Thursday, December 31, 2009
Think about it. A free place to borrow books, just down the street. Nonfiction, fiction, cookbooks, finance books. Even DVDs, CDs, and magazines.
Simply fill out a form and get a free swipe card for your key ring, like in the grocery store. Take books home today! Dozens, if you like! (When the nice man at Charlottesville's Northside Library told me this — "The limit to checkout at one time is 75," I blinked. Really? Seventy-five?? "Does anyone actually ever reach that limit?" I queried. "Oh yes," he said.)
Right, and you can keep them for a long while. Say, three weeks.
If you forget to bring it back, the fee is just 10 cents a day.
And yet Barnes & Noble, its coffee shop and wide-open spaces and neat displays of pristine books, draws me in some days. The power of marketing, of user experience, of location.
Still, free is hard to beat. I was thrilled when I got my Cville library card earlier this week. (For other Darden students, be sure to bring something with your Cville address — it can be an electricity bill or your lease agreement, for instance.)
Here's the stack I took home.
To have the luxury of time to read right now, without three cases a day, is heavenly. When it's free, even better.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The wardrobe of trees never ceases to amaze me.
In the spring, lush green dresses dotted with flowers. In the fall, gorgeous orange and flame red accents. And in the winter, stark limbs reaching in fine detail to the sky. I might love the winter best.
I visited the D.C. National Mall over holiday break, an annual family tradition that always includes a delicious meal at the National Museum of the Native American's creative Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe. (Think buffalo chili and fry bread, roasted sunchokes and wild rice salad.) Another highlight was Julia Child's kitchen at the National Museum of American History. (Yes, they picked up the entire thing and transplanted it to D.C., like a precious fossil.)
This year, though, I was really struck by the trees.
In the spring, the trees in D.C. are a tourist attraction in and of themselves. Around the tidal basin, the cheery cherry blossoms explode into a frothy white beauty.
In the winter, the trees are naked. At first glance, they just look like a broom of branches. But then ... see the way the limbs curl up, stretch into space, divide into a seemingly endless array of tinier branches?
In the background of a powerful tree, the Hirshhorn looks dull and timid.
Lined up, at attention.
The trees on the Mall are so deliberately there. Pruned and placed just so.
I wondered, would the developers and the urban planners be enthralled if trees had only one coat, the bare lines of their winter selves? Everything dismal gray and naked, would a surveyor of the land marvel at the intricate limbs or see them as merely obstacles to the line of sight? Would they be knocked down for their valuable real estate?
Would trees be exiled to a museum, rather than surrounding us?
Would humans think, oh, we can do better than this?
Then I found this last tree. Mais, ceci n'est pas un arbre.
I was first fooled, standing in the Sculpture Garden and snapping photos.
Then I realized that the limbs were incredibly shiny, glistening, like polished stainless steel.
This tree has a name: "Graft." It has a creator, Roxy Paine. I searched online and found this description by Blake Gopnik of The Washington Post. He writes:
"Set against the live trees already in the garden, Paine's piece has the strangest effect: It's grander and more impressive than them, but also so much deader. The trees, in a sense, critique the human artifice — "That's the best you can do?"
Saturday, December 12, 2009
My sister and brother-in-law have a cute 1-year-old and his childhood values to ponder these days. They've decided that Christmas should be about Christ, not the haul of presents.
I'm OK with this. I love giving presents, but I dislike the requisite agony and doomed purchases. Will she like it? Does he already have it? How much do you spend? Is it just more junk to clutter up our homes? What's the point?
Joel Waldfogel is with me on this.
He's a Wharton professor who claims holiday giving is destroying value in the world. You can read all about it in his new book, "Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays."
Basically, as George Will recently explained it in a column about book (NPR has also done a bunch on this book): "Spending is good if the purchaser, or the recipient of a gift, values the commodity more than he does the money it costs. Otherwise, there is a subtraction from society's store of value." (Late edit: Better explanation from Joel himself in a Slate column.)
In other words, whatever you buy should be worth more to you than holding on to the cash. You want a latte more than you want your 3 bucks, etc., or else you wouldn't buy it. But in the case of presents, the end recipient user doesn't value the item as much as the giver paid for it. So, say, $25 was spent for a sweater given to someone who will never, ever wear it. That's $25 that didn't add value to the world.
Makes perfect sense to me.
But I wonder if you can flip it around.
After all, a piece of paper isn't worth much. But scribble on it, fold it, and give it to a grandmother, and she's thrilled. A homemade card.
And things you make, well, no one can buy that anywhere, for any price, if they want your stamp of love on it. I might not pay $30 for a homemade scarf, but one made by a dear friend is worth far greater than that to me.
Perhaps there should be a follow-up book to "Scroogenomics."
"Grandma-nomics: Why You Should Make Presents for the Holidays."
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tomorrow: finance. Friday: macroeconomics.
My head is ready to explode. The neurons are held together with twine and Elmer's Glue.
Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies really help, I've found. And the recipe is a cinch:
- 1 egg
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1 cup sugar (or 1/3 confectioners sugar, 1/3 brown sugar, 1/3 white sugar, which I did)
Roll into balls. (Stick in fridge for 30 minutes if the dough is too sticky.)
Bake at 350 degrees (preheated oven) for 10 minutes.
Plant a kiss in the middle of each cookie.
If only a discounted cash flow could be so easy ...
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Would there be snow? I had heard rumors of 2-4 inches! In Norfolk, such a forecast was a standard-issue joke. Schools would close at the slightest whiff of a prediction. Actual snowflakes? Get yourself a snow globe, hon.
No, no, nothing outside my window. Just a wet parking lot. Sigh.
A few hours later, I got an e-mail that mentioned snow. Ha, ha, I thought. Good use of sarcasm.
Then I saw FB posts. Ah, lucky D.C.-ers, I thought.
But maybe I should look outside again ...
Sure enough, the rows of cars had become a winter wonderland. I ran around the house like a gleeful kid. Must go play in the snow! Where is my camera? Lucky for me, my friend Atish was up for a photo adventure. You can see his wonderful photos here.
I love how fall lingers here. Nevermind the soggy snow; bright leaves, stay as long as you like!
Let's go all nostalgic with sepia-tone ...
I walk through this courtyard every day at 7:50 a.m., on my way to class. Each time, I marvel at the perfect setting. A postcard, it could be.
The entrance to Darden, a sight I rarely see.
Darden, you are lovely any day, but absolutely gorgeous on a snow day.
I'd heard about the $3 dumplings from Marco & Lucas. I'd seen the line winding out of the little restaurant on the Downtown Mall. (Long line = food worth waiting for = must go back there.)
Finally, I got around to trying the dumplings. Yum.
Place your order at the small counter; you really only have a half-dozen options (noodles, rolls, dumplings, soda, etc.), which is great for those of us who are decision-impaired sometimes. Nothing is pricey.
The tiny counter (you can see the pans cooking dumplings a few feet away) is sandwiched between two small dining rooms, decorating in a casual, Asian theme. It's too busy for a good study spot, but perfect for grabbing a tasty, cheap bite and running out the door.
Marco & Lucas
110 2nd St NE
Charlottesville, VA 22902