Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Porter in Real Time

 Porter, now 10, is still learning a lot of very important things. He still needs to work on doing assignments when they are given instead of the night before they are due. He is learning how to become a more compassionate big brother. He is still challenging the truth that honesty is always the best policy, and he is still figuring out that the sneak to the next door neighbor's house is not as good as to ask permission to go...but there are a few things Porter has learned that are pretty darn amazing.

 Porter is nice. He wants to have friends and he wants to be a good friend. His best buddies live next door, and they are a bit younger than him. He is seen by them like a big brother and he takes the responsibility seriously. Porter chooses to be nice to kids at school, and he is usually very nice to his mother...

 Porter likes scouts. And scouts teaches honesty, trustworthiness, resourcefulness, compassion, hard work, a love of the outdoors and a love for country too. This is why I have been willing to act as Porter's scout leader for the last 3 years. It has not been easy to squeeze that extra responsibility in, but Porter loves it so much and I am so happy for him to have exposure to these great attitudes and attributes. It was fun last summer to take Porter to Webelos day camp where he got to shoot bb guns and arrows, boat, play basketball and make stuff out of leather. The highlight was looking at the live rattlesnake that had been caught by one of the counselors in the archery shed. You would have though Porter had caught it himself; the tales about the snake were as long as the reptile! I hope in all the fun he is learning the character traits that will grow Porter into a good man.

 Porter loves to PLAY. For his birthday this year all he wanted was 'a family baseball game'. We gathered cousins, aunts and uncles and the Andersons from next door (Porter's second family!) and went down to the elementary school for a game of baseball. It was fun to play with Porter.
 Porter idolizes his brother. he watches what Mason does and says and asks for advice from him often. I'm happy that right now Mason is a good example to look up to; I'm happy the boys have one another and that they love each other so much.

 Porter loves school!  This is such a welcome adjustment compared to last year! He has been assigned to a new teacher in our elementary school and she has captured his heart and mind for sure. His favorite thing about her is that she has a piano in her classroom and she allows the kids to play pieces they know when they are done with their work. This has helped Porter to be motivated to improve his piano skills as well; a double awesome outcome for mom! Porter was told just yesterday that he got the highest score on the math test. He came home beaming. I feel so grateful for incredible educators that light a fire of curiosity and determination into our children. I hope Porter continues to learn the skills and habits that will bring him academic success throughout his educational career.

 Porter wants to be nice. Just today I was sent an email from a mom stating that she brought a new student into Porter's sign language class and the student was a little nervous. Recognizing Porter, this mom asked if Porter would be this new boy's friend and 'buddy' and help him get to know the other kids. Porter gladly accepted the assignment and genuinely helped the boy feel comfortable and happy. Porter will become a good leader as he learns to lead with kindness and by good example. 

 Porter is learning about being the oldest. We have expected him to take responsibility for the safety of his sisters on the way to and from our school I've been proud of the way Porter has accepted this role, that he watches out for his sisters when they are at school and he makes sure they get there and home on time. In frustration he typically asks me to 'tame Molly' so I know its not all peaches and cream, but I believe with work and time Porter will grow to love both of his sisters and desire to protect them as they grow.

 Porter decided to try Lacrosse this year. He opted out of football so he could play the fall LAX season and really learn the game while the team is small. I am proud of the way he is paying attention and really learning the sport. I am not a person who cares if her son is super athletic, but I do care that he is active. This new sport has given Porter some opportunities to learn new things, meet new kids, and become skilled at something that's difficult. I'm really proud of his progress and hope he falls in love with the sport and enjoys it for many years to come.

Porter is still so loving towards me, his mom. I like it that he still will kneel down in prayer with me at night by his bedside. I'm grateful when I hear him tell a story from the scriptures to his sisters. I'm glad he still snuggles up to me and wants hugs and kisses from mom. I know this cannot last much longer and I savor every smile, every hug and every night time prayer from my little boy. I'm so glad I get to be his mom.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saying the Pledge

This morning I was in our elementary school when the children were asked to stand and repeat the pledge of allegiance. I was in the hallway...and from each classroom I could hear the echo of those hallowed words

'I Pledge Allegiance...'

I put my hand over my heart, caught a glimpse of the flag hoisted in the school office, and joined the school in this solemn promise to love my country.

Its hard for me not to get choked up when I repeat the pledge of allegiance. I feel such gratitude with each repetition.

How can the day be bad when its begun with a reminder that we live in a place where we can be loyal to a system of government that respects our individual rights and is to protect our freedom?

I know we are in the middle of mud slinging, slander smearing, insult flinging elections. I have felt discouraged with the direction our country is taking. But I felt so glad that for a moment today I could be reminded that we are called, as citizens and neighbors, to become indivisible in our resolve to protect this system which allows us have expression, opportunity and education.

With Liberty and Justice for All.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mason's last year and Lucy's first

This school year marks the beginning of the end of Mason's public education. What began in a kindergarten classroom in Stockholm Sweden will end at a graduation ceremony in Salt Lake City. Mason has entered his senior year.

Lucy marked the beginning of her full day school career, beginning first grade the same day Mason began 12th.

I thought I'd be so choked up about Lucy leaving the nest all day long. It is the first time in 17 years that a small person is not my companion for at least half of the school day...and it is a bit lonely I will admit.

But on that first day of school I felt more excitement for Lucy than I did pity for me. I had so many errands to run, so much to do to begin to 'catch up' from all of our summer adventures, that I was glad Lucy would have a good and happy place to be; with activities and exploration, reading and writing, friends and recess. It was so right for her to step into this part of her life, I felt joy for her instead of sorrow for myself.

But, completely by surprise, when Mason rushed out the door to drive away for his first class, I followed him out with the camera in urgency. I snapped a picture of him behind the wheel with his 'hurry up mom' face on...and then he drove away.

And I broke down and sobbed.

Next time he drives away for a first day it will be hours to the classroom, with roommates instead of siblings to get along with at home. And home won't be in our new house, nor will it be here at the Spruces, it will be in a dorm room on a college campus without me.

12 months and he leaves.

Now, mind you, we are ALL looking forward to his college career. It has become widely apparent that its time for Mason to learn and grow in different ways. Though still a vital part of his upbringing, as parents we lost our 'voice' with him a little while back, and the constant reminders of those things we are trying to teach him before he flies the coop have become a broken record-a string of sound-that Mason sends in one ear and out the other. It is frightening the desperation I feel as a mother to be sure that certain life skills are second nature. We are not talking about teeth brushing and laundry folding. We are talking about personal responsibility and duty to the society at large. These are the big ones; do the homework when it is assigned instead  of waiting until it is due, remember to say thank you and take responsibility for your own actions instead of blaming outcomes on others, be KIND to others and seek to help because it is the right thing to do not because you will get a pat on the back.

And I'm not sure they are really there is panic and urgency in all that I do.

But I can see that what I do just isn't as impactful any more. He is in the realm of the hard knox of learning for himself to implement what we have taught.

 First day of school photo; traditionally taken on the front porch.
They are all ready to get back to school

 The 'big 3' leave earlier than the rest, Madi LOVES when mom asks her to smile :)

 the 'hurry up mom I'm late' look is classic from Mason. He is off to his Senior Year at Olympus High School

The 'little 3' still walk to school, just down the street from the Spruces. This year Porter is the mother hen, he is responsible for making sure his sisters arrive safely to and from school each day.

And for that reason I'm glad we have this last year to help him by listening when he comes to us to talk. To be there to cheer on the successes of personal responsibility and to watch as if on the sidelines when he falls and has to pick himself up again. But at least I'm still on the sideline, and not far away in the bleachers somewhere. At least I can cheer lead and back-pat and coach a little bit one on one, face to face. I've become hyper aware that not long from now I will be texting my encouragement long distance instead down the street. Phone calls and facetime will be the extent of my influence, at least for now I have real time and late nights and dinner hours to try to influence and encourage. At least I have this senior year. 12 more months with Mason.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Madi in real time

 Madi helped organize a party for all the girls in her 7th grade class. She was o.k. with being in charge, but she like just being one of the girls BEST.

 Madi and Bryn show their Jr. High schedules: the girls are back at the same school for a year before Bryn moves up to High School and they couldn't be happier :)

 The mustache craze has not been worn out on this girl; she loves it

The braces came off just a week before school started, look at that beautiful girl!

Madi is magnificent in many many ways. She is also, unfortunately, a 'tween'. And she takes that sorry fact out on her mom pretty much every day.

She is cutting the apron strings. 

But even though I don't get to hear much from Madi these days unless it is a complaint or a criticism, I can tell you about all the amazing things I am seeing this girl do and become.

Madi is compassionate. She has always been able to sit herself in someone else's shoes. She says hello to the lonely, cheers up the sad, and seeks the stranger. Her friends are not always the most popular girls, but the girls who are her friends are loyal kind and fiercely grateful for Madi.

Madi is talented. Her voice is incredible; a mix between Ingrid Michealson and Regina Spektar. She can trill and slide that clear high sound into so many incredible lilts and larks - and we hear it from morning til night. Recently I had to put my foot down and call a curfew to 'radio music' during study time in the afternoon. This did not sit well with Madi as she spends most moments playing and replaying Florence and the (?) songs and singing perfectly with them. Madi is also gifted at the piano...her fingers are as fast as her vocal chords. She is at her best when the notes move quickly and frequently across the keyboard. And she recently decided to teach herself how to play the guitar too. 

Madi is smart. She is learning the art and key of personal organization, but on sheer brains alone she has been admitted to our Jr. High's gifted program and is mastering it very well. Her teachers are impressed with how articulate she is, able to express herself and explain her viewpoint clearly and persuasively. Madi is impressive to me as a writer-her stories and essays are so well crafted for a girl of her age. I hope words and writing become something she can use to explain and express herself all her life long (like mother like daughter? For my sake I hope so!)

Madi is funny. Seriously so funny! She is quick to a punchline, she has silly voices and expressions the just ooze out of her cute smiley mouth and she isn't afraid to make herself look a little silly to get a good laugh. It is always fun to get her going and see the ways she can come up with to get a giggle out of others.

Madi is trying new things. She made a competition soccer team last spring and has been learning how to pick up her game and make skills out of talent. It has been challenging for her, she has already had some bumps and bruises, but she is loyal to her team and happy to have left swimming behind for this more team centered sport.

Madi's testimony is growing. I have been so impressed as she has enjoyed beehive camp and girl's camp this summer that she was willing to share her feelings about God with others. She mentioned how strongly she felt the holy ghost bear witness to her at girls camp that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  I hope as she continues to show faith and be obedient to the commandments we have been given she will gain an unshakable testimony that will be stability for her in the shaky world of being a teenager. These are the critical years for our youth. Their decision to believe or to step away so often happens in Jr. high when its easy to make choices that bring sorrow instead of joy. I'm so glad Madi is making those decisions that confirm the peace that comes when we follow the example of Jesus Christ. I'm happy for Madi to be learning and growing.

Madi is magnificent. I'm so glad I get to be her mom. Even though its a little rocky right now I am so proud of her and so grateful my life is filled with her laughter, her music, her talents and, well, just HER...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The story of our new garden (this post is as long as our summer has on if you dare)

John came to me at the end of Spring and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime; build our family a brand new house. We pondered over whether or not to really give so much time and energy into a 'thing' like a house; our means and energy can certainly be used elsewhere. We have been happy in all the houses we have lived in, and we haven't built any of them. After giving it serious thought and prayer we decided to move forward and look around for a place to build.

The parameters were tight; I wanted us to stay within our church boundary and certainly in our school boundary. We have moved our children half way across the world but I didn't want to move them this time more than just across the street (at least that's how John saw it I'm sure!).

One Sunday afternoon, as we had become accustomed to doing (John's goal was to own a piece of land before the summer had ended) we drove past a little rental house with a realtor's sign in the front yard. It was exactly one and a half miles away from the Spruces: I know that because I often run right past it to get to my 1.5 turn around for a 3 mile warm up run. The house was tiny and clearly neglected. The yard also had been forgotten long ago. But the trees were not just mature but OLD, they had seen the history of our town and and grown strong over many years. I was intrigued, but not convinced. Though close to home by distance, it would require that we move church congregations (our faith divides itself geographically, we attend the congregation that we live among, so we can take care of one another and be ministers to each other). It also stepped us outside of our elementary school boundary, and I wasn't so sure my little 3 would feel super excited about a new school any time soon.

But the place tugged at me. And the price was right. We decided to take a look.

I called the agent and got permission to walk on the land. WE didn't need to go inside the home, we wanted to see what kind of lot this would be not so much what the walls were painted in the rental. John and I and Porter (who was with us so we could take him out on a special date to have 'the talk' with him...more later) stopped in front of the realtor's sign and walked back into the yard.

And I felt at home.

I cannot explain this. It just felt like we belonged. And I didn't want to leave. The shrubbery and undergrowth was dry and brittle. Cement retaining walls were crumbling around us. The back yard shed was literally about to collapse from age and wear. But this place felt like home.

I wanted to go back.

I called our friend and real estate agent, Carolyn Kirkham, to ask her to arrange another showing for me. This time I brought the little girls.

Molly and Lucy hopped into the car so I could drive us over (Molly is still unsure about riding her bike, and it was over 100 degrees in the July heat, so we drove instead of riding). I reminded the girls of the story called the secret garden. Of overgrown neglect giving way to loving beauty. Of something being made again where it once was glorious. I thought I'd found us a secret garden. I wanted them to see if I might be right.

I met Carolyn on the land. The girls went off exploring. I stood among the trees and two feelings came to me;
'You will be a good steward here'
'Porter will be blessed'

Now. You must understand. I have been fretting over Porter. My prayers have been rising often and fervently asking for help to raise our cute boy into a great man. This second thought felt like an answer, though how it would be I still do not know.

The first thought surprised me. A steward. Someone who is entrusted to care for something important. I feel that this word describes my mothering; I'm trying to take care of souls entrusted to me. The word means so much to me.

We made an offer. I felt joy and gratitude. My husband the handsome prince, handing his fair maiden her fondest wish. A garden to create, a home to build, a place to teach our children what stewardship can mean.

The offer was accepted verbally with little negotiation. We expected to sign an agreement and move forward with the process. The paperwork did not come for us to sign. The acceptance was withdrawn. The sellers backed out with no true explanation accept to say that they had made other plans for the property.

I felt crushed. I felt LOSS. I felt bewildered and confused. I felt sad.
John shared my disappointment.  But my true confusion was my own. I thought that in those feelings had been direction. I didn't understand.

We had no recourse. Even a desperate phone call to the selling agent left me no sign of hope or explanation. It was a place we had to put behind us.

We had scheduled a family trip to the beach, our vacation for the summer. I asked John if we could give the home building dream a little rest while we spent some time with our kids, away from that special land and the sadness of losing it. Our trip was an absolute blast. We played and rested. On our way home I felt I could move beyond the unexplained disappointment of the secret garden that remained a patch of forgotten earth and looked ahead to different direction.

Upon our return we were given the chance to make an offer on a different property. This was in the heart of our church community. It was a simple straightforward lot-fewer trees and a flat yard. A lovely story of a family of 9 raised in 2000 sq. feet, with raspberries, chickens and a garden of peonies. Roses lined the drive. It was a logical and exciting choice. We prepared our offer and were ready to sign.

Only I could not feel right to do it. Instead of driving by the lot that could be ours, I lingered in front of the one that could not. The trees would not leave my mind. The before felt promptings nagging me in my dreams at night. The thought that though the second lot was a better choice, the first lot was the right one. Only the first one wasn't a choice any more. I didn't know what to do.

On a Monday evening I called an acquaintance who lived in the neighborhood of 'the garden'. I asked if she knew who owned the land. If she had any gossip that could help me understand why it would not be ours.  I did not know when I dialed her number that her husband knew the owner well; at least one of the owners. He was a 93 year old man who lived down the street from the garden. My husband's friend had heard we had made an offer and he also wondered what had actually happened. He offered to pay the owner a visit. He promised to report back by the end of the evening.

I gratefully accepted his help and wondered what would come of it.

He called after he had been visiting with the land owner, George Quist. Mr. Quist had shared that he was sentimental about the land. It had been a special place for him in his youth, and he wanted to be sure it was cared for. He had been informed that the buyer's intention was to exploit and develop the land. he had been misinformed.

Our friend had asked Mr. Quist if I could come and visit.
I spent a night in humble thought. Did I want to meet him? Were those feelings and promptings so strong and real that I should extend myself like that and beg a total stranger to hear my longing desire to have something he possessed?

As I thought about it more I realized that what I wanted was to understand him. If I could know why that place was so special to him, then maybe it would help me know why I felt so drawn to it.

I woke up the next morning and dressed myself up. I knelt to ask for help to know what to say and how to listen. I went to Mr. Quist's house.

It was a sweet meeting. His hearing aids were not in his ears. I had to sit by his knee. I asked him about his lot, and why it was special to him. He called it sacred ground. He said he wished it could never change. He wanted to take care of it.

He said he had felt he was a steward over it.
I said I felt the same way.

Mr. Quist told a story of the home on the land. In an earlier day - when he was a young man of just 12 or 13 - he used to be assigned this home as a place where he would 'ward teach'. This meant that as a young priesthood holder he was assigned to visit the family in this home, to teach them a gospel lesson and to administer help to them when they needed it. At the time the area was much more rural. It was farmland just outside of Salt Lake felt much like 'the country' back then. And the houses is in a farming community were much more spread out and sparse. This home was the last on his route. In winter the walk was long from family to family to do his duty. Mr. Quist would arrive to this last home. In the fireplace a blaze would be waiting for him.

They always had a fire burning for this young man. They listened to his message. I'm sure they ministered to him with kind words of thanks and encouragement. He never forgot the fire. Nor the family who had stoked it for him. And as he grew into success and the land needed a new owner he became its steward, its protector.

I told him I felt so grateful for his time and his explanation. I understood his fierce protection. I shared his love for the land. He told me I was persuasive. He suggested I give him some time to think about our meeting together. He promised he would pray.

I left feeling peace.  I no longer needed the land. I understood its meaning. We made the offer on the other lot.

Within 48 hours a phone call came to our realtor. That special place, the lot I loved, was made available for our purchase. Papers were prepared. The offered signed. The second offer was amicably withdrawn. We could be stewards over this special place. The secret garden could be realized.

There have been several road blocks over the last 4 weeks-barriers to this land purchase, which are not useful for our story. Accept to say that sometimes when something is right  there is opposition. We fight our way through it with faith that those feelings of right are from Heaven.

and in the end our fight is rewarded. And we feel grateful for the process. Because when the obstacles have been removed or overcome we see that we are stronger for the experience, the challenge brings the growth.

The day after we were in possession of the keys to the secret garden John and I were alone together standing in front of the fireplace that Mr. Quist had warmed his young self by the fire. My heart swelled with gratitude and I felt completely and totally content to make this spot our homestead and raise our family with new stories of duty and service, faith and fire to stoke the flames of our children's faith.

One week later, unexpectedly, I received a phone call from the friend who had arranged my meeting with Mr. Quist. She explained that Surprisingly he had passed away that morning. His signing over the land to us was his final" item of business" before his health rapidly declined and his time was ended.

Surprise, gratitude, awe, tenderness all were felt as I heard the news. If the land had not been sold to us before his passing it would have been mired in a very large estate, mixed with a partnership that had been difficult to navigate...the secret garden would have been impossible not only to acquire, but to preserve.

So, with such a turn of events, we can only feel more privileged and more responsible to maintain and honor this beautiful new family homestead.

In coming months we will share the process of bringing life, energy and charm back to a place that others have seen for so long as a mess of land. Pictures won't be able to convey the feeling I have whenever I stand in the secret garden. Feelings of gratitude, wonder, appreciation and respect for a spot of earth that has been the means of teaching one boy about love and ministry. A place that became 'sacred ground' for that boy so long ago will now become hallowed ground where our kids and grandkids will play and learn, where John and I can serve and love. After so many moves to so many places over the years we will be finally and completely HOME.