Tag Archive | "Throgs Neck"

Bronx Moms Meet Up for Halloween Costume Swap

After spending hundreds of dollars on Halloween costumes in past years, a dozen Throgs Neck mothers participated in a costume swap to economize during an expensive holiday.

At the Brew Coffee House on Philip Avenue on the afternoon of Sept. 29, costumes covered tables, plastic pitchforks and scythes filled a basket and a bowl of candy sat near the door. A clown was ready and willing to paint faces. Children ran around and played in the cozy space while their mothers chatted and drank coffee. A Halloween-themed Pandora station played from speakers, filling the coffee house with the sounds of “Thriller” and “The Monster Mash.”

Geanine Petraglia, editor and publisher of the Macaroni Kid, an East Bronx blog geared towards local mothers, organized the event with Elizabeth Trempert, owner of Brew.

“Costumes are expensive,” Trempert said. “Kids never want to wear the same costume the next year, so every year – it just gets really expensive.”

Mothers reported that some costumes they purchased for their children in the past cost more than $50 including accessories and makeup.

“So now when you have two and three and four kids and you have to put all of them into a costume that’s almost half a month’s rent, pretty much,” said Trempert.

Petraglia recalled purchasing a costume for her three-month-old daughter that ran over $100, only to see it go into storage on Nov. 1. This inspired her to use her blog to bring the mothers of community members together and trade costumes.

“I thought there has to be so many other moms out there spending hundreds of dollars on costumes and they’re never seen from again,” she said.

Anyone who wanted to participate in the swap could drop off a costume ahead of time, or pay just $5 to enter and grab a costume. Many extra costumes were donated by community members and other local bloggers before the event. Petraglia recalled receiving two large boxes from a friend in Queens. She said she plans to donate any remaining costumes to a Bronx children’s hospital.

Trempert said that the holiday is very popular in the suburban neighborhood, and that many houses were already decorated for Halloween. Decorations, costumes and candy can add up to an expensive night for an area where the median income is just over $50,000, according to the 2010 American Community Survey for Community District 10.

Christine Destefano, a stay-at-home mom who brought her 5-year-old daughter to the costume swap, was very happy to leave with a new costume. “She got a Tinkerbell costume,” Destefano said. “She’s very excited. We swapped out a clown costume that she wore two years ago.”

Rukiya Shannon, a director of college advising at the Bronx Collegiate Academy in the South Bronx, and her 15-month-old son, Ryan, traded in a Native American costume for a tiger costume. She found the costume swap had other benefits besides a new costume.

“I got to meet a lot of other moms and families in the area, which I had not met before,” said Shannon. “Again, the event was free, and supports local businesses.”

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Driver in wrong way crash killed on Bruckner Expressway

A Throgs Neck woman driving on the wrong way on Bruckner Expressway was killed early Thursday after crashing her car into a tractor trailer.

According to WABC, the 25 year old was driving northbound in the southbound lanes just after 3 a.m.

Detectives believe she drove at least a half mile in the wrong direction, with cars swerving around her, before the crash.

A NYPost story identified the victim as 25-year-old Margaret Donnelly, who works at a Catholic school also in Throgs Neck in the Bronx.


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“The Poetry Man” filmmaker gives back


Lehman High School film teacher, James McSherry, reviews student's writing. (LINDSAY MINERVA/The Bronx Ink)

James McSherry has an impressive resume.  The 49-year-old Ivy League graduate published an award winning autobiography, “A Clean Street is a Happy Street,” in 2004.  The Bronx high school teacher also won nine film awards, including one at the Manhattan Film Festival for his seminal work, “Poetry Man” in 2010.

The independent movie made on a shoestring budget was inspired by his childhood friend from Throgs Neck, who was arrested for a drug-related murder in the 1980s, while McSherry was at Columbia, studying for his masters degree in writing. It was at Columbia where McSherry was able to transform his cathartic hobby of  creative writing into a professional calling.

He realized that poetry, and later, film had saved him from the poverty, drugs and violence that engulfed him growing up.  So the Lehman High School graduate returned to his alma mater to teach kids like him.  For the past 20 years, McSherry has created an encouraging environment for students to express themselves, something he wished he had as a teenager.

“I think it helps to have similar experiences, live in the area where you teach, and be able to connect with kids,” said McSherry, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. His students affectionately gave him “the pound” as they entered class.  “You need empathy to be an artist and a teacher.”

In his fourth floor film and video classroom at Lehman High on East Tremont Avenue, McSherry sat one September morning with engaged teenagers as they edited videos.  In the back corner of the room, he set up a simple, makeshift film booth made out of black construction paper.

Twenty large screen Apple computers now line the perimeter of the room thanks to the hours he spent applying for grants.  Starting with virtually no resources three years ago when he was determined to launch the film class, McSherry fought hard for this equipment.  He paid for the class’s first camera out of his own pocket.

McSherry is convinced of the value of art and mastery of language in education.  “Art empowers on a completely different level,” he said in a serious tone.  Art gives his student a voice.  “McSherry’s class instills confidence in the kids,” said Karen Andronico, Lehman’s assistant principal of Media Arts and Communications.  “They spill their guts into the work.”

Andronico heads up one of the five Small Learning Communities that make up the total Lehman student body of over 3,500 ethnically diverse teenagers.  She said the socioeconomically disadvantaged students want to write about problems that affect their lives.

McSherry experienced many of the issues facing his students today. His alcoholic father was murdered when he was in the eighth grade, and his mother was left alone to raise McSherry and his four siblings.  The family received welfare and they struggled to get by with the help of food stamps.  His brother is a drug abuser and suffers from schizophrenia.   And as featured in “Poetry Man,” his childhood friend went to jail for murder.

“I know what students feel like because I know what they are going through,” McSherry said, adding that he can relate to issues of poverty, drugs, mental illness, single parent households, welfare. His connections with the kids are particularly important since Lehman’s graduation rate in 2010 was 51 percent, 12 percentage points worse than the citywide average.

He guided his tenth grade students to create public safety announcement videos about their own challenges such as birth control and relationships.  Last semester, his students’ Public Safety Announcement on teen dating violence won “Let Your Heart Rule,” a Verizon-sponsored, nationwide competition.  The students won iPads, $1,000 for their school, and an appearance on the Dr. Phil Show.

More importantly, the recognition validated their hard work.

Demi Middleton, one of McSherry’s eleventh grade Media and Television Film Production students, said she and her classmates were in disbelief when they won. “Mr. McSherry has shown his students that you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it and concentrate,” said Middleton. “That’s what we did with Dr. Phil and it was a great feeling!”

“One thing about McSherry is that it’s all about the kids and making them feel successful and supported,” said Adronico.  “He’ll do anything for them.”

McSherry has even taken students on after school trips to the Tribeca Film Festival and coordinated internships at Bronx Net Television.  Andronico said she would not be surprised if he somehow manages to take them to France, where his film was screened in the Cannes Film Festival this past May.

McSherry is also an innovator.  Truth Booth is a project he thought up last winter.  Students are each given two minutes to privately respond on camera to his chosen word: father.

There were no other specific guidelines–just to speak the truth.

“McSherry is a very loving person, and students were able to open up to him because they trust him,” said Teresa Matthews, Lehman’s teacher of Global Voices in Film.  “He could very well be their father and he takes on that role sometimes.”

Just like McSherry’s popular classes, Truth Booth was an instant hit, so much so, that they spent the entire semester focusing on “father” rather than moving on to a different word.

And school counselors were even able to use the videos to help in therapy.  The down to earth teacher said the documentary paid immeasurable dividends–one student reconnected with his father after ten years and another student’s father apologized to him after watching the DVD.

Truth Booth will continue this academic year but the word prompt has yet to be decided.

“Success,” suggested Middleton.

“It makes you think about the future and where students see themselves going,” she added.  “I want to go to college and Mr. McSherry wants me to.  He came from the Bronx, and we come from the Bronx.  He says anyone can do it, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what school.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Culture, EducationComments (0)

Top Stories of the Day

New York flexes security muscle to foil 9/11 plot

Anti-terrorist security has been beefed up across New York, in an emphatic response to a possible car bombing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A New York Daily News report, based on “specific and credible” info, claims that the plot involves three veteran terrorists – one possibly with an American passport – approved by Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also quotes investigators saying that names of all three were known, but they were too common to provide much direction.

After 9/11, Anthrax Day in the Bronx

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will declare September 14 as Anthrax Day in the Bronx, The Bronx Times reports, when the band performs with heavy metal’s Big Four at Yankees Stadium on Wednesday night. Anthrax features three native Bronxites – Charlie Benante and Frank Bello from Throgs Neck, and Rob Caggiano from Pelham Parkway. But a Yahoo Music Blog points out that just four days later, on September 18, it will be the 10th anniversary of the anthrax attacks that killed five people in the days following 9/11.

She stuffed him in suitcase, stole his checks

Monique Exum, the woman who ‘buried’ her 73-year-old boyfriend in a suitcase, is now believed to have done it for the money. The New York Daily News reports that Exum, 36, stole Johnny Davis’ Social Security checks and bank funds for three months, till his packed corpse was discovered in Williamsbridge on Sunday.

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Revenge of the music nerd


Frantic Ian describes himself as "Bob Dylan with balls." Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

By 6:30 on a Friday night in October, hundreds of fans waited anxiously for Frantic Ian to take the stage at the First Lutheran in Throgs Neck.

Ten minutes later,  the bespectacled guitarist lit into his first full punk folk melody with irony-laced lyrics, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt with a rooster on it that said, “chicks dig me.” As the last note faded away he yelled out, “Sines and cosines, baby!” The crowd went wild.

Ian Rousso, 24, as he’s known off stage, is an average 20-something on a mission to have fun and learn everything he can about biology—and perhaps women, too. He has made the Bronx his adopted musical home and the borough has adopted him right back. Hundreds of fans sing along every time he plays a show with Bronx Underground, a grassroots production company.

Rousso looks like Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, but sings like a more melodic Bob Dylan—artfully and musically tone deaf. He calls himself “Bob Dylan with balls,” and said he “writes songs that are serious yet somewhat sarcastic.” Rousso said he loves his solo career because of the opportunities it allows. “It’s gratifying playing something you wrote on your own,” he said. “There’s no one to answer to except the fans.”

He released his first album as a free Internet download on Nov. 8 and said that he owes a lot of his success to Bronx Underground, a group dedicated to providing venues and audiences for local musicians.

Frantic Ian blows into a noise maker while celebrating Bronx Underground's 10th birthday. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Frantic Ian blows into a noise maker while celebrating Bronx Underground's 10th birthday. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

“Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, I can’t tell you what it means to me that Bronx Underground considered my contribution to the scene relevant enough to have me play their 10th anniversary show,” he said at his gig Oct. 8 on the Throgs Neck stage. “I can’t tell you what it means to me to have been a part of this scene for so long.”

He joked that he’s probably going to be playing at Bronx Underground’s 20th anniversary show as well.

“How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb” released to much fan fare. So far over 100 people have downloaded it, a success for a self-produced and marketed album. It was originally titled “How to Disassemble an Atomic Bomb” until he realized that it was too similar to U2’s 2004 album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”

“Bono’s always trying to cramp my style,” Rousso said of the mix-up.

The antithesis of a rock star, Rousso is a junior biology major at the City College of New York and he’s very focused on school. A majority of his posts on Twitter and Facebook concern studying for biology and chemistry exams with a few pleas peppered in to download his new album, “How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb.”

“Music is mainly a hobby,” Rousso said. “Right now, school is my number one priority.”

Despite his focus on academics, the Upper West Side native has made a name for himself in the Bronx music community. He’s been in and out of Bronx-based bands for six years. Most recently, he performed with a band called Frantic Zero which eventually became part of Rousso’s solo identity when he left about a year ago. It’s a fitting name, considering he speaks in rapid-fire, like he’s trying to cover all his conversational bases at once.

When performing, Rousso owns the stage and commands attention, especially when powering through a “Sublime” medley, a 90s group popular long before most kids in the Bronx Underground audience were babies.

Part of Rousso’s appeal is that he sings for not only himself but for his audience. His songs chronicle what it’s like not to feel particularly “cool,” but to be relatively O.K. with it. His song “Get This Right” is about being young, having no real direction but hoping that things will work out. He sings about getting lost in his thoughts to his favorite band while on his way to a record store.

Fans find it hard not to dance while Frantic Ian is performing. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Fans find it hard not to dance while Frantic Ian is performing. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

“Thought about the world that we live in and all the things we want to change,” he sings. “Remembered the songs that pushed us through reminded us how we should do it. I hope I get this right.”

Rousso combines Bob Dylan harmonica melodies with Dashboard Confessional personalized lyrics and a Ben Folds-type vocal artistry that’s not particularly impressive but sucks you in with its raw honesty. He’s not trying to impress, he’s trying to express.

“How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb” is similar but instead of lacking direction he laments his lack of success with females. On “Journey to the End of the Horizon” he sings “like a little boy who’s walking on his first stepping stone” to detail how new relationships make you feel like you know nothing even if you’ve been down the road before.

The new album also offers a hilarious and melodic cover of “Bed Intruder” the autotuned spoof of the viral video “Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wife” which shows Antoine Dobson who ranting to television reporters after a intruder climbed through his sister’s window late at night.

Rousso’s fan base has grown because he’s down to earth and fun to watch, plus he offers acoustic jam band-like performances to a scene largely dominated by electric guitars and jacked up amplifiers. Also, he loves his fans.

“Frantic Ian is awesome, he does really great acoustic sets in the city, said John Blattner, 17, of Throgs Neck. “As soon as I walked into the show the other day he pointed me out and dedicated a whole set of Sublime songs to me. Great time.”

Rousso’s influences include many Bronx-based bands including “A Moment’s Worth” and “Drew Torres” as well as “Jawbreaker”, a New York City band that’s often credited with influencing and starting the early 90s emo music movement which featured song lyrics heavy on personal emotions, often sad and slow.

On Nov. 29 Rousso will be performing and celebrating his album’s release at Angels and Kings, an East Village concert venue, which often features local talent. The show starts at 6 p.m. and is free.

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A Throgs Neck baker turns her dream into a sweet business

Fourth of July blue velvet cupcakes with handmade gum paste flowers. Photo provided by Cammarota

Fourth of July blue velvet cupcakes with handmade gum paste flowers. Photo provided by Cammarota

The fall of 2009 was a season of highs and lows for Robin Cammarota. She was in love, engaged to be married and ready to start her very own baking business with the support of her fiancé, John Costello.

The couple brainstormed all summer for the perfect name to reflect the tasty creativity that went into her confections, which often contained flavor combinations like chocolate and avocado and ancho chili chocolate as well as fun shapes and characters like pandas, the cast of Sesame Street, and cupcakes with witch fingers coming out of the top for Halloween.

Cammarota says Costello urged her to take her baking from a hobby to a home business. By August, the pair had finally come up with a name for her burgeoning baking business, Land of Cake Believe. But just as Cammarota began to seriously market herself and her business, everything came crashing down.

A month after they decided on the name, Costello died suddenly of heart problems at the age of 25.

Cammarota and Costello in 2009. Photo provided by Cammarota

Cammarota and Costello in 2009. Photo provided by Cammarota

“It felt like my world ended,” Cammarota, 27, said of Costello’s sudden death. “After a loss like that, it’s hard to continue.” Getting back in the kitchen after Costello’s death was particularly difficult because he was such a big supporter of her dream.

But she finally did in early spring, and now her self-propelled baking business is a staple of the Throgs Neck community. She works from her home kitchen and earns profits of between $300 and $400 a month by charging $2 per cupcake and $3 to $5 per slice of cake at events. Bigger orders are billed individually.

Cammarota didn’t always take baking so seriously, but she always loved it. She grew up in Throgs Neck baking with her grandmother for every holiday. “My grandmother taught me the importance of patience when baking,” she said. “And that a birthday is not a birthday without a cake.”

When her grandmother died, Cammarota took those recipes and made them her own. They form the basis for all of her Land of Cake Believe creations, including her first foray into creative flavors: a sickeningly sweet Pez flavored cake she made while a freshman in high school at St. Catherine Academy in 1997.

Knitting basket cake. Photo provided by Cammarota

Knitting basket cake. Photo provided by Cammarota

“None of my friends will let me live that down,” Cammarota said. She bakes in a rose-and-skull pattern apron that mirrors her sweet yet daring flavor combinations.

When she got back in the kitchen after Costello’s death, Cammarota came up with her most innovative confections; peanut butter, Dr. Pepper, Killian’s Irish Red, and Blue Moon Orange are all cupcake flavors. She has even recently created apple and pumpkin cupcakes with caramel cream cheese frosting for the fall season. Cammarota likes to bake with seasonal ingredients that she finds at farmer’s markets and ethnic markets, baking by the motto that “fresh is best.”

“Once I have a good ground recipe, I can build upon it,” Cammarota said. “I have the tendency of just adding a random spice into a recipe I’ve been doing forever.” For instance, she recently played around with a sacher torte recipe. Sacher tortes are a traditional dessert in Vienna—a chocolate cake with apricot filling and a chocolate glaze. She decided to spice this classic up with ancho chili powder, a spicy pepper that complements the sweetness of the chocolate, and call it a Mexicanisher Sacher Torte.

She attributes her success and drive to Costello. Her drive now is to make him proud.

Cammarota and Costello met when they were 14 or 15 years old (“Neither of us could remember exactly when,” she said) and had been in and out of each other’s lives for years. At a rock concert hosted by grassroots production company Bronx Underground in early 2009, Cammarota brought double chocolate, vanilla-frosted cupcakes for the event staff to share and she brought one over to Costello.

“He had three by the end of the night and I left telling my friends, ‘I really like John’,” Cammarota said. “A few weeks later he asked me out and that was it.”

Cammarota in her kitchen. Photo provided by Cammarota

Cammarota in her kitchen. Photo provided by Cammarota

Costello often helped her set up at Bronx Underground shows. “He liked to make sure my product was well-represented,” Cammarota said.

Despite her love of baking, it took Cammarota until the spring of 2007 to enroll at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) in the Pastry and Baking Arts Program to really hone her baking skills. Cammarota calls herself a “perpetual student.” She already had a bachelor’s degree in German language and literature from Hunter College as well as a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Mercy College. She had held various jobs in the restaurant industry and was working as a college admissions counselor when she decided to focus on her baking.

Sesame Street cupcakes. Photo provided by Cammarota

Sesame Street cupcakes. Photo provided by Cammarota

“I realized I wasn’t as fulfilled with life as I should have been,” Cammarota said. She was “hooked” after making her first grooms cake in the summer of 2009. “I realized I had really found my passion,” she said.

She even uses her knowledge of the German language to make her baked goods different than anyone else’s. “ I translate recipes from German cookbooks and magazines,” Cammarota said. “It sets me apart from most other bakers.”

Word spread from person to person and friend to friend, particularly after she started selling cupcakes at Bronx Underground rock concerts last May. She had previously worked with the concert promoters.

“I made six dozen cupcakes and managed to sell all but three,” Cammarota said of the first Bronx Underground show. “A few weeks later was another show and I was asked if I could be there. A bit more sensible this time, I only made four dozen and sold out.”

She spent 15 hours making Bronx Underground’s “birthday cake” to celebrate the organization’s 10th anniversary. When she has really big orders, she takes up every inch of space in her small home kitchen. “Home kitchens aren’t made to make cakes big enough for 150 people,” she said. “But I make it work.” She’s thankful that her kitchen opens up into her dining area giving her more counter space for big orders and for flavor experimenting.

Cammarota and her Bronx Underground birthday cake. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Cammarota and her Bronx Underground birthday cake. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Cammarota said she hasn’t repeated a flavor at the shows yet and the concert-goers are more than happy to try them. “You don’t find a single one of these cupcakes wasted,” said James Beary, 24, a regular Bronx Underground attendee. “You never even find a single crumb on the ground. They’re that good.” Fans lined up for Cammarota’s cake at a recent Bronx Underground show, forgoing a spot in front of the stage for a place in the cupcake line.

From Bronx Underground’s exposure, her business took off (she has 704 fans on Facebook). “My orders come in waves,” Cammarota said. “I have some weeks where I’m literally working everyday and then I have other weeks when I have one. I like to bake everyday regardless of whether I have an order just to try out a new recipe. My friends and family both love and hate me for this.”

Apple and pumpkin cupcakes for fall. Photo provided by Cammarota

Apple and pumpkin cupcakes for fall. Photo provided by Cammarota

In addition to her cakes and cupcakes, Cammarota also makes breads and other pastries. She said she wanted to be a bread baker because “there’s something wonderful about kneading dough. I love making breads but people don’t typically ask for birthday breads.”

One day Cammarota hopes to open her own store. In the meantime, she still works full-time for a non-profit group as a research grant coordinator. To keep up with her current demand, she has recently enlisted the help of her best friend, Danielle Provino.

“She has helped on a few of the bigger orders,” Cammarota said.  “She is typically right by my side selling cupcakes at Bronx Underground shows. She is also my soundboard for design ideas. We work well together.” The teenagers at the Bronx Underground shows often ask Cammarota if she needs an intern. “Not right now,” she said. “But maybe one day soon, I will.”

Though her business is growing and she’s doing it largely by herself, Costello is always on her mind and drives her to be her best. “I bake for me and I bake to make John proud,” she said.

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