Wandering NYC and life with Lillian Boxfish

  •  Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney (St. Martin’s Press, 2017)
  • In 40 words or less: Lillian was a woman before her time. On New Year’s Eve, at 85 years old, she sets out to walk the important landmarks of her life in New York and revisit decisions, good and bad.
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Locale: Primarily NYC
  • Time: New Year’s Eve 1984 and flashbacks
  • This book was pure pleasure. Lillian is based on a woman copywriter for Macy’s beginning in the 1930s. Kathleen Rooney captures both the bon vivant and the troubles that make a story worth reading. As a dedicated walker and child of New York, I was with Lillian every step of the way.

New York City has long been the destination for writers, actors and other aspirants with dreams beyond Main Street at home. Kathleen Rooney creates in Lillian Boxfish a woman pushing the envelope of the 20th century. Conveniently, Lillian is born in 1900 and comes of age with the new freedoms of the 1920s. This affords her the opportunity to seek a career in New York after graduating Goucher College, of course, living in a women’s residence, suitable for unaccompanied young ladies of the era. She eventually secures a position as an assistant copywriter for R.H. Macy, writing copy for the clever ads popular until widespread television advertising changed the field.

Lillian loves New York as much as she loves her independence. As a career woman of that era, her evenings and weekends were devoted to enjoying all the city had to offer and her growing expertise as a poet. Her colleagues were her core friends and occasional frenemy. While always very social, Lillian was disinclined to marry, move to the suburbs or give up her career.

All these stories are recounted in the course of New Year’s Eve, 1984, as Lillian walks across Manhattan, visiting many of the places that have defined her life. Although setting out alone, she isn’t particularly lonely, confidently stopping in fashionable restaurants for a cocktail and continuing on. At 85, she is still fit and interested in engaging with the city and all it offers, including bodega owners and young photographers she happens to befriend.

Lillian’s life has its share of missteps along with the successes. She marries and has a child late in life for someone of that era while continuing to work. Changing societal attitudes run throughout, and her beloved career at Macy’s eventually comes to an end.  As a trailblazing woman in advertising, she is held as an icon and then abandoned as the feminist movement begins to take hold.

Rooney’s novel is a welcome change of pace. Adding to the attraction of Lillian’s character is the knowledge that she is inspired by the real life of Margaret Fishback, who did hold an assistant copywriter’s position with Macy’s and had her poetry published. While the story is pure fiction, I’d certainly like to be Lillian when I grow up!



Not a lot of staying in this “stay-cation”

DSC_0660There is nothing like out of town visitors, especially those with children, to give you a completely new perspective on your hometown. Last week was jam-packed with favorite haunts and new surprises in the DC area.

It had been way too long since my niece had visited. She and her wonderful husband brought their two boys for their first introduction to the nation’s capital.    As a dutiful great-aunt, I spent lots of time beforehand pouring over maps and articles about the latest and greatest activities for visitors to DC. Fortunately all that prep time was well spent and made the visit a lot smoother and more fun for all. While they did some exploration on their own, I was very happy to be included on most excursions. Continue reading Not a lot of staying in this “stay-cation”

Ellen in Wonderland – Day 1

imageIt doesn’t get much better than this.  Having arrived in New York midday, I set out to explore Chelsea and the Flatiron imageDistrict, the neighborhoods around my hotel. Timing being everything, Madisonimage Square is having a monthlong festival Mad. Sq. Eats bringing a pop-up food truck and cafe area to the vibrancy of Madison Square Park.  Add that to the amazing art installation for a terrific afternoon.  There was even time for knitting in the park.

Just across the street is Eataly, the enormous new Italian market/food hall/ destination. image Everywhere you look there is another amazing counter.  Me, I am always partial to a beautiful produce or fish display.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

My evening plans were extra-special.  Over the last few years I’ve had several opportunities to reconnect with childhood friends and fellow New Rochelle High School classmates.  Tonight three of us had a dinner/theatre evening.  Thanks to my daughter, Miriam, we snagged tickets for Hand to God, a provocative and very well-acted play.  Meri, Debbie and I had a blast.image  And I had the chance to introduce my daughter to these lovely women – priceless!

Tomorrow starts the main event – Book Expo America.  And I can’t wait!

When Nature Calls

IMG_0032Washington, DC is known for political  and roadway gridlock, especially during the icy and snowy days of winter. We can’t compare our winter suffering to that of Boston, but this winter was unrelenting in its cold and disruption. And then came Spring!

Glorious, majestic, awe-inspiring. Pick a positive word and it’s likely to fit. For those of us fortunate to live in the Nation’s capital, the traffic jams and crowds are a small price to pay when you live in the most beautiful springtime city on the planet. Continue reading When Nature Calls

Fighting hibernation


As much as I love reading, an activity perfectly suited for the shorter, colder, darker days of winter, there is nothing like an excursion to keep both mind and body sharp. This winter I’ve found myself a bit stymied in my quest to keep my inner excursionista happy. First off, the weather has not cooperated.  Not that it’s been so terrible but it seems too many times I’ve put something on the schedule and the specter of icy roads/delays quashes the plan. Sometimes it’s a mundane appointment that is then rescheduled on a day that would have been perfect for a good downtown wander. If I were still using a paper calendar my January would be one big eraser-created hole.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 5.58.55 PMBeyond the weather, a recent change to reading the Washington Post online (except on Sunday) has altered the number and range of local events/exhibits/opportunities that cross my path. Given the explosion of social media marketing and web guides you’d think it would be easy to hone in great things to see and do.  The truth is the algorithms may show you the top three exhibits in town for the weekend but can’t show you the range of museum or gallery shows in the same way the listings in an old fashioned newspaper can. When the seasonal calendar of all theater/art exhibits/concerts for the upcoming months appears it is so much easier to grab a pen, circle those of interest and tear out the pages. Whether you are a local or just visiting, I have a favorite place online to look for something to do – a walking tour, exhibit or lesser known performance – and it’s Cultural Tourism DC. There is an annotated calendar that makes it much easier to pick, choose and schedule. Now that I’ve shared a trick to finding fun, who’s game for a trip to see “Decoding the Renaissance” at the Folger Shakespeare Library? Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.20.42 PM