Astoria Characters by Nruhling
Nancy A. Ruhling
Aug 30, 2016 | 23381 views | 0 0 comments | 128 128 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Astoria Characters: The Pilates Pro
by Nruhling
Jun 25, 2019 | 176 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Gina’s the owner of Zend Avesta Pilates.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

The first time Gina Vaccaro drove to the gym, she didn’t get out of her car.

“I felt intimidated,” she says.

She had just had her first baby, and what with breastfeeding and trying to take care of him instead of herself, she was still carrying around 50 extra pounds on her small frame.

“I knew I had to get moving,” she says. “And I knew I really wanted to take spinning and Pilates.”

Sometime later, she did manage to find the courage to work out her insecurities. Her first foray – at a different gym – left her exhausted yet excited.

“I was wearing baggy sweatpants and after spinning, my face stayed as red as a tomato for a day,” she says. “But I loved it and mat Pilates.”

Gina kept working out “like an animal” five times a week and started eating healthy. She lost most of those 50 pounds within a year.

She also gained something she never bargained for — a new career.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Gina didn’t go to the gym until her first son was born.

Gina, who has beautiful biceps and cascading curls, is strong of mind and muscle. She grew up in Wantagh, Long Island, a middle child framed by two brothers.

She most decidedly was not an athletic youngster.

“I never played competitive sports,” she says.

Nor was she a scholar. “I really was interested in art,” she says. “College was not an option.”

So when she got her high school diploma, she got her first job, doing clerical work.

“It wasn’t enough for me,” she says. “I needed to get a real job.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Her first career was in interior design.

Instead, at 23, she went back to school, earning a degree in fine arts from Nassau Community College then a bachelor’s degree in interior design from New York Institute of Technology.

She built her career and family during the same time period, working on interior design projects and giving birth to her two sons.

In 2004, Gina, newly divorced, made a new home for herself and her young sons in Astoria.

“I had a family member living here,” she says. “But my sons and I lived by ourselves.”

She had every intention of continuing with her interior design work, and she even started adding residential projects to her portfolio, which primarily was commercial.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Gina’s two studios are serene.

It soon became apparent that she needed to find work that was closer to home.

“My objectives were fitness and taking care of my kids,” she says.

She continued to work out while she was working out the details of her new life as a single mom.

“Everybody at the gym kept telling me that I should teach,” she says, adding that she got certified in spinning and Pilates. “This was an appealing idea because I could take my sons with me while I was giving classes.”

After developing the Pilates program at Astoria’s Club Fitness New York and renting training space on the Upper East Side, Gina opened Zend Avesta Pilates on 27th Street in the garage of her apartment.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Gina grew up on Long Island.

“The name is the translation of ancient Persian scriptures,” she says. “I liked it because it contains the word ‘zen.’”

Gina’s zen caught on, and in 2014, she opened a second studio, this time in the basement of her apartment, so she could hold group classes in contemporary Pilates.

The studios, where tranquility and training run in tandem, are intimate and infused with positivity and a sense of spirituality. In the main studio, where four to eight people can work out simultaneously, there’s a Buddha by the door.

“Pilates is an insurance policy for your body,” she says. “People come to my classes because they want to change their lives. They want to strengthen their mental and physical muscles.”

Gina helps them do that, training people, in groups and individually, from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. six days a week.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She makes minds and bodies fit.

“I make myself stop at 8:30,” she says. “I jump on the bike for workouts four to five times a week. When I do Pilates, I concentrate only on one area of my body.”

Soon, Gina will expand Zend Avesta Pilates; she’ hoping to open another location in Scarsdale. That  studio will focus on The Mastermind Cycling & Pilates program, which, she says, creates a “positive mindset that will bring a favorable outcome to the uncomfortable situation you are experiencing.”

And that’s just the beginning. Gina envisions a time when the Zend Avesta Pilates brand is a household name.

“I feel I was destined to do this healing work,” she says as people start coming in for the first class of the day. “I love helping people feel better.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Upbeat Drummer
by Nruhling
Jun 19, 2019 | 903 views | 0 0 comments | 131 131 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stacy’s the founder of Fogo Azul NYC.


Text and Photos by  Nancy A. Ruhling



Throughout her life, Stacy Kovacshas marched to the steady beat of a drum.

Listening to its staccato sound soothes her.

“It’s a physical and emotional release,” says Stacy, who started banging out beats on the instrument when she was 8. “Playing in a marching band is about music and movement, choreography and camaraderie.”

As she’s pondering the power of the percussive, she’s petting her 6-year-old cats, Louie and Libby, rescues who may or may not be brother and sister. Louie, who weighs 23 pounds, launched himself like a missile onto her lap; Libby fearlessly followed his lead and leapt.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Louie lounging.

As Stacy talks, her funny felines find other things to do – Louie cuddles up to Stacy’s drum, a Brazilian-style repique, and Libby crawls into the C section of her C A T house.

A bit rude, perhaps, but Libby and Louie have heard this story before and know how it plays out.

For them, Stacy’s collections – she has 42 plastic Mr. Potato Head toys, including one dressed as a doctor and one decked out as Indiana Jones, hanging on the living room walls, plus myriad Muppet memorabilia and vast numbers of vintage video games like Pac-Man — are tail-twitching tantalizers.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Libby in the C A T house.

Although the drum was the first instrument she seriously studied, Stacy discarded it for the trombone when she was in high school.

She didn’t need much incentive – the band teacher told the class there were no trombone players and encouraged everyone to try out.

“He told us that whoever learned to play ‘Georgia on My Mind’ the best would get to perform it as a solo in the show,” she says, adding that this was in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo that is not nearly as exciting as New York City, so this was a pretty big deal. “My brother had played it, so I had the instrument. I taught myself, and yes, I played the solo.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stacy’s from a suburb of Buffalo.

She became so good at it, in fact, that she enrolled at Michigan State University simply because she wanted to be in its noted marching band.

“I got a partial scholarship,” she says.

While she and her trombone were marching in the band, Stacy majored in physiology as a prelude to entering medical school.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Louie in his favorite spot.

To her surprise, she didn’t follow through and when she graduated, she returned to Orchard Park and worked as a paramedic.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says.

A couple of years later, she enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston, where she earned two master’s degrees – one in cardiopulmonary perfusion and one in the physician assistant program.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stacy’s repique.

“I wanted to come to New York City,” she says. “I had only been here once, but I knew I wanted to move here.”

Since 2005, when she arrived for a surgical residency at Montefiore Medical Center, she has worked as a physician assistant for several hospitals, including Mount Sinai, Lenox Hill, St. Vincent’s, Methodist and New York University. This year, she took a job with New York-Presbyterian.

Her band schedule was always full. She joined the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps marching band as a trombonist and then learned samba drumming and joined Samba New York! At one point, she was playing in five bands.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stacy takes her drumming seriously.

“I played trombone in two and drums in three,” she says. “I was rehearsing for hours every night.”

And, she adds, loving every note of it.

She saw a drumming performance by Batala, a global arts project, that got her so fired up that she started a branch of her own in 2011.

 

“Batala reminded me of my college marching band,” she says. “I believe in the magic of performing as a group.”

She had so much fun leading Batala NYC that in 2016 she founded the all-women Brazilian samba reggae drum line Fogo Azul NYC.

She named it Blue Fire because “blue flames burn the hottest and are the rarest.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Libby exploring.

Fogo Azul NYC, which has 100 members, performs at public and private events, including the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, the Halloween Parade, the Women’s March and St. Pat’s for All Parade.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The tail end.

“There’s no experience necessary,” Stacy says, adding that Fogo Azul’s youngest member is 14 and its oldest is 84. “The music is not written down – it’s in my head and on videos. It’s not reading notes; it’s muscle memory and choreography.”

As conductor and composer, Stacy’s the heartbeat of the group.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stacy the conductor.

Fogo Azul NYC is Stacy’s hobby, one that she takes so seriously that she rehearses several times a week and recently set up a nonprofit to extend the band’s reach.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Read her hands.

“I want to do workshops in schools,” she says. “I dream of buying a building or of someone buying us a building that would be a community center for music. Believe it or not, New York doesn’t have a world percussion center – I want to open the first one.”

For Stacy, the beat goes on steady and strong.

After telling Louie and Libby good-bye, Stacy dons her drum majorette’s hat, a tall, white confection with a flamboyant finial that makes her look like a Beefeater on guard at Buckingham Palace, and hangs her faux-flower-festooned repique from her waist.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stacy’s all set.

“The goal is to have fun,” she says as she marches out the door. “Once you put the drum on, you’re hooked.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Woman Keeping Her Son's Memory Alive
by Nruhling
Jun 11, 2019 | 587 views | 0 0 comments | 125 125 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Christine founded The AJ Project.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

AJ can’t be with us today, so his mother, Christine Perrelli, is going to speak for him.

She promised him she would.

He was her first-born. He was imaginative and intelligent. He was a dancer and an actor. He lit up a stage even when the lights were down. He had a big heart.

You would have loved him. Everyone did.

Which is why his death six years ago, at age 26, was so tragic.

AJ had so much going for him.



AJ toured with Disney.

He had toured the world performing in “Disney Live! Three Classic Fairy Tales” and had started taking acting lessons.

“From the time he was a boy, he wanted to be on Broadway,” says Christine.

And he was eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child. Luca, who is 5, never got the chance to meet AJ.

“He looks just like his dad,” Christine says, showing a photo of the little boy.



As Christine is telling AJ’s story, she’s helping her 4-year-old granddaughter, Mia, get ready for her dancing class.

 

Christine’s an upbeat woman who wears a ready smile and loves to hug.

She pours syrup on Mia’s pancakes and reminds her to put on her little black tutu and brush her teeth.

On Oct. 10, 2013, when Christine was on a trip to Baltimore, AJ went outside his Astoria apartment to smoke a cigarette.

When he hadn’t returned 20 minutes later, the two friends who were staying with him went to look for him.

The found him, bleeding and crawling on the ground.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Christine is the mother of four.

Doctors discovered he had a brain bleed, and by the time Christine arrived at his side, he was non-responsive in the ICU.

“I felt like I was in a movie or a TV set,” she says. “I used to put my hand on his chest and my head on his chest as a way to get through to him.”

Six days later, AJ was declared dead. His heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas and corneas are keeping five people alive.

Everyone grieves in a different way, and Christine chose to create a nonprofit to honor AJ’s memory.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Her nonprofit promotes organ donation.

“While I was saying good-bye to him, I told him that the world will know who you are and people will hear your story and through you, the world will change,” she says.

The AJ Project was not something Christine planned. AJ’s friends donated money to pay his funeral expenses, and she was determined to use the leftover money to set up a fund in AJ’s name that would benefit the arts.

“It was like divine intervention,” she says. “I was laid off six months after AJ died, so I had time to figure out how to do this.”

The AJ Project creates performance events that promote organ donation education, something Christine says is sorely needed because New York ranks 50th among the states.

 

She also sees The AJ Project as a way to promote local performers.

“I looked at AJ struggling to be an artist in New York,” she says. “Everyone always asks people to perform for free, and that’s not right. I pay the artists who participate and use my sources to help other nonprofits connect artistic people with projects.”

Christine, who is a native of Hollywood, Florida, is a lifetime lover of the arts. Her father is a jazz musician, and at an early age, she learned to play the flute, piccolo and saxophone. She also sang and taught herself to dance.

“I’m one of four,” she says. “We didn’t have money to take lessons.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s committed to helping people like AJ who are in the performing arts.

When she was 13, she met Anthony, her future husband, in a swimming pool at a hotel.

“We were on a staycation because we didn’t have any money to go anywhere,” she says. “He had come to Florida from New York for a real vacation.”

They become periodic pen pals and later started a long-distance phone relationship. By the time Christine was at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, they had lost touch.

“When he was moving, he found my number in a drawer he was cleaning out,” she says. “He called, and we have not stopped talking since.”

Christine, four credits shy of graduation, dropped out of school to come to New York to be with him.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She wishes she knew what happened to AJ.

“New York is expensive, but living here was cheaper than paying for all the phone calls,” she says. “I don’t know what I was thinking – if that had been my kid, I’ve have killed her.”

Fortunately, things worked out – Christine and Anthony have four children and have been married 32 years.

For a time, the couple ran their own video company. As the business took off, they moved to Florida, where they did a variety of things before moving back to Astoria in 2009 to take care of Anthony’s father.

Around the same time, Christine was battling breast cancer and AJ was ending his dancing and singing tours for Disney.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Christine thanks you for listening to AJ’s story.

She’s come to terms with AJ’s death, but it bothers her that she’ll never know what really happened to her son.

“We all have our theories about how he hit his head,” she says. “It’s like not being able to find your real parents if you were adopted.”

This month, for the first time, Christine is going to meet two of the people who received AJ’s organs. She doesn’t know how it will make her feel.

She pulls out her iPhone and plays a recording of AJ’s heartbeat that was made as he lay dying in his hospital bed.

Up until a year ago, she listened to it every night.

Mia twirls in her tutu; it’s time for Christine to take her to dance class.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Design Devotee
by Nruhling
Jun 04, 2019 | 727 views | 0 0 comments | 102 102 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur always envisioned being a fashion designer.



Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling
 
Four. That’s the number of things that Nur Asik likes to be doing at one time to keep her creativity flowing.

Right now, that means she’s working as a restaurant server/events planner, a magazine creative director, a jewelry designer and a commercial interior designer.

“I love multitasking,” she says, sitting at the dining table of the spacious two-bedroom apartment/atelier she shares with her older sister.

The chair next to her is occupied by a Brother sewing machine. That, along with a Singer at a nearby desk, is what she uses to stitch draperies, pillows and cushions for Astoria establishments such as The Ditty, The Bonnie, Sweet Afton and The Letlove Inn.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur is a native of Turkey.

When she’s sewing, which she does in the afternoons before she heads to Mar’s restaurant to wait on tables, the voluminous fabrics often flow from her balcony to her front door, causing her to do a little skip-jump dance to get from one place to another without stepping on them.

Sometimes, they remind her of the ball gowns she used to wistfully draw as a girl growing up in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

Although Nur was born in Turkey, she spent her first three years in a gated community in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, where her father, an electrical engineer, had a long-term work contract.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur recently started designing and making jewelry.

“My mother was a stay-at-home artist who created and arranged flowers, and my father traveled for work all the time,” she says. “We went back to Turkey, and he continued traveling around the world for jobs. I spent several summers in England when he lived there.”

At a young age, Nur became fascinated with fashion; when she watched TV, she sketched the characters, outfitting them in clothing of her own creation. She also seriously studied piano and ballet.

When it came time for college, she applied to FIT because there were no fashion design colleges in Turkey. She moved in with her sister, who also had come to New York to go to school.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur has a degree from FIT.

“I hated New York when I first came here,” Nur says. “Because of my dad, I had been to a lot of countries, and I just felt that New York was hectic, fast-paced as well as freeing. To my mind, it was a dark circus with bright colors.”

Eventually, though, she found that her act fit right in.

“I went to Florence, Italy for a year on a student exchange program and I had the opportunity to stay there, but I started to miss New York,” she says.

Nur, petite and perseverant, says the New York experience has made her who she is.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur’s the creative director at Idlewild magazine.

“The city can be rewarding if you know what you’re looking for and go after it,” she says. “It’s not what you know but who you meet because they walk with you and share your experiences.”

After she graduated from FIT with a bachelor’s degree in evening wear/couture, she had every intention of having a career as a fashion designer.

“I started freelancing for companies, some small, some large, and I noticed that it would take a long time to be a designer with my own business,” she says. “And my one-year work permit was expiring, so I decided to go back to school for a master’s degree.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s a server/events planner at Mar’s.

While she was in school deciding what she wanted to do and where she wanted to live, she got a lucky break: She won a residency lottery and got a green card that gave her a green light to set up shop in New York.

“That was such a big day for me,” she says, adding that she ultimately became a U.S. citizen. “I still remember opening that letter.”

When Nur got her degree in media management from Metropolitan College, she wanted to leverage it to get contacts in music and film so she could design clothing for entertainers in those industries.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur’s learning blacksmithing so she can fabricate her jewelry designs.

“My portfolio was stolen,” she says, “so I put fashion on hold. It broke my heart because I enjoyed every aspect of fashion from drawing to pattern making.”

She decided to focus on textiles instead and began picking up design work at bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.

In 2014, she began doing graphic design for Idlewild, a magazine published three times a year that showcases artists, venues and neighborhoods in Queens.

You’ll also see Nur at Mar’s, where she’s a server and events planner.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur designs and makes draperies, pillows and cushions for bars and restaurants.

“Mar’s is not a job, it’s an opportunity to make people smile in the two hours they spend there,” she says. “It’s also an opportunity to learn about food and drinks and how to run a business.”

Nur’s latest endeavor is jewelry making.

“I’m taking blacksmithing classes,” she says. “My aim is to get my pieces into shops.”

Nur calls her multiple jobs the “bright colors” of her life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nur says she’ll continue to create.

She loves pursuing all her passions and knows that she’s fortunate to have so many creative opportunities.

But there’s still a part of her that hasn’t completely given up on a career in fashion. She designs her own clothes and has them tailored in Turkey when she visits her parents.

What’s next for Nur? She’s thought about this a lot, but she doesn’t have an answer.

At least not yet.

“I can’t imagine not creating,” she says.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Catwalk Artist
by Nruhling
May 28, 2019 | 218 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula’s fashion brand is KALINOVA Design.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

In her artistically arranged apartment/atelier, Vendula Kalinovahas seven sewing machines, 14 birds, seven dressmaker forms and a fluffy-puffy Persian cat named Emma who spends her days prancing on patterns and batting at tape measures.

It’s early morning, and the canaries, caged in the kitchen, are singing their hearts out. As the finches look on, Vendula lets Burda the parrot perch on her hand.

All of these creatures in this immersive oasis, and, in fact, everything in the world, are inspiration for the custom art fashions of KALINOVA Design as well as for Vendula’s art and interior design projects.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula’s atelier in her apartment.

Despite a lifetime of creativity, this is the first time that Vendula, who is 41, has ever had the freedom to follow her passions.

Vendula, who is dressed in grey KALINOVA overalls accented with rose-gold straps and safety pins, grew up in Netvořice, a market town in the Czech Republic that at the time had a population of only 600.

Nine of those residents were members of Vendula’s family.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Emma the curious fashion cat.

The town, under Communist control, had many cows but no telephone lines.

The family didn’t have much money, and Vendula, the oldest of seven, was assigned, by virtue of her birth order, to play the role of second mom to her siblings.

“We wore hand-me-down clothes,” she says, “or clothes from scratchy yarn that my mother knitted. And we mended our socks when they got holes.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

An embroidered detail of a work in progress.

There was a TV in their four-bedroom apartment, but it was black and white and only had two channels.

“We were not allowed to watch it,” she says. “I had no exposure to the outside world — people were not allowed to travel outside the country – much less the fashion world. But when my first-grade teacher asked me what I wanted to be, I said fashion designer.”

Beauty came into Vendula’s world the day one of her aunts presented her with a small ball of dark green yarn flecked with gold.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula is from the Czech Republic.

“My mom taught me to crochet, and I had enough yarn to make two squares and form a sleeveless sweater for my doll,” she says.

Vendula’s interest in fashion intensified when she enrolled in a trade school to learn shoe manufacturing.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Fashion that kicks up its heels.

“High schools in the Czech Republic were trade schools,” she says. “We alternated – one week in school, one week in the factory. We got paid to work.”

By 18, when she graduated, Vendula was determined to come to New York City, the fashion capital of the world.

“At home, I used to sit at the window and stare at the stars,” she says. “I knew there had to be something bigger.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The KALINOVA Design collection.

That something bigger started with something smaller.

“I got a job as an au pair,” she says, adding that she only had to take care of two, not six children, as she was accustomed to. “I replied to an ad in a newspaper.”

Although she spoke Russian and Czech, she didn’t know English.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula’s inspirational pin cushion.

“I had never been anyplace,” she says. “It never occurred to me that people in New York wouldn’t be speaking Czech.”

Two years later, she left that job and worked in a variety of fields, most of them not even on the fringes of fashion.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A Burda in Vendula’s hand.

After 10 years living in Astoria, circumstances took her to Miami, where she studied interior design at Miami Dade College.

“During that time, I was doing a lot of sewing jobs,” she says. “I even was a sail maker for boats.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

An embroidered KALINOVA Design image.

She was also honing her hobbies, making clothes for friends and creating paintings, sculptures and crafts projects.

In 2014, she returned to New York, where she got a job as an interior designer for Estée Lauder and enrolled in FIT.

“I worked during the day and did school at night,” she says. “Sometimes I didn’t get home until midnight. I kept this up for two years, but I was overwhelmed.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula working on a jacket.

In 2017, she gave everything up to start over.

“The day I quit my job and school, I found a dollar bill in the street,” she says. “I picked it up and wrote on it, ‘This is the day I quit to create.’ It was so freeing.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The Buddha on the jacket’s back.

She put an ad on Craigslist and tapped into groups on Facebook, and before long, she was getting work making custom handbags as well as clothing for men and women.

She turned her living room and dining room into her atelier.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Some of Vendula’s more fanciful designs.

“My work, which incorporates embroidery, painting, lacework, beads and felting, is art,” she says. “I don’t make sketches; my approach is organic. When I work with the fabric, it just falls into place.”

She brings out a mood board she created to help bring to life a diaphanous white gown called Passing Through that she visualized in her mind. The idea came to her when she spotted an injured pigeon struggling on the sidewalk.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula worked five hours a day for three weeks to create this handbag.

“I tried to console him,” she says. “He fell into a puddle and was splashing mud all over. It was just me and him – I didn’t notice anything that was going on in the outside world. He passed away in my hands. I could tell he passed away loved, and I knew he was going to a better place.”

Vendula was so moved by the bird’s passage that she commemorated the event with a tattoo on her left forearm that depicts not only the bird but also her favorite scissors, a tree branch, hands and the face of the Buddha. Underneath, in Latin, are the words from a wise, Greek painter: “Not a day without a line drawn.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Vendula lives to create and creates to live.

It is the motto Vendula lives by.

Vendula loves her new life and hopes to move to a large, loft-like space where she can live and work.

“I’d like to have a TV show where I would travel around the world visiting the ateliers of people nobody knows about,” she says. “But I will never stop making fashion.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Schooled Stylist
by Nruhling
May 21, 2019 | 352 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Janete is the owner of Janete’s Hair Studio.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


Janete Chris is arranging silver scissors on a mirrored tray at her styling station.

Cutting hair, at least in her hands, is an art form, which is why she has 27 styles of scissors at her side.

“It’s not my entire collection,” says Janete, the owner of the hair salon that bears her name. “I have more at home.”

She opens a pair of boxes and places her set of Edward Scissorhands-like cutting claws next to the scissors.

Janete, who has long golden hair and fire engine-red nails (the ring fingers feature playful pastel flowers), has been a stylist her entire life.

She’s also been a lot of other things.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Janete’s Hair Studio is at 43-20B Ditmars Blvd.

She got the urge to color, curl and cut at an early age.

“My mother was a hair stylist,” she says, “so I grew up in a hair salon.”

In the beginning, Janete, who is from Patos de Minas, Brazil, wanted to be a doctor.

“I didn’t think I was smart enough,” she says, adding that “I love the arts.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Some of Janete’s scissors.

Instead, she became a TV journalist. After six months of a two-year internship at a station, she quit and came to New York in 1981, enrolling in a six-month English as a Second Language course at Hunter College.

“I took up acting,” she says. “My big dream was that I was going to be a writer and movie producer.”

Although she did perform in three plays and wrote and produced another, that career never did take off.

So she transferred her artistry to her original love – the beauty industry, where she worked as a stylist and teacher as she pursued a variety of other interests.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Janete is from Brazil.

She became a wife and mother (she has a 33-year-old son, a 28-year-old daughter and an ex-husband. The marriage ended five years ago after 28 years). When the children were young, she wrote a screenplay.

She volunteered at Mount Sinai Queens and studied speech therapy at Queens College because “I wanted to see how I could help people.”

In 2003, she opened Janete’s Hair Studio in The LaGuardia Center on Ditmars Boulevard. That same year, she wrote and produced a play on the history of hair from 1940 to 2000.

Although she wanted to pursue playwriting, she was more successful styling hair than spinning yarns about it, so in 2014 she moved her hair studio to larger space in the complex.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She opened the salon in 2003 and moved it to a larger space in 2014.

Janete, who designed the shop herself, styled it as an upscale living room, a place where clients can come to talk not only about hair but also life.

The walls are a lovely, calming shade of lavender, and the sofas and loveseats are upholstered in purple velvet.

A massive crystal chandelier hangs over the shop’s formal sitting room. The color station, covered in a bouquet of purple floral images, features a bar-like counter complete with lilac-colored swivel chairs.

While Janete has been running her business, she’s also been working on a psychology degree from Queens College. She sees it as a natural extension of her hair-styling work.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael Rodriguez with a client.

“I have been counseling clients, neighbors and people in the industry for years,” she says, adding that she will graduate at the end of this month.

The shop keeps her busy 70 hours a week, and school takes up four of her evenings.

She closes Janete’s Hair Studio at 7 p.m. and starts classes at 8. On Mondays, her day off, she heads to the college library at noon to study until class starts.

“I’m only a B-average student,” she says apologetically. “I don’t have time to be an A-average one.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Janete’s cutting claws.

But she does have time to start another degree: a master’s in behavioral psychology.

“I like to learn,” she says. “I also am a fast learner – it doesn’t take me long to complete my degrees.”

Janete’s 58, and she doesn’t want to waste time, so she’s also going to take the Law School Admission Test during the summer.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Janete Scissorhands.

“I want to start a nonprofit that helps children and immigrant children,” she explains. “I wish I could live for another 200 years so I could do everything I want to do.”

No matter what she ends up doing – and she probably will add a lot more things to her resume – Janete says that she’ll never surrender her scissors.

“Hair styling is my passion,” she says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Janete is going to work on a master’s degree and take the LSAT.

A woman with a nice head of dark brown hair walks in and gives Janete a bear hug. Her locks are pinned up haphazardly on the top of her head. She’s been too busy to make an appointment.

Janete has been styling her hair for 23 years.

“I started coming when I was 17,” she says, adding that her mother had been a customer first. “Nobody does it like Janete.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Shy Actor
by Nruhling
May 14, 2019 | 421 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
By Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben’s first love is music.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


Ben Rogers is a real shy guy. At least that’s what he says.

He has no trouble being on a stage – he is, after all, an actor. But that’s different because when he’s playing a part, he gets to hide behind the character.

Talking about himself, well that’s another matter altogether.

“I’m a private person,” he says, adding that he hopes he can come up with at least one interesting thing to convey about himself.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben is from Bournemouth, England.

Ben, lean and despite what he says, loquacious, didn’t come to the stage by a conventional route.

When he was growing up in Bournemouth, a coastal resort town in England’s County of Dorset, he took a fancy to music, teaching himself to play the drums, the harmonica, the guitar and the saxophone.

“I fell in love with the blues,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I moved to the States.”

By 19, he was playing in a local band, and after studying media and communications at Bournemouth University, he followed a good friend to New Orleans. He was 25.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

New Orleans was his first U.S. home.

“The day after I arrived, there was a hurricane scare, and I had to evacuate,” he says. “It didn’t hit, but a year later, Katrina did.”

The flooded city dried up his music work, so Ben joined a landscaping crew to earn money. He also worked with a construction crew gutting houses that had been savaged by the storm.

“I did a lot of other jobs, too,” he says. “I wrote music reviews for the local paper, I was a bouncer – not a very good one – for a cigar bar, I was a cook, I was a dishwasher, I loaded and unloaded equipment for Jazz Fest musicians, and I even was a stand-in actor for films.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

You can see Ben in productions by Theater For A New Generation.

He also picked up music gigs whenever he could.

“I played sax in a reggae band and harmonica in a blue-grass band,” he says.

At some point, he decided he wanted to take the stage. Not as a musician but as an actor.

Acting runs in Ben’s family: His maternal grandmother acted and directed community theatre productions.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben tends bar in several Astoria establishments.

“I grew up watching people on stage,” he says. “I had a dormant interest; I wanted to learn the craft.”

So in April 2012, Ben came to New York City, taking up residence on the Lower East Side. A year later, he moved to Astoria.

“Six months later, Hurricane Sandy struck,” he says, adding that it felt like New Orleans all over again.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben’s not looking for fame or fortune.

Two weeks after his arrival, he got his first big break: He met Mel Williams, the artistic director of Theater For A New Generation, a non-profit company.

Since then, Ben has had a steady job playing roles in its productions, which this year will include the Sam Shepard play True West.

“I’m not interested in being a celebrity,” says Ben, who is 39. “I do acting purely for the craft; it’s a noble art form. I doubt I’ll ever make a proper living from it.”

Speaking of making a living, to fill in the financial gaps between productions, Ben works as a bartender at various Astoria venues.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He wants to teach acting to underprivileged children.

What he’d really like to do, though, is teach acting to working-class children in England, where the rest of his family is.

“These kids have a lot to say, and they can’t express it because arts funding has all but gone away,” he says.

Sometimes, though, Ben thinks about going back to music.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben says England is likely to be his final stop.

“I’m very rusty,” he admits.

In his studio apartment, there’s a guitar crammed in the corner of the tiny kitchen. It’s still in its case.

“I bought new strings for it, but I haven’t had time to put them on,” he says.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Chess Master
by Nruhling
May 07, 2019 | 566 views | 0 0 comments | 94 94 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan started playing chess when he was 7.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


Evan Rabin made his first career move when he was 7.

All he did was play a game of chess.

“My older brother and my dad taught me to move the pieces,” says Evan, the founder of Manhattan-based Premier Chess, which teaches the game to adults and children in five states. “A month later, I played in my first tournament. Two months later, I played in the nationals.”

There was nothing extraordinary about his rapid advancement, he says, adding that despite what you may have heard about the brain-breaking difficulty of moving kings and queens across the checkered board, most players can master the rules of chess rapidly.

“It does, however, take a long time to get good at the game,” he concedes.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

By 20, he had made master.

Evan, who is tall and lean and dressed in black, not only liked the game, but he also liked socializing with the other players.

“I always had friends who were a couple of years older,” he says, as he moves chessmen in an online game as practice for a tournament later in the day. “And there’s a whole community around chess.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan founded Premier Chess in 2017.

Evan, who grew up on the Upper West Side, joined the chess teams at his private schools, Churchill and Dwight, and continued to play while he was at Brandeis University earning a degree in business and international studies.

As the years progressed, so did Evan’s game: By the time he was 20, he had made master.

“I’ve played all over the world, including Spain, France, Israel and Argentina,” he says, adding that he’s also coached at top schools around the country. “And I’ve been in more than 900 rated tournaments.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan has a degree from Brandeis University.

He’s won some, lost others. “The most I’ve ever won is $2,500,” he says. “It’s really hard to make your living by playing.”

After Brandeis, he taught chess for several months then took a full-time job selling hardware for Oracle Corp. Three years later, he became a salesperson for Rapid7 security programs.

“In every job interview I’ve had, chess was a huge element,” he says. “Everyone told me, ‘Oh, you’re a chess master, of course you can close deals.’”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan holds classes at 56 schools, including P.S. 78, P.S. 85 and P.S. 166.

And he did – during his first three months with Rapid7, his sales totaled $700,000.

So successful was Evan that he decided to start his own sales company.

Premier Chess, which he founded in the summer of 2017, is his second venture.

“It started as an experiment,” he says, adding that within the first two months and after several cold calls, he had lined up teaching gigs in 14 schools.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan says chess fosters critical thinking.

Today, Premier Chess has 38 instructors who teach the game in corporations and in 56 schools in five states. St. Demetrios Prep, P.S. 85 and P.S. 166 in Astoria and P.S. 78 in Long Island City are among them.

In addition, he teaches a group class at Gym-Azing.

Evan, who is 28, says that the game has across-the-chessboard appeal because it helps with decision making and critical thinking.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan holds classes at Gym-Azing and St. Demetrios Prep.

“The important thing is to just get going,” he says, adding that some of his clients are high-profile litigators. “My biggest pleasure is getting adults back into it.”

Although Premier Chess is still new, it’s growing at an astounding pace. Evan says that its six-figure revenues have doubled in the past year.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Evan’s in the game for the long term.

Which puts Evan in the enviable position of having many choices. He’s pondering his options before making any moves.

He talks about buying a competing chess company and expanding his roster of clients.

But whatever he does, he’ll be in the chess game for the long term.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling,nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Tea Touter
by Nruhling
Apr 30, 2019 | 734 views | 0 0 comments | 205 205 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter opened Loose Leaf in June.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling



As the morning customers pour in like coffee, Peter Zotis stands behind the copper counter of Loose Leafexplaining the health benefits of herbal tea.

He’s a tall man of hyperbolic hand gestures and grand, wide-open-mouth guffaws.

He’s saying that if you want to improve the looks of your skin, try sipping some calendula, which is more popularly known as the bright orange-yellow marigolds you see in gardens.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Loose Leaf is at 28-10 23rd Ave.

If you want to revitalize your system, have a cup of the blend he calls Dittany of Crete, which, he says, has been used since the days of Hippocrates to aid digestion and treat other ailments.

And if you want to calm your nerves and clear your head, he implores you to drink some chamomile.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter working the counter.

Peter, the owner of the tea-herbal supplement shop, says he’s living proof that these traditional holistic remedies work.

Not too long ago, he was so ill that he couldn’t even get out of bed, and here he is, the picture of health, pouring cup after cup.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter talking up the health benefits of herbs and superfoods.

“I had never been sick a day in my life,” he says. “It was an autoimmune disease. It hit me like a brick.”

Peter was born in northern Greece, in the city of Kastoria, which is in a valley surrounded by limestone mountains.

His parents brought the family to New York City for a better life when Peter was 8. After moving around for a while, they settled in Astoria when Peter was 13.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Try a sample.

Peter always had his eye on business. After he graduated from The City College of New York and earned an MBA from Baruch College, he became a banker while simultaneously running a series of businesses catering to the construction industry.

When he became ill a couple of years ago, he sold his businesses.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jessica’s the head of design and marketing.

“I tried a million different things, including steroids, and I got sicker,” he says.

He points to the scars on his face.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Want a cookie, too?

“I had breakouts all over my skin,” he says. “And I got shingles three times in nine months. There was fungi in my liver.”

In the hopes of finding something that would make him better, he went back home to Kastoria, where he tried herbal remedies.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter chatting with customers.

“I felt better immediately,” he says. “It took nearly two years to get well, and I’m still not perfect.”

So grateful was Peter that when his long-time tenant, The Jumping Bulldog pet store, closed, he opened Loose Leaf, which sells not only special blends of herbal teas but also vegan baked goods, honey and superfoods like aronia berry and sea buckthorn.

He bought some land and opened a packing and processing plant in Greece, where a professor of herbology creates Loose Leaf’s aromatic tea blends.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The herbs are from Greece.

“My goal is to introduce these products to the American public,” Peter says. “There’s no magic pill – this is about a lifestyle change.”

While Peter is at the counter, his head of design and marketing, Jessica Yousif, is sitting in the back of the shop with her laptop working social media.

Jessica is from Detroit, Michigan. She spent her teenage years in Charlotte, North Carolina.

After she earned a degree in film at SCAD Savannah and spent a year at home, she headed to Astoria, intent upon pursuing a career in freelance photography.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Penelopi Psimatika gives a customer a tea and a big smile.

“I always wanted to come to New York City because it’s where all the action is,” she says.

She soon discovered that photography alone would not pay the rent, so she started doing marketing and project management for businesses.

Jessica, who is 26, and Peter, who is 51, had bumped into each other several times when they went to the corner shop to get their morning coffee.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

What’s tea without honey?

On one particular day, it just so happened that they were seated next to each other.

Jessica was working on a project proposal for a prospective client, and Peter offered to help her restructure it.

“I got the job because of him,” she says.

He started telling her about his plans to open Loose Leaf.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter’s happy to be healthy.

She didn’t know anything about tea.

“My family emigrated from Iraq, but they all drink Lipton tea,” she says. “I had never even tried loose-leaf tea.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A vegan raspberry tart.

But she did know a good idea when she heard one.

Loose Leaf, which Peter calls an “experience shop,” will celebrate its first anniversary in June.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter would like to meet you.

It is, he says, a work in progress.

He’s expanding the product line – he recently added a skin-care massage oil made of herbs and superfoods – and ramping up the online store.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter calls Loose Leaf an ‘experience shop.’

“I just want to make people feel better,” he says.

He takes another order. When he hands the paper cup to the customer, he breaks into a grin that reaches from his chin to his forehead.

God, it’s good to feel good again!

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The World-Famous Ballroom Dancers
by Nruhling
Apr 23, 2019 | 654 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Boriana, Savanna and Delyan.


As partners in dance and in life, Delyan Terziev and Boriana Terzieva have become adept at anticipating each other’s moves.

It all likelihood, this is because they have been virtually inseparable since they were 7.

So in November, when Boriana was ready to give birth to their second child, a daughter they would name Olivia, they thought they had everything figured out.

After all, the arrival of their first child, Savanna, who is now 4, had been a carefully choreographed event.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling


Olivia literally couldn’t wait to enter the world.

But Boriana’s water broke in the elevator of their apartment building, and before they knew it, Olivia had arrived before the Uber did.

It wasn’t the dance they had rehearsed, but they improvised without a misstep.

“We got out of the building and into the garden,” Delyan says. “Boriana, who was standing up, said, ‘You’ve got to catch her.’ She fell right into my hands. It was all over in four minutes. I called 911; the ambulance arrived 10 minutes later, and the cord was cut 25 to 30 minutes after birth.”

Olivia, who is lying in her bassinet yawning, is unimpressed by the story, and Savanna, who is twirling around the room like a top in a shiny pink dress with a voluminous skirt, has heard it so often that she’s not even listening.

Bibi and Zumba, the family’s big, fluffy cats, remain aloof.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Boriana’s dancing dresses.

The couple, who are from Stara Zagora, the sixth largest city in Bulgaria, parent the same way they dance – precisely and passionately.

Boriana started taking ballroom dance lessons when she was 5. She was specially selected by a professional trainer for this great honor.

The offer, which was more like a command from the Communist government, was not something she could turn down.

“I loved dancing, so I never thought about it,” she says.

 
Delyan and Boriana on Dancing with the Stars.

Delyan followed in her footsteps, but he took a different route. When he was 6, he signed himself up for lessons after winning a competition at a Christmas party.

At 7, their feet found each other.

“Boriana was really, really good,” he says. “Her body just moved naturally. I had to struggle.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Boriana has always made Savanna’s food.

Still, they didn’t become dance partners until they were 14.

“She was a superstar,” Delyan says. “She had to lower her level to dance with me.”

Boriana, who is holding Olivia, smiles and says, “I didn’t mind.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Savanna strikes a pose.

During their career together, they won more than 100 professional competitions around the world, including the World Cup Latin Championships in London, and in 2008, they appeared on the TV show Dancing with the Stars, performing a routine to a Cheryl Crow song.

Their trophies, which they recently discarded when they turned the living room of their spacious one-bedroom apartment into Savanna’s bedroom, took up an entire wall.

Their flamboyant costumes, which Delyan designed, suffered a similar fate.

“I sold most of them,” Boriana says, adding that each cost $3,000 to $8,000. “I applied every sequin and sparkle by hand.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
If the blue shoe fits, wear it with pink.

Delyan, who really is tall, dark and handsome, and Boriana, who is statuesque, svelte and smoldering, weren’t always together; for periods of time that felt too long, they lived in different countries and danced with different partners.

But in 1999, when they turned 21, they settled in New York City.

“Boriana came because she was offered a partner,” Delyan says. “I came because she came.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
 
Savanna’s second of stillness.

By 2000, they were living together. By 2001, they were dancing together. And by 2003, they were dancing – together — at their own wedding.

They created a very busy and exciting life filled with suitcases and sequins. When they were not dancing in competitions, they were teaching.

In 2013, they stopped competing. She was ready hang up her dancing shoes. He was not.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Delyan started dancing at 6.

“We were — and still are — the most successful Bulgarian ballroom dancing couple, Delyan says. “I got depressed because it was all coming to an end.”

But the end became a new beginning.

These days, they travel around the country teaching students and tutoring teachers and judging competitions; 21 Jam Street in Long Island City is one of their stops.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A First Spoons’ organic meal.

They also took over the Golden Star Dancesport Championship, which is held in New Jersey.

“It was our first baby,” Delyan says.

It may have been their first, but it wasn’t the baby who changed their lives. That honor belongs to Savanna, who began taking gymnastic classes at 2 and a half and advanced to private lessons at 3 and a half.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Boriana travels the world teaching dance.

When Savanna was 6 months old, Boriana took a trip home to Bulgaria to show her off to relatives. It was there that the subject of children’s nutrition came up.

Boriana had always fed Savanna homemade puree, but now the little girl was ready for solid food.

“In Bulgaria, there are government-run baby kitchens, and even some private ones, where mothers go to get food for their children,” she says. “My parents got my food there and all my girlfriends were getting food there. They asked me about the ones in New York City.”

When their research didn’t turn up any baby kitchens in the city, Boriana and Delyan decided to found their own.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A daddy-daughter First Spoons breakfast.

Thus, First Spoons, which prepares healthy organic meals for children aged 4 months to 4 years, was born. Its logo, of course, is a super cute photo of Savanna holding a wooden spoon that’s a million times too big for her mouth.

“We’re using the same recipes they do in Bulgaria,” Boriana says, adding that so far their 3,500-square-foot Astoria-based kitchen serves more than 100 babies along the East Coast.

For Delyan, First Spoons represents a natural progression of their careers as coaches.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Savanna, the face of First Spoons.

“We’ve been teaching since we were 18,” he says. “I see myself as the voice of food for children.”

Right now, there’s another voice ringing out.

Olivia is giggling as her big sister scampers around the room.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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