Monday, March 31, 2008

Vote Local

‘Tis the season for Bloomington, Indiana’s Herald-Times Readers' Choice Awards.
When we were in the process of moving to our fair city, I looked all over for a Best of Bloomington list. I’ve moved a lot and find this sort of thing invaluable when settling in to an unknown place. Unfortunately, what I found was that national chains won in a lot of the categories. This is no help to the new Bloomingtonian. I know about national chains already. What I don’t know is what the local alternatives are. So don’t vote for Old Navy in every clothing category, or worse, Wal-Mart in pretty much every category. Even if it’s not where you always go, pick the local store that you wish you could always go to. Are you a Bloomingtonian who needs a little local refresher before voting? Check out Downtown Bloomington’s Directory. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a start.

And if you still don’t know who to vote for, here’s a list of who I voted for and occasionally a reason why.

Bookstore: Howard’s Bookstore
Craft Supply Store: Shiisa Quilts
In the text box at the end of the online ballot I also asked if I could write Shiisa Quilts in for the following non-existent categories: “Sewing Machine Dealer,” “Quilt Shop,” and “Fabric Shop.” In all fairness, Shiisa Quilts is truly the only Quilt Shop in town. There is one other local sewing machine dealer and, well, JoAnn’s fabrics is here, but it’s not like there’s a lot of competition. But, if Netflix can win for best video rental store, then all the local stores are in competition with online options, which as far as fabric goes are considerable. And as an avid online fabric shopper, I think Shiisa Quilts compares quite favorably both in terms of price and selection, not to mention the beautiful natural light in which to hold up your fabric and check the color.
Gift Shop: By Hand Gallery
I’ve never bought anything there, but I love the idea of it. So this is an example of me practicing what I preached when I said, “Even if it’s not where you always go, pick the local store that you wish you could always go to.” In all honestly I bought the vast majority of the gifts I gave last year at the IU Bookstore with David’s faculty discount, but if I weren’t buying IU sweatshirts for every person in my family, I imagine I would buy them something at By Hand Gallery.
Grocery Store, Health Food Store, and Place to buy Produce: Bloomingfoods Near West Side
I love Bloomingfoods. Even when the checkout elves bark at me for having an insufficient number of reusable bags, even when the deli trolls cower by the sandwich counter to avoid weighing out my pound of smoked turkey, even when they don’t have the vegetarian chili at the hot bar, I love them so. And not just any Bloomingfoods. The Near West Side Bloomingfoods. David has a crush on the Downtown Bloomingfoods, but that’s only because he picks up his coffee there on his walk home from school, like the Pusherman. Me, I’m a Near West Side girl.
Hardware Store (name & location): Bloomington Hardware Covenanter Drive
That’s a shout out to our landlord, the owner of said hardware store. And technically it is a TrueValue franchise these days. But it’s been in Bloomington since the 1880s. Can Lowes say that? I didn’t think so. Also, this is where we bought our reel lawn mower, which we love and is helping us save the planet.
Home Decor/Accessories Shop: Relish
Again, like By Hand Gallery, I’ve never bought anything at Relish. And David gets cranky every time he sees the sign because he thinks it’s going to be a cool restaurant and then it isn’t. But they sell Denise Schmidt quilts, so they must be good people.
Kid's Clothing Store: O’Child
See above re: By Hand Gallery and Relish. These folks just opened this year and that can be a tough time for a new local store. So even if you can’t afford to buy your kids clothes here, go ahead and buy at Old Navy (or Goodwill), but vote for O’Child. Tell rich parents where to spend their disposable income.
Optical Store: Optiks
These folks fixed David’s glasses and treated him like a prince, which was even more impressive because he was pretty fussy about having to get his glasses fixed.
Pet Store and Pet Grooming: Delilah’s
Augie and Izzy love Delilah’s. They have the best, most affordable, speediest, friendliest grooming we have ever experienced anywhere. We seriously brought in Augie covered in sticky little seed pods (he looked like a poppyseed muffin) and olive oil (at the same time . . . do not ask) and they had him looking like a prized show dog in under two hours.
Place to buy Liquor, Beer & Wine: Sahara Mart
OK, OK, we don’t drink, but if we did, we’d buy all our fancy wines and microbrews from Sahara Mart. David does buy coffee and tea there with some regularity. And I hear they have a great cheese selection too, not that I eat that either.
Shoe Store: Sole Sensations
They sell all sorts of shoes that are good for your feet. David got two pairs of Obays for an insanely good price. And the service is fantastic.
Auto Repair: Mission Auto Shop
Our formerly local source for all B-town knowledge (aka Gentle Reader, aka Thalia), recommended Mission and they’ve lived up to the high standards we expect from anyone she recommended.
Bank/Credit Union: IU Credit Union
Dental Office: Allen Linnemeier DDS
See above re: Mission Auto. Dr. Linnemeier was the most reasonable dentist ever, both in terms of cost (we don't have dental insurance) and in terms of dealing with people who haven't been to the dentist in awhile. Though I have not gotten over the fact he gave David's dental hygiene an A- and mine a B+. I will floss my way to greatness!
Dry Cleaners: Crosstown Cleaners
Health Club/Gym: YMCA
Veterinarian Office: College Mall Veterinary Hospital
See above re: Mission Auto and Dr. Linnemeier. Dr. Kraus at the CMVH has been a superstar with Augie and Izzy. Just recently they had to go in on short notice and we saw another doctor who was equally awesome, so Dr. K isn’t the exception.
Park/Playground: Bryan Park
Radio Station: WFHB
OK, OK, so technically I probably clock more hours on WFIU but that’s only because of NPR and the fact I can’t easily switch between stations on the iHome. I love the midday talk programming on WFHB and when they do play music the deejays are very eclectic in an interesting way.
Monroe County Restaurant and Fine Dining: Farm

We went here for New Years Eve and it rocked our gustatory world. Technically, we’ve been to Tallent more frequently and Tallent is pretty awesome, but every time we go there something is just a little off. Like one time the side dish was super yummy, but the main dish was nothing to write home about. And for that amount of money, everything should be write-home-about material. But I’m not a hater, I’m a congratulator. Congratulations on your relatively recent grand opening, Farm!
Bagels: Bloomington Bagel Company
These are the best bagels anywhere on the planet. And they have this smores bar that we’ve been trying to reverse engineer for months. I think it’s a graham flour shortbread base, but I don’t understand how they prevent the melted marshmallows from melting the chocolate chips. But I'll keep trying to perfect these at home, even if I have to get diabetes in the process.
Bakery and Lunch Spot: Scholars Inn Bakehouse Downtown
Breakfast: Runcible Spoon
This was one of the first restaurants we ate at in Bloomington and my impression of it only improved after I took a cooking class at the Bloomington Cooking School with the Runcible's executive chef William Neal.
Chinese Food: Chow Bar
We suffered through many other Chinese food restaurants until we found Chow Bar. The sesame chicken is to die for.
Deli/Subs and Fast Food: The Village Deli
Their motto is “Eat and Get Out.” Doesn’t get any faster than that.
Desserts: BLUBoy
They made my birthday cake and it was AWESOME! Their cupcakes also rock if you can’t justify ordering a whole cake, or you need an instant fix. And their cupcake boxes are a wonder in package engineering.
French Fries and Hamburger: Upland Brewing Company
Italian Food: Grazie
Mexican Food: Casa Brava
We have suffered through every other Mexican restaurant in town and only recently found this place. It is in fact the best Mexican restaurant we have ever been to.
Other Ethnic Cuisine: Esan Thai
Pizza: Mother Bears
Romantic Restaurant: Trulli Flatbread
P.S. You know you live one of the top ten places to retire to when “Hearing Aid Store” and “Retirement Community” are categories in the Reader’s Choice Awards.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

QR Code Generator

When my geek fell out last month about's random bitmap generator I had no idea this juicy nugget of procrastination was out there: a free QR Code Generator. If you scanned the image in this post it would say, "So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. - William Carlos Williams" Today's New York Times Magazine has an article about the QR generator and the creativity it has spawned. About a year ago the Technology section of the New York Times did an article about the rise of this type of code.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The vicious cycle of making a living

(4:15:54 PM) Sarah: I think my quilt shop hates me.
(4:16:19 PM) me (Goog): :( Why? Do you give them fake money?
(4:16:31 PM) Sarah: No, I give them lots of real money.
(4:17:29 PM) Sarah: But I ask for stuff they don't have and I think I was sort of in the middle of a dispute between an employee and the owner in that I think the employee thinks they ought to stock everything people ask for and I think the owner is worried about not moving the inventory left over when one person finishes their project.
(4:18:00 PM) Sarah: Which is totally legit, but don't get cranky at me because your employee disagrees with you.
(4:18:25 PM) me (Goog): Right on. So you're saying your quilt shop owner is irrationally mean to you.
(4:18:32 PM) me (Goog): Because you've asked for things.
(4:18:36 PM) Sarah: Yes.
(4:19:07 PM) Sarah: And I totally understand why she doesn't want to stock these things I've asked for, and I'm totally cool with that.
(4:19:44 PM) me (Goog): Ah. Well, probably true. One spring day, however, they'll get over it. In a moment of happy clarity, it will occur to them that they have no good reason to be jerky to you, and so they will try not being jerky as a change of pace, and find that the flavor of that is rather refreshing after all.
(4:20:30 PM) Sarah: And I kinda wonder if the owner is just not much of a people person, which is a bit of a problem, what with quilters being people.
(4:22:13 PM) me (Goog): Probably so. Quilting, bees aside, is not innately an interactive experience. One could easily get into the business without being a people person. The same is true of most niches -- comic shop owners are famously stereotyped this way.
(4:23:03 PM) Sarah: Totally right on and valid comparison to comic shop owners.
(4:24:26 PM) me (Goog): It's an interesting dynamic. People actually often get into a business like coffee or comics or quilts because they like the THINGS, not because they love the idea of serving the needs of other PEOPLE who like the THINGS. (If you were _actually_ a people person, you'd be successful in more mainstream customer service like restaurants, sales, etc.)
(4:24:48 PM) Sarah: Totally.
(4:25:22 PM) Sarah: And this is why I am not in a customer service job.
(4:26:10 PM) me (Goog): EXACTLY the same thing can be said of mathematics professors. All disciplines, really, although not necessarily ALL professors. Just the overwhelming majority.
And actually being in the business tends to make you LESS of a people person, since customers are famously the worst sort of relationships.
(4:26:45 PM) me (Goog): As a wise Alphan said about moving on from tech support, "you have to learn to stop hating the users."
(4:26:56 PM) Sarah: Right on!
(4:27:07 PM) Sarah: You should write a post about this.
(4:27:21 PM) me (Goog): True.
(4:27:26 PM) Sarah: You have much knowledge to share with Thalia and Joel Berg.
(4:28:29 PM) me (Goog): LOL

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Democratic Philanthropy

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, raised a very legitimate question in a comment to my previous post on Free Market Versus Legislative Philanthropy.* He asked the question that all complainers should be asked, “Do you have a better alternative?”

Before I answer that question, I should clarify that I agree with Mr. Berg’s proposal of taxing the wealthy more equitably and allowing society as a whole to determine how excess wealth should be spent. Getting this excess wealth into government coffers would likely address the concerns raised in my Jan 29th post in that it is highly likely our troops would become properly equipped, most likely children would actually be taught in public schools, and probable that WIC and food stamps would continue and be streamlined. I feel Mr. Berg’s solution would adequately address all of those most deserving causes, which are not sufficiently funded presently. And maybe that is the best we can do. As they say, “Our democracy isn't a perfect system of government, it's just better than the alternatives.”

My concern lies in allowing the legislative process to determine how excess wealth should be spent. I have little fear that the legislative process would fail its worthy citizens in need. But the measure of a society is not in how it treats its most worthy citizens, but how it treats its least worthy. **

I do fear that the legislative process would fail to support less popular causes: rights of the accused, rights of prisoners, rights of sex offenders, rights of Islamic fundamentalists, rights of drug addicts, rights of sex workers, rights of people I didn't think of and lots of people don't think of either.

So after much contemplation here’s my proposal: MORE democracy rather than less would result in better use of wealth. Tax the rich more like Berg suggests, but also make the populace's control more direct. With the ubiquity of the internet, federal spending referenda are potentially practical now, and using voting intelligently (for example, by allocating funds proportional to voting percentage, rather than "winner takes all") might achieve spending with more variety and more equity of interest than filtering through political representation.

Of course, the people least served by government are those who don't take part in it, for example felons, non-citizens, and the ever increasing group of people who by law or by logistics are prevented from voting in government elections. Without a vote, the legislature has no self-interest in catering to them. Serving the interests of those who don't/can't vote is always a dilemma, and moving toward an Internet poll-driven democracy won't change that. But the internet has proved its worth at uniting disparate people with common interests, so the voice of those who speak for the unpopular and internet voiceless might be able to be heard better through a web poll than in the halls of Congress.

The Combined Federal Campaign might be a model for this, both for its strengths (in 2004, contributions were $256 million) and weaknesses (charities have to qualify for inclusion).

A cynic (for argument’s sake let’s call him Bob) might say no matter how you try to tie the government's hands, once the money is "theirs", it's up to Congress to discipline itself. If their inability to keep their hands off Social Security is any indication, we’re in trouble. Just transferring personal wealth of the rich into the generic government coffer that's subject to political whims is heavy-handed (though straightforward). What if the taxpayer is given a few options of charitable funds where a large chunk of his taxes will go? This sidesteps Congress (after they pass such a law) and gives the wealthy some discretion (if they have to pay, they might as well decide who'd best spend the money). This need not be equivalent to charitable donations. These funds could be private foundations that act as supercharities, like the United Way, or Hands On Atlanta, with the mandate to move the money on to charities covering broad swathes of causes. Of course in theory the legislature is held more accountable to us than privately run charities, but in practice that seems not to be borne out.

Again, while you ponder a better alternative to my alternative, please play Free Rice.

* Can I just completely geek out for a moment about how totally awesome it is that Joel Berg commented on my post? And how thoughtfully he did so? Thank you, Mr. Berg, or the super awesome intern at NYCCAH charged with responding in his stead. Either way, you totally made my day. (back)

** This is an aphorism that is not original to me, but I cannot find its source. For many years I credited it to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but perhaps I should have been crediting the high school English class in which we read The Brothers Karamazov. To the best of my knowledge it is the confluence of the following. As Home Secretary in 1910, Winston Churchill observed that: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country.” Elkin, W., The English Penal System. London: Penguin (1957), at 277. Dostoevsky wrote that: “A society which looks upon such things [as the harsh punishment of its citizen] with an indifferent eye is already infected to the marrow…” Dostoevsky, F., The House of the Dead. London: Dent (1962), at 194. Cf. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 449 (1962): “The methods we employ in the enforcement of our criminal law have aptly been called the measures by which the quality of our civilization may be judged.” (back)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Free Market Versus Legislative Philanthropy

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger wrote an excellent letter in response to the New York Times Magazine's March 9th issue, which was, in Mr. Berg's words, "dedicated to a discussion of how the wealthiest Americans can best have an impact on philanthropy." I must confess that between SXSW and the vortex of recycling I have not yet read said issue. But, as you may recall, I have been pondering issues of philanthropy as previously expressed in my post on Charitable Giving and Your Tax Rebate.

Mr. Berg sums up my underlying concerns eloquently.

Is the nation’s reliance on voluntary, uncoordinated charity — provided by people who may benefit from massive tax cuts — the best way to solve pressing social problems?
Modern American society seems to accept as a given that the wealthiest should have unfettered free choice to spend their billions on vacation homes, multimillion-dollar bequests to their pets or donations to charities, including well-funded medical, cultural and educational institutions.

I agree with his concerns, but I'm not totally sold on his proffered solution.
In contrast, most Western European nations tax the wealthy far more equitably, and their societies as a whole, through their democratically elected representatives, determine how excess wealth should be spent. Such countries have stronger social safety nets and less homelessness and poverty than America.

What of the tyranny of the majority? Would the same democratically elected legislators who pass ever-escalating mandatory minimum sentences and Orwellian punishments for sex offenders also vote to fund indigent defense funds for the objects of their "tough on crime" policies? Or would they add earmarks, like funding homeless shelters but only if they do not house ex-cons?

Again, while you ponder the answers to these questions, please play Free Rice.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Quilts in the News

My new local quilt shop, Shiisa, has an adorable blog with a great link to the video of Ricky Timms on CBS News.
This reminded me to post a link to the New York Times Style Magazine Design Spring 2008 issue's brief blurb (and a gorgeous picture) about the new International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska.
I'd expect this sort of information in my Quilters Newsletter, but the NYTimes? Is quilting the new knitting? Have I stumbled into a cool craft?

Monday, March 17, 2008


I just returned from my first SXSW. I stayed at the Austin Motel in SoCo, which is almost too hip for it's own good as evidenced by the fact that almost everything in design*sponge's Austin Design Guide was within a one mile radius. If you ever go to Austin, and you should, stay at the Austin Motel. The water pressure in the shower was nothing to write home about but the wonderful people at the front desk (seriously more helpful and friendly than any Ritz I've stayed at), the unique room decor, the adorable kidney shaped pool, the adjacent El Sol y La Luna restaurant, and the neighborhood make up for it a hundred times over.

I'll share more once I've unpacked.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Quilting Hangover

I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show. This was my first quilt show ever. From the grumblings of some of the other visitors, I gleaned that there weren't as many quilts on display as at some of the bigger shows. But there were quilts from all over the country, and maybe a couple from overseas. Some of the quilts were truly amazing. Detailed piecing. Delicate applique. Quilting more dense than you can imagine. On the other hand there were some people's first quilts, which were cute, but probably not worth the price of admission. There were two Dear Jane quilts, one by an amateur and one by a professional. The amateur's won a ribbon. The professional's didn't. At first I thought it might be that the competition in the professional division was at a higher level. But then I looked closely at both and you could see that the ribbon-winner pieced more accurately, quilted in a more interesting way, made more interesting fabric choices, fussy cut a lot of the pieces, and it hung straighter - which is a sign that the construction was more consistent throughout the process. There is hope for us amateurs!

Edit to add: Robert Genn's Twice a Week Letter had this to say about amateurs:

"Amateurism can induce clear sight and creative optimism. At least you are not held in check by a lot of stuff you already know."

Thursday I took a machine quilting class from Sue Nickels. Friday and Saturday I took a Lone Star class from Jan Krentz. My sewing machine up and died fairly early on in the Sue Nickels class, which was about free-motion quilting, a process that does ask a lot of a basic machine like mine. Luckily an angel in the form of a Bernina dealer saved me with a free loaner of an Activa 230 PE. I got to practice most of the techniques and start on my larger project. And it turns out her daughter was at the Middlebury program in Madrid at the same time as David. Small world!

That night I took my dead sewing machine home and tried to revive it. I got it stitching a straight stitch with only a few skipped stitches every few inches, so I thought it might get me through the Lone Star class. But as soon as I plugged it in and ran a test scrap through it, it totally keeled over again. Thank goodness a student in another class who was renting a Bernina got ill and dropped out of her class so the Bernina angel brought me that Bernina, which I was able to use for the rest of the two-day class. I eventually caught up with the slowest person in the class and Jan Krentz was a superstar about managing a class with WIDELY varied skill levels and speeds.

Today I feel like I have a hangover. I don't drink. I think it was the three days of non-stop quilting. I feel like I need to sleep until I pick up my new (well, it was a classroom loaner, like the one I borrowed, so I'm getting it for a discount) sewing machine from Shiisa Quilts on Tuesday. :)