Pack a Picnic and Enjoy the Great Outdoors


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

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Cadet Program

squad 1
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

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


Why Tools are Important and Other Things My Father Taught Me


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

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


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