I love Texas

Young man standing in a field

I love Texas, especially San Antonio, where I live.

I returned from a three-week cruise, and my plane from Houston to San Antonio was delayed, so I got home later than expected. Since I have given up drinking (because it makes me stupid), I was fully capable of recognizing my bags and getting them off the conveyor belt. Since I am 68, I pack light so I don’t have to lift heavy bags.

A good ol’ Texas boy (I could tell by his twang) struck up a conversation with me. He had come to San Antonio for a new job, and it was the first time he had flown, even though he was about 30 or so.

He said, “I’ll help you with your bags.”

I started to say, “No need. I pack light,” but he seemed to really want to help, and I believe in letting people do their feel-good deeds, so I said, “Thanks.”

He moved close to the belt and said, “Come on, Mom. Stand here beside me.”

Rather than correct him, I said, “Thanks, darlin’. I appreciate it,” and smiled.

He pulled the bags off when they arrived and helped me get them on my trolley. I thanked him again and headed for the taxis.

Someone, somewhere, raised that boy right, and I want to thank whoever did it. It made this grandmother feel good about the human race.

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Standardized Testing and the Special Needs Student

I love Facebook because so many of my students have contacted me there. One lovely young woman is Julie McIntyre (now Chinni). From 1992-1993, she was a student in my Accelerated Senior English class. She also was in my husband’s high school band beginning in 1989. When I saw her post about her son’s problem with standardized testing, I asked her to tell us about it.


This is from Julie:

Recently I watched as my thirteen-year-old son crossed the stage and shook hands with the principal after receiving his National Junior Honor Society award. An award based on academic achievement is no small feat for anyone–but especially challenging for him.

His public school education began at three years old when he was diagnosed with a severe speech delay and was enrolled in PPCD (Preschool for Children with Disabilities). Intensive speech therapy began immediately, and occupational therapy soon followed when his classroom teacher noticed he couldn’t hold a pencil or use scissors.

In kindergarten he had an appointment with an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (ENT) so he could be fitted with special ear plugs that would block out sounds. Loud noises were so overwhelming for him that he would come completely undone. At that time, the doctor suggested that my five-year-old might have Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t know what Asperger’s was at the time, but a quick Google search let me know what we were facing.

From www.webmd.com:

“Asperger’s syndrome is also called Asperger’s disorder, a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.

“Although Asperger’s syndrome is similar in some ways to autism — another, more severe type of PDD — there are some important differences. Children with Asperger’s syndrome typically function better than do those with autism. In addition, children with Asperger’s syndrome generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development, although they may develop problems communicating as they get older.

From Julie:

A trip to a Pediatric Neurologist confirmed what the ENT suspected. The official diagnosis never bothered me. I remember driving home after hearing it and thinking, “He’s still the same kid he was before the diagnosis. He’s no different now.” What the diagnosis did accomplish was provide services and accommodations for my son that he wouldn’t have received otherwise.

As a family, we found our footing and readjusted to life with a child who is considered to have special needs. Fast forward a few years to when my son had to start taking standardized state tests. By this time in his life the rigidity in his thoughts and general anxiety had become a daily struggle. Throw in the pressure of passing a standardized test, and meltdowns became expected.

My son never fits inside the box that the State of Texas Board of Education tries to put him in. The board members never asked his teachers about his learning style or any nuances that make my son who he is. They didn’t wait patiently at the classroom door as he pushed all the chairs neatly into their desks, help him tie his shoes in third grade because he was still struggling with fine motor skills, or talk him out of a meltdown in fifth grade because it was raining in the morning before school and he got wet.

They also didn’t watch him fall in love with books or see me watch in wonder with my mouth open when I realized he has a photographic (or eidetic) memory. The Board of Education only sees a standard set of questions that they believe anyone in any given grade level should be able to answer correctly. And to ensure that the schools buy into their belief, they base the schools’ funding on the test scores.

So what happens then? What happens when the superintendent pressures the principals to make sure the students pass this standardized test? What happens when the principals turn to the teachers and put stress on them to teach their students to pass a single test? I can answer that. I can tell you that the teachers then put pressure on the students, stressing the importance of one single test to the already stressed-out students.

One test, written by people who are sometimes not educators, written by people who do not know the children on a personal basis–people who sit in government offices and decide what our children should know based upon some arbitrary standard.

And what does that do to someone like my son, who already deals with anxiety? It pushes him over the edge. He is already defeated before he ever walks into the classroom to put his name on a bubble sheet. He already believes he is going to fail because so much emphasis has been put on this one test that he can’ t possibly put it into perspective and see it for what it is–one test.

One test doesn’t measure how kind he is, how talented he is, how funny he is, or how smart he is. One test. So when those failing test scores get mailed to my house a few weeks later, his self-fulfilling prophecy of failure just embeds a little deeper into his psyche.

As all the parents sat crammed into the gymnasium with our chests puffed up in pride while we watched our children get acknowledged for all of their hard work in and out of the classroom at the NJHS ceremony, I felt pride. But I also felt vindicated.

My son is kind, and talented, and funny, and smart. There is not a test that any lawmaker can mandate that will prove otherwise.


After I read what Julie wrote, my heart went out to her and her son.

Lately I have been hearing teachers say that the state standards are moving concepts that were once taught in fifth grade down to the third-grade level, based on testing requirements. We are using a model-T production business model to govern our schools, in hopes that we can cram more and more into the heads of young people.

Unfortunately the result we achieve is more likely to be what Lucy and Ethel experienced when they were wrapping chocolates on an assembly line, with the supervisor yelling, “Speed it up.” Teachers end up having to move on to the next lesson before the majority of students have mastered the current one. Then we act surprised when they fail. We are the ones who are failing them.

If an athlete is failing to succeed at the pole jump, do we say, “We’ll set the bar higher. Just try harder.” I think not.

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Cinco de Mayo (updated)

I love living in San Antonio, Texas. We have many different cultures here; we even have a museum, The Institute of Texan Cultures, which holds celebrations of various populations in Texas, including those as diverse as German, Sikh, and Arab.

River Walk in San Antonio, Texas

One festival San Antonio celebrates is Cinco de Mayo on the fifth of May. Many people enjoy tamales and enchiladas and everything else Tex-Mex, in addition to margaritas and Coronas with lime. Some don’t know the reason for the celebration. They think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, but that date is September 16th.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over the French forces of Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla. Mexico was having difficulty paying back war debts to several European countries, and the French army came to force payment. Mexico was invaded many, many times. They often lost, but this time they won.

America loves to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, perhaps even more than the residents of Mexico do. It’s not too late to go to Market Square or the River Walk in San Antonio for today’s celebrations. Keep in mind, though, that thousands of people will be there with you.

Update: I read in comments on another site that Napoleon III also wanted to support the Confederacy in the War Between the States. If he had won, American history might be vastly different. I don’t have a source for this assertion since it was a comment rather than a post.

TORTILLA SOUP – I am including my favorite Five-Ingredient Tortilla Soup recipe.

Credit Dollar Photo1-2 cans (10-ounce) chunk chicken
1 can (15-ounce) whole kernel corn, drained
1-2 cans (14.5 ounces each) chicken broth
1 can (15-ounce) black beans, undrained
1-2 cans (10 ounces each) diced tomatoes with green chili peppers

Dump all ingredients in a pan and heat. If you are worried about the result being too thick, you can save the drained liquid and add it back as needed. If you like, you can add a can of undiluted cream of cheddar cheese soup.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with tortilla chips or strips, some in the soup and some on the side. A squeeze or two of lime adds taste.

I like to add chopped celery also, if I have time. You can serve guacamole or chunks of avocado on the side. Sour cream works great also, along with sliced jalapenos or canned sliced carrots.

You can add cilantro, but I hate the taste. It’s not my fault. A DNA researcher who hated cilantro decided to see if he could find a genetic marker for liking/not liking the herb. As he ran various tests on others, he checked whether participants liked the taste. He found there was, indeed, a genetic marker for their preference. If you don’t like cilantro, it’s not your fault. It’s in your DNA.

Note: If you find errors or typos, please let me know in the Comments section.

Photo Credits: Dollar Photo Club

Interesting Facts About Halloween

A pumpkin is actually considered a berry, although the pumpkin’s hard shell is what makes it different from all the other berries.

The first Jack O’Lanterns were actually made from turnips. We credit the Irish for adding the “O.” (When I taught Latin, we discussed Druids in Roman Britain, and we carved faces in turnips and hung them around our necks with a cord.)

The game “bobbing for apples” is believed to have originated from an ancient pagan Roman harvest festival that took place in late October. The festival honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees – Pomona.

Choose your costume carefully if you live in Alabama. It is illegal to dress up like a priest on Halloween in Alabama.

In several states, it is illegal to have a picnic in a cemetery.

Legend has it, if you see a spider on Halloween, it is the spirit of a loved one watching over you.

Halloween tricks can actually trigger a medical condition called Samhainophobia, described in medical terms as an intense and persistent fear of Halloween that can cause people to have panic attacks.

Other Halloween-related phobias include Wiccaphobia (fear of witches), phasmophobia (fear of ghosts), and coimetrophobia (fear of cemeteries).

Forty-six percent of American adults carve a pumpkin for Halloween.

(Sources: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Guiness Book of World Records, National Retail) Adapted from KENS-5 on Facebook.

What Happens at the Uffizi Stays at the Uffizi

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

When I went to Italy in the eighties, I was part of a tour group of twenty people. We spent a full day visiting the Uffizi Museum in Florence, one of the most famous museums in the world. It has a large collection of unique works of art and masterpieces, mostly from the Renaissance Period, although it contains works from the twelfth century to the present. My favorite pieces were works by Italian artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, and Raphael.

Upon leaving the museum, I saw Maxine and Gwen, two elderly sisters, staring down at a grate in the sidewalk under the portico next to the building. Both had knitted brows and worried looks. I had just come out of the museum, and they didn’t see me yet. I told myself I should hurry on my way before they caught sight of me. Unfortunately, I just can’t pass by when someone needs help.

I went over and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I was changing the film in my camera,” Maxine said, “and the canister popped out and dropped into the grate.”

“Why don’t you just buy another roll?” I asked.

“I had all 36 pictures from the beginning of the trip until now. I really want them back.”

Together, we peered down into the grate.

A man walking by stopped and asked, “Is this another exhibit?”

“No,” we said.

He shrugged and walked away.

Actually, we could see statues and paintings beneath the grate, so we knew this must be part of the Uffizi.

“What can we do?” Maxine asked.

“Follow me.” I walked over to the entrance to the gift shop, which is the room everyone must go through before they can leave the museum. The operators hope, of course, that people will linger and buy souvenirs after seeing the artwork. A uniformed officer stands guard at the opening from the museum to the shop so people won’t sneak into the museum without paying.

I went up to her and asked, “Do you speak English?”

No. No Inglese.”

I tried to explain the situation in Italian, but she just kept shaking her head, so I motioned that we just wanted to go back in the museum. She grew more and more frustrated.

Fortunately, I knew the word for office in Italian, so I said, “Ufficio, per favore.”

She pointed behind us and said, “Exit.” She didn’t say, “Uscita,” since she could already tell we were Americans.

I stood my ground. “Ufficio, per favore.”

Once again, she pointed her finger said, “Exit.”

Ufficio, per favore.” I could keep this up all day if I had to. We would not leave without Maxine’s film.

Eventually, the officer sighed dramatically and pointed through the doorway she was guarding. She made climbing motions with her fingers and waved toward some stairs at the back of the museum. The two sisters struggled up the flight of stairs, out of breath by the time we found a receptionist behind a desk.

I went up to the woman and asked, “Do you speak English?”

No. No Inglese.”

Once again, my rudimentary Italian made it impossible for her to understand the situation, so she picked up her phone and spoke into the handset. When she hung up, she pointed to another set of stairs going upward, and we went up another flight, with the sisters stopping to catch their breath a couple of times.

An elegant woman stood in the office doorway at the top of the stairs. She spoke perfect English with a beautiful Italian accent. I explained the problem to her. She went over to her phone, spoke into it in Italian, and then said, “Follow me.”

We went down both flights of stairs and one more before we reached the basement. A handsome young custodian met us at the bottom. He was tall and broad-shouldered, looking quite fit in his blue uniform. A lock of black hair curled on his forehead like Superman.

The woman explained the situation to him in Italian. He smiled, nodded, and started looking around.

We all searched among the dusty statues and paintings for at least thirty minutes before Maxine examined her camera and said, “Oh, wait. It wasn’t the film that’s missing. It’s the battery.”

I said, “Oh, I saw a battery stuck in the sill of the grate while we were on the sidewalk.”

Maxine gave herself a face palm.

Gwen said, “Don’t feel bad.”

“We all make mistakes,” I said.

Her red face told us our words were little consolation.

The three of us thanked the woman and the man for their assistance. I told the woman we wanted to send a thank-you note to their superiors praising them for their willingness to help. She would not give me her name, saying she did not need to be thanked.

I turned to the man and asked, “Come ti chiami?”


I raised my eyebrows, opened my eyes wide, and asked in as sultry a voice as I could muster, “Fabio?”

He grinned and said, “Si, Fabio,” then raised both fists in the classic bodybuilder’s pose. I certainly would remember that name long enough to write a letter to his supervisor.

After we climbed back up the stairs and exited through the gift shop, Maxine and Gwen wanted to buy me lunch for being so helpful, but I declined. I realized that if I had not tried to “fix everything,” they would have found out a lot sooner that only the battery was lost.

But then I wouldn’t have met Fabio.

Copyright or Copyleft?

I recently stumbled upon a concept called “copyleft,” a play on the word “copyright.” The term has been around for quite some time, but I had never heard of it.

Basically, I would use copyleft if I create a work and wish to give anyone else the right to distribute, modify, and share it. I also would insist that anyone who modifies my creation must agree to pass on the right to distribute, modify, and share the new adaptation that ensues. All versions that future adaptors create should also be made available for modifying and sharing down the line at no cost.

The goal of copyright, of course, is to ensure that the creator of the art, software, or literary effort will receive monetary gain in addition to recognition. Under copyleft, on the other hand, derivative works are allowed as long as their creators insist that other users who adapt and distribute the new works do so at no cost to recipients. The original creator may require that all future derivatives give credit to him or her, but monetary gain is neither required nor expected.

The term “kopyleft” was used as early as the 1960s, in Principia Discordia, or How the West Was Lost (1965), later revised as How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. One of these original versions (I could not find out which one) contained a K in a circle followed by the words All Rights Reversed—Reprint What You Like.

The concept of copyleft was used by Richard Stallman, a software expert, as a result of what he perceived as a wrong. When Stallman was working on a Lisp interpreter and Symbolics asked to use his code, he provided them with a public domain copy, giving them the right to use his creation and modify it at will. Later, when Stallman asked them to give him a copy of the code they had developed using his software, they refused.

Stallman called this “system hoarding” and began working to prevent such tactics in the future. Around 1984 he created the first copyleft license. His goal was not to deny copyright as it is historically understood, but he believed that the creator of a work could allow others to revise the original as long as future revisers allow others to do the same.

Copyleft is often used for software. The creator gives anyone else the right to modify and share the code, as long as the recipient insists that the resulting software could be used and modified. Creative Commons provides ShareAlike, which uses a similar license.

Copyleft is still being used mainly for software; however, an amazing artist who supports copyleft is Nina Paley. She gives anyone the right to distribute and adapt her work as long as the adapter allows the same rights down the line.

Currently, there are four levels of permission. Copyleft can be divided into “full” and “partial,” and different countries have different laws for copyleft. At this time the backwards C in a circle has no legal significance; instead, the copyleft terms should be stated in words.

I recently attended a workshop held by a lawyer who is an expert in intellectual property rights. She said that many young people believe that all works should be free to everyone with no restrictions on copying or revising the original.

What are your thoughts?

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HOW TO WRITE A PAGE TURNER (edited and updated version 6-16-14) Recently, I downloaded a copy of Thread of Hope by Jeff Shelby. As I read the novel, I realized that this is definitely a page-turner. The character returns to the town where his daughter disappeared even though he hates being there because so many triggers remind him of her kidnapping. Even looking at his ex-wife is painful because his wife and daughter look so much alike. He comes back, however, in order to help an old friend who has been accused of a crime and is unconscious in the hospital. The reader can admire Joe Tyler because he forces himself to endure the agony of his memories in order to help his pal. As I read I realized that I rarely stopped at the end of a chapter, so I began to analyze the endings to see what made me continue reading. Here are the endings of some of the chapters. I shortened the list because the book has eighty chapters.

“All I know is that he told her you would know what to do.”

She raised an eyebrow. “They already know you’re back.”

As I gazed at the now gray-looking buildings across the bay, murky behind the fog, I felt no promise. No excitement. No hope.

I stared out that hotel window and I could feel all of it bearing down on me, with no clue how to stop it.

“You go near my daughter, they won’t take you away in an ambulance. It’ll be in a hearse.”

“I’m sorry. I swear to God. I’m sorry.”

A humorless smile took residence on his face and he chuckled quietly, tapping his fingers on the desk.
“So you did come to fight with me.”

“Alright,” I said. “Tell your wife I’ll be at your home to speak to her at nine tomorrow morning. Alone.”

“That’s how I know that something has happened to her.”

“Eight tonight,” he reiterated. “I hope you have some information for me.” I was hoping the same thing.

So I brought up something else that I knew was going to piss him off.

I did think he would’ve noticed that. And that was the problem I was trying to rectify.

“I’ll tell you something about the Jordan family that you don’t know.”

Secrets don’t stay buried. They just wait to be dug up.

But then she abruptly turned and her fist slammed against the door as she disappeared into the locker room.

But after ten minutes, I was tired of waiting and stuck my head into the locker room. A locker room that was already empty.

The situation crystallized for me. And he produced a gun.

Her eyes focused and she finally looked at me. “In case I had to shoot you.”

Each of these sentences could have occurred in the middle of the chapter, but Shelby wisely chose to stop at a point where the reader would want to keep reading. Add a protagonist who is going through a hell of his own while he is trying to help a friend by solving a mystery, and we have the proverbial page-turner. Good job, Jeff Shelby.

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