Authors Posts by Stephanie Giunta

Stephanie Giunta


From left, Richard O’Sullivan, Will Logan, and Heather Legnosky in a scene from the show. Photo by Jackie St. Louis/SPAC

By Stephanie Giunta

“What does today’s audience want in Christmas?” was one of the first questions posed at the onset of Smithtown Performing Arts Center’s Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!). The cast promised a jocular twist on the beloved holiday classics and a fresh look at timeless tales injected with modern-day pop culture — and they delivered. In fact, I think I heard Santa’s “Ho! Ho! Ho!” in both laughter and solidarity all the way from the North Pole.

The show, a whimsical combination of vaudeville, ad-lib, and traditional narration, was originally written by Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald, and John K. Alvarez, and debuted in 2003 in Cape May, New Jersey. For the past 20 years, the show has been adapted across the country, and kept fresh and new with the poignant inclusion of topical media narratives. Even Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift made the cut!

Will Logan (Will), sets the stage by performing the timeless Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. Heather Legnosky (Heather) and Richard O’Sullivan (Rich) concede, but only because they are desperate to work to qualify for health insurance. Claiming the audience has grown bored of the same seasonal production they put on year after year, they convince Will to add a little spice to the performance —by cramming every Christmas story and holiday tradition into a comical hurricane of a variety show. And with this irreverent mash up, no Christmas carol or reference is safe. Especially your fruitcake. 

Directed by Jordan Hue, the trio takes the audience through a smattering of seasonal favorites, including The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and It’s A Wonderful Life. As someone who is a die-hard Christmas fan and has seen the Rankin Bass classics countless times, the actors used so many references to their comedic advantage. 

Specifically, Will’s portrayal of Hermey the bicuspid-obsessed elf who is a wannabe dentist, and Rich’s rendition of Yukon Cornelius [Rudolph], had me laughing. Not only do they deliver the lines from the show verbatim with some racy humor peppered in, their ability to mimic the original cartoon voice overs is so on point. 

Through the quick rush of all of the myths and memories, there are some surprisingly touching moments. Heather’s delivery of Linus’ monologue from A Charlie Brown Christmas was a beautiful, heartfelt moment among the stop-and-go kitschiness and jollity, allowing the audience to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. And with a snap of your fingers, the moment passes and the crew moves onto the Gift of the Magi, where Heather morphs into a new-age character straight from the Jersey Shore. 

Will, Heather, and Rich are gifted actors that have the ability to transition from scene to scene with speed and precision, keep the mood light, and the audience enthused. The creative overlap between storylines, especially the back-and-forth between A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life lets their talent shine through. Their change in intonation, articulation and ability to play two roles simultaneously was only trumped by the fluidity of their overall performance. And Rich’s deadpan way of casually referring to Charles Dickens as ‘Chuck Dickens’ had me in stitches. 

The show takes a warm, soft feeling of Christmas and pokes fun in an off-the-cuff, non-traditional manner. It’s like a chocolate chip cookie with potato chips inside — sweet, but unexpectedly salty, and ultimately a solid combination. 

Put your sneakers on, and get ready for a high-speed run down memory lane filled with jaunty holiday innuendoes that will leave you laughing and craving peppermint hot chocolate.

Cast & Crew: Will Logan, Heather Legnosky, Richard O’Sullivan, Jordan Hue, Michael Mucciolo, Kelly Mucciolo, Joseph Castoro and Megan DelMonico

Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown will present Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) through December 23. Recommended for ages 12 and up, tickets are $32 adults, $30 seniors, $28 students. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit 

By Stephanie Giunta

Almost 180 years ago, Charles Dickens gave us the immortal gift of A Christmas Carol, which has become a pillar of holiday culture and a reminder to hold the spirit of the season near and dear. 

Port Jefferson’s Main Street, already adorned with wreaths on the lamp posts in preparation for its 27th annual Charles Dickens Festival, was only trumped by Theatre Three’s warmth and inviting decor during last Saturday’s opening night performance of the holiday classic. Carolers, singing familiar tunes before the show, further ignited the magic of Christmas in the air. 

Revisited, adapted, and never told quite the same way twice, Theatre Three’s version transports the audience back to 19th century England for an introspective, festive excursion that touches hearts and minds in a profound way. Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s executive artistic director who doubles as the stingy curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, reinvents the show each season, bringing a unique twist and newfound beauty to the timeless tale. 

Sanzel’s versatility is remarkable; his expressive nature and ability to portray a character with such complex, emotional layers is exceptional. Along with the power of his reprimands, I could feel Scrooge’s sardonic “Good Afternoon!” down to my bones. I felt like I was being asked to leave the office along with his chipper and persistent nephew, Fred Halliwell (Sean Amato) and warm and loving clerk, Bob Cratchit (Ray Gobes Jr.) on Christmas Eve. Both Fred, joyful and optimistic, and Bob, loyal and dedicated, are talented bookends who symbolize the redemption, compassion, and transformative power of the Christmas spirit over even the harshest of humans. 

The Fezziwig duo, played by the talented Stephen T. Wangner and Ginger Dalton, are the essence of fanciful charm. Their playful interaction and bubbly nature personify the merriment of the season. I could smell their mince pies, plum porridge, and zest for life from a mile away. In tandem, daughter, Belle Fezziwig (Julia Albino), wonderfully captures Scrooge’s heart, but pivots beautifully to letting him go to his newfound love: money.

A flawless performance from the three spirits is not to forget. Cassidy Rose O’Brien is angelic as the Ghost of Christmas Past, walking Scrooge through a painful review of his mistakes and heartbreaks, including the loss of his relationship with Belle, and the deaths of his older sister, Fan (Alexa Eichinger, Brooke Morrison) and partner, Jacob Marley (Steven Uihlein). 

I was particularly enthralled with the scene in which townspeople are asking Scrooge to “Buy” or “Sell.” There are so many overlapping dialogues intersecting at once, providing the audience with a line of sight into Scrooge’s psyche, and how he may be processing the key occurrences of his past simultaneously. It was brilliant.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Wangner) has a belly laugh that echoes throughout the theater, yet showcases the firm, tough love Scrooge needs to realize the gravity of matters at hand.

Lastly, I mouthed “wow” when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Amato) appeared on stage. What a vision! The scenes that follow produce a scared-straight version of Scrooge that even he didn’t know existed. 

I would be remiss in mentioning the short scene featuring Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper (Dalton), in which she was inebriated on his gravesite. Her quick wit and boisterous mirth adds an unexpected and appreciated twang of comedy to the performance.

Randall Parsons and Jason Allyn truly bring 19th century England to Port Jefferson through beautiful production design and authentic costuming. The audience is transported through time with spine-tingling special effects by Robert W. Henderson Jr., and Brad Frey injects jollity into the atmosphere with signature Victorian carols and hymnal tunes. 

When I first saw A Christmas Carol about 20 years ago, I remember being impressed with Scrooge and the cast because they made the story feel so real. Through an adult lens, it was even more apparent. Somehow, Sanzel and the cast are able to draw out a variety of emotions, connecting you not only to Christmas, but the treasures of giving of yourself to those less fortunate, being kind to others, and finding happiness. It’s a show that plays on the heartstrings in so many different capacities, reminding children and adults alike of what is most important during the holidays.

Theatre Three makes Christmas spirit feel so tangible that you can wrap it up in a box with a big, red bow. Bravo to Sanzel and the cast for bringing something so wonderful to life! Be sure to stick around post-performance for a photo memento with Scrooge. The $5 charge contributes to the theater’s scholarship fund.

CAST & CREW: Julia Albino, Jason Allyn, Sean Amato, Karin Bagan, Steven Barile Jr., Kyle M. Breitenbach, Mairead Camas, Shannon Cooper, Ginger Dalton, Alexa Eichinger, Angelina Eybs, Sari Feldman, Griffin Fleming, Brad Frey, Julie Friedman, Christina Gobes, Ray Gobes Jr., Skye Greenberg, Tim Haggerty, Kathleen Arabelle Han, Robert W. Henderson Jr., Patrick Hutchinson, Zach Kanakaris, Linda May, Brooke Morrison, Cassidy Rose O’Brien, Randall Parsons, William Roslak, Jeffrey Sanzel, Finn Thomas, Isabela Thomsen, Melissa Troxler, Steven Uihlein, Addyson Urso, Stephen T. Wangner, Cassidy Worrell, Kaylin Zeidler and Stanley Zinger

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 30. All tickets are $25 in November and range from $25 to $40 in December. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit

See a trailer of the show here.

Josephine Eichner and Stephanie Giunta in October 2020.

By Stephanie Giunta 

There is no sound when a heart breaks. You can hear glass shatter when it falls to the floor. The crash of two cars colliding. The scream of someone in pain. But the heart can break into a million little pieces, and no one can hear. An orchestra of one; a violin with no strings. 

That is how I felt when I lost my Grandma this September. I had front row seats to a symphony of sadness.

You see, an adult relationship with a grandparent transcends all things. It is metaphorically magical in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. Though generations apart, you are both learning from and guiding one another down different paths, writing new chapters while rereading the old. 

Josephine Eichner and Stephanie Giunta in December 1994.

Her wit and witticism preceded her. Her sharp remarks, sarcasm, and sing-song responses are the tiny characteristics of her personality that have taken up permanent real estate in my brain. 

She endured much — cancer, twice — and never once complained. I, on the other hand, will miss complaining to her and getting a stern “Stephanie” accompanied with an eye roll and a slap on the wrist. 

Grandma was not one who loved the limelight. But I saw a sparkle in her eye like no other on her 90th birthday when I accompanied her to the Rose Caraccappa Center in Mount Sinai for her Tuesday senior club meeting back in February. Her fluffy white hair and pink lipstick were perfectly complemented by the tiara she donned, and I can’t think of a moment in my lifetime where I felt prouder to be her granddaughter than that very day. 

My memories of her as a child were wonderful, but somewhere along our journey, we turned a corner in our relationship. We became more like girlfriends, and in many ways, she was my second mother. I ran to her for advice; with my worries; my happiness; my drama. She didn’t know all of the answers, but she sure knew how to listen. Sitting with her while nursing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table was nothing less than therapeutic. 

Josephine Eichner and Stephanie Giunta in October 2020.

She was there for all of my major milestones: birthdays, graduations, engagement, marriage, and the birth of my daughter, who carries her namesake. Their relationship was truly one-of-a-kind. She called her “My Baby” and each morning, promptly at or around 6:00 a.m., I would text her with a new photo or video from the day before. This became our daily ritual for almost two years without fail. 

Towards the end, I watched Grandma morph into the final version of herself. I shed many tears knowing that her days were numbered as I began asking myself how I was going to find the strength to move on without one of my best friends; my texting buddy; my chit chatter; the one who I’d split a roast beef with relish on rye with.

During one of our last conversations, I told her, “You know how much I love you, right?” to which she replied with a breathless, yet sassy and adamant, “YES!” She then asked me to brush her hair — something she did for me as a little girl. Our stories had shifted, and our roles had reversed.  

As she slept, I memorized her. I studied the curve of her face, the up and down of her chest. The silvery white of her hair that curled on the ends. The skin tag on her forehead — the exact same one that I had inherited. The fine lines on her cheeks, which were the product of a long and fruitful life. 

Still, with the platinum hoops in her ears and smiley face slippers afoot, she was Grandma. And she carried with her a cornucopia of memories and conversations, laughter and tears. I kissed her forehead, squeezed her hand, and told her how much I loved her every day until I didn’t see her again. 

Josephine Eichner and her great granddaughter in July 2023.

More than anything, I will miss the little things — like every Christmas season, hearing that my molasses cookies don’t look as good as hers; watching her cradle my child; calling her every time The Wedding Date is on television; shimmying the flower pot over on my front porch, so she could get up the steps and into my house; her telling my husband that he needed to put a sign on our basement door to distinguish it from the bathroom. 

When you lose someone this special, especially as an adult, no amount of time you spent together will ever be enough. For 33 years, I was lucky enough to have this pillar of strength by my side. Now, the only difference is that she’ll be looking down on me from above.

Rest in peace, Josephine M. Eichner

February 7, 1933 — September 26, 2023

By Stephanie Giunta

Something is blooming on Long Island: lavender. In recent years, the rising popularity of lavender farms has taken the island by storm. The East End’s beautiful and expansive fields, filled with gorgeous colors and magnificent scents, has drawn a diverse crowd of both lifelong locals and international visitors. Crowds flock annually to traverse through acres of beauty, enjoying fragrant fields and spectacular views, completely enveloped by the purple craze.

If you are looking for a natural and transformative experience this summer, look no further than Lavender By the Bay. Located in both East Marion and Calverton, the farms are a fusion of agricultural artistry brought to life through the Rozenbaum family. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Chanan Rozenbaum, co-owner of the business, who provided some insight on the legacy behind the illustrious lavender and the farms’ tranquil escape. 

How did the business develop into two large farms with 47+ acres?

It’s quite a story. I grew up summering in Southold back in the 80s. My dad always had a green thumb and worked at the apple orchards in Israel. He was always playing around in the garden. He is originally from Paris, and lavender from France is a big part of the culture there — it grows acres upon acres. So, he tried growing lavender and it  flourished. 

My mom was an art teacher at the time in the NYC public school system, and was very crafty with dried flower bouquets and making sachets. We set up a picnic bench in front of the house, set up products, and my dad saw an opportunity. He saw lavender flourishing out there [the East End] and no one else was growing it. He loved the farm culture of the North Fork, so he took a chance and bought some property out in East Marion in 2002. It was a 17-acre plot. One year he planted one acre, then two, then three, and kept going. 

As a result of social media, we went viral. More and more people were coming [to the farm]. We saw that the property out east couldn’t totally handle the amount of people coming, so we bought the property in Calverton in 2018. The property is a little over 30 acres, and it’s been a great ride. We never thought the response would be what it was. 

Why do you think the lavender farms are so popular?

People really love lavender and it really affects them. I often get people telling me that the scent of lavender reminds them of their grandmother, or a pillow their mother gave them. It’s part of the charm and appeal of the farm. 

What type of lavender do you grow?

We grow English Lavender and French Lavender. English Lavender has a sweeter fragrance and a vibrant, purple color. Other varieties can be pink, white, and light blue. French Lavender has a stronger fragrance; it is a little more dull in color, but a taller bloom. It gives off that sea of purple when you’re standing in it. I love the French bloom, but the English is quite magnificent. 

When is the most optimal time to see each at peak bloom?

It’s very difficult to totally predict when the lavender is in bloom because we’re in Mother Nature’s hands. Typically, the English Lavender blooms mid-June to the end of June. Some varieties of English will bloom at the end of the summer or early fall.  French Lavender blooms in the beginning of July, peaks for the first two weeks, and extends until the end of July. It is never all in bloom at once since we are a working farm, and need time to harvest lavender in bunches for sachets.

What can people expect when they visit Lavender By the Bay?

Disconnection from technology. Being in the moment. Embracing nature for what it is. You can see the bees gathering nectar from the lavender, and butterflies fluttering around. It’s a unique experience needed for the soul. Especially in the times that we’re living in now after COVID, it’s really an opportunity to recenter yourself.

Lavender By the Bay is a beautiful experience. People are invited to walk around on paths through the fields and take photos. 

There are a variety of chairs that are perfect for photo ops, and a beautiful pavilion in the fields to relax in. We even allow professional photo shoots to take place, which are reserved for after hours, and require a separate site fee. You can email [email protected] to make arrangements.

To make the most of your day and time at the farm, we recommend purchasing tickets on our website beforehand to ensure customers get their full time in the fields, but there is no entry fee when we are not in bloom. You can subscribe to our newsletter for bloom and ticket announcements. 

Bring your dogs, too! As long as they are leashed and cleaned up after, they are welcome to enjoy the fields.

Can visitors pick their own lavender at the farms?

We don’t offer U-pick lavender, but we do sell freshly-cut bunches for purchase. We also carry and sell 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 gallon lavender plants. 

Do you sell food or drink at the farm?

In order to maintain the beauty of the farm, we do not allow food in the fields, and do not sell food on the premises. Water and non-alcoholic beverages are permitted.

If you could describe the farms’ ambience in three words, what would they be?

Serene, picturesque, aromatic.

What types of lavender products are sold at your farms’ shops? 

We sell dried lavender bouquets, handmade sachets, bath and body products, soaps, essential oils, pillow mists, and lotions, as well as wild lavender honey in our shops and on our website. We also offer gift cards for purchase in denominations of $25, $50, and $100, which are redeemable on our website only. 

We also do farmer’s markets in the city, so there is a lot of outreach from that. We do about 5 to 6 markets a week in Union Square, the Upper West Side and Brooklyn. 

What is your most popular product?

I would have to say our lavender plants, bunches, and sachets.

Why should people make the trip out to the North Fork? 

It’s a beautiful place. I always joke that people from France are coming to the lavender farm on Long Island. We have people from all over the world come to visit. There are lots of vineyards and many other farms, so it makes for a fantastic and wonderful day trip. One of the beauties of the North Fork is that it is so close to the city. To be able to drive an hour and be in a different world is quite an opportunity to explore. It’s wonderful.

IF YOU GO: Lavender By the Bay has two locations: 7540 Main Road, East Marion (631-477-1019) and 47 Manor Road, Calverton (631-381-0730). Both farms are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in June) through December. Please call before visiting as the farm hours are weather and staff dependent. For more information, visit and follow along on Instagram @lavenderbythebay. 

This article first appeared in Summer Times, a seasonal guide supplement by TBR News Media.


Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano at her 'I Am Alive!' party.

By Stephanie Giunta

In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month, we would like to honor a local survivor, Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, who is beyond inspirational. Here is her story.

On January 11, 2017, 34-year-old Huntington Village resident Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, went to work like it was any other day, although she remembers having a bad headache. The passionate history buff and Executive Director at the Huntington Historical Society was making some personal calls during her lunch break. As she sat down to eat her lunch, she suddenly felt dizzy; her coworker asked if she was okay, and she couldn’t speak. Out of nowhere, a simple Wednesday became the day that forever-altered Napolitano’s future: the day she unexpectedly suffered a stroke. 

Once the stroke had occurred, Fortunato-Napolitano couldn’t remember what happened next, though she recounted her story by way of others at the scene. She was rushed to Huntington Hospital, and was then airlifted to North Shore University Hospital, where she resided for two weeks. When she woke up, she still couldn’t speak, had weakness in her right arm and couldn’t walk.

After a stint at the hospital, she was released into a rehab facility, but at the end of her week-long tenure, needed to move back into her parents’ house. Though the mobility in her arm was very low, she was slowly regaining the ability to walk, but couldn’t tackle the stairs up to her front door. She lived with her parents for three weeks, while simultaneously beginning outpatient rehab, seeing a handful of therapists to attempt to win her life back as her own through physical and cognitive recovery.

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano at her ‘I Am Alive!’ party.

No warning signs 

Doctors were puzzled that a healthy 34-year-old, who had nothing more than a routine headache on the day of her stroke, could suffer something so unexpected and traumatic. At six months post-stroke, Fortunato-Napolitano began seeing a neurologist and underwent in-depth testing to reveal underlying notions of root cause.  She tested negative for everything doctors had assumed she would test positive for. Though they could confirm that the stroke was caused by a clogged blood vessel in her brain, the actual diagnosis remains inconclusive. 

A determined patient

After routinely attending speech therapy for six months, Fortunato-Napolitano still fought to talk. In our interview, she mentioned that she struggled with aphasia for the first two years during her recovery. Her therapist alluded to the fact that her speech would not improve — that she should simply get used to this new way of life. This led her down a dark path of depression, afraid that she would never regain her full ability to communicate with others. 

After 4-5 months, her parents encouraged her to seek a second opinion from another therapist who would work with her past the “6 month window.” As Fortunato-Napolitano stated during our interview, her mother “God bless her soul!” put her in touch with her current speech therapist, Judy Cavallo, who she still sees to this day. Cavallo even provides Fortunato-Napolitano with homework because she asks for it!

In addition to speech therapy, Fortunato-Napolitano continues to see an occupational therapist, Ian MacManus, to aid in her physical disabilities. Seven of her fingers work, but three fingers on her right hand are bent in a fixed manner. She dreams of the ability to wear high heels again, but walking is too difficult in any shoe aside from her signature Doc Martens and Birkenstocks — which she has in a wide variety of colors.  Her right foot cannot be fully-placed on the floor, and only the outside edge can go flat completely. 

To this day, Napolitano still goes to outpatient rehab twice per week (once to her speech therapist and once to her occupational therapist) to improve her skills and continually progress.

New realities 

Prior to the stroke, Fortunato-Napolitano was a writer. She wrote a historic Half Hollow Hills column for Patch Media on a weekly basis, as well as many articles for the Huntington Historical Society. Now, on average, it will take her about three hours to write three paragraphs. She mentioned that this has been the hardest thing for her to overcome from a professional perspective. But Siri is her best friend. She is so grateful for technology, which helps her text, post on social media, and write emails.  

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano at her ‘I Am Alive!’ party.

A major milestone

Within the first five years of having a stroke, an individual is 50% more likely to suffer from a second stroke in comparison to a person of the same age. So, in January 2022, Fortunato-Napolitano threw herself an “I Am Alive!” party to celebrate meeting this critical milestone. There were over 85 people in attendance, including her neurologist and speech therapist, and she donned a stylish, sparkly green jumpsuit. Not only was this a celebration of how far she had come, but also that statistically, her chances of having another stroke or stroke-like episode would start to significantly decrease.  

Pivotal life lessons

Fortunato-Napolitano is so grateful to be alive. She could have been paralyzed and in a wheelchair; she may not have survived. But now, she makes sure that she lives every day to the fullest. She voluntarily chooses happiness.

Prior to the stroke, she was unhappy about stupid, inconsequential things. Now, Fortunato-Napolitano uses a “whatever!” mentality. She believes that life is worth living and she intends to make the most of the hand that she has been dealt. The biggest lesson she learned from her stroke, she mentioned, was, “I can be unhappy [about that] or I can just be happy. And I choose to be happy all of the time.” 

Fortunato-Napolitano fuels her happiness with her work. This February, she was newly-appointed as the Executive Director of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association. She loves her job and the challenges it provides.

She is also a travel connoisseur — something she has been passionate about from a very young age. Her next destination includes heading to Cleveland on a baseball stadium tour for her husband’s birthday, but the top future spots on her international travel list include Africa, Argentina, Australia, and Turkey.

A message to all stroke survivors 

Fortunato-Napolitano’s hope is that someone in similar shoes reads this article, her story, and becomes happy due to reading it.  She can’t stress enough that you can and will get better — you just can’t stop believing in yourself. At six months post-stroke, her original speech therapist told her she would never speak again. Six years later, Fortunato-Napolitano is carrying on conversations beautifully. Each year, she sees subsequent progression and truly believes that she will continue to improve for the rest of her life.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel even during the darkest and most depressing of times. Her outlook on life has drastically changed from Year 2 to Year 6. She stressed the importance of self-dedication, while also surrounding yourself with a great support system.

Above all, Fortunato-Napolitano is a true inspiration.  She epitomizes optimism, and is dedicated, admirable, and determined. Her new dream is to become a life coach, as she hopes to help others through similar dark and unexpected times. She would love a platform in which to tell her story publicly. Fortunato-Napolitano is a happiness evangelist, a survivor to the nth degree, and only hopes she can inspire others, stroke conquerors or not, to live life to the fullest. 

Follow along with Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano’s journey on Instagram: @ayoungstrokerecovery.

This article first appeared in TBR News Media’s supplement Focus on Health on May 25, 2023.

By Stephanie Giunta

Author Claire N. Rubman, PhD

March is designated as National Reading Month, in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It’s a month where Americans of all ages are encouraged to read every day and recognize the enjoyment and fun derived from one of life’s greatest pastimes. Most importantly, it’s a great time to reinforce the beauty and adventure associated with reading to young children. And that’s exactly what Claire N. Rubman is conveying to parents in her new book, This May Be Difficult to Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake). 

Rubman, a cognitive developmental psychologist, teacher, and Three Village resident for 30+ years, has seen the first-hand struggle of chronic reading problems that impact children and can follow into young adulthood. Credentials aside, as a mother of three children, she truly believes that the key to eliciting meaning behind reading and creating a comprehensive relationship with text can be achieved by taking a rather simplistic approach: make reading fun — for both parents and children.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially in the post-pandemic world that we live in, reading has become less of a priority. Most families live in dual-income homes, race the clock to complete work, start the nighttime routine, and relax. But Rubman notes that reading should be integrated into the daily structure of the home, so that it is as relaxed as a dinner table conversation.

When reading is so closely-intertwined into everyday life and isn’t viewed as a structured event, the mysteries and adventures through print and text become constant fixtures in the family setting, promoting stimulation and critical thinking in children’s minds. Rubman suggests replacing decoding with imagination; letting children explore pictures and words, bringing character development to life. And you, as the parent, are there to cheer them on through the process — regardless of their literary independence.

To create the need to read, we need to better understand how children process information. “Children are not little adults.  They process information much differently than we do. They are taught how to spell, what words are, but not to put the entire process together,” says Rubman. This level of research is what prompted the creation of her book — to demystify the differences between reading and reading comprehension in young children.  Children need the proper background information and context to truly understand what they are reading. They have phenomenal memories and rote repetition can yield positive levels of reading comprehension, but to Rubman’s point, that doesn’t mean they understand or appreciate the context. 

So, this is where parents have to step in.

Reading is the linchpin of all future learning, and though it is taught in the classroom, it needs to be celebrated within the home. Dedicating 1:1 interaction with children from a young age can show how beautiful reading is: a much more stimulating activity than passively watching TV as a family. To do this, we need to engage in a ‘reading renaissance’ and move our relationship with it into the 21st century. 

Moreover, Rubman notes that we need to slow down and enjoy the journey as parents, which ties directly into a healthy relationship with reading. Parents must focus on the big picture — the adventure and enjoyment associated with reading — as opposed to the narrow, nitty gritty of cognitive development. All children learn at different paces and will achieve educational milestones at different times. That being said, parents need to take a breath and appreciate parent/child bonding for what it is, and how reading can further enhance that bond. 

This May Be Difficult to Read is aimed to be a hopeful catalyst for parents to make positive changes at home; to meet their children at their level and learn how reading can be made enjoyable again; to create a child-centered family, embrace mistakes and celebrate differences in trajectory. Parents should learn to think as their children think, and process as they process. They should let their children lead, and learn to follow them throughout every step on their journey. 

The greatest drop in reading has occurred in the last 50 years, and Rubman is trying to turn it around by reinstating emotional value as a key ingredient in the educational recipe; by rewarding the effort and not the outcome; by helping parents help themselves; by making a trip to the library just as fun and important as going to get ice cream or a new toy. 

In our interview, Rubman left me with an insightful nugget: “Play soccer because it’s fun to play soccer — not to get on the travel team, not for college.” Parents need to set the bar to make reading into the recreational activity that it is — not a chore or step towards a greater goal. It’s an adventure, an escape from reality … a chance to learn something new … because childhood hobbies typically turn into adulthood passions; and the love of reading is a true, generational gift that we need to keep giving.


This May Be Difficult to Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake) is the recipient of a Kirkus star, a 2023 National Parenting Product Award, Mom’s Choice Gold Award, earned “Recommended” status from U.S. Review of Books, and a received a 2023 Independent Press Award as “Distinguished Favorite” in Education. The book is available at and

Josephine Eichner celebrates her 90th birthday at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center. Photo by Stephanie Giunta

By Stephanie Giunta

I was invited to join my grandmother,  Josephine Eichner, at her Seniors Club at Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai on February 7, her 90th birthday. I am 32 and got laid off a few months ago, and although I lacked the eligibility due to my age, I attended as an honorary guest. After hearing about the Tuesday club for 20+ years, I was grateful to have the free time to attend, albeit plagued with the nagging reason as to why I was available.

Josephine Eichner wearing her birthday tiara. Photo by Stephanie Giunta

I held her hand as we walked up the ramp into the building, kneeing the automatic handicap button to open the door.  I walked into a sea full of people, whose wrinkles told the stories of their lives. They scattered about prepping the coffee stations, collecting dollars for the 50/50 raffle, and decorating the tables. Our table, #2, was adorned with a vase of flowers and balloons in honor of Grandma’s big day. My first impression: feeling so touched that her friends had thought of her. 

Amused is putting it lightly. I was more so in awe. These men and women had made it. They had long marriages, bore children, and had grand and even great grandchildren.  They survived successes, failures, peaks, and valleys. They frequented doctor’s offices, and had battled health problems. They kissed their friends and spouses goodbye as they were given eternal life. They had survived all of their worst days to date, and yet here they were — still living.

When the meeting started and they sang “God Bless America,” I could have fallen off of my chair if I was sitting down. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was riddled with such pure joy and admiration. “Cute” isn’t the right word to describe it, since many refer to anything an older person does as “cute.” I think it was more of a genuine appreciation of these people, and knowing they knew what was important: camaraderie, love of self, and love of country. Appreciation for the small, yet impactful things in life. I can’t quite put the feeling into words, but it was something that struck me, and I’ll never forget it.

Josephine Eichner with her granddaughter and guest columnist Stephanie Giunta at the event. Photo by Stephanie Giunta

I got to meet Liz, the woman whose chain emails I have been receiving for decades.  I always opened them up because I didn’t want bad luck for 10 years. Sharon, who was lovingly referred to as “Grumpy” because she’s always so happy. She makes cookies for my daughter, although we had never met. Marie and Bob, who I’ve heard stories about for quite some time. They used to accompany my grandparents on double dates to The Heritage Diner. And Jutta. She doesn’t know it, but her name has been used quite a bit in some of our family’s games.

They walked a little slower, but laughed a little louder. Some were nervous that there weren’t enough slices of cake to go around.  Others complained that tea service wasn’t put out. Me — I just sat in silence at points and soaked it all in. I found it fascinating that they were worried about tea and cake, something so simplistic, whereas I was worried about the fate of my career. We were just in completely different phases of life and it was refreshing to gain a contrasting perspective.

The most rewarding part of the day was seeing my grandmother in action. It is truly beautiful to see someone you deeply admire in a social setting, when you’ve never really witnessed it outside of family functions. She was a shining light who worked the room. Conversations were filled with “Happy birthdays” and “You’re not 90!s” and just simply checking in on each other. Her snowy hair and pink lips bounced from table to table, bearing hugs and cashing in on inside jokes. The woman is 57 years my senior and I think she has a better social life than I do!

And as we capped out the day with BINGO, among covert mumblings about health insurance, next week’s entertainment, and the weather, I was so grateful to be where I was — spending the day with one of the people I love most in this world. Relishing on the roast beef sandwich on rye that she packed for me as if it were a NY strip steak; cutting into the Tiramisu that her friends presented her with; enjoying something so bubblegum, and feeling a bit sad when it had come to an end. I was also disappointed that Harriet won three games and I won zero.

I wish I could look at my life through a senior’s eyes and know that there are plenty of happy and sad times to come, but that they will make me who I am. That each laugh line and wrinkle I collect will signify a pit stop on my journey. That life is a gift and living is a privilege, and at the end of the day, being a good person is all that matters. Age is but a number and friendship has no timetable. 

And as I held Grandma’s hand on the way out, I whispered, “I can’t wait to come back.”