Create a Home Office That Works for You

By Sue Baldani

When many of us had to start working from home after COVID hit, we made do with whatever space and equipment we had available in our homes. We figured it was a temporary situation and so if it didn’t have enough light, or if we didn’t have a desk, or it just wasn’t very conducive to productivity, it wouldn’t last long anyway.

Now, two years later, some of us are still in that same unmanageable space, maybe permanently if we either started a new remote job or our bosses decided to close the office and allow us to continue working from home. So, isn’t it beyond time that we turn our “temporary office” spaces into professional and functional ones where we can comfortably spend eight and sometimes more hours a day?

If you’re squeezed into a spare bedroom, and find that extra bed that’s taking up so much real estate is almost never used, get rid of it. Instead, use that space for a good-sized desk, some file cabinets, a book case and/or a credenza on which to place your printer and other office equipment. Take advantage of the wall space and hang shelves for an even more organized layout.

If you can’t afford all new furniture, don’t worry. Go to a resale or thrift shop, search online used furniture sites, or venture out to garage sales. You can often find high-quality office items at great bargains and sometimes even for free!

Good lighting is also an important component of any functional office. Pick up a great desk lamp or hang a light directly over your desk so you’re not constantly squinting at your paperwork. Think of all the other things you used to have in your outside office that made your workflow more efficient, and bring those items into your home office.

If you don’t have a whole room to spare, that’s fine too. Pick a corner or choose one side to dedicate as your office space. Then, incorporate as much of the above recommendations as you can. I know someone who put a desk in her walk-in closet. It has a door, it’s quiet, and can be cozy if set up right.

Creating the right work space will let your productivity and creativity soar. You’ll also have a place that you look forward to going to every day. A positive attitude is the first step to having a great work day.

Love, Live, and Give

How two teens are making a significant impact both locally and worldwide

By Sue Baldani

While most teens were trying to stay busy during the lockdown by playing video games and interacting with others on social media, friends Dillon Elam and Connor Suscha wanted to do more. In July of 2020, they founded Tone 3.

“Tone 3 is a social enterprise focused on connecting as many people as possible to the organizations that make our area as welcoming and compassionate as it is,” says Dillon. “We do this by selling simple, stylish clothing with varying designs that allude to these essential organizations.”

Two-thirds of its profits are used to support six deserving mostly local nonprofits, while one-third goes into brand expansion. “Tone 3 is organized around three ideas that we believe serve as the fundamental motivations behind the majority of charitable acts in the community,” adds Connor. “Hence, all of the organizations we support are either focused on the people we love, this earth we live on, or the ways we can give back to people in need. Put simply –  Love, Live, and Give.”

Only 17 years old at the time, they say they knew they lacked both the platform and the expertise to intervene directly in the community and facilitate a positive improvement by themselves. “As a result, we began searching for a way to provide support for the organizations we knew already have considerable impacts, while still having a hand in bettering the community we appreciate so greatly,” says Dillon. “Our search concluded after we settled on selling nonprofit-inspired merchandise, and since then we’ve been sharpening our skills in pursuance of one simple goal – to recognize the most impactful members of our community by giving help to those who need it most.”

They began by selling T-shirts, and their goal was to produce them with a true purpose and also ensure they were comfortable, stylish and would appeal to people of all ages. They also wanted to be responsible stewards of the environment. “We started out with all of our shirts being heavyweight organic cotton, but now we have some made out of recycled materials as well,” says Connor. In addition to T-shirts, Tone 3 has expanded its offering to include pants, fleeces and accessories. And, the entire line is eco-friendly and made in a sustainable way with virtually zero waste.

The logos are on the smaller side, since they don’t want them to overtake the entire items. But, each one is big enough so people will notice it and hopefully ask the wearer about it.

In the beginning, the two friends handled everything themselves – from marketing and buying to ironing on logos (which resulted in a lot of burned fingers as well as T-shirts) and shipping. Now, most of the logos are embroidered by a local company, but they still handle every other aspect of the organization, while also attending college.

When it came time to decide on the organizations to support and partner with, they based their decisions on their virtues of Love, Live, and Give. “For our Love pillar, we chose the Dragonfly Foundation, an organization that aims to support the families of pediatric cancer patients,” says Connor. “We also chose a local company called My Bag My Story. Its founder creates homemade sewn backpacks, duffel bags, and things of that nature, and sells them online. Then, for each one that’s sold, she uses the proceeds to make an identical bag to give to a child in the foster care system. As a foster care mother, she often saw children piling all their belongings into black trash bags and felt it was demeaning.”

Under the pillar Give, they support Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, and the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, which assists the homeless. For its Live pillar, they give to the Coral Restoration Foundation and The Audubon Society.

“To know that we have the capacity to create this from one little idea and watch it grow into an organization that’s had the ability to influence the lives of so many people in our area in a positive way, is transformative and humbling,” says Connor.

Adds Dillon, “From something that went from building T-shirts on my bedroom floor to now having boxes full of clothing to ship out is just amazing.”

They would love for more people to wear their clothing and promote their mission. “We are a bridge for these nonprofits, and want to make people aware of their needs,” says Dillon.

To find out more and shop for merchandise, go to https://www.tone3nashville.com/.

A Survivor Speaks Out

Eradicating trafficking both here and across the world

By Sue Baldani

Andi Buerger, JD, founder of Voices Against Trafficking in January 2020, has a passion for helping those who have been trafficked. She can well understand their devastating ordeals since she experienced them herself.

“My voice as a survivor is important and has some influence, but what if we had more voices?” she says. “That’s the idea behind Voices Against Trafficking.”

While Voices is a national and international presence, it’s heavily vested in a regional presence here in Central Oregon. “We’re not political or religious,” says Andi. “We’re a human rights organization focused on getting the best information, the best ideas, and the best strategies out there to combatting trafficking in our neighborhoods.”

Voices produces and creates free international antitrafficking forums every quarter, which can be seen on Facebook and YouTube. “We talk about ways to divert predators, whether it’s by prevention, education, or awareness,” she says.

Andi also just published a book, Voices Against Trafficking – The Strength of Many Voices Speaking As One. “It’s another tool for awareness, prevention, and education and to inspire action.”

The nonprofit has a campaign going on right now. It’s looking for donations to get this book to every member of Congress, every governor and every attorney general.

Another way to help is to visit its website and click on “Add My Voice.” “Anybody anywhere in the world can add their voice to our roster for free,” says Andi. “We want to get a million names by the end of summer 2023. We can then take those names and continue to influence legislation against trafficking.”

An additional way people can support Voices is by joining one of its memberships, which helps keep its programs going, which is critical. “One of the other reasons I speak and do interviews is because I want people to know there’s hope,” she says. “If someone like me can make it, then really anyone can.”

To find out more, go to voicesagainsttrafficking.com, and if you need help for yourself or others, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to BeFree (233733).

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.

A Special Sanctuary

Acres and acres to explore and thrive

By Sue Baldani

Elephants are magnificent, intelligent creatures that are all too often taken from their natural habitats to be exploited in carnivals and circuses. Due to their unique needs, the care they receive isn’t always up to par.

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, these animals have a place to live out their lives in beautiful, natural habitats where all their needs are met. The sanctuary currently houses nine elephants on its 3,060 acres and has taken in a total of 28 elephants since it opened in 1995.

“Our elephants come to us from all over North America,” says Education Manager, Laura Roddy. “The majority of them were circus elephants, while some were confiscated by the government for violations against the Animal Welfare Act. Others were zoo elephants or privately-owned elephants.”

At the sanctuary, elephants receive individualized care for life. “Every elephant comes with a different history and different needs,” she says. “Shirley came to the sanctuary at the age of 51 after 20 years as a lone elephant in a zoo in Louisiana. Before that, her leg was injured in a circus. We had to learn how to work with her different ability. When Shirley passed away in 2021, she was 72 years old and the second oldest elephant in North America at that time.” On average, elephants live between 45 and 50 years.

Their current elephants range in age from 37 to 60: Billie just celebrated her 60th birthday; Sissy has been at the sanctuary the longest, arriving in January of 2000; and their most recent occupant, Nosey, came to them in 2017.

Historically, the Asian elephants and African elephants were always kept separate, but they have been doing introductions between an African and Asian elephant recently through a fence line. “They are completely different species from one another,” says Laura. “One of my favorite fun facts to tell students is that Asian elephants are actually more closely related to woolly mammoths than they are to African elephants. They also speak somewhat different languages.”

The sanctuary has a full-time veterinarian and veterinarian technician, one part-time veterinarian, plus on-site caregivers. They ensure all the elephants get plenty to eat and also have enjoyable enrichment activities, which helps keep them both mentally and physically stimulated. Sometimes it’s a rope toy that they hide snacks in and hang up.

Elephants eat between 200 and 300 pounds of food every day. In the summertime they’re out there eating as much vegetation as they want, but the sanctuary does supplement their diet with a specialized feed. They also love fruits and vegetables.

Overall, the Elephant Sanctuary has a two-part mission. “The first is to provide captive elephants with a safe haven dedicated to their wellbeing, and the second is educating the public on the complex needs of elephants and the crises facing elephants in the world,” she says. “We’re trying to talk about living in a sustainable place where both elephants and humans alike can thrive.”

A majority of their educational mission is done through distance learning. “We talk virtually to different schools all over the country and world on a daily basis,” says Laura. “Outreach is a way to hopefully change things in the future.”

Visitors are not allowed to see the elephants in person. “We are a true sanctuary, which means we are closed to the public,” she says. “Our elephants have worked all of their lives. They’ve been in circuses or show business or on exhibition in some way, shape or form, so we want to give them the retirement they’ve earned and not have to worry about guests. They’re just free to be elephants and live their lives.”

People can watch them on live-streaming EleCams, which are available 24/7. “We try to make sure there’s a view of an elephant, but because we have over 3,000 acres, sometimes there are no elephants on screen,” says Laura. “But, we think that’s okay because that means they’re out exploring and being elephants.”

People can also visit the Elephant Discovery Center at 27 East Main Street in Hohenwald. Here, visitors can learn about elephants and how the elephants are cared for at the sanctuary without actually being on site.

The sanctuary appreciates any and all donations in order to continue helping these exploited elephants live out their lives in peace and tranquility where they have the freedom to roam. “We are a nonprofit, so donations are always beneficial,” she says. “I really love the idea of being able to ‘adopt’ an elephant and feel like you’re attached to that elephant. It’s a wonderful way to create that symbolic connection between people and animals.”

Volunteers are also needed at its downtown Elephant Discovery Center. Even though people cannot work directly with the elephants, says Laura, they’re still helping and benefiting those elephants in some way. Another way to assist is by spreading the word about the crises facing elephants, such as poaching and declining habitats, and talking about ways to help.

To find out more, go to https://www.elephants.com/ or follow the Elephant Sanctuary on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Billie
Nosey
Sissy

Rustic Luxury

All-inclusive destination offers something for everyone

By Sue Baldani

Nestled in the gorgeous valley between the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains in Western Montana lies a sanctuary for those looking to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate their bodies and minds. Triple Creek Ranch welcomes about 10,000 guests per year from all over the United States and around the world.

 “We’re all here for the hospitality and the enjoyment of sharing what we love and what we’re passionate about with our guests,” says General Manager, Kristen Snavely.

The 25 one, two and three bedroom luxurious, sun-infused cabins have every amenity guests may crave such as master suites with en suite bathrooms featuring steam showers and back decks with hot tubs. In warmer weather, each comes with its own golf cart so guests can freely explore the expansive property.

“Every cabin is also filled with original paintings from the owners’ private collection,” she says. This Western art, which is rotated out on a regular basis, can be found in every building on the ranch.

Triple Creek offers a wide array of activities all year round including horseback riding, bike riding, fly-fishing, skiing and dog sledding. “We also offer a logging camp experience, where you and a partner can try your hand at using a crosscut, a two-man saw,” says Kristen. The cut wood is then turned into a trivet, coaster or some other item that guests get to brand with the Triple Creek Ranch name and bring home as a souvenir.

Other good, clean fun includes archery, hatchet tossing and fire building. “It’s just sticks and friction, and has been such a huge hit over the last couple of years,” she says. When someone does manage to start a fire, they get a t-shirt and their picture taken in front of the Wall of Flame. In the summer, take part in a cattle drive – what an unforgettable experience!

Another very unique offering is sapphire panning. “Sapphire Mountains are so named because they actually have sapphires,” she says. “We teach guests the art of sifting for sapphires, and some send them off to be fired and cut and made into beautiful jewelry.”

Guests can also go on a fun excursion to Triple Creek’s sister ranch five miles down the road. CB Ranch is an actual working ranch on 26,000 acres and is home to more than 150 bison and 150 cows. There’s also some fascinating wildlife. And here’s a fun fact: The popular television show Yellowstone is filmed right down the road!

For those who prefer to spend more time indoors, or who just need some pampering, the Mountain Wellness spa offers an incredible 60-minute massage that can be done in the spa itself or in the privacy of a cabin. It also offers full body wraps, facials and everything else one could expect from a luxury spa.

Of course, no vacation is complete without delicious meals and beverages. “Our executive chef has been here over 15 years and is so passionate about what he does,” says Kristen. “With free rein to be creative, there’s no repetition in our menus.” To go along with those meals, there are award-winning wines and two sommeliers to help choose the perfect accompaniment to any entrée.

Reserve the Chef’s Table and get a behind the scenes look into the kitchen, while exploring  a variety of flavors throughout the five-course menu. Each course is matched with an  award-winning wine, and a luscious dessert concludes this gourmet extravaganza.

Anyone over age 16 is welcome, and an average stay is between four to five nights; meals, drinks and most activities are included. Weekend events this spring and summer include a Stave jigsaw puzzle weekend, artist workshop weekends and local vintner experiences.

“Guests can come and do as much or as little as they want, so even though we have all of these amazing things to offer, this is also a great place to just decompress,” she says. “You can come and hang out in a cabin, and we’ll bring you wine and all your meals and you can sit out in the hot tub on the back deck and look at the stars. Sometimes the beauty is just enjoying the quiet.”

To find out more or to book a stay, go to https://www.triplecreekranch.com/.

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.

Give Blood, Give Life

Critical shortages are happening right now

By Sue Baldani

Donating blood is one of the easiest ways to help others survive traumas, have access to the operations they need, and save lives when their own bodies cannot produce enough to sustain them. It’s simply a matter of making an appointment, visiting a blood bank or blood drive, and receiving a quick and tiny prick in the arm. Then, just lay back and relax.

Now, it’s more important than ever to give. According to the Red Cross, there always seems to be a blood shortage, not just here but everywhere, but it’s been more extreme now than in the past. This is partly due to COVID eliminating many potential donors, as well as staffing shortages to host the drives. Yet, the need for blood remains constant.

“I’ve never seen a shortage like this,” says Dr. Lynn Samuel, pathologist and Fauquier Health Wound Healing Center medical director. “It’s been so severe and there was a point where our usual inventory was significantly diminished.”

Plasma and platelets are also needed. “I know the platelets we’ve been getting have been very short dated, so we get them in and they sometimes can expire that day,” says laboratory administrative director at Fauquier Health, Kelly Yoder. “Samuel Mukasa, a clinical blood bank specialist, told me that in his 30 years of blood banking experience, this is the lowest point he’s ever seen.” This has also led to a limit on elective surgeries.

Donations are used for a multitude of reasons in addition to operations and injuries. “A patient may have a chronic anemia problem, or another may need platelets because his own body isn’t able to make them or has been consuming them at a rapid rate.”

Dave Russell is one of these patients, and he has been severely affected by the shortage of blood. “He has multiple myeloma, cancer of the blood marrow,” says his wife, Angie. “In the month of December alone, Dave received eight units of blood, and during this last week in the hospital [in March], he has had at least that, plus another eight or so units of platelets.”

She says there have been times when there just wasn’t any blood available to give him, which has had significant negative impacts on his health. “And it’s not just Dave – how many other people need blood that they just can’t have?” says Angie. “I don’t think people realize that there is a blood shortage. They’re thinking, ‘Well we’re not in a war,’ or ‘No big catastrophes have happened.’ That’s when people think it’s the time to give.”

She encourages people to donate now and donate as often as they can, because  blood is needed all the time. “It’s scary to hear ‘Sorry, Mr. Russell, but we’re not able to do your transfusion because we don’t have any blood,’” she says. “He needs blood to sustain his body and platelets to prevent bleeding.”

“Since everyone can accept O negative blood, which is the universal donor type, that’s our go-to for an emergency, and that was the blood type that was particularly short during this recent crisis,” says Dr. Samuel.

The Red Cross is quick and efficient and tries to get donors in and out as fast as possible, and Rapid Pass helps the process go ever faster. “I used it the last time I donated and it saved a lot of time,” says Yoder. People aged 16 and up, who are in good health and weigh at least 110 pounds, can donate blood every 56 days, or up to 6 times a year. Platelets can be donated every 7 days, or up to 24 times per year.

Appointments are required and people can visit redcrossblood.org and follow these steps:

  • Type in your zip code in the top right corner to find a drive near you and make your appointment to donate. 
    • Under the ‘Donate Blood’ tab, find ‘Eligibility Requirements’ to learn if you are eligible. Some of these have changed over the years so if you have not been able to donate before for any reason, you are encouraged to check again and see if you are now eligible.
    • Under the ‘Donate Blood’ tab, find “What to Do Before, During, and After Your Donation” to ensure you are prepared for your appointment and have a lower risk of deferral. 

So, take the time to schedule an appointment and donate. You’ll be helping patients like Dave and many others, and you never know when you or one of your family members will also benefit from this selfless act.

Written for Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.

Picture Perfect Designs

Wallpaper that wows!

By Sue Baldani

Painted walls are fine, but why not liven them up with prints that will turn them into works of art? Robert Malmberg can help you do just that.

A professional photographer for 17 years, Robert started supplying limited-edition prints to interior designers in 2012. “I was getting requests from more and more interior designers because photographs are very versatile,” he says.

His studio in Brooklyn, NY, was thriving. In addition to working with designers, he was doing commercial work and had a video production studio. Then COVID hit, and he had to close his doors. “I was still paying rent, and after six months, I asked myself, ‘What’s another thing I could offer to the design trade specifically?’ And I thought, ‘Well, what about wallpaper?’”

This concept had already been in the back of his mind for a couple of years, but he never had the time to pursue it. Now, he had plenty of it. “With no end in sight, I decided to take the year and really develop a wallpaper collection,” says Robert. The wallpaper line launched in March 2021 and the response has been amazing.

“Every month I’m getting three or four new orders from designers that are well known and established in the industry.” His wallpaper has also been featured in Architectural Digest, Forbes, and The Washington Post.

Very meticulous about quality and printmaking, he works only with the highest-quality paper in which to render his photographs. “Using photography as a medium for the design process really makes it one of a kind,” he says. “Each one is a unique collage with different subject matters woven together to make these patterns. It’s a mash-up of still life, landscape and mixed media, and the repeats are a little bit larger than most wallpaper, so they’re all completely different.”

Instead of having blank walls, Robert says that people are seeking something bolder and fun. “We’re in a different culture now and we’re spending way more time at home. We don’t want to just be around a bunch of beige walls all day. My wallpaper adds so much interest and detail and really finishes a room.”

One of his most popular prints include his Rorschach Butterflies. “You’re getting a sense of flight, and I’ve done a couple master bedrooms where it’s on the ceiling and it just looks so cool,” he says.

Another popular and fun print is Sunken Garden. “That was shot in St. Petersburg, FL, and is comprised of probably 90 or so still-life images of flowers and insects,” says Robert. “But, there are hidden things in there, so if you look closely, you’ll see a flamingo, mating butterflies and a lizard.”

He’s also currently working on an African mask wallpaper print. “These are handcrafted masks that were on loan from a museum,” he says. “I photographed about 50 of them and those will be made into a pattern. I’m really excited about it.”

And Robert is not stopping at wallpaper. “I’m expanding into textiles this year, so designs that you see on my site can also be made into fabric.”

To see the entire collection of Malmberg Wallpaper, go to RobertMalmberg.com/Wallpaper.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Let the Music Play

A foundation built on love and dedication

By Sue Baldani

When 21-year-old Dustin Jack Wells was killed in a car accident in 2005, the loss of this gregarious and loving personality shattered his entire family. What they soon came to realize was how much his loss was felt by others as well, and how many people would step up to honor Dustin’s memory.

The Dustin J. Wells Foundation was founded in 2008, and since then it has raised, through its annualGift of Music benefit concerts, more than a million dollars to help many amazing nonprofits with their missions.

Dustin was a music business major at Belmont University and a musician. “It was very clear when we were looking for ways to keep his memory alive, we were looking for works he would have supported,” says his father, Dr. Dennis Wells, a well-known cosmetic dentist with the Nashville Center for Aesthetic Dentistry. “The WO Smith Community Music School was an easy decision for us and it was a nice match up for Dustin’s interest and what he was about.” The school helps to share the gift of music with underprivileged children in the community.

The other main beneficiary is The Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation, which focuses on finding a cure for cancer. “We’ve been blessed to know Scott and Tracy Hamilton for many years and we’ve just always admired Scott’s unbelievable fortitude to rise up and really try to individually move the meter on cancer research,” he says. “We know that Dustin would have really been proud to help advance that work.”

Proceeds from the Dustin J. Wells Foundation also support many other charities and organizations such as Make-A-Wish, Feed Middle Tennessee, and Hy-Lake Christian Camp.

Being able to help others in their son’s name has been very healing, and Dr. Wells and his wife Doris credit many people with being instrumental in helping them find this path to healing. “One is my office manager of 25 years, Deb Ham,” he says. “She almost single handedly gets all the organization done and makes it all happen.

“Another person who is very integral to all this is my brother Kent Wells, who has always been very generous in getting the bands together year after year. He’s given so much to make sure everything works out well.” Kent’s son Derek, a well-known studio guitar player who has played on multiple number one records, also became involved along the way. He helped put bands together and asked various artists to join in on the cause to celebrate his cousin’s legacy.

In addition to being Dr. Wells’ brother, Kent is Dolly Parton’s long-time producer and musical director; Dolly is also one of Dr. Wells’ patients. The famous and fun country singer has enthusiastically taken part in the benefit concerts many times over.

“She is simply amazing,” says Dr. Wells. “It’s difficult to articulate how good she has been to our family and how caring she was about the loss of our son. She had actually met Dustin and knew him. It’s been awesome to have her on our team.”

Dolly has also been an inspiration for other artists to get involved. “When she comes along, everybody wants to come along,” he says. “She is so humongous in the entertainment world and so high profile that a lot of other artists will jump at the chance to be on the same stage as her or to meet her and be a part of the show.

“She is just a wonderful friend and wonderful person and the way she has reached out and helped us is just a small morsel of the good she does on this planet. What you see of her in the media is pretty much the person she is. She is delightfully brilliant, giving and loving. She has never forgotten where she came from.”

The Gift of Music benefit concerts have really developed momentum over the years, and then COVID hit. “We were very blessed to have so many people help us and create the Gift of Music brand,” says Dr. Wells. “Now, we’re concerned about how we’ll keep going, but also excited to get back and continue with it. We may choose to hold it in smaller venues or in private homes and do it on more intimate and exclusive scales while hopefully raising the same level of resources.”

He says they want to create an experience that’s unique and are looking at next February to introduce this new adaptation. No matter what, he, Doris and the rest of the family are dedicated to making sure that they continue to honor Dustin’s legacy through this wonderful foundation.

“When Dustin passed away, it was obviously so devastating that we didn’t know what to do,” says Dr. Wells. “This foundation has been about healing for our family. When you face that level of overwhelming grief you think there’s no way out. But when you start recognizing and looking up and realizing that his presence is still alive and well in so many ways, and he’s impacting the world even though he’s gone, all of that is a source of healing.”

To find more about the Dustin J. Wells Foundation, go to www.dustinwellsgiftofmusic.com.

[Side bar] Other artists who have generously donated their time and talent to the Gift of Music benefit concerts over the years:

Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Brookes & Dunn, Ronnie Milsap, Phil Vassar and so many more mega-famous musicians.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in TN.

Making Art – Winning Hearts

Enjoying the fruits of his labor

By Sue Baldani

Art is truly subjective. Some people will love your work, and some won’t. For international top-selling artist Michael Godard, that’s okay.

“Being an artist, or being any type of creator, you have people who don’t understand what you’re doing or don’t like what you’re doing, and that might be a good sign that you’re really onto something,” he says. “I think it was Picasso who said, ‘If you’re not getting criticism, you’re playing it way too safe.’ When you’re passionate, genuine, transparent and honest about what you’re doing, you have to stick to that as your mantra because that’s at your very core.”

His method is working, and working well. Michael’s paintings are now selling for half a million dollars each and rising all the time. He’s on television shows like Bar Rescue, Mind Freak and Counting Cars, and good friends with Ozzy Osbourne and many other well-known people.

“When I started to create different types of art, I was only thinking about how I was going to paint, draw, and doodle all day and still be able to pay my rent,” he says. “That was my only goal.”

He’s obviously well exceeded that goal. Michael might be best known for his delightful and fun paintings depicting olives, grapes and strawberries. “When I started painting my silly little olives, it was more about me and expressing my life and my perspective. With my art, I’m just a storyteller.”

One of his favorite paintings is called “Love My Heals.” “When LeeAnn [his wife] and I were dating, I said I wanted to paint something fun, and was looking to paint a sexy pair of shoes.” He found the perfect pair – black and glossy with solid red bottoms. He told her he was going to buy her a pair. “She said, ‘You’re going to buy me Christian Louboutin’s?!’ And I thought, uh oh, what the hell is a Christian Louboutin?

“Wow, were they expensive! So in the painting, my wife is a strawberry hugging the heel and there are hearts emanating up above her, and there’s me as an olive standing next to her pulling out my pockets because I’m broke. Once I explain these depictions to fans, they start looking for those stories, and then they find one that resonates with their life.”

Not long ago, he also became the art curator for Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, where he resides. “I gathered 100 or so artists from the community and their works are now hanging inside the new $2 million stadium,” he says. “It’s the talk of the NFL –  I call it the Las Vegas Louvre.”

His path to success hasn’t always been easy. He grew up poor, had many highs and lows in his various careers, but the darkest time in his life was in 2006, when he lost his 16-year-old daughter Paige to brain cancer. What helped him get through it was turning his grief into philanthropy. He started the Paige Godard Foundation and works closely with St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Make a Wish, and other cancer organizations.

“At 3:00 in the morning, when I’m thinking about the things I’ve done and things that I still want to do, it’s what I’ve done as a human being to make the world a better place that really matters, not selling a painting for a million dollars. I’ve done a lot of philanthropy and those are the things I’m going to remember when I’m 92 and on my deathbed.”

Michael says he’s just an ordinary guy who happens to draw and paint. “I might have just sold a painting for some astronomical amount the day before, but when I get home, my wife still wants me to pick up my dirty socks.”

He credits LeeAnn for not only keeping him grounded, but also for keeping him on schedule. “After I met her, I started showing up to art shows on time. The first time I arrived at the scheduled time, no one was there. I thought my career was over! But my fans were used to me arriving late, so in they came about an hour later.”

The things he says make him happy right now are his wife, his dog, date nights, becoming a grandfather, and spending time with his children. “At the end of the day, I’m just doing my doodles and trying to stay out of trouble with my wife.”

In New Jersey, his art can be seen at the Wentworth Gallery in Short Hills. “Shows at the Wentworth are some of the most fun and exciting ones we do,” says Michael.

Follow Michael on Twitter @officialgodard, on Facebook at officialgodard and on Instagram @Godardscrazylife.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in NJ.

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Annual Pancake Breakfast is Back!

The much anticipated Scotch Plains Rescue Squad’s 12th annual Pancake Breakfast will take place on Sunday, April 3, 2022, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at its building located at 1916 Bartle Avenue. This event is hosted by the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Auxiliary, which raises funds for the all-volunteer squad. 

All-you-can-eat pancakes, coffee and sausages will be offered for just a $5.00 per person entry fee, (children 5 and under eat free). There will also be a raffle for baskets, which are filled with gifts and goodies donated by the community and area businesses.

It’s clear by the number of people who attend that it’s something the community looks forward to every year. So, come out with your family and friends and enjoy a hearty, delicious breakfast along with good conversation.  It’s a nice way to spend a Sunday morning. And for those with mobility issues, downstairs dining will be available.

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Auxiliary meets once a month, and its “grass roots” function is to assist the Squad in many capacities – from holding fundraisers and providing meals during crises to performing outreach to squad and fellow auxiliary members. Members also attend town functions, such as fairs, concerts and holiday events, in order to connect with the community and promote Squad interest.

If anyone is interested in becoming a member of the Auxiliary, stop by the Squad building one evening to pick up an application, or go to https://www.scotchplainsrescuesquad.com/the-auxiliary/.

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