Gregory Peck

I missed the memo about Gregory Peck.

It’s Oscar night, so I thought it appropriate to think and write about, Oscar winner and former president of the Academy, Gregory Peck.

Like most people of my generation, my first experience of Gregory Peck was sitting in English class and watching him as Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of  “To Kill A Mockingbird.”   I’m thinking that if Gregory Peck had never made a film before or since, his performance in TKAM would have easily placed him in the Hollywood firmament as an enduring star.  But his role as Atticus Finch was just one of dozens; and thanks to Netflix, I’m slowly working my way through his body of work.

I blame credit Gregory Peck with planting the seed which ultimately germinated in my decision to attend law school.  I don’t do the kind of life-or-death work that Atticus Finch was doing, but sometimes, I get a tiny glimpse of how empowering and humbling it is to be an advocate.  Someone says, “Here…I have this problem that I can’t handle by myself.  I need someone to help me figure this out and be my voice.”  Wow.  

If that were the only memo that Gregory Peck helped to deliver, that would have been more than enough.  But there’s more.  Recently I happened upon a broadcast of “A Conversation With Gregory Peck” on PBS.  I was spellbound by his grace, his humility, and his quiet wisdom.  And even as a septuagenarian, he was still gorgeous.

Hearing  Gregory Peck reflect on his long life and some of his extraordinary experiences was pretty amazing.  It makes me mindful that it’s not quite enough just to live a good life,  you also have to connect with other people and share the things you know.  As a famous movie star, Gregory Peck had easy access to a platform for talking about all the things that he had and hadn’t figured out.  I’m just me, but I’ve got this little blog, so I’ll do my best. 

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to watching “To Kill A Mockingbird” about a hundred more times and I’ll hope my little Atticus gets the memo, too.

Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

The Hollywood Bowl

I missed the memo about The Hollywood Bowl.

(Ahh…low res cell phone pictures…It’s 21st century Impressionism…)

I’ve missed so many memos about Los Angeles…Since moving here a decade ago, I have been delighted, dismayed, dazzled, discouraged, and lots of verbs that start with “d”.  But let’s talk about the Hollywood Bowl.  It’s that iconic amphitheatre nestled in the Hollywood Hills.  My first memorable glimpse of it was in “Some Kind of Wonderful“:

(Poor Watts…she stares forlornly down at the stage, where Keith and Amanda enjoy their “perfect” date…)

Despite living in the L.A. area since 2001, I didn’t get to the Hollywood Bowl until 2010.  It was The Flight of the Conchords which finally induced me to go.  We got a babysitter, packed a picnic dinner and hopped on a shuttle bus which dropped us right at the venue.  It was a beautiful night and as the sun began to set, we enjoyed the most gorgeous view as the Hollywood Hills went from green, to gold, to pink, to blue, to black. 

We were surrounded by a glorious assortment of hipsters and bon vivants, so the people watching was nearly as fun as the concert itself.  There is something about sitting in the open air with thousands of drunken strangers that just puts you in a good mood.  We had an absolute blast. 

The obvious lesson from this lovely evening is this:  When you live in a big city full of cool stuff, get out there and enjoy some it, for Pete’s sake.  This stuff ain’t just for tourists.  I think this applies no matter where you live…just about everywhere, there are wonderful places to explore and experiences to have…you just have to overcome your inertia and go.

Another obvious and important lesson is that sometimes fun is spontaneous, but sometimes it takes a little effort.  In this instance, we had to:

1.  Buy tickets
2.  Arrange for a babysitter
3.  Tidy up the house
4.  Plan and prepare a picnic dinner for us
5.  Plan and prepare a  dinner for our little guy and his date
6.  Get ourselves dressed and out the door on time

Doesn’t sound like much, but somehow it is.  But here’s the thing…all that planning and preparation can be part of the fun.   As I scrubbed the toilet to ensure that the babysitter had reasonably sanitary facilities at her disposal, I was happily looking forward to the enjoyable evening ahead.  That bit  of anticipation can actually transform drudgery into foreplay to fun. 

So this weekend, get out there and do something cool, and be undaunted by the effort.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about onsie-ectomies.

For the uninitiated, a onsie is a little bodysuit with a snaps at the crotch.  It’s what all the cool babies are wearing these days, either as an undergarment on chilly days or as an outfit onto itself when it’s warm.   If you ever get knocked up and have a baby shower, you’ll get approximately 576 onesies as gifts.   

I went back to work when my perfect baby was about 9 weeks old.  The stars had aligned to allow my husband to be a stay at home dad, but I missed my baby desperately, so one afternoon my husband brought our darling boy to my office for a visit.  My sweet son chose this auspicious occasion to show us a new trick…pooping so prodigiously that the byproducts of his digestion escaped his diaper and migrated up his onesie–front and back. 

Faced with this mess (and with no changing table in the ladies’ room…fancy office towers hate babies…) I laid down a changing pad on the plush carpet and assessed the situation.  Usually, a onesie goes on and off over the baby’s head.  In this instance, that maneuver would have resulted in extensive cross-contamination.  So, I’ve done what parents in this situation have done since time immemorial. I grabbed a pair of scissors, and with surgical precision, I cut that onesie up the front and extricated my son from his poopy situation. 

I gotta admit…it was kind of fun.  I’d seen doctors and nurses cutting the clothing off of accident victims on medical TV shows, and I felt like I was reenacting a very low-stakes version of one of those scenarios. I had a nearly uncontrollable urge to say “STAT”!  (Seriously, it was a Code Brown!)

The lessons from this experience were many.  First, and most importantly, never underestimate the productivity of  a 2 month old baby.  Second, sometimes you have to cut your losses.  Literally.  Third, disgusting and hilarious are often two sides of the same coin.  I find that laughter suppresses the urge to vomit, so I recommend it as a coping strategy whenever you have to clean up something gross.  And finally, and most obviously, shit happens, so you can’t let it get you down.   Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

Jason Mraz & Amos Lee

I missed the memos about Jason Mraz & Amos Lee

Thanks to my dad, I was raised on a steady diet of classic and Southern rock.  I still have lots of affection for Eric Clapton, Boston, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and lots and lots of Credence.  When I was about 10, it seemed time for me to cultivate my own musical tastes and coincidentally, that’s when the British New Wave came crashing upon our Yankee shores.

I spent my formative years swimming around in a soup of synth pop. (Kajagoogoo, anyone? Seriously.)  And my love for Duran Duran could not be fully expressed in words; it could only be expressed in tears.  So it was until my teen years, when the Seattle Sound started dominating the music scene.  I am just too damn perky for grunge, so I think that’s when I started tuning out. 

With the exception of the odd U2 or REM album, I’ve bought very little new music in the last couple of decades.  I just couldn’t find a way to connect to new artists.   It all just seemed like noise. More recently, I was beginning to fear that since the music seemed too loud, I was getting too old.  I even heard “Jessie’s Girl” on the oldies station, and that seemed like a sign from the radio gods that the world of new music might be closed to me forever. 

Just when I thought I was resigned to an iPod full of old favorites only, I got the memo about Jason Mraz.  I’m guessing Jason melted the hearts of many mommies when he appeared on Sesame Street; he certainly melted mine. 

And just recently I got the memo about Amos Lee.  He recently gave an interview on NPR (there goes NPR, enriching my life again) and as I listened, I was just delighted.  Take a listen…

I’m guessing most people don’t get that excited about “discovering” a new musician that they really like. But for me to connect with any artist from this millennium is a big deal. Seriously, I feel a bit like Captain Von Trapp once Maria thaws him out. 

When I hear a new song that strikes a chord, it’s kind of like falling in love. It’s a rush of excitement at the newness of it all, and it’s the intimacy of feeling like the singer somehow knows part of my life.  These days my ears and heart are open to lots of new music and while I’m sure my new favorites will eventually become old favorites, I hope I never stop having new favorites again.  Memo received.


I missed the memo about Excedrin. 

The summer of 1999 was The Summer of Pain.   As part of my orthodontic treatment plan, I had two teeth pulled. Then, about a week after the extractions, I wiped out on my bike and broke my arm.  Then, the following week, the braces went on.  All the while, there was a church group living in the residence hall I was then managing.  They loved to sing and had a full drum kit set up about 15 feet from my bedroom wall. While  the church group was singing about Jesus,  I was talking to Jesus as my face and arm throbbed in time with the beat of their hymns.   Between getting the teeth yanked, the broken arm, and the new braces, I was insufferably cranky from all the pain. 

What made me even crankier is that I couldn’t take the Vicodin that my doctors prescribed.  The resulting stomach ache was way worse than the other pain.  For me, taking Vicodin wasn’t as fun as they make it look like on TV.

I tried a few different over-the-counter pain relievers which offered no relief.  Then finally,  I tried Excedrin, and Bingo.   I wasn’t pain-free, but I felt a lot better.  I’m not sure why Excedrin works for me, but it does.   And now, it’s my Panacea–headaches, muscle strains, whatever…if it hurts, I take Excedrin.

The lessons I l learned from The Summer of Pain were simple, but important to me.  First, trial and error is sometimes the best way to make a choice.  I had to kiss a few pain reliever frogs before I found my pain relief prince.  Second, never underestimate the placebo effect.  Excedrin isn’t magic, but I think I’ve invested it with some magical properties.  Since it worked for me when I really needed it to work, I have confidence that it’s going to work every time I take it.  The mind-body connection is trippy, ain’t it?  Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about pedicures.

My mom worked in the beauty business when I was a kid, so I suppose the idea of going to a nail salon on her day off didn’t seem like fun.  No mother-daughter mani-pedis for us.  Strike one.

I have some weird working-class sensibilities about things.  For a long time, the idea of paying someone to literally sit at my feet and pamper me just seemed elitist and wrong.  Strike two.

I hate feet.  I hate my feet, I hate other people’s feet.  I don’t really like my feet to be touched, I don’t like touching other people’s feet, and if someone touches me with their feet, I have a little freak out.  Strike three. 

As a consequence of the foregoing, I was well into my adult life before I ever got a professional pedicure.  Like me, Liam Neeson, was also late to the pedicure party, and he recently told Jay Leno all about it:

The Unknown star told NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on Tuesday that he was a “late convert” to the treatment but credited it with helping ease pain in his feet.

“This gorgeous woman called Jackie in New York who is from Brazil used to come and do my wife’s feet and fingers, and she now still comes and does my mother-in-law’s feet and fingers,” he explained.

“Every time I passed the room I’d see this incredible process going on and the look of bliss on my mother-in-law’s face, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to try this!'”

He added: “It’s changed my life around. I used to have ingrown toe nails for 30 years. This gorgeous little creature just gouged them out. It was instant relief after 20 minutes!”

Liam Neeson is all kinds of awesome and I give him props for spreading the pedicure gospel.  When I finally got a professional pedicure, it wasn’t life changing, but it was very nice.  It took me a while to get over my initial discomfort and ticklish-ness but now I look forward to pedicures more than I look forward to Christmas. 

Here’s the thing about pedicures that I didn’t understand before:  It’s not just the process, which can be very comfortable and nurturing when it’s done by a skillful and gentle nail tech, but it’s also the product.  My feet look and feel a gazillion times better when their maintenance is entrusted to a professional.  Bust out those strappy sandals and show off those toes!

And here’s something else.  For me, getting pedicures was a little lesson in the benefits of vulnerability.  When I finally (and literally) dipped my toes in the pedicure pool, I didn’t feel haughty, I felt humbled.  I’m not much of a Bible scholar, but I guess I felt kind of like Peter when Jesus offered to wash his feet. 

Peter initially resisted when Jesus offered to wash his feet.  I mean, Peter was just this lowly fisherman and Jesus, was, you know, Jesus.  But the thing about foot washing  is that it’s not just a humbling act of servitude for the washer, it’s a humbling act of stillness and acceptance for the washee.  Pedicures have been good for my feet, and they’ve been good for my soul, too. 

So pedicures as religious experience?  Yep.  Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about having babies.

I mentioned in a previous post that I found a nice guy and settled down some time ago.  What I didn’t mention is that we were married nearly 10 years before we finally took the plunge and decided to have children. Having married relatively young, we had the luxury of fooling around for nearly a decade before certain biological and logistical pressures started to really kick in. 

Both my husband and I were kind of ambivalent about children, but we had never said to each other, “Let’s not have kids.”  Kids were always out there in the nebulous ether of “someday.”  But I didn’t want to be one of those women who turns 40 and says, “Oh crap, I forgot to have kids!”  So in the summer of 2007, we pulled the goalie and I braced myself for the infertility that was sure to afflict me as a 30-something, over-educated, white woman. 

About six weeks later, I locked myself in a stall in the ladies’ room at Target and peed on a  pregnancy test that I had purchased moments before.  (Yeah, I’m that impatient…that’s a whole ‘nother stack of memos…)  And you guessed it…pregnant.  Shocked, awed, and pregnant. 

About two weeks after that, I started to bleed.  Even though I hadn’t had much time to get attached to the pregnancy, my grief at the prospect of miscarriage was immediate, desperate, and awful.  It was in that moment that I finally acknowledged to myself how much I really wanted this baby and it literally took my breath away.  Inconveniently, but mercifully, I turned out to be one of those pregnant ladies who bleeds for no apparent reason.  My pregnancy continued with few complications and my son, Atticus, was born in April of 2008. 

When I say I missed the memo about having babies, I think what I’m really saying is that I was vainly and stupidly presuming that all of the clichés about having kids somehow didn’t apply to me.  I was smug and dismissive about the overwhelming love people professed for their kids.  It just seemed terribly sentimental and I just didn’t get it.

And then I went and won the baby lottery. 

Atticus is the total package…healthy, handsome, robust, smart, sweet, and relatively well-behaved as little kids go.  Even as I sometimes struggle with the mundane aspects of motherhood, I marvel at how insanely lucky I am that I get to be this kid’s mom.  Now I’m one of those saps I used to roll my eyes at.  And that’s fine by me.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about NPR.

I didn’t know NPR existed until I was in college.  When I finally tuned in (literally), it was a revelation.   The news programming kept me well-informed about what was happening in the world and the more creative stuff  opened up a whole new world of entertainment to me.  It was love at first listen.

NPR has enriched my understanding of just about everything.  Whenever a youngster considering law school asks me for advice, the first thing I say is, “Are you nuts?” and the second thing I say is, “Start listening to NPR.”  To be a good lawyer, you have to be a good thinker.  And to be a good thinker, you have to understand context, nuance, and complexity.  NPR is a great place to get that.

And now, living in Los Angeles, NPR is a survival strategy.  I’m often stuck in traffic and thanks to NPR, I’m smarter for it.  Two hours on the freeway?  Fantastic!  I’ll get all caught up on the news and maybe get an idea for a book to read or a movie to see.

NPR feeds my head and it also feeds my heart.  I’ll always remember this story which was featured as part of the “This I Believe” series.  Deirdre Sullivan distilled her belief system down to the simple instruction:  “Always Go To The Funeral.”  She described it this way:

“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

There was such clarity and kindness in this statement, and it revealed something about human relationships that I hadn’t fully contemplated.  I was blown away and was moved to write to Deirdre to thank her.  She wrote me back and I was thrilled.  Here’s what she said:

Every tax dollar I’ve ever contributed and every penny I’ve ever pledged has been more than repaid by the experience of hearing Deirdre’s essay and having that bit of connection with her.  It’s stuck with me and has made me a better person.  Memo received.


Gentle reader, I promise not to make a habit of making this blog a political soapbox, but if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you have similar affections for public radio.   Funding for public broadcasting is once again threatened and if you want to lend your voice to those who are speaking out against the contemplated cuts, I encourage you to go to  to learn more and to get involved. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about giving compliments.

We’ve all heard the admonition, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Good advice, usually.  But there’s a little known corollary to this:  If you do have something nice to say, you should say it. 

I got this memo from my dear friend, Paola.  I met Paola in college and she was preternaturally cheerful and friendly.  She gave hugs and compliments unapologetically.  Shyness and cynicism be damned, she was going to spread some sunshine. 

It seems to be an unfortunate quirk of human nature, or maybe it’s just me, but it’s sometimes harder to say nice things than to say critical things.  We’re encouraged to be assertive, and to speak our minds, but usually that advice arises in the context of defending  ourselves in confrontations or other unpleasantness.  But what about speaking your mind when you observe that the lady standing next to you in the elevator is wearing a super cute hat? 


(Spoiler alert…and then Janet sneezes and Cliff says “Bless You” and then they look at each other and kiss, knowing at last that they are really are in love…*sigh*)

When it comes to giving compliments, I think people get shy because they fear looking like a kiss-ass or a creeper.  I mean, if I say something nice to someone, they’re going to think I want something, right? 

That’s why my favorite kind of compliment is the drive-by…I once saw an enormously pregnant lady at Target who was wearing a cute, colorful dress, she had her hair done and make up on…she might not have felt fabulous, but she looked fabulous.  As I passed her in the aisle, I said,”You look gorgeous!”  And the look on her face was priceless.  She said an appreciative, “Thank you!” and neither of us lingered for more conversation.  It was a quick, surgical strike of gratuitous praise for a stranger.  I think it made her day and it definitely made mine.  Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo on getting braces.

Growing up, my teeth were a little crooked.  Not tragically crooked, but crooked enough to make me self-conscious.  I was keenly aware that from the left, my teeth looked OK, but from the right, yikes.  So when I was around boys I liked, I made an effort to make sure they were looking at my “good side.”  It was a little exhausting.

I’m a Navy brat and there was no military insurance which covered orthodontia for dependents.  Paying out-of-pocket was just beyond my family’s financial reach, so my teeth stayed sadly-but-not-tragically crooked until I was all grown up. 

When I was 26, I went in for an orthodontic evaluation and it turned out I needed a lot of work.  Extractions, braces on top and bottom teeth, rubber bands, the whole shebang.  All of it hurt like hell and cost me a fair amount of money, but I relished every minute of the experience because I was ecstatic about finally having straight teeth. 

Having braces as an adult is a little trippy.  Clerks in liquor stores are especially confused–they see the braces and think “teenager” then they see the crow’s feet and they sense a rift in the space/time continuum.  Adults with braces are this funny little developmental anachronism and they can be quite the conversation piece.  I had braces during my first year of law school and became instantly famous as “that girl with braces.”  Hey, all publicity is good publicity, I suppose. 

A couple of years after my braces came off, Elliot Yamin was one of the finalists on American Idol.  He was my personal favorite that year, not only because of his fantastic voice, but because he had crooked teeth.   After appearing on American Idol, Elliot Yamin had a complete smile makeover:

I completely identified with the bit of shame he must have felt about his teeth.  As a young adult, walking around with crooked or unhealthy teeth tells the world that you were probably kind of underprivileged growing up.    I had a lot of advantages growing up, but good dental insurance and disposable income were not among them.  Having your socio-economic status stamped on your face sucks.  

Going off to college with straight teeth would have been great.  I would have been delighted if my smile had been perfect on my wedding day.  But, the experience of having braces as an adult was actually really empowering.  It taught me that if something bugs you, you can change it, and it is never too late.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball