Law and disorder

Lady Justice from Wikimedia

Lady Justice from Wikimedia

I’m still thinking about the jury I sat on in a recent trial, and comparing the experience to legal thrillers where good and evil fight it out in high-stakes cases, the good guys win, and readers/viewers feel justice has been served.

In this civil case, two ordinary people were involved in a car accident; the driver of one accepted responsibility. The victim sued for damages beyond car repair. It was not a high-profile case, the attorneys didn’t wear expensive suits or throw smug looks to the jury, and we sat in the jury box in jeans.

I came away from the trial thinking that it wasn’t only about other people.  It could have been about any of us sitting in the courtroom.

In fact, this case concerned two traffic accidents. The plaintiff sued the driver in the second accident and the jury had to decide which accident was responsible for the damage to the plaintiff’s shoulder and how much money he should receive for past and future medical expenses, and past and future emotional damage. (As an aside, based on the evidence, the jury concluded that the first accident shouldered — pun intended –most of the blame and, therefore, the driver in the second accident didn’t owe him as much as his attorney was asking for.)

Most of us have been in at least minor auto accidents. In my most serious one, on everyone’s advice, I saw a doctor the same day. I had X-rays, the doc said I’d be sore for a few days, and sent me away. In the trial, medical reports were key to the case’s outcome. A certain date on one report was incorrect, which opened the door for arguments about the accuracy of other statements. Furthermore, witnesses had forgotten details, and had to rely on written reports often produced by people who weren’t in court to testify.

One of the attorneys appeared to have had little trial experience. His questions meandered, he brought in witnesses who were not qualified to give certain kinds of evidence, and he caused delays by having to search through his notes before coming up with questions. The other attorney was clear, focused, and to the point. Which lawyer prevailed was no surprise.

We all know that things happen, which are out of our control, but this was a frightening reminder.  My car was totaled when a teenager ran a red light and I rammed his vehicle in the intersection. A witness saw it and gave me her name and number. At first, the teen denied he was responsible, said I was to blame. I was so thankful that the witness had come forward. In the trial I sat through, the lawsuit was filed a year after the accident and the trial took place two years later.  There was no police report. The woman being sued had taken responsibility for the accident, had no idea the lawsuit was coming, lived an entire year thinking the issues around her rear-ending another car had been taken care of, end of story. Suddenly the accident loomed over her again.

Nothing about this trial lived up to the drama of criminal cases in novels and film. Yet it had more lessons for most of us than fiction normally does.





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Number 3 not so lucky

jury certLast week, I reported to the county courthouse for jury duty. I didn’t want to go, didn’t want to end up on a long trial, have to cancel plane reservations to Hawaii, forgo work on my novel. I even considered what biases I might reveal to keep me off a case.

After an orientation, a clerk called the first group of potential jurors. I was number three.  The judge, who came across as both kind and strict, promised the case would be short. By afternoon, the lawyers were giving their opening statements to the thirteen chosen jurors, including one alternate and me.  Suddenly I was a happy juror. Three became my lucky number.

Throughout the trial, I took notes and listened closely to the witnesses’ testimonies. I was so interested I never yawned, no matter how hot the courtroom became.  After all, what is a trial, but a series of storytellers sharing their accounts of what happened as it related to a conflict. The story is incomplete until twelve jurors come up with an ending that fits the evidence they’ve heard. Not a happy ending for all, but still an ending.

On day three, the lawyers presented their closing arguments, and the judge read her instructions for our deliberation. Right before we filed out of the courtroom, the judge said, “And now I’ll identify the alternate juror.” Huh? I thought it was number thirteen. She went on. “Our alternate is number three. Thank you for your service. You can hand in your notebook to the bailiff and leave the building.”

I was stunned.  Why me? I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted to take part in the last phase of the trial; otherwise, I couldn’t help write the ending to all the stories I’d heard.

The bailiff handed me a certificate for “Loyal and Patriotic service.” She told me the judge drew number three the first day of the trial, thus determining my fate before the first witness came to the stand.

“I guess I shouldn’t buy a lottery ticket,” I said, as the bailiff hustled me out the door.

She called today. I peppered her with questions. “Who did they choose as the presiding juror? What was the decision? Was it a unanimous vote?”

I told her how fascinating the three days had been and that I was crushed at being left out. “Your experience is like most others. They don’t want to do it, but when it’s over they’ve found it to be both memorable and meaningful.”



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Dear Diary…

I have many journals to choose from

I have many journals to choose from

*Dear Diary,

“I walked home from school with Mary. We played at my house.  Then I practiced piano.”

Ann (*reasonable facsimile of childhood diary)

Lately, I’ve been thinking about journals, blushing about my own feeble attempts to fill even one page of my childhood diary, and realizing how important diaries have been to understanding the past.

I remember reading Anne Frank’s diary. As a first introduction to serious journaling, Frank’s story came as a huge shock, but it also raised the bar in my thinking about what a real diary could be. And it stopped me from ever trying to produce one again.

What got me on the topic of diaries were two books I recently read.

The first was “Boys in the Boat,” which told the story of the University of Washington rowing team that won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Many of the characters recorded the highs and lows of their journey from frightened, novice oarsmen to national heroes.

The second was “The Garden of the Beast,” which used diaries of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and his daughter, as well as German leaders’ written personal records, to tell the story of events leading up to World War II.

Shortly after finishing these books, “Brain Pickings Weekly” appeared in my inbox with its “15 worthy resolutions for 2015.”  Resolution number 2: “Keep a Diary.”

Were all these recent references to diaries hinting that I should try it again? If I do, I won’t be alone.

Many friends keep journals for different reasons. Some say the best way to start their day is to follow the advice of “The Artist’s Way” author Julia Cameron to produce “morning pages,” three daily long-hand pages, which might not sound coherent, but which prime your brain for more creative activities.

One friend says, “I write every day to help clear the chatter from my head, to sort things out, to work out the day’s problems.”

Another writes that her journal “built into a close-up look at relationships, complications, and family connections.”

Even with these models, nothing inspired me to take the plunge. Until, out of the blue, someone emailed me a “New York Times” article called, “Writing Your Way to Happiness.” According to this, a variety of studies report many health benefits that come from writing and rewriting personal narratives.  In one, “College students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day either about an important personal issue or superficial topics. Afterward, the students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center.” In other research, students improved their college grade point averages, heart attack sufferers showed improved health, and cancer patients experienced reduced symptoms.

That did it. I’m going to try keeping a journal once again. It could be fun to reflect on changes as I age.

Having rewritten many scenes in my novel five or six times, rewriting incidents in my life should be as easy as falling off a horse. No. Wait.  I did that already and wrote about it. I’ll have to try re-telling the story, but this time with a happier ending, maybe where we ride off together into the sunset.





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Seeing is believing

patch“Consider yourself ‘piratized,'” said the nurse as she finished taping a patch over my right eye.

“I’m nervous about this.”

“I’ll give you a pill to calm you and drops to numb your eye.”

But what if the pill didn’t work? What if I felt the incision in my cornea and screamed out in pain?  As it turned out, that scenario was no more realistic than the stories my grade school friends and I told while camping in my backyard, the ones about spider mothers laying eggs under our skin, then watching us scratch ourselves to death as the eggs hatched.

Friends who preceded me in undergoing cataract surgery assured me it would go fast and be both painless and effective.  Still, I had to experience it to believe it.  The operation took about fifteen minutes. During that time, I could hear the surgeon and other operating room staff talking. The only added sounds were mechanical; they reminded me of symphony members attempting to tune their instruments, but failing because they never agreed on the pitch. The noises were helpful distractors from the bright, white lights, and the blue and magenta colors that flashed before me. Soon, someone wheeled me to recovery — a recliner near the coffee maker — where a nurse offered me a cup of tea and, before I’d taken a sip, told my husband it was time to get the car and pick me up. I was back home in less than two hours.

tea strainerThat same day we took a walk through the neighborhood. Despite having a dilated pupil so big I must have looked like a heavy marijuana user, every few feet, sounding like an excerpt from a Dick and Jane reader, I announced, “I can see that sign. I can see that tree. I can see the sidewalk.” I experienced no discomfort, except when it was time to sleep and I had to tape on an eye guard that looked like a large tea strainer.

My vision improves a little every day.  In public I’m wearing some hand-me-down shop safety glasses, which friends tell me look very cool. I had the optician pop out one lens in my regular glasses, which I wear to drive and do closeup work.

I’ve worn glasses since I was in third grade, have been nearly blind without them. So there was never a waking moment I didn’t know where to find them. They were always on my face.  Now I scurry from room to room asking my husband if he’s seen any of my temporary glasses.

When the technician was measuring my eyes for the new lenses, she said, “This is the one procedure that truly defies aging.” Now that I can see myself clearly in the mirror, I wish there were more.








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New Years’ Resolution app

I’m sharing one last tale from 2014, one of my stranger experiences.

It started when a friend and I took a bus to downtown Seattle in early December, and she showed me an app on her phone called OneBusAway. I downloaded it immediately, but on my phone screen the app didn’t show a map of buses coming our way like hers did. All I saw was the bus schedule. By the time I arrived home, I’d forgotten about the app, until the next time I rode the bus downtown.

When I boarded the bus, I clicked on OneBusAway to see if I could find the magic map. It asked permission to know my location, which I gave. A few minutes later, having no success finding the bus map, I turned to Facebook for entertainment. It didn’t fail me. About the time the bus pulled out of the Bellevue Transit Center, on my Facebook page was a local map with a dot on Medina, Washington and the notice, “Ann Oxrieder was at Bill Gates’ house. December 24 at 11:28 AM in Eastland, WA.”

Comments soon followed. “Say hi from me.” “Tell him my mom knew his mom, Mary.” “Nice!!!!” “Congratulations! Thanks to that incredible man, I have an education.” “So sad. Lizard Squad just hacked into his XBox system.”

I added my own comment to clarify: “I’m on the bus, actually, and Bill is nowhere in sight. This is crazy.” Apparently, this was too ambiguous for Facebook friends, nineteen of whom posted “likes.”

I forgot about my non-visit to Bill Gates’ house until I met two friends for lunch a few weeks later. They arrived at the restaurant together.  “Well,” they said in unison, “Before we talk about anything else, we have to hear about Bill Gates’ house.”

When I said that I had commented that I was on a bus when this announcement came out, one responded, “We thought you were on a small tour bus.”

My New Years’ resolution is to delete OneBusAway from my phone.  A friend who rides the bus from the University of Washington to the Eastside, jumped on the first bus he saw coming his way on the app. It was the wrong bus and it took him to the Microsoft campus.  Is it possible that Bill Gates has taken control of the app and is using it to create mischief in our lives?


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Thinking about our legacies

Most Impulso members came from Mexico

Most Impulso members came from Mexico

Only four years after retirement, I sometimes think about legacies, asking myself, “Have I contributed to anything lasting?”

When my mother turned eighty, I read the book, “How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders,” and learned that most elders review their lives in hopes of finding assurance that they have done something that made a difference.

This past month I received some encouraging answers without ever asking my question aloud.

When I worked for the public school system the superintendent assigned me to create a Latino parent advisory committee. The group called itself “Impulso,” a title that one of the members said came from the field of physics. I interpreted it to mean something like “propel” as in propel parents to make sure their kids graduated from high school and continued their education after that.

Working with this committee turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and life. Two friends from a Latino advocacy organization joined the group to support me, which was a great help when my Spanish faltered. They also offered advice and counsel to the parents from a cultural perspective. We held focus groups and created programs based on parents’ expressed needs. Some events, such as a Saturday visit to the University of Washington, included students. We designed others, for example, a session on “communicating with your teenager,” just for adults.  Workshops on how to check student attendance and grades on-line had the effect of an ice bucket shower on some of the parents, when — despite their students’ assurances otherwise — they learned that an F grade did not mean “fantástico.”

This month, I received two special dinner invitations. The first event celebrated not only a young woman’s graduation from college, but her interesting  job, and the house she had just bought for her mother. The second dinner honored the daughter of two of the original Impulso leaders for her recent college graduation. At both events I, and several other guests, were publicly thanked for the work we had done to reach out to Latino parents and kids to make sure they understood our educational system and how to navigate it.

Seeds you plant may take a long time to produce fruit. I’m happy to learn that a few I planted have begun to germinate, and I can postpone worrying about legacies for a while longer.











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Restraining the inner shopper

My scarf drawer

My scarf drawer

December is the time of year when we expand our collections of stuff. The problem is that by a certain age, most of us have accumulated enough stuff.  I’m doing my best to keep new stuff out of the house, but even my best doesn’t mean rejecting everything that tempts me. Many more trips to Goodwill are in order before I feel free of extraneous possessions.

The one area where I have made headway in restraining the inner shopper is when I’m traveling.  With one exception, I’m through collecting souvenirs.  I’ve grown tired of weighting down my suitcase and of bringing trinkets into the house that belong on a tropical island or in a South of the Border setting. No more Mexican masks, embroideries or painted wooden platters. They’re great examples of folk art, but my walls are already covered.  No more clothes that don’t fit me, my house, or the climate of the Northwest. No cloisonne objects, Japanese wrapping cloths (still too beautiful to part with), and no carved or papier mâché animals.

If I would look at these collectables once in a while, they might bring back memories, but it doesn’t take long for tchotkes to blend into the woodwork, not nearly as good for reminiscing as they are for causing stress. (Yes, there is research showing that clutter produces anxiety and stress).

Photos generally work well to bring back memories and they only clog my computer, not my closets. There are exceptions. as when my husband and I both point to a shot on the computer screen and ask, “Where was that?”

These days, it’s easy to avoid trinket shops that enchanted me as a child — Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Seattle waterfront was my favorite, a souvenir hunter’s paradise — but no matter how hard I fight it, the inevitable craving to bring home just one keepsake overcomes me. For the last three years to satisfy that urge I have collected scarves. They’re light, practical and don’t take up much room in the luggage.

While we were traveling last September,  I made my usual announcement that I was looking for a scarf to purchase. My husband asked, “Don’t you have enough scarves?” The answer was, “Yes, but I don’t have a scarf from ___.” Just fill-in-the blank with the name of our next destination.

Shortly after we returned home we were wandering through our local mall, when he pointed to a mannikin dressed in a suit and scarf.  “Oh, look. They even have scarves here.” As if there were ever any doubt.

The bad thing is that just like all the other curiosities I’ve bought over the years, my scarf collection now fills an entire drawer. For the next trip I may have to collect something even smaller.

I mentioned this to a friend who had the perfect solution.  “Jewelry is available everywhere,” she said, “and it takes up even less room in a suitcase.”


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