Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chime In: "Homemade" for the Holidays

This year, our family has done a variety of homemade holiday projects... everything from gifts to ornaments for the tree. I thought I would showcase some of our creations here and then invite readers to comment with some of their own ideas.

One thing our team does at Christmas-time is a handmade gift exchange. You can read all about (and see pictures of) our first one here on Teague's blog.

This year, Stephen made a Christmas tea towel for Jordan. Green handprints made the tree, and Alex followed with red thumbprints for the ornaments. I don't have a picture of the finished product, but these are pictures Rusty took while we were making it:

Thank goodness for non-toxic fabric paint!

Alex made (with help) some jar cookie mixes and jar hot chocolate mix for Nathan. He also made chocolate-dipped plastic spoons for stirring the hot chocolate -- yummy! There are lots of great websites with ideas for gifts in a jar. Here is one of my favorites.

Rusty made an adorable train puzzle for Biruk. He cut the pieces with a scroll saw, sanded them all, and painted them himself. The puzzle has the alphabet painted on one side, and numbers up to 25 on the other side. Super cute and educational too!

I made a visual journal using magazine scraps for Katie. Again, I don't have pictures of the one I made, but there are lots of ideas and inspiration here on one of my favorite blogs.

Other projects have included making little jars of "Snowman Soup," a.k.a. hot chocolate. Alex helped a lot with this, and had a great time! I saved all my baby food jars for several weeks because they are the perfect size for packaging individual servings of hot chocolate mix, but I've also seen people use zip-lock baggies. We gave these out to all the staff at Hillsboro, and some will probably find their way into stockings on Christmas morning, too. They would also make great teacher/mailman/garbage man/paper boy gifts!

The label reads:
"When the weather outside is frightful,
Snowman Soup can be delightful.
Add hot water and sip it slow.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Finally, I have started a tradition with Alex of making one kind of handmade ornament for the tree every year. Last year, we made pinecone ornaments. This year, it was cinnamon-applesauce ornaments. Recipe and lots of great ideas here. I was really pleased with how these turned out. The "dough" was very easy to work with; they look cute hanging on the tree; and house smelled amazing while they were in the oven baking! I figure if we continue this tradition through the years, my kids will be able to leave home with a collection of "their ornaments" someday (if they are even interested in keeping them, being boys and all).

One of our new ornaments hanging on the tree.

Okay, readers... it's time for you to chime in. Share some of your favorite homemade holiday projects and traditions! I'm always looking for new ideas, so you might find me adopting some of them in years to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Life at Eight Months

Just before his eight-month birthday, Stephen achieved two very important milestones: crawling on all fours, and his first tooth! Both happened while we were in Austin, Texas for a team meeting. In fact, we now have a theory on the Angola Team that our kids wait until we're all together to learn a new talent. Eliana Reese both crawled and took her first steps at team meetings, and now Stephen is apparently following her example. Must be all that extra support and love the kiddos feel from their aunts and uncles! (Or maybe Stephen was just trying to keep up with the four older kids!)

During his eighth month, Stephen also celebrated his first Thanksgiving. We went to Huntsville to celebrate with Rusty's cousin Linda and her family, and Stephen was loved on by many, many second cousins! He tried sweet potato casserole for the first time, decided it was his new favorite food, and then proceeded to eat more than I thought was possible for such a little person. I finally stopped feeding him, much to his very great disappointment, because I began to be afraid he might actually pop!
Look out world, here I come!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Marcums Visit Nashville

Last month, we enjoyed a visit from my sister and her family, who are missionaries in Bolivia. Highlights included a morning at The Monkey's Treehouse, one of our recent Nashville finds, as well as a mini-reunion with our (Julie's and my) childhood friends, the "Reppart sisters," Rebekah and Rachel. We are all married now, and there are eight kids among the four of us! Everyone came over and spent a day at our house, where the kids enjoyed playing together, and we women tried to catch up on the past several years in between refereeing children and tending to their needs. That night, our wonderful husbands agreed to watch the kids so we could go out for some scrumptious Indian food and uninterrupted conversation.

Here are some pictures of our time with the Marcum family and the Reppart/Stephens girls' reunion (more pictures here, on Rebekah's blog):

Michaela and Alex in the bath

Story-time with Aunt Julie, Michaela, and Eliana

Aunt Julie, Jana, and Stephen

Julie, Rebekah, Rachel, and me with our eight beautiful children

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bathtime with Two

Now that Stephen is old enough to sit on his own, I am finding that bathing both boys together is more fun. It is also a lot of work for me, as I attempt to run interference between Alex and his brother. "We do not pour water on our brother's head," and "Please don't push Stephen over in the water," and "No big splashes, please," are the phrases I find myself repeating over and over again. However, the boys seem to really enjoy it, so on most nights, into the tub together they go. The picture below isn't the greatest since you can't really see Stephen in his bath chair. (Usually, I bathe him in the bath chair and then sit him up to play and splash.)

One of the things we love the most about the house we are living in right now is the deep, two-person jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom. It reminds us of the bathtub in our house in Japan! Some nights, when we have extra time, Rusty will take a bath with both boys in the big bathtub. Alex thinks this is great fun and wishes we could do it every night!

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Need Africa More than Africa Needs Me

My teammate Teague shared this video with me. In the midst of all my conflicting emotions about moving to Angola, it really touched my heart. I hope in watching it, you'll be able to see Africa from a different perspective than how it's generally portrayed by the news media.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Life at Seven Months

Stephen was seven months old on November 6th. He is now sitting up really well without any support. Since he can sit up, he has moved up to the next nursery, where they have an actual "Bible class" for the babies. Bathtime has also changed -- he can sit up in the water and play with toys, and he loves to splash!

Although Stephen is not really crawling yet, he is definitely mobile. He can "scoot" on his tummy by using his arms to pull himself across the floor (kind of like an army crawl). It is pretty impressive to watch. He does push himself up on all fours and just rocks back and forth, but when he wants to go somewhere, down on his tummy he goes.

He continues to try new foods, and eats whatever we put in his mouth, although he sometimes makes the funniest faces. I try to feed him when we are eating as much as possible, so he can join in the family meals. I have started giving him Cheerios and Gerber puffs on his tray, and he enjoys trying to pick those up and eat them. It is more of an amusement than anything right now, although he is getting better and better about actually getting some of them in his mouth.

The outfit Stephen is wearing in the pictures below (down to the shoes) was one of Rusty's when he was a baby. I had so much fun dressing Alex in some of Rusty's old clothes when he was a baby -- I'm glad I get to do the same with Stephen!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Halloween, 2009

I've been meaning to post these pictures of the kids on Halloween for awhile now, and just haven't gotten around to it. These were taken the Wednesday before Halloween, the night of Hillsboro's Trunk or Treat.
Stephen was an adorable pumpkin. (Thanks to Auntie Ronda for the outfit!)

Alex was Bob the Builder. "Yes, we can!" (Hey, it was Bob the Builder's phrase long before Barak Obama laid claim to it!)

And Rusty, at Alex's request, dressed up as Wendy (Bob the Builder's partner, for those of you not up on your preschool TV shows)! Now that's a real dad!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Rusty wrote this article for the Hillsboro church e-bulletin a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was very well-written, so I decided to share it here. (Read to the end for a picture of Alex in his new bed!)

For those of you who don't know, both of my parents have passed away. Dad died 14 years ago after a lifelong struggle with a heart condition. Mom died 3 years ago this month from a brain tumor. He was 52 and she was 64 when they died.

I don't share all of this with you for sympathetic reasons, but because I often wonder about what they passed on to me and what I will pass on to my own children. One thing my father passed on to me was the hobby of making, building, or restoring things out of wood. I've actually had little time for this hobby over the years and I still have a lot to learn. Two weeks ago I mentioned in our worship service about a set of bunk beds that he had made for my sister and me to use and enjoy. Now I'm in the process of refinishing them and making them 'new' again so that my children, Alex & Stephen, can use and enjoy them. I have really enjoyed restoring a perfectly fine set of beds that my dad took the time and energy to make. Had I not pulled them down out of the rafters of a really dusty old barn in Oregon, they would have gotten thrown in a pile of rubbish and destined for a bonfire. I was able to finish one of the beds the other day. We then went and purchased some mattresses for it. For the first time in a long time, Alex, our oldest, is sleeping well. It brings me a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that my little boy, who was sleeping on a mat on the floor until last week, is now sleeping on a good solid bed – a bed that my deceased father made for his little boy.

As I was working on the bed, it got me thinking about why do we, as human beings, have such an innate desire to make or create things? We encourage our children to be creative in school. Our places of employment often praise or reward creativity and innovation. When employers are looking for a new hire, they often look for someone or something that can bring a sense of revitalization or refreshment to the program. We are often attracted or excited by the newness of things.

Again, I have to wonder why? Why did God instill within us an appreciation for newness? Of course we appreciate and value the old and its aestheticism. But there is certainly more of a draw towards the new. Even if it's old, like a classic car or a bed in the rafters of a dusty barn, it is appreciated more when it is restored and brought back to life.

I think God feels that way as well. You see, when we are separated from Him, He has no relationship with us. But when we return to Him, as a new creation, we become washed by the Lamb, white as snow, made in the likeness of His Son. God gets to see His own creation become alive and new again. Eph 2:10 calls us his "workmanship." In the Greek this word is 'Poema' and is where we get our word 'Poem.' When we are in relationship with Him, we represent His best, His workmanship, His poem. We were handcrafted to display His wonder, to be a testimony or witness for Him.

May we live our days knowing that we are masterfully created or recreated works of art.

Life at Six Months

Stephen was 6 months old on October 6th. We happened to be in Michigan for a visit at the time, so I made an appointment for him with our family doctor there for a check-up. He now weighs over 16 pounds and is 27 inches long! He has graduated to wearing 6-9 month size clothes. The outfit he is wearing in the picture was one of Rusty's when he was a baby.

The major milestone in Stephen's sixth month was the introduction of solid foods to his diet. I waited until we we done with all our traveling simply because I didn't want to mess with baby food while we were on the road. He was so ready for that first bite of food! He smacked his lips and said "mmmm" through the whole first meal. We started with banana, avocado, sweet potato, and rice cereal, and we have gradually added other fruits and veggies. One thing I am really enjoying doing right now is making my own baby food. I don't do homemade exclusively, but I cook and puree fruits and veggies when I can and freeze them in icecube trays. Once frozen, I have little cubes of food, the perfect single-serving size for a baby. I have quite the little stash growing in my freezer!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

September 2009 Newsletter

Click here to view our latest newsletter. If you would like to be added to our mailing list, to receive our newsletter via email, please contact us as rustyandlaura AT gmail DOT com.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And Now We Breathe

So... it's been awhile since I updated. We're mostly settled in our house here in Nashville. And by that, I mean that we've unpacked most of what we need to live comfortably for the next 3 months. There are no pictures on the walls, and most of the windows have blankets tacked up as curtains. I'm not bothering to decorate. No sense in getting too comfortable here!

We had about a week in our house at the end of September before we were traveling again -- up to Pennsylvania to present to a church up there, and then over to Detroit to pack up the rest of our stuff from my parents' house. The boys and I have all been sick with some nasty cold that took forever to shake... theirs turned into pink eye and ear infections (times two) before all was said and done.

And as if the traveling, moving, unpacking, and sickness wasn't enough to deal with, last weekend, we played host to a gathering of our team and everyone's parents for the Family Workshop with MRN. It was about 30 people all together, and we decided to host the meeting in our home since it is plenty big enough. But that meant a lot of extra work with setting up, plus cooking all the food for everyone. I was so thankful to have my parents here to help out. With me being sick, I think my mom probably did more work than I did! Anyway, the weekend was a big success, but I am glad it's over and just trying to rest and recover this week.

I have lots to blog about -- Stephen's 6-month update, Alex's new bed, and a slide show of pictures from our Partnership Tour is in the works as well. Keep checking back for new posts over the next several days!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Partnership Tour: Helena to Nashville

We were in Helena, Montana until mid-September. We visited with several churches about our plans for Angola. I also attended the annual area-wide ladies retreat, and Rusty went to an area-wide minister's meeting. So, we made lots of new contacts, and we hope that at least some of those will lead to future partners in our ministry.

We left Helena on Tuesday, Sept. 15th. We stayed in Sheridan, Wyoming that night, then drove all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota the next day. We took a little side-trip through the Badlands National Park -- gorgeous! We have certainly seen some amazing country these last few weeks.

We were on a tight schedule since we were trying to make it back to Kentucky by Friday evening for Hillsboro's Family Retreat. However, when we got to our hotel in Sioux Falls very late on Wednesday night, we checked our email and found out the retreat had been cancelled. So we stayed an extra day in Sioux Falls. Our hotel had a very cool water park in the atrium (part of the reason we chose it), complete with a two-story water slide and a pirate ship. Alex had a ball, and we all enjoyed the down-time as a family.

The other bonus to the Family Retreat being cancelled was that we were able to arrange at the last minute to meet with the Memorial Road Church of Christ missions committee in Oklahoma City that coming Sunday! We have been on their radar for awhile now, but finding a time to meet with them has been challenging. So this was definitely a "God thing." From Sioux Falls, we headed south and stayed Friday night in Big Lake, Missouri at a state park that had a little motel. On Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Oklahoma City.

Sunday was very full with church at Memorial Road in the morning, the missions committee meeting that afternoon and then a get-together with old friends from Japan that night to celebrate Lj's birthday! So glad we got to be there for that! On Monday morning, the boys and I went to the zoo with Kari, Stone, Charity, Freedom, and Courage. Rusty spent some time on campus at OC. That afternoon, we drove to Tulsa (through a monsoon!) and stayed the night with Tom and Leslie Walden. We visited with them about our plans for Angola and heard about the missions program that he heads up at the Park Plaza Church of Christ -- very exciting!

Tuesday, we left early in the morning and drove to Memphis. We had found out about three days prior that Hillsboro had managed to secure a house for us to stay in during our next four months in Nashville (hallelujah!). So we made arrangements to go ahead and move our stuff (that has been in storage in Memphis for the last 10 months) to Nashville since we were already passing through. We picked up the U-haul truck that afternoon, and Rusty spent most of the evening packing and loading. We finished the next morning and drove to Nashville, arriving just in time for church that evening.

Since we got back, we have been busy getting unpacked and settled into our house, which is about 5 minutes away from the church. It is nice to have a place of our own again, even if it is just until January. The house is much bigger than the four of us need, but the extra space will certainly come in handy while we are sorting and packing things for the container over the next few months.

Thank you for your prayers while we were on the road these last few weeks. Amazingly, we had NO car trouble and NO sickness during the entire time we were gone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life at Five Months

Stephen celebrated his 5-month birthday while we were in Montana. As you can see from the photos below, he has gotten really good at pushing himself up when he is on his tummy. He is quite proud of this achievement and just loves it when we show our excitement and enthusiasm (as we were doing when Rusty snapped this pic). He is also rolling over a lot more. Our days of leaving him lying on a bed or a couch are numbered!

Interestingly, since Stephen has mastered the art of rolling over, he has decided that he prefers to sleep on his tummy. After several nights of putting him to sleep on his back and waking up the next morning to find him on his tummy, I gave up. I now put him to sleep on his tummy, and the neat thing is that now, if he's still awake when I lay him down in his crib, he will put himself to sleep sucking his thumb. I don't remember Alex putting himself to sleep at such a young age, but he was never a tummy sleeper, or a thumb sucker for that matter. Hmmmmmm.

Stephen is also starting to babble a lot more and will try to carry on a conversation with anyone who pays attention to him. He is getting closer and closer to being able to sit on his own. He has the strength to sit unsupported... now, it is just a matter of balance. With his increased upper body strength, I have been able to switch him to the hip-carry position in the sling. It is easier for me to get him in and out of it, and he seems to like it better, too, now that his feet dangle down.

He is the sweetest, most low-maintenance baby ever. I have a feeling, though, that the "low-maintenance" part may change with his increased mobility!

Happy baby

Sweet baby

Mischievous baby (Is this face a portent of things to come?)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chime In: Traveling with Kids

We have done our fair share of traveling with little ones in tow since, well, pretty much since we became parents. It is not without its challenges; however, we are very blessed to have two very good travelers. They have their moments, but then again, we all do. After sitting in a car or a cramped airline seat for hours on end, even grown-ups can get cranky!

I confess that before our survey trip last summer, I purchased a bottle of Children's Benadryl with the intention of using it as a sedative (if necessary) on the long international flights. Luckily, I never had to use it as most of our flights were overnight, and Alex slept pretty much the whole way. But I have flown enough in my lifetime to know that there are few things more horrible than being stuck on a plane for hours on end with a screaming kid, whether you are the parent, or just a fellow passenger. So I had it in my arsenal, just in case.

Road trips are a little different, since you can set your own schedule and stop and get out of the car when you need to. A real lifesaver on our Partnership Tour has been a cheap portable DVD player we purchased on Craigslist before we left Michigan that allows Alex to watch videos in the car. And, although Rusty and I typically avoid MacDonald's like the plague, the PlayPlaces are a great way for Alex to burn some energy after we've been in the car for several hours. When we have a long day in the car, we will usually let Alex play while we eat our food, and then he eats his Happy Meal in the car after we leave. It maximizes the time we spend there and means we don't have to fight with him about eating when he would rather be playing.

With Stephen along, we have to stop every 3-4 hours so I can nurse him. Rusty will usually gas-up (even if we still have a fairly full tank) and take Alex to the potty (even if he says he doesn't have to go) just to minimize the amount of stopping we have to do. Sometimes, he will go on the hunt for a city park where Alex can play while I'm nursing Stephen. Or, he'll pull over at a rest area where he and Alex can throw frisbees for a few minutes.

So, fellow parents -- what are some of your tips and tricks for traveling with small children? What works and what doesn't when you're on the road or in the air?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Partnership Tour: Portland to Helena

We are winding down the Partnership Tour -- by this time next week, we should be on our way back to Nashville. Our time in Portland was a real whirlwind of activity. We blocked out a few days for family time with Ronda, Robbie, and Johnny. The rest of the time, we were spending time with friends and extended family (my grandmother and cousins as well as some of Rusty's cousins all live in the Portland area), taking care of some business related to Rusty's mom's estate, and visiting with churches and missions committees about our plans for Angola. Fundraising in the Northwest is especially difficult right now, due to the economic downturn as well as Cascade's recent closing. However, we are getting the word out; now we will wait and watch God work -- after all, he is bigger than all of the limitations we perceive.

Although we enjoyed our time in Portland immensely, it was a crazy busy time since both Rusty and I know so many people and have so many connections there. We were almost glad to get back on the road again! We left Portland a week ago Tuesday, stayed the night in Vancouver, WA with our friends the Onsomu's, and on Wednesday, headed west to Coeur d'Alene. We stayed Wednesday night with old college friends Ben and Christina Heater and their kids and were able to visit with some folks at the Dalton Gardens Church of Christ about Angola.

On Thursday, we drove to Helena, Montana. We have enjoyed the last few days here with Uncle Roy and Aunt Margaret Ramsey, former missionaries to Kisumu, Kenya and teammates of my parents. It has been fun reminiscing about the past with them -- the other night, we even watched some of their old family movies! There are not many people anymore that I can connect with when it comes to my childhood in Kisumu, so I have enjoyed that aspect of our time with them.

For Alex's part, he has enjoyed the experience of four-wheeling! The other day, we took their two ATV's up into the hills near their house. Rusty and I rode one, and Uncle Roy and Alex rode the other one. (Aunt Margaret stayed back at the house with Stephen.) We had such a great time and saw some gorgeous scenery. Alex keeps asking when we are going again!

This past Sunday, we presented about Angola to the church in Great Falls on Sunday morning and the church in Billings on Sunday night. Then, on Monday, we drove back to Helena, stopping to visit friends David and Alison Ellis in Bozeman (David and Rusty were at Harding Grad together). We will be here in Helena for another week, and then we'll begin the long journey back to Nashville. Please continue to pray for us as we travel and fundraise!

Note: I have been meaning to post some pictures of our team time in Colorado last month. Teague, however, beat me to it. Rather than post many of the same pictures on my own blog, I'm linking to her post here. For Facebook users, Katie uploaded a bunch of pictures there as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Boys

This picture makes me smile every time I see it. I am such a blessed woman to have these three in my life!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Life at Four Months

It doesn't seem possible that Stephen is already 4 months old. We are on the road right now and haven't been to the doctor for the standard four-month well-baby checkup, so I have no idea how much he weighs. I am guessing about 15 or 16 pounds. We'll find out next month, I guess. He is, in the words of his Aunt Teague, "stout."

Major milestones during the fourth month included rolling from back to tummy and starting to laugh. He is spitting up less and drooling more. He will chew on anything he can get in his mouth -- toys, burp cloth, blanket, my finger, or his personal favorite, his own hands. He continues to be a content and easy-going baby; he hardly ever cries and is still sleeping well despite our crazy schedule. Everywhere we go, people comment on what a good baby he is. I am so thankful because I don't know how we would do what we are doing right now if we had a high-needs infant. I'm sure we would manage, but traveling would be so much more difficult.

Thank you, God, for our healthy, happy baby boy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Partnership Tour: Colorado Springs to Portland

The Partnership Tour continues... a week ago Tuesday, we left Colorado Springs, headed for Rocky Mountain National Park. We camped there for two nights with our team, enjoying great food and conversation amidst the beauty of God's creation. We took a hike one day through the mountains up to Lake Haiyaha and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the boulders at the water's edge. I will put some pictures up soon.

On Thursday, we said our goodbyes and began the drive westward over the Rockies. We spent Thursday night in Glenwood Springs, CO with my former college roomie, Amy, and her family. It was so great to see them again, and Alex really enjoyed playing with their two girls.

On Friday, we drove as far as Salt Lake City, UT, where we stayed the night in a motel. Then, on Saturday, we drove to La Grande, OR. We stayed with a lovely older couple, who, we found out after we arrived at their house, were none other than the grandparents of our friend and former fellow AET, Shawn Phelps! It's such a small world, especially in the Church of Christ in the Northwest!

Rusty presented about Angola and also preached at the church in La Grande on Sunday. On Monday, we drove to Central Oregon and visited some of Rusty's friends and family there. And yesterday, we drove over the mountains and into Portland. We will be here in Portland for about two weeks, visiting friends and family and talking about Angola with various area churches. Please continue to pray for us. So far, we have all been healthy, but we are beginning to feel a little worn down. All the moving around and the long days in the car have been especially hard on Alex. It will be nice to be in one place for awhile.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Partnership Tour: Nashville to Colorado Springs

Although we left Detroit a few weeks ago, we will not really be settling in Nashville until mid-September. We were in Nashville for about ten days at the end of July, and then we launched into our Partnership Tour, which is taking us all the way out to Oregon and back over the next 6 weeks.

Our time in Nashville was full of lots of activities. The Hillsboro church formally introduced us to the congregation on our first Sunday there; we attended their VBS; and we spent several days having meals with and getting to know some of the elders, the missions committee, and church members. The church has been so wonderful and welcoming and has really taken great care of us. We are looking forward to spending more time there this fall getting to know people and building relationships with them.

A week ago Monday, we left Nashville and headed west. Our first stop was Memphis, where we discovered Park Avenue (our church when we lived in Memphis) was having their VBS. So we went by and were able to reconnect with some of our friends there. Alex got to see his BFF Mackenzie from Harding Grad, and he was very excited about that.

On Tuesday, we spent a couple of hours unearthing all our camping supplies from the depths of our storage unit. Then, we headed to Oklahoma City. We were able to meet up with old friends from our Japan days... the Lj's, Chan's, and Britton's. It was great to see them again, and it was especially touching to watch Alex, Stone, and Freedom playing together. (There are a couple of pics on Facebook... when I have more time, I will try to upload one here to the blog.)

On Wednesday, we drove to Burlington, OK, where Rusty spoke about Angola during the evening class-time at the church of Christ there. We spent the night in a member's home just over the state line in Kiowa, KS.

On Thursday, we had a long drive from south-central Kansas to Colorado Springs. It is beautiful here, and the weather is amazing! We have spent the last several days here, meeting with our team, and visiting our teammate Nathan's supporting church. We have had several productive "meeting" days, but we wanted to include some fun, recreational time, so tomorrow, we are headed to Rocky Mountain National park for a couple of days of camping. Then, across the mountains and westward we go!

We will be in the Northwest for a couple of weeks at the end of August, then in Montana for about a week, and we may spend a little more time in the Oklahoma City area before heading back to Nashville. We are calling this our "Partnership Tour" because we are trying to drum up the remainder of our support for our work in Angola. If we will be coming to your area, and you would like for us to visit your church, please contact us at rustyandlaura AT gmail DOT com (or just leave a comment). We would love to share about the amazing things God is already doing in Angola and how we hope to join in that work very soon!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Goodbye, Michigan

Nearly eight months after we first arrived in Michigan, the time has come to say goodbye. When we first arrived, on Thanksgiving day last November, we had no idea how long we would be staying. Our lives were in flux; so much depended on when we would find an overseeing church. As the weeks stretched into months, sometimes the wait seemed interminable. Now, looking back, eight months really doesn't seem that long at all, and in many ways, it has just flown by. We are headed now to Nashville to be with our supporting church for a few months before we go off to Portugal for some intensive language study.

So, thank you, Michigan, for allowing us to be residents of your fine state for the past few months. We have enjoyed your winter snows, your gorgeous spring days, and we are loving your mild summer weather. We think your DMV should give lessons on efficiency to the other 49 states in the union. And we now think we finally understand the "Michigan left."

Thank you to all the churches in the Detroit area who invited us to come and do our Angola presentation. A special thank you to all those who contributed to our one-time expense fund. We know that the ecomony is especially dismal in Michigan these days, and so we are touched by your generosity, even as many of you face hard times.

Thank you to our Livonia church family, for welcoming us to your midst with open arms. Thank you for praying for us and encouraging us and inviting us to your home groups and being interested in our dreams for Angola. Thank you for allowing us to participate in as many church activities as our time and travel schedule allowed. A special thank you to all of Alex' amazing teachers -- he loved to go to Bible Class! And to Beth and Shannon for all the playdates -- it meant so much to Alex to have some social interaction. To those of you who have recently expressed a desire to be regular monthly contributors to our work -- thank you! Each pledge takes us closer to our goal and closer to Angola.

Thank you to "Dr. Kelly" and her staff for taking such good care of me during my pregnancy. Thank you for your willingness to accommodate my wishes for a natural birth and for assuaging my fears that my second labor would last as long as my first! Thank you for knowing when to tell me to rest and take it easy. I am only sorry that you weren't the one to deliver Stephen since everything happened so fast! Thank you to the nurses and the staff at the Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield for an incredible natural hospital birth. (I wish I could have all my future children at this luxurious hospital.)

Finally, to my parents... there really are no words to express our gratefulness for all the ways you have blessed our lives these past months. Thank you for allowing us to call your home our home for an indefinite length of time. It has been such a place of peace for us, a true haven while everything else in life has been in limbo. Thank you for continuing to allow us to use your basement as a second storage unit for the next several weeks. Thank you for putting up with our messes, with a pregnant woman, with a new baby, and with a (sometimes) cranky and defiant 3-year old. Thank you for all the delicious food and good conversations. Thank you for the free baby-sitting while Rusty and I went to our Bradley classes or just enjoyed a night out. Thank you for all the trips to Greenfield Village and the zoo, and for all the special memories you made with Alex. Thank you for sharing in several special events for our family over the past few months -- birthdays, our 10th anniversary, Rusty's HUGSR graduation. Thank you, most of all, for your prayers and encouragement as we waited on God's timing.

I can think of no place I would rather have been for the past eight months, than right where God put us -- in Livonia, MI. Although I am eager to move on, to be one step closer to permanency, I will always treasure the memories of these past months, and the extended time we were able to spend with my parents.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


...we managed to get a halfway decent picture of the four of us. It will do until we can get to a studio for a professional portrait, probably sometime this fall. This was taken last Sunday. We are wearing our matching Angolan outfits. A seamstress in Angola made Rusty's shirt for him while we were there last summer. She had some fabric left over, so she gave it to me, and I made a wrap skirt for myself -- you can barely see it in the picture. The shirts the boys are wearing, I made with some of the leftover scraps of fabric. (Thanks to my crafty teammate, Teague, for the idea!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Life at Three Months

Stephen was three months old on July 6th. He is continuing to gain weight and develop fat rolls, and is now wearing 3-6 month size clothes. Thumb-sucking is definitely his thing; he is very good at self-soothing with it. He is sleeping on a more regular schedule now -- short morning nap, long afternoon nap, and usually 10-11 hours at night, waking up just once for a feeding. I'm not sure how long his good sleep patterns will last with all of the traveling we are going to be doing the next couple of months, so I am trying to enjoy it while it lasts. When he is awake, he smiles and coos and bats at the toys on the arches of his playmat. He is such a good baby that I think he may be in danger of being ignored because he is just so content all the time!

With the warm summer weather, we have been taking Stephen outside more. He likes to lay on a blanket on the grass and watch the trees and the sky, or sit in his bouncy seat and watch Alex play in the yard. If we go on walks, he usually rides in the sling. Speaking of my hotsling, I love it! Stephen enjoys it, too, and every time we are out and about in it, I always get lots of comments on it. When I wore him in it at the zoo, I started to feel like we were one of the exhibits because of all the people (mostly children) who were pointing and staring. One lady even asked if she could take my picture!

Stephen can also sit up as long as he is well-supported, so he has been able to start joining in story-time with Alex, which is fun. The two of them are so precious together. Alex will sing to Stephen or "help" him play with the toys on his playmat, and Stephen just watches him so intently and sometimes breaks out into the biggest grin. I'm looking forward to watching their relationship develop over the months and years to come.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Our Growing Team

Nathan Holland, the Reeses, Jordan Yarbrough, the Campbells, the Meyers

This is our most recent team photo, taken at last month's team meeting in Little Rock. Since our last team photo, taken in June, 2008, we have added two children, with two more on the way (the Meyers are in the process of adopting siblings from Ethiopia).

We always enjoy spending time with our teammates. We have continued trying to meet monthly, although that has become a bit more challenging now that we are all much more spread out geographically. Despite the long drive (our meetings have been in Little Rock the last few times), we look forward to our time together. And, just in case you were wondering what it is that we do at these meetings, here is a list of the items on last month's agenda:
  • personal / family updates, fundraising progress
  • discussion on the possibility of our team getting some formal training in rational thinking and decision making
  • recap and process some of the strategy discussion begun at May's meeting
  • discussion on homeschooling options
  • discussion on a team coach / mentor
  • discussion on team roles
  • timeline (scheduling, future meetings, moving to Portugal, etc.)
  • continuation of our doctrine discussion begun at a previous meeting
There was time for fun as well. We had a cookout at the park one evening and the guys played a round of disc golf. We played games one night. And we had lots of yummy food -- there are several good cooks on this team, and we all like to eat!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Torch Lake

I'm finally getting around to posting some pictures of our family vacation to Torch Lake. Sadly, I don't have as many pictures as I should, because, after we had been there for over a week, Rusty accidentally reformatted the card in the digital camera. (And just in case you didn't know, when you do that, you permanently erase all data on the card.) So the pictures below were taken in our last three days there, as we tried to think of and recreate all the photo ops.

Aside from the camera catastrophe, we really had a wonderful time at the lake. We are so thankful to our friends Bob and Teri for allowing us to spend almost two weeks at their little lakeside cabin. It was a time of rest and relaxation, reconnecting and refocusing. The weather was mostly cool, but we had a few gorgeous days of warm sunshine toward the end of our stay. Rusty and Alex went fishing and kayaking several times. They tried to go swimming once, but the water was still pretty cold, so Alex didn't even last five minutes before he was ready to get out. After that, he was content to just sit on the beach and throw rocks in the water or dangle his feet off the end of the dock. We had a fire in the firepit two different nights and roasted marshmallows and made s'mores while enjoying the stunning sunsets.

We had some rainy, windy days too. On those days, we stayed indoors and played games, read, watched movies, or scrapbooked. We taught Alex how to play Uno Jr., Yahtzee Jr., and Candyland. He is really enjoying games right now, and (so far) is a very good sport, not seeming to care whether he wins or loses. Rusty and I watched the entire first season of "24" in the time we were there, and we both made good progress on our scrapbooks. Rusty and Alex slept up in the loft two different nights, which Alex thought was great fun. (I'm not sure Rusty slept that well, though!) We had lots of yummy food, including some of our favorite ethnic dishes (Thai curry, Japanese curry, okunomiyaki, and temakizushi). Alex helped me make pizza one night, and we made chocolate chip cookies for Daddy. I tried a new recipe for cinnamon rolls which was awesome!

We also went on a couple of "outings." One day, we drove up to the town of Charlevoix and found a nice beach with a playground where we had a picnic lunch. Another day, we went into Central Lake for an antique car show. But mostly, we just stayed around the cabin and enjoyed being together and God's beautiful creation. It was exactly what we needed before facing the next several months, which promise to be very very busy!

Our little fisherman with his catch


Sweet Stephen

A beautiful sunset

Snuggly baby

Giraffe tongue!

Just kickin' it

Row, row, row your boat...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Brother the Blogger

So, my brother is blogging now. He has been at it for about three months now, and his posts are a delightful blend of updates on his personal life and deeper ponderings, all well-written with a dash of sarcastic humor thrown in every so often. I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, but after reading some of Matt's writings, I am having a feeling that he may beat me to it! His latest post very nearly brought tears to my eyes and is a wonderful tribute to my parent's marriage, which has stood the test of time for 37 years now.

If you have a few minutes, head on over to "(to be announced)" and check it out.

June 2009 Newsletter

Our most recent newsletter is now available for viewing. Click here to download.

(If you would like to receive our newsletters via email, please send a message to rustyandlaura AT gmail DOT com. We would be happy to add you to our mailing list.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Life at Two Months

Stephen turned two months old on June 6th while we were up at Torch Lake. Our itty bitty baby isn't so itty bitty anymore. At his two-month check-up, he weighed in at over 13 pounds! By comparison, Eliana Reese (our teammates' baby), who is 7 months older, weighs 16. I think he might pass her up before she has her first birthday! Every time I take him in, the doctor comments on how well he is growing and how solid he is. This time, he asked me, "How do you hold this kid? He is heavy!" I guess toting him around all day will help with losing the baby weight, which, sadly, is not coming off as quickly this time as it did the first!

During his second month, Stephen started smiling (relationally, not just gas). Rusty is especially good at getting him to break out in a big grin. He also discovered his hands, and seems to have a special fondness for the thumb on his left hand. Maybe he will be a thumb sucker. (Alex never was.) I have had to start bathing him in the big bathtub since he is too big now for the kitchen sink (thanks to my sister for leaving me her awesome baby bath chair). He loves baths, just like Alex did. He also enjoys sitting in his bouncy chair (a recent yard sale purchase), and being outside on a blanket under the trees. He can hold his head up really well now, and is already starting to push up with his feet on my lap.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wonderful News!

Rusty, the boys, and I have just returned from enjoying some family time at Torch Lake in northern Michigan. We got back to Detroit late last night... and we will be leaving again on Wednesday to travel to Little Rock for another team meeting. So, the pictures will have to wait for another time. But I did want to share some wonderful news that we received recently regarding our search for a sponsoring congregation.

The Hillsboro church of Christ in Nashville, TN has agreed to assume oversight of our family and our minstry in Angola -- for at least the next five years. They will be providing half of our salary, as well as supporting us emotionally and spiritually, and serving as our "home base" here in the United States. We feel very blessed to have them as partners in our work.

Our search for a sponsoring congregation is over, but the real work of fundraising is really just beginning. We still have to raise half of our salary, as well as our work fund and our one-time moving expenses. There are many things that still have to come together before we will be in Angola. This is, however, a major step in the process... and somehow, having a sponsoring congregation makes our plans for Angola seem like much more of a reality, not just a dream anymore.

Will you join us in praising God for Hillsboro and for their commitment to us and to our vision?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Aunt Julie's Visit

Aunt Julie and the cousins stayed on for a visit after Uncle Matt's graduation. We drove up to Detroit from Abilene, dropping Rusty off in Dallas along the way for his conference. The drive took us three days, and with five kiddos, a nursing baby and a potty-trainer among them, and me being sick with some sort of stomach bug, let's just say we were all very glad to finally get to Livonia. Julie and I did enjoy some good conversations in the car on the way up, though!

We had a great time and really enjoyed their visit, although it did get loud and crazy on occasion! Major highlights included a trip to Greenfield Village, and a day at the zoo. The kids also enjoyed playing outside, swimming, and watching TV together. Alex loved having his cousins around to play with, and was very sad to see them go.

Enjoy the slide show of our time together!

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The next stop on our journey was Abilene, TX, to see my brother Matt graduate from ACU. We also enjoyed reconnecting with our old friends, Steve and Wendy (from our days as AET's in Japan). It was such a delight to see how their family has grown since the last time we saw them. The kids had a good time playing together. (Sadly, though, we took no pictures of our time with Steve and Wendy.)

My sister and her three girls were able to travel to the States from Bolivia for Matt's graduation, and then spent a little over a week with us in Detroit before they went back. Here are a few pictures of our time in Abilene:

The Stephens family (plus two grandkids)

The lovely lady in the black dress is Janille, my brother's girlfriend. It was a real treat to (finally) meet her while we were there.

We were in Abilene over a Sunday, which happened to be Mother's Day. Since Julie and I now have 5 kids ages 4 and under between us, we decided to forego going to a nice restaurant (which can be torturous when you have young children) and just got a bucket of chicken and went to a local park. The kids had a great time, and the adults were able to squeeze in some good conversation while they were playing.

My mom with all her kids and grandkids on Mother's Day

"Dude... they tell me we're related." Stephen and Uncle Matt getting to know each other

Uncle Matt is super fun!

More pictures of our time with Aunt Julie and the cousins to follow. I am working on a slide show and should have that up in a couple of days.