Monday, April 30, 2007

Across the Big Water

A friend of ours nabbed a job in Copenhagen and the first thing she did was get a bike. So Anna: what’s it like riding a bike there? Is it a constant near-death experience, or do they keep the cars and bikes separate? I notice you’re not wearing a helmet. How does it campare with Portland? Do tell. Write us a note below.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Ride my dashboard

One thing we cyclists notice a lot is fire hydrants. I think fire hydrants are so cute that I seriously thought about starting a blog just about them. I know all the different models and vintages and where they live. Imagine my excitement when I was privileged with a peek into how fire hydrants are transported!! I must admit I’d never given it a second’s thought. Who sees a fire hydrant and wonders how those things get from one place to another?
But I could’ve sworn I saw a whole truckload of them pass by me going the other way on Broadway. Luckily, just this one time I was in my car. I say luckily because the truck headed right onto I-84, and who knows what would have happened had I forgotten myself and tried this stunt on my bike. Before I was even sure I was seeing correctly, I flipped a U-ie in the middle of Broadway and hopped onto the freeway after it.
Now one thing I’m not good at is multi-tasking of any kind, and I do not recommend it for anyone except if sitting at a desk, indoors, surrounded by easy access to dialing 911. I especially do not encourage or engage in it when operating heavy machinery. Ever. I only did it this one time in my life, for your benefit, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m pretty good at working that camera by now – I can do it with my eyes closed. Which is almost what I did here, because though my eyes were wide open, I was focusing on the road and not on the camera’s viewfinder. These were all completely blind shots, every one of them. Stuck my arm out and clicked away. So there you have it. Now, thanks to my bravery, you know about a whole area of life you were ignorant of until now.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

We’re running out of space, folks

Here’s another photo from my Saturday cemetery tour. A structure like this takes up about fifteen square feet of ground. I think it's called a mini-mausoleum. Yesterday a cemetery staff person told me they cost half a million dollars, but I don’t really believe it. I don’t see how one of these could cost more than the average house. I guess we won’t be getting one.

Believe it or not, these units only hold six or eight bodies. It’s good that cremation is coming into acceptance because there just isn’t going to be the space available for each of us to have a whole chunk of real estate all to ourselves. You'd think the cemeteries would want to start saving space like crazy, but they all have strict rules about how many cremations you can fit into a full sized grave – usually only two to four. Is that ridiculous, or what? Come on. The average person’s ashes can fit into something the size of a coffee can. I know I could fit the whole family into one plot if they’d let me.

You oughta see the cemeteries in Eastern Europe. I wish I had picture of the cemetery in a little town in rural Czechoslovakia where I lived for one year. It was right in the middle of town and people walked through it all day. Each plot was packed full and stacked up. After they’d double- or triple-deckered the underground part, they’d arrange the cremation urns on top of the ground level vault or tuck them in next to the headstone. This went on for generations, in a continually developing shrine to their ancestors. Very decorative. Women would stop by on their walk back from the grocery store and tidy it up a little, or leave flowers.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Cemetery Hopping

I had a bike ride planned last Saturday with a friend -- fortunately, a fair weather friend, which does not mean, as you might think, a friend who only comes through when times are good, but a friend who is amenable to cancellation of plans when the weather is bad. Saturday was horrible. Instead of biking, we saved gas by carpooling around to cemeteries.

So, getting back to the topic of funeral planning: The most important thing I’m learning is that there are 101 decisions to make when someone dies -- and you definitely don’t want to be faced with making up your mind about them under pressure of a ticking clock in the middle of your darkest moments. I know that someday I will kiss myself for having done all this now.

The least amount you can get away with spending is about $1,400. That’s with cremation -- you save loads of money by not having to buy a graveyard plot or a casket or a tombstone. You can buy a fancy urn or you can use another container of some kind, of which you might even already have something suitable around the house.

If money is no object, there is almost no limit as to how much you can spend. But by planning ahead of time, you’ll know you’re making choices based on what you really want and not from caving in to all kinds of conflicted emotional and family pressures that will rain down on you when the big bad thing happens.

For a traditional (casket) burial, the cost quickly jumps up to 6 or 8 thousand dollars – and that’s if you choose all the simplest options, like the super economy coffin – which, you’ll be relieved to know, they don’t actually call “the super economy coffin.” The bottom end of the price scale on coffins is just under a thousand dollars.

There are a dozen steps along the way that you never thought of that someone has to be paid to do, and you can’t really skip any. For example, obviously somebody has to dig the grave, and it has to be someone who knows how, not just you and a few sporting relatives. But that’s not all. You have to purchase a “liner” for the hole, which is a big concrete box that the casket goes in. I believe this is legally required to prevent the shifting of the dirt, especially if it’s on hilly land. (I wonder what keeps the concrete liner from shifting.) Then the cemetery has to hire a crane to lower the liner into the hole ahead of time so that it’s all ready when you get to there. And of course, tombstones are also spendy items even before anything is carved onto them.

They don’t call them tombstones, though. They call them “markers.” A whole language of euphemisms has developed in the mortuary business because apparently Americans (at least on the west coast) don’t like to say words like “grave” or “death.” I’ve heard the business itself referred to as “after life services,” which to me sounds like it could easily be confused with “afterlife services,” which would be best deal since Mae West sold the Brooklyn Bridge. The hearse is called the “funeral coach.” No doubt I’ll learn more tomorrow, when I meet with a staff person at a specific cemetery for even more detailed information.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech Shootings: Why

OK, so the whole country’s in knots about the Virginia shootings and I’m writing about flowers. Call me shallow, but I think a time like this is when we especially need flowers.

I haven’t been following the details. I don’t watch TV even on a good day, and I’ve decided not to subject myself to the endless and merciless rehashing that is the hallmark of TV news coverage at times of crisis. A few glances at the print media tell me of any new developments, and that’s enough.

I don’t need to be forced to think about it because I already think about it all the time. I have a mentally ill relative whom I (we) fear could do something like this some day. We have our reasons for these fears, which I'm not going to go into on my blog.

But that is not to say that anybody with a mental illness is a volcano on the verge of an eruption. There are more mental illnesses than you can shake a stick at, and most do not lead to violent behavior. If you know someone with a problem, be careful not to put that on them. The stigma of mental illness is bad enough already. Let’s not all start acting like everyone with any mental problem is super-scary.

And here’s another thought: I hope people don’t judge the shooter's family and imply that they could have prevented this tragedy. I guarantee the family has been through hell for years.

The most constructive thing I’ve done about this so far is to participate in a twelve session weekly class run by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (
NAMI). It’s free. You can learn about the brain and psychotropic drugs, mental health resources, and how to avoid losing your own mind while dealing with someone who seems to have lost hold of theirs.

The second best thing I’ve done is to buy this book: “I am not sick, I don’t need help” by Xavier Amador. Vida Press, New York, 2007. It’s about “how to help someone with mental illness accept treatment.”

Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Help takes long, and occurs in small increments over time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Portland - city of flowers

There are so many flowers around this town that I can’t ride slow enough to take them all in. Every way I turn my head is a show – from a bike, that is. From a car, you’re all boxed in. I’ve spent so many springs and summers peering through my car windows while trying not to have a wreck, thinking, wow, look at all these gorgeous flowers, I gotta get out more, gotta go for some walks, gotta spend some time OUTSIDE so I can enjoy all this. But the season would be over before I knew it and I’d have missed the whole thing.

Riding my bike, I’m absolutely wallowing in the outdoors all the way to work and all the way home. If the season zips by without my planning any major expeditions, I don’t feel that I’ve missed life itself. The smells alone are a whole nother realm besides the colors.

I would like to publicly thank anybody in this town who’s responsible for a flowering anything, because I’m out here reaping the benefits without having put in a lick of the work. Even at home, Lindi’s the one who’s made all the flowers happen. (I do other things, ok?)
The beautiful petals burst out of their buds, then, after a few weeks of entertaining us from their stems, fall through the air like --- Ha! You thought I was going to flog the over-used ‘snow’ analogy, didn’t you? No, the petals are not like snow, they are much, much better. Besides being toasty warm, they are soft and don’t turn into slush. When I come upon these scenes of fallen petals, I want to throw myself down and roll in them. Sometimes, if I find them on a dry grassy area and no one's looking, I do.


Monday, April 16, 2007

The bike is BACK.

The bike I thought was abandoned for so long that disappeared the minute I blogged about it last week, has rematerialized. And I met the owner, a self-described busker who lives in a blue van full of musical equipment parked nearby. He leaves the bike there to use when he’s in town so as not to have to drag the van around.

Big bearded bear, friendliest guy in the world, with a mandolin for a heart and a palm-pilot for a head. He could recite the date and time of every eviction and every ensuing court appearance and the code numbers of laws broken and rights violated -- not to mention the complicated ins and outs and ironies of the social service system.

In his spare time he keeps busy representing himself in lawsuits against landlords and jailers unduly prejudiced against him for his habit of cultivating his own marijuana which he needs for his spinal cord injury.

He overflows with all these stories, and more, and if you’re willing, and you have the time (lots of time) he’ll tell them. As I left he was pulling out his mandolin -- I might’ve been treated to a song. I wish he’d started out with the music and saved the stories for last because by then I was plum out of time and energy.

In a parting word of unasked-for advice, I suggested it might be a good idea not to leave his bike untouched in one spot for so long because the police might think it was abandoned and pick it up. He laughed, with a dismissive not-to-worry wave. “Nah! The police know ALL about me!”


Friday, April 13, 2007

Cemetery Criteria: can you get there by bike?

My criteria in planning the funeral (choke! – I can hardly even say that) will be: What would Pop say? Meaning what would he say if he didn’t have Alzeimer’s. We have to sort of translate through the fog. These days he says a lot of things, and they don’t always match up. For instance he says he wants to be buried in his childhood home town in Colorado, which has a population of about 216 people, none of whom he’s had any contact with for at least fifty years – either because they have moved elsewhere or are no longer living. If we took him there today, we probably couldn’t scare up a single person who knew him. (He actually visited about 20 years ago, and the acquaintance base was pretty much zippo even then.)

This is a man who spends time composing epitaphs for his tombstone. Most of them are of a smarty-pants nature, and I don’t know if my mother will agree to have the words carved in stone. However, it’s clear that he expects visitors. I for one won’t be flying over to rural Colorado too often. But if he were around here, I’d drop by and have a picnic with him with reasonable frequency – especially if it’s right in the middle of town and I could get there on my bike. So that’s another point in favor of Lone Fir – bike accessible.

I hope to look at some other options this weekend.

I’m not going to be publishing details about the funeral planning because it feels too private – even though you don’t know my parents. However, I hope that someone out there will benefit from the general information findings I do publish in this blog. Maybe it will save someone some future headaches.


Has the stolen bike been stolen?

The bike I featured day before yesterday is now GONE. Poof. Vanished into thin air. I hope it went somewhere it was supposed to go, and that I don’t have any readers of the type to go help themselves to a lost or unclaimed object. I hope I didn’t do a disservice by posting about it. Maybe I shouldn’t have disclosed its location so precisely. It would have taken some serious work to unlock this thing without the keys, though. It had a big U-lock and a heavy chain with a huge padlock. So it had to have been somebody with the proper bike removal tools on hand.

Maybe the owner showed up -- but on the very day after it appeared on my blog? Too much of a coinkidink?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Anybody Lose a Bicycle?

Hey, everybody, there's this bike that's been locked up to a post for more than a month, right out in the middle of nowhere. I mean it's not in front of any building or anything. It's almost on the freeway overpass right where NE Tillamook runs into Flint street. What should I do, anything? It seems likely that it's stolen -- it hasn't BUDGED from that spot. I could report it to the police --but would they really do anything besides throw it into a warehouse?
I didn't get the serial number because I didn't feel like lying down on the sidewalk in the rain and mud. But here are some pictures. If you recognize it, call me. I'm in the phone book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The not-so-fun part of death planning

I’ve always been a big cemetery fan. Don’t let me stop at a graveyard if we’re trying to get somewhere because you’ll be stuck there with me for hours as I look at every single grave, figuring out who’s related to who else nearby, calculating life spans from the dates on the stones and imagining what all the various people were like. It’s like entering a mall with one of those people that loves to buy things. They’ll never tire of trying things on and looking at every single item.That’s me, at a cemetery (except that I don’t actually try on the graves, I just look.) For that reason, shopping for a gravesite is not unpleasant.

Visiting the funeral home, on the other hand, was not what I’d call “a good time.” It’s not as morose as it would be if the person had died yesterday, but it certainly does bring the death “to life” so to speak. Whereas strolling around a cemetery is more like “a walk in the park,” something we’ve all done many times, at the funeral home, you have to actually imagine that the person has just died.

Anyway, here’s the stupid part. If the person has indeed just died yesterday, and you are only just now going to the funeral home for the first time, you are very likely to give unwise answers to some of the long list of questions they’ll ask. For instance, “Do you want the extra-plush six inch mattress on the bottom of the casket that’s covered with 100% silk brocade, or do you want the three-inch pad that’s covered in plain cotton?” When you’re in the thick of grief, you feel like an absolute disrespectful cheapskate if you pick the economy option. So you blurt out that of COURSE you want the silk brocade extra plush. You’ll accept only the very best for [insert name here].

I have just enough experience with death to know that even my super-pragmatic self might be swayed by grief into extravagant choices. I’m in the very fortunate position to have a friend who was once (and is not now) in the funeral business, so she has given me blow-by-blow advice for every step of the way. She knows how people get, how people feel at these grief-stricken times, and the kind of choices they make to try to make it better.

Now that no one is dying, I know full well that my father would scoff copiously, dare I say snort audibly, at luxury funeral options. He would also be seriously disturbed (and probably writhe in his grave) if he knew that his expiration caused his family members to spend large sums of money on his death arrangements. He’d want us to keep that money and spend it on the living. The whole family is in solid agreement on this, because even though he has Alzheimers now, we’ve known him all our lives, and we know that’s what he would, and did, say.

More of my findings to follow: about just how much debt you can incur simply by dropping dead.


Monday, April 09, 2007

More Cemetery Pictures

Here’s some more snaps from Lone Fir. It was beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine that day. I was ready to dig myself a nice hole right then and there... as opposed to the first time I went, a month or so ago, when I felt differently about the place. It was a super damp, gray day, after weeks of solid rain. The whole cemetery seemed like a swamp of mud with the tombstones leaning Halloweenishly every which way – while in reality only some are leaning, the old old ones. Also, only a few days before, that cyclist named Nick was killed right on the corner there, and his ghost bike had been newly installed. So the whole scene was one big bummer, and I thought, this isn’t the right place. Now that I’ve seen it at the height of spring, though, with all the flowers blooming and the sun filtering through the myriad kinds of trees (I think it’s been officially proclaimed an arboretum), I’m reconsidering.

I have several more options to look at. It has to be a place I feel sure Pop would like. I can’t ask him, though, I mean I can’t bring him to a graveyard and ask him how he likes it and would he like to pick out a plot for himself. It's about twenty years too late for that. I suspect one can only handle that when one feels reasonably far away from death. He’s about 84 now, but mainly he has Alzheimers. So even though he’s always appeared to have a great sense of humor about his death, and still jokes about it frequently and writes and re-writes Edward Lear style epitaphs for himself, I’m afraid if it came right down to actual plot selection, he’d be bummed. Or horrified or something. Worse, he might get stuck on a jag and come up with a question about it, like “Where am I going to be buried?” which he’d ask my mother every ten or fifteen minutes for the next 72 hours. And then my mother would also be bummed.

So forget that idea. His offspring will have to make that choice for him. I’ll narrow it down to a few options, then poll the others.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Reality barges in

My life is not my own this week, as two crucial family members from two different households are out of town and I'm filling in. Day by day, my determination to maintain some semblance of my own routine has flaked away -- you know how that goes. My writing has dwindled -- the number one thing I was going to hold together. Now even the gym workout is out the window. Plus I've been putting horrid mileage on the car, which is absolutely unavoidable in this case. All my plans for living well have been overtaken by living in reality. Oh well. As they say, life happens.

I am on an alien computer now, far away from my stash of fabulous photos. Bear with me, I'll have my comfortable rut back by early next week. Maybe I can squeeze in a post this weekend. I have so much to tell you.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

The perfect thing to shop for by bike

So to continue from last time, I’ve been researching the topic of funeral and burial planning because no one else in the family is attending to this and I for one don’t want to have to make these kinds of decisions in the space of a couple of days during the saddest time of my life.

Mainly what I’ve learned so far is that death is very expensive (nope, you can't even DIE for free), and the less prepared you are, the more it costs. I'll give more examples of this later, but for now let’s start with the burial plot. If you buy it way ahead of time, you can pay it off gradually. But if you need it by tomorrow at noon, they want the money today. So this means instantly shelling out $600 to $2000 for the plot alone, not counting all the other spendy things on the list. If this seems cruel, think about it – let’s say they feel sorry for you in all your grief so they give you a break and let you pay on an installment plan. Three months down the road, you quit paying. What are they going to do – repo the plot? Dig up your loved one and deposit the casket on your front porch? I don’t think so. They’re screwed. Now they’re going to have to hound you relentlessly till they get their money, and who wants that job?

So that’s why I’ve started shopping. And I’m glad I have, because you’d think it wouldn’t matter where the hell you bury someone, but as it turns out, it matters. Some places feel right, and some don’t. It’s going to take time to pick the right spot. This isn’t just another errand on your list that you squeeze in between “buy some bread” and “go to post office to mail that package.”

Will post more photos tomorrow. I know I said that the other day but this time I mean it.


Monday, April 02, 2007

continuing search

I have a lot more to tell you about my continuing cemetery search. But I'm too pooped now. I had a very demanding day. It'll have to wait till tomorrow.