Helping Feed the Families

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Even though school is out for summer and the doors have been closed long before, children across the country still depend on the daily meals provided to them so they don’t go hungry.  One inspiring man on Long Island has made it his life’s mission to help people in need to put food on their tables and make people smile.

Keith Caputo,39, has spent the past five years building his non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Helping Makes U Happy, alongside his mother, Cassy Caputo with the support of an entire community.  As Founder and Board member, the Center Moriches resident has worked tirelessly to help other people by successfully organizing and producing countless fundraisers, events and drives to raise funds, food and items for those in need.  With the guidance of his dedicated and loving mother who has given him the tools to rise above his developmental disability, Keith has created an organization and brought people together in ways one may never even dream of in a lifetime.

Most recently, Helping Makes U Happy is preparing to kick-off its annual Feed the Families project to feed children and families throughout the summer, who are without the breakfast and lunches they receive for free or reduced during the school year.  With the help of local businesses and members of the community who donate to the cause, they are well on their way to begin feeding families on July 6, 2020.  From that day on, families will receive meals once a week, every Monday through September, but Keith and Cassy said there has been a big jump in numbers of families in need.

“It’s a big list this year,” he said.

Cassy said they usually have an average of 22 families and this year they have 38 families who will be receiving assistance who are referred to Helping Makes U Happy through support of the school district’s social worker, psychologist, the parent-child home program liaison and the liaison to the Poospatuck Reservation.  This year, Keith and Cassy said they were concerned about whether they would have enough volunteers to make this happen with everything going on, but the response from the community has exceeded their expectations.

Suffolk Federal has been a long-time supporter of Helping Makes U Happy, and Keith said he was amazed at their generosity this year.  With the current pandemic, the credit union was not able to host a food-drive they had planned this past April, to benefit the Feed the Families project’s upcoming initiative, so they did the next best thing, and donated a check for $3,000 to help Keith’s mission.  Longwood SEPTA, the Longwood School District Special Education PTA, is currently holding an ongoing virtual spin-it to win-it auction to raise funds for various organizations and this past Sunday, when they hosted a Helping Makes U Happy fundraising day. 

The event raised a whopping total of $13,000 for Helping Makes U Happy to not only buy food for the project, but to pay the rent for their building and utilities, and to also help provide approximately 250 backpacks Keith calls “comfort cases” with special items of comfort for children in Suffolk County removed from their homes due to neglect; leaving Keith and Cassy with a huge blessing to simply focus on feeding and supporting families with necessary items to live one week at a time.

“Thank God for the community, because they very generously always donate to our Feed the Families project,” she said.

Local farmers and food establishments alike have not let the current struggling economy stop them from helping out those in need as well.  Cassy said the Eastport Green Project, an organization focused on keeping Eastport, N.Y., green and looking beautiful, has offered to continue providing fresh vegetables this year as they have in years past.  Nettie’s Country Bakery in Center Moriches is providing fresh bread every week for the project, and Cassy said that is a huge savings for them and delicious for families, too. In addition, they are grateful to the people who raise chickens and give them eggs, but Cassy said those have been hard to come by so far.

One of the biggest hurdles preparing to feed the families this summer for Keith and Cassy has been being able to get the grocery shopping done.  They both are immune-compromised and have not been in a grocery store since this past March.  In years past, when there was a need for items and they did not have enough volunteers, they would simply go out and buy what they needed themselves, but this year it is not an option.  Thankfully, with the help of Mattituck High School Special Education teacher, Jennifer Cressy, Helping Makes U Happy is now utilizing a free virtual signup sheet to schedule and manage volunteer tasks through an app called, SignUp Genius.

Jennifer has been a special education teacher for the past 17 years, and she said she came to know of Keith through of the contributions he has made in the community individually and through Helping Makes U Happy.  She said she always read about the organization’s fundraising activities and wanted her family to become involved in the mission. 

With the upcoming project, Jennifer said Cassy reached out to her asking for help to come up with a new way to organize the drive, and together they decided on SignUp Genius.  According to Jennifer, the new sign-up program has been a hit and immediately they had volunteers signed up to not only shop for necessary items, but to sort and pack food as well as deliver to the local families in need.  While Jennifer is humble in her help, she credits Keith and Cassy for doing all of the work.

“Our community has benefited from Keith’s commitment to helping, and he always has a positive attitude.  Keith truly understands the joy in giving and is a role model for us all,” she said.

Keith said his favorite part of Helping Makes U Happy is talking to parents and kids, and the inspiration he leaves them with.  Keith said he loves to speak at schools, and to boy scouts and girl scouts to tell them about his non-profit.  Keith truly loves what he does, and he already has his sights set on his next vision to help raise funds this summer for Helping Makes U Happy with an upcoming, Summer Staycation Raffle.  Cassy said this raffle will offer items for people to use in their yards, their homes and with their families.  Beyond the summer, Keith was looking forward to celebrating his upcoming 40th birthday celebration-Casino Night- planned for November to benefit the organization, but he is now hoping that even if it cannot go on as planned, it will be rescheduled for 2021 when we can all come together again.  Of all the things Keith loves, most of all, Keith said he gives his heart and gratitude for everything to his mother.

“I am most grateful for my mother.  She is the best mother ever,” said Keith.

At the very end of the summer when the Feed the Families project comes to a close for the season, Helping Makes U Happy makes a symbolic donation of backpacks filled with supplies for every child in each family with their last food delivery; sending kids back to school a little more prepared and with a bit of extra happiness to start the new year.

Helping Makes U Happy is currently in need of eggs, and jelly, and could always use juice boxes and Chef Boyardee canned goods.  Boxes in good condition for delivery in safe and socially distanced practice to families are also needed at this time.  Check Helping Makes U Happy Facebook page for updates.  For more information or to contact to donate, please visit http://www.helpingmakesuhappy.org.

Summer Reading made fun with Graphic Novels

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With summer reading on the forefront of the minds of so many parents seeking ways to continue guiding their children’s learning and entertainment during the school hiatus, graphic novels have recently emerged as a popular genre among many young readers. With comic-book-inspired pages and stories that teach kids to cope with some of early life’s most challenging situations, graphic novels add a tool to any parent’s toolkit, while keeping kids interested.

Just like many other kids getting ready to begin 5th grade in the fall, 9-year-old Danica Duca, is preparing for her transition into middle school at the end of next year by reading up on stories of junior high experiences through her love of graphic novels.  For those of us who have already crossed that milestone, we know it is generally a time filled with anxieties and questions about how life is going to change.  From making new friends, to changing classes and using a locker for the first time, starting to a new middle school is a pivotal moment in a child’s life.

Growing up in Medford, N.Y., Danica is set apart from many other kids her age as she has been surrounded by children on a daily basis not only in school, but at home where her mother has run a daycare for the past 17 years.  In addition to constant interaction with kids from school and the daycare, she is also a sibling to three of her own and is a foster sister to five others currently living with her family. 

The daily dynamic has been a blessing and a challenge to overcome for Danica, as it would be for any child her age, as she has had to learn to accept and share with others in ways many children have never been accustomed to, but she has taken every step with stride and has found solace in the messages from the graphic novels she has been reading such as “Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister” by Katy Farina; based on The Babysitter’s Club series by Ann M. Martin, the recently-released book, “Nat Enough” by Maria Scrivan, and a series of books inspired by New York Times #1 Bestselling Author, Raina Telgmeir’s own childhood memories.  Danica said the books are so popular in her school she sometimes has to wait more than a month just to be able to check one of these books out, but while school doors remain closed, her mom has been helping her build her own personal collection of the books she loves.

“There are never any left in school, because everybody always reads them, so I have to put them on hold to actually be able to read them,” she said.

Danica said she thinks books like Telgmeir’s, “Guts” and “Smile” are so popular, because there is a good message in them, they’re fun to read and when you read them, you just want to keep reading.  In the book “Smile,” Danica said there is so much more going on than just the dental drama of having to get braces.  The book talks about family, friends, and boys and taps into emotions many girls her age are experiencing for the first time.  The book “Guts” tackles the challenges kids face as they prepare to go into middle school, and Danica said this one in particular has given her a good idea of what to expect.

“It (Guts) makes me feel like I have a feeling of how middle school is going to be.  You are not going to be able to get along with everybody there and there are going to be times where you are going to have to go through some hard stuff,” she said.

Children’s Program Coordinator of the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island, N.Y., Tiffany Russo-Malone said she thinks graphic novels are so popular among children, because the books give them a more visual way to read in that they need to figure the order in which to read the pictures and word bubbles, but children also need to read the characters’ expressions and movements in the pictures.  Tiffany said she feels graphic novels are a blend of a book and a movie in a way as they have the plot, setting, body and character development of a novel, but they take a little bit of the mystery of what characters and a scene may look like out of the imagination.

“I think they appeal to a lot of reluctant readers and struggling readers, because some of the important literary elements they can infer from the pictures, too, instead of just the words,” she said.

As we kick into high gear for summer, Tiffany said her top three picks for tweens or teens who love to read would start with “Roller Girl” by, Victoria Jamieson.  She said although it is not a new release, it earned a Newbery Honor in 2016 and is a story about friendship, roller derby and girl power all based on the author’s own personal experiences and love of roller derby.  Another top pick for the Children’s Program Coordinator is, “The Okay Witch,” by Emma Steinkellner.  Tiffany said one of the reasons for its popularity comes from reminding a lot of people of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and it is about a young girl who discovers she is half witch and how she survives middle school knowing the truth about her family, her town and its history with witchcraft.

Lastly, she said El Deafo, by Cece Bell is also a great read with a compassionate message and is a personal autobiography.  The book received the Newbery Honor Book of 2015 and tells the story of Bell’s own hearing loss experience as a child and her hearing aid, the Phonic Ear; offering a reflection of how that affected her school experience and her ability to make new friends.  Tiffany said all three books are funny and sincere and have great illustrations that add to the humor and sometimes awkwardness of being a tween.

“I really love all three of these books for their authenticity.  Two of the three have truth in them, but even the one that is all fictional, rings true to how you feel as a teenager in school, trying to make new friends and trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be,” she said.

Danica said she is going to keep reading the books she loves over and over again this summer to keep busy and is always looking for new books to read.  The best part of reading graphic novels for Danica, she said, is being able to look at pictures and read at the same time; allowing her to feel like she is right there in the book. She said the books most of all give her perspective and help her put her feet in other people’s shoes.

“Everybody is in school in these books, and they are about learning lessons about life in general, like losing friends and making new ones, having crushes and getting over fears,” she said.

For more information on virtual programs for summer reading for your children, check out your local library and see what they have to offer to learn and explore.

Love in Alaska

By Amy Nicole Tangel

2020 has brought disappointment for many couples who were set to wed this year, and many weddings have been postponed until 2021, or placed on hold, leaving brides with their dream wedding’s every detail planned and wondering when that day will now come.

It was a moment-to-remember birthday proposal for Jennifer Sottile, when her Fiancé, Luke Bell asked her to marry him in a picture perfect camping trip under the Alaskan sky.  Jennifer said he took her to a place in Alaska where she always wanted to camp and on the night of the proposal the sunset was incredible the first night they were there, so Luke decided to propose a night earlier than planned on the eve of her birthday.  For Jennifer, she said it was a perfect, thoughtful and beautiful moment and she couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else outside of Alaska.

“Sunsets in Alaska are very late that time of year (July), very intense and long.  He waited for me to set-up my camera on the tripod to take a picture of us in front of the sunset-reflected-lake that we were camping on, and when the shutter went off he got down on one knee and I got a picture of him proposing,” she said.

For the 37-year-old Bride-to-Be, the minute she said yes to marriage she began planning her dream wedding.  The couple met 3 years ago, in Fairbanks, at the bar where Jennifer was working.  She was his bartender and after some time getting to know each other, Luke asked Jennifer to go kayaking with him.  Since then, they have spent the past few years growing together in love and living off the land; taking in every natural beauty Alaska has to offer.  Camping with their dog Endi, kayaking, hiking and fishing are foundations in their lives.  Having lived in Alaska for the last 9 years, Jennifer said when she and Luke became engaged, they both knew Alaska was where they wanted to continue to build their life together. 

In February of 2019, Jennifer said she found out by chance of a contest being held for the show, Say Yes to the Dress America, after she submitted an email to Kleinfeld Bridal Shop in NYC to see if she could make an appointment last minute to try on dresses during her upcoming trip to the East Coast with Luke to visit their families.  She received an email back from Kleinfeld’s saying unfortunately, they had no appointments available, but there was a new spin-off show called, Say Yes to the Dress America taking submissions for brides to appear on the show and get their dream dress at Kleinfeld’s.  She said she was a long-time fan of the show and always wanted to shop at Kleinfeld’s, so she gave it a shot.

Jennifer entered the contest with a video submission showing her and Luke’s story as a couple and their love for Alaska and in May of 2019, they found out they won a spot and in July they were on their way.  Jennifer and Luke were flown by the show to NYC for an all-expenses paid trip and put-up at a hotel in the city.  When the day of dress shopping came, Jennifer said the brides were set-free in Kleinfeld’s to shop open-heartedly with no price tags and pick out the dress of their dreams.  Jennifer chose a Stella York dress and after she shopped her mother googled an approximate value of, $3,000.

“It was so much fun to not have to worry about the price; To just look through dresses and pick the one I wanted,” she said.

Out of all of the brides cast for Say Yes to the Dress America, Jennifer said only 10 brides were chosen to be featured in episodes and received a more private shopping experience and surprise visit at home from fashion designer and television host, Randy Fenoli.  Jennifer said it was not until months later after filming that her and Luke found out they would be appearing only in the season finale, which aired, March 14, 2020.  Jennifer said even though their story wasn’t featured, she was still grateful for her dream dress and the experience.

They had a September 2020 wedding date planned and it was to be a destination wedding for family and friends to come celebrate.  Jennifer was born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., and Luke grew-up in Marianna, P.A., a small coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh.  This meant for their family and friends a not so quick trip around the block to attend her wedding, so when the Coronavirus hit, she and Luke had a painstaking decision to make.  With the RSVP date set for this past May 1st, they decided to wait until that day to make a decision.  Jennifer said when May hit, her and Luke realized the virus wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  They worried about people they loved being out of work, not being able to travel, and they didn’t want to add any additional stress to people who already had a diminished budget.

“It was a hard decision to make and there were many tears shed over it,” she said.

The option to still have the wedding this upcoming September was not one Jennifer and Luke wanted to take.  She said she didn’t want to settle for a quarantine wedding and a lot of brides from the show who she has spoken to have also postponed as well.  Jennifer said it wasn’t worth it for her to not have everyone she loved there on her most special day and she is holding onto hope that her wedding day, whenever the day comes, will still be everything she has dreamed of.

As of now, Jennifer and Luke have not made any plans to reschedule yet with so many uncertainties out there, and they have decided to wait to set a new date.  The idea of beginning to plan the wedding all over again is something Jennifer said she is not ready to deal with yet.  The venue cancellation was a difficult process for Jennifer as she personally worked hard to pay-in-full, before the wedding day and faced obstacles in receiving her money back, and now she said she is emotionally overwhelmed at this point.

In spite of the roadblocks that have been placed before her, Jennifer has been trying to stay hopeful and keeping in touch with fellow brides from the show through Facebook; offering a sense of support and comfort in their shared postponements.  Jennifer is working through her feelings of putting so much work into planning something like a wedding, with every last detail planned, and being left with unknowns.

“No one deserves this for their special day,” she said.

While the actual day Jennifer and Luke say, “I do” is yet to be determined, it has not stopped their love for one another and their love for living life in Alaska.  Just this past weekend, Jennifer, Luke and Endi spent their usual picturesque weekend camping, kayaking and smiling about all the beauty life has to offer.

See the video submission Jennifer created for her Say Yes to the Dress America entry sharing her and Luke’s love story here:

*Photos and video courtesy of Jennifer Sottile

A Total Eye Experience

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Hair Salons across Long Island were finally able to open their doors this week after months on pause, signifying a step forward for all other salons waiting in the wings, but when one Make-Up Artist opens her doors, it’s temporarily going to be all about the eyes.

Christine Daino, owner of Total Glam NY, decided to take a leap-of-faith in 2016, when she took her passion for make-up and skin care to the next level and opened her first space in Patchogue, N.Y.  In only four years, the 35-year-old entrepreneur has built a business that exploded from the ground-up, with clients across the island and beyond, providing services in Makeup Artistry (Bridal and Special Occasion), Lash Services and Esthetic Treatments on-location and at her current Bellport, N.Y., salon.

With over two decades of experience in the beauty industry to her credit and her knowledge and skills as a certified esthetician, Christine offers all of her clients the highest-level of facial treatments she can provide.  Her love for makeup is an extension of what started out as a passion for painting when she was a child and evolved into experimenting with makeup later on in life.  She made her dreams become a reality with licenses in makeup art 16 years ago followed by earning one in aesthetics two years later.  In spite of everything she has built, when Christine reopens the doors to her salon in Phase 4, she faces challenges different than many other businesses reopening their doors, because of the specific nature of her work.  Working in an industry where her career is based upon touching faces, for now, she said she will only be able to do what she can with a mask on.

“I can do anything where they can still wear a face mask, like facials, but make-up, that aspect I can’t do as of right now,” she said.

Until restrictions are lifted, Christine will be booking clients for services such as facials, lash lifts and lash extensions only and said as far as booking brides, she feels bad for the brides who are getting married this year who want to keep their weddings and is hoping things will get better this summer.  With so much uncertainty and not enough answers, she said it is hard to give answers to brides and to book properly, but she is grateful for how all of her fellow artists and stylists in the business have come together and supported each other along.

“Most of my brides have postponed until 2021.  The brides that are keeping for this year are keeping it very, very small, but there are very few of them,” she said.

In preparation for the new normal, Christine has Total Glam NY face masks available to her clients and has received BARBICIDE COVID-19 Certification for the Professional Beauty Industry training.  A benefit that sets Total Glam NY’s salon apart from others is its pre-existing design to treat one client at a time. Christine has guidelines in place on her Facebook page and website indicating specific social distancing practices for appointments.

While she said she is grateful for being able to spend her recent time home enjoying the slower pace with her children and family, she has also been busy planning her social distancing guidelines to open her salon and working hard to ensure when the day comes, her clients are protected and safe.  For Christine, she said she has not stopped working since the day she decided to start her business, putting her heart and soul into every aspect, from her website to her salon to each client she serves.  Christine is excited for the future, and she feels like the bridal industry is going to boom in 2021, but she said the time home has been a good reminder of balance in life.

“I’m like an all or nothing kind of girl. I learned how to do a website myself, I learned about SEO, I learned about the keywords.  I truly did my homework and I haven’t stopped,” she said.

To learn more about the services Total Glam NY offers, or to book an appointment, visit www.totalglamny.com. You can also follow Total Glam NY on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the most up-to-date information and happenings. 

What Would Mister Rogers Say?

Special Edition: Documentary Review

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With the recent Pandemic and nationwide protests at hand, I have often been thinking about the children all around us and asking myself how can we protect them, teach them and keep showing them love when we are all trying to make sense for ourselves?  I thought back about big moments in history when I was a child and I put myself in those shoes to wonder, how kids are taking this all in.  It was in that moment where I asked myself, ‘What would Mister Rogers say?’

I turned to Mister Rogers and thought about the time while I was growing up, and how he taught me about being kind to everyone, and demonstrated love and unity while tackling the most difficult conversations with children.  He was not just an actor on a show, but a man who lived what he taught.  Fred Rogers made a mission of his life teaching kindness and acceptance. 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired from 1968 to 2001, spanning more than three decades, and in 2018 a documentary of Rogers’ life and show, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released.  The film begins with footage of Rogers speaking about his feelings on what love means and leads you into the depth of his heart and soul from his childhood, throughout his entire life, sharing how he used those experiences to teach children through his work.

“Love is at the root of everything.  All learning, all parenting, all relationships; Love or the lack of it,” he said.

Although it has been almost twenty years since the show ended, the positive lessons Rogers taught are of lasting effect and live on through the documentary.  The simple way discussions were held between Mr. Rogers and the children he spoke to are an example families could benefit from today.  The documentary is something for those of us who grew up watching the show to reminisce about in the scenes of zipping sweaters, changing shoes, feeding the fish and the childlike wonderment of answering the door to see who was there each week.  You can go on your own little trip down memory lane, but you can also be enlightened or be reminded as a parent, of new ways to help teach young children about life.

At first sight, people may feel taken back by the endless kindness Rogers exuded and his intense passion for what he believed in, but when you really listen to his words and look at how he opened doors, crossed barriers and communicated with so many, it is an example for us all.  I originally watched the documentary last year, but in light of this past week, I went back and watched it again. 

As I began to dive into the film, I was quickly reminded how children are miraculously resilient and was heart-warmed by Rogers’ mission to focus on the importance of simply listening to them.  The documentary is filled with nostalgic clips of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and its beloved puppets; a reflection of how Rogers used his imagination in the creation of the show as a way to talk to children about their feelings.  Throughout the film, you are given flashes of episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood showing how the show was defined by the transition from reality to fantasy when “Trolley” rang it’s bell and headed around the track, bringing children to an imaginative and emotionally-safe place to talk about what was going on in the world through their eyes.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was beloved to many for its way of tackling difficult topics of conversation with children and for Rogers’ quiet, calm and meaningful ability to communicate in happy and troubled times.  He spoke with children about tragic events, such as 9/11, the Challenger Disaster and the assassination of Robert Kennedy; Rogers said he felt he had to talk to the families in our country about grief.  When a child jumped out of a window thinking he could fly like Superman, Rogers created an episode to focus on superheroes to help teach children what pretending means.  Conversations on the show spanned from death to divorce to when pets die and war, but don’t be mistaken to think he was gloom and doom.  Children and adults loved Mister Rogers, and he spread joy to them.  He visited Washington, D.C., and spoke regularly on behalf of causes he believed in and seemingly brought people together everywhere he went.

One of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood longtime characters, “Officer Clemmons,” became a regular part of the show according to the documentary, initially as a statement by Rogers to stand against segregation in public swimming pools.  Actor and musician François Clemmons came onto the show during a time in 1968 when he faced not only racism as an African American, but he was oppressed by keeping his sexuality as a gay man a secret.  Last month, Clemmons released his own memoir of his life and time on the show, Officer Clemmons.  In the documentary, Clemmons speaks of his relationship with Rogers and exemplifies how their friendship broke barriers.  Clemmons was the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children’s program.  In a poignant moment, François shared how Rogers always said on the show, “I love you just the way you are,” and one day he asked Fred if he was talking to him.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Yes, I have been talking to you for two years, and you finally heard me today,’ and I just collapsed into his arms.  I started crying.  That’s when I knew I loved him,” said Clemmons.

Family and former colleagues share stories throughout the hour and a half documentary about Rogers and his love for all people.  His wife said she believed, because Fred had a difficult time making friends as a child and was bullied it created the man he became who dedicated his life to protecting children.  Rogers said he thought those who would make you feel less than you are was the greatest evil.

In the end, Rogers’ legacy is captured through the eyes of all who loved him.  Through the children he worked with, to his fellow actors, to hearing from his wife and children, watching the documentary will leave you remembering how Mister Rogers taught us all about love.

Wont’ You Be My Neighbor? is available on Prime Video for $9.99 and DVD.  Officer Clemmons can be purchased through Amazon.

A Simple Syrup Passion takes Flight

By Amy Nicole Tangel

When times get tough it is what people make of the road ahead that determines the outcome; revealing their spirit within.  For one woman, whose career as a bartender has been put on hold, her life took an unexpected turn when she recently took her passion for mixing cocktails behind the bar, to her kitchen, as a way to pass the time, creating an emerging new line of homemade simple syrups.

Christine Eifert, is a Long Island bartender who has been crafting her knowledge of mixing drinks for 27 years.  She has worked at bars and restaurants throughout the island and venues such as The Paramount, in Huntington, N.Y., and is currently on staff at Gunther’s Tap Room in Northport, N.Y., but for now she is spending her time at home with her family and waiting for the day she can return to work by making a dream become a reality with the creation of her simple syrups for cocktails, sauces and marinades, fittingly named Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup.

Her inspiration for the syrups originally came to her last summer when she said she took a trip upstate with her boyfriend and tried a honey lemon syrup sample at a whiskey wagon type establishment, and instantly thought of all the different drinks she could make at work with the flavor.  In the time following this, she said she kept saying to herself she wanted to do this, she knew she could do this and would think about it all the time; however, the 47-year-old mom of two teenage boys said working 6-7 days a week left her no time to fulfill her passion for creating her own syrups until now.

When everything shut down, she said she had to do something to help keep her spirits up.  Christine said she went from living a life where her career was dependent upon being social and talking to people constantly to nothing.  She said it left her feeling worried and not knowing what to do like everyone else who is home during this time and out of work, so she just started making the syrups, and leaving samples for people she knew on their doorsteps in mason jars and people just kept asking and asking.

“People just keep asking for them, and I was not expecting this at all,” she said.

Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup is made up of flavors such as strawberry-lemon and orange peel-vanilla for those who like sweets and three different jalapeno flavors for those who are all about spicy, but the list doesn’t stop there, and it continues to grow.  Christine said she is constantly experimenting with new flavors, like her most recent, a blackberry mint syrup and is making them available as soon as she has perfected them.  She said people are now marinating their meat for barbeques or making sauces with syrups, which is something she didn’t even think of when she started making them, but she is so excited to see what everyone is doing and for things to come.

“All you need is like two ounces of the syrup.  You can get a couple or a few drinks out of each jar for whatever you are using, of course.  Mojitos is a big one.  All of my bourbon drinkers are using the orange vanilla; just a tiny bit in their bourbon,” she said.

An entrepreneur at heart, Christine said it was on a whim when she asked a friend to create a logo for her that reflected her “Blondie” nickname and who she was.  Within just a week, a seemingly identical cartoon character of her was created with blonde pig tails, tattoos and a beaming smile.  She keeps stock in the mason jars she uses between ordering online and a local hardware store, and she buys all of her ingredients at her local Meat Farms.  A website is in the works, but through social media the word has spread like fire.  With years of working in the restaurant and bar industry, she has been putting those resources to work delivering samples to restaurants and taking orders locally.  She has even mailed orders as far away as Florida, and in only two months, Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup has become a sign of new beginnings.

In the kitchen, Christine said she was spending hours in the beginning, because she was working with little pots, but with all the different flavors and the amounts of the large quantities she has been making, she now has graduated to larger pots and has been able to create a more efficient system.  From making to jarring, sealing, labeling and storing, the process she joked, has left her walking in circles some days in the kitchen when she first started out, but she has been excited and surprised every step of the way of the response to her syrups.

“I am so excited.  I think I just don’t believe it right now.  Little by little I am inching away at this,” she said.

Christine is currently exploring Farmer’s Markets to sell for this upcoming season and is taking orders online.  People who live locally can pick-up, or delivery options are available.  If you live outside of the local area or prefer mail delivery, the syrups can be shipped to you.

To place an order, you can find a list of syrups available along with direct contact information in the image below and you can visit, Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup Page on Facebook.

A Hero Remembered

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With Memorial Day ahead of us, we remember those who fought for our country and have gone before us as we honor their service. I recently revisited my own ancestry in hopes of learning more about my great grandfather who served and died in World War II.

Ever since I was old enough to know the story of my great grandfather, I have always been drawn to it.  From my perspective as a child, and until more recently, learning about what happened to him from the time he left home until after his death was somewhat of a mystery to me.  His death was a tragedy that turned the course of my grandmother’s life at a very young age.  It left her with scars she rarely spoke of, and I never had the courage to dig deep with her to find answers to my family history.  I didn’t want to upset her, and I always thought, ‘one day’.  One day never came, and she passed away in 2016 before I ever had the chance, but her passing was the last of a generation and it fueled my fire even more.   I have slowly been able to put some pieces together over the years, but a recent trip down memory lane with my aunt brought me new understanding and revealed a heart-stopping tale I had never been told.

His name was Pvt Roland Douglas and he served in the U.S. Army.  He was born in 1911 in Owls Head, N.Y., and graduated from Lake Placid High School and barber school before marrying my great grandmother, Elizabeth Cline, in Saranac Lake, N.Y., on May 23, 1934.  When he was called to service in 1943, he left behind a wife and three daughters, Helen (my grandmother), Betty and Alice in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he once ran a local barbershop, worked as a chauffeur and was a volunteer firefighter.

In a genealogy document written by his daughter, my late, great aunt Betty Douglas Coats, she tells how her father was a barber by trade, but when the depression hit in the 1930’s he had to go to work as a chauffeur.  In December of 1943, he was drafted into the Army, completed basic training in Camp Wolter, TX, and was shipped off to France in 1944.  Records have indicated he fought numerous battles for approximately four months until his death on, September 23, 1944.

Under the leadership of General George S. Patton Jr., Great Grandfather Douglas was serving in Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division at the time of his death and was killed in action in the Foret de Gremacy area of France.  I have often imagined the past and wondered what it was like for my great grandmother to have the worry of her husband fighting a war and suddenly becoming the only parent raising three daughters in such economically troubled times. 

It is said through family lore he told his family he knew he wasn’t coming home, and I often wondered, given the times, if he was ever able to write letters home or if there were any specific moments left behind.  So, I asked my aunt, Teresa Wells of Barre, VT, great grandfather’s granddaughter, if she knew of any letters and if she could share with me any stories she knew.

“I do know that Grandpa was in France and was shot out of a tree by a sniper.  His watch stopped at his time of death when he hit the ground,” she said.

I had never heard the story of his watch before and hearing of it for the first time made my heart skip a beat.  She said as far as she knew, the watch had never been reset, but that my uncle had the watch and he had the exact time.  It was like the watch was connected to the heartbeat of my great-grandfather’s life, and when his heart stopped, so did the tick of his watch; forever symbolizing the moment during battle when he took his last breath.  I reached out to my uncle, Bob Macey of Stillwater, N.Y., great grandfather’s grandson, and owner of the watch to see if he could share with me what he knew about its history.  While we spoke on the phone, he held the watch in his hands and checked the time for me.  9:34 is the time, and although it is not known from the watch whether it is morning or evening, it remains as it was received. 

During WWII many soldiers were buried in Europe and later flown home.  It was a double-edged sword for families who lost their loved ones in this war.  Not only did they have to grieve, but many times they had to grieve without a body and try to carry on, only to reopen the wounds years later and grieve all over again when the bodies returned home.

In the notes written by his daughter Betty, she tells about the location where my great grandfather’s remains were interred in Andilly, Lorraine, France in a what was then a U.S. Military Cemetery, and describes the timeline of his return home to Lake Placid years later. 

“Pvt Douglas’ remains were shipped home, arriving at 6:30 p.m. on November 29, 1948 at the train station in Lake Placid, N.Y.  A funeral was held November 30at 2:30 p.m.,” she wrote. 

He was buried in North Elba Cemetery in Lake Placid following his funeral and on December 14, 1948, Great grandfather, Pvt Roland Douglas, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. 

My grandmother, Helen, was the oldest of her siblings, but she was only a 7-year-old when her father passed away, so memories were hard to come by, but collectively through stories passed down, his legacy remains alive.  The time may have stopped the day Pvt Douglas died, but for his family, the honor of his service will always be remembered.

Carrying on a Family Legacy

Amy Nicole Tangel

In March of 1946, The Colony Shop opened its doors under the ownership of businesswoman Eloise Staudinger and 74 years later, the children’s store continues to be a fixture in the Village of Patchogue, N.Y., but now, like countless other small businesses across Long Island, the doors are temporarily closed and her granddaughter, Lori Belmonte is holding tight to her family legacy and making plans for a new future.

Lori has been co-owner of The Colony Shop alongside her aunt for the past 10 years since her grandmother passed away in 2010, but she has spent her lifetime learning from and following in her grandmother’s footsteps.  At 63 years old, she has spent much of her life dedicated to serving her customers and being an active member of the community serving as Committee Chair with the Business Promotion Committee for the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce and as First Vice President of the Business Improvement District.  Now, Lori has been working diligently from home to prepare for the day to re-open and carefully going over all the necessary changes to come for her customers to safely social distance in the shop. 

Like many other small locally-owned businesses who have been around for a long time, The Colony Shop runs a simple business serving their customers, and the only way to get what you need is to go to the store.  Lori, her aunt and dedicated staff are known locally for the personal and high-end experience they provide to their customers.  One of their specialties is providing a one-stop-shop for children’s First Communion needs, with fitting rooms on premise, and along with that comes Lori’s expertise in helping children find the perfect dress, suit or accessories.

The week before the NY Pause, The Colony Shop was in the midst of their prime shopping season for the occasion and now First Communions have been canceled with re-schedule dates yet to be announced, and Lori is hoping for an opportunity to bounce back.

“I have lost my communion business.  I lost my Easter business, and now I am starting to lose my spring-summer business.  My store is full of merchandise, and it’s just sitting there,” she said.

The past couple of weeks Lori has been receiving calls for items and has been trying to accommodate through local delivery or pick-up.  Calls from the shop are being forwarded to her cell phone and Lori said requests have been primarily for birthdays and births.

The shutdown of business has been the biggest hit The Colony Shop has ever taken, but Lori has drawn strength from a story her grandmother Eloise used to tell her when she was a child about her experience living through the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.  Growing up and until recently, Lori said she always thought, like most kids would, that her grandmother was exaggerating the story, but she was not.  Her grandmother was a survivor of unimaginable circumstances.

“When my grandmother was 10 years old, she lost her father and her step-mother.  Her mother died when she was three.  She lost her father and her stepmother in 1918.  She would tell me, ‘You don’t know, people were dying left and right,’ and who would have thought 100 years later here we go,” she said.

Moving forward, some fittings are going to have to be by appointment only and only one of the two fitting rooms will be used at a time.  After every fitting, the rooms will be thoroughly sanitized and whatever customers have tried on will be steamed out and sanitized before it goes back on the rack.  Lori said even though it is going to be extra work for them, they have to keep going.  She said, their first priority is to put their customers’ safety first while they shop, and The Colony Shop will do whatever is needed to carry on. 

“It’s going to be hard in my store.  Sometimes when they shop, for say, a baby’s christening outfit, it’s the baby in the stroller, and it’s mommy and the godmother and two grandmas.  I am going to have to limit that,” she said.

The Colony Shop is in Phase 2 of the reopening plan for NY State, and Lori said she is hoping she can re-open in the coming weeks.

“I am available.  If somebody needs something, all they have to do is call me,” she said.

For more information on how you can shop through social distancing at The Colony Shop you can visit, www.thecolonyshop.net or call 631-605-7278.

Healer offers free virtual Reiki meditations

Amy Nicole Tangel

Life as we know it right now can seem filled with unknowns and worries, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, out of balance, and seeking ways to deal with our emotions. Sharing her passion and gift of healing through meditation one woman is helping those in need by offering free weekly virtual sessions of Reiki meditation.

Reiki and Feng Shui Master Laura Cerrano, owner of Feng Shui Manhattan, grew up with Feng Shui as a way of life.  The former Farmingdale, NY, resident learned early from her mother who was a Feng Shui Master and, organically, the seeds were planted in Laura through living what her mother taught her as she grew up.  While in college studying to be an art teacher at SUNY New Paltz, Laura said Feng Shui was ever present in her life as she traveled back and forth on breaks to study the practice and help with her mother’s Feng Shui client consultations. 

When her mother became ill and Laura began struggling to find teaching jobs after she returned home from graduation, she realized this was her destiny.  After her mother passed away in 2010, Laura said she then knew in her heart, she wanted to make it her life to help others and take all she had learned from her mother to continue to serve others.

“I was seeing what was happening with people’s lives and even my life. I said this is really important.  This not something to ignore, and I didn’t want to,” she said.

Although 36-year-old Laura grew up on Long Island, she was born in an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1984 during a time when the country was suffering from economic despair and surrounded by violence as a result of the reign of terror by drug lord, Pablo Emilio “Escobar” Gaviria.  Her birth mother gave her up for adoption when she was born, because she could not afford to keep her, and to Laura’s saving grace, when she was about six months old, she was adopted and flown to her new family in the U.S.  It was not safe for her adoptive parents to travel to Colombia due to the ongoing violence, so Laura was flown to JFK from Bogotá essentially alone, but the future ahead of her was paved with hope.

Laura’s adoptive mother, Feng Shui Master Carole Provenzale, studied Feng Shui at the Metropolitan Institute of Interior Design, originally in Plainview, N.Y., and based today in Syosset, N.Y.  She was among the first accredited graduate school class in country to be recognized as a certified Feng Shui consultant, and her mother who graduated in 1997, was blessed by His Holiness Grandmaster Professor Lin Yun.

“She just started feeding me information growing up from 1997 and onward, so my training essentially started there even though it wasn’t in the traditional sense of here’s a booklet. You just lived it and honestly, that is how Feng Shui is traditionally passed down,” she said.

Following her mother’s passing, Laura said she decided to extend her practices from Feng Shui and began studying Reiki with the intention of finding an outlet to help with her grief.  She said before her mother had passed, she had told Laura to start thinking about Reiki and to trust it would come to her in her own way, so Laura sought out, Reiki Master from the Center for Inner Wisdom, Lily Rubinstein.  Under Rubinstein’s mentorship and teachings, Laura was certified in Reiki with the foundational levels in 2014 became a Master in 2018.  From these teachings, Laura has created her own practice and lifestyle to help others heal.

“It is a necessity at this point, and I know it will be a necessity once things are settled, because I am seeing and I am getting the reading of people who are going to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); They are already having it, especially the essential workers in the hospitals,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic, living in New York during a time when there is so much fear, Laura said she has been taking her years of practice to focus on the blessings to help herself and others stay strong through her new virtual weekly Reiki classes. She said she started thinking about what people needed right now, and she said she felt free remote Reiki healing circles offer a method that could be an immediate benefit.

“The idea is to basically give people, even though we are pausing, an opportunity to just pause from the anxiety and depression, and I have been trying to reach out to medical and other essential workers to just listen to the meditation or receive the Reiki,” she said.

Feng Shui Manhattan has offices in New York, Long Island and Los Angeles, CA, and Laura is currently under quarantine in Long Island while her husband is holding things down in California until they can safely travel again.  Laura travels the country offering clients a list of holistic and practical approaches to Feng Shui, Master Reiki Treatments, and sound healing, just to name a few of the services to help people with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. 

Laura said she is working hard to focus on the anatomy of the body even more than ever, and is studying different chakras in the body to nail down what people are going through.  She practices what she teaches and takes her own meditation classes to keep herself in the right place for her own peace and to continue to help others.  For Laura, who has been combining her own practice of meditation along with various exercise regimes like riding her bike and lifting heavy items, the practice is essential.  Art is her personal outlet, and she often explores different mediums as part of her key to balance.

“When I look at this pandemic, I know a lot has made an exchange on the surface level, but when you really start to peel back the layers, depending on your perspective, this pandemic has blessed me with a lot,” she said.

Throughout the month of May and possibly June, depending on how long the pandemic continues, Laura’s virtual Reiki sessions will be held through Zoom, Thursdays at 7 p.m. Eastern time.  People who want to take the class can go directly to the link on her website to register, www.fengshuimanhattan.com or they can visit The Feng Shui Manhattan School on Facebook.

Caregiver Movement Gains Support

Amy Nicole Tangel

A new initiative called, Let the Family Help, is gaining support for its plan to create an exception for caregivers during a state of emergency. The proposal would allow patients to have one caregiver per family with them while being treated in nursing homes and hospitals.

Making it her goal to take the lead is long-time philanthropist and founder of Stepping Stone Support, an all-volunteer non-profit organization helping men and women affected by cancer. Renee Lynn Scott, 49, of Eastport, NY, has taken on a personal crusade to help erase the word “alone” for patients and to ease the burden of medical professionals in nursing homes and hospitals.

 Renee says safety is of the utmost importance, and she said she believes it is necessary and possible for caregivers to not only help their loved ones recover, but to free dedicated doctors and nurses in beneficial ways. The plan for patients to be allowed one caregiver with them in medical facilities is a movement, Renee said, for all patients who need medical care whatever the disease and not to be focused solely on COVID19.

“There are so many thousands of other illnesses out there that people are being treated for, but they (bureaucratic decisionmakers) seem to be only focused on the virus,” she said.

Recently, Renee and fellow supporters have petitioned legislators and county executives for their voices to be heard.  In a letter written to politicians, Renee is asking the government to allow caregivers to help their family members.  She suggests exceptions be made to allow a single family member, or designated person to help care for their sick one in facilities as they have always done before, after they have been properly screened.  In addition to screening for COVID19, she proposes caregivers who are cleared be required to wear acceptable protective gear and to sign a waiver releasing any facility from liability.

“Once a person has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, they don’t just fight physically; they fight it emotionally and mentally.  I personally know the struggles families face dealing with cancer from diagnosis to treatment,” she wrote.

At the age of 28, Renee was diagnosed with Stage 1B Cervical Cancer. She said the news of her cancer left her feeling devastated and shocked, and in 2005 she made it her life’s mission to help other survivors and their families make their way through life with cancer by creating Stepping Stone Support. 

Not only has Renee spent the past 15 years creating programs such as, Survivor’s Little Helper, an annual event which provides gifts for the holidays and necessary winter items to cancer patients in treatment, but she is a patient advocate, survivor sister and was helplessly watching her 93-year-old aunt go through COVID19 alone recently while being emotionally traumatized.  Her aunt was admitted to the hospital for treatment and has since recovered and returned to her nursing home, but Renee said the emotional damage from being alone left the family feeling devastated.

“I think if you ask every single family out there who has somebody who is dealing with it (COVID19) in a hospital setting, they would tell you they want a change,” she said.

Stacy Sbaschnik, 48, of Manorville, N.Y., and long-time supporter of Stepping Stone Support is on board with the Let the Family Help initiative, and her current situation is a reflection of what many families are facing with a loved one. Her 73-year-old father is fighting for his life in ICU with COVID19.  Her father, who has pre-existing medical conditions from a 4- year battle with lung cancer, is now free of cancer but facing another disease alone. 

Stacy’s mother is presently his primary caregiver, but she said when her father was receiving treatment for cancer, she was by his bedside every day.  While her father is on a ventilator and unable to communicate, Stacy said she has tried to stay positive and strong while waiting for updates from the hospital, and her family is very grateful for the care he is receiving. But she worries at times that he will give up because nobody is there.

“I try to look at it like, I don’t know what they are going through there either.  I don’t know how many patients they have.  I am sure it is hard for everyone who is going through this,” she said.

Over the years, Renee said she has developed meaningful relationships with fellow charitable volunteer organizations. She has partnered with those in her community who are now offering their support for Let the Family Help. 

Cassy Caputo, 65, of Center Moriches, N.Y., is Chairperson of Helping Makes U Happy, a non-profit organization that supports those in need in her local community along with her son and Founder, Keith Caputo.  Her recent petition to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office not only included Renee’s letter, but Cassy’s own personal plea.

Keith,39, lives with a developmental disability.  He has a passion for helping others and has helped countless people throughout the years, but he depends completely on Cassy. Keith is the boss, Cassy said and the thought of Keith ever having to be alone in the hospital makes her so emotional it brings her to tears.  Cassy said she personally knows other developmentally disabled individuals who have had to be hospitalized and passed from the virus and how terrifying and confusing it was for them to be alone.

“It’s a horrible experience for anyone to be alone while fighting the virus, but for a developmentally disabled person for whom you have been their advocate their whole life, even more so. Plain and simple-Keith would die.  If not of the virus, of a broken heart because he would feel I had deserted him,” she said.

Renee said it’s imperative for those who want to protect their loved ones and support the proposed Let the Family Help Initiative to contact their state Senators and Governor Cuomo’s office.  For additional information, emails can be sent to RSCOTT@steppingstonesupport.org To keep up to date on the latest information, you can follow, Let the Family Help-COVID19 on Facebook. To sign the petition visit, http://chng.it/SVdWQthTQn