It’s Greek to me

My mom just sent me this to aid in my Blogathoning, with the note “Believe it or not, that first word is “Bob” in Greek…”
I’m half Greek, though you may not realize that from my name – Jennifer McCreight doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it as Crissoula Papadapolopolis. My Papou (Grandpa) was born in Greece, and my Yia Yia (Grandma) grew up there. Since we live about ten minutes from them (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding), I’ve been raised in Greek culture. Except I’ve always failed at one thing:

The language.

My family tried to teach me. When I was little Yia Yia taught me little things – how to count, names of body parts, names of food – but I’ve forgotten almost all of it from disuse. I visited Greece when I was 12, and they bought me what was effectively a “Baby’s First Book” in a last ditch attempt to teach me Greek. At that point I could read Greek letters but had no idea what the words I was saying meant. Now I can’t even do that much.

Looking back, I wish they had taught me more when I was younger able to absorb it. My grandparents were effectively my daycare service, so they could have easily talked Greek around me while my parents spoke English. And then I would have had some of the pronunciations that are specific to Greek that I simply can’t do as an adult. My grandparents and mom still giggle when I fail to say “gala” (which means “milk”) correctly. I can’t do the guttural “g” it requires.

My dad and I even have purposeful bastardizations of certain phrases we can’t pronounce quite right:

“To your health” – stinygiasou – skinny asses

I know the pet names – my grandparents calls me koukla (“little doll”) and my mom calls me zuzuni (“little bug” – don’t ask). I picked up the inappropriate words too – I probably know more Greek synonyms for poop and fart that I do useful phrases. I can still say some things out of rote memorization: “I love you,” “Good night,” “You’re welcome.” My Yia Yia and I even have a little script we go through on the phone:

Yia Yia: Ti kaneis? (“How are you?”)
Me: Kala (“Fine.”)

But I don’t know how to say anything else. I don’t know how to admit I’ve had a bad day, I’m sad, I’m angry… Which is oddly representative of my relationship with my grandparents. I love them so much that they’re not allowed to know I’m not fine sometimes. I don’t want to upset them, which is why they’re probably the only two people on the planet who don’t know that I’m an atheist.

Odd how language represents that.

This is post 8 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

I’m so proud of my dad!

My dad is one of the major reasons I’m an atheist. Ever since I was little, he instilled a healthy skepticism of religion in me. For one, he thought it was very important not to indoctrinate me in any particular faith. We never went to church and I was never taught about Christianity, unlike him or my half brothers (whose mom won out on that argument). I was left to my own devices. And when you’re gobbling up Greek mythology and fantasy novels, modern religions just didn’t seem too different in my head.

He also had his nuggets of wisdom. “No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God,” was a frequent saying of his. And when a younger me asked why we didn’t go to church, he responded “You don’t have to go to church to be a good person. Plenty of people who go to church and are praying the loudest have also done the worst things.”

Despite this, I never heard him call himself an atheist. I’m not sure if he even knew it was an appropriate label for himself until I started the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue. I had noticed that now that I was more vocal about my atheism, he was also becoming more vocal in his criticisms of religion. Not long ago he saw I had a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and I mentioned it was a really good read. Armed with a Kindle, he read it and loved it. The criticism of religion has definitely increased even more (Dawkins has that effect on people).

I just saw him, and he said I would be proud of him. He was grocery shopping and a man in a suit came up to him. He said he recognized him from when he coached high school basketball, so my dad stopped to talk. He then asked if he could have a minute of his time and tried to give him a pamphlet about Christianity.

Dad: Sorry, but you’ll just be wasting your time on me.
Guy: Why’s that?
Dad: Because I’m an atheist.

The guy was flustered and wanted to debate, but my dad just went along with his grocery shopping.

This is the first time I’ve heard him used the dreaded “a” word, and to practically a stranger no less. One way to increase acceptance of the non-religious in our society is to let people know that every day, good people are atheists. We’re fathers, we’re basketball coaches, and we do our grocery shopping at the same place as you. It may have taken him 64 years to do it (yesterday was his birthday!), but it’s never too late.

And yes, I am very proud of him.

March Madness!

I have a confession to make: I care a tiny amount about March Madness. Me interested in sports – shocking, right? I think going to a Big Ten school helped, because now I have a team that I can arbitrarily pledge my allegiance to and root for. Of course, Robbie Hummel got hurt and now Purdue is effectively screwed, but I’ll be cheering them on anyway.

But that’s not the real reason I like March Madness. For the fourth year in a row we’re having a family pool: It’s me, my dad, mom, brother, his wife, her brother and parents, my other brother, and his girlfriend/spouse/omg get officially married already so I know what to call you. I love it because how competitive all the guys get. My dad and brothers played college basketball, my dad coached high school basketball for 25 years, and the other guys watch it religiously, so they all actually care about the outcomes. They strategically fill out their brackets and argue over who’s the best choice.

The fun part? The ladies, who always randomly fill out their brackets, usually do just as well.

I’m not trying be stereotypical with the “Men like sports and women don’t” trope – that’s just how my immediate family actually is. But it’s always good to get to the end of the tournament and go “Huh, I’m winning? Can’t believe my random guessing is as good as your calculated choices…” Ah McCreights, we love rubbing it in.

Anyone else watching the tournament? Do you actually think you’re good at figuring out the winner? Is there anything else in your life that you think you have control over, but it’s probably more due to chance?

I fail at sleeping

I’ve never been good at the whole “sleeping” thing. I take forever to fall asleep, I wake up frequently, I never feel well rested, I get sleepy throughout the day. It’s not the sort of passing insomnia caused by a stressful event or a particularly hard work load (though the later is more likely voluntary sleep deprivation, which I also sometimes do). My failure to get a good night’s rest has existed since literally as long as I can remember, probably since I was five years old.

My memories of insomnia as a little kid are kind of hilarious, in retrospect. As a kid I believed the mantra of “Parents can solve everything, therefor you should tell them all of your problems.” Oh childhood innocence. But it was rule I followed very closely, especially when I couldn’t sleep at night – which, unfortunately for my parents, was fairly often.

During one of my sleepless nights, I would slowly open the door to their bedroom and creep over to my dad’s side of the bed. Looking back, I am so amazed and relieved I never caught them in the middle of some hanky panky – probably because they quickly got used to me barging in on a fairly regular basis (sorry Mom & Dad – what else are kids for?). The exchange was always the same:

Me: Daaaddddy? … (if father did not awake, insert poking here)
Dad: *wakes up* huuhh what?
Me: I can’t sleep.
Dad: Grumble.

He would then take me downstairs to the couch, put on All Dogs Go to Heaven, and then wait until I fell asleep.

Yeah, my dad can’t stand that movie anymore.

Soon he was putting on the movie and leaving me there. And after that, my sleeplessness was met with “And what do you want me to do about it?” and I learned to go sleep on the couch without harassing my dad. (As an aside, my dad asked me recently why I always woke him up and never my mom. That’s because she was a much deeper sleeper, and I knew I wouldn’t get any help from her. Poor dad, suffering from child logic.)

I also used to sleepwalk a lot when I was little. Apparently I would go into my parents’ room babbling nonsense, one of them would tell me to go back to bed, and my zombie like self would listen. I still do minor sleepwalking-like things, but never actually walking around (with one exception). I’ve been prone to sleeptalking, especially when I’m having an angry dream. Sometimes I’m shouting so loud in my dreams that I’ll mumble it, much to the confusion of roommates and boyfriends. I’ll actually sleepcry more frequently than I’ll sleeptalk, which is simply bizarre upon waking.

But the thing I do most frequently is also the thing that freaks out roommates the most – sleepsitting. All I’ll do is sit straight up in bed and stare facing forward. I usually wake up after sleeping in this position for a while, think “Oh, I’m doing it again,” and then lay back down to go to sleep. I completely freaked out my first college roommate, who thought I was possessed or fucking with her when I did this one night. This almost always happens when I’m having a particularly stressful week, so I have no idea how chemicals are messing with my brain to produce this effect.

Even ignoring these bizarre sleep habits, I’ve never been a good sleeper. It usually takes me anywhere from a half hour to an hour to fall asleep, sometimes up to two hours on a bad night. It doesn’t matter how exhausted I am. Once I’m actually sleeping, I’ll still wake up at least twice a night, sometimes up to ten times; I’m not even sure if I know what it’s like to sleep without doing so. The only perk of this is that I always vividly remember multiple dreams from that night, and I frequently lucid dream (“Oh, hey, this is a dream. Time to fly around, weee!”).

Then I’ll usually wake up multiple times before the alarm goes off, frantically checking the clock. An hour left. 45 more minutes. 30 minutes. 20. 15. 10. 5. 2. It’s maddening. And when I finally wake up, I’m never well rested, and I’m lethargic and falling asleep throughout the day. The only mild solution I’ve come up with is allotting myself 10 hours for “sleep,” assuming I might actually sleep during 7 or 8 of those hours. Problem is, I’m an overbooked college student who hardly had eight hours to set aside for sleep.

The utterly maddening thing, however, is that I sleep fine when I shouldn’t be sleeping. On the rare occasion that I nap (I try not to, since I know it makes sleeping at night even worse), I will be out like a light and go into super deep restful sleep. If I’m a passenger in a car, I can’t keep my eyes open and I’ll be gone no matter how uncomfortable the situation (I blame this on my parents – when I was little, they’d drive me around to get me to fall asleep). If I’m sitting at the back of a giant boring lecture after getting 3 hours of sleep, I have no problem microsleeping while managing to not drool all over the desk, snore, or be distracted by the lecture (I know, naughty Jen).

But it seems like the second I lay down in a real bed, I’m wide awake. It’s worse when there’s something I have to wake up for in the morning, but it’s still not perfect on weekends. I’ve never harassed doctors about it, since their general reply (and the reply of others) is that I’m just stressed and anxious.

…Okay, which is totally true.

Regardless, it’s still annoying. I know there are a thousand tips I could be following to get better sleep. Exercise (ha), going to bed at the same time (haha), eating at regular times (uh, I’m a college student?), avoiding caffeine (the only thing keeping me functional during the day), and staying away from the computer before bed (ahahahahahaha). Maybe I’m doomed to my sleeplessness because of my lifestyle. Maybe my constant sleep deprivation is the cause of my sarcastic, mildly cranky personality – aka, the source of all my blogging inspiration – so I don’t actually want to cure it.

At least I can rest easy…well, rest easier knowing that mild to moderate insomnia is associated with increased longevity. I can be sleep deprived even longer!

EDIT: I forgot to include my one sleepwalking exception! This happened maybe a year ago-ish. I had been watching way too much Food Network on TV, and had a hilarious sleep walking episode. I “woke up” semi-conscious, thinking I was participating on Iron Chef. My bed was the prep station and my desk was the stove top. I literally got up and started moving my blankets around, thinking they were food, and then walking back and forth to my desk. The strangest part was that I was semi-lucid during all of my hallucinations, which is why I remember this episode. The whole time I was thinking nonsense like “Man, this food is so hard to cook because it’s not really food, it’s blankets. Wait, what? Oh well, must keep cooking.” At one point my imaginary Chairman demanded cookies, so I literally walked over to the bathroom and stared at the toilet paper. “This isn’t cookies, this is toilet paper. But he wants cookies. Can the toilet paper be cookies?” Eventually I woke up enough to realize that I was playing imaginary Iron Chef, and I walked back to my bed and went to sleep.

The brain is an amazing organ.

EDIT 2: Damn, apparently I already blogged about my Iron Chef sleepwalking. I have no new material, folks. Oh well, go there if you want a more detailed and hilarious description of my sleepwalking.

The joys of parents learning science

We’re always hearing stories about kids making skeptical insights or getting interested in science. They’re exciting because these kids are our future, and maybe we see a bit of our nerdy selves in them. I don’t have kids, but I still get excited about something similar – parents learning science.

My parents have always been very pro-science. They always encouraged me in my science classes and Science Olympiad, and were elated when I decided to major in genetics. However, they’re not particularly science oriented. My dad was a history and special ed teacher, and my mom was an art teacher. My dad is into politics and sports, and my mom is obsessed with decorating and traveling. They treat science how rational people should – scientists are experts in a certain area, and even though my parents don’t personally understand the topics, they put their faith in scientists. It’s no different than putting faith in a mechanic or a pilot – everyone has their specialty, and we can’t know everything. They don’t believe that evolution and global warming are just giant conspiracies precisely orchestrated by hundreds and hundreds of evil scientists. Just because they personally don’t have the background to interpret the data doesn’t render it false (if only creationists could understand this simple concept).

We’re all intelligent, but in different areas – and sometimes that causes problems. The more I study biology, the less in common we have to talk about when I come home. Usually conversations consist of my dad rambling about some history book he’s reading and me trying to keep my eyes from glazing over. But this time I had a plan. I brought home Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (who also has an excellent blog). My dad will read science books if given them (he loved Guns, Germs, and Steel and Hot, Flat, and Crowded), and I figured this time I can kill two birds with one stone: Get my dad to learn more about my interests, and get him to ramble about something I’m actually interested in.


It’s only been a day and he’s halfway done. He says he loves it and that it does a great job of explaining concepts to a non-scientist. He’s keeping a little notepad nearby so he can write down especially awesome facts to share with me, or questions to ask me so I can clarify. There’s just something really cool about my dad running up and ranting, suddenly realizing the frustrating creationist logic I have to constantly deal with.

Dad: How do people deal with the fact that 99% of all species that have existed are extinct? Why would God design things to all die? That doesn’t seem very intelligent to me.
Me: God works in mysterious ways *wink*

Dad: We have fossils! What more proof do they need?
Me: Satan buried them there to test your faith. That or the scientists made it all up.

Dad: Now he’s talking about examples of unintelligent design. Did you know women have painful childbirth because we evolved from four legged ancestors?
Me: I thought it was because God was punishing Eve.

Playing the devil’s advocate is fun. My dad knows I’m an atheist, and he’s not religious at all either, so it’s all for laughs. But it’s great seeing him react to all the religious “arguments” that I have heard people seriously make. Not only that, but it mirrors how my dad instilled good skeptical thinking in me. I’d often ask questions (How did they get the squirrels to talk in that commercial? It has to be a computer) and he would reply with a ridiculous answer (Squirrels just talk when you’re not looking). I would then go about explaining why that was silly, and logical thinking was developed!

I look forward to his future comments and questions as he finishes the book. Then my mom is going to take a crack at it! Soon the whole family will be well-read evolutionists, mwahaha!

An eerie resemblance

Brought to you by the same relatives who produced the best blasphemous birthday gifts, I now show you my new awesome Christmas gift:Look familiar? I’ll help you out:Yep. Chris and Erin got me the same awesome, soft, cuddly, adorable octopus plushie from the PZ photo. And it wasn’t a coincidence – they got it because they know I love PZ’s blog and would know the photo.

The funny part is when I walked in and saw an octopus plushie under the tree I exclaimed, “Man, I want that!” thinking it was for my nephews (since 99% of the presents were for them, naturally). At the time I didn’t recognize exactly which exact plushie it was, since it was upside down and half buried by the twins’ toys. Later on I was telling Erin how awesome it was, and she went “Well good, because it’s for you!” Yaaaay!

Nothing makes a better pillow than a cephalopod. Well, maybe a kangaroo rat…

I think I’ve finally found something to start collecting

Because of Thanksgiving yesterday, I got to see my brother Chris and my sister-in-law Erin. I don’t get to see them too often since they live in New York, but they’re pretty awesome and I’m always excited to see them. To put it in perspective for you, they’re my only family members who know about my blog and who I feel comfortable being heathen-y around.

At one point in the night, Erin pulled me aside and told me they had a belated birthday gift for me, but that it may not be socially acceptable to open it in front of the rest of the family. That made me even more excited, so we ran off into another room where she presented me with a giant bag. She explained that while they could have mailed it to me, it had some back story so they wanted to give it to me in person. She then dug around in the bag and handed me the Thanksgiving Chick tract.I know this is totally what my Thanksgiving looked like.

I laughed and joked how I was starting to collect these things, since my friend gave me an evolution one a couple weeks ago. Erin smiled and said I wouldn’t have to try too hard to collect them…because she and Chris had given me every single current Chick tract. I kid you not:I now own 106 Chick tracts (with a couple of duplicates, but not many). How the heck did Erin get all of these? That story is even crazier. Apparently when she was attending high school in California back in the 80s, Chick tracts were constantly being passed out at her school. One of her friends got to meet Jack Chick and asked Erin if she’d like to meet him too. Being the adventurous heathen she was, she said sure, and had coffee with Jack Chick. Ever since then she’s been receiving free shipments of the newest Chick tracts.

Since Erin is a smart cookie and knew these would amuse me greatly, she called up Chick Publications and asked if she could have some more Chick tracts so she could share them with family over Thanksgiving – which is totally true, just not for the reasons they assumed. They were happy to spread the word, so they sent her a free box of the All Tract Assortment, which I now own.

That’s not all. Like a sign from some sort of atheist God (shhh, it doesn’t need to make sense) the box came with a free copy of a Crusaders comic. Which one? Primal Man?, the comic on evolution. Just too perfect. And if that wasn’t enough, they bought me R. Crumb’s Illustrated Book of Genesis, which I started reading during the car ride home. Simply awesome.

Not sure if I want to go for the whole set, though. I’d have about 940 left, and I’m not sure what I would do with that many Chick tracts…other than cry at their insanity.


While I was home last weekend, my mom showed me a card she bought for her friend’s birthday. There was a black cat (like ours) sitting on top of a washing machine, saying something ridiculous and badly spelled – I don’t remember what, but you know what I mean, lolcat speak. I laughed for a good amount of time, and my mom seemed surprised.

Mom: I didn’t send you this one for your birthday because I thought you would just be confused, since it’s kind of silly.
Me: I wouldn’t be confused, I would be proud that you sent me a lolcat!
Mom: A what?
Me: *dawning realization that this is all an accident* You know, like l.o.l., laugh out loud?
Mom: Yeah, I know that…
Me: It’s an internet meme…?
Mom: A what?
Me: …It’s this really popular joke on the internet to have a funny picture of a cat and then some poorly spelled joke around it.
Mom: Oh! I didn’t know that!

I was mildly disappointed that her excellent choice in card was an accident, but I would have been tremendously shocked if she knew what a lolcat was. So once I got home I sent her a bunch of images of lolcats, which she seemed to appreciate. A couple of days later, I got this second birthday card in the mail:Okay, I’ll admit “cumz” made me laugh for inappropriate reasons, but I definite give this an A for Effort! Or Epic Win of Effort, or something. Also, I think we need to start lolMcCatz as how parents interpret internet memes – guaranteed humor right there. I still remember the day I had to explain a Rick Roll to my mom, and her only response was, “Oh, but I like that song!”

My dad is awesome

In case you didn’t figure that out from my previous post about my family

Dad: [On Facebook, about Pastafarian Preaching photos] Some great looking pirates. I had do some research (you’re keeping my mine active) figure out what Pastafarian meant. It makes good sense to me.
Me: [Through email, to mom and dad] You’d both probably like to know that your daughter was interviewed by the local tv station for the 5 o clock news…dressed as a pirate. Thankfully the piece was very positive. Love, J
Dad: Got a kick out of you facebook pictures – you make a great pirate. You represented yourself well on the news interview — but tell them to get your name right next time. Love, Dad
Me: They even had me pronounce it on camera, and they still got it wrong! And spelled it wrong, did you catch that? Not to mention the club name…”Non-thesis” ha!
Dad: The reporter is probably in training for Fox News.


Why I shouldn’t debate religion with my mother

Me: *explains different ludicrous things I saw at the Creation Museum*
Mom: …That doesn’t make any sense! What did all of the animals eat after the flood since everything else was killed? How did plants survive the flood? How did the Ark not sink? How did all of the animals on earth fit on a single boat?!?
Me: God did it. It was a miracle.
Mom: But…that doesn’t make any sense. What about the fact that man wrote the Bible?
Me: Oh, well it was inspired by God.
Mom: But how do they know that?
Me: Because the Bible says so. (At this point, I’m relishing in hearing my woo-filled mother bring up so many good arguments all of her own. And then it turns sour.)
Mom: I don’t see why they have to be so literal. I mean, I believe that there’s something bigger out there, and in spirits and ghosts and stuff, but what they believe is just silly.
Me: …Well, do you believe in unicorns? Why you don’t believe in them is the same reason why I don’t believe in ghosts or God.
Mom: Well I don’t know, maybe there were unicorns back with the ancient Greeks or something…
Me: …*facepalm* This thought experiment is lost on you.
Mom: Well, that’s the whole thing about religion, you need to have faith!
Me: Faith is believing in something which you have no reason to believe.
Mom: So?
Dad: I need evidence. Faith doesn’t make atomic clocks work.
Mom: Well, it makes me happy to believe in it, so there.
Dad: Just because it makes you happy doesn’t mean it’s true.