Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


March 2011

Out again…in a different way

I am so excited to get to publish this post.  I’ve been working on this for 3 months and it’s finally time.

I’m in law school.  Even typing that phrase excites me.  I am 3 months into a 4-year, online law degree program.  It’s based in California, and while not ABA-accredited, California allows sitting for the Bar at the conclusion of the program, with full licensure upon passing.

I wanted to give myself the time and opportunity to see if I was going to 1) like the program 2) be able to handle the course load and 3) be certain that it was a quality educational process.  I am happy to report an enthusiastic yes to all 3 questions!

But I also wanted to be able to blog about this undertaking as it is happening, so I’m going to create this post, save it as a draft, and add to it through the weeks until I publish it.

1.11.11  Conclusion of first week of school.  Overall impression:  I LOVE IT.  I love the academic challenge, I love the OCD nature of the daily schedule, I even love the endless, tedious case reading.  The pace is reasonable – the suggested commitment is about 4 hours a day, and I find that pretty close to accurate.  The program is self-paced, and includes reading, lectures, online interactive classes, and quizzes.  I experienced a pretty big learning curve this first week.

Most of my undergraduate studies (back in ye olden day) required taking in information, committing it to memory, and repeating it back in the form of a test or paper.  Law school, not so much.  The first quiz I took:  30%.  Exsqueeze me?  30%?  I don’t even know where 30% lives!  Rattled me a bit.  In this program, if you don’t receive a 70% or greater on the quiz, you must take a makeup quiz.  With a quaking finger, I clicked on Submit, and got my instant results of…100%.  I am harboring no illusion that I have this figured out, but it helped to restore my confidence.

1.17.11  Week 2.  What I have found is the operative word in studying law is the word “reasonable”.  It is part of many tests of application, so to speak.  It’s such a subjective term in an objective study, it makes me smile every time I read it.  We are such a diverse and different society, the reasonable person test is humorous.  In my household alone, the response to the “Would-a-reasonable-person-find-that…” could be different the 6 times you asked it!  Musings on week 2…

1.23.11.  Week 3.  Today’s topic is addressing the portability of this program.  It is probably the drawing feature of Concord Law.  It is so exciting to log on to the live classes, and see the other students’ locations:  Spain, Japan, Indonesia, many US states, several from Tennessee.  We have traditional reading assignments, online lectures, real-time virtual classes, quizzes, exams – and 90% of these are on our own timing.  I can do them anytime/anywhere.  What I’m finding, however, is that I’m most comfortable sitting right at my dining room table where all my notebooks and books are laid out!  I’m currently out in Colorado skiing with my sons, and I brought some of my studies with me.  I find myself reaching for my books and highlighters and supplies that I DIDN’T bring…gotta work on that one.

2.7.11  I think this is about week 5.  Today’s topic:  punishment.  Who knew?  Even as a parent and being familiar with the purpose/reasoning of punishment (current hip lingo for parents instead of punishment:  discipline.  It’s a prettier word).  Reading and studying about the theory and history of punishment – the concept, the application, the purpose (punitive?  rehabilitative?  deterrent?) – it’s just fascinating.  It requires so much more insight into the human psyche and social mores than it appears we give it in our penal system.  I tried finding a TED talk about punishment (my go-to source for think-tank material) but no luck; I hope and expect to go into it more deeply somewhere along the course of study.  So short answer for this week’s musings:  I just love this.  I love being given something new to think about, something to learn, something to question.  Oh, and another quiz…90%.  But don’t get cocky.

2.13.11  I’ve lost track of week numbers – I just know I’m on module 5.  4 subjects, one new module per each every 11 days…which bring us today’s subject.  It goes without saying (but I’ll say it) that time management HAS to be a skill you bring with you to law school.  I don’t struggle too much with this – I raised a large, busy family, I know the value of time, I’m mildly OCD about my schedule, so this challenge hasn’t been too large.  What I am finding, however, is that equally as important as time management in this endeavor is information management.  Books and books of info, cases, reading, lectures – all have to be condensed/assimilated/edited into a reasonable pile o’ crap to study and learn.  There are tricks and techniques that I’m learning, but I find myself once again barely hanging on the wheel on a huge learning curve.  I had a bit of a Helen-Keller at-the-well moment this week on figuring out how to do this – it involves colored pens, highlighters, font sizes, and Roman Numerals.  That’s enough sharing for now.

2.21.11  Studying Crimes of Omission in Criminal Law:  do you have a duty to act?  Do you have a duty to save your child from drowning in a pool?  Good answer.  What if it’s your niece?  Another good answer.  What if it’s a stranger’s child?  What if you can’t swim?  What if it’s your sworn enemy?  Where’s the line?  Is it a legal duty or a moral duty?  Every time I feel like I’m on solid footing I get thrown another curve – good thing I like curves.  I like the whole cerebral challenge, I like the discovery and argument process, and I even like the gray area where these issues inevitably reside.  What I’m learning about the law is that It Is Always The Way It Is.  Unless It’s Not.

3.5.11  Topic of the day:  In law school, which is the bigger advantage – Youth and Enthusiasm or Experience and Maturity?  I’ve been watching my fellow classmates and I see their Facebook statuses and their answers during class and their comments when we do group study and I’m going to say that right now the jury’s still out (see what I did with that?).  I can see that some of the time the younger students (<35) have ideas and vigor and I really appreciate their drive and openmindedness.  I can see that we, the older crowd, have such a broader approach to the workload and time management, and we’re more patient (mostly…a week to grade my essay??  WTF?) and less flexible in accepting new concepts.  I love watching the whole group interact, however; especially our class spread across continents and time zones and cultures.  I am saddened by the loss of a couple of classmates already – I’m not looking forward to the natural attrition that’s just a fact of life with a graduate program like this.

3.20.2011  I love my classmates!  In a program like this you have to be creative and flexible about studying because #1) we’ve all got lives and jobs and families and #2) we live thousands of miles apart!  My class is spread out over the globe so we use a variety of study tools – our go-to is Skype – an hour, two hours, three hours with briefs spread out and books open, talking about the current topic and sharing what we understand about it.  We also use Facebook, and Facebook chat, and of course email (who knew that would be kind of old-school?).

3.29.2011  It’s time.  I’m about 2 days premature on posting this, but I’m ready.  I don’t know that it’s going to come as a surprise to anyone since I can’t keep my big mouth shut about how much I’m enjoying this, but here it is.  I am loving it, I am overwhelmed and maximized on what I’m able to learn and understand, I have no assurance I can get through this over the next 4 years, and I’m going forward anyway.  Every big undertaking involves big commitment and big risk.

Expect more entries regarding this subject, and as always,

Thanks for reading!


Immediate and extended.

I’ve just come off of few days in Johnson City with daughter Amy on her spring break from ETSU, and a week at home with Glenda on her spring break from UT, and a little family picnic with extended family in Gallatin.  I’m thinking this is the electronic version of having to watch someone’s vacation slide show from back in the day.  The good news here is that you do NOT have to sit in my living room and pretend to be interested.  You can go off and Google something far more interesting and check back later for a more edgy and unsettling post, if that’s what you’re looking for (cuz you know that’s just a matter of time)!

Because this will be all flowers and butterflies.  You’ve read here before my gushing about spending time with my kids, and these past two weeks have been no exception.  First there was the visit with Amy in Johnson City and meeting her friends and seeing where she works and having coffee and beer (not together) and talking about classes and life, and then there is the week with Glenda, and seeing her friends and watching her work and having coffee and beer (ditto) and talking about classes and life.

Then came the extra bonus of having a little family get-together in Gallatin.  A precious cousin I seldom see came in from Oregon for a week visit with her mom, my aunt.  We are close in age and were close growing up, but time and space conspire to keep us apart, so we settle for an electronic presence in one another’s lives.  But every now and then the universe opens up a little space for us to have a face-to-face, and this week was that time!

Cousin Stephanie, her man Michael, Aunt Annie

We had a little get-together in a park, along with another aunt and more cousins, but Steph in this case was the centerpiece.  She’s a damn hippie living a sustainable life out in Oregon, she’s loud and confident and  opinionated and smart and I love her.  We have a lot in common, and we differ at lot, but that just means we have big enough personalities to accomplish that.  I grew up with only brothers, so in a real sense, she was the closest thing I had to a sister.  Steph and I were the oldest of the girls cousins; the younger ones we treated like dollies.  She and I wrote letters in code, and sent each other word games in the mail, and giggled under the covers at the grandparents when we were supposed to be asleep.   I’ve watched her raise her family, and evolve, and travel, and become the complex person she is today.

I really had no intention of this little post being a little love letter to Steph, but sometimes the writing kind of takes over and I just hang on.  I had intended on writing about how much all of my family means to me, not just this one special person.  But I’ll just let it go at this, and I’ll write about the others as it unfolds.

Beautiful run today, on the property.  We have new renters in the little house, the dogs and I encountered them walking around, and their dog and Uga got into a little dust-up, but no one’s the worse.  Every tree and plant and flower is having sex, which makes it hard to breathe, but what a gorgeous display they make (does that make all of us voyeurs?)

Thanks for reading!


Coming to you live from Maple Street in Johnson City, TN —

This is Amy’s spring break week from ETSU, but in a effort to complete the funding for her upcoming adventure to Thailand, she is working through the week.  I took advantage of her time off from school to get in a quick visit, which includes 2 visits on the to and fro with Glenda!

Glenda in UT Print Shop

We had a great couple of days together, revolving as it usually does around food, wine, and talk.  She’s working at a sushi restaurant, so lucky me, I hung around the sushi bar while she waited tables — entertaining myself with watching her while eating miso soup, salad with ginger dressing, 2 rolls of sushi and Sapporo.  The next day we ran errands, shopped for groceries (a college tradition when a parent’s in town), and went to a great pizza place called Scratch.  High-funk, BYOB, brick-oven place that features a menu option called:  Trust.  We went with our own choice because she wanted me to taste certain things; next time we’ll put ourselves in the hands of the be-dreaded crew and go with the Trust option.  I also got to hang at the Acoustic Coffeehouse, another high-funk place one and half blocks (read:  walking distance) from Amy’s darling house apartment.  She’s got more company coming in for the weekend, so I’m grabbing a shower and hitting the road for Knoxville where Glenda is about to begin her spring break.

Amy, Phil, and Trip at Acoustic

This past weekend Aden got to spend the weekend and we did the usual:  throwing rocks in the pond for about an hour, playing 400 games of UNO (it rained a LOT), and coloring.

Life is good

To complete the generational bookends, between visits with Aden and the girls, I got to visit with my parents as they made a pass through Middle Tennessee on their way to a motorhome caravan to Civil War sites (my dad is the historian for the group).  This is their first trip with their new, upgraded RV (5 feet longer and one slide out more than the old one).

The new Maxwell rig
sweet mommy
crabby, grumpy old grandpa

A week in the life.

Thanks for reading!


The A word

First things first.

Thank you so much for your comments on my last post.  Whether they were words of encouragement and empathy, or words of challenge and disagreement, I appreciate that you took the time to read the post and share with me your thoughts.  I have come to realize that stimulating discourse is one of my primal needs, and I am grateful to have this venue to be able to engage with each of you.  I respect that not everyone felt comfortable posting publicly, and I love the creativity you employed to get through to me:  phone texting, Skype texting, Facebook inbox, phone call, email, and maybe even snail mail?

Now, on to the substance.  I got several comments through various avenues about the use of the word atheist.  I didn’t use that word in my post, but it’s a valid point, and I appreciate the curiosity of those who asked.  You wouldn’t think I could write a post about one word, but never fear — I lean toward the verbose and rise to the challenge!

If you recall in my first post, I mentioned that almost everyone in my secular bunch who blogs has a post recounting their coming out experience.  We also, almost everyone, have made an intentional, conscious decision about how to self-identify.  We have a lot to choose from:  atheist, agnostic, freethinker, secular, humanist, skeptic.  Each of those words has a specific meaning, and again, as I said before, as every non-believer I know is fiercely independent, each of us has selected our “label” with great thought.

In the book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins presents his approach to the spectrum of belief, so to speak, with a scale.  Here it is, direct from the book:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
  2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De Facto theist.   “I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
  3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
  4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
  5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
  6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  7. Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung ‘knows’ there is one.”

Dawkins goes on to point out that although category #1 is quite crowded, there are very few people populating category #7.  I haven’t met anyone who is a 7, but I’ve met many 1’s.  I am a 6.7-ish, because of the improbability of proving the NON-existence of something (Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot – Google it.)

I know the power of the word atheist, and I vividly remember the pity it engendered in me when I was a believer.  Pity for the poor soul who hadn’t heard the message, hadn’t understood the message, hadn’t accepted the message.  It is appalling to me now, but except for a few radicals in college, I didn’t know any atheists for most of my adult life; I certainly didn’t have relationships with any.  The word was synonymous with evil, and I almost audibly added “angry” as the default adjective every time I heard it.

I use the word now quite freely, and can interchangeably use any of the words in the above list.  My least favorite is the word Agnostic, because it implies some kind of nonchalance or carelessness or apathy toward knowledge of the existence of god, and I do not own that (by definition, agnosticism means that nothing is or can be known about the existence of god; professing neither a belief, nor disbelief, in the existence of god).  I use the word Secular quite often, because it seems to be less anger-inducing to believers.  I won’t get into the etymology of all the words – you can research that if you are interested, though, and a quick search will probably bring up even more descriptors.

The Freethought movement of today has been compared to the LGBT movement of the 1970’s and 80’s.  Back then we used to say, “I don’t know anyone who is gay or lesbian!”  We found out that we were wrong; that we indeed did know people who were gay or lesbian, we just didn’t KNOW we knew.  I think the same applies here:  You may think you don’t know any atheists…you are wrong.  You just don’t KNOW you know.  And now you do.

Thanks for reading!

Blog at

Up ↑