Monthly Archives: April 2013

American Atheists

Atheists are perhaps the most unjustly reviled minority in the United States. Often criticized as being nihilists, anti-American, or even devil worshippers, atheists are one of the few remaining minority groups that it is not considered politically incorrect to publically criticize.

In Austin, Texas, I attended the National Convention and 50th Anniversary Celebration of the American Atheists, the most outspoken organization representing atheists in America. I had never attended any atheist event or gathering before, and didn’t know much about the American Atheists before arriving.  When I heard the opening remarks of David Silverman, President of American Atheists, and noticed that he was wearing a bullet-proof vest under his suit, I wondered if perhaps I was in the wrong place.

Founded 50 years ago by Madelyn Murray O’Hair, once branded the ‘most hated woman in America’ because of her successful supreme court challenge against compulsory prayer in schools,  American Atheists is a non-profit, non-political organization dedicated to the separation of church/mosque/temple and state.  They promote freedom of thought and religious beliefs, secular education, and humanist ethics and they defend the civil rights of Atheists and other nonbelievers.  They are a provocative, grumpy organization known for in-your-face atheism, running billboard campaigns and launching legal challenges regarding state and church separation.  Some of their recent court challenges include the erection of a cross at Ground Zero, site of the former world trade center towers in New York, and displays of the 10 commandments on public property.  In the style of many religious proponents, they practice firebrand atheism, leading the fight against the privilege of religion in America.  David Silverman argues that his organization’s aggressiveness is critical to advancing the broader acceptance of atheism in the U.S. by shifting the debate and creating space for less strident organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association.

The number of Americans who say they are religious has been steadily dropping in America, down from 73% to 60% between 2005 and 2012 according to WIN-Gallop’s Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism.  According to this poll, the number of Americans who say they are atheists increased from 1% to 5% over this same period and the number of Americans who identified as atheists or ‘not a religious person’ was 35% (Canada was 49%).  The Pew Forum October 2012 Poll  found that 20% of Americans are not religiously affiliated.  This unaffiliated group has grown more than any other particular religion and more than religiosity overall.  This trend is likely to continue as young adults aged 18-29 are much more likely than those aged 70 and older to not be religiously affiliated (25% vs. 8%) and are more likely than the adult population as a whole to be atheist or agnostic (7% vs. 4%).

Despite these trends, American atheists still face widespread discrimination.  Although Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any religious test for office, no avowed atheist has ever been elected to either of the U.S. Houses of Congress (only Congressman Pete Stark, who came out while in office, has been re-elected).  Although there are many suspected atheists in the over 500 members of the current 112th Congress, all profess to be members of an organized religion except one (an openly bisexual U.S. Representative from Arizona who won’t call herself an atheist).  Two Muslims were elected at a time when America is at war with fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, but not a single atheist.  This stands in stark contrast to Australia where the Prime Minister Julia Gillard is openly atheist.  Nonbelievers outnumber every religious group in the American military except Christians, yet have no secular chaplains to provide ethical and family counseling geared to their own non beliefs.  Atheists cannot be Boy Scouts of America nor members of its leadership.

In some parts of the country, to identify oneself as an atheist results in blackballing by the community, including the loss of one’s livelihood and friends.  In many religious groups, apostates are denounced and ostracized, eliminating their only support network.  In some families, coming out as an atheist results in rejection by one’s parents, siblings, and perhaps even one’s spouse.  Clergy who lose their faith often keep it a secret and continue to preach rather than lose their only profession, their livelihood, and perhaps their only means of funding after retirement.

I support freedom of religion.  Religious people have a right to worship, to organize, and of course to free speech, which includes the right to proselytize to consenting adults.  When I am in the home of a religious person, I follow their traditions, and I am courteous in houses of worship.  I am also a secularist and believe in an absolute separation of church and state.  The government should never promote not impose any aspect of any religion on others, nor allow this behaviour by its representatives or on its properties.  Will those promoting a Protestant Christian America, who are currently barely a majority (51%), be as supportive of public prayer and religious education when the Muslims or Catholics have the numbers to impose their will?

Diane’s Diner

We eat most of our meals at Diane’s Diner, the exclusive restaurant in the Dream Machine.  Diane’s serves a variety of locally-inspired and classic dishes at very reasonable prices.  The chef works with limited kitchen facilities and creates everything without recipes.

Diane cooking in the small galley kitchen of our motorhome with roasted green chilies on the counter

Behind the scenes at Diane’s Diner

STARTERS

Guacamole

Fresh avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, lime, and cilantro served with organic blue corn chips.

Tuna Salad

A fresh blend of romaine lettuce, green onions, grape tomatoes, avocado, olives, and tuna dressed with olive oil, lemon, and red wine vinegar.

Caesar Salad

Romaine lettuce, shredded parmesan, and a classic dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, ground anchovies, and spices.

Tostadas

Small crispy tortillas baked with fresh tomatoes, green onions, cheddar cheese, and Queso Fresco, served with chipotle salsa.

 

ENTREES

Chicken Spezzatino

An Italian stew of boneless chicken thighs, kidney beans, tomatoes and other vegetables.

Spaghetti Koroluk

Creamy bolognaise sauce over spaghetti noodles.

Strip Loin

Grilled strip loin streak served with crispy rosemary potatoes.

Turkey

Roast turkey breast with pan-fried potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.

Patrick seated at the table with a roast turkey dinner on the plate in front of him and a glass of wine

Turkey Dinner on my Birthday

New Mexican Rice & Beans

Sautéed chicken with fried rice, black beans, corn, and jalapeno.

Tacos

Ground beef, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, salsa, and fresh guacamole on small, warm corn tortillas.

Burritos

Ground beef, re-fried beans, tomatoes, green onions, salsa, lettuce, and shredded cheddar wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla.

Tex Mex Skillet

Sliced grilled pork and red potatoes fried with a tangy bar-b-que sauce.

Green Chilli Burger

A beef burger smothered with roasted green chilies sautéed with onions and garlic on a toasted bun.

Toasted bun with a hamburger piled higher with strips of green chili on a wite dinner plate

Green Chili Burger

Chicken Enchiladas

Strips of chicken sautéed with tomato, green chilies, black olives, onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper, wrapped in flour tortillas, covered in enchilada sauce and baked with cheddar cheese.  Served with rice, salsa, fresh guacamole, and sour cream.

 

LUNCH

Tamales

Masa filled with potato and green chili wrapped in a corn husk.

Grilled Ham & Cheese

Sliced ham and cheese with a hint of mustard on bread grilled until brown.

Turkey Quesadilla

Roast turkey, cheese, and fresh tomato layered between grilled flour tortillas.

Greek Salad

Chopped cucumber, green pepper, roma tomato, black olives, and feta cheese in a light dressing

Picante Cristo

Ham, pepper jack cheese, and red onion sandwich dipped in an egg and milk mixture and fried to a golden brown.

 

BREAKFAST

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Healthier muffins containing oatmeal, ripe bananas, fat free vanilla yoghurt, and cinnamon.

Pancakes

Klondike cakes with mixed fruit and syrup.

Diane seated at a picnic table with pancakes and gruit ready to eat with a lake in the background

Pancakes with a view

Oatmeal

Hot oatmeal with a mix of fresh cut bananas, apples, oranges, and strawberries.

Crepes

Thin crepes with melted butter and sugar or mixed fruit.

Omelette

Onion, tomato, greed pepper, and cheddar omelette with roast potatoes, buttered toast, and jam.

Breakfast Burrito

Scrambled eggs with red onion, sweet orange pepper, grape tomatoes, cheddar cheese and Queso Fresco topped with chipotle salsa and wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla.

Banana Double Chocolate Chip Muffins

Sweet muffins made with ripe bananas, dark chili chocolate, and Ghirardelli chocolate chips.  Equally good for dessert!

And the Winner Is…

I am very pleased to announce the winner of our Help Name our RV Contest. I would like to thank everyone who participated in this, the first ever DreamBigLiveBodly.com contest. Many creative suggestions were submitted, and picking a winner wasn’t easy, but…

The winner is Janice Ebenstiner, whose single entry was selected by an international panel of judges (Diane and me). Her single entry was our favourite.

Henceforth, the name of our motorhome will be… The Dream Machine.

We liked The Dream Machine the most because:
• it makes reference to ‘dream’, incorporating a key element of my philosophy, the blog name, etc.
• ‘dream’ conjures up romantic images of all the dreams we can fulfill while traveling in our motorhome
• ‘dream’ also suggests that we’re living our dreams
• ‘machine’ helps others know that we’re talking about a piece of equipment (namely our RV)
• it rhymes
• it’s easy to remember, and most importantly
• it just feels right

At first I thought Janice might be making a retro reference to the van from Scooby Doo, but theirs was called The Mystery Machine (admittedly a better name if one is solving crimes, but not as good in our case). Nor is this the name of the van from Josie and the Pussycats, which was nameless as far as my crack research team (me) can determine.

As the contest winner, Janice will receive:
1) The pride of knowing that she is among the most creative and ingenious of this blog’s readers
2) The self-satisfaction of seeing the name that she proposed used regularly in this blog and our vernacular
3) Our heart-felt gratitude
4) The option of a guest blogging spot on DreamBigLiveBodly.com
5) A framed photograph of The Dream Machine taken during its naming ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding a bottle of sparking wine

The Naming Ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding glasses of sparking wine and signs that say 'Dream' and 'Machine'

Formal attire for the ceremony (I put on fresh shorts)

Thank-you again to Janice and to everyone who participated!

Are prices in Canada higher than in the United States?

I’ve noticed that many prices seem to be lower here in the United States than in Canada. Am I imagining it? With the help of my Canadian friend Annette (an experienced shopper), I decided to find out.

Methodology

I selected a basket of 20 common retail items (food, alcoholic beverages, and fuel), and compared the prices for these items in Vancouver, Canada (my home) and San Antonio, Texas (my location when this crazy idea struck me). Annette and I gathered regular retail prices (not sale prices) not including sales taxes from comparable retail outlets (to the extent that they are available in both cities) within a few days of each other. The American prices were converted to Canadian dollars at the current exchange rate. Where quantities or package sizes differed, the prices were adjusted to equivalent volumes.

Findings

The table below shows the items we checked, the U.S. price, the Canadian price, and the percentage difference of the Canadian price compared to the U.S. price.

Product U.S. Canada Percnt
Frosted Flakes (760g box) $3.92 $7.23 84.6%
Cheerios (396g box) $2.90 $5.02 73.3%
Milk (3.78L = 1 gallon) $4.32 $4.56 5.4%
Eggs (12 Large Grade A) $1.71 $2.63 53.5%
Coors Light beer (24×355 ml cans) $20.39 $43.99 115.7%
Corona Extra beer (12 x 330 ml bottles) $13.25 $25.69 93.9%
Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon (750 ml bottle, Australia) $5.07 $12.99 156.2%
Woodbridge Merlot (750 ml bottle, California) $8.64 $13.99 61.9%
Coca Cola (12 cans) $3.04 $5.97 96.4%
Coca Cola (2 Litre bottle) $1.41 $1.87 32.9%
Chicken thighs skin-on, bone in (per pound) $5.04 $4.98 -1.2%
Ground beef (85% lean, per pound) $3.25 $6.28 93.0%
Ground beef (89% lean, per pound) $3.79 $7.98 110.3%
Ground beef (93% lean, per pound) $5.08 $9.88 94.5%
Bananas (per pound) $0.49 $0.58 18.5%
Fuji Apples (per pound) $1.70 $1.19 -30.1%
Yellow Onions, medium (per pound) $2.43 $1.28 -47.3%
Russet Potatoes (per pound) $0.90 $0.48 -46.5%
Gasoline (regular, per Litre) $0.91 $1.34 47.9%
Diesel fuel (per Litre) $1.01 $1.41 39.4%

Analysis

Vancouverites are paying a lot more!

Of the 20 items on the list, 16 were more expensive in Canada. 3 produce items were significantly cheaper in Canada (apples, onions, & potatoes), and there was a trivial difference in the price of chicken thighs. All other items were between 5% and 156% more expensive in Canada.

The price differences were the biggest for wine and beer (61% to 156% higher). The probable reasons for this are: a government monopoly on alcohol distribution in British Columbia, high government taxes on alcoholic beverages, and restrictions and tariffs on importing alcohol into Canada.

Grocery items (other than the few that were cheaper) were between 5% (milk) and 110% (ground beef) more expensive in Vancouver, with the remaining 9 items between 18% (bananas) and 96% (Coca Cola) more expensive.

Vehicle fuel was priced 47% higher in Canada for regular gasoline and 38% higher for diesel fuel. This is due, in part, to higher taxes.

I recognize that this was a very limited sample size (20 items, 2 stores, 2 cities, none of which were randomly chosen), and so few general conclusions can be drawn from these results. But it does confirm my suspicions. In my experience, groceries, alcohol, and fuel are consistently more expensive in Canada than in the United States.

Why is this the case? What can Canadian consumers do about it? Stayed tuned for more on this topic.

Down in Luckenbach Texas, Ain’t Nobody Feelin’ No Pain

On Friday morning we arrived in Fredericksburg, the popular tourist center of the central Texas Hill Country.  After 2 months of always dry and mostly flat desert, we were finally among trees and rolling hills.  Not the white peaks and green valleys of British Columbia, but a welcome change.  We stopped at the tourist office and asked our usual litany of questions.  The unusually uptight Texas host gave us unimpassioned answers about everything until I asked about Luckenbach and her eyes lit up.  Although the annual Mud Dauber Festival and Chili Cook Off (what?) wasn’t happening until the following day, she said that Friday nights were free at Luckenbach and that she was going herself.  Such a ringing endorsement from an otherwise conservative lady sounded good to us.

A large white roadside sign saying, "Luckenbach,Texas, Where Everybody's Somebody, 1.2 Miles, Straight Ahead on Right"

Luckenbach, Texas — Where Everybody’s Somebody

We arrived in the late afternoon, parking our motorhome in the huge field slash parking lot. We found a cool grassy spot along the trees where we could stay overnight.  Not knowing what to expect, we scouted across the field and around the small cluster of buildings.  Several guitar players were picking unplugged under a tree while chickens roosted precariously among the branches above (who knew that chickens could climb trees?).  People seated at outdoor picnic tables were drinking beer.  A bride that we’d seen in Fredericksburg earlier in the day was having her photos taken in the late afternoon sun.  Among the few buildings we found the empty dance hall which confirmed our decision to stay for the night.

Blue sign with white letters sayindg, "Luckenbach Texas, Est. 1849"

Luckenbach, Texas is a unique place.  Established in 1849 as the centerpiece of the new Gillespie County, by 1904 its population had only grown to 492, and by the 1960’s, it was almost a ghost town.  An ad ran in the newspaper offering, “Town – Population 3 – For Sale”.  In 1970 Hondo Crouch, a rancher and Texas folklorist, bought the whole of Luckenbach for $30,000.  He used the town’s rights as a municipality to govern the dance hall as he saw fit.

The end of an old brown building with a small porch and a large brown tree in front

Luckenbach General Store

In 1975, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson immortalized Luckenbach with the song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”.  I remembered just one lyric from this mellow country song of my childhood, “Down in Luckenbach, Texas, ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain”.  Tonight’s musical group was named The Almost Patsy Cline Band, apparently popular among the locals, but unbeknownst to us.  After a quick dinner back in the motorhome, we returned to find the dance hall packed.  The benches lining the long tables were almost full, but we squeezed into the middle of the throng.  We shared a table with several other couples, all keen to dance and have fun.

The music started and the dance floor filled instantly.  There was none of the typical shyness while people wait for others to dance first and the emboldening effects of alcohol to kick in.  Folks were clearly there to dance.  It was intimidating.  Although Diane had a long skirt on, without cowboy boots, we were clearly underdressed.  The dancing couples swarmed around the floor in a counter-clockwise rotation, raising the minimum requirement for dance floor participation above that of a basic, stationary 2-Step.

When I was 19 years old, I found myself alone on a Friday night in a small town bar in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.  The details of how this came about apparently aren’t important enough for me to remember, but aren’t essential to the story.  I was dragged out on to the dance floor by a young woman who was there with her friends.  Little did she know that I was a city slicker from Vancouver, and completely unprepared for what she was about to do to me – the 2-Step.  She told me that she was getting married the following day, and quickly trained me to dance.  It was probably the only time that I’ve done the 2-Step correctly or since then.

In Luckenbach, all the dances were the 2-Step, with the occasional waltz or polka thrown in.  Diane and I crossed our fingers and leapt into the action.  We survived the first dance and soon had the hang of it.  The serious dancers at our table said we were doing well.  For one of these couples this was their 3rd of 4 nights of dancing in a row!  Soon we were into the swing of things, dancing as much as sitting, and sitting more than drinking.

The Almost Patsy Cline Band on stage with strings of white lights abvoe and couples dancing in the dark foreground

Luckenbach dance floor

Later in the evening, a single, older, blond lady joined our group.  She asked me to dance, and pulled me onto the dance floor.  I was suddenly 19 again, back in the bar in Fort Saskatchewan.  I hung on and tried to keep up as we spun around the dance floor.  I think that I did O.K. for a guy wearing Keens, but you’d have to check with her.

Diane and I enjoyed ourselves until the very last song.  Other than the occasional wedding, it’s very rare for us to spend an evening dancing.  We had a great time, ‘down in Luckenbach, Texas’.

The Law West of the Pecos

Judge Roy Bean once fined a dead man $40, the exact amount of money in his pockets, and used it to for his casket, headstone, and a grave digger.  He kept a bear chained behind his saloon and prisoners chained in front of it.  Roy Bean, the self-styled ‘Law West of the Pecos’ was a larger than life personality from the Old West, the controversial character in many tales of the American frontier.

By all accounts, Roy Bean led a wild life.  He was born in 1825, the youngest of 5 children in an extremely poor home that he left at age 16 with his brother to drive freight with an ox cart into Mexico.  He fled Mexican authorities after killing a man who threatened to murder him.  He fought a duel with pistols on horseback in San Diego, California to win the affections of a woman, and as a result was jailed for assault with intent to murder.  He escaped using knives that had been hidden in tamales that were sent to him by a female admirer.  He fought a duel over a lady forced to marry a Mexican military officer against her will.  Upon killing the man, he was placed on a horse with a noose around his neck and left to die, but the horse failed to bolt, and he was freed by the woman he’d fought for.  During the Civil War, he ran the blockade to trade cotton with British ships in return for supplies.

A man with a grey bear in a white shirt, vest, and dark trowsers

Roy Bean

Living in San Antonio, Texas, Roy Bean wasn’t well suited to running a legitimate business.  He sold firewood, but was cutting his neighbour’s timber.  He tried to run a dairy business, but was caught watering down his product with creek water when minnows were found in the milk.  He claimed to be just as surprised as the buyers, saying “I’ll have to stop them cows from drinking out of the creek”.  He later worked as a butcher, rustling unbranded cattle from area ranchers.

At the age of 41, he married 18-year-old Virginia Chavez.  Within a year he was arrested for aggravated assault and threatening his wife’s life, but they did have 4 children before they divorced.  In 1882, Bean sold all of his belongings, bought ten barrels of whiskey, and left San Antonio to open a saloon in a tent near the railway construction camps in West Texas.  Soon afterwards Bean was appointed Justice of the Peace for this area, a new precinct in Pecos County.

If his colourful history can be believed, Roy’s approach to life didn’t change much after he became an officer of the court.  Roy shot up the tent saloon of a competitor.  When threatened with a lynching by 200 angry Irish immigrants, he freed an Irishman who had killed a Chinese labourer ruling that, “homicide was the killing of a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a Chinaman”.

Roy Bean in black suit, white shirt, and bow tie

Judge Roy Bean

Following the railway construction as it moved, Roy relocated his saloon to a place called Eagles Nest, in a desolate area of the Chihuahuan desert, and squatted on the railroad right-of-way for the next 20 years.   He renamed his saloon ‘The Jersey Lily’ in honour of his idol,  actress Lily Langtry.  In fact, he later renamed the whole town, such as it was, ‘Langtry’, a name that continues to this day.

A woman in profile wearning a long white dress

Lily Langtry

When business was slow, Roy would stand on the porch of his saloon and ‘attract’ customers at gunpoint.  An owner of a local restaurant owned Bean money and when he didn’t pay, Bean stood by the restaurant door and had each customer pay him for their meal, with the last few customers paying the interest he was owed.

Patrick standing in front of a small wooden building with sign, The Jersey Lily" and "Law West of the Pecos"

Roy’s Saloon, ‘The Jersey Lily’

As the only judge in West Texas, Roy Bean was known for his unusual version of jurisprudence.  Roy had no legal training and only 1 law book that was more of a prop than a basis for his decisions.  He meted out a kind of down-home, folksy justice that became the stuff of Old West legend

A old photograph of the Jersey Lily saloon with men on the porch and on horseback beside it

Holding court on the porch of the Jersey Lily (c. 1900)

Court was conducted inside Roy’s saloon or on the front porch when the weather was hot.  Jurors were drawn from the bar patrons.  Roy used a Cold .45 as a gavel.  Langtry did not have a jail, so men were commonly chained up in front of the saloon until they sobered up, and all court cases were settled by fines, which Judge Bean kept, rather than remitting them to the state.  In most cases, the fines were made for the exact amount in the accused’s pockets.  He never gave change.  Often his sentences required buying drinks for those present, including the bear.Bean has often been confused with ‘hanging judge’ Parker of Fort Smith, perhaps because of their slightly unorthodox or creative sentencing.  Bean never actually hanged anyone, although he twice ‘staged’ hangings to scare criminals straight.

Patrick standing at the bar inside a wooden building

Bellying up to the bar inside The Jersey Lily

Bean conducted marriages for $5.  Although he wasn’t legally entitled to, he also granted divorces for $10, and told his superiors that if he could marry people, he needed to be able to fix his mistakes.  Roy Bean continued to try cases even after he lost his official position as a Justice.

In 1896, Bean organized a world championship boxing title fight between Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher.  Because boxing matches were illegal in both Texas and Mexico, Bean staged the fight on a sand bar in the middle of the Rio Grande river that separates the two.  The fight lasted only 1 minute 35 seconds, but reports of the bout spread his fame throughout the United States

An old photo of a white fabric ring around a smaller ring of specatators watching a boxing match on the sand

Temporary boxing ring in the Rio Grande

Bean enjoyed his tough reputation (probably vital to one’s health in those days), and he kept his softer side hidden. Over the years in Langtry, he took some of his courtroom fines and many of the collected goods and gave them to the poor in the area, without telling others.

An old photograph of Lily Langtry, head and shoulders

The Jersey Lily

Judge Roy Bean had an obsession with British socialite and actress Lily Langtry, born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on Jersey, one of the English Channel Islands located close to the coast of France.  She was known as ‘The Jersey Lily’.  She was a friend of Oscar Wilde and mistress of many wealthy and powerful men including the Prince of Wales.  She first toured American in 1882, and although she received mixed reviews from the critics, the public loved her, including Judge Roy Bean.  In addition to naming his town Langtry and saloon The Jersey Lily, he also named his small home behind the saloon ‘The Opera House’ in the hopes that she might come and perform there someday.  Despite his many letters to her, Roy’s dream girl didn’t make it to Langtry in time.  The Jersey Lily arrived in Langtry only 1 month after Roy Bean’s death in 1903.

Civilized Spelunking in Carlsbad Caverns

I’ve been in many caves before, but none quite as grand or civilized as Carlsbad Caverns.  There was no desperate clinging to dusty ledges above a river plunging into a dark abyss, no riding an inner tube with only a stick to protect me from the rapidly approaching walls that I couldn’t see despite the penlight held in my teeth, no being bitten by cave shrimp and I crawl on my belly through a subterranean river, and no bat guano squishing between my toes.  There were none of the gaudy coloured lights popular in the caves open for visitors in China, and very little of the damage that I’ve found in unprotected caves like in Vietnam.  Very civilized.

Patrick and Diane seated on a stone wall with the large, dark cave mouth behind us

At the entrance

We chose to hike into the caverns via the natural entrance rather than take the elevator.  It’s a walk of over a mile down a paved but continuously steep switch-backed trail that can be hard on the knees, but hiking down provides a much better appreciation of the caverns’ size and depth.

Diane and Beth standing on a paved path with many swtichbacked paths visible extending into the darkness below them

Diane and our friend Beth at the start of the many switchbacks

The first non-native person known to have explored the caverns is Jim White, a local cowboy.  In 1901 he saw a dark moving column in the sky, investigated, and found a giant stream of bats issuing from the cave mouth.  An estimated 800,000 bats of 17 species live in the caverns, the majority being Mexican Free-Tailed bats.  Evening programs are held at the cave entrance to watch the departure of the bats between Memorial Day (end of May) and mid-October.

Many bats against the sunset

Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico, is protected as a National Park.  Despite its remote location, it receives 500,000 visitors annually.

The caves were formed when a large, underground limestone deposit, once the floor of an ancient sea bed, was dissolved when hydrogen sulfide (H2S, a colourless gas with the foul odour of rotten eggs) from deeper petroleum reserves mixed with oxygen (02, from water) to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4) The entrance to the caverns was caused by natural erosion from the surface afterwards, within the last million years.

The self-guided tour goes through several large chambers displaying lots of different and hard-to-photograph speleothems (the structures found in caves caused by the deposit of water-borne minerals) like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, draperies, helectites, and popcorn.

P1090909  P1090900

P1090911

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The biggest room in the caverns, uninspiringly called ‘The Big Room’ but also known as ‘The Hall of the Giants’, is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It has a floor area of 357,469 square feet (33,210 m2) and is the third largest cave chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.

P1090898

The caves are cool but comfortable.  The self-guided tour travels a paved path, most of which is wheelchair accessible.  If you’re seeking a civilized spelunking expedition, Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to visit.

Posing Underground

Posing Underground

Premature Blogging

Blogging confounds me (Premature Vexation).  I really enjoy writing (Premature Satisfaction) and sharing my stories (Premature Narration), but I have a hard time living up to my own standards (Premature Expectation).  I want to create things (Premature Generation) that I’m proud of (Premature Gratification).

I have a desire (Premature Compulsion) to blog about much of what I do (Premature Exhibition).  I have no shortage of ideas (Premature Inspiration).  So, why not just keep a journal (Premature Rumination)?  Am I really that interesting (Premature Presumption)?

I find it useful to remind myself (Premature Clarification) why I do it (Premature Intention).  I blog to record (Premature Documentation) my experiences (Premature Observation) and to capture my learnings (Premature Education).  I also enjoy writing (Premature Creation) and sharing with others (Premature Contribution).  I want to stay in touch with family and friends (Premature Connection) while traveling (Premature Migration).  I also enjoy the attention (Premature Recognition).

But I struggle to balance accomplishment (Premature Completion) and self-examination (Premature Reflection).  Perhaps I should just focus on being (Premature Meditation).

As it is, I can’t keep up with my ideas (Premature Production).  What else could I be doing with my time (Premature Substitution)?

Perhaps I’m over thinking it (Premature Contemplation).  Maybe I just need to chill out (Premature Relaxation).  I’m too blessed to be stressed (Premature Agitation).

Rather than lengthy monologues (Premature Recitation), I’m going to (Premature Resolution) choose topics (Premature Selection) carefully (Premature Reservation) and keep my writing (Premature Communication) to the point (Premature Condensation).  Rather than engage in mental self-gratification (Premature Masturbation), I will empathize (Premature Association) with my readers (Premature Subscription).  So I’m stopping now (Premature Termination).

Yes, there are 42 ‘premature’s in the post (Premature Repetition).  If you’re lost (Premature Confusion), please see this post (Premature Explanation).

The Roswell Incident

In the first week of July 1947, a spacecraft containing extraterrestrial life crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. Many people believe this.  Known as the Roswell Incident, it has been the subject of controversy and conspiracy theories since the 1970’s.  What is not in doubt, is that something did happen in Roswell.

There is evidence that something unusual happened here many years ago, but exactly what remains unclear.  On July 8, 1947 the Army issued a press release stating that military personnel had recovered a ‘flying disk’ that crashed near Roswell.

Rowsell Daily Review newspaper front page saying "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell'

Front page news

Later that day, an Army press conference was held and the debris shown was instead said to have come from an experimental weather balloon.

Front page of Roswell Daily Record with headline "General Ramsey Empties Rosweel Saucer'

Change of Tune

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. military has covered something up.

Aircraft Identification Chart showing that all planes are spacecraft are weather balloons, nad a weather baloon is swamp gas

Aircraft Identification Chart

In the 1970’s interest in this incident was rekindled, and further investigations and interviews were conducted by UFO investigators and the U.S. Air Force.  The Air Force reports concluded that the debris was likely from a top-secret project utilizing balloons to monitor Soviet nuclear tests, and that reports of recovered alien bodies were likely innocently transformed memories or hoaxes.  Many UFO proponents dismiss these findings, and offer their own evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps something did happen in Roswell.  Even today, aliens occupy the town.

Patrick standing beside large green wood carving of an alientholding a cell phone

E.T Phone Home — we both share the same physique

The townspeople don’t seem to mind their presence at all, in fact, I think it might be good for tourism in this remote New Mexico town of about 50,000 people.

Little green man driving a old wagon

Our taxi driver

White coloured male and femaile aliends made of paper in a window dressed as newlyweds

Newlyweds

There is even evidence of alien technology, though it didn’t appear to be in operation on the day we visited.

Diane croching beneath a silver model of a flying disk with little blue alien figures beside

Diane and flying disc

Today, Roswell is home to the International Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center.

I had the distinct pleasure of being escorted through the museum by my new friend Bob, an intelligent and thoughtful guy with a technical and military background who is also a UFO believer.  Bob, who spent a week in the museum’s research library before he came to his conclusions, was keen to show me around and answer my questions.

Rows of boxes containing UFO research materials around a reading table

UFO Research Library

I was thrilled to be visiting the museum with a believer, and a knowledgeable one to boot.  Diane wasn’t quite so excited, and was probably thinking about the nearest Starbucks.

Diane standing in front of flying disc and aliens

Is it over yet?

The museum provides the full chronology of the Roswell incident, laying out all the evidence in favour of a real alien encounter and a military cover-up.  In the short time I spent there, I wasn’t convinced that this was an alien encounter, but whatever happened, the military handled it poorly.

The museum also provides plenty of exhibits to encourage you to encourage you to think beyond the hard evidence.

Aliend body suspended in a glass case

Is it real?

I really enjoyed my visit to Roswell.  If you are a UFO believer or just UFO-curious, a lover of kitsch, or a student of America like me, this museum is not to be missed.

What do you think happened in Roswell?  Did they really recover an alien spacecraft?

How to create your own Dreams List

I frequently make reference to My Dreams List in this blog.  People often ask me about it.  You too can use this tool to begin the process of fulfilling your dreams today.  The first step that I recommend is to create your own Dreams List.  Doing so will only take 15 minutes, requires no special training or skills, and could be the first step towards making your dreams come true.

We each must dream for ourselves.  No one else can or will do it for us.

Your time is limited, so don’t let it be wasted living someone else’s life. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. You’ve got to find what you love. Do what you believe is great work. If you haven’t found it, keep looking. Don’t settle.
Steve Jobs

Why is the Dreams List such a powerful tool?

Because it allows us to get clear about what we want and then to remain conscious of it.  See Why Dream Big and My Dreams List for more information on this.

So, what is a Dreams List?

It is the list of things that I would love to happen if I had no constraints whatsoever.  The things that I wish I could accomplish or experience if I had unlimited resources.

How do you create your own dreams list?

Get a blank piece of paper, and write the following across the top — “If I had unlimited time, money, and ability, I would…”  Then find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, and for the next 15 minutes, write down whatever you would love to accomplish or to experience in your life.

This is a brain-storming exercise.  Do not edit yourself.  Write down whatever comes to mind.  Do not limit yourself in any way.  Remember that you have unlimited resources and no constraints.  All obstacles will be eliminated.  Everything is possible.  Dream like a child would.  Let your dreams pour out onto the paper.  There are no wrong answers.  Have no concern for what others think, why you want something, or whether it is worthwhile.  If you need more time than 15 minutes, keep going.  On the other hand, your list doesn’t need to be long or even complete.  You can always add more dreams later.  Have fun with it.

Not sure what to write?  People often have dreams about their health, education, career, home, lifestyle, family, relationships, travel, etc., but your dreams are yours alone. Don’t feel obligated to write anything down, even about your spouse or your kids, unless it is something that you really want for yourself.

I’m too <fill in your own consideration(s) here> (e.g. old, busy, poor) to dream.

You’re never too <repeat your own consideration(s) here> to dream.  Everyone has dreams.  There is nothing, I repeat, NO-THING (e.g. young, stressed, sick, or afraid) that can or should prevent you from dreaming.

But why write down things that I’m unlikely to ever accomplish?

It doesn’t hurt to dream.  You never know what will happen.  Perhaps one or more of your dreams will come true.  Wouldn’t that be great?  Something is better than nothing.  What could it hurt to try?

“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
— Bob Goddard 

OK, I did it.  Now what do I do with my list?

Keep it.  Put it some place where you’ll look at it periodically, at least once a month.  For example, on the inside cover of your journal or daybook, or on your bedside table.  Those who are more technically inclined might put in a spreadsheet, but print it out and don’t forget about it.  It’s important to review it periodically.

What else?  Shouldn’t I start taking action to achieve my dreams?

If you want to, then please do.  If you’re not ready yet, that’s OK too.  Just keep reviewing your list periodically.  Add additional items if you want, but don’t remove any.  If you see an opportunity to fulfill a dream (or take a step towards it) then go for it.  If you’re the planning type, consider your dreams when you plan your year or your month.

Final Thoughts

I believe that by creating my dreams list and remaining conscious of my dreams, that I am fulfilling more of those dreams than I would have otherwise (Dream Big).  I believe that the same thing can happen for you.  Please try it and let me know how it goes.  If you’ve already done it, I’d love to hear how it’s working for you.

The word 'DREAM' written in sand with a puple tinge