Author Archives: Benjamin Custer

Prized PEZessions: Burlingame shop a mecca for toy collectors

By Benjamin Custer and Matt Hansen
Peninsula Press (Published April 2014)

Nearly 20 years ago, Gary Doss set out to sell computers from his small Burlingame store. A lifelong PEZ enthusiast, he decided one day to exhibit his candy dispenser collection.

As customers expressed more interest in PEZ dispensers than computer equipment, Doss decided to turn his shop into a shrine to the Austrian toy phenomenon.

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Palo Alto’s push to green schools bears fruit

By Benjamin Custer
Peninsula Press (Published February 2014)

Palo Alto Unified School District is reducing its carbon footprint and beginning to save money a few years into its most ambitious effort to operate its campuses in a more sustainable manner.

Palo Alto’s schools are trading in sprinkler-reliant lawns for native plants accustomed to natural cycles of rainfall. Students and staff are adopting more energy-conscious practices. Composting and recycling are standard across school sites. And the district is exploring the possibility of powering newly constructed buildings with solar energy.

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Palo Alto City Library subscribes to novel music idea

By Benjamin Custer
Palo Alto Weekly (Published August 2014)

For card-carrying members of the Palo Alto City Library, book and movie checkouts last for weeks but music downloads last forever.

The library is one of around 3,000 in the United States and 5,000 worldwide that subscribe to Freegal Music, a downloadable music service from Virginia-based Library Ideas, LLC. Though use of the service in Palo Alto has increased over the past year, only a small percentage of cardholders use the service. The library staff hopes to see more participation.

Freegal, a blend of “free” and “legal,” boasts millions of songs, thousands of music videos and dozens of genres from about 28,000 record labels, including Sony Music Entertainment. Featuring artists from Miles Davis to Elvis, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Dixie Chicks, Outkast, Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus, as well as classical music, Freegal’s collection is designed to appeal to the young, old and everyone in between.

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Fruits of Her Labor: Resident trades front lawn for vegetable garden

By Benjamin Custer
Palo Alto Weekly (Published July 2014)

A few years ago, when rebuilding her inherited Palo Alto home from the ground up, Kerry van den Haak decided that a vegetable garden should supplant the front lawn.

Flanked by one-story houses, she turned to tiered, raised garden beds to help mitigate the tall appearance of her two-story home. She packed the garden beds with fertile soil, installed a drip irrigation system and planted a variety of vegetables including corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, pumpkins, melons and peppers.

“Some of these beds give me three crops a year, one every four months,” van den Haak said. “I grow summer crops, winter crops and in-between crops.”

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