Life’s an Adventure

Camper

Glamping and camping in style

By Susan Baldani

Camping outdoors can be a lot of fun, but some people don’t like the idea of spending the night in leaky tents while sleeping on the hard ground. Morgan and Ashley Gliko, owners of The Flying Ham, came up with a way to incorporate camping with a little bit of luxury and a lot of comfort.  The Mount Juliet couple rent out 2015 Shasta Airflyte campers that look exactly like the original 1961 Airflytes, as well as glamping tents.

“These campers are called canned ham campers; they resemble a can of ham on its side,” said Ashley. “The Shastas are specifically known for their iconic wings on the back. We like fun names, and when we came up with The Flying Ham, we didn’t even consider anything else.”

Morgan and Ashley met when they were both in the U.S. Air Force. Now married for 15 years, they have two sons, 8-year-old Jack and 5-year-old Ben. In 2015, they were working long hours and decided to make a change in order to spend more time as a family. So, Morgan stopped working to stay home with their second child. Starting Flying Ham was a great supplement for their income and a way to share their love of these campers with others.

“I’m originally from Montana and we travel back and forth to Montana a couple times a year,” said Morgan. “This was one of the reasons we initially got the little red 16-foot camper.”

“People had such a great response to it,” said Ashley. “It brought so much joy to everyone and put a smile on their faces.”

They now own two 16-foot campers and a 19-foot camper. The smaller two feature a full-size bed in the front and a short twin in the back, which is perfect for a child. The larger one has a full bed in the front and another full in the back.

They all have the same amenities, which include stainless steel appliances, kitchen utensils, coffee makers, televisions, blue ray players, record players with records, and hammocks. Everything is included, even the pillows and bed linens. The campers also have air conditioning, heat, running water, and bathrooms with showers. All the comforts of home, in the great outdoors.

Last year, for the Bonnaroo Music Festival, they added tents to their rental business. All of them come with glamping gear décor and have rugs, vintage lanterns, radios, and whimsical twinkle light chandeliers. Cots, pillows, bed linens and sleeping bags are all provided, and yes, all have air conditioning.

“The nice thing about the tents is we can bring them right to your backyard and set them up,” said Morgan. “If campgrounds aren’t your thing, or if you just want something at home, the tent is perfect. The tents originally started with the Bonnaroo Music Festival and evolved to include other events and parties.”

They’ve even been used indoors, including at the Country Music Awards After Party at the Municipal Auditorium. Morgan said there are lots of different things you can do with them besides just camping; they’re very versatile.

The campers and tents have also been rented out for birthday parties, weddings and other events. Customers have also had campers delivered right to their driveways and used them as extra bedrooms for guests, especially around the holidays. In addition, because of their retro look, the Airflytes have been featured in quite a few photo shoots and music videos.

“What’s nice about the Flying Ham is that it’s a family business,” said Morgan. “We can do it together. Sometimes the kids come with me on deliveries, and sometimes we all go.”

If interested in renting one of these campers or tents, try to reserve at least one to two months in advance, especially during their busy months, which run from April through November. The campers are delivered to the destination, while tents can be picked up or delivered.

For those who would like to camp, there is a list of campgrounds on The Flying Ham website. Ashley said they often advise people on where to stay and the types of things available at local campgrounds, such as playgrounds and lakes.

Contact info:

The Flying Ham

P.O. Box 1361

Mount Juliet, TN 37121

615-979-1208

www.theflyingham.com 

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Keeping Our Minds and Bodies Healthy

 

squad 1

Susan Baldani

During this pandemic, the focus has been on keeping our bodies healthy, which is a priority. There are many guidelines to help us to do just that, including wearing masks, washing our hands, and maintaining social distancing. But, what about our mental health? Studies have shown that depression, anxiety and suicides are now at an all-time high.

Many factors contribute to these increases, including loneliness from self-isolation, loss of employment, fear for our families and our futures, and dismay at the economic impact to our country. The constant barrage of bad news in the media also heightens our sense of anxiety and sadness. For those who have battled COVID-19 or lost loved ones, and for the healthcare workers fighting on the front lines, these issues are compounded. Facing our own and others’ mortality can wear greatly on our mental health.

What’s been even more detrimental during this time is our inability to take part in activities that decrease stress, help us cope with anxiety, and bring us enjoyment. Playing sports, going to the gym or spa, getting together with friends, and being with our families often add to our sense of well-being. For many, these options are limited right now.

So, what can we safely do to maintain and improve our mental health? Here are some ideas:

  • Get outdoors. A change of scenery, along with some fresh air, keeps our minds active.
  • Walk, run, or bicycle around your neighborhood, or take a hike through some local parks.
  • Go to the beach. There is something about being near water that always makes us feel invigorated.
  • Connect with family and friends by phone or online. Just hearing loved ones’ voices provides an instant lift to our day, and if you can see their faces, even better.
  • Nothing gives us a better sense of accomplishment and joy than helping others who are less fortunate.
  • Reach out. If depression or anxiety become overwhelming, call your healthcare practitioner or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Help is always available; don’t hesitate to ask for it.

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

From Roles to Rolls

Rolls

An actor and foodie who is garnering awards on and off the screen

By Sue Baldani

Mitchell Anderson is used to getting accolades for his acting ability. A student of Julliard who began his acting career in 1983, he has been featured in many popular television, film and theater productions. His most current role is in After Forever, a digital series on Amazon Prime, for which he has been pre-nominated for an Emmy award.

However, Anderson’s most recent award didn’t have anything to do with acting, but with food. As the owner of Metro Fresh, with two locations in Midtown, he is what he calls a food nerd.

“I’ve always been a good cook and always loved that food brings people together and fosters conversation,” said Anderson. “You can kind of tell the story of life through food. That’s what I feel my whole career in show business is about –  telling stories and communicating with people.”

In 2001, he moved to Atlanta to be with his partner (now husband,) Richie Arpino, and to cultivate his interest in the restaurant business. Fortunately for Anderson, he was introduced to Jenny Levison, the owner of Souper Jenny cafes in Atlanta and former actress; they had an immediate connection.

“She taught me this artistic improvisational approach to creating soups and salads. Metro Fresh is very much in the image of Souper Jenny, with my own spin on it.”

Metro Fresh offers breakfast, lunch and nighttime dining options at both locations, and the focus is on what’s fresh and in season.

“The whole idea is to give people a three-meal-a-day dining option that is super creative, really healthy, and fast. That’s what I think I’m most proud of –  that we offer this quick dining option that is also a culinary experience.”

The menu changes every day, but one item has stayed exactly the same for the last 15 years. And this is the one that has won him an award in his role as a foodie.

Called Mitchili, it’s been named Weight Watchers Reimagined Favorite during Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour.

 Although he didn’t get to meet Oprah, he was given two complimentary tickets to the Vision Tour and was able to join her along with the other 15,000 attendees. He was also encouraged to  incorporate the Weight Watchers favorite branding into his menu, which he was honored to do.

Anderson also wrote a cookbook, called Food and Thought, which can be purchased on the Metro Fresh website at https://www.metrofreshatl.com/.

“The cookbook is all about stories and the story of life. I wanted people to get to know me through the stories I write every day.”

Mitchili

(This recipe includes Hot Italian Turkey Sausage, so it will be a little spicier than the Metro Fresh version.)

– 2 Lbs. Ground Turkey
– 1 Lb. (About five links) Hot Italian Turkey Sausage – Casings removed
– 1 Large Red Onion Diced
– 1 each Red, Yellow, Green Pepper seeded and Diced
– 3 Large Cans Chopped Tomatoes
– 1 can each of Chili Beans, Great Northern White Beans, Kidney Beans and
Black Beans (Drain all except for Chili Beans)
– ¼ Cup Olive Oil
– ¼ Cup Chili Powder
– 2 TBS Ground Cumin
– 2 TBS Ground Coriander
– ½ Cup Dijon Mustard
– ¼ Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
– 1/2 Bunch chopped Cilantro
– Kosher Salt To Taste

In large stock pot heat olive oil and then toss in onions and peppers. Sauté until just tender, about five minutes over medium heat. Do not allow them to brown. Add Turkey Meat and Sausage and sauté until cooked through. Add dry spices and mustard. Continue to cook meat until it has turned the color of the chili powder. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add beans and cook over low heat for about an hour. Stir every once and a while so the beans don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. Add fresh herbs before serving and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Sour Cream and Cheddar Cheese if desired.

Serve it over white or yellow rice for an even heartier meal. This recipe of Mitchili will easily serve a nice crowd – perhaps 8-10 people.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta,GA.

Shop local and keep our towns vibrant and strong

Shop local

By Susan Baldani

The Coronavirus has hit the country hard, and will unfortunately have lasting ramifications for quite some time. The economy has taken a severe hit, and many stores, especially those that are small and independently owned,  have either gone out of business or are struggling to survive. So, once this crisis is over, what can we do to help?

Next time you’re out, take a stroll around your downtown. Look closely at the local businesses to be found there. We often drive by without giving them a second thought. In addition to the stores you may already patronize, focus on those you may never have taken the time to visit. Speak to the owners and salespeople and find out what they have to offer. You never know what you might find. If you see something you like, buy it, and then tell other people about it.  Spread the word about these fine establishments –  word of mouth is an effective form of advertising and doesn’t cost anything. I’ve often visited places because someone told me how wonderful the products and service were in those particular shops.

Pay careful attention to the advertisements in this and other local publications to find out what they actually have to offer. If some shops don’t exactly fit what you’re interested in or are selling things you don’t usually buy, try to support them anyway. For example, if you’re not a knitter but know someone who is, buy special yarn and needles as gifts from those shops that sell them. If you have never gone antiquing, but love the look of old and solid furniture, browse what these types of stores have in stock. If you’re a novice, you can also get all  your questions answered about particular pieces or styles you’re interested in. The owners and salespeople in these small stores are usually very knowledgeable about their businesses.

Many of these local mom-and-pop stores have been fixtures in their communities for ages. The proprietors, some going back generations, have worked hard for countless years to build up their businesses and develop loyal customer bases.  Small towns just wouldn’t be the same without them.

So, let’s show our support for these neighborhood treasures that can be found all across the country, in small towns and large, by buying locally and encouraging others to do the same. You’ll not only be doing a great service, but also have fun finding some unique and quality items to enjoy for years to come.

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

The art of being in the right place at the right time

Justin Lyons

How chance encounters led to wide spread recognition of an artist’s talent

By Sue Baldani

Besides talent and hard work, Justin Lyons’ success as an artist can also be attributed to serendipity. His story reads like a late-night movie or a best-selling book.

Lyons was in his late 20s when a friend, Jeremy Lynch (now a film maker in California), introduced him to wheatpasting in 2005. Combining paper, paint and drawings, wheatpasting is a type of street art that is affixed to public spaces using a mixture of flour, water and sugar. Painting on discarded wood, Lyons would hang his unsigned works all over Fort Walton Beach, FL, where he was living at the time. When they began disappearing, he assumed the city was taking them down.

He persevered though and one night, about eight months later, he was preparing to hang another piece of work when he ran into a restaurant owner in town. After noticing the painting in the back of his truck, she told him she had some of his other pieces hanging in her restaurant and asked if she could have this one as well. In return, she offered him not only a generous meal at the restaurant, but also the opportunity to show his work there. Three months later, with the help of Lynch, he did just that, and sold 15 of his 20 pieces.

A few years down the road, he got married and had kids, so making art for a living got put on hold. But, by 2012, he was once again painting heavily and showing his work at art fairs and local art shows. Soon, he was able to open a small studio and gallery in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, where he lives with his wife Kayla and children, Seven, Isla and Lynox.

Not too long after that, another chance meeting took place that would expand his reach greatly into the art world. A woman, on her way to dinner, was walking by his gallery when she ducked under the awning to get out of the rain. Liking what she saw through the window, she went inside and introduced herself as an art consultant in Miami. After looking around some more, she asked if she could show some of his paintings at Art Basel Miami. He said yes, and after that show in 2014, he was picked up by multiple galleries. His art career had taken off.

Over the years, Lyons has refined his style and does not consider himself a street artist anymore. Instead, he said, he’s a self-taught contemporary and expressionism artist.

What initially drew him to art in the first place was the self-expression aspect of it. “That was always my baseline, to paint things that are personal to me,” said Lyons. “My goal is to paint what I feel drawn to or something that makes a statement. I always liked the visual of simple, childlike art, but wanted to merge that imagery with something with a deeper meaning. So the visual is childlike, but the message is more intellectual.”

Common in his artwork are words and phrases that spring into his mind when he’s creating. Lyons will also often change his thoughts and then cross out words and replace some with others. Instead of covering them up and starting fresh, he likes leaving the changes showing.

“When I’m doing up layers, I’m writing things that are spontaneously in my head,” he said. “It’s an immediate thought, but then I might change my mind.”

As far as materials go, Lyons is open minded and uses what feels right at the time, whether it’s wood, acrylic, oil stick, spray paint, house paint, epoxy resin, or pencils.

“I’m just like anything goes; it’s more about the story than the sophistication of the paintings. I’m more interested in the deeper meanings of things and how they can make people question things or feel a certain way. The message aspect of it is what originally drew me to art.”

He does find people’s interpretations of his paintings interesting. “I’ve heard the gamut, honestly,” he said. “Some people are on the same page as I am. Others say, ‘Well, I get this from it,’ and, I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I try not to say ‘Hey, this is what it is,’ or ‘I didn’t mean that,’ because I think it ruins it for people.”

When he first started out, a waitress who worked in the restaurant where his art was hanging called him in tears to let him know about the connection she had with one of his paintings and the way in which she interpreted it. Even though he didn’t see that message, he was glad it worked for her in her own personal way.

Atlanta residents will soon get to interpret Lyons’ art for themselves. He has a show at the Maune Contemporary gallery in April where he will display about 15 to 20 of his pieces. The gallery, which opened in September 2019, is owned by Ramsey and Heidi Maune.

“When they approached me to be represented by them, I was actually also being approached by a few other galleries in the area, and I was going back and forth to see where my best fit would be,” Lyons said. “When I walked into the Maune gallery and met Heidi and Ramsey, they were just the coolest people and their gallery space was beautiful.”

He went on to say that even though the other gallery owners were in the business a lot longer than the Maune’s, that wasn’t important to him. It was that he believed in their vision for their gallery and artists.

‘They’re awesome people who are just so nice and generous. They really believe in my work, and not only have shown it with words, but tangibly by being uber supportive,” he said.

Even though he has a few collectors in Atlanta, this will be his first show in the city, as well as in the state of Georgia.

“I’m excited; I love Atlanta,” he said. “It has a cool vibe to it, and I have a lot of friends in Atlanta.”

He said he will work with Heidi and Ramsey to determine the right pieces for the show.

“Location does matter, but the stuff that I make is more about storytelling, so I don’t try to box myself in with geographical locations,” he said. “I just try to make paintings that humans can relate to. Whether they’re white collar, blue collar or no collar, I just try to make art that people can make a connection with.”

When choosing paintings for a show, he also collaborates with his wife, who is also his business partner. He said that she helps run his business and knows the ins and outs of the industry. In addition to selling his pieces, Lyons also donates his artwork to local non-profit organizations and fundraisers.

“I’m constantly in my studio and I paint every day,” said Lyons. “I just like doing it and I’m so grateful and lucky that people have found my stuff.”

To learn more about Justin Lyons, his art, and the gallery, go to http://www.maune.com/and to jlyonsart.com/” And, be sure to visit Maune Contemporary gallery this April to see his work in person.

Written for Midtown Lifestyles in Atlanta, GA.

Fluff and fun on an alpaca farm

mistletoe_farms_alpaca

Take a tour and learn all about these gentle and oh-so-cute animals

By Sue Baldani

Located on 15 acres in Franklin, Mistletoe Farm is home to a herd of alpacas, many of whom love visitors. Started by Leanne and Tom Butchko, the farm was named for the abundance of mistletoe on the property. Plus, while looking at all those cute faces, you might just want to kiss one.

“People are surprised how friendly, curious, quiet and docile the alpacas are and that they all have unique personalities just like humans,” said Leanne. “Some are loving and enjoy chin rubs and others are aloof and prefer watching life from the sidelines. They are also amazed that an adult alpaca weighs only about 150 pounds.”

When Leanne and Tom, who are both certified public accountants, first heard about alpacas from friends, they did some research to find out more about them. What they learned made them want some of their own, and inspired them to buy their farm.

“We began our alpaca adventures about fifteen years ago by winning one alpaca,” said Leanne. “Trick is you can’t have just one! They would die of loneliness. So we purchased a mom and cria (baby) and started our herd with three.”

Today, they keep between 20 – 25 alpacas, and breed and sell about five to 10 a year. Because of the amount of fiber alpacas produce, Leanne mastered the art of weaving, felting and spinning; she now makes products to sell in their farm store. Of course, with so much fiber, she has to have help.

“We are blessed to have several Tennessee knitters that help us make our hats, ear warmers, scarves and other natural goods using our farm yarn,” said Leanne. “Our family helps with various farm events and the designing of our non-seasonal goods such as t-shirts, mugs and printed products. We also have six grandkids who enjoy jumping in and helping out!”

Their goal each year is to make use of all the fleece by making yarn with the prime grade fiber. The seconds are used to make dryer balls and felted sheets so nothing goes to waste.

For visitors who would like to learn weaving, felting and spinning, they also offer classes on the farm. All age groups and levels of experience are welcome. There are also classes to learn the art of natural dyeing.

“Our natural dye classes consist of foraging for natural dye materials found in our surroundings such as walnuts, leaves, berries and flowers,” said Leanne. “We then teach dye methods including extraction and ‘setting’ on various types of fabric, yarn, silk or paper.”

Leanne said that alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic, water repellent, flame resistant, light weight, and breathable, and it wicks away moisture while being several times warmer than wool. It also comes in 16 natural colors and dyes easily.

Mistletoe Farm Alpacas is very focused on sustainable practices. Leanne explained that alpacas are easy on the land.  Since they have padded feet that do not pull grass up by the roots, they are low impact on pastures and soil. They also eat very little per body weigh; a herd of 10 – 15 alpacas eat about one 50 pound bale of hay a day in winter. The farm also composts their manure directly on pastures and in their dye garden. Alpaca fertilizer is considered a rich soil conditioner and improves soil quality and the ability to retain water. It’s high in nitrogen and potassium, and doesn’t need to be aged like most livestock manure. It also breaks down quickly into the soil.

To see these adorable animals, book your visit through their website at www.mistletoefarmalpacas.com . A typical farm tour lasts 1 ½ hours, and half of that includes interacting and taking pictures with the alpacas. The other half is spent in their studio seeing what they make with all that fluffiness.

“We continue to be blessed each year with more and more visitors. Best guesstimate is between 5,000-10,000 last year,” said Leanne. “We do close during July and August due to the summer heat, and the alpacas tend to spend their days in front of the fans and in kiddie pools!”

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.

Everything in its place

Closet

Getting organized saves both time and money

By Sue Baldani

How often have we asked ourselves, “Where’d I put that”? This is usually followed by a frustrating and sometimes fruitless search.

WIPT designs (pronounced whipped, as in whipping your space into shape, and an acronym for the question above) was started by Beth Hayden to help people get organized. With a background in interior design and space planning, combined with a lifelong obsession with tidiness, this profession suits her perfectly.

Being a single mother at 19, while going to school and working full time, meant having to be super organized in order to get everything done.

“I needed everything to be in its place and easy to find since we didn’t have a lot of time,” said Beth.

After her daughter started college, Beth moved to Nashville and began to build her dream business. At first, organizing was just something she did on the side, but eventually word-of-mouth recommendations and glowing social media testimonials generated a high demand for her skills. So, on March 4, 2019, WIPT designs was born.

“Starting a business was very scary to me as a woman and a single mom with nothing to fall back on,” said Beth. “I built it from scratch, and I basically do all business through referrals.”

Beth prides herself on not just being able to organize people’s spaces, whether a master bedroom, small pantry, or office, but doing it in a very individualized way. She likes to get to know her clients so she can construct customized plans that fit their lifestyles. This is why she offers a free one-hour consultation.

“I specialize in organizing for the space, but also for the person,” said Beth.

When she arrives at a client’s home, she takes pictures and measurements of the room or space to be organized. Then, if there’s a budget or need to buy bins and other items, she’ll go on Amazon and make a list of things to order. Once those items arrive, she’ll be ready to get started. Also, in addition to organizing, Beth can also design and decorate the space as well.

Being organized, she said, is one of the biggest natural stress relievers. Plus, being organized saves time as well as money, since people can see what they have and avoid buying duplicates.

Most people want to be organized, but they’re afraid it’s going to take too much time or they don’t know where to start. But, once a space is organized, it’s much easier to keep up.

One of Beth’s favorite quotes is by Benjamin Franklin, which states, “Every minute spent organizing is an hour earned.”

To find some great organizational ideas and see some of her projects, follow WIPT designs on Instagram. Or go to https://www.wiptdesigns.com/.

Tip 1
Clear bins are the most efficient containers because you can see what’s inside. To make them pretty, put nice labels on them. Or, to save money, use shoeboxes spray painted in your choice of colors.

Tip 2
In the pantry, always place the most used items in the “prime real estate” sections, which are the easiest spots to access. If you’re a big breakfast family, put your cereals there. Also, group items like pasta and pasta sauce together.

Tip 3
Since most people spend so much time doing laundry, make the laundry room an inviting place. Put detergent and pods in pretty jars (out of reach of children), buy a pretty laundry basket, and add signs or pictures.

Tip 4
Piles are a guarantee of disorganization. If you have to have stacks of clothing, use pocket folding. This tucks pieces in so they don’t become unfolded. Spending time refolding is a time waster. This type of folding also allows travelers to pack and unpack easily.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.

Mother’s Day Blessings

Here’s an article I’ve posted in the past, and it’s still oh-so-true.

Mother's Day pic

What I have learned from my mother

By Susan Baldani

What qualities does one need to be a wonderful mother? Well, let’s see. Kindness, selflessness, a loving heart, a caring personality, an abundance of patience, acceptance and wisdom are just a few necessary qualities. Fortunately for me, my mother has all of these and more.

Even though I never had children of my own, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be a stepmother and, in the last few years, a grandmother, or in my case, a MeMa. I fell into these roles rather easily, I believe, because I had such a great role model in my mother (and grandmothers). Not that the men in my life haven’t influenced me positively as well, but this article is, after all, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

I learned that my needs have to sometimes be overlooked in order to make others happy. That sacrifice is a form of love and not something to begrudge.  I learned that giving to others makes me much happier than any gift I could give myself.  I learned how to bring comfort, even when I feel like I’m the one who needs comforting, and that it’s better to get up to help when all I want is to do is lie down.  These are traits I have tried to carry over into all of my relationships.

My mom is also one of my very best friends. I can talk to her about anything and she will never judge me, criticize me, or try to make decisions for me and my future.  She will give me advice, but knows that I need to make some mistakes to find my own true path in life, and hitting a few speed bumps along the journey is the only way to really find the right destination.

My life has been filled with many successes, both personally and professionally. My mother has encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen and has been my tireless cheerleader. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without the belief instilled in me to trust in my own decisions.

I know I am so very fortunate to still have my mom. Some of my friends have already had to say goodbye to theirs, and my heart truly breaks for them since I know what a hole I would have in my life without my mother. No matter how old I get, I will always need my mommy.  Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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

 

Forget your troubles and do a puzzle

jigsaw-305576_960_720

By Sue Baldani

There is always a jigsaw puzzle in various state of completion on my dining room table. I do it on a big piece of cardboard so when people are coming for dinner, I can just pick it up and slide it under the couch. Out of sight, but not out of mind. As soon as the coast is clear, I drag it back out, with the guests never knowing that they were sitting on a sandy beach or snow-covered mountain.

As a child, I always enjoyed puzzles, but as an adult I forgot about them for a while. Then, about 10 years ago, I was planning a trip to the shore to stay in a rental house for a week. I was so looking forward to relaxing. I had all my beach gear, books and magazines, but wondered what else I could do when I was tired of the hot sun and sand. I happened to see a beach-themed puzzle at the store, and just like that, I had my new hobby.

Besides being fun, I find that puzzles are often a great way to overcome anxiety and stress. When I sit down and work on a puzzle, focusing so intently on those little pieces helps me forget about my own problems for a while. It’s hard to worry when you’re trying to complete the whiskered face of an adorable cat. (A lot of my puzzles involve cats, dogs and a variety of other cute animals.)

I am very, very picky when it comes to choosing a puzzle. First of all, I like to occasionally match them to the season, so in the summer I will pick out a beach or floral scene, for example. I also need a busy puzzle; no big blue skies or wide expanses of green lawns. No, the more stuff crammed into that square or rectangular picture the better. I also prefer between 500 and 750 pieces; anything less is too easy and anything more sometimes frustrates me. And I don’t like to be frustrated. After all, I’m doing puzzles to de-stress and enjoy myself.

What I find truly amusing is when people come in, see me doing a puzzle, and remark about what an old-fashioned pursuit it is. However, more often than not, they find themselves wandering over to watch. Then, before they realize what’s happening, they’re doing the puzzle with me.

By the way, I think puzzles are making a comeback. When I went to my local library last week, I noticed that they now have two jigsaw puzzles going at all times. What a great idea!

Written for The Country Register, distributed across the USA and Canada

Batteries Not Included

Board Games Can Cure Cabin Fever

It always surprises people when they walk into my living room and see a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. They ask, “Wow, people still do those?” Yes, yes they do. They also play Monopoly, Clue, Connect 4 and other non-tech games.

As a matter of fact, board games are making a comeback. Go into the toy department of any store, and you will still see a large array of not only board games, but card games and jigsaw puzzles as well. According to ArticleBiz.com, “Games like Risk, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and The Game of Life are some of the classic games that are still very much in demand and well loved. And traditional games like chess, checkers, and backgammon will always be favorites.”

Who doesn’t remember sitting around with family and friends while laughing and arguing about who was going to win the game? Or hearing the cheers and boos of your fellow players as you push that round checker across the board or try to extricate that wooden piece during Jenga? That cannot be duplicated on a computer, phone or television screen. And no slick 3D video game can replace this live social interaction.

For most of us, it started out with Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, and now the choices are many. Board games like Scattergories and Pictionary to card games such as Uno or Phase 10; there is something for everyone, at any age.  Also, as stated on howandwhys.com, when it comes to kids, “Board games play a huge role in children’s health and brain development: different types of board games help to develop logic and reasoning skills, improve critical thinking, increase verbal and communication skills, develop attention skills and the ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.” Furthermore, if the power goes out or there are no batteries in the house, not to worry. You can still carry on with your game or puzzle. And besides, playing Twister in the dark may be a lot more fun and challenging.

So go into your closets, dust off those game boxes (or pick up some new ones), and make plans for a get-together with your favorite people. Whether you make dinner first, or just serve coffee and cake, it doesn’t much matter. Sit around and enjoy one another’s company while the televisions, phones and computers sit silent and lonely in the background. And remember, no cheating. Enjoy!

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