Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Rice-Krispie-Treat Farewell Dance

It was a lonely collection of ingredients for making Rice-Krispie treats that sat on my kitchen counter for three days that led me to this decision: I’m taking a break from blogging.

Last Monday I decided it was high-time to make some Rice-Krispie treats with the kids for absolutely no special occasion.  Life is sometimes so practical around here that it can seem frivolous to make a special treat for just the heck of it, but if one can’t splurge on something silly and sugary from time to time, then shoot me now.

With great anticipation of seeing my dimpled angels face’s light up at the chance to both make and consume (in mass quantities) these treats, I danced around the kitchen, grabbing Rice-Krispies, Fruity-Pebbles (that extra pizzazz of color is all the rage around here), a giant mixing-bowl, wooden spoons and of course, a huge bag of marshmallows.

Then life interrupted my Rice-Krispie-treat-dance.

The baby started crying, the toilet started flooding, the boys started wailing as they fell from the top of Mt. Couch-Cushion and I faced up to reality: that dream would have to wait.

By the time the baby was converted from a hungry customer to a sleeping cherub, the toilet converted back into a seat to be sat on rather than a boat to float on and the boys had hung up their climbing boots until another day, I was exhausted.  

From the moment I had woken that morning until each of my energetic monkeys passed out in their cage (i.e., bunk-bed), I had truly felt like a banana-tree with at least one of those monkeys hanging from my limbs at all times.

Parenthood is truly the state of being better chaperoned than one was during their dating days.  Never a dull…or FREE moment!

Once the last escapee was lovingly returned to their bed (at least it was lovingly the first five times) and tucked in for the night, my husband and I collapsed into our own bed.  I had just enough brain-juice leftover to type out a blog and post it before all semblance of intelligent thoughts evaporated from my mind and I fell asleep, dreaming of my hopes for the next day, which included Rice-Krispie-treat-making.

Needless to say, Tuesday, Wednesday and finally Thursday flew by in a blur and I decided it was only on days that end in “Y” that are non-stop around the Cole home.

On each of those days, I felt a pang of sorrow at seeing the Rice-Krispie ingredients sitting all by their lonesome in my kitchen.  I also felt a pang of righteous-Mama-irritation to notice the once full bag of marshmallows had been shrinking in size with each passing day…interesting.

Tonight, I finally put my foot down (and of course accidentally stepped on a monkey that was hanging from my leg), “We are making these Rice-Krispie treats tonight and I’m having the mail-carrier-attitude about it: neither rain nor shine, heaven nor hail will stop me from making this happen!”

So, we did it.  Marshmallows were melted and consumed in doses lethal to being sleepy at bed-time.  Rice-Krispies and Fruity-Pebbles were stirred with such passion that the cereal that was flung out of the bowl could've made a whole new batch if someone would have collected it off the floor.  And, best of all, wooden spoons were happily licked clean by my four dimpled angels (even Gabby tried a bite and approved).  I can’t recall ever feeling such a sense of accomplishment over such a tiny task, it was truly Rice-Krispie Heaven!

When each of these monkies passed out tonight, with marshmallows still smudged on their cheeks, I smiled and thought, THAT is what I want to have more time for: the IMPORTANT stuff in life.

Which means to make more time with my kiddos, I have to take time from something else, at least for a bit while I catch up on the good stuff.  Since I couldn’t quit on laundry (my first and most obvious choice) as we haven’t yet hired a maid (I do it for free so my hubbie ain’t too motivated to pay someone else) and I figured if I cut out on showering or teeth-brushing, my friends would all become long-distant relationships, I decided that left just one thing: my blog.

Thus, dear friend and loyal reader whom I love, I am saying goodbye.

Not forever, just for one week as I focus on family, friends, fun and faith (and anything else that starts with “f” to keep that rhythm going).  I will also be kissing Facebook goodbye beginning this Saturday morning until next Saturday.

I will miss you but I’ll be back and I think (or at least I hope), better than ever as I’ll be more refreshed and alive (I heard sleep can do that to people, looking forward to trying it out!).

If you miss me, feel free to give us a holler and stop by.  I can’t promise it won’t be a bit busy with a bunch of monkeys jumping around, but I can promise there will be a plate of colorful Rice-Krispie treats on our kitchen counter and you will be more than welcome to have one!

Sincerely, Tara Cole

Why I Decided to Home-School

It’s official: I'm home-schooling.

I have decided it's pretty much the BEST way to do things as a parent.

You see, during my P.P.D. (Pre-Parent Days), I thought I had it all figured out.  I figured I would bring little Sally/Jonny into this crazy world and teach them EVERYTHING they would ever need to know.  I would be their main source of knowledge and truth, with God as my side-kick, of course.  Although that statement is a bit exaggerated, it definitely was the basic foundation of my P.P.D. theology.

Imagine my great surprise when I realized this truth: my children may teach me MORE then I ever teach them!  Thus, I have decided to grab my favorite Strawberry Shortcake pencil (old passions die hard), a wide-ruled notebook and put on my “listening ears and watching eyes” (as an old teacher of mine used to say) and be “home-schooled”!

That’s right: I’M going to be “home-schooled” by a group of teachers that hold an impressive variety of degrees from P-U College (the ones still in diapers), California Institute of Wreck-ology (Mr. Judah hails from here with honors) and John Hoppin’ (all-over-the-place) University.  

I’m discovering there is always more that can be learned in topics that I thought I had already aced in elementary school; such as reading, writing and arithmetic.  Reading took on a fresh meaning when I confirmed one really can read Dr. Seuss books until your eyes are ready to fall out of their sockets and the teachers will still NOT be satisfied, they will demand, “Read it ONE more time, please!!”.  Writing has definitely become a creative art when my teachers show me the variety of places one can use pencils, pens and (my personal fave) permanent markers.  I once again remembered that math has never been my favorite subject when we recently tried to solve this problem: 4 children + 1 mama + 5 errands=1 headache > anything Tylonol can solve.
Least you think it’s all work and no play for little Mommy, be assured, games abound at Cole University!  Recently, my sanity and I played Hide and Seek when I was trying to get everybody ready for church and I lost my mind.  It’s still missing.  The classic “Duck, Duck, Goose” took on a fresh meaning when fellow-pupil, Daddy, got a bit rambunctious during recess while spinning Ms. EvaLee in a circle.  Jude ducked, Gideon ducked and Mama got the goose-egg.

Yet the most invaluable lessons that have been taught at Cole University since it was founded in 2006 are the subjects I hadn’t previously realized I was so very lacking in; having important priorities, patience and a child-like heart.

I love to watch my tiny professors teaching these lessons in hands-on ways, such as the other day when Mr. Judah stooped down to comfort his little sister who was bawling her eyes out over her first real owie, a skinned knee.  

“Don’t worry, EvaLee.  Sometimes it’s blood, but sometimes it’s just ketchup.”  He stood by her side the whole time I was cleaning her knee, his pudgy hand gently holding her tiny one.  As I carefully stuck a Disney Princess band-aid on her knee, I wondered if I was as gentle as Judah with those who are suffering in my own life.  Do I take time to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice?  (Romans 12:15) That’s just one of the important priorities they have taught me.

Another priority they have taught me (reminder lessons are needed often!) is that the cleaning, errands and busyness of life can wait: these precious little people won’t always fill our homes with noise and laughter.  They won’t always poke their head into the kitchen and ask (for the fifth time), “Mommy, are you coming to read me “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed?”.  They may not always light up like a Christmas tree when you say, “Who wants to play a game with me?”.  But the dirty dishes will always be there (unless you hire a maid, we can dream!) and the “To Do” list will never end.

As for patience, I thought I was a VERY patient person until I had kids (just like I thought I was a pretty selfless person until I got married!).  One of the recent “Patient Tests” I have taken at Cole University involved having all the kids loaded in the van, one kid missing inside the house and discovering him (name not mentioned to protect the un-innocent) piling enough toilet paper into the potty to fill the Grand Canyon.  My ideal response would have been to calmly enter into a dissertation with this particular teacher about the pros and cons of waste-management.  As it were, I think our 90-year-old-neighbor called over to say that I hollered aforementioned boy’s name loud enough to be heard by her, which being heard by Ms. Helen regardless of the distance, is truly one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

I’m still hoping God was grading that test on a curve.  As the saying goes, I need patience and I need it NOW.

I don’t know how many degrees you earn in a school that you attend for 18 plus years and in all truth, I don’t really care, I’m just hoping to graduate someday!  Through these past few years, the most treasured lesson I have encountered is the child-like heart that I’m blessed to observe on a daily basis and, to my even greater joy, capture in my own life in the smallest of ways.

The faith to believe in everything from Santa Clause to the possibility that the snow will melt and spring will actually come to Wisconsin.

The innocence in the naivety of not knowing any evil or darkness in our world, with the exception of cartoon bad-guys that wear all black and have overly evil, deep-throated laughs and maybe a night spent with out a nightlight.

The joy in whom God made them to be and all the special things He created in this world; from the tiny ladybugs they love to observe for hours and then gleefully squish, to the funny way the squirrel outside our window eats an acorn.

The humility of spirit when you compliment something special they did or said only to have them offer up a shy grin and say, “Thanks. I don’t know why, I just can do that stuff and be good at it.”

It’s been another amazing day in my “home-school” class and I am just hoping my teachers will grade on a curve because I have a LOT more learning to do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Thinks Your Spouse is SEXY??

Someone thinks your husband is dead sexy.

They think he is a strong, good-working man.

They think he is a great daddy to his children and a tenderhearted guy.

There is a man out there that thinks your wife is really hot.

They think she is a giving, amazing kind of gal.

They think she’s a fabulous mother to her children and has a sweet spirit.
If you’re first thought when reading this (other than perhaps turning a little green around the collar) was, “Obviously they don’t know my spouse!”  or, “They must have never seen her/him three days without a shower!” then let me direct your attention to a red light flashing over your head with sirens a wailing: “WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!!”

You are about to step on lethal ground.

A funny, or should I say…not so funny thing happens a few years (or days) into the marriage, the rose-colored glasses get ripped off by reality and we find ourselves facing the one we vowed to be with until eternity comes.  When that happens, eternity can start to seem far, far, far away!

But I would like to pose this question to you: Is the reason we begin to take our spouse for granted because we know them too well or is it because we do not know them well enough?

Before you think that I just swallowed a few crazy pills, hear me out.

We fall in love with our spouse because they are both like us and not like us at all.  We are shocked to discover another human being from this era that doesn’t wear leg-bands or tie-dye shirts anymore (or is that cool again?) that still thinks “Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” make the Top Ten Movies of All Time List.  We can’t believe that someone else like to eat Thai food so spicy it makes your eyes water and usually spend the rest of the day bonding with a toilet.  Most of all, we are surprised that someone actually laughs at our jokes and thinks we are funny…and they aren’t just humoring us.  

We also love the things that make them different from us; the way they get brave when we get shy (thanks for that one, Amy Grant!), their arms wrapped around our waist, and the way they don’t mind splurging some cash now and then when our hand usually cramps up from squeezing our money so tight.  Their “opposite qualities” excite, surprise and attract us to them.

But sometime after “I do” we swap “I like everything about you” to “I don’t want you to be YOU anymore”.   Typically, we have the perfect person in mind that they could model after: OURSELVES!

At least that is what I did…I’m sure you are much more mature and much less selfish than me but I’m going to dish it straight with you about ME.

The past five plus years of our marriage have been variations of “Extreme Home Makeover”, only it’s been my attempt to makeover my husband instead of our home.

You get brave when I get shy…but could you be braver a little more quieter, a little more…shy-ly?

Your arms are so big and strong…but could you stop ripping through those shirts with your ever growing “muscles”?  We’re going broke buying you new clothes.

You are so fun in the way you splurge now and then…but could you never buy another McDonald’s hamburger and save every penny we make?  (Or, better yet, donate the money to Tara’s Shopping Fund?)

Get my drift?

I married my man because he wasn’t going to be "my man", at least not MY version of who I thought he should be.  He was a free-spirit that was confident in who he was and loved me for who I was.  So why not love him for who he is?

Lord knows, if WE won’t love our spouse for who they were, who they are and who they will be then there is someone out there that thinks we are NUTS!  They see the GOOD, the KIND, and the UNIQUENESS in our spouse.  Shouldn’t WE see it all the more?

Most evenings around 5:41 p.m., (it’s supposed to be 5:30 but that is just another thing I am learning to love about my sweetie), a tall, handsome man in cowboy boots (you never know where you have to go for work: always be prepared is his motto!) throws open our back door and steps inside.  I may be steaming more than veggies for dinner because he is late.  I may be short on patience with an extra tall order order of complaints for him.  But when he sends me that million-dollar-smile (or if he doesn’t), I remember: he CHOOSES me.  

He could be out at the bars, hitting on other woman that think he’s sexy.  He could order that McD’s burger-splurge on his lunch break from a girl whose own Daddy never worked hard for his family and she could think, “What a hard worker, his family is so lucky.”  He could show the photos of his children that he carries with him everywhere to a lady client and she could think, “What a great Daddy he is.”  

Because if I don’t think it, if I don’t appreciate him (her), if I don’t tell him (her)…someone will.

If that scares you, it should.

I hope it will inspire us all to love our spouses for who they are and strive to see the best in them everyday, from now until eternity arrives.  

WHO thinks your spouse is sexy?  I hope YOU do.

Everytime your spouse walks through that door after work, everytime your wife or husband is waiting for you when you get home, remember what it means: they CHOOSE YOU.

Breakfast Club (Good Food & Faith FAST!)

T h e    B r e a k f a s t   C l u b 
(Getting Good FOOD & FAITH...FAST!)

What is the busiest time of your day?  For us (and many families) it is definitely the breakfast hour.  Children in various stages of readiness from sleepy-eyed in pajamas to dressed-themselves-in-crazy-outfits storm the castle (ie, dining room) in a throng of hungry warriors.  Queens, Kings of the castle: READY YOURSELVES!

Is it possible to eat a healthy meal, enjoy a bit of conversation and get a delicious dose of faith over the breakfast table in time to get kids to school, go to work, make appointments or (my dream) get out of the house to run errands before midnight?  I believe so.  Here's some little tips to help that dream become a reality:

1.  Prepare the castle!  I mentioned this in an article about Time Organization with KIDS, be a PREPSTER the night before.  I set out on the table whatever paraphernalia will be needed the next morning: bowls, spoons, cups, plates, forks, etc.  My oldest gets to mark a chore if he sets up the table while I'm in the shower before breakfast.  By the time I come downstairs with my two princesses in my Queenly robe (ie, bathrobe), the table is good to go.
*The previous evening is also a good time to set out the crown, special place-mat, etc. for whoever is King/Queen of the day, see "King/Queen" Special Day  for full scoop)

2.  Cereal compromise.  Your child may prefer cereal that turns their milk blue while their choices turns your stomach.  Instead of a teaspoon of sugar with their cereal, would they prefer a teaspoon of cereal on their sugar?  I don't know why SUGAR and KIDS are such a love affair...but it's just life!  Here's my "sugar cereal" compromise: mix it up!  I use cereal containers (purchased at most any store for under $5/each, also great to keep cereal fresh longer) and fill it 3/4 full of a "Mom-Pick" (ie, healthy cereal) such as Rice Krispies (See above pic) then add the final 1/4 with a "Kid-Pick" that "matches", such as Fruity Pebbles.  Other Win-Win combos:   Plain Kix and Fruity Sugar Balls, Fruit Loops and Cherrios, Plain Kix and Captain Crunch, creative!  For small children, I set out just two cereal choices for the day.
*King/Queen of the Day note: they may pick "Special Cereal" for their breakfast, which is a container of Marshmallow Stars Cereal I keep just for that day for them!  They look forward to it all week, it's the little things in life that delight sometimes!

3.  Keep it together... literally.  By grouping as many "breakfast foods" in one area as you can, you won't have to run around the kitchen like a morning mad-woman/man to make everyone's wish your command.  For example, Poptarts, cereals, oatmeal (instant or regular), any dried fruit toppings you may use, special drinks (breakfast mixes for milk, etc.), and (bonus) you could keep a stack of cereal bowls in that area too!

4.  Have a back-up plan ready to go.  This is all best-case-scenario but who doesn't experience WORST-case-scenario now and again; alarm breaks (from being thrown against the wall perhaps?), long line for the showers, hairbrush gets stuck in someone's hair or a baby diaper explosion that makes a nuclear bomb seem harmless.  Keep a jar/box of granola bars, fruit leather, breakfast cookies (Quaker has great ones), juice boxes, etc. (something healthy with fiber for lasting energy) ready to go so they can be grabbed on your way out the door and distributed in the car en route so the children aren't eating off their hand by their first hour of school.

5.  Talk time.  Once the milk has been poured and the Rice Krispies are snap-crackle-poppin', it's a great opportunity to gently lead our children's minds in the direction of God-centered-thinking for the day.  After some small talk to connect (How was everyone's night?  Did you have any funny or scary dreams?), share a Bible verse or story about God and his goodness (Did you notice the beautiful day God made today?  
What does this verse from Proverbs 21:2 mean?
because spiritual food will give their SOUL norishment!  
Ending with specific prayers helps teach them the power of praying for all things: little and big.  For example, "Gideon, how's that arm you hurt yesterday feel?  Can I pray right now that God will continue to heal it?"  or, "Jon, don't you have a test today in Math?  Can we pray that God will give you peace and help you with that?"  The family that plays and PRAYS together stays together!

6.  Teamwork.  Coming home to a messy house is never very fun (nor is having all the kids rush out and being left with a giant mess), teach the kiddos (our 1 year old does this too, they can be taught!) to clear their own dishes and cups.  We have this little rule: don't leave the dining room until the table is cleared.  After they clear their OWN dishes, everyone pitches in and grabs something: milk, juice, syrup, napkins, etc.  My mom always said, "Many hands make light work" and I say AMEN to that!

I truly hope these tips will help your family's breakfast become a peaceful BREAK in the day instead of a FAST blur of chaos...we're a work in progress ourselves!

Would LOVE for you to share ANY tips/ideas you have too...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beer Cheese Soup

This is a recipe I came up with when my sister asked if I could "reproduce" a beer-cheese soup they enjoyed at a restaurant, Moosejaw, in the Wisconsin Dells.  Well, I've never even eaten there so I was going off of how she described it to me (and it took me a few experiments in the kitchen!) but, when she sampled the finished product, she gave it two thumbs up!

I hope your family will love it too!

Beer Cheese Soup
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time:  25 minutes
* 1 T butter
* ½ c. chopped onion and ½ t minced garlic
* 1 t Worcestershire sauce
* ½ can or bottle of light beer
* 1 can chicken broth mixed with 3 T cornstarch
* 2 c. half and half (or whole milk)
* 2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
* 1 lb. sausage kielbasa, cubed and pre-cooked
* 1-2 c. cubed and pre-cooked potatoes

Melt butter and add onion, garlic and Worcestershire and stir.  Add the beer and raise heat to high and boil 3 minutes to evaporate alcohol.  Add chicken broth and bring to boil.  Lower heat again and simmer.  Add half and half and cheese and sausage and potatoes.  Heat through and serve with crusty bread or croutons.  Enjoy!

Scoring Christmas Steals

Post-Christmas REDS!!

Redline clearance that is...

I know it's a bit late to catch any after-holiday deals, but it's never too late to plan ahead for next year (lifestyle adjustment!).  I make sure to stash some of our Christmas cash during the days of mistletoe and Santa-impersonating with the intent to hit up the deals AFTER the Christmas rush.

For example, I saw beautifully monogrammed stockings (similar to the ones pictured above) in a magazine last November and immediately was a pantin' after them!  The "see it/buy it/WANT IT NOW" (ie, my AMERICAN heritage!) urge in me was about to rationalize to my hubby the cost of $150 (for a fam of six, with monogramming and shipping cost) for this great NEED.  Thankfully, I put the brakes on my stinkin' thinking and decided to be patient and wait for the sales.

The candy-cane flavored hot chocolate was still cooling when I switched into full on Elmer-Fudd-Mode and was ready to go holiday sale hunting!  I grabbed my four wittle wabbits and off we went: Target, Wal-Mart, the local mall and even Menards (I know you must be SO jealous of my thrilling hometown where we have SUCH fantastic selection for shopping).

When "sale-shopping" is planned ahead and in the budget (and you bring cash to spend ONLY what you planned to), it's no longer impulse shopping!  

A bargain is something you can’t use at a price you can’t resist. 
— Franklin Jones

UNLESS you have planned ahead for it and need it!  We hit pay-dirt at Menards (of all places!) and I spotted these lovely, well-made knit stockings knocked down from their original price of $30 to...$6 bucks a pop!  Score one for a thrifty chic! 

Next, I brought the original magazine picture with their monogrammed names in a pretty font to show a seamstress at our local printing shop in town.  I  had them sew on each of our names for only...$5 bucks!  I LOVED the finished product:

That means had I pulled an All American Greed-Need purchase before Christmas, I would have spent $150 but by doing a little digging post Christmas, I spent only $66...that's a savings of $84 by simply waiting ONE month.  I can't wait until THIS Christmas when we can hang those babies by the fireplace with visions of sugarplums and extra dollars dancing in our head.

You may not have a craving for monogrammed Christmas stockings but the idea of this "Saving Moo-La-La" post is simply this: delayed gratifications is truly...GRATIFIYING!

Here's some fun thoughts about delayed gratification I recently stumbled upon:

This study has been replicated by David Walsh Check out this Youtube clip. There is a very strong link between delaying gratification and success in life, the earlier we learn this skill the better off we will be. However it is never too late to learn how to delay your immediate gratification; here are some tips that can help you along the way.
1. Make an Advance Decision and Know What You Want Get your decision in writing. Try to be as detailed as possible about your decision as well as the expected outcome. Sometimes it can be hard to say NO to things, you have to have a clear picture of what you want in order to resist the urge.
2. Know what is Important to You- Know Your Values. In order to be able to delay immediate gratification you need to know what is important to you, what do you value to most. Is it the satisfaction of owning a brand new car or that you own a pre-owned car debt free? Know your values.
3. Have a Plan I don’t think that every aspect of ones life should be planned out in detailed but in order to reach your goals, whatever they may be, you need to have a plan. You should have a financial plan to reach your financial goals, a career plan to reach your career goals etc. If you have a plan it becomes easier to resists the urge of immediate satisfaction, you maybe more conscious of your behavior and how they fit in your plan.
4. Prioritize Have clear priorities in life. This can be financial priorities or just general priorities, such as school comes before entertainment or family before friends. Having clear priorities will go a long way in delaying gratification.
5. Reward Yourself If you have long term goals, I highly recommend you set-up some short term goals and reward yourself for reaching them. Sometimes it can be very difficult to keep focus on long term goals if we don’t see some rewards, giving yourself small rewards can be very powerful.

More fun thought about Christmas deals: 
* I also use this sale-shopping time to update or add any new holiday decor to our home collection.
* Fun gift idea: if you have a wedding coming up, why not purchase a huge bright red or green tote and fill it with Christmas decor, wrapping paper, ornaments, etc. for the new bride and groom.  Everyone we have given this gift to LOVED it because (much like we were) it's something they don't often have or think of until the season arrives and (as most newlyweds are) the cost can be staggering to collect everything they want for their first home together.

* I have a tote in storage labeled "Anyone Gifts" that I fill with neat trinkets or pretty holiday dishes, etc. that would be lovely gifts the following year.  I have another one labeled "Specific Gifts" and fill this with special items for loved ones.  For example, a hand-sewn holiday sweatshirt my mother would love (at 50% or more off...I'm so busted now if you're reading this, Mom!) or some funky slippers for a niece.

Happy Hunting!