". . . disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind . . ."
-- Preamble to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
10 December 1948

The nation has been abuzz for the past several days in the wake of the release of memos that discuss torture, also called "enhanced interrogation techniques," from members of the Bush administration. While pundits on the right have expressed outrage over the documents' entrance into the public sphere, pundits on the left have escalated the debate over whether or not the people and agencies involved in the behavior outlined in them deserve further investigation and possible prosecution. One side contends that waterboarding, a torture technique with a long history (see the woodcut from 1556 on the right), at least as practiced by agents of the United States, does not constitute torture. It is, they argue, a legal "enhanced interrogation technique." The opposition recalls that in
  • 1949, the U.S. brought charges of war crimes against Yukio Asano, a Japanese soldier, for waterboarding a U.S. civilian, and
  • that when the Khmer Rouge used the same technique on its own people, the United States considered it a method of torture, or
  • that an American soldier was court-martialed following the Washington Post's publication of a photo depicting his supervision of the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier, and
  • that as recently as 1983, Texas Sheriff James Parker and three of his deputies were tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years in prison for using an "enhanced interrogation technique" to extract "confessions" from prisoners.
Perhaps a definition of torture can clear up the confusion between the two sides' positions.

On February 4, 1985, The United Nations Convention Against Torture established the definition for torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions" (I.1.1.). Under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, the United States of America became a signatory to the Convention on April 18, 1988. Considering that those on the right hold former President Reagan in such high regard, they should have no problem accepting a definition for which he applied his, and the nation's, stamp of approval. One might expect the opposition to the U.S. approved definition of the term to come from the left, but it hasn't. Much like former President Clinton's now infamous remark that "that depends on what your definition of is is," a question of semantics in which the right found a great deal of humor and hypocrisy, waterboarding as a method of torture or an "enhanced interrogation technique" has been reduced to little more than an issue of word choice.

But while the pundits in Washington, on both the right and the left, argue over a definition, the practice of torture in its many forms has taken a toll on members of our military. To wit, U.S. Soldier Killed Herself -- After Refusing to Take Part in Torture. What makes this young girl's story so tragic to me is that her action is the ultimate sacrifice made in defense of her beliefs. It's not that she was a Mormon girl who gave up her life rather than do something she felt was wrong that makes her death so tragic -- I don't think that her religion has anything at all to do with it; the tragedy for me is that this young warrior couldn't convince her fellow soldiers that what they were doing was wrong and failing to do that, she could think of no other way out of her ethical dilemma. In her case, and the cases of others like her, suicide is not the ultimate act of a coward; instead, it becomes the ultimate act of bravery, as these soldiers kill themselves to avoid becoming like the enemy while their fellow soldiers see nothing wrong in emulating enemy behavior. And that is just plain sad irrespective of the side of the political spectrum on which you sit.
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I feel as though I am slowly making my way down a red carpet, walking (ok, maybe typing is a better word choice) purposefully toward the stage (er, blog) where I will deliver a speech (ahem, make a post) thanking all the little people (well, it's really just one -- Ali of the White Heart) for their help on my journey to fame because I have been honored by Shauna of Shauna's Life in Pain and Other Fun Things and Sherlock of Sherlock's Stuff with the Premio Dardos award which, rumor has it, is Italian for "prize darts"! My first blog award, and I get a double dose -- how amazing is that?! Ladies, thank you both for deeming my blog worthy of such notice.

Here’s the purpose of the award:

The Prémio Dardos is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

These are the rules:

  1. Accept the award by posting on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
  2. Pass the award to another 10 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they've been selected for this award.
And now, I'd like to share this honor with the following people, listed here in no particular order:

OSM of One Sick Mother

Lacie of Live, Love, Laugh

Carolyn of Carolyn's Chiari

Dave of Chewing the Fat

The Goldfish of Diary of a Goldfish

Anni of Hootin' Anni's

Jayne d'Arcy of A Light in the Dark

Yaman of Yaman's Amateur Ramblings

Laila of Raising Yousuf and Noor: Diary of a Palestinian Mother

Nicole of Creative Disaster

Before signing off, I'd like to thank these writers for making my day a little brighter each time I read their blogs. Whether they're telling a story, sharing personal experience, providing food for thought, providing a platform for the discussion of important issues, these bloggers epitomize the purpose behind the Premio Dardos award in my view.

And finally, thanks to Shauna and Sherlock for believing that my blog is worthy of this award; I appreciate your feedback tremendously!
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Maggie, Queen of the World
Doing the laundry is so exhausting!

Join the Wordless Wednesday fun!
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Sherlock, you're quite the inspiration! Not only did you inspire me to fix up my blog's template, but your post of random thoughts has inspired me to start a meme for myself -- Random Thoughts on Tuesday. From now on, I won't feel compelled to come up with a formal post on Tuesday mornings; instead, I'll just post a collection of whatever pops into my head when I hit the keyboard. This could be fun, frightening, thought provoking, comment invoking, interesting, or maybe even entertaining. Let's see what happens!
  • Is anyone besides me starting to get worried about the Swine Flu and its potential to become a deadly pandemic? This morning, I found an interesting article in the Times (UK edition -- because I love to read interntional newspapers) called "Ten Facts About Swine Flu" and one of those facts is that "The most lethal flu pandemic of the past century was also caused by a swine flu strain. One billion people are thought to have contracted "Spanish flu" in 1918-19, of whom around 50 million were killed - although the death toll could have been much higher." Now, isn't that just what we all needed to know?
  • I'm becoming addicted to blog widgets. There are so many nifty and fun things to put on a blog these days that I have to force myself to remember that not everyone has a high speed internet connection and that too many widgets can slow the load time significantly on a dial-up service. Maybe I could satisfy my widget addiction by rotating them a couple of times a month. . .
  • My 50th birthday is coming up in about three weeks, and I've been trying to figure out what I want. Ok, well, actually I know what I want; I'm just having a hard time justifying its purchase, LOL! It's kind of hard to build a convincing argument for a $250 iPhone case!
  • Today is D-Day for my retirement paperwork. I will take the last of it to HR after my class this afternoon and see what comes next. It took forever to get the info I needed from one of the community colleges and although I finally got it on Friday, I'm not sure that it's all that I needed from them. Let's just say the employee from payroll was anything but interested in helping me. Maybe, fingers crossed, what I have is enough to get the ball rolling to coordinate the pensions between the two plans for which I qualify.
  • On the censorship front, the ALA (American Library Association) has released its list of the Top 10 Challenged Books for 2008. I wasn't surprised to see that And Tango Makes Three remained at the top of the list from last year. What I did find interesting, though, is that none of Judy Blume's books made the top 10 this time! Ms. Blume does, however, remain the most frequently challenged author in American history. What an honor!
If you want to join in the fun of random ramblings, just post five random thoughts this Tuesday. Enjoy!
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The oldest texts known to mankind were written in the form of poetry; it has been around since humanity began to record its existence on earth. Poetry is timeless, universal, and familiar. We don't have to speak a language to hear a rhyme, recognize a cadence, feel a rhythm, mark out a meter (a poetic unit of measure based on the number of syllables in a word). We may not know the technical names for the poetic forms or be able to distinguish a sonnet from a ghazal, an iamb from a spondee, or a heroic couplet from blank verse, but the point is that knowledge of these things is not necessary to feel the beauty of the poetry!

Even with no understanding of the Arabic language, I could hear the rhythm, meter, and rhyme scheme of the poetry in the Qur'an quite easily the first time I heard it. I didn't have to know the meaning of the words to follow the hypnotic rhythms of the ayat (verses), to discern the patterns in the structure, to catch the internal and end rhymes within each line, to hear assonance and alliteration. Because I lacked familiarity with the language, the poetic form itself spoke to me. The poetry of the work crossed the barriers of time, language, culture, and geography, reaching out to me in a way that only a truly universal art form can.

The variety of styles, forms, devices, and shapes makes poetry an amazingly diverse literary form. Poetry can be as simple as a limerick

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were caught, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "Let us flee."
"Let us fly," said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

or as complex and filled with specific devices as an epic

Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles the son of Peleus,
the destructive rage that sent countless ills on the Achaeans...
(Iliad, I.1-2)

Poetry can tell a story like Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; it can teach a lesson like the ones on the importance of good behavior in Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley; it can inspire like John Donne's Holy Sonnet X or the 8th Psalm from the Bible. Set a poem to music, and you have a song.

Long after the celebrations of poetry during the month of April have passed, its timeless beauty will continue. If you'd like to experience some of the best poetry in the English language, here are a few of my favorites:
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I've written before about the feeling of running in a hamster wheel and not getting anywhere, especially when it concerns the miserable Chiari headaches that I get more than often than I like. The past few days have involved a lot more running in circles without getting anywhere, and I am intensely frustrated about it.

Sleep, or rather the lack thereof, which is often at the center of the circular dilemma, proved even more elusive this weekend than normal. I played musical beds all weekend long as I tried to find a comfortable position for my neck so that sleeping didn't trigger a headache and wake me up. Fat chance! Whether I built the nest of pillows on the couch, our bed, or the futon in Iman's old room, I simply could not get comfortable enough to sleep longer than 30-40 minutes at a stretch. My neck doesn't usually give trouble, unless the muscles tense up in response to a particularly nasty headache; however, the bones in my neck are now a source of pain on their own. It's a bit freaky to roll my head around in an attempt to loosen up the neck muscles and hear the grinding of bone on bone when I do! The grinding sound gets loud enough that even Ali can hear it. So, I now have to figure out if the pain the neck is the source of the sleeping problem, or if the the sleeping problem is causing the pain in the neck. Wonderful!

Now that the rant / vent is over, I'm going to move on and make a real post, LOL!
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1. What are your current obsessions?
Grey's Anatomy, iPhone apps, popping exczema blisters -- I need a life!

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
black pants

3. What's for dinner?
Not sure, Ali's at the market buying something as I type. He'll surprise me.

4. Last thing you bought?
a purse

5. What are you listening to?
Appalachia: A History of the Mountains, a PBS documentary

6. If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
Myself -- can't imagine a better goddess than me!

7. Favorite holiday spots?
London is my number one choice for fun, culture, and fish & chips, but Texas wins because my sister and favorite aunt live there

8. Reading right now?
re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

9. 4 words to describe yourself.
talkative, assertive, friendly, stressed

10. Guilty pleasure?
butter pecan ice cream

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
my husband -- he's a one-man comedy act most of the time

12. Planning to travel to next?
Texas and Florida -- it's the family thing again

13. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
see #10

14. When did you last get tipsy?
almost 30 years ago

15. Care to share some wisdom?
Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person.

16. Nicest thing anyone’s ever said to you?
"Good to see you" from my husband after my brain surgery. It was the signal to me that everything had gone well.

Play along here.
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OMG, I'm not even retired yet but have already begun thinking like my dad behaved when he was forced to retire early several years ago! I was in the throes of grad school, and my time was occupied with research, reading, writing papers, and presenting papers at conferences. As a result, I didn't have a lot of free time for housework and our home quickly became cluttered. A few days after he retired, my poor dad, who really didn't know what to do with himself, showed up, with cleaning supplies in hand, at my home very early one morning and informed me that he had come to help me clean house. I still have a few weeks to go until I retire, but I feel the same way -- it's time to clean house!

As much as I liked the original template that I was using for this blog, I really wanted something that worked better with its name. Inspired by Sherlock's recent template update, I took on the task of scouting around for a new look and, voila, here you have it! I love the coffee cup in the header and the notes at the top. The diary / planner look that I like so much from the original template is continued in this one, with the addition of a gorgeous looking pen for the search bar. Overall, my daughter and I agree that this template just works.

In addition to changing the overall look, I've added some nifty new widgets to the sidebar. I am a passionate advocate against the censorship of books in our school system and once I retire in a few weeks, I will really need an outlet to vent my frustrations over the narrow-mindedness of the would-be censors. What better place to do that than here on my own blog? So to that end, I've added a bookshelf filled with challenged books and a news feed for the topics of challenged books, banned books, and censorship. I will soon add a list of links on the topic as well.

I was recently invited to write for a political blog, although I haven't yet determined if I will have the time necessary to devote to it. Politics is an important part of my life, and I hope to begin blogging a bit more about that, too. My life, after all, is more than just my invisible illness!

So, what do you think of the

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Most everyone who has lived in California for a while has heard of earthquake weather. I've lived in Southern California all my life and am very much aware of and in tune with the phenomena. Basically, when the weather makes dramatic, short-term changes from cool to hot to cool or hot to cool to hot, we can expect an earthquake. It's not science, I know, but the two have gone hand-in-hand often enough that it has become predictable.

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were uncharacteristically hot for April in Southern California. We had a mini heatwave that increased our temperature from the norm in the 70s to upwards of 90 degrees. When the heatwave ended, we went from 93 in the daytime to a nighttime low of 54! Now that's a dramatic fluctuation in the temperature and the hallmark of "earthquake weather." Whether it's intuition or experience, I can't say, but through the years, I've become pretty doggone good at recognizing the weather patterns that portend a temblor and am seldom off when I predict a quake. In fact, family and friends have been known to ask me whether or not we're having "earthquake weather."

It was not a major surprise then, for me at least, that we had two quakes yesterday.

Both of the quakes were centered in Yorba Linda, hometown of Richard M. Nixon, about 2 miles from our business in Fullerton which is where I was when the first quake hit. From someone who has experienced several major and memorable California quakes, including
  • 6.6 Sylmar (San Fernando) Quake on 2-9-71 -- This one cracked the foundation of our home, some 30 miles away from the epicenter!
  • 5.9 Whittier Narrows Quake on 10-1-87
  • 5.0 Pasadena Quake on 12-3-88
  • 5.4 Upland Quake on 2-28-90
  • 6.1 Joshua Tree Quake on 4-22-92
  • 7.3 Landers Quake at 4:57 AM on 6-28-92 -- This was the most frightening earthquake I have ever experienced, mostly because it was followed by several very strong aftershocks; it caused so much shaking that the water from our swimming pool overflowed from the deck into our living room! Some amazing photos, including a few that show the crack (total length is about 53 miles!) in the earth's surface that resulted from this quake, are available here.
  • 6.4 Big Bear Quake at 8:05 AM on 6-28-92 -- Technically, this one was an aftershock from the Landers Quake -- the biggest of the aftershocks the followed it -- but it occurred on a completely different fault than Landers
  • 5.7 Mojave Quake on 7-11-92
  • 6.7 Northridge Quake at 4:30 AM on 1-17-94 -- Although not as strong on the seismograph as the Landers quake, this one shook longer and harder. Because the epicenter was directly beneath a heavily populated city, this quake collapsed several sections of a major freeway, toppled the crown of a landmark artdeco skyscraper in Hollywood, and triggered the collapse of several buildings. You can see some amazing photos of the damage here.
  • 5.4 Ridgecrest Quake on 8-17-95 -- Not big as far as earthquakes go, but this one is rememberable for the more than 2,500 aftershocks that followed, some of which measured in at 6.0!
  • 7.1 Hector Mine Quake on 10-16-99 -- This quake happened so far out in the desert that although it was really strong, it didn't cause much damage beyond a surface split and lots of rattled nerves.

I can honestly say that yesterday's temblors weren't very impressive. Both were short in terms of time (barely 2-3 seconds long) and shaking. Actually, there wasn't any shake to these quakes -- they were snapping motions. The aftershocks and microquakes continue, with the last one happening about an hour ago (it is currently 4:43 AM PDT). It will be interesting to see what, if anything, develops over the next few days. We live on the San Andreas Fault, one of the most active fault lines in the state. Since it's been a while since we had a big one, I suppose now would be a really good time to give the old earthquake survival supplies box a quick once over.
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Oh boy, am I glad that Thursday is a day with words because I've got quite a few of them milling about in my head, begging to travel down to my hands and the keyboard where they can come to life! Pardon what, I feel certain, will become a rather disjointed post.

Student X Update
Tuesday marked my class' first departure away from censorship in textbooks and reading materials used in classrooms and movement to censorship in other areas of American life. We
began with the censorship of images and information related to the war on Iraq. This lesson includes three online readings, two of which include graphic images from the war. I had prepared a handout of war photographs from the American Civil War, WW's I and II, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War juxtaposed against Goya's 3rd of May 1808. Our discussion would examine why graphic depictions of war are celebrated when oil on canvas is the medium but censored when the medium is a photograph.

I've never felt the need to practice self-censorship in my classroom until Student X's behavior last week. Since Student X had expressed "disgust" about a violent scene in the book at the center of the conflict, I worried that showing graphic images of the violent results of war might be just enough to send an emotionally unstable individual over the edge. I decided that it would be best to start the class with a disclaimer that explained the discussion and the use of the images along with an offer to excuse anyone who would be uncomfortable.

When I walked into the classroom, Student X's usual spot in the front row was empty. Although Student X is, as I mentioned in the first post, always late for class, on Tuesday, the student had arrived early and taken a seat at the very back of the classroom, positioned in such a way as to be flanked on either side by classmates and hiding behind another one. In a class of only 14 students, such a drastic seat change doesn't go unnoticed and since Student X has always been a regular participant in discussions, the move brought a palpable feeling of uncertainty to the classroom. I went ahead with the disclaimer and made the offer, once again, for anyone to leave when I put the class into groups to work with the images. Nobody left, and we made it through the discussion without a single peep from Student X. We'll see what happens today when we examine censorship in music. . .

Headaches Update
Whether the heat or the stress from the Student X situation is the cause, I don't know, but the past three days have been made much worse by headaches. The constant feeling that my eyeballs are ready to pop out of my head from the pressure inside it has made sleeping, already a big problem for me, nearly impossible. Ibuprofen, my pain med of choice, can do only so much and with headaches coming fast and furious, I quickly reached the daily limit. Yesterday started out quite promising; because I had had only one headache in the night, I awoke feeling refreshed. Pshaw, that didn't last too long! Shortly after 11 am, another one struck with pain so bad that I had to lie down in order to breathe comfortably. With a much cooler temperature yesterday and a fair amount of sleep last night without a headache, I'm beginning to think that the hot weather is the culprit. If that's the case, summer ought to be most pleasant -- not!
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Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana
August 2008

See more Wordless Wednesday entries here.

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My least favorite time of year is clearly approaching. Whatever happened to April showers bringing May flowers? We're not going to get much rain here in the draught-ridden southern part of the Golden State with the 90+ degrees temperatures we've had for the past three days, that's for sure!

I've never been a fan of the summer months. Sunburn, heat rash, and sweat just aren't on my list of things to enjoy. Even as a kid, the only part of the summer months that I actually enjoyed were the weeks that we made the family road trip to the east coast. When summer came, I hid away in my bedroom with a pile of books and didn't emerge until time to return to school in September.

The older I get, the harder it is to tolerate summer. Of course the problem isn't helped by the fact that one of my medications elevates the body temperature so that while everyone around me is feeling comfortable, I am hot and miserable. Honestly, I can tell when the temperature in my house increases by a single degree!

At least in adulthood I have the benefit of a home with central air. And during the months of June, July, August, and September, the electric company loves me!
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1. My uncle once : was the reason that my grandmother became Queen for a Day.

2. Never in my life : have I been without a cat.

3. When I was seventeen : my mom died.

4. High School was : more fun than productive.

5. I will never forget : my doll with the bright red hair, nor will I ever forget that my dad threw her away. Gotcha, Dad!

6. I once met : Bobby Vinton

7. There’s this girl I know who :

8. Once, at a bar : something must have happened, but I wasn't there.

9. By noon, I’m usually : ready for a nap.

10. Last night : I watched Grey Garden on HBO.

11. If only I had : a brain? some courage? a heart?

12. Next time I go to gym/church : will be the first in a very long time.

13. Susan Boyle : rocks!

14. What worries me most : is that my brain will cease to function before my body does.

15. When I turn my head left, I see : Maggie, one of my cats, napping in the sunlight.

16. When I turn my head right, I see : double.

17. You know I’m lying when : I tell you that I don't mind that you're late.

18. What I miss most about the eighties : is my age during that decade.

19. If I was a character in Shakespeare, I’d be : Othello.

20. By this time next year : I will be basking in the glory of retirement.

21. A better name for me would be : hard to come up with. Carleen works really well.

22. I have a hard time understanding : why people willingly remain ignorant (as in uninformed).

23. If I ever go back to school, I’ll : be a very happy camper.

24. You know I like you if : I introduce you to my family.

25. If I ever won an award, the first person I’d thank would be : my husband.

26. When I compare 80’s rock to 90’s rock : I get lost. It all sounds the same to me.

27. Take my advice, never : listen to my advice!

28. My ideal breakfast is : a toasted sesame seed bagel loaded with cream cheese.

29. A song I love, but do not own is : not in existence.

30. If you visit my hometown, I suggest : coming during the Strawberry Festival.

31. My favorite Beatle is : Paul McCartney

32. Why won’t people : use basic manners any longer?

33. If you spend the night at my house : at least one of my cats will keep you company.

34. I’d stop my wedding for : my friend Cindy's potato salad.

35. The world could do without : ignorant people.

36. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than : willingly drive over a bridge.

37. My favorite blonde is : Doris Day

38: Paper clips are more useful than : Q-tips

39. If I do anything well, it’s : talk.

40. And by the way : this has been the most interesting meme I've ever done!

Want to join in on the fun or see more answers? Click here: Sunday Stealing.
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You Are Mind

If you dream it, then you can do it. You are very mentally sharp and strong.

You enjoy challenging yourself both at work and with studies. You love mastering difficult tasks.

You thrive in new environments, even stressful ones. You are able to study everything objectively.

You have a upbeat attitude, and won't be deterred easily. You are open minded and optimistic about the future.

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Or wishful thinking? You decide.

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Because the really, really good ones are so few and far between for me, I feel the need to celebrate the genuinely good days when I have them. Today has been one of those rarest of gems.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened, but perhaps that is what has made today so good; it was deliciously ordinary!

no headaches
no seizures
no tense moments with students

Best of all, because I actually felt good today, I got plenty of things accomplished. The grading is caught up. I had coffee with a colleague between classes. I even drove myself to the night class!

Yes, today has been good to me.

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Evangeline Oak
St. Martinsville, Louisiana
Summer 2008

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Evangeline, made a possibly true story a legend. The story, in a nutshell, is about a young girl named Emmaline Labiche (Evangeline in Longfellow's poem), who is separated from her fiancee, Louis Arceneaux (Gabriel in the poem), on their wedding day when the French deported the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755 because they refused to swear allegiance to the British crown and renounce their Catholic faith. This much of the story is true; however, Longfellow embellishes the tale with a Romeo and Juliet tragic quality that immortalized the story and helped it become a legend.

The French placed the Acadians on different ships with no regard for family ties, so Evangeline and Gabriel were separated and ended up in different locations in America. Ever faithful, Evangeline never married; instead, she embarked on a quest to find Gabriel. She seemed always to be just a day late and a dollar short in finding her true love, though, as everywhere she went, Gabriel had departed from the location a day before she arrived. That is, until Evangeline heard that her beloved Gabriel was in St. Martinsville. The oak tree, located on the banks of the Bayou Teche in St. Martinsville, is said to mark the spot where the pair were finally reunited and where, in true Shakespearean tragic fashion, Gabriel died in Evangeline's arms.

You can read more about the history of the deportation and the legend of Evangeline at any of these websites:

For more Wordless Wednesday posts, click here.
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The more I think about it, the angrier I become. I'm a very easy going and easy to get along with individual; I don't rile easily, nor am I quick to anger. In all the years that I have been teaching, I have never, ever had a confrontation with a student. Never, that is, until this afternoon.

As the end of the semester nears, students begin to feel the stress of catching up with readings, preparing for finals, and completing major projects. They want to start seeing the light at the end of the semester tunnel, as do I. We've still got three weeks of classes left, and most of that time will be filled with some heavy duty assignments -- the big ones that professors assign as a culmination of a semester's learning. My students have begun working on one such assignment for me.

My classes are built around the theme of censorship, particularly as it relates to textbooks and other reading materials used in the public school classrooms. It is designed to introduce future teachers to the types of challenges they will face as educators in the K-12 system. The course culminates in a complex research assignment modeled after the procedure that teachers commonly follow when forced to respond to a parental challenge requesting the removal of a book from the curriculum.

Because the research assignment is quite involved, students work in groups. As a group, they choose one book from a list that I have compiled based on two important factors: (1) it appears on the American Library Association's Most Frequently Challenged Books,and (2) I have verified that our school library has the resources needed to complete the required research. After choosing the book they want to work with, the group members divvy up the research sections, assigning one portion to each member. Students share their research with one another but write their own essays.

Last week, we went over this final assignment thoroughly. I offered a synopsis of each book on the list, indicated the grade in which it is typically read, and the reasons why it is most frequently challenged. A couple of groups asked to use books that were not on my list, which is fine. The books in question have, indeed, been challenged and would work quite well within the parameters of the assignment. All was right in the world at the conclusion of last Thursday's class. And then came today.

**Disclaimer: Because my blog is in the public sphere, I cannot divulge specific details about the incident that follows. I may be retiring in a few weeks, but I certainly don't want to end a career that I dearly love on a bad note and providing more specific information with the knowledge that some of my past and present students read my blog and might be able to identify the persons involved in "the incident," would be irresponsible of me.

One of the groups that had chosen a book not on my list had read their selection over the weekend. While the rest of the class was busily working on an activity, Student X began bullying the other group members for having suggested such a "disgusting" book for them to read. Suddenly, in what can only be described as the irony of ironies, Student X challenged the group's decision on a challenged book and sought to censor it, and them, in a class about censorship!

When their voices could be heard across the classroom where I was helping another group, I had to assess the situation and run interference if needed. Student X had staged a coup, and the group was, without notifying me or asking if it was even okay, scrambling to make another book selection. With a mind locked as securely as Fort Knox, Student X refused to hear anything about the literary quality of the book in question, even when its defense came from me. Despite my explanation that we are all adults, in college, and that we ought to expect sometimes to encounter ideas that make us uncomfortable, Student X remained steadfast and determined to control the situation. Rather than creating any greater discomfort for the other group members, I advised the students that changing their book selection to one not on the assignment's list meant that I could not guarantee they would find the required research materials and that I would not help them search for it. The group seemed to settle down, and I turned my attention back to the other students. When all was said and done, the group capitulated and chose another book. Chalk one up for the censors!

At the end of the class, Student X hung around until everyone had left the classroom and asked to talk to me. After requesting an extension on the essay that was due this evening, which I granted, Student X expressed upset with me for having interfered with the group dynamic. As our conversation continued and I let Student X know that it was my responsibility to maintain control in the classroom and to prevent any student from bullying another, Student X began to look like a deer in the headlights and slowly walked backwards -- yes, literally backwards!-- weaving through two rows of seats, complaining all the while about being "disadvantaged" by me and my interference, until backing out of the classroom completely. What had happened? A breakdown? A meltdown?

I headed off to the parking lot and the peace that leaving campus would surely bring. Incensed, confused about what I had just experienced, yet concerned about Student X's mental health, I wandered the parking lot in search of my car. And I do mean in search of -- in my confusion and upset, I could not find the darn thing anywhere! As I always do when in a state of panic, I called Ali. His reassuring voice calmed me enough so that I found the car and began to make my way to our business.

I knew that I needed to inform my department chair about the incident and attempted to call his office from my cell phone. But lucky for me, I had, just the night before, finally figured out how to sync my email contacts from the computer to my iPhone and in the process, unbeknown to me, erased phone numbers that were already in my phone but not in the computer's contacts. I had to wait to call until I could get to the office and look up the number on the school website. At least the time lapse would allow me to arrange my thoughts enough that I didn't sound like a complete unprofessional idiot when I did call.

While I was scouring the parking lot for my car, Student X was in my department chair's office reporting my wretched behavior. Before making the phone call, I had decided that since we have only three weeks left of class, it would be best if Student X, who travels quite a distance to get to the campus anyway and always arrives late for class as a result, did not return to the classroom and that any outstanding be turned in via email. My solution provided an out for an obviously stressed student and a reprieve for the other group members who wanted to complete the assignment with the book they had just purchased and read. The chair indicated that our stories were nearly identical, except that Student X claimed that I had behaved "aggressively." After discussing the situation with the chair, it was agreed that the group would use the new book with the understanding that I couldn't guarantee they would find the resources they needed nor would I help them locate any. Problem solved? Not really.

As the day turned into the evening, I began to hear from some of the other group members. They resented Student X's attitude and felt pressured to change the book selection, even though they didn't want to, because the thought of having to work so closely for the remainder of the semester with such hostility, anger, and bitterness was worse. Perhaps I should have insisted that Student X not return to the classroom after all. But, if I had done that, Student X's claim of being "disadvantaged" would become truth. On the other hand, I now have three students who are genuinely "disadvantaged" by the coup. Their day was every bit as terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad as mine.

Things are, however, looking up for me. It's the little things like this email I received a short time ago that make teaching a worthwhile career choice in spite of the nitwits:

You are THEE Coolest teacher ever..
Just hope you know that.
C u Thursday
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I have been waiting for this event ever since I found it on Diary of a Goldfish several months ago. On May 1, 2009, bloggers, both disabled and abled, from around the world will share their experiences, thoughts, and observations on disability discrimination. The goal is to "raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we've made."

So if you live with a disability or love someone with a disability, please consider joining us in blogging about it on May 1st. The banner in the sidebar has a link to the Goldfish's blog with the rules and details.
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A couple of days ago, I happened to stumble upon a documentary on HBO. By the time I found it, the first 30 minutes or so had already aired, but that didn't matter at all; it caught my attention immediately. Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card re-opened my eyes to what I see as the most utterly dismal domestic policy failure in decades.

Frederick Douglass Senior High School, an historic African American school in Baltimore, loses nearly half of its incoming class of freshmen by 10th grade, a loss that only grows through the 12th grade. Disciplinary issues, student apathy, and a lack of parental involvement or supervision all contribute to the problem. But Douglass High wasn't always like this; Thurgood Marshall and Cab Calloway are just two of the many famous graduates from this icon of black history. So what has changed? What has contributed to the transformation of an historic school with a roster of distinguished graduates to one whose students perform so poorly on standardized tests that, more than once, the state of Maryland has prepared itself to take over?

Never understimate the importance of location, location, location! Douglass High is an inner city school where the tax base is nearly non-existant and funding for schools is hard to come by. In the film, one teacher explains to the principal how she called in a favor from a teacher at another school to get some much needed textbooks for one of her classes. Hers, it turns out, is not the only class without the necessary materials. Despite ever dwindling funds and resources, the teachers at Douglass High are faced with the daunting task of preparing their students to meet the standards mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Students who enter Douglass High as freshmen are already performing far below grade level. According to one of the school's counselors, approximately 80% of the freshman class of 2004, the year the film was made, had a 4th grade reading level. Only 10% of the freshman class passed the standardized reading test, and less than 1% of them passed the test for math. By the time the academic year is over, half the students in the freshman class will not return to school as sophomores. And as these students fall off the radar, the school as an institution is punished by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Taking away the funding needed to provide resources to an already cash-strapped school system in an area where so many of the residents live at or below the national poverty line, seems absolutely criminal to me. What is the logic, the rationale, behind cutting off the funding necessary to purchase textbooks and supplies while still requiring students to pass standardized tests based on the information contained within them? Beats me!

As an educator, I would agree that our school system needs a major overhaul. But in a society as dynamic as ours, placing the blame for our youth's failure to pass standardized tests on teachers who aren't given the tools needed to perform their jobs effectively is not a solution to the problem.
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1. What is your current obsession?
The same one it's been for quite a while -- documentary films. I never get enough of them.

2. What’s a good coffee place?
My house -- there's always a pot on!

3. Who was the last person that you hugged?
Ali of the White Heart, aka my hubby.

4. Do you nap a lot?
Are you spying on me? I nap only when forced to by health issues which, unfortunately, tend to demand them. It's impossible for me to withstand a seizure without having a nap afterward.

5. Tonight, what’s for dinner?
Ali's cooking today, so it will be some tasty Egyptian dish. Exactly what, though, I haven't a clue yet.

6. What was the last thing that you bought?
Treats for the kitties.

7. What is your favorite weather?
Southern California winter weather -- cold, but not freezing.

8. Tell us something about one blogger who you think will play this week?
No clue. . .not even a guess.

9. If you were given a free house that was fully furnished, where in the world would you like it to be?
London, England! I've never been a fan of the "big city," but I made an exception for London after my first visit there. If the cost of living there weren't so doggone high, I'd have found a way to convince Ali that we need to move -- last week!

10. Name three things that you could not live without.
Coffee, computer, and hand lotion are three things I can't live without. Notice that I don't include people here? That's because I don't consider people to be things.

11. What would you like in your hands right now?
A kitten, but then Ali would have my neck in his!

12. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
Flaming Hot Cheetos dipped in sour cream

13. What would you change or eliminate about yourself?
Although there are quite a few things that I could improve about myself, I'd start with eliminating sleep deprivation. Going through life tired all the time just sucks!

14. As a child, what type of career did you want?
I dreamed of being an archaeologist until a career day event in high school where I learned that archaeologists needed to have good math skills. Killed that dream!

15. What are you missing right now?
Sleep. It's the story of my life. . .

16. What are you currently reading?
No Ordinary Time:
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in WWII

17. What do you fear the most?
Becoming mentally incapacitated.

18. What’s the best movie that you’ve seen recently?
Slumdog Millionaire

19. What’s your favorite book from the past year?
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

20. Is there a comfort food from your childhood that you still enjoy?
When I was a kid and didn't feel well, my mom always gave me a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup to dip it in. It's still my favorite comfort food.

Want to play along? Click here to join the fun!
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We met in Mrs. Barrett's fourth grade class. She was the new girl in every way -- new to our class, school, neighborhood, city, county, state, and country. As if those weren't enough new experiences for the skinny girl with liquid brown eyes, add new to the English language to the list. When Mrs. Barrett asked for a volunteer to help our new classmate learn English, I wanted the job and lucky for me, I got it.

Although I don't recall how we communicated for the first few days, I have to believe that language was not an issue. It didn't take long for Peggy and I to become inseperable -- we were BFFs in a big way. Whether it was at my house or hers, school or Girl Scouts, we were attached at the hip. In 6th grade, Diana became the third appendage, and the rest is junior high history. The three of us had some glorious times in junior high school but when it came time for the transition to high school, the tale of the fourth grade BFFs took a tragic turn -- Peggy's family moved to another city, leaving Diana and me to go off to high school without her. After Peggy moved, we lost touch. Diana and I remained BFFs all through high school, and it is to Diana that I owe an eternal debt of gratitude for helping me get through the last half of my senior year in the wake of my mom's sudden and unexpected death.

Over the years, I've looked for Peggy but had no success. I knew from Diana that she had returned to Holland, but that was just a year or two after we finished high school. And then, on March 16th, during my morning email check, I found a message with a subject line that read, "Hi Carleen, this is Peggy (4th grade, Dutch speaker)." After 30+ years, Peggy found me! I fired off a quick response, got one back, sent another with my contact information, and a few days later received a phone call from my 4th grade BFF who is still living in Europe!

I was thrilled to have reconnected with Peggy and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with some of what we had missed of one another's lives over the past three decades. We strolled down memory lane, and Peggy reminisced about my mom and the time she had spent at our house when we were kids. And although it was absolutely wonderful to have shared the tales of times past, nothing could have prepared me for the meltdown that resulted from it.

My mom died when I was 17 and she was 37. Her death came unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, just 3 months and 3 days after her own mother had died unexpectedly in a car accident. In such a brief span of time, my whole world fell apart. Whomever it was that said that time heals all wounds had to have been a complete lunatic; nothing could be further from the truth! The passage of time does make it easier to deal with the pain associated with the wound, but the wound itself never heals completely. Talking to Peggy and hearing her memories of my mom -- memories that I did not have -- devastated me.

My mom would have been 70 years old on March 28th. I have known my husband almost twice as long as I knew my own mother. Reconnecting with Peggy at such a crucial time, just days before my mom's birthday, reopened the wound that should have healed long ago. Because her memories of my mother were not ones that I shared, a tremendous feeling of guilt settled over me. Had I forgotten my mom? I truly feared that I had, and the possibility of that ever happening thrust me into an abyss with which I am all too familiar.

I needed the reassurance of someone who knew my mother, felt her absence as much as I, and would understand why I couldn't stop crying. Not wanting to upset my father, who is still sensitive to special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, I called my sister. Nobody was home. I called my two of my mom's sisters, but neither of them was at home. Finally, I called my stepmom who, in addition to being my dad's wife, was a very close friend of my mom and is still the BFF of my favorite aunt. Not everyone is as lucky as I am when it comes to the stepmom. Mine happens to be one fantabulous lady who, without batting an eye, immediately understood my upset and talked me through it. The doubt lingered for a few more days, but I'm dealing with it more effectively now. I have good reason to . . .

. . . Peggy is coming to the States in May, and the three fourth grade BFFs have planned a renunion!
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Double Rainbow
Arizona, 2008

To see other submissions for Wordless Wednesday, click here.
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There was a time when I loved the symbolism associated with a circle. How romantic it seemed to me that such a simple and ordinary shape could convey such profound meaning as eternity or never ending love! But I have to admit that my honeymoon with the circle is definitely over.
Circles no longer hold only a positive connotation in my world. They have come, instead, to represent entrapment in the more uncomfortable and frustrating aspects of life.

Chiari is a circle to me. The illness has trapped me in all its roundness and no amount of effort on my part will ever break that circle so that I can escape. Every day I am encircled in the embrace of a condition that controls everything I do. The surprise attacks from a faulty cerebral circuit board that result in headaches and seizures remind me that I am part of "the endless round" of "despair and hope" that forms "the circle of life" ("Circle of Life" lyrics). If the attacks I've experienced over the past four days are any indication, I'd have to say that I am one heck of an important part of that circle!

Time is a circle to me. Like a dog chasing its tail round and round, I spend my days chasing time. And although life sometimes throws me a bone by giving me the illusion that I've caught up with the myriad tasks that need my attention, I am more often like the poor dog whose time is spent in the fruitless pursuit of an unattainable goal. Spring break has come to an end, and the TO DO list it began with circles my neck like a noose. Life was kind and threw me a couple of bones this time around, though, as I did manage to catch up with most of the laundry that had piled up and was able to cook a few things in large batches suitable for freezing for later use.

Work is a circle to me. The more work I do, the less I seem to accomplish because while I've been working on one task, another four have made their way onto my TO DO list. We've been exceptionally busy at the office for the past several weeks. When it gets this hectic, family and friends -- none of whom own and operate a small business -- tell us to "just hire some help." In theory, that's a really great idea; however, the costs associated with having employees outweigh any benefits we may derive from them at this point. Our business is successful and growing, but we are nowhere near rich and with me retiring ahead of schedule and losing nearly half of my income when I do, we can't "just hire some help." At least not yet. And so, the TO DO list grows daily, and the noose tightens.

Yes, the honeymoon is definitely over, and the romance has died! The circle and I must now find a way to get along with one another, to settle into a comfortable pattern that allows us to coexist peacefully. Eternity is, after all, a very long time!
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What's that old saying about no rest for the weary? Or is that the wicked? Anyway, we've been moving at panic speed for nearly two weeks with very little rest or free time for anything not related to work.

It's spring break, but I'm not seeing any kind of a break. My sister and brother-in-law are visiting from Texas, and the poor dears are having to do the tourist thing mostly on their own because I'm stuck with gazillions of things to get done this week.

My retirement paperwork was begun last Friday and on that front, I got some unexpectedly good news. In addition to the retirement from the university, I am vested in and eligible to retire from the system in the community colleges where I taught for several years. The two plans can be merged together to my benefit. The only bad thing is that I have to chase down information from all the colleges.

Thanks for the emailed well wishes. I hope to move to a slower pace soon so that I will have time to blog regularly again. Until then, though, this is the best I can do.
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