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Getting into the Christmas Spirits

by Bob Sparrow

Thuringia, Germany

Suzanne’s blog last week mentioned that the town of Thuringia, Germany as the birthplace of Christmas decorations and also may be known for its beer, and that I would be more likely to write about that, the beer. Well if that wasn’t throwing down the gauntlet then I don’t know what was.  So . . . I did a little research on this quaint little town and have found that it is indeed steeped in Christmas traditions, among them is a keen appreciation of holiday hooch. To wit: During what they call the Advent season, which begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, people there gather together and drink Gluhwein, a mixture of red wine, sugar and winter spices; add a shot of rum and you’ve got a Gluhwein mit Schuss, you’ve also got a headache in the morning.

So while you may not need a guide to traditional Christmas cheer like Peace on Earth Good Will Towards Men’ (and Women we presume) or as The Elf says, The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”, I personally like Dave Barry’s Christmas cheer, “Once again we come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observe in our own way by going to the mall of our choice.” There is of course the holiday cheer reminding us to Jingle all the way, no one likes a half-assed jingler.’

This blog however is about the ‘other’ Christmas cheer, the one that we can consume and often times helps us get into the Christmas spirit or simply helps us get through the ‘Holidaze’.  In the event you don’t have access to Gluhwein mit Schuss, here’s your imbibing guide to, and definitions of, some traditional Christmas cheer, along with their country of origin:

Christmas beer – Germany (official definition): A seasonal beer brewed for consumption at Christmas (Duh!). It is usually strong and spiced with a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, orange peel, cloves and vanilla.  I guess it’s still beer, it just doesn’t taste like it.

Wassail – England: The word comes from an Old English word for ‘healthful’ and is a beverage of hot mulled cider, originally not an alcoholic drink, but we took care of that little shortcoming as modern recipes start with a base of wine or mulled ale with either brandy or sherry added.

Hot Buttered Rum – Colonial America: How do you go wrong with butter and rum in anything? (These two ingredients along with some brown sugar and bananas makes a wonderful Bananas Foster dessert, but I digress).  This traditional holiday beverage is typically sweetened and spiced with such things as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Toddy – Ireland: Yes, a Hot Toddy is different from a Hot Buttered Rum, as it is made with whiskey, hot water and honey; some recipes add herbs and spices. Some believe it relieves the symptoms of a cold or flu as the honey soothes while the alcohol numbs. Forget CVS you need to get to BevMo.

If you’re not a traditionalist there are plenty of modern holiday cocktails that will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit, like a Poinsettia Spritz Punch, a Pomegranate and Peppermint Moscow Mule or a Gingerbread Latte with Caramel Sugar.  However, if you still find yourself in a ‘Bah Humbug’ mood, I’d recommend a shot of tequila and a regular beer back, no cinnamon, no cloves, no nutmeg.  Country of origin?  My house.

Hoping you get into the Christmas spirits one way or the other this season. Cheers!

 

THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

People may not agree on much these days, but I think everyone believes that life as we know it has become more stressful.  Over the past couple of weeks I noticed a strange manifestation of that – lots of people put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.  Almost seems sacrilegious to me, but then I’m a big devotee of pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes so I don’t like anyone messing around with a holiday devoted to eating.  Still, I get it.  If an Elf on the Shelf or Hanukah menorah brings some joy to the world then I say go for it.  That said, I read the other day that the latest trend in decorations is the upside down Christmas tree.  I got to wondering … why?  Why mess with a perfectly good tradition that has held us in good stead lo these many years?  So I did some research, only to discover that upside down trees are believed to have been a “thing” dating back to ancient times.  History on this is a little sketchy since there was no official paper of record back in the Middle Ages but I’ll try my best to capture the genesis of this rather odd custom.

The history of the upside down Christmas Tree has its roots in the 7th century. It is during this period that St Boniface journeyed from Devonshire, England to Germany to preach the message of God.   He engaged himself in religious as well as social work and spent a lot of his time in Thuringia, a town believed to be the birthplace of the Christmas decoration industry.  So we can infer that Hallmark’s original corporate headquarters was, in fact, in Germany.  I think Thuringia is also known for beer but that’s a subject better covered by my brother.  It is believed that while St. Boniface was in Thuringia he used the triangular fir tree to represent the Holy Trinity as he tried to convert the pagan population.  One can only imagine what the native peoples thought of a guy trying to tell them that the local conifer had something to do with the Creation.  But apparently he was the Steve Jobs of his time because the converted people started to worship the Fir tree as God’s Tree.  By the 12th century it became a custom, especially in Europe, to hang the Fir trees upside down from the ceilings to symbolize the Holy Trinity. The Upside down Christmas Trees also signified that the household was one that practiced Christianity. That’s the best history has to offer us on the upside down tree.  The real history behind the hanging of Christmas Trees upside down still remains vague. Nowadays the tip of the Christmas Tree is made to point towards Heaven, as many think that an upside down Christmas tree is a sign of contempt.  Hmmmmm, given the current social climate, maybe that’s why the upside down tree has become popular.

In any event, my very limited search for upside down Christmas trees resulted in a very surprising discovery.  Walmart is selling a large variety of them this year online.  That wasn’t the surprising part since Walmart seems to sell everything.  The shock came when I looked at the price.  The most expensive one sells for an astounding $910.00!!  Apparently wanting to say “up yours” with your Christmas tree is not an inexpensive proposition.  The cheapest one was $150.00, which still seems like a lot of money for a fake tree.  The larger conundrum is WHO at Walmart is buying these trees?  If photos on the internet are to be believed, most Walmart shoppers wear holey sweat pants and muscle shirts with stains on them.  Definitely underwear is optional, and if worn, is usually peeking out of baggy pants or spandex tops three sizes too small for the wearer.  But who am I to question the marketing geniuses at Walmart? I’m just not sure that the typical Walmart shopper wants to fork over a week’s paycheck on a tree when they can furnish their entire house if they hit the blue light special just right.  Then again, I may be underestimating just how stupidly people can spend their money.  As for me, I’m on my out to buy “A Christmas Story” leg lamp.  Now that’s a smart investment.

 

Cowboys or Indians

by Bob Sparrow

As kids, my brother Jack and I always played cowboys and Indians, because we didn’t have computer games, heck we didn’t even have television until we were almost teenagers! But we had a local movie theater where we saw a lot of cowboy and Indian movies. The cowboys were always the good guys and the Indians were always the bad guys, worse than bad guys, they were portrayed as ignorant savages! When we played, of course I always wanted to be the cowboy and I was, because Jack always wanted to be the Indian, even though he knew he was the underdog and would ultimately lose. Because he was my older, bigger brother, he may have won a battle or two with me, but in the movies the Indians never won, but that didn’t stop him from always rooting for them. This was long before ‘political correctness’ necessitated our empathy for the plight of the Native American. So growing up I always thought that Indians were a savage people that we needed to eliminate in order to carry out our ‘Manifest Destiny’.

Crazy Horse

I liked the Lone Ranger, Jack liked Tonto. I liked Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Randolph Scott; he liked Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Geronimo. His favorite movie is Dancing With Wolves, and while I can barely remember that Kevin Costner was in the movie, he remembers the name, Doris Leader Charge, the 60-year old Indian women who was a university professor and was hired to teach the Indians in  the movie the Lakota Sioux dialect that was use by the real Indians at the time. Jack never protested or overtly beat the tom-tom for Indian rights, but he would point out the differences in how the Indian versus the white man managed our natural resources, to wit:

“White man builds big fire and stands way back, Indian build small fire and sit very close.”

“The Indians never killed an animal where they didn’t use all of the parts – the meat, the innards, the fur, the head, the claws, the teeth.”

Apposed to William Cody who was purported to have killed 4,282 buffalo in 18 months and in a contest for the rights to use the name ‘Buffalo Bill’, killed 68 buffalo in an hour; and left them on the plains to rot.

Over the years I’ve become more sensitive to the Indian’s plight, reading several books about their struggles to keep their culture alive here in their native land; my eyes were also opened during a hike through the Havasupai Indian reservation in the Grand Canyon area where I witnessed how we have failed to assimilate these Indians into our culture and how it has adversely affected them.

Pechanga Indian

So on the Friday after Thanksgiving I felt the need to do a little more research on a local Indian tribe named the Payomkawichum, which translates into ‘People of the West’.  To say these people are indigenous to southern California is an understatement, they’ve inhabited the land here for over 10,00 years. Their name was changed by the Spaniard missionaries to the Luisenos, probably because Payomkawichum was too hard to pronounce.  Now they are more familiarly known as the Pechanga Indians – officially the Pechanga Band of the Luiseno Indian Tribe. My research took me to Temecula and the largest Indian casino in California, Pechanga Resort and Casino. Immediately sensing that I needed to spend more than one day doing my research, I booked a room for two nights.

The latest Pechanga reservation

I discovered that apparently these Indians were really into games of chance as there were over 3,400 slot machines in the place as well as tables for blackjack, poker, craps (not with dice, that’s illegal for some reason!) and various other wagering games. Now, being empathetic to the Indian cause thanks to my brother, I felt obligated to contribute in some way to their well-being. I was comfortable at first with my initial financial donation, but after the first day of ‘research’ I found that I was being more philanthropic than I had anticipated. Thinking of everything, the Indians were able to provide me with a handy ATM machine to access more donation funds.

I slept well that night, knowing that in some small way, OK maybe not so small, I had helped provide shelter and sustenance for some Native Americans. I knew that in games of chance you win some and you lose some and I was now positioned to ‘win some’. Saturday came full of hope and the good feeling of knowing that I had donated significantly to a worthy cause and perhaps I would be rewarded with a small token of appreciation.

Those damn Indians! Where was my ‘win some’?! I pay $7 for a beer and over $450 a night for a room and this is how I get rewarded?

I guess this is what I get for always being the cowboy as a kid.

OH, FOR THE LOVE OF DOG

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This month we have the confluence of two events – Dash’s 5th birthday and Thanksgiving.  Since so many of our readers are animal lovers I am dedicating this week’s blog to dogs – something for which we can truly be grateful.

Dash with Daddy on his first day home

“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”  Roger A. Caras

I lost my last dog in 1983 and longed for one every day after that.  I desperately wanted to replace her, but my husband kept pointing out that with our work and travel schedules it just wasn’t fair to the dog.  Frankly, I think he just didn’t want to pick up dog poop, but I had to admit he was right – we were too busy.  Still, life felt empty without a dog.  Finally, in 2012 we dog-sat for our kids while they were on vacation and, to his credit, my husband saw how much I loved having a dog by my side.  He told me to start looking for a puppy.  Much research later, I was referred to Kelly Collins of Spice Rack Cavaliers.  When we went to interview her (and her, us!) I was a bit nervous about how my husband would react but my worry was misplaced.  Within minutes, seven Cavaliers jumped on his lap and he was immediately reduced to baby-talk and dog hugs.  We were lucky enough to get a dog from an upcoming litter and in February 2013 Dash the Wonder Dog entered our lives.

    Dash at work

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an empty space we don’t even know we have.”  Thom Jones

People ask why I refer to Dash as “The Wonder Dog”.  It’s simply this – he has changed our lives for the better since the day he joined our home.  My husband who really didn’t want a dog?  Now he won’t leave Dash alone for more than three hours.  He and Dash conspired not only to have Dash sleep in our bed but to have his own pillow.  I have seen the most wonderful side of my husband in his caring for our sweet little pup.  For me, nothing soothes a bad day or a friend’s slight like walking into the house and being greeted by Dash’s wagging tail.  Even if I’ve just gone to the post box, he runs around as if I’ve been gone for weeks.   And it’s not just us that he helps.  Each Saturday I am his Uber driver that takes him to work at a local elder care center.  It’s safe to say that just a lick on the nose or a gentle stroking of his soft fur provides comfort like nothing else could.  If that doesn’t qualify as a Wonder Dog, I don’t know what does.

       Patiently waiting

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”  Andy Rooney

Our friends now joke that they have a high bar to meet in order to get us to go out to dinner – is it a more attractive offer than staying home with Dash?  That is a slight exaggeration, but only by a bit.  I will say that Dash has had a way of helping us prioritize our time.  Before we had him, we pretty much accepted every request for dinner or party invitation.  Now, we really do wrestle with whether we would rather spend our time with the people involved or Dash.  NOTHING is better than Dash curled up next to me, sometimes resting his chin on my leg, but I do realize that we could easily become hermits if we stay home with him every night.  Still…the sight of him waiting for us at the door whenever we go out breaks my heart.  And there’s not many people at a cocktail party who will do that!

 

Cooper and Dusty –  together in Heaven

“So this is where we part, My Friend, and you’ll run on, around the bend…And as you journey to your final rest, take with you this…I loved you best.”  Jim Willis

It is so heartbreaking to lose a dog.  We have lost two in our family this year.  Good dogs, who brought so much joy and love.  Unfortunately, that is the deal we enter into when we get a dog – we know from the outset that they don’t live nearly long enough.  Still, the joy of having one outweighs the grief.  Or as someone said, owning a dog will bring you many happy days and one horrible one.  Which is why, every day, I try to appreciate Dash and all that he brings to us.  He gets lots of belly rubs, blueberries and all the toys he can rip through in 10 minutes.  Spoiled?  You bet!  But it’s not like he’s going to grow up to become an axe murderer.  He never asks for money, the car keys or breaks his curfew so I figure there’s no harm.  Plus, that’s part of the joy of owning a dog – especially a Wonder Dog.

This being Thanksgiving week we would like to wish you and yours – and your dogs – a very happy Thanksgiving.  And while we have a great family that gets along, I leave you with this final quote in case you are dreading your Drunk Uncle over the holiday:

“Dogs are God’s way of apologizing for your family.” Anonymous 

 

Lost in the 50s

Orange Circle . . . er . . .Plaza

I didn’t have to go too far to go back to the 1950s. This week’s journey was a short jaunt down the road to Old Town Orange and the iconic Orange Circle. I’m not suppose to call it that, it’s the Orange Plaza, but it’s a circle, or more accurately, a ‘round about’ in the middle of town and it’s been a circle since the 1870s. It is surrounded by one square mile of historic buildings offering 50 different architectural styles from Spanish Colonial to Victorian. This area is the ‘antique capital’ of Orange County, with some 79 antique stores; there actually used to be more, but some have given way to eateries that now make ‘The Circle’ a destination for diners.

California’s first soda fountain

So last Thursday morning I headed to Old Town Orange, not to look at antiques, hell if I wanted to see an antique, I could just look in the mirror, but to have breakfast at Moody’s. Of course no one calls it Moody’s any more; it’s now Watson’s Original Soda Fountain & Café. It’s actually been Watson’s since 1889 and it is the oldest continuous running business in Orange County and the oldest soda fountain in California.  But for a while in the 70s a guy named Moody ran the soda fountain side of the pharmacy and when I lived about 5 blocks from there, that’s where I took daughter, Stephanie for a treat, starting when she was about four. Her favorite treat was the chocolate ‘milkshape’, as she called it. It came in a tall soda fountain glass with a straw and a long-handled spoon, accompanied by the extra milkshape in the frosty mixing tin. It was delicious! Going to Moody’s for a milkshape became a regular thing. To continue the tradition, I’ve recently taken Stephanie and her kids, grandchildren Dylan and Emma, to Watson’s for whatever they wanted, as long as it was a chocolate ‘milkshape’!

Inside Watson’s

But on this crisp fall morning I wanted to check out the ‘breakfast scene’ at this historic diner; have some eggs and a cup of hot coffee and see if there were some old codgers gathered around a cracker barrel to shoot the breeze. There weren’t.  It was quiet except for the juke box playing some great old 50s tunes.

I took a seat and looked around recalling some of the history of the place. It’s been the location of several movies and tv shows.  Most notably in 1996 the movie, That Thing You Do, which told the story of a ‘one-hit-wonder’ band in 1964 and was written, directed and starred Tom Hanks, used Watson’s in several scenes. Previous owner, Scott Parker, a Watson pharmacist whose ownership dates back to 1971, sold the store in 2015, and today at 75, Parker still works one day a week at a pharmacy in Leisure World in south Orange County. After the sale, Watson’s was closed for some time for renovations while many Watson customers, present company included, were nervous about what the new owner would do to this venerable location. One could hear huge sighs of relief echo through the city when the new owners committed to “bringing the soda fountain back to its original glory.”

Emma, Stephanie & Dylan with their chocolate ‘milkshapes’

They did a great job of keeping some of the old décor and adding some new artifacts, including an old telephone operator’s switch board, a huge old time safe and a door off the diner that reads, Proprietor, Kellar E. Watson.  Kellar purchased the Orange Drug Store in 1899 and renamed it Watson’s, but he didn’t open the soda fountain until 1915.  It wasn’t always a 50s theme because . . . the 50s didn’t happen until . . . the 50s!  Now the multiple TVs that hang from the ceiling are flat screens, but during certain hours they show 50s reruns like I Love Lucy, Mr. Ed and The Andy Griffith Show.  The fare includes the usual breakfast items as well as hamburgers, fries, sandwiches, cherry cokes, banana splits and, of course, ‘milkshapes’. The only major change from earlier menus is that now one can get an adult beverage there, which I don’t think interferes with the theme; I mean liquor was around in the 50s!

So how was my breakfast?  I couldn’t resist, at 7:30 in the morning I ordered a chocolate ‘milkshape’.  The server looked a little surprised, but said she would have to plug in the machine.  Several minutes later out came the tall soda fountain glass filled to the brim with whip cream on top and the extra milkshape in the frosty mixing tin.  It was delicious!

 

HARVEY WEINSTEIN, BRAVE WOMEN, AND HYPOCRISY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’ve been obsessed with the fall of Harvey Weinstein these past few weeks.  I was about five feet away from Mr. Weinstein up in Sun Valley a few years ago.  He is just as hairy and creepy looking in person as his pictures indicate and I can’t imagine the horror of being in his radar.  As a former HR executive for a major corporation, and two small companies before that, I’ve seen and heard more than most in terms of sexual harassment.  The only thing Mr. Weinstein got right is that harassment in the workplace was common in the 70’s and 80’s.  For those of us who began our careers in that era we know that leering glances, off-color remarks and outright propositions happened all the time.  A successful career not only required skill in the selected profession but also being able to fend off the inevitable advances.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, our greatest skill was being able to tell the perpetrator to go to hell in such a way that he’d enjoy the trip.  We never reported such events.  Frankly, I don’t think anyone would have cared back then.  I once had the head of HR asked me to “walk on the beach” with him after an offsite dinner.  I think his definition of walking on the beach didn’t include much walking.  He got increasingly angry with each rebuff.  He finally gave up but from that point on his formerly praising attitude toward my work turned to one of criticism.  I reported the incident to the head of personnel relations, but she felt her hands were tied.   After all, going over his head to the President of the company seemed like a far reach in the 1980’s.  I left the company shortly after that.

So I’ve read with interest the remarks some have made castigating the women Mr. Weinstein harassed for not stepping up right after he groped, raped or pleaded with them to watch him shower.  I have an issue with Ashley Judd (more on that later) but I think she got it right when asked to reflect on how she responded in 1996 to Weinstein’s first proposition to her.  She said she would tell her younger self, “Good for you!  Good for getting yourself out of that situation without any harm being done.”  Sometimes that’s enough – just getting yourself out of harm’s way.  The people who criticize the scores of women Weinstein harassed do not understand how frightening and paralyzing it is to be in that situation.

All that said, I do have a problem with the number of very powerful women who have kept Mr. Weinstein’s sexual predilections quiet for so many years.  After all, it is widely reported that his methods for intimidating young women were known for decades.  So well known that a clause was written into his contract citing increasing monetary penalties for each lawsuit brought due to his misconduct.  I understand young, wanna be actresses not wanting to speak up about the most powerful producer in Hollywood.  But where were the women who were already famous and successful?  Why didn’t they speak up, either individually or collectively, to protect those who couldn’t?  Are we really supposed to believe that Meryl Streep “had no knowledge” about his harassment and Hillary Clinton was “shocked” to learn of his behavior?   These women who claim to be so much in the forefront for women’s issues were silent.  They found it convenient, for career or for cash, to overlook it.  Which brings me back to Ashley Judd.  She has been called “brave” by many who laud her for speaking out against Mr. Weinstein.  I was on board with that until I saw her interview with Diane Sawyer in which she said that in 1999 she was seated at a dinner table with him and told him off.  She noted, “I found my power and I found my voice.”  Think of the scores of women who would have been spared his deviant behavior had she used her voice to blow the whistle on him publicly at that time.

I have seen “brave” firsthand.  In the late 80’s I received a phone call from the Administrative Assistant to a senior manager in one of our major offices.  She was sobbing as she told me that the evening before, as she entered her boss’ office at the end of the workday, he pinned her against the wall, kissed her and was trying to get her blouse off.  She was able to escape his clutches and run from the building.  The following morning she called me from home.  She explained that she really needed her job – she was self-supporting and it was a very tight job market after the 1987 crash – but asked if I could call him and ask him to leave her alone.  When I explained that legally I had to have the situation investigated she panicked and asked me to forget that she called.  Of course, we had to proceed with an inquiry and she courageously told her story to the investigator.  We fired her boss the next day.

In my opinion, “brave” is an appellation belonging to that young woman, and all the others like her, who blew the whistle in the moment.  There is little bravery in waiting 20 years, once there is no longer a risk to personal or professional well being.  It seems to me that the height of hypocrisy is to be lectured about standing up for women from those who sat silent for so long.

Please Paso the Wine!

by Bob Sparrow

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”    W.C. Fields

Please pardon any split infinitives and dangling modifiers this week as there may be some residual sugar in my bloodstream having just returned from a tour of Central Coast wineries with some neighborhood winos – so I’m feeling a little Sideways.

Day 1

Wine Capt. Jack Sparrow

First stop was a visit with brother Jack at the Fess Parker Winery, established in 1988 when Fess bought 714 acres on what is now the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Los Olivos, he originally planned to run cattle, but grapes proved to be a bit more profitable. Jack did a great job of weaving stories about his friendship with Fess Parker around the pouring of some excellent wines.

Off to San Luis Obispo, but not before stopping at the iconic Madonna Inn, built in 1958 with unique architecture in each room and a giant waterfall as the men’s urinal.

Dinner in downtown SLO where every Thursday night they have the main street walled off for a farmer’s market and on this evening we saw the precursor of the up-coming holiday as many of the citizenry were regaled in Halloween attire. We enjoyed outside dining at Novo, a creek side restaurant on the main street.

Day 2

Gary Conway

Marian McKnight

After a night in SLO we’re off in the morning to Paso Robles for some ‘breakfast wine’; first stop Turley Winery, founded by former emergency room physician Larry Turley in 1993. They make 28 separate wines, mostly Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, but also a white wine, ‘White Coat’ named after his doctor’s frock.

Carmody-McKnight – Our next stop provides an interesting story of the owners. He was an accomplished artist, concert violinist, architect, actor (stared in Burke’s Law and several other tv shows and several movies) and screenwriter; Gary Conway, born Gareth Monello Carmody. His wife, Marian McKnight Conway was her high school valedictorian, graduated Magna Cum Laude and was Miss America in 1957. Together they became winemakers when Gary saw the idyllic beauty of this mountain valley aboard a helicopter moments before it crashed. Emerging from the wreckage, Gary dusted himself off and promptly announced to the real estate broker, “I’m going to buy this place”. Their story, in my opinion, was more interesting than their wine, but the winery provided a picturesque setting for our picnic lunch.

On to Adelaida Winery, a producer of grape varieties from the Rhone Valley in the south of France, but a fairly unremarkable winery especially when we compared it to our next stop – Daou Winery. While we didn’t taste the wine there, which is delicious, the view from the tasting room was nothing short of spectacular.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Paso Robles with, of course, a little wine, OK maybe more than a little.

Day 2

Tobin James Winery – In 1987 when a young Toby James was an assistant winemaker at a local winery that had 6 tons of grapes that it could not process, he asked if he could have it to make some homemade wine. The owner said, “Sure kid, knock yourself out”. In a year and a half Tobin (He was now called Tobin instead of Toby), leveraging his last name as being the same of the famous outlaw brothers, created a western theme by purchasing a building on the site of an old stagecoach stop and brought in an 1860s western bar in the tasting room, imported from Missouri and rumored to have a bullet hole in it from the days of Frank and Jesse James, although I was not able to confirm that, it does make for a good story.   We bought a lot of wine here and many of us joined the wine club, which, at 35,000 club members, is the largest wine club in the (Pick one) Central Coast, California, U.S., world.

After spending several hours there, we decided we should probably eat something, so we had another picnic on the grounds of Tobin James.

We visited two more wineries that afternoon, La Vigne, which I thought had better cheese than wine and Via Vega, which was in its ‘Day of the Dead’ mode, an annual event where people bring in pictures of friends and relatives who have passed and . . . I’m not sure what happens, drink wine I guess.   By this time we were pretty much ‘wined out’ and after some rest and relaxation at the hotel we went to an Irish Pub, Pappy McGregor’s and had some beer with dinner!

If you’re headed up to the Central Coast for some wine tasting any time soon, don’t miss Fess Parker, Daou and Tobin James. Cheers!

ALL I WANT IS A CUPPA JOE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

“I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.”  Those of you who enjoy a good comedy will recognize that line from the 1991 movieL.A. Story.  The line was uttered by Steve Martin’s character, Harris, with the deadpan delivery that only Martin can pull off.  At the time that coffee ordering scene was meant to depict how pretentious coffee drinking had become.  We laughed and laughed at how ridiculous people could be about coffee.  Oh how innocent we were then.  Last week The Telegraph reported that Starbucks boasts that they now offer 87,000 different drink combinations.  Thanks to the “secret menu” underground, people have come up with all sorts of ways to bugger up a good cup of coffee.  I know this because I spent most of the summer standing in line behind the person who was trying to come up with drink #87,001.

 

As you regular readers know, we travel a lot during the summer months and I am embarrassed to admit that we often schedule our departure times based on when the local Starbucks opens.  “Opens at 5 a.m.,” my husband will report.  Which means that I set the alarm for o’dark thirty and we are cruising through the drive-through window at exactly 5.  The advantage really does go to the early bird in these cases because most people who are crazy enough to be up at that hour just want a plain, strong cup of coffee.  If Starbucks offered to mainline caffeine at that hour I think they get blockbuster results.  The problem with Starbucks occurs later in the day when the Steve Martins of the world arise.  If we venture into a Starbucks between 8-10 a.m. we are invariably met with a long line of people who are seemingly stumped by all of their choices.  The photo (right) was taken in Sun Valley a couple of weeks ago.  I was the 9th person in line at 9 a.m.  By the looks and age of the people in front of me I assumed I was in the company of fellow “plain drip” drinkers.  That’s what I get by categorizing people by age.  Unfortunately I was behind people ordering the new maple drink, which was doubly troublesome because the baristas weren’t quite sure how to make it.  So I stood in line for more than 15 minutes just to get two cups of dark roast drip.  I was ready to leap over the counter and pour the darn stuff myself.

Each time I find myself in this situation I harken back to my working days in San Francisco.  In the 1990’s Starbucks opened a location in the basement of the Bank of America tower.  Directly across the hallway was a Max’s Diner, which featured delectable baked goods and a self-serve coffee station.  The beauty of getting coffee there was you could pour your own coffee and throw the required payment into a jar and walk out.  They operated totally on the honor system.  The managers at Starbucks soon realized that they would lose the plain coffee drinkers like me who just wanted a fast cup of coffee.  Their solution was to establish two lines for coffee: one for just a plain cuppa joe and the other for people who order foo foo drinks.  It was a perfect system.  Unfortunately I have not seen this replicated in any other location.  And with 87,000 drinks available the lines are often filled with confused people who, to my caffeine-addicted self, seem decidedly clueless to the notion that real coffee does not include whipped cream, soy, caramel sauce, coconut water or any of the hundreds of other additives available.  So while I was waiting in that line at Sun Valley I came up with a great idea – why not have a high-end coffee machine that could be self-serve?  One could use either a credit card or the Starbucks app to access it.  It could grind fresh coffee (maybe two choices of blend) and then dispense it into a cup.  I’m sure Starbucks could pay a vending machine company to come up with something appropriately fancy looking so that even Steve Martin would be proud to obtain his coffee from it.  It would save time, labor and money.

Mr. Starbucks:  you are welcome to use my idea any time.  Just consider it my contribution to the “drips” of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Circumnavigating Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe. Just the name brings so many great memories rushing back to me. As those who read here know, we have a long history wth ‘The Lake’ and usually try to get up there in October, when most of the tourists have gone home, to visit our parent’s final resting place. Brother Jack & Sharon and their families went up in July, but we were in Europe at the time so we figured we’d make it up next year, until Jack & JJ Budd, long-time travel companions, had a timeshare week they had to ‘use or lose’ at the Marriott Timber Lodge at the base of Heavenly Valley in South Lake Tahoe, and invited us to join them.  We happily accepted.

Sunnyside deck on a summer’s night

The weather was crystal clear; in fact we never saw a single cloud the entire time we were there. The air however was very crisp during the day and more than crisp at night as temperatures dipped into the 20s and high teens. We decided to take a drive around ‘The Lake’, starting the drive up the west shore. The first thing I noticed was the lake level; years of draught had lowered the lake so much that no water was going over the spillway that creates the Truckee River. Now, due to record snowfall in the Sierras last winter, the lake was as high as I’d ever seen it. As we drove past Emerald Bay I recalled the hikes we did from there up to Eagle Lake and the great views it provides. We weaved our way past Meeks Bay, where I could still smell the Coppertone sun lotion our mom use to put on us – in fact I can’t smell Coppertone today without mentally going to that great sandy beach at Meeks Bay. Just prior to getting into Tahoe City at the north end of the lake, we took a quick detour up Chinquapin Lane and drove by the cabin that Uncle Dick bought in 1951 (Suzanne, sorry to report that the picture of our ‘Aunt Marilyn’ is no longer on the cabin wall). As we drove by, so many memories were rushing through my mind. How lucky we were to have such a ‘Summer Place’ in which to play while we were growing up.

Lakeside lunch at Garwoods

We continued up the road less than a mile before we came upon Sunnyside Lodge – now a very haute destination, but back in the 50s it was a rustic lodge/bar with seven rooms and only two bathrooms, one at each end of the hall, a combination liquor store/bait shop and a small marina where Jack and I would fish using drop lines from the pier (and never caught anything!). Today, Sunnyside sports the largest deck on the lake and is the spot to be on a beautiful summer’s day or evening. Continuing our journey, we drove through Tahoe City, where Jack owned The Off Shore Bar & Grill right on the lake, and continued up to Rocky Ridge, which offers the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe I’ve ever seen and is the final resting place for mom and dad. We checked in with them, soaked up the amazing views and continued on our way. We stopped for lunch at Garwoods, which is one of the only places at the north end of the lake that offers lakeside lunch dining during this ‘shoulder season’. We sat outside on the deck in amazing weather and had the best fish & chips on the lake, or anywhere except Scotland as far as I was concerned.

Visiting Mom & Dad at Rocky Ridge

As we continue our trip, we leave California and enter Nevada and stop by CalNeva, a once very popular hotel and casino on the lake where Frank Sinatra was once one of the owners and the ‘Rat Pack’ made regular appearances. Mom, Dad and Uncle Dick would dress to the nines on a Saturday night and go ‘over the line’ (the California-Nevada border) for an evening of dining, dancing and gambling at CalNeva and come home way after we kids were fast asleep. Today there is a fence around CalNeva as it is in rehab, or rather reconstruction. I’m hoping it will, in time, return to its glory days.

We continued down the east shore, which is mostly Nevada State Park with very few signs of civilization, although it has several spectacular beaches. Between Zephyr Cove and Glenbrook is the Cave Rock Tunnel, created in 1931 and the only tunnel on the trip around the lake.

We pulled into Stateline, south shore Lake Tahoe completing our trip that covered not only the 72 miles around the lake, but the 65-some odd years of wonderful memories.  It was a good day!

MY AUNT MARILYN MONROE AND SUN VALLEY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Until the age of 10 I thought Marilyn Monroe was my aunt.  Our Uncle Dick had a deep and abiding love for Marilyn.  So much so that he bought a life-size poster of her to hang in the cabin at Lake Tahoe.  As a way to explain why we had a picture of a blonde bombshell in a bikini so prominently displayed, Uncle Dick and my parents tried to sell us kids on the notion that she was our aunt – therefore, it was a family picture.  They didn’t try very hard to sell the idea and my brothers weren’t buying it at all but I wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.  I was mesmerized by her and, as you can see from the photo, I tried to emulate her when I could.  When she died in 1962 I was on my way to Girl Scout camp for two weeks in the Sierras.  The morning paper’s headline screamed “MARILYN MONROE DEAD!”.  So while other girls were shrieking with joy about escaping parental supervision for a week, I was bawling my eyes out over the death of my “aunt”.    Of course, with time, I better understood all of her problems and sexual peccadilloes  with the Kennedys but I still admired her glamour and her intelligence (her IQ was 168).  Today I channel her every December when I sing the “Happy Birthday” song to my brother in my best Marilyn-to-JFK impression.  And, truth being stranger than imagination, I discovered a few years ago that Marilyn Monroe is also a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.  So, she actually IS my aunt – just 15 times removed!

 

But our common ancestry is not the only thing that Marilyn and I have in common.  She filmed the movie Bus Stop in and around Sun Valley, Idaho during the winter of 1956 and frequented The Ram restaurant.  The Ram is our favorite place to hang out and is the oldest operating restaurant in Sun Valley.  Over the years stars from Gary Cooper and Clark Gable to modern media titans Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg have dined there. The photo (right) was taken of Marilyn on the night before the Bus Stop company left Idaho to return to Los Angeles.  As you can see, Marilyn wasn’t afraid to partake in the local cuisine.  No rabbit food for her – she tucked into a steak and baked potato like a truck driver.  Apparently she loved to eat, which is just another reason to adore her.  At the time she was criticized for wearing such a “manly” sweater, as if Marilyn could look “manly” in anything.  But there may have been a good reason for her bundling up – shortly after her return to Los Angeles she was hospitalized for 12 days with pneumonia.  She blamed her illness on having to wear skimpy clothing in the heart of an Idaho winter.  Still, Bus Stop turned out to be one of her best performances.  Today one can drive a bit north of Sun Valley to visit the North Fork Store (named Grace’s Diner for the film) where Marilyn performed her magic.

For the past 29 years, we have traveled to Sun Valley in September and have had dinner at The Ram.  In fact, because our anniversary is at the end of August, we usually save our special celebration dinner for The Ram.  The photo (left) was taken on our 25th anniversary.  The food is always good and they even have a cocktail named after Marilyn.  Whether sitting inside in the old-fashioned booths with the antler chandeliers or outside on the beautiful terrace overlooking the duck pond, The Ram has always provided great atmosphere and a feeling of history.  Larry Harshbarger, who has been playing the piano at The Ram since 1979 always accommodates our requests.  It is an evening we anticipate with joy each year.

 

This year we marked 30 years of marriage in August so for this special occasion we planned on a romantic dinner at The Ram, listening to Larry and enjoying a Marilyn cocktail.  On our first day in Sun Valley we walked up to the restaurant and were greeted with a boarded up façade. The Ram and the adjacent areas are being renovated for the next three months.  According to the information posted on the fence, The Ram’s interior will be gutted and modernized.  The only remnant of the past will be the antler chandeliers.  The “new and improved” Ram will feature an open kitchen.  I hate open kitchens.  Isn’t the whole reason for going out to dinner is so you DON’T see a kitchen?  I want my meal to appear as if by magic, in the arms of a waiter who bursts through swinging doors carrying a tray filled with plated food.  Open kitchens, in my experience, render conversation with your table mates nearly impossible.  The clanging of pans, shouting of sous chefs and the occasional dropped silverware all conspire to make a cacophony of sound with decibel levels near that of a jackhammer.  So I don’t know what I hate more – that The Ram is being renovated or that it will now feature an open kitchen.

All I know is – I’m sure glad Aunt Marilyn isn’t alive to see this.