A different kind of New Year’s resolution


How many times have you promised yourself you would lose weight in the new year, or maybe stop smoking? And how many times have your New Year’s resolutions been broken by February 1st or even sooner?

Instead of promising to give up or do something to make yourself feel better, how about making a resolution to make others feel better? If you’ve always wanted to volunteer, find a cause that you can embrace and sign up to make a difference. After all, it’s easier to break a promise to yourself than it is to others who are relying on you for basic needs.

If you love animals, volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue group. For those avid readers, what about signing up with Literacy Volunteers of America? Or, if you like crafts, think about spending time at a nursing home teaching residents how to crochet or knit or whatever it is you are talented at? If you’re musically gifted, you can also play some music for the seniors and maybe show them how to play a simple tune or two.

Doing something for others will also make you feel better about yourself. The rewards of volunteering are not just experienced by the recipients, but by the givers as well.

In an article by Hilary Young, titled Why volunteering is so good for your health, it was stated that people who volunteer say it makes them feel healthier, lowered their stress levels, enriched their lives, and improved their mood and self-esteem. Some of them even reported “that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems.” Aren’t these some of the results we’re looking for when making those New Year’s resolutions?

Whatever your interests or talents, there is a cause looking for help. People find it easier to give money, which by all means is sorely needed. But it’s getting out there and joining with other people who have the same goals in mind that makes volunteering more meaningful.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.


Memories of Christmas Past Add to the Joy of Christmas Present


Who can forget the excitement of Christmas morning as a child? I remember waking up before the sun rose to sneak out and see if Santa did indeed come, while my parents were still sleeping soundly in their beds. Oh, the joy of seeing presents piled under the tree! There was nothing like it.

However, when I think back to those times, it’s not the presents I remember, but the people who shared the day with us. Some of them aren’t here in person anymore, but they are alive and well in my memories. One of my grandmothers didn’t have a lot of money to buy us expensive gifts, but her cookies, pies and homemade presents were just as meaningful as anything she could have bought. My other grandmother brought us gifts galore from a variety of stories and catalogs. My brother and sister and I could not wait for her to arrive at our house with her bags and bags of presents, somewhat like Santa himself. However, both grandmothers were equally special because we knew they loved us. Whenever I think of Christmas I can still recall the happiness they brought with their presence.

Even though we have lost some people, our family continues to grow and there are new faces to be found around the tree. Fortunately, I still have both of my parents, and thanks to my brother and sister, I have nieces and nephews and their children to share the day with. I also have, thanks to my husband and his daughter, a wonderful grandson and granddaughter to add to our Christmas celebrations.

My family is my favorite and most meaningful gift all year round. Who needs presents when you’re surrounded by people who love and appreciate you? When everyone is stuffed with the food I prepared and wrapping paper litters the floor, it’s the smiles on their faces that make me joyful. I know someday when they all look back, it will be the conversation and laughter that will be remembered, not just the clothes and toys, although of course they are nice too.

Here is a cookie recipe that I make every Christmas. They look like little piles of snow when they’re done, and taste oh so delicious. Enjoy!

Forgotten Cookies
From the kitchen of Susan Baldani

2 egg whites*
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup semi sweet or milk chocolate morsels
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to foamy soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla and chocolate morsels. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Place in oven, turn oven off and forget cookies overnight (or at least one hour).
*Tip: egg whites whip better and fuller when they have been out of the refrigerator for about a half-hour or so.

Handmade Gifts are Treasures Filled with Love


Throughout the years, I have received many gifts for all sorts of occasions. However, the ones I remember the most and still have today are the ones made by family and friends. After all, anyone can buy a gift from a store or order something over the internet, but it takes a dedicated and loving person to create something just for you.

I never had a talent for making things by hand. Luckily for me, people around me were blessed with this skill. My grandmother knitted, crocheted and sewed beautiful blankets, sweaters, tissue box covers, slippers, clothes and much more. My sister did needlepoint and other fancy crafts of which I was the grateful recipient. I watch friends of mine knit and crochet the loveliest things to give as gifts.

Not only are these items made with love, they are also useful and add beauty and comfort to everyday life. The quality of most handmade treasures is remarkable. There are many things around my house and other family members’ homes that were made over 30 years ago. On my dining room table sits a napkin holder that my grandmother Helen made when I got my first apartment at the age of 20. I’m 49 today, and it’s still used regularly and looks as good as new. In my cedar chest are crocheted blankets that are over 40 years old and still keep me warm on frigid winter nights.

When someone gives me a gift they made themselves, I really treasure it because I know it is one of a kind. I also recognize the time and expense that went into making it.Also, whenever I use a particular item, I always think about the person who made it, and it makes me smile.

The Country Register is filled with many shops selling yarn, fabrics and other materials to make your own beautiful birthday, holiday, graduation, baby or just-because gifts. When I look through an issue, it makes me want to take lessons so I too can create something wonderful for my loved ones. I just might have to sign up for some soon. Fortunately, the Register lists those too!

Written for The Country Register distributed across the U.S.

Spotlight on Forest Lodge Catering and The Sherwood Chalet

Forest Lodge, located on 50 pristine rustic acres in Warren Township, is celebrating their 88th year in the community. What started out as a summer family and friends retreat in the 1930s has evolved into one of New Jersey’s largest and most creative event venues.

Linda Taylor, vice president of the facility for over 30 years, is involved in all aspects of the event planning and considers it her specialty. “The most important thing we can do is listen and get to know each one of our clients so their ideas are executed to perfection,” she said.

Owners Charlie and Maria Alberto of Watchung, along with Linda and their new general manager Brian Howard, have successfully made Forest Lodge one of NJ and NY’s most sought-after venues. Every event is tailored to their clients’ needs, including custom menus and themes. Do you want to feel like you’re in New Orleans at Mardi Gras? If so, you and your guests can enjoy steaming hot Jambalaya and Shrimp Creole while the jester, jazz band and full size float turn Forest Lodge into Bourbon Street!! Is Vegas more your style? Then you will find yourself surrounded by casino games and hourly shows featuring magicians, dancers, ventriloquists and other performers. Or how about a country and western theme with a petting zoo, pony rides, hay rides, and a pumpkin patch? One of their most popular themes is the Jersey boardwalk, with carnival games, rides, inflatables, and a zeppole trailer full of funnel cake, fried Oreos, and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

In addition to theme parties, Forest Lodge is famous for corporate events such as company picnics, team building, seminars and meetings, as well as corporate social responsibility programs which assist employees with giving back to their communities.

Helping clients plan their special occasions is something Linda takes pride in. Since the outdoor venue can accommodate up to 5000 people, every detail has to be carefully thought out and executed.

In addition to all the outdoor events, The newly renovated Sherwood Chalet hosts elegant indoor events such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and holiday parties and can hold up to 200 people. Scott Dubin, in the role of banquet manager, has added a youthful perspective while making use of his years of experience in the hospitality industry.

Whether you prefer an elegant, formal sit-down dinner or a sumptuous buffet, they can fulfill your wish. One of the most popular client choices is their interactive live stations package, offering foods from all over the world including Asian Stir Fry, good old American Mac and Cheese and Indian cuisine.

If you can’t decide between an indoor or outdoor event, The Sherwood Chalet with its outdoor deck and patio can offer a combination of the two. Towards the end of the night at one wedding, they had food trucks with pizza, tacos, and ice cream parked right outside the doors. Also, at a bar mitzvah, the host was able to entertain their young guests with inflatables, rides and an exciting roller coaster!

The Sherwood Chalet hosts only one event at a time so you can be sure that their professional staff is interested in you and only you. It’s a unique place to have a party or event and ideas are only limited by imaginations. For instance, Linda recalled how one wedding had a horse for a ring bearer; another had a “Dog of Honor,” and a bar mitzvah had a live “mermaid” behind the seafood bar.

Forest Lodge is open year-round and all catering is done on the premises. The venue is a first job for many of the local kids since they hire 125 to 150 part-time employees for the summer months. Many of these teens work there through college.

Due to the popularity of their venue, Linda recommends scheduling parties one year in advance, if possible.

Forest Lodge is located at 11 Reinman Road in Warren, NJ. To find out more, go to http://www.forestlodgecatering.com/ or call 908-754-7300.

Written for The Showcase Magazine


Spotlight on The Eye Care & Surgery Center

Eye chart

The Eye Care & Surgery Center with locations in Warren, Westfield, and Iselin, New Jersey, provides full-service eye care for the entire family. Their highly trained staff can handle all of your vision and eye care needs with great professional care and expertise.

The initial office opened in Watchung in 1986 and moved to the current expanded location in Warren in 2002. The founding physicians were Dr. Joel Confino and Dr. Ivan Jacobs, and they, along with partner Dr. Milton Kahn, colleague Dr. Dipal Shah and 3 other subspecialists, provide exceptional eye care to their patients. All are board-certified and fellowship trained, and five out of the seven have been named to Castle Connolly Top Doctors. This prestigious honor is given when fellow physicians nominate and vote for their peers. These doctors practice leading-edge medicine and utilize the latest and most advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.

The center’s patient population extends well beyond the local to include those who travel from all over the country as well as from other continents. Some of these include fellow physicians.

According to Jerette Lerner, the Director of Surgery for the past 11 years, “Our doctors are the number one physician recommended surgeons for their subspecialties. We have been told we have the highest rate of referrals in central New Jersey.”

Services include everything from routine eye exams to eye plastic surgery such as lid lifts, which give patients with drooping lids a fuller field of vision by tightening the muscles. One of the more common procedures they perform is Bladeless Lasik. As per Jerette, they are the only practice in New Jersey to offer the latest technology for laser vision correction surface treatments, called EBK (Epi-Bowman Keratectomy), which allows the patient a more comfortable and faster healing process than the traditional PRK procedure.

Another common procedure is laser-cataract surgery, a successful advanced technique adding precision and safety. Typically, the procedure is done without stitches, patches or needles and takes only about 15 minutes. Most patients are able to drive and perform most of their daily tasks the next day. Dramatic and rapid improvement in vision can be achieved, with great patient satisfaction.

For people in their mid-forties and older who are seeking vision correction and who do not have cataracts, another option is lens replacement surgery. This procedure takes 15 minutes, is permanent, and prevents cataracts from developing in the future. According to Jerette, this can be a permanent solution to correct distance, intermediate, and close vision needs.

The doctors at The Eye Care & Surgery Center keep current with advances in technology and actively participate in continuing medical education. “The physicians believe in making the future available now for their patients,” said Jerette.

Other conditions for which treatment is provided include macular degeneration (with injection and vitamin therapy), pediatric eye problems, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, eye allergies, and dry eye syndrome. They also offer a full optical shop with a broad range of contact lenses, including specialty fit lenses.

“We treat the family, so we treat them from pediatrics to geriatrics. Two of our physicians continue to teach residents at top rated universities, NYU and Columbia. “We simply have the best-of-the-best,” stated Jerette.

Positive outcomes for their patients are their utmost concern. “We all value what we do here and the part we contribute to the process. For us it is not about the business of ophthalmology. It’s truly about the care,” said Jerette.

They accept most insurance plans and all the doctors are welcoming new patients. Evening hours are available.

The Eye Care & Surgery Center locations are listed below. You can find more information at http://www.newjerseyvision.com/eye-care-surgery-center-nj.html or by calling 908-754-4800.

10 Mountain Boulevard
Warren, NJ 07059

592 Springfield Avenue
Westfield, NJ 07090

517 Route One South
Suite 1100
Iselin, NJ 08830

Written for The Showcase Magazine

Celebrating Thanksgiving Around the Family Table


My grandmother Helen was a wonderful cook and baker. Luckily for us, we only lived a few blocks away when I was younger so we were often on the receiving end of these goodies.

On Thanksgiving Day, she really outdid herself. Of course, everything was homemade. While the turkey was roasting in the oven, the potatoes were being peeled and readied to boil, then whipped into heavenly clouds full of milk and butter. The yams were in the oven along with the turkey, biscuits were rising on the counter, and vegetables were being chopped. Later, while the turkey was resting after its long roast in the oven, the pan drippings would be made into a thick and hearty gravy. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, the apple and pumpkin pies would appear
When I was 23, I decided to take over this tradition so my grandmother could just relax and enjoy the holiday for a change. Let’s just say I didn’t know what I was in for. Grandma Helen always made it look so easy, but I found out right away that this was not the case. Before the meal preparation could even begin, there was the shopping for all the food that made up the feast. Back then, I was not an early riser, and discovering that I had to get up at 6:00 in the morning to get the turkey ready and in the oven did not thrill me.

Back then, I lived in a little apartment and didn’t even have a dining room table. With 16 people coming, I had to borrow one of those long fold up tables so everyone would have a place to sit down and eat. Since it wouldn’t fit in the kitchen alongside my regular table, it had to go in the living room.

Fortunately, my family is easygoing, and the most important thing was that we were all together. And I’m proud to say that the food was delicious. The turkey was moist, the gravy flavorful, and the potatoes creamy and delicious. All of the sides came out great as well. However, I’m glad I had left the baking up to my grandmother, because this girl was exhausted.

Today, 26 years later, I am still cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family which has grown over the years. It’s still a lot of hard work, but when I see how much everyone enjoys it, I know it’s worth it.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S.

Spreading the Love Near and Far


When Richa Gupta and Sudha Pai decided to organize a small group to make caps for cancer patients, they had no idea of the impact it would have. What started in a basement of a Basking Ridge home has grown cross country and even across an ocean.

While growing up in India, Richa and Sudha played and practiced with balls of yarn and needles at a very young age while watching their grandmothers knit. It wasn’t until they had to learn it as part of the school curriculum, however, that they actually became proficient.

The two friends often talked about turning their hobby into something useful. Sudha lost her brother-in-law and sister-in-law to cancer, as well as her maternal aunt, and Richa lost a good friend to cancer. They located an organization called Knots of Love in California that distributes caps to patients going through chemotherapy. When they learned that a half-million caps are needed across the country every year, they knew they had found their cause.

Knit/Crochet with Love was formed in November 2016 with about 5 members. Today, they have over 50 members with three groups in the Basking Ridge area and just became a non-profit organization in September of this year. Ranging in age from 14 to 94, the groups include people from all different backgrounds and levels of skill.

When they started, “we were happy with first the 50 caps,” said Richa. In 2017, they made 1700 caps and their goal for 2018 is to make 2018 caps.

Earlier this year, they made a blanket for a local child battling cancer. Using her favorite colors of pink and purple, it came out so beautifully that they decided to add blankets to their repertoire.

One of the groups is made up of 10 – 12 residents, including a 92 and 94-year-old, who live at Fellowship Village in Basking Ridge. They meet on Wednesdays at 1:30 and make not only the caps and blankets, but also prayer shawls. “We are learning a lot from them too. They are an inspiration,” said Sudha, a computer programmer. It has made the residents feel useful, and has also helped physically. She said some of them suffer from tendonitis and moving and exercising their hands has alleviated their symptoms. Richa, a math tutor at Raritan Valley Community College, loves holding these sessions so much that she stopped working on Wednesdays just to be able to do this.

The yarn that they buy is recommended by the American Cancer Society and is 100% acrylic, dye-free, and contains no wool since it’s a high allergen. They also wash all the items and, if requested, individually wrap them in plastic bags. They even tailor caps for the hospitals’ needs. For example, one asked for airy caps for the summer, which the members call “holey caps.” Another hospital asked for caps for men.

These days, instead of sending all their caps to Knots, they ship out to hospitals directly. Some of these include Memorial Sloan (Basking Ridge), Hackensack University Medical Center, Morristown Memorial, Robert Wood Johnson, and Trinitas in New Jersey, and Swedish Hospital in Seattle (where Richa’s friend passed away), Mount Sinai in New York, and Dana Farber in Massachusetts.

One of the group members thought they should put labels on everything they make, so she sponsored the production of 4000 labels. Now they receive beautiful letters from patients who use the caps and blankets.

In addition to the groups here, friends and family in India have gotten involved and are now making caps for a local cancer hospital in Bombay. One member’s mother-in-law in London makes caps and brings them with her whenever she visits. Another friend in California has also started a similar group.

Now friends from East and South Brunswick and Princeton want to start groups, so Richa and Sudha will go and advise them how to do it. They are looking forward to setting up chapters all over the U.S. and internationally.

Besides the group at Fellowship Village, they also meet on Wednesdays at the Hills Club House from 9:30 to 10:45 and on alternate Sundays in the late afternoons/early evenings in different members’ homes.

They have a Facebook site and their own website, http://www.Knit/CrochetwithLove.com, where people can get more information about volunteering and donating. If you can help, they would love to hear from you.

Written for The Showcase Magazine


Book review of Between You & Me


Dr. Reese Powell is on her way to becoming a pediatric surgeon, a dream that does not belong to her but to her parents. Joining their practice once she’s finished with her training is what she has been prepped for since birth.

Caleb Stoltz is also stuck in a world that he didn’t choose. Growing up Amish under a devout but brutal father left him wanting to get away as soon as possible. And he did, for a while. But after his brother and sister-in-law are murdered, honoring his brother’s dying wish means raising his orphaned niece Hannah and nephew Jacob in their Amish community. It also means returning to the family homestead, where his father still rules with an iron fist.

When 11-year-old Jacob suffers a traumatic injury, Caleb and Reese’s worlds collide. Spending time with each other while Jacob is hospitalized at the Philadelphia hospital where Reese works makes them both question the paths that they’re on. As they both care for the little injured boy, feelings also begin to develop between the two of them. Even though they know if would be impossible to continue their relationship once Jacob is discharged, they can’t help wanting to follow their own dreams.

Susan Wiggs, the author of “Between You & Me” published in 2018, takes her readers deep into Amish country and makes us feel what it’s like to live without basic conveniences most of us take for granted. Electricity, television and cell phones are things the modern world couldn’t imagine living without. She also shows us that love can take hold even in the most challenging situations. Some of the most difficult choices are the ones that can bring us the most happiness, even if that means disappointing others who think that their way is the right way.

A Harvard graduate living on an island in Puget Sound, Washington, in the U.S.A., Susan Wiggs has been on the New York Times bestselling list and has millions of copies of her books in print in many countries and in a variety of languages. With stories focusing on the everyday dramas of regular people, readers can often relate to the struggles that her characters are facing.

To find out more about this author and her books, please visit http://www.susanwiggs.com/.

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine in the U.K.