The Results Are In!

We wanted to see which of three added fertilizers would result in more growth for our basil plants; a commercial powder, our own compost, and our own worm castings, with an a fourth basil plant with nothing added as a control.

Here is the ‘Nothing Added’ plant

The commercial powdered fertilizer.

The worm castings plant.

And above is the added compost one.

Hmm… Can’t tell the difference?

Well I figured out that the problem with my experiment was that as basil plants get bigger, you can’t help but want to make some pesto.

So the photos above are after I cut off the best leaves to use in my pesto. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the one with the added compost wins. All for the advancement of Science!


Volunteer pumpkin

All of our vegetables in the garden are doing great this year. The only thing that has not worked out so far are our pumpkins. We grew six pumpkins from seed, they were all hardened carefully, transplanted to the garden, and then they all died in about a week. Pumpkins need warm weather, and unfortunately we had a couple of cool nights in late June that probably killed them.

However, we do have a volunteer pumpkin in our side yard which is doing great. Is the term ‘volunteer’ used outside New England? It means that we did not plant this one, it just started growing. Most likely from a composted pumpkin from last year. It stretches across two sections of fence, each about eight feet long. Every few days I have to check to see if it is growing into my neighbors yard, I’ve already had to move the huge vines out of the neighbor’s yard twice.

There’s also a small tomato plant squeezed in there too.

I hope we get some pumpkins from this one!

A gardening experiment

We’re experimenting with our basil this year. We eat a lot of pesto, and it usually costs something like $6 for a four ounce jar, so we’ve been growing our own. Homemade pesto is very inexpensive and any excess can be frozen too.

Basil tends to grow like a weed here, but I noticed that our plants have not been doing well so far this year. We have them in old kitty litter bins, to keep the dog from trampling them. It’s possible that the potting soil-dirt mix may just be played out, it’s been in the same bins for a few years now. So we’ve added some supplements to the bins to see which one helps the plants the most.

In this bin we have added some compost from our own compost bin. Decomposed fruit and vegetable peels and cores, grass clippings, leaves.

A commercial plant food. It’s a powder that is mixed with water.

Worm castings. We have a worm bin. C likes to say that he takes care of a thousand pets in addition to the dog. Possibly another post to come on that. The worms eat the same type of fruit and vegetable scraps that we have in the compost, they also eat paper, newspaper, and cardboard. We then gather up the finished castings.

And as a control, a bin with nothing added.

Each bin had about a quart of each supplement added to try to make sure each one is equal. Each one also receives about the same amount when we water them.

We’ll see what happens.

Vegetable Garden ‘18

Last year we had a plot in our town’s community garden area. We have a small yard and what do have planted will be trampled by our dog anyway so the community garden is a good option. We had been on the waiting list for about two years, and I had not planned anything ahead of time when they assigned us our plot in late May. So we had to rush to get seedlings in the ground and we just were not able to get much done in time, so by the end of the season we ended up with just some carrots and a few stalks of basil.

Once you’re in the garden you are automatically renewed unless you cancel so this year we were determined to plan ahead! Here’s what the garden looks like at the beginning of the season.

We have a 20 x 40 plot, located where the pile of garden tools are in the photo. In the distance are a group of guys playing cricket!

Here’s what it looks like now.

Several plots are in the photo, ours is the three rows in the center. The enormous cabbage in the foreground is C’s contribution, part of a school project. Whoever grows the biggest cabbage in his grade wins! I forget what the winner gets, but he’s determined to win.

Here’s our Brussels sprouts and swiss chard.

Here’s our zucchini.

Results are already much better than last year. We’re going to have more zucchini than we can eat. We’re already using it for zucchini bread.

The whirlwind

Where does the time go? Looks like it’s been six months since I’ve posted anything!

I’ve been busy training our new dog mostly. She’s an Australian Shepherd, a very active breed. Here’s a typical photo from when we first got her: just a blur of puppy energy. That’s a rope she’s chewing on.

We found out quickly that she’s bred to herd. She refuses to leave the house unless she’s in back of us, nudging at our side with her head. Here I am trying to teach her it’s OK to go out to the backyard.

Ok, come on out! Here, watch me!

Where are you going boss, you’re not supposed to get too far ahead of me!

She’s a chewer too. The dog really did eat the homework.

Ate the pencil too.

And part of the wall.

Soft toys don’t last long. I gave her this one just this morning, it’s already in the trash.

The 2:00 am wake up calls were exhausting during the house training stage. But she’s getting better, already growing out of the puppy stage.

Her name is Juno, or maybe it’s spelled Juneau, or Jeuneo.

More infrequent blog posting to come!

A brush with greatness

Yesterday, I was reminded of this incident from way back in my college days. I think this happened in 1987.

It was late on a Friday night and I was walking around the student activity center.  I was taking a break from studying, or maybe I was on my way out for the night, I don’t recall.  I walked down a corridor and something caught my eye.  There was some activity in a meeting room that looked out of the ordinary.  The door had a glass window at the top,  so as I walked by I saw a group of people in the room milling about who didn’t quite look like students.  There were maybe a dozen or so in the room.  Most were talking in groups of two or three.  There was one person who stood out among the others.  He was wearing a leather jacket, sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette, drinking what looked like beer from a glass, looking both oddly frail and menacing at the same time.  Who is that guy, he looks vaguely familiar.  The “Student Activity Center” was really an enormous study hall, there was no smoking allowed in the building, and drinking was obviously banned too.  So maybe it was him raising the glass that caught my eye at first, or maybe it was his smoking, since either one would have been very noticeable.

During my college years, I spent a lot of time listening to a nightly program on a college radio station. “No Commercial Potential” was the name of the program.  As the title suggests, anything unusual was played, especially current experimental, electronic, or punk rock music.  If anything sounded good to me, I would take a bus, then a train, to go to the one store in the Boston area that sold records by these no commercial potential artists.  I would also sometimes purchase music magazines imported from the UK, such as NME, or Melody Maker, to find out more about the artists that were played on the college radio station.

It soon struck me who the man at the table was, I was sure that I had seen his picture in one of the magazines. Was it Mark E. Smith from The Fall?  Were The Fall playing at the theater in the student center?  I had not heard about that, this was exciting news.

‘Hey!  Mark!  Hey!!!  I shouted from my side of the door, probably looking like a mental patient.

“Hey, it’s The Fall! Are you playing here tonight?!”  I shouted again.  By this point I was most likely jumping up and down a bit too, looking increasingly like a deranged person by this point.

Mark narrowed his eyes at me, called over another guy in the room and pointed to me. The second guy approached the door, opened it up.

Wow, I thought, maybe they’re going to let me into the show?  Or maybe meet the band?

He quickly slid through the door, and said…

“Mark wants you to FUCK OFF!!”

“Oh, Ok, sorry”  I said.

OK, I guess that proves it. The Fall are playing here tonight. I slunk away. I’m being a little sarcastic in the title of the post as I had read a little about how Smith sometimes reacted with fans,this was not really out of character, it may have even been a bit subdued for him.

I went downstairs to the theater that was in the student center, which did indeed list ‘The Fall” as being on the schedule for that evening.  I purchased a ticket and went inside.

‘Theater’ is a generous term, it was more like a large meeting room. It was an area that was also used as overflow for the cafeteria.  It was a sparse crowd. Not surprising since Mark Smith and The Fall never really made much of an impact on the radio here in the US.  His lyrics are cryptic, meandering, sometimes political, and more spoken than sung.  And for a few years I absolutely loved everything they released. There were plenty of other bands and performers who I liked more, and The Fall were often just too abrasive for long term listening, but in my quest to find the unique sounds of the time, they were one of the leaders.

The band appeared on stage first.  Look there’s that guy who yelled at me, playing guitar! Mark Smith came on stage and for the entire concert he sang while holding a cigarette in one hand and glass of beer in the other.  He did keep a stool nearby where he would place the beer now and then, to give his arms  a rest I suppose, or to pour more into the glass.  He never faced the audience, standing somewhat to the side of the drummer, his back to the crowd, but oddly enough he was a very charismatic performer.  You just couldn’t help but watch him.  He didn’t sing in the traditional sense so much as snarl.  Spitting out the words not with the rage common among punk rock singers but with a detachment, as if to say ‘This is the way it is, you can’t do anything about it.’   What was he saying? What is he going to say next?  Would he leave the stage early for some unknown reason?    The Fall and Mark Smith performed a full concert that night, which may have been unusual.

I had not listened to The Fall in years when I heard that Mark Smith had died on January 24, he was just 60.   He was a unique artist.  I’m not sure who I would compare him to.  Lou Reed? Tom Waits? Captain Beefheart?  No, there wasn’t anyone else like him.

Here’s a link to a better tribute than I could ever write by someone who followed the band from beginning, sometime around 1976, to end.  Mark Smith was performing up to the end too, having recently performed from a wheelchair with his arm in a sling.

#2 – Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Next up in my challenge to read 25 books in 2018 is Just My Type by Simon Garfield.  Hey Book nerds, this one is right up your alley!

One of the things I do when starting a new book is to check if there is a ‘Note on the Type’ somewhere at the start or end of the book. Sometimes it’s just a sentence like ‘Set in Times New Roman’, sometimes though the book provides a detailed history such as this from a reprint of a Dashiell Hammett book I have:

‘This book was set in Janson. The hot metal version of Janson was a recutting made direct from type cast from matrices long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson who was a practicing type founder in Leipzig during the years 1668 – 1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650 – 1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from the master Dutch type founder Dirk Voskens.”

This Note on the Type goes on like that for another couple of sentences.  I find it interesting, but then again, I’ve worked in Publishing since 1988.


This is the type of non-fiction book that provides an overview of the subject, without using too much technical information and jargon which might bore the reader with just a casual interest in the subject.  There’s lots of historic anecdotes on the development of typefaces and bios of type designers.  Garfield profiles some of the well known historic designers like Berthed Wolpe, Hermann Zapf, Eric Gill, William Caslon, Adrian Frutiger, and a few more recent designers like Zuzanna Licko.  There are stories about how governments have used typefaces for various forms of propaganda, like the Nazis who started off using very traditional German gothic black typefaces but changed to more modern sleeker designs.  Or the story of how a United Nations organization released posters and ads discouraging the use of pirated media, but was found to have used a typeface that they had not asked the designer permission to use.  Of course there are stories about specific typefaces, such as why did Helvetica become so universally used here in the U.S?    Coke, it’s the real thing!  Helvetica!    Or how Cooper Black is an awesome typeface to use when you need enormous, readable words, such as how EasyJet used it on the sides of their planes.  Then again, Cooper Black is not so readable when it’s used in a much smaller font, it looks great as the title of The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ album, but it’s just about unreadable when used to list the song titles on that album.

A feature that seemed novel at first but obvious after a few pages is that the text will briefly appear in the type being described.  So when he is writing about the dreaded Comic Sans, the words appears in that type, though thankfully very briefly.  (I’ve found that it’s not that easy to change the typeface in WordPress, so I’d do it here, but from reading the directions on how to do it, it looks like it would take too long!)    At least one thing I learned is that the name of the typeface that I’ve always admired, which I’ve seen used on a lot of book covers from the 1950’s – 1960’s,  is Albertus.  Here’s a few examples below, Faber & Faber used this typeface a lot for their book covers during this time.

I’m sure that I’ve bought books that used this typeface just because I liked the cover. It’s also used on the blue plaques describing historic sites in the UK.

I’ve worked in publishing a long time, but I’m no expert on type, so I  learned a lot from the book, but it did leave me wanting to know more.  There’s not much of a conclusion to the book, there’s no speculation as to where typography is going, and the emphasis really is on the designs of the 20th century.    I would have liked a bit more information on how typefaces are chosen by designers, there’s a little of that, but a few interviews with current designers on how they use type would have been interesting.   And how about that cover!  That white on black typeface used is just about unreadable, why did the designer use that?  Is it even an official type?  Doesn’t even look like it’s a book on type at all.   Overall though it’s  a fun, quick read.

So that’s two so far of the goal to read 25.  It doesn’t help the ‘To Be Read’ pile though as this one was a library book.  Getting library books helps me in getting the book read though since I have to return it, instead of letting it sit in a stack for months.

Mr. C read ‘The Incorrigible Children of Aston Place’  by Maryrose Wood.  He was quite proud that he read this since his school lists it as a fifth grade level book, and he’s just in the third grade.  I’ve read some of it, its pretty funny in a very wry way, maybe “deadpan” or “straight faced”  could be other terms to use to describe it:

“Miss? Miss? The conductor stood in the aisle next to her seat and spoke a bit louder than he normally would, in order to be heard over the screechy din of the train’s brakes being applied.

“Is it bandits?” Miss Lumley cried, half asleep, “For, though unarmed, I will fight!”

The most recent book that Ms. J has read is  ‘Red Scarf Girl’ by Ji Li Jiang, which is a young adult book that adults would like it too.  It’s a memoir of how the author was told to renounce her parents by the Communist party during the “Cultural Revolution”,  she refused and still managed to survive.

Ms. J has somehow managed to read eight books so far this month.  How is this possible, I wondered.  Turns out that she has been finishing a lot of books that she had abandoned earlier.  A finished book still counts to her goal of fifty, I guess.  I have to catch up!



2018 Reading Challenge

I always have some kind of resolution each year, never really having much success with any of them.  Last year I was supposed to somehow become more organized, weight loss is also a perennial favorite, this year I’m going with reading more.  I’ve been wasting too much time on my smartphone, so I’m going to combine two goals and say that I’ll stop using the smartphone after dinner, using that time to read instead.  The goal is to read 25 books this year.  Ms. J is joining in with a much more ambitious goal of 50 books.  We have too many books in the house too, so another benefit of the plan is to maybe reduce the piles of unread books that are stashed everywhere.  Reading 25 books might seem like a modest goal, but I’m trying to reduce the smartphone use gradually, so my progress might be slow at first.  I suppose blogging about this combines  yet another goal of posting more often, I’ve probably been averaging one post per month lately!     I’ve never been very good at keeping resolutions, but maybe posting the progress will add an incentive. If I could only somehow exercise or organize things and read at the same time, I would have all resolutions covered.

My first book is ‘Home Before Night’ by Hugh Leonard.  A memoir of Mr. Leonard’s life in Dublin, from the late 1920’s through the late 1960’s. I had never heard of Hugh Leonard before, I’ll admit that I picked this entirely based on the cover illustration, which was done by Michael O’ Shaughnessy.  My copy was published by Penguin in 1979, it seems as though more recent editions have a different cover, a photo of a toddler in a pedal car.  It’s a cute photo, I’m assuming it’s of the author at a young age, but it doesn’t really give the potential reader the added impression of the setting that this cover does.

What little I’ve read that has been set in Ireland has been in rural settings, this one though is entirely based in Dublin, just as the cover illustration leads you to believe. Dublin is important in the book, but the main focus here is the characters that Leonard describes; family, neighbors, school teachers, workmates, friends.  Here’s how the book begins, with a description of his grandmother:

‘My grandmother made dying her life’s work. I remember her as a vast malevolent old woman, so obese that she was unable to wander beyond the paved yard outside her front door. In those days people confused old age with valor, they called her a great old warrior. This had the effect of inspiring her to gasp even more distressingly by way of proving them right and herself indomitable.’

Here’s another:

‘My great-aunt Julia lived in a ramshackle drunkard of a house. Hardly a year passed without part of  the ceiling falling down in one room or another, and when the damage became severe enough, she simply locked the door and never set foot in that room again.’

The memoir is filled with mostly humorous stories, nothing really traumatic happens, he gets along well with his parents, he has a large extended family, which is the source of a great deal of the stories and vivid descriptions.  The one somewhat tragic incident involves his pet dog, (of course it does, when a dog appears in a memoir you just know something sad is going to happen), but even then the story turns out OK in the end.   The vast majority of the book focuses on his grade school days and then his time in college. However, later in the book, a civil service job he held for fourteen years only manages to get a few pages. This job seems to be the one source of any regret in his life. He managed to spend fourteen years doing a job he hated, leaving that job to become a full time writer. He won a Tony award for his play ‘Da’ in 1979.  I’m sure he used the time in that job to accumulate characters he would use later in his plays.  His detailed description of his boss, a Mr. Drumm, is one of the best written I’ve read in a long time.

From the two examples of his writing above, it might seem as though he is a bit mean-spirited, but I never got the impression that he didn’t love every one of the family members and friends he describes, even the ones who received the most cutting of remarks in his descriptions.

This memoir covers the part of his life up to when he quit his civil service job, a second memoir covers his later life ‘Out After Dark’.  This is a very funny memoir,  If you can find a copy, highly recommended, probably the best book I’ve read in a long time.

I read that Hugh Leonard also wrote a weekly humorous column for the Irish Sunday Independent, in which a frequent subject was his abhorrence of a broadcaster named Gay Byrne.  When Leonard retired from writing the column, Gay Byrne took it over. When asked if it bothered him if his old nemesis was writing the column, his reply was, “It would gall me more if he was any good at it”.

Here’s what Ms. J has read so far, with her very brief reviews  She’s already ahead of me, having read three books so far.

Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff – ‘More of the same, if you like ’84 Charring Cross Road’ you’ll like this.’

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart – “Already forgotten most of it”

The Clothes they Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van by Allan Bennett – The first is supposed to be funny but it’s just dated and not at all funny, the second is strangely exploitative of the person in the title.

I’ll add in what Mr. C has read too!

A Tintin story, ‘The Cigars of the Pharoah’

How did you like it Mr. C?

“Oh you know, the usual,  Tintin looks for the bad guys, he gets bonked on the head, he finds the bad guys, it’s good.”

From the library of …

Let’s start 2018 with a story about a book.

Yesterday, I was looking through the stacks of unread books we have in the house and picked out a copy of ‘The Pilot’ by James Fenimore Cooper.  It’s an old book, looks like it was published in the early 1900’s.  We picked it up at a library book sale in Massachusetts last year.


Something I usually do with old books is check to see if there are any ownership marks, bookplate or signatures of the previous owners anywhere.  It’s fairly common for old books like this to have some kind of mark like that, sometimes they have long gift dedications too.  If there’s enough information, sometimes I’ll do an internet search to see if I can find any further information on the person who owned the book.  I’ve found some interesting things over the years in older books, but most of the time I just find an illegible signature, or if the name is legible it will often be a very common name with no further information.  This one has a signature on the first flyleaf, it’s in pencil, very faded, but still legible as  ‘Douglas Peabody’.


Douglas Peabody seems like a family common name, so I didn’t think I would be able to find anything further about the previous owner.  But then I saw that there was also an ink stamp on another page that lists not just the name, but a town and state as well; Star Prairie, Wisconsin.

Seems like  small enough town that there might be some further info available online.  The top result from a quick Google search listed a Douglas Peabody of Star Prairie who passed away in 1945. The second result listed was a post from another WordPress blog!

From the blog post it seemed like it could be the same Douglas Peabody who owned the book, so I sent the blogger a message  – and here’s her response:

“That is amazing. Douglas Peabody, of Star Prairie, Wisconsin was the uncle of Arla Mary (Peabody) Guion, the wife Grandpa lost when she was only 41. My Dad, their oldest child, was 17 and Dave, the youngest, was just 7.
My Uncle Ced, child # 3, hitchhiked to North Dakota and Wisconsin in 1934 when he was 17. He took his Mother’s death quite hard and decided that he needed to meet her family and see where she grew up. He spent four days at the Chicago World’s Fair and spent time with most of the Peabody’s, including Douglas. What a small world.
Thank you for letting me know. I am still flabbergasted !!!”

Appropriately enough, she blogs stories about her family history!  Here’s a link to her blog .

I wonder how the book managed to get from Wisconsin to Massachusetts and who else owned it over the years?