Tags Posts tagged with "Melissa Arnold"

Melissa Arnold

By Melissa Arnold

One can hardly travel a half block on Long Island without seeing a bag of Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, but that’s not a bad thing. The ubiquitous green bags are a sure sign of impending happiness.

Tate’s Bake Shop founder Kathleen King opened her first bakery when she was just 21 years old. The dream began long before that, though. Young Kathleen baked her signature thin and crispy cookies from age 11 on, selling them at her father Tate’s East End farmstand and using the profits to buy new school clothes each year. Today, the multi-million-dollar business has made Tate’s a nationwide favorite. 

This summer, King released a children’s picture book called Cookie Queen: How One Girl Started Tate’s Bake Shop [Random House] co-written with Lowey Bundy Sichol and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki. It’s King’s first book for children — she also has two cookbooks of baked goods.

Cookie Queen is an autobiographical reflection of Tate’s humble beginnings in a simple home kitchen. Young Kathleen is tired of the puffy and gooey cookies she sees everywhere — what she really wants is a thin, crispy cookie, But King’s process of trial and error shows young readers that reaching a goal isn’t always quick or easy. Kathleen makes batches and batches of cookies that she doesn’t like, experimenting and struggling to find the perfect recipe.

These important lessons of patience, hard work and following your dreams are coupled with beautiful illustrations from Kaulitzki. She captures the sprawling farm, Kathleen’s house and the family’s market with polished, detailed scenes. Little ones will enjoy pointing out farm animals, a house cat, a tractor and other thoughtful extras.

At the end of the book, older readers can learn about the real Tate’s Bake Shop with an easy to digest, single page history. Perhaps the best inclusion is Kathleen and Tate’s personal recipe for molasses cookies to make at home. Who knows, maybe a young reader in your life might discover their own love of baking.

My godchildren, ages 4 and 2, were big fans of the book when I read it to them. No surprise there — after all, what kid wouldn’t like a book about cookies? That said, the vocabulary and overall message would be better understood by elementary school readers. 

Age aside, this book is best enjoyed as a family, then immediately followed by some hands-on time together in the kitchen, especially with dessert-heavy holidays approaching. To order, visit amazon.com, bn.com or your favorite online retailer.

Meet Jeff Corwin at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center on Aug. 27.

By Melissa Arnold

‘We cannot protect what we do not cherish, and we will not cherish what we do not know…’ — Jeff Corwin

Jeff Corwin has been a vocal and passionate advocate for wildlife and the natural world since the 1990s. The celebrated biologist and conservationist is a recognizable face on television, hosting shows including Disney Channel’s Going Wild, Animal Planet’s The Jeff Corwin Experience, and more recently, Ocean Treks and Wildlife Nation on ABC.

From a cobra festival in India and unexplored jungles in South America, to the African savanna and beyond, Corwin continues to teach audiences that our incredible world deserves protection.

On Aug. 27, Jeff Corwin will partner with Sweetbriar Nature Center to share stories from his adventures around the world and highlight the challenges faced by a variety of endangered species.

The special event, held at the newly renovated Smithtown Performing Arts Center (SPAC), will serve as a wonderful education event hosted by Sweetbriar, a not-for-profit corporation. 

“The Smithtown Performing Arts Center board is always seeking out opportunities to help out community-based nonprofits and share our beautiful, historic space.” said Michael Mucciolo, board president for SPAC. “Our theater has a long history of attracting families with young kids, and I think they’ll have a wonderful time seeing something they’ve never seen before and learning from such an expert like Jeff.”

Sweetbriar Nature Center is situated on 54 acres of garden, woodland, field and wetland habitats on the Nissequogue River. Hundreds of species of plants and animals call the center home — many arrived as part of their extensive wildlife rehabilitation program.

“Everything that we do here is for the benefit of the animals,” said Janine Bendicksen, curator and wildlife rehabilitation coordinator for the center. “Many of the animals that get brought in to us are often at death’s door, sick enough that they allow a human to pick them up. About half of them are successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild, which is fantastic.”

A lot of the patients they receive have similar stories, Bendicksen explained. A concerned member of the community might stumble upon an injured animal on their property or while out on a hike and contact their local Animal Control department, which then reaches out to Sweetbriar.

Whether it’s a wounded eagle on a bike trail or a couple of rabbits playing chase in a mechanic’s garage, the staff at Sweetbriar have seen just about everything.

Around 100 of Sweetbriar’s permanent residents are animals that are permanently injured or otherwise unreleasable. A few birds, including a great horned owl named Lily, have been there longer than Bendicksen has — more than 20 years.

Bendicksen studied fine art and art history, eventually finding her way to Sweetbriar as curator. In addition to her work with rehabilitation, she is responsible for creating art displays and supervising creative projects around the property.

“I was one of those kids who people were always bringing their animals to, and I tried my best to help them. Sweetbriar hits on everything that makes me happy,” she said.

The center’s educational team works hard to instill that same wonder and love of nature in people of all ages. This is especially evident during the summer, when hundreds of children from around Long Island come to the center for weeklong enrichment programs or day visits.

Throughout the school year, Sweetbriar also host field trips, opportunities for families, and in-school presentations.

The dual mission of education and rehabilitation is what makes Jeff Corwin the ideal guest speaker for the event, said Sweetbriar board member Maureen Calamia.

“Jeff has a great reputation and deep care for wildlife, especially those species that are borderline extinct. His enthusiasm is such an asset,” she said.

With only four dedicated staff members, Sweetbriar relies on the ongoing support of volunteers and donors. 

“A lot of people unfortunately don’t know what’s going on in their own backyard, or how to treat nature or wildlife. Sweetbriar does a tremendous service through their programming, both in person and also through their social media, which has a global following,” Calamia said. “They are great stewards, and everyone knows to turn to them if there’s an animal in need. This event is a wonderful way to support their hard work.”

“Tales from the Field with Jeff Corwin” will be held on Sunday, Aug. 27 at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $50 and can be purchased online at www.sweetbriarnc.org or at www.smithtownpac.org. This event is made possible by a grant from the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning.

Sweetbriar is always in need of donations and volunteers, regardless of experience or skills. Visit their website or call 631-979-6344 learn how you can help.

The cast of 'Pippin'. Photo courtesy of The Community Playhouse of Northport

By Melissa Arnold

When a playwright starts working on a new script, they carefully describe the setting, time period, and each character. They may provide information about a character’s intended gender, age, physicality and singing voice. These traits are meant to serve as guides for directors as they select actors for the show.

All this might sound simple on paper, but in reality, it means that an otherwise talented actor may not be a good fit for certain roles. This is especially true for older adults, where opportunities for people in their age group are unfortunately few and far between. 

The Community Playhouse of Northport (CPN) works hard to create an atmosphere that’s welcoming to all kinds of actors, especially those with little to no experience. Each summer, they host a special “Bucket List Production” of a classic musical with a unique twist – all the lead actors are over 45, and all the ensemble members are over 30.

For people who have passed the age threshold for many theatrical roles, the accommodation is a dream come true.

The Bucket List shows began last summer, when a dedicated group of theater families formed the not-for-profit Community Playhouse of Northport. Their predecessor, the Northport Community Theater, was dissolved in 2021. 

“Many of us were friends before CPN formed — some of us were previous performers or had kids who knew each other from community theater,” said Amy Schombs, who handles publicity for the group. “We thought it might be fun to create an opportunity for those of us who’d like to be onstage but are often not in the right age group, or maybe they’ve never had any theater experience before.” 

This year’s Bucket List Production is Pippin, an energetic and surprising tale following the son of the historical King Charlemagne as he searches for fulfillment in young adulthood.

It’s also a show-within-a-show — the majority of the characters are part of a talented, sometimes zany group of performers who bring Pippin and Charlemagne’s story to life. This dynamic allows smaller ensemble roles to take center stage, which isn’t typical in a musical.

Schombs is also an ensemble performer for the show and admitted that getting onstage for the first time since high school was a big step out of her comfort zone.

“My mother took me to musicals all the time as a child and I grew up loving theater. I did some shows during high school and took a few acting classes in college, but that was it,” she recalled. “About 10 years ago, my then-teenage son decided to try out for his high school’s musical, and my whole family fell in love with theater.”

But it hasn’t been easy, she noted.

“At first it was really hard and intimidating, especially as someone who can’t read music and has no real experience. It’s been like speaking a foreign language at times,” Schombs said. “But it’s so much fun and I’m so glad I took a chance and decided to challenge myself.”

Scott Stevenson is in his early 70s, and thanks to Bucket List he’s making his theatrical debut as a comedic ensemble member.

“I’ve always enjoyed going to theater performances, and I’m comfortable onstage because I sing in a barbershop chorus based out of Five Towns College. I found myself going to shows and thinking, ‘You know, I bet I could do that,’” said Stevenson, who worked in the maritime industry prior to retirement. “My wife saw an advertisement for the Bucket List auditions in the paper and encouraged me to go for it.”

Stevenson showed up to audition and sang a few fast-paced bars of “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” by Frank Sinatra. Not long after, he learned that he made the cast of Pippin. 

“I’ve been so impressed with everyone in the group, and they’ve been so welcoming to me as a newcomer,” he said. “It feels wonderful to try something new. To anyone out there who has ever had the dream of performing, I would encourage them to get out there and do it. Don’t let the chance pass you by.”

Seizing the opportunity comes up often for the Bucket List cast, the majority of whom have day jobs, families and other responsibilities. Executive director Suzie Lustig couldn’t be happier to have them.

“It had always been a hope of mine to bring this [Bucket List] idea to the Playhouse,” said Lustig, who is also the organization’s CEO. “There’s a lot of incredible talent on Long Island, and it’s very competitive. It gets harder as you get older — someone who’s a novice at an older age may not have a shot at participating in some shows elsewhere.”

The cast includes teachers on summer vacation, an IT professional, stay-at-home parents, a psychologist and many more.

“This cast is phenomenally committed — everyone is so enthusiastic and brings so much heart because they really want to be there, even after working all day and sacrificing their summer nights and weekends to make it happen,” Lustig said. “They come from all walks of life, but the cast has become great friends through this production.”

Schombs hopes that visitors will take a chance on the unconventional performance, and maybe even consider auditioning in the future. 

“I think there’s a bit of surprise for those who come to see us, because some people come in knowing we’re not experienced performers, but by the end we impress them with how hard we’ve worked and what we’ve been able to achieve,” she said. “Everyone should have items on their bucket list that push them and encourage them to try new things. I think the Playhouse provides an amazing way to do that.”

The Community Playhouse of Northport will present Pippin at 7:30 p.m. July 20 through July 22, with an additional 3 p.m. performance on July 22. Performances are held at the Harborfields High School Auditorium, 98 Taylor Ave, Greenlawn. Tickets are $15. To purchase or for more information about CPN and future Bucket List Productions, visit www.communityplayhousenorthport.org or call 631-683-8444.

Goat yoga participant Phoebe Barnett with a baby goat on her back. Photo by Colleen Kelly

By Melissa Arnold

Picture this: It’s a balmy summer evening, and you’ve gotten the chance to take a yoga  class on the sprawling grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society. The lush grass springs back under your bare feet as you roll out your mat. The wind blows gently through the trees. As you move from pose to pose, surrounded by nature and gorgeous historic buildings, serenity wraps around you like a blanket.

And then, a baby goat nuzzles against your backside, attempting to climb you like a mountain during Downward Dog.

Scenes like this one play out all summer long at the historical society, which has hosted wildly popular goat yoga classes for the past several years. It’s one of many ways executive director Priya Kapoor is inviting the community to come and explore.

“When I first got here, I fell in love with the community and the property. I’m always thinking about what else we can do and create to make this place as welcoming as it can be,” said Kapoor. “We have a beautiful 22-acre property and we want to be able to showcase this gem that’s in their own backyard.”

Goat yoga originated on a farm in Oregon less than a decade ago and the trend caught on quickly nationwide, largely thanks to social media. When the Smithtown program launched in 2017, the first class had a wait list of more than 700 people.

It’s a joy for Karen Haleiko, owner of Steppin’ Out Ponies and Petting Zoo, to watch her animals interact with people of all ages. The traveling pony ride and petting zoo company focuses on both education and entertainment, as well as animal rescue efforts — they’ve done more than 500 animal rescues in the last eight years.

About 15 goats come to each yoga class. Haleiko said the goats decide for themselves each time if they want to go for a ride.

“My goats are very social, they crave people and genuinely enjoy being a part of this experience,” Haleiko said. “Goats have a calming aura … It’s common to include goats as companions with race horses in between races. They’re also very comical, and being with them makes you laugh, helps you relax and forget about the worries of the world for a while.”

Each 45-minute yoga class is led by Haleiko’s aunt, Doreen Buckman, who’s taught yoga for the last 20 years. Buckman said she admired the strength, flexibility and overall vitality of female yogis in India, where the ancient practice began.

“The environment at the [goat yoga] classes is warm and welcoming. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done yoga before or if you can’t do the poses exactly,” she said. “No one is judging anyone else. We want people to have fun and do what feels most comfortable for them, whether that’s an advanced headstand or spending the time sitting quietly and taking deep breaths.”

The goats are allowed to roam freely and interact with students throughout the session. Bigger goats might cuddle up next to you and let you lean on them for balance, while more spunky goats might bounce around you, climb on you or frolic together. 

This summer’s classes include some animal newcomers, including five baby goats — triplets Punky Brewster, Finn, and Evie; twins Captain America and Loki — as well as an alpaca named Mazie. Once yoga is finished, there’s time to mingle and pet the animals, take pictures and explore the grounds. Keep an eye out for the sheep and chickens that live on the property, too.

Buckman said that many goat yoga attendees are repeat visitors, and she’s not surprised. “One of the things I hear most often is, ‘I really needed this,’” she said. “I call goat yoga a laugh fest — it’s a hilarious time, and laughter really is the best medicine.”

Outdoor yoga will be held throughout the summer at 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. in the field behind the Frank Brush Barn at the Smithtown Historical Society, 211 Middle Country Road. Upcoming sessions include July 7, July 21, Aug. 7, Aug. 21 and Sept. 7. Tickets are $30 per person and pre-registration is required at www.eventbrite.com. Children ages 7 through 17 are welcome accompanied by an adult. Please bring a mat, towel and water bottle. Yoga mats will not be provided. For more information, call 631-265-6768.

By Melissa Arnold

Spending any amount of time in a hospital setting is bound to be taxing, not just physically but emotionally. Sometimes, a little reminder that you’re being thought of and supported can make all the difference. 

Since 2008, the Stony Brook Stitchers have volunteered their time and skill to knit, crochet and sew gifts for patients that could use a pick-me-up.

Melissa Shampine

In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), families might receive a cute knit cap for their little one. In difficult situations where a baby passes away, a special wrap for the baby can be used to take treasured photos, and parents are given a memory pouch to hold mementos like a lock of hair. Patients in other departments, such as the cancer center or pediatric hospital, might curl up with an afghan, lap blanket or prayer shawl during their stay. Residents at the nearby Long Island State Veterans Home receive donations as well.

The project is a grassroots effort that began with hospital staff who wanted to brighten patients’ days.

Stitchers co-director Melissa Shampine grew up attending a small parochial school in Manhattan, where the boys were taught chess and the girls learned to crochet. 

“Even though it was mandatory, I found that I actually liked it, and eventually learned to knit as well,” she recalled. “I really enjoyed being creative in that way.”

Shampine now works as a teaching hospital staff assistant at Stony Brook University Hospital. One of her former coworkers, Shakeera Thomas, was also a knitter, and together they began to brainstorm ways they could use their talents to benefit patients.

The idea spread through word of mouth, first among hospital staff, then across the street to the university. Nurse directors and health care providers identified patients who might want a gift. Students and employees from both campuses began donating yarn and got to work. Their numbers grew, and over time, even the surrounding communities got involved.

Jan Tassie

While the project is united under the Stitchers title, there are no official members or meetings. Some people work together at their churches, libraries or other small group settings, but countless others simply knit at home when they have the time. 

In 2015, Jan Tassie responded to an email from Shakeera Thomas, inviting hospital employees to learn to crochet. 

“I always wanted to learn to crochet, and someone tried to teach me years ago when I was pregnant with my first son, but it didn’t work out,” said Tassie, who recently retired from the university’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Services. “When I met Shakeera, she promised that when she was done with me, I’d be able to crochet. And at the end of one day, I could.”

Thomas relocated shortly thereafter, and Tassie stepped into the role as co-director for the Stitchers.

“In the hospital and university settings, you always have people who come and go, so the numbers wax and wane. But Jan is motivated — she is the kind of person who will chat up people in the yarn aisle at craft stores, or through networking, so there are always hands to help. Our website is a labor of love for her, too. She’s done so much,” Shampine said.

The Stitchers come from all walks of life and skill levels. Some have been knitting for decades, while others learned recently with the intent of supporting the project.

Among them is Jack Domaleski, a 24-year-old from New Suffolk who took up knitting during the pandemic quarantine.

Jack Domaleski with two knitted baby hats.

“During COVID, I taught myself to knit by watching videos on YouTube because I was bored and looking for something to do. It was easy to learn,” said Domaleski, who works in the restaurant industry. “My mom did it when I was younger, and it’s nice to end up with a finished product that you can share with others. I thought that it would be nice to donate to the hospital in some way, and when I wrote to them, they told me about the Stitchers.”

He was also inspired to knit by his own story. Domaleski was born several months premature, and spent nearly 90 days at Stony Brook’s NICU before he was strong enough to go home.

Today, he knits baby hats while thinking of other families going through similar circumstances.

“It helps me to feel connected to my own story, and anything you take the time to make is especially meaningful for the people that receive it,” he said. 

For information about volunteering or donating yarn or handmade items to the Stony Brook Stitchers, visit www.stonybrookstitchers.com or send an email to Jan Tassie at [email protected].

A scene from the 2020 Harry Chapin documentary

By Melissa Arnold

Throughout the 1970s, singer-songwriter Harry Chapin built a high-profile music career that included more than a dozen hit singles, 11 albums and a host of awards, including two Grammys. Despite his sudden death in 1981 at only 38 years old, Chapin left behind a massive legacy through both his music and a profoundly generous spirit.

Most people know Harry Chapin for his prolific contributions to the world of folk and rock music, but the “Cat’s in the Cradle” singer was also involved in a variety of charity efforts. He was especially passionate about ending hunger around the world. In 1975, he co-founded Why Hunger, a non-profit that supports grassroots organizations in 35 countries. He was also committed to making a difference in his backyard on Long Island, and in 1980, he founded Long Island Cares, which runs food pantries throughout the area.

The documentary Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something will be screened on Saturday, May 6.

On Saturday, May 6, the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) in Stony Brook will host a charity food drive and film screening of Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something.

“Like many people, my earliest memory of Harry Chapin is when my dad would have our family listen carefully to ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ on the AM radio in our family station wagon,” said Tom Needham, LIMEHOF’s vice chairman and host of the Sounds of Film radio show on 90.1 WUSB-FM. “Harry wrote songs about everyday people and their struggles, and he had a way of connecting with his audience on a personal level. His life and career serve as a testament to the ability of music and advocacy to bring about positive change in the world.”

The documentary, released in 2020, follows Chapin from a young boy in the shadows of his jazz musician father to finding his own success. When in Doubt, Do Something paints a new picture of the singer-songwriter who used his fame as a launching point to help others and influence politics. It also features testimonials from Chapin’s family, along with fellow musicians including Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Rogers, Pat Benatar and many more.

“I always believed that at some time in our history that there would be a documentary film made about Harry’s life and dedication towards ending hunger,” said Paule Pachter, CEO of Long Island Cares. “Half of his annual concert [revenue] was used to raise funds to address food insecurity, and many schools reference Harry when discussing hunger, poverty, and social justice. I was honored to be a part of the film to discuss the founding of Long Island Cares and how we work to continue his legacy.”

According to Long Island Cares media relations specialist Peter Crescenti, there are 230,000 food-insecure individuals on Long Island today, including 68,000 children. The organization’s food pantries have seen significant increases in visitors over the past several years, a trend they anticipate will continue. But Crescenti said they are continuing to expand their reach and programs to meet the growing need.

“In addition to providing millions of pounds of food a year to more than 325 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, we also run a pantry for pet supplies and a variety of programs for young people, veterans, the homeless and others seeking support,” he said. “We are dedicated to being the voice of those who have no voice, and addressing why poverty, immigration status, racial discrimination and other root causes of hunger still exist.”

Following the film screening, Tom Needham will lead a Q&A session with members of Harry Chapin’s family and staff from LI Cares.

The event will be held at 2 p.m. May 6 at the LIMEHOF Museum, 97 Main Street, Stony Brook. Tickets are $19.50 for adults, with discounts available for seniors, veterans and children at www.limusichalloffame.org. Each ticket also includes admission to the museum. Food donations are strongly encouraged.

LIMEHOF is a not-for-profit organization — ticket sales support scholarships for high schoolers and music programs in local places of need, including hospitals and senior centers. For more information and upcoming events, visit www.limusichalloffame.org/museum. To learn more about LI Cares and how to support their mission, visit www.licares.org.

Beef with a copy of Charles Armstrong's book

By Melissa Arnold

Author Charles Armstrong

A few years ago, Smithtown resident Charles Armstrong was looking forward to a long, lazy summer break from high school. Then, everything changed when doctors found a tumor in his brain. He was only 15 years old.

Throughout the course of his intense treatment regimen, Armstrong was comforted and entertained by his family’s sweet new dog, Beef. In fact, Beef had such a special personality that someone suggested he write a book about her.

And that’s exactly what he did. Now 18 and thankfully cancer-free, Armstrong decided to share his story to help other kids with cancer feel a little less alone. His debut book, The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower, focuses on Beef’s relationship with Charlie as she works to help him feel better. It’s light and approachable for young kids, and includes a note from Armstrong in the back that goes into more detail for older readers. The book has cute illustrations throughout and some real pictures of Beef and her family at the end. Kids stuck in bed will enjoy the activity pages that were wisely included as well.

Did you ever consider writing a book prior to your illness?

I wasn’t much of a creative kid. In fact, I had to take extended English classes because I struggled with it. I always told my parents I hated reading. But then in my junior and senior year of high school, I had a few teachers tell me that they really liked my writing. After my treatment, I realized I actually liked to read and started writing things on my own.

Charles Armstrong and Beef

Did you have any warning signs that something was wrong prior to your diagnosis?

I was out riding my bike with some friends right after school got out for the summer in 2020. It was a hot day, and my head really started to hurt. I had lots of pressure in my head, along with black spots in my vision and nausea. I came home and told my parents, and they figured it was heat exhaustion, but decided to be on the safe side and take me to the doctor. Not long after that, results of the scans came back to show a ping pong ball sized tumor in the center of my brain. It flipped our whole world upside down.

It was a type of tumor called a pineoblastoma. The tumor was causing spinal fluid to build up and I developed hydrocephalus, so I had surgery to address that, and then the biopsy confirmed it was cancer. During a second surgery, they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. After that, I had six weeks of radiation and six months of chemo infusions at Stony Brook.

It’s hard for anyone to face cancer, but it’s even rarer for young people to be in that position. Were you lonely?

It was tough because the COVID pandemic was also going on at the time, so there were a lot of restrictions on hospital visitors. But the staff did whatever they could to keep me connected to people while I was in the hospital. I would stay there for four or five days every month as part of my treatment routine. But my mom was able to take time off of work to stay with me, and I was able to use my phone to text with friends.

Did you have pets growing up?

Yes! We had both a cat and a dog when I was younger. My brother has a ferret, and we also have a bird. 

Whose idea was it to get a dog?

It was a family decision. After our first dog passed away, we took some time to grieve and after a while we decided to go to an adoption event at Last Chance Animal Rescue in June of 2020. That’s where we met Beef. My brother and I volunteered there when we were younger.

What drew you to Beef?

She was so timid and hiding in the back of the area, but when we approached her she got so excited and licked our faces. We all fell in love with her right away. Other people were looking at her, but we said, “No way, this is our dog now!” As it happens, she had been up for adoption for several months before we met her. I guess she was waiting for us.

Many animals are known to be very caring, especially when a family member is sick. Did Beef treat you differently?

We hadn’t had her for that long when I got sick, but she could tell that something was wrong in the house. She knew we were distraught, and at night she would always snuggle with me.

How did she help you? Did she affect your family too?

She just always knew what to do to lift me up, whether it was putting her head on my shoulder or chasing her tail to snap me out of a rut. On days when I was feeling okay we would play together. She makes all of us laugh. There’s a scene in the book where she does a handstand, and something very similar to that actually happened. She’s so emotionally intelligent and funny.

Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?

Going through all of the treatment associated with cancer, I had support from so many different directions. I wanted to find a way to provide that support in some way to other kids My cousin’s girlfriend joked that I should write about Beef, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could help other kids that were going through an illness. Beef is a funny dog, and the story could help them feel some of the love she showed me in that time.

Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

I self-published through Amazon KDP. They made it very simple. It’s a lot of work, but the process was pretty streamlined and it was a great experience overall.

Who is the illustrator?

The illustrator is Inga Buccella. My mom found Inga on Etsy, and she was so enthusiastic about being a part of the book when I told her my story.

What was it like for you when the book arrived?

It felt so surreal to hold it in my hands. It still doesn’t feel real to think of myself as a published author, but it’s great.

How are you doing now? What are you up to?

I had my most recent scans a few months ago, and they showed that I am still cancer free. I work a couple different jobs and am interested in getting into marketing. I’ve been working out a lot and just did my first Spartan race! I also got a chance to be a part of a short student film in New York City.

What is the target age for the book? 

I wanted it to be accessible to as many kids as possible. I think it would be right up the alley of kids between the ages of 3 and 7, though other age groups might find it relatable, too.


The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower is available now at Amazon.com. Keep up with Charles on Instagram @charlesparmstrong, and follow Beef’s antics on TikTok @the_dog_named_beef.

By Melissa Arnold

Drug addiction can rob a person of everything they once held dear. Relationships with loved ones, a safe place to live and the ability to work can all become jeopardized or lost.

When you have nothing left, finding stability and sobriety can seem like an impossible task. But support and education can make all the difference.

For more than 40 years, Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson has offered a wide variety of services to those struggling with addiction or other hardships, from free counseling and support groups to residential programs and spiritual guidance.

Tucked on the quiet grounds of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai is a modest bakery called Brother’s Bread, which provides sweet and savory treats to visitors and job skills for hard-working men in recovery.

The Little Portion Friary campus, now called Hope Academy, was purchased by Hope House in 2016 when the Franciscan brothers who lived there fell on hard times. Since then, the size of the program has doubled, and more than 60 young men live in the family-style residential facility. 

The acquisition was a full-circle moment for Hope House.

“The brothers helped out in local churches but also did a lot of baking. At the beginning of each weekend, people would be able to come in and see what was there and make a donation,” explained Father Francis Pizzarelli, director of Hope House Ministries, “When we acquired the friary, we wanted to maintain the bakery, and maintain that same spirit to honor and celebrate the brothers.”

But with the brothers gone, who would run the bakery? Pizzarelli saw it as an opportunity for the young men in addiction recovery at Hope Academy.  

With support and donations from the community, Brother’s Bread received a modern makeover, including new ovens. While Pizzarelli oversees the administrative side of things, daily operations are a work of “shared responsibility” for a small group of Hope Academy residents.

“It’s a source of income [for the Academy], but it’s also therapeutic. It gives these men a new set of skills, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of giving back,” said Pizzarelli, who is also a social worker and addiction counselor. “I’m committed to the holistic approach of mind, body and spirit for recovery and the bakery feeds into that ideal nicely.”

Some of the residents arrive at Hope Academy with previous cooking or baking knowledge, but there are also opportunities for those who want to learn. Current bakers are always looking to share their skills with other residents, especially as the ultimate goal is graduation from the program. A few local retired bakers volunteer their time to teach as well.

The result is the tempting aroma of fresh bread heavy in the air each weekend. While the bakery is best known for their breads, especially cinnamon raisin and whole wheat, with time the menu has expanded to include other goodies. Brownies, scones, cookies and fruit pies are often available, along with seasonal favorites like Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day and cheese pizzas during Lent.

The Irish soda bread in particular has been the source of a lot of laughter at the bakery and among those who attend weekend Mass at the friary. 

Pizzarelli explained that one of the current bakers is from Ireland and was eager to share a bite of home with bakery patrons. People rave over it – well, most people. Pizzarelli has never been fond of Irish soda bread and is regularly teased for it. 

Another unique facet of Brother’s Bread is the focus on generosity. The bakery door is always open on the weekends, even if no one is there. Each item has a suggested price, and visitors are encouraged to pay what they can.

“We certainly appreciate all the support we get, and the profits help cover the cost of ingredients and food for the residential program,” Pizzarelli said. “But we also know that there are hungry people out there, so we run on the honor system.”  

As with all of Hope House’s programs, the bakery depends on the kindness of others. Financial gifts, volunteer support or donations of ingredients are always welcome. 

Pizzarelli never imagined 40 years ago that his ministry would unfold as it has, and while there are many difficulties, he continues to offer a place of welcome to as many as he can. “The friary and Hope Academy have been a source of strength for people that are carrying shame and stigma. People focus on the negative stories, and I am always reminded of the people that we’ve lost, but I also see miracles every day,” he said.

Brother’s Bread and Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary are located at 48 Old Post Road, Mount Sinai. New bakery items are available Fridays after 3 p.m. through Sundays. For more information, call 631-473-0553 or visit www.hhm.org.

Stony Brook University Symphony Orchestra
Free event to highlight kid compositions and musical surprises

By Melissa Arnold

Music has a way of moving us both physically and emotionally. Regardless of culture, language or age, the right song can make just about anyone smile.

For more than 20 years, the Stony Brook University Symphony Orchestra, an all-student ensemble featuring undergraduate and graduate music majors as well as qualified non-music majors, has put on a special Family Orchestra Concert, aiming to instill an excitement for music in children while bringing generations together. The free event returns to the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University on Tuesday, Feb. 28. 

Featured soloist violinist Elvina Liu will perform the opening movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4.

Conductor Susan Deaver works hard each year to dream up a fun and creative theme for the performance. Some are obvious — recent concerts have focused on contrasts or weather, to name a few — but others are more subtle.

This year’s theme, “Musical Surprises,” will challenge the audience to listen for something unexpected in each piece.

“Everybody likes surprises, right?” joked Deaver, who’s been with the university since 2000. “There are a few ways we’ve included surprises in this show. For example, we have two [portions] from Sir Edward Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations,’ which offer surprising changes in mood and tempo. There’s also ‘Thunder and Lightning’ [by Johann Strauss II], which reflects the surprise of being caught in a sudden thunderstorm.”

The concert includes both recognizable and lesser-known pieces, but the majority are short to provide as much variety as possible. And the program is just an hour long, helping to keep the littlest concertgoers happy while getting everyone home at a decent time. It is a school night, after all.

A surprising new addition to the program this year are mini-melodies composed by young orchestra students in the community.

Elementary school musicians from the Hauppauge Public School District have attended the concert for the past several years as a nighttime field trip. Interest in the concert continues to grow, and this year, Deaver approached music teacher Timerie Gatto with an exciting idea.

“There are three elementary schools in Hauppauge, and each one has an orchestra. We started with each child bringing one parent to the concert, so that they could all see what a future in music can look like if they work at it. Now we are also involving younger siblings,” Gatto said. 

“Susan Deaver is fantastic, she interacts with the audience and does whatever she can to help the kids develop a greater appreciation for music. This year, she asked if my students would make up melodies for the orchestra to play!”

With the help of classroom iPads, students were able to compose, hear and perform their own one-line melodies.

“It’s been an impressive experience for me, watching them develop their own titles and musical ideas. Some kids even put groups of notes into chords and developed more complex syncopated rhythms,” Gatto said.

The orchestra is comprised of about 75 university students from diverse backgrounds and fields of study. Among them is 20-year-old Elvina Liu, a senior music major from Auckland, New Zealand. Liu is also the orchestra’s concertmistress — a lead violinist who serves as liaison between the orchestra and conductor.

Liu will perform a solo from Mozart’s “Concerto No. 4 in D Major,” which she said can be surprising in its own way.

“I think classical works, such as this Mozart concerto, are commonly perceived as pieces that don’t allow for a lot of freedom in interpretation. A lot of teachers and musicians believe that there are certain elements that have one “correct” way of being played, which is a pretty outdated way of tackling these pieces in my opinion,” Liu explained. “I do make a great effort to respect Mozart’s writing and stylistic ideas, though I admit that I enjoy testing the limits and boundaries when I play. Sometimes I surprise myself in the moment as well!”

Liu and Gatto agreed that music provides children opportunities for development, self-expression and community in a way little else can.

“Music is one of those things where it doesn’t matter how bright, strong or fast you are. It’s accessible to all kinds of people regardless of their ability, and it offers the chance to connect with others in a nonverbal way,” Gatto said.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will host the annual Stony Brook Family Orchestra Concert on the Main Stage on Tuesday, Feb. 28  from 7:30 to 8:30  p.m. Admission is free and tickets are not required. Children of all ages are welcome. For more information, call 631-632-7330 or visit at www.stonybrook.edu/music.

Playwright Jude Treder-Wolff will host (Mostly) True Things: 'Bad Valentines and Worst Dates Ever' on Saturday, Feb. 11.

By Melissa Arnold

When you’re on a mission to find your perfect match, it’s safe to say you’ll have some less-than-great experiences along the way. It happens to the best of us.

Whether you’re partnered up or flying solo, an evening of Valentines-themed storytelling is sure to be relatable and entertaining.

The Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson will host a production of (Mostly) True Things, a recurring show featuring people from all walks of life sharing real, personal experiences. Their Feb. 11 production is themed “Bad Valentines and Worst Dates Ever.”

There’s also a game wrapped into the evening — while all four stories are true, three storytellers will change subtle little details. In Act 2, the audience will have a chance to question each person and decide for themselves who’s being sneaky. Winners get a tote bag, and the whole truth about each story is shared before the end of the night. It’s a combination of comedy, heart and community that is truly a unique experience every time.

The host and creator of (Mostly) True Things is Selden resident Jude Treder-Wolff, a creative soul who has worn a number of hats. 

“I grew up in a family where everyone learned to play piano, and I fell in love with it. I’ve always been a musician and a performer, and I got a degree in music therapy in my 20s,” Treder-Wolff explained. “Music has always been a healing art form for me … I love helping people tap into their creativity and use the arts as a way to express their feelings.”

After working as a music therapist in hospitals, rehab facilities and sessions with children, Treder-Wolff went to graduate school for social work and began a private practice. 

She was also growing creatively, getting involved with the cabaret scene in New York City and writing her own material. A mentor encouraged her to share true stories from her own life as well. 

(Mostly) True Things has appeared around New York City, Long Island and the Midwest since 2014, weaving the performers’ stories with original songs written and performed by Treder-Wolff.

This Valentine’s edition is special, she notes.

“I don’t usually do themed shows, but a while back I was in a show called ‘Worst Dates Ever,’ and it was hilarious, so I put out a request for story pitches on that theme,” she said. 

To be cast in the show, potential storytellers meet with Jude, often via Zoom, to present their ideas. If it’s a good fit, they’ll work with her to develop a carefully-crafted and polished story for the show — possibly with those little white lies added in. 

Among the Feb. 11 performers is Kelly Massaro, a Westhampton Beach middle school teacher and writer. 

“I was a scarecrow in my elementary school play, and that’s all the theater experience I have. I’m feeling terrified and thrilled,” Massaro admitted, laughing. “But I made a New Year’s resolution to try new things. I saw (Mostly) True Things in the past and knew I wanted to share some of my writing with Jude … The show was so evocative, thoughtful and funny — the little twist of trying to find who’s telling their story straight is really engaging for the audience.”

Massaro will share the ups and downs of learning to own her romantic history while giving herself permission to love. It may not be the funniest story of the night, but she hopes it will resonate. 

“The most important stories come from being vulnerable,” Massaro said. “I want to reach the person in the audience who might be nursing a broken heart.”

The evening will also feature performances by humor writer Ivy Eisenberg; playwright Jack Canfora; and political comedian Joey Novick.

Ultimately, the goal is to leave the audience feeling hopeful, Treder-Wolff said. 

“Everyone can enjoy this because it’s both comedic and real,” she added. “I think it can help people to feel a lot less alone in their life experiences.”

See (Mostly) True Things: “Bad Valentines and Worst Dates Ever” at The Performing Arts Studio, 224 E. Main St., Port Jefferson on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 online at www.mostlytruethings.com or $20 at the door (cash only). The show is recommended for teens and adults. For more information, call 631-928-6529.