Thursday, February 25, 2010

Home is a Place where We Gather Together

Our gathering place in Stockholm, around the kitchen counter

gathering a crowd in our South Africa home for a rip-roaring "American Halloween" celebration

celebrating my Mom's birthday just after we moved in to the Spruces; with extra (special!) guests from Idaho in attendance

Christmas with our family in Utah; beatles rockband in front of the basement TV was a hit

Madi's birthday gathering at our Northwood home

When we left Utah for Graduate School (before digital images for me to post to this blog) we were going into the great unknown. It was a defining time for our family in many different ways. We left the nest, our parents and siblings staying behind in the valley of the west. We were strangers in a new place, a huge metropolis. Little fish in a very big pond.

We jumped in. John was very involved in his studies and enjoyed his classmates. I invited other spouses into our home and into our lives. We gathered people together in our dingy student apartment. And as we brought people in those old walls and tiled floors became home.

And the pattern began. A new city, a new home, and new friends to gather near us. "Is anyone coming for dinner?" has become a "FAQ" in our family. One Christmas eve we were the only English speaking family in attendance (that was our first time in Dallas). We introduced Halloween to a huge group of friends when we lived in RSA. And Christmas night anyplace but Utah is one of the best nights for a gathering-after presents are opened and others are wishing for family to be with, we play surrogate with soup, bread, and boardgames. Our largest gathering was a wedding luncheon hosted for baby sister Jenny. Smallest party? probably the nights when full time missionaries or moms of other traveling husbands come to sit at table and share a meal.

And we love it. Having people in makes our house feel like home. Joining with others to celebrate anything from a birthday, to a holiday, to a day off of work. It has become part of who we are; gatherers. And home is the best place we can think of to gather others to us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What it Means to Be a Graham Comes from Home

personal propaganda;my reminder that "happy" is what I want to be

family snapshots and some of our G collection

The Dining room wall; subtle reminders that home is a place of safety and peace, and a place where we will calmly perservere

Past family themes grace our walls, the artistic expression of what home means to me, and one of my favorite photographs of me adoring John

The start of the family G collection, and one of the first expressions of family propoganda

I fondly remember wallpaper in the kitchen of the home I grew up in. Aspen trees on a white background. I cannot look at Aspens without thinking of home. And when I drive up the canyons near the Spruces or see a grove of Aspens wherever we've been in the world I have felt like home was near to me.

That's because the things we see in the place where we live helps define who we are. Our identity is molded-subtly and dramatically-by what we experience as we grow up.

I have long felt that what our children see as well as feel while they are home with me would largely define who they would become. A feeling long ago assured me that my responsibility was to safeguard the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of my children when they are within the walls of our abode. As the kids have grown I can see why this has been such a deep and abiding impression. We have among us an artist and a musician; one who remembers everything he sees and another who remembers everything she hears-the good, the bad and the ugly. What a tender reminder of the love their Heavenly Father has for them to be sure I knew I needed guard what was seen, heard and felt at home.

Thus, I am careful with our music. I am careful with our media. And I am most careful of the statements we make in the visual images surrounding our children at home.

I affectionately call it "family propoganda". It covers our walls and subtly speaks to the little (and big) hearts we nurture here. While we have owned many homes, and have used different messages at different times, some messages remain constant no matter the home; the messages about what it means to be a Graham...

-We believe in God, and we honor Him. We love and reverence His son, Jesus Christ, and will follow His example.
-We believe in and cling to the promise that if we depend on God first, and follow the teachings of Christ, we can be together forever, literally; and that promise is made and bound in the temple of our God.
-Our family is everything. No matter where we live, we have each other; and that matters most.
-We will stand up for our values; honesty, compassion, integrity, loyalty, virtue, knowledge, faith, and we will practice them in our daily lives.
-no matter how we got here, we are all meant to be together, as one family, forever.
-a rich heritage and an interesting legacy is ours; the experiences we've had in the places we've lived have shaped us for a purpose, and we will be grateful for them and reminiscent of them so we can use them moving forward.

all the sayings, the paintings, and the nick-knacks visually remind me and mine of these things. And I am not apologetic for filling my childrens' eyes and hearts with the identity I hope they will embrace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Home is a Place Where Others Come Before Self


Grahams and extended family gather to assemble hygiene kits for Haiti. The cost of supplies was great; so the Graham kids gave up pizza and movie rentals for the month to help. In this case, they'll receive a tangible reward. Vouchers for a day at Disney as part of Their "Give a Day Get a Day at Disney" service initiative this year.

When I was young I wondered how the family was supposed to serve me. I expected rides, privileges and opportunities to be mine just because I was part of my family. Entitlement was mine, and my world was very small because it really only revolved around me. As I grew I realized that all around me, in my family, people were serving me. My dad, bless his soul, got up early each morning to throw newspapers with us, though he never took part of the profit. My mom stayed up late on so many nights, typing reports or sewing or baking; whatever needed doing for our scholastic success. My little sisters were in tow whenever I was to be watched at a school event whether a volleyball game or a vocal concert. As the family served me and my eyes opened to their kindness, I softened. I started to give back, and I found joy-and myself-in the service. I become someone more that I had been when I only thought of myself.

Sometimes, even though I spend most of my time serving my family now I still wonder "what's in it for me". It is an embarrassing reality that I am innately selfish. I actually think we all are. One of the most ennobling things that can come about in our lives happens when we put others first. And when putting others before us becomes the natural inclination I believe we step closer to becoming like Christ.

Because He put others before Himself in every sense and on every occasion.

One of the best places to learn this habit is within our own homes. Though my children scream and rant when asked to do their chores, I stand by their need to work not so much because I need the work done (though I do) but because I know that their base inner self has to be molded to become noble. And taking out the garbage or cleaning a mess we didn't actually make? Those are the baby steps toward putting the needs of the many in front of the need (or want) of the one.

Being part of something bigger than you; that is to be part of a family. And when you do for the family first, and for yourself after that, you come to see in very minute fashion the possibility that joy can come when you "lose yourself" in serving others and "find yourself" in the very same act.

Monday, February 22, 2010

This Week: Thoughts on "home" by Me

Lucy at peace, in the busiest place of the house, she sleeps undisturbed for hours.

Molly feels safe in her room. Not on her bed, but on the tiny setee that is lovingly stored bedside in their basement abode.

Home is a place where you feel safe. A place where you know you are accepted and loved. Once I was given a quote that (paraphrasing) spoke about creating an environment in our homes where if Jesus Christ were to come to the door, He would chose "to linger and to stay". Of course, this has much to do with the hearts, actions and attitudes of the people who live in our home. But I really like the idea. That the creator of the Earth and the Savior of the world would want to "linger". To rest. To be safe. To stay.

That idea is so very lofty. And I know that I truly don't cut the mustard when it comes to providing the example of attitude necessary to uplift instead of berate. To encourage instead of critique. To be grateful instead of ask more. I know in those ways I fall short of creating a space where all who enter (especially those who BELONG here with me) will feel such comfort and safety that their great desire would be to linger more.

And yet, that is still what home means to me. And I will try harder today to create that for my children. To encourage that in my attitudes and actions. And to appreciate the moments when safety and peace in our home are achieved.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Her Day

A quiet ride, for me, from Provo as Bryn dives into her brand new read.

One of many phone calls Bryn received from Happy Birthday wishers!

Birthday cake, baked by Dad. Purple frosting made by mom. Happy Birthday singing in English and our traditional Swedish by children who adore their sister. Twelve Candles, count 'em. Twelve!

We drove the valleys of the Great Salt Lake in search of books stores worth noting. She carefully guarded the money given her for each stop-saving it up til at the last (and largest) bookshop where she let out the stops and picked up a few of the novels she's been eyeing for a while. We drove around the BYU campus as one of Bryn's current goals is to be a student there.

When I was twelve my current goals were to avoid babysitting for my parents and not have to take a turn dusting the lamps at my father's shop. Not Bryn. Get great grades. Be a great dancer. Graduate from BYU. Run her own bookstore. So, I figure, if that's the kind of girl she is the least I can do is let her skip school to check out the campus and do some "job spying" for her future career.

We met John at In-N-Out burger for lunch, we bought candy at the BYU candy counter, and we picked up cupcakes from the Sweet Tooth Fairy just because how often are you in Provo? I mean, if you don't live or study there?

Then it was home for dance class and dinner, and then off to her first Young Women's meeting. Cake, cupcakes and candles (with plenty of ice cream) waited for her at home. And her sisters and brothers waited to sing to her and celebrate.

She played it pretty cool, taking it all in stride. But I heard from her friends (and their parents) that she had a great that what I'm in for now that she's 12? Hearing from other mouths than hers when she's happy? oh boy, here we go.

Happy Birthday to Brynley. Now that the celebrating is behind us the work of loving a tweenage girl has begun :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

She is Twelve Today

photo courtesy of Logan at Sprout

Brynley turns 12 today. I will be kidnapping her from school at exactly 9.45 to take her on a tour of the local bookshops in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah Counties. This girl is determined to be a purveyor of books one day; this seems like the perfect opportunity to show my girl just what her dream is made of.

Arranging to be away from home for a day has taken me two days of begging and bargaining (swapping carpool days and twisting my mom's arm to come man the show at our house, not to mention my sister Amanda keeping the two little girls for the day!); thus no posts this week. So sorry. Look again tomorrow for celebration documentation concerning Brynley's 12th year, and in days to follow some more thoughts-from me-about being at Home.

Happy Birthday to my second born. My first daughter. My Brynley.

Friday, February 12, 2010

At Home in South Africa

Melissa's mantle, a showplace for family photos and the declaration of the center of their home; the teachings of Jesus Christ

I'm so happy to introduce you to my friend Melissa. When we lived in Johannesburg South Africa, Melissa came to visit me at least once a month in the home we lived in there. She would ask after me, and uplift me and encourage me as i homeschooled and mothered in a foreign land. She was a sister in every sense; lending a hand when needed, being a shoulder to cry on, and proving to be the best cheerleader any lonely American could ask for. I'm so happy to share Melissa with you-and hope you can feel of her incredible strength and profound wisdom through the ideas and thoughts she shares...

What does the concept of "Home" mean to you?

Our diningroom with books and books on the shelves, we are great readers, we also have all our family meals around the table, homework gets done, family board games and any other projects, my one is on the table, I am busy covering 33 books for the school that Talya and Paul attend, I.R.Griffith Primary School. Michael my eldest is in Higschool.

What does the concept of "Home" mean to you?
Home is a refuge, a place of learning, no fighting, being relaxed, happy, playing, hugging/cuddling and enjoying each others company, and spiritual upliftment. Warner serves as Stake President, so he is busy three nights a week and is away most Sundays and the occasional Saturday or weekend. Our family time is very precious and we guard our time together.

The late afternoon sun shining through, the sun is very bright in the afternoon and warm, we need to keep the bay window closed because it gets so hot, yesterday was one of the very few days we have had with all day sun, as it has rained so much, the past 3 weeks. I was very happy for the overdose of vitamin D.

How do you approach creating that concept of home for your children and family?
Being LDS makes the understanding of home very unique. We are required to work hard at our family. FHE, family council, activities, prayer, scripture reading together, Church attendance and any other meeting required to attend together, outside home activities, school. I personally do not have any siblings, and have limited contact with extended family, I don’t know my mother’s family well at all and my father’s family all live in Germany and those are the only ones I am in contact with and get to visit. I lost my father at the age of 17 years, so I have had to define my family for myself. Warner and I are converts and didn’t grow up with the gospel in our homes, so we are enjoying doing everything that is required of us, it is true privilege.

What is a favorite memory you have surrounding "Home" or "Being Home" or "Welcome Home"?

About 4 years ago, a year and a half after my husband was serving as Stake President, he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour. It was removed and it was a long recovery for my husband and for our family. I remember being outside with my husband as he was preparing a Dutch oven meal for us. I was overcome with emotion and so grateful for this lovely time we were spending in our own backyard as a family, I knew then I would have lost Warner if it wasn’t for the grace of Heavenly Father.

I have easy rules to follow in the home. Not everything is always tidy and always clean, but mostly it gets done. And if it doesn’t get done today it can be done tomorrow. Life is to short for our home is a home and not a hotel or show house.

What advice could you give another who desires to create an inviting home for themselves and those they love?
Believe that you can create an inviting home for yourself and for those you love. Be consistent and be stable for your family. Be flexible and have time to play. Invite the Saviour to teach you about patience and unconditional love. Trust your feelings and don’t let others outside of your home be critical of the way the home is run. Be kind to yourself and allow tomorrow to be there if today wasn’t enough. Keep your home organized and clean as the day dictates (remember sometimes life can throw you a side ball that you didn’t ask for). Enjoy it and decorate it the way you want to. Spend time with your husband and love him. Spend time with each child and love them individually. And most of all enjoy your home!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Home in Utah

Isn't this so fun learning from all these incredible women what it feels like to be "home"? Today meet my friend Tricia. We lived in the same "house" as newlyweds; John and I had the upstairs apartment and Lee and Tricia had the basement. Our oldest kids were born 7 weeks apart. Our husbands were fraternity brothers. Tricia and I go way back...I love the way Tricia orders her life. She puts her faith and her family first, her service to others next, and herself dead last. In all she does; family activities, home decorating, travel, anything, her thoughts are for how her actions will express love to her husband and children and how she will honor God. Here is what she thinks of when she thinks of the concept of "Home";

I grew up in the same house from birth to 13 then our second home till I was married. I grew up with the same friends and felt very secure in my neighborhood. So the ideal situation in my mind was buy a home and stay there forever to raise my kids. I am not adventurous and the thought a moving around a lot terrifies me. So when bought our first little home, I had no intentions of ever leaving. But two years later we ended up in Africa. I did not want to go but knew it was right. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. We came back to the same home and have added a bit to it to accommodate our growing family. We now have six kids. Ideally, I would still love to grow old in this house, in my neighborhood with all my friends and my children's friends. But I know that being with my family is what makes me home, so come what may and we will love it.

Here are some pictures of "Home". They are definitely not to showcase my decor.
This one is of Thanksgiving. I love my kitchen because it can fit a lot of people and we love to have family around. We pretty much have every family gathering at our house because we can all fit. Another picture is of our traditional Valentine's Dinner, Spaghetti on the Table. Having traditions that your kids look forward to are very important. It keeps your family close. It is nice when your kids prefer to do something as a family over something with their friends. I'm surprised sometimes at how much these traditions mean to my kids (ya know, if you accidentally forget to do something). This picture is of my kids sledding on the side of our home. We have a very big yard and I expect my kids to work and take care of it and to have fun in it. We did some major landscaping in our yard and I had this hill built for the purpose of sledding in the winter and Slip-n-sliding in the summer. The entire neighborhood has throughly enjoyed that hill. This is a picture of our family.

Our routine is made up of many things. Responsibilities, Jobs, nightly scripture study and prayer morning and night. Along with fun traditions. And I also believe that knowing I am always here, waiting for them to come home from school makes my kids know they are "Home" and gives them peace.

I can't choose a favorite story, but I have a story that made me really think about the concept of home. We were sent to So. Africa to live for a couple years for my husband's work. My kids were 6, 4 and 18 months and I was pregnant with our 4th. We loved our time there and made wonderful friendships that will last forever. But when it was time to return home, I was excited to be back in my own home, surrounded by family and those friends and neighbors that I loved. After being home in Utah for a few months, my third child, then almost 4, asked, "When are we going back home?" This question confused me, because we were home. He then started mentioning his friends in So.Africa and I realized that he was so young when we previously lived in this house that this move back, was not coming home for him, but leaving home. And when I think of the wonderful friends that I made there and wonder if I'll ever see some of them again, I get very home sick for that home as well.

Pondering on my time there, one piece of advice does pop in my head. When you are in a home, especially one you know is temporary, you need to treat it like it is permanent. Follow your routines, maintain and establish new traditions, and make lasting friendships with those around you. If you act temporary, you'll be treated temporary and there is nothing sadder or more lonely than not feeling apart of your community.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dear John for Valentines,

Tonight you will come home after I am sleeping. Your cold cheeks and lips will wake me with a start, and I will be glad you are home.

I am listening to the "hot pocket" bit from that one comedian. I giggle when he sings "Hot Pocket" or "Flush pocket"...thank you for introducing me to things that make me laugh. I've never been that good at finding laughter on my own-your ability to help me "turn frowns upside down" is one of the reasons I love you.

I went walking while you were gone. It isn't as nice as the walks we take together. I know you are proud of your podometer readings when we pedal around the 'hood. But I like to think you invite me to walk so we can hold hands and talk alone in the quiet evening.

I want to say "thank you" for being a great example to me and to our kids. Mason has noticed that most mornings when he wakes you are in your office studying scriptures or reading the words of prophets and apostles. I'm glad that he sees you humbly seek to become a disciple of Christ. As our kids become bigger I can see that my natural parenting style (tell them what to do) is less effective and your natural parenting style (show them what to do) is more. I feel deeply grateful for the inspiration and insight you felt and acted on when this new job fell into your lap. Who would have known that one year after you began this part of your career the greatest benefit of it is that our kids see what you do, and that your actions are consistent with your teachings. Brynley melts for you when she bristles to me. Mason wants you to be proud of him much more than he wants me to stop nagging. Madi-well she's Madi- and she wants both of us to notice and love her. Seeing you throw the football with Porter the other morning was one of the most heartwarming sights since we moved to the Spruces. With the home improvements (thank you so much) and the plans to paint and "katie-fy" the house the most "this is home" feeling I've had so far was the sight of all the kids running around the street with you right there in the middle, playing with them.

I'm so glad you are coming home again. I don't mind your travel-but truly I do miss you. I'm so glad we are in this together.

All my love,

Monday, February 08, 2010

Hemma hos Sissel

Hi, I'm Sissel from the island of Senja in northern Norway, but I have now lived more than half of my life in Stockholm together with my husband. I'm a fortyish passionate and amateur crafter with a love for colors (my favorite color is green just ask Katie), nature, paper, books, fabric, yarn, green forest, Nordic light, sea and round and smooth stones. I have as long as I can remember loved to knit and create with my hands.

Thanks, Katie, for inviting me to guest blog here on your inspiring blog! Katie introduced me to scrapbooking, and while she is really, extraordinary good at it (don't try to delete this, Katie!), I'm not, but I love "preserving" family memories by organizing photos. It's so, so fun! But this post is about home or creating a home, not scrapbooking.

We live in a typical Swedish house from the early seventies. The house doesn't have any originality. There are thousand of these houses here. But it has charm, a little yard at the front and at the back. When we first visited this house together with many other prospective buyers the fall of 2001, I went to the back yard, and after just a glance, I turned to my husband and said: I want to live here! (a "this is the place!" feeling). How happy we became when we won the bidding. The house has many flaws, but because of its imperfection, the house does not require a certain style or elegance of the interior. And that suits us perfectly in our lives right now, because it allows us to create a home that is more focused on being together than renovating and decorating.

I'm sitting at the front door just arrived home from work. My husband made the bench the summer after we moved in. You can't see it, but I've painted the text "vila ett tag" (=rest for a while) on it. That's what home is for me: sitting on a bench a summer afternoon resting after a day at work pondering about life (and what to cook for dinner).

So what does the concept of "Home" mean to me? Well, for me a home is more than a place, or one place, but a feeling of being home, a feeling of belonging to something and someone. That's why I can feel at home even when I am away from our own house.

I see our home not just limited to our house, but extended to people and places where I can feel peace and at home. During the light and warm part of the year we often go to places around where we live just to get some fresh air and enjoy nature. When the weather is fine (not too often) and as soon as I get home from work, I pick up some food and we go to a lake or to the ocean. The above photo is taken in June around six pm last summer. At that moment, home for me was sitting on a sun-warmed rock. I wouldn't like to be anywhere else!

I do not have a special approach for creating that concept of home for me and my husband. Most important for me is to create an environment that allows peace and serenity to be around. A place for nurturing and loving, a place that allows rest for both the body and the spirit. The feeling is important for me, and the feeling comes with light, I think, and light is what I love most about our house - the light that pours in everywhere when there's daylight (not much of it half the year over here). It is also important for me that our home is a link between yesterday and tomorrow. The memory of yesterday is captured not only in our brain but most of all in our heart. I try to display things around the house that mean something to me and my husband. Things that bring light and beauty and things that are precious to us. However, I do not like when the house is crowded with of stuff so I try to limit number of things.

The following collage shows some of the things we have around our house creating a feeling of home.

1) A few stones from Norway. Both hands and eyes love them! 2) The day light in December is so short, but oh, so essential and appreciated! The pot holding the Christmas rose was originally green, but I repainted it white some years ago. 3) My favorite flowers: Geraniums in light grey zinc pots. 4) A bowl bought at a local flee market holding some dried pomegranates (very affordable decoration, they last forever!). 5) I made this cake for my birthday in January this year. No calories, but lots of charm. The tea pot is a wedding gift for my mother and father from 1966. The tea cup is another bargain from the flee market. 6) As I see these delicate sea urchins in pale pastel, I am instantly drawn back to the summer of 1998 when I collected them at a sea shore on the home island (in northern Norway) of both my father and my husband. The candle holder, made by a local crafter, was bought last summer on my home island. This still life is beautiful to look at, but most of all it reminds me of cherished moments together with family and friends.

I strive to have a feeling of calmness, freshness and lightness in our home. Most of the year we live in darkness with only a few hours of daylight a day, so the light is very important to me. I therefore do not cover the windows in heavy fabric, but prefer white linen curtains to let the light shine in. I also prefer white furniture. Some of them are bought white, others are repainted white to match (like our old kitchen table I use as a writing desk). On the walls are oil paintings by my husband, water colors by a friend. The things around us are precious when it comes to memories, but not when it comes to money. Our home is not a show room, and it's ok to sit in the white sofas eating pizza or take a nap after working in the garden with the working pants on. So what if there are some stains on the sofa? No problems, I just take off the cover and put in the washing machine.

I think my favorite memory about being home was when I last summer was sitting in the shadow at our back yard crocheting a ripple blanket (you can see it hanging on the sofa on the above photo). I loved sitting in our extended living room out in the fresh air. I just have to start crocheting another blanket this summer in order to recreate that feeling! I try to live a creative life and I want my home to not only reflect my creativity but also to invite and facilitate me to create. Therefore, it is important for me to have my own space, and I'm so happy for my own little room. However, I knit, sew, crochet, and scrap all over the house! The house gets messy, but it's not a showroom. We live here! And we love living here!

What advice could I give another who desires to create an inviting home for themselves and those they love? Well, we are all different, with different interests, talents and abilities. The only advice I could give is: Let your home reflect you and your family. A beautifully decorated home without traces of the people living in it is just a collection of furniture and stuff. You are so much more worth than living in a furniture exhibition. Let your light shine through and in your home!

Love to all of you, Sissel

PS. You are welcome to visit my blog Sorry to say, but it is in Swedish.

Thank you Sissel! For sharing your inspiration with us! Sissel and I go all the way back to days in Stockholm Sweden. I was the mother of 3 young children, and she a very dear friend to me. We visited and scrapbooked together in one another's homes during the time we were "Swedes", and worshipped together each Sunday. When life called us back to America I brought some of Sissel's furniture home with me; our kitchen bench and the beloved children's bookshelf. Those furniture pieces are staples in every home we've made since our Nordic days. Sissel came to visit us when we lived in Boise ID. Spending a day with her in our home was like having family with us-we spoke and ate and she loved our children (by then we had 5! not 3!). We often send packages to one another, especially when its time for her to have new scrapbook supplies or for me to enjoy rhubarb licorice and new Lucia clothes for the kids...

"In Progress" by Brooke Gale

The Gale Family Motto

Kitchen remodel now in progress, it will be amazing!

The art space in the Gale's basement "school room" where Brooke is currently teaching pre school children. This has been a mudroom, and a guest house for many of us who want to visit our friends in the old neighborhood...

All of the Amazing Gale family! I love every one of them

Brooke and I met 2003 and I have loved her every minute since. We used to get together once each month to visit teach for church. We also took time to go running together, ride bikes on Saturday and swim in the open water of Clocktower pond near down town Boise to train for the Rush Triathlon. Brooke is genuine, kind, intelligent, beautiful and altogether "real". Being in her home is being home, because always you are welcome...

Thoughts from Brooke:

When I was 16, I had a map on my wall with pins in it for all the places I was going to visit. I was going to be a photographer who took pictures in 3rd World countries and made an impact in the lives the people living there. I had a dark room and a camera, I practiced, I thought I would join the Peace Corps. Sometime in the process of my travels I would meet a like-minded guy and we would adopt a couple of children and raise them together wherever we happened to be at that time. Home would be each other, not a physical building. It would be a tent in Africa, or a little hut in South America.

Fast forward my life….instead of the Peace Corps I joined the LDS church, married my high school sweetheart (after 6 years of letter writing), survived a horrible accident that I feel the effects of daily, graduated from college in developmental psychology (not even remotely related to art or photography), had 4 kids, bought and sold a few houses, and moved to Boise, Idaho. Boise, Idaho? Sometimes I have to ask myself how I ended up here.

That brief history brings me to the question of the day….

What does the concept “home” mean to me? I’ve thought and thought about it, and I would have to adopt as our family motto…..“A work in progress”.

We are a marriage “in progress” on it’s way to being something old and perfect…

Kids “in progress” on their way to being responsible citizens of the world…

Heavenly souls “in progress” working on making it back to our heavenly father…

Even our house is constantly in a state of progress….possibly by the time we have finished the final project, we will be ready to turn around and redo the first thing we ever did on the house.

Finally, we are definitely parents “in progress”. Each stage of our children’s lives brings us something new. We haven’t figured it out yet, we hope we do in time!

Sometimes, this “in progress” thing is really hard for me. I want my kids to be responsible NOW, I want my kitchen finished YESTERDAY, but life doesn’t happen in accordance with my wishes. My own history proves that. I guess that is what makes it life.

I have learned through all this, that I can’t possibly create the perfect home. But sometimes, every now and then, that perfect concept of home that is in my mind just happens. Sometimes I look around and realize that ALL of my children are hanging out together on a Saturday night. We are laughing, we are smiling, there is no place that any of us would rather be! Last weekend, the fire was on, two of my kids were lounging in the family room totally engrossed in reading. The house was relatively clean after the whole family had finished the Saturday chores. My oldest daughter was playing beautiful music on the piano that filled the house. My husband and youngest son were playing a board game quietly on the floor. I was trying a new soup recipe a neighbor had given me. I found myself smiling. I wasn’t in a refugee camp on the other side of the world, but I was definitely home.

We do a lot of things that keep me sane and keep my home running smoothly such as working hard together, not having cable, paying monthly library fees (reading is that important!), lot’s of teasing…in a good way, giving our kids freedom to make choices I don’t necessarily like, and letting the kids budget themselves within our means. I think, however, the most important thing we do that helps our home feel like a home is that we try to always remember that our home and the people who live and visit here are “a work in progress”. I try to remind my kids, that this is our safe haven…perfection between these walls may sometimes happen, but is never expected. My hope in doing this is that everyone will always feel welcome in our home. As long as you are trying your hardest, no matter how big the mistake, how great the shortcoming, how scary the failure, you are always welcome here.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

A date with Molly

really happy girl in the snow and sun

While my sister Mandy kept Lucy I stole Molly from Pre School and took her to the ski hill. She was nervous at first, having been off of her skiis for the last 2 weeks. But after one run she started to warm up. We got four runs in before it wast time to cruise back down the canyon and drive the carpool. I felt like I was playing hooky from my life; but I guess in the end spending time with my kids IS my life. And I don't spend enough time, alone, with Molly girl.

Great harvest cookie rounded off the date together, and both of us were thrilled with our mid-week trip to the slopes!

coming hopefully tomorrow; learn what Home means to my friend Melissa, who raises her family in her native South Africa!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"Stay At HOME Mom" by Sharon Cliff

When I was very young my mother was at home with us, and then she began to work outside of the home. My dad, a teacher, was around a bit more than some fathers but I don't remember his presence looming large. We roamed around our neighborhood and my parents did whatever parents did. They brought us to museums some weekends and took us on long summer road trips to visit our grandparents. We did other things together, but as I grew older, I noticed families who liked each other more than we did or at least had more fun together.

It would be easy to say that's why I never thought about having a family of my own. But I have a sister who did. So I guess it was just me. I read books (a lot) and dreamed of distant cities. When I married, it was to someone whose parents, like mine, had experience living overseas. I hoped we would be able to do the same and it's possible that the unknown location of my future home kept my thoughts from settling on what kind of home it would be. But I think it was just me.

Our first home was a basement apartment we knew would be temporary. When we moved to Dallas, we rented because graduate school was coming up. We had a baby, moved into another temporary home in student housing, spent a memorable summer in a Greenwich, CT basement apartment, finished school and were ready to buy our first "real" home.

John was working as a consultant so we agreed it would be a two-year slog and then anything could happen. Fast forward three jobs, a second child, nearly ten years and we are still in this house. But it is only in the past few years that I've settled into homemaking. You could say I'm a little behind.

How do you create a happy home and family? It is not easy for me. The repetitive nature of housekeeping depresses me. I am impatient. I don't like to cook. I like it to be quiet. This is not the greatest skill set for my chosen role. However, I have a few things going for me: I don't pretend to be perfect. I am not easily intimidated. And I can let things go. I let a lot of things go. Housework goes a lot.

I will sweep the floor but put off mopping until I can't stand it or we are having company, whichever comes first. I tidy things up and clean the MFPs (Most Filthy Places) when needed. I sort the laundry and try not to let it get too out of control. I de-junk closets, drawers, and the girls' rooms when they start to make me crazy. As a result, our house is not as organized or as clean as I would like it to be, but I've seen worse. I've seen better, too.

I ask the girls to do the dishes so I don't have to and because I want them to be workers, not slackers. I admire families who work. We are not there yet. I am not very consistent. I try to get the family to do yard work with me in the spring and fall (no one wants to be out there in the summer) and we try to do Saturday chores year-round. On weekdays, chores are whatever I ask them to do.

I have tried several systems and none have stuck. But I had a college roommate who would only take out the trash after we made a chart and then only on her assigned day, which irritated me to no end. My end goal is to raise girls who work when needed, without being asked. So the lack of a functional chart doesn't stress me out.

There are books all over the house because I value them. We have a piano and I make the kids take lessons because I want them to play. And I want to hear them play.

I apologize to my children when I am wrong. Because I make mistakes. But I self-promote, too. (I just found a cute swimsuit for Anna. I'm awesome.) Go, Team Cliff!

I do not try to keep things equal. Life is not fair, and fair doesn't mean equal, anyway. I teach my kids that there will always be someone with more and someone with less.

And that if they are unhappy about coming home early from a sleepover they don't have to go to the party at all next time. That's a good one.

See, I'm mean. So I hug my kids and say, "I love you" at least daily. I try to make up for crankiness by giving lots of loves. I hung this sign in my kitchen where my kids can see it.

And so I can see it, too. Because I'm a stay-at-home-mom. I still dream of travel, and drive way too many summer miles to escape the heat and have little adventures with my girls. We go to museums and national parks and visit family. But now I find that while adventures are fun, it is sweeter to be home. It's just taken me a while to get here.

Post Edit: Sharon is exactly what she shows you in her guest post above. Very intelligent, very confident in who she is and what she isn't. Currently, she is ministering to many lucky women in her local Relief Society and debating whether or not to take on the establishment as next year's PTA commander-in-chief. I can't go two weeks without hearing her voice, and I will ever long for an afternoon with her in her red car, driving into Dallas for a trip to the temple and a piece of white chocolate raspberry Panini heaven. I miss you Sharon. Thank you for inviting me into your life. I will always be at HOME when I'm with you.

His place

Porter deep in thought at the kitchen table

When we moved from Utah to Texas I insisted on a "study hall" where the kids could spread out the homework and leave it there through dinner time. Though John does not like formal spaces I was thrilled to find a Dining room to be that perfect study place. Close to the kitchen so I could get to their questions quickly, but not in the kitchen so the table could be set for dinner.

Here at the Spruces we are lucky enough to again have a study hall. I call it the library. Guests to our home call it the Dining room-though no one would think to eat in there. Crammed with the library furniture I had custom built for our Pacer home, and a little tight to fit into when we gather each morning for scriptures, the library is a great space to spread out the books. With a view of the spruces which sprinkle the landscape and of neighbors who go walking by. It is a calm place of reflection. A great place to study and to LEARN.

But here is where I find Porter doing his homework every day. With a view of the back yard basketball hoop just taunting the studying child, this spot is Porter's thinking place, the place he goes to booklearn when not at his desk in school...

Coming tomorrow and peppered through out the week to come; Thoughts on HOME from some wonderful women who I am privileged to call friends.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The internal conflict of a Monday Morning

some of the explosion of dishes waiting for me this morning...

The Internal optimist said: "you enjoyed such a productive and enjoyable weekend. Look at all that you accomplished together; kids got haircuts, valentines and you finished a project for church and enjoyed a date with learned how to make cool newsletters with your computer and you took dinner to your grandparents. Everyone got along well. John was especially doting and now you can face the rest of winter and ski season"...

The internal pessimist: "the kitchen is already trashed at it is 5:30 in the morning! How am I going to dig out from all these dishes, plus start the laundry, pick up Porter's medicine from the pharmacy and nurture and rear the little girls amidst the housework and errands"...

optimist: "You don't have to accomplish everything today. Pick just a few things, and do them well. Keep priorities straight; nurture kids, invite peace into the home, stay positive!"

pessimist: "the kitchen is already trashed and it is 5:30 in the morning! (yes, it is a REPEAT). Molly's coat and glasses are no where to be found! Porter is whining and crying over piano practice and I've had to threaten the kids with their hides to get them to move and do their morning chores. I'm going to LOSE MY TEMPER if those kids don't put their lunch-making materials away. A messy kitchen is no excuse for them not picking up after themselves."

optimist: "remember your morning prayers! Beg for help to see the bright side...keep the eternal perspective. The dirty dishes are no excuse for not trying you best to be civil. And How am I going to get Lucy's bed put back together before she has to sleep in it again tonight? I can't believe she wet the bed! She never wets the bed! so much many much to pick up and put in place..."

the jury is still out on which voice I will heed. A nice sweaty work out and a 20 minute blitz in the housework department and then I will decide.

How is your Monday going?