This is my review of David Silverman’s recently-released Fighting God. This review is cross-posted at Goodreads.
No bones about it. David Silverman IS Fighting God.
In this manifesto, Silverman tells us, topic by topic, why he does what he does. As president of American Atheists, Silverman is the head of the largest, and likely most militant and litigious, atheist organization in the world. And he’s over it.
He’s over “live and let live”. He’s over “respecting your beliefs”. He’s over “coexist”. He’s over all this, and he explains in this book why: not because he’s an intolerant hater, but because religion won’t allow him. He cares too much for other people, and he cares too much for America and its values. Religion, as he sees it, invades every corner of our cultural and political arenas, and not in a good way.
He spends some time at the beginning of the book defining terms so that the reader can get firm footing on the power of language that has for so long worked in religion’s favor. For example, many flavors of Christianity fall under the broad term Christian (Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, even Mormonism). This is not true for people who have no belief in God (seculars, agnostics, atheists). This becomes important when statistics are used to prove that America is a “Christian” nation, because the numbers are skewed. Silverman emphasizes in this chapter the value and extreme importance of non-believers using the term atheist, which regardless of the baggage, every non-believer is.
Silverman then takes us on a journey through all religions, not just Christianity. He carefully addresses every topic used in defense of religious beliefs, and shows them for the smoke they are. One of his strongest sentences, in Chapter 3, states:
“Beyond the rhetoric, beyond the lies, and beyond the marketing, never once in the history of our species has any religion found, offered, or shown any verifiable and testable proof based on scientifically valid evidence and the scientific method (you know, the way we would prove anything else) of any supernatural being or phenomena. Ever. As I said before, if I am ever proven wrong on this point, I will quit my job and donate the proceeds of this book to that specific god’s religion, and I shall do so in a tremendous hail of publicity so that everyone will know.”
This book builds with intensity. As an attorney, my favorite chapter is Chapter 8: On Fighting Unpopular Battles (but Being Right). The chapter addresses the problem of religion in politics in America. Even the most devout of believers will agree that religion has a position of privilege in our government. This is perhaps the most powerful reason in a series of powerful reasons to push back against the ubiquity of religion, and to push hard. So many divisive issues in our culture have at their roots the ugliness of religion: gay marriage, abortion, women’s reproductive health, and even wealth inequality (remember the “poor always being among us”?). Silverman reminds us that religion will never, ever concede its position of privilege, and it will only be taken from religion with muscle, stamina, and determination.
Silverman’s book concludes with a variety of speeches he has made, and after the beatdown silent non-believers have taken throughout the book, these speeches not only assuage those wounds, but serve to inspire and motivate. Patriotism has been usurped by the religious right, and these few pages go a long way in reclaiming it.
For the purpose of full disclosure: not only am I an non-believer, but I’m one of those firebrand atheists Silverman describes. This book does a wonderful job of explaining why I am the way I am, but I would also have loved to have read it when I was on my way out of religion. Instead of slinking quietly away, I would have hired a marching band, drill team and all, and I myself would have lead the parade, carrying the atheist banner.
Before I blog about my latest cottage DIY, can I just restate that I am SO HAPPY IT IS CHRISTMAS 2015 and no longer CHRISTMAS 2014??
Last year at this time I was hip-deep in Bar Review, so much that I didn’t get out a single Christmas decoration, not a nutcracker, not an ornament, not a light. I had asked my sweet family for solitude for these months, and I was down to 1/2 day off per week to get away from studying. Everything festive has double the meaning this year since I missed the whole season last year.
So on to the project. When I moved in to this cottage 4 years ago, one of the first things I added were shelves in the library. I had to move a big corner wall unit to do so, and when I did, I discovered a little secret under the carpet.
I realize it doesn’t look like much here, but I knew that someday I was going to pull up the carpet in that room to get to that floor. No better time than the busiest season of the year, amirite?!
The walls in the library are lined with shelves, which makes the room a large rectangle with a door in the middle of each of the 4 walls. I often keep a table in the middle of the room, and a chair in a couple of the corners.
That exposed corner there is where I originally found the hardwood, under both the current beige carpet, and the groovy 70’s-era green carpet under that.
First order of business was old carpet removal. This home is a home of pets, so you know both layers of carpet and the padding were….pungent.
Carpet and pad out. Now the real work begins. Eliott and I are complete amateurs, but we’ll Youtube the crap out of home projects to figure it out. I already had a belt sander, so our 1st trip to Home Depot was for sandpaper, and lots of it, kneepads, safety glasses and mask.
Now we have a room full of raw wood. This room is in the center of the house, with no windows of its own, so opted not to add any stain. We knew the polyurethane layers would darken the wood a bit. We think this wood is pine, and our resident wood expert coincidentally was home this week and agreed with us.
Second trip to Home Depot. This time it’s for polyurethane, brushes, and more sandpaper (very fine, to use between coats).
Now all that’s left is trim and thresholds. Since the shelves are unfinished, we chose to use an unfinished quarter-round for the base trim. Experienced remodelers already know we’re off for trip #3 to Home Depot for a mitre-box and saw, nails, and of course the thresholds.
The finished look:
I am delighted with this adventure! Next up is the living room floor (and if I can talk Eliott into it, the living room ceiling…).
I’ve tagged this post under Cottage Living. If you go back through this tag, you’ll see descriptions about life on Freethought Farm, my 8-acre slice of paradise in Middle Tennessee. In addition to my little old cottage, there are barns, a pond, pasture, cedars, limestone and more limestone. To these natural and manmade wonders, I’ve added longhorn cattle, donkeys, a horse, chickens, goats, and the occasional duck.
Life out here is delicious – bucolic and grounded and a refuge from all things. However, I also border a large, multi-acre wooded area, which houses the usual assortment of woodland creatures, up to and including a class of predators such as foxes and coyotes. In the balance of predator and prey, I will sometimes lose one of my animals to one of these predators, “nature red in tooth and claw”. It’s the circle of life, and I recognize that when we share an environment like this, there will be an expected cost associated with it.
Last year was an exception. Over the course of the last 10 months, I lost 20 hens, 4 roosters, and my entire batch of spring chicks (25) to one extremely bloodthirsty fox. I watched him prowl my fenceline, just out of shotgun range, for long periods of time, only to slunk in and kill 2, 3, sometimes 4 and 5 hens at a time. Kill, not eat. He would break their necks, bite off their heads, and leave them dead and dying in the winter sun. I shot at him at least 3 different times, and missed. He got more and more brazen, mocking me for my bad aim and poor marksmanship. Another neighbor got hit hard, and we tried trapping, but there’s a reason that foxes are known for being so sly.
I needed another solution.
And here she is.
This little ball of fluff is a Great Pyrenees/Karakachan mix. Here are several of the many many sites Eliott researched before we located her. Here, here, and here. These dogs are bred to guard livestock. The information on training them is extensive, and it involves both socializing them with humans, and allowing them to bond with their tribe, the animals in the farmyard. They are known to recognize and ignore a non-predator, like a deer or a fawn, but recognize and intimidate or destroy a threat to her pack.
Here we are, introducing her to her family:
She has to sleep up in the barn so that she establishes her territory. Don’t ask how many times we’ve gone up there tonight. She’s doing great, and I’ll continue to post her (and our) progress.
One final thought: we don’t yet have a name. Post your suggestion in the comments. The Karakachan breed is of Bulgarian descent, so extra credit for connection to that heritage.
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.
By the time you read this, I will have taken the exam, and possibly have gotten the results (depending upon when I publish this). This blog post was started on December 10, and it’s my intent to add to it often up until the time of the test, with pictures and thoughts.
I’m keeping an old school diary of the whole experience, so I’ll add a little information from the previous two months as well.
I’m using Kaplan Bar Review, for multiple reasons, but I think any upper tier bar review would provide the tools necessary for success. As much as it seems to be the opposite sometimes, there really is a finite amount of material, there are techniques to learn that will give you an advantage, and anyone is capable of the skills with enough practice.
Kaplan markets its Bar Review program as an 8-week intense, 7-day-a-week, 12-hour-day effort. I’m sure thousands of folks have had success doing it that way – I can’t imagine it. My brain is done and done after 8 hours in a day. I have known for a long time that I am a morning person, have high energy and go strong until about 2pm, when I start a long, slow slide into evening. Therefore, I took Kaplan’s 8-week program and turned it into a 16-week, 6-8 hour a day schedule. I’ve been totally happy with it.
My life circumstances are favorable for this study schedule. I’m not working, my kids are all grown and independent, I live alone, my honey lives in another state and comes and visits occasionally. I have a small hobby farm in middle Tennessee with cattle, donkeys, goats, chickens, which all require maintenance and care, but that’s minimal, and the balance is they are a delightful distraction and helps to ground me.
My study partner and co-student Liz is on the same schedule, and I don’t want to underestimate her contribution to my progress. It’s not that we study together that often – it’s more passing questions back and forth through instant messaging, and the solidarity and companionship of a fellow student. She and I have shared rants about everything from tedious lecturers to impatient family to poorly-written hypotheticals to stress management tricks. She has not only made it tolerable, but has been fun and funny and a huge academic help. (*6/5 edit: Liz was one of our co-valedictorians at graduation – how lucky am I?!)
My posse of friends have been beyond supportive. Last fall my honey put out the word that he was seeking help with a 100-days-of-encouragement calendar. The response was overwhelming, and opening each envelope in the morning before study begins is my favorite part of the day.
I’ve been eating Paleo for years. Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds. I still loves me some onion rings now and again, and wine is a food group as far as I’m concerned.
I knew before I began bar review that I needed to be careful about medicating with food. I know the physiology of the sympathetic/parasympathetic systems, and that food elicits the relaxation response that I would desperately need undertaking this monster. I know I sleep better, concentrate better, everything better when I eat clean. The extended nature (4 months) of bar review could lead to a disaster of biblical proportions (pants-wise) if I entered the venture unprepared for the phenomena.
So why do I want macaroni and cheese, cornbread, apple crisp, hashbrown casserole, and snickerdoodles? I have never wanted comfort food as badly as I want it now. I’m sure it’s about the insecurity I’m feeling, the anxiety about the test, the need for everything associated with that food – the caretaking that went into that food, both when I was the consumer and the creator, the memories of the family environment that accompanied the meal, not to mention the actual food, with its taste and effect of excitotoxins that evolved in the grains to make me want to eat more to distribute the seeds for the immobile plant.
But in my effort to avoid emotional comfort eating, I’m undereating, and having a weird aversion to eating anything, for fear of medicating with food. So in this whole psycho Bar Review process, I’m having to revert to old-school, food-logging, calorie-counting, structured eating, because I’m not able to properly assess if I’m hungry, or stressed, or full, or whatever. Sheesh.
Gah. What an experience. I’m at the 5-weeks-out point, and I alternate between panic at how fast the time is passing to not being able to face one more day and can’t wait for the end of this intense academic challenge.
I’m doing between 8-10 hours per day now, and the schedule is strict and tight. I take one half-day off per week, which requires a whole other post to describe the significance of getting in my car and driving, seeing people, buying food. As of today, I have 37 days left to prepare for this undertaking. I cannot yet say that I’m confident I’ll pass. What I am confident of is that I am doing all I can to prepare to be ready. It is not hard for me to stick with the schedule. I’ve done an Ironman, and I know what discipline is. What is hard is doing it with a positive spirit.
No, the schedule is not the challenge. The challenge is the beatdown.
So here’s how it goes. I do 50 multiple choice questions every morning between 6 and 7:30am. I did well in law school, graduated with honors, passed what’s know as the Baby Bar on the first go (California’s First Year Law Students Exam, required when you attend a freaky-deaky online law school like mine). I consider myself a smart person. The detail and the volume of information one must know on these multiple choice questions is staggering. The bar review course I’ve chosen allows the option of practicing the MCQs in timed mode, or in what they call tutor mode, where you can reveal the answer after each question, absent the ticking clock, with the explanation of why the correct answer is the correct answer.
On tutor mode, the 1-2 paragraph question has 3 or 4 potential points of law, and of course the answers each address one of those potential issues. Sometimes there is more than one correct answer – you must choose the BEST answer. The Corrector answer, as Colbert might say. Before I select, I get my outline out, look at my rule statements, read and research each possible answer of the 4 choices, finally make a choice (this process may take 10-15 minutes). Choose. Check answer. Wrong. Review the answers – why correct is correct, why wrong is wrong. Notate outline/rule statement. Recite aloud what I didn’t know that made me choose the wrong answer, and what I now know about why the right answer is right. Move to next question. Repeat. Times fifty. Times every day.
All of that work for that one answer, memorizing the issue, correcting misinformation, adding minute detail to the already vast accumulation of knowledge from 4 years of law school and 3 months of bar review. Then, move to the next question, until cycling through to a similar question as the one I described first. Read the fact pattern – I know this! I just figured this out a few questions ago! Let me check to be sure I understand it … review all 4 answers, refer to outline, select, check…wrong.
And that is just the multiple choice portion of the test.
That’s what I mean by the beatdown. There are 8 subjects tested on the MCQ, 14 on the essays. That’s a helluva pile o’ facts to cram into one 6-pound brain.
6am-7:30 50 multiple choice questions
7:30-8:30 chat with honey, feed dogs, let the chickens out, make coffee, check email, troll FB
So here’s how it works. There are 14 subjects that can be tested on the essays. Unlike undergraduate essays, this is not about chatting on for an hour about everything you know relating to say, criminal law. Law school and bar exam essays are precise, highly structured, strictly-timed essays testing on issue-spotting, concise statements of law, analysis of the facts in the hypothetical to the rule of law, and a reasonable conclusion.
There are 6 essays on the exam – 3 on Tuesday morning, 3 on Thursday morning. Here are a few to look at, along with CalBar’s opinion of 2 passing answers. Even if one is able to write 2 essays per day during Bar Review, it still takes an entire week to get through all the subjects. The components of practice include a sufficient set of rule statements, which are better understood as definitions of issues….maybe it’s better to show by example:
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Intentional Infliction of emotional distress requires (1) extreme or outrageous conduct (2) intentionally or recklessly caused (3) that in fact causes extreme emotional distress.
Extreme Conduct: P will argue that B’s saying “You made me mad so now I’m going to shoot you” is extreme and outrageous. It would be outrageous to an average person, because they might think they were going to die. They might think about their children or live lives, and be very disturbed. Therefore, this is met.
Intent: B need not have intended to cause extreme emotional distress, he just need have recklessly done so. Recklessness is extreme indifference and beyond gross negligence. A person would clearly know this action would cause extreme emotional distress.
Emotional Distress: P will claim this is met because she fainted, and the court will likely agree. It may be bolstered by psychiatrist testimony.
Conclusion: Therefore, P will succeed in proving this tort.
Sometimes the particular rule statement needs to be dissected further, with sort of mini-analysis of each element of each rule. 3 essays per session, 1 hour each essay, one session on Tuesday morning, one on Thursday morning. While one may choose to spend more time on one essay, mathematically that subtracts time from one of the remaining essays, and we have heard repeatedly from professors and bar review materials to strictly limit oneself to one hour per essay.
PT is short for Performance Test.
It is the most lawyerly portion of the Bar Exam. I’ll take the liberty to speak for my fellow test-takers and say that this assignment would be delightful – a gratifying challenge allowing us to shine and show the bar graders our brilliance as legal strategists and negotiators – were it not for the fact that we have to show all this genius in 3 hours.
Upon the word GO, and within 180 minutes, the 30-page packet is opened, the assignment is read, the file is reviewed, the library is studied, the task is outlined, and the paper is written. In our 3rd year, my fellow students and I spent 6 months, SIX MONTHS, on one brief.
Here are two, plus passing answers, from July 2012. There is a one PT on the Bar Exam on Tuesday afternoon, and one on Thursday afternoon.
It has been 16 days since I learned that I passed the California Bar Exam. I have been celebrating and traveling and celebrating again since then, but I’m settled for a while (a short while) now, and I want to try to express something.
I’ve written other posts, and am still working on yet another, about the study and test experience, so I don’t want to go over all that here.
What I want to try to do with this post is to express how grateful I am for the people who surrounded and supported me while I was on this journey, and how critically important they were to the success I had on the test. I know it sounds melodramatic and cliche to say that I couldn’t have done it without them, but that is so completely and fundamentally true, I don’t care. I’ve hesitated writing this post for fear of leaving someone out, and if I do, please forgive me. It’s not that I have forgotten your kindness, it’s just that my brain is still recovering from the test.
Facebook family and friends from all over:
If one were to scroll back through my Facebook pages over the law school years, hardly a day would pass without finding some word of encouragement. Add in snail-mail, texts, email, phone calls, and I’ve been marinating in good wishes non-stop. Just before Bar review, my honey put the word out that he was compiling a test-countdown calendar, to be composed of daily words of affirmation for me to read every day for the 100 days leading up to the Bar. The response was overwhelming, and that set of 100 calendar pages will be a treasure to me for the rest of my life.
My freaky-deaky law school has awesome professors. Who knew? They were patient and accessible and, because they are on the cutting edge of the online education experience, really concerned that we students did well. I have no frame of reference from a brick-and-mortar school, but compared to my undergraduate experience, my law school professors were much more engaged and invested. Additionally, as online professors, they must overcome those issues inherent in virtual classrooms and distance learning. I’m grateful for their teaching and their guidance and counsel.
Sometimes you just get lucky. For my season of law school and Bar review, I found myself in a group of strong, brilliant, exceptional women. When you understand that most of us attend online law school because we have jobs, families (in that sweet spot of caring for children and parents), mortgages, and a thousand other obligations, it makes this group of women in more impressive. (Disclaimer: we had brilliant men in our class too, but somehow our little study posse ended up estrogen-heavy.) The ongoing joke is that online law school limits one’s ability to form lasting friendships and study partnerships. Nothing is further from the truth. Whether scratching our heads together in Evidence, or ranting about Remedies, or freaking out during the process of law review, this group of forever friends gave and gave and gave. Whenever one of us was down or frustrated, all the others jumped in to support and encourage. What a joy and pleasure to have gone through this with them. I am grateful for their friendships, and the privilege to call them professional colleagues now.
Rosine is in a category by herself, both in this post and in life. Rosine and I started out together in law school and were study buddies the first 2 years. Rosine hit a bump in the road and couldn’t continue with law school, but she hasn’t relented in her cheering and support for me. She never let a significant date – finals, new law school year, bar review countdown – pass without reaching out by phone/text/skype to tell me she believed in me. There had to have been a personal price for this, but she never let on that there was, even coming to my graduation and celebration. I am so lucky to have had her as my study partner, and even more so to have her as my friend.
My Ish sisters:
Oh my girls. This is my friends’ group in Murfreesboro, the ladies that kept me on track by making me laugh and cry and laugh some more. During my bar review, these girls held me accountable for taking one half-day off per week, when all I wanted to do was stay glued to my desk and do just one more essay. Our Days-Out, whether pizza and beer, wine and cheese, or just gathering at one of our homes, were consistently the highlight of my week, and a re-charger for the next. Susan even got to come out to California for my graduation (and took most of these pictures), and was with me when I logged in for my results. They committed to our schedule in spite of jobs, kids, hubbies, and all the other competitors for their time, and I am so very very grateful to have these women in my life.
I know, I know, I do this all the time. This isn’t my usual my-kids-are-so-great-and-perfect-and-I-love-them-so-big post. This is to say thank you to them for not only inspiring me with their own accomplishments and kickass lives, but also for their constant words of encouragement and support. Never once did they question their 50-year-old mother going to law school, or choosing an online program, or getting a California license while living in Tennessee! They have celebrated every victory along the way, and I am grateful to them and for them for their complete and total awesomeness.
In a post full of mush and gush, this will be the mushi- and gushiest. My honey, who is not known for his patience, was the kindest, most tolerant, loving, supportive partner I could have asked for. For the last 4 years I have taken books on every work trip and every vacation we have had. I was psycho about my study schedule, both during law school and bar review, and never once did he complain or push back or even roll his eyes (outwardly, anyway) when I spread out on hotel desks, or found the library, or had to attend class. He prepared endless meals and brought me snacks and rubbed my neck and shoulders. He took on all the farm tasks when he was in town to give me a break from those. He endured my meltdowns, and when I needed to talk through a legal concept, he listened AND paid attention so he could ask me questions to make sure I understood. He was everything I needed and then some.
Hard work? Yes. Study? Yes. Sacrifice? Yes. But the real key to the success I had in law school and on the bar exam was the love and support of the people I’m so fortunate to have in my life. Thank you from the bottom of my very grateful heart.
Not that I’m restless until Bar results come out (less than a month now).
Today’s lesson is Making a Rain Barrel. First, get a barrel.
Summer in Tennessee means fresh squash, tomatoes, peppers – a bounty of vegetables that are on the vine in the morning, and on your plate for dinner. I’ve already blogged about my composting operation, which is easy when you’ve got goats, cows, and chickens “obliging” with their contributions. The soil is rich and healthy and produces produce by the bunches.
Now the next step is the watering. Water is cheap and abundant in my county, but rain water has awesome nutrients missing in regular tap water, plus Tennessee thunderstorms are often heavy and unexpected. I wanted to be able to capture this natural ambrosia, so, once again, Youtube comes to the rescue.
I found my barrel on Craig’s List:
Most of these barrels come from car washes, so the detergent residue must be rinsed out thoroughly. Mine cost $10, plus about a 7-mile drive to pick it up.
There are a variety of methods for creating one of these barrels. The concept is the same – capture roof runoff following a rainstorm, access at a later time to water plants. Simple: intake, outgo, overflow. Youtube has a variety of options, so after having watched several, off to Home Depot to get the parts.
About halfway through my shopping, I found this:
With about half the parts in my cart, I was up to about $15. This kit was $25, and has a very specialized piece that I really wanted to use, so I bailed on the individual components, and bought the bag.
This construction is so simple, pictures can almost tell the whole story, with a little additional commentary:
This kit came with 3 different size hole saws. I didn’t get that far in my shopping, but I think I came out ahead by buying the kit. Of course, you have to have your own drill.
The lower hole is for use with a garden hose/soaker hose. The upper hole is for use with a bucket or watering can.
Spigot and drain plug. Offset to accommodate a bucket.
Now we need an intake.
And its gasket:
Then the scary part – cutting into a perfectly functioning gutter:
So here’s the magic of this kit:
See how it works? Most of the rain is captured as it runs down the inside of the gutter. When the barrel is full, and cannot take more water, the overflow goes right down the gutter and out the splash as usual.
And don’t forget:
And in case you wondered, you do have to empty it in winter. In order to preserve the special flange from winter’s harsh freezes, here’s the winter gutter replacement cap:
$35 all in, and another cottage project done! Now just waiting for rain. And since Murfreesboro has decided it is now Seattle, that should be about 2am.
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.