Monday, June 25, 2007

2007 Summer Regional

Every summer Edward Jones hosts a summer regional meeting for their employees, spouses and children. It is a four day, all expenses paid trip for the family at a first class hotel, including activities for everyone. They keep getting better as we go:)

The first year was awful. Awful. It was held at a hotel in downtown Chicago right off of the magnificent mile. Cornbread knew his colleagues, I knew absolutely no one. We brought Nora and Ryann with us and I was pregnant with Georgia. We were in a hotel room with two queen size beds and a pack and play, we did not have a double stroller, Ryann was 13 months old and not liking the idea of sitting at a table for meals or being well-behaved in front of daddy's new business partners. The IRs have meetings for the entire morning and there are opportunities to network in the evenings after dinner. I spent most of the weekend in the hotel room with the girls being uncomfortable, feeling like I didn't belong and all around miserable. We decided on the way home that we would not be taking the girls with us the next year.

Last year we went to the Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva. It was considerably better. First, we didn't have the girls to chase around. Second, the resort was beautiful. And third, we knew people and since we didn't have the girls we could spend time with people to get to know them and try to form some kind of relationship with them or take the time to ask the veterans and their wives questions and get encouragement from them. I thought last year was awesome, but this year was even better:)

Last Wednesday, Cornbread's parents graciously flew in from Virginia to hang out with our girls for the weekend. We left them on Thursday morning and headed to Sheboygan, Wisconsin to the Blue Harbor Resort. We arrived in less than 3 hours and walked into our two bedroom villa. Holy cow - this was huge! Two bedrooms, two baths, a full kitchen and a big living area. A flat screen tv above the fireplace, a huge tv in the bedroom, a whirlpool tub in the master bath. Much more than what we needed, but it was awesome.

Cornbread had meetings in the morning after breakfast and I had a meeting on Friday morning. Other than that and an awards banquet on Saturday night, we had the whole weekend to ourselves.

While Cornbread was in his meeting on Friday morning, I was in a spouse's meeting where we basically just introduced ourselves and gave an example of how we help our spouse maintain Customer Service Excellence (the theme of the weekend). A meeting is a meeting - not tons of fun, but important in some respects. After our meetings we went back to our room, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to workout. From there we went to the batting cages/climbing wall place that EJ had rented for 2 hours. WE LOVE THE BATTING CAGES - always have:) I hit some fastpitch softball for the first time ever and Cornbread did some hitting and then climbed the rock wall to the top. From there we went to the water park and went down the water slides and sat in the hot tub for a while. I left him there with one of his close colleagues and went back to read my book - by myself.

Friday night we opted to have dinner by ourselves in the resort's tapas bar rather than join everyone else for the buffet. We had a great dinner and just enjoyed hanging out together - by ourselves:) On our way back to our room we stopped to talk to this person and that person and ended up staying out way too late (read: after midnight and he had an 8:30am meeting). But the time spent talking to these veterans and their spouse's - hearing their stories, listening to them encourage Cornbread and tell him that he's doing a great job and hearing the spouse tell me to persevere - is invaluable and something that we could not have done if we had to be back in the room to get the girls to bed.

Saturday morning we went to breakfast and I went back to the villa to read my book and ended up taking a two hour nap (sooooo nice!). We again grabbed something for lunch from the fridge (I had packed lots of BFL friendly food) and went to workout. We got back, hung out for a while and Cornbread went to play soccer with all the kids and I went to read my book in the hot tub. He joined me when he was done and we did all of the waterslides for a while. By the time we were done it was time to go back, shower, change and go to the awards dinner.

We sat with two couples that are our age and are as new as us or a little newer. It was nice to have time to hang out with people that are in our situation - they know EXACTLY what we are going through and the difficulty of Cornbread's job. One of them was in Cornbread's very first class in St. Louis and he just joined our region and is going to be going into a different region next week, so we won't be seeing them at next year's regional. It was nice to finally meet him after hearing about him so much, and to meet his wife and their kids. The other couple is about a year and a half behind us, but they gave up a very secure, high paying job to do Jones and they live near us and his territory is Homer Glen. They were awesome, too.

We had so much fun just getting to know each other and talking about life stuff - all of our kids are close in age, we watch the same tv shows, we all chose to stay at home with our kids regardless of how it affected us financially, etc. etc. We got along so well and had so much in common.

The tapas bar was the after dinner destination - open bar provided by one of the wholesaler's. We went up there and eventually went outside with about 5-6 other IR's so they could smoke cigars. The other girls had to go back to their rooms to put their kids to bed so I hung out with Cornbread and his partners/friends. I was so glad to not have that responsibility while we were there. It is important for Cornbread to network with these veterans from all over the region, to form relationships with them, to have them see him as a real person and for him to see them as real people. Just as valuable is the opportunity for me to see all of it taking place. I don't contribute much because its not my job, but it does a lot of good for me to see all of this going on, to hear their words and their encouragement to him. I couldn't do any of that if we had the kids with us and I was chasing them around. One of Cornbread's biggest assets in his business is his ability to form personal relationships and his personal networking skills. He needs to do it with other business contacts, with prospects, with his clients, but it is important to do it with his colleagues and partners, too.

The regional weekend is such a renewal for everyone involved. For one thing, we have not gone on vacation together alone since 2002, so this was definitely a vacation for us. For another thing, it gives the IRs a break, some down time to refresh, renew and recharge before hitting it hard for a tough summer season. It gives them an opportunity to go to some meetings, listen to some speakers and to get practical tips from the veterans. It allows all of us to see the silver lining - the light at the end of the tunnel. Every one of these guys and their spouses have gone through the rough period that we're going through. Every one of them has had to knock on doors and start from scratch to get their business going. Five years into it, it appears that things are getting a little easier - financially. Ten years into it, things are much easier. Twenty years into it there are no worries whatsoever. We've made it 2 1/2 years already. We need to just persevere and keep going. Keep the faith that the formula works, the program is right and will illicit the results that we're hoping for (just like BFL).

We are told over and over by several different people (on 3 trips now) that every penny we drain from our retirement (which will be every penny), every penny we've spent out of our savings (which will be every penny) and every penny we take out of the equity of our house (which we're hoping won't be every penny, but we're prepared to do it if we need to) - every penny will be worth what we're doing and every penny will come back and then much more. Beyond the money, though, these people are out there to help their clients. To do what is best for their clients. To make the world a better place - and from the way it appears, most of them do just that. They are people with positive attitudes and are good influences on the people around them. They are people that we enjoy being with - we didn't hear any griping or complaining or excuse making (okay, there was one particular family that we heard it from, but 1 out of 72 is not bad) - instead we heard about how incredible they think the company is, how much they enjoy their jobs, and how much they each work to positively affect the people around them by volunteering in their communities or by simply treating their clients with respect and love. How many personal financial advisors pick up a client and bring them to the doctor at the last minute because she can't find a ride anywhere else? Or pick up a client's prescription for her? Its not an act designed to get more business. Its not insincere or a well-crafted sales pitch - its real and these people are real. And I'm happy to be a part of it - as difficult as the last 2 1/2 years have been and as difficult as the next 2 1/2 will probably be, I'm happy to be a part of it all.

I know - rah rah Edward Jones;)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I guess its been long enough:)

So I'm sure everyone is sick of looking at the cicadas (Missy). Too bad life has been too boring to treat you to something else:) Actually, life hasn't been TOO boring, but instead it has been filled with some major melt-downs and tantrums by our two youngest Dykstra girls. I have no intention of complaining here, which is why the long delay in posts. Lets just say that Jana is working on the issue and I am battle-weary and worn out.

But sometimes things happen that make me smile - Like today I was taking some pictures and when I transferred them to the computer I found some that the girls had taken - like little hidden surprises:)

Love this picture - I'm lost in my own little piano playing world - look at the mess behind me;)
Remember this?
Obviously someone was having fun with my camera:

These are CLEARLY pictures of Cornbread's old watch and Woof just got in the frame somehow:

Okay, I actually took these pictures... Here is Nora doing ground ball drills at Tball:
And here are the other two - PRE-double melt-down:

Oh they have migrated... We now have a new pet. We don't have many, but enough to hear them buzzing all day. Its so much fun:)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The year of the cicada

So we have cicadas this year. WE don't have cicadas - as in us, personally. We don't have any cicadas in our yard or in our neighborhood, but they are out and about in the nearby towns... I'm thrilled that they are not in our backyard, but yet they are close enough to go see and then go home;)

I have been telling the girls about the cicadas for weeks, but we were all disappointed when May 22 came and went and we didn't see any. Apparently, they did not migrate in this direction 17 years ago, so we have none. I wanted to see and hear them but I wasn't sure if they were nearby. The other day we were on our way home from the doctor's office and I spotted some. I was quite excited and stopped the car, got all three girls out and we just looked in awe at the tree FULL of bugs and shells. The ground was covered in empty shells. But there was no noise - very disappointing.

A friend of mine told me that she could hear the cicadas from the next town over a week before they came out by her house. I've heard them here and there, but today... we heard them in full force. We went out to Cornbread's grandparent's house and had to drive down 143rd to Midlothian Turnpike. We had the air on and I could kind of hear them and turned the air off and opened the windows. I was so excited to hear the buzz! On our way home it was louder and in more places... Cornbread had not yet seen them so we found a tree with a bunch of them on and stopped for a view. Here is what we saw:

This tree has a bunch of them, but they all kind of blend in with the bark. You can see them if you look closely:
This tree shows it a little bit better, but there aren't as many:
Here is the sidewalk next to the tree:
And the ground beneath the tree:
This is kind of blurry, but it is a cicada pre-molting (before it comes out of its shell):
Here we have one working its way out of it's shell:
And after coming out and it's wings drying out - a real, live cicada!
This is the grass by a couple of trees. I had walked up to the trees and thought I was walking on shells, but then they started flying! I was a little grossed out because I had sandals on:)
How awesome is it that we get to be a part of this? That God puts us smack dab in the middle of his creation and lets us witness His amazing creativity? He is incredible and the fact that I get to stand in front of a tree in complete awe of Him and his creation makes me so happy! Come on - I know they're kind of gross, but how cool is it that these things bury in the ground and stay there for 17 years - how in the world do they know when to come up? Only God can orchestrate something this cool!

(If you don't know about the 17-year cicadas, this will explain everything. Even if you have some knowledge, the video is great so take a look.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Gut Check Time

It is June 1, 2007. I have been 31 for exactly 2 months now... Remember this post? Well, it is time to take inventory. I don't want to make a list of things that I want to change in my 31st year and then get to April 1, 2008 and say - How did I do?, take a look and think, "Oh, I forgot I said that." So I'm going to evaluate my progress - if any - on my list. Here we go:

1. I know that I want to get into shape and STAY in shape this year. I am working diligently on this every day. We began Body For Life on April 2... but then I figured out that I wasn't eating correctly and started the 12 week challenge over on April 30, 2007. You can read all about it on my BFL blog. I am committed to finishing out this challenge and re-evaluating what I want to do in terms of diet and exercise program - I will not give up entirely, but may change avenues.

2. I know that I do not want to get pregnant this year (or any other year for that matter;) We are in the process of making this a reality - like a permanent or a semi-permanent reality. Still deciding and working on the whole process.

3. I know that I want to live a consistent life - I don't want to say things are important to me and then not show it with my actions. I hope this is happening. I struggle with this on a daily basis sometimes. I'm not sure if I can really answer this. I HOPE that I'm living consistently and intentionally - I am certainly trying to do so.

4. I want to remember other people's birthdays. So far I'm not sure that I've had an opportunity to forget, let me think... I don't think so. My mom's birthday is coming up in a week, so I guess that will be the first test:) (but see this is my usual m.o. - I remember a week beforehand, but then I forget the week of).

5. I want to write more thank you notes. I have written a couple of thank you notes since April. I have one or two more on my list of things to do - I really need to get working on those, too.

6. I want to write more handwritten "I'm thinking of you" notes (do people even like those or do they think its stupid? I never know). I don't think I've done this at all. This is so sketchy to me - I would LOVE to get a handwritten note in the mail from a friend, but I'm not sure if it freaks other people out or not, so I don't make an effort. I should - and I will.

7. I want to volunteer somewhere this year. This was one that I didn't know if I'd be able to do at all given our children's ages and our non-existent childcare options. However, Cornbread has been joined the Orland Park Kiwanis club and they do Bingo every Wednesday night. He was volunteering once a month and I decided - hey, that is definitely something I can do. So last Wednesday evening I had my first night doing Bingo and it was really, really fun. I'm looking forward to doing this once a month, also.

8. I want to not feel guilty about taking some time for myself. I'm not sure this has happened yet. I've taken some "me time" to get a pedicure, but I did it at a time where Ryann was having a complete meltdown and Nora and Georgia were being kind of demanding, too. I kind of walked in and said - "Hey - do you mind if I run out and quickly get a pedicure?" Cornbread was pretty frazzled at the moment and I didn't really get a good response and just kind of left. In some respect I felt like, "Hey - this is my life every day, welcome to a snapshot and see how you do, hopefully you have a better understanding of why I go straight upstairs to be by myself for a while when you get home from work." On the other hand, I felt like, "Oh my - I'm truly horrible for doing that. I should have stayed and helped and at least calmed everyone down or I could have waited for another time - I didn't HAVE to do this right now. I shouldn't have stuck him with all of that." I got the pedicure and kept my eye on the clock and felt bad the entire time I was there. This item needs work:)

9. I want to go on a weekend vacation with Cornbread (other than the Jones regional in June). We're in the process of figuring out what we want to do. We had initially thought we'd go see a White Sox/Twins game in Minnesota at the end of September, but 1) gas prices make me want to cry and 2) the White Sox make me want to cry. So we're going to re-discuss what we want to do. It may be as simple as (hopefully) dropping the girls off at my mom and dad's and heading to Traverse City for a weekend. Have to discuss together and then get feedback from mom and dad. Really want to do something for our anniversary, though.

10. I want to know my Bible better. I'm not so good at this. I don't understand much of what I read and I don't retain a lot of what I read - even when I read the Bible regularly. So my motivation on this item is low, unfortunately. I don't know how to change this.

11. I want to do a Bible study that is meaningful. I was doing a fantastic study on Genesis with a group of girls online. Unfortunately it has fizzled because the leader has had stuff going on. I'm hoping it will begin again soon (hint, hint:)

12. I want to have a clear plan on when I can start nursing school and where I can go. I haven't even begun to work on this. This one seems so incredibly overwhelming to me that I don't even want to think about it.

13. I want to take my girls to the park more often during the summer. Yes!!! I'm doing this! I have been taking them to the park at least once a week for the last three weeks with no intention of stopping. We have visited 4 parks around our house and I think we've found our favorite. All three of them love going - Georgia climbs on the big girl toys and the other two have fun running from thing to thing and we all end up on the swings at some point. I also have limited opportunity to read a page or two from my book while I'm there. The first time we went we saw a hawk circling over the field near us - I was getting nervous that he thought Georgia would be a tasty little morsel, but he landed near a dead animal and we watched him circle it (walking), pick at it, get defensive (huge wingspan) and eat from it. We got as close as we could before I realized that it was likely a dead cat - and I didn't want the girls to see it, so we went back to playing (but I was fascinated the rest of the time we were there).

14. I want to read a fiction book each month (I just don't know which books to read). Have not done this, either. I struggle with picking out a book to read. I haven't read fiction in a really long time and have no idea where to begin when I go to the library - anyone have any suggestions?

15. I want to be a good friend. Again, something that I can't answer, but my suspicion is that the answer may be no... I'm not good at picking up the phone to call people - even BFWW. And I hate that. I think about it, but then I forget when I actually have time to pick up the phone. My job makes it worse. I'm not trying to make excuses - because there is no excuse. Something I really need to work on.

16. I want to eat healthy and be healthy - not just lose weight, but BE healthy. I think I'm doing this. Through BFL we are eating healthier than ever before. I have cut almost all High Fructose Corn Syrup out of our diet (girls too), I have cut down on sugar consumption for myself and the girls and I am eating very balanced meals 6 times a day with lots of vegetables. I've also made it mandatory that the girls eat carrots with their lunch - this is a huge step in the veggie eating department for them. I will work on other vegetables as time goes on. In addition, I work out 6 days every week - cardio three days and weight lifting three days. So I would say I'm definitely working on this one.

17. I want to remember my parents' birthdays (I always miss them). See above - mom's birthday is next week. I'm going to need a reminder:)

18. I want to remember ALL of my nephews' birthdays (I always miss at least 2). Haven't gotten there yet, but Andrew's birthday is July 25 - I'm going to need a reminder:)

19. I want to date my husband. I can successfully report that we have been dating again! Our friends, Nathan (15) and David (14) are dying to make money and are asking us if they can babysit. No problems taking them up on that offer! So they have babysat on Saturday night for several weekends in a row (with the exception of the last two - Ryann's birthday party & Memorial Day weekend). We've never had any major plans, but we just go out, grab something to eat (free day) and hang out and do whatever we want or need to do. Usually we run some errands, but not always. This Saturday I'm thinking maybe we could hit some golfballs and go to Trader Joe's and maybe out for ice cream. Whatever it is - it is awesome to go out just the two of us on a regular basis! Love it!

So there is my gut check. Not fully doing any of the above, but I'm pleased that I'm at least working on many of them. It is good for me to re-read these things to remind myself of the goals I've made for the year and to be faced with the idea that I've made the goal and put it out there for the WWW and should be accountable to working on it. We'll check again in 2 months!

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