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Recent Reads – May 2012

This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow – A wonderful book about how a garden sustains a person beyond the food that it provides.  The story of her garden is her story of survival … of being transplanted into a new community, of a horrendous remodeling experience, of the death of her husband, and of the transformation into living alone in the house they built for their retirement.  More than that, it is about life-long learning that is the basis of being a great gardener.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton – Have you ever thought that you wanted to an antique dealer?  Or make money from comic books?  Or that selling your great aunt’s doll collection could make you millions?  Well, this book will either stoke the fire or scare you straight!  Showing both the highs and the lows, Maureen Stanton accompanies a knowledgeable mid-level dealer (note: many of the identities have been changed in the book to protect the innocent … and the guilty) through the grind of antique shows and shopping trips.  After years of chasing that elusive “great find”, the dealer is left with an overcrowded house and a packed schedule of shows to go to … and with the end of her book occurring as the economy tanked, you can guess at parts of the ending.  Either way, I would recommend this book, if for nothing else than to learn about the breadth of knowledge that it requires to even start playing the game!

Homegrown: A growing guide for creating a cook’s garden in raised beds, containers, and small spaces by Marta Teegen – Don’t waste your time on this volume.  Its information is recycled and the recipes are uninspired.  Just leave it on the shelf of your local library, where I wish that I left it …

And it begins … my first garden update.

Now that some of the stuff inside has been completed, we are finally getting around to doing some work outside the house.  While I like when things are finished inside, I am much more at home playing in the dirt!  So, here is a little update of the things that we are doing to make our yard into a garden (and the outside of our house into our home).

First, one of our goals is to incorporate as many perennials, edibles, and natives as possible.  Second, it has to look good and be functional for our family.  Third, cheaper is better and free is best.

So, let’s start in front of the house …  Continue reading And it begins … my first garden update.

A smattering of books (aka Recent Reads)

Here is some of the books that I have recently read …

  • The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past – An entertaining look at the various predictions that have appeared in Popular Mechanics, including both the ridiculous and the nearly true.  For the historian of science, these predictions are a useful tool and a fun parlor game; for everyone else, they are just a laugh!
  • Timeless Landscape Design  – This is not a details book!  This book is about design philosophy and is full of photos of high-end Southern (mainly) gardens.  I enjoyed the author’s design philosophy and some of the visuals provided me with inspiration, but little in this book was immediately practical for our new house and yard.  The few things practical ideas (suggestions like drawing the plan out or the relationship between interior rooms and the garden) were not new or unique to this volume.  Worth a gander because of visuals, but not very groundbreaking!
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – A wonderful memoir from a great writer who happens to be an accomplished chef that has lived a very interesting life.  What book can bring your from a bohemian upbringing to small-town France through catering kitchens and opening a restaurant to the stress of cooking in an Italian mother-in-laws country retreat’s kitchen?  For someone interested in food and the life of those who make it, I would recommend this book.
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals – Okay, I admit that I should have read this before, but I never got around to it!  Yes, it is a good book and Pollan is a writer that makes things easy to understand.  Yes, I would recommend it to anyone interested in food and health.
  • Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia – Okay, I admit that the title of this book hints at it not being a page-turner!  Yet, this is one of the more educational and useful books that I have recently read.  I read a lot of books and many of them are interesting or fun, but few of them I finish and want to add to my bookshelf.  This is one of those books.  This book is useful for anyone who lives in the area that it covers and spends time outside.  It is useful for the gardener trying to recreate a woodland area, the hiker identifying plants, the budding naturalist, and the hunter-gatherer.  This is one that is going on my wishlist!
  • Driveways, Paths and Patios – Quite a detailed book, but written for a British audience (which makes it odd that it was at the Martha Washington Library in Alexandria, VA).  It includes everything from a history of paving to the construction of patios to the pricing of materials.  If you want to DIY hardscaping, check it out.
  • Cast Iron Skillet Big Flavors – Okay little cookbook with a couple of interesting recipes and some helpful tips about cleaning and curing your cast iron.  Unfortunately, not very new or creative.
  • The Tree Book : A Practical Guide to Selecting and Maintaining the Best Trees for Your Yard and Garden – I read this book because of The Man Who Planted Trees.  This book was written by Jeff Meyer who is (or, was, at the time of writing) the director of the Famous and Historic Tree program of American Forests.  While I enjoyed reading the book, it does have some repetitive parts (such as the repeated installation and care instructions) but overall, is a well-written and useful book.


The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins

I received  thru the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program (you can read the review over there).  The book made me think about planting more trees and more native trees.  I have all ready purchased a number of native shrubs and small trees for our small yard, but I have been thinking about other things that I could do.  Continue reading The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins

Me on Fox 5 DC

About a month ago, I appeared on Holly Morris’s segments of the Fox 5 DC morning news.  After a little wait for the clips people to do their work, we were able to get the footage.  So, here is the complete broadcast segments about the Museum and the USPTO!

Museum Day Tomorrow, 24 Sep 2011

Tomorrow, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Magazine, museums across the country are opening their doors for free!  All you need is to register online for a ticket (they are good for two people) and then find local participating museums.

If you are in the DC area, may suggest some of the following that I have wanted to visit:

New Exhibit at Work

Here is a couple of weeks, a new exhibit is being installed at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum.  So, I thought that I would share its blurb …

Exercising Ingenuity in Fitness and Health is an exhibition highlighting the historic advances, current trends, and future technologies relating to a healthier body and mind.  This exhibit will feature notable inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame working in this area such as Robert R. Williams and his process for obtaining vitamins, John H. Kellogg for his development of breakfast cereal and exercise equipment, William J. Kroll and his improvements to the production of Titanium (a popular material used in sporting goods). Historic and current trademarks will also play prominently in the exhibit. A sample of trademarks that will be featured: “Castoria” one of the only truly patented patent medicines, “Postum” cereal beverage, “Gatorade” sports drink, “BOSU” balance trainer, and “Gore-Tex” fabric.


Opening on 14 October, which also is the first day of this year’s Trademark Expo, I expect that we will be pretty busy that weekend!

Jefferson’s Garden

Jefferson’s Garden

Over at Garden Rant they just posted about Jefferson’s Kitchen Garden and last night, I finished reading Peter Loewer’s Jefferson’s Garden which, after some introductory material about gardening during the period, the seed trade, and a profile of Jefferson as a farmer and gardener, profiles many of the plants that Jefferson grew and worked with.  While it is not the most exciting book, I greatly enjoyed the details of those plants that have survived since the early 19th century.  In addition, the suggestions contained in the book are very useful in my current garden planning!   Continue reading Jefferson’s Garden

Landscaping with Herbs

Rodale’s Essential Herbal Handbooks: Landscaping With Herbs written by Nancy Ondra is an interesting little book.  It will tell you nothing about the use of the herbs recommended for planting.  It will tell you very little about the cultivation of various herb varieties.  It offers a number of very specific landscape designs that gardeners can either implement directly or can use as inspiration for their own spaces.  These plans include species lists and plant numbers, so that the gardener, with book in hand, can visit their local nursery and get the exact plants that Ondra describes.

While this is a decent gardening book and very useful for the amateur, it does not contain enough useful information for the more advanced gardener or to become a standard reference volume on my bookshelf.

The world is a book and not traveling is like reading only a single page.