Rachel Strasner Turns 22

Today marks the date on which my lovely friend, wonderful bridesmaid and former roommate was born. Rachel Sara Strasner, I am so glad you're in my life and I can't wait to see what blessings this next year of your life will offer!

Things you should know about Rachel:
1. She is a talented actress.
2. She enjoys picking lint off of the rug.
3. She likes to borrow my clothes. And vice versa.
4. She is an amazing dancer - ballet and otherwise.
5. She is not, and will never be, a bimbo.
6. She likes to sit on the floor.
7. She is the quietest sleeper in the world.
8. We met when we were freshmen.
9. I love her.

Happy Birthday, dear friend!


Notes on a Full Weekend

We're home in Massachusetts, safe and sound. As we drove through the now familiar city of Boston, I reflected on our new meaning of "home", the traditions in holidays and the blessings of friends and family. This weekend has shown, exponentially, how much love constantly surrounds us.

We spent Friday in Washington, DC with my sister (Jillian), and her husband's family. We enjoyed walking around outside, then touring the Air and Space Museum and American Museum.

We began our Christmas shopping on Black Friday, which appeared blacker than ever as I suffered the claustrophobia of mall chaos. After a delicious family dinner at Macaroni Grill, the whole lot of us (19 in all) headed to Mount Vernon for their Candlelight Tour. This tour is one of the fondest memories of my childhood, and we were so grateful for my grandparents providing the opportunity once again.

A long Saturday drive took us back to Connecticut, where we had a late dinner of Chinese food and headed to bed. Today, we continued the Christmas shopping (much more successfully) with Blake's brother, Taylor, and his girlfriend Becca. Pictures of our apartment's Christmas decorations to come!

As if we hadn't had enough to eat this week, we dined twice tonight - first with Blake's family and later with Blake's friend, Dave.
This ridiculous picture had a purpose, I swear.
The Huberty Kids
Macaroni Grill
Candlelight Tour
Now returned, we are full, tired, and feeling blessed. Tomorrow is another full day - and one step closer to Christmas break!



Every year on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my family fills the car (or more recently, two cars) with suitcases, books, and Dad's latest hobby. We then head over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house in Virginia.

I've already established that we're a family heavily dependent on the comfort and expectancy of tradition. It's evident in every holiday that we celebrate as a family - we sing Christmas carols in a certain order, we sit in the Model T for the 4th of July Parade with certain flags, we eat certain foods for summer birthdays. In all this certainty, we come to Thanksgiving with an appreciation for the things that do change, and with loving awareness of the things that will not. Lately, as everything around me seems to alter and shift like an ever-moving tide, I've come to value these trips of tradition all the more.

I came down the stairs this morning to the familiar sound of my mother's laughter in the kitchen. She's stuffing the turkey with Grandmum, and admits that her assistance may be more of a nuisance. I can't say that I disagree. She's already named the turkey "Tom" and is questioning whether it's actually a boy. Once you get Mom started, there's little sense in turning back. For our family, the kitchen is more a place of shared enjoyment than anything else.

"I want to use the probe for the turkey," Grandmum says.
"Okay," Mom replies, as if she understands.
"What does that mean?" Grandmum asks.

They both find this highly entertaining.

And I laugh, too, because it is entertaining. The only thing more entertaining than seeing two excellent cooks try to figure out a new convention oven is hearing my Dad explain the flying conditions as he returns from an early-morning flight (i.e. this year's hobby).

As I sit there, watching my family doing traditional things in what I can only assume are unconventional ways, a blessed peace reaches through my often over-taxed, over-worried heart. There is so much to be thankful for.

For starters, there's my wonderful husband who knows how much I love these traditions, and is willing to accept them as his own. I love that he and my sister sing together at my grandparent's piano. I love that he spends time with my Dad, learning to appreciate his hobbies. I love that he makes Thanksgiving morning grocery store runs to pick up sweet potatoes with me. He's the absolute best.

I'm thankful to be born into a family that can dwell in the sweetness of togetherness. I'm glad that the kitchen is crazy, that everyone wants to be involved, and that there's always something that doesn't go as planned. We are not a well-oiled machine. We are a conglomeration of varying strengths and weaknesses, and we like it that way.

I'm thankful for grandparents who take us, lovingly, into their home.
I'm thankful for long walks in the Virginia woods and movies with the other "kids".
I'm thankful for Wisconsin cheese from my sister's in-laws.

I'm thankful for our all-time favorite cooking show, "The Two Fat Ladies".
I'm thankful for warm beds, sweet music, and laughter.
I'm thankful for good food, good jobs, and good friends.
I'm thankful for fond memories, and the hope of years to come.
I'm thankful for a God who watches over our travels, and delights in our thanksgiving.

Here's hoping that this Thanksgiving finds you just as blessed.


"Gotcha" Day

Dear Dan and Christy,

Fourteen years and a few months ago, I was told that I would soon have a younger brother and sister. We weren't born from the same mother, but we would share a mother. We weren't born in the same country, but we would share a home. We weren't bound by similar DNA, but by something much more beautiful and lasting - we would be bound by love, for each other and from a God who placed you in the Bittner family before the foundation of the world.

When I found out about you, I envisioned car seats, tiny toes and diapers. At seven-years-old, I had a picture of what a toddler looked like, and I couldn't wait to have two of my own. When we received photos of you in the mail, Mom made copies. I watched her put your photos in her Bible, and I did the same. We prepared a room for you, covered in Disney paraphernalia - Christy's sheets were Minnie, Dan's were Mickey. I loved collecting my own toys to share with you and going with Mom to find new blocks, cars and action figures. Later, on Christmas, I would realize that we hadn't needed to buy you toys. All the big gifts were for you. But I'm not bitter. :)

And then the day came when Mom and Dad left Jillian and me in Grammy and Grandaddy's capable hands. While their grand-parental sympathy was superb and allowed us quite a few of our own trips to the toy store, we wanted everyone to come home. We had waited long enough.

So fourteen years ago today, we became a family of six. It was on November 22nd that you legally became Bittners. Days later, you were in my arms.

I'll never forget the confusion on your faces as you came through the gates at the airport. I'll never forget my nervous excitement in seeing you for the first time. I'll never forget how happy the moment was, with everyone together at last. I had already forgotten about my expected vision. You were no longer some imagined dream of what toddlers were like - you were my little brother and sister.

Now you're teenagers with your own dreams, talents and plans.

Dan: You've become a tall, strong, independent man. I admire how you're able to talk to anyone and look past any differences. You love being outside, watching the weather change, biking or running around town, camping and fishing. I'm amazed with what you can do in a garden. You have a rare ability to make anything grow. You also have the profound gift of making people feel welcome and wanted. I am so blessed to be able to call you my brother and I'm always here for you.

Christy: You've become the girl who does it all - from Cupcake Club, Stage Crew and Tae Kwon Do to Softball and Camp. You're a wonderful student and a great friend. You see friend-potential in almost everyone you meet. I can't believe how grown up you've become in the last few years - you're now a beautiful, mature young woman. No matter where I live, always know that I'd drop everything to talk to you.

I love you both, so incredibly much. Happy "Gotcha" Day!


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter

I think I see frost. No, not the good kind of frost from which we get our beloved Christmas songs about a snowman or about how it ever so gently nips at your nose. I'm talking frost that you have to scrape off the windshield of your car for fifteen minutes to create a window large enough to have some visibility. I'm talking don't-walk-across-the-grass-or-it-will-make-your-boots-cold-and-wet kind of frost. I'm talking about frost that is only available to cold days like these, forcing you to throw on hats, gloves, and scarves that you had delighted in putting away last spring.

(The photo is from last year, but you can't tell because we look the same)

I'm trying to be okay with it. I really am. But yesterday morning as I walked out of the apartment alone and was met with not only a layer of frost on my car but also a very strong, very cold gust of wind, I halfway-yelled, "NOOO, NOT YET!"

I was a sad sight to behold in my pea coat, gym attire, boots, three bags and cup of coffee. I pictured figures of Frost, Cold and Freezing Wind all up in the clouds laughing and pointing: "Yeah, boys, let's pick on that girl. We'll make her look even more unkempt." And yes, the three of them are all masculine, because girls don't delight in the cruelty of winter. The girls are in California somewhere - Sea Breeze, Gentle Rain and Warmth. They had enough of the buffoonery of Frost, Cold, and Freezing Wind and wisely moved to more tolerable climates.

Blake says I need to stop personifying objects and ideas. Almost everything we own has a name and a voice. It's really kind of delusional and strange. Last week I was on the brink of tears when Blake brought up the memory of my old computer biting the dust. Milton. We had so many good times together...

Where was I? The sudden freezing cold.

Photos from last winter: a sign of things to come.

In any case, it's cramping my style. If I thought California or South Carolina had anything to offer us, I would want to move there.

Also, I need to take pictures of Blake waking up. It's one of the funniest things you'll ever see. On my way out the door (he has a short commute to the office), I nudge him. He'll flop around until he gets the upper half of his body out of bed and look around as if to say, "Oh my goodness! The world is still here!" It's priceless.

And please enjoy this blast-from-the-past photo of Blake and I at Christmastime when I was 15 or 16. Back in his Cross-Country days, Blake was such a gangly thing. And I had yet to discover the power of a good bronzer.

Happy Saturday! Stay warm, wherever you are.



This is what the latter half of my semester looks like:

1. Wake up. Devotions.
2. Brew the coffee.
3. Make myself look semi-halfway-decent while watching The Early Show (or the Today Show... I'm having some loyalty issues due to CBS website glitches).
4. Go to the gym. Work out until making my way down the stairs seems like an enormous task.
5. Shower in the locker room and finally get to drinking my coffee.
6. Go to work (Admissions).
7. Try to make it to chapel. Its starting to look pretty far away as the temperature drops.
8. Go to class. (Sometimes 2 or 3)
9. Spend entire day in the library. Eat lunch while writing/reading.
10. Go home - act as chef's (Blake) assistant.
11. Warm up "Bed Buddy" - my new best friend.
12. More homework.
13. Search for dark chocolate. Occasionally have a glass of pinot grigio.
14. More homework.
15. Go to bed.
16. Repeat.

Occasionally, I'll meet up with a friend for coffee, make time for a lengthy phone conversation or trade vacuums and clothes with Rachel Strasner like I did tonight. Riveting, I know. But I'm getting there. And I'll miss it when it's gone.

As much as the routine is becoming mundane, my excitement in the anticipation of Christmas is steadily growing. I have the Christmas lights. The Christmas cards have arrived. The Christmas music is played nonstop. I have two wish lists: one for myself, one for the gifts I want to get for everyone else. I wear my insane Christmas socks (with bells, thank you very much) like a crazy cat lady. Tonight, I continued the Bittner tradition of interpretive dance - to "I'll Be Home for Christmas". Blake THOROUGHLY enjoys my interpretive dancing. Or at least he humors me.

It's coming, people. Christmas is around the corner.


"Working" Weekend

This weekend was mostly work - 33 hours worth, to be exact. But it doesn't feel like work. I started in the Gordon College Admissions Office as a lowly tele-counselor my freshman year, went through stretches of tour guiding and event planning, then ended up as the assistant to the Admissions Counselor for Connecticut and New York City. My employment, which began as a means to a financial end, became a source of some of my closest relationships and fondest memories at Gordon.

Friday began with a visit to Heather's for a fall brunch - this girl is so ready to be a teacher, it's not even funny.

At 6:30 on Friday night, my boss (Justin) and I headed down to New Jersey so that we wouldn't have to make the trip in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Getting your own room at the Hilton in Woodcliff Lake after staying in 2 shady hostels (Miami and Rome), a village in Honduras and a missions base in Tijuana? Yes, please.

(Yes, I am that girl who takes pictures of everything on her phone.)

On Saturday morning, we boarded the Gordon College caravan (a.k.a - coach bus full of high school seniors from PA, NJ, NY and CT) and stopped at three schools on the way up the coast. After our last stop in Connecticut, we had 38 fun, well-behaved kids with us. The caravan is an old Gordon tradition that had been vetoed in the three years previous and reinstated this year as a way to get prospective students from New England to visit campus and the surrounding area for a weekend. We arrived at Gordon around 6 PM; the kids were excited, full of sugar, and ready to go on a flashlight tour of campus. I was ready to go home, get in some pajamas and apply a heating pad to the back of my neck.
(Look how well they line up to be counted! And we didn't lose even one. Mission accomplished.)

But it was our 5 month anniversary, so Blake and I made a visit to the local Mexican restaurant, Acapulco's, to celebrate. I reached record-breaking lameness by going to bed at 9:30 on a Saturday night. Because that's what adults do.

On Sunday I met up with the group again for their Boston Experience Day. The caravan group combined with two groups from California - making 48 students that 5 counselors tracked through Faneuil Hall, a duck tour, a church service at Park Street, and a very cold walk back to the bus.
(NJ-PA Counselor teaching the kids the "New Jersey fist pump")

One of the highlights was reconnecting with Sarah Mouw, who was once my admissions counselor, was then my boss, and is now my good friend and mentor. She is one of those gems that you come across rarely; she always gives good advice, can make anyone laugh and loves these prospective students as much as I do.

And I do love these students. I see so much potential, so much energy, and so much hope in them for the future of my school. I have been blessed by the wonderful education and firm spiritual foundation at Gordon, and I love that I get to help other students realize how much the college has to offer. It's not work, really. Just a fun distraction from the piles of homework yet to do.


Morning Glory

Blake's words last night as I was opening a bottle: "I'm not being patronizing, I'm being helpful. If I can do something better, why don't I just do it?"

Nice, right? Well, I didn't marry him for his sensitivity, and I love him enough to let it go. That's what we do. We let those little things go - only after a raised eyebrow and a smirk. Because tomorrow I'll say something just as stupid.

I can also overlook this because I know that Blake respects me. He respects my individuality, my need for alone time, and my life goals. I was reminded of this today as I went to see the movie, "Morning Glory", which is basically the story of my future aspirations. It also closely resembled my experience as an intern at CBS News. In "Morning Glory", Becky (Rachel McAdams) gets a long-shot opportunity to be an executive producer of a low-rated morning show in New York City. While improving the ratings, she also builds relationships and gives people a restored sense of purpose.

But when the movie began, Becky was single. Much like the success story of every career woman that I've ever seen cinematized, she was fiercely independent, overworked, and alone. And I was disappointed, because I think it's possible to be both an accomplished career woman and a loving wife and mother. I saw my mother do it. She even did it in heels. But she could do it only because she and my father had a support system in each other. Which is what I have - a man who has chicken fingers ready when I get home, listens to Christmas music with me in early November, and puts up with the smell of my herbal heating pad. I am so blessed by his constant love and support; I am so proud of his abilities as a lending advisor, music guru, news aficionado, sports analyst and stellar cook.

And if Becky's story weren't enough like my goals (sans non-relational aspect), she also sported the bangs that I acquired at the hair salon today. Eery.



1. I need my girls.
Being married is great. After almost 5 months of enjoying time with my best friend, I can't imagine a life without him. But I need my girls. I need 2 hour talks with Rachel. I need coffee dates with Rebekah. I need phone calls from Erica at 6:30 AM and debrief sessions with Jillian and Loo. I need dinners with Heather and Friday nights when Melissa shows up at our home in her slippers, carrying a Nordstrom magazine and sharing a like-minded perspective. It's really essential to my sanity.
2. I stayed in pajamas until 11:30 today.
Granted, I was doing work. But on a day when classes were cancelled and the sun refused to shine, getting dressed was not an option.

3. I've studied for 4 hours for my quiz tomorrow, and still feel unprepared.
No excuses. The study guides (yes, plural) are not doing the trick.

4. I ordered Christmas cards today.
I know, I know. I'm overeager. But we're nearing Thanksgiving and I didn't want our favorite design to be out of stock later on. No, that's not entirely true. I'm just forcing the Christmas season to begin. If Stop and Shop can do it, why can't I?


The Job Search

I like to think ahead. So much so that I've already started applying for jobs. For some careers, now is the time to start. For others (like the ones I intend to go into) the recommended protocol is to send your resume 2-3 months in advance of when you'll start working.

But, much like the travel bug that had me looking at flight discounts last night, I've got the career bug.

This weekend I spent an inordinate amount of time looking up potential careers. The top contenders at this point are: Simon & Schuster, Random House, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ABC, CBS, CNN and the Martha Stewart Brand. Preferably, I'd like to be an assistant producer, publicist or assistant in the publishing industry. Ideally, I'd like to work with an Early Show/Today Show type set or with Martha Stewart's magazine. Yesterday I told my mother that I'd give my left arm for the Martha Stewart job. She replied, "I think you'll need that left arm AND another right arm!" She's probably right. But I've got the bug.

I spent the whole afternoon applying for an Assistant Managing Editor job with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Come April, I will be a nutcase.

Prayers are appreciated.



For those of you who have not seen our apartment in Massachusetts, I thought it was about time I posted some pictures. Especially because we got some wall art this week to spruce the place up. And I spent the morning cleaning.

(Eventually we'll put a desk below the photos and add a monogram)

Living Room...



Into the Woods

"Stevie, where did the weekend go?" I think to myself as I collapse on the couch with my 5th... no, 6th KitKat of the day (hooray for no Trick-or-Treaters!).

It's been one of those weeks - you know, the one in which you have to refer to yourself in the third person to keep yourself distanced from the chaos of life, the one in which you've lost count of how much candy you've eaten, the one in which you have to guess which exercise at the gym is giving you that truly awful pinch in your neck... the one where you realize that the pinch in your neck probably isn't from the gym at all but from the 50 lb. bag that you carry all day, every day "just in case". Yep. It's that week.

So how do I have time to blog? I don't, really. But blogging is one of those things that's good for your soul. After finishing an 11 page paper about an hour ago, I need to write something that doesn't feel contrived or make me feel like eating a 7th KitKat to reward myself for endurance.

And now what I really wanted to write about: Into the Woods.

Last night, Blake and I went to see Gordon's take on the Sondheim musical - mostly because my friend Rachel is in it but also because Blake felt that he "needed some culture". The play was long. Very long. Almost 3 hours long. But it was beautiful. Everyone did a great job, the casting was good, the set was incredible - and Snow White (Rachel)? Best Snow White I've ever seen.

But what really got me was the story. After years of listening to the soundtrack in the car on the way to school, I still had no idea what Into the Woods was all about. I remember asking Jillian once - her reply was something like, "It's complicated. And creepy." She probably just didn't want to go through the whole plot (I mean, the thing was 3 hours long), because it's really neither of those things. At the beginning of the program, the director's note spoke of the play as a journey that everyone takes, but has particular resonance in a college community. "Ultimately" he says, "the journey is about growing up - in the best sense of that phrase."

It made me think about my growing up experience as I watched. And, as all the fairy tales that comprise most of our childhoods came crashing down to the reality in which we all live and work and wish for something greater than what we are, I felt... relieved. Perfect isn't always perfect. And that's still okay.

Here's a little Bernadette to brighten your day: