Like many social media denizens slash foodies, I like to take pictures of my food. Mostly these turn out decent, but I learned yesterday that it is virtually impossible to make split pea soup look even remotely palatable. Regardless of how delicious it might taste, it’s going to resemble something regurgitated by a baby. Case in point:

pea soup

Trust me when I say it tasted much better than it looked. I had never made split pea soup before, but because Tara was partying it up with her friends on the Oregon coast, I took advantage of her absence by making myself food that she would never eat. Considering she’s such a picky eater all I really had to do was throw open the pantry, but I digress.

So this was a smoky ham and split pea soup that simply cooked in the crockpot all day. I topped it with a dollop of plain nonfat Greek yogurt (who needs sour cream, anyway?) and a dash of smoked paprika. Good stuff! I’m assuming I’m not the only one who eats things they otherwise would not when their spouse or significant other is out of town? Feel free to weigh in on that (and share your go-to solo indulgence if you’re so inclined).

I missed my wife, but made sure to keep busy over the long weekend. I took Friday off and drove to the Oregon coast for a hike up Neahkanie Mountain. The view from the summit was breathtaking, despite the thick cloud cover.


After that I drove to Cannon Beach, where I proceeded to set up my beach chair and kick back with a magazine. Well, that lasted all of ten minutes, because it was cold as hell and started raining. So I returned to my car, changed into warmer clothes and a jacket, and walked past Haystack Rock and back. Because, why settle for a five-mile hike when you can add a three-mile walk to the mix?

By then it was approaching dinnertime, so I drove half an hour south to Garibaldi. My destination? The Ghost Hole, a little dive-bar some coworkers told me about. I was a little intimidated when I first walked in because the place was clearly inhabited by locals, but I grabbed a seat by the window, ordered a Bloody Mary and a cheeseburger, and settled right in. Ended up staying for a couple more drinks before leaving. I thought I’d stroll around town for a little while afterwards, but it was dark, rainy, and cold. Too bad – I found Garibaldi to be quite charming. Tara and I will have to come back and do some exploring.

Saturday, I spent the afternoon strolling through the Hawthorne District, my favorite Portland neighborhood. Browsed through a couple of vintage stores and bought records from the used record shop we frequently frequent. Is that redundant? Oh, well. Sunday was more relaxing, though I did walk to Target in pursuit of a pair of gloves, a strange (and ultimately fruitless) mission considering it was sunny and 80 degrees. Hey, fall – come back! I made the aforementioned soup for dinner and ended up watching a documentary on Netflix called Fed Up. Fascinating look at America’s obesity epidemic and the proliferation of Type 2 diabetes in people of all ages. It was very eye-opening, and made me feel genuinely sorry for the handful of kids chronicled in the doc. All were morbidly obese and wanted to get healthy, but were having difficulty thanks to many obstacles in their path, such as:

  • Soft drink lobbyists testifying before Congress that soda is not unhealthy and is, in fact, part of a balanced diet.
  • School lunch programs that are reliant on exclusive contracts with fast-food chains.
  • Food manufacturers making up the lack of flavor in their reduced-fat items by doubling or tripling the amount of sugar.
  • Companies targeting kids through false and misleading advertising.
  • Parents enabling their own children by buying junk food or products they erroneously believe to be healthy.

It’s somewhat maddening. Take the whole school lunch thing. It boggles my mind how different things are now from when I was a kid. Not only are there vending machines in the hallways; my daughter can order Taco Bell, Burger King, Pizza Hut, or Subway for lunch. In the cafeteria. WTF? We got choices, too: eat or don’t eat. That was it.

It was also interesting to see old commercials featuring Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble smoking Winston cigarettes. And then they cut to the present day, where Fred Flintsone and Barney Rubble are peddling sugar-laden Fruity Pebbles cereal.


Based on my own personal experiences, I already know that sugar is evil. This documentary really drove the point home. I highly recommend it to anybody interested in learning more about nutrition and how the “American diet” is contributing to so many serious health issues.

Just The Facts, Nuoc Mam

Sunday afternoon I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when I heard a steady drip, drip. I checked the faucets, but there was more water on Mars than in the sink at that moment. I cocked my head to the side and listened carefully as the drips increased in volume and intensity, turning into splats.

“Umm…babe?” I called, an edge of worry creeping into my voice. “Could you come here a second?”

And then I spotted a foul-smelling brown liquid seeping through the cabinets and underneath the microwave, fat drops falling to the stovetop below. And I am not afraid to admit that I recoiled in horror and had to fight back a scream threatening to erupt from my throat. I immediately thought demonic entity because, hello – “The Amityville Horror,” anyone?!


Fortunately, upon further investigation, I discovered it was merely fish sauce and not the blood of the undead. Turns out I had inadvertently knocked over a bottle of fish sauce we store in the pantry above the microwave when reaching for the vinegar. Whew! And…phew. ‘Cause that stuff imparts great flavor to Asian cooking, but boy howdy does it smell to high heaven. We had to open all the windows, turn on the fan, and light candles. Tara was not amused, even when I tried to lighten the mood with my “just think, dear – this will make a great blog post!” line.

Can’t blame a guy for trying.

And the verdict may be out on the “greatness” of said post, but here it is nevertheless. I hope you’re sufficiently entertained.

Blood MoonSpeaking of entertainment, how ’bout that super blood moon lunar eclipse thingy the other night?! Good stuff! I even managed to get a halfway decent pic, even if it’s a little blurry. Tara and I walked out to the sidewalk in front of our apartment complex where I set up my tripod, attached my “real” (read: not “phone”) camera, and took a 15-second exposure. I think it looks like either a jack-o-lantern or Charlie Brown. Come to think of it, the resemblance between both is sort of a major plot point in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Which we can watch soon, since October is tomorrow. Good grief. Where has this year gone!?

At least we’ve had plenty of adventures. A couple of weekends ago, Tara and I went camping on the Washington coast. It had been two years since our last outing – way too long in my opinion. Because nothing beats sitting around a campfire drinking. Well, except for sitting around a campfire drinking and eating. Fortunately, we did both. And also threw in a nice sunset and a scenic hike to a cliffside lighthouse.fish sauce

This weekend, Tara’s got a girl’s weekend on the Oregon coast with a few of her closest friends from Nevada. Because I’m jealous as hell jonesing for a little adventure of my own, I’m taking Friday off myself to go for a hike. On the Oregon coast. I swear I’m not trying to crash her party! I’ve been wanting to hit this trail for awhile now, anyway. Afterwards I’m going to relax on the beach, maybe catch a sunset, and then stop by a little dive bar in Garibaldi that some of my coworkers have raved about.

Sounds like a good day, no?

Wildfire on a Windy Day

Today was just an average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill Thursday. I took a walk before work. Knocked out a few articles. Grabbed lunch with Tara. Started a rumor that the owner of the company’s wife was expecting a baby. You know, the typical daily grind.

OK, in all fairness, my wife and I hadn’t met up for lunch in quite a while, so I suppose that was out of the norm.

Oh. And the boss thing, too.

I am always sticking my foot in my mouth. It’s sort of my “thing.” Earlier in the week, I texted a coworker, Dr. Jones looks like a corpse! Only I got her phone number wrong; I entered 635- when it should have been 653- and so my text went to a complete stranger. Fortunately I never got a reply, but my SMS provider did confirm the message was delivered. In my defense, Dr. Jones (not his real name) does look like he’s pushing, say, 102 years old. Or maybe the photo on his website is unflattering. In any case, I wasn’t being mean, but merely observing. There is a difference, subtle though it may be.

I don’t plan these little faux pas, I swear. They just happen.

So here’s what happened. The company owner’s name is Shawn P. We are friends on Facebook. I am also FB friends with another Shawn P. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is headed.

This morning, when Shawn P. updated his status to say, It’s confirmed-I’m going to be a daddy!! I thought I was reading a post from my boss, not the other guy. I left a note of congratulations, and within 30 seconds had shared the news with my coworkers. Then I went back to the post to see if anybody else had commented, and realized I had made a huge mistake.



The next twenty minutes were spent backpedaling. I did everything in my power to discredit myself, even going so far as to say, “Don’t trust anything that Mark guy says; he’s full of shit!”, but once these rumors get going, they spread like wildfire on a windy day. I decided my best recourse was to fall on the sword and confront the head honcho himself.

“Hey, the funniest thing happened this morning!” I said after corralling him in the kitchen. “If anybody hands you a cigar today, blame it on me.”

Luckily, the Shawn P. who signs my paychecks has a great sense of humor. He found the whole thing hilarious and laughed it off. Be that as it may, I’ve got to knock this shit off and start paying more attention to things, whether they be names, phone numbers, or whatnot.

The worst part of all this? The other Shawn P., the one who posted the status update that started this whole mess, was just messing around. He does not have another kid on the way; this was some sort of Facebook game in which anybody who “fell for it” is supposed to turn around and post a phony status update of their own, ostensibly in an effort to raise breast cancer awareness.

What. The. Hell.

The only awareness this has raised is that,

  1. I’m an idiot, and
  2. The other Shawn P. is a jackass.

OK, he’s not really a jackass. He’s actually a pretty decent person. But oh, the trouble this nearly got me into! Whatever happened to pink ribbons? At least I know what those signify.

Social media will be the death of me yet.

Have you ever fallen for something outlandish or ended up humiliating yourself publicly? (Jess Witkins, you are excused from answering. Your track record in these matters is impressive enough).

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

It’s been surprisingly cool lately. Especially jarring since we just suffered through our hottest summer in history, but I for one am not complaining. Fall is my favorite season and if it has decided to show up early this year, so be it. Because of the colder weather, I wore pants yesterday for the first time in months. I should elaborate: jeans instead of shorts. It’s not like I was walking around in my boxers every day.

Just in the afternoons, much to the consternation of my coworkers.

In addition to being a cooler-than-normal month, September has also been super busy. We knew looking at the calendar that this would be the case. Hot on the heels of our mini family reunion, Tara, Audrey and I drove up to Mount Hood last Friday to hang out with my uncle Tom and his wife Sue before they flew back to New Jersey. They had spent most of the week in a cabin in the woods, and invited us to join them their final night.

You literary buffs and pro-abolitionists (better be everybody reading!) will appreciate the fact that we stayed in Uncle Tom’s cabin.

Uncle Tom's cabin.
Uncle Tom’s cabin.

We met up with them last Friday evening at a cozy little restaurant called the Rendezvous Grill in Rhododendron, where we enjoyed great conversation and food. I hate to use cliches like “my salmon was to die for,” but my salmon was to die for. As was Tom’s, and as was Sue’s. That’s right: we’re all a bunch of fish lovers. Tara and Audrey were the exceptions, ordering food that once walked instead of swam, but we all left quite pleased with our dinner, not to mention a little tipsy. Tom and Sue graciously picked up the tab; considering it was not insubstantial, we very much appreciated their generosity.

Cards Against Humanity: not for the faint of heart.
Cards Against Humanity: not for the faint of heart.

Afterwards we followed them to the cabin, and the adults spent the rest of the evening drinking and playing Cards Against Humanity. Gulp. Talk about a family bonding experience! There’s an eye-opening game for you. But lots of fun.

Not a bad way to spend a Friday evening.
Not a bad way to spend a Friday evening.

We enjoyed a dip in the hot tub out on the deck beneath the stars before hitting the sack. We were up four hours later to catch the sunrise over Trillium Lake, something that Tara had wanted to do for a long time. It was well worth the lack of sleep. After a hike around the lake we returned to the cabin and Tara cooked breakfast while Tom and I played a game of Scrabble. We’ve been playing Words With Friends for years, and Tom is my toughest competition by far.

Who won, you ask? My answer is simple: it doesn’t matter, right?

(Damn stupid tiles!).

Then it was time to pack up; they had a flight to catch at PDX, and we had to get home. All in all we had a great 17-hour visit and enjoyed their company. Hope we get the chance to do it again sometime soon.

Trillium Lake.
Trillium Lake.

Monday, Tara and I celebrated our second anniversary with a Foo Fighters concert at the Moda Center in Portland. Great show; Dave Grohl came out kickin’! Not literally, of course. In reality he spent the entire three hours seated in a giant, lavish, over-the-top throne that he designed himself while high on oxycontin after breaking his leg earlier in the year. This thing had flashing lights, guitar necks, and an elaborate FF logo. At one point, Dave played guitar with his leg brace. It doesn’t get more badass than that! Three hours and 25 songs later the concert ended, which meant another late night for us. But again, totally worth it. He’s Dave f***ing Grohl, man.

Well, he IS rock royalty. (Image courtesy of nj.com).
Well, he IS rock royalty. (Image courtesy of nj.com).

Because our anniversary landed on a Monday, we went out for dinner the evening before. We wanted something nice and were torn between three different Portland restaurants, but ultimately decided on Imperial because we are Top Chef fans and were cheering on Doug Adams last season. I thought he should have won, but after eating there I no longer think that.

I know it.

DinnerBecause hot damn, that was one delicious dinner from start to finish. Everything was amazing, from my chipotle-infused Bloody Mary to the oysters with a horseradish mignonette; the giant, fluffy Parker House rolls with butter and Jacobsen sea salt; the buttermilk fried chicken with sweet pickles, honey, and hot sauce; the pasta carbonara with bacon; the caramelized green beans with kimchi, pork tongue, and a sunnyside egg; the fire roasted mushrooms with bone marrow and parsley; the warm chocolate chip cookie; and the cheese plate (a creamy wedge of bleu, wafer crackers, thinly sliced apples, honey, and candied walnuts). I’m much more cautious – okay, militant – over what I eat these days, but this was a splurge night and I’m glad I did. Afterwards we walked across Portland’s newest bridge, the Tilikum Crossing. All in all, we had a great anniversary this year.

Portland's newest bridge.
Portland’s newest bridge.

Our busy September continues this weekend with a camping trip on the Washington coast. It’s actually been two years since we’ve gone, and the weather looks to cooperate. Then next week we’re seeing The Who in concert, provided Roger Daltrey doesn’t keel over first. Oh, you think I’m kidding, but he has cancelled a bunch of tour dates due to a “mystery virus.” Portland is to be the first show they play once resuming their tour, so fingers crossed.

Ready, Cassette, Go

A few days ago, my dad told me he had a boxful of cassette tapes he wanted to get rid of, and asked me if I was interested before he tossed them.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” I replied.

And then I saw this article and was like, wait a second. Maybe I was a bit hasty?


Anybody who knows me at all is well aware of my fondness for vinyl. The only “new” music I actually buy these days is records. Our album collection now exceeds 400. Obviously, I love nostalgia and all things retro. Not just in music; this fondness extends to lava lamps, the VW Bus, beaded curtains, avocado green appliances, and so forth and so on.

But I’m just not a fan of cassettes.

I owned them growing up. Quite a few, actually. I alternated between records and tapes growing up, preferring the sound of LPs but the convenience (and portability!) of cassettes once the Walkman came out. Tapes are such a pain in the ass, though. Forget about skipping to a particular song; you pretty much had to immerse yourself in the whole album experience. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – bands concentrated on cohesive full-length records rather than putting out collections of disposable singles, and music was truly art – but tell that to a 16 year-old who wants to hear Night Ranger’s “Sentimental Street” without having to wade through the drivel that is “I Need a Woman.” At least a record allows you to pick up the needle and skip to the next track, if so desired.

Tapes also fail to satisfy your desire for instant gratification. If you want to listen to “Separate Ways” but your cassette copy of Frontiers is stuck on “Faithfully,” you’ve gotta hit rewind and wait a couple of minutes. Life is too short for that nonsense.

Exactly! The reason I kept pencils next to my music collection.
Exactly! The reason I kept pencils next to my music collection.

Don’t even get me started on the cassette players’ fondness for eating tape. There is nothing more frustrating than Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” devolving into an incoherent mumble-jumble midway through the song because the tape got tangled up. Unspooling that shit and praying it would still sound okay is one pastime I do not miss.

I guess I should have seen this coming, though. If the hipsters can revive Pabst Blue Ribbon and somehow make that cool again (strike that; PBR was never cool to begin with), cassettes are simply the next logical step. I would argue that anybody longing for a cassette tape is really craving novelty, not nostalgia. They’ve probably never seen one before, and certainly haven’t been forced to deal with the problems listed above. Things become obsolete for a reason: it’s called technological progress, not regress.

Last week, my beloved favorite band, The Moondoggies, announced a cassette release party for their first album, Don’t Be a Stranger, which came out in 2008.  It’s not even available on vinyl.

And damned if I didn’t think, I’ve gotta have that…

1957 Gay

During a recent phone conversation with Tara, I told her that she makes me feel gay.

“1957 gay,” I added. “Not current gay.”

The truth is, I miss 1957 gay. If you were gay in the year that American Bandstand debuted, you were happy or jovial. Lighthearted. Carefree. Dick Clark was gay. My dad was gay. If I had been alive then, I’m sure I would’ve been gay, too.

For the record: there’s nothing wrong with current gay, either. I am firmly in favor of gay rights, same sex marriage, and equality for all. Because of this, I want gay to always have a positive connotation. So I told Tara I was going to singlehandedly attempt to bring gay back. 1957 gay, that is. “How will you do that?” she asked.

“Easy,” I said. “I’m going to tell everybody I’m gay!”

hm-coverAfter hanging up with her (I was at work), I started telling all my coworkers I was feeling gay. When Crawford looked at me funny I said to him, “You make me feel gay, buddy!” Which, oddly enough, precipitated an even stranger look.

I may have an uphill battle here, but I’m going to push on bravely and continue to spread my gay agenda everywhere I go.

Speaking of gay, yesterday we had a mini family reunion. My uncle and his wife flew out from Trenton, New Jersey for a vacation. My mom and aunt, not to mention my 97 y/o grandmother, all live out here, so having the whole family together is kind of a big deal. The last time I saw my uncle had been 1997 – 18 years ago. Which means he was the age I am now back then. Weird. He and I have developed a pretty good camaraderie over the years, fueled by witty Facebook comments, competitive Words With Friends match-ups, and a similar liberal mentality. So it was nice to see him again in person, and have him meet both my wife and daughter. And his wife, Sue, seems like a great person, too. We ate ham and potato salad and macaroni and cheese and rolls and creamed corn (holy carb fest!) and guacamole and drank alcohol and there was lots of laughter and reminiscing. Best of all, the day turned into an impromptu tribute to my dearly departed grandfather, who  passed away nearly 40 years ago. #@&! you, cancer. Last Tuesday would have been his 100th birthday, so we toasted to his memory and shared stories and even sang “Happy Birthday.” It was all quite touching. And a blast to see how my mom interacted with her sister, brother, and mother. Dare I say it? Everybody was feeling gay by the time the evening was finished.


Tom and Sue are in town for the remainder of the week. They’re renting a cabin in Mount Hood Village and have invited Tara and I to crash with them on Friday night. We’re planning on taking them up on that offer. Should be a lot of fun, and will give us an opportunity to catch a sunrise over Trillium Lake the next morning, something we’ve been meaning to do for a while.

In the meantime, we’re enjoying the rest of the long holiday weekend. The weather has turned cool and fall-like, a nice break from what has been the hottest summer in Portland’s history. The break will be brief – it’s going to warm up again in a few days – so we’re enjoying it while we can. It’s been a pretty low-key weekend, and we plan to keep it that way.

Dollars and Sense

All parents have moments where they feel pride for their children. Last week, I experienced one of those intense bursts of fatherly admiration for Audrey. She had her eye on a new pair of white Converse tennis shoes, and had done some housework in order to earn money for them.

“I’ve got enough!” she announced triumphantly one day. “I’m off to buy my shoes today.”

“Good job,” I replied. “Where are you going?”

“Walmart,” she said with a cringe, waiting for my inevitable reaction. True to form, I did not disappoint. My disdain for Walmart is legendary. Well, among my immediate family and friends, at least.

“I thought I raised you better than that!” I said.

“But they’re $10 cheaper there,” she countered.

walmart-evil“Maybe, but the true cost of doing business with Walmart is not reflected on the price tag,” I told her. We’ve had these discussions before. How Walmart’s business practices leave much to be desired: the annihilation of small businesses, the bullying of suppliers, the reliance on overseas imports, the mistreatment of employees in the form of low wages and a laughably expensive health care plan. My parents, fervent fans of Walmart, argue that they’re not as bad as they once were. They’re paying their employees more these days, they say. Giving back to the community. (I say they’re paying lip service. The Waltons donate little of their personal fortune to charitable causes. And the well-publicized salary increase? Not so impressive when you actually examine it. Let’s just say they have a long way to go to catch up to Costco, about as employee-friendly a company as you will ever find. But I won’t go into all the pros and cons here; just search Google and you’ll find plenty of links that will help you make up your own mind about them. My point is, I hate them with a passion and refuse to ever shop there. So when Audrey was all gung-ho about going there to save a few bucks I was disappointed, but ultimately it’s her decision and I am not one to interfere.

So, here’s what happened last Tuesday. She got to Walmart. Stepped inside. Made a beeline for the shoe section…

…and couldn’t go through with it.

“I thought about what you said earlier,” she explained. “How too many people look at the price without seeing the real cost of the product.”

Maybe she didn’t use those exact words, but the point is, what I told her sank in and made an impact. My awesome little liberal! She turned around and bought the shoes somewhere else. Someplace that treats their employees with the decency and respect they deserve.

She bought them at McDonald’s.

OK, I kid. They wouldn’t have had her McSize, anyway…

Zeppelin Had Coda

I apologize for my recent absence from Blogville. Work has been kicking my ass lately. We’ve been busy for months, but that has really ramped up these past few weeks. Considering that the company has tripled in size in the nearly three years I have been there, this isn’t exactly a shock. Sadly, they are unwilling to invest in another copywriter at this point, choosing instead to hire more marketing staff and focus on increasing membership. Of course, more marketing staff + increasing membership = more content to write. This has all the makings of what the old-timers call a “vicious circle.” As a result, I’ve been under the gun and stressed out quite a bit over the work that has been piling up and the deadlines that are falling by the wayside. But as I told my junior content specialist, there is no use complaining about something we have no control over. If it takes a few missed deadlines to get management to acknowledge the need for help, so be it.

Fortunately, the company is still investing in fun activities for its employees, and Friday was no exception. We shut down the office at 1 PM for our annual picnic. Busy or not, there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to get paid to drink down by the river on a Friday afternoon. We had reserved a picnic shelter at Cottonwood Beach in Washougal and the plan had been to barbecue, play some volleyball and kickball, and socialize. It turned out to be really hot and muggy, so most of us congregated beneath the shelter instead. We had good food, lively conversation, and plenty of booze.

And then the cops showed up.

I hadn’t given much thought to all the No Alcohol Allowed Under Penalty of Death! signs posted all over the place, figuring whoever organized the picnic surely must have gotten a permit or special exception. After all, there were cases of beer right out in plain sight. I am not a beer drinker myself, but came prepared with a flask full of vodka. It wouldn’t be a {Insert Company Name} party without a little booze, after all!

Shit just got real.

Surprise, surprise. There had been no special deal brokered, no temporary liquor license granted for our group, so when four police cruisers showed up and a bunch of sallow-looking uniformed fellas stepped out of their vehicles, the jig was up. I nervously worried about getting patted down, but luckily my flask went undiscovered. We were asked to remove all alcohol from the premises and issued a citation, and after that the party pretty much petered out. Tara and I left around 4, and ended up at our favorite bar in downtown VanWA for more (legal) drinks. We’d invited a bunch of friends to stop by, but nobody did. Lame! Fortunately, we enjoy each other’s company best of all, and had a great time anyway.

At one point we started talking about music. Tara asked me whether I thought Nirvana would still be as revered today if Kurt hadn’t killed himself. No, I replied. They would have eventually made a bad album. It happens to all bands – even Led Zeppelin had “Coda” – and that would have diminished their legacy. And then she asked about other untimely rock ‘n roll deaths. What if Jim Morrison hadn’t died so tragically young?

“It’s probably a good thing he did,” I replied (though not really). “Because you know The Doors would have gone on to release the inevitable disco album, and that would have forever tainted them.”

It’s funny, the conversations you have after downing a few drinks.

Yesterday, summer came to an abrupt end. We had a big windstorm move through, with some pretty heavy rain in the morning. Since it’s still only August I’m sure this is temporary and we will soon return to our Regularly Scheduled Program (warm + dry), but it was a nice break from the monotony and the perfect excuse to spend the day holed up inside. We made meatloaf and watched Boyhood. Usually our weekends are go-go-go, so it’s nice to chill out for a change.

It’s beginning to look like fall out there.

Pepper Blizzard

I had a spice crisis a couple of days ago and am just barely starting to feel comfortable in the kitchen again. Friday morning I was making myself a breakfast sandwich before work and needed a little black pepper for the coup de grace. I reached for a canister we had just bought from the store but it still had the plastic “tamper-proof” strip around the top. After attempting to pry that off with a knife, the whole thing exploded in a fine black powdery blizzard that settled softly over everything. The stove. The kitchen floor. The feta cheese I was about to add to my sandwich. And me. I looked like I had a raging case of black dandruff. So I cleaned everything up and, stubborn guy that I am, ate the sandwich anyway. Feta and all. An hour later my mouth was still burning, but by god I hadn’t had to throw the feta away, saving myself $1.98.mccormick-pepper

Classic case of it-could-only-happen-to-me.

And you know, the next day I did toss the feta in the trash after all, because that pepper was potent. Now I’m being careful with the caraway, gentle with the ginger, deliberate with the dill, mindful with the marjoram, and precise with the paprika. I have no desire to deal with another spice emergency quite so soon.

Then Friday night we met up with our friend Kara for drinks and dinner at a bar in Portland. This place has a great vibe, good food, very reasonable prices, and heavy-handed bartenders. Every time. I knew this going in, but my Bloody Marys were tasting really good so I kept ’em coming, forgetting the fact that I am considerably smaller than before. Suddenly it was four hours later and weird things were happening. Like, apparently I drunk-Facebooked a status update that was riddled with errors and then later deleted it out of embarrassment, but not before a bunch of people had seen it and commented. Oops. The next morning I awoke with a hangover, which is pretty significant because I famously never get hangovers. Tara felt bad for me, but also, she gloated a little. A couple of Excedrin took care of the headache, but I felt kind of “swimmy” for much of the day.

Fortunately, we were going to the beach, so that turned out to be rather apropos.

It wasn’t the best day to head to the Oregon coast for several reasons, the biggest being the thick layer of smoke and haze that drifted over Portland when the wind shifted direction and blew all the smoke from wildfires in Oregon and Washington our way. It was really bad all over, and our air quality rating dropped to “unhealthy” for the first time in forever. We were hoping Cannon Beach would be clear, but nope. The usual ocean breezes were not blowing this time around. On top of that, we ran into a 45-minute delay on the way over due to an accident. “This has never happened before!” I told my wife as we inched forward excruciatingly slowly. (Little did I know that coming home 10 hours later we would run into another costly delay because the whole freakin’ highway was closed due to a fire. Seriously, what are the odds? And also, is anything not burning out there?!).

But, there’s no such thing as a bad day at the beach. I call it ocean therapy. We took a long walk down the sand past Haystack Rock, caught up on some reading, people-watched, grabbed dinner at a seafood market in town, and caught the sunset. Great day. Take that, smoky air!

Smoky air over the Columbia River.

I really wish it would clear up, though. It’s weird to walk outside and have it smell like a campfire everywhere you go. The wind is supposed to shift back this evening and blow the smoke back east, away from us. Can’t wait. I swear, this has been the worst summer in ages. So hot and dry. And yet, there are signs of change in the air. Like this tree in our apartment complex.


Now that’s a sight for sore eyes!

What’s the 411?

Last week, we paid Audrey to catalogue* our record collection.

*As an aside, I realize that “catalog” is the more common spelling of this word in American English, but I prefer the European version. I also favor favour and find colour more colorful than color. However, I refuse to belabor the point and call our holiday Labour Day. I’m funny when it comes to language. 

Anyway. Our record collection continues to grow, and this was becoming a problem. Case in point: we hit our favorite record store in Portland recently and ended up buying an album we already owned. As much as I like Ozzy Osbourne, one copy of “Blizzard of Ozz” is plenty. This has happened on more than one occasion, so we figured it was time to actually come up with a list we can refer to in order to avoid duplicates. Only, the idea of sitting down and going through all those albums one by one seemed far too onerous a task to deal with, so we bribed my daughter to do it. The grand total? 411. That’s a lot of vinyl! Some of those albums we bought nine days ago, while others I have had for almost 40 years.

In fact, I still own the very first record I ever bought. And there’s a great story to go along with it.


In August of 1977, we were on vacation in Texas, staying with some friends of the family in Wichita Falls. I was eight years old and not nearly as worldly as I am these days. One afternoon the adults walked into the living room, and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. Their eyes were downcast and brimming with tears, and they spoke in the same hushed tones usually reserved for the recounting of Bad News.

“What’s wrong?” I asked nervously.

“Elvis is dead,” my mom answered sadly.

“Oh, no!” I cried. And then, after a long pause, “Who’s Elvis?”

I feel pretty stupid about the whole thing now, of course. I may have only been a kid, but you’d think I’d at least have some knowledge of the King of Rock ‘n Roll! Nope. I’d never heard of the guy before. It’s rare that you can point to any random, particular day and assign it significance, but for me, August 16, 1977 is monumental. It’s not just the day that Elvis died – it’s also the day I discovered rock ‘n roll.

elvis headlines

News of Elvis’s death was all over television for the next few days. It made me want to learn more about this fat man in a white sequined jumpsuit whose death stunned the nation. A few weeks later, I walked into a record store and bought my very first album ever. C’mon, Everybody. Because I did not know any of Elvis’s music I chose that one randomly. It was a compilation album containing songs from a number of his movies (another revelation: Elvis made movies!). Aside from “Follow That Dream” there weren’t even any songs that I would consider classic Elvis, but it was enough to whet my appetite and ignited a love affair with popular music in general, and vinyl in particular, that continues unabated to this day. 411 records and counting, remember? (And a handy Excel spreadsheet so we don’t double dip further).

Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it. ~ Elvis Presley

I am reminded of this story not just because the 38th anniversary of his passing was Sunday (did you realize Elvis would be 80 now?), but also because the King has a significant role in my novel-in-progress. In case you’re wondering, it’s set in the present day. Anything more than that is a spoiler, and my virtual lips are sealed. But I’ve had to do some research in order to flesh out the character and portray him convincingly. I was hoping to avoid cliches such as fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but guess what? Elvis really did eat fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. All the damn time. So, fine. Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches will make a guest appearance in my book, too.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to his music a lot lately. Trying to get into the right frame of mind, if you will. My favorite Elvis songs, in order, are:

  1. Burning Love
  2. Kentucky Rain
  3. Suspicious Minds
  4. Don’t Be Cruel
  5. Mystery Train

What about you? Favorite Elvis song? First album you ever bought? Is there a celebrity whose death significantly affected your life?