My Father’s Day Cards

This year, for Father’s Day, my oldest four kids made me cards, three of them using a questionnaire template that I assume my wife found. The cards themselves were sweet – they all wrote a different message or drew a picture. Alex, my oldest, drew us running together and just being guys:

photo 1
Jackson, drew a very detailed picture of me and his older brother at the movies …

photo 3

Izzy, my oldest daughter, drew a simple picture of us holding hands …

photo 2

and Autumn filled a card with words…

photo 4

It was their answers to the questionnaire that I loved the most though. They really showed their age and how they look at things.

1. My Dad’s name is: James (they all got it right). My oldest even threw the middle initial on there the way I use it at work.

2. He is ___ years old.   37. They all go this one too.

3. My Dad’s Favorite Food is: “that for the soul” – Alex (eye-roll .. the kid reads too much); steak – Jackson; soup – Izzy

4. His favorite treat is: chocolate cake with vanilla icing – Alex; mint ice-cream – Jackson; pie – Izzy.

5. He is really good at: running – Alex; teaching – Jackson; teaching – Izzy

6. He always makes me laugh when: He cracks a joke – Alex; when he tickles me – Jack; when he tickles me – Izzy.

7. When my Dad goes to work he usually spends his day: wishing he could spend more time with us (oh, how right you are my son) – Alex; teaching – Jackson; with librarians – Izzy (made me laugh out loud because it’s absolutely true, but I had no idea she knew that).

8. One thing my dad taught me was: work smarter, not harder – Alex; ballista – Jack (attaboy); not cry or steal – Izzy.

9. Before he had kids, my Dad was: much less stressed out – Alex (this one made my heart hurt, clearly I’m sending the wrong message); was lonely – Jack; was in school – Izzy.

10. My favorite thing to do with him is: just spend time with him – Alex (me too buddy); go to movies – Jack; read stories – Izzy.

11. When I grow up, I hope I can ___ like my Dad: be a human lie detector – Alex; be – Jackson (made me choke up a little); get a job – Izzy.

12. I know my Dad loves me because: he goes the extra mile – Alex; he told us 100 jokes – Jackson; he gives me lots of kisses – Izzy.

All of Alex’s answers showed me how much he is paying attention. It was really good to see and also a little eye-opening.

With Jack, his answers plus the fact that he made breakfast in bed for me as well tells me what I’ve been suspecting with him for awhile – actions are everything for him.

Izzy mostly watches Jack right now and tries to do what he does but she’s got her own little mind in there and she’s very smart.

A Word on Jury Duty (or How to Get Out of Jury Duty Even When You Don’t Want To)

2226745248_0b873b3b3fI overheard someone saying today that they look forward to jury duty because it gives them “a chance to see justice served” and had they stopped right there, I wouldn’t have anything to say right now.  The entire sentence, however, was “It gives me a chance to see justice served and help the police put a bad person behind bars.”

And THAT is the subject of today’s post: The role of the criminal juror.  Read all the way to the end of the post and you will get a free gift guaranteed to be worth more than whatever they’re going to pay you for jury duty.  The only catch is that you’ll probably have to go to work instead.

Here’s what I wish everyone who reported to jury duty for criminal court was required to swear to when they walked in:

I understand that I am not here to help the police.  I understand that I am not here to help the court system.  I understand that I am not here to help the judge.  I understand that I am not here to put a bad person behind bars.  I believe I am, in fact, here to do exactly the opposite.  I am here to be an obstacle to a conviction – and I understand that unless I am, an innocent person will go to jail.  At the outset of the trial, I will favor the accused, no matter what the charges and force the Prosecutor to present evidence to sway my opinion.  I will view all of that evidence with a skeptical eye and listen to the rebuttal of the evidence by the Defense with an open mind.  If I can find any reasonable doubt, I will not convict.

Here’s why every juror should adopt that creed:  It’s how our system is designed to work.  Almost everything about a criminal trial, in theory, is designed to put the Prosecutor at a disadvantage.  The burden of proof?  “Beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Think about that.  It’s huge.  If there is ANY reasonable doubt, the jury should acquit.  The composition of the jury? Peers of the accused (at least in theory, but that’s another rant entirely).  Have you ever thought about why we’re supposed to have a jury of our peers?  There are a lot of theories about what that concept means, but here’s my opinion: the jury is supposed to be able to see the circumstances of the case from the same perspective the accused would have.  They should be able to understand the state of mind and surroundings involved.  That level of understanding is almost never going to favor the Prosecutor.

There’s a part of us that assumes that someone would not be charged unless they were guilty.  That’s crap.  People get arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time every single day.  When someone is charged with a particularly heinous crime like child molest, rape, or murder – it’s tough to even start on their side.  Guess what – no one ever said jury duty was supposed to be easy and it shouldn’t be.  Someone’s life is at stake.  Leave the moral outrage and the emotional pain to the parties, the victims and their families where it belongs.  Jury duty should be tedious, boring, morally difficult work.  If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.  In the horrible cases, more than in any others, jurors should be hyper-vigilant in their role to protect the accused until convinced by the evidence to do otherwise – with a case like child molest, even a person accused and proven innocent is going to have a tough time going back to work, to church, to home, to their neighborhood, and to a normal life.

The Prosecutor is trying to take away someone’s freedom, reputation, and money.  Not to mention, potentially, their spouse, children, job, house, car and everything else they may have.  If they’re guilty, fine, there are circumstances to crime.  But it’s not supposed to be easy for the Prosecutor; it should be incredibly hard.  There are a lot of people in jail or prison right now because they feared how easy it has become to convict and they took a deal.  Guess what? At least some of those people are innocent.  I’ve met people who served more than a decade in prison for a crime they didn’t commit and were only released because of dumb luck and DNA that proved their innocence.

I’m not saying a jury should never rule against the accused.  Of course I’m not saying that.  Many of the people charged with a crime, maybe even most, are guilty of that crime.  I’m saying that at the outset of the trial jurors should be very skeptical of the charges and completely on the side of the accused – if not in their heart, at least in their state of mind.  Jurors should force the Prosecutor and Police to do the work to convict.  If they don’t do the job, they should acquit.

By the way, I’m not trying to belittle Prosecutors or imply that they’re evil.  They’re doing what they’re supposed to do at a criminal trial – they are seeking convictions.  That’s their job and most of them work diligently to accomplish their goal.  The problem isn’t with the Prosecution, the Defense, the Police, the Judge or even the system.  Our system is an adversarial one and if it seems to outsiders at times as if everyone is working against everyone else, then that’s proof that our system is working is designed.  The problem is with the jurors and the laws.  You’ve always had the power to affect the laws with your vote.  Now you know how to affect the jurors as well.

So if you made it through this whole post, I’ll give you a little bonus prize: The next time you get called to jury duty, come back to this blog and print out the part in bold above.  Take that statement with you to jury selection.  The first time either side asks you a question, calmly take out your paper and read it verbatim.  I guarantee you will be excused.  In fact, if the Prosecutor can manage it, most likely everyone else in the room who heard what you read will be excused as well.  Why is that so? After all, it’s true, fair and encapsulates the way our system is designed to work and every lawyer in that room will know as much.

You will be excused because by reading that statement you’ll have demonstrated that you not only know your role, but that you’re capable of “infecting” others with that knowledge and the very last thing any Prosecutor wants is a juror who knows what he or she is supposed to do … and that is probably the best argument I can make in favor of my position.

Weeding the Garden in My Mind

This image is from, and linked to, Olofson Design (http://olofsondesign.wordpress.com/ and http://www.olofsondesign.com), a clearly very talented maker of wedding cakes based in London, UK. To the artisan – You do amazing work and this image was perfect for my post – if you have any concerns with my using your image, please let me know and I’ll be happy to take it down.

This year for my birthday, I’m weeding the garden in my mind:

  • I’m forgiving myself for the things I’ve attempted that didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped.  I’m choosing to view those events not as failures but as (sometimes rocky) detours that led me to where I am, and I’m recognizing that without these detours I may not have any of the good people or things I have in my life now.
  • I’m giving myself the lessons I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made and letting every other aspect of those mistakes go away.  I cannot live in a state of fear or paranoia.
  • I’m evicting the two tenants in my mind.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in others.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in myself.  Neither has ever paid a dime in rent.
  • I’m giving myself the ability to grow by letting go of anger and resentment; toward others, yes – but mostly toward myself.  Nothing good ever grows in piss and vinegar and what does grow is contagious.
  • I’m allowing myself to not give up on my dreams; No matter how unrealistic or distant.
  • I’m giving myself to right to appreciate the things I have. I will not feel guilty for having what others do not and I will not obsess over the things I still want. Things are things.
  • I’m giving myself the right to be proud of my five beautiful children.  Who are brilliant little sparks that need my care and my help to grow to their full potential.  I will not be apologetic for letting them be who they are, I will appreciate who they are becoming and I will focus more on encouragement and less on correction.
  • I’m giving myself the chance to appreciate my wife.  She is the most wonderful partner in life that anyone could ever hope to have and realizing that without her companionship, support and love, I would have burned myself away long ago.
  • I’m giving myself pride in what I have accomplished in my life.
    • I’m an Army veteran who served proudly in a unit distinguished throughout its history for its courage, flexibility, daring and skill.
    • I earned two degrees in fields I’m passionate about.
    • I have a house, a beautiful family, and make a good living working with some of the brightest minds in the country for a company I still believe in and I’m one of the ten best in the country at doing the job.
    • I’ve taken control of my physical health to the extent that I can and over the last few years I’ve gotten myself into great shape with a lot of hard work.
    • I’ve bounced from hobby to hobby and interest to interest since I was a young kid and I’ve been learning and storing knowledge all the way.  The unintended result is a good foundation of knowledge and experience with which I can usually tackle any situation.
  • I’m letting myself embrace the things that make me a nerd.  I love fantasy and science fiction at least as much as I love classic literature and poetry.  I’m a huge Woody Allen fan.  I have an active presence on almost every social network and I’d rather read than watch football.  I’m a hypocritical grammar nazi (which means that I love to point out others’ mistakes even while I make my own).  I still dig hair bands.  I can read a book and listen to an audiobook at the same time and enjoy both immensely.  I really enjoy legal research.  I have a goal of growing, gathering, hunting and raising all of the food for our family.  I love to tend my garden.  I watch politics like most men watch sports, and, nerdiest of all, for about 3 months a year starting in June, I drop almost everything and obsess about the reality show Big Brother.  I even watch the live feeds.
  • I’m giving myself a minimum of 30 minutes a day to write.   There are at least four novels and several short stories I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade – it’s time to put them on paper.

Oh, and I’m giving myself an opportunity to take my sons to see Star Trek at the theater.  Tonight.

Memorial Day

20130527-114141.jpg

Not just today, but every day: to all of my fallen brothers and sisters, I thank you, I’m proud of you and I will teach my children about your sacrifice.

Airborne.

… and then I couldn’t breathe.

20130524-090220.jpgYesterday, I was really looking forward to my run. It was a short run day and nothing was hurting … not even stiff calf muscles. It was cool and not humid. The only thing working against me was that the pollen count was high and my allergies have been really bad this season.

I made it through my work day, finishing up right on time and MamaAcorn and I loaded up the troops and headed to the old Army base near our home for some track time. I love track days. Sure, going round and round in a circle is monotonous, but I like that I can monitor my pace on each lap and that there are no hills. I really can’t stand hills.

I watched the baby while the other 4 kids and Mama ran. With the exception of the oldest, the kids were all in flip-flops – which they quickly dropped, opting to run barefoot. The kids were constantly bothering Mama, but I didn’t realize it at the time. They kept trying to talk to her while she ran and it was understandably driving her crazy – she’d been a little on edge, and I was hoping the run would help – but she finished near a state of rage and I felt horrible for not catching on and intervening. Truthfully, I was too busy playing with the baby and marveling at my two boys running.

My 12 year old’s form is atrocious, his arms are rock stiff and he’s hunched over most of the time, but he does distance running like it’s not even a challenge. He barely even breathes hard and I have yet to see him build up any serious sweat. I’ve got him working a 5k training plan on my phone and he seems to be enjoying it. It makes me proud to see how he doesn’t quit when he’s tired.

My 8 year old looks like he was born to run. He said he was going to do 3 miles and I laughed and suggested that he start a bit smaller. He did 3 miles. He walked some, but he never really stopped. We always joke around here that his volume level is either silent or screaming, there is no middle ground. He runs the same way. He would walk 50 feet or so, then take off at a sprint for 3/4 of a lap. without much of a complaint. Barefoot. On a hard black-top running track. The boy is a marvel.

The girls each ran about a mile as well, but they took a lot of shortcuts and stopped to do things along the way.

Then it was my turn to run and I hit the track feeling great. I did my first lap at a pace that would have given me a sub-6 minute mile and felt great. I was only supposed to go for two miles yesterday, so I had intended to go fast – but that was a bit too fast for me so I dropped the pace a bit and settled into about a 7:30. I finished my first mile around 7:15 and then things started going south. Halfway through my 5th lap, I started noticing stars. Not in the sky. Everywhere. Then the edges of my vision started to go black. I was worried I was going to black out so I stopped at the end of the lap … and then I couldn’t breathe.

I’d always imagined an asthma attack would feel like I couldn’t take in enough air. It was the exact opposite. It felt like I couldn’t push enough air out to allow me to get air in. I was gasping like a fish out of water and the muscles in my neck started to cramp from the effort. The stars weren’t going away, I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a bit – there is no memory there – and I. could. not. breathe. That is a really unsettling feeling.

I’ve always had a couple of post-run wheezing fits a year – usually the first run of the season. I think of it as spring cleaning for my lungs – getting rid of the cobwebs. But that usually passes in 5 minutes or so and I can run the next day with no problem. This was far worse.

10 minutes. No better. 20 minutes. No better. At 30 minutes, we decided to go to urgent care. An hour later, I could breathe again following a nebulizer treatment and had a prescription for two inhalers and my very own nebulizer.

So yeah … apparently I have exercise induced asthma … and I think that sucks.

Lessons learned:

  1. Cool days with high pollen counts are terrible days for people with asthma and allergies to run according to WebMD.
  2. You can develop asthma at any age for any of several reasons.
  3. My kids, especially the 8 year old, need running shoes.
  4. When you’re going to run or exercise, you should have your ID and Medical Insurance card on you.
  5. There is an urgent care clinic right down the street from my house.
  6. Breathing is highly underrated.