Pieces of the Heart

By Susan Baldani

When making something homemade, how about keeping a photographic progress chart to include with the gift? Many people may not realize how much work and time goes into handmade items, and showing off the steps can be fun and educational.

For example, if making someone a sweater, first take a picture of the yarn with the knitting needles or a crochet hook. Then, snap more pictures as the item takes shape. You may take one of the arms, the body, and then the finished product. If you’re making someone a bird house, take a picture of the pieces of wood and the tools needed to put it together. Maybe take a pic once it’s fastened together, then one of the painting in progress, and then the completed house.

It will be interesting for the recipients to see what the items started out as and then to see them in all their glory. It will also show the craftsmanship involved, and may even inspire them to make something with their own hands.

Turning pieces of raw materials into something useful and/or pretty is a real gift that possibly the creators don’t even realize they have. But seeing something take shape from beginning to end can bring it to light and allow one to see the magic involved.

Also, taking the time to make someone a homemade gift with your own hands and from your heart is like giving a little piece of yourself. And what says love more than that?

Written for The Country Register, published across the U.S.

From Italy, With Love

Cook, eat and celebrate all the flavors of the country

By Susan Baldani

Growing up in Italy, Cristina Bossini was a very picky eater. However, as an adult, she discovered a love of cooking and developing recipes that opened up a whole new world to her. So much so that she switched careers in order to pass on her passion and knowledge of food to others.  

When she arrived in the U.S. seven years ago, she thought it would only be for six months in order to indulge her love of the English language. But those plans quickly changed.

“Working as a CPA in Italy didn’t give me the opportunity to use English at all, so while here, I joined a Meetup group focused on English language exchange,” Cristina says. “There, I met a very interesting man, Jean Ergas, who speaks eight languages, teaches at NYU and is a CPA.”

He helped her find a job in her field where she received a working visa. “That was in April 2014,” she says. “I told my Dad, and he said, ‘Okay, considering you are in the U.S. and that is the biggest market in the world, you have to come up with something else. You can keep that job, but you also have to take advantage of this situation.”

She took his advice to heart. In 2016, she opened Healthy Italia – La Buona Cucina, in Madison, and in 2017, left her job as a CPA in order to devote herself full time to her business.

Healthy Italia, among other things, provides imported products from Italy, and has become a real family affair. “My brother Roberto and my father collect the products from all over Italy and then ship them here,” says Cristina. “My other brother, Angelo, who lives here, takes care of the IT aspects of the business. My brothers also produce the cookware I sell, which are made in Italy from recycled aluminum.”

Healthy Italia also offers a wide variety of ready-made meals featuring Italian classics such as eggplant parmesan, lasagna, and chicken scallopini. These come packaged in oven-ready containers, so they are easy to prepare.

In addition, the venue hosts holiday and family parties, corporate team building events, and other events people are interested in celebrating. Catering is also available, with special holiday menus and as well as their regular everyday menus. Or, if customers would prefer to have the food made and served in their own homes, Cristina also offers private chef services.

But, one of its biggest attractions is its cooking school. “What’s special about our cooking school is that every single person has their own station and makes everything from scratch, so all of our classes are hands on,” she says. “It’s not just cooking; you sit down and eat the meal you have prepared for yourself. It’s a cooking experience together with a dining experience.”

For Valentine’s Day, Healthy Italia will be holding special holiday cooking classes, which can be a fun date night for couples. And now, it’s also offering virtual cooking classes for individuals and families, so kids can also get involved. A box with all the ingredients is shipped to participants and then Cristina instructs them on how to cook it, while sharing a glass of wine in the process, or in the case of children, a glass of apple juice.

For more information, go to https//healthy-italia.com/.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Human Trafficking

How one organization is helping victims heal

By Susan Baldani

In the United States, it’s hard for people to grasp that women, men and children, many of whom are U.S. citizens, are still being sold into slavery. Human trafficking happens everywhere, and the people impacted by this heinous crime are often unseen and unheard. Here in Tennessee, there is an organization helping these victims transform themselves into survivors.

Once they are identified by law enforcement, hospitals, mental health co-ops, or addiction services, to name a few, End Slavery Tennessee steps in to provide them first with basic needs such as housing, food, and clothing, and then counseling, addiction services, and educational assistance.

“No two survivors are the same,” says CEO Margie Quin. “Some of the women, and men and boys, have suffered extreme nutritional deprivation and sleep deprivation and they come in with some really significant medical issues, so we address those needs.” Many also need addiction counseling as well as complex trauma counseling.

Margie understands human trafficking in all its manifestations. As a former assistant special agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), she has seen its many horrors in her 26 year career.

“I worked on trafficking for 11 to 12 years and had supervised the first ever statewide trafficking unit with TBI,” she says.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of what trafficking is and how it happens, Margie advises people to listen to its podcast called “Someone Like Me.” There, you can hear survivors speak about their experiences.

Like most non-profit agencies, End Slavery Tennessee is always in need of funding and volunteers. Besides money, people can donate gift cards for Walmart, Target, grocery stores, and other places or choose an item to buy off its Amazon wish list. There are also seven community groups, including those in Brentwood and Franklin, that hold various fundraisers and awareness events.

To find out more and to support its mission, go to www.endslaverytn.org/.  Here, you can donate funds, connect and volunteer with a community group, and learn about other ways to get involved.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

An Artistic Treasure

Enjoy a bounty of extraordinary art and interesting events at a venue close to home

By Susan Baldani

The Morris Museum, a designated Smithsonian Affiliate, is a hidden gem located in Morristown. Filled with artistic wonders and fun and educational events for people of all ages, it lives up to its new mission: “Interpreting the past, discovering the future, through Art, Sound, and Motion.”

“So, it’s more conceptual, and we’re very open to different practices and different disciplines,” says Ron Labaco, director of exhibitions and collections/chief curator.

Collections and Exhibits

In addition to its incredible permanent collections, such as the American Indian gallery, the Earth Science gallery, and the renowned Guinness Collection of  mechanical musical instruments and automata, there are many special exhibitions throughout the year. (See list below.)

One of these remarkable exhibits, Threads of Consciousness, is by artist Jon Eric Riis. It’s his largest exhibit yet in the U.S. and is also his first solo museum exhibition in the Northeast.

“The Japanese have a technique that they borrowed from China called fingernail weaving,” says Jon. “It’s quite fine weaving and I have very fine metallic threads and silk threads so you get clarity of details. And I like the idea of using precious materials.”

His inspiration to do this started with a Russian art exhibition he attended in Atlanta, where he now lives. It included a lot of textiles that were embellished with pearls and, he says, absolutely beautiful.

The Museum offers other areas of interest, says Ron, such as its installations of mechanical instruments and model trains that are operated by push buttons. In light of COVID, they have installed foot pedals for visitors to use, or they can pick up a stylus to push the buttons. The museum also offers demonstrations of the mechanical instruments at 2:00pm.  Note: The Museum will be open only on weekends from January-March 2021.  

The Bickford Theatre

Two years ago, Brett Messenger, the curatorial director of Live Arts, was tasked with reinventing the performing arts programming at the Museum.

“Creating something new in a place with a lot of history is an exciting challenge,” he says. “But the thing that was most exciting was the opportunity to do performing arts programming in a museum and how that can enhance what’s happening on the stage and what’s happening in the galleries.”   

The Bickford Theatre, he says, is unique in that it’s fully rigged for major performances. “Most museums have an auditorium space that’s good for a speaker or maybe a small ensemble or screening, but this theater can handle anything from plays to dance performances.”

Due to COVID-19, indoor performances were put on hold, but that didn’t stop Brett. He developed the Lot of Strings Festival, which attracted Grammy-award winning ensembles to play in the Museum’s parking lot.

“It turned out to be a great thing not only for the audiences that were really craving live music, but for the artists as well. In a strange way, our parking lot became a hub of classical music.” He plans to bring these lot concerts back this spring.

Brett also launched a Live Arts series. “This was born from a desire to really connect the galleries to the stage and even bring the performing arts out of the theater and into the galleries.”

Private and Public Events

The Museum is also a wonderful place to get married, hold a corporate meeting, have a fundraiser, or do a photoshoot. “It’s a very unique venue,” says Nina Hoffer, private event manager. “Throughout the evening, guests can wander around the Museum, visit select galleries and see all the art exhibits. So it’s great for amazing photo opportunities.”

There are three main spaces to hold events (see list below.)

Supporting the Morris Museum

Like most nonprofits, the Morris Museum had to get creative when devising fundraising events this year. Mira Prives, director of development, is excited to announce the Museum’s first ever virtual gala.

This gala will take place on Thursday, February 25, at 7:00 pm, and last for approximately 45 minutes. The theme, to honor its new mission, will be art, sound, and motion.

“This is the first full year that we have been focusing on that new mission, so we decided to theme our gala around it,” she says. To attend the Gala, interested guests can go to its website and click on the ‘Events’ tab.

“It’s going to be a great celebration for both people who know and don’t know there’s a museum here,” says Mira, “We’re going to have different artists and performers participating, plus some other surprises, and it’s going to be a fun way to learn about the Museum.”

Another great way to support the Museum and the best way to take advantage of all the Museum has to offer is to become a member.

Membership starts at $50.00 a year for an individual or $45.00 for a senior which gives special access and perks. There are also family and high-level memberships, where you get more exclusive access.

“Museums can sometimes be thought of as non-essential services, but there are things that the Museum has provided such as serenity, inspiration, comfort, and relief,” says Mira. “I think all these things are really important.”

To find about more, go to https://morrismuseum.org/, or call 973-971-3700.      

Event spaces:

The Entrance Pavilion  – the grand main foyer at the entrance to the Museum. This is the biggest space of the three, and can be used in a variety of ways.  Once they know your guest count and type of event, they will work with you to create a customizable layout and floorplan.

Museum Court – a two-story promenade, and the second largest space. Built around the Georgian-style mansion, it has modern glass on one side, and the exterior brick wall of the house on the other. It’s a great place for cocktail hour, says Nina.

Twin Oaks Mansion  – encompassing a traditional look with chandeliers and a fireplace. There is also a beautiful staircase from which brides can make a grand entrance.


NJ Arts Annual: – Dissonance – Art | Craft | Design | Performance | New Media – through March 14

Adrian Landon: The Mechanical Horse – through March 15

Threads of Consciousness:  The Tapestries of Jon Eric Riis – through May 2

Natural Essence – Motion Perceived – from April 1 through August 15

Those Beautiful Rags (Ragtime music) – through October 10

Safarani Sisters: Beneath the Breath – April 1 through October 31

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.