Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Non-Taco Tuesday: Spiced Lentil Soup

So...a few disclaimers before I begin:

1. I realize that I am posting this after 7 on a Tuesday so it will most-assuredly be of no use to you whatever in getting dinner on the table this evening. But...it MAY help you in the future (like tomorrow...)

2. Please do not let the uninspired name of this dish deter you...because this soup is awesome. Awesome, I tell you.

3. Just because my toddler gobbles this up (kale included), don't assume that yours will, especially if he or she is a picky eater. Mine is not gifted in any way, but he eats a variety of flavors and textures which I can only presume is because of his fairly-intense OT when he was learning how to suppress his gag-reflex and get off the gtube.

4.  Pay no attention to the list of ingredients and how you assume they may blend together...because I personally think it sounds a little disgusting.

So why would I ever make it? Bc my sweet friend MR made it for me and I loved it...and then I saw what was in it, and knew that if I saw the recipe first, I wouldn't ever make it.

Or eat it. (Sorry, MR...)

But it is truly delicious. And the recipe makes a crap-ton (official amount) of soup, so our family of 5 eats it for 3 nights (not in a row...I'm not a monster!) and then someone (usually me!) gets a tiny bit for lunch one day.

I could go on and on about how much I love this soup, but because my time is short and I really feel as though I must get this recipe shared with you, here is my version, slightly-altered from the one MR gave me...and some additional notes thrown in for fun.

Spiced Lentil Soup
Feeds: One Legion

1 pound ground sausage, crumbled
1/2 cup onions (or more...we like onions)
1/2 cup barley
3 cloves of garlic (I never remember to buy garlic so it's garlic powder for us!)
3 quarts chicken stock (I make a whole chicken in the crockpot and then make the stock from the bones; in case you've never made stock, here's the easy-breezy way to make it: put all the bones back in the crockpot, fill to the top with water and simmer for 10-12 hours on low. Ta-dah! Also works with the bones of a pre-baked rotisserie chicken you might buy at the grocery.)
1 cup lentils
1 baked, deboned & shredded chicken breast (or use about 1/3 of 5 lb chicken...I use part of the chicken I cooked for stock)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 pound of spinach or kale (in my experience, kale holds up a little better, especially if you have leftovers for a couple nights...and FYI Aldi has big bags of washed and cut kale for $2.49...well worth the time saved in washing and cutting, I think)
12 oz salsa

Brown sausage with onion and garlic (Sometimes I'll make mine the night before so I just start in the morning by putting it straight in the crockpot from the fridge). Remove and place in bottom of crockpot. Add all remaining ingredients. (I think it's easiest to put the stock in last so it minimizes splashing all over the counter...don't ask me how I know that.) 

Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6. If you're looking for suggestions, it's lovely served with cornbread on the side. Enjoy (for several days...)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why My Toddler Sleeps Like a Teenager

So here's the thing...there's a fairly significant age gap between my "bigs" and my "little"...11 and 13 years to be exact. My oldest was 13 when LM came to live with us, and my middle son was 11. And LM was 3 months old, hence the 11 and 13 year gaps. (See...I can do math, regardless of what my boys might tell you).

And though it was difficult to keep my homeschooling head above water as I was constantly cleaning up vomit (brief backstory to catch some of you up: LM was Failure to Thrive when he came to us so we had to feed him every 3 hours...so 8 times a day...for the first 6 weeks. Feedings took an hour each b/c he was on an NG tube and and if you fed him too fast, he puked. But to be entirely honest, he puked about 7 time out of 8 feedings a day, regardless of the speed of the feeding. I really am not sure HOW he gained any weight, other than by the grace of God and lots of diligence on our part...but I digress), and keeping all the doctor appointments and visitations straight.

And though it was a struggle to continue to homeschool during that time, I was thankful b/c a) I had two built-in, readily accessible helpers to grab towels and anything else I needed during a projectile vomit session (eventually we figured things out and just kept a big stack of beach towels in the living room...burp cloths and cloth diapers were no match for this professional vomiter), and b) the older boys had ample opportunity to also be the hands and feet of Jesus to this sweet baby boy who needed a safe, loving home, and at the same time grow to deeply love this boy who would eventually become their legal brother.

So the stage was set for our family to be close, in spite of the fact that the age difference could easily dictate otherwise.

But as LM grew and began to thrive and (most importantly yippee!) learn to eat by mouth...we knew we had to make a decision: what will our evenings look like? The big boys are active in sports, which means practices and games in the evenings. If they are gone, do we eat dinner with LM and let the bigs eat alone after they get home?

Or do we feed LM early by himself and get him to bed at a "decent hour" (decent being dictated by what we did with the older two...who both went to bed at 7 or 7:30 as toddlers, but were also up by 6:30 in the morning...).

Neither one seemed right. Or fair. Or the way we wanted our family to be structured.

We felt that even if LM wasn't going to be a forever family member, we still wanted him to experience family life to the best and richest and fullest he could while he was in our home. And we wanted to be a close-knit bunch. I'm certain that you've all read at least one article that lauds the benefits of families eating dinner together every night, so we decided to set up stakes in that camp as well.

Clearly pulling the bigs out of their activities wasn't going to be a viable option, so we, instead, put LM on a sleep schedule similar to the bigs...because who doesn't love having a toddler up at 9 at every night?

For the most part, our days function like this:

  • Bigs get up for school by 8 and LM gets up about 8:45/9. 
  • LM goes down for a nap at around 1:30/2 and sleeps until 4:30/5 (yes, that is not a typo...I am a blessed woman, right?)
  • Then we eat dinner (ideally) around 6:30/7, but during soccer season it might be 8:30 or so before we sit down to dinner. 
  • Then LM goes to bed at 9/9:30, with the bigs going to bed by 10:30. And I follow closely behind that.

I realize that it seems unconventional and dare I say shocking to some. But it works for us and keeps us connected. I know the bigs will be gone soon (*sigh*) and we can adjust LM's schedule again at that point if need be (but who knows...it might continue to work for us!). He will, most assuredly, not be taking naps at that point, so bedtime may naturally come earlier anyway.

But I tell you all this to say this: you can no longer be surprised if you see me out at Target (or anywhere else for that matter) at 8:30 in the evening, with LM in tow.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Foster Care Does Not Mean Adoption

You guys...this. Look at these three babies. I just can't even. But I digress (yes, I know...I haven't even begun...my point is that time: it just flies...)

This picture was captured almost two years ago, as we fostered a sweet baby boy who had need of a safe, loving home. He was quite sickly when he arrived at our house a few months prior, but (clearly) by this point he was filling out into a happy, healthy 8 month-old baby boy who could obviously drop off to sleep wherever and whenever he felt the need.

At the time this image was captured, we didn't know what his future (or ours) would hold (and to be fair none of us ever do, but that's a tangent possibly for another post).  The case plan at this time was still reunification.

All we knew is that this Little Man (LM) needed us at that moment, and that we would do whatever we could, for as long as we could, to foster (see what I did there?) his good health and welfare. Regardless, we also knew however things turned out, he would always have a piece of our hearts...and we would always consider him part of the family, even if it meant he was reunified with his biological family.

(Hence the drive for some pictures with his brothers...)

I say all this to clear up any confusion people may have about foster care: foster care does not equal adoption.  
Just because you are a foster parent does not mean you will end up adopting a child. 

I know that some people think that adoption is always the goal of foster care (since the US no longer has orphanages, this must be the replacement system, right?), but it is definitely not. As instructors will make clear in any upstanding foster care licensing class, while many children do end up being adopted from the system, reunification with biological parents is virtually always the goal from the get-go. 

In fact, about 50% of children who come into care ARE reunified with their biological parents. And honestly we need to cheer that. If kiddos can be with the families they were born to, and can safely grow and thrive with them, well that's fantastic! 

Now obviously that leaves about half of the children who do NOT return to biological parents...which is why there are so many foster-to-adopt scenarios.  This means numerous children are adopted from foster care (about 25-30% who come into care are adopted by non-kinship homes; the remaining percentage of children are in a kinship placement, have guardianship granted by a third party, or some other situation, such as a group home or institution); as a result, many people begin a foster care journey with the intent to give a child (or several children) a much-needed forever home. That's awesome. I love love love that and there is a great need for it. Kudos to them!

By the same token, there are many other foster homes who ONLY foster and do not adopt...and their reasons for doing so are many. Often it is because they know an adoption might take them off the "table" to be able to continue to foster additional children, due to exceeding the allowable number of children in a home, or because committing to the medical/emotional/etc needs of a child for life would keep them from having time to appropriately care for additional foster children as well. And there is a terrific need for these homes as well so we applaud these homes too!

That's, actually, what we envisioned our family to be when we began foster care, with the caveat that we would consider an adoption should the opportunity be laid in our laps; we, ourselves, did not begin our foster care journey with the intent to adopt, although we were open to the possibility of it, should a child in our care need a forever family.  But adoption was NOT the driving goal behind our family's decision to foster. We just knew there were hundreds of kids coming into care each year who needed stable, loving homes and we felt we could provide that for at least one child (we actually thought we could foster two children at once, but realized quickly that was not something we could handle...some people can and thank you, Lord for them...we Parkers are not "some people"...don't judge).

I share all this for one simple reason: Even though we did not intend to adopt but ended up doing so, I know some of you out there are NOT.AT.ALL interested in adoption and do not want to adopt, but you also know (shall I go so far as to say you are convicted?) that there are children (and their families) you could bless through being foster parents. 

And to that let me tell you: that.is.awesome! Adoption is not for everyone, and that is fabulous for you to do and be and fulfill what God intended you to do and be and fulfill. 

That said: You can be just the type of foster parent needed across the country right now...a TEMPORARY, safe, caring, nurturing environment for children while their parents pull themselves together. You don't have to adopt a child to make a difference in the life of a child.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hey It's Me and a New Beginning!

So...it's been almost two years since I have put anything out into the great void we call the Web. (Ok, so I've written articles which have been printed and online, but nothing random/silly/etc which was of my own volition.) 

And since it has been so long, I decided I would create a new blog. Don't get me wrong...I doubt that my voice or writing-style will have changed much (if any) during this reprieve. But somehow a fresh start felt necessary. 

Now...I don't mean to be cliché, beginning on January 1 and all, but it’s just what it is. To be fair, I have been considering it for quite some time, but haven’t had/made the time to begin it before now. 

Plus I had been ruminating on a name for a while...I wanted a nod to the past but a nod to the future. But more on that in a moment.

And though I H.A.T.E. resolutions, I have resolved to post once a week on this blog.

I think my issue in the past was that I put the pressure on myself (God only knows why…b/c that’s how He made me, and I don’t understand it so I would be hard-pressed to explain it to you) to crank out a post a day. That’s a lot of words spewed onto “paper”. A lot.

So when I couldn’t keep up with it (due to caring for a medically-fragile infant and homeschooling two middle-schoolers), I didn’t just cut back.

I quit.

I totally walked away. I didn’t even acknowledge that I wasn’t doing it anymore.

And once I’d quit, I had a really difficult time getting back on that horse. But I missed it terribly. Just the whole creative spirit of it. The working on it, and re-working it and trying to get the words to flow together just so.

Plus, I am CERTAIN so many of you were hanging on my every word. (Ok, that’s probably not the case, but let’s just allow me to keep up the mental façade I’ve got going, m-kay?)

So even if no one reads this blog, I am still choosing to put it out there on the chance it will accomplish one (or more) of the following…to entertain, to educate (I hope…dare I be so bold in presuming I have something to teach anyone?) and (*gasp*) convict (b/c I WILL be talking some about foster care and adoption. I’m sure that’s a shock!) And to prove to myself that I can do this and I will do this...but if I don’t, the earth will not stop spinning on it’s axis (does everyone know it does that? If not, I have just educated someone…yay me!)

But bottom line, I will be fostering (hence the blog name…see what I did there? No, not just a clever name b/c I am a foster care advocate; this technique is called a double-entendre…look at me teaching so much already. Perhaps I under-estimated myself and my educational abilities...) the woman I feel God has meant me to be: a writer, a sharer, a story-teller, a friend, a listener, a prayer-warrior and lots of other hopefully-funny, silly, and crazy things.

So with that: here I am. Find me in THIS blog from now on. Hopefully once a week. Maybe more, but let’s not set the bar too high, shall we? Thank you for joining me (or rejoining, as it applies to some) on this journey.

And Happy New Year!

PS My former blog is still out there, hanging out in it's former glory if anyone has a desire to slog through any (or all...b/c I know you've got that kind of time) of it. If you need the link, here you go!