Computers, and all the wonderful things they do, have been an integral part of my life since Ali brought home our first PC way back in 1985. He was learning programming and was quite comfortable with the clunky box and funky-looking TV screen that he placed on our dining room table, but I had no clue how it worked, what to do with it, or why I should learn anything about it. Thanks to Ali's excellent teaching skills, I learned how to use the computer, some basic programming skills, and could soon do things with the machine that Ali knew nothing about.

The computer has become a part of my everyday life and integral to my job. But as comfortable as I am with the more creative aspects of computing, I must confess to being an absolute imbecile when it comes to using it for functional things like calculating grades. I have very little knowledge of Excel and if it weren't for Ali's niece, who set up a gradebook for me, I would still be calculating grades by hand. Entering names, scores, and assignments into a pre-designed form is easy; creating that form is another story altogether. And here is where I find myself in a dilemma.

I need a new gradebook and can't figure out how to set it up! Hours of googling "grading spreadsheet template excel" have not yielded the desired results, so I'm left with the daunting task of designing my own gradebook. Even more hours spent staring at a blank workbook has done nothing more than convinced me even further that I am doomed to return to grading by hand.

No, no, no -- I will not give in so easily! I can conquer Excel, I'm sure of it. Well, almost. A little bit. We'll see.
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We Will Not Go Down (Song for Gaza)
Composed by Michael Heart

A blinding flash of white light
Lit up the sky over Gaza tonight
People running for cover
Not knowing whether they're dead or alive

They came with their tanks and their planes
With ravaging fiery flames
And nothing remains
Just a voice rising up in the smoky haze

We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools
But our spirit will never die
We will not go down
In Gaza tonight

Women and children alike
Murdered and massacred night after night
While the so-called leaders of countries afar
Debated on who's wrong or right

But their powerless words were in vain
And the bombs fell down like acid rain
But through the tears and the blood and the pain
You can still hear that voice through the smoky haze

We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools
But our spirit will never die
We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
We will not go down
In Gaza tonight
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I'm pleased to report that I successfully completed the first week of the Spring 2009 semester without any major issues -- yeah me!

My schedule is completely screwed up this semester. For the past four years, I've had a consistent schedule of Monday and Wednesday morning classes on the main campus. For someone who wakes up as early as I do, this has been an ideal situation for me. This time around, however, I am teaching one class on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and one on Thursday nights. In addition to the days and times being off, one class is on the main campus and the other on our satellite campus in a city approximately 15 miles away. Under normal circumstances, fifteen miles is not a terribly long commuting distance; but when the class begins at 7 o'clock and the commute involves traveling down one of the most congested Southern California freeways at peak traffic time, a commute which ought to take 15-20 minutes becomes a stressful trek of, at the very least, double that time.

It has been at least five years since I taught a night class and equally as long since I taught a class on the satellite campus. Driving such a distance at night is not an option for me thanks to the Chiari induced problems with depth perception and night blindness, so Ali is once again playing the role of chauffeur. I think he likes the idea of napping peacefully in the car while I'm in class!

The two classes are as different as, pardon the pun, day and night. The afternoon class is quite small (16 students), while the night class has nearly met its cap of 45. If our state budget weren't such a mess and dozens of classes hadn't been canceled as a result, the enrollment of the night class would never have been raised from the standard enrollment of 25. But it is what it is at this point, and I will deal with the situation as best I can.

Both classes have, based on first impressions only, some really great students who are actively engaged in the learning process. This alone will make for a truly enjoyable semester.

And so it goes. . .
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The last time I posted, I expressed my concern about sleep deprivation. I saw the neurologist on Tuesday, and she confirmed my suspicions. The overwhelming majority of my current misery, including the breakthrough seizures and headaches, is coming from a lack of sleep. Easy problem to solve, right? Just add sleeping meds to my list of prescriptions and all will be right in my world. Not so!

I won't willingly take medications that impede my ability to think clearly. Heck, Ibuprofen is the strongest pain med I feel comfortable taking. Even after 8 major surgeries, I never used pain medication. It's not because I want to suffer unnecessarily or to prove my strength that I refuse pain medications, I just don't like the way they make me feel. An allergic reaction to codeine in my early twenties was enough to convince me that conscious-altering drugs were not the way to go, and it's been that way ever since.

So, how to tackle the problem of not sleeping through the night without using a sleeping potion? Dr. S suggested 25mg of Benadryl at bedtime. You'd think that because I don't take medications that can cause drowsiness, it shouldn't take very much to knock me out since my body isn't used to them. No such luck! Thus far, 25mg doesn't do the trick, so I need to up the ante to 50mg. If the 50mg dosage doesn't work, then we'll try Elavil. We'll see what happens. . .
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I remember watching Sybil, starring Sally Field, way back when I was in high school in the 70s. Sybil, the victim of physical and sexual abuse as a child, developed a multiple personality disorder as a result. She didn't know why, but Sybil often lost track of time -- whole days, sometimes several at once, went missing from her memory and left her confused -- when an alternate persona took over to help her deal with whatever crisis she faced. I'm beginning to feel a bit like Sybil.

For the past several days, I seem to have lost the ability to keep track of the day of the week and the date. On Saturday, I called my dad, who was scheduled to have hip replacement surgery on January 19. I don't know why, but I thought that Sunday was the 19th and was shocked that my dad would be having surgery on a Sunday. Nobody has surgery on Sunday unless it's an emergency! Dad set me straight on the day and date, and I made a mental note of the correction. At least I thought I did. . .

I've been waiting a few weeks to see my neurologist. I even mentioned it in my last post. Armed with my list of concerns, I waited in line for my turn to check in. Imagine my surprise when the receptionist, with a surprised look on her face, said, "Ma'am, you have an appointment with Dr. S, but it's not until tomorrow." Tomorrow? Ironically, as I left the reception area and headed for the car, the reminder notice that I had set on my iPhone calendar flashed across the screen.

As I looked over my last post, I see quite clearly that despite my dad setting me straight about the day and date on Saturday, the confusion continued. For God's sake, I've even got the day of the inauguration all wrong!

Is this what happens when one suffers from sleep deprivation?
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Patience is a quality that I have learned through the years. "Patience is a virtue," my mother used to tell me and my sisters, and it used to make me crazy as a kid. As an adult, however, I understand the wisdom in her frequent recitation of the old adage. Now I know that patience is definitely a virtue, but anticipation is a heck of a lot more fun! So what am I anticipating? Let me count the ways. . .

  1. The Spring 2009 semester begins in about 10 days. I just checked the roster for each class and know that one class has 33 students and the other has 6. The anticipation and excitement that typically go hand in hand at the commencement of a new semester are now overshadowed by the anticipation and anguish over the staying power of the class with only 6 students enrolled.
  2. I've been crazy about The Phantom of the Opera for ages but never had the opportunity to see it on stage. That will finally change on February 18th! Basma, who is also hooked on the show, will be turning 15 on February 17th and when I discovered that Phantom was playing in Los Angeles, I decided to make both of us happy on her birthday by getting us a pair of tickets to see Phantom! Talk about old adages -- how about "killing two birds with one stone"?! Of course I couldn't keep this a secret from her; what could be more fun than torturing the niece with the anticipation of a night on the town at the theater?
  3. Inauguration Day is just two days away! The level of excitement and anticipation at my house has reached fever pitch. Thank goodness the ceremony takes place early in the morning because if it were in the afternoon, I'd have to cancel my appointment with the neurologist. Sorry Dr. S, but President Obama trumps you this time!
With so much to look forward to in the next few weeks, I think I need to remember that old saying about patience -- even if it will make me as crazy now as it did when I was a kid.
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"I'm going to California where they sleep out every night," sang Jimmie Rodgers in his "Blue Yodel No. 4 (California Blues)." In 1929, when the "singing brakeman" recorded this song, California was still the Golden State and attracted tens of thousands of new residents each year. Whether it was the lure of a mild climate, the promise of job opportunities, or visions of the silver screen, people wanted to come to California. But that was 1929, eighty years ago. In 2009, not many people are "going to California where they sleep out every night."

For the past four years, California has lost more residents to other states than it has gained from them. And although a net loss of 144,000 in 2008 isn't such a large number considering that our population is close to 40 million, it does give us the dubious distinction of ranking first on a list of states whose residents are leaving in search of greener pastures at a higher rate than residents of other states arrive here in search of them. Thanks to births and immigration, both legal and illegal, California's population is still on the rise overall, but it has lost some of the appeal and attractiveness to people considering a state-to-state move.

The past four years of steady flight out of state is just one more reflection of the obvious: something is dreadfully wrong in California! I love the state where I was born and raised and because I do, I worry about its future. The November 2008 unemployment rate for California reached 8.4%, placing us third behind Michigan (9.6%) and Rhode Island (9.4%). Our budget deficit, according to the Governator's State of the State speech (1-15-09), has shot up to $40 BILLION through 2010. California's deficit is larger than the operating budgets of every single state in the Union but New York! The San Jose Mercury News has a fantastic article putting the numbers in their proper perspectives, and all I can say about it is that they are frightening.

Toto, we may not be in Kansas anymore, but we're not heading for California!
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It all started with a trip to Costco. We needed a few things for home and the office and since Ali, who usually does the Costco shopping, had a large wholesale order to get ready, I volunteered to go. With a full shopping cart, I got in line to pay and started unloading the items onto the belt for the cashier. Before I even got half of the stuff out of the basket, a lady moves in front of me, places a divider bar on the belt, and plops her purchases down!

"Ma'am," said I, "please take your things off the belt and wait until I finish unloading mine before you put them back on it. I'm not finished!"

She looked at me like some alien life force had thrown me in her path for no reason other than to test her patience. "How am I supposed to know when you're done?" she asked without moving anything off the belt. She turned to look at the elderly woman who must have been her shopping companion, raised her eyebrows, and waited for my answer.

It didn't require the brilliance of a rocket scientist to figure out that the woman had been shopping before. It didn't require the deductive reasoning capabilities of Sherlock Holmes to figure out that if she had been shopping before, she knew the rule about waiting for her turn to check out. Or maybe it did. . .

"Keep your eye on the cart I'm using," I responded. "When it's empty and I've pushed it to the side of the belt where the cashier is, I'm finished. When I'm finished, it's your turn." I picked up one of the items she had so rudely plunked on the belt and handed it to her. "Now, if you'll get the other things, I will finish unloading mine in less than a minute."

Insulted, she heaved a clearly audible sigh, grabbed the rest of her purchases off the belt, headed to another line, and the remainder of my day went downhill from that point.
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When I was five, my Aunt Naomi introduced me to . I've loved The Beatles' music as far back as my pitiful memory stretches, and today I feel as though I am living the lyrics to one of their songs:

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.
Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be,
There's a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Yesterday was good and for several hours, my troubles were far away. I dropped the kids off at the train station and wished them well as they rode off for their honeymoon in Santa Barbara. Heck, I even managed to pack and prepare shipping labels for 19 post office packages yesterday! I was tired -- really, really tired -- but managed to function quite well in spite of the nasty Santa Ana winds and the need for a nap. For the majority of the day I forgot about Chiari, and it was wonderful!

Like Cinderella whose fairytale day ends at midnight, mine came to a painful end right about the same time, reminding me that my troubles are here to stay. A pressure headache woke me from a sound sleep. This is the worst of the Chiari symptoms for me. I've never experienced anything as painful as a pressure headache. The CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) flow is sometimes blocked by the protruding tonsils of the brain with the result being a build up of pressure in the head. When these headaches occur, it feels as though my brain is swelling to the point that it will no longer fit inside my skull. It hurts to breathe, so my breathing becomes strained and somewhat shallow. The pressure behind my eyes is so intense that I could swear they will soon pop out of my head to make way for my gargantuan brain. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tense up in response to the pain in and the weight of my head. Even the slightest twitch is agony because all movement originates from the spinal cord which is connected to the brain which is trying to free itself from a space too small to contain it comfortably.

Ali usually fetches the medication and a glass of water for me when I have a pressure headache, but he had come home from the warehouse much later than I and had fallen asleep on the couch. It was up to me to drag myself out of bed and make my way to the kitchen. With no lights on and me seeing double and disequilibrium making me very unsteady on my feet, I managed to shuffle my way there and back without stepping on a sleeping cat or tripping on the edge of a rug. Sleep returned once again, and all was right with the world until the second headache struck just a couple of hours later. Because I had already taken the medication, I had to wait out the second one. And then, shortly after 5, the third one struck. It isn't as bad as the first two, so I took some Ibuprofen and determined to just work my way through it. So here I am.

It has taken me more than an hour to compose this post, but the good news is that the headache has disappeared Grendelesque into its cave where it waits for the next opportunity to strike in the dark.
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A very unfriendly weather condition has come to visit Southern California. The Santa Ana winds pay us a visit every year, usually in the fall, and wreak havoc on sinuses, eyes, temperatures, and dry brush. They herald the start of our fire season and have been responsible for some of the worst wildfires we've ever experienced. Santa Ana winds are not fun, no matter how you look at them. The name of this awful weather condition comes from Spanish and means "devil winds." Take it from one who lives through the huffing and puffing every year, that Satan dude is full of hot air!

Today, our temperature peaked at 83 degrees and although it is currently 11 PM, it has dropped to only 78 degrees. As if I don't have enough sleeping issues already, trying to fall asleep in such warm weather is difficult at best. We've got central air in the house, but I find it really hard to justify cranking up the AC in January! I started up the fan that I keep in the bedroom instead, but it was only cool enough to give me a nap.

Santa Ana conditions are extremely dry so add an unusually high temperature to the dry air, and you've got an easy to make recipe for discomfort. Mix in some pollen, dust, dirt, and various other microscopic gunk that the winds kick up, and you've got watery eyes, runny noses, dry throats, chapped lips, and itchy skin. Best of all, we'll have another outbreak of colds and flu within a week after the winds die down.

I suppose that I should be grateful that the winds are howling at under 30 MPH at the moment and that they haven't ignited any major wildfires, yet. The winds will be here for the remainder of the week and although we did have a couple of really big fires in the fall, the long-term drought we've experienced has left the canyons full of chaparral to burn.
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For whatever reason, I must have been having issues with my camera today because several of my photos are not much more than a blur. Thankfully, the bride and groom did not hire me to take pictures of their special day! Here's some of the ones I didn't mess up too badly. Enjoy!

With the bride's grandparents.

With the groom's parents.

The bride's and groom's table.

The bride's dad.

Ali and Gamal, in true Egyptian style bang the drums that announce the arrival of the bride and groom. In Egypt, this part happens when the wedding party escorts the bride from her parents' home to her new home with her husband. They also have little girls carrying candles in the front of the drummers, but we couldn't have candles because of the fire hazard.

The bride and groom greet their guests before taking their places at the head table.

Sorry for the fuzziness, but this is the best shot I got of the bride and groom at their table!

The delicious wedding cake.

Our table. The lamp that served as the centerpiece was a hit with all the guests, and nearly everyone scrambled to get one to take home. The favors are green and white M&Ms that were specially printed with the names of the bride and groom and the wedding date. They were popular, too. Who doesn't like M&Ms?

Let them eat cake!

All in all, it was a wonderful day for all of us. There weren't any major wedding disasters, the guests were fed well, the hall was filled with laughter and conversation for the duration. Congrats to the bride and groom, and may their lives be filled with as much joy and happiness as they shared on this day.

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I never did find my iPhone cord, so I snagged Iman's this morning. As promised, here are a few photos from yesterday's festivities. Enjoy!

Waiting for the groom.

Basma is waiting for the groom's arrival, too.

Magdy signs the marriage contract.

Iman does, too.

Exchanging rings.

Exchanging rings.

Left to Right: Imam Muzzamil Siddiqui, Ahmed (Magdy's father), Magdy, Ali, Gamal (Ali's brother). I didn't realize until I downloaded the photos that I accidentally cut off Ahmed Zahran, who is standing at the far left in the photo. Sorry, Ahmed!

Later this evening, I will post photos, taken with a real camera this time, of the big shindig during which Iman will be wearing her wedding dress.

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The house is quiet for the time being. Iman, Magdy, and Basma are out for some last minute shopping; Ali has his headphones on and is watching an old Egyptian movie on his laptop; I am trying to regain consciousness after a nap that followed a seizure. Life is good, except that I can't find the darn cord to hook my iPhone up the laptop so that I can download the pictures I took this afternoon!

Today, in the presence of her parents, his father, her uncle and his wife and daughter, and my and Ali's best friends, Iman and Magdy completed the kitab (translation: writing in the book) portion of the wedding. So what's this kitab thing, you wonder? It's not too complicated, really -- it is the signing and witnessing of the marriage contract between a bride and groom. Marriage completes half of a Muslim's religion and to safeguard and protect the rights of both spouses, they set out a contract in which they stipulate things like the dowry (marriage gift) that the groom will give to the bride, the compensation the bride will receive should they divorce, and any expectations they may have for their married life. Basically, it is much like a Western style prenuptial agreement. Before the contract is signed, the imam asks both the bride and the groom if they are entering into the marriage willingly and without coercion. If they say that they are willing to be married, he continues with the ceremony by reciting some verses from the Qur'an about marriage, talking to them about the importance of being kind to and patient with one another, and asks them again if they are marrying willingly. With their agreement, they each publicly pronounce their willingness to marry. When this ceremony is finished, they are halfway there.

The second half, the announcement of their marriage to family, friends, and the community at large, in the form of a party and celebration, will complete the marriage ceremony. That's what's coming tomorrow.

As soon as I find the darn thingie to connect the iPhone to the laptop, I'll post a few pictures of today's events.
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With the wedding nearly here (one part this afternoon and the other tomorrow), let's just say that hectic has taken on a whole new meaning around my house. As a result, I haven't had time to check my email as often as I normally do. So yesterday afternoon, in a brief moment of respite from the whirlwind while Ali went to pick up his suits, Magdy went to fetch his tux, and Iman went to get her wedding gown, I took a moment to check my personal email.

Like most people who use the internet far more than they probably should, I have email addresses for different things: one for work related matters, a personal one for family chats, one for groups, etc. To coordinate these various email accounts, I rely on Gmail to pull all of the messages into one single account which makes it much easier to manage them all. And while Gmail does a great job of sorting and filtering all the messages, the majority of them end up in a folder called ALL MAIL. I don't always remember to check this folder because most of the mail that ends up there is junk anyway, but for some reason I decided to check it yesterday and much to my surprise, I found a message from my department chair asking if I could take Tuesday/Thursday afternoon class.

Excuse me?! Can I take the second class that I was begging, and I do mean literally


for so that I don't lose my health care coverage? The one class for one semester that I begged for just so that I can retire at the end of the semester with my benefits and never have to worry about being able to afford medical treatment and medication ever again? You're kidding, right?

I responded with a single word: "Gladly."
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Pull out your violins and prepare to play the saddest song you know. I need it. I've earned it.

The health insurance issue is hitting home in a big way. Stress is the primary trigger of my seizures and like my neurologist said, "If you're alive, you have stress." I just seem to be a lot more alive than usual these past two days, as the seizures are coming on full force. On the bright side -- yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and a bright side to this otherwise crappy situation -- the seizures are not coming in clusters, and that makes them easier to deal with. For that, I am genuinely grateful.

While there is a bright side, I would be remiss to ignore the dark side of this force that grips the electrical system that controls my body. The nausea that accompanies seizures and often lingers long after, has intensified incredibly. Same for the need to sleep afterward, although I won't complain about that one. With the nausea comes drooling and the stronger the nausea, the more I drool. I'm thinking that a bib would be a nice thing to have right about now.

As I write, I am coming out of a seizure that happened 2.5 hours ago. I slept for 40 minutes and am fighting sleep now in the hope that if I can stay awake for a little bit longer, I might actually sleep through the night. Wish me luck!
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I found a wonderful meme at Necromancy Never Pays, and I've been saving it for a rainy day. Ok, it's not raining at the moment; however, I need something to help lift the funk, and a visit with the Bard just might do the trick.

What was your first introduction to William Shakespeare? Was it love or hate?
It was 1974 in Mr. Capalungo's Freshman English class. Mr. C was quite the character with an amazingly snarky sense of humor. To prepare us for our first foray into the Bard's world with Julius Caesar, Mr. C "latinized" our names. The guys got "-us" added to their first and last names, while the girls got "-a" endings; thus for the entire first semester of the year, I was called Carleena Willetta. Mr. C always emphasized the final syllable of the names, irrespective of where the stress really belonged. He entertained us by performing "Singing in the Rain" in Latin, and acting out Caesar's death scene from atop his desk at the front of the classroom. I have to say that it was Mr. C's obvious love of Shakespeare that sparked my infatuation with the Bard.

Which Shakespeare plays have you been required to read?
Since my M.A. is in Renaissance Literature with an emphasis on the drama of the period, I have been required to read all of Shakespeare's plays at some point in my academic career.

Do you think Shakespeare is important? Do you feel you are a "better" person for having read the bard?
Yes, and yes! The main body of Shakespeare's work, the plays, are meant to be seen; I must admit to a preference for reading them, however. I take such pleasure in reading, processing, and analyzing the Bard's masterful use of language! With a printed copy of the play and a variety of colored pens in hand, I can get lost for hours in mapping connections, marking sibillants in the speech of villains, noting the meticulous and deliberate plays on words. Reading and analyzing Shakespeare has proven one of the best mental exercises in which I have ever engaged. As long as I am able to exercise the noodle and continue to make connections between the situations and characters that Shakespeare created to those I witness in my own life and times, I am definitely a "better" person.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?
Hands down, it would have to be Othello; however, A Merchant of Venice runs a close second. I pity and understand both Othello and Shylock. One of these days, I'm going to put in writing my theory that a careful study of these characters and the weaknesses that make them all too human could bridge some of the gaps of misunderstanding between East and West.

How do you feel about contemporary takes on Shakespeare? Adaptations of Shakespeare’s works with a more modern feel? (For example, the new line of Manga Shakespeare graphic novels, or novels like Something Rotten, Something Wicked, Enter Three Witches, Ophelia, etc.) Do you have a favorite you’d recommend?
Honestly, I don't pay any attention to the contemporary adaptations. At my daughter's urging, I did capitulate and watch Romeo and Juliet with DiCaprio and Danes; I hated it!

What's your favorite movie version of a Shakespeare play?'s a toss-up between Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet and the version of Othello with Lawrence Fishburn in the lead role.
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For the past few days, I've been in a funk. The health insurance issue is eating away at me, worrying me far more than I am used to worrying about anything. For the preservation of my mental health, I strive to follow a basic tenet of Stoicism. In a nutshell, the Stoics argue that our misery stems from the fact that we focus our energy on the things that happen to us, things over which we often have little or no control, instead of shifting our energy to reacting to the things that happen because we do have control over our own behavior. For example, I had no control over whether or not I would get Chiari, I just did. However, I can control how I react to having it; I can choose to sit on the pity pot and make everyone around me as miserable as I often am, or I can deal with the situation, do what I can when I can, and go on with my life. But this worry about health insurance is a tough one to work with! I've done everything that I can at this point and now must wait to see what happens.

I don't usually linger on the pity pot and hope that I'll soon be able to pull myelf out of the funk. Maybe it's time to look for a new hobby?
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In the age of electronic and digital media, the human element can be lost in the shuffle of pixels. The list that follows is similar to one that I use in class to help me and my students get to know one another on a level beyond student and professor. I thought it might be a fun exercise for the first blog post of a new year.

1. I can't stand to touch hair after it has fallen off the head. That includes my own. Eeewww!

2. Minty fresh toothpastes are fine, but I prefer the green apple flavored one that Ali brings me from Egypt.

3. I use Hazelnut flavored cream and no sugar in my coffee.

4. In spite of my medical condition and the several surgeries I've had, hospitals terrify me. It's an irrational fear, I know, but a very real one to me.

5. I'm a big fan of Bath and Body Works products but every time I find a scent that I really like, they discontinue it! To wit: Orange Blossom, Stress Relief (the original one, not the one they have now), Brown Sugar and Fig, and Gardenia Lily.

6. My stress level is easily measured by the number of exczema blisters on my palms and fingers. Without fail, the little blisters pop up within 24 hours of an especially stressful time or event. Lucky me!

7. I love cats, and cats love me. A feline companion or two or three or four is an absolute must to maintain happiness.

8. Climbing a staircase is not a problem for me, but I can't go downstairs without stumbling or falling. It's even difficult to negotiate a safe landing from a curb thanks to the balance problems that are part of Chiari.

9. Until I was about 8 years old, there were 5 generations of women on my mom's side of the family alive simultaneously. It's cool to remember family gatherings with me, my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my great-great grandmother all in the same room. Even more cool -- we are all the firstborn in our nuclear families!

10. When I drive, my toes, not the whole foot, manage the pedals. I have no idea why I use my toes instead of the whole foot, and I don't even remember when the habit began or even why it did.

11. I had my first broken heart at the age of five when my Uncle Jerry, whom I planned to marry and watch Batman with for the rest of my life, dumped me and married someone else. I was so traumatized by this event that my Aunt Juanita had to work really hard to convince me that she was likeable. She succeeded quite well. :)

12. 1976 was the most traumatic year of my entire life to date. On September 9, 1976, my maternal grandmother died in a car accident as she and my grandfather were making their way home from vacation to help my mother because my father was in ICU and not expected to live. My dad survived the staph infection he had gotten following surgery, but three months and three days after her mother (my grandmother) died, my own mom died on December 12, 1976. She was 37, and I was 17.

13. My favorite book of all time is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

14. Being the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family meant that I grew up quite spoiled. How many other kids got to take two road trips most summers?

15. I will be 50 years old in May of this year.

16. My maternal grandfather spawned a fascination with the American Civil War in me. Our summer road trips always, without fail, included stops at nearly every historical site along the way from California to New York. My grandmother, who did not share our interest, didn't appreciate the frequent side trips, though.

17. Ever since I began the habit at the age of three, I have been a prolific reader. The habit must be genetic because I got it from my mother, and my daughter got it from me.

18. I must have taken on some of my grandmother's genes because I have two moles in the exact same unusual spots that she did: in the middle of my forehead and about two inches above the hairline on my skull.

19. I graduated from high school at the tender age of four. Ok, I didn't get a diploma that time, but I did get to walk with my Aunt Naomi when she graduated!

20. Long before "Jessie's Girl" or the creation of the General Hospital character, Noah Drake, I was crazy for Rick Springfield. It was 1972. I was 13, he was 23, and his first hit, "Speak to the Sky" had just made the charts. I've kept up with my very first celebrity crush for the past 37 years.

21. Musicals are my preferred film genre. South Pacific, Calamity Jane, Paint Your Wagon, Bright Eyes, Lullaby of Broadway, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Porgy and Bess, Gypsy, Funny Girl, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Jazz Singer, Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Annie, Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray, Cabaret, A Star Is Born, My Fair Lady, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Grease, The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music are among my favorites.

22. For having completed my M.A. in 3 semesters with a 4.0 GPA while publishing and presenting papers at professional conferences overseas and at home, I earned the honor of being my university's Outstanding Graduate Student.

23. The McIntosh apple is my preferred fruit.

24. I've been to 46 of the 50 United States and 11 countries. The places I have most enjoyed visiting are Pagosa Springs, Colorado (my dad's hometown); London, England (I'm not a big city person at all, but I fell in love with London); Copenhagen, Denmark (I don't think I've seen a cleaner city anywhere!); Louisiana (I haven't found a city/town there yet that I don't like); and Cairo, Egypt (what's not to love about all that history?).

25. I have a thriving African Violet plant that my sister gave to me in 1992. From this single plant, I have shared cuttings and its offspring with more than a dozen people.
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