Weekend Journey: Last of New England Foliage, by Train

Packing my Vera Bradley carry-on for a new Amtrak adventure. Going from Lancaster, Pennsylvania,  to Portland, Maine, on the Downeaster, something I’ve been interested in doing for awhile.

It’s probably as expensive as flying and about the same amount of time as driving — just under eight hours. But I can spend the time leisurely gazing at the last fall foliage instead of the road.

I’m breaking up the trip with an overnight in Boston and taking the Maine train from there.

In Maine, I’ll be partaking of much seafood and dropping in on a former TV colleague who has a whole new life. She went from a high-powered L.A. newsroom  to a high-energy job as a Presbyterian pastor and hospice chaplain in New England.

She’s graciously allowing me to tag along for a bit. Can’t wait.


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Eats: What you’ve just gotta try if you’re in Pittsburgh area

It’s a combo you may not find anywhere else. A mountain of fries, coleslaw and whatever else you want piled between two slabs of Italian bread.

It’s what made a Pittsburgh eatery known as Primanti Bros famous. Everyone in Pittsburgh and way beyond knows about the place and the sandwich. It’s been around forever.

I had my very first Primanti’s ‘wich the other day. But it wasn’t in Pittsburgh. Had never gotten around to trying it there. I was at one that’s about as far away from the Steel City as you can get and sill be in Pennsylvania.

This was in York, a couple hundred miles away. It’s basically in the middle of nowhere but close enough to everywhere, namely big cities like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. That’s why I was told it’s there, to attract homesick Pittsburghers and those in the know who live elsewhere.

And if you think there aren’t that many of them, think again. Primanti’s has restaurants as far away as Sunny Florida.

I was at the York Primanti’s, a New York native and Mets fan wearing a team T-shirt (neutralized by a Pirates cap), to drink in the spectacle of uprooted Pittsburgh Pirates fans watching a do-or-die battle for the World Series.

Despite our geographical differences and an excruciating evening for them, it was a friendly crowd. I wrote about our encounter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Got the hat 70 percent off; end-of-season sale.

Got hat for almost nothing at end-of-season sale.

When in not-quite-Pittsburgh, order what else? One of those sandwiches with the famed decorations. Behold the Pitts-burger. Fries, slaw, salisbury steak and provolone.

I also ordered another Pittsburgh mainstay, a bottle of Iron City beer (IC, as it’s called) for show, and a pineapple juice to actually drink. I prefer chocolate to alcohol.

Got to say the sandwich, while pretty impressive, was also pretty tasteless. Including the Italian bread that everyone around me was raving about. I ended up slathering the dry lump with lots of ketchup, but was careful to steer clear of the coleslaw. Ugh.

After the server cleared away my mostly untouched meal, I found out from some hometown folk that hot sauce was the ticket. Since I can’t stomach the stuff, that wouldn’t have worked.

They also said it was an acquired taste. One I won’t be acquiring, ever.

I should point out Primanti’s sell lots of other belly-busting grub, which comes with lots of extras, if you like. Extra meat. Extra cheese. Extra eggs. Extra indigestion.

I still say you should try it if you’re ever in the Pittsburgh area. Why? Because it’s so Pittsburgh.

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Let’s Paws: Who shall rest this Yom Kippur? My dog

I’m not religious in the least; Hebrew School dropout and all that. But I felt an overwhelming need to run to synagogue this Yom Kippur, that part of the Jewish New Year where it’s OK to take an entire day to do a full soul scan.

I needed to find out why Ginger, my dachshund, who’d already lived past 18, couldn’t stick around for another 18 years. The killer was that she was still in remarkably good health for what amounted to a 90-year-old. White mask aside (which made her all the more dear), she was still a pup at heart. Up until that heart was deliberately stopped.

Ginger good puppy

Flashback almost two decades when my Old Girl Baby was found on I-95 in North Carolina, a puppy covered in filth. We think she was abused and abandoned and fending for herself for awhile because she had no collar, went after other animals, and was suspicious of many humans, particularly repairmen types. She’d sometimes go for their ankles.

Some might say she was fiercely protective of those she loved. Also true.

I admired her more than some humans. She wasn’t one of those simple creatures that was agreeable and loved everyone, though that would have made our relationship a whole lot easier.

Ginger goofy

My treasure was multifaceted: fierce and hilarious, sweet and stubborn, tough, but adored her creature comforts. Beautiful in her long-haired doxie imperfections: a goofy cowlick and fur trailing from her ears like an Orthodox Jew. An ear that folded back with a fleecy lining. And meaty forearms like Popeye.

She had tremendous presence. She didn’t let anything get her down until the day she couldn’t get up again.

Because she was not your average dog, she was misunderstood for much of her life, which made me want to make it up to her every second.

She started out with my partner Mitch’s dad. She was a barking, bouncing ball, dubbed “Ginger Bin Laden” by a friend she tried to take a nip at. Most times, the barking would turn to sniffing, and then she’d morph into a penguin on hind legs, begging for cuddles and belly rubs.

We realized she was starving for affection. Dad, who’d been used to lap dogs, didn’t get her. After a visit when we’d treat her like a queen, she’d sit in the window watching us leave, with a look that said please take me with you.

Ginger and me.

Ginger and me.

After dad died, we did. She was middle-aged with a lopsided gait, sign of a bad back made manageable long ago by Prednisone. I loved to kiss that silly cowlick and ask her, as we snuggled,  “Are you that doggie in the window?” I was almost sure she knew what I meant.

Ginger and sealShe settled in and took over. It was darn nice of her to let us sleep in her new bed. Since I work from home for a news service, she was a loyal companion and cub reporter.

Thankfully, she was perfectly housebroken. But food was another story.

Ginger please eatShe would have made the perfect hunger striker. Dog food? Feh. Human food? Absolutely. You name it, we tried it. Chicken nuggets, Lebanon bologna, fortune cookies, Manchego cheese. We made up a song about her junk-food habit.

Ginger and our beloved dogsitter, Patty.

Ginger and our beloved dogsitter, Patty.

She had a secret life. When we’d go on vacation, she and her favorite human, our late, irreplaceable dog sitter, would take a joyride to a local burger joint and eat right there.

That's my Valentine's Day present, Ginger!

Always inquisitive. That’s my Valentine’s Day present, Ginger!

She was known as the neighborhood loudmouth. But one time, a neighbor’s pug got in her face first. Ginger slunk away, stunned. She was happiest taking a long walk or playing Snoopy on her back. She always had an audience.


As time passed and her capabilities diminished we picked up the slack. In her later years her bad back returned to taunt her along with a deteriorating hind leg, kidneys and teeth. Jumping and climbing were out, much to her frustration. She made do with a dog bed.

Her life was a stream of intrusions. Doggie diapers, which were short-lived. Carried outside to do her business. Laser pain treatments, injected liquids, endless pills, drops and gels. We wanted her to be comfy. She was. Mellow, in fact.

But the puppy was still in there. She had slowed so much, we let her wander outside without a leash. One winter night I turned my back. She took off and went a fair distance before I found her.

She was well into her 19th year when things really started going downhill.

She’d always panted (we nicknamed her our “Carolina Panter”),  but it was now more from pain, not enthusiasm. Despite painkillers, she had an increasingly hard time getting up.

One day I came home and found her on her side, unable to move, terror on her face. Mitch caught her almost facedown in her water bowl. We kept watch and helped her maneuver.

Trying to entice her with a picnic.

Trying to entice her with a picnic.

She was always hungry but with her aches and few teeth, eating was excruciating.  She still enjoyed, her meager jaw squeaking when she chewed.

Our moral compass oscillated wildly. How was her quality of life? Were good moments still outweighing the bad?

An X-ray revealed her spine was better than we thought, though we found out she had a mass in her chest. Prednisone was ordered as a last resort for her back and leg pain.

Ginger and Mitch.

Ginger and Mitch.

It made her ravenous and peppy. But as bright-eyed and engaged as she was, her mobility was nosediving. Even with the stronger drugs, she could barely move. We asked about a wheel cart to help her get around, but she was too weak. It wouldn’t be fair.

We made an appointment to euthanize her that night, still looking for signs that we didn’t need to. Nothing that we could justify in good conscience. Waiting would only prolong her agony.

For her last meal, Mitch held her in bed and she showered him with the usual kisses. In between, I fed her vanilla ice cream.

At the vet’s, she was shaking as always and we were sobbing. Mitch said he felt like he was letting her down. You’re doing the right thing, we were told.

The vet explained the process. When they brought her into the exam room cuddled in a blanket, the IV in her little leg prepped for the fatal drug, I wanted to scoop her up and run away. I gulped down the urge to scream stop.

She was gone before the syringe was emptied. We clutched her body, growing cold, as we kissed that cowlick one last time. My heart broke at the sight of her little tongue, slightly protruded. But her pain was gone.

Mine was just beginning. We tried so hard to do right by her in life, and in death.


May God remember

She died at the start of Yom Kippur. I’m bordering on atheist, but still so want to believe. So I schlepped myself to memorial services. Pondered a holiday prayer that essentially posed the questions, “Who shall live and who shall die and who shall be at rest”? And took comfort in these excerpts from the Prayer for a Beloved Pet offered by my rabbi.

As we say good-bye to our beloved Ginger,

we express our deepest gratitude for the blessing of  her sweet presence. 

Through Ginger, we experienced joy. 

Through Ginger, we learned to think about someone else other than ourselves.

Through this beloved animal, we were shown the best qualities of humankind.

We were shown the greatest gift of all,

the gift of unconditional love. 

May we remember to share these important lessons with others. 

In sharing them, we will truly honor the memory of Ginger,

and keep her spirit in our lives. 

And may I add: When all else fails, eat Lebanon bologna.

And keep putting one paw in front of another.

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MLB: Go for the history, stay for the ballgame

Nice to see the New York Mets clinch the NL East title. As a longtime (as in the days of a certain guy named McGraw, and I don’t mean Tim; and even way before that), Amazins fan, we never take that for granted.

Confess I haven’t kept up with the roster for a long time. That’s why it was nice to go to a home game a couple weeks back and tap into my roots.

I hadn’t been since the old Shea Stadium. Have to say the new CitiField was a big nothing. I’ve had better vending machine grub. Outwardly, it could have been anywhere. There was no sense of history like you’d find at Fenway, Camden Yards and Wrigley Field. Too bad new stadiums can’t be built to look like old ones, with less-intrusive corporate logos.

But a tip of the baseball cap to a few attempts to capture the past.


Some vintage photos thrown around.

mets robinson

A rotunda honoring the late, great Jackie Robinson. And a mini museum I’m sorry I didn’t have time to see.

But I did have time to grab a T-shirt picked for style, not sentiment. Sported the name Granderson. Didn’t know who he was until I bought the shirt.

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Eats: What do you serve a pope? Menus included

Of all the Pope Francis stories, this one (and the one about all the souvenir schlock) caught my eye. No surprise; food involved.

With pretty straightforward menus even the flock can prepare, if you care to do some digging for the actual recipes or their approximations. Found “almond chocolate semifreddo” right away.

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Let’s Paws: Saying goodbye to my ancient dachshund on Yom Kippur

After days of deliberations about something we knew in our bones was the right thing to do, we euthanized our Old Girl Baby, Ginger, at the start of Yom Kippur.

I’ve been overwhelmed every time I sit down to write about it; but there’s a lot more I’d like to say about the timing, which wasn’t planned. And will. gingertoys

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Let’s Paws: Pilot probably saved one lucky dog

A pilot is credited with saving the life of a French bulldog on an Air Canada flight from Israel to Canada.

Which begs the question: What was Simba, a 7-year-old bulldog doing in the cargo hold to begin with? This breed —  one of those snub-nosed types — is notorious for breathing problems. And this one obviously wasn’t a youngster.

The Humane Society says it succinctly: Air travel is particularly dangerous for

My step-dog, done in by breathing issues.

My step-dog, done in by breathing issues.

animals with “pushed in” faces like bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats. The medical term is

“brachycephalic.”  These breeds are especially susceptible to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.

Don’t do it.

But if  you’ve moving somewhere where the drive’s too long — it’s obviously advisable to try to get the pet in the passenger cabin with you.

There’s are companies out there like petchauffeur.com in NYC that will sit with your dog in the cabin. Or drive your pet anywhere they want to go in the continental U.S.

If you’re traveling for an extended vacation or moving across the ocean or around the world and the cargo hold is really the only option, there are companies that can ease the pain. But as you can imagine, they’re not cheap.

One well-known one is petrelocation.com, based in Austin. They handle travel door-to-door. They say they deal only with “pet-friendly” airlines. They work with the pet’s vet and push owners to get their pets used to crates and the cargo experience well before the move. The price: $1,200 and up.

Sure wish I could start an airline just for pets. There was one that I wrote about a few years ago, but it went out of business.

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Let’s Paws: It’s National Woof Day!



On this National Dog Day, Pawsing to give a shout out to my Old Girl Baby, Ginger. Going on her 19th year. Happy to give her a lift when her ancient legs can’t keep up with that puppy soul. You and me, Gin. Forever.


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When living on a train means your life’s off the rails

At first glance, this sounded like a cool idea: A German student, Leonie Müller, had a falling out with her landlord. So she decided to live on high-speed trains.

She considers herself a free spirit. I like that part.

Thing is, she’s not actually living on the rails. She bathes on the trains and doesn’t carry much. OK, that’s somewhat adventurous. But the trains are a means to shuttle between her college, and her mom’s and boyfriend’s houses. That’s where she actually sleeps.

She thought the lifestyle would save her lots of money. But by my calculations, she’s saving about $70 a month.

I can somewhat identify. I’ve never owned a house; I’ve been an Amtrak commuter for so long, I shift into a different rhythm as soon as the train pulls into New York City; and have lived out of a carry-on bag for quite some time, often weathering several climates in one trip.

And having recently divided my time between my home in Pennsylvania and Airbnbs in New York City for a photography course, I did start to feel like I was living on Amtrak. And I got really familiar with the grub at various train stations.

It was a novelty at first, but got old real quick.

I predict Leonie will put the brakes on her big adventure pretty soon. For a monthly saving of $70, it hardly seems worth it. Especially since she’s not really living on or off the train. She’s merely off the rails.

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Let’s Paws: Wisdom shines in old dogs’ eyes

No doubt about it: When everything else starts to go in a dog (and a human), the eyes still have it, as demonstrated by excerpts from this touching book. And will ’til the end.

Old don’t need to learn new tricks. They know everything there is to know about life.


Right, my old girl baby Ginger? Who’s now heading toward … 19?

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