Friday, June 27, 2008

Soup’s on!

African peanut soup. Tunisian chickpea soup. Thai beef noodle. Miso. Minestrone. Gaspacho. And over 40 more soups.

Where are all these soups? In a cookbook that I’ve been pulling together the past few weeks while lying on the couch with my laptop (because when lying down, I don’t have the chest pains). I’ve gleaned tasty-sounding recipes from cookbooks I own, written up family recipes that no one previously recorded, asked friends for their favorite recipes, and surfed the ’Net. There’s no end to delicious-sounding recipes, and it’s hard to stop collecting them.

But why soups in the heat of summer? Because in September, when I begin homeschooling Alexandra and Larissa, I’ll be teaching a course in cooking, and specifically, cooking soup. These recipes will be in the instruction book for the cooking class.

“Teaching” them how to cook soups is really an exaggeration. Alexandra and Larissa are already good cooks and know far more than the basics of cooking. I’ve trained up all three kids since toddlerhood, a time when children want to imitate everything their parents do. It’s actually a test of patience to allow a toddler to “help” in the kitchen, yet when kids watch and help, they learn, and when they practice, they get better at a task. By early elementary school, all three of my children could bake a batch of cookies without me in the kitchen. (They weren’t quite as good at cleaning up, though.) Still, I was delighted to come home from work to the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Although baking cookies was the first thing all the kids learned, mainly because of marathon baking sessions at Christmastime, they also learned to cook main meals. Jacob bakes a great pizza. Larissa makes delicious quiche. And Alexandra can bake a savory chicken with mashed potatoes. All of them can read a recipe and follow it.

So in the fall, I won’t really be teaching cooking at all. I’ll simply hand all three their own soup cookbook, and then assign them the soup of the day, probably twice a week. And I’ll have them bake the occasional loaf of fresh bread to go with the soup. They’ll get the satisfaction of cooking dinner; I’ll have a reprieve from cooking!

I am curious how they’ll react to some of the more exotic soups, such as Mulligatawny, which has raw apples as a garnish, or Moroccan chickpea soup, which includes tahini as an ingredient. Larissa requested that I not cook any of the new soups in advance to test the recipes; she wants the results to be a surprise, a novelty. So as much as I’ve wanted to try my hand at cooking the bean sprout soup or the Vietnamese fisherman’s soup, I’ve refrained.

I got my idea for the cookbook here
. Although I won’t be including photos, I think it’s an excellent way to bind the book.

Since I’ve already gotten carried away in collecting recipes, we’ll be starting the soup cooking class a little early this summer – with the cold soups.

Oh, and the final exam? They’ll each have to cook a soup of their own, one that they make up using ingredients on hand – a little of this, a little of that. Isn’t that what soup cooking is all about?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Home stretch

Jacob went to work with George today to help power wash a house that George will be painting next week. Homeschooling allows that flexibility. Not only is Jacob learning a life skill, he’s earning money and helping Dad. Schooling is set aside for the day.

We’re in the home stretch, but not quite done yet. Health, Global History, Biology, and Geometry all have set topics that I need to cover, and each subject still has one to two weeks of material left. I’m a pusher, and I won’t let up on these subjects until he’s done with the curriculum I set out to cover – a curriculum that runs parallel to the public school where he started the year.

English, Bible Study, Music, and Spanish are more flexible. Jacob has read more for literature and covered more vocabulary words than his contemporaries in public school. He’s done studying the book of Luke. His piano recital is tonight. And Spanish – it’s up to Nita how much he covers, but he’s still running parallel to his sister Alexandra, who started the year in the same Spanish I class in high school. The high school teacher spends so much time in the daily class criticizing the students and yelling at them that Jacob has covered the same amount of material in his twice-weekly classes taught by another homeschooling mom. Poor Alexandra, an excellent student who grasps foreign languages easily, could have covered far more material than she did because the teacher held the class back to accommodate the slowest learners. The teacher decided to cater to them, not to the median of the class, and certainly not to the bright students. Alexandra was definitely frustrated.

Since Jacob is out of the house today, I’m enjoying a day alone, as much as I can while still sick with lupus. Over the weekend, I had a scary attack: such severe pain in my chest/heart area that I was writhing in pain, tears streaming down my face, and all this while we had guests in the house. I asked them to pray for me as I lay on the couch moaning and terrified. Eventually the pain subsided, but I continued to lie on the couch, probably making the guests a touch uncomfortable with my frailty. That episode motivated George to call the elders of the church to pray for me, as stated in James 5:14-15:

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

The pastor and one of the elders came that evening. They sat and talked a while, then prayed over me and anointed me with oil. Six years ago when I had my first and only other bout of lupus, I was healed four days after the elders’ prayer.

Now I await healing. The pastor, however, said it will still be a while before I’m well.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Keeping a Nature Journal

How could I possibly homeschool without the Internet? Fellow homeschoolers across the country and the globe are such a precious resource!

Take nature journaling, for example. I’d never heard of nature journaling, but while searching the Internet for sources about supplementing my homeschooing with literature, as I’d been doing with Jacob’s history course, I stumbled on an article by Catherine Levison. In her article, Catherine mentions a book called Keeping a Nature Journal. Hmm. It sounded interesting, so I looked it up. Then I bought it.

Larissa, my youngest, loves to draw and is interested in pursuing a career that involves drawing and plants. She’s my gardening helper – weeding, mulching, planning new gardens. Nature journaling sounded like something she might like to do for a course next year.

When the book arrived, Larissa immediately spotted it by my bed. “May I look at it?” she asked.

Just a flip through a few pages, and she was hooked.

“Could you buy me a blank book so I can start a nature journal?” Larissa asked.

Forget about coursework and schedule, requirements and electives. She wanted to start this now, not next fall.

What a feeling of satisfaction when you hit on something that appeals to your child that much.

Thank you, fellow homeschoolers, for sharing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Mom’s episode was apparently a side effect of Ambien, her sleeping pill for the last ten years. All the blood tests found nothing abnormal in her blood, and not a trace of alcohol.

This discovery, which we siblings had suspected, triggered a rash of emails to one another, including a link to a list of rather scary side effects people have suffered from Ambien.

My sister took Mom to another doctor appointment later in the week, and Mom signed papers allowing my sister and me access to her medical records. This was a great relief as many elderly staunchly refuse to give up anything – access to records, rights to make medical decisions for them, power of attorney. It’s simply not an easy time for either my parents or us grown kids.

Mom changed sleeping medication, which apparently isn’t as effective. But my personal feeling is that any medication designed to knock you out cannot be good for you, certainly not in the long run. A drug dependency like this worries me. Most of the world’s population doesn’t have access to sleeping pills, so why should we North Americans drug ourselves just because we can? I struggle with this. I take no medication regularly and would have to be absolutely convinced that I couldn’t live without a particular medicine. As far as I’m concerned, a medicine for your thyroid or for high blood pressure would be necessary; a sleeping pill is not. But then again, I don’t have trouble sleeping…

However, I am struggling with my lupus. I felt better the day I came to my parents, and two days after that when I took my dad to the dermatologist so that my mother didn’t have to drive. (We weren’t yet sure of the test results then.) I was getting better, better, and then – crash! – I crawled into bed and didn’t get out for a day. That was last Friday. Now I’m up only a little bit, then have to lie down, nauseated by the exertion of merely sitting up. My joints ache, and even large doses of Bufferin or Advil don’t make a dent in the pain. I thought I’d be well; instead, I’m right back where I started in late April.

The company nurse called to let me know how many weeks of short-term disability payments I have left, how long my job would remain open for me before someone else was hired to fill it, and informed me about long-term disability – something I don’t want to think about. She suggested that since I’m no better off now than I was initially I see a rheumatologist.

I think it’s time I began to pray harder for healing.

But through all this, I continue to homeschool Jacob…

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)