Hey you misfiring mass of mighty matter,

What the hell is yanking your chain these days? You might find this difficult to believe, but the increased frequency of electrical overload that you have unleashed over the past week is not exactly my idea of fun!

Do you have any idea how not cool it is when you send out a surprise attack of the shorted switching stations while I'm trying to eat? I swear to you that I've really tried to find humor in the waves of nausea; I've looked for something pleasant about the painfully sharp tingles that run like fire ants up and down my right arm; I've tried to embrace the coughing sessions that tell me you have delivered the last jolt for the time being. But no matter what I do, turning your peak demand deliveries into a joyful experience is just not happening.

As much as I don't like your sudden bursts of energy during lunch, dealing with them when I ought to be on vacation in a chalet atop a mountain in Dreamland is even worse. Hello, your Electrical Eminence, has no one ever told you about the dangers we both suffer when sleep deprivation occurs? In addition to causing the fog that fills the void between my ears, a lack of sleep contributes to memory impairment, an inability to concentrate, a compromised immune system, slower reaction times, and slurred speech. Oh, and I forgot to mention that being too tired makes my eyes burn and water so much, day and night, that I develop oozy, crusty sores on the skin beneath the tear ducts. And the dark luggage that I carry around under my eyes may be full, but the bags aren't packed with comfy jammies for a restful vacation at the Sealy resort!

A couple of centuries ago, at a meeting of truly magnificent minds, a group of forward thinking men drafted a remarkable document. Among other things, this document laid out the ground rules of behavior between the governing and the governed. We call it the United States Constitution. Number 8 on the list of rules states that the governing body shall not inflict any cruel and unusual punishments on the governed. Since you, my Magnificent Monarch, are the engine that runs this incredible machine called my body, you must remember to control your desire to provide me with examples of the shock and awe of your power. I already know how awesome and powerful you are, trust me!

Can't we just get along?
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Perfect Fit

Ok, this isn't going to be completely wordless -- I have to explain what this is all about! I like schedules and routines, so I figured that having a specific type of post to do on a weekly basis would encourage me to post regularly. Wordless Wednesday is a meme for which participants post a photo -- just a photo. Let's see how well I do next week, because I am not exactly a wordless kind of person!

You can see more Wordless Wednesday entries here.
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Back in the days of grad school, I took a Chaucer class. My area of specialty was Renaissance Drama with an emphasis on the portrayal of the "Moor" in the Early Modern period. Chaucer belongs to the High Middle Ages, but I felt the need to delve into the work of the best known medieval writer in order to examine the depiction of the Islamic Other in Middle English literature. What better way to trace the evolution of an idea than to start at its root?

While I found the readings tolerable, the tapestry of Chaucer's world and the colorful threads that informed his work interested me much more than his poetry. My professor had a penchant for medieval medicine and was especially interested in the advances made in the Islamic world; I wanted to see how those Islamic medical practitioners were portrayed in the literature of the time. We were a match made in heaven.

Although often overlooked in the Western world, much of what we now take for granted in the medical field began in the Islamic world. Hospitals, for example, are among the greatest achievements of the early Islamic culture (see National Library of Medicine's "Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts" for further details). During the course of collecting research for a paper that I wrote for the Chaucer class, I learned a great deal about the Islamic hospital system:
  • Hospitals were divided into wards according to illnesses, with patients who had contagious diseases separated from others.
  • In 872, the first hospital known to identify and treat mental illness was built and operating in Cairo, Egypt.
  • Physicians who treated patients in hospitals were required to pass competency examinations.
  • I could add dozens more bullets to this list, but you can read more about the topic from any of the articles located here.

One of the most interesting things that I discovered was the emphasis that Islamic physicians placed on the connection between emotional and physical well-being. Patients in these early Islamic hospitals were visited by people whose only job was to provide positive feedback for the purpose of boosting the patients' sagging spirits. For example, a small group posing as doctors, nurses, or even visitors, would pass by the bed of a patient and make comments such as "Look at how much rosier his complexion is today!" or "The swelling on her cheek is really getting smaller!" or "That incision is healing quite nicely!" or "When eyes shine as brightly as hers do, we know that a patient is healing well." No matter how unpleasant the wound or symptom and irrespective of the gravity of the illness, these traveling do-gooders were forbidden from making any negative comments. And although some of the commentary would be classified as white lies, physicians noted its positive effects on patients.

I can personally attest to the benefit of hearing positive comments such as those used in the early Islamic hospitals. On days when sleep has been especially elusive, I know that my eyes are red, weepy, and swollen, and that I look every bit as horrible as I feel. With nary a prompt from me, Ali will say something about how my eyes look much better than they did a day or two before. He may gloss over the reality of my appearance but in doing so, he also eases my emotional distress. It's become a joke between us that if I want to know how I really look, I need to ask our daughter because she pulls no punches. I'll take Ali's compassionate white lies over Iman's brutal honesty almost any time!

Yesterday, a two sentence email from my neurologist asking how I'm doing had the same uplifting effect on my psyche. I've had a tough week thanks to seizures and headaches, so her message couldn't have come at a better time. I'll have to ask Dr. S if she knows about Islamic medicine because she sure has the same level of compassion required of early Islamic physicians.
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In spite of the usual war between wakefulness and sleep that I engage in on a daily basis, I feel fairly well rested today! This is truly cause for celebration, as it happens so infrequently. I'm not going to question the how or why it happened when last night was no different than the hundreds before it, I'm just going to revel in it and see what I can accomplish with a fog-free brain.

  • Reschedule eye appointment that I missed last week thanks to the seizure issues. I've come to the conclusion that having the ability to see clearly is very important and that since my not-so-old glasses aren't doing the job any longer, a new prescription is probably in order.
  • Begin grading marathon for the first round of essays. The students in the smaller of my classes have turned in their papers, and it would be wonderful to grade and return them before the uber large class' papers come in at the end of the week.
  • Make the trek to HR for retirement info. Students can no longer add or drop classes which means that my small one will "stick" for the duration. In the grand scheme of things, this also means that I've met the minimum requirement of course units to maintain my health care coverage for the semester. More importantly, it means that I am on the insurance roll during the semester from which I will retire -- a requirement that must be met in order for me to keep those benefits after I retire. Woot!
  • Continue the arduous climb up laundry mountain. How is it possible that two people could have so many dirty clothes?!

I'm sure there are plenty of other things that I need to take care of, but this is enough to keep me busy for a while at least.
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When I was a kid, I had an adorable teddy bear hamster. His cage was on the desk across from my bed. Back in those days, I slept through earthquakes--literally--so Charley's frenzied nocturnal workouts on the running wheel never bothered me. By the time Iman was old enough to want a pet of her own and to be given the care of a hamster, the old saying that squeaky wheels get the oil had taken on a whole new meaning to me. It was then that I began to wish that I could experience the joy of running around on a wheel, joyfully going in circles and getting nowhere without a care in the world. Life with Chiari often leaves me feeling like a hamster on a wheel except that where the hamster enjoys the ride and doesn't care that there's no destination to reach at the end, I find running in circles quite frustrating and know that the more I run toward feeling better, the further away from that elusive goal I get.

I'm still not quite okay after the seizures and headaches of a few days ago. I stayed at home on Friday, thinking that I would get some things done around the house before beginning the grading fest looming on the horizon. Armed with a neatly organized To Do list, I tackled the chores: cleaning the cat boxes, dusting the ceiling fans, washing the curtains, scrubbing the bathroom fixtures. With each item that I crossed off the list, the more empowered and able to complete the next task I felt. It's been a while since I managed to maintain such focus without feeling like I needed to nap between jobs, so it was with a sense of exhiliration that I unloaded the dishwasher and made it ready for another load. And then, like some great cosmic joke with me as the punchline, something pulled the rug right out from underneath me!

With no warning ahead of time, my legs buckled, the kitchen rug slid across the floor, and I landed in a heap with a seizure well under way. Chiari patients sometimes have drop attacks during which muscle tone weakens suddenly and significantly enough that they drop things they are holding or fall if standing. I've had a few drop attacks, but they occur so rarely that I seldom think about them. I'm sure that what happened on Friday was a drop attack followed by, not precipitated by, a seizure. The whole event lasted 45 seconds or so, and I never lost consciousness. My dignity, on the other hand, didn't fare quite so well. :)

The seizure was intense enough that fighting off the need to sleep afterward was impossible, and I gave in to the need for a nap. For a few hours after the event, I felt weak, shaky, and a bit disoriented. I guess that my right leg must have been the one to bear the brunt of the drop attack because it still aches (it's currently 2:16 am on Sunday). I've had a couple of small electrical shortages, with headaches and stiffness in the neck thrown in for good measure, since the attack. Still, I haven't felt the need to bring out the big guns (Cafergot) yet, as I have an incredibly high tolerance for pain and the prescription strength Ibuprofen makes it bearable.

For now, my inner hamster has joined me on the pity pot and together, we're running like the wind on the Chiari wheel of life. Oh, how I wish I could be like Willie Nelson and sing about how good it is to be "on the road again."

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I'm a winter person. When the clocks "fall back," darkness comes early, and a chill begins to fill the air, I am truly in my element. Whereas most people look forward to the warm months of summer, I eagerly await what a friend calls the "freezin' season." Granted, in Southern California we very, very rarely experience anything even remotely close to a "freezin' season," but you get the idea -- I prefer the colder months of the year. Lately though, I've been thinking about spring and growing things and hope.

I have a knack for growing things. The fruit in the photo on the left are guavas -- the end of last year's crop from one of two guava trees I started from seeds. When the guavas are in bloom, our house becomes one of the most popular destinations in the neighborhood as people stop by to check the progress of the growth. Ali, the guava fan at our house, enjoys sharing the fruit with family, friends, and neighbors while bragging about how his wife grew the trees from seeds that he got from a friend. We've also got an orange tree that keeps us supplied with oranges for months at a time and delights our senses with the regal display of gorgeous smelling blossoms for a month or so before the fruit comes in. And the grapevine that grows along the fence gives both grapes (the ones in the picture came from last year's crop) and the leaves to make mahshi (stuffed grape leaves -- one of my favorite foods in the entire world!).

Every year I have a small vegetable garden in the yard on one side of our house. I grow beefsteak tomatoes for the sole purpose of picking while green and frying, cherry tomatoes for snacking, and Roma tomatoes for cooking. Vegetables include Japanese eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, and okra (the blossom on this plant is gorgeous, by the way). I've also grown some herbs: thyme, dill, rosemary, oregano, and parsley. Basically, I plant whatever strikes my fancy at the time.

I'm not ready for daylight savings time just yet, nor am I prepared for the soaring temperatures and electric bills associated with running the a/c during a SoCal heatwave. What I am ready for, though, is the hope that comes with spring -- the promise of something new, the excitement of watching life appear from a mound of dirt, and wishes for better days.

Aw, heck, I'm ready for a garden!
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Do I hear the wail of a siren in the distance? I sure hope so, because I am in desperate need of a waaaambulance! Someone please call up the reinforcements before my fanny becomes permanently attached to the pity pot!

Ok, so yesterday was just plain terrible no matter how I look at it. The cluster of seizures that began in the middle of the night on Tuesday left me with clusters of headaches on Wednesday that rendered me just about as useful as plastic surgery tips from Jocelyn Wildenstein. I don't give in or up easily and genuinely believe that location matters very little to misery, so I went to the office. (Side note: Ali and I have a business, so "the office" to me means the location of my desk in one of our warehouses.) Besides, pity pots are portable!

Seizures and short term memory are not the best of friends. In fact, they really don't like one another at all most of the time. Thus it should not have surprised me that I completely forgot Ali's dental appointment yesterday morning or my own eye exam appointment in the late afternoon but remembered that I would be missing out on seeing Phantom of the Opera. Back in January, I posted about anticipation and mentioned that I had bought tickets for myself and the niece to see the show on, you guessed it, February 18th! In the heat of the excitement, I hadn't considered that (1) the show started at 8 PM, (2) I live in Orange County and the theater is 35 miles away in Los Angeles, (3) I can't see well enough to drive at night, and (4) I would have to find someone to drive me and the niece to LA then be willing to wait around for 2.5 hours until the show finished.

Ali volunteered to play chauffeur for us. But the closer the date of the show drew, the less I wanted him to make yet another sacrifice for me. I mean, really, the poor guy already hangs out in the car on Thursday nights while I teach a class, so why on earth would I want him to waste yet another evening stuck in the car while I enjoy musical theater? How utterly selfish is that?! Iman and Magdy (daughter and son-in-law) volunteered to drive us and hang around in Hollywood until the show was over, but it's a long drive and Magdy has to be at work very early in the morning. A solution to the problem came to me a couple of weeks ago when it hit me how nice it would be that two birthday girls (Iman on 2-4, Basma on 2-17), both of whom are as crazy about Phantom as I, share the evening together and gave my ticket to Iman for her birthday. It's a good thing I did, too, as I would never have made it to LA yesterday; however, that doesn't mean that I don't get to feel sorry for myself for having to miss out on the show!

With the constant pressure, banging, and throbbing going on in my head, I didn't accomplish anything at the office except to make Ali feel terrible that I was there at all. Ours is a genuine old-fashioned "mom and pop" business. Ali, I, and Iman are the only employees and between us, we manage two warehouses, a brick and mortar shop, a couple of websites, and all the wholesale and retail customers they bring. Since Iman got married last month, she cut her hours by half to make it easier to manage a full-time load of classes while working and adjusting to married life. Add to this the time I spend away from the business to take care of my teaching responsibilities both in and out of the classroom, and you'll see quickly enough that Ali is one heck of a busy man all the time. How could I add to te burden he already carries so willingly?

And so, I spent yesterday on the pity pot lamenting the misery that came in the wake of an avalanche of seizures that triggered an eruption of headaches, mourning the loss of much of my independence, and bemoaning the burdens that Chiari forces me to dump on my family. For now, I'm going to try my best to play like Scarlett O'Hara because, "After all, tomorrow is another day."
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As if to remind me of yesterday's discussion about invisible illnesses, my brain took it upon itself to have an electrical surge a couple of hours ago. Of course it couldn't have come before I went to bed because that might have made it much too easy for me to sleep through the night, something I seem to have forgotten how to do.

When it comes to seizures, most people automatically think of the worst type -- the kind that causes eyes to roll to the back of the head, tightens muscles so that they twitch and spasm, and leads to an unconscious flailing about of the body under assault. I used to conjure the same image of a seizure -- until I learned that scar tissue on the parietal lobe of my brain indicated that seizures had long been a part of my life without me even realizing it.

I have complex partial seizures that occur on the right side of my brain, in the parietal lobe, and seldom cause me to lose consciousness. It may look as if I have mindlessly drifted off into an alternate universe, but I remain very much aware of what goes on around me during a seizure. I do, however, lose the power to respond while neurons perform the jive across the stage of grey matter in my head. The seizures often occur in flurries or clusters, meaning that the first one acts a trigger for others. My husband describes them like an earthquake and aftershocks; those of us who live in Southern California know that after an earthquake, aftershocks are a given. My seizures act the same way.

So, what happens when I have a seizure? Some people who deal with seizures have an "aura," or a way of knowing that one is coming. I am one of those lucky folks. In fact I'm doubly blessed because I have two signals to alert me that my brain is about to experience an electrical overload. The first aura is a burning smell. When I start sniffing the air, checking out the stove and appliances, examining electrical outlets, and asking if anyone else smells something burning, look out -- a seizure is on the way. With this aura, I never know when the event will happen, just that it will. The second way that I know to prepare myself for a seizure happens very quickly and when it does, I know that a seizure will hit me in a hurry. This is the most frequent beginning to a seizure for me.

A gentle tingling sensation at the bottom of my feet is the first signal. I'm not ticklish (except between my toes), but I can imagine that the feeling must be similar to what those who do have ticklish feet feel. In a matter of a second or two, the tingling in the feet is followed by the strongest feeling of nausea I have ever experienced without actually barfing my guts up. As soon as the nausea happens, I know what to expect and sit down if I'm not already seated. I've only gone down twice during a seizure, but those two experiences seriously traumatized me. Lying in a heap on the floor and drooling all over oneself is not very pleasant, nor is it particularly graceful looking!

After the aura pays me a visit, a light film of sweat will break out on my upper lip, saliva will begin to fill my mouth more quickly than normal, I may feel hot or flushed, then the right arm will begin feeling numb. At about the same time that the arm goes numb, I just drift off. To those who see me when it happens, I appear to be daydreaming or staring off into space. When the electrical activity in the brain starts to settle down, I will begin to cough -- sometimes quite violently, especially if the seizure has lasted longer than 30 seconds -- and shake my arm to relieve the numbness. The coughing spell sometimes lasts 5 or 10 minutes, during which time I am coming out of the seizure.

The length of the seizure determines the amount of time it takes me to come out of it. On the days when I have clusters, the seizures themselves don't last any more than 30-45 seconds but with each one, coming out gets increasingly difficult. No matter whether the seizures occur in clusters or not, I am compelled to sleep afterward. I've tried to fight off the need to sleep but doing so only exacerbates the problem and often triggers additional seizures.

My neurologist assures me that once we find the right medicine in the proper dosage, the seizures will be fully controlled. I can't wait until that happens!
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If you overlook the luggage under my eyes from chronic sleep deprivation, the wobbly walk that comes with disequilibrium, the funky way I step down from curbs to avoid falling off them, or the way I have to tilt my head to avoid seeing double, my very serious and very real illnesses are invisible to most of the world. I'd never thought much about this invisibility before reading the latest post on Prof S's blog and following it up with Michelle's post, the one that got Prof S thinking on the subject. But now that I'm contemplating the subject, it's clear to me that I've been damn lucky. Instead of getting "But you don't look sick!" comments, I receive accolades for "holding on so well," "fighting bravely," "overcoming obstacles," and setting an "inspirational example" for others. My illnesses are as invisible as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, Lupus, and migraines, among others, yet when I tell people about them, the response I receive is always positive and sympathetic. Why?

Strangers who look at me won't see the piece of brain that hangs down in my spinal column, nor will they see the majority of the symptoms this miniscule protrusion causes. Arnold Chiari Malformation is an invisible yet progressively debilitating condition. Unless I am actively seizing, people will never know that I have Epilepsy, either. On the surface, I look fine, peachy keen, hunky dory, and above all, healthy. But perceptions can often be deceptions, and I think this may be the case with most illnesses.

Society has conditioned us to look for physical signs of illness such as a cough and stuffed nose for a cold, withered and twisted hands for rheumatoid arthritis, or tics and outbursts for Tourette's Syndrome. The reality, though, is that most illnesses -- even the ones we know best -- are invisible! Can you look at someone and just know that (s)he has cancer, diabetes, or heart disease? Not likely because although we know and fear these illnesses, they are every bit as invisible as Lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, ACM, and epilepsy.

I believe that the positive feedback the explanation of my illnesses draws from strangers has to do with location, location, location more than anything else. ACM and Epilepsy originate in the brain, the body's epicenter. No other organ, except maybe the heart, inspires as much fear and awe as the mass of grey matter that lives in our heads. When I have a bad day and people hear about it, I get positive responses and sympathy because my conditions are neurological. And when people hear that I've had brain surgery, their reactions are even more kind and sympathetic. But I'm sure that if I were to tell strangers that I suffer from chronic pain, their reactions would be mostly negative. Aches and pains are a normal part of life, right? We all have them and ought to learn how to cope instead of concocting a condition for them. Sound familiar? This is where ignorance comes into play.

Ignorance of an illness does not make it any less real to the people whose lives are wrapped up in it. Just because we can't see what causes the pain of fibromyalgia doesn't make it a figment of someone's imagination. Unless I went around flashing the now faded red badge of courage that extends from the midpoint of my skull to slightly below the point where my neck is connected to my shoulders, nobody would know that I have an illness, either. But because I can say that a skilled neurosurgeon alleviated some of the symptoms associated with ACM, I get slack that others don't. Pain and misery are pain and misery no matter where they originate!
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I've mentioned before that I am a fan of documentary films and that when I struggle with sleep, the collection of them that I have amassed keeps me company through the night. We recently got a new satellite -- ok, it's an additional two satellites to the one we already had -- to make it possible for Ali to receive the programming from a plethora of Arabic language channels now available. One of the benefits of this new service is that it picks up the signal from PBS stations across the country and for someone who watches documentaries like I do, this bonus makes the fact that our roof now looks like an alien communication center much easier to accept.

Although a little better than a few weeks ago, my sleeping habits still resemble those of a cat for the most part. Still, I've been more functional and better able to face the world with the recent addition of a couple more hours of shut-eye during the night. That is, until last Friday. It had been a long day at the business, which meant that a nap was out of the question. Ali kept insisting that I just put the work aside and sleep for at least an hour, but I was hoping that the sheer exhaustion would help me to stay asleep through the night and refused. One of these days I'll learn to listen to my husband's concerns instead of fighting against the tide of the inevitable. Long story short, I fell asleep before 8, woke up shortly after 10, and could not go back to sleep to save my soul. It's at times like these when I rely on documentaries.

One of the many PBS stations on our new service was showing an episode of American Experience called "The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer" at 2 a.m., so I flipped to it and settled in for an educationally entertaining diversion. The story of this once heroic figure's fall from grace so fascinated me that I googled his name to learn more. When I discovered that Robert's brother, Frank, also a physicist, had sold a Van Gogh painting he inherited from his mother and bought a cattle ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado to escape McCarthyism, my heart fluttered. But when I read that Frank Oppenheimer had taught at the town's high school, the excitement that caused the flutter quickly grew to a heart stopping event. Pagosa Springs is my dad's hometown, the place where my family trekked every summer of my youth! Even better -- Frank Oppenheimer was teaching at Pagosa Springs High School while my dad was still a student there!

At 2:47 a.m., I sent my father an excited email. Pagosa Springs, before the influx of displaced Californians began arriving and changing its entire atmosphere in the 80's, was Mayberry in Colorado. The town was small enough that everyone really did know everyone else. So I send my dad an email asking if he knew Frank Oppenheimer. Much to my delight, he responded (several hours later because he does sleep at night, LOL) that not only did he know Frank, but that Frank's daughter, Judy, was in the same high school class as he and that Frank had been his science teacher! (This 1957 address to the Pagosa Springs High School PTA establishes the motivations and objections that became the foundation of Frank Oppenheimer's Exploratorium several years later.) A follow-up phone call with my dad revealed that the townspeople knew about the communism charge and the McCarthy hearings against the Oppenheimer brothers, but he said that as far as everyone in Pagosa knew, Frank had not been a Communist. According to Dad, Judy Oppenheimer was the "ugliest girl at school" and often the butt of jokes as a result; however, she was very, very good at math and science and was the person Dad turned to when he needed help with his math homework. When I asked if the Oppenheimers still lived in Pagosa, dad said that the family just kind of "disappeared" and that he didn't know where they went.

Oh, the connections we make in this increasingly small world in which we live. My dad's high school science teacher was none other than the founder of the Exploratorium! How cool is that? Even better, look at what I discovered by watching a documentary at 2 o'clock in the morning!
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I love orchids and my husband although every now and then, it's hard to tell which one ranks first on my list. Both require specialized care and attention; yet, both of them keep me delighted and entertained with a minimal amount of effort. Yesterday, hubby retained the number one spot because of an orchid.

I've always had a green thumb and have loved growing plants ever since my high school days. Back then, my bedroom was filled with the most popular plants of the 70's: pathos, spider plant, ivy, creeping Charley, wandering Jew, asparagus fern, ficus, and coleus. Plants lined the shelf under the window and dangled from the ceiling in macrame hangers that I made for them. The only plant that I recall having no success with was the African Violet. But I have conquered that obstacle and now have one, along with several of its offspring, that my sister gave me in 1996. I figured that if I could keep one of those temperamental plants alive for such a long time, I was ready to move on to the more serious blooming plants. Enter the orchids.

It started with a miniature phalaenopsis that I purchased six years ago. The magic of my green thumb has worked its charm on that plant, too. It has produced at least one spike of flowers every year since I brought it home. This blooming season, it has surprised me with a double spike -- surely a testament to my ability to provide adequate care. But as much as I enjoy that plant and its pretty little flowers, I truly prefer the showy cattleya orchid.

Cattleyas are neither cheap nor easy to grow. Whereas the phalaenopsis likes water once a week or so, a spot under the kitchen window where it gets plenty of sunshine, and a bit of fertilizer every once in a while to produce the blooms that you see in the photo on the right, cattleyas need humidity, frequent and regular fertilizing, and a specific watering schedule in order to bloom. Give them too little or too much of water, humidity, light, or fertilizer, and the plant dies. The thought of spending a hefty amount of money on a plant that I might inadvertently kill due to lack of knowledge or experience has prevented me from getting one and reduced me to admiring them from afar. That is, until a new business moved in next door to ours.

Our new neighbors own a wedding planning and floral service business. Their warehouse is filled with incredible bonsai trees, fantastic smelling roses, baby's breath, corn plants, hanging pathos, and -- you guessed it -- orchids! These people grow the most amazingly large phalaenopsis orchids I have ever seen. Yesterday, when I saw the Valentine's Day display they had prepared, I decided that Ali was going to get me an orchid as a symbol of his affection. Bless his heart, he never questioned me; he just went next door with me while I chose the plant I wanted. It's not quite the showy cattleya that I adore, but I'll settle for a stunning cymbidium for the time being. The blooms look similar to the cattleya, but the plant doesn't require as much hardcore care.

For now, I will enjoy the seven -- yes, count them! -- spikes of blooms on this new plant and learn what demands it will make of me. And when I've learned how to care for this one properly, I'll move on to the grand prize in orchids. I've already got the grand prize in husbands.
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I had no intention of weighing in on the "Octomom" furor that has been raging in the media for the past couple of weeks. Gossip, especially of the celebrity type, doesn't interest me. But something happened yesterday that made me change my mind about having my say.

After collecting the mail from my department office, I waited for the elevator so that I could leave that building and head over to the one where my class is held. As soon as the doors opened on the floor where I was waiting, a cacophony blared into the hallway: "I'm grateful she's not in our department!" and "How are we supposed to deal with the inevitable media blitz that this will bring?" and "What the hell is she thinking?" were the first intelligible comments I heard as I walked in. Without saying anything, I observed my colleagues engaging in a very lively conversation, the topic of which I remained happily clueless for two floors. When we reached the first floor and began to exit the elevator, I learned that the discussion I had heard was about Nadya Suleman, the now infamous "Octomom." Why were my colleagues' knickers in such a twist? Because Ms. Suleman is an alumna of our esteemed institution and plans to return in the Fall 2009 semester to finish the Master's degree in Counseling that she began prior to her last pregnancy!

Celebrity is not unknown at our university. Kevin Costner is, by far, our most famous alum, but he isn't the only well known person with ties to our school. Heck, we've even experienced our county's only serial killer! Students and faculty have been bombarded by the press more than once in the recent past and while it is disruptive when camera crews park themselves in the Quad and news helicopters hover overhead, we've dealt with it just fine. So why the upset that I heard in the elevator?

Nadya Suleman's fifteen minutes of fame and glory will, clearly, take a bit longer to fade away. With her return to our university will come the aggrivation of the media onslaught but even worse, experiencing her story firsthand will, no doubt, bring out the worst in our students and faculty. Reporters will illicit responses to questions about her decision to have eight more children by IVF when she already had six at home; they will want to know our reactions to her being on campus and using the child care center; they will hound the often irresponsible for comments on the irresponsibility of an unmarried and unemployed woman having 14 children. In short, the media will seek our judgment on an individual who seems to have some significant psychological issues. What good can come of that?

Honestly, I am glad that I will retire before the lions and tigers and Nadya overtake our campus.
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It was bound to happen sooner or later. So when it did finally happen this afternoon, why was I so unprepared for it? Why do I feel so embarrassed, ashamed, and humiliated by it?

The inevitable happened in my afternoon class today. I had a seizure. It wasn't bad and didn't last long. The usual coughing fit that lets me know I'm coming out of the seizure was mild by comparison to what usually happens. I didn't drool this time, nor did I freeze up completely during the event. And although this seizure was really not a big deal, I was left feeling absolutely and utterly embarrassed and humiliated by it.

Class was about halfway through when I started feeling the all too familiar tingling sensation and nausea that are my body's way of announcing the onslaught of electrical hyperactivity in my head. Right in the middle of discussing John Stuart Mill's essay, On Liberty, and explaining the influence that Mill's "no harm" clause has had on our own incitement laws, I very calmly announced, mid-sentence, to my class, "Please don't be surprised if I start to drool and stare off into space because I'll be having a seizure in just a few seconds." Because the seizure was mild, I skipped only a couple of beats before regaining my composure and continuing the conversation while the electrical wiring in my head misfired for a few seconds. And when it had finished, I coughed and shook my right hand to rid it of the tingling sensation, and went on as if all were right in my world.

Thankfully, I warn my students at the start of each semester that the possibility of me having a seizure is quite real. But I also let them know that (1) it has never happened on campus before (it hadn't until today) and (2) I have two different auras to warn me a few seconds before the event happens. I explain what happens when I have a seizure, let them know that I will warn them before it happens, and reassure them that they don't need to do anything except wait until they see me shake my hand and cough as that is the signal that the seizure is mostly finished. Thus when I announced the impending seizure this afternoon, they remained cool, calm, and collected. Perhaps it helped that I didn't panic despite my embarrassment.

Having a seizure, no matter how mild, in front of my students is something that I had prayed would never happen. Now that it has, I need only to find a way to deal with the sense of shame that the experience has left behind.
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I've had a song running through my head for a couple of days now. It just kind of emerged from the fog that lives in my head when I haven't had enough sleep. Where I heard the song before, I honestly can't say. Why I remember only the "hallelujah" part, I have no clue. Thank God for YouTube in cases like this one! All I had to do was type in the one word I remembered from the song and like magic, video connections to it filled my screen.

The lyrics are quite fascinating for someone whose career has been built around analyzing words, images, and symbols for deeper meaning. Once I get fully settled into a comfortable rhythm for the semester, I fully intend to play around with them to see what I can come up with.

So, what is this mystery song that has haunted my head? It's Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and I've chosen my favorite performance of it to share with you. Enjoy!

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The last movie I saw in a theater was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Well, technically, I didn't see the movie because I fell asleep within twenty minutes after the film started. Considering that the same thing had happened with the two movies I went to see before Harry Potter, I figured it was best to wait until the movies I wanted to see became available on DVD so that I didn't waste any more money for the privilege of sleeping in a theater. After hearing many positive things about Slumdog Millionaire, I just had to take a chance one more time and convinced Ali to take me to the mall to see it last night. Amazingly, I managed to stay awake through the entire film! Considering my recent sleeping issues, that the movie kept me awake and alert until nearly 10 PM is a true testament to its entertainment value in my book.

Both Ali and I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I find it quite easy to understand why it has either been nominated for or won several awards. The film portrays the darkest side of poverty and a corrupt government while, at the same time, providing a glimpse of the resourcefulness of the impoverished children who populate the slums of India.

Jamal and Selim, "slumdogs" whose mother is killed in a surprise Hindu attack on the Muslims who live in the slum, must find a way to survive as orphans in a society with such a rigid social structure that people are pigeon-holed at every turn. The story is told through a series of flashbacks that explain how Jamal, with very little formal education and a product of the seedier side of life, knows the answers to the difficult questions on India's version of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? game show. At once tragic and comic, Jamal's life experience has provided him with everything he needs to know in order to answer the questions and win the game. But in the process of winning the game, he loses something that is far more important than the millions of rupees in prize money.

This is one film that was definitely worth the $11.50 that we paid for each ticket. Better still, it will be well worth the investment of the DVD when it is released because this movie is one that needs to be seen more than once.
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