Monday, October 24, 2016

The Dregs Soup

This has been a challenging month. A very challenging month. I had one child in the hospital for two weeks, began homeschooling another child, had to do some traveling, had yet another child break her arm, as well as all the regular stuff of being mom to a large family. Our wonderful church family provided dinners for 10 days. Now everyone is home, regaining health, and settling back into routine. Today I took a couple of kids to therapy and doctor's appointments. I got Pepper's weekly lesson plan done. I ran a few loads of laundry. I made a meal plan and shopping list. I helped kids with homework. And I realized that the fridge is almost empty and the pantry is full of random stuff from meals I never made and lost the meal plan for. What to make for dinner? I went scrounging around, threw some stuff together, and came up with a fabulous soup that my entire family--including my picky eaters--loved and devoured. I'm still so surprised!

Here's the recipe...partly for you, but mostly for me because I don't want to forget how I made it.

The Dregs Soup

In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Saute one diced onion, three cloves minced garlic, and two stalks of chopped celery until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add: 1 large can crushed tomatoes, four cans chicken broth, and 1 Tbsp. each dried basil, oregano, and marjoram, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. white pepper. Bring to a boil.

Add: 1/2 cup each dried lentils and 1/2 cup dried split peas.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add: 2 cups chopped cabbage and 2 sliced carrots.

Simmer for 15 minutes more.

Add: 1/2 package cheese tortellini (from the deli case at the store) and simmer 10 minutes.

Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and French bread.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Celebrating Fall

A few weeks ago, I walked outside in the morning to turn on the sprinkler in my garden, and to my surprise, the air smelled different. I can't put my finger on it, exactly. Maybe it was a hint of crispness in the air. Maybe it was that the recently mowed wheat fields were giving off a slightly grassy, dusty scent. Whatever the case, it was faint, but I could just barely smell it: Fall! Once I realized what I was smelling, I stood there in the damp grass, breathing in as deeply as I could while everything inside me wanted to jump up and down and yell for joy!

Fall has always been my favorite season. My mom loved fall and made no secret of it. My childhood memories of fall are filled with apple picking, beef stew, a Saturday morning spent hauling and stacking a winter's worth of firewood, watching football on TV, baking apple pie for my dad's October birthday, and the spicy scent of wet fallen leaves after the rain. Those memories make me feel all cozy and comfortable inside, so I have always welcomed fall with wide open arms.

Then came 2010-2015. Six falls spent feeling miserable in flip flops, air conditioner running, and kids swimming after school. Six falls of humidity, love bugs (if you don't know what they are, look them up), and watching for hurricanes. Six falls of leaving most of my decorations in boxes because it feels ridiculous to hang orange leaf garlands everywhere when the only color on the trees outside is green. Because Florida. Six Florida falls, which are the ultimate insult to an autumn lover like me.

So naturally, that hint of crisp air at the end of August set the joy bells pealing madly in my heart! That was three weeks ago. Today, fall is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest. My Red Delicious apple tree is loaded to the point of breaking. The north facing sides of trees are turning yellow. At night I'm opening my bedroom window and throwing an extra quilt on my bed, because there's nothing better for sleep than a warm bed with delicious, cold air to breathe! Most evenings, we enjoy a fire in the fireplace...not because we need the warmth, but because it just feels right. I'm experimenting with all different kinds of soups in my Instant Pot. I wear jeans and hoodies morning and evening, but am comfortable in jeans and t-shirt during the day. I LOVE IT!

So what do we do to celebrate my most favorite season? That's easy! There's so much to do!

  • Go for a hike in a state or county park. The weather is perfect and the scenery is breathtaking!
  • Visit one of the fall festivals at the little farm town to our north, where they have hayrides, a corn maze, and homemade pumpkin donuts.
  • Go apple picking (yummy snacking apples, not like our Red Delicious apples at home)
  • Make applesauce out of our Red Delicious apples from home
  • Burn cinnamon candles
  • Put up some favorite fall decor and buy a few new pieces
  • Plant a few pots of mums in pots on the front porch
  • Gather pinecones to put in glass bowls around the house
  • Cook soup and homemade bread!
  • Take photos of the kids in all of nature's glory
  • Buy a new fuzzy hoodie
  • Collect colorful leaves
  • Go to a pumpkin patch and get pumpkins
  • Go to a local farm that lets you press your own apple cider
  • Read by the fire at night
  • Make an apple pie and eat it to celebrate my dad's October birthday
  • Throw the football around with the kids
  • Go to a high school football game
  • Start planning Halloween costumes
  • Start thinking about this year's Christmas crafts
  • Be thankful that I no longer live in the land of 90 degrees in October.
Happy Fall!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Unexpected in September

Last week I went into a meeting with Pepper's school counselor. We were going to discuss his 504 plan, which provides accommodations for his ADHD and for his giftedness. My little guy has been struggling with some pretty intense anxiety the last few months, too, we were going to add some other accommodations as well.

And then came the words I never expected to hear: Pepper has a really unique combinations of quirks and struggles. Have you talked to his doctor about a, b, and c?

A: Pepper is unable to engage in meaningful conversation with his peers unless it is about a topic he is well-versed in. In other words, Pepper lacks some very fundamental social skills, the main being the ability to understand the give and take of normal conversation. This means he has incredible difficulty making friends.

B: Pepper seems unable to integrate the sensory information from his environment. He has to wear noise-canceling headphones in order to work in class. He has to chew on a sensory necklace in order to keep from eating his school supplies. He has to sit on a yoga ball in class to keep from falling out of his chair repeatedly during the day. He has very strong food aversions...all texture related. He also has an extremely low pain threshold. He is easily overwhelmed by all of this and melts down frequently.

C: Pepper has a brilliant mind. He has a photographic memory, a vocabulary that surpasses mine (not exaggerating), and incredible mathematical skills. He is also a speed reader.

As the counselor pointed our A, B, and C, everything just kind of came into focus. All of a sudden, I looked at Pepper and was able to see what the counselor couldn't say.


After a phone call to Pepper's old pediatrician (who was his doctor from when Pepper was 3 until our move in June), I scheduled an appointment with Pepper's new pediatrician. I filled out some paperwork. The doctor talked extensively with Pepper and with me. And we concurred. Pepper is on the autism spectrum.

As I look back at his life, I'm able to see it, and I can't believe I missed it. The signs have been there since he was a toddler. But somehow I missed it.

Pepper has been a hot mess at school. He's anxious all the time. He's frustrated all the time. He's in the clinic and the counselor's office every day. He's performing poorly on schoolwork, which is NOT normal for him. He has had physical anxiety symptoms like crazy, too. Matt and I talked briefly and prayed briefly. The answer was very obvious: time to homeschool Pepper.

Today I withdrew him from school and ordered a bunch of curriculum. I assured the school it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the needs of my son. He's going to be getting occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help him with the symptoms of his autism and anxiety. Not having to pull him out of the classroom for therapy will be greatly to his advantage. And because Pepper is so brilliant, I'm going to be able to provide him with learning opportunities that will match his love of learning and his high intelligence.

On one hand, I'm sad because autism is kind of a big deal, and not what I was expecting. On one hand I'm glad, because now I understand him better and can meet his needs better. And if I had three hands, I'd also add that I'm excited because he's going to thrive as a homeschooler.