Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Life Changers

On our way to Virginia a few weeks ago, Dave and I had a good discussion about life changing events in our lives. Events and people, actually. It was fun and interesting to discuss how things and people have changed us and perhaps alterred the path we were heading down.

Although I don't think we discussed it, 4 years ago today we had one such situation. On December 23, 2005 our little 6 1/2 week old Georgia was very sick and admitted to the hospital. I wrote about it in her journal - here are 3 entries from that time:

December 18, 2005 - You are 5 1/2 weeks. For the last 3 nights you have slept from 8:30ish until 8am with a very brief feeding (15-20 minutes at most) at 11pm. Amazing! You have a cold right now and have breathing treatments with the nebulizer twice a day. You are on a good 4 hour schedule - 8, 12, 4, 8, 11 and you take three 2 1/2 hour naps each day. Your sisters love you and always want to see you, hug you and touch you. You have been a very good baby and are so sweet. You have crazy hair! Its dark and at least 2 inches long and stands up straight. Everyone comments on it when they see you. You may have been a surprise, but you were, by far, the best surprise ever. We love you so much, Bug!

December 24, 2005 - It is your first Christmas Eve and you are in the hospital. Your cold seemed to get better throughout the week, but you had a very persistent cough, especially throughout the night. For the last few nights you would cough for about 4 minutes every 2 hours. I was getting less sleep than when you first came home. You were kind of lethargic at the beginning of the week, but you got better everyday. On Thrusday you were much better - eating every 4 hours, alert and more active. Thursday night you coughed all night so I called Dr. C to find out if there was any medication I could give you since we were going away for the weekend. He told me to bring you in to see him. When he listened to you lungs he decided you needed to be in the hospital. By that time I was already worried - I woke you at 8am to eat, you were back down at 9:15, I tried to wake and feed you at noon, but you hardly woke up and hardly ate, you were awake for 10 minutes in the doctor's office, but you basically slept from 9:15am - 5:30pm. I also noticed that your ribs were sucking in with each breath and your color was not good. We took you to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. They gave you breathing treatments, suctioned you, gave you steroids and antibiotics. You slept most of the day and night. They did a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia and tested for RSV & parainfluenza. The RSV & para. tests came back negative. Dr. K visited this morning and thought you had pneumonia and ordered a consult by a pulmonologist. He came and listened to your lungs & looked at the chest x-ray and determined you have viral pneumonia & there really isn't any treatment for that. Soooo... you're currently getting a large dosage of antibiotics, they'll see how you react & then you can probably come home tonight - yea! We initially thought you'd be here for 3-5 days. You'll be home for Christmas! You scared us, Bug. You weren't doing well at all yesterday. It was hard for you to breathe & you were sleeping so much, but today you're doing so much better - 180 degrees. We are so thrilled to be bringing you home tonight & to have our bug back.

December 30, 2005 - You are a completely different baby. On Tuesday night you slept from 8:30 - 5:45, ate for 10 minutes & then back down until 8. When I woke you up at 8 you were totally different - you were cooing & you smiled for the first time. Your arms and legs were flying all over & you were so animated. These are all very normal baby things at 7 weeks, but hadn't seen you act like that in 2 weeks. It was then that I really knew that you had been sick for a while. That whole week I had just thought that you weren't quite "right" but I couldn't identify exactly why - but now I can. All day I would cry when I saw you being normal. I had been so nervous, scared & upset for 2 weeks & now you're just you again. We're so happy that you're home & feeling better.

This morning I was telling Georgia about that day. I started crying. It was very scary and upsetting and I remember how I felt while we were going through it. I probably haven't thought about it in a couple of years.

Obviously Georgia is a very healthy and precocious 4 year old. She is awesome - most of the time;) So no worries there. Because of that situation we didn't head off onto a path of health issues and related worries. That situation, though, was the catalyst to a significant change for our family and for me and Dave individually. It was an incredibly painful change that took years to heal. I hated most of it and hated how I felt about it, but 4 years later I am able to look back and give much thanks and praise for that change.

I think the change would have come regardless of Georgia's illness, however, this situation resulted in being a deal breaker. Had we not had this specific situation in our life, I think the pain would have been drawn out, the change would have been more wish-washy in nature and we would probably have more regrets.

So while the pain of this day 4 years ago is still fresh to me, I'm thankful for that pain. I'm thankful for the results of that rawness. I'm also thankful for the reminder of what was, what happened and what resulted. God is good.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Card 2009

We did not do the typical christmas cards this year. We both had something a lot different on our hearts this year and decided to go in a different direction. We used the money that we normally spend on the cards and postage to purchase postage for 100 letters that we sent out to family and friends.

This letter is one of my three situations that I drop at God's feet every morning. I haven't told anyone other than Dave this, but I've been praying for 100% participation. I don't think we will get that - we've had several people tell us they won't be giving. However, I'm still praying for it because God can change some minds:) I also know that this could easily become a matter of self-fullfillment and pride for me and I lay that at His feet as well. The response to this letter is not an indicator of how well people like me or what they think about me, although I'm tempted to feel wounded by not receiving responses from some people. This letter is teaching me many things. And the response to this letter is completely out of my control. Completely. I did what I felt called to do - I wrote the letter and mailed it to people within my circle of influence. After that I can no longer do anything - only He can.

So I continue to pray that God will move people to give small amounts in the hopes that we will be able to help our little African girls. There have been days where I've been overwhelmed by the generosity of people and tears have been difficult to stop. And there have been days where I've been disappointed because there wasn't anything in our mail. Regardless, I know a couple of things: we have already received more in donations than we could have given on our own and God is working. I am excited to see the results in the next week.

In case you didn't receive an actual letter, I am posting it here... and perhaps you will be moved to help. If you have given already, THANK YOU! If you haven't and would consider a small donation, please email me at and I'll give you my address as I don't want to post it publicly.

Dear Family and Friends,

A couple of years ago our family attended a weekend worship service at Parkview Christian Church and were presented with an opportunity to sponsor a child in Africa through Compassion International (CMF, International). That weekend people from Parkview sponsored almost 800 children - they had such an overwhelming response that they ran out of kids! We took a couple of steps in faith and chose two little girls who were close in age to Nora and Ryann. We have sponsored and prayed for our little girls, Brenda and Priscilla, since then. We have been blessed to have an opportunity to help these girls as well as teach Nora, Ryann and Georgia about other children who live a life that we cannot imagine.

Recently, we received information from CMF International listing 7 possible Christmas gifts that we could provide for Brenda and Priscilla. These gifts are:

* Christmas dinner food basket - $30 - Food "baskets" will be given as a gift to each family within a center. This gift includes: plastic basin with 2 packages of corn flour, 4 lbs. rice, 4 lbs. beans, 2lbs. sugar, 2 lbs. of cooking fat, 2-liter of Coke, tea, salt, and cinnamon.
* Dorms and Classroms - $50 toward building materials - There are current construction projects that will accommodate more children in their education and employ more staff.
* Backpack with school supplies - $20 - School supplies are not easily accessible in the Nairobi slums. The expense is great and hard for parents to provide. A backpack with the necessary supplies will help a student meet classroom goals.
* Sewing machine with business start-up kit - $130 - Women who learn to sew have a trade for employment or to begin their own home-based business. Along with the machine, a woman will receive business training and accountability.
* School shoes - $20 - Although children receive their uniforms for school through the child sponsorship program, they do not recieve shoes. Many families cannot afford this extra expense for their children. School shoes would be appreciated and a source of pride for each child.
* Sweater - $10 - Believe it or not, it gets chilly in Nairobi. A sweater will bring welcome warmth to a boy or girl, expecially on school days.
* Bed at Joska - $110 - The new upper primary boarding school, about 24 miles from the work in Nairobi's slums, has 559 children. Each child has a bed (within a trible bunk bed). A fully outfitted bed includes bed frame, mattress, blankets, and bed sheets.

While each individual option is not a lot of money, we feel conflicted in choosing WHICH gift(s) to provide because each one is needed and important - how do we choose which one is most important? We also realized that for ony $370 we could buy the entire list for one girl. Thats still not a ton of money, but how could we do for one without doing it for the other?

Taking inspiration from John Ortberg who writes that we should ask God, "Lord, how do we make Up There come Down Here?", President Obama who believed he could run a successful campaign with many small contributions, and God who says in Haggai 2 "I am living and breathing among you right now. Don't be timid. Don't hold back", we are asking you for help. Would you help us provide these gifts for Brenda and Priscilla by making a donation - no donation is too small - and by passing this letter on to one of your friends or family members?

Please make checks payable to CMF International (donations are tax deductable) and mail in the enclosed envelope or mail to our home at: David and Jana Dykstra
email me at for address

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You are a meaningful part of our lives and our family. We wish you a wonderful and joyful Christmas as we celebrate God's compassion and tenderness for his people in the gift of his son!


David, Jana, Nora, Ryann and Georgia Dykstra

PS - In lieu of Chirstmas cards this year, we are using the money we normally spend on them to purchase postage for these letters. Please don't be disapppointed when you don't receive the annual cutest-girls-in-the-world photo!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

24 colors

I'm stealing my topic today from my friend Christine, who does not blog nearly enough.

This morning she compared the joy and contentment of life to the simpleness of a box of 24 crayola crayons and a blank piece of paper in this post. How well our family knows the happiness that new crayons bring! My girls color, color and color some more. I'm lucky enough that - most of the time - it is on paper, although we've had our share of artwork in places that were not meant for crayons:) And we cannot keep enough blank paper and coloring books in our house... blank paper is meant to be colored on. Always.

I disagree with Christine in one aspect, though. Twenty-Four crayons is just not enough. Its exciting, yes, but a box of SIXTY-FOUR crayons is what does it for me! However, I don't feel like coming up with 64 simple pleasures, so here is my 24 crayons list:

1. flannel sheets
2. Cornbread making me coffee in the morning
3. taking showers at the gym in the morning instead of at home
4. time ticking away extremely fast on the eliptical because I'm chatting with a good friend
5. pictures of children that i love that live far away
6. getting the mail everyday - especially right now as we're looking forward to christmas cards and donations for our girls in Africa
7. cereal with 2 % milk
8. chicago pizza
9. our fuzzy woof visiting us on the big red magic red bed every night
10. the community that is beginning to build in region 101 and the great fondness i have for those people
11. sincere greetings
12. biscotti
13. my girls hitting me with "Mommy, guess what?" "What?" "I love you." (I've been doing this to them since each of them were able to say "what")
14. beds being made
15. cornbread's awesome assistant
16. the great anticipation and excitement I feel when I buy someone the perfect gift
17. unexpected generosity
18. Love Story by Taylor Swift
19. hearing my girls talk about Jesus
20. Skipper's drawings - she always includes God in her artwork
21. letters from Brenda and Priscilla
22. my new L.L. Bean sweatshirt
23. slippers
24. puzzles

QOTD: What are your 24 crayons?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Smoked almond, sea salted, dark chocolate bark

Included with the biscotti packages are 4 pieces of bark... I wish I could include more, but with the number of packages I need we would go broke in chocolate!

The ingredients - seriously, this is it (this picture cost less than $15... I use one chocolate bar per batch, but I've only had to buy one bag of almonds - at Aldi - and one container of salt... so this is a rather inexpensive, yet delicious goodie!):

Break up the chocolate and put it in a microwave safe dish:

melt in microwave until smooth:

Handful of smoked almonds:

thrown in the blender and coarsly chopped:

mix those almonds into the melted chocolate and pour into a foil or parchment lined cookie sheet. Spread to desired thickness. Tap pan on the counter a couple of times and gently shake it to settle it and get it as even as possible. And just because its fun to do:

another handful of smoked almonds thrown in the blender and chopped less than the previous handful - you want bigger pieces this time. Sprinkle them all over the chocolate-in-a-pan.

Tiny bit of coarse sea salt - tiny bit meaning probably 1/2 tablespoon. Sorry - I have a crappy camera that evidently doesn't do well with close ups:

Sprinkle salt evenly over chocolate and almonds. Throw the whole thing in the refrigerator until firm enough to break.

Remove from refrigerator, remove from pan, peel off foil or parchment and break into bite sized pieces.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Biscotti - start to finish

Here is the actual start-to-finish process of one batch of biscotti... This was a batch of cinnamon hazelnut:

My stash of toasted and peeled hazelnuts (peeling & toasting them is quite a process, so I did a bunch all at once and just grab handfuls for each batch).

My crushed/chopped hazelnuts. After they're toasted they're pretty brittle, so I put them on one cutting board and put another on top and press down. No chopping necessary. After mixing the hazelnuts into the dough, I make one large lump and cut it in half to make two smaller lumps.
and roll each lump into a 12" log:

My cutting board comes in handy during the whole process. Here I have one log on the cookie sheet and am flattening it with the cutting board. I have found that this makes for a much more even thickness of the dough rather than flattening with my hands (I don't have a rolling pin, but that would work fine, too).

The flattened log on the cookie sheet in the oven.

After baking, they're sliced diagonally into 1/2" cookies and baked a second time - 5 minutes on each side.
Cooled and iced (these happen to be the chai biscotti from the post a couple of days ago - the cinnamon hazelnut biscotti gets iced with cinnamon milk chocolate)
Packaged - 2 of each flavor along with 4 pieces of Dark chocolate smoked almond sea salted bark (pictures of that process to be posted soon).

I think they're pretty sophisticated and impressive. I've been enjoying this much more than the years that I did truffles. I think the presentation is fantastic and holds up well in the car even while rolling around in the front seat with the guy who doesn't worry as much about presentation;) (the truffles would roll around and the presentation would be completely lost... as much as I begged him, Dave couldn't avoid it).
Dave and Carol have gotten some great feedback apparently. I think the biscotti are enjoyed and I think the personal delivery is awesome and goes well with the EJ philosophy. This year's client gifts are an epic success in my opinion!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Answered prayer

I've spent a great deal of time in 2009 learning more about prayer and becoming an actual pray-er. Before this summer I had spurts of prayer in my life. Some times I had weeks at a time when I was consistently praying... but eventually I would fall away. I honestly think that part of my problem was I misunderstood what prayer was AND I was a very long pray-er. So long winded, in fact, that sometimes I dreaded it or just cut it out altogether because I knew it was going to take forever.

Last spring I began to earnestly seek and desire time in prayer and in the Word every morning. I don't even remember why I began to do it, but the more I did, the more I wanted it. I protected that time and still do. I've been getting up very early in the morning (4:45) so I can workout and get ready and still have my prayer and Bible time before the girls need to get ready for school. I've hosted lectures with the girls regarding the importance of this time in my morning and that when they see me on the couch with my coffee and my Bible with my eyes closed they are NOT to disturb me. They're mostly very good about it, although a reminder is necessary on occasion:)

I have learned to pray boldly and specifically. I have learned to be honest. Completely, brutally honest. And I've learned to lay things and people at HIS feet rather than worry about them. "Do not fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down." I have experienced this. I have 3 situations in my life right now where I could be needlessly worrying or obssessing, but I lay it in God's lap every morning, because realistically the situations are completely out of my control. I have done what I needed to do, the only thing I can do now is remind him of my request and watch as he works. And he is.

One significant thing that has happened as a result of all of this is that I've seen and experienced answers to prayers. I'm certain God has answered my prayers in the past, but since I've never been so consistent I've not been able to recognize it so easily. Here are a few examples of some specific answers to prayer that I would like to honor Him by sharing with anyone who reads this:

* my best friend tried for a long time to get pregnant. She did in February. I prayed and prayed that she would not miscarry. She didn't. I prayed for a healthy baby and delivery. And on November 11th I saw a picture of a very beautiful answer to prayer.

* In June I had it out with God about our finances. I laid it all out and was brutally honest with Him. I yelled. I whined. I cried. I sobbed. I questioned him and told him how unfair everything was. It didn't happen right away, but God has blessed Dave's business in many ways in the last 3 months.

* This fall as Dave's income was gradually increasing, I begged Him to give Dave the trip that he was trying to earn. Dave had been dreaming of the Steamboat, CO trip since March when the trip catalog came out. But throughout the summer it seemed less and less of a possibility. I asked God to give Dave this gift. To reward his hard work and his dedication and integrity. On the VERY LAST DAY of the trip contest, Dave earned the trip.

* This summer Dave's former assistant transferred to a different Jones office. Obviously he needed to hire a new one. The last time he had to hire a new assistant his income decreased dramatically because he had to spend so much time reviewing resumes and interviewing possible candidates, in addition to losing the support of an assistant (which increased his workload). I prayed for a smooth hiring process and that He would lead to the perfect candidate. I prayed for a smooth transition process. All of this happened. And he has the perfect assistant. PERFECT. And his business never skipped a beat during all of it. Someday I'd like to post about that specific situation because it continues to amaze me!

* Last month his commission was pretty low and we didn't think he was going to cover our expenses that month. The morning of the last day of the selling month I asked God to do something - quite literally I said, "Would you do something already?" He had quite a large amount of commissions to make up in order to make it to the number required to cover our expenses. Basically out of the question, but with the right situation it COULD happen, just didn't seem likely. At.all. Dave called around 11:30 and he hadn't made hardly any commissions yet. I was a little disappointed and thought that God had decided No that day. Dave called me at 3:30 and told me that one specific client came in and had changed her mind about a certain situation. The amount of commissions he made from that one transaction brought his monthly total past what he needed to cover our expenses. I laughed at how awesome and amusing God is!

I'm pretty sure that I've missed some. He is amazing. And his timing is so much more perfect than mine. And he leaves me speechless.

Don't get me wrong - I have not gotten an answer to every single prayer than I've uttered. And I continue to storm the gates of heaven to repeat my request. And I will continue to ask boldly and specifically and leave my desires and requests at his feet. Because I am not God. I am not in control. I am not able to do what I'm requesting of him.

* What specific answers to prayer would you like to share?
* How can I pray specifically for you? (all comments are moderated... if you mention on the comment that you don't want it posted, I will not post it, but I will still add it to my list of prayer requests.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Playing around with the Woof

Never put a video on here before... here it is. Watch for the Woofy giving me and Dave the big "Screw you" at the end. Makes me LOL every.single.time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm the biscotti queen

This week my sole focus is on making biscotti. I am making little bags of biscotti for Dave's top clients... three flavors of biscotti: cinnamon hazelnut, gingerbread, and chai. I need to make 75 bags. Each recipe makes approximately 36 pieces, which would go into 18 bags (2 of each flavor in each bag). So I need to make 12 batches of biscotti this week... It will be interesting to say the least:)

Disclaimer: I could never be a food photographer or a food blogger because I have no idea how to make them look good in the photos. In addition, I started taking pictures halfway through the process.

To make biscotti, you make the dough, cut it in half, roll it into two 12" logs, flatten them and bake them.
Here is a baked loaf of chai biscotti, which will be cut into 18 slices.

And baked again.

And cooled on a rack.

And iced with melted chocolate (for the chai biscotti I mixed ginger with white chocolate).

They are so yummy! I haven't had time to take a picture of the finished bag, but I will do so and post it later.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I feel like I can finally breathe. Ahhhhh:)

Since we came home from our Virginia Thanksgiving we have had some incredibly busy weeks. It has been crazy and it is driving me out of my mind!

I feel like I haven't seen Dave for longer than 30 minutes since we spent 15 hours in the car together. I hate that.

And all of this is happening while I'm trying my darndest to have a stress-free, peaceful Christmas season. Ugh - what happened?

Dave has had Christmas parties for one organzation or another throughout the last couple of weeks. Chamber of Commerce. Rotary. Give Something Back Foundation. Open houses for the businesses of his clients. Etc. etc.

Meanwhile, I've been doing my best to get all of my shopping completed. And I'm finally finished. But I ran into a couple of problems: because I have preschool & kindergarten bus schedules to adhere to, I only have short stretches of time to get things done. So I couldn't get everything done all in one shot, I had to go for a little bit here and a little bit there. In addition, we had decided to buy the girls a wii as their gift from Santa, but a week later we decided to return it and get something else. So that process added a couple of more trips to Target. I feel like I am quite intimate with Target at this point:)

And to go along with all of that I am a biscotti making queen. I decided to make little biscotti packages for some of Dave's clients this year, so for the entire month of December I practiced and I tweaked recipes until I decided on my 3 flavors & recipes: Cinnamon Hazelnut drizzled with cinnamon chocolate, Gingerbread drizzled with lemon white chocolate, & Chai drizzled with ginger white chocolate. They are GOOD. But they are time consuming - one batch of each flavor yields approximately 36 pieces, which makes 18 bags (2 pieces of each flavor in each bag). I need to make 75 bags before Christmas (50 clients + teachers, neighbors, aunts, friends), so I shall be making biscotti all day every day this week (I need 4 batches of each flavor... so 12 batches total... this is going to be a big project this week. Crap.)

So all of this is leaving me feeling like I haven't been able to enjoy Christmas and its going to roll right past me and I'll miss it. Which is exactly the opposite of my intentions.

BUT, we had our extended Dykstra Christmas party yesterday and we're having our celebration with Dave's parents, sister and niece & nephew this afternoon. So the house is clean. The gifts are wrapped. The gingerbread houses are complete. We're ordering pizza for dinner. Sooooo, this morning I will be drinking my coffee in relative peace and relaxing for the first time since Thanksgiving. This time will be cherished:)

I needed this post so I can look back at it 11 months from now and figure out how to do things differently so I don't feel like this again. I think I'll be feeling better over the next two weeks because everything else is done - all gifts are purchased and just a couple remain to be wrapped, decorations are up, I will be working on streamlining the biscotti process today (I'm measuring all dry ingredients into gallon plastic bags so when I am doing the baking I can just dump it in - much quicker), and most christmas obligations are out of the way.

How is your season going so far? Do you feel overextended? Or have you been able to enjoy the ride?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Best gift

My friend Julie emailed this topic to me:

What was your absolutely favorite, best Christmas gift ever?

I actually have two favorites, but for different reasons.

My favorite practical, use all the time, so glad I got it, not sure I could live without it from now on gift was from my gram last year. It was a Skip Dr. For anyone with little kids, this item is a MUST HAVE. I have repaired so many movies that my children have scratched in previous years simply by handling them. I thought most of our princess and disney movies were worthless until I buffed them with the Skip Dr. I've also saved CDs that I thought were destined for the garbage can. I recommend this to every mom I talk to when the topic of movies and/or children destroying everyday household items come up. Get one - $20 will save you lots and lots of money in replacement costs.

My other absolute favorite gift was from Dave two years ago...

Every year he gets me some random Christmas gift that I never knew I wanted;) In other words, he has no idea what he is going to buy me and tools around the mall for an hour or two and waits until something screams "Jana" to him. Every year it is hit and miss with these gifts. I love him and I appreciate what he is doing, but there have been some years where I open them and I'm trying to figure out a way to not let my disappointment show... or figure out how to tactfully and respectfully ask him if I can exchange it. He means well, truly he does, and I know all of this about him and I love him for it.

He's also been quite successful some years - for example, one year he bought me my own house tool set. That was a gift that I opened and thought, "wow, THIS is exciting." But actually, I use it all.the.time. And he's happy because I'm not messing around in his tool box.

I feel bad, though, many years, because he actually puts a whole lot more thought into his gift for me than I do for him. He pointed this out two years ago. I took that opportunity to thank him for his gift and also remind him that I planned and purchased gifts for approximately 20 people whereas he purchased one gift for one person. I don't think I've heard him make any arrogant statements about his gift giving since that conversation;)

So anyway, two years ago I open his gift. It is not heavy. In fact it feels like an empty cookie tin. I unwrap it. I open the cookie tin and find a folded up piece of paper. I take it out, unfold it and without reading every word I begin to understand that it is confirmation for a plane ticket to Miami. For the life of me, I could not figure out why he was giving me a plane ticket to Miami. Evidently my confusion showed on my face. I was having a hard time showing or telling him my appreciation because I just didn't get it. Not only did I have no reason to go to Miami, but we were in no financial position to buy a plane ticket to anywhere, let alone to Miami. And I was assuming that he'd be coming with me, which would mean TWO tickets to Miami. So what the heck?

I think I asked him why I was going to Miami, which confused HIM:) After a few minutes we got everything straight and I learned that he had planned a 3 day trip for me to visit my BFWW in MEMPHIS! This.was.amazing. Amazing. When I finally figured it all out the tears rolled down my face in a continuous stream. This was the most thoughtful gift I had every received and it ended up being a gift that kept on giving :)

What was YOUR best Christmas gift?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Planning is the Worst

For as long as I can remember (which, admittedly is not very long;) the planning of anything has been much worse for me than the actual execution of any given task. When I had to write papers in high school and college I would agonize over choosing a topic or a theme and then further agonize over the first sentence. When doing projects in grade school, the process of choosing a project and planning it was miserable for me. Once the plan is set, though, I am the queen of getting it done and following through.

I'm not sure why this is a struggle for me. And you would think that once I graduated from all educational pursuits the issue would be resolved. Nope. It happens in real life, too.

* I love to have people over for dinner and to hang out. But I pull my hair out when coming up with the menu and the grocery list.

* I don't mind cooking. But I hate every second of meal planning and grocery list making.

* I LOVE to bake. Love it. However, I've been asked to bring a dessert to a party on Saturday and am unbelieveably - and irrationally - stressed out about WHAT to bring.

* I very much enjoy buying Christmas gifts for the people that I love. Figuring out what to buy, though, distresses me (this I partly blame on the fact that I like to give meaningful, thoughtful gifts - not just crap from the list).

I'm sure there is a host of other examples of this in my life. Unfortunately the result of all of this is an unreasonable amount of self-induced stress before any given event or project... We took a tremendously fun and long road trip to Virginia for Thanksgiving. For weeks leading up to it I was tense and crabby - because I was anticipating all of the packing I was going to have to do. And I happen to be a very organized and good packer, but thinking about it makes me crabby.

THIS would be the reason that a) I like the idea of the choose your own adventure style blogging for the month and b) I didn't blog yesterday...

I LOVE to blog. I love to write. I enjoy it - it allows me to clear my head of thoughts and sometimes feelings that seem to get caught up there swirling around and clouding my day. BUT I don't like coming up with topics to write about. My blog is sporadic because I write when I feel compelled to do so... I don't feel compelled to write every day. I write about stuff that is spinning around me and needs to get out so I can focus on the rest of life. Now, saying that I'll blog everyday for the month is great - I enjoy doing it, but now the topic choosing is leading to avoidance on my part. So, please choose my topic for me!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Topic suggestion for today from Amy:

Think back to when you had a baby, toddler, and preschooler in the house--What advice would you have for people like me who are in survival mode--how to juggle things or what NOT to do? (I may use the second part as a topic on another day).

This is an interesting topic for me because I feel like I am far from the one who should be giving advice on this topic. When I was in that situation I felt smothered, disordered, and unsupported for a large share of the time (not by my husband, but simply due to the fact that we had no family in town to help us out).

I also find this an interesting topic because what helped me and my personality would likely not help many others - including Amy:) I am an introvert. She is an extrovert. I have a hard time thinking about how MY advice would be relevent to her since we get energy so differently.

But here is what was important to me at that time:

* Predictability - I was a schedule nazi with all three of my girls. Not because I think the schedule itself is so incredibly important, but because I needed to be able to predict my day as closely as possible (I'm still very much like this even without nap schedules to follow - I don't do very well with spontaneous changes in my plans). By the time each of my girls was around 2-3 months old I knew exactly what times they would nap throughout the day, exactly what times they would eat throughout the day, exactly what times they would get crabby etc. Part of this is due to the fact that I am an extremely observant, puzzle solving person. I look for patterns in all of life, not just in nap/eating schedules, and when something doesn't follow a pattern I will go crazy - obssessively - trying to solve the puzzle. I tried to feed on demand and I wanted to tear my hair out - it seemed that I would just get something started and then the baby would start to cry. I could not handle that - many moms can and do. I.cannot.

Being able to predict this stuff was helpful in many ways - I was able to plan my errands if I dared to venture out with the three of them, I could workout in the morning, I was able to tell babysitters/family EXACTLY what to expect when they watched the girls, I knew how long I had to complete household chores and how to plan my day. These things are important to me - not to some people, but to me. These things were important enough to me that I spit in the face of the idea that you never wake a sleeping child. Whatever - I woke my girls from every single nap they took and in the morning to start the day from the time they came home from the hospital until about 2 years old.

When Georgia was an infant, I was a little more loose with the schedule - just in terms of timing. Nora and Ryann had exact schedules - they each ate/slept at the exact same times every day. With Georgia I worked more with a 3 or 4 hour schedule based on when she woke up in the morning.

The routine was especially important when I had a 4 year old, 2 year old and 6 month old. Nora was in preschool at the time and because I had such a good handle on the schedule I was able to have Georgia and Ryann nap while Nora was at school and have a few precious hours to myself a couple of times a week.

* Blogging/internet - right about the time that I had Georgia I started this blog. A few other people did, too. I also joined a private forum for christian women. These things were a big deal to me as I felt I had some communication with the outside world.

* Evening bottle - If I can suggest one thing to any mother with a newborn it would be this idea. We did this with Georgia as a way to combat the problems I had with Ryann not taking a bottle for her first 8 months... Every night around 8:30/9:00 I would pump a bottle for Georgia and leave it for Dave. Dave was committed to staying awake to feed it to her at 11:45 (she wouldn't even wake up - she would eat it in her sleep; every couple of weeks we moved the time up by 15 minutes). This resulted in a couple of things: she would take a bottle, I could go to sleep right after I pumped and get a long stretch of sleep before getting up to nurse her around 4, she and Dave could bond, I didn't feel lonely staying up that late by myself. If anything at that time in our marriage showed love to me, it was the fact that Dave was willing to do that. I was able to function during the day because of it and I will forever suggest it to others and forever be in his debt.

* Managing expectations - this is actually true of all seasons of life, but I found this to be an important way to ease my mother-guilt at that time... I can't say that I ever felt overwhelmed by guilt, however, I know that it was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. This guilt about how much tv the older girls were watching, how much I was neglecting them, how much time I WASN'T spending with them. At some point, though, I realized that it would only be for a short time - approximately 6 weeks for our family. It took us about that long to really get in the swing of everything and get back to the point of having some kind of routine. When I realized that, my load became much lighter. While I would never choose to sit my kids in front of the tv for most of the day for 6 weeks, at some point I had to admit to myself that I needed to do it. I also had to be conscious of not keeping that going when I could get my head above water again. After about 6 weeks of that, ALL of us were sick of the tv:)

In addition, I had to manage my expectations for myself and what I could do. There is nothing wrong with saying no or setting boundaries with other people. And there is nothing wrong with not doing everything available and with bowing out of what may seem to be an important social occasion. Dave had his first EJ christmas party right after Georgia was born. I was incredibly overwhelmed - she was too little to leave with a babysitter, but I hadn't met ANY of the people that would be there. I knew that it was going to be an awkward and miserable situation for me - having the baby there, having to find a private place to nurse her and all that, so I politely asked Dave if he could go without me. He wasn't thrilled, but he understood. It probably wouldn't have been as bad as I anticipated, but it wouldn't have been fun, either.

At the time that I had the three little ones under the age of 4 I didn't realize how busy I was. Now that life has gotten easier than that I look back and realize just how smothered I really felt and wonder how I did it. Not sure I could go back... which is why there is no 4th in our future;)

So what is on the agenda for tomorrow's post?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas Traditions

Today we begin a full month (hopefully - can I do this with Christmas looming?) of my choose your own adventure blogging. I am also going to return to the public.

Here is how it is going to work - in my last post I asked for the very limited number of readers to provide me with a list of 30 topics to blog on and I got a few responses. What I've decided to do, rather than build a list of those topics, I would like this to be a true Choose Your Own Adventure kind of month. So this is what we'll do - I am choosing the first topic suggestion from my last post. I will blog about that today. Your responsbility as loyal readers and lovers of Jana is to read today's blog and give me a suggestion for tomorrows topic either based on today's blog or some other random question in your head. I will then choose my own aventure from the comments - either randomly eeny meeny miney mo style or one that is particularly compelling to me.

So today we have this suggestion for loyal friend and reader, Marissa:
Christmas traditions. What are yours? Any new ones you're implementing this year? How do you keep the spirit of Christmas alive in your house and keep your kids from getting caught up in the gift aspect of it all?

This is an interesting question for me. I grew up without traditions. We had no traditions in any aspect of our lives that I can recall - we weren't just lacking Christmas traditions, but family traditions in general. I remember that my mom just simply hated all things Christmas - she put a tree up, but there was little to no other decorating in the house. My dad put lights on the house and I remember one year he left them up for the entire year. He was fastidious about them being straight, which is why I refuse to have lights on my own house (because I know that my husband will not be as particular and the crookedness of the lights on the eaves will drive me crazy and I will hate every second of pulling into my driveway).

Every year Christmas became less and less - first it started with just taking the already decorated tree and putting it in the storage room with a big piece of plastic on it so we wouldn't have to decorate it the following year, then the tree got bagged altogether and we literally put presents under a pelican statue that had a Christmas ornament hanging from its beak, and then in one of Dave's most shocking Christmases ever, my parents didn't wrap our gifts - my dad tossed them across the room in the plastic bag from the store (good thing mine was a bubble ski coat).

Now that you are sufficiently horrified an it sounds like I'm vilifying my parents, I need to mention that none of this bothered me or upset me. I'm not upset about it now. I don't feel gipped. I don't feel like I missed out. I don't carry resentments. I find it amusing in retrospect, but I also understand that this was our family. I love my parents and I love these things about them. I also love the fact that my mom has done a complete 180 with the whole Christmas tree/decoration thing. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has a story, and part of my story includes the above... and part of my parents story includes whatever brought them to the point of those things. While I know that most people live differently over Christmas, I never knew it at the time - this is how WE celebrated Christmas.

Now, all that to say that over the last 12 years of being a member of Dave's family, I have grown to appreciate and look forward to family traditions. They have many. And actually my mom is working hard to create some new ones with our family - and I love it!

It has actually taken me quite a while to desire our own family traditions. Life with me is very different this year than it has been in the past. I truly, truly believe that this can be attributed to no longer feeling smothered with lots of little children and getting some alone time on a consistent basis. I feel like I can finally be intentional about this kind of stuff - I am no longer looking at what a hassle something is or how much work its going to be to prepare for it and packing the diaper bag and the training pants and the stroller etc. etc. Since Georgia turned 3 life seems to have gotten quite a lot easier than in previous years and that results in our family striving to create and maintain some new traditions - Christmas or otherwise.

So all of this to say, here are some of our traditions that are already established:

* decorating the tree as a family - in the past we have done this the weekend of Thanksgiving. We were not home this year, so we did it last weekend. We have a fake tree and I would have it no other way:)

* advent wreath / lighting of the candles on advent sundays - last year we decided to get a real Advent wreath and do our own readings/candle lightings because our church does not do them and Dave really missed it. This has been a great devotional time for our family where we are also able to teach the girls about hope, peace, joy and love and how Jesus fulfills each of them. I'm still waiting for the day that they aren't more interested in blowing the candle out than in the reading, but it will happen.

* adore-naments for the 12 days before Christmas - I mentioned these in my post last year. We really enjoyed doing these ornaments every night and again, it was a great teaching tool for the girls to learn different names and characteristics of Christ.

* Long Grove, IL - This is a little town that is about an hour north of us. Its just a small, quaint downtown area with some cute little shops. It is probably not any different than any other quaint little downtown area, but it is a place that we went to 3 years ago and have been back every year since. Last year we took a horse and carriage ride and Nora got to drive! We always stop for coffee and live music at Beans and Leaves, for popcorn at the popcorn store, for giant gingerbread cookies at the bakery and for some holiday wine at the general store. Nothing too exciting for most people, but they are things that at least Dave and I have fond memories of and look forward to every year.

* Santa - neither Dave nor I did Santa when we were little kids. We probably wouldn't have done Santa with our kids either, except Nora made reindeer food in preschool one year and we played it out - left some cookies for Santa and the food for the reindeer. When she woke up the next morning the cookies were half eaten (it was a lot of work trying to keep those away from the Woof) and the reindeer had spilled their food all over the front porch and lawn. Her face was priceless and we will do Santa forever. Santa only brings one gift - either one for each girl or one big gift for the family. Last year he brought a bunch of board games. One year he brought scooters, this year he's bringing exactly what the girls have asked for and I'm excited for them to wake up on Christmas morning.

* Home on Christmas morning/day - with all of our family out of town we used to travel on the actual day. After the whole Santa business, though, we have protected Christmas eve night and Christmas day as OUR time. We will always be home on Christmas morning as long as I have anything to say about it.

* Only 3 gifts (in addition to what Santa brings) - I started this last year based on a suggestion from a friend. It was awesome. It felt so freeing to stop at 3 gifts and to not be caught up in buying a bunch of things. It also forces me to be very selective in what I pick out for them. I know some people do something to wear, something to read, something to play with - we don't, but we may switch to that at some point... right now it is unnecessary.

* baking cookies - this is pretty self explanatory and actually is quite stressful for me:) I think it will be less stressful this year for many reasons and I'm looking foward to it.

* having a peaceful, unhurried Christmas season - last year i made an effort to get my shopping done early and was determined to actually enjoy the holiday season rather than be stressed and anxious. I loved it so much, that I determined to do it again. As of today I have one more gift to buy, and all of the presents to wrap, but our Christmas letters are finished and mailed, teacher gifts are planned, etc. It is now just my honor to bake, bake, bake and enjoy the month and the celebration and to be intentional about remembering our reason for celebrating.

Traditions that hopefully are beginning this year:
* Dutch babies and egg nog the night we decorate the tree - this was fun. The food was good, it was celebratory and special and festive.

* Movies over Christmas break - I've told the girls that we can watch one princess movie together every day of Christmas break. I HATE Disney princess movies, but I think we're going to have some good, girl time with this. I'm going to have to suffer through Ariel, Belle & Cinderella before I finally get to Giselle, but it'll be fun.

* feeding the homeless - we were downtown yesterday morning for brunch with our college friends. On our way home we passed a couple of homeless men asking for money. The girls had never seen homeless people and were full of questions. Dave and I both looked for money, but we didn't have any cash on us, so we went to the drive-through at McDonalds and bought each of these men a double cheeseburger and a chocolate milk. It didn't amount to much and I actually worry that the greasy food would upset their stomachs, but it was one meal for them yesterday. I hope that this is not just a Christmas tradition, but becomes part of our family MO.

The second part of the suggested topic was: How do you keep the spirit of Christmas alive in your house and keep your kids from getting caught up in the gift aspect of it all?

Hopefully I've been able to answer the first part of that question already - advent wreath, adorenaments, unhurried Christmas. This is really something that we're trying to be intentional about and I hope we're succeeding. In addition, I think one thing that helps to keep them from getting caught up in the gift aspect of it all is that we don't let them watch a lot of tv, which means they aren't seeing a bunch of commercials for toys that advertisers are trying to convince them that they NEED. We also do a fair amount of emphasis throughout the year on experiences rather than things, I hope that helps too.

These traditions have really helped me begin to enjoy the Christmas season rather than stress out about all of the obligations and busyness that used to come along with it. These are the things that I look forward to!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What to write

Marissa has asked me to come back to blogland. I happen to believe that Marissa is the only person who still checks/reads this. So my question is:

What do you want to read about? I'm willing to write, give me some inspiration... sometimes I wonder if my intensity comes across as being opinionated and judgemental, which I try really hard not to be, so I shy away from sharing. Believe me, I have a bunch of stuff running through my head at any given moment.

I will commit to writing everyday this month if YOU provide the topics! That means I need almost 30 topics. Ask me anything - I'm an open book:)

***edited to add: I will begin on Monday, December 7th. I'd like to leave this post up for a couple of days with the hopes that perhaps a straggler or two will pop in and happen upon it and provide some more topics.

As a side note, thinking about going back to public, for various reasons. When I was non-private I didn't do anything to increase my traffic, but I am fully aware that it is easier to blog more often when there are people actually reading it and commenting on it. I believe that most of my few readers are probably not following along too closely and maybe part of it is because it is private and won't show up on a reader (I don't follow many private blogs for that reason). My reasoning behind going private was to create an authentic sharing community, but that didn't seem to happen. I think that I, personally, have a hard time being someone I'm not so my personal authenticity is not in jeopardy by going public. In addition, I don't think I need to share personal info as much as I did at that specific time - I didn't get as specific about things anyway. I think I need to view this not as a personal personal journal, but as a place to record thoughts and memories, which is the original intention anyway.

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