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 ...


Friday, February 26, 2010


Travel is part of Aaron's job.  It has been for probably 4 years now.  The first couple trips were tough on me (especially since I was sick, but undiagnosed at the time). But I learned how to make it work for us, and our (at that time only one) son.

Before we relocated to Pittsburgh, Aaron spent 9 weeks working out here, while I was back in Mechanicsburg with the boys. At first I was still showing the house (what a task, while fighting exhaustion from being the sole parent M-F AND struggling with pulmonary hypertension!).  But then, after it finally went under contract, it was my job to pack it up and get ready to move the family across state.  (Actually, a FABULOUS girlfriend of mine did 90% of the physical stuff - THANK YOU!!!!!)

After we FINALLY moved to the Pittsburgh area, and were all under one roof again I prayed SO HARD that God would give me an emotional & physical break from Aaron traveling for work.  Those 9 weeks were incredibly difficult for me.  God was VERY gracious, and Aaron has done next to no traveling in the 4 months since we moved. That time seems to have come to an end.  He was gone a good bit this current week, and will be gone all of next week too.  But I'm okay with that now.  I've had my rest.

This past week while Aaron was out-of-state, Alex wanted to make him an "I love you, Daddy" card.  So, during Harrison's nap I pulled out paper and markers.  For those of you who don't know Alex, he is NOT creative - he is 150% left brained - this is the FIRST card he's EVER made for ANYONE (that I can remember, at least) - and he's 5. 

So, we both "worked" at the dining room table - he on his card, and me on paperwork.  As is usual, we also chatted away.  

Soon, the conversation led to life after death.  (Aaron was supposed to go to a Memorial Service for his uncle - today/tomorrow in DC.)  Aaron's uncle died several weeks ago, and Alex has asked me about related topics probably 10 times since then, so this conversation was nothing new.  But this time - Alex took it a step further....

"Mommy, I want to ask Jesus into MY heart."  

So, after more talking, he and I bowed our heads, and prayed.


So, right there, in our dining room, while he was making an "I love you, Daddy" card, Alex got TWO Daddies - he now also has an Abba, Father!  After lots of excited giggling afterwards, he turned back to his card.  This card - his first (that I remember) ever - now has extra special meaning!

For those of you who are concerned right now, he's ONLY 5.  We did NOT discuss "hell" or even Jesus dying on the cross to forgive his sins - he doesn't need nightmares!  We talked about how Jesus (and God) love him even more than we do.  Jesus wants him to be good, and can help him be good, and will forgive him (if Alex asks) when he's not good, and that Jesus wants us to be nice to people even when they're not nice to us.We talked about how when we die, if we've asked Jesus in our hearts, we go to heaven to be with him.

Thank you, for sharing in our excitement!

#5 - Rewarding Reward Programs

Isn't this an adorable little wallet?  I'd feel so stylish if I pulled that out at Pottery Barn ... I think it'd make me smile even at the Dollar Tree!  ... But, it's just not meant to be.  That is NOT my wallet.

THIS IS MY WALLET.  (My hands look so much like my mothers!)  

Yep - it's official.  I'm barely 30, and have a "mom wallet."  It's the size (and weight) of a small cat.  But it contains EVERYTHING I need to function in the shopping world (in addition to the stack of coupons I keep in my car. (You can read about them HERE.)  In addition to basics (like my driver's license, bank card, and the occasional dollar bill), it also holds all insurance cards, doctor's business cards, some family pictures (though, apparently not any recent ones - oops!) ...

... gift cards ... 

... occasional coupons ...


(Wow - that was a long intro, eh? Sorry about that.) (Disclaimer - there's more stuff in my wallet to make it that full, but I just didn't photograph it.)

Reward Programs are another way I save money.  The ONLY of the programs that you see cards for that cost me money are AAA (which, if you use it for discounts when you shop, IS a reward program), and the Picture People Portrait Card.  ALL OTHERS WERE FREE.  I think it's a complete waste of my Aaron's hard earned money for me to PAY for a reward program that may or may NOT even pay for itself.

I think the grocery store cards are self-explanatory, so I won't discuss those.  So are the punch cards for customer loyalty (like Cold Stone - we got those punched on our Valentine date! *smile*).  If you look at the photo, you'll notice that I really don't have THAT many stores represented.  These are the stores I frequent the most (except for Target, Kohls, Walgreens, and the Dollar Tree - none of them have such cards). Most of my online shopping is done through Amazon (with an Amazon Prime subscription - AMAZING deal if you shop there a lot - FREE 2 day shipping on most items, and it only costs $70something a whole year.  You can ship to ANY address, not just your own, so go in on the cost and "split" it with some of your family.  They give you the money, and you order their stuff for them.). I do a lot of other online shopping these days too - I don't have the physical energy these days to do all my shopping in stores while dragging two kids with me.

Let's discuss HALLMARK Crown Rewards.  Whether or not this is a rewarding program for you depends most likely on where you currently buy your cards.  If it's at the dollar store, then this won't help you any.  But if you buy them at the grocery store, then it'd mean an extra errand, but they cost the same at the Hallmark store.  You earn points based on cash spent in the store and on number of cards purchased.  So, I bought my 75% off Christmas cards there in January - and that one purchase ALONE got me 1/3 the way to a reward certificate.  Several times a year they mail me a flyer (coupon?) for buy one roll of wrapping paper, get one (or sometimes get TWO) free.  That still makes it cost more than the dollar store, but thrills me giddy!  So, I might buy 9 rolls in one shot, and there is another 1/3 the way toward a reward certificate, and I haven't bought any birthday-type cards for anyone yet.  I think in 2009, I earned $35 in reward certificates alone at Hallmark.

Next - STAPLES Rewards.  Generally you receive 10% back for ink/toner & paper purchases, along with photocopying.  BUT - several times a year (like this past January), they offer 20% back.  So, in January I purchased what should be enough ink for 4-6 months for our printing needs, and received 20% back (mailed to me as a gift certificate to the store).  I also recycle my used ink/toner cartridges there for $3 each.  It's possible to buy generic ink/toner online for cheaper, but none of the ones I've found seem to actually print as many pages as the "real brand" ones do for the various printers we've owned through the years.  In 2009, I believe I earned about $150 in staples rewards and ink cartridge recycling. (Some of you fellow left-brainers out there are doing that math right now and thinking "Goodness, that's a LOT of money spent at Staples! - It's not really, not all of the purchases were for our household - other people know that we have the card, and didn't want to get one themselves, and just asked me to buy theirs for them.  Yippee for me!)

And then, there's PNC Points.  Our checking account is at PNC.  If at a store, we select "credit" rather than "debit" for our check card, we earn points.  Points can also be earned by having your account associated with direct deposit, getting your statement online (rather than through the mail), and paying bills online. We've probably been enrolled in the program for 3 years now, and have earned around $400 in gift cards.  Do you need to read that number again? $400.  PNC - paid - me - four - hundred - dollars - just - for - shopping!  BOOYA!  (Some of those gift cards in the photo are from our PNC Points!)

That's just a sampling of a couple of the reward programs in which I participate.  I just did a quick calculation (based solely on memory), and I think in 2008 I saved / earned about $450 from reward programs (most of 2009 consisted of a "spending freeze" while we saved up money to relocate).  And that's NOT counting CVS, Walgreens (which I didn't frequent until 2010), OR grocery shopping (or free gas from grocery shopping).  And many of the punch cards I've had have been filled already - that's why that photo had so few.  So - perhaps this helps answer some of the questions I've gotten as to HOW it's possible that I purchased THIS PICTURE for a mere $13 out-of-pocket at Bed, Bath & Beyond (retail is $99).

My shopping life is mostly spent looking for good deals - on sale - with a coupon - hopefully a reward program - and a gift card!  Remember - the more you SAVE, the more you have to SPEND / INVEST elsewhere!

I am not really "frugal" - my mother and sister do a MUCH better job at being frugal than I do.  I just don't want to pay full price.  Why should I?  If I play my cards right I can live the lifestyle I want without paying through the nose for it.  (Isn't that a disgusting image?  It's soooo descriptive, though!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

taxes don't have to be taxing

Sunday night (after the boys were in bed), we finally sat down to get our tax info organized.  Last year I probably got everything in order in about 45 minutes - and we claim TONS of stuff!  This year we spent just under 2 hours, but that's because we were having a good time chatting while I was organizing everything. It probably would have taken an hour if Aaron hadn't been such a wonderful distraction! (love ya, babe!)

We always go to H&R Block - and our lady is FABULOUS!!! (If you're in the Wheeling area, and want to try her out, let me know and I'll get you her info.)  She's been doing my taxes since I was probably 15 or 16 (yes - I've been filing ever since that age, and yes - she's so good that I've driven the 8 hrs round-trip for the 10 years I lived in Central Penna for her to do them!).  She's SIMPLY AMAZING - and always gets us a HUGE refund.  Okay, technically I get us a huge refund.  But each year we discuss with her probable "upcoming changes" in our lives (like a job change, buying a house, having a baby, moving, etc.), and she's given us advice about what we should keep records of so that we can claim more based on those changes.

Now, I'm NOT about to get all personal with you about the specifics of our tax refund.  BUT - I've been asked by several people HOW we can get so much back as a refund - without us spending hours and hours working on it.  THAT I'm willing to discuss.

I keep an envelope on my desk, marked "TAXES".  Whenever I pay a bill that could be deducted from our taxes, it's immediately put in that envelope.  One example is our internet (Aaron only uses the internet at home for work - personal emailing is done on his blackberry - he and I probably both use the internet equally - so HALF of our internet bill is tax deductible).

Also into this envelope goes: receipts for charitable donations (paid by check), medical bills (receipts for medicine, doctor office visits, hospital stays, etc.), stubs from paying our property and school taxes, receipts for anything Aaron buys for work (blackberry holster, some of his magazine subscriptions, ink for our printer - only if it's for work related printing, etc.), etc.

I always store the "GoodWill Valuation Guide" in here also.  Whenever we take items to the Salvation Army, we always ask for a receipt.  They date it, sign it, and give it to us.  WE are responsible for ACCURATELY listing the items donation, condition, and value of each item.  So, I always make a list of what's in the bags before Aaron leaves the house to drop them off.  You can find their suggested values for your donated items HERE.  For those of you who don't donate your used, but still good items - or do donate, but don't think it's worth your effort to get a receipt ... ONE PAIR OF WOMEN'S JEANS ARE WORTH $21.  So, if you take the five pair that are two sizes too small and stuffed in your closet (and a fire hazard), you can claim $105 OFF your taxes!  TRUST ME - IT'S WORTH IT!  You do NOT need to have photos of your donated items - just a list on their receipt.  If you donate more than $5,000 in one year, you need a different form from the Salvation Army (which also lists from THEM how much they resold the item(s) for), so just make sure your donations are less than that each year.

As the year progresses, I also put in here the quarterly offering statements from our church, and statements about our various investments (only the ones that are needed for our taxes).  When the next one comes, I remove the previous.

I have never been audited, but I know people who have.  So, I always make sure that I have COMPLETE documentation for EVERY item I claim off my taxes.  I do NOT want to come up short if/when my time comes for an audit.  So, the next part of prepping for our taxes involves our checkbook.

Whenever I write a check that could possibly be tax-deductible, I mark it in the checkbook.  "T" means tax-deductible - "M" means medical.  Our bank doesn't return checks, and our statement doesn't show a copy of the cancelled check.  I can view cancelled checks for 3 months for FREE, but anything after that I'm charged for them to "research" the account. (pathetic, isn't it?!!?)  So, every third month (four times a year), I have it marked on my calendar (which I use DAILY) to print out any possible tax-deductible checks.

See it there?  (Along with changing the furnace filter, and rotating our mattress?) Once a check's printed, I highlight the "M" or "T" in my checkbook, and the printed copy goes into my tax envelope.  

SO........ once the time comes to get our paperwork together and file our taxes, all I have to do is empty the envelope - separate its contents into the corresponding piles - put in order, and crunch a couple numbers.  EASY PEASY!  Generally, it takes less than an hour.  This year was more involved, because we were able to count certain aspects of relocating (since it was for Aaron's job), and we had two houses worth of taxes and mortgage interest.

This year my stack of "tax stuff" is probably 2 inches thick.  It's broken down into these categories: Charitable Donations, House Stuff (mortgage interest, taxes, etc.), Aaron's work stuff (mileage, magazines, internet, items purchased, etc.), Investments, and Relocating.  There's also a couple items that don't fit with anything else - like our safe deposit box. This year "medical" didn't add up to 7.5% of our adjusted gross income.  But due to a change in our insurance, it's possible that this coming year it will, so I'm still keeping those receipts!

For those of you who own a house, and HAVEN'T gone to H&R Block, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT - at least once!  Most likely there's more things you can claim, that you're not aware of.  It's well worth the money for you to go at least once!!!

Click on these links at the H&R Block website for info on itemizing (and some deductions you can claim even if you don't itemize)!

There's TONS more info on their website - so make sure you check it out.  Don't sell yourself short of a fat refund check just because you didn't take the time to do your homework.

Excavation Crew

Question ... Your name is Aaron.  It's a Sunday afternoon in mid-February.  Your wife and toddler are both taking naps.  How do you choose to spend "quality time" with your 5 year old?

Question ... Once the neighborhood kids show up in your driveway to join in the fun, how do you keep them happily occupied?


As you can see, the garden tools that were given to us have been VERY useful.  Thank you, kind woman who gave them! *smile*

Once again proof that WOMEN do the majority of the work around the house.

But if called upon, they can be VERY persuasive to get their brothers to lend a hand!

Ummm - I'm ASSUMING that Alex was "packing down" the snow over there to prepare for a third tunnel???

After all that hard work, it was time for a "distraction break" - after all, they're just kids, and don't drink coffee yet!

Oh!  Look at THAT - it was a "rabbit break"!!!  YAY!  One less rabbit to eat my garden in the Spring!  THANK YOU fabulous neighbor dog!

Now, I can't PROVE it, because I was in dreamland, but based on personalities, my guess is that this sweet girl was the chief architect and engineer of the entire tunnel project.

And there's my schmuffin trying out the second tunnel for size!

Kudos, kids, for a job well done!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Icicle Question

Can SOMEONE please explain to me why there's only icicles on ONE part of the entire house? Is something wrong with those gutters, but not the others? (Aaron knocked them down since I took this pic.) IS THERE SOMETHING WE NEED TO FIX???

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dogwood in the snow

My sister lives in Tahoe, and is used to spending all winter with spiked tires AND chains just so she can get to the grocery store and work - and shoveling for hours on end day after day.  Most people put ON weight in the winter - she always loses it (whole dress sizes!) because she's shoveling so much!  Apparently, at times she can't see out her windows on the first floor, because the snow banks are too high.  (yikes!)  

Well, she knows that I wasn't made for snow, and has faithfully been calling me every day the past couple weeks asking for my "snow report."  It feels like it's snowed here practically every day for the past millennium....  So, these pics are for you, Robbi.  Almost all of them were taken today (some from the warmth of the inside looking out).

SNOW 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is God in your home?

I have a love affair with houses.  I have a love affair with beautiful architecture.  Oftentimes I "find God" more in architecture of old churches than in nature.  (Please don't think that's sacrilegious - it's just always been true of me.)  I find that being in such a beautiful environment to calm me and help me focus inward.  I'm awestruck that God would give mankind that kind of ability.

I never really thought seriously about living IN a church (except as a young child as I watched Sound of Music), but after seeing these photos, I might be willing to consider it.  This came to me as a forward from my mother-in-law - and I'm simply awestruck.  The church itself is breathtaking - and the owners decorated it so tastefully!  I could spend an hour absorbing each photo - the massive, yet understated pieces - it's phenomenal!  This old church is in Kyloe, North Cumberland, England.  The couple who purchased it decided to restore it instead of renovating (which cost 3 times less money).  They kept the outside as it was ... here's the inside.

I'm sure you don't live IN a church ... but I certainly hope God is in your home anyway!