I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions, and I'm not going to start now. Instead of resolving to do something that I know will be forgotten in a week or two, I prefer to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past year. George Santayana said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it and while history has proven the truth of his statement, what we learn doesn't always have to be negative; we could also take our lessons from the things that went right. As 2008 joins the annals of history and 2009 is born, here's my top picks for the events with lessons learned for the year.

The Good
1. The times, they really ARE a changin'! The election of Barack Obama is proof positive that we've come a long way since the days when I remember L.A. burning.

2. I can make it through a whole year without a single surgery or hospital stay. That, in and of itself, is cause for celebration!

3. The Ibrahim girls make fantastic traveling companions. Iman, Basma, and I had a wonderful time on our summer road trip to Texas. It was also on this trip that I learned the importance of cruise control. Long story. . .

4. Randy Pausch's last lecture. Because celebrating a life and leaving a positive legacy is a lesson from which we can all benefit.

5. The difficulties that Chiari patients face made headlines with the story of the little boy who didn't sleep for four years.

The Bad
1. The Top 25 Censored Stories for 2008. Lesson to be learned: the press isn't nearly as free as we'd like to think it is!

2. It's more than the economy, stupid. The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression gained attention midway through the year. Unfortunately, this one is a lesson that still needs to be taught. I've got my fingers crossed on this one.

3. $45 billion in damage from the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. The only place in Texas that I can honestly say I enjoy is Galveston, so it was with a great deal of sadness that I watched as Hurricane Ike pummeled the island this summer. Lesson to be learned on this one? If you live anywhere near the hurricane coast, pull up stakes and come to earthquake country! It's so much safer here!

The Ugly
1. We Californians have such an unhealthy fascination with celebrities that we vote them into the State's highest office -- twice! Our esteemed Governator's lack of leadership has made a bad economic situation turn downright u-g-l-y. The Golden State will likely run out of money in February 2009, and the Governator is powerless to fix the problem. The lesson to take away from this mess is a simple one: don't spend money you don't have!

2. Bernard Madoff. Need I say more on this one?

3. My inability to sleep must surely make this list not just because it gives me such a miserable time, but because the luggage hanging around under my eyes is just downright ugly!

Off with the old, and on with the new. Happy new year, everyone!
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"From where you sit, the inside of the White House may look as untidy as the inside of a stomach. As is said of the legislative process, sausage-making and policy-making shouldn't be seen close-up. Don't let that panic you. Things may be going better than they look from the inside." -- Donald Rumsfield

Just when I thought I could relax a little and enjoy what's left of the break between the fall and spring semesters, I received a bombshell in my email box yesterday afternoon. And it wasn't just any old bombshell, either -- it was the bombshell, the one big enough to cause me to reach for the panic button.

Due to a combination of low enrollment (more than likely caused by the declaration of impaction from the CSU chancellor in response to the fiscal crisis) and further budget cuts, my teaching load for the spring semester has been reduced from 3 classes and an independent study to 1 class and an independent study. Don't get me wrong, please-- I am grateful that I still have a job for one more semester, I really am. What has me reaching for the panic button is the fact that my greatest fear is now a reality: I will soon lose my health care coverage.

A California Carol nicely sums up the situation.
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During the night, when I can't sleep, the portable DVD player that sits on my dresser surrounded by piles of DVD cases, is my bestest friend in the whole wide world. I bought it to help keep me entertained during my recovery from brain surgery. As it turns out, I didn't really need it then; however, I make regular use of it now.

Although documentaries typically occupy the hours when I am awake and the rest of my household is asleep, I've recently discovered the joy of boxed set television shows. I don't watch much television, except for American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, so when several students in one of this semester's classes kept recommending that I watch Lost straight through from the first to the fourth seasons, I politely declined. My sister and I had watched the first three episodes of Lost when the show premiered, but it just wasn't interesting to either of us. What possessed me to give in to their advice escapes my memory, but give in I did. Thus was born my current affection for watching TV shows, season by season, from DVDs.

Now that I am current with Lost and awaiting its fifth season premier on January 21, I am now watching Boston Legal. Ali and I both enjoyed The Practice when it was on, so it was nice to see familiar characters on Boston Legal. But there's something else about the show that touches me, and that is the character of Denny Crane. One of the first season episodes reveals that Denny has signs of the early stages of Alzheimer's, an issue that he struggles with from that point forward. Despite Denny's otherwise atrocious behavior, his very human response to the degenerative nature of Alzheimer's is something that I know; it is part of my everyday life.

Between the Chiari and the seizures, I find myself struggling to pull from the recesses of my mind things that I know but can't locate as easily as I used to. Simple words and ideas lurk in the caves and shadows of my mind in Grendelesque fashion, slinking out and retreating at will, as if to show me who is boss. Because I have an incredibly high pain threshold, dealing with the physical pain that comes with Chiari hasn't presented me with nearly the crushing feeling of defeat that the inability to recall words at will has done. This, for me, is the most frustrating aspect of having a degenerative neurological condition.
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I'm in the mood for fun. Well, actually, I'm dead tired (last night was one of the more sleepless nights I've had in a very long time) and can't wrap my head around the grading that sits on my desk and whispers my name every few minutes. So in an attempt to ignore that get-off-your-butt-and-start-grading sound, I found a fun meme to do. Without further ado, here's a list of my favorite movies, one for each letter of the alphabet, from A to Z.

American History X
Cold Mountain
Driving Miss Daisy
Elephant Man (The)
Fried Green Tomatoes
Green Mile (The)
Kill a Mockingbird (To)
Lawrence of Arabia
My Fair lady
Notebook (The)
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
Raise the Red Lantern
South Pacific
Three Lives of Thomasina (The)
Uncommon Valor
V for Vendetta
Walk to Remember (A)
You've Got Mail
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A few days ago, the esteemed (*ahem*) governor of the Golden State, in defense of his proposed solutions to California's budget crisis, sent a letter to state employees (like me) to explain that the "emergency steps" he seeks to put into place "will require sacrifice from everyone." I am of the belief that it is better to be forced to take two unpaid days off each month and keep one's benefits than it is to join the increasing unemployment rolls and if this were an option for me, I wouldn't complain too much about it. I could deal with the loss of two days pay each month as long as I didn't lose my health care benefits. Unfortunately, the "sacrifice" that the Governator is asking of me, and others in the same situation who teach in the CSU system, is to take a much more significant cut in pay due to budget cuts that have forced campuses to cancel classes plus risk losing our health care benefits.

I need to teach at least two classes (6 units) per semester to maintain my health care benefits. While several family members suggested that I avail myself of the opportunity to go on disability, I prefer to teach as long as I can. In order to teach and keep my health insurance, I requested a reduced load from my department chair following the Chiari diagnosis and subsequent decompression surgery in 2006. A reduction in my teaching load would mean a reduction of stress, which in turn would reduce the likelihood of headaches and seizures and allow me to continue teaching. This plan worked well for me and my department until this fall semester when my load was reduced from two classes to just one due to budget cuts. Had it not been for the fact that I was able to pick up another class in a different department, I would have lost my health care benefits in August.

Anyone with a pre-existing condition will understand the panic I felt at the thought of losing my health care. At this point, I am uninsurable thanks to the myriad pre-existing conditions precipitated by the Chiari and Epilepsy. Without health insurance, there is no way in hell that Ali and I could afford to cover my medical expenses out of pocket. And if I were to go the disability route, Ali, who also has issues that require long-term care and medication, would be in the same boat as I -- no coverage and uninsurable on private plans. Knowing this, I contacted HR to check out my options. What I learned is that my twelve years of service (eleven of which included 9-15 units per semester) when combined with my 50th birthday this coming May makes me eligible for an early retirement WITH all my benefits! Although I truly do not want to retire so early, I see no other viable options that will guarantee I keep health insurance. And so, I plan to end my teaching career at the conclusion of the Spring 2009 semester.

So Mr. Governator, please don't ask me to make any more sacrifices. Don't red-line the CSU budget any further than you already have for in doing so, you place my very health at risk. If I am unable to keep two classes for the upcoming semester, I will lose my health care benefits, and even retirement won't protect me; in order to retire with benefits, I must be on the insurance plan at the time of retirement!
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For those who celebrate it, I wish you a joyous Christmas day filled with plenty of memory-making moments!
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For those times when you just can't sleep! I should be pretty darn good at this one by now, LOL!
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On days when my other half gets on my nerves, I often joke that husbands ought to be illegal. In spite of the joke expressed out of frustration, I have to admit that for the honor of being married to Ali, I would willingly break my own law.

Anyone who knows him can attest to the fact that it would be extremely difficult to find another person anywhere near as kind or compassionate as the man with whom I've spent the last 28 years. Others describe him, in the Arabic vernacular, as having a "white heart," meaning that he always sees the best in everyone and every situation. His Pollyannaesque optimism is more than just an attitude; for Ali, optimism is a value that informs his every decision. Let me give you a recent example of what I mean.

Our business is located in an industrial area of the city, near railroad tracks, a train station, and a small airport. In the alleys that link the buildings in this industrial complex, we often see homeless people. Some of them come to check the dumpsters that dot the driveways, a few move methodically from business to business asking to work for the day, and others come seeking food or money. Ever compassionate, Ali will feed anyone who asks. And while he prepares a plate for an unexpected guest, the equally gregarious Ali engages him in conversation. He talks, laughs, and jokes, but most importantly, Ali treats these unknown people with dignity. In short, although the guest may smell bad, may be wearing filthy clothing, and/or may have a problem with addiction or a mental illness, Ali never forgets that he is first and foremost a human being deserving of compassion and respectful treatment. Let's just say that my husband's kindness has made him quite popular among the disenfranchised residents of our business neighborhood.

A couple of weeks ago, a cargo container of our products arrived from Egypt. With the only employee we had gone on to the greener pastures of the construction industry, I expressed to Ali my growing concern that we wouldn't be able to unload the container ourselves even if we got help from the brother-in-law and son-in-law-to-be. Mr. Cockeyed Optimist had no -- zero, zilch -- worries about it and advised me to think Hakuna Matata. The following day, one of Ali's grateful guests paid him a visit. About a year ago, Ali had given this man some work to do, paid him for the help, and fed him for a few days. Eddie was in a bad way and had come looking for a day's work. He couldn't have come at a better time because we had more than one day's work for him! Eddie brought a friend who also needed work and with the extra hands, the container was emptied just in the nick of time because a rain storm was heading our way.

The weather in Southern California has been uncharacteristically cold and rainy for the last ten or so days. Now, I know that other states have much lower temperatures than we do; however, when one is used to a winter temperature that rarely drops below the 60 degrees mark, a nighttime temp of 48 or below is just plain C-shiver-O-shiver-L-shiver-D! If these temperatures seem cold to me, someone who has a heated office in which to work and a temperature controlled home in which to sleep, imagine how uncomfortable it must be to homeless people like Eddie! He dropped by the business four days ago to tell Ali that someone had beaten him up and stolen his blanket the night before. I can't say for sure, but I think that he was hoping Ali might have some work for him to do so that he would have the money to get another blanket. At any rate, Ali offered the use of his empty van to Eddie and his friend (I can't remember the other guy's name--bad, bad me!) so that they could escape the rain. Because Ali had done the same thing for a homeless couple last winter, the van was already prepared with warm sleeping bags and pillows for its next guests. And so Eddie and friend have been able to stay dry, a little bit warmer, and lots more secure for the past few days.

Although he does get on my nerves every now and then, my husband is one AWESOME dude! He is a living, breathing example of one of my favorite sayings from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

"He is not a true believer who does not want for his brother what he wants for himself."

**Note: Just in case you're wondering, the photo at the top of this post was taken in one of our warehouses and shows the alley to which I refer. Ali is the guy in the back row on the left.
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When I first began this blog, it was with the intention of distracting myself from the everyday frustrations of dealing with headaches, sleeplessness, seizures, nausea, etc.; I hoped to focus on anything and everything except those issues. But with a life neatly knotted up with the strings of ACM and Epilepsy, I should have known better. I should have realized that the reality of my life is that some days are fine and others are just plain bad. So bad that it's hard to think of anything else. These past few days have been like that.

Between trying to stay awake and holding back the contents of my stomach in the wake of clusters of seizures, I'm tired. I'm tired of being the cause of my family's worry; I'm tired of trying to explain why I can't control my sleeping habits; I'm tired of the nausea and tingling and dazedness that comes along with the seizures; I'm tired of being tired.

I'm just tired. . .
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The Sandman Saga continues. Maybe because I've been too busy to nap in the afternoon, the past four days for me have come to a complete stop around 7 PM. Try as I might, I have not been able to stay awake much past that point, although I did manage to fight valiantly until 8:11 last night. Even though I'm falling asleep earlier, I still don't sleep through the night; the first wakeful episode happens between 10 and 11, back to sleep about an hour later, then up for the day around 2.

Tonight is the Sarah Brightman concert that we've been anticipating for three months. Unfortunately for me, the concert starts after my newly designated bedtime! Honestly, if I fall asleep after having paid so doggone much for these tickets, I'll be totally pissed at myself. It doesn't help my situation any that my body just shuts down when it decides it's time to sleep; I have absolutely no control over it.

Final exams are over -- wOOt -- and now begins the task of grading one last essay and an exam from each of my students. This part of the semester is the one I dread the most; I'm not a fan of using grades as a measurement of knowledge or improvement and, as a result, constantly struggle with assigning final grades using a points-based system. That students care more about a final grade than the learning process only contributes to the torture. At what point did the letter on a grade report become so much more important than gaining knowledge?

It's just after 4 AM, and I'm going to try placing a call to Mr. Sandman. Wish me luck!
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Narcolepsy: "Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. At various times throughout the day, people with narcolepsy experience fleeting urges to sleep. If the urge becomes overwhelming, individuals will fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes." (Narcolepsy Information Page)

Lately I've been thinking a lot about narcolepsy. My daughter halfheartedly jokes that she is convinced I have it. To illustrate her point (she is, after all, the daughter of an English professor!), she retells the story about me falling asleep while standing up and waiting for a flight in the Houston Hobby Airport. That's not the only example she has, it just happens to be her favorite.

I can, and do, fall asleep anywhere, any time. While it has been really convenient to blame it on the fact that I don't sleep well at night or that the after effects of a seizure cause it, I'm starting to think that the problem goes deeper than that. Maybe because I don't want to add another "-epsy" or "-ism" to my repertoire, I have never discussed this seriously with my neurologist. Oh, I've joked about it and even told her about the time I got up in the middle of the night, put the tea kettle on, and sat down at the computer to do some work only to awaken several minutes later to the smell of something burning. Thinking that I had let all the water boil out of the tea kettle, I rushed to the kitchen and discovered that I had actually put the electric can opener on the burner instead of the tea kettle and that it was on fire. Now I don't put the tea kettle on until I have been out of bed for at least fifteen minutes.

I've fallen asleep in class while students took exams, in the middle of a conversation, and with my head resting on the laptop keyboard when I thought I was working. I fall asleep in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Basically, when the need for sleep makes itself known, my body gives in regardless of where I am, what I am doing, or the time of day.

These sleep attacks are not the same as a nap. With a nap, I am in control; I make a conscious decision to lie down and sleep. The sleep attacks, however, happen without any prior planning or decision making on my part; they just happen. The episodes typically last less than ten minutes and when I wake up, I don't feel refreshed like I do after a nap. In fact, I usually feel more sleepy and have to consciously fight against falling asleep. It's very strange, really!

Maybe it's time to make an appointment with the neurologist. It would be nice to get an explanation of how I could fall asleep in the emergency room yesterday while my husband was hooked up to all kinds of machinery to rule out a heart attack!
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The atmospheric disturbances are really doing a number on my head! I swear that whatever is going on with the weather is having an adverse effect on my epilepsy because I keep having seizures when I shouldn't. The seizures themselves aren't so bad, it's that each one requires me to sleep afterward. Getting anything done at times when seizures come in clusters is virtually impossible. My brain doesn't really wake up, while my body is naturally drawn to a comfortable place to crash for a couple of hours. Thankfully, I don't have to return to school until Wednesday when I give the first of two final exams for the semester. The second exam is on Thursday.

Our storm finally arrived last night. As usual, I was up and down all night and that meant that I was able to see it come in and watch it drop all its wet glory on us. The rain that began last night hasn't subsided yet, and there's not a single patch of blue in the sky anywhere. The temperature is hovering around 47 degrees which, for Southern California, is pretty cold. The winds that arrived ahead of the rain have moved on to greener pastures, so that's one less weather related issue to deal with.

It will be frantic at the business today, as all outstanding orders have to be shipped today in order to be delivered in time for Christmas. That puts a lot of pressure on everyone, but we'll muddle through it just like we do every year.
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You Are a Purple Crayon

Your world is colored in dreamy, divine, and classy colors.

You hold yourself to a sky high standard, and you are always graceful.

People envy, idolize, and copy you without realizing it. You are an icon for those who know you.

And while it is hard to be a perfectionist, rest assured it's paying off!

Your color wheel opposite is yellow. While yellow people may be wise, they lack the manners and class needed to impress you.

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I see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

Don't go around tonight,
Well it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

I hear hurricanes a blowin',
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers overflowin'.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

Don't go around tonight,
Well it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

Don't go around tonight,
Well it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

We've got a strong winter storm heading our way. According to the latest weather reports, it should hit today and last until Wednesday. When this bad moon rises, it will bring with it wind, rain, and cold. Oh, I'm not complaining -- I love the rain! Besides, we need all the precipitation we can get to help ease the drought. But, as much as I enjoy the rain, it couldn't be coming at a worse time!

Getting laundry done since I've been sick has been really, really low on my list of priorities; we're running out of clothes and towels, so I had planned to spend this weekend catching up. Problem? The washer and dryer are outside, and the laundry area has been under construction for months. The majority of the roof has been removed and since Ali hasn't had time to replace it yet, the front portion of the washer and dryer will be exposed to the rain. What that means for me is a total drenching with each load. I think not!

Maybe the impending bad weather is stirring up electrical activity in the atmosphere that is causing increased electric activity in my brain, because yesterday I had a particularly nasty seizure. They don't usually knock me down, in a literal sense, but this one did. Thankfully, I landed on a rug and not the tile floor and didn't hit anything on the way down. I didn't faint; it was more like a drop attack accompanied by a seizure. It took quite a while for it to end and for me to clear the cobwebs out of my head; however, it did give me a chance to catch up on some much needed sleep, LOL!

I'm ready for the bad moon and all that it brings. I just hope that I'm inside when all hell breaks loose. . .
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I seem to be missing the boat quite a bit lately. Maybe it's happening because I've been so caught up in not feeling well; I can't say for sure. But really important things, things that I would normally remember -- like the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, are slipping past me unnoticed. And so it has gone with the end of the semester.

Yesterday while chatting with my students, as if struck by some divine bolt of lightning, I realized that this is the last week of classes! I've had such a great time with the upper division students, and some of the freshmen, that time seems to have literally flown by without me ever noticing it. Not a semester goes by that I don't have a handful of impressive students, but I got exceptionally lucky this time around with my upper division group.

From the first class meeting, they have been responsive, enthusiastic, engaged, and lots of fun. Although not too sure about blogging at the start of the semester, they embraced it and provided me with plenty of interesting reading material as the weeks passed. A few of them will likely keep their blogs active beyond our class which thrills me no end, as it's a great way to keep in touch with them. Several past students are now friends, and a couple are even colleagues -- one even teaches at the same university where she was my student the first semester that I taught!

I'll miss this semester's bunch of students. But once the winter break has ended and the Spring semester commences, I'm sure that I'll find another great group with whom I'll share the last semester of my teaching career.
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Yesterday was interesting, but today promises to be even more so.

The who-knows-what-it-really-is seems to have settled in my chest and sinuses. If I'm not covering my mouth due to a cough, I am rubbing the areas above and below my right eye in an attempt to alleviate the pressure that has built up in my head. Although I still don't have very much of a voice, I am beginning to feel more like a human being -- well at least for now, at 2:15 am! We'll see how well I am doing once I get to class and student presentations start. . .

Wedding and apartment preparations are moving ahead full steam. Iman chose her wedding dress, so we went to check it out at David's Bridal. The photo to the left is the dress she chose, but instead of a burgundy colored sash, Iman's is champagne colored. I can't believe how hard it is to find a pretty and modest wedding gown these days! As I looked through the gowns on the racks, it struck me that not only did very few of them have even short sleeves, but that there was only one gown that had the tradtional long, lacy sleeves! Then, as I was looking for a photo of the dress that Iman chose, I happened upon a site for LDS brides that features modest, but gorgeous, wedding gowns! Now I have to share it with all the up and coming Muslim brides who want a fashionable gown that leaves something to the imagination. If only we'd found this site before Iman got her dress!

While Iman, Basma, and I were at the bridal shop, Ali went to help Magdy paint their apartment. Since they both love the color in our bathroom (ironically, the same color of the sash in the wedding dress above, LOL!), they decided to do one wall in their bedroom in the same shade; Iman chose a gorgeous bedding set that coordinates to the color quite well. There was a little more than half a gallon of paint left from our job, so I gave it to them to use. Ali said it turned out to be just the right amount for their wall. The invitations have been printed, assembled, and addressed, so they are ready to go out in the mail today. Basma had a really good time helping Iman tackle that job while I languished in misery on the couch.

Ali and the guys managed to get the container unloaded in record time after it was delivered on Wednesday night. In fact, they get everything out by Thursday evening so that it could be picked up on Friday afternoon! I don't think we've ever cleaned out a 40-foot container that fast before. Because I haven't felt well, I still haven't sifted through the myriad boxes to see what we have this time; however, there's time for that later on today.

It didn't dawn on me until I woke up a couple of hours ago that yesterday was the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although it has always been a historical event to me -- my parents were only two years old when it happened -- it is sad to realize how very few survivors remain to tell the story.

I suppose that I should try to get a little more sleep before my day begins in earnest. My students will probably be expecting me to stay away for their presentations!
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"If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep."
--Dale Carnegie

Except for the fact that I'm not worried about anything, I'd probably agree with Mr. Carnegie. It's currently 2:48 am, and I've been awake doing "something" for more than two hours. Unfortunately for me, that "something" is not sawing logs!

I can't remember the last time I actually slept through the night. Ali says I sleep like a cat, napping for an hour as necessary and going about my business between resting periods. Feline fan though I am, sleeping like my cats is not something I do by choice.

Using the wee hours of the morning productively has never been a problem for me. It's the perfect time to watch a documentary or two or three. I'm currently playing PBS's American Experience episode called Nixon. If I can't sleep, why not learn something?

Oh, how I long to find the "sleep that knits the ravelled sleeve of care" (Shakespeare, Macbeth)! But until I do, I will continue to be thankful for portable DVD players and my collection of documentaries.
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"If you want to learn how to sing," said Vincente Minnelli, "listen to Ella Fitzgerald."

My mom was a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, so I grew up hearing her music. What I didn't realize until just a couple of days ago, is that by the time I heard her sing in the late '60s, she had already been delighting audiences for close to thirty years! The Ella Fitzgerald that my mother introduced me to was already an "old" lady in my mind; heck, she was older than my grandparents! Needless to say, I didn't give her nearly as much credence as my mother did. But that was then.

Keeping an optimistic outlook, I like to think that one of the benefits of having Chiari is that the pain often confines me to bed and gives me time to expand my already oversized brain. And when that happens, I turn to my vast collection of documentaries for entertainment. The body of Ken Burns' filmography forms the backbone of my collection, and no matter how many times I watch one of his pieces, I never get tired of it. When the coughing from this doggone cold incapcitated me, it seemed natural that I would watch, again, one of Burns' longer works. This time, I chose Jazz. How glad I am that I did because it reintroduced me to the glorious voice of Ella Fitzgerald and enabled me to finally appreciate why my mother had admired her so much.

I now count The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books among the playlists on my iTunes. If you're not familiar with Ms. Fitzgerald's voice, I recommend that you click on the link and listen to any of these songs:
  • "Begin the Beguine"
  • "A Ship Without a Sail"
  • "Isn't It Romantic?"
  • "Take the 'A' Train"
  • "Mood Indigo"
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"You're not eating anything," said Marilla sharply, eying her as if it were a serious shortcoming. Anne sighed.

"I can't. I'm in the depths of despair. Can you eat when you are in the depths of despair?"

"I've never been in the depths of despair, so I can't say," responded Marilla.

"Weren't you? Well, did you ever try to IMAGINE you were in the depths of despair?"

"No, I didn't."

"Then I don't think you can understand what it's like. It's very uncomfortable feeling indeed. When you try to eat a lump comes right up in your throat and you can't swallow anything, not even if it was a chocolate caramel. I had one chocolate caramel once two years ago and it was simply delicious. I've often dreamed since then that I had a lot of chocolate caramels, but I always wake up just when I'm going to eat them. I do hope you won't be offended because I can't eat. Everything is extremely nice, but still I cannot eat."

Quoted from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Ever since I was a kid and my mom gave the first Anne of Green Gables book to me to read, I've loved the feisty red-headed orphan and the Cuthbert siblings, Matthew and Marilla, who care for her. Anne has been a kindred spirit of mine for ages and for the past several days, the episode quoted above has haunted my memory.

Like Anne, I know what it means to wallow in the depths of despair. I don't allow it to happen very often simply because it's a nasty place to be, but every now and then, circumstances will work so visciously against me that the depths of despair move from the fictional to the real world. That's where I am now.

The constant coughing has triggered more headaches than I could possibly count. As if I already don't have a hard time sleeping, the coughing and headaches are making it even more difficult to sleep. How pathetic is it that I took an extra dose of prescription cough syrup just so that I might be able to sleep without disruption for a couple of hours? Or to wake up just about every hour with a headache so painful that breathing is difficult?

I really don't want to languish in this place very long, but it's becoming harder to escape from it. Despair and self-pity don't suit me very well because they are shackles that strip me of the freedom to remember how blessed I am that my situation isn't worse like it could be.

So for now, I will play Scarlett O'Hara and sign off with, "Tomorrow is another day!"
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Sometimes I think that if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Where's Rodney Dangerfield when you really need him?

I was supposed to have surgery last Tuesday morning to remove the right half of my thyroid because it has a growth on it. But over the weekend, the Chiari decided to give me some serious grief and sent me to Urgent Care for a check-up. Last Monday morning, my surgeon called to ask if I had an infection anywhere because my white blood count (WBC) was elevated from the 8-9,000 norm to 16,000. I felt fine and had no clue where an infection could be.

Add insult to injury here. While my WBC is elevated, the Pheonytin (Dilantin) level, which is always lower than it should be anyway, is at 1.2 instead of the lowly 14 that it normally is. Of course that means a greater risk for seizures. Dr. Oz asked if I would be okay with having the surgery performed under a local instead of a general anesthesia, and I said that I would. Makes no difference to me to be honest. With that settled, I was instructed to show up at the hospital between 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning, prepared to get my blood drawn and tested again. Sounded fair to me, so I agreed.

Not two hours after speaking with the surgeon, I got a call from the surgery scheduling staff who told me that although I was scheduled for the morning, I may not have surgery at all if the WBC is still elevated. Not wanting to hang around the hospital all day only to be told that I still had an infection, I asked to do the blood work right away. After all, how much could change between late afternoon on Monday and early morning Tuesday? Turns out that was a smart move on my part -- the second blood test showed that the WBC was still elevated to a level with which the surgeon was uncomfortable. So no surgery for me until we can figure out where the infection is.

On Thursday morning, as I am doing the Thanksgiving cooking, I start to feel the signs of a cold. By the afternoon, it was obvious that a cold was what had elevated the WBC. I felt terrible and ended up not eating or enjoying the Thanksgiving dinner I had cooked. Totally sucks!

Colds and Chiari simply don't get along well together. Sneezing and coughing trigger some of the nastiest headaches a person could ever get and because all the gunk was tightly packed in my chest, I was coughing like mad with no results. Add to this a seriously stuffy and running nose that led to sneezing, and I was doomed to live in the land of the headaches for a while. To make matters worse, colds are caused by viruses and do not respond to antibiotics. This means that I had to fight it on my own.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon that I realized nothing was improving and that I should probably seek medical attention. Four prescriptions and a handful of diagnoses later, none of which mentioned a cold, I am left dealing with the residuals of the dreaded Chiari Cough.

I'm not one to sit on the pity pot over Chiari, but this past week has really tested my patience and ability to deal with it effectively. I think I need some toilet paper because this pot is becoming quite comfortable.
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"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Although I have never been one to worry about the economy, mostly because I understand that the ups and downs of it all are perpetually cyclical, there is something about the current fiscal crisis that makes me quite concerned. And in trying to connect the dots and trace the pattern to its genesis, I keep coming to the same place -- the average American citizen. We Americans have become so accustomed to living high on the hog, as my southern family members would say, that we have forgotten how quickly the tides of good fortune can turn. As a result, most of us fail to distinguish between a want and a need, don't save for the proverbial rainy day, spend more than we can afford, use credit cards instead of cash, and seek scapegoats for our own gluttony and greed.

Ali and I have operated on a "cash and carry" system, both in our personal and business lives, for nearly three decades. Our rule of thumb is that if we can't pay for something when we want it, we can continue to get by without it until we can pay for it. In our early married life, this often meant eating macaroni for days on end while we saved for whatever it was that was ready to go out (like the refrigerator) or that we felt we really needed to have (like a new computer), but we got through none the worse for wear. In fact, I'd say that it made me appreciate the things that I do have all the more as a result.

I see credit card merchants on our campus all the time, plying their cards to the college kids. Most of the students are too inexperienced to realize the trap that they are getting themselves into and before they know it, they find themselves trapped in the never-ending web of credit debt. More often than not, credit and credit cards enable and even encourage people to live beyond their means. Sadly, when the economy takes a downturn, the people entrapped in the credit web feel the pinch first. And even more sad, it is these people who are most likely to join the ranks of the unemployed when companies begin laying off workers. It creates a seemingly never-ending downward spiral of misery.

I've often wondered how people in my generation and those that came after would manage if the country ever experienced another Great Depression. Ali and I would fare better than just about everyone we know simply because we've made it a point not to get ourselves caught in the credit web. With the exception of another 4 years on our mortgage, we owe nothing. We have two warehouses of products that were paid for long before they arrived from Egypt. Our customers know that they get no products unless they come with cash in hand to pay for them. We don't use credit and we don't extend it.

With all the recent economic doom and gloom, I can't help but feel sorry for anyone who has been trapped and lost their job. I can only imagine how frightening and frustrating it must be; however, I have to say that this is definitely one time when I can honestly say that I am grateful not to have to truly understand that kind of misery.

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One of the tools of intimidation used against those who were sitting on the fence during the election was the charge that President Elect Obama is really a Muslim in Christian clothing. The Muslims of the world knew better, but the Neo-Con pundits and their audiences refused to listen. This morning's news, however, proves us right.

Al-Qaeda Issue Obama Threat

From the tape that Zawahiri released to the public: "It appears that you don’t know anything about the Muslim Ummah (community) and its history, and the fate of the traitors who co-operated with the invaders against it, and don’t know anything about the history of Afghanistan and its free and defiant Muslim people."

I told you so!
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Back row: Carleen, Ali, Bill (Carleen's dad & Iman's grandfather), Carmen (Carleen's stepmom & Iman's grandma)
Front row: Iman, Magdy

It's official
-- Magdy Salama and Iman Ibrahim are now engaged! Actually, the engagement party was on Saturday, November 15, but I haven't had time to post any photos until now. Sorry about that!

The wedding date had been set for March 28, 2009; however, as of yesterday, they may decide to move it up to sometime in December. We'll just have to wait and see. . .
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Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I have ACM I (Arnold Chiari Malformation I). Because it is such an unusual condition, within hours of getting the diagnosis, I scoured the internet looking for information and support groups to help me understand it better. That is when I discovered WACMA, the World Arnold Chiari Malformation Association, and its founder, Chip Vierow. WACMA's website turned out to be a treasure trove of information for the newly diagnosed like me. It was from the WACMA page that I found the support group to which I currently belong. And it was from Chip's website that I learned my decompression surgery qualified me for the nickname of Zipperhead.

Chip's website has been bookmarked on all of my computers for two years now. It is the link I send to people who want to know more about the condition. It is where I go when I need additional information about a symptom or research. Although I didn't really know Chip, his story and generosity in sharing what he knew about ACM I have helped me during my journey on the Zipperhead Road.

A few days ago, while searching for some additional information about a symptom, I was shocked to find a Google result for a discussion board on which had been posted an announcement that Chip had died. In addition to ACM I, Chip suffered from a liver ailment for which he was awaiting a transplant. He had a live donor in his best friend, but before the transplant could be done, Chip passed away.

It seems strange to mourn for someone you didn't really know, someone whom you have never met. But Chip's concern and compassion for his fellow Zipperheads was amazing. He will be sorely missed.
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Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Twenty years ago, Ali and I joined Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and got to see, from the bottom rung of the ladder, the political machinery that runs our country when we participated in the selection of delegates to represent the Democratic party in the presidential election. It was an exciting time for both of us, albeit for very different reasons. For Ali, the 1988 election marked his entry into citizenship and the empowerment that the right to vote for the first time gives us all. For me, though, the election called to mind the more turbulent times of my childhood when young people across the country stood up to the political machinery and demanded that they, too, be counted.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Much like the election of 1960 and the Democratic Convention of 1968 must have done for those who were old enough to participate (I was not), the 1988 election cycle offered me hope for greater things. It also provided me with a greater understanding of how utterly powerful the wall of ignorance in America had remained beyond the Civil Rights Movement. I learned that although the times had changed considerably, they hadn't metamorphosed quite enough to allow a black man to realistically aspire to the highest political office in the land. But the most important lesson of 1988 for me was that hope would really die only if we allowed it to happen.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

For twenty years, I've hung onto the hope that America would change enough to build a true coalition that realistically represents what this country is all about. There have been times when I wondered if we would ever cross the bridge spanning the gap between ignorance and inclusion, but I have always held onto the hope that someday we would and that someday would happen during my lifetime. Yesterday, my hope was realized.

We've still got a way to go before we can say that we have crossed the bridge of ignorance and reached the promised land of inclusion, but at least we are on it and moving steadily forward! Bobby Kennedy said it best:

"The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason, and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American society. Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny."

So to those who are unhappy with the results of the 2008 election, I reiterate

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road
Is rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
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"We're in the middle of a serious financial crisis. Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic. Ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession." -- G.W. Bush

"The fundamentals of our economy are strong." -- John McCain

"The top of our economy is broken." -- John McCain

"This turmoil is a major threat to our economy and its ability to create good-paying jobs and help working Americans pay their bills, save for their future, and make their mortgage payments." -- Barack Obama

With the current economic situation heading further down the fast track to disaster with each passing day, is it any wonder that I'm feeling the need to change my name to Chicken Little?
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Last night we had a dinner party with friends and in-laws at my house. After everyone had finished eating, four of us ladies went outside to look for ripe guavas that might be hiding on the tree in the front yard. Because we got caught up in conversation, we stayed outside long enough that everyone else began to wonder where we had gone. So in search of the missing guava party, my niece, Basma, came out to look for us. Just as she opened the front door, she saw something underneath my car and went to inspect it. The something turned out to be a very tiny kitten, no more than 4 weeks old!

How such a small kitten ended up in my driveway and under my car, we couldn't figure out. Thinking that there might be other tiny kittens wandering around in my yard, we grabbed flashlights and looked for them or at least a mother cat that was missing one of her babies. No luck -- we couldn't find anything. No other cats around anywhere.

This isn't the first time that kittens have "mysteriously" shown up in my yard, though, and when I brought the tiny bundle into the house, Ali reminded me that I run the "cat welfare society of Orange County." My big cats, all four of them, were completely freaked by the unexpected dinner guest, so we put her in Iman's room for the time being.

Looks like I now have five cats. Meet Camry, the kitten who came for dinner last night!
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". . .the dangers incident to a representative democracy are of two kinds: danger of a low grade of intelligence in the representative body, and in the popular opinion which controls it. . ." --John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
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