Archive for November, 2013

The Condiment Conundrum

Friday, November 8th, 2013

One benefit I’ve noticed of living alone is that, little by little, all of the various spices and sauces and boxes and cans of foods that I don’t like are disappearing from my pantry and refrigerator. I have a cleaning lady once a month (cue ugly comments here,) and now when she leaves, I open the door to a fridge out of a TV commercial. It’s light and shiny and the few things within look almost spotlit. Fewer things fall off the pantry shelves when I search for a spice or bottle. I can imagine a time when I’ll be able to read all the labels without moving 10 things. I go to the store and buy what I want for a day or two—I feel very French somehow doing this.
But today I went to the pantry for ketchup to add to baked beans, and the cupboard was bare.
This might not seem odd to most people, but when the children were younger I always bought ketchup two bottles at a time, and there never fewer than three or four bottles.
I went to the refrigerator and looked in the door. My husband and I were raised in different denominations. I came from a refrigerated ketchup home, while he was from the pantry sect. We argued about this until one day he pointed out that I had worked as a waitress in a place where ketchup was kept on a shelf near the counter with the full knowledge of the health department.
But I went to the fridge, thinking maybe I’d reverted to my childhood ways and chilled the ketchup. Alas, none there, either.
I looked for packets from McDonald’s, but I cleaned out the packet drawer a few months back, and there was none to be found.
While I miss having my house full of my family, the advantage has been that, little by little, the clutter of multiple people sharing living space has begun to clear, and I’m enjoying the cleaner spaces. I’m just waiting for them to gain permanent addresses so that I can send rooms full of furniture and bedding and dishware and VHS movies to their new homes.
Maybe they’ll send back a bottle of ketchup.

The Burglar Who Stole My Heart

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Did I mention that I like to read? And that my favorite genre is mystery?
I have 16 shelves of books devoted to various mysteries, most being books in series, some single examples. I think there are more in the basement. And in my bedroom. And on my Kindle.

This love of mysteries started in grade school with Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators. In junior high I moved up to Barbara Michaels and Mary Stewart, and was glad that the ladies were prolific writers. When I was 19, I joined The Mystery Guild and branched out.

And then one day, I fell in love with a burglar.

Bernie Rhodenbarr began letting himself into houses without a key a year or two before I graduated from high-school. When I met him, he’d already pulled a couple of jobs, nearly gone down for murder, and dealt justice to a few scoundrels. I immediately ordered the rest of the series and waited impatiently for more.

Bernie is a pretty unassuming guy to be the hero of a whole series. He’s a quiet bachelor who’s kind to his elderly neighbor, appreciates the art he steals, and loves to read. He’s a little of a renaissance man, appreciating fine cognac, attending the occasional play or concert, dining at a private club, dressing correctly for every occasion. A decent, steady kind of fellow. And then he’s also a dashing rogue, who just occasionally opens locked doors, helps himself to a few choice morsels, and thoughtfully locks up behind himself when he leaves.

Alas, Bernie’s creator, Lawrence Block, was enjoying the adventures of Matt Scudder and Evan Tanner, and he ignored Bernie for years at a time. After The Burglar in the Rye, back at the turn of the century (this one,) I’d not heard from Bernie again except when a sleepless night sent me on a visit to a familiar adventure. My copies of the Burglar books are well worn and showing their age now, a little like me.

BUT HE’S BACK! This year for Christmas, Block is treating us to another adventure with the gentleman burglar, and if you haven’t fallen in love with Bernie in the past, here’s your chance. We find our rogue hero doing what he does best—selling books in his book store, that is. Can he help it that people look him up there and offer tempting challenges? Soon he’s deeply involved in rounding up early American silver, solving a murder for his old friend Ray, and enjoying his popularity with the ladies. With his henchperson to help and some unofficial investigating along the way, Bernie soon puts things to right. Well, maybe not right, but at least all the guilty pay.

Through the years, as I and my books got older, Bernie didn’t age much, but he kept up with the times. When we started off together, he didn’t even have a cell phone. These days, he’s using burner phones, googling bad guys and lamenting the popularity of Kindle.

I, too, lament the Kindle, even as I have decided I like reading with it. Yes, I love the feel and weight and smell and appearance of real books. In my fondest dream, I own a store like Bernie’s and sit among good friends and new aquaintences, surrounded by reading for every mood and need, sharing these treasures with customers and aquiring new ones. But unless I take up burglary, I’m as unlikely to be able to do that as I am to turn a corner in New York, wander into a bookstore and toss some wadded paper for Raffles while lunching with Bernie and Carolyn on Juneau Lock.

What does the future hold for Bernie? I don’t know if he’ll be back for another adventure. I always hope. But if this was the last time we hear from him, it was worth the wait, and so much fun that I might just start my second reading tonight.

When Did You Begin to Read?

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

When did you begin to read?

Do you remember? Can you remember the first words you read on your own, your first book, the first time you read with no pictures?

Most people who love reading don’t remember beginning to read. It’s just something that has always been there. Part of who you are. You don’t even think about it. You just do it.

Some of my earliest memories involve reading. When I think of my mother, it’s often of her voice as she read to us. I remember reading to my baby sister, being bored to distraction by Dick and Jane, waiting eagerly for the Scholastic Book Club flier each month, reading to my newborn babies, and the pride of knowing that my son had stayed up all night to finish one of the Harry Potter books the day it came. Most of my education comes from reading. Even my faith in God is intertwined with a book.

When I was 19, I found out that if you joined a book club, they would send half a dozen books FREE as long as you agreed to buy a few more over a couple of years. WHAT A DEAL! Soon I belonged to four clubs, but the Mystery Guild was my favorite. Raised on Reader’s Digest Condensed Books selections of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels, I love mysteries. I’m not like most mystery readers. I seldom try to figure out “whodunnit.” I just turn pages faster and faster as the writer reveals delightful twists and turns, with the reward of a neat wrap-up at the end.

When my children were young, I read the classics of childhood aloud to them, even after they were able to read alone. We read Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, nursery rhymes, short stories, Eddie books, Alfred Hitchcock mysteries, the Hobbit…so many more.

When the children began reading longer books, I started reading some of what they read, and found delightful things like Hoot, and Harry Potter, and Holes (why do all the new books begin with H?)

For a couple of recent years, life somehow got in the way, and I found I could no longer read. The words were there, but the attention span wasn’t. I began reading mostly short articles on the internet and in magazines. I missed books, but couldn’t concentrate. It nearly drove me nuts—all my life, I didn’t worry about being a lonely old person, because I would just read. How would I deal with old age if I couldn’t spend it reading??

Thankfully, the concentration problem finally went away, and while I’m too busy to read as much as I’d like, I have a Kindle packed full of things to choose from. These days, I bribe myself to go to the gym by allowing myself to read without guilt as long as I’m walking on the treadmill. See? Reading is good for you.

When did you begin to read?