The Velvet Hammer

The Velvet Hammer

Stritmatter Kessler Whelan
200 2nd Ave West
Seattle WA 98119
206.448.1777 tel
206.728.2131 fax

Teaching Voir Dire with Bill Bailey and a little help from Trader Joes

Posted in About practicing law, Teaching, voir dire




Taught trial advocacy for many years at UW School of Law with dear friend Bill Bailey.  Bill is now a full time professor at the school.  Since teaching without him would not be the same, decided to turn in adjunct badge.  However, today am going to the school to teach voir dire.

After factoring everything that could go wrong with traffic, arrive 30 minutes early.  Make a quick pit stop at  Trader Joes.  Scan the aisles and choose: 1) bag of mandarin oranges; 2) container of cookie butter chocolates; and 3) small bags of mixed nuts and dried fruit.  These are the secret ingredients.

Start class off.  Ask question.  Student answers.  Reward follows.  Chooses chocolate.  Throw one at him and he catches it.  Next person volunteers.  Chooses nuts. Toss it over and miss target.  Someone retrieves it for her.  And so on.  Needless to say, class participation is superb. 

During this event,  Bill is taking notes. 

Here they are:


From: Bill Bailey

Date: January 13, 2015 4:49:20 PM PST

To: Trial Advocacy adjunct professors

Subject: The Monday Class Report-Voir Dire Training With Karen Koehler


Dear Faculty, In keeping with my New Year’s resolution, I want to fill you in on the Monday class, which was a huge success, with great energy and participation by the students. Karen Koehler is a remarkable trial advocacy teacher who I was most fortunate to be paired with for a number of years here at UW. Her spontaneity, creativity and intuitive grasp make her uniquely suited to help students understand and perform one of the most feared parts of a trial

Karen broke the session into two parts, first talking about trust and communication in the courtroom and “us” (lawyers) versus “them” (jurors). Then we adjourned to the mock courtroom “set” in 138 Gates. The students filled the jury box and the first two center rows of 138. One by one, they took turns asking the panel about attitudes and issues pertinent to the Constantine case.

Prior to adjourning to the courtroom “set,” Karen asked for a show of hands, which class members considered themselves extroverts and which were on the introvert side. It was about evenly split. She went on to say that most lawyers are not the brash extroverts that the public thinks we are.

Then she asked for a show of hands on who was the kind that others confided secrets in during adolescence. About 5 students raised their hands. She asked them why they thought others trusted them. The replies varied. “”I am a good listener.” “I care about people.” “I could be trusted to keep a secret.”  ”I am calm and rational.”

Her provocative question that followed was, “If you weren’t one of those people that others trusted then, what are the odds of shifting into that now?” One student had a very good answer to this, “High school was a strange time. I have matured a great deal since then, much more comfortable with myself.”

Karen then focused on the core challenge of voir dire: “How do you get information out of people in a courtroom on who is going to be biased against your clients?” She used the term “lawbotomy” to describe the biggest issue for lawyers. “We learn to speak in measured sentences full of the jargon we learned in law school. This separates us from real people.” Karen laid out the consequence. “It turns voir dire into us versus them. You have to figure out how to be real. You want to be on the side of the jury, not on the other side with the lawyers.”

She made some general remarks on how to approach voir dire successfully. “First impressions are formed quickly. The jury weighs everything coming out of your mouth. You want to set a tone that goes beneath the surface and gets things going. It has to be a dialog, not information collecting. Safe, not judgmental.

Your questions should be based on whatever the last answer from a panel member is, trying to keep it going. If you read questions from a script, you will get scripted answers. This needs to be a human interchange. Make your questions to the panel small, short and simple. Dial down, trying to explore an issue. React with real human expression. But never judge people based on their answers, always thanking them for their candor.

You work the panel like a talk show host, getting them aligned. Deal with issues in groups. “How many agree with that?” “Why?” “Who has an opposite view?”  You don’t want to be seen as just a data collector that is just trying to kick some of them off.

Karen’s view is that for many lawyers, voir dire is a time of stalling and giving empty platitudes, thanking the panel for their service, trying to curry favo. “Jurors want you to get into it. Hit the go button.”

She exhorted the students to be like the “normal, regular people they were before they went to law school.  Act like a real person. Just do it! Get in and be real.” She asked them, “How does a real person stand? What kind of acknowledgement or eye contact do they make? How do they hold their hands. How often do they smile?”

We then got into the voir dire process itself, with each student going about 2 minutes and then getting feedback from all of us. The liability areas touched on in the questioning were all very pertinent to the Constantine case, e.g., How do you feel about bicyclists on city streets? How many of you get irritated when you see them darting in and out of traffic? Who rides a bicycle regularly? How comfortable do you feel in traffic with cars? Who uses their cell phone while driving? How safe do you think this is? Who has ever rented a car in an unfamiliar city? Did it take you time to get used to the rental car? How do you navigate in an unfamiliar city? Who has ever used a crosswalk in downtown Seattle? Do you always look both ways? Are you concerned about being hit when you cross? Who ever has had a near miss as a pedestrian, when a car didn’t see you?” How careful are drivers in stopping for pedestrians? Who has ever motioned a pedestrian across a street when driving? How many of you consider yourselves safe drivers? How did you learn? Who taught you?”

Then we shifted to damages questions. How many of you have gone to college? How many of you changed your majors? How many times? Did anybody take time off during college or afterward? Has anyone ever lost a family member or close friend to trauma? How did that affect you? Did it change your daily life? How do you feel about awarding 4 for loss of life.”

In her feedback, Karen constantly urged the students to be themselves, “Know who you are and what makes you special. That’s what you go with in the courtroom. Be authentic.”
She also reminded them that “the purpose of voir dire is not just to get people off the jury. You are building trust. The trust relationship is the single biggest thing.”

The students were totally engaged in this, It was thrilling to see them put themselves out there for the sake of personal and professional growth. Karen created a climate in the classroom where they felt totally safe to explore the unknown.

Photo:  Nala and I on a picnic table at Lake Wenatchee state park.  Right before we jumped off.


Bump Bounce and Roll: Trying to start a trial.

Posted in About practicing law, Drop Dead Diva, The Good Wife


On The Good Wife or Drop Dead Diva, the attorneys get the cases in the morning.  Try them in the afternoon.

In the real world the case is filed and then has to wait a year and a half for a trial date.

If it survives for that long, there is a fifty-fifty chance  the defense will ask the judge for (and get) a continuance.  Delay is a friend of the defense: Deny. Defend.  Delay.

So now the case has been waiting for a couple years.  The judge says – no more continuances.

As the trial date approaches, the office starts buzzing.  Call all witnesses.  Coordinate schedules.  Make sure everything will fit together as perfectly as possible.  Because judges don’t like even ten minutes of down time.

Just a few days away and we get the call from the bailiff.  Sorry.  Judge has a conflict.  Your case is getting brokered.  You are on standby.


Frustrated.  But not surprised.

Office buzzes again.  Calls all witnesses.  They are unhappy.  Some will now be unable to attend.  They had already scheduled time off with their bosses.  Or they had travel plans.  Or they are doctors and have 50 patients booked solid every day.

The witnesses all want to know what the next date will be.  We can’t tell them.  The court hasn’t told us yet.

We wait until we get the call.  Case will start just one day late.  Just. This still plays havoc with everyone’s schedules.

The defense lawyer says they won’t agree to one day late.  Their witness isn’t available.  They bring a motion to continue the case again.


Deal is worked out.  Case is continued for a month.

All the witnesses are notified.  All the schedules are reworked.  Plans made.

And we all cross our fingers and hope that this time it will actually go out on time.

Photo:  John, Anne and I making the best of the trial date continuance by eating lunch at the space needle. 

Livin’ the Glamorous Life – Another Hollyball Tale

Posted in About me, About practicing law, About running, Lawyer convention drama


Wake up at 6:45.   Laze around.  Tonight is Hollyball.  Wonder what else is on schedule.  Open calendar.  “9:00 a.m. hold for Court of Appeals Argument.”  Whaaaaaaaaaaa

Text John 7:27 - is there an argument today.

Texts back 7:29.  Yes at 9:30 at first & union.

Try not to have a holy cow fit.  The word “hold” on a calendar is used when we are not certain of a date so hold it until confirmed.    The world hold threw me for a head fake.

Text John 7:34. Send me the files.

He does.  I read them.  Garth wrote them.   I know the issues very well and there’s not much case law.  Still… brain must go into warp speed.  And does.

7:55 – 8:20 -  get ready, feed nala, take her potty, grab some fruit, head out, mentally bounce through issues, calm down.

9:00 – park, look at breakfast options in “fresh” deli part of lobby.  Reject pre-packaged muffin idea.  Go to convenience store which has lemon luna bar.  Wolf it down.

9:15 – ride up escalator to appeals court.  Look up case.  We’re number one on docket.  Go thru security, let them dig through purse,  high heeled booties set off buzzer.  Get the once over treatment from the guard.

9:30 – say hi to Rory the defense lawyer.  COA commissioner enters.  We rise and begin.

10:00 – we finish.  Have not broken a sweat.  Enjoyed the adrenaline.  The positive endorphin rush from fighting for clients.

10:30 – back at office.  What else is on calendar.  Take a peek.  Oh great.  Another set of meetings double booked.  Sign this.  Sign that.  Draft that.  On the phone with 3 computer screens going.  Another typical day.

2:30 – leave.  Proud of self.   Goal was to leave by no later than 3.  Push self out of door with a little help from Nala.

2:35 – get home.   Take Nala potty.  Walk up to front door.  Leaves are everywhere from dratted street level neighbor’s maple.  She hasn’t raked them pretty much all year.  Which means I have to.   Can’t help it.  Get blower out and blow them back onto her part of the sidewalk.  This means they’ll be back on mine later tonight.  Still feel temporarily satisfied.

3:00 - throw on work out gear.  Do a few more emails.

3:15 – head out door with Nala and run around wind blown neighborhood.

4:30 – back home.  Holy heck.  Am done  two hours before hollyball begins.  This is a record.

4:35 – feed nala, move laundry from washer into dryer and start a new load.  Turn on Pandora funk 70s-80s channel.  Loud.

4:45 – shower.

4:50 – look at clock.  Still feels too early.  How long can it take to get ready.  Dink around.

5:15 – use hair dryer.  This device is used perhaps once a month for about a minute just to get things going.  Today actually dry most of hair with it.  Let’s discuss hair.  First of all, there are going to be people at the hollyball who have spent the afternoon at the salon.  My hair on the other hand, has a bit more…natural…character.  As you  may recall, it caught on fire last month.  And I used scissors to chopped off roughly 1 to 3 or 4 inches depending upon which side was less burned than the other.  In addition, Joy, the only person who has ever colored my hair, moved at least temporarily to be with her sister back east several months ago.  This means hair has some silver bits and pieces floating around.  Which I suppose adds to the whole holiday sparkle theme.

5:25 – hair is dry.

5:25 – 5:35 – put on some eye makeup.

5:35 – do not have a personal shopper or dresser.  Am just a wee bit not a Kardashian.   Have an outfit in mind.  Hopefully it will work out.  This does not involve a designer label like YSL, Gucci or Prada.  First, comes the velvet leggings by BCBG.  Have had these for three years and wear them rarely.  So they’re in good shape.  A few months ago bought BCBG tux jacket at super sale.  90% off or something like that.   Cost almost as much to dry clean as it did to buy it.  To tie everything together, last week went shopping with Cristina for a sparkly top.  Tried Nordstrom and other decent stores.  But there was nothing quite right.  Had aha moment – forget the grown up stores.  Let’s go to the teen stores.  Forever 21 to be exact.  Cristina found sparkly shirt.  $12.99.  So today, put it on.  Its a little  big.   Quite low in the front.  Consider tying straps up more.  Looks bunchy so don’t.  Put on tux jacket.  Sleeves too long.  Tailoring would have dwarfed the purchase price.  Roll up sleeps in an 80s way.  Inspired by the pounding funk.  Zip up velvet tassle booties.  Vintage prada satin party bag have had for about 20 years.

6:00  – 6:30 – voila.  Am done.   Take picture.  Post on FB.  Steven comes to get me.  Arrive at four seasons.  And hollyball the night away.

Photo:  selfie with Nala




Playing the “pot” card against an innocent driver

Posted in About practicing law, frivolous defenses, Tips for Attorneys


Driving while high is now being used as a sword by the insurance companies of bad drivers who cause crashes.

Let’s say you live in a state where pot is legal.  You get high on a Sunday evening with a group of friends in your own home.  On Thursday, you are driving down a road and someone runs a red light.  You had a green light.  The bad driver tells the officer that you look high.  The officer doesn’t see anything unusual but asks you to take a blood test.  Carboxy-THC shows up.  You are ticketed for driving under the influence.  Until a prosecutor looks at the blood work and realizes there’s no case.  At which point the charges are dropped.

This is not a fanciful scenario.

Once a person uses marijuana, THC (Tetrahydrocannibol) can stay in the blood stream for days if not longer.  However not all THC is the same.

The pharmacology of marijuana is described in terms of three chemicals:

1) THC, which is metabolized into

2) 11-hydroxy-THC, which is the metabolized into

3) carboxy-THC.

Only the first two chemicals – THC and 11-hydroxy-THC produce impairing effects on brain cognition.  The third chemical form – carboxy-THC is not psychoactive and not associated with impairment.

In a recent case, a van driver blew past a yield sign into an intersection.  At the same time, a car driven by a young man (Hopkins) with two passengers was already in the intersection.  Hopkins was on the arterial and had the right of way.  The van t-boned the car of friends.  Our client was one of the passengers in the car.  She was critically injured.

When the lawsuit was filed, the van driver’s insurance company claimed that Hopkins was at fault for not reacting faster to the van having blown through the yield signed.  They claimed that he had THC in his blood and was driving high.  Hopkins said he had used marijuana a week before the crash and was not driving high.

Attached is the motion for summary judgment filed by Hopkins’ attorney.  The plaintiff’s lawyers joined in the motion.  The van driver’s lawyers opposed it.   After a court hearing, the judge agreed that there was no evidence Hopkins was driving while high and that he was not at fault for the van having run the yield sign.  Hopkins was dismissed from the case.

Motion for Summary Judgment:  Hopkins’ MSJ

Photo:  Animation still by Larry Tompkins, P.E.


Time Machine: did my college frosh prediction come true

Posted in About me, family


Saturday morning.  Am going through and dumping old files.  The box catches my eye:  “Business Junk – Old School Records.”  All neatly organized.  Typical.

Find a two page writing sample entitled:  “Where will I be in ten years. Karen Kathryn Koehler.  English 181  Milbauer, May 9, 1979.”

This would have been typed on an IBM Selectric.  The three pages of  onion skin paper are a bit wrinkled.

The 54 year old me reads what the 19 year old me has to say.   Oh the arrogance of youth!

The teacher docked me for poor punctuation.  Never mind the run on sentences.

Where will I be in 10 years?  It’s a question I hardly ask myself as I am young and still not worried about my future.  Yet, when I examine my past upbringing, present living situation, and various expectations of life, I find I can pretty accurately predict what my place in society will be by that time.

My past plays an important role in determining my future.  I am the product of a family in which I was the oldest child.  Not only did I have my younger siblings to boss around act like a queen to, but I also had a substantial amount of responsibility placed upon me by my parents, which included setting a proper example for the rest of the kids, and often being placed in charge of things, like cleaning up the living room.  To my childhood under these circumstances, I attribute my current ability to be authoritative and my general nature of being very self-assured.


Ah, yes, the hardships of cleaning up that living room.

For more insight into the analytical brain of a 19 year old future lawyer (and to see if the predictions came true) here is the full unabridged and uncorrected text:

Where will I be in 10 years

Photo:  Nala helping me to go through a few boxes of old papers.

The privilege of being able to say goodbye

Posted in About practicing law, True life stories, Wrongful death


Jan was married to her childhood sweetheart.  She made his favorite sandwich.  Was getting ready to leave for his jobsite.  So they could have a noon picnic in the car.  Phone rang. There had been a work accident.  Charlie was dead.  Jan never got to say goodbye.

Irene and Paul were both widowed when they fell in love and married.  One day he got into his favorite car and headed to the hardware store.  Bought a few items.    Just a few blocks before he reached home, a novice driver crossed the center line.  Paul was dead.  Irene never got to say goodbye.

Sharon and her youngest daughter were visiting Seattle.  Walking on the sidewalk at 5th and Pike downtown.  A driver lost control of his car.  Went up onto the sidewalk.  Striking mother and daughter.  Sharon was dead.  Her husband and children never got to say goodbye.

These stories are my clients’ stories.  They haunt me.  And have taught me.

We need to assume that our loved ones will be alive by the time we next see them.  We need to be positive.  To take life for granted – to a certain extent.  Because if we only dwelled upon death and dying, we would greatly diminish our ability to live life fully.

Yet in an instant everything can change.

In the case of traumatic death the survivors not only are grieving the loss of their loved ones.  Or worrying whether they suffered pain.  The survivors are replaying their last moments together.  Maybe they hugged before they parted that day.  Maybe they didn’t.  Maybe they blew kisses.  Or quarreled as all families do.  Almost everyone wishes they could replay and rewrite that last ending.  Hug longer.  Kiss better.  Smile and not quarrel.  Sometimes the wish to change that ending causes great survivor guilt.

On a Monday two weeks ago, my oldest dear friend (from Kindergarten) called:

Liz: did you hear about Bonita.

K3:  No.

Liz:  I heard from someone who saw something on facebook that she is terminally ill.

K3:  I will find out what’s going on.

And so, I investigated and eventually discovered that she had been recently diagnosed with the most aggressive form of brain cancer that is known to science.  Her best friend Kimber said that Bonita underwent surgery.  Had lost significant brain function.  Was in a skilled nursing facility in Fairfax Virginia.  Awaiting the end.

K3:  How long.

Kimber:  They say she may make it to Christmas.

K3:  I am going to come see her.

Kimber:  When.

K3: I will need to clear my schedule but hopefully in two weeks.

Kimber:  okay.

All I could do for the rest of the day was think of Bonita.  That night sitting at the kitchen table with Steven, started looking up flights on expedia.  Could take a red eye after teaching class Saturday.  Get in Sunday and leave Sunday night to be back in time for work Monday.  Booked the flight.  Messaged Kimber.

K3:  I’ve decide to come this Sunday instead.  The sooner the better.

Kimber:  great.

And so, that’s what happened.  Was able to see Bonita.  Hug her.  Show her pictures.  Kiss her.  Sit with her.  Help her eat a little.  Smile and laugh with her.  Hold her hand.  Tell her stories.  Reminisce.  Even though at first she couldn’t quite remember who I was.

It was a privilege to be able to be with her one last time.  And to say goodbye in person.

Photo:  Beautiful Bonita when I last saw her during a stop over in Washington DC.





A reminder about open flames: a story of how I almost became Michael Jackson

Posted in About me, True life stories


The house is beautiful and glowing.  Am standing with back to fully enclosed gas fireplace.  Getting warm.  Talking to Steven who is sitting by the chess board.

Fzzzzzzzzz.  Crackle.

He jumps up running toward me.  Hits at my head.

Turn around to see behind me.  Whaaaaaaaat.

My hair has gotten long lately.  Down to the middle of my back.  Yesterday when we were at Umi Sake House, Alysha told me it was time for a cut.

This evening it is in a pony tail.

Reach up and can feel charcoal pieces here and there mainly near the bottom.

The pretty little tea light candles centered on the fireplace mantel had caught my hair on fire.

Steven says that he saw two flames shooting up about a foot behind me.

Am glad couldn’t see that.

Start to wander around.  Go upstairs to look at damage in bathroom mirror.  Little pieces flake out and a few clumps collect in the basin.

Text the girls the carnage in the sink.  Take another picture to show them hair is still mostly intact.

Yuck.  Says Noelle.

I told you you needed a haircut.  Says Alysha.

Get the vacuum.

Open the doors even though it is 40 outside.

Can’t get rid of the acrid smell.

Shampoo twice.

Whack at hair with scissors to make sure it is mainly straight across at the bottom.

It could have been much worse.

Photo:  Hair after fire – minus about 6″ on the right side.



Making waves: the value of dissent

Posted in About me, Women

WSTLA 2008 Board

In 2007, when I was President of WSTLA, I wrote an article called the Value of Dissent.

The focus at that time was AAJ and my perception of  its systemic problems in advancing diversity.  I was not liked by AAJ leadership for being aggressively outspoken on the issue.

Seven years later, I am now not liked by WSAJ leadership for being aggressively outspoken on the issue of lawyers directly soliciting clients (which I abhor).

Another past president of WSTLA told me:  sometimes people have a hard time with a woman who speaks out.”  He wasn’t the only person who has shared this thought with me.

Regardless of why organizational leadership particularly dislikes when I  speak up, here is an excerpt from the article WSTLA printed when I was at its helm:

The Value of Dissent

How colorless our world would be if we all had the same opinions…

In the forward to A Mathematician’s Apology (Cambridge University Press 1940) Prof. G.H. Hardy says:

It is never worth a first class man’s time to express a majority opinion. By definition, there are plenty of others to do that.

Progress is made, not by comfortably agreeing with the conventional wisdom, but by having the courage to say what no one else is saying and to say it with clearly articulated reasons that motivate people to change their opinions.

Perhaps the greatest value of dissent is “that the sponsoring and protection of dissent generally have progressive implications” for social change because “[d]issent communicates the fears, hopes, and aspirations of the less powerful to those in power.” Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America. Steven H. Shiffrin. (Princeton University Press 1999).

There is a reason why law students are taught to argue both sides of a case.  Lively debate is considered a fundamental touchstone to the truth finding process necessary in a democratic society.  An organization that shies away from embracing the expression of dissident opinion, no matter how insulting, is an organization that risks being undermined and weakened by its own self satisfaction. 

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.  John Stuart Mill, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1947) at 15.  Quoted in Justice Brennan’s opinion in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964).

Ron Ward, a true hero for the cause of diversity, sent me this quote:  “…..If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder or lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”  FREDRICK DOUGLASS, West Indian Emancipation Celebration at Canandaigua, New York, August 4, 1857.

 Photo:  When I was President of WSTLA with the board 2007/2008

Partying with VABAW – all bar dinners should be like this

Posted in About social networking, Lawyer convention drama



Shellie and I walk into the Triple Door on 3rd and Union.  Late as usual.

Hi.  Hi.  Hug.  How are you.  Hand shake.  Hi.  Everyone is smiling.   Am here to support Ada Ko Wong who is president Elect of VABAW (Vietnamese-American Bar Assn of WA) on its 10th year anniversary.

We figure out where our table is.

And then it’s time to start.

We sit and are joined by Tam Nguyen.  We don’t know him yet.  He is going to be the star of our evening.

Normally bar association dinners are…  Well, they are exactly like you would imagine them to be.  The food is bad.  Talking heads reign supreme at the podium.  And everyone politely claps even as they yawn .

This is not your typical bar dinner.

The presenters are in traditional Vietnamese garb instead of business suits.   Ada is in a mint green flowing gown.

A law student speaks about her VABAW scholarship that placed her in a clerkship in Ho Chi Minh (fka Saigon – but still considered to be Saigon by many – including Tam).  All followed by a fashion show of clothing primarily made of scarves.    I like the horse head one the best.

We clap in delight.  Occasionally lean over each other’s quickly emptying plates to whisper how fun this all is.  But the best part of our evening is our table mate Tam.

Tam is not a lawyer.  He and his family own the Tamarind Tree restaurant in “Little Saigon” as well as Long Provincial down on 2nd & Stewart.  Up until a year ago, Tam also was a pharmacist.  Shellie and I ooh and ahh.  We love the Tamarind Tree.  Particularly sitting outside in the summer.  Shellie says – I’ll take a vegetarian pancake.  My mouth waters.

Tam tells us that he goes to Vietnam once a year.  About 13 years ago, he went to his former neighborhood.  There sitting on a stoop was his best friend from grade school.  Drinking rice wine.  Unemployed like so many.  Ill.  His family’s assets confiscated by the communist government.    His friend had two young girls.  They were unable to go to school.  Only those who had money could send their kids to school.

On his way home Tam worried over the plight of his old friend.  Then had an epiphany.  He conceived of a charitable organization.  Enlisted the help of his best friend, an engineer.  They applied for 501c3.  Obtained charitable status after more than a year of  hassle (the IRS wanted to know where the money would come from, how would it get delivered, and other details for over a year).    The Vietnamese children’s scholarship fund was born.  Each year elders or Buddhist monks in the various provinces are asked to identify children in need.  Then the charity pays for them to go to school

How many children have you helped over the years, I ask.

Thousands he grins widely.


We are absolutely riveted by Tam’s stories (“I was a boat person”), experiences, and humanity.    We are all beaming.

We take down Tam’s email address.  It is long.  Are you on facebook, I ask.

No, Tam shakes his head.  Who has time for that.

So I struggle to thumb type his address into my phone.

Shellie and I need to leave before the fashion show ends.

That was totally worth it wasn’t it, I say, as we head to the parking garage.

Totally she nods.

We drive a mile south to go watch a friend perform at the Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square.  Are joined by one of her associates and another friend Bob.  Laugh.  Bob walks us back to our car.  Which is a good thing.  Because a few feet into our journey, we have to side step two drunks yelling and swinging fists at each other over twenty bucks.

Photo:  Shellie and Tam Nguyen


A convention speech and run around Gray’s Lake, Des Moines Iowa

Posted in about public speaking, About running


Get up before alarm rings at 6.  This means it is really 4.  Flop back on bed.  Alarm rings at 6:15. 

Search around for hotel phone on night table.  Don’t find it.  Sigh.  It is on the other side of the bed.  Scramble across.  Hit “O”.  Ask for front desk.  It is front desk.  Can I get a late check out.  Yes. 

Thank heavens.  Don’t have to run now.  Would have been sleep-running.

Reset alarm for 8:30.  Which is 6:30. 

Repeat process.  Get up.  Dressed.  Down to the 2nd floor.  Check in.  Listen to presentation.  Am at the Iowa Association for Justice annual convention in Des Moines.  There’s a break.  Exchange greetings with a few familiar faces.  Meet with tech guy.  Give him thumb drive.   Get miked up.  Break ends.  Do presentation.  The ballroom is short but wide.  Feels as long as a football field.  Pace from one side to the other.   

There are too many slides.  Too many points to make.  Used a presentation that generally takes two hours.  Am cramming it all into one.  Feel like am vomiting way too much information.    When will I learn.  Next time will chop out half the slides. Or more.

Stride out of there.

Back up to room.  Throw on running gear.  Exit rear door of hotel.  Onto Locust street. As in the bug.  Wind hits with a solid whoosh.   Ponytail flies straight back.  Horizontally in sync with the road.

Run through deserted looking city.  All the buildings are linked together by sky walks.  Look up and can see people walking from one building into the other.  Like in a sci fi movie where if you breathe the outside air, your eyes pop out, your skin withers up and you die.  So you stay inside in tubes.

Past cool sculptures of unused park.  Turn left on 15th.  Over a bridge.  Reach Gray’s Lake.  Looks like it’s man made.  According to the van driver is naturally fed by the river.  But can see a concrete feeder tube.  Run around it twice. 

Wind doesn’t die down.  Sometimes catch it just right.  Then it sweeps me along.  A bit like Mary Poppins.

Back through deserted city streets.  Into hotel.  Up to room.  Do business.  Rush out.  Catch van back to airport.

Photo:  Gray’s lake run