Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Mortality Check

My recent experience with the unexpected death of my Uncle Jim inspired me to put the finishing touches on something I’ve been working on for months. While Greg and I both created legal wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc. after we got married in 2011, neither of us have explicit instructions as to what to do in the event of either of our deaths. Considering that we both want to be cremated, and both have different and somewhat nontraditional views on how we want things to be handled, I realized how important it is to have all of that in writing now, versus leaving it to a distraught family member to sort out in the event of an untimely death.

Thus I have spent the past couple of weeks slowly plugging away at the details in my “End of Life Instructions” document. Essentially, I wrote my own funeral service, although that’s the furthest thing from what it actually is. Instead, the document spells out how to go about donating my body to science, what to do with my ashes once I’m cremated, who to notify, how to conduct a celebration of life event, etc. I even wrote my own obituary.

Which leads me to an interesting thought. Originally, the title of this post was “Crowdsourcing My Funeral.” But not only is that overly morbid, it gives the wrong impression as to what I’m actually trying to convey. Instead, as I was working on my end of life wishes, it struck me that what I want most is for anyone who has been a part of my life to share their favorite memory of their time spent with me, or perhaps how I inspired them to travel, take more risks, or just embrace the possibility of making a change for the better. Then I realized how sad it would be to have all of these people share these things on my Facebook page, or at my Celebration of Life event, after I was gone, especially if they hadn’t told me the impact I had on their life while I was alive. Please let this be a reminder to thank the people that have made a difference in your life now, whether with a quick phone call, text, email, handwritten letter, or even a Facebook post. Not only will it brighten their day, it might be the cue they need to take a similar action themselves.

Now that I have completed these documents, the next step is to review everything with Greg, to make sure he understands my wishes and is comfortable with what he must do to see them through; have everything notarized; and then, when I’m in Tennessee in October, I will share the information with my father and mother, as it will be up to them to take the necessary actions in the event that Greg and I both die at the same time.

I guess, in the end, this blog post is my version of a public service announcement (PSA) to remind you to take the time to not only think about how you would want things handled in the event of your death, but to also put it all in writing. Please don’t let that burden fall on your loved ones that would have to make permanent decisions in a time of tremendous grief.

Here are some helpful links to get you started:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Burger A Day

Greg and I do not eat red meat very often, maybe once or twice a month at most. So Portland Burger Week presents a unique challenge for me, which is mainly to not make myself sick by overindulging in all things bovine. Thankfully, several of the restaurants participating in this year’s event offered non-beef burgers so I made sure to seek out a few of them.

This year was not my first rodeo, but it is the first time I made an actual effort to go to more than one or two places during Burger Week. In 2013, the inaugural year, I went to Foster Burger. It was my first time there and I didn’t have the foresight to avoid the lunch rush. Thus I had to wait in line for about 30 minutes just to get a seat at the bar. But, oh, was that burger delicious, as were the “black and white fries” and the beer I had with it.
Bacon Kimcheese at Foster Burger in 2013
Last year, I went to Widmer for a late lunch. Again, I grabbed a seat at the bar and ended up chatting with a few regulars as well as a some tourists. The burger was messy and delicious, and I couldn't resist pairing it with a couple of pub-only brews.
American Kobe Cheeseburger at Widmer Gasthaus in 2014
As with most eating endeavors, while I certainly have favorite haunts, I like to try places I haven’t been to before and/or food that is unique in some way. The same goes for this year's Burger Week, although sometimes the locations were dictated by other activities I/we were doing that day, and also required easy access via public transit.

I usually do not order side items because, frankly, it’s all I can do to eat an entire burger of any size. However, I did play by the rules and at least ordered a beer (or several). Note that I shared three of my burgers with Greg, which allowed us to try more than one burger (or enjoy another meal, like dim sum) on the same day. A link to the description of each burger is embedded in the burger's name.

Day 1 of Burger Week: Monday, August 10, 2015

To be honest, I still wasn't ready to be out & about on Monday. I just returned home from my uncle's funeral in Indiana on Friday and spent the weekend indoors with Greg. I couldn't focus, didn't have much of an appetite, and definitely didn't feel like socializing, especially with strangers.

Day 2 of Burger Week: Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I was forced to leave the house because I had an afternoon appointment to establish care with a new doctor through our new insurance (Kaiser Permanente). I decided to make the most of it and run errands near Lloyd Center. While I could have taken the MAX from there to the doctor's office near Gateway, I decided to take the bus instead up to NE Fremont and Lil' Wares. Their burger week offering was called " The Sleaze" and it paired perfectly with a pilsner from Plank Town Brewing.
My first burger turned out to be one of my favorites.

Day 3 of Burger Week: Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I had already made plans to meet my friend Rachel at noon for lunch at Burnside Brewing. Of course, the place was packed, with a line out the door to place your food and drink order, then another line outside to get your burger. Rachel grabbed us a table inside and I waited in line outside in the hot sun for 20+ minutes to get our Drrty burgers.
Rachel and I both ordered the $8 special of burger, beer, and shot of Jim Beam.
The best deal in town and also one of the best burgers I had all week.
As we sat for a few hours and nibbled on our burgers and drank a few beers, I bumped into several friends whom I hadn't seen since we moved a month ago. This was the best day overall in terms of the social aspect of Burger Week. The only negative was when Rachel texted me later to say she ended up in the ER after tripping on a curb and hurting her shoulder.

Day 4 of Burger Week: Thursday, August 13, 2015

Greg and I had made plans to meet downtown after he got off work. We were shopping for some dress shirts for his new job, plus we wanted to do some Iceland trip research at Powell's. We started at Portland Penny Diner, where we shared the Sweet Onion Burger. It was simple, but tasty, especially the browned Walla Walla sweet onions.
Sweet Onion Burger at Portland Penny Diner
After walking around for a few hours, we were ready for round #2 at Davis Street Tavern. Their Yucatan Burger was the smallest of any I had all week, and honestly it was pretty bland considering the list of "spicy" ingredients. It didn't help that the restaurant was not air conditioned so it was quite stuffy and uncomfortably warm as we sat at the bar and shared a burger and a $6 pint of beer.
Yucatan Burger at Davis Street Tavern

Day 5 of Burger Week: Friday, August 14, 2015

We took a break from burgers today and ate one of our favorite meals - Mediterranean Shrimp Pasta.

Day 6 of Burger Week: Saturday, August 15, 2015

A beautiful, cooler day, perfect for hiking up to the top of Mt. Tabor to watch the Portland Adult Soap Box Derby. We watched the racers and the spectators for a couple of hours then walked down to SE Belmont for a beer.
One of my favorite entries in the Soap Box Derby.
After a nice pub crawl featuring stops at Horse Brass and Belmont Station, we made our way to Ya Hala where we each ordered the featured Hala Burger. Since we had already had a few beers, we just drank water, but also ordered tabouli, which was a nice, refreshing way to start the meal. The restaurant was busy and the kitchen seemed to be having difficulty keeping up with all of the orders. After waiting about 10 minutes for a table, we waited another 20+ minutes for our food to be delivered. My favorite ingredient was the tzatziki sauce. This was a great non-beef burger, but it was a bit too salty and made me very thirsty for hours after we ate.
Hala Burger

Day 7 of Burger Week: Sunday, August 16, 2015

We had already planned to run a few errands on Sunday, as well as to start the day with "breakfast" at HK Cafe, which was a nice break from burgers.
dim sum at HK Cafe
After I got my hair cut by Kim at Shear Success, where I've been going for the past three years, we walked to the Portland Mercado, since the last time we were there was opening day when it was crazy busy. Then we walked a bit farther and stopped at N.W.I.P.A. for a beer. Soon enough, we were ready for our final Burger Week offering: the 24K at Foster Burger.
This time we ordered the fries.
The 24K was good but fairly simple and a bit overcooked.
To sum it up, I got to try six burgers in five days. A couple were outstanding, and a couple were kind of meh. I did not get sick or have any gastrointestinal distress. However I probably gained a few pounds. I don't think Greg was overly impressed with any of the four burgers he tried. In fact, he said "I just want to go to Serratto for happy hour" (when you can get their scrumptious 1/2 pound cheeseburger and fries for $8).
Greg, about to enjoy the happy hour burger at Serratto in April, 2014.
There are plenty of places that didn't participate in Burger Week that are known for their great hamburgers. I've had a few, but do hope to try more of them in the coming months. Still, I suspect when August rolls around next year, I'll be preparing a plan of attack for Burger Week 2016!

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Belated Farewell to Irvington House

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of our move to North Tabor and, subsequently, the end of our time at Irvington House. Greg and I were starting to put some plans together to move sometime this winter, but the owner accelerated that timeline for us somewhat unexpectedly. In the end, it probably worked out for the best, but it's never easy to move, especially during the peak summer months.

When I found out we were going to move, I immediately started making notes about some of the crazy things that happened during our year and eight months in residence. I can honestly say that I became even more knowledgeable, especially relating to household maintenance, than I already was, and that Greg really learned how to clean bathrooms, mostly learned how to make a bed hotel-style, and now knows how much the finishing details can change a guest's first impression of their lodgings.

As you read my notes below, keep in mind that Irvington House was built in 1908 as a single family home and was eventually converted to a duplex, then a triplex. While there are plenty of modern touches, some of the inner workings of the house are still original (e.g. knob-and-tube wiring in the caretaker's apartment) and the floors and walls are not insulated/soundproofed.

Things I will not miss:
  • slamming doors
  • emergency maintenance calls in the middle of the night
  • neighbors’ barking dog(s)
  • next door neighbor’s cat that lays on the front porch furniture and dirties the cushions
  • grill mouse
  • odorous ants
  • guests who rearrange the furniture
  • tripped circuits
  • one night stays
  • people who do not remove their shoes (which makes it very noisy above the caretaker's apartment)
  • hauling cleaning supplies and dirty linens up & down six flights of stairs (the house covers four floors)
  • being on call 24/7
Craziest things that happened:
  • A guest "accidentally" knocked a big hole in a bedroom wall shortly after we moved in.
  • Guests who dressed in very elaborate costumes for Comic Con.
  • Guests who left trash everywhere in the upstairs apartment.
  • A tree fell across 15th Ave late one evening and pulled down live power lines. I had to direct traffic until the cops arrived.
  • A guest's car getting stolen (it was actually towed by a neighbor).
  • Guests who left bloody sheets on the bed that resembled The Godfather horse head scene.
  • An older guest lost their footing, fell down the stairs and had to go to the hospital for stitches.
  • A guest in the garden unit called late at night and said there was water all over the apartment. I went downstairs and sure enough there was 1/2 inch of water all over the concrete floor. Turns out the P-trap under the kitchen sink had become disconnected. She had been washing dishes and didn't notice the water pouring out of the cabinet! 
Best “left” items (I rarely received tips, but often guests would leave a note saying they had left some food in the fridge that they couldn't take with them):
  • unopened beer or wine
  • a vacuum-sealed thermos that the guest told me not to bother shipping back to him (Greg takes his coffee to work in it every day)
  • an actual $20 cash tip
  • fresh produce (most often lettuce)
  • an unopened bag of Doritos (Greg's favorite)
Things I will miss:
  • The perpetually "lost" cat Buddy, whom I had to carry home on numerous occasions.
  • Greg ringing his bike bell as he rode up the driveway from work. I was usually in the kitchen cooking dinner so could easily hear it and wave out the window. Our new apartment is in the back of the house down a long flight of stairs...
  • Lounging on the beautifully landscaped back patio (although it's pretty hard to beat the view from our deck on Mt Tabor).
  • The rainbows created by sunlight coming through the leaded glass windows in our apartment.
  • The squirrel antics and numerous birds we could observe from our living room window.
  • “Paid” vacations - If anyone stayed in our apartment while we were gone, I charged the owner a nightly rate (as determined by dividing our rent by the number of days in that particular month).
  • The owner’s vehicle, which I occasionally borrowed for personal use.
  • The overall location and proximity to everything.
I'm sure I'm leaving out plenty. Hopefully Greg will comment if he thinks of something particularly interesting. The takeaway from this experience is that while I've always thought I might enjoy running a bed & breakfast or vacation rental of this nature, it is very hard physical work (I cleaned the two rental apartments a total of 250 times) and requires being on call 24/7 to assist guests or deal with maintenance issues. It also requires tons of patience -- guests were notoriously "clueless" about so many things that were spelled out in writing at the time of reservation, in reminder emails, as well as clearly posted in the apartments. I'm not ruling anything out for the future, but I will evaluate and choose the property wisely and consider all of the pros and cons before committing to a job like this again. Farewell, Irvington House!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In Remembrance of my Uncle Jim

My Uncle Jim was a charismatic member of my family, as well as my guardian, my mentor, and my friend.
Memorial table
When I was growing up in Nashville, Tenn., I always looked forward to trips to Chattanooga to visit my grandparents. My mom’s brother Jim, the second youngest of the five children, was only 17 years old when I was born. I don’t remember much, if anything, from the earliest years of my life. But I do remember that Jim was the daredevil of the family, riding four wheelers and motorcycles, going offroad in a 4WD truck, etc. When we were old enough, he’d offer to take my sister Emily and I for a ride. I know my parents were apprehensive about letting us go, but we always had a blast and Jim was the reason I got to have those exciting experiences.
I wrote this.
I even had a tangible connection to Jim for a few years. When I was 16, my parents bought Jim’s old car, a Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 and gave it to me for Christmas. It was a great little car and I drove it until I was in college.

Jim was a firefighter at Red Bank Fire Department for over 10 years. I always liked to visit him at the fire station so I could climb on the fire trucks and wear his helmet. When I moved to Chattanooga to attend college at the University of Tennessee, Jim and his wife Jenny were living in Hixson. Jim was still a member of the fire department and he knew I had been a volunteer firefighter in Gallatin during my senior year of high school. He suggested I apply to join RBFD and attend training, which I did. I was the only female firefighter in the department during those years. It was challenging and often intimidating to say the least, but Jim was always around to offer support and encouragement.

When I was involved in a car wreck during my freshman year of college and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance, Jim was there immediately to comfort me and get me home safely.
As a child, Jim's nickname was "Dammit" because his dad was always yelling at him for something.
There’s only one time I can recall that Jim got really upset with me. I had met an older firefighter during my time at RBFD and we started dating. Jim did NOT approve of this relationship and he had no qualms about telling me that I was making a huge mistake. While I didn’t agree with him, I knew he was watching out for me because he cared so much about me. As it turned out, of course, he was right.

I remember how excited and protective Jim was while Jenny was pregnant with Morgan and how he beamed with pride and joy after she was born. I was honored to be one of the first people to hold his baby daughter at the hospital.

I know Jim also appreciated how close I was with my grandparents (his parents, Jack and Barbara Patterson). When Granddaddy got sick, I would go over to their house on Godsey Lane to visit and help take care of him. When he was in the hospital, I would drive with my grandmother so she didn’t have to be alone. But Jim was the one by his side in the hospital room when my granddad took his last breaths.

We all left Chattanooga around the same time. I got a job with Delta Air Lines and moved to New York City to be a flight attendant. Jim, Jenny and Morgan moved to Terre Haute, Ind. so he could start a new job with Industrial Supply. We didn’t see each other as much in the following years, but I tried to come to as many family gatherings in Tennessee as possible and even flew in from California once to visit them in Terre Haute. It was always hard to believe so much time had passed, since the minute we were together it seemed like we had just talked yesterday.
Grandmother Patterson's 80th Birthday - March 28, 2009
More recently, when I quit working for a couple of years to travel around the world, Jim asked me point blank how much money it cost and how I had been able to save up so much while living in New York City. He had a hard time understanding how I was able to have such an exciting, adventurous life. I reminded him that I had been sacrificing for years, always living with roommates and minimizing possessions, plus I didn’t have a spouse or children. He acknowledged that and said he wouldn’t trade Jenny and Morgan for anything.
July, 2011
Jim experienced a lot of loss in the past few years but rarely let on that he was struggling. He called me one day out of the blue this winter and said he needed me to help him deal with a particular situation. We talked for about 30 minutes, not just about that one issue, but about life in general. I was really touched that he placed so much value in my opinion.
May 25, 2015
Our recent trip to Alaska will be a lasting memory of the fun times we shared. Just two months ago, we were all soaking up the sunshine and beautiful scenery of the Inside Passage from the decks of a cruise ship. Jim was always on the lookout for wildlife (or just an ice cream cone) and it was wonderful to have so many days together to talk and reminisce. I’ve been on a lot of cruises, but have never gotten so little sleep from staying up late drinking, dancing and laughing the night away.
May 26, 2015
I’m so very sad that you had to leave us so soon, Uncle Jim. I am thankful for each and every minute we spent together, in good times and bad, for all 41 years of my life. I hope that there are lots of birds, deer, power tools, Jeeps, and cheap beer wherever you are.
Memorial table we set up at the funeral home
Love always,