Have Fun This Fall

Pumpkins, carnival rides and seasonal favorites for the whole family

By Sue Baldani

The spectacular Jack O’ Lantern Experience is back for its third year at Skylands Stadium in Sussex County from September 23rd to November 6th. Offered by the State Fair Group of New Jersey, it’s a great way for kids and adults to get into the Halloween spirit.

Start off with an approximately 45-minute walk through over 6000 hand-carved pumpkins in all their blazing glory. “We also have the world famous talking pumpkins,” says Justin Ferrarella, general manager at Skylands Stadium. “They tell jokes, sing, and talk amongst themselves, which is really awesome.”

Afterwards, take part in the fall festival and enjoy seasonal favorites such as hot apple cider and roasted nuts. Or, indulge in other treats like funnel cake and deep-fried Oreos.

Adults can listen to live music in the beer garden while enjoying over 30 different craft beers, plus ciders, wine and seltzers. Skylands on-site restaurant, the Double S Smokehouse, will be offering delicious barbeque as well.

Continue the fun on carnival rides like the Ferris wheel and carousel, then have the kids take part in the Under the Sea bubbles attraction and meet Disney princesses. “There will also be a Jurassic-themed attraction,” says Justin. “Honestly, there’s something for people of all ages.”

Jack O’ Lantern Experience tickets must be purchased in advance at http://skylandsstadium.com/jackolantern. Tickets are not required to enter the fall festival.  

Skylands Stadium

94 Championship Place

Augusta, NJ 07822

Written for Suburban Essex Magazine in New Jersey.

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad is getting the word out about the 988 hotline

Contributing author: Sue Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

We all know that dialing 911 can be a lifesaver, and now, so can calling 988. This new three-digit dialing code became active on July 16, 2022, and is a lifeline for those contemplating suicide.

The counselors who respond to the calls, texts and chats provide caring support and guidance to those in crisis. Many studies have shown that after calling for help, people tend to feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed and more hopeful.

Previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, it’s now the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. However, the previous number – 800-273-8255 – is still in use as well. The Lifeline’s network of over 200 crisis centers has been operating since 2005, and in its years of existence, has received over 20 million calls from those in distress.

The 988 number can be dialed from any state in the country and is accessible for non-English speakers and for those who are deaf. Veterans can also use this new option to contact the Veterans Crisis Line. All they have to do is dial 988 and then choose the number 1. The previous number – 800-273-8255 – is also still active. 

Veterans can also connect through text at 838255, and through chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat. According to the Military Veteran Project, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

With COVID-19 exacerbating mental health issues, this easy-to-remember hotline number is more important than ever. According to the Lifeline website, “Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people, and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was the tenth-leading cause of death in the nation (CDC, 2019). Every year in the U.S., more people die by suicide than in car accidents, and more suicide deaths occur than homicide and AIDS deaths combined.”

To learn more, go to https://988lifeline.org/current-events/the-lifeline-and-988/. To find information about the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad, or to become a member, go to www.scotchplainsrescuesquad.com.  

Written for local press outlets in New Jersey.

Bargains You Can Boast About

A fun and friendly thrift boutique with something for everyone

By Sue Baldani

When you drive past The Bargain Box on Mount Kemble Avenue in Morristown, you’ll sometimes notice a line of people waiting to get into the charming and welcoming store. There’s a good reason for that and why the thrift shop is described as a boutique with a “Touch of Class.”

“I can’t even begin to tell you the variety of goods we have here – from clothing and jewelry to housewares and artwork,” says long-time manager, Maggie Moffitt. “There’s something for everybody.”

The store has many repeat customers. “It’s just a really happy place,” she says. “People come in and make friends here. They interact with one another, with our volunteers and our staff.  We hear repeatedly that when they come into The Bargain Box, they leave their troubles at the door.”

Some customers come in seeking vintage and antique pieces, hard-to-find items or designer brands. At times, merchandise from Tori Burch and Kate Spade, and even Versace, Chanel and Gucci can be found. “We’ve had Christian Louboutin and Prada shoes,” says Maggie. “The quality of what we offer is really quite good.”

Some of the items are brand new and still have tags on them. Since the store is so busy and the inventory changes so quickly, if something isn’t there one day, it may be there the next, so they often tell people to come back soon.

Shopping at The Bargain Box benefits the buyer, of course, but it goes much deeper than that. The store operates as part of the Women’s Association for Morristown Medical Center (WAMMC), a volunteer service organization founded in 1893 that raises money to provide many of the extras and/or necessities that make visiting or staying at the non-profit hospital much more pleasant and comfortable.

“The net proceeds from The Bargain Box go through the Women’s Association directly to the hospital for whatever projects or programs they’re looking to fund,” says Kathy Christie, president of WAMMC. The proceeds from the hospital’s gift shops, which they also run, and a percentage of proceeds from the onsite Starbucks and the Apple Day Café, all go through the Association to the hospital as well.

“They give us a list of wants and needs and we try to provide as much as we can,” she says. “We also have an art exhibit in the main hallway that not only makes the place look better, but also allows artists to show their work. We then get 20% of the sales of that artwork.” The association gives out nursing scholarships too, which also directly benefits patients.

“It’s always about the patient experience and the patient outcome,” says Maggie. “And I really think Morristown Medical Center excels in that. I’m very proud to support its work.”

WAMMC has raised over $30 million since 1985, and the Bargain Box alone has contributed $7 million to the Women’s Association over the last 22 years. That’s a lot of merchandise!

The Bargain Box also holds multiple events throughout the year. “We have a fur sale every year, and people will come year after year and buy multiple fur coats,” says Gail Decker, a long-time volunteer and WAMMC Board Member. “We also have a St. John Knits event, and a Lilly Pulitzer and Tommy Bahama event.” She says customers can sign up and receive discount cards for the store as well as for the multiple events they hold.

If you’re looking for a great organization with which to volunteer, the Women’s Association for Morristown Medical Center will be happy to welcome you as a member. And, of course, donations to The Bargain Box are always appreciated.

For more information, go to https://www.wammc.org/bargain-box.

Written for Morris City Lifestyle in New Jersey.

Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty

Helping children and teens cope with anxiety

By Sue Baldani

People who have experienced anxiety and anxiety attacks know how debilitating and frightening these issues can be. While they’re very difficult for even the most capable adult to manage, children and adolescents have an even harder time understanding these feelings. Talking to friends and parents can help, of course, but most times a professional is needed to actively listen to and teach kids coping mechanisms.

“The actual definition of mental health is how we address challenges in our lives,” says Dr. Joseph Mifsud, a local doctor of clinical psychology. “Mental health is also about communication, establishing healthy relationships, and developing strong coping skills.”

Especially over the last couple of years, challenges have been monumental.  “We’re now having a big wave of people who hit a fight or flight response at the beginning of the pandemic and never really came down from that state of hypervigilance,” says Megan Gunnell, a Grosse Pointe psychotherapist and the founder and director of Thriving Well Institute and Thrive Advantage Group. “We all faced a tremendous amount of the two biggest factors that make anxiety spike – feeling trapped and feeling uncertain.”

So, how can parents tell if their children or teenagers are having trouble coping? “Parents need to be vigilant for any type of change in mood and things like withdrawing from social or family settings and isolating themselves,” says Joseph. “Feelings of anxiety can lead to people feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, and powerless.”

Adds Megan, “They don’t want to do the things they used to do or they may have a loss of interest in pleasurable things. You should also look for changes in sleep or appetite. I always tell parents, ‘You have good instincts. Trust your intuition because if you’re feeling like something is off and your child is just not acting like themselves, then there is a need for more support.’”

Parents can find support with a therapist who specializes in child and adolescent anxiety. “Teenagers might not have the most comfortability talking with parents about some of the things they’re going through,” says Kayla Pacic, a licensed professional counselor with Hope, Healing, and Health in St. Claire Shores. “Parents being able to direct them to a mental health professional can be very important in helping treat depression, anxiety, and other life stressors they may be going through.”

It’s critical, explains Megan, that people feel seen and heard. “That alone is powerful because when you’re struggling with something that is really burdensome to you, it feels very isolating because you think you’re abnormal.”

First and foremost, she says, is to have a safe, nonjudgmental place to share thoughts and feelings. “That’s super important and also very healing in and of itself. Then, it’s all about solutions. We want to give people a ton of tools that can help with managing anxiety.”

When someone has an anxiety attack, others may tell them to just relax, but it’s not that simple. “When the sympathetic nervous system is activated with anxiety, the heart rate increases, then our stress hormones are released and the fight or flight response can also be triggered as well,” says Joseph. “My first goal when working with someone with anxiety is to teach mindfulness – the practice of being present, plus mindful breathing – taking nice deep breathes through your nose and exhaling through your mouth,”

Another way to reduce stress and anxiety is for kids and teens to have some down time to refresh their minds and bodies. “It’s important for parents to review their kids’ schedules,” says Kayla. “A lot of teens I work with are under a lot of pressure. There are the demands of school, sports, home and possibly work. Parents can help their teens reevaluate their schedules and assist with time management techniques so they’re not feeling so overextended.”

Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of therapists right now, says Megan. “I’ve never, ever in my whole history of being a therapist have seen a demand like this, so it takes a little bit of patience and a lot of Googling, but there are sites that are good, like Psychology Today or TherapyDen. Those are really well vetted.”

She advises getting referrals from other trusted partners as well, such as your child’s pediatrician or school counselor. Of course, you can also ask your insurance company to give you a list of people in your area who are trained in treating children and teenagers.

With the right help from professionals, a lot of love and support from their parents, and a little bit of time, children and teens can learn to overcome their anxiety and go on to live healthy and happy lives. And isn’t that every parent’s wish?

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.

Halloween Pet Safety

Keeping our four-legged family members healthy and safe this holiday

By Sue Baldani

Halloween, with its costumes and candy, is a fun holiday for both kids and adults.  Lighted jack-o’-lanterns and spooky decorations are also a big part of the magic.

Unfortunately, this is also a holiday that carries some hazards for your four-legged family members. Dr. Lauren Stayer and Dr. Erin Miller from Pawtown Veterinarian Care in Bend, which opened in March of this year, work diligently to keep the animals in their care healthy and happy.  

“Lauren and I have been friends and colleagues for eight years,” says Dr. Erin. “We wanted to start a practice that felt personable, like a family practice – where our patients, clients and staff felt cared for.”

Here, they provide great tips on keeping pets safe this Halloween:

Candy

After the candy has been brought home and sorted, and little ones (and their parents) have had their fill, make sure to stash the leftovers someplace safe. “Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is toxic to pets, and if they ingest the wrappers of the candy, that can also cause problems,” says Dr. Lauren. “Not all candy is toxic, but a lot of it can cause vomiting or diarrhea, upset stomach and other issues.”

Candy containing artificial sweeteners (like Xylitol) and macadamia nuts are also toxic to pets. Pets ingesting any of the above should be taken to a veterinarian right away. “Time is important,” says Dr. Erin. “You can also call the *Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or the *ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) for advice on whether to seek care.”

Pet Costumes

“Let’s face it, pets in costumes are adorable!” says Dr. Erin. “But the majority of our pets do not like dressing up. Costumes can be uncomfortable, cumbersome or even dangerous.” If you want to dress up your pet, here are her recommendations: 

– Do not leave a costumed pet unsupervised;

– Choose a costume that does not limit mobility or vision;

– Avoid anything that could shift or tighten around a limb or neck;

– Make sure the costume is not too hot or too heavy; and

– Limit the amount of time your pet is in costume.

Adds Dr. Lauren, “I would also avoid anything with very small pieces that the pet could chew off and ingest, which could then cause a foreign body blockage.”

Human Costumes

Many animals may become fearful or even aggressive when they see someone in unfamiliar attire. “Costumes can be scary to pets, especially when they can’t see people’s faces,” says Dr. Lauren.

“Consider keeping your pet in a separate room or in a crate during trick or treating hours,” says Dr. Erin. “Or have a designated family member keep the pet on a leash with them inside the house.”

This will also prevent them from running out the door every time it’s opened. “It’s important to have your pet chipped,” says Dr. Lauren. “If they have a microchip and they’re found, then any clinic or humane society can scan the chip and be able to contact the owner.” There are also GPS collars to track your pet.  

Decorations

“Consider your pets when choosing Halloween decorations,” says Dr. Erin. “Avoid candles, and be mindful of electrical wires or things that are easy to knock over. Also consider how noise and flashing lights may affect your pet.”

To find out more ways to keep your pets happy and healthy, go to https://pawtownvet.com/.

*Fees may apply.

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.

A Center of Discovery

Open your mind to a fun and fascinating experience

By Sue Baldani

The inventions of Thomas Alva Edison were numerous and changed the way people lived. And, he brought his ideas to fruition right here in New Jersey.

The Thomas Edison National Historic Park, located in West Orange, gives its over 60,000 visitors a year a fascinating look into Edison’s life and extraordinary works. Regardless of age or interest, there’s something for everyone.

At the Visitor’s Center, watch movies about the inventor and get a helpful orientation to the grounds. Then, take a tour of his laboratory where he developed amazing innovations such as long-lasting light bulbs, phonographs and batteries. Here, you’ll also find his library, heavy machine shop, music room and more.

“What I find fascinating is that everything that is on display is really inspirational because he experimented with every single thing, including hair follicles from animals,” says Susan McCartney, a trustee, board member, and educator for over 20 years. “He had his hand in everything.”

Another must see on the property is the Black Maria (pronounced Mariah). “It was the first movie studio, and where the first movie camera was invented,” says Michelle Mihalkovitz, chief of cultural resources. While the all-black structure that stands today is not the original built in 1893, it’s an exact replica and placed very close to the original spot.

“As a videographer and a photographer, I personally find a great deal of inspiration from it because I use the tools today every day that he invented and honed,” says board member, Rich Silivanch. “We’re all influenced day in and day out by what this man and his team did, and from an entertainment standpoint, a lot of that comes back to the Black Maria. It really was the birthplace of cinema.”

The building, which was built around 1953, is in dire need of renovation, and fundraising for that project is now underway. The roof, which slides open to let in light, needs to be replaced, the electrical system needs updating, the structure itself needs fortification, and many other changes, including accessibility, need to be done.

A “Raise the Roof” fundraiser was held in May, and other events are being planned. Of course, straight donations to the non-profit are always appreciated from individuals and corporations.

The complex also offers many interesting programs for children and adults. “We have a Junior Ranger program, which is like a learning scavenger hunt,” says Michelle. “At the end they get a National Park Service badge and are sworn in by a ranger.”

While in the area, also visit the Queen Anne Victorian-styled Glenmont estate in historic Llewellyn Park, where Edison lived with his wife, Mina. Built in the early 1880s, its lovely gardens and historic bird feeders won’t disappoint.

Volunteers are always welcome as well. Rich is the volunteer coordinator of  the Friends of Thomas Edison Center National Historical Park, and is happy to speak with anyone who has an interest in carrying on its legacy. To date, they have raised $1 million for over 200 projects.

“We also have a volunteer program at the Park, and these volunteers assist visitors, present programs, work within the curatorial division, and perform other duties,” says Michelle. “They also help maintain the grounds, gardens and the greenhouse at Glenmont. We couldn’t provide all the services we do without our volunteers.”

Another way to support its mission is by becoming a member, which provides many benefits. Depending on the level you choose, you will have access to discounts on tickets and store merchandise, as well as events and parties, and even receive a private tour of laboratory.

To plan your visit, attend an event, or volunteer, go to https://www.menloparkmuseum.org/ or https://friendsofedison.org/.  

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

Is it Really an Emergency?

Choosing the best place for treatment

By Sue Baldani

When a serious accident happens or when someone is experiencing chest pains or other life threatening signs and symptoms, it’s imperative that he or she is brought to and treated in the Emergency Room or Emergency Department of a hospital. Whether taken in by ambulance or personal vehicle, the person is given priority and seen right away.

Of course, many other non-life threatening issues, such as broken bones and lacerations, are seen in emergency rooms as well. The all-volunteer Scotch Plains Rescue Squad answers over 1100 calls every year, and while some of these fall into the first category of critical emergencies, others are of the latter variety. Getting patients who need emergency care to the hospital quickly and keeping them as stable as possible during transport are always the goals.

However, some people believe that calling 911 and being taken to an emergency room by ambulance means they’ll be prioritized and seen quicker, even for something as minor as a small cut that may need one or two stitches. But, this is not the case. Who is seen first is determined by medical need, not by mode of transportation.

Others with even minor ailments, such as a stomach upset or a wrist sprain, may call for an ambulance with the belief that their discomforts will be taken more seriously. Although the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad cares for all patients, people suffering from these issues would probably be better off going to their own doctors. Many hospitals are still dealing with staff shortages due to the pandemic, and the wait to see a medical provider for a minor issue often means hours and hours of sitting around. Then, they’re usually told to follow up with their primary care physician anyway.

Going to an emergency room for non-dire medical problems also exposes people unnecessarily to much more serious illnesses such as COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria.

So next time, before calling for an ambulance for a slight injury or mild illness, first see if you can get an appointment with your family doctor either in person or virtually, or visit an urgent care facility. You’ll likely be treated much quicker, and you’ll free up emergency personnel to deal with those who need help immediately.

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

Written for local press outlets in New Jersey.

Creating Happiness

How one young man is sharing his passion for art with others

By Sue Baldani

Looking at art can bring people joy, soothe their souls and foster an appreciation of life. Being able to create art is even more incredible; Joe Baker of Bristow knows this well.

“It’s my favorite thing to do,” says Joe. “I like free drawing and sketching buildings and all that. It makes me happy and I like doing fun things.”

The 21-year-old ink artist has faced many challenges in his life. “He was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old,” says his mother, Colleen. “He was having a really hard time writing, so in kindergarten we pushed for occupational therapy. Within a couple years of OT, he started writing and started drawing and just never stopped.”

When Joe was in the fifth grade, he had his first major seizure. “We think the change into puberty was what prompted it; a third of kids with autism end up with epilepsy,” she says.

But art has always been there for him. It was a way to wind down after a school day and a vehicle to get his feelings out. While at Patriot High School, he took an art class and was also on the Unified Sports basketball team. “He loved playing,” says his mother.

Unfortunately, Joe’s epilepsy became much worse and Colleen, a teacher for 29 years, the last of which were in Prince William County, decided to quit working in order to stay home and care for him. She also home schooled Joe so he could obtain his high school diploma, which he proudly did.

When COVID hit, the idea of turning Joe’s passion into an actual business took hold. “I was doing some life skills with him like managing money,” she says. “We were stuck at home, and we made one of our bedrooms into an art studio. We bought all the furniture and spruced it up and bought a bunch of art equipment.” In September of 2020, Artfully Joe was up and running. Joe goes into his studio every weekday afternoon at 1:00 and usually works until 4:00, except for Fridays, which he and his mom call Fun Fridays.

“We think it’s going great,” says Colleen. “We’re always trying to come up with something different, so in addition to the drawings, we’ve added note cards to our repertoire, and made calendars for the holidays. We haven’t really been to any official art shows yet but are looking to do some.” Right now, some of Joe’s artwork can be found at The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm in Gainesville, where he also did a meet and greet on February 25th.

As with many small at-home businesses, initial customers consisted mainly of family and friends. But now, Artfully Joe receives orders from as far away as California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Florida. It’s not surprising. There are wonderful collections of flowers, animals, silhouettes and more available online.

Joe encourages people to buy his artwork. “They can hang it up somewhere in their house and put it in a nice frame and love it,” he says.

Colleen believes Joe gets his talent from her father. “I’m crafty, not artsy like him, but his grandfather is an artist, although not by trade. His mother’s family was from Copenhagen, Denmark and he had a couple artists in the family that still have artwork there.”

Joe and Colleen often brainstorm together about what he should draw next. “We have a whiteboard in his studio that somebody made for us and we decorate it for the seasons and we put ideas on it,” she says. “We also put up what we have going on that month.”

Colleen enjoys helping Joe with his business. “I help him with ideas for social media and the website, and with purchases and shipping, and I try to include him in what I’m doing or what we sell.

“It can be challenging for those with his issues to find a job. This has been great because he can see the benefits of working, and yet, if he has a seizure one day, he can stop and rest. He has that flexibility.”

In addition to his business, Joe is also excited about becoming an uncle this summer. “I have a sister who is pregnant now and her name is Abby,” he says. “I also have three dogs – Billy, Baxter, and Petey.” Joe will take commissions drawing other people’s dogs, but not his own. He wants to keep them all to himself. 

“I’m really good,” says Joe. “I really love how I draw things and color them.” He would love for others to follow him and see his amazing pieces on social media. He also posts videos of himself in his studio, which are a must-see!

Facebook- Joe Baker

Instagram- @artfullyjoe

Twitter-Joe Baker
TikTok- @theartfullyjoe

Written for Haymarket/Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.