Pandemic Summer Gardening

Special Edition

By Amy Nicole Tangel

The summer of 2020 has seemingly become a season of gardening for many people as we seek ways to pass the time at home and make the most of it.  People who have always had a garden have grown bigger ones this year and people who have never gardened are trying it for the first time. For myself, I have always been a gardener, but this summer, I decided to go all-in and maximize my time at home by expanding my garden and learning from fellow gardeners to guide me along.

In years past, I grew my vegetables in pots out of necessity, and I was always left feeling like I was missing out by not having my garden in the ground. Having dogs and limited yard space was always my reason for not planting in the ground, but it really came down to putting the time in to and committing to the work it requires.

This past spring, I began thinking about exactly what I wanted to plant and how.  Throughout many seasons, I observed my backyard space and took note of exactly what area received the best sun for the longest periods of time by how the garden grew in size and what it produced.  I came to learn over time what shadows were cast on what objects when, how much shade I had in the morning to get things done while it was cool and how much light I had left before it was too dark to work anymore.

I decided I was going to keep it simple this year and really focus on just a few vegetables at a time to maximize the space I had, so I planted what I would eat the most of; zucchini, pickling cucumbers, snap peas, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes.  I started most of them inside from seed and brought a couple starter plants back home from a farm in upstate NY.

The time I have spent working on my garden this summer, has been different than years past as it has provided a peaceful focus which has been beneficial to me in countless ways.  The passion for my garden extended to other areas of my backyard as well, and my hibiscus is full of beautiful flowers and there are bees and butterflies everywhere.  Not only has it provided an overflowing of vegetables, the time dedicated to my garden has given me an inner-peace and an overall healthier living this summer.

Fresh salads, sautéed vegetables and zucchini bread have been plentiful, and as we near the end of August my cherry tomatoes and zucchini do not seem to be slowing down yet.  I often share what I harvest with friends and try to spread the goodness around any chance I can.  Being able to provide something good for others and having a garden master to mentor me along the way has been the icing on the cake.

I have been gardening since I can remember and learned from my parents and my grandfather, who was an avid gardener, and had a very full garden for years.  I have so many fond memories of pulling carrots and watching the pumpkins grow in his garden.  There was always a big harvest in the fall, and I would always be amazed at how many different vegetables he would jar and store in the basement.  On my mother’s side we have a family tradition of making pickles and we would gather every summer to make pickles galore.

Over the last decade, I have lost my mother and both of my grandmothers; leaving me with a huge void of traditions I knew and loved.  I feel close to my mother when I garden and it is a life-long gift she passed down to me, so I have tried to make the most of it in spite of the loss.

Last spring, I ran into a local musician at a charity event who I had written about years prior, and he shared with me he had recently made a life change to healthier living by creating an organic garden after having gastric bypass surgery.  A light bulb instantly went off, and I told Karl “BD” Reamer, I wanted to write about his garden in attempt to learn more and help his mission of community involvement.  His garden is an open door, and he welcomes members of the community to come help harvest and to take home fresh vegetables.

As a sign of the times this summer, the barter system has become very popular this season with Karl’s garden and people have been very creative in what they trade.  He said he is a member of various garden community pages on Facebook and through other people sharing they trade and learn from each other.  People have traded homemade pizzas, pies, bread, eggs and even wheel barrels.  He said people suggest to him all the time to sell his vegetables, but he does not want to. 

“I don’t exchange money.  I just don’t like doing that,” he said.

This summer I am grateful for having the time to build my garden and learn from Karl’s.  He is outside from dusk until dawn and his calendar says he is in the garden from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.  He has a shed with an outdoor kitchen area, so you are likely to enjoy a farm to fork meal or snack when you stop by.  I recently helped out at his farm and harvested mounds of wax beans.  In return, I received many lessons as always, and a delicious lunch from the garden.

As the summer gardening season begins to wind down, I am already searching for new fall harvests.  I am going to begin with radishes by planting seeds directly outside and harvesting them in about 30 days.  With seeds from Karl and extra woodchips from his farm to help keep moisture in the ground, I am ready to start preparing outside for fall.

Although I don’t want to rush what’s left of summer, I am excited for pumpkins, apples and cool nights.  Planting mums and changing leaf colors is not far away.  Until then, I will enjoy the last few weeks of my garden and be thankful for all it has provided.

The Power of Social Media

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Patio Pizza of St. James, NY, has been a family-owned and operated staple in this Long Island community feeding people for the past 43 years, and recently owner, Guy Caligiuri has been thrust into the public eye making national news after receiving a recent tweet of support for his business from the nation’s President.

A little over two weeks ago his whole world was turned around when a customer came into Patio Pizza restaurant and told one of his employees she would boycott and put an end to Guy’s business by spreading the word on social media if he did not take down a Trump 2020 flag hanging outside the back entrance to the pizza place. Having been in the food industry for a long time and after years of dealing with customers, he said he didn’t think too much of it, but within a very short time Guy began receiving notifications from people that in fact his name and business were being attacked on social media.

“It’s just hanging out in the back there.  You really have to go out of your way to see it,” he said.

In a sign of the times, Guy said he had decided to hang his flag discreetly in the back of his establishment after his wife expressed concerns about having it hanging at their home due to the possibility of it causing conflict on their block.  He said he did not want any trouble, but as an American citizen and a human being, he said he felt he had a right to express his opinion in a respectful manner and exercised his right to do so.

The next day, Guy said an impromptu rally of support formed in front of his restaurant leaving him feeling “blown away by the response and outpouring” from his community. People from all sides of the spectrum showed up to support the business.  Guy said he is just a person who loves his family and his community, and he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.  The following day he wrote a post on Facebook sharing his story of what had transpired and what it meant to him, and his post spread like fire.

“This was all in response to her post.  It was the community that got together to say, ‘hey, this is wrong, and we’ve got your back.’ I have a lot of friends in this town after 43 years,” he said.

Still in disbelief at how fast it all happened, Guy said before he knew it, he was on the phone with Fox News and was asked to be a guest on Varney & Co. to share his story.  On July 30, 2020, the pizza proprietor was interviewed by Stuart Varney during the Fox Business segment and within minutes of the interview a tweet came from President Trump’s Twitter account expressing his support of the establishment.

“Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.).  Great Pizza!!!” tweeted the President.

Thanks to the tweet, “People are coming from all over Long Island. From Montauk to Brooklyn,” he said.

In an ironic twist of fate, what started out as an attempt to bully and defame a person and their business, because of a difference in opinion, turned into an example of kindness and compassion from not only Guy’s community, but from across the country.  Guy said his initial reaction to the boycott attempt against his business on Facebook was disbelief.  He said he could not believe all of his years of service to the community was being threatened by someone who didn’t even know him, his family or any of the things he has done to help people in St. James.  Through it all, the Smithtown native said he is grateful most of all for the customers and his staff.  In the kitchen, Guy takes great pride in his cooks and said they have been dedicated to their careers with their lengths of employment starting at 17 years, topping out at 35 years and counting.  Patio Pizza was opened by Guy’s father in 1977 a few steps down the road from their current location on Lake Avenue, and throughout all the years, Guy said he has been dedicated to making sure he takes care of his employees and his customers.  On any given day you can find him stopping by seemingly every table to say hello and chatting with his customers while busing tables and doing whatever is needed to help his staff.

“They are at work and they are happy.  They are happy to be here.  If I prosper, they prosper,” he said.

Whether it’s hurricanes, blizzards, blackouts or floods, Guy said he is open through it all. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he walked from his house a mile and a half away and climbed over downed trees to open, and said with his two generators running, he had power and began feeding people.  He said it is important to him to make sure he is there for his community when they are in need.  Throughout the pandemic, Patio Pizza has contributed to nursing homes, Stony Brook ER, Long Island State Veterans Home and has supported many organizations in St. James throughout the years such as sporting events at Smithtown High School. 

“If they can’t cook, I’ll cook for them,” he said.

Aside from the pizza, Guy said the signature dish of Patio Pizza is his Chicken Cisco, an entrée of chicken, spinach and fresh mushrooms served over rigatoni in a pink sauce, but his eggplant is a quick second, followed by other customer favorites like their chicken parmigiana hero and turkey melt.  While you dine at Patio Pizza during the summer months, you can enjoy your meal at one of the many spacious and socially distanced outside patio tables with full-service waitstaff and a relaxed and uplifting atmosphere of the live music currently provided daily.

Family is at the root of everything to the father of five and grandfather of six.  As inspiration, Patio Pizza regularly hosts annual events such as “Cinderella Night” and “Superhero Night,” where the staff dresses in theme and families can bring their children dressed in costume for a family-filled time of pony rides, live music, and face painting.  Guy said it’s all about making kids happy and even though he is disappointed it cannot happen this year due to COVID, he is looking forward to next year.  Hanging on the wall in the restaurant is a mural of photos of countless people–family, friends, and customers who have touched Guy’s heart.  He said he is just a friendly guy who tries to be kind to others.

For more information about Patio Pizza you can visit them on Facebook or at http://www.patiopizzastjames.com.

Photo credit: Amy Nicole Tangel and Kate Fox

Nashville inspired lounge brings country to the forefront of Patchogue

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Daisy’s Nashville Lounge opened in the Village of Patchogue, N.Y., a few short days before the world as we knew it went on pause, and they, like many other restaurants, shut their doors temporarily. Now they are back in the saddle, and the new country-themed lounge is working to make its mark.

From the menu, to the staff and live music, co-owner Brian Adams, is putting his heart and soul into giving his patrons a true Nashville experience when they visit.  Although Brian, alongside co-owner and long-time fellow restauranteur, Tim McCarthy of McCarthy’s Pub in Centereach, N.Y., opened the lounge on March 12, 2020 to an abrupt setback due to COVID, the resilient establishment has seemingly become a welcomed addition; filling a gap in the market for country lovers across Long Island.    

Brian, a New York native who was born in Yonkers and grew up in Smithtown, has worked in the industry with Tim dating back over two decades, starting when Brian worked for Tim’s father at their family-owned pub early in his career.  Since then, he spent the last 20 years living in Arizona and working in the industry opening and managing restaurants most notably, alongside retired Phoenix Suns player and restaurant owner, Dan Majerle.  When the time came for Brian to make a major life change, he moved back to New York to be closer to his family and he began looking for the right opportunity to plant his roots and partnered with Tim for the venture.  With a career and expertise in opening restaurants and handling their management, Brian said he thought about places he loved to go, and they decided to open a place where friends are able to hang out, relax, dine and listen to country music. 

“We said, ‘What doesn’t Patchogue have?’ and we both love country music.  When I grew up, my dad listened to the old country music,” he said.

When you walk into Daisy’s you can expect to hear a wide range of country and country-rock from yesterday and today providing a little something for everyone who enjoys country music.  In the front window of Daisy’s to the left sits a small showcase stage for band’s to play just like they do on Broadway in Nashville, and more space in the V.I.P. area and in the center where stages can be set. 

Brian is country fan himself with favorites like Travis Tritt and Randy Travis, and is lining-up live entertainment to the best of his ability with social distancing limitations, but he said he is excited to have a constant flow of demos coming in and is looking forward to supporting New York’s own country musicians like, Massapequa native and emerging country artist, Carolyn Miller. 

Although live music will be a staple at Daisy’s, Brian said line dancing will not be permitted due to the lack of space. For line dancers and country music fans alike, Brian and Tim have created a welcoming place for country music lovers to flock, filled with artistry like no other place for miles around.  With the potential to become a destination spot, Brian has worked piece by piece filling the lounge with pictures and paintings of country music legends specifically created just for Daisy’s and is still in the process of adding more décor to the honky-tonk theme.  On the back wall of the V.I.P lounge hangs an eye-catching original, framed picture of Chris Stapleton made out of guitar picks, designed by artist, Amy Reader of Tennessee, who Brian said is currently working on another framed picture of Carrie Underwood for another wall, as well. 

To the right of the bar is displayed a mural of Johnny Cash, painted graffiti-style on a brick wall that visually captures the essence of “The Man in Black,” by New York-based artist, Dean Goelz. 

Daisy’s also has a section in the works with final touches being made for an Instagram photo wall made-up of a backdrop of yet another original painting, this one, of a carnival poster with a girl on a horse made by Long Island artist Chelsea Carol from Painted Treasures by Chelsea, which will be complimented by a saddle on a log for people to sit on to take pictures once complete.  With creative touches being made daily, Daisy’s is seemingly a place to find something new every time you walk in the door.

“We want it to be a fun place where you can take your kids out to eat during the day,” he said.

Even when the doors were shut, Brian said they were at the restaurant daily working on fine touches, and they continue to do so today as they work on finalizing their southern-inspired menu.  Fried chicken, wings and pulled pork are staples at Daisy’s no matter what, and with an open floorplan, the tables are comfortably spaced apart to ensure safe social distancing. 

While trying to move forward in a safe and enjoyable manner, Daisy’s now has additional outdoor dining every Sunday for guests starting at 12 p.m. as part of the Village’s “Sundays in the Street” weekly closure of Main Street providing local restaurants and diners additional safe dining options throughout the pandemic. 

As for live entertainment, this Saturday evening select members of Long Island’s own country band, SouthBound will be playing live from 6 to 9 p.m., but you must remain seated and dine while you enjoy the music.  What ties everything all together for the whole experience is the staff, and Brian said although they lost some people due to the pandemic, they could not be more pleased with the group of team-oriented people working at Daisy’s now.

“This staff is good.  They are ambitious, friendly and happy.  We are very happy with the staff,” he said.

Daisy’s Nashville Lounge is located at 22 West Main Street and is open for dining Tuesday through Sunday.  For more information, visit www.daisysli.com or you can find them on Facebook and Instagram @daisys.li.

Owners pictured left to right, Tim McCarthy and Brian Adams.

Photos courtesy of Brian Adams

One Song at a Time

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Musicians in Nashville are currently feeling the heavy impact of being shut down, once again, after a recent rise in COVID cases, and many are resorting to taking their tip buckets and guitars to social media to make a means to survive and feed their families, but for one singer who has built her career by opening her own doors, it is her time to shine.

Rising above difficult times is nothing new for Nashville musician, Allie Sealey, who in large part has built her career as an independent artist with the help of all the tools social media has to offer, but with the current pause to the live music scene, she is putting in overtime using those skills to continue to share her music online with fans and support the recent release of her new single, “Wherever I Go.”

Before Allie decided to take a leap of faith and dedicate her life to making music, she was living in Northern California where she was born and raised in the bay area outside of San Francisco and taking care of her grandfather.  She was his primary caregiver and he was her biggest fan.  He was her best friend and he listened to her sing day in and day out.  He kept encouraging her to make a go of it, but Allie said it was when her grandfather passed away when she finally found the courage.  The painful feeling of grief was so traumatizing and devastating to her she said it made the fear of making a full go of her music career just disappear. 

“I only want to play music all the time.  That’s it.  I literally wake up for it,” she said.

Since that time, Allie has moved to Nashville and released two albums, ‘Best Friend’ and her most recent, ‘Long Road.’  In the midst of her drive to make things happen these past few years, she also regularly auditioned for The Voice, and said it was on pure principle to keep going back to prove to herself she could do it and vowed to herself she was not giving up.  Allie said although she didn’t get the glory like some people at the end of the day, she did get a call-back in Nashville with an on-camera interview and couldn’t have been more proud to have received a red card amongst thousands of other people.  

“I went there just to prove a point that I am not a quitter.  I will keep showing up; you will keep seeing my face,” she said.

Live streaming is nothing new to Allie, who has been maximizing her social media tools long before she moved to Nashville.  The day Allie decided she wanted to make a life of music, she picked up a guitar, learned how to play and hit the street making her own stage.  She said she didn’t care if anybody gave her a penny, she just wanted to sing and wasn’t going to wait for opportunity to knock on her door; she was going to open it herself.  From performing up and down Broadway in Nashville, to now singing to her fans from home, Allie is once again creating her own path by maximizing Facebook, Instagram and iTunes to stay connected, share her music and continue to build her career.

“Mostly, I have really been hustling the Facebook platform,” she said.

Although Allie said she has always had a hard time labeling herself in any specific genre as she loves music across the board, her heart is with country.  She said she was taught early on in the music business that you have to make your own yeses and you can’t rely on one thing to make your way.  Allie believes when there is a will there’s a way, and she said she is seeing now in light of the times how businesses are realizing how technology can be used to their advantage.  She is grateful now, more than ever, that she developed these skills long ago.

Last month, Allie had a milestone day in her life and her career when she turned 30-years-old on June 30, and her new song, a tribute to her grandfather, “Wherever I Go” was released from her second album making the charts on iTunes the very first day.  In a moment of celebration during her birthday week, she decided to lighten things up and get out of the house, so she took a drive to Kentucky to sing with a Kid Rock tribute artist at an outside event.  When the video of the performance made it on Instagram and Facebook, she said people thought she was really singing with Kid Rock, and although she enjoyed the humor of it, she said if ever given the opportunity she would love to sing with the real Kid Rock someday.

Most recently, Country Rebel, a clothing line and online news source for all things country music featured Allie’s new cover song of Wynonna Judd’s, “No One Else on Earth,” on their Facebook page earning over 82,000 views to date and rising for her video.  With a growing fanbase and commitment to what she loves, one by one, Allie is taking every opportunity as a blessing that comes her way to share the songs she sings with the world anyway she knows how.   Through it all,  she is making the most of the situation and is hoping the future holds opportunities to travel again with her music, but at the end of the day she simply just wants to make music every single day no matter where she is.

“I want to take this to a place where I am able to do what I love, which I do, you know, play music and writing songs to be able to live,” she said.

Allie Sealey’s music can be found on most streaming platforms such as Pandora, Spotify and you can purchase both albums in their entirety on iTunes. For additional information, you can visit www.alliesealey.com.  To keep up to date and to see Allie’s most recent live music videos you can follow her on Facebook.com/alliesealeymusic and Instagram @alliesealy.

Photos and video courtesy of Allie Sealey

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.