Thursday, August 28, 2014

Luxury to Worry about the Less Significant

Last Saturday I volunteered at Salt Lake City's Color Run. The happiest 5K on the planet. Volunteers splashed powdered color on runners wearing tutus, rainbow headbands, and striped socks. It was pretty incredible to watch.
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The run benefited two charities. Global Citizen - a movement, website, and app invested in ending extreme world poverty, and UN Women of Utah - an organization working to help women and children in a variety of ways including refugee services, eliminating prostitution, and advocating education for girls in Africa.

My friend, Nikki (pictured above) is the go-to girl for both. Years ago, through the International Refugee Committee, she connected me to a Sudanese family that I spent time with during my college years, helping them acclimate to a new life in the United States.

Saturday was the first time in years I've volunteered somewhere beyond math facts and reading at the elementary school. And it got me thinking. When I do have a little more time, as kids go to school and life cracks open a bit, how will I spend it?

My interest was piqued when a friend shared a FAIR talk with me, given by Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities. I thought it interesting that she was asked to talk on a subject unrelated (so I thought) to her work. A topic that has worn us out of late: women in the church.

I was so moved by her presentation, I wrote about it at Segullah today. She does a marvelous job explaining the LDS church's doctrine on gender and women, then pairs it with the idea of practice. She asks the question, how do we use our time? Where do we spend our intellectual curiosities? What do we worry about? Sometimes, she points out, we have the luxury of worrying about less significant things, and we miss the bigger picture. Link to the video and transcript of her talk @ Segullah. Absolutely worth your time. Best thing I've heard on the issue yet.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When There is Beauty All Around {But Not at Home}

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wildflowers in albion basin

There is beauty all around
When there's love at home.
There is joy in every sound
When there's love at home. 
Peace and plenty here abide
Smiling sweet on every side
Time doth softy, sweetly glide
When there's love at home.

This well-known LDS hymn, Love at Home, was written by John Hugh McNaughton (1829 - 1891). Ironically, it was my mother's least favorite hymn while we were growing up. With six kids battling each other more than she'd like, screeching, screaming, etching our names into closet doors, and sitting for long time-outs in the bathroom, she begrudged the tender hymn that celebrated a gentle, near-perfect home life.

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throwback to 1988. six kids, ages 14 - 4

The last verse bristled her most:

In the cottage there is joy,
When there's love at home.
Hate and envy ne'er annoy
When there's love at home.
Roses bloom beneath our feet;
All the earth's a garden sweet. 
Making life a bliss complete
When there's love at home.

My Mom has always tried to do what is right. She is kind and easy to please. But she is also very real. As we got older, we teased her about this song - the way the lyrics chafed her. And when we sang it, we laughed. Our home wasn't what I'd call blissful. Nor do I remember roses blooming beneath our feet (that image always escaped me). There was enough chaos and fighting, my mom worried we would never like each other, never be friends. But we are. We love each other more than ever now. We carry each other.

Still, when I sang the song in church a few weeks ago, I chuckled.

There has been beauty all around this summer, but not so much at home.

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          fireweed on the trail to secret lake

My kids have done more fighting the past three months than ever before. I can't figure out why it's been so epic. They've been far too physical. The shrieking has reached tones I haven't heard since I was a kid. Mean words have been said. Words I don't like. And even I have been called names. 

Too often I am refereeing some tiff or tattle, holding kids apart as they kick or swing a fist, sending offenders to their rooms, adding extra jobs to their list, or finding some way they can serve their sibling as retribution for an unsolicited attack.

It has been totally exhausting.
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mamma moose - you can usually find her and her family somewhere in the basin

Ask my children what the word "restraint" means and they will tell you. "Control your emotions and behavior." We've talked and talked and talked about it. We've redefined the rules, discussed love in word and deed, tried new tactics. But with little improvement.

Just the other day I walked around with a squirt bottle hooked to my belt loop. I changed the setting to stream. Every time someone hit, pushed, scratched, or made a rude comment, I blasted them in the face with water. Have you ever been squirt-streamed? It's not pleasant. It's an affront. 

I lasted about one hour then thought, Really? This is what I've turned into!? A mom with a water weapon!?

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I've considered the cause(s).

They are so close in age. Which means they're constantly elbowing for the same things, the same needs. I would love an older sibling who didn't care if they got the watermelon blow-pop, who could take a little one by the hand and calm them down, act as peacemaker or helper. But alas. Herd mentality reigns. 

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm out of patience too quickly. Maybe they're modeling my own frustration, or at least, feeling it. 

Maybe it's because we haven't read the scriptures regularly this summer, or had family home evening as often as we should. 

Maybe it's because summer is just about over and every one of us needs more structure, more time apart.

Maybe it's all of the above.

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So I'm trying (always trying) to work on things. Trying to use a calm voice when every sinew inside me wants to erupt into a yell. I've started family scripture reading in the morning when everyone wakes. I'm trying to find more opportunities for us to work and play together. And this week we did an official family home evening, with everyone participating and taking responsibility for a job.

I believe those things help. I've seen them work enough times to know they do.

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And I've noticed one other thing that works. 

Simply getting outside. 

When we take the bickering and needling out under a ceiling of sky, it stops.

We can have slugging, scratching, and sassy words during the drive, but once we park and push open the doors, things change. We unwind, stretch out, coexist.

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Nature helps us reclaim our best selves.

Be the people we should be.

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Two weeks ago we hiked to Cecret lake, one of our favorite summer trails that leads to a gorgeous fresh water lake, shelved into the craggy swells of Albion Basin.

As we hiked, talked, and held hands, tempers settled, spirits smoothed, and we remembered how it feels to love each other.

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To everyone's delight, the lake was teeming with salamanders. If only we'd brought our nets we could have brought a friend home for Manders. Since Sally mysteriously went missing one day.

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I stepped back for perspective. Watched my six favorite people exploring the water's edge.

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Ali found the perfect rock for a rest.

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A nice man offered to take our picture.

It was just before sundown. Devil's Castle loomed above us. Mountain peaks reflected in the water.

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We made our descent down the ski runs. Much quieter and less traveled. Sami and Gordon stayed with me.

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I pointed out my favorite wildflowers. Monk's hood always makes me smile; it looks just like its name.

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Sami gathered a small bouquet for Grandma Ronda's birthday. Shhh... I know we're not supposed to pick the flowers. But she was so ardent, and wanted so much to make Grandma happy, I gave in and said yes.

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My Mom loved them.

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No one argued. No one pushed.

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I thought my heart would burst with gratitude at being surrounded by so much beauty outside, and in.
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I know families who get along famously most of the time. I wish we were one of them. I want to be one of them. But we're raising five strong, creative personalities, who clash, who have agendas and wills, and forget to use their words.

Hopefully, as we keep teaching and talking, working and loving, and loving some more, we will move out of this stage. Into a place of real friendship, increased kindness, and love at home.

Things were better today. Eliza wrote Sami the sweetest "get well" note. The boys apologized to their sisters for destroying their restaurant downstairs then helped me clean up the basement. Ali hugged her brothers before bedtime.

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We work at it every day. The sun sets on the good and bad. Then we get up and work at it again. Success comes in small doses. We find extra patience. We help, remember, forgive, share, choose not to rush, speak softly, listen, and try again. 

"He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home." - Johann Von Goethe

And out of fairness to John McNaughton, I found a version of Love at Home by guitarist, Michael Dowdle, that I like very much.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Calling All Superheroes!

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Look at this Justice League. Ready to battle evil, leap tall buildings, and blaze into action!

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The boys have been anticipating their first "real" birthday party for half a year. Many discussions ensued regarding a theme, who to invite, and what to do. Although we didn't work out the details until last month, just the idea of a party was big. When they were upset with us (or anyone else), the offender was immediately uninvited to their party. (I was uninvited several times.) 

One day in the grocery store, an older gentleman teased one of the boys and Spencer didn't find it funny. As we rolled to the end of the aisle, Spence tugged on my shirt and said, "He's not invited to our birthday party." I laughed out loud.

We worked through the uninviting thing and settled on a Superhero theme. But with two boys and two opinions, it was impossible to narrow it down to one Super. So we embraced them all!

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My sister-in-law, Shirlee, crafted the invitation. When she saw me sitting down at the computer to print a handful of images I planned to cut and paste together, she stopped me and offered to do it on photoshop. Man! Am I grateful! Talk about saving the day! (And saving some time!) Thanks Shir.

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So last Saturday, Doug mowed and readied the yard.

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I finished up the Captain America cake. Fondent people. It doesn't taste great, but it makes cakes like this super easy.

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Ali set the tables all on her own. She did it better than I would.

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As guests arrived, the boys experimented with the stomp rocket.

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Love this picture of Michael airborne. Stomp rockets are our new favorite toy. Have you tried them? They launch up to 200 feet in the air!

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Now I know, this is frightening. The tights and green fruit of the loom undies. Even now, I'm blushing as I type. I had to swallow some pride to dress up as Robin. But it was all for the cause. Because wherever you find Robin, you're sure to find his buddy Batman, right? So... be on the look out.

And my sister Deb? She was amazing. Especially to wear her famous Wonder Woman costume. She hasn't put it on in about 10 years. Right before we took this pic, she said, "I can't breathe in this thing!"

What we do for our kiddos!

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We set up three stations in the yard. Station 1? 

The Hulk Smash

We spray-painted a bunch of boxes, had the boys put on hulk hands (which are awesome - you can find them on Amazon), and let the boys go nutso. They pounded the boxes to bits.

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Check out that enormous fist.

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Station 2? 

Spiderman Web Catch!

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Using silly string, the boys webbed all the evil villains hung up throughout the yard.

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Even Spidey got a bit of his own weaponry.

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Station 3? 

Ironman Blast! 

Knocking down paper cups with water guns.

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Spence was dancing to tunes while waiting his turn.

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Then we did an obstacle course.

Up the rope ladder, down the slide. Scramble over the tower of couch cushions. Weave in and out the cones. Stomp the rockets.

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Karate chop the bad guy Eliza drew.

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Crawl through the tunnel.

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Pop a balloon with your bare hands. (Or teeth. If you dare.)

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Then bust through a brick wall (okay, cardboard). 

Lots of pics of Super Gus. He ran the course about ten times. With great determination and intensity.

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Then we took down the Captain America piñata.

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A small crowd of older neighbor kids began to gather on the backyard wall.

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Then we stopped for cake, singing, and super hero wishes.

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At this point, I asked the boys, "If you could meet any superhero, who would it be?" Top picks? Ironman, Spiderman, Captain A, and Batman.

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I adore these sweet boys.

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While they ate cake and ice cream, I went to check on our special guest. He was almost ready. I helped him don the last accessories then ran outside with the camera. Figuring he wasn't far behind me, I kept watching for him to come down the stairs on the side of the house.


No black cape. 

No black mask. 


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Suddenly, behind us, on top of the south wall, a shadowy figure rose to full stature, high above the boys.

"It's Batman! It's Batman!" they yelled.

Stretching his cape into full black wingspan, he sailed to the ground.

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He kinda rolled his ankle and almost fell on his rumpus. (Left that photo out). But to my surprise, he made a remarkable recovery.

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Pacing in and out of the boys, he ruffled hair and examined faces. Then he took a call from the Commissioner.

In his deep and husky Batman voice, he said, "The Jokers? Yes. I have them. They go by SJ and G-Bob. I'll bring them in."

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He hefted the boys into the air.

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Gave them a talking-to, while they just giggled and tweaked his nose, saying, "Daddy? Is that you? I can tell by your eyes."

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I always thought Doug would make the perfect Batman. His performance sailed beyond expectations.

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Then he asked the kids in that same husky voice, "Who wants to race Batman?"

There was an uproar of squeals and cheers.

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This moment was the highlight of the party. Racing Batman.

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Nick finally busted a move and sprinted ahead, victorious!

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Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

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Don't mess. We mean business.

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Then just like that, Batman was gone. So we opened presents.

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And handed out party favors.

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Including these masks my friend Amy made. Talented girl. I had her follow some patterns my sister designed for a superhero party a couple years ago. You can find her on Etsy at The Bees Knees. 

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After Wonder Woman left in her invisible plane and all the mini Supers headed home, I kicked off my pinchy boots and picked up the boys, kissing them both on the cheek. Gordon wiped my kiss off with the back of his hand. Sigh. They're definitely growing up. 

Oh, I would do anything for these boys. Anything. Even dress up as Robin. Un-cute as it was. I hope they know that. 

I smile when I hear them talk now. A small question mark still lingers in their mind as to who Batman was. (Doug denies all associations with the Dark Knight.) But the truth is, he'd do anything for them too.

It was a party we'll remember for a long time. With super friends and super help. (Bec, Neil, Marilyn, Deb, Shir, Sarah, Kara). A league of real Superheroes. Celebrating two super boys.

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