Rebecca Drake Strikes Again

It was standing room only at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop for Rebecca Drake’s book signing. The crowd was peppered with familiar faces and an impressive grouping of wine stood out among the books.  But most striking was the cake provided by the Pittsburgh branch of Sisters in Crime that boasted a picture of the book’s cover.  This supportive group flocks to any celebration for one of their own and their impressive lineup included Kathleen George, Nancy Martin and Annette Dashofy to name a few.  The honored guests also included a legacy of  bookshop owners that have all brought Mystery Lovers to renowned glory. The shop was the brain child of Mary Alice and Richard Gorman who brought it to international acclaim before carefully selecting Laurie Stephens to take over in 2012.  The love and commitment it takes to run an iconic landmark takes a very special person and cannot be handed over to just anyone.  When Natalie Sacco returned to her hometown Oakmont with husband Trevor Thomas, it seemed the timing was perfect for another transition.  They have given it a new vibe that includes indie books and local authors of all genres.

The event they hosted last night was greatly anticipated.  Rebecca took almost ten years off between books while she was desperately seeking a new agent and adjusting to life transitions.  But things really took off when she teamed up with Rachel Eckstrom Courage who loved her book and propelled it into publication.  Rachel was traveling at the time of the book signing but was represented by her parents.  It just so happens that her mom was my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and culinary instructor.  I wish I had known at the time that I had such a close tie to the publishing world.  The world certainly does work in mysterious ways.  The night ended up being a huge reunion for me since I worked with Rebecca’s husband for over twenty years and had not seen her children since they were small.  Her son showed up with a fan club of college students and the bookstore actually ran out of books to sell.  Luckily dad had a stash in the car so it ended up being a grand success for all.

Readers and writers are great people to have in your life and Pittsburgh has an impressive assortment of both.  The next time you need an escape head over to Mystery Lovers and make a new friend.  They are great a suggesting books and are spot on at picking the perfect read if you give them a profile.




Putting On The Brakes

My daughter and I were on the Boulevard of the Allies at the height of rush hour traffic.  She was manning the GPS and I had to get into the right lane.  I saw I had room to get over and gunned it to make the switch.  Imagine my surprise when the car in front of me suddenly braked.  I’m a cautious driver and was not following close. That was fortunate because the outcome could have been more severe.  Confusion was overtaken by bewilderment when the driver gave me the finger before speeding off again.  What prompted this act is still a mystery.  I did not cut in front of this car too closely but I guess he didn’t like having to slow down.  

Image result for heavy pittsburgh traffic imagesA week later my daughter had a similar experience on the ice skating rink.  She is a figure skater and was practicing spins.  It was the Monday after Easter so there were very few skaters.  However, one small hockey player sped past and braked directly in front of her. She almost fell.  He kept doing it just to annoy her and there were no guards on the ice. 

Image result for ice skating images

People are positioning for power and control everywhere you go.  Everyone wants to be in front.  Every day I take the parkway into town someone passes the line of stopped cars by speeding down the right shoulder emergency lane.  I am always amazed that someone allows them to merge back into traffic.  

You may not be able to control the behavior of others but Image result for anger cartoon imagesyou can control your reaction.  It is hard to resist getting angry but then the other person wins.  Don’t allow them to control your emotions.  Put it behind you.  Resist dwelling on it all day and telling everyone you see about the negative encounter.  This results in what author Eckhart Tolle calls a pain-body.  It is caused by holding on to bad feelings that feed on suffering.  Bringing up the same event over and over causes you to increase that suffering and internalize it.    The more you bring it up the harder it is to get over. Learn to let go of negative incidents the minute they arise.  
Navigating through the world on a daily basis can present quite a challenge.  But arm yourself with positive energy and you will think you have super powers.  It may not deflect bad things happening but it will help you glide through the day in emotional control.          

Pittsburgh Thai by Boris

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have a wide selection of excellent Thai food but you will not find it better anywhere than what is lovingly prepared by Boris in Verona.  He puts his personal touch on every dish and comes out of the kitchen to greet each guest.  He took over a former Thai restaurant about two years ago and has developed quite a faithful following.  It is definitely a word of mouth restaurant and I found out about it’s culinary wonders from my neighbor Michelle.  It should not be missed and is a great place for a quiet reprieve.

Verona is a quaint riverside borough about 13 miles northeast of downtown along the left bank of the Allegheny River.  If you follow Allegheny River Boulevard it will take you almost to the restaurants front door.  It is hard to miss if you are not looking for it and is located on a side street at 321 South Avenue.  The phone number is (412) 828-0339.  Pittsburgh Thai by Boris's profile photo

The decor is minimalistic and serene.  There is a clever wooden sculpture of a reclining Buddha that appears to be suspended in air.  The tom kha soup is so popular  that an artful poster of it hangs on the wall beckoning you to the quixotic experience it offers.  The pumpkin custard and crab fried rice are both examples of the unique fare that you can’t find just anywhere.

Pumpkin custard with sticky rice     Crab fried rice

Although it is still a fairly well kept secret, you may want to call for reservations on weekends.  The hours are Monday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.  Friday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  They do not serve alcohol but do have B.Y.O.B. with no corkage fee.  It is perfect for a book club meeting, sophisticated birthday party or small business gathering.  The food cannot help but put you in a good mood and the service is superb.

They have a Facebook page where you can view their menus and will be pleasantly surprised to find lunch priced between $4.50 and $7.50.  I think you will be hard pressed to find a more delectable bargain anywhere else in or out of town.  You will be instantly transported to the exotic cultural experience of Thailand and will feel you have been treated to a home cooked meal with this authentic menu.

Made In U.S.A.

Keeping stock of the various necessities of life can present quite a challenge.  I shop local as much as possible and get excited anytime I come across the Made in America label.  I recently needed to buy socks and was forced to shop in a big box conglomerate that I normally avoid.  But I happen to be visiting relatives in a rural area where it is about the only game in town.

My first rushed attempt to meet this need was met with less than stellar results.  I bought a package of three knee socks for roughly $5.00 that fit too tight around my calf and reeked of polyester.  It was something I could not abide by even in my desperate state.  I went back to the same store to pick up an ingredient for a cooking project and stumbled upon a whole display of Made in America socks.  I couldn’t believe it.  They were located no where near the regular sock aisle and I was thrilled to make this exciting discovery.

There was a great selection of colors and they reeked of exquisite quality. The merino wool blend contained just a tiny bit of acrylic and enough spandex to make to insure a good fit for calf comfort.  I am happy to now be acquainted with the Renfro Sierra Sock Company.  They put you in sock buying mood with illusions of warm feet for outdoor activities.  You see a picture of a snowy mountain range right on the package label which is sewn on with actual white thread instead of those annoying plastic connectors you have to cut off of most socks.

The Renfro Sierra Sock Company is headquartered in Mount Airy, N.C. which is close to where I grew up.   It has pioneered such efforts as the standardization of sock sizes and the use of copper technology to make anti-microbial socks that contain arch support and reinforced heel and toe.  They cost roughly $5.00 a pair which I was happy to pay for such quality.

But digging a little deeper on their website uncovered manufacturing and distribution facilities not only in the United States (Alabama, North and South Carolina) but also in India, China, Pakistan, Canada and Mexico.  But I like to think they are paying fair wages since they support communities where they operate by donating to local causes and disaster relief efforts.

They have a culture that embraces respect and concern for all their employees. This includes a comprehensive wellness program that promotes awareness of health and fitness while providing incentives to accomplish fitness goals.
They are continuously developing sustainability initiatives that demonstrate concern for precious earth resources with things like corporate tree-plantings, installation of energy-efficient roofing and development of  environmentally friendly consumer products made with materials like bamboo, organic cotton and recycled yarn.  So I still feel pretty good about buying this product even though it is not exclusively Made in the U.S.A.


Christmas Time Is Here

I’m hitting the road today for a holiday spree and a few hours in the car is always an adventure.  My best tips for rest stops along the way are truck stops and hotels.  They are both ALWAYS open.  If you are staying in town but want a reprieve from the holiday aftermath, check out the Terrace Room at the Omni William Penn Hotel.  I will always remember it as the Westin William Penn but that just shows how long I’ve been in Pittsburgh.  The atmosphere is elegant, the seafood is sustainable and the menu is diverse enough to please anyone in your party.  They also do an awesome tea that would make a great gift for a special person in your life.  Afterward you can stroll around the city and marvel at the magic of the Macy window displays.

The Terrace Room

If you have guests visiting from out of town you may want to show off our award winning Fairmont Hotel.  The breath taking view of PNC park is worth the trip alone.  It was named one of the worlds top 20 travel destinations by National Geographic Traveler and won a prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) Gold Award from the United States Green Building Council.  Their bar is a posh yet private place for cocktails and the lobby offers historical artifacts of the city that are fascinating to read about.

Rivers Casino is open from 10:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and has no end of restaurants and bars.  Their happy hour from 5:00 – 7:00 offers $2.00 drinks and lots of interesting interaction.  The perfect choice for over zealous holiday spenders.  It may not be for everyone but it is an eclectic outing to recover from too much shopping.

But if you want to feel the true spirit of the holidays you should head down to PPG Place Wintergarden to absorb the international flavor of Christmas.  You can marvel at the 32 foot Christmas tree surrounded by a snow-capped village with a train winding through it. It almost equals the grand display at the Carnegie Science Center but this one is actually open Christmas Day!  If the kids are bouncing off the walls this is the perfect place to take them after your cocktail at the casino.  While you’re there you can also stroll through the life sized Santas that make up the Spirits of Giving From Around the World display.  It is quite educational and a peaceful way to escape the excitement.

train ppgwintergarden Best Holiday Train Displays

Ease into the day and celebrate to the hilt.  The pressure is off and the deadline is done.  Have a peaceful end to this chaotic season.

Fun, Festive and Fast

We really are getting down to the wire on this whole gift thing.  I always try to keep the holidays simple but there always seems to be an eleventh hour task at hand.  My misanthropic approach to crowds makes me relish the opportunity to shop online but shipping is always a problem.  However, this is the year that I discovered the e-Gift card.  So pure, so simple and so effective.  The recipient may not even suspect that their gift was a swirling afterthought in a sea of chaos.

But not just any e-Card will do.  I seem to cavort with people who possess stellar taste and can be difficult to please.  However, I have never met a soul who is not impressed with Kiehl’s.  They’ve been around since 1851 so they must really know what they are doing. 

A Wonderland of Giving

They always have a limited edition for the holidays that also supports a worthy cause.  The grapefruit whipped body butter hydrates skin and supports Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.  It is definitely two gifts in one that will warm your heart with every purchase.

Creme de Corps "Grapefruit" Whipped Body Butter - Limited Edition, , large

The Ultimate Man body scrub soap-on-a-rope is a wonderful buy at only $15.00 and prevents any awkward slip ups in the gym shower.  You will never have to bend over to retrieve anything with this slipped over your wrist.  It has such a refreshing scent that women will be encouraged to co-bathe and play tug-of-war. 

"Ultimate Man" Body Scrub    Soap-On-A-Rope Limited Edition, , large

Their website is broken down into easy to find categories such as gifts for all, gifts under $40, $60, $100, gifts for baby and gifts for pets.  Your also receive three complimentary samples of your choice with every purchase to keep or give away. 

Kiehl’s can be a bit hard to find in Pittsburgh since Saks went away but my favorite stop has always been Toadflax on Walnut Street.  You can now find it at Nordstroms in Ross Park Mall too. 

They have always been ahead of the curve to outsmart aging and the thought of animal testing never even crossed their mind.  You can buy with peace of mind from this company and help a great cause along the way. 

Blue Dust Christmas

If you know anyone who is having a blue Christmas, send them to the Blue Dust Cafe in Homestead to drown their sorrows in comfort food and a stout brew.  My friend Rob introduced me to this place on his way out of town to a new beginning in Philadelphia.  It is steeped in atmosphere and just hard enough to find to keep the crowds at bay.

Located just over the train tracks at 601 Amity Street it is the perfect retreat after a day fighting the crowds at the water front.  The train plays such a huge role in this restaurant that I was transfixed when the first one went by.  It was so surreal that I felt I could reach out and touch it yet there was little noise or vibration.  The shrill whistle blast shook me out of my reverie and the allusion I had  time traveled to a scene in The Polar Express. 

I’m not a beer drinker but this place is known for its microbrews and boasts the kind of menu that would appeal to  Anthony Bourdain or Guy Ferrari.  Where else will you find pumpkin hummus or a bowl of doom.  They are both vegetarian and top drawer.  It is a family run business and Uncle Jerry oversees the entire operation.  You will always find one of his new and enticing creations on the menu.  He also picked the unusual time frame of Tuesday-Sunday from 11:37 a.m. – 1:07 a.m.  To say this place is a bit avant garde is an understatement.  It is not your average anything.

Even the name was taken from true Pittsburgh roots.  When iron ore is dominated by very fine and soft hematite the grains have a steely blue-grey color.   The soft powdery ore is nicknamed blue dust.  Steel workers often came home covered in this stuff and this pub stop is located at the former entrance to the Homestead Steel Works.

A gift certificate is an ideal choice for the person who has everything and the experience will linger long after the meal is consumed.


Shop With Ease That’s Sure To Please

There is definitely something to be said for shopping online but it lacks the suggestive influence that a seasoned sales clerk can provide.  ByLangley is a unique online boutique that offers that personal touch.   Mollie Lang started her shop following a successful career at American Eagle and a new baby.  The latter provided a lot of incentive to pave her own career path with flex time built in.  Her years with a retail conglomerate honed her eye for high quality merchandise that also passed the comfort test that new moms crave.  Molly thinks every woman deserves to feel good and look good.  It is true that how you dress affects how you feel about yourself.  There is no reason to run around in sweats or baggy jeans.

Shopping online with Molly is the equivalent of perusing stores with an old friend.  She is kind, encouraging and spot on for what looks best on everyone.   It is  comforting to know that she personally answers every online query and will always help you find the perfect gift.  It is like magic.  You tell her a little about the personality of the person you are buying for and she will match the perfect pieces to make that person shine.

ByLangley carries a wide selection of top designers and always has an awesome selection of sale items.  Everything Molly carries has an aura of luxury.  Who wouldn’t love a pair of Arlotta Cashmere Slide Slippers which are currently half price at $45.00.  At matching cashmere eye mask for $18.00 makes the perfect gift and will not break to budget.

Arlotta Classic Cashmere Slide Slipper

Another great choice is the Eberjey PJ’s For Peace Set $69.00.  It turns those nights in front of the TV into an evening of elegance.

Eberjey PJs For Peace PJ Set

My rule is to keep shopping simple.  Molly makes it easy.  She even offers a wish list service that anyone can sign up for.  Think gift registry for lingerie.  Drop a hint to your significant other to either fill out a wish list or refer to it.  Simple and successful.  Never stress about finding the right gift again.  Now go spend all that extra time you saved scanning shelves and fighting crowds to do something nice for yourself.

Magazines Make Great Gifts

I’m a big proponent for the written word and prefer the visceral feel of hard copy text to any electronic version.  I have always loved magazines and get excited when I find a good selection in the waiting rooms I am forced to visit.  Good reading material is a necessity of life and often a rare find.  It is important to keep a ready stash at hand at all times.  You never know when you may be stuck waiting with precious time to spend.

Magazines make fantastic presents anytime of the year.  Pittsburgh is home to over 30 publications that would be an ideal gift for almost anyone on your list.  My current favorite is Rustbelt Almanac since it encapsulates the essence of self made men and women who are filling the void left by manufacturing industries in creative ways.  It is beautifully produced and printed on matte paper using environmentally friendly vegetable-based inks.  You can order from the website and a current issue will be sent out post haste.

Creative Nonfiction should be reserved for the real connoisseurs of reading.  Every issue is packed with essays that blend style with substance and writing that pushes the traditional boundaries of the genre.  Their 50th Issue contains some of their greatest hits and is nearly double the length of a normal issue.

For the foodies in your life you cannot go wrong with Edible Allegheny.  It is a beautifully produced publication that you will refer to over and over.  They take food photography to a new level and are unlike any other food magazine I’ve ever read.  It is not just filled with recipes and new products to buy.  It informs, it simplifies and it inspires.  You will find excellent writing and local adventures to explore.  A great replacement for those still mourning the loss of Gourmet Magazine. 

I am proud to report that Pittsburgh is trendy enough to sport two great food magazines with the other being Table.  This publication breezed onto the scene a few years ago with a fun approach to all things food related.  The enticing articles and recipes will encourage you to shake up a cocktail, smoke some salmon and stir up something delicious.  Perfect for the holiday season.

Whirl magazine features those who have made it in Pittsburgh.  Their cover features famous faces that once called our city  home.  The list is long and impressive.  It is a true society magazine reminiscent of  Town & Country but lacking the pretentious overtone.  Their holiday subscription is buy one, get one free so you can’t go wrong with this one on your list.

Maniac Magazine caters to a fashion-forward, music-minded, entertainment-driven, young-professional lifestyle while supporting the arts, non-profits and numerous other indulgences.  It is perfect for that hard to buy for college student, intern or young professional in your life.

Pittsburgh Quarterly is one of my all time favorites that contains in depth articles on great people along with a formidable mix of culture and business.  It is also a great coffee table book due to the impressive artwork found on every cover.  Any discerning readers on your list would welcome the appearance of this publication in the mail.


Shady Ave is a great choice for those who live in the east end but this magazine is sheer joy for anyone to read. This informative and visually spectacular read will give you access to gorgeous homes, stylish stores, cozy cafes and all the best cultural events.  It is an excellent choice for for  your well-heeled friends that like to stay informed.

Last but not least is Pittsburgh Magazine.  This is a generational favorite that would be welcome in any home.  It covers all the best things our city offers and is a great choice for a new comer on your list.

If you want to have something to wrap just buy a current issue and let them know a subscription is on the way.  What better way to simplify the art of gift giving.

Rare Botanical Exhibit

The Hunt Botanical Library is housed on the top floor of the Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon.  It was the result of a generous donation by Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt who possessed an obsessive passion for botanical books and prints.  Her collection is one of the largest and rarest in the the world.  Her desire to share her precious finds with the public at large let to an exquisite gift to Carnegie Mellon.  Many esteemed institutions were interested in the collection but she wanted to keep it in Pittsburgh.  She offered it to the University of Pittsburgh first but they only had room to display a small portion and told her they would sell the rest.  Rachel was aghast at such a suggestion and immediately contacted Carnegie Tech (later to become Carnegie Mellon University).  They were interested at the time did not even have a library.  The generous Hunt family then provided an endowment to build a library that would house their precious collection and promote the study of botany.

The Institute was dedicated in 1961 as an international center for bibliographical research and study in botany and horticulture.  Rachel Hunt’s personal touch is found throughout the institute and you can’t help but feel her presence as you enter the space she so lovingly created.

If you hurry you can still catch the 14th International Exhibition that only comes to Pittsburgh every four years.  It includes 41 of the most astounding artworks you will ever encounter that represent extremely talented artists from 10 countries.  The exhibit ends tomorrow but it is an experience you will not soon forget.  It is a soothing way to escape the hectic rush of the holidays and will instantly transform you into a state of calm tranquility.  The hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  and 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  This schedule is adjusted for holidays so they will be closed next week.