Red-dy, Set, Click

Last week was a weird one in Ye Olde Office. First off, it was “no-fly week,” which meant a complete ban on insects in the workplace.

OK, it actually meant our sales guys weren’t traveling as they are the other 75% of the time. Plus, we had all kinds of visitors in the office – members, manufacturers, etc. – and a couple of new hires. A bimonthly company-wide meeting. Four days of training sessions. And a photo shoot for this year’s company Christmas card. In other words, general chaos.

And then Monday afternoon a loud whooshing/buzzing noise startled us from our revelry (if that’s what you want to call the writing/editing process). It sounded like rain, but the sun was actually peeking through the clouds at the moment. I stepped outside and was rather alarmed to see the humming/buzzing was coming from the paper mill two blocks away. Worse, there was a large amount of steam belching forth from one of the smokestacks. We all gathered on the sidewalk, thinking the mill was about to blow up. If that did happen, we’d be screwed. I mean, it’s right there (which really sucks when the wind blows from a certain direction). If there was an explosion, we’d probably be in grave danger.

Is there any other kind?

Perhaps I was being overly paranoid, but coincidentally, in the original draft of No Time For Kings, the bad guy eco-terrorists were plotting to blow up a paper mill in Camas, WA. It was that mill, in fact, though I changed the name in the book. So you can probably understand my skittishness.

Fortunately, after ten minutes or so the hum/buzz ceased and we went back to work with all limbs intact.

And then on Wednesday, we took our company Christmas card photo. This was a very confusing day because the email from HR read, Our color scheme this year will be red, white and gray. OK. Got it. But then it went on to say, NO shades of red! And then we were told, please wear red, garnet, burgundy, black, gray, silver, white (not cream).


Man alive. I have never been so confused in my life! First off, isn’t red a shade of red??

Burgundy certainly is a shade of red. And that was acceptable. But according to the accompanying color chart attached to the email, red, garnet, ruby, and scarlet were allowed. Cherry, rose, merlot, crimson, brick, apple, blood, berry, currant, blush, and candy were not.

FML. To my untrained eye, there was no discernible difference between cherry and ruby and crimson.

I ended up wearing black.

Over the years, I’ve met up with a lot of people from the blogosphere. Last night I added another person to that esteemed list.

Honie Briggs and I have been reading each other for a couple of years. She emailed me a few weeks ago and said she and her husband were planning a trip to Oregon and wondered if Tara and I would be interested in getting together for dinner. Most definitely! She’s a great writer and a very interesting person, so I jumped at the chance to meet her. They were spending three nights in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast and then one night in Bangkok Portland. Since she insisted on treating us to dinner I gave her a list of some of our favorite restaurants ranging in price from cheap (sandwiches) to Not Cheap. I didn’t want to presume anything and gave her options for a less-expensive meal. She ended up choosing Imperial, which is definitely on the high end, but the food is excellent and it was the home to Top Chef finalist Doug Adams until earlier this year. Tara and I went there for our anniversary last year, so great choice.

Honie and her husband showed up a little before 6 p.m., and a round of introductions was made. I didn’t even know his name as she refers to him on her blog as “My Loyal Follower,” but John turned out to be a real nice guy. Actually, they’re both cool. Honie is from Alabama originally and has that charming Southern accent I like so much. They’re both warm, friendly, outgoing people. This was a relief because, let’s face it, you never know what people are going to be like in real life. For all I knew, she and John were secretly axe murderers.


By the end of dinner (which was fantastic – I opted for the fried chicken with organic honey from local bees (this is Portland, after all) and hot sauce and a side of green beans with Israeli feta and hazelnuts), we were having such a great time Tara suggested we drive over to Rimsky-Korsakoffee House for coffee and dessert. You know how Portland has a reputation for weirdness? Well, we wanted to show off our weird little city and take them to the weirdest place in town so they could have a true PDX experience. We ordered coffee and dessert there (the warm ginger cake topped with vanilla ice cream was to die for) and lingered over conversation. It turns out that John is in the mortgage business just like Tara, so they were going on and on about TRID and HUD and the evil CFPB (do not ask me what any of these things stand for) while I was enjoying my cafe au lait and the moody piano music and flickering candlelight. Eventually we drove them back to their hotel, had the valet guy take our picture, and said our goodbyes. They actually live in a suburb of Dallas that is within a stone’s throw of some close family friends of mine, so who knows? We may end up seeing them again someday on their turf. Especially with talk of Honie’s legendary cast iron skillet and homemade cornbread. We do have an open invitation now. Gotta admit, that’s pretty tempting!

I’m super jazzed about the return of The Walking Dead tonight. The week is going to fly by, and then Tara heads to Vegas next Saturday and I’ve got my vintage trailer getaway slash writing retreat next Sunday. I’m pretty stoked about that.

Have a great week!

That’s Hill Areas.

This past week, my coworkers decided it would be fun to keep a running tally of all our puns. Team Content is pretty witty, and I’m always down for a friendly competition, so I was on board with the idea. Our newest hire, whom I shall henceforth refer to as Not-A-Palindrome (or NAP for short), broke out her white board and kept track of every pun uttered or written throughout the week. By EOD Friday I’d tallied up 14 (of course it was 14), winning handily (Deb (who does not get a nickname because I’ve already outed her on here several times) finished 2nd with four) on the strength of gems like “Arkansas has mountains? That’s hill areas.”

Quit groaning, dammit.

I didn’t win a trophy or anything – just bragging rights. Which seems like a pretty crappy reward, if you ask me. It’s not like I can put that on my resume.

Hmm. Or can I…?!

SKILLS: Master Punner.  Adept at word play that suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.

That could totally be my ticket in the door somewhere.

Oh, we have also all agreed to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It was Tamale Girl’s idea, and though I’ve never done it before, I was on board with the idea. In case you are unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month; the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. You earn participation and writing badges by completing specific milestones. Now, I don’t actually think I’ll be able to finish my book by 11:59 p.m. on November 30, but my goal is to  jumpstart my current novel-in-progress, which has been stuck in idle for the past eight months or so. I’ll put it this way: I started it a couple of years ago and am 30 pages in. I love the concept and what I’ve written so far; it’s just been hard to find the motivation to sit down and work on it when I already write for a living. NaNoWriMo should give me the kick in the ass I desperately need. It’s been five years since I published No Time For Kings. My follow-up is long overdue.


Conveniently, the weekend before, I’m planning a solo trip to the Washington coast. Tara is going to Nevada for a week to spend time with family, so I booked myself a vintage travel trailer at the Sou’wester Lodge in Long Beach, WA for two nights and plan to devote the entire time to my novel. This will be Oct. 30-Nov. 1, so it’s the perfect lead-in to NaNoWriMo. Feels weird that I’ll be spending Halloween alone in a tiny camper on the coast, but it’s not like I have kids who still go trick-or-treating. And with Tara 900 miles away, why not? I’m looking forward to the mini-getaway.

I’m curious to see what the rest of my team ends up writing, too. I actually had no idea they were all thinking about or in the process of writing books. That’s pretty cool.

You may or may not be aware that I live in Vancouver, WA. Even people who have known me for years sometimes assume I’m an Oregonian, but nope: I live just across the river from Portland. I love Vancouver for many reasons, but mostly because it’s close to Portland (a mere seven minutes away) without being Portland. So we get all the benefits of their culture – great restaurants and bars, rock ‘n roll shows, festivals, all a mere bridge or two away – but it’s more laid-back here, not to mention cheaper. And there’s no state income tax, so our paychecks are 9% higher.

Some of that is changing, though. Vancouver is slowly becoming more Portland-like, for better or worse. Case in point: some of that city’s top chefs are crossing the river to open restaurants in Vancouver in order to take advantage of cheaper rents and tap into a less-competitive market. That’s a win for us. (Less winning: our housing prices are also creeping up. You take the good with the bad, I suppose.) In fact, this month Vancouver kicked off its inaugural DINE THE ‘COUVE, a month-long event where participating restaurants are offering three-course fixed dinners for $23. Kind of like Portland’s Dining Month in March, but $6 cheaper (and this perfectly illustrates the difference between the two cities). Granted, there are only 14 (wow, again!) restaurants participating this year, but I’m sure that number will expand in coming years.

So Friday night we decided to take advantage and visit one of the restaurants. After perusing menus we chose Heathen Brewing Feral Public House, an up-and-coming brewpub in downtown Vancouver. Now, I have never been a beer fan, but I was willing to be open-minded and thought I might not hate a sour ale. Tara ordered a flight of seven beers, and that is when hell froze over for the second time last week.*

sour_beers_4-e1351288706461Five of the beers were downright nasty in my opinion, one was decent…and another one I really liked. So much so that I ended up ordering a glass. It was a “Mojito Sour Ale” and wasn’t the least bit hoppy, which has a lot to do with why I liked it. Instead, there were pronounced notes of lime and mint, and it had a nice, acidic kick. I am sold.

*Earlier in the week, Glenn Beck endorsed Hillary Clinton. All that’s missing is flying pigs. 

As for the food? You had a choice between four appetizers, four entrees, and three desserts. All for $23 – quite a steal! I ended up choosing the following:

  • Sauteéd brussel sprouts, garlic, bacon, served in a dijon wine and cream sauce, topped with grated cheese and bread crumbs.
  • Herb encrusted pan roasted center cut pork tenderloin, served atop madeira demi glace, seasonal vegetables (zucchini and asparagus), laced with blackberry chipotle gastrique and a creamy (to die for, actually – this was not part of the actual description but should have been!) polenta.
  • German chocolate cake.

I cleaned my plates, too. Even the cake, which I brought back home and enjoyed while listening to a Moondoggies record. It was not a bad evening.

Yesterday we had planned on heading to Hood River for the annual Fruit Loop, but a big storm was forecast so we decided it would be wiser to stay home. We enjoyed a lazy day watching movies, and I made a big pot of chicken noodle soup that perfectly hit the spot.

The storm itself? Some were calling it a bust, but we did have wind gusts over 50 mph and the NWS called it the windiest October day since 1967, so I’m not sure what they’re talking about. It turned out to be a great day to stay home. We are heading out to the Fruit Loop today instead.

Which means apples for the next few weeks.

That Time I Met The Boss

I can sum up the most surreal ten seconds of my life in a single photograph captured for posterity:


I don’t even know where to begin. How often does one get the opportunity to meet a famous person whom they have admired their whole life? And after doing so, how does one find the proper words to sum up the experience? Damned if I know, and I’m a writer. But I’ll give it a shot.

I left the apartment at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and decided to take mass transit in order to avoid traffic and the hassle of parking, based on my mom’s suggestion. This involved catching a bus in Vancouver and transferring to a light rail train at a transit center in Portland. It cost $5 and was worth every penny. I arrived at Powell’s Books about 8:15 and joined the throngs of excited fans lined up around the side of the building. There was a party-like vibe to this communal once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I wish Tara had been able to join me. I felt a little out of place showing up stag because nearly everybody in line was there with somebody else, a spouse or parent or friend, but I felt lucky enough just to have snagged one ticket, so I can’t really complain.

Powell’s opened their doors at 9:00, and it took another half hour to make it inside for the official registration. Once there we presented our tickets to a cashier, were issued wristbands and handed our signed copies of Bruce’s autobiography, then ushered to another line upstairs for more waiting. People were sharing their favorite Springsteen memories, talking about his music, etc. I learned that one person flew in from Australia for the chance to meet Bruce, and another had seen him in concert 60 times. There is no doubt these people were all hardcore fans, so in that sense I felt right at home. I killed a lot of that time reading from his book, which is quite entertaining and well-written (naturally).

Around 11:30 cheers went up from the crowd, and though we couldn’t see him from where we were waiting, we figured The Boss had made his grand entrance. The line started moving again, upstairs to the Red Room. Powell’s is cavernous; it takes up an entire city block and has nine color-coded rooms on three floors. I have long called it my favorite Portland hangout, and that is twice as true when The Boss happens to be there. The third floor was closed off to the general public and it took about half an hour for the line to wind around the shelves and through the aisles. Meanwhile, reporters from The Oregonian were taking photos and interviewing people, which only added to the surreality. When we got close we were liberated from our wristbands and our books were collected for safekeeping. Suddenly I was there, right behind the curtained-off area where Springsteen was meeting his fans. The woman in front of me looked like she was about to faint. “I see him through the curtain!” she squealed. Then she parted the curtain and surreptitiously took a photo, holding her phone up for all to see. “I got a picture of him hugging a stranger!” she declared excitedly. Which was kind of silly, because she was just a few seconds away from meeting him in person herself, but I appreciated the unbridled enthusiasm. We were all feeling it at that point.

A minute later I was led into the curtained area, and there he was, standing on a raised platform a mere ten feet away. Unbelievable. Bruce freakin’ Springsteen, The Boss himself, right there in person. He looked larger than life and completely ordinary at the same time, an everyman who just happens to be a world famous rock star adored by millions. There were three Powell’s employees taking photos, and they did a great job of keeping the line moving efficiently. I brought along my point and shoot camera – this was far too important an occasion to rely on my phone’s camera – and handed it to a staff member. The woman in front of me had an iPad and was having trouble figuring out how to make the camera work. I really hope she got it figured out (or not, because taking pics with an iPad is pretty lame).

“You’re up!” an employee said, and suddenly it was my turn to meet Bruce Springsteen. I stepped onto the stage and he turned to me with a friendly smile. This was the quintessential OH-SHIT-I-CAN’T-BELIEVE-THIS-IS-HAPPENING-TO-ME moment of my entire life. For a few brief seconds I had his complete and total attention. Trust me, that’s an awful lot of pressure! It felt like the whole world stopped spinning for those next ten seconds. I’d had a little speech rehearsed – I suspect most everybody who was there did, too – but there just wasn’t enough time. How can you convey to a man how much his music has shaped your life in a few brief words? How can you let him know that his lyrics inspired you to become a storyteller yourself? Bruce breathed life into a cast of characters whose tales have intrigued me since childhood. There’s Crazy Janey and her mission man; Rosalita, jumping a little higher; Gunner breathing deep, his ankles caked in mud. There’s Wendy and Mary and Spanish Johnny; Go-Cart Mozart and Wild Billy and Bad Scooter (searching for his groove) and dozens more, all whose stories are etched into my brain as if they are living, breathing people rather than names in songs. The answer is simple: you can’t. Not in ten seconds. So I gave him a warm handshake instead and told him it was a huge honor to meet him. He was equally gracious and said the same to me, and did not flinch when I put my arm around him for the photo. There wasn’t the slightest bit of pretension whatsoever. And just like that, it was over.

Afterwards, Tara asked me what he smelled like. I replied, “Like rock ‘n roll and liberalism and the working class.”

And now I can cross a very big item off my bucket list.

When Life Hands You Lemons, Upgrade!

A couple of weeks ago, my Fitbit Charge broke. Oddly enough, this was exactly one year to the day that I got it (easy to remember, as it was an anniversary gift from Tara). It still worked fine, but the band had torn away from the plastic housing, which had also cracked. Bummer, right? I was dismayed for maybe 60 seconds, but then I remembered that Fitbit had just come out with an updated version of my tracker, which was called – drumroll, please! (and kudos to the marketing geniuses who burned the midnight oil to come up with this one) – the Charge 2. I probably could have gotten by with a little creative use of duct tape, but what am I, a hillbilly? I saw this as an opportunity to upgrade and jumped on it.

Turns out to have been a great decision. I’m really loving the Charge 2. It’s got a bigger screen, a better (and brighter) OLED display, built-in 24/7 heart rate monitor, hourly reminders to get off your ass and walk, and will even give you a massage and cook you breakfast if you hit your step goal. What more could you ask for in a device? fitbit-charge2-3qtr-cardio-blue-1472474863-p7eo-full-width-inline

Once upon a time, I was a huge fan of Survivor. I watched probably the first 20 seasons of the show, but eventually lost interest and gave it up.

And then, a couple of months ago I got wind that the newest season would be an epic battle of sorts: Millennials vs. Gen X. I was intrigued, and set a series recording. Tara and I have caught the first two episodes so far, and I think it’s safe to say we are hooked.

I told her it feels both weird and natural to be watching Survivor again.

“Like slipping on an old pair of shoes?” she asked, and I thought that was the perfect analogy. It feels both comfortable and right.

I just hope Generation X kicks some ass!

In my last post I hinted at a meeting with my rock ‘n roll idol, Bruce Springsteen. ‘Tis true. Next Tuesday – in just four days! – I will have the opportunity to shake hands with a man I have admired my whole life. To say I’m excited is an understatement.

Here’s how it went down:

Two weeks ago, Powell’s Books announced that Bruce Springsteen would be coming to town October 4 to promote his new autobiography, Born to Run. A limited number of tickets would be made available to this special event, and we knew they’d sell out fast. Demand was so high that the system crashed the first day they went on sale, forcing Powell’s to find a new ticket vendor and try again two days later. I had logged into the site that morning and the moment 12:00 rolled around I immediately got through, but tickets had sold out within 30 seconds. Dejected, I called Tara to give her the news. While talking to her I was constantly refreshing my screen because the site said that even though all the tickets were gone, there was the possibility one might become available if a purchase didn’t go through. I figured I had nothing to lose, but didn’t really expect to get through again…until I actually did. Nine minutes later, on what must have been my 100th refresh, the “tickets available” screen popped up.

rs-227987-btr-700x1057“Holy shit!” I told Tara. Unfortunately there was only a single ticket left, but she gave me her blessing to snag it, knowing what a hardcore lifelong fan I am. So I did. And now, in a few days, I get to meet a man I have admired for three decades. One whose albums I have owned for 30 years and whose concerts I have attended, most recently six short months ago. It hardly feels real. Once I scored that ticket, I submitted a PTO request to take that day off, which my boss promptly approved. Thank god. I might have had to quit my job if he hadn’t signed off on that.

I got a confirmation email today with the details. Check-in starts at Powell’s Books on Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. There’s a list of rules a mile long – no backpacks, must present photo ID, etc. The one part that jumped out at me was,

You are allowed one posed photo with Bruce Springsteen. An employee of Powell’s will take the picture using your phone or camera.

Hell. Yes.

In four days, I get to meet Bruce freakin’ Springsteen. I can hardly wrap my brain around that.

It’s Ethan HAWKE, Not Ethan “Who?”

Earlier this week I was telling Deb at work that I’d read in a Vanity Fair article that Bruce Springsteen did not hire a ghostwriter to help pen his new autobiography; instead, every word is his own. I told her that I really respected celebrities who did this. Like Ethan Hawke, who actually wrote and published a couple of novels. I have no idea if they’re any good, but kudos to him for writing ’em.

“Ethan who?” she asked.

No. No, no, no, no, no!!

How can a person have no idea who Ethan Hawke is?! I wondered incredulously.

“How can you have no idea who Ethan Hawke is?!” I asked incredulously.

And then I remembered that Deb is a Millennial. Still, I pressed on, naming a few of the actor’s better-known films. “Reality Bites? Before Sunrise? Boyhood?”

She continued staring at me blankly. And then Kathleen, another coworker, happened by.

“Kathleen, you’re not going to believe this!” I said, unable to contain my shock and bewilderment. “Deb doesn’t know who Ethan Hawke is!”

“Ethan who?” Kathleen asked.

%$@#&. SMH. FML. And any other appropriate acronym I’ve left out.

I should have known better. Kathleen’s a Millennial, too.

What kind of world do we live in where people do not know who Ethan Hawke is?

[Please don’t respond with “a world where you’re old enough to be their dad” like my smart-aleck friend Monica did].

Dear Millennials: this is Ethan Hawke.
Dear Millennials: this is Ethan Hawke.

So the next day I brought in a DVD copy of “Reality Bites” and handed it to Deb. When she asked what it’s about I was tempted to reply, “It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes,” to paraphrase Troy Dyer (a/k/a Ethan Hawke), but of course she wouldn’t have gotten the reference so I told her instead to read the back of the DVD case.

I’m curious whether she’ll like it or not. I mean, “Reality Bites” is the quintessential Generation X movie. But it came out in 1994, so there’s a possibility she won’t get it. It’s all about disenfranchised youth and misplaced idealism and the grunge scene and AIDS. Hardly topical stuff these days. There was no Internet back then, and no emojis. Ben Stiller did have a car phone, but it was attached to a cord and the size of a small brick. Maybe the film doesn’t stand the test of time.

All I know is, it’s damn good, and was super influential in my life when I was 23. After all, it taught me the meaning of irony after Alanis Morissete failed. Convinced me to change my answering machine message to, “You’ve reached the winter of our discontent.” Showed me that Evian is “naive” spelled backwards. And even made Peter Frampton seem cool. That’s no small feat there.

If nothing else, Deb will at least know who Ethan Hawke is.

Oh, by the way: the reason I was discussing Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography? I am going to be receiving an autographed copy on October 4th. Handed to me by the author himself. The one. The only. The Boss. Dream come true? You bet your ass.

But that’s a story for another day.

Call Me Lazarus

My ongoing battle with telemarketers continues.

I don’t know why they love to bother me so much. It’s as though I won some sort of lottery where the grand prize is daily harassment instead of a few million dollars. I have tried every trick in the book to shake them, but nothing has ever worked. A few months ago I even died, but I must have risen, Lazarus-like, because after a one-week reprieve they were hounding me as if resurrection were a perfectly normal and acceptable thing, no more unusual than ants invading a picnic or politicians bending the truth or [insert cliche of choice], trying to sell me Viagra.

That’s another thing. It’s always Viagra or Cialis they are pushing. Maybe Levitra on occasion. Talk about rising again! I’m trying not to take this personally, but it would be nice if just once they offered me pills that weren’t blue, you know what I mean? Maybe a medication designed to decrease my studliness or something. My ego can only take so much bruising.

Earlier this week, after yet another phone call in which I toyed with them a while before growing bored and hanging up, my coworker suggested the next time they call, I tell them I have a terminal illness. “Maybe that will be enough to convince them to stop bothering you,” she said. I had my doubts. After all, if dying didn’t do the trick, would dying in the near future work? Still, it was worth a shot.


I didn’t have long to wait. I never do, unfortunately. The next morning, there they were, calling me like clockwork. This is how the conversation went.

Them: Are you currently taking any medications, sir?
Me: Yes. About 57 pills a day.
Them: That’s a lot of pills. Can we interest you in some Viagra or Cialis?
Me: I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. I’ve just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. My doctor has given me three months to live.
Them: No problem.

This pissed me off. What nerve, right?! I was legitimately angry over this guy’s blase attitude about my impending death and got so caught up in my own sob story, I forgot that my illness was fake and I wasn’t actually dying. This caused me to go off on him a bit.

Me: “No problem“?! Maybe not for you, but you’re not the one dying. I am! It’s a big problem for me!
Them: I understand, sir. When would be a good time be to call you back?
Me: I don’t think you understand at all. Given that I will be dead and buried in less than ninety days, I’m thinking a good time to call back would be NEVER. Unless, of course, you can sell me a pill that will cure death!

I seriously cannot believe this guy was trying to sell boner pills to a person staring down his own mortality. I mean, I essentially told him I’m going to be dead before Christmas, and he’s still hawking those little blue pills. I dunno. Maybe he thinks I want to go out with a bang?

At least my coworkers found the whole scene entertaining. Nothing like a little bit of levity to break up the monotony of the day, I s’pose.

Yesterday was our 3rd wedding anniversary. It was pretty much just an ordinary day for us – work, grocery shopping, etc. It’s tough to celebrate when it lands in the middle of the week like that, though we did go out to dinner here. Great meal, by the way.

We actually celebrated last weekend with a three-night getaway to the Oregon coast. Ended up renting a house in Yachats, an area we had never been to before, and had a wonderful time. This home was situated on a bluff with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean and downtown Yachats (pronounced Ya-hots) and was gorgeous – hardwood floors, fully appointed kitchen with modern appliances, gas fireplace, clawfoot tub, slate shower, large deck. The works. All for only $125 a night, which isn’t much more than you’d spend on a motel room. We spent one day exploring the area and hiking, and another day relaxing and reading. Turned out to be the perfect little retreat. We definitely plan to go back. Feel free to check out my pics on Instagram if you are interested (adios.ghost).

Until next time…

Wait. I’ll be dead soon. I keep forgetting!

Huckleberry Haul

Recently, Tara and I were in an upscale grocery store in NE Portland. She’d grabbed several pricey bars of dark chocolate and, suddenly worried that she might be spending too much money, turned to me and said, “Do you think it’s ridiculous to spend $16 on chocolate?”

Glancing at the expensive tins of Jacobsen sea salt I was carting around, I replied, “I’m probably the wrong person to ask, given that I’m buying $13 worth of salt.”

“Touche,” she said, and a woman in the same aisle couldn’t help but laugh at us.

It’s okay. I laughed at us, too.

Yes, we really did spend almost $30 on chocolate and salt. We’re a living, breathing “Portlandia” sketch sometimes.

Now that it’s September, I want it to be fall right now. ‘Cause I’m an impatient bastard. [Seriously: Tara had to talk me out of dragging the harvest bin out of storage and setting out pumpkins this weekend. “Let’s give it a couple more weeks,” she suggested. I decided to humor her this time.] Fortunately, though the calendar says autumn is still a few weeks away officially, the weather is cooperating. Our hot weather has given way to cloudy, cool, and damp.

I love it.

Yesterday, we decided to make our annual pilgrimage* to the Indian Heaven Wilderness to pick huckleberries. *Though I call it an “annual pilgrimage,” it’s actually been a few years since we’ve done it. But by golly, it’s going to be annual from now on, for realz.


We got to Thomas Lake shortly after 11, and there was a definite chill in the air. It was only 49(ish) degrees, which felt great considering we’d baked in 100-degree temps a mere nine days earlier. I hadn’t checked in advance to confirm that the huckleberries had ripened, but experience has taught me you can pretty much count on them showing up come September, and sure enough, they were everywhere. In fact, it seems to be a banner year for these tiny, succulent fruit, which resemble small blueberries but taste even better. They were growing prolifically all along the trail, and quite a few other people were out there picking them with us. Everybody was commenting on how plentiful they were this year, and how big they were too. I have to agree. Maybe it was due to our more “typical” summer weather this year – except for the last few weeks of August, it wasn’t too hot most of the summer, and the nights cooled off nicely. Who knows? I’m no botanist. The point is, they were everywhere, and we filled two bags full.


Huckleberries are unique. They only grow at a certain elevation (roughly 4,000 – 5,000′) and can’t be farm-cultivated or machine-harvested, which is why they are impossible to find in the grocery store. If you want huckleberries, you have to make a trek to the mountains and pick ’em by hand yourself. They are so worth the effort, though.

We also hiked 4.75 miles, enjoying the perfect weather. At one point we stopped for a lunch break in a lush meadow just a stone’s throw from a pristine subalpine lake, and the sun was playing peek-a-boo with fluffy white cumulus clouds that resembled cotton candy, and the whole thing was just perfect: the company, the scenery, the imminent change in seasons. And I thought to myself, Self, it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s great to have that self-awareness while you’re in the moment, rather than looking back years later and thinking how wonderful such-and-such a time was, and regretting the fact that you didn’t enjoy it more.


After our huckleberry haul, we stopped in Stevenson (our future home) for dinner and drinks at our go-to spot, Big River Grill. Came home, made a big bowl of popcorn, and watched a really uplifting movie about a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and watches her life slip out of her grasp as little by little, everybody she knows and loves becomes a stranger to her. Fun!

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday, especially one that kicks off a three-day weekend.

This week, we are heading to the Oregon coast for a few days to celebrate our third wedding anniversary (and five years since we became a couple) so our already-short week will be even shorter.

Happy Labor Day!




Cooking as Poetry

Cooking is like a poem.

There’s a certain rhythm and grace to the prep work. Chopping, slicing, and dicing; the alternating short and long cuts a sort of iambic pentameter in the kitchen. Baking is precision and rhyme, but all else – that which does not demand perfection – is loose, free-form.

These ideas came to me Sunday evening as I prepared dinner. We’d invited my parents over for honey-glazed salmon with a browned butter and lime sauce, a recipe I first discovered last year and one that has converted a couple of salmon-averse individuals (including my own wife, no less) into fans, at least of this one dish. To wit: it’s really good.

I found myself lost in thought during the preparation, enjoying the sense of purpose these repetitive tasks brought me. There is an undeniable pride and joy that accompanies the act of creating a dish from scratch,  an age-old satisfaction in providing sustenance. Feeding others harkens back to a tribe mentality old as the dawn of man.

Damn. How much wine did I drink, anyway?!

But seriously. I’ve always loved cooking, which explains why I was anything but the typical bachelor following my divorce. Microwave burritos and take-out pizza were never my thing; even during those kid-free weeks when it was just me (and later, just me and the cat), I found myself slaving away in the kitchen, regardless of how tired I was or how busy my work day had been. Taking the easy route wasn’t ever an option for me, at least not one that I ever seriously considered. I never really thought about the reasons why I chose to create complex meals for myself every night; only in retrospect did this seem like an awful lot of unnecessary work for a party of one when a PB&J sandwich or a bowl of Top Ramen would have sufficed. But yesterday, I realized for the first time what cooking really meant to me.



A sense of purpose.

Above all else, a blank canvas waiting to be filled.

All of which pretty much sum up everything lacking in my life at the time.

Oh, and for the record? The salmon last night was excellent. And that sums up my life these days.

Watchin’ the Sun Bake

Today turned into a fun day.

There’s a guy at work named Zach who is very much a hippie at heart. Even more so than me. He’s the dude who goes to Burning Man every year, spends his lunch hour in the park strumming a guitar, and walks around the office barefoot. Anyway, he decided on a whim to throw a “Jimmy Buffett Margarita Tailgate” this afternoon. I assumed he was kidding, until I saw him filling an inflatable kiddie pool with water and hauling in an ice chest filled with bottles of tequila, margarita mix, limes, and beer. He opened the sliding garage door on the side of the office, queued up some Jimmy Buffett, Beach Boys, and Ventures tunes, and the party got started.

When in Rome, right? So I mixed myself a couple of tequila sodas (adamantly low-carb ‘til the very end, folks) and kicked it with my coworkers.

I love this group. Truly.


It was hot AF (that’s how the kids spell it out, right?), 100-degrees plus, but somehow it just didn’t matter. The party broke up after an hour, but proved to be the perfect midday break. I’m such a lightweight nowadays I felt sort-of buzzed the rest of the afternoo. I always joke that I do my best work half-inebriated, but really, I do. I knocked out work orders all afternoon. Who knew tequila could be such a boon to productivity? They should pay me to drink at work more often!

Because of the heat, I’ve been getting up super early this week and walking. It might sound like torture to willingly extract yourself from bed at 4:35 in the morning, but I’m telling you, it’s totally worth it. Now that the sun doesn’t rise until after 6 it’s still dark, and the weather is very pleasant. It was 67 this morning, with a cool, gentle breeze – I skipped the hoodie and was perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts. The just-past-full moon was hanging low on the horizon as I walked through the park, and adding to the ambience was an owl, hooting plaintively in the trees. [It’s funny I ascribe the hooting as being plaintive. For all I know the owl was overjoyed. Or hungry. Or horny. {shrugs} It just sounded mournful in the predawn stillness.] I’ll be nodding off by 10 PM, but I didn’t die walking in the midday heat, so that’s a win.

We were going to check out the Skamania County Fair tonight, but screw that. Instead we decided to hole up in our air-conditioned apartment with records and drinks and chicken nachos.

Tomorrow evening we have a concert at the Oregon Zoo. Tara’s mom bought us tickets to see Lord Huron and Trampled By Turtles for her birthday. We are not at all thrilled about the heat, but what can we do about it? Not a damn thing. I’m just glad it’s a weekend concert and we can sleep in the next day. The weather is supposed to cool off on Sunday, and then it’ll be decent until about Thursday, when it’s back in the 90s.

Thursday night, we are seeing Journey in concert.

Oy, vey.

The Forest is My Happy Place

This past weekend, Tara and I went hiking.

Which seems to be a recurring theme in my life these days. I have gone hiking every weekend for the past month. Maybe in a past life I was Paul Bunyan, but in this one I have traded in my axe for hiking poles. I don’t want to chop down trees; I just want to enjoy them.

I do wish I owned a blue ox, though. How cool would that be?!


I owe my love of nature to my folks, I suppose. For as long as I can remember, we have always gone hiking. Growing up in Hawaii we’d trek through lush bamboo forests, retrieving passionfruit that had fallen from trees that my mom would subsequently turn into these amazing cookies. In Ohio, we bought a pop-up camper and explored some of the farthest corners of the Buckeye State. In South Dakota, the Black Hills were our playground. Hiking has long been an important part of my life.

When I married my ex, hiking took a backseat to other pursuits. Raising kids is hard work, and saps your energy. The last thing in the world you feel like doing is tackling five or six miles through rugged backcountry when you’ve just stepped on a Lego and gotten a whopping three hours of sleep.

After our divorce, I spent a couple of years trying to navigate the dating world (oh-so-fun!) (no, really!) and my newfound freedom before I remembered hiking. One morning in 2009 I woke up and suddenly recalled that getting outside and enjoying nature was something I used to do quite frequently. So I gave it a whirl again. And quickly became hooked.

One of the things I love most about Tara is her own love of getting outside and exploring. During my first trip to Ely, before we were even an official couple, we drove out to Great Basin State Park and ended up doing an alpine hike at Mount Wheeler. Elevation: 10,000′. That was brutal, and just about killed me. Then again, I was a good 60+ lbs. heavier and used to sea level. I’m surprised I didn’t keel over from a heart attack.

We’ve hiked together many times since, and now that I’m fit, it’s only gotten easier. I bet I could conquer Mount Wheeler without even breaking a sweat today. Elevation gain and altitude don’t even faze me. It’s tough to pick a favorite hike – we’ve done a lot of good ones over the years. The hike across the pumice plain to a hidden waterfall in the crater of Mount St. Helens was memorable. As was the Iron Goat Trail and haunted railroad in Steven’s Pass, the Naches Peak Loop at Mount Rainier, and the huckleberry fields in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. If there are trees, I’m in my element. The forest is my happy place.

Here are some pics of recent hikes. Enjoy!

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