Friday, December 28, 2007

Hillary Never Calls Me

Unless you live under a rock in a Unibomber shack, you know that the Iowa caucuses are on January 3rd. My parents live in Iowa, so I was there for five days for Christmas. During this time of the political calendar, entering Iowa from Illinois on I-80 is like entering a different world. You can't listen to radio, television, or read mail without being flooded with political "messages."

In the Sunday Des Moines Register, there was a map of all of the hot eateries or bars frequented by the campaign workers and candidates. There is much talk in my parents' neighborhood about which restaurant Hillary and Bill ate at the last time they were both in town. Morning Newscasts begin with a daily schedule for each major candidate in Iowa - 8:30 am: Sioux City. 10:00 am: Council Bluffs. Noon: Boone. 2:30 pm: Madrid. Evening newscasts begin with an accounting of how the major candidates spent their day. And so on, and so on.

The weather was bad over the weekend in Iowa and the big news was who still attended their scheduled appearances. Actually, the only one who didn't even try to make his appearances was Fred Thompson, who cancelled everything. I don't think he has a chance of winning Iowa now. Iowans don't like wimps who can't handle a little snow.

On Monday, Christmas Eve, I was alone in the house and the phone rang:

Me: Hello?


Me: Hello??

Hillary: Hi! This is Hillary Clinton. Bill and I are calling to wish you and your family a joyous holiday season and hope you have a Happy New Year. In this time of family and giving, I would like to . . . .

Me: Click. (I like Hillary, but I just didn't have time to listen to the spiel. It's like preaching to the choir.)

When my parents got home, my dad asked if there had been any calls:

Dad: Did we get any calls?

Me: Yeah. Hillary Clinton called.

Dad: Oh, yeah? What did she have to say?

Me: Just wishing us a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Dad: Well, that was nice. She calls almost every day now. There were three messages from her on our machine when we came home from Thanksgiving. We also got a couple of cards from her and Barak in the mail today. We haven't heard from John Edwards yet, but I am sure we will.

Ah, the peculiar life of Iowans during caucus season.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Year of No Presents

Two months ago, I suggested to my parents that our family only give Christmas gifts to the children and forego any gifts to adults. The idea came during a particularly dark financial time for me because I had just paid out of pocket to have a new roof and gutters (with gutter covers) put on my house. The cost ended up being about twice what had been estimated four years ago. So, I was feeling a little short on cash and not feeling able to give loads of Christmas presents.

There were other reasons for my suggestion. First, when I say “our family,” I only mean my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my nephew, me, and my son. We do not regularly give gifts to aunts and uncles, cousins, or grandparents, unless we spend the holiday with them. Therefore, my holiday shopping consists of shopping for a total of six people, four of whom are adults.

Second, it’s not like the adults in my family need Christmas gifts. My parents buy whatever they want for themselves. The things I really need as gifts (defined as things I can’t or don’t spend my own money on) are things like carpet cleaning, repainting my bathroom, refinishing my kitchen cabinets, or paying off all my law school loans. These aren’t things that make good gifts and aren’t in the normal gift-price-range.

Third, while I really enjoy picking out the perfect gift for someone, my brother and sister-in-law really suck at gift giving. One year, they gave me a hot pepper plant, despite the fact that I am not a huge fan of spicy food. To make matters worse, the pepper plant was infested with aphids and quickly infested the rest of my house plants. Another year, they gave me a tea kettle which had a huge dent in one side and chipped paint. Two years ago, I asked for the DVD of The Sound of Music. They got me the DVD of Mary Poppins. My brother said he thought they were “close enough.” Last year, they ordered presents so late that they didn’t arrive from until February.

Fourth, my brother and sister-in-law have no idea what constitutes an appropriate gift list for themselves. (We all email around gift suggestion lists, an idea that was started after the aphid-plant incident.) My brother’s list will frequently contain hard to find professional chef items or "investment" wines that can only be purchased at obscure online sites and cost more than $100. My sister-in-law’s list contains similar expensive or hard to find items. (Plus, it is kind of annoying that she continues to publish her Christmas list after converting to Judaism three years ago.) She also writes my nephew’s wish list, which once contained requests for a new car seat, snow boots, and a big boy bed.

Therefore, 2007 became the year of no presents, except for my nephew, my son, and the baby-to-be (coming January 2008). However, it occurred to me that this may not be a good idea. I started to think about the lesson this is teaching my son. What is the message when all of the Christmas presents under the tree are for one kid? (We were not with my brother’s family at Christmas this year.) It essentially is like his birthday, which is only one month before Christmas anyway. What’s the point, really?

I don’t want him to grow up and think Christmas is all about him. Although, now that I think about it, what kid doesn’t think Christmas is all about him? On the other hand, I don’t want to forego all Christmas gifts because giving is the spirit of the season and I have such good childhood memories of Christmas gifts. I don’t want people to think I am one of those crazy “Remember the Reason for the Season” nutjobs, mostly because I don’t believe Jesus is the reason for the season. But that’s another post, another time.

In my opinion, it was actually kind of nice not to get Christmas presents, mostly because I didn’t feel that inevitable let down of getting bad gifts. It was fun to focus only on my son’s excitement about his gifts (although he mostly enjoyed ripping wrapping paper). But I do miss giving gifts at Christmas that people really enjoy. My dad is still talking about the gift I gave him last year - a large supply of pretty postage stamps and a box of Crane stationary. He said it was one of the best gifts he had ever received.

I thought most of the way home yesterday of a way to solve my conundrum. I want Christmas for my family to be about giving and not just receiving. I also want it to be about spending time with family, talking and sharing stories and playing games. Oh well, at least I have another year to think about how to fix this problem.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


When my mother writes their Christmas letter, it is often funny and newsy and light-hearted. When my father writes the Christmas letter, I get tears in my eyes. It happens every year he authors the letter. Here is an excerpt of this year's letter, which came in the mail today:

Growing older is not for sissies. We've both become aware of limitations that weren't there before and we've developed some medical problems. So far, nothing serious, but as we get older, it's hard not to dwell on them. And it's hard not to spend too much time thinking about the past. On the other hand, having friends who have known (and accepted) us for 30, 40, or even 50 years is very gratifying. Making new friends has been a wonderful and an unexpected pleasure these past couple of years.

Hanging onto hope, it seems to me, is the main psychological task of these years, and we're pretty good that that. And worry! What would I do with my time if I couldn't worry? I read recently that Virgil Thompson said that worry was the one form of prayer he found acceptable. I'd probably agree.

When my oldest grandson was here for a visit about a month ago, he and I looked out the west window of the sunroom one evening, toward a beautiful late fall sunset. I remembered this little poem by e.e. cummings, which, I think, speaks not only to a little boy, but to an aging man:

who are you; little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window; at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Hoped This Day Would Never Come

I have already placed my order for the appropriately-sized straight jacket, protective eyewear, and industrial ear plugs.

My regular babysitter was over at my house last night. I love her dearly, as does my son. She is a really good babysitter but, unfortunately, she knows not what she has done.

When I arrived home last night, the babysitter said to me, "Oh, I discovered your son really loves Barney! We watched an episode from On Demand TV about manners. He loved the singing and was glued to the TV the whole time!"

I said, "Oh . . . great! I am so glad he had a good time." I paid her, let her out the front door, closed the door, placed my forehead on it and silently screamed. No, no, no, no, no, no, noooooo.

I really thought we could avoid the whole Barney situation in my house. I'm not anti-kids TV. I would be perfectly happy to have Elmo be a favorite, or Thomas the Tank Engine, or Rocket from Little Einsteins. But Barney? Please, no. I don't know what it is about Barney, but I just can't handle him and his friends. They are too happy, too nice, too sugar-sweet, too pandering to the lowest intelligence level, too . . . common.

(OK - I said it. Does that make me elitist? Maybe. But, seriously. My mental health is at stake here, people.)

So, you might ask, what makes Barney NQOCD but Elmo, Thomas, or Rocket QOC? I can't quite put my finger on it. But, like the Supreme Court and pornography . . . I know it when I see it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Twice Decked Halls

Last week, I finally relented and decided to put up Christmas decorations. I had been on the fence for some time, debating whether I really wanted to spend the time decorating and then undecorating. First, we are going to be gone at Christmas at my parents house.* Second, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through the hassle of keeping my one year old away from the tree/stockings/candles/presents/etc., even for a week.

But the mood of the season got to me. I love Christmas decorations, particularly the traditional Scandinavian decorations that are common in my family. I lovingly unwrapped the straw goats (Julbock), Lucia candles, embroidered Advent calendars, and various sizes of tomten. I put up the artificial tree and dug through the boxes for the tree lights. They were nowhere to be found. So I unwrapped a few more items and dug in a few more boxes. AHA! One string of lights. That didn’t work. Dammit!!

After digging through all of my Christmas boxes and not finding any working lights and then searching all of the boxes in the basement that could possibly have Christmas stuff in them, I didn’t find a single string of working Christmas lights. Then came the little voice in the back of my head:

Ms. PH - remember? You threw away your Christmas lights last year. Remember? You thought it was time for new lights? Remember? You thought you would get new lights during the sales in January? Remember? No, there was nothing wrong with your old lights, you just wanted new ones. Remember?

Groan. It’s all coming back to me now. The grand plan - buy new Christmas lights during post-Christmas sales because the old ones were . . . boring? Dim? Wrong? I have no idea why I rejected the Christmas lights last year - I had had them for about 10 years and they seemed to be working just fine. What is clear is that I completely forgot to buy new lights during the post-holiday sales.

So, stuck at home with a baby and no way to get new lights, surrounded by a immense pile of Christmas ornaments that need to be put on the tree or put away before the baby wakes up, I decided to put the ornaments on the tree without lights. I mean, how bad could it be? It would still look festive in the day time, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, Christmas trees just look dead without lights on them. I missed that Christmas glow. I missed the tradition of lying under the tree looking up at the lights. I missed the sparkle of lights bouncing off of ornaments. But, at least I had put the decorations out and the house looked somewhat festive for Christmas. I could handle it for a week, right?

Wrong. I couldn’t handle it. Sure, my son was thrilled with the tree even without the lights. But I broke down and bought new lights two days later. But here was another dilemma. To properly place Christmas lights, the tree needs to be bare. It is virtually impossible to put lights on the tree while there are ornaments and bead-garland already on the tree.

So, obsessive-compulsive Ms. PH took all of the ornaments and garland off of the tree (last count of my ornaments placed the number at almost 200) and put on the new lights. Then obsessive-compulsive Ms. PH put all of the ornaments and garland back on the tree.

One thing is for sure - I am taking a lot of pictures of that damn tree this year. And nobody better touch any of the ornaments!! Maybe I should do what my grandmother used to do - take the whole decorated tree (lights, ornaments, and garland) up to the attic and store it there until next year. But where’s the fun in that??

*Dear potential robbers: Don’t even think about it. I have a big dog who hates intruders and a security alarm. And the cat isn’t that nice either.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shirking Duty

I got summoned for jury duty a couple of weeks ago. I have conflicting feelings about this. First and foremost, I would love to serve on a jury. I think it would be fascinating to watch other lawyers work, as well as judges, and listen to what other jurors say about lawyers and judges. I also think serving on a jury is an important part of being an American citizen. Our system of justice would not work if people did not take this duty seriously. Therefore, I would gladly go and sit to be selected for a jury, no problem.

Another reason I would like to be on a jury is to ensure the widening of the jury pool. In most cases, people who are actually picked to serve on juries make up two types - retired people and unemployed people. This is a not a significant portion of our population and is certainly not representative of a cross-section of the community. Not that there is anything wrong with being retired or unemployed (well, sometimes), but it is incredibly unfair that jurors are pulled from these two groups.

I know a judge (who shall remain nameless) who once told me that the people who become jurors are the ones not smart enough to get out of jury duty. He may have been jaded after presiding over so many jury selections in his time and listening to some of the stupid and ridiculous excuses people use to get out of jury duty. Some of the dandies I have heard:

"I don't like to drive in the city - I can't deal with the stress of driving to the city for jury duty. I wouldn't be able to concentrate."

"I'm planning my daughter's birthday party this week."

"My dog is very sick and needs constant care."

"I can't be fair because I don't like black people." (I'm not making that up, nor do I support it. I was present when the gentleman said this and was shocked. He was excused immediately.)

So, because I have witnessed all of this, I feel a moral obligation to represent my section of the community in a jury pool.

On the other hand, there is no way that any attorney in their right mind would place me on a jury. Mostly because I am a lawyer but also because of the type of law I practice. I had to laugh when I filled out the questionnaire. At the end, it asks you to circle certain professions if a member of your family or close friends belongs to one of those professions. The list is: Judge, state's attorney, public defender, other lawyer, Doctor, Nurse, Police Officer, and a few others. I had to circle them all.

Lawyers tend to be an insular crowd. We hang with other lawyers, we tend to marry other lawyers, and our kids often become lawyers. Particularly in a small city like Peoria, lawyers tend to know all other lawyers and such relationships will normally exclude someone from serving on a jury. I know of no attorney that has served on a jury after they entered law school.

Too bad. A jury full of lawyers would make for very interesting discussion. Of course, they would never reach a verdict . . . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

Non Sequitur

I had to go buy a new ice scraper today because I have broken two in the last week. (I am a very vigorous ice scraper, I guess.) While standing in line to purchase my new ice scraper at Lowes, I had the following exchange with the man behind me, who was buying a Christmas tree stand:

Man: You know anything about tree stands?

Me: Not really.

Man: You have your Christmas decorating done?

Me: Not yet.

Man: What?? Why not?

Me: Well, because it is only December 10th and I don’t want to spend the next two weeks saying, "Don’t touch the tree, don’t touch the tree, don’t touch the tree" to my one year old.

Man: (laughing) Yeah, my momma was like that . . . she was a real Republican through and through.

Me: Umm . . . well . . . I’m not a Republican . . . .

Man: Oh, no, me neither - I’m a Democrat.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what political affiliation has to do with putting up Christmas decorations. I mean, religious affiliation may have something to do with what kind of decorations one puts up, but the timing of decorating?

I’m stumped. Anyone?

Friday, December 7, 2007

And Thus Begins the Season of Forced and Justifiable Jaywalking

Ordinarily, I am against jaywalking for reasons outlined here. However, when forced to choose between jaywalking on salted and cleared streets and sidewalks and walking on a sidewalk covered with ice and snow and falling on my ass . . . I choose jaywalking.

Let’s talk about the block in downtown Peoria bordered by Main, Monroe, Hamilton, and Madison. The following businesses/entities are in this block - the federal courthouse, a National Garages parking lot, Madison Theater, Euro Jacks, Gin Joint, Adam’s Apple, the Judge’s Chambers, and Hoops. Of course, the sidewalks in front of the federal courthouse are always clear and ice-free (our tax dollars at work). And, despite my extreme dislike of National Garages, I admit that they keep their portions of the sidewalks clear and ice-free as well.

Now let’s talk about the rest of these businesses. In the nearly seven years I have been walking on this block (and I walk on these sidewalks every weekday), I have never seen any of the businesses mentioned above clear the snow from the sidewalks in front of their establishments. NEVER. They don’t even bother to throw a little salt down, the lazy person’s version of shoveling. And we all know what happens to snow when it is trampled on. It gets packed down into very slippery and very uneven sheets of ice.

Isn’t there a city ordinance requiring business owners to clear sidewalks of snow and ice??

Isn’t there some moral code that tells these business owners that it is neighborly to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice??

Wouldn’t it just be good PR for these business owners to clear their sidewalks??

And, finally, (maybe this will convince them), do these business owners have any idea how many lawyers and JUDGES walk on those sidewalks every day??

Well, until any of these people wise up (or the city decides to actually enforce its codes fairly), I will continue to jaywalk to the cleared sides of the streets. And just in case a cop decides to issue a ticket to me rather than enforce the more obvious ordinance violation, I am prepared to raise holy hell detailing my justifiable actions defense.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It was 32 Years Ago Today!

Yesterday was my brother’s birthday. He turned 32, which makes him four years younger than I am. It is tradition in my family to share stories of a person’s birth on their birthday. Of course, we share the same stories every year. You would think this would get old after 30 years or so, but we are continuously amused by it. Here is my story of my brother’s birth.

I was four years old and pretty content being an only child. Life was pretty good. I had my parents all to myself and both sets of grandparents all to myself. (I was the oldest grandchild on both sides). I had my own room. All my toys were mine, no sharing. I was the center of attention. I was blissfully unaware of my fate.

My father’s parents (Grammie and Grandpa) came down to stay with me during the birth. My mother’s sister also came to stay to help with the baby. I don’t remember my mother going to the hospital but the next morning, Grammie woke me up and said we were going to see my new baby brother! She was excited, so I got excited. We all went to the hospital.

In those days, access to patients rooms must have been more tightly controlled. We had to wait at the nurses station for a nurse to escort us back to my mother’s room. The nurses station was next to the nursery and my Grammie held me up so I could look at all of the new little babies. Then my mother’s nurse came to get us. She was an older woman, very tall, and with a pointy-featured face. She pointed at me and said, "She has to stay here." She bent down to look me in the face and said, "You have germs - you will make the baby sick. Stay here at look at the new babies in the window."

Now I was pissed. Not only did I not get to see my mother, but my Grammie, Grandpa, and aunt were leaving me at the nursery window. My Grammie said, "Don’t be mad, we will be right back." I stood there, folded my arms, and scowled. (Even then, I had a pretty nasty scowl.) When I got bored of scowling (mostly because no one was paying attention), I tried to look at the new babies. But the nursery window was too high! I couldn’t see anything! So, I went back to scowling.

When my brother finally came home and I got to see him (and infect him with my germs), I was very disappointed. He looked nothing like my baby dolls. He was a very ugly baby. He was jaundiced, so he was all yellow. He also had a red rash all over his body and a really pointy head. Plus, we had to share a bedroom until my parents bought a new house about a year later.

It took me a long time to get over his entrance into my perfect world. We get along now, but it was years of sibling rivalry in our house.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Take My Client . . . Please!

I have this client who is not pleased with my representation of him. So, apparently, he has looked into hiring private counsel and has actually gotten a check to this new attorney. The new attorney called me today and informed me he might be taking over this client’s case. Here is the conversation:

Old Lawyer: Ms. PH, do you know I have been practicing law for 45 years?

Ms. PH: No . . . wow. (Why the hell do I care?)

Old Lawyer: Do you know what I say when people ask me how I represent my clients?

Ms. PH: No.

Old Lawyer: I ask them, "Who was the first defense attorney in the Bible?" Do you know who the first defense attorney was in the Bible, Ms. PH?

Ms. PH: Umm . . . no.

Old Lawyer: It was Abraham!! He defended the people against Sodom and Gomorrah!!

Ms. PH: Okay . . . .

Old Lawyer: So, that’s I how I represent my clients: V-I-G-O-R-O-U-S-L-Y!!

Ms. PH: Okay . . . well . . . thanks.

Old Lawyer: I think there’s a lesson to be learned in that, don’t you?

Ms. PH: Sure . . . bye-bye.

I suppose this might have had more meaning to me if: (1) I cared whether my client hired this guy; (2) I cared what this guy thought of me; and (3) I had ever read the Bible.

The lesson I learned? Hang up as soon as an old lawyer starts talking about the Bible. Jeez. Like I needed his critique on my legal abilities today. Have fun representing my client, Old Lawyer. He’s a real pain in the ass. You are perfect for each other.

Monday, December 3, 2007

One is Silver

Make new friends but keep the old . . . One is silver and the other gold. Did anyone else learn this song in Girl Scouts? I got to thinking over the weekend about how unrealistic this song really is. Sure, in an ideal world, we would love to keep all of our friends as friends. But people change and grow. Sometimes we outgrow our friends.

I started thinking about this because I received a Christmas card on Friday in the mail. I could have told you it was going to be there before I even opened the mailbox. It was from a friend of mine who I knew in law school. I knew it would be there because she writes (handwrites) all of her Christmas cards over the Thanksgiving holiday and mails them the following week. I have known her for more than 10 years, and every year hers is the first card I get.

She and I were study partner friends rather than "share-all-your-deep-dark-secrets" friends, but we communicated often while in law school. However, since graduation, we really haven’t spent much time keeping up the friendship. In the end, we don’t have much in common and the trauma of law school cannot form the basis of a life-long friendship. She has also become much more right-wing religious since getting married about four years ago. Not that I mind religious people, but I do mind them when they do not have equal respect for my views.

I don’t always reciprocate with a Christmas card to her. I have a disdain for "newsy" this-is-what-we-did-all-year generic Christmas letters, so I prefer to handwrite a message in mine. Of course, this means that I tend to send out far fewer Christmas cards because I just don’t have the time to write to everyone.

So, I started wondering, "Why does she bother?" I haven’t seen her since her wedding four years ago. I’m not even sure she knows I have a child. We live four hours away from each other and didn’t have the strongest relationship even when we saw each other everyday. Am I being a real bitch for wondering why we should still be friends? Actually, I am not wondering that. I am wondering why she still considers me a friend, because I can’t say I consider her one.

That sounds harsh - it is not that I hate her, I mean, if she were lying on the street, I would stop to help her. But, I don’t really feel the friendship stuff for her.

I have several long-term friendships, relationships that have lasted throughout the years even though we no longer live in the same city or state. There is some unidentifiable string holding those friendships together year after year. These are different than "time and place" friends, people I was really close to during a certain period in my life but no longer have a relationship with today. These are important friends, too because they ground you in the place you currently are and become part of that fabric.

And then there are those friendships that end with a "fuck you." You know, some argument ends the friendship, usually because one of you learns something about the other one that you won’t stand for in a friendship. Thankfully, I haven’t had too many of those in my life because those are the worst to get over. Those endings leaving you feeling the most alone. Those are the friendships where, many years later, you wonder about the fate of the person. And perhaps you have a little sadness from the loss of the relationship. But mostly, you wonder if the person is still such a bitch.

And then you Google them and see they have a fabulous life, a great job, and own a huge house. And then you feel better because you know they are still assholes. And you wish just a little bit that Google had revealed they were in jail instead. Or bankrupt. Or fat.

Come on, people. That last part was a joke.

Sort of.