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!

Arbonne – No It’s Not a Highway in Germany

Arbonne It’s a pretty pretty amazing health and beauty company that’s been around for 35 years and I’m now – dun dun dunnnnn! – an Independent Consultant. What does that mean, exactly? I’m not sure yet. I just signed up a few days ago.

But I LOVE the products (especially the ones you see in the picture) and have been using them for years, so it made sense to take the leap (and get a bigger discount, at the very LEAST) and become an independent consultant.

I just created my own Facebook page and I have my Arbonne storefront so if you’re curious about what it’s all about, send me a message via either Facebook or my Arbonne site and we can chat. 

I highly recommend to anyone even slightly concerned about the chemicals companies put in beauty products, the environment, or simply what the ingredients are in Arbonne products – go to the main website and read all about why they use the phrase:  pure, beneficial, and safe.  

I Love My Body

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”       (Psalm 139:14)

 

I love my eyes.  They see the beauty of the natural world around me and guide my path every day.

I love my nose.  It smells delightful aromas such as flowers, freshly baked bread, and wet grass after a rain shower.

I love my mouth.  It has been perfectly designed to enjoy food that sustains, comforts, excites and delights me.

I love my skin.  It protects me from the elements and holds me together.

I love my voice.  It is the perfect instrument to speak love, truth, encouragement, wisdom, and humor.

I love my breasts.  Though mine have never nursed a baby, I know there are countless women who have been granted this miraculous gift.

I love my heart.  It beats daily to worship my Creator, share His gospel, love my friends and family, and it compels me to feel compassion.

I love my hands.  They were skillfully crafted to allow me to write, create, greet, fix, play, doodle, and speak without words.

I love my stomach.  It proves to me that I am well nourished.

I love my arms.  They have the ability to support the weak, hold the devastated, motivate the lazy, and push open doors of opportunity.

I love my legs.  They carry me faithfully to any destination I choose.

I love my feet.  They direct me away from unhealthy situations or guide me to help others in need.

My body is perfect.

The Paper Girl

The paper girl came into being on the day that Judy Lancaster, age five, drew her on a paper napkin at McDonald’s on a cold November evening.  She had no name.  She had no distinct features, other than two arms, two legs, a very large head, two long strands of hair, and a smile.

The paper girl appeared everywhere Judy went.  To restaurants, theme parks, play dates, or simply in the quiet of Judy’s bedroom.  Everywhere Judy went, the paper girl would be created and carted around with her creator.

There were times that the paper girl couldn’t see very well because Judy forgot an eye or she became too frisky with the crayon and her hair would cover her eyes.  But paper girl didn’t mind.  She liked seeing the world of Judy as simple or grand as Judy’s imagination would permit.  Judy would do a quick sketch, hold up paper girl, and tell her all about the magical land she was visiting.  Some days it would be a fantastic forest with giant trees, colorful flowers, and green green grass.  Other days, the villainess Weather would hunt her down as raindrops pelted into paper girl and washed her away.  She never liked Weather very much.

Mostly, paper girl loved how, as Judy would draw, she would speak to paper girl, as if they were the best of friends.  Judy always drew paper girl’s head first so she had opportunities to see Judy as she worked.  Some days, she would laugh and draw.  Other days, she would be focused.  Paper girl knew when Judy was focused because she would furrow her brows and stick her tongue out the side of her mouth.  It was in those moments that paper girl had all the time in the world to study her maker.

She loved her.  She loved that Judy took the time out of her day, several times a week, to create her.  She loved that Judy told her stories and occasionally drew special magical lands for her to spend time in.  But mostly she loved the way Judy talked to her, as if she were the most important thing in the world.

One day, Judy did the most amazing thing.  She gave paper girl a name.  Peggy.  Paper girl could not believe her great fortune!  Judy had drawn a picture of herself and paper girl in the same picture and as she finished coloring in the picture, she carefully printed her name above her own image and “Peggy” above paper girl’s.  She held the drawing up, smiling big, and said, “Peggy.  You are my best friend.”

Peggy (no longer paper girl) had such great love for Judy in that moment.  She had given her a name!  Her own name!  Normally, Judy would give her pictures to Mrs. Lancaster, who would smile and say, “That’s lovely, Judy.  Do you think she (for Peggy had no name yet) would like a spot on the fridge?”

Judy would giggle and say, “Yes, mama!”

So the old picture of Peggy would come down and the new one would go up.  As Judy matured, Peggy’s features became more defined.  She felt more coordinated, prettier, and more proportioned.  No longer did her legs feel thin and weak, or her hair quite so heavy atop her head.

Peggy enjoyed the fridge because she could watch the family at dinner time.  Mrs. Lancaster would prepare dinner.  Mr. Lancaster would come in, grab a taste of whatever was in the pot, and scoot away before Mrs. Lancaster could push him away.  Peggy knew she wasn’t mad, though.  Mrs. Lancaster always smiled and she shooed him off.  Peggy thought Mr. Lancaster did it on purpose because it made his wife smile.

Judy’s little brother, Joey, would sometimes come into the kitchen and do mean things to her like draw over her eyes in black pencil so she couldn’t see, or tear the paper and cut off her legs.  Peggy didn’t like Joey very much.  He always wanted to make Judy angry or sad.  Some days, he would even snatch Peggy from the fridge and crumple her up.  That made Peggy afraid until, the next time, Judy would draw her once again.

The times between drawings seemed like an eternity to Peggy.  She had no body.  No mouth.  No ears.  All she had was time.  Time to think.  Time to dream.  Time to wonder.  Time to worry.  Some days Peggy worried that Judy would draw another friend and Peggy would only exist as a memory.

Right around the time that Peggy would start to grow fearful, she’d feel the familiar caress of crayon and feel so much better.  Judy still loved her.  As the years went by, crayon was replaced by pencil crayon, pastels, or simply a Bic pen.  Peggy blossomed from a simple stick figure to a young girl and, eventually, a teen.  She and Judy grew up together.

Judy, now thirteen, would sketch Peggy and tell her all her secrets.   Most of them were not a surprise to Peggy.  She’d grown up with Judy.  But Peggy loved that Judy shared with her.  It meant a lot to her that she was Judy’s secret friend.  Sometimes, Judy would draw a heart and her initials along with the initials of a boy she liked.  Other times, when she was upset, her tears would fall onto Peggy and begin to wash her away.  In those times, Peggy did not fear extinction, she simply wanted to make Judy’s tears go away.

Peggy wished and dreamed that one day she would be able to speak.  Or blink.  Or move.  If only to show Judy how much she cared about her.  But try as she might, she was a spectator in her own existence.  If Judy placed her in her pocket, she could imagine what she was looking at, but mostly she only saw the inside of fabric.

As Judy grew up, Peggy’s world changed.  No longer were there elaborate details and grand landscapes in which Peggy would hold center stage.  Her existence became doodles once again.  Judy didn’t speak to Peggy as she did when she was a child.  She was seventeen now and much too grown up for such things.  Peggy missed her confidences with Judy, but she was grateful for the times she’d peek out from a textbook, or as an aside in a diary entry.

Once, Joey, now a teenager, got hold of a sketch of Peggy and humiliated Peggy more than she could bear.  He erased her clothes and exposed her private places.  He drew male genitalia near her image and wrote coarse words.  Peggy saw the look on his face.  There was no love.  No affection.  Just cruel and selfish pleasure in defiling an image Judy had so carefully created.

Peggy felt ashamed.  She wished she could move her arms to cover herself, but all she could do was bear the humiliation.  It worsened when Joey crammed the picture into his pocket and showed all of his friends at school the next day.  The boys laughed and pointed at Peggy’s private places, passing her around from hand to hand to hand.  She was helpless and distraught.

Luckily, one of the teacher’s discovered the picture and Peggy’s existence was extinguished with a lighter.  The flames burned hot and it was scary to disappear in such a distressing way, but Peggy welcome the momentary agony.  Once the sketch was burnt, she fell back into nothingness once again.

The next time Judy drew her, she was angry.  Not at Peggy.  But at Joey.  She’d long ago stopped putting Peggy on the refrigerator, but now she would lock her door, too.  She mumbled, maybe a little to Peggy but mostly to herself about privacy and respect.  Peggy wholeheartedly agreed.  Judy folded her up, placed Peggy in her scrapbook, and there Peggy waited.

This time, she waited a very very long time.  Judy didn’t sketch her on a napkin, or a receipt, or even the corner of her school notebook.  Time began to move slowly and Peggy felt herself become faint.  She could feel herself ebbing away.  Was this dying?  Was Judy forgetting her?  Peggy didn’t know, but it made her sad.

Soon, Peggy didn’t remember days.  Or weeks.  Or months.  She didn’t remember what Judy looked like, or her teen voice.  She only remembered, vaguely at best, moments.  Snapshots.  Judy’s voice as a child.  A knowing smile from Mr. Lancaster.  Joey, thankfully, became hazy, too.

Then one day, much to Peggy’s amazement, her eyes came to be once again and she looked up at Judy.  But this time, Judy wasn’t a teenager.  She was a woman of thirty.  She held up Peggy and then turned it around.  There, before her, was a child version of Judy.  The little girl laughed and tried to reach for the picture of Peggy to stuff it in her mouth, but Judy held it back.

“She is my favorite childhood friend, pumpkin, you can’t put her in your mouth.”

Peggy wanted to cry with joy.  Judy turned the paper back around and looked at Peggy for a long while.  Something in her gaze grew wistful, then she smiled.  Her voice was quiet, she was only speaking to Peggy now.  “Hello, Peggy.  It has been a while.”

Peggy wished she could nod.  Or speak.  She would tell Judy how much she missed her and loved her.  How proud of her she was that she created another wonderful being.  Peggy even had a moment to meet Judy’s husband, Andrew.  He was handsome.  He seemed kind.  He hugged Judy and told her she was an exceptional artist.  Then he asked her why she never sketched more often.

For a time, Judy did sketch more often.  Once again, Peggy had center stage in the kitchen and she would be able to watch Judy and her family.  First it was just pumpkin, who later turned out to be Mary.  Then along came Ruth.  Finally, a few years later, they were joined by Christopher.  Each day, from her place on the refrigerator, Peggy would lovingly watch the (now) Simpson family live their lives.  Some days, the girls would come by and greet her.  Other days, they would draw their own friends and Peggy would smile at them.  They would smile back.  It was wonderful to be loved.

Years passed, eventually Peggy was replaced by the children’s artwork and Peggy was placed in a drawer.  For a time, she’d catch a glimpse of a family member, but as the drawer became more full, papers or pens or grocery receipts would end up obstructing Peggy’s vision.  Soon, all she could do was wait and wonder.  Eventually, Peggy was packed away in a box with other artwork and keepsakes.

And time slowed once again.  The near-end.  Peggy heard the whispers of the other sketches in the drawer with her.  They were afraid.  They worried the girls had forgotten about them.  They were fearful of forgetting themselves.  Peggy understood.  She tried to reassure them, but the ending was a part of the beginning.  It happened and there was nothing they could do about it.

After a time, even the other pictures did not speak.  There were no words.  Only memories that grew gray each passing day.  Hope faded.  Time slowed.  And eternity set in again, dark and lonely.  Peggy grew weaker.  Her memories dimmed.  She waited for the end.

One day, she was pulled from the box by a lady of about 40 years.  The lady gasped in surprise when she looked at Peggy.

“Oh my gosh!” she cried.  “David, come here!  Look at this.”

Exhausted and tired, her eyes dim from crinkles, Peggy looked up at the man’s handsome face as he gazed down at her questioningly.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“My mom drew this years ago.  I had totally forgotten about it.”  The lady’s eyes crinkled at the edges as she smiled.  “I think this would make her happy.  I’m going to take it to her.”

“Great idea, Ru.  She’ll like that.”  The man squeezed Ruth’s shoulder and kissed her on top of the head.

Peggy was cleaned up and placed inside a very expensive frame.  It felt strange to have glass press her in, but she was so crinkly, it was hard to keep upright anyway.  Soon after, she heard the wrapping paper and tape.  She was a present.

Peggy hoped Judy would be glad to see her.  She wondered how she was.  Had she changed much?  Would she remember Peggy?  Peggy was so excited, she tripped over her thoughts as they came rushing back.

Finally, the wrapping came off and Peggy at long last had a chance to see Judy again.  Judy was in a hospital bed and her hair was white and her face crinkled like Peggy’s.  She had a long plastic tube that came out of her arm that attached to a bag on a silver pole.  She looked tired and weak, like Peggy.  But when she saw Peggy her eyes widened and she smiled.

“Oh, Peggy,” Judy whispered, her voice barely above a caress.  “Please, Ruth, bring her here.  Let me see.”

Ruth placed Peggy on the table in front of Judy.  Judy stared at Peggy for a long time.  Then she smiled tiredly and said, “I’ve missed you.”  Ruth and Judy spent some time together, but Ruth had to leave to take care of her own children.

Peggy and Judy spent all of their time together.  Judy caught Peggy up on her life and, once again, told Peggy all of her secrets, fears, and dreams.  Some days, Judy was too tired or too sick to spend time with Peggy.  Peggy didn’t mind.  She would watch over Judy and that was enough.

One day, Judy did not wake up.  They placed a sheet over her head and took her away.  Peggy was afraid that one of the people at the hospital would throw her away, but Ruth rescued her.

Ruth cried, but she took Peggy with her to the pretty park with cement crosses.  She brought Peggy into a special room with a wooden bed and a lid and people wore dark colors.  They cried sad tears over Judy.  Peggy recognized some faces, though they had aged quite a bit.

When the ceremony was over and people had finished saying nice things about Judy, Ruth placed Peggy with Judy inside the wooden bed with the lid and gently placed Judy’s hand over Peggy’s frame.  The lid closed, but Peggy wasn’t afraid.  She was with Judy now.  Forever.  Peggy was tired.  This time, she was ready.  She knew it was okay to go away.  Judy hadn’t forgotten her at all.  She had just gone to sleep.

Peggy took a final moment to remember that special day in McDonald’s so many years ago, and then she ceased to be.