Friday, May 9, 2014

50 Before 30

50 Before 30

50 Before 30

Posted: 09 May 2014 07:21 AM PDT

Hitting our 50th state before my 30th birthday and my wife's 28th.

My wife and I are both school teachers. Yes, that means we share summers off without kids and nothing to do but travel. June and July can often be enviable months for the two of us, and we have used that "free time" during our first decade of marriage to see the United States.

I have always loved to travel, and I think I inherited the gene from my maternal grandparents. I still remember watching home videos of their trip to Alaska and listening to my granddad tell stories about all of the places they had been. Declaring they have no desire to fly to Hawaii, they are 49 staters. I always thought this was amazing as a kid and wanted to travel as much as they did.

My parents and my wife's parents enjoyed their share of vacations with us as kids too, but it was often to the same locations. For me it was a summer week in Panama City Beach, Florida and a long Christmas break weekend to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. For her it was summers in Daytona and winters in Gatlinburg as well. Who knows if our paths might have crossed at a younger age.

When we got married, both of us had very limited, to no, travel experience outside of the Southeast. When we chose our honeymoon in Costa Rica, I think we both knew it was going to be the first of many extraordinary travel adventures.

Our first summer as teachers really kicked off the 50 state adventure, though. I had always wanted to take a big cross country road trip, even going so far as to plan an escape out west with my high school buddies senior year (like most teenage dreams, that one never happened).

And so, as we have almost every year since, we took off for an adventure our first day out of school. Our trip took us on a long circle from Georgia to Yellowstone, Las Vegas, and back home through Texas. We picked up 12 new states on that trip.

A couple of summers later, we set off for another great circle out to Yosemite, Seattle, and North Dakota. That whirlwind 18 day trip gave us nine more states. Looking at our worn out road atlas, this was when I realized how close we were to hitting all 50 states. I was 27 at the time, had somewhere around 40 states under my belt, and knew the next few years could bring children, more job responsibilities, and all of the other things that can tie a person down. So we set a goal... 50 states before I was 30.

The New England states were easy enough as our jobs had temporarily moved us to Northern Virginia, and we could bag those states on long weekends. Vermont in the fall is amazing and the Maine coastline will definitely bring me back for more exploration. I still need to see Acadia and catch a game at Fenway.

Halfway through 28, and I was starting to wonder how in the world we would get the last four states we needed to hit: Michigan, Wisconsin, Hawaii and Alaska.

Over spring break that year, we planned to drive up to Michigan and Wisconsin and do a loop around Lake Michigan. The Sunday before we planned to leave, I checked the weather and a snow storm was about to hit our destination. Having spent the majority of my year cooped up inside a classroom, cold weather was not what I was looking for on Spring Break. A quick check for last minute flights at 7 p.m. that Sunday night, and we spontaneously booked a flight to Honolulu out of Atlanta at 7 a.m. the next morning. The trip was fantastic! We surfed on Waikiki beach, snorkeled Hanuama Bay, and road the public bus up to the North Shore. It was a great week in Hawaii (as if a week in Hawaii could be anything else), and it knocked off a biggie on the move to 50.

Alaska turned out much easier to get than expected. We decided we wanted to spend enough time in Alaska to really see the wildlife. To do this, we took seasonal summer jobs working at Glacier Bay National Park in Gustavus, Alaska. Working for an NPS concessionaire, we spent our time off going on whale watches, hiking near moose habitats, and exploring the glaciers around Juneau by helicopter. It was a great summer experience, but when I got home I was 3 weeks from turning 30 and still needed two more states.

With only a week and half remaining of our summer vacation, we decided to go for it. We would drive from Georgia up to Michigan and get those last two states in a rush. It's not the best way to see a place, but it turned out to be a great trip as well. We camped for two nights in a state park walking distance to Lake Michigan, went dune buggy riding, and then drove down the southern coast of the great lake, through Chicago and up to Milwaukee for two nights. We had hit number 50.

When I set this goal of 50 before 30, I had fully expected the great climax to end with Alaska or Hawaii, but Wisconsin is nice in the summer. A cold beer on the Miller Brewery tour and catching a game at Miller Park was a great way to finish off the trip.

While I thought hitting all 50 might bring some sort of closure to our road trip traveling days, it mostly has just given us some ideas on places we want to go explore more in depth. It has slowed us down a little though, we are more likely to spend a more time in fewer places and maybe hit fewer "destinations" as a result.

At 30 we still have no kids, but maybe that's on the horizon. If we do, I'm sure we will start them off young on their quest to 50 as well. Maybe a 50 before 10 or 50 before 18 could be in the works? Or maybe, we'll just go for 7 continents? Ultimately, the traveling for us is less about the check list and more about seeing and enjoying as much as we can during this short time we have on Earth.

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#Lightscapes Shines on the Hudson Valley’s Van Cortlandt Manor - Part 1 of 2

Posted: 08 May 2014 07:24 PM PDT

See more of my photos from Lightscapes on CNN: Part 1, Part 2.


See this entire photo set at:


The creators of Halloween season's famous "Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze" have created a brand new experience in the Hudson Vallery region of New York State called "Lightscapes." Me and my wife visited Lightscapes on opening weekend, having been in the area for another event earlier in the day.


Lightscapes is an immersive journey into a springtime garden fantasy that showcases colorful creatures and flowers, all set to an eerie but beautiful soundtrack that sets the tone. Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, New York is the setting for this incredible nighttime display of sculpture, light, sound and special effects.


The journey begins with a walk through a manmade rainbow and into a bubbly, hazy dreamland. By pure coincidence, there was a slight rain that evening and we witnessed an actual double rainbow while waiting on line in our vehicle to park. Recycled cups and bottles were used as the building blocks for amazing science fiction flora and super-sized creatures, along with funny yet slightly erotic mushrooms, floating fairies and colorful butterflies.


Lightscapes is just the type of activity to inspire creativity for anyone, at any age. For that reason I would recommend a visit if you're in the area.

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Posted: 08 May 2014 10:05 AM PDT

I am Malcolm TAGBARHA, from Ughelli North local government area of Delta State, I came to Europe to add my voice to the BringBackOurGirls campaign. The pictures are yaken in Holland yesterday and today in Brussels, Belgium. I am a student and the cwo of inspired vision worldwide limited, a human and national development organisation based in Abuja, Nigeria. Thank you! Regards, Malcolm TAGBARHA Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

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gas prices in Miami

Posted: 07 May 2014 09:23 PM PDT

(Sent through Glass)

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Wondercon Highlights

Posted: 07 May 2014 03:10 PM PDT

Cherry takes us to Wondercon to see all the latest on new movies and shows!

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Reaching the Most Vulnerable Survivors of Afghanistan’s Deadly Landslide

Posted: 07 May 2014 01:57 PM PDT

By Vijay Raghavan, Assistant Country Director, Programs, Concern Worldwide Afghanistan

Aab Bareek, Afghanistan – Bigum Qal lost her husband and three of her sons in the landslides that hit this remote village in northeastern Afghanistan on May 2, but she hasn't had time to mourn. She broke her leg—now bandaged but still untreated—while trying unsuccessfully to pull her husband from the second mudslide. Of her immediate family, only her youngest son survived.
Getting relief aid is difficult for her—it has arrived in the village, but Bigum Qal can't move due to her injury, and her son is too young to hoist and carry the relief items. Neighbors managed to secure her one bag of wheat flour and one can of oil, but now she is afraid if she leaves to seek medical help, someone will steal these meager supplies.

As Afghans struggle to recover from the deadly landslides, Concern Worldwide has been working to identify the most affected and needy families and supply them with emergency shelter, non-food items and water containers.

It is not a job without challenges. Along with a flow of sympathy for this struggling community, a lack of coordination and strategy has been apparent as residents from other villages, often poor themselves, try to benefit from the large scale relief supplies, and high-profile visitors test efforts at crowd management and distribution. Tension has grown on the ground as frustrated and desperate survivors of the sudden disaster struggle to survive with little food or shelter, limited cooking fuel, no utensils.

One of my early mentors in humanitarian work told me that a critical difficulty in emergency responses is to recognize and navigate the influences of power to make sure one reaches the most affected and vulnerable. I'm proud that our Concern team on the ground here worked together effectively to do this and get our supplies to 51 of the most needy families yesterday. These supplies included emergency shelters, water containers, floor mats, blankets, cooking utensils and gas, and more. We'll continue to direct our efforts toward these families because it's one of the most effective ways to stem the tide of suffering and limit the potential for disease and other risks that can result from displacement.

Zulfia leads one of those families. She is living now with her five children under a tent distributed by Concern, all of them dressed in the same clothes they were wearing on the day she lost her husband in the landslides. She also lost all her household items and animals.

Jamila, 13, is another. She lost her father a few years ago, and her mother in the landslides. She managed to rescue her four sisters and two brothers. "I am the eldest one in my family now," she says. "What should I do with my brothers and sisters? How should I look after them?"

The stories of lives suddenly tossed into tragedy emerge one after the other. Azim lost his wife, his mother, one of his daughters and his two sisters, one of whom was pregnant. "I was out of home when the landslides happened," he says. "When I returned for afternoon prayers, I could not find my house." Two of his children survived, and are also wearing the same clothes they were on the day of the disaster. They live on one meal a day.

Fawri Nisa, a mother of eight, was living with her parents while her husband was out of the village. "When the landslide happened, I went out of the home with my children and then tried to come back to help my parents. But the landslide collapsed my house, and my parents were buried in the mud … I have lost all my life as my parents were everything to me."

Khushal was working on his land in the mountains when the landslides occurred. "After hearing a big, roaring sound, I ran towards the village and reached home just after the second landslide," he says. "I lost my home, my wife and my mother. I was able to rescue my three children. For four days, we slept on the ground until Concern provided a tent."

These stories reflect a fraction of the challenges and the agony of affected people. A long journey remains ahead in Aab Bareek to make to ensure that these families not only survive, but find a way to return to normal life.

To learn more, please visit

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Misogyny Masked as Purity Balls

Posted: 07 May 2014 10:48 AM PDT

As an Episcopal priest, who has been serving in pastoral roles for over a decade, I have seen my fair share of eyebrow-raising justifications people and groups have used scripture to uphold. The topics that come to the forefront are the misuses of the Bible to justify war, civil obedience and nation-worship, continual gender and racial bias, and the exclusion of the GLBTQ community.


However, a new and honestly, disturbing, trend has begun to rise in popularity. I speak of The Purity Ball. I was first introduced to the Purity Ball from a friend, who knows that I am an advocate and activist for creating a more just and equal world/society. Intrigued, I looked into it and what I found disturbed me greatly. As author David Magnusson describes it, in his book Purity:


"A Purity Ball is a formal event where girls or young women and their fathers participate in a ceremony. The daughters dress up in ball gowns and the evening usually consists of dinner, a keynote speech, ballroom dancing, and a vow by fathers and daughters. The girls make a pledge to 'remain pure and live pure lives before God,' to stay sexually abstinent until marriage. Their fathers sign a commitment undertaking to protect their daughter's purity."


How nice.


But what Magnusson fails to mention are the ritualistic practices that go on at many of these Purity Balls. The young women dance provocatively around a cross and have a faux wedding that marries them to their fathers, as they pledge to give their virginity over to their dad to "hold for safe-keeping" until they marry.


You would think that we, as a society, would have moved beyond something like this. You would think that as the world has revealed, quite blatantly, that women are just as capable at performing tasks and taking the lead as any man, these archaic and patriarchal ideas of yesteryear would be abandoned. You would think.


As a minister and a Christian who takes his Bible seriously and as a human being that sees inequality of any form as an injustice, I have several issues with these "Purity Balls".


First, it's a devaluation of the female gender. Having your daughter "give" you her virginity for "safe keeping"; forcing them to pledge to be "married" to you until she finds the correct mate, is treating your daughter – and women in general – as nothing more than chattel. The female is no longer the beautiful, individual, creative, and God-affirmed human being that is free and capable of thought, their own ideas, hopes, and dreams. No, the female, in the eyes of these men, become nothing more than a possession, an object; little more than a sadistic trophy that is on display until the time comes when they hand their "trophy" over to a "worthy male" that will continue the objectification and pre-prescribed gender roles, placing her into a metaphorical glass box, able to see the world and all that might have been, but not being able to touch it.


The second issue stems from the first: These Purity Balls are created to control and subjugate women into chastity, while the men/boys are able to "sow their wild seeds" wherever they see fit. After all, that's just "boys being boys". This is nonsense. As a CIS-identifying male, I have sexual desires; but they are met by my partner and it would be unthinkable for me to wander outside of our covenant towards one another to "sow my wild oats". I am a human being, not some wild animal who is incapable of controlling my impulses. Do we, as males, really see ourselves as so devoid of self-control, that it is acceptable, nay necessary, for us to have multiple partners while claiming to be committed to one, lest we be overcome and pull our genitalia out in public and hump the first thing we see? Ridiculous. Despite our rationale, we cannot enforce one standard for women and claim the "rules" don't apply for the man. That is injustice.


Finally, despite these Purity Balls being wrapped in biblical language, we find our scriptures speak against such ideology. We have throughout the Jewish Scriptures (what Christians call "The Old Testament") great women leaders who were capable of rational thought and beauty. The several that immediately come to mind are Miriam, Moses' sister, who was considered a prophetess; Deborah, one of the Judges of Israel; and Esther, the queen who, according to the story, prevented the slaughter of the Jewish people. We move over into the Christian New Testament where we see Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, making her the first evangelist of the gospel; Mary Magdalene, as the story goes, was the first to see the empty tomb of Jesus and tell the disciples – making her the Apostle to the Apostles; Mary the Mother of Jesus, who as the Magnificant goes, "Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed"; Junias, who the Apostle Paul calls "an Apostle among the Apostles", which was the highest honor in the Early Church; Paul's mention of Pheobe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, and Julia as great leaders of the Early Church. Lastly, we have Paul's declaration in his letter to the Galatian Church to contend with when we attempt to justify the objectification and devaluation of women, which reads:


"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28, emphasis mine).


No matter how hard you try, we can never go back to a yesteryear in this country where "everyone got along because everyone knew their place". We cannot go back there, first because we cannot turn back time, and second, because that time and place never existed in the first place. These Purity Balls are an attempt to twist scripture to subjugate women in this country. How can we look at other countries that force pre-pubescent women to have their genitalia "circumcised" or sown together to promote chastity with strong rebuke, while we allow Purity Balls, which are in essence, the same thing, to occur in our own backyard? Furthermore, how can we deny the right for our GLBTQ brothers and sisters to marry on the basis that it is "icky" or "against scripture", yet allow a party where a child is coerced into giving up her virginity, by name, to her father for "safe keeping" until she marries? That is a pedophile's wet dream made reality.


The fact is this: you can attempt to claim patriarchal dominance on your wife and your daughters by pointing to historical gender roles. What you cannot do is point to the Bible or social norms as your authority for making your assumptions valid. The only one you are fooling is yourself (and your daughter, until she rebels). So, give it up. Stop masquerading male chauvinism and misogyny as protecting your daughter's purity. Treat your daughter and your wife – all women – with the respect and dignity they deserve. Don't just "be a man"; be a human. In welcoming women as equals, you also allow yourself to be invited into the human family.

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Stingless Jellyfish of Palau

Posted: 07 May 2014 04:18 AM PDT

My husband Mike and I went snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake in Palau where there are 12 million golden jellyfish ranging in size from your pinky nail to a soccer ball. The beauty is, they don't sting! It was like floating in a scene from "Finding Nemo." Incredible and dreamlike is how it felt, and it truly was a one-of-a-lind experience!

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