Thursday, November 27, 2014

Coolest. Trees. Ever.

At the University of Virginia, LegalMist's alma mater, stand the coolest trees in the world.  They are called "Pratt Ginkgo Trees," and they are lovely.  They are found elsewhere, too, of course.  But I remember, very clearly, exactly one day at the end of autumn, just as winter was beginning at the University, watching these beautiful trees shed their leaves.

They do not lose leaves gradually, like other trees.  Instead, they drop them all at once, in about one day.  I sat for about three hours one afternoon near the Lawn at U.Va., watching one gorgeous tree drop leaves.  It looked like snow.

I found a video for you on YouTube of a ginkgo tree at someone's house, that looks about like that tree at U.Va. looked, on that gorgeous fall day, dropping leaves so fast that it almost looked like a snowstorm.  Here it is:




I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Camporee

I took my son to the Boy Scouts' "Camporee" last weekend.

It was so much fun!  And so hard, too...  I am *not* a natural camper.  This was a real effort for me.  I love my warm soft bed, flush toilet, and daily shower.  Camping involves none of these things and so I don't do it often.  I love the outdoors, but usually only if I know I can sleep in my own bed at night.

We left Friday after my son got out of school.  Arrived in Pine, AZ, at Camp Geronimo, around 6 p.m.  Selected our campsite and hauled our stuff up from the car.  Set up the tent in the dark (not fun!  Thank goodness the troop leader and his wife helped out!).  Drove the car back down to the parking lot and hiked the mile back up to the campsite.  Had some fried chicken we'd brought along for dinner.  Went to the scout ceremony/ meeting and sat in the increasing chilly-ness.  Slept on the rather uncomfortable camping pads and woke up cold at 4 a.m., added extra blankets and woke up at 5:30 a.m. with the sun...

And then the actual fun started.  Breakfast in the cold-but-warming beautiful morning with birds singing, scout flag ceremony, dressed in the "Class A" uniforms for the "inspection," and then more scout ceremonies...  all done by probably 8 a.m.  Then some scout activities/challenges for the kids --  involving problem-solving, teamwork, and fun.  The theme was "Zombies," so several of the events required completing them within a time limit before the "Zombies" were released.  There was a fellow applying Zombie make-up to anyone who wanted it...  although most of us adults looked like zombies even without the makeup, after a night spent setting up a campsite and sleeping, very little, in the cold!

Then we had lunch, and then there was hiking, crawfish-catching, and lots of unstructured, kid-led games like Zombie tag, "infected," capture-the-flag, pinecone wars, something resembling lord of the flies and pinecone-throwing, and random explorations of the gorgeous, huge wooded camping area.  Meanwhile, the adults supervised some and hung out a lot, getting to know each other and enjoying the birds and the blue sky with pretty little clouds and the trees and the lack of biting insects and the sound of the wind in the trees.  It was awesome.

Later that evening, after dinner, there was another flag ceremony at sunset, and then a camp-wide meeting at which my scout's Webelos den and my scout's host-boy-scout troop tied for first place for the campsite cleanliness and uniform inspection prize -- both groups scored a perfect 100%!  Each group won large portable grill, to be used for future campouts!  Very exciting!

I met a fellow who is the grandfather of one of the Webelos.  I had met the Webelo's mom before, and she is really nice, too.  He lives down the street and around the corner from us, and works in a building two blocks from where I work.  Such a small world we live in...  He loaned me a jacket, because I forgot to bring my warm toasty one.  He is a soft-spoken, kind-hearted, handsome, smart, sweet man about 15 years older than me.  I have to admit to having a small crush on him.  If I weren't married, I'd have been flirting with him...  As it was, we enjoyed looking at all the stars that can't be seen from the Valley of the Sun because of the light pollution and talking about our jobs and kids/grandkids.

Then we had a great big campfire and roasted marshmallows and made s'mores (yes, the boy scouts love them as much as the girl scouts who invented them), cleaned up a bit, put out the fire, and then slept in our tents in the cold again on the hard ground softened only somewhat by thin camping sleep-pads and bags, woke up at 5:00 a.m. with the sun listening to the birds sing, had another flag ceremony, broke down the camp, and headed back to civilization with a new appreciation for our warm comfortable homes, soft beds, heated bathrooms, and showers. 

Life is good.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Got A New Job...

... And I am so very happy!

For the past few years, I had been applying for jobs whenever I found something I thought I would enjoy doing.  I did not apply for jobs that did not pay well.  I did not apply for jobs that I thought I would hate once I started.  I already had a job (running my own law firm) that I wasn't thrilled with (well, the boss was nice...) and that didn't pay well enough (mostly because I am a much better lawyer than business-person, and did not focus enough on billing and collections) and that featured a never-ending parade of obnoxious opposing attorneys and occasional difficult and/or deadbeat clients and that often resulted in me sitting alone in my office for hours at a time working, with no human interaction at all.  No, I did not apply for anything similar to what I already had...

I applied only for interesting, well-paying jobs in law firms or agencies where I would work regular hours for regular pay and have nice people to talk to each day.

I am now handling appeals in child welfare cases, and I couldn't be happier.  My research and writing skills are put to good use.  I rarely have to interact with obnoxious persons.  The cases are a little sad, but I feel like I am doing some good in this all-too-difficult world, helping kids move on to better lives.  I don't have to deal with billing and collections.  The hours are fairly regular, 40 to maybe 50 per week.

My co-workers are helpful and kind and fun, but not too chatty or intrusive.  We all have work to do so we spend most of the day doing it, which is good.  But there is a sense of camaraderie and fun, too.  We had an NCAA pool.  Two to four of us go for fifteen minute walks almost every day to chat and enjoy the day (that will end soon, though, once it gets hot here in the Valley of the Sun...).  We go to lunch once a month or so.

And one of my co-workers is a secretary!  And she is so smart and knows so much about this area of the law, and she pays attention to details and is enthusiastic and nice, and I enjoy talking with her, and she is always doing things--without being asked--that really help to make my job easier and more pleasant! And someone else pays her salary!  For those of you out there who are the excellent secretaries and paralegals, thank you for all that you do!  You are wonderful.  For those of you who haven't thanked your secretary or paralegal this week, go do it *now*!  You just don't know how lucky you are to have a good assistant, until you don't have one.

And I get a regular paycheck, directly deposited into my checking account every two weeks!  And I never have to spend my weekend sending out bills, or spend a Monday morning making calls to clients to ask when they are planning to pay their bills, or make several trips to the bank each week to deposit checks.  And I am making more than I was making before (although probably not as much as I could make if I were better at running a business, or more dedicated to working 80+ hours a week as a lawyer).

And, perhaps best of all, there is an IT department, so when I have computer problems (rarely, now that folks who know what they are doing are in charge of the computers...), someone besides me is in charge of fixing them!  My goodness, people, if you haven't thanked your IT guy this week, go do it *now*!!  They are a godsend!

Our computer system at work crashed last week, and I got to go take a walk and then do some reading while I waited for it to be fixed.  Everyone else was complaining about the "wasted" time.  I was relishing the fact that I didn't have to stress out about how to fix it, and *then* stress out about how to get my work done.  I could relax and just wait for the computer to work, and *then* stress out--but only if needed!--to meet my deadline.  It was such a relief!!  For those of you out there who are the IT guys at work, thank you for doing such a wonderful job.  People should appreciate you more than they do.

My former work computer, which is now the home computer, is dying a slow and painful death right now, and I am just so very happy that my income and professional well-being do not depend on my fixing or replacing it by tomorrow.  Instead, I can wait until this weekend or next weekend or the weekend after that and shop the sales to get a good deal on a new one.  And I can use the laptop to surf the 'net while I wait for a new desktop computer, without worrying about the fact that the laptop doesn't have all the software I need to enter my time, do my billing, etc.

And, I get paid vacations!

And paid sick leave!

And paid holidays!

And a retirement account!

Work just doesn't get much better than this! 

I am glad I was patient and waited for the right job for me.  I have not been happier at work since I was a bus-driver in college.  :)

*****

Next on the list....  a better marital relationship.  I am not sure whether that means fixing the existing one, or getting a new one, but something has got to give...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Free Smells"

I don't know if you can see what I need you to see in the photo below.  I took it from a distance while stopped at a red light, and using my cell phone's camera.  When I tried to enlarge it ... let's just say the photo quality isn't too great.

This is a "Jimmy John's" restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.  Can you see the little red neon sign in the window?  The one that says "Free Smells"?

Can you tell what the sign is exactly next to?



It is directly next to the restrooms.

Mmmm, tempting.....   but let's just say I've never stopped in to enjoy those particular "Free Smells."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

AB, rest in peace

On Sunday, three fire trucks and an ambulance pulled up to the house across the street.  Firemen and paramedics entered the house, and a few minutes later, carried our neighbor Angelo to the ambulance on a stretcher, still pumping at his chest.

It did not look promising.

I learned later that evening that Angelo had died, of a heart attack.

Angelo and his wife, Jean, bought their house when it was first built, in the 1950s.  They have been our neighbors since we moved in across the street from them, over 20 years ago.  They are old enough to be my, or my husband's, parents.

They are wonderful neighbors, kind, friendly, not nosy or intrusive, yet they keep an eye on the house when we are not here.  They share oranges from their trees with us each year and back when they used to go out to farmers markets more frequently, they would sometimes bring us peaches or apricots.  They wave when we walk by and they are sitting on their porch.  They smile when we are watering our lawn or getting into our car and they are bringing out the recycle bin.  They buy girl scout cookies and Scout-O-Rama tickets when the neighbor kids sell them.  They chat with us when we have time, and smile and wave when we don't.

They have many adult children.  The ones who live close by have, for years, come for Sunday dinner, often bringing the grandkids.

Angelo and Jean kept their yard looking beautiful for many years until they could no longer physically handle it. They loved the flowers they planted each spring.  They loved planting, watering, watching things grow.  They cried when their big beautiful old tree in the front yard died and had to be cut down.

Over the past couple of years, both Angelo and Jean have had some health issues.  Their wonderful grown kids have taken turns taking care of mom and dad.  It is obvious they love their parents very much.  They take care of the yard, although they do not plant as many flowers as their parents did.  They take their parents shopping, help them cook, hang out with them on the front porch.  They bring the grandkids to visit.  Some of the kids come from very far away.  One lives in Hawaii.  She comes and stays for weeks at a time.

The kids are good neighbors, too.  Friendly, but not nosy or intrusive.  They wave and smile, and chat with us when we have time, just like their parents.

Angelo was a good man.  He loved his wife and his many kids and grandkids.  He was smart and funny.  He was a good neighbor.  The world was a better place with him in it.

Goodbye, Angelo.  May your soul find peace and contentment.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

RKT, 1972-2013, rest in peace

My friend killed himself. 

I just learned yesterday afternoon that he killed himself a few weeks ago.

I didn't see it coming, even though I was probably one of the last persons to talk to him.

His daughter is friends with my daughter.  We've known them 6 years.  He was divorced from his kids' mom.  She had been ... Away, for a while.  But she recently came back into the kids' lives.

He had sole custody and had been the kids' only parent for years.  But he worked a lot.  His boss demanded long hours and Saturdays.  And so at first he was happy to have her back in the kids' lives, giving them another adult to turn to.  But then after a while, she seemed to be working hard to turn the kids against him.  Even though she had been gone for years, she had the kids convinced that she was the better parent, the one who loved them more, the one they should stay with.  They spent less and less time with their dad.

She let the kids run wild.  He set limits.  You can guess which parent they preferred... And which parent they were increasingly angry with...

He talked to me one day, about his legal rights, obligations, options.  I can't say, here, specifically what we talked about. Client confidentiality and all that.  Looking back, he was more agitated than I'd ever seen him, but it was understandable, under the circumstances he described.

We also talked the next day, as friends.  He called to let me know how things were going.  He talked about how frustrated he was, to have sacrificed so much to be the good dad, always putting the kids' needs first, working overtime to buy them Christmas gifts, while the ex just disappeared for 10 years.  And then to have her reappear and have the kids preferring to be with her.  He was understandably hurt and angry.  He loved his kids, but felt like they were turning against him.  He felt rejected, hurt, angry, sad...  He wondered if he was handling things properly, if he was doing all that he could do.

I listened a long while, and commiserated with him, told him his feelings were completely understandable.  I told him that I was sure the kids would come to understand much more as they matured, that they are teenagers - notorious for being insensitive and self-centered and ungrateful - that the excitement of having a mom again would wear off as they started to see how often she "forgot" to buy groceries or pay the electric bill, that as they grew older they would realize what a great dad he is and that they never went without food or shelter or cool toys for Christmas, or love, when they were with him.  I also told him I thought he was handling things well, doing a good job of taking care of his kids, that he was a good dad...

When we hung up, he seemed.... determined ... and ok, if not happy.  Determined to do the best he could for the kids even if they seemed to resent him for it.  Less agitated, though still frustrated.

The next day, he killed himself.

I will never know whether there were other burdens he hadn't shared, whether something else happened during that day that sent him too far down the path of despair, or whether I just missed the signs of his total despair and desperation.  He certainly never said anything about feeling suicidal or about the kids being better off without him.  As far as I can remember, there was no sign or feeling that he was giving up...  but maybe I missed it....

Should I have tried harder, helped more?  Was there anything at all I could have said or done that might have helped things go differently...?  Should I have been giving him the number for a suicide hotline?  Were the signs there and I just didn't see?   I just don't know. 

A couple of times over the past couple of weeks, I'd thought about calling him, but it wasn't unusual to go weeks or sometimes months without talking to him - we were both busy, and our main connection was our kids, and my daughter was out of town the past couple of weeks.  It wouldn't have mattered, I guess.  By the time I was thinking about calling him, a few days later, "just to check in," he was already dead. 

Maybe if I'd been the kind of friend to call daily?  But that would have felt like interfering, prying, being nosy, in the context of our parent-to-parent friendship.  We were close enough to share our kid problems and dilmemmas, to ask each other for favors now and then, to hang out and share pizza occasionally while our kids hung out and played video games or went biking, but not the sort of buddies who call each other daily.  Maybe I should have tried harder to be that kind of friend for him.

He was a good man.  He worked hard.  He was honest and kind and handsome.  He was creative, inventive ... building things, photography, music...  He loved his kids more than anything.  He was kind to the people at his workplace; the customers loved him, thought of him as a friend or almost as family.  He was a good Dad.

His passing has left a hole in my heart.


I hope the kids will be ok.  I hope their mom will step up and be a good mom.  The kids are going to need her.

----

Goodbye, Robert.  May your soul find contentment, peace, and love.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Adventure Camp"

My son has been visiting my Dad in Virginia for a few weeks this summer. He attended a basketball camp the first week he was there. His report: "It was fun!"  He learned a bit about basketball, had a good time with his cousins who were also attending the camp, and yes, he'd like to do it again next year.

This past week, he attended the accurately-named "Adventure Camp." At this camp, the kids went caving, mud-pit jumping, hiking, swimming, zip-lining, and more. My son’s report: "It was so awesome!!! It was so fun!!! I loved it!!!  I want to do it again next week!!!"

I pressed for details. What made it so great?

Disclaimer: I may have some of the details not-quite-right. I got part of the story from my son, and part from my Dad, and my son was so excited and talking so fast that it was hard to understand half of what he said, but this is what I got out of what they both told me:

For starters, he learned that he is, as he put it, "slightly claustrophobic," meaning that when they went caving, he "freaked out" because the walls seemed like they were closing in, and he had to go back outside. But the camp counselors were awesome (and patient) and knew some shortcuts, so after a short while, he agreed to go back in, and they took a couple of the shortcuts and caught up to the rest of the group. He was so proud and happy that he overcame his fear and finished the caving expedition.

They also got to a place where there was a ledge and they had to jump down about three feet, but they made it, and it was "awesome!" (My son is 10. He is only about four feet tall, and he is generally scared of heights, so this was a huge big deal to him!)

And then ("the best part!"), coming out the other side, the kids unintentionally re-created a scene from Winnie the Pooh.

As in, a rather large child got literally stuck in the cave entrance (exit?).

Some kids were still inside the cave, behind him. Others had already emerged from the cave. So the kids outside pulled and the kids inside pushed and they pulled and pushed and pushed and pulled and ... nothing. Someone eventually called 911. The emergency crews came, and it took them 2 hours to remove the kid from the cave entrance. When he was successfully removed from the cave entrance, there was applause and cheering all ‘round.

This was, according to my son, "awesome!"

At first I was a little taken aback, but my son reassured me that the kid was laughing, not crying, and no one was teasing him or making fun of him. They all just thought it was a great adventure, and a great story to tell.

 

On a different day, they did some sort of zip-lining.

A child got stuck at one of the poles when the pulley jammed. He was dangling from the wire many feet above the ground while one of the camp counselors poked at the pulley with a stick. No luck. So another camp counselor had to climb the pole and work him loose. Again, the kid was stuck for about an hour, dangling from a wire, while they got it figured out.

My son’s report: "Awesome!!"

Again, the kid was laughing about it, and no one was traumatized, apparently...

Then on another day, they were swinging on a rope over a giant deep mud pit and doing cannonballs into the mud. My son apparently had a hard time getting out. It was thick and hard to move and.... well, the other kids had to all grab him and pull.

My son’s report: "Awesome!!"

As a parent in our "safety first" society, I feel like I should be cringing and swearing I’ll never send him to that camp again and/or trying to get it shut down. Too dangerous or something. But I don’t feel that way at all.

Instead, as a parent of a kid who is generally somewhat bookish a little timid, but came away from these scary events laughing and saying "Awesome!!" I feel like I ought to be writing the camp directors a big thank you letter.

Because in the end, no one was seriously injured, everyone came out of things ok, and what the kids learned (whether they realize it or not) was that there IS risk in great adventures. (As my husband would say, it’s that "air of danger" that makes it fun!) And if you’re going to have a great adventure, you need to be willing to accept the risk that something might go wrong. But also, when things do go wrong, you don’t panic, you stick together, you figure out a way to solve the problem, and you laugh about it afterwards because crying about it is just no fun at all.

So, he had fun, he overcame some fears, and he learned a bit about handling "sticky" situations.  Sounds like an "awesome" week to me!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Customer "Service"

Here is what I felt like saying to the idiot on the other end of the 1-800 number:

"I can't decide whether you are being intentionally obtuse because you don't want to tell me what is going on with the check I deposited, or whether you simply don't know and you think I am so stupid that if you just keep repeating over and over again that "we are processing it," I will say, 'oh, ok' and go away."

Here is what I said instead  (I thought it was much kinder.  Perhaps it was too kind...): 

"You have repeated the phrase 'we are processing it' four times now.  What, specifically, does that mean?  What specific actions are you taking to 'process' the check?"

Here is the response I got:

"Well, we are processing it.  The funds will be available on July 22."

*****

Decision made.  Intentionally obtuse AND doesn't know jack shit.

*****

Thank God for the wonderfully responsive, smart, and kind individuals working at my actual bank branch.   I will have the funds available by Monday, which is when I need them!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Should I Do?

Help!  Which sign should I obey?



I swear, driving in New Orleans can be so very confusing! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day!