02 October 2013


I'm probably the only person I know who goes on vacation and looks forward to cooking, but with the schedule I keep at work and all of my various volunteer activies, I do very little cooking when I'm home. In addition to just frankly wanting to avoid the mess, it just plain isn't practical to cook for one person. I enjoy cooking, though, and it is typically relaxing for me, so I was excited to get to make some stuff while I was in Cape Cod.

The most exciting were these crêpes, which I made using Martha Stewart's recipe for Simple Cpes. For the filling, I used ricotta cheese, which I topped with two separate fruit mixtures made from pears and bananas mixed and heated with dark brown sugar, butter, a tiny bit of salt, and vanilla.

Banana Crêpes

Pear Crêpes

I finally found a mascara I don't hate.

And here it is: 'Cils d'Enfer' Maxi Lash Mascara by Guerlain. Before I finally found it, though, via a Sephora sample, I was forced to endure two weeks using Marc Jacobs Beauty Lash Lifter Gel Volume Mascara, which somehow managed to make me look like I had perhaps four eyelashes, all of them shorter and straighter than my mascara-less natural lashes. The Guerlain doesn't quite live up to Chantecaille, but it's half the price and close enough.

30 September 2013

October is Infant & Child Death Awareness Month

I hate the title I just gave to this post.

But, it's true. October is, in fact, Infant & Child Death Awareness month, and for that reason, I invite you to visit The Miss Foundation's website to get more information about this incredible organization of which I find myself so blessed to be a part. And while you're there, I'll also ask you to consider making a donation to help fund low-cost bereavement counseling, family information packets, crisis intervention, and other life-saving services for families that depend on MISS. You can click on the badge to the right of the screen, which will take you directly to MISS's website, where you'll find a link for donations. They're tax deductible. :-)

If you'd like to spread a bit of awareness of your own, then just visit this site and feel free to choose the badge you like best to use (for free) as your Facebook timeline photo, or your profile pic for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever your preferred social media site happens to be. And share the page with your friends so that they can do the same. Hugs and love.

18 June 2013


Chantecaille Faux Cils Longest Lash Mascara

I was in Barney's a while back and bought a couple of things, and I got a sample of this mascara.  I fell in love almost immediately, which means that I was fairly well traumatized when I found out that it costs $70.00!  On to the next mascara...although I fully intend to ask for another sample very soon.

Givenchy Noir Couture 4-in-1 Mascara

Last week, I went to Sephora, and this was the mascara recommended to me by the child in clown makeup who latched onto me when I walked in.  I found the brush terribly intriguing, but Givenchy has been known to do this to me before:  catch my attention with something shiny, i.e. a strangely-shaped wand, and then completely disappoint me when it comes to everyday use. 

Such is the case, yet again.  This mascara makes my eyelashes clump together like crazy.  "Separation" was the one specification I insisted on when I listed off the attributes I look for in a mascara; it's more important than lengthening or volumizing for me because my eyelashes aren't short or thin.  They are, however, prone to clumps, so I need a mascara that won't exacerbate that.  Moreover, even if I wanted lengthening or volumizing, I'd prefer DiorShow over this Givenchy because to be honest, I didn't even observe any noticeable lengthening or volumizing.  It mostly just colored my eyelashes brown and then made them stick together.  It didn't curl or anything.

15 April 2013

Boston: Another Lesson in Perspective

Like so many others, I spent my afternoon riveted to CNN, hoping to hear that maybe the bombings in Boston weren’t as bad as everyone first thought. Instead, the opposite happened. Right before 5:00, I refreshed the website and learned that an 8-year old child was one of the two fatalities, and my heart just sank. Tears came to my eyes, and I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what had brought that precious little boy to Boston this morning. Was his mom or dad among the runners, and was he waiting impatiently to watch him or her cross the finish line – craning his little neck to see over all the adults, screaming his heart out with excitement and 8-year old joy? Had he painted a sign to congratulate his sister or his nanny or his teacher? Was he just starting out as a runner, and did his parents plan this special field trip to watch one of the most prestigious marathon events in the country? Or did he just happen to be there – wrong place and a very wrong time?

I reacted similarly to the shooting in Connecticut. I remember talking to my mom on the phone that night, and just sobbing as we talked about it. Parents send their children to school every day. EVERY day. They dress them and feed them breakfast and pack their lunches, and put them on a bus or drive them to drop-off, and leave them in the capable hands of teachers to learn and laugh and play. Going to school is an unavoidable part of most children’s day, and we don’t think of it as being a dangerous or risky place to be. That day, like today, began normally and happily. And ended in terror, trauma, astonishing heartbreak, and death.

I notice that days like today have a universally uniting effect, as they should. People come together, offering words of sympathy and comfort to the victims and their families, and for a moment, we forget that we spend the majority of our time fighting over really stupid things. For a few days, we look past the politics and our private agendas, and we remember that we’re all people, that we all grieve our losses the same way. We cry out of genuine concern for complete strangers, and we pray for them to live, to recover, to somehow move past what has happened to them. For a few days – maybe a few weeks at best – we are the best iteration of ourselves. How great would this country be – how great would the world be – if we could retain our sense of perspective without having to re-experience traumatic loss and be reminded of it? Why does empathy need to be rebooted?

The short answer, of course, is that I don’t know. But I’m reminded all over again of why MISS is necessary, and will continue to be necessary, so long as children are lost tragically and senselessly, and so long as their parents have to continue trying to recover from that.

(Yep, you can still donate to MISS's Kindness Walk, and help to ensure that whenever a senseless act of evil happens, MISS can be there to offer comfort and support for the parents left behind.  Here's the link:  https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/AlaneBreland/missfoundationkindnesswalkandsafetyfair.)

10 April 2013


by Philip Roth

Alright. So I finished my second Roth novel, and I think the only logical conclusion at this point is that I’m just not as smart as all those people who love Roth. I say this because I just have to be missing something. I started reading Nemesis in January, and I found it to be a quick, albeit boring, read. I took about a two-month break in the middle of the second section, simply because I basically forgot about it until I was reviewing my Goodreads list and realized that I’d never finished it. After picking it back up again, it took about an hour to finish.

The plot is set in 1940s New Jersey in the midst of a summertime polio outbreak. In the first section, we meet Bucky, a phys ed teacher at a playground where the neighborhood children spend their days. World War II is in high gear, and Roth goes to great effort wanting us to understand just how dejected Bucky was to have been rejected from the military due to nearsightedness. One by one, many of the playground children contract polio, and Bucky’s relationship with God begins to deteriorate as he struggles to accept a God that would allow innocence to fall victim to pain and death. Eventually, Bucky gives in to the pleadings of his girlfriend, and he joins her at a summer camp in the mountains, which is where the second section takes place.

When Bucky arrives at Indian Hill, he immediately begins to feel guilty for leaving his job at the playground. This guilt intensifies when he learns that the epidemic spread throughout the neighborhood even more after he left to such an extent that city authorities were considering a quarantine. Bucky vacillates between feelings of relief and elation at having escaped the nightmare of the city to spend the summer with his love, and guilt and misgiving over what he views as his abandonment of the boys back in the city. He becomes particularly attached to one teenage boy, who days later begins to exhibit the first symptoms of polio and eventually requires hospitalization. Bucky shares with camp leadership his suspicion that he is the carrier of the virus, at which point he is sent for a spinal tap.

In the third section, we learn that the spinal tap was positive, and that after the initial symptoms began, Bucky then spent months and months recuperating from polio, ultimately losing the use of his left arm and recovering only partial use of his left leg.

For as much as I stubbornly refused to dislike Lucy in When She Was Good, I just could not bring myself to find anything appealing in Bucky. He’s a narcissist, completely convinced of his own importance. He ruins his own life by insisting that he is to blame for not only the polio outbreak at Indian Hill, but in his old neighborhood as well. He hems and haws about God, and his own martyrdom, and how his broken engagement was the only way to ensure that his almost-fiancée could lead a full life. By the end of the book, I was hoping that he would just die and get it over with. No such luck.

Are there really people like this? People who cannot process reality, who need someone to blame so badly that they will fault themselves when left with no alternative, and who end up in some emotional quagmire from decades before? I don’t know. I do know, however, that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about Bucky, and I didn’t find him all that interesting or dynamic. In fact, I find him insipid, unintelligent, and very, very annoying.

09 April 2013


Book by Antonio Mendez. Film directed by Ben Affleck.

A book review and a movie review, all at the same time!

I saw Argo (the movie) last October when I was visiting my friends Brandy and John in Colorado. Brandy and I had planned to go and visit some mountains and some snow, but it rained instead. Everybody knows that rainy mountains aren’t nearly as much fun as snowy mountains, so we opted for a movie day instead. I am embarrassed to admit that I knew little to nothing about the Iran hostages prior to seeing Argo, so it was even more of a learning experience for me than it might have been to a more knowledgeable viewer.

I agree with the reviewers who thought that the manufactured tension at the end of the movie was a little bit tiresome, but overall, I loved Argo. The casting was perfect – especially Alan Arkin and John Goodman – and I agree with all those people who were dumbfounded that Ben Affleck didn’t receive a Director nod at the Oscars. I’m not generally able to pinpoint good directing as the reason I enjoy a film, but Argo is an exception to that. I suppose that Best Picture is a pretty good consolation prize, but in all honesty, I thought Zero Dark Thirty deserved Best Picture just as much as Argo deserved Best Director. Oh, well – I’m not in charge of either decision.

My mom and I were in DC last weekend, and while we were there we visited the International Spy Museum, which is across the street from the National Portrait Gallery. We weren’t able to go when we were in the District last summer, but we’d been told that it was a fun museum. At some point during the lead-up to awards season, I read that Antonio Mendez and his wife, both former CIA operatives, were on the board of the museum, which further intrigued me. In all honesty, I can’t say that I was all that impressed with the museum itself; I chalk it up to an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia, my absolute inability to figure out the preferred direction of travel inside the museum, and the fact that way too many people (and too many children, in particular) were there. I eventually started following every exit sign I found and made my way to the gift store (I do love a gift store, y’all), where I found autographed copies of Mendez’s book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History. I bought one for myself and one for my dad, who loved the movie as much as I did.

This isn’t the book that the film is based on. That’s The Master of Disguise, which was written after the operation was declassified in 1997. Mendez wrote Argo in 2012, after the film had already been completed. As anticipated, the book fills in all the details that the film glosses over. It’s an easy read, albeit lengthier than necessary (I found myself wondering whether Mendez had an ineffective editor or a page number quota that he couldn’t reach without pages and pages and pages of backstory). In any case, I loved learning about how CIA operatives are trained in forgery and disguises; it’s like Mission Impossible, only real.

In a nutshell, here’s what we learn from both the book and the film versions of Argo: the CIA is crazy smart; you can’t hide from them, but they can very effectively hide from you.

08 April 2013

If you're able to donate...please donate.

I am participating in The MISS Foundation’s 3rd Annual Kindness Walk & Safety Fair on May 19, 2013. As part of that effort, I am also raising money, and my goal is $500.00. That goal may increase, depending on how many generous friends I have. ;-)

I know, I talk a lot lately about MISS. But, I guess, if you can’t use your own blog to promote your own causes, then what’s the use of having a blog, right? Here’s the thing: MISS doesn’t get much support, and the reason for that is probably pretty simple. Our cause is a sad one, and by giving money, our donors are contributing to ongoing support of bereaved parents and advocacy for issues relevant to child death, but not to a potential cure. St. Jude’s appeals to your heart by showing you photos of adorable bald babies who are suffering through the horrors of cancer treatment; you want to help the adorable bald babies beat cancer, so you give money. March of Dimes and child advocacy centers and dozens of other organizations use the same technique; pick up any one of their brochures, and you’ll see groups of happy, healthy kids who have benefitted from their services. They have success stories, and they use them to make more success stories. It’s a great method, and we’d use it if we could. But, we can’t.

You can’t help the babies that make MISS necessary, and none of us are mean enough to show you pictures of the babies that make MISS necessary. Dead babies make us necessary. We don’t have success stories because no parent ever successfully recovers from a child’s death. If children never died, MISS wouldn’t exist, and believe me when I tell you that Dr. Jo (our founder) would be thrilled to find herself jobless tomorrow if someone could invent a miraculous cure for dead babies.

Here’s the good part, though. MISS doesn’t discriminate. We help every parent who comes to us, searching for the smallest speck of light in the blanket of darkness that is losing a child. No matter what caused the death – stillbirth, car accident, cancer, some other congenital defect, homicide, suicide, tragic accident, whatever. No matter the age of the child at the time of death – infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults. Parents and families who come to us get help. End of story.

MISS doesn’t stop there, though. In fact, when I first talked with MISS’s CEO, Barry Kluger, about why I wanted to become a part of the Executive Board, I told him I love that MISS isn’t just about hand-holding and crying and grief. The hand-holding is vital, and it’s the heartbeat of the organization, but it’s not ALL of the organization. MISS is about activism. Dr. Jo is perhaps the loudest voice speaking up against a change to the DSM5 that would medicalise grief. Barry has co-written an amendment to the FMLA that would extend its protections to employees following the loss of a child. These are professionals, y’all – smart, smart people who teach me daily, not only about grief, but also about intricacies of psychiatry, medicine, chemistry, and yes, even the law. I learn from them, but much more importantly, others in positions to effect change look to them and learn from them and model them.

Where does your money go? Or perhaps more importantly, where doesn’t it go? Salaries. Save one part-time administrative employee whose salary is paid by a generous donor, MISS operates entirely on the considerable devotion of its volunteers. Our volunteer pool is primarily comprised of bereaved parents; they come to MISS for help, and after they get help, they give it back. Parents are offered a number of counseling sessions gratis, after which they pay a very nominal amount to continue services; that nominal amount goes directly to the counselors. In terms of overhead expenses, MISS has one office, for which rent and related costs must be paid; that office is small and used both for individual counseling sessions and group meetings. When MISS representatives travel – either to advocate on behalf of the organization or to participate in training seminars – they pay their own expenses. Donations go directly to supporting the mission statement of the organization itself, and not into the pockets of its representatives.

So, now that I’ve said that, I am going to ask you for money. For as little or as much as you want to give. We will appreciate every single dollar, and we won’t waste a penny, I promise you.


18 March 2013

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

At this point, I think that just about everybody in the world – and most definitely anybody who might be reading this blog – has read a plot summary of Gone Girl. It’s been on just about every bestseller list there is, and if your reading habits are in any way similar to mine, then Amazon steadfastly shoved it down your throat until you finally gave in and ordered it. When I reviewed it on Goodreads, I said that I’d had more fun reading Gone Girl than I have reading any other book in recent memory. I stand by that statement. I read a lot of crime fiction. A lot. I’ve gotten to the point where formulaic who-dun-its just don’t hold my attention, so even though I thought for a minute that Gone Girl might be just such a book, I found out differently after I finished reading the first section.

Some people have trouble liking books when they don’t like the narrators, and some people have trouble liking books when they can’t trust the narrator. I don’t suffer from that, though, and I generally enjoy books more when their narrators are flawed, just like real people are flawed. People have their biases and their own agendas, and I’m not sure why we so often presume that those very human traits will not exist in even our most beloved characters in our most beloved novels. Even more to the point, we know that eyewitness testimony is often some of the most unreliable evidence that exists, especially when eyewitnesses are telling us about events they perceived as traumatic. Even if a person isn’t actually trying to mislead, he or she is just as likely to benignly misremember and give us bad information.

Anyway, the plot of Gone Girl relies almost exclusively on misinformation, incorrect assumptions, inaccurate perceptions, and quick judgments. It’s full of surprises, and even once the surprises are over, it was icky enough and creepy enough to hold my attention until the end. Loved it. LOVED.

16 March 2013

Happy birthday, Grandmama.

March 16, 1929. My Grandmama was born 84 years ago today. I think about her all the time - when I am getting dressed and remembering how she took me to school every morning when I was growing up, when I'm getting a manicure and remembering how she used to ask me to file and paint her fingernails for her when I was home from boarding school on the weekends, when I try to make biscuits like hers but always fail, and mostly, when I look at pictures of all her great-grandbabies that have been born since she died and smile knowing how much she would have loved to spoil them as much as she spoiled my cousins and me. 

I was very lucky growing up. My grandparents lived just across the street, and I probably spent as many nights at their house as I did my own. Grandmama would meet me at the road, and we'd walk back to her house together. She was a really great grandma; I'm sure lots of people think this, but I think she was the best grandma in the whole world. We would watch Wheel of Fortune, and play Scrabble (I have her to thank for my winning record in Words With Friends), and iron pillow cases (I don't know why), and shell peas, and can figs, and do a thousand other everyday things that always felt special because that's the kind of person she was. She taught me so much. How to sew a button, to season an iron skillet, to make cornbread. To celebrate every little thing that makes you smile, and to be kind to people, always. 

I miss her every day, but I know she's with me. I hear her voice in my head on my happiest and saddest days. I try to be a person who would make her proud, and even though I don't think she would care one way or another about the "lawyer" part of my job, I know that she would be proud that I work hard to help children. Everyone who knew her knows that children were her heart - any children, all children. I am proud to have inherited that from her...and her iron skillet.  Happy birthday, Grandmama. I love you.

15 March 2013

When She Was Good

by Philip Roth

Philip Roth is one of those authors that people have been telling me for ages I should read. I was visiting with one of my favorite families over the holidays, and I was once again implored to pick up a Roth novel and give it a go. I think, however, that in my zeal to load up my new Kindle, I may have picked the wrong one to start with. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did; it’s just that I didn’t finish it and have the irrepressible urge to read every single word he’s ever written.

From the inside book flap: “In this funny and chilling novel, the setting is a small town in the 1940s Midwest, and the subject is the heart of a wounded and ferociously moralistic young woman, one of those implacable American moralists whose "goodness" is a terrible disease. When she was still a child, Lucy Nelson had her alcoholic failure of a father thrown in jail. Ever since then she has been trying to reform the men around her, even if that ultimately means destroying herself in the process. With his unerring portraits of Lucy and her hapless, childlike husband, Roy, Roth has created an uncompromising work of fictional realism, a vision of provincial American piety, yearning, and discontent that is at once pitiless and compassionate.”

Here’s the thing. I get the distinct feeling from all the reviews I’ve read that I’m supposed to dislike Lucy. For example, she’s described variously as chilling, controlling, unforgiving, inflexible, unsympathetic, and deeply flawed. I completely disagree with most of those descriptions, and I can’t decide if it’s because I missed something, or if it’s because I started out liking her and just refused to stop, or if it’s because I’ve had a few of those same things said about me and believe that maybe they’re not altogether negative characteristics to have.

Mostly, I guess, I think they’re one-dimensional observations about a character who is decidedly three-dimensional, and if we’re going to crucify Lucy for having a little bit of a nervous breakdown, then she also deserves to be recognized for her intellect and strength. There’s a scene where she’s sitting at her kitchen table, pregnant with her first child, watching her mother fall apart – again – not because she was beaten by her persistently drunk and unemployed husband, but rather because he left the house after the beating and hasn’t come back home. When he finally raps at the door, Lucy meets him there and does what her mother has never had the backbone to do for herself: she tells her father to leave and not to return. I reread those pages several times, struck not only by Roth’s description of such an awful, debilitatingly moving moment, but also by his ability to make me feel it from multiple perspectives at once. I felt Lucy’s exhilaration and adrenaline, but I also felt her mother’s shame and her father’s humiliation. It’s magnificently written, really.

I suppose, if I try really hard, I can see how some people may think that Lucy’s mean or hard-hearted, but…well, not really. What choice does she have? Her grandparents are classic hands-off enablers, her mother is a co-dependent victim and apparently not willing or able to change that, and Lucy spent her childhood watching the chaos around her and hoping for the best. Yes, she’s puritanical, but we see that all the time when children are parented by neglectful substance abusers. It’s no small wonder that she takes some pretty drastic action once she finally realizes that she’s an adult and can exercise some control over all the lazy, complacent people who have raised her.

I wish I had read this book in college because there are so many facets and intriguing little details that would have made for a great term paper. At the same time, I’m also relieved that the term paper part of my life is over.

13 March 2013

The Round House

by Louise Erdrich

Why did I read this book? My reasons are pretty simple, really. I am a woman, and therefore concerned about women’s issues in general, but especially crimes committed against women. I am a prosecutor, and my case load consists almost entirely of violent offenses and sex crimes. I work on an Indian reservation, so I’m woefully aware both of the brutality and injustice suffered by Indian women who are victims of violent crime, and of the technical stumbling blocks that often arise and sometimes prevent an offender from being held responsible.

I’ve read a couple reviews that compare this book to To Kill a Mockingbird, I suppose because it explains and embraces Native American culture in the same way that Mockingbird does for small-town Alabama. I can’t speak for how accurate that is because I didn’t grow up on a reservation, and in any event, I imagine that all reservations are different, the same way that all small Southern towns are different. I can tell you, though, that Erdrich knows her stuff. Her Indian Law assertions are right-on, and the way she describes tribal interaction with police officers and prosecutors who are “outsiders” is definitely consistent not only with what I’ve experienced, but also what has been shared with me by those who practice in other communities.

I am taking this plot synopsis from an Amazon.com review because I can never seem to synopsize without editorializing: “Our narrator - an Ojibwe lawyer named Joe Coutts - recalls his 13th summer from the perspective of time. Joe's position as the only child of tribal judge Bazil Coutts and tribal clerk Geraldine Coutts kept him feeling loved and secure until his mother is brutally and sadistically raped as she attempts to retrieve a potentially damning file. Although the rapist is rather quickly identified, the location of the rape--in the vicinity of a sacred round house - lies within that "no-man's land" where tribal courts are in charge and the neighboring Caucasians cannot be prosecuted, no matter how heinous the crime. Thrust into an adult world, Joe and his best friends Cappy, Zack and Angus are propelled to seek their own answers.”

I found this book to be both touching and uniquely effective in both entertaining and teaching. Moving, thoughtful, well-paced. The end is heartbreaking, and all too often absolutely within the realm of possibility.

07 March 2013

Like Truvy in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!”

When I blog, I try to strike a balance between light-hearted frivolity and discussion of serious topics about which I feel passionately. I do this for two reasons, first because I think that a blog devoted solely to either extreme would become tiresome after a while, and because Southern women (like women everywhere) have to navigate both worlds all the time, so I want my blog to represent us accurately. We often find ourselves laughing hysterically at a funeral or crying at a baby shower, and while either of those may feel wildly inappropriate someplace else, in the South, it’s just how it is.

I find that, in general, some people are pretty eager to dismiss Southerners as stupid, and I don’t think that pinning down the cause of that is as easy as rewinding to the Civil Rights Movement and pressing the play button. I hate that part of my home state’s history, but I’m still proud of the progress made since then, and the ongoing struggle and those that are fighting through it. I’ve tried to figure out just what it is about Southerners, and Southern women in particular, that makes people feel so entitled to judge us. Is it the big hair and the heels and the bright lipstick? Is it the accent in general, or maybe that we regularly use words like “sugar” and “honey” when referring to humans? Does it just drive everybody insane at the grocery store when we talk about “sacks” and “buggies” instead of “bags” and carts”?

Now, I have a friend who would agree with Suzanne Sugarbaker – that women who aren’t Southern are just jealous of women who are, and this jealousy accounts for their rudeness. I’m not really convinced that’s true, but at the same time, I do often feel like I have to overcome some preconceived bias before people will listen to me. Yes, it’s true that we take football just as seriously as we take church on Easter morning, and yes, when it comes right down to it, we are probably even more serious what we wear to either occasion. This is not about some misplaced sense of priority, although I think lots of people would make that accusation. The smartest and kindest women I know, without exception, are Southern, and for me, “smart” and “kind” are the highest compliments that exist.

Perhaps I’m just hypersensitive because I work in law, which punishes femininity and rewards severity. I admit that my natural response to conflict used to be softer, but after six years of constant confrontation, I’m harsher now – partly because I’m more sure of myself and my decisions, but also because harsh works and soft wastes time. Although I know lots of female lawyers who strive to be more like their masculine counterparts, I actually try very hard every single day to be more like my grandmother. And I guess that at the end of the day, that’s the point that I’m trying ever so circuitously to make: Southern women are soft and feminine and still effective, and I’m really, really trying to be more aware of that in my everyday life.

05 March 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Forgive me if I take the long way around this film review.

I find that books are inextricably linked to my important life events. For example, I learned that I had been accepted to law school when I got home from the library at 1:30 a.m. and listened to a voice mail from the Dean. I was researching The Sound and the Fury and Absalom! Absalom! for my final paper in an English class.

And, I specifically remember that the semester I decided not to go to medical school, I was reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Maybe it seems odd, but it’s still one of my favorite books, and that’s probably because there’s this paragraph in which the narrator perfectly explains why she could never be a doctor. She’s looking at the Periodic Table – all symbols and abbreviations, impersonal and sanitized – and just sees, in that moment, that she can’t spend the rest of her life caring about it. I felt validated, inasmuch as I could feel validated by a fictional character in a book whose author committed suicide by sticking her head in the oven, I suppose.

The semester after that, I took five English classes, so thrilled with the prospect of being able to take classes that I actually wanted to take that I apparently forgot to consider what it would actually mean to read five books every single week for 16 weeks in a row. Now, admittedly, some of those books were just awful; in fact, I’m pretty sure that every book I read for my British Literature class was terrible, and made more so by the professor, an American man in his sixties who was educated at Vanderbilt, but who at some point spent like six months at Oxford and in that brief time, developed an affected British accent so thick that it barely diminished despite him spending the subsequent four decades teaching at Alabama. But I digress.

The World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks happened during my Shakespeare class in 2001. Literally, during. I left my classroom, walked out of Morgan Hall to my car, turned on the radio, and heard that One World Trade Center had collapsed. I remember that we were discussing Othello that day, which was notable because it is my most favorite of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I also remember that we were reading e.e. cummings in my Poetry class that met the next morning; I know because we were assigned to imitate a poem of our choosing every week, and I imitated a cummings poem when I wrote about 9/11.

A few weekends ago, I finally saw Zero Dark Thirty. I had put it off for a while, mostly because I just wasn’t really ready to deal with it. I finally had to bite the bullet because the Academy Awards were airing the next Sunday, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to watch a movie that long during the week. I think the reasons for my hesitance are pretty obvious, but at the same time that I worried about revisiting the trauma of that time, I was also a little bit anxious about the scenes depicting torture.

Those scenes in particular had gotten quite a bit of bad press and brought back all the conflicting feelings I had when the practices at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were exposed during the summer following my first year of law school. My guess is that Kathryn Bigelow anticipated that her audience may take issue with watching something that intensely graphic, but that she wouldn’t risk being called a hypocrite by making a film about the hunt for bin Laden but not addressing the systematic methodology of torture used to extract information about him. She’s smart. And because she’s smart, she starts her film with 9-1-1 recordings from the victims in the towers; she uses their words, their fear, the moments when they struggle to accept their own deaths, to help us accept (justify? rationalize?) what we will see later.

I can’t really say much else about Zero Dark Thirty that hasn’t been said someplace else. I enjoyed it, despite all the time I spent with my hands covering my mouth, and all the tears I cried – some in horror, some because I am so proud of those who serve our country. It is a fantastic film, and really, so much better than The Hurt Locker. I loved Silver Linings Playbook, and I think that Jennifer Lawrence is a fine young actress, but Jessica Chastain deserved the Oscar for Leading Actress.

GNC Be Beautiful Vitamins

I started taking these about two months ago after I read that Kristin Ess of The Beauty Department (she also does Lauren Conrad’s hair) recommends them. I got the chewable version because I always have trouble with vitamin pills making me feel sick. The chewables don’t, so that’s wonderful, and they taste alright, too.

Two months in, and my hair is growing like crazy. I just got my color done about four weeks ago, and the growth is already noticeable. Plus, I have to use hairspray on the crazy tiny baby hairs that I’m seeing pop up all over the place. My eyelash extensions damaged my natural lashes when I had them removed last fall, so I was anxious for them to grow back in. They’re definitely growing faster, but I’ve also been using Latisse since Christmas, which may account for that more than the vitamins.

My fingernails are growing, too, and I can tell that they’re stronger than usual and they don’t peel and split. I was having lots of problems with my skin being super dry this winter; my lips were peeling and bleeding, and my hands were just awful. I’ve noticed a significant difference in my skin texture since I’ve been taking the vitamins; at least there’s no more peeling or bleeding because that was painful.

28 February 2013

Today was a very big day in my world.

Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which has been languishing in the House of Representatives since early last year. Although the House passed the Reauthorization last April, its version did not include additional provisions written to protect domestic violence victims who are gay, Indians residing on reservations, and illegal aliens. Today, thanks largely to a bipartisan effort by Senator Dorgan, the complete version was passed, guaranteeing rights to these historically marginalized and under-represented groups. I find it unfortunate at best, and despicable at worst, when politics gets in the way of humanity. Regardless of one’s views on same-sex marriage, homosexuality in general, ethnicity, or immigration policy, I would hope that we can all agree that everyone deserves civility and safety.

I’ve been on my soapbox about VAWA for ages, and if you’re my Facebook friend, you already know that. Stop reading now if you aren’t interested in the details of tribal vs. federal jurisdiction because I’m about to delve pretty heavily into it in order to explain why I care so much.

When you’re talking about Indian Country, determining where to prosecute is not as easy as pinpointing the location of a crime. Even if all relevant parties were clearly within the reservation’s perimeter boundaries, there are three possible answers to the jurisdiction question, and after determining where the crime occurred, you must also know the race of both the suspect and the victim, and the nature of the crime. Crimes committed by Indians fall under the jurisdiction of the tribe, first and foremost, but also the concurrent jurisdiction of the federal government. Non-victim crimes committed by non-Indians fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state.

Now for the exciting part: Until today, crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. Such offenders could be punished neither by the state (via the local district attorney or city attorney), nor by the tribe. The functional result of this was that most low-level offenders went unpunished. Like prosecutor’s offices everywhere, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is overworked and understaffed, and though they tend to do well in charging the most serious domestic violence offenses, the less serious, misdemeanor incidents fall by the wayside. This is, of course, because they typically rely on tribal prosecutors (like me) to handle misdemeanors committed by Indians, and there simply doesn’t exist a mechanism by which to ensure prosecution of those same crimes by non-Indians in federal court. VAWA corrects this problem by specifically providing for the prosecution in tribal courts of domestic violence crimes committed by non-Indians against Indian victims.

The Internet is ablaze with heated discussion, most of which is waged by people who have no idea what tribal jurisdiction means, how tribal courts operate, or even what an Indian is according to federal statutory and case law. For reasons that should be apparent, the arguments I find most offensive are those that claim that tribal courts (and by extension, tribal prosecutors) are inept, and in the pursuit of some misplaced sense of vigilante justice, will inevitably trample the rights of the accused. Most of this comes under the guise of “equal protection” banter, but in reality, it’s thinly veiled racism, considerable arrogance, and mammoth condescension.

Who is it, exactly, that our Republican Representatives are fighting so hard to protect from prosecution? Yes, let’s talk about that. They are people who marry Indian women and father Indian children. Men who live on reservations and take advantage of all the benefits inherent therein. Men who abuse their wives and girlfriends – hit them, suffocate them, sexually assault them – and who live in relative assurance that they will never face justice because their victims feel scared, hopeless, and alone. Men who rely on the insulation of the reservation, and their victims’ hesitance to leave it, to get away with horrific crimes.

Did you know that Indian women face domestic violence and sexual assault at a rate 2.5 times higher than any other race or nationality? One out of three Indian women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Historical cultural trauma systematically perpetrated by the government throughout the 19th and 20th centuries bred distrust of those outside their inner circles. Hardly any reservations have self-sustained shelters, so deciding to leave an abusive relationship implies far more than it might for a non-Indian. Indian victims must leave behind a culture, traditions, their entire families, their tribes’ sacred places, and flee to a generic shelter that is not only unfamiliar, but also intrinsically foreign, while their non-Indian spouses / boyfriends / significant others remain behind on their reservations.

I am thrilled with today’s Congressional vote – thrilled that these women will have a voice, thrilled that their abusers will be held responsible, and thrilled that I get to be part of this exciting time in Indian Law.

17 January 2013

Loss…and peace, and love.

Two posts in one week? I know, wow.

The MISS Foundation had a Board meeting over lunch today. On the third Thursday of each month, we gather as a Board – sometimes in person but often over speakerphone – to discuss the minutiae of running a foundation that wouldn’t exist in a perfect world because there wouldn’t be dead children. Many of my fellow members are bereaved parents themselves, and there generally comes a point in the meeting when we lose our collective ability to speak in the abstract. Something as simple as hearing the words "car accident," or "stillbirth," or "miscarriage," or the spoken name of a child that has died, alters the tone of the meeting – not negatively, but in a way that makes us aware all over again of our purpose. Whatever the trigger, this realization recharges and reinvigorates, and perhaps more importantly reprioritizes the cluttered to-do list that gets filed away in my mental Rolodex, along with grocery shopping lists, chores, errands, emails, appointments, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

Bereaved parents exist on a different plane than the rest of us, y’all. As surely as I’m learning anything from this experience, I am learning that parents who have lost children are just…broken. We use this word flippantly, so accustomed to throwaway commodities that we don’t think twice about pronouncing our belongings rubbish and disposing of them. People, though?  Not commodities.  Not throwaway; not disposable. These parents are still among us, navigating a life that is not only unfamiliar, but inconceivable. Pain and guilt punctuate every happy moment. They are passionate about preserving the memory of their babies, yet must live in a society that would really rather not discuss it.

Why is that? Why are we uncomfortable talking about a dead child, thereby acknowledging and celebrating the child’s life, brief as it might have been? Why do we insist that parents should “get over” their grief within a prescribed period, yet feel entitled to rehash every referee’s mistake in a bowl game played over a decade ago? Yes, I’m being hyperbolic. I’m being hyperbolic on purpose.

What, exactly, is a suitable period of mourning for a parent? Consider, for instance, a father who never, ever imagined that his child would predecease him. A mother who felt her daughter's kick less than 24 hours before being told that she had died, and who, instead of laying her sleeping baby in a brand new crib days after delivering her, laid her to rest instead. Just how long after these tragedies should this father, or this mother, be expected to move on, and never mention their child again outside a priest’s office or a therapist’s couch? How long before they should have to return to work, ability to concentrate intact?

Here’s your answer:  Most employers allow three to five days of bereavement leave; after that, an employee may or may not receive approval to take an extended leave period, but even in the best cases and with the most sympathetic and understanding supervisors, that length of the leave period is limited by the amount of vacation time the employee has accrued, if any. Though FMLA allows one to take extended leave following the birth or adoption of a child, or for a lengthy personal illness or that of a family member, it does not apply in cases of parental bereavement. We can agree to file that under "Things That Don't Make Sense," right?

I say all of that for a reason. MISS’s CEO, Barry Kluger, is the co-author of a bill that would extend coverage and existing benefits allowed by FMLA to employees that have experienced the death of a child.  Barry is visiting Washington, DC next month, and he’s meeting with lots and lots of really important people. The kind of people who can make life better for bereaved parents by ensuring that they have a humane period of mourning before being required to return to work. Please, please sign this petition.  Give these parents a voice.


15 January 2013

Who says you can't go home?

Almost exactly six months ago, I worked what I thought was my last day as a prosecutor. After weeks of weighing pros and cons, much hand-wringing, and so many prayers I bet God got tired of hearing from me, I decided to accept a position at the Legal Services Office. At the time, I thought I’d be handling mostly civil cases – divorce, custody, child support, maybe some estate planning, who knows – but very quickly, I was moved to Guardian ad Litem work, which afforded me the opportunity to work with children in a capacity wholly separate from my former role as a child crimes prosecutor. Dependent wards are appointed GALs to advocate for their best interests. Our only job is to advocate for the child – not for the Community or the parent or the Social Services caseworker, but for the child. It’s a unique perspective, especially for someone like me who started her career with a mindset toward prosecution. There are prosecutors in dependency cases, but I’m not her, a fact which can sometimes be as irritating as it is liberating.

Friday will be my last day at Legal Services, and next week, I will be a prosecutor again. Specifically, I will be Assistant Chief Prosecutor, which is a title that’s much fancier in theory than in practice. Mostly, it means that in addition to new supervisory duties, I’ll be back in a courtroom, back to working with victims of child abuse and neglect, back to doing the work that I love no matter how hard it sometimes is. It’s strange to think that I’ve reached the point in my career where I’m supposed to be able to lead and teach. I’m both eager and apprehensive about the change, but primarily just anxious to get started.

Since the summer, I’ve been drawn (probably divinely directed) to Psalms and Proverbs, more often Psalms. In reading Psalm 25:12-13, we see that God teaches prosperity, not failure. When we follow His instruction, success is the reward. Even the promise of success, though, isn’t always enough to keep away the doubts that occasionally creep into my subconscious. Thankfully, His grace is abundant and abiding, as are His blessings. In fact, the lesson that constantly boomerangs in my mind is how blessed I am. I am blessed with amazing mentors, and the rare ability to leave a job that I love for another that I hope to love more. I am blessed with a precious group of close family and friends who prayed for me six months ago, and then stepped right up when I asked for their prayers again. And I am blessed with something that we’re so often told we can’t have: a chance to go back to a place that I left.

Through the past year – with its challenges, its uncertainty, and its incredible gifts – God has answered my prayers. In spite of my fears, my anxiety, and my doubt, He has been as He promised:

a refuge and strength (Psalm 46, Psalm 59);
a strong tower (Proverbs 18, Psalm 61);
capable (Psalm 25);
gracious (Psalm 86);
forgiving (this is mentioned so many times in the Bible, but my favorite is Psalm 103).

I realized, somewhere in the middle of all this, that inasmuch as I’ve believed and trusted in Jeremiah 33:3 all my life, I’ve never been more aware of having lived that promise until now. Thankful, so thankful.

03 January 2013

Dear MAC, I'm sorry. xo, avb

I admit it: I’ve said some bad stuff about MAC cosmetics in the past. Yes, their stores are scary loud, and yes, their salespeople wear too much bright makeup, too much gel in their hair, and WAY too many fake eyelashes. But I’ll tell you something else: They’ve got this whole eye makeup thing figured out.

To start, I use their Paint Pots as eyeshadow primer. My favorites are Painterly and Soft Ochre, but if you like more shimmer, they’ve got lots of other colors. I’ve been using the same Painterly for about six months now, and there’s barely a divot; it’s a fantastic value. I apply with the tip of my ring finger, but I guess you could use a brush if you prefer.

Next, I line with Pro Longwear Eye Liner, which I requested in navy blue but didn’t discover until I got home that I’d been given black instead. That turns out to be pretty lucky because I discovered that my problem, all these years, with black eyeliner hasn’t been that I don’t like the way it looks. Instead, I don’t like how it looks when it runs and smudges under my eyes. THIS EYELINER DOESN’T SMUDGE. Not even a little bit. I know that you’re all gonna’ say that Urban Decay doesn’t smudge either, but it does. It just does. And so does Dior, and so does Tarte (which is unfortunate since I just bought four Tarte eyeliners), and so does Chanel.

Then I use Urban Decay’s Naked Basics palette for my shadow (because those MAC colors are still just too scary for me). I love this palette, and I hope I never have to live without it.

And last, I use MAC’s In Extreme Dimension Lash mascara. WOW. My favorite thing about this mascara is that it doesn’t dry as fast, so you can work with it on your lashes for a while without it getting flaky and clumpy. The brush is great, and really lengthens and separates my lashes without making me look like I have spiders on my eyes.

I may or may not have gone to sleep last night without taking of my makeup and discovered this morning that my makeup looked exactly like it did yesterday. Exactly. At which point I may or may not have just washed the makeup off my face, avoiding the eye area, and worn yesterday’s eye makeup to work. Don’t judge.