Monday, October 29, 2012

If You're Reading This...

Hello, Hurricaners!

If you're reading this, I guess your power hasn't kicked out yet- that or you're already in the dark, feeling far too colonial and desperately switching on and off between checking the weather reports and Facebook updates on this ludicrous Frankenstorm.

(Whoops. I'm sorry, Hurricane Sandy. Really, I didn't mean to insult you. You're really strong and great and all. Let's be friends, okay?)

Anyway, experiencing the intensity of this storm is certainly humbling, wouldn't you say?

If you haven't seen NASA's satellite time lapse video of this storm yet, you HAVE to check this out.

Such an incredible reminder of Mother Nature's inexorable power and majesty. Hop onto this link to watch this jaw-dropping video that reminds me of an artist mixing paints...only THIS artist is in a seriously foul mood.

And the section where day turns to night? Like whoa. It really puts things into perspective, eh?

Stay safe out there, people. Mama Nature isn't in the mood for foolishness, and we all know better than to make a fickle female angry, right?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Scarlet Backdrops & Flesh? Poison Ivy in Autumn

Watch what you're rollin' in out there!
Because many people don't realize that you can abso-toot-ley get poison ivy rash in the fall, I figured I'd do a quick follow up on Poison Ivy and Pokeweed- Double Trouble to help others note the vine's sneaky change in appearance.
Here, this September poison ivy was just beginning to change from green to yellow.
Isn't fall foliage breathtaking? Totes! But plenty of people out there don't realize that the dang poison ivy is just as purdy in mix. It's changing to blend in with the stunningly bright leaves that surround it.

Heads up, people!

Those vines are turning awfully lovely to look at, but...let's not go rolling in these leaves, huh?
Mid-October poison ivy, turning from yellow to scarlet in color
Right now, in late October, we're noticing the poison ivy leaves are changing from their September greenish/yellow to a light orange/red hue.
Poison Ivy vine (mid-October), climbing up this tall trunk
So use a bit of caution when you're leaning up against that there tree to watch your kids romp through the ole' pumpkin patch. You might think you've got a great background for a photo op there, but if those golden leaves are rubbin' up against you...might not make for a camera ready face in a few days.
This September poison ivy was just starting to turn to a golden yellow color
Obviously, use extra caution if you tend to rake your fallen leaves towards the woods. It would be pretty wackadoo to go diving in a leaf pile that has a gorgeous poison ivy base at the bottom. Though, again, the photos following that day's doofusness would be entertaining for a lifetime. The experience of said doofus? Probably not so joyful.
Look high and low for poison this season. It also makes a stunningly beautiful ground cover.  Watch out!
It's also the prime time to notice the berries these poison ivy plants produce. Birds love to eat these fruits, and they'll (ehem) drop the undigested remnants all over the place, helping to spread the seeds that will grow next season. Being able to spot these berries will help you positively identify the plant in the fall.
Notice the tiny berries on this late October poison ivy vine.
Ugh. Isn't it just so typical that something this alluring and beautiful can cause such trouble? As always, your best defense is to be educated.

In the words of the late Biggie Smalls (yup- I'm going there...), "If you don't know, now ya know."

So enjoy scarlet backdrops, not flesh, this autumn and watch where you're walking.
Happy Halloween, people!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Real People Feature: Katie

Princess, Katie's teacup Chihuahua and her cat, Thea
Who are you?

I am Katie, a fun-loving, outgoing, caring, bold, intuitive, Christian girl with a heart of gold. I'll do anything for anyone.

I'm a lover of animals- totally the girl who truly believes every pet should have a loving family to be with forever. Actually, that's how I ended up with my girls, Princess and Thea.
I adore children (they ARE the future, you know). I'm creative, silly, and I speak my mind. I have an intense love of football. Here we go Steelers! I find elephants to be absolutely beautiful and fascinating.

I also have no idea what I want to be when I "grow up," and you know...I'm totally okay with that.

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

I feel like every person in America has been told by their parents, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

While that's all well and good, the best advice MY mom gave me was, "Speak up. If you feel strongly about something, say so! If you don't, you'll never know what could have been."

Those words have stuck with me since the first time she spoke them, when I was 10-years-old. They have pushed me to throw my opinion out to those who would listen in my business, educational and personal life.

This advice has helped me succeed in so many different situations, and for that, I am truly grateful to my mother.

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

This will be a shocker for some, but the greatest challenge I've faced is one that I will have to live with forever. My name is Katie...and I'm an addict.

At 17, I started smoking pot, first casually, then daily. When daily turned into more than once a day, I started to explore other options.

I dipped my toes into plenty of pools, but my drug of choice quickly became cocaine. For three years, all I did was smoke and snort with no one but my "drug friends" being aware. No one else suspected. No one else asked.

Of course, I partied with my "normal" friends at college drinking parties, and I would smoke a cigarette or two, but once I left, I headed out to get to the REAL parties.

At 20, I met the guy who is now my fiancé. When he figured me out- which was very quickly, actually- his condition of us dating was simple. "Get clean, or lose out on our relationship."

Thanks to him, it has been almost four years since I've touched anything other than the occasional drink. Every New Year's, I get to celebrate my sobriety and recovery.

Was it hard? HECK yeah, it was! Was it worth it? Ab-so-lutely.

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

My greatest joy has most definitely been watching my beautiful god-daughter grow up over the past three years. She is such a beautiful, innocent soul.

Watching the world through her eyes is so enlightening. Being such a big part of her life has made me a better person, and I can't wait to continue to watch her grow and learn.
Katie and her god-daughter, on a visit in 2011

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

I want drop everything and just travel- first the United States, Canada and Mexico, but then on to the rest of the world.

Italy, France, England, China, India, Australia, Brazil, Africa...everywhere!

I want to learn about the cultures and embrace them while immersing myself in them. I want to meet new people, see new things...explore!
Katie and her fiance, Troy
Isn't she adorable? 

Katie's description of who she is couldn't be more spot on. I smile every time I think about the joy she emits everywhere she goes. There's a whole lotta love in her heart, and MAN, does it show.

And how brave to share her recovery story with us. Countless people are struggling to find the motivation to surmount their vices. Katie proves that love and a positive outlook can be strong enough to conquer all. 

What strategies have you found to help you overcome your hurdles in life?

And I just love Katie's mother's advice to speak up. I couldn't agree more. How is anything supposed to change if you don't say how you feel? I'm all for being honest and real.

We're sending you all the love and sunshine in the world, Katie! Thank you for sharing your courageous story with us. You're such an inspiration! Go get em', girl!

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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dear Diary...You're Embarrassing.

Yup. So here they are- my 7th and 8th grade diaries. :::cringe:::
Dear Diary...
Deep within the bags of nostalgia my mama delivered (catch up by reading The Scent of High School), I found myself face to face with the (mortifying) stories of yesteryear. 
Guess I was down with saving inspirational tidbits even then.  I must have clipped this out of an old Rolling Stone.
Well what could I do? Of course, I HAD to re-read every page- like immediately- er...or as soon as I was alone enough to be able to make ugly brow-furling, face-squinting, sucking in air faces in private. You know. 
And, destructive little monster that I was, I seem to have cut up an old book of quotations to selfishly save those which resonated with my hormonal fluctuations.
So what else was IN these books of shudder-worthy embarrassment? Oh, come now people. Innocent until proven guilty? If I were to reveal the contents of these teeny bop pages, far too many assumed innocents would absolutely be proven guilty, and in the decency of my more mature lips are sealed.
Lots of LOVE stories in 7th and 8th grade diaries, huh?
What I can tell you is that I laughed, like a LOT, while reading these absurdities...almost as much as I cringed.
So many tales of long-term middle school romances- you remember, the ones that lasted a week or more. I'd even saved a rose petal from my one month anniversary gift from my 8th grade love. Sweet or creepy? You decide.
Lengthy descriptions of long-term groundings- again, you remember- the ones that lasted a day or more. Oh, the devastation of having phone privileges revoked, of missing a group date to the movie theater, of {GASP} being excluded from a hang sesh down at Villa!
I cracked up when I found this old Garbage Pail Kids sticker in my 7th grade diary. How hysterically appropriate!
Doodles. Lots of hearts, Red Hot Chili Peppers symbols, peace signs and flowers adorning every page of pubescent ramblings. Didn't I have homework back then? How did I have the time to do up these books? Oh yeah. I was staying up late to catch the latest Beavis and Butthead. Duh. I must have been working on my diary during commercials. But that book report...
Interesting thoughts set aside for my tween self.
It's just too wacky to remember all these sagas from back in the day- all the flirtations, squabbling and delinquency. If only I'd had a magical, older, wiser me sitting on my shoulder, whispering bits of advice to coach my teeny bop self through the whirlwinds of youth. But then these diaries just wouldn't have been as good, huh?
This was my favorite find- a Sneak Out Plan taped into my diary, right underneath a Santa sticker. Wow. For the record, that plan worked. Good thing we took the time to map that one out.

As I finished reading the final pages of my 8th grade confessional, I told my husband that I'd have to hide these books- to ensure our own daughters never discover how unruly their mother was once upon a time. 

Fella looked at me with his very own older, wiser face, and rationalized that these journals are actually a pretty handy resource, a reminder of what it's like to be a hormonal, adolescent girl. With two daughters of our own, in about 10 will definitely be in our best interests to remember.

May the force of reminiscence be with us. We're gonna need it.

Have you saved any memorabilia from your awkward years? How are you affected by memories of your younger self? Are you as embarrassed as I am? Gads!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Dog Will Live Another Night Because...

He did it again.

The story goes something like this-

10:38 p.m.
"All right guys. I'm turning in by eleven tonight."

10:42 p.m.
"Ugh. Kaine is pacing. Everyone remind me that I let him out. I'll kill him if he runs away again."

10:45 p.m.
Opens the deck door. Whistles. Calls for mischievous mutt. Closes door.

10:47 p.m.
"Did Kaine ever come back?"

And so it began.

Lee walked through the property. I resumed whistling, shook dog bones in the bin, banged on idiot beast-dog's dish. My mom called from the deck. On and on and on.
Dog chasing evidence
Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

At 11:45 p.m., we all swore that if he wasn't dead, we'd kill him as soon as he returned.

12:36 a.m.
Seething with fury, shaken with worry, entirely exhausted, I opened the door to escort the guilty mongrel to his bed. He'd tired from his vagabond rompin' and had returned for sustenance and the comfort of home.

And then we saw it. Or didn't see it. His stupidly expensive Invisible Fence collar was G.O.N.E., lost in the wilds of his 2-hour adventure.
It would have to wait till morning. Oh wait. It was morning. It would have to wait till later. That and the killing of the dog.

Why is he still alive today, well past the hangover of morn, you ask?

You know. When a dog runs away- such a gamut of emotions. Oh we wanted to kill him. Really we did (well not really but DANG, dog!). Because he makes us worry so much. Because no one can go to bed until he's safely returned. Because he keeps DOING this over and over again. Because he insists on going rogue right before we want to go to bed. Every. Time.

But I'm a little less furious today.
First off, as much as we wanted to shun him to an outdoor doghouse forever, we were secretly thrilled that he was finally home safe.

Bonus? Last time he lost this collar, it took us 2 weeks to recover the blasted thing. This time...scored in about 5 minutes.

I'd remembered watching him chase after something that ran into an old gutter the other day. Lo and behold!

And we're golden. The day moves on. The dog is spared...and reconnected to the ELECTRIC fence that I can only pray keeps his devious arse inside the property bounds from now on. But who am I kidding?

We didn't kill him. He isn't even grounded anymore. We're such pushovers. He's back to running this place and chilling on his orthopedic foam mattress, stinking up the joint with his kickin' breath and silent but deadly rips.

Isn't it amazing how you can love a stinkin' trouble-makin' good-for-nothin' beast dog enough to forgive him for such antics? Geez.

Until the next time...he's wired.

What are your coping strategies when your pets run away? Ain't it the pits?!?
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Real People Feature: Sarrah Gooch

My best friend, Lydia (right), and I did a photo shoot last summer for my mom's photography studio, The Total Look by Susan.
Who are you?

Sarrah Elizabeth Gooch. I am a daughter, sister, girlfriend, best friend, college student, hippy (not self proclaimed) and am happily unemployed.

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

The best advice I have ever received was, "The sun will always shine tomorrow." This is my father's quote, something he said to me in ninth grade when I felt like nothing was ever going to go my way. Over time, this advice has proved to be true.

No matter how bad today is or how I might just feel like giving up, I wake up the next day and it is always different. Life changes and I have to go with the flow or in some ways, I would lose myself- go crazy maybe.

This is a quote that now adorns my foot, reminding me everyday that life will always get better.
My tattoo
What has been the greatest challenge in your life and why?

The greatest challenge... there have been many in my 21 years of life but none more challenging than COLLEGE. Oh joy, the wonderful new experiences of living on my own, creating my own food ideas (trying to shop for meals is actually pretty difficult) and paying bills.

High school was far from the time of my life, so college was a chance to be who I wanted and create my own ideas of the world. After being in school for two years, I moved to Penn State University Park, the campus of constant partying, 300 person classes and a bus schedule. My major is Biobehavioral Health, an integrative degree of science and behavioral classes almost exclusive to Penn State. It is the basis for the Physician Assistant Master's Program.

This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do- leaving my parents, best friend and boyfriend behind to make a life for myself.
Standing in line for Jack Johnson tickets, the most college students I have ever seen in one place. 
What has been the greatest joy in your life and why?

There are many joys in life- the beautiful world we live in, finding money in the washer, getting things on sale, for instance. None of these compare to my cat, yes my cat, Phoenix.

She was the tiniest kitten, rescued from a farm after my previous cat died suddenly. She is the first creature that I have had the joy of watching grow and change. Watching her personality in action and how she affects the people around her is amazing. Even my boyfriend (who says he HATES cats) loves her.

I am so happy that I was able to give her a loving home and feel that having her was my fate. My mom always says, "With death comes birth," hence her name.
What is one thing you have not done that you really want to do and why?

I really want to live in California, where I visited as a kid. The experience was absolutely wonderful, and I want to see it all over again as an adult.

There are so many different ecosystems and beautiful areas that fascinate me and make me want to play explorer.
My 1986 BMW that I partially restored this summer.
Hats off to Sarrah for taking the time to share her world with us. Looks like she has one lucky feline, a completely boss ride, and some wonderfully wise parents.

What's the best advice your parents ever gave you? Don't you just hate it when they're right? But the painful truth is...they usually are, huh?

And ooooooohhhh, Californ-i-a! Years back, my husband and I drove down the coast on Route 1 and fell in love with so many incredible places, from Gold Bluff's Beach to Point Reyes, all stunning.

Where are your favorite spots in the Golden State?

Best wishes at school, Sarrah! We can't wait to see where this road takes you.

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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Things Our Grandparents Made

When I taught Fahrenheit 451 to 10th graders, I'd begin the unit by asking students what material items they'd save from their homes in the event of a fire. 

I mean, really think about it. Aside from the obvious old photographs, baby books and valuables, what items would you scramble to salvage?

For me, it's all about the irreplaceable things our grandparents made. 
Today, I'm paying tribute to 15 family treasures that will forever radiate love and happiness in our home.

The first four items were made by my grandmother whose specialty was in crafting stained glass pieces. 
This gorgeous lamp in my youngest daughter's room creates stunning colors against the wall.
Who knew that this stained glass display would be so perfect for my mushroom huntin' fam?
This bold rug makes me so happy.
I just love the way this stained glass sun glows when the light hits it.
Our Grandma GG is far too humble to admit it, but this woman is a complete master at sewing and quilting. Her skill is beyond comprehension- definitely one of her many superpowers.
My husband and I both teared up when we opened this unbelievable quilt on the day after our wedding.
Each of our daughters has her own alphabet quilt.
Made from the clothing of family members, we had Grandma make this quilt into a wall hanging. Amazing!
And then there's Grandpa GG- a magician when it comes to woodworking. Every piece he creates has a folk-like precision and charm.
Although Grandpa made this house for the birds, I love it so much that I can't bear to put it outside. Sorry, birdies!
This dulcimer is one of the most beautiful instruments I have ever seen.
Our daughters adore these rockin' rabbits.
Because sometimes woodworking just isn't enough to scratch Grandpa's creative itch, he makes JEWELRY as well! He even made my husband's wedding band!
This angel stays on display all year long.
Our eldest daughter received a homemade xylophone for her 2nd birthday.
Both Grandma AND Grandpa GG were involved in creating this mind-boggling dollhouse for our girls. What a team!
And the harp Grandpa made especially for me is one of my most prized possessions. 
Oh, these items just make my heart so incredibly happy. Each piece serves as a reminder of the enduring love in our lives. Of all our material possessions, these are truest treasures...

Aren't they lovely?

Johannes Brahms said, "Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind."

How thankful am I that our grandparents found such wonderful crafts to manifest and preserve their inspiration! These are the most priceless pieces, saturated with creativity and love, sure to withstand the test of time.

What items have the most intrinsic value in your home? How do you celebrate their worth?
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Can Opener Resurrection

Oh, it has happened to you. 

You've got water boiling, garlic sizzlin' and time is of the essence. You grab your can opener to crank open one of your ingredients when...frrrrllllp. The dang cutting wheel loses its slice in the middle of the job, leaving you with an unopened can, burning garlic and a really baaaaaaad attitude. 

What now? Stab the can like a knife-yielding Halloween maniac? Nah.
This can opener needs a mega makeover.
You've gotta fix this thing before you desperately convert it into a window opener- you know, from launching it, full force, at the glass in frustration. 

After closer inspection, I noticed that my can opener was gettin' a lil' rusty. Time to tidy up that blade, baby.
Rusty can openers just don't CUT it!
Grab a glass or container and add enough white or apple cider vinegar to submerge the can opener's blades. I simply dunked 'er in there and left the glass on the counter to soak overnight. 
Let the de-funk-ifying begin...
Ready to resurrect, I grabbed an old toothbrush and got to scrubbing. (Mom always reminds us to NEVER throw away an old toothbrush. They come in handy for the weirdest jobs. That packrat- I gotta give her this one.) 
The rust that had fallen off the can opener was obvious in the bottom of the glass. Ew-y!
I dunked the toothbrush into the vinegar and brushed away any residual rust that was lurking in the crevices of the wheels and inside the hinges. With minimal effort, the remaining rust just scrubbed right off the metal!

*It's important however, to remember to thoroughly DRY the can opener after this process. If you leave it wet, it will rust up again. 
Gently scrub the rust off and VOILA!
Well whaddya know! Praise be to the resurrection of my ancient can opener! She's a-gleamin' like new and ready for some get-down-to-it slicing now. No more simmer to BOIL madness during dinner prep in this house- unless we account for the high-pitched whining of hungry children...
Yippie Skippy! Lookin' SHARP!
For an extra bit of jazz, I read to tear off a bit of aluminum foil and fold it in half to double it up. Then I rubbed the foil along the can opener blade to sharpen 'er up extra nice. Well all riiiiiiight!
Ready for action. Hand me a can!
Your can opener hurting? Doctor it up with these super simple tricks. This baby slices so smoothly, I feel like I need a holster every time I bust it out lately. The most important trick for me to remember in the future is to ensure that I thoroughly DRY my can opener if/when it comes into contact with any liquid. This should prevent any future rusting.

Try it out! Tell me what you think.
Peace be with you in a successful resurrection.
Glooooory, glory, halleluuuuuujah!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours