Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Creamed Tuna on Toast

Subtitled "Validation that I'm a good cook."
My youngest is known for her back-handed compliments, statements like:

"You're not as annoying as I thought you'd be." (Said to a new student after they became friends.) 

"This isn't as bad as I was expecting." (Said to me after taking a bite of a dish I made.)

"After eating school lunches, your cooking is pretty good, Mom!" (Also said to me after she started taking school lunches in high school.)

So I have to set the record straight.

I'm a good cook. Most of the food I prepare is edible, not chewy, not dried out, has flavor and provides nutrients to my family when enjoyed in moderation. I make an amazing marinara sauce, have learned how to make fresh pasta which has gotten rave reviews, and can roast and saute vegetables to perfection. 

Today I recounted to my kids one of my favorite meals that I ate as a kid — creamed tuna on toast. It is exactly what it sounds like. If you want to try it, here's the recipe:

1 can of tuna
1 can of canned peas (15 oz, strain out the water first)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup

Mix it all together, add a little milk if needed and warm on the stove. While warming, toast up a bunch of bread. Serve the stack of toast alongside the bowl of creamed tuna, and voila! It looked a lot like the photo above when you put it on your plate.

I loved this meal as a kid. It had a blend of mush and crispy toast, or mushy toast if you let it soak in. And I loved the satisfying "pop" of peas in my mouth when I ate them.

When Wayne and I were first married I made this dish for the two of us one night. I like peas, he does not. If his mom ever cooked with tuna he doesn't remember eating it. We sat down to our stack of toast and bowl of creamed tuna and he looked at me skeptically. He tried it, ate one spoonful and got himself a can of chicken noodle soup from the cupboard which he warmed up and ate instead.

"Don't ever make that again," he advised. And I haven't, for as much as I've wanted it myself.

Fast forward 25 years. We have two girls, teens now, neither of whom like peas or tuna. One of them is gluten-free, and gluten-free bread isn't known for being the best, even when toasted.

Today I just described this dish to them both and told them how in my house growing up, it was a staple dish in frequent rotation. They both made gagging noises and agreed that I am indeed a better cook since I never try serving them that dish.

Speaking of which, I believe this entire post is a back-handed compliment to my mom, because I loved that dish and clearly her grandchildren wouldn't. Love you, Mom! 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA)

An appropriate visual for living with someone with anxiety (SWA).
I wrote a post yesterday about a trip Lindsey and I took to New York City over New Year's. All in all, it was an incredible, amazing trip. I had glossed over the real purpose of this trip; it was an exposure for Lindsey's fear of flying.

For us, this was a Very. Big. Deal.

Lindsey hasn't been on a plane since a terrible experience flying to and returning from the Dominican Republic three years ago. At the time her overall anxiety level was really high and she had a panic attack on the plane that lasted an hour. If you've never experienced a panic attack, for an entire hour Lindsey believed she was going to die — truly believed, in her heart of hearts, that this was the end. It was terrifying and traumatic. Once we arrived, we took a car service to our resort, and, sadly, saw a car-scooter collision that was more than likely fatal for the scooter driver. It reinforced the idea that she was going to die on this trip. She and I left after just two days because she was unable to function, she was dreading the flight back so very much. The flight back was just as horrible as the flight there, and she said that her flying days are over.

Fast forward three years.

Lindsey is in a very different place with her anxiety. She is juggling online high school classes with college courses, held down a job, has grown in confidence and in knowing herself. So when she said she was willing to try to get on a plane to see a musical, I was happy that she had identified a "reward" for this exposure that she would be willing to do.

It is a very different experience traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA). This successful trip did not happen without a lot of planning and accommodations.

For one, after arriving in NYC and getting to my sister-in-law's condo, Lindsey was completely exhausted. We didn't go anywhere else the rest of the day and got take-out from the nearest bodega for dinner.
Truth 1: If traveling with SWA, be prepared to be in a city with incredible culinary experiences but be unable to take part in any of them.
Before going to bed we talked about all the places we wanted to see during our very short trip. Lindsey had a whole laundry list of things she wanted to do, but I know we wouldn't be able to hit them all. I knew more than she about how long it would take to travel from one part of the city to another, and also had a realistic expectation of how much energy she would have for seeing all of these things.

Her sleep that evening was interrupted by a terrible stomachache, a known latent side effect of high anxiety for her. Which meant that there would be no morning tourist stuff for us, sleep is critical to her mental health and she doesn't function well without it.
Truth 2: Vacationing with SWA means planning light schedules with plenty of time between outings to rest. Heavy itineraries are anxiety-inducing. 
Once again back to the bodega for breakfast which we ate in the condo, then we took a Lyft down to Lincoln Center to re-create a photo of her chasing pigeons from when she was in New York at age 2. We cabbed it over to the Met but the line to get in was incredibly long and snaked all the way to the end of the block. Lindsey said she wasn't up for the long wait in line and didn't want to do anything else, so we cabbed it back to the condo.
Truth 3: Vacationing with SWA means paying for transportation to go places only to turn around because the crowds are too much. Flexibility and patience are needed. 
We chilled back at the condo. I took a nap before we had to get ready for the show. We decided to eat at a restaurant near the condo, then take a Lyft down to the theater district. The restaurant we chose had a problem with their wood oven, which meant the menu was cut in half. We managed to find things to eat anyways, but this little glitch in our plans meant Lindsey was nervous that something else was going to go wrong. And, eating out makes Lindsey anxious, so she was ready to get the bill and go as soon as our meal was finished.
Truth 4: Dining out with SWA means meals are sometimes rushed and you never ever eat dessert out.
Our Lyft driver to the theater district was so nice! A lovely lady named Clara, whose calm demeanor and careful driving helped Lindsey. We got stuck in traffic on the way there, but because we left super early it didn't matter.
Truth 5: Traveling with SWA means anticipating delays and always leaving plenty of time. 
We arrived at Winter Garden Theater a full hour and 10 minutes before the show, plenty of time to walk around Times Square before curtains went up, which we had talked about doing. And yet, once we got there Lindsey didn't want to leave, she was concerned something was going to happen to us and we wouldn't get back in time. So we stood in the lobby for 40 minutes until they opened the doors, and sat in our seats for 30 minutes before the show began. We had time to get a poster before sitting down, use the bathroom and get a drink.

The opening act was incredible, and then there was a delay for technical difficulties. I've never seen a delay for issues in a play of this caliber before. Of course I was catastrophizing in my head as the minutes ticked by, hoping they would be able to figure it out and not cancel the show. I'm sure Lindsey was doing the same. After about 10 minutes they figured it out and the show went on.

We finally explored Times Square after the show, when Lindsey was less anxious about missing it. It was filled with lights and people and it was a great 15-minute experience, at which point Lindsey had enough of the crowds and we went back to the condo.
Truth 6: Some tourist experiences will be shortened or avoided because crowds are exhausting to SWA.
The next day we decided to try the Met again. There was no line and we were able to walk right in and begin exploring. We ate lunch there, then felt refreshed enough to keep going. I let Lindsey lead, seeing whatever she wanted, moving along when she was done and staying to absorb where she wanted to spend more time. I could've spent a lot more time in the galleries of the Impressionists. There were entire rooms of Monet, Renoir and Matisse, and we glanced at them as we walked through.
Truth 7: Sightseeing with SWA means putting your own interests second to theirs, especially since waiting and boredom increases anxiety. 
After four hours in the Met, I convinced her to walk through Central Park a bit since we were right there. After about 15 minutes we grabbed a cab and headed back to the condo.

It was New Year's Eve. We ordered take out from a nearby Italian place and had the most amazing homemade pasta. We watched a movie and were in bed by 10 p.m. while a million people gathered in Times Square just a few short miles away to watch the ball drop. (See Truth #6).

We never went south of Times Square. We did few "typical" tourist things. We never saw the lower Manhattan skyline, 30 Rock, Empire State, Statue of Liberty or the World Trade Center. We spent more time than most tourists would snuggled up on a couch with a blanket, watching shows.

I was relating our successful trip to a relative of mine, who is looking forward to our family being able to take more trips in the future. We are, too. But one successful trip does not mean her anxiety is "gone" or that this is over — it is one success in a journey toward a better life living with anxiety.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Start Spreading the News....

Lindsey is a big fan of Broadway musicals — she's already seen Wicked, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots and, of course, Hamilton, all in Minneapolis. This past fall she came across the music of "Beetlejuice the Musical" and immediately loved it. She started looking into the musical itself, which has won a few Tonys this past year, and discovered that it's currently playing on Broadway and nowhere else.

"If we get tickets to see Beetlejuice on Broadway, I'll totally get on a plane to get there," she said to me out of the blue one day this past fall.

"Really?" I queried. Lindsey has a significant phobia about flying after our last disastrous spring break trip. After discussing the possibility of this trip, Wayne and I said, "You're on!"

Thus our trip to NYC was planned. We decided that it would just be Lindsey and I, as Wayne and Marissa had gone to New York two years before. We would be able to stay in Laurie's condo in Washington Heights, as Laurie was in Europe on holiday.

Long story short, the trip was a wild success. The flight out went beautifully, even though it was delayed by 2 hours. (Extended waiting increases Lindsey's anxiety.) She was practically giddy when we landed, she was so thrilled that it went well.

Lindsey was in New York when she was 2. I like to joke that Marissa was there too, but I was pregnant with her at the time so she couldn't see much. Not sure why she doesn't remember it. Anyway, we have a series of photographs of Lindsey at age 2 chasing pigeons in front of Lincoln Center. We decided to try to re-create those photos. It was a little challenging since it was raining out and there were hardly any pigeons. But we did find one willing participant. I would say we were successful at the re-creation.

Unfortunately it rained most of that day and was expected to be clear the day we were supposed to leave. So we called the airline and changed our flight to leave a full day later, giving us two full days in New York.

Beetlejuice was amazing. We had just spent $52 on a glass of wine and a bottle of water for Lindsey and shortly after Beetlejuice was singing "Enjoy your $50 wine." We thought he was joking about how expensive wine was, but apparently not!

Before curtains went up.
After the show we walked through Times Square, which was filled with all the theater-goers whose shows had just ended. It was energetic, full of light and crowds and vendors and tourists.

Crowds in Times Square.

Lindsey in Times Square. 

The next day we spent the afternoon at the Met, taking in an exhibit of armor and one of vintage dresses. We had tried to go the day before and the line to get in wound around itself and all the way to the end of the block, probably because it was raining and all of the New Year's Eve tourists were looking for something to do that was indoors. This time, we walked right in and spent four hours walking from gallery to gallery, taking in all kinds of paintings we had no idea were at the Met. We happened across "Washington Crossing the Delaware" and were blown away by the size of the painting.
Lindsey in front of the "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting. 
Armor that Maxamillian I had made for his 12-year-old son.
He must've thought a lot of his son's manhood.
That night was New Year's Eve, and over a million people were gathering in Times Square to watch the ball drop. On the other hand, we were curled up with blankets on Laurie's couch, watching a movie called "Leap Day," appropriate considering that 2020 is a Leap Year. We ordered take-out from a nearby Italian place and it was amazing. Homemade pasta and delicious sauces, we both deemed it a grand way to ring in the new year.

Selfie attempt in Central Park.
The next morning we went back to LaGuardia for the flight back home, which went as well as the flight out. Lindsey entertained herself watching "Maleficent 2" on the plane and was surprised when it was time to start descending from the clouds.

All in all, it was a fantastic return to air travel for Lindsey.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Physical Therapy: A Memory

I had the misfortune of being in two car accidents this year in which I was rear-ended. Twice. One occurred in late July, the other in late September. The one in late September did the most physical harm to me even though it was at a lower speed, because I had my neck craned all the way to the side looking for oncoming traffic. My head was nowhere near the headrest, so I had the full effect of a whiplash-like movement.

Within a day I was hurting and going to the chiropractor. Getting adjusted two or three times/week wasn't making a difference. I'd feel fine after the appointment but by the next morning my neck was stiff and painful. One Saturday I was in so much pain that I moved the entire day like a mannequin — I could not turn my head in either direction at all, and instead of looking down at things I had to bend down to see things below me.

Through a series of appointments and visits with various health care professionals, I found myself in physical therapy (PT) at PDR Clinics. I've been going twice a week for four weeks now.

I learned that while I had been doing neck stretches correctly, I hadn't been holding them for long enough for my muscles to actually benefit. I'm strengthening my muscles using their MedX machines to isolate muscles. Those difficult-to-exercise neck muscles are actually getting the workout they need to get stronger.

I've heard and know of many people who've had to go to PT for various injuries, and I'm so grateful for this area of care. It's important to put the work in — when the therapist says they want you doing stretches every day, they mean it!

All of this reminded of a time when my dad was sick. He battled colon cancer for 7 years before it finally claimed his life. During much of that time he was able to live life normally, and other times he was in so much pain and could not control his bowels, which makes living life pretty much impossible.

My dad and stepmom Terry in happier days. 
One time he was hospitalized for three weeks after a bowel resection surgery. He did not recover well, anesthesia always threw him for a loop, literally. He was out of his mind delirious for nearly five days before they realized that the painkiller they were giving him was doing that to him. Once they got him on a different painkiller he got back in his right mind and the healing could continue.

Recovering from one of many surgeries, April 2015. Grandkids Sam and Presley, wife Terry by his side.
He was so eager to get home that he convinced the doctors to release him even though he had hardly any strength after being bedridden for three weeks. In order to get into the house he sat down on the front steps and slid his butt up each stair; he could not even lift his legs high enough to climb a single step. I don't remember if the hospital bed was in their house at that time or not, but if he was able to make it up the stairs to the bedroom he probably didn't come down for several days.

Weeks went by and my stepmom-angel took care of him. He was getting a little better every day but still was very weak. I am not sure how it came about, but a doctor or someone finally convinced him to meet with a physical therapist at their house to help him build his strength.

I talked to him the day of the therapist's first visit. Dad was angry. "That was the stupidest thing ever," he grumped to me over the phone. "She had me sit in a chair and straighten my leg, hold it for a few seconds and then put it back down. It didn't do a damn thing." My dad was a big man, accustomed to being strong and active. The fact that he had weakened to the point that straightening his leg was considered "exercise" frustrated him.

The next day I called again just to see how he was doing. He was even more frustrated and annoyed because he was sore from the "supposed exercises." I think he felt even more defeated at how weak he had become.

I don't know if he ever kept up with the therapist, she may have come a few more times. And knowing how frustrated he was by the experience, I don't think he kept up with the exercises they told him to do.

After that particular hospitalization, my dad slowed down. He was never able to get back to the level of activity he'd had before, and he was incredibly slow at walking. My sister and I had a hard time walking as slowly as he did. I would literally hover a single foot in the air to make my steps as slow as his. One time Dad and Terry were in Minnesota visiting us and the four of us were walking to a restaurant. Kristi and I absentmindedly started walking at our regular pace and within a few minutes found ourselves nearly half a block in front of Dad and Terry. God bless my stepmom, she assured my dad that she was feeling "tired" and needed extra time as well so that she could walk beside him. She did that everywhere they went.

I'm missing my dad this time of year. His birthday is on Christmas Eve, this whole experience of going to PT for my own injury is reminding me of his experience.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Minnesota Definition of "Salad"

From L to R: Kathy, Mark, Millie, Sherrie, Laurie and Wayne. Thanksgiving 2015, the first without Neil.
For more than 20 years we've been celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband's family. His family has always celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. When Wayne was a senior in high school all of his three older siblings got married. All of them, in one year. Can you imagine marrying off three of your kids and having your fourth graduate high school in the same year? Whew! Anyways...

For years all of his older siblings had Thanksgiving Day at their in-laws homes, which meant that the Horsman family gathering wasn't until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day itself didn't matter, what mattered is that family came together to spend time together, eating, visiting, playing cards or board games...eating again...

Card-playing. 2015.

Watching Christmas movies, Thanksgiving 2012.
For years I would ask what I could bring and was usually given the non-cooking task of bringing drinks for the grandkids, which, at the time, usually consisted of several 2-liters of soft drinks. I perhaps brought some dinner rolls, store bought, of course, that was it.

One year, Millie asked me to bring a salad.

When someone says "salad" to me, I picture a bowl of lettuce and spinach, tossed with tomatoes, cucumber, rings of red onion perhaps, maybe some dill weed or other things mixed with a dressing.

When my mother-in-law says salad, she means a side dish that goes alongside the turkey.

That year, I dutifully brought a salad. The tossed lettuce and vegetable kind, which went entirely untouched by family members. I watched as person after person went down the line to serve up their plate, smiled at the salad bowl, but didn't take any. It all ended up back in the frig; we ate it the following afternoon for lunch alongside other leftovers.

The next year, when I asked once again what I could bring, I was asked to bring a salad. So I did, which, again, went untouched. It seemed so odd to me, to ask me to bring a dish that no one was going to eat!

Soon the request went back to store-bought rolls and drinks for the kids, and I didn't think anything of it.

It wasn't until years later, when my sister-in-law was reminiscing about Thanksgivings past with me, that I learned that when my mother-in-law was asking for a "salad" she meant "side dish." She told me that the smiles at the salad bowl was people taking in my "city" salad.

Weather kept us from getting together with Millie this year, but we were able to gather with some of the extended Horsman family by way of nephew Travis, his wife Elizabeth and kids. It's always a treat to have our house filled with giggles, sweet little voices and quickened footsteps. And since my sister Kristi lives in town also, she got to spend some time as well with the family.

Snapchat filters are so entertaining apparently! 2019
And no, I did not serve "salad" this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Halloween Still in our House

Our neighbor's house — they go all out!
I love Halloween. I love the idea of dressing up to be whomever you want to be. For years we've hosted Halloween parties and invited all of my girls' friends. We've made ghoulish cake, witch's brew, musty meatballs, all kinds of delicious foods disguised in gory names.

This year, Marissa and Wayne were in Iowa the weekend before Halloween, when we normally would have had a party. And sadly, Lindsey's friend group has shrunk since she's in online school, so there were few people to invite for just her set of friends. So...no party.

I was starting to get sad about Halloween. Marissa wasn't planning on dressing up. Lindsey wanted to dress up and go trick-or-treating, but had no one to go with. It looked like it was going to be a quiet night, which made me rather sad.

But then....

At the last minute I invited my cousin Sam and his wife Sarah and their family to trick-or-treat from our house. I don't know why I didn't think of it before! Their Theodore is 3, Lucille is 15 months, and they would have a wonderful time in our vibrant Halloween neighborhood!

And so instead of being a quiet house filled with the sound of occasional doorbell ringing, we had a crazy, silly house filled with toddlers and a couple friends for my teens.

Theodore with "his Wayne." 
I made wild rice soup for dinner for us all, my traditional Halloween night meal, which was deemed delicious by those who ate it. The little ones got into costumes and away they went. Theodore had the time of his life running from house to house, trick or treating. Lucille wasn't quite so into it, but she was cute as a button as a little pig. Lindsey bought the costume for her the day before at Turnstyle for $1.75. Sarah bundled her up in her winter gear and put the costume over it all. Theodore took one look and her and declared "You're so cute!"

Lindsey and her friend Maia made ghoulish cake balls. Marissa and her friend Hanna ate pizza and watched scary movies. I went trick-or-treating with Sam and Sarah and kids for a while, then Sarah and I turned back with Lucille who was done with being in the stroller while Sam and Theodore hit a few more houses.

Aprons over costumes

Hanna and Marissa making pizza.
Maia the pirate, Lindsey the Beauty and Beauty the Beast.
After guests had left and the doorbell went silent, I was left with a dozen soup bowls to wash, a messy kitchen from all the baking and cooking, and an empty bottle of wine.

Just my kind of night.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Failure Leads to Success

Marissa and her beautiful smile.
Last week I had parent-teacher conferences with some of Marissa's teachers at her new school. She's doing really well in most classes, not so well in a couple. I met with two she was doing well in and two she was not doing as well in to get a sense of how the classes were going. Two of her classes allow all students to either re-take tests or re-submit written work. And when I spoke with both teachers on the hows and whys, I was so impressed. Their purpose:

What's the point of failing if students don't get a chance to succeed?

One teacher told me about his frustration he used to feel when he would grade an essay, return it to students and then watch them throw it away on their way out the door. To the students it was just another piece of homework that they didn't do well on, would learn nothing from and would go on to submit similar work the next assignment.

Now he allows students to re-submit essays with corrections as many times as they would like. Why? So they can learn from their mistakes. From learning how to properly cite a source to using verbs consistently, when students correct their own mistakes they tend to remember what they had done wrong and hopefully do better in future assignments. It's like having work edited by an editor — as a freelance copywriter, what a gift that would be to have a skilled editor review my work before I turned it in to a client for "grading!"

Same with Marissa's math teacher. Once a test is graded, the test is returned to students and they review it, then are given the chance to re-take the test at a later date. What's the point of finding out after the test that you did the math wrong if you don't have the opportunity to learn how to do it correctly?

Would we have any world-class gymnasts if the first time a gymnast tried the balance beam she fell off and wasn't allowed to get on it again? How are students supposed to learn these subjects when they get tested on one area, fail, and then move on to the next unit?

This is not about getting better grades, it's about actually learning the material, and I really like this approach. It takes work and re-work to get better grades, and that's when learning takes place.

Once upon a time in my career, my agency won a large client and I was asked to be the account director on it. It was an honor and big confidence booster to be chosen for this...and also a massive responsibility. It was daunting and I was afraid of failing. And fail I did — the first campaign we did for them we came in over budget by nearly six figures due to the number of small but costly blunders that had occurred along the way.

I was the director, I was given the task of picking up the phone and telling the client what we were about to invoice them. Gulp.

Because I had informed them all along the way of every mistake — and the ways in which we would NEVER let that mistake happen in future campaigns — they were understanding and expected the overage. They paid the invoice in full, with the understanding that this would NEVER happen again. And it never did. I made sure of that. Because I had been allowed to fail on that first campaign, we went on to have a long, fruitful relationship with them for years and they never had a surprise invoice again; our work was done exceptionally well with outstanding results. Now, if anyone ever asks me about a time I succeeded in my career, I tell them this story because my failure became my greatest success.

Back to those pesky parent-teacher conferences...

More importantly than Marissa's work or her grades, she is a good student in class according to her teachers. She speaks confidently even if she isn't sure of her answer, helps other students or asks for help when needed, and adds a spark of humor and light to the classroom. She is friendly to everyone she meets; her face lights up with a smile when she greets teachers and her fellow students.

No matter what grades she earns, those qualities make her a success already.