Friday, October 31, 2008

Gooseberry Patch Founders Jo Ann Martin and Vickie Hutchins are Cooking

Hot off the presses is the November issue of Costco Connection featuring (on pages 33-35) a profile of Jo Ann Martin and Vickie Hutchins, owners of Gooseberry Patch, a multimillion-dollar company with a country flair that publishes catalogs, comfort food-friendly cookbooks, calendars, and organizers.

Last year, the company published its 100th cookbook and shipped out more than 350,000 packages from its catalog of more than 500 items under $20—which includes a selection of wall and pocket-size calendars, night lights, mason jars, bowls, kitchen accessories, food items and kits, Christmas ornaments and soap pumps.

The company’s 100 employees are like family, say Hutchins and Martin—two entrepreneurs who didn’t expect to build an empire back in 1984. They were both stay-at-home moms looking for something to do after the kids went off to school. One morning the neighbors were chatting over their shared backyard fence in picturesque Delaware, Ohio and decided to start a catalog company.

Their concept was simple: They wanted to put the things they loved about the country into “a store that arrived in your mailbox.” They invested $5,000 each, and promised not to take a salary until they turned a profit. Within months, orders came pouring in. Into that first 96-page catalog went a few of their favorite country cooking recipes, “because everyone loves to try a good new recipe,” Hutchins says. She was right. By 1992, Hutchins and Martin received so much positive feedback from readers about those recipes that Gooseberry Patch began publishing its own line of cookbooks.

“Most of our good ideas come from our customers,” Martin says, proudly noting that today the company has more than 8 million cookbooks in print. A perennial hit, “Christmas All Through The House,” features dozens of holiday recipes and simple craft ideas and is for sale now at most Coscto stores. Other popular titles include, “Church Suppers,” “Harvest Country Cookbook,” and “Super Fast Slow Cooking.” Additional titles are in the works.

The co-founders share that there have been tough times. In 1998 their business grew dramatically, and they hadn’t quite mastered how to handle the demand.

“We were still working out of our homes and our products were here, there, and everywhere, so that was a logistical nightmare,” Martin shares. “Finally, we moved into a 53,000-square-foot building and put everything under one roof.” Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Anthrax scare made people afraid to use the post office, and their mail order business took a hit. It rebounded, but now in 2008 the nature of their business has changed once again due to the increased efficiency of the Internet. “We are feeling like we need to cut back on our space,” Hutchins tells The Costco Connection. “But it’s all part of the juggling act of running a business. We try to stay flexible.”

Through it all, Hutchins and Martin have managed to keep their friendship strong. “Our offices are still right next to each other,” Martin explains. “I’m in charge of the back end of operations, and Vickie works more on the creative side of things, so we don’t step on each other’s toes. We also escape now and then and do the one thing we both adore: going to antique flea markets. It’s a girlfriend type of thing.”

The ladies say the most important lesson they have learned is to stay true to who you are. “After you’ve had some success, it’s easy to go off your path and get into things you shouldn’t,” concludes Hutchins. “But it’s important to remember what brought you to the dance. We try to give our customers a little more than they expect, and if we can continue to build a company that provides nice surprises and gives people a little comfort when they need it, I think we’ll have succeeded.”

For more information visit:

Costco article by Hope Katz Gibbs, a freelance writer in Northern Virginia who received rave reviews from her family when she whipped up Hot Chicken Salad—a recipe by Lynne Davisson of Cable, OH, on page 343 of “Christmas All Through The House.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nardos King: 2008 Outstanding First-Year Principal Award

Earlier this year, beloved Fairfax County Public School educator Nardos King, the principal of Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria VA, took home one of the most prestigious FCPS awards: the 2008 Outstanding First-Year Principal Award.

Praised for her ability to motivate students, she set several goals when she became principal. The first was to have Mount Vernon become a positive focal point in the community. She also wanted to reach out to Hispanic parents who were underrepresented at the school.

And King was determined to improve instruction — and find a way to forge relationships among students and staff members. So she met with community members and parents and challenged them to become ambassadors for the school. Then she reached out to Hispanic parents, with the help of a neighborhood church, and ultimately established Hispanic Parent Council.

She also adjusted the bell schedule to facilitate student enrichment, mediation, and mentoring — and carved out a special 30-minute class period during which all students and teachers read silently. Students can also use part of the period to consult teachers for extra help, make up tests, or complete assignments.

Where no educator has gone before?

Then last year she did what few other educators might be willing to do: She promised to cut her hair into a Mohawk if students raised their SOL scores to 80% or higher in each of the four core areas. Not only did they accomplish that, but 28 students in the class of 2007 earned the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma—the highest number in the school’s history.

Last November 20, King headed to the hairdresser to make good on her promise.

“I have a passion for finding ways to address and close the achievement gap between white and minority students,” says King, who grew up in Mount Holly, NJ. “My mom is from Ethiopia and my father is American, so I had a taste of what it meant to merge two cultures when I was a child.”

She deepened that understanding after graduating from Virginia University where she got a degree in Business Information Systems in 1986. Her husband — as a second lieutenant in the US Army — whisked her off to Germany soon after the wedding. King wanted to get her teaching degree, but worked as a substitute teacher and a bank teller instead.

In 1990, the couple moved again to Lawton, Oklahoma. “My dream to teach was still there but I had a baby and no time to go back to school,” she explains. “I was hired by the school system to be an instructional assistant, but the position ended after a year and I was transferred to a library assistant position in another school. I enjoyed that position, too, but soon after was transferred to a local high schools to become the finance secretary.”

When there’s a will there’s a way

In 1995, when her husband was transferred back to the Washington, DC area, King wasn't going to let anything keep her from finding work in the classroom. First, she found a job as the secretary to an elementary school principal. Six months later she was hired at Mount Vernon to be the school's finance officer.

“As luck would have it, the principal told me about a program at George Washington University which allowed me to get my Master's in Special Education,” she shares. “I entered the program and left my finance position to take an Instructional Assistant in the Special Education Department at Mount Vernon. After a year of school, I was eligible to teach on a provisional license and was hired to teach at Mount Vernon, where I taught math to the special education students for the next four years.”

King worked her way up the system, eventually becoming a sub-school Principal at Mount Vernon. In the summer of 2006, she landed her dream job. The awards that have come since — and there are several of them — are wonderful, King says, but what is most important to her is helping at-risk kids.

“Four adult volunteers, and myself are currently working with a group of students in a program we call the 30/30 club,” she explains. “Prior to entering the program, these students were all low performing and unmotivated, but we have been successful in getting the majority of them to turn around their grades, behavior and attendance ion school. I strongly believe that building relationships with at risk students in key to the success of the program.”

King is determined to continue to be a positive role model in the years to come. She is currently studying for her PhD in Education Leadership and Policy at Virginia Tech, and hopes to one day become Assistant Superintendent — and then Superintendent — of a large school district.

“I know that if I am truly running the show, I can make a difference on hundreds of thousands of children’s lives,” she says.

We’ll let you know when King lands that job.

To learn more about the work Nardos King is doing at her high school, visit

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stephanie Cohen Hosts First Annual DC Health Summit: Oct. 29 at the Mandarin Hotel

Mark your calendar for Oct. 29 when award-winning entrepreneur Stephanie Cohen hosts the first annual DC Health Summit, a meeting that is bringing together 100 of the top minds in the health care industry on Oct. 29 from 11 am to 1 pm at the Mandarin Hotel in Washington, DC

This free, groundbreaking event is open to business leaders and health care professionals who want to learn more about workplace wellness and how it can not only potentially lower health insurance rates. Wellness expert Steven Aldana, CEO of Wellsteps, Inc. and author of "The Culprit and the Cure," will give the keynote speech: “The Truth About Return on Investment and Worksite Health Promotion Programs."

Representatives from the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns will also be on hand to talk about each candidate's health care plans.

The moderator for the event is futurist Andy Hines of the global research and consulting firm Social Technologies, who will continue the discussion with a panel of leading-edge health care industry professionals: Virginia Senator George Barker, Kaiser Permanente's Director of Population Care Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, UnitedHealthcare COO Dr. Sandford Cohen, Neurosurgeon Dr. James Melisi, the National Rehabilitation Hospital's VP Dr. Paul Rao, and Maryland's former Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer,

“The goal of the Summit is to get all of the players in the health care industry one room — from futurists like Andy Hines to insurance company executives, doctors, hospital administrators, pharmaceutical companies, and politicians,” says Cohen. “All these people have their own ideas, war stories, and agendas about what needs to be done to get health care insurance rates back in check — but never before have they sat down together and talked it through. The Summit is the first step to get this important conversation going.”

Since co-founding the Gaithersburg, MD health care benefits firm Golden & Cohen in 1992, CEO Stephanie Cohen has helped it grow into one of the largest among female-owned companies in the Washington metropolitan region with $70 million in sales last year.

With more than 15 years of experience in small group health insurance, disability programs and life insurance, she recently qualified to be a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Stephanie also serves on the prestigious United HealthCare, Coventry, Aetna and Kaiser Broker Council, and is a member of the Womens’ President Organization, the District of Colombia Insurance Commissioner Advisory Council and The Greater Washington Health Underwriters.

Stephanie believes in giving back to her community, and has served on the board of Rebuilding Together, a non-profit group that rebuilds low-income homes. A native of Maryland, Stephanie received her BS in Marketing from University of Maryland in 1986. She has been married to Golden & Cohen co-founder and COO Scott for 15 years. They have two children.

For more information about this groundbreaking Summit, visit For details about Stephanie Cohen's firm, Golen & Cohen, log on to:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Two Time Emmy Award Winning Producer Janet Shalestik

When it comes time to make that incredibly challenging decision to be a stay-at-home-mom or follow your career, two time Emmy Award winning TV producer Janet Shalestik didn't hesitate.

"It wasn't a choice," she says. "I simply knew that my kids were the most important people in the world to me. That made giving up the glamour and the world of TV a lot easier."

For years, she spent her days attending with great joy to the needs of her kids and husband. And nearly two decades later, the mom of Alison (17) and Sam (14) says motherhood is still her most important achievement. But now that the kids are a teens, Janet has embarked on a new career working as a representative for an international health and wellness company that helps people with physical, environmental and financial wellness.

"After many years of being a stay at home mom, I looked for a job that was flexible," she explains. "Even though they don't admit it, my teenagers still need their mom at home as much as younger children. That's how I define modern motherhood. Having a flexible job that allows you the time to be with your kids, attend their events, volunteer at their schools, and having the knowledge that you’re making a difference in their lives — all the while knowing you love your job and are getting paid to help people live healthier lives."

Janet says her life is different than her own mom, who is "87 years young, and the closest thing to an angel on this Earth. I’m not that angelic," she admits, noting that the traits she admires in other moms include compassion, intelligence and a sense of humor. "I detest closed-mindedness and people who say they’re going to do something, and then don’t."

Her biggest challenge these days is getting all the things done that I need to do, and not beating myself up for falling short much of the time. That's a far cry from her life a few decades ago.

"When I was in my 20s, I thought my greatest accomplishment was winning two Emmy Awards as a producer for 'Capital Edition' on WUSA-TV, Channel 9, and getting nominated for a national Emmy for an 'America’s Most Wanted' story against producers for Nightline, 60 Minutes and 20/20. In fact, when my son Sam was little, he used to think they were my basketball trophies! I’m 5’2” so I thought that was pretty funny. And as nice as those statues look in my family room, they can’t give me hugs, so they greatly pale in comparison to raising Alison and Sam, and seeing them grow up to be incredible human beings."

Janet admits she has faced some tough times recently.

"My husband and I are separated after 21 years of marriage, and that’s been tough on all of us," she shares. "My goal now is to show my children that if life sometimes throws you curve balls. But if your life doesn’t turn out like you once planned – you can pick yourself up, and make the best of it. I want my kids to know the importance of being resilient, because they'll be stronger for it. My goal is to stay open-minded and always live life with a glass half-full attitude."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hope Justman Travels China's Old Roads

Hope Justman is one of those women who younger broads look up to and say, "If only we can grow up to be her." As a retiree, she penned a "Guide to Hiking China's Old Road to Shu." So not only has she written a great book, which was published in December by Universe Press — this academic adventure, who as a 60-something grandmother, has hiked some of the toughest paths in China. And she wants us to, too!

"I first became interested in China as an art history major at Mount Holyoke College," she writes on her website, "I also first heard of the Road to Shu at this time as we studied the painting Emperor Ming Huang's Journey to Shu. I was particularly intrigued by the plank road skirting the sheer mountain peaks in the background (lower right), although I was convinced that the artist had taken a few liberties in perching it so precariously on the side of a cliff."

After receiving her B.A. in Art History, she took graduate courses at the East-West Center and the University of Chicago, and during this period became interested in China as depicted in the accounts of 19th century travelers.

"On my third trip to China in 1999, discouraged by the unattractive modern buildings that had intrusively penetrated the most accessible sites, I decided to see how much of old China was actually still around off the beaten track," she notes, explaining she retraced the route of an Englishman who had traveled through northeastern Yunnan in 1910 along a route quite far away from any current tourist destinations

Although she had originally just planned on taking local buses to visit each of the towns he passed through, when she reached a third stopover she learned there was no bus to the next town. "I would have to return to the town I had just left and proceed from there. Not wanting to deviate from the original route, I decided to walk, and my landlord sent along a local boy so I wouldn't get lost."

She walked two hours along a dirt road and then "there suddenly appeared before us out of nowhere a single line of flagstones winding its way through the terraced fields ahead. I realized, with amazement, that I had stumbled upon a fragment of an old imperial road. I soon discovered that walking its well-worn flags was much more fun than hiking on a dirt trail."

Justman liked the fact that she was walking in the footsteps of all the 19th century travelers and, indeed, all the Chinese travelers that had traveled the 600-mile road for the last 2,000 years — and felt compelled to share it with others. After spending 31 months hiking and photographing the old roads, she returned to her home outside of Philadelphia and began writing the 435-page paperback. It features 19 hikes, details about local attractions, lists of transportation, hotels and restaurants, and maps and useful phrases in English and Chinese.

To buy this Truly Amazing Woman's book, visit