Books Family

Hot Cocoa with Tessy and Tab at Heart Coffee

Tessy and Tab at Heart Coffee House
Tessy and Tab at Heart Coffee

Here’s something that is uniquely Portland. Tessy and Tab Reading Club, a twice per month subscription by mail ‘magazine’ for early readers (aged 2-6) is located on the east side of Portland.  One afternoon late last year, magazine publisher Judy MacDonald Johnston followed her love for coffee to the newly opened  Heart Coffee on  NE 22nd and Burnside.  She was so taken with the coffee shop that she decided to make it the subject of the an issue of Tessy and Tab.

The result is a pairing of two fantastic local craft businesses, each with a strong vision and passion for doing something unique.

Tessy and Tab Reading Club is a breath of fresh air in a market where even 2 year olds are heavily marketed to. Focused on developing early readers, it delivers two printed booklet-like magazines per month via mail.  The club helps instill the the love, passion and skills for early readers. It provides an exceptional ‘marketing free’ environment for kids to learn to read. We’ve been subscribers to the club for many years and have given subscriptions as gifts. It’s a truly exceptional publication and it’s located right here in Portland.

Heart Coffee is a relatively new coffee house and roaster (run by notable snowboarder Willi Yli-Luma). Featuring one of the simplest and most straightforward menus I’ve seen in a coffee shop, Heart Coffee has an extremely myopic focus on servering the absolute best coffee you can get in a cup.  While I was there for the “Cocoa with Tessy and Tab” event they were roasting beans. You’d think that they were conducting a science experiment.  I’ve seen beans roasted in many places in town, but never with such intense focus and attention.  The coffee served at Heart is out of this world and is in the league with some of the very best coffee in Portland.

Since the issue of Tessy and Tab takes place at Heart Coffee, the owners of both companies invited local subscribers to come to Heart Coffee to share some hot cocoa and meet the reading club creators.  The baristas from Heart Coffee drew elaborate pictures in the foam of the hot cocoas and the kids colored in pictures of the barista’s animal alter egos from the latest issue. It was a fantastic pairing of two local businesses following their hearts and doing something special.

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Portland Author Devon Monk – Magic To The Bone

Magic To The Bone by Devon Monk
Magic To The Bone by Devon Monk

One upside to being snowed in for almost a week is that I’ve had the opportunity to catch up on some of my reading.  My latest read comes from Portland author Devon Monk.

Magic to the Bone uses Portland (especially St. Johns) as the backdrop for a story of magic and mystery.  Magic “hounder “(essentially a magic detective) Allie is in over her head.  Allie’s use of magic continues to have strong side effects including acute memory loss, which is not helpful when she’s hot on the trail of a magical murder.  Soon Allie gets caught up in the very case she’s investigating with a conspiracy that reaches far deeper than she’d ever imagined.

Magic to the Bone reads like a union of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series and Jim Butcher’s Dreseden Files, however it’s not an imitator. Devon Monk has original ideas about magic, its use and how it impacts people. Her style is  incredibly readable and it has the essential elements key to a blockbuster series. Monk’s characters are well drawn and engaging.  The love interest is dark and mysterious (ala Stephanie Plum) but with enough depth to make him more than wallpaper.

What I loved the most about Magic to the Bone was how it painted St. Johns as a gritty and rough part of town, avoided by most, but with a special something for the people who inhabit it.  It’s the kind of love note to St. Johns that Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys is to Pittsburgh.

With the next installment in this new series, Magic In the Blood, slated for May of 2009, Devon Monk has a real shot at building a best selling franchise series. Hopefully readers in her home town can provide the base from which she can really launch that career.

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Beer Books Food Interview

Slaying The Green Dragon

The Green Dragon Portland
The Green Dragon Portland

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about restaurants closing due to a dramatic drop in business (including the sad news that one of my favorite Portland restaurants Kalga Kafe closed).

This week we received news of an entirely different sort:

The Green Dragon, an extremely popular watering hole for Portland’s tech set, and the standing location for the ever growing Beer & Blog has been set to be sold to Rogue on Friday November 14th.

Initial response has been overwhelming negative to word of the buy out with some pretty harsh comments posted over the news the popular brewpub may be transformed into a Rogue Taproom.

The Green Dragon has made its name for the ever changing wide variety of brews on tap, regular ‘meet the brewer’ events and as the destination of choice for many Portland tech events.

To commemorate the slaying of the Green Dragon Beer & Blog will be holding a final sendoff for the beloved brewpub on Friday (reportedly the last day for the dragon).

The sale of The Green Dragon in such a challenging economic environment lends great weight to the view that the area surround The Green Dragon, Grand Central Bowl and Holocene is destined to be Portland’s next big hot spot

The Green Dragon will be missed. We hope other beer bars like The Horse Brass, Belmont Station, Bye and Bye will step up to fill the gap created by the sale of the Green Dragon.

Ed note: Read the good follow up piece in Draft Magazine about the Rogue purchase of the Green Dragon



No Crowds at This Years Wordstock
No Crowds at This Years Wordstock

This year’s Wordstock was a mere shadow of years past. Perhaps the shows failing was the result of the tough economic times, or the shift in the board of Wordstock. Whatever the cause this year’s popular book festival was anything but festive.

There are a lot of places you can place blame for the failing of Wordstock: Widen & Kennedy’s horrid website made it almost impossible to figure out what was going on when (a prime example of form over function) it was nearly impossible to discern exactly how to connect with authors. Instead of being a useful guide to Wordstock the site was merely a Wordstock brand experience.

Blame could also be solidly put on the shoulders of everyone involved with the show’s logistics. Author signing tables were shoved in the far end of the convention center, behind a cage of ropes which left authors looking like bored lions on display at the zoo.  With no real signage there was no way to see who exactly would be signing when.  Authors were given tiny paper place cards to identify them in their misery.

Beyond the lonely authors just waiting for someone, anyone to ask them to sign their books, were the painfully depressed book sellers. As I strolled the show floor I heard several of the publishers remark that they hadn’t sold a single book the entire day. Many wore long faces and a few had simply given up and were abandoning their booths to commiserate with fellow publishers.

A former centerpiece of the show, the Target kids area was also depressing.  As we made our way over there just before 4pm they were already tearing it down and packing it away. Even the Target mascott dog looked bored.  My daughter asked if she could color and they told her no. Nice.

With the poor floor design it was almost impossible to see and hear the main authors.  When John Hodgman got up to speak the area was so confined I ended up standing in the Powell’s booth that blocked the way between the show floor and the main stage. I finally gave up trying to listen to Hodgeman and left (I simply could not see or hear).

Another failing of Wordstock this year was their inability to pull in the same level of word class authors as they have in years past.  Consider in years past Wordstock hosted luminaries as Gore Vidal, Ursula Le Guin, Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass. Between Powell’s special author events and Portland Arts and Lectures, Wordstock seems to be left pulling from second tier authors – this year’s highpoint was ‘That guy from the mac commercial”.

The one bright spot of the show was the alcove of comic book companies under the banner of “Stumptown Comics”. I met up with Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones who were there signing their respective books, but despite the fact that their area actually had people mulling around they informed me that nobody was really buying anything.

After departing from the completely depressing festival I decided to try to make the evening event “The Text Ball”. Unfortunately the logistical failings of Wordstock extended to this event as well.  Who in their infinate wisdom schedules an event across from the Rose Garden on the same night as a major sold out Basketball game?  How about the same night as BOTH a major sell out Basketball game AND a Winterhawk hockey game in the Memorial Colosseum!  I literally drove around and around for a half hour, driving as far out as the lloyd center and was unable to find a single parking spot (paid or otherwise) so I had to skip it all togehter.

It’s a shame that Wordstock is in the state it is in. Portland deserves better. While you can excuse some of the shows failing on the bad economy the real issues obviously run deeper.

Photos from Wordstock:

Books Events Karaoke

Voicebox Karaoke – A Fantastic Addtion to Portland’s Nightlife

Scott Simon - Voicebox
Scott Simon - Voicebox

Karaoke is very popular in Portland, and as a result some find it very difficult to get up and belt out their favorite tunes in front of so many people.

Enter Voicebox, a brand new Karaoke ‘complex’ which just opened near NW 21st (2112 NW Hoyt St). Rather than a traditional Karaoke bar, Voicebox is divided up into six private rooms. Each room has the capacity for a different number of people (as few as 2 and as many as 24) and has its own private karaoke system.

Voicebox’s systems are all high end, with Samsung flat screen TVs and Yamaha speaker systems. The acoustics in each room are also ideal, one of the rooms has the feel of a recording studio and with the doors closed no one can hear your singing outside.  You won’t find a better sounding Karaoke experience in Portland

The karaoke systems are easy to use and let you queue up songs so you can spend less time picking songs and more time singing them. The the library of songs is pretty extensive but had some some notable holes (including Violent Femmes and Metallica).

All the rooms Karaoke connect to a center bar area that serves wine, beer, sake and light food with in-room waitress service so you don’t have to go out to the bar to get your drinks if you don’t want to. The staff at Voicebox is extremely friendly including owner Scott Simon, a former electrical engineer who got the bug to open Voicebox after a trip to Korea. Karaoke complexes are more common in Asia and Simon imported the idea while adding a decidedly North West twist.

Private rooms are rented by the hour with rates varying per room (the average is about $7 per hour per person) and Voicebox holds special events like an upcoming Karaoke Clinic for people to brush up on their karaoke skills.

Voicebox is a fantastic addition to the Portland nightlife scene. I had an absolute blast singing a ton of songs, many more than I’d ever be able to sing at a regular karaoke bar. I enjoyed taking risks and singing songs I’d never consider singing in front of a crowd (including Avril Lavigne’s Sk8ter Boy).  I really appreciated the fact there was no smoking inside Voicebox as going out to karaoke often means coming home reeking of smoke. Voicebox is an idea place for a birthday or bachelorette party and I can absolutely see going back with a group of friends.

Voicebox is at 2112 NW Hoyt St. (503) 303-8220. They do take reservations and I expect them to fill up on key nights very fast.

Here are pictures from the Voicebox opening event:

And Videos:

Books Events

Wordstock – When Reading is A Party

wordstockPortland is one of the most literate cities in the country and so when we throw a book festival, it’s a big deal. Every year I make sure to make my way down to the sea of literature that is Wordstock. This Book-A-Palooza is a cornucopia of books, authors, readings, workshops and signings. The festival runs Thursday through Sunday with the main focus being The Book Fair at the Convention Center Saturday and Sunday 9am – 6pm.

The list of authors participating is completely overwhelming so here are the ones that caught my eye:

John Hodgman– You might recognize John Hodgman from The Daily Show on Comedy Central, but if not you’ve seen him play “PC” on many of the recent Mac commercials on TV. Despite the fact that people often say I look like Hodgman (I don’t damn it), he’s my top pick for Wordstock. Hodgman is as smart as he is funny, and it would be a mistake to miss him.

Heather Vogel Frederick – A true luminary in the youth lit category, Heather Frederick has penned a wide range of award winning books including: The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Much Ado About Anne, The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed and Spy Mice: For Your Paws Only. If you’ve got kids, make sure you don’t miss Heather Frederick.

Monica Drake – Put simply, Monica Drake is fucking amazing. Her book Clown Girl is inventive, original and extremely entertaining. Everyone knows that Chuck Palahniuk comes from Portland, and someday soon they’ll know Monica Drake. Catch her now so you can say “I knew her when…”

Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones – like peanut butter and jelly these two prominent Portland comic book creators are as complimentary to each other as you can get. Jamie Rich’s latest Have You Seen The Horizon Lately is one of the best undiscovered books of the year and Joelle Jones’s doodles are better than 75% of all the artists out there. Joelle is also a hot rising star with a new book out with DC.

In addition to the festival, Saturday night is the Text Ball at the Left Bank Project. I’m a huge fan of this venue which continues to develop as one of THE places in Portland to throw a bash!

The Text Ball is an opportunity for Portland’s rich literary arts scene to celebrate itself while supporting one of its most beloved organizations, the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Attendees are invited to come “dressed as text” and compete for prizes for the most grammatically-correct costumes. The theme this year is FIGURES OF SPEECH.

The Text Ball takes place Saturday from 6-11 at Left Bank Project 240 N Broadway.

The Wordstock web site sucks (Widen & Kennedy did a crappy ass job on it) but the physical booklet with the schedule is actually usable. So for the complete guide your best bet is to drop by Powells and snag a copy or pick one up at the show itself.