Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Passive Voice: A Sentence Diagramming Case Study

When we don't know "who done it," and the verbs "to be" plus a past participle follow the subject, it may just be a passive voice sentence.
Passive Voice Sentences are Diagrammed as Written

A sentence written in the passive voice is diagrammed like any other sentence.  The trick is knowing when you've diagrammed a passive voice sentence.

Let's use a case study to take a closer look at passive voice sentences: The Case of the Muddy Footprints.

The Case of the Muddy Footprints

Once upon a time, Amy Lynn came home to discover that all of the floors in her house were covered in muddy footprints!  She immediately called her detective friend, Monsieur Passive, to help her figure out who had left the footprints.  

"It's a mystery!" she cried to Monsieur Passive. "Muddy footprints were left throughout the house."
"I am on ze case!" he replied.

He began his investigation by diagramming the case as it appeared to be.  "Footprints," was his main subject, and "were left" was his main verb.  "Muddy," and the prepositional phrase "throughout the house," were merely words to add interest. He dismissed them immediately and focused on his subject and the verbs that followed the subject.

The detective inspects the subject of this passive voice sentence.
Passive voice sentences leave readers asking, "Who done it?"

The Subject

First, he studied his main subject, "Footprints."  He knew that the footprints couldn't have left themselves.  They seemed to be more of an object than a subject.  

"I'm innocent!" cried the footprints.
"Oui," replied Monsieur Passive.  "I believe you."

The detective inspects the verb in the sentence, "were left."
Pay close attention to the verb when determining if a sentence is in the passive voice.

The Verb

Monsieur Passive turned his attention to the verb, a team made up of the to be verb, "were," and his past participle partner, "left."  

"Why were you following ze footprints?" asked Monsieur Passive.  "Why are you hiding the real culprit?  Help me solve ze crime!"
The verbs looked at one another, and the helpful verb, "were," spoke first: "It was the plumber."

When a sentence is in the passive voice, we can only guess who the "do-er" of the action might be.

The Deduction

"I deduce," said Monsieur Passive calmly, "zat ze real culprit is none other zan ze . . . "
"Plumber!" cried the verbs.
"Mais no!" finished Monsieur Passive.  "You cannot blame ze plumber.  He is nowhere in ze sentence.  Zat would simply be making somezing up."

"Who was it, then?" asked Amy Lynn.
"You are a victim of ze passive voice," said Monsieur Passive.  "Let me explain."

  • "First, zere is ze subject, which simply seems like an object.  We know ze footprints could not have left zemselves."
  • "Zen, following ze subject, zere is the verb team made up of a to be verb and a past participle."
  • "I deduce, it is clearly a passive voice sentence." 

"But who left the footprints?" asked Amy Lynn.
"We do not know," answered Monsieur Passive.  "Sadly, zat is ze case wiz ze passive voice.  Sometimes, we are not meant to know.  Sometimes, we cannot know.  Zis time, we cannot know."

Monsieur Passive walked away from the case with his head bowed.  Yet again, knowing "who done it" had been taken away from him by the passive voice.  

"Next time, passive voice, next time," he muttered as he disappeared from under the halo of the street lamp.

Somewhere in the distance a lone dog howled, "The plumber left muddy footprints throughout the house, and you cannot prove it.  The plumber left muddy footprints throughout the house."

Want to Learn More about Diagramming Sentences?

Try my complete Kindle textbook, Diagramming Sentences: A Playful Way to Analyze Everyday Language, or sign up and enroll in my complete online Udemy course,  Diagramming Sentences: From Beginner to Expert in 12 Lessons, at a discounted price by using my coupon code, "Blog."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Contemplative Education and the Cultivation of Diversity Skills

A young man sits to think as the ocean flows before mountains.
Contemplating the World
Image by Chris Preen

Faculty who teach diversity classes or engage in diversity training can help initiate deeper change in students when they choose the Contemplative Approach.

There is a place for Contemplative Education in the study of cultural diversity. Whatever a student’s religion, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, learning style, political affiliation, or other diversity trait, he or she can greatly benefit from diversity courses taught by professors who weave and intermingle the two areas of study. Whereas in diversity courses students are often asked to respect and appreciate differences, when using the contemplative approach, students are taught how to cultivate respect and appreciation from the depths of their own psyches, which allows for real change and learning to take place.

What is Contemplative Education?

According to the Institute for Contemplative Learning Web site, Contemplative Education is an “educational approach” that “introduces people to the maturational goals and contemplative practices of the spiritual traditions, and teaches them to use these practices as a resource for resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict.” Students are taught, in a contemplative approach, a deeper sense of what it means to get along in a world where values, ethics and morals seem to continuously shift and hide in murky politics, business practices, celebrity gossip, and conflict. Students are taught various methods for coping with the world, including traditional methods of prayer and meditation, creative practices, honest communication, and diversity skills.

What Are Diversity Skills?

"Diversity skills" is the name given to any skill subset or methods people use to appreciate and respect differences, either the differences of individuals or the differences among and between groups. When people appreciate and respect differences, it leads to open and respectful conversation, an understanding of cultural or individual values, and a productive environment where everyone's individual strengths are recognized and encouraged.

That said, diversity skills are more effectively cultivated when taught using the contemplative approach or contemplative methods. Respect, appreciation, and understanding stem from much deeper places in the human psyche than can be glossed over by simply asking students to write a paper or participate in in-class skill-building exercises.

What is the Link Between Contemplative Education and Diversity Skills?

Richard Bucher, author of the diversity textbook Diversity Consciousness; Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and Opportunities, consistently refers to ideas that overlap the contemplative approach to education throughout his text. For example, managing conflict, overcoming barriers to success, and having respect for the self and others are key ideas emphasized in every chapter. Just as in teaching using the contemplative approach, the goal for developing diversity skills is to instill students with a sense of empowerment, and teach them the skills needed to develop “resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict” (Institute for Contemplative Learning, n.d.).

However, although his book often provides examples that approach demonstrating lifelong change and a core establishment of respect and appreciation, he continuously returns to the idea that diversity skills make the workplace a more profitable place. Therein, he doesn't quite tap into differences among students; students who are not motivated by money, or money alone. Not to pick on Mr. Bucher, whose text is one of the best examples of utilizing contemplative methods, many books and textbooks written for diversity classes fall short of meeting the needs of faculty who are trying to provide a grounding of respect and appreciation for all students, no matter their motivations.

Rachel Kessler, in her book entitled The Soul of Education; Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School, includes a discussion of how a contemplative approach in the classroom can help teachers and students truly connect with one another during diversity sessions.

In the "Creativity" chapter of her book, there is a section called "Bridging Differences." In this section of the book she gives an example that is not only inspirational, but fits into the definition of effective diversity training given by Bucher. Bucher defines one of the traits of successful diversity training as “Trainees return to a supportive organizational environment and apply what they have learned” (Bucher, 2010, p. 64). Kessler, working not from the office, but from the classroom, describes the diversity breakthrough as “possible only in a climate that supports both honesty and possibility, safety and risk” (2000, p. 102). Essentially, the concepts discussed in the Diversity Consciousness text and the ideas discussed in Kessler's contemplative text, are one in the same. However, in the Bucher text, the motivation for diversity he emphasizes is profit. Kessler, on the other hand, provides an example that shows the reader how diversity workshops can change the human heart, a life.

Faculty who teach diversity classes or engage in diversity training can help initiate deeper change in students when they choose to broach the topic using a contemplative approach. The two areas of study already overlap, but by emphasizing real change through the cultivation of respect and appreciation as living concepts, first, the students will more easily be prepared to apply these "unmeasurable" verbs to the study of diversity, later.


  • Institute for Contemplative Education (n.d.). What is Contemplative Education? Retrieved from
  • Kessler, R. (2000). The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School. Alexandria, Virginia:ASCD.
  • Bucher, R. D. (2010). Diversity Consciousness: Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and Opportunities (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Want to read more about pedagogy and critical thinking? Try

Assessing Critical Thinking

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Nov 5, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Literature Review: Benefits and Dangers of Wormwood

Wormwood, otherwise known as Artemisia absinthium, is an herb used in the alcoholic beverage, absinthe.
Image by FelinusNoir

Taking wormwood as an herbal supplement can be both beneficial and dangerous. Take wormwood only under a doctor's care.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to my alternative healing doctor that I was having trouble with my stomach. I was very bloated and uncomfortable, among other things. Embarrassingly enough, he determined I most likely had a parasite, so he sent me home with some herbal supplements to kill and flush the worms: clove, garlic, and wormwood. In an effort to forget about the "ick" factor, I decided to do some research about the herb with which I was the least familiar, wormwood.

Wormwood, scientifically dubbed in Latin, Artemisia absinthium, has been used to help with stomach ailments since antiquity. However, regardless of its long history and the positive results the combination of herbs had for me, a cursory review of the literature seemed, overall, to yield inconsistent information about wormwood's dangers and benefits.

Wormwood Basics

Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine offers a definition and brief medicinal description of wormwood, both the good and the bad. Somewhat confusing because of the use of medical terminology, Mosby's states that wormwood can be used as an "anthelmintic, bacteriostatic, antispasmodic, carminative," for "flow of bile, menstrual irregularities, febrifuge," as a  "sedative," for "stimulation of physiologic processes, general health, joint inflammation, digestion; nutrient absorption, anorexia nervosa, antitumor activity, wound healing, muscle sprain, gall bladder dysfunction," and "liver dysfunction." On the other hand, the entry also warns that it may "cause mental deterioration; may damage nervous system; and may be toxic in large quantities," which is consistent with the warnings I read in many additional sources. None of the sources I reviewed cited any studies that pinpoint the amount of wormwood that might cause a toxic reaction.

Wormwood Studies

In an article in Better Nutrition in 2007, author Jack Challem categorizes wormwood as a "bitter," or a bitter herb. In this article he shares data to support that bitter herbs can help alleviate acid indigestion. "Reinhard Sailer, MD, a medicinal herbalist," he states, "conducted a clinical trial on bitter herbs at University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland. He used bitter herbs to treat 89 patients with dyspepsia (acid indigestion). Symptoms decreased by an average of 74 percent, with the effectiveness rated as 2.9 on a scale in which three points was 'good.' Only two people stopped taking the bitter herbs because of the taste, and no other side effects were reported." Although these seem like numbers that would make people who suffer from "dyspepsia, upset stomach, heartburn and flatulence" jump for joy, Challem does not supply complete information or a reference for this study in his article. There are no dates listed, and he makes no mention of which bitter herbs were studied. As for Sailer's study, itself, I also find that a sample size of 89 is inadequate. Most disappointing of all, even in our university databases I was unable to find follow-up information for Dr. Sailer's study. Without valid and sound evidence, I cannot accept that Challem's article truly provides insight into the benefits of wormwood.

Challem's article and Sailer's study are not the only sources that lack crucial elements of sound and valid methodology. Other recent clinical studies include a study of the effects of wormwood on Crohn's disease and a study on its effects on uveal melanoma (Nova Herbal Supplements Inc., n.d.). Again, even though the studies suggest that wormwood was effective in the treatments of these diseases, the sample sizes are woefully small. The uveal melanoma study relies on an extended study of only one patient. Studies on the treatment of Crohn's disease have sample sizes of only 20 or 40 patients.

Wormwood in Absinthe

Many of the articles I found while researching wormwood are related to the alcoholic drink, absinthe. Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines wormwood as "A toxic substance, absinthium, obtained from Artemisia absinthium. It was used in certain alcoholic beverages (absinthe), but because of its toxicity such use is prohibited in most countries." The benefits and dangers of wormwood as an herbal supplement should not be confused with the dangers of absinthe, but the history of wormwood-based absinthe is interesting to note.

Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia suggests that some might argue that the opium-like effects of absinthe, made dangerous specifically by the thujone substance found in wormwood, contributed to the production of art in the early 1800s and early 1900s by such famous artists as van Gogh, Picasso, and Rimbaud. Regardless of this cultural benefit, the dangers associated with thujone eventually led to a ban on beverages that contain the substance. The writers state:  "By 1903, the national Academy of Medicine had declared absinthe to be the most dangerous of all substances. Medical observation had linked absinthe consumption to a wide range of pathological conditions, including hallucinations, convulsions, and a violent type of insanity. Doctors and social scientists drew up catalogs of violent crimes and homicides apparently committed under the influence of absinthe" (2003, pg. 1).  This is in line with the Mosby's Dictionary warning that wormwood might cause "mental deterioration" and a "toxic reaction."

Wormwood Herb, A Review of the Literature

All in all, the information available about wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, is somewhat inconsistent. Although many sources agree there may be benefits to using wormwood as a medicinal herb, there are just as many that warn against the dangers of an overabundance of wormwood or the element once used in absinthe, thujone. I took the wormwood supplement only under the care of a doctor and had positive results, but based on my review of the literature, it is certainly something I will never take without the advice of a doctor.


  • Absinthe. (2003). In Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
  • Challem, Jack (2007, February 01). Bitter herbs for better digestion. Better Nutrition, (2), 22, Retrieved from
  • Nova Herbal Supplements Inc. (n.d.). Recent Clinical studies with wormwood. Retrieved from
  • Spices and Flavorings. (2000). In Cambridge World History of Food. Retrieved from ii_f_1_spices_and_flavorings
  • wormwood. (2009). In Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. Retrieved from entry/tcmd/wormwood
  • wormwood. (2005). In Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from mosbycompmed/wormwood

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Jul 17, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Kitchen Gadgets for the New Cook

A collection of colorful kitchen gadgets.
Some of My Favorite Kitchen Gadgets

Before there was "an app for that," there was a kitchen gadget.

From gadgets that slice and dice and filet and chop to gadgets that stir and whip and blend and ball, there are some gadgets that are worth the money, and others that are just plain useless or even dangerous.  Here are some of my favorites from both categories.

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

The Bad and Ugly: Useless and Dangerous Kitchen Gadgets

Although many of these items have been "toyified" and call out to unsuspecting shoppers from colorful packages with photos of happy families on them, let me assure you, I have never found a use for them.  As a matter of fact, I have found that some of them are actually quite dangerous.
  • Banana Slicer: This item will take up space in your kitchen, and it will never be used.  Instead of nicely slicing your banana to use in your early morning cereal or breakfast smoothie, it will mash your banana into slices.  This mashing process will leave you with extra cleaning to do that could have been avoided if you had simply sliced the banana with a knife over your bowl or blender.
  • Stirring Machine: The milk will still scorch if you aren't watching it, and your gravy will still be lumpy.  If you're watching it, you may as well stir it and avoid having batteries so close to your hot, wet dinner.
  • Pizza Cutter: This is one of the most dangerous tools I have ever tried to use.  I should have never pressed my thumb down toward a round blade while rolling it back and forth over a scorching hot surface and into the coating of one of my nice baking sheets.  I now use kitchen shears, instead.
  • Food Shapers: Fried eggs were never meant to be round.  Bread was never meant to look like a dinosaur.  Hamburgers shaped like Texas are not tastier.
  • Convertible Whisk: While converting from a whisk that flares out to a whisk that flares in, I gave myself a blood blister.  I have converted to a regular whisk.

The Good: Kitchen Tools to Make You Smile

On the other hand, even though I am sure Chef Ramsay would not approve of these in a restaurant kitchen, the following items have become staples in my kitchen.  In addition to my vegetable peeler, can opener, measuring spoons, kitchen shears and assorted utensils, I have actually found the following "non-standard" kitchen gadgets extremely useful.
My Favorite Kitchen Gadgets - Image by Amy Lynn Hess
  • Spaghetti Portioner: It seems silly unless a person who is used to cooking for 4 starts cooking for 1, or vice-versa.  Not making enough can be embarrassing, and making too much can be wasteful.  My home is microwave free, so making the right amount of pasta means less waste.
  • Automatic Slicer: I use my off-brand automatic slicer a few times a month to slice potatoes and squash for soups and casseroles.  It's a lot easier than trying to slice these hard vegetables using my chef's knife.  I never have to worry about slicing my fingers.
  • 4-Sided Grater: I can use this grater to make my favorite homemade egg noodles, grate cheeses for casseroles and salads, zest fruit, or slice carrots and cucumbers when I don't feel like pulling out my off-brand automatic slicer.
  • Rubber-Bottom Ice Cream Scoop: I don't have to use my fingers to scoop the ice cream out of the ice cream scoop.  If I push on the rubber bottom, it just pops right out.  It also works for meatballs.
  • Pumpkin Cutter: When I was a kid we used a big knife to carve our Jack-O-Lantern.  It took a long time, and we weren't allowed to do it unsupervised.   Now, however, pumpkin cutters of various sizes exist, and they make the job safe, fast and fun.

A good rule of thumb when looking at gadgets in the never-ending aisles at your local department or dollar store is to take a moment to think about how that device could work for multiple tasks in your kitchen.  If it makes a cumbersome job safer or easier, or if you can see yourself using the gadget in multiple ways, it's probably a good buy.  However, if it seems too specialized or a little dangerous, better to leave it at the store.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Complete Approach by Dustin Pari and Barry FitzGerald: A Book Review

Pari and FitzGerald's book is a rough draft of what could eventually become a well-informed text for both new and seasoned paranormal investigators.

The Complete Approach; A Scientific and Metaphysical Guide to the Paranormal was written by the well-known paranormal investigators Barry FitzGerald and Dustin Pari.  The book was published by Summer Wind Press in 2009.

I first became interested in reading this book after watching a few episodes of Ghost Hunters International, the SyFy Channel television show on which Pari and FitzGerald appear. Both are investigators I enjoyed watching. I was interested in learning more from FitzGerald because of his experience using and creating quality equipment. I was interested in learning more about Pari's experiences with paranormal investigating because of his personal reason for becoming an investigator. As he states in the forward to this book, he investigates for a very specific reason: "To give proof to the world that there is definitely some sort of afterlife, some accountability for our actions, so that, in turn, we will all live better lives and treat each other with more respect" (pg. xiv).

It was that sincerity and expertise that convinced me to purchase and read their book.

Expert Information about Paranormal Investigation: Grade A

I was not disappointed with the information that is included in The Complete Approach. The information offered by Pari and FitzGerald is interesting and delivered in a comfortable, conversational style. There are references to helpful additional readings interspersed throughout the text, and they offer interesting examples that keep a reader interested.

For instance, in their section called “Scouting a Possibly Haunted Location,” they offer several steps to take to ensure the safety of investigators; not only their physical and metaphysical safety, but also their legal safety. In a section called “Understanding the Metaphysical Realm,” they offer theories and information about the effect of diet and the development of our eyesight in relation to seeing within the ultraviolet spectrum. In the section “Equipment Overview,” Barry even shares a personal case instance about a stalker-entity. Other topics mentioned are biofeedback, spontaneous combustion, and physiological ailments that can affect investigators if they are not careful to protect their spiritual selves.

Poor Editorial Quality: Grade F

That a reader remains interested in reading this book truly is a testament to the strong quality of the information and style, however. Although I was happy with the information that was included, I was severely let down by the editing. Unfortunately, a reader has to try very hard to overlook the abysmally poor organization and flow of the book and its abundance of typos and errors in grammar and mechanics.

The most serious error in the organization of this book is the obvious lack of final proofreading. There are sections of text that are duplicated instead of deleted. There are notes still bracketed within the text to the writers from an editor, and there are obvious errors in the order of information. For example, explanations of acronyms are given the third or fourth time an acronym is used, sometimes pages or chapters past its first use. Headings and subheadings rely on the vague word “it” throughout the text, forcing a reader to wonder what “it” might be. Sections end with cliché sayings or idiomatic expressions that seem unrelated to the information within the section. Most noticeably, topics seem to wander or jump from one to another without the use of identifiable main ideas or transitions to tie the ideas together as cohesive sections or chapters.

Furthermore, errors in grammar and mechanics are so prevalent that at times I had to cringe. In places the wrong words "your" and "its" are used instead of "you’re" and "it’s." "Who" and "whom" are used incorrectly numerous times. Adverbial forms of words are used instead of the nouns, such as "lightly" for "light." Titles of others’ books are placed in single quotations instead of underlined or italicized, and the same font size and indentations are used for headings on all levels, making it difficult to distinguish between ideas on different hierarchical levels.

Overall Recommendation: Grade C+

Overall, because the information in this book is valuable and delivered with a tone of sincerity and interest by the writers, Dustin Pari and Barry FitzGerald, I do recommend this book. However, my recommendation comes with reservations because of the poor quality of due diligence done by the editors and publishers. As fair warning, readers must read this book for what it is; a rough draft of what could eventually be republished as a fantastic text for paranormal investigators.


Pari, D. & Fitzgerald, B. (2009). The Complete Approach-The Scientific and Metaphysical Guide to The Paranormal. Summer Wind Press.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.  Originally published May 21, 2012 by Amy Lynn Hess.