Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Twelve Highlights of 2010: Part 2 - the Next Six

     Here I am - on the verge of 2011 looking back at the highlights from this past year. Here they are:
7) My Dad's miraculous return and recovery from death. No joke here. (See my post http://halfdozengirls.blogspot.com/2010/03/big-pour-concrete-and-blood.html). I remember holding his hand in the ICU in mid-March. He was getting paler and colder. His eyes were blinking nervously as the nurses were rushing around trying to force more blood into him as quickly as they could. My sister, an ICU nurse for 17 years, was offering to help them because she could see that they were not handling his blood loss as efficiently as they shoud have been. As I held my Dad's hand, I thought, I don't want the last face for him to see before he dies to be a sad, anxious, grieving face. So I smiled at him as sweetly and bravely as I could. It was hard and it felt weird. I was trying to stay strong for my Dad. We were whisked out of the ICU rather quickly after my sister offered to help the nurses. About a 1/2 hour later we were told he was in surgery. Several hours after that he came through. He wasn't supposed to. Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. God answers prayer! A week or so later, he brought the meat to our Easter dinner we held at my house. He was pale and weak, but he was there and he was alive!
My Dad and my father-in-law, Don, talking at our house on Easter

       My brother flew out to see my Dad immediately. He stayed with us and we talked quite a bit. This, too,was a miracle. After 7 years of an estrangement of sorts from him, he dropped back into our lives eager to see our Dad, reconnect with us, take a great interest in my girls, and come back into our family's fold again. I never could've antcipiated how wonderful that was. We didn't talk about past issues. No need to. We just talked and laughed. It was incredible. God performed miracles of many different kinds this past March. Simply amazing.
8)Tim switched schools in September rather suddenly. They couldn't offer him the extra jobs he needed at the school he had been at for over 20 years. So in a matter of days, he was at a new school. They have been able to offer him the high paying extra jobs our large family needs. Thank you, God and way to go, Tim!
9) I've lost 32.2 lbs. (I just had to get the .2 of a pound in. Digital scales are so affirming!) since September. The program I used Lord's Table - Setting Captives Free was far more than just a weight loss program. It was so beneficial that I renamed it "How to Love Jesus With Your Whole Heart Everyday and  Lose Weight, Too!" diet plan. It has been an answer to prayer and has brought much hope and peace to me as well as smaller clothes to my closet! I'd like to lose more weight in 2011. We'll see.
10)Reading Chuck Swindoll's Great Lives Series of books about bible characters. My favorite biographies were David and Moses. I also read about the lives of Job, Esther, Elijah, Paul, Jesus, and Joseph. I acquired so much insight and illumination into the character of God through reading about these people. God worked in awesome, incredible, bizarre, and unbelievable ways in their lives. I honeslty felt that those biblical biographies were more exciting than any Hollywood movie I had ever seen. I highly recommend them.

11)Emotional healing through caring prayer. A dear friend of mine prayed for me in early September this year regarding the trauma I had still struggled with from Julia's birth. Her prayer was passionate, powerful, and incredibly answered. Within a few weeks of her prayer, I began to realize that the painful hold of Julia's traumatic birth had lost a lot of its emotion. The post-traumatic stress disorder that I had been emotionally strangled by for over 2 years had dramatically lifted. I was so relieved and grateful! (There are still some painful issues that remain, but I'm confident that in time those, too, will abate.) I also found this helpful and healing website for women who've had traumatic birth experiences.http://www.solaceformothers.org/  . I highly recommend it for any woman who might need to process difficult details about her birth experience(s). Very supportive, helpful, and encouraging.
12)Growth and maturity in my daughters. All of my daughters have gotten bigger, smarter, cuter,etc. this past year, but my oldest two have really changed quite a bit. I won't divulge details because they are both so private ("If you put my picture on your blog you need to pay me a dollar!" and "Oh, Mom, what you wrote about me was so embarrassing!" Huh? How did it embarrass you? "I don't know! It just did! OK...OK...).Suffice it to say, the maturity, critical thinking skills, discernment, and awareness of the larger world around them has been so encouraging and hopeful to me. Maybe I haven't screwed them up after all! (I don't really think I've "screwed" them up, but we have our days where I really wonder...!) 
      I could've written more highlights, but I realized that twelve averages out to one per month. So, I'll end here. Have a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Twelve Highlights of 2010: Part 1 - the First Six

  I couldn't limit it to just 10, okay?! I know the "Top Twelve Highlights of 2010" does NOT sound very hip, but have I ever tried to be hip? Uh-huh, yep, those who know me are choking, laughing and gagging at the thought. I really try to keep it real, folks. The thought briefly skated through my mind to do "The Top (How Many Ever) Lowlights of 2010," but  that list would be way too long, boring, silly, self-centered, not a good example to my children or a good Christian witness, and just plain whiny. So, even though I try to "keep it real," I also aspire to focus on those things that are "praiseworthy, pure," God-honoring, and positive. Because I wanted to put links and pictures in my list, I wanted to break my list up into two parts. I do try to keep my posts on the briefer side. You're all busy people and so am I. Here are my first six, but by no means the bottom six. There's no ranking of which items had the most significant impact, just that they all affected me in a powerfully positive,  life-affirming, and/or extremely helpful and practical way.
1) I bought an I-Pod Touch in April with creative credit card reward financing and a coupon. Even though my first IPod broke down after just a month + of usage, I did get it replaced with another new one. I love this thing! It helps me keep track of my daily activities and commitments, shopping lists for different stores, monthly and daily tracking of certain activities and events, has a version of the ESV bible on it, allows me to take quick and easy-to-store sermon notes on it, functions as an alarm clock and a timer, and lets me listen to music and podcasts. I also play Pac-Man every now and then when I'm really bored and out somewhere. It really helps me in so many ways. I would be lost without it now.

2) Having my sisters move closer to where I live. I see my younger sister,Sarah, and her husband and two kids much more often now. We have dinner together regularly, go places together, go to movies and coffee, and just hang out together. Really, really cool. And then my older sister lives close to my favorite 7-11. I regularly see her boyfriend David getting a refill with his Big Gulp while I'm getting mine! She and David also see my kids more and I'll drop off goodies every now and then and chat about all sorts of stuff with them. They are great people. I love them dearly and am glad they're so much closer.

My sister Sarah and my girls paddling around Ventura Harbor this summer

3)Re-doing our backyard. This was a big project in the early Spring. It turned out very well. I now have several vegetable garden areas and a hummingbird and butterfly habitat I really enjoy gardening. It's a lot of work, but I'm energized and fulfilled by it. We've also been able to host more large family gatherings because our backyard accommodates so many people. The view from our backyard is simply breathtaking, too, especially in the winter.


Before

After
4)Starting my new blog The Domain of Delightful Domesticity in the spring. It's fun! It's validating to me to look back over my posts and see the fruits-literally- of my labors. I also know that I can tell my girls in the future that on my blog they'll find recipes, "how-to's," and recollections of all sorts of things we did as a family. It allows me to track projects I complete and feel that life is not just an endless series of dishes. laundry, toy pick up, etc.
5) I purchased two Hillsong CD's this year. These two CD's have some of the best worship songs I've ever heard on them. The encouragement and hope I've felt while listening to them is hard to communicate in words. I bought tickets to the Hillsong concert in March 2011 at the Staples Center (I'll have to bring my Lunchable!). Elena, Camille, and I are going as a late birthday present for me. So.Excited.About.That.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGAHgwMtrWM&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8wY6BPFoWU&feature=related
6)The Mother/Daughter Retreat at church went well. I signed up for this duty in September of 2009 not realizing what I had gotten myself into. It was a challenging task, I almost backed out, and learned A WHOLE LOT through this process. The amazing thing is that the retreat went fairly well, people had postive things to say about it, and I felt satisfied about it overall. I had some very helpful women take on certain tasks. I enjoyed putting together the goodie bags the most. God was faithful in helping me keep my commitment. It was a lot of work, however, and really took a toll. Yes....I learned a lot from that experience. And unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to take any pictures from it.
      Those are six of my Top Twelve Highlights from 2010. Stay tuned for the next six, hopefully before the year 2011 starts.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Mean Mannequin

     We were traipsing through Macy's today, Daisy and Julia and I, after a failed shopping trip for pants for Julia. That little tike just doesn't have enough pants and I'm having a hard time finding some that don't look exactly like her sister's (way too hard to get them in the right drawer - even when they have totally different pants!) I was near Macy's so I thought, "I'll give it a shot." No deal - literally. So, I made my way to the elevator with Daisy and Julia following close behind, or so I thought. I glance back to see Julia, about 10 feet behind me, staring intently at something I couldn't see. I could see that she was taken with this mysterious object and was reaching her hand out like she was daring herself to touch it. I pause and watched her, wondering what it was she was looking at. I see her staring with greater intensity, willing herself to reach out and touch "it."
     And then she did.
     "Agh!!!" she screamed and jumped back. By this time I walked the couple of steps to reassure her and see what it was she was staring so intently at. This is who I saw.

    
      A mean mannequin! (And a mannequin child with no undershirt and massive cleavage! Who dresses these child mannequins? Perverts on parole?!) "Oh, Julia, " I said gently, "did you get shocked touching that mannequin?" She nodded a fearful, "yeah." Being the sensitive mother that I am, always trying to validate my child's emotional wounds, I laughed out loud. The three of us then took a closer look. I tried to encourage Julia to go over and touch it again and see that it wasn't a real person. She wouldn't. Daisy, however, always eager to make friends, was ready to pose. 

     Julia just stood back and stared. I don't blame her.

    In fact, as we left, I should've given all the mean mannequins the evil eye. And put a Twinkie in their hands. They all look they need one - or two.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Christmas Morgue

     I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this post, so hold on to your seats. I had to remind myself that this is Christmastime, not Easter. The Easter story does have a brief morgue-like aspect to it when Jesus lay in his tomb for three days. We know how that story ends - hallelujah! The greatest and most significant miracle to ever occur in all of time happened when Jesus rose from the dead, conquered sin and death, and defeated Satan. Easter is a holiday we should celebrate everyday because EVERYDAY the implications of Christ's resurrection should impact our lives with the joy, peace, and strength we possess to please God and live profoundly satisfying and hopeful lives.
     But, back to my hopefully-not-too morbid post. So, it started like this: a restful Thanksgiving weekend prompted Tim to get all the Christmas decorations out and decorate everything, everywhere, hallelujah and amen. "Christmas is on!" Tim really fancies Christmas decorations which I think is just too cute. He got up at 4 am one post-Christmas morning to go to Stats' After Christmas Sale and came home with a fabulous, huge, colorful wreath that proudly hangs above our fireplace as of November 27th. Last year, when my Dad was doing some downsizing, we inherited his front yard nativity scene of light -up plastic figures. This marvelous set comes with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (of course!), 8 angels, 3 wise men, a shepherd boy with two sheep, and a cow. On the bottom of each figure is a hole to put a light and sand to weight it down and keep it upright.
     There was only one wee problem. After Tim worked with great, intense Christmas cheer all afternoon long, I came home that evening to see what looked like dead bodies lying in the front yard with some twinkling lights hanging from the house. Huh? I thought. I figured they were the nativity scene characters unlit and laying down on the grass, but it looked creepy. Even Camille mentioned this same observation a couple of days later. Tim apparently got every figurine weighted down with sand, but crookedly, so most of them fell down. And then as he placed all the lights in the figures and turned the switch on POP! SNAP! The whole light feature apparently shorted out and left the Holy Family with their priceless newborn in the dark, lying down for dead.
The grisly scene in my front yard

   The one problem with this whole scenario is that Tim has been working really long hours this past month and in December he's working even longer ours. He leaves home around 6:20 am and doesn't come home till around 7 or 8 pm most nights. He will be working Saturday mornings, too. It's not unusual to find him in bed around 8:30 pm snoring loudly from sheer exhaustion. (Have I ever mentioned how grateful I am to have such a hardworking, honorable husband? He is so awesome!) Knowing this, Tim put all the decorations up right after Thanksgiving. I'm not sure when he'll get back to figuring out this light and balance situation. I can try to remedy the weight issue and try to get the Holy Family with their entourage upright. If I can't, I suppose I could drag the whole assemblage down to the basement or pray for a miracle. Maybe this will be like Easter after all; God will miraculously resurrect the Holy Family! And in my front yard of all places!
     In the meantime, I better get out there and figure out what I can do. I want a cheery, happy Christmas scene in my front yard - nothing resembling death in anyway. That wouldn't be very neighborly, would it?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looking for Funny in Dangerous Places

TWO DAYS AGO
    My blog posts have not been funny lately. I miss my funny blog posts. My posts were funnier when my sense of order and peace was shaky. Now that I'm feeling like I have things "under control" I've gone back to being boring. Depression and trauma recovery have their advantages, huh? How sad. But, you know what they say about funny comedians: they are hiding their pain, very well, behind their humor. I really don't want painful circumstances, but I would like to be a little funnier than I have been.
(Sorry, Obama enthusiasts. I couldn't help getting a
 political jab in with this picture.
 I'm usually a-political, but I couldn't help it.)
     The sad thing is, I can't make myself be funny. It's easy to be boring. Excessively self-introspective. Morbidly serious. Those emotions and written expressions have their place. Sometimes. But I want funny. Laugh out loud hilarious. Gut-busting, tears- streaming- from- my- eyes  guffawingHow do I get back to being just a little funnier without being mean, negative, sarcastic, or too self-deprecating? I don't know. I'm going to think about that one. Perhaps I can look around and observe all the                             ludicrous things I see in my everyday life.



TODAY 
       It didn't take long! I took my 4 youngest girls to the park today after dropping books (overdue at that!) at no less than 3 libraries. So, we get to the lovely, sort-of woodsy La Canada park and begin to play. Fresh air. Running around. Lots of cute little kiddos at the park. Lovely community feeling in the air. How idyllic. Whoo-hoo!
     And then we saw it.
     The play structure to the north part of the park had plastic, orange lattice-type stuff tightly encircling it with yellow "CAUTION" tape intertwined around it. Huh? What was wrong with the play structure? We didn't go too close to it, until we were swinging on the tire swing. (That was really fun, by the way!) This is what we saw and then we understood. I began to joke with the girls what a "slide ride!" that would be if some poor, unsuspecting, practically blind kid didn't see the missing bottom to the slide. We laughed and continued the "what-if" banter, remarking that it actually looked like fun to just try it out and see what a thrill ride that would be. I would catch them, of course. Perhaps laughing about and imagining something so dangerous was silly and irresponsible of me. But, life is too short to not laugh at whatever you can. And me and my girls found this funny.
     Suffice it to say, we didn't indulge our crazy curiosity and break the rules of plastic caution tape and orange, plastic lattice stuff. (My girls' father, after all, does have a Masters degree in Public Health. He's always been Mr. Safety. Who am I to undo all the safety thinking he's impressed upon them over the years?! Far be it for me to do such an unthinkable thing!)
     At any rate, we left the park and went home safely, following most of the traffic rules and arriving home all intact. The whole slide thing has made me a little concerned, though: am I going to have one of those dreams tonight where I'll jolt awake because I'll have that sensation of falling?!  I suppose there would be some poetic justice in that....

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Grace-filled Surprises

     It feels like forever ago since I last posted on my blog. Hmm....what to write....I've been busy! At the end of the evening, when the house is picked up, homework is finished, the last story is read, details about tomorrow have been discussed, and I finally have my jammies on and teeth brushed and flossed,  I squeeze in some reading time.
  Ahhh....just a couple of pages.....Right now I'm reading Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity by Charles Swindoll. I had done an excellent bible study on the book of Esther about 9 years ago and thought I knew the book fairly well. Charles Swindoll never disappoints, though. He is a theologian and his detailed handling and explanation of this beautiful woman's place in biblical history is, so far, fantastic. I am surprised by how much more I'm getting out of it. I'm only about a 1/4 of the way through it and am enjoying every chapter.



     The other book I'm reading is a child's book about blood. Yes, you read that right. It's a junior health-type book about the human body and blood. It's quite interesting and at my intellectual level!
     There have been quite a few surprises this last month. The weight loss program I am on (Lord's Table - Setting Captives Free) has been phenomenal.As of today, I've lost almost 22 pounds in 8 weeks. It's a internet-based bible study I do daily (or those days when I can get to it). I also have a mentor that I e-mail my bible study answers to and she gives me feedback and prays for me. Really exceptional material and life-changing. How much more weight I lose is up to God. I'm just relieved to take off all the extra weight I gained this last year. I was so uncomfortable I couldn't believe it. I had never been heavier and, by the grace of God, will never be that heavy again. The bible is clear that I am to eat for the glory of God. For too many years I have been eating for "Laura's glory" and the fruit was rotten. But it really is all about his grace and his Spirit. I can't do anything commendable without his Spirit prompting me and helping me every step of the way.
     Another surprise is how much peace I feel about Chloe and Leanne being back at school. All the misgivings I had about sending them to school have not been realized. Just the opposite. I was concerned that I would feel split by having half of my school-age kids home schooled and half of them in public school. Not so. Everyone has their place and it's working quite well. I also was concerned about having to get up early and rushing the girls to school. Not so. It's helpful to get up early and we don't rush to school ordinarily. The mornings are fairly peaceful and organized. This is amazing to me. Another concern I had were the influences the girls would be exposed to at school. The jury is out on this one. So far, so good. We'll see about that one. I was also worried that I'd be overwhelmed and put out by all the school communication, fundraisers, things to sign and paperwork, etc. There are forms to fill out and plenty to put on the calendar, but I'm not feeling overwhelmed by it yet.
     I am overwhelmed, however, by all the trips I make getting Camille to and from all of her different places; art lessons, her writing class, her cooking class, her running program. That aspect is challenging. But having Camille at home with a computer-based curriculum has not been challenging overall. There has been much grace with her for this school year so far. I've enjoy seeing her mature and having her fun-loving, animated personality around.
     Looking back, it was a challenging counseling appointment with our pastor in the spring earlier this year. We were talking about various schooling options for Camille and how to direct her artistic inclinations. I really wanted to home school the girls, no matter how much I had to change my current approach. I had determined which curriculum I was going to teach each one of them and was excited about that. I was also looking forward to the changes I was going to implement and trying new things.
  
     And then I prayed about it. Uh - oh.
  
     That's what our pastor asked us to do.  Tim really wanted Leanne and Chloe in school and Camille at home again. I wanted them all in school, or all at home. (Elena is so independent and hard-working that I hardly do much to help her out. She takes quite a few academic classes at her co-op that she's a breeze to home school). But I really wanted them home again. So, our pastor simply asked us to pray about it. We prayed together once or twice, and then I prayed on my own.
     And God is faithful. He impressed upon me that I was asking my husband to follow my vision of home schooling our children, but that wasn't Tim's vision. God directed me, in that still small voice, to adapt myself to my husband's vision. If I were to come under my husband's direction, there would be grace and favor in that submission. I was not happy about this change of plans. Tim reluctantly agreed to have Camille go into 8th grade at the middle school, but at the last minute I felt God direct me to ask Tim about that again. Tim still felt uncomfortable about her going into middle school. And so....she stayed home. I was quite depressed at how the year was shaping up.
     But God was right. He's always right. So, now I feel like he's using this small step of obedience to point to something bigger. The principle is this: when I feel like God is directing me to do something I don't want to do, do it! Immediately and without complaining. Because favor and grace and  joy will follow. Okay, God, help me to get this lesson down solidly....



Monday, October 11, 2010

Self-Pity vs. Self-Validation

     So, I heard about this woman who had a really rough couple of years. I mean, really rough, couple of years. Financial devastation, misunderstood, physically afflicted, unfairly blamed, huge losses of relationships and emotional reserves. Bad. Just recently, she felt that God opened her eyes, ever so gently and slowly, to see that some of her suffering was because of self-pity. Ouch. She realized that this was true and repented and got right with God and others in this area of her life.  Freedom, joy, and peace flooded her heart for the first time in a long time. Thank you Lord!
     I read about another lady who had an awful experience that profoundly traumatized her. She was really wronged. Really badly. She acknowledged her anger at those who hurt her, let herself think through and ponder her pain and didn't deny that she was angry. She avoided situations that would cause her more heartache and grief over what she had lost. She was wise and thoughtful. And one day she was rewarded. She woke up one morning and her anger was gone. "It no longer served me, " she wrote. Wow! She also acknowledged the pain her body feels, the specific aches and pains and places where her body reveals denied and stuffed anger and sadness. Wow again. I was so impressed and wrote her an e-mail to let her know.
     I mused over these two ladies' reactions to profound hardships and heart ache. One engaged in self-pity and one engaged in self-validation. Both ladies were ultimately set free from being a victim of their circumstances. Not all people get free. My feisty Grandma would tell her bitter tales about her sisters well into her 70's. Oh, Grandma and her bitter stories. So sad.
     But anyway, what is the difference between self-validation and self-pity? I am the queen of self-pity. I am really, really good at it. If there was Self-Pity 101 offered at a nearby university, they'd ask me to teach it. If you googled "self-pity" in images, you'd see a picture with my sad-looking, down cast face. Yes, folks, self-pity is like a sport for me and I win every time.
     But no. I lose. I lose opportunities to trust God and thank him for my trials. I'm getting a teensy weensy bit better at that, but still I whine and complain and moan about injustice (I'm really big on that one). So, when I heard about this woman who was set free from self-pity I became rather curious. If I don't feel sorry for myself, what do I do then with being wronged? Forgive 70 times 7. Okay. What next? That get really tiresome after awhile! I think part of my issue is that I don't want to validate the pain. I don't want to feel those feelings, although I'm quick to complain about them.
     A couple of weeks ago I related a difficult situation I had encountered to a stranger. Big Mistake. She proceeded to evaluate my trial and give her spin on it - after getting the facts all mixed up. It was so disconcerting and upsetting to me. I abruptly cut off communication with this woman, offending her in the process. Several days later, I called her by phone and wanted to "clear the air" and explain my outlook; "I had come to a peace about my situation and was not asking for your feedback. Your questions and comments re-opened wounds and it was quite painful." What I did not say to her, although I hope she can learn this lesson quickly, was that I really needed her to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry for your difficult situation. It sounds like it was very painful." Or something like that - even half of that. I became aware of the need to have my pain noticed. Please just see how much this hurt me and don't analyze it for me. That's my job. I have to own my reactions to the cards Life deals me. Just see my pain and sympathize. Not pity, just "I'm sorry for your pain."
     I ended the conversation as pleasantly and kindly as I could have. I really wanted to affirm and encourage this woman in the work she does. I was no longer offended by the social boundary she crossed because I set a boundary for her that was comfortable for me. But I did want to give her the opportunity to be heard. Nothing that she said to clarify what she had communicated via e-mail changed how insensitive she was. But she realized that she should have been more careful with comments and not to converse by e-mail with a stranger about serious issues. So, valuable lesson learned.
     I took many lessons away from that encounter as well. One thing I am freshly aware of is to see and validate the pain, discomfort, and inconveniences others complain about. I believe that if they feel heard, they will not feel the need to engage in self-pity. Hmm....more to ponder and observe how effective this is.
     At any rate, how's your day going?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Better Than A Hallelujah?

Hallelujah:
-interjection:
   1. Praise ye the Lord!
-noun:
   2. an exclamation of "hallelujah!"
   3. a shout of joy, praise, or gratitude

     So, you might be wondering where I'm going with this. Indulge me for 3 minutes and 38 + seconds, will you?
Click on the link and then come back, okay?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nMvvoXa9Yk&feature=related

     Are you back with me again? Cool. Thanks. That was one of Amy Grant's newest songs. I've heard it on K-FISH a couple of times and it has a great melody. Amy Grant's voice and singing style has always held a lot of appeal for me. She's soulful, sincere, and passionate. However, as I was listening to this song and pondering the lyrics, I felt my theological hackles being raised.
     To start with, I love that the song is bringing emotional and often painful moments that people experience into view and encouraging honesty before God. That is absolutely wonderful.It's incredibly freeing and healing to be honest with God with our painful emotions. God will not despise a broken and contrite heart. He hears our cries, draws near to us and loves us. He comforts and counsels us like no else can.
     However, in Isaiah we read that we were "created for his glory." We were made to worship God. In the New Testament , in several places, we are commanded to praise God in our difficult circumstances. Rejoice in our hardships, because they are creating maturity in us. Our response to every trial really should be....worship. Praise. That's right, my sad friends, "hallelujah!" Our first cry to God shouldn't be our complaint or our brokenness. It should always be an acknowledgment of his kindness, faithfulness, and sovereignty. That is, if we want to grow in maturity and the character of Christ. 
     Flash back to fall of 2006 for me. Let's see...we were in escrow buying our rental property that I didn't want to buy, Daisy was a small baby with lactose intolerance issues so I had to remove all dairy products from my diet, Chloe was needing several appointments at Children's Hospital to diagnose and get treatment for her severe speech disability, Leanne was having mysterious bouts of vomiting that came whenever and would require hospital trips, appointments with incompetent or rude GI specialists, and I was home schooling Elena, Camille, and Leanne. Additionally, our church decided to take a break from Care Groups that fall. My main source of genuine, reliable fellowship with folks who would hear my burdens and pray for me was gone right during the zenith of all those trials. To say my plate was full,  that I was maxed out, and felt very alone is a gross understatement. I had cried out to God many times and was stretched to the breaking point often.
     However, one cataclysmic decision of hard-won, bare-souled, bottom-of the-rope determination stands frozen in time for me. I was sitting in the bathroom trying to get away from all the kids and I remember BY FAITH  thanking God for all the trials. Offering up a sacrifice of praise because it was the only thing I hadn't done and had no other options at that point. After all, why don't I just obey Scripture? I remember that powerful moment when God came down and lifted my soul up. Something broke in the heaven-lies. It was a momentous turning point. From that point on, the difficulties were still present, but I felt so much better, freer, and had much more peace. All my honest, painful cries to God, which also reflected self-pity and anger at God because of  my circumstances, did not yield the deliverance that heartfelt praise and worship did. In just a few months, all those trials would lift and things would take a dramatic turn for the better. But it began with my acknowledgment of God's goodness even in the midst of crushing, unrelenting discouragement.
     So, dear Amy Grant, your lyrics are a bit off. Nothing is better than a hallelujah.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Up and Running

     The first week of school for all my girls just commenced yesterday. Whew! Here's the rundown of who is where: Elena (10th grade) and Camille (8th grade) are being home schooled, Leanne (4th grade) and Chloe (2nd grade) are at Sierra Madre Elementary, and Daisy (4 years old, pre-K) and Julia (2 years old) are at home with Mom. This is a sampling of  the activities that promise to keep me hopping throughout the year: Elena volunteers at a nearby hospital, Camille volunteers at a nearby library, I volunteer in Leanne and Chloe's classrooms 1 hour per week per child, MOPS twice a month with Julia and Daisy, art, piano, singing and cooking lessons for various children, and a  running program for another child. Then there's Friday co-op classes for my older girls. Thankfully, I have almost no involvement in those - yet.
     Quite honestly, the structure is beneficial. Summer had been very unstructured, unfocused and rather uneventful. I was grateful it was a cool summer, but it was different having Tim home throughout the whole summer and out of a job. I wasn't looking forward to the girls starting school, either. I told myself that I didn't need to look forward to starting the school year, I just had to do it. "Be faithful to what your called to, Laura" I kept telling myself. And sure enough, that first week I had little glimpses of joy and satisfaction at having my time claimed by various activities and involvements that I believe are in my children's best interests. It was also quite gratifying to have just Daisy and Julia with me during the morning. (The older girls are fairly self-sufficient in their school work in the morning.) We went to the library and park several times. I really want to soak in these last few years having toddlers and preschoolers. It's a precious time for me and them and it turns into high school before you know it.
     I'm sure next month I'll be complaining about how worn out I am! I hope to keep a grounded sense of humor, the right focus, and a continual prayer and praise life. I can't imagine managing a household with 6 kids and all their spiritual, educational, social, developmental,  and physical needs without Christ. I don't have that natural love for all these aspects of child raising and the sacrifices I'm required to make can seem challenging at times. I really have many interests that go beyond my home and I look forward to the day when I can begin to explore those interests. But not at this time. This time belongs to my husband and children. I have a whole lifetime to explore my interests. I will never regret throwing everything I have into caring for my children.
     But I really enjoy the quiet at the end of the day when I can curl up with a good book for just a couple of moments, even if I am fighting to keep my eyes open for just one more page....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Vacationed In Hell And Lived To Tell About It

 
The Westin Desert Willow
     Well, to be accurate, Palm Springs isn't exactly Hell, but when it's 121 degrees in the early afternoon on Highway 111 near downtown Palm Springs, it's mighty close to that undesirable location. Or when it's 100 degrees at 10:00 at night and my cheerful, heat-tolerant husband says, "Hey, wanna' go for a walk? It's a beautiful evening!" I feel guilty and wimpy for saying, "No way, Jose! (or, Tim, in this case and in every case. I actually have never taken a walk, or will, with any man named Jose. Not that that's not a nice name for a man, just no man I will ever stroll around with at 10:00 at night. Boy do I digress!) Please remind me NEVER to vacation there in the late summer. My Dad and Step-mom were kind to give us some of their time share days in the brand new and lovely Westin Desert Willows, but this vacation princess can't handle the heat.
     The desert landscape, especially in winter, spring, and late fall, is actually quite magnificent. I really appreciate and enjoy some of the lovelier views of the San Gorgonia mountains and the lovely desert flowers in the Palm Springs and Joshua Tree desert areas. Just not in the dead heat of summer.
     Interestingly enough, the day (early!) we returned from Palm Springs, I had started Chuck Swindoll's biography about Moses, entitled Moses: Man of Selfless Dedication. Chuck describes how Moses, at around the age of 40, killed an Egyptian man, and then fled to the desert of Midian. (His description of the hot desert was so familiar to me!) Moses begins tending sheep for Jethro, marries the man's daughter, and has two boys. He led this quiet, humble, obscure life for FORTY YEARS. He had been schooled in the finest Egyptian schools and was being groomed to be the next pharaoh of Egypt. That is, until that fateful day when he avenged a fellow Hebrew's honor, leading to murder, and then his escape after he is found out.
     Chuck goes on to make the application that many of us are in "desert seasons" where life is not as we had hoped or would like. Life is hard, confusing, unsettling. We wonder when things will change for us. Apparently, Moses had no hope of ever leaving the desert. About 80 of his 120 years on earth were spent in the desert. God used that man in a mightily memorable and potently powerful way, though. NO doubt about it. It is quite reasonable to conclude that he was being prepared to be God's agent in leading the Israelites out of Egypt during his "desert training" which had been custom-fit for him.
      It made me wonder about a couple things, naturally. Am I in a desert season of my life? Do I wish things were different? Am I waiting for God to deliver me from trials and difficulties that seem unabated? Hmmm...
     Yes and no. At the foundational level of my faith, my desire is to be content in ALL seasons, even the hardest ones. The Apostle Paul encourages this when he says, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Philippians 4:11).  It seems ungrateful, proud, and presumptive of me to say, "God, I feel like I'm in a desert. When are things going to get better?" Does that kind of thinking mean I'm not grateful for all I have now? I've come to accept that life is not fair (my Dad was right!). This outlook is actually not depressing or negative - it's based in reality. And once I accept this reality, any pleasant circumstance, person, or turn of events is really appreciated and welcomed. I find I enjoy life more because I'm not expecting or feel entitled to ease, convenience, or comfort. I have quite a ways to go with this outlook, but so far it has been quite helpful at keeping more emotionally even-keeled and calmer with life's unpleasant surprises. This is particularly true when I go shopping now and, heaven forbid, have to return anything!
     Encouragingly enough, Chuck Swindoll cites this passage of Scripture regarding Moses' time in the desert: "He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10). How Chuck applies this to Moses' life, and the application for our lives as well, is most heartening. I highly recommend the book.
     As I was writing this post earlier, I was reminded of a "vision" I saw about 20 years ago when I was a new Christian. I was living at home, going to PCC, my Mom was sick with breast cancer, and there was the ever-present garden-variety smattering of conflicts, tension and challenges that I grew up with, and one newer challenge to boot. My parents weren't happy about my zealous, new-found faith. They were critical and unkind.
      I remember one particular day when I was in my room depressed about life and talking to Jesus about the whole thing. I was probably crying. In my mind's eye, I saw a picture of a desert that I had never seen before. This was a desert in the extreme sense - a desolate wasteland, ground so dry there were deep, jagged cracks all over the surface, and absolutely NOTHING around as far as the eye could see. There was not one living thing anywhere. This place was death personified in a landscape form. And....there I was, right in the middle of it, hovering by myself, sullen, upset, all alone. And then in my mind I see Jesus - not really his face, but a man that I knew was him in long, flowing robes and a walking stick. From out of nowhere he appeared and was walking straight toward me. When he got close to me, he simply looked at me. I had been found. He had met me in the place that I had gone to hide in my self-pity, despair and discouragement. He didn't hug me, chastise me, or even smile at me. He just looked at me with a warm look in his eyes that said: "Here I am. You can't ever get too far away where I won't find you. And I will always find you."
     To say the least, it was profoundly encouraging then and now. Perhaps you're in a desert season? The temptation in those times is to GET OUT in ways that might not honor God or benefit you in the long run. What's so amazing, though, is that He's looking for you and He will find you. He's just a heart's cry away.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happy 18th Wedding Anniversary, Tim!

     Oddly enough, I won't be seeing Tim till tomorrow. He has the girls till tomorrow in Palm Springs all by himself, plus one of the girls' friends. I've been home for the weekend soooooo enjoying myself! When I've called to see how everyone is, I hear urgent pleas, "Please come soon! It's crazy here!" I hear the screaming in the background and I don't doubt it. I'll be leaving tomorrow with my sister, Sarah, to join them. I think it's beneficial that they all really miss me. What a sweet reunion it will be!
     18 years of marriage....what have I learned? A couple of thoughts come to mind:
1) God loves me and my husband more than I could possibly understand.
2 )God is more committed to my marriage than I am.
3) God will do anything and everything to help me honor my commitment to Him and my husband. Usually the "anything" is protracted, painful, disorienting trials that force me to depend on God.
4) I experience severe trials quickly when I go against my husband's authority in a rebellious manner. I have come to believe this is God's quick and kind discipline to keep me in a position of safety - submitted to my husband who is under God's authority. This is primarily protective for me.
5 ) My marriage is not about me, my feelings, my rights, what I deserve, etc. It is about glorifying God in every way I possibly can with each thought, comment, act, deed, etc. toward my husband. It is the resolution of my heart and mind to love and delight in my husband and want his good and well-being above my own comfort. This is only done with complete, constant dependence on God. See # 3.
6) My daughters are watching my example as a wife, friend, and partner to my husband, their father. They are learning everything important about marriage by observing my behavior, attitudes, and words toward their father. By loving their father and trusting God for strength and biblical guidance, I provide a protective environment of peace (even in the craziness of our large family) and unity because I am submitted to Dad's authority and trusting God to lead their father. This has provided many moments of laughter, instruction, and joy in our family. This is God's doing.
7) God will reward me for my faithfulness and commitment to my husband because it is done to please my sweet, loving savior, Jesus Christ.
8)I fear God. He watches and sees and knows. He will not be mocked. He will hold me to my commitment. See # 3 and # 7.
9) No one can be happily married for the long haul without following biblical principles, regardless of whether they acknowledge God or not. Marriage works because God's commandments of submission, respect, service, and sacrifice between husband and wife are followed. Again, this is regardless of whether the couple would acknowledge that these are God's laws or not.
 10) Only Jesus can satisfy the depths of my needy soul. Only Jesus can bring delight and peace to my troubled thoughts and painful emotions. He is my perfect Comforter, Counselor, and Lover of my soul.
    Anyway, those are a couple of my thoughts. I love Tim.  I love his sweetheart lips, which several of our daughters have (yeah!), his beautiful sculpted nose and his fabulous hair. I sound superficial, but there are many more things I love about him. He's a hard worker, an excellent provider, he has a sweet, decent, kind heart, he's very hospitable and welcoming to our home, he delights in our daughters and wants the very best for them, and he's got a funny sense of humor. He asks me out on dates on a regular basis! I love that he wants to be with me. I cherish him and see him as a gift from God.
     I'm looking forward to seeing him tomorrow!
A picture of a picture taken in November of 2009

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer Birthday Highlights

     Julia's 2nd birthday was July 13th. Here are some highlights:



     Next was Camille's 13th birthday on July 26th. We had a small family dinner because I had taken her to Magic Mountain a month prior. I bought her a small cake and some cupcakes for my other girls.

Happy Bumpa - we're happy he's alive!

     Elena's birthday was August 8th and she turned 15. She had a slumber party with her friends. 
Elena was hiding in this picture - but not Camille!

     Whew! I'm done with my girls' birthdays for the year. It was a nice birthday season. Happy birthday girls!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet? The Princess Goes Camping

     Umm, I don't consider myself a "princess," but I never grew up camping on family vacations. My family lived in Mammoth Lakes from about mid-June to early September every summer from 1971 to 1982. We hiked, fished, canoed, water-skied (a total blast! although a little algae-ish at times), went inner tubing (so much fun!) down the Owens River, and did all sorts of really fun outdoorsy things in the High Sierras.

     And then we went to our large, spacious condo and showered, ate hot pizza and ice cream sandwiches, and sat in the jacuzzi down at the Rec Room after playing endless games of Pac Man, ping pong, and Pool. We had lots of friends and loud music (Reo Speedwagon, Journey, Billy Joel, Van Halen, U2 - this was the music of my childhood and early 'tweenhood - so awesome!). We'd walk up the road from the Rec Room gazing at the marvelously God-glorifying bright twinkling stars against the black night sky and breeze in the front door of the condo. We'd watch some VHS (so new and novel at the time!) God-dishonoring, stupid, teen horror flick, and then collapse in our cozy beds with warm, comfy blankets and soft pillows. Ahh...it was bliss in the High Sierras.

     So, you see, I never knew sleeping on the hard ground in sleeping bags (or in the car after a 3 am trip across the dark campground to the bathroom and then returning to find Tim and my little ones sprawled all over my portion of our bedding and so off to the car I went), eating wienies and beans over a smokey, dirty fire grill, wrestling with roasted marshmallows and chocolate stuck to every inch of my and my toddler's hands, and dirt - dirt, dirt, dirt, and showers that cost 75 cents after a  hike across the campground lugging all my clothes and camp shower toiletries.

     I don't want to be a princess, but in some ways, I am - a High Sierra Princess! (That sounds so much better!)

     Several months ago I discussed with Tim the idea that maybe we should take a family vacation. We have a very limited vacation budget. So, I reserved a couple of days at McGrath State Beach in Oxnard. I don't like the idea of having to hide our camp food from bears. That is way too difficult for me to fathom. So, beach camping it is! A week approaching our camping trip, I was rather disinclined to try and round up all of our camping gear and figure out food and how to work a brand new propane stove we've never used, and all the bedding. Ugh....if Tim didn't want to help out in a BIG way - no problem. We'll just forgo the trip.

     Tim was willing to help out. So, off we went. We had an enjoyable time. I only had one temper tantrum over access to the bathrooms without going through other people's camp sites. (Please people, make a path!) At any rate, my plan was to sleep over Friday night and then leave with my little ones on Saturday evening, after some friends joined us. Tim would leave the following day with our friends. I was happy to see our friends, and happier to leave.

     My own shower felt so delightful and my bed was so welcoming. You see, I'm not that much of a princess. Okay, okay, I'm willing to try camping again, but I have to make adjustments to the whole bed thing and learn how to work that propane stove. I will, because camping is adventurous and memorable, even for a High Sierra Princess.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Responsibility and Restitution - Part 2: The Vacuum Cleaner and Starbucks

     So, it's taken me awhile to get back to my little blog. This post is a tad humbling, but here I go:
Along with a $5 Starbucks gift card (this is where Starbucks comes in), here's a sample of the note I enclosed in a small envelope for each recipient:
          Dear Vacuum Cleaner Saleswoman  and Manager at Sears(I used their real names, actually):
                     Please forgive me for my rude and demanding behavior the other day.  I allowed my frustration to turn in to pride and selfishness on my part. I am sorry. Here is a $5 Starbucks gift card to help you recover from having to deal with me the other day. Thank you for understanding. Sincerely, Laura Thomas

     This note, and the event that preceded it,  came the same week I was reading The Kalahari Typing School for Men. In that book I was so affected by the story of the man who seeks restitution for grievous wrongs he committed over 20 years ago. The restitution not only included an apology, but money directed in helpful ways as well. All parties were satisfied and a wrong had been righted to the best of  any person's ability. As I was reading this, my vacuum cleaner (here's where the vacuum cleaner comes into the title of this post)  had been out of commission and should have been fixed by Sears. There was much communication, missed calls, misinformation, and a growing layer of crumbs and yuck on all my carpeted floors. It really got to me. And then I was told, while offering no loaner vacuum cleaner and waiting for over two weeks, that they could not fix the vacuum cleaner. I won't go into how I responded after having been patient and understanding for those two weeks, but suffice it to say, the manager and saleswoman will enjoy a much-deserved latte or frappuccino on me.
     I decided to give them gift cards because as I was reading that story of the man taking responsibility for his wrong doing AND making restitution, I had to ask myself: do I make restitution as well as take responsibility when I've messed up with others? When I'm argumentative with Tim, or I yell at my kids, do I make an extra effort to not only ask for forgiveness, but do something extra special for them? Maybe a hug, a thoughtful note, their favorite cookies, or maybe a quick getaway with Mom for a little chat and an ice cream cone? 
     What brought on so many tears as I was reading that story in The Kalahari Typing School for Men was the idea that someone would go the extra mile, so to speak, to try and make their apology have some meaning to it. That man had to sacrifice some of his wealth to prove he meant, "I'm sorry." It hit a tender nerve in my heart because there are issues in my past that I would love for people to not only say "I'm sorry" but go the extra step with restitution. I, however, don't want money or any material things as restitution. It's hard even now for me to put into words how I struggle with this longing to completely  forgive people who have wronged me, and what restitution might look like. Perhaps restored relationships and a deeper care and consideration that goes both ways in the relationship. To some extent, I saw this occur in one relationship of mine this past year. I still marvel at how God put all that together. Another story for another time. Anyway, with other unresolved relationships and circumstances letting expectations go of how all this will work out for my good, and theirs, has been a trial for me.
      It takes me back to my faith in Jesus Christ. He took all my sin, and everyone else's, on himself so that the ultimate penalty for sin, Hell,  would be removed for those who accept his free offer of salvation. For the believer, we're told that God works all things together for the good of those who love Jesus and are called according to his purpose. I believe all these things are true of me: I love the Lord and I've been called to glorify him with my life: my "purpose." 
     What I struggle with is the patience and humility required to trust God, extend a blessing of prayer or practical kindness to those who have hurt me, and remain more aware of my need for forgiveness than my desire for others' to take responsibility and make restitution when they've wronged me. This takes a steady supply of focusing on the Author and Finisher of my faith, and being vigilant to keep my own heart in a place of dependence on God. Quite a challenge for this head-strong, proud girl.
     I also felt God tugging at the photo album of my heart and opening it to pictures of my past where I've struggled with injustices I observed and suffered. I felt God was showing me that this area of injustice is a sensitive trigger because there are many incidents that I need to bring to him to let him heal and help me put in the right perspective. These healing matters of the heart - this weighty business with God - often takes time and comes in little waves of prayers, conversations, journal-ling, etc. But just the awareness of why this area of justice, being wronged, pride, and a demanding spirit churns in my thinking and emotions is exceptionally helpful in lessening its power. I feel like I'm making progress in responding to customer service issues, vacuum cleaners, an imperfect husband, and flawed, though adorable, children in a way that pleases God and glorifies Him.
     I'm so glad that he's more committed to this process than I am. I can rest in His faithfulness.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Responsibility and Restitution - Part 1: The Girlfriend and the Radio

     So, I've really been enjoying the series of books by Alexander McCall Smith lately. The first book, made into an HBO series, is titled The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of these books. I am enlightened by the wisdom, intelligence, sensitivity and kindness of the lead character, Precious Ramotswe. Her assistant, the ever plucky and highly competent (97% on her exam from the Botswana Secretarial College!) Grace Makutsi is charming as well. Book number 4, The Kalahari Typing School for Men really touched a very emotional chord in my heart; a chord I was surprised existed to the extent that was revealed.
     In this book, there is a man who seeks the services of Mma. Ramotswe to find three individuals from his past. As a college student he was staying with a host family who had been very kind to him. As young and foolish individuals can be, certain events in his life having to do with a girlfriend and a radio led him to make atrocious decisions that would torment him for twenty years. That is, until Mma. Ramotswe tracks down the individuals and smartly helps this now successful and wealthy family man, Mr.Molefolo, confess his wrongdoings, take responsibility for his awful choices, and make appropriate restitution for the whole mess to two individuals. The restitution was costly, but Mma. Ramotswe brilliantly points out that, "I do not think that you can make up for these things cheaply. Do you?" In the end, the man pays out a lot of money, but his clear conscience was priceless. The story ends very satisfactorily and happily.
      Restitution satisfies a wrong doing in a practical, tangible way.It is the ultimate, "Put your money where your mouth is." It almost always follows an acknowledgment of wrongdoing - an apology. One dictionary definition is: a making good of or giving an equivalent for some injury. My response to this beautiful and poignant illustration of this rare-found principle was, well, a real bawl-fest. Yep - I cried really hard and had to examine why I was so moved by this story.
     Just days later, this issue would come to the forefront in all places but Sears. I would be given the opportunity to work through this whole idea of justice (yes, customer service issues again!), taking responsibility for wrongdoings, making restitution, and having a clear conscience. It's rather a humbling story, involving a vacuum cleaner and Starbucks, so I'll save it for my next post. (I have to work up the courage to actually put it on my blog. Ahh...confession is beneficial for the soul...in a few days maybe....) Stay posted.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Roller Coasters and Reflexology: Whoo-Hoo and Ahhh...

In a 2 day span of time, my body has been thrust through air in 360 degree circles, I've fallen over 100 feet in midair, twisted, glided, been rocketed upwards at speeds exceeding 100 mph, whizzed through the air at high speeds on my belly and had my head jerked and pulled in every direction imaginable. I've shrieked, "Oh God! Oh God!" numerous times in sheer terror and exhilaration. My neck, shoulders, fingers and toes have been squeezed, grabbed, pounded on, rubbed and pummeled. My feet, arms, and back have been massaged,  pressed on, pulled, and  popped till I groaned, "uugghhh" and "ahhh...".

     And I loved every minute of it.

     It started about a month ago when Camille (pictured in upper left corner) asked to go to Magic Mountain with her non-skiddish, daring, FUN friends for her 13 the birthday. So, a month prior to her birthday, we embarked on our anticipation-filled trip to Six Flags Tattoo Mountain. Oh, sorry, that would be Six Flags Magic Mountain. (I got distracted at the memory of all those bare shoulders and legs with lotsa' colorful, sprawling, curious-looking tattoos. Tattoos will most likely be a whole separate blog post). We arrived early, waited in line, and then attacked the lines of the best rides EVER. To be with these 11 and 12 year old girls, one who was a newbie to Magic Mountain, Haylie,  was simply and utterly delightful. Shannon, the experienced Magic Mountain goer, filled me in on all the details about the rides. These girls, so charming and sweet, ran through the park, gave each other victorious "we lived to tell about it"  high fives, plotted excitedly their next destination of sheer delight and terror, and said continually throughout the day, "That was soooo awesome! Thank you sooo much Mrs. Thomas/Mom for bringing us here today. You rock!" To share in their enthusiasm, clapping and cheering in sheer jubilation as I watched them fall 150 feet and then swing back and forth 50 feet in the air on "Dive Devil" (a little extra $, but so worth it), made all my aches and pains the next day totally worth it.
     And I was rewarded. My sweet, classy and generous stepsister, Wendy, scheduled a 1 hour reflexology massage for for the two of us the next day - her treat (thanks again Wendy!). That would describe the massaging, pinching and pummeling in the latter part of the first paragraph. It was so wonderful and relaxing. I got to keep all my clothes on, too! Afterward, we traipsed through Old Town to a cute little Parisian cafe and had a sumptuous lunch and wonderful conversation.We'll have to make it a regular outing for sure!
     Magic Mountain, however, well....let's see...it'll be 4 more years till Leanne turns thirteen so I have some time to recover. Whew! I'll need it. And unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of us at Magic Mountain. I was worried about losing my camera or cell phone, and photos they take of you there were a small fortune. So, perhaps I'll update this blog post later with a picture of the three giggly, spirited tweenagers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Formula (Bag) for Success

     I take Tim to the Metro every morning at 5:45 am. We figure that we can save some money on gas and wear and tear on our Suburban if he takes the train to work in the morning. One afternoon I noticed the bag he stuffed all of his important "teacher" papers into as well as a  massive chemistry textbook, his sweater, and his lunch. It was a fairly large black vinyl bag with beige trim on the top. Up near the top zipper was a small tag that read "Enfamil LIPIL."
       Hmm....I pondered. Tim is a veteran teacher who has teaching credentials in life and physical sciences. The range of topics he's taught includes, but is not limited to: biology, chemistry, geology, algebra, physics, geometry, health education, and driver's education (I know - that last one's hard to believe but true). He's usually at school earlier than most teachers and leaves later than the rest. He works year round and teaches before the bell rings to signal that class has begun and is still shouting out last minute instructions as his students leave the class room. His department chair described this scene and I totally believed it. He pours dozens of hours into preparing to teach a newer subject, with detailed, publisher-worthy notes to help his students digest the materials more easily. His students' scores on state standardized tests are the highest of any teacher in his department. This is significant in itself. With a student population of almost 5,000 and over 20 teachers in his science department, I was impressed, but not surprised to learn this fact.Tim is an accomplished and well-respected teacher. And despite his boyish smile and quirky charm, at almost 6'4" with broad shoulders, he's a commanding presence in the classroom, too.

     And he carries a diaper bag to work.

     As he wrestled his diaper bag into our gas-saving little gray Corolla several times this week, I couldn't resist making a couple of comments about it when I picked him up from the Metro station.
     "Hi honey. How are you? Did you have enough formula for the day?" or
      "Hey Tim. How was your day? No one decked you on the streets of East LA as you carried a diaper bag to work, did they?" I was quick to reassure him, however, that he was manly enough to pull off a diaper bag briefcase. I let him know that his masculinity was not at all affected by his choice of carrying bags. After all, he is a Modern Man.
     The puzzled look on his face, slight shrug of the shoulders, and tired silence indicated to me that he didn't care about his choice of a carrying receptacle for his school stuff. Do you think I offered to buy him, let's say, for Father's Day, a well-appointed briefcase or a stately-looking canvas satchel? Nah. He would've declined it immediately for the following reasons:
1)Tim is very pragmatic. His diaper bag is perfectly capable of performing the job he needs it to. Why spend money if you don't have to?
2)It's not pink, floral, or frilly.
3)He is the ultimate absent-minded professor if there ever was one.
4)He is the father of six girls. Need I say more?
    
     No wonder I adore him!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Corner Office With A View

     I've been promoted! Sort of....We finally moved Julia out of her little nursery off our bedroom into the girls room. We managed to cram her crib into their room that already has two bunk beds-  one with a full size bed. Yes, it's a tad crowded (please don't call the fire department!), but it's very workable for now.
 ---Mother with a large family and very few bedrooms tip #1---Don't have any unnecessary toys, books, or clothes in the bedroom overflowing with kids. I've learned that kids don't need a lot of clothes and  books tend to get strewn all over the floor and ripped apart. This is very, very  bad (given that I have a love affair with books and the utmost respect for most of them). Solution: keep books only on beds and very few of them at that. And toys- oh those things we spend a ridiculous amount of money and time buying, sorting, organizing, and picking up again and again. Same principal applies, however:  the fewer toys, the better. Most of the girls' toys are stored in their closet up high and out of reach. The rest of the toys - and a limited amount at that - are stored in our large, spacious playroom (thank you, God!).
     Anyway, our plan when we constructed Julia's nursery off our bedroom was to eventually make that little room an office. It's in the southeast corner of our home and the view out of that window is the best view in the whole house. There are city lights to the south at night, a majestic mountain view to the north, and a peaceful field view to the east. Pure visual pleasure! So, after hours of wrestling with dozens of outdated files in our lonely filing cabinet that had been subjected to our scary, messy garage, I hauled it into my office. It fit perfectly in the corner next to my next desk and even looks quite satisfied  now that it's updated and ready for official home business!(That was some project! Tim saves everything! But not anymore....shh...) An organized filing system is critical to important documents that can't be easily "computerized." So, after negotiating the space and use of various pieces of furniture in and around my house (and basement) and buying some small things, I  set up "Mom's Office - Keep Out Or Enter At Your Own Risk." The only thing missing is an internet connection, but one more trip to Best Buy for an ether net cable splitter ought to do the trick.

     For the six years I've lived in this house, my "office" has been in a central location, accessible to all the kids and in full view of any visitors. It's been miserable, especially in the last couple of years with more kids home using the computer for school, games, "socializing," etc. To keep my papers and bills organized has been exceedingly challenging. To have a quiet place to work on record-keeping, budgeting, planning, and so on has been non-existent and profoundly discouraging. For most of our married life I have paid the bills and managed our paperwork and finances. Tim and I discuss our budget and financial issues fairly frequently and without much disagreement (especially the small stuff), but I take care of the nuts and bolts and daily expenditures of our household. This is due to the fact that I spend most of the money (I consider part of my job title "Professional Consumer") and have a lot more time during the day to make phone calls. Tim recently asked me if I'd like him to take over paying the bills, but I declined the offer. I requested that instead we meet once a month to discuss how I've done on our budget and what needs and financial issues are coming up. We haven't met yet, but now that I can invite him into my office for an appointment perhaps it will happen soon. I can sell him on the point that my office has a beautiful view!
     In all the many papers I perused while sorting through our file cabinet, I came across some old notes from a women's meeting at church. I was reminded how impacted I was by a comment our former pastor's wife made: "I look at my role as a home schooling, full-time homemaker as my job." This is my "career" were the scribbled notes on my handout. What a thought! Years ago someone estimated the dollar value of a full time homemaker to be about $70, 000 per year. I think the more kids you have, though, the higher the number! (So, maybe about $110,000 for me - yeah, right!). A career implies a wardrobe (I really try to avoid sweats), continuing education like websites, books, and discussions on meal planning, housecleaning, managing a family schedule, etc, and regular pay raises - oh, I'm sorry, I've become delusional (I really need to spend more time in the real world with more adults). I just make sure that, in lieu of a regular paycheck, I go to Bean Town on Saturday mornings BY MYSELF for a large diet Coke (light ice, please) and my favorite chocolate chip orange scone (the best ever). Although, when Daisy asked if she could go with me this last Saturday, I  couldn't refuse. We shared my scone, she got a gumball for 1 cent, and we played Mickey Mouse UNO. What a splendid date it was!
     But really, though, full time homemaking is not viewed as a highly desirable career choice. Who studies to be a "homemaker"? My mom used to encourage me to get a degree in home economics (do such majors exist anymore?) because of how versatile it is. I opted for social science instead which afforded me hours of studying and listening to lectures on history and political science, to name a few topics. My intellect was stimulated and challenged from those classes, although I did not find them helpful to me in any real world sense.
     Interestingly enough, which celebrity figure, notwithstanding her jail time a few years back, makes loads of money on domestic, homemaking things? Billionaire Martha Stewart! I think people really do want encouragement and guidance on how to cultivate a beautiful, productive, enriching home environment. The "domestic arts" really are valuable. And the truth is - not many people can manage a home well without years of working at it, trial and error, and a real vision for it. Just doing the laundry and dishes and changing diapers doesn't make for a well kept  and peaceful home. Although, let me clarify, in those years when I  had lots of little babies and toddlers that didn't sleep and made constant messes (Julia would still fit that profile), I was doing GREAT if I got the laundry and dishes done and had managed to avoid a raging diaper rash on my baby and toddler's bottoms because I had regularly changed their diapers. There are different seasons for different standards.
     In fact, there are different styles of homemaking, too. Mine tends to be the "Well, the mess isn't bothering me enough at this point to do anything about it yet" approach. This is not a style I encourage any woman to aspire to. Truth is, every working mom I know has told me that staying at home and raising kids full time is harder than going to their job. Wow- maybe they need a corner office with a view! (Really, though, my hat is off to all those ladies who can juggle working outside their home and motherhood. I really admire that kind of skill and talent.)
     Well, now that I have a charming and private office, I'm eager to sort through weeks of receipts to see how much money I've spent so far this month. Who am I kidding? I never want to do that, but at least the view from my office is fabulous!