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Friday, December 18, 2015

When did people start using "XOXO" to mean "hugs and kisses"?

After receiving a text with “XOXO” as the signoff, one of our patrons was curious about when and where the custom has originated. According to the 1965 book How Did It Begin? by R. Brasch, the X became synonymous with the kiss in the Middle Ages, when people would sign documents with an X and then kiss them to show their sincerity. However, Brasch offered no source for this information and didn’t mention the O, so we sought another source.

Around Valentine’s Day last year, Nadine Epstein wrote an article for the Washington Post on the history of X’s and O’s. She also traced the X back to its use as a signature, as well as its being used as a symbol for Christ (as in X-Mas). The Oxford English Dictionary attributes first use of “XXXXX” in a sign-off to a letter written in 1763, but the X’s there may have stood for “blessings” rather than “kisses.” In 1894, Winston Churchill wrote a letter to his mother that ended with “(Many kisses.) xxx” and a poem from 1893 mentions young women using “little crosses for kisses” in their love letters, so the custom can be traced back at least that far.

While the O is more of a mystery (although some people say it came to represent a hug because it visually resembles one), “XOXO” seems to have been around at least since the 1960s. Epstein even recalls her mother teaching her to end her letters that way.

For more information on letter-writing, Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note collects a variety of correspondence, and Laura Brown’s How to Write Anything gives advice on how to write letters, emails, and announcements. Both are available here at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Could you give me more information about this Louis Vuitton hat box?

A patron brought in a vintage brown leather hat box with a velvety, mushroom-colored lining. “Bté. SGDG Patent” was stamped on the lock, along with “Made in France,” “Louis Vuitton,” “1 Rue Scribe, Paris,” and “149 New Bond St., London.” Louis Vuitton opened a store at the Paris address in 1871, and his son opened one at the London address in 1889. “Bté. SGDG” is the abbreviation for “Breveté Sans Garantie du Gouvernement” which means "Patented without State Guarantee" and was used up until 1968. All of this information helps date the hat box a little.

The box was also stamped with a six-digit number inside. While Louis Vuitton pieces made in the last thirty years have date codes that can identify when and where they were made, we were unable to find anything to help us decode the number on the hat box.

Our patron was interested in possibly finding patent information for their item. We checked the French patent office (INPI) database, but it didn’t go back as far as we needed. INPI has a separate database called Brevets français 19e siècle set up for their vintage patents. We searched there too, but the information was sparse and nothing seemed to be for a hat box.

A little more searching around brought up an antique dealer’s website. The dealer had posted a hat box that looked very similar to the one our patron had brought in. On the website, the box was dated circa 1910 and valued in the $5,000-$15,000 range. We checked Price It!, one of our library databases, to get an estimate of better estimate of how much the box was worth. Similar items were selling for about $5,000.

We have several books on antiques available here at the library, such as the latest editions of Warman’s Antiques and Collectibles and Antique Trader Antiques and Collectibles. For more information on Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton: Art, Fashion, and Architecture is available through CLEVNET.

Friday, November 27, 2015

What is the golem?

“Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman have a new book out called The Golem of Paris. What exactly is the golem?”

The golem is a humanoid creature from Jewish folklore. It’s built, often from clay, by a righteous person with great knowledge of Kabbalah. The creature is given life when its maker inscribes a sacred word (often the name of God) on the golem itself or on a piece of parchment which is then placed on the golem or in its mouth.

Legends of the golem date back to medieval times and take different forms. They typically portray the creature as a hardworking, if overly literal, servant, with superhuman strength that made it useful for physical labor. In many stories, though, the rabbi then loses control of his creation and must destroy it in order to end its rampage. The golem can be destroyed by removing or erasing the sacred word that brought it to life. In some legends, the golem is inscribed with the Hebrew word for truth, emet. Erasing the first letter changes it to the Hebrew word for death, met, and thus the golem is returned to dust.

One of the most well-known golem legends is that of the golem of Prague. In it, the Maharel (which is an acronym that refers to Rabbi Yehudah Leib ben Betsal’el, whose name is also transliterated as Judah Loew ben Bezalel and Yehuda Loew) creates a golem to protect his people from anti-Semitic attacks. There are different endings to the story. In some, the Maharel simply disables the golem when it’s no longer needed. In others, he must destroy it when it becomes too large and violent. David Wisniewski’s Caldecott-winning interpretation blends the two. In his book, Golem, the Maharel destroys the rampaging golem, but only after the emperor guarantees the safety of the Jews. 

“Golem” was originally a Hebrew word that could be translated as “shapeless mass” or “unformed substance.” In Yiddish, the word is also used disparagingly for a clumsy or unintelligent person.

The Kellermans’ The Golem of Paris is actually a sequel to The Golem of Hollywood. Both books center around a Los Angeles detective whose family has a connection to the legendary golem of Prague. We own both books at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with David Wisniewski’s retelling, Golem, and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, a historical fantasy about a golem and jinni meeting in early-1900s New York City.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Will squirrels only eat half a buckeye?

“I heard that squirrels will only eat one side of a buckeye because one side is poisonous and the other isn’t. Is that true?”

We checked Grizmek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals: Volume 3, the Peterson Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Warner Shedd’s Owls Aren’t Wise and Bats Aren’t Blind, The Ohio Nature Almanac, and Osmond P. Breland’s Animal Life and Lore to see if there was any mention of this bit of folklore. While we learned a few interesting facts about squirrels (that they aren’t strict vegetarians, for example – along with nuts, seeds, and mushrooms, squirrels will sometimes also eat eggs and insects), we didn’t find any mention of squirrels only eating half a buckeye.

Looking around online, we found that Cindy Decker, a writer at the Columbus Dispatch, had already tackled the question. She went all the way back to the 1913 edition of The North American Journal of Homeopathy. In the journal, Dr. H.L. True writes of the experiment their friend Mr. C.H. Morris did on squirrels. Morris caged three squirrels and provided them with buckeyes to eat. The squirrels did not all start eating on the same side of the nut. While none of them ate their whole buckeye in one sitting, they would eventually go back and finish it when they got hungry enough.

According to a fact sheet provided by the Ohio Division of Forestry, while the buckeye can be poisonous to people, it doesn’t affect squirrels. It’s not their preferred food, but they will eat it if they can’t find anything better.

For more information about squirrels, check out Richard R. Thorington’s Squirrels: The Answer Guide, available through CLEVNET.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What is the white part inside an egg?

“When I crack an egg, sometimes there’s a stringy white piece attached to the yolk. What is that? Should I take it out?”

Merriam–Webster’s Visual Dictionary provided us with a labeled diagram of the inside of a bird egg, allowing us to identify just what part of the egg our patron was referring to and what purpose it serves. The stringy white bit is called the chalaza. It’s a ropy filament of egg white that’s there to keep the yolk in the center of the egg. It can also be an indicator of freshness – the more noticeable the chalaza, the fresher the egg.

The chalaza is perfectly fine to eat and its presence is not noticed in most dishes. However, it can interfere with the smooth texture of sauces and custards, so cooks will sometimes remove it.

CLEVNET carries a variety of egg-specific cookbooks, including Marie Simmon’s The Good Egg, Andrea Slonecker’s Eggs on Top, Terry Blonder Golson’s The Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook, and Kathy Casey’s D’lish Deviled Eggs. Any of these books can be ordered in to our library.

Friday, October 30, 2015

How did Youngstown State University get their mascot?

“How did the YSU Penguins get to be penguins? Why not something like cardinals or bears?”

One of our patrons called to ask about the origin of Youngstown State University’s mascot. While Ohio does get cold, the penguin still seems like a strange choice. We checked the YSU sports website and found a whole page about their mascot, including two stories of how it came to be.

Both stories are set on January 30, 1933, the night of a men’s basketball game at West Liberty State, West Virginia. YSU didn’t have any kind of mascot yet, though they were sometimes referred to as the Locals. Students on the men’s varsity basketball team had been tossing around mascot ideas with their friends all season, but hadn’t settled on any that they liked.

According to one story, as the team was driving to West Virginia through snow so deep that they sometimes needed to get out of their cars to push them out of snowdrifts, someone, perhaps inspired by the weather, suggested the penguin. Everyone in the car with them loved the idea, as did the rest of the team, and the penguin was accepted as a mascot by the end of the season without ever having to put it to a vote.

The other story, which has more of a ring of legend to it, tells that a spectator at the Youngstown vs. West Liberty game saw the men on the court stomping their feet and flapping their arms. They thought that the team looked like penguins, and the nickname stuck. While the first story is more likely, this one is also charming.

For more information on Youngstown history, Frederick Blue’s Mahoning Memories and Sherry Lee Linkon’s Steeltown USA are both available for borrowing. The College Basketball Book, published by Sports Illustrated, can be ordered through CLEVNET, and anyone interested in penguins can check out Tui De Roy’s Penguins: The Ultimate Guide.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What kind of snake is this?

A patron brought in a picture of a small snake she encountered. The snake is a tan color with dark brown splotches that seem to be outlined with black. It has no rattle, and its body tapers down to a rounded head.

Using resources such as Carl and Evelyn Ernst’s Snakes of the United States and Canada, Deb Platt’s article “Snakes of Ohio at a Glance” on, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, and the Ohio Public Library Information Network’s snake ID and information website, we concluded that our patron’s snake is most likely an eastern milk snake.

The eastern milk snake is found all through Ohio in all sorts of habitats. They are secretive and will often hide during the day. Mice and rats are among their preferred prey, so they can be found in and around barns. According to popular folklore, milk snakes got their name from the erroneous assumption that they hung around farms to drink milk from the cows.

The milk snake is not venomous. In fact, there are only three species of venomous snake native to Ohio: the copperhead, the massasauga rattler, and the timber rattler. They all have distinctive features that set them apart from non-venomous snakes, including triangular heads (the non-venomous snakes have rounded heads) and vertical pupils (whereas the non-venomous snakes have round pupils like people do).

Milk snakes are commonly kept as pets, though the eastern milk snake is one of the less popular subspecies. Honduran, Mexican, Pueblan, and Sinaloan milk snakes are favored for their bright red, black, and yellow bands of color. (The colors of these milk snakes mimic the bands of color on the venomous coral snake. Because they look similar, the milk snakes are often mistaken for the coral snake and left alone by predators. The eastern milk snake has more of a rattlesnake coloring, and will even shake the tip of its tail when threatened.)

For more information on snakes, Martin Gaywood’s Snakes and Patricia Pope Bartlett’s Reptiles and Amphibians for Dummies (which is about caring for reptiles and amphibians as pets) are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What is STEM?

“I’ve heard people talking about STEM careers or STEM education. What does it mean?”

STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The term was coined around the early 2000s by Dr. Judith Ramaley, who at the time was working as the assistant director of education and human resources at the National Science Foundation. According to Eleanor Chute’s 2009 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the acronym was originally “SMET.” Dr. Ramaley made the change not only because she found SMET to be an unappealing word but also because she thought putting science and math first in the acronym made it seem as though they were more important.  “STEM” gives a better balance between the four fields.

STEM has come into focus lately because educators are encouraging students to have fun with science, technology, engineering, and math, and not to shy away because they think they’re too challenging. These fields are always developing and will continue to do so in the future, and future STEM professionals could be instrumental in helping to develop new technologies and solve the problems of the world.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What do baby toads look like?

“I know that tadpoles hatch out of eggs, grow legs, and become baby frogs, but I don’t know anything about baby toads. What happens to them?”

Baby toads are much the same as baby frogs! Both creatures are amphibians, and both lay eggs that develop into tadpoles. There are a few ways to tell frog and toad eggs and tadpoles apart. While frogs lay their eggs in clumps, toads lay theirs in long strands. Both kinds of tadpoles are black when they first hatch, but frogs change to a mottled brown while tadpoles remain black. Also, toad tadpoles will hang together in groups, called shoals, which isn’t something frog tadpoles will do. [Info from]

Ohio is home to the Eastern Spadefoot toad, the Eastern American toad, and Fowler’s toad. According to, it takes about two to ten days for their eggs to hatch and two to eight weeks for the tadpoles to fully develop.

Of all the frogs and toads, the Surinam toad has the most interesting way of hatching its eggs. After fertilization, the eggs sink into the mother’s back. A layer of skin grows over them. The eggs hatch in the pockets on her back and the tadpoles spend three to four months developing under her skin before hatching out as fully-formed tiny little toads. The mother then sheds her skin, ready to undergo the whole process next breeding season. While this aquatic toad is native to South America, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo houses dwarf Surinam toads in its Rainforest exhibit for anyone to visit.

For more information on frogs and toads, Chris Mattison’s Encyclopedia of North American Reptiles and Amphibians, William W. Lamar’s The World’s Most Spectacular Reptiles and Amphibians, and Frogs: A Chorus of Color by John and Deborah Behler are available for borrowing here at the Newton Falls Public Library. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

What are these bugs in my garden?

“A few weeks ago, I noticed a lot of strange insects on my magnolia tree. They were black in color with antennae and wings folded over the top of their bodies. When you looked at them from the side, they have a kind of pointed teardrop shape, but from above they looked very narrow. They were clustered in pretty large circular groups all over the bark and branches of my tree. I sprayed them with a hose and they scattered. Do you know what they were?”

We brought out Insects by George C. McGavin and The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders. First we looked up termites, which is what our patron thought their insects were. However, they turned out to be the wrong shape, their antennae were too short, and their wings were too pale. We flipped through the color plates at the beginning of the Audubon Society Field Guide, and that’s where our patron recognized their mystery insect as a type of aphid.

We were surprised, as we’re used to thinking of aphids as tiny, plump, wingless bugs, usually green in color. (These wingless aphids are sometimes called “ant-cows” because ants will “milk” them for the honeydew they secrete.) Winged female aphids will migrate to a new host plant and establish a new colony through a kind of asexual reproduction called parthenogenesis. (Eggs produced this way can develop into young without being fertilized.) The aphids produce several wingless generations this way, eventually producing more winged female aphids, which then fly back to their original host plant to mate with males and lay fertilized eggs.

According to Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver by Fern Marshall Bradley, the best way to deal with aphids is to lure beneficial insects, like ladybugs and lacewings, to the aphid-infested plants. In the meantime, hosing the aphids off every three or so days for two weeks should help keep them at bay.

Friday, September 4, 2015

What are the requirements for donating hair? Will they take grey hair? What if I dye it?

One of our patrons regularly donates her hair and was wondering if she could continue to do so if she dyed her hair, or as her hair started to go gray. Looking around online, we found several organizations that accept donated hair, and all of them have their own particular requirements. One thing that they all have in common is that hair must be clean, dry, in good condition, and gathered into a ponytail or a braid. They all have minimum lengths for donated hair, from eight to twelve inches depending on the organization, but most of their websites specify that curly hair can be stretched straight while measuring it. It can take up to twelve ponytails to make a hairpiece.

Locks of Love is one of the most well known. They provide hairpieces to children who are suffering from long-term hair loss because of a medical condition. Most of the children they serve have alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes the hair follicles to stop working. (It was founded, in fact, by someone with alopecia.) Ponytails or braids donated to Locks of Love must be at least ten inches long. They don’t accept bleached hair or dreadlocks, but they will accept permed or otherwise colored hair, along with grey hair. While they don’t use it in their wigs for children, they’ll sell it, along with hair that’s too short or otherwise doesn’t meet their criteria, to help defray costs.  

CWHL (Children With Hair Loss) was founded in September 2000 with the goal of helping kids with cancer, but they’ve since expanded their reach to include children with alopecia, burns, and other medical issues. They pride themselves on providing their hairpieces at no cost. Donated hair must be eight inches or longer. They accept grey hair, and, while they prefer hair not to be chemically treated, they will accept that as well.

Wigs for Kids is another organization providing wigs free of cost to kids and their families. They were founded around thirty years ago by Jeffrey Paul, a hairdresser who wanted to help his fifteen-year-old niece after she was diagnosed with leukemia. Hair donated to Wigs for Kids must be at least twelve inches long and cannot be colored, permed, or otherwise chemically treated.

Wigs 4 Kids, a completely different organization, has the same mission as Wigs for Kids and CWHL but is focused solely on helping kids in Michigan. Anyone can donate hair, but it must be at least ten inches long, not colored or chemically treated, and not “more than 10% grey.”

While the above organizations focus on helping children, Pantene Beautiful Lengths provide free wigs to women who have lost their hair through cancer treatments. They accept hair that is at least eight inches long, and, as with Wigs for Kids and Wigs 4 Kids, it cannot be colored or chemically treated.

We found our information on the charities’ websites. For more information on how to help out charitable organizations, Karl T. Muth’s Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies is available for borrowing through CLEVNET.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Where can I go to brush up on Microsoft Excel?

Microsoft Excel is a computer program for making spreadsheets and processing data. It’s used in many offices, so it’s good to be familiar with it. The Newton Falls Public Library has several resources available to help people learn more about using Microsoft Excel and computers in general.

Brooke Mayle, our computer instructor, teaches 90-minute classes three Mondays evenings and one Saturday afternoon each month. The classes cover everything from computer basics to e-media, including basic and intermediate Microsoft Excel classes. She also offers one-on-one sessions.

For people who can’t make it in to the library for the scheduled classes, provides free online classes on Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, and more through LearningExpress. The classes are split into sections and can be watched at any pace from any computer, whether at home or at the library. While setting up an OhioMeansJobs account allows people to track their progress, it isn’t necessary to use the service.

Finally, we have a selection of books on computer skills, including several versions of Microsoft Excel, all available for borrowing. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Are eels nocturnal?

One of our patrons was reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, on which the HBO television series Game of Thrones is based. Presumably to give things a more fantastical flavor, Martin made up his own system of telling time, having characters refer to times such as “the hour of the bat,” “the hour of the wolf,” and “the hour of the eel.” “I understand the wolf and the bat,” our patron said, “because they’re both associated with night. But why the eel? Are they nocturnal?”

While we can’t explain why Martin makes the writing decisions he does, we could find information about eels. We looked them up first in the World Book Encyclopedia. It didn’t tell us anything about when they were active, but we did learn that they undergo several metamorphoses over the course of their lives. American and European eels travel to the Sargasso Sea to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into transparent larvae shaped like willow leaves. The larvae change into small transparent eels, called glass eels. By the time they reach the coast, the small eels have developed a greenish-brown color. No longer baby glass eels, they’re now juvenile eels, called elvers. The elvers travel inland and grow into yellow eels (though they’re more yellow-green or yellow-brown). During this stage, which can last many years, they reach their full size, three to five feet for females and around one-and-a-half to three feet for males. Eventually, they reach sexual maturity and turn black and silver. Now, they’re called silver eels. They fatten up for their journey back to the Sargasso Sea to mate. (They don’t eat on their voyage, and their digestive system actually starts to break down.) After mating, they die. Because they are born in the ocean, grow up in fresh water, and then go back to the ocean to spawn, eels are catadromous, and they’re the only such fish in North America.

As interesting as this is, it didn’t answer our question. We found that information on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. Freshwater eels are indeed nocturnal, at least during their yellow phase. They come out at night to eat crabs, fish, insects, eggs, clams, and frogs. They have small teeth and weak jaws, so to break off pieces of food that’s too big to swallow whole, they’ll grip it in their mouths and spin their bodies. They can spin up to fourteen times a second, almost three times as fast as an Olympic ice skater. Eels can move just as well forward and backward, and they can move over land through wet grass and mud because they’re able to absorb oxygen through their skin.

For more information on eels, James Prosek’s fascinating Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World’s Most Mysterious Fish is available through CLEVNET. George R.R. Martin’s books that inspired this question (as well as the television series inspired by the books) are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library or through CLEVNET.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What do I do if I never got a phone book?

A few patrons have contacted the library lately wondering what to do if their phone books never showed up. The easiest solution is to try calling the phone company. (The customer service number is typically printed on the top of the bill.) However, keep in mind that they’ll probably only be able to send you the book for the area you live in.

We have the most recent copies of the Newton Falls, Trumbull Countywide, and Youngstown/Warren Regional phone books here at the library for people to peruse. We also have a copy of the latest Warren/Trumbull County Polk City Directory, which patrons can use to look someone up by address, last name, or phone number. Anyone who needs a phone number is welcome to contact the library; we’ll do our best to find it. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

What is cream of tartar for? Can you substitute anything for it?

A patron came across a frosting recipe calling for cream of tartar and they were wondering what exact purpose it served. One of our librarians recalled using it in sugar cookies and one remembered using it in meringues, but neither knew exactly what it did in the recipe or if there were substitutes. We looked in Baking Illustrated, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Baking Bible and on for more information.

Cream of tartar, also called potassium bitartrate, is an acid by-product of making wine or grape juice. It will last indefinitely as long as it’s kept away from moisture.

In the kitchen, it can be used to stabilize egg whites (as in the meringues) so they can be whipped more without collapsing. It will also prevent caramels and sugar syrups from crystallizing, making them creamier. (This may have been its purpose in the frosting recipe.) When mixed with baking soda and a liquid, it acts as a leavening agent. Its acidic properties can also help certain foods, like red cabbage, potatoes, and cauliflower, keep their color when boiled. As to substitutions, a bit of lemon juice serves a similar purpose in stabilizing egg whites, though, being liquid and less acidic, it doesn’t do the job as well. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

What was the creature I saw in my garden?

“There was something flying around the flowers in my garden. Its wings were moving so fast, but it looked too small to be a hummingbird. Do you know what it was?”

Our patron brought in a picture of the little creature they saw in the garden. It looked plump and soft to the touch, with a green and red body and a white underbelly. Its wings were a blur. It appeared to have antennae and a proboscis, so we looked for it in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders and found it in the moth section.

Our patron’s garden visitor was a hummingbird moth. It’s a member of the moth family that’s active during the day and can be seen from May to September. The hummingbird moth uses its long tongue to feed on nectar from long-necked flowers. Its wings beat so fast that it can produce a hum, still audible but softer than an actual hummingbird’s. According to the U.S. Forest Service website, the moth that our patron saw was a hummingbird clear wing, distinguishable by its red color.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Can you save an overwatered plant?

If your potted plant is looking yellow and wilted even though you’ve been watering it regularly, it’s possible that you’ve been watering it too much. Too much water stresses out your plant, makes it more susceptible to disease, and can cause the roots to rot. Fortunately, you still may be able to save it.

Move the plant to the shade, since it won’t be able to take in all the water it needs to be in proper sun. If the soil doesn’t seem to be drying out quickly enough, you can repot the plant entirely. (With succulents and other plants that need very little water, you can even leave the plant lying out on paper towels or something other absorbent surface while the root ball dries out.)

Make sure that your plant is draining well. If there aren’t drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, you can drill a few or else repot the plant. Mixing in vermiculite can help make the soil less dense.

If you’re concerned about root rot, repot the plant, dispose of the old soil, and sterilize the old pot. (Root rot is caused by a fungus, and you want to be careful to keep from spreading it to other plants. Wash your hands between handling infected and healthy plants.) You can try trimming away the diseased roots (they will be recognizable by their weak, mushy texture) or treating the plant with a fungicide.

We got our information on rescuing overwatered plants from Gardening Know How, Proven Winners, Ortho’s Guide to Successful Houseplants, and The Houseplant Expert: Book Two. Both books are available at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with others like Tovah Martin’s The Indestructible Houseplant.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What does the Newton Falls welcome sign say?

“Can you tell me what the Newton Falls welcome sign says? I know it’s something about churches.”

The Newton Falls Public Library has a Facebook page where people are welcome to post questions. Recently, we saw that someone had posted asking about the town welcome sign. While our librarians remembered the sign, none of us could recall the exact wording.

Because the library had just opened and none of us could go out in town looking for it, we managed to find the answer without leaving the building. First, we looked through some photos from the Local History Room, but we didn’t have any luck there. Then we checked the City of Newton Falls and Newton Falls Commerce Association websites to see if either of them had posted pictures. The Commerce Associate had a picture of the sign on Route 5, which reads “NEWTON FALLS HAS ZIP 44444” and includes a list of local businesses and organizations, but there’s no mention of churches.

We took a virtual tour of the town via the street view option on Google Maps. One of the librarians remembered seeing a welcome sign in the middle of town, so we navigated to the intersection of Broad and Center and there it was. Lettered in orange, the sign says:
“Welcome to our community
Newton Falls Kiwanis Club

Attend the church of your choice.”

Friday, July 10, 2015

What kind of moth is this?

A large moth – about three inches long – was resting on the library’s back door, and we wanted to try and identify it. Its fuzzy-looking legs and body were a rusty orange color and its grey wings were veined with the same shade of orange. Both its body and wings were patterned with ivory markings.  

One of our librarians checked the Moths of Ohio Field Guide on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website while another looked in Butterflies and Moths: A Guide to the More Common American Species by Robert T. Mitchell and Herbert S. Zim. At the same time, we both came across the Regal Moth, also known as the Royal Walnut Moth. Its distinctive colors and markings matched our moth’s exactly.

The Regal Moth is active in Ohio during June and July. While it’s more common in the southern part of the state, it can be found wherever its food sources (hickory and walnut, primarily) are available. The adult moth actually doesn’t eat or drink at all. It only lives about a week, long enough to mate and lay eggs. The larva can grow to be about six inches long, “the size of a small hotdog,” according to the Moths of Ohio Field Guide. It’s called the Hickory Horned Devil after its favorite food and inch-long red spikes. As ferocious as it looks, though, the Hickory Horned Devil is harmless; its spikes are just for show. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

What's wrong with my plant?

“My string-of-pearls plant feels sticky and has patches of what looks like white fuzz on it. What’s wrong?”

Looking through several books, including David V. Alford’s Pests of Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers, The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, and Insect Disease and Weed I.D. guide, we diagnosed the plant with mealybugs. Female mealybugs are covered with a fluffy white wax, and they lay their eggs in similarly fuzzy-looking white wax sacs. (The male insects have wings and are small and difficult to see.) Mealybugs eat sap and secrete something called honeydew, which gives the plant a sticky feel. (Ants also like to eat the honeydew, so a mealybug infestation may give way to an ant infestation.) According to Pippa Greenwood’s Pests and Diseases, succulents (like the string-of-pearls) are some of the most common mealybug hosts.

Our gardening books provided a wealth of ideas for combating the infestation. Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulents Simplified suggests moving the plant away from any others to somewhere with good air circulation and spraying it down with a mix of isopropyl alcohol and water until all the bugs are gone. Introduce ladybugs, parasitic wasps, or mealybug destroyers, if possible, as they’re all some of the mealybug’s natural predators. Commercial pesticides are also available. If a spray doesn’t seem to be penetrating the mealybugs’ protective waxy coating, try using a small paintbrush to dab it directly on them. The Plantfinder’s Guide to Cacti and Other Succulents by Keith Grantham and Paul Klassen and Cacti and Succulents by Hans Hecht both suggest painting the mealybugs with denatured alcohol or an alcohol/dish soap mixture to remove the waxy coat. Leaf shine spray is also effective against mealybugs, but it will also remove the pleasant powdery bloom on any plant with glaucous leaves.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why do people say "kick the bucket"?

Most people are familiar with the expression “kicked the bucket,” which is used as a humorous euphemism for “died,” but no one we spoke to was quite sure where it originated.

Common Phrases and Where They Come From by John Mordock and Myron Korach had a few guesses, both fairly gruesome. They say the phrase may have come from the days of execution by hanging, when the executioner would kick the bucket out from under their victim’s feet. It’s also possible that the idiom originated in the slaughterhouse, where livestock would sometimes kick a literal bucket as they died.

For the curious, Marvin Rubenstein’s American English Compendium has more information on English slang, sayings, and acronyms, including a section comparing British and American English.

Friday, June 5, 2015

What causes pit split?

“All the peaches I bought at the supermarket have split pits. Why does that happen?”

According to, split pit disorder occurs when the pit of the fruit begins to harden, about forty days after the tree blooms. As the pit hardens, the fruit flesh will cling tightly to it. If the fruit begins to swell at the same time, the pressure on the pit could cause it to split, or even to shatter. Pit split can occur in peaches, nectarines, cherries, and plums.

In her paper “Split Pit,” written for the University of George Department of Agriculture, Kathryn C. Taylor puts forth a few hypotheses as to what causes pit split. When peaches are thinned too much, whether by the farmer or through a frost, the pits are more apt to split or shatter. Too much water (again, whether on purpose of through an act of nature) or too much fertilizing too late in the season can also be a factor.

If you’re interested in growing your own peaches, Melissa’s Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas, How to Grow Food by Richard Gianfrancesco, and The Backyard Orchardist by Stella Otto are all available for borrowing here at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, May 29, 2015

What are ketones?

One of our patrons had heard about ketones in relation to diabetes but wasn’t sure what exactly they were. We weren’t sure either, and while we’re not a substitute for the doctor’s office, we were able to look up some information with the resources available at the library.

Mosby’s Medical Dictionary was the first place we checked. It defines a ketone as a kind of organic chemical produced by “oxidation of secondary alcohols” and then went on to describe its structure. The Diabetes Sourcebook more accessibly defines ketones as “chemical[s] produced where there is a shortage in insulin in the blood and the body breaks down fat for energy.” An excess of ketones in the body can cause ketoacidosis, a dangerous and potentially fatal condition.

The American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes provides more information on ketoacidosis. While it can happen at any time, it’s more likely to occur in times of stress, including sickness and pregnancy. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fruity-smelling breath, and rapid breathing. Ketoacidosis is more of a problem for people with type 1 diabetes, who don’t produce insulin on their own, though it can also affect people with type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, there are tests that can be done at home to check for ketones.

We have several books on diabetes available for borrowing, such as Chris Smith’s Cooking with the Diabetic Chef, Theresa Garnero’s Your First Year with Diabetes, and The New Family Cookbook for People with Diabetes

Friday, May 15, 2015

Where can I buy morel mushrooms?

One of our patrons had a craving for morels but hadn’t been able to find any quality ones while foraging himself. He remembered that Giant Eagle used to sell them but he hadn’t been able to find them there. Rather than continuing to search the groceries – it’s possible that Whole Foods may have them, but their nearest store is in Chagrin – he came to the library to see if we could point him in the right direction.

As it turns out, there’s a thriving community of morel aficionados online. includes a classifieds forum filled with people selling everything from the mushrooms themselves to hand-carved morel-shaped gifts, and many sellers have listed their mushrooms on eBay. However, our patron would rather purchase his morels in person.

A mushroom festival would be one place to find them. Unfortunately, some of the festivals had already passed by. The Shawnee Valley Campground Mushroom Festival in Chillicothe was held from April 30 to May 3, and the Mesick Mushroom Festival in Michigan had run from May 8 to May 10. (Their website already has a countdown to next year’s 57th annual festival, which will run from May 6 to May 8, 2016.)

Eventually, we found the website of the Ohio Mushroom Society, which lists the contact information for all of its board members. Our patron decided to try and get in touch with them to see what information they could provide.

The Newton Falls Public Library has several field guides to help identify mushrooms, including Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the World, Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms, and Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs. For information on morels alone, Michael Kuo’s Morels is available through CLEVNET. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

How long do bees live?

The answer depends on the bee, not only its species but the role it plays in the hive. Digger bee larvae will survive the winter, and carpenter and mason bees both have one generation a year. Queens bees overall tend to live the longest. The queen is the largest bee, and, after mating, she will spend all her time in the hive laying eggs and being tended by the other workers. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders, young queen bumblebees are the only bumblebees that survive the winter. Queen honeybees can live up to six years, according to Roger A. Morse’s New Complete Guide to Beekeeping, but many beekeepers will replace their queen after a few seasons, with some requeening their colonies every year. A queen will slow down as she ages and start laying eggs erratically. When bees recognize that their queen is no longer laying enough to maintain a healthy colony, they’ll rear a new one from an egg. It takes her sixteen days to develop.

As to the worker bees’ lifespans, it depends on when they are born. A honeybee can live nearly six months in the winter since she’s staying in the warm confines of her hive. In the warmer months, though, when she’s spending most of her time foraging for food, she’ll only live four to six weeks. A worker bee only forages once her life is about half-over. She spends her first few weeks keeping the hive clean, attending to the queen and larva, making honey, building comb, and guarding the hive.

Drones, the only male bees in the colony, have the shortest lives. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. If they succeed, they die in the act of mating. If they don’t succeed, they’re kicked out of the hive and left to starve when winter comes, as the worker bees see them as a waste of resources.

For more information on bees, Ross Conrad’s Natural Beekeeping, Howland Blackiston’s Beekeeping for Dummies, and the Firefly Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders are all available for borrowing here at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How do I find old cookbooks on CLEVNET?

“Is there a way to search for books by publication date? I want to look at old cookbooks.”

The CLEVNET catalog offers a lot of different ways to narrow down your search. Once you’ve typed something in the search bar at the top, you can narrow your search by library, audience (adult, children, or teen), language, content (nonfiction, fiction, or undetermined), and more, including published date.

Different searches bring up different results. When searching for “cookbooks” as a subject and narrowing our search to show only items available at Newton Falls, the earliest publication date was 1972: The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. However, searching “cookbook” as a keyword instead of a subject brought up Mary Emma Showalter’s Mennonite Community Cookbook, published twenty-two years earlier. The keyword “recipe” showed us an even older book: Marcelle Morphy’s Recipes of All Nations, published in 1935.

If you’re looking for old-fashioned recipes, they may not necessarily be in the oldest cookbooks. The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker is a book of authentic frontier recipes published in 1979. Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes, published in 2000, deals with World War II cooking and the recipes people developed to get around rationing. We even have The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook by Mary Donovan, published in 1975.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Can you help me find out how much my antique brass cash register is worth?

Looking in Kovels’ Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide 2015, we found a list of twenty-six antique cash registers, prices ranging from $69 to $6600. There were only a few listings for specifically brass cash registers, and those were valued between $480 and $1020. We went next to Price It!, our library database for valuing antiques, to see if we could find more information. Price It! pulls information from online sales, auction houses, and online auctions (such as eBay) to give users a price estimate. We found a few complete cash registers in the $345 to $1300 range, but mainly people were selling bits and pieces of their registers.

Finally, we found a few brass cash register collector websites. Dick and Joan’s Antiques provides an extensive chart of serial numbers and manufacture dates, allowing people to estimate the age of their registers. Brass National Cash Registers has pictures of different patterns and features the registers can have, with notes as to their rarity. (The fleur-de-lis pattern, for example, is fairly common, while the scrollwork that spells out “National Cash Register” is rare.) The site also provides tips on unjamming your machine. 

For more information, Brass National Cash Registers recommends the two out-of-print volumes of The Incorruptible Cashier. The first volume is available as a reference text in Cleveland Public Library’s business department. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

How do I look up a patent?

“I have an ashtray shaped like a frog and I want to know when it was patented. It has ‘U.S. Patent 364523’ stamped on the bottom.”

provides an option to search by patent number, but when we looked up 364523, it brought up an 1867 patent for “producing justified lines of type.” Clearly, that wasn’t what our patron had, so we took a different tack.

The site also gives an option to search for patents by class. Classes include everything from apparel to coin handling to bee culture. We selected the one that seemed most applicable – “tobacco and smokers’ supplies” – and then looked under the subheading “ash receiver, snuffer, or support therefor.” There were several different options to choose from there as well. We followed a trail of subheadings from “simulative” to “animate” to “aquatic” to find of a list of all the patented ashtrays bearing the likenesses of aquatic animals, thirty-five in all. Of those thirty-five, three were in the shape of frogs, and one was the one our patron was looking for. Invented by David Frishman, this particular frog-shaped ashtray was patented on November 16, 1920.

Why didn’t it come up when we searched by the patent number? As it turned out, 364523 wasn’t the patent number at all but the serial number, and the stamp on the bottom of the frog was misleading.

For information on filing your own patent, Patent It Yourself by David Pressman is available for borrowing at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Do you have any books on how colors affect people's moods?

The idea that colors have certain mood-altering connotations (for example, that blue is calming or that black evokes power and wealth) is part of the basis of color psychology. People have attempted to use this to their advantage. In the early 2000s, for instance, cities in Scotland and Japan found that installing blue streetlights led to a decrease in street crime and suicide attempts in areas lit by the lamps [source]. Psychologists have also done experiments to find the most alluring color, and they’ve found that people are approached more often and viewed as more attractive when they’re wearing red, even if nothing else is different about them [source].

Our patron was able to borrow Adam Alter’s Drunk Tank Pink from our library. The book takes its title from a bubblegum color, also known as Baker-Miller pink, which was found in the 1970s to calm aggressiveness in prisoners. Not everyone believes in its efficacy - Drs. James E. Gilliam and David Unruh found in their 1988 study that Baker-Miller pink did not directly affect their subjects – but the color still found popularity. The football coaches at Colorado State and the University of Iowa even painted their visitors’ locker rooms pink in the hopes of weakening opposing teams.

There are several other books on color psychology available through CLEVNET, such as Colour Hunting by Jeanne Tan, The Beginner’s Guide to Color Psychology by Angela Wright, and Color: The Secret Influence by Kenneth Fehrman. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Can I get information about the history of my land?

“I live in Newton Township in Lordstown and I was wondering if there was any way I could get information about the history of the land I live on.”

Our Local History room at the library focuses primarily on the city of Newton Falls, so there was nothing to be found there. Searching online, we did find the website for the Trumbull County Records Center and Archives Department. On the site, there’s a section for maps that goes from 1979 as far back as 1830 (though not all years are represented – there are decades-long gaps between most maps). The maps are organized by township, and each one shows the division of property at that time. The larger plots of land are labeled, presumably with the name of whoever owns the land. The site also includes records of deeds from 1795-1896.

More historical records are available at the Archives Department’s physical archives. The office can be contacted at 330-675-6615. The Trumbull County Historical Society might have some information as well, and they can be reached by phone at 330-394-4653.

For more county history, we have both A Twentieth Century History of Trumbull County, Ohio by Harriet Taylor Upton and History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties in our reference collection.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What's the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?

“I just bought a sweet potato and it was white on the inside. Does that mean the orange ones are yams? What’s the difference?”

The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission quickly set the record straight. Sweet potatoes can have orange, white, or purple flesh, and, though the orange ones are often called yams, true yams are a different species of plant altogether. The North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University put together a chart listing the differences. Sweet potatoes are dicots and they’re part of the morning glory family. They originated in South America but can be grown in the United States. Yams, on the other hand, are monocots, part of the genus Dioscorea, and mostly imported from the Caribbean. They originated in Asia and West Africa.

According to Cooking the West African Way by Bertha Vining Montgomery and Constance Nabwire, yams are a staple in West African cooking. They figure into the culture as well and are the focus of harvest festivals like the Iri-Ji (or “new yam”) Festival. 

Unless you’ve gone to a specialty restaurant or grocery store, you may never have eaten a genuine yam. Look closely: the FDA requires sweet potatoes to be labeled as such, and even the cans of candied yams are inscribed with “sweet potato” in small text.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Could I have more information about the school ranking system?

“I don’t understand everything that goes into Ohio’s school ranking system. Could you help?”

Up until the 2013-2013 school year, Ohio public schools and school districts were given one of six ratings: Excellent with Distinction, Excellent, Effective, Continuous Improvement, Academic Watch, and Academic Emergency. The ratings were based on attendance, high school graduation rates, how many students passed the state tests and how well they scored, and the value-added calculation, which is meant to measure how much progress students make in a year. [source] According to the 2009-2010 Ohio State Report Card, value-added scores were calculated for reading and mathematics in schools and school districts with grades four through eight.

Starting in 2012, the state switched to a different system where schools are now given a letter grade: A, B, C, D, or F. The standards have also changed. Graduation rates, test scores, and the value-added calculation are still taken into account, though there’s now an overall value-added calculation as well as specific ones measuring the progress made by gifted students, lower-performing students, and students with disabilities. The new rating system also measures how many students are learning to read in kindergarten through third grade, whether schools are closing the education gap, and how well the schools are preparing students for life after graduation.

The “Gap Closing” grade currently measures how many students are meeting the state standard in reading, math, and graduation rate. Along with the total number of students, there are nine different subgroups that can be evaluated: American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, Multiracial, White, Economically Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities, and Limited English Proficient. As long as there are thirty students in a subgroup, that subgroup will be measured and factored into the grade. [source]

The “Prepared for Success” grade currently measures how many students participated in ACT and SAT tests and remediation, how many participated in the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs and how well they scored on the exams, and how many received honors diplomas, dual enrollment credit, and/or industry-recognized credentials.