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What I Learned When I Showed Up for Jury Duty

I’ve always had a casual curiosity as to what went on inside a courtroom. Fortunately, I’ve never had to experience being on the wrong side of the judge’s bench, but this has left me with only a vague understanding of the complexities of our nation’s courts. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to take a look at the judicial system from the inside when I was summoned for jury duty. With all the talk of the impeachment proceedings, I thought I’d share my experience.

When I received the letter that notified me of my civic duty my first reaction was “Can I get out of this?” I wasn’t particularly happy about giving up my work time and rearranging my life to accommodate a person’s bad behavior, but I sucked it up and went down to the courthouse on the designated date.

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Reporting for Duty

When I arrived, I went through a security check similar to what you’d experience at an airport, then I was directed to a holding room where myself and about fifty other people were split up into groups of thirteen people each. We were asked questions relating to cases on the docket—nothing specific, but rather incidences we’ve experienced in our own lives that may prejudice us as juror. If there were any reasons why we could not be a part of the jury, we were told we could leave. I stayed.

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The Specifics

As it turns out, I was not going part of a regular trial jury but, instead, was going to be a member of a “grand jury. I had no idea what the difference was between a trial jury and a grand jury, other than it sounded much more important. As I found out, a grand jury is a type of preliminary jury that judges only the evidence of a case, not the actual crime. Our decision would determine whether or not there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial. It’s basically what is happening right now with the impeachment inquiry.

Once I got my instructions, I was told to come back the following Monday. I would be a participating member of this grand jury duty for ten days within a two-month time period.

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The Grand Jury

When the big day of jury duty arrived I went down to the courthouse. At the security check, I was directed to  a small, windowless room in the basement of the courthouse. (It was just as dreary as it sounds.) There were eight of us, five of which were formally on the jury and three who acted as back-ups. An attorney of the court gave us instructions and then we were sworn in. We would be there from 8am to 5pm with an hour-long lunch break at noon.

The grand jury was comprised of three men and five women. We represented all ages, except millennials. Most of us were missing work, with only one woman who was completely retired and not working. We picked one of the women as our record keeper and she was given the attendance sheet. She would also be signing off on our judgements at the end of each case.

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The Cases

The cases mostly fell into the categories of domestic depute, theft, and one sexual assault of an elderly person. Evidence ranged from witness and victim accounts, video surveillance, and police reports. We did not meet any of the accused, only people with testimony to offer.

In my opinion, most of the cases were pretty obvious, and in every case everyone agreed there was enough evidence to go to trial. Fortunately for us, there were no cases with disturbing evidence, like murder or child pornography, which we would have had to view. From what we were told, it was rare to have a grand jury with no such cases to review.

Each case began with a district attorney explaining the basics of the case. Then, one-by-one, the witnesses would come into the room and be sworn in. After that, they would give their testimony and we could ask questions throughout. If material evidence was presented, the police officer who’d gathered it would present it and tell us the details of how it was gathered. In one case, we asked them to check for a second surveillance video at another location.

After we had listened or viewed all the evidence, an attorney instructed us to discuss the case, then left the room. If we wanted to call the attorney or any of the evidence back into the room to answer more questions, we were instructed to do so.

All eight of us gave our opinion about each case, then we took a vote about whether or not to send it onto trial. We based our judgements on the evidence and our own instincts and in each case,  we decided there was enough evidence to go before a judge. Our record keeper signed the order and gave it to the attorney to file, then we moved onto the next case. Typically, we reviewed eight cases in a day, four in the morning, four in the afternoon. They were long days, but interesting.

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What I Learned as a Grand Juror

My peek into the United States’ judicial system as a grand juror provided me with a first-hand account of the structure of one of the fairest judicial systems in the world. I saw people come in and present their side of a dispute to a group of peers. Our decision was the first step toward deciding whether there was just reason to present it in court for final judgement.

One thing that impressed me was the fact that, with each case, the evidence presented was very well packaged. This told me that the professionals handling them–from the police, to the many lawyers–had worked hard to cover all their bases, giving us as full a picture of what happened as they could. In each case the physical evidence was nearly indisputable.

I also learned that grand juries, like trial juries, are protected. Because our judgements must be untainted, it was important that we did not mingle with anyone connected with a case. On occasion, I would see a witness loitering out in the hallway but we were instructed to avoid getting involved in a conversation and the witnesses were always escorted by an attorney.

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Just the Facts

Overall, the experience I had as a grand juror gave me great confidence in our judicial system. The presentation of evidence and a judgement delivered by a group of unbiased peers were all in play. Of course, this isn’t always the case—criminals don’t always look or act like criminals and sometimes people with dishonest motives can hold very high and powerful positions in the system, but the process is set up to be fair, and I’m proud to have been a part of this uniquely American process.

To the Extremes

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I’ve spent nearly my entire life living in two places. The first half on the great plains of Western Kansas, and the second half in the rain soaked forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Two extremes. For someone like me who has always seen themselves as existing in the middle, these two opposing environments seem ironic. One so wide open and big, contrasting with another that forces you to withdraw into your home and your mind during the long months of dark, rainy days. Certainly, at this point in my life these differences must have had a permanent effect on who I’ve become, postal codes forever stamped onto my character. Here’s my view of those extremes.

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My childhood home is located on a gentle rise on the flat landscape of western Kansas. It’s a borderland where the prairie grasses thin out and the high desert begins. Prickly pear cactus, devil’s claws and echanacea grow wild there, as do the spiky yukka plants with seed pods that rattle like snakes in September.

A great big, blue sky curves around you in every direction, touching the very same ground you stand upon. There’s something magical about that. Standing above the horizon gives you the feeling of being a giant and an ant at the same time.

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If it’s a windy day two of the most fundamental laws of physics are your constant companionsspeed and force. When you’re in Kansas you lean into the wind. You hear its rhythm, smell its strong scents, and watch as it defies gravity to carry leaves away from trees horizontally, rather than vertically. The wind is amazing in Kansas, and when there’s a break in its velocity you notice it.

But there’s some benefits to that wind. Feeling that power blasting you in the face is energizing. It’s invigorating, it’s life affirming. And you know you can count on it, just as you can count on the sun burning up the ground beneath your feet.

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Twenty years ago, on my first solo excursion out of Kansas, I met a traveler who’d seen the world. As she and I became acquainted she sized me up, saying, “You don’t seem like you belong in Kansas. You seem like you belong in Portland.” I’m not sure how that played into my decision to move to the Rose City but I ended up meeting my husband in Phoenix and together we moved back to his home state of Oregon.

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It was at the end of October when we got to the Pacific Northwest and it was like moving from day into night. A persistent night that lasted until April. I remember the striking feeling I had the first day the sun shone after months of cloudy skies. I was walking across a parking lot and noticed my shadow following me, something I hadn’t seen in over a hundred days. It was like a visit from an long lost friend.

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All that rain creates a lush, verdant landscape that resembles piles of fluffy green cotton. Mountains surround the city of Portland, and every so often a volcano’s peak will jut up far enough to pierce the clouds.

The mountain ranges of Oregon tell a fabulous story of moving tectonics plates wrinkling up the landscape and causing volcanic eruptions that still threaten to change the topography millions of years after the first eruption.

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Two rivers cut through the city, formed by cataclysmic flooding from an ancient melting glacier. The rushing water dug a trench on its journey to the Pacific Ocean, filling up the Columbia River and carving out a spectacular gorge when it came to the porous volcanic rock of the Cascade Range.

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All this moisture provides an ample amount of fog that can take a familiar landscape and turn it into a mysterious land of intrigue and secrets. Things as great as mountains blur until they are simply graduating shades of grey, and well-traveled roads twist and turn into oblivion. It’s a silent, secluded world that encourages inward reflection and room for your imagination to flourish.

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I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost twenty years and, like many of my fellow Portlanders, I can tire of the seemingly endless days of darkness, but I still love this region. It’s beautiful in a way that is easily understood by the casual observer. The emerald valleys, steely-grey rivers, golden sunsets and abundance of rainbows make up the color palette of fantasies. And quiet moments spent in the shadows of clouds are a gift of time travel, taking me far into my imagination to reflect, to learn, and to create from this land’s endless inspiration.

But the part of me that grew up in Kansas continues to flourish inside my soul. The aliveness of a land where there is rarely ever stillness stirs up energy inside everything connected with it. It’s a beauty that is felt, as much as it is viewed. Visitors may miss the grandeur of this endless land if they spend their time passing through it inside a car. It’s a living, breathing, thriving beauty that’s fighting to survive against intense elements, and to truly know it you must experience it, not just look at it. 

I guess for me the combination of these places helps put balance in my extremes and keeps me centered in the middle where I feel most at home.

Recipe for Moving Forward

Expectation

Define what you want in clear, concise words. Educate, plan, and prepare for the opportunities that will come your way. Work to build your experience and reputation.

Abundance

 Give thanks for the abundance that is given to you. Give back with the gifts you have and what they have given you.

Enrichment

Continue to educate yourself and grow in knowledge. Strength will lie in your ability to adapt to new paradigms with intelligence, speed, and grace.

A Picnic in Helvetia

Helvetia Last Saturday was about as perfect a day in the Pacific Northwest as you can get. My family took advantage of it by stopping by The Meating Place, a local butcher shop and cafe, to pick up sandwiches before driving out into the country to our new favorite picnic spot in the gorgeous Helvetia countryside. DSC00923 We spread our blanket under a large maple tree standing next to the road and shared our lunch while we watched a herd of cows doing the same thing in a nearby field. DSC00912

Down in the lower lands a tractor was turning dirt in a field and it’s long dark track revealed the fertility of the Helvetia farmland.

DSC00917Across the road is the Helvetia Community Church, a quaint house of worship that is reminiscent of the churches found in the Swedish and Germanic villages from which Helvetia’s European settlers immigrated. Of course, they weren’t the first people to claim this region as their own. The Atfalati band of the Kalapuya Indians settled in this region 10,000 years ago and today are a celebrated part of Helvetia’s history, with their presence being honored each year at the Helvetia Cultural Fest.

The famous Helvetia Tavern is a family favorite and as we drive back home my husband can’t help but roll down the windows to see if he can catch a whiff of the burgers he so passionately loves. Hot off the grill, these tasty burgers Helvetia_Tavern_(Washington_County,_Oregon_scenic_images)_(washDA0029)are juicy goodness between a sesame seed bun. Their fresh cut fries and onion rings are so delicious we never can decide on one or the other so we opt for a “half and half” order. Recently, a back yard patio has been added and from there you can watch the setting sun gild the entire landscape in its warm light.

All along the road you’ll find signs leading to privately owned farms that offer an abundance of fresh-from-the-field produce, meat, and wool products. Throughout the spring and DSC03240summer you’ll be able to harvest your own fruits and vegetables at many of the U-Pick farms. During the fall and winter months bring your children out to the pumpkin patches and christmas tree farms and let them experience a bit of farm life, too. Helvetia is facing the familiar threat of urban expansion. As the influence of the Hillsboro tech companies continues to creep north, the residents of Helvetia have organized to fight for their border rights. Save Helvetia protects rural Helvetia by advocating for rural reserves, challenging unnecessary urban growth boundary expansions, advising governmental bodies about interchange improvements and new road construction, and clarifying soil fill practices. DSC02933 Helvetia, Oregon can easily boast one of the most beautiful rural settings in the state, and maybe even in the United States. It’s productive farms are a reminder of what enticed the settlers to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles to stake their claim to the American dream. I’m glad I’ve done it because I believe I just may have found paradise on Earth.

What My Husband Wants To Know

I just asked my husband what he would like me to write about and this is what he said, “I want to know why women don’t like the Three Stooges.”

Three StoogesReally? Of all the thoughts that go through my mind THIS is the question that keeps him up at night? Well, ok, here goes. This is why I don’t like the Three Stooges.

First of all, I want to clarify that I don’t hate them. Not in a loathing kind of way. They’re funny for about the first five minutes but how many times can you see eye poking and ear pulling before it just looks mean?

Here’s another reason, personality-wise I don’t really like them. They are annoying people. Can you imagine having to wait in line with them? Those accents and the mumbling they do while insulting each other. And, of course, they are completely accurate in their insulting assessments. I bet they smell, too. All that hair grease dripping down their faces and sweating inside their wool suits. I know it was the style back then, but most stylish people don’t work up a sweat by throwing themselves into tables full of food. Just sayin’.

I just read this to my husband and he told me that it is insulting on multiple levels. Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment.

What I think is insulting is the way the other people are portrayed in the movies. I mean, seriously, how would these guys ever get any women, especially good looking ones. And the rich people. Surely, they couldn’t have been that stereotypical in those days. Please, tell me that just because you were rich it didn’t mean you had to talk like you had a bunch of marbles in your mouth.

So, after about five minutes the humor is gone for me and I’m back talking to my three year old. Who, I might add, knows that you don’t put hot irons down someone’s pants and can actually figure out how to use a tape measure pretty easily.

Good Morning

Morning on the Farm1I’m a lucky girl. I’ve witnessed the sun rising over the sand dunes of Arabia, across winding roads in India, above the Indonesian jungle and along the undulating horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, along with many other wonderful places, but the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen just happened to occur in a valley only a short drive from where I spent my childhood.

Green rolling hills gracefully turning into black, fertile fields, fog, wispy like cotton candy, weaving its way along creek beds and a layer of sparkling dew spread out across the world that could even turn my rusted out bull dozer into a jewel encrusted chariot. What a sight!

I was working on a construction crew that summer, saving money to go on another trip. For most of the July day it would be a hot, dusty job, but early in the morning, when the smell of diesel competed with the fresh scent night leaves behind, the sunrise would turn my ordinary day into a mystical land of beauty and promise.

In the distance a rooster called out to the morning, repeating his message until the first ray crested the horizon. A couple of rabbits hopped lazily up beside me, rubbing their eyes and sniffing the air. They sat back on their haunches to wait for the show, just like me. My thermos of hot coffee warmed my hand and the smell reminded me of my place in this world. I was one of the many puzzle pieces in this beautiful picture. This world depended on me to do my part, just as I depended on it.

A Natural Work of Art

I just returned from a trip back to Western Kansas where I grew up. After several rainstorms the landscape has turned a vibrant blue-green, which contrasts beautifully with the white limestone rock that tells of its history as an ancient seabed. The creek was alive with turtles and fish while I was there, and deer and rabbits bounded gracefully along, racing me as I turned my car down the country roads.

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My favorite activity when I’m in Kansas is getting up early to watch the sunrise. With a cup of coffee and my camera in hand, I drive out to my family’s farm, find the perfect spot and park. Prairie grass, wet with dew, bathes my feet and the scent of wild sage fills the air. The birds awaken and I hear the distinctive songs of meadowlarks, kildeer, mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds. Nearby rabbits pause as if hypnotized into a state of absolute trust–they’re here to witness the same show I’ve come to see and together we watch the horizon as the first colors of the day appear in the night sky.

A streak of red rises just behind the black silhouettes of trees. Then orange, so brilliant it could be mistaken for a brush fire.

Flourescent CloudsSoon clouds pick up the colors and sweep the sky with a pink that I’m sure can’t be reproduced on canvas. Brushstrokes race across the sky, becoming lighter and sharper as the sun crests the Earth’s eastern edge.

Over the next few minutes the sky turns from dark night to a clear blue that is deep and rich with vaporous, wet clouds.

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The dawn is near and with each color splash I’m granted an intimate glimpse at nature’s palate.

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As blocks of color reveal themselves to me I am reminded of the artist, Mark Rothko, an artist who is often identified as an Abstract Expressionist, although he himself rejected this label. He is considered one of the most famous postwar artists and his signature style, referred to as “multiform”, consists of only two or three large color blocks painted onto large canvases with the intention to induce an experience in the viewer through the feelings brought forth naturally from his choice of color combination. He would instruct people to stand as close as eighteen inches from his work so as to envelope themselves in the intimate moment of viewing the artwork. In his later years Rothko stressed that to truly experience his art was akin to a spiritual experience.

I experienced the same feeling watching the great dome above me turn night into day, and as much as the artist wants to imitate life, in my opinion, it still remains outside his grasp.

Here are a few of Rothko’s paintings.

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