My Gray Hair Journey

UPDATED: June 19, 2021

UPDATE: Still trucking along at 15 months in. I was so excited to chop off a bunch of color. And then I did and I immediately thought, “Jeepers! Too much! Too much!”

Mental Note: Creative positioning with a camera can hide a chubby face, but short hair in reality says, “Let me just shine a spotlight on that face for ya.”


Have you heard of the new fashion trend? It’s called Pandemic Gray. I’m certain there are more ladies out there than just me who thought to themselves,

“Well, I’m in the house for the next month or so, since everything is closed, guess I’ll just let it go for a few weeks…”

I’d tried to let my natural hair color grow out a few years ago, but – honestly – I just wasn’t ready. Somehow, I decided to BLEACH IT PLATINUM instead. Let me tell you, you think the silvers are jarring? Try white! (No, don’t. It’s a miracle all my hair didn’t fall out.)

So the journey to silver hair began in March of 2020.

See the smiley face on my mask? I got cute.

While I do have pictures roughly every month of this process, the first few are pretty subtle. I mean, you can barely see it. So let me skip ahead to more recent.

6 months in

Other than feeling like I look bald when the sun hits that corner of my head juuuust right, I was pretty happy. I’d cut all the length off to make growing it out easier.

15 months in
(a little hair style I like to call “short and unfortunate”)

Everyone has thoughts on going gray and below are some of mine.

What Have I Done?!

I don’t know if any of you are like me, but I was dyeing my hair consistently every six weeks. I had started going gray when I was 19 years old so, needless to say, within two weeks, you could see it coming back. It didn’t matter what color my hair was dyed either: brown, blonde, auburn — after two weeks, pigtails and braids were definitely out. I was too worried about “the demarcation line.”

Once I made the decision (the second time) to let the silver grow in, luckily I was already working from home. You can hide a lot with creative lighting and, if it gets really bad, you can just keep your video turned off during Zoom or Slack calls. I’m not saying I did this…but I did this. (Also helpful if you’re having a bad hair day, a particularly big zit, or a cold sore.)

Within the first month and a half, I started to feel the cringe of it. Six weeks was my “trip to the salon” time and I was feeling icky. So now we’re looking at running two weeks beyond schedule and I was getting self-conscious.

I obsessed over it. I checked myself in the mirror. I looked at websites where you can “go gray in a day” (to the tune of several hundreds of dollars and 10 hours in a salon chair). I watched before/after YouTube videos.

I questioned myself. A lot.

I became so obsessed with my hair that I began to wonder if other women who decided to let their hair go silver did the same thing. So I joined a Facebook group called Silver Sisters.

I looked at all their amazing pictures and thought,

Mine doesn’t look like that. Why doesn’t mine look white and lovely like hers does?

I immediately began searching Amazon for “gray hair” products because, even though I didn’t really have enough worth worrying about, this was a new and shiny experience and I didn’t need much of a reason to go shopping.

PRO TIP:

There is a big difference between blue shampoo and purple shampoo. If you’re like me, you’d heard of purple shampoo, but not blue.

Blue is for canceling out orange.
Purple is for canceling out yellow.

Thank you, high school art class and that wonderful color wheel.

Biggest Worries:

  • Looking old
  • Looking old
  • Feeling old
  • Getting called out for looking old
  • Appearing “washed out”
  • Not looking like “me” anymore
  • Becoming invisible
  • No longer feeling pretty or cute
  • My husband hating it (fyi – not a fan)
  • Looking old

I’m wondering if you’re beginning to see a subtle pattern here…

Despite worrying that I’d start looking like Aunt Bee, I kept on trucking anyway!!

Okay, Maybe This Isn’t So Bad…

Well, theoretically.

After I got to the, “you really CANNOT hide this anymore” stage, rather than give someone the opportunity to go, “Uh, Mel, you could use a touch-up…” I would proactively bring up that I was going au naturel. Like, a lot.

Like, every chance I got.

And I began to think, “Maybe people are getting sick of me talking about this.”

It didn’t stop me from doing it, but I did wonder.

After a few months in, I discovered that I LOVED NOT HAVING TO DYE MY HAIR. I mean, for reals. Now that it was impossible to hide (I wasn’t about to use any kind of gray hair concealer), I found that it was really nice to just not have to worry about it. Can’t hide it. Can’t go to the salon anyway. No one will care.

And quite literally – to my shock – no one did.

That didn’t mean that people didn’t have opinions about what they would/would not do to their own hair, though. When I’d posted to Facebook about the experience and what I was doing, I got a huge variety of responses from, “Not for me. Heck no” to “Do eet! Do eet now!”

Not one person said a thing about what I looked like. I really worried that people would be jerks about it for no reason. And it was a waste of my worry cycles.

I discovered that my husband wasn’t a fan of the look in general (he prefers me with dark hair), thankfully, he wasn’t actively pressuring me to dye it again.

I also learned another valuable lesson: Unless you specifically ask your husband to lie to you every time you ask him what he thinks about your gray hair, stop asking him if he likes it.

I did make the mistake of growing out my bangs at the same time as I began growing out the gray. (Get it all over with, amirite?) So awkward bangs grow-out, weird moving demarcation line of silver, and my dark color to this now-orangey brown weirdness. (Some call it “blorange”.)

I decided that I would not get any touch-ups, toners, low lights, or anything else to alter my hair. Some people opt to help the grow-out process along, but I decided that my hair and scalp will thank me for not treating it with chemicals anymore. Also, this natural process ensures that I’m slowly adjusting to it so by the time it’s fully grown out, I’ve had two years to get used to it.

CAVEAT: I reserve the right to change my mind and do any number of these things because I’m only halfway through here!

What I’ve Learned So Far…

  • I’m cheap (I love not paying for getting my hair dyed)
  • I need to style my hair (gray hair is kind of strangely unruly in spots, so I find I need to straighten it and curl it under to make it look like this whole thing is deliberate and isn’t just me being incredibly lazy)
  • I don’t typically need or use any special gray-hair products (my hair isn’t really yellowing so while I’ve used a purple shampoo once or twice in the last year – I didn’t really need to)
  • I prefer to cover the gray on my eyebrows (when I’m at home, I don’t care, but when I’m out — I feel it looks better because they are surprisingly kinky and bright against my naturally dark eyebrows – I mean it SHOWS)
  • My hair is thanking me (the natural hair is so soft; in contrast, the dyed hair is dry, especially around the ends)
  • Cutting off several inches of dyed hair makes the process easier (I can’t imagine how many years it would have taken to grow the gray to my waist).
  • While some people go for the pixie or shaved head to “get it done”, I am not one of them.
  • People will have opinions, mostly positive, some meh – at the end of the day it’s your hair to do with as you like. And really…it’s just hair. (So why is this so harrrrddddd?)
  • Join a Gray Hair transition group if you are finding the road tough or are looking for advice on how to brave the waters
  • Search YouTube for some transition stories because they are a great source of inspiration (I’d do one, but do I really have anything I want to say ON CAMERA? I’m so much wittier in print.)
  • If you don’t like it, there is no rule that says you can’t dye it again. Maybe it’s not your time. Maybe you just REALLY don’t like it. It doesn’t matter. You do you.
  • There is no right way to go gray. From what I’ve read online and seen on YouTube everyone does it their own way.
  • You get to learn all about patience whether you want to or not. Remember how fast your hair grows when you’re dyeing it all the time and you’re stressing out about it? Don’t worry, once you let it start to go gray, it will feel like it has LITERALLY STOPPED GROWING (it hasn’t, but that’s how it feels sometimes)
  • Take pictures along the way to document (if nothing else, to remind yourself that it’s still growing)
  • It gets easier as you go – the beginning is the toughest (trust me, after a while you may start looking for ways to show off your gray under all the top layers of dye)
  • Don’t jump on the impulse to dye — give it a while — I’ve heard so many stories of people who reached for the box dye and then regretted it and HAD TO START OVER.
  • I have tattooed eyeliner, but I find I also like to put on some purple eyeliner to accentuate my green eyes and make me feel like something on my face “pops” (I have not discovered the joy of red lipstick – I’m not sure I can pull it off)
  • Consider hats – now that you have silver hair you need to protect it from sun damage (I’ll admit I’m horrible at this — I hate hats). But I also hear that it keeps it from yellowing. So there’s that.

I hope this helps you. If I think of anything else, I’ll be sure to update!

Paint By Numbers – Oil on Canvas: Newb Alert

I guess a pandemic is a great time to try something new. Several years ago, I took a watercolor painting class with a friend of mine from work. I had a great time. We learned stuff. It was social.

I sucked, but I didn’t care.

So I decided to try some paint-by-numbers with acrylics. I found a bunch on Amazon, picked a painting I liked, and ordered it. For fun, I decided to take a picture every step of the way because, frankly, in the beginning everything just looks like spaghetti.

So here’s the progression. Enjoy! 19 different colors of paint on a 16×20 canvas.

By the way, the painting I chose has special significance, which I’ll explain at the bottom.

Two colors – barely could see the promise
Ooooo green. I get trees are in here
Loved the vibrant blues
Some deeper blues – starting to come together (ish)
More blues – ok now I”m getting fatigued on blue
How much more blue can there possibly be? Tough because the lightest blue required several coats
Oh thank goodness, something new. Ooo…like brick!
WOW that’s some orange – I’m beginning to get excited
Ok this is feeling like a painting now
Carpal tunnel, but more shades of brown/orange
Suddenly the painting has depth. Holy smokes, when did that happen?
Now we’re moving into the yellows
Feeling like an almost artist
What is that, lime green? Whatever works.
Now the pale grays and touch-ups. And all the numbers I missed along the way.
Finished!! I love it!!!

Finished product. Mostly. I have a few items I want to go back and darken up (if you really look closely you can see the numbers if the color is particularly light.

Significance of this painting explained: The setting reminds me of Amsterdam and that is where my husband and I traveled to for our honeymoon over 20 years ago. So since Valentines Day is coming up, I thought I would surprise him. The couple in the center just reminded me of us. And the colors were just so darn vibrant.

All told, the entire process took about a week. A few hours in the evening and a few hours on the weekends.

Since our cat passed away a few weeks ago, this was a surprisingly effective way at distracting me from the sorrow (while I focused on painting within the lines) and also is a great way to reduce stress from work, life, COVID, what-have-you. Also, since I walked away from social media, this felt like a great use of my time and energy and – at the end of it – I didn’t feel like I’d just wasted hours surfing. I had a painting to hang up!

I wish I could paint like this naturally, but I can’t. As a “check-box-er”, I like to do step-by-step / bite-sized projects, which is also why I like making bath products. Simple and can be done in an afternoon. Admittedly, this was much more involved, but it was time-consuming, not complicated. (And it came framed, which was nice.)

The kit comes with practically everything you need, but…..

I picked up lighted magnifying glasses (after I found the magnifying light was too cumbersome), a desktop easel, some paint brushes (in case I hated the ones the kit came with), and an artist brush basin so I could rinse my brushes between colors.

Hike: Rancho San Antonio County Park

There is a wonderful thing that Santa Clara County does that encourages people get out and walk / hike / stroll / prance. It’s called #PixInParks. They give you a list of a number of trails to hike and on each trail is a location where you take your photo to document that you participated in the hike. You send it in, complete all the hikes of the set, and – supplies available – you get a t-shirt at the end of the year for completing the challenge. What a great way to get people out and moving? SWAG!

Today’s pictures (there are so many more than what I’m showing you here are from Rancho San Antonio County Park nestled in the hills of Los Altos. The trails are nice and wide for the most part, there’s a wonderful farm in the park called Deep Hollow (with sheep, cows, goats, etc.) and they’ve even designated certain areas “one-way” to keep people socially distanced and safe in these Covid 19 times.

The weather forecasted rain by noon so we needed to get an early start. We did. Princess Buttercup (my granddaughter – not her real name) is barely old enough to have to wear a mask and each time we do a hike she opts to walk it rather than stay in the backpack. The first time we hiked and she walked, maybe a third of a mile. Today? It must have been three miles! What a trooper!

My daughter, granddaughter, and I have already completed 5 of the 7 hikes listed for the Magnificent 7 challenge for 2021!

#PixinParks #RanchoSanAntonio
Big barn
That is a great view!
Mountains!
Those silver eyebrows tho

Farewell to the Best Cat Ever

Miko (2006 – 2021)

My cat died. Miko was a glorious/beautiful/amazing Russian Blue.)

Rather than go on about how utterly devastated I am (the tears come without warning), I started writing down some of my memories of him so that I wouldn’t forget him. Like I ever could. Hopefully you get a sense of just how much he meant to me and even though he was “just a cat”, anyone who’s ever owned a pet that they loved like a family member understands how painful it can be to lose it.

What I remember about you, Miko. You:

• Were so chill, the minute Mom met you and picked you up as a tiny kitten, you rested on her forearm and immediately fell asleep (your sister, Peggy Sue, was having a conniption fit with a granola bar wrapper and running around like a maniac) – you were the right choice

• Cried in the carrier on the drive from the cattery, but the minute Mom took you out of the carrier and held you on her chest, you fell asleep and never made a peep during the 3-hour drive home

• Loved your “fridge mice” — investigating the freezer when the ice cubes dropped

• Jumped inside the fridge or freezer any chance the door was left open too long because it was such a novel change in temperature for you

• Loved sunning yourself in any bright spot, but mostly on window ledges (much better once I got the Kitty Cot so you didn’t roll off after you’d fallen asleep). You even would fall asleep on the phone if it was on the window sill and convenient

• If someone leaned over, you jumped up on their back

• Loved to nuzzle Dad’s head standing on the back of the couch while he was watching TV

• Loved to sit or lie on anything anyone was reading or using so that they didn’t forget you were there and wanted lovins

• Jumped up into Mom’s arms when she called you (and sometimes when she didn’t – surprise!)

• Loved to head butt and nuzzle Dad’s beard

• Loved to head butt and nuzzle Mom’s forehead

• Loved it when Mom nestled the top of your head below her chin and in the crook of her neck

• Learned to use the City Kitty in 30 days, never having to use a litter box again; sometimes you’d wait for Mom to come in and, if you were done, you especially liked to let us know so that we’d congratulate you

• Liked to sleep upside down or in the strangest positions on Mom, often playing with her hair or her nose or whatever was available

• Knew when you shouldn’t be on the table, when caught you’d meow in a special apologetic tone like, “sorry, I know”

• Would lead mom towards the microwave because you knew the drawer underneath contained all the good treats, especially the gravy pouches she’d give you

• Were especially tolerant of Mom carrying you around on her hip like a toddler, you never minded and just let her cart you around

• Found a way to investigate any box, no matter the size, ignoring your more expensive toys completely

• Knew when we were not feeling good and you stayed by our side

• Seemed to like to torture Karl and the more he avoided you, the more you enjoyed bugging him (and chewing on him) – no one else, just him

• Had to investigate and sniff any new thing: flowers, food, boxes, stuff

• Loved to be held and snuggled, napping in the lap of Mom or Dad was your favorite place

• Liked to chase after anything on a string; you were less interested in laser pointers

• Didn’t mind the millions of times Mom took pictures of you, you were game

• Loved to sleep on Dad’s black blanket between his legs when watching TV

• As a kitten, you’d sleep in the crook of Mom’s arm (she never slept lest she move you and, gasp, you become “uncomfortable”)

• Thought Dad’s feet were an amusement park ride and got yourself kicked out of the bedroom at night (Mom never cared so you never attacked her toes)

• Learned how to walk on a leash, but we had to stop taking you out because you started camping the door

• Didn’t mind Mom pressing your paw pads ever since you were a kitten so that she’d get you used to getting your nails clipped (though you never were a fan of that)

• Jumped in luggage and made yourself comfortable (making us feel even more guilty if we were heading out of town for a few days)

• Ignored us when we returned from a trip for an hour or so, then you stuck to us like glue to make sure we were sticking around

• Had the most delightful cat breath

• Stuck out your tongue, just a little

• Had the title Prince Miko because you were treated like royalty

• Other titles: Mikolicious, Meeks, Buddy, My Little Man

• Were very chill and tolerant of strangers, though slightly aloof, but you were very gentle and loving with the family (that’s why Mom picked a Russian Blue)

• Loved to play tag and would run past Mom and “tap” her leg as you ran by

• Loved play hide and seek with Mom – if she was hiding – and you saw that she was hiding, you were all in to find her (made her squeal with surprise a few times, too, because you were the better player)

• Were not at all a fan of baths and nearly flayed Mom the one time you fell into the toilet as a kitten and she tried to bathe you

• Were a fan of catnip as you got older and Mom has the video to prove it

• Would jump up on the arm of the couch by the door waiting for Mom to come in, ready to greet her at the door

• Loved any kind of bag, mostly for crawling inside

• Were just as happy sitting on a garbage bag as a cardboard box

• Your favorite place was sleeping in warm laundry either on the couch or in the basket

• Knew you shouldn’t jump up on the counter and ignored Dad entirely, but when Mom yelled at you, you jumped down and hopped over to her to say “hi” (hoping she’d forget what you just did – she didn’t, but she gave you lovins anyway)

• Liked to “interrupt” Mom when she was in the bathroom because the door didn’t lock without effort. Dad was always locking you out, but Mom didn’t care. You just stood up on your hind legs and pushed the door open and said hi as you strolled in

• The closest you ever got to water willingly was jumping up on the ledge of the bathtub and wandering back and forth between the cloth and the plastic while Mom was having showers

• Loved drinking the dripping water from the faucet after Mom had a shower

• Insisted that Mom or Dad ran the water in the bathroom sink so you could take a sip (you’d sniffle until you got your head placement just right)

• Would literally “walk” up Mom’s legs with your claws until Mom picked you up

• Liked to sit with Mom while she read, patiently waiting until she was situated, and then you’d hop up and she’d maneuver you between the arm of the couch and her, with her arm around you so she could hold you and still be able to focus on what she was doing

• Didn’t mind being held like a baby in Dad’s arms; you’d look up at him and gently pat his beard with your paws

• Came when Mom called you, just like a dog, yet at a more leisurely pace

• Never liked people food “at all” until you got older, then we’d catch you sneaking up on the counter to lick the bacon fat spoon, or anything else that was remotely savory, and unprotected on the counter

• Could get into drawers and cupboards so we had to “child-proof” the kitchen and bathroom

• You loved to sleep on Mom’s hip if she slept on her side, between her legs if she was on her back, or happily crash on her chest

• Were not at all a fan of the cat stroller Mom tried to get you used to (she hoped to take you on walks and hikes), but you were not having any of it – you preferred to stay home

• The few times you ran out the door (you’re an indoor cat) you didn’t get further than the fence, you didn’t know what to do with yourself

• Were inordinately interested in the smell of Ben-Gay and would seek it out like a bloodhound if Mom or Dad was wearing some on sore muscles

• Had the uncanny knack of being right where Mom and Dad’s feet wanted to land as you walked in front of us, garnering yourself the nickname “Miko Underfoot”

• Never listened to Dad when he told you “no”, but you listened to Mom

• Loved to get brushed and all Mom had to do was pick up the brush, say “Brush?”, and you’d leap over to the arm of the couch, no matter what you were doing (even if you were contentedly laying in Dad’s lap) for some brushing

• Loved to lead Mom where you wanted her to be, you’d walk just a bit ahead and casually look back, making sure she was following you correctly (to the food, to the treats, to the bathroom so she could see your grand deposit and flush on your behalf)

• Didn’t mind laying on your back and letting Mom rub your tummy (most cats would flay if someone tried that)

• Loved your tailbone (just before your tail) scratched; it made your tail curl

• You meowed after you used the toilet because you wanted credit for it. That was Mom’s fault, she congratulated you (if she was nearby) each time you did, so you got into the habit of expecting it and were none too pleased if your successes were not rewarded with pats and kisses and “Good jobs”, which they ended up being once you got our attention

• Received about 50 kisses a day from Mom when she held you, you tolerantly and patiently (and with much purring) accepted them all

• You liked to look at Mom and she’d look back, then slowly blink, telling you she loved you. And you’d blink slowly right back

• Loved clean warm laundry; you always smelled so fresh when Mom hugged and kissed you afterwards

Jury Duty Survival 101

I could spend hours going through my initial thoughts when I got my jury summons, but if you’ve ever received one, the feelings are probably pretty universal:

  1. Oh crap.
  2. I hope my panel number doesn’t get called.
  3. How do I get out of this?

As luck would have it, from Friday through the next Friday, I kept getting deferred.  It was Friday afternoon, I figured I was in the clear.  Then I got the call to report to the Superior Court of Santa Clara.

So here’s what I learned along the way.

Before You Go:

Bring Your Jury Summons with your Parking Permit

I, of course, brought every conceivable piece of paper relating to jury duty including the envelope and everything I read from the website that I printed out.   You don’t need to go crazy, but you will need the summons and you’ll need the parking permit, too.

Dress Comfortably

You may be sitting for hours.  Heck, if you’re as unlucky as me, you may be sitting for months.  The trick is to be comfortable while you wait because you will do a lot of it.  A lot.

Bring Snacks

The food setup in the Santa Clara Hall of Justice consists of two food carts.  Both accept cash only.  Neither has anything you’d see on a Michelin star menu.  If you don’t want to end up eating crap from a vending machine, the cafeteria down the street, or Togos, bring your lunch or bring snacks.

Jury Duty is where diets to go die.

Bring a Water Bottle

Here’s something nice, the water is free.  In the Jury Room on the Second Floor, there is a water cooler (hot and cold).  Leave the trendy ceramic or glass water bottle or mug at home, it won’t make it through security.  A simple water bottle is the way to go.  Unless you want to shell out $2.50 at the cart for a bottle of water or use a cup from the water cooler and hope that you don’t spill or in any other way embarrass yourself.

Bring Entertainment

There are a few cubes to sit in with a laptop you can plug in.  If you don’t want to lug that around, you can bring a book or your Kindle or phone or whatever entertains you during the down time.  We even brought playing cards for a day or two.

I really don’t know how people did jury duty before mobile devices.  It’s not like you can knit.

Leave Early.   You’ll Need The Extra Time

Map it out, and leave early to account for traffic and sign in.  If you need to report for Jury Selection at 9:00, be there by 8:30 at the latest.  Why, you ask?  Because there’s this little thing called Security.  And Sign-In.  You may arrive at 8:55 thinking you’ve made it five minutes early and you’re good to go until you see the security line out the door and down the street.

Know Your Work’s Jury Duty Policy

This is a must.  Most cases last a few days, some a few weeks, and for us unlucky types, a few months.  If your work only pays for two days of Jury Duty, then you need to either take PTO for the rest of it, or go on unpaid leave.  You will definitely want to know this up front.

If this is an extreme financial hardship for you (not merely a financial or personal annoyance), you can petition the judge to be excused (more on that later).

Check  Online or Call In

There are two ways to find out if the panel you’ve been assigned to has to report to the courthouse or not.   You can call the number on your Juror Summons or you can check the website to see what the status of your panel is:

Juror Status

Do make sure you check the DATE of your service.  The panel numbers are reused weekly, so if you didn’t look carefully, it’s possible you could waltz in a week early.  You’re on the hook for a week.   Typically, the week starts on Friday and goes until the next Friday.  You may get postponed every single day.  You may get called to report the next day.  Check the website or call to know where you stand.  No one likes to wake up thinking they’ll be deferred again only to find they have less than 15 minutes to report to the court house.

When You Arrive

 

Parking

Set your Navigation System to the parking lot across the street.  Whatever you do, do not park at the meters.  Your Jury Summons has a parking pass.  If you park at the meters, you will not be reimbursed.

Santa Clara Superior Court – Hall of Justice
190 West Hedding Street
San Jose, CA
(408) 808-6600

Civic Center Parking Garage
171 West Hedding Road
San Jose, CA
(408) 293-0775

If you want to be on the same level as the pedestrian overpass so you’re not dodging traffic, park on the third level of the garage.  You can walk past the enticing vending machines (get used to those), the two pay kiosks and the (now defunct) attendant station, which has been replaced by the two pay kiosks.

Bring your garage parking ticket with you.   When you get to the Jury Clerk, she’ll take your Juror Parking Pass and your parking garage stub, stamp the garage stub, and return it to you.  If you left your parking stub on the dashboard of your car, you’ll be taking a nice stroll back to get it.

Pro-Tips:

  • Keep your parking stub far away from credit cards (they could demagnetize it)
  • Get your parking stub validated near the end of the day (less chance of demagnetizing)
  • Validate your stamped parking stub at the pay kiosk before driving to the exit gate (to see if it demagnetized)

You’re probably wondering why all this talk about demagnetizing parking stubs and validation issues.  I’m fairly certain that the City of Santa Clara has earned more money on stressed out Jurors whose parking ticket stub demagnetized (and paid just to get the heck out of there) than they have on monthly parking passes.

I have heard this story so many times, and experienced it myself twice, that it’s almost laughable how many times these parking stubs demagnetize.  I have been the person at the parking garage dutifully placing my validated ticket in the machine as I sit at the gate and have it not only NOT lift the gate, but demand $11.00 from me.

The intercom does not work.  Honking your horn does not get their attention right away and if it does, they don’t take kindly to it.  Either way, it’s stressful and humiliating.

The guys in the office are not actively seeking out potentially horrified jurors whose ticket demagnetized frantically pushing buttons and panicking at the increasingly long line of cars behind them trying to leave.   No one likes to wait when leaving the parking garage.  No one.

So you can either get out of your car, brave the stink-eye from all the people who unfortunately picked the same gate as you, and run across rows of cars to the office and tell them your ticket demagnetized OR you can check your ticket before you ever get to the car to make sure it works.

There used to be a guy that would check your ticket at the pay station, but he’s been replaced.  Now you have two pay kiosks to use to check.  If your validated ticket is fine, it’ll say PAID and you can be confident that when you drive down to the gate, the bar will lift.

If, however, even after getting stamped, you see that you’re being charged for a few hours or a full day’s worth of parking, congratulations.  Your ticket demagnetized.

If you pay because you just want OUT OF THERE and will sort it out with the courthouse or parking garage clerk the next day, don’t bother.  They won’t reimburse you.

If you take your demagnetized ticket BACK to the clerk in the courthouse to re-stamp, don’t bother, if it’s demagnetized, there is nothing she can (or will) do.

You have only one option.  Walk down to the first floor gates and go to the parking office.  Knock on the door, tell them your ticket demagnetized (and make sure you’ve had it stamped by the Court Clerk because they’re not dumb) and they’ll do some magic like give you another validated ticket.  Walk back to your car feeling secure knowing that when you get to the gate, that arm will rise.

Fun Fact: The elevators from the garage to the ground floor smell like burning.  They may function, but they SMELL like a cable is about to snap.  Just saying.

Security

It is quite literally like going to the airport, except you’re not heading to Maui.  As I mentioned before, arrive early.  Some days, there’s no one there and you breeze through security like petals on the wind.  Other days, the lines are longer than Star Wars ticket sales on opening day.  Security screening is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

Be prepared to put your purse, laptop, handbag, man bag, man purse, lunch bag, carrier bag, etc. on the conveyor belt to the right.

Be prepared to remove your belt, keys, watch, iPhone, etc. and place them in the grey bin to give to the men / women in uniform at the entrance.  If you go through the metal detector and it still goes off, check to see if your shoes have buckles or your boots have zippers.   Yes, there’s nothing like setting off that metal detector with 500 people behind you.   Super fun.  Not at all stressful.

Once you’re through, pick up your items (or get searched) and head directly to the second floor.  You can take the elevators in front of you or you can take the stairs to the right of the elevators.

Fun Fact:   Fit Bits don’t set off the metal detectors!

Sign In

Now that you’ve made it to the second floor, if you’re lucky enough to have no line,  make sure you have your summons filled out (you’ll see a sign as you’re standing in line that shows you what needs to be filled out) and sign it.  If you didn’t do it, you’ll be slowing down an already painful process and annoy everyone behind you.  It’s the part that verifies your address and your contact number.  Remember:  sign it.

Have the clerk stamp your parking ticket.   She’ll point you to the doors into the Jury Room.

Fun Fact:   Roz from Monsters Inc. works as a Court Clerk, you’ll know her the minute she opens her mouth.  Do NOT forget to fill out your paperwork.  I’m actually not kidding.  Just wait.

Panel Certification Form

Before you go through those doors, into the possibly crammed Jury Room, check the wall beside the clerk and you’ll see a few black slots with paper in them.   Those are panel certificates.  They have your panel number and today’s date.  Grab one.  This says to your employer that you were at court that day.  If you need to prove to your employer that you were at the courthouse and not the beach, you’ll want to pick this up EVERY DAY you’re in jury selection until or unless you get juror badge.  Again, pick up one each day.  They’re dated.

Jury Waiting Area

Once you’ve opened the door and headed into the Jury Room, you may be lucky and it’s completely bare.  Or it’s crammed to the teeth and you’re lucky if you can get a seat.

Pro Tip:   The Jury Room is a “U”, not an “L”.   Keep walking, turn right, and keep walking some more.  You’ll see a door.  That leads to another portion of the waiting area.  The place beyond that door is magic.  It has couches.  It has laptop cubes.  It has puzzles.  It has tables.

If you have to come back another day, there are TWO doors to the Jury Room, one as you exit the stairs (near the Interpreter Office) and the one by the clerk.  Almost no one thinks to go through the door by the stairs, except those savvy jurors who have been there for a few days of jury selection or have been assigned to a case.

There are doors smack dab in the middle of the jury room which you may be tempted to avoid because, well, they’re closed, but don’t.  Inside that area are washrooms, vending machines, a coffee vending machine (do not get the hot chocolate – it is nothing more than brown water), and a microwave.  The loudspeaker in which the clerk can summon your panel to a court room can be heard from anywhere in the Jury Room (including that vending / washroom area).

If you meander off elsewhere in search of washrooms or food carts on the first floor, you will not hear her call your panel so keep that in mind.

Panels vs. Departments

This trips up a lot of people so let me explain.  When you arrive for jury selection, you’re issued a panel number.  Pay attention to your number.   Your panel, as well as a bunch of other panels, may be called to one court room (a department).  You may hear something like,

Jurors for Panels 7, 9, and 11, please report to Department 42, Judge X, on the third floor.

What this means is that your panel, along with a bunch of people from other panels, have to all go to the same court room (or department).  Pay attention to where they send you.  They typically have the court room location associated with its department number on a printed piece of paper in the hall on the second floor.

Jury Selection Process

Report to Your Department

Ohmigosh, they just called you to a court room!  This is it!

Head to the court room like a lemming and pray the guy in front of you knows where he’s going.

You WILL be surprised to see the plaintiff(s)/defendant(s) standing there along with the prosecution and defense attorneys.  It WILL freak you out a little.  This went from some nebulous “man, I hope I get out of jury duty” to “holy crap, this is real right here”.

You’ll be directed by the deputy to find a seat.  Don’t be jerk and sit on the aisle because everyone will have to step over you to get to the wall.  Or, the deputy will call you out and force you to get up and move to the wall so they can fill all the seats and cram everyone in the court room.  There could be up to a hundred of people in that room with you.

Once everyone is in, they will quite literally take attendance.  This is why you want to be early.  Because, guess what?  If you are late, they can’t start.  Seriously, nothing happens until you arrive.  If it takes you 2 minutes or 10 minutes, we all wait.  They may have the Court Clerk page you a few times until you complete the walk of shame red-faced into the court room.

And just so you know, they take attendance after morning break.  They take attendance after lunch. They take attendance after afternoon break.   If you’re “that guy/girl” who can’t get your crap together to make it back to the court room on time, you are now effectively making one hundred potential jurors, the prosecution/defense  lawyers, court clerk, bailiffs, plaintiff(s)/defendant(s), and judge wait.  For you.  (And anyone else who couldn’t tell time or plan accordingly.)

If you think the stink-eye in high school is bad, be late.   See what it feels like in a court room.

Introduction / Process Explained

When you sit down and attendance has been completed and everyone is there (or someone bailed and the court is coming after them), you’re good to go. You’re all sitting there thinking, what next?

The deputy will ask everyone to rise and the judge will come in.   Once the judge has arrived, you’ll be allowed to sit down again.  The judge will explain what, in simple terms, the case is about, who the plaintiff(s)/defendant(s) are, how long the trial is expected to last, and what the general process is going to be for jury selection.

Civil cases are typically about compensation.
Criminal cases involve finding defendant(s) “guilty” or “not guilty” of charges.

Cases can range from mundane to reporters outside court every day to everything in between.

Court Exemption Requests

If you do not feel that you can participate for the length of the trial because you’ll be having surgery or it is an extreme economic hardship, you can petition the court to relieve you.  You will be directed to fill out a form provided by the deputy at your request and it will be given to the judge to review.  You may be excused, you may not.  If you don’t ask for the form when they offer it, you won’t be considered.

Compensation

You will be paid $15/day plus .32 cents mileage one-way.  You will have a check mailed to your house every two weeks.  It’s not $15/hour, it’s $15/day.  It basically covers your lunch.  That’s it.

Jury Questionnaire

After you’ve been instructed on the process, you’ll be sent back to the Jury Room with a questionnaire that involves the case you’d be a jury on.  They want to know about you, your history, if you know any of the participants in the case (not just plaintiffs/defendants, but witnesses, police, etc. as well), or if you have any ideologies or whatnot that can help them screen you out as an unsuitable juror or a particularly suitable one.

Filling out the Questionnaire saves them time asking the same question of over a hundred people.  Note, that not only will the judge question you (in front of everyone), but the prosecution and defense will, too.  And they will, in fact,  end up repeating some of the same questions over and over again, anyway.

If you lie or provide information that you think will probably get you off jury duty, don’t count on it.  This is not the judge’s first rodeo.  And for everyone that is sitting in the court room while you go on about why you’re so unsuitable, they can tell you’re full of crap.   It doesn’t always work, either.

When you have filled out the questionnaire on Day One, you’re typically sent home after that.  The completed questionnaires will then be reviewed by the prosecution/defense/judge.  You come back the next day.   Remember all that great stuff you learned about parking?  Remember your Department number?  You’ll be in the same court room every day during jury selection.

Day Two

The next day, when you return, the judge will have reviewed all the Jury Exception requests and potentially excuse 10, 30, or 2 people.  For the rest of you, despite your crafty answers that you’re sure will get you excused immediately, you get to be questioned.

When they call your name, you will be sent to either a free juror seat or an alternate seat for questioning.  That will surprise and scare the heck out of you.  They don’t question you from the gallery. They don’t do it privately, if that’s what you were thinking.  It will suddenly start to feel very real at this point.

First, the judge will question you based on your questionnaire.  Then the prosecution.  Then the defense.  In front of everyone.  What you answered on your questionnaire will be brought up in front of the entire court room.  You may get asked the same question by the judge, the prosecution, and the defense attorney.  In front of everyone.   That will be scary.  Or you may think it’s exhilarating.  For me, it was intimidating.

Pro Tips for Questioning

  1. Speak up.  So much time was wasted because the court reporter couldn’t understand a mumbling whisperer.
  2. Wait until the judge/prosecutor/defense has FINISHED their question before you start your answer.  The court reporter is recording EVERYTHING.  If you start talking while they’re still talking, it’s hard to transcribe.
  3. Do not simply nod or shake your head for your answer,.  You must answer “yes” or “no” for the court reporter to record your answer.
  4. Speak slowly.  Talking as fast Six from Blossom may be cute, but it sucks for the court reporter.  If she can’t understand you, she’ll ask you to say it all over again and you will be reminded to slow down.
  5. Be concise.  There is nothing worse than someone who loves the sound of their own voice.
  6. Be honest.  Not only can the court staff tell when you’re trying out that “how to get out of jury tactic” you read on Google, but the rest of us can tell, too.

Between the twelve jury spots and the extra alternates, they’re probably calling around twenty people at a time.  After the first batch has been questioned, the lawyers will look each of you up and down and then make their decision.  Maybe the prosecution likes you, but the defense doesn’t.  What that criteria is, I will never know because people I thought were gone for sure were accepted and people I thought were a shoo-in were excused.  And then that accepted juror was excused in the next batch.  It’s a mystery.

After the lawyers have deliberated, the judge will excuse people in big batches and if you are excused, your jury service is complete.  You’re done.  Off you go.  So many big smiles leaving that court room.

If jury selection isn’t completed on that day, you come back the next day.  If it doesn’t get done that day, you come back the next day.  Excuse.  Next batch.  Until defense and prosecution settles on the jury.  It can take one day.  It can take five days.  They can run out of people and have to start all over with a whole new series of panels.

You’ve Been Selected, Juror!

Even if there are prospective jurors still sitting in the gallery, if the prosecution accepts the jury as presented and so does defense, that’s it.

This will surprise and shock you.   Before it felt kind of real, now it feels really real.  One second you’ll be sitting there, thinking, “I’m an alternate, they’ll probably kick me when that other guy comes over.”  Then suddenly, in the next wave, Juror #3 is excused and you’re being put in their seat and you’re all being asked to stand and suddenly you’re sworn in.

If you wanted to get out of jury duty and you failed, accept it.  Now that you’re in it, take this responsibility seriously.   We all joke about ducking jury duty, but once you’re in, it’s as real as it gets.  Give it the respect and seriousness it deserves.

Juror Badges

While you’re still gasping for breath, you’ll be given instructions on what happens next.  They’ll probably dismiss you for the day, but not before they give you a green Juror badge on your way out.  This is gold.

This is your FastPass to the front of the security line.  It’s the one good thing about jury duty.  Not kidding, you can pass all those poor schlubs waiting in a long line out the door.  In fact, you are instructed to do so.  You’re a juror now and it’s critical that you’re on time.

This badge of honor alerts lawyers and judges of your status.  You will be instructed not to speak to anyone on the case directly (lawyers, plaintiffs, defendant, family, etc.)  so if you see your court’s prosecutor getting in the elevator with you, and you wonder why they ignore you completely – going so far as to not even look at you – this is because they’re not allowed to.   They will not say hi to you.  You can’t say hi to them.  You can’t say good morning.  You can’t say anything.  If you do, they’ll alert the judge and you all will be reminded in court, in front of everyone, not to do the thing they told you not to do.  It will make you uncomfortable because your natural tendency is to be polite and greet them.  It’s okay that it feels awkward not to.

Know this, If there is even a HINT that they think you overheard them speaking about the case, you will be called in and questioned.   If there is a HINT that you accidentally got chatty with a family member of a plaintiff or defendant you will be called in and questioned.  It’s a big big deal.

Research / Social Media / Gossip

You will be told not to research the case in any way.  You will be told not to talk about the case with your fellow jurors or anyone else for that matter, including your coworkers, spouse, best friend, favorite bartender, counselor, etc. until it’s all over.   This is going to be hard, but if you want to honor the case and the process, stay away.  You can’t bias yourself.   If you’re still coming in to work on the odd day between court dates, people are naturally going to want to know what the case is about.  You can’t talk about it.

The Case

Juror Notebooks / Binders

You will be given a notebook, a pen, and a binder.  The notebook is to, duh, take notes.  Some people try to record everything (and miss watching witnesses on the stand), some record Prosecution Exhibit / Defense Exhibit # / items so that they can refer back to them later.  Others simply record how believable they feel the witness is on a scale of 1 – 5.  There is no right or wrong way to do this.   You can’t take your notebook home and at the end of trial, your notes will be destroyed.

The binder contains the scheduled court dates, a list of restaurants, and a map of the immediate area.  This will be handy if you discover that almost everyone on Day One goes to Togos down the street, thus, massive lines and long waits.  The cafeteria down the street is not bad and the grill orders are pretty cheap.

From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

You will be surprised how quickly from opening statements the prosecution moves to calling the first witness or presenting their first piece of evidence.  If you think there will be some break or some time for you to adjust to this whole new experience, it’s doubtful that will happen.

If you’ve noticed any pattern so far in this blog post, it’s that you will be surprised.  A lot.  No, it’s not like the movies and TV.   Yes, you will need to unlearn a lot about what you thought trial was like.   No, it’s not like Ally McBeal.   It’s not even like LA Law or Suits.

You may find that it’s odd that after the prosecution provides this painstaking step-by-step process of introducing a piece of evidence or witness, that the defense painstakingly step-by-step must question that same thing.  You may think, they just said this, why is this other guy saying this again?

Foundation.  It’s one of the terms you’ll hear often as an objection.   Other terms you might hear are:

  • Hearsay
  • Misstates the evidence
  • Asked and answered
  • Speculation
  • Leading
  • Assumes facts not in evidence
  • Vague
  • Relevance
  • Argumentative

I’m not going to go into what they mean, but you’ll find the pace  and stops/starts a little jarring at first.  Like I said, it’s nothing like TV or the moves and the judge will tell you that, too.

Pro-Tip:   The court will try to make this experience as comfortable as possible.  If you are pregnant and need to pee, they’ll let you, even if it’s not a regularly scheduled break.  If you are hard of hearing, they’ll provide a headset for you to amplify the sound (take it off when Judge/Lawyers are talking at the bench).  If you’re diabetic or hypoglycemic and need to snack on something, you can have something that’s resealable (and not loud) or drink your water (from a water bottle) during the trial.  If you just need to stretch because your back spasms, signal the deputy discreetly and silently, and they’ll come assist you.

You will quickly find a rhythm once the process of presenting evidence starts, you’ll notice a pattern of breaks, process, and day-to-day activity.  You’ll not be freaking out when you walk into the building.  You’ll probably start to recognize the guys at Security, and they you.

You’ll see those Day One prospective Jurors and the looks of abject terror on their faces and smile and shake your head.  Oh, those were the days.  If your trial lasts longer than most, you may even feel like this is your “second job”.   You will be living between two worlds.  It’ll be a bit weird.  You may have even found your Juror friends you eat lunch with and hang out with on breaks.

This will become your new normal.

Deliberation

And then, all of a sudden and without warning, counsel is done presenting evidence.  Suddenly, they’re doing closing arguments and you’re finding out what the next step is.  You’re going to be shuffled out of the court room into the deliberation room with all your new besties to decide the verdict on all those charges or (civil case) compensation, or not.

You will be given instructions from the judge about the law as it applies to your case.   In fact, the judge will read those instructions to you.  It will take a lot of time.   If you’re freaking out thinking you can’t possibly write all this information down, don’t worry, you will be given those instructions in written form.

In our case, we only received one copy of the instructions.  We asked the court clerk for copies so each of us could have a copy to review and they did.  Your instructions will include everything.   Everything is spelled out.  You will even receive question forms, if you have a question for the judge.  You can’t speak to them directly, but you can have your foreman write them down and send them to the judge.  Know that those questions, will be read in front of legal counsel as well.

Be concise.  There’s only so much room to ask and only so much room for the judge to answer.

If this is a criminal case, deliberations are where those new best friends splinter like shards of wood.   Those of us in deliberation would sit in the Jury Room watching all the fresh new jurors laughing and chatting and we’d smile.  They’re still in the thick of evidence.  Just wait, we think to ourselves.  Just wait.

Choose a Good Foreman

You will be shocked at how something that clearly says X to you says Y to a fellow juror.  You will be frustrated that you can’t agree.   This is where finding a really good foreman comes into play.  They are your mediator.  They are the voice of reason.  Make sure you choose someone who is a facilitator, not a dictator.  If they have had previous experience on a jury before, that helps, but it’s not critical.  Pick smart.

Every deliberation is different so I can only provide generalities, but know that depending on the severity of your case, if it’s civil or criminal, there will be arguments, possibly tears, definitely outbursts, and the tendency to get snippy with each other.  If you can divorce yourself from your emotions and be respectful, you will have a better voice.  If you are a petulant child or a booming verbal tyrant, you seriously cripple your ability to persuade anyone else.

Be Heard / Fight for your Vote

Speaking of voices, don’t be the guy/girl that doesn’t speak up.  In the case of a criminal case, the vote must be unanimous.  If you vote in a particular way, be prepared to back it up.  Be prepared to answer thoughtfully and logically why you think the evidence speaks to you in the way it does.  Now is not the time to lob your immovable vote and refuse to discuss the matter further.

What doesn’t belong in deliberation because it just wastes time:

  • talking about evidence that wasn’t presented
  • wondering why certain witnesses weren’t called and what they might have said
  • talking about punishment
  • immediately finding the defendant guilty and forcing pieces to fit your narrative
  • ignoring the evidence you do have
  • ignoring the rules of law in favor of your own personal justice
  • the emotions of the witnesses
  • the emotions of the family, friends, or coworkers of the defendants or victims
  • the persuasiveness of the legal counsel

To be fair, it’s nearly impossible to do this because we all naturally want every piece of information possible to make the best decision.  We don’t know why they didn’t get that subpoena.  We don’t know why they didn’t have the defendant speak on their own behalf.  We don’t know why this piece of evidence wasn’t presented.   We wish there was a camera recording the whole thing to make this all clear for us.  Why didn’t they wear a GoPro with audio the entire time?

Your job as a juror is to use the evidence you DO have, using the specific instructions on the law as it pertains to your case provided to you, to make an impartial verdict.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” and “if the verdict could go between guilty/not guilty, you must find the defendant not guilty” will be a mantra in your head because the judge will remind you that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.  Not the other way around.  That may stick in your throat.  It may leave a bad taste in your mouth.

It’s not complicated, but it IS complex.

Deliberation is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.  Why?   Because it is so damn EASY to judge people when there is no consequence.  Everyone talks about judging and how we shouldn’t do it, but we do it all the time.   You’ll judge this post.  You’ll judge that lame link whatsername posted on Facebook the other day.  You’ll judge so-and-so’s ridiculous (or super insightful) Twitter comment.  You’ll judge blah blah’s political stance.  You’ll judge whether or not you want to walk to your car in the dark alone or with a friend.

We judge instinctively.

When you’re a juror, however, you (and eleven other jurors) hold another human being’s life (or business or finances) in your hands.  Your decision not only affects the plaintiff and defendant, it affects families, friends, victims families and friends – everyone involved directly and indirectly, deliberately and superficially.   And when you realize that, especially in a tragic criminal case, you will feel that weight to your bones.   If you don’t feel it to your bones, you’re not respecting the gut-wrenching seriousness of the responsibility you’ve been given.

It won’t hit you while you’re duking it out with the other jurors, snacking on M&Ms in the deliberation room in your comfortable chair.

You have the unique experience of intruding on lives of people you’ve never met in a very intimate way.   You have been given a snapshot into their world that is no longer ‘normal’ because of an incident that changed the course of history for them.  You’re been invited into a situation that police, detectives, lawyers, judges, grand juries, families, friends, coworkers, public servants, experts, witnesses, labs, etc. have spent hours/days/months/years involved in up to their eyeballs.

It won’t hit you while you’re looking over photographs or transcripts, dissecting a critical moment in time that changed peoples’ lives forever down to its minutiae.

For you, it’ll be like, “Man, this deliberation is taking forever.  We’ve been at this for hours/days.”   For those who anxiously await your decision, every minute is an excruciating lifetime.  In your hands, you hold the promise of freedom, the hope of compensation, or the noose of punishment.  You hold closure, or lack of it.  You hold the end of a chapter in a very challenging book.

Still, it won’t hit you.

 

Verdict

It will hit you when the door into the court room opens and you see that everybody is sitting there, staring at you, waiting on your verdict.  You will feel the anxiety as you walk to your Juror seat and sit down, feeling the thick tension of the room.  You will feel your guts churning with anticipation as you look at the plaintiffs/defendants knowing their fate is already decided, but they have no idea what it is.

This is when it will hit you.  This is when it will become very very real.

And then the court clerk will start reading the charges and your verdicts.  And it will hit you like a kick in the stomach that you have directly and unalterably changed the course of people’s lives forever.

This may be a point of relief for you, if the case was simple and evidence was cut and dry. This may be a point of exultation for you as you grant compensation to a wronged party.
This may be a point of frustration for you, if it was neither of these things.
The may be a point of torture for you, if your case was complicated, or the evidence was incomplete or inconclusive, or the verdict would have been different if you’d had “more.”

Know this:  If you did your job, and you did it honestly and with abiding conviction according to the rules set before you, without bias or malice based on evidence presented alone, then that is all you can do.

Justice has been served.

The Aftermath

There is a point when you are offered an opportunity to speak to legal counsel and other parties involved in the case.  You don’t have to do this.  If you want closure, or you want to ask questions, this is the time to do it.  Likewise for counsel.

You’ll get to know a lot of faces very well over the course of your trial and, I would think, the other way around, but you can never speak to these people.  When the verdict has been read, you may see on those familiar faces expressions of acceptance or disappointment, frustration, heartbreak, anger, or relief.  Or all of the above.  You may hear sobs of heartbreak or sighs of relief.  You may see nothing at all because you can’t bear but look at your hands.

This time is an opportunity for counsel to talk about the “why’s” of your verdict and what could have helped you make your decision better.  You have an opportunity to ask your own “why didn’t they” do this or that.  You only get one or more pieces of the knowledge pie during jury duty.  You don’t get the rest of the pie until it’s over, unless you talk to the attorneys afterwards.

Maybe it’s too hard.  You can’t face the families or the plaintiffs and defendants.  Maybe you have given everything you had and you just want to go home and try to forget everything.  That’s your call and no one can force you to talk to anyone if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.

 

Final Thoughts

Here’s the deal:  jury duty is actually fascinating if you approach it with the right attitude.  It is interesting to see how the process works.  It is humbling to see police officers, who can be a little scary, nervous on the witness stand because you see them as real human beings who are entwined in this thing along with you.  It is an education to discover just how different being a juror is to what you see on TV or in the movies.

It is enlightening to get past the assumptions of what you assume jury duty is about and actually do it.  It is wonderful meeting people you may never have had an occasion to meet otherwise.  After all is said and done, everyone involved at the public level seems to be genuinely grateful for your service.

I hope this post sums up the entire experience for me from the fun to the funny to the heartbreaking and frustrating.   That is what jury duty is all crammed into one surreal package.

The Fallout 4 Hike

I decided to make my hike fun.  Once I figured out that I had a theme, the rest fell into place.   Now, this page has a video!  Most of the same pictures, had to remove a few to fit the song.  Enjoy!

~Melissa

Preston Garvey is starting to grind my gears. Who’s the General?  Me. So why is that guy telling me what to do?  I should be ordering him to clear out Raiders or Ghouls or Super Mutants. Seriously, all I ever see him do is putter around Sanctuary and fix the same section of siding every single day. 

Whatever. I need some fresh air. Some new Settler slept in my bed last night so I ended up crashing with Maria Long. She’s a bundle of joy. Better than Mama Murphy, though. Ever since she went off the Chems all she does is talk about the good old days and how she doesn’t have “the sight” anymore. I get it, lady, you’re not as spry as you used to be and I made you stop taking drugs. You should be thanking me.

Asked MacReady if he wanted to come with me, but he’s all freaked out about some price on his head. Dude, you leave The Gunners – there will be a reckoning.  And this is a surprise how?  They’re mercenaries!!

I’d ask Piper, but as cute as that lisp of hers is, she asks too many questions. Yes, indoor showers were great. Yes, driving in cars was wayyyy faster than walking. Yes, Sugar Bombs taste pretty much the same, even though they’re 200 years past their expiration date. No, I don’t think Nick Valentine is “kinda cute”. He’s a nice guy, but he’s missing half his face.

I’m not asking Danse. He’s a great guy, but if I hear, “Ad Victorium!” or “For the Brotherhood!” over one more mole rat kill, he’s getting a Super Sledge to the knee caps.

I’ll bring Dogmeat. We can play fetch on the way.  He’s so cute with those teddy bears.

Probably best this way. He doesn’t get all judgmental if I don’t do things his way like the rest of my companions.

Yeah. How did your low-cost apocalypse shelter work out for you?  Not so well, huh?  There’s either a ghoul or a skeleton in a Trilby hat in there. Either way, not worth the effort.

Okay, so I’m off to find some place called Eagle Peak to activate the radio relay so the Minutemen will have a larger signal range. Easy enough. I like watching the dish thingies move up the poles when the power goes on. Fun!

I love those lion statues!  Seriously, I need to find that issue of Picket Fences so I can put them up in Sanctuary.  I think it’ll be a nice change of pace from all the machine gun turrets. Yep. The Settlers complain about those, too. And how loud the generators are. Seriously, people, would you rather walk the Commonwealth as Stingwing fodder?

I even put up a basketball hoop, but noooooo.

Found a bathroom. No traps to disarm outside the stall, thank goodness, but rather than a Ghoul or a Raider, I find this insanity. I don’t think I have to tell you how freaking cold it gets in the winter, so just imagine – if you will – planting your sensitive little tushie on one of these bad boys at 20 below.  Sure, it survived an apocalypse, but who in their right mind would use it?  Fine, you can squat for number one, but what if you had too many Mirelurk omelettes?  That’s just mean.

Water used to be so simple. Now it’s like a knife to the gut. And me with no Purified water. Blast. Gotta prepare better next time. I’ve been working out and since I don’t have a companion with me, I can carry tons more with that Lone Wanderer perk.

Oh great. It’s happened. Now I have that darn song in my head. Blast you, Dion, and your catchy tunes!

‘Cause I’m the wanderer

Yeah, the wanderer

I roam around, around, around

Oh well, I roam from town to town

I go through life without a care

And I’m as happy as a clown

With my two fists of iron and I’m going nowhere

 Pfft. I could bust through this creek easy. No need for Power Armor. I just need a good running start!

Okay, now which way? 

Okay, I know it’s just a tree, but you gotta admit that it looks a heck of a lot more comfortable than that metal atrocity back at the restroom.

It’s a wonder we – as a society – didn’t implode earlier. The sign clearly says to stay on the trails.  As you can also see, no one paid attention to it. Seriously, a few well-placed laser traps would nip that problem in the bud.

That feisty little shrubbery is growing out of a rock!  Pip-Boy salute to you, feisty little shrubbery!


Good gravy on a hot plate, I have to get up there??  Why can’t I fast travel to places I haven’t been?  They’re as clear as day on my Pip-Boy map as the ones I have visited. Vault-Tec, you suck.


Well, I guess there’s nothing for it except to hike. I have a Squirrel-on-Stick somewhere around here…  Synths? Fabulous. If there is a Courser among them, I’m busting out the Fat Man.  Maybe they’re just those weirdos from Covenant. Something is not right about them. Those people make my teeth itch.

Either way, time for stealth. I’m not interested in awkward conversation or a battle royale. I just want to get this gig over with.

Quiet, Dogmeat. We’re supposed to be sneaking. Your whining is going to get us into another brawl. Seriously, we need to work on this, boy.

Wow. Little out of shape. Strong Back perk would be nice. Mine’s killin’ me. That sink is looking pretty good right about now.


What the blazes is this crap with the hills?  I’m going to roundhouse that hat right off of Garvey’s head when I get back to Sanctuary. This is ridiculous!  How long have I been walking?  20 minutes?!  Feels like months!!!

Oh thank goodness. Croup Manor. (I hope.) I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!  Wait. I’m not dying, am I?  Dogmeat?  Where are you?  Come back here!  I think I taste blood. Or mutfruit. Can you have epicurean hallucinations?   I need a second to catch my breath.

Yay!! The radio relay!! About damn time!  Let’s activate it and get the heck out of here.


Okay, that’s not a bad view. I could go for a Cherry Nuka Cola right now, though. That climb was b-r-u-t-a-l.  Hey, is that CIT?  I think so.  Maybe. Oh it would be so easy to hit the button that sets off the reactor. Maybe later. My dogs are barking.

Not real dogs, Dogmeat. Don’t look so offended. No, I’m not going to replace you with that cute cat from the Prydwyn.


Beware of MUTANT HOUNDS, you mean. I hate those things. You know that right around the corner of that quaint little house is a Mutant Suicider just waiting for a chance to set off his own nuke.

Seriously, how they think they’re sooo superior to us “puny humans”, I simply cannot fathom. How can I take anything they say seriously when they can’t string a sentence together?  Except Virgil. He’s my homie. Wonder if the serum worked. I should check on him.

Are those Synths holding hands?  Maybe they’re the escaped ones I helped back at Bunker Hill. I should say hello. Nah. They’re enjoying their freedom away from the Institute. Who am I to get in the way?


Okay, I know I was lamenting people not obeying publicly posted signs earlier, but you and I both know that the best loot is usually on the other side of a sign like this. Okay FINE, I’ll be a hypocrite another day. Seriously, you’re worse than Danse.


Fine. I’ll go down the way I came. One last look for posterity sake. Pretty. Too bad about the Deathclaw, though. All I’m packing is my razor sharp wit and my 10 mm Deliverer. Last thing I need to hear is, pew! pew! pew! and then the sound of my own screams as I’m shaken around like a rag doll as my limbs are chewed off.


Wow, even with pictures people are jackasses. Shush. My thought was fleeting. It’s not like I went past the Danger sign. (Mumbling) This time…


Hm. This looks promising. Usually some good stuff in a bunker. I remember that time I met that gray-haired Brotherhood of Steel soldier at that bunker. Where was it now?  Doesn’t matter. I spent hours tracking down the distress signals of his Recon squad and still he’s an ant’s tooth from blowing my head off.

That’s gratitude for ya. Thank goodness for my adorable smile and Black Widow perk or there would have been bloodshed. I’d hate to have had to explain to Elder Maxson how I blew away the surviving member of his recon unit because I lacked the appropriate communication skills.


You know, there’s no respect for the environment. It rains freaking radiation drops of acid nearly every day, you’d think people would wise up. Maybe they need to be hit with a clue-by-four. I hate those Raiders. Not only are they the worst of the scavengers, but they have potty mouths, too.

 Forget it. Ten minutes wandering around like an idiot. I give up. Thanks for that super sensitive nose of yours, Dogmeat!  No help whatsoever!!

 I must be getting closer to a trade route. Maybe Carla has a bottle of  Purified water I can buy. I’m parched!


I think I remember passing this earlier. Did I see a ranger station?  I can’t remember. With my luck it’s swarming with Bloodbugs or Stingwings. Man, I hate those things.


No water?!  I’d kick this thing over if I wasn’t worried about knocking over a mole rat mound. This place is clearly mocking me.


Women’s is out of order and the Men’s is…locked?!  I mean, there is not a lock in the Commonwealth that I can’t pick, but that’s kind of a jerk move, isn’t it?

I guess if you’re desperate there’s always the sewer. Gonna end up there anyway.


Yikes. I thought The Deathckaw was back up the hill over that ridge. Seems odd that it would be down here. And ah, the massive log was happily attached to a tree as I passed through here earlier. Best to keep on high alert. Angry Deathclaw = bad news + several Stimpacks.


Now they’re mocking me. Whatever. I’m closer to Sanctuary. I can wait.


Nice. Wild fern. Wish I knew what to do with it. A flowing hat perhaps?


What the heck?  This thing has thorns!  Ouch!  Bet those Institute Bioscientists planted them!  The cads!


Ohhhhh. Well now. I’m not on the lookout for a male Deathclaw. Apparently there is a female of the mother Deathclaw type around here somewhere. I see no egg in that pile of branches and now I fully understand why she is upset.

I’m going to back away. Slowly and silently. I like my limbs attached to my body.


Upset was too mild a word.  Clearly. Time to skedaddle. Again.


Another product of the Institute no doubt. It’s not glowing, though. And it’s huge!  What foul shenanigans are those mad scientists up to now??


Are you kidding me?  That Settler doesn’t even know his child was replaced with a Synth!  The horrors the Institute has committed!  So low!  I thought creating 10-year old Shaun was tasteless, but this is beyond the pale!  They must be stopped!


I’m so upset I can’t even drink. Don’t worry, Dogmeat, I have RadAway. I’m so mad I’d choke anyway. Or bite off the faucet.  I’ll let my burning hot indignation satiate me until I return to Sanctuary.

That place has to GO.


What’s a tick?  That’s not a tick. That’s a Radscorpion.  And good luck with insect repellant. That’s like a misted perfume to them.  Tweezers?!  LOL. Try vice grips and a flame thrower. Better yet, a laser sniper rifle. You don’t want to be home when Radscorpions come knocking.


Yep, the Railroad is nearby. Good. Maybe Desdemona or Tinker Tom has something to drink. Maybe not Tinker Tom. Last time he injected me with one of his fandangled serums, I almost broke my nose when my face hit the floor.


It looked so inviting I had to. It tasted like nothing I’ve had since before the bombs went off. A type of lettuce maybe?  No rad-y after-effects either!  What are you, you sweet ambrosia?


What is that?  Rotting tato  and mutfruit?  Maybe a Yao Guai will wander by and eat it. They’ll eat anything. I know. I’ve seen the bones.

Drummer Boy got a little creative with the color, methinks. I wonder if it was tribute to the fair Desdemona?  I thought maybe Deacon and Desdemona were an item, but this will add some sparks to the mix. Plot twist!


I sure hope KL-E-O takes this crushed bottle cap I found on the road. Then again, what can you buy with one crushed bottle cap besides a wisecrack these days?  Inflation.

Ugh. Mirelurk eggs. Freaking piles of them. If they all start hatching at once I will lose it. Backing away slowly. Again.

Home soon. I can feel it. Just passed Red Rocket Pit Stop.

 Whoever threw this Molotov Cocktail obviously missed. No charred remains.

 My senses are tingling. Hope there isn’t a pack of Mirelurks nearby. I WILL shoot the gas tank and light. Them. Up.

Well, that’s a new one. Something you want to tell me, Dogmeat?  Huh, boy?

Not even worth opening the mailbox.  Oh!  I see Sanctuary. Good. I have a hankering for a Deathclaw steak.
Finally!  Home. What a pain in the butt. Lot of near-misses on the way back.

Whats that, Deacon?  I could have fast-traveled back from the relay?  Hey, maybe I forgot. Okay?  Maybe you need a knuckle sandwich. Better yet, you keep talking about a new face, how’s about I give you one in a kaleidoscope of black and blue?

Maybe I’ll borrow that pompadour as a chew toy for Dogmeat. How ’bout that?

 

Alum Rock – First Hike of 2016

I decided, after eating way too much food in general over the last several months (Stress eating, what is that?) that I was going stop whining about all the weight I’d packed on and since I was feeling like crap in general (I’m full. Oh is that a cookie?), I’d take stock for the new year. 

I was so tired of feeling tired and jittery (sugar shock?) and moody that I’d not necessarily go Primal or Paleo, but more “Natural.” Interestingly, I’ve been mostly Paleo since the first, but I’m not saying “You can’t…” because I know how well that goes over with me. 

I guess having the option makes things easier. Anyway, I developed plantar fasciitis a while back and it made every step over the last year and a half a total drag. So I stopped walking and hiking. 

Miracle of miracles, it cleared up right before our trip to Disney World. Yay!

I’ve been walking again, at least lunch, but it’s a boring jaunt on the sidewalk with cars rushing past that no amount of The Proclaimers can fix. Today was the first day I got a chance to be in the woods.  Walking in places with fresh air and plenty of greens and browns around makes me happy. The hike doesn’t feel like as much work as it would if I were on a dreadmill. 

I took a detour on my hike thinking I’d found a cool new trail, and ended up doing a lot of near-miss-land-on-my-arse mud-skiing. Riiiight. With rain comes mud. 

I took some pictures on the hike on my phone so I’m sharing with you.  Enjoy!  

  
In the spring, summer, and fall months, all I see are rocks and dirt. This was a welcome change. 

  
Why did I take a picture of greenery making its way up the side of a mountain?  Who cares!  It looks cool. You might not be able to see it, but there was plenty of miner’s lettuce, too. 

  
The path before me lies…a bench or a hill coming up around the bend. Believe me, if it hadn’t been spitting rain, that bench would have been my siren’s song. 

  
I just liked the look of this, really. Green in general makes me happy. It reminded me a little of Nahino Park from the 70s in Vancouver. Coquitlam?  Burnaby?  Somewhere around there. It had the most amazing statues carved out of trees. 

  
I’m a sucker for foliage. This spoke to me. It said:

Take a picture. Show your friends. Your classmates will remember what the Argyle reference is.

  
Sometimes you’re just walking along and you see a massive tree with branches twisting all over the place like an octopus.  I felt small in comparison. And a little nervous there might be some Wizard of Oz action about to happen. 

  
Apparently, this leads to frustration. As you’ll see in a minute. Several tricky moments there as I thought I was going to take a mountain to the knee. Or the arse. Or the face. Luckily, just a few chest clutching moments before I was back on the road. 

  
I have a carving my dad did of a face in a piece of wood. It was about the size of my forearm. This log is the size of a few VW Beetles parked back-to-back, but he could totally rock it. 

  
I’m officially now on the other side of the creek. Is life better on this side?  I thought so. Until…

  

  
What in the blazes is this?  I want to be on the other side. You are preventing me from this. I’m not amused. This is not cool!  Should I try and cross?  Maybe if I take off my shoes and socks. Give your head a shake, woman, you’ll end up the subject of an after school special. 

And so back I go. Had to follow the crummy hard road to get back to the bridge. Nothing natures to really look at except:

  
Wait. Is the sun going to come out?  Maybe?  Perhaps?  No?  Whatever. I feel like I’m seriously backtracking at this point, but the Achievement hunter in me is thinking:

Well, at least you won’t have to jog badly and awkwardly in place for ten minutes before bed so you can hit 10,000 steps on your walking app.

So there was that, at least. When finally:

  
Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou. Not lost. Ron would kill me if I got lost and subsequently eaten by a mountain lion. I write books about them as plot points, I’m not jonesing to be the main course for one. 

  
I actually saw this, thought of stomping on it to see what was inside, and walked away. Five seconds later I’m turning around to take a picture.  Come on, aren’t you curious?  Yeah it would be sooooo satisfying to hear it crunch wide open, but then there is that nagging fear of what would I do if a multitude of insects (angry, now homeless insects) came pouring out with little insect weapons of mass destruction and my name tattooed to their foreheads?

You’ll be happy to know I left it as is. I’m really not interested in sparking a war on humanity for a fleeting instant of crunchy satisfaction. Wonder if it’s still there…

  
Wandered past this little reminder. Can you kick a creek?

  
And another one. Whatever. I’m so over you, creek. And seriously, who builds a trail that leads through one?  Whose bright idea was that?

And finally, this. I had to stop for a few seconds and just record shaky cam because the sound of the water was so nice. It won’t be there in a few months. Heck, a few weeks. People wandered behind me as I was recording, but they were kind enough not to speak.  Another lady was beside me taking pictures. The hikers were probably thinking, 

Dead body?  Beaver?  Power Ball ticket?

 
And then I went to the farmer’s market. 

Everyday Heroes – Inspiration Behind the Novel

I always get so excited when I finish something.  When I wrote Real Life, I wanted to do something fun and light with lots of humor and (admittedly) some pretty ridiculous situations.  Still, I love a happy ending so all’s well that ends well, right?

The idea for Everyday Heroes actually came from a ridiculous (what is up with me and ridiculous?) story I told my girlfriends on a sleepover at my friend’s house when I was in high school.  I’m sure none of them remember it.  It had something to do with the heroine saving a guy freezing in the woods in some winter wonderland. She drags him back to her cabin, hops in a sleeping bag naked with him, and saves his life.  (And stuff.)

This is NOT that story!!!

Having said that (loudly), the idea of saving a life without even thinking about the repercussions is interesting to me.  I also had a few goals in mind.  I wanted to:

  • Write a book about a woman who has faith.  I didn’t want to get all preachy and annoying about it, I just wanted it to be a natural extension of who the character is.  Kind of like me.  (Except she’s a doctor.)
  • Write about people who, on the surface, seem to have the perfect life, but behind the smile, are secrets.  No one’s life is perfect.  Ever.  At all.  Ever.
  • Have a subtle heroic theme throughout.

Maybe it’s because I worked on a game about heroes (and villains – trust me, there is one).  I think people who work in service to others (military, medicine, teaching, etc.) are already heroes.   There were many people I met while I was working on City of Heroes who had some pretty rough challenges (medical, personal, you name it) thrown their way and that made a mark on me.  I wanted to say thank you in a small way.

Also, since my experience working in hospice, I have come to the realization that the average person cannot survive in this challenging field.  It’s too hard.  Only a special person made of unique awesomeness, who is willing to look deeper than a terminal diagnosis and all the challenges that come with it (physical, mental, spiritual, social)  – and still perform their job with excellence and genuine compassion day in and day out – can.  I’m so proud of them, I can’t even tell you.

Grace

I decided to make Grace a doctor.  And a bit of a Doogie Howser.  Look it up if that name is meaningless to you.  She’s kind of awkward. over-achiever.  Imagine, if you will, that this woman who has succeeded at her career so wonderfully and so quickly (years ahead of most), rushes into a marriage with (she thinks) “the perfect guy”.  Except he’s not.  She spends the next 20 years a victim of physical and verbal abuse.  The book actually starts after she’s left that situation and is trying to get on with her life.

Wait!  What the heck happened to that cabin in the woods with the snow and the hypothermia?!  Yeah, sorry about that.

John

Okay, now we have John.  He comes from a great family, a military background, and over the years has worked his way up the military ladder.  Tragedy strikes.  He loses his memory and he loses his voice.  He goes from being a man defined by his career to coming home (in his mind) “broken.”  Rather than face these challenges, he runs away from his family, friends, and the world in general.  I’m not a military expert or a medical expert, but I did want to look at how the world just kind of moves on without you if you let it.

So I take two lives of people who serve so magnificently in their careers and they both get punched in the gut.  Thankfully, that’s just where the story starts…  Challenge and heartbreak is where heroes are forged.  They push through, they fall, they slide, but eventually they get back up, and push some more.  I love that notion.  Strength and character.  Integrity.  Honor.

This book’s subject matter is definitely a darker path than the popcorn and bubblegum of Real Life.  Of course there is still humor and silliness, this is a romance novel after all, not a documentary.

I really hope you enjoy it.

~Melissa

P.S.  My next book isn’t even a Romance.  It’ll be something completely different.  Stretch out those horizons!