Start with a carpenter bee. Add its drilled hole in the deck.
Add a woodpecker at 6am.
There you have a delicious meal of carpenter bee larva for said pecker.
And a nice little mess on the deck.
That’s how my Monday started.
Tuesday, June 2. Day 79
Need to head back down to Atlanta to check on my folks for a couple of days. You know you’re not going to read a blog post without seeing pics of the kittens:
Wednesday, June 3. Day 80
Spent the day driving down to south Atlanta. This billboard is in Dalton, GA on Interstate 85. If we flip Georgia in November, I might have to reconsider my belief in the supernatural.
Thursday, June 4. Day 81
The new phone I had ordered for mother had arrived, and we spent the day getting it set up and getting her comfortable with it. It’s a struggle, but she tries so hard, and was able to order her groceries on the Publix app and get her delivery set up. Progress!
My dad, electrical engineer and retired Delta pilot, would like a book about how iPhones work. I teased him a little, til daughter Glenda found “iPhones for Seniors” available to purchase. Ordered and shipped.
Friday, June 5. Day 82
Drove back to TN. Listened to My Favorite Murder podcasts all the way back. My honey had steaks on the grill as I rolled into the driveway. Summer has arrived in the south – hot and muggy, and just waiting for mosquitoes. But that also means tomatoes on the vine and lightning bugs, so I’d call it a wash.
Saturday, June 6. Day 83
Sunday, June 7. Day 84
The end of another week of social distancing. We’ll continue to isolate, and restrict our interactions. I miss the kids more than I can say, but I chat with them often and they’re all managing as well as to be expected.
The farm is beautiful – garden is blooming, grass and fields are green and lush, birds singing and tweeting, bees buzzing, oblivious to the utter chaos and pandemonium our nation is experiencing.
First day of no caffeine for a week. Mild headache, a little lethargic on our daily 3 miles. My honey, however, was a hot mess – headache, achy, took naps throughout the day, really didn’t feel like himself until late afternoon.
We had another showing today – 3 cars and 8 people. They were househunting for a long-distance relative who’s soon to relocate to TN.
Grilled steak and salad for dinner, and a wonderful RfRx session.
Tuesday, May 19. Day 65
Took our morning walk and were back at home before 9am. Decaf coffee again, and we both had a much better day.
Leftovers to clean out the fridge today. Roast beef with gravy, fat pork sausage, and a couple of BBQ chicken thighs.
And here’s a little update from a few weeks ago:
Wednesday, May 20. Day 66
I’ve made the decision to go to Georgia to check on my parents, and I’m an Anxious Amanda (trying to give Nervous Nellie a break).
My brothers live in my hometown, along with my parents, but they are both single, and just to be blatantly sexist about it, they don’t see what I see when it comes to our parents’ wellbeing.
But I haven’t left my house in 10 weeks, and I sure haven’t driven my car on a road trip in that time. I’m being irrationally neurotic – do I have air in the tires? wiper fluid? gas? oil? My car registration expired in April, because I didn’t take it to emissions because they have to get into your car for that procedure. If I get stopped, I’ll have to explain that, and take whatever citation they give.
Then there’s the visit itself. They’ve distanced, I’ve distanced, but we’ll still wear masks and visit on the porch and not share food or utensils. I’ll stay in the downstairs, that has its own entrance, and strip the sheets and clean the bathroom before I leave, in addition to asking my mom not to go downstairs for about 3 days afterward.
Thursday, May 21. Day 67
It hasn’t been too bad. Once I got on the road, and got the heebiejeebies out, I was fine. Turned on a podcast, put on my shades, and 4 hours later, I’m there.
They are managing, but not flourishing. Who of us is at this point? Dad’s memory is a real challenge, but between the two of them they get through the days. We do grocery delivery once per week, and have their medications delivered.
Georgia is one of the handful of southern states which doesn’t have a phased reopening plan. Their church is still not meeting, for which I’m grateful, but most stores and restaurants are open.
They’ve moved a couple of folding chairs to the driveway, so that when my brothers stop by, they can safely have a few minutes’ visit.
Mother’s 4-year-old iphone is deteriorating and she can’t access data, which is a hardship because it’s the only internet they have (for Facetiming and Zoom calls with the family, as well as streaming her church services). We’ve ordered her a new one, and I’ll zip back down when it arrives to get it set up for her.
Friday, May 22. Day 68
I mentioned my brothers live in our hometown. My older brother was out of town, but has recently had his kitchen rehabbed, so Mother and I took a trip over to see it. It’s gorgeous, but then this happened:
He had a litter of kittens in his garage, and because I’m losing my 2 grown cats back to their rightful owner (my grandson), it was perfect timing to adopt this pile o kittens:
After driving back home, they’ll ensconced in my bathroom for a few days of adjustment. No names yet – we’re watching their little personalities develop first.
Saturday, May 23. Day 69
Sunday, May 24. Day 70
Here it is Sunday again. Memorial Day weekend. Spring is about to transition to summer. We’ll continue our hunkerdown strategy for a while yet.
Totally forgot about the No Caffeine week. I dropped the effort in my visit to my parents, but my honey continued, and his blood pressure has stayed a little lower than usual. He thinks he’ll continue it for a while.
The peace, comfort, and happiness I saw on so many faces was the truest and most profound gift to me. Thank you, my friends.
The cliche´ “everyone has a story,” was never more true than it was at the First Annual Recovering from Religion Excursion. We had ’em and we told ’em. For many it was cathartic.
Another memorable moment occurred on our last night together. A group of us, accompanied by three wonderful guitar players were singing our lungs and I suspect, our hearts, out. We were in fine form. As someone who loves music, I know! One of our group became emotional. I saw the early stages. The song? A personal memory? I felt it best to leave him alone in his thoughts.
Then, although fighting it, he began to cry. I later learned that the Christian Matrix had dictated that only certain music, played a certain way, was appropriate. This person chaffed at the restrictions and eventually “lost” his music.This very night, at this very moment, we witnessed him finding “his music” again. Part of his freedom to be “ME.” What an extraordinary experience. Would that it be more common for more people.
Having just returned from the first-ever Recovering from Religion Fall Excursion, I am reflecting on the experience in all of its experimental glory. One year ago, we asked: What if we built a religion recovery event around a weekend, in a retreat setting, with therapists and volunteers available, with timely topics related to morality, sexuality, and community, post-religion? Would people attend? Could we build a structure that would be helpful, welcoming, and affirming?
Boy, did we get answers. What a profound, refreshing, and at the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, life-changing event this was.
The setting: the cool mountains of North Carolina in cozy lodges;
the agenda: to create a peaceful space for sharing stories and nurturing friendships;
the presentations: deep dives into religious intrusion and human vulnerability;
the objective: to provide hope and healing to those struggling with doubt and nonbelief;
all came together to create an experience that was greater than the sum of its parts.
On a beautiful fall Friday afternoon in September, where the table was both figuratively and literally set, attendees began arriving: by plane and automobile, checking into cabins, meeting one another, exploring the retreat grounds with its ponds, waterfalls, and bonfire rings. Informal chats began, with the common thread being a history of exposure to religious dogma and indoctrination. Couples, parent and adult child, singles, friends – all working through the awkward first moments of introduction, melting immediately into comfortable conversation, and a tangible sensation of relaxation and acceptance that this was a warm and affirming space to share.
The announcement at the opening about limiting screen time to enhance the weekend was unnecessary – no one wanted to miss a moment. Email, texts, and social media lost their position of priority for a few short days.
The weekend included informative presentations (Why are we vulnerable to accepting unsubstantiated beliefs? How do we reclaim our sexuality? Why do irrational fears of a tortuous afterlife imbed into our brains? How can we live a happy healthy nonreligious life?),
a hike on a small portion of the Appalachian Trail,
loads of carefully-prepared and beautifully-presented food and snacks,
joyful and hilarious karaoke with our very own Mandisa,
and loads and loads of sharing, talking, laughing, and hugging.
And then, just like that, it was over. It was time to return to our busy lives. The simplicity of that reality belied the progress so many had made. We were not sure when we planned this event where on the spectrum of belief our guests would fall. My conclusion was: almost all of our new friends had done the difficult academic work of examining their religious beliefs, found them wanting from lack of evidence, and discarded them. However, many of them, as do many former believers, had gotten stuck right there. Coming out to one’s family and loved ones, finding and building a community of freethinking friends, deliberating and creating a humanism-based morality were all significant tasks that lay ahead.
It is our deepest hope, as we gave yet another round of goodbye hugs, exchanged contact information, and headed off for all points of the compass, that our guests will return to their lives inspired, informed, and energized to continue rebuilding their lives, free from dogma, cognizant of the relics of indoctrination, and as said by Robert Ingersoll, to stand “erect and fearlessly, joyously, face all worlds.”
To the donors who provided the means,
To Shanon who had the seed of the idea, nurtured the growth, and brought it to life,
To the volunteers who gave of their time and effort,
and mostly to the guests who leaned in and opened up and embraced the offering,
Those days that have so much meaning, so much joy.
Today was one of those days.
I’ve blogged about racing with my kids. (Amy,Sam). I’ve tried to express what it means to me to have the children take an interest in what I do, to the point of training for, and competing in an endurance event.
Today was the icing.
Today I completed a triathlon relay with my honey and my grandson.
I recently blogged about a race that my grandson attended and cheered me on, and expressed an interest in joining me. We found a race that worked with our schedule.
Today was that day.
Most triathlons allow for a relay team to participate in the 3 sports: Swimming, Cycling, and Running.
The Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon is a popular, long-standing race in the Tennessee area. While Chattanooga is relatively close to Murfreesboro, it made more sense for us to go a day ahead, stay in a hotel, and be ready for the 4:30am wake-up alarm.
We divvied up the legs like this: Gammy on the swim, Eliott on the bike, and Aden as anchorman on the run. It’s a Sprint distance, so not too taxing.
Before I can get to the 4:30am wakeup call, we need to review a little race prep.
This race, however, was relatively chill. Short, fast, no pressure. Me in the water (400-yd swim), Eliott on the bike (14m), and Aden bringing us home (3m).
But it was the first opportunity for us to participate together, as a team, in a relay.
So off we head to Chattanooga.
First stop, Team check-in.
We get bibs, bike numbers, swim cap, the usual. Weather threatened a bit, but didn’t muck up the whole affair. We stayed in a sexy hotel, The Chattanoogan, in a beautiful room that was comfortable and convenient.
Eliott and I implemented a 42-hour fast beginning with dinner Friday night, and ending at lunch on race day. All kinds of posts to come about that.
Our resident 14-year-old opted to fuel his race a little differently:
Here’s his choice for night-prior dinner – bacon double cheeseburger, french fries, and Mountain Dew. You can see my and Eliott’s lemon, salt, and water shots.
Then to an early bedtime, with this snackage happening in the bed next to ours:
Allow me to describe:
a couple of ziplocks of the prior’s day Krispy Kreme donuts
peanut M & Ms
his greasy bag of leftover burger and french fries from 5 Guys
Frito Honey BBQ corn chips
Hershey’s kisses from the desk check-in bowl
Digestion of steel. Whatever.
The next morning brings a 4:30am alarm to get down to the race site.
Gammy has the first leg, so this means a pretty brisk 6:45a jump into the Tennessee River.
This is a sprint triathlon – the shortest 3-sport race you can participate in. And short it was.
6 and one-half minutes later, I’m out of the water.
Then it’s time to put the timing anklet on our bike leg racer.
After a blistering 14 miles, we have one more exchange to go.
Our anchorman, grandson Aden, 14, takes off out of the chute, and reappears before 9am:
Who in the HELL is doing this hideous camera work?
Anyhoo, a fabulous day out on the circuit with my honey and my grand.
And if you wonder if we ever indulge and eat anything besides meat and vegetables, the answer is yes.
All in all, a wonderful day. What a joy and an honor and a privilege to get to watch this boy experience the delight that is triathlon.
Friends: I haven’t visited this blog in a while. There have been times when I’ve gone on a writing streak for weeks and months at a time, and here now has been a 2-year lull in my muse.
Analyzing the Why is a post for another time, but you might notice it parallels quite closely our national heartbreak in November of 2016. Let’s pick up that thread on another post in the near future, shall we?
This post is about life and all of its changes.
It is with excitement and great anticipation that I announce here that we have been offered the tremendous opportunity to spend some time in the Pacific Northwest. Sometime in October, Eliott and I will be driving transamerica to the west coast, dogs and cats in tow, to overwinter in Florence, Oregon.
We will be one hour from daughter Amy in Eugene, and a day’s drive from son Ben in Spokane. Son Sam and daughter Glenda are the southwest children for the time being, but this move still puts me closer to them than I am here in Tennessee!
Freethought Cottage is in the very capable hands of a property management company, and will be waiting for us upon our return. We plan to relocate the cattle, donkeys, goats, ducks, and chickens, but of course the pups and kittens will be with us. After we’re settled into our new place, we’ll share some pictures and blog posts about life in Oregon.
As has always been our policy at Freethought Farm, we’d like to extend an open offer for friends to visit, anytime! We would love to see familiar faces, and walk along and view the left coast with you.
It’s a tale of hard work, frustration, more hard work, and incredible achievement.
I know the wearer of bib number 596, and it’s a pleasure to tell this story.
About 2 years ago, son Sam said to me that he wanted to do an Ironman* with me “before I got too old”. Ouch, but yes, I’d love to. We set about searching for a race, and even though we had to defer our registration for a year due to my law school studies, we found ourselves in Sandusky, Ohio on Friday, September 11, ready to swim, ride, and run.
*”Ironman” is a trademarked word, owned by the Ironman corporation. Most of you know the history before you even check out this link. There are many organizations that stage Ironman-distance races, but the word is trademarked so organizers have tried to be creative with what to call their events: Ultra Distance, Full Distance, etc, but outside of the racing community, Ironman is what sticks and is most recognizable. This race was called Challenge Cedar Point, and the distance we raced is the Full, but I’ll use the word Ironman occasionally for clarity.
However, nature had arrived as well. Rain, high winds, cold temperatures had wreaked havoc on well-laid plans of race officials. Of the weekend’s festivities, all but the half and full iron triathlons on Sunday were cancelled. Additionally, the swim had to relocated. The race is staged at Cedar Point, a roller-coaster-based amusement park on a small spit of land which creates a bay to the south. The swim was originally scheduled for Lake Erie, but at 2pm on Saturday, this is what Lake Erie looked like:
So the swim was to take place in the small bay to the south, with high hopes that no additional weather would affect the 7am start time on Sunday.
There is not much more exciting than the check-in/swagbag/chip timer/expo area of a full iron triathlon on the day before a big race. Athletes arriving from all directions, family and support getting signs prepared, volunteers helpful and smiling, vendors selling the latest and greatest in equipment, nutrition, clothing, and training aids. Our support crew of Eliott, Amy, and Jess helped us get checked in, wristbanded, and ID’d.
Mandatory racers’ meeting at 1pm on Saturday, with body-marking, race instructions, and any Q & A from the crowd. Race officials warned that winds were sure to be a challenge all throughout the 17-hour event.
Unsurprisingly, the night before a race is a difficult night to get a good night’s sleep: nerves, minds racing with last-minute prep, pre-dawn wakeup call, hotel bed. Race community advice is to get a good night’s sleep on the night BEFORE the night before.
4am alarm, awake and trying to hydrate, consume calories, and yes, poop. (The things you didn’t know [and would rather not] about endurance races.) Because of the high winds the day before, bike and bag check-in had to also occur before sunrise.
Finally, into the wetsuits and over to the ramp.
This race had a time-trial start, which meant 2 swimmers every 3-4 seconds. Sam and I lined up, listened to the national anthem, and then it was time.
Ours was a 2-loop swim around the marina and into the bay. Inside the protected marina the swim was delightful, but the bay was choppy on the first loop, and horrible on the 2nd. As soon as all the full-distance swimmers were out, and before the half-distance swimmers were in, race officials changed the course to stay in the marina and out of the bay.
Sam was out in just under 2 hours, and I was out in just over 2. Those are relatively slow times in our divisions, but the swim was not our strength, and we both opted to play it safe instead of fast. This race had “wetsuit strippers”, which is not nearly as sexy as it sounds. As swimmers exit the water, 2 volunteers assist with wetsuit removal – unzip the back, pull down from upper body, gently set the racer on her rump, off comes the suit, and then those 2 volunteers pull you right back up to standing – about a 4-second operation.
Run the half-mile in a wet swimsuit in the cold and the wind, pick up transition bag, run into changing tent, change clothes, grab a snack, apply butt butter liberally, hop on the bike, wave to support crew, and off you go.
Here’s a chance to learn some new racing lingo. The bike route was a lollipop – head out from transition, do a loop from the tip of stem of the lollipop, then an identical second loop, then back to transition on the stem. (It’s on page 30 of this race brief if you’re really interested.) The scenery was beautiful and the terrain was nice, gentle rollers – just the kind of route you’d like on a 112-mile bike ride. Except for the winds. Here’s the official race recap from Challenge:
When the swim was moved to the marina, the start became a time trial start so athletes could never really know how they placed until later in the day. Athletes faced consistent winds of 15 to 20 knots and gusts up to 25 knots on the bike course. A look of relief was on the face of most competitors as they came off the bike.
Those winds proved to be my undoing in this race. I can average about 16 mph on the bike, depending upon terrain and winds. This race was USAT sanctioned (USA Triathlon), so there are time limits in place for each leg of the event. The swim had a limit of 2 hours 20 minutes, the bike had a 5:30pm course close, and the run had to be completed by 12:05am.
Our heroic support crew found a little cafe out on the route with an outside deck and planted themselves there to see us on both loops. It was at around mile 50 (mile 88 on the second go), and they were able to catch us as we pedaled by.
At 4:30, I was at mile 92. I had been working the mental math in my head for miles, trying to figure if there was any way I could make up the time. The tail-end charlie support vehicle was behind me (not the first time I’ve been the race sweeper), and I stopped and chatted with them. My options, as they explained it, were: go ahead and ride in and they would escort me and allow me to finish even though the course would close at 5:30 (which means no intersection support – no volunteers or LEO stopping traffic so you could blow through without stopping), which would mean I couldn’t begin the run portion OR allow them to take me in so I could cross the chip mat in time to begin the run. I opted for a hybrid – I wanted to pedal as far as I could and still make it to the cutoff. I got to mile 98, and didn’t want to cut it any closer. I crossed the chip mat just under the deadline and headed into transition. If you’re keeping track, this makes me 1 for 3 for ironman attempts. Ask me sometime if I’m going to try another one…
In the meantime, Sam had made it in and back out to start the run around 4:00.
Because at this point I was a DNF (more race lingo – Did Not Finish – hateful, hateful words), I chose not to head out on the marathon, and planned to hop on when Sam came to the turnaround and do the second half of the race with him. There was some confusion about the turnaround point, however, and I missed that. Instead, I started out on the route backwards – meeting finishers as they were coming in until I reached Sam. It was dark and he was a tired boy when I found him, but he was still running.
Bib #596 crossed the finish line somewhere around 10pm – 15 hours, 1 minute, and 16 seconds after he went into the water. The 16 seconds may have come from the PUSHUPS HE DID AT THE FINISH LINE before he crossed. Cheering, applauding, laughing, one step across the chip mat, and then Sam Jordan is an Ironman.
The expression “blood, sweat, and tears” is often used to describe what goes into an accomplishment like this. The triathlon version is “blisters, sweat, tears, and time”. If you happen to see ole number 596, let him know what you think of his achievement. And for the mushy part, to have participated with Sam as he reached this goal goes into my book as one of the highlights of my life. I am so proud of this kid, for a multitude of reasons that go beyond this 140.6 miles. Thank you, Sammy, from the bottom of my mother’s heart.
This post is the third in the series linking to the actual Bar Exam experience and law school graduation. I’m going to hold off on commentary until results are released in May, 2015, so it will be void of helpful hints and suggestions. I kept a journal during Review that I plan to post later; until then this is simply a summary and description of what I did in the months and weeks leading up to the California Bar Exam.
I attended and graduated from Concord Law School. Concord is a non-ABA-approved online law school. Graduates are allowed to sit for the California Bar Exam, and with a passing score, are allowed to practice law in California. Some graduates have been admitted to Bars of other states, although on a case-by-case basis.
I chose Kaplan Bar Review for my review program. Most law students choose a commercial Bar Preparation program. It’s a review of all the law learned through the years in law school, in a format designed to prepare the student to take the Bar Exam of his or her state. Typically these programs are marketed as a 2-to-3 month, 6-day-per-week, 8-10 hours-per-day review.
I began my Bar Review in October, in preparation for the February, 2015 Bar Exam. The months of October and November were spent in a soft review of all of the testable subjects, on about a 6-hour-per-day schedule. In December I transitioned to longer days and more intense study.
There are 3 portions of the California Bar Exam, each of which requires a different type of study. Additionally, there are about 14 topics upon which the testing can be based, and the California Bar does not reveal before the test the subjects that will be tested. Predictions are made, some with more accuracy than others, but ultimately, students have to be prepared for any subject that may appear on the test.
On a personal note, in October, my honey reached out to my social networking family and sought a little note of encouragement – one for each of the 100 days leading up to the Bar Exam. He got an overwhelming response, and each day’s study began with the opening of the envelope. Each note was encouraging and sweet and kind and loving and supportive, and I am grateful to him for starting the project, and to everyone who participated!
Besides the world’s best partner, I also had in place a tremendous support group in family and friends. I live alone, which is very conducive to study, but left to my own devices, I would overstudy and underrelax. My kids checked in with me regularly, and my local girls’ group (the Ish Girls: we meet a noon-ish, for a glass of wine or 2-ish, for a couple of hours-ish) held me accountable for taking some down time. Emily, Susan, Caroline, and Maddie Mae – you will never know what that half-day off per week meant!
Because each segment of the exam tests a different set of skills, each must be studied differently. For the most part, I followed the guidelines given by my Bar Review.
The essays use compound skills, and each skill must be developed both separately and jointly. Legal essay writing is not like college essay writing, where those of us with the gift of gab can just prattle endlessly about any one topic for an hour. Legal essay writing is structured and concise, and requires recognizing a legal issue, declaring a memorized statement of law, analysis of facts to that law, a reasonable conclusion, and so forth, catching all legal issues in the hypothetical.
The skill of essay writing has been practiced in law school, and becomes refined even further during Bar Review. There are anywhere from 60 to 160 statements of law, so to speak, in each subject, for a total of about 1400 statements. Do you have to memorize them all? Only if CalBar tests them. So yes.
There is debate about the detail and length of the definitions. CalBar clearly states that the analysis portion is much more important than the memorized rule statement, but the analysis can only be done if the elements of the statement are present.
During the course of my Bar Review, I submitted 60 essays for grading, and outlined nearly 40 more.
MBE stands for Multi-state Bar Exam, which is the multiple choice segment of the exam. These questions are written in a manner to test very fine distinctions of law. I once heard a lecturer say that the answer can turn not just on one sentence, not just on one word, but on ONE LETTER of one word. (The defendant LIVES in the house with his girlfriend/The defendant LIVED in the house with his girlfriend: in one sentence the defendant has standing to object to an unconstitutional search, in the other he does not.)
There are hundreds of concepts which can be tested, and thousands of ways in which to test them. There may be a more productive way to study for these without practicing them, but I don’t know it. My posse of fellow students all experienced a similar phenomena in that, toward the end of bar review, after having practiced piles upon piles of these questions, they became the most “enjoyable” part of our daily study. I think it was because they were short, and contained, and eventually you begin to get good at them.
I worked over 2500 multiple choice questions over the course of my review.
The final segment of testing is the Performance Test. We call it the most lawyerly portion of the test. If you’re interested, they’re posted here, complete with 2 good answers for each test. If you weren’t under such time constraints, they’d be fun; it’s a puzzle with clues to the answer, and it’s a challenge to find the answers. However, when you feel the pressure of the minutes ticking, it takes a little of the joy out.
Bar review suggests working 2 PTs per week for the 8-10 weeks leading up to the test. I submitted 12, and outlined 12 more.
In January I transitioned from 6-8 hour days with a focus on review and outline construction to 8-10 hour days of skills and memorization.
My study group was a fabulous bunch of brilliant women from law school. In particular my study buddy (and class co-valedictorian), Liz, was patient and tolerant as we messaged and skyped and emailed questions back and forth. Our freakouts parallelled, and having someone who understood where you were, what you felt, and the emotions you were going through was one of the most valuable things I took away from Bar Review.
This is my experience taking the California Bar Exam in Ontario, California, in February 2015.
This post belongs to a trio of posts about my Bar Review, the test itself, and my Concord Law School graduation. They are out of chronological sequence on my blog, but I’ll link them all up with an edit when I’ve got them all written. I’m afraid it will be a tad esoteric, but it’s probably only fellow students who will be reading anyway!
The CalBarX is a 3-day test offered twice per year to certified law school graduates, and a passing score is necessary to practice law in California. There are several testing sites in metropolitan areas, and roughly 4500 students take the test at the February administration. The test before mine, the July 2014 test, had a 48% pass rate, but the rate through the years has ranged from 27% (probably an anomaly) to 63%. Concord’s statistics are an overall pass rate of 51%, but that includes first and repeat takers.
The test consists of 3 different segments: essay writing, Performance Test writing, and multiple choice questions. The National Council of Bar Examiners administer the multiple choice portion of the test, which falls on the middle of the 3 days. All of the segments are considered together when determining the grade, which CalBar labels “minimal competency”, or 65%.
Most students take a Bar Preparation course, offered commercially in person or online. I took Kaplan Bar Review, post to come. The material is the same subject matter that was studied in law school, but without all of the history, philosophy, debate, and discussion that accompanies classes in law school.
I left my home in Tennessee the Saturday before the test on Tues/Wed/Thurs. It had been along, cold, brutal winter in TN, full of long hours of hard study, and while I was apprehensive about the test, I was glad to see my winter of Bar Review come to an end. We had had an ice storm a couple of days before I left, and it knocked my pasture fence down.
I got the cedar cleared, and the housesitter situated before I left town. My sweetheart came to town from Austin, TX to drive me to the airport and put me on my plane. Just his presence calms me down, so he flew all that way to kiss me good luck and send me to slay the dragon!
I got to Ontario Saturday night, unpacked, spread out my outlines on the bed, and tried to stay up late enough to transition to Pacific time.
So of course I was up by 5am on Sunday morning. I tried to go back to sleep, but finally gave up and ran through some multiple choice questions and essays before venturing out to the grocery store. I needed my usual brain food snacks of cheese, nuts, olives, sardines, sparkly water, fruit, and veggies. (I also found a Hispanic market that had the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. We had a little language problem so I ended up with both the shrimp and fish versions, but I was glad to try both. It ended up being my evening meals for 3 days. I’m still thinking about it.)
Sunday afternoon I studied, walked, soaked in the jacuzzi, studied some more, visited the convention center test site, texted my family, skyped my honey, and was generally restless and out-of-focus all day. I had been advised to expect that, so I didn’t freak out too badly. And when you’ve put in close to 800 hours of study, the final 10 don’t take on huge importance.
I did a little better sleeping and felt like I was nearly on track Monday. Monday was a repeat of Sunday, pacing the minimal square footage of my hotel room, outline in hand, reciting rule statements, then sitting and doing 10 or so multiple choice, then restlessly pacing again. I went to bed Monday night with no less than 4 alarms set: my phone, the front desk, the hotel alarm clock, and my honey.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the test center. We were prohibited from bringing in phones of any kind. It was in the Ontario convention center, with 1300 students in rows and rows of tables facing front. Here’s a shot of my CalBar-approved ziplock bag:
Were I a more creative writer, I could better describe the palpable, almost visible blanket of tension in the room. After producing our ID and entry ticket, we worked our way toward our seat assigned for the duration of the test. Some of us reached out to our left and right neighbors (Larry and Brittany), and tried to calm down. I emptied my ziplock bag, lined up my pencils about a thousand times, opened my laptop and the file for the test essays, and attempted to access my relaxation techniques. The instructions were clear, written by and for attorneys, and long. I had a little chuckle when our proctor said: “If you can’t hear me, raise your hand.” Finally: “You may now begin.”
I pushed in the stem of the 2 analog watches I had set to 12:00, and the California Bar Exam, February 2015, had begun.
Tuesday’s essays were –
Full disclaimer: I did not remember all the essay topics. I remember feeling that they were straightforward with no real surprises. I remember working close to exactly 60 minutes per essay. I remember vividly certain words and phrases, topics, and “calls-of-the-question”, but I had to reach out to my law school posse for help. Erin, Dawn, and Liz, all honors-winning graduates, were part of my study group, and they helped me retrieve the essay subjects and topics. They will be posted at the CalBar website after results are released in May.
Tuesday’s essays were:
Contracts – UCC performance and remedies, Real Property joint tenancy/right of survivorship/recording statute/bona fide purchaser/quitclaim deed/landlord-tenant/breach of covenant/adverse possession, and finally CivPro/discovery/physical-mental examination/motion to strike/demand for jury trial. I know that’s a lot of legal gobbledy-gook, but they were pretty good as far as essays go.
The proctors said: “Stop!”, we all put our pencils down, and we were 1/6 finished. I ran back to my room, pulled my snack food out of the fridge, called my honey, texted the kids, and it was time to go back.
Tuesday afternoon was a PT. For the uninitiated, a PT is a roughly 30-page closed universe legal task that includes the task memo (usually a letter from the senior attorney in the firm), transcripts (trial, deposition, interrogation), Columbia statutory code (our fictitious state), cases (persuasive and controlling), and 3 hours to craft whatever it is the senior attorney has requested. Here’s a couple. Here’s a couple more. The answers that are posted are good, passing answers to each Performance Test. For some students, this is the favorite part; for others, the worst. For all of us, it’s the most lawyerly thing we get to do on the exam.
Tuesday’s PT was about a lawyer holding some stock in escrow blahblahblah. Like the essays, I don’t have the ability to recall completely all of the details. I remember I thought it was tough. The organization was fairly easy to discern, but the transcripts/code/cases had a lot of extra info to distinguish. I outlined for the full 90 minutes, then set to writing and did not finish until I heard the 5 minute, then 1 minute, then 30 second warnings.
I returned to my room, kind of dazed, but knowing I had 2 more days. Another restless night of sleep, 4 alarms, and on to Wednesday.
Wednesday is multiple choice day. Most of us have done 2000+ questions in review for the test. They’re tricky, and test extremely fine distinctions of law. Once you get a little good at them, they became “fun” (keeping in mind my perspective of “fun” was skewed by 10-hour days of relentless study), but it’s easier to show than to tell:
A man is prosecuted in a federal district court for income tax violations by consistently altering the accounting books of his business to show income lower than income actually received. The man’s wife assisted in falsifying his accounting records. Subsequently, the couple divorced. At the husband’s trial, the prosecutor calls the ex-wife to testify as to her ex-husband’s accounting practices. The ex-wife refuses to testify on the grounds of both the spousal and marital communications privilege.
How should the court rule on the objections?
A. Overrule both the spousal and marital objections.
B. Overrule the spousal objection, but sustain the marital objection.
C. Sustain the spousal objection but overrule the marital objection.
D. Sustain both the spousal and marital objections.
Law school students all over the blog are chuckling at this. This is an easy one. We had this answered in far less than the 1.8 minutes allotted to each answer. Scroll right on down to the bottom for the explanation. I sure hope Kaplan won’t sue me for posting this. This is Kaplan question. It comes from the Kaplan material. Please don’t sue me, Kaplan.
100 questions in the morning, 3 hours. Lunch. 100 questions in the afternoon. Every 20 questions I stood behind my chair, did a few squats, deep breaths, neck extensions, and sat back down in the chair. You’re welcome, fellow test-takers. I’m sorry, I was as quiet as I could be – no time to run to the bathroom for this. No penalty for wrong answers, so the name of this game is to mark an answer for every question. Those 2000 practice questions faded into the past and it’s just you and the paper and the pencil. This day had a time warp all its own as it took forever to get through all these, yet the time just screamed past.
Wednesday’s arrival back to the hotel came with a treat: Kid #1 (of 4) and his partner had a care package delivered to my hotel. Ben and Kirsten – you will never know what that meant to me! Between the Bar Exam and the trip to Vegas, I think we used everything. Except maybe the jumprope.
But Wednesday night came with another surprise. My honey, the honey who had poured me on to an airplane in Nashville, the one who has been my champion and supporter for 4 years, the one who has cooked and cleaned and cooked some more during this phase of law school, came to Ontario. A knock at the door, and there he was. What a delicious and unexpected surprise. To sleep in the arms of the man who loves, supports, and believes in you most, has a calming power that no pharmacological agent has yet to reproduce.
Coffee at 6, shower, and the final pacing/rule statement begins.
Had I been remotely conscious, I would have been able to take in the beautiful view behind me. This is the Ontario location, so if you’re more aware of your surroundings than me, keep this in mind!
Thursdays essays were (see posse, above) Real Property, with emphasis on equitable/legal remedies, then General Partnership and liability, and Wills and Trusts with a focus on charitable/cy pres. Once again, they were straightforward and expected. Lunch, and back for one more set of instructions, one more lining up the pencils, one more round of eyerolls to my classmates and fellow test-takers, and it’s time to begin.
The last PT of the day was a criminal case with our client accused of the murder of his parents: write an objective brief opposing the admission of evidence of the 911 call from the father, and the non-verbal, possibly assertive conduct, of the dying mother. 90 minutes outline, 90 minutes writing, 5-minute warning, 1-minute warning, 30-seconds, and the February 2015 California Bar Exam is over.
Make sure to link to the pre-Bar blog and the post-Bar blog (Graduation) for the whole story. I promise to come back and post my results, good or not so good, in May. If you’ve hung with me this long….
Thanks for reading!
Answer: A. There are 2 testimonial privileges. This is Evidence 101, and if you truly, seriously want more than this explanation, ask the nearest law student. One privilege protects testifying against one’s spouse in a criminal proceeding, but only lasts for the duration of the marriage. The other privilege protects communications between spouses while married (that was intended to be confidential), and lasts beyond divorce, but does not apply if the communication was related to illegal activity. Hence, in this case, neither privilege applies. Please don’t sue me, Kaplan.
I have been thinking about this day literally for 4 years, and in the abstract for over 50.
Graduation for Concord Law School is held at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It’s always held on the Saturday following the administration of the California Bar Exam. See an earlier post about that experience.
Beginning with the Thursday night at the close of the test, my large and expanded family began arriving. First on the scene were my twin girls. Amy lives and works in Eugene, Oregon (this, this, and this), and Glenda lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada (this, this, and this). I was so happy to see their beautiful smiling faces after the 3-day beatdown.
Friday morning was transition day, from the test site in Ontario, California, to the graduation site in Sherman Oaks, California, just outside LA. But first, a quick trip to the airport to get my Steen. Her name is Susan, and we’ve been friends for years. She is as sweet and lovely as I am loud and snarky. I think that’s how we work so well. We share a love of eating well, of reading, and of writing (here’s the link to her column in our local newspaper). She is also a fabulous professional photographer, and produced most of the grad pics here and on my Facebook page.
Steen brought along our friend Flat Emily. Emily and her 2 beautiful babies and ever-loving and patient hubby John live in Murfreesboro. Steen, Emily, and I make up the Ish sisters, which is part support-group, part wine-tasting, picnic-sharing, group-texting, mother-daughter-sister love fest that meets regularly to laugh and cry and share and partay. Emily and the fam cheered me on from Tennessee, and on her Flat Emily stick girlie!
Friday night was the Grad Bash. Because my school is online, our students reside all over the world. The night prior to graduation, our Student Bar Association sponsors an evening at the pub for graduates and alumni. For some of us, it’s the first time we’ve met face to face! And an added bonus for us: a classmate of the girls’ from high school in Tennessee, Kim, who now lives in LA was able to meet up with us!
And this is where Ben and Kirsten (this, this, and this) come in from Colorado!
Back to the hotel where the last of the Jordans arrived – Sam and Jess from Colorado (this, this, and this), and my law school bestie Rosine (this) and her wife Myra from Castro Valley! We must have been partying pretty hard, because evidently we didn’t have time for pictures that night. The next morning brought champagne toasts at 8am and dressing for the ball!
This was without a doubt, one of the most spectacular days of my life. I am so grateful – to Concord for the opportunity to go to law school, to all my professors, to my friends and family for being so loving, and to my honey for being so patient and supportive. I am still so overcome with emotion from the day, I don’t know how long it will take me to process everything. During the weekend, I tried to open my senses and memorize everything – what I was seeing, and hearing, and tasting, and feeling. It’s my plan to take this memory out of storage over and over and relive every moment.
The day was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more. To have my tribe with me for this event, both in spirit and in person, after this long, arduous, gratifying, challenging journey was beyond anything I could have hoped for.