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.


  1. Hang in there! All your hard work teaching your children will pay off. It's actually fun now to listen to my older kids laughing with each other about how rotten they were when they were little. I expect that before long, your current struggles will become fond memories too.

    1. Tena - I can envision that... in a hazy far-off way. :) Thanks for your kind look to the horizon. xo

  2. I'm probably not the only one who can relate, ;-). So let me tell you that being close in age is not necessarily the cause- mine are 16, 12 and 7, and the middle and the youngest one do little else then fight... one offers an opportunity, the other one jumps at it... waaah!

    And I have no idea what to do avout it...

    So long, Corinna

    1. You confirm my suspicion that this may continue for a while. :) When you have a revelation or epiphany that brings peace that lasts, let me know! Until then, we remain sisters in the trenches.

  3. You are such a good Mom and your kids love the family you've created! I loved the flashbacks to our own childhood...and the photo...hilarious! I love you!

    1. Was that pic hilarious? Haven't seen it in a while. Love the purposeful nose-pick on your part. And did you notice? That was when I was taller than you! :)

  4. I think you're the perfect mother, and this proves exactly why. I love how real you are. I love how much time you take to ponder, talk, course-correct and keep trying. I'm so inspired by you as I work to keep my own voice calm amidst my close-in-age-always-fighting gang as well. I love you. Keep mothering, photographing and writing because all three inspire me more than you'll ever know.

    1. You inspire ME Steph. I'm still hunting for the right image I want you to paint. I would love one of your pieces. And I have clothes for you! Which is a great excuse to come visit and see your new house! Thanks for your encouragement. Love you.

  5. I've never enjoyed that song either except for my version that says, "there is beauty all around, when there's no one home!"

    My kids have fought, screamed, bit and punched this summer and they aren't as close in age as yours! I think it comes with just having kids! You are an amazing Mom, keep going!

    1. Oh. My. Goodness. Can't wait to tell my Mom THAT one. Never heard it before. My whole family will hoot over it! And I'm gonna roll with your sentiment. Discord just comes with having kids. Love to you.

  6. This is such a great post and amazing pictures...especially the first one. Your boys are looking so much more grown up. Love you and the reality you post!

  7. Ps. That hymn was despised in our house, too, but by us children as mom sang it every time we would fight (all the time). And thank you again for this hike. It did the same miraculous good for my little brood as it sounds like it did for yours :)

  8. Thanks for this gorgeous post--the writing and the photos. This was my mom's least favorite hymn, too, and it wasn't until I became a mother that I understood why (and why she was banging around all those pots and pans in the kitchen on Mother's Day...oh boy, were we clueless!). I can say at 21, 18, and 16 the kids seem to finally appreciate each other in ways that they didn't even a couple of years ago. It's not all sunshine and roses but there really is hope ahead. xx Annie

    1. Annie - banging pots and pans on Mother's Day. Lol. I totally get that! I love your posts and writing about that sunshine ahead. I see it in your beautiful children and your family. Also, I got your list of books. Sorry, I've been under water the last few weeks of summer, but slowly surfacing. I will send our NZ itinerary soon! When are you planning to visit there? Next week my boys will have preschool 3 days and I'll have some windows of time to myself! You're the loveliest. xoxo

  9. Must have been something in the water this summer. :) I like doing our scripture study in the morning too--our stake president compared it to the Israelites gathering manna to feed them for the day. I love that image.

    1. Steph - I love that manna image. I'm going to share it with my family. xoxo

  10. Catherine, first of all, I have been meaning for the last four weeks to write a note to say how amazing it was to spend a morning with you! That time with you was a true gift. You are absolutely kind, lovely, gracious, generous, thoughtful, gentle, deep, and remarkably insightful. I could have talked with you for days. Thank you so much for that. Your kids are delightful. I felt so loved and welcomed that day!

    You are doing such a marvelous job with your kids. They have so much energy, light, and love emanating from them. I hope the start of the school year goes really well for you all. Having a little time and space away from each other does wonders for everyone! Love you, Cath

  11. One last thought...I see sibling squabbles as absolutely, completely normal. They are connecting again and again, even if some of it is noisy and chaotic. It is still connection, and all those moments keep weaving their lives together and will give them lots to laugh about later. You have your hands so so full! The book that has helped me feel so much more at ease with sibling rivalry is "The Power of Positive Parenting" (Glenn Latham). That guy completely normalized it all for me. Giant hugs as you bounce back from a particularly crazy summer!

    1. Anne Marie - been thinking about you often and feeling equally grateful for the time I could spend with YOU! You were so sweet to make the effort. And it was like being with an old friend. Easy to talk, easy to laugh, easy to understand each other. And it was an absolute delight meeting your boys and your husband. Next time I want you all to come for dinner! You are perfectly lovely and kind in word and person. And thank you for being so tolerant and sweet to my children. They loved talking with you.

      Thank you for all the "normalized" thoughts about fighting and contention. It was good for me to write this post and hear from mothers like you who are further along - how "normal" it really is. I have heard, as you said, that connection (albeit physical and not always positive) is linking them to each other and creating bonds, memories. Definitely a positive spin on the hard of it :). I appreciate so much your perspective and sage advice. Hope the transition back to school has been a smooth one for you. We're all happier now that structure and space have returned to our lives. Love you dearly Anne Marie. Bless you. And all that is happening in your beautiful, good life. xoxo

  12. "A mom with a water weapon." So hilarious!! Thank you for being so real.

    My mom despised that hymn too. Interestingly, I used it as the theme for my talk at her funeral. Lol. I like to think that my take on it was a little deeper than "roses bloom beneath our feet." I focused on the phrase "making life a bliss complete" and talked about how even though my mom's life wasn't a "bliss long," it was a "bliss complete" because she loved us and taught us to love each other. I wrote an essay called "Bliss Complete" about the experience of writing my mom's funeral talk and remembering her life...Let me know if you ever want to read it. I love sharing my mom.

    1. Rachel, I would love to read your essay! Please send it to me at I wish I could have known your mother. Any opportunity to share her I bet feels like a blessing. It would be an honor to read about her. xo

  13. Is anyone's home really blissful? All the time? I highly doubt it. :)


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