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, November 23, 2009

Universal "Santa"

Part of the Christmas display in PPG's Wintergarden includes a display of "Spirits of Giving from Around the World" and oil paintings representing 16 countries. Each life-sized Santa is robed in their own traditional apparel and is accompanied by an original oil painting which depicts a holiday celebration in the country which the Santa represents. There is also a little display book with a summary of the holiday celebration and traditions for each Santa exhibit. The countries represented include America (Kris Kringle and Santa Claus), China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Latin America, Russia, the Middle East, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway and Ukraine.

France. Doesn't he remind you of one of the "Three Wisemen" from Christmas pagents? I think he's great!

Great Britain. Can someone say "Gandalf" (The Green)? Tolkien was from Great Britain, right? Perhaps this was part of his inspiration when he created Gandalf.

Ukraine. (Silvia, it was sooo cool to get to see part of your Christmas folklore!)

Haiti. Just look at those festive colors! But honestly, how realistic is it for the mother of a newborn to walk around delivering fresh rolls to families? I guess a mother's gotta do what a mother's gotta do.

Italy. Isn't she simply terrifying?!!? I remember being freaked out by her when I was younger!

But in the picture she's quite beautiful - someone with my kinda artistic talents must have made the model. But purple nailpolish? Yikes!

And of course - America's Kris Kringle!

Gingerbread House IDEAS

So, I know that most of you out there are uber-creative. I, however, am not. Christmas is going to be starting in just five short days, and with it comes gingerbread house decorating. I know that I could sure use some ideas, so I took some photos. Here's a random assortment for your inspiration. You should be able to click on any photo to make it larger so you can see detail better. Happy decorating!

Balloon Sword

Unfortunately, part of Light Up Night is never-ending, slow-moving, extra-long LINES! I didn't think Alex would have been happy waiting in line for 30 minutes for a balloon character, so while I waited in line I suggested that Aaron and Alex explore the escalator. After all, what preschool-er doesn't love to ride them up and down? I remember as a child begging my mother to be allowed to "joyride" on escalators! I also remember with great fondness the one time she let me!

So Aaron and Alex rode up and down - and up and down - and up and down...

... again and again and again! They must have gone up and down two dozen times! But at least it helped keep Alex occupied and incredibly happy!

Finally it was our turn. Alex decidedly did not want a reindeer, or a candy cane, or a hat, or.... He asked first for a train (go figure!), but got excited when I suggested a sword.

It was like we bought him a Ferrari! (Thank goodness he can still be so pleased by free things!)

The sword was his absolute, hands-down, favorite part of the night!

Until he sword-fought Daddy a little too vehemently in the parking lot just before we drove home, and the balloon popped. Then he cried for almost 15 minutes straight. But at least it was fun while it lasted!

Light Up Night

Apparently in Pittsburgh, Christmas officially beings the Friday before Thanksgiving with Light Up Night. I remember as a child going to light-up night a couple times, but Aaron has never had the pleasure. So, once he found out about it (from a neighbor), and remembered how much I love Christmas, it was put on the calendar! We were going to go as a whole family, but that afternoon Harrison absolutely refused to take a nap. We were not prepared to deal with toddler melt-downs when we were out past normal bedtime. So, my mother volunteered to change her plans and watched Harrison while the three of us went out.

For those of you unacquainted with Light Up Night, it's when all the big buildings across town light their Christmas trees, and turn on their Christmas displays. There's TONS of FREE activities for the young and old alike: concerts, parades, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides (yeah - for free!), parties, fireworks, and so much more - all around town! There's whole websites dedicated to letting people know what's happening where and at what time. The city even offers free shuttle service from many of the big parking garages! I think activities began at 11 am, but we didn't get to town till around 6. After consulting the event calendar, we decided to stick to with only two areas (maybe 3-4 blocks apart) that had kid's stuff, and so I wouldn't have to walk too far.

First was One Oxford Centre. Alex got to meet two of Santa's reindeer, though he couldn't decide which ones they were. Later in the evening as we walked to the next location we passed the trailer that transported them all the way from New York, and Daddy accidentally pointed that out to Alex. After a very concerned "you mean they can't really fly?" comment, Daddy quickly came back with the well-known fact that Reindeer are only allowed to fly over the continental US on Christmas Eve. That way they don't run into all the airplanes that fly all over the place. (Phew - that was close!)

Inside was a gorgeous tree with Santa sitting in front of it. (Sorry - I cropped him out of my picture.) What a great opportunity to get that important conversation with him out of the way at the beginning of the season - even had a gorgeous background for the hundred pics each parent would take of their child on his lap. And was was even better was that it was FREE! (That sure beats paying 15 bucks at the mall for the photo they take of your kid with Santa, where inevitably it's of Little Johnny screaming because Santa smells like Jack Daniels!)
There was also a jazz trio playing up-beat Christmas tunes, face painting, caricatures (which weren't free), and shaped balloons (which I'll post about later).

After the half-mile or so walk to PPG, we were greeted with Pittsburgh's version of Rockefeller Plaza - complete with a skating rink around the tree! (I took advantage of the Zamboni doing it's thing to snap some pics without people in the way of the beautiful tree.)

Okay, so they're not quite "Christmas-y," but how could I not have taken a picture of a Heinz Ketchup Triceratops, or a PPG-inspired Stegosaurus? I mean, really? It's not everyday that I get to see these fabulous historically-accurate fossil replicas!

Then inside one of the PPG buildings was another beautiful Christmas tree.

It was surrounded by gingerbread houses made by local schools, and a huge train display. Of course once Alex saw the trains, this was the final stopping spot of the evening. He must have spent the better part of an hour watching the trains from all sides of the massive tree. Such a patient Daddy to participate in Alex's excitement for so long!

On the way out we finally spent some money, and bought Alex a "light-up sword". (Hey - that's what he called it!).

Then the whole way back to the car Alex and Daddy had sword fights. We really are pacifists, but it sure beat telling Alex that we were walking toward the car to go home. They just kept running further and further up the street sword-fighting all the way. I couldn't count the number of smiling passers-by. (I was just lucky enough that none of them were in the following video!)

(Nothing like hitting a man when he's down... yikes!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

our WANNABE staircase

My very good friend, Beth from The Stories of A to Z is having a party today. Since moving away from her and the rest of my friends I've found myself dreadfully "homesick" this past week, so I decided to join in on her fun.

For those of you who know Beth, know that she can take a nothing and turn it into something simply stunning in mere minutes and for practically no cost! For those of you who know me well, know that I was gifted with 110% of my right brain working, whereas the creative side is severely lacking. I guess to make up for that, God did bless me with the ability to appreciate beauty and to see potential in something. It's just bringing the potential to reality that I frequently find difficult.

Well, I've known about Beth's party for several weeks now, and decided that this was going to be my big chance to show the world (and our mutual friends) that Julia can do it too! We moved into Dogwood only two and a half weeks ago, and under normal circumstances, that should have been enough time for me to get a "simple" project like beautifying my staircases done. (After all, it only took 9 days to empty all the boxes.)

But my staircase hopes and dreams started before I was hospitalized twice in the past month, and before I was put on a new treatment that's been quite painful with severely inadequate pain killers. So, once again "real life" took preference, and my staircase is still waiting. Since I've been homesick for friends and familiar places this past week, I decided to join in on the party anyway. So, rather than you being impressed by my transformation, instead you'll be acquainted with my (almost) blank canvas, my inspiration pictures, and my plans for our staircase.

So - here's what came with the house. Before you start smirking, let me assure you that I already know that there are two different types of sconces, two murals that must be painted over, and stark white walls (except for the array of scuff marks all over them).

There is also a decorating box-thingy upstairs that I have simply no idea what to do with. Any suggestions?

My inspiration staircase belongs to Chris at Just A Girl. Beth first introduced me to Chris's amazing blog months ago, and I've been hooked ever since! She's a working mom of two who still finds time to create such stunning, simple beauty in her home. I figure if she can find the time and energy to create such a warm, loving home, then I should be able to also. (Please indulge me here for just a couple minutes as I try to forget that I'm struggling with PH.)

I absolutely love how she kept her rails and end posts the dark wood, but painted all the smaller rungs white. That's what I'm hoping to do with mine too. Right now when looking at my staircase all I can see is a sea of wood. I'd like the banister to accentuate the architecture, not overwhelm it. I think Chris did an excellent job with hers! (And the fact that it's decorated for Christmas makes it even more endearing to me!)

As you can see, she even has the carpet running up the middle of the steps like ours is already. So I think having the white rails with the wood and carpet steps will look great on ours - it's stunning on Chris's staircase.

I'm planning to paint the living room, entry, and stairs a beige - possibly a wheat color - definitely without too much yellow in it. But there's so much wood in the house already (95% of our furniture, most of the first floor floor, etc.) that I'm thinking I'd like to paint all the baseboards, doorway trim, and chair rails throughout the house white. The wood trim is quite beautiful, though. Is it a decorating sin to cover up something so pretty? Exposed wood trim just isn't me, but I don't want to ruin it either. Anyone have an opinion????

So - now you've seen our wannabe staircase. Hopefully it won't be too long till I can post about our beautified staircase. If you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear your opinion about what I should do with it. Since it's one of the first things seen when walking into Dogwood, it should make a pleasant statement. Right now the only statement it says is "whoa wood!"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

To the Rescue

I've been told to expect "some discomfort" for at least the first six days each time I place my sub-q medicine in a new spot. Ummmm. That was an understatement! It's starting to get better now (thank goodness). At least I'm not sobbing at the moment and I'm not doped up on Codeine right now either (though it did help me sleep better last night). For at least two days of this I was simply non-functional. On Thursday while Aaron was at work, the kids did absolutely nothing all day except watch movies. Their food consisted of goldfish, crackers and string cheese (even hot dogs in the microwave was too much for me). I'm going to have to be much better prepared for the next time I need to change my location, and have food prepared ahead of time. But at least I now have a much better idea of what to expect.

I am SO glad that the house was unpacked BEFORE I did this transition! It's messy as all get-out right now, but at least we're not tripping over boxes. Since this week has been so rough, my mother came for several days (Mon-Thurs early morning), and my mother-in-law arrived Thursday night and hasn't left yet. Thank you, God, for mothers! They've both done a fabulous job entertaining the kids (and doing my dishes/laundry/etc.).

Yesterday Grandma and Alex made
chocolate chip cookies!
(which taste much better when you can
barely reach to help stir!)
And this morning Grandma took Harrison
for a nice long walk!
Once again, both Grandmas came to the rescue when we needed them. Thank you!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mural, mural on the wall...

... which one is least like me of all?

The following murals all came with the house. I can't wait till we paint over them - all of them! I've had several people tell me, "oh, but they're so beautiful!" Yeah - sure - whatever. They are SO NOT ME! And, yes, they are ALL going to be painted over. But in the meantime, I thought I'd share what we're stuck looking at.

On the stairs:
Second floor hallway:
Harrison's bedroom:
Second floor hall bathroom:
Master bedroom:
Harrison's contribution
(in the Master bedroom):
We haven't decided which room will be painted first (we are decidedly NOT white-wall people), or if our 3.5 rooms with wallpaper will be tackled before we paint. Unfortunately, I think painting will have to wait till after Christmas. In the meantime, I still need to decide colors. This house is SO much brighter than our last one (with gobs and gobs of natural light), that I'm probably going to go with a different color palate. I just need to make sure it still works with our furniture and wall art.

the look for LESS

I absolutely LOVE my catalogues! Crate & Barrel - Pottery Barn - Ballard Designs - Ikea - Williams-Sonoma - sigh. Give me a catalogue and a cup of hot cocoa on a chilly day and I can be content to day dream for hours!

Now that we have almost triple the space to decorate, it's become devastatingly apparent how few "pretty" things I own. I can easily spend a fortune at places like Pier 1, or even at Marshall's, and TJ Maxx. But since we pulled in our budget so tight this past year to save up for the move, I didn't even allow myself to drive into the parking lot of those types of stores. (Well, I did go to the Basket Warehouse twice, and spent a total of $25 there.)

Aaron totally agrees that we desperately need to buy decorative things, and has given his full blessing for me to spend the money on it (bless him!). But since our other house hasn't closed yet (if everything goes well, only 16 more days), we're not spending any more money. We should only have one month of double mortgages, but just in case, we're not spending any more till we know it's a done deal.

But anyway ... last week we bought some things that were needed for the house (up to our budgeted dollar amount), and this involved lots of shopping - Home Depot (I believe 5 trips), Costco, Giant Eagle, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohls (where my entire purchase was FREE!), and Ikea (twice!)

I absolutely LOVE Pottery Barn - I would be thrilled to decorate my entire house out of their catalogues - but I don't love their price tags. Well, while my mother-in-law and I were at Ikea, I found bedside lamps and lanterns that I immediately fell in love with! I thought they were a great price, so we go them (well, the lanterns will be a Christmas present to me from her). After we got home from the shopping trip, I pulled out the Pottery Barn catalogue to show her some more of the type of style I'm drawn to. And guess what I noticed.......

Pottery Barn - $80 for base, shade sold separately
Pottery Barn - $80 for base, shade sold separately
Ikea - $14.99 for base, $9.99 for shade
Now, that is my kind of price tag! So, I got two (after all, Aaron and I could both use one). Oh, and the plant in the picture also came from Ikea for $1.50 (the pot came from my basement, and the potting soil came from a former neighbor who gave us a bag of it that probably weighs 75 pounds!).

Pottery Barn - $39 for small, and $65 for large
Pottery Barn - $49 for small, and $69 for large
Ikea - $6.99 for small, and $14.99 for large
OH YEAH! The look is definitely close enough for me, and the price tag is perfect! So, we bought (she bought) two large, and one small. Directions say it's for indoor and outdoor use! It's gonna look amazing outside our front door for Christmas! So, yay for bargain shopping and getting the look for less!