Friday, September 22, 2017

Back in Sweet Home Chicago

I just returned to Texas after a trip to my childhood home north of 
Chicago.  My earliest years were spent in an idyllic village on the 
North Shore.  I never imagined or wanted to live anywhere else,
yet I did leave and I did live in other cities and in other countries.
No matter how far I roamed, nor how great the sights I saw, in
my heart the North Shore of Chicago would always be home.

Last Saturday morning, I arrived in Austin and took a jet to fly
home once more.  I was so excited.  Not only would I be
once again be treading on much loved ground, but I would
also be seeing old and dear friends once more.  

When I arrived at my gate, I soon saw the sign for the Chicago Cubs.
I had tears in my eyes.  Home sweet home once again.  All was now
right with the world.

There is something you must know about me.  I am an extremely
sentimental person.  I inherited that characteristic from my Daddy.
Home means everything to me, and my childhood home means the
most of all.  

After I picked up my luggage and entered my taxi, my world was
full of sights and sounds from my past.  I talked the driver's ear off
explaining how I was going home once again and in a short time I
would be seeing friends who for years, only lived in my memory.
I could hardly contain my excitement.  In a few hours I would be
attending a party with so many people from my past.

The first person I saw was my best friend from my teens.  Chris and I
shared every secret.  We applauded one another's triumphs and eased
each other over the bumpy road of adolescence.  Although we have
been in touch over the years, we have not actually seen one another for many,
many years.  Suddenly, we spotted one another and the distance and the
days just melted away.  

We chatted with others and shared long ago memories.  It was such
fun to reconnect with the past and to know that others held that same
past as dear as I did.  It was a great party!

On Sunday, Chris drove me to Lake Forest, where later that day I would be
checking into the Deerpath Inn.  More about the inn later.  It was Chris' birthday
and we celebrated at a charming restaurant where we talked for hours both
during and following lunch.  It was as though the years in between just vanished,
and we were the same young girls once again.  A truly memorable afternoon.

Chris drove me over to the inn.  My room number was 306, the Wallington room.  
All of the rooms have names and every inch of the inn is as British as it can be.

The beverage bar in the entry.

The spacious and cozy room.

The walk-in marble shower.

That evening, my cousins drove up from the city to have dinner with me.
We chatted and laughed for several hours.  So great to see them once again.
I had a very full couple of days, but there was more to come because my
college roommate would be arriving from Michigan the next morning.
I have no idea how I slept that night, but I did ....

and I had lots of happy dreams!  More tomorrow.

Big Texas Hugs,
Susan and Bentley

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fall Fashion Friday!

Just like I love to decorate, I love to put outfits together.  Working as an
interior designer, clients expect you to be pulled together and fashionable.
Although I am not working with clients anymore, I still love to plan
outfits and enjoy hunting for just the right accessories to pull an
outfit together.

Here is a classic outfit for the last weekend of summer 2017.  A striped
French sailor shirt is so classic.  I have owned this one for years and
never tire of it.  It works equally well with white shorts, or white capris,
or jeans.

I have paired it with simple pearl earrings, and an anchor bracelet from
Kiel James Patrick.  I love that it has a charm with my monogram!  I
also am showing my aviator glasses from Ray Ban.  I am very petite and
these particular aviators are for smaller faces, so I don't look swamped
by my shades ;-)

Navy Chuck Taylors from Converse.  I love these shoes, comfortable
and they never go out of style.  I tend to only buy pieces that are classic
and then wear them forever.  That way, all you need is maybe a new
accessory or two, and you can still look trendy without having to buy
everything new each season.  In future posts, I will be sharing items from
my closet that are really old, but still lovable.

Let's jump right into fall styling!  I love the color of this sweater.  It
is new from J Crew.  It is a classic throwback roll neck sweater from the
1980's.  I love this bright color too ~ it's called Saffron.  I am pairing it
with some plaid leggings I purchased last winter,  and some Tory Burch
leopard print ballet flats.  I know I will live in these flats both through
the fall and winter.

I have added a chunky "gold" necklace, bracelet and earrings for some
extra punch.  My tortoise shades add more dimension to this look

I love these flats so much, I could marry them!

Here is a date night look.  Spaghetti strap simple black top.  I plan to
wear it with black skinny jeans.  That purse is a classic and I have owned
it for over twenty years.  

I purchased this statement necklace from an eBay vendor.  Great way
to get lower prices on accessories.

Strappy black heels complete this look

I love what I refer to as multi tasking clothes.  This top and these
leggings are from Lilly Pulitzer's  "Luxetic" line.  They are made from
fibers that have SPF 50 protection.  The long sleeve top is warmer for 
South Texas fall days, and still protects me from the sun.  I can wear this
for long walks, or while running errands.  While I do love traditional 
fall colors, I still love my pinks and wear them often too.  Our fall 
weather is never very cold here, so it often still feels like summer all
the way through October.  

This starfish choker is from Lilly too.  After all, this is the South Texas
Gulf coast!

I sure have put some mileage on these sneakers!  I strive to get 10,000
steps or more per day.  It's one way I can keep fitting into my clothes
year after year.

Thanks for stopping by and taking a peek at some of the outfits I will
be wearing this weekend and beyond.  Have a wonderful weekend 

Big Texas Hugs,
Susan and Bentley

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Convicting a Predator

It's been a week since I last spoke with you about the trial.   During that
week, everyone's attention, as was my own, was on Hurricane Irma.  
Our thoughts and prayers have been with those who were in it's path.

Life can be stormy at times, yet unlike the weather, we often have
the power to control disruption in our own lives.  After several days of
listening to numerous testimonies, we convicted a man of online
solicitation of a minor.  Following the interruption by Hurricane Harvey,
we returned to court for the punishment phase.  After listening to more
testimony, and then retreating to the jury room for two and one half hours
of deliberation, we delivered a sentence of two years in prison, and the
highest fine we were permitted to impose.

Was it easy to sentence a man to prison for two years?  No, it was not.
Holding the weight of one's future in our hands was not easy, nor was
it pleasant.  Will he contemplate his actions and selfishness while in
prison?  I do not know the answer to that question.  I hope that he does.

As a blogger and a regular participant in a variety of social media platforms,
I am quite familiar with interacting with people whom I have never personally met.
Is there a chance that I might interact online with someone who is not who they
say they are?  Yes, I am sure that there is.   Am I cautious?  Absolutely I am!

The speed and efficiency with which we are able to interact with others 
around the globe is truly amazing.  Yet technology for all it's wonder, is a
double edged sword.  It has the potential to be both helpful and also the
potential to be deadly.  

What I learned as I watched and listened to the defendant and the 
witnesses who testified against him, is that online communications between
individuals unknown to one another, can quickly become quite personal and
can open the door to dangerous encounters.  Young girls, and I imagine
young boys too, can be easily influenced and coerced into a dangerous
game by someone who is older and not well meaning.  What would have
happened if this had not been a sting operation?  What if it truly was
a 14 year old girl responding to a 29 year old man?  If he did meet up
with her in a dark park one night, how would she live with the 
consequences?  Would he have harmed her once he achieved his goal
of taking a young girl's virginity?

Sexual predators have invaded the internet.  As an adult who is concerned for the
safety of children, I believe it is our responsibility to be aware of the dangers the
internet can pose to young kids and teens.  I hope that if you are a parent, 
grandparent or relative of young kids and teens, that you impress upon them the
dangers of communicating with a stranger.  People can and do lie on the internet.
They can be coercive and flirtatious and lure in their prey with compliments and
promises of love and romance.  It is vital that parents and guardians have frank
discussions with kids about the dangers.  Learn who your kids friends are.  
Do what you can to monitor their access to the internet.  You might be convinced
that your small town is not plagued with this problem.  Think again!   This
man lived two hours away in a big city and found what he believed to be a 14
year old girl in a much smaller city where he had never visited.  He was more
than willing to drive the two plus hours to achieve his goal.  

Following the trial, both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney
spoke with us.  The Assistant PA told us that she has more of these
types of cases on her desk waiting to be tried.  It is an ongoing battle, yet
I believe that we can and should do what we can to prevent the young from
falling victim to these predators.

Big Texas Hugs,
Susan and Bentley

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Defendant ~ The Accused Predator

I was a juror.  The defendant was charged with the online solicitation of
a minor.  It was my job to listen to the evidence and to decide beyond all
reasonable doubt, his guilt or innocence.  

How many times have we heard that line in movies and on television?
Beyond a reasonable doubt.  When sitting in the jury box, those words
are far more solemn than while watching a scripted performance.  I 
took the job very seriously.

Here is the case in a nutshell.  The accused was arrested two plus
hours away from home, in a park at night, in a city that was 
unfamiliar to him.  He had been followed online by agents of the
state of Texas via a sting operation.

Remember when I told you yesterday that I suspected I was
chosen as a juror because of my response to how I felt
about the idea of a such an operative used by law enforcement?
It is my belief that a sting is permissible because it allows
the prevention of a potential crime.  

The defendant was living in Austin.  He was using the internet to
find a young girl.  He logged onto a website that facilitated the
hook-up between interested parties.  The particular site he was
using, permits the user to request communication within a 
specified age group.  His request was to communicate with 
girls between the ages of 14 and 17.  He didn't use a playful
moniker, but used his middle name.  He said he was 22 years
old.  In actuality, he was 29.

It wasn't very long before he had a response to his request.
A girl responded with a photo of herself.  It was a photo 
that showed her sitting with her legs crossed at the ankles
wearing mismatched socks and and casual attire.  It was
quite an innocent looking picture, not sexually suggestive
in any way.  Text was added to the photo which stated
why do guys always go for the skinny cheerleader type?

The defendant took the bait, and yes, it was indeed bait
because the responder was not a young teen, but rather
an adult officer of the court.  He responds.  She tells him
she thinks she is chubby.  He tells her she is not.  He once again
 verifies that she is 14.  She says she is and will be 15 in
July.  This was probable because the communication was in
the spring.  

As a juror, I was required to listen to the facts and all of the
testimony very carefully.  The evidence showed that he 
repeatedly asked the "girl" he was communicating with if
she was indeed 14.  She said she was.  The dialog from him
became more and more graphic regarding what he wanted and
what he would do to her.  To be honest, I am a fairly modest,
God fearing woman, and the graphic nature of his dialog
was hard to listen to.  Yet, listen I did, as everything that was
shared was pertinent to the case.  

I also watched him very closely.  He is a well educated man
and appears to come from a very good home.  He has a good
command of the language and expresses himself very succinctly.
If you were to meet him on the street, you would not think of
him as a sexual predator.  Looks can certainly be deceiving.

What I noticed was a lack of emotion.  Never did I see him
reveal a sense of remorse for his actions.  That lack sent 
chills up my spine. 

He made a point of expressing his sexual fantasy.  It was to
take the virginity of a 14 year old girl.  He wanted to take
her "V-Card".  The only goal he had was to pleasure himself,
and to exploit a young girl.

I must at this point, let you know that he pleaded innocent
to the charge of online solicitation.  He tried to defend his
words and actions by telling the court that he was simply
involved in "age play" and that he suspected that the 
"young girl" he was communicating with was in 
actuality a grown woman who was age playing as well.
He even went so far as to say that perhaps she was married
and was just looking for some fun, or perhaps she was
just lonely.

We also learned during this phase of the trial that he had
hired prostitutes on three separate occasions, but then said he
was looking for a relationship.  

In my mind, he was losing credibility.  The case would continue.

More tomorrow,
Susan and Bentley

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I Helped Convict an Online Sexual Predator

I know what you must be thinking because my blog post title reads like a 
tabloid one sees at the grocery check out.  I apologize, but I was really
trying to get your attention to convey what is a very important topic.  Grab a 
comforting cup of tea or coffee, and maybe a snack because this is going to
be another long blog post.  No pretty pictures, just the facts m'am.

Last month I was summoned for jury duty.  I have been summoned before
when I lived in Idaho, but never had to serve because I was not needed.  I
assumed that would be the case again.  I based this on the fact that David
had been called to serve shortly after we moved here, but was not needed.
So I showed up on the designated date, and the next thing I knew, my number
was called.

My first thoughts were these ~ I don't mind serving on a jury, but this is a
really inconvenient time.  I so hope that if I am called, it will be a quick
trial and I will have fulfilled my duty for a while.

No such luck.  I was called and I had a low number in a group of 84
potential jurors.  We were each given a number on a large laminated
sign.  We were to stand and hold up our number when one of the attorneys
called it out.  Out of a field of 84, I was number 22.  Our numbers were
randomly chosen by a computer.  Now the process of narrowing down the
field would begin.

I soon realized that the attorneys were focusing their questions on the
jurors with the low numbers.   This is not so good, I thought.  I started doing
the math.  I was number 22 and they needed a field of 12.  This was not
going my way, yet perhaps there was a chance to still get out of this.
Then I heard my number being called.  I stood up and raised my card.
The question from the attorney was this ....

How do you feel about sting operations?

This was my chance to get out of the running for the jury.  I could have
lied and said, I think it is a form of entrapment and dislike the concept.
Instead, I truthfully said ....

I think they are helpful to catch potential criminal activity.

Bingo ~ I do believe that was the clincher.  We took a long recess
while the attorneys decided our fate.

When we were called back in, we no longer had numbers.  Instead
the jurors would be called by name.  Thirteen names, 12 for the jury
and one alternate.  I nervously waited through the names being called
one by one,  up to number 11, that's when I heard my name ....
Susan Freeman.  Everyone else was thanked for their service and
dismissed.  I kept thinking ... why do you have to be so darn
competitive?   Not everything is worth winning.

We were asked to sit in the jury box.  Previously we were sitting
in the area of the court room reserved for trial visitors or witnesses.
Suddenly the room had a new perspective.   Now I was a juror sitting
in the jury box.  My mind flashed back to hundreds of episodes
of Law and Order.  We were told the rules of the court and given
some information about the nature of the case that was about to
be tried.  The judge and attorneys had now taken their positions.
The defendant was present.

The case was... the online sexual solicitation of a minor.

I now understood the seriousness of the crime.  There was
no turning back, and no wishing I were somewhere else.
I was about to be immersed in the unpleasant facts and testimony.
As a member of the jury, I would be striving for justice.  I was
suddenly glad to be there.

Come back tomorrow for the next installment.

Big Texas Hugs,
Susan and Bentley


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