The Value of Venting

Do you ever vent - full of frustration - with your husband and then turn around and just DO the thing you were complaining about? It could be the silliest thing: having to buy Christmas gifts, not knowing how you're going to organize your house (EVER) or what you're going to make for dinner this week. But once you actually sit down and actually DO the thing you were trying to postpone, it wasn't that bad. At all. I always do that and then wonder why I made such a big deal about it.

Remember my post about not knowing what I'm doing? I vented to the blog world about my lack of toddler knowledge, especially how to transition my boys to taking their afternoon nap IN their cribs and then transitioning away from their bottles. Both issues seemed too large for me to tackle. It took me a while to get to a place where I feel more confident. More in control. Why in the world would I want to mess all of that up in order to "correct" something? Well, I still don't know exactly what I'm doing. But I stopped to make a plan and therefore, have been seeing results!

I tried to remind myself about the "take one thing at a time" concept I've been learning during the past few months in order to correct some of the bad habits I've fallen into.

Three weeks after that post, I am PROUD to say that the boys now soothe themselves to sleep in their cribs (and have for the past two weeks) and they have had one bottle a day for the past three days!!! I'm telling you, folks. This is huge.

I could say that I won't vent any more in the future. But I already know that's a lie. I actually think venting is therapeutic for me. Getting it all out there, talking with someone that knows me (and knows that I am, in fact, very capable) and trusts me enough not to give me advice. I'm able to leave those venting sessions more aware of the mountain that lies ahead of me and confident of what steps I need to make in order to conquer it. Because we ARE capable. We CAN do it. Just not all at once.

We are soo much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

I think it was Elenor Roosevelt that said, "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know her strength until you put her in hot water."

Couldn't have said it better myself.


Disney World in a Bowl

My sister called this dessert "Disney World in a Bowl." I thought it was so clever I had to steal it for myself! We also call it "Ribbon Jello" or "Layered Jello" or even "Seven Layer (or Seven Hour) Jello." No matter how you say it, it looks and tastes wonderful!

My mom has made this dessert for years. I'm not even sure where it originated, but as of yesterday, it has been established (by my husband) as part of our Thanksgiving tradition now. No more boring Jello mold for us. This one takes a little time - seven hours, in fact. That's because there are 14 layers, each taking around 30 minutes to gel. But I'll tell you, there won't be a prettier thing on your table. My eight-year-old niece already requested this as her birthday dessert (and her birthday is in July!) Here's how you do it:

Ribbon Jello
7 boxes Jello
1-32 oz. container sour cream*
14 ice cubes
Pour one box of Jello into the first of TWO small bowls. Add 1 cup of hot water and stir until mixed. Then pour about half of the liquid into the other small bowl. Each bowl will contain your first two layers. In the first bowl, add two ice cubes and stir until they melt. Pour the contents of that bowl into your 9x13" glass pan and keep in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, add 1/3 cup of sour cream to the second bowl of Jello mixture and stir until smooth. After the first layer has gelled, add the second sour cream mixture and let sit in the refrigerator to gell for another 30 minutes. Repeat this same process for each color. Serve with whipped cream, if desired. *You won't use the whole container of sour cream, but my Ribbon Jello used a little more than a 16 oz. container.
I apologize if my directions sound confusing. This was a recipe passed down to me by word of mouth, so I had to describe the process in my own words. But I'm already thinking of different ways to use this same concept all through the year. For Christmas, I may do a combination of red, green and yellows... for Valentine's, reds and pinks... for the boys' birthday, blues and greens. Oh, the possibilities!! :)

Mommy's Lap

Sometimes, only mommy's lap will do.


Joy in Simplification

You know how cute it is when you see a little girl dancing on her daddy's toes? Her head is raised as she gazes into his big eyes and his eyes sparkle back. Adorable, right? Or how about that little boy, grasping onto his daddy's leg and is laughing as his dad pulls him through the ktichen. It's beautiful, isn't it? Now, picture TWO toddlers. On two legs. Of the same person. But rather than enjoying the fact that you're dragging sixty pounds of toddler, you're seeing it as an obstacle of getting from one end of the room to the other.

Yup. Well, that's me.

Jack and Ben have been sooo clingy lately. They've always loved their mommy, but lately, their obsession has reached a new level. A new peak. They tell me this is normal. Molars are growing in. They're irritable and just want mommy. Not even daddy will do, no matter how hard he tries to distract them. It's age-appropriate, they tell me. Healthy. And not to worry, that they'll grow out of it. I have to be honest: this is one stage I'm more than anxious to be over!

It is for this reason that I have come to treasure my times in the evening even more. Working a minimum of just fifteen minutes after we put them down, I find so much peace in being able to start and finish one whole project without four little hands begging to be scooped up. And the progress is inspiring!

I'm taking one thing at a time. Two or three, if I feel especially motivated. But my rule is that I won't start a new project unless I know I can finish it that night. It's a pet peeve of mine. Otherwise, it becomes a huge mess everyone has to step over; eventually, it's thrown into a corner - out of the way - and never to be attempted for as long as we both shall live. Perhaps this is why I've always been a night owl: I hate waking up and knowing there was still more to do! So I've been firm on this. And I've been so pleased with the results.

The other day, I organized my spice cupboard in the kitchen during the boys' nap. Let me tell you: it's beautiful. It was helpful looking through my inventory, finding any doubles and preparing myself for the holiday baking season. Love it. Two nights ago, I organized three cupboards in the bathroom, including our medicine cabinets. Tonight, I cleaned out both cupboards underneath the sink. You don't even want to know how much stuff I threw out. Medicine, creams, tablets... all expired. Rather than think about how much money I was literally pouring down the drain, I tried to be thankful for all of the medicine we never needed!

In addition to cupboards, I also cleared my countertops. I took off anything that I didn't use on a daily basis or that was just 'clutter.' I feel like I've got so much more room to work now! My new nightly goal is to go to bed with a clean countertop (and sink) because I love waking up with a sigh of relief, rather than a dreaded "Uh, this mess is still waiting for me" kinda thought. It has drastically improved the quality of my day.

My utensil drawer will be next. And then perhaps I'll work on my computer desk drawer, whatever I feel like in that moment. But it feels so good to be able to do things like when I can find some time! Especially since "productive" is not a word I've been able to use about my days since the boys were born :)

One step at a time. I'll get this whole mommy thing down yet.


Myriad of Confessions

I have a confession to make. Well, three actually.

My boys are eighteen months old and still drink from a bottle.

Ah, there. I said it. The first step to healing is confession, right? Okay, here I go again: The boys sleep in my living room rather than their cribs during their afternoon nap.

Okay, that felt pretty good. Just getting it out there in the open is going to help me on the road to recovery!

But honestly, these are the last two "habits" I've had a hard time breaking. It's just so difficult trying to make strides when you're the one that spends the most time with them during the day. Ya know? It's as if any change you are able to make it only because you were willing to suffer through all of the kicking and screaming to get them to see that they didn't really need it in the first place! That is, if you didn't go insane before. I'm working on it. I've got a renewed plan of where I'd like to start this week. I'm dreading it, though. It's. Just. So. Hard.

But I told you I actually had three confessions. The last one (or perhaps I should have mentioned this one first) is:

I have absolutely NO idea what I'm doing.

I know I give the impression that I have everything under control. I don't.

I know it seems like things move pretty smoothly around my house all of the time. Hmmm, not really.

I'm sure you'd think that I had my act together and this mothering thing actually came very naturally. Well, that's partly true.

The truth is, most times, I struggle to know what I do. What's the best way to react when your kids throw food on the floor? Do you discipline them or ignore it? How are you supposed to know? I never seem to make the right decision before his brother decides that's a fun activity for HIM to try, too! How do you know how to respond when your son throws a toy at you? Do you punish him or take it as a sign he just wants to play with you? How do I respond when they laugh at my reprimand? Or how about when he bites his brother for stealing his toy? Do you bite him back, give him time-out, or just remove him from the situation?

I honestly have NO idea.

The only guidance we have as parents is in the long-range. If we did something and stuck with it for a while, we may be able to see the outcome. "I'm sooo glad we finally let the boys just cry it out," we told ourselves a few months ago. "Why didn't we do this sooner?" We could have kicked ourselves for not starting months earlier. But honestly, we were just getting by, day by day! How were we supposed to know exactly which method would work for our boys in our circumstance!?

My husband and I took the boys to an Italian restaurant for dinner tonight. I suppose this is where these thoughts stemmed from tonight. They did pretty well through the meal, so I decided to take them to look at the fish in the fish tank during the last few minutes so my husband could finish his last few bites in peace (he was the one to feed them the majority of their food.) The boys loooooove animals. So the fish tank was a very welcomed surprise. They tapped on the glass, made fish faces and screamed with delight. The other people in the room seemed to be happily entertained by Jack and Ben along with their new friends. When Andy paid the bill, he brought our big bags into the room and the boys had the time of their life sharing their new experiences with their daddy. After a few minutes, we started saying our goodbyes to the fishes and started packing up to leave. One problem. The boys did NOT want to go. If they could, they would have spent ALL DAY in front of that fish tank (except it would have only been an hour before they learned how to take the lid off and climb in there themselves!!) So here's Andy and I at a nice restaurant, carrying our screaming boys all the way to the car. I'll tell ya. Didn't feel like our proudest parenting moment.

What could I have done differently? We let them play, gave them each their own chair to stand on, and plenty of time to watch. We gave them time to transition and tried to be gentle in our commands. But when push came to shove, we HAD to leave! The thanks we got for doing the right thing? The embarrassment of carrying two screaming toddlers out of the restaurant and having all of those people glare at you, wondering if you are taking someone else's child.

There are no manuals. There's not always ONE right way to do things. We get guidance from other people (some welcome, some not-so-welcome) but all we have is our own judgment. We get encouragement from the Bible with a solid example of how Jesus would treat the children He came into contact with, but He never said what to do about letting your kids play with fish behind a glass!

But He did say things like "Let the little children come unto Me" and "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it." I feel like He's leaving me clues. I just have to put them together.

That's the hardest part about discipline. It's difficult in the moment. Horrible, in fact. There will be tears, screams, kicking. It's an all-out battle of wills. Discipline is never enjoyable. For the parent OR the child. But I also remember Jesus saying in the Bible that it also harvests a great reward for those who were trained by it. There's a payout. But it doesn't come right away.

So, here's where I am at the end of my confession. I'm tired. Humbled. And yet encouraged if not just in the smallest way. I'm not alone. I'm not the first one to experience this. I have a feeling that other moms have struggled with transitioning their kids from bottles to sippy cups before, some even beyond eighteen months. And I think we could be doing a lot worse than letting them nap on the living room floor. I'll get there. One step at a time.


Turkey a la King

I made this for dinner tonight, though I used chicken instead. It was fantastic - even my toddlers enjoyed it! The recipe suggests serving it over rice, noodles, biscuits or toast. I used a little trick my mom used to do: toasting bread inside muffin tins! I also added a whole bag of frozen vegetables (with lima beans, green beans, corn, carrots and peas) rather than just the frozen peas. It made for a more colorful and nutritious meal. Next time, I would need to add more chicken broth to the mixture (because of my increase in vegetables) so it will be a little more creamy. It's a perfect meal for all of those Thanksgiving leftovers, too!

Turkey a la King

1-3/4 c. mushrooms, sliced
1 celery rib, chopped
¼ c. onion, chopped
¼ c. green pepper, chopped
4 T. butter
¼ c. flour
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. milk
2 c. turkey breast, cooked and cubed*
1 c. frozen peas
½ tsp. salt
8 slices of bread

In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the mushrooms, celery, onion and pepper in 2 tablespoons of butter until tender. Combine the flour and broth until smooth; stir into vegetable mixture. Stir in milk. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Add the turkey, peas and salt; heat through. Meanwhile, butter the bread on one side. Tuck inside a cupcake tin and bake at 350˚ for about 15 minutes. Serve the mixture inside the toasted bread, which will come out in the shape of a cup.
* Again, I used chicken in my recipe. I cooked the chicken breasts in the CrockPot on low for about 6 hours today; I sliced a small onion and sprinkled some salt and pepper as well as a little bit of water. Then I discarded the onions before I chopped it up for my dinner. Easy! (This recipe was taken from Taste of Home's Thanksgiving 2010 issue, page 69.)

Baby Steps

I remember being back in the classroom. I would see my sixth-graders spill something (in the classroom or in the lunch room.) With growing bodies and hormones they don't know what to do with, they would just freeze. They'd panic and then move five feet backward. They didn't do a THING. Someone else would see their situation, run to their rescue and clean up the spill. Perhaps they were embarassed - there are a lot of social issues at that age - but I wondered if that's all they had to do at home. Just move away and someone else will get it.

Or how about the toddler that makes a HUGE mess - intentionally, out of anger or frustration - and then the mom puts him in time-out. Then SHE'S the one that cleans it up! That kid gets off scott-free! Not a bad system: I make a mess, I get a break and Mom cleans it up.

Nope. Not this mom.

I was determined to teach my boys the best way to respond when they make a mess. Granted, the majority of messes they make are accidental. They're still babies! They're 18 months old and not as coordinated as they like to think they are. They misjudge the depth of water in the cup and spill. They miss their mouth and it drips all of the way down their shirt. They tried to get that spoon of Cheerios and milk into their little mouths but it slipped on its way. They're trying. They really are. We cannot punish them for things they do on accident. That's just wrong. This is all developmental - they're get it eventually, but in the mean time, they will continue to get it wrong. We can't hurry that process. But we CAN teach them how to respond when they make a mistake.

And let me tell you, the answer is NOT running away and letting Mom clean up the mess. With two boys and the hope of more in the future, I just won't do it. I want them to know what it means to be personally responsible for their messes.

So here's what I've been trying to do. For the past six months (starting when they were about a year old,) we started having them clean up their toys at the end of the night. It was part of our night-time routine. Andy and I would shuffle all of their toys toward the toy bin, then we would give them one toy at a time and ask them to put it in the bin. When they complied, we praised them up and down. We did this with our bath toys as well. "Wow, what a good helper you are! You just put the toy in the bin!" The boys would be so proud and would be eager to show us how well they could do it.

After a time, we didn't have to do as much shuffling and handing them each toy. Now, we say, "Alright, let's put our toys in the bin! It's time to clean up!" and they understand the concept enough to grab a few toys and put them away.

Now, let me encourage you. They say we should expect a 60% accuracy at this age. That's just a little more than half the time. So when the boys are being too difficult, I let it go. It's not that big of a deal. I do what I can with what I have. It's not worth a power struggle every time. I just want them to understand the concept.

But this is transferring to other parts of our day. If they spill some Cheerios onto the table (because they were dumping their bowl when they shouldn't have been,) I calmly say, "Uh oh. Let's put the Cheerios back in the bowl." And they usually will do just that. When they used to do this, I would panic and let a fast experated "Uhhhhhhh!! Oh, no!!!" I found that the boys would smear the mess with their hands in a panic. This, obviously, created three times the initial mess. So what I've been trying to do is stay calm. Acknowledge the spill. And then teach them how to react appropriately.
I always have wipes handy, so when something spills (because it usually is an accident - c'mon, they're 18 months old!) I give them a wipe and ask them to clean the table. And do you know what? They love it. It's a fun activity for them! I don't mind when I see the boys with a clean tissue or a clean wipe, ready to rip it into shreds. I let them. That's 15 minutes of pure quiet for me and entertainment for them! Talk about cause and effect! But when they're done, they know what it means when mommy says, "Jonathan, can you put those pieces into the bowl?" He grabs the bowl and begins his routine of putting them IN the bowl, dumping it and retrieving them all and putting them back inside. It's a game. (In all honesty, this activity usually lasts for about 3-4 rounds and finishes with mommy picking up all of the pieces. But hey, he got the concept! We just have to work on when he's finished with the cycle ;)

Jonathan had the time of his life ripping up the papertowel and throwing them around the kitchen yesterday. 

But when it was time to clean up, I gave him a bowl and he entered the next part of the activity: cleaning it up. (Note: this process usually works easier and for longer periods of time with Jonathan than Benjamin ;) I'm thinking it has a lot to do with temperment and personality.

I've already seen hints of power struggles, battles of will and clashes of determination. Ben has a few tantrums every day (and 90% of them are when I won't let him touch the computer keyboard, have my cell phone or play with my camera!) I don't want to frustrate my boys into feeling like they have no control over their world. There are so many things that ARE out of their control... where we go, when we leave, what they're allowed to touch, getting their diaper changed... so I try and give them areas that really aren't a big deal so they can have a certain amount of power and control.

Having kids is a lot of work. Diapers, making meals, and coming up with fun activities while also trying to keep our house in order? Not easy. So I think it makes perfect sense to help teach my boys where they can help. After all, they're usually the ones who messed it up in the first place! :) We're a work in progress. But I believe this is a step in the right direction (if not just for my own sanity!)


Pork Chops with Pears

And thus begins another week of new recipes in the Sauer household. My husband is in HEAVEN!

This recipe caught my eye because of how simple it was. And it really was. The brown sugar and pears really gave it a nice flavor. My picture doesn't look half as nice as the one in the Taste of Home magazine (Thanksgiving 2010 holiday issue, page 5,) mostly because I had forgotten to take a picture ahead of time. My poor husband had to transfer his half-eaten pork chop to another dish to spoon a new one into his, then make his spinach and carrots look like he hadn't touched them. What a guy.
Pork Chops with Pears
1-15 oz. can pear halves
6 bone-in pork chops (3/4” thick)
3 T. butter
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. prepared mustard
Drain pears, reserving the juice; cut pears into slices and set aside. In a large skillet, brown the pork chops in butter. Transfer to a greased 9x13” baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard and reserved pear juice. Pour over chops; top with pear slices. Bake, uncovered, at 350˚ for 40-45 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160˚. Yield: 6 servings.