Thursday, December 31, 2009


Over and over, I've been reading about taking on 30-day challenges. Let's face it, most people set New Year resolutions which lose their luster in about 10 seconds.

It's way more fun and interesting to set goals and to break them down into projects which in turn can be broken down into daily habits.

My Daily Habits for the month of January are twofold:

(1) Call or email a friend, family member, or colleague each day to say hello and/or initiate a get-together.

I already got a jump start on this by calling my great aunt to see how she is doing after the awesome Happy Hour she hosted after my recent wedding in San Diego. (She also came up to the front of the room and danced The Hora with us to the theme song of Sean the Sheep. Great aunts do not get better than this.)

(2) Exercise every single day - be it by taking a class at the YMCA or going for a brisk walk. I am serious about fitness this year, y'all.

Again, got a jump start by taking a modern dance class at the Y yesterday (which left me in pain, but well worth it) and by taking a stretch class today.

For more great tips on setting goals for the year, read Diane M. Scholten's Be Your Own Life Coach: Dream It! Plan It! Do It!

Monday, December 28, 2009


For the past 45 years, Ebony has compiled a list of who they feel are the Black Americans whose work most powerfully shapes and influences the country. The list is divided into these categories: Government& Politics, Activism, Health, Business, Sports, Philanthropy, Religion, Arts & Letters, Environment, Science & Technology, Entertainment , Media, New Media, Academia, Fashion & Beauty, Military.

This is a particularly inspiring edition of Ebony. One person I would personally add to the Arts section is tap dancer Ayodele Casele. Check out her Dancer Spolight on the International Tap Association website.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I was so excited to find out that the Brooklyn Academy of Music was hosting Sesame Street: A Celebration! - "A weekend of films and clips celebrating 40 years of Sesame Street."

I had been looking for a way to participate in the celebration, and this was just perfect. I set aside two full evenings to attend four of the films, and here are some of the highlights of the event:

  • First of all, I scored this awesome Alex Ross Super Grover litho (pictured above) along with the book It's Not Easy Being Green by anwering some Sesame Street trivia questions thrown out to film audiences by the event's co-programmer, Craig Shemin. Craig and his wife, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, opened each of the four films I attended by joking around with the audience and providing some nice inside scoops on the films. They were naturals for the job, as Craig is a Muppet historian and Vice President of the Jim Henson Legacy. Stephanie is a Sesame Street puppeteer, as well as a an Emmy-nominated Avenue Q performer.
  • The World According to Sesame Street was an amazing documentary directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton & Linda Hawkins. These two women traveled around the world to show how people bring Sesame into countries around the globe, including Bangladesh, Kosovo, and South Africa.. What I learned is that each country goes through a process of figuring out what content and characters will best work for their particular culture. One of my favorite scenes was of a master puppet-maker in Bangladesh staying up in until the wee hours of the morning to create a character in time to start shooting the show there.
  • Next up, Jim Henson and Friends: Inside the Sesame Street Vault was Craig Shemin's compilation of Jim Henson and other star Muppeteers' (along with the Muppets themselves) appearances on talk and variety shows from the 1970s.

  • Sunday night's first feature was Sesame Street at 40: Milestones from The Street. This gem showed lots of highlights from the show's history, including the very touching treatment of Mr. Hooper's death as well as the marriage of two of the show's human characters. Elmo was the ring bearer - of course!

  • Lastly - and what a great way to end the weekend - was Sunday's Sing! Sesame Musical Moments - a compilation of Sesame's musical numbers. My favorite pieces were the ones from the disco era - "Me shaggy, me blue, me know how to groove.....................Cookie!" - and Pre School Musical, a spin off on High School Musical wherein the Troy-like Muppet espouses the supremacy of the block corner while the Gabrielle-like Muppet argues that the dress-up area actually rules. I had never seen that piece before and could not stop laughing!

  • Other highlights included a special guest appearance by Bob McGrath, a beautiful singer and long-time Sesame cast member. I also had a nice chat with audience member Bonnie Erickson, who was part of the original design team for The Muppet Show and also Creative Director of the Product Division of Children's Television Workshop.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Meeting Kam

For two years in a row, I saw Kam Mak unveil the Lunar New Year stamp in front of the teachers, students, parents and grandparents of PS 124 in Chinatown during their annual New Year celebration.

I remember Principal Alice Hom introducing Kam to the children, saying to them "Maybe someday, this could be you." So great that the school would publicly acknowledge the accomplishments of an artist. And being a lover of stamps, I thought it would be worthwhile to interview him for Creative Times at some point.

During this past summer, I kept seeing someone who looked a lot like Kam in the Carroll Gardens Park. He was usually playing basketball with two boys. Finally, I approached him and it did turn out to be Kam with his son and son's friend. Little did I know, he lived only a few streets away from me!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kam in his artist studio in the top floor of his home, and gathered some information about his work and his life.

How Kam Landed the Job of Designing the Lunar New Year Stamp Series

As Kam shares, "There is little in the U.S. that celebrates the contributions of the Chinese to this country." It was this fact which motivated the OCA (Organization of Chinese in America) to lobby the United States Postal service in the 1980s to do something which would acknowledge Chinese heritage. The USPS decided that the Lunar New Year would be a good vehicle to celebrate the richness of Chinese culture. After the first series of Lunar New Year stamps was completed in 2004, the OCA lobbied for a second series and Kam was chosen to do this next group of 12 stamps which would run from 2008 - 2019.

Kam, who has worked in conjunction on the project with USPS Art Director Ethel Kessler, states that the Lunar New Year stamps have been a huge source of pride for the Chinese community. "The stamps have been mentioned in most Chinese newspapers in New York," Kam shares. He also relays his hope that people in the U.S. who don't celebrate the Lunar New Year will develop an appreciation for Chinese culture and history.

Kam is sometimes asked why he does not make the Chinese Zodiac animals more central to the design of the stamps. His response? After decades of celebrating the Lunar New Year, he feels that the animal is just a small part of the symbolism of the celebration. According to Kam, There are actually other symbols which just as powerfully convey the essence of the New Year and the beauty of the Chinese culture.

A Little About Kam's Life

Kam is also a celebrated children's book illustrator who wrote and did the artwork for My Chinatown based on his own experiences growing up there. In 1971, when Kam Mak was 10 years old, he and his family moved from Hong Kong to New York's Chinatown. Kam said it was quite the dangerous neighborhood back then, full of gang violence. His mom worked 6 days a week 12 hours a day in a sweatshop. His dad lived mostly in a bunkhouse in Long Island, where he worked in a restaurant. He came home one day a week to be with the family.

Kam's dad, who passed away a few years ago, ultimately became the person who took care of Kam's children when they were very young. The death, according to Kam, hit his now teenage son particularly hard.

Kam's mom, who lives in Chinatown, is extremely proud of the fact that her son has been publicly lauded by Chinese organizations and newspapers for his honor of being chosen to create the Lunar New Year stamp series. According to Kam, the public recognition helped his mom feel connected to her son's choice to make art his central work.

Kam is married to illustrator Mari Takabayashi, who created the children's books I Live in Brooklyn and I Live in Tokyo. Kam and Mari have a son in middle school and a daughter who is in high school.

For more information about Kam, visit his website:

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Call me old-fashioned, but I'm of the opinion that if you've become accustomed to sending messages to people on special occasions via Facebook, then you've gotten lazy!

If you have a real connection with someone, or you are building a connection to someone, then an occasion like a birthday, wedding, engagement, or birth merits either a paper card (trips to the stationary store can be fun! and you can even pick up cards at your corner drug store!) or a phone call.

A Facebook congratulations, especially if you know someone well, should be an "extra" on top of the more personal form of contact.

Think about how much personal notes and calls mean to you, and consider making them a part of your personal practice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I make this list every year and send it out to friends, family, clients and colleagues. Enjoy!

Anticipation of seeing both my and Mike’s side of the family in San Diego at a December party to celebrate our November marriage. I love that we will all be together under the same roof!

Watching Charlie Brown and Sean the Sheep DVDs. (And now I can’t get the Sean the Sheep theme song out of my head!)

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street.

Baking cookies to honor my Dad Len’s 70 years of life.

Interviewing inspiring people like Atiba Edwards, co-founder of the arts nonprofit F.O.K.U.S., for my blog.

Watching lots of good Dance Films and live dance shows including: The Wiz, Planet B-Boy, National Dance Institute’s Tribute to John Lennon, and Every Little Step (a documentary about the making of “A Chorus Line”).

Getting married to my best friend, Michael Sorgatz, in a small ceremony in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Check out our wedding website:

Heartfelt phone and written messages I received on my 40th birthday.

The perfect blend of good Information about personal and professional development in my friend Colleen’s new(ish) blog Newvine Growing – exploring evolution, revolution, and living intentionally. As I told her in an email “I like the way you are thoughtful with being fruity or crystal-waving.”

Jumping for joy when an all-female dance group, We Are Heroes, won the championship title in America’s Best Dance Crew.

Laughing as Mike and I watched chickens chase each other in and out of rows of Kale on an animal sanctuary/mini farm on Block Island.

Celebrating the Lunar New Year at Public School 124 in Chinatown. Just amazing to see young people participate in traditions that have lasted for thousands of years.

Going to MOMA for Friday night dates. Nothing beats Café 2 on the 2nd floor.

Visiting my nephew Niko’s Surfer Top 100 website to see what he’s been up to in the world of surfing. I am always cheering you on, Niko!

Remembering what a great and historic thing it is that Obama is our President.

Planning the Fourth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest with a dozen or so of some very creative, fun, collaborative Brooklyn bloggers. Check out

Getting to convene monthly with a group of women artists who enjoy each others’ company while pursuing our respective creative Quests.

Photo and email updates from my brother Adam and sister-in-law Raychel about their family adventures.

Surprise marriage proposal from Mike while we were visiting Block Island.

The great people I met while working at The Brooklyn Children’s Museum. What a smart, kind, and caring bunch of folks. And what an amazing place for parents and caregivers to bring their young ones.

The memory of my Uncle, Chris Linn. He was a wonderful writer and world traveler.

The satisfaction of placing bouquets of fresh flowers of the Vase that lives on our kitchen table. I am grateful for all the corner flower stands in New York! Recent discovery: Gerber daisies can last for two weeks!

Watching Mike Sorgatz build his community on, a place where he showcases the work and biographies of other Brooklyn artists.

EXtreme love and support from my mom, Libby, around planning wedding festivities.

Continuing to enjoy swims and steams at the awesome facilities of the Dodge and Chinatown YMCAs.

The idea of driving a Zambone at top speed across Wollman Rink with all my friends, family, and the whole slew of Muppet characters on board.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I wish you a 2010 full of love, growth, adventure, and joy.


PS – Keep in touch!
I’d love to hear about what you’ve been doing, thinking, and dreaming about.
I welcome recent photos of you with friends, family, loved ones, and pets.

Drop me a line via email:

Monday, December 07, 2009


Just in time for your holiday shopping, the BAX Holiday Online Auction is open! The auction will close on Friday, December 18th at 11PM. We are raising much needed funds for our programs and services, and this is an easy way to keep the arts alive!


There are tons of incredible deals sure to fit every budget size. Some featured items include:

ipod touchApple iPod Touch
4 VIP Tickets to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Dinner for Two at Prune Restaurant
American Girl Doll
Pilates Classes
Reserved tickets for Shakespeare in the Park (No waiting in line!)
Autographed print of a New Yorker cover by J.J. Sempe
Private Tour of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Great travel destinations to Chicago, Key West, and the Caribbean
Tickets to the TONY Awards
And so much MORE (no really, so much more!)

This is a fantastic auction - click here now to view the catalogue.

and don't forget to tell your friends!!!

Friday, December 04, 2009


Did you know that Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary?

Would you like to participate in this momentous occasion?

Come out out to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAM Rose Cinema next weekend. On Saturday, December 12 and Sunday December 13, they will be showing a series of Sesame-related films, most of which are 90 minutes long.

Click HERE for the Calendar, then click on "12" to view Saturday's films, and then "13" to view Sunday's films.

If you're someone who likes the "insider scoop," make sure to get tix to the 6:50 Saturday show of The World According to Sesame Street. It's followed by a Q & A session with the directors.


Reprinted from Buenos Padres; Photo Credit: Alex Gallardo, Los Angeles Times

In mid-September, the Los Angeles Unified School District notified Christina Gutierrez (better known as Miss G. to her students) that she would be laid off from Hamilton High School due to low seniority. For Gutierrez, the news came as a unwanted surprise. "I felt railroaded," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I saw something in the mail and my heart dropped."

However, for this Humanities assistant's students, her removal from the school became an opportunity to forcefully, yet peacefully, let their voices be heard. On her last day of work, 500 students of this culturally diverse school (44% of the student body is Hispanic, 33% Black, 17% White and 5% Asian) organized a sit-in protest as a means of communicating their disapproval of the decision reached.

The protest was much more than a poorly organized brouhaha. A group of 4 students and friends, Noemi Rodriguez, Jimmy Biblarz, David Kamins, and Maya Festinger, teleconferenced twice a week, figuring out logistics and investigating rules and regulations. Via word of mouth, the four students publicized the event and the day of the protest they distributed informational handouts for all the protesters.

As they lined the halls the day of Miss. G's departure, the students knew not to block any exits or disrupt traffic circulation in the building. They also cleverly found a diplomatic way of avoiding the Principal's requests to keep quiet: they started to snap. By the end of the day, the students had gathered 300 letters in support of Gutierrez and felt proud of having successfully completed the job.

However, these student rabble rousers soon realized that their efforts had still fallen short of stimulating a reintegration of their beloved teacher into the school. They knew they needed to do more and, in an unexpected twist of fate, they were presented with the solution.

During Miss G.'s absence from Hamilton High, she took a substitute teaching job in an elementary school while her replacement prefered to work at an elementary school. For the students, the answer was simple: why not switch the two teachers?

With that in mind, they once again geared up and prepared to present their solution at a school district board meeting. As with the protest, the young men and women looked through videos and researched on how to defend their case in the most professional manner. Maya Festinger, one of the student protesters, told the Los Angeles Times, "We want to create a legitimate student representation. We don't want to be belligerent or bludgeoning. A lot of what we are about is proposing solutions, rather than listing grievances."

The students moved and impressed the board members so much that, in an unsual move, they conceded and allowed Miss Gutierrez to return to Hamilton High.

According to Miss Gutierrez, this moment serves as a source of empowerment for the students, of whom she is incredibly proud. The students of Hamilton High prove that anything is possible with a little dedication, organization, intelligence and a lot of heart.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


How I Got to Frank

I’m about to finish conducting my interview with Kevin Clash, longtime Muppeteer of Elmo and a Co-Producer of Sesame Street. “You know who you should interview next?” Kevin says. “Franky. Frank Biondo. He’s the cameraman on Sesame Street and even though he’s behind the scenes, he shapes the mood and the feeling on the set.”

So I call Frank and he tells me he’s filming a show, not Sesame Street, but a special offshoot, When Parents Are Deployed. He’s going to be at the Unitel Building on West 57th Street. Could I come up there while he’s filming to watch and to talk? “Sure thing,” I say. How could I pass up a chance to see Frank and Muppeteers in action? I’ve only dreamed of this moment since I was six years old.
I get to the Unitel Building and wind my way back to where they’re filming. Kevin Clash is there, directing and also playing Elmo, and Fran Brill is playing Elmo’s mom. Costume folks are stitching up Muppets and their outfits, and other folks are painting and repairing sets. Frank’s filming and within minutes of our first interaction, I can see why he is known as The Mayor. He greets me warmly, and, in between takes, he comes to the back of the stage where I am standing to chat with me about his work and personal history. He is warm, funny, engaging, talkative, totally unpretentious. He starts in right away with the beginning…..

How Frank Got to Sesame Street
Once upon a time, cameraman Frank Biondo was used to filming big names in show business – Barbara Streisand and Merv Griffin, to name a few. Imagine his shock when he found himself filming, in his own words, “A freakin’ eight-foot bird” and “an orange Muppet in a garbage can.” It was the late 60s and Frank had been brought on set to film the pilot of a new television show after the original filming company had gone on strike.

The show was Sesame Street, and no one knew just how big the show was going to be, including Frank. According to Mr. Biando, the early incarnations of Sesame Street characters were not so great-looking. “Big bird looked a lot different then. His head was whacked out.” Frank was filming these funky-looking characters, wondering “Who in the world is going to watch this stuff?” Thirty-nine years later, working for a show that is televised in 120- plus countries, he has his answer.
How Frank Got Elected to Mayor
Frank has met a lot of creative people in the course of his 39 years of work on the most famous street in the world. He’s interacted and cooperated with thousands of production people, directors, actors, and Muppeteers. But to Frank, those thousands are not just a sea of nameless faces; they are faces with stories and Frank loves to tell their stories. And that’s why Frank is Mayor of Sesame Street: because he uses story-telling to keep the history of the show alive, to weave the moments and the people from past and present together.Frank is Mayor, too, because he is the one that comes up with the “crazy ideas” that keep people on the set connected to one another. One time, he got cast and crew to bring in baby pictures and guess who was who. He has organized wrap parties where the cast members got to show off their various talents. He created Frankly, Frankly Have I Got a Deal for You – a newsletter for people who work on the show. Frankly was a home-grown publication that included recipes, classified ads, jokes of the week, and letters from the show’s Executive Director. Frank also helped start a nonprofit organization called Make a Kid Smile. With Elmo dolls in tow, he and his family members visit and brighten the days of children hospitalized with serious illnesses.

Where Did Frank Come From?

Having spent his youth surrounded by lots of relatives, it’s not surprising that Frank knows how to create a sense of family among a sizable group of people. He was the eldest of 16 grandchildren and named after a grandfather who came to the U.S. from Sicily. Frank remembers that his grandpa -- a father of nine -- smoked cigars, used a spittoon, made his own wine, and always paid home visits to grandchildren when they were sick. Frank’s grandmother made Sicilian pizza every Sunday night for the entire family.

Frank remembers another part of growing up: dancing. He’d go to church dances, where he did the Cha Cha, the Mambo, and the Lindy. After joining the US Navy at 17, he taught dance classes in the USO in exchange for meals. In his present day life, Frank liked to dance out in Long Island. He describes himself as “a 50s dancer who dances to live band music.” If there’s a dance he doesn’t know, Frank makes a point of learning it. Not long ago, he went and took lessons to learn how to do the Hustle.
It’s A Wrap
After the shoot is done, Frank invites me to have lunch with him and the crew. He and some of his co-workers start telling funny stories about their years together on set and teasing each other good-naturedly about challenging times they’ve gone through. Chuck, one of Frank’s longest-time buddies there, remembers when the two of them set off together to film the Daytona 500, each being assigned to catch the race from a different angle.

After they've reminisced for a while, I say to Chuck and Frank: “You two have seen a lot.” Frank’s reply? “If we died now, we wouldn’t have missed much.” It’s so clear that Frank’s a man who feels full, full and grateful for all the people and stories and Muppets and children and actors whose lives he has been part of over the last four decades. And I realize that Sesame Street would be a very different place without him.


At 9:54 AM, Blogger Joe Hennes said...
Hi Eleanor,

I just wanted to say that I loved the Frank Biondo article. It's always nice to see more interviews with the Sesame veterans.


Joe Hennes
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Rob K said...
Great story, Eleanor. Frank's comments are very inspirational.
At 4:04 PM, Blogger Pat said...
Hi Eleanor
I enjoyed this post very much! Frank Biando sounds like a very interesting person. I've been a long time muppet fan myself so it's nice to learn a little about the man behind the camera.
Pat ( another blogger from Brooklyn)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Every year, I send an end-of-the year card to friends, family, colleagues, and clients. I pick a non-religious card - sometimes, like this year, a non holiday-related card, and also write an alphabetized list of some of the year's highlights.

It all takes time to do, but it is gratifying to think about each person that adds to the richness of my life as I address the envelopes.

Whether you send 5, 50, or 500 holiday cards, make it an exercise in reflecting on and expressing gratitude for every person who makes your life the great adventure that it is.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Reprinted from Daily Om

In a world of six billion people, it’s easy to believe that the only way to initiate profound transformation is to take extreme action. Each of us, however, carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse. Everything we do and think affects the people in our lives, and their reactions in turn affect others. As the effect of a seemingly insignificant word passes from person to person, its impact grows and can become a source of great joy, inspiration, anxiety, or pain. Your thoughts and actions are like stones dropped into still waters, causing ripples to spread and expand as they move outward. The impact you have on the world is greater than you could ever imagine, and the choices you make can have far-reaching consequences. You can use the ripple effect to make a positive difference and spread waves of kindness that will wash over the world.

Should the opportunity arise, the recipient of a good deed will likely feel compelled to do a good deed for someone else. Someone feeling the effects of negative energy will be more likely to pass on that negative energy. One act of charity, one thoughtful deed, or even one positive thought can pass from individual to individual, snowballing until it becomes a group movement or the ray of hope that saves someone’s life. Every transformation, just like every ripple, has a point of origin. You must believe in your ability to be that point of origin if you want to use the ripples you create to spread goodness. Consider the effect of your thoughts and actions, and try to act graciously as much as possible.

A smile directed at a stranger, a compliment given to a friend, an attitude of laughter, or a thoughtful gesture can send ripples that spread among your loved ones and associates, out into your community, and finally throughout the world. You have the power to touch the lives of everyone you come into contact with and everyone those people come into contact with. The momentum of your influence will grow as your ripples moves onward and outward. One of those ripples could become a tidal wave of positivity.