Giving Thanks

Friends are the family you choose

by Susan Baldani

For those who may be far away from their families or not able to celebrate Thanksgiving with them for other reasons, consider having a Friendsgiving instead. Invite those people who have made a positive impact on your life and who you would love to have seated around your holiday table. After all, the day is about being thankful and sharing with others.

In her popular blog, Life of Alley, Alley shows us just how to do this. Originally from Connecticut and living in Houston since 2014, she created her blog as a place where women could go to find inspiration, advice, and encouragement from other women; her blog covers everything from home décor and wellness to food and beauty.

Last year, Alley threw a boho-styled Friendsgiving in her backyard. Luckily, in Houston, the weather is usually mild enough to be comfortable outside in late November.

She mentions on her blog that the unofficial holiday of Friendsgiving seems to have popped up in the mid-1990s. A combination of the words “Friends” and “Thanksgiving”, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Friends come together to celebrate Thanksgiving and give thanks for one another.

Alley encourages hosts to think outside the box when it comes to the menu. There’s no rule that says you have to stick to traditional Thanksgiving foods, although some people might be upset if they don’t find a turkey on the table.

Also, decide how you’ll get all the food on the table, whatever it may be. Will you do all the cooking, or will you roast the turkey and have your friends each bring a side dish? Or, will you ask guests to bring a bottle of wine or dessert? Maybe you would prefer to sit back and relax and have the entire dinner, from appetizers to dessert, catered. You could even go a step further and hire someone who can serve and take care of clean up. Friendsgiving, says Alley, should be a relaxed event where you can sit back and have a great time with good friends.

Alternatively, if you are invited to a Friendsgiving and it’s not clear on the invitation, she suggests asking the host(s) what they would like you to bring. If no food is needed, then bring a bottle of wine or a small thank you gift such as flowers or a candle.

To find out more about Alley and to check out her blog, go to https://www.lifeofalley.com/.

Alley’s tips for a warm, wonderful, and successful Friendsgiving:

  • Assess your space and seating area in order to determine how many people you can comfortably accommodate. Everyone should have a spot at the table and a comfortable seat.
  • Then, create your guest list and send out invitations. Keep track of how who responds and how many will be attending.
  • Organize your table linens, plates, and silverware to make sure you have the right amount of supplies.
  • Next, plan your menu, and decide who will prepare it.

Written for Cypress Lifestyle magazine in Cypress, Texas.

https://citylifestyle.com/houston-tx/articles/food-and-drink/celebrate-friendsgiving

Sound Technology

How advancements in devices have led to better hearing

By Sue Baldani

Like our other senses, hearing is paramount to enjoying life to its fullest. The better we can communicate, the more successful we’ll be in relationships, careers, and interactions with the world around us.

Fortunately for those with mild to moderate hearing loss, hearing devices have undergone dramatic technological improvements over the years. They are basically now mini-computers, and are capable of many different functions.

“The work I get to do allows me to feel like a superhero,” says Dr. Tina Jessee, an audiologist who has been practicing since the early 90s. “It’s amazing because I really can change people’s lives with the technology I’m fitting.”

She opened Good Sound Audiology in 2002, which now has locations in Mesa, Gilbert, and Sun Lakes. She knows that some people are resistant to the idea of hearing aids, or may be in denial that they need them.

“It’s an emotional disease,” says Dr, Jessee. “It might generate feelings of aging. Hearing loss isolates us and causes anger and depression.”

One of her patients, Thomas Baer, is glad that he found Dr. Jessee back in the early 2000s. Born with a birth defect that caused hearing issues, he gave up on seeking help many years before.

“I never really had great experiences with hearing aids,” says Thomas. “They were huge and clunky and broke down quite often.”

It wasn’t until he got married that he and his wife Brenda talked it over and decided he should give hearing aids another chance.

“I was missing out on so many things,” he says. “It’s really stressful on your partner because you keep having to ask them to repeat or sometimes you think you heard it this way and it wasn’t that way.”

Dr. Jessee says modern hearing aids are really changing people’s lives, because hearing better is living better. They can effectively communicate with friends and family.

“Dr. Jessee wants you to not only hear, but to hear with a capital H, because she wants that experience to be perfect for you,” says Thomas. 

There are now blue tooth hearing devices, she explains, so anything that comes out of your smartphone can go directly through your hearing devices. So, if you want to go for a run and listen to music, you don’t need to wear anything else. You can double tap on your hearing devices and just like with Alexa, you can ask, “What’s the capital of New York?” or “How’s the weather in Panama?” They can also count your steps or call someone if you fall down.

For Thomas, these newer hearing devices continue to have a positive effect not only on his life, but for those around him as well.

“Phone conversations, music, and television can be streamed directly into my ears, and I can control the volume for myself without having to make it loud for everybody in the room,” he says.

He and Dr. Jessee meet on a quarterly basis, so she can find out the types of experiences he is having and how his hearing devices may have to be tweaked to accommodate those changes.

“What makes Dr. Jessee so great is that she listens so that I can hear better,” says Thomas. “She’ll ask me what I’m struggling with and can turn settings up or down. I also have the ability to do that myself on my phone application. The jumps in technology have been phenomenal.

One of the jokes I have with Dr. Jessee is that I’m pretty much an every three- or four-year upgrader because I’m a technology guy, that’s my career, and I just love the advances they’re making.”

And he says, having better hearing has improved his relationship with his wife.

“We are now more clear to each other,” he says. “I’m not missing conversations.  We have a grandson and it’s really great to listen to him and hear him laugh.”

The couple also spend a lot of time outdoors, and now Thomas can hear the birds singing. And because his hearing devices are water resistant, he can exercise as vigorously as he wants. Perspiration will not affect them.

“Don’t hesitate,” he says. “Go to an audiologist like Dr. Jessee. You’re missing out on so much in life. There’s no excuse now not to go get them. Go check with someone, because you may have preconceived ideas of what hearing aids are and they have changed dramatically.”

Dr. Jessee agrees. “We have this amazing technology now, and I really want people to understand how wonderful better hearing is. It’s life changing. Joy and satisfaction of life increases.”

https://citylifestyle.com/houston-tx/articles/life-and-culture/sound-technology

Written for Chandler Lifestyle magazine in Chandler, Arizona.

Culinary Bootcamp

How a mom improved her cooking skills while America Watched

By Susan Baldani

Dolores Aguilar-Fernandez of Cypress remembers when walking into her kitchen and getting ready to cook for her family would almost cause her to have a panic attack. The working wife and mom was never sure what to cook, how it would come out, and whether or not she would cut herself or burn the dish. About 10 years ago, she cut her pinky finger so badly while chopping, that she ended up needing seven stitches. Even with all these clues, she didn’t realize just how bad a cook she actually was.

“My daughter, Elena (now 10 years old), would give me hints sometimes,” says Dolores. “When she would ask who was cooking and I would say Dad, she always gave a big sigh of relief.”

A couple of summers ago, she and Elena were channel surfing when they stumbled upon the Food Network show “Worst Cooks in America.”

“So, we’re watching, and five minutes into it, my daughter looks at me and says, ‘Mom, that’s you.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

When she mentioned it to her husband, Ruben Fernandez, who she has been married to for 14 years now, he confirmed their daughter was right.

After hearing that, Dolores decided to apply to be a contestant on “Worst Cooks in America.”

“I think a year passed, and then they called me,” she says. “While on the phone with a producer, I was feeding my 3-year-old son (Oliver, who is now 4) ice cream for lunch. What timing! I had interviews with different producers, and then they told me I was in.”

Dolores, a recruiter for AT&T, had told her boss months in advance that this might happen.

“I worked with the company for so many years that I had already added so much vacation time that it covered it,” she says. “And my coworkers covered for me.”

The show taped in New York earlier this year, and now Dolores says that city is her second home.

“They literally had us quarantined in a hotel before quarantining took effect, so we were already prepared,” she says.

As per her contract, she cannot say how long she was there. It was hard being away from her family though.

“We missed each other a lot. What helped was FaceTime. Without that, I don’t think I would’ve made it.”

She’s very thankful that so many people in her life chipped in so she could take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

Dolores was nervous about meeting the other contestants and worried about how they would all get along since they would be together so much.  

“It was amazing to me how quickly we clicked and bonded,” she says. “We were all bad cooks, so we had something in common, and we really fed off each other. We still talk today, and we’re planning to get together once COVID is over and it’s safe to travel again.”

Her first day on the show was nerve racking, to say the least.

“When I walked in, I couldn’t believe I was there after seeing it on television,” says Dolores. “First, I thought I was going to throw up, and then I was afraid I was going to faint and wondered who was going to carry me off the set. But once the chefs (Anne Burrell and Alex Guarnaschelli) start ordering me around, I forgot about the cameras and lights because I knew I had to get things done.”

She said it was an unbelievable experience to taste Chefs Anne and Alex’s food: “It was an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Of course, there were some mishaps on the show, which she can now laugh about.

“On the first episode, I cut my finger twice, once on a can, and had to go to one of those urgent cares to get a tetanus shot,” she says. “At some point on the show, you’ll see all these Band-Aids on my hands. And on the second episode, I tripped twice. It was so embarrassing.”

Dolores was on Season 20, which aired earlier this year. Although she didn’t win, she did make it to the final four.

She also learned quite a few new skills. She now cooks steaks, and also makes a gourmet burger that she prepared on the show and that her husband loves.

“I’m practicing my skills with my husband and kids,” she says.

She feeds her family much healthier foods now that she knows how to prepare them instead of relying on quick, non-nutritious meals.

“You do it because it’s convenient,” says Dolores. “We’re at a time where we don’t have the luxury that the mother can be home. But Elena’s eating the asparagus I make now. That alone is enough for the sacrifice of leaving my family to go on the show.”

To see Dolores in action on the show, click the link below:

https://citylifestyle.com/houston-tx/articles/life-and-culture/culinary-bootcamp

Written for Cypress Lifestyle magazine in Cypress, Texas.