Come to the Lodge

By Sue Baldani

Forest Lodge’s lush 50-acre property in Warren has always been an amazing place to hold parties all year round, but now it’s better than ever. Owners Charles and Maria Alberto, along with their son, Charlie Alberto IV, ensure that every event receives personalized care and attention.

“We set it up from the initial meeting all the way to the final appointment and then, on the day of the event, we’re here,” says Charlie, who has been the general manager for the past two years. “I think it makes the clients feel comfortable to have us present.”

From small, casual birthday parties, picnics and corporate events to large, elegant weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, Forest Lodge provides the perfect venue. Guests can choose one of its three modern outdoor pavilions, the sophisticated indoor Sherwood Chalet banquet hall, and/or various Groves with pools, sports courts and rides. Its new Maple Grove Pavilion was erected during COVID as a safe place to hold events.

“We set up a 40×60 paver area and invested in a beautiful, white sailcloth tent, and added firepits and gazebos” he says. “It has a unique and elegant outdoor look.

Since the tent was such a popular addition, they set up another one in their Apple Grove Pavilion as a temporary addition for proms and other large (400+) parties. “We always had schools reaching out to us for graduations and field days, but when our new director of catering, Anthony Panchery, contacted them about proms, it spiraled into something really beautiful for the kids,” says Charlie. They also installed touchless fixtures in restrooms and at work stations to keep guests and employees safe.

The changes they’ve made didn’t end there. They revamped their entire website and regularly post information and updates on social media. “It’s been great because that’s where we get in touch with a lot of our customers and where many of our inquiries now come from,” he says. “People can now look at our menus online, gain more information through our digital brochures, scan QR codes to join us and post on Instagram!”

They’ve also brought in some new and creative team members and vendors, and have added to their list of food truck offerings. “All of our catering is done in house, but people love that they can get fried Oreos or Cuban sandwiches from award-winning food trucks.”

Charlie feels his prior work in film production has given him the skills to handle the logistics of coordinating over 300 parties and events each year and ensuring that they all run smoothly. He grew up working at the Lodge as well, which gives him a great understanding of what its guests expect.  

He’s also excited about Forest Lodge being able to hold Oktoberfest once again this fall, where people can enjoy brats, spaetzle, music, and everything German. He also hopes to offer some additional public days as well featuring live bands and other enjoyable entertainment.

For more information, go to and/or check out its Facebook page.

Written for The Showcase Magazine in New Jersey.

The Art of Healing

Enabling veterans to turn trauma into hope

By Sue Baldani

On September 11, 2001, Richard Casper was a high school student, and the events of that day would change the course of his life forever. “It inspired me to go into the Marine Corps, so two weeks after graduation, I was on a bus going to boot camp,” he says.

While in the service, he spent time guarding then-President of the United States, George W. Bush. He also went to war. “I was in Fallujah, Iraq, for seven months,” says Richard. During that time, he was badly injured and his buddy, Luke Yepsen, made the ultimate sacrifice.

After leaving the Marines, it was hard for Richard to transition back into civilian life. “I couldn’t do a lot because my anxiety and depression were so bad.”

It was at this time, while living in Bloomington, Illinois, that he randomly found an art and music program at a community college. He says it’s what ultimately saved his life. “They started teaching me about art and how to use color to symbolize emotions. Being able to express myself without talking about what was wrong with me, and being able to evoke emotion from others who would then understand me, was powerful.”

After receiving his associate’s degree, Richard applied to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Through these classes, my brain was remapping and restructuring all these negative situations into a positive because I was turning them into art pieces.”

He then expanded into songwriting. “I still had an issue talking about Luke, and I thought, ‘What if I could write a song so people would know his story?’”

Eventually, Richard hooked up with Mark Irwin, who has written songs for Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, and Tim McGraw. “I traveled to Nashville and wrote a song with him within three hours,” he says. “I was blown away.”

He wanted to bring these healing tools to other veterans, and along with Linda Tarrson,founded CreatiVets in 2013. “It’s strictly for wounded veterans – someone who’s been to a combat zone and has mental, emotional, moral, or physical injuries from that experience,” says Richard.

Today, the nonprofit has helped veterans across 48 states in both its music and art programs. With its four-day music program, vets are paired with mentors and work with accomplished songwriters and music artists backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Once finished, these songs are recorded at the Rukkus Room and OMNIsound Studios.

“Each veteran thinks they’re alone in their fight, but as they hear each other’s songs, they feel connected,” he says. “They get to heal together.” They also have their photographs taken by Jason Myers, a well-known photographer who donates his time.

A majority of veterans with serious mental-health issues become isolated and never seek help. “In order to reach them in their homes, we’ve partnered with Big Machine Records to release our veterans’ songs.” These songs are sung by renowned artists like Vince Gill and Justin Moore.

Its three-week art programs are held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Belmont University, University of Chicago, University of Southern California, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Tuition, food and housing is completely covered and like regular students, the vets have access to wood working, ceramics and other classes. With the help of the teachers, who are esteemed artists, they create art pieces that reflects something they’ve been through.

Greg Pihs, a Marine from Chapel Hill who served alongside Richard and Luke at one point, knows how valuable these programs are to veterans. He wrote a song with CreatiVets about a situation he could never verbalize, and it helped him to finally process his pain. “For the first time in my life, I had a voice, and that was life-changing for me,” he says. “It greatly helped me over the last three years.” Today, Greg is a mentor in the program as well as a successful businessman.

CreatiVets is always in need of volunteers, especially in Nashville, where they have a new facility to hold classes. “We need people who are willing to volunteer and share their artistic skills, whether it be painting, drawing, jewelry making or something else.”

Like any nonprofit, it also needs funding. “We have more veterans on our waiting list than we have money coming in,” says Richard. “In order to support them, we need to grow.”

To learn more and help support CreatiVets, go to

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

The Epitome of Luxury

A home that feels like a private resort

By Sue Baldani

Short Hills is known for its beautiful homes and lovely surroundings. While some homes may be on the more “modest” side, most are spectacular. One of these is currently for sale, and whoever buys it may never want to leave.

Located in the Fairfield section of the upscale town, the modern and sophisticated home is handsomely attired with hand-cut stone with mahogany windows and trim and a slate roof.  Sitting on a magnificent and lush 1+ acres, it’s an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, downtown Millburn with its lovely shops, Broadway-worthy theater, and fabulous restaurants is minutes away, as is the train station that can whisk you right into New York City.

But again, with this residence, staying in is also a fine idea. As soon as you enter, the high ceilings and grand staircase set the tone for luxury. With a home gym featuring top-of-the-line exercise equipment, and a private pool area with luxurious pavers surrounded by mature trees and other landscaping for the ultimate in privacy, you, your family and guests can enjoy the serenity of nature while relaxing in or out of the saltwater pool. There is also a hot tub and a pool house with a bar and full bath. On the lower level of the house, you’ll find a wine cellar and tasting room. It’s truly your own personal resort!

Every inch of the 12,000-square-foot home is exquisite and no detail has been overlooked. With six bedrooms and seven full and three half baths, there’s plenty of room for family and guests to spread out. Each bedroom has its own balcony and overlooks the picturesque property.

While walk-in closets in most homes are a nice convenience, the closet off the primary bedroom is more like your own personal boutique. With storage galore and glass-fronted cabinetry, you’ll almost feel like you’re shopping in your own home. And the best thing is, everything you see is yours to wear and enjoy whenever you like.

To see this magnificent home and have a chance to own this extraordinary piece of real estate, go to or You can even choose to purchase some or most of the high-end furnishings that were specifically chosen by a professional designer to fit the house to perfection. This is what living in luxury is all about!

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