Altoona Mirror newspaper column {January}

I used to think retailers crammed the idea of organization down everyone’s throats in early January because consumers would revolt if stores immediately jumped into selling Valentine’s Day.

But last weekend, as I was trying to stuff 10 pounds of ornaments in a 5-pound box, I realized it’s a natural progression from the excess of the holiday season to want to declutter, minimize and start fresh in the new year.

So when I was putting away the Christmas decorations in our attic, and came face to face with the hordes of holiday piles past, I decided that caving to the January organizing fad might not be such a bad idea after all.

That is, until I was blindly wielding a shopping cart loaded with plastic bins and lids bigger than the cart itself to the checkout line. Then I was cursing my decision. I don’t actually go in the attic that much. The door is closed. Who cares if it’s a disaster in there? Did I just run over a store display?

But I was invested at that point. I had just spent an hour debating which brand, size, shape and color containers to purchase.

All bins are apparently measured in gallons. And I stood there like an idiot trying to mentally convert my Halloween pile. A faux chain? Two gallons. The huge ceramic pumpkin? Five gallons. Our dog’s costume collection? Ten gallons. (Don’t judge. He looks adorable as an ice cream sundae. The kids go bananas — pun intended.)

Once I got those suckers into the house and up the stairs, it took me an entire day to sort, toss and store. But it was rewarding to know that my rudimentary gallon conversions had been pretty accurate. And afterward I was pumped reviewing my neatly labeled containers perfectly stacked between the attic rafters.


Much better than a mash of leprechaun glittered shamrock necklaces, plastic clown hair and overused shopping bags stuffed with window candles.

Then I was on a roll. Nothing was safe from my scrutiny. Bathroom cabinets. Outdated shoe collections. And the very scary kids’ hallway closet that barely closes.

My 7 year old even agreed to help me deep clean her room with the promise of a furniture rearrangement. After I moved her bed, she immediately saw the potential. And she even parted with the glob of plastic beads in her nightstand drawer (three gallons worth) when I held it up and raised an eyebrow.

I think she understood it would’ve taken a highly trained surgeon to make any of them a single strand again.

In all, I discovered some interesting things delving into the recesses of our house. (Rubber bands aren’t supposed to fuse with wood at the bottom of the kitchen junk drawer, right?) But I came up with some simple solutions. (Now all our crap can fuse with a pristine compartmentalized plastic caddy ! Yay!)

And it was fun reacquainting with some lost treasures, too.

The best part is feeling a little more put together and knowing I’ll be able to find things a little more quickly if necessary.

If someone has an emergency and requires plastic Easter eggs ASAP? I’m on it.

It’s in my EASTER bin. Four gallons worth. And readily accessible any month of 2015.


Altoona Mirror newspaper column {December}



Elf on the Shelf.

If you’re like most, those four words just caused an avalanche of strong opinions to flood your brain. Because when it comes to Santa’s personal household helper, there seem to be two very distinct camps:

  • Team Elf
  • Team the Elf Needs to Die

Even if you don’t have children or grandchildren born after he debuted in 2005, the elf is virtually impossible to miss this time of year.  In stores, floating in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and undoubtedly gracing your social media feed.

But what’s so polarizing about the pint-sized sprite? I was curious to find out, so I conducted a little online research.

A simple Google search yields vehement opinions from both sides, but my personal favorite results included “How the Elf ruined our Christmas,” “200 fun ways to enjoy your elf” and “Overachieving elf Mommies – People I want to punch in the throat.” 

Oh yes. This is clearly a hot-button issue in America. (And I may have spit out my coffee laughing at that last one.)

Next I decided to post an impartial inquiry on my own Facebook page: “Elf on the Shelf. Opinions. Go.”

The response was immediate. Both sides were well represented and hotly defended. In less than a few hours, I had over 50 comments weighing in — many including visuals. Jimmy Focht of Tipton included a picture of his elf in a hostage situation duct taped to the oven, surrounded by his son’s Army figures. 

“We try to be creative,” Jimmy wrote. “It’s the first thing Quinn wants to see in the morning.”

Not surprisingly, the supporters tend to be parents of young children who love the elf’s antics and do it at their own pace. 

Shannon Dodge of Estero, Fla., wrote, “We were given ‘Hammer’ when my daughter was 4. I feel it’s completely harmless, but we don’t partake in any naughty behavior because I think it sends a mixed message. Hammer does like to help with chores and write nice little messages to the kids on occasion (read: when I have time to put in the effort); otherwise he just moves from location to location and the kids LOVE HIM. They cry when he has to go back to the North Pole. Seriously.”

Other parents have avoided it, cringing at the nightly commitment through the month of December and imagined lofty expectations.

Michelle Grove of Spring Mills knows her limits. “I can’t even handle tooth fairy duties!” she wrote. 

The biggest complaint from naysayers is the idea that the elf is watching children and reporting on their behavior. The word “creepy” was used more than two dozen times, but Emma Sutterlin, a freshman at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, dreams of using it to her advantage.

“Sometimes I wish that I could do it for my college roommate,” Emma wrote. “I can say things like, ‘Chippy saw you take my Ramen and he’s going to tell Santa.'”

Some parents of older children expressed relief they missed the craze, others decided it’s never too late to join in on the fun.

“I avoided it until this year,” admitted Kristen Heinbaugh of Altoona. “My 9-year-old, Cayleigh, asked for one. She told me last year she doesn’t believe. She wrote Santa a note, however, begging for one. The next morning Mixie was in her room. She jumped out of bed, flipped on her light and rubbed her eyes. Her reaction was better than any Christmas morning. It brought back spirit of Christmas to our home even though my kids are 9, 10, 13 and 16. We have fun with it.”

Love him or hate him, the elf is here to stay — probably for generations as kids growing up with fond memories of their elves pass on the tradition to their own children. 

But one thing’s for sure. He stirs one heck of a Christmas-spirited debate.


Sparkle Saturday! {Twinkle Sessions: Christmas photobooth fun!}

There are 15 days until Christmas. Oh my gosh, FIFTEEN.

And if you’re like me, you have more things on your to-do list than a pen has ink. So I’m here to inject a little holly jolly into your weekend to counterbalance the long lines, tangled wrapping paper and envelope licking.




Twinkle Sessions. One day. Fifteen minutes. Be silly. Laugh, relax and have FUN.

Go the classic route, be yourself and shine in front of some pretty lights — OR — pick a favorite from my stock of Christmas props and ham it up old-school photobooth style. Either way I guarantee you’ll make some awesome memories with your loved ones and have some kickin’ photos to keep, share and enjoy.


Twinkle Sessions 2014


New this year? This silly set of headbands … complete with sparkly snowflakes that would even make Elsa envious.


And of course I still have this fantastic Christmas-themed stick set! (C’mon. You’ve always wanted to rock a carrot nose. Admit it.)


Families, groups of friends, couples …  it’s impossible not to have fun! Plus, it will result in some of the most relaxed, spontaneous and just plain enjoyable images you take all year.

Come and see for yourself!

I’ll be taking TEN reservations for Saturday. That’s it. These sessions have become a heavily-requested annual favorite, so they’ll go fast! It’s a great holiday activity in itself or stop by on your way out to eat, shopping, getting your tree, whatever!

These times are available. I will cross them off as they are filled.

10:00-10:15     10:25-10:40     10:50-11:05     11:15-11:30     11:40-11:55

1:05-1:20     1:30-1:45     1:55-2:10     2:20-2:35     2:45-3:00







Can’t wait to see you soon! (I’ll be armed with more than my iPhone, promise.)

Kristen Sharp - December 10, 2014 - 10:09 PM


Can we do the 11:40?

Kristen Sharp and fam!

Lindsay - December 11, 2014 - 9:35 AM

Can we do the 2:45-3?

Bella - December 11, 2014 - 11:20 AM

I’ll take the 10:25-10:40 slot!


Altoona Mirror newspaper column {August}

Every time I buy bananas, whether it’s three or a big bunch, I know at least one of them will inevitably turn brown on my counter.

But rather than toss the lonesome badnanas (as I’ve taken to calling them), I started peeling and freezing them with the goal of someday turning them into Super Mom Baked Deliciousness. 

Instead I ended up with giant freezer bags bursting with badnanas. So many I didn’t know what to do with them. But I was determined. I spent a year freezing the stupid things, so I wasn’t about to give up on them. I would magically reinvent them into something edible.

Then I remembered my friend Kate’s chocolate chip banana bread. She is an editor extraordinaire at the Mirror. And she proofread this very column to make sure I didn’t screw anything up. (Hi Kate!)

This is the most moist, delicious, sweet-but-not-too-caloric-to-make-you-feel-guilty-about-eating-half-a-loaf-in-one-sitting bread. She would bring in warm mini loaves right out of the oven and everyone in the office would swarm until someone got desperate enough to pile the remaining crumbs on a napkin to take back to their desk.

I revised the directions a tad to reflect how to make it at my house. But bakers with young children can alter as necessary.

Kate’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

2 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄4 cups sugar
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 large bananas, mashed
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Hold up your toddler so he can push a few  buttons because he’s now crying at your feet that he didn’t get a turn at the “beeper game.”

Grease four (6x3x2) mini loaf pans. And the rest of your kitchen counter. Because your 6-year-old wanted to help and … oh, look at that. Go upstairs and change shirts. Soak the one with spray grease in the sink after dousing it with stain removal spray.

In large bowl, mix sugar, oil and eggs until blended. Remove the little bits of egg shell with your fingers after you’ve moistened them with egg. They stick magically to your fingers that way for some reason! Good thing, too, since your kids smashed them into the bowl like it was the side of a house on Halloween.

Remove the plastic triceratops from the sugar container and put it away before it ends up on your floor.

Too late. While you let your guard down, the bowl you were mixing goes on the ground instead. Clean up entire mess. Start over. Borrow unaccounted for eggs from neighbors if necessary.

Add bananas and mix well. When your children start gagging at the sight of the black bananas that they liken to things normally seen in a toilet, encourage them to close their eyes.

Don’t give up. You’re halfway there. Ignore the fact that your dog just dragged in all of the grass clippings in the entire back yard onto the floor you just scrubbed free of egg and sugar.

Add flour, baking soda and salt. If half of the desired amount of each of these actually makes it into the bowl, consider it a win.

YES, YES. YOU CAN NOW OPEN THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS. Yes your kids can have some. Oh my gosh, the incessant asking was brutal. Yes, I get it.

Stir in chocolate chips. (However many you can pry out of their grippy hands.)

Pour into mini loaf pans. Hopefully they’re bored by now and move on to something else. If not, turn on the oven light to let them watch the loaves bake. Listen for 45 to 50 minutes as they ask whether it’s done yet.

Ironically freeze any loaves you won’t eat immediately. Or give them to friends. Just DON’T let them sit on your counter thinking someone will eat it until the last one turns to mush and THEN throw it in the garbage.

Like I did. Ugh.


For those who want a printable version, enjoy!

Kate’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

2 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄4 cups sugar
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 large bananas, mashed
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease 4 (6x3x2”) small (mini-loaf) pans.
In large bowl, mix sugar, oil and eggs until blended.
Add bananas and mix well. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Stir until mixed well.
Stir in chocolate chips.
Pour into mini-loaf pans.
Bake 45-50 minutes or until wooden pick or knife comes out clean.