The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

Book review of The Wife Between Us
by Susan Baldani

I love stories that keep me guessing, that surprise and shock me. When I’m absorbed in a great book, I tend to forget about the world around me and let myself drift into another place and time. This is what happened while reading “The Wife Between Us.”
Written by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks and released in January 2018, the jacket sleeve does warn you not to make assumptions about what is happening or the people involved, because nothing is as it seems. With this is mind, I began to read.
And yes, I did make assumptions and thought I had it all figured out. I mean, it seemed so obvious what was happening and who was involved. Then a little less than halfway through the book – bam! I never saw it coming. The twists and turns that happen afterwards were delightful, while at the same time a little disturbing. But in a fun way, of course.
The characters in this book have great depth and emotion. There are ex-wives, a sister and a future wife, but who is who? Don’t be so sure, as I was. There are good people and bad people, but again, which is which?
I can’t say too much about the plot without giving it away, and I don’t want to ruin the outcome for anyone. But let’s just say it’s a love story with a complex mystery intertwined throughout. There’s Vanessa, Nellie, Emma, Maureen and Kate, women who all share a varied and complex relationship with one man. His name is Richard, and he has affected the lives of each of these characters immensely. But is he charming and refined or manipulative and dangerous? And what about the women? Are they really who you think they are?
Trying to figure out the real people behind the facades is what will make this book hard to put down. And you will be surprised right up to the very end. Just when you think you finally, at last, have it all figured out, don’t be so sure. Another surprise is always lucking as you turn the page.
Sarah Pekkanen is the bestselling author of seven previous novels and Greer Hendricks was a long-time editor at Simon and Schuster; this is her first novel.

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine

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Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Presents – Medical Mystery – Foreign Accent Syndrome

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Most people realize how serious a brain injury can be. After all, people can have all sorts of detrimental side effects such as blurred vision, headaches, loss of memory, and seizures. However, did you know it could also change your accent?
Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) was first documented in 1907 by French neurologist Pierre Marie, and is one of those rare medical mysteries that doctors are still trying to understand. According to the Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas, “FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered. FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.”
According to Dr. Akshay Ganju, a resident in emergency medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, there are only about 100 documented cases around the world. Some doctors refuse to believe it is a real malady, and though it can also be caused by psychological disorders, it’s not something that can be controlled. People who suffer from FAS are often ridiculed by family and friends who think they’re just faking it.
One of the most famous cases was that of a Norwegian woman who was hit by shrapnel in World War II; she developed a German accent and was ostracized as a result. Other people have woken up from anesthesia and found themselves speaking with a different accent.
Although this change of speech may last for only a short time for some, other patients have it for years and some forever. There are various treatments for this disorder, but they are not always successful.
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 scotchplainsrescuesquad@gmail.com

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

Aunt Sue’s Recipe Collection

Stuffed peppers
Like many people who like to cook and bake, I am constantly tearing recipes out of magazines and newspapers or printing them out from the Internet. Because of this, I used to have recipes all over the house, and had a hard time finding them when needed.

After hunting around again and again, I decided something had to be done. So I put my organizational skills to work, and came up with a perfect solution, at least for me. I bought two big binders and a few packages of plastic sleeve inserts, along with subject tab dividers, all of which can be found at any office supply or department store. First, I collected the recipes from all over the house; then I separated the meals from the desserts to go into the binders. Once that was done, I then divided each pile into different sections. For example, for the meal binder, I labeled the tabs as Breakfasts, Soups, Breads, Pastas, Meats, and Vegetables dishes; for the dessert binder, I had Pies, Cookies, Cakes, Candies, and Bars. You can do it however you prefer and whatever way makes sense to you. There’s no one right way. The nice thing about having them all in the plastic sleeves is that the recipes stay clean. If something spills on one while you’re assembling the ingredients, all you have to do is wipe it off. But if you don’t want to buy these, you can always just punch holes in the pages and pop them right into the binder.

Even better than being able to find all the recipes is being able to one day pass these on to my family, who are frequent recipients of my cooking. So often I wish I had my grandmother’s apple turnover recipe or my aunt’s meatball recipe. Who knows what became of them? The really special parts of these binders are the pages with handwritten recipes from all different relatives. These are truly family keepsakes.

The next time you are searching all over for that special recipe, think about putting them in order. It does take a good amount of hours initially, but once it’s done it will make life so much easier. And each time you print or tear or cut out another recipe, be sure to put it in a binder right away, or else you’ll be on the hunt once again.

Below is a recipe I make over and over again, and maybe one that you can include in your new recipe binder. Bon appétit!

STUFFED PEPPERS
6 large green peppers, tops cut off and seeds rinsed out
1 pound ground turkey or beef
½ chopped onion
1 chopped garlic clove
6 cups tomato sauce
1 cup cooked white rice
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Put rice on to cook.
While rice is cooking, cut off tops of peppers and rinse out seeds inside. Then cover peppers with water in a big pot and boil for 5 minutes; drain. Place each pepper upright in a baking dish.
Sauté onions and garlic in skillet and add ground meat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once lightly browned, add 1.5 cups of tomato sauce and rice and cook until heated. Then add in 1/2 cup of cheese and stir together.
Add a little sauce to the bottom of each pepper, and then spoon in meat, rice and cheese mixture. Once all the peppers are filled, add the rest of the sauce to the baking dish, spooning some over the peppers as well.
Bake covered at 350° for 45 minutes, then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top of each pepper, and bake without lid for another 15 minutes.
(If prepared beforehand, and dish is cold, bake for 1.5 hours.)

Written for The Country Register of the US and Canada.

Showcase Salutes Best Value Rugs and Carpet, Inc.

Carpet
Why shop at a big box store when you can get excellent customer service, better prices, and high-quality goods right in the neighborhood? All these qualities and more can be found at Best Value Rugs and Carpet Inc. in the Arthur’s Plaza Shopping Center right in Green Brook, NJ.

The owner, Daljit Chadha, has been in the flooring business for over 35 years. He can provide you with any type of flooring for your home and business, plus also guide you in picking the right products. Whether it be carpet, tile, or hard wood, Daljit is an expert in all and will carefully listen to your needs and answer whatever questions you may have. He will even personally come to your location to offer his advice about what would work best for the space, so it looks great and functions well.

Once an order is placed, installation can take place within a matter of days. He once had someone come in and ask to have carpet installed that day for a party he was having, and Daljit and his crew were able to get it done. His goal is to satisfy his customers. Before installation takes place, extra services can include the removal of old flooring and clearing the rooms of furniture. Every need is taken care of, so the buyer has the smoothest experience possible.

The flooring products are high-quality and there is something for every budget. The owner has accounts with major suppliers such as Shaw, Mohawk, Cortek and many others, just like the big stores. Plus, he personally hires all his installers to ensure that the installation is done right, and the product looks exactly as promised. By the way, if you do happen to go to one of the big stores first, bring in the estimate and Daljit will not just match it but give you the same or comparable product for 5% less.

The nice thing about dealing directly with the owner is if there is ever a problem, it can be remedied right away. You are dealing with one person, not a corporate entity. Daljit ensures that every patron is satisfied before he considers the deal done. He’s had many repeat customers and does not have any complaints lodged against his company with the Better Business Bureau. He recently had a client come back after 10 years to get some additional work done, and many people from Hillsborough, where his store was located many years ago, track him down when they need something new.

Best Value Rugs and Carpet Inc. also sells beautiful specialty hand-made area rugs from places such as India, China, Belgium, Pakistan and many other parts of the world. Right now, these rugs and other items are on sale for up to 75% off to make room for new merchandise.

Besides all the above, they also offer total kitchen and bathroom renovations, including tearing down dry wall, painting, and installation of new countertops and cabinets. Whichever job you need them to do, the installers are professionals in the specific materials with which they are working. They understand the product and know how to make it look its best.

The Green Brook store installs anywhere in New Jersey, and even goes out of state for big jobs. They not only handle residential and small business accounts, but also contract with government and state agencies to provide flooring for schools and other large buildings.

Personalized, friendly service, the best prices, a knowledgeable owner and professional installers make Best Value Rugs and Carpet Inc. the go-to place for all your flooring and many of your other home improvement needs. Pay them a visit and I’m sure you’ll become one of those repeat customers.

For more information, please call 732-752-3528 or go to their website at http://www.bestvaluerugsandcarpet.com.

Written for The Showcase Magazine
http://theshowcasemagazine.net/showcasemag/warren_edition/salutes/bestvaluerugs

Book Review of Grief Cottage

Grief Cottage
Do you believe in ghosts? This is what you have to ask yourself while reading Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin.
Eleven-year old Marcus, having just lost his mother (and never having known his father), is drawn to the tragedy surrounding the abandoned cottage. The last family who had stayed there disappeared during Hurricane Hazel over 50 years ago and not a trace of them was ever found. Everyone assumed they were washed out to sea, and no one seems to be able to recall their names. His eccentric great Aunt Charlotte, who he has come to live with on a small island in South Carolina, doesn’t know much about them either. She spends most of her time in her studio painting and drinking wine, so she is not a great resource for local legend, even though her depictions of the cottage are her best sellers.
However, that summer, Marcus sets out to connect with people who may be able to shed some light on the family. But, the more Marcus finds out, the more he wants to know, especially about the boy. The reason the mother and father were out during the storm was because they were searching for their son, who they assumed had left the house. If only the three had stayed indoors, they most likely would have survived. After all, the cottage was still standing, although barely, all these years later.
Marcus makes it a point to solve the mystery and decides to visit the cottage every morning. One day, while he is sitting on the broken-down porch, he realizes someone from inside the house is watching him. Is it the boy? The first time he felt the presence, fear overrode his curiosity and before he could bring himself to turn around and look, he took off running. However, the next time it happened, he was determined to see for himself who was watching him, and when he did, he couldn’t run away fast enough.
So, do you believe in ghosts? And if so, are they friendly or sinister beings? This is something Marcus tries to figure out while unraveling the mystery of Grief Cottage.
Gail Godwin is the bestselling author of over a dozen books, and lives in Woodstock, New York, in the USA. Grief Cottage is her latest fictional novel and was released in 2017. To find out more about her and her other works, please visit http://www.gailgodwin.com.

Written for Felixstowe & Woodbridge magazine (UK) -April 2018

Showcase Salutes Wells Fargo Advisors

 

MoneyMany of us know we should save for retirement, but how many of us understand how to do that? Or, what about getting our estates in order? Where should we start?

This is where financial advisers can help. They are the experts on investing, estates, insurance, and all things concerning managing your money. Making the most of what you have and making it last are their primary goals. Many people find planning for the future overwhelming, and having someone to guide you in the right direction is invaluable. Of course, you must make sure that you pick the right adviser, one who understands your needs and can secure the future you’re looking to have.

Kim Black, who works for Wells Fargo in Warren, NJ, is one of these experts. She is a financial planner who truly cares about her clients and realizes that every person has different ideas about how they want to live now and in the future. She will listen to your needs and desires and come up with a financial strategy that works for your life.

Kim was originally an executive in the fashion industry, and when her father passed away she helped her mother settle his estate. While working with a financial planner, she discovered that she had not only a knack for it, but also a real desire to help other people the way she was being helped. Realizing how difficult it was to have to focus on truly complex financial matters, while at the same time grieving, made her passionate about assisting others going through the same situation. Although she loves all aspects of her job, estate planning is one of her favorites.

Coming from an industry where people don’t work regular “banking” hours, she understands that clients may need to contact her outside of the usual 9:00 to 5:00 workday. She is often on the phone late into the evenings and respects her customers’ time constraints. Kim is also proud to be one of the few female financial planners in the country.

Wells Fargo, founded in March of 1852, has a long history in the financial sector, and besides financial planning, they also offer checking and savings accounts, mortgages, car loans, home equity lines of credit, and everything a person or business would need for all their financial needs. One of the reasons Kim decided to work for Wells Fargo was because of their philanthropy. They give back to the communities they are in and support national causes as well. They also believe in encouraging their employees to volunteer and have formed groups to foster this sense of giving. These groups support a variety of causes such as childhood literacy, free income tax assistance to the needy, building houses and more. In a news release on March 9, 2017, Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide, remarked, “We’re grateful to Wells Fargo and its team members for their continued commitment to making a positive impact on people’s lives.”

Whether you’re in your 20’s and just starting out with a limited income, or older and thinking about retirement, it’s never too early to start planning. With the right person on your side, financial matters do not have to be intimidating.

You can find Kim Black at the Warren, NJ, office located at 160 Mount Bethel Road. She can also be reached by telephone at 908-542-2934 and by email at kim.black@wellsfargoadvisors.com.

http://theshowcasemagazine.net/showcasemag/warren_edition/salutes/wellsfargo

 

 

Teaching Children History Through Stories That Captivate

history.jpg
Growing up, even though I was a good student, I never felt that I had a solid grasp of history. All those dates and events would merge together in my head and leave me overwhelmed and sometimes bored. However, history is such an important part of our world and understanding it is part of being an educated thinker.
This is where historical fiction can come in handy as a learning tool for children. Presenting factual information while embedding it in a fascinating story with relatable characters can make it real and memorable. Having a character that a child can feel invested in will make the lesson have more of an impact than simply learning about when something happened and why. For example, we all know about the horrors of September 11, but experiencing it through the words of a child who has lost his parent in this atrocity can make it more meaningful than any mere explanation of what terrorism is all about. As written by Keith Barton, a Professor of History at Indiana University, children “can be especially captivated by stories that give them the chance to imagine taking part in the events of the past, or to explore how people responded to dramatic circumstances such as those involving fear, discrimination, or tragedy.”
Of course, depending on the age and maturity level of the child, books have to be chosen with care. Some topics like the holocaust and slavery are difficult for even adults to digest, so one must know how much information a child can handle and in what form. When researching historical fiction for children, look for books that have won awards such as the Newbery Honor or the Caldecott Award. Also, your local librarian will be able to recommend appropriate books, and there are websites that can help guide you to the right ones as well.
My nephew, who is now 11 and fascinated by the Civil War, World War 2, the American Revolution, and many other past events, starting asking me for historical fiction years ago. Of course, as an avid reader myself, I am overjoyed that he loves to read, but I’m also glad that he is obtaining important information while doing it.
Some teachers also make use of historical fiction in their classrooms. As Tarry Lindquist, a social studies teacher and author from Washington, states, “It puts people back into history. Social studies texts are often devoted to coverage rather than depth. Too often, individuals — no matter how famous or important — are reduced to a few sentences.” During books discussions, teachers can also help separate and point out the “true” history from the fiction.
Of course, history textbooks have their place in schools, and should stand as a foundation for learning facts and figures. However, adding historical fiction to a child’s education can be a wonderful supplement and give the past a deeper meaning.

Written for About Families magazine – March 2018

In the Wilds of Suburbia

Squirrel
I’ve always been a huge animal lover. Growing up, we not only had the usual pets such as dogs and cats, but we also had rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and birds. Not so unconventional, right? But we also had mice, rats, chameleons, quails, and doves. Not all at the same time, of course, but still, enough that we had a pretty interesting menagerie in the house at all times.
My parents’ love of animals was passed on to us kids. My brother, sister, and I have rescued many animals over the years, including dogs and cats of various breeds and ages. And when we couldn’t take them ourselves, there were very few relatives who escaped our pleadings of “please give this poor kitty or doggie a home, please!” Living in a busy city, there were sadly more than a few homeless animals wandering around.
When I was almost 11, we moved to the suburbs, and I thought my days of rescuing needy animals had come to an end. Oh, how wrong I was. We lived right next to a mountain reservation, so let’s just say I had a host of new animals to care for. There were the deer who craved apples, squirrels looking for nuts to bury for the winter, and birds who chirped for their seed.
I now live in a different suburban town, and my backyard borders the woods. Besides still feeding the deer, squirrels and birds, I also have a “pet” chipmunk that comes right up to my back sliding glass door looking for his breakfast, lunch and dinner. He will even eat peanuts right out of my hand. Every once in a while, a fox will end up on our patio to check out what’s on the menu, and we’ve even had a young wild turkey hanging around for a time. My patio also seems to have become a haven for lost animals. There was the turtle who wandered away from the pond down the hill, and a neighbor’s cat that actually lived with us for a while until we found its owner.
This soft spot in my heart for animals has only grown bigger, especially for those in need. One day, walking home from the train station, I saw a bunch of baby squirrels lying on the ground. They were in very bad shape, and for one it was already too late. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I put them in my backpack and carried them home. By the time I got there, another one was already gone. Right away I called a wildlife rehabber, and she walked me through the process of caring for them. Within 24 hours, they went from barely being able to move to trying to escape out of their box. They were so young that their eyes weren’t even open yet. Even though caring for them was time consuming (they had to be fed every 3 to 4 hours), I so enjoyed it. After dropping them off at the wildlife rehab center a few days later, I felt like crying the entire way home. I knew I did the right thing by leaving them with people who had the expertise to care for them until they were ready to be released into the wild, but it was still hard. I did go visit them though.
As I’m sitting here writing this, a big bird party is taking place right outside my window. A large red-headed woodpecker is enjoying the suet, and the blue jays, cardinals, and nuthatches are busy cleaning up the seed falling from the bird feeder. Some squirrels should be by soon to clean up the rest, and we’ll see what else shows up. You never know around here!

Written for The Country Register published across the US and Canada

http://www.countryregisterofwisconsin.com/current_edition/CR-Mar-Apr.pdf

Get Lost in a Good Book

book 1

There are times when life can be stressful and we just want to get away from it all. But jobs, families and other responsibilities cannot be left behind. However, there is a quick, easy way to get lost in another world and it’s right at our fingertips. And the best part is, it doesn’t have to cost a dime.
What is this escape, you ask? Why, books, of course! On a cold winter’s night, if you want to find yourself on a beach in Nantucket, pick up a book by Elin Hilderbrand. Or, would a murder mystery in front of a roaring fire pique your interest? Then delve into a Mary Higgins Clark novel.
One of my favorite pastimes is wandering the aisles of my local library. Since I’m such an avid reader, I depend on this free institution for much of my reading material, lest I go broke or fall into serious debt. I have always read a lot, but now that I take the train to work, I not only read a book at home every night before bed, I also read a different book on my commute to and from work. Yes, I have two different books going at the same time. Confusing, some may think. For me, not at all. I get so into the characters and plots that I have no problem keeping track of them all, just like people do with various television programs. While many of my friends are excited about a new season of the latest prime time shows, I’m anxiously awaiting my favorite authors’ new books. I would rather watch the story unfold in my mind than on a television screen.
I especially like continuing series, such as Patricia Cornwell’s saga about a medical examiner who helps the FBI and local police solve crimes, or Janet Evanovich’s tales involving a hapless female bounty hunter who tries and oftentimes fails to catch the fugitives she’s after. I have been reading certain series for years and have grown somewhat attached to my favorite characters.
Although fiction is my favorite genre, I am a fan of non-fiction as well. I am especially drawn to books that explore people’s strength and perseverance and show how they overcome many obstacles in their lives, such as The Last Sermon by Randy Pausch, or Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness by Richard M. Cohen. These kinds of true stories broaden my perspective and make the problems in my life seem somewhat trivial.
Whatever your interests are, there are books that will engage your mind and nourish your soul. If your budget is limited, libraries are wonderful resources, as are used book stores and various discounted websites. Or, if you choose to get a little fancier, buy yourself an e-reader and download to your heart’s content.
So, the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, get yourself a good book, curl up with a steamy mug of hot chocolate, and go on an adventure. When you return, you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle a new day.

Written for The Country Register of the US and Canada

The Memory Box

When I was a little girl, my grandmother kept a big box of pictures in her sewing room. Being the curious child that I was, I loved looking through it and seeing family and friends and how they had changed over the years. However, it was the people I didn’t know and had never met who intrigued me the most.

Fortunately for me, Grandma Helen never minded when I interrupted her sewing (or crocheting, knitting, baking, or cooking – yup, she could do it all) to ask her who those people were. Some of the pictures were really old, and although the details weren’t very clear, I remember loving them the most. I especially liked the ones with the fancy scalloped borders around them. Why did they ever stop doing that? Anyway, my grandmother would sit down with me and patiently explain who everyone was and where and what they were doing. I got to know relatives whom I had never met, like my great grandmother who died when my grandma was only thirteen, along with others I had only heard about. These times we spent together were not only special for me, but I believe for Grandma Helen as well. She got to relive her special memories as she was passing them on to me and my siblings. These photos were a gateway into the past, and reminded us how everyday events such as birthdays, weddings and baptisms helped form our family’s history. I also loved that these pictures were all jumbled together in a big box, rather than arranged neatly and orderly in photo albums. That’s nice too, of course, but for a kid who liked to explore, being able to dig down into the very bottom to find one that I hadn’t seen before made it much more fun.

Today, due to the proliferation of online photo albums, there seem to be fewer and fewer printed pictures to keep in a box or put into an album. Sure, online digital pictures are great. The clarity cannot be beat, plus you can pick and choose which ones to keep. Still, there’s something about those old black and white pictures in your hand that make you feel as if you’re holding pieces of the past.

My mother and uncle now have these pictures, and just recently my mom and I sat in her bedroom going through them. This time my mother got to relive her own special memories with me. Although, when some of them were taken, my mother was not even born yet. But I could see when she looked at her ancestors how special they were to her, even though she never got to meet them all. This, in turn, made them special to me.

Why not make your kids or grandchildren a picture box so they too can hold a tangible part of your family’s history? Be sure to pass on stories about the people and places to make them come alive in their hearts and minds. You could even write a little story on the back of each one. I know I will never forget the times spent looking through that old box of memories.

Published in The Country Register across the United States and Canada
http://www.countryregisteronline.com/currentissueNJDE.html