Monday, December 6, 2010

Bowling in Vegas

It's true that - with the exception of two bad quarters in Reno on November 26 - our Boise State Broncos played a season worthy of going to the Rose Bowl. TCU was just a little better than us, and they're going instead.

But this BSU fan is pleased with the Broncos' consolation prize - and when the "must-see bowl game" lists come out in the next day or two and the final story of this season is written, I'm betting that the Las Vegas Bowl will rank above the Fiesta Bowl and the Cotton Bowl. Forget the BCS and its forced qualifiers. (8-4 UConn in the Fiesta Bowl? Really?!?) Update: Indeed, ESPN ranks the Vegas Bowl #7 out of 35 games, higher than the Fiesta Bowl.

The biggest plus is probably the date. BSU fans hated just about everything about the idea of playing in San Francisco: the goofy name of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the idea of driving over Donner Pass to get there (Las Vegas is a mere 15 miles closer, but a bit less of a white-knuckle trip), and especially the prospect of playing 7-5 Boston College.

But the date was the worst aspect: At this point, our guys deserve to have a short break for finals and play their bowl game. By January 9, most fans are going to be bowled out, ready for the Oregon-Auburn BCS title game. (Go Ducks!) People will have been back on the job and students will have been back in school for a week. The Idaho Legislature starts January 10. Aside from being the final holiday buzz kill, that fact alone means many Boiseans would've had a hard time making a bowl trip to the Bay Area.

But on December 22? It's just the fifth day and the fifth game of bowl season, and the Vegas Bowl will be the first Top 20 match-up. Fans nationwide will watch this game, and Boise State fans - even those disappointed by the pick - ought to consider making the drive. There is no cheaper week to visit Vegas, and you can be home in time for Christmas.

My family usually plans trips months ahead, but we made a snap decision Sunday to go to this game. My husband and daughter were already off of work and school, and I can get away from my job, too. My family - all but me - loves Las Vegas. ("This is the only time you'll catch me voluntarily saying, 'Let's go to Vegas,'"I told them.) We nabbed a rental car for under $90 for four days and we see plenty of name-brand Strip hotel rooms in the $50-60 range (with even-cheaper rooms abundantly available). Game tickets are $62 with all fees included; not a bargain, but not much more than a BSU home game. Most of all, we'll be there for the Broncos.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Most memorable Thanksgivings

In thinking a bit this holiday morning about the most memorable Thanksgivings I've had in my life, it shocks me to realize they were all in my 20s.

Two of them came during an ill-advised first marriage in the middle of that decade. My husband and I had a good meal with my small family in Pittsburgh, then we went to see John Mellencamp in concert. It was at the height of Mellencamp's fame - around the "Lonesome Jubilee" - and it was a fine evening listening to him sing anthems of the heartland.

Either a year before or after that, the two of us trekked from Ohio to suburban Washington, D.C., where his eldest brother and family lived in the same cul de sac as a Supreme Court Justice. The sprawling house filled with people; the dinner was fairly exotic; and we all raked leaves outside afterward.

The last Thanksgiving of my 20s was my first out West. I'd wisely left my boy husband by then; my Dad, also on his own since my Mom's death two years before, flew from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City on Thanksgiving morning. I drove down from Twin Falls to meet him, and we motored on to Moab. We had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the small town, then we spent the weekend exploring Utah's red-rocks country.

That was 21 years ago. I've had plenty of good and even interesting Thanksgivings since then - including one jet-lagged afternoon alone in Australia where I wound up having pasta al fresco and one with vegetarian friends who served lentil loaf and the best pies ever - but none that quite rank up with the trio from my 20s. This will change next year: the plan for 2011 is to fly to San Francisco to spend the holiday with my brother and his partner. It'll be the first Thanksgiving of my 50s and my daughter's last one before college. It's way past time to have a big-city holiday season kickoff.

Meanwhile, I am sure today will be lovely: the new "Harry Potter" movie followed by the buffet at the Owyhee Plaza. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The people on the bus say 'Ride with us'

As an avid bus rider in Boise, I am part of this new video that shows a few reasons why it's cool and cost effective to take transit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Zipping around Boise

Hooray! Zipcar is coming to Boise! I thought it would take far longer for the car-sharing service to arrive here, but through a partnership with Boise State, it's here now. Zipcar has citywide programs in only 14 cities, but it turns out that it's also on more than 100 campuses nationwide, now including BSU.

Zipcar is starting small in the City of Trees, which is probably a good idea. There are only four Zipcars parked on campus, but I'm sure that if demand is high, they'll add more. Membership is available for $35 for BSU students, faculty, and staff; community members can join for $50 a year.

For those who don't know, Zipcar is perfect for people who do not own a car, or who need an extra vehicle from time to time. Say you only need a car once a week to run some errands, or for a day trip or overnight to McCall. At $8 an hour ($9 on weekends) or $66/day - including insurance, gas, and 180 free miles per 24 hours - it sure beats owning a car for people who only need or want to drive occasionally. Since gas is included, it's probably cheaper than traditional car rental for close-by overnight trips - plus these are sweet rides, like a roomy Scion xB or Toyota Prius.

I'm not sure how often I'll use Zipcar, but as a BSU-area resident with an 11-year old car that I share with my daughter, I plan to become a community member and check it out for some road trips. I predict they're going to need to add more cars before too long!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Art time in the old town tonight

It's going to be a scorcher in Boise today, with an expected high of at least 100. But as the sun dips lower, downtown will be filled with cool activities for August First Thursday. From sky-high, one-night-only galleries at the Aspen Lofts to the spectacle of 30 artists creating a mural in the parking garage at Bannock and Capitol, there's plenty going on.

I'll be at the Pioneer Building with Idaho Indie Works and the Etsy Street Team to sign copies of the 8th edition (just out in June; $15) of Idaho Off the Beaten Path. This is probably the last appearance I'll do for the book this summer, so please plan to stop by!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ask for local option

I recently got a letter from Idaho Smart Growth with the news that the Governor's Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding is investigating funding tools for public transportation. Idaho is one of only three states without a dedicated source of funding for transit.

Does this mean that, at long last, gentlemen ranchers Butch Otter and Mike Moyle are going to climb down off their high horses and confess that, yes, we live in an urban area? Hmmmm, as a veteran of too many years in the local option battle, I'm not placing any bets. But I've submitted my comments (due by September 15) and you can do the same. Here's what I wrote:

Idaho officials talk about local control and being fiscally responsible with tax dollars. That's the very reason the Idaho Legislature and governor MUST , at long last, allow local communities with the option of deciding for ourselves whether we want to pay a little extra in sales tax to have better public transportation, a new bridge, bike paths, or what have you.

Idaho is one of only three states that does not offer a dedicated state or local source of funding for public transportation. Please enact local option authority for Idaho, with no more than a 60 percent pass threshold. As our population ages and we continue to see the costs of our reliance on oil, Idahoans will want more transportation choices.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Boise through new eyes

Former Texans Michael and Maria Smith entertained many of us six months ago with their explanation on the Statesman editorial page of how they chose Boise as they new home. The Smiths are back in the paper today with a long list of what they've quickly learned to love about Boise - and a very short list of stuff with which they are not so pleased.

One of the pleasures of having friends and family visit is seeing a place anew through their eyes. Reading the Smiths' article is like that, too. Enjoy.

As a bonus, this article is appearing just days after the Society of American Travel Writers' Western chapter meeting happened here in Boise. Here's hoping some of them are still lingering in town and will be able to sample a few of the riches the Smiths suggest.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

From the market, June 5

We actually had some rare (for this spring, anyway) good weather on Saturday morning, making it a pleasure to shop the Capital City Public Market. Some of this week's haul: several handmade greeting cards, a bag of lettuce, fresh eggs, butternut squash ravioli, Ballard Family cheese, granola bars, and a end-of-school gift (the glass musical note piece) for my daughter.

One big pleasure of the Market is stopping to chat with folks, including Michael Boss from Behind the Menu and Millie Hilgert from Miss Courageous. (I'm definitely buying one of her Lego business card cases some not-distant Saturday.) I also ducked into The Box in the Basement at the 8th Street Micro Mall (below Thomas Hammer and the former Coldstone) for a fun peasant-type top that I spotted on First Thursday two nights before, then hit Failla Drums' 11 a.m. drum group, newly relocated to A Novel Adventure on Main Street. It was a morning well spent!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend quick takes

A few quick takes:

Check out the Downtown Boise Neighborhood Association's website. It's a work in progress, but it's looking good. I also learned at yesterday's DBNA meeting that we'll soon be seeing some more electric boxes bedecked with cool local art. (That photo atop the right-hand side of this blog is one of the current boxes, at Capitol and Main.)

Timberline High students have been hitting the streets this past week, gleaning stories about architecturally and historically significant buildings. Check out this blog post about one team's trip to the Owyhee Plaza Hotel, featured on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Preservation Nation" blog. I'll also be writing about the Boise Architecture Project - led by teacher Doug StanWiens (on his way to Boise High School) - in the summer issue of Treasure magazine.

Speaking of preservation, Preservation Idaho has a free bike tour of Art Deco architecture in Boise this Saturday. Info here.

In sad downtown news, Sweetwater's Tropic Zone has closed. Can it be that with the abundance of great restaurants on and within a block of 8th Street, 10th Street is just too far for diners to wander? Or is it simply a sign that we're not yet quite out of the economic woods here in the City of Trees?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Early bird gets the eggs (Market 5/15)

As much as I remember and/or have time, I am going to post a pic from my weekly haul from the Capital City Public Market here this spring, summer, and fall. Today's gets included little banty eggs (the bigger, terra cotta-colored ones are coming soon, they tell me), an awesome blackberry lime granola bar made in Meridian, spinach, tomatoes, and handmade asparagus ravioli.

Just a head's up, so you can mark your calendars now: I will be at the market to sign hot-off-the-press, 8th edition copies of Idaho Off the Beaten Path on Saturday, June 19. That's the day before Father's Day, and the book makes a great gift for all your guys who like exploring our fab state. I'll donate a buck from each book sold to the market's Fresh Fund, which - starting in June - will help food stamp users buy locally produced food at the market.

Friday, May 14, 2010

TOD workshop on May 20

If the phrase "transit oriented development" makes you happy, you'll want to know about a workshop set for 10:30 to noon next Thursday, May 20, at the U.S. Bank Building. Chris Zahas, a Portland-based planner, will talk about successful TOD principles and how they might apply here in Boise. Think "mixed use, walkable, location-efficient development in scale with the adjacent community and with sufficient density to support convenient transit." The State Street corridor is one such area being eyed for possible TOD in our town. Surely there are others, too.

The workshop is free and it is sponsored by Valley Regional Transit, the Ada County Highway District, the City of Boise and Kittelson and Associates Inc. For more info or to RSVP, contact Jackie Okun at 338-2683 or jokun at kittelson dot com.

Friday, May 7, 2010

See you at the Green Expo

Just a reminder: This weekend is the 3rd Annual Idaho Green Expo down at the Boise Centre. I am going to try and make it down there for the Green Jobs panel and the worm composting workshop. You'll find a full listing of events, exhibitors, etc. here.

Admission is free, and the first 500 moms attending on Sunday (Mother's Day) get a free stainless steel water bottle, too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Plans and more plans

The Treasure Valley may have an inadequate transportation network, but - as Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas pointed out in a recent op-ed for the Idaho Statesman - it's not for a lack of planning.

The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho plans three open houses next week to seek public comment on the updated long-range transportation plan it must adopt this summer. The open houses are:

Boise - Monday, May 10, 4 to 7:30 p.m., Boise Senior Activities Center, Room E, 690 Robbins Road

Meridian - Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 4 to 7:30 p.m., Joint School District #2, District Service Center, 1303 E. Central Drive

Nampa - Thursday, May 13, 2010, 4 to 7:30 p.m., Karcher Mall lobby, 1509 Caldwell Boulevard

As Nancolas noted, all the plans in the world won't get us anywhere without funding. That means electing state legislators who will give local residents the right - currently denied - to fund local transportation options. Consider that when casting your primary votes this May and especially when you vote in November. Meanwhile, attend an open house and offer your input on the updated plan. You can learn more at the COMPASS website.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Walk and talk about downtown Boise

See this woman? She was the fabulous Jane Jacobs, an amateur urbanist who wrote one of the most important books of the 20th century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She believed that cities ought to be planned by the people who live in them; that density (within reason) and diversity bring vitality; that cool old buildings ought to be saved when at all possible; and that above all, cities are meant for walking.

This weekend, Jacobs' legacy will be honored with "Jane's Walks" in dozens of cities across North America, including one in Boise. We'll meet on The Grove at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (May 1), walk and talk around downtown for about 90 minutes, and (for those interested) continue the conversation afterward at Red Feather Lounge. (Thanks to Dave Krick for promising some goodies for us.)

We want to keep the group size smallish, but we really do have room for another four or five people. If you are interested, please RSVP by Friday evening, April 30, to And if you are reading this too late but would like to be involved in Jane's Walk for 2011 - perhaps in other Treasure valley neighborhoods - give me a shout at that same email address.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Busker do

Here's Boise's own internationally known jazzman Curtis Stigers, busking outside the Record Exchange on Saturday aka Record Store Day. In addition to two in-store performances by Idahoan-turned-Brooklynite Josh Ritter and the band Everest, many local musicians sang and played on the sidewalks outside throughout the day.

Busking is a trend that the local music advocacy group Go Listen Boise would like to encourage. "Our city is so safe, and our downtown core is so pedestrian friendly, why shouldn't the streets be filled with music?" the group wrote on "Busking Basics" cards distributed throughout the day.

Why not, indeed? As last summer's Curb Cup showed, Boiseans love street performing. Go Listen Boise says that there currently are no regulations or licenses for busking in Boise, and that with common courtesy and good sense, we can keep it that way. I've seen and heard some great busking downtown in recent weeks as the weather has warmed, and I'm going to try and catch some of it on FlipCam to post here on Sidewalk 208.

P.S. Curtis graciously kept his guitar gig bag closed to tips so other, lesser-known acts could get the day's spoils. Go Listen Boise held a killer bake sale for the cause, too. This town rocks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Play ball! (And blog about it, too ...)

The 2010 baseball season is about 10 days old. I've been an avid baseball fan since childhood, when I rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the days of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and (a little later) "Goose" Gossage. These days, as far as I am concerned, there is no better way to spend a fine summer Southwestern Idaho evening than at a Boise Hawks game.

The Hawks have been in the news lately since the team is mulling the possibility of building a new stadium in the not-distant future. So it's great to see that Hawks General Manager Todd Rahr has tossed out the opening pitch of a new blog, Rahr Insight. (Todd, by the way, is a fellow graduate of Ohio University, lately famous for beating Georgetown in the first round of March Madness. And if we're lucky, our 'cats are going to show up at the H-Bowl one of the next few years, hopefully not against Boise State. But I digress ...)

Todd's first post is rather long but definitely worth reading, as he addresses several issues surrounding the Hawks' future. Personally, I'd love to see a new ballpark near downtown Boise, ideally along the Greenbelt and/or with skyline views. I also like the possibility of a new, upgraded stadium being the centerpiece of a true riverside downtown district for Garden City. However, I can see the advantages of building in Meridian, which is more centrally located for the entire Treasure Valley. Real baseball fans will follow the Hawks wherever they go.

Todd also promises to blog more about the possibility of Triple-A baseball coming to Southwestern Idaho someday. It won't be soon, but given our growth in the past few decades, we may be ready in another dozen years or so. That's another reason why I'll be rooting for the Hawks to continue to prosper in 2010 and beyond. You can follow the Hawks at their website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. See you at the ballpark!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happy Start Walking Day!

From this morning's news roundup at Treasured Valley, I learned that this is National Start Walking Day. And what a lovely day for it, with blue skies, budding trees, and light winds.

According to the news release:

The annual American Heart Association program aims to get people walking for 30 minutes a day, with at least some of that walk time happening during work breaks or lunch.

Exercise physiologist Steve Sanders says regular exercise is a key factor in cardiovascular health.

"Walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the nation's number-one killer - for both men and women - and it helps reduce obesity. You have to make you and your fitness a priority."

Yesterday at lunchtime, I walked the three blocks to my local Albertson's to pick up some groceries. As I stood waiting for the light at Vista and Overland I heard a woman's voice say, "No wonder you're so skinny. You walk everywhere!" It was my next-door neighbor, pulled up at the light. I smiled and rubbed my belly as to say, "Skinny? Me?"

But it's true: I do walk a lot, up to 10,000 steps a day, as experts recommend. I walk for fun. I walk on errands in my neighborhood. At least once a week, I walk downtown instead of driving. That gets me the 10K right there if I walk both ways.

And while I don't feel I am especially skinny at around 140 pounds, this longtime habit - I've had it my whole adult life - helps keep me reasonably fit. So give it a try, if you're not already walking. It's the perfect exercise, and - as gas nudges $3 a gallon again - a good transportation mode, too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The arts: no longer a political hot potato

The chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman, was in southern Idaho on Monday to get a firsthand look at how NEA funding helps our state. His visit, arranged by Rep. Mike Simpson, was covered by the Idaho Statesman and The Times-News.

It's heartening to see that the NEA is not the political hot potato it was in the 1990s, when I wrote this op-ed for The Wall Street Journal to share some of the same sort of success stories Landesman saw yesterday in Boise, Jerome and Twin Falls. Despite stories like mine from all over the nation, Congress slashed NEA funding that decade, mostly in response to outcries over the works of a few controversial artists who'd received NEA grants. Funding levels have risen gradually since then, but the NEA remains smaller than it was 15 years ago. The Obama Administration's FY 2011 request for the NEA is $161.3 million, or about 52 cents per American.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

BSU students take fresh looks at downtown

Anyone who loves downtown Boise ought to have a look at the Statesman today. Page 1 of the print edition has two very cool stories that - combined with news of the first drop in Idaho's unemployment rate in 32 months - show Boise's brightest days may yet be ahead of us.

First of all comes the news that BoDo developer Mark Rivers has toured the old Macy's building and is at least thinking of a purchase. Kathleen Kreller's story notes that others are looking at the property, too. Let's hope that something can come together in "the big old barn" (Rivers' words) while the market is still down. The costs of the cavernous building - and of neglecting it - are only certain to rise in the future; on the flipside, the psychological and financial rewards of investing in such an iconic property could ripple valleywide.

Bethann Stewart covered the first-ever spring break innovate@boisestate conference, showing how five teams of students envisioned infill projects for downtown parcels. The first-place team proposed something called Zenabuki Village along Broadway between Front and Myrtle streets, described as "a mixed-use housing and retail development of condos and apartments where students, young professionals and other community members would interact."

Whole Foods Market has plans to build on this parcel (if we can't interest them in the old Macy's instead), and the students made the grocer the anchor tenant of their proposal. But they also envisioned a skywalk to the Boise State campus and a living center where at-risk teens could mix with college students to see the benefits of higher education.

The second-place team envisions an "Urban-Outdoor Nirvana" at Myrtle and 11th streets, including a transportation center with Zipcar and bike rentals; a concert venue; a children's museum; citywide volunteer center; and more. Read the whole story here, and see the proposals on display at the BSU Undergraduate Research and Scholarship conference, set for from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, April 12, in the Student Union Building. And bravo to BSU for an activity that shows how in-person higher ed can remain relevant in the Internet era.

P.S. If these stories set your heart and mind racing, please consider joining us for Jane's Walk 2010 on May 1 in downtown Boise. See the link for more details and sign up soon; the event will be limited to the first 15 people.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not so rural

This article from the Daily Yonder website breaks down the voting patterns of rural Democrats on last week's health insurance reform vote. For Gem State residents, the most interesting point is that Idaho's 1st Congressional District is not among the 100 most rural in the nation. Only about a third of the district is considered rural; the rest is urban. And yet Idaho politicians and parties consistently focus their appeals to the rural and small-town vote.

Why is this? Perhaps it's because all Idahoans, no matter where we live, identify with and love the outdoors - our magnificent mountains, our wild rivers and canyon lands, and the high-desert stillness abundantly available just minutes from our largest metro area. But the fact is, Idaho is increasingly urban, with the sort of issues - traffic, clean air and water, crowded classrooms, economic development - that dominate metropolitan life. We play in the mountains and enjoy small-town weekends, but we live, work, and go to school in cities and large towns.

Our state's current political leadership is rural in the extreme, with ranchers running the show. When will Idaho's metropolitan population rise up and vote for representation that identifies with the state's increasingly urban needs?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Pick us! Pick us!"

It's been six weeks since Google announced its plan to build a super-fast fiber network in one or more communities across the country. Communities have until tomorrow (March 26) to submit their bids. Boise, Meridian, and Nampa are teaming together to try and convince Google to "pick us! pick us!" I'm sorry to say, however, that we seem to be doing a fairly lame and belated job of it, unlike - say - Duluth.

However, there are very good reasons why Google ought to consider the Boise metro area's bid. Although we are the most geographically isolated metro area in the Lower 48 states, we have a strong history here of high-tech innovation. As Meridian's website says, "The Treasure Valley boasts the second most patents per capita in the country, it is the birthplace of the laser jet printer, and the home to the top semiconductor chip company in the country. We take pride in our innovation and creating our own destiny."

As well we must, given that our state's lopsided, reactionary political culture has been way more interested in laying asphalt than building broadband. So scoot on over to your city's website - Boise, Meridian or Nampa - to help show Google why a dose of fiber here would go a long way to create jobs and harness the power of the Treasure Valley's potential.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The facts might set us free

The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert penned a column in today's paper about new research from a Brookings Mountain West report showing that the Treasure Valley faces a highly uncertain path to economic recovery. Kevin does a good job outlining the study's findings, which included the sobering statistics that the Boise Metropolitan Statistical Area has seen some of the nation's steepest declines in housing prices and employment levels. (In both areas, we rank among the worst six of the nation's Top 100 metros.)

The Brookings report also was the topic of yesterday's Urban Lunch at the Boise Watercooler, featuring talks by Dean Melissa Lavitt of Boise State's College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and Boise City Councilman David Eberle. My main take-away from the session was that - for the first time ever - the Boise metro area has extensive, fact-based research with which we can compare ourselves to other metro areas in the Intermountain West.

For as long as I've lived in Idaho (21 years this spring, including six years in Boise and 15 in Twin Falls), we've considered ourselves too small and too remote to be included in serious public policy research, and outsiders have certainly seen us that way too. But Lavitt and Eberle both made the point that BSU's participation in the five-school Brookings West consortium - coupled with the Boise metro area's population growth - make that serious research possible for the first time.

Unfortunately, the results may not please us as much as the myriad (albeit subjective) Top Places to Live-type lists that Boise has deservedly found itself on over the past decade. But facts are facts, and Boise's abysmal placement in employment and housing value metrics - together with Idaho's long-term lack of support for higher education and blurry economic development vision - should make us all take notice. We know what a great place Boise is to live, but it won't stay that way if we don't realize that this is the first recession that we can neither build our way out of nor solve through outdated economic development policy.

Update: The Idaho Business Review's Robb Hicken has a report on the study, too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring cleaning, with a smile

UPDATE - March 9, 2010: Here's a video clip of the Maytag Lady in action - and with a new spring green frock, too.

Boise has spring fever. We have had it for weeks now, due to the combination of unusually warm temperatures paired with mostly gray skies. Early spring means crocuses popping out of the dirt, corn skiing at Bogus, more hours to walk and bike the Greenbelt, and thoughts of proms and graduations. It also means spring cleaning - but we can do even that with a smile, like the Vista Maytag Lady.

The skies were gray when I snapped this pic last week, yet the Maytag Lady was wearing the spring frock she's had on for a few weeks now. Come on, sunshine ... stick around a while!

Also worth noting: Food writer Guy Hand gave the Maytag Lady's neighbor, Cucina di Paolo, a fabuloso write-up last Friday in the Idaho Statesman. Mary Jean and Paul are on vacation this week, but they'll be back March 9 to bake the lasagnas and pot pies we all know and love. (Yes, these are the same folks who sell their homemade goodies at the Capital City Public Market each Saturday in the summer.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Something new to do in Boise

UPDATE: The next Impromptour is this weekend ... Saturday, March 6, 2010, at 2 p.m. on The Grove. Come enjoy a springtime urban stroll with us. $15 cash or pre-pay online (see below).

I'm pleased to say I have a new gig as a partner in Boise Walking Tours, which will be officially relaunching this spring. Linda Byron and Judy Secrist started the historical strolls in 2000, and I've joined them to help take the venture into a new decade.

While the tours are mainly going to be geared to groups visiting Boise, we'll also be holding drop-in tours once or twice a week (to start, anyway) for Boiseans who are looking for something fun to do. The first of these "Impromptours" will happen at 4 p.m. this Sunday, February 28. That's right - after the Olympic men's hockey finals.

The original Boise Walking Tours route centered on Old Boise, but I've designed a tour that takes in a somewhat larger area, from the Grove to the Anne Frank Memorial to the Basque Block and the heart of downtown. We'll be covering about two miles total in 90 minutes at a nice leisurely stroll. Much of the information will be familiar to people who've lived in Boise a while, but I think you'll enjoy the walk (it's supposed to be in the 50s again on Sunday) and learn something new even if you've been here for decades.

The tours cost $15 per person, and you can either pay cash at the start or use the PayPal link on our website if you'd rather use your bank account or credit card. We're starting this somewhat quietly; you can think of the first few tours as a "soft opening." But I once led a version of this same tour for about 30 people on President's Day Weekend a few years ago, so I am ready for anything.

For more info or dates of other upcoming "Impromptours," see our website, Facebook fan page, or Twitter feed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A sign of things to come

On a walk the other day, I noticed this sign on the south side of Federal Way near Protest and Kootenai. I don't know how long it's been there, but it's an indication of our neighborhood park-to-be, Terry Day Park. The Day family donated the land to the city more than three years ago, but the sign says it isn't going to remain developed for a while.

For all the great parks we have in Boise, the Overland-Federal Way neighborhood has no real park to call our own. Platt Gardens and the Depot are a brisk 15-minute walk from my house, but there's no slide or swings, and dogs aren't allowed, even on leashes. Manitou Park isn't much farther, but accessing it as the crow flies requires a scramble down canal company-owned land. Neither situation is ideal for children.

Bowden Park by South Junior High is a little bit closer, but it's nearly as undeveloped as the Day parcel. So it'll be a happy day indeed when Terry Day Park provides a playground and picnic spot for the neighborhood - and perhaps a community garden, as well, from the write-up on the Boise Parks website.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Transit: It's time to get creative

I grew up riding the Port Authority Transit trolleys in Pittsburgh. Two separate streetcar lines ran between Bethel Park (the suburb where my family lived) and downtown. The trolleys took us to Pirates games, movies and concerts. Even after I got my driver's license, I realized that it was way cheaper to take the trolley to my downtown summer jobs than to drive.

My childhood love for public transit hasn't let up. As an adult, I'm the sort of person who considers transit to be as much tourist attraction as transportation mode; I was almost as excited last summer to finally get a chance to ride the Salt Lake TRAX light rail as I was to see Green Day in concert that same trip. In other words, you'd think that I'd be a huge fan of the Boise streetcar concept, and that I'd be devastated at yesterday's news that our city lost out on the federal grant that would've underwritten a good chunk of its cost.

Nope. If anything, I was rooting quietly for the grant application to fail. For one thing, I prefer the idea of starting with a north-south line to connect downtown with our cultural district and Boise State. But beyond that, I question whether we ought to be pursuing any sort of fixed-line streetcar service when our bus system is so insufficient. I was far more disappointed to learn that Valley Regional Transit lost out on a $26 million grant to improve local bus service than I was to hear that the streetcar funds fell through.

Of course, I am familiar with the main reason our bus system is so bad: Unlike most states, Idaho refuses to let local citizens decide whether to pay a little extra in sales tax to fund public transit. Idaho was one of only nine states to get entirely shut out of yesterday's transit grants. Pointing to the four cities (out of a dozen applicants) that got streetcar grants yesterday, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter noted to the Idaho Statesman that Tuscon, Portland, Dallas and New Orleans all have local option authority.

Alas, living as we do in a state where legislators refuse to give citizens local control, Boise now has to get creative. The Statesman had an excellent editorial on Sunday pointing out how the city - faced with a strong vote of support for local libraries that still fell short of the unreasonably high two-thirds majority required - found a way to build the branch libraries we so badly needed in this city.

The difference is that 57 percent of Boise voters supported branch libraries, while nowhere near that high a percentage supports the current streetcar plan. It will also cost a lot more money to bring the local transit system into the 21st century than it will to build a few libraries.

But we have to start somewhere, and the answer - for Boise - is not a fixed-line streetcar route. It's buses that run past 6 p.m., and on Sundays, and more than once an hour mid-day. It's buses that serve the growing populations of Eagle, Meridian and Kuna.

It's temporary trolley service that runs at times when people are already downtown and want to have fun: First Thursdays, for example, or Morrison Center concert nights. We all know how popular the Boise State football game-day trolleys are; why not expand that concept?

Let's look at creative marketing and schedule tweaks that makes bus riding cool and fun. For example, how about special service that would allow people to take a bus between downtown Boise, Towne Square Mall and the Idaho Center (and back again at 11 p.m.) for big concerts? How about keeping bus service available until 9 p.m. on summer Wednesdays for Alive After Five or running buses until midnight for 10 days during the Western Idaho Fair?

Valley Ride is strapped for cash, and these ideas would require public-private funding partnerships along the lines of those that were envisioned for the streetcar route. But Boise's compact, walkable downtown doesn't need a permanent 2.3-mile streetcar running east-west or north-south so much as it needs a way to help people travel to and from downtown to eat, drink, work, shop and have fun in the first place.

Update 10:30 a.m. February 18 ... Here are some other thoughts on Boise's transit situation (h/t Treasured Valley):
Randy Stapilus at Ridenbaugh Press
Kevin Richert at the Idaho Statesman

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blueprint for Boise hearings this week

The city is holding two open houses this week to take public comment on its Blueprint for Boise comprehensive plan revision and the city's new parks and recreation comp plan. The sessions are set for 6 to 8 p.m. tonight (February 16) and Thursday (February 18) at the Idaho Historical Museum in Julia Davis Park.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vancouver, without tickets

In this article from the Pacific Northwest news site Crosscut, Whidbey Island writer Sue Frause tells of an Amtrak trip to Vancouver, just to check out the Olympic vibes. It reminded me of a day trip my daughter Natalie and I made to Salt Lake City eight years ago during the Winter Games in Utah. (It was a relatively easy drive from Twin Falls, where we lived at the time, and where the Olympic torch relay had visited not long before the Games.) We didn't have tickets for anything, but we had a good time just walking around the then-new Gateway area, which was packed with free activities and exhibits.

I worked on the first edition of Lonely Planet's British Columbia guidebook, so I spent a lot of time in the province a decade ago. I haven't been back much since then, save for a lovely family vacation on Mayne Island three summers ago, but I really enjoyed the opening ceremonies of these Vancouver games. It's probably too late for most Idahoans to plan even a quick trip to Vancouver during the Olympics, but British Columbia is well worth considering for a getaway later this year.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mark Rivers, talking sense

Mark Rivers, one of the smartest guys in Boise, did a two-part interview with BSU Radio this week. In Part One, he says that while Boise city administration has good intentions and integrity, it lacks vision when it comes to economic development. Is the state any better? "Don't get me started," he tells reporter Elzabeth Duncan, noting that Butch Otter's signature Project 60 is "asinine."

In Part Two, Rivers suggests a better streetcar route, calls Boise State University our city's biggest remaining "factory," and says downtown Boise is still in pretty good shape. Listen here.

And no, he doesn't want to run for office. Of course, I can't blame him, and I agree that people like Rivers can probably do more good outside the political process than within it.

Interesting side note: I just got the save-the-date postcard today for an intriguing City Club program on April 15. BSU's Nancy Napier and Bob Lokken of White Cloud Analytics will discuss whether Boise is living up to its promise of a creative economy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another downtown loss, but a bit of good news, too

Postscript April 19, 2010: Listen to a Boise State radio story about Boise Blue and "The Art of Saying Goodbye."

Postscript February 12:
While it doesn't diminish the loss of Boise Blue, I heard some really good news yesterday after I posted this. Another locally owned business - a real fixture in the Think Boise First movement, in fact - will be relocating downtown this summer. The news is not yet widely known, so I won't say which one, but it's a business that knows what it takes to beat the trends toward online shopping and big-box price wars.

I am a strong believer in local businesses and downtown Boise, and although closures like Boise Blue and Macy's give us all pause (especially amid a still-rough economic climate), there are still many people who would prefer to shop, eat, hang out, and even live downtown.

Just a few weeks after Macy's announced it will close its downtown Boise location, I was saddened to read today that Boise Blue Art Supply, a downtown fixture for decades, will be closing soon. The store has been suffering from lack of parking, the congestion wrought by the long Capitol renovation project, and - everyone's favorite bogeyman - online shopping.

I'm not in the market for art supplies very often, but I stopped in a couple of times. Once was to buy a cheap ballpoint pen when I found myself downtown without one. Late for a meeting at the Statehouse, I lay my money on the counter and begged the staff - waiting on another customer - to keep the change so I could get on my way.

Another time, shortly after I moved to Boise, I was captivated by an exhibition of student photography showcased in Boise Blue's windows along Jefferson Street. I went inside to learn more, and the staff kindly gave me the name and phone number of the Boise School District employee who coordinated the project.

That's the kind of community-minded support that artists mentioned in today's Idaho Statesman article by Anna Webb. "It's sad when any business closes, but it's especially sad when it's a business like Boise Blue that's supported the art community for so many years," Cherry Woodbury of the Idaho Watercolor Society said.

And of course, Boise Blue's name (originally derived from an early focus on architectural blueprints) took on a whole new meaning in recent years, as blue became the color most associated with Boise. The store often had a pro-Broncos message on its reader board.

Boise Blue will be missed, and its closure offers yet another reminder that it's good to shop locally, with Boise-based businesses, whenever and however we can.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chaos and joy with the Boise Flash Mob!

I love Boise Flash Mob. Today's - an "Everything's Fine" Non Protest at City Hall - was one of the best yet. Go here for more pix.

Friday, January 29, 2010

From Thai to trout: Idaho's Magic Valley

I took a road trip this week to the Magic Valley, where I lived my first 15 years in Idaho, from 1989 to 2004. The occasion (and highlight) was a Let's Talk About It program on Edward Abbey's classic book Desert Solitaire at the Kimberly Public Library, but I managed a few other stops.

Twin Falls is a commercial destination for a wide region, since it's the biggest city by far between Boise and Pocatello. Most people beat the path of least resistance to the retail center of Blue Lakes Boulevard and Pole Line Road, but downtown Twin Falls is a charming, walkable area where you can visit such locally owned businesses as Rudy's - A Cook's Paradise; see a first-run movie at the historic Orpheum Theater; browse at the Magic Valley Arts Council's Full Moon Gallery; and have some of the Northwest's best Thai food at Prasai's. The latter's original location at 428 2nd Ave. E. (a few blocks from the downtown core) is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Twin. Check out #52 - spinach, chicken, and peanut curry - on its wide menu for one of our state's best meals.

Driving into Kimberly on Thursday evening, I noticed that the lights were still on at The Quilt Barn on the small town's main drag. It turns out that tiny Kimberly has become something of a destination for quilters. (There was even a quilt show at the library.)

I stayed overnight at the Best Western Twin Falls, which used to be an Ameritel. I was most impressed here by the recliner in my room; by the half-dozen or so varieties of cookies set out in the evenings (I reluctantly chose just one); and by perhaps the best breakfast buffet I've seen at any chain motel, complete not just with hearty starters including waffles and biscuits and gravy but healthier fare such as peaches and cottage cheese. The scrambled eggs were good, too, especially with salsa.

I skipped I-84 for the first leg of my trip home on Friday morning, instead sticking to US Highway 30. After a stop at Filer Elementary School (where I accompanied the students on their 50-mile walk in May 2003 for an article for Parade magazine), I drove on into Buhl, also known as Trout Capital of America. Buhl's highlights include the Cosmic Jolt Cafe, Cloverleaf Creramery (in the former Smith's dairy store), and this fantastic piece of public art by Cindy Darnell installed in 2006 on the main corner downtown.

Twin Falls and the Magic Valley are a worthy overnight or weekend destination anytime of year, and they'll be even more so come spring and summer, when the roar of Shoshone Falls and festivals like the Snake River Canyon Jam give travelers extra incentives to visit.

Julie Fanselow is the author of several books including Idaho Off the Beaten Path, the most frequently updated guidebook to the Gem State.

Story and photos copyright 2010 by Julie Fanselow

Friday, January 22, 2010

John Doe shooting music show pilot in Boise

There's an interesting item in Michael Deeds' Scene magazine column today, buried beneath speculation about what concerts we may or may not see in Boise in 2010. John Doe of the great punk band X is teaming with Boise's Wide Eye Productions to shoot a pilot for a new TV series called "John Doe, American Music." It's happening this very Sunday evening (January 24) at Pengilly's. Deeds says that Doe will interview Boise-based musicians including Curtis Stigers, A.K.A. Belle, Bill Coffey, Ned Evett, Steve Fulton, Hillfolk Noir, Jeremiah James, and Johnny Shoes.

"Television needs a great music show," Wide Eye's Tom Hadzor told Deeds. "John Doe's the kind of guy who can deliver one." Well, TV does have a great music show in Later ... With Jools Holland, but it could use a great American music show, especially one that gives viewers a sense of place as it showcases a region's sound. So best wishes to Wide Eye and to our Boise musicians. Here's hoping "John Doe, American Music" finds a national niche.

Speaking of X, Something Gone, the latest disc by onetime North Idaho resident Exene Cervenka is a wonderful throwback to her Running Sacred and Old Wives' Tales days of a decade ago. Exene learned last year that she has multiple sclerosis, but in a statement on her website, she says she intends to keep on keeping on. Something Gone is proof of that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting with the (comp) plan

I was down at the second Urban Lunch today to hear Tricia Nilsson talk about updates to Boise's Comprehensive Plan, Blueprint Boise, which is now open for public review. Nilsson said that, in sum, her work and that of other city planners is about helping city residents have "the best day possible." In other words, the basics should be covered: We shouldn't have to think about whether the police will come when we need help, whether our children can walk to school safely, or whether our toilets will flush in the morning. But it's good to have some "extras," too: Nilsson described how, about an hour after the new branch library opened at Cole and Ustick last year, a young girl was on one of its computers, checking out a TV show from her native Somalia via YouTube.

The draft comp plan is posted on the city website, and Nilsson encouraged Boiseans to read it and offer feedback, either via email or at one of several community meetings that'll take place in February ahead of the official public hearings later this year. Echoing her earlier comment, Nilsson added that planners are interested in learning where people in Boise are not having a good day, whether it's due to a lack of sidewalks and street lamps (I'll note that we have neither in much of my neighborhood near Vista and Overland) or problems with other basic infrastructure needs.

Urban Lunch will typically take place from noon to 1 the third Wednesday of each month at the Water Cooler, 1401 W. Idaho Street in the Linen District. (The next one is February 17.) You can sign up for announcements at Facebook.

Sharon Fisher from was at today's event, too; I'll link to her post here once I see it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One year ago ...

Here's a three-minute cloudcast (as opposed to a podcast) that I made reminiscing about Inauguration Day a year ago. It's mainly a thank-you note to Washington, DC, for the good humor, grace, and efficiency with which the nation's capital handled its big day last January 20.

I like the cloudcasting concept, and I hope to do some music mixes there sometime soon, too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Are we (happy) yet?

I recently finished reading a book I got for Christmas, The Geography of Bliss by NPR correspondent Eric Weiner. The subtitle is "One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World."

Weiner may be a congenital grump, but I smiled - and even laughed out loud - many times while reading this "philosophical self-help humorous travel memoir." That's why I'll be listening in at 5:30 p.m. Friday (January 15) or 11 a.m. Sunday (January 17) - or via podcast - when Weiner talks with Boise State University President Bob Kustra on his New Horizons show.

On his website, Weiner is asking readers to share their happiest places. I just looked at that page and saw this on top of the list:

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. Many natural hot springs, quiet mountain passes, clear creeks. Camping is private and secluded in September. But it wouldn’t be a happy place without my husband. It’s all about the sharing. - Melissa

How about that?

Reading Weiner's book, I felt most intrigued by Iceland and Bhutan and least attracted to Qatar and Moldova. But I think it's possible to be happy pretty much anywhere, as long as you're willing to take responsibility for creating the sort of life you want. In fact, Iceland seems to be a perfect example of that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Idaho's Capitol reopens

Despite today's chilly weather, a good crowd turned out for the grand re-opening of the Idaho State Capitol. If you missed the event, you can see it on Idaho Public TV at 6:30 MT/PT tonight.

Click here for more info on the Capitol's normal operating hours, including the guided tours that will start February 1 and the new gift shop. (Hmmmm, now maybe there's part of the solution to our state's budget woes.) And click here for information on how you can follow the Idaho Legislature no matter where you live. The action starts Monday, January 11.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Filling the Macy's hole

Many of us are disappointed to hear that Macy's will be closing its downtown Boise store. I haven't been here long enough to remember the earlier retail incarnations that Tim Woodward described in his Idaho Statesman article today. I just know that, whenever I was lured by Macy's One-Day Sales or holiday blow-outs, I always tried the downtown store first to see what they had before even considering a trip to Mallville. Sure, the selection was never as good, but the vibe was friendlier.

Now the big question turns to whether and how downtown Boise can fill the void at 10th & Idaho. In Cynthia Sewell's main Statesman story today, key players including Capital City Development Corporation director Phil Kushlan and downtown revivalist Mark Rivers were fairly downbeat about the possibilities, though they said that this does give Boise an opportunity to re-imagine future uses for the space,since it's unlikely any national retailers will want it. Here are a few possibilities I'd propose:

Make it multi-use. It's unlikely that one tenant will need the 118,000 square feet Macy's occupies. Besides, some of the most compelling spaces in our downtown and those of other cities feature a mix of retail, offices, cultural attractions, and even residential space.

Boise State will continue to grow, and its campus boundaries become more porous every year. Could BSU claim part of the Macy's real estate for a downtown campus, perhaps for its political science or community and regional planning classes?

Central downtown really needs a grocery store and/or a public market. Winco's flagship behemoth is too far east to serve people living and working in the downtown core, especially people who'd like to quickly hit a store on foot at lunchtime or before heading home. Whole Foods' plans for a Boise store have been on the back burner during the downturn - but if it does move forward, perhaps it would consider taking over part of Macy's. (The first Whole Foods I ever visited, while researching for Lonely Planet in the chain's hometown of Austin, Texas, was a multi-level store.)

Perhaps the Boise Co-Op, crammed into its current Fort Street location, might take a look. Or how about a year-round, indoor public market a la Seattle's Pike Place or Vancouver's Granville Island? Yes, parking will always be an issue, but not an insurmountable one, especially for the thousands of people who will be living downtown in another decade or so.

Bowling! Say no more. Macy's basement would be a rocking spot for a bowling alley/nightclub/performance space.

What are your ideas?

Monday, January 4, 2010

My last morning on Facebook

Here's a slightly edited version of something I originally posted as a note at Facebook. In the comments there, many people said that it reflects the sort of balance they're struggling to attain in a life that's increasingly, for many of us, lived online. Enjoy, ponder, and please post any thoughts you have, too.

Here's my resolution for 2010: I won't log onto Facebook - or anywhere else online, for that matter - until after I've put in three hours each weekday morning of working without the 'net.

I love being a netizen, and I especially love Facebook. My recent tenure as communications director at the Idaho Democratic Party coincided with the period when seemingly everyone signed up on Facebook. During the 2009 Idaho Legislature, Democrats and our allies used the social media site to organize everything from a campaign calling for better child care laws to protesting the first-ever state budget cuts to our neighborhood schools. Just before the end of the year, Facebook helped rapidly spread awareness of the gubernatorial campaign of Keith Allred, who promises to move beyond hyper-partisan politics to get Idaho working again. Facebook is, hands down, the best organizing tool that political, social and community activists have today. Anyone drawing a paycheck as an organizer of any sort can now justify being on Facebook throughout one's workday.

Facebook has its personal rewards, too. From reconnecting with friends to seeking advice, it's always a cool place to hang. But I have to be honest: Too often, I find myself spending way more time on Facebook than I intend to. It's a diversion in the best sense of the word, and in the worst. There are, as my fellow writer Patti said the other day, too many shiny things to distract me from the work at hand. Some of my side trips on Facebook may well lead to a story idea or a connection that will bring a paycheck, but most will not. Now that I'm self employed again, it's important that I spend my time wisely.

Yet my resolution to stay offline each morning springs from something deeper than a desire to be productive. I feel a strong pull toward reclaiming some of the style of writing life I had when I started as a freelancer in the early 1990s. Most of us had email and were taking part in forums or list serves, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, so research and writing generally meant the sort of thing I'd learned in journalism school and practiced as a newspaper reporter: Interviewing people face to face, or at least on the phone. Showing up at an event. Going to the library or a museum archive and reading. It was all very slow and focused, and it took some real effort for me to become distracted.

Two decades into the Internet era, distraction is our way of life. We have access to tsunamis of information, and I find myself willingly chasing tangents every few minutes, if I am online. My brain has adjusted to keep up with the deluge. My soul has not. And that is why, for the start of 2010, anyway, I will be practicing media-less mornings.

From the time I begin work each morning until no less than three hours later, I will be reading and writing and creating, but I won't go online to do any of it. It will take the discipline of having a plan for things I can do each morning without the Internet. Invariably, as I write or read, I will feel a pull to go online to check a fact or scan my emails or take one quick peek at my live news feed at Facebook. But I'll resist.

Can I do this in an era when we are all expected to be hyper-connected and always available? I think so. I do not plan to fall off the grid. I will be reviewing emails and phone messages by late morning each day, and I am sure I'll be online every weekday afternoon, checking facts, researching stories, and - yes - getting caught up on Facebook.

But I'm not attempting this shift for anyone but me. After a decade spent as one of Idaho's pioneering political bloggers and someone who had to soak in an increasingly toxic bath of news and opinion nearly 24/7 for half a dozen years, my soul needs a break. No one needs my immediate reaction to anything, and the subjects I most want to write about this new decade - livable cities, neighborhood renewal, education, the arts, travel, history - are ones that require more reflection and rumination, anyway. I want to spend hours rather than minutes developing my ideas before I share them with the world. I also, generally speaking, want to be paid for most of what I write.

The Two Thousand-Oughts were a decade of intense acceleration. This is just one writer's way of saying "enough." It's time for me to slow down and think and live a more deliberate life, if only for a few hours each day.