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.

A Song of Hope

Suicide education, prevention and support

By Sue Baldani

Kevin Urso was a caring, intelligent and sensitive young man who loved people and had a special connection with animals. He found joy in making others feel special and making them laugh. Unfortunately, Kevin also suffered from a deep depression that eventually caused him to take his life at the age of 41.

“We knew that Kevin dealt with some depression,” says his mother, Gail Urso. “He had been diagnosed later in life with depression, but looking back, I think Kevin probably dealt with depression his whole life, but we never had that diagnosis. We had taken him to see some counselors when he was young, but no one ever suggested that he suffered from depression.”

After a visit to Florida to see their son in January of 2013, she and her husband John thought that he was doing better than ever. He was happy, and they had a great time together. “When Kevin died in March, we were devastated beyond belief, but also shocked, because we had not thought that suicide was a possibility.”

They found a note he had written in November or December in which he clearly decided to end his life, so they found out afterwards his happiness was due to relief. “If someone has seemed sad and depressed and very down, and all of sudden they’re very upbeat and seem all better, or if they start giving away their favorite things, those are signs you have to pay attention to,” she says. “But you wouldn’t know that if someone didn’t tell you.” There were other signs as well, such as a dramatic weight loss, that was blamed on gluten intolerance.

She adds, “One important thing to know is that people who are dealing with suicidal ideation keep it to themselves. They don’t want to be a burden to other people, which is something we learned early on from Dr. Thomas Joiner, an expert in suicidology. Burdensomeness is one of the common denominators among people who take their lives or attempt suicide. Most of us who have lost someone to suicide just want to say, ‘Why didn’t you tell us that you were hurting this badly?’, but they didn’t want us to suffer too.”

Another things that’s critical, she explains, is that it’s not only okay, but a good idea, to ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide. “For years, people thought by asking they would put ideas in the person’s head, but that’s absolutely incorrect. Chances are if you’re concerned enough about the person to have that go through your mind, that person has already thought about it. Instead, to ask is very freeing for them because they can talk about it instead of keeping it a secret. It can open a conversation and that person can then be helped.

“We didn’t know that suicide was a possibility for our son, and we knew that there must be a lot of other people like us. We’re well-educated and informed people, and we didn’t know. Out of our grief, we decided that one thing we could do was maybe help prevent other suicides.”

She and John founded Kevin’s Song in 2013, which obtained its 501(c)(3) status in 2014. The name was chosen because Kevin loved music and had a great voice.

“We began to learn about the different organizations that exist to deal with suicide, such as the American Association of Suicidology, which has been around for over 50 years. We had never heard of it and it’s a national organization. And there were other local organizations as well.”

One of Kevin’s Song’s goals is to educate others about suicide. The second is to bring together all of these organizations that are working on suicide prevention. The third is to support other people who have lost someone to suicide.

After forming a board of directors, they began to raise money to hold annual conferences which would bring people together to share information and educate the public. This past January 27, 28, and 29, they held their 6th annual conference. As in 2021, this one was virtual.  

“Another goal was to have a website that would be a resource for people, and to make a film, so over the next couple of years, we accomplished those goals as well,” says Gail. “We’ve been fortunate to have been introduced to Keith Famie, a well-known producer and filmmaker who was on Survivor and was also a famous chef. About 15 years ago, he decided to devote his time and talent to film making and has done a whole series of documentaries on very important causes. He did a film called ‘Death is Not the Answer,’ available through our website, and it was the first of many films that Kevin’s Song has produced.”

Gail is thankful for the tremendous support from the community. The Children’s Foundation, the Dolores and Paul Lavins Foundation, and the Joseph J. Lawrencelle Memorial Foundation are just a few of the organizations that have made the conferences possible. “We try to get as many sponsors as possible so we can keep the ticket prices as low as possible,” she says. “We just recently received a $50,000 grant from the Flinn Foundation, so we know there is clearly a need for what we started back in 2013 and 2014.”

Even though they have many wonderful sponsors, they are always looking for more. While the conference for 2022 has already taken place, they need support for future conferences.

Main attendees, she says, are mental health professionals, educators, medical practitioners, clergy, first responders and many people who have lost someone to suicide. In 2021, over 400 people attended.

“We offer support for people who have lost someone to suicide,” says Gail. “A lot of people who attend our conferences have lost someone and they want to learn more about it and to interact with others who have experienced the same loss. It’s a healing process.”

Detroit Public Television, she adds, has brought Kevin’s Song a lot of exposure and is now producing the conferences. “Also, the media attention we have received from various local channels and radio has all been great at drawing attention to the problem. We have reached a lot of mental health professionals and educators around not only Metro Detroit, but from out of state too, which we feel is very important.”

Everyone who registers for the conference will also have access to a link that will take them to any part of the conference they want to visit. There is also an effort underway to add highlights of past conferences to the website as well.

“We have connected organizations and experts in a way that has been very meaningful,” she says. “I have watched relationships develop around the country that we know we have been responsible for between people who have met at our conferences and are now doing projects together, so we are thrilled.”

Kevin’s Song was actually instrumental in the creation of another 501(c)(3) nonprofit called With One Voice. “It came about because as we were working on the issues and meeting with other organizations across the state who were doing similar things, it occurred to us that in order to accomplish more of our goals, it might be much more effective if we had all of these people working together,” says Gail. “With One Voice is statewide and is going to accomplish wonderful things.”

Kevin’s Song is always looking for donations, which can be made on its website, as well as volunteers to assist with its mission. “We are always appreciative of volunteers for our various committees, and those who want to give their talent and time to Kevin’s Song,” she says.

To find out more, go to https://kevinssong.org/.  

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.

Rocking their Faith

A multigeneration band sharing stories from their hearts

By Sue Baldani

It’s said that music soothes our soul. It also brings us joy and has the ability to evoke strong feelings, whether listened to alone, or in a crowd of people. Without music, our lives would be less magical.

The contemporary Christian band, We the Kingdom, brings us this magic not only through its sound, but also through its meaningful, uplifting and sometimes brutally honest lyrics. Every song tells a story.

Based out of Nashville, four of the five band members are family and include Ed Cash, his daughter Franni, son Martin, Ed’s brother Scott, and good friend Andrew Bergthold. Although Ed and Scott set out to be musicians early in life, they had to put their dreams, and tours, on hold to be there for their growing families. They stayed active in the music business and had great success behind the scenes as both songwriters and producers, and they became deeply involved in playing music at Young Life camps. These camps allow young people to get away, have fun, and strengthen their Christian faith.

We the Kingdom came together quite unexpectedly. While at a Young Life camp in Georgia in 2017, and while dealing with some major issues of their own, the members came together one night to write a song for the campers.

“We thought, ‘What would the Lord tell these kids?,’ and it was almost as if the Lord was talking to us in that moment,” says Andrew. “We ended up writing the song Dancing on the Waves in about 30 minutes and it was so good that we just started writing more. We then we realized that there was a band here.”

From there, things happened fast. “We wrote the song in 2017, and then we got serious in 2018, and then we got signed to our record label in 2019,” says Franni.

Soon after, the band released the single, Holy Water, in 2019 and it hit number two on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart. In October 2019, they released their first EP, Live at the Wheelhouse, which reached the Top Three on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart. Then in 2020, their second EP, Live Acoustic Sessions, was released, followed by their full-length album Holy Water, which debuted at number four on the Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart and earned them a  Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.

This past October, We the Kingdom released their Christmas album, A Family Christmas, which contains some beloved classics with the band’s own unique spin. There are five songs in total and one song has two versions.

While categorized as Christian, the music actually encompasses the sound and style of rock, soul, country, folk and pop. Because of this, it appeals to a very diverse crowd. The group also uses their music not just to entertain and connect with others, but to find peace and serenity within each other. “It’s almost like five different artists came together and God used the five of us to mesh and heal each of our five individual stories and to fulfill the same dream that we all had to be an artist,” says Martin.

“It’s more about writing songs that speak the universal language of the world and I used to think that Christian music was sometimes so specific to one thing that it kind of ruled out everyone else who didn’t understand what was going on,” says Martin. “But every once in a while, songs come out that become the soundtrack to people’s lives and they are bigger than their actual genre. They offer hope to people that is so widespread and it kind of grabs almost everybody. But it’s also written from a specific place in that writer’s heart that it feels like either you wrote it yourself or it was written for you. It’s appealing to everyone musically, sonically, lyrically.”

“We didn’t set out to make Christian music, we set out to tell our story and our story involves Jesus,” says Scott. “That’s why we write the songs we do. It’s not like we had chosen some genre, we’re just trying to be who we are and our identity comes from our faith. And we want to unpack that in a vulnerable and honest way.”

Adds Franni, “There’s something  really comforting about having the freedom of being able to sing out about Jesus through our music to combine the power of his name with music. It’s just been an unstoppable force and we’re really grateful to be making that kind of music.”

We the Kingdom has been busy touring all over the country, and next year they expected to be even busier. “We’re doing a lot of touring, but we’re doing at least one if not two headline tours which will be so fun,” says Scott. “We love crafting a night that hopefully every moment honors the fact that somebody is willing to be there and give us their time, so we want every second to count.”

Ed and Scott feel blessed to be living their dreams again, and being able to do it with family and a great friend makes it even more special.

“I just want people to keep digging,” says Scott. “Figure out who you are. I think we’re so focused on what we do that we miss out on who we are. That’s all that really matters.”

For tour dates, more information on the band, and to listen to some amazing music, check out their website at http://www.wethekingdom.com/, and on Facebook and Instagram. “We really love to connect with people,” says Martin. “What touches our heart is people. We love music, but we also love doing it knowing that it matters for something.”

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in TN.

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Honors Long-time Member

On Saturday, February 19, 2022, the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad honored Harold Hill, Jr. at its annual installation dinner. Many people in town know what a great man he is, but they and others may not have any idea just how much he has done for not only our small part of the world, but for our country at large.

Born on July 29, 1933, to Peggy and Harold Hill Sr., he grew into a strapping young man towering over many others. At the age of 17, Harold joined the United States Marines Corps and that hard-core discipline and call to duty seeped into his blood and never wavered. Even though he was injured (he received the prestigious Purple Heart for his bravery), he never regretted signing up to do what he felt was right.

Years later, after serving as a police officer, Harold followed in the footsteps of his father, one of the founding members of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad. That was on April 4, 1958, and now, 64 years later, he is still serving the township and its people, who have always held a special place in his heart.

The only thing more important to Harold is family. That includes children, grandchildren, and especially his beloved late wife, Marilyn. His extended family, of course, includes his squad brothers and sisters who have answered the calls for help right alongside him, often looking for his guidance in the toughest situations. With 14,500 calls under his belt, there’s not much Harold hasn’t seen during his time on the squad.

He has held every officer position, serving as Captain, President, Vice President, and Lieutenant, and was the Treasurer for 30+ years. He was made a life member by his peers in 1983 and was honored by Overlook Hospital. He has received many other accolades as well such as the Knights of Columbus Award for Excellence in Emergency Service and the Scotch Plains Male Volunteer of the Year in 1991.

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad has been fortunate to have such a great man as not only a member, but as a wonderful mentor and friend. Here’s to many more years of doing what he loves. Thank you Harold!

Written by Sue Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

Designed to Dazzle!

The perfect dress for that special day (and night)

By Sue Baldani

Thoughts of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Lauren Bacall evoke images of class and elegance. These are the impressions and feelings that Sareh Nouri focuses on when designing her wedding gowns.  

“My dresses are for those timeless, elegant brides who love fashion,” says Sareh, who lives in Essex Fells. “They are wearing it on one of the most important days of their lives, so you’re a big part of their day and it’s something that stays with the bride. This is their wedding dress and they’re always going to remember that dress and the designer.”

After not being able to find the perfect fairy tale dress for her own wedding, she decided to design one of her own. She used her background in art and graphic design to create an unforgettable gown, and was so thrilled with the result that she decided to make other brides’ dreams of that perfect dress come true as well.

Today, Sareh Nouri New York is an international brand that sells to over 60 stores around the world. In June of 2020, she opened her flagship store in The Mall at Short Hills. It’s a bright and airy luxury boutique with impeccable personal service. Her team, from the front desk to her sales staff, is welcoming and knowledgeable. “We want everyone to feel comfortable and not intimidated,” she says. “It’s intimate, quiet and serene.” Brides come from all over, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

In addition to wedding dresses, there are veils, bridal jewelry, boleros, and luxury bridal robes. “The same lace used in the wedding dresses is used in the robes, so that’s what makes them so special,” says Sareh.

Not only does the store carry her signature wedding gowns and accessories, which are all made right here in New Jersey, but it also has a wonderful selection of evening gowns. “They are all made to order, and come in a sea of colors,” she says. “If someone wants to customize a gown and change the neckline or something else, they can do that. We offer alterations in our design studio in Rutherford, so clients get to work with the actual people who made their dresses.”

The price point for the evening gowns is usually between $2200 and $4000, but, she says, you get what you pay for. “These are not off the rack – they are going to have a really good fit. Someone who has that budget understands that.”

Fabrics are sourced from all over the world, including Italy, Spain and Asia. While her dresses look amazing standing still, it’s when they move that you get that “wow” effect. The flow of the fabric is incredible, which you can see from the videos on her website. “It’s all about construction and the fit of the dress and good quality fabrics,” says Sareh. “I’m not into very shiny fabrics and I’m not a fan of flimsy dresses.

“I love working with fabric and texture. Picking the fabric, draping it and designing are my favorite parts of the process. When it comes to life and you see it on the models, and even better, the brides, it’s very inspiring and motivating.”

For bridal services, she recommends making an appointment at least a year in advance, especially with COVID creating shipping issues. She also recommends an appointment for purchasing evening gowns, although you don’t necessarily need one if they aren’t busy.

Although Sareh spends most of her time in her design studio, she does go into the salon at least once a week. So, there is a chance that the bride will actually get to meet the person who has designed her dress. That itself will make for a memorable day!

To learn more, go to https://www.sarehnouri.com/.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in NJ.