Thursday, January 09, 2014

Filling our home for the Holidays

This is my family. We are only missing one face, and he is serving a mission for our church in Houston Texas. We all feel his absence when we gather together, love you SO MUCH Mason!
Notice that Molly thought all our photos were supposed to be with a 'silly face'

It is a rare occasion that we are a 'silly' family. I love this picture more than I could tell you!

Between Halloween and New Years we have had several large gatherings at the Homestead. John and I love to gather people. Well, John loves to cook for people and I love to gather them around a beautifully set table and talk to them while eating John's yummy gourmet food ;)

So we have jumped at every chance to use the Homestead this holiday season. I will admit I have totally boasted about how many bodies we have fit in the kitchen. And I have totally laid in my bed at night thinking of ways to make serving them easier or thinking of table decorations or figuring out traffic patterns so people can get from their food to a sitting spot a little more easily. We have LOVED having people here.

And many of the people have been my family.

What better guinea pigs than the people who are stuck with you? They have been patient with us while we've learned how to use the new space we have, and we have been so happy to let them open the cupboards, dirty the dishes and clean the dishes back up again! My mom is an especially fastidious kitchen assistant and makes sure the kitchen is exactly how she would want it if it belonged to her before she lets my dad and little brother Alex go home from our house after a party (thanks mom!). My sisters have stood at the counter with me and John, and we have all crammed into the scullery together (look up the word, I'll show pictures later). It has felt like a HOME with our family in it.

And now our home is quiet.

Its important to have the times when I am here alone and working. I need to organize the storage room, put the studio together and take down the darn Christmas decorations! But I must admit I'm lonely and have thought of a party or two I could throw to motivate me to get my jobs done here and throw the doors open again - to my family and whoever else wants - to be with us again at home.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Our Homestead part 1 :From This to That

The Homestead as we found it, an original structure built in pioneer days that had been re-worked over the years to look like this little cottage…we called it 'our secret garden' believing we would bring beautiful things back to life on this piece of blessed land.
the Girls upstairs bedroom with window seat
Many people who know us have asked us to tell them about the past year's home building project. I wrote ages ago about finding our homestead lot (read about it Here) but then dropped out of the bloggosphere while we brought our ideas to reality.

I thought I'd send you the story in bits. I have more story in my head than I have pictures on our hard drive, so you'll have to get the 'home tour' bit by bit as I can tell  you how it all came to be.

After finding this lot and feeling so good about landing our family here, we set about the process of planning the house that would someday be ours. We enlisted my brother-in-law, Architect John Shirley, to draw our dream home. We had LOTS of ideas and notes. Living in so many cities and in so many homes had given us a good idea of the spaces we wanted to see in this home. I am a big fan of a 'not so big house'. One with enough space to gather people in but not so spacious that the quaintness of home is lost. We wanted a space where kids would feel safe and welcome. We wanted a space with a Rockin' awesome kitchen for John and I to cook in. We wanted a space where our kids would be drawn to each other instead of to their separate corners. And we wanted a space that would preserve the land it was set on, so we could learn how to enjoy that land and make it as productive and beautiful and special outside as we hoped the home would be on the inside.

We told him our wants, and he went to his drawing board.

It took several drafts for him to get it right, and it took some faith for us to see that this talented architect could deliver our dreams in a way we had not anticipated. Stairs stepping up so ceilings felt lower, a motor court type space so the garages were disguised, a smaller laundry area and a bigger gathering area were things Johnny the architect brought to us that we had not anticipated. We worked with him in the evenings. We asked our kids their thoughts, we spoke with others who had built homes from the ground up.

And we did all this in a hurry.

We are not 'take your time' people. One thing John and I have in common is the desire to get things over with. It isn't that we aren't patient. Its just that some things only deserve so much time. Time is precious. It matters how we spend it. We wanted our project done quickly so our time was spent as wisely as our money (and we traded our money to get our job done in a shorter amount of time).

So we worked hard and worked fast and came up with a plan that we were really happy with. It included shared bedrooms for our girls and an extra bedroom for our guests. It was less of an open floor plan and more of a plan with 'flow'. The direction you want to go in the house no matter what door you enter is right straight to the hearth of the home, quite literally, and we felt that this was appropriate. With the plan finalized we set about finding a builder who was willing to work with us under our time constraints. Most builders were quite surprised because most homes like ours are a year in the planning and another year in the building. We had no intention of giving that kind of time to this kind of project. While it is our dream house, it is still a house - a dead thing with no heart and soul but those who live within it. I felt it was better than I run hard for a year and then put the project behind us rather than pace the job and give a 'thing' my energy for two years or longer. Again I will stress we gave more money to have less time in the planning, but I'm so grateful that one year after the above photo was taken I am writing to you from our finished home. We LIVE in here now, and our energy goes to what we are doing with our children, how we are welcoming and loving our neighbors, and how we can share this space with others. We sprinted throughout the process, making decisions in a hurry, agonizing over some things but with most other things we kept a 'how much time is this decision worth, really?' attitude and put our minds at peace with making some choices fairly quickly.

In the end I have few regrets. There are a couple of spaces I should have agonized over more. And there are a few finish selections I am seeing were chosen a bit hastily…but I'm at peace with our overall project. I'm thankful we had the year of sprinting and thankful for the months we have enjoyed here at the Homestead, living. I look forward to learning more about how to live a happy contented life here. I look forward to learning how to make the homestead land beautiful and productive. I am happy I'm looking forward and not really looking back at what we could have done or should have done differently as we built.
The back of the property held a shed that was full of coal from many years back. It went down with the demolition. 

'The Cottage' is the original structure built first on this property. It is sitting above the root cellar, which still had shelves for canned goods or bins of potatoes. We have improved the integrity and usefulness of this structure and it is an integral part of the Homestead's back yard.

The pathway that led from the old home to the back yard was my favorite little walk to take with our little girls. This is where we thought we entered our 'secret garden'.  We found quail and squirrels back here, and lots of thorny bushes too! 

What to do with all the trees?! This was one of the decisions we agonized about for a very long time. Many of these huge tall trees were actually completely unhealthy and were called 'garbage trees' by the arborist I hired to come teach me about the property's trees. We took down several, which was a sad day for me! But we have since replaced them and added many more trees to the property thanks to my sister, Jessa, who planned the landscape of the Homestead. Our neighbors reacted in opposite attitude the days the trees came down. One nearly stood in front of the bulldozer, protesting the ruination of all the squirrel's homes and the exodus of animals that would surely follow the disruption to the property. The other was more happy than she had been in 25 years, saying she finally could see Mt. Olympus again with the garbage trees out of the way of her kitchen window view!

Next week I'll share several of the photos of the demolition of the pioneer house and the story of the fireplace. That story is a good one, you'll want to come back to hear it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

To Teenage Girls Who Belong to Me

 I have dozens of pics on my phone of Bryn and Madi being funny

sometimes they let me be in the pics...

Dear Bryn and Madi,

When I was growing up I wanted to be an awesome mom. Being a teenager was hard, even for me, and I thought I would be one of those moms who was adored by her teenage daughters because she would UNDERSTAND them.

When you were little you used to hug on my legs and tell me you wanted to be a mom when you grew up. I told you how much I love you. I loved being adored by you. I felt such a great responsibility to show you what it means to be a great person, a good woman and an awesome mom.

So I guarded you from music with lyrics that taught you things you weren't old enough to know about. And I set a standard that when school was in the TV was off…I tried to make you healthy meals and pack healthy lunches so you wouldn't develop cravings for foods that would steal your health and rob you of the active life I wished for you. I read to you, I read story after story with moral lessons to help you see that as you grow older you will have to stand up for yourself and your beliefs. We read scriptures, said nightly prayers and I tried and tried to be there when you needed me.

There have been times as you've grown that you have had to be there for me. You've tended your younger sisters and brother, learned how to clean a house and even have taken over packing your own lunches. You've stepped in where I could not, and helped those smaller than you so I could help them (and you) in other ways.

I appreciate all you have done, and all you continue to do to give back to the way our family runs.

A month or so ago you each gave a talk in church. You mentioned your family and your parents. Dad and I were so surprised to hear your words of support for the feeling we are trying to create and the things we are trying to teach in our family. I was so touched. Thank you for publicly stating that you see some good in our efforts and philosophy about what it means to raise a family in the world we live in today.

Its a muddled time for us; for you as the daughters and me as the mom. I watch as you close yourselves to my affection.not only do you not hug on my legs any more, but you push away hugs I try to give you. I see the rolled eyes when I ask you to do those things you know you need to but just don't want to do. You tell me in many ways that you are ready for me to step back and watch you go - and you communicate in so many ways that when you go and go my job is not to coach nor is it to critique, its to support and smile and let you do your own thing. And when life hits you with one lesson or another, and especially when those lessons are hard to learn and humbling to experience I need to hug and hold but never EVER add to the lesson that's going on within your own head. 

Its muddled right now because I so deeply desire to impress upon you how much your examples LEAD the ATTITUDES of the children who come so quickly after you. Your 'I don't want to' or 'why do we have to?' attitude rubs off like slick black oil onto young minds and hearts, making it hard for the 'can do' attitude you used to have to stick to their little minds. I need you to continue to be the help you've been but not so much in holding little ones or changing diapers like in years past, now I need a 'yes mom' and an 'ok' when its time to clean up or come to scriptures…I just need a willing attitude; more now than I think I ever needed a willing dish washer or babysitter. You have more influence in our home than you could ever know. The music you blast now, the shows you sneak during the school week and the outfits you put together in front of the mirror scream a message louder than the books I read to the little ones or the tunes I play while driving them to school. The way you approach your snacks and lunch making scream messages to those little ones who make their lunches after you and carry them off to the elementary school.

So often I'm proud of the things you are saying with your attitudes and choices, I just don't think you realize how loudly you are saying them and to who. 

As time goes on you'll continue to grow. You'll become amazing women and someday amazing mothers. And, in the jolt of a moment as you walk from being a kid into being an adult, things won't be so muddled for us any more. You'll 'get me' and I'll 'get you' because we will have not given up on each other. We will all emerge from these teen years and love one another better and know one another more. 

Thanks for being patient with me. I hope I'm being patient with you. Even more, I hope you know that I'm not giving up on my greatest desire; to be a great mom to you. I'll continue to guard your music, blare out our standards and tow the line when it comes to our beliefs because I know it matters. Because I love you fiercely I'll fiercely defend what I know is right, and I'll expect you to understand and respect it. Because I'm devoted to you I'll stay devoted to good books, good music and good media. Because you matter so much to me, not just as a teen but as an adult too, I'll be sure that you know our first priority is that you be honest good citizens and that you know and can chose for yourselves to follow the beliefs we know to be true. Because I adore you I'll try so hard to have fun with you, even though it sometimes embarrasses you. 

I'm so glad you belong to me. I'm so glad for all I'm learning from you and all I see happening in your amazing lives. I'm so thankful every single day that I get to be your mom. You mean everything to me. I promise I am giving everything I am and everything I have through these muddled teenage years with you - 

with all my love,

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Walking in to 2014

Its a new year. 2013 was such a good year for our family…and very very little of our blessed experiences are documented here.

Its time for that to change.

I began blogging to write down the experiences of bringing home an adopted child. That child, delivered from an orphanage in Vietnam at 4 months old, is now anticipating her 8th birthday. That's a lot of years of blogging, with few gaps if any in blogging our life as a family.

I continued blogging because I fell in love with the chance to understand my own mothering and to share my experiences with my children. I wanted them to see in real time (and in times to come) that I was well meaning in the how and what of my parenting. And I wanted them to see that I can see God in our family's experiences. I wanted them to know that being a parent is a hard job, and that it deserves our greatest efforts. I wanted them to see that I am giving them everything I have and then asking for help from Heaven to give them everything they need.

And then, somehow, in 2013 I got to busy to blog. Some reasons for my hiatus were enjoying the last year of having all my children 'in my nest' and managing the experience of building a new nest for our family from the ground up (literally). Meetings for the house mixed with chances to see our kids in action took more than the time I had in the day - there were only so many minutes and none of them were available to write down what we were living.

So blogging fell out of habit.

Now we live in the house we built.
Now our oldest has 'flown from the nest', serving a mission for our church in Houston Texas.

Now its time to blog again.

I'm excited to step forward. With the start of a new year I can recommit to my good blogging habits. I hope to share again with my children and whomever else decides to visit here that I love my work and my role in their lives and that I'm passionate about what I'm doing to guide them in who they're becoming.

I hope I can pepper this year's posts with some of last year's experiences. While many used to read my thoughts each day I don't expect anyone to read here any more. But I do hope this record will be a blessing to my family in years to come. And I anticipate that as I process my thoughts and feelings and record them for my family it will be a blessing to me, too.