged with throwing a big party.  After nearly a decade in the business, not counting extracurricular projects in high school and college (Villanova), and internships in sports marketing with the Philadelphia Eagles, Tasheea's best advice boils down to a four-part plan:

1.  Plan A.  Detail all the step-by-steps leading up to Event Day.  This is Plan A, the orderly procedure leading to the event you envision.  Caveat follows.

2.  Allow adequate lead time.  For a small local wedding, Tasheea advises nine-months-to-a-year, proportionately more for a larger wedding that requires travel arrangements. "The sooner you plan, the better your chance of getting the venue and the amenities you want," she points out.  Also be warned: last-minute arrangements often incur unexpected up-charges.

For other events, her ideal time-table allows three months to plan a 50th birthday; six months for a graduation party.  "With so many graduations happening all at once, get in early to avoid overlap."

3.  Set a realistic budget and guest list.  "Decide what is realistic for you.  If you know you will have, say, $1,200 for a birthday party, shop for vendors who will work within your budget.  And be prepared to winnow down your wish- and guest list.  I tell my clients to put a $ sign over each name on their guest list.  When they know how much they will be paying per head, it's easier to trim the list."

4.  The Caveat:  Always have a Plan B, C -- and D. "While you're working on Plan A, be thinking Plan B...and beyond," Tasheea advises.  Being an event planner sounds glamorous.  It isn't! she warns. Her chosen profession requires split-second timing -- "You even need a time line for the cake to be delivered."  

Also essential: nerves of steel!  Consider the wedding she planned between families so fractious the local sheriff had to be called into the reception.  "My job was to keep the bride from knowing what was happening!"

Or the time the temperature hit l01 outside and even worse inside the church, where "the groom and groomsmen were up to their necks in formal wear," Tasheea recalls.  From the back of the church, she "saw groomsman Number Six start to sway.  Then Number Four hits the floor.  Next, the groom goes down!"

Amid the panic in the church, she called 911, the EMTs sped in, and the wedding went on "with everyone sitting down," she reports.

"People have told me I'm crazy to take on other people's stress, but this business makes me be creative. I get to work with colors, with music, and lights..."  Tasheea says.  Not to mention happy endings.

Tasheea Nicholson

Tasheea Nicholson



NEWS-RECORD Thursday, February 22, 2018
From Rose Bennett Gilbert


What do human beings fear more than death itself?  Not dentists.  Not snakes or spiders or taxes.  What terrifies a whopping majority of us -- 74 percent, according to a 2013 survey of society's most pervasive fears -- is speech anxiety, aka speaking in public.  

Emily Zacharias is out to change all that.  Actor, director, performance coach to other
professional actors, writers, and clergy, Emily will be helping the shy and silent
find their voice and use it effectively in her classes, "Enjoy Speaking: Learn to Communicate With Confidence," beginning Feb. 27 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.  On Apr. 21, she's teaching "A Public Speaking Intensive," limited to five
students who want to further enhance their communication skills. 

Emily emphasizes the verb, communicate.  "Communication is not performance. 
Communication is connection with the other.  Lose the burden of performance.

Her classes are "designed to circumvent the pressure of our performance-oriented culture," Emily explains.  "They are highly effective for anyone who needs to speak with groups of three or more --  sales associates, architects, township administrators, retirees, anyone interested in personal growth who wants free rein of their own expression."

Emily's first class begins with students sitting in a circle --  "Communication is a circle with everyone involved" -- and proceeds through six sessions involving verbal exercises ("a safe playground"),  poetry readings ("so people can fall in love with the sound of their own voice"), and learning how to be what Emily calls "active listeners."

"Communication is a shared experience between active speaker and active listener,"
reminds Emily, who offers five everyday exercises to strengthen communication skills:

1.    Read a newspaper article aloud.  Clarify the story points and examine your own feelings about them;
2.   Go to the website Poem-A-Day.  Choose a poem and read aloud.  Enjoy the sound     of your own voice;
3.   Surprise a colleague, friend or family member with an honest question of interest
       to you both, then give them your full attention as they answer;
4.   Make an impromptu toast (imaginary wine glass) to colleagues, family, or         friends.  Celebrate the experience of being in their presence.  Initiate fun, an      original viewpoint and style;
5.  Improvise a short speech about what you ate at your favorite meal.  Push the outrage.             Engage the imagination.  Stretch your expressive self.

To enhance your skills as an active listener, Emily advises:

•    Be intent on listening.  Keep eye contact with the speaker;
•    Find interest in what you are hearing. Show respect for the speaker;
•    Remember, you don't disappear when you stop talking.

"Realize that communication is not about you: it is always about the other.   In class, with exercise and trust, we lose the burden of self-consciousness. This is the key to feeling free and learning to enjoy the process."


IT'S OKAY TO TALK IN CLASS   Actor, Teacher Emily Zacharias


Actor, Teacher Emily Zacharias




by Rose Bennett Gilbert, Trustee

November 9, 2017

Maplewoodian Leah Gomberg really knows how to make a house a home.  In the past year alone, she's done it some 150 times...all over town and South Orange, and in surrounding communities, too.

Not that she ever lives in those houses herself.  Leah is a home stager, owner of Sweet Life By Design, a successful, l1-year-old business in a thriving industry that didn't even exist until the l990s or so (when a Washington-state realtor named Barb Schwartz started redecorating to help her clients sell their homes and launched a new business model that now has  millions of followers, world-wide).

Leah joined their ranks big-time soon after she and her family moved in 1996 from Greenwich Village to a l917 house on Highland Ave.  In those old-tech days, she recalls, the local realtor had scant marketing tools, little more than photos of houses available for viewing by prospective buyers.  That took a lot of time and effort, Leah recalls. "I saw eight houses in one day! Some empty.  Some attractive.  Some disgusting!"

Today, potential buyers can easily preview their options on line, Leah points out. And she makes sure they like what they see...which does not include weary wall-to-wall carpets,  cracked plaster, crowded closets, or frumpy front doors.  Such turn-offs signal that a house has not been well cared for, she warns.  "It's 'Nope!' at first glance!"

That's just the beginning of the professional tips and how-tos Leah will share Nov. 14 in her popular class Home Staging 101 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.
High on her check-list:

Make it Q-Tip clean.  No one wants to buy old dirt! 

  • Paint it fresh -- she'll suggest the right colors, usually a warm neutral like gray or greige.  "White white is too stark, not cozy."  
  • Do strategic decluttering  "Get rid of little things like toys and too many decorative objects, and make spare room in the closets.  You need to show how spacious and organized a house is."
  • Let in the light.  Replace heavy draperies with sheers.  "People respond to light." 
  • Banish that old wall-to-wall carpet. "People would rather see a wood floor in not-great shape.  Wall-to-wall is not only dated; it makes a buyer wonder what it's hiding."
  • Repair obvious eyesores.  "Experienced homeowners realize that all houses settle over time, and walls often crack.  But young buyers see those cracks and think something's really wrong with the house."
  • Enhance curb appeal.  Fix up the front door.  Keep the yard neat.  Wash the windows.

What about the furniture itself?  Leah has a local warehouse full of answers, dozens of sofas, chairs, rugs, lamps, and decorative accessories, plus a staff to rotate them in and out of houses as needed.  Sometimes she simply rearranges the homeowners' things to make the space look more enticing.  Other times the house is totally empty and begs for furnishings to help a buyer see it as "home."  Leah can do over an entire house in a few hours, she says.

"I've had a lot of experience with old houses."  With old-house sellers and buyers, too, Leah points out.  "Moving is really stressful. It helps that I have a master's degree in social work.  People worry about bringing in a home stager.  They think that they'll be judged.  We help them understand that the way you live and the way you sell a house are not the same thing."

Her ultimate advice:  "Make your house a product."  The bottom line, as she quotes the International Association of Home Staging Professionals:  " Staged homes spend 88 percent less time on the market, and sell for 17 percent more than unstaged homes."


How to Foil Stage Fright? Improvise!

Rose Bennett Gilbert, Trustee

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tongue-tied at cocktail parties? Fraught with stage fright about speaking in public?

Meet two Maplewoodians who can cure all that and promise you'll have great fun in the process. Actors Lulu French and Brad Barton will share their Rx in classes at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School, starting October 3rd. Their prescription: learn to practice improv, aka improvisational acting. Or, as defined by 17-year improv veteran and teacher Lulu French:

"Improv is a theatrical art form where one gets on stage and discovers what they are doing at the moment. There's no preplanning, no script."

No fear either, she says. And no long years of training required: "The trick lies in listening, really hearing what the other person is saying (on stage or at that cocktail party), and immediately responding," Lulu explains. "Listening and making eye contact. It's like joking with a friend: she says something and you respond. It ebbs and flows. There's no agenda. No one is in control."

Which can feel a little creepy at first, admits Brad, Lulu's early partner on the improv stage and now in life (they met at Gotham City Improv, moved to Maplewood in 2010 and have two sons, 12-year-old Scott and toddler Charlie).

Also an accomplished performer who has appeared on gigs like Late Night With Conan O'Brien, MTV, One Life to Live, and Comedy Central, Brad says he first came to improv "looking for something fun" when he had a day job "I wasn't too thrilled with."

Discovering improv, Brad reports, "Unlocks a door. I've had students go from saying, 'I don't know how you guys do that' to being the guys up on the stage, doing it."

Lulu likens the improv process to playing sports. "Sports are improvised, too, but there is also some structure to the games." Ditto for the way she teaches improv: "We start in a circle and play games that warm up our bodies, our brains, and let us connect with each other. "Improv takes so much brain power," Lulu declares. "Concentrating is hard. You have to be so aware of what's going on. There's no time to think of what you're going to say next.

"Actually, I don't like speaking in public," she confides. "But I love to improvise because I'm not speaking for myself; I'm immersed in a character." Improv is also a lot of fun, both teachers emphasize. "It requires some silliness," Brad adds. "You get to leave the day behind."

How does that work when both halves of a couple are playing at being someone else?

The answer: they rarely perform together these days. "When we were still young and crazy and living in Manhattan," Brad recalls, "we performed together at least once a week. But then, the children...."

At least one of those children is following his parents' footsteps to the improv stage: Scott, a Maplewood Middle Schooler, is now in his third year of studying with his mother. And Charlie? "He's a two-year-old," Brad reports. "And a terrible listener."


Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015
@ The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School

I know the precise moment when it hit me, this deep longing to speak Italian. It was in Milan, teeming with rain on that Wednesday last month, as we were feeling our way through city streets also teeming with Vespas, vehicles, and fearless pedestrians. We rounded a blind corner and suddenly the enormous, ethereal Duomo Cathedral of Milan appeared in our rain-streaked windshield.

A Gothic confection reaching heavenward since the turn of the l4th century, an impossibly delicate, lacy wedding cake made of brilliant white Candoglia marble, the Duomo towers over its own block-square cobblestone piazza -- across which we were now blithely bumping in
our rented Audi. And only us. Not another car in sight. For good reason. "ZTL," the small sign up front would have warned us, had we noticed it through the pouring rain. ZTL, we've since learned, means "Zona Traffico Limitato," not too difficult to translate; just difficult to see in the first place.

Later, consulting a guide book for hindsight, we learned that ZTL is "the worst and most common infraction committed by foreigners. ZTL means limited traffic zone. Replace the word
limited with restricted and you begin to get the picture. ZTLs are present in most historical city centers throughout Italy. Unlike the highways where everything is clearly marked, you have to look for ZTL signs. The sign is a red letter O on a white background, much like a do not enter sign. They are usually small and placed at intersections above or near traffic lights where you may turn in another direction to avoid crossing that ZTL checkpoint." 

No see, no turn. So on we blundered, in thrall to Milan's astonishing architectural treasure, bouncing across the vast -- and sacrosanct -- piazza, oblivious to the astonished Milanese waving at us from the shelter of the adjacent arcade.

Our reaction: 1. "Duh! Can we really be such Innocents Abroad!" And 2. "Shall we all take Italian classes when we get home?" The answer to both questions: The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School. We flew into Newark on a Friday and by Tuesday evening were soaking up the melodious flow of a Romance language that totally lives up to the name. Professor Fil Secci, our teacher, is a native speaker, hailing from a small town not far from Naples. So we're learning the tongue straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Equally enriching: we're learning about the Italian way of life, the culture and customs and attitudes that add up to La Dolce Vita for some 60-million Italian speakers.

Beginner Italian runs for l0 classes this fall. And come spring, there's Continuing Italian and Italian Conversation conducted entirely in Italian. No more staining after subtitles in old Fellini movies. No more ordering the wrong thing at Libretti's in Orange.

But there is more to come, we've also learned from the guidebook. "Once you have crossed the TZL, even for a second, it’s too late. Your picture was automatically taken. Your license plate
was crosschecked against a database of sanctioned vehicles and you will be fined. ZTL cameras are only aimed at those entering restricted zones. At this point you might as well fully
enjoy your crime and cruise around the restricted zone for the rest of your vacation."

Gotcha! snapshots are not exclusive to TZLs, as award-winning New Jersey photojournalist Jim DelGiudice will prove next Wednesday, Oct. 21, when he delivers the autumn Eva Samo Lecture honoring the Adult School's consultant and 50-year supporter. An adjunct assistant professor at County College of Morris and a frequent lecturer at Drew and Columbia Universities, DelGiudice's talk is called "Gotcha! Snapshots that Changed History."

He defines snapshots as "moments captured on camera purely by luck" that often become iconic images, "not only transcending a moment in time, but becoming the memory of that moment," DelGiudice says.

Examples he cites include the photos of the Hindenburg exploding; of the fireman raising the flag in the ruins of the World trade Center on September 11; of Monica Lewinsky hugging Bill Clinton in a receiving line.

He'll also examine photos that changed history by accident: one of Abe Lincoln's tousled hair that helped him gain the presidency; another of candidate Gary Hart on a yacht that lost it for him.

You can catch the prof's intriguing "Gotcha" show and tell at the Columbia High School library, 7:30-9 p.m. for $18 (student rate, $5). Tickets available at the door, or click on

Meanwhile, we "Innocents Abroad" will still be waiting for our "Gotcha" photo, coming any day now from Italy with love.
-- Columnist Rose Bennett Gilbert is a syndicated journalist ( and a passionate trustee of the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.