Friday, June 15, 2012

Things That Make Me Happy -- #4: Stargazing

Every Friday I'll be posting about one thing that makes me happy in order to complete goal #82: Identify 100 things that make me happy.

Today's topic is: Stargazing

(WALL-E ©Disney/Pixar)

When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. True, I also wanted to be a firefighter, a teacher, a cop, a secretary, a paleontologist, an ice skater, and Alexi Lalas. But nothing has kept me as fascinated or as in awe as the stars have. Some of my happiest moments have been spent looking up at the night sky, wondering at the beauty of the universe and marveling at the awesomeness of science.

My grandfather took my sister and I to go look at Hale-Bopp in '97 and I can remember being ridiculously excited as I peered through the binoculars at the trail of the comet. Much later, when I was in college, he and I went deep into the country and pulled over to the side of the road to try and catch a meteor shower. Even though we didn't see any meteors, the sheer magnitude of stars in the sky was breathtaking.

It isn't just stars or comets that fueled my passion for looking at the sky. In high school my family took my friend Kristy to Beaver Meadow's observatory so that we could all use a telescope to see Saturn and Uranus. It's humbling to know that there are objects orbiting around our sun that are so large that your own puny planet could fit inside of them...several times.

The universe is staggering and staggeringly beautiful. Wherever I am, whether it's in the middle of a light-polluted city or standing in a field in the middle of nowhere, I like to look up at the stars and see how many I can find/identify. It's a peaceful sort of feeling and an exciting one. I don't need a religion or any other outdated mode of explaining the world to appreciate what I'm seeing. I think it's even more impressive that the universe had no creator and that natural, scientific processes are responsible for the beauty around us.

Woah, one full week of posts. Can I do it again next week? Only time will tell. :)


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weight Loss Goal: Lose 20 lbs by August

I'm overweight. Obese, actually. I weight around 220 lbs when I should weigh somewhere around 120 lbs. Honestly that seems a little low even though I'm under 5 feet tall. My eventual goal weight is the same as it's been for a long time: 135 lbs. But I'm going to do it in steps.

Right now the plan is to try to lose in 20 lb increments. I'm giving myself until August to lose the first 20. It's doable and I'm not going to use any fad diets or anything like that to do it. Instead, I'm making lifestyle changes. I'm cutting out fast food. I'm going to eat 3 meals a day instead of 1 or 2. I'm going to start exercising. And I'm even going to quit smoking.

My weight has been an issue since I was in middle school. In fifth grade I was a skinny twig of a thing and then sixth grade rolled around and I started gaining. Some of that was puberty, but some of it was the fact that I was being bullied a lot and I started to eat my feelings. That trend would continue for a long time. I don't know what my heaviest weight was, but I'm guessing it was somewhere around 230. Then college came.

I didn't gain the "freshman 15". In fact, I lost about 20 lbs my first year of college. I attribute it to not snacking and being more active. I was walking to and from class. I didn't have a car, so I was walking to get places. I lost even more the summer before my junior year because I was working a really active job where I was on my feet for seven hours at a time. I didn't look amazing or anything (I was still hovering around 190), but it felt good to see a number below 200. But the job went away, my habits changed, and the weight came back.

And it's stayed there ever since. I stopped walking as much as I used to when I got a car. I haven't been snacking or anything, but I have been eating LOTS of fast food, drinking sugary beverages, and being idle for most of the day. I'm actually surprised that I haven't been gaining weight, but that may be attributable to the fact that I smoke, I live on the third floor of a building with no elevator, and I'm trudging up and down the stairs for a cigarette once every hour or so.

Regardless, I'm making changes now that I'm hoping will have a positive impact on my life. I've eaten breakfast for the last three days (yogurt and granola or a bowl of cereal and a banana), my lunches have been healthy, and I haven't been eating out at all this week (except for Tuesday, but there's a long story as to why). Don and I have been making dinner at home all week and have already planned out our grocery list for next week. We're going to start getting up at 5 am next week so that we can get an hour of exercise in before showering/eating breakfast/preparing lunch/going to work. And the last cigarette I will (hopefully) ever smoke will be crushed under my shoe on Sunday night.

I may try this and fail. I may slide back into bad habits. But it takes 21 days to break a bad habit and I'm hoping that the same is true for starting new, healthy habits. I have Don to kick me in the ass if I start straying back off the path to healthy me and I have this blog to help keep me honest about how I'm doing.

Hopefully by August I'll be 20 lbs thinner and well on the way to becoming something new and better.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spotlight on Day Zero: Goal #45 -- Learn How to Read Tarot Cards

Every other Wednesday I'll be writing a post about one of my uncompleted goals for the Day Zero Project. Today's goal is:

#45: Learn how to read tarot cards

From How Stuff Works

I identified as Pagan on and off for about six years before I realized that religion as a whole just wasn't for me. I don't miss those days, especially because it never really made me feel, well, anything. Except for stupid. There were loads of times that I felt stupid. The one thing I regret, however, is that I never learned how to read tarot cards.

I don't believe in fortune telling or mysticism or anything like that. I just think it's kind of a useful skill to have. Need a little extra cash? Offer to do readings for people. Does your child's school need volunteers for a fair of some sort? Tell them you'll play the fortune teller. Besides, I have a deck that's never really been used and I'd feel bad just giving it away without at least trying to get something out of it first.

Like several of the other goals on my list, this one is just for fun. It's something I can do when I'm bored and if, as some people suggest, tarot is a way to tap into your subconscious (like a Rorschach test), maybe it'll even be helpful in growing as a person.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I Stand with the Sisters

Show your support with a button. Get them here.

I recently wrote a post that talked a little bit about my atheism, which is something that is extremely important to me. I have also, however, written an awful lot about women's rights and other social issues that are equally as important. That's why I'm choosing to highlight an important fight happening here in the United States.

I Stand With the Sisters arose as a response to the Vatican's condemnation and discipline of American nuns for choosing to focus on such crazy things as helping the poor and feeding the hungry rather than on things the Vatican sees as important--like standing against abortion or same-sex marriage. It's a grassroots movement designed to raise awareness of the Vatican's ridiculous decision to punish nuns who don't fall in line, as well as a show of support for nuns who are concentrating on making the world a better place rather than trying to make it a more divided one.

I've known four nuns in my lifetime. Yes, I know that's neither a statistically significant amount nor can their actions be used to make broad generalizations about all nuns. That having been said, all four of them have been kind-hearted, open-minded, and dedicated to doing good in the world. I once heard one of them say to a roomful of people at a dinner celebrating the LGBT community: "I'm sick and tired of seeing a 2,000-year-old book used as a way to discriminate against people and take away their rights." This woman is about eighty years old and has had my admiration since.

And she isn't the only one. As NPR reported in May:
The Second Vatican Council, popularly known as Vatican II, had asked religious orders to modernize, which for many nuns meant focusing more on social justice and other issues in their communities and less on promulgating church doctrine — including Rome's strict views on birth control and abortion. 
So, the problem seems to be that while nuns have been moving forward, the rest of the Catholic hierarchy hasn't been. There is also the matter of the Vatican prizing doctrine over people. Sister Simone Campbell told NPR's Melissa Block:
...what we do as women religious is, we minister to people everywhere who are suffering, who are being discriminated against, and we don't ask to see a baptismal certificate. We serve everyone we find, in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus. That's what we're doing.
The bishops have a different mandate and a different message. And they are trying to protect the institution and to worry mostly - apparently - about an orthodoxy that I can't quite understand. But our different missions still - serves one faith.
I have to say that I've seen nuns as being allies for a long time. They are about empowering women, aiding the poor, educating themselves and other people, and generally being awesome. In the wake of this new crisis, I feel the need to be their ally as well. We may not hold the same beliefs about the nature of the world, its creation, or whether or not there's a supernatural being behind it all, but we do stand on the same side of the social divide that has been tearing this country asunder for over a decade.

Please, please, please, regardless of your faith or lack thereof, pledge to stand with the sisters. Like their Facebook page in order to keep up with news about their fight. Visit the website to educate yourself more on the issues at stake. Write letters/call people/put up flyers to help spread the message as well as to voice your opinions on the matter. Pray (if that's what you do/what you think will help). If you're a priest or a man of faith, stand in solidarity with these women. If you're a woman of faith, press your religious community to be more open to women in positions of power within various denominations of whatever religion you follow. If you're an atheist, as I am, do not let your disbelief in god stand in the way of supporting women who are trying to make the world a better place. Stop letting the Vatican condemn women as feminists (as if that was a bad thing) simply because they don't agree with them.

One other thing that I suggest doing, if you haven't already, is to help one nun climb her way even further up the best-seller list. Apparently after the Vatican threw a hissy fit over Sister Margaret Farley's book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics it soared up to #16, although it has since dropped down to #26. Whether or not Sister Margaret is actually hoping to make it even closer to the top is actually irrelevant. Showing the Vatican that just because they say something doesn't mean everyone is going to jump to obey is a big step towards change.

I stand with the sisters. Do you?


Monday, June 11, 2012

Proof of How Far We've Come

Photo taken from LA Progressive

I was forced out of the closet my freshman year of high school. At the turn of the 21st century, being LGBT was still seen by the vast majority of people to be wrong/sinful/gross, etc. So when somehow someone discovered that I was bisexual (to this day I'm not sure how this girl found out), she wasted no time in telling anyone who would listen. This led to several years of ridicule, mocking, bullying, etc...on top of all of the shit that I was already getting for not being popular/pretty/skinny/whatever else teenagers seem to think is unworthy.

It really wasn't until college that I felt fully accepted and loved for who I was. I lost friends in high school because of my sexuality, but in college I gained respect for being proud and open and I gained friends through my work with my college's GSA as well as other diversity clubs on campus. Today I am even prouder and more open than ever before. Some of this has to do with maturing, with living in a supportive environment during college, and with the fact that society has become more tolerant than ever before. Some of it also has to do with the initiatives around the country fighting for gay rights, the passage of marriage equality in New York State (and elsewhere), and the courage others around me (especially my trans-identified friends and acquaintances) have shown in the last several years.

I came across an interesting story on Dan Savage's blog last week that I wanted to share on this Monday morning. A high school in a traditionally conservative county in California named the only openly lesbian couple in their school to be "Cutest Couple" in their yearbook. I think that this is not only a demonstration of how far the LGBT community has come in just the last decade or so, it is also clear evidence of what several polls have found: namely, that younger people are more likely to be supportive of gay marriage.

A NY Times/CBS poll finds that it is still young people and those on the political left who are more likely to show moderate to strong support of same-sex marriage. The fact that this high school nominated a lesbian couple to be "Cutest Couple" doesn't surprise me, although it does give me hope. What would surprise me is if the older generations would finally move away from their homophobic "traditional marriage is sacred" bullshit and start learning acceptance from the younger generations.

I do feel as if same-sex marriage will one day be legalized on a national level, although it may take a long time for that to happen. Interracial marriage was once just as big of an issue (if not a bigger issue) than gay marriage and look at what happened there. I'm proud of this school and its students and I look forward, just like Dan Savage does, "to the day when stories like this don't shock us because 'values'—conservative or otherwise—is no longer synonymous with 'anti-gay.'"

I'd like to end by saying that in no way do I think that every student in that school supports this couple, nor am I saying that those who did vote for them are also automatically supporters of gay marriage. But I will say that these students now know an openly gay couple and have grown to know them over four years. One of the biggest indicators of whether or not someone will be supportive of a minority group and its rights is whether or not someone knows a member of that minority group. This is true for people in the LGBT community, as well as for other groups, like Muslims. Neil Patel and Pragya Kakani state that:
Improved knowledge of Islam and contact with Muslims, it stands to reason, could help ease tensions. According to a 2006 Gallup poll, most Americans do not know any Muslims personally. The same poll found that almost one in four Americans say they would not want a Muslim as a neighbor, and one in three would be nervous if they noticed a Muslim man boarding their flight. Personally knowing a Muslim, however, significantly correlates with a more favorable perception. [emphasis added]
Similarly, Lymari Morales says that:
Views of gay marriage are strongly related to ideology. But the increase in support among those who personally know someone who is gay or lesbian is not merely a reflection of the fact that liberals are more likely to know someone of same-sex orientation. Further analysis reveals that, when controlling for ideology, those who know someone who is gay or lesbian are significantly more supportive of gay marriage than are those of the same political persuasion who do not personally know someone who is gay or lesbian.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that as long as the LGBT community (or Muslims; or atheists; or liberals; or whatver) is visible, as long as we're introducing ourselves to people and building friendships and living by example and showing that we're not what everyone believes us to be, we will be more likely to be supported by those around us than if we were to hide who we are.

We've come a long way, but, as polls continue to show, we have a long way to go still. These two girls should be applauded for their courage and their strength and their schoolmates should be applauded for their support. 

Hats off to you, Calaveras High School!


Friday, June 8, 2012

Things That Make Me Happy -- #3: Thunderstorms

Every Friday I'll be posting about one thing that makes me happy in order to complete goal #82: Identify 100 things that make me happy.

Today's topic is: Thunderstorms

Okay, first, I had no idea how hard it was going to be to find a video of a thunderstorm. There are a lot out there but none of them are very good. So the video above is of a virtual thunderstorm. Which is a bit lame, but beggars can't be choosers.

I've had an obsession with thunderstorms ever since I was a child. I love all of it--the lightning, the thunder, the wind, the rain. There's just something inherently powerful and alluring about them. I remember nights when my grandmother and I would sit in the living room and watch storms out the window. I remember sitting on the covered porch in my old dorm, listening to the rain pound on the pavement as the wind whipped through the trees.

I can't say that I'm a fan of driving in them, but I can never resist the urge to sit at home and watch them. On my birthday last month, there was a huge thunderstorm in the Rochester area, with torrential downpours and lots of lightning to boot. Don and I watched primarily out of the window, but (being a little bit nuts) I spent a few minutes outside standing in the rain, feeling the wind rush around me. There's nothing quite like that feeling.

Also, if you're ever looking for a good song to listen to during a thunderstorm, I've definitely got a recommendation:

E Nomine's "Mitternacht" goes really well with creepy, stormy nights. Don't believe me? Find the thunderstorm sound clip of your choice and play this at the same time. Fan-freaking-tastic.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

I'm Being a Bookworm

Okay, so I know that my posts have been kind of sporadic. Sorry about that. I really do want to update this blog five times a week. I'll try harder. Honest.

In the meantime, I've been a bookworm lately. Reading is one of those things that make me happy, especially when it's an actual book with actual pages. I get that everyone and their uncle has an e-reader but I don't and I don't intend to ever own one (although I'll admit to using my boyfriend's from time to time).

In the last week or so I've been on a non-fiction binge. Specifically books on atheism. I'm an unapologetic and very vocal atheist but for some reason I've never read any books by atheist writers. I read one recently by Greta Christina called Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, which got me wanting to read others. Earlier this week I read God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the late Christopher Hitchens and I just finished Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion by Phil Zuckerman. I have a few others that I'm planning to read before I move onto a different topic.

These books have only strengthened my own personal convictions. I've tried religion before. I was a Christian growing up, although I left after I just couldn't handle the religion's beliefs about homosexuality (which was the straw that broke the camel's back, really; there are about a million other reasons why I left). My second apostasy came after a short and laughable stint as a Pagan. I've read about other religions, learned about their tenets. But nothing fit. For me, it really comes down to what to what I believe to be the truth: there is no god. It doesn't matter how many people believe in one; that doesn't make it true.

I'm going to try to review the books that I read while I'm doing the Day Zero Project, although I've got some catching up to do as I've already read a few books. We'll see how that goes.