Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017: An Annual Recap


The end of the year is always a good opportunity to take a look back at the past 12 months and see what you have (or have not) accomplished. Overall, 2017 was a pretty good year for me. However, I expect to make some big changes in 2018. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, here's my annual recap:

Doing something for the greater good:

I was a co-founder of Beer Party PDX which formed in January. Our mission is “to organize members of the PDX beer community in order to effectively protect and promote basic civil rights including voter access, freedom of speech, and equal rights.” The founding members include bar and brewery owners, brewers, business consultants, and writers. We successfully raised over $7,000 for the ACLU during our first event in February and held several other fundraisers in the following months that resulted in donations to local charitable organizations. Sadly, we have not been as active in the second half of the year due to competing obligations in running our own businesses.
beer party pdx at beermongers portland
Founders and supporters of Beer Party PDX gather at BeerMongers
Being part of something meaningful:

The nationwide (and worldwide) Women's March occurred on January 21. I was already scheduled to work as a beer steward during the judging for the Oregon Beer Awards, so instead of joining the estimated 100,000 people gathered in downtown Portland, a small group of us marched outside at Widmer Brothers Brewing during our lunch break. I don't have any good photos because of the rain, so I borrowed this one from OPB.
Women's March in downtown Portland ~ copyright John Rosman
Always learning:

In 2016 I was awarded a scholarship from Pink Boots Society to attend OSU's Origins of Beer Flavors and Styles class. I completed the class in March 2017 and, among other things, it inspired me to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery which I wrote about here. I'd still like to take the Certified Cicerone exam but need to do more intensive studying before I can expect to pass.
Sampling beers and types of malt in class
I also enrolled in Elite Blog Academy and have been working my way through the syllabus. This has resulted in the launch of my new website Coast to Prost. I attended the EBA Activate conference in Portland in September and I'm still trying to apply everything I learned to my work going forward.

Playing host:

Actually, these are all repeat visitors since we have lived in Portland, but some have only stayed with us when we had a one-bedroom apartment. Now we have two bedrooms, so it's a bit more comfortable. This year we hosted Doug and Alexis (Greg's brother and sister-in-law from Los Angeles) in mid February; my friend Corey (from New York City) in late March; and our friends Eva and Jeremy (from Seattle) in late August.
couple artwork restaurant
Alexis and Doug at Fire on the Mountain - Interstate
Seeing signs:

Genesis 9:12-13 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth." I have seen countless rainbows from the deck of our apartment on the north slope of Mt Tabor since moving here in 2015. I also saw several while traveling in Europe this summer. No matter what I'm doing, I always stop to enjoy them.
double rainbow interlaken switzerland
A double rainbow in Interlaken, Switzerland
Keeping the faith:

While I grew up in the Methodist church, I consider myself agnostic. I have studied the world's major religions and do my best to respect other people's beliefs and traditions. As part of my cultural immersion when traveling, I like to visit places of worship and attend religious ceremonies. I have even been to some of the most sacred sites in the world, including the birthplace of Jesus. When I was in Sofia, Bulgaria in April, I visited an Orthodox cathedral, a mosque, a synagogue, and a Roman Catholic church all in the same day. In Lviv, Ukraine I visited 14 places of worship in two days and observed the Corpus Christi procession on June 18 after having witnessed a similar procession in Wroclaw, Poland on June 15. I also attended choir and organ concerts in multiple cities during my trip. In total, I visited several hundred churches in Europe this summer. It's my way of finding peace in the chaos and noise of everyday life.
greek catholic church interior lviv ukraine
Interior of the Greek Catholic Church of St. Onuphrius in Lviv, Ukraine
Expanding my horizons:
When I boarded a plane on April 25, I knew I wouldn't return home for at least two months. I planned to make my way from Bulgaria overland through the Balkans, seeing as many places as possible before I met up with Greg in Munich for his two-week vacation. I ended up traveling for a total of 120 days during which I visited 20 countries. I stayed in hostels and was often the oldest guest and the only female in a mixed dorm room. Very little, if any, English was spoken or written so I relied on Google Translate, hand gestures, my years of world travel experience and the kindness of strangers to get by. It was truly an adventure!
woman with gun in front of bunker
Target practice with an air rifle at an abandoned bunker in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Enjoying chance encounters:

I love it when I'm traveling and spontaneously run into someone that I know from somewhere else. This summer it happened twice. The first time was when Greg and I were in Munich. We were walking near the Marienplatz and I saw a girl taking pictures and thought she looked familiar. She was at least 20 feet away and there were lots of people around so I just shouted "Gil" and it was her! I met Gil Caresia, who is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, at Old Town Kotor Hostel in Kotor, Montenegro in May. We both planned to continue traveling in Europe but without set itineraries so we did not make plans to meet up anywhere else. In fact, Gil did not plan to visit Germany at all, but wound up in Munich with a friend. So it was totally random chance that I saw her on the street that day.
two girls in Munich near the Marienplatz
Gil and I were surprised to run into each other in Munich
I also met up with my flight attendant friend Adena in Amsterdam on my last day in Europe. She happened to be on a layover after working a Delta flight from New York City. She saw one of my Facebook posts saying that I was in Amsterdam so she messaged me. We ended up spending the entire afternoon and evening together after she opted to join me on a beer bar and brewery crawl.
Adena and I at In de Wildeman beer bar in Amsterdam
"Researching" beer:

You're probably not going to believe this, but this year I consumed over 1,100 beers. The vast majority of them were beers I had never tried before. I know the number is accurate because I log each beer on the Untappd app. Disclosure: Not all of them were full pours; in fact, at least half were taster-size meaning four ounces or less.
woman drinking beer Germany Munich Hofbrauhaus
Drinking my 2,500th unique beer on Untappd at the HofbrÀuhaus in Munich
In 2017 I visited a total of 111 breweries including 65 in the U.S. and 46 all over Europe. I document them on a spreadsheet and with photos. Note that this number only includes places where beer or cider is brewed onsite; even places that serve a "house-exclusive" beer, beer bars, brewpubs, and bottle shops with on premise consumption don't count. Besides, that would add another 100+ locations to the total!
brewery albania copper
Checking out the brew deck at BrauHaus in Tirana, Albania
I also brewed beer on a commercial system. On March 20, I joined the ladies of Pink Boots Society's Portland chapter at 10 Barrel Brewing for Big Boots Brew Day. Head brewer Whitney Burnside and her assistant Conor did most of the work, but I measured ingredients, did some cleaning and shoveled spent grain among other things.
spent grain in a mash tun beer
Better get a bucket! Time to shovel the spent grain from the mash tun.
Turning day into night:

Part of the reason I came back to the U.S. when I did was for the opportunity to view the total solar eclipse on August 21. I flew to Nashville, Tenn. so I would be in the path of totality with the added bonus of having a chance to visit my family over several days. I watched the entire eclipse from start (around noon) to finish (around 3:00 p.m.) in 95F degree heat with my 87-year-old grandmother. It was dark for just over two minutes. A really amazing experience!
darkness during total solar eclipse in nashville tennessee
My grandmother and her neighbor during the total solar eclipse at 1:29 p.m.
Fighting battles:

As in most years, there are good times and bad times. In my case, the bad is that after over a year of ongoing pain in my left hip and several months of physical therapy, my insurance finally approved an MRI. As I suspected, based on previous experience with my right hip, the imaging confirmed that I have a labral tear. I am not keen on having surgery due to the long (six month) recovery time, the difficulty of going to doctor appointments because of where we live now, and my overall physical condition is not nearly as good as it was going into the surgery on my right hip. On November 22 I had a fluoroscopy-guided steroid injection directly into my hip socket and it has given me temporary relief from the sharp pain, but the long-term prognosis is not great.

I also have ongoing pain in my neck and shoulders which started over two years ago. Part of it is due to a herniated disc, which has in turn affected my posture and caused me to overcompensate for the pain by using certain muscles incorrectly. It's a compounding effect and, even with physical therapy, I am having a hard time reversing it. Getting older (and out of shape) definitely sucks!

On a much more positive note, after almost two years of waiting and worrying, the lawsuit against us (really just Greg) is finally over. In short, the good guy won, but if you want to know the whole story you can read it here in these four posts:
The Accident 
Alternate Facts 
Burden of Proof: Day 1 
Burden of Proof: Day 2

Making a statement:
I recently was interviewed for an article that ran in the Washington Post on December 22. I subsequently wrote about it here: Celebrating Christmas. No, I did not declare a war on Christmas! I just reiterated my preference to focus less on presents and more on presence (and spontaneity) throughout the year.

Loving (and fearing) winter:
While I actually enjoy snow, especially if I can take advantage of it by sledding or snowshoeing or drinking a glass of wine in front of the fireplace, living on the steep north slope of Mt. Tabor brings its own set of challenges in inclement weather. The past year has been a real test of my resolve to 1) not get injured; and 2) not say something nasty to my neighbors who never clear their sidewalk of slick leaves, pine cones, ice, etc. and therefore make it impossible for me to safely walk to the bus stop.
snowy fir trees scene in portland oregon
The snowed-in city of Portland as viewed from the top of Mt Tabor
It all started on New Year's Eve with our first dusting of snow. Then Portland got dumped on beginning January 8 and by the 11th we had eight inches of snow on top of a layer of ice. It didn't really melt until after the 18th and was very slippery in the final few days with many people suffering broken bones as a result. We got hit again on February 1 (more ice) but it was gone within a couple of days. Greg and I went to Timberline with Doug and Alexis on February 18 and it was snowing hard that day. I went up the mountain again with Corey on March 30 and conditions were initially bad but then it cleared off and I had a glorious day of snowshoeing.
woman snow mountain snowshoeing Portland Oregon
Snowshoeing at Mt Hood Meadows in late March
We experienced our first snow of this season on November 16 as we were taking Hwy 20 to Bend for Greg's birthday weekend getaway. Our rental car didn't have chains so it was a stressful drive in pitch black darkness across the Cascade Range but thankfully I ended up behind an ODOT plow and a truck dropping sand for better traction. On December 24, it sleeted and snowed all day resulting in a white Christmas. It didn't warm up enough to completely melt the ice until the 28th, so once again I was trapped in our apartment for several days. I do have Yaktrax now but, due to the steep grade of our street, I still worry about falling on the icy sidewalks.
snowy Mount St Helens view from Portland, Oregon
The view of Mount St Helens from our deck on Christmas Day
Whew! If you made it this far, then I thank you for reading. I hope you will continue to follow my adventures in 2018 (and beyond). For now, I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Home Alone for the Holidays and How I Celebrate the Season

As I did this year for Thanksgiving, I thought it would be nice to recall some Christmases past. This was, in part, triggered by a recent article in the Washington Post which features yours truly. The reporter was doing research for a story on people with unconventional Christmas traditions and she came across a blog post written by my friend Becki Svare. Specifically, Becki's blog post is about her family's first attempt at not exchanging gifts during the holidays. I saw her post in my Facebook feed and commented about my experience trying to get my family to transition to a similar arrangement almost 20 years ago. Thus, when the reporter asked Becki if she knew anyone else that had moved away from gift giving, Becki referred her to me. The resulting story, published online on December 22nd, touches on what happened when I asked my family if we could scale back on the gift giving and how things have evolved since then. There are even quotes from myself, my mom, and my husband.
The Smartt's ~ Christmas 1977
Growing up with my sister and my parents in Hermitage, Tenn., Christmas-time was one of the few occasions each year I would see my extended family (aunts, uncles and cousins) on my mom's side. We'd usually get together at my grandparents house in Chattanooga to eat a big meal and open gifts. Everyone brought something for the kids; there were only a handful of us at the time and my mom has four siblings, so we raked it in. We usually spent Christmas Eve at my paternal grandmother's house, enjoying a delicious homemade meal and opening more gifts. My sister and I are her only grandchildren so, again, there were many, many nice presents. We would hardly sleep that night because, on Christmas morning, our gifts from Santa Claus would be waiting for us, unwrapped and displayed under the tree. Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Legos, Hot Wheels, clothes and shoes, books and cassette tapes and board games; we got it all. Even our pet guinea pigs had stockings and got treats from Santa. Later in the day we would open our presents from our parents. I'd estimate the total number of gifts my sister and I received each year to be upwards of 30 apiece. Their total value in 1970's and 1980's dollars was probably well over $300 per person. I only mention this because my family was not wealthy. But it was important to my parents to be able to buy us things.
My parents with my mom's siblings and their spouses ~ Christmas 1991
Now, as a middle-aged adult with no children, I am, for the most part, a minimalist. I prefer not to have excess stuff, partly because I move around a lot and don't like to feel weighed down when I'm ready to live somewhere else. If I need or want something at any time during the year and can justify the purchase, I buy it right then. I also buy things for my husband and don't wait for a special occasion to give them to him. So, on birthdays and holidays like Christmas, I prefer to focus on spending quality time together with the people I love versus buying a bunch of material things that no one really needs. I'll cook us a nice meal or we'll make plans to go to a restaurant or brewery. If I do buy any gifts, they are usually consumable i.e. favorite foods or drinks. Or I'll make something like a 12-month wall calendar with photos from our travels. I also enjoy traveling during the holidays to places where it's more about the celebration (or just relaxing on the beach) than exchanging gifts.
A gift from our hotel in Luang Prabang, Laos ~ Christmas 2010
I actually stopped going "home" for the holidays many years ago. The last time I can recall being in Nashville for Christmas was in 2011 just before Greg and I moved to Portland, Ore. We had traveled around the world for more than nine months, returned to the states and gotten married, then gone on a three-month honeymoon in Europe. We wanted to spend some time with our families before moving cross-country.
Christmas 2011 at my mom's house. The unwrapped gifts in front of the tree are for my two nephews from Santa.
When I lived in New York City (from 1999-2009) I occasionally flew to Nashville for Christmas, but, just as often, I was not even in the U.S. In 2007, I took my paternal grandmother to Andros Island, Bahamas, and went swimming with sharks (uncaged!) on December 25th. In 2006, my boyfriend and I went to Jamaica for Christmas. In 2003, I was on a European Christmas markets river cruise on the Danube. You get the idea.
Me and Grandmother Smartt at Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas ~ Christmas 2007
In more recent years, Greg and I have enjoyed a quiet day at home on Christmas, although a few times I have had an open house and made a big spread of food so people could drop by throughout the day. I have also been invited to other people's homes for similar, open house-style parties. Otherwise we go to a neighborhood brewery or pub, sometimes meeting up with a small group of friends for a few drinks.
My open house spread ~ Christmas Day 2015
This year Greg decided to fly home to Nashville to spend Christmas with his parents. He hasn't seen them since early December of last year and I think he needed a break from the office and from Portland, although he'll still be working remotely. He will be gone for two weeks so I won't see him again until after the first week of 2018. We opened our gifts from our families and from each other on December 23rd before he went to the airport. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer not to exchange gifts; Greg (and our families) are still more traditional. But now instead of focusing on the quantity of gifts, there is more of an effort to get really thoughtful things, often consumables like homemade cookies and locally made products that we'll use and enjoy. This year my mom gave us a really nice photo book documenting our two-week Panama Canal cruise together in 2016.
Christmas 2017
You may be wondering why I didn't go to Nashville with Greg since all of my immediate family lives in the area. The short answer is, I was just there in late August and I will be going back in mid/late May for my nephew's high school graduation. Considering there are no direct flights from Portland, it takes the better part of a day to fly there, and it costs around $400 round trip, this was a no-brainer for me. Also, I'm already traveling east to New Orleans for a girlfriend getaway and to Enterprise, Ala. for a friend's retirement party in January. Sometimes (most of the time) it just doesn't work out logistically for Greg and I to go to Nashville together.
White Christmas 2017
I'll be going to a party at a friend's house tonight, assuming I can safely walk to the bus stop. It sleeted and snowed yesterday and last night and, right now, the sidewalks and streets in my area are like a sheet of ice. Even with Yaktraks I don't want to risk falling and injuring myself.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, no matter how you celebrate!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Burden of Proof: Day 2

This is the fourth and final post about the bicycle accident that Greg was involved in over two years ago and the subsequent lawsuit that was filed against him. You can read the first three posts here:

The Accident

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The judge has asked the attorneys and their clients to be in the courtroom before 8:30 a.m. and the jury to be in their holding room by 8:40 a.m. We all show up on time and the plaintiff's attorney calls their third witness around 9:00 a.m. This is another video deposition, this time by the plaintiff's orthopedist. The line of questioning is the same as with the cardiologist, with the exception that the plaintiff does not have a history with the orthopedist other than as it relates to treatment for the injuries from this bicycle accident. Bottom line, all of the plaintiff's injuries were completely healed and he was complaining of no pain in March 3, 2016. He did not see this orthopedist or any other doctor for treatment related to these injuries after that date.

The fourth witness is the plaintiff's wife. She is comparable to the plaintiff in her inability to remember many details about anything. The purpose of her testimony is to describe how her husband acted after the accident as she was the one who he called to transport him to the hospital. She is also asked about his recuperation at home, when he returned to work, how he is different now, etc.

The fifth witness is the plaintiff's best friend and biking partner. He was riding with the plaintiff on the day of the accident. Some of his testimony refutes Greg's version of events, while other parts actually support it. His memory is also not the best although, overall, I think he is a better witness than the plaintiff himself.

We break for lunch around noon. When we return at 1:20 p.m. and are ready to go back on record, the court clerk's computer system suddenly shuts down without warning. She tries to troubleshoot with the courthouse's IT staff over the phone, but that doesn't resolve the issue so someone has to come up to the courtroom to fix the problem. Finally we are ready to start again around 2:00 p.m.

The sixth witness is a "bicycling expert" whom the plaintiff's attorney has called in to testify. This person does not know the plaintiff at all and is there solely to answer questions as they relate to bicycling safety, mostly about the commonality of riding abreast and about the proper technique for passing another cyclist. He is familiar with the Springwater Corridor so there are some questions about riding on it as well.

Now it is Greg's turn to take the stand as the only witness for the defense. He is calm, cool and collected, having spent all day Sunday practicing in front of a mirror. First he is asked a few questions about his personal life, his employment, and his bike riding experience as well as his use of the Strava app to record data about his rides. Our attorney has transported Greg's bike to the courtroom, mostly so Greg can demonstrate the loud and clear sound of his bell. Then Greg tells the jury about his bike ride on October 3, 2015 and about the accident. The only part of his testimony that could be considered a negative for us is when the plaintiff's attorney asks if he (Greg) could have rang his bell more than once, also given a verbal warning of his intent to pass, and waited until the other two riders moved into a single file position to ensure there was adequate room to pass.

The plaintiff's attorney calls his client to the stand again as a rebuttal witness. He is asked, as he was during the depositions in February as well as on the first day of the trial, if he heard Greg's bell (no), if he was aware that Greg was behind him and was going to pass (no), if he swerved to the left as Greg passed (no), etc. Nothing new comes out of this questioning and he is only on the stand for 10 minutes at most.

Both sides rest their cases so the judge tells everyone to take a 15 minute break. When we return, the judge does not immediately call in the jury as we need to review the jury instructions first. This ends up being way more complex than I expected. There are approximately 28 detailed instructions, many of which are specific to this case. They range from how to evaluate witness testimony to definitions of negligence and causation to comparative damages and much more. Both attorneys already have a copy of the instructions and the point of this discussion is to decide which ones need to be removed or modified. It takes at least 30 minutes to review everything, then another 15 minutes for the court clerk to print out new copies for the judge (who will read the instructions in their entirety to the jury) and for the jury (who will take a copy into the deliberation room for reference while they decide the verdict).

We reconvene with the jury present around 4:00 p.m. The judge reads the jury instructions first, then it is time for closing arguments. Both attorneys have Powerpoint presentations but this time they are more concise. The plaintiff's focuses on all of his injuries, how Greg could have waited to pass the other cyclists and therefore avoided the accident, and offers a recap of the plaintiff's days in the hospital. The defendant's (ours) focuses on contradicting the medical statements by the plaintiff's attorney, a review of the accident from Greg's perspective, the fact that the plaintiff was fully healed in five months, and how, if the jury does not find the defendant negligent in any way then they just have to mark NO next to the first question on the verdict form. The plaintiff's attorney is allowed to make rebuttal statements and he mentions the "permanent" injury to the plaintiff's shoulder and heart, how the aging process changes when injury occurs, and that Greg should have waited to pass the other cyclists.

The judge sends the jury to deliberate in their holding room and we are dismissed for the time being with the court clerk saying she will call the two attorneys to give an update in an hour or less as that is when the judge typically leaves for the day. We leave the building with our attorney and are planning to walk to a nearby coffee shop when his phone rings. The court clerk says we can come back; there is already a verdict.

Once everyone is present, the jurors file back into the courtroom. The forewoman hands the verdict form to the clerk who passes it to the judge. The judge reads "In answer to question #1, is the defendant negligent? The jury has answered no." Since there is no reason to proceed with the remainder of the questions as they are only to be answered if the defendant is in some way negligent, the judge polls the jury. All 12 jurors raise their hands when he asks who answered no to this question of negligence (there had to be at least nine in agreement in order to reach a verdict). Before we adjourn, the judge thanks the jurors for their service and asks if any of them have anything to say regarding this case or the performance of the plaintiff's and defendant's attorneys. No one volunteers, so the judge says they are free to go but also are welcome to stay and speak to any of us directly.

I immediately stand up and move toward our attorney so I can shake his hand. Then I give Greg a big hug with tears in my eyes. Several jurors approach us and congratulate us. One says he was in a similar accident but with a much different outcome i.e. he wasn't sued. Another says that the plaintiff just didn't produce enough evidence to prove negligent conduct by Greg. One specifically says "burden of proof." Not a single juror approaches the plaintiff or his attorney.

So, in the end, the good guy won.

We do not have to pay a dime of the plaintiff's attorney's fees, medical bills ($23,115.04) nor any of the $250,000 in non-monetary damages he claimed. In fact, the plaintiff has to pay the court costs and filing fees (which is really only a few hundred dollars). Our insurance will cover all of our attorney's fees and costs so, technically, we are not out any money at all.

Of course, we are beyond thankful that we won and that this ordeal is finally over. The stress has had an immeasurable impact on both of us individually and on our relationship, and is one of the many reasons I spent the summer in Europe. Greg had to work anyway and there was nothing going on lawsuit-wise to justify spinning my wheels at home. Now it is time to look at the future from a fresh, if somewhat tainted, perspective.

Here's to an accident-free 2018!

Burden of Proof: Day 1

This is the third post about the bicycle accident that Greg was involved in over two years ago and the subsequent lawsuit that was filed against him. You can read the first two posts here:
The Accident
Alternate Facts

Monday, December 4, 2017

Our attorney tells us to be at the courthouse by 8:30 a.m. The trial is scheduled to start at 9:00. As it happens, a reshuffling of multiple judge's chambers and courtrooms has occurred over the weekend, which means there are boxes piled everywhere and it is the first time our assigned judge and his clerk have heard a case in this particular courtroom. Things are a bit chaotic as the clerk has technical difficulties with her computer and printer; even the judge keeps trying to enter the courtroom through the wrong door from his chambers as the layout is different from his old office.

We finally get started after 9:30 a.m. The only people present in the courtroom are the judge and his clerk, the plaintiff and his attorney, Greg and our attorney, our attorney's assistant and myself. There are about 30 minutes of discussion regarding how the trial will proceed, what can and cannot be presented as evidence and, specifically, that there can be no mention of insurance by either party.

The clerk summons a random group of 25 potential jurors from that day's jury pool. By the time they get seated in the courtroom (again everything is assigned randomly by a computer, even the order that they will enter the room to take their seats in the jury box), it is already 10:30 a.m. The judge briefly summarizes the case that is being presented: This is a civil trial involving a bike-on-bike collision on the Springwater Corridor.

Each juror has to answer the same series of questions out loud: they state their name, area of residence (i.e. which quadrant or suburb of Portland), their education, their occupation, who they live with, those individual's occupations, if they drive, if they have ever been involved in a lawsuit or trial, if they have been on a jury before, and if they know anyone who is present in the courtroom. They are also asked if there is any reason they cannot be present for what is expected to be a three-day trial. Then the judge and both attorneys ask more specific questions, sometimes directed at one individual, other times to the group as a whole. Some of the questions include: do you ride a bicycle; do you have a personal bias against lawyers (the plaintiff is a lawyer); who is familiar with the Springwater Corridor; do you have any issues with the $250,000 in non-monetary losses that the plaintiff is requesting; if anyone has familiarity or personal experience with heart problems, a broken collarbone, or hip/pelvis/tailbone fractures (i.e. the alleged injuries), etc. This all takes more than 30 minutes.

The jurors are then dismissed to the adjacent holding room and the attorneys convene with their clients, including myself, to decide which three people they definitely DO NOT want on the jury. We challenge a guy who has tons of bike riding experience on the Springwater, but has suffered a broken collarbone as a result of a bike accident and says it is the worst pain he has ever felt. We also exclude a guy who has recently been in contact with the plaintiff's attorney to represent him (why the judge did not dismiss him outright is beyond me). Finally there are two jurors who visibly seem to not want to be there and have minimal education or bike riding experience. Our attorney chooses one of them to be excluded. The plaintiff's attorney challenges a woman who had an ugly divorce from her lawyer-husband, a psychologist who says the $250K in damages is exorbitant, and a retired teacher who also states that she has a problem with the $250K amount. Due to the randomization of the seating assignments, we then end up with 12 jurors and one alternate and the remaining six people are returned to the jury pool.

At this point it is just before noon, so the judge tells us to break for lunch and return by 1:20 p.m. Greg and I grab a sandwich from a nearby restaurant and, after eating, go for a walk to get some fresh air.

Once we return to the courtroom, the jurors are called in so the trial can begin. However one juror (one of the ones who visibly appeared to not want to be there) told the clerk during the lunch break that it will really be a hardship for her to sit on this jury for up to three days, so the judge calls her into the courtroom first, alone, and asks her why she didn't speak up sooner. This woman took him literally when he said that the only reason people could get out of being on a jury was if they were medically incapacitated (I think he said something along the lines of "if you are being operated on"). She has two jobs, takes care of her grandmother, etc. and even says that when she received the jury summons in the mail she called the courthouse to try to get out of it but they denied her request. In the end, the judge dismisses her without penalty but after a good scolding, and now we are down to 12 jurors and no alternate.

Finally, around 2:00 p.m., the jury is called into the room and sworn in. The judge again gives some basic instructions, primarily concerning not talking to each other or anyone else about the trial while it is ongoing, nor to use cell phones or any electronic device to communicate in any way about the case. He also describes how things will proceed, with the plaintiff always going first (i.e. giving his opening statement first, calling his witnesses first, giving his closing argument first) but that it in no way indicates preference or favorability.

The plaintiff's attorney's opening statement includes a Powerpoint presentation, half of which details his client's injuries and the remainder focuses on details about his client's experience riding the Springwater Corridor, measurements of the trail and of the bike he was riding on the day of the accident, and reasons why his client chose not to have his collarbone injury surgically repaired (he is a recovering alcoholic who is worries about getting addicted to pain meds). 

Our attorney's opening statement also includes a Powerpoint presentation which focuses on Greg's bike riding experience, similar measurements and drawings related to the width and ability to pass other bikes on the Springwater Corridor, and closes with a summary slide showing that the plaintiff is going to testify about his pain and suffering but has no medical records or other evidence to back up his claims beyond five months after the accident.

The first witness to be called is the plaintiff himself. I am really not exaggerating to say that he is not a very compelling witness. He fidgets a lot and seems unsure when answering many of his attorney's questions (saying "I don't really remember"). He is asked to recall the day of the accident, the accident itself, his injuries and subsequent medical treatment, as well as questions about his life history, bike riding experience, his friendship with the attorney who is representing him, and his friendship with his bike riding companion.

On cross-examination our attorney homes in on the plaintiff's statements that conflict with what he said under oath during the deposition in February, his inability to remember specifics about the accident, some specifics about his medical history (to show that some of the damages he is claiming likely have nothing to do with the accident), and why he threw away the bike helmet he was wearing at the time of the accident as well as the bike frame which he claims was damaged.

The second witness is the plaintiff's cardiologist. His deposition was videotaped a few days before the trial and that is now played for the judge and jury to see and hear. For about 30 minutes both attorneys ask him questions related to the plaintiff's past and current heart issues, which include a quintuple bypass in the early 2000's as well as a surgically implanted pacemaker and defibrillator. The plaintiff has chronic heart disease and his ejection fraction (amount of blooding pumping out of the heart) is much lower than the average person's. There is some evidence based on a blood test that was done at the hospital in the days after the accident that the plaintiff suffered a very minor heart attack which he never felt nor had any other symptoms.

Once the video testimony is complete, the judge decides to adjourn for the day as it is now around 4:30 p.m. We are to report back to the courtroom at 8:30 the next morning, which is where I will begin my next (and final) post.

Alternate Facts

This is the second post about the bicycle accident that Greg was involved in over two years ago and the subsequent lawsuit that was filed against him. We were not allowed to discuss the case with anyone other than our attorney, so if our families and friends are reading this, please know that we wanted to tell you but couldn't. You can read the first post here: The Accident.

When Greg was served with papers in mid-August 2016, our insurance company, State Farm, stepped in and hired an attorney to represent us. Greg met with the attorney for the first time in late September 2016. After producing all of the evidence as required by the lawsuit, which included Greg's detailed written account of the accident and data from the Strava app on his iPhone, our attorney filed a response disputing all of the allegations made by the other rider, who claimed that Greg was negligent in causing the accident and the ensuing injuries and damages amounting to almost $330,000.

On October 31, 2016, just over one year after the accident, the plaintiff's attorney made an offer of settlement in the amount of $100,000 (our insurance policy limit). Our attorney declined the offer as, based on the evidence presented, he felt strongly that we would prevail on liability.

As with many legal proceedings, there is often a lull in activity for the parties involved as the plaintiff's and defendant's attorneys continue to gather evidence to substantiate their cases. Greg and I tried to live our lives as we normally would, even going on a long-planned two-week-long cruise through the Panama Canal with members of both of our families over Thanksgiving 2016 after our attorney assured us that nothing would happen during that time.

On February 1, 2017, we were notified that the opposing attorney had asked to take Greg's deposition. On February 10, Greg and the plaintiff answered questions related to the case under oath with both attorneys present. The plaintiff alleged that Greg was riding at an unsafe speed, did not ring his bell to warn them before his attempt to pass, tried to pass when there was not adequate space, and did not maintain control of his bike when passing.

After the deposition, there was another very long lull in activity. At the end of June 2017 we were notified that a trial date had been scheduled for the week of October 9. In the meantime, the court ordered both parties to meet with a mediator. This occurred on September 1 and was also unsuccessful. The plaintiff would not agree to a settlement of less than $75,000 while our attorney (and insurance company) would not go above $55,000.

In mid-September, a revised trial date was set for December 4, 2017, forcing us to cancel the vacation (another two-week-long cruise) that we had booked a year ago. In the meantime, we began to prepare for the trial, with Greg returning to the accident scene in late October (now two years after the accident) with his attorney and his assistants to reenact the events and document everything with photos and video.

The Accident

It was a mild, sunny Saturday in early October 2015, maybe one of the last opportunities for my husband Greg to enjoy a long, leisurely bicycle ride before the rain and darkness set in for the next six months in Portland, Ore. Greg is not just a fair-weather rider; he commutes by bike to work in the sun and rain year-round as long as overall conditions are safe i.e. not icy or too windy. At this point two years ago, he had already ridden his bike over 4,000 miles since purchasing it new from REI here in Portland in 2012.
On this particular day, Greg decided to go on a ride he has done a few times before, parts of which he has ridden countless times before, sometimes with me but more often alone. He left our apartment by mid-morning and put his bike on a bus heading east. He disembarked in Gresham and biked the Gresham Fairview Trail to where it intersects with the Springwater Corridor. From there he started heading west on the trail, which he would ride until eventually turning north toward our home on the north slope of Mt. Tabor.
I was enjoying a quiet afternoon relaxing at home when I received a text message from Greg saying he had been in an accident but that both he and his bike were unharmed. However, the other rider that was involved was injured. We did not actually talk on the phone; he just texted me that everything was okay and that he would continue his ride and be home in a few hours. Of course I was worried, but Greg is a very experienced rider and I trust that if he was actually hurt he would ask for help. The only other time he has had any incidents on his bike other than the all-too-common flat tire was when he was riding in northwest Portland and was thrown off his bike while crossing a section of old, recessed railroad tracks.
When Greg arrived home later that October afternoon, I was anxious to hear the details of the accident. He told me that near the intersection at SE 174th Ave, he came upon two cyclists who were riding abreast, also going west. They were riding slightly slower than he was, so he would overtake them. The standard procedure is to audibly announce your intention to pass, always on the left, by either ringing a bell or giving a verbal warning like "bike" or "on your left." Greg has a very loud, mid-to-high-pitch bell on his bike, and that is what he uses to alert other riders that he is approaching. In this case, after he rang the bell when he was approximately 20 feet behind them, the rider in the middle of the path, who had been sitting upright with his hands off the handlebars, leaned forward and put his hands back on the handlebars then moved slightly to the right. This gave Greg enough room to pass on the left, so he proceeded. Just as he came alongside the two cyclists, the one in the middle swerved back to the left, causing his handlebars to clip Greg's. The contact sent Greg onto the rough shoulder of the trail and it took him some time to regain control of his bike. Once he did, he looked back at the other riders and saw that the one in the middle had fallen off his bike.
Greg was concerned for the downed rider so he circled back to check on him. The guy seemed a bit disoriented and said he was in pain. There were no obvious injuries to him nor any damage to his bike, but he told his riding partner that he wanted to go to the doctor. Greg assisted them by using Google Maps on his phone to show them where they were at in relation to the nearest intersection where someone could pick them up. Greg offered to help them walk their bikes to the intersection but they declined. Before Greg left, they asked him for his name and phone number, which he provided.
Based on this information, I asked Greg to immediately sit down and write a full, detailed description of the accident while it was still fresh on his mind. I didn't want to take any chances that he might forget the specifics in case there were any claims against us (the fact that they had asked for his name and phone number raised red flags for me). Sure enough, my intuition was accurate. Less than two weeks after the accident the injured rider called Greg, told him that he had ended up in the hospital for three nights with a concussion and multiple fractures, and asked for our insurance information. Since we do not own a home or a vehicle, we have renter's insurance through State Farm. Our policy is pretty basic, covering our relatively minimal personal belongings, and it includes only $100,000 in liability.
The following weeks turned into months as we waited apprehensively, wondering if or when a claim would be filed. It was not until the afternoon of our fifth wedding anniversary in July 2016 that I received an email from State Farm notifying me that there was a report of loss against our insurance policy. Two weeks later our doorbell rang, and Greg was served with a summons to "appear" and defend a complaint for bodily injuries and money damages totaling $326,752.04.
Thus began the protracted battle to prove Greg's innocence i.e. that he was not negligent in causing the accident and the subsequent injuries to the other rider.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Remembering Thanksgivings Past

The fourth Thursday in November is the perfect time to reflect on our many reasons to be thankful. Of course, family, friends, and good health are always at the top of my list. I am also grateful for the ability to travel and explore the world. But, instead of making a list of everything I am thankful for, I thought it would be fun to recap a decade of Thanksgivings, including this year's.

2008: Nashville, TN
After moving to New York City in the spring of 1999, I could no longer guarantee I would be home for the holidays. My family was (and still is) spread out over Tennessee, with my birth city of Nashville often serving as the meeting point for my extended family. One decades-old annual tradition is the Thanksgiving day gathering of the Layne family at my paternal grandmother's niece's home in Inglewood. In previous years, any time I was in town I would accompany my grandmother to this potluck feast which often includes over 30 people crowding into a 1,000 square foot house. If the weather is good, we go outside and play football in the front yard. On this particular year I was able to catch a flight down from NYC at the last minute and surprise my grandmother.
Me and my grandmother Betty Layne Smartt on Thanksgiving Day 2008

2009: Honolulu, HI
Greg and I started long distance dating in February 2009. I was still living in New York City; he lived in Nashville. By July, I had shipped all of my remaining belongings to my grandmother's house so Greg and I could experiment with living together in various parts of the U.S. We started in Seattle, WA for one month, then took a two-week vacation to central Europe, then settled in the Waikiki area of Oahu for two months, which overlapped the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day we had reservations at the Oceanarium Restaurant for their afternoon buffet, then we walked off the meal at the Honolulu Zoo followed by a sunset stroll on Waikiki Beach.
View of the sunset from Waikiki Beach on Thanksgiving Day 2009

2010: Mount Kenya National Park
Greg and I departed the U.S. on the last day of July 2010 to start our around-the-world trip. After traveling through nine countries on four continents, it was time for a two-week safari in Kenya and Tanzania. On Thanksgiving Day, we awoke before dawn at Samburu Sopa Lodge and ate breakfast while watching a family of warthogs gather at the watering hole near the open air dining room. As our driver and guide navigated us out of the park, we spotted a Somali ostrich family grazing in the brush. Before noon we had crossed the Equator at Nanyuki. An hour later, we arrived at Serena Mountain Lodge on the lower slopes of Mt Kenya but still 7,200 ft above sea level. There we settled into our room overlooking the watering hole and immediately saw a herd of waterbuck and Cape buffalo. By the time we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, we had also seen Sykes monkeys, bushbucks, a genet, a bee-eater, Egyptian geese, and a mongoose. A highlight of the evening was when the clouds cleared and we had a fantastic view of the mountain summit.
Somali ostriches in Samburu National Reserve
Standing on the Equator in Nanyuki, Kenya

2011: Miami, FL
Our around-the-world adventure ended in May 2011 after being on the road for 278 days and visiting 22 countries on four continents. Greg proposed to me in Nashville on Memorial Day so we spent the summer planning and celebrating our wedding with four parties in three states. We departed for our honeymoon in early September and spent 92 days traveling to 23 countries. We returned to the U.S. via a two-week-long transatlantic cruise from Rome, Italy to Fort Lauderdale, FL. We stayed with my friend Adena in Miami for a couple of nights then spent a few more nights, including Thanksgiving, at a hotel while waiting to board a week-long Caribbean cruise, the finale of our trip.
Sailing away from Miami on November 27, 2011

2012: Portland, OR
Greg and I moved to Portland in January 2012 after falling in love with the city during our "living experiment" in 2010. We rented a fully furnished apartment in a 100+-year-old converted home just off SE Hawthorne in Sunnyside. I spent Thanksgiving morning preparing our meal. We ate mid-afternoon and then went for a walk around our neighborhood. Later, I put a big batch of 15-bean soup in the Crock-Pot.
Thanksgiving dinner 2012

2013: Portland, OR
Greg and I moved to Irvington House in August 2013. I was the live-in caretaker at this 100+-year-old home turned vacation rental. There were guests staying in both rental apartments over the holiday so we stayed home to be able to assist them if needed. I also washed windows that day before cooking our Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving dinner 2013

2014: Portland, OR
A relaxing day at home in Irvington. I swept leaves and sent some work-related emails, then cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as I had the previous two years. Greg flew to Nashville early the next morning to spend a couple of weeks visiting his family.
Thanksgiving dinner 2014

2015: Portland, OR
In July 2015, we moved to a duplex apartment on the north slope of Mt Tabor. For Thanksgiving, we were invited to Friendsgiving at Culmination Brewing, which had opened in January. I met the owner, Tomas Sluiter, at a Pink Boots Society event the previous year and we eventually ended up working together on several business projects. I also helped out in the Culmination taproom during special events. Our friends Henrik Bowadt and family were visiting from California so they joined us for the potluck meal. It was a great afternoon and evening!
Enjoying Thanksgiving with our friends the Bowadt's at Culmination Brewing

2016: Cartagena, Colombia
Greg and I had booked a full Panama Canal transit on Holland America Line's ms Veendam. The 14-night cruise departed from Fort Lauderdale, FL on November 20 and ended in San Diego, CA on December 5. We were joined by family members on both sides: Greg's mom and dad, his mom's sister and her husband, my mom and stepdad, and my mom's sister and her husband. Early on Thanksgiving morning we docked in Cartagena, where I had arranged a personalized city tour for the entire family. Unfortunately, Greg's aunt and uncle were unable to join us because Ellen had fallen on the first day of the cruise and had to go to the hospital to confirm the shipboard diagnosis of a broken wrist. The rest of us proceeded with our tour and had a wonderful day exploring the city. We sailed away in the early afternoon and then we all enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner together in the formal dining room that evening.
View of Cartagena from La Popa Monastery
Thanksgiving dining room decorations aboard ms Veendam

2017: Portland, OR
This year we are relaxing at home in North Tabor. Even though it's just the two of us, I am cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner all from scratch, including a 4.5 lb turkey breast, giblet stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce. I also have some shrimp cocktail in case we need an afternoon snack, and will make blue cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates as an appetizer. Needless to say we will have plenty of leftovers! I'm not a big dessert-eater, so I'm saving the holiday baking for closer to Christmas and instead bought Greg an Edwards Reese's Creme pie that he can enjoy for the next few days.
Ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner 2017

I hope all of you reading this have a very Happy Thanksgiving!