I'm a full-time wife and mom of two adorable boys. When I'm not busy trying to keep up with them I enjoy photography, traveling, planning parties and a little bit of reading.

In February of 2008 I was diagnosed with an incurable terminal lung illness, though God promised me a full and complete healing. While we wait for His timing, we're taking it one day at a time, and standing in awe of how God's using all of this for His glory. The tough road we've traveled has given us a new perspective on the fragility of life. Memories are more important to us than ever before. The goal of this blog is to share some of our family life - the ups and downs, the joys and probably some of the pains as well. It's mostly meant as a personal journal of sorts, but you're welcome to share in it. We'd like to take this opportunity to say ...


Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year - New Resolutions

I'm having a rough time deciding what my New Year's resolution(s) will be. I'm looking all sorts of places for ideas. According to a recent poll, this year's Top Ten New Year's Resolutions are:

1 - Spend more time with family and friends
2 - Fit in fitness
3 - Tame the bulge
4 - Quit smoking
5 - Enjoy life more
6 - Quit drinking
7 - Get out of debt
8 - Learn something new
9 - Help others
10 - Get organized

Hmmm. I don't smoke or drink (so strike #4 and #6). I'm not medically able to exercise much yet (so strike #2), and that makes losing weight hard (strike #3). Making memories with family and friends is already a priority (strike #1), and last year's medical crises have given me new perspective on the fragility of life (so I'm already doing #5). ... This poll isn't looking helpful so far ... We're almost finished paying off all of our debt including my school loans (so #7 is practically done already). I am organized - though two youngsters and my lack of energy make the house frequently untidy (strike #10). I was raised to help others - it's not a new concept, or something new I need to put into practice (strike #9). What's left?

#8 - Learn something new. Hmmm. What could I learn? Backgammon ... how to knit ... how to drive stick. Ooh. Now we're getting somewhere. Julia's New Year Resolution: learn how to drive a stick shift. Aaron says he's a good teacher and has been trying to get me to learn ever since we met. Oh. Both of our cars are automatics. Anyone wanna volunteer their car?

100 Things That Make Me Happy

I am still trying to decide what my New Year's resolution will be. A friend suggested I check out the website www.43things.com - a site dedicated to people's journey to accomplish their goals. So, I looked at it, and got lots of ideas. I still don't know what I want it to be though - I guess I first need to figure out what's most important for me right now. One thing that I saw on that site was that lots of people were making lists of 100 things that made them happy (besides money or the direct result of money). I liked the idea of looking for blessings in my life. So, I decided to start a list. These will be in the order I think of them (as opposed to how happy they make me). Here goes...

1. Waking up next to Aaron
2. Hearing "MOMMY!" when I pick up Alex from the church nursery
3. Hot cocoa on a cold day
4. My faith in God
5. The smell of a new car
6. Walking into Staples or Office Max
7. Online "window shopping" at Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma & Pottery Barn
8. Getting Christmas cards
9. A day all alone - without any kiddos fussing or the phone ringing
10. Looking at old photos
11. Reliving good memories
12. Crossing things off my to do list (not doing them as much as crossing them off)
13. Garlic bread
14. Going out to eat (and not being the person to cook dinner or clean-up)
15. Reading the Sunday circulars
16. Finding a good deal at the store
17. The sound of my toddler's voice
18. My baby's smile
19. Having the time to read
20. Vacation
21. Family time (with lots of giggles) laying on our bed in the morning
22. Sleeping all night in front of (white) blinking Christmas tree lights
23. A beautifully wrapped present
24. Watching it snow
25. Listening to it rain on a tin roof
26. Kittens
27. Watching a movie while curled up under a blanket
28. Pasta!
29. Bedtime hugs & kisses
30. Having a full calendar & the energy to do what's written on it
31. Laying in Aaron's "shoulder pit"
32. Christmas music
33. A hot shower (not allowed baths anymore)
34. Having accomplished something worthwhile
35. Having options in my life
36. Getting emails
37. Unexpected acts of kindness
38. Hanging out with old friends
39. My Martha Stewart Living magazine subscription
40. Christmas decorations
41. Entertaining
42. Cleaning (as long as I have the energy to do it)
43. Art by John William Waterhouse
44. Playing Solitaire on the computer
45. Having the stylist wash my hair (when I get it cut)
46. Online grocery shopping
47. Watching my kids accomplish something new
48. Sleeping-in
49. Writing out checks (and having the money in the bank to cover the bills)
50. When my house is clean and tidy at the same time
51. When the boys nap at the same time and the house is quiet
52. Friends
53. Organizing things
54. Receiving and giving honest compliments
55. Starbucks: Grande Half-Calf Skinny Caramel Mocha with Whip
56. Fresh flowers
57. The scent of fresh cut grass
58. Designing my dream house
59. Rearranging furniture
60. Playing games with friends
61. Being appreciated for being myself
62. Love letters
63. Flavored coffee
64. Moose trax ice cream with chocolate syrup on top
65. Blogging and reading my friends' blogs
66. Watching the A&E (5 hour) Pride & Prejudice series
67. Mini Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
68. Knowing what I want from life
69. Seeing how far God's brought us
70. Autumn - decorations and the changing leaves
71. Planning things - events, goals, parties, gifts, etc.
72. When I don't kill a potted plant
73. Taking a nap on the couch
74. Looking at beautiful houses (in magazines or in person)
75. Summer thunderstorms
76. The look of pure joy on his face when Aaron skis
77. Ironed bedsheets
78. Daydreaming
79. Going on a date with my husband
80. White pumpkins
81. Listening to mellow music
82. An empty laundry basket
83. Helping a friend
84. Aaron soothing the crying baby at 3 am - and 4 am - and again at 5:30
85. HGTV and the Food Network
86. Washing our cars on a warm summer afternoon
87. Little boys wearing overalls
88. The snooze button
89. Wearing slippers
90. Cute old men
91. Burning candles - especially vanilla scented ones
92. The sound of my boys laughing uncontrollably
93. The feeling of my clean teeth after using my electric toothbrush
94. Tissues that are soft on your nose
95. Birthday parties
96. When Aaron turns his phone off (and stops working for the day)
97. On a cold day, using the "butt warmers" in the front seats of Aaron's Subaru Outback
98. Hearing a song and having it bring back a good memory
99. Family
100. Realizing it only took 45 minutes to come up with this many things!

There's so much that makes me happy in life! Hopefully some of these things will come to mind when I'm having a downer moment.... What makes YOU happy?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Christmas

My mother came to town several days before Christmas, and that's when the real festivities began for our house. This was the first year she's spent Christmas at our place. Aaron's parents came down for the day. There was nothing overly spectacular about Christmas day, but it was perfect anyway! We only spent about $30 on Alex's gifts. We didn't get anything for Harrison - being 10 months he would have enjoyed the box and paper more anyway.

Being almost four, it was a magical day for Alex - his eyes sparkled as he took everything in. It was amazing to watch him enjoy Jesus' birthday so much! I was so proud of him when just before bed I asked Alex what his favorite part of the day was (toys, food, etc.), and he answered "Gram, Grandpa and Grandma being here all day!" The day after Christmas when Alex woke up, he quietly crept downstairs and asked Gram if it was still Christmas! He's becoming a boy after my own heart!

Christmas Eve at church.
Also at church - just before the Christmas Eve service began.
The children went on stage and "acted" out characters in the Christmas story. Alex was a sheep/cow, and is kneeling with his back to the camera.
This was the first year Alex put out milk and cookies for Santa!
He was wearing his new Christmas jammies.
Christmas morning Harrison was more excited by the
ornaments than the gifts.
Just before opening gifts.
Enjoying some special Grandpa time.
The dinner table. This was my first time making seven-layer salad.
It was the first left-over to disappear! Yummm!
My Christmas turkey. I've finally found a "keeper" recipe.
It was scrumptious!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Happy Birthday, Jesus" Cake

In an effort to teach our boys about the real reason for Christmas, we bake a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" cake each year. We eat it for dessert Christmas night after dinner. Last year Alex didn't really understand the whole concept, but now that he's almost 4, he totally understands what a birthday party is. So, Christmas is a day-long birthday party for Baby Jesus - we just get to open the gifts instead of him.

A month or two ago my mother-in-law and I spent probably 4 hours in the kitchen doing a test-run of one of Martha Stewart's desserts of the month: Butterscotch Pecan Cake. It was my first time attempting a triple layer cake, and this recipe was an INSANE amount of work. But after it sat for a day or two for the flavors to set, the results were TOTALLY WORTH IT! So, it won the contest, and will be this year's cake. This past weekend, my mother-in-law drove the 1.5 hours to our place to help me make it for Christmas.

Virginia making the homemade butterscotch
that later was turned into frosting.

When we weren't looking, Alex decided to help bake a cake too.
Just wish he didn't fill my brown sugar canister with flour!

"I'm sorry that I made a mess.... But it WAS FUN!"

Trimming the tops and bottoms of each layer so the
butterscotch sauce could soak in. We finally had
some samples to taste. Yumm!

Assembling the layers.

Virginia icing the cake.

The finished cake.
Waiting until Christmas is going to be really tough!

The Real Reason

On Christmas morning as a child we weren't allowed to open any gifts until someone read the "Christmas Story" from Luke Chapter 2. As a child it seemed like the story took forever to read, so we figured out who could read the fastest, and would beg for them to be that year's reader. As an adult, I've decided to continue this tradition with my own family.

Luke 2:7-20:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow Angels and Slush-Balls

We finally got snow here in Central Pennsylvania yesterday. I know our two inches doesn't compare to the two FEET my sister already has in Tahoe, California! But when you're three years-old, you'll take anything you can get! Alex was so eager to go out and play in it! I feel horrible that I still can't go out with him. Last year I was too tired, and this year it's too hard for me to breathe in the cold. (Summer's heat and winter's cold both make it hard - so I'm best staying indoors.) So, when Aaron went outside this morning to scrape off my car, Alex went out with him to enjoy the snow for a bit. Too bad that it was raining all morning, so the fluffy snow turned to cement and slush....

Alex's first snow angel of the year:
(Turn up the sound - I think his toddler voice is adorable!)

Since I wasn't outside to get hit by a wannabe snowball,
Alex had a blast throwing the shush-balls at me,
and hitting the storm door instead!

Friends in High Places

So, I got word today of a Christmas gift to me from a friend.

I guess I have friends in high places......

Check it out!


Monday, December 15, 2008

A Caroling We Go

Last night a our small group "crashed" the caroling hayride that was taking place in the neighborhood of our small group leaders. Luckily no one asked us if we lived in the neighborhood, and none of us offered that incriminating information either. With our five families, and fourteen kids, we could have comfortably filled the whole wagon on our own! But being that squeezed together probably helped prevent hypothermia or even frostbite on more than one finger or toe.

Santa's tractor pulled the wagon as we weaved through the five or so streets. We sang Christmas carols as we looked at the houses beautifully decorated and lit for the season - well, most of them were beautiful. To be perfectly honest, some were just "decorated" - not aesthetically pleasing to me - but festive nonetheless.
As we approached houses where people were home, they came out to listen and return the "Merry Christmas" wishes we eagerly shouted to them. Some of the children are probably hoarse today from "singing" so loudly. And surprisingly, we only heard one dog barking/howling in response to our lyrical attempts.

After about an hour spent huddled together, with only our "hot air" to keep us warm, we all enjoyed some hot cocoa at the local park. After deciding that liquid refreshments weren't enough to warm us up, we hitched a ride on the "sleigh" back to the house, and finally even our rosy Rudolph noses thawed. We enjoyed lots and lots of laughter, yum-yums, and took our annual small group Christmas photo.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a new tradition for our small group.

This Year's Christmas Kick-Off

So, my former college roommates and I celebrated Christmas over the weekend - at my house. We baked cookies, did crafts with Alex, did some art projects of our own, and even had a Christmas morning. Life goes by so quickly that I'm glad that we're maintaining our friendship! If we don't take the time now, then before we know it we'd be strangers. These are two fabulous women - I feel honored to call them my friends, and to have my boys call them "auntie." Here's a sampling of some of our fun!

Prince Harrison

King Aaron

The gifts we opened on "Christmas Morning."

Alex demonstrating his amazing "Hungry Hippos" skills.

Alex sponge-painting a tree for his bedroom door.
Hopefully I'll post a picture of the finished product later.

Alex using a cookie cutter to show how "strong and mighty" he is.

The Cookie Bandits - Lisa, Jen & Julia

A Noteworthy Note

Ten months ago I was sitting in a hospital bed fighting for every breath, and for life itself. God placed the right people in my path, and through His grace, their skill, and the prayers of countless family members and friends, I'm still here today. Two weeks ago I had a pre-scheduled appointment with my doctor in Pittsburgh. He saw how I was doing (or rather how much room there was for improvement), and prescribed me a new pill to add to my assortment. I've written about how rough the past two or three weeks have been for me - not feeling well. The pills finally arrived by mail (they're not something you can just pick up at CVS). So, I started them last Wednesday evening, and by Friday I was feeling so much better! Praise God for "easy fixes"!

This past week I also received in the mail a letter from the doctor discussing our appointment, and our game plan for the next several months. Also included were the results of the blood work I had done that day. Here's an excerpt:

"Your cell counts were normal and your hemoglobin was normal. Your BNP which is a reflection of the pressure in your heart is low which is excellent. The electrolytes were all within normal limits as well as your liver function tests. ... I am glad to report that all these tests were within normal limits and many of them have actually improved."

During the visit he said that the pressures in my lungs were still quite elevated (which is bad), but that I AM NO LONGER IN HEART FAILURE! My heart had been hurt so badly because of the problems in my lungs. The fact that my heart is healing is an indication that my lungs are healing too, even if my lungs are still "very sick." I praise God for every step in the right direction!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Angel

So, this has been a rough week. I've been exhausted a lot again, and doing less and less around the house. Some days even getting a shower has been more than I could handle - and I have two little ones not only to care for, but also nurture. Recently I had been so tired that I didn't do any tidying at all for the better part of a week. Needless to say (with a toddler, a crawler/cruiser, and a busy husband) the house was a wreck! You couldn't find the couches, counters, table, etc. It was just disgusting. But it was either clean up or care for the kiddos - I chose the kiddos. (Side note - I'm starting a new pill tonight called Tracleer that's supposed to help take care of this problem. So, please join me in praying it works.)

Every December I get together for a long weekend with two college roommates and celebrate Christmas and our friendship. This year it's my turn to host it. To the outsider it might seem like extra work for me since I want the house to be tidy, and plan the meals & activities. But considering what our lives look like right now it's actually easier for me this way. Otherwise I'd need to get an oxygen system delivered, and lots of other things too. But considering how messy the house has been lately I was stressing a bit. The girls who are coming really don't care about that type of thing - they'd probably roll up their sleeves and help get it in order. But it's supposed to be a fun time, so I didn't want them to have to do that.

Then ........ out of the blue, on Monday, I received a text message from the girl who introduced me to Aaron (and also played the harp at our wedding). She had a couple free days and wanted to drive the two hours to come help me. I almost cried! So, a couple hours later she showed up and got right to work! And work she DID ... basket after basket of laundry, vacuuming, dusting, piles and piles of dishes, grocery shopping, taking out the trash, baby care, cooking, helping me run errands ... I could go on and on!

So, I wanted to say thank you to Melissa for being my angel this week. "THANK YOU!" I don't have any recent digital photos, but here's two oldie but goodies.

Melissa with Sonya, her parents former dog.

Repelling in Wyoming with Aaron.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Trimming the Tree

Last year when it came time to put up the Christmas decorations, I was too tired (sick) to do anything, so I spent the whole day pestering Aaron to put up decoration after decoration. This year, I did much better, but still couldn't go it alone. Since there wasn't anything we wanted to get from the Black Friday sales this year, we got our tree and decorated it instead. The next day a girlfriend came over to help us finish the decorating. It was her birthday gift to me - and was appreciated so very much! I'm definitely no Martha Stewart. But here are some pics anyway.

This is the first year that we let Alex help decorate.
The past several years we trimmed the tree after he went to bed.

The finished product. Even though I have young kids,
I refuse to move the breakable ornaments higher.
They need to learn not to touch them.

The current table centerpiece.
This will probably change soon since I get bored easily.

My Golden "Unchie".
An ornament given to me in honor of my goldfish in college.
May he rest in peace.

This year's addition - given to us by my mother-in-law.

The real reason for the season - this was a wedding gift.

Brown Paper Packages

Just in case you haven't already learned through these posts, I absolutely live for Christmas! ...the decorations ... the holiday music ... the corny movies ... the house full of family and gifts on Christmas day... - sigh - I love it all! But this year, like many Americans, we're cutting corners to make our one income stretch farther. So, this summer I sent an email out to everyone who generally receive gifts from us, and let them know that this year we'll only be giving them one gift. If they end up giving us more, that's fine. But we don't want anyone to feel like they got the short end of the stick. But I was sure there was more I could do. So, I thought some more.

Last year I used up the last of our Christmas wrapping paper. Truth be told, I also ran out of ribbon, and decided it wasn't worth it to run out to the store and buy more. So, most of the gifts didn't have any ribbon or bows on them. No one seemed to notice, or at least to care. But, anyway, I used up the last of the wrapping paper last year. That stuff is just so expensive, that I decided that this year I'll buy some, and next year buy some more, and that way I'll have a nice stash again. But for this year, all the gifts (except for the kiddos) will be wrapped in brown paper.

A couple years ago a former college roommate gave me a Christmas gift wrapped this way, and I thought it was a fabulous idea. So, I'm finally putting the idea to good use. I bought two rolls of brown paper from Staples (in the mailing section), for I think $3.50 each. They are huge! One should be enough for all the gifts this year. Then, I bought some ribbon at Michael's (where it's all half-off this time of year), and am also using up my odds and ends. I'm quite proud of my thriftiness this year!

I don't have much wrapping done yet, but here's a sampling so far:

Every year my sister and I buy each other a Christmas movie.
This is hers for this year.

I got something little for the ladies at my MOPS table.

Various other gifts.