Friday, January 9, 2015

My Day in Court

A few hours in court gave me some good writing material.

Since I’m anal and need to know details, I drove into Portland yesterday to make sure I knew where the courthouse was and where a parking garage was so that I wouldn’t have to deal with that uncertainty in the morning.

Once I parked, did my best not to slip and fall on the snow-covered brick sidewalks, and found the entrance to the courthouse, I had to go through security. And, of course, I set off the alarm. Those damn Alex and Ani bracelets.

Next I headed to the elevator. As luck would have it, I managed to get in with the craziest dude out of all 130 prospective jurors. Thankfully there were two other women in there because it would’ve been scary being trapped in there with him alone. He had long hair, was dressed in a long, black, billowy jacket, and well-worn boots. His gestures and comments were all bizarre. The other women and I didn’t know how to respond, so we all had that weird grin and an occasional forced, nervous laugh. His unusual behavior continued in the juror room (after he found the sixth seat in the sixth row--where he claimed he always had to sit) and in the courtrooms.

The juror assembly room was pretty uneventful other than having twice the amount of people than chairs. Thankfully I am a prompt person, so was there in time to get a seat.

Once we received some directions, we were ushered into a courtroom. While waiting for the judge to enter, we watched an informational video. This was an interesting set-up. We were a large group in a fairly large room. They had two small box television sets propped on tables that played VHS tapes. Maybe the courts could invest in a screen that people could actually see? Or update the VHS, which based on the styles worn, was a bit dated. It’s 2015 people.

Next I was seated near a woman who did a lot of fidgeting with her purse. At one point her Marlboros fell onto the floor. Then she kept reaching in for a snack. May I suggest that next time you choose a quieter snack than Sun Chips? I was having a hard time hearing the 80s fashioned man on that miniscule TV with the low volume over your freakishly loud bag.

Later they dismissed the even numbered jurors for the day. I was an odd numbered juror, so I got to stay and was moving to another courtroom where the actual selection would take place. Once we took our places as sardines on wooden benches, we waited for the judge to arrive. When a clerk entered and said, “Please rise!”, the guy next to me did not rise. When we were sworn in, he did not rise or put his right hand up. He was just not conforming to these unreasonable requests.

Then the woman in front of me was knitting most of the time. The paper with guidelines that we received specified no knitting needles in the courtroom. When we were in courtroom number one we were told no knitting needles in the courtroom. Yet this woman was knitting away. This was also the same woman who delayed the juror selection process from getting started. After all of our numbers were called for attendance, it was asked if there was anyone in the room who had not been called. She raised her hand. Turns out she didn’t write her juror number on her card that we had to turn in. It was a very simple card with very simple directions requesting very simple information. After much deliberation, she ended up having to complete a new card.

The part where we were asked questions that would potentially rule out people based on their connection with the people who are part of the trial or any topic related to it was interesting. I didn’t stand up for anything. Yet there were some people who stood up for so many topics. And some were really a bit of a stretch. For example, the judge says, “Is there anyone here who is a medical professional who is familiar with orthopedics or know anyone who is?” A man stands up. When questioned further, it turns out it was his uncle’s cousin’s roommate’s mother’s ex-boyfriend that he met once twenty years ago. This happened time and time again. Most agreed that this would not impact their ability to be an impartial juror. Some people stood up so much that we memorized their juror numbers and you’d hear an, “Are you serious?” groan from the crowd.

Along with the funny parts of the day, I did meet some nice people. At first I was seated next to a kind lady who was much like me in regard to her thought process. And we were both lefties. I was also near the woman whom we bought our house from back in 2000. Then I was seated with a man wearing a Steelers hat. That gave us something to talk about which led to further conversation. As I was leaving a woman said I looked familiar. It turns out she works at my kid’s school. When I went through security, the man who lives at the end of my street was one of the men doing it. I’ve lived on this street almost 15 years and we’ve never met, but I know him by face. Now I know where he works.

After the lengthy process, I was not selected to be on this particular trial, but I do have to return Monday to see if I get selected for another one. With a bit of relief, I put on my coat and headed to the parking garage. I knew I parked on level 3. Yet I just could not find my car. I walked around and soon I was on level 4, so I went back down and just could not see my vehicle. I don’t know how they create parking garages, but they’re screwy. Eventually I found it. That was the hardest part of my whole day. Walking aimlessly in a parking garage even though I knew what level I was on. Some days I scare myself. Do they really want me serving on a jury and making important decisions? They may want to reconsider.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More Than a Drop in the Bucket

If you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge that’s sweeping the country, you either live under a rock or don’t belong to any social media platforms. In that case, you won’t see this post either.

As I watched my Facebook wall fill up with videos from this challenge, I kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be called out. Not because I didn’t think it was for a good cause, but because I’m a sissy with cold water. I can barely get in a pool if the water temperature is below 85 degrees. Just sticking my toe in the cold Atlantic gives me frostbite. Even in the summer I still take a scorching hot shower. Yep...a bit of a cold water sissy.

Anyway, Jason was the first in our house to be challenged. I feared he would call my name, but he knew I didn’t want to, so being the thoughtful (or fearful) husband that he is, he didn’t do it. Then Abby was called out by a friend. She wanted to nominate me, but I was sly and convinced her to choose her friends. But then my luck ran out. I was nominated by my friend, Jill. I completed the challenge and screamed as that icy water dripped down my back, causing instant hypothermia. After a hot shower and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee to warm up my shivery bones, I made my donation to Simple.

Like with most everything today, some people have tried to put a negative light on this. I’ve come across a number of articles that try to put an unfavorable spin on the whole thing. Really? What’s the point? If someone truly doesn’t want to do the challenge, they are not required to do so. If they don’t complete the challenge they are supposed to donate $100. However, there are no ice bucket police going around arresting those who don’t donate. The challenge and donating are done by choice.

There really isn’t a negative to this event. For those who weren’t familiar with the neurodegenerative disease known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, there is now more awareness. Also, as of today, the ALS Association has surpassed $10 million in “ice bucket” donations. This provides funds to help fight this incurable disease that usually takes the life of a person within 2 to 5 years of being diagnosed. In addition to these important reasons, it seems people are having fun doing it. Awareness, raising money, and fun...hmmm...don’t see the issue.

If ALS isn’t what you’re interested in supporting, choose something that is meaningful to you. Run a 5K to raise money for cancer research. Join a walk to support the National Kidney Foundation. Or just make a cash donation to another foundation that is important to you or someone in your life. It’s up to you!

So while I didn’t necessarily love the icy water pouring down my body, I did like the overall premise of this challenge. It was started with good intentions and it appears to have made a positive impact for the ALS Association. Laughing along with these videos and having fun with friends and family seems like a pretty good side effect to the cause.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Life…A Race Worth Winning

Today was the 17th annual Beach to Beacon 10K road race. The course begins just past Crescent Beach and ends at the scenic Portland Headlight…hence the name Beach to Beacon. It is a huge event, but runs like a well-oiled machine. The last 3 miles or so of the race are quite hilly, so it is a challenge. However, not nearly as much of a challenge as getting a coveted bib for the race. On that day in March, at 7:00 a.m. when the registration opens, there are fingers frantically typing all over the U.S. in hopes of getting into the race. It’s a day of joy or disappointment for runners.

Portland Headlight
Photo Courtesy of Kim Huchel

As with most races, I want to do well, but I’m realistic and know that I’m not the world’s fastest runner, nor do I train like one. I run regularly, but I’m not a die-hard running fanatic. I don’t do speed work, fartleks (yep, that’s a real word), or weight training. I just run for exercise (and so I can eat dessert). However, I have finished every race I’ve done and I’ve never been last. A typical goal is to finish on two feet and not be last. While it is disappointing that today was my slowest B2B time yet, I ran the whole way and did finish on two feet ahead of thousands of others.

What is really more important than my time is the group of people I ran with today. I was fortunate to be part of Team BlankenSwift. Last year my friend and running partner, Patty, learned of a young man, Daavid, who was diagnosed with a fast progressing kidney disease. Patty and I were in Trader Joe’s when we learned of the severity of his condition. Patty didn’t know this man, but had previously worked with his mother. As we strolled past the cucumbers, Patty said, “I think I could donate a kidney.”

And the rest is history. Unbeknownst to Daavid’s family, Patty went through all the testing to determine if she was a match. Amazingly, she was. It was then that she informed Daavid’s mother of what she had been doing and she and Daavid met for the first time.

Patty’s one stipulation for the kidney donation was that she wanted to do the Beach to Beacon first. She had her bib and felt that training all summer would keep her in tiptop shape, which would help with the recovery process. So last year, as we ran the race, Daavid and his family cheered Patty on. Five days after the race, Patty’s kidney was transplanted into Daavid.

It’s incredible what a difference a year makes. Last year Daavid was doing dialysis multiple days a week to stay alive. He stood on the sidelines a sick man. This year he ran the race beside his donor and they crossed the finish line hand in hand. A great moment.

Team Blankenswift Before the Race
Back Row: Patty (donor), Daavid (recipient)

In addition to being impressed with Patty’s selfless act, I also have a personal interest in kidney disease and kidney donors. Polycystic kidney disease, a disease for which there is no cure, runs in my family. My grandfather had it and was on dialysis for years prior to his death. My mother has it and had a kidney transplant in 2006 from a cadaver donor after being on dialysis. My brother and I also have it. There is a 50/50 chance we have passed it on to our own children, but they have not been tested for it yet.

My kidney function has declined at this point. I’m considered to be in stage 3 kidney failure. It is estimated that I have 30% of my kidney function left. The reality is that I, too, will need a transplant in the future. My hope is that I can avoid dialysis and will be able to get a kidney from a living donor.

Much of what Patty has been doing since giving her kidney to Daavid is trying to spread the word about living donors. She recovered from surgery and is living a normal life with her one remaining kidney. While waiting for the race to start today, people came up to Patty and Daavid and congratulated them on their story. One woman approached them and said she was donating one of her kidneys to a friend on Tuesday. With their story being in the local news recently, it makes people more aware of what they can do to help save a life.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are currently over 122, 000 people in the U.S. waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Of those, over 100,000 are in need of kidneys. Other facts:
  • Nearly 2,500 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month
  • 14 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant
  • Last year over 3,000 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant

With more people like Patty, fewer people will spend years waiting for a transplant and hopefully the number of people who die while waiting for a kidney will decline. Patty and Daavid, who were strangers a little more than a year ago, now have an amazing friendship because of Patty’s lifesaving gift.

So, rather than the old pick-up line of asking, "What's your sign?", I might just ask you about your blood type. If you’re an A or an O, I may keep you in mind.

Team Blankenswift After the Race

Donate Life

Daavid and Patty's Stories:

Living Donors Info

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nothing But Rainbows and Unicorns

A few days ago my friend Tammy issued me a Facebook challenge. She challenged me to post three positive things for five days. Me being me, I wanted to respond to this challenge with something sarcastic, but I realized that didn’t sound very positive. I bit my tongue and refrained from the remark that I really wanted to type.

For whatever reason, I’m more of a glass is half-empty kind of girl. I tend to be more of a pessimist than an optimist. And that’s not to say that I’m a downer in every situation. I can be fun (I think) and enjoy laughing and having a good time. I just tend to worry and think the worst in most situations. My mind tends to race to the worst-case scenario in most circumstances. I have no explanation for why I do this. I truly have a good life and nothing traumatic has happened to me. I also think I may subconsciously think negatively about things because if I’m already in a negative mindset and something doesn’t go my way, I’m not being let down. There’s no bubble to burst as I already had it in my mind that it’s going to go wrong. If something does work out in my favor, then I can be happily surprised! This seems logical, right??

So, Tammy, I accept your challenge, but I’m doing it in a blog rather than posting for five days. Forgive me for taking liberty with this, but I’d say it’s better than not doing it at all.

As for positives, I could start with the obvious. I have a great family, husband, and children.  I don’t think I need to number them as my first three positives, however, because that should be a given.

7/24/14 Day #1
1. I really like where we live. We are within walking distance to a running/biking trail, the kid’s school, the library, shops, two grocery stores, a park, coffee, pizza, and ice cream, to name a few. We are minutes from beaches, lighthouses, the Old Port (which we have walked to before), the mall, many restaurants, and so much more. South Portland is a city, but it still has that small community feel with lots of conveniences.

2. Last night I had a dream about our neighbor, David, who passed away last year. In the dream, he called me on the phone and we talked. I could hear his voice again and he sounded happy. In the morning I shared the details of my dream with David’s brother. He told his wife, who was David’s sister-in-law, and coincidentally, she also had a dream about David last night. She, too, said that David was happy in her dream. I’d like to think that these were more than dreams, that it was David’s way of letting us know that he’s okay.

3. Jason works the next three nights, so I will have some snore-free, restful nights. (I’m kidding, Jason...sort of. I truly miss you when you’re working, but it is quiet.) And, go back to my earlier statement. You are already on my positive list, so you can’t take this personally! :-)

7/25/14 Day #2
1. The kids I and have been playing tourist in our own area. Yesterday we went to East End Beach to look for sea glass and then played on the playground. Tonight we went to Bug Light and Spring Point Light to run around and see the lighthouses.

2. Griffin goes to daycare on Wednesdays and Fridays, so today Abby and I had some time together. We went to the mall where she just had to go to Justice and then to Red Mango for some yummy frozen yogurt.

3. Today I bought new can opener. It works like a charm. Super exciting.

7/26/14 Day #3
1. Griffin slept until 7:47 a.m. This is a few minutes off his record of 7:59 which he did while we were at Disney. I was almost ready to go into his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing.

2. After our morning at the beach, the kids wanted to go to the Old Port. We spent $22 at the Old Port Candy Company. Don’t judge. We Huchels like our sweets.

3. While in the Old Port, as we were walking past Mariner’s Church, a wedding party arrived in their limo. It reminded me of our reception there almost 15 years ago.

7/27/14 Day #4
1. Today is my parent’s 46th wedding anniversary. Jason and I are both lucky to have parents who have been married for 40+ years.

2. When Jason got home from work this morning, we all walked to Uncle Andy’s for breakfast together.

3. Sometimes I enjoy a rainy day in the summer. It makes me feel like I have permission to be lazy. And I have.

7/28/14 Day #5
1. This morning I ran with my friend Patty, her kidney recipient, and his sisters around Back Cove as we prepare for the Beach to Beacon which is on Saturday.

2. It is another quiet, rainy day and I’m enjoying a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts.

3. Jason just took the kids to the movies so I have a little time alone. I may fold laundry, do the checkbook, or just simply read on the couch.

So, there you go. Five days of positives. A blog entry that’s all rainbows and unicorns with a sprinkling of glitter.

Challenge accomplished. Whatcha got next? Bring it on.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Nose Knows

The sense of smell is an interesting thing. Some smells are very pleasing and others are rather offensive to the nose. And what one person may find to be a pleasant smell can repulse another. Also, certain smells trigger memories and can transport you back to a certain time and place in your life. There are scientific reasons why this is the case, but I’m not here to be too informative. This is a blog about nothing, after all.

There are certain smells that I consider to be some of my favorites. I tried to narrow it down to my top ten nose pleasing scents.

1. Freshly baked bread
2. Freshly cut grass
3. Coffee brewing
4. Cookies/brownies baking
5. Health food stores
6. Ocean air
7. Lemon lavender Yankee Candle
8. Freshly laundered clothes
9. Lilac bushes
10. Bacon

In addition to these scents, I also have some favorite smells that may be considered odd. They don’t fall under the typical category of delightful aromas, so others may think I’m strange (and if you already do this just solidifies your thinking). Here are my top ten unusual favorite smells.

1. Gas (the kind from the pump, not your butt)
2. Play-Doh
3. My dog’s feet
4. Candles just after being blown out
5. White-board markers
6. The interior of a new car
7. Beer breath on my husband
8. Opening a can of tennis balls for the first time
9. The fumes from a boat motor
10. Hardware stores

What are your favorite smells? Are any on my lists? It’s okay to admit your weird favorite smells, too. I won’t judge.