Last updated: February 19. 2013 6:48PM - 126 Views

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On the shelf

Step into the homes of the leaders of the free world in Houses of the Presidents.

The book takes readers on a virtual tour of 22 presidential homes, with quick looks at 15 more. The houses range from modest childhood homes to grand estates filled with the trappings of success.

The tour begins with George Washington's Mount Vernon, one of the most famous presidential abodes, and ends with a less familiar home, the one-story Texas ranch house where George H.W. Bush raised another president, George W. Bush.

Author Hugh Howard uses the houses as a device to relate the stories of the presidents and the forces that shaped them. He includes anecdotes that humanize the homes' powerful occupants, such as Benjamin Harrison donning a Santa suit to delight his grandchildren and Calvin Coolidge grieving over the death of his 16-year-old son.

Photos by Roger Straus III let us see how the presidents lived. He captures dining rooms, game rooms and other sites of happy gatherings, as well as slave cabins that remind us of the uglier realities of America's past.

Houses of the Presidents is published by Little, Brown and Co. and sells for $40 in hardcover.


Q: In the past few years, my rhododendron has bloomed out of season. This year, it bloomed fairly heavily in early October, and in the past, it's even bloomed in January during a warm spell. Why does that happen?

A: Some rhododendrons are just programmed genetically to bloom lightly in the fall and more heavily in spring, said Don Smart, president of the American Rhododendron Society. Because this hasn't always been the case with your plant, though, it's more likely the rhododendron has been affected by climate conditions.

The bloom this fall was probably related to a dry summer. Very dry conditions can push a rhododendron into a near-dormant state, Smart explained. When the temperature cools in fall, the plant thinks it's spring, when it normally breaks dormancy. It responds by putting out some flowers.

Similarly, a January thaw might trick the plant into thinking spring has arrived and cause it to open some blooms.

Either way, you should still have at least some flowers the following spring, Smart said.

-- McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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