Autumn memories

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A good way to start a weekend visit? With a hot drink at happy hour. From left, Lin, George, Lori and Terry.

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that summer turned to fall. Mornings got cooler. Trees went from leafy to naked. And another academic term began at Portland State.

And now what?

Halloween, Thanksgiving and the World Series all have come and gone. Today kicks off the last week of classes at PSU. And the winter equinox is less than a month away.

Before another day slips by, it’s time to pause and reflect on a few highlights of recent weeks.

Catholic school girls: Early in the month, two of Lori’s closest friends came up from San Francisco to spend a three-day weekend with us. Terry (Long) Mullaney is Lori’s BFF.  They grew up across the street from each other in the City by the Bay, and Terry still lives in her childhood home with her husband Mike.

Lori and Terry attended Catholic schools from first grade through 12th, and it was at the all-girls Mercy High School that they met Linda Dillon and became fast friends. After graduation, the trio took different paths to college and the world of work, but have stayed in close contact through the decades.

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We tried to make the most of their time here, showing them a couple of neighborhoods to get a feel for Northeast Portland. We also rode the Portland Streetcar to and from the South Waterfront district for lunch and a trip on the tram to Oregon Health & Science University. We popped in at Powell’s Books, went to dinner at Aviary and had some great home-cooked meals as well.

It’s always fun to get the female perspective from hanging out with three longtime friends.

Rip City: November means the start of the NBA season and, in Portland, there’s no better ticket in town than the Blazers. Lori and I got to see only one game together last year, so I’m making amends this season, hoping to attend at least three more with her.

We saw the Blazers take down the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 28, the first Saturday of the season. After seeing them lose all six games I attended last year, it was good to see the team get off to a winning start this season.

Happy hour: Teaching has gone well this fall at PSU, and I’ve added a new responsibility as internship coordinator for the Department of Communication. But I’ve also enjoyed being part of the crew at my other job at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

Our executive director is out on temporary medical leave, so the other four of us have been working extra hard to keep things going in his absence. We bring together local high school students, leading employers and community volunteers, helping to facilitate career days, classroom speakers, mock interviews, essay writing workshops and other activities that help teens prepare for college and career.

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The Dream Team at Portland Workforce Alliance includes, clockwise from left, Susan Nielsen, myself, Sherri Nee and Kristen Kohashi.

Last week, my co-workers and I got together after work during a happy hour that was therapeutic for all of us. Our schedules often don’t mesh, so it was nice to finally get some down time together. I’m very fortunate to work with such smart, likable people.

Giving thanks: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it is the most meaningful in terms of appreciating your loved ones and the least driven by commercial hype.

This year, Nathan was the only one of our kids available to join us. His girlfriend, now fiancee, Sara hung out with her parents. Simone and Kyndall were on vacation in a place with a tropical climate. And, of course, Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn were 2,000 miles away in Missouri.

We had a relaxing evening with our oldest child, and an obscenely delicious meal built around a roasted turkey prepared by Lori.

The next day, we invited Chris, a new friend from the neighborhood, and her dog Oliver to join us for leftovers. Chris is a warm and generous soul. Ollie, her trusty Jack Russell Terrier, is Charlotte’s best friend. The two romp together and walk together, and on this night wound up relaxing next to each other on Charlotte’s bed in front of the fireplace.

Four-star movie: This post began with Catholic school girls and it’s ending with another Catholic school girl. Lori and I saw a Sunday matinee showing of “Lady Bird,” one of those independent films with an engaging coming-of-age story and a quirky but lovable lead character.

Saoirse Ronan, who turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in “Brooklyn,” stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a restless 17-year-old who can’t wait to be done with her senior year of high school and move to New York for college. Lady Bird (a name she gave herself) is bored with her hometown of Sacramento, California, and oh-so-done with the rules and restrictions at her all-girls Catholic school. She’s also got a rocky relationship with her hard-working disciplinarian mom, played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf.

The problem for Lady Bird is that her grades are mediocre and she’s just gotten suspended for mouthing off at school. Plus, she’s trying to navigate friendships and loyalties, romance and sex, and figure out who she is herself as someone who’s grown up poor and aspires to something more, whatever and wherever that may be.

It’s a refreshing film that lets you see the world through the eyes of a smart and still-evolving teenage girl. As writer and director, Greta Gerwig has come up with an entertaining story, believable characters and authentic dialogue. As the film’s namesake, Saoirse Ronan is sweet and funny, vulnerable and unsettled. I won’t be surprised if she, Metcalf, Gerwig and the film itself are nominated for Oscars next year.

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Leaf pick-up day finally arrived last week, just as several piles in our neighborhood swelled to the size of a mid-sized car.

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The perfect guest

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Friends for a half-century: George and Al at the Moda Center after a Blazers win.

What do you say about a house guest who makes his bed, prepares dinner, washes the dishes. and walks your dog?

If you’re me, you say, “It’s just what I expected coming from Al.”

Al Rodriguez is my best friend, mi compadre. Has been since freshman year of high school. We met as grade school kids when our dads took us to a San Francisco Giants baseball game at Candlestick Park. (Actually, it might have been when we were in junior high — there’s some dispute about that. But there’s no disputing the friendship that’s stretched out across five decades.)

We ran track and cross country together in high school. Talked about girls and relationships over countless cups of coffee and late-night meals in suburban Fremont. Became roommates during our junior year at San Jose State after he transferred there from the private college he’d been attending in South Dakota.

Two years later, he was the best man at our wedding. All three of us were just 22.

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Sept. 6, 1975: Lori and George with matron of honor Linda Hansen, best man Al Rodriguez and groom Michael Granberry.

In the years following graduation, Lori and I headed north to Oregon, where we’ve planted our roots and raised our family. Al remained in California, working in the public and nonprofit sectors, and for nearly 20 years has made his home in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife, Elizabeth. They are extraordinarily close to their only child, Nicole.

We sometimes went years between visits. We’d often rendezvous in Los Angeles when I was attending a job fair on behalf of my former employer. But lately we’ve been able to see each other at least once a year, and that’s been due in no small part to his willingness to come up to Portland for the annual Voices of August meetup.

***

That was the reason for his most recent stay. He arrived on a Friday, left on a Wednesday. In between, the three of us got to catch up in depth. And I got to spend some Bro Time with him on consecutive nights before he left for the airport.

Sunday: After Saturday’s small-but-stellar meetup of VOA contributors, we chilled the following day. Took an extended walk in our neighborhood, enjoying the fall colors and giving our excitable dog, Charlotte, some time to walk off a little energy. Came home and turned the kitchen over to Al, who prepared two trays of chicken enchiladas.

Monday: While Lori and I worked in the morning, Al hopped on a TriMet bus to a public swimming pool in North Portland. Took him to lunch downtown so he (er, we) could indulge in the food carts. Picked one that was selling Middle Eastern food — Kafta House! scrumptious! — and chatted with the Syrian owners for a bit.

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In the evening, Al and I enjoyed a Pop-Up Magazine presentation at Revolution Hall. I’d attended one the year before so I knew what to expect: an evening of live entertainment featuring writers, animation, video, music, dancing and a karaoke piece that had the whole auditorium singing along to the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Tuesday:  Again, we had to work in the morning. This time Al borrowed my bike and rode south along the Eastside Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway down to the Sellwood Bridge. All three of us took an afternoon walk in the Alberta Arts District, from the Tiny Houses Hotel to Bernie’s Southern Kitchen and back. Stopped for a happy hour beverage and toasted our friendship.

After a multiethnic dinner of Al’s leftover enchiladas and Lori’s luscious lasagna, Al and I went to the Trail Blazers’ home opener against New Orleans. Traffic was really heavy, which caused us to miss the ear-splitting introductions and other hoopla. But we found our seats a couple minutes in and enjoyed the outcome: a Portland win.

Wednesday: We said our goodbyes in the morning and left Al to enjoy breakfast on his own, followed by an Uber ride to the airport.

Friendships can be hard to maintain in this era of texting and increasingly rare phone calls. In this case, I’m grateful for the enduring bond that took root in the mid-’60s, long before Al and I met our wives.

Simply put, Al (or Al Rod, as he was known in high school) is a rock. Someone I can talk to candidly — and listen to attentively — because we know each other so well. He calls me out when I deserve it. He needles me because he can. And he makes me feel valued because he listens carefully and responds thoughtfully and constructively.

Proud to have known this man for as long as I have and to call him my best friend. Mi compadre.

Heck, even Charlotte likes him.

Cannon Beach

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When sand gets on your snout, it’s the sign of a good time. Little Charlotte.

Can it be just a few days ago that Lori and I were walking on the beach in sunny weather suitable for shorts and sandals?

With all the rain forecast today and tomorrow, and coming on top of yesterday’s downpour, it hardly seems true. But it was — and a nice respite it was for two days and two nights in Cannon Beach.

In the early years of our marriage, we used to visit Cannon Beach more than any other community on the Oregon Coast. Now, I’m hard-pressed to remember the last time we were here, given that we’ve been drawn to Manzanita, Rockaway Beach and Pacific City as our favorite getcaways.

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Quiet, unpaved streets made for relaxing walks during our short stay.

Over the decades, Cannon Beach has transformed from charming little town to a mini-Lake Oswego, with boutique shops and a burgeoning restaurant scene catering to visitors from Portland and far beyond. The local grocery store, Mariner Market, and Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, everyone’s go-to for salt water taffy, are still there. But they’ve been joined by a whole lot of bistros, brewpubs, coffee shops and retailers, and the city several years ago added public parking lots to accommodate tourist vehicles that wouldn’t possibly find space along Hemlock Street, the town’s main artery.

So, while the city has retained some of its charm, it’s also embraced commercial development on a scale that other coastal towns haven’t.

***

A few odds ‘n’ ends from our 48 hours in Cannon Beach:

ferris buellerDown time. We stayed in a friend’s one-bedroom cottage about a quarter-mile south of the main shopping area, just right for the two of us and our dog Charlotte. Aside from walks on the quiet neighborhood streets and on the beach, we spent time reading, knitting (well, one of us did), and indulging in some old movies on cable TV, and watching some of the Oregon-WSU football game.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” remains as funny as when it was released in 1986. (Yikes! 31 years ago??) The movie’s motto — “One man’s struggle to take it easy” — fit in perfectly with our low-key weekend.

Shopping. We dropped in on our friend, Lisa, who co-owns Vintage Viaje, a shop specializing in vintage items and imported goods. Lots of cool collectibles, used clothing and handmade goods. We each found something to buy.

We also went to the nearby Jupiter’s Books, a funky old spot specializing in rare and used books. Great to see an independent bookstore off the beaten path that marches to its own beat. Again, we found something for each of us.

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Eating well. We opted for simple meals we prepared ourselves. Scallops for dinner, grilled cod and smoked sardines for lunch (Lori’s influence right there). Our one meal out? Cannon Beach Hardware & Public House, also known as Screw and Brew.

Imagine yourself at a corner table with rows of screwdrivers, drill bits and other items on the walls behind you as you dive into a basket of fish-and-chips or a tossed salad with grilled halibut, washed down with a draft beer or glass of wine.

Our waiter, a friendly fellow named Mason, told us that dual-purpose businesses under the same roof are actually pretty common in Ireland. A brewpub and a hardware store? A brewpub and a grocery store? A brewpub and bookstore? You’ll find all those and more combinations in Ireland, he told us. Works for me.

The beach. One thing I love about Oregon is that every mile of beach is publicly owned. That’s 363 miles, stretching from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California state border. And there’s no more iconic landmark than Haystack Rock, rising 235 feet in the ocean surf.

I’ve run into plenty of native Oregonians who love walking on the beach into the face of a pelting rain — and I get that. But there’s also something magical about strolling along the water’s edge when the sun is shining on your shoulders. It’s even more fun when your urban dog gets to run off-leash in the wide-open spaces. Charlotte had a great time and so did we, just watching her.

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Looks like Charlotte lost an ear, but it’s just blown back by the wind.

We were overdue for a quick getaway like this one. Hope to do it again soon, maybe after the first of the year.

Postscript: After this published, I noticed this was Blog Post No. 600 on Rough and Rede II. Not too shabby. (GR)

Guns and music

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Coldplay’s Oct. 2 concert at the Moda Center began with a minute of silence for shooting victims in Las Vegas and residents of Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria.

I like to think I have varied musical tastes. My playlists include from blues, R&B and classic rock to indie artists and even a dash of country.

Thanks to coincidental scheduling in the past month, I found myself at three concerts featuring big-time artists: Lady Antebellum, Janet Jackson and Coldplay.

That’s quite a variety. And as you’d expect, the fan base for each artist was distinctly different from the others, reflected in cowboy boots, glittery tops or vintage T-shirts, depending on the headliner.

In each case, I went to the show focused on nothing more than enjoying the music. It never occurred to me I might not come home.

Then came Las Vegas.

The idea of an outdoor concert becoming a killing field was something I could have never imagined. Now, thanks to a demented killer armed to the teeth with high-powered rifles, we have something else to think about.

  • One, the massacre on The Strip reminds us that evil knows no limits. How is it that we are born with brains that create beautiful art, scientific knowledge and feel-good music? And yet those brains are also capable of inflicting hurt and death?
  • Two, easy access to guns, coupled with technology that makes them ever more lethal, leaves us increasingly vulnerable to the unhinged.

Our newest deadliest mass shooting in the United States resulted in 58 lives snuffed out, and those of more than 500 injured and irrevocably altered. Simply for going to attend a music festival.

In the national debate reignited by the latest carnage, the killings have been framed in terms of “gun violence” or “mass murder.”

One view supports the idea that the federal government has a legitimate role to play in enacting reasonable restrictions on the types of weapons and ammunition one can acquire and stockpile. The other view rejects that role, instead arguing that human nature alone is to blame for these repeated massacres.

In other words, guns don’t kill people, people do.

I agree that you can’t legislate human behavior – that’s true in a number of areas of life. But I refuse to accept that as a reason to continue permitting the slaughter of innocents, whether it is dozens at a time or one, two or three people at a time.

Yes, I’ve heard the arguments that Timothy McVeigh killed far more using explosives and that people can turn knives or cars into deadly weapons. But it’s the sheer volume of gun deaths that should cause us to look for ways to minimize the toll.

We already know that guns are lethal. Allowing the sale of bump stocks, legal accessories that allow shooters to simulate automatic fire from their rifles, is unconscionable. Why make it easier for anyone to go on a rampage? Why not take whatever actions we can to stem the flow of handguns and rifles and bullets into the hands of our fellow Americans?

I’m not talking about confiscating guns, least of all from law-abiding citizens who use them for hunting. I am talking about banning military-style semiautomatic assault weapons .

In a country of more than 300 million Americans, we already have more guns than people. Isn’t that enough?

I could go on and talk about how and why guns are so deeply embedded in our culture. I could lament the Second Amendment rulings and passage of federal and state laws — in particular, those of the stand-your-ground variety that almost seem to encourage people to use their weapons. I could wring my hands at the unwillingness of our elected leaders to face up to reality.

But, frankly, I don’t have the energy to address anything more about this issue in any depth. At least not in this piece.

Countless words have been written and spoken. Countless videos and photographs have documented the carnage. You’ve seen and heard as many points of view from politicians and everyday citizens as I have. You’ve probably seen Jimmy Kimmel and other last-night comedians call out our do-nothing Congress.

I’m saddened by this bloody stain on America. As a nation, we should be ashamed.

My concert-going ways took root in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a young college student, I saw the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Santana and so many more at places like the Fillmore West, Winterland and the Cow Palace.

Back then, the major concern was finding a parking place near the venue. Secondarily, it was which fast-food restaurant to hit up for a post-concert snack.

Now the worry for parents isn’t what time is my child coming home but will my child come?

We’re better than that, aren’t we?

 

Goodbye, summer. Hello, fall.

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George and Lori take a break during a hike at Coho Preserve on Orcas Island.

We’ve been coming up to our Orcas Island cabin for 12 years running. Until now, I don’t think we’d ever been here during the change of seasons.

Well, now we can check that box.

Friday, September 22nd, was the fall equinox and it marked the end of a weeklong stay at our place above Eagle Lake. On this trip, our third this year, it was just Lori and me and our little whiskered rascal, Charlotte.

This summer was brutal, with way too many 100-degree days and then the devastating wildfires that torched the Columbia River Gorge and ruined the air quality for several days. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready to greet autumn.

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This was a quiet week, even by our usual standards. Thanks to a still-sore ankle I developed during a routine run around Mountain Lake on our last visit in June, we didn’t try to do too much that would further strain my Achilles tendon.

We confined ourselves to a couple of walks on the Lake Trail around Eagle Lake, took several short walks up the hill above our house, and made time for one lovely hike at a new spot — Coho Preserve, just above Buck Bay.

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Eagle Lake: beautiful from any angle.

The San Juan County Land Bank negotiated the donation of 24 acres of private woodland that it’s turned into an easily accessed trail with a loop that takes you on shaded switchback trails past Cascade Creek and a series of mini-waterfalls. It’s really gorgeous. And although the trail might be a tad steep for some, my ankle didn’t bark at all during the ascent or descent.

We went into Eastsound just once for lunch, groceries and light shopping. The village has about 2,000 residents and it’s the island hub for commercial activities of all kinds. Lori made a dietary concession and we ate burgers at the Lower Tavern, one of my favorite spots on the island.

For once, we didn’t go to any bookstores. Fittingly, however, I finished a book that I had purchased here at least one summer, maybe two, earlier. It was “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” the last in the crime trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Lori, meanwhile, read two collections of short stories — one by Portland author Kate Carroll de Gutes, the other by the acclaimed Irish writer Colum McCann.

We went out to dinner just once. We joined our friends, Carl and Juliana, at Rosario Resort for appetizers and wine. It was a fun evening catching up with each other while noshing on everything from lettuce wraps to cheese-and-charcuterie to salt-and-pepper sand shrimp.

Most of the time was spent here at the cabin. And, believe me, there’s nothing to complain about when you’re relaxing in a dozen different ways: Reading. Watching movies. Playing Scrabble. Building a woodstove fire to warm the house. Filling the bird feeders and watching the various species — juncos, towhees, sparrows, grosbeaks — come and dine.

We cooked our own meals — duck eggs for breakfast; fresh clams and oysters for dinner. We watched barge traffic on the water far below us, with Bellingham in the far distance. Mostly, we enjoyed the silence — the utter silence — that envelops this place. Nothing compares to pausing on a walk in the woods and hearing … absolutely nothing. Not even a bird.

Monday brings a return to work for both of us. Lori picks up where she left off with her personal training clients and group fitness class. I start a new Media Literacy class at Portland State after five weeks away from the classroom.

I know I’ve said many, many times but spending seven days here has been good for the heart, the soul and our relationship. Now if only we could stay for another week.

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The view at dawn from our cabin.

8 for the 8th

During the past month, I pushed everything to the side — gladly — to make room for Voices of August, the annual wordfest that features one guest blog post each day for 31 days.

With a new month already begun, I’m giving myself permission to look back at a few things of note. More precisely, eight things during the eighth month of the year. No surprise that they would touch on a few favorites: baseball, beer and the beach, live music, movies, education and exercise. In chronological order…

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1. Liz Longley at DougFir Lounge.

Third time seeing this indie artist in Portland — and she gets better every time.

2. Escape to the Oregon Coast.

While Portland and the Willamette Valley endured triple-digit heat, Lori and I and Charlotte visited our friends Steve and Kelly Kern at their home in Manzanita.

3. School’s out. Taught two summer session classes, back-to-back, at Portland State.

4. Brewskis. Found my way to The Wayfinder, an awesome brewpub in inner Southeast Portland, with the help of a friend who works in the area.

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Sampling one of more than a dozen beers on tap with David Quisenberry.

5. The Bodacious Bakers. More live music, featuring siblings we’ve known since their pre-K days.

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Clara Baker performs an original composition with brother Marshall during a show at the Alberta Street Pub on Aug. 10.

6. At the movies. Went to the Living Room Theater in downtown Portland to see “Detroit,” a film based on a police raid at a motel that occurred during the 1967 riots. Very well done and very hard to watch, given the white cops-on-black civilians violence that was fueled by blatant racism. Watch the trailer here.

7. At the ballpark. Caught a Thursday night ballgame between the Hillsboro Hops and the Boise Hawks. Well played game that included a late home run to seal a 7-1 win for the home team in this Northwest League contest.

8. Exercise! My morning routine pretty much fell apart at the beginning of the year, when I was scrambling to keep up with three college classes and a part-time job at a nonprofit. Things got so bad I logged fewer than 10 exercise days a month for five consecutive months. July brought 18. August 21!

 

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So then I ruined my momentum by falling off my bike on a neighborhood ride. Lesson learned? Never use your front brake only when riding with one hand.

Together again. For real.

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Bowling buddies, from left; George, Erin, Brian, Morgan, Beth and Ellie.

We live in an age when friendships and even family relationships are navigated with texts and Facebook posts rather than face-to-face interaction. So it was nice to set the technology aside for a day and spend some face time with a handful of friends I used to see regularly.

I’m talking about the Broken Taco Shells, a collection of four men and three women who used to rotate in and out filling four spots on a coed bowling team. We used to play on Monday nights at Hollywood Bowl, a venue that has since been remade into a hardware store.

Our four-year run as a team ended after a last-place finish in 2014 — not because we felt badly about where we placed, but because we felt we wanted to move on to other things.

We came together two summers ago for a day of bowling and a potluck meal. On Sunday, we reunited again at AMF Pro 300, a Southeast Portland venue that’s destined to become a Target store.

If Lori is the hub, we are the spokes on the wheel.

It’s fun to hang out with people who share a common interest (bowling) and a common connection (my wife). If Lori is the hub, we are the spokes on the wheel. Aside from myself, all but one member of the old team knows her directly or indirectly through her personal training business. The other came to know her as a fellow dog owner at a neighborhood city park.

Ironically, Lori was in Missouri visiting our youngest son and his family on the day we got together to bowl. We also were missing one team member, John, who was out of town for work.

Everyone else was present and accounted for: Erin, Beth, Ellie, Brian, Morgan and myself.

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The Broken Taco Shells, from left: Beth, Ellie, Brian, George, Morgan and Erin.

As you’d expect, everyone was dealing with rusty bowling skills. I hadn’t picked up a ball for six months and the same could be said for nearly everyone else. Morgan, fresh from a European vacation, dazzled everyone — and probably surprised himself — when he rolled a turkey in the 10th frame of the first game.

After two games, we were done. We crossed a busy boulevard and found a private booth at Hopworks Urban Brewery, where we could continue our conversation over beers and bites.

It was a fun way to spend three hours on a lazy weekend. Face time beats Facebook every time.

Branch-ing out with Michelle

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Michelle Branch does a countrified version of “Leave The Pieces” at the Hawthorne Theater in Southeast Portland.

Remember Michelle Branch?

The dark-haired, big-voiced singer who burst onto the pop-rock scene as a teenager, won a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist, and knocked out a bunch of best-selling albums and singles?

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that she and Carlos Santana were collecting a 2002 Grammy for “The Game of Love.”

But that was 15 years ago and, though she continued performing as a solo artist and collaborator, Michelle has laid low in recent years. I’ve always liked her voice, though, so I grabbed a chance to see her live in Portland.

Now 34, she’s touring the U.S. in support of a new album released earlier this year. Her Wednesday night at the Hawthorne Theatre drew an all-ages crowd for an hour-long set. It’s an intimate space, with room for about 500 people, the kind I like in order to get up-close to an artist rather than viewing a big screen image in a huge arena.

After a thoroughly forgettable warm-up band, Michelle came out to a raucous welcome and promised a mix of the new and old.

Can’t say I was blown away. Biggest factor was a sound system that made everything sound muffled. Secondarily, gotta say I wasn’t feelin’ the new material. Either way, it’s hard to get into the music when it isn’t as clear as it should be.

Branch had a nice rapport with the crowd and seemed genuinely happy to be performing in a small venue. The audience came alive and sang along on a couple of her biggest hits — “Breathe” and “All You Wanted.”

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Small venues allow you to get as close as you like to the artist — in this case, about 30 feet from Michelle Branch.

She brought a trio of women onto the stage, including a fiddle player, to play a stripped-down version of “Leave The Pieces,” a hit from the 2006 album “Stand Still, Look Pretty.” On that CD, she collaborated with Jessica Harp on a great set of songs that drew on their respective pop and country roots and earned Michelle one of her four Grammy nominations.

As for “The Game of Love”? Wish I could say Santana snuck onto the stage and blew everyone away. This version featured an old-school saxophone player doing the guitar solo part. Interesting, but nowhere near as good.

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Michelle Branch performs the monster hit “The Game of Love” with a sax player who is definitely not Carlos Santana.

This was my first time at the Hawthorne. Probably won’t be my last, but it’s not nearly as inviting a space as others around the city — Aladdin Theater, Crystal Ballroom, Wonder Ballroom, Mississippi Studios.

As for Michelle Branch, I wish her well on the tour. She’s a talented lady, working hard to resurrect a career that once seemed boundless.

Guy time with ZZ

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Bob and George enjoy a pre-concert beer on the roof of the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland.

This week brought the opportunity to hang out with with a longtime friend over a couple of beers and then enjoy a ZZ Ward concert at Portland’s Revolution Hall. My buddy Bob Ehlers and I were among a sold-out crowd of 850 who enjoyed a 90-minute set by Ward, described on her website as a “Fedora-rocking, guitar-shredding, harmonica-wielding blues siren.”

Yeah, a little overstated, but there’s definitely some talent there. ZZ plays guitar and keyboards and a damn-good harmonica. She also sings (duh) and writes her own lyrics.

If you don’t know her, ZZ is Zsuzsanna Ward, a Pennsylvania native who grew up in Roseburg, an Oregon timber town, and is now based in Los Angeles. Thursday’s show was part of a national tour to support her just-released second full-length CD called “The Storm.” Already, the CD has risen to No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart.

ZZ played more than 20 songs, delivering a high-energy performance that had dozens of young people in front of the stage dancing and jumping up like human pogo sticks. She attracted an all-ages crowd, so Bob and I fit in just fine.

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Roseburg’s own ZZ Ward rockin’ the house at Revolution Hall.

ZZ is billed primarily as a blues artist, but her music incorporates hip-hop and, in my mind, makes it really hard to slot her into a single genre.

I’d heard a few songs of hers on Pandora and was intrigued enough to check her out in a live show. ZZ is nowhere near the level of Susan Tedeschi, an accomplished blues guitarist and vocalist, but she’s got potential and I definitely felt I got my money’s worth.

Check her out and see if you agree:

Before the show, Bob and I spent a couple hours at a rooftop bar, enjoying the great view on a perfect summer evening. The concert venue is actually a refurbished high school auditorium housed in the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood.

There’s a ground-level brewpub, plus another bar on the second floor, the auditorium on the second and third floors, commercial offices and community meeting rooms scattered throughout the four-story building, and lots of room on the roof to have a drink.

Just as the McMenamin Brothers have turned other schools and absolute buildings into thriving restaurants and brewpubs, so too did a private developer convert this tired old building into something imaginative and vibrant.

The grounds also feature an old athletic field that now serves as a dog park. In fact, this is where my little dog and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed big dogs during a visit here late last year.

On Thursday, a couple of dogs were there with their owners. Seeing them romping around on the grass made me feel a little sad, wishing I could bring Charlotte back for a visit.

On the other hand, I left feeling good about introducing my friend to a new venue and a new artist. Good food, good beer, good conversation, good music. Hard to beat.

Photograph of ZZ Ward by Bob Ehlers.

Wiener wars

dog chili

 Cincinnati chili with all the fixings: red beans, cheddar cheese, diced sweet onions and oyster crackers.

It was a weekend for wieners — and I’m not talking about politicians.

Nope, we’re talking tube steaks, cased meats, working-class sausages.

Saturday brought the 8th annual International Hot Dog Competition, a fun-filled celebration of the humble dog that took place at the home of our daughter Simone and her wife Kyndall.

About 17 competitors, including Lori and me, showed up with our own specially crafted toppings to lay on top of seven or eight hot dogs that in turn were cut up into tasting-size morsels so everyone present could have a chance to sample and rate them.

The friendly competition began in Pittsburgh, when Simone and Kyndall were living there for a couple years, and then switched to Portland when the ladies moved back.

It’s a kick. It takes place every year around the Fourth of July in their backyard and features some of the most audaciously creative toppings ever to grace a bun. The hosts provide the wieners and buns (although you’re free to create your own homemade buns) and the entrants provide the rest.

We’re not talking ketchup-mustard-relish, mind you. Not by a long shot.

dog hosts

The hostesses with the most-eses. Kyndall (left) and Simone, the human hot dogs, welcome their guests and announce the rules of competition.

We’re talking jawdropping creations like the Poutine Dog, made with cheese curds, beer-soaked French fries and brown gravy; the Fidel, a Cubano-style entry made with slow-roasted pork, ham and cheese; and the Cheeseus Take The Wheel, made with eight cheeses, mac-n-cheese and Flaming Hot Cheetos crumbs. Every one of them served on top of a wiener nestled in a bun.

Some entries are deep-fried, some smothered in sauces and gravies, and others prepared with savory vegetables and meats.

With roughly 70 to 80 people in attendance, there were plenty of tasters. Each person voted for his or her three favorites and the top three votegetters were honored with prizes. The highly coveted first-place prize is a bust of Abraham Lincoln containing years-old cologne. It rotates from winner to winner and who knows what kinds of chemical reactions have occurred inside that fragrant flask over the years.

I couldn’t tell you the names or ingredients of the first- and third-place winners, but I do know the second-place entry was fashioned after the Monte Cristo sandwich. This one was called the Monte. Like its namesake, it was prepared with ham, turkey and swiss slices, dipped in an egg/milk mixture and grilled to a golden brown, then topped with powdered sugar and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Lori wowed the crowd with her Brown Betty, a scrumptious combination of carmelized onions, brown sugar and bacon.

I did a Cincinnati chili dog, consisting of a meatless chili, red beans, diced sweet onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers — just as they do it in Ohio.

Though the wienerfest is the big draw, there’s no question that the hours of socializing are what drives the annual event. There’s a totally chill vibe that makes for easy conversation with friends, new and old, and support from the crowd for every contestant. It’s a family-friendly event, with lots of couples, several young children and a few dogs — the furry kind.

Lori and I are the oldest ones there and we’re honored to be invited each year to hang with Simone and Kyndall’s many friends. It’s also nice that our oldest son, Nathan, and his fiance, Sara, are among the regulars.

***

On Sunday, wieners also were at the center of a gathering at our place. We get together every few weeks with some great friends — Irma and Joe, Renee and Ed — for a dinner party. Each couple takes a turn hosting the dinner, and Sunday it was our turn.

deck friends

Up on the roof. Back row (L to R): Ed, Renee and Joe; Front row: Lori, Irma and Janet. Too close to camera: George

We had extra hot dogs from Saturday’s bash and I cooked up another pot of Cincinnati chili. If you’ve never had it, just know it’s got cinnamon and chocolate, as well as cumin, cloves, allspice, chili pepper and cayenne pepper, so it’s sweet and savory at the same time.

deck tarts

From Irma’s kitchen: marionberry and raspberry tarts.

Irma brought her friend Janet. who was visiting from Seattle, and we all enjoyed a tasty meal on our rooftop deck, finished off with raspberry and marionberry tarts a la mode.

It was a weekend with wieners and it was wonderful.