RoadTrip 411

Just stopping in to say hello.  And Happy Thanksgiving.  And Merry Christmas!  That's a little early, but now that Thanksgiving is over, I'm moving on to all things Christmas!  Aren't you?? 

Thought I would give you the low down about our week so far, minus pictures.  Yes, I'm taking lots of them and even uploading them to my laptop.  But no, the internet here does not like me.  Or my pictures at least.  I've tried several times (read:wasted lots of time) trying to get some posted and I've decided I'll just wait until it decides to cooperate again.  Which may or may not happen in the next few days.  I'm really enjoying the break from technology, mostly from my cell phone.  Although I like all of you and I enjoy keeping up with friends and family, when you have no service and no capability to text, it's amazing how freeing the silence is.  Wi-fi is keeping us from being totally cut off, but even if we didn't have that, I think I would enjoy it just as much. 

So, the pictures are coming in the near future, but for tonight here is the 411 on the Armstrong Family Roadtrip:

-Roadtrips rock.  5 days in and I have thought at least a dozen times, I'm so glad we are doing this!  It has been so much fun to pack our little family up and hit the road together.  Even though they are little and we will remember this more than they will, it is SO WORTH IT to make these kind of memories together.  I think I can confidently say this will be the first of many roadtrips for the Armstrongs!

-Our kids are doing so well and we are so thankful!  I really wasn't sure how the car ride would go or how the sleeping in different places would pan out, but they have been troopers.  We did a huge chunk of the trip driving through the night, which was great because they slept through 90% of it.  When they were awake, looking out the windows or watching a movie or playing with toys kept them entertained.  And of course, eating. I practically ran a cafe from the back of the minivan, but it worked!  We had lots of snacks and drinks to keep us from having to stop for anything but gas.  I'm thinking all the stress of planning and packing definitely paid off. 

-I've fallen in love with my husband at least 10 times over!  Something about just being together, no work stress or's a good thing.  I love hanging out with him and especially being in his home state together.  He's a road warrior and I'm so thankful!  I tried to stay up with him throughout the night when we drove the first long stretch, but I didn't make it.  He let me sleep and smiled when I woke up asking, "Are you ok?  Did we hit something??" So far we haven't been on each other's nerves, but  who knows, that may come before this is said and done :) Ha ha!  We aren't perfect, but I do love him! 

-Taking time to see family and let our kids get to know their Grandparents and make these memories is so important.  Life is busy, we live a long distance from all of our parents, but these are years we don't want to miss making these connections and teaching our kids the value of family relationships.  It's not always easy to make big trips or get time away, but this trip is reminding me again that it's always worth it. 

-We love our minivan.  We are grateful that the Lord blessed us with the means to get it, when we got it, so that we could take this trip.  It's been so nice to have the extra space, a DVD player (can I get an amen??) and lots of other things we appreciate.  We've all had a comfortable ride and we're getting great gas mileage!  Who knew that would excite me??  She's done well on her inaugural trip, I think we'll keep her! 

-Although we're on a roadtrip, we have gotten more sleep in the last 4 days than we've gotten in months.  We've been in bed early every night and our kids are sleeping like rocks.  I actually feel very rested, which is amazing.  Travis continues to serve me by getting up with Carter in the morning and letting me sleep a little longer.  Did I mention that I love him??  We've been outside in the fresh air everyday and eaten more food than we know what to do with.  Today we ate at a fun place that Trav has been wanting to go to.  It's a local dive that was featured on Food Network's, "Diners, Drive-In's and Dives" and it was so good!  Travis had their famous "Cabrito Burger" which is...wait for it...Goat.  I stuck with the all-american cheeseburger :)

I hope you've had a blessed Thanksgiving!  We have so much to be thankful for, don't we?  This roadtrip is just one of many ways the Lord has blessed us this year.  We are grateful to Him this week and always...

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!  We will happily be enjoying ours in the South Texas sunshine!!


Whirlwind Living!

If you read my tweet yesterday, you know that we are soon embarking on a 2 week roadtrip.  Yes.  You read that correctly.  TWO WHOLE WEEKS AWAY!!!  I'm so excited about the time away I can hardly stand it.  We've been planning it for awhile, but only recently have begun the serious work of getting ready and figuring out all of the details.  We are so looking forward to hitting the road with our little lovebugs in the minivan!  It's going to be a memory maker kind of trip for sure, but I think they are going to love it.  We're kind of pinching ourselves over the 2 weeks of vacation Trav is able to take.  We've never taken that much time away and we are so grateful that we can do it!  I don't exactly know what I'll do with the luxary of having Travis with us all the time.  I'm hoping to rest a little more than normal, but mostly just enjoy his company. 

Life this week, is kind of a whirlwind.  I have 3 to-do lists running simultaneously.  Before our big trip, I get to go on a mini-trip this week with my fellow Pastor's wives.  Our annual retreat is one of my favorite things all year, it's always such a good time and such a refreshment to my soul.  I can't wait to spend that time with such dear friends and then start our vacation soon after!  But, as you can imagine I have a lot to accomplish between now and then.  I will say, although it's a lot to pack and organize, it's 10 times easier than prepping to fly.  We are so thankful that we get to take our time and stop when we want to stop on our way to Texas.  Yes, that's where we're headed.  Trav's homeland.  I guarantee you his accent will step it up a notch the minute we cross the state line!  And that's usually when all the "Texas bragging" begins too.  I'll get to hear hours and hours of commentary about why Texas is the greatest state in the nation, should have been it's own country, is home to some of our greatest Americans, etc.  Any other Texans out there?  Or brave people married to Texans??  I do love the Lonestar state, but if you're born there I think you're bred to pledge your love and loyalty for life!  That's ok, loyalty seems to be a dying character quality these days...

Our kids are in for a treat because we will be able to see so much family while we're gone.  I love Thanksgiving and we'll get to have a feast with lots of people we love, but I'm also looking forward to celebrating Christmas a little early too!  I'm working on clearing out all of the Fall stuff in our house before we leave so that when we come back we can dive right in to Christmas.  It makes me smile to think about how much Ava and Carter are going to love the holidays this year.  Already the displays in the stores make them giddy, so I'm sure the trees and the lights will be especially exciting.  Pinterest has been a true source of inspiration already!  I've pinned so many great things, I'll share some of them soon. 

I hope you have a great Tuesday!  I've got to run and get dinner started before my nappers wake up. Before I go, I want to say Happy Birthday today to my Mom!!  I love her so much and I'm so grateful that the Lord blessed me with her for a Mom.  She is one of my favorite people and that's a good thing because I'm turning into her!  She makes me laugh, makes me appreciate her and admire her, and she's my favorite nurse!!  The best thing about my Mom is that she loves the Lord and has walked with Him my whole life, in lots of ups and downs along the way.  There is nothing I cherish more about her...We are a blessed family under her care.  SO, Happy Birthday to the best Mom and Grammy out there!!!  We love you!!



"Now it happened in the process of time that they king of Egypt died.  Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.  So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them."
Exodus 2:23-25

My Bible study lesson this week has me in Exodus, remembering the life of Moses and how the Lord set him apart from his birth to be a significant leader in the history of Israel.  From the beginning of Moses' first days, he was rescued and spared from the suffering that his fellow Hebrews were enduring under the hand of the king of Egypt.  While he providentially sat in a palace, under the protection and authority of Pharaoh's family, the mighty nation of Israel was being afflicted and persecuted all around him.  They came to Egypt under the blessing of the previous Pharoah and because of the honor Joseph had earned.  They came favorably and protected, but that favor was lifted when the change of rule took place and suddenly the displaced Israelites found themselves hated and abused.  It was a difficult season that lasted for years and years.  As we read in Exodus 2, over the course of time the king that hated them so, died.  There would be a natural change of rule again and I'm sure the Hebrew people were in distress, wondering how it would go and if they might find favor again or just more hate awaiting them. 

In that moment of great distress, they groaned and complained to the Lord.  They were in bondage and had been unjustly afflicted because of who they were and the God that they served.  In their pain and stress, they cried out to the Lord.  To the one who brought them to Egypt and then seemingly left them there to die, they petitioned Him for their lives, and for an end to their enslavement.  Mercifully, as only our God does, their cries reached His ears and He heard all their complaints.  He didn't ignore them or wipe them out, although He could have.  Instead He listened and He remembered the generational covenant that HE had established with their forefathers.  He thought about His promise that would make them into a great nation and take them to a land He had set apart for them.  A land they willingly left when He told them to go, so that they could be Egypt.  The very place they must have hated being.  He heard all of their groaning, He remembered the promise He had made with them, He looked down upon His children, seeing the injustice with His own eyes, and He acknowledged them.

As I read that word, acknowledged, I pondered it for a little while.  It's an interesting word that packs a lot of meaning.  It doesn't say that He answered them or that He gave them a reason for their suffering.  We know from the story of the Israelites that He did in fact have a plan for them, and that He began initiating it soon after with Moses.  It was probably not a plan they would have liked, as it was going to involve more hatred and isolation from the Egyptians, plagues, a bloody Passover night, and an ultimate exodus into the wilderness...followed by 40 years of wandering in a desert.  It's no wonder He didn't give them all the details at that point, I'm not sure it would have been comforting.  Instead He chose a better response and one that met their deepest need. 

The Bible doesn't tell us exactly what He did to "acknowledge" them, which I love.  However He chose to do it, they knew that He saw what was happening to them and He acknowledged that it was happening.  And doesn't that make all the difference??  In some of the hardest trials of my life, one of the most comforting things has been the acknowledgement of a friend and certainly of the Lord.  To have someone agree with me and call my pain what it is, makes a greater impact than a spirtual cliche or a lesson in character building.  Yesterday, it reminded me a little bit of when your kids need shots at the doctor's office. 

While they endure that quick poke, pain ensues and cries are released.  It's gut wrenchingly hard to watch them cry out in pain and yet, as their parent you know it's something they need to go through because that shot will ultimately protect them.  For their own good, we allow it to happen, even though at any point we could stop it.  As Carter cried from the poke he wasn't expecting yesterday, I found myself holding him tight saying, "I know buddy, I'm so sorry.  That hurts doesn't it?  I know...I know.  I'm here, Mommy's got you."  I couldn't take his pain away and I didn't stop the nurse from doing what she needed to do, but I comforted my baby by acknowledging what was happening and holding him through it.  And as I read this passage in Exodus today, I realized that the Lord does the same thing for us.  Somethings He chooses not to remove us from, but it's always for our good.  He never turns away from us or closes His ears from our groans and our cries.  He always bends His ear to us and listens to every word.  He looks down on us from Heaven and He remembers the promises of His Word.  He sees us in our pain and He acknowledges what we're going through.  Sometimes He uses a word from a friend, an unexpected blessing, the comfort of His Word, or another way He chooses.  But in His mercy and love He doesn't ignore us or forget us. 

And today as I reflected on that word, I realized how grateful I am for a God who acknowledges me. 
Here is my big guy at his 12 mo appt., cruising all around the room while we waited for the doctor to come in.
And here are my babies last year, when we went in for a similar visit that resulted in shots for everyone.  Amazing what a difference a year makes and how we managed to survive that visit, despite the pain and the cries.  God heard us last year and He heard us this year too. 

He is kind, compassionate, merciful and loving toward those who belong to Him.
If you're feeling alone in the desert today or forgotten in your pain, I hope this reminds you that there is One who hasn't forgotten you.  As you cry out to Him, He's waiting to acknowlege you.

Happy Friday, Friends...


Party of Four

I've been waiting to show you some of the family pictures we had taken recently and today I finally had some time to post them.  Our friend Jeff took them for us, he also photographed us 2 years ago when Ava was just 7 months old and like before, he did a great job.  Seriously, photographers are magicians I think.  You'd never know that it was cold that morning, our kids had runny noses and Carter cried for most of the hour we were shooting these!  As I poured through them and even as we took them that day, the significance of how our little family has grown kept washing over me..
We have two kids, we're a party of four... 

I wanted to take some time this month, to reflect on the many things I'm thankful for and today, I'm starting with my little family.
When we found out we were expecting Ava, we were thrilled at the thought of a baby girl. 
As we immersed ourselves in a sea of pink that first year, we embraced all things girl.  Pink toys, baby dolls, hairbows and princess themed cups spilled out of every corner in our home.  We were so in love with our Ava Page that when we discovered the Lord had blessed us with baby #2, I immediately thought the Lord would give us another girl, a little sister to grow up with. 
But at our 20 week ultrasound, we saw with our own eyes that the Lord had a different plan for our family.  In His grace and wisdom, He had a plan for a little boy to enter our world and shake things up.  Literally!  He gave us a bright eyed, blonde-haired, ball of energy to bring us twice the joy and love we thought we were capable of having.
On that day in June, we were introduced to the color blue and in a matter of seconds, I'd never seen a color I loved more.  God took the heart of this Mom, who thought she'd have a pair of sisters to nurture and He carved a new spot for a little brother.  A spot that belonged to him all along.
Now we would have the privilege of raising a sweet daughter and son to know and love the Lord and to grow up to be a Godly woman and man. 
Suddenly our roles and responsibilites were sharpened.  I would model the way of Godly womanhood for my daughter, by the grace of God alone, as she watched me be the wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend God called me to be.  For my son, I would do the same and paint a picture of the woman he might wait for, when it's his perrogative to seek the Lord for a wife.  A high calling indeed, and one not to be taken lightly. 
For Travis, he would model Biblical manhood to our son, as he led our family and loved and served us with the same kind of love that Christ displayed for the Church, only by the grace and strength of the Lord.  He would show him how to be a man, a husband, a father, a son, a Pastor and a friend.  As he did these things in the presence of our kids, he would also paint a picture of the kind of man our daughter might wait for as she trusts the Lord to bring her the husband she's dreamed of. 
With the knowledge of having a son and a daughter, we suddenly gained little mini-me's.  A meticulous, creative, neat-freak little girl and a tender hearted, demonstrative, thrill seeking little boy! 
Pure JOY twice over!
As this past year has unfolded, we have marveled at the plans of our God.  Plans that are good, right, and just.  Plans that give us a hope and future.  Plans for a little girl and a little boy who would change us forever.
Our laundry has doubled and our groceries too but would we go back?  Back to the quiet nights, the free weekends, the meals for two?  No.  Someday we'll be forced to when the Lord moves them on, out of our home and on to the path He has marked for them.  But until that day comes, we will take every long, disrupted night and each exhausting day to love these little people and grow them up in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There was a day when we doubted the plan God had for us.
When we didn't know how He would give us children of our own or if He would. 
Those days were hard and not always filled with beds of roses.
But as only He can, He saw us through with patience and love and faithfulness.
He reminded us that His ways are not our ways, that He works all things out for the good of those who love Him and His plans are better.  Always better. 
He knew that a little red head and a little blonde would one day keep us busier than we could imagine and bring us right back to Him for wisdom and strength.
He knew we needed each other and a marriage centered on Him to survive parenthood.
He knew we'd fail, we'd make the wrong decisions, we'd look other places for validation and we'd forget the reason we were created.
He knew all of that, before He led us to one another, before we bent our knees to Him.
And yet...
He gave us Ava Page.
And He gave us Carter Travis.

He chose us, imperfect and flawed, and He gave us them. 
By His grace and mercy, we are doing our best to give them, Him.

A party of four and we couldn't be more humbled or grateful to Him for it.

"From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another."
John 1:16


Harvest Festival 2011

A couple of weekends ago, we took advantage of a beautiful Saturday afternoon and went to a local Harvest festival that a friend from Church invited us to.  It's a pretty popular place for families and on this particular day it was so busy!  But the kids loved it and we had fun seeing their little smiling faces taking it all in.  We didn't do the corn maze but we left exhausted from all the other things we managed to do. 
Hard to think that next year we'll have two little runners to keep track of!  No more strollers or carrying them around I would imagine :)
Trav took Ava on this big slide and of course she loved it.
Hanging on to her hat it was so fast!!
They had a little petting zoo that had goats and chickens and cows and sheep for the kids to feed.  I don't know about you but everything about a petting zoo totally grosses me out.  Travis was not on the same page as I was however, he was all about it!  I didn't want Ava to feed the animals because it seemed so dirty, but he quickly gave a look that said, "Are you kidding me?"  So of course she fed the goats :)
The hungry goats, who also thought they'd just help themselves to our clothes.
I was cringing at this, but she was thrilled about it!
Until the goat tried to eat her sweater too.
I did hold my ground with Carter :) He wasn't walking yet and there was NO WAY I was going to let him crawl around in the dirt.  I am flexible about a lot of things, but I am not big on farm animals or dirt!  And yes, I'm from Iowa.  From the *city* in Iowa, not a farm :)
They had a mini hay barrel maze that Trav and Ava ran around for awhile.
I love him for many reasons, but one is that he has no problem enthusiastically playing with our kids and doing all the things I would rather avoid :)
Like this giant corn pit.
Let's just say there were kernels of corn in places that shouldn't hold kernels of corn!
We thought Carter might like it, but he didn't.  Maybe a sensory thing that freaked him out? 
He cried until I picked him up :)
We rode on a tractor for a little hay ride and I think Ava was having an out of body experience, she was so excited about it.
Fun to enjoy the simple things with your kids.
We also took her on a little pony ride, which was so darling.
She was over the moon about it and" Miss Serious" for the first few minutes.
We did feel sorry for the poor little ponies who do that all day long.
In spite of their required service, we were grateful that they made her giggle with joy!
It was a fun afternoon and the kids loved it as much as we did.
This was Ava's reaction when I told her she could take a fallen ear of corn home with us that she found on the ground.  Who knew an old ear of corn could be so thrilling?? 

So glad we squeezed this little visit in.  I'm sure we'll be back next year!


This, That, and the Other

Happy Friday friends!  I don't know what it's like where you live, but today in Minnesota it is about as picture perfect as it gets.  Sunny, blue skies with just a hint of chill in the air...a warm 55 I think?? Just PERFECT weather and a total gift, considering it's November and we could easily have several snows under our belts by now.  Thankfully the Lord is gifting us with incredible Fall days and we are loving them!  Since I've bogged you down lately with all the drama at our house, I thought I'd share some randomly cute things that I don't want to forget, as well as some yummy treats we've been indulging in. 

-The first thing is that out of seemingly nowhere, Ava has taken a big interest in me cooking.  She comes right out to the kitchen when I'm starting dinner and asks if she can pull up a chair and "watch mommy make dinner?"  She's always in my way, but I am so thrilled that she's interested and that we get to have the sweetest little talks while I cook.
She asks me about every little thing I'm doing and gets excited when I ask her to stir something or help me.  Some days I'm not as patient as I should be with her newfound interest, but this is exactly the kind of memory I want her to have, spending time with me in the kitchen.  I haven't made cookies with her yet or any of those fun things, I thought we'd do that over the holidays and with family.  For now she's just as pleased as punch to watch me boil noodles or saute vegetables.
Spending time in the kitchen with my girl, side by side, makes me a happy Mommy. 
I think it's time for some matching mother/daughter aprons, don't you??

-I took this picture, simply because I thought she looked so grown up in this dress and I knew her Texie would like to see her in it.

-More often than not, this is where I find these two playing together the most.  They love the lego basket  and the basket full of toy cars and trucks.  Occasionally it's also the source of some tears and sharing issues, but mostly its's fun to listen to them interact and watch them play.  And yes, Carter would much rather be in his diaper than in clothes.  Trying to get him dressed everyday is the equivilant of wrestling an alligator! 

-This little gypsy likes to move from one part of our house to another, with her entire fleet of strollers, cars, babies, and baskets in tact.  She travels with a major posse and spends a quarter of her day just moving everyone from one place to another, usually away from her brother who does his best to invade her people group.  It's hilarious and also one of those stages I'm trying to support rather than lament over how much of my house is eaten up by her said posse.  Her mothering instincts are in full swing and she keeps herself very busy tending to all her babies needs and providing nonstop commentary on how they are all doing.  Hmmm, I think we're seeing some natural leadership potential in this little girl!

-Remember that picture of those potatoes I showed you from pinterest?  Well I made them!  Aren't they pretty???  They were SOOO good and so easy too.  I preheated the oven to 375 (I think) and then sliced the potatoes in kind of a fan shape, drizzled olive oil and sea salt over them, and then roasted them for about 30 minutes???  I don't know that I really set a timer, I just watched them til they were tender on the inside and crispy on the edges. 
I happened to have some leftover chili in the fridge, so we poured ours with that and ate it for lunch!
Perfect game day food, but I could have totally eaten mine plain OR with some kind of seasoned butter pat on top.  They would be excellent with some blue cheese and a steak or some toppings and even ranch dressing?  Lots of options, but a fun way to eat an old standby.

-I got this new slicer recently that slices my apples into perfect rings in no time!  I also found this recipe on pinterest for apple chips and I've made them a couple of times.  I believe you preheat the oven to 250 degrees, slice your apples, sprinkle them with cinnamon and then bake them.  It said to bake them for 2 hours, but I found mine were done around the hour-hour and a half mark.  I think it depends on how thinly you slice the apples and how crispy you like them.
They are so good coming out of the oven!  Great after school snack AND it makes your house smell wonderful!!

-We got our family picture updated for the Church directory recently and I couldn't keep my eyes off this handsome little guy!  That sweater was so precious on him, I thought he looked so old.
And yes, he's playing with a diaper.
Is he cute or what??

-This is a common pose for Miss Ava these days. 
...Hands on her hips, telling us a few things...
Wonder where she ever got that???

-Travis' only request in the fall, is that we roast pumpkin seeds.  We did it for the first time a few years ago and we're surprised at how much we liked snacking on them.  So although it's always a good deal of work, he loves it and eventually I get on board and make it happen with him. 
Thanks to pinterest, this year we got fancy.
This was option #1- Curry and Sea Salt
It. Was. Incredible.  I would buy 4 more pumpkins just to make these again.  I have forgotten how much  I love curry.  Even Travis was surprised at how good they were!
Option #2- Butter and Sea Salt.
Can you ever go wrong with butter???  Delicious.
Option #3- Sweet and Spicy (Cayenne pepper, sugar and salt)
This was the recipe Trav was dying to make and it didn't disappoint.  He really loved this one and it had a good bite to it.  I wouldn't know though, I could hardly keep my hands out of the curry seeds to notice.

-Along with watching me cook, lately Ava and I have been doing lots of coloring together.  I think maybe she's getting some of my artistic genes and I am quite happy about it!  The night before Halloween, I decided I needed to do something with our pumpkins but didn't have the steam to carve them and Travis was basically over the whole thing now that he had his seeds :) So I started to draw on them with a black sharpie, then quickly decided that was a lame idea and I should have just left them alone.
HOWEVER, it took all of 5 minutes for Ava to ask me if she could color a pumpkin too.  Normally I would have quickly said no, then explained about the permanent marker, etc., but she was so interested again that I found myself telling her yes.  I had several little ones so I got her all set up with her own pen and this little artist was in her glory.  She sat with me for about 30 minutes, carefully turning her pumpkin and making all kinds of lines and markings on it.  It was precious and made my night. 
In my head this was going to be so much cuter. 
I'm showing you the good side.  Trust me on that.
Carty's was cute.  Should have just stuck with the polka dot theme :)
Not a stellar year :)
I'm going to give myself a grace pass considering our month!
The 2 sweetest pumpkins in our house.
Wish it wasn't going to get moldy, I'd keep it forever :)

-My fall bucket list is quickly getting filled up and I'm so thankful!  In the midst of our crazy October, we made some sweet family memories and we still have time to do some more. 
As November kicks off, I am thankful and grateful for ALL that the Lord is doing in our lives.  Good, bad and ugly, we are learning new things and making the best of this season in our lives. 
Because it's a season full of blessings and I get to share it with my best friend. 
I love him like crazy by the way.  Out of all this stress, I love what the Lord is doing in our marriage.  Good things from hard days...that's the best! 

Anyway, Happy Friday to you all!