Monday, November 30, 2009

NaBloPoMo Ends

Last day of National Blog Posting Month.

Woo hoo! I made it! A post a day for a month....

And now I'll resume my regular posting schedule, which is to say, irregular at best!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday School Stew

No, not that kind of stew. Not the Sunday church kind of School, either. No, my Sunday School Stew is based on the following definitions:

Sunday, n., day of the week before Monday.
School, n., where my kid is supposed to learn stuff.
Stew, n., agitation resulting from active worry.

Read on, if you can take a lengthy rant about my frustration with my son's education (or lack of education). And please, if you have any ideas that might be helpful, leave them in the comments section.

My daughter flew through Kindergarten and First Grade. My son, not so much.

He is a smart kid (sometimes a little too much of a smart-alec), and he has a good memory in general, especially for social information. For example, the week he started preschool, his teacher talked about a horse she had when she was a kid. She did not mention the horse again. Three months later, he asked her whatever happened to her horse. She did not remember even mentioning the horse and asked him how he knew she had a horse. He said, "Miss L, you told us about your horse when I was new here." He can also spout a ton of information about his favorite Bakugan characters and what they can do. Clearly, he can remember information if it is important to him.

But he has a few problems my daughter did not have.

First, I think he is a little ADD or ADHD. He often has trouble sitting still for very long - although he is able to focus and build fairly complex things with his legos and Lincoln logs. My mom (a licensed Ph.D psychologist) has been doing some testing with him and says the tests definitely indicate at least mild ADD / ADHD. His ability level consistently tracks significantly above average, and tracks well above his achievement level (which is below average), and he has trouble focusing on boring tasks for extended periods of time.

I hesitate to have him officially diagnosed, as I'm not sure what good that would do. IEP's can be a good thing, but they can also be trouble with a capital T, as I've discovered with some of the cases I've been litigating on behalf of some clients lately. And I'm not sure yet about the medication issue. I know it is good for a lot of kids, and it might be right for my son, but I'd like to try other solutions before turning to labeling and medication.

Second - and I think a much bigger factor - is that I think he did not get the same fundamental drilling and instruction that my daughter had in Kindergarten, and I think he's not getting solid instruction now, either. When my daughter was in Kindergarten, they sat in a group and said aloud the letters and sounds every single day. They also did the number chart every single day, counting by ones, then fives, then tens, learning to add by ones and tens. The letter and number charts were prominently displayed in the room. I never saw a letter or number chart in my son's Kindergarten classroom (he is at a different school, supposedly a better school than the one my daughter attended). They sent home a letter chart, but he insisted his teacher said he did not have to do the letter combinations and sounds on the back (initial letter combinations and dipthongs such as ch, sh, ph, ou, ow, oi, ie, and fundamental building blocks like -ing, etc). He has trouble recognizing and reading those sounds now, in First Grade.

Third, he has an older sister who is hyper-competitive and cannot stand to think that her little brother might know something she does not, so she constantly tells him he "can't do" things and points out things that she knows that he does not. As a result, he is not motivated to try something if he does not immediately know it. I think he is afraid he'll be teased if he's wrong. I've tried everything with my daughter to get her to quit treating him this way, and she's getting better about it, but the damage will take a while to undo.

He had troubles learning to read last year. He didn't even want to try. I worked and worked at it and finally got him motivated to try. We did the letter charts, and then got out the "Dick and Jane" book. (Literally. It's cringe-worthy, but effective). Once he tried, he saw that he could do it and became more motivated. We still read every night for at least 15 minutes. He reads me a story, then I read him one. Sometimes he gets so excited, he wants to read me two stories. He still has trouble with some sounds, but his reading is much improved and he is tracking along at grade level, at least.

This year, he has had problems with spelling. He is at least motivated to try, but has a lot of trouble with it. His grades are ok, in part because I spend 15 minutes every morning working on his spelling with him. I talk to him about the sounds certain letter combinations make and we practice the words with those combinations, sometimes even making up other words. For example, if "ball" and "wall" are on the list, I'll ask him how to spell "mall" and "call," and he can do it. But when the teacher puts old words from a week or two prior on this week's list, it is like they are new words for him. He has to learn them all over again. What's with that?

I asked his teacher about it. I asked what method she's using in class to teach spelling so I can reinforce it more effectively at home. She said, "well, it seems to me you just have to memorize how to spell all the words." She also said she is having trouble keeping all the kids in line, having them pay attention to the spelling lessons.

Holy cow, no wonder the kid is having trouble. If she's truly not giving the kids any spelling rules, just random lists of words to spell, no wonder it's so hard for him. I mean, can you imagine memorizing the spelling of all the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language with no guidance at all about how certain sounds are generally spelled?!? And no wonder he seems to tune me out when I talk about spelling rules. It probably seems to him like random boring stuff mom has come up with, not relevant to what his teacher told him at school about just needing to memorize the words.

So, I'm working on that. We'll do flashcards with the words. We'll talk about spelling rules (even if I have to look up a bunch of stuff on the internet to make sure I'm remembering things correctly). Eventually, hopefully, he'll "get it" and have an easier time with spelling.

But now it turns out he's having issues with math, too. This week, his teacher wants him to memorize math facts such as 2+2=4, 3+3=6, 4+4=8, and so forth up to 9+9=18, plus 10+1=11 up to 10+1=19. But again, she seems not to have provided any foundation of rules or a method of understanding what it means to "add" these particular numbers. Maybe he was supposed to learn that in Kindergarten and it's not her "job" to teach it? I really don't know.

I just know that when I asked my son about it, he seemed to have no concept of what it means to "add" four plus four. I showed him 4 fingers on one hand and 4 fingers on the other hand, and he can count up to 8 and answer. But then I asked, "what's 5 plus 5" and he had no idea how to do that. And forget about 9 plus 9 - there aren't enough fingers for that one, even if he did understand the concept!

So, I made him a number chart on Friday (he said he had not seen one like it before) and we played with it all weekend. We started by simply identifying random numbers on the chart. He couldn't do it consistently at first but we practiced and now he can. Then we practiced "adding 1" to given numbers. He finally seemed to "get it." So we practiced "adding 2" to numbers. He finally could do that, too. We talked about what it means to "count by ones." Then we talked about what it means to "count by fives." We practiced counting by 5's, which he can now do. We practiced "adding 10" to given numbers, and he seems to "get" that, too. He seems to finally understand the relationships between the numbers on the chart - this one is one more than that one; this one is ten more than that one. He even counted by fives up to 200, even though the chart only goes to 100.

But he still hasn't memorized this week's math facts. He can do all the 10+x problems up to 19. After having practiced with the number chart, he "gets" it that all you have to do is replace the 0 with the number you're adding to 10. But having spent a couple of hours just learning to count properly by ones and fives and tens (things he should have learned in Kindergarten, I think!), we didn't have time to learn how to add the other numbers or to memorize the fact that 9+9=18. And those problems aren't as obvious from the chart, either.

And I'm not sure how to explain much more. I don't feel qualified to teach elementary mathematics. I was good at math in school, but I'm not trained to teach it, and first grade was too long ago - I don't remember what my teachers did to teach me. My husband is a teacher, but he teaches sixth grade, not first. Plus, he seems to think the school should teach our son and we shouldn't have to. I agree in principle, but if it's not happening, then what should I do, just sit there and watch him fall further behind?

I am a little resentful. If I wanted to home-school my son, I would have done that. But as it is, I have a job. I can't stay home all day to home-school the kids and I don't really want to. I want my kids to interact with the other kids and to be exposed to a variety of teachers and cultures and ideas.

And, done right, school (with the variety of teachers trained for different subjects such as math and music and P.E. and so forth) should be able to teach the kids more, and more effectively, than I could.

Plus, it's not fair to my son to have to go to school all day and then come home for another hour of lessons, plus 15 minutes of spelling every morning.

He has above-average intelligence. He sometimes lacks focus, but I have had very little trouble getting him to focus on math or spelling for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, and he learns the information fairly quickly when he focuses. I want the school system to teach him what he needs to know, but so far, it doesn't seem to be happening.

I'll be visiting the classroom to see exactly what the teacher does all day with the kids and to offer assistance. If the instruction seems appropriate but she truly is overwhelmed with a lot of behavior problems, maybe I can round up some parent volunteers (including me) to take turns coming in every day to help keep the kids in line so she can teach. And if the problem seems to be that my son isn't listening / paying attention, not that she's not teaching, then I'll keep supplementing and consider the ADD issue further. But if the instruction seems to be lacking, and it's not about behavior problems with the kids and/or my son, then I'll talk with her and/or with the principal about what she could do to teach spelling and math more effectively.

But meanwhile, does anyone know anything about teaching basic math to 6 year olds? Any good web sites I can look at? Any ideas for teaching addition?

Or am I crazy for thinking First Graders should learn math theory? Should I just use the flash cards and have him "just memorize" the basic math facts, as his teacher seems to want? If that is the recommended method, the thing that all schools do and that all kids need to do, then that's what we'll do.... it just seems to me like you'd explain the concepts first and teach how to add, and what it means to add, not just have kids memorize random facts. But maybe I'm just nuts.

Does anyone have any other ideas for what I can do to help my son learn - not just math, but spelling, too?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday Shopping

We went shopping this evening. At the first store, we pulled into the parking lot. It was packed. So I drove along, looking up each row to see if I could see any place to park (easier / faster than driving up and down every row).

About four rows past the entrance, I spotted someone leaving, about four spaces up the row. I put on my turn signal to turn left into the row and waited for the car to back out and then exit that row, then had to wait because a car was coming from the other direction and I didn't want to turn left directly in front of the car.

So the car pulled up, turned right and parked in "my" parking space. I guess she thought my turn signal meant, "look over there, there's a space!"

I was pretty miffed. I mean, was that rude, or was that just "survival of the fittest" and I should adopt the same aggressive attitude and cut in front of the car next time?

So I drove up the row anyway; no other spaces. Went over a few rows seeing no other spaces, and then headed back down the row right in front of the entrance. A car was just leaving. From the first spot, closest to the door. And it wasn't even a reserved / handicapped spot. Parking bliss! No trek across the lot with two kids; no trek back across the lot with arms full of bags and two kids!

I parked; we got out of the car; we walked into the store.

The woman who cut me off to park in "my" spot four rows over walked in right behind us.

My husband said I should have thanked her for her wonderful holiday spirit in taking the worse parking spot so I could have the better one.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Feature - i am bossy

Today's Friday Feature - extremely late, I might add (sorry, bossy) is i am bossy. Her blog is just plain fun.

Check out her fun features in the sidebar (featured gay, poverty party, favorite things), fun attitude, and fun topics.

I'll post late again tomorrow, in the hopes that everyone will have a chance to read this and drop by bossy's blog.

Happy reading, bossy friends, happy reading!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Lawyer Style

Happy Thanksgiving!*


* Please read all terms and conditions carefully, as they may affect your rights. Do not accept this greeting unless you agree to all of these terms and conditions.
* This holiday greeting is offered "as is."
* The provider of this greeting offers no warranty of any kind, either express or implied, that the greeting will in fact lead to the desired result or provide a specific level of happiness, whether mild, moderate, or severe.
* The provider expressly disclaims any and all liability for failure of the greeting to provide holiday cheer and/or for the provision of too much holiday cheer, as well as for any and all injuries that may be suffered due to the receipt of this greeting including, but not limited to: eye strain or any other condition or symptom related to the use, underuse, or overuse of a computer; cheek strain or any other condition or symptom related to smiling or frowning; fatigue; depression; mental distress; holiday burnout; heart attack; stroke; cancer; high-blood pressure; and any and all other physical, emotional, or mental damages that may occur, whether consequential or incidental and whether related or unrelated to the receipt of this greeting.
* Acceptance of this greeting constitutes agreement to the terms and conditions stated herein.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Anticipating Thanksgiving

I love this holiday. I am (shall I say it?) thankful for this holiday! I love the food. Comfort food, and lots of it. I love having two days off from work. I love an excuse to invite friends and family to share a meal and an afternoon of fun. I love football.

Here is what's on our menu this year:

A few appetizers: cheese and crackers, nuts, fruits

Then, the main event:

A huge turkey (20 pounds so we can be sure to have lots of leftovers) with stuffing and awesome gravy.

Homemade cranberry sauce (from real cranberries! mmmmmm.....)

Canned cranberry sauce, because some folks (read: mother in law) just can't live without it and it's so cheap and easy and why not just make them happy?

Mashed potatoes and awesome gravy.

Glazed and roasted sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top (too sweet for me, but the kids love it).

Glazed carrots.

Salad with cranberries and apples and feta cheese.

Green bean casserole, made with porcini mushrooms and cream.

Corn and peas, from the freezer, because the kids don't like the salad or the green bean casserole (foolish children, but what can you do?).

Homemade rolls.


And white wine... And red wine... lots of red or white wine for those who aren't driving.

And beer for those who prefer it.

And soda for those who prefer that.

And milk for the kids.

And the desserts.... oh, the desserts!

There will apple pie with ice cream,

and ice cream sundaes,

and chocolate cheesecake,

and - my very favorite thing in the whole wide world! - pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream.

And coffee. Lots of coffee. With Kahlua if you want it. And whipped cream.

And we will eat and talk and eat and talk and then when we can't eat anymore, we'll clean the kitchen and talk some more, and the kids will play and the dog will get some table scraps and everyone will take some leftovers home for lunch the next day.

Does life get any better than that?

I can hardly wait until tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Stank You Bury Much"

My son is, and always has been, a very polite young fellow.

This doesn't mean he's always pleasant to be around. Sometimes he can annoy you to no end by asking question after question after question after question after.... well, you get the idea.

Other times, he'll whine and wheedle and bug the heck out of you asking for you to get him some toy or other that he saw on tv, or to let him have ice cream, or to take him to the park. He can be relentless.

But if you get annoyed and raise your voice to tell him to knock it off, he'll smile and say, "OK Mommy" or "OK Daddy" and then he stops.

My husband says he's a very accommodating pain in the ass.

He also generally asks politely for what he wants, as in "Please can I have some milk?"

(Well, maybe I should say he asks politely when he's not playing the "passive aggressive" game and saying things like, "Hmm. No milk tonight? I thought we'd have milk with our dinner...." I think he gets this from my mother-in-law. My husband thinks he gets it from my mother. Go figure.)

And then when you get the milk for him, he likes to express his appreciation. Trouble is, until recently, his words of appreciation sounded like "Stank you."

As if he were saying "you stink."

It was adorable and made me smile every time.

I especially liked his version of "thank you very much": "Stank you bury much." What's that you say? I stink and need to be buried? Like brown nuggets in the cat box?

It was all I could do not to laugh every time I heard that one. But I just smiled and encouraged his good manners. Isn't that what moms get paid the big bucks for?

He's been working on correct pronunciation this year, and I think "Stank you" is a thing of the past. I'll miss the cheap chuckles every day, but it's for the best. I wouldn't want him going off to college and "Stanking" up the place.

* * * *

Lately, I've been getting a new comment nearly every day on this post, from February. I knew it was a good post when I wrote it. But why so many comments now, 8 months later?

Some of the comments are in French, some in Arabic, some in Russian.

Wow, am I getting so many comments because it was such a witty and engaging post that all across the world, people are referring others to that excellent post to read LegalMist's amazing words? I wish I could read French, and Arabic, and Russian to see what they are saying about my most brilliant post!

Oh, but wait, what are those links .... ?

Links that consist of names for certain "private" products and activities that I don't want to mention here for fear of attracting even more spammish comments to this post.

I'm glad I have the comment moderation turned on so I can just reject the comments rather than having to go in and clean up the stinky mess every day.

* * * * *

So, to all you spammers out there, I'd like to say: STANK YOU for the comments. STANK YOU BURY MUCH.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Interesting Fact Of The Day

According to my alumni magazine, Dr. Pepper (yes, that Dr. Pepper) was named after Dr. Charles T. Pepper, who earned his medical degree in 1855 from the medical school at the University of Virginia, which is LegalMist's alma mater.

Dr. Pepper gained lots of fame, but no fortune, from having the soft drink named after him.

I find it ironic that the most famous graduates of other medical schools go on to do things like cure various kinds of cancers or invent open heart surgery, while the most famous graduate of my alma mater's medical school had a soft drink named after him.

I guess it's all about the marketing...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Too Many Deadlines

I promised to post every day, no matter how busy I am. But, oh, what a day.

I taught my LSAT preparation class all day yesterday and today.

My brother-in-law arrived in town this evening, so we took an hour out to go say hi and have dinner at my mother-in-law's house. We took the opportunity to say goodbye to her beloved Molly, who will be euthanized tomorrow. Molly was happy to see us all, but it was clear she is not feeling great. Her breathing was a bit labored, and she was not up and about as much as usual, begging to be petted and loved. We will miss her.

I have two different court pleadings due tomorrow.

I also have subpoenas to serve for a case coming up soon.

I have numerous legal writing papers to finish grading.

I am supposed to meet with a couple of students tomorrow, but I may have to move them to Tuesday.

So here I am at almost midnight, working frantically. Wish me luck and wakefulness.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's Time To Plan My New Year's Eve Party . . .

. . . because I can't wait for this year to end. As if the economic news isn't bad enough...

My mother-in-law took her dog, Molly, a beautiful 8 year old Akita, to the vet on Thursday because she was coughing a bit and hadn't been eating well for several days. She has lost 8 pounds since the last vet visit this past spring. She was refusing her favorite treats, and would eat only canned cat food and only half a can at a time, which is not a lot a lot of food for an 80 pound dog.

After an exam and chest x-ray, it turns out that Molly has lung cancer that is so bad, the huge tumors are literally pressing against her esophagus, making it hard for her to swallow and breathe. It is not curable. So my mother-in-law is spending this one last weekend with her beloved friend, and will take her on Monday to be euthanized so she won't suffer and go hungry any longer.

It makes me want to say, "Thankgiving. Bah, humbug!" But I think that sentiment is supposed to wait until Christmas.

Yes, yes, of course we'll be very thankful this coming Thursday that the deaths were not more numerous, that all of *us* are still here to celebrate. Of course we'll be grateful for the many wonderful years that my grandpa was with us before he died earlier this year. Most certainly we'll be grateful for the many good times we shared with aunts and uncles before they passed. And yes, without a doubt we'll be grateful that we enjoyed the love and companionship and sheer joy our little furry friends shared during their short, happy lives here with us.

But we'll also be sad. As if it's not enough that we've lost so many relatives, now we've got to lose our little furry friends, too? One after another, pop, pop, pop... gone. What kind of cosmic justice is *that*?!?

If you ask me for "thankful," you're likely to get something like this out of me: "I have had just about enough sadness for one year, thank you very much!"

So I'm mentally skipping Thanksgiving and Christmas and jumping right to a holiday that just might bring some relief from this misery we call 2009. That's right, folks, I'm pinning all my hopes on New Year's Eve!

Maybe 2010 will bring us a new beginning with no more dying relatives and some new, youthful, playful furry friends, so that by next Thanksgiving this past year of a crappy economy, rampant deaths, and other assorted miseries will be a distant memory. At least, that's what I'm hoping for...

... so, mark your calendars. This year, I'm having a blowout celebration to ring in 2010!! I just can't wait!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Feature - Everything I Like Causes Cancer

This week's Friday Featured blogger is Gwen, over at Everything I Like Causes Cancer. I love her sense of style, her sense of humor (seriously, who else do you know that can make you laugh that much about a near-death experience?), and her good sense in general.

Plus, she's practically drenched in awesomesauce.

Most of my readers already know Gwen, but in case there are two or three of you who haven't met her, head on over. I'm sure she'll invite you in and ask you to stay awhile! And you won't be able to resist stopping in over and over again after that.

Happy reading, stylish and funny ones, happy reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Last Day of Class

After 13 weeks, today was the last day of the legal writing class I've been teaching. The students still have to turn in a final assignment and take a final exam, and I still have to grade it all, but they are done with classes.

I'm not teaching next semester, so I likely won't see these students again.

I sort of miss them already.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Channeling Judge Judy

I had a long trial today. A difficult case involving two not-perfect people arguing over who should have custody of the kids, what the parenting time should be for the non-custodial parent, spousal maintenance, child support, division of property.... pretty much the works. I was exhausted by the end.

It was all worth it, though. The judge channeled "Judge Judy" when the opposing party denied ever yelling at the kids at the end of a day's worth of testimony by witnesses stating he yells at the kids every day about nearly everything. The judge literally told him he shouldn't lie to the court, and he should stop yelling at his kids, too.

"You know," said the judge, "a grain of sand to a man is like a boulder for a little girl. In case you missed the analogy, that means it might not bother you to be yelled at like that, but to your little girls it is torture. Just stop it right now! Otherwise, that's all they'll remember when they're older. It'll be: Yeah, my dad drove me to soccer sometimes, and he yelled at me every day. Sometimes he took us fishing, but he just yelled at us all the time.... Is that what you want your girls to remember you for? Is it?!?"

The judge was right. Makes you wonder, though, what sort of personal experience brings on that sort of dressing-down.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There's a First Time for Everything

With the death of my kitty on Saturday, we are a cat-free household.

I have had cats for as long as I can remember.

When I was somewhere around 3, or maybe 4, my Dad, Mom, & I moved into our house in Gainesville, Florida. The prior human owners moved across town. The cat, however, refused to leave. The humans took him with them, but two days later, he was back, a little thinner and looking somewhat worse for the cross-town trip, but happy to be home. He meowed until we let him in and found him something to eat (tuna, probably), then curled up and slept. We called. They picked him up, and a couple days later, he was back. This happened a few times until, finally, they asked if we wanted a cat.

"NO," said my Dad.

"YES!" said I.

"Oh, why not?" asked my Mom. "After all," she said, "we seem to have moved into his house."

And so we got Morris, our orange tabby cat. He was best friends with Petey (actually "P.T.," short for "P.T. Barnum"), the dog next door. The two of them terrorized the other neighborhood cats and dogs, as well as the birds fed by the very kind lady who lived across the street from us.

Morris was joined later by Sylvester, who died too young, and then Gobbolino, who lived a very long time and moved to Alabama with us, long after Morris died.

I left Gobbolino with my Mom in Alabama and moved to Virginia to live with my Dad for a year after my parents divorced. When I moved to Virginia, I got a dog, a Siberian Husky that I named "Bandit" because of the gray mask across his eyes. My new stepbrother promptly got a gray cat that he named "Smoky." Can you tell what decade that was?

Smoky was a pretty cool cat, though. She used to come with me to deliver the papers on my paper route.

A couple of years later, I got a striped kitten and, being tired of the literal and/or obvious names, I named it "Spot."

I couldn't keep a cat in the college dorm, of course, but I did still have Spot and Gobbolino at my parents' respective homes.

Then, I got another kitty and named her Rabia. After the great cat-breeding experiment of '88, she had kittens. They were adorable. I kept one of them, a sleek black Egyptian-looking regal beauty I named Cleopatra.

I moved to Arizona with Rabia and Cleo, and they both lived a good long while. Meanwhile, I met my husband, who had his own kitty named Angus.

Angus died, too young, after escaping on Christmas Eve when the carolers came to the door, and getting hit by a car. Not a happy Christmas...

Later, we got a little Himalayan kitten we named Merlin, and we rescued a beautiful tortoise-shell calico named Isabella from the pound. For a while we had 4 cats and everyone I knew was starting to doubt my sanity.

And then Merlin died, too young, from congestive heart failure.

And then Cleo, and then Rabia, died, leaving only Isabella, my tiny furry calico.

Isabella had always been tiny, no more than 8 pounds at her heaviest. But over the last couple of years, she had lost weight and was just skin, bones, and a lot of fluffy fur. She looked like she weighed about 6 pounds, but it was really more like 4. Poor thing. But up until recently, she still seemed happy. She would sleep by me at night, purring. She followed me around during the day.

But then she started spending more and more time under the bed, coming out only to eat, puke up her food, pee or poop somewhere she shouldn't, and then go back under the bed. She wasn't grooming herself well, and didn't much like it when I brushed her. We had tried everything: thyroid medicine, antibiotics, special foods.... nothing helped. She just wasn't happy, and we weren't either. At least we have tile floors so the mess wasn't as bad as it would have been with carpet, but oh, it was awful always wondering where you'd find the next pile or puddle...

So it was time. I took her to be euthanized. She always hated car rides. She'd meow loudly the whole way to the vet, every time we went, protesting that she hated the car, hated the vet, hated that I was doing this to her. But this time, she meowed just twice. I poked my fingers through the cage on the seat next to me and stroked her cheek and told her it was the last car ride she'd have to endure. Who knows how much pets understand, but she got quiet after that and didn't meow the whole way to the vet. It was strange.

I hate the whole process at the vet. It's just so hard to look in your beloved pet's eyes and tell her goodbye, knowing you're responsible for deciding she has to go, right now. Even when it's the right thing to do, it's just so awfully hard.

And I hated that I was in a hurry on Saturday; I had to get downtown to meet with all my students. It seems terrible to rush through euthanizing your little furry friend. But there I was. In a hurry to let her get on with dying. Some might say, "in a hurry to kill her." Ouch.

She seemed ready - or maybe she was just paralyzed with fear. She didn't struggle at all, just sat in my lap and shivered a little, leaned over and rested her head on my chest, and then, after the shots, she closed her eyes and slept, one last time, forever.

And then the ride home with the empty cage.... except it's not really quite empty. It's filled with guilt. Did I really do everything I could have done? Was it really her time to go? Should I have tried harder to find a cure? Would she have been happy being an outdoor cat instead of being a dead cat? Damn that's hard.

And then entering a house with no cat. For the first time in 40 years, I don't own a cat. Damn, that's kind of hard, too.

We do still have Sparky, our Saint Bernard, but he's too big to curl up on the bed and sleep with me at night. And besides, although he smiles a lot, he doesn't purr.

* * *

Maybe it's time to get a kitten?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Unteachables

As I've mentioned before, I am teaching a legal writing class this semester. I also occasionally teach a class about how to pass the Law School Admissions Test.

In both settings, I've found a small minority of students who are "unteachable."

I sometimes wonder how they got through college and how they think they will get through law school with their bad attitudes about learning.

I'm not complaining about students who are slow learners, or who need things explained more than once or more than one way. I've been told I'm very good at explaining things clearly, and I'm careful always to explain each concept more than once to make sure it sinks in, and I'm capable of explaining things several different ways if necessary, so that most anyone who tries will understand the concepts by the time class is over.

I do not get impatient with the students who genuinely want to learn but who have trouble understanding. If all the students came in understanding and knowing everything already, I wouldn't have a job, right? And it's fun to watch as a student tries and tries and then finally "gets" a new concept. So, as long as they are still trying, I too will keep trying, until they get it. I figure if I'm doing my job right, and they are sticking with it, eventually they will understand. And most of my students learn pretty quickly, either because they're quick learners or because I'm a good teacher.

No, I'm not complaining about the average student, the slow learners, or even the really slow learners.

No, the students I'm complaining about are the ones who come into the class with pre-conceived ideas about how to do things, how things should be, and how to learn, and who are unwilling to consider a new way to approach a topic, a new way of thinking about things, or a new way to learn.

This makes no sense to me. Why would you sign up for a class if you are unwilling to hear and apply what the teacher has to say? I'm not saying that students should accept everything I say without questioning it. But I am saying that they should at least consider whether it might be true, or a good idea, before rejecting it out of hand.

As an example, in my LSAT class, occasionally a student will literally argue with me in class about how my method of approaching a certain type of question doesn't make sense to them because "it's too complicated." Then they'll tell me that their method of understanding it is simpler and makes more sense. They will then explain their method and try to convince me that it is better than my method.

Meanwhile, however, their method is logically flawed and although it might work on a few questions purely by chance, it will lead to the wrong results in most cases.

So I'll explain the flaw in their reasoning and explain my method again, possibly in a new way, hoping to show them the correct logic that will lead to success on the LSAT.

They don't want to hear it. "But that doesn't make sense," they'll say, "My way makes sense to me!"

After several attempts to show them the flaw in their reasoning and explain the correct analysis, the unteachables will respond, "Well, I kind of see what you're saying [i.e., they do understand and are capable of learning the material!], but I still think my way makes more sense so I think I'll just do it my way [i.e., they are choosing not to learn it]."

Sometimes the only thing I can do is to ask them, point blank, "And what did you score on your practice test?"

They will generally give a vague answer like, "not all that well," or they will admit to a poor to middling score. (Why else would they sign up for the LSAT prep class, right?)

Then I'll say, "So you'll admit, then, that your way isn't working for you so well, right? Because if your way were working, you would have scored higher and you wouldn't be here, right?"

"Uh ... I guess so."

And then I ask, "Why don't you just try this new way of looking at the problem? Just try it my way, ok? If you really try and it doesn't work, then you can go back to doing it your way."

Usually that at least shuts them up so I can teach the rest of the class how to excel on the LSAT.

The unteachables. Aaarrgh.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Reprise

So last night the kids were gone - one at her friend's house, the other at his grandma's house.

As I mentioned, I was exhausted and emotionally drained. And frankly, my husband and I had been having a rough time lately - miscommunicating a lot and being snippy with each other. I really just wasn't in the mood to celebrate. Heck, our anniversary was actually a few days before, and neither of us had been in the mood to celebrate so we had already put it off until yesterday. Not exactly a recipe for a great anniversary celebration, is it?

But we talked a little, and got past the snippiness and miscommunications, and then my wonderful husband, who has so many awesome qualities including being a fantastic cook, made dinner.

Then he installed new baseboards in the dining room while I dozed off and on and did some work. (Did I mention he has many awesome qualities?)

Then we rearranged the furniture in the dining room.

Then we just hung out together for a while and drank a couple of glasses of wine and ... had a nice evening.

We'll celebrate in style later, when I'm not exhausted and emotionally drained and he's not feeling sad and ignored by his exhausted, emotionally drained wife. Next weekend has possibilities.

But I must say, last night accomplished, for me, what I think is the main purpose of recognizing an anniversary: to remember and celebrate the reasons why you married this particular person.

He's a great guy, with many awesome qualities, and I love him.

We've been married for 12 years so far. I'm hoping for many, many more.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Here is what I have done today so far:

Made appointment and took my 16 year old cat to the vet to be euthanized.


Showered, dressed, drove to law school.

Met with 12 students regarding their progress in my legal writing class and provided assistance as necessary with the pending assignment as well as answering questions they had about anything we've discussed all semester, including grammar and writing style, proper citation form, research issues, and organization and legal analysis. (I met with the rest of the students in the class a couple of days ago).

Here are the things I was supposed to do today that did not get done:

Pay insurance bill.

Grade papers.

Draft joint pretrial statement.

Here is what I'm supposed to do tonight:

Celebrate my anniversary with my husband.

Here is what I feel physically and emotionally capable of doing tonight:

Curling up in a ball and sleeping for 15 hours.

Someone send me a giant Kahlua and coffee with whipped cream, please, so I can wake up, relax, and feel happy again. Thank you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Feature -- Hollywood: Where Hot Comes to Die

It's Friday the 13th. Do you believe that it is an unlucky day?

I drove buses for 3 years in college and had more safety awards than any other driver - never got into an accident. I did have two "half-accidents" though - dinged a mirror on a pole once, and caught the side of the back tire against the corner of a retaining wall while going around a really tight turn another time. They each happened on a Friday that happened to be the 13th day of the month.

So, for a while I was superstitious about Friday the 13th, started thinking I should be extra careful on those days.

Then I got over it.

Today's featured blogger is Suzy Soro over at Hollywood: Where HOT Comes To Die. I enjoy her offbeat humor and whacky topics. I picked her for today because she currently is in 13th place for "Best Humor Blog" in the Bloggers Choice Awards.

Go check out her blog and, if you like what you see, head over to Blogger's Choice and vote for her!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Because Nothing Says Class Like a Plaid Cadillac

After I left the firm, I worked for a long while at the court. My job was to read the parties' papers, review the record, do legal research, and draft decisions for the judges.

One of the cases I worked on involved a criminal defendant who had been arrested and charged with various crimes related to the fact that he was a pimp. Not only was he a pimp, but he was pimping 14 year old girls. So the crimes he was charged with included things like "sexual exploitation of a minor" and "child abuse" and "kidnapping." He was a pretty awful guy.

His defense? The usual SODDI defense (pronounced like "soddy" and stands for "Some Other Dude Did It"), pled by criminals who have no other defense.

One of his "ho's," a young teen, testified that he was her pimp. She testified that he convinced her to try whoring as a way to make some money, then kept her locked in an apartment (literally locked in, with a padlock on the outside of the door) and would not let her leave except when he wanted her to work. Then, he would drive her to Van Buren street and drop her off. He had threatened that if she tried to leave, he would kill her father. He gave her rides, she said, in his plaid Cadillac.

What? I thought.

I re-read it. Yes, I read it correctly. His plaid Cadillac.

Wonder what that looks like? I thought.

Well, I was in luck. Almost immediately after that, the prosecutor had the witness identify a photo of the defendant with his plaid Cadillac and had it admitted into evidence as Exhibit A. So of course I immediately went to the box containing all the trial records and rummaged around until I found Exhibit A.

Sure enough, Exhibit A was a photo* of a huge, late 1980's model blue, beige, and cream colored plaid Cadillac, with defendant standing in front of it wearing a blue pimp hat (yes, with a feather), a zoot suit, lots of bling, and blue suede shoes, and throwing gang signs and scowling (to look "tough," I suppose).

No lie. The outfit literally screamed "I am a pimp." (I'm not sure exactly what the car was trying to say....).

So much for his SODDI defense. I'm quite sure there is no other plaid Cadillac in all of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Although apparently last year, the U.S. Marshals seized this equally hideous pink and purple plaid limo. There's no photo of a pimp in this one, though, so I'm not all that impressed!


* I sure wish I had kept a color copy of that photo. You guys would have enjoyed it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day

I don't always agree with the wars our Presidents start or enter. I don't always agree with the military's policies dealing with gay persons and women. I don't always think we should spend as much money as we do funding various military projects and wars.

Sometimes, our military men and women engage in inappropriate conduct. They are human, and humans sometimes do stupid things.

Nevertheless, I want to offer a heart-felt thank you to all of my readers (and to all Americans, really) who have served or are serving in the military.

It's a very tough job, and someone has to do it, and I am so very glad you all volunteered so that I can stay home and live my life safely and uneventfully.... I sound selfish, I know. But I feel really lucky, and really grateful, to live in a country where enough people volunteer to serve, so that the rest of us are not forced to serve in the military if we don't want to.

And thank you also to those who were drafted and served in prior wars. You had no choice, but you did what you were required to do, and I am grateful for that, too.

I am also grateful to live in a country in which I am free to express my disagreement with some of the wars our military fights, with some of the military policies, with the bad things our troops sometimes do, and with spending so much of our budget on military concerns... and still recognize that the men and women who serve in our armed forces are devoting their time, sometimes even their lives, to a worthy cause, and that the vast majority of them are doing so honorably.

We need our armed forces. We need the dedicated men and women who serve in the military. And I am so glad you all are there for us. I am so glad, and so very grateful, that you chose to serve our country in the armed forces, so that I am free to choose not to.

My step-brother was in the Marines. My husband was in the Navy (before I met him). Neither of them ever had to go to war, for which I am eternally grateful. For those of you who have served overseas and/or in combat, an extra helping of gratitude. I can't even imagine how hard that must be.

My little guy is marching in Tempe's Veterans' Day parade today with his Scout Pack (he's in Cub Scouts). My daughter marched last year with her Junior Girl Scout troop.

I love a parade! And I love the opportunity to do something fun as a way to say "thank you."

Happy Veterans' Day to you all. And thank you to the men and women who have chosen to serve in our armed forces.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yet Another Totally Awkward Tuesday

(Photo used with permission of

I didn't get a lot of participation in the Totally Awkward Tuesday event last week, but I'm going to try again this week. Perhaps last week everyone already had blog posts written. Now that people know they should write about an awkward moment for Tuesdays, perhaps they've had time to write their stories and will participate this week.

Or maybe there just aren't that many people interested in playing along, in which case this will likely be the last week I do this.

Here are the rules:

1. First, write a blog post about an awkward or embarassing moment that you either participated in or witnessed. Include a link to this blog post in your blog post.

2. Use the MckLinky widget (new widget this week) at the bottom of this post to link to your blog post from mine. Leave me a comment, too, and include the URL for your blog post in the comment. That way, if for some reason MckLinky doesn't work properly (I'm new at this), at least everyone will be able to find your post through the comments.

3. Come back later and read everyone else's awkward and embarassing stories.

4. Laugh a lot!

To start things off, here is my awkward story for the week:

This happened back when I was a student bus driver, in college. Click this link for a prior story about how this was my favorite job ever.

I had signed up to drive a charter bus from the University to Washington D.C. so a student group could attend a play. My Dad lived in Northern Virginia at the time.

My instructions were to drop off the students in front of the theatre, then find somewhere to park nearby and wait for 3 hours, and then drive back to pick them up.

I thought it would be more fun to pay a surprise visit to my Dad.

So I dropped off the students and headed out of D.C. to my Dad's house in Northern Virginia. I timed the trip so I'd know how long I needed for the return trip, so I wouldn't be late.

I pulled the bus into my Dad's driveway and walked in the front door.

My Dad and step-mom were surprised (no, that's not the awkward part), amazed at the giant bus filling up their very long driveway, and happy to see me.

We visited for about an hour and a half, and then I figured I'd better drive back to D.C., allowing a little extra time in case I made a wrong turn or got a little lost in downtown D.C. This was in the 1980's, well before cell phones and GPS navigation systems were standard issue, so I had to rely on my printed map (remember those?) to find my way, and if I got lost, there would be no way to call anyone for directions.

I pulled onto the freeway near my Dad's house, and about a mile or two later, the bus engine sputtered and stalled. I coasted to the shoulder of the freeway and stopped the bus. It would not re-start. I tried again. And again. And again. Nothing. It had plenty of gas. I tried again. Nothing.

Then I started thinking, "Holy shit, I am 20 miles from where I'm supposed to be and I have 40 minutes to get there, and I'm not supposed to be here, and I can't even call anyone for help and what the hell am I going to do?!?" To say I panicked a bit would be putting it mildly.

I looked around. No one was stopping to help. Everyone assumes bus drivers are in radio contact with their dispatchers, but those two-way radios only had about a 60 mile radius in which they worked. There was no way to radio the supervisor when I was hundreds of miles from the office.

Lucky for me, there was a small gap in the huge wall that lined both sides of the freeway. I don't know whether they just hadn't built the wall there yet, or whether some angel tore it down for me, just for that night. I've looked for that gap in the freeway wall many times since then and never found it. But anyway, there was a gap in the wall that was maybe 100 yards long, and I could see several backyard fences with houses on the other side. I was lucky they were fences and not the ever-present 10 foot high block walls that they build here in Phoenix.

So I scrambled up the wooded hill and climbed the easiest-looking fence with no dog in the yard, intending to walk around to the front door to knock. Instead, just as I jumped down into the yard, a man came out of the house through the sliding-glass back door and demanded to know what the heck I was doing in his back yard. He sounded pretty annoyed. He didn't appear psychotic. I could see a wife and kids inside. But I have to say, I was scared - would he assault me? Call the police and have me arrested for trespassing?

I told him my bus had broken down and asked if I could use his phone. He looked at me skeptically (I used to get that a lot: "You are a bus driver?!?" as if small-ish college kids could never drive buses) and then looked over the fence and saw the bus down the hill on the freeway shoulder. I guess he decided I was harmless and was telling the truth, because he said I was lucky the dog had been inside. And then he said I could use the phone.

But the awkwardness didn't end there, because I had to explain to my supervisor that the bus had broken down and where it was. And then had to confess I had violated the rules by going to visit my Dad in Northern Virginia, instead of hanging out near the theatre.

Once again, I was lucky. My supervisor was actually fairly sympathetic, although he withheld judgment about whether I'd be fired, saying if I made it back to the University with relatively happy customers, I'd have a better chance of keeping my job.

He told me a couple of things I could do to try to get the bus going. He suggested that I not turn the bus off again if I got it going.

He said if he did not hear from me again in the next twenty minutes, he'd assume I was ok (to save me the time of coming back to make a second phone call if the bus did, in fact, start), but that I should call him from the theatre to confirm I had picked up the students and if he hadn't heard from me in an hour, or if he heard from the charter group at any time complaining that the bus had not arrived, he would have to send a backup bus and then I'd really be in a heap of trouble.

Nothing like a little pressure, right?

I thanked the family profusely for letting me use their phone. The man let me out through the back door and watched me climb his fence and scramble back down the hill to my bus.

And again, I was lucky. The bus started when I tried the tips my supervisor had suggested. I drove downtown. I was flustered and made a wrong turn and, with all the one-way streets in downtown D.C., it was another 15 minutes before I found my way back to make the correct turn.

I was twenty minutes late picking up the students and was berated by the faculty chaperones. Apparently the play had ended a little earlier than they thought, so they had actually been waiting for more like half an hour. Fortunately, they had not yet called my boss to complain.

More awkwardness as I explained that I had had difficulty starting the bus and had made a wrong turn but that I thought the bus was ok for the drive back to the University and I did know how to find the freeway again to get home. More awkwardness as I explained I had to go inside to make a phone call before we could leave. They grumbled about the late bus for half the ride home, until I agreed to make an unscheduled stop for a late-night snack at a McDonald's. Then they all felt better and went to sleep.

Again, lucky me! No one ever complained about the late bus, and I did not, in fact, get fired, although I did have to buy my supervisor a few rounds of drinks at the next happy hour, to keep him from ratting me out to the Transportation Manager.

That was my tale of rampant awkwardness for today. Now tell us yours!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Beautiful Day in Tempe

The weather yesterday was perfect. 80-something degrees and sunny in the early afternoon. Clear blue sky. Warm breeze.

My daughter was sleeping. She spent the night at her friend D's house Saturday night and then got up at the crack of dawn and went to the Phoenix Zoo for their annual Lymphoma walk-a-thon. D's aunt is a Lymphoma survivor, so D and her dad and brother walk every year in the fundraising event. Of course my daughter & D stayed up most of the night and got almost no sleep, so after the walk, my daughter came home and slept the rest of the day.

My husband was watching football. Normally I'd have joined him, but I was trying to get some work done.

But then my little guy made me the irresistable offer: Would I please set up the slip-n-slide for him? He wanted to have "water day." And this is exactly what I love about Arizona. You can have "water day" in November!

And so, although I really should have worked, I went outside with my little guy and set up the slip-n-slide. This slip-n-slide is a lot fanceir than the plain plastic mat that I remember from my own childhood. It sprays water in little tiny fountain-like arcs from tiny holes in a plastic tube that runs down the side of the plastic mat that you slide on, to keep it properly wet and slippery, and it has a water "cushion" at the end that also sprays water, making a little pool that you land in and providing a small soft barrier so you don't go barrelling out into the mud / grass and get all scraped up and dirty like we did when we were kids.

It's amazing how much fun kids can have with one toy.

He had a blast playing with the slip-n-slide. Slid down it. Walked up and down it. Drank water from the fountains. Splashed the water around. Got out a bunch of plastic balls in various sizes and splashed them, rolled them, and bounced them in the water. Walked around and bounced up and down on the little plastic tube and the water "cushion" at the end to make the fountain-like sprays of water ebb and flow and make cool designs. (Sort of reminded me of the fountain show at the Bellagio, but without the fancy lights and music).

Then he wanted to play with his water rocket, which he got as a birthday gift last year. So I dismantled the slip-n-slide and he helped me set up the rocket launcher. Here is a photo of it from last year (I was too busy enjoying the afternoon to take photos today). That is my little guy's back and his sister's arm in the photo:

The rocket launcher is cool. You attach the rocket launcher to the hose and turn on the water, and it sprays water in a huge stream strong enough to lift the plastic "rocket" and hold it up in the air until a breeze blows it off balance a bit, and then the rocket crashes to the ground. It also has an on-off and volume adjustment lever, so you can turn the water off while you set the rocket on the base, and then turn it on either gradually for a long flight, or suddenly for a huge burst of energy that sends the rocket flying fast and furious and unpredictably. Great fun!

(And get your minds out of the gutter. It's not all that phallic!!)

When he got bored with the rocket itself, he began putting various other objects on the rocket launcher to see how high and how far they would fly.

When he tired of the rocket launcher, he wanted to play with his squirt guns. I made him promise not to squirt me with them. He said ok. So I filled a couple of small squirt guns for him.

And then he drew designs in water on the patio with his little squirt guns. He drew a heart for me, and a robot alien for himself, among other things.

And then he got out the "Super Soaker 5000," and I filled it for him. And then I knew it was time for me to head inside and get back to work.

It's never a smart idea to tempt fate. Or six year olds.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Existentialist

"Poppin' Knee" (see here, here, and here for the story of Poppin' Knee, if you haven't read it yet) was enough to make anyone want to leave the firm, but I stuck it out for nearly three years. It was a typical large law firm, with ridiculous billable hours requirements that meant I worked evenings most days and weekends quite often. I was there 50 to 60 hours in a "regular" week, more if we were busy.

I was in the bankruptcy litigation section. We represented trustees, debtors, and creditors in various cases. We did both Chapter 7 liquidations and Chapter 11 business reorganizations.

Being a young associate meant I mostly worked on various motions, responses to emergency motions filed by the other side (because no one else wanted to stay there all night to write them), and fee applications (the debtor's attorneys in reorganization cases must have their requests to get paid from the bankruptcy estate approved by the court), with occasional research projects or assignments to draft a single issue in an appellate brief thrown in for "fun."

I attended trials and depositions with other attorneys to "learn the ropes," and even got to ask a few questions at depositions and examine a couple of witnesses at trials (not the important ones, of course... the supervising attorneys did all of those).

I also handled, on my own, quite a few pro bono civil cases, and one pro bono criminal appeal to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. ("Pro bono" is short for "pro bono publico," a latin phrase (lawyers are fond of latin phrases) meaning "for the good of the public," and are cases that the attorneys handle at no charge to the usually indigent client, usually to attempt to help clients with good "causes" or to fight injustice. The State Bar of Arizona asks that each attorney do at least 50 hours of "pro bono" work each year.)

I learned a lot about bankruptcy, about litigation, and about a few civil areas in which the firm liked to take pro bono cases such as guardianships, landlord-tenant disputes, and consumer fraud.

One of my favorite bankruptcy cases involved a client we'll call "C." It is one of my favorites in part because the client was so nice, and in part because of the following story. [FOOTNOTE 1]

The client, C, was a real estate guy. He bought, managed, and sold land and buildings - trailer parks, condominiums, business properties, etc. Some folks who had purchased condominiums in a project he had owned (I can't remember if he built them, or just bought them and then sold them) had sued for construction defects in the condos and had won a very large judgment against C in state court, which C couldn't pay outright. So C filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization case (in federal bankruptcy court) to try to figure out how to structure the debt, discharge it, and/or liquidate other assets to pay it.

One of the ways we sought to recover funds to pay the debt was by suing his former attorney ("FA"). You might ask, "Why?"

Well, here is what transpired in the "adversary proceeding" (trial against FA held in bankruptcy court).

The testimony established that C was an older fellow with lots of street smarts, but he was not an educated man. He relied on FA's advice in handling the state court case against him by the condominium purchasers.

Early in the state court trial, the court overruled many of FA's objections to the plaintiffs' evidence. (The objections were ridiculous and had been properly overruled). The state court also refused to allow FA to make arguments out of order. FA therefore believed the court was biased against him. FA therefore advised C to literally walk out of the trial, in the middle of the trial, and not come back. C followed that advice.

I am guessing that even those of you who are not attorneys know that this was a bad idea. Walking out does not stop a trial. Oh, no, to the contrary, it goes on without you. And by walking out, C forfeited the opportunity to present evidence, to cross-examine the plaintiffs' witnesses, to make oral arguments, or otherwise to present any sort of defense to the plaintiffs' claims. It also meant that the court would essentially enter a default judgment based only on the evidence presented by the plaintiffs. So of course the damages were huge - a much larger sum than would have been obtained if C had been properly represented at trial.

So, we helped C sue FA for attorney malpractice in the bankrupcty court adversary proceeding.

There is a saying in the law: "The attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client." FA had a fool for a client in this particular adversary proceeding.

By doing a completely incompetent job of representing himself, FA demonstrated to the bankruptcy court exactly why our malpractice action against him should succeed.

First, he was visibly nervous and unprepared. He seemed to have no clue about the proper court procedures.

Then, he called his only witness, a former summer law clerk at his firm, to testify for him. After a few preliminary questions, he asked her whether she thought he had done the right thing by advising C to walk out of the trial that summer.

She said "no" - leaving us to wonder why the heck he had called her to testify. (Did he think she would say yes? Did he fail to even ask her before the trial what she would say? Clearly incompetent....).

He bumbled around, presenting no effective evidence to show why he shouldn't be found liable for malpractice, and in fact presenting quite a bit of evidence that tended to support our malpractice claim.

But here is my favorite part:

Later, when it was our turn to present evidence, we moved to enter the transcripts from the state court trial to assist in proving the amount of damages C had suffered due to FA's malpractice.

The idea was to show the evidence that had been presented, the damage claim calculations that had been presented, and the amount of damages that had been awarded in the state court trial. Then, we would bring in our own experts in bankruptcy court to show the evidence FA should have presented (if he hadn't walked out of trial) to demonstrate that the construction had been fine, not defective, as well as a more accurate method of calculating damages in the event the court found there were construction defects. This would show that the damage amount would have been either zero, or at least much much lower, if FA had done a competent job. Then, we would get a judgment against FA for the difference between the actual judgment amount and the amount the judgment would have been if FA had done a competent job.

FA objected to the bankruptcy court looking at any of the state court transcripts after the time when he had advised C to walk out of the state court trial.

The Court was a little bewildered and asked why FA thought the transcripts were inadmissible.

FA responded, "Well, your honor, I wasn't there. I don't know that the transcripts show what really happened."

The Court said, "I am thinking these are public records and are relevant to the damage claim. Is there some reason you think they are not, or some reason you think the transcripts are not accurate?"

FA responded, "No, your honor. It's just that, I wasn't there. How can I know that really happened?"

* * * wtf? * * *

The judge's expression clearly said "wtf," too, as he overruled the objection.

We laughed for years about FA's "existential objection" and how that really ought to be added to the rules of evidence. ("If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? But what if the court reporter recorded the event and the sound?") We would joke about using the "existential objection" any time anyone presented unfavorable evidence: "Oh, but that's not admissible. We weren't there! How can we know that really happened?"

Needless to say, we won our malpractice action against FA.

Sadly, we had to get in line along with FA's other creditors and malpractice claimants when he, too, filed bankruptcy....


I have to tell the story with relatively few details because of attorney-client confidentiality issues. I believe it is ok to tell the story based on non-confidential items that I did not learn from the client, but learned by watching the trial and/or reading public records, so that is what I will do. I've also omitted details and/or changed minor details so that the client's identity is not readily apparent. I'll also add the disclaimer that I don't have a copy of the transcripts, so the quoted material is based on my memory of what transpired and may not be word-for-word accurate. However, the gist of it is completely true.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Poppin' Fresh? Not Exactly . . . (Part Three)

(Click here for Part Two, and here for Part One)

After leaving B the memo explaining that the case he wanted did not exist, but that I had found another case that might be helpful, I went back to my office and ate a small bag of M&M's with the sort of desperate sad attitude that one might envision a wrongly-convicted death row prisoner might have while eating his prison-quality filet mignon before going to the gas chamber, hoping against all reason for that last minute reprieve from the Supreme Court. I knew in my heart this was not going to go well.

And sure enough, about half an hour later, B came down to my office and yelled at me again:

“I didn’t TELL you to research other issues! And I DIDN'T TELL you to write a G-D- MEMO!! This other case is NO GOOD TO ME and all you did was WASTE YOUR TIME and the client’s MONEY!! I can’t BELIEVE you couldn’t just do what I asked and find a case that says ‘X’!!”

I resisted the urge to point out that I didn’t waste the client’s money, since he already had told me he planned to write off my time. Instead, I jumped right to the (sarcastic) point (because sarcasm is my forte) as follows:

“Well, B, I’m sorry. I brought you what I found. I guess I’m just not capable of doing what you asked. I can't bring you a Ninth Circuit Case that says “The Rule is X,” because it doesn’t already exist and I'm not allowed to just write one myself. It isn't there, B; I can't bring it to you.”

I knew I was risking my job with that little speech, but by then, I really didn’t care.

He said, “Are you REFUSING to finish this project?!? You’ll hear about this on your evaluation, LegalMist.” And he turned and walked away.

* * *
But some good came of that unfortunate event.

As B left, I noticed that his knee popped when he walked: Pop, step ... pop, step ... pop, step.... and I remember thinking, "this could be useful!"

From that day forth, instead of “Poppin’ Fresh,” every time I saw him I thought “Poppin’ Knee.”

And I learned to listen for Poppin’ Knee and to pick up the telephone when I heard him approaching, and to pretend to be engrossed in a client telephone call when he popped his head into my office. He’d look at me quizzically (the universal senior attorney way to ask “How much longer will you be on the phone?”), and I would cradle the phone against my shoulder and hold my hands very far apart (the universal junior attorney way to say, “This is going to take a loooong time.”) and I would make sure to turn away as I did this before he had the chance to make “the hand signal” (the universal senior attorney signal for “Meet me in my office as soon as you are done.”). That way, he was forced to continue on down the hall and find a different victim for his cursed projects.

* * *

About two days after I had delivered my memo, I heard ol’ Poppin’ Knee in the hall outside my office talking with a senior partner, explaining that although he had been unable to find a case that said “X” is the rule because the Ninth Circuit seemed to follow rule “Y,” he had found this great new theory, “Z,” that he thought he could use to win the case ...

No mention of my research.

And he raked me over the coals on my evaluation, four months later, saying I was uncooperative and unimaginative.

Typical B. Give no credit where credit is due; but be sure to give lots of unjustified criticism.

* * *

I recently ran into a friend who works with B at another firm. She said he is now divorced -- for the third time. He now has two kids.

I was not surprised to learn that he is thrice divorced, but I am surprised that I actually feel a little sad for him. B had his charming moments. He had a good sense of humor, good taste in music, and a winning smile when he wasn't berating you. He obviously wants companionship, love, family ... he keeps trying, right? .... but people who cannot listen to others, or speak to them without blaming, or admit they were wrong, or apologize later for their bad behavior, or get over their anger, or compliment people for a job well done, or give credit to those who deserve it .... those people do not make very good spouses. Or parents.

And people who are unhappy often have trouble doing those important things. And people who have trouble doing those important things often end up even unhappier, as they lose their friends, their spouses, and even their kids .... it's a vicious circle, really. And I think at a fundamental level, B was simply not happy - with himself, with his life, with his job...? Who knows. Perhaps he still isn't happy. And that is just sad, really.

And I hope against all reason that he does not treat his kids the way he treated the young associates when I worked with him at "the firm."

My friend says he's "OK to work for; you just have to figure out how to handle him."

Maybe he's mellowed a bit, or maybe she's just better at putting up with bullshit than I was.

I hope it's the former, and I hope he can learn to be happy, for his - and his kids' - sake.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Feature - The Verdant Dude (formerly known as the Bug-Eyed Blog...)

We interrupt the "Poppin' Fresh" story in progress to bring you another installment of the acclaimed "Friday Feature" series here on LegalMist.

Most or all of you know B.E. Earl and his blog, "The Verdant Dude" (formerly known as "The Bug-Eyed Blog"). But if you haven't met him yet, you should.

B.E. Earl does a lot of movie reviews, which I enjoy since they are almost always movies I haven't seen. I like reading his "take" on them. For example, I generally don't like horror films at all, but B.E. Earl makes them sound interesting, so it's fun to read about them. I've gained a new appreciation for what it is that some folks like about them, even though I still have no desire to see most of them. Does that make sense? Yeah, maybe I'm just strange.

He also reviews restaurants, beer, concerts, and other fun stuff, interspersed with interesting videos, funny items found around the web, sports commentary, and stories about his cats, among other recent topics. He has an awesome tatoo. And he's so in love with his gal Gia, you can just feel it in the posts when he writes about her, but without being sickly sweet or annoying about it. I like that about him.

This week, he's had some thoughtful / philosophical posts that I've really enjoyed (here and here), about whether it is possible to separate the artist from the art. If an artist does something heinous or holds a political view that you dislike intensely, is it possible to still love his or her art? Should you refrain from enjoying the art based on the principle of not supporting the awful actions or views of the artist? I enjoyed reading the posts and commenting, and then reading what other bloggers had to say in the comments, too.

B.E. Earl uses some off-color language sometimes, and very occasionally posts some material that, depending on your boss, may not be safe for work, but it's pretty rare.

And B.E. Earl also hosts a daily trivia challenge, with daily winners and monthly champs. I'm pretty crappy at most of his topics, but it's fun to play along.

He posts every day, or close to it, and so this month he is officially my hero (along with That Blue Yak, who also posts nearly every day and sometimes twice a day).

If you haven't yet read B.E. Earl's blog, The Verdant Dude, go now and check it out.

Just make sure you don't beat me in the trivia challenge, or I'll be sorry I invited you to the party...

Happy Friday, my competitive friends, happy Friday!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Poppin' Fresh? Not Exactly . . . (Part Two)

(Click here for Part One, in which B is described accurately and as thoroughly as necessary for the story.)

One fine fall day when I worked at the firm, B (which could, but does not, stand for "Bastard," and who looked, but did not act, somewhat like Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy) assigned me a research project.

The details don’t matter, so I’ll just describe it as: my job was to find a case in our jurisdiction (the Ninth Circuit) that said “X is the rule.”

"Because," B said, “X is clearly the rule; I just need something to cite in my brief .... Oh, and don’t use Westlaw [online research resource that would make things soooo much faster and easier for me]; it’s too expensive, and I want to be able to write off the time you spend on this. The client shouldn’t have to pay for this.

(Wonderful. An essentially non-billable research project. That’ll look *great* on my timesheets... ha!)

I asked, “Can you tell me some of the facts of the case, the name of the client, anything at all to assist with the research?”

He said, “No, you don’t need them. Just find me a case that says ‘X.’”

So I dutifully marched off to the library to research the issue.

Within an hour, I found a recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that seemed to be directly on point (although it was tough to really tell, since I knew nothing of the facts of our client’s case).

The problem was, the case said essentially the direct opposite of what I needed - something along the lines of, “X is the rule in many jurisdictions, but some other courts apply the Y rule, and we choose to follow the Y rule.”

I did a bit of extra research, trying to find a case that had overturned or otherwise contradicted this “very bad” case. I found nothing.

This was not "Poppin' Good," nor any sort of good, really.

So, with a huge knot in the pit of my stomach and a copy of the case in hand, I went back upstairs to speak with B... I walked slowly down the corridor to the doorway of doom, er, I mean, to B's office, hoping to leave the case on his chair and make a quick escape.

SH**! (Er, I mean, "Bummer!") He was actually in there!

I entered and said, “B, I found a case that seems to be directly on point. Unfortunately, it says the rule is Y, and that X does not apply in the Ninth Circuit.”

He refused to take the copy I offered him, saying "I don't have time to read that; that's why I sent you to do the research!" and then he asked, “What are the facts of that case?”

I told him.

He literally yelled at me: “Those facts are COMPLETELY different from our case!! Why are you even MENTIONING that case?!? What are you, an IDIOT?!? This is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, LegalMist!!”


So I asked again (while choking back tears, as well as the snide comment bubbling up about how he was the one who had refused to even tell me the client’s name before sending me to the library), “What are the facts of our case?”

This time, he told me a few facts, and then sent me back to the library to "try again." "And this time, I expect something I can USE!"

Based on the facts B had mentioned and a quick re-reading of the case I had found, I didn’t see anything legally relevant that differed regarding the “X vs. Y” rule. Nevertheless, I went back to the library (1) to do a bit more research to see if the “new” facts affected the rule and (2) to re-find and copy a case I had noticed earlier but had not copied because I didn’t know the facts of our case and so had not realized it was relevant.

After completing my research, I wrote B a memo, explaining that I still believed the Ninth Circuit "Not X" case applied because the legally relevant facts were the same, but that my research had also uncovered a different case, with a different theory of recovery (“Theory Z”) that might be useful in our client's case. I attached copies of both cases to the memo and, this time, I checked with B's secretary before approaching the doorway of doom to be sure he wouldn't be in the office, then snuck in and left the memo on his chair and retreated quickly back to the relative safety of my own office to wait and sweat and try to concentrate on other work...

(To be continued... But right now I have to attend to some actual work for a client)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Poppin' Fresh? Not Exactly . . . (Part One)

Way back in the dark ages, I worked at a large law firm in Phoenix doing litigation. One of the senior associates there was a fellow named... well, let’s just call him B, ok? (Because his name started with “B” and because “Bastard” also starts with “B” and so it just sort of "matches.")

B was ... well ... round. Not fat, exactly. But he had a round belly. A round face. The overall effect was just sort of ... round. And he was sort of pasty white, too. And he liked to wear white shirts. He did not believe you could be a lawyer and wear a blue or yellow or striped shirt. It had to be starched white. He always took off his tie and jacket in the office. So the overall effect was a little like Poppin’ Fresh (you know, that sweet giggly Pillsbury Doughboy character that stands for all things good and delicious?)... All he needed was the chef’s hat.

But his demeanor was not smiley and chuckley like Poppin’ Fresh. In fact, B was about as opposite of Poppin’ Fresh as a person could get, personality-wise.

Every firm has one like him. The junior associates are terrified of him because he likes to yell at them randomly and assign impossible tasks at 4:00 p.m. to be handed in to him “by tomorrow morning.” The senior associates admit he’s a jerk, but they don’t have to work for him so they ignore it. The partners all think he’s brilliant (thanks to the fantastic work provided to him on short notice by the junior associates), so he is immune to any complaints the junior associates might have about him.

The junior associates develop coping mechanisms. They warn each other when he’s on a rampage so that they can all go hide in various conference rooms and dark recesses of the library, hoping not to be his next victim. They help each other with research when necessary, so everyone can meet his impossible deadlines. They listen to each other rant about how awful he is, and they laugh together about how stupid he can be.

And then they cry alone in their offices at 3 a.m. when all the other associates - heck, the entire huge firm full of lawyers, legal assistants, paralegals, and even the housekeeping and plant-watering staff - have all gone home, and the impossible project remains unfinished and it has become clear that not only will the associate not get any sleep, but also will be lucky to finish the project by 5 p.m. the next day, forget the morning deadline....

(to be continued - but right now I have to do some actual work - now don't get sarcastic on me, yes I do actually work sometimes)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Totally Awkward Tuesdays

Has anyone seen Tova Darling? She has been MIA, as far as I can tell, since the beginning of September. Does anyone know if she has started blogging elsewhere? Or did she simply grow tired of blogging?

I miss Tova, and one of the things I miss most (besides her relentlessly upbeat and entertaining style) is her Totally Awkward Tuesdays. I loved the opportunity to laugh at myself. Even more than that, I loved the opportunity to laugh at others! So I've decided to revive that tradition here on my own blog.

For those who may have forgotten the rules, here's how it works:

1. First, write a blog post about an awkward or embarassing moment that you either participated in or witnessed. Include a link to this blog post in your blog post.

2. Use the Mr. Linky widget at the bottom of this post to link to your blog post from mine. Leave me a comment, too, and include the URL for your blog post in the comment. That way, if for some reason Mr. Linky doesn't work properly (I'm new at this), at least everyone will be able to find your post through the comments.

3. Come back later and read everyone else's awkward and embarassing stories.

4. Laugh a lot!

See, it's simple and fun. Who could resist?

And, to kick things off, here's my totally awkward moment for this week:

When I was about 15, my friend Keri and I hung around with some slightly older (17 - 20 years old) guys who played in a band. They were a pretty decent cover band, but looking back, they were not spectacular. Nevertheless, hanging out with the boys in the band made us want to be in a rock-n-roll band, too.

So one day, Keri noticed an ad in the newspaper: "Wanted: lead singer and keyboardist for local rock band. Call 867-5309."

(Well, OK, that wasn't *really* the number, and the contact wasn't Jenny, but of course I don't remember the real number and that's the best I could come up with on short notice).

Keri and I both took piano lessons. We deluded ourselves into thinking we could sing, too. Of course, neither of us knew any rock-n-roll songs on the piano, having taken the standard "classical" piano lessons. And we didn't own a decent keyboard suitable for use in a band. (Keri had a grand piano and I had an upright.) Did we let that stop us? Heck no! "Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?" and "What have we got to lose?" we asked ourselves. (Answer: Our dignity.)

So, we called the number. I think I made Keri call, actually. She talked with the guitarist / leader of the band, and explained that neither of us had a car (I think we "forgot" to mention that neither of us was old enough to drive), so we asked him to come to my house for the "audition." The band must have been desperate because he agreed to bring the bassist along and come see us.

And then we were in full panic mode. How could we convince these guys that, even though we didn't know any rock-n-roll songs, we'd be willing and able to learn whatever songs they wanted us to play?

What did we come up with? This was our plan: Keri could play "Sounds of Silence," by Simon and Garfunkel, on the piano. She would play that, we would both sing, we'd wear sexy jeans and shirts, and they would hire us, at which point we would devote all of our free time to learning actual rock-n-roll songs! Good plan, right? (No, actually, it's pathetic!)

So, how *did* that work out? I hear you asking.

About as well as you would expect, I guess.

Two guys showed up. They asked what equipment we had.

Uh, equipment?

Yeah, you know, what kind of keyboard, what kind of amp system, what kind of mic's?

Oh, well... uh ... we have this piano.

You can't bring a piano to a bar for a concert!

Uh, well .... if you hire us, we'll buy a keyboard! (Yeah, that's it, we'll buy one!)

The guys exchanged skeptical glances and then said, "Well ... uh ... why don't you go ahead and show us what you've got."

So Keri played Sounds of Silence reasonably well, and we both sang awfully badly.

The guys said, "Uh, thanks. We'll be in touch." And high-tailed it out of there.

I am guessing they laughed about us for *years*!

Ok, now it's your turn! Share your awkwardness so we can all laugh with (at) you, too!

Monday, November 2, 2009

National Blog Post Month - November

I missed the craze last year, when it seemed everyone was doing this. I was too new at blogging, and too busy, to even think about it.

Typical for me - late to the party - but this year I'm going for it. A blog post every day in November, no matter how busy I get.

I have lots of things in mind that I want to write about. But I figure with a blog post every day, there is lots of room to address things you want to hear about, too. So:

Is there anything I've mentioned here before that you'd like to hear more about?
... any legal topic you'd like to see me address?
... anything you'd like to know my opinion about? (Believe me, I've got opinions on just about everything....)
... anything you'd like to know about me?
... anything at all you'd like to see me write about?

Leave a question or suggested topic in the comment section, and I'll see what I can do to satisfy your curiosity this month.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Contest Winners

I promised to announce winners of the contest / giveaway on Halloween, but I was too busy, so I'm doing it today instead.

The tag line contest was tough - there were several very good entries! Nevertheless, decisions must be made, so, without further ado....

The first place winner of the tag line contest is Sillyak, with his entry, "I be a lawyer, you be the judge."

I like it! It accurately sums up what goes on with blogging, as in "I am me and I write what I write, and you get to judge whether you think it's any good and whether you want to come back for more," while adding that nice legal twist on things with the whole lawyer / judge dichotomy.

Second place goes to Sklyer's Dad, with his entry, "A lawyer you will swear by, not at."

I very much appreciate the sentiment, SkyDad, and it is a goal - to have people "swear by" my words instead of swearing at me. But I've had too many people swear at me recently to adopt it as my slogan...

Third place in the tag line contest goes to Jane, over at Gaston Studio, for her entry, ". . . for a spray of reality."

I like the reference to the "Mist" part of the blog title. I originally intended the "Mist" to refer to the fact that I'm somewhat anonymous - you know, shrouded in a Mist or some such poetic nonsense - as well as the idea that many things in the law, as in life, are less than perfectly clear. But I like the idea of expanding that concept to incorporate new layers of meaning - a more deliberate Mist, if you will.

As I said, it was a tough choice. Who knows? I may use one for a while, then use another later, when I get tired of the first one!

Thanks to all who entered!

Sillyak, you have three days to send me an email (to my Legalmist at gmail account) with your shipping information, and then sometime soon I will drag my lazy butt down to the post office and mail your chocolates and mints!

Happily for me, no one entered the giveaway portion of the contest, so I get to eat those chocolates myself, guilt-free!