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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


No complaints, really, as I have easy access to such a diverse range of activities. But one thing that's in short supply around here is open, untouched countryside. So I was surprised to hear from an acquaintance about this little nature preserve that is actually within walking distance (not that I'd be apt to walk there) and that I'd never known existed. I went over there this morning to check it out.Here we go!A more rustic trail leads off to the left:Water!And this pathway, back at the main entrance, leads to the pond:
And here's the pond. There's a concrete dam of some kind - apparently people fish there.
And so, that's pretty much it. A pond, and bit of woods squashed between a school playing field and the Garden State Parkway. Access is from a nondescript dead-end residential street. Nature in New Jersey. We take what we can get.

Lawn reduction update

Big progress today on the lawn reduction. H&D were having some trees and shrubs trimmed and kindly thought to ask if I wanted the trimmings. Of course I did! Well, technically what I got were other peoples' trimmings - stuff on the truck that was already shredded and ready to go. So much the better. Now the "coverage" is complete - i.e. no cardboard or newspapers showing. Now just a matter of gradually building up the layers, aiming for October planting readiness.
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Monday, July 28, 2008


Painters have been at work across the street for weeks now. Scraping, sanding. I really liked the way it looked with the natural wood shingles (still visible at the left). But this is what confronts me when I open the front door this morning. Blue! It's hard to see in the photo, but the handsome old brick and stone chimneys have been painted DARK blue.

Looks like there will be some new street trees in my very near future. I am feeling very blue about this.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008


Catching grass, that is.

When I bought the gas mower a few years ago, the idea was that I'd use it only until the lawn reduction program was advanced to the point that I could realistically just use the old-fashioned push mower. There was a grass-catcher included, but I didn't pay any attention to how to attach it since my intention was just to let the clippings fly.

Now, however, I desperately need clippings to layer over the cardboard and newspapers which are artfully and attractively spread all over the front lawn. So today I had to figure out how to attach the catcher. I am SOOO un-mechanical, and those multi-lingual user guides drive me nuts - the worst part being the way they COMBINE the instructions for a million different models so you aren't even sure which parts apply to you.

Well I finally got it figured out - just before the rainstorm (a daily event, it seems) began. Oh well. In the meantime I've been clipping and deadheading everything like crazy just to create other layering material. The neighbors are used to my "science experiments" by now. It will all come together in time.

What else? Oh, the pool. I actually went there three times in the past week, as compared to not at all up til then. This has to be the rainiest summer in history.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Technical difficulties

A few weeks ago I was without on-line access for a few days. After conferring with Sid in India, it seemed that the best solution was to forget about the wifi/router thing and just connect the laptop directly to the modem. As in the olden days.

This would be fine. And it IS fine. Except that for no apparent reason the ethernet cable that connects the laptop to the modem is unreliable. I am constantly (like right NOW, for example), losing my connection and having to jiggle or otherwise reset the cable. In virtually every case there is absolutely no physical reason for the disconnect.

The minimalist in me likes the fact that I can just LOOK at the modem (it's right there, not in some far away room) and see whether all the lights are on. At least I know what to do about it. But the crabby old lady in me wishes they would just all STAY on.

Would a replacement cable help, o gurus who might be reading this....?

Update: After posting this I decided to root around and see if I had another cable. I did. And it seems fine now. Sometimes life is simple.

Update 2: Rarely is life simple. The second cable is also showing signs of flakiness. Which makes me wonder whether the problem is in the computer - maybe something wrong with the place where the cable connects? I dread having to go back to Sid, but it might be necessary.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking the bridge

Having the new Starbucks to walk to is turning out to be a very nice thing. Until now, there was a choice of two routes: the busy, most direct, Bloomfield Ave way, and the "back way", along a shady residential street. No question which to choose.

But now there's a third way. There's a new bridge in the glen.

First, walk around the corner to the train station.

Walk down the steps to the westbound platform.

Here's the view of the station from down below. It's not actually in service as a station any more. For years (ever since we have lived here, and before) it was the local real estate office. More recently it has been acquired by the town to be used as a community center. Count me among the skeptics who thought nobody would use it. Count me among those who were WRONG!

Walk east along the platform, and you soon come to this.

And here we come to the new bridge. This will take us to the other side of the glen.

Looking back, after having crossed:
With a waterfall like this less than five minutes from home, why do I think I need a pond?

There's even a pretty gazebo to relax in. Probably I don't need one of those either.

In the glen, looking west from the gazebo:

Here's the last part of the trip. From here we emerge onto Bloomfield Avenue. I'll spare you the view of the final, ugly block. Not so bad, all things considered.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Sun, and a Brooklyn itinerary

I've mentioned the NY Sun from time to time. If I don't happen to be breakfasting at Raymond's (that would be most of the time), I have to read it on line. Even the libraries don't have it. It's a weekdays-only paper, so no thousand-pound Sunday behemoth to plow through. I must have subscribed, at one point, to a daily "recap" of some kind, since I now get a morning email with a roster of headlines and a brief summary of each article. Even THAT they do really well.

The puzzle is as good or better than the one in the Times, and respected as such by afficianados. The politics are conservative. (I'm still behind Obama, so far, but that doesn't mean I don't remain open to all points of view.) And among the real treasures are the "Abroad in New York" columns of Francis Morrone, the architectural historian.

Today he is writing about Brooklyn's historic Brighton Line, part of the NYC transit system. Just when Mayor Bloomberg is exhorting New Yorkers to vacation at home this year (and I love that idea) comes a specific itinerary that really does sound like a vacation. And I've always wanted to try Di Fara's legendary pizza; now I know how to get there. I'm saving this one.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Passing, persicaria and ponds

Today's main accomplishment was getting the car to - finally! - pass the state inspection. I had been driving around with a big "failed" sticker on the windshield, and a 45-day window to correct the various problems. The new sticker announces that I'm good til 2010. Hooray! Now I can think about something else. Ponds, for example.

I had to go all the way to Wayne for the reinspection, since the Montclair place where I've gone for 35 years has just closed down for good. But there's a big garden center up in that neck of the woods, and I hadn't been there for several years. And I needed to celebrate, right? Most likely they were having a sale, so better check it out.
So now the driveway is full of huge plants that have to be dealt with. Three "Fragoo" strawberries - a new hybrid designed for containers or hanging baskets. All are lush, healthy, covered with blooms and berries - and marked down from $15 to $2. How could I resist?

I've haunted garden centers for long enough now that it's not often that I see a plant that is completely unfamiliar to me. This gorgeous "firetail" persicaria, or "mountain fleece flower" completely won me over. I have a couple of ideas about where to put it, but I think it will somehow fit into the grass reduction program in the front. It's such a large clump that I may be able to divide it soon, and put some back on the plateau, since it would also look great among all the hydrangeas back there.
If you've been to any biggish garden center in recent years you've noticed the trend: more and more space is given over to "aquaculture". A garden is simply not a garden unless it has a pond, preferably with a waterfall, or some kind of bubbling action going on. Just seeing all the equipment and chemicals are enough to make you want to run very fast in the opposite direction.
But I've been reading a lot of Henry Mitchell lately. His books - compilations of his columns from the Washington Post - are garden classics. Hilarious, yes, but also full of wisdom and sound, practical advice. The centerpiece of his Georgetown garden was a rectangular concrete fishpond.
In "One Man's Garden", pp136ff he describes his criteria for the building of a such a pond in some detail. "The pool should be in full sun". OK. (The middle of my back yard would be fine.) "The pool should be twenty-four inches deep". OK. "The pool should always be larger than you thnk is right". Hmm. I had been thinking about 10x10 max, and round. He suggests 10x12'. OK.
But then we come to the important and far more radical stuff: "Some gardeners install filter systems to keep the water absolutely clear. I would not have one if it were free... the few I have seen in operation have not worked, and ... there is nothing uglier in the garden than crystal clear water with filter systems visible". "The pool should have seaweed in it - meaning oxygenating grasses that live beneath the water. He suggests "common ditch grass", or elodea. He "never puts chemicals in the pond and does not intend to". AND - get this - "The fewer pipes in the pool, the better. I have none." He cleaned the pool, he explains, once every year or two by siphoning out the water with a hose.
Well, Mitchell died in 1993, but what has really changed since then? I didn't have the book with me, but I tried to talk with the guy who was manning the pond department about this, and he pretty much told me I was an idiot. The fish will DIE without a filter, he explained. Of course I couldn't remember the name of the seaweed or any of the other details. But it is sounding to me as if it could be possible to just build a big concrete TUB in the yard and then just start filling it with water and fish and waterlilies and seaweed. How hard could that be?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Montclair wandering

The appointment at the Volvo dealer for the repair of the mysterious emission problems that led to the failed state inspection (NJ is tough on these things!) was for 8:15. I knew it would be a long day. But it's pretty easy to kill time in Montclair, so I left the cell number and off I went.

First stop: Raymond's.

I usually go for the steel cut oats with caramelized banana, but today it was the orange ginger pancakes with fruit. Coffee is excellent and keeps on coming - you get your own little refill pot right on the table, and they are happy to refill the refill pot. Can you see the rack of papers? Always there with today's NYT, WSJ and - the best of all - the NY Sun. I catch up on the news and do the crossword and the sudoku in the Sun.

Next stop: the bookstore. What a luxury for a town to have TWO old-fashioned, independent bookstores. This one -the musty-dusty one - has a combination of new and old, similar to the Strand in NY, and to Powell's in Portland, OR. It's much larger than it looks from the outside. Because I have gardens on the brain, I settle mostly in the garden section.

I read the both of the following (both serendipitous discoveries) cover-to-cover.

The Nivola book tells the story of Nobel Peace prize winner Wangari Maathi and her one-woman campaign to restore beauty and agricultural self-sufficiency to her devastated native land. Reminiscent of Miss Rumphius, with lovely illustrations by the author.
Then I stroll for a while: On a whim I go into the bike shop and ask if there's anything I could safely and comfortably ride - never having had such a thought before. Yes, it turns out! Well, perhaps another day there will be a test drive!
I never get tired of the beautiful Avis Campbell garden, behind the library.
I note that I really would like to get some of those pale pink poppies going in my own garden. The trick, apparently, is to scatter the seeds in February, in the snow. And I'm reminded that it would be very lovely to have a pond of my own.

Quite a few hours have now gone by, but the phone is silent. So - might as well hang out in the libary for a while. There is a new photography exhibit to see, and a well-stocked magazine section with big, comfy chairs. In contrast to my own library, these magazines don't circulate, so the latest copy is always availabe, in addition to all the earlier ones. I picked up the June 30 New Yorker and read a wonderful Alice Munro story called Deep-Hole, and a beautiful memoir, Altered State, by Andrea Lee, about growing up in a well-to-do black family in Pennsylvania. I wasn't familiar with this writer (now married to an Italian and living in Italy), but intend to seek her out. Also in that issue - an article by Paul Goldberger about the changing face of Beijing - specifically the most recent architectural mega-structures and their effect on the city. (For an ongoing view of present-day Beijing I try to keep up with James Fallows' wonderful blog.) I read a years' worth of Organic Gardening, flip through Real Simple, House Beautiful, Horticulture.
I check the time. 3:45! Surely the car must be ready! Might as well wander down there and check. Yes, it turns out it is "almost ready" - just the paperwork remains. They were about to call. Should I be resentful of having to "waste" a whole day on this? Well, probably. But the truth of it is that I had a very pleasant time. I should be forced to walk the streets of Montclair more often.