My Love Affair with Monkeyballs

There is a strange tree that the kids and I only just discovered in the past few years. We are obsessed and watch on the side of the road all summer until the neon green fruit drops on the side of the road, signifying harvest time. My husband calls them "monkeyballs" and talks of playing with them as a child, but this is all new to me since I didn't grow up in Western Pa.

The kids and I risk life and limb collecting them on the side of a narrow road every year. They play games with them and break them open, I like to collect them in a bowl for display. The green is so fresh and the texture so unusual they make for an interesting centerpiece. I read online they should keep 3 months inside with air conditioning...we'll see...

I guess the educated call them Osage Oranges or Hedge Apples, but they will always be Monkeyballs to me...do you think "balls" refers to the toy or the genitalia? Hmmmmm...I'll let you judge for yourself:

Apparently, there is a whole website devoted to this strange fruit and it's called hedgeapple.com (of course!) Would you like to know some facts about this curiously strange fruit?

Hedgeapple 101

Hedgeapples are not poisonous. However, Hedgeapples have suffocated livestock by lodging in their esophagus.

Very often, a Hedgeapple is incorrectly referred to as a Hedge Ball, Horse Apple, Green Brains, Monkey Balls or Mock Orange. The hedge tree has several names, Osage Orange (most popular) and Bodark (French) and Maclura pomifera (scientific name). Naturalist, Jim Mason has posted a very professional page about Osage Orange.

Not all of the Osage Orange trees will have fruit because hedge trees are either male or female.

Osage Orange is a cousin to the mulberry tree.

It is rumored that these monkeyballs can ward off spiders! Right on!

Burning the wood from a Hedgeapple tree is supposed to release colorful sparkles and sparks!

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Fruit Flies, Help!!!

Okay, I love Costco, but I wasn't counting on a bunch of new pets when I bought that pineapple! We have purchased the fruit fly traps online in the past ($24!!!) so we decided to try out some of the ideas for homemade traps. It's surprisingly simple, and looks like this:

You will need:

a small jar(baby food size)

a bit of fruit(chunk of banana)

plastic wrap.

Place the fruit in the jar and cover tightly with plastic wrap. With a sharpened pencil poke 3-4 tiny holes in the plastic, just big enough for a fruit fly. Place it on your counter and watch it with morbid fascination as it fills up. Take it outside to empty it out every few days and start over. (the flies can squeeze down through the hole, but can't crawl back through the jagged edges of the holes)

This is my contribution for Kimba's DIY Thursday, so hop on over there to check out what else she has to offer!


Hope Studios Tutorials


Easy T-Shirt Necklace

Space Saving Clothes Hanger

20 Minute Dress

Tassel Necklace

Reverse Applique Scarf

Sew Your Own Neck Warmer

Bleach Stenciled T-Shirts

Layered T-shirt - Rescue your holey Tees!

How to clean your Bling!

Sew a Scrunchy Scarf!

Versatile Satin Flowers

How To Wear a Scarf - Straight from the streets of Paris!

Sew a Ruffled Tank Top or Tee

How to Make Sex and the City Shoes! - Designer shoe knock-off

JCrew / Cabi Corsage Tee

A Quick Spiral Scarf

Fun Button Bracelet

Leather Beaded Bracelet

Home / Decor:

Pretty Wreath

How to clean your dishwasher

Spare Toilet Paper Holder

Tin Ceiling Tile Wall Decor

Boutique Tassels

Homemade Cleaning Products

Concrete Cast Leaf Birdbath

Paint Chip Mosaic

Thumbtack Photo Display

Deep Clean Your Sink

Chalkboard Herb Pots

Silhouette Art

Wine Bottle Candle Holders

Shelf Decor

Bean Bag Chair Slipcovers

Photo Collage Wall Art

"Customize" Store Bought Curtain Panels

How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

Fake a Flowering Spring Branch

Simple, reversible window valance

Recycle an old Window

DIY No Sew Window Treatment

Antiqued Wall - Faux Finish Painting Technique

A Cute Dish from a Clam Shell - Turn that beach collection into something useful

Easy French Country Layered Window Treatments

Paint a Canvas Wall Mural

Fun Spring Centerpiece

How To Make a Moss Terrarium - One of my most popular posts!

Paper Leaf Garland

Decorating with Bird's Nests

Chandelier DIY

Laundry Room Bubble Art

Fall Decor:

Cool Fabric Pumpkins - To add to your fall decor

Paper Leaf Garland

Pilgrim Hat cookies

Kids' Stuff:

Giant Bubbles

Pinata Cheat

Kids' Marble Jar Allowance

Forever Sand Castles

The World's Longest Slip and Slide!

Eye Spy Game

Glow in the Dark Flag Football

Air Travel Tips for Kids

DIY Window Clings

Fun Easter Candy to Make with Kids

How to Make Goop, Gloop, Snot - Kids really do love this stuff!

Sidewalk Paint

Tiny Tree Houses


Recycled Gift Bows

Baby Shower Favors

Wedding Date Art

Fun Cupcake Party Lights

Blue Jean Can Cozy

Gardening Part 1

Gardening Part 2

Gardening Part 3

Candy Bar Mummies

Make a Terrible Towel for Your Own Team

Gel Ice Pack

Drafty Fireplace Cure

Paper Mache Deer Head

Cure for Cloudy Drinking Glasses

Chalkboard Coffee Cups

Funky CD Case using Fabric Scraps

Give the Gift of Happiness

The Cutest Cupcake Charms Ever!

Alphabet Photography - Use your photos to make lasting memories and gifts

Make a Real Jewelry "Tree"

Cool Patchwork Apron Using Recycled Fabric Scraps

Wine Cork Place card Holders

Button and Ribbon Flowers - Two ways

Personalized Wine Charms - Never lose your drink again!

Handy Door Knob Organizer

Sew a Purse Organizer - Never loose your car keys again!

How to Make Paper from Junk Mail

Eric Carle Bridge Project for Kids

A Magical Pillow Fort - A great snow day activity

Bookmarks - 3 Ways!

Make You Own Clay Beads - a fun project for little hands

Wine Cork Cork Board!

Coffee Cup Charms - Perfect for coffee with the girls

DIY Fruit Fly Trap


Paper Snowflake Tutorial

Ornament Wreath

Children's Nativity Craft

Light Bulb Snowman Ornament

Hand Made Ornaments - Recycled book page ball

Swirly Christmas Balls

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String...

Party Crackers

Christmas Card Notepads - Recycle all those old holiday cards

Antiqued Angel Wings Christmas Mantle



Here is a collection of my random thoughts and random occurrences that are related only by their randomness...

I am currently making a list of things we can do this afternoon that involve being someplace other than our house...because I cleaned this morning and I don't want those dirty rugrats messing it up before my husband comes home to see it. You see, I don't think he believes I clean because it's just as messy once the kids get into everything! I need to prove myself and if that means spending the afternoon spending money at Target, so be it!

The same husband saw a hair on the side of my chin the other day. He pointed it out by saying "What is THAT?!?" I looked and it was loooonnnnggg and was curling over my jaw a bit. That little bugger was there awhile because I pulled it out and measured it and it was 1/4 inch long! Wow, I'm either turning into a witch or my hormones are kicking in as I approach 40.

I contracted out the cutting of my frames to a lumber yard that does custom milling and I'm so EXCITED to delegate that part of the job to someone else!! I'm hoping this will alleviate some of my stress and let me expand a bit within my business.

I bought what seemed like 5 pounds of yeast the other day at Costco and now feel obligated to bake bread. I baked two batches of bread on Monday...and forgot to put yeast in the first one! It's sad.

I haven't bathed my dog in two months.

I made a home made fruit fly trap for my kitchen, I'm currently housing about 50 fruit flies on a slice of banana in it. I will post instructions if I feel like it's working.

I google all my customers to see if any of them are famous or successful. Many of them are!!!

I can do the moonwalk, and demonstrated it in kickboxing class yesterday.

I'm hoping to pull together a girl's getaway in the next month or so! HoooWeee!!!

I've almost eaten 1/2 a frozen Cheesecake Factory cheesecake in less than a week.


Defy Gravity!

I went to see Wicked this weekend and have to add it to my top 4 favorite shows. I love, love, love musical theatre, and in my strange second personality (while driving in my car) I am actually on stage. I love to watch it, listen to the soundtrack before and after a show, and discuss it with anyone who will listen (lucky you).

Pittsburgh Cultural District has a wonderful arts program and I love to take advantage of the shows featuring our local talent (Pittsburgh CLO) and the traveling talent (Pittsburgh Broadway Series) as often as possible.

I was invited to the Broadway production of Wicked by an old friend and we made a night of it, eating dinner at the popular Sonoma Grill (California style cuisine) then walking to the show. I was giddy with excitement to see the production I've heard about for so long. We sat down in our seats 7 rows from the stage and took in the fantastic staging before the curtain opened. It was an awesome 4 layered "steam punk" stage topped with a giant winged dragon-like creature who's eyes lit up and blew smoke.

The story of unlikely friendship was touching and hilarious, the costumes were whimsical and fantastically elaborate and topped with the most outrageous hairstyles, and the songs were perfect "modern Broadway". Each member of the ensemble sounded better than the next and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of the almost 3 hour production. It now joins my list of shows that I will see at any opportunity (including Les Miserables, Rent, and Phantom).

As I drove out of the city on Sunday night singing "Changed for good", I looked over my shoulder to see the backstage door at the rear of the theatre and noticed "Glinda the Good" standing on the sidewalk signing autographs. Pittsburgh really is a great theatre town.


What's Up With Hope Studios?

Just a short post to show you some of my completed works from this week...Hope Studios is chugging along and all of these orders were completed this week with just as many to complete next week. Thank you to all my wonderful customers, for your stories, your inspiration, and your business. You enable me to spend my days doing something I really love.

To order your own Heartsongs shadowbox style frame with a custom quote, please email me (jsneill@zoominternet.net) or visit my Etsy shop here.


Ever Ski in September?

Did you ever wonder what happens at your local ski resort during the other 8 months of the year? Well, it's a hub of activity!

We drove up to the mountains last weekend to "get away from it all" - little did we know what we faced at home in the following days. We hiked and relaxed, drank some beers on the deck, and watched movies from the 80's (the rule is no current entertainment, no cable and only cheesy movies like Footloose or Spaceballs are allowed). I collected a lovely bird's nest that was upside down on the road.

After that got old, (I'd say it took about 19 hours before we were looking for something to do) we decided to hit the ski resort to poke around. We planned to shop for leftover clearance ski equipment but got caught up in the activities that surrounded us.

On the way in we stopped to feed a pool of giant Palomino Trout on the side of the road, watching them jump for food right in front of us. We invoked a feeding frenzy for kicks then moved on.

We watched the crazy, dare devil mountain bikers in full gear ride down the mountain taking ramps and jumps like someone from the X Games. It was fun to hoot and cheer as they caught air, then watch them ride up the lift with their bikes still between their legs.

Then we rode to the top on our own chair lift to ride the Alpine Slide.

$20 got our whole family a ride on the chair lift with a bird's eye view of the slide and the mountain bike trail, and a ride back down on the track.

After a long ride we arrived at the top of the mountain ready to ride back down the track on a scooter contraption with a hand brake. The workings were counter intuitive since you had to pull back to stop and push forward to go - I guess like riding a horse - but I seemed to do the opposite as I went into a curve which scared me into braking severely to compensate. We wound down the hillside, taking precarious turns and quick, steep bunny hop hills on the way down. It was a bit distracting since I was also in a full on wrestling match with my 6 year old to operate the controls. Surprisingly, we were fighting because I was going too fast. (Jeez, I never get to have any fun.) We whooped and screamed the whole way down and then it was over as soon as it began.

We all begged Daddy for "one more ride" then watched the Aero Jump (a trampoline with bungees for maximum height). It was time to pack up and head for home. We were all ready for ski season now and watched the clouds above for signs of snow. Is is winter yet???

Back to the Future

Well, Hurricane Ike did a number on western PA and left us without power for 52 hours. Let's just say that this life is not made for roughing it without electricity for long periods of time. This morning I danced around on an electric high as the dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, TV, refrigerator and microwave all buzzed around me. I soaked up the convenience of modern day living and my heart swelled with love for Penn Power.

During my experience with a husband, three kids, a dog, and football practice with no electricity I had time to reflect on lessons learned and make observations(especially since I was in bed at 9 pm every night!)

* My neighborhood was transformed on those days with no TV, kids were EVERYWHERE all at the same time. Big kids, little kids, babies, toddlers all ran amok while they actually PLAYED all day.

* My husband gets the award for "necessity is the mother of invention" award as he drove to the airport for a flight out of town with underwear over all his head rests in his car. They were in the dryer during the blackout and hadn't dried fully.

* I learned which neighbors had it in them to stick it out as each day brought more people bailing out to stay in hotels or buying generators.

* My friend taught me to always have a key someplace available to you if you don't have your key chain as she spent the night at a friend's house since she was locked out after returning home in a blackout. Her poor dog was locked in the house for 15 hours!!!

* My reluctance to shop regularly finally paid off as I watched neighbors toss hundreds of dollars of meat. I had just a little left over from what we could consume in a week and it fit nicely in a friend's freezer.

* The house looks cleaner in the dark!

* You can always find someone to take a frozen chicken.

* 1,000 candles will set off your smoke alarm just as the kids nod off.

* You can eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

* Olive Garden serves food too quickly if you're looking for someplace to hang out for awhile before you go back to your dark house.

* I'll take 52 hours without electricity before 10 feet of water in my house any day.

* If all the TV's and lights are left on when the power goes off, then the power will come back on sometime between 12 - 3 am and scare the crap out of you when they all come back on at once.


The Dream

I woke up this morning in the midst of the worst dream. I was in a large house, maybe on vacation, and had to go to the bathroom and couldn't find a bathroom door that locked. I kept going from bathroom to bathroom and people kept walking in on me! I was frantic and looking for more bathrooms and more bathrooms! What could it mean???

Inspiration Panic

I have an idea but too much to do before I can work on it. For the creative person, this is torture.

I am behind on about 10 frames at this point, my house is a mess, every waking moment is either frames, homework, or football but I have this idea that is scratching it's way out! It makes me feel all twitchy and nervous, I'm distracted and rushing through everything to make time to sit down and work on this new concept for my shop.

Want a hint??? Well...it has to do with fantastic quotes and photos. You'll just have to wait and get all nervous and twitchy like I am. I'll unveil very soon. I might spend some time this weekend preparing...


Yearbook Yourself!

If you have not done this yet, it's worth the laugh and the trip down memory lane. I popped into Whimsy girl's blog the other day and saw her photos and had to try for myself. The scary part was that I have actual photos of myself with some of these hairstyle over the years!
I followed all the instructions and took a picture of myself with nothing on my face and started out with this:

Here is how I would have looked in 1950, I'm pretty sure my gramma wore a wig that looked just like this at one time.

And I know I have another photo of my gramma that looks just like this with the glasses! I think the best thing about this photo is that I have four ears...

I have a yearbook photo of my mom with this EXACT hairstyle in the late 60's!

This is where things start to get scary, I'm pretty sure this is the hairstyle I had around 4th grade or so, it was the one right after the "Dorothy Hamill" cut.

Again, I have no excuse for this, and things are starting to become a bit blurred as to whether this is an actual photograph of me or not. I think I might have been the photoshop hair model they used for this example from 1988:

And this is exactly what I looked like the year I graduated from college and was still dating my husband, again, my apologies:

Now, go! Yearbook yourself!!!


Stocked Up On Estrogen

We met, we drank (coffee), we conquered the world's problems...at least those involving, recipes, sewing, or finding the perfect pair of jeans... So, I'd say coffee with the girls was a success.

There is nothing like a coffee shop full of women, all talking at once, to put a look of fear into a poor man walking in for his morning coffee. We whirled in and took over the joint then packed up all our stuff and swept out just as fast - things to do, places to go. Life interrupts (like the guy waiting in my driveway to replace my windshield), but those precious times with the girls is what keeps me going. Thanks for the monthly estrogen dose, ladies, I don't know what I'd do without you!

As an aside, we found a treasure in that little coffee shop! I simple rack of greeting cards so profound - for a lover of the written word it was heaven. Take a look at this amazing line of "quotable" products that has me going back to read more each night since I found it.


My Baby Has Turned 6!

Well, it was birthday extravaganza this weekend for my Helper Munchkin and much of it revolved around candy and football...go figure.

We started out the weekend with a Friday night High School game under the lights, (lots of candy and junk food) followed by a Saturday afternoon of big brother games, (lots of candy and junk food) and culminated with boys' day out with their dad at a Steeler's game (lots of candy and junk food). So, to recap : birthday, candy and junk food, football...got it?

Tomorrow I get my quota of estrogen when I meet my girlfriends for coffee, I'm in withdrawal here and on testosterone overload so I'm counting down the hours.


Short and Sweet

I love short, to the point quotes for my frames, sometimes the jumble of many words takes away from the power and intent. I recently had an order for a lovely wedding gift with a poignant quote with few words. I think it says it all:


How To Throw a Party

I'm known as the "entertainer" among my friends and neighbors. I love to be surrounded by friends and I love to entertain. Often, people ask me how I entertain for large groups and never seemed stressed. For one thing, I'm blessed to have a husband in hospitality who is a huge help, but anyone can learn. So, here is what I came up with,

How to throw a killer party:

1. Throw parties often - I really believe that practice makes perfect in this case. The more comfortable you are entertaining, the more comfortable your guests will be.

2. The real cornerstone is keeping a "party book" - It can be as simple as a spiral notebook and it's a place to write down every detail of your party for future reference. I use my party book to keep track of each party I throw, no exceptions. Each party is usually divided into 4-5 pages...
page 1 is the guest list and important contacts (caterer, band, deli, etc...)
page 2 is the menu, including beverages
page 3 is for the recipes or page #'s in my cookbooks
page 4 is my shopping list
page 5 my to-do list (split up into days so things can be done ahead)
and the last page is always notes on how all my plans worked out, did I run out of toilet paper, did I blow a fuse, were there too many buns, did people dance, did we run out of beer?

3. Organize it to death!!! You can never over-organize before an event, make sure you've thought of everything. Sometimes ideas will come to you at strange times, that is what your party book is for, write it all down! I started my first foray into throwing large parties on my wedding day and I planned it down to the minute and not one thing went wrong that day.

Stock extra toilet paper, fill the bottoms of garbage cans with extra bags, use paper towels in the bathrooms to avoid having the change the towel often, you get the picture.

4. Always choose a make-ahead menu. This reduces the stress level by 50% when throwing a party. Never be scrambling to make food right before guests arrive, it isn't worth it unless cooking is the point of the party. I collect all kinds of recipes that can be made the day before and reheated or served room temp, I store them in my party book. Don't be afraid to use some prepared foods - for my last party I ordered 20 lbs of pulled pork for a local market, but prepared my own BBQ sauce to give it a personal touch, the coleslaw recipe was to be made 3 days ahead and allowed to pickle, and the baked beans were made in the crock pot the day before. Purchased buns and a sliced tomato salad and we're done!

5. Remember the music is sometimes more important than the food. I am a playlist making fool. I create a playlist for nearly every party I throw that conveys the feeling I desire for the occasion. Cocktail parties require chill, cool music and this latest bash began with some beach and reggae, cool 60's and 70's rock in the middle building to 80's dance, and ended with some low key songs. For the most part, your song choices should build then taper off. You can really direct the party this way and end on a relaxed note.

Live music is always the best when you want to go all out, but a well organized mp3 player can go a long way in making a good party great. Take time to really sit down and invest in downloading some great songs and organizing them. Really mix it up, make it unexpected, country, pop, oldies, rock...

6. Behave the way you want your guests to behave. Do you want people to relax and settle in? Then don't jump up all the time to check the oven or pick up plates. Have drinks self serve and close by, stack up dishes to be cleaned up AFTER company leaves, sit down and chat. Do you want people to dance and have fun? Then you 're going to have to get out there and DANCE! Your guests will follow suit.

7. When thinking decorations - less is more. Often, some nice flowers and great lighting is perfect. I have dimmers on every switch in my home,(even the powder room) and the ambiance is priceless. I love nice string lights, paper lanterns, candles...anything that casts a glow makes it a party. Don't junk it up and make it all theme-y unless it's a kid's party. Set all your dimmers, light your candles, and plug in your lights before the party, and as the sun sets a glow will set in and you won't be running around flipping switches.

8. Finger foods and more drinks than you think you'll need will never steer you wrong.

9. I try not to be doing anything party related two hours before, the last thing I do is sweep and mop, wipe the bathroom one last time then jump in the shower. The hour before, we are usually having a drink and waiting for friends so we're in the party state when they arrive.

10. Accept help! Unless it's a small intimate dinner party, I always allow friends to bring something. For the bigger parties (like the "Summer Bash" with a guest list of 150) I invite everyone to bring a dish to pass. I never ask for a specific thing, just make what you love to make. People love to be involved and take some credit for the great party and great food. They take pride in bringing a dish everyone will rave about, and I almost never get the standard potato salad from the supermarket trick. This year, we had John's famous ribs, Mike's gramma's secret wing recipe, apple pie, oriental salad...the list goes on and on. I provided the main dishes, including the meat and all the beverages and my friends filled in the rest.

A Summer Bash To Remember!

We have recovered from our 5th annual End of the Summer Bash and it was a raging success! I rank this as one our best ever thanks to the great friends, great food, and maybe a little bit to the rum punch:

Traditional Jamaican Rum Punch Recipe:
"one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and 4 of weak"
4 cups lime juice
8 cups grenadine
12 cups Rum (yum!)
8 cups orange juice
lemons and limes for garnish

Mix and fill a giant punch bowl/container, invite 70 of your best friends and their families, eat, drink, and be merry!

150 people(including the kids) converged on my back yard Sunday afternoon to party summer away and stayed late into the night dancing to the island music of John Mcdonald and The Mango Men, playing some summer games, (volleyball, horseshoes, bocce, corn hole...) and hanging by the bonfire.

We cleared out around 2 am, bedded down 14 overnight guests, cleaned up the mess and had some great memories to dream about the rest of the night. Cheers to good food, good drink, good friends, good life!


Pan Seared Pork Chops with Quick Apple Chutney

Did you know it's tradition to eat pork on New Year's Day? It makes for good luck all year, and even if it's not true WHO want's to tempt fate???

Here is an easy, beautiful pork dinner originally published last September. Wishing you health and happiness in the New Year!

It's time to begin to cook real meals again. The weather is getting a little cooler and it's getting dark earlier and it makes you want to tuck into a great meal with lots of flavor. It's still football season, so it needs to be quick!

This recipe is inspired by my Cook's Illustrated Steaks, Chops, Roasts, and Ribs Cookbook. My dad calls me a "springboard cook", I can never make something exactly as written and I've included my changes here. I can say that nothing in any of my Cook's Illustrated recipes has ever steered me wrong.

I started by brining my chops (soaking them in a solution of 6 cups of water mixed with 1/2 cup kosher salt and 3/4 cup of brown sugar for 1 hour)

Rinse and pat dry, then sear on each side for 3 mins. Place into a preheated 450 degree oven for 8-10 mins and get to work on your chutney in the same pan:

1 Tbsp. oil
1 small onion, diced
2 granny smith apples, diced
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I used this combo instead of using ginger and all spice as the recipe recommends)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple juice

Heat oil in skillet and cook apples and onions for about 10 mins. Add spices and cook 1 min. Add sugar and cider and bring to a boil, scraping bits from bottom of pan, until cider is reduced and slightly thickened (about 4 minutes). Serve over chops. Mmmmmm....

To learn more about Cook's Illustrated magazine or cookbooks just click here.

Your Skin Fix, December Edition