Thursday, September 22, 2011

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I found this marvelous piece from the good folks over at Chapter 16, a digital language and literature program of Humanities Tennessee, that I want to share with you today that says in all the right ways why we need to get over our collective additiction to I've always been an avid supporter of all things small and indie and local, because THOSE are the things that make our communities worthwhile and unique and unlike any other strip of 7-lane horsepucky. And the weirdness that has plagued the book industry as of late has made me even more appreciative of local bookstores, those antiquated outposts of knowledge, lovingly curated by fascinating people who love to discover a new and wonderful story and share the same with you. Of course, Amazon isn't just focused on elbowing out bookstores; they're making inroads to make the entire in-store retail experience seem inconvenient and expensive. But this letter should give us pause about valuing convenience and cost over the health and well-being of people and our communities. Read on:

A Chapter 16 writer makes a public break with Amazon
by Liz Garrigan

Amazon, we really need to talk. My relationship with you feels like an illicit love affair because, I suppose, it sort of is. I want you, but I hate myself for it. I hide our relationship from many of my friends. There I am late at night, online, practically giggling with delight at what you can do for me. You understand my needs—and happily meet them—and you anticipate my desires, teasing me with what else you can offer that you already know I’ll like. You’ve tricked me into believing you’re a generous partner. It’s a modern courtship—yes, we rely on technology—but there’s an old-fashioned aspect to it, too. As a British friend of mine puts it, “For God’s sake, the goods arrive in the post. How quaint!”

Though I share your attentions with millions of others, our relationship feels deeply personal, even intimate. I get hand-written notes from your vendors saying they hope I enjoy the title I’ve ordered from you. Or maybe there’s an interesting bookmark left by a previous owner, or a charming, if illegible, signature in pencil on an inside jacket. In other words, I can’t visit you in person, but being satisfied this way doesn’t necessarily mean forfeiting all of the endearing features of a more traditional relationship.

In many ways, you have it all. You just sent me a used copy of Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, a book I was having trouble finding elsewhere—and for just over four dollars, including postage. After spending twenty-plus years in Tennessee, I now live in Paris, where English-language books are harder to come by. And there you are,, ready to meet me whenever I want, right here on my turf. So it’s hardly a mystery why I can’t quite, to use the parlance of a certain gay cowboy character, “quit you.”

But it’s time to confront the inconvenient truth: I’m cheating with a cheater. And this relationship is destructive, hurting people I care about. It’s taken me a while to figure this out, but behind your slick, faux-friendly ways, you’re a selfish, no-good, morally compromised bully.

Other bookstores—hell, other stores period, for you sell far more than books, competing for customers with local hardware stores and beauty-supply stores and video-game stores and clothing stores and pretty much every other retailer in the world—are obligated to collect sales tax from their customers. But you don’t, hiding behind a Supreme Court ruling that exempts online-only retailers from collecting sales tax in individual states.

In Tennessee, where combined state and local sales taxes are pushing ten percent, that amounts to a powerful incentive for customers to let their fingers do the clicking. It puts other booksellers and retailers at a competitive disadvantage. In Memphis, Burke’s Book Store and the Booksellers at Laurelwood don’t get that deal. In Nashville, Parnassus Books and Mysteries & More and Fairytales Books don’t get that deal. In Knoxville, Union Ave. Books doesn’t get that deal. They all dutifully collect sales tax and turn it over to the government to fund education, workforce development, services for the poor and disabled, and all the other functions that governments are required to provide for their citizens. Those are the rules of a civilized society. But you want—no, demand!—to be exempted.

You say the Supreme Court ruling means you have no obligation to collect taxes from your customers, and that’s true enough. But the Supreme Court ruling applies only to online retailers which don’t have a physical presence in the state. And here’s the thing, Amazon: thanks to those giant distribution centers you’re already building in Chattanooga and in Lebanon—and the one in Knoxville, though so far it’s only being whispered about in secret—that dog won’t fight any more. Like it or not, honey, you’re a Tennessean now.

Tennessee risks losing $3 billion in tax revenue to you, not to mention 10,000 jobs, over the next five years. And that’s not counting the money the state has spent out of its own tattered pockets to entice you here: Chattanooga alone gave you $30 million in incentives and free land—which the state spent $4 million to prepare for construction—in exchange for 1,200 full-time and 2,000 seasonal jobs.

Not that this abusive relationship is unique to Tennessee: you’ve sent South Carolina, Texas, and California into similar states of impotent rage because you have no trouble exploiting the realities of the nation’s dismal economy, reducing governors and mayors to desperate employment pimps. You’ve had them, after all, where you’ve wanted them. And you threaten to take your ball and go home should they fail to play by your rules.

You claim to favor a federal resolution to this mess, suggesting quite reasonably that it makes more sense to create a single national standard than to have a hodge-podge of state rules across the country. Not that you have much to worry about: given the national-budget challenges facing Congress, the need to level the playing field between you and all the rest of the retailers in the country isn’t much of a priority. As Tennessee Senator Bob Corker told The Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Internet sales-tax collections are “not even on the radar screen” this year.

But guess what? I can wait. I’ve got a stack of books here that will keep me busy for a while, even if they did come from you in the post. But when I’m done with those, I’ll do what I did back in the nineties: I’ll go to the library. Or where all the other American expats go in Paris: the Village Voice Bookshop.

We’re over. And don’t email me either.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What makes Memphis...Memphis?

I'm the daughter of a small business owner. A literal Mom & Pop (and grandparent and uncle and great-uncles and cousins and countless family friends) operation that employed just over 100 people in the busy summer paving season, Bonds Company built just about every road in northeast Mississippi. I learned at a very early age to appreciate the contributions of a small business to it's community. And it's not just about not trusting The Man or wanting to stick it to big corporations. Data from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Census Bureau suggests small firms (those that employ less than 500 people) provide jobs to just over half of all employed in the private sector. These operations fuel our local economies.

But it's not the statistical data that makes me all warm and fuzzy for the little guy. It's what they do to make their surroundings unique. And I know you feel the same way, too. Here's a scenario: an out-of-towner asks you for a restaurant or retail recommendation for their trip to Memphis. I'm willing to bet you won't say any of the following:
  • Oh, definitely check out the Chili's Grill & Bar at Poplar & Perkins. Their southwestern eggrolls are outta sight!
  • Be sure and swing by the Wal-Mart Super Center on Germantown Parkway. Their kitchen do-dad selection is exhaustive!
  • Stop in at the Walgreens at (insert darn near any intersection here). What a great candy selection and their customer service is dreamy.
  • There's a Pizza Hut on Union that serves THE. BEST. PIZZA. Trust me on this one.
Instead, you'll wax poetic about your favorite barbeque joint and recommend they try the sandwich or the BBQ nachos or the ribs; you'll say they should check out Lit on Summer or Union for their cooking needs; you'll say the Peanut Shoppe is where they'll need to go to satisfy their sweet tooth and be greeted by some of the nicest proprietors in town; you'll send them to Trolley Stop Market, a restaurant/locavore market led by local farmers Jill & Keith Forrester for what might be the best pizza on the planet. You'll recommend all your favorite hole-in-the-wall-only-in-Memphis places because you want your traveling friends to have the most authentic experience.

And you'll be disappointed when your favorite local institution isn't here anymore. The Memphis Heritage Foundation and it's supporters got a lot of flack for being late to show concern for the hulking Methodist Church at the intersection of Union and Cooper, only rallying around the decaying building when a national chain threatened to tear it down and replace it with an Any Suburb, USA-designed drugstore. The drug store got it's way and the church is coming down even as I type. Nashvillians rallied around their own Davis-Kidd Booksellers location only after it was announced the store would be closed at the end of 2010. The "Keep Davis-Kidd Nashville Open" facebook page had more than 3500 fans only four days after it was created, more than twice the amount of fans the store's actual facebook fan page had. The rallying cry was too late; the store WOULD be closing. Where were all those vocal supporters before?

Think about all the places you really treasure where you live. Would there be a void if it went away? Can you do something about it? Absolutely. The 3/50 Project is an organization dedicated to promoting "stronger local economies through support of independent retailers and the consumers who shop with them." The premise is this: pick 3 of your favorite places and pledge to spend $50 at each of them on a monthly basis. Stick with three for a year, if you'd like. Change it up monthly. Whatever it is, make a commitment to vote with your dollars - vote for the success of the business by SHOPPING/EATING/DRINKING/BEING there! And think about it: it's the local businesses that are raising the bar on best practices, customer service and sustainability. The behemoths seem to be in reaction mode (I'm looking at you, Wal-Mart), constantly revamping their "green" standards, their food sourcing, their safety records, their employer-provided health insurance.

Frankly, it's the locals who make our communities better. And while this is pretty funny, it doesn't have to be true. Commit to supporting those places that really do matter to you so you won't be scrambling to join the riotous mob that's too late to make a difference.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nom Nom

I made a fitness goal for my New Year's resolution. "By the time I turn 33," I said, "I'll be down to ___" (did you really think I'd share that with you?). Well, tomorrow I turn 33 and I haven't hit the goal. Really, there's a lot of self-sabotaging going on here - there's SO much good food to eat here in Memphis and I own a bevy of cookbooks all devoted to Southern cookin' and my mom didn't exactly pass down a repertoire of low-calorie recipes. So today I started the River Workout Fitness Program led by the amazing Stacy Chick. My neighbor Whitney and I (both facing college/high school reunions later in the spring) got to the river at 5:40 this morning and proceeded to get our asses handed to us. Seriously, I thought I was going to puke. And we're gonna do it again on Thursday and for the next seven weeks (and maybe a few Saturdays) after that!

And inevitably my thoughts turn to food when I start thinking about shaping up. I'm already food obsessed; thinking about cutting back and eating healthier only makes me want the bad stuff even more. So while I've packed a slim-fast (or a slim-slow as my dad calls 'em), a few cutie clementines, some low-fat string cheese, a container of yogurt, and a 100-calorie pack of Mr. Salty chocolate-covered pretzels (I know my bag is protein-deficient - I need to do some grocery shopping), all I can think about is massive portions of cheesy lasagna from Papa Pia's, all the decadent goodies from Muddy's Bake Shop, and a cup o'gelato from the good folks over at YoLo. And then I found this:

mug cake2 Nutella Mug Cake
From Angie McGowan,
It's cake. In a mug. And it only takes 5 minutes in the microwave. And according to the reader comments, it's got 1100 calories.

Le sigh.

So that's my motivation! I want to be so skinny that when I collapse from hunger, my bones clatter on the floor. And when I come to, I want you to have a cup of this Nutella Mug Cake ready to bring me back from the brink.

UPDATE: And today is the day I discover Local Gastropub makes a bacon brownie?!? That's just cruel.
Bacon brownie from Local Gastropub, Memphis, Tenn.
From Kerry Crawford Trisler,

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bloggity Blog Blog

I've sort of stepped away from the blogging for a bit, but it's never been far from my mind. It's always on the to-do list and I've got a laundry list of topics stashed away (there are interviews from OCTOBER that I haven't posted yet!) but on a daily basis I find myself cruisin' the blogosphere and enjoying everyone else's writing so much that I just haven't wanted to take the time to put my own thoughts down. I've decided to re-commit to my little corner of the interwebs and this weekend I'll turn some of those floating ideas and interviews into posts. In the mean time, I wanted to share with you some of my latest inspirations:

1.) norococo - I adore this blog. All-around creative genius Sophorn McRae writes this gem and I especially like her graphic design/architecture/photography savvy. This post makes me smile because it's so much smarter than I am but makes all kinds of wonderful sense.

2.) The Pioneer Woman - I got the chance to meet Ree Drummond last week at Davis-Kidd Booksellers and she's fantastic! Leading up to the event, I stalked her blog with more gusto than usual and found a little ditty about Rules for Blogging.

The Marlboro Man, The Pioneer Woman, and me. We're all totally best friends now.

3.) Freedom - I had no idea this even existed, but it's pure genius. Web-crastination be damned!

4.) 750 Words - Not a blog, but an on-line journal. For your little eyes only. Know what makes better writers? More writing!

5.) Lovely and interesting homes to tour. And the weather. And the blooming trees. And spring clothes. And self-serve frozen yogurt popping up alllllll over town (like here and here and here). And music festival line-up announcements.

Can you guess what Central Gardens behemoth this ceiling belongs to?
Have a marvelous weekend, y'all! See you next week!

Monday, October 11, 2010

DIY Project Idea - Build a House!

Sorry for the light posting as of late!  I’d like to say I’ve been busy with work; however, for the past week – and the rest of this week, too – I’ve been getting up at a ridiculous hour to head over to the WKNO-FM station and man the phones for their fall pledge drive.  WKNO-FM provides a wonderful service to the Mid-South, broadcasting NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, along with other news, information, entertainment, and food-themed programming and incredible locally-selected classical music.  Really, I can’t even fathom a world where NPR isn’t a free and easily accessed resource.  If you haven’t called in or submitted your support online yet, won’t you please consider it?  Anyway, the change in my schedule, coupled with a new addition to our family, has left me with little time to sit and write.  I promise to adapt better in the future.  Now, on to the blog post!

I built this house!  Nah, I installed some soffit.
A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of working on a build project at Trinity Park, a Habitat for Humanity project and the Greater Memphis Chapter’s first planned community development.  Despite my admiration for Jimmy Carter, I had never volunteered for Habitat.  It was an exhausting afternoon, and at times really frustrating (this is definitely a good team-building opportunity), but I learned a lot about construction, operating power tools, installing soffit boards, and more importantly, Habitat’s mission.  I guess I always thought homes were built for folks who had no resources to rebuild after losing their own homes to flood or fire or the like.  But it turns out Habitat isn’t a charity organization designed to give away replacement homes; it’s an empowering organization dedicated to helping first-time homebuyers who demonstrate a need for standard housing - but who cannot qualify for a conventional loan because of income - buy their first home.  One of the coolest parts of the program are the 350 “sweat equity” hours applicants must complete – potential homeowners have to put in time working on their own homes, other folks’ homes, or serving at other area non-profits.  Eighty percent of those hours must be completed before construction on their own home can commence.  In addition, applicants must be able to pay a $1,000 down payment, complete a 15-part Dave Ramsey financial course, and commit to other Habitat service and financial programs even after they move in.  At Trinity Park, the mortgage payments are an easy $300 - $450, much lower than what some folks might be paying for a substandard rental.  When you consider all of that together, it’s a tremendous effort to provide the pride of homeownership, help folks get a better hold on their own financial situation, and create a sort of “pay-it-forward” stewardship that helps to sustain a community.  I had no idea it was such a comprehensive program!

Teamwork makes the dream work.
This isn't mamby-pamby stuff.  This is real construction!

Currently, there are five homes under construction in Trinity Park.  Eventually the community will have 38 homes, each built to meet MLGW’s EcoBUILD requirements, and a community resource center.  Every home is sponsored by one or several organizations, and a good deal of the labor comes from those groups’ volunteers.  Delta Airlines, FedEx, and ServiceMaster have all sponsored their own homes and send crews out on an almost daily basis from different departments within their companies to work on the site.  Other homes are sponsored by multiple groups – the Memphis Area Association of Realtors is just one of several sponsors of the house being built for Regina Lawson, the house I got to work on.  While you’re volunteering, it’s likely you’ll be working alongside the home’s owner, and I got to spend a lot of time chatting with Regina about her new place.  She has five children and one granddaughter and she’s really excited to move into her new place, which should be ready by the end of the month.  The floorplans are picked by the Habitat folks based on an owner’s need; however, Regina and the other homeowners will get to pick their paint colors, flooring, countertops, cabinets, and what sort of landscaping they’d like around the house.  I also talked with Erika Finley, the owner of the ServiceMaster-sponsored house, and she’ll be moving into her house at the end of the week.  Both women were really excited about what having a home of their own would mean to them.  Without the stress of substandard living conditions and with a new sense of financial stability, both Regina and Erika were eager to consider new career training or going back to school to finish long-forgotten aspirations.

The good folks at ServiceMaster putting the finishing touches
on Erika's new house.
I’m a bleeding heart that can hardly say no, so it’s all I can do not to whip out my checkbook every time I see a St. Jude commercial or when I hear about what good work the Church Health Center is up to.  But for all the money you can throw at a problem, some organizations want you.  I’m pretty stingy with my time, but volunteering for Habitat for Humanity was a great experience for me – it’s a wonderful way to get out there, roll up your sleeves, and do something.  You can see the results, you can visit with the people who’s lives you’re changing, and you can rest easy in the knowledge that Habitat is in it for the long haul, counseling their new homeowners along the way, encouraging them to make the right financial decisions, and fostering a spirit of service that makes communities better.

To find more information about volunteer opportunities, check out the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis website.  Not so much into swinging a hammer?  That's fine, too.  Habitat is always looking for folks to serve on their commitees, help plan fundraisers, and organize the Youth United Build.  And if you've got some time, drive by Trinity Park to see the good that's going on.  It's a bustling site of volunteers, sub-contractors, "green hats", and other Habitat organizers just south of Winchester on Park Lake Drive.  I'll be there this Saturday afternoon, helping Regina paint her brand new kitchen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You should get to know a good red beans & rice recipe...

It's 60° this morning in Memphis and I'm ecstatic.  I took the pooch on her morning stroll and I needed a sweater (so did she)!  Actually, the weather's been fantastic since this weekend and because of the cooler temperatures, I've been planning a few of the fall to-do's around the house:  switch out the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter closets, find those fall and Halloween decorations, put out some mums and pansies and pumpkins and gourds, and pull out my comfort-food recipes.  I dread the closet task and I'm not looking forward to pillaging the attic for our box of Halloween goodies, but the landscaping chore got a lot easier when I opened up my email this morning to find a Groupon offer of 50% off at Midtown Nursery.  Score!  I LOVE Groupon!

But the food!  Oh, the food!  There's something so earthy and rich and satisfying about the offerings this time of year that make the fruit and pasta and chicken salads of this summer seem so...well, salad-y.  I want stick-to-your-ribs goodness and full flavors and spices and carbs!  I want the house to smell amazing and folks to walk in and say, "Mmmmmm, it smells so GOOD; I can't wait to EAT!"  And the first thing you should make now that the temperatures have turned and football season is in full swing:  Red Beans & Rice.  It's the perfect dish - the recipe is easy enough that you can sort of ease yourself back into the kitchen after the summer hiatus and the payoff is nothing short of spectacular.  I've been known to rip into a box of Zataran's for a quick RB&R (that's what we call it around our house) fix, but you gotta go home-made if you want to do it right.  And for the perfect recipe, I turned to my friend Patti Bryan because she knows how to do it right.
  • 1 lb Camellia Red Kidney Beans, presoaked
    • Boil beans in water for 3 minutes in a heavy pot.  Cover and set aside for 2 hours.  Drain and discard the water.
  • I lb Andouille sausage
  • 8-10 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • Cayenne pepper to taste, optional
  • Salt & pepper to taste (taste before adding salt!)
  • Freshly cooked hot, fluffy rice, cooked separately
Rinse and sort beans.  Cover with fresh water, start to cook over low heat in a covered pot.  In an iron skillet, cook sliced Andouille sausage and add to the beans.  In the drippings, sauté onion, garlic, celery, and parsley.  Add this, along with the bay leaf and other seasonings, to the beans.  Cook for an hour and thirty to forty-five minutes.  Add water while cooking, if necessary.  Keep the beans covered.  Serve over hot rice with New Orleans Cornbread.
 I cannot WAIT to put some Red Beans & Rice on the stove this afternoon!  Kevin's going to be thrilled and the house is gonna smell sooooo good!  We like our RB&R with the roasted garlic loaf you can pick up at Miss Cordelia's.  When dinner's finished and you've got to satisfy your sweet tooth, try a handfull of roasted, salted peanuts and candy corn - tastes just like a Payday.  No kidding.

For more marvelous recipes from Patti, you should check out her blog, Hugs From Home.  She's got a catalog of recipes that have been passed through her family for generations, and a few she's perfected on her own.  Everything on her site sounds amazing and is reminiscent of leafing through my own family's private collection.  Think Paula Deen with a little bit more Cajun and Creole influence and a whole lot less annoying.  Whatever you cook, I'm sure it'll be a hit.  Thanks, Patti, for letting me share your Red Beans & Rice recipe!

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday Tour - 642 Watson

I'm fighting off a nap as I write this and here's why:  Gus's Fried Chicken.  That's right, I had Gus's for lunch.  Kudos to the friendly Crye-Leike agent who hosted a Realtor Open House in High Point Terrace and stuffed us all silly with fried, spicy goodness.  If you're an agent and you happen to be reading this, right now would be the time to swoop in and get some deals done because the weather is right and I know probably 1/3 of the agents in this town are in a fried chicken-induced stupor like me.

642 Watson
But before I find a desk to crawl under, I wanted to tell you guys about a cute little house in East Memphis that I just listed last week, 642 Watson.  I helped the current owners, Devyn and Kyle Parkinson, along with their happy dog Crash, when they bought the house.  Believe me when I say we searched high and low, allllll over town for the perfect little nest for them.  I think Devyn was 14 months pregnant before they signed on the dotted line and I was seriously starting to worry that I'd have to help her deliver her baby while we were house-hunting.  Thankfully, Devyn had the decency to check into a proper hospital just a few days before closing.  And then there were five.  Ava and Elly, the cutest little twins you ever saw, round out the starting lineup (see, this line is funny because both Devyn and Kyle worked for the Memphis Redbirds when I first met them!).  Well, now it's time to move on, and it's kind of sad because it's their family's first home and I hate to see wonderful people leave Memphis.  However, I just know someone will love this house as much as the Parkinsons have.  Let's take a tour, shall we?

Living Room
Dining Room
Master Bedroom
Second Bedroom (I LOVE the green & brown for a nursery!)
Hall bathroom
Big ol' deck off the back (There's Crash in the corner! Hi Crash!)
Big ol' fenced-in backyard

I love this door.

There are these beautiful dark, wood floors throughout the house; big, pretty ceramic tile in the kitchen and bathrooms; interesting arched doorways; a friendly front porch; and my gosh what a great backyard!  The front door is one of my favorite features - it's this great Frank Lloyd Wright-ish inspired wood door with beautiful glass work.  The living and dining rooms have been painted in a crisp, brown-paper-bag color that really makes the house feel so warm and welcome as soon as you come in.  You may have noticed in my own home-improvement pictures that I'm a bit obsessed with kitten gray walls, so I LOVE the master bedroom and it's deeper, richer version.  It's such a serene color to me, perfect for your sleep retreat.  All the trim work in the house is a glossy white (my favorite!) and it looks so clean and fresh.  The deck out back features great bench seating all around the perimeter, perfect for inviting your new favorite neighbors over to show off your new digs.  And they'll be jealous, too; most of the homes in this neighborhood are smallish, with two, maybe three bedrooms and one or one and a half bathrooms.  THIS one boasts three bedrooms and two bathrooms, which is kind of a big deal. 

Speaking of the neighborhood, I LOVE this area.  The neighborhood is called Normal School Place (because it's adjacent to the University of Memphis, originally known as the West Tennessee State Normal School) and it's just east of the University in a pretty little three block by five block section of homes (that's an approximation, folks) that's kind of in the middle of everything in Memphis.  There are all kinds of great restaurants and bars and the like around the University (RP Tracks, Brother Juniper's, and Newby's come to mind); there's plenty of shopping with Laurelwood, Laurelwood Collection, Oak Court, Target(!) and Poplar Plaza nearby; you've got your pick of darn near any local or national grocery chain within a 5 minute drive (trust me, if you live downtown, that's kind of a big deal); and Audubon Park, the Botanic Gardens, and the Leftwich Tennis Center are practically in your backyard.  It'd be almost impossible not to be fit, happy, and have plenty to do if you lived in this house.

Once you see it, I think you'll agree there's something just wonderful about this house and this neighborhood.  Just say the word and I'll be happy to give you a tour.  In the mean time, I'm taking that nap.