Managing the New Normal

Advice on adapting to our ever-changing lifestyles

By Susan Baldani

Selena Soni, a licensed clinical social worker with MUV Counseling in Scottdale, has been in practice for 15 years. Her specialties are anxiety disorders, depression, and adjustment to new medical and psychiatric diagnoses.

Here, she gives advice about dealing with the changes and restrictions that COVID-19 has introduced into our lives. She also talks about getting through the holidays in this unprecedented time.

  • Create some space around expectations. Most of us expect a lot from ourselves, but allow yourself to slow down and do things differently.
  • Connect with yourself and with the people you love, and be open to communicating about what’s going on and how you’re feeling. Right now, we’re all having to deal with things that make us uncomfortable.
  • Look at what’s important, and make adjustments to get that same feeling, be it holding Zoom calls or phone conferencing with family and friends. And, don’t give up on weekends; instead, find something that works within your comfort zone.
  • Develop your “Quaranteam,” have tolerance, and be very open about what you’re doing and when you’re doing it.
  • Get outside and soak up some Vitamin D. It’s really important for our entire body to move, and walking or riding a bike and getting fresh air is really a sensory experience. Our bodies need that engagement, and being outside gives us more variation than anything that we can do inside four walls. It’s incredibly important for our mental health.
  • For the holidays, decide what particular traditions you love and then figure out how to keep them. They may look different, but still give you the same feeling.
  • Ask for help to get everything done. Recruit your loved ones to make holidays relaxing and memorable.

Written for Scottsdale Lifestyle magazine in Arizona.

Playing Nice – Book Review

By Sue Baldani

What if a stranger came to your home and told you that your child wasn’t really yours? That he was switched at birth with the stranger’s son? In the book “Playing Nice” by JP Delaney, this is exactly what happens.

When stay-at-home dad Pete Riley opens the door of his small house in London one ordinary morning, he thinks the gentleman ringing the bell is looking to buy or possibly sell something. He has no idea that after this encounter, his life and that of his family will never be ordinary again.

“Playing Nice,” published in 2020, leads readers through a myriad of emotions, from sadness and fear to anger and disbelief. The characters they think are charming and perfectly normal may actually be the ones who are the most evil. And those telling Pete not to worry, that everything can be worked out, may be the most conniving of all.

Who knows what really goes on in people’s minds, or for that matter, behind closed doors? Many have secrets, and keeping these secrets from getting out may be worth killing for. But could these everyday, well-educated parents really go to that extreme? Why yes, because at least one is what psychiatrists would label a psychopath.

While Pete and his partner Maddie try to deal with the nightmare of possibly losing their 2-year-old child Ben, they also face the unimaginable consequence of not being able to raise their own birth child. The situation may force this once ordinary couple to do things they never imagined.  And it may make the other couple do even worse.

Also, can evil genes be inherited? Ben, even as a toddler, has shown himself to exhibit some of his “real” father’s less-than-admirable traits. If they do manage to hold onto Ben, how can they prevent him from following in his father’s footsteps?

Readers will be taken on a wild ride as the two couples battle to keep not only what’s rightly theirs, but also what isn’t. Who will win, and who will lose, possibly even paying with their own life?

JP Delany is a pseudonym for an author who has written under many different names. His New York Times bestsellers include “The Girl Before,” “Believe Me,” and “The Perfect Wife.” To find out more about him and his books, go to http://www.jpdelaney.co.uk/.

 Susan Baldani lives in the U.S. and writes articles about small town life, décor, books and food for various magazines across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. You can contact her at suebaldani@yahoo.com, through her website at www.mywritingwall.com, or on Twitter @mywritingwall.

Written for The Felixstowe Magazine in Felixstowe, Suffolk, England.

Virtual Santa Visits

Christmas wishes are not on hold this year

By Susan Baldani

What would Christmas be without a visit to see Santa? Even though the big guy is very busy this time of year, he always finds time to speak with his fans. With COVID-19 on the naughty list, many of these in-person visits have been canceled.

But don’t despair! Santa has come up with a way to stay in touch and hear boys’ and girls’ wishes. Like most people these days, Santa is holding a lot of meetings through Zoom calls from his residence at the North Pole. Once he’s done ensuring all his elves are wearing masks and practicing social distancing while making all the toys requested on the ‘Dear Santa’ letters and through Zoom, Santa will sit down with your kids so he can add their wishes to his long list.

Children will also be able to sing their favorite Christmas songs with the jolly guy, or hear him read the classic, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more fondly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” For an additional fee, Santa can share custom messages with your children to foster Christmas joy or to remind kiddos to be good so they can stay on his nice list.

Scheduling a meeting with Santa is easy, and calls can be conducted on computers, tablets, or video-enabled smartphones. Group calls can also be held with various organizations, such as scout troops and school classes.

These Zoom sessions usually last 10 minutes, but parents can sign up for longer times to enable up to four children to have their own personal visits with Santa. And, these calls can be recorded to share with other family members, such as grandparents and aunts and uncles. Your children can also share them with their own kids one day.

To bring the magic of Christmas into your home this season, just click on the website VisitWithSantaClaus.com and choose an available day and time. All payments are done through PayPal, and because Santa is a giving man, a portion of the proceeds collected from these visits are being used to support the website company’s annual toy drive.

Written for Franklin Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Women Helping Women

Sharing faith and fellowship to overcome challenges

By Susan Baldani

Faithfully Restored Women, a faith-based group, was started by four close friends who have experienced more than their share of adversity. Recognizing the comfort they found in each other and from their faith encouraged them to seek ways to offer hope to others.

“Our friend group, for being in our 30s, has really gone through some pretty major life events,” says Executive Director Jamie Heard.

In the summer of 2015, Heather Milburn, the development director, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30; she relapsed in 2017.

“When I was young my mom passed away from breast cancer; it’s hereditary,” she says. “Then my father passed away a year later.”

With two young children of her own, she is thankful for her faith and trusts in God’s plan.

“My mom knew where she was going and that one day, we would all see each other again,” says Heather. “And now being in the situation that I’m in, I cling to that.”

Jamie has also relied heavily on her friends and faith to persevere through tragedy.

“When I was 25, three months before my wedding, my dad committed suicide; that was the first thing that kind of rocked my faith,” she says.

Having grown up in the church, she was initially angry at God. But a few years later, after having moved to Nashville with her husband, she found Fellowship Church in Brentwood.

“That really helped me have a really strong foundation.”

This foundation would be paramount in getting through one of the greatest losses a parent can suffer.  

“In December 2015, we had a daughter named Madeline and a son named William,” says Jamie. “When he was 2 ½, William choked at lunch and later on passed away.

After that happened, I was in such a different place in my faith that I could look back and really see that God was preparing me for losing William. I trusted Him and no matter what happened, I knew it was going to be okay.”

Six months after William died, Jennie Rebecca Springer, the secretary of the board for Faithfully Restored, lost her 7-year-old son, Hayes, in a car accident.

“That’s how we connected,” says Jamie. “We had a mutual friend who called me and told me what happened. I reached out, sent her a book, wrote her a note, and we met, and that relationship has been so sweet because you each know the depth of pain you’ve experienced. As much as my friends were there for me, they don’t really know what it’s like.”

So today, through Faithfully Restored, the group sends encouraging notes and care packages. They also try to match prayer partners with people who have gone through similar situations.

Jamie Hamilton, the president of the board, has dealt with her own struggles of infertility. She and her husband eventually adopted Jack and Stella to complete their family. Today, the group helps support adoptive and foster families as well.

Faithfully Restored provides many other services to help women. Now that the organization has grown a bit, it can do more than ever before.

“At first, it was the four of us meeting once a month at our homes, writing encouraging notes,” says Jamie. “Any money we spent was out of our pockets. It’s been neat now to have donors walk alongside us and kind of dream of what else we can do. We’re so blessed and thankful.”

Just the other day, she says, she met with a 44-year-old woman who had witnessed her son being murdered. This mom decided she was going back to school to get her counseling degree, but she was short $1,500.

When Jamie told her the group would give her that money, the woman broke down in tears.

Faithfully Restored held its first fundraiser in April. Because of COVID-19, it was a virtual event. The focus was not only on raising funds but also on telling William’s story and how, after he died, his heart was donated.

“We were presented with the gift of organ donation, and we said yes,” says Jamie. “His heart went to an 18-month-old girl named Ava. Within 24 hours after surgery, we had connected with her family. It was undeniably God’s plan.”

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who is one of Jamie’s friends, interviewed her and Amie (Ava’s mother) during the event.

“We also had three amazing songwriters (Luke Laird, Lee Thomas Miller, and Jordan Reynolds) sign up, and we called it ‘Stories from the Heart,’” Jamie says. “We did it live from the Loveless and broadcast it on YouTube and Facebook. We had $136,000 come in for Faithfully Restored.”

Their goal for November and December will be supporting families who have experienced loss. They’ll be expanding the group’s Amazon wish list and holding Giving Tuesdays. In addition, they have an ongoing monthly program called Hope Builders, and donations can also be made by texting the word “Give” to 615-551-3737.

To find out more, go to https://www.faithfullyrestoredwomen.com/ or look on Instagram and Facebook under Restored Women.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

https://citylifestyle.com/nashville-tn/articles/life-and-culture/women-helping-women-3

Giving Thanks

Friends are the family you choose

by Susan Baldani

For those who may be far away from their families or not able to celebrate Thanksgiving with them for other reasons, consider having a Friendsgiving instead. Invite those people who have made a positive impact on your life and who you would love to have seated around your holiday table. After all, the day is about being thankful and sharing with others.

In her popular blog, Life of Alley, Alley shows us just how to do this. Originally from Connecticut and living in Houston since 2014, she created her blog as a place where women could go to find inspiration, advice, and encouragement from other women; her blog covers everything from home décor and wellness to food and beauty.

Last year, Alley threw a boho-styled Friendsgiving in her backyard. Luckily, in Houston, the weather is usually mild enough to be comfortable outside in late November.

She mentions on her blog that the unofficial holiday of Friendsgiving seems to have popped up in the mid-1990s. A combination of the words “Friends” and “Thanksgiving”, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Friends come together to celebrate Thanksgiving and give thanks for one another.

Alley encourages hosts to think outside the box when it comes to the menu. There’s no rule that says you have to stick to traditional Thanksgiving foods, although some people might be upset if they don’t find a turkey on the table.

Also, decide how you’ll get all the food on the table, whatever it may be. Will you do all the cooking, or will you roast the turkey and have your friends each bring a side dish? Or, will you ask guests to bring a bottle of wine or dessert? Maybe you would prefer to sit back and relax and have the entire dinner, from appetizers to dessert, catered. You could even go a step further and hire someone who can serve and take care of clean up. Friendsgiving, says Alley, should be a relaxed event where you can sit back and have a great time with good friends.

Alternatively, if you are invited to a Friendsgiving and it’s not clear on the invitation, she suggests asking the host(s) what they would like you to bring. If no food is needed, then bring a bottle of wine or a small thank you gift such as flowers or a candle.

To find out more about Alley and to check out her blog, go to https://www.lifeofalley.com/.

Alley’s tips for a warm, wonderful, and successful Friendsgiving:

  • Assess your space and seating area in order to determine how many people you can comfortably accommodate. Everyone should have a spot at the table and a comfortable seat.
  • Then, create your guest list and send out invitations. Keep track of how who responds and how many will be attending.
  • Organize your table linens, plates, and silverware to make sure you have the right amount of supplies.
  • Next, plan your menu, and decide who will prepare it.

Written for Cypress Lifestyle magazine in Cypress, Texas.

https://citylifestyle.com/houston-tx/articles/food-and-drink/celebrate-friendsgiving

Sound Technology

How advancements in devices have led to better hearing

By Sue Baldani

Like our other senses, hearing is paramount to enjoying life to its fullest. The better we can communicate, the more successful we’ll be in relationships, careers, and interactions with the world around us.

Fortunately for those with mild to moderate hearing loss, hearing devices have undergone dramatic technological improvements over the years. They are basically now mini-computers, and are capable of many different functions.

“The work I get to do allows me to feel like a superhero,” says Dr. Tina Jessee, an audiologist who has been practicing since the early 90s. “It’s amazing because I really can change people’s lives with the technology I’m fitting.”

She opened Good Sound Audiology in 2002, which now has locations in Mesa, Gilbert, and Sun Lakes. She knows that some people are resistant to the idea of hearing aids, or may be in denial that they need them.

“It’s an emotional disease,” says Dr, Jessee. “It might generate feelings of aging. Hearing loss isolates us and causes anger and depression.”

One of her patients, Thomas Baer, is glad that he found Dr. Jessee back in the early 2000s. Born with a birth defect that caused hearing issues, he gave up on seeking help many years before.

“I never really had great experiences with hearing aids,” says Thomas. “They were huge and clunky and broke down quite often.”

It wasn’t until he got married that he and his wife Brenda talked it over and decided he should give hearing aids another chance.

“I was missing out on so many things,” he says. “It’s really stressful on your partner because you keep having to ask them to repeat or sometimes you think you heard it this way and it wasn’t that way.”

Dr. Jessee says modern hearing aids are really changing people’s lives, because hearing better is living better. They can effectively communicate with friends and family.

“Dr. Jessee wants you to not only hear, but to hear with a capital H, because she wants that experience to be perfect for you,” says Thomas. 

There are now blue tooth hearing devices, she explains, so anything that comes out of your smartphone can go directly through your hearing devices. So, if you want to go for a run and listen to music, you don’t need to wear anything else. You can double tap on your hearing devices and just like with Alexa, you can ask, “What’s the capital of New York?” or “How’s the weather in Panama?” They can also count your steps or call someone if you fall down.

For Thomas, these newer hearing devices continue to have a positive effect not only on his life, but for those around him as well.

“Phone conversations, music, and television can be streamed directly into my ears, and I can control the volume for myself without having to make it loud for everybody in the room,” he says.

He and Dr. Jessee meet on a quarterly basis, so she can find out the types of experiences he is having and how his hearing devices may have to be tweaked to accommodate those changes.

“What makes Dr. Jessee so great is that she listens so that I can hear better,” says Thomas. “She’ll ask me what I’m struggling with and can turn settings up or down. I also have the ability to do that myself on my phone application. The jumps in technology have been phenomenal.

One of the jokes I have with Dr. Jessee is that I’m pretty much an every three- or four-year upgrader because I’m a technology guy, that’s my career, and I just love the advances they’re making.”

And he says, having better hearing has improved his relationship with his wife.

“We are now more clear to each other,” he says. “I’m not missing conversations.  We have a grandson and it’s really great to listen to him and hear him laugh.”

The couple also spend a lot of time outdoors, and now Thomas can hear the birds singing. And because his hearing devices are water resistant, he can exercise as vigorously as he wants. Perspiration will not affect them.

“Don’t hesitate,” he says. “Go to an audiologist like Dr. Jessee. You’re missing out on so much in life. There’s no excuse now not to go get them. Go check with someone, because you may have preconceived ideas of what hearing aids are and they have changed dramatically.”

Dr. Jessee agrees. “We have this amazing technology now, and I really want people to understand how wonderful better hearing is. It’s life changing. Joy and satisfaction of life increases.”

https://citylifestyle.com/houston-tx/articles/life-and-culture/sound-technology

Written for Chandler Lifestyle magazine in Chandler, Arizona.

Culinary Bootcamp

How a mom improved her cooking skills while America Watched

By Susan Baldani

Dolores Aguilar-Fernandez of Cypress remembers when walking into her kitchen and getting ready to cook for her family would almost cause her to have a panic attack. The working wife and mom was never sure what to cook, how it would come out, and whether or not she would cut herself or burn the dish. About 10 years ago, she cut her pinky finger so badly while chopping, that she ended up needing seven stitches. Even with all these clues, she didn’t realize just how bad a cook she actually was.

“My daughter, Elena (now 10 years old), would give me hints sometimes,” says Dolores. “When she would ask who was cooking and I would say Dad, she always gave a big sigh of relief.”

A couple of summers ago, she and Elena were channel surfing when they stumbled upon the Food Network show “Worst Cooks in America.”

“So, we’re watching, and five minutes into it, my daughter looks at me and says, ‘Mom, that’s you.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

When she mentioned it to her husband, Ruben Fernandez, who she has been married to for 14 years now, he confirmed their daughter was right.

After hearing that, Dolores decided to apply to be a contestant on “Worst Cooks in America.”

“I think a year passed, and then they called me,” she says. “While on the phone with a producer, I was feeding my 3-year-old son (Oliver, who is now 4) ice cream for lunch. What timing! I had interviews with different producers, and then they told me I was in.”

Dolores, a recruiter for AT&T, had told her boss months in advance that this might happen.

“I worked with the company for so many years that I had already added so much vacation time that it covered it,” she says. “And my coworkers covered for me.”

The show taped in New York earlier this year, and now Dolores says that city is her second home.

“They literally had us quarantined in a hotel before quarantining took effect, so we were already prepared,” she says.

As per her contract, she cannot say how long she was there. It was hard being away from her family though.

“We missed each other a lot. What helped was FaceTime. Without that, I don’t think I would’ve made it.”

She’s very thankful that so many people in her life chipped in so she could take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

Dolores was nervous about meeting the other contestants and worried about how they would all get along since they would be together so much.  

“It was amazing to me how quickly we clicked and bonded,” she says. “We were all bad cooks, so we had something in common, and we really fed off each other. We still talk today, and we’re planning to get together once COVID is over and it’s safe to travel again.”

Her first day on the show was nerve racking, to say the least.

“When I walked in, I couldn’t believe I was there after seeing it on television,” says Dolores. “First, I thought I was going to throw up, and then I was afraid I was going to faint and wondered who was going to carry me off the set. But once the chefs (Anne Burrell and Alex Guarnaschelli) start ordering me around, I forgot about the cameras and lights because I knew I had to get things done.”

She said it was an unbelievable experience to taste Chefs Anne and Alex’s food: “It was an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Of course, there were some mishaps on the show, which she can now laugh about.

“On the first episode, I cut my finger twice, once on a can, and had to go to one of those urgent cares to get a tetanus shot,” she says. “At some point on the show, you’ll see all these Band-Aids on my hands. And on the second episode, I tripped twice. It was so embarrassing.”

Dolores was on Season 20, which aired earlier this year. Although she didn’t win, she did make it to the final four.

She also learned quite a few new skills. She now cooks steaks, and also makes a gourmet burger that she prepared on the show and that her husband loves.

“I’m practicing my skills with my husband and kids,” she says.

She feeds her family much healthier foods now that she knows how to prepare them instead of relying on quick, non-nutritious meals.

“You do it because it’s convenient,” says Dolores. “We’re at a time where we don’t have the luxury that the mother can be home. But Elena’s eating the asparagus I make now. That alone is enough for the sacrifice of leaving my family to go on the show.”

To see Dolores in action on the show, click the link below:

https://citylifestyle.com/houston-tx/articles/life-and-culture/culinary-bootcamp

Written for Cypress Lifestyle magazine in Cypress, Texas.

Dressing Up the Scottsdale Waterfront

Bright and beautiful bins make litter disappear  

By Susan Baldani

Walking along the Scottsdale waterfront, you’ll notice some colorful works of art. Not only are they wonderful to look at, but they’re extremely functional as well. Within the fanciful veneers, you’ll find garbage and recyclable receptacles.

“I thought it was really a neat and original idea to take these ordinary trash cans that you never really look at and make them part of the arts events,” says Mary Neubauer, President’s Professor of Sculpture at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.   

Installed in May, these receptacles feature hummingbirds, flowers, butterflies and abstract whirly patterns. There are eight color combinations, including a blue pattern over silver and a bright blue over yellow. Besides the ascetic appeal, recycled metal from old dumpsters was incorporated, reinforcing the idea of recycling.

“I like to work with concepts of regional fauna and flora, so those were my themes,” says Neubauer.

In addition to metal, she also works in stone. Her works of art can be found throughout Arizona, as well as in Italy, Switzerland and France.

“I really enjoyed this project because it is making something so ordinary and functional have a different meaning,” says Neubauer.

Written for Scottsdale Lifestyle magazine in Arizona.

Culinary Compositions

Delicious and delectable bites across the board

By Susan Baldani

Charcuterie boards are an easy and delicious way to bring people together. Toni Zorich, owner of Dammi Vino, grew up in an Italian household. When she creates a board for her family, she makes sure to always include prosciutto and Italian cheeses.

“I’m Italian, and we sit around the table and drink wine and eat food all the time,” she says. “I came up with Dammi Vino, which roughly translates to ‘Feed me wine.’ It’s what I do best in life.”

Dammi Vino is a local company providing unique food and wine experiences. Their custom charcuterie boards often include such favorites as prosciutto, focaccia crackers, and barrel-aged cheeses. And, says Toni, they are full to the brim with the highest quality foods.

“They are built with lots of care and much love because this is a family business,” she says. “As much as I would like to take credit for it, I could not do this without my mom, my fiancé, or his sister.”

What she puts on a board depends on the client and the event. It can be fancy and festive for a romantic picnic or girls’ night out, or more down to earth and manly for a sporting event or poker game. But each one is an original.

“Part of the fun with my boards is you can get wine that pairs with it, or a few different bottles that pair with certain bites,” says Toni. “It just takes it to another level.”

To find out more, go to https://dammivino.com/.

Starting with green olives and going clockwise:

[see picture above]

Castelvetrano Olives

These olives have a sweet, subtle flavor.

Honey Goat Gouda

An in-between hard and soft cheese with a great subtle, salty, and sweet flavor.

Capocollo

A traditional Italian dry-cured meat sliced very thin. It has a great saltiness.

Pretzel Thins

A cracker that is familiar to people, and has a flavor that hits everyone’s palate well.

Peppered Salami / Hard Salami

A meat with a slight spice flavor that brings a familiarity as something your guests can easily identify

Soft Brie Cheese

Pairs well with everything. It provides a perfect vessel for jams, jellies and honey.

Homemade Basil Strawberry Jam

Jams and jellies add flavor and color. This jam is best paired with the Brie cheese.

Herbed Pita Crisps

A cracker that brings more interesting flavors to the charcuterie board.

Prosciutto

An Italian cured meat that brings sweet and salty to the board. It is one of the most delicious elements and always the first to go.

Kalamata Olives

These popular olives have a briny and salty flavor that many palates find pleasing.

Bellavitano Chardonnay Cheese

A great hard cheese with bites of salty, buttery and floral notes.

Rosemary to garnish

Written for Franklin Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Attire That Inspires

Outfitting women with the tools to get the job done

By Susan Baldani

Dress for Success Nashville, a program through the YWCA, has been in operation for close to 10 years now. A local affiliate of the world-wide organization, it has helped countless women become financially secure.

“I believe very much in the YW’s mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and loving peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all,” says Sharon Roberson, the President and CEO of the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. “Dress for Success is a crucial part of that mission because we do believe that women need support and career development tools in order to be empowered.”

Women are referred to Dress for Success from one of their many partner organizations in the community. These are women who have a desire to transition to a higher economic level through professional development. Dress for Success provides the clothes, the tools, and a network for women to help them become financially independent. This, in turn, leads to more security for their families.  

A career specialist helps women put together their resumes. Even if they have never been in the workforce, these specialists help them discover the skills they have and how to market them.

Before an interview, a woman is given what they call a “suiting,” which consists of an interview outfit and accessories. Wearing the appropriate outfit instills the confidence needed to make a positive first impression. If the woman gets the job, she is then able to return and receive a week’s worth of clothing, which she can mix and match as she desires.

Many of these women, says Roberson, have never had anyone pamper them or encouraged them to feel good about themselves.

“We also have a professional women’s group that mentors our clients, because when you get into the workforce, the first step is getting the job, but keeping the job is the second step,” she says.

Some of the women who have gone through Dress for Success and other YWCA programs come back to be mentors themselves.

“They are our greatest pride, says Roberson. “There are no better teachers than those who have been there.”

To support this invaluable program, go to https://www.ywcanashville.com/what-we-do/dfs/. Professional women can donate their time; others can hold a clothing drive, or financially assist the program. If anyone in Williamson County is interested in Dress for Success and/or any women’s organizations as a whole, Roberson would be happy to speak with them.

“For $250.00, you can cover the cost of an interview suiting for one client,” says Roberson. “You can give a woman a new lease on life with this $250.00.”

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle Magazine in Tennessee.