Feb 29, 2020

About Writing

First, thank you so much for the overwhelming response to It Ok Please  not only on the blog, but on FB, and the many emails. I love to know someone reads this stuff and if it resonates, that's even better.

Over the years, I repeatedly get certain comments or questions about these stories, and thought I'd address some of them.

You Should Write a Book

Thank you, but no. I don't walk around with a ton of memories and stories -- rather, something usually triggers a particular memory.

In the case of It Ok Please, I was talking to a sales guy at Apple the other day. One thing led to another and he shared that his mother was an orphan, born in South Vietnam of a South Vietnamese woman and an American soldier. She was immediately placed in an orphanage as "mixed" children were shunned. Eventually his mother made it to the United States, where the Apple sales guy was born.

Afterwards, I thought about the influx of Vietnamese into Arlington, VA and all the clients I had. I thought about the refugees I see every week at the International Rescue Committee and suddenly remembered the young woman who came to my office in Arlington with a little girl and a short letter written in Vietnamese. I can still see them sitting there. I kept remembering more details and wondered whatever happened to them. I felt something (sadness, satisfaction, respect, gratitude, etc) during that memory, and it is those feelings that prompt the writing.

I don't have the patience to store those feelings and stories for a book. It is usually a matter of only a day or two from the time an idea for a story comes to me to the time I publish it -- if the story doesn't write itself, it isn't worth telling, and I like getting out the feelings. Waiting to collect all the stories into a book that maybe might get self published one day 5 years from now would be frustrating for me. 

So, thanks for the encouragement. It is very kind, but no book.

Are The Stories True?

Yes. I am not creative enough to make up these stories. Plus, legal issues provide a lot of drama all on their own -- that's why there are so many movies, TV shows, and news programs about law. Add poverty to the mix, and as I've said before, these stories write themselves.

I do add or change details to protect privacy or to paint a clearer picture. For example, in It OK Please, I remembered that Bian's father was a wealthy professional. I couldn't remember exactly what he did, so I made him a doctor. It got across the point, and his exact profession isn't central to the story. Using the word "doctor" is more human, specific, and descriptive than "wealthy professional," and part of writing these stories is to paint a picture that the reader can imagine. And if I had remembered he was a doctor, I would have changed that detail to some other profession because I must protect the privacy of my clients.  That's why sometimes I also change ages, hair color, etc. 

You Are a Wonderful Person

This one sort of cracks me up!

I didn't have a clerkship or job lined up for after law school graduation. The job market was tight and, while I graduated in May, I still had to take the Bar Exam in July and then wait for the results (October). So my first job after law school was a cashier in a drug store.

The day after the bar exam results were announced I got a phone call from a new legal aid office in Norfolk, VA. Did I want an interview? Interestingly, I hadn't applied for any legal aid jobs but some organization to which I had submitted by resume passed it on to the legal aid office. I got the job (I found out afterwards that they wanted to hire a woman who had passed the Bar).

Unlike doctors, lawyers don't go through a formal apprenticeship. I had no training, no knowledge of relevant Virginia law, no formal supervision. I hadn't participated in the legal aid training clinic in law school because I had no intention of litigating after I graduated. Despite all this, I started seeing clients my second day of work.

It wasn't pretty.

I don't write much about those cases ... or the routine (to me, not my clients) cases, or the people who left my office as broken as they arrived. Being poor doesn't make you a nice, sympathetic person. My clients were human and could be as frustrating as all the other humans in my life! I lost many of my cases, particularly ones involving money, either because the law or the facts, or both, weren't on our side. Legal aid provides clients a chance, but doesn't guarantee a happy outcome.

So, before you think I was all that wonderful saving the world, remember you are only reading a slice of the job and through my filter. I wasn't doing this work out of a generosity of spirit or with super legal skills -- I needed a job and it was the first offer I got. I lasted 10 years and I was a lot better at it when I left than when I started. I'm happy it worked out as it was a great way to start my career, and it gave me a foundation to appreciate my life.

I got way more out of it than I gave.

Feb 25, 2020

It OK, Please

On April 30, 1975, Communist North Vietnam and the Viet Cong captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. After fighting there for years, the US had signed a peace agreement with the North two years earlier and had left the country, although its embassy remained. During the two years between the peace agreement and April 30, 1975, the South continued to fight, but without the US, victory by the North was inevitable.

On April 29th and 30th of 1975, many in the US watched on TV, horrified, as thousands of South Vietnamese surrounded the US embassy begging to be evacuated. The US managed to evacuate most of the remaining Americans and sent a few helicopters and planes to rescue some of the South Vietnamese.

Those that couldn't evacuate remained, but over many years, some tried to escape, leaving on small, rickety boats. These people, known as "boat people," climbed aboard these boats having no idea what would happen to them -- all for a chance to live in freedom. Many died, but some made it out.

Bian Nguyen* made it out.

Bian, like many other Vietnamese refugees, eventually made her way to Northern Virginia. Over time, lots of Vietnamese restaurants (yum) and other shops popped up, particularly in one section of Arlington, Virginia. In 1979 I started working in a legal aid office a few miles from that block. We saw many Vietnamese refugees who struggled with the typical issues faced by low income people -- landlord/tenant, family, etc. Most situations were frustratingly sad, but every once in a while, there was some sweet with the bitter.


I glanced at the intake sheet - Bian Nguyen, 25, was here for an adoption. Adoptions were easy. Unless a parent objected (which was rare) adoptions were pretty much just paperwork, with one routine court hearing to finalize. Sometimes the Judge would sign the paperwork without a hearing. Kids got parents, became eligible for things like social security, and life went on. Adoptions were easy and good. This should be a snap.

Bian looked more like 15 than 25. A tiny young woman with short black hair and shy demeanor, she came in with her 6 year old niece, Mahin.  Bian and Mahin sat down and looked up at me.

"What can I do for you?"

Luckily, Bian spoke English well enough to talk to me without an interpreter.

"I adopt Mahin," pointing at her niece.

Bian had been a nursing student in Vietnam. Her father was a doctor and wanted his two daughters (Bian and her sister Dacey), and Dacey's daughter (Mahin), to leave Vietnam. He paid for 3 spaces on a small boat.

Bian and Mahin's small boat left Vietnam in the middle of the night, but Dacey refused to go. She wanted to stay and wait for her husband, who was missing in the war. Her plan was somehow to find her husband and have the 2 of them leave and meet up with Bian and Mahin. But, as Bian explained, Dacey's husband was still missing and Dacey never made it out of Vietnam.

Bian and Mahin's boat made its way to Indonesia, where they lived for 2 years before getting permission to migrate to the US as refugees. When I met Bian, she was working in a Vietnamese restaurant, hoping to go back to nursing school. Mahin was getting older and Bian decided it was time to adopt her. Dacey wasn't coming.

Mahin was Adorable with a Capital A -- bowl cut shiny black hair and big brown eyes. As quiet as Bian, she barely moved or made a sound, but I got a few smiles out of her and eventually she was drawing pictures on one of my yellow legal pads. She seemed ok.

In order to adopt a child, Virginia law required that the natural parents consent in person or in writing to the adoption. If the identity of the parents were unknown or their location was unknown, the law required that certain steps be taken -- a newspaper notice and that a letter be sent to the parent(s) by registered mail with return receipt certified.

We were able to do the newspaper notice, but Mahin's father was likely dead and her mother was in Vietnam. The US had no relationship with Vietnam -- mail went back and forth but there was no way to send registered mail to Vietnam. All we had was a letter in Vietnamese from Dacey. Bian said that the letter granted her permission to adopt. I copied the letter and kept the original in my files.

I was stumped. So I did what lawyers do -- I filed a "motion." In litigation, a motion is basically a request to the Judge to "Please Do the Following..."  I entitled it something like "Motion to Proceed with Adoption Without Registered Mail." I summarized the situation and asked for a hearing.

Back in the day, the Arlington courts had "motions day" one Friday a month. Anyone and everyone with a motion scheduled for that Friday showed up and you just waited until the clerk called your name. The courtroom was packed with lawyers waiting their turn.

I brought Bian and someone who could translate Vietnamese with me. And Bian brought Mahin. The clerk called our case "In the Matter of the Adoption of Mahin" and up we went. I explained the matter in simple terms to the Judge. Everyone in Arlington was very familiar with Vietnamese refugees and the "boat people." But the Judge was concerned -- proceeding without notice made him uncomfortable. The Judge wondered how he could be sure that Mahin was related to Bian and not some young girl she found on the boat or in Indonesia. He asked Bian to testify.

Bian told her story. She testified about how her father was a doctor in Vietnam and had paid for 3 spaces on the boat, but her sister Dacey wanted to wait for her husband, who was still missing. Bian told about getting in the boat with Mahin in the middle of the night. She talked about their 2 years in a refugee camp and how she taught Mahin how to read and do her numbers and how they learned English together.

Then I asked the Clerk to mark a piece of paper I had as an Exhibit. I handed it to Bian and said, "Please explain to the Judge what this piece of paper is."

Bian testified, "This is letter from my sister Dacey. She mail it to me from Vietnam."

"Is it in Vietnamese?"


"What does it say?"

"Letter say: It OK, Please. You take Mahin and keep her. You are my sister. You become Mahin's mother because I can't. Thank you."

There wasn't a sound in the courtroom. The war had torn a hole in the US that hadn't begun to heal. But in that moment, it wasn't about communism or protests or bombs or anger or fighting. It was just Bian and Mahin. And Dacey, back in Vietnam.

I looked at the Judge and said: "Your Honor, I understand your concern about Mahin but I believe Bian's testimony is convincing. I ask that you take Judicial Notice that there is no registered mail to Vietnam. There is no way to provide notice to either of Mahin's parents. But, if needed, I have brought someone who is not related to my client who can translate the letter."

The Judge told me that he believed Bian and that the translator wasn't necessary. He looked at Bian and said:

"Ms. Nguyen, you are a very brave young woman, You can step down and go sit with your lawyer. I am happy to sign these adoption papers. You are now Mahin's mother. Best of luck."

As I gathered my papers, a couple of lawyers began to clap and then the courtroom broke out in a gentle applause. Bian held Mahin's hand and mother and daughter walked out of the courtroom.

* no names are real

Feb 24, 2020

a note of thanks

A little gold makes everything special...I particularly like when non stampers ask about embossing. It's a secret weapon!

Used Wonky Backgrounds by Essentials by Ellen (designed by Julie Ebersole) to add a fun ombre background to this gorgeous gold butterfly (Concord & 9th).  Sentiment from Altenew.


The sun is out and I have the time and energy to clean the house -- so I'm sitting here blogging.  Mike's birthday is this week, but he doesn't want a cake because he "doesn't want too many sweets in the house." How do we even get along?

Feb 22, 2020

Flower Doodles

It's not quite spring in Dallas, but I'm hoping for a warm up soon so I decided to break out some spring colors and flowers.

Used the flowers and leaves from Everyday Doodles to create a fun card. Love how the solid stamps don't line up perfectly with the outlines. Added Nuvo Crystals to the centers of the flowers and some clear gems to jazz it up.  Sentiment is from Altenew.

This card celebrates nothing other than life, which is as good a reason as any to celebrate, right?


Feb 6, 2020

Cat Lady

Happy Thursday! Nothing wrong with celebrating a regular day, especially when I'm surrounded by bright sun and no need to cook dinner tonight, right?

If you scroll through my entire history of cardmaking, you are not going to find a lot of animals, particularly cats. I'm afraid that they will scratch me. They sense my fear, so OF COURSE, they make a bee line for me and rub all over me, which causes me to tense up even more.

But, I still think they are cute, so I finally decided to buy a set with a few cute cats, which I paired with a clear embossed background. Colored the edges of the die cuts with a Copic that matched the teal cardstock, something Yana Smakula does. You can see an example here. Love how it makes that white outline disappear. She's one clever cookie.

Maybe I'll get into cute animal cards?

Hero Arts Hearts and Flowers Bold Print
Honey Bee Stamps Oh My Whiskers
My Favorite Things birthday sentiments (can't find it on line)


I went a little dark after I got the good health news -- because I can't just be happy and grateful. No, I had to dwell on the pain of thinking I needed a heart transplant when it turns out I do not. If only my brain just behaved! Luckily, I sulked and whined my way through a few days and came out the happy side.

Hope you are having a good week!