Friday, October 30, 2009

Trouble with hearing aids

For the last few weeks we've been having a lot of trouble with Queen Teen's hearing aids. Her new ear molds were tight and very hard to insert into her ears. I thought it was because they were new, but when Queen Teen complained of pain, and those complaints didn't go away after a couple of days (she always whines about how her hearing aids "bug" her) I noticed her left ear was looking irritated. Is this an allergic reaction? She continued to use her hearing aids with frequent breaks, but her left ear became even more raw. Plus, I noticed a lot of feedback.

I contacted the audiologist who said the molds might be too big. How can ear molds be made too big if their cast from an exact mold of the inside of her ears? I pulled off her new ear molds and replaced them with her old, too small ear molds, which solved the pain problem, but not the feedback. The audiologist told me to check her ears for wax, which I did, but her ears looked clear. So I checked her ear molds (the old ones) and found a little wax in the tube. The problem was it was deep inside the tube, too far for the cleaning tool to reach.

Here's a trick I discovered. After digging around in my sewing basket for something longer, but not pointed, I found my threader, which is long enough, but thin and flexible so it won't puncture the tubing. With careful swipes, I was able to dislodge and pull out the ear wax.

Unfortunately that didn't fix the feedback problem, so between improperly fitting ear molds and high pitched whining feedback, we have to go back to Stanford.

Did I mention Stanford it three hours away? And that it eats up an entire day and a half of our extremely busy lives?

Oh well. What can you do? Queen Teen is back to hating her hearing aids and is depressed she has to use them. They are uncomfortable and not working properly. Even with them on, she is having trouble hearing me, which makes me wish we both knew more sign language.

I'd better make that appointment.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not a Princess this year

Queen Teen is having a Halloween crisis. For the last three years she has been a princess, complete with gown and tiara. But this year, when I pulled out her Cinderella gown, she sighed heavily and sat on her bed.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

She shrugged.

"Do you want to be a princess this year?"

"I don't know."

(Great! Here we go again.) "You have this beautiful dress you've only worn once at Disneyland. Would you like to wear it for Halloween?"

"I don't know."

"Do you want to be something else?"

At this, she looked at me and said, "Maybe."

(Progress!) "What would you like to dress up as?"

"I'm not sure."

(Dang!) "Your grandpa sent you some kitty-cat ears. Would you like to be a cat?"

She shrugged. I got the ears and she tried them on, but they wouldn't stay upright on her head, which made her mad. Then we tried the bunny ears her dad had worn with his stilts, but they were too big. I asked if she'd like to be a movie star but she said she didn't know. We were both getting frustrated.

"You only have four days to decide, and if you want my help getting a costume, you need to decide soon."

She shrugged.

"You know, you don't have to dress up this year if you don't want to."

She looked at me with surprise.

I sat on the bed beside her. "Really. Lots of kids your age decide they don't want to dress up anymore." But as I said this, I realized how bummed I would be if she decided not to dress up and trick-or-treat this year. Halloween is my favorite holiday and part of why I love it so much is because Queen Teen has been celebrating it with me. There is nothing like spending this crazy holiday with kids. Queen Teen is no longer a kid, she's a teenager, and she's reached the age where most kids think dressing up on Halloween is for babies.

Is Queen Teen about to give up Halloween, just like she gave up Hug Bear this year?

The next day I asked about costumes again. She just shrugged. I said, "You could be a gypsy."

"What's that?" she asked.

"A person who sings songs and dances in beautiful, colorful clothes, and travels around performing, and tells fortunes."

Her eyes brightened. "That sounds like fun."

"You can borrow my skirt and some scarves and wear your colorful necklaces, even bells if you'd like."

She grinned. "Okay."

Yes! We will be trick-or-treating at least one more year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

You can't have ice cream for lunch!

so sayeth Queen Teen. Nor can you have chocolate, fruit loops, caramel corn or sweet tarts. In fact, you shouldn't have these things ever, but now and then is okay, but just for a snack, and not very much.

My daughter really absorbed the "eat healthy" message her schools and I have taught her. I blame Blues Clues and that "Healthy snacks" song. I know I'm lucky. My daughter has never whined for candy while waiting in line at the supermarket, and even when I offer her a sweet, she'll only eat half. When given a plate full of cookies and then told, "help yourself," Queen Teen will eat one, maybe two, then set the plate down and walk away. "You can have the rest."

She eats her vegetables

Since she is under weight by about twenty pounds, she is allowed to eat anything she wants. Of course it helps that her favorite snacks are fish crackers, cheese and bananas. I beg her to have a milkshake, but she'll rarely take it. She just isn't that interested in sweets.

One night while she and I were coloring together, Queen Teen set down her crayon and said, "Can I tell you something?

"Of course." I set down my own crayon and gave her my full attention.

She sighed then leaned forward, staring at me so intensely I wondered if she was going to tell me she had a boyfriend. "When you're not here, Rick gives me too much chocolate."

"I see." I looked down to hide the smile that was sabotaging my serious expression.

"It's a big problem." She sighed again very dramatically, then picked up her crayon and started to color again.

In Queen Teen's world, everything is broken down into compartments. There is good and bad, black and white, yes and no, healthy food and not-healthy food. There are foods you eat for breakfast, foods you eat for lunch, and foods you eat for dinner. This is how she makes sense of the world. Because of her poor hearing and eyesight, it's hard enough for her to figure out the tangible world, let alone all those exceptions to everything. There is no gray area and ice cream is not lunch. This is her own adaptation and I try to respect it. For a while I tried to teach her about life's exceptions and prepare her for the variables and gray areas that are invariably a part of life, but it created too much confusion for her, so I stopped. Instead I go along with her rules about the way things are. Eventually she'll figure out that life doesn't fit into perfect little categories and sometimes it's perfectly fine to eat ice cream for lunch. And dinner. And even breakfast.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Today I ran. Literally. I went for my power walk as usual, soaking in the beautiful warmth of another California Indian summer, listening to the birds chatter loudly in the trees as they make their plans to head south. Do you think all that chatter is the birds debating who should be the leader as they fly South?

I vote for Fred.

Fred? He can't find his own nest. I think Linda should be our leader today.

Linda... Linda... oh yeah the bird with the gray spot on her wing.

Yeah that's her.

Linda, good choice.

No, sorry, Linda smacked into a window yesterday and broke her neck.

Oh, bummer...

This is the kind of thing I think about while walking purposefully down the street, arms swinging to the rhythm of my legs.

After half a mile I turned the corner heading back to home and a little voice popped through my imaginings and said, You should run. Run? I don't run. I have a bad knee, a souvenir from when I went backpacking and fell down the side of a ridge with my heavy pack on, only stopping myself from going over a cliff by jamming my leg against a boulder, which strained the knee so bad I hobbled for two months. When I run I can feel my ligaments pulling against the scar tissue. Not pleasant.

How do you know it still does that? When was the last time you ran?

Hmmm... four...five years ago. I think.

You should try and see how your knee feels. If it hurts, stop.

Pondering this idea, I reached a three block section of my route just before the final turn toward home. What the hell? I started to run. Not fast, but a decent pace just a little faster than my walking pace. My legs propelled me forward and my arms fell into the rhythm naturally and I suddenly remembered running like this when I was 12 years old.

I loved to run back then. I loved the freedom and the speed, that sense that you could outrun any trouble that might come at you. I ran all over town, just because I could, not caring what I was wearing or where I was going. Feeling my heart pound and my legs hit the pavement was all I needed to feel strong.

Half way down the street, I suddenly realized it had been 30 years since I ran like that. Oh my God, this hurts! I can't breath! Why am I getting nauseous? Who's bright idea was this anyway? My breath rasped through my nose and mouth and my heart pounded against my ribs as if demanding to know what the hell I was doing. But my legs kept the pace and I refused to stop until I reached the end of the street.

Against my body's protests, I made it and then slowed my pace back to a brisk walk toward home. I was almost to my house before I could catch my breath again.

How's your knee? that little voice in my head asked.

I tuned into my right knee as I walked, waiting to feel that pulling on scar tissue pain. Nothing. My knee was fine. No pain, no ache, not even a twinge. Weird. I figured there should be something to remind me I injured it.

You hurt it 22 years ago. Maybe you're healed.

Maybe I am. But if I am, I don't have any excuse not to run again, other than the fact that running feels awful and only psycho masochists love it. I really doubt I'll ever do it again.

Or will I?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Terena vs. the Steak

(gee, I wish my steak looked that good).

Last week I decided to cook a steak, so I went to the grocery store and discovered there are a lot of different packages of dead cow, all arranged from the cheapest, to the most expensive (who the hell can pay $21.00 bucks a pound for meat now-days?). I hadn't decided what kind of beef to cook, only that it had been a while since we'd had a steak and I was hankering for some red meat. After examining the different types, I chose the one that had a good price, not the cheapest, but definitely not $21.00! Then I went home to research how to cook it.

Should be easy, right? Get a pan hot, toss in the meat, season with salt and pepper, turn it over, wait a while, cut it to look inside and see how pink it still is, then remove before all the pink is gone. Then I found this site and discovered there are RULES for cooking a steak. Just like everything in the kitchen, you can't just toss it in a pan and hope it comes out all right.

Then my husband asked, "What kind of steak did you buy?"


He just shook his head, probably thinking about those frozen dinners again. "How you cook it depends on what kind of steak it is."

"Oh." I don't know what I bought. It was the one that I could afford that didn't look like stew meat. Pulling it out of the fridge, I read the label. "New York," I shouted.

"Great. So how do you cook it?"

Obviously the guy who knows how to cook meat wasn't going to help.

Since the BBQ was out of propane, I decided to pan fry it. On the internet, I found a step by step recipe for how to cook a steak on the stove. I followed as best I could, but when it came time to figure out if it was done or not, I ran into trouble. I like my steak medium-well; just enough pink to be tender, but not bleeding. Achieving this equilibrium of steakiness is not easy, and so, despite the fact the "rules" said to remove it before it was completely done because it would continue to cook for another 10 minutes just sitting on the plat, I let it stay in the pan too long. No one will get botulism from my cooking, that's for sure.

My family sat at the table and I served the steak, which smelled delicious, but required extra bbq sauce to make edible. It wasn't a bad steak, just a little past tender. All right, a lot past tender.

But it made a great stir fry the following day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My First O and M Exam

Yesterday was our first skills test in Orientation and Mobility. Standing in my bedroom with my cane in hand, I studied hard all week, practicing and reviewing the skills: diagonal cane technique, ascending and descending stairs, opening doors, constant contact, trailing... We didn't know which technique until we were with our partner at the time of the test, one-on-one with the teacher, and she said, "Show me..." All I could think was that I hoped I didn't get stairs.

I didn't. My teacher asked me to show her diagonal cane technique, and even though I know that technique very well, my brain momentarily shut off. 'No,' I thought. 'Come on brain, you know this!' I looked at my blindfolded partner for a moment, took a deep breath, and started talking. Slowly the steps grew clearer through the fog of my test anxiety. Step by step I showed her what to do. I ran into one issue when I kept trying to have my student hold the cane with her hand upside down, but luckily I figured out the problem when I stood beside her and kinesthetically sorted out my mistake. No wonder she was looking confused. I got some of the steps out of order, but covered everything, which means I got an A. Whew!

Later that afternoon, my partner and I switched roles and she became the teacher while I went under blindfold. She guided me to another building on the SFSU campus and I got to experience traveling in an unfamiliar environment with a tactile map to guide me. Since I got my BA at SFSU, I wasn't completely unfamiliar with the building, but I haven't been there in 15 years. After the first trip around the hallways that encircle the gym, I began to experience the sensation of auditory space perception. I could sense when it was time to turn down the hallway simply by the sensation of an "opening" of the space. It's difficult to describe. My teacher/partner helped me trust the sensation, and I began to walk without needing to trail the wall to find my turn. I was under bindfold for an hour and found the experience fascinating, but exhausting. Every noise, scent, and feeling became overwhelming and I had a hard time filtering the onslaught of sensation. This gave me a glimpse into what the world must be like for Queen Teen and why sometimes she seems to shut down for brief periods of time.

Then it was my turn to be the teacher and surprise, the instructor was shadowing me for my evaluation. It was the end of the day. I'd just taken off the blindfold after an hour of intense concentration, and now I needed to be the teacher while my instructor watched my work. Lucky me. It turned out to be a great experience and having that one-on-one time with my instructor was really helpful. Our assignment was to prepare a lesson plan with a tactile map and then instruct our student/partner. Since my student is a proficient traveler who's spent a lot of time under blindfold, I planned to test her orientation and problem solving skills. My assigned building was Creative Arts, so I planned my lesson in the music section. Here my student traveled past practice rooms where people rehearsed with their instruments. I showed her the route and then helped her find clues from the surrounding music, especially when she passed intersecting hallways. It took one time around the route for her identify her hallways and keep herself oriented, so then I stepped back and let her do it independently. I was impressed with how well she did and she seemed to really enjoy the lesson. My instructor was pleased as well. She offered suggestions and pointed out a mistake I'd made, but overall she was impressed.

The evaluation makes me think that maybe I actually will be a good teacher when I'm finished with this year of training. I just need more practice with specific techniques.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

At last she said something other than "I don't know!"

For many, many, many, many, MANY years, Queen Teen's favorite sentence has been, "I don't know." Ask her anything and she will almost instantly respond with, "I don't know." Do you want ice cream or a cookie? I don't know. Would you like to watch a movie or read a book? I don't know. Would like me to poke you with a sharp stick? I don't know.

She is capable of saying something else; I've heard her many times. If she really wants something she'll speak up in a loud, clear voice. She'll tell you her opinions, her ideas, her desires and what she doesn't like.

But usually, her response to any question or suggestion is "I don't know."

The other day, I reached the limit of my patience.

"Would you like a cheese quesadilla for lunch?" I asked.

"I don't know."

"Do you want something else?"

"I don't know."

"Are you hungry?"

"I don't know."

"I don't know! I don't know! Can you say anything other than I don't know?"

"I don't know." She shrugged.

"Fine! I guess when you're hungry you'll tell me what you want for lunch. Or I guess I can just cook you anything I want and you'll eat it because you don't care!"

We stared at each other for several moments, me with my arms crossed and she chewing on her bottom lip.

Then she said, "I'm not sure."

I burst out laughing.

She grinned.

I guess "I'm not sure" is more accurate than "I don't know."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Homework, Midterms, and Sickness: Joy!

Okay I admit it. I am sick. Not crazy, gonna die, full of snot sick, but run down, worn out, sore throat, cough, runny nose, headache like I was hit with a sledge hammer, sick. I need tea and rest and warm blankies. I need sympathy and time to heal.

But no! I am a Mom, and mom's don't get sick days. Plus, I am a student, and students really don't get sick days.

So, I'm cramming for my exam (I have to demonstrate how to teach an Orientation and Mobility skill, but I won't know which one until my teacher tells me which one at the start of the test. So I have to study all of them. I hope she doesn't choose stairs). And I'm writing three lesson plans (Three! All due on the same day as the exam. Please!). And reading my textbooks. And reading blogs and wasting time on Facebook. Wait, scratch those last two.

I am the only parent in my class. The instructor has children but they are grown up and away to college, so it's just juggling parenthood and school, doing homework late into the night while taking care of a child who still thinks sleeping all night is a waste of valuable time. Yeah, being a graduate student is really fun when you're sleep deprived. And sick. Did I mention that I'm sick?

Pass the herb tea and wish me luck this Friday. It's gonna be a long week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Itty Bitty Farm in the City

I want to share this great blog with you all. Excellent writing and very informative. Called The Itty Bitty Farm in the City, it is the blog of an urban farmer named Heidi. She was just interviewed for the San Francisco State Journal Golden Gate XPress. Hear her interview here, complete with photos.

A friend recommended this blog to me a while ago because I've been considering getting chickens next spring. I'm really feeling the need to slow down my hectic pace and pay more attention to the here and now by planting a garden and watching it grow, getting some chickens and caring for them, and learning to cook (which so far isn't going too well). Is it my age (42)? Or is it a sign of our times. It seems like many people are picking up a hoe and planting seeds.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Foodies Read

I wanted to see what the "foodies" read, so I opened the food section in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper (online it's SF Gate). There was an article sharing three chicken recipes called "Three Hens in a Pot." The author described how the smell of the rosemary and wild thyme emanating from the pot of chicken brought her a sense of "satisfaction and goodwill." Of course, it helped that the author was having dinner in a chateau in Provence, France while drinking good wine with new friends. Then I scrolled down to the recipes for Poule a Pot, Coq a Vin, and Poulet a la Creme.

Hmmm... could I make something like this? I started with Poule a Pot, which has 31 ingredients. Dang that's a lot of ingredients!

I stopped reading after ingredient number 10.

The other chicken dishes had fewer ingredients, but required items I couldn't afford (brandy and burgundy?).

Then I tried reading the article, which told all about the writer's experience with that amazing dinner in Provence and went on to explain some of the history of the dishes being prepared.

You know what? I couldn't care less.

Do I need to care about how chicken is cooked in Provence to be a good cook? Or is the mere fact that I don't give a rat's-ass about how chicken is cooked in Provence a sign that I will never be a good cook?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Audiology Marathon

Queen Teen had an audiology appointment Wed. morning at Stanford. I decided to make it a fun trip and leave on Tuesday, giving us an extra day to play, plus a stay in a motel that night. On our way to Palo Alto that day, we stopped in Santa Rosa to have lunch with Rick, then we drove to San Francisco where we took a break at my school, San Francisco State University. I gave her a tour of the campus and showed her where my class is.

"Now you know where I am every Saturday," I said.

"Cool," she replied, looking around the classroom with a satisfied grin. "I think it's funny all of us are going to school."

But the highlight of the day was when I introduced her to one of my teachers. Queen Teen was shy at first, but warmed up quickly, especially when she discovered that my teacher ALSO wears hearing aids.

"See," my teacher said, pulling her hair back from her ears. "I have them too."

Queen Teen's eyes widened. "I didn't know other people had hearing aids!"

"I told you there were other people in the world," I said.

She looked at me and then pointed to herself. Her eyes sparkled and she sat up taller in her chair. "There are other people different like me!" Her declaration sounded like the words of a scientist who'd just discovered intelligent life on Mars.

My teacher and Queen Teen talked about sign language and hearing aids, and as I listened to Queen Teen's animated chatter I realized what a relief this discovery must be for her. Not only are there people "different" like her, but there are adults who have jobs and are capable. This woman has hearing aids, but she's my TEACHER. What a mind-blower that must be to a teen girl who thinks she's the only "weird" girl on the planet.

We continued our trip to Palo Alto and landed at the Stanford Mall. I love this mall; it's so beautiful and polite. The shoppers and workers smile. Sculptural fountains cascade into streams of clear water which run through the heart of the shopping center, framed by ferns and exotic plants. The shops are filled with beautiful clothing and jewelry I can never hope to afford, but we both love to explore. Queen Teen fell in love with a Betsy Johnson handbag (shiny purple and decorated with sparkling red and gold flowers. $300!). We discovered a tea shop and sampled the most delicious Jasmine tea I've ever smelled. The Stanford Mall is so far from my own reality, visiting it is like taking a trip to Monaco.

Tuesday was fun and relaxing, which was an excellent balance to Wednesday. NOT fun and extremely boring.

Her appointment was at 10:00 am and we were seen right away by her audiologist, Anne. Queen Teen really likes her, but she doesn't like the tedium of having her hearing checked. It took an hour and a half to test Queen Teen's hearing. She dropped blocks in a box when she heard the tone, and pointed to a picture when she heard Anne say the word. After that came programming the hearing aids and then trouble shooting the FM system. The device has had intermittent problems and Anne worked hard to figure out what was causing the device to stop connecting to the hearing aids. Of course the FM worked perfectly, just like when you take your car to the shop because it keeps making a horrible sound when you idle at a sign stop, but the car works flawlessly for the mechanic. Anne say FM devices are notorious for intermittent problems, so she wants me to keep track of when and where we are when the device stops working. What's in the environment can effect the signal, especially motion detector lights and wireless networks (seeing as we have five computers hooked up to a wireless network in the house, I'm thinking that might be a big problem).

After two hours, Queen Teen slumped in her chair, looking dazed and declaring, "I'm so bored!" An hour after that Queen Teen was just dazed. She'd stopped hearing anything, her system shutting down from fatigue and stress. At 1:00 we stumbled out of the basement where Audiology is tucked away, hungry for food and fresh air. We had a nice lunch and I grabbed one more cup of tea, then we hopped on the freeway heading home, hoping to stay ahead of Bay Area rush hour traffic. We made it to Novato before finding the stop and go traffic which we sat in all the way to Santa Rosa.

I decided she needed to have fun on Wednesday too, so we stopped at Border's books. She bought two new books and two new coloring books, then we had a snack at the cafe. There was another hour of driving before we got home at 6:30.

The hearing test showed that Queen Teen's hearing is reduced in her right ear, but her hearing fluctuates so much it isn't evidence that her hearing overall is worsening. Anne programmed the hearing aids to allow for volume control to give us an option for those days when Queen Teen seems to be having a harder time than usual understanding speech. We go back to audiology in six months.

I am impressed with how hard Queen Teen worked during the hearing test and her patience overall. Three hours would have been a strain for anyone, let alone a fourteen year old girl with a neurologic disorder. When I told her how proud I was of her, she smiled and said, "Yeah, but it was too boring."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Clothes pile up when you stop outgrowing them.

Queen Teen doesn't outgrow her clothes quickly anymore, therefore we don't cull her clothes every six months. Instead, shirts and pants had accumulated to the point where they fell out of her cupboard every time she opened the doors. She couldn't find a specific shirt she wanted to wear and she couldn't keep the clothes organized.

It was time to get rid of clothes.

We spent an hour going through all of her clothing, including the dresses and jackets jammed into her tiny closet. I let her decide what she wanted to keep. The decision was no longer based on if she can still wear the item, it was based on if she was SICK of the item.

This process struck me as another sign my little girl is no longer a little girl. She doesn't outgrow clothes anymore, she changes her mind. Her tastes in fashion change, not her inseam or waist line. With a wave of her hand and scowl she tossed shirts and pants and dresses I thought were cute. Nope. She refused to keep anything white or too pink. I bit my lip when she held up a lovely dress she'd only worn twice (but owned for two years) and said, "Ugh. I'm tired of this." Toss. She filled two grocery bags full of clothing to take to Goodwill.

Her clothes are now tidy and her closet is less cramped. With a grin she inspected the shelves where her clothes are folded neatly (a cupboard is easier for her to manage than a dresser). "Much better," she said.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The day my brain stopped working in the middle of class

As some of you know, I am enrolled in the Master's Orientation and Mobility Program at San Francisco State University. This is my second year, and the year I get actual, hands on training in O and M. Even though my classes are Friday and Saturday nights, I love them. The teachers are knowledgeable and excited about O and M and my fellow students are a fun and diverse group of people. With only 12 in the class, we really get to know one another.

The lessons are intensive and quick, but so far I've managed to keep up and learn the skills to teach others. While under blindfold I've learned to walk a straight line with my cane by using diagonal and constant contact technique, to trail a wall with my cane to locate landmarks, to open and close doors, estimate distances, and make accurate turns.

On Friday night, we learned how to go up and down stairs. The idea of using stairs under blindfold is pretty scary, but we work in teams with a TA and/or the instructor to guide us, so the danger is minimal. It's more stressful for the student teaching the skills to her partner who is under blindfold. There are numerous issues to be aware of while teaching a visually impaired student to walk up and down stairs safely. They have to approach the stairs; find the first riser; find the handrail; align their body to the stairs so they climb them straight; determine "the height of the riser and the depth of the tread"; shift their weight forward and figure out how far in front of their body to hold the cane (one step ahead or two); remember to keep their cane lifted one inch against the riser so it doesn't drag and get caught on the stairs; walk up the stairs while holding out their cane and hanging on to the handrail; then remember to "sweep" with their cane when they reach the landing AND remember how many steps ahead the cane was so they count those steps to ensure their feet are on the landing before letting go of the handrail.

Down stairs is pretty much the same process, except there are three different ways to hold your cane depending on the surface of the stairs, and you shift your weight back instead of forward. But going down is usually scarier because you don't have the riser against your cane to guide your steps. Plus, gravity likes to pull objects down stairs, rather than up.

Imagine that you've just been taught how to teach a student to go through all these steps, and now, only an hour later, YOU have to teach the student yourself. Yeah, I was pretty freaked out.

I wrote copious notes and asked lots of questions. There were so many details I needed to understand so that I could explain the process to my partner/student. My head was packed with every nuance and fact, so much so that when we arrived at our designated stair case and I began to teach my blindfolded partner, my brain completely shut down. What do I tell her to do first? Square off to the steps. Yes, that's it. Then walk forward until the cane finds the riser. Then anchor cane. No, sweep cane? Was it diagonal or constant contact? How do you find the hand rail? Step to the right? No that's not it. Slide the cane to the right? Take a step, no... first anchor... but she's too far from the hand rail...

The TA kept stepping in to help and she was wonderful. So patient. I knew we only had an hour to have three skills checked off, but she said, "Don't worry about the time. Just go through the steps one by one." My poor partner was under blindfold the entire time, listening to me fumble around with the words, holding a position far too long, and probably terrified that I was the one trying to teach her how to go up and down stairs. I couldn't even follow the instructions, how the hell was I going to keep her safe?

I finally said, "I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't sort this out. My brain has shut down."

The TA smiled and said that happens sometimes. The class goes fast and everybody will have a bad night now and then. My partner said I was doing fine and don't worry about her. I fought tears and just focused on getting through the lesson. At least I could show my teacher I don't fall apart or give up when it gets hard.

Somehow we got my partner up the stairs twice, and down the stairs once, but I couldn't be checked off on the skills because I couldn't recall what to do without help. I think the problem was that I got so bogged down in all the details, I lost the specifics. This isn't the first time something like this has happened to me. I tend to analyze and ponder information in depth until I understand every nuance. I break the problem down to its core, then rebuild it with a new understanding. There is no time to do that in this class. We learn several skills each day and I just have to memorize the steps and learn to teach it. Understanding will have to come several days later.

Next week it will be my turn to go under blindfold and have my partner teach me. In the mean time, I'll sort out the actions of climbing stairs and then practice teaching the process to my husband. Because eventually I'll have to be checked off stairs in class.

How much you want to bet my teacher chooses stairs when she tests me on my skills?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Cooking Experiment - Meatloaf

I don't know if I've said this before but I am not a cook. Luckily, my husband is a great cook or we'd all starve. Not only am I not a cook, I probably shouldn't cook. Anyone who knows me has probably tasted one of my "creations" and thought I should stay far away from a stove. Even a microwave is iffy.

I've decided to change that.

No, I haven't suddenly fallen in love with cooking. To me, cooking is something you have to do because food tastes better when it's warm. I have never been nor do I imagine myself ever becoming a "foody." But lately I've felt this urge to pay more attention to the every day, small, important things in life, like food and shelter and growing a garden. Maybe it's a middle-age, pre-menopausal thing. I've spent my entire life being supremely, intellectually creative, putting all my energy into acting, dancing and writing, saying I didn't have time to clean or cook a meal because I had more important things to do. I was an ARTIST.

My husband was probably as surprised as I when I said, "I'm going to cook meatloaf."

He blinked a few times, then said, "You're brave."

"Why do you say that?"

"I never have luck with meatloaf. It's always gooey on the inside and burnt on the edges."

"We have all that hamburger in the fridge we need to use so I'm going to make a meatloaf. I haven't had meatloaf in years."

"Sounds good." I'm sure he was thinking about the frozen dinners in the freezer he could nuke if my meatloaf turned out as well as my other attempts at cooking.

The reason I haven't had meatloaf in years is because I'm a Celiac, which means I can't eat anything with Gluten, like wheat, barley, rye, or spelt. Most people make their meatloaf with bread crumbs, so I can't have it. Seeing as my bread is expensive, I decided to skip the breadcrumbs and instead used grated potatoes. We had several sitting in a bag in the pantry needing to be cooked and I read on a Celiac forum that grated potatoes work well.

I mixed up the meat, potatoes, Worcester sauce, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and one egg in a bowl, then flattened it into a 4 by 8 inch baking pan. After topping it with more tomato sauce and Worcester, I put it in the over to bake for 40 minutes. Simple recipe. Even I could figure this one out.

Did I cook something edible? The meat cooked all the way through, the edges didn't burn, and it smelled delicious. The potatoes cooked all the way, but stayed a little firm. I liked how it tasted, but since I haven't had meatloaf made with bread crumbs in over 10 years, I can't really compare it. My family ate it and my husband said it was good. Even my daughter ate it, although the strings of potato were weird.

So, that's my attempt to cook a meal from scratch, following a recipe in my Gluten Free cookbook, and using ingredients already in my house. No one got sick or begged for a TV dinner. However, the dog is probably bummed it turned out so well because she won't be getting this experiment.

What shall I cook next week?