HoLiDaY HoW-To: ThE TrEe!!

Soooo, is your tree up yet??  Did you spend your Thanksgiving weekend covered in tinsel and lights?  Have you unpacked all your favorite ornaments and purged a few along the way??  Well, so have I!

  Thanksgiving weekend is my favorite weekend of the year.  I love it for many reasons, but mostly because I'm still high on turkey and mashed potatoes and ready to get in the Christmas spirit!  We get out the Christmas music, fill our favorite mugs with coffee, and start tackling our decorations.  And of course, we put up our tree!

So, after working on mine this weekend and then working on 3 others at a Country Club this morning, I've got trees on the brain and I'm ready to share some tips with you.  Everyone has a different idea about what a tree should look like, but hopefully you can get a little inspiration from the few I have pictured below.  They are all different, but there are things I like about each of them :)

This is a little tree I'm working on for something at Church, but there are things about it that would work on a big tree.  For instance, one of the best ways to add height to your tree, is to create a little explosion on top!  There are so many fun "**picks**" you can buy at Michael's or Hobby Lobby now, to literally just stick in your tree, either at the top or all around it.  If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you'll see that I have the blue picks on top, but also purple and lime green picks stuck in as well.  In person, these colors are more vivid than they seem in this picture, so it's really a cute, sparkly little tree.  It's a theme tree for part of my women's ministry demo, so thus the "joy" ornament hanging front and center, but I also like how you could run with the same idea and come up with a theme of your own.  Add some multi-color lights and you're in business!
**Do you all know what I mean by a pick??  This is an example of one.  Something glittery or artificial that is stuck on a wire or wooden stem.  They make great additions to trees, wreaths or garlands.**
Moving on...

I'm sure this tree makes most people want to freak out, but I love lots of things about it.  For example, it's a wonderful example of a monochromatic, modern look.  If you examine it carefully, there are like 4 colors happening here, but what makes it work is that they are all the same kind of ornament.  The only difference is in the sheen (some are flat and some are shiny) and in the size.  That's a good design principle at work.  For someone who is just starting out and doesn't have a lot of ornaments, or for someone who is stumped by pulling off "a look", one easy suggestion is to buy a bunch of inexpensive balls in 1, 2 or several colors.  Keep the kind of ball the same and just vary the size and color.  It will still look good together because you aren't mixing and matching patterns and styles.  You are staying within a monochromatic scheme.  Target is a wonderful place to shop for this kind of thing.  They have containers of plastic ornaments (which I bought for my own garland), that are all the same style and only $5.  They have big ones and small ones, but they all work together and could be mixed and matched very easily.
If you can't quite wrap your mind around a Christmas tree in Dr. Suess colors, just imagine how gorgeous this would be if it were all red??  Or gold?  Or red and gold??  Oh the possibilities...

First of all, sorry about the quality of this picture.  I didn't have my camera with me, so I had to use my phone in a very sunny's ok, but not super clear.  Anyway, this is one of the trees I did today in the Pub room of this Country Club.  Because it's a very masculine room, think lots of dark paneling and leather, we wanted to stay within the style and purpose of that room.  I used pheasant feathers for the top of the tree and a very traditional, plaid ribbon as the dominant element of the tree.  I don't know if you can tell in this picture or not, but this is a "woodland" style tree with a very natural look and pine cones on most branches.  Because of that given look, it didn't call for much decoration.  Large, flat ornaments lend themselves to this style much better than glitter and shine.  For a tree that is already quite beautiful or detailed, just by itself, you can use ribbon and just a few ornaments to "enhance it" and not take away from it.
If you have the budget, some people also do their trees this way, based on the style of their home.  It's a fun way to tie your tree into your existing decor and adorn what you already have going on.  It doesn't always take a lot of money or ornaments to pull this off, just a few things that will coordinate with what you already have.


For those of us who have a "family tree" full of sentimental ornaments from every style under the sun, there is still hope for a good looking tree!!  Here is what I do every year to pull it all together.  This tree is ours, and as you can see it has lots of stuff on it.  I noticed that lots of my favorite ornaments had some red in them and so did lots of my other decorations around the house.  So, I chose to make red my dominant color and I came up with a red color scheme for our tree.  I have red balls and a red bow on top, as well as some other red ornaments here and there.  It's an easy way to give some rhyme or reason to an otherwise eclectic tree!
I am much too sentimental to give up our random ornaments that we buy and add every year, so we will always have a family tree.  But I imagine, when we have a bigger house and a bigger budget, I will probably add a theme tree over the years to our living room.
For the last few years or so, my Mom has done this at her house and we all love it.  Our favorite family ornaments still hang on a small tree in the dining room, but her "pretty" tree has all the presents under it in the living room.  If you are in a similar boat with an eclectic tree, I'm sure there is a color you could pull out to highlight that would compliment your ornaments or the room your tree is in.

On a more formal tree, I would have made this bow a little bigger and the tails a lot longer.  But on a more casual tree like mine, I kept it pretty simple.  Would you like to see a few of my favorite ornaments on our tree?

"A" for Armstrong of course, but now for Ava too!

Our first ornament after we were married :)

We got these as a gift last year, when we knew we were having a girl!  This year I wrote Ava's stats on the bottom.

This goes without saying...He's part of the family and part of the tree!

Travis recently informed me that this was one of his favorites!  We got it when we lived in North Carolina, so it's fitting I suppose.  We heard lots of "Y'all" while we lived there!

My new favorite!  I just bought this over the weekend and I love it!

Of course my favorite thing about our tree this year, is the little red head who likes to sit beneath it :)
Cutest little ballerina I've ever seen!!

I hope some of these tips work for you!  Next up on the schedule, wreaths and bows.  I'm hoping to show you some easy ways to make a wreath and a step by step explanation of how to make a simple bow.  Tis the season for both :) Look for that post later this week.

Happy December to all of you!!
Have fun decking your halls...


Ava's First Thanksgiving

We are having a great time, celebrating with my parents and enjoying some days off.  I seriously love, food, football and naps??  I mean come on, does it get any better than that??  Yesterday was a fun day, as we celebrated Thanksgiving with Ava for the first time :) 

Our glowing, candle-lit table.

Ok, does this not make you want to eat all over again??  Seriously, I might have to take a break and go make another plate of leftovers.  I am not kidding.  I heart everything on that plate.

Gobble, Gobble :)

So what do you make for Thanksgiving?  We had turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans (steamed, we were burned out on green bean casserole), stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry salad.

My parents.

Ava spent most of the meal eating her banana puffs, playing with her toy and sucking on her highchair.  I think that means she had a good time!

Kind of loved that this was our first real holiday together and that we got to spend it in our own house.  Next year will be a serious adventure in trying to convince her to eat what we put on her plate!

Love this little monkey!  She was a wild woman all afternoon :)

She and Grandpa had a good time playing in her room.

But her favorite activity of the day was chasing Ryley, after he came home again from being in Iowa.  She LOVES him!  And speaking of him, can you see that his left eye is not quite as open as his right one?  When we woke up yesterday, I noticed that he wouldn't open one eye and sure enough, it was because he had an infection.  So, Travis and my Dad spent 2 hours at the emergency vet on Thanksgiving day, and $200 later, they came home with some eye drops and a much happier dog.  Not the ideal way I hoped to spend our morning, but at least it was not a major problem, just an eye infection!

Ava was thrilled when he came back so that she could follow him around some more.

After we ate at home, we went to my cousin Jenny's house and all of my cousins and their families came over too.

There was not a shortage of arms to hold Ava!
Her cousin Ryan was thrilled to play with her :)

The guys ate and watched ESPN :)

And the women ate, talked and ate some more!
Don't worry, Travis was with the guys all night, not the ladies :)
He just couldn't pass up a little playtime with Ava!

All in all it was a wonderful, low key kind of day and I think Ava had a great time with all of her family in Minnesota!
I know it goes without saying, but she is our greatest blessing and what we are most thankful for this year.  We had a great Thanksgiving yesterday and today has been lots of fun too.  I can hear my Mom getting the leftovers ready in the kitchen and tonight we're going to put up our Christmas tree!!  This may be my favorite night of the year.  I hope you have had a blessed day!  We have so many things to be grateful for, don't we?

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas too!!


Happy Thanksgiving From The Armstrongs!

"How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you."
Psalm 31:19

We are praising the Lord for His goodness today and everyday!
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!!


No Explanation Necessary.

She's mobile and into EVERYTHING!!  Life just got a little crazier around here...


He Heard My Voice

Refreshed is what I am today.  Rested, blessed, grateful and refreshed.  If you followed my twitter feed over the weekend, you knew that I got to spend a few days with some of my favorite women, some of the friends God has put in my life for the last 3 1/2 years.  Fellow wives, married to Pastors, mothers of Pastor's kids, sisters in Christ.  I heart them.  Each and every one of them.  Eight of us were able to get away at a cabin for our annual retreat.  It was fun, it was sweet, it was refreshing.  I laughed, I cried, and I ate.  And ate.  And drank some coffee.  And ate.  It was the perfect getaway that my heart needed.

There is something about the bond of being married to a Pastor.  Something about the understanding among other women who've walked in your shoes and have lived to tell about it :) Something about the prayers of another woman, who shares a similar desire of your heart.  Something about being able to discuss health insurance with those who share the same policy.  Because you know, we are real people with real lives too!  We have ideas about where to get the best deal on groceries, how to meet the needs of our kids and how to avoid getting the flu :) It was a delightful weekend and it came just in time for me to escape after a *trying* couple of days with Ava.

Speaking of Ava, I was so proud of Travis who took care of her while I was gone and even took a little road trip to Iowa to see my parents and my sister!  What a guy :) He called me to let me know what they were up to, how she was and that she missed me, and he did too.  And I laughed at his twitpic, when I realized how he had (or hadn't) dressed her!  It was a fun couple of days and I'm grateful for it.  When I came home yesterday, I had a little time to be by myself and tend to a few things.  It was Heavenly...

While I sipped a hot chocolate, I spent some time dwelling on a couple of verses that really blessed me and inspired me as we start this Thanksgiving week.

Psalm 116:1-2 says....
"I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. 
 Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live."

Haven't we all had those times when it felt like no one was hearing us?  We were screaming in a crowded room and yet our voice was just muffled among the cries of others?  We were talking and talking, but no one was hearing.  Responding.  Listening.  I have.  There have been days or seasons when I wondered if anyone was hearing me.  I've shared a little bit about my study in Esther this fall.  We just spent some time in chapter 7, after Esther pleads and begs for the life of her people to the King (her husband).  Although he responded and did two significant things for Esther, he didn't do what she asked for.  He didn't listen to the one request of her heart, to save the lives of her people.  And so she had to ask, beg and plead, again. And as she began, I'm sure she wanted to scream at him, "Please listen to what I'm saying to you!"

The beauty of our God, is that He is nothing like King Xerxes.  He hears us.  He hears each and every one of us.  He doesn't receive our requests via faxes, or emails, or even angels.  No, He hears.  Above all the others, he hears every word I whisper.  My voice.  My cry for mercy.  But that's not all.  I love the phrasing of verse 2, "He turned His ear to me."  Or in other versions, it says, "He inclined His ear to me."  I looked up the meaning of "inclined" in the Hebrew lexicon.  The same Hebrew word is used in 13 other places and it means "humbled or bowed down."  Don't you love that?  The God of the universe, who humbled himself and came to dwell among us, who humbled himself on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin, also humbles himself to hear our voice when we cry out to Him.  He bows His ear to our mouth, and hears us.  Every single word, every single time.  

Although we don't always get the answer we want, we can rest in knowing that we have been heard.  We have been listened to.  There is nothing more frustrating than having a problem and feeling as if no one is listening to you.  As is sometimes the case in the medical community, we can seek a diagnosis and never really be heard.  I am so grateful we don't experience that with the Lord.  These verses tell us that He hears us by turning His ear to us.  When we are begging for mercy, He is reaching down and holding our face in His hands, so that He can catch every word.  He's never too busy, never un-interested, never tired of us.  And so, because we know He hears, we can call on Him and put our trust in Him, for as long as we live.  We can remember all the times that He's heard us before and feel confident that He'll hear us again.  Even, or especially, when it feels like one else does.

I thought of those times in my life, when He heard me and then showed me that He did, because He answered me in a way that only He and I would understand.  Like for instance, when I was weeks away from delivering Ava and caught in a grip of hormones and fear, fear about our finances and how things would go when I was no longer working.  As I drove to Church that morning, I was overcome with emotion.  Paralyzed about a particular need we had and a particular sacrifice we had been asked to make.  I cried, I prayed, and I realized the Lord was going to have to give us wisdom.  My head told me that He would provide for us, but my heart was not convinced.  In my state of unbelief, I asked Him to help me believe His word, help me obey.  After Church I started to tell Travis that we needed to go home, not spend money, stay in.  He showed me a random gift card that a student had given him that morning and we gratefully had lunch on it.  When it came time to pay the bill, we pulled out the card and handed it to the waitress, who told us that our bill was already paid.  Someone who knew us was in the restaurant and wanted to get our tab.  On a day when it seemed like the circumstances were not going to line up, we were gifted not once, but twice.  And although it was a financial blessing, it was so much more than that to me.  It was an answer from the Lord to me.  It was a still, small voice telling my heart that He heard me.  He knew our situation and He was still God.  He wasn't going to leave us and He wasn't unable to provide for us.  That day still pops in my head often.  Only the Lord could have known the anxiety I felt and heard the cries I made for mercy.

He is so good to me and just like the Psalmist said, I love Him for it.  As I reflected on Thanksgiving and this passage yesterday, it did my heart good to ask Him to hear me in some very specific things and then to praise Him for the way He's heard me before.

For the way He heard my voice when I asked Him to help me wait for the man He had for me...

For the way He turned His ear to us, when we asked Him to help us wait for the baby He had for us...

Yes He is good and yes, He still hears.  I am praying that if you need to feel heard today, you'll know that there is someone who is waiting to hang on every word.  Or if you need to be reminded to trust, you'll remember the countless times He's heard you in the past and you'll believe Him again.

Happy Sunday!

"I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. 
 Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live."
Psalm 116:1-2


If I Didn't Love Her...

...I would have given her away this afternoon!  Oh, how could I say that??  Well, after a delightful morning and a productive early afternoon, my little Ava pitched the world's longest and biggest fit.  She was a mess of emotion, refusing to nap and yet unable to stay awake.  I don't know what got into her, but she was as "female" as they come today, swinging from one extreme mood to another.  Apparently, this part of raising girls starts way sooner than I was prepared for!  By the grace of God we endured the rest of the day, minute by painful minute.  I put her to bed minutes ago and now I can finally breathe a little bit until Travis comes home.  These are the days that are so hard for me to get through.  They inevitably happen on nights where I'm parenting alone and I find myself more often than not, feeling like a failure by the time the sun sets.

Ironically, it's also the day that I met with a friend for our Wednesday morning Bible study, to talk about the virtue of self control, from the book that we are reading together.  And yes, only hours later, I lost that virtue.  Repeatedly.  A 7 month old who can't talk, can't walk and can't function without me, may have pushed my patience to the limit and caused me to throw my newly gained self-control, right out the window.  But at least it was only the self-control that got thrown out the window and not the 7 month old.  Not all has been lost.

The more that I've thought about it, the more that I'm convinced babies should come with some kind of warning label.  Some kind of notice that would tell you how quickly you will swing from "I could not love you more" to "I am going to pull my hair out!"  An extreme range of emotion all within 30 seconds or so.  Yep, a parenthood warning label.  Don't you think it would be helpful??  Sadly, it doesn't exist and it never will.  It's only something that you have to experience for yourself.  After all, there really is no way to prepare yourself for the moment when your child throws up all over your white down comforter; or when they scream so loudly and for so long, that you begin to wonder if you're own hearing will be affected; or when you innocently pick up that little darling, only to discover that they have chosen you as the recipient of their latest "explosion."  No, there is no training for that.

But when you reach those moments of despair, when it feels like you cannot go one more minute without losing it...

I've learned to take a deep breath and try, try again.

Sometimes it gets better, and sometimes it's just a dogfight until the end of the day.  But either way, the love I have for her wins out.  Kind of like the love of the Lord that always wins out, even in the midst of my biggest fit and my whiniest hour.  His love without condition is the the love that I strive for with Ava, with Travis, and with my family and friends.  I'm certainly not there, all too often my "conditions" are crystal clear and incredibly demanding.  But I'm trying, I'm striving for better.  Not so that I can pat myself on the back after a victorious day, but so that my daughter, and my husband, and my family will see a glimpse of grace and a reflection of Jesus in me.  One day when Ava is grown and these hard days are behind us, I hope she will think of me as a blessing in her life, as a source of forgiveness and second chances and a love without conditions.

I hope that for her because I know that of Him.  He is the one I want to run to when she screams and throws a fit.  His is the voice I need to speak words of wisdom to my weary soul.  And when I wake tomorrow, to the sound of her cries, it's His new mercies that will sustain me for another day.

Being a parent is hard work when you're raising a flawed child.
But then so is everything worth doing.

Yep, if I didn't love her, who knows what I might do??

 Good thing I never have to worry about that!


It's Happening...

Slowly but surely, Ava is gaining more and more freedom with every day that falls off the calendar!  She is one motivated little girl and she spends 90% of her waking hours, crawling/dragging/slinking her little self across the room, trying to get whatever is the object of her desire!

I mean seriously, how did we get here so fast??  Wasn't I just bringing her home from the hospital last week?  And weren't we just talking about how little she looked in her big crib??  Didn't she just smile for the first time and weren't we just working on nursing??
And now...
Now, she's on the cusp of crawling??  How did that happen??

She is getting so good at getting right up on her hands and knees...

First she rocks back and forth, then she straightens her legs out and crosses them, in the most perfect push-up form you have ever seen!

And then with every ounce of determination in her, she sets her little eyes on the prize.
Yes, we lure her with the TV remotes.
And it works every time!

She gets back on those knees, moves a little closer with every stride....

And then reaches her arms as far they'll stretch, grabbing that remote with those tiny little fingers...

And then she looks at me like,
"What??  Did you doubt me??  If you're going to dangle a remote in front of me, don't think I won't go after it.  I'm getting ready to rule this house Mom, you better get used to it!!"

Sigh.  My baby is growing up.

Right. Before. My. Eyes.

And while it's exciting and I'm drinking these days in...It makes my heart hurt just a little bit too.
I know she's ready for this new step, for some greater independence, but I'm not sure I am.

I kind of liked knowing that she needed me, even it was exhausting.

First it's crawling, then it's walking, then it's running.  With each new phase she'll need less of me and more of her.  It's normal, it's natural, and it's good.  But I can't help but feel that it's a little bit sad too.

Someone please tell me now, how in the world am I going to survive adolescence??  
Good thing we've got some time to figure it out :)