Saturday, October 27, 2012

Compensation and Craftsmanship

Me and my crazy crew in early July (and my crazy hair!Yikes!).
     When I was in grade school, I was taller than all the other girls. I had a nervous, dry-lip licking habit that created chapped, red, ugly lips. I had an embarrassing sssttutter, too. I was just weird. And I knew it. I was treated accordingly so. The other girls and boys at school used to tease me, call me names, and exclude me from their birthday parties. It was very painful.
     Don't feel sorry for me, though. The reason I bring up this painful part of my childhood is to magnify a beautiful display of God's kindness and handiwork in my life.
     You see, I have many, many friends who love me, cherish me, and laugh with me now. And how we laugh! The silly, funny, goofy jokes that have me laughing at 5:00 am the next  morning (my current wake up time), hours after the joke was told because it was that funny, are priceless to me. When my friends say, "Oooh! I have you all to myself!" Or, "I don't care where we go, I just want to be with you," can I tell you what that does to my soul? What those comments do to those memories that are still sort of tucked down in my "CHILDHOOD MEMORY BANK OF SNOTTY GRADE-SCHOOL TEASERS"? It washes over those memories like crashing waves on rocks that have been smoothed down over the years and made available for eager little children to traipse across near the water to simply explore and have fun. Yes, like that.
     Isn't it God's marvelous craftsmanship in my life to take what was so painful and turn it into something so pleasurable? Yes it is. That is what God does. He compensates us in that what was such a source of pain and loss he makes such a source of abundantly more joy and gain than what we lost in the first place. I'd much rather have all these wonderful, loyal, kind friends during this season of life than when I was younger. These friendships are just that much more precious to me because I know what it's like to not be wanted or included.
     I see other evidences of God's lavish and loving handiwork in my life, too. When I was twenty, my mother died of breast cancer. I was half way through college. I had never suffered the death of any one close to me before, other than our beloved family dogs. Oh, my, was it p--a--i--n--f--u--l. When I graduated from college two years later, she wasn't there. When I married 2 years later, she still wasn't there. When I had my first baby 5 years later, she wasn't there, either. And then there was baby number 2, and 3, and then 4, 5 and then the last one, 6. Yep, still not there. Ouch from the bottom of my heart. The fact that she had been a labor and delivery nurse and loved every minute of it made it a much, much bigger OUCH in my heart.
     But don't feel sorry for me. You know why? Because even though God took my mother from me at a fairly young age, he made me a mother 6 times over! God graciously, generously and humorously gave me 6 delightful daughters. I am lucky, blessed, and all those great adjectives for someone who is very, very happy with her maternal treasures.What was such a loss for me, my mother, he created me to be many times over. God is g--o--o--d. And the compassion and insight and comfort I can offer to others is, well, appreciated by those whom I've cried with and reached out to when their loved ones have passed on. I get it. I really, really get it. "Grief can be tormenting, " I've been known to say. "But you'll get through it. The hole in your heart will never really close, but life fills in around it and you will find your grief manageable in time. You will feel joy again."
     I see this tendency of God's to redeem and compensate, in an extraordinarily beautiful way, in Scripture, too. Just recently I re-read the biography of Paul: A Man of Grit and Grace by Charles Swindoll. The author was describing the letters he had written to his "son in the faith," Timothy. The books I and II Timothy are those letters. The fond affection and love that Paul uses to communicate with his "son" had me in tears when I realized something very profound. I remembered that Scripture described Timothy as having been raised by his God-fearing mother and grandmother. Timothy's father is not mentioned at all. I assume his father was not around, as in dead or gone, or simply not a God-fearing man. But God, in his kindness, gave Timothy this affectionate, loving father figure in his later years who was perfectly fit for what Timothy needed. How Timothy must have loved and cherished Paul's care and instruction. And how painful Paul's execution in Rome must have been for him. How good and kind of God to have given Timothy those words of love, exhortation and comfort that have been preserved in the Holy Scriptures forever. This is the father heart of God.
     I see the beginnings of more areas where God's compensation and craftsmanship are being displayed in my life. It gives me faith to trust my heavenly father for more evidences of his kindness. I also trust more readily that my present sufferings, deficiencies and pain are being worked out for a greater good someday, too. It also helps me to see that as my children suffer for things that are beyond their parents' control, I can point to the hope we have in God's redemptive and wise kindness through it all. God is "ahh..some." Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


     I'm almost at the midway point in my Anatomy and Physiology class. Phew! It's been intense, although I have a strong A currently. This has been the most challenging semester so far, but it's also been interesting. I am so encouraged that I have a professor that is helpful, fair, and excellent at communicating difficult information well. She is a truly gifted teacher and I am so grateful! These topics, especially physiology, are quite challenging. So, onto the rest of the semester where I am aiming to finish with a strong A.
No more of these for awhile...
     In the meantime, my oven has broken down. My stove top works, thank God! I also have two crock pots that have been in use a lot lately. I'm also trying new dessert recipes in my crock pots and bread recipes in my bread maker. It's been an adventurous culinary challenge, to say the least. Goodbye homemade pizza, cinnamon rolls, bread bowls for chili, granola, bread sticks, chocolate chip cookies and brownies and all sorts of other yummy baked delights. Oh well, it's just food.
...or this!
Maybe we should get a dog! (JUST KIDDING)
     However, the truth of the matter is, we don't have the money for repairs or new appliances. Both appliances are fairly big ticket items, and we can live without them. However, Elena needs a choir dress, car registration is due as well as broken brake lights that need to be fixed, we haven't broken our kids of that pesky eating habit and, of course, our property tax bill is due in several short months. If we're careful, we will pay for everything we need without too much debt incurred.
      On the school front, my girls have had several challenges as well. Math classes have been difficult for some of our girls, requiring extra tutoring time with Tim and their teachers. My younger girls require hands-on homework help as well. I enjoy doing homework with my younger girls, but I need to be disciplined to make sure we do it after school in a timely manner. Then there's the evening routine of reading, chores, toy and clothing pick up, and school lunch prep. Did I forget to mention the logistical challenges of managing two teenagers' social, sports, work  and academic schedules, too? And, oh, the fact that they both have lots of friends in several different social networks, including some "cute and really nice" boys?...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That being said, their conversations about school, classmates, and teachers are always entertaining and the highlight of my evening. Those oldest two of mine are funny girls!
     I won't lie to you, though. At the end of the evening, I am e#x#h#a#u#s#t#e#d. Even when I get into bed, I don't find sleep particularly gratifying. I've been able to go back to the gym, though, and slowly get back into my fitness routine. I'm not running yet, and even rigorous extended walking is painful to my still-tender toe, but cycling is ok. It's just helpful to get back to lifting weights and doing some sustained cardio workout. When I start running again, I should sleep much better. Soon, hopefully soon....
     And then there's that charming and handsome man I live with. Hmmm....what was his name?!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm Procrastinating on Studying...So Why Not Update My Blog?!

     The Fall semester is in full swing for everyone. I'm in school 4 mornings a week and on Fridays I get to clean my house! (Do you feel my joy at this end-of-the-week activity?!) Elena is a Senior at Pasadena High School where she has met entertaining and wholesome-seeming friends (phew!) and is adjusting to her classes slowly but surely. Camille is in 10th grade and really enjoying AP European History. She's gearing up for water polo season and overseeing Elena's social contacts at school (what's a little sister for, huh?). Leanne started middle school with a - rip! Her plaid madras shorts ripped at the back pocket, exposing her monkey underwear - (they were on sale! What can I say?!) about two hours after she arrived at school. Her friend loaned her her sweater - despite the 100 degree weather - and all was good. And then the carefully laid out plans to walk home with friends ended with her being stranded ALL BY HERSELF at the front of the school. After a misguided wild goose chase, she burst into tears when I finally arrived to pick her up. I felt soooo bad for her! I told her, "Oh, honey, you got all the yucky middle school stuff out of the way on the first day of school! It just gets better from here on out!" After making copious jokes of a monkeying sort, Leanne was all giggles shortly after.
     Daisy started first grade "with the prettiest teacher in school." Chloe is all about the serious business of being a third grader and making detailed plans to work on her miso soup Halloween costume with soon-to-be lawfully legitimate uncle, David. And that brings me to other happy news - my sister Ann is getting married in December sometime. We are all very excited and, although I've been reassured it will be a very small wedding affair, I'm preparing for something of the medium-ish size. It will be a fun party!
     My anatomy and physiology class has been challenging in the best sort of way. I have an exceptional teacher and I have made some nice acquaintances in my classes, too. The amount of studying I have to do for this class is super intense, prompting me to take a leave of absence from volunteering at both of my hospitals. I was sad, but had to make cuts in time expenditures where I could.
     And speaking of cuts, Tim's paycheck keeps getting smaller and smaller. The cuts to his teacher salary are increasing with very few extra job prospects available like he's had in the past. It was a rough few weeks of realizing that I had to be very careful and disciplined in every penny I spent, but it is a beneficial discipline. I'm amazed at how little money I now spend and how little I miss quite a few things. The challenge, in some good ways, is that to save money on food, our largest "negotiable" expense, I bake and cook many things from scratch to save money. But, the dishes I do! The prep and clean up and hours upon hours of time I spend in the kitchen is unbelievable. My girls do help me, but they are so busy with their school work that I simply do quite a bit, while training my middle girls to do more.
     And then there is Julia, who is at pre-school. Just this morning I heard her at around 6:00 am padding through the house towards the kitchen where I was, giggling in anticipation of seeing me. I waited near the corner that she rounded and jumped out and scared her. She giggled all the more and I hugged and kissed her good morning. Ahh, yes, the best things in life are truly free!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The "If- You-Can't-Afford- to- Travel- to- Europe, -Then- Bring- Europe- to- You" Summer and Other Adventures

Me and my girls with our 1st French student, delightful Caroline

Margaux, our 2nd French student, and my girls at the Americana
      I said "bon jour" to my 3rd international student of the summer 2 weeks ago. She was a surprise addition to my roundup of international students. She was not happy with her first family and was bounced to  different families till she ended up with us for her last week. Her parents came to pick her up and we had lunch. They were lovely people and I was intrigued to learn some interesting things about France and the different regional differences within that country. It was a lovely lunch.
     Then  I had a "quiet" home with just four of my kids here. Tim and our older two were at a church retreat. Quite honestly, my four younger ones, even with their fighting, is a welcome break. The daily logistics, with Tim being off work this summer, of managing the needs, interests, schedules and "situations" among 9 people (11 people 2 days a week when my niece and nephew are here) is daunting, exhausting, frustrating at times and just wearying. I keep thinking I'm doing something wrong, that I shouldn't be this worn out and tired. I have battled laryngitis all summer long. I then realized that this is the season I am in and this is normal. And it's okay for now. Soon enough, school will start in 1 week and a new season will be upon me. I'm looking forward to it in many ways.
Our Italian student, Vittoria, with Julia and Daisy. She was an absolute gem. 
Happy 4th birthday, Julia!
     We celebrated Julia's 4th birthday in a very low key way. Nothing is ever that low key around here, though. The kids were noisy and silly as we sang happy birthday to her. My 1st French exchange student, Caroline, had been here for less than a week and she looked eager to be done with the whole birthday ruckus. Several weeks later, we celebrated Camille's 15th birthday. Her sweet friends, Madeline and Olivia, made this adorable and delicious cake. We had a large, impromptu gathering of girls and we sang happy birthday. It was memorable in the best sort of way.  
Sweet 15!
     Tim's family reunion was short and sweet. It was near his mom and sister's house an hour east of Sacramento. It was very enjoyable reconnecting with Tim's aunts and uncles and spending some concentrated time with my nephews and niece.
Leanne, cousin Dani, and Chloe
      The day after our last student left, our German student arrived. Within 12 hours, she had decided to leave. She was aiming for an America vacation with lots of vodka in Vegas. It didn't take her long to figure out that she was not going to get that at our noisy home. She left soon after. It took several hours of processing the painful loss of anticipated income and the sting of being rejected to get over it. It brought about an effective time of prayer and God met me. I was over it the following day, although I did wander around aimlessly for about two days with my plans for the entire 3 weeks having just been derailed. The mental preparation of three weeks of lessons and activities was now replaced with...well... lots of free and unstructured time with my kids and no money to do anything with them. It was depressing at first. Free things are abundant in Los Angeles during the summer, but that takes work and time to find out what, when and where with such a span of ages that comprises my family. I rallied several days later and have a loose plan for the rest of the summer.
      And my sewing machine is beckoning me with some couldn't-imagine-having-time-for-these projects. Now, if only I could find the plug in pedal for my sewing machine...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"A"n Update On My Summer Checklist

All of these have to be done by June 1st:
1) take big microbiology test on the immune system and common bacterial pathogens
Grade: A-
List of things to do before mid-June 2012:
2)take final exam in microbiology on viruses and everything else I studied the whole semester
Final grade:A (96% in the class!!!)
3)take last developmental psychology quiz online
Final grade: A
4) help Leanne prepare her science project complete with photos, research, computer graphics and typed-up information on a huge display board
Grade: A+
5)register for Fall 2012, which includes hoping and praying I get the 8 -unit mega anatomy and physiology class at the right time to coordinate school pick up for 4 girls at 3 different schools and speech therapy for Julia in the fall
Result: registered for 2nd choice class, but prospects for switching to the morning lab I need is highly likely. My fall schedule should be fairly smooth.

Thank you Lord!!!
     Now on to the rest of my projects and plans. Success sure is a great incentive to keep going! (That is, after a much-needed nap....)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Free the Hairbrush! Free the Hairbrush! (And return it to the bathroom!)

     This spring, my 4 older girls have been going to pre-season swim team every evening. My youngest two have been taking swim lessons. Each of my older girls has their own bag with shampoo (the cost savings on my water bill are worth all the hassle of swim team!), a towel, and their jammies/change of clothes. About a week after swim team started I noticed a panic-laden crisis emerging every time I went into the bathroom and reached for the hair brush: it was gone! No hair brush anywhere to be found in the entire house. The Veggies Tales song, "Oh, where is my hairbrush?!" would melodically wind its way through my hollering:"Where are all the hairbrushes?!?!" My frustration was readily apparent. I had assumed that each girl took a hairbrush in her swim bag to brush out her freshly shampooed, hopefully-dechlorinated hair. The problem was, not every bag had a hair brush in it. Every now and then, if I was lucky, I would find a hairbrush mixed with the wet towel and swimsuit wadded up on the floor of the entry way. One day I brushed my hair once. ONCE. This is a problem because my aging hair is getting rather frizzy and needs to be tamed with a hairbrush SEVERAL TIMES A DAY. I had to reason my way out of my frizzy hair that day: it was a good opportunity to work on, ahem, vanity.
     Tim was pretty good-natured about the vanishing hair brush situation, too. He uses a round, curly brush to "do" his hair every morning and even this was gone. And this is the hair brush that he puts way up high in the bathroom. Alas, one day as I was tripping my way through our back room where the girls have their toys, like, um EVERYWHERE (home pick-up has been a little lacking since I'm nearing Finals week in school), I came across one of the girls' American Girl knock off dolls (to the tune of about eighty dollars cheaper!) and lo and behold, what did I find? THIS!!!!

     Do you see it? Tim's curly-q brush horrifyingly STUCK in one of those doll's heads! I couldn't help but start laughing. I walked the mess over to Tim and said with resignation and a chuckle, "This is what life is like with 6 daughters." My sympathies went out to my husband, whom I had noticed has a slightly more "ruffled" hair style lately. Leanne piped in, "Oh, don't take the hair brush out! I've been working on untangling it."
     "Uh, huh," I replied. "We'll see." Astonishingly, I put the doll and her matted, tormented, mangled  hair down and was going to give Leanne a chance to untangle it. Who am I kidding? Leanne lives with slightly tangled hair all the time! If she can't comb her own hair, how can she have a chance with  this nasty, pathetic mess? About 3 days later, I had become desperate after not finding any of the 5 (yes, you read that right) new hair brushes I bought a week ago (I really need to buy stock in the Goody Company), found a pair of scissors, and started to snip away. I wrestled it this way and that, and then I freed the hairbrush! Cheers please! I pulled the fake reddish doll hair out the hairbrush and it was then fit for service.
     Ah, yes, life with 6 daughters has many hairy discoveries. Next post....Tim's 10 pm trip to Wal-Mart with a crying teenager to find "modest shorts"...Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Prepare-For-Summer Checklist

List of things to do before mid-June 2012:
All of these have to be done by June 1st:
1) take big microbiology test on the immune system and common bacterial pathogens
2) take final exam in microbiology on viruses and everything else I studied the whole semester
3)take last developmental psychology quiz online
4) help Leanne prepare her science project complete with photos, research, computer graphics and typed-up information on a huge display board
5)register for Fall 2012, which includes hoping and praying I get the 8 -unit mega anatomy and physiology class at the right time to coordinate school pick up for 4 girls at 3 different schools and speech therapy for Julia in the fall
All of these have to be done by mid-June:
6)plan summer activities for my 6 kids and niece and nephew (two full days a week) and coordinate swim team, swim lessons, summer school, and small family vacations we are taking.
7)Prepare lessons and activities for three exchange students I am having beginning in late June and ending in mid-August.
8)Figure out if and when I can volunteer at my 2 hospitals I so enjoy working at, schedule the times and communicate with my volunteer supervisors.
9)Prepare my summer garden and then plant, maintain, and harvest vegetables and fruits throughout the summer and fall months.
10)Plan with Tim something to do for our 20th wedding anniversary in late August that doesn't stress me out childcare-wise or budget-wise
11)Finish painting projects in my girls' room and the bathroom.
12) Try to wrestle to some sense of order the many bookcases and closets, drawers and cupboards that are in hair-pulling DISARRAY.
13) lucky number....pray for God's grace, wisdom, and strength before, during and after, um...EVERYTHING!!!!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Maslow and Me

     I just submitted this assignment for my online Developmental Psychology class. It was an interesting and enjoyable assignment.
Laura Thomas
Personal Timeline Assignment
     Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has always settled so well into my thinking over the years. It makes sense to me on so many levels. So, my life story starts out with my most basic needs being satisfied: my babyhood where I can rightly assume that my parents fed me and cared for me. My parents had four children and I am the third (and apparently the only one “planned”). My father is a retired rheumatologist who met my mother while doing his internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. He saw her walking down the hallway in her starched nursing uniform and immediately fell in love.  They married four months later. After spending three years in Germany during the Vietnam War, my parents settled in Southern California where he finished his residency at County USC Medical Center. I was born in Pasadena and have lived in Southern California my whole life. You couldn’t pay me to leave this diverse, intense, crazy beautiful part of the world for anything.
    As I sat down to color with my Crayola Primary Colors over-sized crayons I will always remember seeing my name, “Laura” written neatly in kindergarten-teacher perfect handwriting on my coloring worksheet. Those are among my first memories of school. My beautiful, young teacher with over-sized, blonde Clairol curls was the epitome of 70’s style and loveliness. And she thought I was retarded. “But,” she told my concerned mother, “She’s tall so we’re going to pass her onto the first grade.” My mother didn’t believe it for a second. And so began my mother’s persistent search for answers to what would be the diagnosis of “dyslexia.” Yep, classic: “t’s” shaped like “x’s.” Years of “vestibular therapy” followed where I would do exhilarating activities like ride down a ramp on a belly board and spin in a hammock swing this way and that way many times.  This stage of my life would be considered the safety stage where my educational needs were met and my need for organization and stability greatly improved as all my letters straightened out. (My lefts and rights still confuse me, embarrassingly, to this day).
     Through the elementary and junior high school years I experienced teasing, exclusion, and painful, abusive family dynamics at home. I was angry and lonely. After graduating from high school, I started attending a church where I am still an active member. It was there that I met Jesus Christ. Nothing in my life, delightfully, satisfyingly and magnificently, would ever be the same. Pivotal moments occurred in which my need to be loved, to belong and be accepted were beautifully and wholeheartedly met as several Christian friends frequently prayed for me and accepted me right where I was at.  After my mother’s early demise from breast cancer when I was 20, I found my loving church family to be very supportive.
     “What can you tell me about Master’s Programs in Education?” I asked a friend after a Singles meeting. “You should talk to Tim. He’s a teacher.” That is when I met the man I would marry. Our first date was 5 or so months later on the 3rd of July. We attended a Dodger’s baseball game and have never been to Dodger Stadium since. However, we married 7 weeks later. That was 19 ½ years ago.
     We had a couple of babies, a few miscarriages, some more babies, and intense arguments over having more children or not. Throughout this process of being a mother and a wife, without a mother myself, I struggled terribly with my success and esteem in my primary roles. I was a stay-at-home mom after many years of school to complete two teaching credentials. I chose to home school my children and spent many enjoyable years doing that, but was greatly challenged by those demands. At times I felt anger and frustration at my children’s needs which exposed fear, laziness, inadequacy and selfishness in me. It was painfully humbling and I never felt like I was doing a good job consistently. My marriage was also a constant source of conflict and heartache. I wrestled through many “maturing” years of learning to take responsibility for my part in our conflicts and follow strange-sounding “wife advice” from the Bible. That Biblical advice worked in the most unbelievable and astonishing ways.  After marrying a man from a painfully broken family after only 7 weeks of knowing him, and coming from an abusive family myself, the fact that our marriage is better than ever is amazing in the most deliciously wonderful way.
     It didn’t come without a huge price tag, however. I will never forget the sheer panic I felt as I lay in the hospital bed with the right side of my body numb while my left side was radiating with intense pain and frantically asking the nurse, “Where is my husband?!?!” After being shooed away during my epidural, he left the hospital to get dinner.  I was ready to deliver our 5th baby soon after. My husband arrived 5 minutes after she was born to a room of gawking, insensitive hospital staff and an insensitive doctor. I had never felt so vulnerable and alone in such a crowded space. It was a profoundly upsetting experience.
          Years later, much to my own surprise, I wanted to have another baby. This time, I wanted a more compassionate doctor and a better childbirth experience. After much research and careful consideration, I went out of my way to ensure a better outcome for my last baby’s birth. Horrifyingly, it ended up being far more traumatic than my 5th delivery. My church had prayed while I was in labor.  I am convinced that alone is what protected my daughter from being injured as she got stuck coming out of me. I fired my absentee doctor the next day, the crazy nurse who yanked my daughter out of me was also fired, and I filed a 13 page grievance  a year later detailing “negligence and unprofessional conduct” by the hospital staff and my doctor. I won’t ever know what impact my grievance had on anybody but me. Thankfully, it lessened the victimization I felt to a small degree.
     In Maslow’s Hierarchy self-actualization occurred in a redemptive way with that last baby’s birth. Over the past several years, as I heart wrenchingly tried to make sense of all that happened, I emerged 60 pounds lighter, in great physical shape, more settled in my soul, more committed to enjoying my marriage and my children, and envisioned with a goal to become a midwife someday. I also discovered in intensely intimate ways that His comfort has been unmatched by any human being. I have since put all my children in school, except my 16 year-old 11th grader who will be graduating next year. Enrolling in school and preparing to enter the work force in the next several years would have been unthinkable to me so many years ago when I had all my babies and toddlers underfoot and in my arms. The self-actualization part, at this juncture in my life, is quite sweet indeed. I look forward to the years ahead with the flexibility and “open-handedness” I have toward my plans. The future looks very bright indeed.