Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


April 2011

Very long overdue

I know, I know, I know.

I’ve been completely neglectful of my wonderful list.  I assure you that I’ve only neglected blogging about it, not dreaming about it.  It has transitioned from the 50 things to do in my 50th year to my straight-up Bucket List.  I have a hard copy of it too, that I keep in my planner and I’ll occasionally make a note or two.  The original list and notes are in italics – every time I publish it I try to add commentary on what I’ve done.

In order to celebrate managing to stay alive, happy, and healthy to my 50th, I am going to try 50 new things this year.  Some are huge (hike the Great Wall of China).  Some are tiny (drink a lime gimlet).  All are things I have never before done.  And in that same spirit of celebration, my friends and family will be participating with me.

I’ve had a few more suggestions since my last blog, and those will be reflected in the list.  I’ve decided to be a little less OCD, and a little more organic in the list.  I’m not going to preemptively remove anything from the list; there will be more than 50 things.  In my daily life, as I always do, I will seek out new and exciting experiences, and may very well add something to the list spontaneously, maybe even after I’ve done it.  I will attempt to do all, but my primary goal will be to accomplish 50 New Things.

You all have been so enthusiastic and free-spirited about all this; thanks for the suggestions and the WILLINGNESS to do them with me!

1.  Streak through Publix    –   Dora (You are SOOO on the hook for this – still)

2.  Do a Bob Ross painting   –   Glenda (Maybe after finals?)

3.  Drink a lime gimlet   –   Sam M (Got this one done – Hendrix gin, Rose’s Lime Juice, shaken and served by an actual Englishman – P-E-R-F-E-C-T-I-O-N!)

4.  Fire-hoop   –   Glenda (Not yet – need a little more practice)

5.   Color my hair pink/blue/something for a race   –   Glenda/Amy (for the Ohio Iron in September)

6.  Go to the Superbowl

7.  Scuba-dive Cayman or Honduras or Bahamas   –   Fran (maybe in conjunction with our Key West swim?)

8.  Write a song   –   Beth

9.  Hike a 14-er in Colorado   –   Ben (climbed Torrey’s Peak and Gray’s peak – 2 14’ers in the Front Range with my boy)

10.  Write a children’s book   –   Kristen

11.  Be in a live audience for a TV show   –   Kristen

12.  Eat crumb cake at Carlos’ Bakery in NYC   –   Kristen

13.  Horseback riding on the beach   –   Kristen

14.  Go parasailing   –   Kristen

15.  Go bungy-jumping

16.  Big-ass rubber band thingy   –   Mandi

17.  Run 50 miles   –   Vic  (less and less likely with each passing day – and it wasn’t probable to begin with!)

18.  Attend Loy Krathong, the sky lantern festival in Thailand   –   Vic

19.  Hike the Great Wall of China   –   Vic

20.  Swim in the largest swimming pool in the world, in Chile   –   Vic

21.  See sea turtles hatch and head for the ocean   –   Vic

22.  Go sky diving   –   Phil

23.  Learn to play pinochle, mah jongg, canasta or gin

24.  Eat gefilte fish with horseradish

25.  Dress like a man and go with a man to a straight bar and a gay bar (They don’t know it yet, but I’m going to do this with Chris and Bryson when they turn 21)

26.  Have a colonoscopy   –   mom

27.  Get a tattoo   –   Amy (Done!)

28.  Go to South Beach, Miami

29.  Attend lighting of candles in Jerusalem

30.  Take ballroom dance lessons  –  Tonya

31.  Meet the President 

32.  Do nothing for one day:  no work, no workouts, no computer, no phone, no TV

33.  Go on a photo safari

34.  Visit all the continents

35.  Panhandle on a corner

36.  Ride the TransCanadian Railway

37.  Drink Paddle of Destiny at Mellow Mushroom   –   Susan (I’ve done this at least 3 times, but never with my girl Susan, so it stays on the to-do list!)

38.  Renew marriage vows   –   Mike

39.  Finish an Ironman  –  me (woooohooooo!!!  October 23, 2010!!)

40.  Climb a redwood tree   –   Amy

41.  Hike the Adirondacks   –   Becky

42.  Learn to swordfight   –   Ted (I know Ted, my bad – I will do this!)

43.  Drive a race car   –   Ted

44.  Hike the AT   –   Ted

45.  Take a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class   –   Shannon

46.  Kayak the Gauley   –   Sam

47.  Do a road trip   –   Brianna

48.  Swim with dolphins   –   Brianna

49.  Full moon party in Koh phangan, Thailand   –   Lila

50.  Visit Iguazu Falls in Argentina   –   Lila

51.  Go dog sledding in Alaska   –   Lila

52.  Become a licensed minister and marry someone   –   Lila (OK, girlie, I’ve done the become-a-licensed-minister part – just gotta find someone who is disrespectful enough of the institution to allow me to do it!!)

53.  Swim with sharks   –   Lila

54.  Jump off of a waterfall   –   Lila

55.  Watch Dr. Zhivago (how did I miss that?)

56.  Memorize Pi to 50 places  (3.1415926535 – that’s as far as I can do from memory)

57.  Go see the Formula 1 race in Monaco  –  Brother Eric

58.  Sit through an entire episode of:  O’Reilly/Beck/Colter/Limbaugh  –  Brother Eric  (you have no idea how hard this will be!)

59.  Make Bananas Foster

60.  See the Tour de France in person, not just on Versus at 2:00 in the morning!

61.  Place a $1000 bet on one hand of blackjack  –  Brother Eric

I’d like to add here

#62.  Ride my bike around Cade’s Cove in the moonlight.  Done.

So there it is.  My achievement ratio is disappointingly low.  BUT – remember the disclaimer.  If I don’t get it accomplished this year, it rolls right onto the Life Bucket List.  And the ratio doesn’t take into account things I have done, since May, for the first time that DIDN’T make the list.  Like bat wrangling in England.  And trying to catch a longhorn.  And manually expressing my dogs’ anal glands.  Oh yeah.  Just couldn’t bring myself to blog about that one.

So that’s the update as of April of 2011.  I’m going to Florida with brother for a few days next week.  I’ll try to get one of those TV shows watched while I’m there, and maybe make the Bananas Foster.

If you have another thought, comment away!  Just remember the rule – if you suggest it, you’ll be asked to do it with me – that’s the dealio!

safe driving technique

Thanks for reading!

Eating babies, pt 3.

Every convention has its socializing element.  Every convention gives its attendees free time to talk and discuss and argue and laugh.  When the convention is an atheist convention, when its attendees are inherently thinkers and talkers, and have a deep appreciation of the joy and value of each moment, the socializing element should not be minimized.

Hence you have day 2 being recapped on day 3.  It was my intention to post at the end of each day, but the day didn’t end, again, until the wee morning hours, so here we go.

Jamila Bey

What a breath of fresh air to begin the morning’s session with Jamila Bey.  Jamila ( gave us her experience of atheism in the African-American community (I know, Jamila, there is no ONE African-American experience!) with passion and clarity.  The social importance of the religious network in anyone’s life is not to be minimized; in the African-American woman’s life, it’s almost paramount.  Jamila seems to be made entirely of self-confidence and humor, but she has faced her share of resistance and criticism from the people she loves the most.

Jamila’s talk was followed by a diversity panel that was enlightening and informative.  The atheist movement by its nature is broad and inclusive, so when we have a diversity panel, we have a diversity panel!  It was interesting to hear perspective from other ethnicities and cultures.

We heard from comedian Paul Provenza, reading from his book “Satiristas”, and from Troy Conrad again, who was a scream.  Irreverent, thought-provoking, and interactive, both of these guys are worth Youtubing.

Then came the big guns.  PZ Myers ( spoke to us about what else?  SCIENCE.

from the biology professor
The great PZed Myers

We heard from Professor Hector Avalos, who is a Religious Studies professor at Iowa State University.  If you’ve seen the movie “Expelled” by Ben Stein, you’ll be familiar with his subject.

Finally, on Saturday we heard from two psychiatrists with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.  They shared with us the physiological and psychological effects of religious thinking and freethought.

Sunday started with JT Eberhard from the Secular Student Alliance giving us a report of student organizations and their phenomenal, exponential growth.  JT is such a voice for inspiration and motivation in the movement, and it’s my hope to have him visit the MTSU campus when we get the SSA going there.

Next was Lawrence Krauss, a quantum physicist who gave us little talk about Richard Feynman and his work.  We heard also from Matt Dillahunty, who hosts the podcast for the Austin Community of Atheists.  I got to join him for a meal or two, and found a little connection – his fiance is the former leader of the secular group at ETSU, and we chatted a bit about the student group there.

Finally, after an international symposium regarding the atheist movement, we listened to a military panel tell about the environment in the services for atheists.  I will leave to your imagination what their responses were.

Military Freethinkers

There’s a basic outline of what we did – I’ll try to blog in more detail about specific speeches and conversations I had with other attendees.  Tonight’s agenda includes more debate and beer, not necessarily in that order.

Thanks for reading!

Eating babies, pt 2

Christopher Hitchens was to have been a speaker at the American Atheists’ convention, but his health would not allow it.  He sent the following letter:

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.


Christopher Hitchens

Another great day at the convention – more posts to follow!


Eating babies, pt. 1

What do you do at an atheist conference?

Well, I’m finding out.  Technically, this is Day 2.  Last night was an informal fundraising dinner where I got to meet and speak with a few of the presenters, but it was mostly social.

Matt Dillahunty (Greta behind me) and me and the Thursday night dinner

Today began bright and early at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines, Iowa with the welcome by the mayor of the city.  That was immediately followed by the welcome by the president of American Atheists.  He was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly last year when billboard were put up in various cities.  In his opening speech, he took us through a series of statements beginning with “Consider an America….”

“…where judges can make decisions without fear of being removed from the bench.”     “…where science can be taught in schools by teachers without the threat of being fired.”   “…where loving families can adopt and raise children as they wish.”                        “…where our government begins its sessions with ‘Let’s get to work!'”                    “….where women can make decisions about their own bodies.”

Our first speaker was Jeff Sharlett, the author of “C Street” and “The Family”, the secret religious organization in Washington that has housed and sheltered a number of Republican scandal-makers, including up to this morning, John Ensign.  He was fascinating in his report about his experience with this group, and it is an incredibly important read, no matter your politics.  I’ll buy the Kindle version of his books and I promise I’ll  blog about them afterward, but I recommend them even before I read them.

Next we heard from Edwin Kagin, who is my new hero.  He’s the legal representation of American Atheists, and handles most of the litigation.  He highlighted two recent cases:  in Utah, the fallen officers’ memorial case – where crosses are erected in their honor, whether or not they were believers.  That case was resolved at the state supreme court in AA’s favor.  The second case involved the Kentucky Homeland Security statement that says that:  “…the security of the country…cannot be assured without a belief in Almighty God”.  The state attorney general ruled that case unconstitutional as well.  Mr. Kagin is charming and articulate – he’s from the area in Kentucky where my mother’s family is from, and his accent was familiar and endearing.  Click on the link just to read the lovely tribute he wrote to his precious wife he lost last February.

Following Mr. Kagin is one of my favorite bloggers, if not my favorite, Greta Christina.  She presented a talk on Atheists and Anger ( which was magnificent.  This blog entry is pretty close to the speech she gave, and she was wonderful.  (A little disclaimer:  Greta’s blog is not only an atheist blog, it is also a porn blog, so heads up).  On the first night, I even got the chance to chat with her a bit.  I first found her blog as a trainer, as she shares her own journey to reclaim her health (just search for her entries on weight management/fitness).

We had a little comedy routine by Troy Conrad, who did a great George Bush bit, then heard from another attorney, Eddie Tabash who is also a debater.  Our final speaker was Matthew Chapman.  (  He is a great-great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, and is a filmmaker and author.  He has made a film, The Ledge, with Liv Tyler, that has been accepted at the 2011 Sundance film festival.  We got to have our own, private screening before its June release!  It was incredibly powerful and profoundly moving.  It’s a thriller/drama and I won’t spoil it, but you should go see this film.

I’m learning that this group is rowdy and bawdy and snarky and FUNNY.  I’ve enjoyed meeting some very interesting people, and if it were not after 1 in the morning, I would tell you more about them.  We had a costume party tonight that was a scream!

can’t quite see Greta’s GREAT steampunk costume!
me and PZ Myers, one of my academic rockstars

I plan to blog again tomorrow night (but tomorrow night is the pub crawl, so I’m not promising) and try to post some pics.

Here’s to 4-5 hours of sleep…

Thanks for reading!

TED talk, birthday, hayride

I can go 2 weeks without posting, then have a weekend like this where I want to post about EVERYTHING!

I’ll try to write in sequence, but no assurances.  The girls rolled in Friday night:  Glenda, squeeze Sam, and BF Rachel in the minivan from Knoxville, and not 5 minutes later Amy from Johnson City.  It’s lame, I know, but they take my breath away every time I see them.  They’re so happy and healthy and I just can’t wait for them to walk in the door!  I’d fixed veggie lasagna and cheese bread and birthday cake and dessert – that’s what I do when the kids are coming home – gives me something to do with my time while I check the clock every 3 and a half minutes, and it’s such a mom/nurture thing.  We talked nonstop til we collapsed around midnight.

Early Saturday Amy and I got up and headed to Nashville for the Ted talk at TPAC.  O. M. G.  When I win the lottery, I’m going to be an international Ted groupie.  (  It was a TedX event – all local presenters, from 10am to 6pm, 18 minutes each, and I could feel the smart wash over me with each subsequent speaker.  I’ve kept the program so I can remember the details of each one.  There were musicians, 2 rocket scientists, a docent from Fisk, an entreprenuer, and dancer, a neurosurgeon, an orchestra, and even Ashley Judd.  Each one was fabulous.  Amy and I both had our favorites; the day passed in a flash and I will unequivocally say that I’ve never had such a great $50 8-hour day.  Ever.

This panel was created as each speaker presented - fascinating

Then home we dashed just in time for the girls’ 22nd birthday.  They threw down with their Murfreesboro posse, with an old school hayride/treasure hunt/bonfire – it was crazy fun.

Google "Bang This" twins, Nashville, TN for the joke

Aden and buddy Alden did the honors of following the map and helping Big Jesse steer toward the treasure (one of which was suspended from the zipline over the pond).

Aden with the treasure map

There was hooping and music and food and most of all friends, and didn’t end until the wee hours, long after I had given up and fell asleep listening to them talk and laugh around the fire.

Aden singing Happy Birthday to Aunt Glenda and Aunt Amy
...on the electric guitar

I know it’s cliche, but I can’t believe it’s been 22 years since the three of us partied like rock stars in a North Carolina hospital!

Sunday morning took us to Starbucks with our secular group where Sam Miller shared his experience with Quakerism.  We had a good crowd – (forgot the camera) and stayed until it was lunchtime.  We try to meet and chat about once a month – refreshing and challenging every time.

Then, as always, the time came on Sunday afternoon for them to head back to their campuses and lives.

beautiful children

It was a fabulous 40-something hours.  I even suspended studying for the weekend (and had a 12-hour day today!) to be able to enjoy them with no distraction.  In 3 weeks, they’ll officially be college seniors.

I love you girls – thanks for bringing the party 22 years ago!!

Thanks for reading!

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