Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Last Word For 2013

A group of us got together and decided that the last blog post of 2013 should be a shared effort, with each of us offering a notable quote from something he or she read during the 2013 calendar year.  So we each humbly offer you our last words for the year that was 2013.  Just a note: we’ve preserved any idiosyncratic formatting when it seems important to the meaning and impact of the quote.


In the midst of a tough year I oddly found myself reading Dante for the first time in my life.   Here’s one of many quotes that stuck with me.

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Inferno, Canto I  by Dante Alighieri


The best invitation to a classic novel ever comes in the form of this quote from the book itself: Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse:

Anarchist Evening Entertainment
Magic Theater
Entrance Not For Everybody

For Madmen Only!


I am not from West Virginia but I married a true mountain man who grew up in the hollows of the southern part of the state. Reading Dean King’s The Feud over the summer gave me a new perspective of this bloody family history that helped mold the state, its inhabitants and the nation.

Mountains make fighting men. No matter where in the world you go, you’ll find that’s true. – Ralph Stanley

The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys. The True Story by Dean King; 2013; Forward


I’m currently reading The Little Women Letters and as to be expected, it’s put me in the mood for Louisa May Alcott‘s original text.  This line has always stuck with me:

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.


I can identify with Scott: 2013 was a tough year, so this lady was diving head first into self-help books, while she’d spent most of her life rejecting them.  At the end of the year, I was recommended the best self-help-book-that-isn’t-a-self-help-book: Letters To A Young Poet by Rilke.  Rilke praised solitude so highly, and I’ve found solitude to be a great friend.  So apologies for getting a little emo – but this is the quote hit me the hardest this year. And here’s to 2014, may it bring you all peace, love, healing and good books!

Embrace your solitude and love it. Endure the pain it causes, and try to sing out with it.

Art by Scott M. Fischer, copyright held by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Art by Scott M. Fischer, copyright held by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Leigh Anne

There’s a gorgeous quotation near the end of Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips’s astonishing novel based on actual events, that captures what I’ve been feeling about the darkest nights of the year, and the return of the light. The passage is taken from composer David Lang‘s work “again (after ecclesiastes),” which you can listen to here.

these things make me so tired

I can’t speak, I can’t see, I can’t hear

what happened before will happen again

I forgot it all before

I will forget it all again


I took one book with me on my epic bike tour and it was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (somehow in the midst of all those Women’s Studies classes during undergrad I missed reading it). I’m not sorry because I read it exactly when and where I needed to.

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”


I’ve written about Phlip Caputo’s The Longest Road : Overland In Search Of America, From Key West To The Arctic Ocean before, but it merits another mention.  In an age dominated by “social media”, how connected are we as Americans; how tolerant are we as individuals?  Which is greater, the ties or the divisions? What is it about being Americans that we discover as Caputo, his wife Leslie and their 2 dogs traverse almost 12,000 miles from Key West to the Arctic Circle and back?

“Kaktovic had the architectural charm of a New Jersey warehouse district: a dirt airstrip, a hangar, houses like container boxes with doors and windows.” – Philip Caputo


In 2013 I fell in love with the illustrations of Kay Nielsen.  Fairytales have always been one of my favorite genres, and his illustrations perfectly capture how beautiful and disturbing the stories are.  The stories in East of the Sun and West of the Moon are more adult than you might imagine, full of violence and even (implied) sex.  Unlike many other fairy tales I’ve read, in which the princess waits for the prince to rescue her, several of these stories feature strong heroines who need to go to great lengths to rescue their handsome princes (or themselves).  In one of my favorites, The White Bear, the heroine is constantly reaffirming her bravery and strength.  This repeated refrain perfectly illustrates what I love about this character:

“Are you afraid?,” said the North Wind.
No, she wasn’t.

Melissa F.

David Levithan‘s newest young adult novel, Two Boys Kissing, is groundbreaking on a level rarely seen. It speaks to the very truth about what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to be your own true self.  As one of my favorite books of 2013, it’s an incredibly affecting (and very important) read for teens and adults alike.

The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.

May your 2014 be full of confident first sentences.

spotted at

spotted at


I’ve been a bit of a hermit these past few years, so I found inspiration in 2013 from artist and writer Miranda July to go outside on occasion and take a look around. In her book/art project It Chooses You she writes:

Most of life is offline, and I think it always will be; eating and aching and sleeping and loving happen in the body. But it’s not impossible to imagine losing my appetite for those things; they aren’t always easy, and they take so much time. In twenty years I’d be interviewing air and water and heat just to remember they mattered.

Also, when life gets either too heavy or too dull, a little absurdist British humor never hurts:

“What problems? We’re on the pig’s back, charging through a velvet field.” — Bernard Black, from the BBC television show Black Books


The following  is the first line of Chapter 3 of  Robert Kaplan’s book Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. This chapter is about Macedonia. This line encapsulates a lot of how Kaplan looks at the world he navigates in this book. Maybe we can take a tip from him, and not just look at the world around us, but read the world around us. Happy New Year!

The landscape here needs to be read, not just looked at.


I read a lot of young adult books and I have loved many of them. However, I find it rare for many other readers to love young adult books. This quote and this book though have stuck with me for a long time, and the book has been enjoyed by many other readers I know, adult fiction and young adult fiction lovers in general.

“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”

From The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green


My new favorite quote this year relates to all the big changes in my life the last few years, something I instinctively struggle against, preferring the calm waters of routine. As soon as I read it, I instantly felt better.

The only thing constant in life is change. — François de La Rochefoucald, Maxims


I offer this bit of wisdom from Professor Farnsworth (of Futurama fame) as the perfect antidote for taking-yourself-too-seriously.

There’s no scientific consensus that life is important.

From Into the Wild Green Yonder by, erm, some TV dudes.

Happy New Year!


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Ring in the New @ Your Library

My husband and I will most likely spend New Year’s Eve quietly, at home. Hosting Christmas dinner and finally getting to see the Doctor Who Christmas special is, quite frankly, enough excitement for one holiday season. And going to bed early is wonderful preparation for starting 2014 with an early-morning run.

If you’re still awake and reading after that scintillating description of middle-aged domestic life, you’re probably like us: not all that keen on cocktails or midnight revelry. Quite possibly you have a small fry who simply can’t handle staying up until the ball drops, or plans for sunrise that involve getting a jump-start on a resolution. If that’s the case, why not make the Library your New Year’s Eve Day destination? You’ll have all the fun you can handle, without any of the drawbacks a late night can bring. And even if you do have more raucous plans later, we’d love to finish out our year with a visit from you!

Celebrate the New Year with us!

Celebrate the New Year with us!

Here are some of the events we’re hosting on the last day of the year:

Main Library–Children’s Department

Family Fun Days: Count Down to 2014!

11:40 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Admit it: you have secretly always wanted to parade through the Library with a noisemaker and be as loud as possible. Bring the kids for this fun family program that involves crafting and a walk around the building.

Woods Run

Teen New Year’s Eve Party

3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Because partying with the grownups is so not on the agenda. This teens-only bash involves dancing, snacks, and–of course!–noisemakers.

Downtown & Business

The Reel Story

12:15 p.m.

Working tomorrow? Why not spend your lunch break watching a film about two people who have nothing in common except their terminal illnesses, but become friends and make lists of all the adventures they want to have before they die. Who knows? You could be inspired to make your own list for 2014.


Personalized Computer Help

If you’re the ambitious type, you can get a jump on your good intentions by calling or stopping by the Beechview library to make an appointment for one-on-one computer help. Other Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations offer this service, too, so make sure to ask your favorite library worker about it the next time you visit.

Whether you’re loud or quiet, an early bird or a night owl, we thank you for supporting the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in 2013, and we hope to see you at one of our many programs very soon. Keep an eye on the Eleventh Stack blog, as 2014 promises to be another year of literacy, learning, and fun for all ages.

–Leigh Anne

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Peter O’Toole: A Fan’s Notes

It was a funny thing. A few weeks ago–completely out of the blue and for no reason at all–I began to Google pictures of Peter O’Toole as a young man. And Lord, what a handsome man he was, before age, alcohol, and illness had their way with him. Later that day a friend of mine called me. “Well, we lost Peter O’Toole,” she said. That spooked me, I confess…was that Rod Serling lurking in the corner? But then I thought, “Of course. If anybody would have loved to give an old fan a wink and a tip of the hat before going on his merry way, it would be Peter O’Toole.”

O’Toole, though he worked in a modern age, was not a modern actor. He was a full-out, old-fashioned bravura performer, swooping and snorting and using that wonderfully eccentric voice of his to reach the furthest balcony in the house. No particular method or theory of acting troubled him–you wanted a king? Very well–he clapped a crown on his head, threw a robe around his shoulders, and bam! Got your king here. He had, for lack of a better word, style. No matter what horrid dreck he ended up starring in, that style and swagger never failed him, even when he was so ill and frail a strong wind could have broken him into matchsticks. If he had been born a couple of decades sooner, he would have given Errol Flynn a run for his money. He was born to play dragon slayers, pirate kings, and elegant highwaymen, all leavened with an outrageous sense of humor and absurdity.

He was a master of physical comedy as well, those stick-insect arms and legs of his waving in outrage or excitement. Check him out in My Favorite Year, descending from a rooftop tied to a fire hose, nattily attired in a white Palm Beach suit and maintaining a perfect dignity, for a master class in the art.

Photo credit: Andre Borges / Getty Images

O’Toole in My Favorite Year. Photo credit: Andre Borges / Getty Images

Oddly enough, the one role where he remained relatively restrained and subdued was the one for which he became most famous: T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. The film certainly was boisterous enough–all those swirling sandstorms, charging camels, and fiery explosions–but he was not. T. E. Lawrence is made up of interiors–he barely raises his voice in most scenes. His Lawrence is all whispers, fiercely driven and unknowable, with the bland good manners of the Oxford don that Lawrence was. He drives generals and princes to distraction. “It’s my manner, sir,” he says pleasantly at one point. “It looks to be insubordinate, but it isn’t really.”

It was a stunning performance for such a young man, but I always preferred his King Henry in Becket: sharp, witty, feline sly, and with a wry sense of the performance and ruthless politics needed to remain in power. It’s why, in the end, he walks out of the tomb, red robes billowing around him, and Becket does not.

I guess what defines Peter O’Toole for me is the absolute joy he took in performing. You can see it in his eyes as he exchanges lethal insults with Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in WinterTo have juicy dialogue to speak, to clash with co-stars worthy of his steel: that’s what he lived for. Most actors today have irony and even snarkiness to spare, but only a handful of the very best possess that joy in the work. Contemporary actors are a glum, anxious lot, most of them.

At the end of The Lion in Winter O’Toole’s Henry II is standing alone on a muddy riverbank. He’s just had a hell of a time–attempted assassination, betrayal after betrayal by those he loves best, and the loss of his sons. You would expect him to be melancholy at the very least, as he waves goodbye to his beloved and hated wife as she departs on the royal barge for another year in exile. He suddenly bellows to her, “You know, I hope we live forever!” As she nods, laughing at him, he bellows again, “Do you think there’s a chance of it?” And he tips his magnificent shaggy head back and roars with laughter, stretching his arms out as if to embrace the absurdity and glory of his life and the world at large.

Well, speaking from the viewpoint of that bony, spotty fourteen-year-old who fell in love with him while eating stale Raisinettes in the first row of the grubby Park Cinema in Roselle Park, New Jersey, I can say with absolute certainty, “Pete, you got that covered.”



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Recorded Accompaniments (Your Instrument Here)

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to practice your instrument or sing with a band in your own space whenever the spirit moves you? The library can help! We have Recorded Accompaniments that will allow you to do just that.

Recorded Accompaniments are music scores that contain CDs with recorded songs minus an instrument or the vocal part, for you to play along. It’s like karaoke for whatever instrument you choose. Some of these series are put out by different publishers with the names “Music Minus One” or “Play-Along.”

Here are some examples on how to search for this type of material in our catalog. The subject headings will be in this format:

Try a search with your favorite instrument! We have saxophone, harmonica, viola, accordion, trumpet, and lots more. We have all types of genres, like blues, jazz, heavy metal, and classical music. We have the vocal music of Elvis, Broadway in male and female editions, Lady Gaga, opera, R & B, you name it.

Here are some examples of the types of CDs that are available, taken from the descriptions right on the material:

  • “Enhanced CDs comprise full performances and piano accompaniments; includes tempo adjustment software.”
  • “Compact disc comprises demo and play-along tracks; playable on regular CD player and computer; includes tempo adjustment software.”
  • “The 1st compact disc comprises complete versions and tracks without viola; the 2nd CD comprises a slow tempo practice version.”

Here is a smattering of random samples from our collection:

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10 Non-traditional Holiday Movies

‘Tis the season for holiday movies. Some viewers prefer traditional heart-warming holiday classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. For the rest of you—who prefer your holiday movies with explosions—there is probably no better holiday movie than the 1988 action classic Die Hard.

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I’ve rounded up a handful of seasonally appropriate movies below, with something that should appeal to even the most discerning cinefile and/or saccharine-adverse.


About a Boy
Hugh Grant convinces a lonely adolescent to pretend to be his son so he can score with attractive single moms. There’s some Christmas thrown in there too, and maybe even a little bit of redemption.


The Apartment
An insurance employee loans out his apartment to managers and their mistresses, with the hope of getting a promotion. Everything is going along swimmingly until the aftermath of the office Christmas party.


A Christmas Tale
A bone marrow transplant, mental illness, self-injury, alienation, general family dysfunction, and Catherine Deneuve. It’s a very French holiday film!


Die Hard
A holiday party is in full swing at the Nakatomi Plaza building in Los Angeles, when suddenly the building is taken over by Hans Gruber and his henchmen. It is then up to our hero, police officer John McClane, to save the day and restore holiday cheer.


Frozen River
It’s almost Christmas time, and two single mothers bond while smuggling illegal immigrants across the New York-Quebec border.


A perfect lesson in why it is never acceptable to give a pet as a gift without the recipient’s consent.


In Bruges
Two hit men lay low in Bruges, Belgium during the holiday season and develop a love/hate relationship with the city. One loves it, one hates it.


Lethal Weapon
On a recent re-viewing, I discovered that this quintessential buddy cop movie is also a holiday movie—if for no other reason than a fantastic scene taking place at a Christmas tree lot.


Rare Exports
A Finnish film that reimagines Santa as a supernatural creature that punishes naughty children instead of rewarding nice ones. (Side note: I still haven’t seen this one yet, but numerous co-workers have told me it’s excellent.)


Trading Places
This one counts as a Christmas movie due to one memorable sequence about halfway into the movie—Dan Aykroyd dons a Santa suit and sneaks into his former employer’s Christmas party to destroy the man (Eddie Murphy) who replaced him. It goes poorly to say the least, but, he does manage to make it out of the bash with a full side of salmon which he then consumes on a city bus.


Ho, Ho, Ho. Image taken from the site:

How about you? What sort of classic (or non-classic) holiday movies will you be watching this season?

Yippee-Ki-Yay Happy Holidays,


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I recently read Donna Tartt’s most recent novel, The Goldfinch, which I absolutely loved.  Reviews had referred to The Goldfinch as “Dickensian,” and I enjoyed it so much that it led me to read my first Dickens novel.  My father has urged me to read Dickens for years; one of his favorite authors, he just has never been able to believe that I didn’t have any interest in the author.  Now that I’ve finally crossed that bridge and read my first Dickens novel, I have to admit that my dad was right, and Charles Dickens is right up my alley.  I just finished Great Expectations, and thought I’d share a few of my thoughts:

  1. I had an idea that reading Dickens would be time-consuming, and I just don’t have a lot of time.  That turned out to not be the case at all.  Because Great Expectations was originally written as a serial, it was incredibly easy to read a chapter at a time here and there, and I wound up finishing it pretty quickly after all.
  2. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t exactly call this a humorous book, there were some really funny passages.  One of my favorites describes the owner of a seed shop and his colleague: “I discovered a singular affinity between seeds and corduroys.  Mr. Pumblechook wore corduroys, and so did his shopman; and somehow, there was a general air and flavor about the corduroys, so much in the nature of seeds, and a general air and flavor about the seeds, so much in the nature of corduroys, that I hardly knew which was which.”
  3. Humorous bits aside, wow- talk about melodrama!  Between Miss Havisham’s hysterics and Pip’s constant anxiety over absolutely everything (except for his mounting debts, for some reason), Dickens barely needed to come up with drama in the plot: his characters provided enough on their own!  And of course, there is plenty of drama in the plot.  Each time things start to become a bit too neatly wrapped up, somebody is arrested, or falls ill, or is in a fire, or a fight, or getting married.  There’s no shortage of Big Events in this novel.
  4. I once read that people who read a lot are inclined to have a big vocabulary, but don’t always know the proper pronunciation of words because some words are used so infrequently that they’ve only read them in books.  This book was full of those kind of vocabulary gems, if you like that kind of thing: farinaceous, peppercorny, farthingale, slime-washed, and purblind were among the words that jumped out at me (just don’t ask me to pronounce them).
I got a little discouraged when, after pages and pages of description I reached this note.  The action kicked in just pages later.

I got a little discouraged when, after pages and pages of description I reached this note. The action kicked in just pages later.

Have you ever read a book that turned out to be entirely different than you expected (in a good way)?



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My Year in Books 2013

We recently did a wonderful group post on our favorite books from the past year but that didn’t allow me to tell you about all the books I enjoyed.

I read a lot. Like, almost 200 books according to my Goodreads‘ account–I don’t own a television so this is one way I entertain myself. Yes, they were mostly historical romance, my favorite genre, but there was also historical non-fiction, young adult, mystery, and one in that trendy new genre, “new adult.”

Here are the books that stood out that the library owns:

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*All books were published in 2013


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New Year’s Resolution Ideas

For the past two months I have shopped, gorged and fretted my way through the snowy season. Now I have the next few days to spend time with the special people in my life, sharing laughter and love. Many folks use this time to reflect on the previous year, all the things they have accomplished and all the things they want to do in the New Year. I am mostly looking forward to all of the things waiting for my family in 2014. We are expecting in late spring and our 5 year old is heading off to kindergarten in the fall. Change is happening in our household and I am both excited and nervous for the future.

I am pretty shallow so I don’t often reflect, but 2013 changed our lives in a lot of ways and I found myself thinking about the New Year’s resolutions I made (and in most cases promptly forgot) last year. As January approaches I have resolved to make some healthier changes in my life, focus on my family, and do the laundry more than once a week (this is an often made resolution in my life). A quick Google search brings up several lists of the top New Year’s resolutions and I wanted to share some of them with you, along with some resources to help you start fresh in 2014!

1)      Eat Healthy and Exercise Regularly (a.k.a. lose weight). This is a bookcoverCAXYS20Istaple for most people this time of year. The holidays can stress people out and stress can lead to over eating, so it is no big surprise that when we think about how we want to change our lives we think about a healthier -balanced lifestyle. You can find great reading and DVDs at the library to help you on your way.

bookcoverCAOG06512)      Learn something new. It doesn’t matter if it is a new language or an instrument, learning something new gives you a chance to gain a new perspective on life.

3)      Volunteer. Helping others is a great resolution that tends to make 998101_567594976621195_543369179_nit on to most top resolution lists. The Library offers volunteer opportunities in the libraries and in our friends’ organizations.

bookcoverCA4BCTA04)      Save Money. In years of plenty and in the lean years this resolution tends to find a spot on lots of lists. The library, of course, is a great money saver when you use it as a patron, but also offers lots of resources to help you with investing, aid, and taxes!

bookcoverCAZ95QK45)      Get organized. This is a hard one for me, it is always on my list and is the first resolution to fly out the window. I am just naturally a hair-brained type gal but there are lots of different titles out there to help you try to get your house, family and work more organized!

How about you? What are your tried and true (or tired and over-used) resolutions?


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C Is for Cookie. That’s Good Enough for Me!



It’s that time of year. No, I don’t mean the time to buy and wrap more presents than you can afford. And also not the time to visit with people you really wouldn’t choose to hang out with, if you in fact actually had a choice. (Or is it??) I mean that it’s time to get in that kitchen and bake some cookies! These treats can be your homemade replacement for the usual capitalistic holiday gifts or just your way of saying a sweet “I love you” to those you’re going to be feeding over the next few weeks.

This week, my department will be holding its second annual Cookie Day. All of my colleagues bring in cookies, set them out on a big table in our office and we invite all of our fellow library staff to partake, at their leisure, throughout the day. It’s our way of saying thank you to those who work with us all year long.  (Feel free to copy our idea for your own group. It’s really rather low cost and low maintenance for the individuals throwing the shindig.)

But of course, in the true spirit of the holidays, I must go overboard. I’m not going to make just the one cookie to bring to Cookie Day. I’m going to be making at least 10 kinds of cookies, bars, and chocolate treats this season. I’ve given the members of my immediate family the option to select two types of baked goods. Plus, there are some cookies that I just HAVE to make for myself. So far, my baking list includes: buckeye bars, pumpkin snickerdoodles (A repeat from the pumpkin birthday extravaganza. Yes, they were THAT good.), at least three kinds of chocolate chip cookies, fudge, peppermint chocolate bark, lemon drops, and my current favorite thing – snickerdoodle blondies. There are a few other cookies nagging me and pulling on my heartstrings that will probably see the light of day as well.

As you can tell from the links above, I find most of my inspiration and recipes online. (Yay, Pinterest!) But as some of you who have read my posts before know, I absolutely ADORE a good cookbook. Here are a few that I found to help with your holiday cookie baking needs:

The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics by Stacy Adimando

Better Homes and Gardens Very Merry Cookies

Very Vegan Christmas Cookies by Ellen Brown

The Complete Photo Guide to Cookie Decorating by Autumn Carpenter

Crazy about Cookies: 300 Scrumptious Recipes for Every Occasion & Craving by Krystina Castella

The Cookie Jar Cookbook: 65 Recipes for Classic, Chunky & Chewy Cookies

Cookies, Cookies & More Cookies! by Lilach German

The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life by Anna Ginsberg

Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen Cookie Lover’s Cookbook: Gooey, Chewy, Sweet & Luscious Treats

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Dozens of Recipes for Reinterpreted Favorites by Carey Jones & Robyn Lenzi

The Art of the Cookie by Shelly Kaldunski

Cookies at Home with the Culinary Institute of America by Todd Knaster

Gluten-Free Cookies: From Shortbreads to Snickerdoodles, Brownies to Biscotti: 50 Recipes for Cookies You Crave by Luane Kohnke

Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

The Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book: More than 800 Scrumptious Recipes that Start with Refrigerated Cookie Dough, Cake Mix, Brownie Mix, or Ready-to-Eat Cereal by Camilla V. Saulsbury

One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes by Tracey Zabar

So as you can see, we have cookie cookbooks for those willing to spend their entire weekend decorating tiny crisps of sugared dough to the hilt, as well as those who would rather throw some things into a pan and be done with it. Everyone can make something!

Happy Holiday Baking!
-Melissa M.

P.S. This is my favorite cookie cookbook. It’s the one I bought my mother as a Christmas present over 30 years ago and it is the one I did a little happy dance about when I found in a used book store.


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What I Did On My Winter Vacation.

Me & My Bike
Photo: P. Blanarik

On Thanksgiving Day I had turkey and all the fixings, excellently prepared by my husband (he always says I help, but really I push microwave buttons.) Then I put my bicycle in a truck and drove 22 hours to Key Largo, Florida. I spent 8 days riding to Key West and back (with a little South Beach Miami thrown in) with two awesome dudes.

We crossed 40 bridges (including the famous Seven Mile Bridge), rode at least 300 miles, had two flat tires, stayed in four campgrounds and two hotels, visited Ernest Hemingway’s house, the Southernmost Point of the United States, and the historic Key West Cemetery, drank gallons of water and coffee (and adult beverages), watched the sun rise and set every day in a most spectacular fashion, and formed a serious love/hate relationship with mile markers (at least I did.)


What a good librarian I am!

The Good (besides all of it)

  • I’m a good camper! My tent came out of the box for the first time on this trip. Now I can put up a tent in heavy wind in the dark on gravel while fighting off fire ants.
  • I learned exactly how much stuff I need. And it’s not a lot. Next trip: less clothes and toiletries, more fluffy stuff to sleep on top of.
  • Getting to know my two traveling buddies. We were together (more or less) 24/7 for 10 days. This included over 40 hours of sitting in a truck cab and riding 5 to 6 hours a day together, plus every meal. We really got to know each other and it was a fantastic experience.
  • The ADVENTURE. For most of the trip, we had only a vague idea of where we were going to stay each night. We saw giant lizards, endangered Key Deer, all variety of sea birds, and miles of open water. We rode on beautiful fresh pavement and gravel and sand. We met people who offered us camping space in their yard (“If I’m not home, just throw your sh*t in my yard and go have a beer.”) and lots of fellow travelers. In case there was ever any doubt, Pittsburghers are everywhere.

The Bad (as bad as being in paradise can be)

  • Did you know you can get sunburn on your elbows? How about the crook of your arm? Behind your ears? I assure you, you can and it is exquisitely painful. Use sunscreen, lots of it, and make sure you get ALL THE PARTS.
  • It’s winter. Things close early and you end up eating dinner at Walgreen’s. Due to poor planning, several times we missed the dinner boat. We did learn, however, that you can get Chinese food delivered to a state park. And to always have snacks on hand.
  • You’re going to have a day you don’t want to ride. And you’ll have to do it anyway. And every single mile marker will be a punch in your teeth. And you’ll have a headwind. And you’ll be happy that you did it.
  • Coming home to the cold was traumatic. I hate fixing my hair and wearing grown-up clothes again.

Read about far more epic trips than mine!

TheLostCyclistThe Lost Cyclist, David V. Herlihy

Pittsburgh dude! In 1892, Pittsburgh accountant Frank Lenz quit his job to cycle around the world, ostensibly as a correspondent for Outing magazine. After two years and nearly 20,000 miles, he disappeared in eastern Turkey. In what seems like a supremely stupid move, Outing magazine sends another correspondent (William Sachtleben) to find out what happened to the first one.  Luckily, he doesn’t disappear and actually finds the people responsible. Herlihy documents not only the investigation, but (more interesting) Lenz’s epic bike ride around the world.

OfftheMapOff the Map: Bicycling Across Siberia, Mark Jenkins

Despite my love of all things Russian, this is NOT a trip I will be taking. Seven people (three Americans and four Soviets) rode 7,000 miles from the Sea of Japan to Leningrad in Soviet Russia, much of it through swamps on dirt roads.  They encountered angry KGB agents and extraordinary Russians and lived on a diet of potatoes, bread and milk with nary a Walgreen’s in sight. Bag of nopes.

50PlacestoBikeFifty Places to Bike Before You Die, Chris Santella

We are already talking about 2014’s trip to Key West. This time we want to be there for the full moon. But this book has inspired me to think bigger! Why not RAGBRAI or the Tour de Tuli? Although I’ll pass on the Washington State Challenge (320 miles in 24 hours, with 32 miles up hill!).

MilesfromNowhereMiles From Nowhere, Barbara Savage

For two years, Barbara and Larry Savage traveled around the world on their bikes. Covering 25 countries and 23,000 miles, it was the trip of a lifetime, planned on a whim over dinner. And they did it on bikes way less fancy than mine. The book is a little dated (1983) and their description of riding in the Florida Keys is the polar opposite of mine: the Seven Mile Bridge was described as a “nightmare.” In my case, it was one of the most beautiful, exhilarating parts of the ride! SPOILER ALERT: Barbara Savage died in a bicycle wreck right before this book was published!

Tons more pictures if you’re so inclined!

happy trails-


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