growing up, Home

Stand Facing the Stove

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The original edition of The Joy of Cooking apparently began with this instruction, the self-evidencial nature of which encapsulates for me the profound ambivalence I’ve always felt about spending time in the kitchen. While I have a great appreciation for well-prepared food, I also, like my mother, eschew most domestic duties.

She managed to put food on the table on a regular basis, but it didn’t come without a price; not just her iffiness about parenting in general, but a real ennui in regards to cooking. When she’d over-broil the 3 half-chickens for dinner, she’d laugh that “instead of Shake’n’Bake, we’re having Turn’n’Burn!” Unfortunately I adopted her habit of abandoning the kitchen in the middle of meal preparation and have scorched many a pot and burned many a pan of vegetables.

One evening when we were young girls my mother showed my older sister and me how to wash dishes after dinner. We did a pretty good job scraping, soaking, rinsing and drying, and then putting the dishes away, so I recall being surprised when our mother told us to do it again the next evening. “But we learned that already, yesterday!” Seeing the little smirk on my mother’s face, I was a bit horrified at the idea that I might be expected to do this every night for the rest of my life.

“Woman’s work is never done.” I think that was the hopelessness that pervaded my mom’s take on all housework – and one of the reasons she divorced my dad. She told me more than once that the moment she recognized that she was “done” with being married, she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the downstairs half-bathroom floor, realizing that, even though all of her daughters had weekly chores, nearly all of the daily domestic duties fell to her.

I recently purchased a new 6″ chef knife, to go along with my other knives – and I remembered that my mother never had ANY knives that look like these. And she never got the ratty old knife she DID have sharpened. She resisted housework tooth-&-nail, and could never bring herself to make it any easier – as if purchasing the right tools might be a show of weakening in her resolve to hate “woman’s work”.

I love my knives. They’re a gift I’ve given to myself. I’d have them even if I wasn’t married.

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Buying The Shoes

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“Happy Talk, keep talkin’ Happy Talk!  If you don’t have a dream…”

At 25, Bill was still living at home. This might not be a big deal nowadays, but back in the mid-1970s, it meant something for a young man who’d finished his schooling; he was “an artist”, a musician, a dreamer without enough money to afford his own place. (He sure liked the looks of mine – in fact, I wondered sometimes whether he liked my apartment more than he liked me!)

While I was brought up to respect, nay, revere  the arts, the importance of being financially responsible and paying one’s own way as an adult was also drilled into me from a young age. So I raised more than an eyebrow when Bill came over one day with a motorcycle helmet he’d just purchased for $80.00.  “Isn’t it GREAT??” No motorcycle, mind you – but he’s got a helmet!!!

Meanwhile I’m thinking about who’s buying the groceries (me), who’s worried about having enough money for the rent (also me), and whose quarters will be fueling the washing machine in the basement (mine). I let Bill move into my apartment when I had a 6-week gig at a gay bar in San Juan PR, but I made him move right back out when he told me his next gig was 2 months away and he didn’t have any money coming in until then.

Forty years later I checked him out on FaceBook and while he hasn’t yet been invited to play with his beloved Berliner Philharmoniker, he DOES apparently ride a BMW motorcycle.

Guess you’ve gotta buy the shoes, after all.

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growing up, Home

The Japanese Garden

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One of the advantages my generation enjoyed was being trusted when we were kids, to go out in the world by ourselves. Of course, with instructions to “never take candy from strangers” and “don’t get in anyone’s car that you didn’t know” – but mostly we were encouraged to explore the world of our neighborhood and trusted to know when to ask for help, who to turn to (“the policeman is your friend!”) – to look out for your friends, family, fellow classmates and neighbors.

Tonight while walking the dogs around the block before bed, we saw a SUV with its lift gate left open. We tried to pull it down to shut it but backed away when the hinge made a screeching noise, thinking aloud, “don’t want somebody to come out here and point a gun in our face!”  That kind of litigious thing was unheard of in the 1950s and 60s. But back then, families left their cars unlocked, with the windows open overnight during the summer – I remember having to run out to crank them closed when a sudden rainstorm would hit.

For years I’ve had dreams about walking to a Japanese garden when I was 10-or-so years old. But I couldn’t recall exactly where or when this was. I knew it was within walking distance, because my older sister and I had to share one bike between us, but I couldn’t recall exactly where it was.

She remembered – and it’s still there! Even expanded over the years! It’s probably covered in snow right now, but in my mind it will always be a cool respite from the overly warm summer of 1962, when we could buy a Coke at the corner store and escape from the chaos and noise of younger sisters and our forlorn mother, stuck sweltering at home. My father used to refer to East Hartford, CT as “the armpit of the world” – but he didn’t hang out much in the Japanese Garden of Wickham Park!

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growing up, Home

House Of Hate!

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“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo TolstoyAnna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line

Our family lived in garden apartments most of the time I was growing up – little 2 or 3 bedroom places on 2 floors, with ivy on the outside walls, trees and grass in the front and back yards that someone else mowed and tended to, and casement windows that leaked like a sieve when winter came. After a bleak 4-year sojourn as homeowners in Cicero, NY, my mother appreciated finding friends among some of the more educated and sophisticated women she met once we were left suburbia and my dad really liked the fact that he didn’t have to rely on his somewhat temperamental jalopies to get to work – he could take the city bus to his office in downtown Albany and in Hartford, he could easily walk to his job from our apartment.

We kids also enjoyed the more cosmopolitan environment and watched with interest as new neighbors moved in from time to time.  Dr. Bill and Harriet Miller were next-door neighbors and their daughter Shirley became my best friend until we moved from NY state to Connecticut.   At one point Hazel and Roy lived next door – they were a Chinese couple who liked us and even invited us over for a real homemade Chinese dinner once!

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Then came Marrrge & Bob – a couple from Scotland who brrrristled whenever we encountered them. We couldn’t figure out what the trouble was until one day Marrrge came over and screamed repeatedly at us that ours was “a house of HATE!”  We were so stunned to hear her opinion and couldn’t fathom what would make her think that?  We LOVED each other!!  Sure, we made a lot of noise bounding up and down the stairs which were directly on the other side of the wall from THEIR stairs – and we hollered and teased each other, like kids will do.  We had 2 adults and 4 kids packed into 1000 square feet and we WERE a bit rowdy from time to time.  But HATE?  Marrrge and Bob moved away shortly thereafter and we just laughed at how mistaken they were about our loving family.

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Decades later Mark and I rented a spacious luxury 2 bedroom place on the Gold Coast of Chicago – just the 2 of us, with our dog Dunkel. Each floor had just 2 apartments. The first night at 3 AM we were awakened by yelling, screaming and crockery breaking from the apartment across the hall.  When we asked the doorman what was going on, no one seemed to know.  Eruptions occurred on a fairly regular basis and poor little Dunkel would just shudder, like he did when thunderstorms rolled in from Lake Michigan.

It wasn’t just fights that woke us; the man would throw the family’s trash down the chute in the middle of the night and more than once I spied him doing so au naturelle. One night he locked his wife, dressed only in her nightgown, outside in the hall and wouldn’t let her back in, no matter how she pleaded and begged. These folks acted like they were the only people on the planet, totally oblivious to the disruption they caused. We later found out that the father was high up in the police force, so domestic disturbance calls never made it past the thin blue line.  Apparently most of the other residents had assumed that the noise was coming from OUR apartment, since we were known to be musicians, and we all know how rowdy and disruptive THEY are!!?

We never found out what, if any, mitigating circumstances were in play in that household.  I wonder how Marrrge and Bob would have handled being their neighbors!?

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Little Gold Chevette

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I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25. I always figured that I’d never need to, since I moved to NYC after college and planned on living in Manhattan for the rest of my life. Having a car in New York was an impediment and extremely expensive, unless your idea of a good time was driving around the block for hours looking for a parking space that would only be good for a day or two when you’d have to repeat the process all over again.  My friend Rick Cummins called this “walking the car”, like “walking the dog” only a lot more time consuming with none of the canine companionship benefits!

But then I took a vacation to California the summer of 1977 and I KNEW that I’d have to learn drive at some point, since L.A. is a car culture place even more so than the rest of our country. So I wound up at the Automobile Club of America, with supplementary driving practice from ever-patient friends. (Thank you again, Jim Suitor and Rick Cummins!) And eventually I got my license. No car, but I was street legal.

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Not owning a car, I didn’t have many opportunities to exercise my new skills while living in New York.  My dear friend Mara Purl let me drive her Ford Pinto to Baltimore and back – in fact, we were going to share the costs of the car until it got damaged while “safely” parked in a city lot.  I rented a car for special trips on occasion and my mom let me drive her Fiat Spider when I’d visit her in New Haven, but a lot of time went by when I wasn’t behind the wheel.

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Then Jim Cantin took a road tour gig and asked us to look after his car while he was out of town. He kept it parked in a lot ½ mile away and we needed to dust the snow off and turn the engine over every week, but it was SO cool to be able to escape the city!! We took Jim’s car to Connecticut to visit friends and family and for a premiere of our YOGURT VARIATIONS with the New Britain Symphony, to Long Island to see my teacher Hale Smith – the freedom to get around without using public transportation…. bliss!

Even maintenance was an adventure; since the closest Chevrolet dealership was on Staten Island, we got a ride on the ferry to get the side mirror replaced (another parking garage mishap when the attendant was moving the car around).

But the most fun was grocery shopping trips to Paterson, NJ.  Our pockets bulging with coupons and a list a mile long, we’d hop in the Chevette, cross the bridge that Chris Christie made famous and before too long be at PathMark, home of huge bargains (and double coupons!)  We’d fill the oversized cart with tons of non-perishables, stocking up on canned food, TP and paper towels like the end of the world was coming. It was always an adventure to be in a real, honest-to-God suburban supermarket after squeezing thru NYC bodegas and tiny grocery stores. The variety! The new products! The SPACE!!!

At the end of several hours’ shopping, the trunk and back seat of the Chevette would be so crammed full of stuff, we could barely see anything in the rearview mirror. With the double coupons and lower NJ prices, a $200 grocery bill would be slashed to $80 some times!  (These are early 1980s prices I’m talking here!)  Being an inveterate bargain hunter, this thrilled me no end.

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Jim has always known how to live; he was the only person I knew in NY who had both a clothes washer and dryer in his apartment – he’d found them at a yard sale, fixed what was broken and… voila! Truly civilized city living!  Jim is amazingly talented in many areas; in addition to his prodigious skills as a musician, vocal coach and songwriter, he’s a skilled woodworker, designer, collector, teacher, computer expert, piano rebuilder, photo restorer… there’s very little that Jim can’t do.

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He’s also very generous. Thanks again, Jim, for letting us take care of the Little Gold Chevette!

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Gifts That Keep On Giving… and Giving BACK

I’m of the opinion that some of the BEST gifts you can get (AND give!) are practical things such as kitchen utensils, pots, and the like.  Back in the mid-70s one of my songwriting collaborators moved to L.A. from NYC and gave me a bunch of kitchen stuff she didn’t want to move out west:  a food mill that I somehow lost track of, a DANDY slotted spoon and 2 pieces of square Corning Ware with one glass top that fit them both.  I still use the slotted spoon, even though the handle broke off at the end, and I use the Corning Ware every time I make something bake-able, like zucchini-lasagna or chicken divan – that I can bake one for “now” and put the other one in the freezer for “later”.

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And I think kindly of Sally every time I use these items – which is pretty much every day. I think, “bless her heart!  Sally gave me this nice slotted spoon I’m using at this very minute – which I’ve had for… 35+ years!  SHE thought its number was up, but I keep using it every day!!”  (note: they don’t make spoons like that any more – I’ve bought plenty of slotted spoons over the years, thinking, “I’ll just get rid of that beat-up, ratty-lookin’ spoon of Sally’s and replace it with THIS shiny new beauty!” – only to have the new spoon fall apart, not FEEL right, or whatever.  Back to Sally’s I go.)

So I think kindly of Sally.  Just as I think kindly of my friend Larry practically every single day.  “BOY, do I like having these Rubbermaid containers!  What a great friend Larry was to give them to me. They’re the PERFECT size for these  (fill-in-the-blank) leftovers.”  (Leftovers ARE my second favorite thing for dinner – second only to Reservations!  Sometimes they’re FIRST, OVER Reservations, because you don’t have to leave the house – just reheat what you’ve already got!)

I have few regrets in life – but one is that, after loaning a friend in Chicago an extra 1-quart Revere-ware saucepan with lid I had, when he was getting settled in to his first place and learning to cook, I took it back when he moved to North Carolina.  I don’t know WHAT I was thinking – I didn’t really NEED the damned pan – he’d had it for YEARS and I never missed it, but when he asked if I wanted it back, I said, “yes” – and now it sits collecting dust at the back of my pantry.  I NEVER use it.  And judging from the shape it was in when I got it back, I’m pretty sure he used it a LOT.  Just think of all the good vibes I forfeited from my lack of foresight!  He could have been blessing MY heart all this time!

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Memorial Dogs

I don’t want to be irreverent and I know that Memorial Day is for remembering those soldiers and sailors lost in battle, but it occurred to me to take this time to remember the 7 lovely schnauzers who shared our lives from 1982 to 2010. We’ve scanned photos of our first dog, Dunkel – who we got from a backyard breeder on Staten Island, back when we lived in midtown Manhattan.  We met him at 6 weeks old and took him home the following week, since he was the runt of the litter and had been bottle-fed for a while. His breeder didn’t understand the importance to us that he NOT get his ears cropped, but it sure meant a lot to us –  he was a musicians’ dog, after all!!  He was the most wonderful ball of fluff when we brought him home, renting a car so that the trip would be peaceful for him.  As it turned out, he fit perfectly in the pocket of my coat and we carried him home from getting his puppy shots at the vet that way while riding the subway.

Here’s tiny Dunkel, as we first met him.

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Dunkel didn’t make a peep for the first few weeks we had him – no barking, no growling, nothing! Then one day he heard a siren going right by our building and the most unearthly howl arose from him – we were astonished!  He had a VOICE!
Mark usually took him for his before-bedtime walks in midtown and would invariably encounter ladies-of-the-night who would fall in love with Dunkel, thus he came in every evening smelling of Tabu, Shalimar and Joy perfume!
We took him on his first visit to Grandma and Grandpa in Tucson that first Christmas and he loved following his Uncle Max, sniffing around the yard without a leash!!  (big stuff for a city dog!!)  He liked going to the beach in Santa Monica, too, altho it was VERY cold and we kept him leashed the entire time.

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After the winter was over, it was time for Dunkel’s first haircut. We’d trimmed his feet and ear canals all along, but had a groomer come to our apartment for a REAL thorough haircut! Dunkel’s ears, which had always flopped over naturally, immediately found the air!!  We were shocked and the groomer volunteered to tape them down, so that they’d flop again – but you can see from the photo we took of the less-than-an-hour time he was like that, that Dunkel did NOT like his newly-liberated ears being set like that!  Life is too short, we figured, for our boy to be so unhappy.  We decided to let the fur outside his ears grow, and it took a while, but eventually the weight of the fur gave his ears a bit of a flap.

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Dunkel was an excellent snuggle-boy. Here he is, taking a nap with Dad (Mark), sitting nicely with his cousin David, and also with his Grandma Betty, who loved him dearly.  Of all our dogs, he was by far her favorite – when we brought him up to New Haven to visit, she tried to “steal” him by hiding him in the clothes hamper. We called and called but he didn’t make a peep – guess there weren’t any sirens going by that day!?

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Dunkel was well-traveled – moving from NYC to Chicago when he was one, moving to Los Angeles when he was two, moving back to Chicago when he was 4 – with additional trips to Minnesota, Arizona, Connecticut – he got around!

Dunkel’s 5th birthday at Grandpa Millard and Grandma Marian’s house?  Any excuse for cake!!

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Lounging by the pool…

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Back in Chicago, when it got cold, Dunkel would bury himself in pillows to stay toasty warm

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Dunkel was talented and would perform a lot of tricks for just one treat
But he was also a little spoiled – once he was housebroken, he was invited to sleep in bed with us.

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Not every day was perfect, and sometimes Dunkel would get tired of posing for photos…

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Dunkel adjusted great when we added a little sister to our family – he liked Gretel a lot. Here they are enjoying the sun together on the sofa.

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Dunkel was patient when illness happened – he had to have emergency surgery when he was 5 and special eye drops several times/day the last years of his life.  We love to remember him as a sweet soul who made us so happy while he was here.

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We were so happy with Dunkel that after moving to L.A. we decided we were ready for another schnauzer puppy.  Mark’s mom looked for us in Tucson, since there were a few reputable breeders there, and the next thing we knew, we were driving to Tucson to pick up Gretel Garbo, who was named that because her mother was Miss Molly Hollywood.

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Of course, since it was our anniversary and we were at Mark’s folks’ house, there was CAKE!!  (none for Dunkel or Gretel, tho!)

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At 11 weeks, Gretel was a bit older than Dunkel had been when we got him, so she had already developed quite a personality! On the drive back to L.A., a semi truck driver turned over his engine and startled her, and boy, did she give HIM a good barking-at!
Later that year we moved back to Chicago and Gretel tried to keep an eye on both of us, no matter where we were in the house, so her spot was parked on the carpeted stairs.

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This was okay until the day she fell asleep and rolled over, THRU the stairs, falling more than 6’ on her back. She was okay but never hung out on the stairs again!
Dunkel got along great with his little sister – altho when we tried to teach her tricks and put him in the other room, he was so busy actually OBEYING commands that we always laughed and Gretel never DID get good at performing-for-treats!

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Gretel cleaned up really well once we gave her a haircut.

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Mark’s parents were so enthralled with Gretel that they decided to get a little girl schnauzer from the same breeder when their boy Max passed on at 15 years old. When we went to visit again the next year to meet Tina, they pulled a “fast one” and introduced us to Tinkerbelle, her sister, who was a MUCH younger puppy!  Here’s Tinkerbelle giving me a kiss!

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The three girls were so cute together!!

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One Christmas we received as a gift a hand-crocheted doll hat which I thought looked really good on Gretel – what do you think?

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She put up with the photo-shoot but didn’t want to wear it in the Easter Parade!  She knew how pretty she was, tho, and would pose for photos at any time!

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Gretel got along with practically everyone – here we are posing with Pete, a Chicago friend.

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When we went back to visit Mark’s folks (and Tina and Tinkerbelle), Gretel was a bit aloof from her half-sister and cousin.

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Tina and Tinkerbelle were a bit protective of THEIR bed, too… “it’s okay for you to visit, but the pillows are OURS!”

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Everything went back to normal when we got home, tho.

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We let Gretel and Dunkel’s coats grow pretty long during those cold Chicago winters.

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One cold night before Christmas, Gretel heard a would-be-burglar trying to break in at our back door and woke us up to warn us!  Not everyone knows that in addition to her great beauty, Gretel had a talent that not every dog possesses – because of her superior hearing, she was an excellent sound engineer!

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Mostly she loved going on walks – afterwards, she and Dunkel looked like this. (nice tongues, eh?)

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After we lost Dunkel (he had a congenital kidney condition that finally caught up with him), we wanted another brother for Gretel. She was actually enjoying being an Only Dog, but we didn’t see that, and so… KAISER!!

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He was SO tiny compared to Gretel – and she was okay with that, since she got to boss him around… at least for a little while!

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The following year was a different story!

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Kaiser lived up to his name – he DOMINATED!! He was somewhat fear-aggressive, so we took him and Gretel to obedience school where he did very well, but never truly got over the fear-aggression completely. He was very friendly and easy-going, UNLESS someone tried to pick him up!  Then he’d gurgle and kinda-growl – not in a threatening way, but just to let you know that he wasn’t enjoying this very much!  He stopped as soon as you put him down. We’d forgotten about this until we unearthed an old VHS videotape we’d made, where we’d picked him up to be in the picture, and there it was… Kaiser’s vocal protestation.

At the end of 1993 we adopted Tina and Tinkerbelle when Mark’s mom passed on. They were adorable girls and it was SO much fun to have a schnauzer quartet!!

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By this time we were doing all our own grooming, altho you’d never know it by these pix:

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He was an all-round athlete – he loved the snow

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he loved playing ball – everything from pingpong to fetching tennis balls to basketball was for him!

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One time he disappeared in the backyard and we couldn’t figure out WHERE he was hiding. We called and called. Finally we remembered, got out the basketball and only had to bounce it ONCE, and he magically reappeared from behind the shed!  🙂

Kaiser and Gretel were good friends and made a really cute couple together.

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but with the addition of Gretel’s half-sister and cousin, it got to be a full couch!

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Unfortunately, Tinkerbelle wasn’t as hardy as the rest, so at one point, we were down to 3.

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We all went along for a few more years, but by February 2000, both Gretel and Tina were losing ground steadily – and even Kaiser, who had been totally healthy for the first 8 years of his life, developed diabetes and internal growths that had to be surgically removed. We lost both girls within one month, in addition to Kaiser’s diagnosis and were in a state of shock.

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Kaiser’s surgery was only a partial success. He had a relatively quick recovery but the incision in his side never did heal. We changed bandages a few times every day, since the wound continued to ooze the rest of his life. (another 18 months).

He was always patient through all of this, even allowing us to pick him up without his mumbling-growling protestation!  He would wait as long as necessary for his clean-up and bandages, with no problem, especially if there was a tennis ball nearby for him to chew on.

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After Kaiser got sick, he was a bit lonely without his sisters, so we looked for a canine companion and found the perfect one in Gustav!  We fell in love with Gustav right away and he got along GREAT with Kaiser, who was truly overjoyed to have a “guy” to hang out with after all those years surrounded by feminine energy!  There’s a lot of info and pictures at this link:  http://www.marilynharris.com/bestfriends5.html  and also this link:  http://www.marilynharris.com/bestfriends6.html – but my favorites have always been these:

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fetch is always more fun when there’s another guy playing, too!

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waiting for Dad to throw the ball again!

We found Liesel thru the same rescue organization where we’d found Gustav.  She’d been surrendered by her owner who hadn’t been able to walk her, so she had a bit of a weight problem.

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But she sure loved to go for walks once we suited her up!  Sure, she was a bit pudgy, but underneath she was strong and had real MUSCLE! Even tho she was blind, she loved to take the lead everywhere. Fortunately, she was good at taking verbal cues.

Unlike any other dogs we’ve had, Liesel was also extremely clear on the concept of ridding the homestead of interlopers – one spring she dispatched a half dozen wild felines in our backyard before we could stop her! She was so proud – she brought them right to the back door to show us!

From the start, she and Gustav were like 2 peas in a pod and really good buddies!

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They cuddled together a lot, and not just for photo ops!

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Both Gustav and Liesel got along well with Oskar, who’s still with us – and the 3 of them made the transition to being Arizona dogs with ease – they sure didn’t miss dealing with FLEAS, which are not a problem here in the desert.

It’s been fun to reminisce about our pups who are gone-but-not-forgotten. They each brought something special to the party and we feel grateful to have shared in their lives.  They’ve certainly enriched ours!

 

 

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