Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


December 2011


I credit evolution.

My kids get tired of my constant reference to it, but I think we can learn so much from our evolutionary heritage.  I’m not a scientist, so all of this is amateur, but I’m learning how to apply what evolution can teach us now.

About 10 years ago, when I started on a journey to regain my health, I discovered information that allowed me to do that.  I began to study metabolic science, nutrients, human anatomy, and what that information can tell us about what to eat and how to move.

Because I chose law school over medical school, I had to learn how to learn science, starting with formulating a hypothesis, studying the process, studying the data, in this case applying it personally (n=1), and seeing if the hypothesis holds up.  So here I started with the hypothesis that maybe we should eat like our ancestors ate, since that seemed to have allowed them some survival advantage.  I’ve written a whole other blog about all of that; I mention it because it’s the method I’m going to use for this next topic.

Back to evolution.  As I study anthropology and what our societies were like before we embraced agriculture, which seems to be a real change in our history, I’m finding that we lived in small, cooperative communities, pooling resources, celebrating together, grieving together, raising children, struggling to understand our environment, finding ways to protect ourselves from the environment and predators.  Almost all of these societies, across the globe, had myths and tales about origins of the world, explanations for natural phenomena, and rituals for birth and death.  As Americans, our particular pedigree comes from the Abrahamic line, and those rituals and rules over the years have become manifest in contemporary Christianity.   The church has provided a place for gathering, to worship, instruction, support, a common agenda – all sating very primal needs.

Sometimes in my discussions with believers, the topic veers from the validity of religion to the usefulness of religion.  I absolutely believe that religion can be useful; this blog is about just that.  I also believe that its usefulness has no bearing on its truthfulness (please tell me I just invented that phrase).

As I attend secular conventions (AA in April, TAM9 in July, Skepticon 4 in November), and as an avid blog reader, and new activist, I have made the following observations about the secular community:

1.  We are intellectuals.  We can blog the hell out of any topic, including, but not limited to, gelato.  We love the process of language, we love words, we have a unique ability to explain our position, and, thanks to the interwebs, can back it up with citations and references.

2.  We own the internet.  No shit.  It is the single most effective reason atheism is experiencing the growth it is – even evangelicals are acknowledging that.

3.  The future of the movement is in the hands of college students – not individual, identifiable people, but as a demographic.  It’s the perfect window of age to be free from familial obligations of church attendance and exposure to a broad base of philosophical and social input, yet young enough not to have established personal habits of faith and superstition in their own new families.

4.  We are young and we are old.  It seems that, both through the blogs and attendance at conventions, that we are comprised of youngs (18-25) and olds (50+).  It’s not that we don’t have the middle folks – in my own local group that’s actually a large percentage of our number – it’s just that that group is busy with career and spouses and children that the youngs and the olds don’t have.

5.  Community.   Online: we have it in spades.  Every support group you can imagine – recovering fundamentalists, ex-Mormons, secular parenting.  Flesh and blood: not so much.  We’re working on it, and we’re getting better at it, but we’re no match for churches.  I think that that sense of community, rather than a devotion to the faith itself, is what keeps a lot people in church.

As our evolutionary history tells us, we are social beings.  We need to feel included, but individual, protected but not restricted, part of a group yet independent.  The contemporary church has provided its version of that; I think the secular movement can do at least that, and even do it better.

My local group of seculars (hereinafter known as: the posse) is heavy on the very group I say the movement as a whole doesn’t have:  young adults with families.  There are couple of us oldies, and the ubiquitous college agers, but we’re lucky enough to have several young couples and their beautiful, freethinking young children.   Which finally brings me to the point of this post:  my scheme to take over the world social experiment.

Our posse, instead of just hanging out and sampling the finest hops our town has to offer, is going to add a bit of intention to our efforts.  We’re going to try to make our get-togethers a smidge more family-friendly:  choosing restaurants that are easier on the wallet, more conducive to child palates (notwithstanding my moratorium on Chuck E Cheese), parties where the children are accommodated with caretakers (perhaps education majors from our local university?), scheduled activities that work around school nights and bedtimes, service projects in which entire families can participate.

So stay tuned for updates — right now I’m on my way to a New Year’s Party with said posse – best wishes to all for 2012!!

Happy Saturnalia! Festivus! Christmas!

Ok, ok, I’m listening.  And reading.  And paying attention.  When enough of you ask the question, or make the comment, I get it.  That’s one of the best parts about having a blog; the opportunity to clarify, explain, and answer!

Christmas without religion.  I don’t know if it’s really that hard to comprehend, or if it’s simply too disturbing and uncomfortable to even contemplate.  Several people have asked, with differing levels of hostility, why I have an interest in celebrating Christmas.  My first inclination is to ask them what specifically are their Christmas traditions, and how do those traditions relate directly to the celebration of Jesus’ birth?  Let’s take a look…

Is December the 25th the actual anniversary of Jesus’ birth?  What information do we have about this?  Just a little research will reveal that even religious leaders acknowledge that it is highly unlikely that the date Christians celebrate as the birth of Christ is the date we know now as December 25.  However, let’s just assume for argument’s sake that we’ve simply agreed to celebrate it on this day.  But why did it get “implanted” here?  Why late December?   The pagan Roman emperor Aurelian had proclaimed December 25th as the birth of the invincible sun-god Saturn.  Christianity cleverly and strategically had begun supplanting pagan celebrations (see Easter) in an effort to “facilitate conversion”, and viola!  Merry Christmas!  In fact, there are some Christian faiths who choose to de-emphasize the celebration of Christmas altogether, basing that on admonition from the scripture not to participate in pagan festivals.

Christmas trees and greenery?  That’s an old Nordic tradition celebrating those evergreen and holly trees, with their lovely red berries, which keep their beautiful color even in the depths of winter.  I’m old-school, and will only be happy with a live tree; my mother and brother both have perfectly gorgeous fake trees, so the debate continues year to year.

Santa Claus?  That’s about as secular as one can get!  The patron saint of children, Saint Nicholas, whose day was designated as December 6, traditionally gave children gifts.  The poem by Clement Moore added to the image of the jolly old elf.  Again, many believers choose to downplay this beloved tradition in an attempt to be less confusing and more honest with their children about things that are make-believe and things that are real.

Stockings by the fireplace?  Another old European tradition about the Norse god Odin’s flying horse.  During the Yule festival, children would put carrots, sugar, and straw in their boots, and leave them by the fireplace for the great Odin’s horse.  In exchange for this kindness, Odin would leave the kids candy and treats.  In our house, the kids could retrieve their stockings before daylight, but had to wait til dawn to come wake us up for presents.  Most years, this was after our having stayed up til 3 or 4 am assembling some toy or another.  Another Christmas tradition in our house was Christmas day naps.

Family gatherings, food, singing songs?  As an end-of-the-year celebration, many people have time off and choose the recognized holidays to renew family ties.  Sometimes that includes attending church services, and sometimes not.  Schools are traditionally closed, allowing college students the chance to go home and see their parents and siblings.  Special and celebratory foods go hand in hand with this, as does game-playing, song-singing, laughing, talking…well, that’s how it is in my house!  Our favorite holiday foods – dark chocolate walnut fudge, boiled custard made with fresh eggs, sausage and cheese balls and gooey yeast cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

Gift-giving?  I believe that’s as old as mankind itself.  The tradition of expressing gratitude, or love, or affection through the exchange of gifts is carried on even now; the wrapping and decorating are an expansion of that.  We all know that we’ve taken this too far in our society, and have overcommercialized that aspect of the holiday, but it’s still integral to the season.  My go-to is always books, books, books, but I always get a little something sparkly for my precious mother.  And get this, my dad’s birthday is December 25, and I really do go to the trouble every year of getting him 2 gifts, and wrapping one in non-Christmas paper!

As for me and my family, our Christmas traditions now are almost identical to the traditions we observed when we were believers, leaving out only attending the Christmas services at the church.  We do a lot of eating/cooking/baking/drinking, a lot of game-playing (this year’s favorite is Apples to Apples), a lot of talking and laughing and gift-wrapping and arguing and debating, some movie watching, hiking on the farm, gathering old friends, and this year, a lot of relaxing post-finals, as my kids and I are all in school, save our one graduate intern.

Our unique traditions include:

A psycho collections of nutcrackers that is WAY out of control.  It started when the kids were little, and has grown to over 100.  Son Sam gets devious pleasure out of “reorganizing” my display by having them all turned to face the wall, or all turned to face each other, or hiding in my cabinets looking at me when I open the door.

Also, this truly bizarre assembly:  we have recently added this very unconventional (surprise) and darkly interesting event.  The kids and I share with one another our annual memorial plan update.   Yes, that memorial plan.  How we wish to be memorialized when we die.  We add some ghoulish delight by making it a drinking game (you’d have to understand my brilliantly quirky kids).  We end the affair by expressing yet again our love for one another, and our humble and profound appreciation for every single breath we draw in this, our one and only life.

So, that’s what Christmas means to me.  And I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most believers participate in the same traditions as I’ve just described here.  If you want to put religious significance into this celebration, enjoy!

I’ll end with my favorite Christmas song….ever.

Best of the season to you and yours!

Thanks for reading!

Law School, Year One

I’m still in bed.

It’s the Monday after my First Year Final on Friday, it’s 11:30 in the morning, and I’m still in bed.

I haven’t posted recently about school, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I have been so consumed with studying.  Our final consisted of essays in all three subjects:  Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, and 100 multiple choice questions.  Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  It’s not, until you throw the time pressure in – 1 hour each for the essays, that we could easily have used 2 hours for, and 1.8 minutes per multiple choice question.  Just for fun, here’s an example:

Paolo’s daughter, Maria Elena, was getting married at home on December 25. Wanting to make the palazzo as nice as possible for the big day, Paolo signed a written contract with painter Diablo who agreed to paint the house. Mindful of the importance of getting the job done on time, the contract contained an express provision that all painting must be completed by the wedding date and that time was of the essence. To prevent any misunderstanding the writing also stated that any modification to the contract must be in writing.

After signing the contract, Diablo was offered another lucrative job by another rich client. Diablo called Paolo on the phone and offered to upgrade the quality of paint from store brand to designer top-grade if Paolo was willing to delay completion of the job until January 31. Thinking that the house maybe didn’t look so bad after all, and how much nicer it would look with top-grade paint, Paul orally agreed that if Diablo used the better paint he could have until the end of January to finish the job.

When Paolo’s wife, Strega, returned from a business trip on December 15 and asked why the house was not painted as planned, she became furious about Paolo’s new deal with Diablo. Paolo, before going to sleep in the dog house that night, remembered the provision in the contract stating that all modifications must be in writing, so he called Diablo telling him that he needed the job done by December 25 as stated in the written contract. Diablo refused, stating that he was already working on another job and could not get to Paolo’s house before the 25th. When the wedding day came and went without the house being painted, Paolo sued Diablo for breach of contract.

Will the court likely find that Diablo breached his contract with Paolo?
(a) Yes, because the oral modification violated the Statute of Frauds.
(b) No, because the written contract was modified.
(c) Yes, because the modification lacked consideration.
(d) Yes, because the contract expressly provides that any valid modification must be made in writing.

How’d that go?  Did you even get the question read in 1.8 minutes??  Now add that in most of these questions, usually 2 and sometimes 3 of the answers are actually RIGHT, but only one is the MOST RIGHT.

So, I’m still in bed.

Flying to Arizona for a last-minute study session with my study partners is what made it tolerable.  I blogged about them earlier; they are one of my favorite parts of law school.  It’s sadly one of the things we most feel we miss attending an online program like ours.  It’s the tradeoff we make for attending lectures in our jammies in our big comfy chair in our own living rooms with a glass of wine and a blazing fire in the fireplace.

old school
new school

My school is a 4-year program, unlike the traditional 3 years at a bricks-and-mortar.  It allows me to see it in terms of my high school and undergraduate programs:  I’ve finished my freshman year.  My dad has always liked this little saying:

Freshmen don’t know, and they don’t know they don’t know.

Sophmores don’t know, but they know they don’t know.

Juniors know, but they don’t know they know.

Seniors know, and they know they know.

So that puts me ending the year that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know, which is pretty accurate.  My reflections on this past year are:

1.  Law school is harder than I expected.

2.  Law school has no bearing on the Bar Exam.

3.  Law school appears to have no bearing on the practice of law.

4.  Law school makes for some incredible friendships.

5.  When I don’t think I’m going to pass, I think of all the people who are lawyers, like Dan Quayle, Michelle Bachmann, and Judge Roy Moore, and I get sick to my stomach.

My class now gets the much-anticipated break in which we get to enjoy not studying for the first time since last January, that is delightfully tainted by the fact that we don’t get the results of our final, and consequently, the results of whether or not we’ve passed the first year.  Happy Holidays!

In this break of time I want to read, work, cook, watch Project Runway with my daughters who are home from college on Christmas break, clean the house (a little, don’t get all crazy), and go out to Colorado and ski with the sons.  I have to go back to a real to-do list for a while; for the past 3 months, it has only had one thing on it:  STUDY.

I love law school.  I know that’s not the conclusion you were expecting from all the above.  I love it in SPITE of all that stuff.  And I love my school in particular, imperfections and all.  I love being at my own pace, I love clicking off the modules on the timeline, I love chatting with my fellow students in our virtual classroom, and more than anything, I love learning this stuff.

Like a law princess version of Rumplestiltskin, I wish I could spin that passion into grades….but for now, I’ll just have to wait to learn my fate.

If you sent me a note of encouragement, a text of support, a phone call of I-believe-in-you — THANK YOU!  I’ve cherished every word and I promise to try to live up to your faith in me.  I can tell you I really did the very best I could.  Free legal advice for EVERYONE IN THE BAR!

As always, thanks for reading!

The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer.
Will Rogers

(a) Yes, because the oral modification violated the Statute of Frauds.
No. This contract does not fall within the SOF.
(b) No, because the written contract was modified. Yes. Although the
contract contained a clause prohibiting oral modification, courts
typically view a subsequent oral agreement as a waiver of the clause,
particularly when it is supported by consideration, as it is here.
(c) Yes, because the modification lacked consideration. No. The
agreement to upgrade the paint quality was sufficient consideration to
support the change in date.
(d) Yes, because the contract expressly provides that any valid
modification must be made in writing. No, for the same reason that B
is correct.

Don’t call me blessed

As with so many other bloggers with whom I interact, and whose blogs I read, I am, even if subconsciously, always on the lookout for topics about which to blog.  I hesitate to write that, because I don’t ever want my friends and family to think they can’t talk to me about a particular subject because I’ll then write about it.  But so many interesting conversations come up on a daily basis that I want to put down to the 21st century version of pen and paper, the keystroke and data.  I promise that if I blog about something we’ve talked about, I won’t identify you unless I’ve asked you for your permission.

So…I had a conversation with a friend recently, about thankfulness, and the idea of blessings.  I’ve just written a  post about being thankful, without having an entity to thank.  My friend is a believer, and our discussion was about how he felt that all those things for which we are grateful were actually blessings from God, whether I acknowledged that or not.

What followed was a discussion about why God would choose to bless certain people with so much, and keep any blessings from the vast majority of others (say, most of the continent of Africa).  Most of the world does not have clean water, or enough food, or safety.  He said that sometimes God blesses us because we’ve been faithful, and sometimes he blesses us because it’s a part of His plan that we don’t understand, and vice versa – that sometimes we lose things because we’re disobedient, and sometimes we don’t understand why because we don’t understand His plan.

I asked if He thought God’s plan included any compassion on the part of God.  Why, whatever His plan may be, allow children to be born into starvation, in a war-torn country, to suffer for 5, or 6, or 7 years, witnessing death, feeling pain, to die a horrible death – whatever could God’s plan be with that kind of misery, multiplied by the thousands?

He hesitated, but then concluded that maybe all of that suffering was a way to get the attention of each of us, individually, to turn to Him.  This is not an immoral man.  I think because he’s heard this his entire life he’s accustomed to how it sounds.  It was not unfamiliar to me, as a former believer, and yet even only a few years away from the faith myself, I was utterly horrified at hearing him say this.  I asked if I could repeat back to him what I heard him say.  I described what life could be like for such a child, the things she might see, and feel, the pain, the agony, the absolute and complete suffering, all to get me to talk to God?  When He could, in the blink of an eye, say that to me Himself, and save this child, and thousands like her, from this fate?  I don’t know if I tried if I could come up with a more blasphemous thing to say.

He backpedaled and said he reconsidered.  He said no, maybe that was not the reason.  He’s imperfect and he should have thought a little deeper before he answered.  He said what he should have said was that, no, God did not do that.  God was only the author of all things good, that the evil and suffering in the world were the work of Satan, and sin.  This “metaphorical child” (yes, he said that) was in pain and sorrow because Adam had originally sinned, the world became imperfect, and evil came into the world.  Now she suffers because of that.  I pointed out that that was really a variation on what he had just retracted.  Could God or could God not intervene and alleviate this child’s suffering?  Yes, he said, He could, but He just chose not to….right back to getting our attention through the suffering of this child.

He reconsidered again, and said that he thought he could express it best this way.  God knows ahead of time how to get the most people to turn to Him, since that’s what he wants from every single person on the planet.  It hurts him to see suffering, he doesn’t want those people to suffer, but in the aggregate, that’s the way to get the most “bang for your buck” (my words, not his).  I think he took my stunned silence as acceptance of his position.

Of all of the reasons I push back against religion, this is probably the one that motivates me the most.  This is a good man, a moral and loving husband and father.  I think his compassion lever is malfunctioning, and it’s malfunctioning because he has had a lifetime of having to justify the unjustifiable, to moralize the immoral, to accept the reprehensible.  The Bible does tell about God’s judgement and wrath and killing and destruction to achieve his means, very clearly, and in numerous places.  Believers are left having to “do” something with all of these passages.  And that something fucks up the system.  Our natural compassion is blunted.  When a tsunami kills thousands of people, and it’s a given that God is in control of the tsunami, we have to come to terms with what to do with that information, and we push it and shove it and hammer it in, until the workings of an imperfect but highly functional biological, social, and psychological system of care and compassion are skewed beyond recognition.

Life is random.  And unfair.  And sometimes we get the good stuff, and sometimes we get the bad stuff.  There are things we can do to affect our fortune, for the good and bad, and there are things we cannot effect.  The danger with thinking that the good things in your life are there because God loves you so much, is the unspoken implication that the bad things in someone else’s life are there because God doesn’t love them quite so much.  And if God doesn’t care about them, maybe we don’t have to either.  My friend tried to back away from this, and stepped right into the next steaming pile of poo with his argument about God’s plan.

The problem of suffering.  Think.  Think again.  Then think again.  Just don’t call me blessed; I want no part of it.

Thankful without a “To”

Good to be back, dear blog.  My bad.  More promises I won’t keep about blogging more regularly and all that.  I hope that my excuse of studying for a final that covers an entire year of law school is if not acceptable, at least understandable.

My Thanksgiving post has been, as former GOP candidate and excuse-generator extraordinaire Herman Cain said, “twirling around in my head” for almost 2 weeks now.  And now that I am afflicted with the I-can’t-sleep-for-worrying-about-my-test syndrome, I find myself with the opportunity to write it.

I had a delicious and delightful season of Thanksgiving.  I was able to share it with my daughters and SO’s in Johnson City, TN, where one of my girls lives and learns.  The weather cooperated beautifully, even to the point that we were able to have our feast in the afternoon sun in the backyard, complete with the ubiquitous Boo under the table.  Our food was traditional, save the English marmalade gravy contributed by our very own royal subject, and Glenda’s squeeze, Sam.  The food was scrumptious, the atmosphere intoxicating, the conversation stimulating, and the moment unforgettable.

shamelessly stealing from Google, because epic fail at picture taking myself – our picnic looked a lot like this

There are times, as I’m sure everyone has, when I am so moved by a moment, that I am not only rendered speechless, but physiologically affected with breathlessness and tachycardia.  I have more of these moments in the presence of my children that at any other time.  Thursday was just such a day.

We had enjoyed the usual routine of the pre-preparation activities of grocery shopping, about a half-dozen of us in the store to accomplish that task, and had enjoyed the bawdy hilarity of that spastic chaos.  Then the next day we enjoyed the full day’s preparation of chopping, and stirring, and baking, and sipping, and mixing, and tasting, and hauling the table and chairs to the yard, and carrying the wine and dishes and glasses and flatware until finally it was time to feast.

I’m one of THOSE moms.  I had insisted everyone write a haiku as our pre-meal reflection.  Each of us read another person’s, and in those haikus, some reverent, some not, all creative, as we raised our glasses in toast to gratitude itself, I had my moment.  Looking into the faces of these profoundly important people, I was overwhelmed with how absolutely and completely fortunate I am and have been.

First, to have been here at all.  Of all the millions of biological combinations that could have been at the moment of my conception, and it was my particular egg and sperm, in this country, at that moment, to those people.  To have had the opportunity to have the education I have had, with that family and those friends, the travels I have made, the relationships I’ve been part of, the health I’ve experienced, culminating 51 years later in a sunny backyard in Tennessee with these beautiful people, that wonderful food, in this spectacular country, in this unique time.

same girls, different picnic – epic photo fail, ‘member?

I have always had a recognition of how very fortunate I have been.  When I was a believer I attributed it all to God, and often said a prayer of thanks; for a god who could create universes and intervene in physics and change weather, my little life, while important to me, was not a nanosecond’s work, but I was grateful nonetheless.  As an atheist, who holds no belief in divine intervention, I am utterly astounded at my good fortune.  Daily.  Hourly.  By the second.

My believing friends comment pretty regularly to me that this is a piece of my non-faith they do not understand, this disregard of blessing.  Do not misunderstand me.  My variance with you on the source of the joys in no way detracts from my gratitude for it; in fact, it substantially enhances it.  I remember visiting Arches National Park years ago as a Christian, being moved by the beauty of it, thinking how wonderful it was for God to have simply created it, in the blink of an eye.  Looking at the same view with the eyes of a secularist, processing the years, and forces of wind and water, and effects of gravity and physics, left me silent with deep wonder and awe and respect.

I close with my haiku, which I suppose I could have substituted for this entire post:

Thankful, but to whom?

No, not “To whom?” but “For what?”

Family, life, love

And, as always, in the spirit of gratitude, thanks for reading!

Blog at

Up ↑