Friday, October 24, 2014

A New place to call Home

I've started blogging in a new place:

check out my thoughts, ideas, recipes and philosophies at:

I'm sad to report that my blogging skills could not keep up with blogger.  getting my text to format correctly, my photos to upload easily and my format to look less than amateur was taking too much of the little time I have to write, so I've found a more 'blogging for dummies' kind of site that can manage my poor skills adequately.

hope to see you there!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pioneer Schmeer and the Homestead

When I first met Mr. Quist and listened to him tell me about the little pioneer house on the land I'd fallen in love with he told me about his frequent visits to the home and the family that lived there. He spoke of the fireplace, always ready to warm him from the long walk to this house, and once inside and sitting by the fireplace he would deliver a message of faith to this family. He was a boy of 13, and he was doing his 'priesthood duty' by 'home teaching' to this kind family.

Mr. Quist spoke in such tender terms about this fireplace and all it represented to him; about faith and duty. About the kindness of a mother who prepared her home for the 'home teacher' to come, stoking the fire and making sure a warm drink was waiting for his arrival. About how he learned about ministering as he attended to this duty and how he came to understand the Love of God through loving this good family. I hadn't been inside the home. I hadn't seen the fireplace. But I wanted to keep it with all my heart should this property ever be ours.

When Mr. Quist finished his story and with emotion and tenderness promised me he would consider allowing us to be owners of this homestead, I felt a desire to keep the symbol of what this home meant to him. Once the property was ours and we could make a full inspection of the fireplace and the house, I thought maybe it could remain in tact and be a part of our new home. It wasn't in keeping with the 'style' of the house we had in mind to build, but it was so important to me to maintain the history and feeling of the property we would now steward. I begged our architect to find a way to include the fireplace in the home's design. He flatly refused. It didn't sit on the property in a place where it could be used. There was no guarantee that it could structurally withstand the demolition of the little house it had for a century kept warm and the building process of the new house that would become our homestead. He was willing to work the stones into the design of the exterior, but no way would he be able to keep the fireplace intact.

So we set about picking the fireplace apart stone by stone. This was no small task - it had been made to withstand the ages and it was prepared to continue to stand through ages yet to come. Built with what is called 'pioneer schemer' the fireplace's stones were not just fronts of stones, but actual small boulders that had been set in the sticky pioneer era cement. Each rock had to be carved out of the schmeer.  It was difficult, time consuming and not incredibly successful as some stones would chip or crack and other stones would come free of the schemer but have large chunks of it scaring the rock. 

This effort was going on about the same time we met our builder. He suggested letting the bulldozer knock over the fireplace, and then saving the stones and basically chipping the extra schemer away from them to use the rock in some way. After a lot of emotion and discussion (mostly with me talking and John listening patiently) we decided that was the best option. I was sad that we might lose a lot of the rock to the pushing over of the fireplace by the beast of a bulldozer, but the expense and time to remove the stones one by one was simply not worth the end result.

Either way we would end up with a pile of rocks that really were only important to me.

So on the day the house came down, I came over to watch. It was a sight I won't forget - the house had literally been built around the fireplace. Insulation tucked in between the walls and the bumpy fireplace surface..the frame of the house being cut in the bumpy shape of the fireplace's facade.

And the fireplace wouldn't move. It stood solid and still as the house around it crumbled. The dinosaur bulldozer tore through the walls and the wood, revealing layers of paint and wall paper and pulling down the roof to reveal an old attic bedroom long ago abandoned. the house fell fast, but the fireplace stood.

I felt the emotional worry of knocking over something that was meant to last forever. I didn't want to take lightly the work that had gone into its creation, nor did I disregard its usefulness for so many families over so many years. It had stood the test of time and had provided a much needed service and now we were knocking it over. 

The neck of the bulldozer bent low to the fireplace and began to knock away. This is when I turned away and with tears in my eyes heard the sound of the machine hitting stone. Our builder, a great guy and not insensitive (but still a GUY) was commenting on how cool it was to see the power of the machine. But I felt the power of the story surrounding the fireplace was much stronger and more full of meaning.

the fireplace fell, eventually. It took effort on the part of the bulldozer. At last the stones laid in a heap on the ground, and the dozer scooped them up and placed them in a corner of the property that would remain untouched by the construction. They'd be safely kept there for us to scrape off the schmeer and discover what we could do to use the stone in remembrance of the way those stones had helped make a minister out of a young man.

Eventually we found a good use for the rock; and I must admit by the time the building project was done some of the intense emotion about that fireplace had faded. But I am so glad we have those stones to speak to our kids in some form, to witness that good things had been brought to pass on the property we now call home. A Young man became a good man on this land. A mother taught strength, kindness and quiet power to the neighbor boy who came monthly to teach her. We have those stories to remember when we see those stones in their new place here at the Homestead.

And we tried to make the hearth of our home something worth remembering too. In a different way we made it a symbol of strength and family. We gathered pieces of our family history, pieces of the construction of our home, pieces from the piles of rubble that were left when the original home came down and even a little piece of the old fireplace and we put them in the new. I hope it becomes a place where boys become good men, a place where I can teach - the mother who lives here now - about quiet strength, service, compassion and consecration. I hope our new hearth is a focal point of warmth both physical and spiritual. And I hope it can stand for another long age as we live here and grow old.

The boys are pictured in front of our pioneer era fireplace...
we tried to dismantle the fireplace, but it had been built to last forever.
The fireplace stands in defiance of the bulldozer's quick work. It took a lot of effort to level the 3 foot thick structure. You can see how the walls of the house had been built around the fireplace, instead of the fireplaces being built to suit the home.

The new hearth of our home. I am standing with Gordy Meldrum, who was the craftsman who helped bring our idea to reality. We worked closely together to make everyday and family history items into a sculpture surrounding the hearth. 

Some of the pieces mean a lot, some mean very little. Together it makes for a place to stop and look, to think about what it means to be a part of our family; and to feel warm inside and out as past experiences are reflected in the items surrounding the fire.

A fly fishing reel that belonged to John's dad, a piece of the wall that had surrounded the original fireplace, a metal chicken that was the marketing symbol of our favorite restaurant in Johannesburg, and pieces of light fixtures from the floor of my dad's shop work room are all found in this panel of the new fireplace.

Our kids pose here the night before Mason left on his mission. The fireplace wasn't quite done yet, but we knew it would be the perfect place to gather as we sent Mason away from this homestead to serve the Lord as a missionary. I am eager to gather my kids here once again when he returns next year. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Elder Graham

Mason enjoys dinner with a family in Texas

Elder Graham (right) with his mission president, John Pingree (center) and companion Elder Chandler
My dreams have come true!!! Years of piano lessons are put to good use as Mason helps during a mission conference

Elder Graham with Sharolyn, a lovely woman who Mason taught and helped to baptize in February.
It is so tender to me to see the love she has for my son. 

Mason's current companion, Elder Armacost

Elder Mason Graham left the Spruces on August 14, 2014 to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At this writing he has served one third of his total 24 month mission. Time flies for us and stands still at the same time as we read about Mason's life as a missionary in his weekly emails home. Mason is growing up in so many ways, and yet he is still himself. He still loves comics though he does not read them on his mission. He makes calzones, one of his two specialities (omelets are his other). He struggles to get up right on time each morning. And his letters are lengthy epistles with words like "magnanimous" that sound more like Charles Dickens than any contemporary college kid. He is reaching up to Heaven to become more of his true self; he cares about other people. He has a conviction that Jesus Christ is real and that because of Him we can be forgiven of our sins when we repent. He is leading in unique ways and having surprising experiences. This is what it means to be a mormon missionary. When you represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and commit to invite others to come unto Christ your perspective and your daily life revolve around that commitment. And as you continue to experience the mission you become more; more loving, more dedicated, more eager to share and more interested in the welfare of others than in your own life. 

Right now Mason is being challenged in surprising ways. With few people who want to hear his message and a companion who requires some special help and support, our Elder's time is centered around seeking those who would hear and helping his companion and friend to adjust to mission life and feel confident that the rigors of the daily schedule will not be too difficult for him. This new companion is teaching Mason lessons that are unique and invaluable. In our modern scripture we often quote a verse that says "if it so be that ye should labor all your days and bring but one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father".  We interpret this to mean that even if all your time and effort only brings one person closer to Christ the value of that soul is eternal and precious and we will feel the great joy that God feels when one of His own comes home. We often don't recognize that that 'one' could be anyone; and for Mason perhaps that one is his companion and new friend.

Being a 'missionary mom' is still being a mom.  I pray for my child daily, sometimes multiple times a day. I think of what he is doing, how he is getting along, if he is growing and maturing, if he is helping others, how he spends his time and if he thinks of home. I send long emails on Monday (Mason writes home once each week on Monday mid-day) and sometimes I send little packages in the mail or letters with an old fashioned stamp.  I eagerly talk about him when people ask about how he is doing. I feel proud and worried and happy and sad. Joy and sorrow. Worry and peace. All the feelings a mother has still come even though I have placed my son in God's hand quite literally and have given him (of course, he chose to give himself! But I let him go, didn't I) away like Hannah at the temple gate. Though I have not likely raised a Samuel, I have handed my firstborn back to the Lord who gave Him to me. 

And sometimes I miss him terribly. 

But most days I feel peace. And pride. And joy. And love. And gratitude.
I'm glad I am a missionary mom. I'm happy to have a missionary for a son.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Madi this Month

Madi's poster photo for her Student Body Office Election, one more thing swirling in Madi's life right now

Monday night our family went to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at the Junior High. As Dorothy went flying through the tornado watching her life pass by her I thought of Madi’s month. She has been picked up by some crazy turn of events and dropped back down into a bit of a new reality…this girl is not in Kansas any more.

The past few weeks have been quite a whirlwind for Madi. She turned 14 just 4 weeks ago. A week later we were on our way to Newport Beach for a fun spring break with Madi’s buddy Sophie along for the trip. 2 weeks after the break Madi hopped in a golf cart with her friends and went on a fun joy ride that ended with the cart overturned and Madi out cold on the pavement. A trip to the ER confirmed a concussion (she was struggling to remember her middle name, couldn’t remember her class schedule and had a hard time recalling her age as well). The trauma of the experience was almost as challenging as the injury(she was sitting backwards on the cart and had no warning to brace for the accident, she was shaken awake by her friends only to see that one of the girls was under the cart and the other was covered in a bloody road rash…pretty traumatic for a tender heart like Madi).Now, 10 days after the accident, Madi is back to full days at school but still not back to her competition soccer team or her iPod (much to her chagrin). Her beautiful mind got knocked pretty good.

This mom has been in a mild state of panic ever since Madi’s accident. The concern I have felt for her welfare has been a weight on my shoulders and the subject of wrestles dreams. Her independence and her determination haven’t helped my state of mind…finding her with a phone in her hand (bright lights and little text aren’t good for concussions) or finding her playing tag int the back yard with her siblings have caused me to swallow loud yelps of ‘STOP!’ and settle instead of a concerned ‘Madi!?’ Competing feelings of joy that she feels up to chasing her little sister and worry that she will fall and re-injure herself have raced up and down inside me, tying me in knots as I try to show patience and be encouraging. 

Thinking about how to help Madi face the justifiable fear that is now more a part of her as a result of this scare has been another quandary. Madi is independent. Madi is not super talkative with her mom. Madi wants to bury things down deep instead of processing them and pushing them into their proper place. My prayers have been fervent and my desire for her welfare so big, like a mama bear standing up to her full height to swat away danger…only the danger I stand up to face for her is unseen and intangible to me. It exists only within my darling, witty, wonderful, compassionate quirky teen. Because I can’t fix it, I pray for her to feel promptings to know how she can reach out or reach up to repair those little places within which have been torn or traumatized. 

Madi’s concussion will heal. We have been assured of this and we see her marked improvement as time continues to pass. Madi’s wit and energy are returning. She is lingering at the piano bench, diving into new music and using her precious and amazing mind to think and to create. She will return to herself soon. Her legs will run the soccer field. Her thumbs will wildly text or instagram, she will be all of Madi again. 

And I hope as she comes back to herself she will have taken the opportunity along the way to reach up to heaven for help. To test the things we have taught; that she will never be left comfortless, that there is one who understands exactly how she feels both physically and emotionally. I hope she will cast her burden of fear at the feet of one who will gladly take it and carry it for her. And if she will experiment on the words we have spoken to her and our family again and again from before she was even with us, I know she will be o.k.
I’m learning, as the mom of kids who are growing and going forward in life, that I have less I can control and more I must trust. As I pray for Madi to reach toward heaven for help and comfort I am exerting my own faith in the things I’ve taught her. I can’t of myself fix the things that have gone wrong, so I practice the things that I believe will bring her help and peace. I’m learning I have to get out of the way of the greater lessons that are waiting for my children to learn. And as they stumble, both literally like Madi or in other less physical ways, I have to trust in that very process of regret, repentance, and renewal that I have preached. They are practicing the lessons they learned as they sat at my knee where I could shelter and protect them. 

This is harder parenting. Being the mother of little ones was exhausting physically and emotionally. But the teens; the mothering of teens is like the refiner’s fire. It’s uncomfortable. It’s spiritually exhausting more than physically tiring. Its work of a different nature; the kind that requires stillness and listening and trusting - not my children trusting me, but me trusting in God and all I’ve taught my children. 

Madi was the one who got her bell rung, but my head is spinning with mothering her. I feel unsteady on my feet, find it hard to remember my lines and feel uncertain of the words to speak and how they will sound coming from my lips. Its been like this for a while. I’ve mothered my oldest out of the nest, and my emotions were so jumbled and confused that I could not write them here. I'm still sorting them out. Just like it was with their arrival in my life, as my children each reach teen age times I feel I’m learning how to be a "new mom", how to mother them  as they grow into themselves. My balance feels off, and I feel that strange duo personality of one who is confident that being a mother is what she is and one who doesn’t know what on earth she is doing. 

As Madi grows into her health and into her grown up self, I hope I can grow into a greater measure of the mother I am as time marches on. I hope as I reach up and ask for help and beg the Lord to help my kids that I too will come to my mothering self. That I’ll know my way again - or at least feel confident that I can find the right way to help my children continue to go and grow and become. Like Madi’s recovery, I have had to take things away from my life and purposefully and steadily learn what to put back in and when to introduce the ‘extra’s’ that could stall my return to the confidence of my motherhood. And as I hope for  Madi’, I hope I too will reach up and become more in my mothering with the help of Heaven. 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Why I am back to Blogging

Brynley and Madi watch over their sleeping cousin while John loves on his new little nephew

I started blogging to give our kids some understanding of what it was like for us to be in Vietnam bringing our daughter Lucy home while they were in Salt Lake waiting for us to get back and be a family. Once I was home, blogging was a way for me to share my feelings about being the mom of a brood of kids in a world that doesn't believe in broods much any more. Blogging was my voice to tell the world that having a family is a good thing; and that choosing to stay home to raise that family is noble, hard, happy work.

And then my two older daughters began to grow up.

And then this blog became something very different.

When you are the mom of young girls, those girls want to pattern their life after you. They  want to help you. They are little minnie versions of you with this underlying beautifulness that is all their own. Then the cacoon of childhood bursts, and a little girl becomes a teenager. And the wheels come off for the mother because all of a sudden her darling little right hand helper doesn't want to be so helpful any more. She wants to become herself. And in order to do that she has to shake of (or rip off or tear to bits and pieces or shred with her fingernails) the apron strings she so gladly had wrapped around her and she wants to stretch out those brand new wings and FLY.

And fly she does. She goes in several directions. She tries new things or gets really good at things she has been doing all along - and you see her less and less and her friends mean more and more and the girl who used to help you cook in the kitchen now becomes the teen who rolls her eyes when you ask her to help in any form. She becomes a very good person, but not a person who wants to watch and learn and observe and grow from the mom who she once adored. Learning from mom becomes torture, it becomes bondage, it becomes suffering and antiquity. 

And yet, there are still lessons that only a mom can teach. It was patterned that way before time began. Moms have a sacred duty to rear their children and to nurture them. We can't give that up or abandon it even though our society (and our teenagers) feel that there is enough information on the super highways of life and enough life lessons in the halls of the high school that moms can take a back seat to their daughter's learning and growth after those girls have been outfitted with bras and high school ID cards.

So quite a while back this blog became a letter to my daughters. And not just to them now, in their teenage glory. But hopefully it will be something they look back on when they are moms themselves. When their own daughters and bursting to fly I hope my girls can flip through these posts and see that they are going to be alright, that mom made it through and even did a few things that might be helpful to them in their plight, and my little experience will become a blessing to them in times to come.

And hopefully a blessing to them now.

So , in the posts of this blog that has always been about being a mother, you will begin to see some thoughts and feelings that are tenderly specific to this time in life when my mothering is about guiding fledgling adults instead of leading  little children. This mothering of the teens has been a bit messy for me. My mistakes are big and my confidence is small. But in the writing and posting and loving of these girls I hope the intent to be a mother who can look her maker in the eye and say she did her very best and left nothing undone to help her children grow closer to Him there will be value in what is left here for my girls - and you, if you like, - to read.

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.