Sunday, January 6, 2013

12 Wonderful Things that Happened in 2012

2012 was a wonderful year for my husband and me. Here are few highlights of the many blessings from this past year. 

1. We moved into a little jewel box of an apartment, close to downtown, and gradually decorated the apartment.

Family members donated furniture and their creative talents, so that we now live in a "Country French" style dwelling, decorated with a few family antiques and some original creations from my artistic sister and aunt.

2. We ate at Uchiko for the first time and instantly had a new favorite restaurant. 

Valentine's Day 2012 found us trying out an Austin favorite, whose executive chef, Paul Qui, was being featured on Bravo's Top Chef at that time. The meal was the best of our lives and I got my photo taken with Paul, who was later announced as the Top Chef winner.

3. I became a professional mediation coach. 

I've been involved in various aspects of mediation for about two and a half years, but this year I started getting paid to train new mediators working toward their basic mediation certificate.

4. A worthy non-profit organization that I had been assisting was approved for federal tax exempt status.

After a long application process and then months of waiting to hear, I was a very happy attorney when I received a text from my client saying that the organization had been approved.

5. My brilliant husband was assigned to one of the most important cases at his agency. 

If you know my husband, you know that he's a genius. His agency caught on to this, too, and assigned him to a team working on a major case. He worked very hard and spent many long nights at the office, but the end result was good and earned him a new workplace nickname: The Hammer.

6. We visited Niagara-on-the-Lake in the summer with my family and were able to celebrate our wedding anniversary with high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. 

Tea, carriage rides, butter tarts, lots of live theatre, and my immediate family staying in a Georgian-style house -- is this Ontario or a little piece of heaven?  

7. The husband and I each had career success.

This year we both received more responsibility in our positions and were recognized for our contributions. No one calls me The Hammer, but I do have a reputation for "turning coal into diamonds" in the editing process.

8. I co-presented a national webinar and it went well.

Some of you know how fond I am of public speaking, so you understand that the part that I am most proud of in giving this presentation is that I did not die. 

9. Another worthy private client had a major success at the end of the year.

Picture me receiving a copy of a letter from a federal agency and then falling down on the floor in a spasm of joy. It was a good result and better than I had allowed myself or my client to hope for. 

10. I updated my look with a new 'do and some Princess Kate boots.

In June, I got me some bangs and some darker brown hair, a la Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada. By December my bangs had grown out, so I asked my sister to cut them again, which she did, with me sitting on the edge of the bathtub and her having to pause every few snips to let out her nervous laughter.

Also, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge and I are boot buddies! I saved a little bit each month until I could finally afford the perfect ankle boots that Kate is frequently seen in.

11. We got to watch my little sister receive a letter from Hogwarts on Christmas morning, letting her know that she is taking a surprise trip to Disney World and Universal Studios.

My little sister loves movies, but especially Disney movies and the Harry Potter series, so this surprise trip, which will include a visit to the new Harry Potter park at Universal Studios, seemed like the perfect gift from my parents. My sister was excited, but her first response to the Hogwarts letter, which my other sister had spent a lot of time making, was: "In the movie, it's in cursive."

12. The Notre Dame football team had an undefeated season and will play in the national championships.  

What a magical season. Go Irish!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Disturbing Signs that I May Be Getting Old

I am now a coupon clipper.

I recently started volunteering in Austin a few days a week. The drive in and out of Austin is long and boring, so today I went to the library and asked where to find the books on tape. "Oh, we don't have books on tape," the librarian told me. "Do you want books on cds?"

When I told my girl A that my husband was entering a photo contest with a cash prize, she replied, "Cool. What are the tax consequences if he wins?" To be fair, my girl A works in tax. Then my husband actually *won* the contest. I called a law school friend to share the good news. "Great!" she said. "What are the tax consequences?"

Yesterday at a cooking class (yes, I go to cooking classes now), a Sun City retiree sitting next to me (yes, these are my peeps now) couldn't fathom the relationship between me and my mom. She guessed that we were within 10 years of each other. This may say more about my beautiful mom than it does about me, but c'mon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Commercial Competition

Hello readers. I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while. I was scared off from blogging for a bit and then I was busy studying for the Texas bar.

Now things are turning around! I would like to share a link with you to a commercial the Husband and I made and have entered into a competition sponsored by the state bar. (I apologize to my readers who are also my facebook friends for posting this twice).

If you view the commercial, you could be helping us win the "People's Choice" award in the contest (each view equals a vote). That means you would be helping hungry law school graduates afford groceries! Thanks in advance!

Here is the link to our commercial:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Sister Wives" Goes Off the Rails

In my last two posts about TLC's new docu-drama "Sister Wives," I tried to remain neutral. It's not for me to say if the polygamist lifestyle is right or wrong, so my other recaps focused on what surprised me about each episode.

Well, I can't do it anymore. My disgust with the show keeps growing each week and I have to let it out. The polygamy has little or nothing to do with my disgust. I don't hate polygamists. I hate this polygamist.


Even typing his name makes me mad.

This week we watched as Kody's third wife Christine went into labor and delivered her baby. This baby was her sixth (I think) and Kody's thirteenth. Because of Christine's age of 37, she chose to have her baby in the hospital, rather than as a home birth like all of her other deliveries.

Christine was beaming throughout the episode. Maybe she was just excited about her baby, but I couldn't help but think that she loved the attention. For the brief time that she was in the hospital, Christine almost had a monogamous relationship with Kody. He (mostly) stayed by her side and was (sort of) attentive to her needs. He only left Christine in the hospital once to visit and kiss his girlfriend Robyn and he only asked Christine's doctor about in vitro procedures to get his other wife, Meri, pregnant once while Christine was in labor. That was pretty good for Kody -- I give him a B+. Hours after the baby was born, twenty family members tromped into the hospital and everyone, right on down to the little kids, got to hold the baby. I'm not a doctor, but I was cringing thinking of all the germs.

Other noteworthy moments in this episode:

1. Kody leaves Christine at the hospital so he can "go home and change." He changes out of a blue shirt and khakis into a different blue shirt and jeans.

2. During Christine's labor, Kody asks Christine's doctor about in vitro fertilization procedures. The doctor, confused, glances at Christine.

"No, not for her," Kody clarifies. "For my other wife. Because she only has one."

"One ovary?" the doctor asks.

Kody laughs callously. "No! One kid! I'm in the kid business, man!"

3. In an interview, Robyn explains why polygamists usually have home births. "The hospitals want, like, all this information," she says resentfully.

Janelle chimes in, "And if the dad goes to jail, that's a bad thing."

Can't say that I agree with you there, Janelle.

4. Christine is amazed and delighted by the epidural she is administered in the hospital. All of her other births were at home, no epidurals in sight. I know women choose to have natural births for any number of principled reasons, but I can't imagine enduring the pain of labor without even the option of an epidural. But you know hospitals these days, they want, like, all this information....

5. While Robyn watches the kids at home during the birth, the kids play dolls. They have four Barbie dolls, one for each wife, and one Ken doll, Kody. The children move the Ken doll around the doll house, having him say "good morning" to each wife, then push the plastic faces together in a kiss. This scene is strange on so many levels, but at its most basic, when you guys played with dolls, did you ever name them after your parents and act out your daily lives? I didn't...

6. When Janelle holds Christine's baby for the first time, she expresses how happy she is to have another baby in the family, without Janelle having to go through the work of a pregnancy. Janelle is all about letting other people do the work! Hopefully the new baby won't interfere with her busy movie watching schedule.

7. Kody was surprisingly frank about the quality of education at the local polygamist school, though he struggled to define the school itself. He labored, "it's a.....organization....of home school...." (sweat starts to bead up on his brow, his eyes light up as he hits on a word he likes) "coalition!" (long pause as the wheels continue to turn, finally something bursts out of him) "It's not accredited! Most people have to get GEDs!"

It's not accredited? And if you graduate from this program you still need a GED? How is it even a school? It sounds like daycare for teenagers. Or jail. Actually, I bet you can get a GED in jail.

8. Kody's bizarre attitude toward women was on display in this episode. When his teenage daughter, Mariah, approaches Kody about her plan to someday join the military, a visibly uncomfortable Kody squirms and says, "I'm...very pleased with you, heh heh heh, I thought you were going to tell me you were pregnant."

That statement blows my mind. It sounds like he has given up on the possibility of playing an active parental role. His responsible daughter is obviously a stranger to him if his guess about her news could be so off base. Also, I gathered from the scenes of the family praying together in the living room that the parents are trying to raise the kids with conservative Christian values. My parents raised me with similar values. When I was a teen, if I had sat my dad down to tell him that I wanted to apply to college and then he told me, "Phew! I thought you were pregnant," I would have been devastated. What a slap in the face.

9. Over a romantic, 20th-anniversary dinner, Meri brings up her jealously issues. She asks Kody how he would feel if she were lavishing attention on a new husband, the way he is lavishing attention on future wife Robyn. Koby replies, "The vulgarity of the idea of you with two husbands sickens me." When Meri pushes him with more questions, he says, "I feel like you're asking me to admit that what I'm doing is completely unfair."

I will let those statements speak for themselves.

10. Over a romantic, 20th-anniversary trip to Mexico (how? how do they afford these things?!), Kody brings up the possibility of in vitro fertilization to Meri, who shuts him down. Later, in a weepy interview, Meri admits that she would love another baby, if that baby were to come naturally, but she is opposed to the idea of in vitro fertilization. Kody, sitting beside Meri on the couch while she cries, tells the camera, "I haven't been told no in a strong enough fashion to believe it really means no yet."

Thank goodness next week is the finale. I don't know how much more I can take.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Surprises on TLC's Sister Wives

Sunday night's back-to-back episodes of TLC's documentary series "Sister Wives" brought even more surprises.

1. Kody met Robyn at a party -- and Meri introduced them. I had been wondering about how Kody could have met and begun a flirtation with Robyn. When is Kody acting as a single, available man? He must have met Robyn at work, right? My heart gave a small, painful lurch in my chest when Meri monotoned about the party where they met. An even bigger lurch accompanied Meri's description of how she could tell that Kody was attracted to Robyn and so she suggested that they dance. It sounded like a wife's nightmare to me: your husband is out at a party where he flirts and dances with a younger, prettier woman; he leaves intent on beginning a relationship with this woman. While these episodes showed Meri's unselfish side as she encourages and welcomes the relationship with Robyn, it looks like cracks in the facade appear next week.

2. Kody likes children. I guess it's not surprising to learn that a polygamist likes children, but Kody REALLY likes children. Thirteen kids and counting is not enough for Kody! Kody's third wife, Christine is pregnant with a baby girl. She miscarried a year ago and, in an interview with Kody by her side, worries that her age of 37 will compromise the health and safe delivery of her unborn daughter. Kody, unphased by his wife's fears, says that he is glad to hear that the baby on board is a girl -- he knows Christine wants another boy, so he's hoping that she will still have one more child after this one. Miscarriage, tears, fears, and thirteen others notwithstanding, Kody wants more kids.

3. Robyn is looking forward to having three babysitters. Robyn tried to get her three kids in the car so she could take them to the park. The kids did everything but get in the car, including running around the driveway. "I'm going to count to three," said Robyn. The phrase sent chills down my spine. I haven't heard it in a long time, but some things you never forget. If my mom said, "I'm going to count to three," she never even got to "one," before I was doing whatever I was supposed to do. I didn't want to know what happened if she got to "three" -- because I knew that she meant business. Well, Robyn's kids let Robyn count all the way to three while continuing to run amok. Robyn, exasperated, turned to the camera and said, "I'm looking forward to having more help." I'm sympathetic that as a single mom she feels overwhelmed, but there must be an easier way to get help raising your own children, than to marry a man with three wives and thirteen kids of his own. Let's do the math.

1 Robyn / 3 kids = 1/3 of her parenting time for each kid

4 moms / 16 kids = 1/4 of some mom's parenting time for each kid

Maybe there's an economy of scale argument to be made, but I'm not buying it.

4. Robyn may have been in an abusive relationship. In an almost throw-away moment, Robyn, a divorcee, mentions that since she left her husband, she has spent the last few years trying to provide a "safe environment" for her kids. You hear about "safe environments" for kids a lot in family law when domestic abuse is involved. You don't hear it too much at the grocery store or over coffee. I don't think it's a phrase that would just slip out of the lips of someone who left her husband over "irreconcilable differences."

5. Kids are treated as a servant army. Parents love to enlist their kids, don't they? Kody's oldest daugthers got to make a 5-hour drive with their dad to Robyn's hometown so that the daughters could watch Robyn's kids while Kody and Robyn went on a date. Yeah, you read that right. Later, Kody wants to throw a birthday party for Robyn, so once again the oldest daughters are put to work planning and throwing the party. At a planning session, the girls squirm uncomfortably as they talk about how Robyn is young enough to be their sister. Well, Kody, that's what you get for drawing attention to Robyn's age by making your kids throw her a birthday bash.

6. Robyn got a big party while everyone else got -- what, exactly? Robyn's birthday party looked like a fun time, thrown at Kody's sprawling house, with people everywhere (but I guess those were just the kids and the wives? It's hard to tell). I wonder if the other wives get such big birthday parties. What about the kids? It seems like there would have to be many birthdays a month to cover everyone. I'm guessing the big party was a one time event, to make Robyn feel welcome.

Looking forward to more surprises next week....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Domestic Violence Escalates on MTV's "Teen Mom"

Amber Portwood physically assaulted her fiance Gary Shirley on last night's episode of docu-drama "Teen Mom." Cameras rolled as Amber screamed obscenities and repeatedly slapped Gary's face. Gary refused to retaliate, even as Amber threatened to throw him down the stairs. Amber then punched Gary in the face with a closed fist, causing Gary's head to collide audibly with the wall. As Gary fled the ugly scene down the stairs, Amber kicked him in the back.

Amber's loss of control came hot on the heels of Gary suggesting that Amber was an unfit mother to their toddler daughter, Leah. In a previous incident, Gary confronted Amber about her neglectful parenting. Gary had come home to find baby Leah screaming in her crib, which hadn't had a new crib sheet in days, while Amber relaxed on the couch in another room. Gary suggested that if things didn't change, he would be forced to call Child Protective Services. Amber became enraged, verbally berated Gary in words not fit to print, and then threw him out of the house. Gary took Leah with him, insisting that they would both be gone "forever." When Gary returned later to collect some of his belongings, Amber assaulted him.

MTV responded to these abusive acts by airing three public service announcement-type placards throughout the show ("If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence..."). The network also posted an interview with Amber and Gary on, entitled "Amber and Gary Discuss Their Abusive Relationship." You can watch the video here. The video could easily be re-titled "Amber and Gary Continue Their Abusive Relationship." The video shows a subdued, almost zombie-like Amber suggesting that in some instances she doesn't even remember attacking Gary. When Gary speaks up about how he would like to be treated, Amber immediately loses her temper and interrupts him to snap, "Don't be rude, Gary," before suggesting that he is the problem.

The video is accompanied by a short essay by Katie Ray-Jones, a domestic violence expert. She describes the interaction this way:

"She constantly interrupts him during the interview and dismisses his feelings. In abusive relationships, it is common for the abusive person to blame the victim for the abuser's actions."

I had a law professor who encouraged us to analyze legal situations by "going toward the ambiguity." In this situation, I struggle to find any ambiguity with regard to Amber's behavior toward Gary. Amber's physical and verbal abuse of Gary is egregious and it is documented by live footage. Gary needs to free himself from this relationship.

Ambiguity starts to creep in with regard to Leah. Has Amber physically abused Leah? If she has, MTV's cameras haven't caught it. Is it only a matter of time until she does hurt her daughter? I really don't know. Maybe an expert in domestic violence could attest to the mentality of an abuser. Is it a "once an abuser, always an abuser" situation or can the anger and violence be directed at only one person? Even if Amber would never lay a hand on Leah, what are the effects of Leah witnessing Amber's violent outbursts against Gary? Does Amber's filthy apartment and habitual refusal to interact with her own daughter rise to the level of abusive neglect?

Taking as a given that Amber is abusing Leah, either through domestic violence or neglect, what's next for Leah? She should be taken away from her mom to somewhere safe, but for how long? Until her mom can "get better?" What if that never happens? And what's next for Amber?

Domestic violence is wrong, no matter the genders of the perpetrator and the victim, but we can't help looking at a female abuser slightly differently. If I had just watched a video of a man punching a woman in the face, my first reaction would be, "He needs to be locked up." Watching a woman punch a man, I thought, "She needs help." My first assumption was that Amber's violent ways could only be the result of a chemical imbalance in her brain. "She's really hurting and feels trapped," I thought. "Fix her meds, get her some help, and she'll stop." Later, I questioned my own reaction. Maybe Amber is just a bully. She isn't a frail little girl, taking out her frustrations by feebly punching a pillow on the couch. She's a grown woman. She's training in mixed martial arts, learning to more effectively hurt people with her hands and feet. She isn't punching a pillow, she's punching the face of another human being.

I'm glad MTV chose to air the Public Service Announcements and to post the response from a domestic violence expert, but I think the abuse has gone too far. "Teen Mom" began as a show documenting the real-life hardships of teen mothers attempting to balance school, family, jobs, and a child. Season One showed the moms waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers and attempting to attend online classes with babies in their laps. Season Two has spun out of control. The day-to-day moments that made Season One realistic and winning have been eclipsed by a focus on never-ending relationship drama and by highlighting the abuse between Amber and Gary.

I hope "Teen Mom" is renewed for a third season, but without Amber. I don't see how MTV can continue to pay her and to profit from her abusive ways.

Monday, September 27, 2010

8 Things and Counting That Surprised Me About TLC's "Sister Wives"

TLC's new reality series "Sister Wives" premiered last night. It follows fundamentalist Mormon father Kody Brown, his three wives, and their thirteen children in their daily lives in Lehi, Utah. Here are the things that surprised me about the show.

1. Kody is a frenetic, fun-loving surfer dude. Where is the ancient, taciturn, and unyielding polygamist patriarch I expected? Did he refuse to film, so central casting sent this guy instead? I can't decide if Kody's goofy, teenager-trapped-in-an-adult's body persona -- particularly his lion's mane of hair -- is more or less creepy than what I expected.

2. Most of the wives work outside the home. I didn't expect the wives to pursue careers or education beyond the domestic setting, but Meri, the first wife, works and is studying for a degree in psychology while Janelle, the second wife, has an unspecified office job. Janelle openly admits that she prefers her career to housework, so she is happy that the third wife, Christine, is so willing to cook and clean. Janelle even says, "This way I can go out to the movies or do what I want." Paradoxically, it sounds like Janelle has more freedom than many mothers, thanks to the live-in child care provided by her sister wife.

3. They aren't farmers. I really had no idea that any polygamist families lived suburban lifestyles. Kody drives a nice car and works in advertising. The whole family lives in one spacious home loosely divided into separate living areas for each wife and her children.

4. Kody wasn't brought up as a polygamist, but most of the women were. Kody didn't convert to Fundamentalist Mormonism until he was a young adult, right before he married Meri, his first wife, who was brought up in the religion and always expected to be part of a plural marriage. Janelle, the second wife, grew up with polygamist family friends and didn't find the idea of joining an existing marriage "a shock." Christine, the third wife, came from a polygamist background and always wanted to be part of a plural marriage. "Huh," I said to my (only) husband during a commercial. "I thought the polygamist man would have to convince the women to join his lifestyle. This way it kind of takes the challenge out of it."

5. The women talk about marriage order the way other people talk about birth order in siblings. Christine tells the camera that she always wanted to be a third wife. She knew she didn't want to be a first wife because she didn't "want to be married to a man without anyone else." She didn't want to be a second wife, because the second wife tends to be a "wedge." She continues, "but they say if you are having trouble in your marriage to two women, marry a third and she'll fix it." She nods and smiles proudly.

6. The wives go on lots of one-on-one dates with their husband. Kody interviews that he makes time for each wife individually, so most evenings he goes out with one of his wives on a date. That sounds to me like each wife is getting around two date nights a week, while the other sister-wives look after the children. I know plenty of wives and mothers who would love that many date nights. Again, the built-in child care obviously has some benefits.

7. The wives admit to feeling jealous. I thought that the women would present an unflinching, united front in favor of their lifestyle. It was surprising to hear Meri admit that she struggles with feelings of jealousy that she hopes to one day overcome. Christine also seemed hurt by Kody's announcement that a fourth wife may be brought into the mix. Like a youngest child finding out there is another baby on the way, she seemed to wonder, "What's wrong with me? Why aren't I enough?"

8. The family doesn't seem to be taking any action to avoid prosecution. The family members use their real names and show their faces. They may think that they are safe from the arm of the law because only the marriage between Kody and Meri is "legal." The other two marriages are religious only. It's not a crime to be married to one woman and to have relationships with other women, they would probably argue. Unforunately for them, some sources say otherwise. I am surprised that the family didn't take more precautions before agreeing to discuss their family on national television. I am sure the sister-wives would be devasted if Kody had to go to jail or, worse yet, if Child Protective Services got involved and took some of the children away.