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CASTLES, CUISINE, AND A CAUTION

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

muckross

Muckross House

All good things must come to an end, as some wise person once said.  But that doesn’t mean that they can’t come to an end in style.  As we departed Killarney we headed off to Dromoland Castle, where we planned to live like the princesses we are on our final night in Ireland.  Dromoland, however, was not the only castle that we saw on our trip.  In fact, like most countries that have a long history, Ireland is full of castles.  Most of them are ruins and we saw many instances of crumbling rock.  But there were a few exceptions worth noting.  First off, is Muckross House, which technically is not a castle but did house Queen Victoria for a couple of nights in 1861.  It has spectacular grounds and gardens, sitting right on the lakes of Killarney.  Our guide, Jack told us that in the late 1850’s the owner of Muckross House, Henry Arthur Herbert, spent a fortune prepping the house for Queen Victoria’s visit on the implied agreement that he would receive a Dukedom for his efforts.  Unfortunately, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died just three months after her visit and she forgot entirely about Herbert.  By 1897 the estate was in financial ruin that is partially attributed to the money spent on the Queen’s visit.  I guess even then it paid to get things in writing.

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Bunratty Castle

On our way to Dromoland we stopped at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.  The ‘folk park’ part of the title should have been our first clue that the fine people at Bunratty have figured out how to make a buck.  I wonder if they’re Americans?  The original castle was built in 1277 but the structure that still stands is a relative newcomer, erected in 1455.  It is said that William Penn‘s father defended the garrison in 1646 as William lay in his crib inside the fortress.  Who knows where Pennsylvania would be today if his father had been defeated?  The folk part consists of many structures that were chosen from many different areas of Ireland to form a collection of typical 19th century buildings including the School, Doctor’s house, Pub, Printworks, Grocery, etc.  It was enlightening to see how primitively they lived – two rooms for a large family with more room for the horses than the children set aside within the house.  The gift shop at Bunratty is a money-maker – really one of the nicest gift shops we saw so we all were calculating just how much more we could squeeze into our suitcases.

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The bar at Dromoland Castle

Finally we arrived at Dromoland Castle, our lodging for the night.  The castle grounds have been the home of castles for centuries but the current structure was built in 1800.  It has been preserved with little change since the mid-19th century. In 1962, Donough O’Brien, the sixteenth Baron Inchiquin, sold Dromoland Castle to American Bernard P. McDonough who converted it into a luxurious hotel.  The luscious green gardens and golf course line the entry and we looked forward to exploring the pathways that meander throughout the property.

Dromoland dinner

The Last Supper

Unfortunately our Irish luck on weather that had blessed us all week let us down – it was pouring rain.  The weather, coupled with the fact that our room wasn’t ready, led us to repair to the lounge where they provided us with coffee and pastries.  Once settled into our beautiful room we hoped for sunnier skies but, alas, it was still raining so…what’s a girl to do? We checked out the bar.  It was everything an elegant bar should be and was the perfect setting on a gloomy day to continue our lager/Irish whiskey taste testing.  Dinner was in the Earl of Thomand dining room, again elegant and intimate with service beyond compare and delectable food.  What a way to end the trip of a lifetime – beautiful scenery, wonderful cuisine and lasting friendships.

The next day we left for the Shannon airport at 6 a.m. and from there flew to London.  Twenty-one and a half hours later I was greeted at my front door by Dash the Wonder Dog.  Ireland was great, but so was coming home.

I know several people going to Ireland this year so in the spirit of sharing, here are my recommendations:

The Killarney Park Hotel:  This hotel is the only five-star hotel in Killarney and it’s easy to see how they gained their reputation.  The friendliness of the staff is beyond any I’ve ever experienced.  By our second day there they knew us by name and always went out of their way to help us.  The food and grounds are also magnificent.  You cannot go wrong at this hotel.

Killarney Tour and Taxi:  Jack Hayden is the owner of this business and his five stars on Trip Advisor are well deserved.  He is humorous, knowledgeable and a native of Kerry so he really knows his stuff.  He figured out very quickly that we did not want to see every church and cliff so he would slow down, we’d open a window, snap a photo, and off we went.  At times he insisted that we visit some historical sites and afterwards we were always glad he had. Besides his knowledge and humor, how can you go wrong with a guy who played “Red Solo Cup” so we could sing along?

Guerin’s Path to Cliff Walk:  As mentioned in my first Ireland post, Martin Guerin is a farmer who owns land that includes the visitors path at the Cliffs of Mohr.  Read my first post to learn more about it, but all I can say is his personal tour beats the Visitor’s Center hands down.

The Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder and Sheehan’s Pub are both terrific places to visit.  If you are lucky enough to be in Sheehan’s on a Saturday night you will most likely experience several “hen parties”, which only add to the experience.  Irish people are friendly and like to drag us into their shenanigans!

Mobile Passport App:   We were advised by our travel agent to download the app and it was some of the best advice we got.  We had pre-loaded it with our passport information and once we were taxiing to the gate in Phoenix we activated the passport clearance feature and we were through Passport Control in less than a minute.  It also came in handy as we passed the Gestapo agent at customs.

Diet:  Okay, not really a recommendation but more of a caution.  I was horrified when I got on the scale the day after my return.  Unfortunately, my eating and drinking in Ireland closely resembled the hog we saw at Bunratty Castle.  Oh well, I’ve got all summer to work the Guinness off my thighs.

IRISH DREAMS – PART TWO

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Carol Feller and her Groupies

Carol Feller and Groupies

Our visit to Ireland made clear why Irish eyes are smiling – friendly people, a pint of Guinness and perhaps a tot of Jameson’s gives the world a roseate hue.  We experienced all of that during the second part of our trip which focused on knitting – a passion we all share to the point of needing a 12-step program.  After our evening at the Celtic Whiskey Lounge and Sheehan’s Pub we sobered up the next morning for our class with Carol Feller.  As I wrote in my previous post, Carol Feller and Kieran Foley (more on him in a moment) are the equivalent of playing golf with Rory McElroy or Padraig Harrington.  I should note here that the Killarney Park Hotel was truly one of the finest hotels I’ve ever visited.  They are five star not only for their accommodations and food, but for their outstanding service.  On the morning of our class they provided us with a cozy room with a wood-burning fireplace and brought coffee for our enjoyment – all free of charge.   Carol spent more than three hours with us and was not only informative, but charming as well.  It seems to be an Irish trait.  Most of us have been knitting for decades but Carol provided us with some new tips and techniques, proving that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Some of our group had pre-ordered yarn from her while others said they would abstain.  After three hours with Carol everyone ordered mounds of yarn.  So much for willpower.

            The Dingle Peninsula

The following day we climbed into Jack’s van and embarked on a tour of the Dingle Peninsula.   The scenery, like everything else we’d seen in Ireland, was spectacular. The little town of Dingle is touristy and quaint at the same time.  It was here we experienced more Irish hospitality.  One member of our group stumbled and skinned her knee so we sought out first aid materials.  The local pharmacist didn’t just sell us the bandage and antibiotic ointment, she took it upon herself to clean and dress the wound herself.  Heck, I can barely get the staff at my local Walgreens to point me to the bandaid aisle. The waters surrounding the peninsula are crystal clear and the hillsides verdant, as one would expect in Ireland.  We had the opportunity to stop and pet some newly-minted lambs but, cute as they were, we declined.  I was struck by the many historical churches that remain along the route.  One is the Gallarus Oratory, a simple dry-stone structure built in the 12th century that  has remained waterproof and in near-perfect condition to the present day.

     Kilmaekeder Church and graveyard

Just as interesting is the Kilmaekeder Church, built in the mid-12th century on the grounds of a previous structure built in 636.  A stone from that period still sits on the alter.  The church grounds are filled with gravestones, some ancient and some rather recent (in fact one poor sod hadn’t actually been buried 6 feet under yet as the family was waiting for the headstone).  There were tributes to Irishmen killed by the English during The Uprising as well as markers for whole families that included listings of those who went to America and were lost at sea.  Once back in Killarney we traipsed over to dinner at the Ross Hotel’s Lane Café Bar.  The service was slow but the food was delicious.  I’d recommend it if you’re not in a hurry.

                  Us with Kieran Foley

The following day was our “marathon” day to Dublin.  The kind people at the hotel had a bag of pastries and fruit waiting for us as we left for the train station at 6:10 a.m.  The train service to and from Dublin was wonderful – clean, fast, and quiet.  Once in Dublin we headed for The Constant Knitter shop where we had a private trunk show with designer Kieran Foley.  Again, he was as kind and generous a person as one could hope to meet.  Are there any crabby people in Ireland????  Kieran brought out an array of his designs which are so complicated and intricate that I’d only contemplate starting one prior to entering the insane asylum.  Each piece is reminiscent of an Oriental carpet or fine piece of fabric.  We left him inspired to “up our game”.

After buying scads of yarn we we went in search of a great spot for lunch…and beer.  We ventured up to the Temple Bar area of Dublin (the featured picture this week) which is a hopping place, full of tourists and locals alike.  There is no end to the dining possibilities but we chose Boxty, which received rave reviews on Trip Advisor.  Once we were sated with Smithwicks lager and fish and chips we ventured to This Is Knit yarn shop. The store is elegant in design and content, located in the Powerscourt Townhouse building, a former mansion that has been transformed into a fabulous shopping center with a central atrium and boutique shops.  We bought more yarn, despite our resolve to be on a “yarn diet”.  From there we walked 40 minutes back to the train station for our return to Killarney.  When we dragged into the hotel at 8:30 p.m. we were greeted by hotel staff inquiring about our day and asking us about what we saw in Dublin.  I’m not sure they are used to anyone making Dublin into a “day trip”.

           We can smell the banana

Morning came too soon when we once again traveled in Jack’s van to Kinsale and Cork.  Kinsale is a darling seaside village, filled with cute shops and an outdoor market.  We could have spent several days there. We ambled in and out of the stores, buying knick knacks and two people bought beautiful leather purses fashioned by a local designer.  We relied on Trip Advisor again and ate lunch at Fishy Fishy, where we continued our quest of the perfect pairing of lager and fish and chips. Next we headed to Cork to visit Hedgehog Fibers.  Hedgehog is a very popular yarn, more so in the States than in Ireland.  In fact, we learned from all our Irish knitting contacts that the Irish like to spend money on food and drink, but not on yarn.  We bought MORE yarn (by now we were contemplating buying extra luggage) and then headed out to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.  We decided to go for broke, splurging on the premium whiskey tasting.  It turned out to be a wise decision.   We were taken to a private room where a young woman gave us the particulars of each whiskey we sampled.  I was tempted to chug one down but she instructed me that I needed to savor the banana, oak, berry, vanilla, honey, etc.  Geez, it all just tasted like whiskey to me.  I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to taste premium whiskey.  As we finished up she kind of chuckled and said, “I’ve worked here four years and have never had an all-woman group before.”  So…I guess we broke the glass ceiling for whiskey tasting!

Next week – castles and some final recommendations.  Slainte!

The Quarantine Has Ended – Come Back!

by Bob Sparrow

It’s not often I ask for your help, but I need it now. I understood your lack of interest in my King Tut blog – he was a whinny, spoiled millennial (just from a different millennium), but when the ‘hits’ for Suzanne’s adventure in Ireland dropped off like a prom dress, I knew something was amiss. I then heard from a friend who said that when he tried to open our blog he was told that if he opened it he would contract the Zeus virus. “Oh no!” I said, not having the foggiest idea of what a Zeus virus was. All I knew was that Suzanne was in Ireland and has left me in charge of our blog website, and I’ve somehow let them post a sign on our blog’s front door that read: VIRUS, KEEP AWAY – ‘QUARANTINED’.

This is just great.   Fortunately for me, Suzanne had discovered Guinness beer while in Ireland and after explaining to her that we had a virus that’s shutting down our website, blocking our blog and ending our writing career, such as it is, she texted me back with, and I quote, “I’m in the Killarney Park Hotel bar and don’t give a shit about the blog.” That wasn’t Suzanne talking, that was the Guinness talking.

Nevertheless, I immediately leaped into action – OK, ‘leaping into action’ may be a bit of an overstatement; I actually just sat there dumbfounded and wondered ‘what the hell is a virus and how did we get it?’ I try to wash my hands every time after I go to the bathroom.   I felt certain that Google would have an answer for me, so I took a deep dive into polymorphic, multipartite and F.A.T. viruses – I was almost certain I had that FAT thing, but I digress. I was more confused than ever after my journey through Google’s virus explanation and asked myself, ‘what if I find out that we have the dreadful ‘Storm Worm’ virus, that Windows Trojan horse that forms the Storm Botnet?!!! I could be on a ten-foot ladder and that stuff would still go over my head. I needed professional help; OK that’s another story, but I mean I needed some tech help. Who do you call? Do I contact Facebook, where our blog appears? Or do I contact WordPress, who is the publishing platform? Or do I contact GoDaddy, where we got our domain name and is the website host? Or do I just look for some ‘cookies’ and forget about the whole thing?

GoDaddy was the only one I could ‘call’, the rest wanted me to send an email and wait for a reply. I had a virus and I needed some immediate attention! As it turns out GoDaddy had a solution, for a small fee, they would scan for malware, adware, spyware and underwear, I think. OK, perhaps I don’t completely understand all that went on and how we got the virus and how it was fixed, but we are now virus-free and encouraging you all to tune into Part II of Suzanne’s Ireland trip next week. I will let her know that everything here ran like clockwork in her absence.

Also, just as a precaution, don’t forget to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.

IRISH DREAMS – PART ONE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

A beautiful start!

”Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking.  I apologize for the late departure but this aircraft came from London and we’re missing one of the engines”.  MISSING AN ENGINE???   How do you misplace an engine? This was not the start to our Ireland trip that I had imagined.  But apparently it was “only” the tail engine so across the Atlantic we went.  Of course, I didn’t sleep a wink, despite the lovely bed and a rather good glass of red wine.  While my fellow slackers in the upper deck slept, I was on alert all night trying to detect further engine issues.  At last, after too many hours to count and a second flight from London to Shannon, we arrived just in time for the spectacular sunset pictured (left).  As we stopped to take the photo a Irishman commented, “Oh, that’s a good omen for your holiday.”  And so our wonderful time in Ireland began.

Martin Guerin

Jack, our tour guide for the week picked us up the next morning for a drive to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher.  In my previous post I spoke about Jack and the rave reviews he receives on Trip Advisor and this first outing proved why his reputation is so good.  Rather than taking us to the Cliffs’ visitor center, filled with SIXTEEN tour buses and too many cars to count, he escorted us onto a private drive and introduced us to Martin Guerin.  Martin and his family have farmed their land adjacent to the Cliffs for generations but have just recently started their touring business, Guerins Path (http://www.guerinspath.com/).

Martin’s photo of us on his property at the Cliffs

There are several benefits to viewing the Cliffs with Martin.  The first is Martin himself, who is as charming and knowledgeable a person as one could hope to find.  He gave us great insight into the history of the local area, including the legends of the Lost City of Atlantis and Hag’s Head, as well as describing the unique Liscannor stone that the region is famous for.  Second is that he has given right of way to the visitor center for the path along the Cliffs, but he still owns it.  So walking up the trail on his farm one ends up at the most spectacular spot on the whole of the Cliffs.  It would be a 20 minute uphill walk from the visitor center to get to this spot. The third benefit is that if the weather is inclement or someone in your party is unable to walk up the trail, he can drive right up to the path.  I can’t recommend him highly enough so if you’re planning on visiting the Cliffs of Moher, avoid the throngs of camera-clicking tourists and arrange a tour with Martin.  You will thank me for it, trust me.

After visiting the Cliffs we were ready for some lunch and once again, Jack proved his worth.  As we drove into the cute town of Doolin, we passed several bus loads of people lined up at restaurants.  Jack drove us a few blocks further where we lunched with locals at McDermott’s Pub.  The food was delicious and plentiful and it was here that I learned my travel mates love beer.  I tried Guinness for the first time and fell in love with its dark, smoky flavor.  I did recall someone told me that there were as many carbs in a pint of dark stout as a whole loaf of bread but I chose to chalk that up to an old wive’s tale.

The Kerry Woolen Mill

Saturday morning Jack took us on a tour of the Ring of Kerry.  Knowing his audience, he first stopped at the Kerry Woolen Mills, who have been spinning yarns for over 300 years and are one of two remaining woolen mills in Ireland.  We loved the tour, which took us from the raw shearing to beautiful cones of yarn.  They do custom weaving here as well and each piece was a work of art.

Jack finally dragged us away from the yarn and we continued the tour.  The scenery around the Ring of Kerry is spectacular, which is why it is such a popular tourist attraction.  There is nothing like it in the world.  We stopped for lunch – and more Guinness – and viewed the Skelligs Islands, which were featured in the last Star Wars movie.  The highlight of the afternoon was a stop at the Skelligs Chocolate factory where we felt it only polite to sample and purchase their wares.

Finally, back in Killarney we cleaned up and then walked to the Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder for dinner.  It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made – great food, great whiskey and beer sampling, and good people watching.  And then on the way home, we just happened to stumble into Sheehan’s Pub where an Irish group was playing and the crowd of locals was welcoming.  We sang and laughed with abandon for an hour.

Finally back at our hotel I had one thought: It should be illegal to have this much fun.

A Visit with King Tutankhamen

Steve Martin, not King Tut

You’ve probably heard the name King Tut, and perhaps, like me, one of the first things that comes to mind is Steve Martin’s wild and crazy song and dance back in 1978. But, you knew at some level there really was a King Tut, he was from Egypt, fairly young and . . . OK, maybe that’s about it. If that’s the case, come with me now as I go back in time over 3,000 years, and it seemed that way as I slugged my way through L.A. traffic to see the latest exhibit of King Tut at Exhibition Park, next to the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Our first stop is the seven-story screen of the IMAX Theater showing The Mysteries of Egypt. Stay with me, as it’s only about 20 minutes long and it’s actually very interesting, even if Egyptology isn’t your thing. The film tells the story of why King Tut’s tomb was so hard to find. Prior to his death in 1323 B.C. Egypt buried their Pharaohs inside massive pyramids, but since they also buried many treasures with them, so they could have them in their ‘after-life’, burglars were able to easily find these treasures and use them in ‘now life’ – as you can probably figure out, the pyramids weren’t that hard for the burglars to locate. So they started burying their Pharaohs out in the vast desert known as the Valley of the Kings.

After five unsuccessful archaeological trips to Egypt to find Tut’s burial place, the sixth time was the charm for British archaeologist, Howard Carter, who unearthed the buried tomb in 1922.

Valley of the Kings

After the movie and before we go into the exhibit hall, we need a quick crash course on the amazing story of this ‘boy king’. You think politics is crazy now, here’s some stuff that was going on in the 1330s B.C.:

  • King Tut’s mother was his father’s sister
  • He became king of Egypt at the age of 9
  • He married that year to his half-sister, a 13-year old named Ankhesenpaaten, who later changed her name to Ankhesenamun, obviously to make the spelling of her name easier. Legos, Playstation and a new bicycle were items on their wedding gift list.
  • They had two stillborn daughters – one at 5 months, the other at 9 months (How do they know that stuff????)
  • He really didn’t rule, he had ‘handlers’ who made all the decisions

He wasn’t really what one might see as a majestic royal figure. He was slight of build, large front incisors, with an overbite, a slightly cleft palate, irregular curvature of the spine and a fused neck. He had a clubbed left foot, which necessitated a cane for walking most of his life. DNA samples of his bones show that he had the first known infectious malaria disease.  Other than that he was a picture of health.

He died when he was 18, but how he died has been the subject of a lot of speculation – there are at least 5 working theories:

  1. Murdered – he (and/or his handlers) had lots of enemies
  2. An accident – probably murder made to look like an accident
  3. Sickle cell disease – due to his abnormally shaped red blood cells
  4. Gangrene from an infection from a broken leg
  5. Congenital conditions coming as a child of incest

It seems strange to me that we know the gestation period of his wife’s two stillborn children, but don’t have a clue as to how he died!  Keep digging!!

King Tut’s Burial Mask

Oh yes, on to the Exhibit Hall; actually after reading about the search for his tomb and his interesting life, the actual artifacts found in his tomb, many on display here, are a little less interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful pieces, over 5,000 of them were found in the tomb, things like furniture, jewelry, chariots, food and of course his golden coffin and the iconic mask.

If you go . . . The exhibit will be here until January 2019; if you go during the school year you’ll be accosted by thousands of L.A. elementary school children on a field trip as I was, yelling, fighting and throwing food – I’d go during the summer or on a weekend, but I’d go.  Another tip, when you go to the gift shop don’t by the King Tut CD, he recorded it before his voice changed and he sounds more like Cleopatra.

BACK TO THE OLD SOD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2017 was a hard year – friends died, good buddies moved away, and I didn’t lose the five pounds I so optimistically recorded on my New Year’s resolutions.  So when I saw a sign in a gift store that said, “Life is Short.  Take the trip.  Buy the shoes.  Eat the cake.”, I took it to heart.  In fairness, I’ve never had an issue with the cake part of the affirmation.  In fact, eating cake is right in my wheelhouse.  But I’m not a good shopper and my travels are limited to occasional trips with my nieces and our summer road trips.  As a life-long knitter I’ve always dreamed of going to the British Isles or Ireland but year after year I put it off.  Until I read that sign.  Exactly a year ago this week I asked a few friends if they would like to go on a knitting trip to one of my dream destinations.  They all responded a resounding “YES!” So next week we’re embarking on a nine day trip to Ireland, which we have dubbed the “Irish Princess Tour”.

Why ‘Princess?’  Because we decided that if we’re going to go, we’re going to go in style.  We are flying from Phoenix to London on a British Air 747 in the Upper Deck.  Riding “upstairs” has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I recall many years ago flying from San Francisco to New York on a 747 but I was “stuck” in business class down below.  This time, I was going to make it to the upper deck or bust!  We also decided that we would rather stay in one location rather than constantly pack and re-pack our bags.  After all, the weather this time of year is still a bit chilly and rainy so numerous layers, requiring lots of clothing options, are required.  We concluded that Killarney is centrally located, has good restaurants, and more importantly, plenty of pubs.  So we selected the Killarney Park Hotel, which I discovered after the fact, is the same hotel brother Bob and his wife Linda stayed in when they visited Killarney.  Apparently the KPH is a Sparrow tradition!

My husband helping me get into the spirit – or spirits.

Once we had our plane and hotel reservations we began to work on what would occupy our time.  Here is where another good life lesson was learned.  There is a very famous knitwear designer, Carol Feller, who lives in Cork, about an hour away from Killarney.  She does many large group classes for the Irish Tourism Board tours and we were a bit disappointed that we could not join in the tour’s classes.  Mustering up my courage, and on the premise that the worst she could say was “no”, I emailed her and asked if we could visit her studio and have a private class for the five of us.  She emailed me back within hours to say not only would she do the class, she will come up to our hotel to do it.  Armed with my newfound confidence in asking strangers for favors, I emailed a yarn store in Dublin that we’re visiting and not only did she respond that she will greet us with tea and biscuits, but that she’s arranged for Kieran Foley to give us a private trunk show.  Okay, by now most of you have glossed over Carol Feller and Kieran Foley so let me put it in terms you might relate to: it is the knitting equivalent of a golfer getting a lesson from Rory McElroy or Padraig Harrington.

One of the wonderful aspects of this trip is that there is another Type “A” on it!  While I arranged the knitting end of things, my friend Patsy worked on many other aspects, most importantly our touring agenda.  We knew that big bus tours are not for us – we’ve all had the experience of people in a group that are so annoying that you spend half your time ducking them.  Patsy did some research on Trip Advisor and found Jack at Killarney Taxi and Tours.   Jack, it turns out, is a treasure.  It’s little wonder he gets rave reviews.  Not only does he have wonderful recommendations, he acknowledged that we might want to spend a “wee bit of time in the pubs” AND he’s taking us to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory.  I love this guy already.

To top it off, well be spending our last night in Ireland at Dromoland Castle.  Yes – a real castle for fake princesses!  At the time we made the reservation the exchange rate between the Euro and the dollar was much better.  If it keeps climbing at the current pace we may be Princess Dishwashers.  Finally, I got my Ancestry DNA results in last week and I’m 20% Irish.  More about that after my brother gets his results and we find out if we’re really related.  In the mean time, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to  be 100% Irish, visiting its wild coasts, singing “Ireland’s Call” at a few pubs and paying homage to my ancestors.  I’ll keep you posted.  They do have bail bondsmen in Ireland, don’t they?

A New California Land Rush

by Bob Sparrow

“There’s gold in them thar weeds!”

Welcome to Desert Hot Springs

Not unlike the California gold rush of ’49, there is a land rush going on in the northwest corner of Coachella Valley, now know as the Coachillin’ Valley.  To paraphrase an old saying from the ‘60s, if you can remember what you did in Desert Hot Springs, you weren’t there! I recently returned from a ‘trip’ to this windy city and was amazed at what’s happening there and what it’s doing to the local real estate market. For example, six months ago a gentleman bought 5 acres of brush-pocked desert for $200,000 and just recently sold it for $1,000,000. A recent real estate ad showed 2.85 acres of raw desert for sale for $1,544,325. So why does this hot, windy seemingly god-forsaken corner of the desert command these kind of prices? The land grab in Desert Hot Springs (DHS) is because it is the first Southern California city to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation. You won’t see the marijuana growing out in the open desert; the land that is being purchased will accommodate large warehouses, and I mean large, like 3,000,000 square feet, where marijuana plants are fed by hundreds of lights and an automated irrigation system. Giant tanks pump in CO2 while computers control air conditioners that regulate temperatures through the plants’ life cycle. It has clearly become the ‘Cannabis Capital’ of the country.  The locals now affectionately call their city Desert Pot Springs.

One of many spacious warehouses

For decades, Desert Hot Springs had relied on its ‘miracle’  mineral waters and nude spa resorts to lure tourists to this tumbleweed town. It is home to the largest collection of warm mineral springs in the United States, but the population of some 28,000 people have mostly suffered. A third of its residents lived in poverty and the city filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2001. A housing bust seven years later deepened the fallout. Now land values, the building industry and marijuana growing are creating jobs and starting to make this city rich.  To say the least, it’s created a buzz.

The mayor of DHS, Scott Matas seems to be fairly buzzed as the projected income to the city within the next couple of years will add approximately $10 million annually to the city coffers and upwards of $25 million within 8 years. The mayor actually gets giddy when he is reminded that California is voting this coming November on the legal use of recreational marijuana . . . and you know how we Californians love to recreate. The mayor may also be thinking of doing some creative advertising by reversing the engines on all those energy-generating windmills in his city and start blowing some of that wacky-tabaccy smoke toward Los Angeles.

While the tony neighboring cities of Palm Springs and Indian Wells have malls filled with expensive fashion accessories, DHS has malls filled with pot paraphernalia and brownie shops. Today the standard greeting in DHS sounds the same, “Hi”, but it’s spelled a little differently and asked as a question, “High?” It won’t be long before new streets around these mega-warehouses are given names like Pot Place, Cannabis Circle, Weed Way and Doobie Drive. It wouldn’t surprise me if they renamed a section of the freeway that runs by DHS in honor of former president, Bill Clinton, from I-10 to I-Never-Inhaled.

Soon when traveling on I-10 past DHS, all you’ll have to do is roll your window down and take a deep breath; but you’ll never be able to run for president.

 

 

 

WHY WE WRITE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Capt Jim Gribbin and a Vietnamese soldier

People frequently ask me why Bob and I write this blog every week.  I’m not sure whether the emphasis is on the “why” but I’m choosing to believe that they are just interested in our motivation.  After all, we have been posting something weekly since August 2012, without missing a deadline and we have received exactly $0 for our efforts.  Sure, some posts are better than others (Bob’s trips, for example) but we have yet to resort to reporting on our root canals or colonoscopies.  The truth is that both of us love to write. We also love each other and this weekly exercise requires that we stay in frequent contact.  To us, that’s reason enough to pound something out on a regular basis.  But two weeks ago a third reason unveiled itself in the person of Bridget Lesnick.

I received a Facebook Messenger note from Bridget saying that I don’t know her but that she had read my blog about the boys from Novato High School who died in Vietnam and she wanted to ask me a few questions.  I was instantly on alert.  After all, Facebook is not exactly the most trusted company these days and I had visions of a Nigerian prince asking me for money.  But Bridget went on to explain that she was participating in a GORUCK endurance event honoring members of the Special Forces who had died around the date of the event.  She had selected Jim Gribbin, one of the boys I write about each Memorial Day, who died on March 17, 1970.  She reached out to me in hopes of learning more about him so she could tell his story to her fellow endurance participants.

Before I answered her message I decided to look up GORUCK to see if it was really a “thing”.  Sure enough, it not only is a thing, it is quite a remarkable thing.  The GORUCK company manufactures military-quality gear for civilian use.  It was founded by Jason McCarthy, a man who enlisted in the Special Forces as a result of 9/11.  His is an inspiring story that you can read about on the company’s website here: https://www.goruck.com/our-founders-story/.

Bridget’s GORUCK starting line

Jason has enlisted what he refers to as “the Cadre”, made up of former Special Forces members, to lead GORUCK events across the United States aimed at helping individuals and teams overcome adversity and lead active, empowered lives.  The events range from Light to OH MY GOD WHAT WAS I THINKING? (my term, not theirs).  Every event entails moving with weight on your back, combining strength and cardio.  Each team is expected to organize itself and choose a cause that makes their community a better place in which to live.

So…once I learned about GORUCK I responded back to Bridget, with a renewed sense of respect.  I told her a bit more about Jim and sent her photos from our high school yearbook of him in his football uniform and as an officer of a service club that was raising money for a poor village in Mexico.  Looking back, and knowing that Jim would eventually succumb to wounds suffered trying to rescue his squad, it seemed his desire to serve and protect others was a life-long trait.  I asked her to let me know how it went and last Friday I heard back from her, complete with photos.

Bridget with her ruck and photo of Jim

She said that the event was great – she actually completed TWO events that spanned 17 hours and covered 25 miles of New York City. She said that she proudly wore Jim’s photo on her ruck and honored him in the best way she knew how.  Her ruck weighed 30 pounds and she wore it the entire – freezing – night.  She started the first event at 7 p.m., finishing up at 6:30 a.m.  She then took a breather and did the second event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Every person in her group had selected a member of the Special Forces who had died within the dates of the event and they all wore a photo of the person on their ruck.  I can barely get my 10,000 steps per day completed so to say that I was impressed by Bridget and her team’s accomplishments is a vast understatement.

Two weeks ago I knew nothing about GORUCK or their events.  I now know a bit more and my gratitude and admiration are endless.   I admire Jason and his team for their work in our communities.  Oftentimes we don’t hear about the “good” news going on everyday by ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  I am especially heartened by Bridget and all those like her that care enough to remember those that we’ve lost in war.  I wish that Jim’s parents were still alive so they could see that their son’s memory is being honored in this way, 48 years after his death.  But for now, it’s enough for me to know that one of my high school mates is remembered and that this blog, in part, has helped in that.

 

 

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday

by Bob Sparrow

Not the breakfast of Champions!

Saturday – Breakfast at the Sun Diner where it was confirmed, with menu items like Crème Brulee Cinnamon French Toast (which I ordered – photo at left) and Banana Foster Pancakes, that we were not at a health spa eating kale and chia seeds. We also realized that beer for breakfast here is not all that unusual and we certainly didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by being the only ones not drinking a beer at 9:00 in the morning.

The streets filled quickly with people on this Saturday as we once again found great acoustical music coming from every bar on Broadway, which was virtually every door except those selling cowboy hats and boots. We discovered that Nashville is the Bachelor and Bachelorette Party capital of the world. And most interesting was these partiers’ various modes of transportation up and down Broadway. There was the ‘Fall Off the Wagon’ pulled by a John Deere tractor, there was the ‘Pedal Tavern’, the ‘Party Barge’ and a couple of other ‘boat floats’, one called the ‘Tip Sea’ and another called ‘Ship Faced’.

Our fear of not getting enough to drink prompted us to sign up for a late afternoon ‘Pub Crawl’, where we met up with other ‘crawlers’ from Boston, Michigan and Indiana. Our ‘Crawl Master’ gave us some history of whiskey, Nashville and Civil War General Joseph Hooker, where he perpetrated the myth that Hooker provided his men with loose women after a hard day on the battlefield and thus the name ‘hooker’ was coined. Not true, but makes for a good story, especially after a few of beers. Our crawl ended at a karaoke bar called the Wild Beaver Saloon, where Pam rode, but not for very long, the mechanical bull. All our ladies got on stage and sang Don’t Stop Believing – you won’t hear that rendition at the next Grammy’s ceremony.   We then decided we needed to get something in our stomach besides alcohol and found a place, don’t ask me the name of it, at that point I could barely remember my own name, but it had a great upstairs patio that overlooked the Cumberland River and Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. Most of us ordered brisket, which we still hadn’t had yet.  Shortly after we ordered our server returned and told us they were out of brisket. Out of brisket!! That should be a felony in Nashville. We ordered something else, I don’t remember what, I do remember that it wasn’t brisket. After dinner we hit Margaritaville and a few more bars on Broadway, because we clearly hadn’t had enough to drink, and finally made it back to the hotel and crashed. No, now I remember we had to have one more drink at the hotel – thank goodness the bar was still open!

As a switch, the bull slings Pam

Sunday – Up at the crack of 10:30 – 11:00 and met a friend of Patrick’s and his family for breakfast at the Southern. Yes, Patrick has a friend everywhere; this is the same Patrick who ran into someone he knew when we were in Kathmandu, Nepal! There was a slight sprinkle after breakfast, but not enough to keep Linda and me from doing one last lap around Broadway. We walked up to Printer’s Alley, which at the beginning of the 1900s was home to a thriving printing industry, with two large newspapers, 10 print shops and 13 publishers, and by the ‘40s it was the hub of the nightclub scene in Nashville, but now it’s pretty quiet.

Having finished a big breakfast an hour or so ago, Linda asks if I still want to get some brisket; we agreed that if we could find it somewhere before we leave, we’d have to force it down. She recalled the name of a spot that was recommended to her, called Martin’s BBQ Place.   We find it and there is a long line to get in. We say we are just going in to look around – which we were, honest, and squeezed by everyone in line and once inside climbed the stair to an upstairs patio and bar, which was not very crowded. We ask the bartender if we could order a brisket here, he says yes, so we waited for our brisket and ordered a beer from their interesting selection – Hog Wash and A Beer Named Sue to name a frew. After a four-day search, we finally got our brisket. It was delicious!!! We saved some and brought it back to Patrick and Pam, with whom we were flying home.

Nashville Travel Recommendations: If you’re over 40, absolutely get to the Grand Ole Opry for a radio show, cruise Broadway during the day, forget about the diet you’re on and have brisket early and often.

Nashville – Thursday & Friday

by Bob Sparrow

Nashville’s Broadway

Preface – Yes, I know I wrote a story a couple of years ago about going to Nashville, but it was really Linda and Dana who went and I wrote about it vicariously. And OK yes, my last blog was about a hot air balloon ride that I never took, but I really did go to Nashville this time . . . honest! Linda and I went with three other neighborhood couples, Patrick & Pam, Mike & Tanis and Bob & Jeanne, and had a ball.

Thursday – A direct flight from L.A. to Nashville got us into town with time enough to check into our hotel and get to the Predator-Duck hockey game which was at nearby Bridgestone Arena. The Ducks, who were hot, having won 7 of their last 10 games, ran into a Predator buzz saw that had won 8 games in a row. Make it 9 – they handily beat the Ducks 4-2. The most impressive part of the evening was the Predator fans – they were the most involved fans I’ve ever seen. After the Predators scored a goal they would all chant in unison, “Gibson (Ducks’ goalie), you suck, you suck, you suck, it was all your fault!” After the Ducks scored, you could hear a pin drop in the arena. After the game it was just a block’s walk to Music City’s main street, Broadway. One of the first things you notice here is construction cranes on every block, scaffolding on many building and sidewalks torn up – this city is growing in leaps and bounds.

In front of Grand Ole Opry

We stayed out for a couple of hours moving from bar to bar, each with a different singing group playing. To be honest, if this would have been my only exposure to Nashville, I would have

gone home disappointed, as the music was very loud (all electric, no acoustical guitar) and mostly commercial rock, not country, with wall-to-wall people in every bar, difficult to get a drink (that was over-priced) and impossible to find a place to sit down.

At the end of the evening we walked the four blocks back to our hotel and were spared the rain that was predicted, but it was bit of a chilly evening, getting down to 28 degrees. I went to bed hoping that tomorrow would be a better day – it was!

Friday – We walked a few blocks from the hotel and found a great southern breakfast place, Milk & Honey replete with Chicken & Waffles and Hodgepodge – a mix of . . . quite honestly I don’t remember everything that was in it but it was really good!

After breakfast we waddled back to Broadway and 2nd Avenue, where I found the Nashville I was looking for – acoustic guitars, songs where you could understand the words and groups with tight harmonies. Yes, music in Music City starts with live bands right after breakfast!  I was particularly impressed with two bands, both of which had female singers who played the fiddle and sang great harmony. That’s more like it!!!

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a good brisket for lunch, we headed out of town to the Grand Ole Opry. It used to be located right downtown in the Ryman Auditorium, in fact the Opry was there from 1943 to 1974 when it was decided it needed a bigger room with better parking, so it’s now about 20 minutes out of town. We booked a ‘Back Stage Tour’, which included a look at all the dressing rooms and pictures on the wall that tell the history of the Opry. It is quite a magical place. We all got to go on the stage and as you can see in the photo, I was given a special accommodation. OK, that’s bullshit, but everything else is true. After the tour we walked next door to the fabulous Gaylord Hotel; if you’ve ever been to any of the four Gaylord Hotels in the U.S. you know they are extravagantly fabulous, with a huge atrium in the center with a river running through it. We had dinner at the Jack Daniels Restaurant and felt obligated to order some Jack Daniels – just to try to fit in. Still no brisket, but a very tasty smoked prime rib! After dinner we walked back to the Grand Ole Opry for the Friday night radio show.

Darci Lynne

A radio show is broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry every Friday, Saturday and Tuesday night, it originated in 1925 as a one-hour radio ‘barn dance’ broadcast on WSM. You can still hear Friday’s and Saturday’s show on Sirius XM radio Channel 59 Willie’s Roadhouse. This night there were a total of 11 acts each singing 2-3 songs, featuring The Oakridge Boys, Riders in the Sky and Darci Lynne, the 13 year old ventriloquist who won America’s Got Talent last year, making her Opry debut. Of the 11 acts some had hits on today’s charts and some were from the country Jurassic period, but all were good. There was also a comedian Gary Mule Deer – hilarious!! Look him up on YouTube.

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday on Thursday