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 ...


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Morning

Christmas "morning" always ends up taking all day, because after each gift's opened the boys always want to play with it before opening the next one.  That's actually a tradition that ALEX instituted a couple years ago - he flat out refused to open the next gift till he got to play. We're thrilled that he's excited by the gift, and not just by the whole pile, so we're more than happy to accommodate!  This year "Christmas" started around 9 am, and the last gift was opened just before bed at around 8:30 pm.

We haven't pulled out any paints since we moved, so Alex was super excited to get a set he was allowed to use right away!

"This is SO cool!"

Zoom - zoom!

Ummmm - I think someone's been indoctrinated by his older brother who's still madly in love with trains!

"Harrison, you're not allowed to play with the croak-kett EVER.  See - it has MY name on it, not yours!"

Not sure which Harrison liked more - the lincoln log set inside, or the backpack they came in!

In the end, the logs won.

Alex had one of these ball poppers when he was a toddler, and it was his favorite toy for well over a year!  Finally it broke, and he was devastated.  I think HE was more excited that Harrison got one, than Harrison was!  Guess all those good feelings bubbled back to the surface!

Hmmmmm.  We need to work on teaching him the various sports.  He kept trying to play GOLF.

But, true to his age, Harrison had almost as much fun investigating empty boxes as he did with the toys that came in them!

"Santa brought me a wii game!"  "Wait - he FORGOT the rest of it!  Oh no!  Do I have to wait till he comes back NEXT YEAR to play with it??????"

"Yayyyyyyyyy!  Santa didn't forget the rest!"

(And so began an hour long play session before opening any more gifts ...)

Finally it was stocking time.


It was a wonderful day,
filled with VERY happy, VERY excited boys!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Today marks the beginning ...

"From the cradle in Bethlehem to the cross in Jerusalem we've pondered the love of our Father. What can you say to that kind of emotion? Upon learning that God would rather die than live without you, how do you react? How can you begin to explain such passion?"

 (Max Lucado)

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Traditions - NEW & NEXT


- This year, I gathered all the Christmas books in the house, and wrapped them.  They were put in a basket by the Christmas tree, and each night before bed, Alex opened a "present."  A couple were new, and a couple he didn't realize he already owned.  He loved the surprise of not knowing what was inside - and loved getting 14 extra presents!  It's so hard for kids to wait all month to open gifts - this was wonderful!  We're definitely doing this again next year!

- This was also the first year the Feitners (really it was just Alex and me) made a gingerbread house!  So much fun - so much mess - so much sugar!  I'm planning to make a second one the weekend after Christmas when my in-laws are in town.  Don't want the left-over candy to go to complete waste, and there's no way we'll eat all of it (our family's not that big on sugar).

- It was also Alex's first year to write a letter to Santa!  Hopefully next year he'll be able to do the actual writing - though I'm sure that'll make it take twice as long.  I thought it was hilarious that he asked Santa to put his brother on the Naughty List!

- This was the first year that Alex bought some gifts for people.  Aaron took him to the Dollar Tree, and he picked out a gift for his brother, me, and a friend.  Aaron said that Alex was telling the cashier (and everyone in line that would listen) who each gift was for - how adorable!  He was SOOOOO excited!  After they finished shopping, I went back in the store with him and he bought a gift for Aaron.  He was allowed to pick anything he wanted - which of course meant that each person gets a toy that HE wanted. (smile)  Tonight I helped him wrap all the gifts (except for mine - Aaron helped with that one).  They're not the neatest wrapping ever, but HE did it, not me!

- This year we began tree #2 - with kid ornaments.  It was the $19.95 fake tree we bought at Target when we were first married.  It's what we used for the first several years of our marriage, before we could afford to buy a real one.  The tree still looks kinda sad and empty - we don't have many kid ornaments yet.  But it's been begun - finally a tree that the kids are allowed to TOUCH!  My hope is to eventually have FOUR trees in the house - the red/gold one in the front window - the kid tree - one with all edible ornaments (strung popcorn, dried fruit, cookie ornaments, etc.) - and another one that's pure white (in the basement).

- The paint guy at Home Depot told us about a book/doll "Elf on the Shelf."  So, we went straight to Barnes & Noble and picked it up.  Alex LOVES it!!!!!!!!!  The concept is that there's an elf doll (who Alex creatively named "Elfie") that sits up on a shelf in the house.  He watches all day, and at night flies to Santa to tell him if the child(ren) has been naughty or nice.  Then, when the child wakes up in the morning the elf is sitting somewhere else, and he gets to search for him.  The first night was a tough sell to Alex who was convinced the doll wasn't a real elf.  But the following morning, when he found the empty box (with the tape still on it), and Elfie sitting on the bookcase - he was SOLD!  (I'm the one who made sure the tape looked like it hadn't been touched - thank you, very much!)

We haven't had "the talk" yet, but here's what I'm hoping to incorporate next year into our Christmas traditions....

- An advent wreath & candles - like they do at church each Sunday.  I've always thought it was cool - having a reading about a different group of people represented at the nativity, and being reminded aspects of the Christmas season like joy and hope.  I think it'd be a great way to remind the boys the real meaning of the season - and they're boys - they're gonna like playing with matches! (grin)

- I want to have a BIG advent calendar with goodies inside for the boys like this photo.  But I haven't found one I want to spend the money to buy yet - so hopefully I'll find something I like in January when they go on sale!

- A pine cone for the critters - dipped in peanut butter and birdseed.  I think it's cool to give a gift to animals.  Maybe we could incorporate it with the "shepherds" week of the advent wreath?  Donno.  I've wanted to do this for the past two years, and it keeps getting squeezed out.  But I'm determined to incorporate it next year!

As you can see, how we celebrate Christmas is always evolving.  I love traditions - I love memories - and I love spending time with my family.  That's half of what Christmas is about right there!

Our Christmas Traditions

Every family has traditions - they help us maintain that sense of love, familiarity, and continuity through the years. I've been asked about some of our family's Christmas traditions. Each year they still evolve a bit, I keep adding to them to make them a bit more meaningful. And this year they've had to be re-evaluated, since we moved further from some family members, and closer to others.  (For more details, feel free to click on the links marked in red.)

- Black Friday usually involves minimal shopping - usually we hit up some clothing sales. This year most of my shopping was done online (with free shipping). We always get our Christmas tree on Black Friday. In the past this has sometimes meant we've had to search high and low to find a place open, but we've always succeeded. We generally don't get it decorated on Friday, but at least the house begins to smell like evergreen!

- My goal is to enjoy Christmas as long as possible. I usually (secretly) begin listening to Christmas music by September. And I try to get the entire house completely decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving. Aaron always has a long weekend, and it's nice to have him help with the lifting/pulling/reaching. Generally most of the house is decorated by the end of the weekend, but the "decoration mess" takes an additional day or two to clean up. (smile)

- Each year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving my mother's family has their Thanksgiving Reunion, and one of my aunts give us an advent calendar for the boys. I'm not sure if she buys one each year for them, or if she has them stockpiled somewhere (wink). It's a wonderful way to start the Christmas season.

- Once the house is decorated, it's time to begin Christmas Cards. Usually they are begun on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and mailed out the following morning. However, this year (having just moved, and being in the hospital twice) they got out later than I wished - I think they were put in the mailbox on the 10th. We always include a family photo and letter. In years past I would handwrite all addresses (and our return address), as well as include a short note inside each. (I would start addressing envelopes the week before Thanksgiving, and it would take probably 3 whole evenings.) But the last two years I've given into my "Christmas exhaustion," and started using address labels. I know it's so impersonal, but I've only got so much energy these days. Christmas cards ALWAYS are done while listening to Christmas music, eating cookies, and drinking hot cocoa. My fabulous husband even signs his own name - but I haven't asked Alex to sign his name to the 150+ cards we send. I always buy my Christmas cards the end of January for the following Christmas. This way they've always been 75-90% off!

- My sister and I always buy each other a Christmas movie each year. We've been doing this for years! We both always aim to put it in the mail (she lives in Tahoe) the beginning of December. I have more than 20 Christmas movies, and usually begin watching them in July. (shhhh - don't tell!)

- Since Christmas is still "magical" to our young boys, I wrap everything after they're in bed at night. I make sure the mess is cleaned up before they wake up. I'm cherishing these years when they try to be good and are excited about Santa coming! I always wrap gifts after they boys are fast asleep, while watching one of my Christmas movies. I have learned, though, that the movie(s) need to be ones I can quote by heart, or I spend more time watching than wrapping. Last year all my gifts were "brown paper packages tied up with string."

- Each year I create a calendar for my mother and for Aaron's parents on snapfish.com (they seem to make the best quality ones I could find). Each calendar has photos of all the grandkids on that side of the family from the past year. I've been fortunate that my sister and sister-in-law always help me out with photos of their kids for the cause. It's fun to look through the calendar and see how much the boys (it's interesting that all five "grandkids" are boys) have grown and developed in a year's time. I love reliving the memories of those photos.

- We always go to a Christmas Eve Candle-light service. Since we recently moved closer to my mother, this year will be the first one that Aaron will get to experience the service at the church of my childhood. The service always ends with the congregation singing Silent Night and lighting our candles. When I was growing up, my mother always had a huge party afterwards for people who didn't have anyone to celebrate with - like the guy who lived down the street and spent all day every day sitting outside the liquor store. That party was one of my highlights each year!

- A tradition we started last year is making a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" cake.  I want our boys to know that Christmas is more about Jesus' birth than Santa and Rudolph, and thought this would be a great way to help stress that we are celebrating Jesus' birthday.  This year we're gonna do cupcakes instead of a cake.

- One tradition I've tweaked from my own childhood is that the kids each get to open one gift Christmas Eve. When my sister and I were young, we were only allowed to open it if we sat still (and were quiet) during the service. The gift my kids open is a new pair of Christmas jammies.

- My boys always leave milk and cookies for Santa. Yummmm! Did you know if Santa ate one Chocolate Chip Cookie and drank one Glass of Milk per household in Pennsylvania only, on Christmas Eve Santa would consume 787,500,000 calories. It’s a tough job being Santa eating all those calories….as there are approximately 4.7 million homes in Pennsylvania. (I learned that very useful fact on Facebook!)

- Having grown up in Wheeling, WV - home of Oglebay's Festival of Lights, it'd be impossible for me to really feel like it's Christmas without a light display. Thanks to a new friend's tip, Aaron took me to a local one here in Pittsburgh's North Hills (Heartwood's Celebration of Lights) that could almost rival Oglebay. It was beautiful!

- On Christmas Day, the Feitners snack most of the day. I put out a "brunch" table, that's usually up and running around 9 am, and we graze all day till it's time to clear the table and set it for Christmas Dinner. This year, Paula Deen's Ham, Spinach & Gruyere Bread Pudding is going to find its way to the table in the morning.

- Presents are opened one at a time, with plenty of time in between each for the kiddos to play with the new toy / read the new book / try on the new piece of clothing. Last year we began opening stockings around 8:30 am, and didn't open the last present until around 5 pm. It's not that there were THAT many gifts - they were just all thoroughly enjoyed!

- Each year, sometime between Christmas and New Year Aaron and I sit down and have "THE TALK." A lot of couples would dread "the talk." But we both find it exhilarating. The conversation usually opens with me discussing how Christmas (aka "December") went, and what suggestions we each have for next year - what to add, what to improve, what to scrap. Conversation quickly moves on to where we are as a family - our goals, our finances, our intended projects, our areas in need of personal improvement, etc. We look back over the past 12 months and compare where we were then to where we are now. We look ahead to the next 12 months, and discuss our goals in all those areas. And then we discuss those goals for 5 and 10 years from now. I know that this type of conversation might end some marriages, but it's made ours MUCH stronger. We only have a couple "rules" during "the talk" - 1) if you can't find a way to say it nicely, don't say it, and 2) if you suggest an area in need of improvement you also need to suggest how YOU can help improve it (even if it's a character trait in the other person that needs improvement). The point is to help us reach our goals, not to attack the other person. We talk about serious, tangible ways we can reach the goals we've laid out, and how well we have / haven't done reaching the previous year's goals. This has done WONDERS for us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. Maybe sometime I'll do a post about "the talk."

- In January I always take advantage of After-Christmas Sales - to get more Christmas decorations. I've found that after the season is always the cheapest time to buy decorations. This is also when I get my Christmas cards. This past January I bought 10 boxes of Christmas cards. Full price was $11.95 EACH (for a total of $119.50+ tax). But, they were 90% off! So, I paid $11.95 for ALL 160 CARDS! (The words inside might have been "basic," but they were big enough for our family photo, and at that price, that was good enough for me!)

- My in-laws always have a New Year's Day Open House, and we make an appearance.  Usually I'm too tired from Christmas (and the cold weather) to socialize much, but I still smile and chit chat.  Everyone brings something yummy, and lots of people bring an instrument or two.  People are always torn between sitting near the food table, and listening to the music!

- I try to get the decorations put away the first week of January. The house always seems so empty that I'm depressed for at least three days afterwards. But, I'm thinking that this year will be different. Once the decorations are put away, we can begin to PAINT our new house! YIPPEE!

Wow, I really DIDN'T mean for this email to go on for hours and hours. If you're still reading right now, I'm highly impressed! (wink) These are our tried and true family Christmas traditions. There are a couple new ones we've added this year, and a couple more we want to add for next year. But that post will have to wait till my hands have stopped cramping from all this typing. ... I hope you have a special Christmas with your family, celebrating the birth of our Savior.

Bread Pudding

I hate bread pudding - soggy bread is revolting.  I never dip cookies in milk, and the very thought of grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup makes me physically ill.  ... But this is more like a breakfast casserole.

Several weeks ago I posted my holiday menu.  I've been busy sampling recipes to decide what to fix for our holiday celebrations.  Some of them were really good, and some of them needed some "tweaking."  But the following recipe was SO AMAZING that I simply HAD to share it with you. (Aaron's had dreams about it 'cause it's so good!  He even offered to keep track of the kiddos ANYTIME I want to make it again - which PROVES how delicious it is!)  It's rare to find a breakfast casserole that tastes just as good (if not better) as left-overs ... this is one such recipe. We ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then cried when it was all gone.

Just in case you're still frantically trying to decide what to make for your Christmas Brunch, I thought I'd let you know what the Feitners are serving.  I love my family, but not enough to wake up 2.5 hours before everyone else just so they can have a fabulous breakfast, so I'm gonna prepare everything the night before, and put the "layers" in individual containers, then in the morning assemble the casserole and bake.  I don't see any reason why that wouldn't work with this recipe.

(The recipe and following photo are taken from Paula Deen's Christmas magazine.)

(Makes 8-10 servings)

1/4 cup butter
2 leeks, thinly sliced (pale green parts only)
1 (6 oz) package fresh baby spinach
1 (18 oz) loaf challah bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups chopped cooked ham
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
1 (5 oz) package shredded Parmesan cheese
2 TB minced fresh thyme
5 large eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup Dijon mustard

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add leeks, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until leeks are tender.  Add spinach, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until spinach is wilted.  Remove from heat, and set aside.

Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Spread half of bread cubes evenly over bottom of prepared baking dish.  Top evenly with half of ham.  Spread half of spinach mixture evenly over ham. (I have no idea what "challah" bread is - I went to the store and bought a loaf of store-made uncut bread, and cut the whole thing into cubes.)

In a medium bowl, combine Gruyere, Parmesan and thyme (I didn't have fresh, so I used a generous sprinkling of dried).  Sprinkle half of cheese mixture evenly over spinach mixture.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, and mustard.  Pour half of egg mixture evenly over spinach mixture.  Repeat layers, beginning with bread and ending with egg mixture.  Let stand for 30 minutes, pressing bread down lightly with the back of a wooden spoon.

Preheat oven to 375.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until center is set and top is golden brown.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

(My casserole - excuse the poor, unappetizing-looking photo, the lighting in the room was horrible - I'm really hoping that Santa brings me my Santa Baby camera.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sled Rides

The boys have no idea how lucky they are!

(And yes, Harrison STILL refuses to speak in a manner
we can understand.)

Winter Wonderland

It's snowing - as I'm sure you already know. Most of the East Coast is getting dumped on! (yippee!) The neighbors told us this morning that this could very well be the ONLY snow we get this winter - something about the direction of wind and side of the mountain we're on.

So, this morning (while I slept in a little), Aaron and Alex went outside like responsible men to start shoveling. We currently have 3 inches, but it's hasn't slowed yet.

While they shoveled, Harrison watched cartoons on my bed while I slept some more (I know, shame on me), but I must have actually fallen back asleep, because when I woke up I immediately recognized that sound.... I went to investigate, and opened the partially shut bathroom door. Sure enough - he had put almost an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet and was fishing it out. (eeewwwwwwwwww) Before I could even open my mouth to scold him, HE pointed at the toilet, said "no touch" and walked away from it. (Well, he obviously KNEW he wasn't supposed to be doing that. Sigh. I thought we were past this stage.)

After a thorough sanitization (yes, I just made that word up), Harrison and I went downstairs for breakfast and COFFEE! As I opened the blind to watch the beautiful snow, I saw my fabulous husband sledding with Alex and the neighbor boy. (I have such a great husband!)

After almost two hours of fun, the boys were definitely ready for some yummy hot cocoa! (Excuse our practically empty basement - we need to do some serious shopping one of these months.)

After warming up, and getting lunch, the guys will be heading out again soon. YIPPEE for Christmas snow!