Category Archives: FAVORITE BOOKS


I didn’t know that I was lonely,
I’m not sure when it all began,
I never thought I needed others,
So it’s hard to understand
The how and why these altered feelings
Have changed my life which has always been
About books.
I thought that books were all I’d need
To befriend me, to favorite authors who
Would guide me as I traveled
Through life–
From the early Alcott’s Little Women,
The first book my mother bought for me
One Christmas. For a while it was my
Only book—so I read it over and over again–
To my first five Nancy Drew’s that
My brother Jim somehow managed to get for
Me another Christmas.
I have never been satisfied
just to read them,
Books were a major part of my life
And I wanted to own them.
But now…as I turn seventy-five,
I am beginning to feel that
Books are no longer the greatest
Part of the love of a book
Is being able to tell someone about it.
Joy was having a partner who
Loved books as much as I
And now he is gone—
And I didn’t know
That I was lonely
And now I am.

—Sandra Lee Smith


Mark Twain once said “Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t”.

Before I ever embarked on a quest to collect as many cookbooks as I could, I was interested in two particular authors; one was Norah Lofts, perhaps the most prolific fiction novel author in my collection (*There are undoubtedly other authors who have written as many if not more novels than Norah Lofts—but I am referencing just those authors whose work I have collected). I began collecting the works of Norah Lofts around in 1965, about the same time I began collecting cookbooks. Norah Lofts’ published works is enormous—so much so that she has published works under other names. When I began collecting the fiction (as well as some non-fiction) works of Norah Lofts, I would buy two or three copies for a girlfriend here in California—as well as for a penpal in Australia. You could often find one of her titles for about a dollar each. My collection of Norah Lofts is undoubtedly incomplete, as I discovered when I began finding titles published in the United Kingdom but not always in the USA. The Internet has changed all that!

Another much-loved author was Janice Holt Giles. I think I began searching for her titles in roughly the same time period as I was searching for Norah Lofts. Again, I would buy more than one copy of JHG’s novels—one for me, one for girlfriend Connie – and sometimes one for my Aussie penpal. I think I have all of Giles’ published titles—several were published after she passed away, by the University Press of Kentucky, (I was in a Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Newport, Kentucky, with a nephew, grabbing up reprints and newly published copies of Giles’ books and I exclaimed to the cashier “I can’t believe how many of my favorite Kentucky authors you have on your shelves” – to which he drawled, “well, MAM, You ARE in Kentucky!” My nephew Russ and I laughed all the way back across the bridge to Cincinnati.

Kentucky was Giles’ home for most of her life—and the setting, often, for one of her novels. I once wrote a letter to Giles, in appreciation for one of my favorite novels, “The Believers” – she sent me a typewritten response, mentioning that the day she received MY letter, she also received a letter from a fan in another state, also about The Believers. It was through Giles’ novels that I developed a love for and an abiding appreciation for American pioneers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Another favorite fiction author of mine—but one who only wrote a few novels—was a woman named Ardyth Kennelly. “The Peaceable Kingdom” was followed by a sequel, “Up Home” and are two books I have read repeatedly. The setting was Salt Lake City and the period of time was when Polygamy was being practiced. Also published was “Marry Me, Carry Me” and “The Spur”.
I am aware through the Internet that Kennelly had many other publications and works, not necessarily fiction novels; she passed away in 2005 at the age of 92. “Variation West” is a 2014 novel published posthumously and I don’t have that one yet. (I found an excellent article about Ardyth Kennelly in Wikipedia, for anyone who wants more information about Kennelly’s life.)

I remember back in the 1970s, when I took my young children to Ohio for the summer, taking my kid brother with me to downtown Cincinnati to explore the extensive shelves of a large used book store named Acre of Books—I had begun collecting cookbooks but still searched for books by any of my favorite authors; it is one of the major blessings of the Internet that you don’t have to search for the bookstores or their contents—it all comes to you via the Internet.

I would search for anything by Janice Holt Giles, Norah Lofts, Ardyth Kennelly—and some others. I had not yet discovered many of the authors whose works I would search for, and collect, for my own bookshelves. I also started a steno notebook of the business cards for bookstores that crossed my path—as well as the telephone book yellow pages in the cities I visited spanning several decades of my adult life – B.I. (before internet). It came as a distinct shock when, in 2008, my Canadian penpal Sharon and I stopped to visit a favorite book store in San Luis Obispo – only to find it gone; all that remained was an empty store front. Obviously, what the country gained in Internet services providing vendors throughout the country, we lost something vital to the life’s blood of any avid book lover….actually being there, browsing, touching, finding—and buying books.

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. – P. J. O’Rourke

And one of my favorites: Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. –Author Unknown**

One of my favorite chefs, Louis Szathmary arrived, in his own words, “virtually penniless” in New York in 1951, with only fourteen books in his small wooden trunk. He appeared to have been fond of telling the story of arriving on our shores with $1.10 in his pocket, one change of underwear, two pairs of socks, one Sunday suit – and fourteen books. (It is worth noting that the 14 books Szathmary treasured most were not donated to any of the universities. The books he carried with him to America included a Bible he received as a child, three books on Mozart and several volumes of Hungarian poetry.

Upon his arrival in America, Szathmary began to collect books. Writes Szathmary, “My first purchase was a book by Ludwig Bemelmans at the Marlboro outlet store at 42nd Street and Broadway, where in 1952 all the remainder books were sold for nineteen cents each.” Szathmary confessed that he worked two jobs in the beginning, one during the day and another at night—and spent all the money he made on books. Of his early days in America, Szathmary said that he would spend hours in the Salvation Army basement searching for books, which he purchased for as little as five cents each. He said, “I rummaged through books in bins, on tables outside the door, and amid the garbage the accumulates in the back of used bookshops. I found treasures—valuable items—because I had the time.” Later, as time and money improved, he often worked at one job during the day and another in the evening. On the seventh day, he recalled, “I spent all the money I made on books.” (A man after my own heart!)
Szathmary’s confessions about buying books struck a chord in me; when I first started working full time at Western/Southern Life Insurance Company in downtown Cincinnati, where I was born, I often spent a portion of my paycheck on books that I found in thrift stores—sometimes in trays placed outside the entrance—for 25 cents each. Some times I found old early editions of Nancy Drew books. I wasn’t in the least interested in finding old books for their value—I wanted them because I wanted books; I didn’t want to just READ the books; I wanted to OWN them.

After Jim & I moved to California, my mother began sending my books to me and I began searching for used book stores in Burbank or North Hollywood, where we had settled. I found paperback mysteries at a used book store in North Hollywood, that I could buy for ten cents each. Michael was about 2 years old and in a stroller when I would walk to that bookstore in North Hollywood.

(I was a steady customer of another used book store in Burbank, on Magnolia, for decades—until the owner, Pete, passed away. When I would take all four sons to that book store, he’d warn me “I’m counting children! Make sure you leave with the right number!” What a fantastic bookstore THAT one was.

Are all the used book stores a thing of the past? Brand Bookshop in Glendale? Moe’s in Berkeley? Ravenscar Books in Sherman Oaks? The Book Village in Pasadena? David’s Books in Ann Arbor? After Words, also in Ann Arbor? Margaret Mannati in San Diego? Vintage Books in Vancouver (Washington)? Bart’s Books in Ojai, California? Madhatters’ Old Books in Langley, Washington? Phantom Bookshop in Ventura, California? Book Castle, Inc., Burbank, California? Shorey’s Used, Rare and New Books in Seattle, Wa? Simmer Pot Press/More than Just Cookbooks, in Boone, North Carolina? Yesterday’s Books in Washington, DC? Idle Time Books, also in Washington, DC? Earthling Book Shop and Café in Santa Barbara, CA? Again Books, also in Santa Barbara? Bookcellar in Carson City, NV? Timeless Books in Redding, CA? the Seattle Book Center, Seattle, WA? CODY’S BOOKS in Berkeley, CA? and one of my all-time favorite sources for cookbooks, MARION GORE BOOKSELLER in San Gabriel, CA? (I know, she has been gone for a long time—but not long ago I came across one of the annual booklets she would publish and send to customers. I met her once a long time ago.

And how about some of your favorite book stores?

The only redemption that we have is that many booksellers are now peddling their wares on sites like It’s not the same thing as walking into a dusty used bookstore and spending hours browsing through their shelves—but it may be the next best thing—providing us access to hundreds of used bookstores of the past.




To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor (the former Wallace Simpson for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in
1936) “you can’t be too rich or too poor….or have too many cookbooks”*

*Amongst my collection of favorite books are those about monarchs of Great Britain—and their wives/husbands or children.

I never imagined that the thought (having too many books) ever crossed my mind – until recently when I started finding it more difficult to find enough shelf space for my books.

As a child, I didn’t have any books to call my own. (I’d often read the same library books over and over again).

My very first book was a copy of Little Women that my mother gave to me one Christmas. I read and re-read little women until I could recite whole pages by heart. I’d give my book to one of my two best girlfriends and then when we had a squabble, I’d ask for it back. It went back and forth a few times.

Then one Christmas, my brother Jim gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books. I was hooked – not just hooked on Nancy Drew, which I was, but also the idea of having books of my own began to take place in a fertile corner of my mind.

I was already making trips downtown (Cincinnati) by myself – whether to pay off my mother’s coat that was in layaway at Lerner’s, or to turn in the blue Wilson labels from evaporated milk for which you could get a towel or a pot holder.

My mother made batches of formula in glass bottles with evaporated milk for whoever was the baby at the time. I have to wonder, though – she breast fed the baby—was the one who wasn’t the youngest anymore weaned onto bottles? This muddles my mind a bit—Biff was three years younger than me, and Bill was three years younger than Biff.

Bill remained the baby until our brother Scott was born when Bill was about twelve years old. Scott and my sister Susie were almost like a second family. I was seventeen when Scott was born—and the neighbors thought he was my baby, because I was the one waking him up and down the street in his stroller. I was twenty and married when Susie came along.

I need to back track, though, because I was the middle child, and my two younger brothers, Biff (whose name is actually George Calvin after two of our uncles who served during World War II) and Bill were often my responsibility. I looked after them all the time (and even took them with me on dates, when my current BF was taking me to a drive in movie), and began taking them with me downtown on the bus in December, to do our Christmas shopping. I have written about those trips downtown, growing up in Cincinnati, before on my blog so I won’t repeat all of that now. My point, really, is that I began going downtown—often by myself—and during those excursions I discovered books—books for sale in dusty dark thrift shops and (be still my heart!)—a huge used book store housing four stories of books. I bought a lot of those books—one at a time, seldom having any money to call my own—for about twenty-five cents each. I discovered some old editions of Nancy Drew, and a few other series similar to Nancy Drew.

Now I needed a bookcase – I think my mother must have given a bookcase to me one Christmas—and I took it with me when Jim (Smith, not to be confused with my brother Jim Schmidt!) & I got married but I think that bookcase must have been left behind when Jim & I moved to California. Jim had no use for my books OR the collection of 45s that I had accumulated and that he sailed over the back yard of his mother’s house

(How could I have married a man who didn’t like to read AND had no interest in my collection of 45s records? From my viewpoint fifty-something years later, it is almost too difficult to fathom. Was it love? I don’t think so—the night before the wedding, I knew I was making a mistake; I just didn’t know any way to get out of it. I was unhappy with the way my mother was treating me after I finally got a job (Western-Southern Life Insurance in downtown Cincinnati) – I had been taking care of my brothers all along, and babysat my baby brother from the time he was born until I got married—neighbors on Mulberry Street thought Scott was MY baby and that my brother Jim, then in the Air Force—was my husband. Susie set them all straight when she became old enough to play with little girls her age on our street. My mother decreed that I had to start paying room and board. I was so upset about that, I told Jim Smith, who said “well, we could get married”. And so we did. For all the wrong reasons. And, in retrospect, I don’t think he really loved me, either. Months of counseling prior to divorce revealed that he had been cheating on me throughout our marriage. That was the final blow, the realization that he had never been true to me and was unlikely to change.

My little white bookcase went with me to the house on Biegler Street where we lived downstairs from my husband’s mother. We didn’t take it with us to California – neither that or a kitchen cupboard that we bought—and what I wished for years I had somehow managed to keep. As far as I know, Jim’s sister still has those things.

We drove to California in 1961 as a lark—and rented a furnished duplex next door to Jim’s best friend Marvin who had taken his wife and children to California the year before. Michael was a little over a year old and I would take him in his stroller up Hollywood Way to a bookstore on Magnolia where I began buying books as cheap as possible, mostly paperbacks. I would read anything I could lay my hands on.

In 1962 we moved to an apartment on Sarah Street and I would walk Michael in his stroller up to a used bookstore on Lankershim Blvd—paperbacks ten cents each! Then I found a job at Household Finance in Hollywood and my free time was taken up just getting to and from work on buses; I did some exploring along Hollywood Boulevard but I don’t remember finding any thrift stores (or if I did, I’ve forgotten) – much of 1962 going into 1963 has been forgotten. I had a serious miscarriage in 1962 that landed me in the hospital for a few days.

What I remember is being hurried to the hospital by my husband, to a Seventh Day Adventist hospital because I had gone there when I suspected I was pregnant and it was affirmed. This was my second miscarriage – my first was in 1959 when we were still living in Cincinnati. This time I was bleeding heavily as we reached the hospital in Glendale. The next morning the doctor on call performed a D&C—when I miscarried, I’d lose everything except the fetus.

Well, it couldn’t have been too much longer after that we
moved into a wonderful large apartment on Sarah Street in North Hollywood. The “tenants” in the other downstairs apartment were actually the owners whose house was being remodeled; the parents had three adorable little girls who all, in turn, adored Michael and lavished attention on him. We were also invited to swim in their pool.

I can’t remember having many books much less a bookcase during the period of time that we lived there. When I became pregnant again, I flew back to Cincinnati with Michael in March of 1963 (I wanted my own obstetrician). We gave away the various items we had accumulated in a few years.

In Cincinnati, I returned to my old job, thankfully, and worked until two weeks before Steven’s birth. In December, 1963, we drove back to California—Jim couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find a job and we were mostly penniless when, after Steve’s birth, I developed a blood clot in my right leg and was bedridden for six weeks; one week I had $5 for baby food; we went to my mother’s where she gave us some meat out of her freezer; then we went to my sister Becky’s and she gave us half of everything in her pantry.

Shades of Scarlett O’Hara! I cried all the way home and swore we would never go without groceries again. I said I wanted to go back to California – at least there Jim was always able to find a job. (*mind you, there was no such thing as welfare or food stamps in 1963).

I left my collection of books with my mother, who began sending them to me a few at a time. In 1965, when my parents came to visit us, my mother packed a suitcase with the rest of my books.

But it was also in 1965 that I began collecting cookbooks—I have written about that before on my blog so wont repeat all of it here. I had also become acquainted with Connie, who babysat for us for some months while both Jim & I got jobs at Weber Aircraft.

Connie was a kindred spirit – one time we found an ad for a collection of presidential and white House books, for $100. We split the cost and sight unseen bought all of those books which formed the nucleus of my collection of Presidents/White House books. We went through the books one at a time dividing them up.

I was keenly interested in anything about the assassination of JFK and many books were published on the subject. (After Connie died in 1999, her daughter Dawn gave me large bags full of Connie’s books that her children didn’t want). And I probably bought over a hundred cookbooks forming the nucleus of THAT collection, also in 1965.

When we were preparing to move to Florida in 1979, I donated carloads of children’s books for my sons’ school and when we were preparing to move back to California, I gave boxes full of cookbooks to a new friend whose daughter wanted to start a collection of cookbooks of her own. I packed up and mailed 50 boxes of cookbooks back to California—to Connie’s house, in fact—so I had a pretty good guess how many pounds of cookbooks and other favorite books I had in 1982 when we returned to California.

So, upon reflection—I think the bulk of my cookbook collection was acquired after I moved to a little house in Van Nuys, following my breakup with Jim living there for a few years before moving back into the Arleta house (where we had lived from 1974-79, before moving to Florida). The Arleta house was large and was accompanied by a guest house that Bob (who came into my life in 1986) converted into a guest room/office for him.

And for nineteen years we were off and running – collecting books—not just cookbooks—and when we ran out of shelf space, we’d go out and buy more bookcases.

When I bought a house in 2008, we went from roughly 3000 square feet of space—to roughly 1500 square feet. I gave away SUV-loads full of books to the Burbank library for their Friends of the Library Sales; I gave a lot of other books away—and even so, filled over 600 boxes with books that Kelly carted to the Antelope Valley one weekend at a time, and stored in a rental storage unit. My books were in storage for a few months, then my son and daughter in law moved all the boxes to my garage. I was without garage space for a year.

Then in 2010, Bob converted half of the garage into a ….Library, of course! My collection of fiction and presidents/white house/first ladies books were all still in boxes…as quickly as Bob put up some shelves, I was unpacking boxes. The beauty of being able to open exactly what I wanted opened is that I had numbered all of the boxes. I had also written on the boxes what was inside each box. Everything was also written down in a little steno notebook that was my moving bible.

Even so, I found myself donating a lot of books to the Lancaster Library for their Friends of the Lancaster Library sales…there was this dim realization that I was never going to read a lot of those books again—and after Bob passed away in 2011, I began giving away some of his favorite authors’ novels. I also gave away his collection of books by or about Mark Twain to a friend who I knew would appreciate them.

It saddens me to have come to this realization—I have too many books. Bob’s room has bookcases on either side of the bed—just enough space to get in and out—one side contains all my foreign cookbooks in one bookcase and all of my canning/preserving cookbooks in another bookcase, while the other side has all of my regional cookbooks – one half contains books east of the Mississippi and the other side is west of the Mississippi; my favorite books of Americana cookbooks are in one extra bookcase along that wall.

(One winter, when we were still living in Arleta, I spent six weeks separating east from west. These are cookbooks published by various church or club groups as fundraisers). We had also gone to a place in Van Nuys where you could buy unfinished bookcases and do the finishing yourselves—we’d buy a couple of those ceiling to floor bookcases at a time.

What was pretty great about my relationship with Bob is that he loved books as much as I – the difference between us is that he would start a book and not do another thing until he finished it—while I always had my priorities—in addition to working full time, there were always other chores to do.

My bedroom contains all of my California cookbooks, the bulk of my Americana cookbooks and my Presidential/White House cookbooks. A third bedroom contains books by favorite cookbook authors while in the living room I have all of my Christmas cookbooks, a Gooseberry Patch cookbook collection, a collection of celebrity cookbooks as well as dessert cookbooks. A collection of NON cookbooks –mostly books about the history of food—fill five smallish bookcases in the family room where my computer is located. These are most of my reference books.

So, by the end of 2010, I had a garage library – A to L along one wall and M to Z along another; I also have a smallish collection of children’s books that I keep in a bookcase near the door; included are any books I know will be required reading for my grandchildren or my sister Susie’s kids.

But now I find…I need to do more donating of books I know I will not read (any of Bob’s authors—except Teddy Roosevelt; I will keep those in my Presidential collection. I’ve run out of bookshelf space.

All of which begs the question – can you have too many books? Sadly, the answer to this is yes – if you don’t have enough bookshelves to house all of your books. Books are meant to be read and displayed on bookshelves.

How many cookbooks do I have now? I have no idea. I don’t know of anyone with enough patience to count all of them.

–Sandra Lee Smith


The California Lancaster Library’s Friends of the Lancaster Library had its annual book sale this week and I ended up with making two trips and filling 3 of my heavy-duty cloth tote bags both times—I think I spent about $30 altogether and it was money well spent – the Friends of the Lancaster California Library buys computers and other well needed items for the library. In a recent newsletter sent to members such as myself, I learned that several members of the library staff went on a shopping trip to Barnes and Noble recently and were able to spend $20,000 on books and media for various sections of the library. They also added support to programs at the library. Can you imagine?  This is what the re-sale of books was able to do!

From the viewpoint of a book lover—the annual Friends’ sale is like finding candy in the candy store for a fraction of the regular prices—the Lancaster Friend’s book sale is very organized; the books are divided into categories such as children’s/young adult/cooking/biographies and fiction. The fiction category alone is huge but everything, such as mysteries and thrillers, are then divided into alphabetical order. The Friends volunteers spend an entire week getting all the books in order. Hard cover books are priced at a dollar each (but the sale on Fridays is half price day so those hardcover books I like so much will be 50c each. On Saturday, books are a “buck a bag”.

I’ve been to a lot of library’s Friends of the Library book sales in the San Fernando valley for over twenty years—and we donated two SUV’s-full of books to the Burbank Friends when I was moving to the Antelope Valley. After we moved and got settled, I donated six boxes full of more books. When you find yourself with too many books (if such a condition is possible) donating them to a library’s Friends of the Library organization is a worth-while way to go. The only reason I have thinned out some of my shelves was because my companion Bob’s taste in fiction wasn’t the same as mine. I’ve given dozens—maybe hundreds—of the books he enjoyed reading to the Lancaster Library’s Friends.

(I did give some of Bob’s special interests, such as his Mark Twain collection to a close friend who is also a book lover)

The reason I am sharing all of this with you is because maybe – just maybe – you love books and aren’t aware of the various Friends of the Library book sales in your area.

I know that our Lancaster Friends organization always needs volunteers; I think of this all the time, wishing I were in better physical condition to help set up the books. They always need help unpacking and sorting the books too.

This year I happened to find a Myra Waldo cookbook I didn’t have—the Art of Spaghetti Cookery (you might want to read my blog post about Myra Waldo—still one of the most fascinating cookbook authors I have ever encountered). I also found a book—in fine condition—titled HOW THE WORLD COOKS CHICKEN – that I think may be my next cookbook review.

I bought about a dozen children’s books for the children’s section of my garage library—about a dozen spiral-bound local cookbooks that feels like some one’s   cookbook collection. I bought perhaps thirty or forty paperback books with various titles and perhaps twenty or so hard bound books of fiction. Sometimes a title is one of “my” authors that I buy even though I have a copy – I am always trying to make converts out of my friends. (I have converted several friends to Robert Morgan’s books—he is one of my favorite authors—as is Adriana Trigiani; I found an extra copy of one of her early titles, “Big Stone Gap” that I am confident I can give to someone who will read it and like her writing style. I even got my soon-to-be twenty years old granddaughter reading some of Adriana’s books. It’s nice to have extra copies of some of your favorite books to give away when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes I send some of my favorites to my penpals.

Well, I started this train of thought this morning primarily to share some of my convictions about a library’s Friends of the Library organizations and to let other book lovers know that while you can read a book on a digital device, such as a Book Nook—it isn’t the same as having a real book in your hands to read, to tell friends about, sometimes to share with. I remember when Janet Evanovich’s books first began to be published. I bought the books immediately and then would share them with co-workers. It was so popular that we had to have a list on the blackboard at work, so everyone would know whose turn was next to read the books. I think I may have converted some coworkers into reading.

–Sandra Lee Smith


Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014





Let me share with you a few thoughts on old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four (1965, actually), I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself in need of a new babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael.

Those two five year olds could get into more mischief than half a dozen other children their age. Once I came home to find Connie attempting to put together half a dozen bicycles and tricycles. Michael and his buddy Sean had taken apart all the bikes and trikes—to see how they worked, I think—but they were careful to keep all the parts in one pile. What one five year old didn’t think of doing, the other one came up with. Another time I came home to hear they had painted circles on the fences and whatever else they came in contact with.

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.

We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons, books about the White House, Southern cookbooks and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s. These were just a few of our mutual interests.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years, until I retired in December of 2002.—I only went to work “part time for six weeks IN 1977 to help out”, and there I was all those years later, casting an eye towards retirement and pleased that I had a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

Our sons started kindergarten together, and Connie’s oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

More than a decade ago, on June 29, 1998, Connie died of lung cancer. It seemed incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking together, at the same time. I never went back to smoking but a year later, Connie began smoking again. It was hard to understand—why would you take up something again that had been so hard to give up in the first place? (I don’t have the answer to this).

One night, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it has taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After she left, I opened the boxes and began laying books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing “WHAT’S COOKING IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN”. Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There was a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book. There were several books about soups that I had never seen before another subject I have written about previously, first for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, and again on my blog. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever. (The first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was with Connie.

My best friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once had been. She made new friends and so did I. But it was she who urged me to return to work in 1977, for which I remain forever grateful.

But I am deeply touched that some of her treasured books have come into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

Old books and old friends have a lot in common. As I have grown older, some of my dearest friends have passed away—but their books, now mine, remain treasures in my collection of books.

–Sandra Lee Smith


Some years ago, I wrote an article on figs for the University of California Extension Service which, at that time, published a newsletter…the article was “everything I ever wanted to know—and share with the world” on the subject of figs. Oddly, I had titled it, “Who Gives a Fig?”

So, you ask, “What’s the point?” the point is, I had just finished reading (and salivating over) a book newly published in 1994 titled “A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS…TRADITIONS, MYTHS, AND MOUTH-WATERING RECIPES” published by Hill of Content, in 1993. The very first chapter is titled “Who Gives a Fig?” and contains pages and pages (about twenty—I counted)  on the history of figs throughout the world, including biblical quotes and superstitions (i.e., the Italians say fig leaves are unlucky and believe that evil spirits lurk in them during the summer months).

There is a wealth of reference material here – for instances, there are over 700 fig varieties in the world, and we learn that the fig is a member of the mulberry family. It is one of the oldest known plants in the world, and some writers have even suggested that the unspecified fruit that Eve offered Adam was actually a fig, not an apple. We do know that the earliest biblical reference to figs is the account of the fall of Adam and Eve, whereby they sewed fig leaves together to form aprons to cover their nakedness.

She discusses how the fig has featured in the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks, as well as in Buddhist beliefs and in Christian tales.

Author Pamela Allaardice certainly did her homework—included in this book are two pages of bibliography.

As the owner of two prolific fig trees [until we moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008] I was constantly searching for good new fig recipes—and if you have a fig tree or if you just enjoy the taste of figs–Pamela Allardice’s book is for you.

Recipes? Try one o the many desserts—from chocolate fig mousse to fig and ginger pudding…or perhaps figgy pears or figs flambé. There are recipes for figs at Christmas, such as Christmas pudding, or Dutch Christmas bread…a fig and nectarine ice cream, or perhaps figs and mangoes in syrup. The author provides recipes for a Hungarian Fig Wine (that I wish I had tried) and baked figs with cherries and cinnamon…three are recipes for jams, sauces and preserves—from jellied fig and walnut relish to fig and watermelon preserves…fig butter and fig/apple spread.

For the adventurous, who want to try something different, there are recipes for a roast pork with figs and apples, or perhaps you might want to try a Medieval Meatball recipe.

I checked with both and—because I was startled to discover that A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS has maintained a distinct value—possibly because so little has been written about figs. has pre-owned copies starting at $8.00.  A new copy starts at $35.00. has copies, all starting at $35.00 and up. It originally sold new for $18.95.

A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS was originally published in Australia where author Pamela Allardice was editor of NATURE AND  HEALTH MAGAZINE and was a regular contributor  to AUSTRALIAN COUNTRY STYLE and HOUSE & GARDEN. At the time A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS was published, Allardice had written ten other books with fascinating titles – LOVE POTIONS and MOTHER KNOWS BEST.

Southern Californians may find themselves with a fig tree—last year I discovered that a fellow bowler on the league I had joined –had fig trees. Hers are a different variety from the black mission figs we had in Arleta—these are a small green fig—but they ground up the same way in a blender and I was able to make strawberry fig jam, often called Mock Strawberry Jam.  If you enjoy figs—or even have a fig tree, you might want to find a copy of A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS—worth the price if only for the well-written history.

–Updated Review by Sandra Lee Smith

My blog 10-21-13