If smoking in a bar is illegal but you can just pay your way out of it, is there really a ban?
If smoking in a bar is illegal but you can just pay your way out of it, is there really a ban?

What's the point of a smoking ban if you can ignore it?

It's been years in the making, and the controversy was (and still is) high, but I think we all knew deep down it was only a matter of time before Wisconsin  imposed a state-wide indoor smoking ban, joining 25 other states.

Come on, if the government is talking about upping the tax on soft drinks, of course this day was bound to come.

In May of this year lawmakers reached a deal that would prohibit smoking in virtually all workplaces, including restaurants and taverns. But, perhaps because of the alleged strong opposition from the Tavern League of Wisconsin and to avoid pushing the already damaging effects of the recession on Milwaukee's local businesses even further, lawmakers agreed to give it some time.

The ban doesn't officially start until July 5, 2010, although many new and existing establishments have opted to snuff the smoke early in preparation.

But for those hazy places where the smoke still lingers, the countdown begins. Or does it?

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune explains that there are some bar owners in Illinois that allow, if not encourage, their patrons to light up freely, despite the state's 2-year-old smoking ban. Of course, breaking the law and getting busted for it always comes with a price, which is why there is a jar labeled "smoking jug" at Chicago's Crowbar Inc. tavern. Apparently owner Pat Carroll got sick of paying fines -- now totaling almost $700 -- for allowing his patrons to puff. Although it's a voluntary donation jar, Carroll is, in a sense, charging his customers to smoke at his bar.

Still, he said, it was better than losing them all together to neighboring Indiana, where they can smoke indoors without legal consequence.

Amazing, isn't it? It makes me wonder what Milwaukee's fate will be once that date comes next summer. The police can't possibly monitor every bar in Brew City at once, so it will inevitably come down to the discretion of individual bar owners.

If you read my blog la…

'Tis the season to buy local and /or handmade.
'Tis the season to buy local and /or handmade.

Art vs. Craft 2009 is here

This Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. But if you're not into all that hoopla, there's a way to get great gifts while avoiding the hordes -- and ensure that your money's going to small businesses and independent artists from Milwaukee and across the country.

Forget Friday; Art vs. Craft is Saturday, Nov. 28 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 790 N. Van Buren St.

Established in 2004 by Milwaukee artist Faythe Levine, Art vs. Craft has gained momentum in the last four years as Milwaukee's primary source for DIY, hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind goods -- everything from traditional (and non-traditional) handiwork, textile and toys to fine art works such as painting, pottery and photography.

"(Our) vendors are a young, new-breed of emerging artists, crafters and designers representing the new wave of craft sweeping the nation," says Levine, who recently published a book about the rising trend, "Handmade Nation," with friend and fellow Milwaukee artist Cortney Heimerl.

With more than 50 unique vendor booths, there's definitely something for everyone on your holiday list at Art vs. Craft; something they're not going to receive from anyone else. You want it wrapped? They can do that too, courtesy of Cream City Ribbon.

"We support our local talent, as well as many out-of-state vendors who have never shown work in Milwaukee," says Levine. "The combination of local and national participants sets Art vs. Craft apart from other local shows. Shoppers can spend freely with a clear conscious knowing their money is going directly into the pockets of the creators."

Local vendors this winter include Brew City Botanicals, Dwellephant, Fashion Ninja, Fasten Collective, LACKA, Lamplighter Studio Shard Jewelry, Matty Cipov, Milwaukee Beersoap, My Mish Mosh, Neon Danger, Nice Lena, Rosybird, Rustbelt Fiberwerks, Sparrow Collective, The Little Friends of Printmaking and more.

The first 200 people through the do…

Way too pretty to just end up on the curb.
Way too pretty to just end up on the curb.

Oh, Christmas tree. What to do with you?

I live in a 110-year-old house and am mildly obsessed with ways in which we can improve upon the space while maintaining it's turn-of the-century period charm. Needless to say, a subscription to "This Old House" magazine last Christmas my from in-laws wasperfect.

While scouring the pages of the December '09 issue I came across a cool little piece on 10 ways to reuse and / or recycle your Christmas tree once the season ends. Check it out.

1. Mulch with the needles -- They dry quickly and decompose slowly, which make them great moisture- and mold-free mulch.

2. Create a bird sanctuary -- Place the tree in a stand outside and hang bird feeders from the boughs.

3. Insulate perennials -- Cut off boughs and lay them over perennial beds to protect them from winter.

4. Edge your borders -- Cut the trunk into 2-in. discs and use them to edge flower beds or walkways.

5. Shelter fish -- Permission pending, if you live near a pond or lake, toss (chemical-free only) branches into the water to provide sheltering habitat to fish.

6. Set a stage for containers -- Saw the trunk into different lengths and use pieces as flowerpot holders.

7. Make coasters and trivets -- Cut thin slabs off the trunk, sand smooth and coat in polyurethane.

8. Chip it -- Rent a chipper and next spring, spread the chips under the shrubs to suppress weeds and add nutrients.

9. Feed a fire pit -- But keep it outdoors, not in your indoor fireplace.

10. Stake your plants -- Strip small branches and use the remaining twigs to support indoor potted plants.


There are plenty of kids in need of these this year in Milwaukee.
There are plenty of kids in need of these this year in Milwaukee.

Drinking for a difference

Although there's really no good reason it shouldn't exist the entire year through, the annual "season of giving" is just ahead.

Perhaps it's the cold weather, the added spirit of the holidays or all those bonus days off of work, but people tend to get extra jolly this time of year and embrace the nature of sharing and giving.

But, if you need an extra push, here you go:

Wednesday night's Tweetup at the Milwaukee Ale House, 233 N. Water St., will offer half-priced beer from 6 to 9 p.m. for all who show up bearing gifts. Not gifts for your fellow Twitterverse inhabitants, but for kids in need this winter.

In association with Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Ale House is collecting coats, hats, gloves, scarves and other winter gear to help families combat the coming cold months.