Friday, December 26, 2008

Good day to stay in and read one of the cool books Santa brought for Christmas

Good Day to Stay In and Read One of the Cool Books Santa Brought
Like Measuring the World, by the Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann -- a smart historical novel about the German contemporaries, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. It's a stunning evocation of the interplay between the realms of observation and theory, exemplified by the naturalist, geographer and explorer Humboldt -- much admired by Darwin -- and the mathematician and physicist Gauss who invented big chunks of modern mathematics and whose insights about space were far ahead of his time. The book begins with their meeting in Berlin in 1828 as middle-aged men, but then continues via flashback to chronicle their explorations of inner and outer space, much of it during the chaos of the Napoleonic wars that redefined the space of Europe itself. A marvelous meditation on two titans of intellectual history with roots in the 18th century Enlightment who helped give birth to the modern age.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Where There Are Shepherds You Gotta Have Sheep -- Lots of Them
Where there are shepherds you have to have sheep -- and lots of them... Every year, we look forward to one of our favorite Christmas displays in Madison -- this one on Tokay Blvd. It's sweet and gentle and totally breathtaking. Wiring the lights in this year's snow must really have been something. I'm so glad they made the effort.

Best holiday wishes to everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It just won't stop, but at least we'll have a white Christmas

It Just Won't Stop
If I'm reading the news stories right, today's snowfall will put us above the all-time snowfall record for December -- and we still have a week to go.
On Tuesday only 3.1 inches of snow fell at the Dane County Regional Airport, bringing the December total up to 33.2 inches, or 0.8 of an inch shy of the record 34 inches for December, set in 2000.

Through Tuesday, Madison had received 37.5 inches of snow so far this winter of 2008-09 (4.3 inches fell in November), 9.6 inches more than the 27.9 inches that fell through Dec. 23 during the record snowfall of the winter of 2007-08.
Things average out in the end, I guess. We've had plenty of Christmases when there was no snow on the ground, just fog, rain, of if were lucky, a bone-chilling, mocking sunlight. At least this year, as T says, nobody will have to put up a "Pray for Snow!" sign.

So where does all that snow go? The Capital Times explained the other day that the city carts it off to sites on the south and east sides. The snow mounds piling up all over town are hauled off by city workers.
[They] drive giant dump trucks hauling snow from around the city to snow storage sites behind Bowman Field on the south side and behind the former Garver Feed Mill by Olbrich Gardens on the east side.

"I guess there are pretty impressive piles down there," said streets spokesman George Dreckmann, who hasn't seen them personally. "I said, 'Big enough to put a chair lift on?' And they said, 'Well, almost.' "
It's almost as much work for them to haul it away, as it is to plow it in the first place. Here's hoping they'll be able to get a break to enjoy Christmas with their families.

Only one door left on my demented Santa "chocolated" Advent calendar

Only One Window Left on My Demented Santa Advent Calendar
T found this on sale (understandably) at Trader Joe's and thought it had my name on it. Which it did. It's made for a uniquely goofy holiday experience.

Full View of the Demented Santa "Chocolated" Advent CalendarThe pictures behind the doors are mere tokens. The real treasure behind every door is a tiny little wafer of chocolate, scarcely big enough to taste, especially as it's relatively bland and tasteless. The real treat is the exuberantly silly holiday art.

"24 Chocolated Days Til Christmas" -- I looked to see where Trader Joe's had these made. I figured it was probably China, and that something got lost in the translation. But no, it was another "C" country -- Canada.

Not exactly the magical glitter of the German Advent calendars of my childhood. More of a modern, amped-up version, complete with over-the-top cartoon art, but it's been a cheerful presence on my desk.

Penitents at Borders atoning for having missed Amazon's Christmas shipping deadline

Penitents at Borders Atoning for Having Missed Amazon Deadline
Including me. But I had plenty of company.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the book is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

One way to cope with the weather: Curl up with a good book in the bookstore of your choice while the snow comes down outside. You can call it Christmas shopping. Borders, University Avenue.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lighting our Solstice candles in Wingra Park at sunset in the subzero windchill

Lighting Our Solstice Candles at Sunset in the Subzero Windchill
It's hard to believe that two years ago our Solstice celebration involved umbrellas. Today, with subzero wind chills in the afternoon, our celebration was somewhat abbreviated. We drove down to the Wingra Boathouse in hopes of finding some shelter from the wind five minutes before sunset. We were out there not long after. The customary harvesting of ice shards for T's ice lantern was abandoned (besides, the ice on Lake Wingra was covered under all that snow), and a plastic cup had to suffice. We were soon out of there. The candles, however, were still burning a couple hours later, a warm flickering light in the darkness of the longest night of the year. Happy Solstice! Here's hoping yours has been warmer than ours.

Not too many dials spinning on these Monroe Commons gas meters

Not Too Many Wheels Spinning on These Monroe Commons Meters
Monroe Commons was the first condo development I focused on in the Condos After Dark series in Letter from Here and in this Flickr set. The series was meant to be an ironic commentary on the condo overbuilding taking place in Madison, but as the market began to slow and then tank entirely, there no longer seemed to be much point.

I passed these gas meters for the Monroe Commons condos in the basement garage of Trader Joe's the other day. What caught my eye at first was the pattern they made -- like the wiring for some sort of electric circuit, with pipes instead of wires.

But then I recalled the old Monroe Commons post and wondered how many of them were actually in use. I checked the small dial on each that meters out the individual cubic feet of gas as they go flowing by -- the one that you can see actually moving when gas is being used. Only eight were moving. Maybe that's why the building looks so dark when you drive by on Monroe Street.

Of course, a snapshot of gas consumption at one moment in time doesn't necessarily correlate directly to occupancy rates. When I got home I checked the Monroe Commons website. Turns out that, as of October, 29 out of 51 units, or 57%, were sold. Some were probably bought as investments and aren't necessarily owner-occupied. That, combined with the fact that most of the units that did sell are on the upper floors facing away from Monroe Street, explains why, now, some two years after it opened, the complex still seems mostly deserted when you drive by on Monroe.