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.