Tag Archives: interesting people

Move Over, Hallmark …… These Locally Made Greeting Cards Are Sure To Delight!

The Paper Cicada

Oh. Em. Gee. I recently found the most ADORABLE and clever stationery while I was browsing on Instagram, and it turns out that a Scotch Plains resident is the talent behind it all!

Gabbie Sosnowski owns The Paper Cicada, which is a line of her hand-drawn cards that would bring a smile to anyone’s face. She lives in Scotch Plains and graduated from Rutgers with a BA in French Literature, but despite not formally studying art, Gabbie said, “I’ve been fiddling with paper and drawing since I could hold things in my hands.”

Gabbie started making cards for friends and family back in elementary school. “I always preferred personalized cards to anything I could find at the store. Usually my cards would just be an illustration of our inside jokes. I still give handmade cards to my boyfriend and family for most occasions.”

Every one of Gabbie’s cards reveals her wry humor (and I love the idea of framing them for a touch of wit and whimsy in a home). She said,I’m inspired by anything that makes me laugh or think. I spend most of my time thinking about food, so I suppose that is why the majority of my work is food puns.” I can’t get enough of those food puns! 

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Gabbie officially launched The Paper Cicada in September 2016, though the idea had been on the back burner for years. I asked her about the company name, and she replied, “The Paper Cicada name comes from the folklore of the region of France in which I spent time studying and working while an undergraduate at Rutgers University. In Provence, cicadas are viewed as a symbol of ease and affability. They take the time to enjoy life, singing and playing, without working themselves to death. Despite their relaxed attitude, they still manage to thrive. I am inspired by this philosophy — I hope to make my life and my business mostly play, and to enjoy all the small moments.” 

I suspect there will be much growth with The Paper Cicada now that Gabbie’s designs are attracting such a following. She said, “I would love to see my cards and prints in brick-and-mortar stores, and to continue making people laugh at the markets I attend.”

It’s not too late to buy the best Valentines you’ll ever send. You can shop The Paper Cicada line directly through Gabbie’s website: www.thepapercicada.com. Send her a private message to arrange for local pickup!

Make sure to follow Gabbie’s biz on instagram (@thepapercicada) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thepapercicada/), both of which she updates daily with new designs, markets she’ll be attending, and special deals!

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Westfield Resident Pens a Page-Turner

Few things bring me as much pleasure as a GOOD BOOK, and when I enjoy one, I like to spread the word about it. You might have heard of the bestselling novel “The Memory Box,” but did you know it was written by a Westfield resident? I caught up with the author to get the scoop on how her riveting debut novel came to be!

Eva Lesko Natiello Eva Lesko Natiello has lived in Westfield for the past 15 years with her husband and two teenage children, and only started writing creatively 12 years ago. Eva said, “I actually never planned on writing a book, but one day I read in the ‘New York Times’ an article about people Googling themselves. This was back when people just started Googling themselves. The article told the story of a teenager who Googled himself and discovered he was on a missing persons list. He didn’t know that he was kidnapped when he was two years old, until he Googled himself. When I read that article I thought it would be a great idea for a psychological thriller. ‘The Memory Box’ is about a NJ suburban mom who Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn’t remember.” If that isn’t a great premise for a suspenseful novel, I don’t know what is!

Eva revealed that living in Westfield greatly influenced “The Memory Box.” She said, “‘The Memory Box’ is a fictionalized version of Westfield, which I called Farhaven. The opening scene at the schoolyard was inspired by the grounds of Franklin School. Some streets in the book were unintentionally named after streets in Westfield. When I was in the throes of creative inspiration and the writing was coming fast, I would use street names from town just as place holders for when I’d have time to really think about names. I never wanted to interrupt writing flow with naming, but in the end I never went back to change them. People think that some of the characters are based on locals, and they will stop me in the grocery store or at a party to tell me their theory of who the characters are based on. That’s always funny for me. None of the characters in the book are based on real people. But they are definitely relatable.”

Admit it: if you haven’t already read the book, you want to now!

The Memory BoxI enjoy interviewing creative people, because I get a sneak peek into the inner workings of their minds, almost like a magician revealing the secrets behind his tricks. Eva described a little of her writing process to me: “My current routine is to write 1500 words a day, and I usually write first thing in the morning and I will typically stop by noon. After noon, I work on the business side of being an indie author: marketing, public relations, distribution, etc. I also blog, so that needs to be fit in somewhere. I do have loose outlines for the novel in progress. It keeps my first draft organized and on target, but honestly, once the writing flows it can take me in directions I’d never planned. So it’s important for me not to stay too committed to the outlines. The characters always have their own ideas!”

If you’re an aspiring writer, you’re sure to be motivated by the story of how “The Memory Box” came to be published, because it did NOT happen overnight. Eva recounted, “When I finally finished writing and editing ‘The Memory Box,’ I queried literary agents in hopes of getting representation. Unfortunately, after about three years of writing to agents, I was rejected 81 times and could not find one to work with. This was a tough time for me because I thought if I couldn’t get an agent, the book would never be published. So I put it away for over a year and worked on other projects. Then one day a book called ‘Gone Girl’ was published, and after reading that book and seeing its success, I realized ‘The Memory Box,’ which is in the same genre, had a potential audience out there. That’s when I decided to self-publish. It took a long time to learn about self-publishing and cover designing, and copyediting, and distribution, marketing etc. It finally was published in June 2014 and is available worldwide. I have also started to sell the foreign rights to the book, which is very exciting. And last spring, the audio book rights were sold at auction. You can imagine how happy I am that I didn’t leave it in a desk draw to collect dust!”

“The Memory Box” went on to become a New York Times bestseller and even reached #1 on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com,  and it’s been one of the top ten bestselling books at The Town Book Store in Westfield for three years running. Eva had this to say about the wild success of her novel: “Honestly, it has surpassed my wildest dreams. And I’m additionally proud of its success because it’s self-published. It’s very difficult to author a book and then do all of the business behind it as well. Indie authors, these days, are called authorpreneurs. It’s the perfect name for what we do.”

So many of us are members of book clubs (which is where I first learned about ‘The Memory Box’), and Eva is no stranger to them and has visited with dozens of book clubs to discuss her book. She makes sure to acknowledge those that have contributed to the success of ‘The Memory Box.’ “I am very grateful to the community for all of their support. I am sure that ‘The Memory Box’ would not have been as successful without the enthusiasm of the community, book clubs, and readers who have been so excited to spread the word. Thank you, readers!”

You can follow Eva and read her blog on her website: https://evanatiello.com. If you’re a fan of ‘The Memory Box,” please comment! 

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Cranford Resident Creates GORGEOUS Floral Arrangements… Flowers By Maggie

Flowers By Maggie

Who DOESN’T love fresh flowers?! Whether it’s a simple vase of tulips on a kitchen table, a dramatic arrangement at an event, or a classic bouquet held by a glowing bride, flowers make everything more special. No one knows that better than Margaret Iacovano of Cranford, whose business “Flowers by Maggie” provides truly breathtaking floral arrangements for weddings and special events.

Margaret has lived in Cranford for 17 years with her husband and three children. (I’m always amazed by the number of talented artists who live a stone’s throw away from me!) Her skill in floral design was honed through years of education and practice. Margaret said, “I studied Ornamental Horticulture at SUNY in Farmingdale, NY. While in college I worked part time in a small mom and pop flower shop that serviced my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Later, I spent some time designing atriums in office buildings. I quickly developed a love for flowers. After graduation I worked on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a high-end floral event company. I went on to manage other businesses in New York. I have also studied interior decorating and have a passion for creating beauty indoors and out.” 

As so many of us moms know, it’s not easy finding a balance of work and home life. Margaret found that balance by starting her own company, initially on a very part-time basis. “After having my family, I started doing events for friends and neighbors, and formally started my own freelance event company on a part-time basis. My business has grown primarily through word of mouth. Teachers in my children’s schools, nurses from the hospital where I gave birth to my babies, sisters and coworkers of my brides, etc.” 

The fact that Margaret’s business has grown so much just from word of mouth proves that her services are topnotch! Only when people are continually THRILLED with your work does word of mouth help build a business. 

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Flowers by Maggie is known for its stunning arrangements not only at weddings but also Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Sweet 16 parties, bridal and baby showers, birthday parties, fundraising events, corporate events, gifts, and holiday decorating. I asked Margaret what makes her business different from other floral design companies. She replied, “I do 100% custom work. Each and every event is different. I feel it’s my job to get inside my client’s head and bring their vision to life, which means I spend time and ask many questions. I also tend to use more seasonal and interesting flowers, greenery, and plants. The thank-you letters and cards that I receive confirm that I am doing just that. I was recently told that I made a bride’s ‘dream come true.’ I take pride in everything I do and strive to make the process as easy and fun as possible.” 

I always like to hear about the unique experiences of local business owners, and Margaret certainly has had quite a few of those! Some of the surprising jobs she’s done for clients: A four-foot-tall wedding cake that involved three 12-inch layers of flowers and three separate meetings with the pastry chef . . . A Bar Mitzvah with a hockey theme, including 30″ vases filled with hockey pucks, “ice” and flowers arranged into a hockey skate . . . And making a flower collar for a bride and groom’s cocker spaniel dog!

Clearly, Flowers by Maggie can do anything! 

To book a service or see more of Margaret’s amazing work, visit her website at www.flowersbymaggienj.com. You can follow Flowers by Maggie on Facebook @flowersbymaggie and reach her by phone at 908) 653-9255. Tell her that 365 sent you! 

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Cranford’s Gertie The Beagle is an Internet STAR!!

Gertie The Dog

Must. Love. Dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats too, but dogs just slay me! Recently I came across the cutest darn beagle on Instagram who stole my heart. Turns out Gertie the Beagle hails from Cranford, and she’s quickly becoming a little celebrity on the Internet and in town.

If you are on Instagram, have a gander at the account by the name of Gertie_The_Beagle. I dare you not to fall in love with this dog! Every time Gertie’s owner Nicole Caputo posts a photo of Gertie, I see so much personality come through the photos–it’s as if Gertie is looking RIGHT AT YOU. And clearly I’m not alone, since the account has more than 1,200 followers!

Gertie The Dog

I recently spoke with Nicole about her beloved four-legged friend. Gertie had a rough start in life. Nicole said, “Gertie is three and a half years old. She was born in a testing lab. I adopted her when she was 14 months old from Happy Paws Rescue NJ, who specialize in taking in beagles after labs are finished testing on them. They are amazing at what they do.”

Gertie The Beagle

As many of you know, adopting a rescue dog has its challenges. According to Nicole: “When I first adopted Gertie, she didn’t know how to be a dog. She didn’t know what grass was; she didn’t know how to walk on a leash or anything, so I basically had to teach her how to be a dog.” It pains me to think of any dog treated the way Gertie had been treated, and thankfully there are people like Nicole who’ve given Gertie and other rescues a second chance at a REAL life.

What is Gertie like now, a couple of years after living with Nicole? “She loves going to the park and seeing her dog friends, and she absolutely LOVES cheese and chicken jerky. She enjoys car rides except when they are to the vet. She’s a very happy girl. My favorite quirks of hers are when she begs, because that means she wants to be picked up and held like a baby. She also sings when you sing to her and when she doesn’t wanna do something she plays dead. It’s quite hilarious because she won’t move for anything and I have to pick her up and carry her home.” I knew this dog had serious personality!

Nicole went on to say, “Gertie loves to go the bank, to Pizza House Pizza Chef in Cranford, Pet Valu in Garwood . . . basically anywhere she can see people and greet them. She is so friendly to everyone.”

Gertie is also part of the “Grumpy Beagles United” group on Instagram. “They are actually not all grumpy, and it’s like a family. They send gifts and mail and positive thoughts. It’s a great family to be a part of.”

Nicole was born and raised in Cranford, and she currently lives here with her fiance and Gertie. In the two years since Nicole adopted Gertie, they’ve formed the unbreakable bond that we dog owners know and cherish. “She is my baby, my love, and my best friend. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her in this world. I’m grateful every day that I have her, and if it’s even possible I love her more and more every day.”

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Keeping it Local! Tree City Vodka is a Cranford Original! Distilled in Kenilworth!

Tree City VodkaVodka. It’s everyone’s favorite spirit. Okay, maybe not everyone’s, but it sure has a wide fan base among us cocktail drinkers! Did you know that Kenilworth is home to one of the hottest new craft vodka distilleries on the market? Tree City artisan vodka launched just this past October, but you can already find it in nearly every restaurant and liquor store in our area! There’s a reason for that: it’s damn good!

Michael Maggio and Richard Bentricwz are Cranford neighbors who’ve share the same backyard for years, which they affectionately nicknamed “Tree City” for the large old trees scattered throughout. Rich has a career in IT sales, and Michael is an engineering consultant with a masters in chemistry and an MBA from Cornell–two very different business backgrounds. But both of them share a love of vodka, and over the course of their ten-year friendship (and many a friendly drink), they got to wondering if they could make a better vodka than what was on the market, and at a better cost.

Tree City Vodka Tree City Vodka So Mike and Rich did just that! They bought a machine to distill vodka, and according to Mike, “We went through hundreds of recipes and eventually got a second machine, and after a couple of years we got to the point where the vodka was good enough that we would use it in the mixed drinks that we made for friends and family, and no one knew it was our own vodka.”

Armed with a delicious vodka recipe, Mike and Rich opened a small distillery in nearby Kenilworth, where they began manufacturing the vodka on a larger scale under their brand Tree City, using only premium ingredients. Mike said, “Because I have an engineering background, I spent a lot of time analyzing the manufacturing process of the distillery to ensure reproducibility, in other words our first bottle will taste just like the thousandth bottle. The big difference between us and a lower-end vodka is that we don’t try for volume, we go for quality.” 

Tree City VodkaTree City currently makes one vodka, but they have plans to add a second product down the line, such as a vodka citron or perhaps even going in a different direction with gin. But first, Mike says, “Our goal is to be the #1 selling vodka in NJ.” Since they launched in October, Tree City has placed 180 cases of their vodka in restaurants and liquor stores! Dittrick’s of Garwood was the very first store to take a case, the first to host a tasting, and they are still one of Tree City’s biggest customers. Walk into almost any other restaurant, bar, or liquor store in our area, and you’ll find them serving or selling Tree City vodka.


If you’re of the “try before you buy” mentality, don’t be shy! Mike and Rich regularly host tastings at the Kenilworth distillery, complete with a tour of the facility! And bonus–you can purchase up to five bottles of Tree City at the distillery at cost. To schedule a tasting call Mike at (908) 499-0250.

For more information about Tree City, visit them on facebook or at www.treecityspirits.com. I know I’ll be adding a bottle (or two) to my bar at home.

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