Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Genie in the Lamp and the Meaning of Life

While organizing interview responses today, I began considering the depth of human emotion and became, understandably, introspective.

To lighten the mood, I set seriousness aside and played dress-up with my daughters. One transformed Kaine-dog into the evil Jafar and herself into Aladdin. The other changed into a more devious version of Princess Jasmine, and working overtime, I switched on and off between the Sultan of Agrabah and...the genie in the lamp.

After an hour of granting wishes, we flew our magic carpet to the family table for a snack break.

The evil, and ever so tolerant, Jafar
While slicing up strawberries, I thought about the wishes my eldest had asked Genie Mom to grant- to play with her best friend, to visit a cave, to go roller skating. Her answers made me smile. Then I wondered what it would be like to interview a kid, a little pipsqueak with raw honesty and an innocent perspective.

So I mustered up the most complex question in the whole wide world and launched it at my 3-year-old daughter.

Me: Hey kid?
Kiddo: Huh?
Me: What is the meaning of life?
Kiddo: Tell me. What is it?
Me: No. I'm asking YOU. What is the meaning of life?
Kiddo: Oh. (long pause) Love? Yeah. Love.


And there you have it. I think I'm going to start interviewing children. Maybe next time, they should play all-powerful genies in the lamp. These kids sure have made all of my wishes come true.
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Real People Feature: Bethany

Who are you?

I am Bethany- mother to Emelia and Alice, wife to Matty Lew, full-time graduate student, aspiring librarian, and lover of life. 

What is the best advice you've ever given or received and why?

The best advice that I ever received was "Do unto others as you want done to you." I think it is such a powerful message that you should treat everyone the way you would want to be treated. It takes the focus away from selfish desires and actions and helps you remember to be nice, courteous and polite to bring the focus to those around you. 
Ooooh! Bethany can make some pretty amazing CAKES, as well!
The best advice I have ever given would be to enjoy the little moments, because those little moments are what builds a lifetime. I think, in today's society, it's so easy to get wrapped up in drama, conflict, materialism, etc., and people don't often stop to enjoy those little moments. 

You know, like when you are driving in a car and you realize the sky is blue, the clouds are puffy, the air is crisp. A euphoric song comes on the radio, you look in your rearview mirror and see your daughters holding hands. At that moment, you are overwhelmed with joy and are so grateful for everything you have been given. It's those little moments that need to be enjoyed, acknowledged and remembered; those moments strung together create your life. 

What has been the greatest challenge in your life and why?

The greatest challenge has also been a blessing- my car accident. A year ago, my daughter and I were struck by a tractor trailer on the highway while driving home from a doctor's appointment. The driver was not paying attention and hit us straight on from the rear, buckling my car all the way to the back of my daughter's car seat. 
God was watching over us that day though, and we were able to walk away with only minor injuries. The worst thing was that I saw the whole thing coming and was unable to do anything about it due to traffic. Seeing a tractor trailer coming at you at a high speed throws a lot of thoughts into your head in a very short amount of time. My first thought was, "I am not ready to die."

At the time, I had been suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of our second daughter and had thoughts of negativity about myself and my worth being here on earth. In that split second during the accident, my postpartum vanished. Yes, I ended up having to go through months of therapy to be able to get into a car again, but I was able to come to terms with just how precious life is and just how important I am to my husband, daughters, family and friends. It was the hardest thing I have had to overcome so far, but it also helped me overcome other obstacles. 

What has been the greatest joy in your life and why?

My two girls have been the greatest joy in my life, hands down. They have taught me more than any school or education could teach- patience, unconditional love, happiness, selflessness, humor...I could go on and on. There is nothing better than a hug from them or to hear them say, "I love you." Their love is so innocent, and they make me want to be a better person.
What is one thing you have not done that you really want to do and why?

The one thing I have not done that I really want to do is travel to Germany. I am 100% German and have always longed to visit where my ancestors came from. I have not been able to travel there yet because life has just plain gotten in the way. When I taught in England, I thought I was going to get a chance to go, but the war had just started in Iraq. Americans were not very popular over there, and we were advised to stick to the UK. I will go someday though; you can count on it!

Special thanks to Bethany for her open and heartwarming contribution. Now here's a girl who is definitely REAL people, friends...and she's REALLY amazing, for sure! And how about those adorable kiddos? Who can stand the cuteness?!? With a mama like Bethany, it's no wonder why their eyes are so bright.

Have any of you readers ever endured a car accident or PPD? How did it change your perspective?

Oktoberfest is actually in full swing right now in Munich! Anyone have good tales from the Deutschland to share? 

P.S. If you'd like to participate in a Real People Feature, send me a message at or comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Real People Feature: Holly Hundermark

Who are you? 

Who am I? I am an Auntie, a friend, a daughter, and a sister. My dad refers to me as "Punklish Kite" while my big sister calls me "Wollum" or "Wormie." However, to most people, I am Holly.

What is the best advice you've ever given or received and why?

The best advice I’ve received is to be true to myself and proud of my accomplishments. If I can’t accept who I am, then why would anyone else? 

The best advice I’ve ever given is to spend as much time as possible with the people you love. To me, my loved ones are everything. I find that many people who are in search of love are looking in the wrong places. If you can first find love and comfort within your family and friends, then the other “true” love will eventually find you.
What has been the greatest challenge in your life and why?

On the surface level, college has been the greatest challenge of my life. It is difficult to maintain decent grades with the stress of my future dwelling around me. 

On a personal level, the greatest challenges in my life have been to see people I love in sickness and pain. As I get older, it gets a little easier to overcome these issues rather than go into shutdown mode. Everyday I see a bit more strength in myself with dealing with such issues.
What has been the greatest joy in your life and why?

Without a doubt, the greatest joy in my life has been from my nieces. They teach me about a different type of love that comes naturally. They also allow me to develop into my more mature and responsible “adult” years. 
On a sillier note, I find extreme joy in dogs/puppies. Nothing cheers me up faster than seeing a dog walking down the street or sitting in my lap!

What is the one thing you have not done that you really want to do and why?

The one thing I haven’t done but would like to do is study abroad for a semester. I wish I were gutsier and willing to expose myself to another country and a new culture. It would be especially interesting to be in a school environment, and it would be an eye opening experience! 

I also wish I had a bit more crazy in my soul. If that were the case, I would do something nuts, like jump out of a plane! 

Although I doubt either of these things will be a part of my future, I will make an effort to travel to more exotic places. That way I can see the world for what it is as a whole. 

Thank you, Holly, for being the first contributor to the Real People Feature! I keep picturing you with my 90 lb. Rottweiler sitting in your lap, and I can't help but smile. 

Have any of you readers ever studied abroad or been skydiving? What were your experiences like? 
Everyone has a story to tell. What's yours?

P.S. If you'd like to participate in a Real People Feature, send me a message at or comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Calling All Bold People!

I find people incredibly interesting.

I'm THAT girl. You know- the one who ends up talking to strangers in line, in waiting rooms and on airplanes. People are such characters, and I find myself learning so much from every unique personality.

It's too easy to get comfortable sticking with what we KNOW. Don't you want to learn about something new? About someONE new?

People who know me well will tell you that I'm always, and I mean always, asking questions. I can't help it; I'm genuinely curious to know more about the people I meet and share time with. So now, I'm asking you, yes YOU, if you'd be brave enough to put yourself out there- to answer a few questions about your life experiences.

We've read enough about political candidates, Brad and Angelina and our local high school all-stars. Let's hear about you, a real person with a fresh perspective.

We can learn from you by reading your responses to 5 questions.

1. Who are you?
2. What is the best advice you've ever given or received and why?
3. What has been the greatest challenge in your life and why?
4. What has been the greatest joy in your life and why?
5. What is one thing you have not done that you really want to do and why?

If you're nearby and comfortable in front of a camera, I'll snap a snazzy photo to add a picture to your words. If you already have a photo that captures the essence of YOU, send it along and I'll use your personal selection.

I'm looking for REAL people to share their stories. Are you brave enough to put yourself out there? Who knows what you might learn about yourself along the way? Only one way to find out!

If you're interested, comment below this post or send me a message here to get the ball rolling. We can't wait to learn more about you in a Real People Feature! You can do it! Tell your story!

"Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him." -Aldous Huxley

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

BUG OUT! Assassin/Wheel Bugs

Top three most painful experiences of my life?

1. Natural childbirth
2. Injection into space between broken bone
3. Wheel bug bite

It's time to learn about one nasty assassin, my friends. Allow me to introduce you.
Young wheel bug climbing across a flower on my deck. Notice that this immature bug has not yet formed the "wheel" on its back.
Wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) are grouped with other insects known as assassins. The latin word cristatus means "crested" and these insects are named for the obvious wheel or cog shaped armor on the backs of adults.
Mature wheel bug on my MAILBOX! Note the cog-like "wheel" on its back.
While casually hangin' on my deck on a sunny, spring afternoon, I simply placed my hand around the arm rail of my chair and EXPLETIVE! EXPLETIVE! EXPLETIVE! I experienced an agonizing, electric pain that I pray you, my dear readers, will never know. I had been pierced by a teeny little baby, bright red and black with no visible wheel. Imagine what the bigguns can do...

Nymph Wheel Bug hiding under my banister
I'd seen these insects creeping around for years, but never paid much attention other than noting that they looked a bit like a spider at first glance. Nowadays, I can assure you, I'm always keeping a bulging eye out.

Now I LOVE learning about insects and arachnids, (Catch up if you've missed my previous stories about the praying mantis, painted lady butterflies, stink bugs and pine sawyer beetles) but nothing compares to these bad boys. Wheel bugs are in a whole new league of mean.

Much like the praying mantis, wheel bugs are known to turn cannibal, often after mating. Nymphs will also chow down on each other during vicious outbursts of teenage angst- bug style.
Young nymph wheel bug stalking a fly on my deck this spring
Thought the praying mantis' affinity for decapitation was brutal to the max? Think again. The wheel bug jabs its freakishly massive syringe-like beak into its victim, instantly injecting it with saliva that literally causes its prey's insides to turn to goo! Then, like a kid with a milkshake straw, the wheel bug slurps up all the innards and goes on its way. Yipes. 
So glad I was paying attention before I opened my mailbox.
Never seen a wheel bug? Oh, they're there, all over the United States. These stealthy hunters camouflage themselves to blend in with their environment and try to avoid humans. These nasty mama jamas don't want to come into contact with us, but if you accidentally place your hand into a garden or onto a fence where a wheel bug was scoping out caterpillars, you are at risk for a monster pierce.
I, very carefully, captured the wheel bug on our mailbox. Here she is under the magnifying glass lid.  Here you can see her wings on top of her back.
You'll find nymphs (like this one) in the spring and adults in the fall.
And oh...if the Fates are working against you and you do find yourself in wheel bug agony, I extend my deepest condolences. Check out this resource for more information about the wheel bug, pierce prevention and first aid treatment.

I managed to snag the scary creepster hanging out on my mailbox this September. Because mature wheel bugs do fly, I was very careful (and rather stealthy if I do say so) in my collection. This bug, however, was NOT one I allowed my daughters to handle in the jar. I held the jar throughout all our observations to prevent accidental escape.
Can you see the stinging beak on this bugger?!?
Interestingly, we observed a pungent, foul odor escaping from the collection jar as soon as we had our wheel bug in captivity. I learned that, much like stink bugs, the wheel bug emits one hardcore STANK from its anus when threatened. Ugh. Clearly, you just don't want to mess with these guys.

Underside of the wheel bug I captured...after it released its STINK BOMB
But...don't go squishin' them, for Pete's sake! I know. I know. It's not ideal knowing they're out there, hunting gooey innard Slurpees. I most certainly do not enjoy constantly scanning our deck and property to make sure none of us surprise a wheel bug again.

Please know, however, that these creatures cause no harm to the environment and are actually considered beneficial predators. Try your darndest to observe them from a safe distance, learn about them and leave them to carry on with their disgusting biz. Different strokes for different folks, right?
Yeah. She looks beastly, but she's definitely equipped to assassinate all your garden pests!
Totally fascinating creatures though, don't ya think? The wheel bug may have one brutal bite, but the benefits of their existence most definitely outweigh the risk of an accidental sting.

Wanna learn more? Who can blame you? Here are a few more captivating sites I uncovered in my research. 

Amazing photo of an nymph wheel bug taking a bee as its prey.
For professional images of nymph wheel bugs, check this out.
Here's an awesome article on assassins and their behaviors and some absolutely SLAMMIN' photos.

Any cool stories or experiences with wheel bugs? I'd love to hear them! Always an open forum.
Be on the lookout! So much to see...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Poem That Shatters

e.e. cummings (photo credit)
As an English teacher, I used to find it rather off-putting when other teachers or professors would try to tell me what various literature meant. You've got to be kidding. To me, the true meaning of any art is variable and formed by each person experiencing it.

Knowing that Walt Whitman's poem, "O Captian! My Captian!" was inspired by the death of Abraham Lincoln distinctly changes its meaning for me.  To be honest, I often prefer to remain oblivious to what inspired art so that I am free to form my own interpretation.

One of my all-time favorite poets, e.e. cummings, broke the rules of grammar and punctuation and became a magician with words. One could spend a lifetime discussing his work.

I wanted to share one of his poems that has changed my life.

Because I hope that you will find your own meaning in this composition, I'll preface this only by saying that my husband and I used the first 5 words in our wedding vows.

Oh, it speaks to us.
What does it say to you?

here's to opening and upward,to leaf and to sap
and to your (in my arms, flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain

and here's to silent certainly mountains;and to
a disappearing poet of always,snow
and to morning;and to morning's beautiful friend
twilight (and a first dream called ocean) and

let must or if be damned with whomever's afraid
down with ought with because with every brain
which thinks it thinks, nor dares to feel (but up
with joy;and up with laughing and drunkenness)

here's to one undiscoverable guess
of whose mad skill each world of blood is made
(whose fatal songs are moving in the moon

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

For the Birds...& the Bird Nerds

Bird nerds unite! Before moving near woodlands, I foolishly believed that birdwatching was a pastime reserved for enchanting older women with spectacles, knitting needles, rocking chairs and endless wisdom.

But this hobby can inspire ANYone who appreciates the benefit of patient observation. Really. Come on! We can learn a lot about survival of the fittest from observing the behaviors of other creatures. Plus, birds are just cool!

Over the past 6 years, it seems I can't get enough of my feathered friends. Those birdies know what's up out here, too. The human in THAT house is on their team. Oh yeah- I feed em', I chase the squirrels away, I leave out fresh water. Those birds gossip, too. I know they do. They've told all their pals that it's Happy Hour at our house all. day. long.

Yup. We've got the binoculars and bird identification books all laid out in the house, ready to spy and research new visitors. But for awhile there, the squirrels were stealing all the goods! We made countless attempts to shoo them away and experimented with different bird feeders to no avail. Finally, after my typical research marathon, I found the solution!
how to keep squirrels out of bird feeder
 The Brome Bird Care Squirrel Buster Plus saves the day!
*For the record, I'm not getting paid to write about any of the purchases I review. When I'm forking out the dough for any product, I have high expectations. If I find something that works well for the price, I'm happy to share my experience. 

To protect the grub for my bird buddies, I ordered the Brome Bird Care Squirrel Buster Plus. Once it arrived, my girls helped to fill it with Ace Wild Bird Food. This feeder is very easy to use. Simply unscrew the top and fill er' up. Finally full with bird cuisine, we locked the top, hung the feeder on our hook and waited…

It didn't take long for the action to start. The squirrels, who had been waiting for their typical handouts, popped their ravenous black eyes out within a few minutes. Immediately, they pounced onto the new feeder and tried to get at the goods. BOOYAH!!! The weight of the squirrels' bodies caused the feeder to close, locking those theivin' devils OUT! Thwarted, suckas!
how to keep squirrels out of bird feed
When squirrels land on the Brome Bird Care Squirrel Buster Plus, the weight of their bodies causes the food openings to shut tight, preventing access.
And that's it! They're outta here. I can only guess that word spreads fast through the squirrel grapevine as well, because shamed in utter defeat, those mangy little rascals don't even bother to come around anymore. They've likely found some other sap who's unwillingly dropping mad cash to feed their fuzzy faces. Peace out, rodents!

Now, without the distraction of the stinkin' squirrels, we've made our birds quite a spa! After reading about the benefits of adding a bird bath to our property, we dove in and purchased Hayes Hammered Copper Bird Bath. This feature has lured in loads of new visitors who enjoy the luxury of a cool drink or rinse. It's so fun to watch them take turns flappin' their feathers in the water!
hanging bird bath
Hayes Hammered Copper Bird Bath draws in lots of new birds for refreshment.
The icing on the cake? Suet, of course. We stock up on Heath suet packs all year round to bait the birdies. They LOVE this stuff, chomping down at least one a week. Because the suet is such a hot commodity at the Bird Spa, we often buy in bulk, either at our local Ace hardware store or through Amazon.
attracting birds
Suet works wonders to beckon the birds.
So there you have it. We've created a simple, inexpensive haven for our avian friends. Our family is so captivated by observing the fascinating behaviors of these beautiful creatures. There's just so much to learn- from basic identification to song recognition and social mannerisms. We just love it all. 

If you missed my initial post about our absolute favorite, enlightening bird watching experience, you can catch up by reading The Cardinal Family Birthday & Leap of Faith. I have to believe that the mature cardinals we regularly see at our feeders might be the chicks we observed in this story. With tilted head and hands over her heart, she bats her lashes in amorous reverie...
suet and bird bath
All set up and ready. The Spa is OPEN!
Never paid much attention to the birds who fill the afternoon with song? Hmmm. I suppose we've all noticed them after we've parked under a tree housing a family of pigeons who've just consumed a mulberry lunch. But there's more to learn. So much more.

Life is short, and there's fascinating psychology, primal instinct, startling love and devotion in the bird world. Give them an extra gander and consider inviting them to your property. This hobby is not just for the birds. I'd bet you'll experience a starling sense of fulfillment and wonder, as well. Let us know when you spy something magnificent! We're always on the lookout...

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours