Bernie Rhodenbarr

Haven’t heard of Bernie? He’s a fictional character created by Lawrence Block. I LOVE Bernie! He’s witty, creative, owns a bookstore, and in his spare time, he picks locks. He makes me laugh. I know it’s wrong to be a crook, but he’s such a likeable character. And after reading his books, you’ll be looking for a Poulard lock.

Don’t really like to read? Try this series of books that began in 1977 and every now and then, another one appears. I actually met Mr. Block when he came to the library where I work, back when he was on tour promoting The Burglar on the Prowl.

1. Burglars Can’t Be Choosers (1977)
2. The Burglar in the Closet (1978)
3. The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
4. The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza (1980)
5. The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian (1983)
6. The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994)
7. The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995)
8. The Burglar in the Library (1997)
9. The Burglar in the Rye (1999)
10. The Burglar on the Prowl (2004)
11. The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (2013)

Besides Bernie, there’s a colorful cast of characters like Carolyn Kaiser, his best pal and sometimes helpmate in his crimes, Ray Kirschmann, a somewhat bumbling detective (think Joe Pesci), and his pet cat Raffles, who doesn’t really say anything, but has an attitude just the same.

I really enjoy the books and so does my other half. I just hope Mr. Block keeps turning them out! Grab a book and a glass of single malt Scotch whiskey and get ready to smile!

More on Lawrence Block, who also writes about a lot of other characters.

November 8, 2014 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Vegetarian Cookbooks

As I’m writing this, I’m eating Shepard’s Pie, a recipe I found in Mary McCartney’s cookbook Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking. The gravy for this is unbelievably flavorful and who doesn’t like cheddar mashed potatoes? I checked out the book at my library, because I don’t want to buy something that only has one or two recipes I might like. This is the second recipe I’ve tried and as I was perusing the rest of the book, I decided to buy it. Can’t wait to try her mom’s lemon loaf cake! Oh, yes, she’s THAT Mary McCartney…daughter of Paul and Linda. Mary’s recipes are easy to make and don’t require hard to find items, which I really appreciate. The little man is not a fan of veg recipes, but I heard him scraping his plate to get alllll the yummy gravy into his mouth. He’s now eating a second helping!

Am I a vegetarian? Not totally. The only meat I don’t eat is red. Sorry, cows. But, I believe that it is healthier to eat more veg than meat. And if I find a recipe, like the one above that has lots of vegetables and even veggie crumble, I’m more than satisfied with my meal. My favorite burger joint let’s me swap out the burger for a black bean burger in any of their interesting combinations. I really like that, too. Is the little man totally sold on the idea of going straight veg? No. He does like meat and sometimes comments that a recipe would be better with a little “chicken.”

What other vegetarian cookbooks do I like? I started out buying all the Moosewood cookbooks and they do have some good recipes. I’ve even eaten at the restaurant in Ithaca. My favorites are Quick-Fix Vegetarian: Healthy Home-cooked Meals in Thirty Minutes or Less and my favorite is Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Veggie Meals. Note to Rachael…write another one! I do make a lot of other Rachael Ray recipes and just leave out the meat. She cooks the way I like to eat, quick and fresh.

Today, after buying Mary’s cookbook, I also bought Naked Kitchen’s Veggie Burger Book: Delicious Plant-Based Burgers, Fries, Sides, and More. There are even some good drink recipes like one with pineapple and coconut and one with watermelon.

If you have ever thought about trying out some vegetarian recipes, I’d recommend heading to your library or looking online. I read Vegetarian Times and Veg News, both of which have great seasonal recipes in their magazines and websites. But it’s also great to have some wonderful cookbooks on hand. If you have a favorite cookbook, please share in a comment!

October 26, 2014 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

Pandora and Freegal Music

Pandora

I go through music phases where I listen a lot or listen a little. When I do feel like listening to something, I can use my iPhone or iPod, but I most often just use Pandora, the online radio. There are commercials, but not so many that I find it irritating. I do wish they’d turn down the volume on them, because they’re rather blaring! What’s the plus of using this online or app radio? You can create a station featuring music like your favorite artist or group and learn more about similar artists. I like the thumbs up/thumbs down option. If you like a song, clicking on the thumbs up button for that song will help Pandora zero in on other artists you may like. Don’t like a song? Click on thumbs down and it quits playing and moves to the next song in line. Sweet! If you could do that on a real radio station, I might listen to them. Pandora is free and you can access it at Pandora.com or download the app for your device. It has really helped me find lots of great music I would never have discovered on my own.

Freegal

Have a library card? Check your local library and see if they have access to Freegal. You download millions of songs for FREE! They are yours to keep and can be played on your computer or device. It’s another great way to get music without paying a cent. My library has a subscription and we get five songs per week. Popular music has tons of offerings, but you can find New Age, Country, and even children’s tunes. If you are looking for music and don’t want to spend a fortune, this is for you!

October 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm 1 comment

Excalibur Dehydrator

Fall is a great time to gather the harvest, but what do you do when you have too much to use? You can freeze or can it, but an easier way to preserve it for future use is to dehydrate it! I bought my Excalibur Dehydrator years ago and though I don’t use it a lot, it sure comes in handy. And there are some items that taste a whole lot better than what you can buy in the store.

Recently, I used the dehydrator to preserve my tomato crop. There was no fast way to use up 20 tomatoes at one time, since they all seem to ripen simultaneously. I brought them in from outside, washed and sliced them into 1/4-inch slices, carried them downstairs to the dehydrator (picture 1). I placed them on the drying racks, giving them a little space between, set the temperature at about 130 degrees, and set the timer for 9.5 hours (picture 2). There were a few that weren’t completely dried when I checked, so I removed the done ones and set the dehydrator for another 30 minutes to finish them.

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What did I get? (picture 3) Nicely dried tomato slices that I will eat au natural or add to dishes, like sun-dried tomato pasta with butter, pepper, chopped flat leaf parsley, and freshly grated parmesan or Asiago. It’s a great side dish. You can add your favorite seasonings to the fresh tomato slices prior to dehydrating them, if you want a snack with a little kick.

How much does a dehydrator cost? How big is it? I got mine from Excalibur. It’s the five-tray basic model with a timer and currently costs $249.00. It’s 8-1/2″H x 17″W x 19″D and doesn’t take up too much room. You can buy larger sizes, too. I keep it in my basement on a cart, so it’s already ready to go. The unit comes with a small cookbook, so you can get the right info on dehydrating all kinds of foods. You can even make fruit leather!

excalibur dehydrator

What are my favorite dehydrated foods to make? Bananas and pineapple. Bananas starting to go bad? Slice them into 1/4-inch slices and they will come out in somewhat chewy rounds that taste soooo much better than store bought. The same is said for pineapple. When my store sells freshly cut core sections, I take it home, slice it up, and dehydrate for a very tasty snack. I like kale chips, too. Lots of little amounts leftover vegetables can be dehydrated and then tossed into soups or stews. It’s a great way to preserve foods that might normally go to waste.

I store my dehydrated foods in tightly sealed glass jars. The foods will last for ages and ages. No preservatives are needed, so the foods are the perfect snack for those who like to eat healthy.

September 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

Alone time

I was reading Oprah’s magazine this morning, while the little man was golfing, and her end feature, “What I Know for Sure” was about her enjoying alone time. Rings very true with me as I am a big fan of it as well. Why? There is something almost meditative about it. It’s calming. It’s restorative. It lets my mind wander. I find all of those things relaxing and rejuvenating.

One of my favorite times is when my house is clean, the laundry is done, and I’m home alone. I sit in my comfy chair and listen to the quiet and smile. The only noise is generally the refrigerator running (hmmm, why does it always seem to be running? Perhaps not a good thing.), but other than that, quiet. No TV, no music, no anything. I close my eyes and just sit and relish the moment. The little man, on the other hand, does not like quiet. When he’s home, the TV is almost always on. I tried to get him to watch TV in the basement, but he doesn’t like it down there, so I hear golf, auto racing, Bruce Willis movies, etc. My other half is a man who doesn’t care to be alone with his thoughts. And he’s not alone.

I read a study last month about how people are so used to being engaged, that we are no longer comfortable being alone with our thoughts. We watch TV, listen to the radio in the car, are constantly on our phones, or are wearing ear buds to let music fill our brains. Perhaps we are afraid of our thoughts or maybe there’s not much to think about, but the study mentioned that creativity is going by the wayside as a result.

What do I do when I’m alone? “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” to quote Napoleon Dynamite. Some days, it’s just cleaning. I might start a project or look at catalogs or read. It’s not that I’m just sitting doing nothing, which I do, but it’s the fact that if there’s noise, I’m making it. My mom gets it. She also appreciates alone time. I think it’s heredity. As a child, I do recall spending a lot of time alone, partly due to shyness, but mostly, because I was very good at entertaining myself. I could make something from nothing and spend hours playing with my creation.

A story my kids often tease me about is my joy from playing with a rock. I’m not talking about something you could hold in your hand, but a rock that stood about 2 feet tall and resided at the corner of our house. It had lots of indentations in it and I treated it like a kitchen. I would make food and serving utensils from berries, leaves, grass, twigs, whatever I could find. I would hang around it for hours just playing house. I wish I had taken a photo of it, but we moved from that house when I was eight and I didn’t have a camera. I wonder if it’s still there?

Do kids today still get chances to use their imagination? Are they so wired to technology or organized activities that they never have alone time? Do they even like being alone? Many adults, including the little man (I was gone for two weeks recently and I think he had an anxiety attack that put him in the hospital for observation on the day I left). If you don’t like being alone, stretch yourself by trying it. Sit in a quiet spot and listen to your thoughts. If you do have a thing for alone time, then, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s an “ahhhh” moment.

September 14, 2014 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

Home Shows

I love interior design, architecture, and even looking at nicely done landscaping, so home shows are right up my alley. Going to them gives me a chance to see innovative ideas, color combinations, and often what’s new in design. My area has a show going on right now and I’m heading over to see the houses this week.

The best one I ever went to was in Cincinnati about 10 years ago and featured about 15 houses. After a while, it is hard to keep track of what you see when there are that many, but still fun. I didn’t have a smart phone back then, so I couldn’t snap photos of what I liked, but I will have it with me this time. What do I dislike about featured homes? Poor or incomplete decorating. Hello? Isn’t that part of the event? I think so.

Something I find interesting about the shows is the price of the homes. The last one I went to in Cincy about eight years ago featured ‘empty nester’ homes in the $550-800K range. Really? My current house isn’t anywhere near that. Granted, I live in an area where housing is reasonable, but still. I don’t plan on spending that much on a house when I retire. Though prices in the U.S. vary by region, as of June 2014, the median prices were:

  • Northeast – $256,700
  • Midwest – $165,900
  • South – $184,800
  • West – $297,500

Funny, but none of those prices are close to those empty nester homes from eight years ago. The market was inflated at that time, but by that much?

I imagine that most of the people who go to home shows want to see how the other half lives and not with the intent of buying. Most likely, if you can afford to purchase a show house, you can build one that is exactly what you want, down to the fixtures. I have rarely seen one that 100% fits the bill for me, but I have come away with ideas that I have used in my house. And, the bottom line? It’s fun to look. If I could just find a job where someone would pay me to look at houses…

August 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

REI

I was shopping yesterday at a nice outdoor mall that has a Whole Foods, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Pier One, and a handful of other stores on the ‘front side.’ On the back side, there’s a Carter’s Outlet, TJ Maxx, Homegoods, Nordstrom Rack, and a great bookstore called Joseph-Beth. One of the reasons I went, and there are often many, is that I wanted to check out the REI store. There is something about walking in the door to that place that makes me want to hike, camp, rappel, and even jog. Well, perhaps not jog. If you have never been to this amazing store and you like to do anything outdoors, you need to check it out. Yesterday, I even bought some Peter Rabbit Organics fruit and veggie pouches for my organic-eating grandson. It’s also one of my favorite places for stocking stuffers at the holidays.

What do I covet at REI? They carry Smart Wool socks, Goal Zero portable solar devices for when your smart phone needs a charge, carry-on luggage that will fit in the overhead on a plane, cute casual shoes, and more. I could basically back up a truck and fill it with kayaks, freeze-ried ice cream, cute clothing, etc. In fact, I could probably fill a semi. I don’t do a lot of outdoor stuff, but when you see allllll the accoutrement for any activity, it just sucks you in and you want one of everything. It makes you WANT to camp, so you can use the Camp Kitchen, Gourmet Kitchen set, and the portable Sink.

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I love just poking around the store. I could spend 20 minutes just looking at all the colorful carabiners. I may never rappel, but I know I can find some uses for them. If you can’t get to the store, they are online and if you’re looking for some deals, try their Online Outlet!

July 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

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