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Mexico!

16 Feb

The day after Christmas, J and I woke up at approximately 3am to board a plane to Mexico.  In short, we had the time of our lives.

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We landed in Puerto Vallarta and met our friends in the airport, who had waited an inordinate amount of time while we trudged through customs; in the meantime, they snagged cheap cab info (across the street from the airport) by using our gent friend’s trusty Spanish skills.  We hopped into the slightly rusty beater, windows down, sun setting, ready for adventure.  We got to Sayulita when it was dark.  We heard the ocean waves crashing across the street.  The next morning, once the sun rose, we saw our rental house (above) in all its ocean-view glory and pinched ourselves to see if our luck was real.  It was.  For the record, this fancy-pants crash pad cost $140/night.  Total.  Split amongst 4 people.  Good deals exist.

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This little stairway to heaven led us to our open-air yoga class overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  If you find yourself in Sayulita, walk past Villa Amor, through the archway to the (shockingly colorful and beautiful) cemetery.  Across the way is a set of stairs.  Ascend into workout heaven.

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See?  Heaven.  Not that it was completely perfect.  There may have been strange critters stretching their limbs along with the humankind on the smooth cement ground.  But they came in peace.  And humanity-loving yogis gently pushed the critters along their creepy-crawly way.  Namaste.

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We hiked through a mini-jungle (forest?) to find an incredible stretch of beach with less than 10 humans in sight.  Brilliant.  We climbed through an abandoned home that had fallen down the cliff.  Maybe not brilliant.  Saylita was lovely. 

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After Sayulita, we took a bus to Puerto Vallarta and a water taxi to Yelapa.  Our water taxi carried tourists, sacks of limes, onions, avocados, a captain and his toddler son clinging to his back and 1 mate.  The ride took about an hour and featured jumping dolphins and lots of giddy laughter.  Magic. 

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Rounding into the cove that houses Yelapa is an experience that must be had on a sunny day.  The sapphire and teal water sparkled.  The buoyed yachts lazed about.  The perfectly-hued sand and umbrella-lined beach was a set for a Corona commercial.  We jumped off the boat, into the ocean, waded to the beach, threw on our huge backpacks, and walked barefoot to our beachfront hotel.  The magic continued when we opened the door to our thatched-roof palapa.  The only thing separating us from the jungle and beach was a piece of linen hanging on a rope.  Rustic meet romance.  But be sure to zip your bags and check your sheets every.single.time.  We never saw a scorpion, but our friends killed one in their room.  Not very yogi of them, but I would’ve done the same.  Obviously.

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We had to wade through the river that connects to the ocean to get into town.  This made things interesting, but ultimately uneventful, on New Year’s Eve.

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We rang in the New Year at the most amazing outdoor “Yacht Club” (below) with seemingly every person aged 1/2 to 100 who was planning to sleep in town that night.  And every person in town was planning to stay that night, since Yelapa ingress and egress is strictly limited to water taxi during daylight hours.  There was fireworks, good luck lanterns, and enthusiastic dancers galore, some of whom clearly left the U.S. in the 1960’s and likely haven’t been back since.  Well after midnight struck, we said goodnight to the donkeys tied up outside, the primary means of transportation other than on foot, and waded back to our hotel room.  And then, the rain started.

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We cut our trip to Yelapa short since it was raining in our room and the rain was pooling on our floor.  The entire draw to Yelapa is to sit outside and do nothing but stare at the beach or take a long hike through the forest, so frankly it was fairly useless to us during the storm.  That may sound harsh, but we’re Seattleites and we didn’t travel to Mexico in January to see the rain.  It’s not supposed to rain like that in January, they claimed.  But rain it did.  So flee we did.  And it was terrifying.  A boat already far over capacity, with far too few life jackets, that was stuffed to the brim with locals and their luggage covered in plastic garbage bags, which ran out of gas as soon as we “boarded,” led by the fearless captain and entirely frightened mate that were maybe 35 years old between the two of them; this is how it started.  After about 30 seconds in the open-air water taxi that had been glorious 2 days prior, we realized we were soaking wet, our backpacks were imminently close to bouncing overboard, the look on the mate’s face suggested he had already soiled his pants in fear, and everything I knew about maritime law was exceptionally unhelpful as I knew we would not travel beyond the 3-mile boundary to international waters and I know zero about Mexican maritime law.  But I did tell J that that the Death on the High Seas Act precludes recovery for pain and suffering.  So that was one helpful tidbit of information in case we went overboard and the sharks slowly ate us to death.

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Needless to say, we survived.  We showed up to our all-inclusive resort dripping wet.  Actual droplets were falling from our shirts, pants and shoes.  The Barcelo felt like nirvana.  The drinks came free and often, the tacos were never-ending, and our super-spacious, bug-free, mosquito-net-free room had TWO televisions with access to CNN.  And Keeping Up with the Kardishians, if I’m being honest.

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We spent the next four days laying next the pool, eating, drinking, and trying to muster enough energy to eat and drink again.  We never made it to the nightly shows because we were busy trying the fancy restaurants that are only open for dinner.  Somehow, we managed to entertain ourselves for 4 days with a swimming pool and swim-up bar, several novels, and bottomless tacos.  When it was time to head home, we left the resort at least 10 pounds heavier and happy as clams.

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Mexico was exactly what we needed.  And we felt about 1 billion times less guilty for our amazing trip when we found Runaway Stella (who is back to her happy, opinionated, sweet self) a few days after arriving in Seattle.

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Flapping my wings, flapping my wings.

6 Oct

I went to lunch with a partner at my firm to hear advice on how to best market myself and the firm on an upcoming business trip.  He had a lot to say, but most of it was rooted in one of his oft-used idioms: everything you need to know is what you learned in kindergarten.  Be nice.  Be genuine.  Be polite.  Be smart.  Listen.  Use good judgment.  The rest will take care of itself.

He said I am at the stage in my career where I have been working very hard to get some air under my wings and I need to keep flapping until I’m flying high.  Then, it’s maintenance.  Continue to be ethical.  Follow up.  Take care of the details.  We ended our quick lunch and he reminded me to keep flapping my wings.

What he couldn’t possibly have know, and what I didn’t realize until 5am this morning when I was tossing and turning in bed despite the fact that I desperately wanted to be asleep and catch up on my lack of rest from the exhausting week before, is just how poignant and meaningful his advice is during this chapter in my life.

J and I have been through a lot this year.  I’m not quite “there” yet in terms of processing everything good and bad and in between, but I know this much: we’ve worked as a team, we’ve relied on each other (sometimes rather heavily) and we continue to turn to each other for support every. single. day. 

During our trip to New York in the spring, we experienced a lot of sadness.  But we tried to make the most of it  and enjoy our time together in a city that we both love.  During one of the lighter moments, we strolled through Central Park, stopping to lay in the grass and watch the few puffs of clouds in the big blue sky.  It was exactly the release that we needed from grieving and high stress levels.  That Central Park moment was one of my favorites all year.  I’m certain it was one of J’s too, even though he’s never expressly said as much.  There was a small butterfly that kept flittering around us, leaving for only a few seconds before it inevitably returned to hang out.  Ever since that moment, when we spontaneously made up the butterfly song (“I’m just a butterfly, flapping my wings, flapping my wings”), we sing the silly verse to each other in tense situations to lighten the mood.  Sometimes arm-flapping is involved, which is simultaneously embarrassing and awesome.  I think it’s an important reminder to each other that even in dark times, there is lightness and love to be found if you look close enough.

Our butterfly song often pops into my head when I feel stress.  It’s ridiculous, that song, but it’s helped me remember to take a deep breath and move forward many, many times over the past several months. 

Work has been very, very good.  Spectacular, the managing partner told me as I helped him prepare for trial.  It’s also been very, very stressful.  I suppose the spectacular and the stressful go hand-in-hand when things are good in the legal profession.  Luckily, that combination suits me. 

Personally and professionally, my plan is simple.  I’m going to keep flapping my wings, flapping my wings.

Three Hour Lunch at Salumi

18 Mar

First, let me start off by saying that I definitely wasn’t business drunk.  Mostly because I wasn’t drunk at all.  But I did sip on 2.5 glasses of wine during a business lunch recently.  In my defense, it was a 3-hour lunch.  And the partner who invited me most certainly had more glasses of wine.  And never once did I question my soberness or professionalism or proper etiquette. But, still, 2.5 glasses in the middle of the workday is not insignificant.

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Second, ohmygoodness Salumi is delicious and really really really knows how to impress its backroom guests.  J has been many times for sandwiches at lunch.  Together, we had been once before (hence these photos from last summer—even with my 2.5 glasses of vino, I didn’t have the courage to photograph the “business-drunk” lunch).  I should warn you that the lunch would have been awful for a vegetarian or anyone on a low-sodium diet.  There was meat in every. single. one. of the 6? 7? 8? courses.  Except for the dessert course.  But for at least 5 minutes I was under the impression that the chef told us the vanilla gelato and blackberries were sprinkled with pig salt.  It turns out, the chef was saying pink salt.  I suppose the sodium levels took over and I heard what I wanted to hear at that point.

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Back to the meal.  Sandwiches it was not.  When you reserve the backroom, you eat what they serve and you fall a little bit in love with what you eat.  We enjoyed antipasti, including several kinds of house-cured salami and prosciutto and olives.  Then there was the prosciutto-wrapped chicken wing course.  Surprisingly easy to eat, especially for someone like me who does not do chicken with bones unless forced.  Is that weird?  Moving on.  We dabbled in sausage with onions and peppers (something I refused to touch 9 years ago when J and I were early in our relationship).  Then there was the eggplant parmesan dish. AH-ma-ZING!  Out of control, I tell you.  Meaty—now that I think about it, perhaps this was the one meatless dish—but light and balanced.  Next we had pasta.  Wide house-cut pasta noodles with red sauce and bits of lamb.  I don’t particularly like lamb, but I could have eaten that pasta for days.  The piece-de-resistance was the enormous braised pork shoulder.  It was phenomenal.  But the tastiest part of the entire meal were the tiny button mushrooms gracing the edges of the pork shoulder.  I have no idea what was going on with those mushrooms, but they were intensely delicious.  The moment they popped into the mouth, it was clear these mushrooms were something special.  My grandmother, who “hid” onions in my tuna sandwiches for years (you can’t hide that taste, first of all, and secondly, why did she take the extra time to dice the secret onions that I hated?  I’ll never know), would have been proud of my affinity for those teensy delightful mushrooms.

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So, it turns out that working as a private civil attorney has its perks, which this week came in the form of a much-appreciated salt coma on a Wednesday afternoon.  I “bonded” with a couple of partners at my firm and got to know some really friendly client-folks.  I was at the private table in the backroom that people who had spent upwards of 60 minutes in line to eat a sandwich (see above) kept peeking around the corner to see.  We had the fancy food—instead of mere sandwiches as big as my face—with the many bottles of wine and we were having a great time schmoozing in our business suits at 2:30 pm in the middle of the week.

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[The above communal table was not ours, though the private backroom isn’t much fancier than this.  Which is part of the charm, really.]

Lest you think it was all fun and games, I billed nearly 8 hours on Wednesday, despite the 3.5 hours I was out the office for lunch (and no, the time at Salumi didn’t count).  I put in the time at the office not because I’m worried about meeting my billables—luckily, my hard work and high standards have paid off so far in the form of more work from the partners—but rather because I have so much work to do and what feels like very little time to do it.

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The good news is that I’m learning how to set boundaries.  On Friday, I found the courage to ask a partner if it would be necessary for me to work on his project over the weekend.  On weekends past, I simply did the work.  This time, he kindly told me that it wouldn’t be necessary.  So I’m giving myself a treat.  No work this weekend.  It makes me nervous because there is much to be done next week.  But I am trying to convince myself to believe there is more to be gained from taking a break and refreshing my brain and energy for what’s to come on Monday.

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For the record: Salumi deserves its good reputation.  Not because it’s Mario Batali’s family’s place.  Not because it’s fancy.  It’s most certainly not.  Just because it’s good.  Really, really, reliably good.

Legal Words v. Regular Words

4 Mar

While sitting across from S at a coffee shop, I’m sort of reading and sort of eavesdropping on the college-aged couple next to us. Their conversation touches on a variety of important topics, ranging from bathing suits to utility bills. But what really caught my attention was their use of the phrase, “strong-arm robbery.”

They wonder, and for good reason, what is the difference between “robbery” and “strong-arm robbery.” Was the robber someone of particular strength? Was his other arm weak?

I want to interject and tell them that it’s just theft done with force, but they find the answer on Google within seconds. The male in the couple takes issue with the fact that a robbery is defined with a hyper-technical definition. For instance, he dwells on the portion of the definition describing robbery as the taking of another’s property with the “intent to permanently or temporarily deprive” them of that property.

The whole conversation, again still eavesdropping, reminds me of an Above The Law article that focused on 20, or rather twenty (20) lawyerisms. The gist of the article is that lawyers use unnecessarily complicated words or phrases for no particular purpose, except that it’s done that way.

The number 1 lawyerism, is the use of “pursuant to.” I have to admit, I love “pursuant to.” In fact, I might be enemy #1 when it comes to “pursuant to.” It sounds smart and, quite frankly, whenever I’m unsure how to start a sentence in a brief, I try to throw in a “purusant to.” Point is, I’d sound much more like a human if I just used “under” or “following.”

Other offenses include spelling out a number only to use the digits in parenthesis. For example, sometimes when I write a brief, I require four (4) Advil. This type of writing can only serve two objectives. First, it insults the reader. OMG! Thank goodness he put (4) in parenthesis or else I wouldn’t be able to read four. Second, it shows just how type A lawyers can get. This contract will not be enforced if I don’t write out the number twice. Good thing I wrote that number (#) out.

So, even though, I find myself a persistent violator of numerous lawyersisms (I’m not giving up “aforementioned” either), I kind of have to agree with the aforementioned college-aged couple. I’ve read some briefs that are so verbose that I can’t even understand what the other side is arguing, which kind of makes me wonder if that is just their strategy. However, if some lawyers just said, this is my argument, here is why I’m right, this is what I want, we could probably save some time (and money). And that would be nice, or cordially accepted with gracious appreciation.

Expecting the Unexpected at Trial

6 Feb

In my line of work, I often here the phrase, “trial is like war.” While I understand analogizing the courtroom to the battlefield, I don’t anticipate a great deal of violence in the courtroom.

However, the more trials that I’ve prepared and completed, the more I’m starting to really appreciate the ordered chaos that accompanies them. For instance, despite the fact that I get play the General, preparing every aspect of a case, I’m still stuck with a very unexpected element – people.

Coming to grips with the fact that I cannot guarantee every single word that will come out of a witness’s mouth is disconcerting for a Type-A person, like myself. Even a witness who you have thoroughly questioned and interviewed will say some unexpected stuff sometimes. And that’s one of the most fun (and frustrating) parts about being a trial attorney.

It’s not always easy, but I’m getting better at coming to grips that there is only so much I can orchestrate and that there is a definite possibility that, regardless of how prepared I am, something unexpected can, and likely will, occur. To steal another colloquialism, it’s like walking a tightrope without a net.

Exhausted, But Happy

30 Jan

I’m starting to get the hang of this billing thing.  I’m learning that it’s much easier to bill projects to a handful of clients in one day than it is to bill 10+ clients (too much non-billable time is sucked up entering hours) or to bill just one client all day (3pm = sleepy time if there isn’t adrenaline pumping).  I’m learning that it’s not appropriate to say no to partners offering work, but it’s perfectly okay to tell them that other partners have given me priority projects and to please tell me where their project falls in line.  So far this has worked well.  But then, there are days like today where companies are being sold and notice must go out tomorrow and we need to know ASAP if the statute of limitations runs out tomorrow and the senior partner—your mentor—returns to the office in a few days expecting your (first ever!) motion to be drafted in perfect form, oh and there are a few liens to check on in the spare time you saved.  Except you didn’t.  So now you have a young lawyer event to attend tomorrow night and about 8 billable hours to complete 12 hours of work.  Yikes.  There may have been a couple of nights lately where I went to bed and woke up with a heartbeat far too fast for comfort.  Heart palpitations.  Manifestations of my need to get it all right all the time.

The amazing part, despite the pressure and stress and extremely high expectations that I’m putting on myself, is that I truly enjoy what I do.  Work is, so far, even better than I imagined it would be.  1 month in and the honeymoon period is clearly still going strong. 

Billing Time

18 Jan

When I put my mind to something, I highly prefer for that thing to go smoothly. I tend to set high standards for myself when it comes to my career, which has generally served me well. But I’m also impatient and I expect things to come together right.this.second. When it comes to a learning curve, I’m not so comfortable on the incline side.

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[The view from my office last Friday; everyone I work with decided this ridiculously impressive sunset, which presented itself in millions of colors and changed more brilliantly as each second passed, indicated snow to come. They were right.]

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So it turns out, despite my best efforts, it is not possible to bill 95% of the time I spend at work. Ha! Say the lawyers who read this blog. Ha! Say my friends who have warned me for a long time that billing isn’t so easy. I typically spend 9 hours a day at work, which is really pretty light for a private civil lawyer. On my best day, I spent about 10 hours at work and billed 8.6. On my worst day, I was there for about 9 hours and only billed 5 (note: I am now much less charmed by the slow drawl of southern customer service call center folks; you taking twice as long to say half as much isn’t my fave when I’m trying to bill time. Seriously). This whole billing-is-hard thing is not necessarily a surprise, even to me; I just want the transition to come easily and quickly so that billing 7.5 is my norm. It’s doable. I’m confident about that. I just want it to be doable right.this.second, you know?

The most recent billing curveball comes in the form of a snow day. Seattle is notoriously awful at dealing with snow. The entire city is basically closed and I’m sitting at home wondering whether I’m supposed to brave the downtown hills in our trusty Forester to try to make it into work this morning. I’m the new kid at work and I don’t know protocol yet. Snow day? Bill time? Decisions like this were so much easier when I was a law clerk.

A New Beginning

8 Jan

It has been a whirlwind week. I had so much anticipation leading up to my first day of work at the law firm. I wasn’t worried about performing well or fitting in or billing hours for the first time or being overwhelmed by new areas of law (although all of those things were certainly on my mind). It was the dual prospects of a much-needed new beginning and the feeling of having made it that pulsed through my body, physically manifesting in the form of anticipatory tension. I’m happy to report that, so far, this new life is fantastic.

For context, you should know that the firm considers itself a “lifestyle firm.” It has a relatively fancy office with fabulous views of Puget Sound, but people generally seem to show up before 9 and leave before 6. I’m not making big firm money, but I feel pretty lucky that they are paying for my parking spot in the building (as far as I know, a perk virtually unheard of for Seattle associates) and I feel completely comfortable with the compensation. The partners are steadily knocking on my door with projects. I billed over 7 hours a majority of days last week and I look forward to going to the office when I wake up in the morning. After having clerked for several years, I am very happy to advocate on behalf of clients and I’m not intimidated by new-to-me areas of law (maritime? sure!).

I have so many thoughts and feelings about this new beginning, which I look forward to sharing here over the coming weeks and months. For now, suffice it to say that all is well in the Make Happy household. Many, many years of building credibility and forging my way through unknown territories and scrambling to make something out of nothing have started to pay off. It’s a big deal and I’m relishing the good feelings coming out of all of it. I think it’s fair to say that I needed this at this point in my life. Sometimes timing works out perfectly so the very worst things in life are followed by the very best and for that I feel very lucky and deeply grateful.

Working to Choose Joy

10 Dec

I believe in setting intentions. It’s a practice that I learned in yoga and it has served me well during challenging times in my life. I’m not always successful in following through with the particular intention I set, but I think giving it a good shot counts for something. My intention at this moment, on this day, is to choose joy.

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The reality is that choosing joy has presented itself in the form of an enormous, steep rock wall and I, the hopeful climber, stand at the bottom, shielding my eyes from the bright sun as I look up, terrified by my lack of both knowledge and gear. I need to find a way to ascend the beast safely and with my mental and physical health in tact. Helpless, but hopeful. That’s where I’m at right now.

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My brother’s death hangs like a dark, heavy cloud over me. I desperately want to move on, to find peace with the fact that he is gone, to not let the negativity suck me in. I yearn for the moment when I realize during some seemingly insignificant daily routine that, yes, I feel grateful to be living a full, beautiful life. But in the now, I can only honestly say that I know I should be thankful for what I would recognize—if it belonged to anyone else—to be a beautiful life.

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This weekend I’m away from home, lawyering it up at a conference. My intention, in addition to working on choosing joy, is to appreciate the great opportunity I have over the next few days. I have no choice but to engage with people, to laugh at jokes, to participate in intellectual debates. I have to act as if everything is just fine in my personal life. I think the timing is good because I need something to push me in the right direction.

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Before I checked into my hotel I spent some time at the waterfront. It was a gloriously sunny late fall day. For at least a few moments, I used photography as a tool to help me visualize joyful moments. I admit, my heart is a bit fuller because of it. Choose joy.

Rituals

24 Oct

So one morning we went to my Grandma’s funeral and later that afternoon we went to the courthouse and J was sworn in to the bar. All in a day’s work.

There was much discussion about what was the right thing to do when my Grandmother’s funeral was scheduled on the same day as J’s swearing-in ceremony. And by much discussion, I mean at least two fights. Lots of tears. Lots of negotiation. Lots of miscommunication. And ultimately, both of us giving in to a mantra that my Grandma embraced. We decided that if we tried to relax about it all, things would just Work Themselves Out. This laid back approach does not come naturally to two Type-A planner personalities. But it worked. Beautifully.

clip_image001[Note the remnants of grass on my shoe leftover from the grave-side portion of the funeral. I didn’t notice until we were at the swearing-in ceremony. Oops.]

During my Grandma’s funeral service, I spoke about the legacy of love that she left for everyone in our large family (she had 7 kids, 17 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren…at one time, she had FOUR babies in diapers). She was an extraordinarily strong and sweet woman. During her last several hours, as family surrounded her, she awoke and sat up in her hospital bed to say goodbye to each of her living children. She named them all and told them she was going to her final resting place. Needless to say, it was a very special moment.

Lest you think the day was perfect and seamless, I’ll tell you about the part when I insisted that J go to the church parking lot and move my car so it was backed into a parking spot near the hearse so we could be first in line for the processional to the cemetery. Then, we could be the first to leave the cemetery in order to make it to his swearing in on time. I’m thinking, “Genius – very thorough planning, nothing could go wrong at all with this very tidy and perfect plan!” Bless J’s heart. He backed my car into a parking space right near where the hearse had been. As in, it had already left the church. Because we weren’t doing a processional. Even though I had spent 30 minutes trying to strategize with the pastor about the best place to park at the cemetery for  our quick getaway. Oh how confused I was when J told me the hearse was gone. The hearse is missing? With my Grandma in it? But we’re at the church. With all the family. How could they start the processional without us?! Assumptions about processionals. Don’t make them.

Or how about the time at the cemetery when I panicked and drove to the right, following all the other cars that were parked on the narrow one-lane drive, instead of veering left and parking in the small lot at the entrance which would have allowed for our much discussed quick getaway? Oh yeah. J was responsible for moving the car yet again. Which meant backing it down that narrow one-lane drive that had become filled with cars on both sides. Thank goodness for J.

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J and I left the funeral feeling a little awkward about the transition in our day as we went from such a somber life ritual to a celebratory life ritual at J’s swearing-in ceremony. But the truth is, the whole day was about celebrating. The first half was spent celebrating my wonderful Grandma’s full, happy life and the second half was spent celebrating J’s professional accomplishment. Ultimately, the day was full of MAKE HAPPY moments.