Sunday, March 31, 2013

Letter Writers Alliance membership and stationery

Since I'm such a supporter of snail mail, the other week I bought a Letter Writers Alliance lifetime membership.  It came in the mail a few days later with the starter stationery kit I'd purchased at the same time.

Membership itself is just $5, never expires, and comes with a membership card, member postcard, and badge:

Letter Writers Alliance membership
Letter Writers Alliance membership
Photo source: 16 Sparrows

If you order a membership together with LWA stationery, the membership is only $3, which is what I did.

There was a neat stamp across the top of my envelope, proving that the package was delivered by pigeon:

Letter Writers Alliance - delivered by pigeon
Letter Writers Alliance: delivered by pigeon

I loved the wrapping of all my goodies, the color especially:

Letter Writer's Alliance: pretty packaging
Letter Writer's Alliance: pretty packaging

Here's what I unwrapped, plus the triangle badge that somehow didn't make it into the picture below:

Letter Writer's Alliance: stationery and membership package
Letter Writers Alliance: stationery and membership package

I'm excited to start using it up, though I also now find myself wondering if I was supposed to get a postcard, too.  I think I was... I'll ask someone about that.


UPDATE 4/9/13: I tweeted at the Letter Writers Alliance on the sixth, asking about the missing postcard.  They replied, asking me to email them my mailing address.  I did so yesterday, and they told me it got sent out this morning in the mail!  I'm very pleased with their quick response and great customer service.  Oh the benefits of twitter...

• • •

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 3/28/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Not sure what to be thankful for this week?  Marc and Angel offer 6 reasons to be grateful - reasons that are often overlooked.

Today I'm thankful for the calmness at work this week.  It is spring break at my University, so the undergraduates are nowhere to be seen and my boss has been working from home this week.  There is hardly any walk-in traffic or phone calls, which makes for an eerily quiet office.  It's just Izzy and me. 

On Monday it was a shock; I felt like there was probably something I should be doing that I was overlooking.  Tuesday also felt very boring and monotonous with the few interruptions.  Yesterday I started doing some major "spring cleaning" in our back storage room: destroying old files, getting rid of things we never use, and moving some items to our more permanent storage area.  I also called for five boxes of shredding to be picked up.  By today, I was totally in the spring break groove, absolutely loving the silence and peace.  That gives me one more day to appreciate the atmosphere this week, before Monday becomes the normal crazy hectic again.

"There is always, always, always something to be thankful for."
• • •

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Invisible bike helmet

I just saw a brief movie (3:37) about an invisible bike helmet on, and I had to share:

You'll want to watch it with English subtitles.  Watch it first, then read my comments below.

While I was watching the first time, I didn't understand why the two creators kept on biking around with nothing on their heads!  This isn't Hogwarts; there can't actually be an invisible helmet.

At the end of the movie, I wondered lots:  What do you do after it inflates?  How easy is it to deflate and pack up again?  Does it always inflate when it's supposed to?

What do you think of the invisible helmet?
• • •

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lundi links: Life wake-up calls, reunited after 30 years, and education transformation

Here are some miscellaneous Monday reading materials to expand your knowledge and perspective this week:

From one of my favorite blogs, read the 8 wake-up calls you need to receive, and then put their advice in action to live a better life.
Marc and Angel Hack Life


A social worker in San Francisco's "most hellish neighborhood" (the Tenderloin) shares honest thoughts about the job.  The article has sparked lots of comments -- readers either love it or hate it.
(Thanks to JJ for the link.)


Airline baggage stickers are cleverly lined up for some neat photos.  These are just some photos rather than an article, but worth a quick peek.
Plenty of Colour


"Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.
At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed “The Artist Is Present” as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened."  Check out the video to see the minute with Ulay.
Parlez-Vous Loco?


The Valencian (Spain) festival Las Fallas just ended on March 19.  Take a look at some pictures of the funny fallas I saw there last year.
Oh No She Madridn't


Educators Trace Pickering and Shawn Cornally invited business and community members to return to school (as students) to collect more opinions about how we should be transforming education.
Iowa TransformED


And I'll close with a short video to make you smile this Monday:
• • •

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 3/21/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Today I went for a run after work.  It's still freezing and snowy here, but I had to take advantage of the sunlight that was still present when I got home.  Another reason why I went for a run is because many of my coworkers have been running throughout the winter, despite the cold.  One is on the triathlon club, another is on the ski club, and another plays ultimate.  They talk about workouts/runs at work, which gets it on the brain (Do you like my phrase usage, Hannah?).  This week I signed up for an 8K in April, that all of us are doing I believe, so I need to start getting back into running again.  The point is I'm thankful that so many of my coworkers are active!  You will become like the people with whom you spend most of your time -- so surround yourselves with people that will make you a better you!
• • •

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PostSecret event in Madison

I have read the blog PostSecret since some point in high school, so not long after its creation in 2004.  If you're not familiar with PostSecret, here's a blurb from the blog itself: "PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard."

Creator Frank Warren updates the blog every Sunday, posting around 20 postcards every week (for the first couple of years it was 10).  Postcards range from light and humorous to sad and serious.  For example, here are a few older secrets:





When the project picked up momentum, he published a book of secrets.  Then another, and another, and another -- to date Frank has published five PostSecret books.  At some point in there, Frank began visiting universities to talk about his project.  These events always ended with open mics, so audience members could verbally share secrets in front of the other attendees.  From time to time some of Frank's Sunday Secrets posts would mention something that happened at an event.  There has been at least one proposal (if not more) that took place at a PostSecret event.  I've wanted to go to an event since they first started... but Frank never came to Madison!  

Last fall when I made a life list, one of the items I added was to attend a PostSecret event.  Fast forward to this past Monday evening.  I'm reading my blogs, and start reading PostSecret from Google Reader (as I do every week).  Below Sunday's Secrets, Frank has posted some new tour dates.  I quick scroll down the list, Oshkosh catches my eye as I think he's already been to Oshkosh, why doesn't he ever come to Madison??  As I stopped to look at the Oshkosh, event, the word "Madison" stuck out above it.  Date: 3/20/13.  Please don't tell me I missed the event -- the date seemed too close to the present.  I checked the date.  It was currently March 18.  Frank Warren will be in Madison on Wednesday!

Turns out the younger brother was on spring break this week, and was coming home on Wednesday.  Also turns out that brother Teej didn't have to work on Wednesday.  The result?  I went to a Post Secret event, crossing off a life list item, with both of my brothers!

Unfortunately I didn't take notes during the event -- which I really should have, because if I don't write it down I won't remember it.  Turns out my brothers are the same way.  We struggled to remember many of the secrets we had heard only minutes earlier, as we walked to the car after the event.  So here's my summary without notes:

PostSecret event in Madison, 3/20/13

There were postcards on our seats when we arrived:

PostSecret blank postcard
PostSecret: Share a secret

The professor that introduced Frank said we could take pictures during the first five minutes, then no more.  All of my flash-less photos of Frank in the dark room are terrible.  This is the best I have, with two people's heads in the way:

Frank Warren PostSecret
Frank Warren

Frank began with a brief history of the project, which I've already glazed over above.  Then he shared various secrets by projecting pictures of postcards on the screen, reciting some that he had memorized, and reading from postcards he carried with him.
I think the funniest secret of the night came when Frank shared secrets that fell into the category of "When parents taught us false things".  The secret went: "When I was younger, my parents told me that the ice cream truck plays music when it's out of ice cream."

Another secret along those lines said that their father had told her the "No Outlet" road signs mean that there were no outlet malls nearby.

The most common secret Frank has received is "I pee in the shower".  So apparently it's not a secret anymore -- it's normal to pee in the shower!

PostSecret event in Madison, WI on March 20, 2013

Saved voicemails

One week on the blog Frank posted a secret from someone who saved voicemails of the people closest to her, so that she would have a recording of their voice when they die.  After seeing this secret, many readers emailed Frank voicemails that they had saved of their loved ones, some who have since passed.  He played a compilation of the many voicemails tonight.

You are not alone

A theme that Frank emphasized throughout his talk was that you are not alone in your secrets/feelings.  Share your secrets, and use them to build bridges rather than walls.  If you feel alone, chances are you're not; someone else in the world has the same secret as you.  The PostSecret community is filled with strangers helping strangers.

PostSecret App

Later Frank talked about the PostSecret app, which had a lifespan of only 3 months due to a few rotten tomatos that ruined it for everyone else.  He shared some secrets up on the screen that had been submitted via the PostSecret app from the Madison area, which was neat.

Suicide Prevention

Frank shared some secrets of his own, involving a troubled childhood.  He also spent some time speaking about PostSecret's involvement with suicide prevention, by both raising money and awareness.  I want to say that proceeds from his books go towards 1-800-Suicide, but I'm not 100% sure.  Frank stresses that the smallest act of kindness can save someone's life.  That's an extreme, but it does happen -- and people send in postcards to share that experience.  On a less extreme, the smallest acts of kindness can also positively impact someone's life - which Frank also brought to the front of our minds tonight.

Open Mic Secrets

To end the night, two microphones were set up in the room and Frank invited audience members to share a secret, if they pleased.  Organizers of the event decided to keep the lights dim, to help protect the speakers' anonymity   I think the one that caused everyone to gasp was: "My husband's boss is buying us a house, but I think he's doing it to blackmail us to join his sex club."

I got a little anxious when people went up to the mics -- it was a similar feeling to Q&As at Freethought Festival 2.  (At that conference, there was a woman who would raise her hand during Q&A, then proceed to talk and talk and talk, rather than ask a question.  It was awkward/uncomfortable for all, and the conference speaker actually had to cut her off and ask what's your question.)  Being live and unplanned, some people did tell longer stories that didn't necessarily resemble the brief format of postcard secrets, and I cringed throughout.  Then there were serious, heartfelt secrets where the secret tellers finished in tears, some sobbing as they returned to their seats.  Two different girls each shared a secret about an eating disorder.  One girl shared that her mom was diagnosed with cancer two months ago, then just two weeks ago her younger brother was diagnosed with something else (I didn't catch it), and she's afraid she won't be any fun anymore.  Oh, I just remembered one from a guy --  He said a year or two ago he was considering suicide, so his girlfriend asked him what he would miss most about her.  His answer was: I like it when we cuddle up in bed together, then you fart and giggle.


I'm thankful I don't currently have any secrets that would bring me to tears.  I don't have much to hide, and I haven't experienced an unexpected tragedy.  I'm available to listen for anyone who is keeping a secret from others, and feels overwhelmed and secluded because of it.

Well brothers, did I leave anything out?  What did you take from the event?  Readers -- Were you familiar with PostSecret before reading this post?  Have you been to a PostSecret event before?
• • •

Email from the Vice Provost

I just got an email from the Vice Provost at my University, letting me know that I was awarded a registration scholarship for an office professional conference that will be held in April!  I had applied for the scholarship back in February, after attending Student Personnel Association 2013.  Only eight scholarships were given out (though I have no idea how many people actually applied), but I'm still pleased about it!
• • •

Friday, March 15, 2013

Snail mail surprises

Last Friday night when I returned home from Freethought Festival 2, I found a postcard for me sitting on the living room table.  I thought it was from the 20-Something Bloggers postcard exchange that I had recently participated in, but it was from Hannah and Hermann!

France postcard
La France: Postcard from Hannah and Hermann

La France! La France!  It was a delightful surprise.  I'm not sure if they sent it when they were in France over New Year's, or if it was purchased then and sent later.  I'm assuming it was mailed later, otherwise that's a really long time for a post card to be in transit.

Then on Saturday, after a full day of Freethought Festival 2, I arrived home to another postcard waiting for me!  This time it was from the 20-Something Bloggers postcard exchange, specifically from Anne @ Owl Be Happy in New York.

And during the week, this pretty green card arrived from my mother:

Yes, she made it herself.  Very cool.

Moral of the post?  Send some snail mail this weekend to your loves - you will brighten their day!

Don't have postage and don't live near a post office (or maybe you work during postal office hours, like me)?  Order stamps online!  It's very cheap to have them delivered (My shipping cost $1.25), and you have a huge selection of neat forever stamps (buy forevers... there's no reason not to).

Here's one of the packs I bought last time:

Bon week-end!
• • •

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 3/14/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Today I'm thankful for healthy, colorful food - and the fact that it's readily available to me and I can afford to buy it.  I made an Italian egg bake last night, inspired by the recipe on Fit Foodie Finds.  I adjusted the recipe a bit, adding green and red peppers, and using a potato medley from Trader Joe's instead of sweet and red potatoes. 
It was so delicious and very easy to make.  Healthy, organic food is more expensive than junk food, and I'm thankful for having the option to go for the former.  I'm also grateful for the knowledge that changed my eating habits I had in high school/early college.  I've got my friend Isabelle to thank for that positive change, as well as many books.  

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 
• • •

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Two food prep and storage tips that you probably already know, but I just learned this week

I'm learning all sorts of useful things about food this week.

On Monday night I made some taco meet -- well, added a taco spice mix to ground turkey.  I had some corn tortillas left to use, so I dished the meat out onto the tortilla and tried to fold it up.  The tortilla broke in half.  It also wasn't that great to eat.  I mentioned this to WK at work on Tuesday, and he tells me that I need to warm them up.  In the microwave?  No, no, no -- on the stove.  So I did that Tuesday night with great success; made a huge difference.  I also took the time to read the corn tortilla package last night.  There are heating instructions on the bag that closely resemble the advise given to me by WK.

Then this morning, as I'm packaging up some brown sugar to take with me (since I was going to make my oatmeal at work rather than at home), I glance at my curry paste sitting on my shelf.  A roommate had come curry paste in the fridge when we cleaned it out not too long ago.  For whatever reason, these thoughts collide in my groggy early-morning state so I pick up the jar and read it.  "Keep refrigerated after opening".  Whoops.  I opened this back in the fall, and have since used it multiple times.  It did smell a little funky when I cracked it open today, though.  I set it in the fridge and ran off to catch my bus to work.  Should I throw it out?

So there you have it, folks:

  • Heat up corn tortillas on a hot frying pan over the stove before use.  Flip every 15 seconds or so, for about a minute.
  • Store curry paste in the refrigerator after opening.
• • •

Monday, March 11, 2013

Freethought Festival 2: Secular students

This weekend I attended Freethought Festival 2, a free conference in Madison, WI put on by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison.  Read about the "Science Friday" talks, Saturday's "Fight back" talks, and the atheist pride parade to get caught up.  Search #FTF2 on twitter.

Sunday's Theme: Secular students

Since I went to the conference social at the Union on Saturday nightstayed out past my bed time, and lost an hour of sleep due to daylight savings, I didn't make it to the first two talks on Sunday.  Part of the reason why I chose to press "snooze" was because I knew all of the talks were being recorded and would be online shortly.  So I'll watch them as soon as they're up, but the two were: "Creating inclusive campuses for atheist students" by Kathy Goodman and "Atheist students on the rise" by Jesse Galef.

Katherine Stewart

The fundamentalist assault on public education

Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, talked to us about The Good News Club (I'm going to abbreviate it as GNC).  This after school elementary program, sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, is a bible study that has pushed its way into the public schools.  Whether you're religious or not, GNC is detrimental to children and absolutely does not belong in the public schools.

I found this Good News Club website, which shows how the club is harmful to children.  It has specific lesson plans with word-for-word language from the Good News Club's student and instructor books.  Here's a quote from the site's home page:

But the snacks, games, prizes, songs, and fun activities mask a dark message of shame and fear indoctrination. The Good News Club curriculum stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in Hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Meanwhile, salutary themes such as the “Golden Rule” are almost entirely absent from the curriculum.

Katherine went undercover for four years, attending trainings and conferences put on by GNC.  Some of the things she's witnessed are quite disturbing.  Here's a sample lesson that's taught to four, five, and six-year-olds in the club, about how Saul is at fault for having spared a few lives when he was instructed by God to kill all of the Amalekites.  He should have obeyed and killed everyone - the lesson teaches - all men, women, and children.  So GNC teachers are instructed to teach that genocide is okay if God tells you to do it?  This material is not suitable for elementary children!  I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and read Katherine's article about these lessons, or watch her speak about them in the video below (9:42 - 12:35).

I found the above 36-minute documentary about the Good News Club on youtube while researching some more on the topic post-Freethought Festival 2.  It reminds me of Jesus Camp, and is upsetting.

If you don't have time for the whole 36 minutes, the other part I recommend is 5:16-6:00.

I was curious as to whether or not there were any of these clubs in Wisconsin schools.  Unfortunately I found that there are Good News Clubs in schools in Adams-Friendship, Baraboo, Cambridge, Janesville, Madison, Sun Prairie, and Whitewater.  I will be following this issue and seeing if there's any way to get involved.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention - you may have been wondering: Is this even legal? What about state/church separation? How is a bible study meeting in public schools? Answer: In the 2001 Good News Club vs. Milford Central School District case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that not allowing a religious group to meet on public schools was in violation of free speech rights.  They interpreted religion as speech from a certain viewpoint/opinion, and said that schools must not discriminate against speech based on viewpoint.  The court also ruled that allowing GNC in public schools did not violate the Establishment Clause.  I really don't understand how this case ended with this outcome, but it's what allows GNC to continue to spread.  

Atheism for Dummies
Atheism for Dummies cover
Dale McGowan

20 things I learned about atheism while explaining it to dummies

Atheism for Dummies, written by Dale McGowan, just came out last week.  Dale talked about 20 things that he learned while writing this book.  I liked hearing tidbits about the actual writing process, especially since he was writing for a series.  Dale said there are over 1,600 books in the "Dummies" series.  Believe it or not, Farmville for Dummies and eBay for Canadians for Dummies were both written before Atheism for Dummies!  Dale said there was a fast timeline for this book, and he actually wrote it in four months.  That fact made my head spin, as I thought about all the research that went into each section.  And all of the writing.  The other aspect about the writing process that I found interesting was that the book contract was quite long, between 60-70 pages.  Since this book is part of the "Dummies" series, Dale needed to follow their stylistic rules.  One of these rules was to never use the word "we," and not to begin sentences with "it".

Debbie Goddard

Debbie Goddard
Debbie Goddard

The student movement: past, present, future

Debbie adjusted her presentation since Jesse's presentation earlier in the day had covered some of what she was going to share.  Debbie spent a good portion of her talk in story mode, telling us about her childhood and stuggles with religion.  Her mother was Catholic; her father, Jewish; and she attended a Catholic high school on a scholarship -- until one of the Sisters took it away.  I would recommend watching this part of Debbie's talk; it's personal, engaging, well-told, and there are some funny parts too!  Hearing about Debbie's 8th grade confirmation and hiding her atheism from the Sisters at school reminded me a lot of my middle and high school days.  Some days and events I'll never forget, like one of the confirmation retreats I had to go to or the day I cried the hardest I have in my life, but other parts are fuzzy.  I'd like to go through old journals the next time I'm at my parents' house and see what I can piece together from these years.  Anyway, Debbie ended by profiling many youth that are highly involved in the freethought movement today, all around the world.  My notes for this talk end with "Make an impact!" that I wrote in big letters taking up about half a page.

Successful second Freethought Festival

I think the weekend went really well - the speakers were tremendous, the conference was well organized, and the price was unbeatable (free!).  It was without a doubt worth having taken the weekend off of work.  A big thank you to all of the speakers, the organizers, and the sponsors (ASM, SSA FFRF).
• • •

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Freethought Festival 2: Fight back!

This weekend I'm attending Freethought Festival 2, a free conference in Madison, WI put on by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison.  Read about yesterday's "Science Friday" speakers here to get caught up.  Search #FTF2 on twitter for live tweets.

Saturday's theme: Fight back!

Amanda Knief

Amanda Knief

The golden calf: Why the faith-based initiative needs to be sacrificed

Amanda's talk focused on the faith-based initiative (F-BI, I'm adding the dash so it looks less like the FBI), which was formed by George W. Bush in 2001.  There are two main issues Amanda focused on regarding F-BI: religious discrimination and being unable to track how taxpayer money is spent within churches.

It used to be that places of employment couldn't religiously discriminate in hiring and firing (1964 Civil Rights Act - Title VII).  But in 2002 an executive order was passed so that religious organizations can discriminate based on religion to keep "integrity".   This is what allows the Catholic church to only hire men as priests, for example.  But this also means a Catholic hospital could turn down a highly qualified Jewish doctor and hire an under-qualified Catholic doctor instead.  That's a problem.

The second issue deals with churches' entities that offer a service, and that they're no longer required to report on taxpayer money spent.  Before, if a church had a soup kitchen, that soup kitchen would need to be registered as a separate 5013(c).  5013(c)s are non-profits, and if they are awarded any federal grants or monies, they must submit a report (a 990) afterwards showing how the money was spent.  When Bush created his F-BI, he changed the process: services offered by a church (soup kitchen or homeless shelter, for example) no longer register as their own 5013(c); they remain under the church.  Thus, the F-BI gives taxpayer money directly to churches, which are not required to submit a 990 showing how the money is spent.  Your tax dollars are going to churches, and you can't see how it's spent!  Where's the wall between church and state?

Amanda suggested we ask our local Faith-Based Initiative office (Yes, every state has a F-BI office.  I wasn't aware of this) what grants were given out and how much money was spent.  What was the money spent on?  This is public information, so everyone is entitled to know.

Andrew Seidel

Andrew Seidel

The greatest story ever told: America's Judeo-Christian heritage

I've seen Andrew's name a lot on Hemant's blog or via tweets this past year when I was living in Spain, so it was great to finally put a face to the name.  What a great addition to FFRF!  Andrew talked about how to counter the unfortunately common idea that the United States of America was founded on Judeo-Christian values.  Let me just say first that it wasn't.  Andrew began with some well-known facts among freethinkers: The Treaty of Tripoli states that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion".  The words "under god" were added to the pledge in 1954, and the words "In god we trust" were added to paper money in 1956.  Andrew talked about the historical context of this time, McCarthyism.

Then he went through each of ten commandments as well as parts of the Constitution to show that the bible does not share the same values as our Constitution.  Remember now, the bible was used to justify slavery!  All of his evidence together shows that the United States of America was not in any sense founded on Judeo-Christian values.

It was at this point, post-Andrew's talk when everyone's leaving for lunch, that I realize my pen is missing.  Someone had given me a book recommendation and I was going to jot it down.  Now my pen is shorter than the normal pen, and fits into two elastic bands on my notebook; it came in a set.  I had just used it to take notes during Andrew's presentation, so it must be close by.  I check under my chair, glance around the floor around me, don't see it.  I found another in my purse with which I wrote down that book title, but I really want to find my notebook's pen.  It's nowhere to be seen, so I accept the loss and head back home for lunch.

When I'm about a block away from the conference site, near the bottom of State Street, I feel something in my boot.  I grin to myself as I think it must be my pen.  Fifteen minutes later when I arrive at home, I take off my boots and voila!  It must have fallen into my right boot when I stood up after Andrew's talk or something.  Pen in hand, I was able to keep taking notes with my notebook set after the lunch break during the afternoon and evening sessions.

Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta

Post first, ask questions later

I've been reading Hemant Mehta's blog Friendly Atheist since its birth (during my high school years), and met him at the World Humanism Conference I attended in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2008.  Being familiar with some of his more recent talks that have been recorded and posted to his blog, I was glad to hear some new material on an issue that isn't restricted to atheism.

Hemant gave us a few examples of people that didn't fact check before posting online articles or blog posts (Jezebel, and the consequences of their non actions.  In many of his examples, no journalist (or very few) had even contacted the subject of the articles and posts!  So the takeaway of Hemant's talk is to ask questions first (before posting), fact check, follow through (follow-up when the story isn't top "news" anymore), and contact direct sources whenever possible.  Have a question about a drawing?  Contact the artist.  Think an article online is misrepresenting a group?  Contact the author directly with questions before blogging about it.

Greta Christina

Greta Christina

Why are you atheists so angry?

I had never heard Greta speak before, so when she began without a powerpoint I was worried that I wouldn't be able to follow.  I'm a visual learner, so it's easier for me to pay attention when my eyes are involved too.  Greta is amazing and captivating; my worries were unnecessary, as I had no problems whatsoever staying focused.  What an inspirational talk -- I highly recommend watching her full talk one once it's posted.

Greta began with reasons why she's angry: 40% of the homeless population in Utah are teenage homosexuals that have been kicked out of their houses by their religious parents, seriously ill children die because their parents believe in faith healing (and such parents are protected from child neglect charges in 39 states), religion is used as a rationalization of slavery, the reputation of the Catholic church was more important than the raping of children, AIDs spreads in Africa because people have been taught using condoms is immoral, etc. etc.  The list went on and on, and made me realize I need to get more involved to make change.  She ended saying that anger is not hatred; anger is how we know that things are not okay, and it's a powerful tool for social change.  Again, I recommend watching Greta's full talk once it's up at the AHA @ UW-Madison's youtube page.

Atheist pride parade

Atheist pride parade, Madison WI

This is believed to have been the first atheist pride parade ever in Madison, WI.  I'm so glad I was here to be a part of it.  At my post about the atheist pride parade in Madison you can see more pictures and hear more details about the event.

JT Eberhard

JT Eberhard

Dear Christian 2

JT, blogger  at What Would JT Do, gave a speech directed at Christians.  I guess he gave the talk "Dear Christian" at last year's Freethought Festival, but had enough to say that he made a second talk this year.  That mixed it up, addressing Christians throughout the talk, but I found myself wondering how many believers were actually in the room.  Here are two random points I jotted down during his talk: Some people thinking about leaving the church are hesitant because "belief changed my life".  To that JT says any belief can change your life, regardless of the truth of the belief.  For example, let's say I believe that there's a monster under my bed, and if I don't wear socks the monster will eat my feet.  That would cause a change in the my life; I will now be absolutely sure to wear socks whenever I'm in or near my bed.  Even though the belief caused a change in my life, that doesn't mean the belief is true.  The second random point is that throughout history, science has replaced religious explanations time and time again.  Has religion ever replaced a scientific explanation?  No.

Dan Barker

Dan Barker

Freedom from religion

Dan began with a little bit of history about Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), formed by his now-wife Annie Laurie Gaylor and her mother Anne Gaylor in Madison, WI.  Dan was actually a Christian preacher and musician for 19 years before he became an atheist.  Soon after he made the change, he was invited to be on AM Chicago.  Annie Laurie was also an invited guest for that show; the host was Oprah Winfrey.  I had already seen the youtube footage of this show, when Annie Laurie and Dan Barker first met, but Dan pointed out in his talk that they recently showed it to their daughter.  Not many people have a video recording of the first time they met their future spouse!  His talk didn't seem to have a central focus, it was more of a collection of stories - which were fun to listen to.  Dan also played and sang a total of three songs during his talk, since there was a piano up front in the room.

Desiree Schell

Desiree Schell

No gods, no masters: Unexplored links between unions and freethought

Canadian Desiree (thought of you lots during the talk, Hannah) talked about the relationship between unions and freethought.  Unions in Canada support public education, social safety nets, universal health care, laws against discrimination, access to abortion, and same-sex marriage -- which are causes that many freethinkers in the states support as well.  Desiree had some graphs that compared the number of unions and number of freethinkers in Scandinavia, which was correlated.  Although correlation is not causation, Desiree shared some evidence with us that favors her hypothesis.

A random quote I wrote down during her talk was "You know, most countries in the world have more than two political parties..."  Just having the two main republican and democratic parties feels so normal since that's all you're exposed to growing up in the states, but after having lived in Spain for two years (where there are 16 different political parties currently in Congress) I learned otherwise.  Anyway, Desiree's reminder was nice since I tend to get caught up in the American system when I live here.
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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Freethought Festival 2: Atheist pride parade

Today I walked in the first atheist pride parade in Madison, WI as part of Freethought Festival 2.  It was drizzling this afternoon, so many people joked that "God rained on our parade".

Atheist pride parade Madison WI
Atheist pride parade, waiting to cross at a red light
Madison, WI; March 9, 2013

We started at the bottom of State Street and walked towards the Capitol.

Atheist pride parade Madison WI

The only pride parade I had ever previously walked in was Madrid's gay pride parade in 2010.  It was an entirely different experience  to walk in a pride parade for a group to which I actually belong, not just support.  It was wonderful.

Atheist pride parade Madison WI

We do need to make up some more cheers for next time, though.  The only cheer that was said during the parade was the "Tell me what an atheist looks like! This is what an atheist looks like!" cheer, which gets old after the 4th time.

At the Capitol four people gave brief speeches: Dan Barker, Andrew Seidel, Greta Christina, and JT.

Atheist pride parade Madison WI
Canada was well represented in the atheist pride parade
Madison, WI; March 9, 2013

Atheist pride parade Madison WI
FFRF's Andrew Seidel speaking at the Capitol after the atheist pride parade in Madison, WI

There was a news camera recording footage of the event, but I haven't seen any news stories yet.  Did I miss the broadcast?  There were lots of other people taking (much better) pictures of the event, so hopefully I find those shortly and can share them here too.
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Friday, March 8, 2013

Freethought Festival 2: Science Friday

Freethought Festival 2

Reca really needs to get some sleep, but I wanted to do a quick post about day 1 of Freethought Festival 2.  For those unfamiliar with the event taking place this weekend that I'm attending, it is hosted by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison (AHA).  The conference is completely free to attend, and is funded by Associated Students of Madison, Secular Student Alliance, and Freedom From Religion Foundation.  All talks were / will be recorded, so I'm assuming they'll be up online shortly after the weekend ends.  Thus, if my ever brief summaries below don't do it for you, watch the full talks online.  I'll provide a link as soon as one's available.

--Friday's Theme: Science Friday--

Speaker #1: Darrel Ray

The shame of it all: Why do we act like Christians?

Darrel Ray (author of Sex & God) began by saying that sexual activities of people across different religions are more or less the same.  Why?  Because sexual activity is biological and we are all human beings, regardless of religious beliefs.  A figure that came up during his talk is that there are 10,000 sex acts (includes masturbation) for every one child birth.  Humans are one of three (or four?) animals that don't simply have sex to reproduce; they have sex for pleasure.  Dolphins are another one, and I believe bonobos(?) are another.

So sexual acts such as masturbation, for example, are normal - but many religions want their followers to feel shame for these acts.  "Sexual guilt" was the term he often used.  And the whole "Why do we act like Christians?" part of his talk referred to the fact that many freethinkers feel some of this sexual guilt or shame, due to the religious majority in society or perhaps because of one's religious history.  Darrel encouraged everyone not to feel guilty, to be open about sexuality, talk about it with your children, talk about it with your religious friends ("ask them if they masturbate" was his conversation starter suggestion).  He obviously has studied this topic for a long time, as was very comfortable talking in front of everyone.  It was quite liberating actually; gave me things to think about.

Here are a few tweets that were tweeted during Darrel's talk:

Sure I masturbate, don't you!? - @drdray132 at #ftf2

95% of all Americans have premarital sex - @drdray132 at #ftf2

Darrel Ray: if you would call someone out for being racist or sexist, why not when they're sex negative? #ftf2

Ask the awkward questions about a hypocrite's sex life. Be honest with your own. #ftf2

Speaker #2: Chris Calvey

Molecular biology, evolution, and god

Chris began with some basic biology background before he got to the meat of his presentation.  It was fun to be reminded of transcription and translation with DNA and RNA, and Chris made it entertaining as well, though this part probably could have been shorter.  Chris is working towards his Ph.D. in molecular biology (I hope I got that right... didn't write it down), and told us three "stories" that support evolution.  The first was about scurvy, which led to learning that the human body is unable to make Vitamin C itself (but most other living species can).  The second story was about viruses, which led to the fact that 8% of the human genome is made of ERVs (endogenous retroviruses).

And I believe the third story was about amino acid sequences (or was it proteins?) in different animals and how they compare to one another.  I didn't jot down any notes during the third story, which is why it's a blur to me now, but all three of his "stories" were evidence of evolution.  Chris was fun to listen to; he was engaging, didn't go too fast, and also had us laughing time and time again.  The talk did run about a half an hour over, which everyone was well aware of by the end.  You'll see evidence of this in the sample of tweets during Chris's talk:

Now @Chris_Calvey is talking about synthetic biology! That is one of my favorite topics! #ftf2

"When life gives you lemons, eat them so you don't die of scurvy." - @Chris_Calvey #FTF2

@Chris_Calvey is taking his sweet time with his talk #FTF2

#FTF2, i love you, but starting the 8:00 talk at 8:37 is bad form.

Speaker #3: Eugenie Scott

Déjà vu all over again: Denialism of climate change and of evolution

And since they were running behind at this point and I had yet to eat dinner, I decided to just stay for one more talk (and skip out on the fourth and final talk of the night).  I'm so glad I stayed for Eugenie Scott's talk, as she was amazing.  Eugenie is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).  The non-profit's goal is to defend the teaching of evolution and climate science.

One fact that Eugenie brought to light is that most people opposed to (the teaching of) evolution are from the religious right, whereas most people opposed to (the teaching of global warming) are from the political right.  This distinction is important and makes a lot of sense when you think about it, I just never thought about it before.  If global warming is accepted as true, then it will have many political consequences.  For example, restrictions on CO 2 emissions within factories or laws saying you can only manufacture and sell cars that get x mpg.  These restrictions interfere with free enterprise, hence can you see why global warming has become a political issue?  We should really just listen to the facts and save the planet, easy as that - but alas, politics go and get all intertwined and muddled in the issue. Le sigh.

Okay, let's cut me off and get to some tweets from Eugenie's talk:

Eugenie Scott reminds us how hard it is to get into mainstream science, and that the anti-evolutionists shouldn't be allowed to cheat. #FTF2

Can't I just go to the science czar, and say 'science czar, put my great idea directly into the classrooms' - Eugenie Scott at #FTF2

Listening to some of my heroes at last -- Eugenie Scott up now #ftf2

And Eugenie Scott explains and illustrates the cherry picking of the climate change deniers very clearly at #FTF2

UPDATE: After having attended the morning talks on 3/9/13, I believe the last talk last night got rescheduled to a later time.  Maybe everyone else thought it was getting too late last night as well, and there wasn't a large enough audience.
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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 3/7/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Thursday came so quickly this week!  Today I'm thankful for my morning bus driver.  She says "good morning" to everyone as they get on the bus every day.  And when you get off she'll shout back to each person, "Bye, have a nice day!"  She smiles.  She treats all of her passengers with this genuine kindness, and I really appreciate it.  Whether I'm in a great morning mood or have just rolled out of bed and ran to catch the bus, her positive attitude is welcome and contagious.

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." 
-Marcel Proust
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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

20-Something Bloggers' postcard exchange

I haven't been too active in the 20 Something Bloggers community since I joined, but when I saw last month that they were hosting their first postcard exchange I signed up right away.

I still had some extra Wisconsin postcards that I had bought and mailed to my friends in Spain when I moved back to the states last fall.  I sent the postcards to the two names I'd been given: Cathrine @ Said The Cat and Anne @ Owl Be Happy.  I completely forgot to take any pictures before I sent them off, as everyone else seems to have done.

This past weekend (I think it was) I received my first postcard, from Cathrine:

Flash Gordons Trip to Mars postcard
20SB postcard exchange

She blogged about her experiences with the 20SB Postcard Exchange earlier this week.  I agree with Cathrine about the difficulty of writing a postcard to someone you don't know and have never met.  Are you supposed to tell them things about yourself, or ask them questions about themselves?  Or are participants under the assumption that this is a one-time postal correspondence, and you should just avoid asking any questions at all that require a response?

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be expecting a second postcard from Anne (or someone else) or not -- it's not clear how the whole exchange was organized.  If you send two do you receive two?

What would you write about on a postcard to a stranger?
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Resolutions checkpoint 2013: February

We are now two months through 2013, that's 1/6 through the year! Time to check in and see how I'm doing on all of my new year's resolutions I made two months ago.

--February Focus--

Last month I picked out one item from each category to focus on during February. That was probably still too many things to focus on at once, but I did accomplish some, which makes me closer to reaching the year's resolutions.  Here are those items with my progress in italics below:

  • (+) Begin one book in Spanish or read a book I own in my apartment. 
    • I read two books that I own in my apartment (one that was given to me last month for Christmas), and I've pulled a book in Spanish off of my shelf. That's progress. 
  • (+/-) Keep a tally of how many chocolates are eaten per day at work -- this should help to focus on it! 
    • I did buy meringues to "replace" the chocolates at work... but they still haven't replaced them. I just eat meringues and chocolates now, hah. 
  • (+) Write in journal at least 15 days in February. 
    •  I wrote in my journal exactly 15 days last month! 
  • (+) Do push-ups twice a week, just to bring them into my line of sight. 
    • I recorded on Chains 12 days that I did push-ups or my shoulder complex last month, which is more than twice per week. 
  • (-) Play guitar once per week. 
    • I only took out my guitar ONCE last month. 
  • (+) Sign up for the continuing studies French course. 
    •  Even though I didn't sign up for this course (it would interfere with spring frisbee), I'm giving myself a plus since four weeks ago I finally went to the French conversation table. It's amazing, and I've been going every Monday since! 
  • (-) Begin South Korea teaching English application. 
    • Received it halfway through February. Have printed everything and plan to tackle it this week. 
  • (+) Add "Comment on another blog" to my Chains tasks, and do it twice a week. 
    • Done and done. 
  • (-) Try to stay on top of the finance MOOC. 
    • I didn't really focus on this at all last month. The MOOC has since ended, but I've found I'm focusing more on French and have less free time due to the second job - which I'm okay with. 
  • (-) Set aside two evenings this month to scrapbook. 
    • Epic fail. 

--Overall Progress--

Some of this will be repetitive now, but here's my current progress on all resolutions:

  • (+) I've read 8 books of 32, which means I'm 8% ahead of schedule (according to Goodreads). 
  • (-) I have read 0 / 5 books in Spanish. 
  • (-) I have read 2 / 5 books that I own in my apartment.  (Gone Girl and The Handmaid's Tale in February)
  • (-) Have not sought out any French book yet. 
  • (-) Have not bought vitamin B and D yet 
  • (+) I'm taking probiotics when I remember and tracking it on Chains. I've recorded taking probiotics 12/28 days in February. 
  • (-) Still waiting to get JJ's info from the health center... cough cough 
  • (-) I still eat chocolate at work.  Le sigh.

  • (+) I wrote in my journal 15 / 28 days this month, and I continue to track it on Chains. This has increased from the 12/31 times I wrote in January. 
  • (-) The new job still keeps my facebook log ins much lower on the weekends. Though it's still more than once a day some days. 
  • (-) I couldn't tell you if I was more mindful in February, which probably means I wasn't.
  • (+) I try to apply gratitude to as many daily situations as I can.
  • (+) No fear, no fear.

  • (+) I've maybe only stretched a handful of times this month, but I've started to stretch at the weekend job in my chair when there isn't a lot going on (or clients waiting in the waiting room)
  • (+) I picked up the pace in February to doing push-ups or an arm workout 12 / 28 days.   I'm still not doing them every day but I'm getting closer!
  • (-) It's still been too cold and blizzardy to run! 

  • (+/-) Played it once last month, which is more than in January, hence the +.  However, this is nothing close to 5x/week, hence the -.
  • (-) Have not been learning a chord per week.

  • (+) Went to the French conversation table three times this month! 
  • (-) Have not signed up for a continuing studies French course, but might have to remove this resolution because I think the class would be at the same time as spring ultimate league.  And ultimate tops all.
  • (+) I've spent some time on Duolingo 14 / 28 days in February, which is more than in January.
  • (+) Brought my French grammar book to work, and pull it out at lunches sometimes. 

  • (+) Found out that Hannah will be in Canada this summer; am trying to figure out travel dates.
  • (+) Received and printed application materials for the 2013-14 teaching English in South Korea program. 
  • (+) Made profile on one France au pair website. 

  • (-) Only wrote three posts in February on Oh No She Madridn't; would have liked four.
  • (+) I have blogged at least twice a week on Rebe with a Clause. 
  • (-) I didn't have a contest in February or January. 
  • (+) Comment on at least two blogs a week, thanks to Chains.
  • (+) Have not read an SEO book yet, but spent the other night reading some SEO blogs 

  • (-) Have not had time to look at the Statistics class 
  • (-) Willingly decided not to keep up with personal finance class.  Maybe I'll try a different class once the seasonal weekend job ends (mid-April).


--March Focus--

Last month I picked one item from each category to focus on in February, but this time I'm going to turn some of the resolutions into just five attainable goals for March. Sometimes less is more:

  1. Read Hermanos monigotes II in Spanish (it's a junior book, Moby Dick Biblioteca de bolsillo junior)
  2. Learn four new guitar chords this month, one per week.
  3. Stretch once a week for ten minutes.
  4. Write four posts for Oh No She Madridn't
  5. Schedule two evenings on the calendar this month to scrapbook.

Are you still focusing on your new year's resolutions?  How are you progressing?
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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Snapshot: Snowshoeing with the sister

The sister was home this weekend and brother Teej didn't work tonight, so we had a family dinner at the parents'  house.  Afterwards the sister and I went snowshoeing near our house, since she had borrowed my grandma's snowshoes when my grandma went out of town the other day (to Florida!).

Snowshoeing in Wisconsin
Showshoeing in Wisconsin

Putting on snowshoes
Getting on the snowshoes... some struggled more than others
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