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News

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics


The Town Crier chronicled the first election of Los Altos City Council incumbent Jarrett Fishpaw in 2010 and documented the Los Altos candidacy of Jean Mordo, who volunteered as a longtime public servant in Los Altos Hills before moving to the flat...

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Schools

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system


Courtesy of St. Simon Parish School
St. Simon fifth-grader Matthew Cummins uses a laptop in class last week. The school’s cloud-based Schoology system boosts organization and collaboration.

Families at St. Simon Parish School in Los Altos laun...

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Community

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos main library is among the more popular branches in the county library district system, set to celebrate 100 years.

In 1914, Babe Ruth made his debut with the Boston Red Sox, wages hit $5 per day, the first ste...

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Sports

Eagles eye another stellar season

Eagles eye another stellar season


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos High outside hitter Carmen Annevelink, right, goes for the kill Thursday against Palo Alto, as teammates Sarah Tritschler, left, and Lulu Kishton prepare to play defense. The Eagles won the match in straight ga...

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Comment

Torok, Walter, Dave for MVLA board: Editorial

There’s really nothing major you can criticize about the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District. It offers a diverse array of effective programs for all types of students. Its instructors, with few exceptions, are outstanding.

Howe...

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Special Sections

'Funabout' Fiat

'Funabout' Fiat


Photos courtesy of Fiat
The 2014 Fiat 500e uses 29 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, which the engineers claim is the equivalent of 116 mpg of gas use. It has a sticker price of $33,095.

If you believe in climate change, would love to see alternat...

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Business

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground


Ted Fagenson

An East Bay app developer is testing his newest creation in downtown Los Altos.

Ted Fagenson, co-founder of Skrownge (pronounced “scrounge”), told the Town Crier that he’s beta testing his mobile gaming app this week ...

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Books

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween


Courtesy of Dee Ellmann
Jenny Hurwick self-published her picture book last month after decades of storytelling.

During her years working as a teacher and a Los Altos mom, Jenny Hurwick loved to tell stories. One tale she crafted for her son just se...

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People

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

July 27, 1953 – August 12, 2014

Native Los Altan died Medford, OR. Graduated Bellarmine Prep. Married Josephine Domino, 1950. Licensed Auto Mechanic, Private Pilot, skilled Computer Scientist. Tim “could fix anything”. Afflicted with cancer 2001. ...

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Travel

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup


Rich Robertson/Special to the Town Crier
The sun sets over the Aegean Sea in Bodrum, Turkey, left.

Tours that whisk you from Istanbul to Bodrum in 11 days are as plentiful as souvenir hawkers in Turkey, but traveling from the Blue Mosque to Topkapi ...

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Stepping Out

'Gypsy' on its way out

'Gypsy' on its way out


Chris Berger/Special to the Town Crier
Alison Koch of Los Altos plays Dainty June in “Gypsy.”

This is the final weekend to catch the Sunnyvale Community Players production of “Gypsy” at the Sunnyvale Theatre. The musical is slated to close Sund...

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Spiritual Life

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Herman Lukwago educates children in Uganda.

Imagine life if your father had 25 children and you were raised in poverty in rural Uganda.

Now imagine that you and your siblings were orphaned at an early age and you ass...

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Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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Build it and the birds will come

Photo Jim Howard/Special To The Town Crier Running water from a fountain attracts an array of birds to any backyard. Placing the water feature near a shrub gives the birds somewhere to flee if they fear a predator nearby.

 

Five years ago, Jim and Meredith Howard bought a 1971 slab house with a flat concrete-paved backyard in the Bay Area and began transforming it into a habitat garden.

They wanted to create an interesting and functional space that attracted native birds and insects, learn the local native plants, improve drainage and do it all on a budget without wasting materials or hauling truckloads to the landfill.

At a recent Gardening with Natives talk, Jim Howard demonstrated how they did it. As the district conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in San Mateo County, Howard was already attuned to nature, but the South Bay environment was new.

Starting with the front yard, the Howards consulted with Acterra, a restoration nursery, to choose appropriate native plants. Because the goal was to attract wildlife, they focused on species rather than cultivars.

“You don’t know what you’re breeding out and what ecological functions you’re impairing” if you use a hybrid or cultivar, Howard said.

For instance, he said, monkeyflowers bred or selected for larger, more colorful flowers are less attractive to hummingbirds than the ones found in nature. But, he noted, ceanothus and salvia cultivars seem to be as full of insect life as the species.

“We couldn’t believe how quickly” and how many birds found the garden, he said.

Birds came instantly when they installed the native plants.

They noted a huge increase after adding a water feature. Following Audubon Society recommendations, they placed the water feature within 10 feet of a shrub where birds could seek cover to elude predators.

“There’s always something going on in the yard,” Howard said.

Bushtits, for instance, will consume 40 percent of the bugs in a mature shrub. California Towhees especially like purple needlegrass seeds. Howard has observed a Townsend’s Warbler eating caterpillars from hummingbird sage plants and robins resting under yellow lupines. At least 37 species of birds visit the garden. Though crows, jays and ravens populate the neighborhood, they don’t come to this garden.

The biggest task was to improve drainage in the backyard. The Howards rented an electric pavement breaker to cut the tons of concrete into slabs, many of which they dry stacked into raised beds and used for stepping-stones. For the rain garden, they dug a hole and filled it with cobble-sized concrete chunks and then gravel, topped by geotextile. The rain garden has successfully let rainwater soak into the soil onsite rather than pooling or flowing into the street.

Howard offered advice for others contemplating an ecosystem restoration garden.

• Stick to natives. Native plants are the best food source for native insects and other wildlife.

• Go for complexity of structure, flower color and flower type. Use shrubs, trees, ground covers and perennials that offer a range of habitat niches. A variety of flowers will attract different pollinators.

• Do whatever you can. Start small, but start somewhere. It took only three summers for the Howards’ garden to look “done.”

• Learn as you go.

“You could spend a lifetime investigating what to do and know less than when you started,” he said.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Tanya Kucak gardens organically. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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