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God Bless America

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I haven’t felt much like writing this past week.  Nothing inspiring, or even interesting, to say.  Today we went for a long walk.  It felt good to move the muscles that have been attending my pity party over losing our boy.  Every day gets easier.  We decided to have lunch at a place called “Corner Bakery.”  It’s a chain with pretty good soup, sandwiches and salads.  You order, get a number and they bring it over to your table.

Jay went to get his iced tea and I sat at the table to wait.  An older gentleman at the table across the aisle was watching me.  A few seconds later he asked, “Were you in the Army?”  I had NO idea what he was talking about and then remembered that, lazily, I hadn’t changed from my walking outfit.  I have two treasured tee-shirts from a USO Radiothon Jay’s station did about ten years ago.  They say “U.S. Army” on the front with a big gold star.  I call them my “woobies” ~ no judgment, please. I usually wear them to sleep ~ no Victoria Secrets in this household ~ or exercise and I can’t remember ever wearing one out of the house.   I responded, “No, but my father-in-law was.”  Jay sat down and the gentleman began with a simple sentence, “I was in World War II and served under General Patton.  Do you know who that is?”  He had a twinkle in his eye as Jay responded, “My father served under General MacArthur in the Pacific.”   

Thus began the most enjoyable hour I have spent in a long time listening to amazing stories of his time in “theater.”  He was 18 in 1943 when he left Cleveland, Ohio to serve right after the Battle of the Bulge.  Jay’s father was 18 a year later when he went to serve in the Pacific and was involved in hand-to-hand combat.  Our new friend manned a bazooka.  Imagine a fairly inefficient weapon shooting at a tank from a distance shorter than you’d ever imagine you’d want to be from a tank.   Jay told him stories his father had shared.  Our new friend laughed at some shared “Army memories.” 

He’d returned for the 40th Anniversary and we talked about our visit to Normandy and Utah Beach ten years ago.  At one point I said, “I hear everything you’re saying and intellectually I understand but I just can’t possibly imagine what it must have been like.”  He replied, “We were very young, and in a speech General Patton gave he said ‘only 1 or 2 percent of you will die’…we always believed it would be the other guy.” 

Halfway through our conversation a man at the table behind us got up to leave.  But first he walked up to our new friend, stuck out his hand and said “thank you, sir, for your service.”  Our new friend shook his hand and replied, “You are welcome…thank you.”  Both Jay and I had tears in our eyes as we resumed the conversation. 

 When it came time to leave we walked over to shake his hand and thank him for all he’d done, both then and now.  I said, “I’m Janet and this is Jay.”  He responded, “I’m Richard…Corporal Richard Green.”    

Early in our conversation Richard said, “you know next Monday is Memorial Day.”  We have never had an American Flag fly at any of our homes but, interestingly, there is a flag holder on our new porch.  

Next Monday we will have a flag flying in honor of all the men and women who have served our country, risking their lives to fight for the freedom we tend to take for granted.

I’m so glad I didn’t change my shirt before we went out for lunch.

I’m so glad we met Corporal Richard Green. 

There are no accidents.

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First Stop…Florence

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A few weeks ago we were talking about taking a trip.  We thought we’d go back to Italy.  I looked into some pricing for what we had in mind and decided the only trip we’d be taking this Fall was down memory lane.   You’re welcome to join!  First stop ~ Florence ~ Firenze.  What an amazingly stunning city.  I’d been there years before and found nothing had changed except the exchange rate on the currency and the number of scooters darting about everywhere, sounding like annoying mosquitoes.  I’d located a charming hotel ~ as in, not $700 per night ~ and we were thrilled to discover it really was charming.   Image

My first trip to Florence in 1982 had been, shall we say, odd.   When we first arrived at the hotel, an amazing edifice reminding me more of a museum than a hotel I felt dizzy and faint.  I kiddingly told my ex “maybe I was a peasant in a previous life and I’m not supposed to be in a place like this.”  These feelings continued throughout our visit and were especially intense in museums.  I felt fine outside and in every other city we visited.  It only happened in Florence.  About a year after our trip my ex saw a piece on The Today Show.  Now I had a name for what I’d experienced.  Stendhal syndromeStendhal’s syndrome, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.   I spoke to Dr. Graziella Magherini, who “named” the syndrome, described my “symptoms” and was told, “that was Stendahl.”   But, I digress.

So, here I was again.  No Stendahl.  Just amazement…and great food.   Jay and I are creatures of habit. When we find a restaurant we like, we eat there as often as possible.  So it was with La Posta. Image It was all you’d imagine of a delightful Italian ristorante.  Delicious food, of course, but that goes without saying because it is impossible to get a bad meal in Florence.   Friendly waiters.  Table wine better than most Chianti I’d ever tasted. The Bistecca Florentine…unforgettable.

The classic Bistecca all Fiornentina is a large porterhouse steak that usually weighs about 1 kilo (2.2 pounds). In Tuscan restaurants the steak is offered by the “etto” or in 100 gram (4-ounce) increments. This great steak includes the strip loin and the fillet. When shopping for this dish, use the best meat, gray sea salt, course grind black pepper and the best balsamic vinegar that you can afford. The marriage of flavors from all of these ingredients will reveal a noble meal of authentic Italian cookery. 

As is true for all steak, to ensure a juicy, flavorful steak that cooks quickly, have the meat at room temperature before starting. Use a grill or thick cast iron pan and make sure that they are very hot. Always let the meat rest, at least 5 minutes, before carving and a sharp knife will glide right through.

Ingredients
2 (2-pound) Porterhouse steaks, about 2 inches thick
Grey sea salt
Coarse grind black pepper
Pure olive oil
Great balsamic vinegar
Directions
Let the steak rest outside the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking. Use a hot, clean, oiled grill. If pan roasting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Liberally season the steak with the salt and pepper, coat with olive oil and press the seasoning into the meat. Grill the steaks for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. The fillet will cook a little faster than the strip loin. Move the steaks every 2 minutes or so for even cooking and a crispy exterior.

For pan roasting, heat a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil until smoking hot. Turn on the fan, open the window and stand back to avoid getting splattered! Using tongs, place the steaks in the center of the pan. Cook until the first side is seared brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the steaks and place the pan in the oven until the steaks are done, about 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove the steaks to a carving board and let rest for at least 5 minutes before carving.

Cut the steaks away from the bone and carve into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the meat on warmed plates and drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar over the slices. Serve with some extra gray sea salt on the side.

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Art to Florence is like Coca to Cola.  Everywhere and astounding.  And Italians just wander around their daily business without taking notice.  How can you not take notice of Michaelangelo’s David?   Or The Duomo with its’ glistening gold doors?  Or, showing my true colors, the jewelry in the marvelous stalls on The Pontevecchio Bridge?    Florence is a walking city.  You walk until you drop.  Eat incredible meals.  Rinse and repeat. 

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One day we decided to rent a car and explore Chianti country.   Remember those motorbikes I mentioned earlier?  Well, their drivers are certifiable.  As are the inexplicable one way roads out of the city.  Our little Fiat got caught in a tangle and, without thinking, I put my arm out the window and pushed a barrier right out of the way.  Jay gave me his “have you lost your mind” look and hit the gas. 

No sirens ensued. 

We were on our way to Greve. 

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Tomorrow ~ Italy ~ Sights, Sounds, PASTA!!!

But first, pictures…this first is my godson Jonathan, now finishing his sophomore year at Northwestern with Murphy. Image   

Smokey and Me…Image

Clara and Mr. Peabody on that very crowded bed…Image

And, finally, kind, very true, words that just arrived from a friend along with homemade sugar cookies and peanut butter biscuits for Riley…Image

Tomorrow…Italy!!

 

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Happy Memories

Today we were at the beach and met a schnauzer named Duke who could have been Riley’s twin.   We first saw him when we were stopped at a light before parking the car.  We watched him approach another dog and interact politely so we said “nothing like Riley.”  Seconds later this little guy started the “schnauzer snark” and we laughed recognizing the fact that schnauzers are always schnauzers.  We ran into them on our walk and got to meet Duke up close and personal.  It made us laugh.   Jay had never heard of schnauzers until he met me.  We all have our baggage.  Mine includes multiple schnauzers.  At the beach It all began with Smokey.   A miniature schnauzer, brought home as a surprise when I was in Kindergarten.  The breed was chosen because my Mom had really bad asthma and schnauzers are supposedly hypo-allergenic because they have hair instead of fur.  They are also certifiable, but so, so loveable…once you get with “their” program.  Smokey was a “mini” but a big boy…he didn’t like to be picked up.  He probably also did not enjoy being dressed up as “mother mouse.”  No need to elaborate, but let’s say he wore a babushka with a flair that led to far too much repetition. He was a sociable escape artist who could dart out an open door like a comet, running up the circle on “The Knolls” with one of us in hot pursuit.  He loved my baby brother dearly ~ likely because of the snacks thrown from the playpen ~ and was a constant throughout my childhood and adolescence.  He stayed with us until I was almost 21.  His only failings late in life were falling asleep in the bay window of the living room, by jumping from the back of the couch, to lounge in the sunlight.  And falling asleep in the cabinet that held his “treats.”  When “caught” he’d look at you with that “huh” look.   I just loved that he fell asleep enjoying himself.  .  Janet and Smokey

Then there was Daniel.  Daniel the Spaniel.  Bruce and I did not have children.  We had Daniel.  As a lyricist, Bruce felt the name should be euphonious.  So it was.  Daniel was adorable and Daniel was a flirt.  He would “work the room.”  One of my funniest experiences with Daniel was a trip to the car wash we took together.  The guys drying the car were laughing at us and when I asked what was so funny, one said “You look like your dog, man.”  True.  When Bruce and I parted, I got custody of Dan.  There was “visitation” that I need not go into.  Suffice it to say that couples without children can behave ridiculously over their pets. Me and Daniel

But they’re more than pets, aren’t they?  They are surely members of our family.  They provide entertainment, unconditional love and they don’t talk back.  Most of the time!  When Daniel didn’t like something he seriously “dumped guilt” with a withering look.   Like when I got my second dog, Murphy.  Murphy was a little female schnauzer ~ I have a fondness for the breed…why I do not know ~ and it was recommended I introduce them outside.  So I took her out of the dog carrier in the back yard.  Dan came over, sniffed the dog carrier, took one look at Murphy and lifted his leg to pee on her.  So began their relationship.  Yet, it worked well. schnauzer love

For me life events a few years later dictated an emptiness that unexpectedly led to one more schnauzer.  I stopped on the way home from work to go to a movie ~  Jack Nicholson in “The Wolf.”  Alone…a pet store beckoned.  Don’t even say it.  I paid the price for that decision, literally and figuratively, with a dog that ultimately required twice daily shots – by me – the person who got married in Vegas to avoid a blood test.  The things we do for love. But would I change a moment?  Never… Smokey II was the kindest, most loving dog imaginable.  He loved completely, although his nickname later in life became “Captain Neurotico.”  Smokey would sigh a deep sigh and drop his head on your chest as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.  In truth, I think he liked to snuggle but wanted to appear “manly,”  as if “you really need this, don’t cha, ok…” Smokey and Me

I took Murphy to meet Smokey before I brought him home.  She was a bit aloof but I thought they’d be “just fine.”  Daniel was at the groomer.  When I brought him home and “introduced” Smokey he gave me a look that said “you’re kidding right?” and walked away in disgust.  Smokey then walked into the back yard straight into the jacuzzi.  As I picked him up after he’d gone down for the second time, I remember thinking, “maybe I have really lost it.”  But it all worked well.

When I met Jay in 1997 it was me, Murphy and Smokey.   Jay came to our house the first time and Murphy humped his leg in greeting.  Lest you forget, Murphy was a female.  I’m surprised there was a second date, yet alone a successful relationship.  Murphy, aka Miss Murray, was an odd little thing.  Feisty but loving.  Jay loved golden retrievers so that Christmas we brought home Mr. Peabody.  Mr. Peabody and his boy, Jay.  In the beginning, while Mr. P. loved Jay, he adored Murphy.  Murphy’s attitude was, “leave me alone, boy, I am NOT your mother.”  Finally, when he got too big to soak her with kisses, she retreated under the bed for solitude.  Mr. Peabody and Smokey were best buddies.  It’s very funny to watch a big 80 pound dog play with a 20 pound dog who really believes he’s HUGE.  Schnauzers have that way about them.  They have no idea they’re little dogs.  I guess the Napoleon complex doesn’t only apply to humans.  Good times…Jay, Mr. P and Matt

Ah…Mr. Peabody and Jay.  What a relationship those two shared.  I have always said every boy should have a dog, especially when they’re nearing 50.   They were magic.  You understand.  I could write about when I was diagnosed with early stage one breast cancer and dear Mr. Peabody slept on the floor on the floor by my side of the bed throughout my treatment yet somehow knew when I was alright and it was time to resume his rightful place on Jay’s side.  But I won’t.

And Clara…found on a trip to Whole Foods Market made unexpectedly, only because I was destined to find her.  I’ve told you about her.  She lived a wonderful life…orphan to princess, who completely believed she was “to the manor born.”  Clara and Mr. PeabodyWhen I brought Riley home she didn’t eat for three days.  “Excuuuuuuse me?”  Yet, it worked. clara&riley

These four legged marvels, all shapes, sizes and personalities, are brought into our lives to give us the unconditional love we probably don’t deserve but will always receive from them.   To love a dog as much as we seem to is to understand your heart will likely be broken at some point.  Miraculously, our hearts heal enough that we are willing to take the risk again.  And what we find is another love…different, but so, so wonderful that we recognize the familiar.  We embrace it.

They become family.  And when you don’t have kids in the house, they become the kids.  Jay often talks about “our little family.”  For the past sixteen years, it’s always been three dogs in a wondrous rotation, and the two of us.  At times, it became awfully crowded on our queen sized bed.  Our boy Hobbes was a treasure.  A meteor who burned bright and left at four leaving a legacy of love, laughter and tears.  Losing Clara and Hobbes over a six month period unexpectedly left Riley an only child.  He smiled maniacally and Image

before we could actively choose to search for another furry friend, one found us.

Harley…..who could ever imagine a senior “aggressive” golden scheduled deserted in a kill shelter would become our next loving addition.  But he was ~ and is an amazing treasure.      Our Harley For whatever reason ~ likely feeling lonely without his “pack” ~ Riley bonded with Harley instantly.  They are the best of friends.  camera Even as they desperately try to avoid my fanatical photo fests.

Birthday treat

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Comfort…Food

I am not an often cook…but at times of distress it helps pass the time.  

Banana Nut Bread ~ excellent

From Anne  ~ one of Jay’s KEARTH listeners

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1/2 cup butter – I use 3 ounces of butter and 4 ounces of canola oil  ~ it works

2 eggs beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

 1 1/2 cups bananas mashed – I use four bananas ~ it works

2 teaspoons sour milk added to bananas – I use a big glob of sour cream ~ it works

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

Cream together butter and sugar.  Mix in beaten eggs.  Add mixed dry ingredients alternately with banana mixture.

Bake in greased loaf pan at 350

45 – 55 minutes

 

I have baked this in different ovens and it always takes much longer.

I start at 60 minutes – insert knife ~ I usually have to add another 10 minutes

 Enjoy!!!

 

 

 

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Life is Wiggly

You wake up every morning without knowing what the next twenty four hours will bring.  I think of the family headed to the Boston Marathon two weeks ago.  A joyful day that ended in complete terror and horror for them personally and for us as a nation.  I do not compare the past twenty four hours of my life to theirs.  But there is hurt in my little family’s heart…a lot.

You my Facebook friends, both real and virtual, have read about our boy Hobbes.  A gorgeous golden retriever.  Two years ago, six months before he was three years old he had a seizure.  I am not going to go through it all.  Once was more than enough.  Two days ago our boy was at the vet…as he was just about every two weeks for “issues” surrounding his medication…changes…revisions..side effects.  We had high hopes for the new meds.  His seizures were “clusters.”  Not good.  But in between, wow, did he rock.  He was running at the park every day and “running” the park as the one all dogs loved to be around.  He was the kindest dog imaginable.

He was loved.  By everyone.  On Friday when he was leaving the vet, they said “he’s such a happy dog.”  And he was…but the new medication didn’t work.  It makes no sense to re-visit the past twenty four hours.  We lived it.  Once was more than enough.

Our boy is gone.  A “fluke,” an unfortunate bad roll of the genetic dice.  I could say, “why him?”  He was one of nine puppies in a first litter born to a careful home-breeder with a beautiful dam and a carefully selected sire.   I could say, “why us?”  But we know why.  Nobody else would have loved him as well.  Nobody else would have taken him to the park every single day.  Nobody else would have laughed at the silly, actually manic, ways he acted following the diagnosis and said “that’s our Hobbies.”  He was our boy and we loved him dearly.  He had a great time up until yesterday…when he didn’t.  And then, he left.  We are so grateful that he made the decision so we didn’t have to.

I took a picture of Jay and Hobbes last Sunday.  It was typical.  Wherever Jay was, Hobbes was.  I took that picture never thinking anything other than “there they are, a boy and his dog.”  Why would I ever think that would be the last picture?   Someday I will post it, but not today.

So…it’s been a flippin’ lousy twenty four hours.  We lost a dear, dear member of our family.  Jay, a man of carefully chosen words, called him our meteor.   Now it’s the three of us.  Me, Jay and a schnauzer.

 I suspect Riley has always wanted to be the “only,” but he knows something will never be the same.

As do we. 

Thank you for all the kind words. 

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What a Mouth on You!

My parents did not swear very often.   In times of sheer frustration or annoyance, my Mother’s favorite was “oh sh*t.”  As in the time she dropped the fully cooked lasagna as she was removing it from the oven.  She was more the “wither you with a look” type.   Big Joe was more the yeller in general with, “Damn it, Janet,” added for emphasis, long before Rocky Horror.  He would throw in a few “God’s” for good measure usually around report card, or warning notice, time.  Hmmmm, perhaps there was more swearing than I realized.   

Anyway, I did not curse…at all.   People on The Tonight Show staff did.. a lot!  If a booking fell through, if a desired “ask” didn’t get answered.  For all sorts of reasons at all sorts of times.   The coffee pot was near my desk.  In the days before Starbucks, a huge metallic canister with spigots was delivered from the Commissary at least twice a day.  While there wasn’t a line, per se, there was a lot of activity.   

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Fred de Cordova, the Executive Producer of the show, drank a fair amount of coffee.  He seemed a genial man but had a very dark side that included  mean-spirited sarcasm and held his position primarily because he had produced Jack Benny’s show.  Jack Benny was Johnny Carson’s idol.   Fred exhibited a particularly foul mood one day while getting his coffee.  “F*%# that a**hole…who does that f*%#er think he is?”  No idea who or what he was referring to but I had never been so close to such an outpouring of the F-bomb.   Being fair skinned, I blushed easily in those days.   I turned bright red and Fred noticed.  He found it amusing, repeated the story to others and relentlessly repeated the process.

You do know if you’re prone to the condition that you have NO control over blushing…absolutely none.  So I kept blushing and Fred kept dropping F-bombs on a regular basis.  Fred drove a “golf cart” rather than walk from the bungalow that housed our offices to the studio, Johnny’s office or anywhere else he might be headed.   Should I be in his path he would follow his obscene shout out with, “watch her turn bright red, isn’t that adorable?”  I was getting tired of this…very tired of it.  My dear boss, Dick Manley, who probably had never uttered the “F-bomb” in his life, told me to “fight fire with fire.”  Say it right back to him!   What?     

I practiced…seriously.  Different intonations, different phrasing of the same six words.  “F*%#, Fred, right back at you.”  I enlisted a “coach.”  Alan Seuss from “Laugh In.”   When I had the phrasing and tone perfected, I was ready and waited for a perfect moment.  I wasn’t comfortable screaming back at him as he blazed past in his golf cart, so I waited for an “inner office encounter.”  I cannot remember exactly what he said to me, but I do remember I was sitting at my desk as I returned the volley.   He took a beat, smiled and said “what a mouth on you.”   He never “f-bombed” me again.

Howesomever, I became enamored of the word.  Why I do not know.  Perhaps because it was such an oxymoron to so much about me and my upbringing?  Throughout the years I have used the word far too often in time of frustration, annoyance and downright anger.  I have tried very diligently to replace it with “flippin'” this or that.  Most of the time it works. 

This morning it did not.  I saw the bunny outside.   As part of  the “enjoy the moment” philosophy I am now diligently attempting to embrace I stopped and watched, then went for my camera.  I crept silently outside and got the shot before the bunny hopped across the street.  Then I stubbed my toe on the porch step.  I probably woke up the neighbors.  

My blog is late today because I had to soak my toe. 

I’m flippin’ sorry about that.