Pack a Picnic and Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Picnic

Warm weather is finally here, so let’s get outside and welcome the new season. There are many fun activities to be enjoyed, and one of my favorites is having a picnic.

In this day and age when we can go to the finest restaurants or dine at home in comfortable surroundings, I’m always happy to see people eating outdoors. Whether it be on a park bench, at the beach, or even in your own backyard, enjoying a meal while surrounded by nature makes it extra special.

Don’t have a fancy picnic basket? Don’t worry. Take a cooler, load it up with whatever it is you like to eat and drink, put in an ice pack, and you’re all set. Some of my favorites are cold fried chicken, turkey sandwiches, salads, fruit, and some refreshing drinks, like iced tea or lemonade. Of course, for those of you who like to really relax, toss in a bottle of wine (or two). Find a pretty spot, bring along a nice, thick blanket, some utensils and napkins, and you have an outdoor party all ready to go.

While enjoying your meal, remember to turn off and put away your electronic devices. Look around and appreciate nature, such as the full leafy trees, birds singing, or the vibrant flowers just in bloom. Spend time speaking with and listening to others and focus on what they are feeling. In today’s world, where multi-tasking is as common as breathing, relax and open your senses to the world around you. Breathe in the fresh air, and let the sun warm your body and lift your spirits.

Besides food, have a frisbee on hand, or if it’s windy, a kite. You can even bring along a favorite board game to play with your friends and family. If you decide to have a picnic all by yourself, don’t forget to pack one of your favorite books. Find a quiet place, and if there is a pond or lake within sight, all the better. There is something about water that adds to a sense of tranquility.

Picnicking is an easy and fun activity you can do on a regular basis. It can be fancy one day with expensive cheeses and wines, and then the next it can be casual with sandwiches and soda. Discover some new favorite spots in the area to visit, and appreciate your surroundings while enjoying your feast.

Written for The Country Register of the U.S and Canada

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The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Cadet Program

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The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Cadet program began in 1968 for teens aged 16 and 17 who wanted to become members. Today, there are 11 cadets on our roster and room for more.

Although still teenagers, they go through the same training as our adult members and can and often do become fully certified Emergency Medical Technicians. Not only are they a real asset to our squad, but to the surrounding communities as well. These young EMTs are in our schools, on our sports fields and in our homes. They are prepared to deal with all kinds of medical issues and are sometimes first on the scene in these places.

Many of our past cadets have gone on to become doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers (including a Scotch Plains police chief), and other professions where they continue to help others in crisis situations. Being a cadet and later an adult member of our organization prepared them well for these life-saving careers.

Some of our present members started off as cadets many years ago and are still active on the squad today. For example, our Carolyn Sorge, our current chief, started riding 30 years ago; our former chief, Dan Sullivan, has 48 years in and Bob Speth, our former president, 44 years.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining our organization, we are always looking for volunteers who are caring, dedicated and want to help the community.

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad is a volunteer organization of Neighbors Helping Neighbors. With over 90 volunteers, we answer emergency calls not only in Scotch Plains but in surrounding towns as well when needed. Besides answering calls, you will see our ambulances at many special events held in town, such as Scotch Plains Day, the Memorial Day Parade, high school football games, and the summer concerts on the Village Green. We are also available to provide demonstrations for Boys and Girls Scout troops, clubs, and any other group that may be interested in what we do. In addition, we lend out wheelchairs, crutches, canes and other assorted medical equipment free of charge. Our Auxiliary Group holds fund raisers and provides other much needed support for our members. Please reach out to us if there is something we can do for you, or if you would like to become a part of our organization. (908) 322-2103 for non-emergencies or scotchplainsrescuesquad@gmail.com.

Contributing Author: Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

https://patch.com/new-jersey/scotchplains/scotch-plains-rescue-squad-cadet-program-0

 

Why Tools are Important and Other Things My Father Taught Me

Tools

Fathers sometimes get the short end of the stick. There is always a lot of fanfare around motherhood and Mother’s Day (as there should be). After all, like many of us, I would be totally lost without my mother.

But fathers matter equally as much; they just usually keep a lower profile. How often do we hear “she was like a mama bear” or how often do people on television shout out “Hi Mom”? Well, what about Dad?

Mothers are wonderful. They comfort us after bad dreams, take care of us when we’re sick, and soothe our broken hearts when people hurt our feelings. But what about knowing how to change a tire, or what kind of screwdriver to use, or how to install a car radio? I learned all these things from my father. I didn’t want to be one of those women who always had to hire someone to install a new porch light, or spackle and paint a room. And my father made sure I wasn’t one of those either. Besides, as well as being handy he is also frugal, and his philosophy is “why hire someone if you can do it yourself?” Even though as a kid I didn’t get a kick out of holding the flashlight or handing him tools while he fixed something, I was forced to learn things that my mother did not have the time or inclination to teach me. And I learned a lot about tools, more than I probably ever wanted to know.

Years later, when I rented my first apartment and then bought my own house, I worked right alongside the males in the family doing what had to be done. Men and women alike were always somewhat amazed at the things I could fix, or how I could solve a myriad of household problems. I even knew my way around a car and could often diagnose what the trouble was. Granted, I couldn’t always fix it, but I usually knew what was wrong.

My father and I didn’t always agree on things while I was growing up, which is natural. However, he taught me things that I will never forget and often need to know. I’m lucky to still have my father, even after some health scares over the last few months, and for that I am very thankful. I have more things to learn from him yet, and maybe he can learn some things from me too.

Happy Father’s Day Dad, from your handy and “not afraid to get her hands dirty” daughter. Thank you for all you have taught me.

Written for The Country Register of the U.S. and Canada

Showcase Salutes The Country Squire restaurant

Ice Cream

In the mood for a handcrafted burger, a fresh and tasty salad, or some Spanakopita? Or how about an Apple Turnover, Greek Rice Pudding or a slice of Chocolate Cake? The Country Squire restaurant in Warren can satisfy these cravings and more. They are open 7 days a week from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm and everything on the menu is served all day long. So, feel free to have steak and fries for breakfast and bacon and eggs for dinner.

The Country Squire is a family owned business started by brothers Mike and Mino Stavrakis. They began their restaurant careers back in the 60’s with the Venus Diner in Union, NJ. In 2008, their cousin George Pelechrinis came on as a partner. Before this restaurant, he owned the Somerset Diner in Somerset. George’s son John Pelechrinis is the manager of the restaurant and has been working in diners with his father since the age of 10. Mike and George (Mino left in 2017) work hard to provide the best atmosphere and food for their customers and often come in around 2:00 in the morning to get ready for the day. “These are the guys that deserve the credit for this business,” states John.

The restaurant serves Greek dishes as well as traditional diner food such as Disco Fries, Stuffed Potato Skins, Chicken Fingers, Mozzarella Sticks, French Onion Soup, Cobb Salads, Turkey Burgers, and Omelets. There is something for everyone on the menu.

One of the unique things they have is the Ice Cream bar. Here, there is everything needed to make spectacular sundaes, banana splits and shakes. There are huge jars of sprinkles and other toppings available so you can order exactly what you want.

The restaurant has been in Warren since 1974 (it did move a couple of doors down from its original location back in 2008) and has a true hometown feel. It doesn’t look very big from the outside, but when you walk in you realize how far back it goes and how spacious it really is. They can seat 180 people, and the booths are large and cozy. They also have tables available as well.

The Country Squire is a comfortable, inviting dining spot where 65% of their customers are regulars. “This restaurant is a hang-out spot, the local meet and greet place,” according to John. People like to come in to socialize and relax, and of course to eat some really good food. Families with children have been coming in for years, and when their children grew up, they come in with their families. “It’s been a staple here for 44 years,” says John.

They are on a first name basis with many of their customers and it’s a great venue for locals and out of towners alike. They have even had some celebrities stop in over the years, including major league athletes and movie stars. The service is friendly and customer-service oriented. Many of their employees, who number about 15, have been with them from day one and their turnover rate is very low. The owners, manager, and employees are dedicated to what they do, and go out of their way to make sure that all diners have a great experience each and every time.

The Country Squire restaurant is located at 62 Mountain Boulevard in Warren. They can be reached at 908-561-6764. Stop in to enjoy a meal, and don’t forget the ice cream.

Written for The Showcase Magazine
http://theshowcasemagazine.net/showcasemagazine/warren_edition/salutes/countrysquire

Book Review of The Sunshine Sisters

The Sunshine Sisters
Relationships between mothers, daughters and sisters can be beautiful, but they can also be fraught with tension. When unexpected changes occur that upset the status quo, a lot of drama can unfold.

“The Sunshine Sisters,” a novel by Jane Green, explores the intricacy of family relationships and why sometimes the people we love the most are the ones who can cause the greatest pain. It’s a fact that we can choose our friends, but family is what we are given.

Ronni Sunshine is a mother, but first and foremost, she is a movie star. But it’s her daughters that steal the show in this story. There’s Nell, who is the oldest and the strong, quiet one; Meredith, the middle child who suffers from low self-esteem and turns to food for comfort; and Lizzy, the youngest, who can sweet talk just about anyone into doing whatever it is she wants.

They all suffered the heartbreak of growing up with a mother who was too busy with her career to give them the love and guidance they all desperately needed, and a father who decided to leave rather than deal with it all. They all coped in different ways: Nell by bottling up her feelings, Meredith by moving far away, and Lizzy by doing whatever made her feel alive, never mind the consequences. In turn, the sisters have drifted apart over the years, in more ways than just miles.

Now, Ronni is dying, and her last wish it to have all her daughters with her as the end nears. She wants to try to mend their relationships, and to strengthen the bond between her daughters so they will have family to lean on once she is gone.

Will they come, and will they find their way back to each other? Is it possible to forgive and forget the hurt that has been inflicted over and over again, creating long-lasting scars?

Number one NY Times bestselling author Jane Green brings us all the joys and heartbreaks of a family struggling to find a connection. She’ll take you to New York City, London, and Westport, Connecticut, where the final outcome will take place. This is a story that many parents and children will be able to relate to, and one can’t help but cheer them on, and to hope that they find the happiness and peace they all deserve.

Jane Green is a former journalist in the UK and a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York. “The Sunshine Sisters,” released in May 2018, is her 19th novel.

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine (UK)

Create a Butterfly Garden and Bring Color to your Backyard

Butterfly

Who doesn’t love the beauty and elegance of the butterfly? Depending on what part of the country you live in, the species and colors can vary, but they are all certainly eye-catching.

Unfortunately, many butterfly populations have been severely affected in the last few years by environmental changes and human interference, and they are becoming a rare sight in some states. Butterflies provide an important service to our environment by pollinating our plants, spreading pollen over large areas, and acting as a food source for other species. So why not do something to support these amazing insects while at the same time increasing your enjoyment of them?

Creating a butterfly garden is not all that hard. With a little prepping and the right natural elements, setting one up can be done over a weekend. Depending on what species are common to your area, the plants you will need will differ. You can find this out by doing a little research online or at the library. Butterflies feed on nectar, and some common nectar plants are zinnia, black-eyed Susan, aster, and daisy. However, there are hundreds are varieties to choose from. Again, the types of plants you purchase will depend on where you live and the time of year you are planting. Don’t forget, you also have to provide host plants for the larvae, such as milkweed, parsley and dill. After all, before the beauty of the butterfly comes the plain old caterpillar. And avoid pesticides at all costs so as not to harm the insects.

Of course, your garden should be in a nice sunny spot and somewhat sheltered from the wind, if possible. Besides plants, also include some nice big rocks. Butterflies love a warm place to land, and rocks work just fine once the sun is done heating them up. Another important item butterflies appreciate is fresh water. Fill a bird bath or old container and include some wet sand so they have a place to perch while drinking. They cannot hover over the water to drink. A small shrub is also welcome as a place where they can cool off on a hot day and settle down in the evenings.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to attract these creatures and add some real live color to your garden. You will also be doing these beauties a favor by providing them with a sanctuary where they can get the nutrients and the shelter that they need to flourish. A butterfly garden is a joyous place for these insects and the humans that get to observe them.

Written for The Country Register of the US and Canada

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Medical Mystery of the Month

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Exploding Head Syndrome

Have you ever heard a gunshot or other loud noise when falling asleep or upon waking, but the person right next to you didn’t hear a thing? If so, you may have been experiencing exploding head syndrome (EHS.) Other reported sounds from people who suffer from this condition include roaring, waves crashing, explosions or loud ringing, and for some, flashes of light may accompany the sound.

“Some people have it once in their entire life, whereas some people have it up to 7 times per night,” says Dr. Brian Sharpless, PhD, director of the Psychology Clinic at Washington State University. The condition is likely brought on by “insomnia, general sleep disruption, and certain types of anxiety,” according to Dr. Sharpless, who stresses the benefits of keeping patients informed. “Believe it or not, just educating patients about the condition and reassuring them that it’s not dangerous can lead to a reduction of episodes in some cases,” he says. “Regulating sleep is likely helpful as well.”

As reported on healthline.com, “Some researchers believe it’s a neurological issue, while others think it’s related to clinical fear and anxiety. It could also be related to the components of your middle ear shifting during the night.”

The syndrome itself isn’t dangerous or painful, but can lead to high levels of anxiety, which in turn can cause it to happen more frequently. “Episodes can cause a high level of distress and fear. Many people think that they are having a stroke,” according to sleepeducation.org.

EHS can also lead to insomnia since some sufferers are afraid to go to sleep. There are some medications that may help, but the best course of action is to try to decrease your stress levels with meditation, yoga, and/or counseling.

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad is a volunteer organization of Neighbors Helping Neighbors. With over 90 volunteers, we answer emergency calls not only in Scotch Plains but in surrounding towns as well when needed. Besides answering calls, you will see our ambulances at many special events held in town, such as Scotch Plains Day, the Memorial Day Parade, high school football games, and the summer concerts on the Village Green. We are also available to provide demonstrations for Boys and Girls Scout troops, clubs, and any other group that may be interested in what we do. In addition, we lend out wheelchairs, crutches, canes and other assorted medical equipment free of charge. Our Auxiliary Group holds fund raisers and provides other much needed support for our members. Please reach out to us if there is something we can do for you, or if you would like to become a part of our organization. (908) 322-2103 for non-emergencies or scotchplainsrescuesquad@gmail.com

Contributing Author: Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

https://patch.com/new-jersey/scotchplains/scotch-plains-rescue-squad-medical-mystery-month-1

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

Book review of The Wife Between Us
by Susan Baldani

I love stories that keep me guessing, that surprise and shock me. When I’m absorbed in a great book, I tend to forget about the world around me and let myself drift into another place and time. This is what happened while reading “The Wife Between Us.”
Written by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks and released in January 2018, the jacket sleeve does warn you not to make assumptions about what is happening or the people involved, because nothing is as it seems. With this is mind, I began to read.
And yes, I did make assumptions and thought I had it all figured out. I mean, it seemed so obvious what was happening and who was involved. Then a little less than halfway through the book – bam! I never saw it coming. The twists and turns that happen afterwards were delightful, while at the same time a little disturbing. But in a fun way, of course.
The characters in this book have great depth and emotion. There are ex-wives, a sister and a future wife, but who is who? Don’t be so sure, as I was. There are good people and bad people, but again, which is which?
I can’t say too much about the plot without giving it away, and I don’t want to ruin the outcome for anyone. But let’s just say it’s a love story with a complex mystery intertwined throughout. There’s Vanessa, Nellie, Emma, Maureen and Kate, women who all share a varied and complex relationship with one man. His name is Richard, and he has affected the lives of each of these characters immensely. But is he charming and refined or manipulative and dangerous? And what about the women? Are they really who you think they are?
Trying to figure out the real people behind the facades is what will make this book hard to put down. And you will be surprised right up to the very end. Just when you think you finally, at last, have it all figured out, don’t be so sure. Another surprise is always lucking as you turn the page.
Sarah Pekkanen is the bestselling author of seven previous novels and Greer Hendricks was a long-time editor at Simon and Schuster; this is her first novel.

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Presents – Medical Mystery – Foreign Accent Syndrome

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Most people realize how serious a brain injury can be. After all, people can have all sorts of detrimental side effects such as blurred vision, headaches, loss of memory, and seizures. However, did you know it could also change your accent?
Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) was first documented in 1907 by French neurologist Pierre Marie, and is one of those rare medical mysteries that doctors are still trying to understand. According to the Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas, “FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered. FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.”
According to Dr. Akshay Ganju, a resident in emergency medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, there are only about 100 documented cases around the world. Some doctors refuse to believe it is a real malady, and though it can also be caused by psychological disorders, it’s not something that can be controlled. People who suffer from FAS are often ridiculed by family and friends who think they’re just faking it.
One of the most famous cases was that of a Norwegian woman who was hit by shrapnel in World War II; she developed a German accent and was ostracized as a result. Other people have woken up from anesthesia and found themselves speaking with a different accent.
Although this change of speech may last for only a short time for some, other patients have it for years and some forever. There are various treatments for this disorder, but they are not always successful.
The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad is a volunteer organization of Neighbors Helping Neighbors. With over 90 volunteers, we answer emergency calls not only in Scotch Plains but in surrounding towns as well when needed. Besides answering calls, you will see our ambulances at many special events held in town, such as Scotch Plains Day, the Memorial Day Parade, high school football games, and the summer concerts on the Village Green. We are also available to provide demonstrations for Boys and Girls Scout troops, clubs, and any other group that may be interested in what we do. In addition, we lend out wheelchairs, crutches, canes and other assorted medical equipment free of charge. Our Auxiliary Group holds fund raisers and provides other much needed support for our members. Please reach out to us if there is something we can do for you, or if you would like to become a part of our organization. (908) 322-2103 for non-emergencies or scotchplainsrescuesquad@gmail.com

Contributing Author: Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

Aunt Sue’s Recipe Collection

Stuffed peppers
Like many people who like to cook and bake, I am constantly tearing recipes out of magazines and newspapers or printing them out from the Internet. Because of this, I used to have recipes all over the house, and had a hard time finding them when needed.

After hunting around again and again, I decided something had to be done. So I put my organizational skills to work, and came up with a perfect solution, at least for me. I bought two big binders and a few packages of plastic sleeve inserts, along with subject tab dividers, all of which can be found at any office supply or department store. First, I collected the recipes from all over the house; then I separated the meals from the desserts to go into the binders. Once that was done, I then divided each pile into different sections. For example, for the meal binder, I labeled the tabs as Breakfasts, Soups, Breads, Pastas, Meats, and Vegetables dishes; for the dessert binder, I had Pies, Cookies, Cakes, Candies, and Bars. You can do it however you prefer and whatever way makes sense to you. There’s no one right way. The nice thing about having them all in the plastic sleeves is that the recipes stay clean. If something spills on one while you’re assembling the ingredients, all you have to do is wipe it off. But if you don’t want to buy these, you can always just punch holes in the pages and pop them right into the binder.

Even better than being able to find all the recipes is being able to one day pass these on to my family, who are frequent recipients of my cooking. So often I wish I had my grandmother’s apple turnover recipe or my aunt’s meatball recipe. Who knows what became of them? The really special parts of these binders are the pages with handwritten recipes from all different relatives. These are truly family keepsakes.

The next time you are searching all over for that special recipe, think about putting them in order. It does take a good amount of hours initially, but once it’s done it will make life so much easier. And each time you print or tear or cut out another recipe, be sure to put it in a binder right away, or else you’ll be on the hunt once again.

Below is a recipe I make over and over again, and maybe one that you can include in your new recipe binder. Bon appétit!

STUFFED PEPPERS
6 large green peppers, tops cut off and seeds rinsed out
1 pound ground turkey or beef
½ chopped onion
1 chopped garlic clove
6 cups tomato sauce
1 cup cooked white rice
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Put rice on to cook.
While rice is cooking, cut off tops of peppers and rinse out seeds inside. Then cover peppers with water in a big pot and boil for 5 minutes; drain. Place each pepper upright in a baking dish.
Sauté onions and garlic in skillet and add ground meat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once lightly browned, add 1.5 cups of tomato sauce and rice and cook until heated. Then add in 1/2 cup of cheese and stir together.
Add a little sauce to the bottom of each pepper, and then spoon in meat, rice and cheese mixture. Once all the peppers are filled, add the rest of the sauce to the baking dish, spooning some over the peppers as well.
Bake covered at 350° for 45 minutes, then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top of each pepper, and bake without lid for another 15 minutes.
(If prepared beforehand, and dish is cold, bake for 1.5 hours.)

Written for The Country Register of the US and Canada.