Recently in Austin Category

Adios

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The truck is full. The house is empty. And my heart, I'm pretty sure, is broken.

It's been a time, Texas.

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Oh that is always so bittersweet. Good luck, Grace!

I hope you have a grand time on the east coast.

A huge good luck for your new journey ahead!

I hate that feeling that you have when you walk through the empty house making sure that you've gotten everything, and just... remembering. You're right... heartbreaking... a place where you lived and loved.

Thankfully many adventures and more living, and more loving awaits.

I know this has got to be so hard. But I hope that this part of the world - as weird as it can be - is a good place for you for as long as you need it to be.

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Date night!

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Mark and Grace on date nightI haven't told you this yet, but Mark turned in his dissertation last week. He still has to do his oral defense (a week from tomorrow), but he's more or less done. In celebration of that fact, we went to a very nice dinner last night at a local restaurant, Zoot. Aren't we cute? Our sweet neighbor, Mary, took a few pictures of us before we left.

The menu at Zoot was very nice. I actually thought it looked a little bit tame when reading it, but the execution of every single thing we had was so good that really, I think the menu is just understated. The room is comfortable and casual and they have a great outdoor space. The waitstaff was wonderful--very friendly, and our waitress brought Mark a free glass of wine after she saw me "reprimanding" him for stealing too much of mine. If you live in central Austin, Zoot is pretty far out (it's on Bee Caves), but it is a nice drive and really lovely out there.

For the curious, this is what we had:
First Course
Mark: Charcuterie and chicken liver pate with chopped tapenade and tarragon mustard
Adami "Garbel" Prosecco, Colbertado, Italy
Me: Grilled curry stuffed quail with pickled mango salad
2006 Domaine Adele Rouze, Loire Valley

Second Course
Mark: Chilled fennel soup
Me: Spinach salad with spicy fried garbanzo beans, marinated pequillo peppers, and sherry vinagrette
2006 Chateau Benoit, Muller Thurgau, Oregon

Third Course
Mark: Grilled ahi with potatoes dauphine, frisse, green beans, and poached egg
Light Oregon pinot noir
Me: Rack of lamb with sweet potato and purple potato gratin and garlic mustard greens
Heavy Oregon pinot noir

Dessert
We split honey cheesecake with burnt sugar and gingerbread crust and lemon-thyme sauce
Coffee

While everything was great, the standouts for me were my curry stuffed quail and the Oregno pinot I had, which I cannot for the life of me remember the name of (that was the wine of which our waitress so kindly brought us an extra glass). The lamb was also prepared perfectly. The ony things I didn't care for were my greens (and that's just a matter of taste--Mark loved them) and the cheesecake crust (same thing). There were really no weak spots in the service or the food.

Another boon was a tip I got to go over to restaurant.com and pick up a gift certificate to cover part of the meal. I paid $5 ($10 with a 50% off code of MOTHER) for a $25 certificate, printed it out from my home printer, and used it with absolutely no issues. $20 off the meal with very very little trouble. As several of our other favorite restaurants locally are listed on the site as well, it's definitely something I will use again.

All in all, it was a really lovely date night. If you are local, I definitely recommend Zoot. Also, for vegetarians, there is a veggie tasting menu, called the "Farmer's Menu," that sounds fantastic.

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Big Congrats to Mark! Definitely something to celebrate. You guys look so great! And wowza on the food. Everything sounds so good. I love quail, when cooked properly, it's amazing. I wish we could get more OR wines over here. If you figure out the name of the wine, let me know, I'd love to try it.

Also check out your local radio and tv station websites. Ours do half-priced dining where you can by $50 gift cert. for $25. Pretty good deal in my book, but similar to what you got.

Cute couple. ;-)
Congratulations to Mark! Sounds like you had a great meal with a frugal twist too, smart thing to do with the coupon. Funny, coupons are definitely not common here and if you ever get one, the staff gets very suspicious and almost take a magnifying glass to see if it's real. :-)

Christine

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Three cheers for Austin's pizza!

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Mark and I like pizza. We order it a couple of times a month. But it has to be decent local pizza, Mark won't touch Pizza Hut with a ten-foot pole. After trying several of the local Austin chains (well, the ones that deliver in our neighborhood, anyway), we settled on Austin's Pizza as our deliverer of choice. Local, fresh ingredients, and frequent coupons.

Then we went through a period where we got several not-quite right orders in a row. Twice I was delivered Diet Pepsi rather than regular. Once our "hold the Canadian bacon, add sausage" pizza turned up with no sausage and extra Canadian bacon. Then we got an almost inedible undercooked pizza, and I sent a polite but firm email to their customer service address telling Austin's Pizza that while we would love to continue our relationship with them, we needed some assurance the quality would be better first.

Within 24 hours, I received a lovely email in return, apologizing, assuring that a manager would look into the problems at the location from which we're ordering, and giving us a pizza on the house. Problem solved. We've ordered many times since then and it's been great each time.

Until last night, at which point I wrote the following email:

I am sorry to be writing you again about this. A few months ago, I wrote about the quality issues we'd been having with pizzas ordered from you. You kindly gave us an order credit and said the problem would be fixed. And it has been--since then, our pizzas (we order at least a couple a month) have been great! Tonight was no exception--we got exactly what we ordered, quickly, and the pizza was excellent.
The problem was that we also ordered a Zilker salad, and at least 1/3 of the greens in the salad were slimy/bad. I understand that it is hard to keep greens fresh in Austin climate, but honestly, when I pay $10 for a salad, I expect to be able to eat it all. I noticed that the date field on the sticker on the lid of the salad says "2." Does this mean the salad was put together on the 2nd? Since today is the 6th, I expect if that is the case it explains why so many of the greens were beginning to decompose. I've gotten the Zilker salad before and found it to be excellent, and tonight ordered from you specifically because I wanted a nice salad, so this was a major disappointment.
I really wish Austin Pizza would focus more on quality control. We love to be able to support a local business like you, but we have to be able to feel secure that when we come home from work tired and order food, that food will be eatable when it arrives.

This morning, less than 18 hours later, I received the following response:

I am so sorry about the quality of your salad. We have struggled with this issue and employed the sticker dating to prevent this gross and embarrassing problem from happening to our customers. The stores are supposed to date the salads so they know when to toss them out. The salads are not supposed to stay in the cooler for more than 36 hours. At any rate, our operations manager has been made aware of the situation and will make sure the Farwest store has the proper procedures in place. Meanwhile, I will have the cost of that salad refunded back to your card.

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We will correct it immediately.

We see it so infrequently anymore I am not sure all my readers will recognize this--it's called customer service, and it's a dying art. Austin's Pizza will keep my business, even though I normally wouldn't give this many chances. Why? Because they reply to complaints politely and quickly, give a refund if appropriate, and tell you specifically what they are doing to remedy the problem. That's worth something to me.

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Three cheers for good customer service! If you think it's a dying art in the US, try testing it out in the UK. It's almost non-existent, I tell you. I was yelled at a few weeks ago by a postman at the collection depot because I didn't know the correct procedure for picking up a package that was left there for me. He then muttered "Bloody woman" under his breath when he turned around. Cheeky bugger.

My name is JD, and I own Austin's Pizza. Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate the complaints and the compliments. We need both to survive.

It is our goal to do the right thing every time. This means delivering the correct items when and how we promise.

I also appreciate your patience with us. While not 100% (not sure we can get all the way there), my hope is that we always have the opportunity to make things right. I am grateful folks like you always let us know.

We treat our employees with the respect they deserve, and they treat our customers the same. I think it shows in your examples here.

Thanks agin.

Question for the ignorant...what's Canadian bacon? Is it what we Canadians call back bacon?

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Drinking in Austin

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Last week, Forbes named Austin "the hardest-drinking city in America." In evidence of this claim, the magazine cites a CDC report saying that 61.5% of adult residents of Austin have had at least one drink in the past month, and 20.6% admit to "binge drinking" (five or more drinks on one occasion) at least once in the last month. The article goes on to postulate that these high numbers are in part due to the large population of college students here, who tend to drink a lot and often.

I say "eh."

Yeah, this is a hard-drinking city. People like to party here. I've gone out to drink more here than I ever did in Portland (and frankly it's still not very often). The heat makes me want to drink. The culture makes me want to drink. Some days, being around so many undergrads makes me want to drink. However, I don't get a feeling of depressing alcoholism here like I have in other cities. The drinking here seems, by and large, fun. Portland (number 13 on Forbes' list) was definitely seedier. Interestingly, the U.S. city that strikes me as the most depressingly drunk--Las Vegas--didn't make the list at all.

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I think in Vegas that's visitors, not residents. From the stats it seems like they only polled residents. I wonder how that works with college students?

Have you been to Milwaukee? "Depressingly drunk" is a great descriptor.

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Etsy Austin

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Local and handmade, what could be better? Here are a few Austin-local Etsy favorites I've run across:

katinkapinkas kirtKatinka Pinka makes wonderful, unusual jewelry and beautiful wrap skirts. She charges sales tax to us locals, but S&H is always free. My favorite of her stuff is this green Secret Bumble wrap skirt. It's $59, which is maybe a bit high, but it is really lovely and looks well-made. My only real complaint is that according to the description, it only fits up to a size 12.

mother necessity skirtMother Necessity also makes wrap skirts, or at least one, this cute pink one, and as they are intended for pregnant and post-pregnant women, they might actually fit me. And, good news, Mother Necessity is a brand new shop and she says her wrap skirt offerings will soon be expanding! Prices are similar to Katinka Pinka--$55 plus $5.95 S&H in this case, and quality looks similar as well. Mother Necessity also sells slings, bibs, and burp clothes.

maoilosa pendantWashi by Maoiliosa sells washi paper jewelry, and she's currently having a 10% off Mother's Day sale (through May 5)! My favorite of her current stock is this lovely blue tsunami coin pendant, which comes with its ribbon necklace and is only $11 plus $3 S&H.

elefeltJM Day's offerings are mostly felted items that come from recycled sweaters, an idea I love. I am particularly enamored by elefelt, a striped stuffed recycled wool elephant. He's just a little guy--5"X7" or so, but he's so cute and so environmentally responsible! I'd definitely consider him for a new baby gift. He costs $21 plus $2.50 US shipping.

the furyFinally, I have to turn your attention to prints by UneFemme. She's got some awesome stuff, some of it a bit macabre in that good way, she is currently having a BOGO sale (just through tomorrow, though, so act now)! My favorite of her featured items is The Fury, a mixed media tree print (it mixes text from architectural magazines with watercolor). It's 8"X10" and she's asking $20 plus $3 shipping for it.

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March giving/List 4: Local charities

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In November, I posted about I Live Here, I Give Here, which is an Austin campaign to make people aware of local charitable organization and non-profits and increase giving. As one of my giving goals for 2008 was to increase local-level giving, it's a great resource for me. In honor of NaBloPoMo: The List Edition, here is a list of some places I'd like to give to this year, many of which I discovered through I Live Here, I Give Here:

1. Femme Film Texas
"Femme Film Texas teaches filmmaking and internet publishing to young women and girls through hands-on educational programs that promote media literacy and encourage self-expression."

2. Health Alliance for Austin Musicians
"The mission of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians is to provide access to affordable health care for Austin's low income, uninsured musicians, focusing on prevention and wellness."

3. Rude Mechanicals Grrl Action
"Grrl Action helps teenage girls find voice and vision through the power of performance."

4. Seedling Foundation
"The Seedling Foundation supports public schools by encouraging and facilitating community involvement. Major program areas include a school-based mentoring program, which matches children of incarcerated parents with caring adults in the Austin area community and public school campus beautification projects at low-income public schools."

5. PeopleFund
"PeopleFund is a nonprofit financial institution that promotes financial opportunity and stability for low income people by assisting them to: build successful small businesses, purchase safe and affordable homes, achieve financial security and independence and, form prosperous communities through providing fair and just loan products, training in business management, financial literacy and homebuyer preparedness."

6. Breakthrough Austin
"Breakthrough provides a path to college, starting in middle school, for low-income students who will be first-generation college graduates. The program admits students as 6th graders and makes a six-year commitment to helping them graduate from high school and enter college."

7. Coalition for Emotional Literacy
"We believe there is a direct correlation between animal abuse, family violence, and criminal behaviors. We strive to increase positive behaviors and diminish destructive behaviors towards humans and non-humans through education programs. We also establish temporary shelters for pets of families fleeing abusive conditions and seniors that go in for extended care."

8. Girlstart
"Girlstart is a non-profit organization created to empower girls to excel in math, science, and technology. Founded in 1997 in Austin, Texas, Girlstart has quickly established itself as a best-case practices leader in empowering, educating, and motivating girls to enjoy and become more proficient in math, science and technology."

9. Truth be Told
"Truth Be Told is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing transformational tools for women behind and beyond bars."

10. People's Community Clinic
"People's Community Clinic works to improve the health of medically underserved and uninsured Central Texans by providing high quality, affordable healthcare. 1 in 4 Central Texas has no health insurance. We deliver a full range of primary care and wellness services to the 11,000 patients who call the Clinic their medical home."

There are, of course, dozens of other worthy organizations listed. However, I'm keeping it to 10 to highlight this month. For my own personal giving dollars, I am choosing Truth be Told for March.

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The mental state of me

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Since I have had not one but several emails over the past few days inquiring as to whether or not I am OK (one of which said that the writer had "sensed a disturbance in the Force," which I am just geeky enough to love), I thought maybe I'd better make an announcement.

I'm just fine. The past couple of weeks (since I got back from Norway, really) have been very tough, but not for anything but the most mundane reason: it's high cedar season in here in lovely Austin, Texas and my allergies have been kicking. my. ass. Basically, I am irritable, stupid, and at about 5% breathing capacity. Also, I snore. So I am a total joy to live with. But it's nothing insurmountable, and in fact I think (knock wood) that the worst of it may have past.

As always, I am astounded and humbled that folks notice, just from online presence or lack thereof, that something is up with me. Truly, I am blessed.

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yeah mychy asked me how you were too! i know how horrible allergies can make the rest of your life. :(

Ick. I hope you feel better soon!!

Hey, there's something I've been wondering about, and I thought you would be the perfect person to ask. I want to get/read a book about the history of feminism, starting with or before suffrage. The problem is that I usually hate reading non-fiction...so something more story-oriented (aka not dry) would be good. Any suggestions?

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Handmade haul

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I've been buying a lot of handmade stuff recently, but haven't been able to share descriptions or pictures of it here, because most of it is intended as gifts for people who may be reading this blog. Yesterday, however, I attended the Wheatsville Arts Festival, one of my favorite annual Austin events, and bought a boatload of stuff just for me. Which means I can share!
wheatsville arts haul
(The photo shows two stacks of homemade soap, two sets of hand-thrown pottery bowls, one blue and one green, and three brightly colored handmade headbands.)

Above you'll see my haul from yesterday. The sets of bowls in the back are made by a local potter who sells her wares under the name "Mudslinger Pottery." I've bought from her for three years now. Last year, I bought a large bowl with the same glaze pattern as the green bowls shown in this picture. I love her stuff because it's not only gorgeous, it's super-durable, microwave and dishwasher safe, and lead-free. It's also really reasonably priced--these bowls were only $10 each, and her larger ones are generally $20-$30.

To the left of the bowls is a stack of soap from Herbal Soapworks. They're vegan, olive oil based soaps scented with essential oils. No nasty stuff. I bought three bars, one in lemongrass, one in orange chamomile, and one in lavender. They were $4.50 each or 3/$12. I haven't tried them yet, but I'll let you know how they are. They are rumored to be long-lasting with a dense lather.

To the right is another stack of soap, these by Fleegal Farms. They're not all olive oil based, but also contain palm and palm kernel oils. However, they are again scented with only essential oils and colored with natural pigments. My stack includes a pumpkin spice soap, a peppermint swirls soap, a lavender fields soap, and a clay facial soap. These too were $4.50 each, or 4/$16.

Finally, in the middle, you see three handmade fabric headbands from The Crafty Monkey. The Crafty Monkey makes not only accessories, but also quilted art, and she had some amazing stuff in her stall. I love these headbands because they are made of 100% cotton, fantastic prints, are reversible, and actually fit on my giant cranium. She makes stitched, silk, quilted, and ribbon versions as well. These were a bit spendy at $9 each, but given my current state of hair grow-out, very much worth it.

All of which is to say only this--buy handmade! For Christmas, for yourself. The stuff is way cooler than what you'd find in the store, it's not that much more expensive, and you are supporting someone's art. What could be better?

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Empty Bowl Project

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Today is World Food Day. All over, there are events to raise money to feed those who need feeding and remind those of us who are lucky enough to have constantly full bellies that we live in great privilege. One of my favorite of these projects is the Empty Bowls Project. In an Empty Bowls Project, participants make clay bowls and serve soup in them to guests, who pay a suggested donation (usually $10-$20) for the soup and then keep the bowls, to remind them there are empty bowls all over the world. The donations fund projects working towards ending hunger.

Here in Austin, there is an Empty Bowl Project at Clayworks Studio on Burnet every Sunday before Thanksgiving. That's this Sunday, November 18, from 11am-3pm, at 5442 Burnet Rd. The suggested donation is $15 per bowl. Local restaurants provide soup and there is live music. Get there early, because last year I came late and there was a line around the block.

If you aren't local, you can go here and see if there is an Empty Bowls Event in your neck of the woods.

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I would like to go to this, however the one nearest me is only from 3pm-6pm? What weird times. Who wants dinner at 3? It's also on a weekday, so pretty impossible. Weird.

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I Live Here, I Give Here

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On my travels through the Internets today, I came upon something I didn't know about: the website for the I Live Here, I Give Here campaign. Basically, the deal is that Austin is ranked 48th of the 50 largest cities in the country when it comes to charitable giving (though, interestingly third in volunteerism), and this campaign is striving to increase charitable giving by Austin residents by educating them about community needs and the organizations that are in place to meet those needs.

The goal of the campaign is to get Austin residents donating 3% of their incomes, while working towards 5%. Giving that church-based tithing is generally 10%, that seems doable. Right now, the average American household gives 3.2% of its (post-tax, I think) income to charity.

I think the campaign has the right idea--people would give more if they knew how and where their money could be best used. As for myself, their goals and the use of their handy giving calculator (under "How do you compare?") have once again opened my eyes to how much more I should be doing. I'm giving less than 2% of my take-home right now. Given my fairly low financial responsibilities (no kids), I ought to be doing better. And I am hoping this campaign will help me to find ways to do that. I'll definitely be re-checking their site when I decide on December's blog-highlighted charities.

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That *is* really interesting that Austin ranks so low in charitable giving but so high in volunteering. It represents a different mentality to others in that money can't fix everything. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely 100% support (and participate in) active giving but doing hands on volunteer work isn't something to be sneezed at. So many more people are willing to open their check books than their homes or hearts so I find that commendable.

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Election results

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Local election results are here, but to summarize, everything passed, and voter turn-out was something like 8.5% overall.

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Get your election on

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So tomorrow is Election Day. A lot of people don't bother to vote in elections that don't have national level implications, and that's too bad--in many ways, local level elections, like the one held tomorrow, are more important, or at least have more direct impact on our lives. However, voting in these types of elections is generally a lot harder, as information about them isn't as prevalent. It takes actual effort to find out about the candidates and ballot measures presented to us, rather than having had them shoved done our throats for several months beforehand. I don't know if this is a good thing, though it's certainly less irritating, since most people just don't want to spend the effort to show up at their polling places, much less educate themselves beforehand.

So...in the spirit of helping out my community (not that I think many Austinites actually read this blog, but you never know), I present a brief guide to tomorrow's election. I make no claims about being unbiased.

The following are proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution:

Proposition 1: Angelo State University Amendment
This measure changes Angelo State University from part of the Texas State University System to part of the Texas Tech University System. You can read the full text here. This is basically a "constitutional cleanup" amendment and doesn't seem to have any significant opposition. I'll vote for it.

Proposition 2: Student Loan Amendment
This amendment authorizes the Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue $500 million in general bond obligations to fund student loans. The full text is here. The pros and cons here are pretty clear: pro, affordable education; con, this program is supposed to be self-supporting, but if that doesn't work out, the state will be responsible for the money. My bias here is probably pretty obvious--I think the state of available financial aid is scandalous and new paths for students to get their educations are absolutely essential, so I'll be voting for this one.

Proposition 3: Home Appraisal Value Amendment
This amendment caps increases in appraised value of residences at 10% per year, regardless of the length of time since the last appraisal. Full text is here. The argument for the measure is that it would end "sticker shock" appraisals in which people's home values increase a huge amount when they haven't been appraised for a while. The argument against is that it would make appraisals more frequent and might be unnecessary. It seems unnecessary to me, and it smells like a way to get out of paying property taxes somehow, so unless I hear differently before tomorrow, I'll be voting against it.

Proposition 4: Maintenance, Construction Bonds Amendment
This one authorizes the state to issue up to $1 million in bonds to pay for maintenance, construction, and equipment. Full text here. The cons are the usual--unsupervised and possibly unnecessary spending. The pros are also typical--not deferring maintenance, making things like asbestos in state buildings go away. This also is intended to build a new facility for Texas Youth Commission. More than anything else on the ballot, this seems contentious to me, so I went to look for a list of who is supporting it and who isn't. Which of course I can't find, because compared to Oregon, Texas does a really lousy job of providing its voters with information. After digging around some, I came to the conclusion that this measure is more about building new prisons than it is updating state buildings and supporting state parks, so I'll probably be voting against it.

Proposition 5: Small City Downtown Property Amendment
This is an amendment to provide tax incentives to downtown revitalization projects in small towns. The full text is here. On the pro side, it would be good for city growth and revitalization, and likely tourism. On the con side, it would probably be an unfair tax policy favoring businesses. I don't see a big need for this, and I'm afraid it would end up helping big retailers like Wal-Mart, so I'll be voting against it.

Proposition 6: Motor Vehicle Exemption Amendment
This amendment provides a motor vehicle tax exemption for one vehicle per person used for both business and personal use. The full text is here. It is intended to help small businesspeople. Arguments against it are both that it doesn't go far enough (why just one vehicle?) and that vehicles should be taxed like any other property. It sort of falls under "I don't care" for me, so I'll likely vote against it.

Proposition 7: Eminent Domain Amendment
This one is kind of confusing. As best I can tell, what it does is allow property owners whose property has been acquired by the government by means of eminent domain laws to buy back their property for the same price that was paid to them if it is not used within 10 years for the reasons for which it was first acquired. The text is here. It is intended to "stop indiscriminate use of eminent domain" and treat property owners more fairly (currently they have to buy back at market rate, I guess). Cons are the ubiquitous "unnecessary legislation" and the claim that the property owner would get an unfair financial windfall by not paying market price. Eminent domain laws kind of make me itch. I think I'll probably vote for this.

Proposition 8: Home Equity Loans Amendment
This amendment is for "clarification" of existing home equity laws. One of the most important provisions is to waive the one-year requirement between home equity loan applications in the case of natural disaster. The full text is here. The pros are clear--cleaning up confusing language to protect homeowners, make provisions for disaster situations. The biggest con is that it may provide too little protection to homeowners. Seems to me that some is better than none, and the disaster stuff could be essential in the hurricane-prone parts of the state, so I'll vote for it.

Proposition 9: Disabled Vet Tax Amendment
This amendment allows for property tax relief for disabled veterans, at rates connected to their rates of disability. The full text is here. The benefits are that it allows disabled vets to keep their homes in situations where they might not otherwise be able to, and that it more evenly distributes this benefit by disability. The cons are that it is too expensive and that current exemptions are sufficient. I'm going to vote for it, as it seems to make current laws more fair, and I don't think that "there are going to be more disabled vets, so it will get too expensive" is very good logic.

Proposition 10: Inspector of Hides and Animals Amendment
Good Lord, what a title. This amendment is another constitutional clean up, removing references to the "Inspector of Hides and Animals." Full text is here. Since it's just clean up, there are no cons, I'll vote for it.

Proposition 11: Legislative Vote Records Amendment
This measure requires Texas legislatures to record their votes by name. Absolutely integral to legislative responsibility, in my opinion. Full text is here. I am so for this it isn't even funny.

Proposition 12: Highway Improvement Bonds Amendment

This is another general obligation bond one, for no more than $5 billion, to fund highway improvement. The full text is here. The pros are clear--yay safer highways! The cons also pretty clear--bad fiscal management, wrong source of revenue. I'll be voting against.

Proposition 13: Family Violence Amendment

This proposition authorizes denial of bail in certain family violence felony and misdemeanor cases, if the accused is thought to be a danger to his/her family or community. The full text is here. This is a victim protection measure, with the cons being the possibility of jail overcrowding and the infringement upon the rights of the accused. The basic literature left me torn, so I went looking for more, and found Texans Against Sexual Assault and the Texas Council of Family Affairs both support it, and that is has a Republican sponsor Joe Straus. The Chronicle is against it, as is the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. I am going to have to give some more thought to this one, but my hunch right now is that I will vote for it.

Proposition 14: Justice and Judge Mandatory Retirement Amendment
Currently, Texas judges have to retire at the age of 75. This changes the ruling so that if a judge turns 75 during his/her term, s/he serves until the end of the term, if it is a four-year term, of the end of the fourth year, if it's a six-year term. Full text is here. The pros are that judges would be allowed to complete the terms to which they are elected and the need for temporary replacement judges would be reduced. The cons are that it may undermine the reasoning for the mandatory retirement age in the first place, or that there shouldn't be one at all. Finishing out the term to which you were elected makes good sense to me, so I'll vote for it.

Proposition 15: Cancer Research Amendment
This is the only amendment for which I have seen much hype at all this year. It's supported by the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, among others. It would establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorize up to $3 billion in bonds to fund it. The full text is here. The pros are obvious--fighting cancer is good, and the center could be good for the economy. The cons are that it would cost too much and that Texans shouldn't bear the costs of it, and that there is no reason state money should focus exclusively on cancer. Overall, it seems like a good use of funds to me, I'll vote for it.

Proposition 16: Sewer and Water Supply Amendment
This amendment provides "economically distressed" areas of the state with financial assistance to create adequate water and sewer services. It would be funded by general obligation bonds not to exceed $250 million. The full text is here. Cons are the typical no spenders, pros are that the current funding is running out and this is necessary for public health. I'll vote for it.

And that does it! I am deeply indebted to About.com: Austin and the Texas League of Women Voters for being the best web resources I could find on this subject.

If you need help finding your polling place, go here. Now vote!

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Other than OR, I haven't lived anywhere that HAD propositions on the ballot. I wish I did--those were my favorite elections. Here they are just for school board and such. Actually I haven't changed my address so I don't know if I can vote...

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Art from the Streets

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My very favorite Austin event takes place yesterday and today. It's called Art from the Streets. The city homeless shelter has a large art program, and once a year they have a show where their clients sell their art pieces. It is the shelter's major funding source for the year, pulling in $80K in 2005, the first year I went, all by selling pieces priced from $20 to $300.

When I first attended, I was completely blown away by the size and quality of the show. In my excitement, I bought not one or two but five art pieces (which was about four more than I could afford). All of them are displayed in my house.

So yesterday I headed downtown to see the show. Since I was better prepared for it this time, I set a spending limit in advance and had specific wall spaces I wanted to fill with whatever I bought. I was hoping for more work by a couple of the artists I bought from last time, and of course any new artist discovery I could happen upon. I also have a much better idea of where Mark's art tastes overlap with mine now, which makes picking out things for the house we share less stressful--I was flying pretty blind the first time, though he ended up liking everything I bought.

Once again, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. The show is amazing. First, the quality of some of the work is astounding--lots of different styles, mostly paintings but also drawings and prints and collage and photography and this time even jewelry. Majority modern and abstract styles, but definitely not all. And yeah, some of it is amateurish and not stuff I'd want shown in my house, but a lot of it is absolutely wonderful.

Most of the work is sold without frames, backed on foam core and covered in protective plastic. Each artist gets his or her own space where art is hung on the walls and laid out in bins and on tables, and the customers walk through and pick up pieces they like. At the end, there is a cashier who tallies up your purchases and identifies them in the records by artist. All of the artists are on-site, at their booths, so you can talk to them about their work.

I walked through the entire show once before picking anything up this time, which I think was a good plan. After walking through, I knew which artists I wanted to look closer at. Specifically, I was interested in the work of Howard Cook, from whom I bought an amazing self portrait the first year I attended that hangs in our living room; Zebra, who does mostly naive-style animal paintings that I just love and from whom I also bought a piece in 2005 that hangs in our living room; Richard Vasquez, whose abstracts just about knocked me down when I walked by them; James Briggs, who makes jewelry and was new to the show this year; and John Curran, who had an amazing display of seascape type pictures that would be perfect for the empty wall space in my bedroom.

After a second (and a third) walk through, I had my art in hand. I could easily have spent a LOT longer deciding, but after something I think I wanted got snatched up from under my nose, I decided it was time to be decisive. There were several Howard Cook pieces I'd have loved to have, but his work is priced quite a bit higher than some of the other artists, so it would have meant blowing my whole budget (and then some, probably) on one piece, so I passed them up. I also passed up Richard Vasquez's abstracts, although one of them nearly brought me to tears, because I didn't think Mark would like them. I bought a gorgeous necklace from Jim Briggs that I will probably gift to someone for Christmas (but I might keep). And I bought two paintings, with which I couldn't be happier. The first was a large one from Zebra of a rhino. I talked to her briefly and she explained that she did a series of three rhinos from a picture from National Geographic, but she felt that this one had female energy so I should take it. It's a wonderful simple rendering, fairly close up, in thick paint. Her style seems almost childish until you look closer and realize that the details she chooses to focus on (in this case, the expression on the animal's face) are rendered perfectly realistically. It will go beautifully on the same wall with the picture of monkeys on a beach we bought from her in 2005. The second picture was from John Curran, whose work I'd admired previously but not purchased. He had a lot of paintings of large, bright, simple seascapes that I'd love in my bedroom, but I ended up being the most drawn to a smaller one which features a female nude from behind in the foreground and the ocean in the background. He also had some Picasso-esque Cubist paintings that I loved, but I knew Mark wouldn't like them, so I passed on those. In the end, I came in under budget, which is great, and with three gorgeous pieces of art.

If you are in Austin and you haven't been to Art from the Streets, go. Go now. It runs 12-5 today downtown at the ARCH. If you aren't in Austin, look to see if your city has this type of program. If not, come to visit me next November. Seriously, the feeling I got walking through that show yesterday simply cannot be described. Not only is it a chance to buy some really amazing art at prices that are actually doable, and to support a great thing at the same time, but it's a wonderful environment. These artists are people who are likely not treated well in much of their lives, and here they and their work are considered with absolute seriousness. They are artists and they are treated as artists, and behave as such, and it's a rare and great pleasure not only to be able to purchase their work, but to be able to see it in this state and talk with them about it. Go.

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Woohoo Austin!

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The Austin city council has passed an anti-chaining ordinance! Basically, it states that it will be illegal as of October 1 to chain or tether your dog and leave him/her. It further states that dogs who live in outdoor pens or kennels must have at least 150 square feet of space per adult dog. These are both big advances in humane pet ownership and I'm thrilled that the city council has taken this stand. Now I am crossing my fingers for actual enforcement.

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My extended weekend

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Due to the entire city being covered in ice, Austin is pretty much shut down today. And was yesterday as well. With Monday being a holiday, that makes this a five day weekend for me. I could get into that. Five day weekends and two day work weeks sounds just about right...

Mark and I took the dogs for a walk to the library earlier, and it was the weirdest feeling. Nobody out, very few cars, everything closed, and a layer of ice on everything. It felt like time was frozen or something. It was creepy, but also kind of nice. Like the world stopped to give me a break (because clearly it all revolves around me). An amazing amount of stress is lifted from your shoulders when you can't go anywhere, you just have to be at peace with staying home and relaxing and keeping yourself busy with whatever you have going on in your own corner of the world. Our house is very clean, I read an entire book, and my dogs have had more play time in the past few days than in the past few months. It's all good stuff. Makes me wish this kind of thing happened more often.

Spending much time on the Internet seems almost sacreligious given the opportunity for relaxation and renewal, so I haven't been online much. That part has been nice too, actually. It may not be totally healthy to enjoy being separated from the outside world, but I really do enjoy it.

Anyway, tomorrow should be back to normal--back to work, back to communicating with people outside my direct domicile, and back to the Women Making History project. Until then, though...I think maybe I'll take a nap.

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Your town now

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No Wal-Mart signThey are going to build a fucking Wal-Mart in my neighborhood. For those not of the Austin persuasion, the mall in which they plan to build this behemouth is practically across the street from my house. I would probably be able to see this thing from my back yard. Well, not quite, but almost. Seriously, it would be like four or five blocks away. And they don't just want to put a run of the mill Wal-Mart in, either. Plans are for a two-story, 24-hour megacenter, the biggest in the county. In my neighborhood, which is an older, established neighborhood with full grown trees and houses that have seen at least two generations grow up.

Fuck that, I say.

And luckily, so do many of my neighbors. No Wal-Mart signs are popping up in yards up and down my street (we'll hopefully be getting ours this weekend). A protest is planned at City Hall next week (I plan to take off work to go). Letters are being written to the city council. The developing resistance to the plan has published a "Top 10 Reasons Why Wal-Mart is Bad for Northcross" list, which is being distributed (sidenote: I actually really dislike some of these reasons, but I understand they're tryiing to appeal to a broad base, so I'll let it slide). Resistance is mobilizing.

But will it be enough? There are honestly few things I can imagine that would be worse for my neighborhood, a neighborhood which I have come to love, than being the site of a Wal-Mart SuperMegaGiantCenter. Not only is the residential part of the neighborhood beautiful and established and friendly, but the non-residential part is fantastic. It's home to an increasing number of really great independant businesses, including an Alamo Drafthouse (which would end up literally across the street from the new Wal-Mart), Top Notch, which is the hamburger joint featured in Dazed and Confused (great not only for their flame-kissed burgers but also for the fact that it's not retro, it's just old), and the best toy store I've ever been in, Terra Toys, as well as a local gym, local hair salons, etc. New indie businesses are moving in all the time, and they are doing well. It's that kind of neighborhood. And that is in spite of the overload of bullshit chain businesses we already have (including a Starbucks, an Einstein's Bagels, a CVS, and a McDonalds). The space taken up by Northcross Mall could be put to such great use, moving in more independant and Austin-local businesses. I can easily think of a hundred, or even a thousand, better and more neighborhood-friendly uses for that space than a 220,000 square foot bastion to American greed and stupidity. However, Wal-Mart seems to generally get what Wal-Mart wants, so my hopes aren't high that the organization against it, as right-minded as it is and as organized as it seems, has much of a chance. Still, Mark and I will do everything we can to keep Wal-Mart out of our neighborhood, and if you live near where we do (as I know a couple of readers do), or if this is happening in your neck of the woods, I encourage you to do the same.

Your Town Now
I used to go out quite a lot,
chase to chase and shot to shot.
I'm all done with that somehow,
and it's your town now.

These days the mighty eagle sings,
of money and material things,
and the almighty Dow,
and it's your town now,
your town now,
it's--

From the mountains to the plains
all the towns are wrapped in chains,
and the little that the law allows,
and it's your town now,
it's your town now,
it's--

Where are the young bands gonna play?
Where're the old beatniks gonna stay,
and not before some corporation bow?
and it's your town now,
it's your town now,
it's--

So be careful everyone,
Cops can get careless with their guns.
And then they slip off somehow,
and it's your town now,
it's your town now,
it's--

You young ones it's up to you
to fight the fight and I hope you do,
Oh I see in your eyes that you know how
and it's your town now
your town now.

Don't let 'em take the whole damn deal,
Don't give up on what you really feel.
Ah, the small and local must survive somehow,
if it's gonna be your town now.
Is it gonna be your town now?
Is it gonna be your town now?
Is it gonna be
?
-Greg Brown

2 Comments

UGH! good luck in the anti-walmart fight.

Ugh! Walmart at Northcross? Over my dead body! I'll be pestering all my old grad school friends about this!!

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