Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ensign Autism Article

If you watched General Conference this last October, there were at least two different times a talk touched on autism. I'm grateful for this. Just as I'm grateful for this article in the January Ensign:

  Embracing Ethan

I'm so grateful for the inspired leaders of the church who address current issues. Because when we first got Race's diagnosis, I felt very alone. Alone in many aspects, though there were open arms everywhere; in the community, at school, and at church. Yet, I still felt very much alone because the burden and responsibilities for John and I were so great. And we were just two simple people with nothing extraordinary about us.

As a parent, what is the thing you want most for your kids? Success and happiness. At least for me, it is to raise responsible, capable adults who will contribute to society in a positive way, and be happy. This in itself is enough to keep parents constantly on their toes, guiding their children along. Parenting is hard. It is stressful. I hate watching them make bad choices as they find their way, despite all the Love and Logic books I read. So to add a disability on top of that, and not just any disability, but autism.The invisible disability (invisible because you can't see it). The disability that doesn't look limiting in the least, but instead plain old looks like a big behavior problem with no clue how to act in public.


I am so grateful for how much more awareness there is now, even compared to two years ago. I am grateful for Primary teachers and Scout leaders and Tae Kwon Do instructors and therapists who adapt their teachings to help Race learn and grow. I'm grateful for the friends Race has who have his back, even in a melt down. I'm so grateful for a red-headed little cowboy who is naturally sensitive to his brother's way of thinking, even when they're fighting. And of course for John. Because most of the time, he is more patient with our trials than I am. And he keeps me looking at the bigger picture, with a more eternal perspective when I start getting too narrow-minded.

And I am so grateful for Race. Because he teaches all of us, every single day.

I am so grateful.

I know Heavenly Father has a plan. And He loves all His children, and He will help us when we ask.  And I am grateful for the guidance and comfort He gives me when the loneliness settles in, time and time again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Christmas Card

spirit of
the beauty of
and the blessings of
be your gifts this
Christmas Season.

The Armstrong Family

HIS Twilight Cup

For the Hubby's birthday, I took him to see The Hobbit with Adriane and Justin.

We loved it of course.

So when we got there, I went to save seats and left John to grab the snacks. And this is what the kid a the snack bar gave John his drink in:

And I have to laugh. And I'm still laughing, because if you know my husband, you know he's not the biggest Twilight Fan. And it all stems back from when I tried to explain the first fabulous book to him years ago:

"This girl Bella, she's in love with this guy. But he's a vampire, so he can't get to close to her, even though he's madly in love with her too. But he can't get too close to her because he wants to suck her blood... but really, its soooo good."

So, yes, he's not a Twilight Fan. And in fact, he enjoys mocking the movies. Well, I guess we both do, but for me its just because the movies aren't nearly as good as the books, right?

So the kid at the snack counter hands John this cup.

"Dude. Really?"

"I'm sorry sir, what's that?" the Harkins Kid asks.

"Nothing, its just... nothing." John says, picking up the snacks to leave.

"Oh, is it the cup? Yeah, sorry about that, man. You don't really look like a fan, it's just my manager's making us hand the rest of these out."

"Oh, well, at least I don't look like a fan."

"Well, now you do I guess, since you're holding that cup."

No response. Just a super-sarcastic smile to the Harkins Kid.

Because for the record, he is NOT a fan. Even though he got this very cool birthday cup. :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Tale of Teeth...

It had been aching for a couple weeks. But you know how it goes with getting in to see a dentist when you really need to. And, the tooth had already been worked on twice before. First a filling, then a cap, and now? Again? The same tooth?

So, we said lots of prayers for the poor Cowboy. Because he was really trying to endure this constant aching. But it was starting to wear on his little emotions.

And then, one Saturday afternoon, our prayers were answered...

All three of the boys were outside playing on the grass. Then I hear the crying start, and Witten comes running in with a bloody mouth. And wouldn't you know, his bottom two teeth that had been loose for months are dangling by threads. Both of them.

"Yay! They're finally coming out! Both on the same day! I better call the Tooth Fairy and give her a heads up!" I say, trying to calm him down as we head to the bathroom.

"No. They're not coming out. They're not ready." Witt says through the blood and tears.

"Witt, they're barely hanging there. Look."

His sad little eyes move to the mirror where he examines his mouth from many angles.

Then the sad little expression changes to a determined one. And I think he's decided to pull out those little dangling teeth. But then he says, "They're not ready. They're not coming out."

And this is where Witt and I hit heads every time we don't see things the same way. Because I have never met a more stubborn kid in all my life. And if you ask my mom, she'd say the same thing about me. (Which, off topic, I will argue that stubbornness is not a bad quality. I like to look at it as one of my strengths. And for Witten too, when we both turn it in the right direction...)


Both of us.

I hunch over a little so we're looking at each other's stubborn expressions in the mirror. "What do you mean they're not ready. Look at them."

"They're not ready."

He spent the afternoon going about his business, and I went about mine. He even went over to a friends house for a few hours with dangling teeth. And he came home with dangling teeth. He was determined those teeth were not coming out.

When dinner rolled around, he asked for soup. So I sit him down with a steamy bowl of chicken noodle soup and see those two dangling teeth just hanging there. Both of them.

After a few moments I look back at him from across the table, and...there is only one dangling tooth. And he didn't have a clue. He just sat there eating his soup. I glance in his bowl, around the table before I finally say, "You want to know something, Cowboy?

"What?" he asks, taking another sip of soup.

"How's that back tooth feeling today?"

"Doesn't hurt."

"That's great! Probably because these other teeth hurt a little more right now, hu?"


"I bet you don't feel a thing when you decide to pull them."

"They're not ready."

"Hmm. You sure about that?"

"Yeah," he says with that stubborn look.

"Why don't you go look in the mirror again," I say with a smile.

He closes his mouth and I can see him working his tongue down around the front of his mouth, then his eyes get all big and he starts looking in his soup, then in his lap and on the floor. He gets up off the floor, eyes wide, and says, "I think I swallowed one of them."

"I think you did too."

He runs to the bathroom to look in the mirror.

One little dangling tooth.

And his eyes start to water, but he doesn't want to cry. "Does the tooth fairy still come if you swallowed your tooth?"


"Okay." His eyes stop watering and he stands a little straighter in the mirror. "Good. Because this one," he looks at me and that stubborn look returns. "This one isn't ready!"


Needless to say, in a few hours the tooth was literally picked up out of its little place in his mouth. Not even pulled. Picked up.

And for the whole weekend, Witten's back tooth didn't hurt (And he ended up getting it one pulled on Tuesday).

And he thinks the Tooth Fairy is pretty awesome. Because did you know that she comes even if the tooth is pulled pulled by a little boy, or a dentist, or even if the tooth is swallowed?

She still comes! And she's got some awesome Jedi Force!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dead Horse

Bet you thought you were going to see a big picture of a big dead horse didn't you!!

Well, FYI, there's a state park in the Verde called Dead Horse Ranch State Park. And our dear friend Jo has a year round pass there. It is a BEAUTIFUL place. And for those of you who think the Verde Valley is not so pretty, take a hike in Dead Horse some time. It is amazing. An oasis within our little desert.

The day after Thanksgiving, 2012 with Jo.

The boys loved this tree. They called it their "lost boys hide-a-way." The roots were unbelievable.

Witt is always right at home when we're hiking. We hiked about three miles altogether, and he wanted to keep going. He even talked us into going down some perilous paths where we found the five of us crawling on all fours through some thick brush...even Jo. After that, I fired him from being the trail boss. Not that that mattered. He still led the way with great enthusiasm.

Jo, I'm so glad you made it out without injuries.

Lane liked the playground best. It was the only part of the day I didn't hear, "I'm tired, Mommy. I need another drink, Mommy. Carry me, Mommy. There's dirt under my fingernails, Mommy. There's mud on my spiderman shoes, Mommy."...etc.

Race was putting his scouting knowledge to good use on the hike:
"When you're hiking, it's important to always stay on the trail. It's also important to never hike alone, and always stay with the group. You should wear plenty of sunscreen, even in November."...etc. He was getting pretty frustrated with his red-headed brother who was breaking most of his hiking rules.

We can't wait for our next outing, Jo. Thank you so much!

The Wildlife World Zoo

We went on a little field trip down to the Wildlife World Zoo. If you ask me, I like this one much more than the Phoenix Zoo. Not so crowded and awesome aquariums. :)

They all loved the aquariums. But Lane was the only one brave enough to touch the sting-rays.

Of course, Race loved the birds.

Lane loved the reptiles. He was bummed there were no dinosaurs.

And Witt loved all the mechanical stuff. The trains, ski lift thingy, and the cool wooden boardwalks. He's such an engineer.

 It was a super awesome, educational day.

Board Breaking

Race went to his first Black Belt Club Board Breaking and LOVED it! He did so well and surprised everyone by breaking the thickest board in his stack with a side-kick! He's such a great little ninja. :) He can't wait to do it again.

Race and Mrs. Conover.

I've said it a million times and I'll say it again. We are so grateful for KC's Family Tae Kwon Do and the amazing things they are helping Race with. It hardly seems possible that we have such a fantastic studio with amazing teachers right here in Camp Verde. These people have become a huge support to our family.

If you live in the Verde Valley, stop by and check out the great program they run.


Race loves Cub Scouts. And now that he's earned his Wolf, he's been obsessed with earning as many beltloops as he can before he turns nine and gets to start his Bear. :)

Race and his buddy Easton.

This little scout has big plans, and sometimes his plans completely exhaust Mom, but I'm just glad he's loving it.

I'm grateful for the scouting program. I'm grateful for the values it teaches young boys. And I think in today's world, those values are diminishing. So, I'm grateful for my little scout who holds open the door for ladies, and takes his hat off durning the Pledge and National Anthem.

I am so grateful.

HP Party, Year Three

We held our third annual Harry Potter Party this year. We kept it small, but it was still so much fun! And we did it in November instead of October, which turned out awesome because it was less stress, plus Halloween stuff was on clearance.

Classes were held and we are pleased to say that every student passed their third year and will be moving on to year four next November. Classes held this year were: Wand Making at Olivander's, Herbology, Beginners Potions, Advanced Potions, and Broomstick Flying.

Thanks to our little friends who came, and thanks to Andrea for all the preparations involved. All I did was supply Hogwarts.

Until next year!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Look who just got glasses...
Isn't he handsome?

Apparently he inherited his mother's blindness. I'm just glad he's so positive about it. He said, "Finally! I look like a real scientist now!"

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I don't know if I will ever catch up on my blog. I really hate cramming tons of topics into one post. It goes against my style. :) But, here I go:

We started the month off in all it's awesomeness when my sista' and Nanna came up with all the cousins to visit the Castle. Tons of fun.

I turned 32. And let me just say, as a proud mama, that my boys made this cake by themselves. The only thing I did was get the cake in and out of the oven for them. They did everything else, including topping it with fudge and teddy bear sprinkles. :)

Lane painted the car green. Or tried to anyway (don't get me started). So we spent a Family Home Evening scrubbing the car... I'll leave it at that.

We had a yard sale. And Witten was the best little salesman I've ever met. I swear we made more money off his cuteness and rock dancing than the junk I was getting rid of.

October is Disability Awareness Month. So I ran Witten's school's Hop-a-Thon again this year, where the kids raised money and hopped for Muscular Dystrophy.

Race is taking taking some on-line classes from Connections Academy so we can get extra speech and language support. So we went to their Fall Festival down in the Valley where he met some of the kids in his classes.

We spent a Saturday with Nanna and Papa and got lost in the Mortimer Farms Corn Maze. (I'm not kidding, we really did get lost.)

Race wanted to see New Mexico for Fall Break. So, one of the great things about home-schooling is fall break can last a few days longer if there's important things to do like visit New Mexico. So, after a super busy break, we went up to Springerville to spend a few days with the fabulous Auntie Adriane. Witten had school, and I was all for him missing and having an extended fall break, but the responsible little six year old chose to stay home with Dad so he wouldn't miss any school. Can you believe that kiddo?? I must be doing something right... Anyway, it worked out well because Daddy would have been super lonely home alone.

Adriane took us to Sipe Ranch. It was so great!

Race checking out the fire damage on Escadilla. I love this picture.

Race is all about state facts and information, and he plans to visit all 50 states. So here's one more checked off the list!

Lane was very fascinated with nature's toilet paper... Mullein.

I miss the White Mountains so much. There is feeling, a familiarity with the mountains that's not like any place else. Many native Arizonans refer to the White Mountain's as God's Country. And I'd have to agree. There's a vast solitude about the mountains that is absolutely amazing. I miss it. I miss those quiet drives with my Daddy up to the lake, or out to chop wood. I think no matter where I go in my life, the White Mountains will always be home.

Big Lake. Just as beautiful and peaceful as alway.

The boys and I moved up a belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Witten just drank a big cup of cool-aide can you tell?

Race earned his Wolf in Cub Scouts!! He's such a fantastic little scout.

And of course, Halloween. We kept it simple this year. Reused old costumes, went trick-or-treating with our dear friends. And it was just awesome.

Octoberness = gratitude for the priceless memories in the month of October.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Link, the Naked Rock Thrower

On September 1st, Lane turned three.

I can't believe it.

My baby is three.

He had a Zelda birthday; a Link hat and a sky sword.

And a Triforce cake.

It was the perfect day for my Lil' Man.

I'm so grateful for Lane. He adds so much life to our little family. His vocabulary amazes me and he always keeps me on my toes. And I save his life every day. No kidding.

...Which by the way brings me to another point. Why is it "terrible two's???"  For me, three has always been the harder age. Feedback on this please, people.
So Lane, I thought about whether or not to post this on the blog, but the idea of blackmaling you as a teenager won over. So here you go Future Lil' Man:

This last Friday I was helping Race finish up some of his school work. And from Race's desk, I have a clear view of the front of the house and the road. Well, I see one of my neighbor's drive up the road and she slows way down when she gets close to our place. Her car pauses for a bit like she's waiting for something, and she's got this hysterical laughing face.

My confused thought: "Are the chickens out in the road again?"

But then, my thought changes instantly when I hear Lane's tough voice (as deep and loud as a three year old can possibly get), "I'll get you, you bad guy!" coming out from the road.

I quickly go to the window, mad at myself that I didn't check on him sooner. And what do I see??? 

A bare-butt naked Lane standing in the road with both his arms raised to throw something.  And what was he getting ready to throw at my neighbor's red Lexis? Two large (well they looked large in his bity little hands) rocks.

My son was throwing rocks at my neighbor's car.

In the nude.

Thank goodness for good neighbors who get their kicks out of watching what goes on at our house.

So after chasing down the naked super hero and sending him to time-out with some clothes on, I called my neighbor up in my frantic, embarassed state:

Me: "So, Marilyn...sorry about the show out there."

Her: Laughing

Me: I hope he didn't hit your car with a rock. Did he?"

Her: Laughing harder, trying to say no.

Me: "Okay, well I'm guessing everything's alright then?"

Her: More laughing. "Oh Teddy." More laughing. "Bless you."

Me: "What's that?"

Her: Laughing still. "Bless you raising all those boys.
And expecially on days like this particular day, I'll take all the blessings I can get.


I love you Lil' Man.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Museum of Natural History

Every summer we hang out at my sista's place for a week and take full advantage of the Valley. Then we head back to our cozy little home in the country after we've had our fill of the city. This year we did Sunsplash and the Museum of Natural History.

No pictures at Sunsplash because... it's Sunsplash. I wish so much I had a camera though, because Race and Witt's fearlessness really came out. Witt wasn't tall enough for a few of the slides, but his cuteness and boldness won the hearts of many-a-lifeguard. He went down every slide there. No kidding.

The boys loved the Museum of Natural History. And Race and Witt could have stayed all day if we weren't trying to control our own little T-Rex named Lane:

Race loved panning for gold and all the Arizona history.

Witten could have done puzzles all day. The scorpion was his favorite.

And Lane loved being among fellow dinosaurs.

It was a fabulous day.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Turning Down the Noise

 All of our boys love trains. And I think it all stems back to Race's obsession with Thomas when he was younger. So, whenever we go to Flagstaff, we visit the train depot. It's turned into a tradition.

And I honestly have no idea how Race tolerates it. Because one of the major things that puts Race into sensory overload is noise. And as he's getting older, he's starting to recognize this and we're getting to talk about it. And we've developed strategies for him to ground himself when he starts to feel "out of his body," as we call it.

For me, this picture means more than just "Race sitting by the train tracks watching the trains." I took it last February when things were kind of spiraling and not going well for us at school. And in so many ways, this is what life was like for Race, day after day. Life was loud.

There were times last spring when I'd sneak into his room to make sure he was under all his blankets and he'd be awake at 11:00 still. One of these times, we had this conversation:

"Race, why aren't you asleep? You have school tomorrow and you're going to be tired."

"I know, Mom. I'm just waiting for the noise to go away."

"What noise, Race? Everybody's asleep."

"Just the noise. It makes my brain hurt."

After snapping this picture and filing it on my computer, I've returned to it again and again as I sent him off to school. I'd find myself thinking, "How would I feel if I had to listen to a train rushing by me ten feet away, constantly?"

We needed a way to turn down the noise in his life.

We are homeschooling now. Which by the way is a very controversial topic. You should see some of the looks I get when I tell people, "I'm homeschooling my autistic son." Not that I care about the looks. I actually find them amusing. And five years ago, I probably would have been the one handing out the looks. It's funny how life is always teaching you lessons isn't it?

Because I will stand here and tell you today, I believe in a free public education. I do. I watched my parents as teachers impact the lives of hundreds of kids for better. And I too have felt the impact of good teachers in my life, and strived to be that teacher myself when I was teaching. I am grateful for American Public Education, no matter how messed up it seems to be getting.

And I also believe in fighting the fight for my kid. To make sure he's getting the services he needs to succeed. I have no problem fighting the fight, no matter how exhausting it gets.

But what I've learned this last year, that sometimes, no matter how hard you fight, no matter how hard he and I both try, sometimes its not enough. Because my idea of Race's success and someone else's idea of his success are two very different things.

Homeschooling has been the best thing in the world for Race. He is such a bright and in many ways, gifted boy. He loves learning, he thrives on information. So now he submerges himself in information without the social stresses that were getting to be too much.

And he is soaring. I won't lie, it hasn't been easy. And sometimes, by the end of the day, we've had it with each other. But...

The noise in his brain isn't constant anymore.

He is happy. He is more confident and is learning to understand himself for who he is.

Because more than ANYTHING else, I want him to love himself.

And in order for him to do this, I finally realized, we had to turn down the noise.

Race wants to be a cartographer when he grows up. Can you see why?

Race's room.

The boys found this awesome rhino-beetle outside and has been such a fun little pet. 

Race loves science. Here, he's wrapping one plant's leaves in tin-foil and leaving the other alone, watering each the same and keeping all other variables the same. It is amazing how much plants rely on the sunlight to thrive. Just like people I guess... we all need sunshine in our lives to thrive don't we?

We studied shadows for one of our art and science lessons. So, here's Race capturing the shadows in a painting.

One of my favorite pictures: