Hearty Black Bean Soup

            “Writing is a lot like making soup. My subconscious cooks the idea, but I have to sit down at the computer to pour it out.”—Robin Wells


Are you kidding me? It was week filled with single digit temperatures. In spite of the fact we were burning a fire in our wood-burning stove and our thermostat was set of 62F degrees, the heater was still kicking on. Of course, much of that had to do with the fact that we have a long ranch-style house, so the heat was unable to warm the entire length of our house. Brrr . . .


Below freezing weather calls for a hearty soup to warm the soul!


It seemed like a perfect week for soup! Black bean soup to be specific. Soup is not something we make year round. In fact, I go months without making it. However, nothing tastes better or seems to make the house feel warmer, than homemade soup cooking in the Crockpot!


Nothing like the smell of homemade soup simmering in a Crockpot . . . .


I used to make black bean soup from dried beans, but as a multi-tasker when it comes to the various roles/jobs I juggle, time often slips away from me quickly. Therefore, I opt for healthy short cuts when I can. Thus, using rinsed canned beans works just as well for me when it comes to using beans in soups and chili.


Drained and rinsed canned black beans & Mexi-corn.


This recipe is one of my favorites. It is a combination of several recipes I’ve tried over the years. All that past trial and error with black bean soup variations have informed the recipe-creation found below. It is beautiful combination of colors, flavors, and textures. Even my daughter, who is a very picky eater, likes this recipe because it is so similar to black bean chili.




You can serve this soup straight up in a bowl. It makes a super, or should I say, “souper,” dip into which to sink warm tortillas. However, it is also good to use when making nachos. In fact, this is my daughter’s favorite way in which to eat it. Additionally, you could use drained spoonfuls of it to create burritos, tacos, or enchiladas. Specifically, I have used leftovers of this soup to create a baked enchilada casserole. For cornbread lovers, this soup is great ladled over a crumbled up square, or two, of cornbread.




Regardless of how you serve it, this black bean soup is, well, “souper” delicious! (Once again, I could not resist the chance to be punny!) It is versatile enough, so that whether or not you are serving a large family, or just cooking for two, the leftovers won’t go to waste. Plus, it freezes a well—another bonus! Additionally, it makes a great meatless meal for Lent, Meatless Monday, or any other time you would like to take a break from meat, but still want a hearty meal. Try this recipe out any time you want your body and soul warmed!



From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals.


Hearty Black Bean Soup


2-tablespoon olive oil (Can be made oil free and instead sauté vegetables in 2-tablespoons of broth.)

1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)

3 large cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

2 large bell peppers, preferably 1 green plus 1 of another color

1 stalk of celery, chopped

1 medium carrot, sliced

2 tablespoons chili powder

1-tablespoon ground cumin

1-tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetable broth

4 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained

1 can (15 ounce) Mexican or whole kernel corn

1 can (14.5 ounce) tomatoes

2 cups frozen chopped spinach

Lime wedges


Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.

Sauté onion, celery, carrots, and garlic for 5 minutes or until soft and onion translucent.

Stir in seasonings and cook for another minute or so.

Stir in broth, 2 cans of beans, and corn. Allow to simmer.

Meanwhile, in food processor or blender, process 2 cans of beans and tomatoes until smooth.

Stir into soup in mixture.

Stir in spinach.

Stir to boiling, reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 15 minutes; or, transfer soup into Crockpot and allow to simmer for several hours on low.

Makes 8 generous servings.

Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over soup once dished.

Leftover can be frozen for later dinners.


Orange Slices and Sunrises

February 15 is national gumdrop day.”—Foodimentary

            “Gumdrops, a fruit or spice flavored sugar coated gelatin candy, usually conical in shape. Other shapes and flavors: orange slices, licorice babies, and spearmint leaves.”—Foodimentary


The glow that hovered over the valley area in which my home sits became more luminous as the garage door gradually lifted, bursting through the opening as if there was a nearby three-alarm fire creating brilliant radiance. Instead, it was the light of sunrise filling the air with a soft blush. Glancing toward the hillside over which the sun was rising, the sky was filled with color like that of the interior flesh of a blood orange, then gradually became a more vivid orange—like biting into the middle of a candied orange slice that my grandfather, called, “Papaw” kept by the back door at the end of the kitchen counter.


Over the past two weeks, I have been fully blessed to bear witness to several blazing sunrises much like I was witnessing on that particular day.   For whatever reason, these spectacular events of flame have recently been filling my heart with memories of Papaw and his candied orange slices. It is fitting, that on the day after Valentine’s Day, a day devoted to love, is National Gumdrop Day—which is what orange slices, by definition, are.

Still, I cannot talk about Papaw without also talking about his wife of over 60 years, the woman I called, “Grandmother.” These were my maternal grandparents with whom I spent a plethora of time during my childhood, teens, and even my young adult years. The mark they left still flows profoundly through my spirit much like the sunrise I described. Copious happy memories tied up in a simple house, with simple, but deeply proud, genuinely faith-filled, and ever loving people. Were they perfect? No, even in my idealized memory, I can recognize their flaws, but that does not reduce their love or my love for them.


What was once my grandparents house.  My Papaw was so proud of this home he built on “high ground” as he had been flooded out of two other previous homes.

“Stethie,” my grandfather could never seem to say, “Stephie,” correctly. “Be sure and get you an orange slice as you go out the door. They’re good and fresh. Your grandmother just bought ‘em yesterday.”

I now recognize that was my Papaw’s way of he saying, “I love you. I am sorry to see you go—take something sweet with you as a slice of sweet love from your ol’ Papaw and Grandmother.”


My Grandmother, Helen, (middle) and my Papaw, Check, (right) sitting with one of their son’s (Leo) mother-in-law, that I only knew as “Nannie.”  (Left)

Papaw loved to talk with strangers. In fact, in his later years, there were a few times I would take Grandmother and he grocery shopping. It seemed during those visits, Grandmother and I would often “lose” him. Grandmother would send him to get some particular item from across the store, and he would not return.

“Oh Dear, who is Check (my grandfather’s nickname) talking to now?” she would say after some time had past with worry and aggravation in her voice.

“Stethie, would you go see if you can find him?”


Papaw and Grandmother one Christmas at my childhood home.

Sure enough, I’d walk up and down the aisles and eventually spy Papaw with eyes a’twinkin’ as he talked-up another shopper. Sometimes, he knew them; most of the time, however, he did not. His fine, long-boned fingers, empty of the grocery item for which my Grandmother had sent him, gesticulated this way as he attempted to make his point. I would approach with respectful, polite caution, especially once he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, as I never knew what he would be saying.

His faded blue-gray eyes though never failed to light up upon seeing me approach as I often took him by the forearm and attempt to lead him away. Sometimes, he would stay put insisting upon introducing me to the person I rarely ever knew. Other times, he would nod his head as if that were his signal to suddenly remember what he was supposed to be doing and politely excuse himself.

Papaw on the front porch of his home with one of his great-grandkids, Wesley, from Texas.  Wesley is wearing a blue suit sewn to match Papaw’s.  

One time, I found him near tears, having dropped an egg and broken it on the grocery floor. I was reminded of a long ago story in which my middle sister, Traci, was a mere child and had accidently broken eggs while tagging along with Papaw at the grocery store. She cried so much, I am told, that it caused Papaw to cry too.   There he stood, looking around, much in the way Traci must have looked as a child, guilty, shamed, and extremely sorrowful. I tried to get him to laugh it off, but it bothered him, as it was one of the few times he realized his mind was changing. Even as I type these words, my heart breaks for him in that moment.

There were a couple of other times in which he suspected the claws of Alzheimer’s were beginning to burrow into the recesses of his brain. His eyes would click, he would pause, shake his head, and return my gaze as if to say, “I am trying, Stethie, to clear the fog, but I can’t. Help me.” Sadly, I could not.

I was the first family member to recognize that Papaw had Alzheimer’s. At first, I was doubted, written off, or simply dismissed. I get it. Who wants to believe the gray cloud of Alzheimer’s had infiltrated their loved one’s brain like an identity thief stealing a credit card number. Where did the memories go? How could this happen?


It wasn’t too long after I took this picture that I began to realize Papaw was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. 

The gift of these sunrises reminds me of Papaw’s love. I was “his girl,” he would often say as he grabbed my arms and looked lovingly into my eyes. He told me to be like his sister and become an educated woman, because in his words, “Your ol’ Papaw here, only made to fifth grade, but I was the teacher’s pet! She kept me near her desk, and tied a string from her finger to mine, so I couldn’t get too far from her.”


My absolute favorite picture of my grandparents taken in the side yard of my childhood home.  They drove all the way to Athens, Ohio to watch me graduate from Ohio University.  The pride written all over their face in this picture brings tears to my eyes to this day.

He loved his church, football, National Geographic magazines and learning random facts of trivia; traveling and gardening; railroading (CSX proud) and clipping coupons; Boy Scouting and collecting coins; saltines crumbled in bowl with milk poured over them on Sunday nights after church, sorghum on buttered canned biscuits, glazed donuts, and candied orange slices in a glass jar on the kitchen counter beside the back door. It is his memory, bound up in the orange-slice sunrises that have been warming my mornings of late. I feel his heavenly smile. I know he is telling Grandmother, “There goes my girl,” as I drive towards the embrace of the rising glow of love.


As seen on Instagram at meditation_mum.


Written with great love for Chester Arlen Slater aka “Papaw,” aka “Poppy-Check.”  May his memory and love forever shine.

Keep the Tank Full

“It is better to keep the top half of the gas tank full.”—My Dad


“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.”– 2 Corinthians 4:16


This past week was Catholic Schools Week at the school in which my husband, John, and I teach. A special, fun-filled week with daily activities for students.    The culminating experience occurs Friday with the annual 8th graders-versus-teachers event. Lasting a little more than an hour at the end of the school day, the students cheer, applaud, and yes, scream for their favorite “team.”


John and I can be seen in 8th graders vs. teachers:  Who can eat fruit by the foot faster?  Ultimately, an 8th grader won; and, sadly, I was pulled out for fear of food allergies.

This past Friday was made extra special as members of the Marshall University Football team stepped into the role of teachers for a flag football game. Energy, enthusiasm, and excitement were palpable—making this year’s closing occasion even more loud and frenetic!   By the end, as we walked out of the gym, my ears were ringing, and I observed numerous exhausted students. Many of the students that I teach were resting with their heads down on the tables as they waited for their parents to pick them up. Their tanks were visibly empty.


When I was a new driver, I recall my Dad instructing me on the importance of never allowing my car to go much lower than a half-tank. I can still hear his advice.


“Steph, you never know what you might encounter on the road. You could get stuck in a traffic jam, or you could get stranded on an empty road late at night. Never let your gas gauge dip below half a tank, especially in the winter.”



Do you really want to stop and fill up a half-full tank on the way home from a long day of work, especially when the temperatures are dipping below freezing?


Of course, as a teenager, I doubted my Dad. It wasn’t like he was a professional mechanic. I mean, really, he worked in an office all day. What did he know?


It turns out, there are several valid reasons for keeping a vehicle’s gas tank above the half-full mark. These include avoiding mechanical issues; increased gas mileage; increased safety, especially during the extremes of summer and winter conditions; saving time; and ultimately, saving money. It occurred to me how very similar this is to life.



Huntington St. Joseph Catholic School 8th graders playing flag football with players from Marshall University.

Mechanical issues. As best I understand it, gas not only serves as fuel for the car, but also as a coolant for the fuel pump. Additionally, a nearly empty tank can cause the fuel pump to overheat. Furthermore, it can also increase the amount of gunk and sediment in the car’s tank, which can foul the fuel filter or clog the fuel injector. All of which can contribute to mechanical misfunction.

Likewise, our bodies need to be fueled with quality foods rather than processed. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Processed food (think bright, shiny packages) are usually full of “gunk and sediment,” such as excess sugar, preservatives, chemicals, and food colorings that foul up our body, and ultimately, our health. Just as we put our car’s health in mechanical jeopardy when we run our gas low, feeding our bodies processed foods runs our bodies low on nutrition while increasing the risk for a health break down.


Huntington St. Joseph Catholic School 8th graders playing flag football with players from Marshall University.


Gas Mileage.   Increased fuel efficiency is another reason to keep the gas tank of a vehicle filled. Likewise, our bodies’ tanks need filled with 6-9 hours of sleep. Our body downshifts into repair-mode as we sleep, keeping our “engines” running more smoothly. A full night’s sleep fills our life-tank with copious benefits, including, increased memory; decreased inflammation; reduction of depression/anxiety; increased focus/attention; decreased likelihood of accidents or mistakes; reduction of stress, increased ability to maintain a healthy weight; increased longevity; and promotion of healing to name a few. Therefore, living a fully productive life requires nightly fill-ups of sleep.


Safety. Running a vehicle “on fumes” puts you, and any passengers with you, at risk for engine failure. Engine failure can cause a whole host of mechanical issues including loss of brakes and power steering. Plus, you risk becoming stranded—potentially in an unsafe situation.


Likewise, allowing our spiritual health to run on fumes not only weakens our mental health, but also deeply affects our soul. Regular routines of scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and participation in your house of worship continually refuels the heart and soul with abundant love and inspiration. Without a heart-centered faith connection, we too, run the risk of being spiritually stranded in a world filled with soul-sucking distractions. Divine Providence does not demand perfection, it just asks for regular faith-full fill-ups.


Gathering for a picture at the end of the flag football game.


Save Time. Sure, stopping to gas up takes time—not something you exactly want to do on the way home after a twelve-hour shift with an outside temperature below freezing. However, filling half a tank takes less time than refueling a whole; and, it’s much faster than the time needed for repairs if you perpetually run your car on fumes.


Likewise, skipping exercise seems like a perfect time-saver. However, in the long run, taking time to exercise will benefit you with increased energy; increased ability to maintain or lose weight; stronger bones and muscles; increased cardiovascular health; reduced risk of disease; improved skin health; increased sleep quality; increased brain and memory function; as well as reduced stress. People who do not exercise spend more time sick, visiting doctors and/or therapists, or even time in the hospital. Thus, taking time to top off your tank with regular bouts of moderate physical activity, in any form, is like making regular deposits of quality time towards the longevity of your life.


The official picture of our 8th graders to the MU football players.


Save Money. Regularly skimping on the expense of gas fill-ups until the last possible moment will not save money in the long run, especially if you end up needing a costly repair. The same is true for our own proverbial life-tanks. In our consumer driven world, we are repeatedly assaulted with images of the “good life.” From decked out, over-sized vehicles, to expansive, multi-roomed homes; from the current fashion trends, to the perfectly outfitted child; from the latest, greatest personal devices, to the newest, technologically most advanced home gadgets, from the picture perfect cup of coffee, to the over-the-top dining experience—the message is clear, in order to be happy, one must spend and spend a lot. Does all of this spending really fill our life tanks? Or do loving connections, both at home and with friends/loved ones, mean more? In the long run, I believe, regular doses of time spent with family, friends, and loved ones, even in the simplest of settings, is far more fulfilling than any non-human thing that can be purchased.


To be certain, living a full life is not as easy as filling up our car’s gas tank. Life is never perfect. Often, like the roads over which our cars travel, life can be filled with unexpected curves, congestion, and tie-ups. Nonetheless, just like lack of proper car maintenance can shorten the life and quality of our car, so can our life choices. I guess Dad knew what he was talking about after all—keep the tank full!



As seen on Instagram by postivenergyalways.




Never to Old to Begin a New Journey

“It’s never too late to start something new, to do all those things that you’ve been longing to do.”—Dallas Clayton


“You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”—C.S. Lewis


As seen on Instagram by positiveaffirmations101.


By the time you are reading this, Dear Reader, I will have embarked upon a new journey, well, semi-new. I have had many passions in my life as well as many dreams. I am blessed with the love of my family who has always supported the exploration of my passions. From teaching to traveling, from reading to once-upon-a-time running, from writing for the local newspaper to creating my own blog/website, from cooking-up recipes to learning about nutrition, and all my other past and present pursuits, my family has repeatedly said, “Do it.” Therefore, when I began to talk about pursuing Registered Yoga Teacher training (RYT)—they once again rallied around me, and said, “Yes, do it.”




Now, my new journey begins, and I couldn’t be more excited and more nervous all at the same time! Questions full of doubt fill me head: Will I be the oldest person in class? Can I manage working full-time, and keep up with my writing/blog, and study/read for RYT? Will my body hold up to the long stretches of sitting combined with long sessions of practicing yoga? Can I memorize and understand anatomy, biomechanics of movement, Sanskrit, foundational teaching methods, and all the other new information that will be required of me? What will my classmates be like? What about the instructors? Oh, the list could go on . . .


I am part of a group of 19 students going through Brown Dog Yoga Teacher Training.


Still, my husband, John, says, “I’m excited for you! I think this is your calling.” My daughter, Madelyn, encourages, “Mom, you’re going to be great! I’ve been telling my friends about what you’re doing.” My mom, dad, siblings, and other extended family members have chimed in their encouragement as well. Therefore, I am taking a leap of faith; I will step out of my comfort zone, and embrace the unknown.


As seen on Instagram by positiveaffirmations101.


RYT began with a long list of assigned readings. The first of many, I am told. I have read, underlined, highlighted, and written notes. Some of the readings were technical and filled with new vocabulary, and I struggled to understand them. However, I am going to put my faith in the instructors’ abilities to shed light on those subjects. Many of the readings were eye opening, while others were quite deep and profound. All of the material, however, inspires a sense of excitement over learning new information!


Required readings for RYT 2018!



I have encountered several people who are under the impression that yoga is a religion. It is most certainly not, nor is it associated with any specific religious affiliation.   That said, I have read about, as well as encountered a number of people, such as priests, pastors, and lay people of various faith backgrounds who practice yoga for the sole purpose of settling and clearing their mind in order to strengthen and increase their ability to focus during prayers and the readings or studying of scripture. In fact, I have a friend who just recently shared with me that one of her pastors from a few years ago, was regularly required to participate in yoga classes, along with his fellow classmates, as an integral part of his Christian seminary education.


Additionally, I have yet to find any conflicts between my faith/belief system and the practice/teachings of yoga. If anything, I continue to discover many parallels. For example, part of my readings and practices for this month are centered on the ideas of nonviolence and purity in thoughts, words and actions. Next month’s lessons will focus on truthfulness as well as contentment and gratitude. Other months will concentrate on lessons of nonstealing, self-discipline, nonexcess, self-study, nonpossessivenes, and surrender. All of these ethical guidelines are worthy and noble, in my mind, no matter your religious views.




To be certain, the names of traditional yoga poses are rooted in one of the oldest, if not the oldest forms of recorded language, Sanskrit.   Furthermore, while the numerous Sanskrit words can be found in religions other than Christianity, the names of the poses are not tied to those religions. They are quite simply the names of yoga postures and nothing more.


By becoming a yoga teacher, I will be able to share with others the one form of exercise I have been able to consistently practice for over 20 years. It was the only type of exercise for which I was given clearance to do for over a year after doctors discovered I had three bulging discs and an extra-vertebrae. Yoga increases the ability to focus, strengthens muscles and bones, increases flexibility, decreases stress, reduces reactiveness, and can calm and clear the mind just to name a few of its benefits. Additionally, yoga can be practiced in nearly any location, including home, and can last a short as five minutes to two hours or more, and all times in between.   The workouts can be quite gentle, moderate, or rather vigorous; and, yoga can even be practiced in a chair!



I am eagerly anticipating the day for which I will step off my own yoga mat, and into the world as a certified yoga teacher. In a world full of stress, anxiety, and busyness; a world in which we frequently sit more than we stand; as well as a culture that often promotes the “no pain, no gain” philosophy, especially when it comes to exercise, I am extremely energized and enthused to soon be able to offer an alternative to the traditional grind, pound, and push workout. I look forward to sharing a form of exercise more than 5,000 years old that will enhance overall vitality and health of mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, I will study hard, read much, listen carefully, and keep my mind, as well as my heart, wide-open as I come full-circle within yoga.


You’re never too old to learn . . ..