Sep 8 2010

#1 Military Power; Not So High on Literacy


This, from the Writer’s Almanac:

“Today, the U.N. lists Cuba has as having the second-highest literacy rate in the world, after the country of Georgia. The United States ties for 21st place with Canada and several northern European countries.”


Oct 5 2009

Starbucks Via Taste Test



On our way to Syracuse and on the return, Roger and I marked the passing miles with stops at Starbucks.  We’ve got the 6-hour drive divided into our favorite Starbucks rest stops.  As Starbucks recently rolled out their instant coffee, they are challenging customers to a taste test.  Could we tell the difference between their regular brewed Pike’s Peak and their new Via?  Roger got it right two out of three times  I  identified Via only one out of three tries.   Our overall conclusion–not too bad.  We can see how Via would be great for backpacking and camping trips.  The coupons for a tall coffee and for Via packages were nice, too.

Sep 13 2009

Is It Safe To Drink The Water?


Bottled water is stupidly expensive and environmentally irresponsible.  Most “city” water is supposed to be safe, but how do you know?  And what about those, like us, who are on a well?  We’ve had ours tested and supposedly it is fine.  I am going to test again with a home kit I picked up, just for peace of mind.  We use a lot of water — just ask CJ about our coffee drinking habits.

In the first eight years of this century, we in the United States seem to have lost a lot of ground in terms of environmental safeguards.  A recent report in the New York Times uncovers just how bad our water safety situation is.  Link here to their interactive map to see your local polluters:

Find out who’s polluting where you live: New York Times interactive

Fortunately, there’s nothing too close to us or too, too alarming.  I hope you, gentle reader, are as fortunate.

The interactive feature in the Times lets you zoom right in on your neighborhood.

The interactive feature in the Times lets you zoom right in on your neighborhood.

Aug 23 2009

Tomato Tragedy: Late Blight Fungus


Well, it’s the worst disaster to hit my tomatoes in all my gardening career.  If you’re a gardener, you know how bad the late blight fungus is this year — a veritable epidemic in the eastern U.S.  Evidently, the cool, damp Spring and a bad infection among some major growers created a perfect storm. You can read the Maryland Cooperative  Extension Service’s info here:

Region’s Tomatoes & Potatoes At Risk of Devastating Disease

I noticed it first on three plants at the end of our “tomato alley.”  But when I went to pull and dispose of those plants the next day, it was clear that the entire crop is infected.  I did pull those three plants as planned — indulging that helpless feeling of having to do something — but I left the rest.  Basically, the fruit that is on the vines is mostly ripening and usable.  Maybe 15% spoiled.  But the vines themselves are rapidly dying off, and no more fruit will be set.

That said, we’ve enjoyed quite a number of tomato sandwiches, and tomato-mozzarella salads, and last night we sent off some of our guests from Nicole’s send-off party with small bags of tomatoes, and today I made maybe 5 or 6 quarts of homemade tomato sauce.  But we won’t be doing the massive canning that we anticipated.

It’s sad, because the plants were so big and beautiful and loaded with nice fruit.  I just hope the fungus doesn’t overwinter.  It typically does not, but there is concern that it may have mutated.  We’ll take some precautions.  Meantime…

Lessons Learned

  1. Plant further apart.  No matter how far I space them, it’s never enough.  I will plant fewer and further apart next year.
  2. Be cautious about evening watering.  I’ve never been too disciplined about this; after all, it rains at night, right?  But I’ll avoid this practice in the future.
  3. Water from the bottom.  I will set up a drip or seeping irrigation system next year.  I’ve always meant to do this.  Now I have incentive.
  4. Start our own plants exclusively.  I really doubt any of the plants from Dana’s, our favorite nursery, brought it here, but who knows?

Aug 9 2009

Prize Winners At The Fair!


Live blogging from the Howard County Fair. Great showing. Firsts for Italian sweet peppers and yellow bells; second for green bells; third for green beans. The squash ducks photo won second in the adult still life/flowers and vegs category. Yeah! BTW, first time posting using WP iPhone app. Fingers crossed.

Aug 8 2009



The top two political news stories last week appeared to be the Republican/Democratic opposition concerning health care and their split over the confirmation of Sonya Sotomayor.  It seems that nothing productive can be done in the name of CHANGE that doesn’t include the test of who can shout his point of view (whether it’s right–and often it’s very wrong) the loudest.

I saw this poem on The Writer’s Almanac and decided that this is the kind of patriotism I want to support.

Patriotism  by Ellie Schoenfeld

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.

Aug 3 2009

Chocolate Lovers Celebrate!


I read today that the new chocolate is the raw bean itself. Raw chocolate bars sound interesting and, according to this article, nutritious.  Hooray!  Bring on those vitamins, minerals and antidepressants.  How many can I eat each day?

Jul 27 2009

Teachers and Obesity


My son called me today to tell me he heard a story on the radio about a politician who proposed that teachers must be a healthy weight in order to be better role models for children.  Even though it was a passing remark, I found myself thinking about obesity and teaching for the rest of the day.

I did a web search and found what I think was the source of the story. State Rep. Rida Cabanilla introduced a resolution in the house requesting that the Board of Education establish an obesity database among public schoolteachers. This was in March 2005.  Of course, many who responded were offended by Cabanilla’s proposal.

Still, it got me thinking.  I think that many teachers applaud the move to healthy snacks instead of sodas in the snack machines for students; however, I don’t think that the teachers would be willing to give up the sugary snacks in the teachers’ lounge.  Don’t take away my access to sodas and candy bars!

On one hand, size discrimination is still accepted by our society—look at all of the movies and television shows where the fat characters are taunted, or they make fun of themselves:  Rosanne,  Homer Simpson, and  Gwenyth Paltrow’s character in Shallow Hal.  I see this proposal as another way to marginalize those who struggle with their weight. 

On the other hand, the headlines today reported that the cost of obesity carries a hefty price tag.  ( It’s easy to condemn others for our health care costs and difficult to apply the same standards to ourselves.

Where do teachers begin?  We started a Weight Watchers group at our school last year.  We organized a similar group about five years before that.  It was expensive and difficult for teachers to meet after school because of other obligations, advising, tutoring, and coaching.  Inevitably, the early enthusiasm wilted, and the group disbanded.

What’s the answer?  How can we teachers change our habits and lead children to change theirs?

Jul 21 2009

Hang Up And Drive, Dammit! And Slow Down While You’re At It.


I’ve changed my mobile talk habits dramatically, since the data seems to have reached a critical mass.  It’s just stupid to talk on the phone and drive, even with a hands-free device.   Read here some of what the government has suppressed about the dangers:

Driven to Distraction – In 2003, U.S. Withheld Data Showing Cellphone Driving Risks – Series –

Oh, and speaking of needless highway deaths and countless injuries, not to mention a catastrophic energy and climate crisis, what ever happened to that 55 mph speed limit?  Details:

55 mph stats

Guess we’re all just too damned important and in too much of a hurry.  I suggest:  slow down, shut up, or stay home.

Jul 20 2009

Tomato Alert: Late Blight Fungus


Bad news for tomato growers and gardeners throughout the East. Late blight fungus is spreading wide — “explosively” according to the USDA — and destroying whole crops. Link to an article below. A reminder that tomatoes in the garden require good hygiene. If there’s any doubt at all, do NOT compost your tomato vines. These things are nasty and highly contagious, even season to season.

New York Times article on late blight fungus

May 16 2009

A Good Day For Food


Finally, the wooden fence posts are all in around the garden.  Sorry it took so much time and whining.  But now the fence can be finished no matter the weather.  Give me two weeks.

A toad kept me company in the garden, last night when I was mulching with grass clippings (more on this great technique in a later post), and today when I was setting the posts.  The plants look pretty happy.

This evening, my beloved and I went downtown for dinner at the Helmand (eggplant, lamb, chicken, Afgan pudding with fresh fruit) and a talk and Q&A with Michael Pollan at the main Enoch Pratt library.  A good and lively session, packed — some were estimating 800 people.  I have Aimee Cardwell to thank for giving me my first Michael Pollen book, The Botany of Desire, so many years ago.  Second Nature is, of course, a favorite, because he writes so insightfully about gardening, but no one can dispute that The Omnivore’s Dilemma is his most important book to date.

Here’s a not-so-great shot of him from my iPhone, right after he signed my copy of TOD:


Apr 8 2009

Baltimore Garden Feeds Our Daily Bread


The Baltimore Sun reports that Mayor Dixon has been planning a 2,000 square foot vegetable garden for City Hall–twice the size of Michelle and Obama’s White House garden.  Who would have figured that vegetable garden could become a competitive activity.  Ours will be somewhere in the middle, @1776 feet (total garden–not total planting area).

Check out the story:,0,4687883.story

Mar 26 2009

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo


Dead Aid:  Why Aid is Not Working and How there is Another Way for Africa.  Heard this author and economist on NPR and haven’t stopped thinking about her book.  She is going to be on CNN talking to Fareed Zakirha on April 5.  Check out her website.  Has anyone read this book?  I want to know more about her perspective. Maybe I can get Roger to Kindle this for his iPhone?  Did I just write that?deadaid_jpg_display

Mar 14 2009

Thanks For The Header, John!


Our special thanks to interactive whiz, colleague and good buddy John Fabrizio for crafting our beautiful new blog header.  We’re ready to go public now.  Thanks, John!

Mar 7 2009

Economic Crisis Hits Home…and Garden


Flower shows being canceled.  Ouch.

Economic Crisis Takes a Toll on Flower Shows –