Necessity is the Mother and Daughter of Invention

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Written for the Lake Hopatcong News


Playtime for Children and Families – Why Having Fun Matters

Kids playing

Kids today are busy. Besides school and homework, there’s sports, clubs, music lessons, ballet and other activities that keep them on a structured schedule. It’s easy to see why kids can feel overwhelmed and anxious.

One way to combat this stress is through play. For children, time to play is a time to explore and have fun. As reported in The Journal of Pediatrics, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.”

Of course, extracurricular activities are also important for children’s overall good health and brain development, and free playtime should not be seen as something competing with that. Instead, it should be a natural part of a child’s schedule.

Parents can help children incorporate playtime into their everyday lives, and not only will it have positive results for the child, but for the whole family as well. Children and parents should have alone time, so parents can get their chores done while children have time to play on their own and learn how to entertain themselves. However, parents should also play with their children, and there are some simple ways to incorporate fun activities into busy lives.

For example, now that the warm weather is here, keeping some simple items in your car can lead to spontaneous play. Frisbees, chalk, balls, balloons and jump ropes don’t take up much room, and can be available at a moments notice. When you’re driving with your kids, look for spots that are free of traffic, get everyone out of the car, and use the chalk to draw a hopscotch pattern. Find a rock or other marker and use it to throw on the squares. Hop around with your kids and you will all get some exercise. While driving past a park or big open field, park the car and have a quick game of frisbee or a jump rope contest. Throw some balls back and forth, or if you don’t have anything with you, play a game of tag. Make a list of natural elements, such as acorns and pine cones, and have a scavenger hunt to see who can find all the things on the list the fastest. Blow up the balloons and have a volleyball game – who needs a net?

There are many ways to play whether by oneself or with family members. Both forms of play are beneficial and serve a purpose. According to the article “The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development,” written for Montana State University, family activities “help develop strong family bonds, which can last a lifetime. Families who play together are more cooperative and supportive and have better communication.”

So, schedule some play time into everyday routines, and make happy memories that will last a lifetime. It will also give mom and dad some much need downtime just to have fun.

Written for About Families Magazine

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Tip of the Month – Is it really an emergency? When to dial 911.

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There are many times you should call 911. If you or someone around you is in true medical distress, such as experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pains, bleeding, possible stroke, or any other serious health issues, then 911 should be called as soon as possible. If there are wires down, fire, a crime in progress, or other dangerous conditions to people or property, call 911 immediately.

However, if you want to report your neighbors making too much noise or want to find out when the snow plows will get to your street, or any other situation that is not an actual emergency, please call the regular police number at 908-322-7100.

One of our squad members, Joan Lozowski, who spent 29 years as a dispatcher for the Scotch Plains Police Department before recently retiring, said that people would call 911 for all sorts of non-emergency reasons. Some of these calls would be to ask for directions, to check road conditions, to find out when their power would be restored, and to report deer sightings. Her all-time favorite was when someone called to complain that his television remote was not working!

Obviously, these things are not emergencies and some do not require an EMS response at all. Furthermore, calling 911 and requesting an ambulance for a stubbed toe or other minor issue ties up an ambulance and crew and prevents them from responding to other more critical calls. So please take a minute to think: Is it really an emergency? It’s also important for children to understand when they should and should not call 911, so please discuss this with them.

Calling 911 when it isn’t necessary may prevent someone who is having a true crisis from getting through to dispatch. In turn, this can delay the person from getting the help they or their family so desperately need in a timely manner.

So the next time you’re thinking about dialing 911, please make sure it’s really necessary. Keep the line and resources available for those who really need them.

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

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


Any Dream Will Do – book review

Any Dream Will Do cover

People sometimes make bad choices, but this does not make them bad people who can’t atone for their mistakes and become productive members of society. This is the main message of “Any Dream Will Do.” Written by Debbie Macomber, who is known for her uplifting and sometimes spiritual books, this story is true to her style.

Having lost her mother at a young age, and a father who was often drunk and violent before his death, Shay Benson is more like a parent than a sister to her little brother Caden. Though she tries her best to steer him away from trouble and make a better life for herself, he makes some bad decisions that not only affect his own life, but Shay’s as well. Trying to save him from disaster and possible death lands her behind bars for three years. She is released after serving her time, only to find that her struggles are only just beginning.

As a convicted felon with little money and no place to call home, she is without hope and despairs of ever pulling herself out of the hole she has dug herself into. Luckily for Shay, she meets people who believe in her and show her the way to real freedom, where she is self-sufficient, confident and loved. In time, she obtains a job and her own apartment and also begins a healthy relationship. But when her past conspires against her, everything she has worked so hard for is threatened by the people who once brought her nothing but misery and destruction. Will Shay be able to survive and thrive, or will she lose herself and the life she has built all over again?

“Any Dream Will Do,” published in 2017, shows the importance of perseverance against all odds and how someone’s life can be turned around with a little help and a lot of luck. It illustrates the importance of giving people second chances while having faith that they will eventually make the right choices.

Debbie Macomber, a New York Times bestselling author multiple times over, has more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide. Besides stand-alone books, she has written multiple series that usually take place in her home state of Washington in the U.S.A. Find out more about her and her books at

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine (UK)

Pack a Picnic and Enjoy the Great Outdoors


Warm weather is finally here, so let’s get outside and welcome the new season. There are many fun activities to be enjoyed, and one of my favorites is having a picnic.

In this day and age when we can go to the finest restaurants or dine at home in comfortable surroundings, I’m always happy to see people eating outdoors. Whether it be on a park bench, at the beach, or even in your own backyard, enjoying a meal while surrounded by nature makes it extra special.

Don’t have a fancy picnic basket? Don’t worry. Take a cooler, load it up with whatever it is you like to eat and drink, put in an ice pack, and you’re all set. Some of my favorites are cold fried chicken, turkey sandwiches, salads, fruit, and some refreshing drinks, like iced tea or lemonade. Of course, for those of you who like to really relax, toss in a bottle of wine (or two). Find a pretty spot, bring along a nice, thick blanket, some utensils and napkins, and you have an outdoor party all ready to go.

While enjoying your meal, remember to turn off and put away your electronic devices. Look around and appreciate nature, such as the full leafy trees, birds singing, or the vibrant flowers just in bloom. Spend time speaking with and listening to others and focus on what they are feeling. In today’s world, where multi-tasking is as common as breathing, relax and open your senses to the world around you. Breathe in the fresh air, and let the sun warm your body and lift your spirits.

Besides food, have a frisbee on hand, or if it’s windy, a kite. You can even bring along a favorite board game to play with your friends and family. If you decide to have a picnic all by yourself, don’t forget to pack one of your favorite books. Find a quiet place, and if there is a pond or lake within sight, all the better. There is something about water that adds to a sense of tranquility.

Picnicking is an easy and fun activity you can do on a regular basis. It can be fancy one day with expensive cheeses and wines, and then the next it can be casual with sandwiches and soda. Discover some new favorite spots in the area to visit, and appreciate your surroundings while enjoying your feast.

Written for The Country Register of the U.S and Canada

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Cadet Program

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The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Cadet program began in 1968 for teens aged 16 and 17 who wanted to become members. Today, there are 11 cadets on our roster and room for more.

Although still teenagers, they go through the same training as our adult members and can and often do become fully certified Emergency Medical Technicians. Not only are they a real asset to our squad, but to the surrounding communities as well. These young EMTs are in our schools, on our sports fields and in our homes. They are prepared to deal with all kinds of medical issues and are sometimes first on the scene in these places.

Many of our past cadets have gone on to become doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers (including a Scotch Plains police chief), and other professions where they continue to help others in crisis situations. Being a cadet and later an adult member of our organization prepared them well for these life-saving careers.

Some of our present members started off as cadets many years ago and are still active on the squad today. For example, our Carolyn Sorge, our current chief, started riding 30 years ago; our former chief, Dan Sullivan, has 48 years in and Bob Speth, our former president, 44 years.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining our organization, we are always looking for volunteers who are caring, dedicated and want to help the community.

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

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


Why Tools are Important and Other Things My Father Taught Me


Fathers sometimes get the short end of the stick. There is always a lot of fanfare around motherhood and Mother’s Day (as there should be). After all, like many of us, I would be totally lost without my mother.

But fathers matter equally as much; they just usually keep a lower profile. How often do we hear “she was like a mama bear” or how often do people on television shout out “Hi Mom”? Well, what about Dad?

Mothers are wonderful. They comfort us after bad dreams, take care of us when we’re sick, and soothe our broken hearts when people hurt our feelings. But what about knowing how to change a tire, or what kind of screwdriver to use, or how to install a car radio? I learned all these things from my father. I didn’t want to be one of those women who always had to hire someone to install a new porch light, or spackle and paint a room. And my father made sure I wasn’t one of those either. Besides, as well as being handy he is also frugal, and his philosophy is “why hire someone if you can do it yourself?” Even though as a kid I didn’t get a kick out of holding the flashlight or handing him tools while he fixed something, I was forced to learn things that my mother did not have the time or inclination to teach me. And I learned a lot about tools, more than I probably ever wanted to know.

Years later, when I rented my first apartment and then bought my own house, I worked right alongside the males in the family doing what had to be done. Men and women alike were always somewhat amazed at the things I could fix, or how I could solve a myriad of household problems. I even knew my way around a car and could often diagnose what the trouble was. Granted, I couldn’t always fix it, but I usually knew what was wrong.

My father and I didn’t always agree on things while I was growing up, which is natural. However, he taught me things that I will never forget and often need to know. I’m lucky to still have my father, even after some health scares over the last few months, and for that I am very thankful. I have more things to learn from him yet, and maybe he can learn some things from me too.

Happy Father’s Day Dad, from your handy and “not afraid to get her hands dirty” daughter. Thank you for all you have taught me.

Written for The Country Register of the U.S. and Canada

Showcase Salutes The Country Squire restaurant

Ice Cream

In the mood for a handcrafted burger, a fresh and tasty salad, or some Spanakopita? Or how about an Apple Turnover, Greek Rice Pudding or a slice of Chocolate Cake? The Country Squire restaurant in Warren can satisfy these cravings and more. They are open 7 days a week from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm and everything on the menu is served all day long. So, feel free to have steak and fries for breakfast and bacon and eggs for dinner.

The Country Squire is a family owned business started by brothers Mike and Mino Stavrakis. They began their restaurant careers back in the 60’s with the Venus Diner in Union, NJ. In 2008, their cousin George Pelechrinis came on as a partner. Before this restaurant, he owned the Somerset Diner in Somerset. George’s son John Pelechrinis is the manager of the restaurant and has been working in diners with his father since the age of 10. Mike and George (Mino left in 2017) work hard to provide the best atmosphere and food for their customers and often come in around 2:00 in the morning to get ready for the day. “These are the guys that deserve the credit for this business,” states John.

The restaurant serves Greek dishes as well as traditional diner food such as Disco Fries, Stuffed Potato Skins, Chicken Fingers, Mozzarella Sticks, French Onion Soup, Cobb Salads, Turkey Burgers, and Omelets. There is something for everyone on the menu.

One of the unique things they have is the Ice Cream bar. Here, there is everything needed to make spectacular sundaes, banana splits and shakes. There are huge jars of sprinkles and other toppings available so you can order exactly what you want.

The restaurant has been in Warren since 1974 (it did move a couple of doors down from its original location back in 2008) and has a true hometown feel. It doesn’t look very big from the outside, but when you walk in you realize how far back it goes and how spacious it really is. They can seat 180 people, and the booths are large and cozy. They also have tables available as well.

The Country Squire is a comfortable, inviting dining spot where 65% of their customers are regulars. “This restaurant is a hang-out spot, the local meet and greet place,” according to John. People like to come in to socialize and relax, and of course to eat some really good food. Families with children have been coming in for years, and when their children grew up, they come in with their families. “It’s been a staple here for 44 years,” says John.

They are on a first name basis with many of their customers and it’s a great venue for locals and out of towners alike. They have even had some celebrities stop in over the years, including major league athletes and movie stars. The service is friendly and customer-service oriented. Many of their employees, who number about 15, have been with them from day one and their turnover rate is very low. The owners, manager, and employees are dedicated to what they do, and go out of their way to make sure that all diners have a great experience each and every time.

The Country Squire restaurant is located at 62 Mountain Boulevard in Warren. They can be reached at 908-561-6764. Stop in to enjoy a meal, and don’t forget the ice cream.

Written for The Showcase Magazine

Book Review of The Sunshine Sisters

The Sunshine Sisters
Relationships between mothers, daughters and sisters can be beautiful, but they can also be fraught with tension. When unexpected changes occur that upset the status quo, a lot of drama can unfold.

“The Sunshine Sisters,” a novel by Jane Green, explores the intricacy of family relationships and why sometimes the people we love the most are the ones who can cause the greatest pain. It’s a fact that we can choose our friends, but family is what we are given.

Ronni Sunshine is a mother, but first and foremost, she is a movie star. But it’s her daughters that steal the show in this story. There’s Nell, who is the oldest and the strong, quiet one; Meredith, the middle child who suffers from low self-esteem and turns to food for comfort; and Lizzy, the youngest, who can sweet talk just about anyone into doing whatever it is she wants.

They all suffered the heartbreak of growing up with a mother who was too busy with her career to give them the love and guidance they all desperately needed, and a father who decided to leave rather than deal with it all. They all coped in different ways: Nell by bottling up her feelings, Meredith by moving far away, and Lizzy by doing whatever made her feel alive, never mind the consequences. In turn, the sisters have drifted apart over the years, in more ways than just miles.

Now, Ronni is dying, and her last wish it to have all her daughters with her as the end nears. She wants to try to mend their relationships, and to strengthen the bond between her daughters so they will have family to lean on once she is gone.

Will they come, and will they find their way back to each other? Is it possible to forgive and forget the hurt that has been inflicted over and over again, creating long-lasting scars?

Number one NY Times bestselling author Jane Green brings us all the joys and heartbreaks of a family struggling to find a connection. She’ll take you to New York City, London, and Westport, Connecticut, where the final outcome will take place. This is a story that many parents and children will be able to relate to, and one can’t help but cheer them on, and to hope that they find the happiness and peace they all deserve.

Jane Green is a former journalist in the UK and a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York. “The Sunshine Sisters,” released in May 2018, is her 19th novel.

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine (UK)