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!

 

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.

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!

 

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!

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!

Three Stand Up Guys

by Bob Sparrow

“Nothing in life is more exhilarating than being shot at with no results.” Winston Churchill

Bob, Terry, Ken & Joel at 2008 reunion

I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with three gentlemen, Ken, Joel and Terry with whom I attended Westminster College, where we played football together under the tutelage of future San Francisco 49er Super Bowl coach, George Seifert. We were Seifert’s ‘first team’ as a head coach, although he probably refers to us his ‘worst team’. The four of us have reunited on a few occasions since graduation, even one that Seifert attended, but it had been several years since we last saw each other, so it was time.

When you get four 70-something former football players together in Las Vegas, you’d expect a lot of stories under the heading of ‘The Older We Get, The Better We Were’. Not so with this group. While football was certainly mentioned, like during our first beer when we toasted to those players who are no longer with us, it was hardly the main topic of conversation. What was? To that in a moment.

Suzanne has done a great job each Memorial Day of writing about and honoring those from our hometown of Novato, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Viet Nam war; this story is about three guys that made it home, and I’m so glad they did.

Ken Poulsen

Ken and his ‘loaded’ A-6 aircraft

Ken Poulsen – Marine Lieutenant who was a Bombardier-Navigator in the A-6 Intruder jet. He spent 12 months in Viet Nam stationed in Da Nang where he flew ‘close air support’ during the day for troops on the ground and did ‘road wrecking’ of the Ho Chi Minh trail at night, where he was constantly under attack from anti-aircraft fire. Once out of the service, Ken went into education and ultimately became the Superintendent of Schools for a district in the Sacramento area. Ken retired several years ago and now lives with wife, Suzi in Chandler, AZ and when it gets too hot there, they head up to their second home in the mountains of Show Low, AZ. Ken was our cruise director for these couple of days together and put together a line up of shows, golf and meals that hardly gave us time to lose money in the casinos.

Joel and CH-53

Joel Hall

Joel Hall – Marine Lieutenant who earned both his Navy and Army wings and flew the CH-53 Sea Stallion and the UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopters at Marble Mountain, just outside of Da Nang, during his 13 months ‘in country’. He flew various ‘support’ and ‘medevac’ missions and when I asked him if he often came under enemy fire, he said, “Oh yeah, and I had the holes in my aircraft to prove it.” After getting out, Joel went to work for the 3M company and retired from there after a 32-year career. He now lives in Atlanta on a golf course and when it gets too cold to play golf there, he and wife, Gayle have a second home on the east coast of Florida where they spend five months a year. Joel can hit a golf ball further and straighter now than he ever could, and his cigar never gets in the way.

Terry Callahan

TC “making the girls thirsty”

Terry Callahan – Army, Spec 4, Medic. Terry was with both the 25th Infantry Division and the 1st Air Cavalry Division, two of the most decorated units of the Viet Nam war. Terry was in several locations throughout his 12 month tour, mostly in Viet Nam jungles near the Cambodian border. He’d do triage for soldiers brought into the first aid field tent as well as fly into ‘hot zones’ in a helicopters to pull out wounded personnel. It was ‘meatball surgery’, stop the bleeding and pain, sew up gashes where you could and get them to a hospital facility. He clearly saw the ugly underbelly of this war up close. After he got out, he did a little teaching and then spent most of his career working for the Justice Department; working cases for judges to determine sentences as well a working with parole officers. Terry and wife, Teri, who is a Delta flight attendant, were married about a year ago and live in Salt Lake City, and when it gets too cold there they have a second home in St. George, Utah. Terry is a humorous storyteller and a good one, whether he’s telling you about the time the hair under his arm caught fire or telling you how flat his home state of Kansas is when he says, “You can stand on a tuna can and watch your dog run away for two miles.”

Fortunately, all three of these veterans were shot at without results.

Terry, Bob, Joel & Ken

So the topic of conversation was about each of their personal experiences in Viet Nam; we touched on the Ken Burns documentary, The Viet Nam War, now playing on PBS, and the protests of NFL players in the form of sitting or kneeling during our National Anthem. We all felt that these NFL players can couch it any way they want, but make no mistake, by kneeling or sitting during our National Anthem they are disrespecting their flag, their country and the brave men and women who fought and the many who died, for them to have their freedom of expression. While those that lost their lives fighting for this country cannot be outraged at these demonstrations, these three veterans, who put themselves in harms way, can be and are.

I came away from my time with my former teammates humbled and thankful to be able to call these three men good friends and so very thankful that they made it home safely.

 

 

Death Dive

by Bob Sparrow

As travel stories go, this one is out of this world . . . literally.

If you read this entire blog, I think you’ll find some pretty amazing stuff.  I understand that most people aren’t that interested in astronomy or astrophysics, but I’ve been fascinated with space for a long time; in fact I was told by my teachers early on that I was just taking up space in school. At the time I didn’t understand what they meant – now I do!  I recently finished the best-selling book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and my brain still hurts from reading it, but the parts of it that I understood were mind-blowing! So watching what happened last week and learning details about the entire Cassini mission has been riveting for me.

Depending on your astronomical interests, you may have heard about Cassini’s Grand Finale, which took place last Friday.  The $3.3 billion Cassini project was a joint effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency (Don’t ask me why Italy is not part of the European Space Agency), to launch a satellite that would orbit Saturn and send back invaluable information about the ringed planet and its multiple moons. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena managed the mission.  Saturn, as I’m sure you’re aware is about 764 times larger than earth.

Cassini, named after the Italian astronomer, Giovanni Cassini, who made extensive discoveries about Saturn, is a satellite, about 22’ x 13’ in size, that launched from Cape Canaveral in October 1997 and, after a little more than 6 ½ years to travel the approximate 1 billion miles, reached its Saturn orbit in June 2004. So for the last 13 years it’s been beaming home miraculous images and scientific data, revealing countless wonders of this planet, its rings and its 6o+ moons. The most interesting of Saturn’s moons are Titan, the only other body in our solar system that has liquid on its surface, and Enceladus the brightest shining body in our solar system which has geysers gushing up to the surface from hidden oceans beneath the surface.

And while there is more technology in our cell phones today than what went into space with Cassini in ’97, it did some pretty amazing stuff over the last 20 years. Part of its mission included the sending of a landing craft to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The landing craft was named, Huygens, after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan. Both Cassini and Huygens lived in the late 1600s. The information that this landing craft gave us about Titan’s similarity to Earth would amaze you.

So after 20 years of sending invaluable data back to Earth, Cassini, they say, simply ran out of fuel, but hey, they got 20 years to the gallon. It does beg the question, were they using regular or supreme? OK, I’ll tell you what fueled Cassini, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else. It was powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which use heat from the natural decay of about 73 pounds of plutonium-238 (in the form of plutonium dioxide – obviously!) to generate direct current electricity via thermo electrics. But even that doesn’t last forever, especially when you’re traveling for 20 years at an average speed of around 41,000 mile per hour!

Huygens on Titan

The last hours of Cassini’s mission had it doing its final flyby of Titan, which gave it the gravitational nudge toward the surface of Saturn, where it maneuvered between the innermost rings before it finally disintegrates on its way to the surface of Saturn at around 4:55 PDT last Friday morning. The team planned this ending, as they didn’t want Cassini floating around in space with the possibility of running into something else, like one of Saturn’s many moons.  The Cassini mission changed the course of planetary exploration, it was in a sense, a time machine as it has given us a portal to see the physical processes that likely shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.

If you’re the least bit interested in this kind of stuff, a program I saw it on last Wednesday was on the NOVA channel called Death Dive to Saturn; it may be replayed over the next few weeks on some of the scientific channels.  You can also go to the JPL site below to see more details and photos of the end of Cassini’s mission.

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Total miles traveled by Cassini getting to and orbiting Saturn: 4.9 billion, without an oil change.

 

 

Four Seasons

by Bob Sparrow

Well with a title like this we could go anywhere – the luxury, five-star hotel chain who has Bill Gates as one of its majority owners; Jersey Boys backup group to Frankie Valli; the classical violin concerti by Vivaldi, or simply the four seasons.

All weighty subjects to be sure, but the oppressive heat in our part of the country over the last several days, begs the question, “Isn’t summer over?”

Unofficially, Yes; officially, No.

You see when I don’t travel I have to write about stuff like Mayberry, Margaritaville and the weather. Unfortunately, for you, I haven’t been anywhere exciting in the last couple of weeks (OK, I was in Vegas last weekend, but I was reminded that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – I know my money stayed there!), so now you get to read about the changing of the seasons. I can sense the anticipation building already!

I thought the subject appropriate since we’re just sobering up from the Labor Day holiday, which is the ‘unofficial’ end of a summer, which ‘unofficially’ started on Memorial Day. Officially summer begins with the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in terms of light in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer officially ends with the Autumnal Equinox, when days and nights are equal (almost) with 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of no sun; equinox actually means equal nights. Am I going too fast for those taking notes?

If you’re wondering, like me, whether we get more ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ days of summer, here’s the math:

Summer officially started on Wednesday, June 21th this year and ends on Thursday, Sept 21nd (at 1:02 PDT to be precise) – that’s 93 days. ‘Unofficially’ summer started this year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (perhaps some cheated and started early on Friday night), May 27th and ended on Labor Day, Monday, Sept 4th – that’s 101 days. So we took eight ‘unofficial’ days of summer this year that I suppose we’re going to have to give back at some point, aren’t we?

One would think that because we declared these ‘unofficial’ starts and stops of summer, borrowing several days from the end of spring and giving a few back during the dog days of summer, that summer would be the season that people like the most – that all depends.

A recent survey by YouGov was conducted on this very subject (are you on the edge of your seat yet?), and depending on your age group and the particular region of the country in which you live, the results vary. But if we’re looking at all age groups across the entire country, the results are as follows:

  1. 29% favor Fall
  2. 27% favor Spring
  3. 25% favor Summer
  4.  7% favor Winter

Favorite season by age group:

55+                Spring

35 – 54           Fall

18 – 34           Summer

While Winter didn’t score high enough to even rate a place on the chart, we all know that winter in Scottsdale, Arizona is slightly different from winter in Bemidji, Minnesota, so let’s look at favorite seasons by region. Isn’t this fun?!

In answer to the question, “I like the weather where I live” the results by region are as follows:

  1. West 66%
  2. South 59%

3.  Northeast 59%

  1. Midwest 47%

The ‘West’ is probably skewed by Alaska at 33% and Hawaii at 100% (my figures, not theirs)

But, those who DON’T like living in the:

West say it is too rainy (26%) or too dry (36%)

South say it is too hot (70%)

Northeast say it is too cold (68%)

Midwest say it is too cold (62%) or too hot (26%)

Ok, maybe what happens in a YouGov survey should stay in a YouGov survey.  Hope you’re enjoying these last ‘official’ days of summer.

 

Disneyland or Mayberry?

by Bob Sparrow

One claims to be “The Happiest Place on Earth” while the other just may have actually been.

Only read if you have nothing else to do.

(Cue the whistling of the Mayberry theme song)

Yes, I’m writing about Mayberry this week, or rather something I heard about Mayberry while eating in some international airport during my recent travels. I apologize if you may have heard what I’m about to write, as this kind of thing travels very fast, especially when it’s using international airports.

Let’s first examine the bios of the main characters from that nostalgic television program, The Andy Griffith Show, which took place in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina.

Andrew Jackson “Andy” Taylor: A pragmatic and genial sheriff and justice of the peace, who never wore a gun or a tie and didn’t have too much trouble keeping peace in this bucolic southern town. He was a widower, who had a son, Opie and a paternal aunt named Aunt Bea.  He had a polite charm and  generally keeps the peace with common sense.

Beatrice “Aunt Bea” Taylor: Aunt Bea was a spinster who raised Andy. She was living alone in West Virginia when Andy asked her to come and live with Opie and him when their current housekeeper, Rose, married and moved out of Mayberry.

Bernard (? middle name) “Barney” Fife: This wiry, high-strung deputy was a comic genius, who played the bumbling sidekick to perfection. He was single, but was seriously dating Thelma Lou. He did wear a gun and a tie, but the gun was never loaded. However he kept a bullet in his shirt pocket for emergencies. Most of the time when he pulled it out he ended up nearly shooting himself in the foot. Although Mayberry had little crime, Barney refers to the town as ‘The Gateway to Danger’.  Not as part of any plot line, there was some controversy over Barney’s middle name. In Season 2 he says his middle name is ‘Oliver’. In Season 4, his high school yearbook shows his middle name as ‘Milton’. In Season 5 he states his full name as Barney P. Fife. Sadly this is the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Gomer Pyle: Well Gollll-ly! Gomer is the dim-witted, sleepy-eyed, single, mechanic at Wally’s Filling Station with a toothy grin and a southern accent. He is sometimes deputized when Barney needs a hand at screwing up a case. Gomer leaves the show after Season 4 to start a new series, Gomer Pyle, USMC

Goober Pyle: When Gomer signs up for the Marines, he recruits his long lost single cousin, Goober to replace him as the mechanic at Wally’s Filling Station. Both were very good-natured and always willing to help, sometimes to a fault. The actors who played Gomer and Goober where both from Alabama, so the southern accents were real.

Helen Crump: Helen is single and from Kansas and moves to Mayberry for a teaching assignment. She is Opie’s teacher (he calls her ‘old lady Crump’).  When Opie asks his dad for help on a history assignment, Andy’s advice is misunderstood by Opie which leads to Helen marching down to Andy’s office and giving him a piece of her mind. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know Andy’s walking her home and they become ‘an item’.

Floyd Lawson: The fastidious, slow-paced, often absent-minded local barber who dispensed advice along with his haircuts. Floyd is single and his character is said to be based on Andy’s real barber from his hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, (sounds oddly similar to Mount Pilot the fictional neighboring town to Mayberry) where he owned ‘Floyd’s City Barber Shop’. Howard McNear, who played the character Floyd, had a stroke midway through the third season and could not stand for any length of time or move very well. But he returned to play Floyd as the writers kept his character sitting down most of the time.

Howard Sprague: The milquetoast county clerk with mustache and bow ties had a penchants for philosophy and culture, but was a repressed ‘mama’s boy’ who lived with his overbearing and manipulative mother. Due to is upbringing, he was socially stymied especially when it came to dating. In one episode Howard tries to be a stand-up comic, unfortunately people laughed at him and not with him.

Otis Campbell: The town drunk who was also sometimes deputized so he could let himself in and out of jail. Viewers meet Otis’ wife in an episode where Otis is jailed for assault, the first time he’s jailed for something other than drunkenness, because he threw a leg of lamb at his wife, missed and hit his mother-in-law. Otis stopped appearing toward the end of the series because sponsors raised concerns over the portrayal of excessive drinking. (Perhaps the beginning of political correctness??)

So what we’ve discovered, if you haven’t already realized it, it’s that all the characters, except Otis, who was always drunk, were not married. Perhaps this is why Mayberry was considered by many as The Happiest Place on Earth.

Hey, I didn’t make this up; I just heard it at the airport and am passing it along for your perusal and consideration.

 

North Sea Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

First of all on this Monday morning, Happy Birthday to my co-writer, good friend and sister, Suzanne!  Like a good wine, you’re getting better with age, Sis.

Now that I’m not paying 95 cents/minute to access WiF, I decided to extend Suzanne’s writing vacation another week with what I believe are some of our more interesting photos from the trip – hope you think so too.  I might add that I’m thankful that the trip ended when it did, I was on my last belt notch!

The itinerary: The cruise embarked from Hamburg, Germany and we got off in Edinburgh prior to the ship returning to Hamburg.

A rare moment in Bergen, Norway when all six of us were upright on our Segways.

That one sunny day in Norway when the ship’s pools were use.

 

While cruising out of Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland through the Arctic Circle this photograph was taken at sunset. What makes it so unusual is that it was a little past midnight!

About 4 hours after that beautiful sunset was this beautiful sunrise

Double rainbow coming down hole #18 at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

That’s me having a glass of wine and smoking a Cuban cigar in the backyard at our VRBO in St. Andrews with all my friends.  Yes, that’s a bunker – there were plastic golf balls and sand wedges available to practice how frustrating it is to get out of a St. Andrews sand trap.

The last supper together with all 10 in our group.  A pleasure to travel once again with John & Mary Bellham and to meet their friends Steen and Sue, and a really special thank you to Jack & JJ and John & Judy for being such GREAT travel partners.

Thank you to all our blog readers for joining us and hope you’re looking forward to the next adventure, wherever that takes us.